Home > Time's Convert (All Souls Trilogy)(17)

Time's Convert (All Souls Trilogy)(17)
Author: Deborah Harkness

Phoebe instinctively understood that hunting would push her restless thoughts to the background. Hunting would feed some part of her that was hollow and yearning. Hunting would bring peace.

“Of course you do,” Freyja said. “Isn’t Phoebe progressing marvelously, Miriam?”

“You’re not ready,” Miriam pronounced, quelling Phoebe’s excitement.

“But I’m hungry.” Phoebe fidgeted in her chair, her eyes pinned on Miriam’s wrist.

Feeding from her maker was like getting a meal and a bedtime story all at once. With every drop of blood Phoebe swallowed, her mind and imagination were suffused with Miriam’s memories. She’d learned far more about Miriam in the past two days than she had in the fifteen months they had known each other.

Some of what Phoebe knew felt intuitive, a flood of scattered episodes from Miriam’s long life in which pleasure and pain were inseparable partners.

In subsequent feedings, Phoebe was able to focus on the strongest impressions in Miriam’s blood rather than being overcome by waves of blurry remembrance.

Phoebe understood now that the tall, rugged man with the wise, wary eyes and the wide, easy grin had been Miriam’s mate, and that she alone called him Ori, though others knew him as Bertrand and Wendalin, Ludo and Randolf, and his mother had called him Gund.

Miriam had sired more men than women in the centuries that led to Phoebe’s own conversion. She had to in order to survive, back when having men around you was some measure of protection against rape and robbery. Sons could pretend to be brothers, or even spouses in emergencies, and were a deterrent to both grasping humans with their incessant need for more wealth, and vampires with their desire for greater territory. Her sons, like her mate, Ori, were gone now, killed in the violent warfare that ran through Miriam’s memories in a dark ribbon of grief.

Then there were the daughters. First, there had been Taderfit, killed by her vampire mate in a fit of jealous rage. Lalla, Miriam’s second daughter, had been set upon by her own children, crushed and torn to death in a competition over who would rule their clan once Lalla was gone. After Miriam had disposed of Lalla’s feuding children, she stopped making daughters for a while.

But it was not only ancient history that featured in Miriam’s blood. More recent events had a place there, too. Matthew de Clermont, Marcus’s sire, was in many of Miriam’s memories. In the crowded city of Jerusalem, Matthew and Ori had turned heads and cleared paths, one raven dark and the other golden. The two men had been devoted friends.

Until Eleanor. In Miriam’s blood, Phoebe saw that the English woman had been a great beauty, with porcelain skin and flaxen hair that testified to her Saxon heritage. But it was her irrepressible enthusiasm for living that had made the vampires flock to Eleanor’s side. Vampire blood honed bones and muscles until they reached their greatest potential, so there was no shortage of attractive specimens. Vitality, however, was a different matter.

Miriam had been drawn to Eleanor’s joy just like most of the other creatures in the city: daemon, human, vampire, and witch. She had befriended Eleanor St. Leger when she arrived in the Holy Land with her family and one of the waves of crusaders. And it was Miriam who introduced Eleanor to Matthew de Clermont. When she did, Miriam had unknowingly planted the seeds of her mate’s eventual destruction.

Bertrand’s life had been sacrificed to save Matthew’s, a testament to bonds of friendship so deep that they bordered on the brotherly. Most vampires, however, viewed the warrior’s death as collateral damage in the de Clermont family’s rise to greatness.

Promise me you’ll watch over him. Ori had asked Miriam for the boon in the hour before dawn on the morning of his execution, as he belted his brightly colored tunic and donned his knight’s sword for the last time.

Miriam had agreed. Ori’s request, and her own promise to him, echoed in her blood.

Even now it bound Miriam and Matthew together. Matthew had Diana to watch over him, as well as his mother Ysabeau, Marcus, and all the other members of the Bishop-Clairmont scion of which Phoebe would soon be a member. But that did not lessen Miriam’s commitment—she would never disavow her mate’s dying wish.

Phoebe was so focused on what she had gathered from Miriam’s memories that she barely registered the closing of the door as Freyja and Françoise left them. But she scented Miriam’s approach and reached out, grabbing for her wrist.

“You don’t take.” Miriam’s voice was glacial.

Phoebe’s hand dropped.

Miriam waited for Phoebe’s hunger to climb another notch, standing so close that their two vampire hearts came to beat slowly as one. Finally, Miriam offered her child sustenance.

“Tomorrow you can take,” Miriam said. “But not from me. Never from me.”

Phoebe nodded slightly, her lips latched on to Miriam’s wrist now that it had been offered. One face at a time, she took in the story that Miriam’s blood told as skillfully as Scheherazade.

Lalla.

Ori.

Lalla.

Taderfit.

Ori.

Eleanor.

Ori.

Matthew.

Marcus.

Names swam to the surface along with the faces, bubbling through Miriam’s sea of experiences.

Phoebe.

She was there, too. Phoebe saw herself through Miriam’s eyes, her head tilted to one side, a questioning expression on her face, as she listened to something Marcus was telling her.

Just as Miriam was part of Phoebe, she was now a part of Miriam.

After Miriam left, Phoebe focused on that preternatural connection and found she was neither bored nor restless. She organized her thoughts around the central truth of the bond she and Miriam now shared, holding on to the realization as though it were the focal point of a newly discovered solar system.

Had she been a warmblood and not a vampire, the comforting assurance that she belonged would have been soothing enough to send Phoebe drifting into tranquil sleep.

Instead, Phoebe sat with the knowledge, quiet and still, letting it soothe her restless mind.

It was not sleep, but it was the next best thing.

8

The Burying Place

15 MAY

Matthew found me in the library, perched on a ladder and rummaging through the shelves.

“Do you think Philippe owned any books about the history of America?” I asked. “I can’t seem to find any.”

“I doubt it,” he replied. “He preferred newspapers for current events. I’m taking the children to the stables. Why don’t you come with us?”

I climbed down, one hand on the rungs and the other clutching an old atlas and a 1784 copy of Lettres d’un cultivateur américain signed by the author.

“You’ll break your neck if you’re not careful.” Matthew took up a watchful position at the foot of the ladder as I made my descent. “If you need something, you have only to ask. I’m happy to get it down for you.”

“Were there a catalog—or even a shelflist—I could pretend I was at the Bodleian and fill out a call slip and send you to the stacks to page it for me,” I teased. “But since I have no idea what’s here, I’m afraid I’ll be the one climbing the ladders for the time being.”

One of the ghosts slid two books down the shelf they were rearranging, and offered me a third.

“There’s a book floating near your left elbow,” Matthew commented. He was unable to see the apparition, but the book that was seemingly hanging in midair was impossible to miss.

“Ghost.” I took the book in question and looked at the title stamped in gold on the spine. “The Persian Letters. I’m not looking for books of letters, I’m looking for books about America. But thank you for trying.”

“Let me have those,” Matthew said, reaching up for the books in my arms.

I made much better progress without them—the atlas was quite large—and was soon back on solid ground. I gave Matthew a kiss.

“Why do you want books about America?” Matthew asked, studying the titles.

“I’m trying to develop what Marcus told us last night into a historical narrative.” I took the books from Matthew and put them on the table. There was already a flurry of notes there along with a printout of The New England Primer from 1762, and an account of the battle of Ft. William Henry was up on my computer screen. “I don’t have much grasp of his eighteenth-century context—not beyond what I remember from The Last of the Mohicans and the class I took as an undergraduate on the Enlightenment.”

   
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