Home > Time's Convert (All Souls Trilogy)(12)

Time's Convert (All Souls Trilogy)(12)
Author: Deborah Harkness

I sat back in my chair with a sigh of contentment while Matthew and Marcus discussed their shared work on creature genetics in a slow, relaxed fashion that was very unlike what occurred between competitive, modern academics. Vampires had all the time in the world to mull over their findings. They had little cause to rush to conclusions, and the honest exchange that resulted was inspiring.

As the light faded, however, it was evident that Marcus was feeling Phoebe’s absence with renewed sharpness. The red threads that tied Marcus to the world turned rosy and shimmered with copper notes whenever he thought about his mate. I was usually able to screen out momentary slubs in the fabric of time, but these were impossible to ignore. Marcus was worried about what might be happening in Paris. In an effort to distract him, I suggested he tell me about his own transformation from warmblood to vampire.

“It’s up to you, Marcus,” I said. “But if you think it would help to talk about your past, I’d love to listen.”

“I wouldn’t know where to begin,” Marcus said.

“Hamish always says you should start at the end,” Matthew observed, sipping his wine.

“Or you could start with your origins,” I said, stating the obvious alternative.

“Like Dickens?” Marcus made a soft sound of amusement. “Chapter one, ‘I am born’?”

The usual biographical template of birth, childhood, marriage, and death might be too narrow and conventional for a vampire, I had to admit.

“Chapter two, I died. Chapter three, I was reborn.” Marcus shook his head. “I’m afraid it’s not so simple a tale, Diana. Strange, minor things stand out so clearly to me, and I can barely recall the dates of major events.”

“Matthew warned me that vampire memories might be tricky,” I said. “Why don’t we start with something easy, like your name?” He went by Marcus Whitmore now, but there was no telling what it had been originally.

Marcus’s darkening expression told me that my simple question didn’t have an easy answer.

“Vampires don’t normally share that information. Names are important, mon coeur,” Matthew reminded me.

For historians as well as vampires—which is why I’d asked. With a name, it would be possible for me to trace Marcus’s past in archives and libraries.

Marcus took a steadying breath, and the black threads surrounding him bristled with agitation. I exchanged a worried look with Matthew.

I did warn you, said Matthew’s expression.

“Marcus MacNeil.” Marcus blurted out the name.

Marcus MacNeil of Hadley, born August 1757. A name, a date, a place—these were the building blocks of most historical research. Even if Marcus were to stop there, I could probably find out more about him.

“My mother was Catherine Chauncey of Boston, and my father . . .” Marcus’s throat closed, shutting off the words. He cleared it and started again. “My father was Obadiah MacNeil from the nearby town of Pelham.”

“Did you have any brothers or sisters?” I asked.

“One sister. Her name was Patience.” Marcus’s face had turned ashen. Matthew poured him some more wine.

“Older or younger?” I wanted to get as much out of Marcus as possible in case tonight was the only chance I had to gather information from him.

“Younger.”

“Where did you live in Hadley?” I steered the conversation away from his family, which was clearly a painful subject.

“A house on the western road out of town.”

“What do you remember about the house?”

“Not much.” Marcus looked surprised that I was interested in such a thing. “The door was red. There was a lilac bush outside, and the scent came through the open windows in May. The more my mother neglected it, the more it bloomed. And there was a black clock on the mantel. In the parlor. It came down to her through the Chauncey family, and she wouldn’t let anyone touch it.”

As Marcus recalled small details of his past, his memory—which had grown rusty and sepia toned from disuse—began to operate more freely.

“There were geese everywhere in Hadley,” Marcus continued. “They were vicious, and roamed all over town frightening the children. And I remember there was a brass rooster atop the meetinghouse steeple. Zeb put it up there. God, I haven’t thought about that rooster in ages.”

“Zeb?” I asked, less interested in the town’s weather vane.

“Zeb Pruitt. My friend. My hero, really,” Marcus said slowly.

Time chimed in warning, the sound echoing in my ears.

“What’s your earliest memory of him?” I prompted Marcus.

“He taught me how to march like a soldier,” Marcus whispered. “In the barn. I was five or six. My father caught him. He didn’t let me spend much time with Zeb after that.”

A red door.

A lilac bush.

A wayward flock of geese.

A rooster on the meetinghouse steeple.

A friend who played make-believe soldier with him.

These charming fragments were part of the larger mosaic of Marcus’s life, but they weren’t enough to form a coherent picture of his past, or reveal some larger historical truth.

I opened my mouth to ask another question. Matthew shook his head, warning me not to interfere in the story but to let Marcus take it in whatever direction he needed to go.

“My father was a soldier. He was in the militia, and fought at Ft. William Henry. He didn’t see me for months after I was born,” Marcus said, his voice dropping. “I always wondered whether things would have been different if only he had come home sooner from the war, or never gone at all.”

Marcus shivered and I felt a flicker of unease.

“War changed him. It changes everybody, of course. But my father believed in God and country first, and rules and discipline second.” Marcus cocked his head to the side as if he were considering a proposition. “I suppose that’s one of the reasons why I don’t have much faith in rules. They don’t always keep you safe, like my father believed.”

“Your father sounds like he was a man of his time,” I noted. Rules and regulations were a fixture of early American life.

“If you mean he sounds like a patriarch, you’d be right,” Marcus agreed. “Full of bristle and brimstone, with the Lord and the king on his side no matter what daft position he adopted. Obadiah MacNeil ruled over our house and everybody in it. It was his kingdom.”

Marcus’s blue eyes shattered under the weight of his recollections.

“We had this bootjack,” Marcus continued. “It was made out of iron and shaped like a devil. You put your heel between the horns, stepped on the devil’s heart, and pulled your leg free of the boot. And when my father picked up that bootjack, even the cat knew it was time to disappear.”

Words of one Syllable

THE NEW ENGLAND PRIMER, 1762

                                                            Age

                  all

                  ape

                  are

                 Babe

                  beef

                  best

                  bold

                 Cat

                  cake

                  crown

   
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