The Book of Life Page 67

We moved into Les Revenants the next morning, along with the children, and with no further complaints from me about its size, heating bills, or the number of stairs I would be required to climb to take a bath. The last worry was moot in any event, since Philippe had installed a screw-drive elevator in the tall tower after a visit to Russia in 1811. Happily, the elevator had been electrified in 1896 and no longer required the strength of a vampire to turn the crank.

Only Marthe accompanied us to Les Revenants, though Alain and Victoire would have preferred to join us in Limousin and leave Marcus’s house party in other, younger, hands. Marthe cooked and helped Matthew and me get used to the logistical demands of caring for two infants. As Sept-Tours filled up with knights, Fernando and Sarah would join us here—Jack, too, if he found the crush of strangers overwhelming—but for now we were on our own.

Though we rattled around Les Revenants, it gave us a chance to finally be a family. Rebecca was putting on weight now that we knew how to nourish her tiny body properly. And Philip weathered every change of routine and location with his usual thoughtful expression, staring at the light moving against the stone walls or listening with quiet contentment to the sound of me shuffling papers in the library.

Marthe watched over the children whenever we asked her to, giving Matthew and me a chance to reconnect after our weeks of separation and the stresses and joys of the twins’ birth. During those precious moments on our own, we walked hand in hand along the moat and talked about our plans for the house, including where I would plant my witch’s garden to take best advantage of the sunshine and the perfect spot for Matthew to build the twins a tree house.

No matter how wonderful it was to be alone, however, we spent every moment we could with the new lives we had created. We sat before the fire in our bedroom and watched Rebecca and Philip inch and squirm closer, staring at each other with rapt expressions as their hands clasped. The two were always happiest when they were touching, as though the months they’d spent together in my womb had accustomed them to constant contact. They would soon be too large to do so, but for now we put them to sleep in the same cradle. No matter how we arranged them, they always ended up with their tiny arms wrapped tightly around each other and their faces pressed together.

The twins were usually with us when Matthew and I worked in the library, looking for clues about Benjamin’s present whereabouts, the mysterious witch in Jerusalem and her equally mysterious child, and the Book of Life. Philip and Rebecca were soon familiar with the smell of paper and parchment.

Their heads turned to follow the sound of Matthew’s voice reading aloud from documents written in Greek, Latin, Occitan, Old French, ancient German dialects, Old English, and Philippe’s unique patois.

Philippe’s linguistic idiosyncrasy was echoed in whatever organizational scheme he had used for storing his personal files and books. Concerted efforts to locate Crusade-era documents, for example, yielded a remarkable letter from Bishop Adhémar justifying the spiritual motives for the First Crusade, bizarrely accompanied by a 1930s shopping list that enumerated the items Philippe wanted Alain to send from Paris: new shoes from Berluti, a copy of La Cuisine en Dix Minutes, and the third volume of The Science of Life by H. G. Wells, Julian Huxley, and G. P. Wells.

Our time together as a family felt miraculous. There were opportunities for laughter and song, for marveling in the tiny perfection of our children, for confessing how anxious we had both been about the pregnancy and its possible complications.

Though our feelings for each other had never faltered, we reaffirmed them in those quiet, perfect days at Les Revenants even as we braced for the challenges the next weeks would bring.

“These are the knights who have agreed to attend.” Marcus handed Matthew the guest list. His father’s eyes raced down the page.

“Giles. Russell. Excellent.” Matthew flipped the page over. “Addie. Verin. Miriam.” He looked up.

“Whenever did you make Chris a knight?”

“While we were in New Orleans. It seemed right,” Marcus said a touch sheepishly.

“Well done, Marcus. Given who will be in attendance at the children’s christening, I wouldn’t imagine anyone from the Congregation would dare to cause trouble,” Fernando said with a smile. “I think you can relax, Matthew. Diana should be able to enjoy the day as you’d hoped.”

Matthew didn’t look relaxed, however.

“I wish we’d found Knox.” Matthew gazed out the kitchen window at the snow. Like Benjamin, Knox had disappeared without a trace. What this suggested was too terrifying to put into words.

“Shall I question Gerbert?” Fernando asked. They had discussed the possible repercussions if they acted in a way to suggest that Gerbert was a traitor. It could bring the vampires in the southern half of France into open conflict for the first time in more than a millennium.

“Not yet,” Matthew said, reluctant to add to their troubles. “I’ll keep looking through Philippe’s papers. There must be some clue there as to where Benjamin is hiding.”

“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. There cannot be anything more we need to pack for a thirty-minute drive to my mother’s house.” For the past week, Matthew had been making sacrilegious references to the Holy Family and their December journeys, but it was all the more striking today, when the twins were to be christened. Something was bothering him, but he refused to tell me what it was.

“I want to be sure Philip and Rebecca are completely comfortable, given the number of strangers they’ll be meeting,” I said, bouncing Philip up and down in an attempt to get him to burp now rather than spit up halfway through the trip.

“Maybe the cradle can stay?” Matthew said hopefully.

“We have plenty of room to take it with us, and they’re going to need at least one nap. Besides, I’ve been reliably informed that this is the largest motorized vehicle in Limousin, with the exception of Claude Raynard’s hay wagon.” The local populace had bestowed upon Matthew the nickname Gaston Lagaffe after the lovably inept comic book character, and had gently teased him about his grande guimbarde ever since he ran to the store for bread and got the Range Rover wedged between a tiny Citroën and an even more minuscule Renault.

Matthew slammed the rear hatch shut without comment.

“Stop glowering, Matthew,” Sarah said, joining us in front of the house. “Your children are going to grow up thinking you’re a bear.”

“Don’t you look beautiful,” I commented. Sarah was dressed to the nines in a deep green tailored suit and a luscious cream silk blouse that set off her red hair. She looked both glamorous and festive.

“Agatha made it for me. She knows her stuff,” Sarah said, turning around so we could admire her further. “Oh, before I forget: Ysabeau called. Matthew should ignore all the cars parked along the drive and come straight up to the door. They’ve saved a place for you in the courtyard.”

“Cars? Parked along the drive?” I looked at Matthew in shock.

“Marcus thought it might be a good idea to have some of the knights present,” he said smoothly.

“Why?” My stomach somersaulted as my instincts warned me that all was not as it seemed.

“In case the Congregation decides to take exception to the event,” Matthew said. His eyes met mine, cool and tranquil as a summer sea.

In spite of Ysabeau’s warning, nothing could possibly have prepared me for the enthusiastic welcome we received. Marcus had transformed Sept-Tours into Camelot, with flags and banners twisting in the stiff December breeze, their bright colors standing out against both the snow and the dark local basalt. Atop the square keep, the de Clermont family’s black-and-silver standard with the ouroboros on it had been topped by a large square flag bearing the great seal of the Knights of Lazarus.

The two pieces of silk flapped on the same pole, extending the height of the already tall tower by nearly thirty feet.

“Well, if the Congregation didn’t know something was happening before, they do now,” I said, looking at the spectacle.

“There didn’t seem much point in hiding it,” Matthew said. “We shall start as we intend to go on.

And that means we aren’t going to hide the children from the truth—or the rest of the world.”

I nodded and took his hand in mine.

When Matthew pulled in to the courtyard, it was filled with well-wishers. He carefully navigated the car among the throngs, occasionally stopping by an old friend who wanted to shake his hand and congratulate us on our good fortune. He slammed on the brakes hard, however, when he saw Chris Roberts standing with a large grin on his face and a silver tankard in his hand.

“Hey!” Chris banged on the window with the tankard. “I want to see my goddaughter. Now.”

“Hello, Chris! I didn’t realize you were coming,” Sarah said, lowering the window and giving him a kiss.

“I’m a knight. I have to be here.” Chris’s grin grew.

“So I’ve been told,” Sarah said. There had been other warmblooded members before Chris—Walter Raleigh and Henry Percy to name just two—but I had never thought to count my best friend among them.

“Yep. I’m going to make my students call me Sir Christopher next semester,” Chris said.

“Better that than St. Christopher,” said a piercing soprano voice. Miriam grinned, her hands on her hips. The pose showed off the T-shirt she was wearing under a demure navy blazer. It, too, was navy and had SCIENCE: RUINING EVERYTHING SINCE 1543 spelled out across the chest along with a unicorn, an Aristotelian depiction of the heavens, and the outline of God and Adam from Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. A red bar sinister obliterated each image.

“Hello, Miriam!” I waved.

“Park the car so we can see the sprogs,” she demanded.

Matthew obliged, but when a crowd started to form, he said that the babies needed to be out of the cold and beat a hasty retreat into the kitchen, armed with a diaper bag and using Philip as a shield.

“How many people are here?” I asked Fernando. We had passed dozens of parked cars.

“At least a hundred,” he replied. “I haven’t stopped to count.”

Based on the feverish preparations in the kitchen, there were more than a few warmbloods in attendance. I saw a stuffed goose go into the oven and a pig come out of it, ready to be basted with wine and herbs. My mouth watered at the aromas.

Shortly before eleven in the morning, the church bells in Saint-Lucien pealed. By that time Sarah and I had changed the twins into matching white gowns made of silk and lace and little caps sewn by Marthe and Victoire. They looked every inch sixteenth-century babies. We bundled them into blankets and made our way downstairs.

It was then that the ceremonies took an unexpected turn. Sarah climbed into one of the family’s ATVs with Ysabeau, and Marcus directed us to the Range Rover. Once we were strapped in, Marcus drove us not to the church but to the goddess’s temple on the mountain.

My eyes filled at the sight of the well-wishers gathered beneath the oak and cypress. Only some of the faces were familiar to me, but Matthew recognized far more. I spotted Sophie and Margaret, with Nathaniel by their side. Agatha Wilson was there, too, looking at me vaguely as though she recognized but wasn’t able to place me. Amira and Hamish stood together, both looking slightly overwhelmed by all the ceremony. But it was the dozens of unfamiliar vampires present who surprised me most. Their stares were cold and curious, but not malicious.

“What is this about?” I asked Matthew when he opened my door.

“I thought we should divide the ceremony into two parts: a pagan naming ceremony here, and a Christian baptism at the church,” he explained. “That way Emily could be a part of the babies’ day.”

Matthew’s thoughtfulness—and his efforts to remember Em—rendered me temporarily mute. I knew he was always hatching plans and conducting business while I slept. I hadn’t imagined his nocturnal work included overseeing the arrangements for the christening.

“Is it all right, mon coeur?” he asked, anxious at my silence. “I wanted it to be a surprise.”

“It’s perfect,” I said when I was able. “And it will mean so much to Sarah.”

The guests formed a circle around the ancient altar dedicated to the goddess. Sarah, Matthew, and I took our places within it. My aunt had anticipated that I wouldn’t remember a single word of any baby-naming ritual that I had ever witnessed or taken part in, and she was prepared to officiate. The ceremony was a simple but important moment in a young witch’s life, since it was a formal welcome into the community. But there was more to it than that, as Sarah knew.

“Welcome, friends and family of Diana and Matthew,” Sarah began, her cheeks pink with cold and excitement. “We are gathered here today to bestow upon their children the names that they will take with them as they go into the world. Among witches to call something by name is to recognize its power. By naming these children, we honor the goddess who entrusted them to our care and express gratitude for the gifts she has given them.”

Matthew and I had used a formula to come up with the babies’ names—and I had vetoed the vampire tradition of five first names in favor of an elemental foursome. With a hyphenated last name, that seemed ample. Each of the babies’ first names came from a grandparent. Their second name honored the de Clermont tradition of bestowing the names of archangels on members of the family. We took their third name from yet another grandparent. For the fourth and final name, we selected someone who had been important to their conception and birth.

No one knew the babies’ full names until now—except for Matthew, Sarah, and me.

Prev Next
Free Novels Read Online | Read Wuxia Novel | Read Xianxia Novel