Home > Time's Convert (All Souls Trilogy)(9)

Time's Convert (All Souls Trilogy)(9)
Author: Deborah Harkness

“Do vampires have a thousand names for themselves, like the Sami have a thousand names for reindeer?” Phoebe wondered, taking mental note of the latest entry in her expanding lexicon.

“More, I think,” replied Freyja, her brow creased. “Why, we even have a name for the tattletale vampire who tells someone’s mate about their past without permission.”

“You do?” Phoebe was eager to know it.

“Absolutely,” Freyja said solemnly. “Dead vampire.”

Phoebe was worn out with the effort it took to move slowly like a warmblood, without cracking a floorboard or breaking a bone, after making it safely around the perimeter of the room just twice. Freyja left her to recover in peace and returned to her morning room, where she would continue writing in her journal until sunrise.

Phoebe snuffed out the candle to better see night give way to the day, her cold fingers barely registering the heat of the burning wick, and climbed into bed out of habit rather than any hope of sleeping. She drew the coverlet up to her chin, reveling in the smooth fabric and crisp finish.

She lay in the soft bed, looking out at the night, listening to the music of Freyja’s pen, and the muffled sounds from the garden outside, and the street beyond the walls.

I am.

Evermore.

Phoebe’s heart song had changed. It was slower and steadier, all the extraneous effort of her human heartbeat removed and perfected into something simpler and more compelling.

I am.

Evermore.

Phoebe wondered what Marcus’s heart song would sound like. It would be melodic and pleasing, she felt sure. She longed to hear it and commit it to memory.

“Soon,” Phoebe told herself in a whisper, a reminder that she and Marcus had all the time in the world. “Soon.”

5

The Sins of the Fathers

14 MAY

It was late morning and I was at my desk transcribing Lady Montague’s recipe for a healing balsam—a remedy that could be used for “short-windedness in man, or horse”—from an online image of the Wellcome Library’s manuscript. Even without having the actual text before me, I loved tracing the seemingly nonsensical swirls and whorls made by seventeenth-century pens. Gradually, the manuscript displayed digitally on my laptop was yielding a pattern of evidence that showed deep connections between cooking and modern chemistry, one that I would write about in my new book.

Without warning, my work space was invaded by a video call from Venice that reduced my manuscript page down into a corner of the screen. Gerbert of Aurillac and Domenico Michele, the other two vampire representatives on the Congregation, wanted a word.

Though a witch, I occupied the third vampire chair—the one that belonged by custom to a member of the de Clermont family. Though I was a blood-sworn daughter of Philippe de Clermont, my brother-in-law Baldwin’s decision to give the chair to me was still a matter of controversy.

“There you are, Diana,” Gerbert said once I allowed the connection. “We’ve left messages. Why aren’t you responding?”

I bit back a sound of frustration. “Is it possible that you could handle this situation—whatever it is—without me?”

“If it were, we would have done so by now.” Gerbert sounded testy. “We must consult you on matters that pertain to our people—even though you are a witch and a warmblood.”

Our people. That was the heart of the problem facing daemons, humans, vampires, and witches. Matthew’s work with Chris and the teams of researchers assembled at Oxford and Yale had proved that, at a genetic level, all four hominid species were more alike than different. But it was going to take more than scientific evidence to change attitudes, particularly among the ancient, custom-bound vampires.

“These Hungarian and Romanian clans have been at war for centuries in the Crișana region,” Domenico explained. “The land has always been contested. But this latest outbreak of violence is already in the news. I’ve made sure that the press have interpreted it as simply another escalation in organized crime.”

“Remind me who planted that story?” I asked, searching for my Congregation notebook on the crowded desk. Leafing through it, I found no mention of anyone attached to the media. Once again, Gerbert and Domenico had failed to inform me of crucial developments.

“Andrea Popescu. She’s one of us, and her current husband—a human, regrettably—is a political reporter for Evenimentul Zilei.” Gerbert’s eyes gleamed. “I’m happy to travel to Debrecen and supervise the negotiations, if you’d like.”

The last thing we needed was Gerbert in Hungary, working out his ambitions in an already volatile situation.

“Why not send Albrecht and Eliezer back to the negotiating table?” I suggested, naming two of the more progressive vampire leaders in that part of the world. “The Corvinus and Székely clans are simply going to have to work out a reasonable solution. And if they don’t, the Congregation will have to take possession of the castle in question until they do.”

Why anyone wanted the ruinous heap was beyond me. No one could walk inside its hollow walls for fear of being crushed to death by falling masonry. We’d gone there on a diplomatic mission in March, during Yale’s spring break. I’d expected something grand and palatial, not piles of moss-covered stone.

“This is not some real estate dispute to be solved according to your modern standards of fairness and equity,” Gerbert said, his tone patronizing. “Too much blood has been spilled, too many vampire lives lost. Holló Castle is sacred ground to these clans, and their sires are willing to die for it. You lack the proper understanding of what’s at stake.”

“You must at least try to think like a vampire,” Domenico said. “Our traditions must be respected. Compromise is not our way.”

“Slaying each other in the streets of Debrecen hasn’t worked, either,” I pointed out. “Let’s try it my way for a change. I’ll speak to Albrecht and Eliezer, and report back.”

Gerbert opened his mouth to protest. Without warning, I disconnected the video link. My computer screen darkened. I sat back in my chair with a groan.

“Bad day at the office?” Marcus was leaning against the doorframe, still holding his book.

“Did vampires skip the Enlightenment?” I asked. “It’s like I’m trapped in some medieval revenge fantasy, one in which there’s no chance of a solution that doesn’t involve the total destruction of the opponent. Why do vampires prefer to kill each other rather than have a civil conversation?”

“Because it’s not as much fun, of course.” Matthew entered the room and kissed me, slow and sweet. “Let Domenico and Gerbert deal with clan warfare for now, mon coeur. Their troubles will still be there tomorrow—and the day after that, too. It’s the one thing you can rely upon with vampires.”

* * *

AFTER LUNCH I TOOK the twins into the library and set them up in front of the empty fireplace with enough toys to keep them occupied for a few minutes while I did some more research. I had a working transcription of Lady Montague’s recipe in front of me and was noting what ingredients were being used (oil of turpentine, flowers of sulfur, hay), what equipment was needed (a large glass urinal, a deep skillet, a pitcher), and the processes used (mixing, boiling, skimming) so I could cross-reference them with other early modern texts.

The library at Les Revenants was one of my favorite rooms. It was built into one of the towers, and was ringed with dark walnut bookcases that stretched from floor to ceiling. Ladders and staircases spanned the distances at irregular intervals, giving the place the crazed appearance of an Escher drawing. Books, papers, photographs, and other memorabilia that Philippe and Ysabeau had collected over the centuries filled every inch of space. I had barely scratched the surface of what was here. Matthew had built some wooden file cases for the piles of papers to go into—one day when I had time to sort them—and I had started the work of combing through the book titles for obvious thematic clusters, like mythology and geography.

Most of the family found the room’s atmosphere oppressive, however, with its dark wood and memories of Philippe. The only creatures who spent much time here were me and a few of the castle’s ghosts. Two of them were currently undoing my efforts to organize the recently created mythology section, rearranging books with an attitude of bewildered disapproval.

   
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