Home > Time's Convert (All Souls Trilogy)(8)

Time's Convert (All Souls Trilogy)(8)
Author: Deborah Harkness

It seemed Marcus was not in the mood for further confidences.

He disappeared down the stairs, leaving a trail of discordant threads shimmering in his wake: red and indigo tangled up with black and white. As a weaver, I could perceive the woven strands of past, present, and future that bound the universe together. Normally the clear tones of blue and amber that made up the sturdy warp were visible, and the colored threads of individual experience provided bright, intermittent notes in the weft.

Not today. Marcus’s memories were so powerful, and so distressing to him, that they were distorting the fabric of time, creating holes in its structure to make way for some forgotten monster to emerge from the past.

The gathering clouds on the horizon and the pricking in my thumbs warned me that stormy times lay ahead. For all of us.

4

One

13 MAY

Phoebe sat before the locked windows in her bedroom with the plum-colored drapes fully open to the view of Paris, satiated with her maker’s blood, devouring the city with her eyes, hungering only for the next revelation afforded by her new sense of sight.

The night, she discovered, was not simply black but a thousand shades and textures of darkness, some gossamer, others velvet, ranging from the deepest purples and blues to the palest of grays.

Life would not always be so easy. Now there was a knock on the door before the gnawing had a chance to start eating away at her belly. Phoebe would have to feel her hunger eventually so that she could understand what it was to covet the lifeblood of a creature and manage her urge to take it.

Her only urge now, however, was to paint. Phoebe hadn’t done so for years, not since a casual remark from a teacher—cutting, dismissive—had sent her into the historical study of art rather than its practice. Her fingers itched to pick up a brush and dip it into thick oil paint or delicate watercolor pigments and apply them to canvas or paper.

Could she capture the precise color of the tiled roof across the garden—blue-gray touched with silver? Was it possible to convey the inky blackness of the sky high above, and its sharp metallic gleam at the horizon?

Phoebe understood now why Matthew’s great-grandson, Jack, covered any surface he could with chiaroscuro renderings of his memories and experiences. The play of light and shadow was endless, a game that you could watch for hours without ever feeling bored.

She’d learned this from the single candle that Freyja had left burning in a silver holder on the dressing table. The undulating light and the darkness at the heart of the flame were mesmerizing. Phoebe had begged for more candles, wanting to surround herself with the pinpricks of brightness that dazzled and dipped.

“One is enough,” Freyja said. “We don’t want you light-struck on your first day.”

So long as Phoebe was fed regularly, sensory assault was the greatest danger to her as a newly made vampire. To prevent any mishaps, Freyja and Miriam carefully controlled Phoebe’s environment, minimizing her chances of getting lost in feeling.

Immediately after her transformation, for example, Phoebe had wanted a shower. Freyja judged the needlelike fall of water too severe, so Françoise drew her a warm bath instead—strictly timed so that Phoebe didn’t become consumed by the soft slip of water against her skin. And all the windows in the house, not just those in Phoebe’s bedroom, were locked against the alluring scents of warmbloods, the neighbors’ pets, and pollution.

“I’m sorry, Phoebe, but an infant male went mad in the Paris Metro last year,” Freyja explained when she asked if one window might be opened just a crack to let in the breezes. “The fumes from the old braking system were irresistible to him, and we lost him along Line Eight. It caused no end of delays for morning commuters and made the mayor very cross. Baldwin, too.”

Phoebe knew she could break the glass with ease, along with the window frames, and even punch a hole in the wall if escape became necessary. But resisting these temptations was a test of her control, her obedience, and her suitability as Marcus’s mate. Phoebe was determined to pass the test, so she sat in the airless room and watched the colors flicker and drift as a cloud crossed the moon, or a faraway star died in the heavens, or the turning of the earth brought the sun fractionally closer.

“I would like some paint.” Phoebe said it in a whisper, but the sound echoed in her ears. “And brushes.”

“I’ll ask Miriam.” Freyja’s reply came from far away. She was, based on the endless scratching that tickled Phoebe’s nerves ever so slightly, writing in her journal with a fountain pen. Occasionally, Freyja’s heart gave a slow thump.

Even farther away, in the kitchens, Charles was smoking a cigar and reading the newspaper. Rustle. Puff. Silence. Thump. Rustle. Puff. Silence. Just as a Paris night had its own colorscape, so every creature had his or her own rhythmic accompaniment—like the song Phoebe’s heart had made when she first drank from Miriam.

“Do you need something else, Phoebe?” Freyja’s pen paused. In the kitchen, Charles stubbed out his cigar in a metal ashtray. Both waited attentively for Phoebe’s response. It would take her some time to get used to holding conversations with people in different rooms, never mind entirely separate floors of a large house.

“Only Marcus,” replied Phoebe, wistful. She had grown accustomed to thinking of herself as part of a we, not as a solitary me. There was so much she wanted to tell him, so much she wanted to share about her first day of being reborn. Instead, they were separated by hundreds of miles.

“Why not practice walking?” Freyja asked, capping her pen. Moments later, Marcus’s aunt was at the door, the key turning smoothly in the lock. “Let me help you.”

Phoebe blinked at the change in the room’s atmosphere as the soft glow of the candlelit house seeped across the threshold.

“The light is a living thing,” Phoebe said, awed by the realization.

“Both wave and particle. It is astonishing it took warmbloods so long to figure that out.” Freyja stood before Phoebe, hands outstretched in a gesture of assistance. “Now, remember not to push on the chair with your hands, or against the floor with your feet. Getting up is simply a matter of unfolding for a draugr. It is not necessary to exert oneself.”

Phoebe had been a vampire less than twenty-four hours and had already broken several chairs and put a sizable dent in the tub.

“Float up. Just think up and rise. Steady. Good.” Freyja gave constant feedback, like Phoebe’s childhood ballet mistress, a similarly draconian figure though only a fraction of Freyja’s Valkyric height. It was Madame Olga who had helped Phoebe understand that size has nothing to do with stature.

The memory of Madame Olga snapped Phoebe’s spine straight, and she instinctively took hold of Freyja’s hands as if they were a wooden barre. She heard a crack and felt something give way.

“Oh, dear, there goes a finger.” Freyja released Phoebe’s hand. Her left index finger was hanging at a strange angle. Freyja aligned it with a quick tug.

“There you are. Everything’s in working order again. You’ll probably break other bones before summer’s end.” Freyja linked her arm through Phoebe’s elbow. “Let’s stroll around the room. Slowly.”

It was evident why warmbloods thought vampires could fly. All a vampire had to do was think of the destination and she was there in a blink, with no memory of putting any effort into locomotion.

Phoebe felt like the newborn she was, taking one trembling step at a time and then pausing to regain her equilibrium. In addition to everything else, her center of gravity seemed to have shifted. It was no longer in her pelvis but in her heart, which made Phoebe feel tipsy and strange, as if she’d had too much champagne.

“Marcus told me he was a fast learner when it came to being a vampire.” Phoebe began to relax into Freyja’s stately pace, which felt more like waltzing than walking.

“He had to be,” Freyja said with a touch of regret.

“Why?” Phoebe frowned. The sudden turn of her head to study Freyja’s expression sent her tumbling toward her companion.

“You know better than to ask, Phoebe darling.” Freyja gently set her back on her feet. “You must save your questions for Marcus. A draugr does not carry tales.”

   
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