I was in our bedchamber again, the one where Matthew and I had spent our first night in the sixteenth century. Only a few things had changed: the electricity that powered the lamps, the Victorian bellpull that hung by the fire to call the servants to tend the fire or bring tea (though why this was necessary in a vampire household, I could not fathom), the closet that had been carved out of an adjoining room.
Our return to the Old Lodge after meeting Timothy Weston had been unexpectedly tense.
Gallowglass had flatly refused to take me to Oxford after we located the final page of the Book of Life, though it was not yet the supper hour and Duke Humfrey’s was open until seven o’clock during term time. When Leonard offered to drive, Gallowglass threatened to kill him in disturbingly detailed and graphic terms. Fernando and Gallowglass had departed, ostensibly to talk, and Gallowglass had returned with a rapidly healing split lip, a slightly bruised eye, and a mumbled apology to Leonard.
“You aren’t going,” Fernando said when I headed for the door. “I’ll take you tomorrow, but not tonight. Gallowglass is right: You look like death.”
“Stop coddling me,” I said through gritted teeth, my hands still shooting out intermittent sparks.
“I’ll coddle you until your mate returns,” Fernando said. “The only person on this earth who could make me take you to Oxford is Matthew. Feel free to call him.” He held out his phone.
That had been the end of the discussion. I’d accepted Fernando’s ultimatum with poor grace, though my head was pounding and I’d worked more magic in the past week than I had my whole life previous.
“So long as you have these three pages, no other creature can possess the book,” Amira said, trying to comfort me. But it seemed like a poor consolation when the book was so close.
Not even the sight of the three pages, lined up on the long table in the great hall, had improved my mood. I’d been anticipating and dreading this moment since we left Madison, but now that it was here, it felt strangely anticlimactic.
Phoebe had arranged the images carefully, making sure they didn’t touch. We’d learned the hard way that they seemed to have a magnetic affinity. When I’d arrived home and bundled them together in preparation for going to the Bodleian, a soft keening had come from the pages, followed by a chattering that everybody heard—even Phoebe.
“You can’t just march into the Bodleian with these three pages and stuff them back into an enchanted book,” Sarah said. “It’s crazy. There are bound to be witches in the room. They’ll come running.”
“And who knows how will respond?” Ysabeau poked at the illustration of the tree with her finger. “What if it shrieks? Ghosts might be released. Or Diana might set off a rain of fire.”
After her experiences in London, Ysabeau had been doing some reading. She was now prepared to discuss a wide variety of topics, including spectral apparitions and the number of occult phenomena that had been observed in the British Isles over the past two years.
“You’re going to have to steal it,” Sarah said.
“I’m a tenured professor at Yale, Sarah! I can’t! My life as a scholar—”
“Is probably over,” Sarah said, finishing my sentence.
“Come now, Sarah,” Fernando chided. “That is a bit extreme, even for you. Surely there is a way for Diana to check out Ashmole 782 and return it at some future date.”
I tried to explain that you didn’t borrow books from the Bodleian, but to no avail. With Ysabeau and Sarah in charge of logistics and Fernando and Gallowglass in charge of security, I was relegated to a position where I could only advise, counsel, and warn. They were more high-handed than Matthew.
And so here I was at four o’clock in the morning, staring out the window and waiting for the sun to rise.
“What should I do?” I murmured, my forehead pressed against the cold, diamond-shaped panes.
As soon as I asked the question, my skin flared with awareness, as though I’d stuck a finger into an electrical socket. A shimmering figure dressed in white came from the forest, accompanied by a white deer. The otherworldly animal walked sedately at the woman’s side, unafraid of the huntress who held a bow and a quiver of arrows in her hand. The goddess.
She stopped and looked up at my window. “Why so sad, daughter?” her silvery voice whispered.
“Have you lost what you most desire?”
I had learned not to answer her questions. She smiled at my reluctance.
“Dare to join me under this full moon. Perhaps you will find it once more.” The goddess rested her fingers on the deer’s antlers and waited.
I slipped outside undetected. My feet crunched across the gravel paths of the knot gardens, then left dark impressions in the frost-touched grass. Soon, I stood in front of the goddess.
“Why are you here?” I asked.
“To help you.” The goddess’s eyes were silver and black in the moonlight. “You will have to give something up if you want to possess — something precious to you.”
“I’ve given enough.” My voice trembled. “My parents, then my first child, then my aunt. Not even my life is my own anymore. It belongs to you.”
“And I do not abandon those who serve me.” The goddess withdrew an arrow from her quiver. It was long and silver, with owl-feather fletches. She offered it to me. “Take it.”
“No.” I shook my head. “Not without knowing the price.”
“No one refuses me.” The goddess put the arrow shaft into her bow, aimed. It was then I noticed that her weapon lacked its pointed tip. Her hand drew back, the silver string pulled taut.
There was no time to react before the goddess released the shaft. It shot straight toward my breast. I felt a searing pain, a yank of the chain around my neck, and a tingling feeling of warmth between my left shoulder blade and my spine. The golden links that had held Philippe’s arrowhead slithered down my body and landed at my feet. I felt the fabric that covered my chest for the telltale wetness of blood, but there was nothing except a small hole to indicate where the shaft had passed through.
“You cannot outrun my arrow. No creature can. It is part of you now, waiting until you have need of it,” she said. “Even those born to strength should carry weapons.”
I searched the ground around my feet, looking for Philippe’s jewel. When I straightened, I could feel its point pressing into my ribs. I stared at the goddess in astonishment.
“My arrow never misses its target,” the goddess said. “Do not hesitate. And aim true.”
“They’ve been moved where?” This could not be happening. Not when we were so close to finding answers.
“The Radcliffe Science Library.” Sean was apologetic, but his patience was wearing thin. “It’s not the end of the world, Diana.”
“But . . . that is . . .” I trailed off, the completed call slip for Ashmole 782 dangling from my fingers.
“Don’t you read your e-mails? We’ve been sending out notices about the move for months,” Sean said. “I’m happy to take the request and put it in the system, since you’ve been away and apparently out of reach of the Internet. But none of the Ashmole manuscripts are here, and you can’t call them up to this reading room unless you have a bona fide intellectual reason that’s related to the manuscripts and maps that are still here.”
Of all the exigencies we had planned for this morning—and they were many and varied—the Bodleian Library’s decision to move rare books and manuscripts from Duke Humfrey’s to the Radcliffe Science Library had not been among them. We’d left Sarah and Amira at home with Leonard in case we needed magical backup. Gallowglass and Fernando were both outside, loafing around the statue of Mary Herbert’s son William and being photographed by female visitors. Ysabeau had gained entrance to the library after enticing the head of development with a gift to rival the annual budget of Liechtenstein. She was now on a private tour of the facility. Phoebe, who had attended Christ Church and was therefore the only member of my book posse in possession of a library card, had accompanied me into Duke Humfrey’s and was now waiting patiently in a seat overlooking Exeter College’s gardens.
“How aggravating.” No matter how many rare books and precious manuscripts they’d relocated, I was absolutely sure Ashmole 782 was still here. My father had not bound to its call number after all, but to the library. In 1850 the Radcliffe Science Library didn’t exist.
I looked at my watch. It was only ten-thirty. A swarm of children on a school trip were released into the quadrangle, their high-pitched voices echoing against the stone walls. How long would it take me to manufacture an excuse that would satisfy Sean? Phoebe and I needed to regroup. I tried to reach the spot on my lower back where the tip of the goddess’s arrow was lodged. The shaft kept my posture ramrod straight, and if I slouched the slightest bit, I felt a warning prickle.
“And don’t think it’s going to be easy to come up with a good rationale for looking at your manuscript here,” Sean warned, reading my mind. Humans never failed to activate their usually dormant sixth senses at the most inopportune moments. “Your friend has been sending requests of all sorts for weeks, and no matter how many times he asks to see manuscripts here, the requests keep getting redirected to Parks Road.”
“Tweed jacket? Corduroy pants?” If Peter Knox was in Duke Humfrey’s, I was going to throttle him.
“No. The guy who sits by the card catalogs.” Sean jerked his thumb in the direction of the Selden End.
I backed carefully out of Sean’s office across from the old call desk and felt the numbing sensation of a vampire’s stare. Gerbert?
Benjamin’s arm was draped over Phoebe’s shoulders, and there were spots of red on the collar of her white blouse. For the first time since I’d met her, Phoebe looked terrified.
“Herr Fuchs.” I spoke slightly louder than usual. Hopefully, Ysabeau or Gallowglass would hear his name over the din that the children were causing. I forced my feet to move toward him at an even pace.
“What a surprise to see you here—and looking so . . . fertile.” Benjamin’s eyes drifted slowly over my br**sts to where the twins lay curled in my belly. One of them was kicking furiously, as though to make a break for freedom. Corra, too, twisted and snarled inside me.
No fire or flame. The oath I’d taken when I got my first reader’s card floated through my mind.
“I expected Matthew. Instead I get his mate. And my brother’s, too.” Benjamin’s nose went to the pulse under Phoebe’s ear. His teeth grazed her flesh. She bit her lip to keep from crying out. “What a good boy Marcus is, always standing by his father. I wonder if he’ll stand by you, pet, once I’ve made you mine.”
“Let her go, Benjamin.” Once the words were out of my mouth, the logical part of my brain registered their pointlessness. There was no chance that Benjamin was going to let Phoebe go.
“Don’t worry. You won’t be left out.” His fingers stroked the place on Phoebe’s neck where her pulse hammered. “I’ve got big plans for you, too, Mistress Roydon. You’re a good breeder. I can see that.”
Where was Ysabeau?
The arrow burned against my spine, inviting me to use its power. But how could I target Benjamin without running the risk of harming Phoebe? He had placed Phoebe slightly in front of him, like a shield.
“This one dreams of being a vampire.” Benjamin’s mouth lowered, brushed against Phoebe’s neck.
She whimpered. “I could make those dreams come true. With any luck I could send you back to Marcus with blood so strong you could bring him to his knees.”
Philippe’s voice rang in my mind: Think—and stay alive. That was the job he had given me. But my thoughts ran in disorganized circles. Snatches of spells and half-remembered warnings from Goody Alsop chased Benjamin’s threats. I needed to concentrate.
Phoebe’s eyes begged me to do something.
“Use your pitiful power, witch. I may not know what’s in the Book of Life—yet—but I’ve learned that witches are no match for vampires.”
I hesitated. Benjamin smiled. I stood at the crossroads between the life I’d always thought I wanted—scholarly, intellectual, free from the complicated messiness of magic—and the life I now had.
If I worked magic here, in the Bodleian Library, there would be no turning back.
“Something wrong?” he drawled.
My back continued to burn, the pain spreading into my shoulder. I lifted my hands and separated them as though they held a bow, then aimed my left index finger at Benjamin to create a line of sight.
My hand was no longer colorless. A blaze of purple, thick and vivid, ran all the way down to the palm. I groaned inwardly. Of course my magic would decide to change now. Think. What was the magical significance of purple?
I felt the sensation of a rough string scraping against my cheek. I twisted my lips and directed a puff of air toward it. No distractions. Think. Stay alive.
When my focus returned to my hands, there was a bow in them—a real, tangible, bow made of wood ornamented with silver and gold. I felt a strange tingle from the wood, one I recognized. Rowan.
And there was an arrow between my fingers, too: silver-shafted and tipped with Philippe’s golden arrowhead. Would it find its target as the goddess had promised? Benjamin twisted Phoebe so that she was directly in front of him.
“Take your best shot, witch. You’ll kill Marcus’s warmblood, but I’ll still have everything I came for.”