Home > Time's Convert (All Souls Trilogy)(4)

Time's Convert (All Souls Trilogy)(4)
Author: Deborah Harkness

“Yes, but the hunting . . .” Miriam began.

What would follow, Phoebe knew, was a long comparison of French and Danish fauna, in which the nutritive benefits of both would be considered, taking into account variability in size, freshness, farmed versus wild, and the unpredictable appetites of the infant vampire.

“That’s it,” Phoebe said, headed for the door. “Maybe Charles will change me. I cannot go over these arrangements one. More. Time.”

“She’s ready,” Miriam and Freyja said in unison.

Phoebe pulled the loose neck of the white dressing gown aside, exposing rich veins and arteries. “Then do it.”

The words were barely out of her mouth when Phoebe felt a sharp sensation.

Numbness.

Tingling.

Suction.

Phoebe’s knees buckled and her head swam as the shock of rapid blood loss overtook her. Her brain registered that she was being attacked and was in mortal danger, and her adrenaline rose.

Her field of vision narrowed, and the room dimmed.

Strong arms caught her.

Phoebe floated in a velvet darkness, sinking into folds of quiet.

Peace.

* * *

A SEARING COLD BROUGHT HER back to awareness.

Phoebe was freezing, burning.

Her mouth opened in a terrified scream as her body caught fire from the inside.

Someone offered a wrist, wet with something that smelled—delicious.

Copper and iron.

Salt and sweet.

It was the scent of life. Life.

Phoebe snuffled at the wrist like a baby seeking her mother’s breast, the flesh held tantalizingly close to her mouth without touching her lips.

“You choose,” her maker said. “Life? Or death?”

Phoebe used all of her energy to move closer to the promise of vitality. In the distance, someone was knocking, slow and steady. Understanding followed.

Heartbeat.

Pulse.

Blood.

Phoebe kissed the cold flesh of her maker’s wrist, reverent and blindingly conscious of the gift being given.

“Life,” Phoebe whispered before taking her first mouthful of vampire blood.

As the powerful substance surged through her veins, Phoebe’s body exploded in pain and yearning: for what was lost, for what was to come, for all that she would never be, and for everything that she would become.

Her heart began to make a new music, one that was slow and deliberate.

I am, Phoebe’s heart sang.

Naught.

And yet.

Now.

Evermore.

3

The Prodigal Returns

13 MAY

“If the ghosts are making that racket, I’m going to kill them,” I murmured, clinging to the disorientation of sleep in hopes of prolonging it for a few more moments. I was still jet-lagged after our recent flight from America to France and had piles of exams and papers to grade following the end of the spring semester at Yale. Pulling the covers closer to my chin, I turned over and prayed for silence.

Heavy pounding echoed through the house, bouncing off thick stone walls and floors.

“Someone’s at the front door.” Matthew, who slept very little, was at the open window, sniffing the night air for clues as to their identity. “It’s Ysabeau.”

“It’s three in the morning!” I groaned and slid my feet into a pair of waiting slippers. We were no strangers to crisis, but even so, this was unusual.

Matthew relocated in a flash from the bedroom window to the stairs and began his swift descent.

“Mama!” Becca wailed in the nearby nursery, capturing my attention. “Ow! Loud. Loud.”

“Coming, sweetie.” My daughter had her father’s keen hearing. Her first word had been “mama,” her second “papa,” and her third “Pip” for her brother Philip. “Blood,” “loud,” and “doggy” had followed quickly thereafter.

“Lightning bug, lightning bug, make me a match.” I didn’t flick on the lights, choosing instead to gently illuminate the tip of my index finger with a simple spell inspired by a song from an old album of show tunes I’d found in a cupboard. My gramarye—the ability to put my knotted magic into words—was coming along.

In the nursery, Becca was sitting up, tiny hands clapped to her ears and her face twisted in distress. Cuthbert, the overstuffed elephant Marcus gave to her, and a wooden zebra named Zee were prancing around her heavy, medieval cradle. Philip stood inside his own, gripping the sides and looking at his sister with concern.

In dreamtime, the magic in the twins’ half-witch, half-vampire blood bubbled to the surface, disturbing their shallow sleep. Though I found their nocturnal activities a bit worrying, Sarah said we could thank the goddess that thus far the twins’ magic had been confined to rearranging the nursery furniture, making white clouds out of baby powder, and constructing impromptu mobiles out of stuffed animals.

“Owie,” Philip said, pointing to Becca. He was already following in Matthew’s medical footsteps, minutely inspecting every creature at Les Revenants—two legged, four legged, winged, or finned—for scrapes, blemishes, and insect bites.

“Thank you, Philip.” I narrowly avoided collision with Cuthbert and headed for Becca. “Would you like a cuddle, Becca?”

“Cuthbert, too.” Becca was already a skilled negotiator thanks to spending time with her two grandmothers. I feared that Ysabeau and Sarah were bad influences.

“Just you and Philip, if he’d like to join us,” I said firmly, rubbing Becca’s back.

Cuthbert and Zee hit the ground with petulant thuds. It was impossible to know which of the children was responsible for the flying animals, or why the magic had left them. Was it Becca who had set them aloft, and the backrub had brought her enough comfort that she didn’t need the animals anymore? Or was it Philip, who was quieter now because his sister was no longer in distress? Or was it because I had said no?

In the distance, the pounding stopped. Ysabeau was in the house.

“Gam—” Becca began. Then she hiccupped.

“Mer,” Philip finished, his expression brightening.

Anxiety wove a tight knot in my stomach. I suddenly realized that something had to be very wrong for Ysabeau to come in the middle of the night without a phone call.

The soft murmurs downstairs were too faint for my witch’s ears to catch, though the twins’ cocked heads suggested that they could follow the conversation between their father and grandmother. Unfortunately, they were too young to relay its substance to me.

I eyed the slick steps as I shifted Becca to one side and picked up Philip with my free arm. Normally, I clung to the rope that Matthew strung up on the curved wall to keep warmbloods from falling. I’d been limiting the magic I used in the children’s presence for fear that they would try to imitate me. Tonight would have to be an exception.

Come with me, the wind whispered, snaking around my ankles in a lover’s caress, and I will fulfill your desire.

The elemental call was maddeningly clear. Why, then, couldn’t it carry Ysabeau’s words to me? Why did it want me to join Matthew and her?

But power could be sphinxlike. If you didn’t ask the right question, it simply refused to respond.

Cuddling the children closer, I surrendered to the allure of the air, and my feet lifted from the floor. I hoped the children wouldn’t notice we were inches above the stone, but something ancient and wise had sparked to life in Philip’s gray-green eyes.

A silver moonbeam sliced across the wall, making its way through one of the tall, narrow windows. It captured Becca’s attention as we floated down the stairs.

“Pretty,” she crooned, reaching for the slash of light. “Pretty babies.”

For a moment the light bent toward her, defying the laws of physics as humans understood them. Gooseflesh rose on my arms, followed by letters that shone under the surface of my skin in red and gold. There was magic in the moonlight, but even though I was a witch and a weaver, I did not always see what my mixed-blood children were able to perceive.

Happy to leave the moonbeam behind, I let the air carry me down the rest of the stairs. Once we were on terra firma, my warmblood feet covered the remaining distance to the front door.

A brush of frost on my cheek, the indication of a vampire’s glance, told me that Matthew had spotted our arrival. He was standing in the open doorway with Ysabeau. The play of silver and shadow made his cheekbones stand out and his hair appear even darker while, through some strange alchemy, the same light made Ysabeau look more golden. There was dirt on her tawny-colored leggings, and her white shirt was torn where a tree branch had snagged it. She acknowledged me with a nod, her breath ragged. Ysabeau had been running—fast and hard.

   
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