He tore into the envelope, his eyes racing over the lines of text and the black-and-white ideograms that accompanied them. He looked up, his lips parted in astonishment.
“I was surprised, too,” Miriam admitted. “As long as we approached daemons, vampires, and witches as separate species distantly related to humans but distinct from one another, the truth was going to elude us.”
“Then Diana told us was about what joined us together, not what separated us,”
Chris continued. “She asked us to compare her genome to both the daemon genome and the genomes of other witches.”
“It was all there in the creature chromosome,” Miriam said, “hiding in plain sight.”
“I don’t understand,” Sarah said, looking blank.
“Diana was able to conceive Matthew’s child because they both have daemon blood in them,”
Chris explained. “It’s too early to know for sure, but our hypothesis is that weavers are descended from ancient witch-daemon unions. Blood-rage vampires like Matthew are produced when a vampire with the blood-rage gene creates another vampire from a human with some daemon DNA.”
“We didn’t find much of a daemonic presence in Ysabeau’s genetic sample, or Marcus’s either,”
Miriam added. “That explains why they never manifested the disease like Matthew or Benjamin did.”
“But Stephen Proctor’s mother was human,” Sarah said. “She was a total pain in the ass—sorry, Diana—but definitely not daemonic.”
“It doesn’t have to be an immediate relationship,” Miriam said. “There just has to be enough daemon DNA in the mix to trigger the weaver and blood-rage genes. It could have been one of Stephen’s distant ancestors. As Chris said, these findings are pretty raw. We’ll need decades to understand it completely.”
“One more thing: Baby Margaret is a weaver, too.” Chris pointed to the paper in Matthew’s hands.
“Page thirty. There’s no question about it.”
“I wonder if that’s why Em was so adamant that Margaret shouldn’t fall into Knox’s hands,” Sarah mused. “Maybe she discovered the truth somehow.”
“This will shake the Congregation to its foundations,” I said.
“It does more than that. The science makes the covenant completely irrelevant,” Matthew said.
“We’re not separate species.”
“So we’re just different races?” I asked. “That makes our miscegenation argument even stronger.”
“You need to catch up on your reading, Professor Bishop,” Chris said with a smile. “Racial identity has no biological basis—at least none accepted by most scientists.”
“But that means—” I stopped.
“You aren’t monsters after all. There are no such thing as daemons, vampires, and witches. Not biologically. You’re just humans with a difference.” Chris grinned. “Tell the Congregation to stick that in their pipe and smoke it.”
I didn’t use exactly those words in my cover statement to the enormous dossier that we sent to Venice in advance of the Congregation meeting, but what I did say amounted to the same thing.
The days of the covenant were done.
And if the Congregation wanted to continue to function, it was going to have to find something better to do with its time than police the boundaries between daemon, vampire, witch, and human.
When I went to the library the morning before my departure for Venice, however, I found that something had been left out of the file.
While we were doing our research, it had been impossible to ignore the sticky traces of Gerbert’s fingers. He seemed to lurk in the margins of every document and every piece of evidence. It was hard to pin much on him directly, but the circumstantial evidence was clear: Gerbert of Aurillac had known for some time about the special abilities of weavers. He’d even held one in thrall: the witch Meridiana, who had cursed him as she died. And he had been feeding Benjamin Fuchs information about the de Clermonts for centuries. Philippe had found him out and confronted him about it just before he left on his final mission to Nazi Germany.
“Why didn’t the information about Gerbert go to Venice?” I demanded of Matthew when at last I found him in the kitchen making my tea. Ysabeau was with him, playing with Philip and Becca.
“Because it’s better if the rest of the Congregation doesn’t know about Gerbert’s involvement,”
“Better for whom?” I asked sharply. “I want that creature exposed and punished.”
“But the Congregation’s punishments are so very unsatisfactory,” Ysabeau said, her eyes gleaming.
“Too much talking. Not enough pain. If it’s punishment you want, let me do it.” Her fingernails rapped against the counter, and I shivered.
“You’ve done enough, Maman, ” Matthew said, giving her a forbidding glance.
“Oh, that.” Ysabeau waved her hand dismissively. “Gerbert has been a very naughty boy. But he will cooperate with Diana tomorrow because of it. You will find Gerbert of Aurillac entirely supportive, daughter.”
I sat down on the kitchen stool with a thunk.
“While Ysabeau was being held in Gerbert’s house, she and Nathaniel did a bit of snooping,”
Matthew explained. “They’ve been monitoring his e-mail and Internet usage ever since.”
“Did you know that nothing you see on the Internet ever dies, Diana? It lives on and on, just like a vampire.” Ysabeau looked genuinely fascinated by the comparison.
“And?” I still had no idea where this was leading.
“Gerbert isn’t just fond of witches,” Ysabeau said. “He’s had a string of daemon lovers, too. One of them is still living on the Via della Scala in Rome, in a palatial and drafty set of apartments that he bought for her in the seventeenth century.”
“Wait. Seventeenth century?” I tried to think straight, though it was difficult with Ysabeau looking like Tabitha after she’d devoured a mouse.
“Not only did Gerbert ‘consort’ with daemons, he turned one into a vampire. Such a thing is strictly forbidden—not by the covenant but by vampire law. For good reason, it turns out now that we know what triggers blood rage,” Matthew said. “Not even Philippe knew about her—though he did know about some of Gerbert’s other daemon lovers.”
“And we’re blackmailing him over it?” I said.
“‘Blackmail’ is such an ugly word,” Ysabeau said. “I prefer to think that Gallowglass was exceptionally persuasive when he dropped by Les Anges Déchus last night to wish Gerbert safe journey.”
“I don’t want some covert de Clermont operation against Gerbert. I want the world to know what a snake he is,” I said. “I want to beat him fair and square in open battle.”
“Don’t worry. The whole world will know. One day. One war at a time, ma lionne. ” Matthew softened the commanding edge of his remark with a kiss and a cup of tea.
“Philippe preferred hunting to warfare.” Ysabeau dropped her voice, as though she didn’t want Becca and Philip to overhear her next words. “You see, when you hunt, you get to play with your prey before you destroy it. That is what we are doing with Gerbert.”
“Oh.” There was, admittedly, something appealing about that prospect.
“I felt sure you would understand. You are named after the goddess of the chase, after all. Happy hunting in Venice, my dear,” Ysabeau said, patting me on the hand.
The Bull governeth money, credit, debts, and gifts. While the sun is in Taurus, deal with unfinished business. Settle your affaires, lest they trouble you later. Should you receive an unexpected reward, invest it for the future.
Venice looked very different to my eyes in May than it had in January, and not solely because the sky was blue and the lagoon tranquil.
When Matthew had been in Benjamin’s clutches, the city felt cold and unwelcoming. It was a place I wanted to leave as quickly as possible. When I did, I never expected to return.
But the goddess’s justice would not be complete until the covenant was overturned.
And so I found myself back at Ca’ Chiaromonte, sitting on a bench in the back garden rather than a bench overlooking the Grand Canal, waiting once more for the Congregation’s meeting to begin.
This time Janet Gowdie waited with me. Together we went over our case one last time, imagining what arguments would be made against it while Matthew’s precious turtles slipped and slid across the gravel paths in pursuit of a mosquito snack.
“Time to go,” Marcus announced just before the bells began to ring four o’clock. He and Fernando would accompany us to Isola della Stella. Janet and I had tried to assure the rest of the family that we would be fine on our own, but Matthew wouldn’t hear of it.
The Congregation’s membership was the same as it had been at the January meeting. Agatha, Tatiana, and Osamu gave me encouraging smiles, though the reception that I received from Sidonie von Borcke and the vampires was decidedly frosty. Satu slipped into the cloister at the last moment as if she hoped not to be noticed. Gone was the self-assured witch who had kidnapped me from the garden at Sept-Tours. Sidonie’s appraising stare suggested that Satu’s transformation had not gone unnoticed, and I suspected that a change in the witches’ representatives would soon be made.
I strolled across the cloister to join the two vampires.
“Domenico. Gerbert,” I said, nodding at each in turn.
“Witch,” Gerbert sneered.
“And a de Clermont, too.” I angled my body so that my lips were close to Gerbert’s ear. “Don’t get too complacent, Gerbert. The goddess may have saved you for last, but make no mistake: Your day of judgment is coming.” I drew away and was gratified to see a spark of fear in his eyes.
When I slid the de Clermont key in the meeting chamber lock, I was overcome by a sense of déjà vu. The doors swung open and the uncanny feeling increased. My eyes locked on the the ouroboros—the tenth knot—carved onto the back of the de Clermont seat and the silver and gold threads in the room snapped with power.
All witches are taught to believe in signs. Happily, the meaning of this one was clear without any need for further magic or complicated interpretation: This is your seat. Here is where you belong.
“I call this meeting to order,” I said, rapping on the table.
My left finger bore a thick ribbon of violet. The goddess’s arrow had disappeared after I’d used it to kill Benjamin, but the vivid purple mark—the color of justice—remained.
I studied the room—the wide table, the records of my people and my children’s ancestors, the nine creatures gathered to make a decision that would change the lives of thousands like them all around the world. High above I felt the spirits of those who had come before, their glances freezing and nudging and tingling.
Here is where you fight for justice, they said with one voice.
“We won,” I reported to the members of the de Clermont and Clairmont-Bishop families who had assembled in the salon to greet us when we returned from Venice. “The covenant has been repealed.”
There were cheers, and hugs, and congratulations. Baldwin raised his wineglass in my direction, in a less effusive demonstration of approval.
My eyes sought out Matthew.
“No surprise,” he said. The silence that followed was heavy with words that, though unspoken, I heard nonetheless. He bent to pick up his daughter. “See, Rebecca? Your mother fixed everything once again.”
Becca had discovered the pure pleasure of chewing on her own fingers. I was very glad the vampire equivalent of milk teeth had not come in yet. Matthew removed her hand from her mouth and waved it in my direction, distracting his daughter from the tantrum she was planning. “Bonjour, Maman.”
Jack was bouncing Philip on his knee. The baby looked both intrigued and concerned. “Nice work, Mum.”
“I had plenty of help.” My throat thickened as I looked not only at Jack and Philip but at Sarah and Agatha, whose heads were bent close together as they gossiped about the Congregation meeting, Fernando and Gallowglass, who were amusing Sophie and Verin with tales of Gerbert’s stiff demeanor and Domenico’s fury, and Phoebe and Marcus, who were enjoying a lingering reunion kiss. Baldwin stood with Matthew and Becca. I approached them.
“This belongs to you, brother.” The de Clermont key rested heavy in the palm of my outstretched hand.
“Keep it.” Baldwin closed my fingers around the cool metal.
The conversation in the salon died away.
“What did you say?” I whispered.
“I told you to keep it,” Baldwin repeated.
“You can’t mean—”
“But I do. Everyone in the de Clermont family has a job. You know that.” Baldwin’s golden-brown eyes gleamed. “As of today, overseeing the Congregation is yours.”
“I can’t. I’m a professor!” I protested.
“Set the Congregation’s meeting schedule around your classes. As long as you answer your email,”
Baldwin said with mock severity, “you should have no problem juggling your responsibilities. I’ve neglected the family’s affairs long enough. Besides, I’m a warrior, not a politician.”
I looked to Matthew in mute appeal, but he had no intention of rescuing me from this particular plight. His expression was filled with pride, not protectiveness.
“What about your sisters?” I said, my mind racing. “Surely Verin will object.”