“What have you done now?” asked Fernando, putting his tortilla—which was not ruined, Alhamdulillah—on the stove. Long experience had taught him that whatever the mess, Gallowglass had made it with good intentions and complete disregard for possible disaster.
“Weeell,” Gallowglass said, drawing out the vowels as only a Scot could, “I might have left one or two things out of the tale.”
“Like what?” Fernando said, catching a whiff of catastrophe among the kitchen’s homely scents.
“Like the fact that Auntie is pregnant—and by none other than Matthew. And the fact that Granddad adopted her as a daughter. Lord, his blood vow was deafening.” Gallowglass looked reflective. “Do you think we’ll still be able to hear it?”
Fernando stood, openmouthed and silent.
“Don’t look at me that way. It didn’t seem right to share the news about the babe. Women can be funny about such things. And Philippe told Auntie Verin about the blood vow before he died in 1945, and she never said a word either!” Gallowglass said defensively.
A concussion tore the air, as if a silent bomb had been detonated. Something green and fiery streaked past the kitchen window.
“What the hell was that?” Fernando flung the door open and shielded his eyes against the bright sunlight.
“One pissed-off witch, I imagine.” Gallowglass’s tone was glum. “Sarah must have told Diana and Matthew the news about Emily.”
“Not the explosion. That!” Fernando pointed to Saint-Lucien’s bell tower, which was being circled by a winged, two-legged, fire-breathing creature. Gallowglass rose for a better look.
“That’s Corra. She goes where Auntie goes,” Gallowglass said matter-of-factly.
“But that’s a dragon. ” Fernando turned wild eyes on his stepson.
“Bah! That’s no dragon. Can’t you see she’s only got two legs? Corra is a firedrake.” Gallowglass twisted his arm to show off a tattoo of a winged creature that strongly resembled the airborne beast.
“Like this. I might have left out one or two details, but I did warn everybody that Auntie Diana wasn’t going to be the same witch she was before.”
“It’s true, honey. Em is dead.” The stress of telling Diana and Matthew was clearly too much for her.
Sarah could have sworn that she saw a dragon. Fernando was right. She needed to cut back on the whiskey.
“I don’t believe you.” Diana’s voice was high and sharp with panic. She searched Ysabeau’s grand salon as though she suspected to find Emily hiding behind one of the ornate settees.
“Emily’s not here, Diana.” Matthew’s hushed voice was infused with regret and tenderness as he stepped before her. “She’s gone.”
“No.” Diana tried to push past him and continue her search, but Matthew drew her into his arms.
“I’m so sorry, Sarah,” Matthew said, holding Diana tight to his body.
“Don’t say you’re sorry!” Diana cried, struggling to free herself from the vampire’s unbreakable hold. She pounded on Matthew’s shoulder with her fist. “Em isn’t dead!. This is a nightmare. Wake me up, Matthew—please! I want to wake up and find we’re still in 1591.”
“This isn’t a nightmare,” Sarah said. The long weeks had convinced her that Em’s death was horribly real.
“Then I took a wrong turn—or tied a bad knot in the timewalking spell. This can’t be where we were supposed to end up!” Diana was shaking from head to toe with grief and shock. “Em promised she would never leave without saying good-bye.”
“Em didn’t have time to say good-bye—to anyone. But that doesn’t mean she didn’t love you.”
Sarah reminded herself of this a hundred times a day.
“Diana should sit,” Marcus said, pulling a chair closer to Sarah. In many ways Matthew’s son looked like the same twenty-something surfer who had walked into the Bishop house last October. His leather cord, with its strange assortment of objects gathered over the centuries, was still tangled in the blond hair at the nape of his neck. The Converse sneakers he loved remained on his feet. The guarded, sad look in his eyes was new, however.
Sarah was grateful for the presence of Marcus and Ysabeau, but the person she really wanted at her side at this moment was Fernando. He’d been her rock during this ordeal.
“Thank you, Marcus,” Matthew said, settling Diana in the seat. Phoebe tried to press a glass of water into Diana’s hand. When Diana just stared at it blankly, Matthew took it and placed it on a nearby table.
All eyes alighted on Sarah.
Sarah was no good at this kind of thing. Diana was the historian in the family. She would know where to start and how to string the confusing events into a coherent story with a beginning, a middle, and an end, and perhaps even a plausible explanation of why Emily had died.
“There’s no easy way to tell you this,” Diana’s aunt began.
“You don’t have to tell us anything,” Matthew said, his eyes filled with compassion and sympathy.
“The explanations can wait.”
“No. You both need to know.” Sarah reached for the glass of whiskey that usually sat at her side, but there was nothing there. She looked to Marcus in mute appeal.
“Emily died up at the old temple,” Marcus said, taking up the role of storyteller.
“The temple dedicated to the goddess?” Diana whispered, her brow creasing with the effort to concentrate.
“Yes,” Sarah croaked, coughing to dislodge the lump in her throat. “Emily was spending more and more time up there.”
“Was she alone?” Matthew’s expression was no longer warm and understanding, and his tone was frosty.
Silence descended again, this one heavy and awkward.
“Emily wouldn’t let anyone go with her,” Sarah said, steeling herself to be honest. Diana was a witch, too, and would know if she strayed from the truth. “Marcus tried to convince her to take someone with her, but Emily refused.”
“Why did she want to be alone?” Diana said, picking up on Sarah’s own uneasiness. “What was going on, Sarah?”
“Since January, Em had been turning to the higher magics for guidance.” Sarah looked away from Diana’s shocked face. “She was having terrible premonitions of death and disaster and thought they might help her figure out why.”
“But Em always said higher magics were too dark for witches to handle safely,” Diana said, her voice rising again. “She said any witch who thought she was immune to their dangers would find out the hard way just how powerful they were.”
“She spoke from experience,” Sarah said. “They can be addictive. Emily didn’t want you to know she’d felt their lure, honey. She hadn’t touched a scrying stone or tried to summon a spirit for decades.”
“Summon spirits?” Matthew’s eyes narrowed into slits. With his dark beard, he looked truly terrifying.
“I think she was trying to reach Rebecca. If I’d realized how far she’d gone in her attempts, I would have tried harder to stop her.” Sarah’s eyes brimmed with tears. “Peter Knox must have sensed the power Emily was working with, and the higher magics have always fascinated him. Once he found her—”
“Knox?” Matthew spoke softly, but the hairs on the back of Sarah’s neck rose in warning.
“When we found Em, Knox and Gerbert were there, too,” Marcus explained, looking miserable at the admission. “She’d suffered a heart attack. Emily must have been under enormous stress trying to resist whatever Knox was doing. She was barely conscious. I tried to revive her. So did Sarah. But there was nothing either of us could do.”
“Why were Gerbert and Knox here? And what in the world did Knox hope to gain from killing Em?” Diana cried.
“I don’t think Knox was trying to kill her, honey,” Sarah replied. “Knox was reading Emily’s thoughts, or trying his best to. Her last words were, ‘I know the secret of Ashmole 782, and you will never possess it.‘”
“Ashmole 782?” Diana looked stunned. “Are you sure?”
“Positive.” Sarah wished her niece had never found that damned manuscript in the Bodleian Library. It was the cause of most of their present problems.
“Knox insisted that the de Clermonts had missing pages from Diana’s manuscript and knew its secrets,” Ysabeau chimed in. “Verin and I told Knox he was mistaken, but the only thing that distracted him from the subject was the baby. Margaret.”
“Nathaniel and Sophie followed us to the temple. Margaret was with them,” Marcus explained in answer to Matthew’s astonished stare. “Before Emily fell unconscious, Knox saw Margaret and demanded to know how two daemons had given birth to a baby witch. Knox invoked the covenant. He threatened to take Margaret to the Congregation pending investigation into what he called ‘serious breaches’ of law. While we were trying to revive Emily and get the baby to safety, Gerbert and Knox slipped away.”
Until recently Sarah had always seen the Congregation and the covenant as necessary evils. It was not easy for the three otherworldly species—daemons, vampires, and witches—to live among humans.
All had been targets of human fear and violence at some point in history, and creatures had long ago agreed to a covenant to minimize the risk of their world’s coming to human attention. It limited fraternization between species as well as any participation in human religion or politics. The nine-member Congregation enforced the covenant and made sure that creatures abided by its terms. Now that Diana and Matthew were home, the Congregation could go to hell and take their covenant with them as far as Sarah was concerned.
Diana’s head swung around, and a look of disbelief passed over her face.
“Gallowglass?” she breathed as the salon filled with the scent of the sea.
“Welcome home, Auntie.” Gallowglass stepped forward, his golden beard gleaming where the sunlight struck it. Diana stared at him in astonishment before a sob broke free.
“There, there.” Gallowglass lifted her into a bear hug. “It’s been some time since the sight of me brought a woman to tears. Besides, it really should be me weeping at our reunion. As far as you’re concerned, it’s been only a few days since we spoke. By my reckoning it’s been centuries.”
Something numinous flickered around the edges of Diana’s body, like a candle slowly catching light. Sarah blinked. She really was going to have to lay off the booze.
Matthew and his nephew exchanged glances. Matthew’s expression grew even more concerned as Diana’s tears increased and the glow surrounding her intensified.
“Let Matthew take you upstairs.” Gallowglass reached into a pocket and pulled out a crumpled yellow bandanna. He offered this to Diana, carefully shielding her from view.
“Is she all right?” Sarah asked.
“Just a wee bit tired,” Gallowglass said as he and Matthew hustled Diana off toward Matthew’s remote tower rooms.
Once Diana and Matthew were gone, Sarah’s fragile composure cracked, and she began to weep.
Reliving the events of Em’s death was a daily occurrence, but having to do so with Diana was even more painful. Fernando appeared, his expression concerned.
“It’s all right, Sarah. Let it out,” Fernando murmured, drawing her close.
“Where were you when I needed you?” Sarah demanded as her weeping turned to sobs.
“I’m here now,” Fernando said, rocking her gently. “And Diana and Matthew are safely home.”
“I can’t stop shaking.” Diana’s teeth were chattering, and her limbs were jerking as if pulled by invisible strings. Gallowglass pressed his lips together, standing back while Matthew wrapped a blanket tight around his wife.
“That’s the shock, mon coeur, ” Matthew murmured, pressing a kiss to her cheek. It wasn’t just the death of Emily but the memories of the earlier, traumatic loss of her parents that were causing her distress. He rubbed her arms, the blanket moving against her flesh. “Can you get some wine, Gallowglass?”
“I shouldn’t. The babies . . .” Diana began. Her expression turned wild and her tears returned.
“They’ll never know Em. Our children will grow up not knowing Em.”
“Here.” Gallowglass thrust a silver flask in Matthew’s direction. His uncle looked at him gratefully.
“Even better,” Matthew said, pulling the stopper free. “Just a sip, Diana. It won’t hurt the twins, and it will help calm you. I’ll have Marthe bring up some black tea with plenty of sugar.”
“I’m going to kill Peter Knox,” Diana said fiercely after she’d taken a sip of whiskey. The light around her grew brighter.
“Not today you’re not,” Matthew said firmly, handing the flask back to Gallowglass.
“Has Auntie’s glaem been this bright since you returned?” Gallowglass hadn’t seen Diana Bishop since 1591, but he didn’t recall it being this noticeable.
“Yes. She’s been wearing a disguising spell. The shock must have knocked it out of place,”
Matthew said, lowering her onto the sofa. “Diana wanted Emily and Sarah to enjoy the fact that they were going to be grandmothers before they started asking questions about her increased power.”
Gallowglass bit back an oath.
“Better?” Matthew asked, drawing Diana’s fingers to his lips.
Diana nodded. Her teeth were still chattering, Gallowglass noted. It made him ache to think about the effort it must be taking for her to control herself.