“I don’t know, Gerbert,” I replied, shaking off his grip. “Ysabeau lived under your roof for weeks and you never discovered it.”
“It’s half past ten.” Sidonie von Borcke strode into the room. “We adjourn at midnight. Let’s conclude this sordid business and move on to more important matters—like our investigation of the Bishop family’s covenant violations.”
There was nothing more pressing than ridding the world of Benjamin but I bit my tongue and took my chair, resting the tote bag on the table in front of me. Domenico reached for it, still curious about its contents.
“Don’t.” I looked at him. Apparently my eyes spoke volumes, for he withdrew his hand quickly.
“So, Sidonie, am I to understand you’re calling the question?” I asked her abruptly. In spite of her calls for a quick resolution, she was proving to be a major impediment to the deliberations, drawing out every exchange with irrelevant detail until I was ready to scream.
“Not at all,” she huffed. “I merely wish us to consider the matter with proper efficiency.”
“I remain opposed to intervening in what is clearly a family problem,” Gerbert said. “Madame de Clermont’s proposal seeks to open this unfortunate matter to greater scrutiny. Already the Knights of Lazarus are on the scene and looking for her husband. It is best to let matters take their course.”
“And the blood rage?” It was the first time Satu had said anything with the exception of her “No” when called upon in the first vote.
“Blood rage is a matter for the vampires to handle. We will discipline the de Clermont family for their serious lapse in judgment and take appropriate measures to locate and exterminate all who might be infected.” Gerbert tented his fingers and looked around the table. “You can all rest easy on that score.”
“I agree with Gerbert. Furthermore, no scion can be established under a diseased sire,” Domenico said. “It’s unthinkable. Matthew Clairmont must be put to death, and all his children with him.” The vampire’s eyes gleamed.
Osamu raised his hand and waited to be recognized.
“Yes, Mr. Watanabe?” I nodded in his direction.
“What’s a weaver?” he asked. “And what do they have in common with vampires who have blood rage?”
“What makes you think they have anything in common?” Sidonie snapped.
“It’s only logical that blood-rage vampires and weaving witches have something in common. How could Diana and Matthew have had children otherwise?” Agatha looked at me expectantly. Before I could answer, Gerbert stood and loomed over me.
“Is that what Matthew discovered in the Book of Life?” he demanded. “Did you unearth a spell that joins the two species?”
“Sit down, Gerbert.” Janet had been knitting steadily for hours, looking up every now and again to make a judicious comment or smile benignly.
“The witch must answer!” Gerbert exclaimed. “What spell is at work here, and how did you perform it?”
“The answer is in the Book of Life.” I dragged the tote bag toward me and drew out the volume that had been hidden for so long in the Bodleian Library.
There were gasps of astonishment around the table.
“This is a trick,” Sidonie pronounced. She rose and made her way around the table. “If that is the witches’ lost book of spells, I demand to examine it.”
“It’s the vampire’s lost history,” Domenico growled as she went past his chair.
“Here.” I handed to Sidonie.
The witch tried to spring the clasps, pushing and tugging at the metal fittings, but the book refused to cooperate with her. I held out my hands and the book flew across the space between us, eager to be back where it belonged. Sidonie and Gerbert exchanged a long look.
“You open it, Diana,” Agatha said, her eyes round. I thought back to what she’d said in Oxford all those months ago—that Ashmole 782 belonged to the daemons as well as the witches and vampires.
Somehow, she had already divined a sense of the contents.
I placed on the table while the Congregation gathered around me. The clasps opened immediately at my touch. Whispers and sighs filled the air, followed by the eldritch traces left by the spirits of the creatures who were bound to the pages.
“Magic isn’t permitted on Isola della Stella,” Domenico protested, an edge of panic in his voice.
“Tell her, Gerbert!”
“If I were working magic, Domenico, you’d know it,” I retorted.
Domenico paled as the wraiths grew more coherent, taking on elongated human form with hollow, dark eyes.
I flipped the book open. Everybody bent forward for a closer look.
“There’s nothing there,” Gerbert said, his face twisted with fury. “The book is blank. What have you done to our book of origins?”
“This book smells . . . odd,” Domenico said, giving the air a suspicious sniff. “Like dead animals.”
“No, it smells of dead creatures.” I ruffled the pages so that the scent rose in the air. “Daemons.
Vampires. Witches. They’re all in there.”
“You mean . . .” Tatiana looked horrified.
“That’s right.” I nodded. “That’s parchment made from creature skin. The leaves are sewn together with creature hair, too.”
“But where is the text?” Gerbert asked, his voice rising. “The Book of Life is supposed to hold the key to many mysteries. It’s our sacred text—the vampire’s history.”
“Here is your sacred text.” I pushed up my sleeves. Letters and symbols swirled and ran just under my skin, coming to the surface like bubbles on a pond, only to dissolve. I had no idea what my eyes were doing, but I suspected they were full of characters, too. Satu backed away from me.
“You bewitched it,” Gerbert snarled.
“The Book of Life was bewitched long ago,” I said. “All I did was open it.”
“And it chose you.” Osamu reached out a finger to touch the letters on my arm. A few of them gathered around the point where his skin touched mine before they danced away again.
“Why did the book choose Diana Bishop?” Domenico snarled.
“Because I’m a weaver—a maker of spells—and there are precious few of us left.” I sought out Satu once more. Her lips were pressed together, and her eyes begged me to remain silent. “We had too much creative power, and our fellow witches killed us.”
“The same power that makes it possible for you to create new spells gives you the ability to create new life,” Agatha said, her excitement evident.
“It’s a special blessing the goddess bestows on female weavers,” I replied. “Not all weavers are women, of course. My father was a weaver, too.”
“It’s impossible,” Domenico snarled. “This is more of the witch’s treachery. I’ve never heard of a weaver, and the ancient scourge of blood rage has mutated into an even more dangerous form. As for children born to witches and vampires, we cannot allow such an evil to take root. They would be monsters, beyond reason or control.”
“I must take issue with you on that point, Domenico,” Janet said.
“On what grounds?” he said with a touch of impatience.
“On the grounds that I am such a creature and am neither evil nor monstrous.”
For the first time since my arrival, the attention of the room was directed elsewhere.
“My grandmother was the child of a weaver and a vampire.” Janet’s gray eyes latched onto mine.
“Everyone in the Highlands called him Nickie-Ben.”
“Benjamin,” I breathed.
“Aye.” Janet nodded. “Young witches were told to be careful on moonless nights, lest Nickie-Ben catch them. My great-granny, Isobel Gowdie, didn’t listen. They had a mad love affair. The legends say he bit her on the shoulder. When Nickie-Ben went away, he left something behind without knowing it: a daughter. I am named after her.”
I looked down at my arms. In a kind of magical Scrabble, letters rose and arranged themselves into a name: JANET GOWDIE, DAUGHTER OF ISOBEL GOWDIE AND BENJAMIN FOX. Janet’s grandmother had been one of the Bright Born.
“When was your grandmother conceived?” An account of a Bright Born’s life might tell me something about my own children’s futures.
“In 1662,” Janet said. “Granny Janet died in 1912, bless her, at the age of two hundred and fifty.
She kept her beauty right until the end, but then, unlike me, Granny Janet was more vampire than witch.
She was proud to have inspired the legends of the baobhan sith, having lured many a man to her bed only to cause each of them death and ruin after Nickie-Ben left her. And it was fearful to behold Granny Janet’s temper when she was crossed.”
“But that would make you . . .” My eyes were round.
“I’ll be one hundred and seventy next year,” Janet said. She murmured a few words and her white hair was revealed to be a dusky black. Another murmured spell dissolved the wrinkles on her face, leaving her skin a luminous, pearly white.
Janet Gowdie looked no more than thirty. My children’s lives began to take shape in my imagination.
“And your mother?” I asked.
“My mam lived for a full two hundred years. With each passing generation, our lives get shorter.”
“How do you hide what you are from the humans?” Osamu asked.
“Same way the vampires do, I suppose. A bit of luck. A bit of help from our fellow witches. A bit of human willingness to turn away from the truth,” Janet replied.
“This is utter nonsense,” Sidonie said hotly. “You are a famous witch, Janet. Your spell-casting ability is renowned. And you come from a distinguished line of witches. Why you would want to sully your family’s reputation with this story is beyond me.”
“And there it is,” I said, my voice soft.
“There what is?” Sidonie sounded like a testy schoolmarm.
“The disgust. The fear. The dislike of anybody who doesn’t conform to your simple-minded expectations of the world and how it should work.”
“Listen to me, Diana Bishop—”
But I was through listening to Sidonie or anybody else who used the covenant as a shield to hide their own inner darkness.
“No. You listen to me,” I said. “My parents were witches. I’m the blood-sworn daughter of a vampire. My husband, and the father of my children, is a vampire. Janet, too, is descended from a witch and a vampire. When will you stop pretending that there’s some pure-blooded witch ideal in the world?”
Sidonie stiffened. “There is such an ideal. It is how our power has been maintained.”
“No. It’s how our power has died, ” I retorted. “If we keep abiding by the covenant, in a few generations we won’t have any power left. The whole purpose of that agreement was to keep the species from mixing and reproducing.”
“More nonsense!” Sidonie cried. “The covenant’s purpose is first and foremost to keep us safe.”
“No. The covenant was drawn up to prevent the birth of children like Janet: powerful, long-lived, neither witch nor vampire nor daemon but something in between,” I said. “It’s what all creatures have feared. It’s what Benjamin wants to control. We cannot let him.”
“In between?” Janet arched her brows. They were, now that I was seeing her clearly, as black as night. “Is that the answer, then?”
“Answer to what?” Domenico demanded.
But I was not ready to share that secret from the Book of Life. Not until Miriam and Chris had found the scientific evidence to back up what the manuscript had revealed. Once again I was saved from answering by the ringing of Celestina’s bells.
“It is nearly midnight. We must adjourn—for now,” Agatha Wilson said, her eyes shining. “I call the question. Will the Congregation support the de Clermonts in their efforts to rid the world of Benjamin Fox?”
Everyone returned to their seats and we went around the table one by one, casting our votes.
This time the vote was more encouraging: four in favor and five opposed. I had made progress in the second vote, earning the support of Agatha, Osamu, and Janet, but not enough to guarantee the outcome when the third, and final, vote was taken tomorrow. Especially not when my old enemies, Gerbert, Domenico, and Satu, were among the holdouts.
“The meeting will resume tomorrow afternoon at five o’clock.” Aware of every minute that Matthew was spending in Benjamin’s custody, I had argued once more for an earlier meeting time. And once more, my request had been denied.
Wearily I gathered up my leather folio—which I’d never opened—and the Book of Life. The past seven hours had been grueling. I couldn’t stop thinking about Matthew and what he was enduring while the Congregation hemmed and hawed. And I was worried about the children, too, who were without both of their parents.I waited for the room to empty. Janet Gowdie and Gerbert were the last to leave.
“Gerbert?” I called.
He stopped on his way out the door, his back to me.
“I haven’t forgotten what happened in May,” I said, the power burning brightly in my hands.
“Nor have I.” Gerbert’s head swung around. “Peter said you and Matthew were hiding something. I should have listened to him.”
“Why? Didn’t Benjamin already tip you off about what the witches discovered?” I asked.
But Gerbert hadn’t lived so long to be caught so easily. His lip curled.