While installing the components of Gerbert’s hastily purchased system, Jean-Luc had needed to call back to the office several times for advice. Marcus’s dear friend Nathaniel had set up the small business in Saint-Lucien to bring the villagers into the modern age, and though he was now in Australia, he was happy to help his former employee whenever his greater experience was required. On this occasion Nathaniel had walked Jean-Luc through the various security configurations that Gerbert requested.
Nathaniel added a few modifications of his own, too.
The end result was that Ysabeau and Nathaniel knew more about Gerbert of Aurillac than she had dreamed was possible, or indeed had ever wanted, to know. It was astonishing how much a person’s online shopping habits revealed about his character and activities.
Ysabeau had made sure Jean-Luc signed Gerbert up for various social-media services to keep the vampire occupied and out of her way. She could not imagine why these companies all chose shades of blue for their logos. Blue had always struck her as such a serene, soothing color, yet all social media offered was endless agitation and posturing. It was worse than the court of Versailles. Come to think of it, Ysabeau reflected, Louis-Dieudonné had quite liked blue as well.
Gerbert’s only complaint about his new virtual existence was that he had been unable to secure
“Pontifex Maximus” as a user name. Ysabeau told him that it was probably for the best, since it might constitute a violation of the covenant in the eyes of some creatures.
Sadly for Gerbert—though happily for Ysabeau—an addiction to the Internet and an understanding of how best to use it did not always go hand in hand. Because of the sites he frequented, Gerbert was plagued by computer viruses. He also tended to pick overly complex passwords and lose track of which sites he’d visited and how he had found them. This led to many phone calls with Jean-Luc, who unfailingly bailed Gerbert out of his difficulties and thereby kept up to date on how to access all Gerbert’s online information.
With Gerbert thus engaged, Ysabeau was free to wander around his castle, going through his belongings and copying down the surprising entries in the vampire’s many address books.
Life as Gerbert’s hostage had been most illuminating.
“It is time for me to go,” Ysabeau repeated when Gerbert finally tore his eyes away from the screen. “There is no reason to keep me here any longer. The Congregation won. I have just received word from the family that Matthew and Diana are no longer together. I imagine that the strain was too much for her, poor girl. You must be very pleased.”
“I hadn’t heard. And you?” Gerbert’s expression was suspicious. “Are you pleased?”
“Of course. I have always despised witches.” Gerbert had no need to know how completely Ysabeau’s feelings had changed.
“Hmm.” He still looked wary. “Has Matthew’s witch gone to Madison? Surely Diana Bishop will want to be with her aunt if she has left your son.”
“I am sure she longs for home,” Ysabeau said vaguely. “It is typical, after heartbreak, to seek out what is familiar.”
Ysabeau thought it was a promising sign, therefore, that Diana had chosen to return to the place where she and Matthew had enjoyed a life together. As for heartbreak, there were many ways to ease the pain and loneliness that went along with being mated to the sire of a great vampire clan—which Matthew would soon be. Ysabeau looked forward to sharing them with her daughter-in-law, who was made of sterner stuff than most vampires would have expected.
“Do you need to clear my departure with someone? Domenico? Satu, perhaps?” Ysabeau asked solicitously.
“They dance to my tune, Ysabeau,” Gerbert said with a scowl.
It was pathetically easy to manipulate Gerbert if his ego was involved. And it was always involved.
Ysabeau hid her satisfied smile.
“If I release you, you will go back to Sept-Tours and stay there?” Gerbert asked.
“Of course,” she said promptly.
“Ysabeau,” he growled.
“I have not left de Clermont territory since shortly after the war,” she said with a touch of impatience. “Unless the Congregation decides to take me prisoner again, I will remain in de Clermont territory. Only Philippe himself could persuade me to do otherwise.”
“Happily, not even Philippe de Clermont is capable of ordering us about from the grave,” Gerbert said, “though I am sure he would dearly love to do so.”
You would be surprised, you toad, Ysabeau thought.
“Very well, then. You are free to go.” Gerbert sighed. “But do try to remember we are at war, Ysabeau. To keep up appearances.”
“Oh, I would never forget we are at war, Gerbert.” Unable to maintain her countenance for another moment, and afraid she might find a creative use for the iron poker that was propped up by the fireplace, Ysabeau went to find Marthe.
Her trusted companion was downstairs in the meticulous kitchen, sitting by the fireplace with a battered copy of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and a steaming cup of mulled wine. Gerbert’s butcher stood at the nearby chopping block, dismembering a rabbit for his master’s breakfast. The Delft tile on the walls provided an oddly cheerful note.
“We are going home, Marthe,” Ysabeau said.
“Finally.” Marthe got to her feet with a groan. “I hate Aurillac. The air here is bad. Adiu siatz, Theo.”
“Adiu siatz, Marthe,” Theo grunted, whacking the unfortunate rabbit.
Gerbert met them at the front door to bid them farewell. He kissed Ysabeau on both cheeks, his actions supervised by a dead boar that Philippe had killed, the head of which had been preserved and mounted on a plaque over the fire. “Shall I have Enzo drive you?”
“I think we will walk.” It would give her and Marthe the opportunity to make plans. After so many weeks conducting espionage under Gerbert’s roof, it was going to be difficult to let go of her excessive caution.
“It’s eighty miles,” Gerbert pointed out.
“We shall stop in Allanche for lunch. A large herd of deer once roamed the woods there.” They would not make it so far, for Ysabeau had already sent Alain a message to meet them outside Murat.
Alain would drive them from there to Clermont-Ferrand, where they would board one of Baldwin’s infernal flying machines and proceed to London. Marthe abhorred air travel, which she believed was unnatural, but they could not allow Diana to arrive at a cold house. Ysabeau slipped Jean-Luc’s card into Gerbert’s hand. “Until next time.”
Arm in arm, Ysabeau and Marthe walked out into the crisp dawn. The towers of Château des Anges Déchus grew smaller and smaller behind them until they disappeared from sight.
“I must set a new alarm, Marthe. Seven thirty-seven A.M. Do not let me forget. 'Marche Henri IV’
would be most appropriate for it, I think,” Ysabeau whispered as their feet moved quickly north toward the dormant peaks of the ancient volcanoes and onward to their future.
“This cannot be my house, Leonard.” The palatial brick mansion’s expansive five-windowed frontage and towering four stories in one of London’s toniest neighborhoods made it inconceivable. I felt a pang of regret, though. The tall windows were trimmed in white to stand out against the warm brick, their old glass winking in the midday sunshine. Inside, I imagined that the house would be flooded with light. It would be warm, too, for there were not the usual two chimneys but three. And there was enough polished brass on the front door to start a marching band. It would be a glorious bit of history to call home.
“This is where I was told to go, Mistress . . . er, Mrs. . . . um, Diana.” Leonard Shoreditch, Jack’s erstwhile friend and another of Hubbard’s disreputable gang of lost boys, had been waiting—with Hamish—in the private arrivals area at London City Airport in the Docklands. Leonard now parked the Mercedes and craned his neck over the seat, awaiting further instructions.
“I promise you it’s your house, Auntie. If you don’t like it, we’ll swap it for a new one. But let’s discuss future real-estate transactions inside, please—not sitting in the street where any creature might see us. Get the luggage, lad.” Gallowglass clambered out of the front passenger seat and slammed the door behind him. He was still angry not to have been the one to drive us to Mayfair. But I’d been ferried around London by Gallowglass before and preferred to take my chances with Leonard.
I gave the mansion another dubious look.
“Don’t worry, Diana. Clairmont House isn’t half so grand inside as it is out. There is the staircase, of course. And some of the plasterwork is ornate,” Hamish said as he opened the car door. “Come to think of it, the whole house is rather grand.”
Leonard rooted around in the car trunk and removed my small suitcase and the large, hand-lettered sign he’d been holding when he met us. Leonard had wanted to do things properly, he said, and the sign bore the name CLAIRMONT in blocky capitals. When Hamish had told him we needed to be discreet, Leonard had drawn a line through the name and scrawled ROYDON underneath it in even darker characters using a felt-tip marker.
“How did you know to call Leonard?” I asked Hamish as he helped me out of the car. When last seen in 1591, Leonard had been in the company of another boy with the strangely fitting name of Amen Corner. As I recalled, Matthew had thrown a dagger at the two simply for delivering a message from Father Hubbard. I couldn’t imagine that my husband had stayed in touch with either young man.
“Gallowglass texted me his number. He said we should keep our affairs in the family as much as possible.” Hamish turned curious eyes on me. “I wasn’t aware Matthew owned a private car-hire business.”
“The company belongs to Matthew’s grandson.” I’d spent most of the journey from the airport staring at the promotional leaflets in the pocket behind the driver’s seat, which advertised the services of Hubbards of Houndsditch, Ltd., “proudly meeting London’s most discriminating transportation needs since 1917.”
Before I could explain further, a small, aged woman with ample h*ps and a familiar scowl pulled open the arched blue door. I stared in shock.
“You’re looking bonny, Marthe.” Gallowglass stooped and kissed her. Then he turned and frowned down the short flight of stairs that rose from the sidewalk. “Why are you still out on the curb, Auntie?”
“Why is Marthe here?” My throat was dry and the question came out in a croak.
“Is that Diana?” Ysabeau’s bell-like voice cut through the quiet murmur of city sounds. “Marthe and I are here to help, of course.”
Gallowglass whistled. “Being held against your will agreed with you, Granny. You haven’t looked so lively since Victoria was crowned.”
“Flatterer.” Ysabeau patted her grandson on the cheek. Then she looked at me and gasped. “Diana is as white as snow, Marthe. Get her inside, Gallowglass. At once.”
“You heard her, Auntie,” he said, sweeping me off my feet and onto the top step.
Ysabeau and Marthe propelled me through the airy entrance with its gleaming black-and-white marble floor and a curved staircase so splendid it made me gasp. The four flights of stairs were topped with a domed skylight that let in the sunshine and picked out the details in the moldings.
From there I was ushered into a tranquil reception room. Long drapes in gray figured silk hung at the windows, their color a pleasing contrast to the creamy walls. The upholstery pulled in shades of slate blue, terra-cotta, cream, and black to accent the gray, and the faint fragrance of cinnamon and cloves clung to all of it. Matthew’s taste was everywhere, too: in a small orrery, its brass wires gleaming; a piece of Japanese porcelain; the warmly colored rug.
“Hello, Diana. I thought you might need tea.” Phoebe Taylor arrived, accompanied by the scent of lilacs and the gentle clatter of silver and porcelain.
“Why aren’t you at Sept-Tours?” I asked, equally astonished to see her.
“Ysabeau told me I was needed here.” Phoebe’s neat black heels clicked against the polished wood.
She eyed Leonard as she put the tea tray down on a graceful table that was polished to such a high sheen that I could see her reflection in it. “I’m so sorry, but I don’t believe we’ve met. Would you like some tea?”
“Leonard Shoreditch, ma-madam, at your service,” Leonard said, stammering slightly. He bent in a stiff bow. “And thank you. I would dearly love some tea. White. Four sugars.”
Phoebe poured steaming liquid into a cup and put only three cubes of sugar in it before she handed it off to Leonard. Marthe snorted and sat down in a straight-backed chair next to the tea table, obviously intent on supervising Phoebe—and Leonard—like a hawk.
“That will rot your teeth, Leonard,” I said, unable to stop the maternal intervention.
“Vampires don’t worry much about tooth decay Mistress . . . er, Mrs. . . . um, Diana.” Leonard’s hand shook alarmingly, making the tiny cup and saucer with its red Japanese-style decoration clatter.
“That’s Chelsea porcelain, and quite early, too. Everything in the house should be in display cases at the V&A Museum.” Phoebe handed me an identical cup and saucer with a beautiful silver spoon balanced on the edge. “If anything is broken, I’ll never forgive myself. They’re irreplaceable.”
If Phoebe were going to marry Marcus as she planned, she would have to get used to being surrounded by museum-quality objects.
I took a sip of the scalding hot, sweet, milky tea and sighed with pleasure. Silence fell. I took another sip and looked around the room. Gallowglass was stuffed into a Queen Anne corner chair, his muscular legs splayed wide. Ysabeau was enthroned in the most ornate chair in the room: high-backed, its frame covered in silver leaf, and upholstered in damask. Hamish shared a mahogany settee with Phoebe. Leonard nervously perched on one of the side chairs that flanked the tea table.