Home > Time's Convert (All Souls Trilogy)(5)

Time's Convert (All Souls Trilogy)(5)
Author: Deborah Harkness

The children sensed the strangeness of the moment. Instead of greeting their grandmother with their usual enthusiasm, they clung to me tightly, tucking their heads into the curves of my neck as if to hide from whatever mysterious darkness was impinging on the house.

“I was talking to Freyja. Before we finished, Marcus said he was going to the village,” Ysabeau explained, a splinter of panic in her tone. “But Alain was concerned, so we followed him. Marcus seemed fine, at first. But then he bolted.”

“Marcus ran away from Sept-Tours?” It didn’t seem possible. Marcus adored Ysabeau, and she had specifically requested he stay with her over the summer.

“He took a path west, and we assumed he was coming here, but something told me to stay with him.” Ysabeau drew another serrated breath. “Then Marcus turned north, toward Montluçon.”

“Toward Baldwin?” My brother-in-law had a house there, built long ago when the area was known simply as Lucius’s Mountain.

“No. Not toward Baldwin. Toward Paris.” Matthew’s eyes darkened.

Ysabeau nodded. “He was not running away. He was running back—to Phoebe.”

“Something went wrong,” I said, stunned. Everybody had assured me that Phoebe would make the transition from warmblooded human to vampire without a problem. So much care had been taken, so many arrangements made.

Sensing my rising concern, Philip began to squirm and asked to be put down.

“Freyja said it all went according to plan. Phoebe’s a vampire now.” Matthew lifted Philip from my arms and put him on the floor beside me. “Stay with Diana and the children, Maman. I’ll go after Marcus and find out what’s wrong.”

“Alain is outside,” Ysabeau said. “Take him with you. Your father believed in having a second pair of eyes in such a situation.”

Matthew kissed me. Like most of his farewells, it held a note of ferocity, as though to remind me to not let my guard down while he was gone. He smoothed Becca’s hair and pressed his lips far more gently to her forehead.

“Be careful,” I murmured, more out of habit than actual concern.

“Always,” Matthew replied, giving me one last, long look before he turned to go.

* * *

AFTER THE EXCITEMENT of their grandmother’s arrival, the children took nearly an hour to get settled back to sleep. Wide awake myself with nerves and unanswered questions, I went down to the kitchen. There, as expected, I found Marthe and Ysabeau.

Usually, the sprawling set of connected rooms was one of my favorite places. It was unfailingly warm and cozy, with the old enameled iron range fired up and ready to bake something delicious and bowls of fresh fruit and produce waiting for Marthe to transform them into a gourmet feast. This morning, however, the room felt dark and cold, in spite of the illuminated sconces and the colorful Dutch tiles that decorated the walls.

“Of all the things I dislike about being married and mated to a vampire, waiting at home for news has to be the worst.” I plunked myself onto one of the stools that surrounded the enormous, pitted wooden table that was the center of gravity in this domestic sphere. “Thank God for mobile phones. I can’t imagine what it was like with nothing but handwritten messages.”

“None of us liked it.” Marthe put a steaming mug of tea before me, along with a croissant filled with almond paste and dusted with powdered sugar.

“Heaven,” I said, sniffing the aroma of dark leaves and nutty sweetness that rose from the cup.

“I should have gone with them.” Ysabeau had made no effort to twist her hair back into place or remove the smudge of dirt from her cheek. It wasn’t like her to be anything less than impeccable.

“Matthew wanted you here,” Marthe said, dusting flour on the table with a practiced gesture. She removed a lump of dough from a nearby bowl and began to knead it with the heels of her hands.

“You cannot always get what you want,” Ysabeau said, with none of Mick Jagger’s irony.

“Can someone tell me exactly what happened to set Marcus off?” I sipped at my tea, still feeling I’d missed something crucial.

“Nothing.” Ysabeau, like her son, could be miserly with information.

“Something must have,” I said.

“Truly, nothing happened. There was a dinner party with Phoebe’s family,” said Ysabeau. “Freyja assured me it all went very well.”

“What did Charles make?” My mouth watered. “Something delicious, I’m sure.”

Marthe’s hands stilled and she scowled at me. Then she laughed.

“Why is that funny?” I demanded, taking a bite of the flaky croissant. There was so much butter in it that it melted on my tongue.

“Because Phoebe was just made into a vampire, and you want to know what she ate for her last supper. For a manjasang, this seems like an odd detail for such a momentous time,” Ysabeau explained.

“Of course it does. You’ve never had one of Charles’s roasted chickens,” I said. “All that garlic. And the lemon. Divine.”

“There was duck instead,” Marthe reported. “And salmon. And beef.”

“Did Charles make seigle d’Auvergne?” I asked, eyeing Marthe’s work. The dark bread was one of Charles’s specialties—and Phoebe’s favorite. “And for dessert, was there pompe aux pommes?”

Phoebe loved her sweets, and the only time I’d seen her waver in her determination to become a vampire was when Marcus took her to the bakery in Saint-Lucien and explained that the apple pastry in the window would taste revolting if she went through with her plan.

“Both,” Marthe replied.

“Phoebe must have been thrilled,” I said, impressed with the scope of the menu.

“According to Freyja, she has not been eating much lately.” Ysabeau caught her lower lip in her teeth.

“So that’s why Marcus left?” Given that Phoebe would never eat a proper human meal again as a vampire, this seemed like an overreaction.

“No. Marcus left because Phoebe called him to say one last good-bye.” Ysabeau shook her head. “They are both so impulsive.”

“They’re modern, that’s all,” I said.

It wasn’t surprising that Phoebe and Marcus had grown impatient with the Byzantine labyrinth of vampire rituals and dos and don’ts. First, Baldwin, the head of the de Clermont clan, had been asked to formally approve Marcus and Phoebe’s engagement and her wish to become a vampire. This was considered an essential step, given Marcus’s colorful past and Matthew’s scandalous decision to mate with me—a witch. Only with Baldwin’s full backing could their marriage and mating be considered legitimate.

Then, Marcus and Phoebe chose a maker from a very short list of possible candidates. It could not be a member of the family, for Philippe de Clermont had been strongly against any hint of incest among members of his clan. Children were to be cared for as children. Mates were to be sought outside the family. But there were other considerations, as well. Phoebe’s maker needed to be an ancient vampire, one with the genetic strength to make healthy vampire children. And because the vampire chosen would be forever linked to the de Clermont family, their reputation and background had to be above reproach.

Once Phoebe and Marcus had decided upon who would transform her into a vampire, Phoebe’s maker and Baldwin made the arrangements surrounding the precise timing, and Ysabeau oversaw the practicalities of housing, finances, and employment, with help from Matthew’s daemon friend Hamish Osborne. It was a complicated business to abandon your life as a warmblooded human. Deaths and disappearances had to be arranged, as well as leaves of absence from work for personal reasons that would turn into resignations six months later.

Now that Phoebe was a vampire, Baldwin would be among her first male visitors. Because of the strong connections between physical hunger and sexual desire, Phoebe’s contact with other males would be limited. And in order to forestall any possible hasty decisions made in the first flush of vampire hormones, Marcus would not be allowed to see Phoebe again until Baldwin felt she could make a prudent decision about their future together. Traditionally, vampires waited at least ninety days—the average time required for a vampire to develop from a newly reborn infant into a fledgling capable of some degree of independence—before reuniting with prospective mates.

   
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