Home > Time's Convert (All Souls Trilogy)(7)

Time's Convert (All Souls Trilogy)(7)
Author: Deborah Harkness

“Alain is following along, just in case,” Matthew said.

“Ysabeau said that she was more worried about Marcus than Phoebe.” I drew back to look at Matthew’s face in the dawn light. “Why?”

“Marcus is still so young.” Matthew sighed.

“Are you serious?” Marcus had been reborn a vampire in 1781. Two-hundred-plus years seemed plenty grown up to me.

“I know what you’re thinking, Diana, but when a human is made a vampire, they have to mature all over again. It can take a very long time before we are ready to strike out on our own,” Matthew said. “Our judgment can be faulty when we’re in the first flush of vampire blood.”

“But Marcus has already sown his wild oats.” The family was quick to tell tales of Marcus’s early years in America, the scandals and scrapes in which he became entangled, the difficulties from which he’d had to be extracted by senior members of the de Clermont family.

“Which is precisely why he can’t be allowed to supervise Phoebe’s transformation. Marcus is about to take a newly reborn vampire as a mate. It would be a major step under any circumstances, but given his youth . . .” Matthew paused. “I hope I’m doing the right thing, letting him take this step.”

“The family is doing what Marcus and Phoebe wanted,” I said, making sure that my emphasis registered. “They’re old enough—be they cold-blooded vampire or warmblooded human—to know their own minds.”

“Are they?” Matthew adjusted his position so that his eyes could meet mine. “That’s a very modern notion you have, that a man just turned four-and-twenty and a young woman of about the same age would be sufficiently experienced to determine the course of their future lives.” He was teasing, but his lowered eyebrows indicated that part of him believed what he said.

“It’s the twenty-first century, not the eighteenth,” I observed. “Besides, Marcus is not a man of ‘four-and-twenty,’ as you so charmingly put it, but two hundred and fifty plus.”

“Marcus will always be a child of that earlier time,” Matthew said. “If it were 1781, and it was Marcus who was experiencing his first day as a vampire and not Phoebe, he would have been considered in need of wise counsel—and a strong hand.”

“Your son has asked every member of this family—and Phoebe’s, too—for advice,” I reminded him. “It’s time to let Marcus determine his own future, Matthew.”

Matthew was silent, his hand moving along the faint scars that had been left on my back by the witch Satu Järvinen. Over and over he traced them, lines of regret that reminded him of every time he had failed to protect those he loved.

“It will all be fine,” I assured him, snuggling closer.

Matthew sighed. “I hope you’re right.”

* * *

LATER THAT DAY, a marvelous air of quiet descended on Les Revenants. I looked forward to these rare moments of peace—often a mere twenty minutes, occasionally a blissful expanse of an hour or more—from the moment I awoke.

The children were in the nursery, tucked in for naps. Matthew was in his library working on a paper he was co-writing with our Yale colleague, Chris Roberts. They were scheduled to reveal more of their research findings at conferences this autumn and were already gearing up to submit an article to a leading scientific journal. Marthe was in the kitchen canning fresh beans in peppery brine while watching Plus belle la vie on the television Matthew had installed there. Marthe had insisted she had no interest in such technological fripperies, but she was soon hooked on the escapades of the residents of Le Mistral. As for me, I was avoiding my grading in favor of my new research into the connections between early modern cooking and laboratory practices. But I could spend only so much time bent over images of seventeenth-century alchemical manuscripts.

After an hour of work, the glorious May weather called to me. I made myself a cold drink and went upstairs to the wooden deck that Matthew had constructed between the battlements atop one of Les Revenants’ crenellated towers. Ostensibly it was built to provide views of the surrounding countryside, but everybody knew its primary purpose was defensive. It provided a good lookout, and would give plenty of advance warning if a stranger approached. Between our new rooftop aerie and the cleaned and refilled moat, Les Revenants was now as secure as Matthew could make it.

There I found Marcus, wearing dark glasses and lounging in the midday heat, the summer sun streaking his blond hair.

“Hello, Diana,” Marcus said, putting aside his book. It was a slender volume, the brown leather cover stained and pitted with age.

“You look like you need this more than I do.” I handed him my glass of iced tea. “Lots of mint, no lemon, no sugar.”

“Thanks,” Marcus said. He took an appreciative sip. “Delicious.”

“May I join you, or are you up here to escape?” Vampires were pack animals, but they definitely liked their alone time.

“This is your house, Diana.” Marcus drew his feet from the seat of the nearby wooden chair that he was using as an impromptu ottoman.

“This is the family’s house, and you are welcome in it,” I replied, quick to correct him. The separation from Phoebe was going to be hard enough without Marcus feeling like an intruder. “Any more news from Paris?”

“No. Grand-mère told me to not expect another call from Freyja for three days at the earliest,” Marcus replied, sliding his fingers again and again through the moisture collecting on the outside of the chilled glass.

“Why three days?” Perhaps this was some kind of vampiric Apgar test.

“Because that’s how long you wait before you give a vampire infant any blood that doesn’t come from their sire’s veins,” Marcus replied. “Weaning a vampire off their maker’s blood can be tricky. If a vampire ingests too much foreign blood too soon, it can trigger deadly genetic mutations. Sometimes, vampire infants die.

“It will also be Phoebe’s first psychological test, to make sure that she can survive by taking another creature’s blood,” Marcus continued. “They’ll start with something small, of course—a bird or a cat.”

“Um-hmm,” I said, trying to sound approving while my stomach flipped.

“I made sure Phoebe could kill something—before.” Marcus stared into the distance. “Sometimes it’s harder to take a life when you have no choice.”

“I would have thought the opposite,” I said.

Marcus shook his head. “Oddly enough, when it’s no longer a question of sport, you can lose your nerve. Instinctive or not, it’s a selfish act to survive at some other creature’s expense.” He tapped his book against his leg, an anxious thrum.

“What are you reading?” I asked, trying to change the subject.

“An old favorite.” Marcus tossed the volume to me.

Usually, the family’s cavalier attitude toward books earned them a lecture from me, but this one had obviously seen worse treatment. Something had nibbled one corner. The leather was even more stained than it had appeared at first glance, and the cover was covered with ring-shaped marks left by glasses, tankards, and cups. There were traces of gilt in the stamped decorations, and their style indicated the book had been bound sometime in the early nineteenth century. Marcus had read the book so often that the binding had split and there were multiple repairs—one made with yellowing cellophane tape.

A cherished item like this held a specific magic, one that had nothing to do with its value or condition and everything to do with its significance. Carefully, I cracked open the tattered cover. To my surprise, the book inside was decades older than the binding suggested.

“Common Sense.” It was a foundational text of the American Revolution. I’d expected Marcus to be reading Byron, or a novel—not political philosophy.

“Were you serving in New England in 1776?” I asked, noting its date and Boston publication. Marcus had been a soldier and then a surgeon in the Continental army. That much I knew.

“No. I was still at home.” Marcus took the book from me. “I think I’ll take a walk. Thanks for the tea.”

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