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the shadows among the stars

Chapter Text

The first thing that Lucy knows is mud. It is all around her, soaking into her shoes and skirts, smelling of a rich, sinus-scorching reek of compost, wet earth, raw sewage, night-soil, shore wrack, and fresh-turned turf. It is such an overwhelming sensory experience that nothing else seems to switch immediately back online, as she’s only aware of indistinct dark shapes moving in a formless void and a dim rushing sound like far-away waves. She is more or less certain that she is in possession of a body in the correct configuration, and she is even standing up, managing to have landed on her feet instead of her face, which is good given the aforesaid mud. She is sinking in it up to her ankles, she really did not want an inadvertent spa treatment, and even without the benefit of sight, she knows that this has to be it. Nowhere in the modern world, or at least the first world, smells like this.

With that, as her very first act in the past, Lucy takes a few staggering sideways steps and retches. She can’t see what she’s spitting into, she hopes it isn’t anything valuable, and her innards are still in considerable turmoil even after the initial spasm subsides. She blinks very hard, discovers that her eyes are in fact open, and the reason she can’t see anything is because it’s dark and there is absolutely no artificial lighting. She lifts her hand in front of her face, can just make out the outlines of her fingers, retches one more time, and remains hunched over, breathing hard. Then it strikes her that she hasn’t heard anyone else yet, and she panics. “Garcia? Garcia!”

Her voice comes out raw and scraped as if she’s been shouting for hours. Apparently the full works, the formal and permanent translocation through time rather than a five-second drive-by, really messes you up, which is not altogether surprising. She doesn’t feel up to standing, and the next second, she senses someone next to her, bending over her anxiously. As a vampire, Flynn has apparently avoided the worst indignities of the trip, though he too sounds as if he could use a minute. His hand touches her back. “Lucy? Hey. Lucy?”

She nods, teeth gritted, though with the assurance that he is here with her and they are together and – for the moment – safe, the biggest knot in her gut starts to subside. As her dazed vision finally starts to work again, her optic nerves adjusting only reluctantly to their temporo-spatial relocation, she can make out his face, pale and worried as he kneels next to her. Neither of them need to ask if they made it, but there obviously is not a smartphone to whip out to check the date, or any other way to immediately know when they’ve landed. Rufus said it could be anywhere from March to May 1590, and if they have arrived before March 25, Lady Day and the official start of the New Year in England, it could technically still be 1589. Did he account for that in his calculations? Have they somehow managed to miss their destination by a year – and Flynn said that plague hit London in 1589, that would be a very bad mistake to make, and Lucy still isn’t sure if she can timewalk them properly again without the benefit of the doorway, the aligned stars that got them here in the first –

“Hey,” Flynn says again, clearly able to tell that she’s already starting to freak out. “One thing at a time, huh? You got us here, that’s the main thing. Can you stand?”

Lucy isn’t sure, to be honest, but he slips his hand beneath her elbow and assists her, wobbly-legged as a newborn calf, to her feet. They still aren’t sure about this either, but she clings to Flynn until they feel somewhat like resuming the profitable working relationship of the last thirty-four years. She blinks again, chasing the last frenzied purple spots out of her vision. “Can you tell what time it is? Or even where we are?”

Flynn checks the sky. “Early morning. No more than an hour until dawn. And it’s warm, which means we landed later in spring, rather than earlier. The sun will be up by five o’clock. As for where, the coordinates were for Greenwich, so we have to be somewhere around there. In which case, we should probably move. Queen Elizabeth spends summers at the Palace of Placentia, her favorite residence, and we don’t want to be caught lurking like grubby vagabonds at unsociable hours.”

Lucy can’t argue with that logic, and they hurry across the rough, rolling ground. It gets lighter as they walk, and she sees that they seem to have landed in a deer park or long green lawn, planted with tall oaks in verdant leaf. As they emerge into a clearing and gaze down the hill, she can just make out what she does in fact recognize as Greenwich, though it looks nothing like her last visit on the August bank holiday. There is no Old Royal Naval College, no Greenwich Observatory, no Cutty Sark, no crowds of tourists in the park, and nothing but an eerie, grey-dawn quiet, thin bands of morning mist drifting among the trees. On the spot where the Naval College should sit, there is instead a large and stately stone palace. A banner streams from the parapets: a flag blazoned with three golden lions on red, in the second and third quarters, and three golden fleur-de-lys on blue, in the first and fourth. Lucy does not work on heraldry and therefore is sure that this is not the fancy terminologically correct way to say it (English genealogists everywhere are clutching their pearls), but it is the coat of arms of the Tudor monarchs, and the flag being raised symbolizes, as it does in the present, that the queen is in residence. As she and Flynn give the palace a careful berth, making their way down toward the river, Lucy asks, “Does Elizabeth know you? By sight, that is?”

“She does, yes.” Flynn glances up at the dark bulwark of the palace, as if the queen might be peering out a window, watching them pass. “I had to present myself at court when I first arrived in London. After all, I am French, and that is a suspicious thing to be. But I helped in the defeat of the Armada in ‘88 – ” he drops this piece of information completely casually, because that is just what he does – “and that removed most of the questions around my loyalty. She knighted me and gave me a courtesy title in gratitude, so it’s properly Sir Garcia Clairmont, Baron Clairmont.”

“You said it was Lord Garcia Clairmont back at Denise and Michelle’s.” Lucy is already getting the feeling that Flynn might not have explained everything very clearly, and titles, to say the least, need to be correct around here. “So what exactly do we call – ”

“It is,” Flynn says. “A social peer or superior would address me as Sir Garcia, but a social inferior would address me as Lord Clairmont. As a baron, I’m relatively low in the pecking order. Royalty, dukes – or rather duke, there’s only one, Norfolk – marquesses, earls, and viscounts all rank above me, but all the minor nobility and gentry and ordinary people rank below. We went through this, remember? As my wife, you share my rank, so those higher on the ladder call you Lady Lucy, but those for those below, it’s Lady Clairmont. Got it?”

“Yes, I remember.” Flynn drilled her extensively on this, but Lucy is already having the vaguely panicky feeling that she is going to blank, call some haughty and important such-and-such by an inadvertently demeaning title, and cause a diplomatic incident. “You don’t address landed nobles by their last name, but by their landholding, right?”

“Yes.” Flynn glances around for early-morning traffic, of which there is already starting to be some. It’s not yet five o’clock, but servants are waking up across the city, and will soon be out on their daily errands. “So if you met Margaret Douglas, the countess of Lennox, you’d call her Lady Lennox, not Lady Douglas, and definitely not Countess Douglas or even just Countess. You won’t, because she died in 1578, but that’s it. Simple.”

Lucy makes a noise in her throat, as she suspects that their definitions of “simple” are far from the same thing. She’s a historian, she is used to remembering a lot of nitpicky detail, but the stakes aren’t usually so high. If she makes a mistake, she can just go back and edit the Word document later, or erase a reference and replace it with a new one. This is more like being an actress, expected to open the play without having more than a few days to cram-learn her lines, and she speeds up to keep up with Flynn, who is striding along at a brisk pace and whose legs are twice as long as hers. “Slow down, would you?”

He glances down at her, slightly abashed, and consents to stop trying to win the Elizabethan Power-Walking Competition. It is almost light by now, a pink glow lining the eastern horizon, and Lucy still has not stopped moving long enough to properly get her bearings. She suspects that Lord and Lady Clairmont would not be caught dead mucking around on foot at the ass-crack of dawn outside the city, and wonders if they’ll have to be Master and Mistress Flynn until they can move into his house on the Strand. That requires getting his past self to move out of it tout suite, and Flynn has promised to send a letter dispatching himself on a wild-goose chase to Dalmatia, on the pretense that the Raven King’s famous lost library has been found. That, however, will still take at least a few days, and Lucy once again feels the strictures of their six-month deadline, if they want to return in time to save Flynn’s brother, Gabriel. He was poisoned by manticore venom twice, stabbed, nearly died, and thanks to a desperate bargain that Lucy made with the witch goddess Diana, will be maintained in an enchanted sleep for six months. One of the chief things they have to do here is find an antidote for an extremely rare and dangerous poison, bring it back, and transport it to where Gabriel is stashed in some secret Liechtenstein castle under the care of the Knights of Lazarus, all before six months are up. And there’s everything they need to discover about Ashmole 782, Amelie Wallis, and the School of Night. They have a lot to get done and not much time to do it in, and if Past Flynn is inclined to hold them up with stubbornness and suspicion (Lucy knows the present one, it is an all-too-valid possibility) then she is also going to conk him over the head and put him into an enchanted snooze.

The sun comes fully up as they walk, and Lucy gets her first proper look at Tudor London. The smell off the Thames is eye-watering, as all the city’s waste, human and animal, industrial effluent, rubbish (and very often, dead bodies) are dumped into it, and she tries to breathe through her mouth as much as possible. The road they’re following west into the city isn’t much more than a narrow, rutted cart track, with more of the ferocious mud that practically sucks Lucy’s shoes off with every step. None of the iconic features of the modern skyline are present: no Shard, no Gherkin, no Big Ben, no London Eye, no domed St. Paul’s, no Tower Bridge, indeed none of the bridges except for one. London Bridge is the only way between the city and Southwark, and it is a crammed commercial thoroughfare built with shops and houses four stories high, narrow and teetering, to the point where you might not be surprised if it did fall down. It’s often blocked with slow-moving herds of animals being driven to the flesh markets at Smithfield, and that, combined with the narrow, labyrinthine, pitch-dark lanes that wind among the shops, houses, taverns, churches, guildhalls, graveyards, markets, and stalls, means that despite its filth and stink, the Thames is London’s principal highway. Throngs of small craft are already out: ferrymen shouting “Eastward-ho!” or “Westward-ho!” to indicate to passengers which way they’re headed, barges hauling goods, small ketches heading to the estuary for the day’s fishing, and here and there the gilded, canopied pleasure crafts used to transport some exclusive personage in comfort. Lucy definitely thinks it’s some kind of public holiday. Most of the people out don’t seem to be working, and there is an air of enjoyment and frivolity, flowers and food and drink and general gay good cheer. Then they pass a pole being erected in a small square, draped with wreathes, and she looks at Flynn. “May Day?”

“Seems like it,” Flynn says. “That would make sense. We came through on Beltane, the fire festival. And six months from now, the date of our return, would be November first. All Souls.”

A chill goes through Lucy at the thought. Not least because this suggests that the only time they can go through will be on All Souls, and that even if they do happily get everything done ahead of time (a problem she would like to have, however doubtful it seems) the gate won’t be open for a proper return until the very last day. That will give them just hours to get to Liechtenstein and save Gabriel before the goddess’ deadline expires, and that, obviously, will be a close-run thing indeed. Maybe Lucy can timewalk them directly to the castle, though the Knights of Lazarus were clearly suspicious about letting her, a witch, know the location. She tries to push that out of her head, and again has to jog to keep up with Flynn, who has quickly forgotten that he, used to gamboling around as a merry bachelor, now has a small human wife to account for. She grabs his sleeve. “Quit running.”

“Sorry.” Flynn once more moderates his pace, though there’s no telling how long this will last. “You don’t usually stroll here, and I don’t have a sword. That’s not a bad thing, since it means I can’t be challenged to a duel, but I don’t like being this exposed.”

“Can’t be challenged to a d – ?” Lucy does remember Flynn saying something about how Elizabethan noblemen are a quarrelsome lot, walk around (if they walk at all, as anyone who can afford to do so rides) with rapiers and daggers as a prominent part of their apparel, and anyone who is wearing a weapon can be challenged on the spot to redress an affront, real or imagined. Most duels peter out with nothing more than a few ribald insults exchanged between the noblemen and their retinues (think the “do you bite your thumb at me, sir?” scene from Romeo and Juliet) and as a vampire, Flynn can’t be killed by human weapons, but it would get them into trouble with the authorities and more attention than they need. He’s already going to cause a shock by appearing with a sudden wife who is clearly Not From Around Here, and gossip spreads fast.

They are almost into the city by now, on the Southwark side, and Lucy is starting to get rather hot, thirsty, and tired of walking. Across the river, she spots the majestic Gothic silhouette of Old St. Paul’s Cathedral, which once had the highest spire in England, higher even than Salisbury, until it was destroyed in a lightning strike in 1561. This and the Tower of London, walls grey with grit and smoke and gunpowder, a working and feared fortress, form the principal recognizable bastions on the northern shore. A sea of crooked rooftops spreads between, mostly tiled; thatch is forbidden within city limits in fear of fire. The Great Fire doesn’t hit until the ominously appropriate 1666, but smaller-scale blazes are a constant threat, and in these close, wood-and-wattle quarters, even an unattended kitchen fire can quickly get out of hand. Lucy won’t be doing her own cooking, so at least she can check “inadvertently burning down London” off the long list of things she’s worried about. As long as she remembers to snuff her candles and not hang anything over braziers.

“Garcia,” she says, nudging at his arm. “How much further are we going?”

“Not too much further.” Flynn looks down at her, belatedly recognizing that while he is impervious to the exertion, she would like to sit down soon, thanks. “There’s a few inns around here, though just to warn you, some of them are also brothels. We won’t stay in one of those, but Bankside is a popular leisure district, and that means all kinds.”

As they wind through the May Day crowds, the people taking full advantage of the holiday – they work Monday through Saturday and go to church on Sunday morning, they only get one free afternoon a week – Lucy hopes that nobody is going to spot Lord Clairmont knocking around in this off-color neighborhood. Maybe that’s why they’re here, in hopes of lying low among the common folk. Bankside is crammed with taverns, brothels, gambling dens, theatres – the famous Globe isn’t built yet, but The Theatre, The Curtain, and The Rose are all in operation – and one of the chief attractions, the bear and bull-baiting pits, as well as the cockfighting rings. They pass one of these, where a pair of shrieking roosters are tearing the feathers off each other and the crowd is going wild to place bets, silver pennies trading hands as fast as a blackjack table in Vegas, and Lucy winces. She’s aware that bloodsports are big around here, even if there is obviously a modern woman inside her protesting about animal cruelty, and hopes that they do not have to spend much time around it. Trying not to sound like a small child on a road trip, but starting to be overwhelmed with the heat and crowds and noise and stench and sheer, unrelenting unfamiliarity, she says, “Garcia, are we almost – ”

“Here.” He comes to a halt in front of a swinging wooden sign – businesses don’t usually have names, even though literacy is increasingly common among ordinary people, but are designated by their painted devices. This one has a swan and frog, and a door stands open into the street, beckoning customers into a cool dark taproom. “We’ll go in here.”

Lucy hopes that this means he managed to get his hands on some Elizabethan money before they left, and follows him in with relief. Flynn has to duck precipitately beneath the low lintel, and still can’t straighten up to his full height inside. Since it’s a holiday, the premises are full with both men and women, though none of the women are unaccompanied. A man is polishing the counter with a grimy rag, several casks of assorted wines and ales sit behind him, and several sturdy-looking barmaids in aprons are carrying drinks to the customers. Upon sight of them, he straightens up. “God ye good day, goodman, goodwife. Wilt thou have the Rhenish, tuppence a dram? Fine spirit for the Maying.”

His accent is strong, not the standard British RP that Lucy is used to, and he pronounces vowels more like Middle English than modern ones, but she is deeply relieved that she can, with effort, understand him. She does not feel up to speaking in public, a married woman would almost surely expect her husband to do it for her anyway, and Flynn shakes his head. “Nay, not the Rhenish. Two tankards of ale, prithee.”

The barman shrugs, draws them two tankards from the cask, and Lucy is about to ask if they should be drinking alcohol in the heat before she remembers that nobody drinks water. The Thames is too polluted, there are a few private wells and fountains in richer homes, but for the most part, even children drink beer, albeit not at full strength. Flynn hands over a silver penny, then says, “Hast thou a room to let a night or twain? My wife and I are just come from Canterbury, and are without our own lodging in the city yet.”

“Aye, that could be managed.” The barman eyes them interestedly, sizing up their clothes and trappings, judging how much they can afford to pay. “Twelve pence and a groat from six o’ the clock tonight to seven o’ the clock tomorrow, and sixpence for supper in the commons, or an extra shilling for it to have in privy, the tariff the same for each night. Dost thou think it fair?”

Flynn snorts, apparently considering this in fact to be highway robbery, and they spend several minutes bartering each other down to a more reasonable figure. To Lucy’s ears, the “thee”-s and “thou”-s and other King James Bible-esque English sounds stilted, performative and quaint, but this is in fact the most casual register of speech: like other Romance languages, English used to have a formal and informal version of “you,” and indeed “you” is the former, the one you use to your superiors, officials, and anyone higher in rank. In daily conversation among your friends, neighbors, and family, it’s “thou,” and since they’re trying not to draw attention or put on airs, they will speak like commoners. Listening to Flynn talk, the way he easily rattles it off, is extremely attractive, but then, she has always known he is good with languages. At least one of them doesn’t feel completely boggled here. She isn’t sure that it will ever be her.

As Flynn and the barman argue, Lucy sips her ale and tries to catch her breath. It’s not an ice-cold Budweiser, but at least it’s cool and wet and somewhat refreshing. It has a fermented-honey taste like mead, she would have gone for something a little more bitter, and while it’s watered down, it’s still strong enough that she, having already thrown up her breakfast this morning, decides to take it slow. She looks at the other patrons, all of whom appear to be enjoying their holiday and are chatting amiably. Nobody is paying them too much attention, at least, even though their clothes are old-fashioned, dirty, and look somewhat cheap. Lucy is also wearing hiking boots underneath her skirt, which definitely are not period-appropriate, but given their trek, she’s glad she did, and nobody will be looking at her feet too closely anyway. At least so she thinks, but there is a boy who offers to pull travelers’ boots off for a penny, and whenever they come back here for the night, she will just have to avoid him.

At last, Flynn and the barman agree on a more reasonable tariff for a few nights, Flynn pays him (since otherwise the man could just rent the room to someone else willing to fork over upfront, and they don’t want to get back and find that they have no place to stay before dark) and takes a long drink of his own ale. Under her breath, Lucy mutters, “How much money do we have?”

“Cecilia brought some with the vaccinations,” Flynn says. “Four crowns, seven shillings, and a handful of sixpence, groats, and pennies. That should be more than enough to support us while we’re waiting for me to leave London – crowns are worth five shillings each, we have four of those, and twenty shillings make a pound, which can be almost half of what a low-ranking servant earns in a year. You remember the equivalences, don’t you?”

“Mostly.” Lucy remembers the rule of thumb that twelve pence make a shilling, twenty shillings make a pound, and that most daily transactions are carried out in pence, but she is once more grateful that Flynn will be expected to handle all financial business anyway. “Should you send the letter to yourself today?”

“Tomorrow.” Flynn takes another sip. “It’s May Day, the streets are crowded, I wouldn’t be going anywhere even if I did get the message now. Today’s Friday, though, and tomorrow is Saturday, I can’t leave on a Sunday, and will need a few days to prepare anyway. Hopefully we can move in by the end of next week.”

“Right.” The idea of lurking around here and waiting for his past self to leave town is still so weird that Lucy tries not to think about it directly. “So what do we do for a week? Just… take in the sights? We can’t really afford to waste time.”

“I know.” Flynn’s long fingers drum distractedly on the scarred wood of the bar. “We’ll have a look at the Ashmole page and see if I recognize any of the names. But I’ll have to be careful where I go in public. The entire population of the city is just under two hundred thousand people, and in neighborhood parishes, everyone knows everyone. I don’t want to have too many conflicting sightings, especially if my past self is out buying supplies too.”

“What – ” Lucy has watched enough time-travel shows to know that the answer can’t be anything good, but she still has to ask. “What happens if you meet yourself?”

“I’ll make sure he doesn’t see me.” Flynn shrugs, which isn’t very reassuring. “Well, finish your ale and we’ll go back out. We don’t get our room until six o’clock anyway.”

Lucy has plenty of things she could say to this, but it’s better not to. She takes a few more sips, decides that’s about all the booze she should have for now, and gets to her feet, weaving through the crowded taproom after Flynn, who clears a broad swath for her to follow. Whenever he’s standing up, heads turn. They emerge back into the heat and brightness of the day, and Flynn looks around with a considering expression. “Are you hungry?”

Lucy could stand to eat something, especially since she just drank, and he makes his way to a hot-pie stand and buys her a pasty. It’s fresh out of the oven, golden-brown and glistening and greasy, stuffed with meat, chopped onions, leeks, and carrots, and seasoned with an array of spices. By now, it’s early afternoon, and the May Day celebrations are in full flow. It does remind Lucy a little of any other crowded, boozy summer bank holiday, people spilling out of pubs and sitting in the sun, dancing and drinking, playing football and bowls. A group of apprentices are bashing each other with cudgels nearby, but that appears to be in more or less good fun. They deserve to let off steam. To become a tradesman in London, you have to serve at least seven years as an apprentice under a master who’s a member of the appropriate guild; there’s one for every industry, and they strictly control all commerce and revenue. In other words, you cannot simply move to London from the countryside and set up shop, and the apprentice’s life is practically similar to a novice monk’s: he is forbidden to fornicate, marry, gamble, drink, or otherwise disport himself the way a young man would be inclined. His master may or may not pay him, being required only to provide food and lodging, and he is also at liberty to beat him if he is lazy, untrustworthy, stupid, or otherwise unsatisfactory. Apprentices are also the first line of defense if a shop is broken into, hence the cudgels, and they sometimes get to run around and cause all the mayhem they want, such as on Shrove Tuesday, chasing the evil out of the city before the start of Lent. If at the end of it, they have served their time and learned their craft, they can operate their own premises and take apprentices in turn. But it’s a tough row to hoe, and many of them quit beforehand.

Lucy moves closer to Flynn, taking his arm, because she doesn’t want to run any risk of being separated from him in this maze. Once they pass the dueling apprentices, they’re coming up on the Rose Theatre, and a man on a box is standing outside the door, yelling at passersby at the top of his lungs. “Come ye, come ye! Come ye to the tale of Tamburlaine the Great, played by Pembroke’s Men! Two bits the floor, four bits the gallery! Tamburlaine the Great, by Kit Marlowe!”

“Tamburlaine?” Lucy stops short, recognizing the name – and, of course, the playwright. It’s one of Marlowe’s earliest dramas, one of the first major box-office hits of the Elizabethan theatre, and she looks around in sudden expectation that a literary legend might walk past her. She can’t resist the urge, and glances at Flynn. “Can we go?”

He pauses, then shrugs in acquiescence, striding up to the shouting man and handing over two groats for gallery seats, where the slightly more well-to-do sit above the commoners who stand at stage level. They then join the crowd shuffling inside; all plays are matinees, since there is no indoor lighting aside from candles, and the theatre roof is open-air. They climb the dark, creaky stairs up to the gallery and try to find somewhere to sit on the wooden benches. It’s packed cheek by jowl, and enterprising vendors wearing trays around their necks are flogging snacks to hungry theatregoers: oysters, cherries, plums, peaches, walnuts, hazelnuts, and for the epicureans, legs of fresh crab. All of this can also be thrown at the players if they’re doing badly, until Lucy wonders if this is the origin of the term “peanut gallery.” It’s  a good thing that they’re passing as commoners, since there aren’t any noblewomen to be seen, and she can’t help a brief excitement. She’s actually here.

The theatre fills up steadily (some of the players are physically stuffing people through the doors until the floor is filled – modern safety regulations, they be not known here) and finally, a dark-eyed young man in a modish black-and-gold doublet strides on stage. Lucy has an inkling who is, but when he introduces himself as the playwright, Kit Marlowe, she can’t help a small shocked breath. Flynn glances down with an amused expression. “I didn’t know you were such a fan of late Tudor tragedians.”

“It’s Christopher Marlowe,” Lucy says, slightly crossly. “Of course I’m impressed.”

“I can introduce you after the play,” Flynn offers. “I know Marlowe, we’re colleagues from the School. And I don’t know if you can tell from here, but he’s a daemon.”

That catches Lucy short. She stares at Marlowe, able – now that Flynn has mentioned it – to see the magical aura that thrums around him, identifying him as a fellow creature. He does fit the bill for a daemon: the unstable, creative, independent, and occasionally tempestuous personality, live fast and die young, the flouting of social norms and the whispers of homosexuality, atheism, and other crimes against public morality. She’s about to accept, then frowns. “Would Marlowe be expecting to see his friend Master Flynn here tonight? With a wife he’s never heard of, no less?”

“Ah.” Flynn, once again, has managed to forget that they are supposed to be married. It might almost be insulting, but Lucy knows (or hopes, at any rate) it’s just because he’s so focused on the mission. “Hmm. I’m not sure.”

Lucy muffles a sigh, wonders if anyone is going to be remotely fooled by this, and settles in to watch. She then gets another slight shock when Marlowe announces that the role of Tamburlaine will be played today by Ned Alleyn. Edward Alleyn, along with Richard Burbage, is one of the most famous actors of the entire era, and usually stars as the lead in Marlowe’s plays, the majority of which are specifically written for him. As well, the Rose was built and is owned by Philip Henslowe, the famous theatre impresario and entrepreneur, until Lucy wonders if a young William Shakespeare himself might be in the corps. It is undeniably rather thrilling.

The doors are shut, the drama begins, and Lucy notices that theatre etiquette, as you might expect from the ability to hurl foodstuffs at incompetent actors, is definitely not the same as today. People talk, jostle, fart, smoke pipes, yell comments after (and sometimes during) long-winded soliloquies, have low-level feuds with their neighbors who are standing in their spaces, and otherwise seem to be paying attention to the action on stage only half the time. But they are equally rapturous: they whoop and whistle and laugh at the funny parts, they hang onto the high drama, they cry at the sad parts, and otherwise express appreciation in a way that a modern person would have a hard time doing unironically. There’s no scenery, but the costumes are lavish, and Ned Alleyn, a tall, commanding man with a natural gravitas, delivers the difficult, flowery dialogue with apparent ease. When the players troop off at the interval, the applause is general. Lucy doesn’t think there are ladies’ loos around here (it would probably be even more difficult to go than it is at the Old Vic), unless she wants to run out and find a semi-private corner. She is just debating whether she wants to when a man walks onto the stage and, as the intermission amusement, begins to tell very, very dirty jokes.

Lucy lets out a small squeaking noise, once more causing Flynn to look down. “I’m sorry,” she says, even as she knows that Elizabethans are notoriously fond of bawdy jokes and wordplay, swear inventively and often, have plenty of sex, and otherwise are far from prudes. “I just – didn’t realize this was part of the show.”

“Oh, it is.” Flynn raises an eyebrow. “Are Lady Clairmont’s delicate ears burning?”

Lucy swats his arm, annoyed, and he gives her a look that is really too smug. It’s certainly not that she’s a blushing damsel, but most of the humor is of the “bitches be crazy” variety, and while the c-word is just a matter-of-fact name for women’s genitals and not anything outstandingly pejorative, Lucy’s feminist sensibilities are still chafed by having to listen to it multiple times in a row. (Then again, there is another rant to be had on why this is apparently the worst curse word in the modern world, and you could just walk around for five minutes in Glasgow and get the same effect.) Finally, due to a combination of this and the quantity of beer she drank earlier, which means the pee situation is getting urgent and she doesn’t think she can hold it for another half, she gets to her feet. “I’ll be right back.”

Flynn obligingly moves aside to let her squeeze past him, though Lucy can sense him looking after her as she descends the stairs. After all, this is the first time they have been out of each other’s direct line of sight since arriving in 1590, and even for a quick dash out to the toilet, it’s still a bit stressful. She reaches the ground floor without any catastrophes, however, and follows the crowd outside, where the necessary is located: a small wooden shack, used by both men and women. There’s a line, because some things never change, and when it’s Lucy’s turn, she steps inside and notes that yes, it smells exactly as rank as you would expect. She squats over the hole rather than sitting all the way down, and since paper is a rare and luxurious commodity and you definitely do not wipe your ass with it, a bit of damp rag is provided instead. She thinks she’ll go without, gives herself a few good shakes, and emerges with abject relief into the yard, which is almost fresh by comparison. Well. That was an experience she can do without having again.

It’s then, off in a corner of the courtyard, sitting with his boots propped up on a barrel and smoking a long-stemmed pipe, enjoying the golden late-afternoon light and the success of the show thus far, that she spots none other than Christopher Marlowe. She hesitates, wondering if this is like seeing a celebrity eating at McDonald’s when they probably just want to be left alone, or if by sitting out here instead of backstage, Marlowe is implicitly inviting praise from his adoring public. After another pause, she decides that she’ll kick herself forever if she doesn’t do it, and tiptoes in his direction. “Er – Master Marlowe?” she squeaks, having failed at short notice to come up with anything else and hoping very much that this is what she is supposed to call him. “I just wanted to say, I – I’m a great admirer of your work.”

The playwright looks up in surprise, caught by her strange accent, the fact that it is a woman addressing him – and then, as he takes her in at full length, something else. He blows out a smoke ring, eyeing her up and down. Then he says, “Thou art a witch.”

Since she’s addressed him with the formal “you” out of habit, his answering with “thou,” the prerogative of the social superior to the lesser, can’t help but feel like an unspoken point on this particular daemon’s opinion of his fellow creatures. Lucy winces, since he doesn’t need to go saying that too loudly; the Berwick witch trials are this December, after all. He hasn’t thanked her for the compliment, that’s for sure, and she flushes. “I’ll – if I’ve disturbed you, I can go.”

“Nay need.” Marlowe puts down his pipe, still considering her. “Thou art a comely enough wench, and I hath no more intended for the evening, when the playing is done. If thee wish to return hence at that time, I suppose we can have ado.”

“I – ” Lucy opens her mouth, then shuts it. It hits her in a mortifying rush that Marlowe thinks that she, an unaccompanied woman coming to tell him she is an “admirer” of his “work,” is trying to pick him up like a theatre groupie. Apparently he thinks she’s hot enough to have ado, which is mildly flattering, but this is definitely an impression that needs to be corrected posthaste. “I – no, no, I am a married woman. I only meant – your plays.” Most of Marlowe’s most famous works haven’t been written yet, and he is still just one of a number of anonymous playwrights cranking out material for the London stage. It isn’t even usually customary to announce the authors, hence why there’s so much scholarly kerfuffle about establishing Shakespeare’s canon. “If I did give the impression otherwise, I pray your pardon.”

“Married?” From Marlowe’s tone, he doesn’t think that’s a total disqualifier. “Does thy husband attend the playing with you this e’en, then?”

“I – yes, he does.” Lucy is just wondering whether she should introduce herself by name when Marlowe spots someone over her shoulder, and his whole face changes. She turns around to see Flynn, evidently having come in anxious search of her in case the toilet run turned literally shitty, and by Marlowe’s expression, Lucy can tell at once that his disdain for other creatures does not extend to vampires, or at least this vampire. In fact, for a further instant before he controls it, she isn’t really in any doubt. And of course Flynn has no idea, because Flynn is always completely oblivious when people are in love with him.

“My fine fellow,” Marlowe says, after a moment too long. “I had not known thee were at the theatre today. I could have arranged a far better welcome. And with thy  – ” His eyes cut to Lucy, clearly unpleasantly surprised by this development. “Wife?”

“She – is, yes,” Flynn says. “Married just after Easter.”

“That would be only – ten days ago, at most?” Marlowe raises both eyebrows. “With no banns read, and no word to thine own brethren of the society? That was uncommonly hasty matrimony indeed. Didst thou even appeal to Her Majesty? Thou knowest how she feels about her favorites marrying without her warrant.”

Flynn starts to say something, gets a slightly panicked look that means he hasn’t thought this far through the cover story, and settles for nodding stoutly. “Aye, we did.”

Marlowe looks them both up and down, picks up his pipe as if he is going to need a lot more tobacco to deal with this shit, and smokes in dead silence for several moments. Then he says, in a tone that does not portend him rushing to congratulate them on this happy development and with a sharply formal switch, “You should return inside. The interval is about to end.”

With that, he turns on his heel and walks away, clearly doing his best to affect nonchalance, as Lucy watches him go and thinks with a sinking heart that her first attempt to talk to a historical figure she admires has gone about as badly as it possibly can. They trail on Marlowe’s heels back into the crowded theatre; since it’s May, it will be light long into the evening. In an undertone, Lucy says, “I don’t think he bought that.”

“I forgot that you can’t exactly get married in a hurry,” Flynn admits. “Normally it requires the banns to be read at the parish church three Sundays in a row, then obtaining a license, then waiting another month before the wedding can be held. Even for Shakespeare, when he hastily married Anne Hathaway, it took a fortnight, and that was the expedited version.”

Lucy decides not to remark that Flynn seems to have forgotten quite a lot, because if she was plunged into somewhere she had lived four hundred years ago and was expected to remember everything immediately, she’d be struggling too. “What was that Marlowe said about you being a favorite of the Queen? You just said she knighted you, not that you were a particular star at court.”

“I have worked in. . .. diverse employment for Her Majesty,” Flynn says, after a pause. “What happened with the Armada was only part of it.”

“Diverse employment? What was that, exactly?”

He gives her a look that clearly says he’s not going to discuss sensitive state secrets in public even if nobody can hear them, and this isn’t the time for that conversation anyway. For her part, Lucy is swiftly realizing that this literal walk down memory lane will be a lot more complicated than she was prepared for, and she didn’t think it was going to be easy. But it was a lot simpler to contemplate in the abstract, not in the noisy, smelly, messy reality, and if nothing else, they have already managed to piss off Kit Marlowe on their very first day here, who clearly has some kind of unrequited thing for Flynn and was blindsided by the ham-fisted Sudden Marriage reveal. That is not going to make him ready to put in a good word for them at the School of Night, and if he is inclined to act any more tangibly on his jealousy, there could be other problems. This is the man who gets killed in a tavern brawl; he is not shy about doing things the bare-knuckled way. Not that Lucy thinks he’s going to sneak up behind her and murder her one night, not really, but that’s not even to mention the Queen. When Walter Raleigh marries Bess Throckmorton without Elizabeth’s permission, both of them are imprisoned for months in the Tower of London and remain out of favour for five years. Lucy really isn’t up for that.

She is distracted through the second half of Tamburlaine, tries to remind herself to enjoy the experience, and is relieved when the painted curtain falls and the players parade out to take their bows. They’re all men, of course, and the boys who have been playing the female parts look as if they are ready to get out of their falsies and wigs. Ned Alleyn graciously accepts the lion’s share of the adulation, as well as the flowers and tokens handed to him from the crowd, and Lucy is reminded irresistibly of Ben Affleck in Shakespeare in Love. She is very tired and hopes that they don’t have to spend any more time walking around before they can go back to the inn. As they emerge into the blue evening, the sun low on the horizon but still not close to set, Flynn can clearly tell she’s flagging. He buys her a bowl of potage for supper, and they sit on the river wall, most of the revelers starting to filter home in advance of curfew, but a few still look like they want to get the most out of the holiday. The soup is thick and hot and sticks to the ribs, and Lucy eats without saying much.

When they’re done, they return the bowl to the soup-seller, then make their way back to the inn and upstairs to their room. Lucy has been afraid that they’ll have to share, as most landlords aren’t terribly conscientious about packing in as many paying customers as there is space for, and you could often expect to share the room and even the bed with several other strangers. Fortunately, they have the place to themselves, and if Flynn had to pay extra for that, Lucy doesn’t care. She sits down on the bed with a whoof, stares off into space for a very long moment, then jerks back to herself with alarm. “Are there going to be bedbugs?”

“Hard to say.” Flynn shrugs. “In noble households, they tend to wash the linen weekly, at least, but for a common inn in Southwark, they could be somewhat less conscientious. I’ll check, if you want me to.”

“Yes, thank you.” Lucy gets off the bed, even as her muscles complain at the necessity, and since they’re not going out again, strips off her muddy, sweat-stained dress. There is a bowl and pitcher of water for freshening up, but nothing like a private bathroom; there’s a chamber pot for number one, and a privy closet down the hall for number two. Having had all the experience of Elizabethan toilets that she needs, Lucy doesn’t plan to make use of it, but she is already missing the modern world, which – despite its numerous and extensive faults – would have a damn shower. Still, this is just day one, she can’t buckle under now, and she splashes the water on her dusty, sunburned face and neck while Flynn strips down the bed, declares it bug-free, and makes it up again. The sheets aren’t exactly squeaky-clean – indeed, they’re somewhat yellowish, and definitely have not been washed between them and the last occupants of this room, but at least they won’t get eaten alive. The bed, moreover, is much too short for Flynn: his legs will dangle a solid six inches over the end, unless he curls up on his side like a shrimp. He mutters under his breath, but grudgingly accepts his fate.

It’s not that late – it’s still not even fully dark – but Lucy is fighting to keep her eyes open, and digs her pajamas out of the bag, which she decided to bring along since honestly, nobody wants to go six months without their own PJs. It is strange almost to surreality to put on her comfortable old Stanford T-shirt and flannel sleep pants, dig out her toiletries and brush her teeth with a tube of modern Crest in her sixteenth-century hotel room. She was going to suggest opening the window for some fresh air, but it is likely to be anything but fresh, especially after the food and heat and waste of the day, and besides, the general belief is that the night air is poisonous. It could definitely let in bugs, at any rate, and she isn’t feeling up to that. She gets into bed, and can feel sleep dragging her down like a weight. The pillows are round bolsters and the covers are woolen blankets with an embroidered counterpane on top, it’s comfortable enough, and after the day she’s had, Lucy would settle for some mostly clean straw. She closes her eyes and abjectly loses consciousness.

She sleeps like the dead, doesn’t even stir, and briefly manages to forget where she is when she wakes the next morning, in the instant before she opens her eyes. It’s like the opposite of having had a weird dream and finding yourself safe in your own bed; she is back in the dream, and that is now the reality. Flynn is asleep next to her, looking decidedly cramped, and she supposes he’s eager to get to his own house where, presumably, the furniture will be made to accommodate him. Is he going to send the letter today? Did Marlowe tell anyone about meeting them last night? Lucy isn’t sure if Kit knows that Master Flynn and Lord Clairmont are the same person, but as already demonstrated, he can cause plenty of trouble even without that.

Flynn wakes up soon after that, they wash and get into their clothes as best they can, and make their way down to the common room. Since breakfast isn’t much of a thing, they pay a few pence for some bread and a cup of ale apiece. The average Elizabethan takes their main meal, dinner, at eleven o’clock AM, and then a somewhat smaller supper around six PM. How many courses there are and how elaborate depends on how rich you are, but in general, nobody goes too hungry around here. There aren’t any major famines or food crises, a welcome respite after the rugged years of the late medieval era, and trade is booming. But the last thing Lucy feels like is more beer, and she hopes they find some drinkable water soon, otherwise she’s going to start running a constant dehydration headache. As they emerge into the morning, in search of a bookseller or scrivener or other place that will sell them quill and paper, she says, “Doesn’t there have to be a fountain? Water for washing?”

“From the Thames or from the tributaries, but you wouldn’t want to drink it without boiling it.” Flynn glances down at her. “But you’re a witch, remember? Couldn’t you conjure up witch-water?”

Lucy opens her mouth, then shuts it, somewhat dismayed that such a seemingly obvious solution hasn’t occurred to her. Then again, she’s only had anything close to her full powers for just a few weeks, she’s not used to turning to magic for solutions, and she isn’t sure that she could make just a sedate little cup of water without a full-scale deluge. Her ability with witch-rain tends to be tied to moments of particular emotional distress, to Flynn leaving in Sept-Tours and being tortured by Emma in the ruined castle, and the last thing she wants, if she’s avoided burning down London, is to flood it instead. Still, if the alternative is to booze it up for six months, she may have to try.

They wend their way into the streets, and walk ten-odd minutes up to London Bridge. Lucy wants to ask if anywhere will be open this early on a Saturday, before remembering that it’s a regular business day and that most places open at six, close for dinner between eleven and one, then reopen for the rest of the afternoon until five. They make their way onto the bridge, which is decorated with dung from the animal traffic, and have to duck as a human resident opens a fourth-story window and negligently empties a chamber pot without regard for anyone who might be walking below. About halfway along, they find a scrivener’s stall, Flynn spends several minutes arguing the clerk into letting him write his own message rather than dictate it, and finally takes the quill, watched darkly by the clerk, who probably has it come out of his wages if a customer wastes too much paper and ink. Flynn thinks for a bit, then scribbles up a letter, sands it to dry the ink, folds it, and stamps it with hot wax. He tosses the clerk an extra penny for his trouble, looks around, and spots one of the boys who loiter about in hopes of being asked to run an errand for a gentleman. “Take thee this to my brother at Clairmont House, on the Strand,” he orders. “Hand it to him and no other, and say only that it came from a friend. Havest thou ken?”

The boy agrees that he does, takes the letter, and runs off. They wait what feels like a too-long time, to Lucy’s nervous mind, until the boy returns without the letter, claims that he has in fact delivered it, and after Flynn has quizzed him on what the house looked like and what his brother said when he got the message to prove that he did, pays him. The bridge is busy with morning traffic by now, and it takes them a while to shuffle to the far side. This is the City proper, contained within the vast, rambling Roman walls that bound it on three sides; the Thames itself serves as the fourth. There are seven gates, and when someone has just been executed for treason, their severed, tar-dipped head can be displayed above any of these, or on the bridge, until it has rotted away. Thankfully, they are currently free from such gruesome adornments, and Lucy and Flynn step into the middle of the main thoroughfare. It’s another warm, mild spring day, and the streets are busy (and fragrant).

“Where are we going?” Lucy asks, as they dodge carts, cows, pigs, merchants, household servants, and a thousand and one beggars. There are a lot of rough sleepers in London in the present anyway, but it’s impossible not to notice them here. Some have crutches or missing limbs, claiming that they’re veterans of fighting the Armada (they probably are, since disabled veterans getting ignored and left to shift for themselves is nothing new), others sit or huddle in corners, calling, “Goodman, goodman, prithee alms,” at everyone who passes. Elizabeth and her Privy Council pass various acts for the relief of the poor, but still haven’t managed to substantively dent the scale of the problem. “Is there something else we – ”

“There.” Flynn nods at Old St. Paul’s Cathedral, which – up close – is so huge and splendid and imposing that it’s strange to think that in less than a hundred years, it won’t be there anymore. It’s already in considerable disrepair, it’s used as a stable and barracks by Oliver Cromwell and the Parliamentary forces in the English Civil War, and then of course, it burns. But it’s here right now, it used to enjoy a reputation as one of the most beautiful cathedrals in Europe, and that is where they seem to be going. “I want to hear the news.”

Lucy is briefly confused about how this fits into that, but then she remembers that there’s something called Paul’s Cross in the courtyard outside, an open-air pulpit which is an attraction for celebrity preachers and other public speeches, and where Londoners, in the absence of social media or newspapers, gather to hear the latest. There’s a crowd listening to whoever is having a good harangue at the moment, and as they step inside the cathedral, Lucy is startled to discover that this function is by no means confined to the exterior. The place would be filled with tourists in the present day, but here, it’s jam-packed with dandies in fancy cloaks, known as “Paul’s walkers,” who speed-walk around and collect all the hot-off-the-presses gossip. Far from a solemn sanctuary of sacred worship or whatever else you’d expect, this is the place to see and be seen. Souvenir-sellers offer food and trinkets, a stray pig wanders by, and there are a few women with painted faces who look like they make a good living. Yes, apparently, you can hire prostitutes in St. Paul’s. Somewhere in Rome, the Pope is having nightmares about the heathenry of the English Protestants. In 1570, Pius V issued a bull, Regnans in Excelsis, releasing Elizabeth’s subjects from any allegiance to her as a heretic, excommunicated all of England, and offered pre-emptive absolution to anyone who murdered her. There have been an uptick of plots ever since, and Mary Queen of Scots was executed three years ago, in 1587. But the people, by and large, are fiercely loyal to the Virgin Queen and hate Popish treachery, so that just sucks for him.

Just then, however, Lucy has a tiny fraction of sympathy, and a touch of indignation that a precious historical landmark whose days are numbered isn’t being given more reverence. But after Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1530s, breaking up the Catholic church’s vast land monopolies and extremely wealthy religious houses, and ending the medieval monastic orders that the younger sons and daughters of the nobility entered into as a career, all religious buildings in Reformation England have been given a new purpose. Besides, there’s the fact that for the people of this city, St. Paul’s is a working building, part of the fabric of their daily life, and it’s only the people of four hundred years in the future who view its successor as a sterile, valuable artifact, look but don’t touch. They don’t even let you take pictures in the present St. Paul’s, God forbid (Lucy discovered this when she tried to photograph the Whispering Gallery and got told off by a stern British matron). History is made by time, she thinks, remembering Rufus joking that they’d better hope Jessica didn’t steal the Mona Lisa in Renaissance Florence. If Jessica did, it wouldn’t matter when she returned to the present with it. It might have some incidental value as a lost work of Leonardo’s, but it wouldn’t be the worldwide icon, shuffled past by tens of millions of people in the Louvre, parodied and universally recognized and whatever else. It needed those hundreds of years to get famous, so stealing it right after it was created wouldn’t have done anything. Nobody would care.

Lucy and Flynn have barely entered the nave when one of the Paul-walkers chugs up next to them, slightly breathless in his urge to make sure he doesn’t miss anything. “How do you the morning, goodman, good lady? Have you the tidings?”

It isn’t clear whether this means he has tidings or is hoping they do, and Lucy decides to let Flynn handle him. Then she looks over and notices that several of the merchant stalls include enterprising sorts who are offering up the cathedral’s old cartularies and priceless historical documents to be picked through like a box of vintage clothing at a rummage sale. Lucy just manages to hold back a squeal of indignation, but then she remembers that this was listed on the Ashmole fragment, one of the places they were supposed to visit. Is there something here, a vital scrap or manuscript fragment to be dug out from the chaos?

Lucy hesitates, then, leaving Flynn to Gabby George, ventures in the direction of the nearest seller. Flynn gave her some of their money, and she clears her throat. “How much?”

The seller – a slightly slovenly bearded weasel-type – jumps, looks surprised, and then glances at her up and down, the usual split-second assessment of class and standing that everyone has performed thus far, but feels somehow more threatening here. Evidently he isn’t impressed by what he sees. “Who art thou?” he asks dismissively. “Thy mistress does thee no credit by dressing thee in such tatty rags. ‘Tisn’t a sale I’d wish to make, surely.”

“Excuse m – ?” Apparently he thinks that Lucy is not just a servant, but the servant of someone so miserably cheapskate as to not even bother to put her in household livery, or to preserve her own reputation by sending her servants forth handsomely clad, as proper embodiments of her wealth and prestige. “Never mind that, and no, I’m not a servant. I have money, I can pay.”

“And where is it thee hails from?” He has, of course, noted her strange accent as something else to be a dick about. “Another foreigner that infests the city? Well then, I suppose there is payment I could take from thee, if that is what thou art good for. Come on, sweeting, a kiss and a fumble, thee can look through as much as thee pleases. If thee can even read, but – ”

Revolted, Lucy backs away; she is not being felt up by this misogynist, xenophobic asshole even in the name of searching for Ashmole clues. Not only that, but he had to insult her intelligence on top of it, and she wonders whether to verbally blow him up or to just perform the smile of every woman dealing with Men ™ and walk away. It would be very satisfying to tear him a new asshole, but she’s also aware of the undeniable vulnerability of a strange woman in a strange place, who isn’t going to open her mouth and put herself in danger no matter if it would be a Win for Feminism. She feels powerless again, small, and manages a tight little nod before backing up another step – and running into someone behind her. For a terrible moment she thinks it’s one of this guy’s buddies, but no, thank God. It’s Flynn.

“Beg pardon,” Flynn says, in a deceptively polite tone. “Wert thou speaking ungently to my wife, churl?”

“I – ” The man, who is half Flynn’s size, looks him up and down, and while he can clearly tell that he is also foreign, decides that it is not a wise time to ask from where. “Prithee pardons, goodman. Your – your wife? She does – I thought only that – ”

Haughtily ignoring his babbling, Flynn glances at Lucy, as if to see what she would like him to do with this git. Their eyes meet, and Lucy remembers the part where you can challenge people to account for their shameful conduct, that fighting and brawling and whatever else is fairly commonplace, and she is tired of the fact that everyone seems to have assumed that she is a loose woman or a penniless servant or whatever else. She is the white queen, Lady Clairmont, and while nobody knows it yet, that doesn’t mean she is going to put up with it.

She gives Flynn half a nod.

He shrugs, cracks his knuckles, and with that, lifts Weasel Misogynist Man effortlessly by throat and crotch and hurls him twenty feet across the nave like a shot-put. He hits a yellow-curtained booth, crashes down with a gurgling sound, and lies there in a pitiful heap, whimpering, as heads turn, the Paul-walkers go absolutely mental (they are going to be chewing over this delightful scandal for days) and Flynn decides that they should probably get out of here. He takes Lucy’s arm, they do some quality speed-walking of their own to the door, and emerge into the day. Then he says, “What the devil was that about?”

Lucy explains in brief, which causes Flynn to look even more disgruntled, as if he wants to go whale on the guy a few more times just for good measure. “I should have warned you about that,” he says. “London has gotten especially paranoid, violent, and racist about foreigners, even though they make up a small minority of the population. It’s almost impossible to get English citizenship, and only citizens can be aldermen or stand for Lord Mayor or receive membership in the guilds. I’ve been called all number of things depending on whether they think I’m Irish, French, or Spanish, as they don’t like any of them.”

“Wow, the more things change?” Lucy looks around, half-expecting to see Nigel Farage driving up in a Brexit battle bus. “But I need to get out of these clothes. Marlowe thought I was a whore last night, and our friend in there thought I was some especially low-class servant. So – ”

“We can go to the Royal Exchange,” Flynn says doubtfully. “It’s just down the street, it’s essentially an Elizabethan shopping mall. But we can’t dress too fancily while we’re still posing as commoners, so – ”

“Getting me something that doesn’t cause everyone we meet to think that I’m a hussy would be a good start,” Lucy says, with an edge in her voice. “Don’t you agree, darling?”

Flynn can’t think of anything to say to that, and so they walk down to the Royal Exchange. As promised, it is a grand open-air plaza, with luxury shops in the handsomely colonnaded cloisters that surround it. There are haberdashers, weavers, lace-workers, embroiderers, milliners, tailors, trimmers, clothiers, and other establishments catering to the fashionable Elizabethan, though for the best jewelry, you have to go to the goldsmiths in Cheapside. That is out of their present price range anyway, and they just need to get Lucy something that makes her look like a gentlewoman. It ends up being a little more pricey than they’d like – two of their precious four crowns – to purchase her a proper outfit, so Past Flynn really should hurry his butt up and leave so they can move in before the money runs out. But once they finally leave the Exchange with Lucy’s new clothes wrapped up in a parcel, they are hopeful that they can bring an end to the mishaps at least on this account.

When they get back to the inn, however, they discover a new problem. There aren’t locks on the doors because any intruder would be tackled by the landlord and the servants, and there’s not exactly a hotel safe to put things in. They have hidden their bags in the cupboard and put the handy security stick through the latches (as if that would really help), but when they step inside, it’s apparent that someone has been in here. The bags are not where they left them, and considering that they have their things from the future in here, as well as the Ashmole pages, they drop everything and frantically search through all of it. After ten minutes of sheer panic, they can verify that nothing has been taken, but Flynn still is scowling deeply as he sits back on his heels. “I’m keeping the pages with me from here on in,” he announces. “At least until we get to my house.”

“Who could have done this?” Lucy wonders what they made of her modern toiletries. But the two of them are already unexplained, foreign, and don’t need to be attracting questions about what strange and eldritch items they have brought with them. Hey, if some of these people stole deodorant, they’re welcome to it. “Someone in particular?”

“There can be thieves in places like this,” Flynn admits. “Sometimes they work here. You’re usually advised to check the weight of your purse when you arrive and when you leave. That was careless of me. We’ve been lucky this time, but it means someone’s noticed us, or at least wondered if we had anything worth the taking. We should lie low for the next few days. We’re not on the parish rolls anywhere, so our absence from church tomorrow won’t be fined – it’s twelve pence for every Sunday service you miss – and I’ll be going to the French Huguenot church where I’m expected to be seen. The other me, that is.”

“Right.” Lucy is still rattled, and doesn’t like the idea of leaving their things unsupervised again anyway. She looks around, as if the perpetrator might be lurking behind a wardrobe. “You’re Catholic, though. Aren’t you?”

“Technically, yes,” Flynn says. “But as long as you conform publicly and attend a Protestant church, nobody asks too many questions into what you privately believe. That’s Elizabeth’s policy, after both her half-siblings persecuted Catholics and Protestants, respectively. I swore an oath of conformity to the Church of England when I received my knighthood, so my religious standing isn’t in question, but I need to be careful to avoid looking like a recusant.”

Lucy rubs her face. She wasn’t raised particularly religious, since it’s not entirely a thing that gels with being a witch – indeed, when you know the goddess exists and is a real, actionable magical force in your life, it’s hard to put too much stock in whatever fusty patriarchal so-and-so is presented as the be-all and end-all. But this was definitely one of the main topics they covered before leaving, and she knows that it must be taken very seriously. As Lord and Lady Clairmont, they will have to make sure to be in church every week, so she might as well enjoy her last lazy Sunday while she has it. If it’s possible to actually relax around here. It’s noisy, cramped, and stuffy, there is no internet or Netflix to veg out with, and frankly, if she is going to be shut into a small room with Flynn for the next few days, Lucy has other ideas about how they could spend that time. But he flipped out fairly severely the last time they attempted to seal the deal, back at Denise and Michelle’s, and she doesn’t want to push him again.

The rest of the day passes very slowly. That evening, Flynn goes downstairs to buy them supper and ask a few pointed questions of the landlord about who he let snoop in their stuff, while Lucy paces back and forth, worries, and finally gets so hot that she opens the window anyway, poisonous air be damned. It still reeks, but she’s almost getting used to it by now, and at least it lets some breeze in. Flynn returns, glances at it with an expression as if he thinks someone might climb in off the drainpipe, but doesn’t say anything. They sit on the bed to eat, pewter plates balanced on their knees, as Lucy tries to resist asking how long he thinks it will take himself to leave. He’s doing the best he can, and as noted, she is very well aware that Garcia Flynn de Clermont is nothing if not stubborn.

Since there’s nothing else to do, they once more go to bed fairly early. Lucy is then woken up the next morning by something splashing on her face, as there is a leak in the plaster above her head and in true English fashion, it has followed up two days of relatively nice weather by being approximately forty degrees, grey, and drizzly. She grimaces and gets up, scouting around for something to patch it with, since she doesn’t want to wake Flynn and get him to move the bedstead, though she’s sure he could do it. There’s a bucket by the window, possibly for these sorts of situations, and she doesn’t want the bedclothes to get soaked, thus rendering them damp and musty for the remainder of their time here. No lazy lie-in for her, apparently, unless she wants to climb up and try to patch it with her old dress or something, but that seems dangerous. So Lucy pads barefoot across the creaky floor to get the bucket, glances out the window – and freezes.

There’s someone standing in the street outside. It’s foggy and grey and damp, and the figure is hooded and cloaked, so she has no idea who it is, if it’s even there because of them, or if it’s just someone trying not to get wet on the way to church. But it’s standing right below Lucy and Flynn’s window, shadowed head tilted back to stare directly at it, and as Lucy instinctively dodges to one side so it can’t see her, it doesn’t move an inch. It remains standing there, taking it in, assessing. Then with slow, measured steps, it vanishes under the steep overhangs of the houses on the crookback lane, and into the morning mist.

“Lucy?” Flynn’s voice comes hoarsely from the bed, as she’s still standing there, staring after it. He pushes himself up on an elbow. “What are you doing?”

“S – sorry.” She turns around. “There was a leak, it woke me up. Then I just – just now. There was someone standing outside our window, looking up at us.”

Flynn frowns. “Who?”

“I don’t know, I couldn’t see their face. They had a hood on.” Lucy turns back toward him, even as Flynn limbers out of bed, can reach the ceiling without having to stand on anything, and starts to contrive a makeshift patch job, mumbling under his breath. “Do you think it’s the same person who broke in here yesterday?”

“Could be,” Flynn says, in a tone of voice which says that he almost hopes it is, so at least they have one unknown entity after them, and not several. “I’ll go out and look if you – ”

“No, I don’t know if that would be a good idea.” Even if he’s a vampire, Lucy doesn’t want him out alone – and, selfishly, she doesn’t want to be left here by herself either. She shivers; there is no central heating, the only insulation is wattle-and-daub, and the air is far from warm. “Do you think Marlowe told someone about us?”

“He’s a colleague of mine,” Flynn says. “I trust him. He couldn’t report on us without also incriminating himself, and he wouldn’t do that. It could just be that our friend from St. Paul’s sent someone to dutifully revenge himself on me. It wouldn’t be the first time.”

Lucy actually hopes that Weasel Misogynist Man has a Weasel Misogynist Brother, as it would be a relatively easy problem to fix and not something – probably, at least – that would cause them long-term issues. That still leaves the question of how he would have tracked down where they were staying, and who might have told him about them, but one thing at a time. Flynn has managed to stop the rain from getting inside for now, and lies back down, making a wordless gesture of invitation. She hesitates, then climbs into bed again, profoundly grateful that Flynn wraps his arms around her and snuggles her into his chest in a comforting fashion without having to be asked. They can’t cuddle properly, since the bed is still too short and he has to pull his knees up, but it’s nice, and she buries her nose in his collarbone, tucking her head underneath his chin. He doesn’t seem worried. Maybe she shouldn’t be either. But nonetheless, as she lies there and listens to the rain, Lucy cannot shake the chill.

Chapter Text

It is three days until the news comes, via the boy that Flynn has paid to set up camp in St. Paul’s and report back periodically, that Lord Clairmont has left London. Further in-person appearances have been felt to be unwise, just in case Weasel Misogynist Man does have a league of vengeful weasel minions, so they have spent the time lying low, except for venturing out to an ordinary for supper (the tavern food is… well, it is probably better than whatever they had here in 1490). There is a pack of cards in the Italian suit – swords, batons, cups, and coins – and Flynn has been teaching Lucy the various games enjoyed by the nobility. There have also been dancing lessons (everyone dances, and Lucy, who has two left feet, hopes nobody important asks her), singing (that at least she isn’t terrible at) and reading the Book of Common Prayer that Flynn acquired from the print shop down the row. Between that, it’s curtsy practice, quizzes on court protocol, and making artful conversation. Indeed, the intensity of this mini-Elizabethan boot camp is such that Lucy falls asleep exhausted at eight o’clock every night, and has weird dreams about William Shakespeare chasing her in a giant shoe, yelling about her disgraceful table manners.

This, however, has been what they are waiting for, and she is more than ready to get out of the inn, even if a whole new set of challenges awaits them at the house. Not that they can just pick up and rush over there only hours after Past Flynn has left, especially since they were reminded by Marlowe just how flimsy the marriage cover story actually is. They have to give it another day or two at least, by which time Flynn could conceivably return with a sudden wife. He will have to say that he married her in France, and had to leave to meet her when she arrived in England. Poor Past Flynn, whenever he gets back from his fictional trip to Dalmatia with no Raven King library and everyone demanding to know why he got married to a woman he has never heard of, is really going to be in hot water later, but that is his misfortune. Lucy wonders how badly they are screwing up the timeline already, if this is going to affect their meeting in the future, if Flynn subconsciously remembers her and that’s why he’s drawn to her at the Bodleian, but this is all way beyond her pay grade. She’s going to go crazy if she stays here much longer, and she would rather feel like she’s doing something useful, rather than curtsy practice.

It’s another two days until Flynn decides that they can risk it. It’s a week since they arrived, Lucy is practically climbing the walls, and they are running low on money, since the landlord has decided to charge them more for a long-term stay (after all, there are no rules or standardized regulations or consumer protection acts that say he can’t). They get dressed, and Lucy hopes the emperor’s new clothes will convince people that she is not someone Flynn picked out of a French brothel or wherever they’re likely to think she came from. Then they collect their things, and make their way out of the inn for what Lucy devoutly prays is the last time. There is the small wrinkle that Lord Clairmont, having departed on horseback, is unlikely to be returning on foot, but Flynn decides they’ll just have to say that his horse got stolen. Lucy wonders why anyone would believe that he, a vampire and a soldier with hundreds of years of experience, wouldn’t be able to get it back without breaking a sweat, but if she starts adding more plot holes to this, they’re doomed.

They make their way across the city toward the Strand, the boulevard that connects the Palace of Whitehall, the principal seat of the English monarchs, with the City of London. It is an extremely tony bit of real estate. The earls of Arundel and Leicester and Sir Nicholas Bacon have all owned mansions here in the past, William Cecil and Walter Raleigh are current residents, and it is crammed with goldsmiths and silversmiths and other expensive and luxurious craftsmen and shopfronts. As a baron, Flynn is among the lower-ranking of its residents, but thanks to centuries of de Clermont wealth, he is indubitably one of the richest. This is the equivalent of Holland Park or Kensington or other ultra-rich neighborhoods in modern London, and Lucy hopes that someone, spotting them on foot and still not looking completely respectable, does not call ye olde constables.

Clairmont House is on the western end of the Strand, almost on top of where Charing Cross Station is in the present day. It is handsomely faced in stone, looking somewhat like an Oxford college, and a high gate divides the inner precincts from the street outside. They stand there looking at it, adorned with the de Clermont coat of arms, the lion and the wolf, in painted and gilded plaster. It gives Lucy a shock, for some stupid reason. Obviously, she knew he was here, that this was the whole point of coming, but to see tangible proof that he was alive over four hundred years ago, the great span of his life, is still somewhat sobering.

With that, Flynn shrugs, lifts the latch, and pushes the gate open, striding into the courtyard with Lucy trailing timidly in his wake. Apparently the strategy is to just barge in as if they own the place, since technically, they do. Doors are opening, men in household livery are appearing – and then, upon catching sight of their master in completely different clothes, on foot, with an unfamiliar woman, they all stop short, profoundly confused. “My lord?” one of them says. “We were not expecting you back so soon. What became of the errand to Dalmatia? The library of Corvinus?”

“It was…” Flynn clears his throat. “I regret the necessity of such a fable, but I could not yet tell thee the truth. I had to go in secret to the coast, and meet someone as she arrived from France.” He clears his throat. “This is Lucy, Lady Clairmont. My – my wife.”

Dead silence reigns over the courtyard. It is not the habit for servants to question or backtalk their masters, but the expression on every single face is clearly wondering if this is Freaky Friday and they missed the memo. They’re also entirely male faces. As a bachelor household, Flynn’s retinue, valets, pages, messengers, servers, clients, chamberlains, grooms, gentlemen, and yeomen are all, well, men, since any decent woman would not work alone in such a place without serious suspicion of her reputation (probably warranted, if only since men are the worst). The only female servant is the laundress, who does not live there; even the scullions are young boys. Now they have a lady of the house, which means they need to hire female attendants, and there is not Craigslist or another convenient place to post a help-wanted ad. Send somebody to St. Paul’s to make an announcement, probably, but that is much further ahead than anyone is presently thinking. A seagull flies overhead and just misses pooping on someone’s shoulder. Then finally the steward, the highest-ranking member of the staff and thus the only one entitled to ask if the master has lost his mind, ventures, “Your wife, my lord?”

“Yes.” Flynn beckons for her, and Lucy steps up, feeling everyone stare holes through her. They’re not trying to be rude, but this just does not compute in any conceivable fashion. “We will be taking up residence here, and I expect that thou shalt do her all the courtesy of her rank and station. I shall expect as well proper arrangements to be made. Is it clear?”

More looks are exchanged down the line. One of the servants – the head groom, Lucy thinks, though she can’t be sure – seems the closest to demanding if this is a practical joke. He is slight, sandy-haired, and sports a fashionable curled mustache, and from the look on his face, his employer has put him through extensive nonsense before, but nothing to match this. Finally the steward clears his throat, decides that he’s just going to cling to protocol extra hard while he figures out what the fuck is happening, and bows to Lucy. “Welcome to your new home, Lady Clairmont. I am Robert Parry, steward of the estate and kinsman to the late Lady Blanche, favored companion of her Majesty. I will see at once to providing for your comfort and security. Have you brought a lady’s maid with you from France?”

“I – no.” Lucy isn’t sure what the story behind their marriage is supposed to be, but most likely something about running away and leaving all her things behind, escaping a bad situation or abusive fiancé, or something else from which Flynn could have conceivably swooped in to heroically save her. “I had to go in haste. I have only what you see.”

Parry turns crisply to one of the grooms and gives orders for someone to go out and hire a woman, no trollops or jezebels, and one of good moral character and reliable references. Previous experience working in a noble household is desirable, and she should be also of moderate behavior and discreet tongue. Lucy wonders if that means she can be trusted not to gossip (or run to the authorities and turn them in for witchcraft) upon learning that her master and mistress are supernatural creatures, and thinks that yes, that would definitely be a desirable quality. The entire household and staffing requirements are going to have to be refitted, this probably means a long night for Parry with the books and accounts, and gentlemen are sprinting in every direction, as if to clean up the dirty underwear on the floor before a lady spots it. Not that Lucy thinks there has been much debauchery going on here, or that Flynn runs a slovenly ship, but the requirements for an all-male household are much different than what is considered acceptable for a gently bred lady. It is total chaos.

Lucy stands in the middle of the courtyard, not sure what to do, as people whirl by like tops. Ordinarily she would volunteer to help, but that would be even more déclassé, and everyone would probably feel insulted if she did. She remains hovering like a bird uncertain which one is her nest, until the interior has apparently been declared fit for female habitation and Parry appears to escort her into the main solar, the large sitting room on the second floor where the lord and lady of the house receive guests, undertake recreation, and conduct business. At that, he realizes they also have to acquire a full set of furniture, accessories, clothes, and other accoutrements for her, and spends several minutes asking Lucy what styles and fabrics she prefers. He seems flattered, if somewhat wary, when she assures him that she trusts his taste. Once another squadron of groomsmen have been dispatched, he glances back at her. “We will have your quarters furnished as soon as we might, my lady. If you wish to share my lord’s chambers for the night, I hope that is no discourtesy.”

Lucy is about to ask why it would be a discourtesy, since, you know, they are married (even if Parry is the true MVP here for pretending he believes it) before she remembers that in this era, noble husbands and wives customarily keep their own quarters and their own beds, only coming together for the marital act or in the few aristocratic marriages where love is actually a factor. “No, no,” she says. “This is a great surprise for you, I know. I apologize for all the work we’re making, I didn’t want to – ”

Parry inclines his head, as if to say that this is his job, the mistress does not apologize. He reminds her strongly of Cecilia, another experienced servant of the de Clermont family used to ridiculous situations and sudden witches being dropped into their laps at short notice while they have to scramble to deal with it. He is clearly intensely curious about her, and Lucy wonders how much he knows about the creature side of things. At least the Congregation and the Covenant don’t yet exist, so they can’t get dinged for an illicit interspecies relationship, but that does not equate to broadcasting it around town, and the old prejudices are far from insignificant. Parry is human, and a good steward keeps his master’s secrets no matter how eccentric or inexplicable, but at least he knows Flynn, and has presumably worked for him for several years. A strange witch is a dangerous thing to have under your roof in any era, but this one particularly.

There is another awkward pause as Lucy realizes that Parry is waiting for her leave to go, or for her to give him another order. Gentlemen ushers and other attendants in well-to-do houses are used to being part of the furniture, almost omnipresent; it is considered the height of bad manners and dereliction of duty for the master of the house to walk into his closet and have no one there to serve him. It is expected that a servant will be in earshot at all times, and though the steward has countless other duties and cannot be in one place for long, he still has to ensure that he has her permission before he just walks out. Lucy isn’t sure if there’s an exact protocol for this, but she nods. “Ah, I’m fine here for now. Really.”

Parry looks briefly confused, as the word “fine” is used as a reference to craftsmanship or quality of material and not as an emotional state, but he takes her meaning and bows himself out. Lucy is thus left alone for five minutes, until someone remembers in a panic that they have a mistress now and rushes in to see if she needs anything. She assures him that she doesn’t, but he stoutly takes up a post in the corner just in case. A late dinner is fetched, which Lucy does appreciate, and is just finishing it up when Parry returns to announce that they have three candidates for her lady’s maid, if the mistress would like to examine them and make a suitable selection. He can show them in, if she agrees.

Lucy, still more nonplussed, does so. After ten minutes trying to act as if she very much knows the qualities expected in a maid and has definitely done this before, she ends up picking one Margaret Broxton, who is probably the same age as her but looks quite a bit older, as she has a kind face and if someone is going to be her constant shadow, they should be nice. Margaret is whisked off to have the terms of employment confirmed (she will be paid quarterly, on the Feast of the Annunciation, the Feast of St John the Baptist, Michaelmas, and Christmas, allowed to visit her family on Sundays only, and expected to follow all house rules) and is finally dispatched to return to Lucy. “You may call me Meg, my lady,” she says. “As you please.”

“Ah, okay, Meg.” Lucy bites her tongue, since “okay” is a nineteenth-century Americanism, she always hates it when it pops up in historical fiction, and shakes herself. “Very well. I don’t believe I need anything just the moment, you may. . .”

“Are you sure, my lady?” Meg looks around, then lowers her voice. “I know that you may wish certain sweets or spices, or other manner of savory foods, and I can run to market.”

“That’s kind of you.” Lucy wonders if she is supposed to get into the “thee” and “thou” habit when addressing inferiors, but it still feels too put-on. “But I had my dinner, I should keep until supper. If you wished to – ah – assist Master Parry with the bedroom, or – ?”

“I can, if you like.” Meg is still looking at her with a solicitous expression, which confuses Lucy. “When it comes time for the lying-in, my own sister has had three, I may fetch her from Islington if you wish. Have you any clothes you would like amended?”

“What?” Lucy is more lost than ever. “Clothes? Amended? Why?”

“For the. . .” Meg apparently realizes that subtlety is being wasted here, or thought it wasn’t subtle at all. She makes a gesture toward her stomach. “If you will forgive my impertinence, my lady, have you yet quickened?”

“Have – ” At that, Lucy finally realizes what’s going on, and feels her face scorch like a dragon. Meg, completely understandably upon learning that her new mistress has been married in unreasonable haste to a wealthy nobleman, has firmly concluded that Lucy is pregnant, as almost a quarter of English brides are at their weddings. For that, Lucy thinks darkly, she would actually need to have done the part of it which results in pregnancy (can creatures interbreed? They’re magical beings, but they don’t spring out of toadstool rings, and witches and daemons can obviously mate with humans. Question for later). And as Flynn, a vampire, seems likely to die of old age prior to letting it happen, she is decidedly un-pregnant, thank you very much. She does not want to embarrass Meg, who was just trying to help, but still. “I’m – I’m not actually with child, but thank you.”

“Ah.” Meg nods. “Of course you aren’t.”

That clearly means that she thinks Lucy definitely is and is just too ashamed to confess that she was dishonored by a dashing rake (Garcia Flynn? Dashing rake? Not likely), but it is not her place to pry. She curtsies and withdraws to help Parry with the bedchamber, as ordered, and Lucy rubs the bridge of her nose. She isn’t sure whether or not to laugh or scream.

Lucy does not see Flynn for the rest of the afternoon, as he is busy with the ongoing reordering of the household and/or convincing everyone that he has not gone completely insane. It is debatable how well this goes, but after she has once more confused Meg by not having any embroidery to do or devotions to read, and reminds herself that she should probably dust off that ninth-grade crafting class, she meets him for supper in the dining room. It might be a policy that servants are strategically deaf, but Lucy does not want to talk about all this with sixteenth-century John Smythe standing right there, and probably causes another minor scandal by dismissing the ushers so that it’s just her and Flynn. They regard each other in the flickering candlelight, until she finally says, rather pointedly, “Well.”

“Well.” A corner of Flynn’s mouth twitches. “I promise, it will get less confusing.”

“We’ve basically walked in and turned your entire house upside down in one afternoon,” Lucy says, pouring herself another glass of claret because she goddamn deserves it. “I’ve pretended to know more about wainscoting than any actual human person does, my lady’s maid definitely thinks I’m pregnant, and – ”

Flynn, who has just taken a sip of his own hippocras, chokes, has to put it down, and spends several moments pounding himself on the chest, which is undignified for a senior vampire. Not quite able to meet her eyes, he says weakly, “At least that’s impossible.”

“Indeed,” Lucy says, with somewhat too much of an edge. Partly because she’s genuinely curious, and partly because she wants to see him squirm, she says, “Can vampires breed with witches and daemons? The old-fashioned way? I know they can’t with humans, but – ”

Flynn, who looks as if he was about to pick up his goblet again, decides that on second thought, he’d better not. “If vampires could have children with humans, I can promise you that my brother Gabriel would have discovered it. So no, as you say, they can’t. With other vampires, the only way is to sire blood children. As for witches and daemons, I don’t know. I have heard old stories of creatures who claimed to be half-breeds, though I hate that word, descended from both vampires and witches. I read an interesting theory from another creature geneticist, proposing that elves were the result of cross-breeding – long life from vampires, magical abilities from witches. But even before the Covenant, miscegenation was relatively rare, and I’ve never met anyone who claimed it in person.”

“I mean,” Lucy points out. “There’s that whole thing about being dead. It seems like, you know, the plumbing wouldn’t work.”

“We’re not dead,” Flynn says, with such a stung expression that Lucy can tell this is evidently a sore spot for vampires. “We’re alive differently, many of us have died or were close to death when we were turned, but do I look like a corpse? Do I?”

“No,” Lucy says, laughing a little at his vehemence. “Sorry. Forgive my ignorance. I still don’t know much about the creature world or the Elizabethan era, apparently. So would it work either way? No matter which gender the vampire and/or witch was?”

“Obviously it would need to be a man and a woman,” Flynn says wryly. “Biology does still apply. I don’t have enough actual data on half-breeds, but yes, there are a handful of references to their existence. Then again, there are references to plenty of other mythological creatures, so that doesn’t prove anything.”

“Weren’t manticores also supposed to be mythical?” All this has reminded Lucy of one of their chief objectives. “Some kind of Persian sphinx, cobbled together from medieval authors mostly relying on Pliny the Elder’s Naturalis Historia? But if the last one was killed in the sixteenth century, or in other words now, and the venom was used to poison your brother, that apparently means they’re real. How do we go about finding an antidote?”

“Manticores were rare, but they were real. Humans couldn’t get close enough to them to ever see one in the flesh, but creatures could. The same with unicorns, phoenixes, and a few others.” Flynn looks as if it’s safe to reach for his wine again, if they’ve stopped talking about sex. “There’s no human merchant in London that will happen to have that lying around, so we’ll need to make contact with creatures. As I said, Kit’s a daemon, and if we’re supposed to get in touch with Agnes Sampson, in Berwick, she might have some ideas. She’s also known as the Wise Wife of Keith, she has particular expertise in potions and herbs, which is part of what gets her accused. It’s a possibility, at least.”

Lucy supposes that this is as good an idea as any, and perhaps there is some sort of covert creature apothecary in London, well hidden, that she can find by tapping on bricks. They can hear the muffled noises of sawing, plastering, hammering, and scraping from overhead, as Parry and company are clearly working overtime trying to put together a suitable set of rooms for her. Once more, Lucy resists the urge to apologize for the inconvenience she’s causing, since Flynn was the one who decided on this half-baked story. Would it have been more or less suspicious to introduce her as his fiancée? Mistress? Random woman in trouble that he had to take home until he found somewhere else for her to go? Yes, any of those would still have invited suspicion upon her reputation, but not more than everyone already thinks about their quickie marriage, and Lucy isn’t planning to live in Tudor London long-term anyway, so it’s not like she has to worry about the consequences. Past Flynn is going to be in a pickle, that’s for sure, but the human brain has an amazing ability to ignore things that aren’t going to kill you immediately. It is, como se dice, not her problem right now.

They finish supper, and Lucy asks if she can have a bath. She is feeling decidedly pungent after a week in the less-than-clean inn, and while she’s read things about how shampooing your hair every day is actually bad for it and the natural oil balances adjust after a period of not washing it, it’s currently pretty nasty. This means more work for the servants, but a large copper tub is hauled into the smaller solar, a screen is set up around it, and it is lined with a sheet. Kettles of water are heated in the kitchen, hauled up the stairs, and emptied into the tub until it’s relatively full. Everyone is dismissed except Meg, since Lucy has still not mastered the knack of getting out of these clothes by herself. She hopes that the total absence of a baby bump may convince Meg that she is not actually enceinte, but she can’t take out her modern toiletries while she has an audience. Yet again, however, her hints that she has this under control seem to be flying over Meg’s head, since a lady would require help to wash, apparently. Finally, Lucy gives up. What the hell, she’s a strange woman already. “I have some things over there,” she says. “Could you fetch them for me, please?”

Meg goes and gets them, goggling at the L’Oréal shampoo and conditioner bottles and the Dove soap bar. “Are these from Paris, my lady?”

“Yes,” Lucy says. “They are a tincture for the hair. If you want to hand them over – ”

Meg is once more reluctant to do this, so Lucy tells her how to open them and allows Meg to shampoo her, leaning her head against the rim of the tub. It feels very nice. Meg’s hands are strong, she gives a good scalp rub, and carefully rinses out the suds when she’s done. Lucy steps dripping out of the tub, Meg wraps her in a towel, and they run into another problem when Meg spots Lucy’s pajamas. She squints, trying to read the shirt. “What is Stanefyrd, my lady? If you’ll forgive me?”

“It’s a place,” Lucy says. “A school where I went. It’s fine, I promise,” she adds hastily, since Meg is regarding these ragged old things with great suspicion, clearly wondering why a lady is wearing them instead of a nightgown and cap. “As I said, I came here with quite little.”

After she has convinced Meg not to burn her pajamas, Lucy accepts a dressing gown, wraps it around herself, and goes upstairs to the lord’s bedchamber, where she will be sleeping tonight. She knocks rather timidly, and then at the sound of Flynn’s voice, enters.

She hasn’t seen his room yet, or anywhere that he’s spent a lot of time. Even his tower back in Sept-Tours was mostly bare, his possessions mostly moved to Oxford, and it was hard to make out anything that felt like home. The chamber is large, since it can function additionally as a private receiving room and dining room for important guests, with a draped table and chairs in one corner and the tall canopied bed in the other. Unlike the undersized item back at the inn, it is made to accommodate a six-foot-four man, and Flynn is probably very much looking forward to stretching his legs. There is a writing desk by the window, heaped with quills and parchments and half-finished letters, and the walls are hung with tapestries, as they are in Sept-Tours. A large hearth with a handsome wooden mantelpiece provides warmth, with the de Clermont coat of arms on the wall above, and there are books and swords and other miscellanea that clearly belong to Past Flynn, giving Lucy a frisson of unreality, as if she can see the two shimmering edges of time meeting in the middle. The air smells clean and sweet, scented with fresh herbs and flowers, and the floor is scattered with rushes, which are swept out and cleaned every day. Carpets are still very rare and extremely expensive, though Elizabethan England is deeply connected to the Ottoman, Persian, and Moroccan empires via trade, piracy, and diplomacy. Even Queen Elizabeth has rushes in her presence chamber, and they crackle under Lucy’s bare feet.

Flynn himself is seated at his desk, searching through the papers, apparently in case his past self left anything useful lying around. He sniffs the air. “You smell nice.”

“I couldn’t get Meg to leave long enough to wash in private,” Lucy says wryly. “Wealthy women really are used to a lot of coddling, aren’t they?”

“As you would see it, yes.” Flynn glances up. “New maids are always anxious to make sure they can’t be seen as slovenly or lazy. You’ll be able to negotiate what you want and expect, but you have to live as we do here. It is dishonorable for a noblewoman to be alone or underserved. It is dereliction on the part of a servant to do so. Even I, now that I am Lord Clairmont again, cannot be spotted wandering around on foot, alone. When I go out, I am attended. There are rules for servants about what time they rise and go to bed, fines for missing chores or household church services, orders for what days the tasks are done, and everybody is used to observing them. Meg may seem like she’s smothering you, but you’re the one who seems bizarre and possibly ungrateful to her.”

Lucy’s cheeks burn. This sounds like an implied reproach, when she has been trying so hard all day to avoid creating more work for everyone, with her modern liberal sensibilities that suspect this is all a system of unfair exploitation and she needs to avoid contributing to the historical oppression of women and the poor, blah blah blah. This is mostly wishful thinking anyway, but she turns sharply on her heel and goes to the bed, climbing in and burrowing under the covers. She knows that Flynn is right that they can’t live like modern people while they’re here, but at least he has been here before. This is monumentally strange and different to her, he is her only point of reference or familiarity or person that she can talk about it with, and if he’s just going to be short with her for not immediately adjusting –

For his part, Flynn belatedly seems to realize ten minutes later that he has put his foot in his mouth. He looks up at her, huddled in a small angry ball under the quilts, and blinks. “Lucy? Are you – ”

“Fine,” Lucy says tightly. “Besides, we have a lot of work to do. Find anything?”

“I’ll see if I can send a messenger to Berwick and contact Agnes,” Flynn says. “There are also some booksellers that both of us can visit. They’re listed on the Ashmole fragment, and it would be worth a visit. Magical books aren’t common, but they circulate anyway, and right now, astrology and alchemy and other subjects are – as I am sure you know – all the rage.”

“Yes.” Lucy studies this professionally, after all. She sits there with her chin on her knees, watching Flynn work by candlelight, wondering if it is going to be like this for the rest of their time here, and possibly afterward. She meant it when she offered a sexless partnership, an intellectual union but not a physical one, and she still does. Flynn has tried so hard to respect her boundaries, even if in occasionally counterproductive fashion, and she is doing her best to return the favor. But it would be easier if she thought that was what he actually wanted. She knows in some way that he loves her, he loves her deeply, and that won’t change whether or not they ever properly make the beast with two backs. Yet when they’ve been together in other ways, she can tell that he wants her, and indeed, their last hiccup was caused by him getting too into it and frightening himself. Lucy reminds herself that she’s going to be patient and wait as long as it takes, but she wants him, she wants him badly, and she doesn’t know whether to raise the subject again or just do as he is currently doing and act like it doesn’t exist. They obviously have a hundred other things to focus on, the marriage story is almost incidental, and it feels far too high-school to constantly fret about whether the guy she has a crush on likes her back. Plus the alchemical wedding, their faces on the page, the worries about prophecy and free will and all else, the condemnation by the Congregation that awaits them back in the present, the renewal of Maria de Clermont’s antipathy against witches, and the fact that they could never have an actual future. It is exhausting.

Lucy lies down on her side of the bed, and pulls the covers up over her head. She drifts for a while, drops under, wakes up when Flynn crawls in next to her, and lies in an uneasy doze, uncomfortably aware of his size and weight and presence and the ache between her legs. She is not trying to take care of it herself with him lying right there, but her throat is dry and her blood buzzes and surely he can hear the frantic racing of her heartbeat. She must be the only newly-married woman in the world who is slowly dying of sexual frustration.

Lucy practices some breathing exercises and thinks about deeply boring and unsexy subjects (university bureaucracy, tax filing, the DMV, literally any academic thing you have applied for and really want, hence destined for swift failure) until she finally falls asleep again. She is just in the middle of another weird William Shakespeare shoe dream when the bedroom door bangs open, she wakes up with a jerk thinking they might be attacked, and then for a wild moment, thinks she must have somehow timewalked them back in her sleep. She doesn’t know how or why, or what else would have had to happen, but she can think of no other reason why he could possibly be here.

Gabriel de Clermont bursts into the lord’s bedchamber without knocking. He is dressed in riding clothes: breeches, high boots, a white shirt unlaced at the collar, a slashed-silk jacket and half-buttoned doublet, half-cape and soft velvet hat, and he smells like salt and wind and Thames-murk. His black hair is cut short and coiffed, he sports a fashionable beard with a slight point, and from what Lucy can see of his chest, there is no slash or scar at all. (There is, however, a noticeable amount of bronze muscle.) He is tall and confident and casually commanding, with a rapier slung on one hip and a poniard on the other, and he swaggers like a victorious gladiator. “Garcia,” he says, speaking a rapid-fire, old-fashioned French that Lucy can only barely follow. “What the hell are you doing?”

Flynn, who has woken up with a flash at the bang of the door, looks as if he’s been hit by lightning. He stares dumbly at Gabriel, unable to understand what the hell he is doing here, and then squawks and snatches at the covers, an instant too late, as Gabriel grabs hold of them and whisks them off. Beneath, it reveals Flynn and Lucy, both in their modern pajamas, sleeping two feet apart from each other, as Gabriel regards it with an expression of triumph. “Yes,” he says, balling up the quilts and tossing them carelessly back on. “I thought so. Who exactly is this woman, darling, and what exactly is she doing here?”

Flynn is still too thunderstruck to utter anything except faint bleating noises. Lucy, for her part, can only stare. She has never seen Gabriel like this – even as it registers that of course, this isn’t Present Gabriel, the one who is still in enchanted sleep in Liechtenstein. This is Past Gabriel, who heard the news that his brother married a strange woman and brought her home, and apparently decided to make a direct investigation by barging into their bedchamber at seven in the morning. This is Gabriel before he lost his son, before the brothers were fatally estranged at the death of Flynn’s old lover Matej Radić, before everything else that happened, miles and miles from the stiff, serious, successful, shut-off wealthy businessman that Lucy met at Sept-Tours. He seems to be enjoying their total shock, leaning casually against the bedpost with arms crossed. “Well?” he says to his boggled brother. “Unless I am supposed to be scandalized by the strange trousers she is wearing, what?”

“Gabr – Gabriel,” Flynn manages at last, in a croak. The question of whether he was expecting to see him is clearly answered by the look on his face. “What are you – ?”

“What do you think? Sweet Kit had a very interesting tale to spin last night, and I thought it was best to be certain. You – ” Gabriel snaps his fingers at Lucy, who is still feeling as if she has been hit by a freight train – “what is your name, darling? What idiocy did Garcia visit upon you? I doubt greatly he has visited any other things. It is a bad habit of his. I have tried to remedy it without success.”

“I…” Lucy opens and shuts her mouth. He is dazzlingly beautiful at close range, he is taking up all the air and light and space in the room, and Flynn is still staring at him as if he’s seen a ghost – which in a way, he has. “My name is Lu – Lucy.”

“Enchanté.” Gabriel takes her hand and kisses it lingeringly. There is a fresh sword-cut on his cheekbone, half-healed, and his eyes have tiny flecks of gold in the darkness. “I apologize for my brother. He is a dimwit. I cannot fault his taste with you, though.”

“Excuse me,” Flynn harrumphs. “I’m right here.”

“Oh, are you?” Gabriel arches a cutting eyebrow at him. He has barely stopped moving since his entrance, whirling like a dervish, and spins to the sideboard, pours himself a goblet of wine, and sprawls down on the bed between them, apparently with no notion whatsoever that it might be rude to burst in on the lord and lady before they have risen (and were, to say the least, not expecting him). “I have had such a night, darling, truly,” he says to Flynn, whose mouth is still stuck open like a broken garage door. “Sweet Kit was in a sulk about meeting you with some wife the other day, I told him we all knew the Judgment would come before you were successful with a woman without my help, but he was insistent. I would have shagged it out of him, but he must insist on brooding. Poets. So then I visited Lady Pembroke, but her horrible husband just had to bestir himself to pay her one of his once-yearly intrusions, and I had to escape in haste. Lady Sussex was not at home, and Lady Montague at prayer. I have been to Hampton Court and back, darling, and now I find you with a woman in bed when I have not managed all night? Has it gone backward, the whole world, without me noticing?”

Gabriel has barely stopped throughout this entire impressive recital, except to sip his wine and talk faster, and Flynn may literally never regain the power of speech. Gabriel kicks off his boots, leans back on the pillows, and finally glances over at Lucy again. “He has not fucked you, has he?” he says apologetically. “We can arrange it later.”

“EXCUSE ME.” Shock or not, Flynn can’t miss that. He glares at his brother. “She is my wife, remember?”

Gabriel waves an aristocratic, dismissive hand, jeweled rings flashing in the pale morning sunlight. “My darling, you are both a dreadful liar and profoundly unsatisfactory with women, we all know this. Trust me, I can tell. Do you think that will soothe Kit’s jealousy, if I should let it slip?”

“Why – ” Flynn sputters. “I thought you were the one sleeping with him. Why would he be jealous of – ”

Gabriel rolls his eyes at the ceiling in mute appeal. “I suspect,” he says, as if explaining a very simple concept to an exceptionally dense pupil, “that he views me as some sort of replacement for you, which – well, he is very pretty, it is not a hardship. But his fuming over this new wench of yours ruined the mood last night full well, I must say. So if I should inform him it is a marriage in name only, in service of some other scheme – ”

“I – it is not, it’s – ” Flynn sounds like a broken carburetor. “It is neither your nor Kit Marlowe’s business what goes on in my bedchamber or with my own wife! So – ”

“Please.” Gabriel takes another sip. “Did Maman and Papa even hear of this?”

That, despite the dramatic hurricane of Gabriel’s entrance thus far, clearly catches Flynn off guard the most. His face works as he looks away, and Lucy is reminded that in this time, in this place, his father Asher de Clermont, brutally tortured to death by the Nazis during World War II, is still alive. It does not seem to have occurred to Flynn at all that they might run into his family, as most things have managed not to. But his brother is now very definitely here, the news will get out swiftly to the rest of the family that Garcia has married (or otherwise become entangled with) a strange witch, and the domino effect will be swift. Lucy thinks just then of something that Gabriel said to her in the present, that he had the oddest feeling that he had met her before, knew her from somewhere. Is this why? Does she have to make him forget before they return to the present, or –

“It all happened very quickly,” Flynn says, after a long pause. “I have not told our parents.”

“Perhaps you should,” Gabriel remarks pointedly. “I daresay none of us would have wagered on you being the first of us to wed – but then, I know there is some other fable going on here, Garcia. Keep your secrets if you must, but at least service the poor woman properly or let me do it.” He turns to Lucy. “I can take care of you, sweetheart. It is a civic service I provide to all the neglected noble wives of London. The husbands would be much less cross if they simply joined in.”

Lucy discovers that her mouth is also open, and shuts it. While the invitation to have an authentic romp in the sheets with a very, very hot vampire Casanova is, admittedly, tempting, she obviously isn’t going to agree to it right in front of Flynn’s face. She is also rather impressed at the scale of Gabriel’s sex life, and thinks that he’s damn lucky to be immortal if he’s going to be caught in bed with various wealthy women (and by the sound of it, men). As the case of Henry VIII’s wives proves, adultery is no laughing matter, can get even queens executed, and Lucy wonders if Gabriel’s lovers will be so lucky to escape punishment and beating from their husbands if their extramarital escapades are discovered. What might be a fun and harmless occupation for him could be genuinely dangerous for them, since misogyny and double standards, take a shot. But she doesn’t think this is the time to start scolding Gabriel about this, and she more or less politely manages, “Thank you, but no.”

Gabriel looks impressed and rather intrigued, as he probably is not used to being turned down, and raises his goblet in apparent salute to her fidelity. “As you wish, pet. Though should my brother continue to be deeply unsatisfactory, the offer stands.”

Flynn harrumphs again, and Gabriel looks at him, clearly taking inordinate pleasure in yanking him by the ear (or, you know, other things). “As for you, darling,” he goes on, “you have that rather wild look in your eye that means at least some of your present stupidity can be ameliorated. How long since you have fed?”

Flynn blinks. “I – ”

“Oh, hush.” Gabriel reaches over Lucy to put his goblet down on the sideboard, then shrugs out of his jacket and tosses it on the floor. He is utterly without any sense of shame (or, one might remark, concept of personal space). “Come here.”

Flynn remains boggled – but there’s something else on his face as well, the awareness that it has been centuries since Gabriel has casually offered this, remotely trusted him to bite his neck or even be close to him. He struggles to control his expression, as there is no reason for his past self to react so emotionally to what is clearly a routine part of their lives, and after a moment, he shakes himself, brings out his fangs, and leans forward, carefully sinking them into the side of Gabriel’s majestic throat. As far as Lucy knows, he hasn’t fed since they arrived, and with all the stress and disruption that they have been under, it can’t hurt. She wonders if she should have offered – she’d be happy to do it, for several reasons – and has to fight an odd, indefinable sense of hurt. Does Flynn think she’s too fragile, it could lead too quickly to other dangerous places, or – or what?

Flynn feeds for a few moments, as Gabriel closes his eyes like a lazy, spoiled cat; you can practically see the cream dripping off his whiskers. Flynn starts to pull back, but Gabriel claps a hand on his head and keeps him there a minute longer, then finally relinquishes him. “Whatever this fashion has become for starving yourself, it is unnecessary,” he says critically. “You are hungry. I can tell.”

Flynn opens his mouth, clearly decides not to answer that, and wipes it with the back of his hand instead. He shoots a furtive, guilty look at Lucy, and gives Gabriel another look under his eyelashes that is hurt and guilty and angry and upset and worried all at once, at this living embodiment of how close they used to be and how much they have lost. But Gabriel’s future self is lying in stasis because he threw himself in front of a poisoned dagger to save Flynn, that one moment of reconciliation they had before everything went to hell, and this present Gabriel, utterly unaware of the tragedy to come, is almost overwhelming. Finally Flynn says hoarsely, “I’ll be all right now. Thank you.”

Gabriel glances at him with a strange expression. Thus far, he has been mercilessly teasing Flynn and taking pleasure in watching him squirm, but there is genuine concern and deep love in it, the knowledge that this is all very out of character for Garcia and that there must be something going on, something he has not felt fit to confide to any of them. “Darling,” he says, somewhat softer. “What is all this about? Truly?”

“I – nothing.” It again takes Flynn a visible effort to speak. “We just – we have something we need to do, and – ”

He is getting nowhere on the explanations, Lucy hopes that Gabriel doesn’t take it into his head that she must have enchanted Garcia, and wonders if he already knows she’s a witch, or that should also be explicitly addressed. Then there’s a knock on the door, Lucy thinks it must be the servants (though perhaps they’re used to Gabriel just sweeping in without so much as a by-your-leave) and both Gabriel and Flynn look up. A young man’s voice calls, “Uncle Garcia? Has Papa run in here again? I am sorry, I tried to catch him.”

At that, Flynn turns to ice from head to toe. No matter how much Gabriel’s appearance confounded him, this appears to have utterly floored him, and Lucy is briefly at a loss to think who it can possibly be – until the door opens, and she understands.

Christian de Clermont, as it has to be, looks as if he is in his early twenties, as Gabriel said that he was a Carolingian soldier, badly wounded, when the de Clermont brothers found him and Gabriel turned him, sired him as his son, to save his life. It was the moment when Garcia first came back to himself after centuries of rage and vengeance over the death of his human family, and when Gabriel and Garcia became inseparable companions and brothers-in-arms. Christian’s death as a result of the Matej tragedy was thus what tore them apart, and as Flynn stares at the nephew he has not seen in two hundred and fifty years, the shock and grief and love on his face is raw and naked as an exposed nerve. He looks down, trying to hide it, and can’t get words out. To the bedspread, he says, “I – good morrow.”

Christian, for his part, does not appear to notice this. He is tall and fair, with long dark-gold hair and wide blue eyes, a practically perfect Renaissance angel in the flesh. He shoots a reprimanding look at Gabriel. “Papa, you really are very impolite.”

“What are you – ?” Gabriel jumps off the bed, grabs his jacket, and otherwise hastens to make himself look more respectable. He strides over to his son, slings an arm around his shoulder, and kisses his hair. “What are you doing here? I thought I left you back in Essex.”

“I suspected,” Christian informs him, with the tone of someone who is resignedly used to his father’s shenanigans, “that there had to be a reason you left in such haste. I thought this would be the best place to find you, and – lo and behold.”

He glances over apologetically at his uncle – then spots Lucy, and his jaw drops. “There’s a lady!” he blurts out, looking outraged, as if either Gabriel or Flynn might have overlooked this fact and failed to pay her proper courtesies. “There’s a – ”

“Yes, my love, we have seen her,” Gabriel says, with another slight eye-roll. “That is – well, your uncle claims she is his wife, but I shall fart a madrigal and juggle eight flaming clubs before the earl of Arundel in the Tower before I – ”

Christian pays no attention. He rushes over, takes Lucy’s hand, and doffs his hat, kneeling before her. “My name is Christian de Clermont, my lady,” he informs her earnestly. “I am Lord Gabriel’s son. Are you my aunt now?”

“I – ” Lucy bites her cheek. He really is very adorable (and clearly did not get those manners from anyone else in the family). “I… suppose? I’m Lucy, but – ”

“Shall I address you as Aunt Lucy, or as Lady Clairmont?” Christian asks, apparently in desperate concern that he not be too hot or too cold, but ala Goldilocks, just right. “When did you marry my uncle?”

“You can – just Lucy is fine, really. We – just after Easter.”

“That is wonderful.” Christian beams. “I have long felt Uncle Garcia was of a greatly solitary nature, and too long alone. Aunt Lucy, then?”

“If you insist.” Lucy can’t help smiling at him, as he plants a kiss to the back of her hand, waits, and at her gracious nod, gets to her feet. “Did you say you came from Essex?”

“We did, aye.” Christian is clearly trying very hard not to look at her strange clothes or make any comment on them. “Our family has the New Lodge there, our country residence. This one is oft called the Old Lodge, to separate the two. Do you – ” He stops, suddenly looking horrified. “Aunt Lucy, you do know that we are – that Uncle Garcia is…”

“What?” Despite herself, Lucy’s stomach lurches. She wonders if there is some horrifying secret they have forgotten to tell her, some other dark mystery about Flynn’s life in Tudor London that seems to have escaped him. “Know what?”

Christian looks furtively from side to side. “Vampires?”

Both Gabriel and Flynn are overcome with sudden coughing fits at that, and Lucy glares at them; at least someone is trying to see if she is fitting into this new world. “Seeing as she just saw your uncle feed on me,” Gabriel says to his son, “I think that particular aspect of our existence is not in any doubt, no.”

“Oh.” Christian looks heartily relieved, then glances back at Lucy, frowning. “You are – but you are a witch. It is not – ”

At that, he seems to decide that he is being too nosy, and shuts his mouth like a trap. “It is not my business, Aunt Lucy. I am sorry that Papa is such a – well, that he is Papa. By the by, I was woken this morning with a man from Lord Pembroke banging on the door. What did you do now?”

“Oh, fuck.” Gabriel sighs. “I’ll have to go eat him. I – no, only joking, my love, only joking,” he says quickly, at the aghast look on Christian’s face. “But nonetheless, it seems to use some sorting out and modification of memory. Darling, please do excuse me, and have a wondrous time with your wife. I shall see you anon.”

With that, he kisses Flynn, kisses Lucy, kisses Christian, and shows himself out. Everyone is left in stunned silence for several moments, which seems to be the natural corollary of extended exposure to Gabriel de Clermont, Pansexual Elizabethan Drama Trash Emperor. Then Christian, valiantly rallying for a topic of polite conversation, turns to Lucy. “Have you been in London long?”

“Not long.” Lucy is aware that Flynn is still having trouble even looking at Christian, and this may lead to more questions. “Why don’t you – so your uncle and I can – ”

“Oh.” Christian looks blank, and then it appears to dawn on him. “Oh,” he says, attempting to sound sage. He nods and taps his nose. “Aye, certes. So you can… yes, I see.”

With that, he bows to them both and follows his father speedily out the door, as Lucy (and Flynn) are still at an entire and enduring loss for words. Lucy actually meant “get dressed without more de Clermont family members bombing in here,” but Christian, bless his heart, thinks that they are newlywed nymphomaniacs and can’t keep their hands off each other. Finally Lucy manages, “You didn’t warn me that we might run into them.”

“They weren’t in London last time, I didn’t – ” Flynn stops, appears to grudgingly concede that hearing that he has married a strange witch overnight just might do the trick, and swears under his breath. “I forgot that Gabriel was sleeping with Kit Marlowe.”

Lucy wants to ask if there was anyone Gabriel wasn’t sleeping with, but you know what, good for him. At least one of the de Clermont brothers is making full use of his vampiric magnetism, sexual appeal, and overall functionality in this arena. “What do we do now? Gabriel said something about making someone forget – can we do that? Should we do that? Is it going to mess things up if he knows us in the future?”

“Vampires can sometimes induce humans to forget things, yes,” Flynn says. “Make them suggestible, docile. A bit like hypnotism. It would be harder to do with another vampire. And now they’re – Christian. . .”

He trails off, rubbing both hands over his face and looking wrecked. Lucy can guess that his guilt at seeing father and son together, happy and loving, is almost overwhelming. Elizabethan parenting prizes strict respect and discipline, teaching children their place in the household and society, and it is uncontroversial wisdom that you should beat them, in home and at school, to ensure their moral development and correct guidance. Indeed, the father of the family has general license to birch his wife, his servants, and his children whenever he pleases, and this makes him a conscientious patriarch, rather than a domestic abuser. It is expected, of course, that he will not do so violently or immoderately, and only when necessary to correct a fault, but it’s still a pretty repugnant system to modern sensibilities. Parents do love their children, because they’re human, but they’re taught to express it in much more constrained and formal ways.  Gabriel, however, is clearly such a loving and indulgent father that he does not hold with any of that nonsense, and Christian is just as clearly the only person for whom he will attempt to be respectable and serious. It is all too evident that when his son died – was murdered, by the vampire hunters that Matej Radić tipped off where to find him – all the joy went out of Gabriel’s life, and he has never recovered. Lucy knew this on an intellectual level, but seeing it play out is painful.

“I don’t want to get him mixed up in this,” Flynn says, after another pause. “Though I may have trouble keeping him out. If Gabriel does tell our parents – ”

Again, he stops. It is clear that his desire to keep his family from getting too contorted in their timelines, and away from the delicate mess that is meddling in the past for magical reasons, is at war with his equal desire, no matter how unwise, to see them again. In the present, Asher, Gabriel, and Christian are all dead, or as good as, and even before that, his relationship with his brother was nonexistent. Here is a Gabriel who loves him and isn’t angry at him, a sweet nephew who has been the only person to accept the marriage story without turning a hair, and a living father. Flynn might know intellectually that it’s wise to stay away from them, but Lucy can’t blame that human urge (perhaps ironically, for a vampire) that wants otherwise. Everyone wishes they could go back to the good old days, to a time before all their worst mistakes, and in some ways, Flynn has. It must almost be like a dream, and no matter what, he cannot bring himself to want to wake all the way up.

“I’ll work something out,” Flynn says. “Maybe I can send Christian to Scotland to fetch Agnes Sampson. It would be easier to explain it to him than to one of the servants, and it would keep him out of any trouble elsewhere. God, I forgot how much I – ”

Once again, he can’t finish his sentence, still shaken. They look at each other, Lucy wonders if they are ever going to address the fact that Gabriel just blithely proposed that she could have a casual affair with him because she is so clearly not getting laid elsewhere, and once more decides that that is not their most pressing concern. Flynn seemed defensive when Gabriel mentioned it, but he doesn’t have a lot of room to talk when he’s not doing anything about it. They are the world’s most unconvincing married couple to everyone except Christian, and that could get them into trouble, real trouble, not just Lucy’s private frustrations. If Flynn was going to choose this as a cover story, he could at least commit to acting like it, but this, this weird, butchered halfway-between state that’s not one thing or another, is not fitting the –

Lucy doesn’t know if she’s going to insist or not, because for the third time that morning, although only the second with a knock, they are interrupted. “My lord?” It’s Parry, and by the tone of his voice, it’s serious. “There is a letter for you. From the palace, my lord.”

Flynn swears under his breath, and Lucy’s stomach performs an unpleasant flip. If Queen Elizabeth has also heard that Lord Clairmont has engaged in matrimonial irregularity with a woman not personally approved of beforehand, that is – as noted – seriously bad. It meant the Tower of London for Walter Raleigh and his wife, and any detainment will further cut into their precious six months (much as it might be felt that it could only do Flynn some good) and take considerable time and effort to extricate them. Lucy is trying hard not to completely panic as Flynn swears again, strides to the door, opens it, and whisks the letter from the steward. He breaks the wax seal, reads it, and crumples it in his fist. Then he mutters, “Fuck.”

“What?” Lucy feels as if this morning has already done more than enough, and can stop any time it wants. “What is it now?”

“We are,” Flynn says, carefully offhand, “summoned to appear before the royal presence at Whitehall, at nine o’clock tomorrow. It seems, indeed, that Her Majesty wants a word.”

Chapter Text

Flynn does not get much done for the rest of the day. The looming terror of the audience with the Queen tomorrow overshadows his concentration, and he is still too rattled by the encounters of the morning. Intellectually, he should have remembered that the de Clermonts do own that hunting lodge in Essex, that Gabriel was often in and out of London (in and out of London indeed) and there was a chance of meeting him here, but somehow it never connected to the possibility of actually doing so. Seeing Gabriel as he used to be in his unapologetic peacock playboy splendor, unfathomably rich and handsome and incapable of giving a single shit, but so open and light and happy… it impresses on Flynn ever more sharply how much of a shell of his former self Gabriel is these days. Poisoned and unconscious and only a few degrees from dead, but even before that, there was so little left of his vibrant and voluminous and vivid soul, corroded by grief and guilt and rage. It almost seems like murder.

That is not even going into the shock that it was to see Christian again. Flynn might have expected to see Gabriel, if he had thought about it, but Christian has been gone for so long and so unbearably that having his absence suddenly filled again was literally unthinkable. At least Gabriel has been physically present, if emotionally and mentally absent, but Christian… God, he’s just the same. Of course he is. It’s another one hundred and seventy-two years until he’s murdered, and to the end, he was always like this. Flynn’s heart twists like a fist every time he replays it. Christian is entirely innocent of the nuance of politics and the plausibility of feeble cover stories and anything else (you could argue that was the flaw that cost him his life, but at least Christian’s black-and-white view of the world allowed for endless kindness and not moral hypocrisy). He just wanted to rush to wish his uncle and his new aunt well. And to sit there and know what’s going to happen to him, to him and his loving, laughing father… Flynn almost wants to shout a warning, to tell them somehow, but how on earth could he do that? He can’t. And yet, he would give anything at all if he could.

Flynn sifts aimlessly through the papers and books on his desk, not really expecting to find anything relevant. He needs to make contact with the School of Night, aside from just an apparently jealous and brooding Christopher Marlowe, and find out what they’ve been working on, without sounding as if he has suddenly forgotten the past several months. He is also interrupted periodically by Robert Parry and the servants, who have to ensure that the installation of Lucy’s new quarters and possessions is proceeding to his approval, and Flynn, trying to forestall further disruption to his already tenuous concentration, barks at one of the younger grooms until he scuttles out, close to tears. Once he’s gone, Flynn sinks back in his chair and curses to himself. No matter what he has said to Lucy about respecting the customs of the time, he does not need to fall into all his old bad habits. Which, it seems, he has made a damn good start at doing.

Having assured himself of being left alone for at least a few hours, Flynn makes questionable use of it at best, as he keeps zoning out instead of working. He finally gives up in disgust around three o’clock, gets up, and goes out to the main house, where the servants all look somewhat nervous that he has returned to shout at them for not magically conjuring Lucy’s room from the air. “My lord,” Parry says. “We are doing the utmost that we – ”

“Aye, I am sure it is the best that can be achieved,” Flynn says gruffly. “It was a great surprise to thee, I know. Thou hast my apologies for the distemper.”

The cadences of Elizabethan English have come back fairly easily to his tongue, even if nothing else has, and the servants are surprised enough to receive even this apology, as Flynn supposes that his past self was not much in the habit of it. Surely they must notice that something is different about him, aside from just the inexplicable wife? Not as if it would ever occur to them that this is not their master, but a time-traveling future self, returned in an attempt to uncover a dangerous magical manuscript and save the man who was just barging in here earlier, very much alive. Parry knows that he is a vampire, but most of the others don’t. And while Flynn trusts them, more or less, there is still the fact that whispers of too much unnaturalness could put him, Lucy, and the rest of the de Clermonts in danger. As a (former, to all intents and purposes) French Catholic, he already has two strikes to his name. If he acts too strange, or Lucy does, the risk is not insignificant.

Finally deciding wearily that if need be, he will follow Gabriel’s strategy and either eat or modify the memory of anyone who might get overly suspicious, Flynn goes into the solar to see Lucy, who is working her way through a stack of books from his library. This is not in itself suspicious, as all noblewomen are literate, even if there are only, at best, basic provisions for the general public education of girls. Flynn does not want to feel as if he is constantly on guard in his own home, monitoring every tiny aspect of his behavior, but then, he has never had to disguise said time-traveling future self before. Should he dismiss all the servants here and bring in new ones from Sept-Tours? But going home would bring more of his family into this, and he would have to come up with some explanation for replacing his entire household at the drop of a hat. If his reported marriage to Lucy is already raising eyebrows, that would only fan the flames.

“Er,” Flynn says, clearing his throat, and aware that he has seemed somewhat too cavalier to this question before. “Are you – settling in, then?”

Lucy glances up, marking her place in the book and setting it aside. “I suppose, but I just… tomorrow. We’re not actually going to get thrown in the Tower, are we?”

It’s unsurprising that this is also hanging over her concentration, though she is managing to deal with it far more gracefully than him. Flynn feels a prickle of shame; she’s right that he has expected a lot from her with this, an experience that very few (if any at all) other humans have ever been asked to face. Lucy is brave, and she’s doing her best, and he hasn’t exactly made it easy. “I don’t think so,” he says, as stoutly as he can. “Elizabeth can be temperamental, but I can talk her around. If we were actually going to be arrested, she would have sent yeomen to seize us, rather than a messenger ordering us to an audience tomorrow. This at least gives a chance to plan what we’re going to say to her.”

“What are we going to say to her?” Lucy points out. “We can hardly tell her the truth. And nobody seems to believe that we’re married. Your brother was offering to sleep with me this morning because of it.”

Flynn is aware of an ancestral heat climbing in his chest; he was trying not to think about that, thank you very much. “Gabriel offers to sleep with everyone,” he says. “I think it’s his version of a handshake. We shouldn’t read too much into it.”

He can sense that Lucy might not be entirely buying this, but she decides not to push. “So if everyone we’ve told thus far hasn’t believed us,” she says instead, “how exactly are we going to convince the Queen? Is it too late to completely scrap the story, say you were lying to protect me, or anything else that might play better? I mean, if this is just – ”

“Do you not want to be thought of as my wife?” Flynn wonders if that’s what she’s implying, even though it was his instinct to extend her that protection, that title, that safeguard that she would not have as a nameless mistress plucked from some distant predicament and taken altruistically into his house. Lucy doesn’t understand how vulnerable she would be without the armor of Lady Clairmont. In 1563, a statute was passed authorizing local parish authorities to conscript unmarried women between twelve and forty to do unpaid labor of any sort, in the name of keeping them from mischief. “I don’t think that’s – ”

“Of course that’s not what I meant.” Lucy looks hurt, for some reason. “But if we’re creating a thousand complications with the marriage story and it will make people even more suspicious, maybe it would be smarter to – ”

“No,” Flynn interrupts. “You’re still thinking about this like a modern person, feeling that you would have more options and be safer if you were single. That is just not the case here. An unmarried, poor, foreign woman – you already saw how that rat in St. Paul’s talked to you when that’s who he thought you were. And there are witch hunts raging across Europe right now. The Trier tribunals in Germany have been going for almost a decade, the Chelmsford witches in Essex were accused and executed in 1566, we both know about Berwick this December, and you would be in danger. You are in danger. As my wife, nobody short of the Queen herself can take you out of this house or lawfully do anything to you. Whereas if you were just a strange woman living here, you could either indict me by association or be subject to the charges any local magistrate or overzealous preacher wanted to lay on you. I could protest about my household being violated, but legally, I would have no power to stop them. I would stop them, somehow. You can have my word on that. But it would make what we need to do close to impossible, and I don’t think either of us want that.”

Lucy stares at him. There’s a pause, then she says, “All right, all right. You didn’t have to talk me into it, but you – you just never explained that before, and – ”

“Well, I did now.” Flynn remembers that he’s supposed to be more understanding, and winces. “Sorry. I know I didn’t.”

They look at each other, until Lucy gets to her feet, comes over, and – almost hesitantly, clearly expecting him to pull away – puts her hands on his arms. He reaches up to take hers in turn, holding her by the forearms, and they stand there without speaking. Then she says, “Gabriel mentioned this morning that you were hungry. You know you can – ”

“Ah.” Flynn hasn’t trusted himself to ask her for another feed, and it felt disloyal to search out anyone else. He isn’t sure what he would have done if Gabriel hadn’t turned up, but never mind that. “I – I had enough from him, I’m all right now.”

Lucy eyes him up and down. She can clearly sense the evasion, the feeling that since landing in London, no matter the need to rely on each other more than ever, they are nonetheless becoming increasingly estranged. Flynn knows this is partly – all right, largely – his fault, that after that brief moment of losing control that night at Denise and Michelle’s, he has been afraid to touch her at all or take the initiative in anything whatsoever. It’s not that he thinks he would break Lucy, exactly. He knows that she’s a witch and a brave woman and his equal in every other way you care to name. But he could still hurt her, even inadvertently, and he has been so alone for so long that it might all come rushing out of him like a broken dam. He would be irresponsible if he disregarded the risk, the simple fact of him being so much larger and stronger and more violent than her, and while it’s not an optimum solution, it has felt easier just to put it off. They’ve both agreed that Ashmole 782 and saving Gabriel are their top priorities, and this is in no sense of the word a relaxing honeymoon. He’s not opposed to going down on her a few more times, if necessary, but the rest of it –

Lucy’s hands move along his arms, her face abstracted and troubled, eyes downcast. She does not seem happy, at least, and Flynn tries to think how to comfort her. He ducks his head and awkwardly kisses her forehead, even as she tips her mouth up in hopes of a proper one. Her nose knocks into the underside of his chin, and he pulls back, embarrassed. “Sorry.”

Lucy eyes him with an expression that says she is picturing in loving detail not how to shag him, but how to strangle him. “Garcia,” she starts. “Can you at least – I agree that it’s wise to have me be your wife, but in that case, shouldn’t you act like – ”

She seems to be fighting the words, braced for rejection, for inadequacy, for not deserving what she has screwed up the courage to ask for. “I know you have… issues about this,” she says, which even Flynn has to admit is a nice way to put it. “I want to respect that. I’m not asking for it to be the Love Boat every night. But I am so lonely here. I know nobody. It is constantly different and strange and harder in every way than everything I am used to. I worry all the time about everything we need to do, how little time we have to do it, and failing everyone who is depending on us back home. You promised that we would be a team, that we would face this and figure it out together, and yet you have barely even looked at me in the week since we got here. I just… I can’t do this alone.”

Flynn looks down at her guiltily. He knows that even by the unexacting standards of the time, he has not been a satisfactory husband, and the image this morning of Gabriel offering her a no-strings-attached affair, sexual gratification in place of that which she is not getting elsewhere, spurs him to say, “All right. I’ll try to be better. If we’re not thrown into the Tower of London tomorrow, I’ll see what I can do, eh?”

“All right.” Lucy’s hands close convulsively on his arms, and Flynn can sense that despite her brave façade, the good sport she has gamely been about all of this, she is scared. Not necessarily of facing the Queen, although that cannot fail to be intimidating, but of everything she said before – and even more than all that, of losing him, one way or another. He’s right that without him, she would be very vulnerable here, and while she could theoretically timewalk herself back to the present and safety, she would feel obliged to stay and see the mission through to the end, or die trying. “I just need you,” she says, half under her breath, as if she hasn’t meant to. “I need us. I don’t know what else that means, I still don’t, but I do.”

Flynn lets out a breath and nods. He leans down to kiss her again, this time properly, and cups her face in his hand, stroking her cheekbone, until he can feel some of the tension bleed out of her. They get through supper that night without incident, possibly because they need to save their wits for the forthcoming audience tomorrow, and go to bed early.

Flynn doesn’t sleep at all that night, rehearsing a variety of potential arguments and tacks to take, and they both rise before sunup. It’s only a few minutes by carriage to Whitehall – and indeed, Elizabeth returning to her official seat, rather than receiving them in the comparative informality of Greenwich, means that she wishes to impress her displeasure quite firmly – but the protocol of a full court visit requires all the bells and whistles. Flynn has to wear the stuffed, slashed-silk doublet, breeches, hose, cloak, furs, hat, and shoes (fortunately, codpieces are now out of fashion) and for Lucy, that means corset, farthingale, petticoats, gown, jewels, ruff, and a full face of makeup. She manages to avoid the lead-based white powder that gives a noble lady a fashionably pale complexion, since she is already pale enough (and also, lead), but she still has to have her hair teased back from her forehead in a high bouffant, eyebrows plucked, face rouged, lips painted red, and a false beauty mark added to her cheek. Clearly out of respect for Meg’s hard work, she waits until her maid has left the room. Then she says, “Oh my god. I look like a garish wedding cake.”

“Not really the era for natural beauty, no,” Flynn acknowledges. “Don’t worry, I think you – that is, you look good.”

Lucy gives him a wry look as if to say that she appreciates him being sweet, but she is still scrubbing all this muck off the instant they get home (assuming that they do). She has to hold Flynn’s arm for balance as she slides on her heeled shoes, takes a few unsteady steps like a ship under full sail, and says despairingly, “If I don’t literally fall on my ass in front of the Queen of England, it’s going to be a miracle.”

“Hold onto me,” Flynn says, as they make their way downstairs, where Parry has their cloaks waiting and Karl has driven up in the coach. Karl, the head groom, is a bit of an unknown commodity. He has worked for Flynn (well, his past self) for four years or so, and always done a good job, but he is definitely what the tracts about household management have in mind when they describe an insolent servant. He knows just enough about Flynn’s true nature to be dangerous if he put his mind to it, but his loyalty is commanded by money, and so far, Flynn has been able to pay him sufficiently to avoid any worries about it. Karl, however, has been patently unimpressed by the disruption engendered by Lucy’s sudden arrival in the household, also doesn’t seem to believe the marriage story, and has apparently seen nothing to sway him from the conviction that Flynn has had a considerable and hopefully only temporary burst of insanity. Flynn thinks grimly that he might need to ask Gabriel about that bamboozling thing after all, but he would really prefer to avoid it if he can.

Flynn hands Lucy up into the coach and climbs in after her, as the other groom shuts the door and climbs up next to Karl. The coach is wooden, heavy and unwieldy, and it creaks and jolts through the mud as it rolls off; there are certainly no shocks or suspensions. The windows are made of ashy green lime-glass, and there isn’t much to see through them anyway, though they can hear the morning rush. Lucy sits ramrod-straight, hands twisted in her lap, and Flynn can taste her anxiety. He reaches out and takes hold of her hand, pulling her fingers out of their tangle and flattening them against his palm. “It’s going to be all right,” he says. “Okay?”

“Okay.” Lucy manages a weak smile, and they remain holding hands as the coach jolts up the grand drive. It is barely eight o’clock, and their audience was requested for nine, but royalty is not known for punctilious timekeeping, and either way, he did not want to be caught off-guard by a last-minute change. Besides, half the reason you go to court is to wait around in drawing rooms at the monarch’s pleasure, and perhaps if they can demonstrate that they are genuinely penitent and taking it seriously, Elizabeth will be more inclined to mercy. Flynn is a very valuable spy for her (especially after Walsingham’s death) and has worked the sort of missions that would defeat one human man, or anyone of lesser abilities. She can be possessive and petulant, but she’s too shrewd to throw that advantage away on a whim.

They reach the main courtyard of Whitehall a few moments later, and the carriage groans to a halt. The palace is huge and splendid – it is the largest in Europe at this point, and will not be outstripped until the construction of Versailles in the seventeenth century. It is more like a small town than one building, built in several different architectural styles over decades, and Henry VIII spent lavishly on its entertainment and luxury. It’s not quite at the height of its Stuart sprawl and opulence, but it is still more than enough to overawe, and Flynn glances up at the royal standard over the gatehouse as the grooms open the door and he hands Lucy down. Yeomen in royal livery are waiting, and Flynn takes Lucy’s arm as they move forward to be received. “Lord Clairmont, my lady. This way, prithee.”

They follow the yeomen up the steps, through the door, and inside. Flynn hears Lucy muffle a small sound of delight; even with the undesirable circumstances of their visit, this is a building that does not exist at all in the present day, and she can’t help a historian’s gratification at getting to see it. They pass windows diamonded in colored glass, rich tapestries and expensive paintings, coats of arms and fancy furniture, doors into other quarters of the palace, and finally draw to a halt in an expansive chamber, where they are told to wait. For how long, one can never be quite sure. Elizabeth can keep them hanging well past nine o’clock if she really wants to make a point, and they can’t exactly go anywhere before she does. Once the yeomen have bowed themselves out, Flynn hesitates, then sinks down on a delicate divan, which creaks ominously beneath him. Feeling as if it might be a bad idea to break the furniture, he stands up again at once.

Lucy looks as if she wants to pace, but isn’t sure if another servant will burst in and tell her off. She sits down instead, clearly trying to wrap her head around the prospect of imminently meeting Gloriana, the Virgin Queen, the woman who gives her name to the entire era; it’s clear that Lucy is just as worried about disappointing her as she is about actual punishment. Flynn glances at her, trying to think of something helpful to say, but he’s also drawing a blank. This is definitely not how he wanted to announce his return.

At last, as the finely wrought clock on the mantel reads half-past, they hear movement in the antechamber, and Lucy leaps to her feet so fast that she almost tears her dress. A pair of Gentlemen of the Privy Chamber march in, open the doors, and announce, “Elizabeth, by the Grace of God Queen of England, France, and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, etc.! All hail!”

Flynn immediately sweeps off his hat and sinks to both knees, as Lucy, clearly struggling to recall all that curtsy practice back at the inn, follows suit. They remain frozen in such obeisant fashion, not daring to look up, as a richly gilded train sweeps into sight. “Lord and Lady Clairmont, Your Majesty,” the yeoman says. “At your pleasure.”

“Gramercy.” The Queen of England does not even need to lift a jeweled finger; the gentlemen retreat as speedily as well-oiled clockwork, closing the doors behind her. There is an increasingly strained silence, as Flynn has still not yet dared to look up. Then she says at last, “Good morrow, Sir Garcia.”

Since this is a signal to rise, Flynn gets to his feet and raises his eyes to her face. Elizabeth Tudor is presently fifty-seven years old, and has managed her public image though a strategic series of portraits, emphasizing her virginity and sovereignty, now that the decades of marriage suits from the princes of Europe are finally done with and it is clear that she will never marry nor have an heir of her body. She is tall, elegant, and red-haired, Henry VIII’s daughter, but she was left scarred by a bout of smallpox in 1562 and has relied increasingly on wigs and cosmetics and other contrivances to disguise her ungraceful aging. Her excessive fondness for sweets and mistrust of dentists has left her teeth in very poor shape, so that foreign ambassadors sometimes have difficulty understanding her if she speaks too quickly. She is clever, stubborn, pragmatic, and prone to temper, but not immune to flattery, and when she offers him a powdered hand, Flynn bends especially deep to kiss it. “Your Majesty looks most lovely this morning,” he says. “It is greatly meet to see you again.”

“And less meet to see thee, in such deceitful fashion?” Elizabeth’s plucked eyebrows raise sharply across her high forehead. She has still made no note or acknowledgement of Lucy; all is not forgiven, the honor of the royal presence will not be immediately extended, and Lucy, clearly sensing this, stays back. “What is this tale I have of thee, my lord? A marriage contracted without mine own word and warrant, and to a woman I have neither met nor once heard of? Dost thou wish especially to vex me, Sir Garcia?”

“Nay, Your Majesty, of course not,” Flynn says humbly. “The manner of its making – ”

“I give not a fig for the manner of its making.” Even under the heavy rouge, Elizabeth’s cheeks are flushed, her eyes snapping with anger. “Thou hast caused another scandal, as if we do not have enough with that absurd brother of thine! I have half the husbands in London complaining to me of his rumored indecent liberties with their wives, my lord. If I am not to suffer the greatest regrets for welcoming thy family to my court and favor, I demand that you inform Lord Gabriel to return himself to Essex, and there remain in prudent oblivion.”

Prudent oblivion might be a state of being in which Gabriel de Clermont has never existed in his entire multi-millennial life, and Flynn cannot help but be exasperated over the expectation that he is additionally bound to answer for Gabriel’s misadventures. He isn’t sure whether to expend limited political capital on trying to defend Gabriel, when he needs to keep himself and Lucy out of trouble. “I shall do that, Your Majesty,” he promises. Gabriel might laugh in his face, but at least he will have kept his word. “Most promptly.”

Elizabeth harrumphs. Her thin mouth vanishes into a moue of disapproval, and Flynn has the sense that he is making her more angry, rather than less. She turns sharply on her heel, obliging him to trot to keep up with her, as they proceed down the length of the chamber together. Elizabeth likes to have younger, handsome men to fawn upon her, not that Flynn was ever particularly good at that, and like any person who has grown long used to being the center of everyone’s entire world, she does not care to be rudely dispossessed of her toys. “Wilt thou not even tell me the reason for such hasty matrimony?” she enquires. “Or is that something else that thou must withhold from thine own sovereign lady?”

“It was a complicated affair, Your Majesty. Lucy was… in difficulties, in France.” If Elizabeth really starts digging for details, they are screwed, but she may be too proud to hear the whole sordid saga. “We had known each other before, and I felt it was easiest and most honorable to make a marriage and bring her here, to my household in London. It was done in haste, for to prevent Your Majesty’s enemies from making evil use of her.” Flynn is happy to darkly imply that Spanish assassins or Popish spies are involved in this, if it gives Elizabeth the impression that he has saved her from a greater evil. “You know that I learn certain things, in the course of my work for Your Majesty. Lucy is a loyal Englishwoman, and wishes only my lady’s health and favor. Her family hails from Preston, in times past.”

In fact, Lucy told Flynn back in Woodstock that she doesn’t think they are actually connected with the town, but at least it gives her some sort of nominally supported national origin, and frames this as returning a vulnerable English lady to the safety of the motherland’s bosom, rather than introducing a dangerous stranger. Flynn is having to think fast to guess what Elizabeth might want to hear, but at least she hasn’t shouted for the Yeomen Warders yet. The Queen utters a short huff. Then she says, “Gallant as it may be, Sir Garcia, I did not give thee permission to wed, nor did you apply for it.”

“There was not time. I did mean to sue for your blessing when I returned to London.” Mostly, at any rate. “You know I am your most devoted man, Your Majesty. I shall dismiss her to Essex if you absolutely wish, but I cannot – ” He has to be very careful with this part indeed. “I cannot presently consent to separate from her.”

Elizabeth regards him archly. “Send thy own wife to Essex? I suspect in that case, thou wouldst find her bedded by thy brother sooner rather than late. Or has he already?”

Flynn winces, as that is definitely too close to the mark. “She is my wife, my lady.”

“And other women are the wives of other men. That does not seem to constrain thine ill-mannered heathen rakehell of a sibling.” Elizabeth must be the one woman in all of London who is not impressed by Gabriel’s charms, possibly because she was flattered by his attentions until she discovered that he did the same thing for everyone. They’ve never actually slept together, as far as Flynn knows; Elizabeth is the Virgin Queen, even as it has been whispered for years that she had a secret affair with Robert Dudley, among others. “What exactly didst thou hope to achieve, by this return and this marriage?”

Flynn hesitates. “I had hope,” he says, as casually as possible, “that I might be permitted to consult with Your Majesty’s astrologer, John Dee. He has returned from Prague, has he not?”

“He lived in Bohemia near ten years with that charlatan of his association, Edward Kelley.” Elizabeth comes to a halt, leaning on the windowsill. “He has recently come to England again, yes, claiming some great cleavage between them. I know not what they had achieved by their alchemical experiments, but it seemed unsavory. There were stories that they had pledged each to take the other’s wife in trade, as principle of share and share alike. I do not think it wise that you consult Dr. Dee at present.”

That is not good, Flynn thinks. John Dee, one of the most famous alchemists, astrologers, and occultists of the entire age, is – as noted – one of Elizabeth’s chief advisors, and one of their top candidates for either the author or the compiler of Ashmole 782. But if Dee has tainted himself by his decade of increasingly esoteric experiments in Prague, Elizabeth is likely to keep him at arm’s length, and Flynn is not going to do any favors for his damaged reputation by insisting on a meeting. He definitely can’t go behind Elizabeth’s back again, and even if he himself will timewalk back to the present with Lucy, his past self will return to London and be caught in an ongoing mess. If he alters his own timeline too much, gets his past self into new difficulties, he could end up altering the trajectory of his entire life, and in that case possibly die, or never meet Lucy, and God only knows what could become of Gabriel –

He shakes himself away from that, and tries to focus. He can’t give up on Dee, they need to talk to him, which means Flynn will have to cozen himself back into Elizabeth’s good graces first. He turns to Elizabeth with an appealing smile. “I am here, am I not? And ready to be made use of? I again plead your Majesty’s pardons for the irregular nature of my marriage, but Lady Clairmont could be of use to you as well. She is an educated woman, kind and gay, could keep you good company, or serve as a lady-in-waiting. We are the both of us at, and always shall be, Your Majesty’s humble service.”

Elizabeth considers that, lips still pursed. Then all at once, she whirls on an alarmed-looking Lucy, hanging at the far side of the room. “Lady Clairmont. If you please.”

Lucy creeps forward, sinks into another deep curtsy, and remains there as Elizabeth surveys her critically. Then she turns to Flynn and asks, “Is she with child?”

“I – no, Your Majesty.” Flynn practically bites his own tongue off. “Not to the best of my knowledge, no.”

It isn’t clear whether this makes the situation better or not, though at least less complicated, and Elizabeth does not appear inclined to completely forgive this. The sense is that they are both on probation, any further mistakes or slip-ups will be regarded very dimly indeed, and that she is doing them a significant favor and expects it to be remembered. At last, she offers her hand to Lucy, who follows Flynn’s lead and kisses it. “Rise, Lady Clairmont.”

Lucy straightens up with evident relief, and Elizabeth surveys her gown and jewels with a judgmental air. It seems to pass preliminary muster, because she says, “Well, at least thou art not garbed as a pauper. Hast Sir Garcia provided for thee as a husband should?”

“He – ” Lucy coughs. She clearly has the opportunity to tell the Queen of England that there are certain elements of their relationship that she would like improved, and thus possibly receive a royal order to fix them. But she is not the kind of person to embarrass Flynn like that, even if he most likely deserves it. “He has been most gracious, Your Majesty, indeed.”

Elizabeth snorts, as if to say that she very much doubts that, but some of the thickest ice has been broken, and Flynn consents to let out half a breath. “He says thou art an educated woman? Mine own governess, Kat Ashley, and my last stepmother, Catherine Parr, were ladies of letters, and there is some amusement thee could be to me. Hast thou the Latin, Lady Clairmont? Greek? I have again been reading the Satires of Juvenal, and could welcome a colloquy on them.”

“Ah – Latin, Your Majesty,” Lucy says, ducking her head deferentially, though it might be to avoid looking like a giddy fangirl over being invited to discuss classical literature with Queen Elizabeth. She is really quite adorable, and Flynn bites his cheek to restrain a grin of his own. “I have not read the Satires in many years, I confess, but I am at your disposal.”

“I am not in need of another Gentlewoman of the Privy Chamber just this minute,” Elizabeth says. “And surely – ” with an ironic and pointed stare at Flynn – “it would be cruelty to separate thee so soon from thy devoted husband, and so newly wedded. Yet we shall speak again, I think. Very well, Sir Garcia. For the nonce, thou hast my blessing upon thy union. But displease me again, in any manner or particular, and thou shalt not.”

Flynn tries not to wince, as what with they are going to be up to, the potential routes to displeasing her are endless. “As you wish, Your Majesty.”

“Name me also godmother to the first child,” Elizabeth says. “And curtail the hunting hound that is thy brother. Or at least most severely commend upon him the virtue of discretion, at pains of our very great displeasure.”

Flynn wants to point out that since Gabriel can’t contract or transmit any diseases, nor can he accidentally impregnate one of his many, many lovers (thank God for that), the women are getting nothing but pleasure out of this with no risk in return, and that must be why everyone has their pantaloons in a bunch about it. But then, their cuckolded husbands and the upended social equilibrium of London pose a considerable capacity for trouble, and they have to keep Elizabeth in a good mood if they have any chance of getting to Dr. Dee. Flynn agrees once more to get Gabriel to reduce his philandering, and with that, finally, the shadow of the Tower which has lain over them seems to be decisively lifted. Elizabeth dismisses them, with assurances that she will send for Lucy again soon, and they are allowed to take their leave, heading out to the courtyard, where the carriage arrives to collect them. It’s clear from the expression on Karl’s face that he wasn’t entirely sure he was going to see them again and it might not have been terrible if he didn’t, but he is charitable enough not to say so. They get in and rattle down the drive, back toward the Strand, as both of them let out whooping breaths of relief. “Thank God,” Lucy says weakly. “I thought we were doomed.”

“I told you it was going to be all right.” Nonetheless, Flynn knows they had a very close shave, and reaches for her hand, squeezing hard. They have survived their first major test and are no longer at immediate risk of indefinite imprisonment, which is a solid plus. “Now I just have to figure out how to get Gabriel to knock it off for a fortnight or two.”

Lucy raises both eyebrows, as if to say better him than her. They arrive back at the house in a few more minutes, everyone is clearly relieved to see them with heads still on their shoulders, and Lucy goes upstairs to immediately wash and change. For his part, Flynn also wants to get out of these damn clothes, which he does, then decides that he should put the rest of the day to good use. He goes into his study, writes a quick note, then instructs one of the pages to convey it to wherever in London Gabriel has taken lodgings. He does not actually know where that is. Normally Gabriel would stay here when he travels into the city, since this is the de Clermonts’ house, and he might have been expecting to do so again, only to be thrown off by the news of a sudden wife. It might be easier to keep an eye on him if they’re under the same roof, but Flynn does not want to deal with the constant parade of drama (and outraged husbands) that would obtain if they were once more roommates. This is going to be hard enough without Gabriel attracting extra trouble.

It is an hour-odd later when Parry returns with the news that Lord Gabriel and Lord Christian have arrived, and they are shown into the solar for Flynn to receive them. Gabriel strides over, claps Flynn on both shoulders, and kisses him on each cheek, with an air of definite relief. “Thank the saints you aren’t dead, darling,” he remarks. “We could not altogether be certain. Have you talked Old Bess around, then?”

Flynn gives his brother a look, as Gabriel has both casually used a Catholic turn of phrase and referred to the Queen of England as “Old Bess,” and even though this might be a private conversation in their own house, in French, he really thinks they could avoid more problems. “More or less,” he says. “But she had a condition for that, and it involves you.”

“Me?” Gabriel keeps smiling. “I am, of course, flattered by Her Majesty’s regard.”

“You won’t be in a moment,” Flynn says. “She would strongly prefer that you curtail your present vigorous schedule of… social activities. It will be trouble for us both if you don’t.”

“Oh, that again?” Gabriel raises one exquisite black eyebrow. “If the husbands of London have such lamentation with my attention to their wives, they could trouble to do something about it. Truly, they should thank me. If they insist on neglecting their ladies, I bring them nothing but happiness, which would not be the case with other men.”

Since Flynn was just thinking that earlier, he is about to agree – God, this urge to defend Gabriel, no matter how ridiculous he is, has never entirely left him, it is his most fundamental orientation and soul – but he can’t. “I am quite serious,” he says. “We have to keep the Queen well-disposed, it – it’s important. We have to talk to Dr. Dee.”

“Ah yes, the great man of mystery,” Gabriel says dismissively. “I have heard quite a tale or two of that one. Darling, why must you toddle around with alchemists and their bangs and smells and smokes? Everyone knows that they are utter frauds, and far too puffed up with the delusion that all their pompous muttering means something, unveils some grand secret of the universe, when all it reveals is that their cocks are very small and they know not how to use them. I can introduce you to far more scintillating pursuits, which you – ”

“It’s important,” Flynn snaps. “For you as well as for me.”

“Is it?” Gabriel regards him, head cocked, some of the amusement gone from his face. He takes a step, patently threatening in its cool restraint. “Who is this new witch wife of yours exactly, darling? You were planning to mention that, were you not? Or simply trust that I had not noticed?”

Christian’s jaw drops. “Aunt Lucy is a witch?”

“Really, my love,” Gabriel says, fondly but with a slight exasperated edge, “do you walk around with your eyes closed all the time? It was apparent the moment I saw her. Not only do we not know a thing about her or her family, but now your uncle is up to some secret purpose he will not contrive to tell me. Why should I leave off living my life, merely to make it easier for this beldam and whatever dark art she may be working?”

“I’m not being bewitched, you idiot.” Ah yes, Flynn thinks. An argument. A far more familiar method of communicating with his brother. “What Lucy and I are doing together is important. And we do have to speak with Dr. Dee.”

“Then speak with him.” Gabriel rolls his eyes at the heavens, as if he truly cannot believe how difficult life is for people less gifted than himself. “I imagine I could find his residence in the city with scarce an hour of effort. What shall Bess do, take away your knighthood because you went for supper? Just because you confine yourself like a monk – and even more so these days after being wedded, not less, by the looks of things – does not mean I must do the same. With that so – ”

“It was a direct order from the Queen of England, you arrogant ass! Even you can’t just roll your eyes and go on your merry way! It does not matter whether you think it was meritless, as long as you are in England, you have to – ”

“I don’t suppose that you have much standing to refresh my memory upon English law.” Gabriel looks at him, slit-eyed. “Given that in my recollection, it takes the banns to be read thrice, the obtaining of a license, a due grace period, and the attestation of at least two witnesses for a marriage to be solemnized. As none of that seems to exist for you and your new witch, you will forgive me for not believing a word of this utter – ”

“Papa,” Christian breaks in, looking worried. “Uncle Garcia. Don’t fight.”

Gabriel takes a breath, moving half a step back; he and Flynn have managed to end up almost nose to nose. He rubs his face, as if trying to control his expression. Then he says curtly, “Apologies. But if my brother insists upon this farce that he is in fact married, to a strange witch that may be exerting any number of fell influences upon him and – ”

“I already said I wasn’t enchanted.” Flynn wonders if Present Gabriel will feel it if he throttles Past Gabriel, just for old time’s sake. “And that it – ”

“Yes, well.” Gabriel’s voice has turned even more sleek. “You wouldn’t think you were, would you? Perhaps if you permitted me to question Lucy more privily – ”

“I’m well aware of what ‘question privily’ actually means, you – ”

Gabriel does not respond, still eyeing him icily, but with something in his expression that makes Flynn wonder. He and Gabriel have been inseparable for over seven hundred years at this point, and for Garcia to turn up out of the blue married to a woman that Gabriel has never heard about, and for him then to share nothing whatsoever about her or what is going on, is a major slap in the face. Just like his present counterpart back in Sept-Tours, Gabriel is wildly jealous of Lucy materializing from nowhere and exerting such a powerful and inexplicable thrall on his brother, made worse when they are still so close and Garcia should have told him everything, maybe even trusted him with executing the marriage and covering for everyone else. Flynn obviously can’t tell him the truth, that he’s trying to save Gabriel’s life as one of his paramount objectives, but it’s going to make things tenuous. They’ll get over it, if nothing else when Past Flynn returns and has no clue about any of this, but still. He had barely wrapped his head around the idea of a Gabriel who once more loved him, and this, watching their estrangement start to happen again in real time, is unbearably painful.

“I promise,” Flynn says, “that I have a good reason for this. I can’t tell you why right now, but I… well, I hope it will make sense eventually. Can you trust me on that? Please?”

Despite himself, Gabriel is caught off guard. He looks Flynn up and down, studies his face, and seems to conclude that insofar as it goes, he’s not lying. He sighs. “Very well, darling,” he allows at last. “If you truly must. But I will uncover what has gone on, mark me. Nor shall I be the only one. I must be off, I am expected at supper later.”

Flynn decides, in the name of truce, not to ask where exactly that is, or what other entertainments Gabriel might be expecting later. Gabriel turns to go, and Christian starts to follow his father out, but Flynn calls, “A moment.”

Puzzled, his nephew turns back. “Aye, Uncle Garcia?”

Flynn is still rocked back on his heels by the sight of him, his living presence, his confused expression. He half-reaches out as if to hug him for no reason at all, stops, decides that Christian is the only person in this entire family who would accept it without asking any questions, and manages it, as clumsily as if his arms are broken. Christian is puzzled, but hugs him back. “I love you too, Uncle,” he says. “What exactly did you want?”

Flynn laughs wryly. “I wanted to ask if you could help me. It’s about your father.”

“Of course I want to help Papa.” Christian considers, then qualifies, “Unless it involves anything to do with Lord Pembroke again. In which matter, I think you should.”

“Christ. Gabriel can see to that himself.” Flynn shudders. “Would you be willing to go to Berwick? In Scotland. There’s someone there your aunt and I need to talk to.”

Christian blinks. “Berwick? Why is that?”

Flynn looks around warily to make sure that none of the servants are in earshot, and lowers his voice anyway. “There’s someone there I need you to find. A witch and a healer, Agnes Sampson by name. Tell her that a rich gentleman in London has need of her services, that there is another witch seeking her help, and offer to pay her whatsoever she would like. She may live in Humbie just now, near Edinburgh. Somewhere in East Lothian, at any rate. Fetch her down here. Tell no one of your name, her name, or your purpose.”

“A Scottish witch, Uncle?” Christian frowns. “What does this have to do with Papa?”

“It just does.” Flynn wonders if he can ask Christian to keep this secret even from Gabriel himself, and decides to worry about that later. “Can you do it?”

“Aye, I suppose.” Christian is still perplexed, but not unwilling. “But it may take me up to a fortnight to travel to Scotland, find her, and return. I hope not so long, but still.”

“That makes no matter, as long as you do.” Flynn grasps his shoulders, feeling something shake inside him. God, Christian is here and he’s real and he wants to help them save his father, even knowing nothing about what this actually means, and some time from now, Flynn will have to return to the present, and see the real Gabriel, and tell him this. “Aye?”

Christian pauses one last time, then nods firmly. “Aye, Uncle,” he says. “As you bid. If all is well, I’ll set off on the morrow.”

“Good lad.” Flynn can’t help himself, kisses him on the forehead, and Christian happily accepts the affection with a nuzzle under his chin. “Get you going.”


Lucy goes to bed that night profoundly relieved that they are not dead. It has been, to say the least, a rocky few days settling in here, and ordinarily, she would like to just space out for a while, sleep, catch up on some TV and not check the news for a while. That, however, is the exact opposite of what she can do, for several reasons. Now that they are cleared of the imminent threat of imprisonment, they have to come up with an actual plan, rather than just reacting to all the entry-shock crises, and that means there is no time to rest on their laurels. Flynn told her that he sent his nephew up to Scotland in search of Agnes Sampson, but it will take a while, with the unavoidable limitations of sixteenth-century transport, to bring her to London. Lucy wonders if they are then obliged to send her back. Agnes is a respected elderly woman, wrongfully accused and horrifically tortured, finally put to death on the basis of coerced confessions. The Berwick witch trials will have other victims, they can’t save them all, but must they knowingly condemn Agnes to an awful fate, when they could stop it, just for the sake of history? Does that make them responsible for her murder?

“We’ll see,” Flynn says, when Lucy brings this up. “I told Christian to be careful. Nobody knows her yet, she hasn’t been accused, but if it does end up happening anyway, I don’t want it to blow back onto him, for fraternizing with her. He’s a vampire, I don’t think there’s much they could do to him, but – ” He stops. “I’d just rather avoid it.”

Lucy can imagine so, as it is clear that Flynn cannot bear to get his nephew hurt or in trouble in any way, and that the question of whether they can save innocent people from terrible fates does not ultimately concern Agnes. Is there a way to save Christian? Timewalk to 1762 and snatch him away from the vampire hunters, bring him to the present with them? Or would that really throw off whatever delicate cosmic balance they’re trying to keep in order here? Lucy knows there are rules about what timewalkers can and can’t do, but even those, as Barbossa would say, are guidelines more than actual rules. They’re there in hopes of constraining witches from doing supervillain things (though Benjamin Cahill clearly missed the memo) but they can’t physically prevent them. Lucy wonders who she is and what someone has done with timid, always-follow-the-rules Lucy Preston, if she’s seriously contemplating breaking all laws of time and space to save a kid she’s only known for one day. But seeing Gabriel like that, with him… seeing all of them, happy…

She is exhausted, but for once, she stays awake even after Flynn has fallen asleep. He has allowed her to snuggle into his side, wrapping his arm around her, and Lucy lies there with her head on his chest, unable to quiet her mind long enough to drop under. Frankly, she really could use a round of athletic sex, release some of her pent-up tension and give her enough of an endorphin rush to relax her and conk her out, but they still don’t seem to be there yet. She’s not actually going to ask Gabriel, but if he could tell at a literal glance, it must be obvious. Flynn hasn’t suddenly decided that she’s repulsive within the last seven days, has he? Is it just lingering paranoia from startling her that one time? He never hurt her, she never felt threatened, but she knows he’s not human in good and bad ways alike. But like she said, she can’t do this alone, and the only person she can do it with is him.

It takes a long time, and the DMV threatens to make a repeat appearance, but Lucy finally falls asleep. They are not interrupted by Gabriel the next morning (alas?), and Flynn sits up and swings his legs over the side of the bed. “I need to go visit Walter Raleigh,” he says. “He lives just down the street, in Durham House, and he’s the head of the School of Night. He’s probably heard at least something about this by now, whether from Marlowe or from the court, and I need to see what. As for you – ”

“For one thing, I need to get my hands on a copy of the Satires, if Elizabeth wants to have book club with me.” Lucy’s Latin is pretty good, but transcribing bits of medieval documents and treatises is quite different from plowing through Juvenal’s notoriously dense and self-consciously elaborate classical prose. “I know there were booksellers listed on the Ashmole fragment. I could go to one of those and kill two birds with one stone.”

“All right,” Flynn agrees, “but you can’t go by yourself. Lady Clairmont can’t carry her own shopping, it’s beneath her dignity, so you’ll have to take Meg. And we’ll have to appoint someone to serve as stick man.”

“What?” Lucy snorts. “Stick man?”

“I’m sure there is a more elaborate term for it,” Flynn says, “but as a noblewoman, you obviously can’t walk around London alone and unprotected. A man of the household goes in front of you with a stick or a club, presumably to beat off ne’er-do-wells. We’ll hire more members of your privy staff apart from just Meg, but until then – ” He scowls. “Damn it. We’ll have to use Karl. He’s the head groom, he’d be insulted if we didn’t.”

Lucy isn’t sure how much she likes Karl, who is the sandy-haired, mustached one who was clearly judging her at first acquaintance, but the idea of walking around London by herself, without Flynn’s reassuringly huge and glowering presence, is admittedly intimidating, and she would like some backup. That is how, after she has dressed and had a bite of bread, she finds herself foraging out into the city with Meg and Karl. Meg walks two steps behind her, carrying Lucy’s basket, and Karl walks two steps ahead, baton stoutly in hand, occasionally yelling at bums to make way for Lady Clairmont. It all feels slightly “bring out your dead!” from Monty Python, but that is just how it goes, apparently.

They walk toward Fleet Street, which is the heart of London’s bookselling trade. The place they are supposed to find is ‘near St Dunstan’s-in-the-West, at the sign of the White Hart, at the shop under the Dial,’ which is as close as it comes to precise directions; Google Maps, this is not. The printing press was invented just over a hundred years ago and is all the rage, everybody above the working class reads for leisure, and even the poor, who might have attended their neighborhood petty school for a year or two, can probably scratch out their own name. There are Bible translations, tracts, and commentaries, literature such as Cervantes’ Don Quixote and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, French and Italian lays and romances, scholarly works like Montaigne’s Essais, Castiglione’s Book of the Courtier, Machiavelli’s The Prince, and other political and social Renaissance philosophy. Indeed, there is a voracious appetite for reading that is almost enviable to Lucy, as all the fashionable folk of London rush out to get their hands on any new book that appears. In this case, she is solidly unsuspicious, and they finally locate the shop in question. Karl raps firmly on the door with the stick, and having verified that it is safe for entry, they proceed inside.

The proprietor is one William Middleton, a name that sounds dimly familiar to Lucy. She thinks he is an academic and pamphleteer who was kicked out of Cambridge on several occasions, even though he is a diehard Protestant and Cambridge has a reputation as the more Reformation-minded of the two great universities; Oxford is still viewed as suspiciously pro-Catholic in its leanings. In any event, while he is searching among his shelves for any copies of the Satires, which has become an in-demand title due to the Queen reading it, Lucy looks around, spots a nearby volume, pulls it out – and feels as if she’s been hit by lightning. It’s an ordinary book, decorated with a woodcut and entitled An Newe Historie of the Republick of VENICE. That, however, is not what has caught Lucy’s eye. That is the name of the author: Jessica Proctor.

Lucy stares at the book, mind whirling. Jessica Proctor was her friend and colleague at Oxford, until she was blackmailed and turned into a thrall by the vampire Michael Temple, forced to break into Flynn’s laboratory and steal Lucy’s bloodwork, and then to try to kill him directly. That was the incident which resulted in Gabriel getting stabbed and nearly dying. To save Jessica’s life, and keep her away from a vengeful Maria de Clermont, Lucy timewalked her into the past, into fifteenth-century Florence. Jessica is also the ex-girlfriend of Flynn and Gabriel’s younger brother Wyatt, who begged them to save her from his mother, and this –

There’s really no one else it can be. The name Jessica is first used in William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, she’s the daughter of the Jewish moneylender Shylock. Lucy wonders faintly if Shakespeare saw this exact book, a Jessica from Venice, and that was where he decided to borrow it from. Venice makes sense as a place for Jessica to end up, if she traveled there from Florence. It is, or will be, the headquarters of the Congregation, so if Jessica was in search of a fellow witch to return her to the present, she might have hoped to find one there. She’s an early modernist, a specialist in Renaissance Italy, so like any good historian, she must have taken the opportunity to write a book with all the primary sources no longer available in the present. Has she already had an entire life – the publication date of the book is 1484 – grown old, and died? Or perhaps she was killed within a few years of her arrival? Is this a coded cry for help, hoping that a timewalking witch would see it, know where and when she was, and go retrieve her?

Lucy is still in shock, much to the confusion of Meg and Karl, when Middleton returns. “I’ve the last of the Satires here, my lady. Sixpence.”

“Ah – yes, very well. This – this one too.” Lucy thrusts the Historie on top. “Gramercy.”

She pays for the books, Middleton wraps them in brown paper and Meg puts them in her basket, and with Karl in the stick-brandishing lead, they emerge into the street. Meg looks at Lucy worriedly, doubtless still suspecting her of pregnancy-related faintness. “Shall I fetch you something to drink, my lady? You are verily pale as a sheet.”

“I’m all right.” Lucy does not think she should explain that she personally knows someone writing a book over a century ago, and that the question of whether she has to go back and get Jessica as well has been added to her very long list of worries. “Do either of you know if there is somewhere in London that sells books of an… alchemical nature?”

“Alchemy?” Meg blinks. “Is that a proper art for you, my lady?”

“I’ve studied it,” Lucy says, since there’s really no point in pretending she isn’t strange. Alchemy is, as most formal intellectual fields are in this day and age, an exclusively male pursuit, but despite its grandiose and mysterious reputation, it’s also regarded as a bit of a joke. After all, alchemists, despite all their claims to secret wisdom, have never actually turned lead into gold or anything else, none of their powders or potions or solutions really do anything, and in some ways, it’s the first pseudo-science: look impressive, use big words, turn out to be nothing but smoke and mirrors. Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist, written in 1610, is a scathing takedown of greedy, self-important, fraudulent charlatans who really believe their own nonsense and just want to use it to get rich and scam the public. But then, that is only the case for human alchemists. Genuine creatures with actual powers, witches and vampires and daemons, can use real magic, and Ashmole 782 is anything but a joke.

Meg and Karl exchange a look, as if weighing up how weird their new mistress is, exactly. Neither of them can think of such a place, and they return to the Old Lodge in time for a late dinner (which is to say, lunch). Flynn is still gone, hopefully things are going well with Walter Raleigh (that is a very strange sentence) and Lucy is just wondering if she has the nerve to crack Jessica’s book when Robert Parry appears at the door. “My lady?”

He once more looks to be holding some kind of letter, and Lucy’s heart skips a beat, since the last one was Elizabeth’s summons to court. “Aye?”

“I have a message for you and my lord.” Parry moves forward, bows, and hands it to her. “It is from Baynard’s Castle.” At her blank look, he discreetly supplies, “The Earl and Countess of Pembroke, my lady.”

“Pembroke?” Lucy is pretty sure that name came up the other morning, in the course of Gabriel relating his riotous sexual exploits. If this is a formal challenge to a duel, it really should go to him, not them. “Is it entirely – ?”

Parry gives her a look as if to say he has not read their mail, and Lucy grits her teeth, picks up the missive, and breaks the wax seal. She holds her breath as she scans the elaborate writing, but it doesn’t seem to be throwing the gauntlet. Instead, of all things, it is an invitation to a ball, the night after the morrow. My lord and lady of Pembroke wish to be the first to welcome my lord and lady of Clairmont to the society of London, and their prompt response and attendance, as guests of honor, will be greatly appreciated.

Lucy is fairly sure that they can’t refuse without causing offense, even though she wonders if this is a thinly veiled pretense to get Gabriel in a private corner and Laertes the shit out of him. (They’d need a silver dagger, but has Lord Pembroke thought of that?) To say the least, she does not feel up to attending a ball, but she has to do any number of things she does not feel capable of. Parry mentions that the messenger is still waiting for a response, so clearly they have been instructed not to leave without one, and since Flynn is gone, that means the call is Lucy’s. She has no choice but to graciously accept, say that Lord and Lady Clairmont will be happy to attend, and to thank the Pembrokes for their courtesy.

With that, Lucy worries for the rest of the afternoon, until Flynn gets home around four o’clock. Tea, coffee, and chocolate are all unknown in Elizabethan London (Lucy is already suffering) so they can’t exactly have a cuppa and biscuits, but they sit down together for a snack anyway, and Lucy tells him about it. “Why would the Pembrokes invite us to a ball?” she asks. “Doesn’t Lord Pembroke want to – you know?”

Flynn rolls his eyes, as if to say trust Gabriel to screw them over, literally. “I’d be surprised if he didn’t have something to do with this,” he says. “He did say he wanted more information on us – specifically, on you. If he convinced Mary to throw a ball as a convenient way to – ”

“Mary?” Lucy blinks. “Wait, Lady Pembroke?”

“Yes,” Flynn says. “Mary Sidney. I imagine you’ve heard of her?”

Lucy opens and shuts her mouth, feeling outraged at herself for not realizing this sooner. The countess of Pembroke, and Gabriel’s mistress, is currently none other than Mary Sidney, one of the first female poets and literary patronesses in Elizabethan England, who is a close friend of Shakespeare’s and is in fact one of the people proposed to have “actually” written his sonnets. Lucy hates anti-Stratfordianism anyway, especially since she suspects part of it is to de-queer some of his gayer sonnets by making the authorial voice female, but Mary Sidney is amazing, and even if this is very possibly a trap, Lucy is almost tempted to risk it for the chance of meeting her. She can also see why Mary would be drawn to Gabriel. Mary is just twenty-nine years old, a pretty, vivacious, intellectual redhead, and the third wife of her much older husband, who is so excruciatingly proper that he was once made an honorary gentleman of the bedchamber to the King of Spain and such a miser that he famously does not even leave Mary’s own jewels to her in his will when he dies. A passionate affair with the dashing, handsome, attentive Gabriel might be the least that Mary deserves, dammit.

Lucy has already accepted the invitation anyway, so there is that, and she is so busy thinking of what to say to Mary to impress her that she almost forgets to ask Flynn how things went with Sir Walter. By the look of Flynn’s face, they could have been better. “He is quite preoccupied over the fate of Roanoke,” he says. “He sent John White back to the New World just recently, as their return was delayed by the Spanish Armada, and at this point, the colonists have been left on their own for over two years. I was tempted to tell him that they were gone, just to speed things up, but I couldn’t have explained how I knew.”

“The lost colony of Roanoke?” Lucy remembers belatedly that yes, Walter Raleigh was the main patron of that, and this is the year that the colony’s governor John White, returning to the settlement in August 1590, finds it mysteriously and totally abandoned, something to puzzle history ever since. Thomas Harriot, another member of the School of Night, was an important part of that, learning the Algonquian language and insisting (perhaps rather too optimistically) that friendly relations were possible between the Native Americans and the white settlers. To say the least, they can’t wait for August, three months from now, and then however long it takes the news to get back to England, for Sir Walter to think about other things. “Can you just tell him anyway? You could say that I’m a witch, I saw their fate, or…?”

“I’ll think about it.” Flynn drums his fingers on the table, frowning. “Did you get the Satires?”

“Yes, and more than that.” Lucy pulls out Jessica’s book and shows it to him. “What on earth do we do about this?”

Flynn’s eyebrows fly up, as he grasps the importance just as well as her. “I don’t know. We can’t exactly go get her right now. Do you think it’s some kind of message? To us, or – others?”

It occurs to Lucy that if this book exists now, a copy might survive all the way down to the present, and Michael Temple could find it. They can’t stop him, they can’t do anything about him, and they can’t protect Jessica if he finds a way to retrieve her again. There is so much they can’t control, and while it feels disloyal to Jessica to put her on the back burner once again, they can’t go anywhere (or anywhen) right now. Lucy will have to read it closely and see if there’s anything Jessica might have found out that can help them, but if she has that information, so could Temple. God, this is impossible.

The next day passes quickly, and Lucy barely has time to look at the book at all, what with the household management she has to do. Then it’s the day of the ball, and while Flynn is off that morning working some more on Raleigh, Lucy has to once more practice her curtsies and conversation and dancing and everything else. Her new wardrobe has mostly arrived, the servants are putting the finishing touches on her new quarters, and seem to be more or less coming around to the idea that she and Flynn are actually married, but Lucy is still feeling completely overwhelmed. She can’t embarrass them in front of half of London high society tonight, especially if this is a setup to do just that. Maybe if they make a scene, Lord Pembroke will feel vindicated in asking Elizabeth to order all the de Clermonts banished from the city at once. Could Gabriel be any more of a drama king? Really.

Late that afternoon, Flynn returns, they both get decked out in their best, and ride down the Strand to Baynard’s Castle, the seat of the Pembroke family. It also does not exist in the present day, a handsome riverside palace where they have entertained the Queen and – at least until his death in 1588 – Mary’s famous uncle, Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester. Lucy has been spending a lot of time with genealogy tables, as it is imperative to remember who is related to who, and while she knows some of it already, the details are endless and endlessly fiddly. They pull up in the line of carriages discharging their elaborately bedecked grandees, Lucy steps down, and takes tight hold of Flynn’s arm. He has not worn his sword, as that would be impolite for a formal social engagement, but she can’t shake the feeling that there may be trouble anyway. Should she pretend to faint? That might not be hard.

They are bowed inside by the gentlemen ushers of the Pembroke household, and as their entrance is announced, every single head swivels in extremely keen interest that they do not remotely trouble to disguise. Lucy feels as if she’s standing in a bright spotlight, and can hear the whispers breaking out, as she and Flynn make their way across to the dais where the Earl and Countess of Pembroke are standing. Oh god, that is Mary Sidney. She is very pretty even with the artificial beauty standards of the time, and Lucy is presently experiencing useless bisexual panic. They are not going to be shot on sight, are they?

At least it does not seem that way. She and Flynn bow and curtsy as Lord and Lady Pembroke bow and curtsy in return, exchange their greetings, and are cordially welcomed to the evening. There will be supper shortly, and then dancing. If Lord Pembroke knows that they are the brother and sister-in-law of the notorious local rakehell who has been seducing his wife, he does not outwardly show it. What is going on here?

Lucy accepts a glass of claret from one of the ushers, because a drink might steady her nerves, and then she is swarmed by people from every side, who have barely been waiting for their chance. They all want to ask about her strange looks, strange accent, the deliciously scandalous story of her sudden marriage and arrival in London, and whatever else, and she is quickly separated from Flynn in the human tide. It is very hot and very loud and very close, she is sweating like a pig in her eighty pounds of clothing, and is starting to feel a panic attack coming on when someone swoops up at her elbow. “Lady Clairmont. Allow me.”

Lucy turns in abject relief to thank her savior, who is dressed in artfully fashionable black-and-white-striped silk and wearing a jeweled half-mask, a cloak thrown dashingly over one shoulder. She is about to ask his name, and then recognizes the dark eyes gleaming at her. She feels a sensation as if she’s missed a step going downstairs. “Master Marlowe.”

“Indeed.” Kit takes her elbow, steering her away from the latest incoming viscount. “I see truly that I was mistaken in taking thee for a whore the other night, at the Rose. Thou dost indeed have my sincere apologies. A splendid gathering, is it not?”

Lucy opens her mouth, not sure what to say, and shuts it. She is grateful for the rescue, but it clearly comes with strings attached, and she wonders what on earth Marlowe is doing here anyway, apart from being a Petty Drama Gay and not giving a shit who knows it. Maybe he’s taking the opportunity to scope out the competition in more ways than one, what with Mary’s friendship with his rival, Will Shakespeare – poetic espionage? She would not put it past him. Kit expertly snags another glass of something off a passing tray, and hands it to her. “Finest Rhenish, Lady Clairmont. Thou wilt try it?”

Reflexively, Lucy takes it, though she remembers the barman back at the inn offering them Rhenish and Flynn turning it down. One sip tells her why: it is good, but eye-wateringly strong, and she cannot suppress the suspicion that Marlowe is not-so-subtly trying to get her toasted. “It is delicious,” she manages. “Truly. But before dinner – ”

“Come now. Surely we can sport ourselves somehow?” Marlowe sounds careless. “Many of us are most… intrigued by you, Mistress Lucy. Some sort of exchange can be arranged?”

Seeing as he started off with the respectable Lady Clairmont and they’re now down to Mistress Lucy, she wonders if Marlowe is deliberately seeing how far he can lowball her before she corrects him. They stare at each other, an unspoken challenge between them, until Lucy decides to take the bull by the horns. “What do you want, Kit?”

He smiles faintly, as if in acknowledgment that the gambit has been struck. “Only a few things,” he says airily. “There are all manner of rumors in London about thee. Surely thou must know that. If I was to sort the true from the false, surely we could be closer friends? Or at least not enemies? I know thou hast made… efforts to infiltrate our School.”

“We’re not infiltrating it,” Lucy says. “Garcia is a member.”

Marlowe nods deferentially, but his eyes are sharper and darker than ever. He clearly thinks that Lucy has put Flynn up to it somehow, manipulated or cozened him, and he does not trust this sudden, inexplicable influence she has on him. Then he says, sharply and unmistakably, “If you intend to make yourself our enemy, mistress – ”

“I don’t.” Lucy stares back at him. “Besides, I thought Gabriel was the one you were sleeping with?”

Marlowe flinches, and she wonders if that, even in the name of reminding him the blackmail could go two ways here, was a bad idea. After all, he could very much be hanged for sodomy, this isn’t a rumor he wants getting around, and if she looks as if she’s going to be too free with it, he could take drastic steps to stop her. “You seem most informed upon my personal doings, mistress.”

“I’m not your enemy,” Lucy says. “Or Garcia’s. We – it’s very complicated. But we need the School’s help. It’s for everyone’s good, including yours.”

Marlowe laughs, but it does not reach his eyes. They flick over to where, speak of the devil, a tall and dazzlingly handsome figure recognizable even from this distance as Gabriel de Clermont is bowing lingeringly over Mary Sidney’s hand. Lord Pembroke, thankfully, is not nearby, and from the way Gabriel and Mary look at each other, Lucy thinks that despite his earlier travails, he will have no difficulty getting laid tonight. Kit watches them with a muscle working in his cheek, as if even his proxy de Clermont does not belong to him alone, and no matter if expecting fidelity from Gabriel is clearly an even worse idea, Lucy can’t help but feel briefly bad for him. “Gabriel is – ” she starts awkwardly. “He’s – well – he is – ”

“I am aware.” Kit tears his eyes off them and turns back to her. “Well then. Shall we be friends, mistress? Or… not?”

“I am willing to be friends,” Lucy says cautiously. “So long as you are.”

Marlowe considers this, looks as if there are plenty of things he could say, and finally shrugs. “We shall see,” he says. “Though if I learn nothing to your credit, I shall not hesitate to suggest to Sir Walter that he neither receives nor entertains you.”

With that parting shot, he turns on his heel and vanishes into the crowd, as Lucy stares after him. The message is clear: she isn’t getting to the School of Night if she doesn’t win Marlowe over, and they aren’t getting to Dr. Dee if they don’t win Elizabeth over. That is the way politics work here. After the military rivalry and infighting of the nobility in earlier centuries, they now compete for favor and patronage at court, sharks in silk, cannibals and sycophants and cutthroats all willing to do whatever it takes for the king (or in this case, queen) to take notice of them and bestow largess. Everyone knows how the Boleyn and Howard families shamelessly manipulated their daughters into Henry’s arms, only for it then to spectacularly backfire, and Lucy knew this was going to be a dirty fight. But still.

The Pembroke steward sounds a bell to shuffle the guests into the dining room, they are seated according to rank, and Lucy finds herself beside another baron she does not know, as husbands and wives are not normally placed together. The servers, called sewers, move around the table to pour wine, and the Yeomen of the Pantry must bow at various stages as they bring dishes into the hall and follow the social hierarchy in serving them. Lucy is very hungry, but when she finally takes a bite of her meat, she almost gags. It’s drenched in honey and sugar, as is everything else on the plate; the Elizabethans believe sugar has medicinal purposes and should be taken in large quantities with everything, which probably explains their teeth. Vegetables are regarded as “food of the dirt,” unsuitable for the gently born, so there is not much green stuff, and Lucy nibbles at the least saccharine bits of supper that she can find, hoping she is not insulting the Pembrokes’ hospitality. Her fingers are sticky, since forks are only used for serving and not for personal eating, and her head is starting to pound, her vision blurring. She is more than ready to go home and not be here anymore.

Alas, the evening is only beginning. Once they have finally finished the several courses of supper, they return to the main hall, a lute and viol and harpsichord player strike up music, and Lucy is thereupon expected to dance. They start out with a stately pavane, and she looks frantically around for Flynn, but he’s partnered with someone else at the far side of the hall. She has no choice but to curtsy to the viscount in front of her, and hope that she looks like she knows what she is doing.

At the end of the first dance, it is clear that the viscount is waiting for something, and as Lucy looks around, she sees that all the other women are kissing their partners; it’s clear that this is the usual token of appreciation for a dance. Lucy has already noticed that the Elizabethans kiss each other a lot, even more than modern French people do, and that male foreigners are noted to do so the most (maybe this explains Gabriel?) She doesn’t really want to kiss every man she dances with, especially since most of them, as noted, have pretty bad teeth and also because that’s an easy way to spread diseases, but she can’t be rude. She puckers up, feels like she’s betraying her feminist principles, and does so.

The next dance is faster, Lucy has to kiss a greasy earl at the end of it, and she really wants to go find a corner to hide out until this is over, no matter the risk of serious social affront. But then a hand catches her, spins her lightly up into his arms, and she finds herself face to beautiful face with Gabriel de Clermont, who is still not wearing any sort of mask or making any attempt to disguise his identity. He clearly does not care in the least if Lord Pembroke throws down right here, or else he is counting on those Spanish-king-approved manners to restrain him. He smiles at Lucy, inclining his head. “Why, darling. Good evening.”

“Good – evening,” Lucy manages, mouth dry. They waltz back and forth, Gabriel turns her about, and draws her close again. His hand on her back is large and solid, and she cannot help but imagine it pushing apart her thighs. He is very hard to resist like this, whether unintentionally or on purpose, and she fights against the feeling that she is the one being bewitched. Struggling to recollect herself, she says quietly, “Did you arrange this?”

“This?” Gabriel cocks an eyebrow at the sea of candlelight and bright fabrics, flashing jewels and whirling couples. “This small entertainment? I may have suggested that it would be a useful thing to welcome you to society, Lady Clairmont. Are you not grateful?”

“What do you want?” Lucy is managing to keep up with him, at least, and not step on his feet, as they continue to waltz. Between Kit earlier and now this, she is feeling decidedly spied upon. “I don’t – Garcia and I, we – ”

“Mmm, indeed.” Gabriel pulls her close, his mouth brushing against her ear, stirring her sweat-damped hair. “We have much we could share, you and I, do you not think? I am not an unreasonable man – nor, as you will have noticed, limited in my experiences. Who are you really, Lucy, ma chérie? Where did you come from? Who are your witch friends? What arts are you practicing, whose aims are you serving?”

“I’m here with your brother.” Lucy meets his ink-dark gaze as steadily as she can. She is having a hard time getting enough air, for more than one reason. “As his wife.”

“As his wife.” Gabriel ghosts a chuckle against her cheek, turning to brush it with the lightest and most promising of kisses. “Forgive me, but we all know that Garcia has not looked at a woman since the death of his human Lorena, many centuries ago. I have done my best to remedy it, and yet. When I saw you the other morning, my dearest, you looked anything but well-fucked. You are no wife. I have not worked out what yet, but not that. And now I hear that my sweet, trusting son has gone to Scotland to find another witch? Your suggestion?”

“We’re trying to help you,” Lucy says. “Truly. We just – ”

“And what help do I seem to need?” They reach a break in the music, and the ordinary thing to do would be to change to another partner, but Gabriel is clearly not inclined to let her go. “Is this another tiresome concern for my virtue, such as Garcia attempted to importune to me the other day? Or something else?”

“It’s – ” For a moment, Lucy teeters dangerously on the brink of just telling him, but she can’t. “As you say, I’m a witch. I know things about what happens to you. Garcia and I are trying to – we’re thinking… long-term.”

Gabriel studies her up and down. It isn’t clear if he follows what she’s implying or not. Then as the music starts up and he pulls her close again, he catches her earlobe between his teeth and bites it very lightly. “Let me be quite clear, sweetheart,” he whispers, even as his hand strokes caressingly down her back. “If you do anything, if you do anything at all, in any way, intended or unintended, to hurt my darling, I shall tear you apart. You have heard of the heads upon London Bridge, I presume? Your own is welcome to join them, your limbs staked above every gate in the city, your entrails scattered for the ravens on Tower Green. Make no mistake, you are a lovely woman and I should hate very much to do it, but if you have in mind any mischief to Garcia – or to my son – I shall not hesitate an instant. Not one.”

A chill goes through Lucy from head to heel, as she has no reason to doubt that he means every word of it. She is reminded of her constant state of being around Gabriel – dangerously attracted to him, but also just as frightened, knowing that he is only a half-tame lion and in no way suitable to be carelessly approached. His eyes are dead black, devoid of any humor or flirtation or teasing, and when the dance ends, she kisses him quickly and is in a hurry to get away from him. She hopes this isn’t furtherly suspicious, but the evening has not been very fun, she’s still hungry, and desperately hopes that they can leave. She wades through the morass, finds Flynn, and grabs his elbow. “Can we please…?”

He looks at her, seems to decide that the need to get her out of here outweighs whatever social affront they would cause, and nods. He forages off to make proper farewells to the Pembrokes, returns, and takes hold of her protectively, leading her out into the night, which is a slap of blessedly cool and almost fresh air after the heat and crush of the dance. As they wait for their carriage, he says in an undertone, “Are you all right? I saw you with Gabriel.”

“Yes, he…” Lucy’s head is about to split, and she doesn’t want to explain it right now. Her legs feel like jelly, and as Karl drives up, Flynn has to physically lift her in. “He wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to hurt you.”

“I’ll think of something to say,” Flynn says. “I don’t know what, but I have to.”

“Mmm.” Lucy leans against his shoulder, and is about to close her eyes. But for a second, before the door closes, she has the oddest feeling that she sees something – someone – standing in the shadows under the portcullis. It is hooded and cloaked, putting her in mind of the person she saw outside the inn that first Sunday morning, the one looking up directly at them. But it must just be a byproduct of her tired, bludgeoned brain, because she blinks, the door shuts, and when she looks again, it is gone as if it has never been.

Chapter Text

It is not a restful night. Even after they get home, the servants make Lucy something she can actually eat (they have worried that her health might suffer without enough sugar, but want to accommodate her peculiar foreign tastes) and Flynn carries her up to bed, she can’t fall asleep. Frankly, it would not be a surprise if she has gone crazy enough to hallucinate menacing shadowy figures, and that, combined with the drink and the elegant threats from Gabriel and everything else, feels like a huge fist crushing her throat. She can’t breathe. It’s like when she gets shut into small spaces and her claustrophobia is triggered, but she’s not in any physical confinement. Just trapped in the goddamn sixteenth century, no big deal. She is struggling to remember why she thought this was a good idea. Something or another, protect the world. Uncover the secrets of creature origins and keep Ashmole 782 out of the hands of dangerous enemies. Save Gabriel. And yet.

Lucy gets up in the wee hours to pace, but Flynn doesn’t stir. Vampires usually don’t, even though people around here are accustomed to “first sleep” and “second sleep,” where they go to bed relatively early, wake up in the middle of the night, read or pray or have sex or do other things for a few hours, then go back to sleep until sunrise. Lucy has learned that the uninterrupted block of your recommended minimum eight hours is an invention of the industrial capitalist modern world, which seems about right. But her only option for reading is Jessica’s book, she’s not the praying type, and as for having sex –

She can tell that Flynn is trying. She really can. He was solicitously attentive all the way home, sat with her while she ate, carried her up to bed and helped her out of her sweaty, heavy clothing, and then… tucked her in and found a goblet of water to set on the sideboard (which is nice, because she doesn’t think she can stand another sip of alcohol in her life). He sat next to her atop the covers and held her hand, kissed her fingers, stroked her hair, and then slid in next to her and cuddled her. He clearly feels bad for pushing her away and essentially stonewalling her for their first week here, and Lucy is so starved for affection and care and comfort that she gratefully welcomes the volte-face. She was more than a little drunk and flying off the handle and teetering on the edge of a breakdown, it once more wasn’t a good time for anything else. But why won’t he just talk to her? They could work through this if she knew what the problem was, but he has been so used to being so alone for centuries that he apparently, whatever the fuck. Thinks she can read his mind.

Lucy desists from her pacing and sits down in one of the carved armchairs, staring at the far wall. She just wants to feel like she has any part of this insane situation under control. She’s used to being good at things, or at least looking like she is. You don’t get to where she is by slacking off or being unmotivated or stupid. She has lived by herself and for herself for many years, and she knows how to do that. It’s not like she’s about to lose her mind without a man or anything like that. Yet ever since Flynn turned her life upside down, it’s just felt… she hates the word, but fated, or destined, or something. Whatever it is with the two of them, this strange, delicate push-and-pull, two steps forward, three steps back. The pressure and isolation of this experience would crush anyone, and she needs him. There is still the residual excitement of actually seeing and living in the past, and it’s not like Lucy wouldn’t do it again. But she can’t go on like this. Alone. Not when he said they were a team.

After a long moment, Lucy gets up, makes her way over to the bed, and crawls in next to Flynn, tucking herself against his side and pulling his arm over her. She buries her nose in his collarbone, closes her eyes and rolls on top of him; if he is once more letting her close enough to do this, she is going to take advantage of it. She wants to erase all the boundaries between them, be taken out of her weary and heavy and anxious head. She wants to be safe, and even through all the insanity, she is here, with him. That has to be enough.

Somehow, she sleeps. When she finally pries her sticky eyes open, the room is full of grey sunlight and Flynn is gone. He has refilled her water goblet and left a piece of fresh bread, and Lucy sits up slowly, munching it. She feels the residual pounding of a hangover, didn’t think she drank that much, but the Rhenish was a lot on its own, there was plenty of wine at supper, and all of it is far stronger than she is used to. She winces at small noises from the house below, until the door opens a crack, and Meg peers in. “My lady? Are you awake?”

“Mmm.” Lucy rubs her temples. “Mmmawake.”

Meg makes her way in to deal with the mess, fetching a brush and sitting down on the bed to work at the rat’s nest of Lucy’s hair. “You’ll want some caudle,” she says. “I’ll brew it up for you later. And for the child, it’ll be – ”

“Look,” Lucy says, half-hysterically. “I’m not – I’m not pregnant, all right? I know you think I’m ashamed or I want to cover it up or I’m in denial, but I’m not pregnant. I’m definitely not pregnant, I’m not anything, because Garcia won’t sleep with me. He barely touches me. I know he’s trying and he did better the last few days and I know he has issues and I know what happened to his last lover and I know he’s scared of hurting me, but he – he won’t talk to me, he won’t – we need to trust each other, and I do, and I feel like a horrible person for it not being enough, but I – I want him and I want us to be together, really together, so I just – I don’t want to hurt him either, I could do it differently than the way he could for me, but I could, and I don’t – I love him, I love him so much, and that feels scary and strange and ridiculous already, but – ”

At that, she belatedly becomes aware that this is pouring out of her like vomit, that Meg potentially thinks she has also gone insane, and is not expected to act as psychologist and emotional support to her employer. But Meg takes a look at her, puts aside the brush, and says, “There, there, my lady. Shhh, now. Shhh.”

Between Meg patting her back and offering sips of water, clucking and making comforting noises, Lucy finally breaks down, cries for a few minutes, stifles her usual urge to apologize as Meg hands her a handkerchief, and wipes her eyes, sniffing. “There, there,” Meg says again. “We’ll manage it somehow, my lady. I could go to market and buy some of the Barbary spices, and put it in his food. If it inflames the blood to passion, that could – ”

“He’s a va – ” Lucy catches herself. “I mean, I’m not sure it would – ”

She stops, since frankly, dosing Flynn with an aphrodisiac sounds like their least ridiculous option right now. But she’s maintained the whole time that she wants him to want it when he is ready for it, freely given, and she’s not going to cheat with love potions, even if they wouldn’t work anyway. “No, no,” she says. “My thanks, but no.”

“I could dress your hair especially?” Meg, bless her, is still in problem-solving mode. “Or if I was to spill a cask of wine upon your bedclothes in the new chamber, so you’d still have to sleep with him until they were washed – forgiving the waste of wine, my lady, but – ”

“No.” Lucy has to laugh, despite herself. “We’ll work it out some other way, but you’re very sweet. Have you – have you ever been married?”

This is possibly too personal a question to ask the staff, but Meg doesn’t seem to find it odd. After all, no matter how rich or poor you are, you and your families have lived in the same place for generations, you go to the same churches (or at least you better) and have endured the same privations, shopped together and celebrated together and known each other’s joys and sorrows, and the class divide isn’t quite as harsh as it is in later eras. “I was, my lady,” Meg says. “His name was Thomas, he left us last year in the plague.”

“Oh.” Lucy looks down. “I’m – I’m sorry.”

“No, don’t trouble yourself. He was – not much of a loss to God’s earth, tell you true.” Meg resumes brushing Lucy’s hair. “But it’s my sister who also lost her husband, and her with the three children to raise, so I took a position to support us both. Her son is hoping for an apprenticeship to a tradesman, but the lad is scarce ten, and it will be best if he can take a few more years of schooling.” She stops, realizing that she is going on at unacceptable length about her personal life. “I’m sorry, my lady. I’ve – not had anyone to talk to in a time either.”

“I don’t mind,” Lucy says. “Really. You said your sister lived in Islington, didn’t you?”

“Aye.” Meg looks at her with burning curiosity, clearly wanting to ask where Lucy is from, but not presuming to that much familiarity. “It’s good I have the post here, now.”

“Garcia and his family are very wealthy.” Lucy doesn’t want to promise that she can open the ancestral treasure vaults, because she doesn’t know if she can, but she is Lady Clairmont, at least to all appearances. “I’ll see if we can find something for you and your sister.”

Meg’s jaw drops. She hastens to assure Lucy not to trouble herself, but Lucy waves off her objections, and feels somewhat restored as Meg finishes her hair and helps her get dressed. “Where is my lord this morning, do you know?”

“He went away early again, to Sir Walter’s.” Meg pulls at the laces of Lucy’s corset. It’s not the restrictive whalebone hourglass popular among the Victorians, and is designed for everyday wear, so they don’t do it up too tightly. Outside of the frills and finery of court appearances and splendid balls, Lucy has gone for relatively ordinary clothes, a chemise and petticoats underneath a brown woolen skirt and half-sleeved jacket, an embroidered bodice and a pomander hung from her girdle, as well-bred ladies keep one on hand to chase away sudden bad smells. Her hair is covered with a French hood, though that is now starting to be rather dated, or a simple cap, and when she goes out, she wears a brimmed hat. “There’s the mending and the sewing to be done, my lady, if you’ve a hand with a needle?”

Lucy supposes that the lady of the house and her maids would often do this sort of work together, though she’s not sure she could avoid sewing her fingers together, and there are other things she needs to be doing. She goes over to Flynn’s desk and retrieves the Ashmole fragment, their precious guidebook with the list of places and names, and smooths it out, to see where they should go next. Except then she thinks that she must have grabbed a spare piece. Inexplicably, horrifyingly – the page is blank.

“Wh – ” Lucy panics, double-checks it, paws through the papers, and turns it over, as if the text might have escaped to the other side. It was fine the other day, when they used it to find Middleton’s bookstore. Maybe the locking charm has reset itself? When she translated it back in Sept-Tours, it instructed her to reveal the rest of the message with the omega, so she presses the faint raised scar on her palm to the paper. It has mostly faded, along with the ones on her back, after an intensive course of Michelle’s healing magic before they left the present, but she hopes for another burn and jolt. Nothing. The page stays blank.

Lucy shakes it, though this is like hitting a malfunctioning piece of technology to get it to work again. Then she pulls out the alchemical wedding page with its sumptuous illumination, and gets another shock. Most of the design is still there, the elaborate border and decoration and drawing, but the faces of the white queen and the red king have vanished, and their names are no longer written beneath their feet. It used to be Lucy and Flynn beyond a doubt, but now both of them have gone, and it is two abstract, unspecified, half-finished figures instead. What the hell – ?

Lucy stares down at the pages, trying to work out if this is an unforeseen consequence of time travel, if bringing them to a moment before they existed has messed with the deep and delicate magic they are imbued with. She thought they would be preserved as relics from a different time stream, their continued existence already established as separate from their moment of creation, and thus far they have been. But if they aren’t written now, they won’t be written in the future, and –

Just to be sure, she checks again, trying to fight off panic. She was relying on that list, they both were, to tell them where to go and what to do. Why didn’t she make a copy, write it down somewhere else? She could probably remember some of it if she tried, but if they’ve gone, does that mean the circumstances that led to them being written down have changed as well? Would it even be where they still need to go, or – or what?”

“My lady?” Meg says, taking note of Lucy’s incipient terror. “Are you well?”

“I just…” Lucy is pretty sure she can’t explain this one. “These papers. I’m sure you haven’t – and nobody else in the household has touched them, have they?”

“No, my lady.” Meg looks puzzled. “We do not go through my lord’s things. At least, so it has always been before, unless the household is most different here?”

“Not that different,” Lucy mutters. She can’t see the impeccably upright and correct Parry snooping through Flynn’s private papers, and she would be able to tell if there was unfamiliar or hostile magic in the room. Besides, if someone had physically been in here, you’d hope she’d notice that. She shoots a sudden, suspicious glance at Jessica’s book, which is lying a few feet away. Is there a dark spell of some kind embedded in its pages, working slowly to corrode the magic of the papers, or perhaps –

Forgetting her anxieties about reading it, Lucy picks it up and flips it open. It does look like an ordinary history of Venice up until the mid-fifteenth century, composed in an authentic period style. No spells are to be detected in its pages, and none of the text moves or erases itself. But at the very back, Lucy notices a section “writ by the kinde permissions & with the use of the Library of his Maiestie MATTHIAS CORVINUS, Kynge of Hungary & the Dalmatian Landes.”

Oh, hell. Matthias Corvinus. They sent Past Flynn on a wild-goose chase to find his supposedly rediscovered lost library, which vanished in 1526, but in 1484, it hasn’t vanished yet. In 1484, Matthias is still alive and still king, so is Jessica (was Jessica?) at his court? Is there some way she can interfere with Past Flynn, even separated by a hundred years? Even if not, Jessica has taken shelter with the Raven King, whose library contains many rare and magical books unknown to creatures today. If Temple tracks her there – and this is pretty much a gilded invitation to do it – he can pillage it like a kid in a candy store.

Lucy puts the book down, trying to remember to breathe. Even if it didn’t erase the Ashmole pages, it very definitely means other problems. After a final check has proven that the pages are still blank – indeed, more of the paint seems to have vanished off the alchemical wedding, as if it will slowly dissolve like the Beast’s rose losing petals, until they are out of time and the spell has broken – Lucy puts it back and tries to think what to do. She would almost welcome another summons to the palace, since it might give her a chance to talk with Elizabeth privately. Or –

No. It is probably a bad idea to initiate any closer contact with a clearly jealous and dangerous Gabriel, even if Lucy is quite sure that they can’t proceed by ignoring him. But Gabriel knows everybody in London, on intimate terms or otherwise, and maybe if they tried to include him, he wouldn’t suspect her of being some nefarious femme fatale bamboozling Flynn. His acquaintances certainly include creatures apart from Kit, and while Lucy needs to be very careful about who she entrusts with this information, maybe they can at least explain a few things. She turns to Meg. “Could you get one of the grooms to take a message to Lord Gabriel de Clermont? My lord’s brother.”

Meg briefly looks as if she is going to say something, remembers it is not her place, and nods. “What message exactly, my lady?”

“Just say that – ” Lucy tries to think how to phrase this without it sounding like a proposition, or if Gabriel would assume that either way. “That I would appreciate the chance to speak with him, if he finds himself at leisure.”

She imagines that Gabriel has probably been at leisure in someone’s bed, whether Kit’s or Mary Sidney’s or anyone else’s, but the messenger is dispatched to shake down London for him, and Lucy, in the name of being conscientious, starts going through Jessica’s book page by page. She still hasn’t found anything else when, after almost an hour, the bedchamber door bangs and the circus arrives. This morning, Gabriel is dressed splendidly in black velvet and scarlet brocade, sleeves slashed with ivory silk and jewels dripping off his hat, fingers, and throat. He is sporting a little pearl earring, has lined his eyes with kohl, and white fur trims his cloak. Lucy wonders if it’s ermine – only royalty has the exclusive right to wear ermine, and the fourteenth-century sumptuary laws, dictating which fabrics and adornments can be worn by each class of society, are still regularly enforced. His tight silk hose shows off his extremely well-turned legs, and the doublet is cut to flatter his long, lean figure. “My darling,” he says, speaking accented English, rather than French. “What a surprise to have you call for me in your hour of need. Has my disappointing brother abandoned you again?”

“He – no, he…” Lucy is not quite sure what to say after their fraught encounter last night. Gabriel looks fresh as a daisy, not that vampires need the accustomed amount of sleep, and the party has most likely never stopped. “Never mind. I had a question.”

“Oh?” Gabriel sits down carelessly on the bed and sweeps off his hat, watching her with those sharp dark eyes. Underneath the flirtation, he is tense and poised to spring, and Lucy keeps her distance. “What exactly about, my sugarplum?”

“If someone had questions about… magical matters.” Considering her experiences with witches in the present, Lucy is not in haste to recruit more of them, apart from Agnes Sampson, and she won’t arrive for several more days at least. “Fellow creatures. You said yesterday that you were trying to introduce me to society, so…”

“You are interested in another soiree?” Gabriel chuckles. “Well, you needn’t contrive and conspire to enjoy my company, my dearest. We are family, surely we should come to better know one another. But as for other beings, is that wise?”

“I know Kit is a daemon,” Lucy says carefully. “And the two of you are… friends. But who is in charge of the London creatures? Vampires and witches?”

Gabriel continues to study her, judging if he should let slip this information or not. Then he shrugs, seems to decide that it’s common knowledge and she could discover it anyway – and if he tells her, she will owe him a favor. “The vampires of London are oft ruled by Father Andrew Hubbard. An uncheery fellow, a Calvinist in life, and just as dismal now that he is dead. I suspect he took it personally that he was clearly not destined for heaven. Because I immensely dislike him, I have until now refrained from informing him of your presence, as he would hold strong notions on your marriage. Yet I do suspect that after the events of the last few days, the word shall spread.”

Lucy tries to think if that name sounds familiar for any other reason. “And the witches?”

Gabriel lifts a glittering shoulder in an insolent shrug. “Should I have any notion?”

“You know everyone,” Lucy points out. “So yes.”

“True, true, I am very knowledgeable about many things.” Gabriel gives her a darkly promising look under his eyelashes, affecting to study his fingernails. He stretches ostentatiously, once reminding her of a self-satisfied cat, and then says, “The witches of London are in a coven under one Lady Mary Beaton, a former attendant of the Queen of Scots. The creatures of London work much like the guilds, you know. You cannot merely come to the city and expect to take up without making proper application. She will be angered that you have not. Surely you would know that, my sweet?”

“Things are – different,” Lucy says feebly. “Garcia has not mentioned it, I didn’t think – ”

“Oh, because Garcia is such a fount of information?” Gabriel gets to his feet fast enough to make her flinch. “And yet by all rights, he should have told me about you. We keep nothing from each other, no secret. But you still remain so mysterious, pet. Why?”

He practically snarls the last word, is on the very edge of her personal space, and Lucy resists the urge to back down. Like his brother, he is tall enough that it strains her neck to look up at him. As truthfully as she can, she says, “I had a question about some strange magic.”

Gabriel considers that. Then he takes another step, bringing them still closer. “What exactly did you do with my son? Mysterious errands to Scotland, was it? One Scottish witch was not sufficient for your purposes?”

“Garcia sent him to Scotland,” Lucy says, truthfully enough. Her legs are quivering and her mouth is dry, but she doesn’t want to give any ground. She won Gabriel’s grudging respect in the present by refusing to be intimidated, and while it’s exasperating to do it again, when she just made headway with the first one, at least she has some sort of playbook. “I promise, the last thing either of us want to do is to hurt him. He’s helping you.”

“Neither you nor my brother will tell me what sort of help you fancy that to be.” Gabriel’s voice is cool, but genuine pain lurks beneath. “He has not seemed at all like himself since he returned with you. I know something is wrong, but he will not talk to me.”

Lucy experiences a brief and unexpected moment of solidarity. “If it helps,” she says, “he’s not talking to me either.”

“Foolish dolt. I wonder sometimes why I love him so.” Gabriel shrugs. “Shall we seize him together, do you think? Shake him until he gives in?”

This is a tempting offer for more than one reason, but Lucy shakes her head. She might be pushing her luck to ask for another favor, but at least he hasn’t actually torn her limbs off yet, and it will take her longer to do this any other way. “Do you happen to have the London address for Mistress Beaton?”

Gabriel hesitates a moment longer, then says, “She keeps a house in the city, near Cornhill and the Royal Exchange. It would not be decorous for myself to be spotted there, and besides, I have far better things to accomplish upon the day than playing footman to a witch, even one so lovely as you, sweet sister. Was there any other way I could service you, or shall I be off?”

“No,” Lucy says. “Thank you.”

Gabriel seems to think of several other suggestive things he could say, but he bows instead, showing himself out with a flourish. When he’s gone, Lucy summons Meg back and gets changed for visiting. Then, hoping that this isn’t a big mistake, she once more sets out with her maid under the stout stick guardianship of Karl, heading into the city.

It takes them a while to find Mary Beaton’s residence among the many townhouses that border the Exchange, and they knock on the door to be sniffily informed that the mistress is having dinner and is not receiving callers. However, when Lucy lets slip that she is Lady Clairmont, the servant tells them to wait, retreats for several minutes, and then finally returns. “This way, prithee.”

Lucy was hoping that her notoriety – she’s probably the talk of the entire city by now – would arouse curiosity, and that seems to have worked. Meg and Karl follow her down a narrow, twisting, dark-paneled corridor to the dining room at the back of the house, where the head of the London coven is taking her midday meal. She is fair, plump, and pretty, probably in her late forties, and Lucy, who has never had much to do with other witches outside the Christopher family, feels her spine stiffen in instinctive wariness. Lady Beaton looks like someone’s kindly aunt, but her dark gaze is shrewd and calculating. She performs that head-to-toe flick that Lucy is getting used to from everyone, then says, “Ah, Lady Clairmont. I heard ‘twas quite an entertainment last night.”

She speaks with a noted Scottish accent, a reminder that as a former attendant of her executed mistress, Elizabeth’s cousin and rival, she does not fit entirely easily into London society either. She makes a careless gesture, and one of her footmen steps forward to pull out a chair for Lucy, who sinks into it. The two witches stare at each other, as Meg and Karl retreat to stand in the corner. Then Lady Beaton says, “Why have ye sought me out, then? Or rather, why did ye not before? Ye ken the laws, Lady Clairmont, do ye no?”

Her tone is not particularly angry, but she plainly regards her rights as having been breached, and Lucy tries to think how to answer. It’s not clear that ignorance will excuse her, even if it is the case. Instead, she says, “It has been a difficult several days settling into London, my lady, and I confess, I was not aware of the protocol until just recently. As soon as I heard of it, I came to pay court to you. I – before – Her Majesty – ”

Lady Beaton’s mouth twists at the mention of Elizabeth, who she must bear no small grudge against. “Oh, aye,” she says cuttingly. “Ever the old harlot must make a spoil of our plans. Well, ye are here now, I shall give ye so much as that. What it was you wished to say?”

Lucy casts an awkward look at Meg. She is bonding with her, but Meg doesn’t know that she is an actual witch, and openly visiting a Scottish traitoress who just called the queen a whore might already be pushing it. Taking the hint, Meg nods and withdraws, pulling a somewhat reluctant Karl with her. Once they are alone, Lucy says, “My – my nephew has gone to search out one of your sisters in Scotland. Agnes Sampson.”

“Oh, aye. I ken auld Agnes.” Lady Beaton continues to regard her keenly. “What is it you want with her, exactly?”

“It’s difficult to explain,” Lucy says. “But we think she might be able to help us contact an ancestress of mine, another witch with a rare gift.”

“Is that so?” Lady Beaton looks like a spider finding a juicy insect in its web. “And what would the name of this witch be, exactly?”

Lucy hesitates, but she is at least nominally among her own kind here. “Amelie Wallis.”

“I’ve ne’er heard of the woman.” Lady Beaton turns back to her interrupted dinner. “Many other Wallises and Wallaces among the Scots, to be sure, but no witch of that name.”

“She is…” Lucy still doesn’t trust Lady Beaton, exactly, but she doesn’t have a sense that she will rush to inform on her to other creatures, and if they never ask anyone anything, no matter the risks, they are never going to get anywhere. “Not born yet.”

That, at last, catches the older witch’s full attention. She almost chokes on her chicken, and washes it down hastily with malmsey. A considering, excited gleam appears in her eye. “Ah, Lady Clairmont. Ye are a timewalker, are ye no? Traveled here from another year?”

It’s so much of a relief to have someone immediately understand that she’s not from around now that Lucy almost rushes to confirm it. She manages to hold herself back from being too demonstrative, but she nods. “Yes.”

“When?” Lady Beaton looks her up and down. “From the future, I’d reckon?”

“Yes.” Lucy is hungry, and wonders if she’s about to be offered anything to eat – or if it would be a wise idea to take it. “Amelie Wallis is my ancestress, but she’s not born until about thirty years from now, in Essex. We think Agnes may be able to contact her.”

“Agnes does have some skill with timewalking, aye,” Lady Beaton allows. “Ne’er managed to work it herself, but she oft receives visits from those passing through from other eras. Ye would not be the first to seek her out for such services. Ye said ye sent your nephew?”

“Yes. Well, my husband’s nephew, but now mine.”

“Your husband.” It is clear that Lady Beaton was waiting to reach this topic. “Lord Clairmont. Is he no a vampire?”

Lucy can’t exactly deny this. “He – is, my lady, yes. But we know and trust each other, and our minds are one in all things.”

“Vampires are naught but trouble,” Lady Beaton says dismissively (and not inaccurately). “Ye will come to no good end with that one. If ye insist, I can send a message to Agnes to be on the lookout for your nephew, but I would need to ken the boy’s name.”

Lucy hesitates. This is a powerful thing to give to a witch, especially one who doesn’t think much of vampires, and when they’re so determined not to get Christian into any extra trouble. “Could you just not tell her to await a visitation?”

Lady Beaton gives her a slant-eyed smile, catching the reluctance. “Ye needna think I’ll order the lad chopped up and stewed,” she says. “But it does a body good to be wary.”

Lucy can’t deny this, especially since Agnes is about to be accused and arrested later this year. Feeling a sudden pang of fear that Gabriel would in fact dismember her if he knew she had given this up, she says, “Christian de Clermont.”

Lady Beaton considers that, then gives a short nod. “Aye, then, I’ll make that known, and Agnes can do as she will. What else was it ye wished to ask me?”

“If a witch timewalks into the past,” Lucy says, “and brings items from her original time – magical items, that is – would they change? If it was traveling back to before they were created, would they start to disappear?”

“It depends.” Lady Beaton looks at her shrewdly. “What items precisely d’ye mean?”

Hoping that this is likewise not a mistake, Lucy fishes in her sleeve for the blank Ashmole page – after all, it looks like a piece of scrap parchment, it isn’t immediately incriminating. She spreads it out on the table. “This. When we left – my year, it was a part of a manuscript, it had writing on it. This morning, I saw that the writing had disappeared. Another page that we brought, an illustration, is beginning to vanish as well.”

“That would take rare strong magic.” Lady Beaton touches the parchment. Her fingers flick with a small, sparking spell, as if she’s trying to boot a dead car battery, but nothing happens. “Or otherwise the magic is being undone, unraveled, attacked by some outside force. Have ye met other witches besides myself, Lady Clairmont?”

“No. Or at least nobody that I know of.” Lucy racks her brains to think if anyone could have gotten to the parchment, but after that scare back at the inn, when they discovered someone had been pawing through their things, Flynn has kept them with him, or close by. Or was that the crucial breach? Did person or person(s) unknown get to the pages and lay some kind of undetectable enchantment? Is the information being siphoned off this page to a copy elsewhere, so their unknown enemy has the benefit of it and not them? There are all sorts of possibilities. None of them seem like a good thing.

“Hmm. Well. I’d need to look at this more, see what happened.” Lady Beaton lays a casual hand on the scrap. “Perhaps ye would consent to leave it with me?”

Lucy doesn’t imagine that Flynn would think very much of letting an unknown witch, the leader of the London coven, have unsupervised access to one of their precious Ashmole fragments, blank or not. “I’m sorry, not just now.”

Lady Beaton gives her one of those looks again, clearly aware that they don’t fully trust each other. Then she says abruptly, “Are ye of a mind at all to be taught, Lady Clairmont? Ye are a strong witch, if ye can timewalk, but your magic is… unformed, raw, amateur. How is it that ye come to be fully grown, and yet so little in command of it?”

“My parents…” Lucy looks down at the table. “My parents spellbound me, when I was a child. I only recently had it removed.”

“Spellbound?” Lady Beaton echoes. “That is a cruel thing to do to a child, especially one of your talents. It’s ordinarily a punishment for the fearful and the dangerous and the insane, those who canna be trusted with their powers, rather than to imprison an innocent babe inside herself. Why would your own kindred do such a thing to you?”

“I don’t know.” Lucy’s voice catches. “I still haven’t figured out what they wanted with me, or – or what I’m working on.”

Lady Beaton eyes her thoughtfully, and not without sympathy. “I could teach ye,” she says again. “Ye’ve a fine amount of good clay to be molded, Lady Clairmont, and I’ve enough leisure these days, it’s time I found an occupation again. What do ye say?”

It’s clear that this offer is extended at least partly because she finds Lucy intriguing, useful, and possibly dangerous, and this is a convenient way to keep an eye on her and discover the extent of her abilities. Even so, Lucy isn’t sure that she should turn it down. It’s true that she does need help refining her powers – she has managed several large-scale feats, not least getting herself and Flynn to 1590, but she doesn’t know to get them back, or everything else that a witch properly accustomed to her magic would know. And besides, if Lady Beaton was keeping an eye on her, she could also keep an eye on Lady Beaton. “It is a gracious offer,” she says. “Perhaps we could come to an accommodation.”

“Wise.” Lady Beaton reaches for the sideboard, tinkles a silver bell, and one of her footmen appears. “Dinner for Lady Clairmont,” she orders. “Do ye drink red or white?”

Lucy does not want any more wine, ever, but accepts white to be polite, and hence finds herself eating after all. Once they finish, Lady Beaton shows her to a study and workroom lined with books, and it seems that lessons are about to start on the spot. Lucy feels a bit like Harry on his first day at Hogwarts, and wonders how much of this is still applicable to how modern witches learn – there are a lot of star charts and esoteric diagrams and reliance on the theory of the humors and other considerably outdated wisdom. But at least it’s interesting, and the afternoon rushes past. It’s May, so when it starts getting dark, that means it’s past nine o’clock PM, the curfew will be calling, and Flynn must be frantic. “Oh no,” Lucy says. “Oh no, I need to get home. I’m so sorry, I completely lost track of time.”

She heads out to Meg and Karl, who have been stuck here for hours and were probably wondering if she vanished off the face of the earth, apologizes profusely, and begs Lady Beaton’s pardons. The older witch is very keen about inviting her to return the next day, and Lucy promises that she’ll be back soon. Then she pulls on her cloak, and steps outside.

It’s dark enough that Karl improvises a torch, and as they make their way among the narrow, winding lanes, Lucy has the unsettling sensation that something is following them. Not someone; the cadence of the footsteps doesn’t sound right, not exactly human. It seems to switch between the ground and the air, as if the thing can both fly and walk, and as they pass a shopkeeper closing up for the night, it swoops overhead with a rustling sound. It’s large enough to cast a shadow, and Meg looks up, frowning. “What was that?”

“We should keep going,” Karl says. “Faster, if you don’t mind.”

They all pick up the pace, glancing over their shoulders, as the skittering, rustling sound gets louder. They take a wrong turn among the identical alleys, fetch up against a dead end heaped with sacks and wagon wheels, and have to double back. Karl knows these streets, it seems unlike him to get lost, but a fine fog is rising up from nowhere, making the torch sputter, gutter, and then go out. Lucy raises her hand, intending to conjure witchfire both for illumination and protection – they are not alone, there is something here, near at hand and hungry, she can feel it – and then she sees the cloaked figure, the one that she spotted outside the inn and then at the Pembrokes’ party the other night. It is charging full-speed toward them but making not a single sound, horribly light and lithe and weightless, and under the hood, she can see an opening maw of twisting, gnarled teeth.

All three of them let out undignified screams and run for it. Lucy and Meg grabs hands, trying to avoid being separated, while Karl whacks madly at the nightmarish ghoul with his stick. But none of the blows seem to land, or if they do, they don’t deter it. They run faster, Karl shouting and swearing as the figure clamps onto his shoulders like a huge eagle and seems about to bite him, but Lucy manages to get the witchfire working and scrapes it off with a well-aimed missile. It’s clear from the look on Karl’s face that he wasn’t expecting her not to roast him instead, but there is no time for explicit gratitude. He stumbles up toward the women, Lucy hits the monster with another fireball, and it shrieks, falling back. There’s a rush of smoke, a smell like carrion or rotting corpses, and then it’s gone.

Gagging, shaken, and badly startled, Lucy, Meg, and Karl manage to make it the rest of the way back to the Old Lodge without another attack. When they arrive, they find the place alive with shouting and banging, the household armed with lanterns and truncheons, clearly about to go in search of them. A white-faced Flynn jostles his way to the front of the crowd, sees them, sees Lucy, and doesn’t need to ask if something happened. He seizes her in both arms, lifting her off her feet, crushing her against him. “Jesus. Jesus! What – where – ”

Lucy wants to tell him that it’s a long story, and that she was just chased home by some kind of terrifying bird-monster-thing, but she is at a loss for words, and clings to him instead. Flynn kisses her in frantic relief, clearly so terrified that Lucy feels some of her residual irritation with him dissipating. “I’m all right,” she manages, between more kisses. “I’m – Garcia, I’m all right. Really.”

“I’m sorry.” Flynn does not put her down. “I was late with Raleigh, I didn’t get home myself until half an hour ago. When I realized you still weren’t back – and I just – something was wrong, I felt it. What just – ”

“I’m all right,” Lucy says again, as he swings her over his chest bridal-style and clears a path. The household looks relieved that she isn’t dead, at any rate, and as he did last night, Flynn carries her upstairs and into their room. “I was – ”

She stops. It has, to say the least, been an eventful day, and she isn’t sure where to start. They stare at each other, her on the bed where Flynn has deposited her and him standing across from her, towering like a colossus. Then he turns to light the candles, as Lucy struggles to get out of her skirts and bodice. She can’t manage the corset, though, and this doesn’t feel like the moment to invite her maid into the marital bedchamber. “Garcia, can you – ”

He glances over his shoulder, and briefly hesitates. Then he comes over, climbs onto the bed behind her, and economically unlaces it, as she shrugs it off and lets out a relieved breath. Flynn remains where he is, head bent over hers, his hands on her waist; she’s afraid to move too much, in case he realizes it and suddenly pulls away. Then he says, “What was that thing?”

“I don’t know. But I think it was that thing I saw outside the inn, on that first Sunday here. That hooded figure, I saw it the other night when we were leaving the Pembrokes’ ball. It attacked us.”

Flynn’s hands have been making absent circles on her hips, but at that, they go still. There’s a pause. Then he says, “Where were you out so late?”

“I went to visit Lady Beaton.” Lucy wonders if this name will be familiar; she assumes it is. “Gabriel told me about her. I had questions about what happened to the Ashmole fragment – and then Jessica, I mean Jessica’s book, there was a section about Corvinus, I think she may have ended up there, and then – ”

“What?” Flynn’s hands tighten abruptly. “What are you talking about?”

Lucy turns around to face him and is obliged to recount the day’s multiple troubling developments from the start. It takes a while, and Flynn’s brows draw into a darker and darker frown, but he doesn’t interrupt. Then he says, “The papers are disappearing? And you took them to an unfamiliar witch who might have all kinds of intentions about – ”

“You know.” Lucy lifts her eyes pointedly to his face. “If you weren’t already gone when I woke up this morning, and weren’t spending all day and evening with Walter Raleigh, maybe  I would have been able to tell you.”

Flynn flinches. He can’t exactly deny that. “You know that we have to – ”

“Yes, I know we have to figure out what the School of Night has to do with this. That isn’t the problem, Garcia. You know it’s not. Please.” Lucy lifts her hands, putting them on his shoulders. He’s in one of those billowy white shirts that look particularly good on handsome men, and his muscles are tense where she touches him. “I’m not going to be angry, I’m not going to blame you, I promise. But you need to talk to me.”

He remains hunched, defensive, for another moment, until his chest rattles with a sigh. “You’re right,” he says. “I just – my last relationship was two hundred and fifty years ago, and it destroyed my entire family. Every time I see Gabriel, every time I see Christian, the way they used to be, the way we used to be, I’m reminded of that. And before that, there was only that affair with Eleanor, all the way back until when my human wife was murdered. I am not good at this. I’m too used to being alone. I don’t even talk to my own daughter, you’ve seen for yourself what a farce of a relationship we have. It’s just. . . not my instinct to share with anyone, even if I love them. I’m – I’m sorry, moja ljubav. Truly.”

Since that’s the first time he’s called her that since they arrived in London, Lucy looks up at him hopefully, and he lowers his head, eyes weary and sad and gentle, and kisses her. She kisses him back, hands in his tousled hair, and when they pull back, she says, “I know. I know, Garcia. Like I said, I’m not angry. I’m just. . . hurt.”

“I didn’t mean that. I never did.” He brushes his mouth over her nose, the side of her cheek, her ear, soft, worshipful little ghost-kisses. “You’re brave, you’re the bravest person I’ve ever met, and I’m so proud of everything you’re doing. Earlier, when I – I just knew something was wrong, you were in danger, and I thought – I thought – ”

Lucy cuts him off with another kiss, and his hands grip her shoulders, almost engulfing them, pulling her convulsively closer. She ends up in his lap, the two of them with their arms draped over each other, and her heart trembles a little at how much she wants, she needs, she adores this tall, oblivious, awkward, stubborn, emotionally incompetent, eternally devoted idiot. She leans forward, and they nuzzle noses, then kiss again. She tugs on him, trying to urge him to push her down, but he stops, frowning. “The alchemical wedding page. You said it was fading out. That it used to have our faces and names, but now it doesn’t.”

“Yes,” Lucy says, laughing a little in fond exasperation that he’s thinking about this, even when he was supposed to be kissing her. “I don’t know what it means, but – ”

“So it can be changed,” Flynn says, as if piecing through a difficult arithmetic problem. “It wasn’t destined to be us all along. It could have been someone else. It could still be someone else. It’s not some immutable witch prophecy.”

“No.” Lucy hadn’t thought of it like that. Given how leery he has been about the possibility of this exact thing, she wonders if this might qualify as an unexpected bright side. “So we’re not trapped by it. If it becomes that again, it’s because we chose it to be that way.”

Flynn doesn’t answer, but his shoulders rattle again with a massive sigh of relief. He then proceeds to kiss her with considerable gusto, and they end up with him on his back and Lucy on top of him, as she nibbles at his collarbone through the open neck of his shirt. She doesn’t want to bite him too hard, since that set off his freak-out last time, but it seems to bring it to mind anyway. Once more, he stops, because only Garcia Flynn de Clermont can comprehensively overthink making out with the woman he loves. “Lucy, I don’t – ”

“You don’t want this, or you don’t something else?” Lucy is breathless, flushed, her hair tumbling in her eyes, and as she is only in her chemise and petticoat, it would not be difficult to remove the rest of it. But after all the other false starts in this direction, she would prefer to be clear. “Is this about what happened that last night, when you surprised me?”

“That, and. . .” Flynn swallows hard, his hand stroking over her hip. “When vampires mate, when it’s more than just dating, when it becomes permanent, it. . . there’s a change. It’s more than an emotional state, it. . . attunes me to you differently. It alters something in my blood, in my brain. In some ways, it can be like after a vampire is first turned. There’s a. . . hunger.”

“Hunger for what?”

“For whatever pleasure can be found.” Flynn rolls over, half on top of her, with his weight braced on his elbows. “An intense need to feed and to – well, to fuck. We’ve only ever mated with other vampires as long as anyone can remember, and as I said, there is not much reliable evidence, if any, of what happens when we mate with other creatures. I’m just not sure it’s a good state for me, or us, to be in.”

“Does it just happen with sex?” That seems a little wrong to Lucy, but she’s not up to speed on creature idiosyncrasies. “What – what happened with Matej?”

She doesn’t want to hit him with traumatic memories, but from what everyone has said about how much Flynn was devoted to his murdered lover, an eighteenth-century Prussian army captain, surely this question must have come up before. Flynn grimaces at the name, but he can clearly understand the point of asking. “It doesn’t just happen with sex, or otherwise Gabriel would have mated with most of recorded history. It’s more than that, it’s a separate thing. With Matej, we – we planned to do it after Cecilia had turned him into a vampire. Then it would have been the same as any other.”

“So if it’s not a result of sex directly,” Lucy says, “couldn’t we just – ”

“You’re different.” Flynn’s hand strokes down her back, coming to rest on her ass. “Something strange happens when we’ve been together as much as we have, so I don’t know if it might be out of our control. I’ve never mated as a vampire, I don’t know what it could do to me. We don’t have time for me to be focused on nothing but you for – I don’t know how long, it could be up to a month before the effect subsides. You’re not a vampire, you can’t spend a month like that. And I want to make sure you only choose what you want, and that you can stop it. Vampire mating is permanent. You can have a civil or a religious marriage ceremony, if you want, but it doesn’t matter. You’re bound to the other, you’re spouses and partners in supernatural law, and the only way it usually ends is with death.”

Lucy takes a moment to consider that. “So,” she says wryly. “Vampires haven’t invented divorce?”

“You can separate, if you want,” Flynn says. “You can live apart. But generally, no. You don’t, you can’t take another mate if your previous one is living. You know we’re a bunch of archaic old bastards. Just look at the Covenant. There’s no way our laws are current with the times. And I just – I’m afraid that this – that you – ”

He stops, staring into the distance with a troubled expression, even as his hand continues to trace circles on her back. As usual, he is not good enough with words to precisely articulate the nature of his fear, but Lucy can sense that he is afraid – this sweet, sweet, stupid man – of accidentally marrying her, spending a month determined to sex her brains out and/or feed on her, and having to live together for the rest of eternity. That is not to make light of it. It is obviously a huge life decision, Flynn has never experienced it and has no prerequisite to warn her about, they don’t have a month to run off and bang around the clock, and Lucy can’t keep up with him in terms of stamina. It might stop being fun if she was run ragged, drained dry, and just as when he was worried about the alchemical wedding, Flynn doesn’t want her to be trapped too quickly into anything she can’t get out of. They still have not known each other that long. Marriage would not even be on the table in an ordinary relationship, and Lucy does love him and wants very much to be together, but she can understand the need to take it carefully. But does that mean, due to whatever stupid ancient rules are governing this, that she can’t have sex without getting married? Fuck directly out of here with that Mormon-vampire nonsense, thank you very much. They are going to figure this out.

“Well,” Lucy says. “I’m glad you told me. What does mating involve, exactly?”

“It…” She can sense Flynn’s embarrassment. “Well, it involves drinking from a vein above the heart, and it is often accompanied by other kinds of, uh, penetration. Both partners do it, and then feed at the same time. I don’t actually know the full ritual, I was going to…” After a long pause, he says, “I was going to ask my father.”

“Ah.” Lucy shifts her position, curling up more comfortingly atop him. “Your parents – Asher and Maria – they were mated, I imagine?”

“Yes. And I saw the way my mother has been ever since he died. I just – with you, not – not after Matej. I can’t do that again. I can’t possibly.”

Lucy turns her head to kiss Flynn’s cheek. She wants to say that he’s not going to lose her, that she’s not going anywhere, that she won’t get killed, but she can’t promise anything she can’t be sure of. They are on the brink of a more-than-mortal war, if it has not already started, and there are plenty of mundane things that can kill her here in Tudor London. The question of whether she might become a vampire herself is another one for much later, and she wonders if any witch has ever been turned before. If interspecies fraternization is against the Covenant, that definitely would be. And while older vampires like Flynn and his family can live much like ordinary people, albeit with the periodic need to drink human blood to survive, by all accounts the life of a new fledgling is nothing to envy. You’re helpless as a baby, in blind thrall to the thirst and need to feed, vulnerable to the old superstitions like sunlight and holy water and crucifixes, barely in control of yourself. When Flynn was first turned, he went on a murder spree lasting several centuries. Lucy hopes that she won’t (although there are definitely some second reviewers, chairs of academic search committees, and anonymous commenters she might like to get a chomp of), but the idea of losing herself and her sanity possibly for years, torn from her old life and her work and her family… she loves Flynn. She does. But she doesn’t know if she’s ready to do that, just for him.

“If you don’t know the full ritual,” she says instead, “you can’t do it by accident, can you? I think the alchemical wedding, if that is what’s happening when we’re together, is something different. We’ll be careful. But can we experiment? I promise, you didn’t hurt me the last time. You just startled me. And I won’t bite without asking, the same way you don’t bite without asking me. I know I’m not a vampire, but still. Same rules for both of us.”

Flynn looks at her, his eyes soft with tenderness, as he cups her face and strokes her cheek with his thumb. “Moja ljubav,” he murmurs again, voice low and gravelly in his chest. “You are such a wonder to me, you know. I don’t know how, but you are.”

“What does that mean, what you call me?” Lucy lowers her mouth to the tip of his nose and kisses it. “Is that – Croatian?”

“Yes. My native language, though the version I originally learned was much older. There are many dialects, I will explain later. But it means my love.” He leans up to kiss her. “And you are, all right? You are.”

Lucy’s chest feels warm and white and flooded, full and fragile, as she nuzzles against him. They lie there in silence for a while, before they climb off, change properly, rearrange, and then crawl into bed again. They curl up tenderly in each other’s arms, and go to sleep.

Unfortunately, the next several days are packed enough for them to almost forget about this plan altogether (so, not that much different from any other stressed, busy people living in London and vainly trying to find time to be intimate). The episode of the disappearing Ashmole pages has taught Lucy a lesson about writing things down, so she pays another visit to the stationer’s and buys a blank book, whereupon she starts a journal. It feels good to vent to something, even if just by pen and paper, about the ongoing insanity that is her life. She also carefully records all their work and any leads they have, and as such, keeps the journal under the strictest lock and key. She is well aware that if Jessica’s book could be used as an unwanted guidebook by the future, so could this. She’ll have to destroy it when she’s done.

Meanwhile, Flynn wants to track down whatever creepy ghouls are lurking in the streets after dark, and Lucy ends up in the extremely delicate position of trying to balance competing social engagements with Queen Elizabeth and Lady Beaton. To say the least, one would be extremely unimpressed if they knew that she was consorting with the other, and Lucy constantly has to monitor what she says, just to be sure. She has a heart attack at the first invitation from the Queen, as she has crammed in only two books of the Satires, but when she arrives at Whitehall, Elizabeth mostly wants to play cards, drink port-wine, and complain about men, in which pursuit Lucy can wholeheartedly support her. It is slightly surreal to be sitting across from Elizabeth in her private drawing room, alone except for the ladies-in-waiting hovering nearby, embroidering and waiting to be called upon. After her initial frosty reception of Lucy, Elizabeth seems to have come around, and takes a wise-older-aunt tone, as if to counsel her in the wicked ways of the world. “Thou knowest, Lady Clairmont,” she says, sipping her wine and reaching for the ever-present tray of sweetmeats, “I am most lonely these days. Lord Leicester died two years ago, and Lord Essex – ” She sighs. “I should not allow him such liberties, yes. But at least he diverts me.”

Lucy utters a comforting hum, as she is careful with talking too much about historical people when she knows their ultimate fate. Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, is the late Leicester’s stepson and another of Elizabeth’s current favorites; he has mastered the art of lavishing the elderly Queen with praise and blandishment in exchange for favors, military commands, and other patronages. He has a reputation for not being respectful enough while she indulgently forgives him, and already flouted her orders in regard to the Spanish Armada, but his greatest scandal does not come until 1599 and his comprehensive failure as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. The fallout from that leads to his rebellion against the Crown and eventual execution for treason. He’s one of Lucy and Flynn’s neighbors on the Strand, in fact, but it’s a very strange feeling to sit here and know how this is going to end. Lucy suspects that Elizabeth has latched onto her because as she says, she is terribly, terribly lonely. At least Lucy is not a threat, and can be a companion without the constant political backbiting. Indeed, with Elizabeth’s warning that any further displeasure will have consequences, that means Lucy has to make her happy, and if that is the only sort of friendship a queen can have, so be it.

At least the proximity to Elizabeth means that Lucy can delicately press on the topic of Dr. Dee, but she has to be very careful with that. Elizabeth will lose her temper if she thinks Lucy is grasping too much above her station, and Lucy hopes that playing the educated-woman angle will help, since that is why Elizabeth wanted to talk with her. But when the subject of alchemy is raised, Elizabeth gives her a narrow look, seeing right through where this is going. “I would hope that thou art not making ill use of the forgiveness I hath most mercifully granted thee, Lady Clairmont,” she says coldly. “I see no need for thee or thy husband to have aught to do with Dr. Dee, and my mind has not changed.”

Lucy hastens to assure her that she is not, but since she is continuing her lessons with Lady Beaton, she can only imagine what Elizabeth would make of her learning magic from a former close associate of her executed archrival. That would definitely count as “ill use,” and Lucy lives in terror that one of the royal spies will see her coming and going from Beaton House. She’s not sure that Lady Beaton would agree to wait upon her instead, since the witch mistress of London does not do house calls, and besides, there’s the fact that they’re even closer to the palace at the Old Lodge. At least going into the city and to the shops at the Royal Exchange with Meg and Karl offers some veneer of plausible deniability, out and about on other errands, but Lucy knows she is playing with fire.

As for Flynn’s half of things, Marlowe’s jealousy is still holding them up at the School of Night, as is Sir Walter’s preoccupation with the lost colony of Roanoke (though he of course does not yet know that it is lost). At the end of the week, Flynn decides in exasperation that there is nothing to be done for it. “Are you willing to put on a show?” he asks. “Something to break the news to him that it is gone, and it’s time to focus on other things?”

Lucy, who has just gotten home from hours of work with Lady Beaton – they are trying to teach her how to conjure a familiar out of witchfire, a magical creature that can aid and protect her, and which would certainly be of use if the hooded figure returns – is already exhausted. But she has been bone-tired ever since they got here, and they do need to do something. “All right,” she sighs. “I’ll play the oracle tonight, if it’ll help.”

“Thank you.” Flynn smooths her hair out of her face and kisses her. “Hopefully it won’t take long. And besides, after all they’ve heard about you, I imagine they want to meet you.”

Lucy sighs, but gets Meg to help her look presentable for an evening out, as most of their evenings are. It is fashionable for the nobility to take supper away from home; you are not thought much of if you eat alone in your own dining room, and even if it is just going round the corner to your local ordinary, the point is to step out. The most socially elite eat at other grand houses almost every night of the week, in a constant carousel of rivalry, patronage, whispers passed, private arrangements made, political bargains struck, palms greased and bribes paid. Nobody thinks this is particularly corrupt or unusual, but just how things work, as England is in the full rush of early modernity and burgeoning globalization, but still relies on medieval structures of personal influence and preference. Flynn and Lucy have made the rounds at most of their immediate neighbors by now, and everyone is almost indecently fascinated with her. She is getting tired of being gaped at like an animal in the Royal Menagerie (which at this point is held in the Tower of London, and allows a lion and tiger to roam free on the grounds, periodically obliging reparations to be paid for inadvertent maulings). She would kill for one quiet night in with just Flynn.

Nonetheless, duty calls, and they make their way to Durham House, where they are received and shown inside. At their entrance, a handsome, dark-haired, elegantly bearded man in a ruff gets to his feet and bows to her, and Lucy realizes with a small shock that this is Walter Raleigh. “My lady,” he says, kissing her hand. “We have heard so many things about you. We are told you may be able to divine the fate of mine own colony of Roanoke in the New World, and the settlers therein?”

“Ah, yes, my lord, I hope to.” Lucy gives him a smile, hoping to look like a matron of mystic wisdom, as glasses of wine are passed and more introductions are made. Thomas Harriot also comes up to bow over her hand, and there, as he clearly cannot resist skulking wherever they might turn up and he is a member of the School, is Kit Marlowe. He strolls up to her with an air of apparent casualness, and before he can say anything, she smiles at him too. “Good evening, my lord. And how do you keep tonight?”

“Most well, my lady.” Marlowe inclines his head gracefully. As Raleigh and the others are setting up for whatever they intend to do, he pulls at her sleeve, stepping them back into a corner of the drawing room. In a lower voice, he murmurs, “And how does Lady Beaton keep, then? It is my understanding that you have been seeing quite a lot of her?”

An unpleasant shock goes through Lucy. She was so busy worrying about Elizabeth’s spies that she forgot about the possibility of Marlowe’s – indeed, in the present, there are plenty of theories that he himself was a spy for the English government, one of Walsingham’s secret agents, and worked in some classified capacity for them, despite his later disgrace and suspicion of atheism and treason. If that’s the case, including Marlowe in the School of Night seems risky, but Flynn is also a spy for Elizabeth and presumably has reconciled that activity with this one. Besides, their activities right now are no more outrageous or illegal than any of the other gentlemen’s societies that meet to discuss learned subjects, and Sir Walter is still high in favor at court – his controversial marriage to Bess Throckmorton won’t take place until next year, and he is certainly not planning any secret subversion against Elizabeth. But if Marlowe has gotten wind of the very dangerous information about Lucy’s association with Lady Beaton, when they were already hinting at blackmail of each other at the Pembrokes’ ball, this is not good. She tries not to say anything, give too much away. “Oh?”

“Indeed.” Marlowe glances up at her with a mild expression. “Surely the name is familiar? A Scottish lady, a close companion of the executed Queen of Scots, and furthermore, the mistress of the London coven? Not, of course, that I would hasten to place fellow creatures in unwarranted danger. As a daemon, I am not without sympathy for the persecutions in which the witches presently find themselves. But if I was to forget myself…”

“Gabriel.” Lucy was going to ask where he got this information, but she doesn’t need to. Whatever is going on with Gabriel and Marlowe’s jealousy, whoever it is ultimately directed at, they need to get it under control, or it could do irreparable damage. “Gabriel told you that he gave me her name, didn’t he? But you have no proof that I’ve continued to see her.”

“Do I not?” Marlowe shrugs. “Take that risk if you will, my lady. Yet I would personally think it unwise.”

Lucy curses to herself. The wise thing to do seems to be to cut off her lessons with Lady Beaton immediately, but she is learning a lot, and she can’t let Kit Marlowe intimidate her out of them. “I am a loyal subject to Queen Elizabeth. And any accusation you make about me, even if it was ultimately proven to be false, would rebound onto Garcia. You know that.”

Marlowe’s expression flickers. It’s clear that however sorely he wants her gone, it does not extend to wishing the damage onto Flynn, and he takes a moment to recollect himself. He doubtless is aware of the need to tread carefully, as she reminded him at the ball that there are other charges she could bring against him. She won’t, but he doesn’t need to know that. They stare at each other again, until Lucy says, “What do you want? I keep asking you this. You and Gabriel, are you – what? Plotting to remove me no matter what?”

“The lord de Clermont and I do share some personal interests on this,” Kit says. “But more than anything else, we want the truth of you, my lady, and what you intend with Garcia. You have been lying since you arrived in London, we all know it. Even tonight, you are here in a trusted advisory capacity to Sir Walter, when he has never met you before in his life. You are the most dangerous creature in London, Lady Clairmont, and you do not seem to realize it. It behooves you to take care.”

This sounds half like a threat and half like a warning, as if Marlowe, no matter all of his connivance against her, is at least trying to get to the bottom of it out of genuine concern for Flynn, and does not actually want to betray her to the Queen. Lucy racks her brains, trying to think what she can say to convince him, if she’s not just going to fuck it and tell him the whole “we came from the future” part. She can insist that she doesn’t want to hurt Garcia until her face turns blue, but she can’t blame Marlowe for not buying it without some solid proof. “Look,” she says. “This isn’t the time or the place for it, but can we meet somewhere else, later? I’ll talk more to you then, I promise. All right?”

“Very well.” Marlowe considers her, then dips his head in half a nod. “I shall find somewhere for it. I am, however, most intrigued to hear what you have to say tonight.”

So is she, Lucy thinks grimly, as preparations are concluded, she sits down with the intent attention of the School of Night upon her (George Chapman and Matthew Roydon are elsewhere, as the full number rarely meets together) and puts on what she can only hope is a convincing performance. Presumably Flynn has informed Sir Walter that she is a witch of great ability and her word can be trusted, so Lucy feigns to enter a trance, to travel by spirit and air across the sea to the New World, and to see the empty and abandoned colony, the houses pulled down, the word CROATOAN etched on the remains of the stockade, as John White will find when he arrives. Hopefully she will be vindicated when he gets back to England and tells Sir Walter the same story, though she and Flynn might be gone by then. It feels ridiculously fairground-charlatan, but at least they seem to be buying it. Everyone, that is, except for Kit. When Lucy opens her eyes, Raleigh and Harriot thank her emotionally for doing this service, but Marlowe only arches an elegant dark eyebrow as high as it will go. Catching her gaze over their heads, he mouths, Liar.

That, unfortunately, is true, even if not in the way he thinks. Sir Walter wants her to re-enter the trance, to see if any of the colonists can be found, so Lucy tells him about Virginia Dare, John White’s granddaughter, known as the first child of European descent to be born in the New World. She also remembers the theories that the surviving colonists ran away to Hatteras Island to the south and were taken in by the local tribe of Native Americans, so she says that some of them may still be alive, but scattered, hidden. She performs small, unobtrusive spells as she does this, so Marlowe, who can sense the presence of real magic, will hopefully be more inclined to believe that it was not completely faked. When it is finally finished and they can think of no more questions to ask her, Flynn says to Sir Walter, “So might we now discuss what I have been enquiring about, my lord? The manuscript?”

“Aye, you have been the most tenacious about that.” Raleigh still looks distracted by the news of his colony being completely gone, but rubs his face and attempts to focus. “You think it is an alchemical text possibly composed by Dr. Dee, not so? What was the title?”

Lucy and Flynn exchange an awkward look. They, after all, know it only as “Ashmole 782,” and since Elias Ashmole won’t be born for another twenty-seven years, not making his bequest to the Bodleian for another hundred and two, they can’t exactly ask Raleigh to look for it under that name. “I am not sure,” Flynn admits. “But in some circles, it is rumored to be called the Book of Life.”

Both of Marlowe’s eyebrows go up at that, and Lucy is quite sure that the name means something to him, even if he gazes back at her with an expression of studious blankness when she sharply turns her head. Nobody else notices, and Raleigh considers. “Very well. I will raise the subject when I call upon Her Majesty tomorrow.”

“Carefully,” Flynn cautions. “Do not bring our names into it. She seemed... less than enamored with the idea of our having anything to do with Dee.”

“He has brought some ill whispers upon himself with his sojourn to Bohemia, to be sure.” Sir Walter takes a bracing gulp of wine. “Though the emperor is known as a patron of oddities and of the mystic arts, so I doubt not that Dee found a most hospitable home among Rudolf’s collections. I shall tell you what can be learned, though.”

Flynn and Lucy thank him, and finally take their leave and set off to return to the Old Lodge. No terrifying hooded figure pursues them this time, thankfully, though Flynn keeps looking edgily over his shoulder and holding Lucy’s arm tightly as if he expects it to try. When they get home and go upstairs to their bedchamber, Lucy blurts out, “Marlowe wants to talk to me, in private. He and Gabriel are – they’ve basically threatened to expose me to Elizabeth, tell her about my lessons with Lady Beaton, if I don’t tell them who I really am and where I’ve come from. I know that we can’t just drop the bomb that we’re from the future, but Garcia, I – what are we going to do?”

“Shhh.” Flynn pulls her onto his lap, kissing the side of her head. “Damn it, Gabriel really isn’t giving this up, is he? I don’t doubt that Marlowe has something to do with it as well, but Gabriel is the one driving it. I’ll think about this, moja ljubav. Hopefully Christian will be back with Agnes Sampson soon. You did say that Lady Beaton sent the message to her?”

“Yes.” Lucy rocks back and forth agitatedly on his knees. “Assuming everything went well, he should return to London in a few more days, shouldn’t he?”

“Assuming.” Flynn’s hand tightens on her arm, and they can feel the wordless, shared concern. “But we’ll just trust that it did.”

Lucy is not sure that either of them wants to contemplate the alternative, and they get into bed and curl up in each other’s arms, as they tend to sleep these days. The other downside of constantly being out late is that they are both exhausted when they get home, and the promised intimate experimentation keeps getting put off. Flynn has in fact gone down on her a few more times, and she has returned the favor, though she can tell that he’s still uncomfortable about accepting reciprocal intimacy and care. It is just easier for him to lavish his devotion on her, rather than believe he is worthy of hers, but at least, Lucy thinks, they are talking about this, negotiating, making an effort, and she doesn’t feel so bitterly alone as she did for the first week here. But May is going by quickly, and it has taken them this long just to get their oxen pulling in the right direction. Only five more months, and their progress to date has not been outstanding. You have to hope it goes faster now, but still.

Lucy falls asleep and has odd dreams, and as is usually the case, Flynn is gone when she wakes up. It is Saturday, and she is praying to have an actual weekend for once, without the need to visit the Queen at Whitehall or Lady Beaton in the city or any of the countless roulette of social invitations from the peers. Lucy is too much of an introvert to live this way long-term; she needs her alone time or she’s going to go insane. She lies with her eyes closed, wondering if it is possible to achieve symbiotic unity with the mattress, and almost screams with frustration when there’s a knock on the door. “My lady?”

It’s Parry. Lucy swears. “What?”

“There is a – a visitor. My lord is away, so if you – ?”

By the steward’s tone, she can tell that it’s important, though if it was Gabriel, he probably would have just burst right in here without giving a fuck. “Is it Christian?”

“No, my lady. If you would – ”

Son of a bitch. Yet again, a lie-in is not in the cards. Lucy almost doesn’t care if it’s scandalously improper to receive a morning caller in her nightgown, and gets up, wraps herself in a dressing gown, and plods downstairs in an extremely grumpy mood. It’s still early for calling hours, and while it’s not as much as a production as it is with the Victorians, there are established patterns and protocols to follow. So who has turned up and is so important that Parry thinks she has to receive them immediately, or –

Lucy reaches the foot of the stairs, and sees the visitor waiting in the front hall. Something instinctively makes her catch her breath, although she can’t say why. The newcomer is tall, with close-trimmed dark curls that glint red in the sunlight, and his face has the unearthly, sculpted, ageless beauty that means he’s a vampire. His expression is grave and courteous, his eyes a surprising light grey in his olive complexion, and he is dressed in traveling clothes that nonetheless bespeak considerable wealth. He lifts his gaze to her and says in English, with an accent she can’t place, “You must be Lady Clairmont?”

“Yes?” Lucy pulls her dressing gown more tightly. Is this another of the vampire rulers of London, someone sent from Father Andrew Hubbard, or perhaps Hubbard himself? Gabriel said that he was a former Calvinist priest, however, and this one doesn’t look like it. “What exactly are you doing here? This is my husband’s house, I don’t think you should just walk in while he’s away and – ”

The man smiles, as if she has said something amusing. He has a towering gravity, a physical effect on the air, that she has only ever encountered in Gabriel, but times several. He does not seem to move fast, but nonetheless in the blink of an eye, he is in front of her. “My apologies,” he says, in a tone that is no apology at all. “My son must not have mentioned me. I have the honor to be, my lady, as master of this house and of this family, Lord Asher de Clermont.”

Chapter Text

The name of the tavern that Flynn has been given is in Clerkenwell, a notorious vice district that lies outside the city walls and is less subject to the city laws. This London is like that: extremely expensive parts of town in the modern day, such as Hyde Park Corner, are presently undeveloped pastureland or rough tenements where most people don’t go after dark, the deprived council estates of the Elizabethan era. Clerkenwell used to be the English headquarters of the Knights Hospitaller, until their wealthy priory was disestablished in the Dissolution of the Monasteries, and Flynn wonders if some of it has been borrowed by the Knights of Lazarus instead. Still, the sight is a wake-up call, after spending the last several weeks in the affluent embrace of the nobility. Ramshackle pot-shops, dice-dens, winesinks, gardens, taverns, ordinaries, and many, many brothels cram the narrow streets, beggars sit with sticks and bowls, packs of dirty children run wild, johns sleeping off last night’s ale snore in gutters, and all sorts of things are being poured out of upper-story windows. Flynn has managed to avoid being doused, but that might only be down to vampiric reflexes. It’s a damn dunking booth. It also reeks.

Muttering to himself, he pulls his cloak hood more tightly and wonders what on earth his brother is doing here. It’s a far cry from the lap of luxury he expected Gabriel to be lounging in – just because he hasn’t been able to stay with them in the house doesn’t mean that he needs to be picking through the dust for scraps. He has plenty of money to hire better accommodations, and Mary Sidney at least has several ancillary properties in which she could stash him. When you sleep with as many rich people as Gabriel does, you have options. But if he’s actually here in some sleazy, wretched stew – what the fuck, Flynn thinks, this isn’t like him, not his vain, fashion-obsessed, effortlessly beautiful brother. Gabriel is far too good for any of this. Jesus, has someone kidnapped him too?

He reaches the swinging sign of one of the brothels, steels himself, and pushes inside. The taproom is low and dark, and a few of the girls are sweeping and tidying from last night. They look surprised to see Flynn, as most customers don’t arrive until later, but before they can ask if he wants the breakfast special, he holds up a hand. “I was told the French lord was here. Hast thou seen him?”

“And what’s it to you?” The nearest girl leaves off her sweeping and eyes him challengingly. Most brothels are sensitive to the possibility of aggrieved rivals of whatever sort charging in and dragging clients out by their heels, but a place like this has never met a secret it couldn’t sell, rather than a high-class establishment dedicated to preserving anonymity. Is Gabriel meeting Marlowe here? If someone sees the two of them together –

“I am his brother,” Flynn says shortly. “And if, as I expect, he hasn’t yet paid his bill, permit me to do so, unless thou wouldst claim he has?”

Indeed, Gabriel is unsurprisingly arrears on his tab, and Flynn pulls a golden angel out of his cloak and allows the girls to see it, at which point they get considerably more cooperative. He leaves it as a down payment, though it would probably cover a whole week here, and he tosses a few extra shillings for their trouble, which induce them to inform him that the pretty French lord is in fact upstairs, room at the end of the hall. If he is here to chastise him, they hope he will have the good decency to do it outside.

Flynn assures them that he’s not intending to make a mess (here, at least) and takes the narrow stairs two or three at a time. A topless whore peers at him, the smell of sex and sweat and unwashed linen and old wine is strong enough that he tries to breathe through his mouth, and he reaches the room at the end, bangs on the door – and then, when it isn’t answered, ducks through.

Inside, clothes of several descriptions are scattered on the floor, and Flynn braces himself for how many extra witnesses he is going to have to get rid of first. However, as he glances at the bed, eyes screwed up just in case, he only sees two figures. By the looks of the tousled covers, there was a third party, likely one of the girls of the establishment, as two men sharing a whore does not incur any suspicion and would not raise any questions about sodomy (which would be allowed, perhaps, but only after a payment of a stiff bribe to ensure silence). But whores rarely sleep in bed overnight with clients, and as of now, Gabriel’s only companion is indeed none other than Kit bloody Marlowe. They’re both shirtless, the covers wound around their waists, Gabriel’s arm draped over Marlowe’s bare back and a few fresh marks on Marlowe’s throat to make clear that Gabriel was having several sorts of enjoyment from him. Something inexplicable twists in Flynn’s gut, but he hasn’t actually come here to have a spectacle of their debauchery. It’s tempting to just throw a bucket of cold water on them, if one was to hand, but instead he raises his voice. “HEY.”

Gabriel stirs, then flashes upright, as the presence of an unexpected intruder at a compromising position is not one to be ignored. But before he can make a proper move to the rapier left on the chair with the rest of his clothes, he realizes that it’s Flynn, and sinks back against the grimy pillows. “God’s bones,” he says, almost conversationally. “How in hellfire did you get here, darling?”

“What are you doing here?” Flynn waves a hand at the scene, the half-full wine goblets, the mess, the reek of hard fucking. “Jesus, Gabriel, it’s filthy!”

“Yes, well.” Gabriel puts a hand on Marlowe’s head as Kit also stirs at the sound of their voices. “You seemed to have closed up the shop at our own house, hadn’t you? Had to find other arrangements.”

He isn’t slurring, but he is pronouncing the words with just enough exaggerated care to make Flynn realize that he’s still rather drunk. Not in the ordinary way, since alcohol doesn’t affect vampires if they just drink it straight, but it appears that Marlowe was more than taking care of drinking it first, and Gabriel then fed on him. In that way, vampires can acquire the vicarious sensation of it, and Gabriel’s eyes are bloodshot, his hair tousled, until Flynn stares at him with real concern. Gabriel’s devil-may-care, over-the-top, nymphomaniac antics are one thing, but he’s used to that charming mess. This is just mess.

“That doesn’t mean you had to be here.” Flynn wonders if he should go to the bed and drag them out, but he doesn’t feel quite prepared to do that. “Does Christian know you’re – ”

“I don’t believe he does, no,” Gabriel spits, venomous as a cobra. “He’s not in London just the moment, as you will have noticed. Why exactly, darling, did you send him on some secret mission to Scotland behind my back? You still have not answered that question, along with any of my other ones. So if you’re actually here thinking that you can shame me, when you’re the one who took my son away from me, as well as whatever’s become of you, and you and me, after you dragged that witch in – ”

Flynn’s heart contracts into a freezing, icy fist. It’s true, of course it’s true, and this Gabriel has no idea how horribly so. Of course, he is the reason Gabriel loses his son and their whole relationship is destroyed, and the guilt momentarily locks his tongue to the roof of his mouth. Then he remembers why he’s come here, and shakes himself. “Lucy said that Kit spoke to her last night. That both of you were threatening to say something to the Queen, as regards what you think you believe about her association with Lady Mary Beaton.”

“Kit, darling.” Gabriel prods him. “My dearest brother would like to accuse you too. Sit up.”

Marlowe raises his tousled head, scanning Flynn up and down. It’s hard to say if he is ashamed or angry or guilty or anything else, upon Flynn catching him in bed with his brother. Then he says, “I did say no such thing. Merely that your sudden wife is now someone that even Sir Walter can place his faith and counsel in, never having seen or known her before? That mummery last night about the Roanoke colony was more of a stage drama than anything I have ever writ myself, Garcia. She is a liar and deceiver and God knows only – ”

“She is not,” Flynn snaps. “Don’t you dare do anything to her – you lay a single finger on her, or say a word to anyone, and I’ll – ”

Gabriel stares at him with an expression of hurt too naked to disguise, stripped of any flamboyance or pretense or airy flirtation. “So you love her,” he says, throwing each word with the unerring precision of a dagger. “It’s not what you’ve been trying to claim, whatever fable you fed to Her Majesty about doing a favor for an English lady conveniently in peril in France. You love this witch, you married her, you’ve been lying to us all, you’ve been lying to me, you’ve put our entire family in danger, and now – ”

“I’m trying to save our family!” Flynn bellows, even as he remembers that if he is too loud, the whores will come up here, and he does not want them to see Gabriel and Kit like this. There are many profitable opportunities to blackmail a wealthy lord with unorthodox sexual tastes, and Kit only has three more years to live anyway, they don’t need to go cutting that even shorter. “I’m trying to save you, and since that seems hard enough – ”

“Oh, hard enough, does it?” Gabriel throws the covers back and gets to his feet. He’s wearing a pair of unlaced breeches, at least, but he stalks across the floor, shirtless and majestic and barefoot, fangs bared, eyes black. He grabs Flynn by the collar and practically throws him against the wall, an effortless flick of his wrist – between the two of them, that extra five hundred years does make a difference, and Gabriel has always been stronger. “Of course, we would not want you to go to any effort saving me from whatever mad nonsense you have dreamed up with your witch whore, now would we? Unless you – ”

“Don’t you call Lucy a whore, especially when you’re the one in this reeking sty of – ”

Gabriel snarls at him, looking as if he is about to bite Flynn in the throat the way he did during their fight after Lucy was kidnapped from Sept-Tours, and that hits Flynn like an onrushing train. Jesus, he is blowing this, he is blowing this, arguably even worse than he did with Lucy. All he can see is the Gabriel he knows, the Gabriel who would be cold or indifferent or ferociously fighting back, not this Gabriel who is metaphorically bleeding all over the place, wounded and raw and betrayed and heartsick. In Flynn’s blind, dogged insistence that he is going to find a way to save Gabriel physically in the present, he is at very real risk of destroying this Gabriel here, now, and starting their estrangement all over again, almost two hundred years ahead of schedule. He does not remember in the least who they used to be. He has no idea how to treat Gabriel like he used to, the one who would have told him everything about Lucy the first time he asked, who indeed might have been with him when he met her, as they are so rarely anywhere else. He is losing this all over again. Him.

Flynn slowly raises his hands, and tilts his chin up to expose his throat, the equivalent of a dog rolling over on its back to submit to the alpha. “Hey,” he says, much less vehemently. “Easy, huh? Easy. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

Gabriel hisses at him again, as Flynn glances down and realizes that his feet are several inches off the floor. He reaches out and covers Gabriel’s hands with his own, holding firmly, easing their stone-frozen grip until Gabriel’s fingers belatedly uncurl. Flynn’s boots hit the dirty boards again with a thump, and he reaches out, taking Gabriel’s head in his hands, making his mad black eyes focus on him. “Hey. Hey, Gabriel, moje srce. It’s just me.”

Gabriel blinks, seems slowly to surface from the murderous reverie, and some of the whites return to his eyes. He stares back at Flynn as if not quite sure who he is, snaps his fangs out of sight, and turns wordlessly on his heel, back toward the bed. “You may go now.”

“I…” Flynn wrestles with it, one more time. There is absolutely no way to know if this is a good idea, telling Gabriel could comprehensively mess up the timelines and memories of their entire family both in past and present, and trying to justify any future that does not include Christian in it is going to be even worse. In some ways, Lucy could safely tell Lady Beaton because she will have no further effect on their lives, and as a witch, she can mentor Lucy in the magic she does not know and has not properly practiced. But Gabriel knowing could change everything – and yet. However insane it sounds, at least it’s better than the incoherent, unsatisfying half-truths they’ve tried to pawn off on him to increasingly worse effect. “Get dressed, all right? And come back to the house with me. I promise, I promise, I will explain it then.”

Gabriel eyes him loathingly. “What is the catch, darling?”

“Nothing.” Flynn blows out a breath, then glances at Kit. “You just – I know that Lucy asked to meet you. Since you and Gabriel are clearly such good friends, maybe he will pass it along later. In the meantime, you say nothing, you don’t utter a whisper about Lucy or Lady Beaton to anyone, or I swear to Christ, I will tell someone what I have seen here this morning.”

Kit blanches. He stares at Flynn as if he likewise doesn’t know him – after all, they are friends, colleagues at the School of Night, Flynn is apparently the object of Kit’s unrequited crush – and in that moment, Flynn instantly wishes he hadn’t said it. “Kit,” he starts. “Kit, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. That was too much, I didn’t – I just – I just can’t let you say anything.”

“Oh, that was clear enough.” Marlowe tosses the covers back and gets up, bare-ass naked, in search of his shirt. “Run off, the both of you, and do not trouble yourself. The smell of this place sickens me, but not so much as the pair of you cowardly French bastards.”

That might be a mild and slightly amusing insult in the modern day, but here, it is a serious oath that can get you challenged to a duel if you utter it too intemperately. The suggestion of illegitimacy undermines your entire family name and place in the world, the honor of your mother and the intelligence of your father, and it’s clear that Kit is (justifiably) feeling badly used by both of them by throwing it at a pair of vampires. Gabriel takes a step, as if to comfort him, but Kit flashes up a hand. “At least Garcia is honest about his intentions to turn me in if I should pose a threat,” he says. “Whereas you, my lord Gabriel, are in even more delusion than I. Have me hangit if thou wishes, but that solves nothing.”

“Kit, I didn’t – ” Flynn is remembering in force why he never talks to anyone, and why everyone is constantly mad at him. “Kit, I wouldn’t – ”

Marlowe ignores him, pulling up his breeches in icy silence and tucking in his shirt. Once he has found his shoes and cloak, he shoves roughly past Garcia and Gabriel and does not look back, and they watch him vanish down the stairs in leaden silence. Then Gabriel says, “If you’ve cost me Kit – ”

“I’ll make it up to him.” Flynn does not know how he’s going to do that, seeing as he appears to have comprehensively torched his friendship with the poet in less than a month, and no matter the threat that Marlowe has posed, that was beyond the pale. “I swear.”

“Another sacrifice for Lucy?” Gabriel regards him mockingly. “I do hope she’s worth all this, darling. How many bodies have you heaped on her altar by now?”

“It’s not just Lucy, it’s… everything.” Flynn rubs his face. “Just… come with me, all right?”

Gabriel looks as if, frankly, he still thinks that ripping Flynn’s throat out is the wisest course of action here, but after a very fraught moment, he makes a noncommittal sound, gathers up his own clothes, and gets dressed without another word. He stalks after Flynn down the stairs, thus to attract the lively attention of the girls in the common room; Flynn imagines that they were fighting over which of them got the extremely handsome, extremely wealthy French lordling as a client. Gabriel is apparently not too overwrought to blow a kiss to his adoring public, and Flynn growls under his breath, grabs his arm, and propels him out the door. “You already have how many liaisons? Do you really need to bed Clerkenwell whores now too?”

“One can never have too many entertainments, can they, darling?” Gabriel is still not totally sober, and his progress down the street is hence not proceeding in an entirely straight line. Flynn grabs his arm again to prevent him from staggering into a hay-cart, noting that Gabriel only appears to have done up one button of every three on his doublet. Christ, they will be lucky if they are not apprehended for public indecency on the spot. “You know me. I like to try everything that I can. What’s the point of living forever otherwise?”

In Flynn’s opinion, Gabriel could stand to try several fewer things, not least much of what he has been doing lately, but he doesn’t feel like this is the moment to spark another row, when they’ve barely avoided the last one. He manages to get them back through the city gates without being arrested for drunkenness and lechery, though he’s still steering Gabriel rather heavily by the time they make it back to the Strand. As they reach the Old Lodge, Flynn takes note of a kerfuffle in the courtyard, an unfamiliar horse tied at the post, and frowns, his anxiety jacking up once again. It would really be a terrible time for a summons from the Queen, or for that matter, anything else. Did Marlowe run straight off and inform to the Privy Council, in revenge for Flynn’s badly ill-judged remark this morning? Is Lucy all right?

He practically blasts through the gate, leaving Gabriel to shift for himself, and shoulders through the crowd, increasingly frantic. Did that horrible hooded thing return? Did Karl fail in his sacred duty as stick man? Nobody looks as if they’re dealing with the aftermath of an immediately apocalyptic event, but that doesn’t mean anything. Not unless –

“Good morrow, Garcia.”

The sound of the voice skids Flynn to a halt as wildly as a driver wrangling in a runaway coach and six, only barely stopped before hitting a tree and going up in dramatic calamity. He knows that voice, he knows it, he could never forget it, and yet he can’t understand how he’s hearing it now, here. Not until, in another stunning, half-mad moment, he does, and struggles to control his face, the feeling as if he has just been punched very hard in the gut. After all, his other self would – if not be entirely pleased about the timing of this apparition – not react as if he had heard a ghost, either. Even though, for this Flynn, he very much has.

Barely able to get his tongue around the word, as casually as he can, Flynn says, “Papa.”

“Indeed.” Asher de Clermont is a tall man, and always seems taller in comparison to the rest of the madding crowd, like a stream in spring flood racing around an immovable boulder, the center of the world, the still point and the fulcrum upon which all else rests. He is wearing traveling clothes, that must be his horse, and he moves forward with measured, unhurried strides, pulling off his leather riding gloves and thrusting them through his belt. “I was wondering where you had gone. Your… wife said you were out.”

The inflection of that word, the deliberate pause before it, communicates most effectively that Asher has any number of questions that he expects to be satisfactorily answered, and would not have traveled to London from Sept-Tours unless he thought those answers were paramount. How did he hear about this? Did Gabriel write to him, complaining that Garcia had suddenly lost his mind and brought a strange witch into their lives, their house, his bed? Flynn is still completely at a loss now, for that matter. It is like the shock of seeing Christian, times several hundred. It’s his father, his father, the founder and grandmaster of the Knights of Lazarus, the patriarch who held their family together through hundreds of years, whose tortured, lifeless body, hanging in its chains in the subterranean bunker, is the enduring image of the utter defeat and sundering of that family. His mother’s scream rips through Flynn’s head anew, making his teeth rattle, even as he stares at an Asher who must have seen him only a few months ago, decidedly unmarried, and is awaiting the start of those explanations with eyebrow cocked. Flynn opens his mouth, gets nowhere at all, and shuts it.

“Ah, and Gabriel,” Asher says, glancing past him to the gate, where Gabriel has leaned against the wall as if he meant to do that all along. “Where have you been?”

“Papa.” Gabriel gives something halfway between a wave and a sarcastic salute. He, of course, is suffering no existential crises, aside from a pressing need to conceal his night of debauchery from his father and not look quite as drunk as he is. “How lovely to see you.”

Asher raises both eyebrows at his eldest son, clearly sensing that his task here is rather more difficult than he originally anticipated. Then he says, “Solar, both of you. Now.”

With that, he turns on his heel, cloak flaring out behind him, and walks inside, as Gabriel and Flynn exchange looks as if to draw straws for who must follow him first. Neither of them seem eager for the honor, and since Gabriel clearly needs a great deal of help in any number of ways, Flynn grabs his arm once again and levers him across the muddy courtyard, inside, and up the stairs after the imperious silhouette of their father. He pushes the door open into the lord’s solar, striped with filmy sunlight, and glances warily at Asher, who is calmly pouring himself a cup of hippocras. Without looking up, their father says again, “In.”

Gabriel and Flynn shuffle guiltily over the threshold like a pair of schoolboys in for a caning, shut the door, and then remain where they are. They really are acting the most suspicious they possibly could, Flynn thinks, but he still can’t recover from the shock and Gabriel is probably using all of his remaining brainpower to stand up straight. They fold their hands behind their backs, as both of them, full-grown men and accomplished soldiers with long careers, Gabriel with a son of his own, turn into boys again around their father. Asher is already over two and a half millennia old; when he dies in 1944, he’s seen over three thousand years of life. As Flynn told Lucy back in Woodstock, Asher is from ancient Greece, was already nine hundred when he marched in Alexander the Great’s army, and while he can be generous and loving, still has a tendency to run his home and family in the same way. Gabriel, Garcia, and William (as he has not yet taken the name Wyatt in the nineteenth-century American West) are Asher’s sons, but they are also Knights of Lazarus, fellow guardians of creature peace and order, soldiers who are part of the great scheme of politics and power, and he never allows them to forget that duty. He usually stays in Sept-Tours when his services are not needed elsewhere, but for him to be here in person, he must feel that the situation warrants personal intervention. Flynn keeps staring at him. Maria screams in his head again.

“Well,” Asher says at last, having kept them hanging for the exquisitely suitable amount of time and slowly turning to face them, an elder god opening its eyes in fire or stone or carven tree. He speaks Old French, the closest thing to a native language that all the de Clermonts share. “Which of you would like to explain what it is you have been doing?”

Gabriel and Flynn share the “no, you first” look common to siblings in trouble from the beginning of time, each of them hoping that their father will pick the other to fess up instead. Gabriel clears his throat. “Papa, it is his fault. I told you in my letter, he – ”

“Yes, the witch you appear to have intemperately married, without a word to any of us.” Asher’s deep-set grey eyes fix on Flynn. “That would be the greatest purpose of my visit.”

Flynn shoots a you-tattletale look at Gabriel, who stares insolently back. They really are acting like brothers, albeit five-year-olds. But when Flynn himself cannot seem to come up with anything, Gabriel says, “He has had the temerity to bring that witch here, to the house. She is going about calling herself Lady Clairmont, she is wearing the ring of our family, and trust me, there are other whispers about what she might be – ”

“Silence.” Asher does not raise his voice, but it cuts as unmistakably as a whip. “I also have questions aplenty as to what you have been doing, Gabriel. You reek of piss and poor wine.”

Flynn thinks that it is charitable of their father not to mention the numerous other things that Gabriel also reeks of, but this is still quite a sight. There is no other man in the entire world who can pull rank on Gabriel de Clermont and have him not only respect it, but almost look cowed. Of the three de Clermont sons, Asher physically helped to turn only Gabriel, but he is just as fully Garcia and Wyatt’s father, since any blood children that a mated vampire turns automatically and legally become the children of their partner as well. Because their blood has been exchanged, intermingled, sealed as one, Maria’s sires are just as much Asher’s as if he had in fact done them himself, and he clearly is the least thing from impressed with their ongoing tomfoolery. When still neither of them say anything, he takes a deliberate sip of hippocras. Then he puts it down and says, “Who is this woman, Garcia?”

“She is…” Flynn fumbles for any sort of acceptable answer. “She is someone I met… somewhere else. You know that she’s a witch, we have traveled a long way to be here, and it’s difficult to explain, but I’m not the Garcia you think I am.”

Asher and Gabriel both stare at him, but Asher is too composed to show outright shock. “Your brother says that she wears a de Clermont family ring. Why did you give it to her?”

“I didn’t,” Flynn says. “The ring she’s wearing – Maman gave it to her. Not… now.”

There is an extremely startled pause. Then Asher says, “Your mother gave it to her? When Gabriel’s letter arrived at Sept-Tours, I can assure you, she had never heard of – ”

“Not this Maria,” Flynn says, a little recklessly. “Another.”

Something starts in Asher’s eyes, for half a second as if he might be following where this is going, but even for him, it sounds ridiculous. Gabriel, however, has finally hit his limit. He utters an exasperated scoff, throwing both hands in the air. “Ah, yes! Another outlandish fable we are supposed to believe, courtesy of this witch and her inexplicable ability to make us meekly fall in line! Maman would never give a family ring to some woman she had never met and who is nothing but lies and trouble and terror for our family! She has most plainly done a fine job on you, Garcia, if you are spouting this deranged babble and – ”

“It’s not a lie, damn it!” Flynn roars. “Just because you ran off to bear tales to Papa, because you and Kit Marlowe are planning to – I told you, make a single move on Lucy and I’ll – ”

“Look!” Gabriel points an accusing finger at Flynn. “Look at him! He is some mindless ghost, he’s not himself, he’s endangering our entire family and still defending her! I’ve tried everything, milder methods, a taste of honey, my particular charms, to cozen her and induce her to confess the truth of her foul designs to me, and yet. That I should tell her about Lady Beaton, well, that is to my misfortune, but it can still be remedied. I want her dead, Papa! I want the witch dead! I want her dead and out of our lives and away from this mad thrall she holds over Garcia, before she destroys all of us! I want her dead!”

All of them stare at him. Gabriel’s eyes are black, his fists clenched, his voice ringing through the solar, as he teeters on the brink of total explosion. Flynn feels as if he should do something, but he’s paralyzed. Gabriel can’t mean that, he can’t. He doesn’t – that’s not really – he thought Gabriel liked her, or at least to the point of flirting with her right beneath Flynn’s nose, but this – this total, unleashed hatred –

Asher takes two steps, puts one hand on Gabriel’s shoulder, and pushes him down into a chair, standing in front of him to prevent him from getting up again. “You,” he says, crisply and coldly, “are drunk on daemon, and no credit to any of us just the moment. You will comport yourself more decently, or hold your tongue. Am I clear?”

Gabriel glances up at his father, seems to sense that he’s not fucking around, and nods sullenly, his eyes still flicking sideways to Flynn. Lucy doesn’t have supernatural hearing, but with how much Gabriel was shouting, it would be no surprise if she did in fact hear that. Does she think the three of them are in here plotting how to do her in after all? Does she know who Asher is, and what he might have meant by coming here? An ugly silence reigns over the solar and the three de Clermonts, father and sons, until Asher turns to Flynn. “Do you have anything to say for yourself, to answer your brother’s charges?”

“I…” Flynn wrestles with it like Jacob and the angel, the manifest dangers that it could cause, the disruption to the timeline and their entire family and the present that they could return to. “I told you we came a long way to be here. I met her somewhere you – could not possibly have done so, and I – I’m not being bewitched. It’s not Lucy’s damn fault. I dragged her into this. Don’t blame her for what I’ve done, the dangerous crusade I’ve been on! She would not be here in London, or in this year, if not because of me and what I asked her to do. She decided to continue with it, because that is just how she is. She is the bravest and the best and the kindest and most selfless person I’ve ever known, and you don’t get to lash out at her. I’m telling you everything that I can, but what I’m holding back, it’s not because of some nefarious connivance on her part. If you’re angry at me, fine, I deserve it. What I said to Kit this morning was unforgivable, and I’ve forgotten, Gabriel, I’ve forgotten so much about us, how to be anything with you. That’s my fault. Blame me for it. Not Lucy. Never Lucy.”

Gabriel closes his eyes briefly as if he’s been stabbed, even as Asher is watching this passionate outburst with sharp-eyed attention. There is another deeply unpleasant silence. Then Asher says, “I do not, I admit, understand half of what you are saying, even as I am beginning to wonder. When you said that you were not the Garcia I thought, what precisely did you mean by that?”

“I…” Flynn rubs his face. “I don’t know if I can tell you.”

Asher and Gabriel glance at each other, exchanging some unspoken comment, though Flynn can’t tell if they’re suspecting the same thing, or even anything. They might be about to resume this, although God knows in what direction, when they’re interrupted by a knock on the door. “Excuse me? Is everything – ?”

It’s Lucy. Once more, despite the high risk of things going sideways, she has been brave enough to confront three old and powerful de Clermonts with their dander up, and Flynn really does not want her walking into this right now. He makes a move for the door, but in an instant, Asher is past him, opening it and looking down at Lucy. She is in her nightclothes, arms folded over her dressing gown, small and vulnerable, but she lifts her chin. “I heard shouting. Is everything – everyone all right?”

Gabriel lifts his shadowed head, making half a move as if to turn to her and apologize for what she might have heard particularly from him, but he doesn’t. Nobody seems to know immediately what to do or how to deal with her. Then Asher says, “My apologies. I am having a private discussion with my sons, and it briefly became out of hand. Your concern is appreciated, yet not of necessity. We shall return when it is over.”

“Wait – ” Lucy starts, catching Flynn’s eye. “Wait, I – ”

Too late. Asher shuts the door smartly in her face, as Flynn reminds himself that this is the de Clermonts’ house, even if he is the one who lives in it right now. Thus, Asher is the unchallenged master under its roof, and as the wife of a younger son, Lucy would be outranked if Maria was here, and if Gabriel ever got married (that seems the most unlikely thing of all). There is a very long pause. Then Asher says, “I think it wise to separate the pair of you for the nonce. Gabriel, you will return to Essex and the New Lodge until I bid you otherwise, and cool your heels away from further intrigues with Christopher Marlowe or any else. Where is my grandson?”

“Christian went to Scotland,” Flynn says. “I sent him there on an errand to find Agnes Sampson, the witch of Keith. He should be home soon.”

“Aye,” Gabriel says bitterly. “Something else he will not tell me about, though it bear upon my own son. Yet it seems that is what I must accustom myself to, from this Garcia who is not who we think. I will say he damned well is not!”

Flynn looks over at him, the bleak black anguish that hangs in the air around him, and reaches an awkward hand for him. “Gabriel – ”

“Please, do not.” Gabriel gets to his feet, cold and composed at least to outward appearances, though his hands are shaking as he straightens his doublet. “Whoever this Garcia is, I like him much less than my own, and I shall pray that that one is safe returned to us, and this broken imposter and his wife soon remove themselves. Papa, as you say, I shall away to Essex for a few days. But after that, I intend to return to London and continue my search for the truth of this, and I doubt you actually intend to prevent me from it. I am sorry to trouble you to come all the way from Sept-Tours, but I think you can agree, having seen for yourself, that the situation is grave. If my son does manage to return soon from this foolery you have sent him on, taking advantage of a sweet boy who only loves his unworthy uncle and wished to do well for him, be so good as to let me know. Good morrow, Papa.”

With that, and not a single glance back over his shoulder, Gabriel shakes away the last of his haze and strides out. That leaves Flynn and Asher, though Flynn is too busy staring, totally stricken, after his brother to even really register the fact that he is now alone with his not-dead father. At last, he sinks into the chair Gabriel has just vacated, feeling as if his knees have gone out. He says hoarsely, “Papa, I – I didn’t – I don’t know what to do.”

He shudders from head to heel as he says it, the way it scrapes his throat like broken glass. In some ways, the de Clermont family has not known what to do since Asher’s death, and it was only Asher himself that held them together, along with Maria, after 1762, and Flynn’s own unforgivable mistake. Insisting on his love for Lucy (he is not a fool, he knows it is that, even if he has not managed to say it directly to her or show it as much as he longs to), when insisting on his love for Matej was what destroyed them last time, seems ludicrous and selfish to the point of insanity. But he can’t, he can’t, he can’t deny her or pretend it’s not what it is, and he refuses to see her suffer for his mistakes. Garcia Flynn de Clermont knows what sort of man he is, and he is all too painfully aware of his flaws. That is part of the reason he will not let Lucy entirely join with him, whether physically or magically or whatever else. She is too good for him, and much as it may break his heart, he has to give her time to see if she realizes it. Then at least, she can go her own way, and they can avoid a second cataclysm that none of them could survive. Least of all him, and his battered, fragile, broken old heart.

Asher regards him for a long moment, not without sympathy. Then he says, “What is it you were not saying earlier? If you are not my son, who are you?”

“I’m still your son. I – always will be.” Flynn feels another crack through his much-abused chest. “But where – when – I came from, my father is no longer… no longer there.”

One of Asher’s elegant eyebrows jumps, but otherwise, he evinces no particular reaction to this piece of earth-shaking information. He measures his words; Asher de Clermont does very little in haste, the cool and reasoned and imperious head of the family in more ways than one, the counterpart to his reckless, headstrong sons who make decisions with any other part of the body apart from their brains. He turns and paces a few steps across the solar, majestic as the lion king of the pride, considering, impassive. Then he says, “You came from a different year, sometime in the future. Lucy is a timewalker, and that is why you met her when I could not have. Whenever you come from, as you say, I am not… I am no more.”

“I…” A third time, Maria screams in Flynn’s head. He can see his mother crumpling to her knees, back broken, as Gabriel sank down with her and tried to tether her to sanity, in those first blackened, maddening moments when the entire world had ended. “Yes.”

Asher takes that in with another imperceptible nod. The idea of death, of cessation, of not being, must be completely unfathomable for an immortal as old as he already is, who will live another three hundred and fifty-four years until his brutal, extended, agonized murder. He opens his mouth as if to ask the obvious question, then decides on balance that he does not want to know. He crosses the solar and takes Flynn’s face in his hands, grip cool and strong as steel, bending his head up to the light as if to be sure that this indeed is Flynn, and not some cunningly disguised forgery. Gabriel’s parting shot rattles in Flynn’s chest like hot marbles. Broken imposter. And the worst thing is, he is not completely wrong. Of course to this Gabriel, that is exactly what he is. Of course he wants his Garcia back. They all do.

“You are Garcia,” Asher says, after another long moment. “Whatever else you may be, I do not think that you are a liar, or mad. Do you trust this wife of yours, however you may have come by her?”

“Yes.” That, at least, Flynn does not need to think about. “Yes, I do.”

“Mmm.” Asher lets go of him, returns to his goblet, and takes several more sips. “Where is the Garcia that I would have expected to meet?”

“He’s…” Flynn is feeling as if he could stand to get drunk himself, and as noted, the only way is to have someone susceptible to alcohol to do it first, then feed on them. He isn’t entirely sure Lucy will consent to serve as a human wine cooler, nor should she. “He’s safe, he’s fine, we sent him to Dalmatia with a story that the Raven King’s lost library had been found. If he returns before that, I’ll think of something else, but we have to leave before All Souls anyway. We can’t stay longer than six months.”

“Can you not?” Asher sits down in the chair facing him. “Why is that?”

“We have to get back to our own time. We have to…” Flynn rubs the bridge of his nose. He has rarely felt more disheartened over Gabriel than he does right now. “We have to save my brother. He thinks – he thinks I don’t care, that I’ve forgotten about him, and in some ways, I have. But I – I swear, I’m doing this for him. In – when we come from.”

“So he is still alive, though I am not?” Asher considers that. “That is some comfort, I suppose. Does our family weather this, this storm?”

Flynn wants to tell him that they do, but he cannot bring himself to lie. He just raises his head and looks silently into his father’s eyes, and Asher de Clermont, the indomitable, flinches just that tiniest bit. He takes another drink, even though it does not affect him, and turns to stare into the unlit hearth. “It is not your place to bring me word of my fate,” he says at length. “Though if it is such an evil one, I cannot but hope to wish to change it.”

“I miss you.” It tumbles out of Flynn before he can help it. “Papa, I miss you so much. We all do. We’re – we’re not what you wanted for us, we can barely hold ourselves together. We’ve never managed to escape from beneath that shadow, and as badly as I’m doing everything here, I want to save what is left, to try. I know I’m not good at it. I never was. But I just – what I’m looking for, with Ashmole 782, I thought all along it would tell me how to mend our family, and I know it won’t, but if the search is what does that instead, or what causes me to ultimately lose the rest of it – ”

“Peace.” Asher holds up a hand. Then he gets to his feet again, crosses the solar, and looks down at his son, even as Flynn is actively struggling to hold back tears. “You do not need to tell me everything right now, Garcia, nor yet to justify yourself to me. If nothing else, I know that you are who you say, because no imposter would love our family so much, nor be so terrified at the thought of failing them. But it is not only me, is it? You have all lost something, someone else. I am not the only tragedy you have borne.”

“No.” Flynn closes his eyes hard. “No, you’re not.”

Asher reaches out and puts both hands on his shoulders, gripping hard, as Flynn’s fragile self-control almost blows apart completely. He reaches up convulsively and puts his hands on his father’s, trying to hold onto him, to be safe. He was never a child with Asher, of course, and he barely remembers his human father, except that he was angry, and he often hit. Flynn wanted to be him but was terrified of him at the same time, and it was no labor to leave Dalmatia and never look back, to go find a new life in Gaul. Asher is the only father he has ever known and ever loved, even though he became his son as an adult. They remain there, saying nothing, until Asher comes to himself and lets go, lightly stepping back. “Is there something I may do, to assist in this quest?”

“I don’t know.” Flynn feels wrung out, drained, exhausted in a way far beyond the mortal. “Maybe. We’ve already used a whole month and barely made any progress. I told you that I couldn’t do it. I’m not strong enough.”

“I will remain here in the Old Lodge until the situation acquires some more clarity,” Asher says. “To your feet, Garcia. I wish to more properly meet your wife.”

Flynn pauses, then gets up, leading the way out of the solar and down the steps. Lucy has gotten dressed in the interim, though the speed with which she appears suggests that she heard Gabriel storm out and has been anxiously waiting to see how the rest of this went. Part of Flynn’s heart shakes with unbearable joy; he has always wanted for Lucy to meet Asher and vice versa, yet thought of course that was impossible. “Ah,” he says, clearing his throat awkwardly. “Lucy, this is my father, Lord Asher de Clermont. Papa, this is – this is Lucy.”

“It is my honor.” Asher bows over Lucy’s timidly offered hand, as if she isn’t sure that he won’t jump up and snap it off like a shark. Flynn can see his father’s eyes flick to the de Clermont signet ring that Lucy wears on her little finger, the one Maria gave her before they left the present. “I understand that you have known us… differently, but as my son’s wife, you are assured, for the moment, of my protection.”

Lucy’s gaze turns questioningly to Flynn, clearly asking how much he told Asher, and he gives her a look in hopes of communicating that they will discuss this later. The visitors’ quarters are quickly made up for Asher, and a few of the servants blink at being informed that this is my lord’s father, as he and Flynn look close to the same age. Then he accompanies Flynn and Lucy into the master bedchamber, and they fetch the now-blank Ashmole pages and the half-vanished alchemical wedding for his inspection. “Does this…” Flynn is almost afraid of what the answer might be. “Does this mean anything to you?”

Asher studies the parchment fragments with a thoughtful frown, muttering something under his breath. He runs a hand over it – then jerks it back. “This is vampire.”

“What?” Flynn stares at him. “What do you mean?”

“This is vampire,” Asher repeats. “As in, this is made from the tanned hide of one of our own kind. I sense a trace of witch about it as well, and something jumbled that may be daemon. This – what did you call it, Ashmole 782? If this is from it, it is a cruel book indeed. It is made literally from our flesh and blood.”

Flynn and Lucy exchange an aghast look, as if to say that they have been handling it quite casually, and both are repulsed at the idea of having to touch it again. “Someone flayed a vampire for their skin and made it into vellum?” Flynn hopes he isn’t hearing right, though he doesn’t know why he wouldn’t be. “And wrote the Book of Life on the bones of death?”

“I may be wrong.” Asher inspects the other pieces. “But I do not think so.”

“Can you tell anything else about it?” Flynn presses. “We thought Dr. Dee, John Dee, the Queen’s astrologer, he may have written it. But surely he didn’t kill creatures himself?”

“No, I do not think he would have known precisely of its provenance.” Asher does not look up, focused intently on the pages. “What was on here before?”

Lucy explains about the list of names and places that have now vanished, the way the text is a palimpsest hidden and re-hidden within itself, the way it changed itself, how she got the omega on her hand and initially unlocked the secret message, the layers upon layers of mystery around the manuscript and the question if she herself wrote the part of it that led them back here. “It looked like – it was my handwriting,” she says. “And it was in the Latin cipher of the Voynich manuscript, which I think could have served as a specialized code among women and particularly witches. If I taught, or if I do teach it to other witches, like Lady Beaton, or Agnes Sampson, or Amelie Wallis – or if they know it already – ”

Asher looks confused. “Voynich manuscript?”

“Sorry, it became known as that 1912, when Wilfrid Voynich bought it. I don’t know if you would know it by another name. It’s from the early fifteenth century, from the beginning of the Italian Renaissance. I wrote a book about it. Anyway, the handwriting matched.”

“1912.” Asher considers that. “So you come from sometime after that year?”

“Yes, by quite a bit.” Flynn thinks that his father is handling this information much better than he would, but then, that’s the case for everything. “Can you tell anything else about it?”

Asher lifts the pages, turns them over, and inspects them again, but since they’re blank pieces of parchment (or rather, apparently, tanned vampire hide), there’s not much else he can speculate on. “You are trying to find the full manuscript that these folios came from, yes? What do you intend to do with it, if or when you do?”

“I thought we were supposed to read it,” Flynn says. “But now I’m starting to wonder if we’re supposed to destroy it. All the enemies who want it in our own time are nobody who should be allowed to have it, and if it’s that powerful – ”

“It could certainly permanently change the composition of all creatures, as we know them.” Asher puts down the piece and sits back. “This is some chimaera, some thing that is not distinctly vampire, witch, or daemon, but a strange admixture of all three, stronger than anything I have ever seen. Has there ever been anything like this?”

“Not that we know of.” Flynn sits down next to him. “In our time, there’s something called the Covenant. It’s adopted in the seventeenth century, it strictly prohibits vampires, witches, and daemons to marry or have children together. My research has focused on why creature abilities are weakening and we seem to be dying out, and I think it might be the natural result of forced inbreeding in any genetic sample. If you are never exogamous, you replicate and magnify the weaknesses in your DNA, the same reason it’s a bad idea to marry cousins. So if creatures used to be free to intermingle, or relatively so, and then it was forbidden – ”

At this, he is alerted by Asher’s blank look that his father does not understand half of the fancy twenty-first century science words he is using, and starts over in more Elizabethan terms. When he finishes, Asher says, “The Covenant sounds to be an evil thing. Why would the creatures agree to it?”

“Why do any racial and race-based policies get pushed through?” Flynn says. “It doesn’t make a damn bit of difference whether or not they make sense. As long as you appeal to people’s fears and nativist prejudices and whip up hatred against anyone who isn’t like them, they’ll agree to these things. It’s worse with creatures, when we fear each other and are jealous of each other’s abilities and all want to make sure none of the other two get too strong. I know you founded the Knights of Lazarus in part to deal with those kinds of threats, any of the vampires who could pose a risk to the whole world, but knew that if you tried to deal with witches and daemons in the same way, it would be a major incident. We can prune our own bad apples, but not theirs.”

“Indeed,” Asher says slowly. He is wearing the ring that Gabriel wears in the present day, that Gabriel gave to Flynn and Flynn then gave to Wyatt, the sigil of the Order’s grandmaster. “So Ashmole 782 would pose a risk to the entire creature order as your time has known it for – what, near upon three hundred years? No wonder there would be factions interested in either acquiring or suppressing the information. If it did become plain that the creatures could cross species boundaries, that greater abilities were possible – ”

“Has there ever been anyone that you know of?” Flynn asks. “Anyone who had the ability of witch, vampire, and daemon all at once? They would be very dangerous if they chose.”

Asher frowns. “No. I feel oddly as if I should, but I do not. But if there was one such being, I can imagine that they would take especial pains to make sure there was never another. No one to challenge them, or match their abilities, and all under the guise of preserving the bloodlines, of maintaining the integrity of each species. It would be diabolical indeed.”

“Yes,” Flynn says, feeling as if there is something on the tip of his tongue, but unable to precisely voice it. “So Ashmole 782 would be – what? A manual on how to make these sort of hybrids, or how to destroy them?”

“You would know more than I.” Asher looks down at the alchemical wedding image. “Either way, it would be greatly dangerous.”

They work for the rest of the day on whatever they can think of, though with a glance, Flynn and Lucy silently decide not to tell him about Jessica’s book just yet, and the whole situation which appears to be shaping up with that. As far as Flynn knows, Lucy originally intended to send Jessica into the past just for a week or two, a temporary sojourn to break Temple’s thrall over her and keep her away from a vengefully minded Maria, but the fact that she has clearly been in the Renaissance long enough to write a book, and to take refuge at Matthias Corvinus’ court, means that something has gone wrong. She did not automatically return to the present, she might be stuck a hundred years behind them, or – frankly, it could be almost anything. They have no idea at all what has gone on with Jessica, if anyone is still searching for her (they must be) or what happened after she arrived in Florence. It just seems best, for now, not to say anything. Not even to his father.

They emerge for supper that evening, as Asher has kept his taste for the finer things in life; before he met Maria, he was almost as much a playboy as his eldest son (supposedly, at least, as Flynn was obviously not alive then, and finds great difficulty imagining his father that way), and he can still tell down to the year and nearly the vineyard where any given wine was produced. As they are eating, the conversation still not exactly bounteous, Flynn says, “What are we going to do about Gabriel?”

“I will go to Essex tomorrow and attempt to explain as much as I can to him.” Asher looks as if he is about to say something else, then doesn’t. For a vampire, it won’t take much more than an hour, if that, to run out of the city to the New Lodge. “You must be gentle with your brother, Garcia. He is bearing a burden that you do not. . . you do not entirely understand. I will not ask what unspeakable evil have turned the pair of you to rivals, but I can only hope that indeed, it can be averted. It is. . . very difficult for him to see you this way.”

Flynn is about to say that it’s very difficult for him to see Gabriel this way, but he can sense that this might just prove Asher’s point.  He isn’t sure what good it is going to do. Gabriel already knows that it’s not the same Flynn, and he made his opinion very clear. Broken imposter. He might be even less impressed to explicitly learn that they winged here from the future, and that it is one in which untold tragedies await them, when he has accused Lucy of wanting to destroy their family only to find out that it is. Presumably Asher is not going to tell Gabriel outright that he himself is dead, but Gabriel isn’t going to be satisfied with the abridged version either. God, this is a mess. Are they even supposed to save him? Is that what the Goddess gave them a chance to do? Or is this something else?

Flynn stares down at his plate, not as if human food is going to fill the void inside him, the gnawing hunger. He hasn’t fed again since that morning with Gabriel, and he very much is going to need to ask Lucy soon, or Asher. Vampire parents are accustomed to feeding their children, just like any parents, and it would be the easiest solution. But as he is still lost in troubled thoughts, there is a sound at the door, and Robert Parry enters, with an apologetic bow for interrupting mealtime. “My lord? Your nephew has returned. He has two parties in tow, a old woman and a boy. Shall I send him in to be received?”

“A boy?” Flynn frowns. He’s relieved that Christian has made it back to London, but while the old woman is presumably – hopefully – Agnes Sampson, he can’t think who the boy would be. Still, trust his soft-hearted nephew to pick up any potential strays along the way, as Christian very much is the kind of person to stop and give money to beggars, or insist to anyone speaking too outrageously about a lady that they apologize, or anything of the sort. “Yes, well. Show them in.”

Parry bows and withdraws. A few moments later, a mud-stained, windblown Christian clomps in, with an elderly woman in a white cap and woolen cloak, and a small, black-haired boy, who looks like a street urchin, trailing in his wake. They remain in the corner as Christian glances around, then looks startled. “Grand-père? What are you doing here?”

“I arrived from Sept-Tours this morning.” Asher nods regally at his grandson, who hurries in to kneel before him, kiss his hand, and pay the proper respects to the head of the family. “I had heard that you were in Scotland?”

“Aye, I was,” Christian says. “I am returned now, though. Aunt Lucy, begging your pardons for the mess, I’ll go and wash before I sit to table.” He glances around it, taking in one rather notable absence from the family dinner, and his bright expression dims. “Where’s Papa?”

There is a slight pause. Then Asher says, “I sent your father back to Essex for the moment. I intend to call upon him tomorrow, so you may accompany me when I do. Now run off and wash, my lad. You really are quite filthy.”

Duly dismissed, Christian scuttles off, and there is a slightly awkward silence as everyone glances over at the newcomers. The boy’s eyes are fixed on the well-laden supper table with an expression as if he does not eat often, and as far as Flynn can tell, he is an ordinary human. They have to wait for Christian to get back to explain what on earth he’s doing here – he could be a pickpocket or other petty criminal, as many of the street children in London have to resort to whatever it takes to survive. But when he reaches for a bread roll on the sideboard, the old woman smacks his hand. “We’ll no be takin’ what doesna belong to us.”

“Agnes Sampson?” Lucy ventures. “Mistress Sampson? Is it yourself?”

“Aye.” The other witch eyes her beadily. “And you’ll be the one that Lady Beaton sent the summons about, askin’ me to be on the lookout for your nephew? As ye will see, he did find me, and I him, and he said it was most pressin’ that I came with him to London. I’ve not traveled this far from Lothian in my life, so I will hope ‘twas worth it.”

“We hope so.” As the de facto hostess, Lucy rises to her feet, and makes a gesture inviting them to sit. Two additional plates of supper are laid, and the boy eats hungrily, with very little regard for table manners or asking permission, like a small wild animal. Asher regards him with a raised eyebrow, then flicks the silent question at Flynn, who is equally stumped. Trying to make conversation, Lucy goes on, “I hope it was not a difficult journey?”

Agnes shrugs. “No worse than could be hoped, though the Englishmen always kick up a fuss about letting Scots into the country. The Border Reivers near gave us trouble as well, but your young nephew there is a fine hand wi’ a sword. You’ll be tellin’ me who all these large and glarin’ vampires are then, aye?”

“Ah, yes.” Lucy flushes. “This is my husband, Sir Garcia Clairmont, Lord Clairmont. This is his father, Lord Asher de Clermont of Sept-Tours, in France.”

“Oh, a Frenchie?” Agnes squints at him. “Always been wary of Frenchmen meself, ken. Though so long as our late Mary lived, raised in France as she was, they were as common as toadstools about Scotland. Now it’s her son, wee James, with his arse upon the throne, and I dinna mind sayin’, I nearly wish the Frenchmen back instead.”

Flynn and Lucy exchange a look, as they know that James VI of Scotland, the future James I of England, is the one who sets up the Berwick tribunal, has Agnes accused and arrested, and takes a slightly too-ghoulish interest in her torture (he remains obsessed with witch hunts throughout his reign). They can’t blame her for anticipatorily disliking him, but that raises the question of whether she can in fact get in contact with future witches, and how much she knows about her own fate. They can’t ask her all the questions they would like with Asher and the boy here, and there is a slightly too-long pause until a markedly cleaner Christian returns. He bows to his grandfather and uncle, takes his place at the table, and seems set to help himself, until Asher says, “Were you planning to explain to your aunt and uncle who this feral child is, that you have brought to burden upon their hospitality?”

“I, ah.” Christian looks guiltily at the boy, who is tearing apart a chicken leg. “I found him near Blackfriars, as we were returning. He says his name is Jack. I couldn’t – I am most sorry, Uncle, he looked so hungry, and he said there was a monster that came to hunt him every night. I just. . . I did not know what else to do, and. . .”

Flynn bites his cheek at his nephew’s hangdog expression. He supposes they cannot grudge a meal to a hungry orphan, though they will have to keep an eye on the silverware. “Thank you,” he says instead. “You’ve done well with Mistress Sampson. I am afraid your father is very angry with me, though, so perhaps you should return to Essex and stay there with – ”

“No, no,” Christian insists. “I want to help you and Aunt Lucy. You said it was for Papa, and this was a grand adventure, I even fought the Reivers. I can do more, Uncle Garcia. Truly.”

“That is what I’m afraid of,” Flynn mutters, half to himself. He can’t think just at the moment how to dissuade Christian from the prospect of what appears to be an exciting occupation, and God, he does ache to spend more time with him. Gabriel might kill him, but Gabriel will likely kill him anyway, the rate they’re going. “I’ll think about it,” he says, louder. “But you still should go with your grandfather tomorrow morning.”

Asher smiles with tolerant affection, glances at Christian, and Flynn almost feels his heart explode with how much he has missed this, these two long-lost members of their family sitting here alive and casually and simply at supper with him. When it is over and the servants are clearing off, he says in an undertone, “Papa, may I – I need to – ”

Asher looks surprised, as he might expect that Flynn was feeding on Lucy, but shrugs and undoes the neck of his doublet. They wait until the others have gone, and Flynn sits down next to his father and leans in to feed. He has not done this much since he was a new vampire, since it was always Gabriel he asked first, but it is familiar and comforting, and Asher rests an affectionate hand on his shoulder as he drinks. Flynn can only hope that he is taking in even a little of his steadiness, his strength.

He’s almost done when there is a muffled, horrified noise from the door, and he jerks back, suddenly terrified that one of the servants who does not know has arrived unawares and has formed any number of incorrect and dangerous conclusions about what is going on. But instead it’s the orphan, Jack, who is staring with glassy, terrified eyes. “Monster,” he whispers, as if he can barely dare to say it. “Thou art the monster!”

Flynn frowns, suddenly remembering what Christian said earlier. He thought that this was just the expected plea from an opportunistic urchin trying to play on a rich patron’s sympathy, but there is real, unfeigned terror in Jack’s expression, and something about the sight of a vampire feeding seems to have set him off. Flynn darts across the room, catches the boy as he tries to escape, and Jack screams and struggles, clearly expecting that he’s the next to be chomped on. Flynn is just worried that this could really turn into a scene, when Asher leans over, stares directly into the boy’s eyes, and Jack goes limp, docile as a pet rabbit. It is both reassuring and unsettling to see the mesmer take hold so quickly.

Asher undoes the dirty kerchief knotted around Jack’s neck, and they both stare at what is revealed beneath. Two crusted, blackened, half-healed wounds are visible in the side of his throat, as if a vampire has fed on him repeatedly and violently, and with no concern or care for the aftermath. The rules requiring vampires to obtain consent from their feeds are by no means universal or enforced in this era, and many of them don’t see the need to do so, but this is different. The boy looks to have been bitten by a set of nasty, gnarled fangs, and blue veins are visible beneath his skin; he has lost a lot of blood at repeated intervals. His monster is no figment of his imagination. His monster is dreadfully real.

Flynn cannot be sure, not entirely. And yet, he thinks of that hooded figure that Lucy saw, that chased her home, that tried to bite Karl before being chased off. Then he says, “Was this done by one of us? A vampire? Or – or who?”

Jack stirs feebly beneath their hands, still under the mesmer, drugged and dreamy. But his lips part, his whisper like a breath of wind. “My lord,” he breathes. “A monster.”

Chapter Text

Jiya de Clermont does not go by that name very much. She earned her doctorate under her human last name, Marri, and since Dad also goes by Flynn in all his professional work and business cards and Oxford faculty pages, it’s not as if there has ever been a particular incentive to change it. Legally, it belongs to her, it’s the name under which she’s filed in the Congregation archives in Venice, it became hers the instant she opened her eyes as a starving fledgling in the bloody dust of the San Francisco street, and to some extent, she does think of herself that way. They are her family, that part is straightforward enough, even if she has always had to be careful about addressing Dad as such. They may have fangs, but they’re like any other family, including their ridiculous petty shit and long-held grudges. But in other ways, they stopped being much of one long ago, and the name is the only thing holding them together. In that case, Jiya’s wondered if she should start using it again, a reminder to the rest of them. But she hasn’t. It’s felt easier to just not say anything.

Jiya has no more than scattered memories of her grandfather, Asher. She was a relatively young vampire when he was murdered, and she only met him a few times anyway. Flynn tended to keep himself and his new daughter away from the others – especially Gabriel, who Jiya didn’t meet until almost thirty years after she’d been turned, when the initial surge of bloodlust and blind need had subsided and she was more or less herself again. That wasn’t the only thing keeping them at arm’s length, though. The first time she met her eldest uncle, he was nothing but perfectly courteous, but Cecilia was hovering in the background the entire time. Jiya had thought it was just in case vampires had some tradition of rejecting their weaker young, like animals, and Gabriel tried to cull the herd. She had been warned about him, and she kept a careful, submissive distance; she doesn’t remember if she looked him in the eye the whole time. That was in 1916, at the height of the Great War. It was a fortnight at Sept-Tours. The next time she saw him was at her grandfather’s funeral. At least she thinks she did. That was a haze of grief and madness for everyone involved.

After that, Jiya didn’t have a conversation with her uncle again until 1962, when she moved to Paris to study at the Sorbonne. She had resigned herself to living in some dingy student flat, but Gabriel unexpectedly offered the use of his glamorous penthouse in the Seventh Arrondissement. There was plenty of room, and since he was out most of the time, at his glittering whirl of society events and business meetings and art appraisals, Jiya had the place to herself, with the exception of Harry. Yet Gabriel, when he was there, seemed to try to get to know her, a little. She remembers nights sitting on the balcony with cigarettes and glasses of wine, looking over the lights of Paris, feeling the live wire of rebellion and protest that ran through the city in the sixties, the avant-garde student community that she was part of. As ever, Gabriel was unfailingly, unceasingly polite. He never said a word about why he might have wanted to kill her, that first time. Maybe he didn’t. Maybe she was imagining it.

They saw each other a bit more after that, at any rate. Jiya moved back to California – it had changed from the nineteenth century, to say the least – to take up her doctoral studies at Caltech, one of the first women admitted. When she graduated, Gabriel took her on a round-the-world trip to celebrate, and she asked how old he was, as they trekked along a mist-shrouded section of the Great Wall of China. This was the seventies, Westerners were vastly uncommon sights in the interior, and it was long before the throngs of camera-wielding tourists; it was just them for miles, in a way that would be impossible today. He told her that he was in the Roman Senate – not actually there, but a member – when Caesar was stabbed. He spoke perfect Mandarin, as he did most languages, and snarled at an official who hassled Jiya for her travel papers at a remote teahouse. When she asked about life in ancient Rome, and Gabriel recounted an amusing story about a drunk youth crashing his chariot into the aqueduct outside his villa, it was the first time in almost a hundred years she had ever seen her uncle laugh.

With what they are doing now, Jiya can’t escape the haunting reminders, the questions, the what-ifs, the reminders that all of them could have been so much more of a family, and it might be too late. She and Rufus have set up a base of operations in Gabriel’s penthouse, since not even Benjamin Cahill is brave enough to attack them here, and they have to live somewhere. Jiya refuses to be chased down a hole like a rat, and they have the benefit of access to Gabriel’s things, his papers and books and antiquities and everything else that might help them in what they have to do. Harry, of course, is not here. Jiya knows it’s for a purpose, to help them get close to Nicholas Keynes, the scheming daemon leader on the Congregation, but she still can’t read too many of the things that Harry is saying about the de Clermonts on the creature grapevine. She knows he has to be convincing. It’s the accuracy that stings, even with the worst possible spin deliberately put on it. But he is her friend, he’s hurting over Gabriel too, and some dark part of her can’t help but wonder if he’s started to mean it.

However, it’s not like they have time to sit around and brood. Rufus has built some fiendishly elaborate piece of technology that he has dubbed the TimeMaster 3000, because Rufus is a geek and likes to give things that kind of name, which is supposed to track and register unexpected anomalies or alterations in the historical record. He’s pointed it at the sixteenth century like a satellite collecting signals from deep space, and Jiya has been able to offer incidental consulting advice, but she got her PhD in the 1970s and Rufus got his in 2012. He has studied far more up-to-date technology and theories and scientific papers, and Jiya is starting to feel decidedly obsolete. She has pondered the possibility of returning to school, doing a second one (though only a true masochist would sign up for that) but that is for later. She has had a forty-year academic career already, and yet she’s still working as an assistant in her dad’s lab. Not any more, of course, since her dad is the one in the aforesaid sixteenth century with his… whatever Lucy Preston is. But when he gets back, Jiya might be up for discussing a change.

(God, she hopes he does get back.)

It’s a few days past the new year, and the holidays have been hard. Jiya usually spent them with Dad at their house in Woodstock, not doing much except exchanging a few small presents and having brunch, looking at the tree and going for a chilly afternoon run. Once every ten years or so, Maria insists that the whole family come to Sept-Tours for Christmas, but that never goes to plan. Flynn hides in the library, Gabriel helicopters in from Paris, distributes expensive presents and air kisses to his mother, niece, and Cecilia, and leaves again after ten minutes, and Wyatt constantly goes down to the village to get cell phone reception and make sure he hasn’t missed any Congregation-related issues. If Maria does try to make her sons spend actual time together, arguments inevitably ensue, sometimes spectacular. It’s felt easier for everyone just to let them do their own thing.

It’s been just over a month since Dad and Lucy went to the past, and no major aberrations have cropped up yet. Jiya hopes this is a good sign, though she wishes there was a hint to let her know for sure that they made it. She likes to think there would have been some way of knowing if they had been reduced to interstellar goo (wouldn’t the TimeMaster 3000 detect that?) and the comparative lack of trouble has made her more wary, rather than less. Technically, Cahill, Temple, and Keynes don’t know that they only have six months until Dad and Lucy return. They might think they have as much time as they need, but with their highest-profile rivals out of the way, why not seize the moment? Do they smugly think that Flynn and Lucy were shamed enough to just go into hiding, and don’t know about them timewalking at all? That would be nice, but Jiya will not underestimate them. No matter when it happens, whatever they do, they’re dangerous.

The one thing she can’t overlook is the disappearance of Anton Sokolov, one of the witches on the Congregation, and the only one who has been more or less sympathetic to the de Clermonts’ cause. He and his brother Gennady helped Dad and Uncle Gabriel rescue Lucy after Emma Whitmore kidnapped her, and he was willing to testify on their behalf, only to mysteriously vanish before he could. He hasn’t surfaced again, a flimsy story has been put forth about his resignation on personal principles, and while it smells rotten to Jiya, she has no proof about what actually happened, if anything did. It was clear that Sokolov didn’t approve of Cahill’s tactics and treatment of Lucy, so it’s just possible that he did indeed resign in protest, but the convenient disappearance of the only individual on the Congregation with the ability to throw a wrench in the great power-grab plan should not be written off as mere coincidence. Nobody has heard from the younger Sokolov either. Jiya was hoping that they would be willing to help again, but this seems decidedly more sinister.

She steps out of the shower and dries off, looking around for her clothes. She and Rufus have breakfast this morning with Uncle Wyatt, who has just arrived in Paris and is going to give them an update on how things are going, and Jiya can’t help but feel as if they don’t have enough to report. They did build the TimeMaster, and perhaps it’s better that all has been quiet on the home front, but it feels uneasily like the calm before a storm. Like they’re being put off their guard, or if they haven’t seen what their enemies are doing, the careful, strategic preparation for a major explosion, until it’s too late. Once again, Jiya has to fight the feeling, half-comforting and half-terrifying, that she would just know if something was permanently wrong. Wouldn’t she? God, she doesn’t know how to do this.

Jiya zones out, shakes herself, gets dressed, does her makeup, and hurries out to get her jacket and her boyfriend. It’s a misty, cold, grey January morning, it’s been raining enough that there are flood warnings on the Seine, and she and Rufus stay close together under the umbrella as they walk down to the sidewalk café where they’re meeting her uncle. A whiff of warm, boulangerie-scented air hits them as they step inside, and Jiya spots him in a corner, distractedly reading Le Monde and sipping a black espresso. He looks unshaven and rumpled, and doesn’t glance up until she calls. Then he jumps, and hurries over.

“Morning,” Wyatt says, kissing Jiya on each cheek in proper French fashion and looking briefly uncertain if he should do the same to Rufus, who to their mutual relief quickly offers him a handshake. “Glad you made it. I thought – well, never mind.”

“Thought what?” Jiya asks, as they make their way over to the table and sit down. She glances at the menu, wondering if she wants to get something. Technically, only Rufus actually needs the food here, but you don’t live in Paris, no matter what species you are, and not take advantage of its culinary pleasures. When the waiter speeds over, Jiya orders an éclair and a cappuccino, and Rufus orders crepes and coffee, his French somewhat less confident than hers, but he’s learning quickly. Once the waiter is gone, she glances back at her uncle. “You look like – well, what’s been going on? Is Grand-mère all right?”

“Maman is fine, last time I spoke to her.” Wyatt shifts uncomfortably, as it cannot have escaped his attention that a large part of Maria de Clermont’s anger is due to the witch who temporarily murdered her eldest son evading her grasp. That witch is Wyatt’s ex, Jessica Proctor, who has not yet reappeared in the present after Lucy sent her to Renaissance Italy. “I got her settled at our estate in Scotland. She doesn’t like it very much, she says it rains all the time. Which it does, but it’s safer for her there. The Knights have caught at least three separate creature spies sniffing around Sept-Tours.”

“Spies?” Jiya says sharply. “Whose?”

“I’m not sure.” Wyatt rubs his dark-circled eyes. With both his older brothers gone, one in a magical coma and the other at large in Tudor London, he is currently the grandmaster of the Knights of Lazarus, and it’s clear that the burden is wearing on him. “Or if it matters. It could be anyone. The Congregation has turned into three separate factions, witch, daemon, and vampire. None of them are talking or sharing information anymore. It’s just three species plotting against each other, the one thing it was, with all its problems, supposed to avoid. Maybe it’s a good thing I got out when I did. All right, you know. Was spectacularly fired in front of everyone and made it all worse.”

“Hey.” Jiya reaches out to put a hand on her uncle’s. “It’s not your fault. Cahill and Temple set you up from the start. Is Cecilia with Grand-mère?”

“Yes, they’re in Scotland together,” Wyatt says, polishing off the rest of his espresso and looking up to order another as the waiter arrives with Jiya and Rufus’s breakfasts. Maybe he’s hoping that if he drinks enough caffeine, he can get some of it to affect him. “At least there hasn’t been an attempt on the Schloss in Liechtenstein, I don’t think anyone knows about that yet. Let’s hope they don’t, anyway.”

At that, all three of them glance around the café, in case one of those spies is sitting in the corner in a trilby and trench coat and preparing to convey this sensitive intelligence to their evil overlords, but it’s just busy, distracted Parisians doing what Parisians do best, which is not giving a shit about the rest of the world. The Knights’ secret fortress in Liechtenstein, high in the rugged Swiss Alps, is where Gabriel has been hidden until Dad and Lucy return with the manticore venom antidote, and any attack there would mean that their plans and their intelligence have been intercepted to a possibly fatal degree. Jiya takes a bite of her éclair, then thinks of something. “What you said about the Congregation – did Harry tell you that? So that whole plan is working?”

“He did, yes,” Wyatt says. “But we have to be careful about meeting too many times or even passing information indirectly. As you’ve probably noticed, he’s doing a damn good job of acting like he hates us, and we can’t put that in jeopardy.”

“Do you know anything about what they’re doing?” Jiya presses. “Now that they have a clear field, they have to be taking advantage of that, don’t they? Has anyone heard from Anton Sokolov at all?”

“No.” Wyatt’s lips set into a thin line. “Cahill appointed Emma Whitmore as his replacement, which – given that she was working with Temple to kidnap Lucy – seems highly likely to blow up in his face. Maybe he knows about that, I can’t be sure. Harry only has access to Keynes’ part of the plotting, and Keynes still doesn’t completely trust him, so his information is limited. It’s every creature for themselves, pretty much.”

Jiya takes that in grimly. She is familiar with Emma, who has fought Dad on a few notorious occasions before, and the red-haired witch is as ruthless and power-hungry as it gets. She’ll work with Cahill only so far as it gets her closer to the ultimate goal, and she’s already crossed creature lines to take up with Temple, a vampire, when Cahill was too inept for her tastes. Maybe they should appreciate this evidence of interspecies cooperation despite the increasing air of apartheid, but it’s the exact kind they do not need. “Do they know about Dad and Lucy?” she asks quietly. “Are they doing anything about that?”

“I can’t be sure.” Wyatt’s brow furrows. “None of them have openly said anything about the sixteenth century, and timewalking is a very rare skill. If there was another witch who had it, there would have been some kind of attempt to find them. I don’t know if they can go after Flynn and Lucy directly. Maybe they’re just waiting to set a trap when they get back?”

Maybe, but Jiya can’t shake the feeling that they would be unwise to discount the possibility of something they don’t know about at all. She takes another bite of her éclair, as Wyatt looks at Rufus. “Have you registered anything on that time-tracking gizmo thing of yours?”

“Only the equivalent of subsonic vibrations,” Rufus says. “Some things have changed, but not the kind that leaves traceable quantum signatures or long-term consequences. Plus, the whole ‘don’t change anything in the past or you’ll come back to a reality where the Nazis won WWII’ trope of time-travel movies is bullshit. History is made up of countless trillions of different choices and outcomes and systems and lives, and one person’s ability to conclusively affect that matrix is basically in the six-figure negatives. Even if Flynn and Lucy went into Queen Elizabeth’s court and I don’t know, hosted Star Wars movie night, it probably wouldn’t impact too much on the future. There are tons of stories about random weird shit and unexplained historical coincidences and all the stuff that even scientists don’t know about the universe. People always compartmentalize and come up with explanations and the world keeps rolling anyway. At least until we destroy it, because we’re terrible.”

“So that means what?” Wyatt prods. “In real terms?”

“So any changes they’ve made thus far, almost four hundred and twenty-eight years ago, are still not impacting in any measurable way on us, and are statistically wildly unlikely to do so.” Rufus looks around for a napkin, as if in sudden need to scribble equations. “The daily life of two Elizabethan aristocrats would have to be really, really outrageous, long-term and permanently, to achieve visible changes in the present, and six months isn’t enough time for it anyway. I stopped scanning for macro-changes on like, day three. I’ve refined the sensors as fine as they can go, looking for tiny fluctuations. Since the past normally is a closed loop, and nothing more happens in it, the fact that I am getting those fluctuations means that Flynn and Lucy are there and they’re doing things, but any huge spike would be super bad. I know we’re supposed to monitor these anomalies, but they’re so small that I can’t get any identifying data from them or any understanding of what they’re up to. Sorry. I don’t know if you were expecting the blow-by-blow report, but it doesn’t work like that.”

“Thanks for doing it anyway,” Wyatt says. “It’s better to have it than not. But maybe…” He hesitates, as if not sure he should be suggesting this, but can’t hold himself back. “Maybe you should point it at the fifteenth century too, just to be sure. We haven’t – I mean, I’m pretty sure Jessica still hasn’t returned to the present. Which is a good thing, since Temple would probably just put her right back in thralldom if she did. But wasn’t she supposed to just be there for a week or so?”

“Yeah, but Lucy wasn’t exactly a pro at timewalking,” Jiya warns. “I’m not sure she could just fill in a return date like she was buying a plane ticket. And since we’re still not telling Grand-mère, do you really think you should be digging at this?”

Wyatt grimaces. “I feel bad about not telling her, I really do. But I need to keep her safe in Scotland, and… I just would rather nothing happened to Jess if I could avoid it. You know. I owe her that much.”

Jiya regards her uncle, as she can tell that despite his denials and deflections, and obvious need to prioritize his family’s safety over the witch who nearly killed both his brothers, he is still very much in love with her. Besides, Jessica is admittedly a wild card that needs to be accounted for, and if Temple is making some sort of evil plan on that end, which is almost assured, they should probably know about it. “Okay,” she says, glancing at Rufus. “We’ll scan when we get home, just to be sure. Any news on the Ashmole 782 front?”

“Not that I know of.” Wyatt finishes his second espresso. “It’s still missing, nobody’s been able to get it out of the Bodleian as usual, and the creatures seem to have gotten frustrated and left Oxford. Most of them apparently feel that it was another false alarm, and all the excitement has died down. The only thing I can think of that might be related is that the Knight of Lazarus who guards the archives in Venice got in contact with me, several days ago. He was doing a routine inventory when he noticed that several of the restricted files had been accessed, moved around, paged through, and he doesn’t know who it was. They did it carefully enough to avoid him noticing, and there’s some pretty nasty stuff in there.”

“Isn’t that the guy who’s had that job since 1822?” In Jiya’s opinion, it’s not altogether surprising that a fusty old librarian is losing a step or two. “I know you can’t exactly go to Venice yourself right now, but shouldn’t you get someone who’s more, well, awake?”

“I can’t just fire him, unfortunately,” Wyatt says. “So – ”

“You’re the acting grandmaster of the Knights of Lazarus,” Jiya reminds him. “Technically you could, if there had been dereliction of duty. Shouldn’t he know who’s snooping in his own archives?”

Wyatt looks uncomfortable, since he is clearly not prepared to actually throw his weight around and expect his decisions to be respected. “Maybe,” he admits. “Apparently there are also rumors of a break-in at a crypt under Poveglia, the haunted island in the lagoon. Nobody goes there anymore, but strange things have been happening. I swear that sounds familiar for some reason, but I’d have to look into it.”

“Poveglia? Haunted island? Oh hell no.” Rufus rears back like a cobra. “I watched one of those ghost hunter specials on that place, at like three AM when I couldn’t sleep. Of course, I also couldn’t sleep after that, because I was friggin’ terrified. If you people have actual demons there or whatever the shit, that’s definitely something we do not need.”

“There was a mark of Lazarus on the door,” Wyatt says. “My father’s mark. It was broken.”

“Grand-père?” Jiya has an odd sensation, though she can’t say what. After all, she was just thinking about him earlier, that ever-present feeling that she has missed much of her own family’s life, and never has a chance to get it back. “Was he involved with that?”

“I don’t know,” Wyatt says. “He might have been. He did plenty of things on his own that he didn’t tell us about. If anyone, he would have told Gabriel, but we obviously can’t ask Gabriel anything right now. I was definitely too far down the food chain, and I don’t think anyone ever expected for me to end up in charge. Now…”

“You’re doing the best you can,” Jiya tells her uncle loyally. “I know it.”

“Scuse me,” Rufus says. “I really do have a lot of sympathy for your weird vampire family problems, I promise. But can we go back to the part where some idiot broke into the clearly cursed tomb and now there’s supreme evil running around? What, some teenagers got drunk and did it on a dare? Wouldn’t they get, like, Nazi-face-melted first?”

“I don’t think anyone could break in by accident.” Wyatt reaches distractedly for Jiya’s coffee, which she does not appear to be drinking fast enough, and she signals the waiter to bring another. “There was heavy-duty stuff on that door, complicated magic, other things, that only a witch could get through.”

“Cahill?” Jiya has no difficulty seeing him masterminding this kind of nefarious plot, but the only problem with that sentence is the ‘mastermind’. Cunning and evil though he is, Cahill doesn’t always strike her as terribly smart. He already managed to bungle things enough that Emma was open to offers from the other side of the tracks, and he’s a powerful witch, but an unexceptional one. “Maybe he sent someone down there to have a sniff?”

“It’s possible.” Wyatt looks even more haggard and grey-faced. “Like I said, I need to look into it. I already did a quick check, but I couldn’t find any references to anything or anyone buried under Poveglia. I went through the records, but if someone was meddling with them, they could have taken out anything incriminating. Either that, or the Congregation just straight-up removed it. It wouldn’t be the first time. I obviously know how they work. They weren’t real big on freedom of information.”

“Great.” Rufus rolls his eyes at the heavens. “Something wicked this way comes, and the magical censorship police won’t even tell us what. That’s super helpful.”

“I know.” Wyatt reaches for the fresh coffee and takes another sip, clearly willing it to work by main force. “I’ll turn over everything I can. In return, you guys will check the fifteenth century when you get home? Just in case?”

“We will,” Jiya promises. “I mean, like Rufus said, I’m not sure we’ll get anything, but if we do, we’ll let you know. Just… I wish we weren’t lying to Grand-mère about it.”

“Obviously, I wish we weren’t either.” Wyatt sighs. “It doesn’t make me feel great to keep this from her, that’s for sure. But when Flynn and Lucy get back with the antidote and we save Gabriel anyway, it won’t matter, right?”

Jiya doesn’t answer. None of them need her to point out that that “when” is by no means a sure thing, and if it isn’t, Maria de Clermont might be spurred to even greater heights of vengeance. She would never hurt her own family, of course, but she might spare no effort on tracking Jessica down, timewalking or no timewalking, and not stop until she did. Jiya was kept away from the worst of her grandmother’s rages after her grandfather was murdered, but she’s still heard some gory stories. And they can’t survive losing someone else, another head of the family, the cornerstone that Uncle Gabriel became, especially after Grand-père. They’re barely holding on by their fingernails now. Another death is beyond sadistic, irrecoverable. Not that that makes any difference to anyone, but still.

“Yeah,” Jiya says, as stoutly as possible. “Yeah, it’ll be fine.”

Wyatt looks at her ruefully, well aware that they are both engaged in a spot of comfortable lying, and they leave the subject of Jessica there. He has a few other things to update them on, promises that he’s looking for Anton and Gennady Sokolov, then at the end of breakfast, says that he needs to get to the Gare de Bercy if he’s going to catch the train to Clermont. He’s going to Sept-Tours to check on everything, make sure the house is safe and there haven’t been any more break-ins. If the Knights can assure him of its security, he’ll think about moving Maria back from Scotland, which she is vociferous in her desire to leave immediately, and even Wyatt has to admit that his native land is, at this time of year especially, a bleak and horrible place. He pays the tab, they walk out into the clearing mist, and Jiya hugs her uncle and kisses him on the cheek. “Let us know, all right?”

“I will. Same to you.” Wyatt hugs her again, offers another handshake to Rufus, and claps on his fedora. He’s one of the few men who can still wear one without looking like an instant douche. “Good luck.”

With that, he strides off among the midmorning crowds, and Rufus and Jiya watch him go. They don’t need to race home, and casually mentioning that she is Gabriel de Clermont’s niece has gotten Jiya into all kinds of places she never imagined. She feels guilty about taking advantage of it, especially when he himself is not there, but they could use the tiniest bit of a holiday, even in a terrible way. Rufus is trying to keep up on long-distance work for Mansfield, back in Oxford, since he of course did not have the leisure of just fucking off from his lectureship whenever he wanted. At the moment, they’re in the break between Michaelmas and Hilary terms, so that’s fine, but when it starts again, he is going to be reading and marking essays and equation sets from students and flying back once a week for tutorials. He wants to stay and support Jiya as much as possible, but he does have his own life and career to think about. As he says, he can’t throw that all down the drain for creepy supernatural supreme evil, no matter how alarming.

They take hands and walk along the Seine bank, since you know, city of lovers and all. It’s the first glimpse of sun, sodden or otherwise, that they’ve seen in weeks. Rufus has proven rather adorably conscientious about making sure that Jiya is not affected by the common vampire stereotypes; they went to see Notre Dame, or rather for him to see it, since she’s been there plenty, and he was very worried that all the crosses and relics and holy water might cause her to vomit up blood or worse. She has explained how that works, that it’s mostly young ones, fledglings, that are repelled by it, and at the vampire age of a hundred and thirty, she has mostly settled in. They’ve not really discussed the whole immortal/mortal thing, or him being a human, or any of that. Everything feels tenuous and fragile enough as it is. They might as well just be happy while they can. Anything else is not guaranteed.

After they’ve taken the long way back, they loop around, reach Gabriel’s building, and head inside, taking the private elevator up to the penthouse. Jiya is admittedly more paranoid than usual that someone has inside while they were out, but everything looks the same as ever. Rufus goes to get the TimeMaster 3000, and there follows a lot of rather entertaining swearing as he tries to recalibrate it to scan the late fifteenth century. Finally, when Rufus has threatened that he is going to smash it into bolts (which he won’t, obviously), something dings, he lets out a triumphant shout and fist-pumps, and a new set of quantum data flashes onto its readout. They’ve done this a hundred times already, and never gotten anything from Dad and Lucy, so Jiya isn’t expecting anything different. There, fine, they have kept their promise to Wyatt, and can call him back and assure him that –

The TimeMaster 3000 makes a noise that neither of them have heard before. A blip pops up, and stays there even through the rapid-fire scrolling. Then it comes to a halt, pulsing like a red laser dot. It flashes silently and insistently, as Jiya whirls around to stare at Rufus. “Weren’t you telling Uncle Wyatt that it would have to be something seriously major to come up on our end?”

“I.” Rufus looks shaken. “Yeah, I was just saying that, wasn’t I?”

“What’s this, then?” Jiya bends closer to it. “Is it some kind of bug, or – ”

That is the hopeful option, but they both know this probably isn’t a system glitch. If nothing else, Rufus is too good an engineer for that, and they worked out most of the kinks when they first built it. He bends over the console and types frantically, refining and repositioning, and finally gets the dot placed on a map. It’s centered in Bologna, Italy, and by zooming in as far as he can and cross-checking with Google, Rufus verifies that it is one of the buildings of the University of Bologna. Once he’s gone to their website and clicked around for ages, he narrows that down to the medieval and early modern history library. Something is in the University of Bologna library that has not been there before, and while it is entirely possible that one of their academics went out and acquired something for the collections in the usual way, the TimeMaster 3000 has proven that that is not the case. Whatever is there has not tangibly or properly existed in the fabric of time until now, and for it to flash up like this means that it has the potential for major, devastating consequences. They stare at the blinking dot until their eyes go out of focus. Then Jiya says, “We have to go to Bologna.”

“Probably, but…” Rufus runs a hand over his face in frustration. “What the hell do we say? We don’t know what this is or what to do with it, and even if we do find it, it’s not like we can just steal it out of the archives. That would really get us in trouble, and – ”

“Leave that to me.” Jiya’s mind is whirring. She goes into the master bedroom – she’s left it as it is, it felt sacrilegious to sleep in here, so she and Rufus are in the guest room – and digs through Gabriel’s top drawer until she finds one of his business cards. He is, obviously, an extremely well-known art and antiquities dealer and connoisseur, and if she can convince the University of Bologna that she is acting on her uncle’s behalf (which is not strictly inaccurate) there could be at least a chance of seeing it. It will be very tricky if they ask to actually call him and get his approval, and they might be inclined to be stubborn and keep it for the betterment of public education rather than crassly pawning it off to some capitalist pig who wants it for his trophy case. Which a) they can’t be blamed for, but b) isn’t really what is happening, and c) is a problem for later anyway. Can they get to Bologna today? There are sleeper trains, and even if she didn’t have Rufus to account for, it’s longer than Jiya feels like running on foot. Or there would be a flight, but she doesn’t know if that would be quicker.

Jiya packs, while Rufus, bless his heart, has already hopped on the laptop and started researching travel options. He announces that they could in fact fly tonight, but Air France wants a mint for the direct route to Bologna, and the train requires eight hours overnight in the Milan station, which seems gross. Money is no issue for the de Clermonts, although Jiya has tried to live off her own salary more than family wealth, and as a lab assistant, that is not bounteous. However, now is not the time for principles, and if they have the means, they might as well ruthlessly take advantage of them. Jiya pulls out the credit card with her real name on it, they book the tickets, and since there is not much point sitting around here to fret and pace, finish their packing, lock up, and head for Charles de Gaulle.

It takes them a while to get through security, since Rufus is reluctant to put the TimeMaster 3000 through an X-ray machine and has to explain to the airport staff in extenuating detail that he is a scientist and it is not a bomb. It’s enough of a hassle that Jiya wonders if they should call the whole thing off and take the train instead, and finally, feeling bad about it but once more deciding that this is an all-hands-on-deck situation, she reaches for the vampire mesmer and calmly, soothingly, convincingly suggests to the officials that everything is fine and Rufus has cleared it up and they can go. Once this has finally worked and they have made it to the far side of the screening area, Rufus stares at her in awe and a slight tinge of fear. “Wow. Did you just – hypnotize them or something?”

“It’s called the mesmer. It’s a holdover from when vampires had to – you know, get feeds in other ways. We can usually get a human to do what we say and calm down, so – ”

“So they won’t be mad about you chomping on their jugular?” Rufus is usually pretty sensitive about the whole thing, but you can’t argue with his bluntness there. “I mean, uh, when you’ve fed on me, it’s felt pretty good, but I’m guessing that wasn’t the main objective back in the olden days.”

“Not really.” Jiya doesn’t know for sure, since when she was sired in the late nineteenth century, there were already plenty of laws and codes of conduct and other bureaucracy dealing with how a vampire was supposed to treat a feed. In case that’s not what he’s worried about, she adds quickly, “You know I would never do that to you, Rufus, right? I’m not going to just… trick you into doing whatever, and I doubt it would work that well on you anyway. It’s for people who don’t know it’s coming and are more suggestible, unaware, open to influence. You could probably resist me. At least if you tried a few times.”

“Is that something we should train me how to do?” Rufus asks, low-voiced, as they make their way into the terminal. “If another evil vampire pops up and tries to bamboozle me or put me into thrall – if Temple could do that to Jessica, who’s a witch, he wouldn’t break a sweat doing it to me, Ordinary Joe. What if someone tries to use me to hurt you? I don’t want that.”

Jiya looks at him tenderly, since she is touched that Rufus went almost that fast from being worried about the fact that she could mind-control people, to worrying that that power could be focused through him to hurt her. “You’re not Ordinary Joe,” she says. “You’re special, all right? You’re amazing. And we’re definitely not going to let anyone do anything to that big, beautiful brain of yours. If you really want me to teach you how to resist the mesmer, we can add it to the list. But I swear, Rufus, I will do anything to protect you, all right? I will.”

As she says that, she has a vision of the daemon that she killed in an alley in Oxford, the first time she actually outright murdered anyone, and how she has felt not quite like herself ever since, tainted somehow, shaken, soiled. She knows that murder is hardly uncommon among her family, that her grandmother, uncles, and father have all killed countless people, and while he was alive, no matter how noble, her grandfather did too. Most of the kills have been for some good purpose, to prevent a greater evil, but by no means all of them. Dad had that centuries-long campaign of vengeance. Grand-mère tore apart witches who had only the most tangential connection to Grand-père’s death. Both of her uncles have been soldiers for hundreds of years, and no soldier has clean hands. It’s not that Jiya judges them, and it’s not that she’s afraid of them, but it has forced her to reckon with that predator’s blood, that darker urge, in herself. In some ways, she’s scared that if she did start killing on a regular basis, it would be too easy to continue. Under the polish and poise, the wealth and sophistication, the unending life, the accomplishments, the intelligence, the good looks, everything that the de Clermonts have and do, they are still monsters.

She is distracted as they sit by the gate, waiting to board, and finally shuffle onto the plane. It’s a flight of just under two hours to Bologna, so they’ll be there tonight, but too late to pay a visit to the university. Jiya has a hunch that whatever has turned up in the library is connected to Jessica – after all, who else can be making new things in the fifteenth century, causing changes, ripples that have fetched up on the shore? If it’s made it this far, it has some kind of long-term survival, untold effects on the people and places that it has encountered in five hundred-plus years. But what?

They push back from the gate and take off, as Jiya stares anxiously out the window at the city lights falling away beneath them and Rufus dozes on her shoulder. She misses Dad. She wasn’t expecting to as much as she does. After all, their relationship has always been strange, tentative, truncated. He has protected her, he never failed in his sire duties, he fed her and nursed her through the blood hungers like any other caring parent with a newborn. But they’re still more comfortable acting like professional colleagues than father and daughter, he’s only just started to let her call him that unqualifiedly, and now he’s gone to the goddamn Elizabethan era to save the world. She is proud of him and she loves him and she doesn’t want him not to. But still.

The world slips below in a twilight haze, and it’s only another hour-odd until they’re starting the descent into Bologna. Rufus snorts and wakes up, rubbing his eyes and apologizing for the snooze, and they land, collect their things, and shuffle off. Since Jiya has a French passport, she can sail through the EU arrival gates, while Rufus, on his American one, has to go through customs proper. Fortunately, it’s late enough that it’s not that busy, and they get an Uber into the city center, looking around for a hotel that is not too expensive and within convenient walking distance of the Piazza San Giovanni in Monte, where they will be addressing themselves tomorrow. A group of Italian guys with slick gelled hair wolf-whistle at Jiya, Rufus swells indignantly, and she lays a comforting hand on his arm. Then she smiles at them complete with full fangs, and they practically trip over their shoes running away, shouting in horror, and actually crossing themselves. You know, sometimes there are perks.

They finally end up in a plain but comfortable hotel a few minutes off the piazza, and Rufus barely manages to change out of his clothes before he crashes into bed. Jiya is also tired, in a different way, and crawls in next to him, deciding that she’ll ask about a feed when he is more compos mentis. She is going to need all her wits if they are going to pull this off.

She falls asleep soon after, wakes up the next morning, and digs out her smart skirt, blouse, and jacket, attempting to look like someone that an uber-wealthy art dealer would send to make an offer on a valuable piece. She does her hair and makeup, Rufus has also brought a button-up shirt, jacket, and slacks, and they have managed to make themselves two percent respectable as they head out. By day, Bologna is an attractive historical city, and the university claims to be the oldest in the world (the Western world, at least, as Al-Azhar University in Egypt was founded in the tenth century by the Fatimids). They stop to get a coffee and pastry, and Jiya thinks that while they’re in the neighborhood, they could pop by Venice and find out what the hell (literally) is up with Poveglia and the break-in at the tomb. But a de Clermont, even one from the junior branch of the family, turning up there would throw red flags like crazy, and Wyatt said he was going to look into it. One thing at a time.

They eat their breakfast (or rather, Rufus does) and Jiya, feeling bad about treating him like cheap takeout, nonetheless asks in an undertone if he can follow her into the bathroom. It is far from the most romantic or tasteful feed she has ever had, but it takes only a few minutes and she feels somewhat more clear-headed when it’s done. She licks at the small wounds in Rufus’s neck to close them, he makes sure that his collar covers them, and they emerge as she hopes that the proprietor doesn’t think they went in there for a quickie. (This is Italy, it would not be the first time.) They double-check the directions on her phone, and set off.

The library is housed in a Renaissance villa of rose-red stone, with arches and columns surrounding a cobbled courtyard and students and researchers coming and going. As they make their way inside, Jiya thinks for an instant that she recognizes one of them, and tries not to spin her head around sharply. She thinks it was one of the creatures who was following them in Oxford, one of the vampires. He’s tall and lean and dashingly good-looking, with a long black ponytail, artful scruff, a leather jacket, and designer jeans, and he’s clearly thinking that the mirrored aviator sunglasses will be enough to throw them off. This is far from an uncommon fashion taste around here, and Jiya can’t be 100% sure that it’s him, but this feels like an unpropitious start.

She turns away before he can notice her, and they go inside and find the curator. Jiya introduces herself more or less confidently as Gabriel de Clermont’s niece, and hands over the business card. “My uncle would like to look at a certain item in your collection,” she says. “Something from the fifteenth century. It may be filed under the name Jessica?”

“Jessica?” The curator looks at her oddly, as if thinking that she might be mispronouncing an Italian word. “From the fifteenth century? That would be unlikely, Signorina de Clermont. The name was not used until after Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, at the end of the sixteenth century. Are you sure that is it?”

“Yes.” Jiya wonders how badly they might be messing up literary history, but that is definitely on the lower end of the scale. “Could you look?”

“The items held in the university collections are not normally made available to private buyers, signorina. I could perhaps arrange for you to consult it, but – ”

“My uncle just needs to compare it with something else he has,” Jiya lies swiftly. “We’re not looking to buy this one. I realize that ordinarily we should have phoned ahead, but you know, he is very busy, and – ”

It takes several more minutes of this, but Gabriel de Clermont is Gabriel de Clermont, and the curator finally goes off to look. Jiya really hopes that this is not another Ashmole 782 situation, where there’s only one person who can get this damn book (she thinks it’s likely to be a book) out of the archive, but the vampire outside seems to have covered his bases just in case. Should she go and see if he’s still there, or would that be even more suspicious? It has occurred to her that she could try mesmering the curator into handing over the book, but that would definitely cause trouble, and she doesn’t want to get anyone fired. This may be something of a naïve concern when the stakes are what they are, but still.

The curator returns with a surprised expression and beckons Jiya and Rufus to follow him. They step into his office, where he shuts the door and indicates the book that he has laid out carefully on foam wedges. It is definitely very old, pages browned and spine fraying, and Jiya feels it like a punch in the stomach as she reads the title page and the author. A history of the republic of Venice, by Jessica Proctor. Maybe that’s why it’s ended up in an Italian university collection, and she wonders if she can ask the curator if they have an ownership history for this item, who they might have bought it from, or if they just won’t remember. As she’s still staring, the curator says, “Is this the item, signorina?”

“Ah – yes. Yes, I think so.” Jiya tries to sound casual. “If we could look at it – ”

The curator somewhat grudgingly allows that they can, and Jiya turns the fine, translucent pages, trying to reconcile the book’s obvious and venerable age with the woman she saw in front of her, an ordinary modern person, just a few months ago. Knowing that people have gone into the past is one thing, but seeing the proof is something else, and if Jessica has been resident in the fifteenth century long enough to write this, something has definitely not gone according to plan. Jiya checks the date: 1484. This would be one of the early printed books after Gutenberg did his thing in the 1440s, and the words resemble gothic handwriting rather than type. Jiya squints, as she is a scientist and not a paleography expert, and tries to look as if she knows what she is doing. The book is written in English, which is a surprise since it’s about Venice, but not since Jiya knows who wrote it, and it could have been intended for an English audience anyway. Or – for what? Did Jessica just decide to settle down and live out her days in the fifteenth century? Wyatt might not be happy about that, but at least it would mean that she survived. But this book is significant enough to ping on the TimeMaster 3000, and that means it’s dangerous. It can change things.

After a preliminary examination, however, Jiya can’t find what that might be. She would have to read it in depth, but she obviously can’t take it out of the collection, and isn’t sure what shape it might be in when she gave it back. If she is going to convince the curator otherwise, she will have to deliberately and intensively mesmer him, and no matter if she used a little mojo on the airport officials, this feels like another step down a dangerous path. They need time to confer anyway, so she thanks the curator, says that they will return later, and heads out.

“So?” Rufus says, once they are back in the gauzy sunlight. “Did you see anything? It was definitely her book, but was it magical, or – whatever?”

“I don’t know.” Jiya glances over her shoulder for the Gucci model, but she doesn’t see him. “The fact that it exists means that she was, or has been, in the fifteenth century for a long time, but I can’t be sure what that means, or how.”

“We can’t just leave it here, can we?” Rufus clearly does not want to propose that they steal it, but if not, it’s like ignoring an active bomb, especially with Venice just two hours’ drive to the north. Any of the Congregation members could pop down here at their leisure and have a look, and Temple can’t be happy about losing his thrall, must be searching for any way to get her back. “Couldn’t you just do whatever you did at the airport?”

“I don’t want that to be the first plan, but…” Jiya trails off, wondering if she really has room for scruples. Tender sensibilities about free will and institutional responsibility and not wanting to cause a fuss, when the future (and past) of so much hangs in the balance. “Hold on, I’m going to call Uncle Wyatt. Maybe he’ll have some advice.”

Rufus gives her a fish eye, as if to say that if Wyatt has any realistic or rational advice where Jessica is concerned, he’d be very surprised. He is charitable enough not to say so, at any rate, and Jiya steps off to a private corner of the piazza while Rufus vigilantly keeps a lookout for marauding vampires. She pulls out her phone and dials Wyatt.

It takes him a few rings to pick up, but he does, sounding harried. “Jiya? Everything okay?”

“I… hope so? I – there’s something you should know. We scanned the fifteenth century when we got home, like we promised, and something did turn up.”

“What?” Wyatt practically shouts, and quickly has to moderate himself. “Are you still in Paris? Did something happen?”

“Hold on.” With that, Jiya explains the mysterious appearance of a book in the University of Bologna archives, a book that Jessica wrote, and how she still hasn’t cracked what exactly it means, but it probably isn’t good. “So,” she finishes. “We can’t just leave it here, but we also can’t just swipe it either. I need to look at it again and see if there’s something else, and I – I was hoping you could tell me what to do. If you knew.”

She can hear Wyatt blow out a breath, as if to say damned if he does. “When did you say it was from again?”

“1484. I don’t know what year Lucy sent her to exactly, but it had to be around there. So that’s a hundred and six years behind Dad and Lucy, but if Jessica could still be in some – ”

“What? 1484?” Wyatt swears under his breath. “Oh, shit.”

“Why? What happened in 1484?”

“On December 5, 1484, Pope Innocent VIII issued the bull Summis desiderantes,” Wyatt says grimly. “On request of the Dominican inquisitor Heinrich Kramer, who wanted explicit authority to persecute witchcraft in Germany and the Holy Roman Empire, granting him broad powers to investigate, try, and torture magicians and witches. You probably know Kramer as the author of the Malleus Maleficarum, which appeared in about 1486. It did get condemned fairly quickly by the church, but that doesn’t matter. If Jessica is a witch in 1484, she’s pretty much got a giant target on her back. This – Jesus.”

“The Malleus?” Jiya has in fact heard of it, as one of the most famous witch-hunting handbooks of the Renaissance, notable for its raging misogyny and homophobia and other delightful things. “Wait, she landed right when that was written? Or at least when Kramer really went off the rails with being a dick? Are you sure?”

“I was alive in 1484,” Wyatt reminds her. “The Knights of Lazarus were called in trying to get innocent witches and ordinary human women alike to safety, Gabriel and Garcia and I were all part of that. So yes, I’m sure.”

“Right.” Jiya looks up at the sky. “But Kramer’s in Germany, and Jessica is in Italy. And you said that the church changes its mind pretty quickly about sanctioning him, so – ”

“Not until a few years after it’s published!” Wyatt is definitely getting agitated. “And that’s just the start of witch hunts in Europe anyway, you know that! If Jessica – ”

“Maybe,” Jiya interrupts. “But what are we supposed to do about it? None of us are witches, much less timewalking witches. Uncle Wyatt, I’m sorry, I know you want to protect her, but we all stuck our necks out and took a pretty big risk to save Jessica once. She’s smart, this is her period of specialty, I’m sure she knows exactly what’s going on. She’ll take all the reasonable steps to keep herself out of danger.”

It sounds slightly strange in Jiya’s mouth to be talking about Jessica in the present tense, when this is over five hundred years ago, but welcome to time travel. There’s another pause. Then Wyatt says, “Yes, but if Temple knows where she is, when she is – ”

“That’s bad,” Jiya admits. “But he can’t timewalk either, as far as we know. He’s still in the present. Otherwise, he definitely would have gone after Dad and Lucy, right? This is not a great situation, but we don’t have proof that he knows about it. I don’t want to destroy the book, obviously, and it would get us in trouble, but – ”

“There could be other copies,” Wyatt says. “Even if you got rid of this one, you couldn’t guarantee that he’d never see one.”

“No.” Jiya’s stomach feels leaden. “No, I couldn’t.”

The line goes silent on both ends for several moments. Wyatt is clearly trying to control his panic, his knee-jerk reaction to rush in and save Jessica again no matter the cost, and Jiya isn’t sure what to tell him to talk him down. The book is important and dangerous, that’s already been established, and she still doesn’t know what to do about it. She is also sensing that as Rufus suspected, Wyatt, bless his heart, is something less than an objective advisor on the situation, and they have already gotten themselves into enough messes on this front. Trying to change the subject, she says, “Is Sept-Tours looking all right?”

“I think so. I’m here right now, it’s…” Wyatt pauses. “It’s very strange. To be in this place by myself. The Knights on guard say there haven’t been any more spies, but I can’t just move Maman back the first time there are a few uneventful days. They could be holding off, trying to lull us into a false sense of security. I’m going to go upstairs in a bit and look through Papa’s old things, see if there’s anything that could explain what the hell he put under Poveglia. Anything else for now?”

“I… I’m not sure, but there’s a chance that one of the creatures I saw in Oxford followed us here. A vampire. Looks very handsome-bad-boy, black hair, stylish dresser. Does that sound like anyone you can think of?”

“Most vampires look handsome-bad-boy,” Wyatt points out, which is not inaccurate. “And if there are other creatures being drawn to Jessica’s book, someone else already knows about it. Watch your back, all right? Do you want me to send some Knights?”

“I’ll probably handle it.” Jiya hasn’t met many of them, but they are a little too self-important and humorless for her tastes. “But I’ll call you again soon. Okay?”

Wyatt hesitates. “Okay.”

With that, they hang up, and Jiya makes her way over to Rufus, who glances up. “Well? What are we doing?”

“I still don’t know.” Jiya sits down next to him. “We’ll have to go back this afternoon and see if there’s anything else we can wring out of it. Apparently 1484 was the year that there was a papal bull really kicking the witch hunt into high gear, so Uncle Wyatt’s not happy about that. He’s trying to see if there’s anything in Grand-père’s things that will explain the break-in at Poveglia.”

“Welp.” Rufus sighs. “I mean, that’s clearly something outrageously evil, I’m not sure why we need more information, but I guess it would be helpful to be sure exactly what. I’ve seen horror movies, I know how this goes. Why didn’t your grandpa just kill it?”

“If it’s a tomb, that implies he did kill it,” Jiya says. “But someone could have brought it back to life, or done something else. Anyway, did you by any chance see a guy, tall, with black hair and sunglasses? Watching us, or – ?”

“This is Italy,” Rufus says. “That describes literally every single dude around here. You’ll have to be a little more specific.”

“I might have seen one of the creatures from Oxford earlier,” Jiya says. “A vampire. Looks like a cool artiste. Black hair, ponytail, jeans, that whole vibe. If someone’s following us, I just want to know about it.”

“I’ll be sure to tell you if I see Goth Edward Cullen.” Rufus glances around, just in case, but the piazza is presently free of such individuals. “So should we head back, or…?”

“I guess so.” Jiya can’t think of anything else, though she’s not sure what they’ll tell the curator that she hadn’t already thought of an hour ago. “Come on.”

They return to the library and inveigle the curator to get the book out again, though he’s probably wondering what exactly Gabriel de Clermont and/or his purported client actually want with it. Jiya looks carefully through every page while Rufus glances up at the window every so often, and by the end of the afternoon, she has had to use more than a little mesmer to defray the curator’s suspicions and still found nothing. Except, that is, for a reference to Matthias Corvinus, the guy whose library they were planning to send Flynn’s past self after. Jessica mentioned being at his court and using that library. If Temple reads this book, he will know exactly when and where she is, and more than that, Jiya is pretty sure that Corvinus’s library is precisely the kind of thing that Michael Temple should not get his hands on. He doesn’t have another timewalking witch, does he? He’s probably looking like crazy for one, if nothing else, and they can’t guarantee on him not having one forever, or even much longer. Plus this whole thing with Poveglia, and…

At that, a dark, unformed suspicion swirls through Jiya’s head. She’s not even sure what it is, or what it would be referring to, or if she’s remotely on the right track at all, but if something bad has happened at that place, some kind of evil has been released – Rufus is right, they all know how this goes – it seems unlikely in the extreme that Temple doesn’t know anything about it. Should she go to Venice? Jiya isn’t one of the soldiers in the family, she knows not to underestimate him, and Dad would probably have a heart attack if he knew that she went alone into deliberate danger. But with Jessica’s book and the broken tomb, with all this, with the sense that things are teetering on the very brink – they are all going to have to take risks, before this is over. Jiya wouldn’t bring Rufus, obviously. She isn’t going to expose him to that. But if she’s the only one here to deal with it…

No, no. She can’t act like Garcia Flynn’s daughter, no matter how much she wants to, and charge single-handed at a bunch of bad guys, damn the torpedoes, and blow up everything in her way. Wyatt offered to send her Knights of Lazarus for backup, but they will be conspicuous, and anyone in Venice would recognize them on sight. The Congregation is probably just waiting for the de Clermonts to put another toe wrong, so they can really bring the hammer down. Not that the Congregation exists these days as any kind of meaningful or unified entity, as Wyatt said, but they might be able to pull together again to get rid of their common enemies. They have no friends there, that’s for sure, and Jiya can’t call her grandmother and ask for advice, when there’s no way to explain why she’s in Bologna without fessing up about Jessica. She doesn’t know who, she doesn’t –

At that, she has an idea. It will be tricky without tipping off Grand-mère as well, but there is one other member of the de Clermont family who is useful in a pinch and long accustomed to keeping secrets. After Jiya and Rufus have returned the book to the collections and forced themselves to walk out at an unsuspicious pace, Jiya says, “Hold on, I have to make another call. Why don’t you go around the corner and get some –  wait, no. If there are strange vampires following us, I don’t want you out of sight. I just… one second.”

While Rufus is blinking at her in some concern, Jiya steps just out of earshot, but where she can still keep an eye on him, and takes out her phone again. She scrolls through it, hits the button, and waits tensely.

Cecilia answers on the last ring. “Jiya,” she says, somewhat surprised. “Are you looking for Madame? She is out. Hunting.”

“I – no. I was – I actually hoping to talk to you.” Jiya clears her throat awkwardly. “Are you alone?”

There is a pause. Then Cecilia says, “It is just me, yes.”

“Okay, good.” Jiya doesn’t want to tell Cecilia all this directly, even as she suspects that the chatelaine knows full well that they did something with Jessica and have been keeping it from Maria. “I thought there was a chance I might have to go to Venice, and I was just wondering, if so, if you might be able to come and help me.”

“Venice?” She can almost hear Cecilia arching both eyebrows. “That is not a safe place for any of us to be right now, you know that.”

“I know, but I just…” Jiya is bursting to tell her, since Cecilia is the one person that she, that they, that all of them have trusted for so long, the honorary member of their family who was sired by one of their greatest enemies, but has held them together in all of their worst tragedies. “Did Wyatt tell you about this weird break-in in Poveglia?”

“He mentioned something about that when we spoke earlier,” Cecilia says. “Yes.”

“Is there any chance Grand-mère would know? Surely if Grand-père was involved, he would have told her. They did not have any secrets from each other, everyone always said so.”

“She may,” Cecilia allows. “I will have to ask her when she returns. Perhaps your uncle said, but she does not care for Scotland at all. She has taken to spending long hours hunting.”

“I know he was hoping to move you two back to Sept-Tours as soon as he could,” Jiya says. “He went there after we met in Paris yesterday, he’s looking into it. But…”

She trails off. It still seems foolhardy to suggest that they crash into Venice themselves. Cecilia is a formidably competent woman in many ways, and no mean hand at fighting (her father won the Battle of Hastings, he would be disappointed if she was anything else) but if Jiya asks her to do this, to keep this huge secret from Madame, it’s going to compound an already significant betrayal. No matter what Jiya and Wyatt have assured each other about Flynn and Lucy getting back with the antidote and fixing Gabriel and having everything be fine, they know you can’t just handwave things like that. Maria may be brought to understand, but it’s not guaranteed that she will forgive immediately, or at all. She doesn’t, not really. As much as all three of the de Clermont sons have struggled with their tendency to violence, they come by it honestly. Maria can be the most terrifying of them all, and they know it’s unfair. But it’s just seemed… Jiya doesn’t even know. “Easier” isn’t it. And yet.

“Do not do anything foolish,” Cecilia says crisply, apparently reading Jiya’s mind. “You are still in Paris just now, are you not?”

“I…” It is absolutely horrible to lie to Cecilia, and Jiya doesn’t want to be caught out later. “We’re in Bologna, actually. Italy. Something came up when Rufus scanned the fifteenth century, and – anyway. Ask Uncle Wyatt, if you talk to him again.”

“I shall do that,” Cecilia says. “But while you are there, perhaps think of – ”

At that, suddenly, she stops. Jiya hears her make a brief, confused sound, as if she has looked around sharply at an unexpected intrusion. “Cecilia?” she says, anxiety revving up. “Cecilia, is everything – ”

There’s a clunk as if the phone has been dropped, and then a crash and shatter of breaking glass, thumps, shouting, and Cecilia snarling – and someone else, there’s someone else there, and it isn’t Maria. Jiya yells ever more frantically, as if that is going to do a goddamn thing for something happening in the Scottish Highlands, but Cecilia doesn’t answer, hands full with fighting the intruder. Finally, there’s a noise as if she’s hit the ground and is grabbing frantically for the phone. “Jiya,” she manages, strangled, half-understandable. “Jiya, it’s – ”

She doesn’t finish the sentence. There’s a crack, a thump, and something that sounds horribly like Cecilia, of all people, screaming in pain. Then it cuts off in a gurgle, the phone line turns into silent, dead air, and with a click, there is nothing more.

Chapter Text

It is very late by the time Flynn and Lucy finally get to bed. He, of course, is still completely stunned, and she is also feeling the need to get out of sight and, at least for a little while, be relieved of the obligation to act as if she knows what is going on and is in control of it, pinky swear. Between Asher, Christian, Agnes, and this stray kid, Jack, the house is quite full, and Lucy doesn’t mind giving up her quarters to Agnes anyway. Once again, she is not going to get to sleep in, as they will have to be up bright and early for church tomorrow, and they lie there side by side, staring up at the curtains of the great bed, neither of them entirely certain how to sum up the day’s whirlwind events. Finally Lucy says, “Your father. Wow.”

“Indeed.” Flynn shudders with a half-restrained sigh. “I – perhaps I should have thought, but he was in France the whole time before, I didn’t think he’d actually – that he would come to London. I’m happy he did, don’t get me wrong, but this makes it… complicated.”

Lucy turns her head on the pillow to glance at him. She knows that far from the question of whether Asher can help them with Ashmole 782 and all that, which to some degree he has already done, this leaves Flynn stuck with a truly unenviable Sophie’s Choice. Now that Asher knows some of the truth, that they’ve traveled here from the future and that that future is far from happy, the de Clermonts torn apart by tragedy and permanently estranged, do they have a responsibility to tell him the rest of it? Does Flynn want to make his own father the guardian of an action that won’t happen for another hundred and seventy-two years, to try to change the circumstances that lead to Christian’s murder? Asher is accustomed to strange and unusual burdens, as the grandmaster of the Knights of Lazarus and the patriarch of the most powerful vampire family in Europe, but that would be the worst. It would alter everything that happened with Matej, with Past Flynn, with Gabriel, with the entire situation that they could return to – and besides, they don’t even know if this scale of meddling with the past is permissible or safe. After all, history, once it’s done, becomes set, concrete, relied upon to proceed in a predictable fashion and stack up to build the present. Going in there and randomly yanking fuses is not a great idea. Of course Flynn wants to save Christian, Lucy can already tell that and she did not expect anything else, but either they tell Asher and make a mess, or keep it from him and, once again, break their hearts.

“I just…” Flynn starts again. “I know it’s going to happen, that Christian’s going to die, and technically, right now, I’m not responsible for it. But ultimately, I am. I’m the one who brings Matej to Sept-Tours, I’m the one who couldn’t kill him even when I should have, I…” He stops, throat working, and his hand closes convulsively over Lucy’s. It is much larger than hers, but she feels as if she’s the one bearing him up. “Seeing him here, alive and happy, and my father, and just knowing the awful things that are going to happen to both of them, and how much we’re going to suffer without them… why did we timewalk, huh? Why did we timewalk, except to save the people we love, to fix everything that’s broken? We were told to get an antidote for Gabriel, and we will, but the others – ”

“I can’t imagine what it’s like,” Lucy says. She moves closer, tucking herself into his side, and Flynn wraps his arm around her, their hands interlocking on his chest. She presses a kiss to his shoulder, can feel him vibrating like a plucked harp string. “But I’m not sure what we can do.”

“Maybe we tell Asher the rest,” Flynn says recklessly. “Or no, wait. Maybe we bring both of them back with us, when we return to the future. They can’t be dead if we bring them with us, alive. There is nothing, nothing in this entire life, in all my centuries of existence, that I want more than to walk into Sept-Tours with Papa, and see my mother’s face.”

“I know, I know.” Lucy rubs her hand over the line of his collarbone, cupping his face, turning him to her for a kiss. Flynn clings ferociously, willing her to give him hope, to tell him that it’s possible, and she hates with her entire heart to have to utter the next words. “But we can’t do that.”

Something shadowed falls behind his eyes. “Why?”

“Because if your father and Christian just disappear from the sixteenth century, what do you think that will do? Even if we somehow got everyone to believe that we were actually family from the future and were taking them away for their own safety – and I don’t see Gabriel doing that, by the way – then what? You make your family live without them for four hundred years anyway, you make Gabriel lose his son two hundred years earlier, and who knows what would happen in the centuries to come, if Asher isn’t there to do whatever he does as grandmaster of the Knights? If we walked back into Sept-Tours with them in the present day, your mother wouldn’t have seen her husband murdered in 1944. She would have lost him centuries ago, in 1590, and she’d think that we killed him. Or worse, she… it wouldn’t be what you were expecting. Maybe she wouldn’t want to see him again. Maybe she would have managed to heal, or found someone else, or…”

“My parents never loved anyone the way they loved each other.” Flynn’s voice is tight. “She would be happy either way. I know she would.”

“We don’t know,” Lucy says quietly, hating that she has to be the one to say this to him, when she knows he’s grasping at straws and been given simultaneously the best and the worst thing possible. “It would change the history you want to fix, it would create more problems that we can’t foresee, and we don’t know if moving them out of the time where they’re supposed to exist, violently transplanting them almost half a millennium into the future, would be a good idea. The universe would know they don’t belong there, like white blood cells sent to attack an infection, it could be – ”

“You sound like Rufus.” By Flynn’s tone, he doesn’t mean it as a compliment. “We don’t know that any of that would happen.”

“Exactly. We don’t know. And it wouldn’t fix your family. It would just change the wounds, make them even deeper, spread out the pain and twist everything up again. Garcia, we – ”

“So what?” Something like a snarl lurks in his voice, almost enough to make Lucy pull her hand away. “We just leave and let them both die again?”

“It’s history. It already happened. We can save Gabriel, that’s what we came here to do.” She cups his face, trying to get his eyes to focus on her, but they remain bleak and black and empty. “Garcia, listen to me. We have to be on the same side in this.”

After a pause, Flynn curls his hand around hers and squeezes, wordlessly apologizing for the fright, but he doesn’t back down. “We were talking about it with Agnes,” he says. “How it might be our responsibility if we could stop what happened to her, and we didn’t. This isn’t just history now, this is real. This is my family, Lucy. Even if we did change things, how could we possibly make it worse? We have already lived through hell, what does it matter?”

“Believe me,” Lucy says. “If there was any way I could think of, any way that wouldn’t run this kind of risk, that wouldn’t be what you were trying to do, I would help you. You know, you know I would. Sweetheart, please. I can’t imagine what you’re going through, and I hate with my entire soul to ask you to endure it, but still.”

Flynn doesn’t answer. It’s clear that he’s staying silent rather than saying something that he might regret, and the tension has wound him too tightly to move without exploding. His fingers make slow circles on the inside of her palm, and he lifts her hand to his mouth and kisses it, but it is clearly not a conciliation. Then he says, “Jack, that boy Christian brought home. He saw me feeding on Papa, and it frightened him. We had a look at his neck, and something has clearly been doing the same to him. I’m not sure, but it might be the same thing that attacked you and Meg and Karl in the street a few weeks ago.”

“The hooded…thing? What is it?”

“I have no idea,” Flynn says, “but it has a nasty set of fangs, whatever it is. Feeding on a child as well… that’s flagrantly against the law, and clearly with no regard for him.”

“Why would something do that?” Lucy supposes it’s a moot question where evil hooded demons are involved, but still. “Why a child?”

“Because if you drink the blood of something young and fresh and innocent,” Flynn says, “it helps you regain those properties as well. Elizabeth Bathory, the ‘blood countess’ of Hungary, supped on nubile young girls to retain her youth and beauty. But for old or particularly. . . desiccated vampires, drinking repeatedly from a child would be an appealing prospect.”

“Is there one of those around here?” Lucy does not like how any of this is sounding. “Gabriel said that a Father Andrew Hubbard was the head of the London vampires. If there’s some kind of rogue running around attacking children, he should know about it, shouldn’t he?”

“Yes,” Flynn says slowly, “but Hubbard can be… difficult. Gabriel and I don’t like him, and he doesn’t like us. He is constantly paranoid that we, as foreign French noblemen, are going to stage a coup and take over control of London, and he knows that with the de Clermont wealth and power behind us, we could do it. He’ll be even less happy to hear that now Papa is here as well, and he could blame us or think we brought the rogue here with us.”

“But we didn’t,” Lucy says. “It might be a problem, but it didn’t – ”

Flynn looks as if he’s thinking hard about something. Then he says, “If whatever’s been feeding on Jack is the same thing that you saw outside the inn that first Sunday, and then again outside the Pembrokes’ ball, that attacked you on the way home from Lady Beaton’s, it could have come to London because of us. We don’t know.”

“But if it followed us here from somewhen else,” Lucy objects, “it would have to be a witch, a timewalker. And it’s not, it’s a vampire. At least, as far as we can tell.”

“Maybe.” Flynn settles her into the crook of his arm, her head resting on the joint of his shoulder. “It’s something we haven’t seen before, though, and it’s clearly taken a particular interest in us. If we’re keeping him, we should be prepared for anything.”

“Are we keeping him?” Lucy is not going to insist that they turn him out into the gutter, but a strange and slightly feral street child that is apparently the favored snack of something monstrous doesn’t seem like a comfortable houseguest. “Is that a good idea…?”

“We need to find what’s after us one way or the other,” Flynn says, with slightly chilling matter-of-factness. “It would be easier like this.”

Lucy supposes that’s true, even as she can’t banish a lingering disquiet. It’s clear that Flynn has done anything but give up on the idea of saving Asher and Christian, and while he’s not going to outright use a child as bait to set a trap, he certainly seems a lot more interested in letting Jack stay than he did a few hours ago. She can’t deny the ruthless sense that it makes, in an attempt to flush out whatever dark demon appears to be hunting them, but this is a side of Flynn that she hasn’t seen as much, and it reminds her that as soft as he can be with her, nobody has feared him or fought him down the centuries by accident. He is a formidably competent warrior and a cold-blooded killer when he needs to be, and there is nothing that he will not do in order to protect his family, especially grappling with the guilt of having to lose them again right before his eyes. He’s not off the handle, exactly, but he’s on the edge of a dangerous place, and given that they’re still struggling to connect and communicate right now, Lucy doesn’t want to let him wander off any further alone. She leans down and kisses him, parting his lips with her tongue, and he kisses her back, the two of them content to leave words behind for a few minutes. Then she whispers, “Garcia, let me relax you a bit, okay?”

He glances up at her, considers, then shifts beneath her, wordlessly granting permission. He raises his hand and strokes her hair, and she can feel him struggle to accept each kiss she plants on his skin, on the suit of armor that he wears so impenetrably. In some ways it’s grown there from necessity, as she is seeing for herself the depth of what he has lost and the horror of that tragedy, and all she can do is chip at it, bit by bit, melt the miles-thick carapace of ice in which he has convinced himself that it is best to live. She pulls his nightshirt up, kissing her way down the rugged, dark-furred line of his chest, biting at each hipbone, before she takes him slowly and thoroughly into her mouth. Flynn bucks up and utters an inarticulate sound, grasping at her hair. There is so much tension in him that Lucy doubts one single orgasm can solve it, but she’ll do her best.

She sucks and licks with deliberate attention, until he starts swearing in a language other than English, which means she’s doing it right. His free hand claws at the sheets, and his heels dig into the bed. He is clearly making a tremendous effort not to rise up like lightning and flip her over, the way that threw them off so much back at Denise and Michelle’s, and Lucy doesn’t want to pressure him or force him past anything he’s comfortable with. But the tension that this adds is backfiring on her aim of relaxing him, and she pulls back, letting him slip out of her mouth, though she leans down to kiss the deep groove of hip and groin. Then she whispers, “It’s all right. You could – you could try.”

Flynn’s face is standing in cold sweat, eyes half-unfocused with the strain of controlling himself. He utters an inarticulate noise, clawing at her, cupping the back of her head in his hand and pulling her up to his mouth for a savage, greedy kiss. Then he pants, “We should – church tomorrow, we – ”

“Oh for the love of – ” Lucy loves this fool with her whole heart, she does, but trust him to derail this with the reminder that it’s late and they have to get up and be conspicuously virtuous in the morning. “Garcia – ”

Despite her best efforts, it comes out as a needy little whine, and he glances at her in surprise, as if he hasn’t realized it was quite that bad. (Of course he hasn’t.) He runs his hands down her sides, as she rolls her hips against him and both of them groan. Then he looks at her and whispers, “Are you sure?”

“Yes. Please, yes.” Lucy grips his face in both hands and looks into his eyes. “You can bite me if you want, to be certain. But I – I need – I need you. Please.”

Flynn considers, and then finally decides that all right, he can actually listen to what she’s saying with her mouth for once, rather than God knows what else runs off with him between the ears. He rolls her over as if she’s made of glass, takes hold of her nightgown as Lucy raises her arms so he can pull it off, and once both of them are naked, lies her carefully on her back among the pillows. He gets up on his knees above her, then seems inclined to spend a while kissing her and rubbing her and otherwise making sure she is ready. She pulls at him with a frustrated growl, and at last, slowly, he eases down between her legs, as she reaches up to help guide him. He presses at her entrance, Lucy utters a gasping little whine, and comes down on all fours above her, hands and knees. Slowly, slowly, clearly making sure he does not lose control for a single instant or forget where he is or who he is with, Flynn slides into her for the first time, so carefully that he does not catch or hitch or hurt at any point. She is the one to arch and gulp and swear this time, grabbing at his hips, until he is finally seated to the hilt. He is large enough to fill her just to the point of sweet stretching, and God, it feels good to have him there. She kisses his ear, whispering reassurances, as if he is a skittish horse that might imminently bolt, and they lie entangled.

Flynn lets out a shaky breath, braces his weight on his elbows, and gives her a small nudge, encouraging her to roll him over onto his back so she can be on top and take control. Lucy does so, because she likes being on top anyway, because it’s more practical given the size difference, and because she can sense that it will make him more comfortable if she is the one who sets the pace. He reaches up to take hold of her hips, callused thumbs settling in the hollow of the joint, enacting small adjustments to the fit, as he hits a sweet spot inside her and she moans. They look into each other’s eyes the whole time, and she can tell that he is not going to relax, he is not going to give himself fully over to this. He has to remain vigilantly on guard the whole time, and if there is any chance of hurting her or biting her or mating with her or whatever he’s worried about, he will instantly pull the plug. He will give this to her, and he wants her, but he is so very scared.

Lucy reaches down, gripping hold of his shoulders, letting her hair fall in his face, soothing him with small kisses, as he begins to thrust cautiously, slowly, holding himself back from how fast or hard he could definitely go. It feels damn good anyway, it’s the first time she’s gotten properly laid since at least Noah, and since their relationship fell off the sex wagon a while before they actually broke up, Lucy fears she won’t be able to last that long either. She utters small, helpless, hungry noises in the back of her throat, riding and writhing and grinding on him, taking him deep and then deeper, hitting that spot that makes her see white. Flynn picks up the pace a few notches, but still won’t give himself over to unrestrained release and wild abandon, pulling her and opening her and angling her to receive the best effect of his strokes. He barely blinks, he barely breathes, giving her this silent gesture of trust, and Lucy leans down on top of him, their bare chests pressing together. “It’s all right,” she whispers. “It’s all right. Garcia, look at me, look at me, I’m all right.”

He does, he does not look anywhere else except her eyes, his own wide and white and still afraid, even as their bodies fall into their own rhythm and he grunts, lifting himself against her more and more insistently, desperate for the intimacy and the need and the completion. Lucy digs her fingers into his back, feeling his muscles straining and sliding, the immense immortal strength he is keeping on a ruthless rein. “Jesus,” he mutters hoarsely. “Moja ljubav, ma lionne.”

They move faster, Flynn sharply checks himself when they seem on the verge of surpassing whatever strict internal speed limit he has set, and then finally, as he reaches between them to finger her, as both of them have been deprived and drained and gone without for much too long, they lose it within a few seconds of each other. He groans and swears, Lucy collapses on his chest as dazzling whiteness rushes through her, and she feels like a wrung-out rag, hot and wet and trembling. She turns her head and kisses his collarbone and solar plexus, sucks at his nipple, as the climax shivers through her from head to toe. Flynn shudders in silence, hand circling on her back, pressing her against him as she feels him start to soften inside her. “It’s all right,” she whispers again, stroking his face. “It’s all right.”

They lie there like that for several moments longer, until he groans again and lifts her off him with a slick, wet sound as they separate. Lucy settles herself down next to him, her arm over his chest, feeling happy and satiated and tender and sad all at once. He turns his head to kiss her again, and she knows that this was some compromise between them, some milestone that neither of them regret, but still was not exactly how he wanted it to happen. Not because of not wanting her, but because he fears so deeply and intrinsically that he is not what she wants, or that he will never be able to come to her as he truly is, without that lingering terror of something going wrong, or bad, or dangerous. Lucy doesn’t know what to say to convince him, and doesn’t think that words would be any good. She knows what it cost him to give this to her, that it is a demonstration of the depth of the feelings he can’t yet come to terms with or articulate, and cradles his head against her shoulder. “Shh,” she whispers, though he still isn’t making a sound. “Garcia, are you okay?”

“I… yes.” He shudders again, as if he might break, but she can see that the last thing he wants is for her to think he hated it, or did it only grudgingly, or was in pain or resentment at any time. “God, yes. How could I not be? You are so – the most – Lucy, I – I don’t, I’m not – ”

“Shhh.” She runs her fingers over the lines and grooves of his face, the rough shadow of stubble on his cheek, getting him to look up at her with those drowned eyes. “See, look. We did it, we did it and I’m not hurt and you didn’t lose control and nothing happened that we didn’t want. It’s all right, we’re both all right. We are.”

Flynn doesn’t answer, but he pulls her roughly into his arms and tucks her against his chest, under his chin, as if he will hold her there like that until the end of time. And that, no matter anything else, is what Lucy truly wants the most of all: to be partnered, to be held, to be safe and cherished, with someone that she can trust into the darkness of the storm that lies ahead. She settles more closely against him, dreamy and heavy and slow, and falls asleep.

They are woken early the next morning to dress for church, but they steal a quick kiss in the dimness and smile at each other. Perhaps it’s a good thing that Asher and Christian are still asleep. As foreigners without a home parish in the city, they are excused from the need to appear, and besides, both of them still are very much Catholic and have not converted even as a formality. They’re planning to traipse out to Essex this morning and try to talk sense into Gabriel, though Lucy thinks that will take a truly heroic amount of talking (and possibly also shaking, but Asher is the expert, she’ll leave it to him). At least Jack’s monster does not look to have attacked anyone during the night, and they can hopefully start to pick Agnes’ brains about timewalking and antidotes and whatever else later this afternoon. It is one small moment where everything is not going to hell, at least, and that alone should be treasured.

They make their way to the French Huguenot church that Flynn attends and sit in the pews near the front, as Lucy hopes that the preacher won’t be too long-winded. Sermons constitute the large part of everyone’s Sunday entertainment, and can accordingly run on for as long as two or three hours; the megachurch principle of delivering pithy, Tweetable services, pack ‘em in and pack ‘em out, definitely doesn’t exist yet. Listening to a man in a collar harangue them in French about the word of the Lord isn’t exactly Lucy’s idea of a fun time, but fortunately the preacher has managed to keep it to about an hour before. Of course, today appears to be the one time he has discovered something in the Scriptures he really needs to tell them about in great exegetical detail, and by hour two, Lucy’s attention is wandering and she is doing her best not to be caught yawning. When she focuses again, she realizes that in all of the ironies, the preacher is talking about Lazarus. Something something, restored to life by the power of God Almighty. Yet if that is possible, so too could the Devil call a sinner’s soul back to this world, and not even repentance might be enough to save you.

At that, Lucy looks sharply at Flynn, who has clearly also caught the implication and frowns back at her. They can’t be sure, but it sounds as if Père Robard has also heard dark rumors of demons being unloosed in London, and while surely he does not suspect that Lord Clairmont, sitting so devotedly in the front row with his wife, has anything to do with it, this means that the whispers are starting to get around. Once he finally wraps up, and they are on their way home around noon, she says, “He doesn’t know you’re a vampire, right?”

“Of course not.” Flynn looks at her oddly, as if to say that he certainly does not carelessly disclose his supernatural status to random churchmen. “Maybe I can drop by again later and ask just what he was referring to, make sure I receive proper spiritual guidance and all that. But I agree that didn’t sound very promising.”

Lucy doesn’t answer, wondering if she was too optimistic about things not going to hell this morning, as they reach the Old Lodge and head inside for dinner. To her considerable surprise, Asher and Christian have already returned – she was expecting it to take a day or two, if not more – and they are not alone. Gabriel gets to his feet with a flourish as they enter, sashays over, and bows with extravagant deference over her hand, so deeply that she might think he’s mocking her, but the fervor with which he kisses it appears to be sincere. “My sweetest sister,” he says. “I have been most deeply impolite in recent days, and I cry your pardon for my beastly behavior. Please, do let me make it up to you.”

“Ah – ” Lucy isn’t sure how to answer that, or if it is yet another attempted tack or intended manipulation. “So you’re – you’re back, then?”

“Alas, yes.” Gabriel shrugs airily. “My lord father and son came to call upon me this morning in Essex, and I was in rather a state, I suppose. But that’s all water under the bridge, we needn’t worry your lovely head about it an instant longer. Wine?”

Flynn shoots a half-confused, half-wary look at Asher and Christian, clearly asking what the hell they did to him, and Christian says, “When we got there, Papa was a frightful mess, truly. I did not like to see him that way, and I thought – ”

“No, no, my love, nothing’s wrong, nothing.” Gabriel returns to kiss his son’s hair and squeeze his shoulders. “You ran over with such a worried look upon your face, bless your heart, and you were ever so insistent about making it better. You did, of course, and so here I am, the lot of us together again. What was the plan now?”

Flynn winces, though Lucy is the only one who sees it. Indeed, they are together again for the first time in far longer than this Gabriel has any idea, and since Asher is the only one in the know, they can’t go openly talking about their plans. Nor can they exclude Gabriel again without things getting very dicey indeed, and they need to find some way to make the most of this unexpected reconciliation while still walking a knife edge. Flynn and Lucy sit down, the servants enter to lay the meal, and Lucy glances around. “Where’s Agnes?”

“She said she was tired after the journey from Scotland and wished to sleep.” Asher raises one elegant eyebrow. “So the steward informed me before I departed this morning. Whether that meant all day, I cannot be certain. Or perhaps she did not feel entirely at ease in a strange vampire’s house by herself, without my grandson there to mediate.”

“As long as she is not covertly spying, one hopes.” Gabriel laughs, pouring himself a healthy goblet from the decanter. “One witch at that task is enough, indeed. No, my dearest Lucy, I jest, I jest alone. At least you are not covert.”

It’s Lucy’s turn to wince, as no matter his pretty speeches about making things up to her, that is not a very friendly crack. Christian notices it, shooting a chastising look at his father, and Gabriel makes an apologetic gesture. “And I see that I once more fall too swiftly into my bad habits, darling. Please, do come here and smack me, I should altogether deserve it.”

“I’ll smack you if you aren’t careful,” Flynn warns him. “Didn’t Papa explain that Lucy is not a spy? Or – what did he say, exactly?”

“He vouched for her,” Gabriel says, in a bored tone. He flings one leg over the side of the chair, as if suddenly feeling that he was not sitting in it dramatically enough, and takes another long sip of wine. “And I, of course, trust him. Hence my shameful discourtesy in implying you are a secret malfeasant, sis. Should I call you that? Now that we are family?”

“Just Lucy is fine.” Lucy uses a small bit of magic to pull the decanter away from him, as if any vampire could manage to get sloshed the old-fashioned way, it’s Gabriel. If nothing else, it will not be for lack of trying. “Would you – do you want to help us?”

Gabriel eyes her up and down, with that majestic, breathtakingly handsome hauteur he does so well, an emperor deigning to hear the pleas of the peasants. “Always, darling. I recall I have offered my services at several points before, to which you have seemed less than receptive. But then, perhaps you are finding satisfaction elsewhere now?”

Lucy blushes before she can stop it, as Flynn chokes on his food and both of them have to spend too long coughing and harrumphing. Gabriel stares at her as if he either was or was not expecting that response, and either way, he does not like it. A muscle works in his cheek, he downs the rest of his wine, and the silence teeters on the openly unpleasant. Asher is watching this sharply, Christian in confusion, and Flynn looks like he wants to vanish down a hole. Then Gabriel says, “Well, darling, my felicitations to you both. One would think it would have happened earlier in a marriage, but then, Garcia has always had to be repeatedly coaxed into doing anything he may accidentally enjoy. Though once again, I ramble. What was this small favor you wished of me? I remain abjectly at your service.”

Flynn glares at his brother, as if to say that Gabriel really doesn’t need to chew the scenery so much (maybe it’s a natural side effect of spending so much time with Marlowe). “Gabriel, go stick your head in a water barrel, then maybe we can talk about – ”

“No, no. I am, unfortunately, sober as a judge.” Gabriel flicks the goblet away like a cat knocking it off a shelf. “Please, darling. What will you have of me?”

From Flynn’s expression, that is a good walloping, but he decides against it. “There is… something in London,” he says. “It may have arrived recently, it’s attacked Lucy at least once and has possibly been following us for much longer. It could be a vampire, though we aren’t sure,  and it’s fed on the orphan boy several times, by the looks of things. If you could track it down, and without getting Father Hubbard involved, we’d be grateful.”

“Oh?” Gabriel leans back in the chair. Lucy honestly thought that nobody in the entire universe could be more of a drama queen than Flynn, but that was before she met this version of his older brother. “And since you’ve come from… elsewhere, and you are not the brother I would otherwise believe you to be, you have some proof of either yourself or this?”

“What are you talking about, Papa?” Christian looks startled. “Of course it’s Uncle Garcia!”

“No, my love.” If Gabriel is aware of either his father or his brother giving him looks that suggest this might be a bad idea, he is splendidly ignoring them. “It is only someone who looks like your uncle, and does not in the least act like him. A poor copy of an unknown magic. I put it rather ungently the other day, which was cruel of me, but the point stands. If I am to undertake secret missions on his word alone, I will need more than the usual proof. Also Christian, now that your errand to Scotland is done, perhaps it is advisable that you no longer fraternize with him. Until we can establish where he has really come from, and what his motives might be with the lot of us.”

“Look, you – ” Flynn starts half to his feet, controls himself, and sits back down, as Lucy thinks that they remind her very much of a divorced couple, fighting over who gets the kids. Perhaps it’s not surprising. Gabriel and Garcia have lived as constant, devoted companions for over seven hundred years by this point, Gabriel turned Christian and saved his life because Garcia was not yet ready to be his father himself, and of course Gabriel is reeling over having his entire life turned upside down. Even Asher’s explanations do not appear to have completely poured oil on the water, and knowing how they are in the present hurts even more. They don’t recover from their ultimate estrangement. It’s not a small thing. It seems almost funny, and then it is terrifically, unbearably, unforgivably sad.

“Look,” Flynn says again, moderating his tone with a clear effort. “I’m still me, all right? I’m still – I’m still Garcia. I can’t do this without your help. If you want, I’ll take you upstairs after this and show you a few things, but fair warning, they’ll look like blank parchment and you’ll think I’m having you on. They’re pieces from a manuscript called Ashmole 782, we told Papa about it yesterday, and he was helping us. That’s most of why we came here.”

Christian is still staring back and forth between Gabriel and Flynn with a startled look on his face. Then he looks worriedly at Lucy. “He did not – you certainly – ?”

“Yes, I knew,” Lucy assures him, laughing a little at Christian’s apparent indignation that Flynn would lie to her like a time-traveling cad. “I traveled with him from – where we came from. And I can promise, he’s still him. Just… older.”

There is a silence as the de Clermonts take that in. There is the obvious fact that she is an outsider, a witch, and far from a reliable witness, but Asher, at least, believed them yesterday, and hopefully he will restrain Gabriel from going any further off the rails. Then Gabriel nods tightly. “Very well,” he says. “You wished me to find some sort of monster, was that it?”

“Yes.” Flynn looks as if he’s going to see if he too can get drunk the old-fashioned way. “Do you think you can do that or not?”

“Oh, I’m quite certain I could, if I found it.” Gabriel shrugs. “And if I do, what were you intending for me to do? Kill it?”

“We need to know what it is and where it came from,” Flynn says. “I don’t want it here, but tell me when you’ve captured it, and we’ll find somewhere to deal with it in private. There is that spot by Smithfield, so – ”

One of Gabriel’s perfect eyebrows lifts, in apparent surprise and gratification that this Flynn does in fact know their secret meeting places and/or suitable locations to interrogate an enemy in private. “That could work,” he allows. “We shall see. I’m anon, darling. So many other people who appreciate my company, you know.”

With that, he swirls to his feet, kisses his son, takes his father’s hand and kisses it too, and does the same for Lucy, before leaving with no acknowledgment for Flynn at all, as if to make him upset that he didn’t get a kiss too. While Flynn is still staring after him as if Gabriel will in fact die in this timeline because he will kill him, Lucy puts a hand on his, and he startles back to the present. “If there is something evil running around the city,” she says, “is there anything to be said for warning the other creature factions? I know how badly interspecies cooperation has gone with the Congregation, but – ”

She bites her tongue, because that doesn’t exist yet, but the reference seems to have gone over Asher and Christian’s heads. Getting the London creatures mixed up in this has the possibility to go very badly, but if they’re unaware, they’re ripe for the picking, and she and Flynn could end up blamed for any large-scale disaster. Putting a few more eyes on the job also can’t hurt; like the rest of London, they are insular, defensive, and paranoid about foreigners. The introduction of a strange new menace is clearly a concern for them, and Flynn, while he’s generally reluctant to have anything to do with people more than he must, nods slowly. “Maybe. We already have a few witches, could get the word out to the vampires, and as far as daemons go, I’m not sure if we really want to have Kit back again, or if he wants to see me, but – ”

“I know a daemon,” Christian puts in unexpectedly. “A Yorkshireman, a member of Lord Montague’s retinue. Well, he was. Lord Montague did not care for him, so he was dismissed. He’s still in London, though. I could bring him here?”

Flynn glances at his nephew with an unreadable expression. He has plainly been rattled by Gabriel’s threat to keep him from seeing Christian, when this is the limited time he will have with him at all, and they’ve already caused enough trouble by sending Christian to Berwick in the first place. But they also can’t openly forbid him, especially when he seems eager to help, and when Lucy doubts Flynn has the heart to actually send him away or insist that he stays out of sight. “Very well,” he says. “Bring him here tomorrow, we’ll have Agnes and Lady Beaton for the witches, and – ”

“If Hubbard hears that such a gathering took place and he was excluded, he will be offended,” Asher warns. “The de Clermonts are French, Garcia. We alone cannot serve as the messengers to English vampires, and your brother has made himself a scandal in every door he darkens, so they shall be even less inclined to listen to him. If you cannot see yourself to go so far as inviting him in person, at least one of his deputies.”

Flynn growls, as this is clearly something he does not want to do, but the fact that Asher is here now and can save their asses with political acumen should be paid attention to. “I will look into it,” he promises his father. “And I thought you were talking Gabriel around?”

“You know as well as I that there is nothing that can truly correct Gabriel from a course he has set his heart upon, no matter how ill-advised.” Asher rises to his feet. “A trait he shares in common with you, I note. Excuse me, I must write to your mother.”

He strides out of the dining room, as Flynn watches him go with a distracted, anxious look and the meal is finished more or less in silence. Lucy goes up to her solar and spends the rest of Sunday afternoon reading, until she is interrupted by a knock on the door, and looks up in surprise. “Yes?”

The door opens. It’s Meg, and she looks uncommonly solemn. Lucy has forged a fairly good relationship with her maid by now, and she frowns. “Is something wrong?”

“I just…” Meg takes a deep breath, twisting her fingers together, and shuts the door behind her. “My lady, I… if I can speak plainly?”

“Yes, of course.” Lucy sets the book aside, turning to her. “What is it?”

“It’s just, you and Mistress Sampson and the other Scottish lady you’ve been seeing…” Meg visibly commends her soul to God, then continues. “I know what you are, and I’m not entirely certain in my heart about it. That night you first visited Lady Beaton, when that thing attacked us in the street, you made fire with your hands and drove it off. I thought I was dreaming, did not know what I had seen, but I did, and I do. The three of you are witches, and as a Christian woman, I cannot be part of any service to the devil. That’s – that it, my lady.”

Lucy eyes her, not sure what to say. She knows that Meg lives in a world where the menace of witchcraft is very real, a combined political, religious, and social threat, treason and murder and blasphemy and sexual deviance all mixed up in a ripe package of early modern existential anxiety, and she is justified in taking it very seriously. Lucy can’t just scoff Meg off or tell her that it’s nothing, and the fact that Meg is telling her this at all, rather than running straight to the magistrate and accusing them, means that she wants Lucy to talk her out of it, to tell her that she’s wrong or mistaken or there is another, more innocuous explanation. At last, Lucy says carefully, “What makes you think so?”

“I was passing outside Mistress Sampson’s door, when I was returning from church.” Meg looks at pains to establish that she was not eavesdropping on the master and mistress’s guests. “She was… she was speaking to something, or someone, though there was naught else in the room. I smelled strange things, and heard her chant in a tongue, and it answered her.”

Lucy thinks that they need to be careful not to get Agnes accused of witchcraft several months ahead of schedule, and with Kit’s matching insinuations on this front, they also need not to get her marched up in front of an inquisitorial court or royal tribunal. After a pause, she says, “We’re not serving the devil, Meg. Maybe we should have told you more, when you were hired, but I promise, we’re not evil, we’re not planning to – well. Any of it.”

Meg regards her warily. At last, having noted what Lucy very clearly did not say, she says, “But you deny not that you are witches? My lady, I… I cannot….”

“I’m still Lucy, all right? I’m still exactly who you met, and I will protect you and your sister and her children, as much as I can.” Lucy gets up and starts toward her, holding out her hands, but Meg flinches back, and she stops. “You can trust me, and as much as I can, I will be honest with you. I was in church this very morning, remember?”

“Aye, you were,” Meg says, looking somewhat comforted. “But it’s always said that the servants of Satan can be clever. My lord – he isn’t – ? He seems… queer. And if it’s the tale that witches sleep with the devil for their powers – ”

Lucy doesn’t know what part of that sentence inadvertently amuses her more, even if they did in fact actually get to the latter bit last night. “Garcia can be difficult, but he’s definitely not the devil, all right? None of us are going to hurt you, Meg. Please, can you trust us?”

Meg considers that. It is clear that she does not want to jeopardize her relatively well-paid and secure position with reckless witchcraft accusations, that she does like Lucy, and is not ungrateful for her saving her from the hooded hellbeast. But she also does not want to get caught covering for traitors, and it is not clear what she thinks, or which way she might be leaning. They remain there, staring awkwardly at each other, until Lucy says, “Please don’t say anything, all right? We’re trying to help, we’re just – please. It’s very important. This is about the lives of a lot of people we love, and… please.”

“I’ll hold my peace,” Meg agrees, after a long pause. “You yourself seem good folk, my lady, and I’d not want to make false accusations. But to know it’s going on beneath this roof, I…” She trails off. “If I’ve given offense, I humbly beg your pardons.”

“No, it’s all right.” Lucy takes another step, carefully, and this time at least, Meg doesn’t flinch back. “I know why it would upset you. We’ll do our best to be… be discreet.”

She isn’t sure how much more discreet they can be, since it’s already their own house and they can’t start hiding even from their own servants, but this answer seems to mollify Meg for the time being, and she curtsies herself out with another apology. Once she’s gone, Lucy sits back down and curses. She really hopes that Walter Raleigh is going to winkle the promised audience with Dr. Dee out of Elizabeth soon, because this is feeling like an increasingly unstable house of cards. One false move, and it all comes crashing down.

She doesn’t sleep much that night, faced with the prospect of hosting a lot of quarrelsome and fractious London creatures for supper tomorrow and trying to convince them to pull together and look out for a common enemy, rather than plotting against each other. Gabriel is still a problem, and now her maid, the one person she felt could be a friend and confidante, is going to be on the lookout for anything too evil. Among all the people she’s met here, she really only has Flynn, and she tucks herself up against him again, the way they have taken to sleeping most nights. She hates to be too clingy, it’s not who she is, but the water is getting deeper and deeper, and if she doesn’t paddle as hard as she can at all times, it will close over her head. It’s an exhausting way to live, and she needs him to be that one place where she can drift, just float, wheel beneath the heavens and the eye of the world. He loves her, but even he can’t fully let himself go around her or think about nothing else, and it wears.

At last, she falls into an uneasy doze, wakes up on Monday morning, and goes downstairs in search of Agnes. She finds her taking the usual breakfast portion of bread and ale, notes that Agnes seems to have made herself quite at home already, and sits down at the table. “Mistress Sampson, I was just wondering if we could have a word?”

“Aye?” Agnes regards her with beady black eyes. “About what?”

“I…” Lucy debates giving her a lecture on being appropriately clandestine, and can’t bring herself to do it. Agnes was alone in her room with the door closed, you can’t get much more clandestine than that, and it was just bad luck that Meg happened to be outside. “One of the reasons we brought you here was for your expertise on potions and antidotes and such. My husband and I are in search of a rather rare one, and we were hoping you would know.”

“Oh?” Agnes takes a healthy sip of ale. “What’s it?”

“Manticore venom.” Lucy has to restrain a sudden, crippling pang of anxiety at saying it, that Agnes will stare at her blankly and say that there is no such creature, or no such cure. “We need an antidote. We can afford to pay whatsoever it may cost, but if you had one, or…”

“Manticore venom?” Agnes’s eyebrows raise across her wrinkled forehead. “That’s no something to be playin’ with, Lady Clairmont. It can kill even bloodsuckers like your lummox of a husband, d’ye ken?”

“I know,” Lucy says, “and that’s why we need it. Someone – another vampire – has been poisoned with it, and if we don’t find the antidote, he will die.”

“I’d best like to examine the patient.” Agnes cocks her head. “Can ye take me to him?”

“I’m afraid that’s not possible. Lady Beaton says that you have served in the past as a point of contact for other timewalkers, and I… well, I’m not from here.”

“Now that was plain enough,” Agnes remarks, if not unkindly. “So the poisoned vampire, he’s in your own year then, aye?”

“Yes.” Lucy wonders if she could in fact take Agnes on a vacation back to the present and request a clinical visit to Gabriel, but they can’t just walk into the Liechtenstein hideout, there’s no guarantee they could get back, and it wouldn’t do much anyway. “So do you know about that, or where we’d start to look?”

“Manticore venom has no common antidote,” Agnes says. “It’s a rare poison, that, and no substance kent to man can heal it. Ye would have to blend and brew it specially, and only a most talented alchemist could manage the formula. But most of them are naught but quacks, at least so far in mine own acquaintance, so I dinna think that you could trust – ”

“An alchemist would have to make it?” If so, it’s doubly imperative that they get to Dee, but it might be a recipe that even he has never heard of. Alchemy is about blending two halves, contrasting ingredients, to make a rarer and more refined, a purified and perfected version, and Lucy wonders in despair if the only antidote to manticore venom is the Philosopher’s Stone and the elixir of life. In other words, the one thing alchemy has been trying to do since its beginning, its Sacred Marriage and its great quest. Nicolas Flamel died in 1418, so there’s no chance of a private consultation (unless, you know, he did discover it and is alive). “Can you recommend anyone?”

“I just said they are quacks, did I no?” Clearly Agnes does not have a very high opinion of alchemists. “And it would not be so simple as throwin’ the lot in a cauldron and leaving it to stew. It would have to take something from the patient, and as he is no here – ”

“We could possibly get something from him,” Lucy says, very carefully. “He’s not here – the exact one who was poisoned, that is – but he is still… here.”

“Ah.” Agnes looks at her very shrewdly. “Someone who’s alive here, in this time, and dead in yours?”

“More or less.” Lucy glances away. “Would that work?”

“It might, I dinna ken.” Agnes considers a moment longer, then finishes off her ale. “No enough of an alchemist myself to say. Aught else ye wished to ask?”

“Yes. We’re trying to contact a witch named Amelie Wallis. I mentioned her briefly to Lady Beaton. She’s born about thirty-six years from now, in Essex. Could you find her?”

“Mayhap. I heard ye are bringin’ Lady Beaton herself tonight, for some sort of creature colloquy. ‘Twould be easier with the three of us, we could try it then. Oh, and.” Agnes reaches up and grabs Lucy’s wrist. “Mind ye that lad, that Jack, that your nephew brought hame. Canna say why, but there’s something I mislike about him.”

A chill goes down Lucy’s back. Jack has been given quarters with the servants, who are looking after him and presumably attempting to wash and feed him, but considering their misgivings about having him here and whatever he might attract, she can’t say that Agnes is wrong. “I think so, yes,” she says. “Speaking of my nephew, do you know where he went?”

“Off to find that daemon friend o’ his.” Agnes munches on her bread. “He’s a good lad, that Christian. I’d be grieved if something happened to him.”

“We all would,” Lucy says reflexively, reminding herself that Agnes may have some sense that something happens to him in the future, and this is not indicative of a more imminent tragedy. “And one other thing. Be careful around my maid, all right? She realized that we were… well, that we’re witches, and she may need some time to come around.”

“No kissin’ the arse of the Prince of Darkness before her, then?”

“Definitely not,” Lucy says firmly. “I’ll leave you in peace now, Mistress Sampson. Good day.”

Even with that accomplished, she feels restless, and does not succeed in getting much done for the rest of the morning. Flynn and Asher are gone again, presumably working on something together, and Lucy isn’t sure whether or not Meg would see a friendly chat as suspicious. She ends up doing needlework for the sheer need to occupy her hands, stabs herself with the needle and finds herself halfway to tears over something so stupid, and sucks away the small drop of blood. She’s tired of this place, how limited and cloistered it leaves her, never expected to be left alone or to go out unsupervised, to remain sedately in the house as a serene mistress of domestic bliss and ensure that everything is managed to perfection. She could stress some more about this supper tonight, though she’s definitely doing that enough, but at that moment, dishonorable as it is, Lucy is sorely tempted to just timewalk home and have that be that. She’d come back, of course – she’s not going to leave Garcia here, or any of them – but she wants a proper shower and to veg out in front of the TV with a bag of M&Ms and to not think about saving the world or any of it. She is so very, very tired. She doesn’t know if she can actually do this, and it seems less certain every day.

It is mid-afternoon when Flynn gets back, looking tired but pleased with himself, and he crosses the solar to pick Lucy up and give her a real kiss. He seems to be less jumpy about casual intimacy since they slept together, at least, and she wraps her arms around his neck as they sway on the spot. “Sir Walter did it,” he announces. “We’re expected at Dr. Dee’s place of residence three days from now, in company with Raleigh himself. Elizabeth has reluctantly granted her approval for us to meet, so long as we don’t get up to any mischief.”

“That’s wonderful!” Lucy’s heart swoops with sick relief, since it is more than time they had a positive development on any front whatsoever. “We – we need to talk to Dee twice over. I asked Agnes about manticore venom this morning, and she said that the antidote would need to be mixed specially by a talented alchemist. If he is the one who wrote Ashmole 782, he would know how to do that, wouldn’t he?”

“We can hope.” Flynn kisses her again, then puts her down. “Come on. We have to smarten up before our bloody guests arrive, don’t we?”

They do their best, both of them clearly wondering just how much they will have to brace themselves for, and go downstairs. Lady Beaton is the first to arrive, exchanging air kisses with Lucy and a somewhat warmer embrace with Agnes, and eyes Asher with a mixture of wariness and intrigue. Even if he is a vampire, he is a very handsome, cultured, and intelligent one, and his French-ness is a mark in his favor rather than against, since Lady Beaton spent so long at the French court with Mary Stuart. They even strike up an animated conversation, and Flynn looks them as if in hopes that this successful vampire-witch interaction will set the tone for the rest of the evening. Then there is another knock, and upon arrival, proves to be none other than the troublesome twosome, Gabriel and Kit. “I did hear there was a meeting of the London creatures here this eve,” Gabriel remarks, “though evidently it was arranged after I myself had gone. Clearly we needed a daemon, so…”

“Ah, yes.” Lucy doesn’t want to tell him that they already had Christian bring his friend, since she needs absolutely no more reasons to insult either of them. She looks at Kit, since from what Flynn told her about how they left things at the Clerkenwell brothel, she wasn’t expecting to see him back. Tentatively, she says, “Good evening, Master Marlowe?”

“My lady.” Kit bows over her hand. “I have been remiss in my manners of late, and I humbly ask your pardons. If I may be of assistance, you must only speak the word.”

“Er, thank you.” Seeing as she just heard something similar from Gabriel, and that proved to be rather flimsy rather quickly, Lucy isn’t sure how much stock she should put in it, but it’s better than open threats to narc on her to the Queen. (There seem to be plenty of other contenders for that title, anyway.) Marlowe’s repentance might be genuine, or he’s putting on a good show in order to get close and continue gathering information; he is a spy, after all. But he takes a goblet of wine and goes in to make himself agreeable, that leaves Lucy with Gabriel, and she lowers her voice. “Have you found that… thing?”

“No, dear sis. I do hope that you are not sending me on a snipe hunt, a pointless quest, to keep me safely out of the way?” Gabriel smiles, with both fangs. “Ah, no, no. Once more, I am too swift to suspect the worst of you, and I mean to do better. I groveled before Kit to accept my apologies, all so I might bring him here tonight for you. Are you not pleased?”

“Er – ” Lucy says again. She’s not sure why she would be, though this seems like a cat proudly dropping a dead mouse before its master in expectation of reward (in fact, everything about Gabriel reminds her of a cat). “Yes, of course, thank you.”

She is just wondering if this is in fact the only way Gabriel can think of to win her friendship and cooperation, if that is actually what he wants, or anything else, when the door opens again, and Christian and his daemon friend are ushered in. The latter is a dark-eyed, rather sullen young man of about twenty, who when he likewise bows over Lucy’s hand and says, “God ye good evenin’, Lady Clairmont,” speaks with a strong Yorkshire accent. “I was told it was a meeting of like-minded companions?”

“It is a meeting of fellow creatures, yes,” Lucy says. “And you would be?”

“My name is Fawkes, my lady.” He straightens up. “Master Guy Fawkes of Clifton, near the city of York.”

Oh, hell. Lucy barely manages to keep an expression of shock off her face, especially since Christian is looking at her eagerly and clearly hoping that he has done well. Obviously, it is another fifteen years until Fawkes memorably conspires to blow up the Houses of Parliament and gets himself immortalized in Bonfire Night, but he already has a reputation as a recusant Catholic and rabble-rouser. He goes to fight on the Continent next year and takes up service with Spain – who, it goes without saying, is England’s archrival. He hasn’t actually done the things which will get him hanged, but it’s no wonder that he is attracted to a secret meeting of clandestine conspirators, especially thinking this will then to lead to activities of an explosive nature against the Queen. If Meg doesn’t do them in on charges of witchcraft, she is not likely to be much more fond of scheming Catholics, and Fawkes must think himself vindicated in this interpretation of events by the presence of several fellow Catholics, including Mary Stuart’s old lady-in-waiting – after all, Christian himself is one, that could be a reason that they met. “You know that we’re only meeting to discuss a potential threat to the creatures of London, do you not?”  Lucy says carefully. “And… nothing else?”

Fawkes looks at her oddly, but nods and proceeds into the dining room, as Lucy feels almost on the edge of a panic attack. At that point, Flynn sticks his head out, frowning. “Who was that daemon with Christian? For some reason, he seemed – ?”

“It’s Fawkes,” Lucy says, a little hysterically. “It’s Guy goddamn Fawkes. We are going to get ourselves killed, Garcia. We can’t – ”

Flynn looks briefly horrified by this news, but they can’t kick Fawkes straight back out now without arousing his suspicion. Either way, he seems more concerned for her distress, and speeds over, taking her hands in his. “Lucy. Lucy, it’s all right, it’s all right. He hasn’t actually done anything right now, remember? Though I’ll agree that the absolute last thing we need is another potentially traitorous hothead.”

“You think?” Lucy rubs her temples, where she has developed a more or less permanent low-level migraine. “Now that we’ve received him, we can’t just turf him out without insulting him, can we? And you’re right, we can’t technically punish him for something he hasn’t done, but – ”

“Shh.” Flynn kisses her eyelids and her nose, then gives her a quick peck on the lips. Since the host and hostess do need to attend to their guests, he offers her his arm and escorts her into the dining room, where fortunately no wars have started yet, supernatural or otherwise. He clears his throat in a significant fashion and calls the proceedings to order, as the witches, vampires, and daemons watch him with varying degrees of suspicion. Nobody has openly stood up and shouted an objection yet, at any rate, as Flynn explains that there is something strange and dangerous in the city, and their combined vigilance will be appreciated in apprehending it. No, he does not know exactly what it is. No, it is not his fault that it is here. If they have other questions, that is nice. They can wait for later. Possibly much later.

Lucy is just thinking wryly that much as she loves this man, nobody is about to hire him for his motivational speaking skills, when there is a disturbance at the door and Parry comes rushing through with a harried expression on his face. “My lord, my lady, my deepest apologies. But there is one more caller, and he is – that is, he is rather – ”

The steward does not finish the sentence, because just then, the caller stalks in like Maleficent late for Aurora’s christening, which does not seem entirely inaccurate. Indeed, Lucy’s immediate impression of the man is that he looks like Frollo from The Hunchback of Notre Dame, which makes him a Disney villain twice over. He is tall, thin, and choleric, with a high vicar’s collar, a pinched face, and a coldly severe look like everyone’s least favorite strict math teacher. Lucy has a sudden uncomfortable inkling who he must be, but it is Asher, ever the diplomat, who rises graciously to his feet. “Father Hubbard.”

Hubbard stares around the room without speaking. It’s clear that he hates pretty much everyone in it for a cornucopia of diverse reasons, whether they be Catholics, foreigners, sodomites, poets, witches, daemons, women, or any combination thereof. At last he says, “If I must be here this night, pray God make it swift. It fair reeks of the worst sorts of sin.”

Humorless Calvinist priest that Gabriel hates, indeed. Lucy gets to her feet, hoping to run damage control. “Good evening, Father. You – received an invitation, then?”

“I was told that a creature gathering of some sort was happening, and as the head of the vampires in the city of London – ” Hubbard pronounces that part with exacting precision, as if to be sure that nobody is in any doubt – “my presence would be gratefully welcomed. If I had known it was this gang of felons, I’m not sure I would have troubled myself.”

“So wonderful to see you too, Andrew.” Gabriel gets to his feet as well, which makes everyone instinctively shift to the edge of their chairs. “As cheery as ever, I see. Will you not so much as pay your respects to my brother and sister-in-law, who have been so kind as to receive your wizened arse in their lovely home this evening? Or no, say no more. It is you who are the monster, preying upon young boys to restore your long-fled youth. They say clerics can be fond of sweet young lads in other ways, do they not?”

This is about as contentious an opening line as it is possible to have, and Asher lays a warning hand on his son’s arm, silently but emphatically forcing him to sit back down. Hubbard, for his part, sneers. “If I am not welcome here, among you Frenchmen and females, I shall depart. But if you think to connive or contrive behind my back – ”

“Apologies for my brother,” Flynn says. “He’s an idiot. If you wish to sit with your fellows and listen to what I have to say, you may do that, but – ”

“I have had another interest in coming here.” Hubbard looks around with affected casualness, until his jet-black eyes settle on Lucy. “This tale of a witch who commands old and powerful vampires to do her bidding, and offers so little explanation about from whence she comes or what she means. I know you de Clermonts hate me, but if I was to save you from this baneful scourge, perhaps even you might have to – ”

Flynn hisses and bares his fangs in a clear warning that anyone touches Lucy over his dead body, as a communal angry murmur goes around the room. Lucy thinks that of course the evil priest is going to blame the woman for this mess, and experiences a strong urge to hit him over the head with a frying pan. Not that she has a frying pan or should do that even if she did, but still. “You may hear what my lord husband has to say,” she says, as coolly as she can, “but if you presume to threaten me again – ”

“Presume to threaten you? Oh no, my lady, I merely advise you.” Hubbard continues to stare at her. “All these whispers about you in London, I can scarce sort true from false. If you – ”

“My daughter-in-law has accounted herself to my satisfaction.” Asher de Clermont does not speak loudly, or even stand up again, but the cool command in his voice is clear. “She is not the matter at hand. As you are, as you note, the master of vampires in London, perchance you can tell us about the nature of the beast we have been debating?”

Hubbard hesitates. Lucy can’t tell if he does know and is strategically keeping it quiet, or if he doesn’t know and does not want to fess up, as that will be a clear weakness in front of his rivals. “I know no beast.”

“Just as I thought.” Gabriel gets up again, swaggering closer, provocative and angry. “Then I do not see why we need you here. Scuttle back to your bolt-hole, priest, and – ”

Flynn grabs his arm, just as Hubbard makes a move as if to go for Lucy while they’re distracted. It’s then that Gabriel flashes free from Flynn’s grasp too fast to see, and places himself squarely between them. “You touch one hair on my sweet sister’s head,” he breathes, “you take a single misbegotten notion into your feculent, rotting cesspool of a brain about hurting her smallest finger, and I will break every bone in your body, tear out your beating hart, and eat it blood-raw and dripping. Do you understand me?”

Lucy struggles not to blink, since this is nearly as graphic and elegant a threat as what Gabriel promised to do to her if she hurt Flynn in any way, back at the Pembrokes’ ball. Hubbard might be the leader of the London vampires, but Gabriel is clearly much stronger than him and not playing around with it, and there is a tense pause. Then Hubbard throws them all a scathing look and wheels around to go, cassock swishing. “I will be back,” he promises, over his shoulder. “Mark my words on that.”

“I await it eagerly.” Gabriel blows him the world’s most sarcastic kiss. “Until then.”

Once the door has shut behind Hubbard, Lucy glances sidelong at him, in case that whole scene was just for the benefit of getting one over on a man he hates and it’s now going to return to regularly scheduled indifference. But Gabriel looks surprised and somewhat shaken, as if he himself didn’t know he was going to do that and that when push came remotely to shove, he instantly snapped into defending his brother’s wife, much as he has suspected her before. Indeed, he turns to her with the first hint of real sincerity that she has seen among all his flaming theatrics and looks her up and down, paying no attention to anyone else in the room. She thinks she sees a crumb of something in his eyes, something tender and angry and protective all at once, but she’s not entirely sure what. “So now you’ve met the miserable dung maggot,” he says instead. “I did tell you that he would be no use to anyone.”

“Did you have to pick a fight with him?” Asher looks dubious. “We do not need more enemies, my son. Hubbard can be dangerous, and – ”

“Oh, there was a point to it, Papa.” Gabriel smiles, rakish and dark, and turns to face the room. “I wanted to confirm beyond all doubt, before all these witnesses and the gathered creatures of the city, that Hubbard is lying, and that he means none of us any good. You see, my sweet sister, I did not find the monster itself earlier, no. But I have found something.”

“You did?” Lucy frowns. Trust Gabriel, again, to be as dramatic as possible about this reveal, but if this is actually deliberately where he was going with it, and not just another outbreak of pettiness, it does take on a certain aspect of diabolical genius. “What?”

“Hubbard is shielding the monster.” Gabriel leans forward and puts both hands on the table, commanding their attention. “It is not a vampire, exactly. It is something the likes of which we have never seen before, vampire and witch and daemon all at once. Fitting, then, that we are all gathered here to battle it. Hubbard has intended to  make it his own, and as for that – ”

“What is it?” Flynn asks. “Or who?”

Gabriel looks at him for a long moment. He has been, to say the least, free with his opinion that this Flynn is a fake, a shameful replacement that he does not need to care about, that he wants his real brother back, that he does not trust them and will not work with them. But as he looks up at Garcia now, that does not seem to matter, the way it did not when Hubbard threatened Lucy, and at last, Lucy can sense something changing. Gabriel reaches up a hand, brushes his fingers over Flynn’s cheek, and then turns back to the audience. “I know nothing else,” he says. “But I do have a name. Perhaps it means something to one of you, it does not to me. And that is Rittenhouse. David Rittenhouse.”

Chapter Text

“David Rittenhouse?” Lucy says, deeply startled, as the attention of the room, hereto fixed on Gabriel, swivels around to her. “I don’t – that can’t be – that can’t possibly be right, can it?”

“Oh?” Gabriel gives her a sharp look, since she is the one who claimed to know nothing about the monster, and now is having an odd reaction to its supposed name. “Why is that?”

Lucy isn’t sure how to answer. She can’t tell everyone that David Rittenhouse is from the eighteenth century, that he won’t be born until 1732, is a prominent figure in colonial American history and correspondent of the Founding Fathers, and more than that, she has the oddest feeling that she has read that name before. Maybe in one of the sixteenth-birthday letters from her mother, the ones that left her feeling so dissatisfied. She can’t recall the exact reference or the phrasing, but it was mentioned at least once, and in a context that meant it was something to be aspired to. Lucy thought it was vaguely interesting that Rittenhouse might have had something to do with the creature world as well, but not enough to follow it up or do anything about it, especially when she wanted to distance herself from her mother and her heritage as a witch. How the hell can this be what’s after them in Tudor London?

“Maybe you have the wrong name.” Flynn has apparently also remembered that this is a century and a half too early, and he and Lucy exchange a troubled look. “Are you – ”

“It is quite distinct, is it not?” Gabriel is clearly not about to stand for his investigative skills being slated like this. “Not easy to mistake. And since you two seem to recognize it, perhaps you wish to address the gathering upon this subject?”

“It just…” Lucy doesn’t want to say outright that it sounds like something from where they came from, since that could point the finger of suspicion squarely at them for bringing it. (Did they bring it?) The ever-delicate creature politics, the uneasy balance between London’s vampires, witches, and daemons, have to be thought of, and the fact of multiple witnesses can cut both ways. They have already chased Father Hubbard out of here in a snit, Lady Beaton is Lucy’s friend and teacher but still wants more information on who they are and where they are from, and Kit Marlowe and Guy Fawkes together are far more trouble than anyone should have to deal with. “I don’t think so?”

Gabriel considers her, then turns back to the gathering. “David Rittenhouse,” he repeats, as if to be sure there is no mistaking it. “Kit, my darling, would you like to confirm that is the name we heard, upon our peregrinations?”

Marlowe rises to his feet; he is vain enough to always welcome a spotlight, no matter where it comes from. Apparently Gabriel dangled the offer of a romantic monster hunt through the London underworld as a symbol of trust to mend fences, and Flynn shoots a look at his brother, as if indignant that Gabriel is taking Kit along for madcap adventures rather than him. This is probably exactly why Gabriel did it, to serve Flynn some of his own medicine. “Indeed,” Kit says. “We pried it out of one of Hubbard’s hive, that we captured and appealed persuasively for information. Lord Gabriel fed upon him and verified ‘twas the truth. We think, as he says, that Hubbard must be concealing the beast at the hive itself in Blackfriars, or at least making no move to disrupt its villainy around the city. How could it operate this long, without challenge, unless by his warrant? Hubbard is not the sort to peaceably suffer tests of his authority otherwise, as we have all for ourselves just seen.”

Flynn and Lucy both shoot a look at Gabriel, since they can tell that “appealed persuasively for information” is code for “caught a local vampire and beat the shit out of him until he talked.” (Then again, this is Gabriel, so maybe he did in fact just seduce him.) It is left to Flynn to raise the obvious objection. “Just because you roughed up one of Hubbard’s vampires – and if so, you both are lucky he did not throw the gauntlet now and here – does not mean that he is personally hiding the beast. The vampire could have heard rumors from anywhere, so if we burst into Blackfriars on mere hearsay – ”

“I thought you would say that,” Gabriel interrupts, with an air of distinct self-satisfaction. “Hence why, as sweet Kit says, I fed upon the wretch to confirm his tale. He has seen it with his own eyes, it was in his memory. A dark hooded figure, demonic in aspect, with great twisted teeth? Why would this spawn of Hubbard’s have seen it himself, and known its name, unless it is being kept there?”

Everyone glances at each other, as this is a compelling point. Lady Beaton looks triumphant, as if she was waiting for an excuse to edge out more turf from her vampire rival, this gives her a golden opportunity. It is Guy Fawkes who offers exactly the sort of solution that you would expect Guy Fawkes to have. “If so, why not send a man in there with a cask of powder, and blow the lot of it to kingdom come?”

“Because that would hardly kill a beast like this,” Gabriel says, irritated. “Nor would it kill any of Hubbard’s hive, but only annoy him most thoroughly. As I said, it is not strictly a vampire, though it is hidden among vampires and clearly feeds like one. It can use magic like a witch, and has the precognition of a daemon. Some sort of monstrous tripartite hybrid.”

The gathered creatures exchange more looks. This is in the days before the Congregation and the Covenant, so interspecies relationships aren’t strictly prohibited – everyone’s objections to Lucy and Flynn have hinged more on their secrecy, breaches of the law, and disparate social status, rather than their being a witch and a vampire – but they’re still not very common. There has always been the underlying anxiety about mixing powers or creating something unable to be controlled or contained, as well as the usual racist bullshit about keeping bloodlines pure and avoiding half-breeds or “mongrels.” Bastardy and illegitimacy are already a major social stigma, so adding this on top is not something that anyone wants. But if this is the same David Rittenhouse from the eighteenth century, he would have been born after the Covenant was already in place, so him being a hybrid would be very definitely against the law. It doesn’t make sense, but none of it does. Is Rittenhouse a timewalker too? Was he sent to the sixteenth century after Lucy and Flynn – but how? By who? Why?

“Even if no by Master Fawkes’ suggestion,” Lady Beaton says, “the beast should be dealt with, and do we not have the grandmaster of the Knights of Lazarus here among us? Lord de Clermont, wouldna this be your own area of mastery?”

“It sounds akin to what we have done in the past, aye.” Asher has been watching all of this without saying much, but the instant he does speak, he effortlessly commands the room’s attention. “There have been other vampires grown too strong and evil for the safety of us all, who had to be defeated at any cost. My own sons did it in 1307, with Gerbert of Aurillac.” He nods at Gabriel and Garcia, who look taken aback but pleased with their father’s praise. “It certainly seems as if this is a supernatural threat, one that we would have license to deal with, but even we cannot arrantly storm Father Hubbard’s hive without proof that he is in fact harboring the beast. I am, of course, French, and with the city such as it is, a foreigner storming in to overthrow an English vampire and his English subjects would be regarded most unfavorably. It could spill over into human politics, if Hubbard brings his grievances to the Queen, and that we are sworn to avoid.”

“So?” Gabriel says. “Surely you cannot mean to do nothing, Papa.”

“Of course not.” Asher inclines his head. “But unlike you and your brother, I am accustomed to thinking before I act.”

Gabriel and Garcia open their mouths, discover that they cannot come up with a good rebuttal, and shut them. At that, Lucy wonders if Elizabeth knows the truth about the secret societies of creatures that live in her city, beneath her nose. When Flynn and Lucy met her at Whitehall, she seemed to be under the impression that they would have children in the normal way, and Kit was threatening to grass on Lucy, but it wasn’t clear if that was about being a witch or about associating with Lady Beaton, devoted servant of the executed Mary Stuart. Lady Beaton is of course here tonight, in all the proof that Kit needs that they are in fact associating, and if Flynn works as a spy for Elizabeth, surely she has to know about his extraordinary abilities. If Hubbard does go to her with a complaint about Frenchmen invading his home territory, does he need to specify that they were vampires, or would it be enough of an insult on its own? Elizabeth definitely can’t be seen tolerating witchcraft, though it’s true that her reputation as a heretical Jezebel, daughter of Anne Boleyn who was herself suspected of sorcery, can’t get much worse in Continental Catholic circles. Still, even to get one over on the Pope, she will not be painted as a patroness of the unnatural, offering sanctuary to monsters that prey upon her people, in the very way that Gabriel has accused Hubbard of doing. If anything, she will be inclined to punish them more strictly. She likes Flynn, but she’s made it clear he is on thin ice. Asher’s right, they need to be very careful.

“Forgive me if this is a foolish question,” Lucy says. “But does Her Majesty know what… what we are, exactly?”

Lady Beaton looks set to spit, her usual reaction to any mention of Elizabeth, but holds it in for the sake of etiquette. Somewhat surprisingly, it is Marlowe who answers. “She has some idea of us, that we are different from other folk, but has never asked directly, nor would any of us be unwise enough to say it. If he felt himself wronged, Hubbard could accuse us outright and deny all of it himself, so as to see us burned.”

Lucy wants to point out that Marlowe himself and Gabriel just contributed strongly to Hubbard feeling very wronged indeed, but the prospect seems to entertain Kit more than alarm him. Maybe he has a bit of an addiction to danger, and he’s hot-headed enough that he might welcome a chance to take out Hubbard and his cronies first. It sounds as if the policy is Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, which makes sense since that is also Elizabeth’s approach to religion, but doesn’t make them safer. Besides, they are all in danger even without any supernatural associations or magical transgressions. Lady Beaton and Guy Fawkes are outright associates of Elizabeth’s political enemies, and the de Clermonts are French Catholics. Gabriel and Kit are sleeping together, and Agnes is a few months away from being accused of trying to murder King James and his new wife by satanic means. They are as implicitly treasonous and illegal as it is possible to get without stamping a literal scarlet letter on them.

There is a long pause as everyone racks their brains for what on God’s earth they should do next. They can’t go to the Queen’s Bench and apply for a warrant to search Hubbard’s property, and if he is hiding a possibly time-traveling hellbeast, they can’t just sit back and let him do that. Then Lucy says, “I asked Mistress Sampson and Lady Beaton if they were willing to help with that other project. Should we do it now?”

“Amelie Wallis? Ye said she was from Essex?” Agnes asks. “ ‘Twould be easier to speak with her if we were ourselves in Essex. Your husband’s family owns a manor there, do they not?”

“We do,” Gabriel says. “The New Lodge. I have been there recently, though if it may be of service, it is at my sister’s disposal. Shall I accompany them?”

“I will go,” Asher says unexpectedly. “It is my house, and I wish to learn more of what is unfolding. Gabriel, you will stay here with your brother, and the two of you put an end to this foolish quarrel you insist upon maintaining. I will accompany my daughter-in-law and the two witches to Essex, and return them in time for this audience with Dr. Dee, three days hence.”

It is clear that once Asher has given his pronouncement on the matter, no one, not even those who are not his sons and not his species, is going to disagree. It is therefore settled that Lucy, Agnes, and Lady Beaton will travel with him to Essex tomorrow morning – it’s a half-hour train ride from London in the modern era, and not much longer than that for a vampire to run, but the witches must endure a slow, bumping carriage ride of over thirty miles – and Gabriel and Garcia will try to sort out this Hubbard situation, and themselves, in the meantime. They are under strict parental orders to quit being dillweeds, apparently, which is rather optimistic on Asher’s part, and Lucy hopes it will be good for them. Nonetheless, as the creatures are departing for the night, Gabriel makes his way over to Kit and ostentatiously links his arm with the daemon’s. “Come along, darling,” he says. “Let us find ourselves a bed.”

Marlowe glances at him, briefly at Flynn, and seems about to say something, then shrugs and evidently decides that fine, he can get exactly what he’s getting out of this arrangement and let Flynn continue to stew. They leave together, and Flynn evil-eyeballs their backs. Once he and Lucy have gone upstairs to their own room, he grumbles, “I swear they’re both just trying to make me mad now. Though in Clerkenwell, I – ”

“What?” Lucy says. “What did you do, exactly?”

Flynn squirms. “I said something to Kit that I – that I regret, and now I suppose I can’t be too surprised that he’s cramming it down my throat. I thought he was just as mad at Gabriel, but if he’s contrived a reconciliation by these cozy little monster hunts in London – ”

“I suspect,” Lucy says patiently, “that Gabriel wants to retaliate by demonstrating that he can do things with other people apart from you, if you seem so set on doing them without him. Your father’s right, you need to sort this out.”

Flynn starts to say something, stops, and sighs heavily. They undress and change for bed, climbing in together, and he gathers her in his arms. They cuddle for a few moments, then his hand slides along her calf and up to her thigh in a suggestive sort of fashion, and Lucy looks at him in amused surprise. “What? Again?”

“I just thought – ” Flynn is definitely blushing. His ears glow brilliantly, at least, and he coughs and harrumphs rather more than strictly necessary. “If you don’t want – ”

Lucy cuts that off by kissing him, rolling on top of him, and getting a hand between them to deal with the nightclothes. It is once again plain that Flynn is holding himself back and paying strict attention to everything he is doing and to what degree, but before long he is hard and solidly inside her and their hips roll together, as Lucy grabs his wrists in each hand and pushes them over his head. They kiss and muse and kiss again, roll over in the sheets, and he ends up on top, as Lucy links her legs around the back of his straining thighs. She can tell by the increasing blackness in his eyes that he’s losing a bit more control than he did last time, the rhythm of his thrusts pushing her deep into the mattress, and the faint white glow starts to spark, after being absent the first time. She suspects it’s linked to how much Flynn is letting himself go and giving over to the moment, and it provides an unusual, thrilling jolt of pleasure unlike anything she has ever experienced with a lover. She wants to ask him to bite her while he’s fucking her, since she has wondered what that would be like from day one, but it’s clear that that is still beyond what he would feel safe with. Instead, she just pulls his head down to bury between her breasts, as he lavishes them with kisses and she moans. Now that they have actually started doing this, she is indeed going to find it hard to stop.

They once more reach their release in relatively close time, as Flynn holds her down and she arches up into him, spasms of hazy-bright pleasure pulsing through Lucy’s entire body. They lie there together, as she runs a hand up the strong line of his spine and he belatedly realizes that he might be squashing her, flipping them over so she can curl up on his chest. He blinks, some of the blackness receding from his eyes, and looks up at her worriedly. “Was that – ”

“Mmm. Fine. More than fine.” Lucy bends down to kiss him, slow and lingeringly, and they nuzzle together, riding out the last waves of orgasm until she rolls off him. “You’re going to spoil me,” she teases. “Twice in what, three days?”

“Eh, well,” Flynn says gruffly. “Owed it to you, didn’t I?”

“As long as you’re not just – ” Lucy catches herself. She knows he wouldn’t have done it if he didn’t want to (that at least is extenuatingly clear) and she doesn’t mind having something to tide her over for her trip to Essex. Being away from him even for a day or two will be odd. They certainly haven’t spent every waking moment together, as he has been off with Raleigh and the School of Night and wherever else, and she has been having lessons with Lady Beaton and invitations to court with Elizabeth and trying to run the household. But even during the awkward, frigid first week here, they were spending the night together, and she’s gotten used to sleeping in his arms, the communion they share in the dark. She is somewhat more confident in her ability to manage this time period on her own, Asher will be there to supervise, and it’s not that far away, but nonetheless, she doesn’t like being without him for long. It feels as if something bad could happen when they’re apart.

Lucy puts that out of her head, reminds herself that she’ll be back in London by the end of the week to visit Dr. Dee (finally), and she is going to focus on the question of Amelie Wallis first. She leans up for another kiss, then curls against Flynn and goes to sleep.

Lucy, Agnes, and Lady Beaton leave for Essex the next morning. To be polite, Asher travels with them rather than just running there, and they must also accommodate Lady Beaton’s attendant, Janet Macdonald, and Meg. Lucy is leery about having Meg near anything else witchy, but since they will be staying at least one night in the New Lodge, propriety dictates that she bring her maid along. There will be a household there, of course, but it’s been serving as Gabriel’s bachelor pad and therefore has the same lack of female staff that panicked everyone when they first arrived in London. Combined with the luggage – nobody can travel lightly in this time period, especially not two wealthy women – the carriage is packed, and since it’s lined with furs and blankets for insulation, it quickly gets very hot in the sun. Meg, Lucy, and Agnes are crammed on one of the hard velvet-covered benches, and Janet, Lady Beaton, and Asher are crammed on the other, knocking into each other like dominoes every time the coachman takes a turn too hard. It is not nearly as light and fleet as the stagecoaches of later eras, and handles like a wheeled house. To say the least, Lucy is relieved when a sweaty two and a half hours later, they roll and clop up the long drive of the de Clermonts’ country house, the footman opens the door, and Asher disembarks first to hand the ladies down, starting with Lucy. “Welcome to the New Lodge,” he says. “As my son’s wife, you will come second to no one save myself.”

“Ah – thank you, my lord,” Lucy says, trying not to gulp too many breaths of the fresh air all at once. Even one whiff has told her why anyone who can afford to do it keeps a manor away from the crowds, disease, and reek of London. The air does not smell like shit, river murk, smoke, and mud for the first time in she can’t remember when, and the New Lodge is built in modern stone, not the quintessential half-timbered Tudor fashion that is already considered rather quaint and dated. It is set among a vast, attractively landscaped garden and grounds, with plenty of room for vampires to run, and the servants file out of the house to make their courtesies to Asher and collect the luggage. At the sight of Lucy, they all bow or curtsy, and feeling awkward again, she nods at them.

“I understand you may wish to change and have something to drink after the journey,” Asher says. “But after that, will you join me in the garden?”

As with most things Asher de Clermont does, it isn’t a question so much as a statement of a future circumstance that he expects to be promptly fulfilled, however graciously. Lucy nods, and allows Meg to lead her inside and settle her in the lady of the house’s bedchamber, which must belong to Maria whenever she’s here. As the maid is changing her from her heavy traveling gown to something lighter and more stylish, suitable for genteel parley among the hedgerows, Lucy blurts out, “Meg, are you – are you all right? With – us?”

Meg gives her a startled look, clearly not having expected Lucy to consider her opinion on anything. After a pause, she firms her chin and nods. “I – I think I am, my lady. I can’t say I understand everything it is you’re doing, and God’s truth, I don’t think I want to. But I believe you’re good folk, and you did hire me for my discretion. So long as you’re Christian people that keep the queen’s peace, I’ll say naught a word to anyone.”

“Thank you,” Lucy says fervently, even as she thinks of Guy Fawkes sitting in her solar last night and how that would very definitely not count as it. But she’s certainly not going to say that aloud, and waits as Meg fixes her hair and fetches her a cup of cool water. They can actually drink it here, since it doesn’t come from the polluted Thames and the de Clermonts keep no livestock on their estate (nor have any privies to empty). Once she feels somewhat restored, and has performed her hostess duty by ensuring that Lady Beaton and Agnes have been given quarters and invited to dinner, Lucy makes her way downstairs. The place bears clear hallmarks of having recently been inhabited by Gabriel, no matter how hard the staff hastily tried to tidy it up, and it reminds her of Flynn’s house in Woodstock. Tapestries, diamonded windows, carved furniture, candelabras, plastered walls, ceilings high (likely in deference to all the tall men in the family) and arched. Lucy knows the logistical reasons that demanded they live in London, but she can’t help but wish this could be their base instead. It’s cleaner, much quieter (the constant city racket is another thing that has abruptly vanished) and just seems like she has more room to breathe. Maybe that’s why they like it.

She finds Asher in the garden, contemplating a bed of yellow tulips. This, more than any of the handsome and elegant furnishings of the house or its surroundings, displays the de Clermonts’ wealth. While tulip bulbs have not yet become more valuable than gold, a wildly expensive luxury item that results in the “tulip mania” of the 1620s and 1630s, they are new, rare, and costly, imported from the Netherlands, which has just begun to cultivate them and will soon be the wealthiest nation in the world. England and Spain are fighting over possession of the Low Countries as a result, and it is still considered a Spanish colony; Guy Fawkes will go over next year to take part in that war, as Lucy recalls. But Asher glances up at her approach and rises courteously. Like his sons, he is comfortably over six feet tall, and she has to tilt her head back to look at him. In more ways than one, he casts a long shadow.

“Walk with me,” Asher says, offering her his arm, and Lucy shyly takes it. This is the first time she has been alone with the de Clermont patriarch, and since her principal memory of their last interaction is of him informing her that her assistance was not needed and shutting the door in her face, she’s unsure what to expect. They stroll among the blooming, buzzing flowerbeds, the sculpted topiary and the shadowy trellises climbed with verdant vines. For several minutes, neither of them say anything. Then Asher remarks, “You are not truly married to my son, are you?”

Lucy stops short, forcing him to do the same, suddenly panicked that he’s brought her here to unmask her as an impostor and do away with her in secret. Not that she really thinks Garcia’s father would do that to him, but if Asher has also mistrusted her just as much and craftily bided his time, rather than showing his hand up front like Gabriel –

“I do not mean to alarm you,” Asher goes on, seeing by her face that he has done exactly that. “But among the things you both have not said to me, I think that was one. No one could doubt that my son loves you, and you him. I have seen how the pair of you look at each other, especially when you believe the other is not. But nonetheless, something about your relationship does not seem entirely like that of man and wife to me, even accounting for the standards of a different time of which I know nothing. Am I wrong, my lady?”

“I…” Lucy should have guessed he knew more about them than he was going to say. “No, we haven’t actually been… been married in any sort of formal way. We agreed it would be the best pretense to explain my presence, but it caused nearly as many problems as it solved.”

“Mmm.” Asher takes that in inscrutably. She doesn’t think he’s going to give her a lecture on living together out of wedlock, as that doesn’t seem like him, and even if he’s Catholic now and has been for many centuries, he was born in the hedonistic Hellenism of ancient Greece and by the sound of Flynn’s stories, took full advantage of that fact. “It certainly troubled Gabriel greatly to think that Garcia would have run off and married a woman he knew nothing of, with no word to him before and no satisfactory explanation after. I hope for his part that Garcia will make that clear, but he has rarely been gifted with eloquence of speech.”

If this is a polite way to say “can’t use his words,” Lucy would tend to agree. She also thinks that Asher might be asking too much for his disaster middle child to explain anything to his eldest without being physically forced, but maybe the lack of intermediaries or outside witnesses will force Gabriel and Garcia to hash it out one way or another. She glances up at Asher, motionless and magnificent in the sunlight, and how it dazzles his eyes like the fire of an opal, a thousand different colors at once. It occurs to her poignantly how this man is so much for his family, a towering giant and pillar of the temple, that all three of his sons have been trying so hard to fill the void he left, and even their combined efforts cannot quite do the job. Gabriel has tried to be head of the family and successful man of the world; Garcia has sought with his brilliance and his intellect to solve the mystery of creature origins and restore the broken family; Wyatt has struggled with the crushing burden of being grandmaster when nobody expected it or planned to prepare him. No wonder Asher’s death in 1944, after the gruesome tragedy of Matej and Christian in 1762, has destroyed them so comprehensively. Lucy could understand that a little before meeting him, but now having done so, does far more, and would give anything to take that knowledge back. It’s too much. Too much.

As if reading her mind, Asher glances up. A small, sad smile curls his mouth. Not asking for information, per se, but as a simple statement of fact, he says, “You know how I die.”

“I…” Lucy isn’t sure if she can bear to tell him, or if he has the right to know if he asks, and she prays that he doesn’t. It must have been hanging in the air as she looks at him, and on that accord, she can’t lie. “Yes. I do.”

“I thought as much.” Asher glances at her hand, the de Clermont ring that she wears. “I gave that to my wife, and I knew she would not have given it to you otherwise. I understood soon after meeting this Garcia that I must not be alive wherever, whenever he has come from, and as you said that it is after the year 1912, I can take solace in the fact that there is still time. But it is not only me. There is something else. I do not know who it concerns, or when, but I am not the only one my family has lost.”

“No.” Lucy looks at the garden path and the blooming beds, the dappled green-gold shadows and the warm, pleasant day, the blue sky and the rustling old-growth oaks. It seems difficult to imagine, standing here with the very living (well, relatively speaking) man next to her, the horrors that are going to befall him and all of them. “No, you aren’t.”

Asher’s mouth tightens. It is clear that the thought of dying himself is odd and troubling, but not nearly so much as the fact that it will leave his family in ruins, and that Flynn and Lucy surely would not have risked the dangerous trip back here if there was any chance of doing it another way. “It cannot be Garcia,” he says. “Because he came with you. It could be Gabriel, since Garcia seems to so little remember how they were. Or perhaps – no. I must leave off speculation. It is not for you to have to tell me, nor do I want to know.”

“But I should,” Lucy says, thinking of Flynn’s desperation the other night, and how deeply even she feels the wound, the idea of having to step back and let this tragedy play out again, even knowing it cannot truly, fundamentally be changed. “I should – I wish – I want to tell you, I want to stop it. Even if I never meet Garcia, it – it feels as if I should be willing to make that sacrifice, if it meant your family was restored.”

“You are a kind soul.” Asher smiles halfway, though his eyes remain unfathomably distant. “And it is a deeply generous offer, since as I said, I can well see how much you love my son, and how little it would suit you to be parted from him. But you – where you come from, Lucy, what has happened to us is history. The past. A terrible thing, to be sure, though we are not the only ones to have suffered unfairly in this world. Rather, it is the reverse. We have had far more money, life, love, happiness, success, and any other blessing that you care to name, and the future of everything should not be sacrificed to buy us a few scraps more. You are the future, Lucy, you and this connection to Ashmole 782, all the creatures who must be set free from this bondage in which they have been placed. I could not in good conscience call myself the grandmaster of the Knights of Lazarus, or claim that I had upheld the philosophy in which it had been founded, to prize my own life above that mission.”

Lucy looks at him. She is staggered at the fact that even now, Asher is thinking ahead hundreds and hundreds of years to a time that is not his, to creatures he will never meet, and insisting that Lucy carry on, if it means saving them from Cahill and Temple and the Congregation’s archaic rules and shackles of fear. When Flynn told her about Asher at Woodstock, how he submitted to horrific torture and death rather than turn Hitler into a vampire and give the Nazis ultimate victory, he was emphatic that his father was a hero, and frankly, Lucy isn’t sure that is enough of a word for it. “Garcia misses you,” she says at last, in a whisper. “They all do. So very much.”

“I cannot imagine.” Asher’s voice catches, only the barest bit, and his eyes sparkle a little too much. “Nor, of course, do I wish to die and leave them bereft. After all these centuries, one grows accustomed to the fact of permanence, that all else fades and yet you do not. I cannot wrap my mind around the idea. Perhaps I will go later to pray, and ask that I be reminded.”

Lucy’s heart aches. She doesn’t know if it’s better that he is taking this with calm resignation, though she doesn’t think it would have been in his nature to kick and fuss and throw a tantrum and demand that all of history be reshaped around the objective of his survival. For all their faults and flaws, the de Clermonts love each other more than anything in the world, and it’s clear that Asher will not allow himself to be saved if it means putting their future fortunes in jeopardy. The one thing holding him back, however, is the identity of the other person they lose, and Lucy cannot stand to tell him that it is his grandson, that Christian, the one who deserves it the least, is also going to be taken away from them. Asher might not lift a finger to save himself, but Christian –

They stand there in the bright sun, as Asher silently composes himself. “Thank you for this,” he says at length. “It cannot have been easy for you to serve as such a fateful messenger. Can you tell me anything else more heartening?”

“I… yes.” Lucy hopes that Flynn won’t mind, but she doesn’t think so. “You’ll have a granddaughter. You’ll get to meet her, and know her a little bit. She’s turned in 1888, and you – well, it happens after. She’s Garcia’s daughter, and she’s – she’s lovely. Her name is Jiya, and she’s a scientist, she’s very accomplished.”

“A granddaughter?” Asher smiles. “That is good to hear. There are, dare I say, not enough women in this family, only Maria and Cecilia – and now you, I suppose, temporarily – to our credit. I shall look forward to meeting her. Very well, I have asked enough of the sibyl from you, my lady. I have the letter to my wife to finish, and I will leave you to your work.”

With that, he bows, kisses her hand, and strides away across the garden, as Lucy wonders if he is going to share any of this earth-shattering news with Maria. Flynn told her that his parents had no secrets, that they never loved anyone as they did each other, but surely Maria cannot take complacently to hearing any of this. Her reaction after Asher’s murder certainly proved that, and Lucy wonders with another ache if Asher will quietly keep this to himself, another of the secrets he does not share with his family. It seems impossible that one man, even a peerless immortal, could bear all these burdens, but he does.

Lucy has something to eat, then spends the afternoon in lessons with Lady Beaton. They have much more space to work here, and less worry about burning something down, and they return to their efforts to conjure a familiar for Lucy, that magical creature that would serve as shield and guardian, and could travel in search of information. Lucy can manage a midair fireball that hovers around her in a rather aimless fashion, and it sometimes bobs over to get in the way when Lady Beaton tries to attack her, but it’s still not exactly a smashing success. She recalls that the common stereotype for a witch’s familiar is a cat, but this is definitely cooler. At least if it would work.

They go inside around five o’clock, wash and prepare for supper, and the three witches eat alone. Asher is in his chamber, having no need to take human food, and the maids eat with the other servants. When the meal is done and cleared, Agnes gets to her feet. “Very well. Time to see if we can summon this Amelie Wallis, aye?”

Lucy and Lady Beaton follow Agnes into the solar, shut the door, and begin preparing for the ritual. Lucy wonders, given all this inadvertent influencing of Shakespeare they are doing, if this is where he gets the idea of the three witches. It’s not really a stretch – King James writes Daemonologie in 1597, heavily based on the Berwick witch trials of which Agnes is the prime culprit, and that’s commonly cited as one of Shakespeare’s sources for Macbeth. The idea of the three weird sisters goes back to the Greek Fates, and Lucy, Lady Beaton, and Agnes could be Maiden, Mother, and Crone. Lucy’s not a virgin, of course, but as a technically unmarried young woman without children, she fulfills that end of the spectrum. She and Lady Beaton follow Agnes’ instructions, lighting candles and drawing a circle; since Amelie Wallis is a timewalker, they clearly need to give her something to aim for. Lucy has never seen anyone else do it apart from herself, and her heart beats fast and short. What if something goes wrong? Everything has rested on the idea that they can contact her ancestress, ask about her connection to Ashmole 782 and how she might have passed that on to Lucy, and if they can’t get those answers, this will be even more difficult. Agnes knows what she’s doing, right? They’re not going to summon someone – something – else they might far less like to talk to? It’s not dumb kids playing with a Ouija board, but still.

Agnes inquires if they have the blood of a black cockerel, seems mildly disappointed that they don’t, and announces that they will make do. Once the ritual has been set up, and Lucy is feeling very Sabrina The Teenage Witch about it all, the three women step back and take hands. Agnes starts to chant, Lucy hopes Meg is not going to allow this to sway her decision not to turn them in, and the candles gutter, although there is no breeze and all the windows are closed. For a long moment, nothing. Silence, darkness, emptiness. The circle remains deserted, and Lucy feels increasingly ridiculous. Did they actually think this was going to –

And then, far off and then louder, she hears a rushing sound, like a train or a tidal wave speeding directly toward them. She fights the urge to dive out of the way, and to close her eyes. A doorway in the air takes shape in the middle of the circle, only sketches at first and then more solidly, and it swings open. A young woman in a dark dress, cloak, white cap and collar steps through, where an instant before there was no one, and says, “Hail, my sisters.”

Her voice makes all of them jump, especially Lucy, as she stares at the newcomer and realizes that she knows her, she has seen her before, albeit some years older. It is the woman in the witchwoods, the woman who helped her convince the tree not to eat Flynn, Gabriel, and Jiya that night at Denise and Michelle’s, when she timewalked for the very first time. She said to Flynn then that she thought it was Amelie, but this evidently confirms it. That makes sense, since Amelie was the first owner of that property along with her husband Jebediah, when they moved to the New World in 1650 and settled in the wilds of New Amsterdam, as it was still known at the time. It wasn’t renamed New York in honor of the future James II until 1664. This is a younger Amelie, an Amelie who perhaps has not yet fallen foul of Matthew Hopkins, the infamous Witchfinder General. Does she know yet? Is this what tells her?

“Mistress Wallis,” Agnes says, since it is incumbent upon someone to actually start the conversation. “Good e’en.”

Amelie frowns. “Mistress Wallis? Are you mistaken? My name is Prestyn, Amelie Prestyn. I have as yet no husband.”

Lucy’s jaw drops. Of course, Wallis must be Amelie’s married name, but while this could theoretically be another Preston family, they are an old and illustrious witch lineage, and the odds are low. Flynn told her that Amelie was also an ancestress on her mother’s side, that one of her great-great-granddaughters married an Arthur Preston, but Lucy didn’t realize that Amelie was originally one of them to start with. They stare at each other; this Amelie has not yet seen her in the woods, does not know her, but seems to recognize something intrinsically about her nonetheless. Amelie says, “Are you the one who called me here?”

“More – more or less.” Lucy swallows, trying to wet her dry throat. “What – what year have you come from, exactly?”

“I left the evening of Wednesday, June the eighth, 1642.” Amelie cocks her head, as if trying to judge what that means to them. “The king and parliament are at war. If you mean to interrogate me for that intelligence, I have none to offer.”

“No, it’s not that.” Yes, Lucy thinks, the English Civil War has just started, and will drag on until after Amelie has left the country, culminating in 1649 with the execution of Charles I and Cromwell’s establishment of the Commonwealth, which lasts eleven years until the Restoration in 1660. Amelie was born in 1622, so she’s only about twenty, not yet married, and not yet accused by Hopkins. Nor has she met Bathsheba and Abiah Foulger, the witches she trains in the 1680s as her successors, and who were also named in the Ashmole fragment. “I wanted to ask if you knew anything about an alchemical manuscript possibly written by Dr. John Dee, Queen Elizabeth’s astrologer. I’m not sure what it would be called in your time, but it’s known to us as Ashmole 782.”

Amelie looks blank. “I have no truck with alchemy. Are you sure it is me you mean?”

“Yes.” Lucy thinks that they might have called Amelie up too early in her life, and need to fetch her at a later date, but if so, they will need to walk her across space as well as time. They obviously cannot hop on a ship and sail to the New World and the future site of Denise and Michelle’s house, and if they are in Essex, the only version of Amelie they can get directly is her younger self. They are talking to her, which is a solid start, but she is barely more than a teenager right now and certainly not involved in any grand plots. Still, since Lucy does not want to go away from here with nothing, she persists, “Is there anything you can think of? You and I – we’re from the same family, we’re both Prestons. My name is Lucy, Lucy Preston. You’re a many-times-great grandmother of mine.”

Amelie looks startled. “How is that possible? I walked back in time, not forward.”

“You did, but I have also come to this time from another. This is Tuesday, June the second, in the year 1590. Do you know anything about – ” Lucy thinks of Asher saying that Ashmole 782 was made from something vampire, witch, and daemon at once, and all the talk of David Rittenhouse possibly being some kind of dangerous hybrid, a crossbreed of all the species with an unprecedented combination of their powers. “About…” She hates the word, but it’s the one Amelie is most likely to know it by. “About creature half-breeds?”

“What – ” At that, Amelie looks truly startled, and almost afraid, as if Lucy might be some kind of supernatural Ku Klux Klan, here to hang her on a tree for fraternizing outside her race. “What do you know about my – my grandparents?”

“What?” It’s Lucy’s turn to be even more surprised. “Your grandparents?”

Amelie eyes them up and down, as if judging if they are to be trusted with this information. At last she says, “My grandmother was a witch. My grandfather, Richard de Prestyn, was a vampire. My father, Henry, was their son.”

“What?” Lucy should think of something else to say, but she’s too gobsmacked. “Their – their son son?”

“Yes,” Amelie says, as if unsure why this was not clear. “My mother, as perhaps you know, is a witch in the accustomed way, but her father, my other grandfather, claimed to be part daemon. Is that what you were meaning to ask me?”

Lucy isn’t sure, because her mouth is still hanging open. The Prestons have always been so proud of their pure witch lineage – but if what Amelie is saying is true, that the original possessor of the name was a vampire, that turns everything on its head. Apparently Amelie’s father was also a Henry, perhaps who Lucy’s own father was named after, and Amelie herself must be exactly what they’ve been talking about, a creature who is descended biologically from vampires, witches, and daemons. That means, in whatever small part, Lucy is too. As far as she knows, her family tree is witches all the way back, and Flynn mentioned that he’s been searching for reliable data on cross-breeds and heard legends of their existence, but was never able to confirm anything as actual fact. Lucy and Amelie continue to look at each other, until Amelie says again, “That was what you wanted?”

“It might be, I don’t – I don’t know.” Lucy feels the sore need for a pen and paper to scribble this down. “Your grandparents – your grandmother was a witch, and she – what was her name? Where was she from? When did they meet?”

Amelie looks blindsided by this barrage of questions. At last she says, “My grandmother was born in Innsbruck, the capital of the county of Tyrol and the residence of the emperor Maximilien. She fell afoul of Heinrich Kramer’s witch hunts in the city, and was sentenced to be hanged. Another witch rescued her and saw to it that she was able to escape. She fled to England and there met my grandfather. Her name was Anneke Proktor.”

“Heinrich Kramer? Author of the Malleus Maleficarum?” Lucy does some quick mathematical gymnastics in her head. “He was in Innsbruck in 1485. How could your grandmother possibly – ”

“The offspring of vampires and witches live a long time,” Amelie says. “My father was over a hundred years old when he died – was killed – and looked not much more than thirty.”

“Jesus.” Lucy is feeling a strong need to sit down, when another lightning bolt hits her. “Wait, did you say Anneke Proktor?”

“Yes.” Amelie frowns. “Do you know that name?”

Lucy doesn’t answer, because she is once more slightly faint. Son of a bitch. She has a feeling that she knows exactly which witch rescued Anneke, because if this is true, she would be a common ancestress to them both. Jessica can be firmly located in 1484, and Anneke was sentenced to die in 1485. Whether or not Jessica’s presence changed things from how they originally happened, she must have caught wind of what was going on in Innsbruck, realized that it was her great-whatever grandmother and she had to be saved if Jessica herself wanted to be born, and gone to rescue her. As a result, Anneke went to England, met Richard de Prestyn, and started Lucy’s own family line – which means that Jessica is the reason they all exist. If Lucy hadn’t sent her to the fifteenth century when she did, would they have – what? Winked out of the world like snuffed candles? Been themselves, but different? Never been born at all? Gotten Anneke saved differently? The whole point has been is that history is hard to change, that things find a way to happen anyway, but Jesus. Jesus Christ.

This means that Jessica is related to Amelie too, Lucy thinks. Which isn’t surprising, there are only a limited number of old witch families and the Proctors and Prestons and Wallaces all have various points of entanglement and intermarriage, but it does mean that this lineage is special, that it is clustered together ever more tightly around them. She has a thousand more questions, but it occurs to her that Amelie just said her father was murdered. He was half-vampire, half-witch, married to a witch with daemon ancestry who he certainly must have fed on. Is it possible that Henry de Prestyn himself was made into Ashmole 782? Asher said its vellum was made from creature skin, that it was a cruel book. Does Amelie have a connection to this manuscript because it is literally fashioned out of her own father?

Lucy doesn’t think Amelie knows that, and she doesn’t want to broach such a gruesome hypothesis without more concrete assurances that she’s in the ballpark. Her mind is spinning, and she has been given more than enough to cogitate on, so she glances at Agnes. “Should we send her home for now?”

Agnes pauses, then nods. Amelie steps through the door in the air, shutting it behind her and vanishing, and Agnes speaks another incantation to seal it closed and end the timewalk. Lucy staggers backwards and collapses on a settee. She feels as if she has been clubbed repeatedly by a blunt object, and Agnes and Lady Beaton both glance at her sidelong. At last Agnes says, “That what ye meant to ken, eh?”

“I’m not sure.” Lucy wishes more than anything that Flynn was here, and it feels as if even tomorrow is too long to wait to get back and tell him. “We might need to call her again, at a later stage in her life, and see if she’s learned anything else. That will be harder, since she emigrates to the New World in 1646. But she – before I left my time, I sent another witch, Jessica Proctor, to the 1480s. Anneke Proktor must be our great-something grandmother, and unless she and Richard de Prestyn had more children apart from Henry, it must be via Amelie and her descendants. Jessica might be my cousin however many times removed, or – ”

“Ye sent another witch?” Agnes asks. “Where?”

“To Italy, originally, but it looks like she does some traveling.” Lucy is still deeply rattled. “She’s at King Matthias Corvinus’ court in Hungary around 1484, and now we can locate her again in Innsbruck in 1485, rescuing her ancestress who was imprisoned for witchcraft. Innsbruck is in Austria in my day, it wouldn’t be hard for her to hear what was going on there, especially at a place as well connected as Corvinus’ court. But if Anneke Proktor had a son with a vampire, and that’s the reason my family of witches has the name – ”

“Take a breath, eh? Ye’re rabbitin’ on and on.” Agnes pats her on the shoulder. “What is it you think, then?”

“I think Ashmole 782 is Henry de Prestyn,” Lucy says. “I think it’s my great-however-many grandfather. Someone killed him, and made him into a book. Whether they wanted his power, or they wanted something else with it, I don’t know.”

“Canna be,” Lady Beaton says, with admirable pragmatism. “She said it was her father, and the lass was born in what, 1622? He couldna have died before at least 1621, at the earliest.”

This does catch Lucy briefly short, but given what they are dealing with, the potential answer is clear. “He was a timewalker too. Amelie is one, obviously, so if she inherited it from him, and he was killed on one of his trips into the past – she might not know when it was, not yet, but maybe she learns later. It would have to be – ” She stops. “Maybe some time right around now. Last year, or this year, even.”

Agnes and Lady Beaton exchange a look. It’s not clear whether this occurred to them or not, but they don’t disprove it. “If he was murdered, then, by someone, perhaps in this verra year,” Agnes says, after a very long pause. “Who?”


Gabriel de Clermont can think of a thousand better occupations for the evening, nearly all of which involve wine, good cheer, lutes and viols and harpsichord, and someone of a beautiful and willing disposition. Most recently that would be Kit, though it’s not clear if “willing” describes him so much as wanting sorely to get one over on Garcia, an emotion with which Gabriel can wholly sympathize. He does not need to beg for bedmates and might not have abased himself for Marlowe, but every time he attempts to consider the situation logically, his brain disconnects and an hour later he discovers himself having done something else to heap fuel upon the fire. Besides, it is more profitable to keep Kit friendly, or at least not actively malicious, and Gabriel does enjoy their liaisons. Poets are remarkably imaginative in bed, it turns out. Mary has also been wanting him to call again, but it’s best to keep some space betwixt himself and the Pembroke household just the minute. He’ll return whenever this nonsense is sorted out. At this point, that may be the Judgment, but so bloody be it.

Instead, rather than any of that diversion and bacchanal, Gabriel is dressed in garb better befitting the coarser sort of workman, a black cloth wound about his head and neck like the captain of a Barbary corsair. Still more, he is at large in the dank, misty streets of London with his mouse-brained, pig-headed, weasel-hearted, lying-arsed blundering babbling nincompoop ninnyhammer blackguard of a brother, and his patience for the affair is limited. Christian, despite his eagerness to accompany his father and uncle upon this mission of condign vengeance, has been ordered to stay at home, and at least this cannot go poorly on his account. Gabriel reminds himself that this is not even Garcia, but whatever clumsy fetch has been sent as replacement. He owes him nothing of his time or attention or regard, not if Garcia seems so set on withholding it from him. But the alternative was to let the fool go to confront Father Hubbard’s hive alone, and Gabriel, to his unutterable perturbation, discovered that his desire to see Garcia suffer did not extend quite so far as that. This thundering tree-trunk tower of God Almighty’s most refined and rarefied stupidity will just have to shut his mouth and take Gabriel with him.

Conversation is minimal as the de Clermont brothers make their way through the streets. Since it’s less than three weeks until the summer solstice, they had to wait almost to midnight for it to be dark, and even now, a hint of blue light lingers in the western sky. Gabriel has to admit that despite this Garcia’s flaws in multiple and extensive departments, he moves well, and the two of them fall instinctively into watching each other’s weak sides. When they nearly run out in front of a city watchman (he could neither catch them nor stop them, but could make a lot of annoying hubbub, and Gabriel does not want to have to eat him), Garcia throws out an arm and grabs Gabriel back, causing him to momentarily forget what he is doing. Good to know that this Garcia also bears resemblance to his own in the important aspect of being built like a brick outhouse, and equally, one remarks, full of shit.

Once the way has been cleared, the two of them continue. Hubbard’s hive is in Blackfriars, in the old buildings of the Dominican priory dissolved in 1538. Appropriate location for a man of God, especially one of Hubbard’s persecutorial tendencies. The Dominicans ran the Inquisition for hundreds of years, and despite their status as unacceptably Catholic, Gabriel rather thinks the bastard would like to give it another try. It is always a difficult path to walk, being both a vampire and religious. Pelagius, the great opponent of St. Augustine of Hippo in the fourth century, concocted his heresy trying to account for it, insisting that even a supernatural creature shut off from God’s grace could earn salvation through strict and to-the-letter observance of every rule and precept of the Gospel, without a single slip. Gabriel, who has never met a rule that he did not break (often very slippery, thanks very much) has long since shut that door on his literally immortal soul, and he clings to Catholicism because he likes the drama and pomp and ceremony of it, bells and smells. As far as the theology goes, he does not believe in God, exactly, but he doesn’t not, and guilt is perpetual, but so is the thought that perhaps one day, he will in fact be forgiven. He is aware that penances are usually involved, or indulgences, both of which the Protestants have harangued about at great length. Please, Martin Luther. Be quiet, do. (Ironically, the Calvinists hate Pelagius because he denied Original Sin, which the grim sanctimonious killjoys are very fond of clubbing everyone with. Gabriel generally finds the reformers far more obnoxious than the Catholic church, which lets you get away with anything so long as you pay for it, though he recognizes that he is not the intended audience.)

In another few minutes, they are on Hubbard’s territory itself, and have to be careful. Vampires can live as a family with the sire or dame who turned them, as the de Clermonts do, but not all sirings have been by their own will or by a parent who means the best for them. Some are loners, and some, such as these, live in hives, a pack of vampires in a common property. Some are Hubbard’s blood children, but others aren’t, and have traveled to London for refuge from wary and unwelcoming rural communities. There are advantages to banding together for survival, knowing that you will always have food or a hunting partner or protection from the authorities, but the tradeoffs are stiff. Hubbard runs his roost with an iron fist, demanding prayer and piety, asceticism and absolute allegiance, and Gabriel and Garcia have had several spectacular scuffles with him before. There was that one last year, over plague victims being turned without permission (the alternative was dying, but still), and others. Gabriel wonders darkly if this Garcia remembers them at all, given as he seems to remember so little else. One should certainly hope.

“Hold on,” Gabriel whispers, as they turn the corner and size up the priory. Most of the Blackfriars hive are young enough that they can’t be out much, if at all, by day, and the hour of midnight chosen to conceal the brothers’ purpose from interfering warmbloods also means that they’ll have to deal with more frothing young zealots, eager to defend their father from dastardly Frenchies. “How many of the bloody ankle-biters, do you think?”

Garcia gives him half an amused look, but seems oddly hesitant to venture a guess. “You’ve been here more recently,” he says. “What do you think?”

Gabriel nearly comes back with a barb about how he wasn’t aware that Garcia trusted his word on anything, but the verbal warfare can wait until they return to the Old Lodge. “A dozen, maybe sixteen. No more than twenty, though.”

“Twenty?” Garcia looks displeased, but as the two of them have torn through entire human battalions, even twenty fervent young vampiric disciples will not pose much of a threat. “Fine. Let’s go.”

They break from cover and move smoothly across the courtyard, under the arches of the priory. If the hive is in the middle of services, of which Hubbard makes them attend several every night, they might have a chance to search the place undisturbed. At least until someone smells them. Gabriel doubts that they will get out of here without a kerfuffle, but he is in sore need of hitting someone (maybe he can punch Garcia in the middle of the brawl and make it look like an accident) and would not mind the recreation. He also doubts that Hubbard will be keeping this creature, this Rittenhouse, under a bed or in a trunk, waiting to pop up like a painted puppet in a Cheapside booth. But they have to look.

They reach the door, Garcia fumbles with the lock and mutters a few fascinating obscenities, and they push it open. There is always an instinctual revulsion at entering another vampire’s territory uninvited, but they manfully overcome it, sneaking down the corridor as only two large supernatural warriors can do. Fortunately, they don’t make nearly as much noise as they would if they were mortal, and emerge into the large, dim solar. It looks as if they’re right, Hubbard’s minions are in church, being preached at about how their obligations to the Lord have in no way ended with their death. Another point in favor of Catholicism, Gabriel thinks. Go to confession, scandalize a priest, say a few decades of Hail Marys, problem solved. (If that is not how the system works, he does not want to hear about it.)

A quick sweep of the room does not produce any frightening hooded monsters, though Garcia does cut his hand on a silver blade and curse again. Gabriel’s head jerks up instantly at the scent of it, and he flashes over. “Are you – ” He reminds himself that he doesn’t care. “Blind enough to cut yourself on silver, now? Really, darling, must I do everything here?”

“I didn’t realize it was silver,” Garcia says resentfully, sucking on his finger to encourage it to heal. “Why is Hubbard keeping a silver blade on his desk, anyway?”

Gabriel frowns. Since Hubbard himself is vulnerable to it, the fact of keeping a dangerous weapon near at hand, buried in the books and papers and half-written sermons that Garcia searched too intemperately, is noticeable. Perhaps he has progressed to more stringent standards of physical discipline with his hive, though assailing them with silver would certainly cross a line. If so, they could finally have solid grounds to take Hubbard down, though his children would doubtless dutifully protest that it was for their own good. God’s wounds, Gabriel hates this place, the air of fanaticism and danger, the still-shining cut on Garcia’s hand, the silence and the unsettling stillness. He glances over his shoulder. Should they have even come here tonight? He’s usually far better about sensing traps, and the comparative ease of their entrance, the lack of opponents –

“Should we sweep the dormitories?” he asks, trying to focus. “Your hand, darling, is it – ”

“It’s just a papercut,” Garcia says crossly. “And it’s not as if it was poisoned like – ”

He stops himself, but too late. Gabriel can sense something very strange about that, the way Garcia was trying not to meet his eyes as he said it, and the constant mystery about where this Garcia has come from and what he intends to do here, aside from serving as a constant source of aggravation to Gabriel and Marlowe personally. They stare at each other for a long, teetering moment. Then Gabriel repeats, “Not as if it was poisoned like what?”

“Never mind.” Garcia clearly does not want to discuss this. “Look, it’s fine, it was just a scratch. I’m more interested in what this means. If Hubbard is keeping a silver knife with his things, that means he thinks he might have to use it, and I doubt it was just in case we dropped by. So the – thing might be here, and he’s afraid of it too.”

“I did say that, my dearest, did I not? That it was here?” Gabriel is getting edgy. He stalks a circle around the room, glancing up into the dark vaults in search of something about to drop down on their necks, hangman’s noose or hidden harpy alike. “Do you have such a forfeiture of trust in my simplest word as that?” He tries to ask it casually, but it stings.

There is another pause. Then Garcia says, “You’ve not exactly been trustworthy, have you?”

“I have not been trustworthy?” Oh, God and the saints, that quite does it. Gabriel whirls around, snarling. “I have not been trustworthy? I have only ever been precisely as I always am, whilst you, my beloved, are the one who is not yourself, returned to London with a wife you still say so little about and some truth you will confide to Papa and not to me, some scurrilous ventures to send my son upon, and a whole cabal of creatures you have dragged in who I am supposed to repose my confidence upon? I have not been trustworthy? Say that again, and we shall put that little silver pot-sticker of Hubbard’s to good use, won’t we?”

Garcia stares at him, taken aback by Gabriel’s vehemence. After a moment of thought that appears deeply painful (Christ, Gabriel hates this lummox, hates him until he doesn’t even hate him anymore, madly vexing how that is) he holds up his hands and tilts his head back, exposing his throat in surrender. “All right. All right, you’re – I know I’ve – I haven’t handled this well. I just…” He trails off. “I’ve been trying to save you.”

“Yes, so you say.” Gabriel is not mollified. He stalks across the dark solar until they are almost nose to nose, the tension shimmering between them. “Why – don’t – you – explain?”

“I told Papa, we came from…” Garcia visibly flounders. “Not now. And where that is, we – you and I, we – it’s been – it’s been very hard, and I don’t know what I can say to you or how much it will change. We’re just… not used to… this. The two of us. Doing anything.”

That, despite himself, hits Gabriel like a full artillery broadside. He cannot imagine any future where he and Garcia are estranged to a degree that this seems to suggest, and his first instinct is to lash out and call him a liar, but Garcia is possessed of a fierce, instinctive, clumsy honesty that is anathema to the idea, even if he does not always tell the whole truth. Gabriel can read it in his face, the bleakness of his eyes, the drawn lines of his mouth, the way he keeps looking up at Gabriel and then away, waiting to be torn down. No wonder Garcia has approached every interaction with him as if marching into battle. Something has happened, something Gabriel shudders to even think of, to make that his first and deeply conditioned instinct, and at that, something occurs to him. He does not know if he wants it to be the case or not, but it springs to his tongue. “Am I the one who is poisoned?”

“You…” Garcia searches for help, does not find it. “You… yes.”

“Why am I not dead, then?” Gabriel’s heart skips a beat it does not need. “Am I dead?”

“Not exactly. It’s… complicated.”

Gabriel is torn between a desperate desire to push for more, and the awareness that this is not the place or time have this conversation, and they need to get back to the search and get out before Hubbard takes exception. “Is this why you thought Christian would wish to help? If it was a matter of saving me?”

Garcia closes his eyes, clearly in pain. “Yes.”

Gabriel frowns at him. He can sense something there, something else, and it terrifies him so thoroughly that he can offer it no further voice and hope to all the gods that his momentary suspicion was mistaken. It has muted some of his anger, leaving a rich stew of uncertainty and confusion, and he is just about to resume the search when a voice says from the door, “Halt! What doest thou in this place?”

Bloody hell. It is one of Hubbard’s children, a pale-faced, straw-haired teenager perhaps only a few months into the gift, barely in command of his senses or anything except the need to feed, and he will attack at the slightest provocation. His eyes are black and wild, he can smell Garcia’s hand and it is making slaver drip from his fangs, and Gabriel instinctively moves between them. “Back down, pup,” he snarls, in the tone of a vampire who is many centuries old and can tear this upstart to shreds. “Now.”

“It is thou, my lord de Clermont?” The fledgling leers at him, his deliberate use of “thou” rather than the “you” expected for a social superior and a much-senior creature clearly intended as an insult. “Father hast warned us about thee. The French sodomite and shameless fornicator, a Popish author of chaos and agent of the devil. Thou art not welcome here.”

Gabriel considers that for all its picturesque and unflattering nature, this is not in the main an inaccurate description of him. “I do not doubt Father Hubbard has filled thy head with terrible tales of my wicked nature,” he says, voice rough and dark and dangerously smooth. “Dost thou truly wish to see the worst of these? Or wilt thou tell me if there is a creature here, a beast, known perhaps as Rittenhouse?”

“I know no beast.” The fledgling licks his lips, black eyes focused on Garcia’s hand. “None except for thee in the flesh, and thy – ”

At that, he runs out of the limited brain power necessary to form words, and throws himself at them, which is truly, even on this night of stupid actions, one of the stupidest. He is supernaturally strong, but he is still a fledgling and a lightweight, and Gabriel backhands him into the rush-strewn floor with barely a flick. As the fledgling is snapping and trying to get up, Gabriel puts a boot on his shoulder and pins him down. “Touch my brother and I drain you dry. Is there a beast here? One of thy brothers said so, when I tasted him the other night.”

“There is…” The fledgling stares up at him with glassy eyes. “There is something, I know not what, it… I do not meddle in Father’s business, I do not ask… it goes and comes at privy hours, and it…” He snarls, driven mad by the scent of blood, the overwhelming, desperate, raging need to drink it, his fangs digging into his bottom lip. Newborns can rarely hold their sense for more than a few hours between feeds. “Will you not have – have pity!”

Gabriel does not see why he should have pity on one of Hubbard’s spawn, but the puling creature has given them some sort of confirmation that as he says, something is here. He bites his wrist and splashes a few drops into the mouth gaping like a baby bird’s, having sudden memories of the first months of Christian’s turning. Gabriel and Garcia both nursed him devotedly, did not ever allow him to starve or run mad, and Christian was a remarkably calm and happy fledgling besides, just as there are perfect babies who sleep and eat and throw the minimum of tantrums. Doubtless Hubbard also keeps control of when his fledglings can eat, or withholds it for misbehavior, and Gabriel feels a pang of something stronger than his customary well-bred hatred. He truly, on some soul-deep level, loathes the man.

Indeed, just as he is concluding his act of charity (good works, another thing the bloody Protestants importune about, since according to them it doesn’t matter a damn what sort of man you are, and Gabriel finds that comforting and insulting by turns), there is a sudden sound at the door, and they look up to see the master of the hive himself, struck dumb at this effrontery. Most unfortunately, it does not last for long. “You,” he hisses. “You, you foul – feeding one of mine your filthy blood, your depraved sins – how dare you come here tonight, when you yourself ordered me from your – ”

“Where is the beast?” Gabriel has had enough of sham diplomacy and candied words. He takes his boot off the fledgling and advances on Hubbard menacingly. “Where is the beast you are hiding here, you spineless sack of – ”

Hubbard isn’t remotely as old as either of the de Clermont brothers, turned only fifty years ago at most, but he is not the hive master and leader of the London vampires by accident, and he is not a gibbering fledgling to be arrantly flicked aside. He sets his feet and glares bloody murder. “I will not stand for this. I will complain to the Queen, I shall lay the vile account of your crimes bare in any court of law! All the husbands of London shall rally to my side, you lecherous, you heretical – ”

At that, there’s another flash, and this time Garcia is the one between Gabriel and Hubbard. Indeed, Hubbard is being hoisted into the air and pinned violently against the wall, and Garcia’s eyes are pitch black. “Don’t you,” he breathes, “even think about it.”

Gabriel is somewhat impressed at this despite himself, and it affects him more than he thought it would. Still, flattering as it is, he cannot let Garcia start a civil war just yet, and clears his throat. “Darling, do put him down. At least until he talks.”

Garcia glances at him, opens his hand, and lets Hubbard tumble into a wheezing heap at his feet. The bloody priest springs up at once, baring his own fangs, as the fledgling decides that he wants no part of this and scuttles away on all fours, as fast as he can go. The tension is literally murderous. Then Gabriel says, “Answer us, Hubbard, or you will wish you did. What is here? What is this monster you are hiding? Did you invite it, or protect it?”

“Do you think I am as entirely lost to God’s grace and good sense as you?” Hubbard dusts off his cassock, white-faced and snarling. “Do you think I had any choice? It came here, and after it devoured three of my fledglings, I thought it better not to struggle. I wish it gone as dearly as you, but I cannot stop it, I cannot control it. It has settled here and I do not know why. Perhaps it is a scourge from God to punish me for my sins, or to punish the city for still allowing the sinful likes of you to remain.”

“Oh?” Gabriel says. “So why did you lie?”

“Do you think I would ever stand before a room of those degenerates, witches and daemons, and confess to them what lurks in the heart of my own hive?” Father Hubbard looks utterly, furiously incredulous. “Despite how sorely you wish to dishonor everything about it, I alone have some care for the reputation of vampires, and the need to maintain our superiority over the rest of the rabble! You summoned me upon false pretenses and then made a spectacle of it, as if it was my guilt, or my – ”

Despite the possibility that Hubbard might, depressingly, be the smallest bit in the right for once, Gabriel is still not going to apologize to this miserable bastard. “Is it here now?”

“No.” Hubbard’s nostrils flare. “It set out some time ago. Near upon eleven o’clock.”

At that, Gabriel and Garcia glance at each other. They left the Old Lodge at close to eleven o’clock, and while it could be a coincidence, the fact of their quarry leaving here at the same time argues, uncomfortably, as if it might just have known they were coming. How, Gabriel has no idea. But then Garcia grabs his arm, hissing in his ear. “That child Christian brought home. Jack. He said he found him near Blackfriars, and we already know the monster has been feeding on him. What if – ”

“What if the monster can sense something through him, or see through his eyes, or use him as a thrall?” Gabriel knew there was something off about that bloody feral urchin, and worse, they left him back at the Old Lodge with Christian and the rest of the household. At least Papa and the women are in Essex, but is that where the beast is going? Wait until the brothers were out, trying to catch it here, and then strike while they were –

It is sharply clear that either way, they are in the wrong place, and punishment of Hubbard, vastly desirable as it is, has to wait. The de Clermont brothers spin around and pelt out of the hive as fast as they can go – which at their standards is quite fast indeed. There is no care for human sensibilities or anything besides running the mile down the Strand at breakneck speed, and even as they reach the gates of the house, Gabriel can see that something is wrong. The wood is splintered as if hit with a battering ram, broken glass glitters like snow in the mud of the courtyard, there are shouts and panicked sounds and torches being lit, and windows opening down the row as the neighbors wake at the ruckus. A complete, unspeakable terror seizes him, and he burns inside. “CHRISTIAN!”

Garcia yells something after him, but he doesn’t hear it, flying across the courtyard and up the stairs, up toward Christian’s room. He trips over something lying in the hall, thinks it might be one of the servants, but doesn’t stop until he bursts into his son’s room – which is silent, the bed tousled and empty. Gabriel is about to lose his entire mind until he hears a shout from the cloisters, and flashes back out. Whereupon he finds Christian, dressed in nightshirt and breeches, in possession of a stout candlestick that he was apparently using to bash any housebreakers over the head, being hugged by Garcia, who looks just as relieved. Gabriel shoves his brother out of the way and grabs his son by the shoulders, scanning him up and down for injuries. It is only when he doesn’t see any that he consents to relax the merest fraction, and kisses his baby several times, hugging him close. God, if something happened to him, if anything ever did – “Christ crucified, what – ?”

“I don’t – ” Christian shakes his head, rubbing his face. “Something attacked us. I heard a crash and jumped up, I went to help Master Parry – he’s up there, he – ”

Gabriel realizes belatedly that it must have been the steward he tripped over, but he is not willing to let his son out of his sight long enough to retrieve him. It is Garcia who goes up and carries down the stricken Parry, who is bleeding profusely from a gash in his head, groggy and dazed, even as he is apologizing for failing in his duty of care to protect the household while the master was away. “It was some sort of great ghoul, my lord,” he mutters weakly, as Garcia holds a handkerchief to his head to stanch the bleeding, mouth set in a thin line. “We had no warning, it came upon us from the night sky. It seemed to be looking for something, I think – I rather think we were dreadfully fortunate that the women were away. It wanted Lady Clairmont, it went straight for her chambers first. It – ”

“It was looking for Lucy?” Garcia looks set to leave poor Parry to shift for himself and run straight to Essex this very instant. “Where – where’s the orphan boy? Jack?”

“I am not certain, my lord.” Parry looks alarmed, as he damned well might. “Do you think the beast snatched him, or perhaps it – ”

“I don’t know.” Garcia rises to his feet, and Gabriel can see the fear strung through every sinew of him. Oh Christ, he really does love the witch. Gabriel knew it before, but there is even less denying it now, and it twists in his gut like a fist. “But we need to find out immediately.”

Chapter Text

Lucy is quite sure that she is not going to sleep. Even after they have dismissed Amelie and the fun is over for the night, her mind is whirling madly with the weight of everything they have learned, and she is aware that Agnes and Lady Beaton are looking at her – well, not askance, exactly, though there’s still a sense of awe and wariness, as if she might be more powerful than she ever let on. But this has made it clear that she is of a strange and dangerous family line, that they could be meddling with a magical murder mystery on top of everything else, and that the identity of the culprit could be something that they do or do not want to actually discover. They have agreed to help her and teach her, but Lucy can feel them wondering if she’s been shamming, playing the naïve, ignorant newcomer, in hopes of getting them to reveal their powers and secrets, draw them off their guard. If it is going to be a question of calling Amelie up again, they may help her. Or they may not. They’re both Scottish, they’ve known each other for a long time as part of the same coven and sisterhood, and it is very clear that if need be, they will take each other’s side.

That is not even to mention the small facts that Jessica may have saved the Preston family in the past, that Lucy’s great-whatever grandfather could be the actual book they are looking for, and that vampires and witches can in fact, in some circumstances, interbreed. Lucy has no idea of the details or if there’s a certain kind of spell to achieve (or prevent) this result, or if there’s another tedious Congregation rule insisting that all half-breeds must die, because it seems like the sort of thing they would do. Or maybe it’s implicit in the rule against interspecies relationships. Now that she thinks about it, surely they wouldn’t be so paranoid about it if all the unions were sterile, right? Or maybe they’re just not a fan of tragic star-crossed supernatural romances? But if they don’t want creatures to mingle or marry, there has to be something to it, and this feels like one possible creepy racist pseudo-eugenics reason. But it wasn’t always the case. Richard de Prestyn and Anneke Proktor’s union may have been unusual, but there was no sense that it was illegal. So who did this? Why?

Lucy makes her way upstairs to the lady’s bedchamber in a distracted muddle, accepts Meg’s help to change into her nightclothes, then crawls into bed with her journal. It’s not that late, but there’s not much else to do, and she wants to make some sense of this, even by herself. Once Meg lights the candles on the sideboard and curtsies herself out, it is almost the first time Lucy has been completely alone since she landed in the sixteenth century. It’s odd. Lucy is an academic and an introvert, she is used to keeping her own company, but she’s slowly gotten used to the constant parade of parties and social engagements and servants and all the other reasons that mean actual private time is limited. When she’s in the bedchamber at night, Flynn is there, and now he’s not. She doesn’t mind it – it’s nice not to have her energy drained by constant interaction, not to be observed keenly, on a pedestal, the whispered scandal of London, the strange witch, whatever else people think of when they see her. But she does miss him. He is the one person she can let down her guard with, and they still only really have each other.

Lucy writes for a while, journal braced on a small portable desk designed for this purpose, dipping the quill and splashing ink on her fingers until they are stained blue-black. To say the least, this thing is not a modern rollerball, and it has taken her considerable practice to do so much as not leave blots everywhere. Lucy feels self-conscious about possibly getting drips on the sheets, aware that this is not truly her house, and that past-Maria might be angry at this evidence of dereliction on the part of her newly acquired daughter-in-law. Has Asher told his wife about all this? Surely he must have. Maria is back at Sept-Tours, presumably, along with Wyatt. (Is he named Wyatt yet? Doesn’t she remember something about him getting that name in the nineteenth century?) Maria doesn’t have her ancestral grudge against witches yet, but of course, Asher is still alive. Or is this messing with the future, changing memories, altering actions, in ways they cannot possibly understand or predict? Time travel. If Lucy ever thought it would be fun, from a historian’s point of view, to go to various different places and times as a sort of extra-chronological tourist, she is rapidly being disabused of that notion. The potential for extensive headaches is just not worth it. At the very least, she clearly has to avoid anywhere the de Clermonts are, and as they live so long, that is most of it.

Lucy writes steadily, finishes her journal entry, and puts it in a locked drawer. Then she goes over to the basin, scrubs her hands until the water runs ink-dark itself, and still has faint blue stains on her fingers when she’s done. Then she gets back into bed and pulls the covers up, settling down with a long sigh. She isn’t sure that she’s understood anything or actually sorted it out, and her feeling of missing Flynn has only gotten stronger, but it’s just one night and she’s not going to turn into some miserable, pining waif after twenty-four hours away from her husband. (Well, fake husband.) But the feeling of being by herself in 1590 is more anxiety-inducing than relaxing. It’s not like when you’re at home and can just space out and rest. You’re in a strange place with strange people, and anything could happen.

Reminding herself that Asher, at least, is in the house and unlikely to let anything get to her, Lucy closes her eyes and tries to drop off. But she’s just circling around the edges of real sleep when she hears something scratching softly at the window, like the branches of trees. Except the trees are all pruned back to sedate, civilized distances, and as she sits up, she can see some kind of shadow, darker than the deep blue summer dim, falling on the floor. She gets a whiff of something foul, like something dead and rotting, that makes her gorge rise, and all at once, she doesn’t think she should be lying here like a white-gowned damsel just waiting for the monster. If something is trying to get in, she’s going to –

Just as she kicks back the covers and raises a hand full of witchfire, the window breaks with a resounding crash, and something shoots in too fast for Lucy to see. She has a split-second impression of familiarity, the sinking sensation that she knows exactly what it is, before it dives at her, she screams and flings the fireball at it, and it misses, skittering off as ineffectually as if she’s tried to throw a peanut at an elephant. She still can’t get a look at all of it, but those gnarled teeth are unmistakable, snapping and biting at her throat, and hands like claws close around her arms, jerking her fully off her feet. It seems determined to fly straight back out the window with her, Lucy can see no good of letting it do that, and there are crashes and running footsteps outside her room, as other people obviously heard the window break. She kicks and flails, but her toes dangle as ineffectually as a puppet’s. Since the witchfire didn’t do anything, she winds up for a punch, which is likely to be even more farcical. She can’t get enough mustard on it from this angle, and the blow of a small historian is not likely to be a devastating one. That, or –

Lucy’s clawing fingers catch the edge of the hood, jerking it back, and she has the sense of something truly horrible beneath. A dry, desiccated thing, a zombie, looking as if it is slowly returning to some semblance of humanity, but is going to have to drink a lot more young blood to pass for that. Its eyes are blind and white, its teeth snapping at her, and for half a wild second, she thinks she recognizes it. Then it snarls at her, Lucy twists and thrashes and grabs onto the bedpost, but she’s not strong enough and it is going to spirit her out the window and away into the skies and she will never –

The next instant, the bedchamber door bursts open, and something else flashes across the floor too fast to see. Lucy only has a sense of falling, banging her head hard enough to make her see stars, as the newcomer leaps over her, twelve feet in a single bound, and grabs the zombie-creature as it tries to flap out the window. They tumble out together, as Lucy’s scream gets caught in her throat – it’s a three-story fall, and the landing below isn’t exactly soft. But she somehow scrambles to her feet, runs to the broken window, and looks out, not sure what is about to meet her eyes. A battle, or something much worse?

All she can see is the shapes of two indistinct figures, duking it out on the lawn among the elegant greenery and garden ornaments. They are both little more than blurs, but as the zombie-creature slams full-speed into one of the statues, smashing it off its plinth, the other one catches it as easily as a thrown baseball and flings it back. Lucy can make out just enough, by the light of the moon as it peers out from behind a cloud, to see that the second combatant is none other than Asher de Clermont himself. He fights with a lazy, effortless grace, a skill completely incomparable to any other warrior; they might have had ten or twenty years to practice, but he has had literal millennia. His movements are sharp and perfect and he seems to guess his enemy’s feints and lunges before it makes them. The rest of the house is woken, drawn by the ruckus, and candles and lights are struck in various windows, casting an eerie gold-umber glow on the lawn. The creature’s hood is still down, and Lucy recoils from its face. It looks like a man, but only barely. Especially as it tips its ghastly head up, those blank white eyes still fixed directly on her like a hunting shark, and she can sense that it has done anything but give up.

Asher is bare-handed, doesn’t have a sword or knife or anything else to administer the coup de grace, and as he grabs for it, clearly intending to break its neck if need be, the creature flies free. Asher leaps after it, gets hold of its ankle, and almost succeeds in dragging it down, but then one of the servants, clearly thinking that he’s being helpful and defending the master, aims a large blunderbuss at the centre of the confusion and pulls the trigger. The shot goes off, the resulting chaos causes Asher to lose his grip, and the creature shrieks, breaking more windows in the mansion. It hisses something that sounds like, “De Clermont,” and in another flash, like a smoky grey phantom, it takes to the skies and is gone.

Lucy stands paralyzed for an instant longer, then turns and sprints out of the bedroom, running down the stairs and out to the front door. She obviously cannot jump three stories out a window without a scratch, and she’s closely trailed by several members of the household, including Lady Beaton and Agnes. They find Asher on the lawn, uninjured but slightly winded, and wiping some unspeakable black residue off his face with a disgusted expression. Evidently the shot got a bit of zombie goo on him, and he sniffs it, then flings it aside. As Lucy comes hurrying up, he glances up at her and says, as casually as if he has done nothing more remarkable than chase off a nuisance dog, “Are you hurt, my lady?”

“I don’t – I don’t think so, but – ” Lucy is barefoot, wearing nothing more than her blowing nightgown, and one of the servants hands her a shawl in deference to modesty. She pulls it close, shivering for reasons that have nothing to do with cold. “What was that?”

Even as she asks the question, she has a feeling that she knows the answer, and Asher accepts the steward’s help to get to his feet. He aims a slightly severe look at the servant whose inopportune blunderbuss intervention cost him a chance to finish it off, and they cringe and shuffle their feet. “I suspect,” he says, “that it was the thing that my son noted to us before we left London. The – what was it called. David Rittenhouse.”

“It seemed to know you.” Lucy doesn’t know why it shouldn’t, the de Clermonts aren’t exactly random citizens, and the beast would probably be aware of who it was after. But there was something that seemed like real, personal, poisonous hatred in its snarl, and she grasps briefly at an unformed, unlikely thought. “I – I tried to fight it, but I – ”

“I’m not sure you could have stopped it,” Asher says. “It was very strong even for me, and something I have not encountered before. Come, now. Back inside, it could return.”

By dint of his calm and forceful orders, the household shuffles back into the manor, still agog over all this midnight excitement and exchanging worried looks and low-voiced speculation. Lucy is even less sure that she is going to get any sleep, and isn’t in the mood to go right back to bed, especially as her window is still broken. As the servants warm some spiced ale for them in the name of a restorative beverage, and even Asher looks as if he could use a tipple, Lucy says, “So that’s the monster? How did it get here? How would it know where we are, or – ”

“I have ideas. Theories, perhaps. Nothing of which I can be certain.” Asher steeples his fingers contemplatively, magnificent brow drawn in thought. There is still a little black gunk on his cheek, and he flicks it off, as Lucy thinks nervously of Gabriel getting poisoned by a seemingly trivial wound during his fight with Temple. She doesn’t think this is the case again, but she’d also prefer not to take chances. “It does seem, however, that it has a personal interest in you, my lady, and therewith also my son Garcia. It clearly did not mean to kill you, at least not immediately, but rather remove you to its own place of interest. That does not surprise me. You would, of course, be more valuable alive.”

Lucy does not find this comforting, even as she can’t blame Asher for trying to get to the bottom of this unexpected attack on his house. “Thank you for – for, you know.”

“Of course.” He inclines his head to her graciously, as if she need never be in any doubt that he would never stand for her being snatched by an evil flying zombie. “Nor, I must say, do I fancy explaining that to Garcia.”

She isn’t sure if that’s the hint of a joke, a dry, reserved humor, and holds her tongue instead, as the servants arrive with their ale and Lucy has several sips, discovering that she is more shaken than she first thought. She is still rather dazed from bashing her head on the bedroom floor, and a concussion would definitely be very low on the list of helpful things right now. After a long pause, she says, “Do you think it will come back?”

“We would be unwise to discount the possibility.” Asher speaks in a military commander’s voice, which he has so long been, even with his own sons. “It clearly has some manner of knowing our presence, or predicting our movements. I would go and search the grounds and heath, but I think it ill-advised to leave you alone. It could indeed be hoping that I go heedlessly after it, and leave you unguarded for a second assault.”

Lucy shivers. “So,” she says. “It did come after us. With us.”

“Not with you, surely?” Asher’s profile is impassive and sharp-cut in the low light, and it is a generous thing to say, even as Lucy doesn’t know if she deserves it. She feels obliquely responsible for visiting this danger and disruption on them. It would be one thing if Garcia returned here alone, although of course he couldn’t timewalk without her, but she is the fly in the ointment, the wrench in the gears, the person changing everything and drawing zombie-things down on everyone, who wasn’t here last time and has done only negligible good at being here this time. Whatever does get changed here, whatever does get ruined, it feels as if it ultimately falls on her.

“I don’t know.” Lucy looks down at the swimming golden surface of her ale, then takes another deep drink. “We’re the ones who traveled here and put you all in danger. We have good reasons for it, and we believe in what we’re trying to do, but it’s still because of us.”

Asher looks at her with startling gentleness, and for a moment, she thinks he is going to say something else. Whether to reassure her, or delicately ask for more information about when they came from, she can't be sure, but just then, they hear another distant crashing sound in the front hall. Events of the night being what they are, Asher drops his goblet and flashes to his feet, taking up a protective stance, and thus when the solar door bursts open and two shapes hurtle through in total panic, he is only narrowly prevented from throwing his eldest and middle sons directly through the wall. They skid to a halt, breathless, looking back and forth, as Lucy stares at them in utter disbelief. “Garc – Gabri – what are you doing…?”

“Jesus.” Flynn, as it indeed is, wipes his brow with the sleeve of his doublet. Both de Clermont brothers are grimy and windswept, looking as if they have outright sprinted the thirty miles from London to Essex in the dead of night, and stare around with slightly wild expressions on their faces. “We saw – broken windows, are you – ”

“Would you perhaps be in search of a particularly disagreeable monster resembling a dried corpse?” Asher asks. “Aye, it did pay a visit here, barely an hour ago. I saw it off.”

“You – ” It’s just then that Lucy notices that both Garcia and Gabriel are wearing swords, and not the fashionable, fussy dueling rapiers that are standard issue for every strutting Elizabethan peacock. No, these are heavy-duty, two-handed broadswords, probably the very ones they carried on any number of bloody medieval battlefields. They seem equally nonplussed that their use is not immediately called for, as Gabriel turns in a circle, Garcia blinks at his father, and then remembers Lucy, darting over to her in a panic and snatching her up off her feet. “Moja ljubav, are you – ”

“I’m fine,” Lucy says. “I knocked my head a little, and it broke the bedroom window, but your father got there before it – before anything worse could happen.”

Flynn shudders, clearly thinking of her narrow escape from Rittenhouse the first time, and she can practically see him resolving never to let her out of his sight again. He kisses her soundly, to which Lucy has no objection, and doesn’t quite let go even after they pull away, and she frowns up at him. “Wait. How did you two know it was here?”

“We raided Hubbard’s hive,” Flynn says tersely. “He is in fact harboring the monster there, but he insists it was because it ate several of his fledglings and it’s not by choice. Speaking of which, Jack – we think he’s a thrall for Rittenhouse, the way Jessica was for Temple. Must have used him to make sure we were out of the way, left the hive and attacked the Old Lodge first. Then when it didn’t find you, it must have come here. We guessed it would, at any rate, and it unfortunately appears that we were correct.”

“It attacked the Old Lodge?” Lucy is alarmed. “Is everyone – is Christian all right?”

“Yes,” Gabriel says curtly, speaking for the first time. “That was our greatest necessity to be certain of. Of course, my soft-hearted son was very concerned that we should find Jack, as the monster must have snatched him both for a drink and to be sure that he could tell no one else about it or where it had gone. There is good information to be had of the boy, so – Papa, did you say you frightened it off?”

“Indeed.” Asher raises an eyebrow. “I had nothing to kill it with, and one of the servants inopportunely intervened, but it did not manage to leave as it had planned.”

“Then the boy might still be around here.” Gabriel looks set to run back out into the night, in hopes of finding Jack stashed up a tree or behind a large rock. “If I find him, I can bite him and see what he knows of this.”

“Hold on,” Lucy objects. “Bite him again? I’m not suggesting we take him back into our house to keep spying on us, but – ”

Gabriel’s fangs flash at her, in a way that reminds her he will do absolutely anything to protect his family, already ran up here to Essex with Garcia under the fact that she grudgingly qualifies, and is not about to be gainsaid on this. “You leave that to me, sweet sister. I am grateful to see that you are unhurt, and Christian seems to have taken a liking to this poor lost puppy, because of course he has. I shall treat Jack gently enough, if I find him, but we must find a way to break the thrall. Papa, if you will pardon me?”

With that, not waiting for Asher’s answer, Gabriel turns and leaves the solar again, and the door bangs distantly as they see his dark shadow dart away across the grounds. There is a slightly awkward silence as Asher, Garcia, and Lucy try to avoid looking at each other, in the now-familiar shared judgment of Gabriel’s dramatics. Then Lucy says, “If you know now that it – that Rittenhouse is hiding out at Hubbard’s hive, you could go back there with all three of you and take it out, couldn’t you?”

“It is a thought,” Asher says, “but as Gabriel says, there is use to be had in seeing what our enemies know, before merely disposing of them. Besides, any attack by three heavily armed de Clermonts on Hubbard’s hive would very swiftly spill over into a vampire war, or impact upon all the folk of London, creature or mortal. Elizabeth’s deliberate ignorance and careful tolerance, possible only because she does not ask what we are and we keep the queen’s peace, cannot extend to pardoning rampant riot and disorder inflicted upon her unwitting human subjects. And when immortals of this caliber fight, humans always get hurt.”

Lucy can see that he’s right, even as it chafes at her that they can’t just go in guns blazing and drag the beast out. Then she supposes wryly that she has been fake-married to Garcia Flynn for too long, if that occurs to her as the preferred solution. Asher founded the Knights of Lazarus in part for this reason, to keep the supernatural-human balance and defend the daylight world from threats they would never see coming, and Lucy knows that he believes passionately in protecting the defenseless. She has seen in the present how Asher’s legacy and his philosophies about the dangerous nature of immortal power have influenced each of his sons. Surely he’s not suggesting that they leave Rittenhouse at large to terrorize London, and no matter the risks inherent in assaulting Hubbard’s hive, surely the alternative must be worse. She presses, “If you said that Hubbard himself didn’t agree to it, Garcia, surely he’d want help getting Rittenhouse out? Even if it came from you?”

“Doubtful,” Flynn says grimly. “As long as Hubbard makes himself compliant, raises no more objections to Rittenhouse’s presence and turns a blind eye to any indelicate feeding, he holds the key to the most powerful and dangerous creature in London. Nobody will dare attack or molest Hubbard’s hive as long as it is known that the beast resides there, and Hubbard is too damn good a politician not to get his money’s worth for it. He can force the witches or the daemons for concessions, and of course, he can discipline his fledglings, get them to see the mighty dark power that awaits if they set a toe out of line. Hubbard may not want it there, and he claimed that he wanted it gone, but I can guarantee that he doesn’t want it anywhere else. And given our track record, there would be war.”

Lucy chews that over. Yet again, there arises the question of how much is too much to change, the fact that they are interfering in a set matrix that has already played out to a particular conclusion, and starting a full-out fang war would be actively detrimental to future history. But how does that responsibility weigh up over what they need to do, what they have to do? Rittenhouse has clearly come here after them, but does that make them responsible for his presence? He is not going to be in the least constrained by tender considerations for following generations, and Flynn is, to state the obvious, not a man accustomed to fighting with the gloves on. He already suggested essentially torching history to save Asher and Christian. If he’s forced to tiptoe around and make neutered, safe, non-cataclysm-causing moves, is that really going to do anything against Rittenhouse at all? How did he get here? Lucy wishes suddenly she had Carol’s letters again, needs to know if she said anything else about this. Why would Rittenhouse be important to the Prestons? Is he part of the family too?

That is a horrible enough thought that she wishes she didn’t have it, even as the sneaking voice in her head whispers that it’s not implausible. If Rittenhouse is a timewalker and came here from another century, it’s possible that he too is descended from Amelie Wallis, and hence from Richard and Anneke. Lucy already noticed with Jessica that destiny seems to be clustering especially closely around this bloodline, a powerful and talented and troublesome lot, and while not every timewalking witch springs from the same root, everyone says it’s a very rare skill. With all this question of creature genetics, of the potential heightened abilities of cross-breeds, wouldn’t it make sense to be particularly strong in one branch of a family? Especially if that family was founded by the union of a vampire and a witch?

That reminds Lucy, however, that there’s something she should probably talk to Flynn about. If they aren’t going to stand here awkwardly waiting for Gabriel to return, with or without Jack, they might as well go upstairs and hash it out. She tugs at his hand. “Garcia?”

“Mmm? What? Yes.” He shakes himself and, for once, picks up on her unspoken intention – see, they’re getting better at this silent marital communication thing. He follows her protectively upstairs to the bedchamber, whereupon his mouth goes thin at the sight of the broken glass on the floor, the gaping dark hole in the window, and the clear evidence of a struggle. He clearly can’t quite trust that she escaped totally unscathed, and cups her head in both hands and seems to be checking her eyes for signs of brain damage. This is sweet of him, but unnecessary, and he frowns worriedly. “Did you – ”

“Garcia, I’m fine.” Lucy pulls him down to sit on the bed next to her. “Actually, I need to tell you about something else that happened this evening. Before… all that.”

With that, she explains their success in summoning Amelie Wallis – or, as she was at the time, Amelie Prestyn, and the many unsettling things that she told them. Flynn looks even less enthused about the idea of Jessica running around in Innsbruck and getting mixed up with Heinrich Kramer, who is a legendarily nasty piece of work, but it’s less clear if that is due to personal concern for Jessica’s safety (unlikely) or the further ripple effects that she could have on everything. “Wait,” he says at the end, once Lucy has gotten to the subject of Richard and Anneke and their marriage – and their son Henry, Amelie’s father, the one whose unexplained death may have resulted in him being skinned and made into Ashmole 782. “So vampires and witches – they definitely can have – ”

“I don’t know,” Lucy cautions. “I don’t know if it’s possible with all of them, or if it’s a special circumstance, or – whatever. But yes, in this case, it seems it is.”

Flynn remains frowning for a moment longer, before his eyes light up in total horror and he leaps off the bed as if it has suddenly caught on fire. “We have – twice, are you – is there any chance that you might be – ”

“I’m not pregnant,” Lucy says reflexively, even though it is obviously too early for her to be completely sure in any case. She doesn’t think so, for whatever reason, but she was not expecting unprotected sex to be an issue when sleeping with a vampire. If it’s true that they need to find some sort of magical birth control (she thinks the only option for condoms in the sixteenth century are socks, which no thank you), then they can do that, but Flynn is still looking horrified. “It would be ironic if I was, since Meg was so convinced of it – but no. No, I’m not. I’ll see if I can ask Lady Beaton about it, but – ”

“Are you – ” Flynn clearly does not want to interrogate her too untowardly about her feminine mystique, but he still looks wary and wild-eyed, pacing and waving his arms like a drunken windmill. “If you – you can’t –  ”

“No,” Lucy repeats, a little hurt at his apparent insistence that this would be the worst thing to ever happen. She is not remotely in the mood to risk anything passing for Tudor obstetric medicine, and she will be conscientious about tracking down whatever she has to, but it’s never completely flattering when the man you love looks as if he might have a heart attack at the thought of ever having a family with you. Lucy’s not made up her mind about whether she wants kids, not exactly, and to say the least, Flynn has issues around this subject stretching back a literal millennium and a half. This is not the time, this could not possibly be less of the time, and she supposes that they’re lucky they found out about this now, before they could in fact possibly have an accident. But every normal human grownup in a possibly procreative relationship has to talk about kids and birth control and family planning with their partner, and if Flynn is shooting bolts at the very mention of it, Lucy might be giving him too much credit to think he could handle anything else. “Garcia, I promise, it’s not – we aren’t even actually married yet, this is a while off, but – ”

“Maybe we should…” Flynn looks as if he is working himself up to suggesting something deeply unpleasant, that he nonetheless is honor-bound to put forth for the sake of form. “You know, not sleep together any more. Just to be completely safe.”

“Why am I not surprised that your solution to this problem is to immediately suggest total celibacy again?” Lucy can’t help it, she’s frustrated, and it shows through in her voice. “Trust me, I could not be in more agreement that it’s the last thing we need right now. But this idea that a woman can either have sex with the possibility of pregnancy or not have sex at all – I’m sorry, that is one thing I’m glad we have left in the past, thank you very much. I know there are herbal recipes and folk medicine if nothing else, but I’d be very surprised if witches, who are often women and have been for hundreds of years, never invented a birth control spell and anything else to do with fertility magic. Agnes is called the Wise Wife of Keith, I’m entirely sure she can help me. Unless this is just another excuse to back away, if you regret what we did, or – I’ve asked you a hundred times, but if you still won’t tell me, you won’t talk to me or trust me, then we can’t do this in any number of ways, and – ”

She is rising to the brink of a shout, and bites her tongue. Flynn looks stunned, as yet again, he has failed to grasp the emotional complexities of this situation or the fact that it might be hurtful for him to immediately suggest they stop having proper intimate relations, when they have only just, tentatively, actually started. Lucy wants to be angry at him, but she just feels tired. She does not intend to give him up just to avoid getting knocked up, she doesn’t want to be knocked up right now anyway, and she realizes why he would panic about everything to do with fatherhood, she does. Maybe he wants a couple decades to sort out his relationship with Jiya first, which would be understandable, but Lucy is mortal and will live an ordinary lifespan, and she’d be in her fifties by then. She doesn’t run on the luxury of unlimited time, the reason Gabriel and Garcia constantly put off fixing their broken relationship, apparently assuming that there would always be a chance later if they changed their stubborn, stupid minds, until it was too late. She doesn’t know, but she at least wants the choice.

There is a long pause as they stare at each other, Flynn clearly scrabbling to figure out how he put his foot in it this time. Then he snaps his mouth shut with a click, which is always his best option, and creeps back to sit down next to her again. “I’m sorry.”

“I shouldn’t have yelled at you.” Lucy feels numb, dull, drained, but she is under so much pressure that she feels like someone has crammed too many beads on a string and it’s about to break and scatter all over the floor. And in some sense, he is the only person she can shout at, knowing that he will take it and won’t hurt her or form a disparaging opinion of her manners or report to the Queen about her, that he is the only person with whom she is ever truly safe. She feels close to tears. “I’m sorry, Garcia, I – I’m sorry, I just – ”

“Shh.” He scoops her into his arms, holding her against his strong chest, clearly sensing that the best route to fixing this is a lot of cuddles and not saying anything else inflammatory. (On that, at least, he is not wrong.) “Shhh, moja ljubav, shh. I just – I was frightened. I couldn’t – I worry about you enough as it is. If it was you and a child – ”

“I know, I know.” Lucy nestles her head restlessly against his collarbone, exhausted and anxious at the same time, wanting desperately to collapse into paramount unconsciousness but too highly strung for that. “Besides, there’s always some obnoxious subplot about trying to kill it because It Is An Abomination To All Creaturekind or whatever. It’s already against the Covenant for us to be together, so I don’t imagine they’d take this well. But I – ” She hesitates. “I just didn’t – if you were completely repulsed by the idea, I – ”

“Shh, no, no, of course not.” He continues rocking her, dropping small kisses onto her hair. “I just reacted badly. Again. Shhh.”

Lucy appreciates his cuddling and his clumsy efforts to make up for it, but she is still too fractious to be easily calmed, keeps feeling the anxiety magnifying and sparking in her blood. It is very late; indeed, with the short summer hours of darkness, the night has already started to leaven with approaching sunrise. But she wants him to put his mouth where his money is, and there is a certain heightened need coming in the wake of both their argument and a near-death experience. Before she can think better of it, she says, “Bite me.”

He looks down at her, startled, but at least he doesn’t pull away. “What?”

“Bite me,” Lucy repeats. “You’re barely eating – I think you’ve, what, fed twice since we got here? Once on Gabriel and once on your father? It’s been over a month, I know you’re hungry, and for some reason, you – you won’t. With me. You’ve done it before, remember? I don’t know if you suddenly decided that I was made of glass again, but I – I just – please.”

She doesn’t want to beg, but her fists close on his shirt anyway, raw and desperate, and Flynn still looks as if it has never occurred to him that it would be anything apart from an unavoidable and slightly messy burden for her. Good God Almighty, this man has a strong claim to being the thickest that ever lived, and that’s a high bar to clear. But after another pause, he searches her face for any hesitation, doesn’t find it, and finally licks his lips and nods tersely. He lifts her up, laying her gently back into the pillows, and gets up to shuck his boots, swordbelt, cloak, and other dirty and poky accessories. Once he is stripped down to his shirt and breeches, he climbs back onto the bed and settles himself carefully on top of her, bracing his weight on his elbows. He extends his fangs, lowers his head to her neck, and kisses and licks lightly at the bumping thread of her pulse at the vein. Then, quick and sharp, so she barely feels the pain except for a brief burning sting, he bites.

Lucy arches her back, lifting herself up into him, as the lazy, giddy euphoria of the feed begins to ripple through her body. Flynn is apparently trying a few things, drinking quickly or slowly, changing the tempo of his little gulps as his hand runs down her side, cups around her hip, and then works its way between them. Lucy utters a slightly frenzied little whine into the side of his head as he pushes up her nightgown and starts thumbing her clit in time to his sucks. As ever, he is careful not to take too much, but as the deft, relentless work of his hand starts pushing her toward the edge, as he slides a finger and then two inside her and uses it to augment the efforts of his thumb, he takes two hard, deep sucks that send white sparks cartwheeling through her vision. She sighs, moans, and comes harder than she ever has in her life, clenching tightly around his slick fingers as he keeps wringing every bit of sensation out of her, takes one more drink, then pulls back. He kisses and licks the small puncture marks, encouraging them to close over, and sits up, wiping his mouth with his other hand and looking somewhat pleased with himself. “Better?”

Lucy feels hot, wet, and completely flattened, every inch of tension having run out of her along with anything resembling solid flesh or bone. She lies there, wrung-out and flushed, dewy and quivering, as he settles back down next to her, wrapping himself around her as if in personal promise that he will kill the next hooded hellbeast that comes busting in here. “Shh, ma lionne,” he says, kissing her ear. “Sleep. I’m with you.”

He is, he is, and god, he is so very frustrating, but she loves him so much, and she does not want to be anywhere else in the world than in his arms. Lucy is exhausted for any number of reasons, and can barely keep her eyes open an instant longer. So she closes them, and crashes beneath the surface of a deep, catatonic unconsciousness.

They both sleep several dreamless hours, and wake sometime late the next morning, still tangled together and knotted in the quilts. Lucy supposes that it’s an unfortunate way for it to happen, but she can’t object to getting her first proper lie-in in weeks. Once she manages to peel her sticky eyes open, she looks down at Flynn, regretfully decides that it would probably be a bad idea to have the full event before she makes those enquiries about magical birth control, and reflects that being a responsible adult is really a drag sometimes. That doesn’t mean they can’t have any fun at all, and she drags her mouth over him, waking him up with small kisses and light nips, until a crack of greeny-hazel shows under his lashes and he utters appreciative groans as she makes her way downward. Then she takes him in her mouth, and it turns into whispered, incoherent swearing.

Lucy is pleased with this effect, sets to her work with vigor, and within the span of a few minutes, has succeeded in reducing Flynn to the same speechless, trembling jelly state in which he left her last night. Once she has sat up and wiped her mouth, and he is completely cross-eyed and has torn actual holes in the sheets, it is another several minutes before he can finally work up the gumption to speak. “Jesus.”

“Mmm.” Lucy leans down, nuzzling his nose with hers, and they kiss again. She is glad that the idea of strict celibacy has died the swift, lonely death it richly deserves, but can’t be entirely sure that it won’t recur later, because Garcia Flynn. At any rate, they should probably get their hands off each other and actually get around to heading downstairs and dealing with the myriad outstanding crises that doubtless remain. “Should we go back to London today?”

“Our audience with Dee isn’t until Friday,” Flynn says. “You and Agnes and Lady Beaton probably have more work to do. I’ll have to get back and see what the hell is going on, I imagine, but if you return tomorrow, that gives you another day to practice.”

“I suppose.” Lucy kisses him again, then rolls out of bed, wondering if she should summon Meg to dress her in her clearly ruffled and post-coital state, but then, this is the sort of thing that one’s lady’s maid is trained to discreetly overlook. Once Flynn has thrown on his shirt and breeches and thumped out, Meg arrives to do the honors for Lucy, and looks at her flushed cheeks, tangled hair, and kiss-wet lips. “So,” she says delicately. “It has all – been sorted out, that is? With my lord? Saving your pardons, my lady?”

“Er, yes, I hope so.” Lucy coughs. “Actually, Meg, I had a question. If I wanted to – to not get a child, do you know anything that would be meant to do that?”

Meg’s surprise is obvious, as most Elizabethan married couples would be much more interested in ensuring they had children, rather than preventing them. Infant mortality rates are not as completely terrible as they could be, but plenty of children still don’t see the age of twelve, the family is the natural and expected unit of society, and children are valuable as heirs to estates and daughters for marriage alliances – or in ordinary working families, as part of the household economic production. That said, women have had strategies for managing or spacing their pregnancies in every age and era in the world. Lucy wrote her goddamn PhD thesis on the Voynich manuscript arguing that it was just that, after all, and Meg thinks for a moment. Then she says, “Is everything – I mean, my lady, is there something amiss? If it is a woman’s complaint, I could find a midwife, or – ?”

“Ah, not as far as I know, no.” Lucy can feel her ears heating. Meg is evidently not going to suggest Agnes, the wise woman already in residence beneath this roof; witches are known to slaughter babies and drink their blood in Black Mass sacrifices, after all, and it’s clear that Meg thinks no innocent child needs to be anywhere near Agnes, no matter how harmless and grandmotherly she looks, just in case. Meg seems to feel that Lucy’s reticence might owe itself to everything not working, or there being some kind of disease or vaginal tear or something else to make sex and childbirth uncomfortable and unpleasant. “I just – I would prefer not to, just this very moment.”

Meg is clearly not sure if this is something she should arrange without Flynn’s knowledge, in case she might be knowingly conspiring to deprive the lord of his rightful expectation to heirs. But she’s already agreed to overlook quite a bit more outrageous behavior from her employer, and finally nods. “There are certain herbs, my lady – tansy, pennyroyal – but they can be dangerous if taken in quantity, or cause bleeding that will not stop. But I will ask the old goodwife in Islington that saw to my sister’s confinements.”

“Thank you.” Lucy waits as Meg finishes her dressing, then turns to her. “I mean it. And I’ve discussed this with Garcia – my lord. So you’re not going behind his back.”

“The pair of you are – strange.” Meg bites her tongue. “But I’m glad to hear so.”

She finishes Lucy’s toilette, braids her hair and pins it up, and sees herself out, and Lucy makes her way downstairs, hearing voices coming from the kitchen. When she lets herself in, she finds Asher, Gabriel, and Garcia all keeping an eagle eye on a battered and scratched-up Jack, who is inhaling a bowl of porridge with honey as if his life literally depends on it. It might, for that matter, and Lucy shoots a questioning look at her brother-in-law, who returns it with an expression of blankness slightly too studied to be entirely genuine. There are fresh bite marks visible on Jack’s neck, but it’s not clear if those are from Gabriel or from Rittenhouse, and Lucy hopes that Gabriel at least would feel some qualms about chomping into a child like a Christmas turkey. She can’t really ask the obvious questions about his retrieval and/or disenchantment while he’s there, and waits until Meg arrives to take firm but kind charge of the boy and marches him off for a wash. Then she says, “So you did…?”

“I found him about a mile off,” Gabriel says. “I cannot be certain whether Rittenhouse forgot him in his haste to depart, or if he left him there on purpose to keep watch on the house. There was a thrall on the boy, a strong one, but I mesmered him so he did not feel a thing, and drained enough of the poison from him to break it. At least for now.”

Lucy remembers Agnes saying that she did not like something about Jack, that they should be wary of him, and wonders if that alone was it. “Should we still have him here?”

“I could return him to Blackfriars,” Gabriel says. “Strictly speaking, he is Hubbard’s responsibility. But I would be condemning him to a slow, draining death, as Rittenhouse seems to intend to keep him alive as long as he can to get the most blood from him, then dispose of him. And I have seen for myself what sort of father Hubbard is to his brood, and no matter my other flaws, I will not have truck with it. My son will be most upset if I let anything happen to his pet, and there is more use to be had from him.”

Lucy glances sidelong at him. “So you’ll tend to Jack? If nothing else, for Christian’s sake?”

“I would do anything for Christian.” Gabriel speaks utterly matter-of-factly; he does not need to boast or preen about it, but nor will he stand for it to be challenged or questioned in any way. “If that includes attempting to civilize grubby young urchins, or at least preventing them from being done to death in unfortunate fashion, then yes. From what I tasted of him last night, he has had no part in this, and tried to run away from the Old Lodge rather than suffer Rittenhouse to descend upon it and hurt us. We are likely the only folk to show him any sort of kindness in his short life, and while I know you may have good reason to question my honor, my lady, that does not extend to murdering innocent children in cold blood.”

Lucy flinches. “I was never suggesting you would.”

Gabriel does not answer, but picks up the nearest wine goblet and takes a drink, appearing neither to notice or care that it is yesterday’s sour dregs. He avoids the gaze of his father and brother, then gets to his feet. “I should be back to London. I mislike leaving the house without any of us for long, and I have other enquiries to make besides. Papa, I will leave the boy here for your examination, so you may contrive a more permanent way of undoing the thrall. Garcia, when you return, perhaps you shall do me the courtesy of waiting on me then? There is more to be done. Good day.”

With that, Gabriel bends over his father’s hand, exchanges air kisses with Garcia and Lucy fast enough to resemble a handsome blur, and once more gets the fuck out of there. They are left in that accustomed post-Gabriel state of mild stupefaction, not sure whether to be more annoyed or concerned, until Asher glances at Flynn. “Have you said anything to him?”

“I tried to explain last night, when we were at Hubbard’s.” Flynn looks frustrated. “I can’t help it that he seems set on being an utter – ”

Asher raises the other eyebrow, and whatever colorful insult Flynn was set to call his brother dwindles into unfortunate oblivion. Then the de Clermont patriarch rises to his feet as well. “I will remain here with Lucy if you also wish to return to London today, Garcia. We do of course hope that my services in defending her will not be called for again, but if they are, you may be assured that I will not fail in their execution.”

“I don’t doubt you, Papa,” Flynn says, with a slight and pointed stress on the ‘you’ that its target is not around to appreciate. “But if you are going to keep Jack here and try to undo his thrall, just – be careful, all right?”

“I would be nothing less.” Asher looks for a moment as if he might say something else, then decides against it. He and Lucy see Flynn to the door, where Flynn bends to kiss her, and both of them cling a little longer than necessary. Then Flynn bows to his father as well, only for Asher to completely startle him by pulling him into a proper embrace. No matter how demonstratively affectionate a father Gabriel is with Christian, it’s still not the norm, and Lucy gets the sense that Asher prefers to show his love by setting a strong example and holding the family together. Flynn freezes up, then hugs his father back, coughing rather a lot, and Asher steps back, taking hold of his shoulders and looking at him as if in all-too-terrible recognizance of the fact that someday, sometime in the unknown future, he will no longer be able to. “Go on, Garcia,” he says. “I will mind your wife.”

“Ah. Yes. Thank you, Papa.” Flynn harrumphs again, turning away in search of a discreet way to rub the back of his hand across his eyes, then gives Lucy one more kiss and pulls on his cloak. They stand there watching him until he is out of sight down the drive, and then Asher politely excuses himself to go see to Jack. For her part, Lucy decides not to waste the practice time, and goes to find Lady Beaton.

They make their way out to the long lawn where Rittenhouse and Asher were fighting last night, the turf still scuffled and torn up from the immortal cage match. Lady Beaton glances at it with lips pursed. Then she turns to Lucy. “Did ye ever ken what yon beastie was?”

“I… sort of.” Lucy isn’t sure how much information to share with the older witch, even though Lady Beaton heard everything with Amelie last night. She clearly doesn’t like Hubbard, which she can’t be blamed for, but she is also too good a politician not to profit from the situation, and she’s definitely not constrained by any desire to make things easier for Elizabeth. Lady Beaton might well welcome a full-scale imbroglio for the Protestant whore who killed Queen Mary, and if it comes at the vampires’ expense, all the better. “We’re working on it.”

Lady Beaton glances at her with one plucked eyebrow arched, but decides not to press for details. Lucy, eager to change the subject, goes on, “Before we start, I had a question. We learned last night that under certain circumstances, a vampire and a witch can procreate, and I was wondering if you knew anything more about that.”

“What?” Lady Beaton glances at her in surprise. “You dinna want bairns with your husband? True, he’s an idiot, and a bloodsucker to boot, but he’d give you strong children, and you could then have the charge of raising them.”

“I’m not sure, I just… not now.” Lucy rolls up her sleeves, preparing to return to the work of conjuring a familiar. Aside from the need to prevent herself from inadvertent motherhood, she is trying to delicately pry for information about the abilities of hybrids that might explain Rittenhouse, and why anyone would want to make Henry de Prestyn into a book, but does not want to say so directly. “Is there an edict against it?”

Lady Beaton shrugs. “Nay, no edict that I ken, but ‘tis a very rare thing, and the results unpredictable. The name for such creatures is the Bright Born, and they can have the long lives of vampires and the magic of witches. No very comfortable for those on either side, ye see. If your many-times great-grandsire was one such thing, then aye, someone could ha’ taken an interest in him, and sought to gain his abilities for themselves, by some dark and evil devising. Perhaps they killed him directly for that purpose, or perhaps he met his death by some other misfortune and some unscrupulous twa-bit huckster offered bits of him as a most magical creature. Ye ken what cannibals these men are, Lady Clairmont. They would care nothing for the manner or reason of his death, and only what could be gained from it.”

Lucy has to agree. Medical or research ethics are very far from any sort of thing in the sixteenth century, and if Henry de Prestyn dropped dead of unrelated causes, however unlikely that is, he could have fallen victim to someone selling him off, like relics of a saint, to educated gentlemen with magical or alchemical or occult interests. She has an odd feeling that she’s missed something, that the answer is right under her nose, but can’t bring it to mind. Educated gentlemen with magical interests. That certainly describes the School of Night, doesn’t it? She doesn’t think Sir Walter Raleigh would actually order a man murdered for the sake of scientific specimen or study, and she doesn’t want to think so, since she found him gracious and charming. But that’s a slender thread to dangle anything from, and they have to explore all possibilities. They have thought this whole time that the School would help them find Ashmole 782, but what if they made it? What if they have worked with Dee all along, and the reluctance to let them speak to the esteemed alchemist is not just a matter of judiciously avoiding Elizabeth’s wrath, but fear of what he might say?

No, Lucy thinks. Sir Walter himself got them the audience with Dr. Dee, he wouldn’t have done that if he wanted to avoid them meeting him at any cost. But if so, would that not be a shrewd maneuver on its own? Hedging too long about keeping them apart might provoke suspicion, and if he went and spoke to Dee privately beforehand, he could have warned him that some subjects were not to be broached, and that he needed to be on guard when Lucy and Flynn arrived. But Raleigh certainly seemed insistent that nothing could be discussed until the matter of Roanoke had been settled, and if he was hoping to put them off for months…

Lucy really hopes she’s wrong about this, and it’s possible that Raleigh neither gave the order nor had anything to do with its execution. But that would be comparable to Elizabeth’s studied ignorance of the supernatural world, where explicit guilt is avoided only by never uttering it out loud, even if the truth is well suspected. Would Marlowe know about this? It seems unlikely that he wouldn’t, and Flynn has certainly given the daemon no incentive to help him. Marlowe is both a leading member of the School and some sort of double agent, though for whose side is entirely inscrutable. He is in love with Flynn but sleeping with Gabriel, and still might sell them both out, as well as Lucy, if the price was right. Accusing him to his face would definitely backfire, and besides, accuse him of what? Lucy has no evidence that a crime has even been committed, far less by who. But she’s suddenly wondering if it’s a good idea to walk into their audience with Dee on Friday so unprepared. They might well need to ask several more questions first, but if they suddenly reschedule it at the last minute, will that also be suspicious?

Lucy tries to focus on the work, since Lady Beaton is giving her censorious looks urging her to pay attention, but all of this keeps running through the back of her head. Lady Beaton informs her that there are indeed women’s charms, things not for the knowledge or eyes of men, that she can procure, if Lucy is indeed serious about not conceiving. Lucy tells her that she is, and figures that between magical and mundane methods, something has to work. It isn’t the pill or Depo-Provera or an IUD or any of the modern medical options, but the human race survived for thousands of years without Big Pharma. They’ll get by.

The two witches practice for the rest of the day, until Lucy can almost reliably conjure a familiar, a fireball that has the shape of a dragon. She thinks it’s female (as Donkey would say, a girl dragon!) though she can’t say why. It’s a pretty thing, made of incandescent gold-glittering flame, that swoops and loops around Lucy’s head in lazy circles and perches on her shoulder with an almost insubstantial weight, claws digging in hot little pricks into her flesh. Lady Beaton eyes it approvingly. “Ye’ve made vast strides these two days, Lady Clairmont. I think ye have the makings of a great witch indeed. What shall ye call it?”

Lucy didn’t know that she was supposed to pick out a name for the creature, or if it has one that it will reveal to her in due course. She says that she’ll think about it, and as the sun has dropped low in the trees, she wonders if this is the time to give it its first order. “How far can it be separated from me?”

“It depends,” Lady Beaton says. “Some witches’ familiars can go out many miles across the countryside, gather the talk and gossip, and then return to their mistresses’ sides, but yours is newly made, and I wouldna tax it so just yet. All will come in time.”

Lucy supposes this is sensible, and that her first thought of ordering it to London to spy on Walter Raleigh can probably wait. Since this is enough work for the day, they go inside to change and sit down to supper, where Agnes, having kept an eye on their progress from an upstairs window, is complimentary of the results. “A quick study indeed, Lady Clairmont. Were ye thinkin’ to call up Mistress Wallis again tonight?”

“No, not yet. We need to find out more about what – what’s happened, before we do.” Lucy is also wary of annoying Amelie too much, in her old fear that she’s imposing on everyone, though they might call her up years since they last talked to her, on her end. Besides, they do need more solid information on Henry de Prestyn, and it’s clear that Amelie either doesn’t know or won’t say what happened to her father. Probably the former at this point, but still.

The witches retire to their respective rooms after supper, as Asher has been busy with Jack all day, and Lucy wonders if she should seek him out and/or pay a call in the name of politeness. Then again, if Zombiehouse does turn up again tonight, she might see him whether or not she does so or not. Everyone dearly hopes not, but still.

Lucy does not get much sleep that night, as she is entirely too prone to opening her eyes with a start at small noises, but it passes without any assaults from evil monsters. She wakes up relatively early the next morning, and decides that she’d like to get back to London as soon as possible. The meeting with Dee is tomorrow, and she wants to have time to confer with Flynn about her suspicions beforehand, see if there is any profitable intelligence to be unearthed in the interim. So she gets up and quickly packs her things, opens the drawer to take her journal out, and –

It’s subtle enough that she doesn’t notice at first. But there is definitely something disturbed around it, a slight magical aura that does not belong to her, and it is enough to make her certain that someone has been in here, someone has been reading this. If it was another witch, Agnes was in the house by herself all of yesterday while Lucy and Lady Beaton were working. Or it could have been Lady Beaton herself, though Lucy isn’t sure when she would have had the opportunity. Asher has had custody of Jack the whole time, and it is extremely unlikely that a feral street child has the least idea how to read. Could Rittenhouse have returned last night in a much more subtle and undetectable way? Is he getting stronger? But if he was here, why not just snatch her again and fly out the window, like he tried the first time?

Lucy doesn’t know, and isn’t sure whether to confront either of the older witches with her suspicions. Agnes is justified in wanting more information about this mess that she has been summoned into, but Lucy can’t help but feeling it is a breach of trust. This is her journal, her private thoughts, the one personal refuge that she has aside from Flynn, and she doesn’t like the thought of anyone reading it, especially for unknown purposes. She stuffs it into her bag, goes downstairs, and gives orders for the carriage to be readied.

An hour-odd later, they are all aboard and leaving the New Lodge, on their way back into London, Asher once more decorously accompanying them. This time it also includes Jack, looking scrubbed and meek and silent, so the ride is even more crowded than before. Meg, who seems to have taken a liking to the lad, lets him sit on her lap and points things out the window to him, as Jack listens in intent, solemn-faced attention. When he’s not inadvertently responsible for summoning demonic entities to kill them, he is pretty cute.

They take a lot longer getting back to London than they did getting out, since the road has flooded into a bog of mud in several places, and they are caught in an insanely slow-moving queue leading to Aldgate, since it’s a market day and people from outside the city are thronging inside with goods and livestock. Everyone is hot, hungry, and more than ready to get out of the damn carriage by the time they bump through the gates of the Old Lodge some six hours later, and at the sound of it, Flynn comes hurrying out. It was probably a nice run of no more than thirty minutes for him, and the delay must have had him worried. “There you are,” he says, lifting Lucy down. “I thought – ”

“No, we weren’t accosted,” Lucy says wryly. “This time. Just usual traffic.”

Everyone piles out like clowns from an overstuffed car. Agnes is shown inside, and Lady Beaton collects her maid and makes ready to retire to her own house in the city. Then there’s a sound at the far side of the courtyard, and Christian hurries out, looking completely distraught. “Grandfather, Aunt Lucy, I – it is my fault that the beast knew where to find you. I could have brought great harm to you, and I – I am so profoundly sorry, I cannot – ”

Lucy is both amused and sympathetic as Flynn’s nephew throws himself to his knees in the mud, clearly looking as if this is the worst insult ever wrought and there is nothing too extreme to ask of him in penitence. Asher, behind her, also surveys his grandson with a look as if he is biting his cheek so as not to smile. “It’s not your fault, lad,” he says. “You did bring Jack here, aye, but your heart was good. I have done what I can for him, on your father’s insistence.”

“I just…” Christian sniffs. “I could not stand to think that he had been left alone, and nobody to give a fig for him. It is not just that so many children and other innocents must suffer, when so many others have the means to care for them.”

“It is not,” Asher agrees, with a fond look in his eye as if this sweet, sweet boy is in some ways the de Clermont the most after his own heart, with Christian’s dogged insistence that they all do their part to make life better for others insofar as they can. “Your aunt and I are ultimately undamaged, as you can see, so you needn’t flog yourself for too long. Where is your father, by the way?”

“Oh, uh.” Christian goes that faint hue of pink that is the most that vampires can manage of a blush. “I think he may, er, have gone to commence, ah, indecencies with Master Marlowe.”

Asher looks tolerantly exasperated, but not surprised, at this news of his eldest son’s evening itinerary, and it is not clear whether he then intends to track him down and interrupt him from them or just leave him bloody to it. He helps Christian up and assures him that he is forgiven, as Jack steps out of the carriage, spots Christian, and Christian rushes over to greet him like a much-loved little brother. Lucy is the one who has to bite her smile this time, since looking at Christian could make anyone actually want children, then turns to Flynn. Low-voiced, she says, “I need to tell you something.”

He frowns, offers her his arm, and escorts her inside, the back of the house away from prying ears. Lucy economically spills her suspicions that Raleigh may have had something to do, intentionally or unintentionally, with acquiring the body of Henry de Prestyn for further magical study, and that he may have arranged for Dr. Dee to receive it and/or to write Ashmole 782 as an investigation of its nature. Flynn’s frown deepens, as he has obviously been spending a lot of time with Raleigh over the last several weeks, and she can see him resisting the idea that his friend would be capable of this to start with, much less deliberately concealing it from him. “There are certainly those who would do that, yes,” he concedes, when Lucy is finished. “But Sir Walter isn’t – he is not someone who strikes me as the sort, and I have known him a long time.”

“You used to know him,” Lucy corrects, as gently as she can. There are obviously over four hundred years separating this Flynn from his last acquaintance with Raleigh, and she also doesn’t see the man as the type, but they do have to think of everything. “And we’ve always known that the School of Night is involved with this somehow, and that they know more than they’re saying. We need to find more about Richard and Anneke de Prestyn, their family, and anything they were involved with. I assume that is Preston in Lancashire, like you asked me about that one time in Woodstock. Apparently my family is from there after all.”

“Apparently,” Flynn agrees, though he’s still abstracted. “But if we need to find information about creatures from Lancashire, we can’t exactly – ” He stops. “Oh, son of a bitch.”

“What?” Lucy frowns at him. He wears the look of a man who has just had a brainwave, and is wishing very much that he didn’t. “Did you think of something? Someone?”

“Unfortunately,” Flynn says, “I am afraid that I did. There aren’t that many creatures outside of London, so they all know each other at least in passing and have for many generations. Besides, Lancashire adjoins Yorkshire. Who do we know from Yorkshire who is a creature, who is experienced in the art of covert intelligence gathering, and very well could be friends or distant neighbors with the Prestyns at this very moment?”

It takes a few seconds for Lucy to put the pieces together, and then she is strongly tempted to echo his reaction. “Oh no,” she says. “Not him.”

“Yes indeed.” Flynn’s smile is as grim as winter. “Guy Fawkes.”

Chapter Text

Flynn and Lucy spend the evening with a quandary equally as pressing as to whether one should ever actually ask Guy Fawkes for help with anything, which is still their main concern. Their audience with Dr. Dee is bright and early tomorrow morning, but given what Lucy has just explained, they aren’t sure if they should go without quite a bit of extra preparation. Since it was so difficult to arrange the damn thing in the first place, they don’t know if they should cancel it, just in case they never get it again. They don’t have time to do any advance reconnaissance now, and there’s something to be said for just wading in there anyway and seeing what turns up. But both of them feel as if they wouldn’t know the right questions to ask, wouldn’t know if they were in fact being baldly cheated and/or deceived, and even if a last-minute cancellation might be suspicious, it could also beat a few roaches out of the rushes and force them to make some kind of move, which would be easier to track than blind stabs in the dark. All in all, after a worried few hours of discussion, it’s settled. Lucy will feign a sudden illness to explain their discourtesy in being unavailable to attend Dr. Dee at the promised time, and Flynn will hopefully reschedule their visit for next week. In the meantime, same as ever, improvise like hell.

With that, they put on a miniature performance for the household, as Lucy announces loudly that she feels quite tired and out of sorts after the excursion to Essex and the frightening ordeal therein, and retires dramatically to bed. Flynn makes an equal show of playing the solicitous husband, since neither of them have ruled out the possibility that there’s another spy among the staff. (Karl comes to mind, for one, though Lucy hopes that saving his life would have produced a modicum of gratitude.) They need to sell the charade for the benefit of anyone who might be snooping, and Lucy can’t complain if it gives her an actual weekend to spend in bed. She will not have to do much pretending in order to sleep for most of it, but she can’t shake the feeling that she is being disastrously unproductive and continuing to squander their limited time. Are they sure they don’t want her to –

“Don’t worry about it,” Flynn says, sitting down on the bed next to her as Lucy is curled up drowsily among the pillows. “I’ll go back to Raleigh’s and ask a few more questions. Nothing obvious, of course. And if Gabriel would just cooperate and shake Kit down for a straight answer or two, that would help, but I clearly am asking for the moon there.”

Lucy is briefly tempted to make the usual queer-person crack about how neither Gabriel or Kit could give anyone a straight answer to anything if their life depended on it, but she really is exhausted, and manages a sort of strangled-duck snort instead. She still feels compelled to apologize for sticking him with all the extra work. “We could still go to Dee’s tomorrow. Or – I know we have to have an excuse for why we’re not if we don’t, but it feels unfair if I just get to lounge in bed and you have to be out working on this by yourself, I should – ”

“No,” Flynn says firmly, catching her hand and kissing it. “I’m a very old immortal, I can go much longer without proper sleep or rest, and I’m worried about you. You’ve been running on the edge of a breakdown for days, and you have been doing the most that anyone possibly could. You deserve this chance to catch up on some sleep and not worry about what the hell the rest of us are doing. I’ll get what I can out of Raleigh, but – ”

“Of course I’m going to worry about what the hell you’re doing.” Lucy looks down at their hands, interlinked atop the covers. “It comes of being in love with you.”

There’s a sudden and very significant pause. Lucy bites her tongue; she’s never actually said it out loud yet, and what with all his panicking earlier, she suddenly isn’t sure if she should have. Flynn calls her moja ljubav, my love, and it’s not as if she doesn’t think he feels the same way, but saying things out loud, fixing them in place, taking a leap and holding your heart out to someone is always completely terrifying, and they’ve been making it work with the same M.O. as everyone else: do whatever you want, be whoever you are, but don’t say it out loud. It’s the same flimsy paper tiger that protects the creatures from the persecutions and prosecutions that Elizabeth would otherwise be bound to enforce if she had tangible proof of what they were. No matter how gifted and gentle and generous Asher de Clermont is, a grownup actually able to talk about difficult subjects like emotions, none of his sons appear to have inherited that talent, and Gabriel at least appears fully set to put all his feelings right here and then die, literally. Lucy looks up at Flynn, once more willing to apologize or walk it back down or pretend it wasn’t that, since she has so rarely felt herself worthy of anything she wants. “That is – I just – I mean, I’m obviously going to – ”

Flynn cuts her off by leaning down and kissing her thoroughly, and Lucy sighs into his mouth, wrapping her arms around his neck. “I love you too,” he says, with a shocking amount of eloquence and emotional clarity for Garcia Flynn de Clermont, when they pull back. It’s as if he will struggle and swamp around in his self-inflicted morass all he wants (and believe her, he does that a lot), but he’s definitely not going to make her feel unworthy or unwanted, especially after his freakout. “And I want to do this and let you rest. Okay?”

“O – okay.” Lucy’s voice trembles a little, because she’s just not used to it, the fierce and clumsy and deeply tender devotion that he pours on her, and she is so afraid of losing it in any number of ways. She pets her fingers through his hair. “Come to bed with me, Garcia.”

Flynn gets up, changes, and does so, scooping her once more into his arms so she can nuzzle her nose in the hollow of his collarbone. She has found that after all his initial awkwardness and standoffish nature, physically pushing or dodging away from her on multiple occasions, he really is a very tactile and loving partner, and definitely a bit of a cuddler. She rubs her hand on the solid barrel of his chest, trying to let herself accept both the nearness of his presence and the permission to be kind to herself, to let go, to rest. Eyes closed, she murmurs, “Are you sure I shouldn’t – ”

“Mmm.” Flynn puts a heavy arm over her back. “No.”

Lucy thinks about protesting, but she can’t. Instead she does as ordered, and sleeps.

She wakes up late the next morning, after Flynn is gone, and spends Friday in bed, being waited on hand and foot. It’s clear that the servants have their own suspicions about why the mistress is feeling rather tired and not the thing, and Lucy is not going to explain to every one of them individually that no, she is not in the family way. She hopes they might get the point by inference when Lady Beaton arrives to pay a call, bringing the promised charm. Lucy is supposed to wear it at least an hour before engaging in congress with her husband and say the accompanying incantation, written in tiny, fine letters on a thin onionskin scroll. It smells strongly of garlic, and she wonders if the majority of its efficacy comes from handily keeping all nearby vampires out of impregnating distance. (It doesn’t repel them, but it does make them sneeze, unfortunately for any aspirations of becoming a great Italian chef.) But as she squints at the elaborate writing, she looks up with a start. “This is Voynich hand.”

“It’s what?” Lady Beaton blinks. “Ye mean witch-script? What else should it be?”

“It’s just, I’ve only ever seen one surviving example of this in my time.” Lucy sits bolt upright, feeling the scholar’s manic thrill of a vindicated hypothesis. She proposed to Flynn all the way back in Sept-Tours that the unusual, nigh-unreadable, highly abbreviated Latin cipher of the Voynich manuscript was developed as a specially feminized secret version, used particularly among witches and lost to the interpretations of countless baffled human cryptographers. “Do all witches use this to write down their medicines and charms and spells?”

“Some o’ the literate ones, aye,” Lady Beaton says. “There are plenty of others who canna read and write, who ken it all in their head. But you’ll find some knowledge of it among most witches. It was taught us this way since Hypatia and Hildegard.”

Lucy wonders with great interest if this is referring to Hypatia of Alexandria and Hildegard of Bingen, from the fifth and twelfth centuries respectively. Hildegard was a towering genius, nun, polymath, mystic, composer, natural scientist and pioneer of medicine, advisor of kings and popes, and Lucy has no trouble seeing her as the medieval editor and refiner of whatever late-antique Latin code the brilliant mathematician, astronomer, and philosopher Hypatia originally devised. It’s not that surprising that Hypatia was a witch, as she was infamously murdered by a Christian mob, and though it was destroyed hundreds of years before her time, the Library of Alexandria contained countless irreplaceable ancient magical texts. Hildegard, by contrast, lived a long and sedate life in the safety of her German cloister and died at the venerable age of eighty-one, and she was known for (among countless other things) her constructed language, the Lingua Ignota, the unknown and secret cipher that nobody besides her could read. Of course she worked on the Voynich cipher too. This information profoundly delights Lucy to a nearly sexual degree. She loves amazing historical women so much.

“Ye really don’t ken much of witches, do ye?” Lady Beaton remarks. “Everything I teach ye comes as such a revelation. What was your mother like, that she didna?”

“My mother… died.” Lucy looks down. “When I was young. I have letters from her, and a few other things, and I discovered before I left my own time that she found some of the – well, she knew some things about my future, if not as much as she thought. I never embraced it growing up, and all the non-family witches I met, with very few exceptions, were power-hungry and manipulative. Like I told you, my own parents spellbound me, and I still don’t understand why. Supposedly it was to protect me, but I’ve never been able to just ask them.”

“Ye could,” Lady Beaton points out. “Ye have the timewalking gift. Ye could go to some other time and place where they still live, and do it.”

Lucy is very startled. She has never thought of it that way, since her command of this ability is still so new and was quickly put to this particular use, and the idea of just popping back a few years and finding her actual flesh-and-blood parents that she only has dim and fragmented memories of…. she doesn’t know. Part of her wants to, wants it more than anything, but if nothing else, this excursion has taught her the dangers of meddling in her own family’s past/future. Flynn is juggling so many balls with the need to both preserve and try so desperately to change what happens to his, and if grownup Lucy goes back and confronts her parents for something they may have not yet even done to child-her, is that what makes them do it? Her head is knotted up with the impossible ramifications of all this, and part of her doesn’t know if she does really want those answers. What is it going to change, what is it going to heal? Even if she goes back to them, they will still be dead in the present. Does she want them to feel justified in what they’ve done, or die with the guilt?

“Something to think on, ‘tis all,” Lady Beaton advises, seeing the blue screen of death expression that must have taken over Lucy’s face. “I’m sorry to hear ye’ve been taken ill, my lady, though it has been a trial, these past few days. I hope we didna overwork ye, in Essex.”

“No, just… exhaustion.” Lucy musters a smile, since that if nothing else is the absolute truth. “I’ll mend.”

“I’m glad to hear it.” Lady Beaton rises to her feet. “I have taken a liking to ye, and if it’s what ye want, that charm indeed should keep ye from getting a bairn unasked. I still say that husband o’ yours is an utter lummox, and the least use ye could get from him is handsome children, but it is your own weal, my lady. Is it all, or shall I be off?”

“I…” Lucy hesitates. The whole purpose of their delay with Dee was to play things carefully and close to the vest, but she can’t help it. “Did you read my journal? In Essex?”

“Your journal?” Lady Beaton looks blank. Samuel Pepys, the prolific diarist, will record every detail of his life in the mid-seventeenth century, and there is some practice of keeping a day book or other volume of private and moral thoughts, at least among the nobility, but the idea isn’t yet universally known or widespread. “Your volume o’ accounts, or your leechbook, ye mean?”

“I… no, never mind.” Lucy shakes her head. “Thank you for the call, and the charm. I will hope to see you when I am feeling more myself.”

Lady Beaton nods and sweeps out of the bedchamber, as Lucy wonders if she next wants to ask Agnes. The old witch has been helpful about providing potions and poultices for the supposed infirmity, and it is clear that she absolutely dotes on Christian, who follows her around like a golden retriever eager to be helpful at all possible moments. No venerable Scottish lady will suffer from lack of politeness under this roof while he is here, no sirree bob, and Agnes treats him like a favorite grandson. Even if she doesn’t trust Lucy herself, especially after the scene with Amelie that might well have driven her to read the journal in search of a little more solid proof of what she’s dealing with, she’s not going to do anything that might get him hurt. That seems to be the one thing on which the lot of them, no matter their species or political inclination, can agree. Of course, it’s all the more bitterly and unbearably ironic that in the end, none of their efforts will matter a damn.

Lucy looks down at the charm, wonders if duly donning it, reading the incantation, and engaging in vaguely garlic-smelling coitus will in fact do the trick, and is surprised from this contemplation by the arrival of Meg, who has come to deliver the backup options. Lucy knows that you shouldn’t mess with herbal abortifacients, especially as someone who has no idea what she’s doing with them, and she would obviously prefer to be proactive rather than reactive. Meg has a small sponge, which is to be soaked with tansy oil and put up inside her like a diaphragm, or she can recommend the old pull-out method, though she does admit that her sister got with her youngest lass while attempting this. There is also a foul concoction made of something like powdered dung, stewed flowers, crushed beetles, boiled wine, and God knows what that Lucy is not drinking under any circumstances, no matter how much Meg swears by it. Fascinating (and slightly horrifying) as this tour through early modern gynecological medicine has been, it looks like the charm may in fact be her best bet. Great.

Lucy is interrupted once more by Christian, who is clearly certain that her present situation is somehow his fault, and he is so apologetic that Lucy nearly tells him that it’s fine, she’s just shamming. But Christian, bless his heart, might blurt it out inadvertently, and they need to be convincing for any of this to work. He is sent on his way, and Lucy lies down again and naps like a total slug for the rest of the afternoon, which is wonderfully refreshing. She is just wondering if she should be really decadent and ask Parry to send up her supper in bed, though he’s still recovering from that nasty crack on the head and shouldn’t be on his feet, when the door opens an inch. Flynn’s voice says, “Can I come in?”

“Of course.” Lucy sits up, yawning, as he makes his way into the bedchamber and closes the door behind him. “Did you find anything?”

“I went to visit Sir Walter this morning,” Flynn says. “Made sure that none of the other members of the School were there, and asked him about anything he might know in regard to any unexplained deaths of an unusual sort. I was clear that I was, of course, not accusing him of anything, and that it was entirely connected to our present scientific enquiry. With my wife having unfortunately fallen ill and the necessary postponement of our audience with Dr. Dee, which we would be humbled if he could rearrange – so on and so forth.”

“And?” Lucy asks. “Did he buy it?”

“I don’t think he killed Henry de Prestyn, no,” Flynn says, sounding relieved. “He did admit that he heard of a strange incident in the city late last year, and soon after that, Dr. Dee returned from Prague and completed the great alchemical manuscript he had been working on for years at Emperor Rudolf’s court. Further questioning led him to say that he suspected that incident was connected to the opportune completion of the work, but he had no idea how.”

“What incident?” Lucy looks at him anxiously. “What did he say? And Dee finished – so he definitely wrote it, and it’s Ashmole 782?”

“It looks like he did, yes,” Flynn says. “But Sir Walter had heard of strange and sundry folk who helped him with it, folk he never met directly or was able to see with his own eyes whenever he called upon Dr. Dee. He thought they might be fairy-servants, fanciful as it sounded, but I had another idea.”

“Timewalkers.” Lucy sits back. “Ashmole 782 is supposed to be about creature origins, right? Contain all the secrets to their magic and their powers? Dee’s human, as far as we know, so he couldn’t write that himself. But he clearly knows enough to be able to get in touch with those who could help him, and get them to drop in for consultations. Timewalkers have to be witches, right? Daemons’ magic works differently, so – was it only witches?”

“I don’t know,” Flynn says. “It sounds as if he was casting his net as wide as he could, and after all, the rules against creature miscegenation don’t apply right now. Witches could have vampire and daemon acquaintances to bring along without suspicion.”

“What about this incident?” Lucy presses. “Did he say what it was?”

Flynn flashes a grim smile. “All he knew was that it involved some kind of fight in a disreputable part of the city, he wasn’t sure where. Apparently it was quickly hushed up. And you’ll never guess the two people who might know more about it.”

“I’m guessing one of them is Kit,” Lucy says with a sigh. “And the other?”

“Hubbard,” Flynn says. “Naturally. So we have to convince either the jealous daemon who’s sleeping with my brother, or the paranoid vampire who hates our guts, to say something, and Marlowe has been with us at the School of Night the whole time. He knows what we’re after, and it has pleased him not to say a single word. He doesn’t want us to find it.”

Lucy takes that in with disappointment but not surprise. “Is there any chance of asking Gabriel to get him to talk?”

“You think so?” Flynn laughs bitterly. “Those two are up to their ears in whatever plot they have going on just to spite me, and Marlowe’s a spy and a double agent and a creature and an atheist and a sodomite all at once, in a world that would hang him on the spot for any one of those things. Keeping dangerous secrets under lock and key is his bread and butter, and we could torture him for days – not that I want to – without getting a single squeak from him. He doesn’t want to do favors for me, and he might tell Gabriel, but he doesn’t really trust him either. We have no leverage on Marlowe except for threatening to report him to the authorities, which I already did, and that blew up in my face. And we already know how impossible it is that Hubbard will cooperate with us under any circumstances.”

“Shit.” This is definitely a problem, and Lucy frowns in hope of a sudden and clever solution. Her next question does not need to throw extra kindling on the blaze, possibly literally, but bears asking anyway. “What about Guy Fawkes? Did you get in contact with him?”

“I sent him a message suggesting that we discuss folk of our possibly mutual acquaintance, from the north.” Flynn grimaces. “Hopefully he’ll read between the lines and guess that I mean fellow creatures, though maybe he’ll decide it’s a plot to blow up something else. That, or – ” He sniffs, frowns, looks around, then sneezes. “What the hell is that thing?”

“Our guarantee against involuntary parenthood, according to Lady Beaton.” Lucy dangles the charm, which Flynn regards with an expression of mild revulsion. “I wear it and say an incantation an hour before we, uh, get busy. Apparently. Between this and the dung beetle juice, I think this is the best option.”

Flynn looks her up and down, as if to say that she is lucky he loves her enough to still get busy even if scenting strongly of garlic, but decides not to question her judgment. He coughs in a somewhat significant fashion, then sits down on the bed, clearly deep in thought. It’s clear that between the choice of Marlowe or Hubbard as potential sources of information, they are equally inhospitable, but there might be slightly more of a chance with the former. If Kit knows they’re asking directly, would that help or hurt? He can hardly get more close-mouthed and untrustworthy, but at least he and Flynn were friends once. Hubbard, not so much.

Lucy keeps up the pretense for the rest of the evening, though the food that Elizabethans think invalids should eat is some bland pabulum that she can barely choke down. However, her plans to productively malinger the weekend away hit a major snag on Saturday morning, by dint of an unexpected summons from the Queen. Unless you are actively dying of plague on the instant, you can’t turn down a royal invitation, and given all the association with traitors (present or future) that she has been doing recently, it causes Lucy’s heart to skip an uneasy beat. She has to get up, assure the servants that she feels somewhat recovered, truly, and gets washed, dressed, and decked out for visiting. This requires a return to the stiff padded dress, scratchy lace ruff, teased-up hair, and full-face makeup that she despises so much, and as she rattles up the drive to Whitehall in the carriage, she hopes that Elizabeth will be quick. Though that is usually not the case where monarchs are involved. What does she want? Did Kit just go ahead and spill the beans anyway? Or –

When Lucy is announced and curtsies herself deeply into the royal receiving chamber, she finds Elizabeth in a fractious, crotchety mood, eating absently from a box of candied violets and shouting at the poor young page who has apparently brought the wrong box of state papers for her perusal. At the sight of Lucy, she glances up. “Lady Clairmont, thou hast made a speedy appearance. I had heard that thou wert sick in bed, and that was the reason thee and thy troublesome husband could not wait upon Dr. Dee?”

Lucy grimaces, as that is a clear indication that Elizabeth knows that it was cancelled, and might have more questions as to why. “I am feeling… much restored by the prospect of your company, Your Majesty.”

Elizabeth snorts, but does not immediately decry this careful flattery. She eats another candied violet, dismisses the page with a withering look, and gets to her feet. “I suffocate in this filthy closet. Some air, I think. Wilt thou accompany me?”

This is, of course, a purely rhetorical question, and before long, they are up on the windy wallwalks of Whitehall, guardsman standing every few dozen yards and hastening to bow or kneel when they see the Queen coming. Elizabeth links her arm with Lucy’s, wrinkling her nose as the direction of the breeze changes and they get a full-force whiff of the Thames in the summertime – well, it seventy percent counts as heat. “How art thou settling into London, Lady Clairmont? I hear thou hast made a good tour of society?”

“Tolerably well, Your Majesty,” Lucy says. “Everyone has been most gracious.”

“That surprises me to hear,” Elizabeth says cynically. “They are all swine in silk, and all of them want more and more from me, as a blind piglet rootles at its mother’s teat. But Sir Walter did you such courtesy in arranging for the audience with Dr. Dee. What reason for it being so ungently forgotten?”

“We…” Lucy really isn’t sure how much she can say about this, if she decorously has to pretend the supernatural world does not exist. Raleigh is still high in favor at court, so she can’t go openly accusing him of potential involvement in a murder mystery. Can she get Elizabeth to order Marlowe to talk? “We had some other questions we wished to ask first, Your Majesty.”

“Questions?” Elizabeth stops short, causing Lucy to do the same, and turns sharply on her. “Questions to be asked of Lady Mary Beaton, perhaps?”

Oh, hell. Lucy tries to keep her face blank, refuse to give any instant or unambiguous evidence of guilt. “To what does Your Majesty refer?”

“Do not play the simpleton with me, Lady Clairmont.” Elizabeth’s eyes flare. “Thou knowest full well to whom I refer. My cousin Mary’s old attendant, a woman of great – standing in certain circles of society. Perhaps it is my fault, for continuing to allow her to reside in the city when I should have thrown her out. I am told thou hast been seeing her.”

Lucy obviously very much has been seeing her, but she doesn’t know if it would make a damn bit of difference if it’s not for potential treasonous political reasons, but to study magic. Did Kit let something slip? He must have, but why now? “If I have displeased Your Majesty, I am most abjectly sorry, but I do not – ”

Elizabeth looks as if she can’t decide whether to just push Lucy off the wall now and make it look like an accident, or shout for her guards and have her clapped into the Tower. But then, most unexpectedly, her mood turns again, and she lets out a world-weary sigh. “It is most drear and troublesome when men pit women the one against the other, is it not? I never wanted to kill my cousin. I held off on signing the death warrant so long as I could. But she had become intolerable – intolerable! – to the safety of my realm, Lady Clairmont, and I am no mother in body, but I am and have always vowed to be the mother of my people. The threats and plots and evil men that clustered about her, the Catholic strings upon which they wished to make her dance – I would have killed those men first, were it in my power, and not my cousin. Hast thou had any doing with that breed of plot?”

“No,” Lucy says as stoutly as she can. It is an outright lie, given the deeply regrettable presence of Guy Fawkes in her life, but there you have it. “My husband and I are Your Majesty’s most loyal subjects.”

Elizabeth snorts again. “Thou dost fib passing well, at least. So you will claim that thou hast never discussed matters of a political nature with Lady Beaton, nor supported any plans for my removal from mine own rightful throne?”

“No, Your Majesty,” Lucy says, with some relief. “Never.”

The queen considers that, her heavily rouged face impenetrable. Then she says abruptly, “Perhaps this can be of use to me still. Thy husband is in my own personal service, why should thou not be? If you are to continue associating with the lady, thou shalt convey to me all that is said and done, and anything else that it is meet for me to know. Aye?”

“Your Majesty – ” Once again, you can’t really argue with Elizabeth. Lucy can’t tell her that she doesn’t want to spy on Lady Beaton and report on her to the government, since that is entirely beside the point. She can’t drop her like a hot potato either, but just as Flynn, Gabriel, and Asher have to hold off on attacking Hubbard’s hive even though they know Rittenhouse is there, if Lucy was to be discovered spying on a fellow witch for the English crown, it would have major ramifications for mortal politics. It could spark an aggrieved Lady Beaton into exploring avenues for active treason, it could get Guy Fawkes going fifteen years ahead of schedule, and Lucy really does not want piss off the only witch outside of Denise and Michelle with whom she has ever achieved some measure of trust, especially when she has such a fraught relationship with mother figures to start with. “I would not – ”

“The choice is simple, Lady Clairmont.” Elizabeth looks at her narrowly. “Thou dost agree to report all there is to know of her to me, or thou dost not see her again. If thou sayest so and then I am to catch thee in a lie, I will have thee thrown into the Tower.”

Lucy’s mouth remains open, as she can’t think what to say. Finally, she can only manage some weak platitude about how she remains at Her Majesty’s complete devotion, and she will do as bidden. If she and Lady Beaton can keep the conversation off politics, and she is not allowed to officially talk about or hint at magic, maybe there won’t be much to report anyway, but Lucy is under no illusions as to how Lady Beaton would take this if she ever found out. At her agreement, Elizabeth seems somewhat pleased. “I miss Walsingham,” she says. “Mine own master of whispers, who always saw I was well fettled with information for the defense of my realm and people. When thee and thy husband go to see Dr. Dee, now that thou art…. recovered from thy infirmity, ask him of his old student, Edward Kelley. England’s coffers are sore depleted from all the wars with Spain, and if there is any use in the alchemical art, he must use it to produce gold for us. I have heard Kelley is now court alchemist to Emperor Rudolf himself.”

“Your Majesty – ” Lucy isn’t sure whether to warn Elizabeth directly off Edward Kelley, who is a noted and flamboyantly fraudulent charlatan. His relationship with Dee has gone sour over those rumors of wife-sharing and other less savory things, and Kelley remained behind in Prague when Dee returned to England with his reputation in tatters. Besides, alchemy doesn’t, you know, actually work. “Kelley will… not be of great use to you, I fear.”

Elizabeth surveys her, decides that the answer to how she knows that might fall under something they can’t talk about, and sniffs dismissively. “Do it nonetheless. That is mine own order, Lady Clairmont. Is it understood?”

“Yes, Your Majesty.” Lucy can do nothing but trail in Elizabeth’s wake like a balloon blowing on a string, as they reach the end of the wallwalk and descend back into the main precincts of the palace, still subject to a wave of bows or curtsies as the queen sweeps autocratically past. Since this has already gone about as badly as it possibly can, there’s no harm in one final shot in the dark. “Does Your Majesty know anything of an… incident that happened in the city, late last year, shortly before Dr. Dee returned to England?”

“There are many incidents in this city.” Elizabeth cocks a plucked and penciled eyebrow. “Am I supposed to have ken of the doings of all the thieves and wastrels?”

“No, Your Majesty, but this…” Lucy fishes for the most delicate way to put it. “I am told that Christopher Marlowe may know something of it?”

“I would be surprised if he does not,” Elizabeth says darkly. “That man has his fingers in places where God Almighty never intended that they be put, and by the whispers, it is in more than one heathenish manner. What mean you by it?”

“If I am to help Your Majesty with Lady Beaton, perhaps in return you could… grant me an official sanction to question Master Marlowe?” Lucy is somewhat shocked at her own nerve, and hopes this counts as clever political manipulation and not dangerous and unjustified presumption. “I know he is a useful servant to you, Your Majesty, but he does keep his own counsel very close, and if I was to know more of this affair, it would ensure that there were no… irregularities. With what happened, or afterward.”

Elizabeth surveys her inscrutably. She is too good at this courtly game, favors given for favors paid, to openly let on which way she might be leaning, but Lucy thinks – thinks – she’s slightly impressed.  “Is it of great import?”

“To speak frankly, Your Majesty. It is.”

“Very well,” Elizabeth decides shortly. “Thou wilt have my permission, if thou applies thyself to the chancellery and asks for a warrant. Thou art to speak to him of this matter only, and none other. Is that most clear?”

“Of course, Your Majesty.” If Kit is indeed a spy for the crown, Elizabeth wouldn’t want either of them running off too freely at the mouth about classified state secrets. “May we go now?”

Elizabeth has better things to do than stand around waiting for clerks to draw up papers, but she gives Lucy a ring to take down as proof that the request has royal authorization, and with a kiss of the Queen’s powdered white hand, the audience is at an end. Lucy goes to the chancellery and waits until she is issued with her subpoena to serve on Kit. He is not going to be pleased about this, but he also can’t easily refuse, and at least Lucy has procured actual, tangible leverage, of which she cannot help but be proud. Once she leaves Whitehall and gets back into the carriage, the footmen asks if they should make for the Old Lodge, and Lucy shakes her head. “No,” she says. “Take me to Master Marlowe’s.”

The footmen are surprised, but do as ordered. The carriage rattles and bumps along, taking ages to cross London Bridge due to the ever-present cow traffic jam, and though it’s not far from Whitehall to where Kit keeps his apartments in the Southwark theater district, it takes close to two hours. This is not a neighborhood where a lady of quality visits often, much less alone, and Lucy can see heads turning as the carriage trundles through the narrow, labyrinthine streets. They finally pull up outside a wattle-and-daub timbered house, the ground floor of which appears to be a combination winesink and brothel, and Lucy suspects that her reputation might be ruined if she walks in the front door. A footmen is dispatched around the back to ascertain if Master Marlowe is at home and in any state to receive company, and after several minutes, he returns. “This way, my lady, and keep your hood up.”

Lucy is amused at all this literal cloak-and-dagger melodrama, as it seems appropriate to pay a visit on a poet, and follows him around, through a low door on a stoop crowded with squabbling chickens, and up the stairs. Marlowe’s apartment is at the top, and the footman knocks loudly. There is a very long pause, as if Kit is judging if he can possibly get away with pretending he’s not in. Then he calls through the door, “Enter.”

Lucy gives the footman a look, and he understands that he is supposed to remain out here and pretend he is part of the woodwork. She lifts the latch, takes a deep breath, and lets herself in.

Marlowe’s lodgings are small, steep-roofed, smell distinctly of wine and tobacco, and every vaguely flat surface is crowded with penknives, inkwells, tattered quills, crossed-over drafts, spare parchment, important papers, dog-eared books, griping letters from creditors and tavern-owners wondering where their money is, half-bound quires, and the other detritus of a brilliant and mercurial playwright who really does not care who he might piss off. The playwright himself is installed at a crammed desk in the middle of the chaos, squinting at some woodcut in an open book that appears to depict the devil eating sinners. He looks up at Lucy’s entrance, joggling the wine goblet helpfully at hand to aid his creativity (it’s probably a good thing they haven’t yet invented absinthe?) and his face goes very deliberately and unrevealingly blank. “Lady Clairmont. Surely this can be no fit place for you to pay a call?”

“Possibly not.” Lucy stands just inside the door, wondering if she can summon her firedragon familiar to defend her if Marlowe does anything intemperate. She doesn’t think so, but she can’t be sure. At least Gabriel isn’t there, apparently commencing indecencies with one of his many, many other paramours, and she glances at the book. “Have I interrupted you?”

They both know she’s asking this for the sake of form, rather than as any sort of apology, but Marlowe gives a tiny shrug and decides to answer. “I am thinking of a new play, my lady, and was merely jotting down ideas. A tragedy, about a man who sells his soul to the devil in exchange for immortal life and endless knowledge. It, of course, ends most badly for him, as it commonly does in any commerce with immortals who are also the devil. Is there any semblance you would see to that, my lady, with the situation in which I have found myself?”

Lucy feels her mouth open, and manages to shut it before she can gape too indecorously. “Is that how ill-used you feel yourself, then?”

Kit shrugs. “And if it was?”

“I am…” Lucy isn’t sure if she should offer some sort of insincere, canned apology when she’s literally about to whip out the queen’s warrant on him. “I thought that you have made things over with Gabriel, at least?”

Kit’s mouth twists. He takes a long drink from the wine goblet, pushes his chair back, and gets to his feet, eyeing her warily. “My doings with Lord de Clermont are my own. Unless you wished to apply for a share? He is most generous in his sharing, sweet Gabriel.”

“No, not in the least.” They don’t need to add jealousy twice over to Marlowe’s various reasons to hate her, anyway. Lucy wonders if she can get him to talk without the warrant, rather than going for that as an opening move. “I had something to ask you.”

“Did you?” Marlowe makes a faux-gracious gesture, as if inviting her to have a seat anywhere she can find a spot. “Please, my lady, at your leisure.”

Lucy hesitates, then perches on the edge of a stool, having cleaned off several tavern bills first. Marlowe remains standing, and she can sense his tension. Daemons don’t have the same kind of magic as witches, as she noted to Flynn, but they can do strange things when under pressure, they have foresight and heightened reflexes and sixth senses and other extra-natural understandings and abilities, and she does not want this to devolve into an ugly magical slugfest for any number of reasons. She takes a deep breath. “I was wondering what you knew about an incident late last year, somewhere in the city.”

“I know of many incidents,” Kit says flippantly, just like Elizabeth. “Which one, my dear?”

This is an unacceptably familiar and disrespectful way to refer to a noble lady who is several degrees his social better, and Lucy wonders if she should let it slide in the name of amicable relations, or if Kit is once more seeing how far he can push her. She settles for raising a cutting eyebrow at him, and he says, “My apologies, Lady Clairmont. Which incident?”

“I don’t know many details. Sir Walter told Garcia about it, and you’re both affiliated with the School of Night.” Lucy remembers too late that they don’t actually use that name for themselves, but Kit seems to appreciate the dramatic nature of it. He would. “Soon after, Dr. Dee finished an alchemical manuscript he had been working on, and Raleigh seemed to think the two things might be connected. It involved a fight in a suspect quarter of the city.”

She is watching Kit’s face very closely as she says this, and something flickers in his eyes, even as his expression remains otherwise impassive. After a pause he says, “And I resemble the sort of churl to take part in such fiendish recreations, do I?”

Lucy raises the other eyebrow at him, as if to say that they both know he does, and he makes a small point taken gesture. “What am I supposed to know of this?”

“I was hoping you could tell me.”

“And why should I do that, Lady Clairmont?”

“To help Garcia and myself?” Lucy’s pretty sure that’s going to be a failure on launch, but she wanted to try it anyway. “To solve a most… vexing question of magic and alchemy?”

Kit considers, tapping his elegant fingers on his arm. “And?”

“It may have involved a man from Essex,” Lucy says, as baldly as she can. “Henry de Prestyn.”

That definitely gets a reaction, which Kit isn’t quite quick enough to keep off his face. He and she can both tell that she knows he knows, but he still feigns an artful disinterest. “Perhaps I have heard the name. What of it?”

“If you know something about it,” Lucy says, “I truly must know, Kit. I know you do not trust me, or us, and Garcia has not – he regrets how he dealt with you in Clerkenwell. But this is beyond that, or anything else. This is about the fate of all creatures, and it – with Gabriel, where we’ve come from. It affects him too, it could help save him. I just – please.”

Kit considers that. Then he says, “I am sorry. I recall nothing.”

“Do you?” Lucy doesn’t want to do this, but she’s edging toward having to. “Would that be your answer to a judge or jury, Master Marlowe?’

“Do you intend to place me before one? Your dear husband, as he apparently told you, already made that offer.”

“No, but…” Lucy hesitates a final moment, then reaches into her bodice and pulls out the royal warrant. “Her Majesty, whom we both serve, has commanded that you do so.”

Marlowe looks as blindsided as he did when he first realized who Lucy was, back in the Rose courtyard, and just about as pleased. He thrusts out a hand as if expecting Lucy to personally pass the warrant to him for inspection, and she reflexively does so, not certain that he isn’t going to tear it up and pretend it never existed. But he reads it through, his scowl deepening the whole time, and then looks up at her with an expression more loathing than ever. Yet there’s something else as well, something close to genuine fear, as if this is tugging at the threads of something he has tried with all his prodigious skill to wall up and hide away. “Well,” he says at last, breaking the nauseous silence. “You seem to have grown a set of lovely claws, darling. Garcia would settle for no less, I suppose.”

Lucy clears her throat, but this time he does not amend himself with her proper title. He obviously cannot disobey a direct order from the Queen, but she can still see him trying to think of a way around it. “Very well,” he says. “It was in November of the last year, the night of All Souls as I recall. I was out for revels with companions, and I met a man in one of the lower districts of the city, whose clothes and manner of speech were strange to me. He gave his name as Henry de Prestyn from Essex, as you say, and was in search of a – well, nay mind that. I mistrusted him, and said so. Matters and tempers alike became inflamed. And with that – ” Kit manages a rather pale version of his trademark careless shrug – “I had out my rapier and did him to death in a ditch.”

Lucy covers her mouth, fighting shock, even though this is not at all out of character for Kit. She has been picturing Henry de Prestyn solemnly slaughtered in some deliberate satanic ritual, then skinned and made into a book. But if he was killed in some no-account brawl in a seedy section of the city, upon running into a hot-tempered and suspicious-minded Kit Marlowe, and then collected by someone who recognized his extraordinary creature status… is that better or worse? Apparently Henry didn’t think to disguise himself or change his clothes and mannerisms when traveling from the seventeenth century to the sixteenth, and caught attention, but… what was he in search of? Can this really be the whole truth? How did Kit avoid a murder charge, if so? Was it just that nobody cared about a foreigner with no home or name or obvious background, that he got away scot-free, that Elizabeth granted him diplomatic immunity to keep him working as a spy, or – ?

“Are you…” Lucy doesn’t know what exactly about this story she doesn’t believe, but it’s something. “Are you sure that’s all of what happened?”

“God’s truth, as I trow.” Kit makes an elegantly sarcastic cross over his heart. “It is so.”

Lucy looks him up and down. “And then? You ran and left him there?”

“I did not want to be spotted having done murder in the streets, did I?” Kit points out, logically enough. “I know not of what became of him afterward, though aye, Dr. Dee did finish his book before Christmas. If Sir Walter thinks the two of some relation, that is of his own intelligence, naught to do with me. Why should they have the least connection?”

It’s true that on the surface, these two events do not appear in the least related – except for the fact that Henry de Prestyn’s corpse was then skinned and his hide made into magical vellum, which Dee could have purchased at a good price for his great alchemical treatise. Lucy still does not have any proof of this gruesome quarter of the theory, and if Kit had nothing to do with the body after the intemperate deed was done… it is all plausible. It could even explain why he doesn’t want to talk about it, if he doesn’t want a murder charge getting dug up and used against him by his enemies, whether theatrical or political. But the more she looks at him, the more Lucy becomes convinced that he’s lying. He didn’t kill Henry de Prestyn, but he knows who did, possibly witnessed the event, and he’s covering for them. But why?

“Well?” Kit says challengingly, as if sensing her disbelief. “Dost thou wish to cross-examine me before the Inns of Court, sweetheart?”

Combined with the informal “thou” that is the social superior’s place to use, and the mocking endearment, this is practically as insulting as if he’s challenged her to a duel on the spot. Lucy bites her tongue, troubled. If Flynn killed Henry de Prestyn, surely he’d remember, and they wouldn’t have to go through this tiresome runaround of trying to pry it out of Marlowe. Once again, the inescapable question of Kit’s real loyalties rears its ugly head. Who the hell would he have enough devotion to in order to take the fall for a very serious crime, when he has been concerned about nobody except himself? Selfless behavior is not, to say the least, his modus operandi. Yet right now, he very much wants Lucy to believe that it was him, even if it gives her the power to leave right now and tell someone. What the…?

Lucy and Kit look at each other, until finally, she inclines her head in silent admission of a stalemate. Jesus, Marlowe is good at this. She walked in here with an actual warrant from the Queen, and she’s still not going to walk out with the full story, not unless she wants to make a messy public spectacle of it – which Kit knows as well as she does that she can’t. She is constrained by the need to keep the creature world officially secret, not to upset the delicate balance of power between Elizabeth’s human and supernatural subjects. No wonder he is so valuable as an agent for the crown, and such a dangerous enemy, if it is indeed them that he has set his will against. Should Gabriel really be sleeping with this guy? Not that he’s an amateur at this, but Kit could be subtly exploiting their mutual jealousy to dig for more information, all in the name of pillow talk and grand plans. A chill goes down Lucy’s spine, and she steps back. But before she does go, in the name of knowing exactly what she might be dealing with, laying all cards on the table, she says, “Did you tell Elizabeth about – about myself and Lady Beaton?”

Kit stares at her. “What?”

“Her Majesty had some… concerns about my choice of company.” Lucy tries to keep her voice level. “And if you… if you were trying… if you thought….”

“I may lack honor in any number of ways.” Kit’s gaze is hard and level, but not inherently deceitful, not in this. “But I did not tell anyone anything about you and the witch, no. I doubt you believe me, but – ”

“No, I…” Just as Lucy was sure he was lying when he told her that he killed Henry de Prestyn, she’s just as inexplicably convinced that he’s being truthful about this. It makes no sense at all, and he lifts his chin fiercely and dares her to insult him one more time. But she nods instead, awkwardly. “Good luck with Dr. Fau – with your own work. I apologize for the interruption, and thank you for your time.”

And with that, she goes.

It’s another slow journey from Southwark to the Strand, and it is early evening by the time they roll muddily through the gates of the Old Lodge. As they enter the courtyard, Lucy spots Flynn and Asher in their shirtsleeves, leaning on their swords, as it is plain how they have spent the day: in intense sparring practice. She’s suddenly quite sorry she missed the spectacle, even as it seems to hint that they think doing so in good earnest might be called for soon, and it’s been several hundred years since Flynn wielded a sword in earnest. It might be like riding a bicycle, but it can’t hurt to brush up, and he hurries over to the carriage door to offer her a hand down. “There you are, I was starting to worry. Did Elizabeth keep you for the whole day, then?”

“I – no.” Lucy lowers her voice. “I’ll tell you later.”

She asks them to show her what they’ve been up to, just for the sheer and selfish delight of watching two extremely hot vampire men swordfight in open-necked white shirts at high speed (come on, everyone would do the same), and once this exercise in thirst has been completed, goes to eat supper. She can feel Flynn watching her anxiously, and he follows her upstairs afterward, shutting the door. “What happened today? What took so long?”

Lucy sits down in one of the chairs, and he sits across from her. Then she informs him about what Elizabeth said, her amateur espionage mission on Marlowe, and the fact that she did get an answer while not getting an answer at all. Flynn’s dark brows furrow deeper and deeper, and he sits in silence, chewing this over. Then he says, “That was – that was brilliant of you, moja ljubav, but – Jesus.”

“I’m sorry,” Lucy says. “Do you think I shouldn’t have – ?”

“No.” Flynn looks at her with that expression he has always worn, even back in the initial tense, contested days of their early acquaintance, that makes her feel as if she is the most amazing person he has ever met in his very long life (and remember, he slept with Eleanor of Aquitaine, which Lucy herself judges as more impressive). “You’re so brave, and very clever, and I don’t know if even I would have been able to think that fast on my feet. But going to see Kit by yourself, when he admitted to killing your great-odd grandfather – even if he might have lying? Are you sure…?”

“He said he didn’t tattle about Lady Beaton.” Lucy’s throat closes at speaking the name. “And on that front, I actually believe him. Someone else must have told Elizabeth, maybe the same person who read my journal. I really don’t think it could have been Jack, this random grubby street child informing directly to the Queen, so I just… Garcia, I hate to suggest this, but do you think Gabriel…?”

A muscle works in Flynn’s throat, and he glances away. “I don’t think so,” he says, as if willing it not to be true. “He came all the way to Essex with me to make sure you were safe, and – well, yes, he did say he wanted you dead, but – ”

“What?” Lucy jerks back. “He said what?”

“Only the first time Papa got here,” Flynn says hastily. “And he was drunk on daemon blood and we’d just had that fight at the brothel and with Kit, he was a mess. He threatened Hubbard on your behalf, remember, and he – he’s angry, but he wouldn’t hurt someone I love, he wouldn’t do that. Besides, he can’t implicate you and Lady Beaton without also incriminating himself, and I guarantee Gabriel has no love for Elizabeth’s bureaucracy and secret service. I’m not going to deny that he could still be trouble in other ways, but this – no. It’s not like him.”

Lucy takes that in, hoping he’s right. That whole casual “Gabriel wants me dead” curveball is something to be compartmentalized later, and she looks down at the table, even as Flynn reaches for her hand. Ever since he finally flipped the switch all the way from emotionally inept trash lord to soft devoted husband, he really has been good at it, bless him. “Lucy?”

“I’m fine.” She blows out an unsteady breath. “Do you have any thoughts on who might have really killed Henry, if Kit didn’t?”

“I have no idea.” Flynn frowns. “You said he was murdered on All Souls, 1589? That can’t possibly be a coincidence. Maybe it’s some sort of particularly powerful date for timewalkers – Halloween is when all places and times and worlds are closest, so it would make sense to travel then.”

“Where were you on All Souls, 1589?” Lucy doesn’t think it was him, obviously, but maybe he heard something. “Were you here in London?”

“As far as I know. But trust me, I would remember if I’d heard of anything like this.” Flynn taps the fingers of his free hand on the tabletop. “The plague was still in the city, people were careful of mingling and inordinately suspicious of strangers. Henry de Prestyn could have run afoul of some vigilante and gotten himself killed for bad planning, but what would he mean by traveling back to that year to start with? He would have been alive in 1589 already.”

“I don’t know.” Lucy rubs her face. “Do we have any kind of new date for Dee?”

“Sir Walter offered to escort us to Mortlake on Wednesday,” Flynn says. “I told him we would be happy to accept.”

“Okay.” Lucy forces a smile. “Sounds good.”

They spend the rest of the evening doing the household books together, as Flynn has volunteered to take them on while Parry is recovering, and finally get up and change for bed. As they crawl in, Flynn throws an odd look at the garlic amulet, which is still sitting on the sideboard, and Lucy can tell that he’s having some kind of deeply complicated reaction to it that goes well beyond the smell. She clears her throat, embarrassed. “Should I just put that in a drawer for now? I’m sure there have to be other charms. I can ask Lady Beat – ”

She stops, reminded that she can no longer ask Lady Beaton for anything without knowing she might have to report it, and she’ll try Agnes instead. “I mean,” she goes on hurriedly. “We do have to be responsible, and we discussed it, and – ”

“Yes, yes, we did.” Flynn harrumphs, eyes darting to the amulet and then away. “It’s just – knowing that it’s actually a possibility, I – I’ve spent centuries, centuries, completely removed from the idea, of even thinking about it as something I could ever have again. What happened with Lorena and Iris – ”

It’s his turn to stop short, as Lucy looks at him, tender and sad. Flynn has never said a word about his human wife and daughter, who he lost all the way back in the year 540, not even a full century after the fall of Rome. Lucy saw their graves in the Sept-Tours church, the one Maria took her to for a pointed purpose, and learned that they died in a bandit attack on the return from a fair in Clermont, and that it was that grief that led Flynn to fling himself off the bell tower and be found dying by Maria, who made him a vampire to save his life. After that, he spent several centuries on a bloody and thorough campaign of vengeance and murder, and only returned to humanity when he got Gabriel to sire Christian, wanted to do it himself but did not feel ready in any sense of the word to be a father again. He has Jiya now, and he loves her just as much, but that too is fraught with complications, and Lucy reaches out, cupping Flynn’s drawn, shadowed, old-looking face in her hands. “Penny for your thoughts?”

“I lost myself after I lost them.” Flynn can’t quite meet her gaze. “It’s been almost fifteen hundred years, and I still remember how Iris looked how – when she – after. I have forgotten so many other details about them that they’re almost ghosts, but not that. My daughter, my child, my baby girl. I couldn’t save her, and it was never a thought that crossed my mind again. With Matej, we – we were both army men, so even if he had lived and we had mated, I don’t know if we would have decided to make blood children. It was not much his nature. Then Jiya, and I just… it was an instinct as great to sire her as it was to protect Iris, I knew I had to, and I did. But this is – this is different. And it terrifies me.”

“I know.” Lucy strokes his face, his chin and cheek, the rough hint of stubble that appears every so often. “It scares me too. But not in the same way.”

“No.” Flynn looks away. “I used to sing to her, you know?” he goes on, with a slight break in his voice. “Iris. When she was falling asleep in my arms before the hearth in our hut, and after, long after, I had put her in the earth. I loved her so much. I still do. Nothing, no time or space or death or grief, has ever taken that away. The thought that I could ever do that again, that it could be that, that it could be mine – Lucy, I just – all the things that I’ve done, all the blood I’ve stained my hands with, in any number of ways. I don’t know if I could be a real husband and father again, how I could bring that darkness into my home. I’ve spent fifteen hundred years as a vampire, and to inflict that on a baby, on a – ”

“Shhhh.” Lucy presses their foreheads together, cupping her hand on the back of his neck, as they sway silently, and she can feel him shaking. She presses light kisses to the side of his nose, the groove of his cheek, and tastes the salt. It’s understandable that Flynn, who had long ago given up the possibility of any more biological offspring, a new baby, is utterly, unspeakably terrified by the prospect. Lucy herself is, as she said, scared, but in different ways. At least the nice thing about growing up with Denise and Michelle was that she was never pressured to achieve any Cliché Heteronormative Standards of Life Success. Mark has gone through a string of girlfriends and a failed engagement and periodically has to rediscover himself, Olivia is an insanely driven career woman and has ventured that she may be ace, and Lucy has dated various decent but unexceptional men about whom she just didn’t feel deeply enough to really want to procreate. (And a couple lovely femmes and one memorable butch, but kids were less of a question with them.) In fact, one of the reasons she broke it off with Noah was because he really wanted the marriage and kids and white-picket-fence perfect suburban life, and she just didn’t. She’s thirty-four (or is it thirty-five? Her birthday is in January, it could have happened back home) and has focused on her academic and professional accomplishments, and she likes it that way. With everything that has gone on with her mother, her endlessly complicated feelings about Carol Preston and whatever she left Lucy with, it feels like it would be too much baggage to ever do it right.

Besides, Lucy is not nearly sentimental enough to view anything about pregnancy and childbirth as transformative or romantic or a magical female experience, and is not one of those women who have longed to be mothers their whole lives. Nobody wants to be one of those people with a screaming baby on an airplane or a toddler throwing a fit in the supermarket, and the prospect of very limited sleep for several years is not one to be ignored. But kids aren’t shrieking snotty hellbeasts forever. By the age of five or so, they’re pretty decent little people, and Lucy does love mentoring and engaging with her students. Being a parent is different, obviously, and it’s still not something she is racing to sign up for, but it’s a thought. There are still all the millennial concerns she has about not bringing a child into this horrible, broken, late-capitalist world that’s going to be destroyed by climate change and economic collapse in fifteen years, she only makes an academic’s salary, and everything else. Wouldn’t that be even more of a concern with a child who could live much longer than the average human? What kind of future is that?

“Shh,” Lucy says again, to herself as much to Flynn, as she strokes his back. He’s not crying, exactly, but he leans on her as if all the strength has run out of him, and she has to hold him up. “Garcia, it’s all right, it’s all right. It’s just us, it’s just us. You and me. Shhh.”

He tries to answer, but can’t quite manage it, and they sit there in silence, as she hums and continues to comfort him. Then he hitches a deep breath, lets go, and sits up. “You do whatever you think is best,” he says. “If it’s the garlic amulet, well, I’ve endured worse things in my life. Maybe, when we’re not in the sixteenth century and in danger of dying from however many different directions, we can discuss it again.”

“That sounds like a good plan.” Lucy lifts his hand to her mouth and kisses his fingers, as he likes to do with her. “I love you,” she says again, because she wants to, properly. “Garcia, you are – you are the light of my life, all right? Neither of us know right now and I don’t think we should, but if I wanted it with anyone, it would be you.”

His throat moves again as he swallows, unable to hold her gaze, too unspeakably stunned and moved and unwilling to let himself to imagine, to hope, to nurture that small charred place in his heart. “And I with you,” he says, as they turn their faces and bring their mouths together for a long, slow kiss. “My love, my heart, my own.”

They sink dreamily into the sheets together, once again cannot proceed to the full schedule of activities out of an overabundance of caution (Lucy decides she will start wearing the damn thing tomorrow, she really wants to have sex with her husband again), but please each other in other ways. Lucy wonders drowsily, as they are falling asleep in each other’s arms, if it’s concerning that they’re not glowing, or at least not as much. It happened fairly regularly each of the first few times they got together, but then, she thought that it could be related to the degree of self-control that Flynn is exerting. The first few times, neither of them were thinking about it or holding anything back or concerned with ulterior motives, but now that Flynn has decided they can be intimate as long as he’s very careful, there are both good and bad aspects to that development. Are they holding back the alchemical wedding? Should she check the page again, and see if it’s still fading? And if it is – what?

They get through the next few days without any more major upsets, though Lucy is concerned to see that the alchemical wedding page continues to look as if it has been eaten with acid, and still more of the design has gone missing. She asks Agnes for any other birth-control spells that she might know of, and is presented with a twist of paper that she is supposed to tie to her ankle, which is somewhat more discreet and at least less pungent than the amulet. At supper on Tuesday night, Asher asks if they wish him to return to France, not because the situation in London has gotten any less hectic, but out of deference to the fact that Garcia may not wish to have his father breathing down his neck in his marital home for an extended period of time. “Or,” he adds. “If you wished me at hand for consultation, I could return to Essex and stay at the New Lodge, or – ”

“No,” Flynn says convulsively, fast enough to startle everyone. “No, Papa, don’t go.”

Asher looks at him with a silent, poignant realization of why Flynn doesn’t want him to go, but he can’t say why aloud, since Christian is at the table with them and is giving them all puppy eyes. “Aye, you should stay, please, Grandfather. We still need to deal with Hubbard and the other awful beast, don’t we?”

Asher snorts, bestowing a fond look on his grandson. “You have too much a taste for adventure for your own good, my boy.”

Christian beams at this praise, looking around hopefully as if surely nobody is going to deny him now, and indeed, it is difficult to do so. “We should bring Papa back,” he goes on, utterly oblivious to any tension that might result from this suggestion, because this precious child absolutely adores his father and just wants to have him around. Lucy has seen for herself just how much love exists in this family, despite all their flaws and catastrophes, and it hurts her heart. “He has been hiding out again, he has not been by the house at all these past several days. He can do that, sometimes. I can go find him?”

Asher and Flynn exchange an oblique look. It’s clear that they’re at their wit’s end with Gabriel, and Lucy can’t blame them. She understands why he is angry, she really does, but in a sense, they have offered as many olive branches as they can and there is nothing more they can do if Gabriel won’t accept at least one of them. If they’re going to talk to him, tell him more about what’s going on, he has to be here, and it would be best if he decided for himself that he wanted to do that. They have sent several messengers the last few days, trying to get in contact with him, but they always come back without an answer. If Gabriel is stonewalling them, if he feels guilty, if he is rethinking his entire life (which, frankly, he could stand to do) and is going to emerge a changed and chastened vampire, they have no idea. Jack has been broken from Rittenhouse’s thrall, as far as Asher can tell, but they still have to be careful, though Christian has clearly adopted him already. They need Gabriel, Garcia needs him, but this back-and-forth, whiplashing affair, where Gabriel is tender one day and threatening the next, where he either wants Lucy dead or promises to kill someone for her, has to come to an end, and he is the only one who can decide what that looks like.

“Very well,” Asher says. “Go to find your father, my lad. Can you… how shall I put this delicately… convince him to make up his bloody mind?”

Christian blinks, as that is not exactly delicate, but he has a knowing expression on his face. “I’ll do my best, Grandfather, yes.”

“Good.” Asher nods regally. “That is settled, then?”

Once again, so Lucy hopes, though when Wednesday morning and the audience with Dr. Dee finally, finally arrives, she has an anxiety attack so acute that she wishes she could in fact pretend to be sick in bed again. She still feels grim as they ride to Sir Walter’s house a few doors down, collect him as their escort and official introduction, and has to focus hard to make polite conversation as the carriage jolts and jounces. Dr. Dee’s residence is in Mortlake, in Richmond, a good nine miles west of London in the royal green parks, and it takes them over an hour to get there. They roll to a halt beneath the columned portico, and Raleigh politely hands Lucy down. Dee’s house is a grand country estate, but it bears signs of ruin, only partly repaired; he found it in pitiable condition, robbed and vandalized, many of his belongings and books stolen, when he returned to England after six years in Europe, with his reputation, career, and home life in tatters. There are rumors that his youngest son is actually Edward Kelley’s, though Dee has never openly questioned the child’s paternity. Lucy remembers that she’s supposed to ask about Kelley on Elizabeth’s behalf, and grimaces.

Raleigh leads them up the steps, and knocks on the great doors. After a few moments, Dee’s steward opens it, regarding them warily; they are expected, of course, but visitors are still something of an unknown commodity. Raleigh announces that he has come with Master and Mistress Flynn for a visit, as they are using the style in which Flynn is officially known in the School, and have thought it better not to bring Lord and Lady Clairmont into this. The steward withdraws, confirms this with his master, then returns and invites them in.

As they step over the threshold, Lucy can’t help but stare around, even while trying not to be a rubbernecking spectator. Dilapidated and derelict as it is, Dee’s house still looks like something straight out of Harry Potter. Stairs climb out of sight to gloomy upper levels, the eyes of the portraits seem to follow them as they pass, and the narrow, darkly paneled corridors twist and snake and are full of a sourceless whispering. Strange golden instruments are set on various shelves, the striking of an unseen clock far away in the house makes them all jump, and Lucy has the sensation that something has traced a ghostly hand across her hair. If Dee is regularly consulting with creatures, this place is probably rotten with magic. If he is the author of Ashmole 782, it certainly looks the part.

They reach the study at the back of the house, and are shown in, as Dr. John Dee, alchemist, astronomer, occultist, magician, and former advisor to the Queen of England, one of the most learned and mysterious gentlemen of the age, rises to his feet in welcome. He is about sixty-three years of age, with a lined, thin face, a grey beard, and a black skullcap, dressed in robes like an Oxford don (though he refused a position there and attended Cambridge), and he moves around the heavy carved desk to greet them. “Sir Walter, my especial pleasure, truly, truly. And these would be your friends who have sought so hard to meet me?”

“We have, Dr. Dee.” Lucy isn’t exactly sure how Mistress Flynn would respond in this situation, but does her best. “My husband and I will try not to take too much of your time this morning. Thank you  for – for receiving us, and apologies for my earlier indisposition.”

“Nonsense.” Dee waves it off. If he is put off or confused or suspicious of them, he does not let on. “Please, be seated. I will have food and drink sent for. It is still early.”

They sit down awkwardly, as Raleigh takes over the role of host and moderator and explains to Dee that Master and Mistress Flynn are well-off gentry with a fashionable interest in the mystic arts, and have come here to learn more about his great work. Apparently Raleigh does not need to specify which one, and Dee’s eyes flicker the way Marlowe’s did, but remain polite and unrevealing. “That work?” he asks, when Raleigh is finished. “It is of a most… singular nature, you understand. The common folk – not that I am calling the pair of you common, of course – might not comprehend it.”

Lucy imagines this is Dee’s careful code for saying that it is in fact real magic and he does not want to be marched up on witchcraft charges, but Raleigh inclines his head. “You have my word and warrant that they are initiates and in full understanding of the true nature of the book. More than most, from what they have said. They have traveled a great way indeed in hopes of viewing it, and if you would be so courteous…?”

Dee’s eyes dart back and forth. He doesn’t want to refuse Raleigh, one of the few members of high society who has continued to be kind to him after his disgrace, and who offers a route back into Elizabeth’s favor and court patronage. Now that they may be about to have Ashmole 782 physically in their hands for the first time since – well, the first time ever, for Flynn, and since her initial work at the Bod, for Lucy – they can’t falter at the final hurdle. Lucy can tell that Dee is leery, but at last, he nods and gets to his feet. “Wait here.”

He steps through a door at the back of the room, surprising Lucy for some stupid reason – she didn’t really think he was going to vanish in a bang and a puff of smoke, but still – and they wait in tense silence until Dee reappears, carrying an ornate, heavy box. He sets it down, undoes the catches, and – as Lucy, Flynn, and Raleigh all lean forward in unbearable anticipation – opens the lid.

There is indeed a manuscript inside, of strange and uncertain provenance, and Lucy catches her breath. Yet even as she looks at it, she can’t shake the feeling that it is very familiar, and not in the way she was expecting it to be. She reaches out with a frown to touch the edge of the page, even as Dee himself is staring at it in confusion and horror. Whatever he expected to see in here, it was not that, and they come to the conclusion more or less at the same time, which Flynn voices first. “This isn’t it, is it?”

“This is not my – ” Dee looks as if he’s about to shut the box and open it again, just in case it’s something different next time. “That is not my manuscript!”

“No,” Lucy says. Because indeed, it’s not Ashmole 782. She doesn’t know where that is, but she does know what this is, since she spent countless hours in the Yale library with a version of it that was four hundred years older. “That’s the Voynich manuscript.”

Dee gives her a strange look, as the name isn’t familiar to him. “I recognize this,” he says. “It is that strange puzzle text that Emperor Rudolf owned, that no learned gentleman of my acquaintance could read. I saw it a few times at court in Prague. But it is not – someone has – someone has stolen my book!”

Lucy wonders if Edward Kelley managed to switch the manuscripts somehow – or more likely, since Dee finished Ashmole 782 after he returned to England, one of the creatures of his association did it for him. Kelley must have paid someone to masquerade as a willing source for Dee’s investigations, gain access to the house, switch out Ashmole 782 with the Voynich, and then abscond with it. Lucy recalls that Rudolf II, the Holy Roman Emperor, is said to have owned the Voynich manuscript at one point, that he allegedly paid six hundred ducats for it. It would have been available as a useful placebo, and nor is there any doubt as to the ultimate culprit. Edward Kelley is the only other man who knows exactly what Ashmole 782 is, how powerful it is, and what it’s worth, and who has considerable motive to filch it from Dee after the acrimony of their falling out. The identity of the go-between thief is less important. And since they happen to know where Kelley is –

Lucy looks up at Flynn, and once more can see that he’s having the same thought. “I think I know where your book is, Dr. Dee,” he says. “It is, in fact, in Prague.”

Chapter Text

Flynn is barely paying attention to anything as the carriage embarks on its long, slow, bumpy ride back to London, as he is too preoccupied with the logistics of how the hell they are going to get to Prague by sixteenth-century transport – and, for that matter, if it’s even what they should do. The need to retrieve Ashmole 782 is obviously paramount, and Flynn hates delegating and would not trust anyone to do it for him. But Rittenhouse is still on the loose in London (along with Guy Fawkes, for that matter) and Flynn does not care to turn his back on either of them for long, not to mention everyone else. Maybe he can get Asher to stay here and keep an eye on things, even as he resents the necessity of wasting any of this miraculous extra time with his father. But it doesn’t look like anyone else is game for the job.

At that, he returns to thinking restlessly about travel. Once you cross the Channel, it’s a straight shot of eight hundred miles east from London to Prague, and if he was going by himself, he would just run there at vampire speed, which wouldn’t take more than a day. But Lord Clairmont, encumbered with wife, servants, baggage, and other such things, has no such luxury, and while Flynn would be willing to just carry Lucy piggyback, he is not hauling the rest of it, thank you very much. Besides, an entrance in such irregular fashion would do nothing to impress Rudolf II, the Holy Roman Emperor whose court at Prague Castle they now need to infiltrate. Rudolf is known as a homebody, a devotee of the occult and esoteric, a patron of art and science, and a Renaissance humanist who nonetheless attempted to launch a new crusade against the Ottoman Turks in 1593 that ended in ignominious disaster, and whose political failures have generally been judged harshly by the hindsight of history. Like Elizabeth, he never marries, using his allure as a husband in diplomatic negotiations without committing. In the meantime, he has a series of affairs with men and women, including various ambitious chamberlains who are ruthless about using their influence to gatekeep the reclusive emperor. At that, Flynn thinks even more grimly that it would be useful to have Gabriel along, as there is no door (or rather, bed) he cannot charm his way into, but he hasn’t had a word from the idiot since his disappearing act in Essex. He’s written the letters himself, he’s been as polite as he can, he’s apologized for how things have gone and promised to explain, but if Gabriel is reading them, or just flicking them aside unopened for the solace of some other lover’s bed, only the damn birds know.

It is early afternoon by the time they make it back into London, and Flynn still hasn’t figured out what they’re doing. They’re going to have to go to Prague one way or another, that is as far as he’s gotten, and it will have to be him and Lucy since they’re the only ones who know about Ashmole 782. Travel to the Continent is currently a finicky business. They can embark at Dover, but the English enclave in Calais was lost, to Queen Mary’s enduring grief, in 1558, so they’ll flip a coin for a landing spot. The Low Countries are at war, so they’ll have to avoid any Spanish garrisons, and then arrange for a coach and horses into imperial territory. Even reckoning for the damn thing not to break an axle or be waylaid in a bog or all the other potential delays, it won’t take less than a fortnight to get to Bohemia. It could easily be July by the time they arrive, much less how long it will take to inveigle access to Rudolf’s court and Edward Kelley’s library, and while Flynn isn’t sure if they can only timewalk back to the present at the spot in Greenwich where they came through, he doesn’t want to risk it. They’ll have to come back to London anyway, which means a solid month at least purely for travel. November is suddenly looking a lot closer from this side of the tracks, and it twists a low-level spear of panic in his stomach. Why does doing things without any modern technology take so much fucking time?

As they finally bump through the gates of the Old Lodge, having dropped Raleigh off down the street, Flynn is planning to change and go for a long run outside the city, and he wouldn’t say no to a hunt for a fox or a hart. He can feed on animals, after all, and he should work out his anger somehow. Even having a semi-solid lead on Ashmole 782’s whereabouts doesn’t outweigh the other frustrations, and he is at his limit of people tolerance. Jiya has semi-affectionately described him as having the temperament of a grumpy badger when forced to unexpectedly socialize, and since he has paid his dues at that ultimately fruitless audience with Dee, Flynn thinks he’s earned it. He jumps out of the carriage, hands Lucy down, then –

It’s just then when he notices Christian hovering in the courtyard with an expression like a sailor braced to head into a huge thunderstorm at sea, which seems ominous. He glances at his nephew and raises an eyebrow. “Yes?”

“Ah, Uncle Garcia.” Christian flashes a nervous smile. “I did what Grandfather bid, and went to find Papa. It took me some effort, but I have finally found him and brought him back. They are in the solar, and when I saw you and Aunt Lucy return – ”

Flynn muffles a groan. He doesn’t want to shout at Christian, who has only done as he was asked, but the very last thing in the entire world that he is in the mood for is more Gabriel drama. “Can’t they stay there?”

“Uncle Garcia…” Christian looks at him entreatingly. “Can’t you go speak to him?”

“For what?” Flynn says, exhausted. “Anyone want to lay wagers on how it ends this time? He says something foolish, he doesn’t listen, I don’t manage to say what I want, he doesn’t give me a chance, and then he rushes out again for me to find him in some filthy brothel with whichever of his – ”

“Uncle Garcia!” Christian takes a step, as Lucy coughs embarrassedly, murmurs something about changing, and recedes through one of the doors. “You’re the one who has been writing letters to him, bidding him here! I thought you meant it! I thought you wanted him to – I thought you… I do not understand this discord and enmity between you. Both of you – I wish that you would again be as you have always been. I do not like this, Uncle. Perhaps it is not my place to say so, but I – I cannot be cheery about it.”

Flynn feels the shame rising up his chest like a thick black tide, and stands there without answering, unhelpfully tongue-tied. Of course Christian is right. Flynn is the one who has been writing letters, asking Gabriel to return, so if he’s done that even if under duress from his son, Flynn has to actually face up to the consequences. Besides, this intimate warfare is clearly starting to wear on Christian, who has tried to keep his usual cheerful chin-up, bright-side approach to life, but doesn’t understand and is deeply upset by the conflict between the father and uncle who have been an inseparable unit for the entirety of his immortal life, who have never in family memory been so utterly at odds like this. He loves them both and he desperately wants them to reconcile, especially since he still has no idea what went wrong overnight, and looking into Christian’s pleading blue eyes, Flynn manages a short nod. “All right. Take me to the solar.”

Christian, looking relieved, makes a gesture, and Flynn heads after him. It’s not as if he needs instruction or escort through his own house, but he hopes that strategically foisting Christian as a buffer zone will open the conversation without immediate verbal artillery fire. Maybe Asher has been talking some sense into Gabriel while they wait, and Flynn tries to remind himself that he needs to settle this. Perhaps it was sadly understandable that their estrangement would follow him back to before it even began, because he can’t turn off the centuries of hurt and pain and separation. But this Gabriel has never lived them, and they’re not the same person, they’re not. He will apologize, Flynn promises himself. As long as Gabriel also recognizes that he has been more than enough of an ass, and does the same.

They reach the solar, Christian knocks, and then pushes the door open. Asher and Gabriel are indeed within, conversing in low, intent voices, but they break off at the interruption. All four de Clermont men survey each other without speaking, and then Asher clears his throat. “Very well,” he says. “I have ordered the pair of you again and again to settle this matter between you, and left you at your own discretion as to how to do so, yet neither of you appear to have listened. Christian, perhaps you wish to – ?”

“I want to help,” Christian insists stoutly. “Please, Grandfather.”

Asher glances at him, seems to decide that he can’t order him to leave like a child when this clearly affects him the most, and sighs. “If you will. But if Gabriel and Garcia insist upon pitching another spectacle – ”

“No spectacle,” Gabriel de Clermont, Supreme Lord of Spectacle, says with an actual straight face. “Just wishing that my dear brother would demonstrate the least initiative to speak with me, rather than sending a succession of flunkeys with – ”

“What, you didn’t come because you wanted me to grovel at your feet first?” Flynn’s resolve to keep his temper is disintegrating fast, five seconds in. This is not a good sign. “I wrote you all those letters, so if you wanted me to come in person, you could have said so –

“And what, come in person to be shouted at again?” Gabriel’s lip curls over his fangs. “I do not know where you acquired your notions of diplomacy, dear heart, but let us hope they are never asked to be put to use in anything more serious than a – ”

“And what have you been doing, lounging around the beds of everyone in London and getting our entire family into more disrepute? That, or conspiring with Kit to – ”

“If I was conspiring with Kit, darling – which I did to track down that atrocious creature of yours, and I never heard a word of thanks for it – then I can assure you that it – ”

“ENOUGH!”

Both de Clermont brothers jump a foot and spring back from where they have ended up in their customary nose-to-nose position for optimum shouting, because they have never in their long lives heard their father make a sound like that. Asher is a battlefield commander, he has bellowed plenty of orders among chaotic skirmishes, and they are used to receiving them in that capacity, but never anything like this, a roar at the top of his lungs, his eyes black, shaking the glass of the windows. Christian has leapt halfway up the wall, even though his grandfather’s fury is in no part directed at him. Asher flashes across the solar in half an instant, grabs Gabriel with one hand, Garcia with the other, and shakes them like a dog with a bird in its jaws. “Enough!” he shouts again, not quite at the same volume, but sounding almost as if his voice will break. They have never, not in thousands of years, seen Asher de Clermont cry. The closest he came was at Christian’s funeral, but even then he had to hold it together for the rest of the family. If he wept later in private, with Maria, it was out of the sight of even his children. It is as terrifying as if the world has wobbled off into space, as if the moon has fallen from the sky. Things fall apart, the center cannot hold. It was exactly that when they found him in that bunker, too late, too late. And this –

“Stop,” Asher says, a growl and a sob both at once. It seems almost indecent to observe, unbearable. “The pair of you – Christ crucified, is this – is this what it is like when you come from, Garcia? Am I to stand here and see this dread destiny played out before my eyes, and to know I can do nothing to alter it? This is our fate and our future, this is what I leave behind, this is what becomes of us? God have mercy on your souls.

Gabriel and Garcia open their mouths, then shut them. Gabriel stares at him in confusion and concern. “Papa, what are you talking about? You’re not – you’re not going anywhere.”

Asher realizes that he has slipped up, that he has hinted at what he cannot say, but the look he throws at Flynn is both desperate and searing. For the first time, Flynn can see the cracks in the Atlas’s burden that Asher is bearing, how he has dealt so elegantly and quietly and bravely with the news of his own death and the sundering of his beloved family. But now he is seeing with his very eyes exactly what it is going to be like, his sons at each other’s throats, unwilling to listen or to compromise, flinging their grievances in the other’s faces and insisting that the other be the first to back down. They’re too proud and too hurt and too angry to do it, and instead grind against each other like a pair of flints, striking constant sparks that fan into flame. Christian is in tears, and the sight seems to rip the spine out of Gabriel. He takes a step, starts to say something, stops, and turns away, running a hand over his face. “My love,” he says, barely audible. “Perhaps you should in fact go.”

“Please stop.” Christian sniffs, shoulders shaking, and rubs the back of his hand over his eyes. “Please stop fighting. I do not even know what is wrong. Is this about Aunt Lucy?”

“No,” Gabriel says, as Flynn says, “I don’t know, is it?”

They eye each other blackly over Asher’s shoulder, but can’t quite work themselves back into a proper shouting match. Asher has sunk into a chair as if all his endless strength has finally run out of him, face in his hands, and after a pause, the boys venture to either side of him. “Papa,” Gabriel says awkwardly. “I don’t – if Garcia would just explain – ”

“I’ve tried,” Flynn says. “I’ve tried to tell you what I can, but you – ”

“Have you?” Gabriel challenges. “Have you truly? Or just – ”

“I’m tired! I’m so goddamn tired! I know it was my fault what happened, but this is just more of what you did to me then. You never answered me, you never said a word, so I stopped trying. You said that you would never forgive me, you said it in so many words after Lucy was taken, and I know you won’t, I don’t deserve it, so why should I – ”

At that, Flynn realizes too late that he’s once more referring to things this Gabriel has not yet done, has no knowledge of, but he can’t help it. He tried, he tried to make it right after Matej and Christian, he knew it was his fault and he apologized endlessly, but Gabriel did exactly what he has done now: nothing. No word, no answer, no acknowledgment, after they nearly killed each other in that titanic fight over Matej’s body and had to be torn apart by Asher and Maria and kept away for weeks. Then came the attempts at reconciliation, whether via Flynn himself or by their parents, but Gabriel never let him even try, and Flynn knew it was unforgivable, that perhaps it was his true punishment to accept that and back away, that he was the one whose love and hope for a future had destroyed the family and nothing could ever make up for that, even if he had nothing to do with Matej’s choice to report Christian to the vampire hunters. So he stopped, he shut himself off and adjusted to this horrible new world living alone, and that was that. When the overtures of peace finally arrived from Gabriel’s end, Flynn was burned and exhausted, had no strength to do it again, had Jiya to protect, and knows that Gabriel almost killed her the first time they met. Then it was World War II, and Asher’s murder and the final straw for everything, and only fire, fire, fire.

Gabriel stares at Flynn in that same bafflement and rage and pained grief, unable to understand this outburst, but sensing on some instinctive level not to cast it aside. “God have mercy,” he says, with somewhat less heat. “What happened?”

“I don’t…” Flynn rubs his face. “I don’t think I should tell you.”

“What, again? So we can – ”

“No!” Flynn jumps to his feet again, pacing wildly to the window. “Because I honestly don’t know if I can tell you and we can survive! I already – where I come from, I – I lost you once, it happened right in front of my eyes, you sacrificed yourself to save me and you – I thought you were dead, you were dead, and that’s partly why I’m here! It was the worst, the worst thing that has ever happened to me, and I can’t go through that again! But then I get here and you just won’t – you won’t listen, and I want to save you but it’s just getting worse, and I don’t know how to fix it. I forgot long ago, and I don’t even know where to start again. It’s just easier to be angry at you because at least I know how! I’ve failed, I’ve not been enough. I never am. But I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I love you, and I would give anything to change what happened between us. Now that’s the worst thing of all, I actually have a chance to do that, and I still can’t. And it’s not just because of the rules of time travel or whatever else. It’s because I’m not – I’m not good enough.”

 There is a marked silence from behind him. Then he hears footsteps, and glances up wearily to see Christian at his side, looking up at him with love and concern. “Uncle Garcia,” he says. “Are you all right?”

“No.” Flynn grips the windowsill with both hands, fighting the urge to rip it out of the frame. “No, I’m not. Please go. I don’t – you shouldn’t have to hear this.”

Christian considers, glances between his grandfather, father, and uncle, and clearly can’t decide whether or not he should leave them to their own devices. Finally he squares his shoulders and nods, face pale but set. “I’ll be outside.”

With that, he touches Flynn’s arm in silent comfort, then scurries out, shutting the door behind him with a sepulchral boom. That leaves Asher, Gabriel, and Garcia by themselves, and Asher still has not managed to utter another word since his outburst. He remains where he is, bent over, as Gabriel pats his back awkwardly, completely at a loss as to how to comfort the man who does it for everyone else. “Papa,” he says. “Papa, we – well, it has gotten a bit out of control, it is true, but – ”

“Both of you.” Asher’s voice is hoarse. “Both of you have an endless litany of hurts to throw in the other’s face, it seems, and I am at a loss as to how to bring you back together again. I have never sought to interfere unduly in your affairs, you know that. You are men grown, and do not require my constant governance or heavy hand on the reins, so I thought that if I merely pointed out the need and left you to it, you would make amends. That has not worked, nor does it appear likely to do so any time soon. I have never seen this between the pair of you, and if it is what becomes of – ”

He stops again, as Flynn ventures back and crouches on his father’s other side. He feels exhausted and ashamed and heartbroken, and he and Gabriel catch each other’s eye furtively, as if wondering if a continued resumption of hostilities is really worth disappointing Asher further. If he has never seen this from them, they have never seen this from him, and Flynn senses just then that Asher is the closest to cracking that he has ever been. As he said, he gets to stand here and see for himself this terrible vision of the future without him, what broken and barren scraps his family has been reduced to. Even he, strongest and wisest and oldest of possibly all living creatures, cannot stand it and remain unchanged.

“If nothing else,” Asher goes on, when neither of them say anything, “you are both far too stubborn for me to outright force you to do anything. As well, this is your conflict, so it is still the two of you who must find its ending. But since you will not listen to the other speak, it falls to me to do that. Gabriel, you first. What do you wish Garcia to understand?”

Gabriel looks deeply alarmed at this prospect. He opens his mouth, sits there like that for several seconds, then closes it. Finally he says, “I am upset that you – that you have said so little about this. That you have come from some other – wherever it is, and that you – you are so unlike the Garcia that I know, that you have declined to trust me or to even want me around or to understand what this is like for me. I want you to – ” He stops. “I just want the world to go back to how it was. Or at least for this state of unpleasant affairs to cease.”

Asher looks at him somewhat pointedly, but Gabriel says nothing else. After a pause, Asher sighs deeply and turns to his younger son. “And Garcia, what do you wish Gabriel to understand?”

“Apart from what I said earlier?” Flynn could add any number of things here, and he doesn’t know which, if any, he should. “That what I’m trying to do is huge and terrible and dangerous, and I know I should have told him more, but I can’t – I just – I remember something very different about the two of us, and I truly don’t know what I can and can’t say. That I’m not trying to hurt him, I have never tried to hurt him, but that I just – I don’t know.

Gabriel snorts. “That I can believe,” he remarks acerbically. “Since when do you know how to do anything like this, Garcia, my darling?”

Flynn stares at him as if to say that idiots in glass houses should not throw can’t-talk-about-feelings stones, and Gabriel seems to accept that yes, he has no leg to stand on in this department. He shrugs angrily, but forbears to add further commentary. Silence hangs like a shroud over the solar, until Asher says, “Anything else?”

“I just…” Gabriel glances away. “If he is going to keep me in the dark, if he insists upon doing things with Lucy now, he could at least – ”

“You seem more than happy to do them with Kit, so – ”

“Enough,” Asher says for a third time, not quite as loudly, but just as strained, and both brothers snap their mouths shut. “I am aware that you two have lived as each other’s constant companion for near on eight hundred years, and neither of you, particularly Gabriel, can take well to having that arrangement, to all appearances, arrantly overturned. Not that I blame you, Garcia, as you are not that man anymore, and cannot be expected to pretend that you are. But both of you, try, try to see the other’s point of view, I beg of you. You have both hurt the other in ways I cannot know or understand, and if there is to be any moving on from this, for either of you, you must accept that and learn to reckon with it. Do you think I have never done anything I regret? Do you not think that I have not acted rashly and foolishly and hurtfully even against those who I love most of all? Even with your mother. Maria and I have fought before, you know. We have caused each other grief and we have said things neither of us meant and we have done things we cannot take back, but we have found a way through, and understand each other the more for it. Do you wish to do that, or ruin this and each other and our family over wounds that you will not forget and will not forgive?”

Gabriel and Garcia glance at each other. The temptation to add a few extra choice things is doubtless considerable, but they still don’t. Eyes closed, Asher says, “The two of you are de Clermonts. There are only six of us in all the world, and when the time comes, there will be fewer. You are my eldest sons, my heirs, my pride and joy, and I need – I need this from you.” He pauses. “Please.”

Asher de Clermont does not beg for things. He rarely even asks for things. He is a man who can merely state his will and have it followed, and while he is one of the extraordinary few who would never abuse that power, it does mean that he never says this, he might never have been in such genuine fear that there is something he simply cannot do, and something that he wants the most of all. Indeed, perhaps, the only thing that matters. Neither Gabriel nor Garcia know what to say, and again, a gruesome memory of the bunker sears across Flynn’s head. It was not until they managed to get Asher’s body home to Sept-Tours that they found the note in his pocket, scribbled agonizingly in his own blood, that he had managed to keep hidden from the Nazis. Explaining what they asked of him and that he had refused, and apologizing desperately for the fact that it would mean this. That he would think of them all at the moment he died, that he would never, never love them any less than everything, and that he could not endure much more. That he hoped, selfishly, the end would come soon.

Flynn’s throat is too thick to get words through it. Then he takes a few steps back, undoes his doublet, and bares his neck in the traditional vampire gesture of submission. Without a word, he drops to his knees before Gabriel and tilts his head back.

Gabriel looks startled. It wasn’t clear if he was expecting Flynn to actually give in (Flynn himself wasn’t sure if he was going to, for that matter), and he regards him with an odd, half-angry, half-tender expression. “Garcia – ”

“No,” Flynn says suddenly. “I – wait.”

With that, he pulls off the doublet and shrugs off his shirt to boot, baring his chest, and Gabriel looks even more startled. To offer heartsblood is the most serious and consequential thing a vampire can do. It’s shared as part of the mating ritual, as Flynn told Lucy, but it is also the last-ditch effort to keep a dying vampire alive – feeding on heartsblood is the gravest emergency medical treatment, and going into the Nazi bunker, every one of the family was ready to do it if they found Asher even the slightest bit responsive. It is also used as a method of sealing and swearing the most solemn vows, where no deception or trickery is possible, and Flynn stands there feeling almost foolish, wondering if he really thought Gabriel was going to accept this, or if he should just put the shirt back on and –

Gabriel takes a step, almost despite himself, and then another. He reaches Flynn, and his eyes flick down, taking in the messy assemblage of scars on his torso. His mouth quirks sadly. “Well, I suppose this is proof enough that you are not my Garcia, and that it has been a trial of it. He does not have half of those.”

Flynn nods wordlessly, as Gabriel raises a hand and touches the old silver weal over his heart with two fingers. “Who gave you that one, my dear?”

Flynn is too raw to answer anything except honestly. “You did.”

Gabriel’s mouth tightens, but he does not challenge this, or ask for more information. His fingers remain lightly on the scar, sensing some part of its unspoken history, perhaps not able to imagine any circumstance that would lead to its inflicting, but understanding somewhat more why Flynn has been so unable to see him only as himself, without this endless following litany of estrangement and agony. “Oh, my darling,” he says, half under his breath. “You always did suffer so.”

Again, Flynn nods, unable to move away or say a word, as Gabriel considers a moment longer, then makes up his mind. He bares his fangs, puts his hand behind Flynn’s neck, lowers his head to his chest, and bites.

Flynn feels the scar break with more than a little pain, fights the memories of how he got it in the first place – sees Gabriel’s face, mad, wild, unrecognizable with rage and grief – and struggles to steady himself. If Gabriel snapped his jaws together, he could literally rip out Flynn’s heart, tear it out raw and bloody as he so memorably threatened to do to Hubbard. There is no stronger gesture of trust, not with your afterlife held in their fangs, the way it is not possible for Flynn to disguise or dissemble, or for Gabriel to doubt him. It is quite different from the pleasant sensation of a traditional feed from the throat. Having your heart laid bare can only be exquisitely painful. But in a healing way, a raw and cathartic way, the throb of a knitting wound rather than an infected one. Flynn would stand it many times over for that.

Gabriel drinks for a few more moments, then lifts his head, pulling back. His eyes are wet. “You fool,” he says. “You fool, you fool, you fool.”

And with that, before either of them know how, they are in each other’s arms and tumbling to the floor as if their legs have given out, clinging to each other. Gabriel crushes Flynn roughly to his chest and kisses his ear in that half-missed way his present self did at Denise and Michelle’s, and Flynn hugs him just as frantically back. He is so utterly out of practice at it that he’s briefly afraid he’ll accidentally snap Gabriel’s spine or something. He doesn’t want to let go, he’s afraid to let go, as Gabriel does not slacken his hold in the slightest and Flynn does not want him to. They press their foreheads together, gripping each other’s hands until even their immortal bones creak, until finally Gabriel kisses him on both cheeks and then on the mouth. “You,” he says, “you are an idiot, a bloody stubborn disastrous stupid blundering impossible unbelievable idiot, Garcia. Christ. An idiot.”

“I’m sorry,” Flynn says meekly. “Are you still mad at me?”

Gabriel cups his face in his hands, laughing and crying in the same breath. “I feel as if perhaps I should be,” he admits, “and yet, I cannot find the wherewithal. If I am to shout at you more in the future, you may remind me to do so, but still. You bloody fool, you know, you know, there is nothing I would not forgive you, nothing you could ever do. Nothing.”

Flynn’s fragile heart turns over. He would have given anything to hear these words from Gabriel – he still would, in fact. But as much as he cherishes hearing it now, he knows that this Gabriel does not yet know his greatest sin, the truly unforgivable thing that will break even that promise, and it makes his entire soul ache until he can barely stand it. You will change your mind, he wants to say, some terrible Cassandra. You will change your mind, and you won’t forgive me for that, and perhaps you should not. I will keep this, then, if it is all I hear from you. I will ask you nothing else again. I swear, I swear, I swear.

They remain in a muddle on the floor for several more moments, only to look around and see Asher watching them, and both of them cough embarrassedly and attempt to clamber to their feet. It takes them a few tries to do this, as they’re both smiling helplessly and unable to formulate proper words, and Asher strides over and hugs both of them hard. He does not hold a grudge for what is done; it is clear that he is only desperately relieved that they have managed it at all. “Supper, I think,” he says briskly. “A run and a hunt outside the city for the three of us, and then we can discuss what tidings you have brought back from Dr. Dee.”

“Prague,” Flynn says, struggling to remember. The task is still enormous, but somehow seems more manageable than before. He takes a deep breath, and squares his shoulders. “How to do it exactly, I’m not yet sure. But we have to go to Prague.”


Jiya remains lost in a fog of horror for several seconds after the call is dropped, as if she simply stands here and does not move, the world will right itself, the last minute will spool back and happen properly this time, and Cecilia will not be gone, will not have been snatched off the face of the earth by person or person(s) unknown. And yet, Jiya does not think it is so unknown as that. She has no proof, she has no idea how he would have gotten all the way to Scotland and the de Clermonts’ estate, but even if Cecilia did not get a chance to tell her, Jiya thinks she knows. It’s Temple, it’s Michael Temple, it has to be. Is he still there? Is he going to go after Grand-mère as well? Or is he going to abscond with his prize before there’s any chance of tangling with a furious Maria de Clermont, or –

Rufus, seeing the look on her face, comes hurrying over in concern. “Jiya? Jiya, what just – are you all right? Who was that on the phone? You look – ”

“I don’t – ” Jiya’s voice sounds wild and shrill to her own ears. She gulps a useless, reflexive breath, trying to think how to handle this. Should she call Grand-mère and warn her? But with Maria’s well-attested hatred of technology, the fact that she does not carry her phone on hunts, and that there is no cell reception in the Cairngorms anyway, there is no way she can reach her immediately. Besides, Jiya remembers how she inadvertently aggravated the situation when she called Maria too fast last time, thinking that Dad and Uncle Gabriel were dead, and she is irrationally terrified of doing it again. She feels frozen, desperate for someone else to do this, and calling Police Scotland isn’t going to be very helpful. She’s not sure they know where the de Clermont estate is, and even if they do get there and find evidence of breaking and entering, they’re no good at all at dealing with supernatural crimes. It’s the same reason they didn’t involve humans in Jessica’s disappearance in Oxford. Yeah, a cynical voice whispers in Jiya’s head. Look how well that turned out.

“Sit down,” Rufus says, towing her to the edge of the fountain. “What’s going on?”

Not making much sense, talking over herself, Jiya spills her theory that she just heard Temple kidnap Cecilia, and that it won’t be discovered until her grandmother returns to the house, which could be hours. They can race to Scotland themselves, but getting to anywhere in the Highlands takes ages, and even if they flew to Inverness, which is the closest airport, it would be tomorrow morning by the time they arrived. And as much as Jiya hates herself for thinking it, she wonders if it was some kind of calculated ploy by Temple or other nefarious individuals of his association. Get them to panic and run off, leave Jessica’s book here unguarded, or – or what? Does it matter? It’s Cecilia. They can’t lose her.

“What about Gucci Guy?” Rufus says, reading her mind. “That vampire who was after us? Shouldn’t we deal with him, or – I don’t know, just run off and scream like little girls?”

“I’m not sure.” Jiya rocks back and forth, gripping her knees. There is the fact that yes, they would be leaving the handsome black-haired vampire to have full run of the archives, and if there is other incriminating information here that did not ping on the TimeMaster 3000, he can just help himself. But as problems go, he has been abruptly moved down the list, and even through her fog of panic, Jiya can feel a sudden suspicion crystallizing in her mind. She looks at Rufus sharply. “What if Temple took Cecilia to Venice?”

“Venice is a lot closer to here than Scotland,” Rufus says, picking up on her train of thought. “And there was that creepy break-in at Poveglia that we were wondering about, right?”

“Yes.” Now that she’s said it aloud, Jiya is swiftly growing more certain. She doesn’t know how fast Temple can remove Cecilia to a secondary location, but if he’s working with Emma again, who can fly, that process could be considerably speeded up. He’s definitely not transporting her via human methods or risking her escape, and whatever he needs her for, he will want her there as soon as possible. Venice is Temple’s lair, his home territory, and he’s increasingly confident that there is nothing the splintered remnants of the Congregation can do to him. At this, Jiya feels unfortunately that he’s probably right, but at least this gives them some shred of a plan. Call Grand-mère and Uncle Wyatt, warn them what’s happened, and have at least one of them meet her and Rufus in Venice. It’s obviously dangerous for the de Clermonts to be spotted there, but this emergency takes priority and besides, what are the bastards going to do? Exile them again?

“We can probably rent a car here, right?” Rufus asks. “And drive to Venice? Can I get, like, a really big silver spike or whatever? I’m not exactly Van Helsing, but I can help.”

“You’re sweet.” Jiya is blessed, she truly is, that even in the midst of this frightening fuss and feather, Rufus’s main concern is whether he can help her fight the evil vampire that has just snatched her – well, there’s no easy word for what Cecilia is, but they have to get her back. “But if there’s shit going down, I couldn’t agree to put you in danger.”

Rufus looks as if he wouldn’t mind a little danger, but appreciates the sentiment. They stand up, seized with the spirit of action, and hurry in search of an Europcar or other place to get a rental, and half an hour later, they’re stuck in the end-of-day commuter traffic out of Bologna city center. It’ll be late evening by the time they get to Venice, at this rate, but there’s nothing they can do about that, and while Rufus valiantly volunteers to do battle with Italian drivers (chief philosophy: traffic signals are for chumps), Jiya calls her grandmother’s phone and leaves a terse message. Maria won’t need to be tipped off that something is wrong, obviously, but she needs to know to join them in Venice ASAP. Even for Maria, it’s a long run from the Scottish Highlands to Italy, so they have to allow some travel time. Jiya can’t decide if she should then call Uncle Wyatt as well. But as he is the grandmaster of the Knights of Lazarus and the de facto head of the family, and needs to be in the loop, she does so.

Wyatt doesn’t pick up either, which feels a little ominous in the present circumstances, but Jiya reminds herself that he’s a very busy vampire and just got the Jessica bomb earlier in the day. She leaves him a message as well, stressing that he should call her first and that they have an impromptu rescue plan, and this will take precedent over everything else. If worse comes to worse, she and Rufus could maybe go in there alone, but it would be extremely stupid. Temple is old and very strong, will be prepared for furious de Clermonts piling in without thinking things through, and might even be counting on it. He has to know that they would take considerable risks to rescue Cecilia, and this could be a convenient trap to get them all in one place. Besides, it’s criminally irresponsible to risk Rufus, no matter how plucky, in a full-strength supernatural battle. He has many priceless skills and admirable qualities, but hand-to-hand combat is not one of them.

Jiya stares out the window as they creep up the A13, finally making it out of Bologna and picking up speed. They pass through Ferrara and a little while later, Padua, and from there, it’s only about forty minutes to Venice. Jiya wonders if it’ll be safe to go to the de Clermonts’ opulent townhouse on the Grand Canal, or if the entire Congregation (rather, three Congregation factions) has spies posted on it. That seems like a safe bet, and they need to find somewhere to lie low until Maria arrives. Jiya looks at her phone again, willing at least one of her relatives to call her, but still nothing. Temple can’t have gotten all of them, surely?

It’s long dark by the time they finally turn onto the Via della Libertà, the traffic causeway that leads from Marghera on the mainland out to Venice in the lagoon, and since it’s January, the ever-present tourist crush is less noticeable than usual. Jiya takes over driving, since she’s familiar with the place and Rufus should not be expected to cope with the dark, twisting streets (he is also paranoid about accidentally driving them into a canal, bless his heart) and finds a parking garage to leave the car. As they step out in the buzzing fluorescents, casting an eerie pall on the concrete, they could be anywhere in the world, and Jiya glances around nervously, hurrying Rufus over to the ticket machine, where she pays €30 for 24 hours of parking (protip: don’t go to Venice and expect not to get ripped off). Scrupulously observing traffic regulations is probably also low on their list of concerns, but there you go.

They leave the garage and walk to the waterfront. It is definitely romantic, if chilly, with sparkling lights from cafes and talk and laughter drifting along the cobbled warrens, and Rufus looks around with interest. This is his first time in Venice, and it’s too bad they can’t go have a candlelit dinner somewhere, but business is business. (Besides, Jiya would definitely sneeze.) They find an all-night coffee shop which is as good a place as any to wait, and Jiya texts the address to Maria, who still hasn’t responded. Rufus buys himself a large black coffee and opens his laptop, working intently. There aren’t that many other patrons, but it would attract attention if he set up the TimeMaster 3000, and Jiya keeps a nervous eye on the door. If another creature walked in here – if Harry walked in here, and was forced to shout at her and/or report to Keynes that he had seen them, to keep his cover –

Fortunately, this is not nearly exclusive enough for the Congregation and associated entourages, and as long as they get up to buy a cookie or something every so often, they shouldn’t be kicked out. Rufus starts to doze, head tilted uncomfortably against the peeling wooden paneling, and Jiya wishes she could just take him to the house. How long is it going to take Maria to get here? Did Temple go out on the moors and catch her next? By texting her, did Jiya just give away their own location, and is Temple preparing to storm the –

Just as she’s really about to come apart at the seams with panic, her phone buzzes, and she looks down to see a message from Maria, in the stiff, old-fashioned way she texts (no abbreviations, proper punctuation, Raymond Holt-esque signing off) informing her that she will be with them in no more than twenty minutes. Jiya shakes Rufus, who wakes up with a snort, and it’s 2:41 am, they are the only customers left on the premises, and everything has acquired that strange, dreamy, late-night patina when the bell on the door jangles. Maria de Clermont appears out of the night as silently and atmospherically as any vampire could hope for, still dressed in her hunting jacket and boots, hair tousled and beautiful face cool and composed as ice. She surveys them up and down, as Rufus springs out of his chair like a jack-in-the-box and folds his hands behind his back, and Jiya could almost cry in relief with the arrival of the cavalry. “Grand-mère. You – you saw?”

“Evidently,” Maria says, moving forward to exchange air-kisses with her granddaughter and glancing around with aristocratically wrinkled nose. “You are sure we should talk here?”

“It was the first place that – well, I thought the house would be… you know.” Jiya is fairly sure the barista on graveyard shift, slumped behind the counter and watching some Italian talk show on his phone, is not a Congregation spy, but perhaps they should move just to be on the safe side. They step out into the night, and Jiya looks up at Maria. “When you got back to the estate, what did you – ”

“It had been attacked, yes.” Maria clearly can barely stand the insult, that first she has been driven out of Sept-Tours out of the need for safety, and then even the backup house in Scotland has been impertinently assaulted and Cecilia abducted from beneath her very nose. She is vibrating with barely controlled rage. “I returned from the hunt and saw the disorder. I had the helicopter ordered to take me to London at once, and chartered a flight from there. It was ghastly, I still do not know why humans countenance it.”

Jiya supposes that if Maria found it an imposition to travel by private jet, no one should tell her about economy class, but she can’t complain if her grandmother likewise pulled every string of de Clermont wealth and privilege to get here as fast as possible. “Do you agree with my thought that it was – it was him?”

“I do not doubt it was anyone else.” Maria isn’t moving at vampire speed, but close, and poor Rufus is having to outright run to keep up. Jiya tries to slow her down, which Maria consents to, but only incrementally. “Michel knows about Cecilia – she is Gerbert’s blood daughter, after all, and he was Gerbert’s most trusted right-hand man. And it seems that he has chosen this moment to snatch her up and force her to – ”

She stops, as both of them know that Cecilia won’t betray the family no matter how much torture Temple puts her through, but there is the obvious fact that even she might not survive it. Jiya wasn’t with the others when they found Grand-père in that Nazi bunker, but she saw his body when they brought him home. Even a supernatural creature has limits, and while Temple will probably be at pains to keep Cecilia alive as an opportune source of information for as long as possible, he could decide to cut his losses if he determines that she definitely won’t talk. It would be a final stake in the heart for the family if he spitefully killed her out of hand, just because he could, and Jiya doesn’t think they can take it. Not after Uncle Gabriel, not with Dad and Lucy in the past, not with everything they’ve already gone through. Should she call Uncle Wyatt again? He’s still at Sept-Tours, presumably. Reception is not the greatest there either. Maria has largely kept the house exactly as it was when Asher was alive, and upgrading to high-speed internet and reliable mobile coverage is not part of that.

After several more minutes, they reach the canal waterfront, which at three AM is almost empty, pools of yellow lamplight casting eerie glow on the lapping black water. Jiya takes out her phone and steps around the corner to call, but again, Wyatt doesn’t pick up. He hasn’t done something foolish, has he? He was worried about Jessica, but he’s not a timewalker, he can’t go after her himself, and he wouldn’t abandon his family to do it. Or –

Jiya shakes herself, hangs up, and returns to Maria and Rufus. “What are we doing?”

“I assume that William has told you of some strange events on the island of Poveglia?” Maria asks. “I think we should go there.”

“What?” Rufus shakes his head. “Go out to the haunted island in the dead of night? By ourselves? Even if you two are vampires? I’m not sure that’s a good – ”

“I suspect Michel was responsible for that break-in as well, and if he has Cecilia there, we shall have to go nonetheless.” Maria does not flinch. “If you find it beyond your sensibilities, Mr. Carlin, you may remain here.”

“I – no, that’s not what I meant.” Clearly every inch of Rufus is crying out not to do what stupid white people do in a horror movie, but he’s also not willing to let the women go alone, even if he is the objectively most useless member of the party. “If you – fine. Do we have a Ghostbusters gun? Because that might be something to look into.”

“Come on, you nerd.” Jiya takes his hand. “I’ll look after you, okay?”

Rufus still looks deeply leery, but does not object further, as they make their way along the canal, find a hired vaporetto, and climb in. Presumably they will return it before sunrise, but Maria tucks a fat wad of euros under the mooring rope to compensate the owner in the meantime, situates herself at the tiller, and steers them expertly into the dark lagoon. It’s downright cold out here, and Rufus is shivering, as the only warm-blooded individual present. Jiya offers him her scarf, the wake churning white behind them as they approach the isolated, looming shadow of Poveglia. The air feels different, silent and still and ominous, and Jiya can feel a sensation like crawling ants on her skin as they draw closer. As Maria navigates them up to the disused quay, they see that part of it has been cleared off and used to tie up another boat in the not-too-distant past, and it looks as if their hunch is at least partly on the money. Someone has been here recently, and the best guess is Temple.

“Stay behind me, children,” Maria orders in an undertone, as they climb out of the boat and make their way up the crumbling, overgrown steps. “We don’t know what is here.”

Rufus has a yeah-no-problem-with-that look on his face, and he and Jiya take hands tightly, making sure to let Maria lead the way. They reach the island proper and glance around for signs of trouble, and after a pause, Maria turns sharply and crosses the thick, squelching turf in the direction of the old church. Bracken and rubble has been cleared away from a stone door that does look like something straight out of Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Rufus eyes it up and down. “So,” he whispers. “Definitely going in there?”

“Yes.” Maria’s face is strange, and she raises one hand, brushing a small, dusty mark with an infinity of unspoken longing. “This is my husband’s sigil.”

Rufus and Jiya glance at each other. Jiya remembers Uncle Wyatt saying in Paris that Asher de Clermont’s broken Knights of Lazarus seal was on the door, and her suspicion that her grandmother might know something about it. Maria snaps calmly back to herself and pushes the door open, with a creak and a puff of dust. She leads the way down into the abyss with calm, measured strides, and after a final hesitation, Rufus and Jiya follow her.

It gets very dark very quickly. None of them are witches and therefore cannot conjure a helpful fistful of fire to light the way, though Maria and Jiya have supernatural vision and can mostly see where they’re going. Jiya has to hang back to help Rufus, for whom it is as black as if plunged headfirst into a vat of ink, and who keeps barking his shins on unseen stones. Water laps at their ankles, sometimes as far as their calves, and Jiya has a sensation of mildewing brickwork and unfriendly old magic. She hopes the tunnel doesn’t collapse on their heads, for natural reasons or otherwise. Is Temple down here? Could he have made it from Scotland with Cecilia yet, if this was even where he was going? There is no other sound or movement or disturbance whatsoever. The air is still as glass, almost solid.

They reach a door, which Maria also opens, and finally descend into a low-roofed room, clearly a crypt, containing a coffin with several good-sized chunks of rock on the lid. Rufus eyes it in preparation for the literal Creature from the Black Lagoon to burst out, and Jiya doesn’t feel that inclined to get too close either. Maria glances around, then frowns deeply. “I know this,” she says, even the whisper sounding as loud as a thunderclap in the dusty darkness. “Your grandfather fought and defeated the man who is trapped down here. His name was erased from all the history books, but he was a great influence in the formation of the Congregation and the creation of the Covenant. A timewalker and a witch, but he was also turned into a vampire, and a most powerful and unscrupulous man who felt that supernaturals had the right to use their extraordinary abilities to reshape the world in a new and better image, no matter the cost. The utter antithesis of everything your grandfather believed in, in short. I was never supposed to tell anyone about it, or him.”

“Who?” Jiya bites her tongue; speak of the devil and he shall appear. In this creepy, dim, dusty tomb, with the devil too near at hand, it feels as if saying his name aloud could conjure him up, and Maria herself doesn’t take the risk. “Or – what?”

“This has been opened,” Rufus whispers, pointing at the tomb. “Look. There are scrape marks, and the dust has been disturbed. If Temple was down here, he was definitely doing some grave-robbing, or… I don’t know. Letting Nightmare Boy out for a spin?”

Maria and Jiya exchange sharp looks. “Grand-mère,” Jiya says slowly. “Did Grand-père actually… actually kill this monster?”

“Even he did not know how.” Maria stares down at the sarcophagus lid with a very troubled expression. “It was stronger than anything he had ever fought before, and he had to imprison it indefinitely instead, with the promise of finding a way to finish it permanently at a later date. Then, of course. It transpired that he did not have the chance.”

Jiya feels a bone-deep shiver run down her back. She looks at the coffin, wondering if it would clearly be the stupidest idea imaginable to suggest that they open it themselves and check. They are flirting dangerously close to unleashing supreme evil on the world, if they haven’t already, but if Rufus is right that the tomb has been opened, does that mean they could get proof of what was in here and that Temple set it loose? Not that that would be good in any sense of the word, but at least they would know what they were dealing with. But it is clearly going against all of Rufus’s instincts to even be down here in the first place, and if she actually proposed that they open the Ark of the Covenant, possibly literally, and –

Maria, however, is ahead of her. She beckons Rufus back with a jerk of the head, takes up a position at the side of the tomb, and removes the chunks of rock. Then, while Rufus has time for no more than a horrified hiss, Maria effortlessly pushes the lid off with a thunk.

Jiya springs back, arms flung wide to protect Rufus from whatever comes flying out, but nothing does. Instead, Maria utters a small, choked cry of surprise, staring into the dark recesses, and Jiya ventures very carefully to the far side. Looks in, and jumps a foot.

There is indeed someone in the coffin, but it’s not whoever Asher de Clermont trapped down here in the first place. It’s Anton Sokolov, the missing witch and former member of the Congregation, who “resigned” under such convenient circumstances before he could testify in support of the de Clermonts at Uncle Wyatt’s deposition. He is pale and bloodless as if carved from marble, cold as ice, and Jiya has to try three times before she can detect the faintest thread of a pulse in his neck. He is alive, but only just, and the other side of his neck sports a mess of deep, ugly bite marks. He has been drained almost completely of blood at repeated intervals, stored down here for safekeeping, and that seems to seal it. Temple has been down here, freed the tomb’s original occupant, and stashed Sokolov in its place. A perfect and perfectly tidy crime. Temple always does like to clean up after himself.

Maria and Jiya stare down at the comatose witch, as Rufus, realizing that no eldritch monstrosity is going to burst free, creeps up as well. It is Maria who says, “We shall have to get him out, I suppose. But if we take him now, Michel will know that we have been here, and he might well entrap Cecilia in his place.”

“We can’t just leave him here,” Jiya says urgently. “He could know what happened, what Temple did, and one more feed would probably finish him off. This has to explain how Temple got in here in the first place. He drank enough of Anton’s blood to acquire temporary witch abilities, that’s how he broke through all those magical safeguards. Besides, Anton is solid proof of all the evil shit Temple’s been doing. I don’t know if the Congregation itself gives a damn about breaking the law, but other creatures would.”

Maria considers her granddaughter with an expression that is hard to read. It clearly goes against her instincts to help a witch, even one who has been helpful to the family and whose strategic value is obvious, if it could mean endangering Cecilia in his place. Besides, Anton’s brother Gennady attacked Flynn in Sept-Tours, in a valiant if misguided attempt to rescue Lucy, and Maria has never entirely forgiven that outrage. But the Sokolovs did help actually rescue Lucy later, after Anton flew Maria and Wyatt home from Venice, and after a final moment, Maria says, “Very well. But we must be quick.”

Even with their supernatural strength, Anton is very large and a deadweight, and it takes both Maria and Jiya to lift him out of the coffin, as Rufus watches in a combination of awe and horror. Maria levers him over her shoulder in a fireman’s carry; it is very odd to see a huge blond man draped on this tiny woman. They reconstitute the tomb, though it’s clearly been disturbed and the jig will be up as soon as Temple opens it and finds it empty. The trek back through the underground passage is hair-raising, every distant sound or drip of water seemingly a harbinger of him swooping down on them, but they make it back to the surface without being set on. Rufus sucks down grateful deep gulps of the cold air, as Maria maneuvers Anton toward the vaporetto and sets him down with some relief. “He is very weak. If he is to talk and give us any information, we must get him help.”

They climb back in, reverse from Poveglia with considerable relief, and return to Venice. Despite the danger, Maria decides that they should in fact go to their own house, and steers them up to the quay outside, as they sneak in as quickly and clandestinely as possible when hauling a large and unconscious Russian witch. Maria makes Rufus and Jiya wait in the front hall while she sweeps for traps or intruders, as Rufus looks around and utters a low whistle. “This is your house?”

“Yeah,” Jiya says, embarrassed. Rufus obviously knows that her family is rich, they’ve been living in Gabriel’s lavish Paris penthouse, they clearly aren’t hurting for money, but being in a baroque Venetian villa and recognizing that your girlfriend can pop along here and/or visit her uncle at work whenever she wants (or at least she used to) is something else. “We own, uh, a lot of houses. Sept-Tours, and the Scottish one, and this one, and Dad’s house in Woodstock and Uncle Gabriel’s penthouse and a place on Fifth Avenue in New York, and others I’m probably forgetting.”

Rufus looks impressed, but then, he does hang around with the billionaire daemon Connor Mason, so this isn’t totally unfamiliar to him. Maria returns, tersely pronounces the house safe for the moment, and they carry Anton up to one of the several guest bedrooms, then try to figure out what to do for him. If he was a vampire, one of them might offer heartsblood, but he’s not, so that won’t work. He’s in a bad way, and perhaps they should have taken him to A&E, but that would entail plenty of questions it is better not to answer. Macabre as it seems, they can only make him comfortable and hope he wakes up, but be fully prepared for the fact that he might not. They can at least wash and disinfect the bite wounds, and try to heal them over, so Maria and Jiya do that.

The light turns grey as they work, a cold winter sunrise climbing the walls, and while this does not bother either of the women per se, Rufus darts to close the curtains anyway. He helps by fetching and carrying things, but otherwise can mostly just watch, and it is after almost an hour of work that Anton’s eyes stir faintly beneath bruised, translucent lids. He mumbles something in Russian, of which Jiya can only understand a little. Yet again, she misses her uncle. Gabriel would definitely have the language front covered.

Then again, so does Maria, and she answers soothingly, apparently reassuring Anton that it’s fine, he’s safe, he’s with friends. Jiya has rarely seen her formidable grandmother be this attentive to anyone outside the family, much less a witch, and it gives her a strange, poignant feeling. Maria cannot fail to have been shaken by seeing her beloved husband’s mark on the door, the memories of whatever Asher swore her to secrecy over, and the fact that they still haven’t picked up an actual trace of Cecilia, but she is not the matriarch of this very old and powerful family for no reason. Terrible as it is, she is still holding it together.

Rufus goes to make a mug of strong black tea, and by the time he returns, Anton is just awake enough to sip at it in tiny, feeble bits. A slit of blue shows under his lashes, and he groans. Finally recollecting enough English, he mutters, “Where I am?”

“It’s the de Clermonts,” Jiya says awkwardly. She was in Oxford while the excitement was happening with the Sokolovs, she doesn’t know him personally, but she hopes this is in fact comforting. “I’m – I’m Garcia Flynn’s daughter, Jiya. This is my boyfriend, Rufus, and you’ll remember my grandmother, Maria?”

Anton seems to vaguely register the presence of a lady, with an apologetic expression for being less than his polite best. Again he says, “Where?”

“Venice,” Jiya says. “We rescued you from Poveglia. Did – did Temple put you down there?”

“That – ” Once more having to lapse into his native tongue, Anton calls Temple a lot of doubtless extremely colorful Russian epithets, which they take for a yes. At last, he says, “I am sorry. He surprised us. I told Gennady to make run for it. Have you found?”

“No, we don’t know where your brother is.” Jiya helps Anton sip more tea. He needs marrow, something to replace lost blood, and something like chicken broth would be a good start. “So it was Temple?”

“Of course it was,” Anton mutters. “I do not remember anything else. All is dark.”

“It’s all right, one thing at a time.” Counting back in her head to when the Sokolovs first disappeared, Jiya thinks he’s been a prisoner for almost two months. “You’re safe. You don’t happen to know your blood type, do you?”

Anton shakes his head. “No. I am sorry.”

“It’s all right.” Jiya could go find some universal-donor transfusion bags, though getting it out of a hospital would definitely require more mesmer. You’d think a bunch of vampires would have more spare blood lying around, but it doesn’t keep well, and drinking it lukewarm out of a glass is exactly as disgusting as it sounds. “Are you hungry?”

Anton allows that he is, and Rufus, who is the only one of them who can be fully trusted to put together a meal that a human would like, is given another roll of cash and dispatched to the markets, which will just be opening for the morning. He is starting to look haggard from lack of sleep, and Jiya wonders if she should go with him as an escort. Even if Temple is busy securing his advantage with Cecilia, there will be other creatures out and about, and she can’t be sure if they will recognize Rufus. Then again, they would recognize her, and maybe going along to keep him safe would backfire by drawing attention. She kisses him and tells him to be careful, and Rufus promises that he will stab anyone who tries to grab him with his silver letter opener. Or, you know, ascertain whether they’re evil before proceeding to the stabbing part, but either way, the option is on the table.

Once he’s gone, Jiya and Maria are left to brainstorm a further plan of action. Temple definitely won’t be hiding Cecilia in the tomb, if he gets down there and finds his previous prisoner gone, and there is the uncomfortable question of whether they have doomed her to an even worse fate by letting on that they know about Temple’s hideout and the terrible secret of what’s down there. They still can’t risk too many high-profile operations in the city, and the de Clermonts are all still officially personae non gratae, but Maria is not of a temperament to sit on her backside and waste time while Cecilia could be near at hand, and Jiya is inclined to agree. They can’t run off before Rufus gets back, since there is no way she is leaving him alone in this house with a badly injured witch and all kinds of miscreants on the loose, and besides, Maria is clearly of the opinion that she can handle Temple by herself. This is not impossible, since it is well established that she can be the most terrifying of them all, but it is still not the option that Jiya wants to immediately vote for. It will be a miracle if they get through this without pinging on someone’s radar, and even if Temple has to switch the place he was going to hide Cecilia at the last minute, he has to be around here.

Jiya is just looking nervously at the clock and wondering if Rufus should be back yet, when she hears a noise at the front door, and she and Maria exchange a look, then leap to their feet. Yet even they do, they catch a familiar scent – mixed as well with a strange one. It is neither familiar nor unfamiliar, and indeed, seems half like something she smelled once and forgot, a bloodline that is and is not their own. In half a moment more, Jiya remembers what it reminds her of, but she doesn’t understand. What on earth would he –

She runs into the hall, Maria hot on her heels, just in time to see her uncle step inside. Wyatt looks as if he too has been up all night, and he jumps back with a start at the sight of them. “What are you – ?”

“What are you…?” Jiya is relieved that he’s all right, though to say the least, he was in France the last time they spoke. “Uncle Wyatt, what did you – ”

“I left for Bologna after you called me,” Wyatt says. “Then I got there and saw your messages about Venice, but – ”

“Why are you here with him?” Jiya needs an explanation pronto. “He’s the one I told you about, who was following us! I saw him all the way back in Oxford, he’s been on our tail for a while, so if you’re – ”

“Hold on,” Wyatt says, glancing at his mother in apprehension. He has clearly remembered that he can’t go spilling the exact reason he went racing off to Bologna, what Jiya and Rufus were doing there, and what they found out about Jessica’s book. “It’s not exactly what you think. He’s not exactly what you think. I don’t understand half of it, but if you just – give me a chance to explain, all right?”

Jiya is still far from certain that this is a good idea, but if Wyatt has brought Gucci Guy, as Rufus dubbed him, here, she doesn’t know what is going on. Maria says imperiously, “William, what is the meaning of this? Who have you brought to our house in Venice, just when we should not be here to start with, and when – ”

“Please,” Wyatt says. “Just – listen, all right? Promise me.”

Jiya and Maria glance at each other, but he seems quite committed to this, and even as Jiya studies her uncle’s eyes for signs of thrall or coercion, she has to admit that he seems like himself. Wyatt glances back and waves a hand, and the handsome, black-haired, aviator-sunglasses-wearing vampire from Bologna steps inside. Jiya tenses, but he holds up both hands. “Easy,” he says, in an English accent that sounds archaic, elegant and old-fashioned. “I may have erred somewhat in my approach, but I could not be entirely certain that you were the right ones. I do not suppose you would remember me, Madame de Clermont.”

Maria stares at him, confused and thrown. “Am I to remember you?”

The vampire’s mouth tightens, but he seems to have more or less expected this answer. Then he reaches into his jacket pocket and produces two small framed portrait miniatures. They quite clearly depict – as Jiya takes a step back in shock – Dad and Lucy, and they have to have been produced during the sixteenth century. But who is this man, why does he have them, and how long has he –

“You were in Oxford,” Jiya says faintly. “Why didn’t you – ”

“I didn’t know if it was time.” The vampire shrugs, considering her closely. “Are you Jiya?”

“Yes, but – ”

“I knew your father and stepmother. A long time ago. And for that matter, your cousin Christian particularly. I owe him a great deal, and – ” He stops. “It is more than time that I repaid that.”

“What?” Jiya is completely lost. She never met her cousin, who was killed before she was born, but she knows that Wyatt was close to him, and might have been swayed by this touching appeal – but who, how – how – “I’m sorry, what is your name?”

The black-haired vampire inclines his head. “Jack,” he says. “Jack Blackfriars. At your service.”

Chapter Text

Flynn, Lucy, Gabriel, and Christian depart for Prague five days hence. It has been a labor of Hercules trying to make the arrangements as fast as possible, and the entire circus is going with them. They have left Asher in London to hold down the home front, which Flynn still doesn’t like, but since they cannot hope to impress Rudolf without sufficient pomp and circumstance, he’s had to bring most of the household: Parry, Karl, several grooms, Meg, Jack, Agnes, and Gabriel’s very long-suffering valet, Edward. Flynn also isn’t sure about the advisability of leaving David Rittenhouse, Christopher Marlowe, and Guy Fawkes at leisure in the city, but if anyone can manage them, it’s his father, and he cannot repress a dark suspicion that Rittenhouse might try to follow them. Besides, one problem at a time. Or at least only several.

The entourage departs in several coaches, which will take them as far as Dover. From there, the itinerary grows considerably more improvisational. The de Clermonts are French, so they can hopefully land in a French port without undue attention or difficulty; Dieppe, in Normandy, is one such possibility, since Calais is out. That means they can also travel across France for the first half of the trip, so they’ll know the territory and can move faster. Flynn struggles to recall who the fuck is king right now. One of Catherine de Medici’s bumbling sons – Charles IX? Henry III? No, Henry III got murdered last year, so Henry IV? If that’s the case, just for that extra bit of je ne sais quoi, Henry IV is actually the only Protestant king of France in history and will not be inclined to aid and abet possible Catholic spies sneaking into Bohemia. He is likely to have heard of the de Clermont family, at least, and maybe their inherent Englishness will help rather than hinder. He has some of the same enemies as Elizabeth, in the diehard Catholic League factions, and they could play that up if needed.

Nonetheless, it is still a formidably daunting undertaking that requires approximately as much planning as D-Day (and Flynn should know, he was there – they had been living in exile in London after the fall of France, and it was how he, Gabriel, Maria, and Wyatt got back into the country on their desperate mission to rescue Asher). Any way you cut it, it is going to take their sweet time to get there, and he tries not to constantly run doomsday scenarios in his head. Asher has promised to contact them if something starts to go catastrophically wrong back in London and has faster means to reach them than human messengers, and perhaps after Flynn’s cover story for his past self was sending him on a long and tedious journey to Europe, it’s only fair that he has to do it himself. In Flynn’s grumpy opinion, someone should have just murdered Edward Kelley a while back and saved everyone the trouble, but alas.

The one part, the truly unbelievable part, which he keeps feeling tempted to pinch himself in case he wakes up and it’s gone, is the fact that Gabriel is – Gabriel is with him again. After their reintroduction in this century has gone about as badly as possible, this is – Flynn doesn’t know what. It’s like a limb that has been cut off for eons has suddenly returned to him and is thinking about working again, as if he has a right hand again, a heart, a soul. Feelings that he has not even thought of, not even dreamt of for hundreds of years, are shyly creeping their way back into his consciousness, and they sit next to each other and play cards on the coach without a single argument, except about whether Christian is helping Gabriel to cheat. Even that is good-natured and ends in scuffles rather than shouting, until Lucy clears her throat and reminds them that she is delighted that they are having fun, but the coach is small and the three of them are large, and inadvertently overturning them in a ditch would definitely slow them down. Even then, she smiles as she says it, and Flynn knows she’s relieved too.

It is almost eighty miles from London to Dover, necessitating a stop at a coaching inn in Chatham after they’ve creaked over the suspect wooden bridge spanning the Medway. Flynn wonders if they could embark from here instead and save some time, since it’s an important dockyard and naval base, but all the vessels are warships and there are no traders or other captains who would take on private passengers. Flynn is not eager to spend more time at sea than he has to, anyway. Vampires don’t get seasick, but Tudor ships are slow, leaky, top-heavy, and not particularly reliable at steering. (For all they like to brag about defeating the Armada, the storm did most of the work.) The famous sinking of the Mary Rose in 1528 is one such example, and sailors won’t come up with a reliable method of calculating longitude until almost the nineteenth century. The Channel waters are treacherous, with shifting sandbanks and sudden storms, and only a minority of their traveling party is immortal.

Thus, the whole lot of them are squeezed into two rooms that smell strongly of horse, nobody sleeps well, and are all somewhat tetchy by the time they arrive at Dover late the next afternoon. Flynn and Gabriel head to the docks to scout out a ship, and they finally find a Flemish wool merchant who is leaving tomorrow and can cram in a few extra passengers for that bit of extra profit. Upon seeing the number of their party, plus the accompanying trunks, portmanteaus, valises, and what have you, he gets the look of a man who has made a terrible mistake, but Flynn pays him double, and they crab-shuffle aboard, so as to be ready to depart with the morning tide. It is extremely small and cramped for a six-foot-four man’s sensibilities, but at least they will only (God willing) be aboard for a few days. The merchant has agreed to turn south to Dieppe and drop them there, and at least the mercury is holding steady. The air is thick and hot and stuffy, the sunset dark crimson and the seabirds calling as they wheel in cut-out shadows above the deck. Flynn is unwilling to face the prospect of confining himself below just yet, and looks up at them. It would be a fine thing to fly. Or just take Gabriel and run ahead to Prague, let the others catch up, and –

“Do you wish some company this fine evening, my dear?”

He jumps, startled out of his reverie, and looks around to see Gabriel, who has also apparently found the present arrangements constraining and is taking the opportunity to be at liberty from them as long as possible. He is holding two pipes, one of which he offers to Flynn in a companionable fashion, and Flynn hesitates, then takes it. Gabriel goes to the brazier on the deck and lights his, then passes the glowing coal to Flynn, who does the same. They lean on the railing together in the warm dusk, listening to the shouts and bumps, the longshoremen hustling aboard casks and crates, the creak of timbers and the slap of canvas and hemp. This is the first time they have really been alone together since their dramatic moment in the solar. They’ve both been busy planning the trip, and Flynn dearly wants to talk to Gabriel, but has no idea what to say. If he is not the Garcia that this Gabriel knows, this is not the Gabriel that he knows, not the one he left behind and would have a far better idea of how to relate to. He loves this Gabriel too, of course he does, but in the way of a dim and dreamy memory, since he has been living in a shadowed ghost of his old life, the beautifully dressed set of an empty and dusty stage. He doesn’t get to take any of this with him when he goes. Not Asher, not Christian, not this man mercifully free of the terrible knowledge of their future. Flynn has found himself wondering what it matters, any of it, if he has to leave in six months and things will still be exactly the same when he gets home. But he wants his Gabriel. Even as fraught and fractured and far-apart as their relationship is, at least they know everything about each other, all their sins. And he died for me anyway.

That shakes Flynn in a way he cannot entirely articulate, and he glances back at his brother, smoking contemplatively with a look of ease at the hot, somnolent evening and the renewed pleasure of the company. At last he ventures, “Do you really forgive me?”

Gabriel glances up, blowing an elegant smoke ring. “How do you mean?”

“I – in the solar, with Papa.” Flynn looks down at his own pipe, the embers flaring and fading, like the strange, tender, truncated rawness in his heart. It feels like seeing in color again after years of blindness. It comes and goes in unbearable waves, until he almost wants to break to pieces with it. “It was – it was incumbent upon me to show that I trusted you, but it was still – he was watching us, we were doing it as much for him as for each other, and it was just to prove that we – that I wouldn’t – that we would try to be together again. Perhaps you felt pressured to say so for his happiness, and did not… well. Mean it.”

Gabriel considers that, a small, sad smile pulling at his mouth. “You did always have a knack for the dramatic gesture, my dear. And no matter why you did it, you did do it, and I felt your sincerity, your pain, your love, even if in a different and much more distant way than I ever have before. I am not him, am I? Whichever Gabriel you are most accustomed to.”

“No.” Flynn looks at Gabriel again. He is conscious that he has not been doing so enough, that he needs to do it more and more. “No, you’re – you’re different, but that’s not even it. You’re the way you used to be, and that – I don’t even know how to say.”

Gabriel taps the embers from his pipe, which hit the water with small hisses. “So I am alive,” he says conversationally. “In whichever year you have come here from?”

“You – more or less.” That. obviously, is a loaded question, and Flynn tries to tread carefully. “I was telling the truth when I said we were trying to save you, and that Christian wanted to help. There’s something we need to find, and to bring back for you. I’m starting to wonder if the recipe for it is in Ashmole 782. It would – it would make sense.”

Gabriel looks as if he might ask what exactly the recipe is for, but seems to decide that he does not want to know. He takes an unconscious step closer, their shoulders brushing, and a strange lightning goes through Flynn. The pipe rattles in his hand, and he tries to inhale and exhale normally, eyes still fixed on the dark headland of Dover. He cannot wrap his head around this. Gabriel has been not just gone, but actively and violently absent from his life for over two centuries, the difference between a mere empty space and a black hole, sucking down light and gravity and time itself, bending, breaking, destroying everything that it touches, and this is as impossible to conceptualize as if that black hole gave back all its stolen light and blazed across the heavens like a burning star. Flynn struggles not to pull away and flee, his usual response to unexpected moments of emotional vulnerability. God, it is so hard, it is hard beyond all reason, to trust that he won’t be hurt again if he lets Gabriel in that smallest bit, if he accepts any kind of his presence in his life again, in whatever version. Or worse, that he would hurt Gabriel. He already has. He never meant to, but he knows that apathy is often worse than malice at inflicting lasting wounds. He loves, he loves, he loves Gabriel, but he lost him so long ago, and there is still no telling if this is only ever going to be the fetch, the revenant, the faded dream. His heart aches beyond breath or belief or sense. He wants to keep this, just the two of them side by side and nothing else, and remind himself that it was this way, once. It was real.

Gabriel resumes smoking, as a shaken Flynn does the same. “You may decline to answer if you wish,” he remarks lightly, as if oblivious to all of this – and perhaps he is, perhaps he cannot read this older, standoffish, scarred stranger as easily as the man who was his other half. “But I cannot help but wonder what I am like in the future.”

“You are…” Oh God, how can Flynn possibly answer this? “You’re very successful,” he says, since it’s true. “Very rich and stylish, and you do so many good things. You work as an art dealer, donate lots of money to charitable causes and rescue innocent people from war zones and make – make the rest of us look bad. You live in Paris, and you’re – ”

He stops. Head of the family confirms beyond all doubt that Asher is dead, and he does not know how Gabriel would react to that, much less the central, unspeakable secret of Christian’s terrible fate. Gabriel listens pensively, then nods. “I suppose that is all to the good,” he says, as if approving a new set of clothes laid out on the bed for his inspection. “And in the strictest sense, it sounds a fine life. But is it – is it truly worth it, my dear? For whatever happened between us that poisons you so deeply even now?”

It is on the tip of Flynn’s tongue to answer that Gabriel is the one who was poisoned, literally, but once again, that is something he cannot say. Instead, surprising them both, he reaches out and puts his free hand over Gabriel’s, squeezing hard. It is a wordless apology for the things he cannot say, the crushing guilt that he can only present this artificially candy-colored portrait of the future when both of them know damn well that no, it’s not worth it, that they’re fucking miserable, that all the largess and manna of the world cannot fill the void and the endless chasm of their heartbreak. He prays to God and heaven that Gabriel does not ask about Christian. He cannot tell the truth, and it would shatter his whole soul to lie.

Gabriel looks back at him, startled and uncertain, as in a way, this gesture is more raw and intimate than the offering of heartsblood in the solar – which, as he said, was done at least as much for Asher’s benefit as theirs. Their fingers interlock. They say nothing as the light lingers deep golden in the western sky, the shadows as dark as cobalt as the first stars begin to peer through the clouds. Their forgotten pipes nearly go out, and the scent of tobacco curls on the salty breeze. Then at last, Gabriel lifts his head, lifts their entwined hands to his mouth, and kisses Flynn’s knuckles. “As I said. You always did suffer so.”

Flynn is not entirely sure how to answer. He has, he has, and yet it seems trite to say so. At last he says, “Thank you for coming along.”

“Oh, you know me, darling. Always up for an adventure.” Gabriel does his best careless wave. “And now that the pair of us are repaired in some measure, it seemed the most productive usage of my time – which, I shall admit, has been less than exemplary recently. Besides, Christian would insist on coming, and at least this way I can keep an eye on him. I do think he’s nearly civilized the urchin. Shall I be obliged to adopt him too?”

Flynn chuckles. Indeed, Christian’s attention has made practically a new boy out of Jack, who was even to be spotted saying “please” at supper the other evening. He is still not in the habit of consistent washing, and is wary of speaking to anyone apart from Christian, but there is definitely a change. “If you are to be a father again, perhaps less of the drinking.”

“But I do love that.” Gabriel affects a pout. “And the other entertainments, of course. I am afraid that my household is still not a terribly salubrious place for a human child, but far be it from me to interrupt Christian in his determination. My darling lad will go around being confoundedly decent to everyone. I cannot reckon where he gets it from.”

“Aye.” Flynn’s throat closes like a fist. Gabriel’s casual, constant adoration of his son can never be overlooked or forgotten, and Flynn has not let himself truly grapple with the depth of his feelings for Christian. He has been too afraid that giving in, that remembering everything, will make it utterly impossible for him to leave here without completely torching the world to save him, and it bedevils him that he can’t. Nor can he yet bring himself to accept this as immutable fact. They could timewalk to 1762 Sept-Tours, on the night of the vampire hunters’ attack. Dramatically snatch up Christian and take him somewhere safe to heal his wounds – Flynn could give him heartsblood too, that has to be worth something – then bring him to the present? The thought of acquiring the manticore venom to save the real Gabriel, for him to open his eyes and to see his son there, the final proof that Flynn has fixed their broken family and not just him – God. He would die for it. He would kill. He would tear apart a thousand legions on a thousand battlefields. And yet. It is so far beyond his comprehension or control that if it happens at all, it will be by some power that even his supernaturally long life cannot bring him to imagine. He will ask Lucy later. Surely, after meeting Asher and Christian for herself, she can finally understand how much they lost, and figure out something.

As if sensing the echoes of this thought, Gabriel lifts his head from where it has settled on Flynn’s shoulder. “Lucy,” he says ruefully. “I suppose I’ve utterly wrecked my prospects of ever making a favorable impression on her, haven’t I?”

“You – ” Flynn once more has to tread cautiously with that. He can sense that Lucy is fed up and frustrated with Gabriel, that she doesn’t know him like Flynn does, especially not this one, and there has to be a certain amount of exasperation that just when she finally got his present self to trust and like her, she was immediately thrown backward and had all of that progress not just undone, but set on fire. This is another reason he wants his own Gabriel back, but it seems churlish to say so. “Well,” he tries instead. “If it’s not too late for us, it’s certainly not too late for you and her, is it?”

Gabriel buzzes a laugh, turning his head to plant a kiss on Flynn’s cheek. “That was very diplomatic of you, my darling,” he remarks. “I shall try to give cause to merit more of your graciousness, and less of your scorn, and I do mean that. I am not him, who you miss, and you are not he, who I do. Yet we are what the other has been given, and – perhaps we can love each other, in the space between, in the absence of the true one? Insomuch as we can?”

He sounds uncharacteristically tentative, in the tone of a man asking for something he wants desperately and trying to pretend that he does not, that it is only a casual request and not tied to the very sinews of his soul. Flynn opens his mouth, and their eyes meet. He is about to say something – though for the life of him, he has no idea what – when they are distracted by a sound near the capstan, and turn to see Christian looking penitent. “I – my humble apologies, Papa, Uncle Garcia,” he says hastily. “I just – I thought I’d – come up and – well, I did not hear any shouting, so I only hoped that all was – ”

Gabriel and Garcia glance at each other, then back at Christian. Flynn supposes that he cannot blame the boy for being ironically concerned at the absence of a loud argument, but still. “Wanted to make sure one of us had not pitched the other in the water, you mean? No, I think we are almost getting on well.”

“Good. Good, I – ” Christian looks between them, tentative with restrained hope that the worst is over. “I have been – it has… distressed me, that is all.”

“And I’m sorry for it.” Flynn crosses to his nephew and takes Christian by both shoulders, as the boy (well, Christian was turned in his early twenties, but has always seemed a boy) gazes trustfully up at him. “You never deserved to be caught in the middle of this, and we’ve – I’ve been unfair to you because of it.”

“No, my darling, do not leave me out of it.” Gabriel comes to stand next to him, and the two of them look down at Christian together. “I take my full share of the blame. You have had to mind me far more than any son should have to do for his father, and that should not be your task. Not to mention the disgraceful shouting matches that you were obliged to witness, and quite rightly told us to desist. You are far more sensible than either of us and always have been, I am afraid, and we humbly pray your pardon.”

“You have it.” Christian looks puzzled that this should remotely be a question, that there is anything they could ever do to make him stop hero-worshiping them. By God, they do not deserve him, and once again, the thought of leaving him to his fate almost buckles Flynn at the knees. Christian pauses, then adds, “I have heard that Prague is a most magical and mysterious city. Are we to chase Edward Kelley down some dark lane of sorcery or some dread alchemists’ den? I want to help.”

Gabriel snorts. “Of course you do,” he says, as Flynn considers that at least one of them has a very idealistic notion of the expected plan of action. It is much more likely to involve grubby court politics and cutthroat manipulation, but no use disillusioning Christian just yet. “We shall let you know, my love. Now if you shall excuse us, we have a call to pay upon your aunt.” He glances at Flynn questioningly. “If you agree?”

“I – yes.” Despite all his misgivings and missteps and the low-level powder keg underlying Lucy and Gabriel’s interactions in both past-present and present-past, there is nothing in the world Flynn wants more than for them to love each other. “I think we should.”

Nodding good night to Christian, they make their way below, ducking beneath the low beams and down to the cabin of which Flynn and Lucy, as Lord and Lady Clairmont, have been accorded semi-exclusive use. Flynn knocks and calls through the wood, “Moja ljubav? It’s me and… and Gabriel.”

A pause, and then Lucy opens the door. She looks as if she has been getting ready for sleep, having wrestled herself out of her traveling clothes and into her shift, and Gabriel, who has of course seen countless women in all states of dishabille, decorously averts his eyes out of deference to this being his sister-in-law. Lucy glances between them, surprised but pleased at this evidence of renewed unity. “Everything all right? Christian and I were actually worried when we didn’t hear any shouting. He went up to look.”

“Er, yes, he said so.” Flynn coughs. “He was – talking with you, then?”

“Yes, we were chatting. He insisted on leaving when I changed, though.” Lucy looks between them again, brow creasing in sudden concern. “Do we need to talk about something?”

“We…” Gabriel clears his throat and steps forward. “I shall be brief, and not presume nearly as much as I have. I have behaved badly, and not as I expect for myself. You and Garcia are… you are well matched, you are good for each other, and you come from a time and place that I do not know and have not the right to pronounce judgment upon. I humbly and unconditionally plead your forgiveness, and until such time as you wish to grant it, I can keep myself at a distance.”

With that, with none of his customary flash and showmanship and flamboyance, none of his essential Gabriel-ness, when he has never seen a top that he could not spectacularly vault over, Gabriel kneels. It’s not done for witnesses; there are none, except for Flynn, here in the dim, creaking, rocking hold of a Tudor galleon. Flynn wonders if Lucy knows how rare it is, if Gabriel told her that he does not apologize and does not humble himself and does not hold himself to account to a single living creature, now that Asher is dead. He bows his head and does not say a word. Waits, a statue carved of impassive, imposing marble. Even kneeling, he too is barely shorter than Lucy.

Lucy herself looks startled, unsure what she should do with this unexpected gesture of humility. Flynn can see the shadow of the other Gabriel in her eyes as well as she regards this kneeling one, the constant ghost that hangs over them both. For a moment, he is afraid that Lucy won’t forgive Gabriel, even though she has every right to be thoroughly done with the de Clermont boys and their constant parade of dramatic nonsense. But it’s so unthinkable for Flynn, so impossible, that he does not want to be asked, cannot stand to be asked, to choose between the woman he loves and the other half of his heart, his soul, his –

Lucy lets out a small sigh and takes Gabriel’s offered hands between her own, the gesture of a ruler accepting homage from a vassal. That is Lucy for you. She has so much right to hold so many grudges, but she doesn’t. She constantly sees the chance for redemption, for better days, and perhaps there was never any question of her being seriously mad at Gabriel, despite her exasperation at his foibles. She nods regally, as Flynn gazes at her utterly mesmerized and thinks he can see the flicker of a white glow around her head, the reminder that she truly is a queen, and this her crown. “You may rise, my lord,” she says to Gabriel. “You are forgiven for any misdeeds you feel yourself to have committed, and I hold you in faith and companionship as ever you were before.”

Gabriel raises an eyebrow, clearly intrigued at the sound of the courtly language in her mouth, the self-consciously echoed formality. He gets to his feet, looking down at her, as he still has to stoop considerably, and their eyes meet. Flynn feels a terrible desire to take them both in his arms, is afraid that if he moves at all, he will not be able to stop himself, and so he remains exactly where he is, rooted to the ground, unmoving. The silence towers.

At last, Gabriel glances away from Lucy, and the moment is broken. “I shall leave the pair of you in peace for the evening,” he says, belatedly remembering himself. “My lord, my lady.”

And with that, and a gracious nod to them both, he is gone.


They are almost three weeks on the road to Prague. Even this necessitates a stiff pace of over thirty miles a day, and if Lucy was under any remaining impressions about the romanticism  of the sixteenth century (which really, she was not), they have been conclusively dispelled. They make it to Dieppe and land all right, which is nice, but everything from there is a constant pain in ye olde asse. They have to once more hire a sufficient number of coaches for everyone and their crap, they spend all day crammed and sweltering in the June heat, and jolt and jounce over terrain crossed with what can only dubiously be called roads. Flynn has helpfully informed her that there are highwaymen and possibly wolves on the remote stretches, and he and Gabriel have taken to galloping ahead on a pair of horses, which gets them out in the fresh air together and allows them to keep a vigilant lookout for any lurking malefactors. If there are, Lucy doesn’t actually know, because the two large and terrifyingly competent vampire soldiers dismantle them long before anyone else gets there. She thinks they might have a slightly too cat-in-cream look at the end of the day, but best not to ask.

For that matter, Lucy doesn’t mind a little space – figuratively speaking, as space in its literal sense is not a luxury that anyone is presently enjoying. She loves Flynn very much, but in the normal course of things, any well-adjusted person has friends and confidantes and people to talk to apart from their spouse, and she could use some other company. The sheer, overwhelming, crushing burden of their isolation, the fact that they have been thrown into a situation where they have no other recourse or refuge apart from each other, has of necessity driven them to cling, to vanish into each other and pour all their troubles and emotions into the other’s lap, and while that’s fine, it is not, in the long term, very healthy. At least Lucy is feeling less as if she’s been dropped into a battering, bewildering Renaissance Faire that never ends; she is, however unwillingly, getting used to the sixteenth century. She no longer feels terrified that she might die every instant Flynn isn’t in sight, and since they can’t be intimate anyway in the crowded and far-from-private inns and hostelries where they stop for the night, a bit of distance might not be the worst thing in the world. Just for a change.

As a result, Lucy is spending a lot more time with Christian, Agnes, and Jack, her usual companions in the coach. Agnes, of course, is terribly fond of Christian, and has mostly been persuaded to overcome her suspicions in the Jack department, even if she still looks at him squiggle-eyed as if expecting David Rittenhouse to burst out of his chest. It is a comfortable, familial atmosphere, Agnes acting as communal grandmother, and Lucy has already resolved that she can’t send her back to Scotland to die, to hell with history. But if that’s the case, if she’s willing to save this woman, how can she do any less for Christian, Flynn and Gabriel’s beloved shared son, when his loss lies at the root of so much of their trauma and estrangement? She and Flynn can’t really talk alone, but she can see it in his eyes every time he looks at Christian. They’re both thinking the same thing, they have to be, but they already discussed this. There is no way to take Christian home with them from here without massively wrecking the timeline and possibly destroying the very de Clermont family they’re trying to save, and any side expedition to 1762 would be just as dangerous. That doesn’t mean that Lucy isn’t willing to risk it, but they have so much on their plate that she has to compartmentalize. Maybe there’s an answer in Ashmole 782 for this. Maybe there’s an answer for everything. That’s what Flynn has hoped this long, however vainly, and while it’s dangerous to put too many eggs in that basket, Lucy also feels resentfully that if this goddamn manuscript has caused them so much trouble and misadventure and suffering, the least it could do is fix their manifold problems. Really, they deserve no less.

They trundle across eastern France, through the disputed Lorraine, and finally cross into the Holy Roman Empire. There is a small holdup at the border, which turns dramatic as Lucy and Agnes have to conjure up an emergency thunderstorm to distract the soldiers and they all get very wet as they splash and jounce away at top speed, Flynn and Gabriel mounted backwards in their saddles and firing their muskets as fast as they can reload them. It is a spectacle to inspire awe, if not confidence that their further travel will be untroubled, and they go hard, long past dark, to be sure that they have lost their pursuers. Flynn, splattered with mud from head to toe so that he himself resembles the famous golem of Prague, swings down from the saddle, swearing and wiping his forehead with his gloved hand, which does nothing to remove it. “Well, that was extremely stupid. Are you all right?”

“We’re fine,” Lucy says, reaching back to help a wide-eyed Jack out of the coach. There isn’t an inn here, or even any kind of settlement, so they hang their wet things over branches as Parry, Karl, and the others start to pitch camp. Outside the flickering circle of torches, the German forest seems dark and thick and cursed, the proverbial haunt of monsters in all the fairy tales, and she glances uneasily over her shoulder. She is glad that they have Flynn and Gabriel and their guns – and their fangs, for that matter – close at hand. “I hope we didn’t crack an axle. There were a few good crunches back there.”

Flynn swears again and duly crawls under the coach to check, only his booted feet sticking out, as Lucy regards the sight with a grin. She senses a presence at her back, and turns quickly, but it is only Gabriel. He looks windswept and exhilarated by the adventure, and doffs his soaked wool cap ceremoniously in her direction. “That was a lovely bit of magic, my dear. Quick thinking indeed. I thought those ale-swilling bucketheads would let us through, but it seems they were destined to be troublesome.”

“Did you try the mesmer?” Lucy doesn’t want to suggest to Gabriel that she knows how to be a vampire better than he does, but they have the gift of rendering mortals suggestible and open to influence. Then again, maybe this band of obstinate Germans simply resisted being bamboozled by sheer strength of numbers. “Or – ”

“Mesmer works best when directed only to one individual,” Gabriel says, “and intended to achieve one result. It grows diluted when spread among many, and when you must convince them all to do something quite contrary to their own wishes. It is not a tool to force and coerce; it takes some crumb of what is already there and persuades the human that this, truly, is what they want to do, impelling them to disregard all other considerations that might ordinarily hesitate or halt them. As I had cause to learn on All Souls of last year, when – ”

He catches himself, but not quite in time, as Lucy’s eyebrows fly up. All Souls last year – the first of November, 1589. Better known as the date when, according to Marlowe at least, Henry de Prestyn was killed. Combined with her conviction that Marlowe was strategically lying and taking the blame for someone else, and that Gabriel is the only person who knows anything about Kit, she wonders if she should stray into this particular minefield just now. She glances around, but everyone else is involved with pitching camp, starting a fire, drying clothes, and getting supper together, and Flynn is still under the coach, though the now multi-lingual swearing seems to indicate that he will be occupied for a while. Lucy takes a step closer. “My lord,” she says. “Where precisely were you on All Souls night last?”

Gabriel glances at her with too-careful casualness. She does not need to remind him that he begged her pardon on the ship, that he put his volition and his forgiveness and his loyalty quite literally in her hands, and going back on that now will not be a very good guarantor of his sincerity. He sweeps an artful lock of dark hair out of his face, as if in hopes that he will be so beautiful that she will forget what she was asking, but when this does not work, he shrugs. “Here and there, out and about. I do not recall what – ”

“Were you with Kit?” Lucy keeps her tone level, as if to demonstrate that he’s not in trouble, she’s not accusing, she just wants to know what happened. “By any chance?”

Gabriel’s dark eyes flick up and down. She can sense him trying to find out what Kit might have told her without outright asking, and that, as much as anything, confirms her hunch that he knows something about this. Her stomach drops. Things have been so high-wire-act with Gabriel, even if much improved the last fortnight, that the last thing anyone wants is another bombshell thrown into the middle of their porcelain-fragile progress. She knows that Flynn needs this, needs Gabriel, has been so hungry for even this pale shadow of their old camaraderie and closeness that he clutched at it the instant it was properly offered, but she can’t overlook this. Lucy tilts her head back to meet his gaze. “Were you?”

“My lady…” Gabriel looks away, affecting his usual nonchalance. Then with an effort, he glances back. “What precisely are you asking me?”

Fine. If he wants to be blunt, Lucy is willing to be the same. Still more quietly, she says, “Do you know who killed a man named Henry de Prestyn?”

Gabriel is good at this, even if not quite as utterly unreadable as Kit, but she can see that it’s familiar to him. “Henry de Prestyn,” he says, after a long pause. “Unless I misremember, your own name is Preston, my lady, is it not? Is that the reason for your interest?”

“It’s complicated.” Gabriel knows about the timewalking and Ashmole 782, at least in broad strokes, but it’s still a guessing game as to how Lucy should explain this to him. “He is – well, he will be related to me, yes. But that’s not the main reason for my interest. I think his death is a crucial part of the puzzle about Dr. Dee’s alchemical manuscript, and he might even be – I think it might be made of him. His… skin.”

Gabriel looks startled enough at this gruesome detail that Lucy, to her relief, thinks he really doesn’t know anything about what became of Henry’s corpse. “His skin?”

“That’s what your father said, when he examined it. He thought it was made from some strange amalgam of creatures, and Henry de Prestyn – he had mixed creature lineage, he was something called a Bright Born, according to Lady Beaton.” The name of Lucy’s (former?) tutor sticks in her throat, and she finds herself grateful to be away from London and ordered to spy on her on Elizabeth’s behalf. “His father was a vampire and his mother was a witch. His skin could have had strange powers that someone wanted, and acquired for the right price. I know people buy and sell dead bodies for any number of reasons, I don’t think you had anything to do with that, but if you know anything about his death, please – please tell me.”

Gabriel looks almost as cagey as Kit, and his eyes flick to Flynn, still immured beneath the carriage. At last he says, “I do recall meeting the man, yes. If it is the same one I think it is, I cannot be entirely certain. And yes, I learned the limitations of the mesmer on him, in a way I had not encountered before. If he had some extraordinary heritage or unusual abilities, perhaps that explains my failure. I did not know that at the time.”

“Was he alive the last time you saw him?” There’s not really a tactful way to ask did you murder him?, but Lucy is trying. “All Souls 1589 – he died later that night. You had to be one of the last people to see him. Did he strike you as odd in any way?”

Gabriel doesn’t answer, but his mouth tightens. Finally he says, “Aye.”

This feels like getting blood from a turnip. “How?” Lucy persists. “Clothing, look, speech? Any of that? Something more?”

Gabriel shrugs. “Very well. Henry de Prestyn. Kit and I, and some fair companions, met him near Smithfield. He… seemed most unwell, and badly fevered in the brain. He insisted that he had to find someone, and seemed dead set that when he did so, great malice would fall upon them. He made little sense, but he seemed deadly serious, and the risk could not be taken. We attempted to restrain him in some hovel, but when we found he had got free – ”

“Please, Gabriel.” Lucy reaches out and takes his hand, clearly startling him. “Please tell me. I’m not – I’m not angry. I just want to know what happened.”

He studies her, almost unblinking. Then he says, “What did Kit say?”

“He said that he killed him,” Lucy says carefully. “I don’t – I don’t think he did.”

“You are correct on that.” Gabriel turns his head away, as if he will not do her the dishonor of looking into her eyes as he says this. “Very well. I killed him.”

Lucy had a growing suspicion that this might be the case, but it still shocks her somewhat to hear it confirmed. She opens and shuts her mouth, keeping hold of his hand in case he feels inclined to bolt like a spooked horse. She says, “Okay.”

Gabriel glances at her, clearly expecting to see rage or blame or grief on her face – he has murdered her ancestor, after all, even if a many-times-great grandfather that Lucy didn’t even know the name of until a month ago. “Do you bear me ill will for it, my lady?”

“No,” Lucy says truthfully. “It’s – well, it’s startling, but… why did Kit say it was him?”

“Because…” Gabriel considers that. “Because,” he says, as enigmatically as possible. “Because Kit, despite his theatrics – he is a daemon, after all, and a poet and a playwright, no less – fights the right wars. It was why he was still willing to return to my side to help me track down this Rittenhouse beast of yours, despite the unfortunate circumstance of what passed between us at Clerkenwell. If I say no more, my lady, you must forgive me.”

“All right,” Lucy says uncertainly. She glances at Flynn, who is making rattling noises indicating that the carriage repair is proceeding apace. “Can I tell Garcia about this? That I know who killed Henry?”

“I should not demand you to keep secrets from your husband.” Gabriel’s eyes remain on Flynn as well. “But I do wonder, my lady, what it profits him to know. If he asks directly, you may say so, yet does it matter whose hand did the man to death, and why? It is you who should have the more quarrel with me, so if you did wish to throw a gage – ”

“I’ll pass, thanks,” Lucy assures him, laughing a little despite herself. There is definitely no way that she is about to challenge Gabriel de Clermont to a duel for her murdered ancestor’s honor, and while she is dying of curiosity about the rest of the story, she can sense that she should be careful. In some sense, Gabriel is right; it doesn’t matter who killed Henry de Prestyn, only that he’s dead. And the only person that Lucy can see Gabriel taking such drastic action to protect, that he would kill Henry rather than risk him doing someone harm, is either Christian or Flynn. But why would Henry de Prestyn be so eager to find them? If he traveled from the seventeenth century specifically to hunt someone down, it’s far more likely to be Flynn. Did Gabriel kill him to protect Flynn? That is entirely plausible. But then what, what did Henry want, and why would he risk everything on this trip? Flynn’s past self was in the city then, but not this Flynn. Did Henry get his dates wrong, arrive on All Souls 1589 when he was aiming for All Souls 1590, the night the gate opens for Flynn and Lucy to return to the present? Will someone else come instead? Some

A deep chill goes down Lucy’s back at the thought. Was Henry attempting to prevent his own murder, and everything that will happen with Ashmole 782 as a result? Does he, or his descendants, hold a grudge against the de Clermonts for it? Are she and Flynn literally Montagues and Capulets, star-crossed lovers from ancestrally opposite sides of the supernatural tracks? Do the Prestyns know it was Gabriel? Does Amelie? Do they blame Flynn, or – what?

Lucy’s brain is about to explode, but she manages to nod. “For now,” she says, “I’ll say nothing. But we will speak more of this later.”

“Very well.” Gabriel accepts that, and turns to go. “Good night.”

Despite the misadventure of the border crossing, things settle down somewhat as they haul through Bavaria, though their pace slows to a maddening crawl on all the hills. It is high summer and the light lingers late into the evening, so they travel as long as there is even a dim glow and roust out again at the crack of dawn. Lucy is sore to the bone, gritty and grimy, has not slept more than a few hours at a go since they left London, and is strongly tempted to ask Agnes if they can just conjure a whirlwind (or a whole tornado) and fly them there like Dorothy whisked off to Oz. She is at least looking forward to seeing Prague again. Since she obviously works on alchemists and alchemical history, she spent six months there for research purposes, and it’s a truly beautiful city. Lucy spent a lot of it shut up in the Národní Archiv, but the rest of the time she wandered around in wonder that literally all of it was so jaw-dropping. It is crammed with magnificent medieval and baroque architecture, cafes, casinos, churches, chocolate shops, bookstores, bridges, taverns, tourist traps, weird side museums, underground clubs, concerts, operas – and these days, throngs of sunburned tourists who speed past en masse with their earphones and cameras and descend in their dozens of busloads upon major landmarks, in their soulless consumer corporate travel experience. Prague is almost as visited as London, Rome, or Paris, and is much smaller than all of those, occasionally leading to the sense that it’s bursting at the seams. Lucy knows that it was in a glorious golden age under the rule of Rudolf II, and is excited at getting to see it in all its mystical Renaissance splendor, but she would personally stab several people for the comfort of an air-conditioned coach on a smooth highway.

At last, a solid three weeks since they left London and several days into July, when the heat lies like a soaked blanket in the Bohemian valleys, they toil up one last hill and look down into the city itself. The river Vltava snakes through the middle of it, crossed by the famous Karlův most – the Charles Bridge – with the castle and the unfinished St Vitus Cathedral towering on the left bank and the Old Town on the right. The red rooftops and gothic spires are more or less in the configuration Lucy remembers, though several of them are missing and the city is ringed by a formidable wall that is almost gone in the present. As with everything in the sixteenth century, it is smaller, muddier, and more fragrant than its modern counterpart, but it is recognizably still Prague, and her weary, travel-sick heart lifts a notch. “Look,” she says to Christian, who is peering out the coach window with her. “We’re here. It’s one of my favorite places.”

He glances at her curiously. “Have you been here before, Aunt Lucy?”

“Yes, I…” Christian still doesn’t know about the timewalking. “A while ago. I was studying. It was different then.”

Christian looks momentarily perplexed, as surely it cannot have been that different, but then shrugs and boosts Jack up to have a peek as well. Agnes, who has never been this far from her small Scottish hometown in her life, looks suspicious, and as they start bumping down the road, her nostrils flare. “Smells queer. I’m nae sure about it.”

Lucy is tempted to remark that this is probably the sunshine, but then, the last thing Agnes warned them about was Jack, who turned out to be a thrall for Rittenhouse. She pays extra attention as they lumber under the imposing ancient fortress of Vyšehrad on the south headland, seat of the first Czech kings. They reach the gatehouse in a few more minutes, and Flynn and Gabriel cycle through their various languages until they find something the guards can understand, which turns out to be one of Flynn’s. As the resident Slav, he has the most leg up here, though Rudolf and his court will all speak French, the language of educated Europeans, and probably Latin and German. Edward Kelley, of course, speaks Elizabethan English, but unlike in modern Prague, nobody else will, and Lucy resigns herself to mustering up her half-remembered scraps of Czech, which are just as likely to get her stared at quizzically as to be understood. She also wonders where they are going to stay. At least in London they had Flynn’s comfortable town house to serve as a base of operations, but here they are freelancing it. As long as Lucy can get a room with a door that shuts and a privy she doesn’t have to share with twenty people, she probably won’t complain.

After several rounds of intense discussions between Flynn and the guards, he finally pays a toll that, to judge from the look on his face, is far higher than he thinks is any way warranted. This does, however, secure their entry to the city, and the driver cracks the whip one more time over the back of the tired horses. They start forward with a bump and a thump, and roll through into the teeming muddy labyrinth beyond. Only a few of Prague’s iconic cobbled streets have presently been paved, the intersections devoid of the crisscrossing wires of tram lines and vintage trolley-cars, and while Lucy tries to keep her bearings in reference to the modern city, she is soon hopelessly confused. They veer and rumble down an assortment of byways almost too narrow to admit the coach, scraping paint and plaster off the tilting walls of shops and houses. Prague does not yet sport its full complement of baroque jewel-boxes, and a devastating fire in 1541 destroyed large parts of the castle complex and the surrounding township. Even so, Christian’s wildly romantic visions of the place are in fact not far off. Rudolf’s court teems with alchemists, astrologers, artists, authors, magicians, musicians, poets, priests, scientists, scholars, soothsayers, and just as many frauds, charlatans, con artists, hucksters, and other enterprising types. Living in solitary splendor in Prague Castle, Rudolf is rarely seen in public, preferring to gaze for hours on his collection of priceless art and sculpture. If they’re going to get to Edward Kelley, they’ll have to contrive an audience, and that will take some planning. All the palace intrigue at Elizabeth’s court warns Lucy not to underestimate the difficulty, and she is not at all sure that she is prepared for it.

At last, they draw to a halt in a lane just steps off the Staroměstské náměstí, which Lucy knew as the famous Old Town Square, though in this day and age it is the only town square. Peering through the buildings, she can just catch a glimpse of Prague’s astronomical clock, mounted on the side of the town hall. It was first placed in 1410 and claims to be the oldest of its kind in the world, a beautiful and elaborate piece of engineering that tells the stars and the seasons as well as the time. It gives Lucy quite a jolt to see it here, four hundred-odd years earlier, as if she could walk toward the square and find herself back in the twenty-first century. Just in case, she doesn’t risk it.

Everyone piles out of the coaches, stretching and wincing, and wanders around in search of fresh air and water from the pumps set out front for travelers. Flynn heads inside the handsome half-timbered establishment that they appear to be patronizing, as he is the only one with sufficient language skills to talk with ordinary people around here, and Gabriel raises a companionable eyebrow at Lucy. “Garcia did teach me old Ragusan, many centuries ago,” he remarks. “But I am unsure what it will avail me here, alas.”

“No, probably not,” Lucy agrees, just as lightly. Gabriel has been making a concerted effort to be friendly to her, as if in apology for his previous behavior, and while it’s much better than the alternative, she can’t help but wonder if he’s trying to keep her quiet on what he told her about Henry de Prestyn. He said that he wouldn’t forbid her from telling Flynn, but he clearly would much prefer that she didn’t, and Lucy is not sure what she should do about it. She doesn’t like keeping things from Flynn, especially something this consequential, and the last thing the de Clermont brothers need is more silence and secrecy. While their spending almost every waking moment together for the past three weeks has mended some of the most obvious fractures, it can still ultimately only be a temporary measure. The real reckoning awaits at home, when – if – they ever get back. Will that Gabriel remember what happened here? Did he already lose his memories? He told her in Sept-Tours that he felt like he had met her before, but didn’t know when or where. Does that mean he was forced to forget everything that happened, that all of them were? By who? By Lucy?

That thought gives her a chill, and she pushes it away. She obviously hopes it’s not her who is responsible for mind-wiping everyone, for any number of reasons, and glances at Christian, who is helping Agnes down and addressing her as “Grandmother Agnes,” to which the old Scottish witch does not object in the least. Christian just cheerfully makes a family wherever he goes, gathers in strays and adopts them all, and as Gabriel watches his son with a faint, unconscious smile, it pulls painfully at Lucy’s heart. They have good reasons for not telling him, but it cannot be otherwise than monstrously unfair. She has seen a tangible change in Flynn, in fact something that she has never seen before, in his shy, clumsy, quiet delight at being united with Gabriel once more. It radiates off him, it alters him in ways she hasn’t even imagined, and this is only a pale and long-lost copy of the Gabriel that he wants. Lucy can’t stand to take that light away from either of them, having gleaned these brief, poignant glimpses at what their life (for it was just one life, singular, not two) used to be like. At times, she herself has felt a few uncomfortable prickles of jealousy, which she tries to squash. It does make more sense, why Gabriel initially reacted the way he did. Lucy isn’t altogether sure she would have done much better. Try, maybe, but still.

At last, Flynn returns with a disgruntled expression and more muttering about how he really hopes it isn’t a pattern that they get fleeced in this damn city, and informs them that they will be staying here for tonight. He and Gabriel will see about finagling an introduction at court tomorrow (Gabriel’s face when he says that, with a casual, unthinking trust that it will in fact be the two of them, is something else to pull at Lucy’s heart) but for now, this is the end of the line. Everybody is heartily grateful to be done and not about to quibble, and they head inside and up the stairs to the narrow, creaky top floor, the entirety of which Flynn has purchased for their convenience, as the grooms start schlepping in the luggage. Finally, finally, Flynn and Lucy find themselves alone, and he shuts the door and swipes a hand through his road-dusty hair, which has grown (in Lucy’s opinion) quite attractively shaggy, almost long enough to tie back. “I thought we were never getting here.”

“I was starting to wonder that too.” Lucy moves over to look up at him. It’s too hot and they’re too tired to do more than exchange a grubby kiss, but he smiles tenderly at her and tidies a loose strand of hair out of her face. Their three independent weeks have served their purpose in making her eager to spend time with him again, and she feels the vaguely pleasant ache of enforced celibacy that she would like to remedy at some point when they are not wearing several pounds of dirty Tudor clothes and smelling strongly of horse, unwashed traveling companions, and the murky summer evening. Not really conducive to passionate romance, that. “Can you and Gabriel get an audience?”

“We can apply ourselves to the castle, at least,” Flynn says. “I’m sure you know more than I do about how much of a hermit Rudolf is, though. And right now, Kelley is still highly regarded, so I don’t think we can get access without going through the official court channels. We’d get into a lot of trouble if we looked like we were trying to co-opt the emperor’s favorite alchemist, and gossip travels fast around here.”

Lucy considers wryly if there will ever be a time in their life again when they are not in trouble in some shape or form. “Could we try? Dramatic midnight visit to Kelley’s house? I do know more or less where that is. There’s a cheesy museum there in the present day.”

Flynn snorts with laughter, stooping to kiss her forehead. “That’s my girl,” he says, with rough affection. “Though I think we’re having a bad influence on you.”

“Just trying to consider all our options.” Lucy plays her fingers on the grimy gilt embroidery of his doublet. Even in the heat that is making her sweat like a pig, his body remains invitingly cool, the sensation of his flesh like carved marble. “But you said back in Sept-Tours that you bought the fragment with my handwriting on it in Prague, 1875. Do you think I write it here, and hide it with the rest of the manuscript? And if Kelley does have Ashmole 782, what do we do with it? We can’t steal it ourselves, we can’t bring it back to the present as a duplicate of the one that exists there, but we also don’t know what the hell happened to it after I couldn’t get it out of the Bod again.”

“All good questions,” Flynn says, a furrow linking his dark brows. “And ones for which I’m not sure I have an answer. I was telling Gabriel that I think the recipe for manticore venom antidote might be in it, so we’ll need to consult it long enough for Agnes to help us with that. You’re right that we can’t steal it, or interfere with it getting to the present however it does… but that fragment said that it was hidden with the assistance of the School of Night. Does that mean we bring it back to England and hide it ourselves, and you write it down so our past-future selves find it and know what to do?”

“Your guess is as good as mine.” Lucy traces the line of his collarbone. “But I don’t feel like we can just leave it lying around, especially if Rittenhouse followed us from London. I know your father removed the thrall from Jack, but if there’s still another spy in the household – ”

Flynn glances at the closed door, as if to check whether someone is lurking outside it. Evidently he does not sense anyone, as he turns back to Lucy, but his face doesn’t entirely relax. “If we do snatch it up and make a run for it,” he says, “we’ll be chased all the way back to England, whether by Kelley and friends or by Rudolf’s soldiers. Gabriel and I can handle that, but if one of Elizabeth’s spies accidentally starts a war with Bohemia, they’ll – ”

“Throw us out the window?” Lucy suggests, half-humorously but with a warning edge. One of her favorite random historical facts is that there are not just one but two Defenestrations of Prague – the latter of which, in 1618, started the Thirty Years’ War, which ended with the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 and basically set the stage for the modern international world. Throwing people out of windows is something that the Bohemians take very seriously, and while it wouldn’t hurt Flynn, Lucy is quite sure that she herself would not enjoy it. “Do you think we might take it to Sept-Tours? At least that would be a safe place. Well, safer.”

At that, she can see that Flynn is edgy about the idea of once more summoning the wrath of Khan down on his family home, which is understandable. “We don’t have to, of course. But your mother, Wyatt, and Cecilia will be there, and if Asher returns from London – ”

“I doubt he’ll leave England until we get back,” Flynn says. “Too many balls in the air, too many things to juggle. Which reminds me, I need to send word to him that we’ve arrived. There are messengers of the Knights of Lazarus who can have it to him within a few days. There’s a chapter in Prague, in fact. Gabriel and I will make contact later.”

Lucy notes how quickly Flynn has fallen into the habit of speaking of “Gabriel and I” in all things, and can’t help but think that no matter how hard he was determined to maintain distance, his resistance has crumbled like dust and she can only hope this doesn’t hurt him even more. “That sounds good,” she says. “Any chance of a wash-up?”

Evidently her options are rinsing off at the pump with everyone else, or waiting until after supper for a proper bath, and Lucy elects for the former first with the latter later. She is damp and not much cleaner, but at least somewhat cooler, as the mortals among them tramp into the common room to eat, and the vampires sit down to be sociable. Gabriel and Flynn don’t bother with human food, but nurse a goblet of wine apiece. Lucy has noticed faint marks on their necks, and figures that they are once more feeding from each other, which could also explain Flynn’s unusually chipper attitude. He’s used to running at practically starvation level, and it’s amazing what the difference of getting to eat regularly makes on anyone’s temperament. Once more, an uncomfortable sprig of jealousy wriggles its way into her stomach. Of course she is not going to grudge Flynn any of this, but is he doing it with Gabriel because it still seems easier than asking her?

Lucy pushes that away again, reminding herself that they were both in agreement about wanting to spend time with people apart from each other, and they can sort out the drama at a later date, as the world still awaits saving first. The room is loud enough that nobody is paying attention to them, and the three of them lean in, though both the boys have supernatural hearing and probably don’t need to. “I’m going to send word to Papa first thing tomorrow,” Flynn says. “Do you think we call on the castle too, or wait a few days and allow word to spread of our presence?”

Gabriel shrugs. “That is the fashionable thing to do, no doubt,” he says, in the sleekly self-satisfied tone of a man who is quite sure that he can start several new scandals within twenty-four hours of arriving anywhere. “Though if it is results we are after, we may have to be dreadfully uncivilized and invite ourselves. Of course, you could always send me to seduce the emperor. Was that not a thought?”

“No, we don’t need to do that,” Flynn says hastily. “I – well, yes, maybe I considered that option once, but we didn’t bring you along to just – what – whore yourself out to – ”

“What a pity. I am such an excellent whore.” Gabriel smiles, looking even more pleased with himself, as Flynn chokes on his wine. “Besides, I have never bedded an emperor before. Surely you would not be so cruel as to deny me this carnal feather in my cap?”

Flynn looks as if he’d better not risk a second sip of wine. “How can we be sure that it would work? If some ridiculous Frenchman walks into the court from nowhere and actually manages to – well, you know, it would set the whole place in a – ”

“How can we be sure it would work?” Gabriel looks downright insulted. “Are you actually suggesting, my darling, that I would leave any lover of mine unsatisfied? Especially one upon whom so much hangs upon his pleasure? True, there might be some to-do with those who resent that I am so very good at my task, but I have never feared the wrath of small-time human toadies or dreary husbands and do not intend to start now. It may take me a few days to achieve success, but I am confident in its execution.”

“There would be gatekeepers,” Flynn points out. “However many levels of bureaucracy, hoops to jump through. Even you couldn’t sleep with all of them.”

“But I could try.” Gabriel is clearly just yanking Flynn’s chain, but there’s a slightly merciless sparkle in his eyes. Lucy gets the sense that this is their entire dynamic in a nutshell. “Don’t you want me to have fun?”

“You have too much fun,” Flynn mutters, not entirely under his breath. Lucy chews her cheek, as well as her supper (sausage, sausage, and more sausage seems to be the name of the game here – welcome to Central Europe), not entirely sure if this conversation will benefit from her contribution. “Besides, weren’t you trying to behave for Christian?”

“Oh. That. Yes, I was.” Gabriel glances along the table at his son, who is happily sampling the sausage Agnes is foisting on him (she knows that he’s a vampire, of course, but seems not entirely certain that the poor boy won’t starve to death if she doesn’t ensure that he eats). “Perhaps you could distract him while I snuck out the back?”

Flynn huffs a reluctant, affectionate laugh. “You are shameless, you know.”

“Oh, yes.” Gabriel raises his goblet in half a toast, then glances at Lucy. “Shall we make a wager on whether I could do it, my dear?”

“I’m sure you could,” Lucy shoots back. “Isn’t the question how fast?”

“You know, I actually think I like her.” Gabriel pats her arm, then glances back at Flynn. “Two to one, darling. I believe you are outvoted.”

“I never said that I actually supported this idea,” Lucy reminds him. She does like Gabriel too, even despite and perhaps because of his constant outrageousness, but she feels some need to keep them on track. It’s true that they don’t have tons of well-thought-out options with guaranteed success, but sending London’s most accomplished lothario to go make politically useful whoopee with the emperor feels like it should at least be Plan B. Nobody can argue with Gabriel’s willingness, apparently, but then, they rarely do. She takes another bite of a different sort of sausage, trying to come up with alternatives. “I did suggest the midnight raid on Kelley’s house?”

Gabriel brightens. “Oh, I vote we do both.”

Flynn looks as if he’s not certain what he expected by bringing Gabriel “King of Drama” de Clermont with them, and is equally unsure how he ended up as the responsible, level-headed one, as it is not a role he can customarily be found playing. “Radical notion,” he says, very dryly. “We go to Rudolf’s court tomorrow and introduce ourselves like ordinary people first, then see if further measures are called for.”

“And I can ascertain which of the chamberlains I may have to murder,” Gabriel adds, putting one arm around Flynn and reaching for his wine goblet with the other. “Oh, darling, you know I would not actually kill them. Just have them turn up in a pantry somewhere, very confused and sans culottes. Though if I did accidentally squash one of the interfering little weevils, that would be appreciated by everyone else who wants an audience, no?”

“And not by Rudolf,” Flynn shoots back. “I imagine he keeps everyone at arm’s length for a reason. Gabriel, moje srce, I implore you not to be an idiot. For once.”

Gabriel quirks both eyebrows, with that satisfied-cat look he had that first morning when Flynn was feeding from him. Lucy imagines that he has gotten exactly what he wants out of this entire interaction, but just as she’s glancing down at her sausage again, Gabriel digs Flynn in the ribs with an elbow. “Pay attention to your wife, Garcia. She is feeling left out.”

Flynn raises his eyes to the heavens, but shifts so that he can put his free arm around Lucy, drawing her against him, and she sighs and settles her head on his shoulder. It’s nice, she has to admit. There is something easy and comfortable about all of them when they’re like this, and when Flynn feels more relaxed than he has from the moment of their first crash landing in Greenwich. As the traveling party begins to finish their supper and drift off in search of bath and bed, Lucy finally disentangles herself, leans to kiss Flynn’s cheek, and stands up. “I could still do with a proper wash. You two take as long as you like, Garcia, but come upstairs later, okay?”

“Of course,” he promises, catching her hand and kissing it in return. “We just have a few things to discuss first.”

Lucy imagines that they do, one of these being what exactly they are doing tomorrow and whether it will involve opportune seduction plans, but she glances at Gabriel rather pointedly. She feels that this would be a good time for him to fill Flynn in on the subject of Henry de Prestyn, since she’s respected his wishes and not mentioned it. Besides, it’s clearly tied up with whatever is going on with the two of them, and even if it ultimately makes no difference how Henry ended up dead, it’s something that Flynn should know about. At the least, Gabriel might be willing to share details that he has withheld from Lucy, about whatever Henry said to convince Gabriel that he was an imminent threat and killing him was the only option – not to mention why he would have timewalked specifically to November 1589. Would Henry have known about the de Clermonts? Was he mad at them for something else? Or what?

Gabriel glances back at Lucy with a deliberately unreadable expression, so she can’t tell whether he’s picking up on her unspoken instruction or not – or if he is, what if anything he intends to do about it. She sighs and climbs the dark stairs, moving down the hall to the window where she can gaze out at the crowded rooftops of Prague. They are gauzily aglow in the hot summer twilight, and Lucy remembers her evenings spent wandering the city in the golden hour, the way the light is unbelievably ethereal on the old stone and the day’s humidity has cleared off into a perfect, pleasant blue. She always felt that Prague was a perfect place to fall in love, and some romantic part of her was disappointed that she didn’t. Now here she is with her mostly-husband and the entire family and entourage, after three hard, grimy weeks on the road, and as soon as she gets used to the rules of one game, it changes. Yet again, she feels guilty for wishing it would all just stop, and she could sleep.

Lucy stares out the window until her eyes go out of focus, her forehead resting against the worn wood of the frame, until she remembers that if she has a bath waiting, she shouldn’t let it grow cold. She shakes her head and turns away, intending to make her way to her room, but just then, she sees a door open into the courtyard below, and a slight hooded figure slips out. It looks both ways as if to be sure that it has been unobserved, then darts away, pushes the gate open, and steps through, shutting it quickly. It’ll be trouble if they’re caught out after curfew either way, and Lucy isn’t sure if it’s just another guest from the inn on some mysterious errand. After all, Prague is playing host to quite a lot of that sort of thing these days. But as the figure reaches the corner and prepares to turn out of sight, a breeze catches the hood and pulls it back, just enough for Lucy to catch a glimpse of their face.

She opens her mouth, and shuts it. Nothing comes out. Not that it would matter if it did.

It’s Meg.

Chapter Text

“So what?” Flynn asks, wrapping his arm around Lucy so that she can lie more comfortably on his chest. It’s very late, and the rest of the inn is fast asleep, but that’s not the only reason they’re speaking in barely more than whispers. “You think Meg is the spy?”

“I don’t know.” Lucy shifts closer, their bare legs tangling under the quilts, sweat dewing in the dark curls of her loosened hair. They didn’t do much talking when Flynn first came to bed, as there was a lot to catch up on, and tempting as it is to slip off into sated post-coital slumber, they can’t do that, not when there is yet another problem that demands their immediate attention. “But it would… it would make sense. Somebody read my journal in Essex, and Lady Beaton denied that it was her, and somebody has been reporting on our movements to some degree. Meg has had constant access to me and all our discussions and papers and plans. What if she didn’t actually accept the fact that I was a witch, when she told me that she did? What if she told me that to put me off the scent, and she’s been spying for – I don’t know, it could be anyone. Elizabeth? Father Hubbard? The London authorities? Building a case for a proper witchcraft trial, or – what?”

She can’t keep the fear and hurt out of her voice, and Flynn hugs her closer, his mouth ghosting over her temple in a wordless reassurance. It helps a little, but not much. Lucy liked Meg, likes Meg, considered her one of her friends, if not her only friend. Now at least she has Christian and Agnes, but the thought that Meg, who brushed her hair and listened to her problems and has a sister in Islington who she’s helping to support, Meg who has been nothing but useful and accommodating, could turn on them… it burns in a peculiarly painful way. Was Meg coerced, threatened that something would happen to that sister and her young children if she didn’t do what she was told, and give them (whoever They are) exactly what they needed to know about the strange and so-dangerously-intriguing Lord and Lady Clairmont? Lucy doesn’t want to think she did it willingly, but she doesn’t know.

“We don’t have proof,” Flynn says. “Meg could have had some late errand, or… well, I agree that it looks bad, but we have to be careful. If we immediately let on that we know about her, it could set off more unfortunate events, and we can pay attention to her, or feed her misinformation. Classic counterintelligence. That way, even if she is the mole, we can still turn this to our advantage somehow.”

Lucy doesn’t answer. It’s one thing for Flynn to talk coolly about using Meg as a pawn, to accept that she can’t even be off her guard in her private chambers with her own maidservant, but she doesn’t know if she can do the same. She rolls over, looking down into his shadowed face. “What if we talk to her? Pull her aside, and just… ask her to explain what she’s been doing? I’m sure we could get the truth somehow. Find out who she’s working for, or – anything.”

“If she knows who she’s working for,” Flynn points out, with his usual brutal pragmatism. “I’d be surprised if anyone sufficiently smart to recruit Meg would be clumsy enough to let that slip. They’d go through intermediaries, nothing face to face. I don’t like it any more than you, but we have to act as if we don’t know anything, at least for now. Maybe you can slip in a few tantalizing pieces of information, and see how she reacts. Or – well, I suppose we could assign Christian to spend some time with her. It’s impossible to dislike him, and he might work out a thing or two. Keep him out of other trouble, anyway.”

Again, Lucy doesn’t answer. It’s clear that Christian needs a profitable and semi-safe occupation, but he is raring at the bit for some madcap adventure in wild and romantic Bohemia and will be very disappointed if denied it. Maid-babysitting duty is not likely to be what he has in mind, though he’s probably too genteel to actually complain. There’s a pause as the inescapable subject of Christian hangs over them. Then Lucy says softly, “We can’t let him die, Garcia. I don’t know how we avoid it, but we – we can’t.”

“I know.” Flynn blows out a breath, staring at the ceiling. “I’ve gone through every option I can think of, and I still don’t know how we could pull it off. If we did travel to 1762 and the night he died – my past self would be there, we’d all be there, and the place would be under full-scale fire and assault. Both of us could die, or our interference could ensure that my entire family dies. That, and Matej – ” He stops. “Do I go there and let him die too?”

Lucy doesn’t answer. Flynn has never said anything about the worst night of his life, with good reason. But it’s also the case if they go to 1762 in an attempt to rescue Christian, that obliges Flynn to literally relive it, to be just feet away from the man he was once planning to spend his life with and to turn his back on him, to see the titanic fight with Gabriel that nearly killed both of them, and hear Gabriel’s screaming when he finds out that Christian has not survived his injuries. It’s possible, but it’s so clearly a last-resort nuclear option that they need to exhaust all other avenues beforehand. None of the family has healed from experiencing that terrible trauma for the first time, and to ask Flynn to go through it again, with everything just as much on the line as it was then… he’d do it if he had to, Lucy knows. There is very little that Garcia Flynn de Clermont would not do in the name of saving his loved ones. But as a result, his self-preservation instinct is in the several thousand degrees of negative numbers, and Lucy can’t lose him. She knows it’s selfish. Flynn is – he’s hers. She will go with him if he decides to do this. She will take him there herself. But it fills her with cold, clutching dread even to consider, and she turns her head a little frantically, trying to remind herself that it’s fine, he’s here, they are together. “Kiss me.”

Flynn leans down and does so, fingers threading through her hair, and Lucy doesn’t let go of him until some of her ambient terror subsides. She settles down, embarrassed. “I’m sorry,” she murmurs. “I shouldn’t – it’s your family, it’s your son, I don’t get to tell you what – ”

Flynn looks at her, startled, and Lucy wonders if she wasn’t supposed to say it out loud. It is clear to her that that’s the case, that Garcia is Christian’s uncle in technicality but also his father in practice, but she has become familiar with the delicate dance that must be performed around this. For his part, despite being many hundreds of years older than her, Christian seems perfectly content to treat Lucy as his mother, which is both alarming and oddly heartwarming. She has obviously been thinking about the subject recently, and… well, it’s somewhere to start, at least. But if she is also accepting parental responsibility for him, how can she leave him behind either? She was orphaned when she was eight, and the constant sense that she would give anything if her parents would just come back, if they had cared about her more than whatever was so important in Russia… if they had done more…

Sensing the troubled direction of her thoughts, Flynn pulls her closer again. It’s very late, and they’ve been traveling for weeks. Lucy nestles against him, shuts her eyes, and falls under.

She is roused the next morning by the slants of golden light across the floorboards and a knock at the door. Meg’s voice calls, “My lady? Are you awake?”

Lucy tenses. Flynn is gone, as he usually is in the morning, and she isn’t sure where they left this dilemma last night, other than to keep calm and carry on. They’ll need to deal with Meg differently if she’s being forced or blackmailed, rather than if she’s doing it by her own free will, and that means Lucy needs to act as if everything is fine. She sits up and calls back, “Yes, do come in.”

Meg bustles in, and sets to dressing Lucy and fixing her hair with the usual chatter, how nice it is to be off the road, it’s a lovely city but she could not understand the fruit-seller at market this morning, how long do you suppose we’ll be in Prague, my lady? At the last, Lucy tries not to look too sharply sidelong, wondering if this is a strategic fish for information disguised as light conversation, and if she needs to be as paranoid as Mad-Eye Moody from now on. If Meg is callously double-crossing her, it’s hard to see any signs of it. Maybe it wasn’t Meg she saw last night, or she just had to run out and grab something before curfew, or – Lucy really wants to believe there’s an alternate explanation, or at least a less serious one. When she’s dressed and brushed and otherwise fit for public consumption, she gets to her feet. “Thank you, Meg. You’ve been such a help, I know I can always count on you.”

She can’t tell if that gets a reaction, as Meg merely nods in gracious acknowledgement and turns to tidy the bedclothes, and Lucy, unsure whether her career as a double agent of sorts is off to a promising start or not, goes downstairs. She finds Christian, Agnes, and Jack at breakfast, as Christian bolts to his feet at the sight of her and hastens to offer her his chair. “I don’t need it, Aunt Lucy,” he says. “Shall I fetch you something?”

“You don’t have to, I can ask the innkeeper,” Lucy assures him, though Christian’s natural inclination in every situation is to be as helpful as possible. “Where are your father and your uncle?”

“They hurried off before sunup.” Christian glances sternly at Jack, who is stuffing a honey-soaked roll into his face with sticky little hands, and the boy straightens up guiltily and wipes his fingers. “They wanted to send word to Grandfather, back in London, and Papa thought they should present themselves at court early, before the queue. He supposed that most fortune-seekers aren’t known for being up with the lark.”

This is probably true, although Lucy wonders if Gabriel planned it that way to more conveniently happen upon Rudolf in his dressing gown. The innkeeper arrives with breakfast (sausage), and Lucy beckons to Jack’s honey roll and manages to ask in rudimentary Czech if she could have one of those too, please. She is encouraged that he understands her, albeit with some squinting, and feels the momentary thrill of the unexpectedly-linguistically-successful traveler. Glancing over at Agnes, she asks, “How do you find the place?”

“Peculiar.” Agnes sniffs the ale, then picks it up and sips it cautiously. “Though the folk seem friendly enough, aye. I barely dared to sneeze when we were crossin’ Germany.”

This is true, since Germany is in the full grip of witch-hunting fever and Lucy and Agnes are very lucky that their thunderstorm at the border didn’t cause further problems or unfortunate rumors. The party passed just south of Trier, home of the long-running witch tribunals, though you couldn’t have paid them to actually enter it. Prague, of course, has a far more tolerant approach to the mystical arts, and you’d have to burn half the city to scourge the sorcery from it. On that thought, Lucy lowers her voice and leans in. “Do you think we would be able to contact Amelie Wallis again? From later in her life, I mean?”

“It’s possible,” Agnes allows. “Even if we are nae where she lived, in your America, there are certain runes and charms and pentacles that allow a witch to be drawn in from all of time and space. There must be places here to do such arts, and books that ken them. We can search for them, ye and I, if – ach, ye wee scallywag, that’s no yours. Keep your thievin’ mitts to yourself, or I’ll box your ears.”

“It’s all right,” Lucy says, seeing Jack looking with puppy-dog eyes at her extra honey roll, which he has just tried to snatch. “I’m sure I can ask for another.”

“Ye must discipline the bairns,” Agnes informs her. “Otherwise they grow up bold and insolent. I’m a mother o’ five myself, and I’d nae have stood for them stealin’ food at table.”

Lucy supposes that they can talk about the changing philosophies of parenthood at a later date, but passes Jack the roll anyway, and he gives her a blinding, gap-toothed grin of gratitude. “Thank you, my lady,” he says, clearly to demonstrate to Christian that he has, in fact, learned some manners. “I should have asked before.”

Agnes purses her lips and harrumphs, as if this unfortunate coddling of food-stealing children will result in them growing up to be food-stealing adults, but the innkeeper is happy to bring a few more, likely because he has twigged on that his English guests are wealthy and he doesn’t mind giving them reasons to spend it. When breakfast is over, Lucy decides that they aren’t going to lounge around all day waiting for Flynn and Gabriel to get back, and rises to her feet, beckoning to Christian and Agnes. “Let’s go.”

They fetch their things – they don’t need cloaks, it’s high summer and a bright sunny morning to boot, but Christian seems to think that the mystique of the fabled alchemists’ city demands a cloak to properly skulk in misty dark lanes and cabbalistic chambers, and has determinedly donned one as they head out. Prague is busy with commerce and industry and chicanery, and some disreputable-looking little man in a sixteenth-century trenchcoat accosts Lucy within seconds of her setting foot out the door. “Charms for the lady! Charms for the bed, for the home, for the children, for the pretty neck, sweet lady! Charms to keep the milk sweet and your husband biddable! Ten ducats, ten ducats only!”

Lucy snorts, wondering if ten ducats (otherwise a wildly extortionate price for anything) is a reasonable price for ensuring Flynn’s compliance, but she has other ways to do that, and in the manner of getting rid of irritating street vendors everywhere, pretends she doesn’t understand Czech as she marches past him. They step into the town square beneath the painted façade of the Orloj. Lucy is not expecting to see a convenient sign swinging in front of a wizards’ library or other useful place to begin their search, but the place is bursting at the seams with magic, real and fake. There have to be scriptoria around here, or apothecaries or other suppliers who sell regularly to Kelley and the alchemists at the emperor’s court, and after a further moment of consideration, Lucy makes up her mind. “This way.”

Christian and Agnes follow her through the crowded, narrow streets toward the Vltava waterfront and the handsome Charles Bridge, which is the only way across the river and into the castle district. It is devoid of its complement of striking baroque statues, which won’t be installed until 1700, and the cobbles are slick with mud, ordure, and the trampled refuse of the various vendors who wander along it, shouting for customers and brandishing fish so freshly caught that most of them are still vainly wriggling. Christian takes hold of Agnes and Lucy with either hand, his vampiric strength easily keeping them from slipping, and they make it to the far side with only minor calamities. Once back on firm ground, they start up the hill beyond. Kelley lives in this neighborhood, and someone from the household, whether his wife or servants, must regularly patronize the local shops. If nothing else, the residents are likely to have some juicy gossip about their famous neighbor, and Lucy wonders if her piecemeal Czech is up to the job of extracting it. Only one way to find out.

Prague Castle looms on its bluff above them, not a bustling tourist attraction but very much a working fortress, as they set to the hunt. Lucy leads them down an assortment of snaking side lanes, until she finally spots a small bookseller’s and print shop that looks like it might supply volumes of an occult persuasion. She beckons at her companions, and pushes her way in.

The shop is cramped, dark, and smells of ink, wood, smoke, and cedar, along with something caustic, a chemical solution that might be used either to set the type or to burble in some crucible and piped alembic. The proprietor is a small, sullen-looking man behind a high counter, and there is only one other customer, who does not look up at their entrance. The proprietor himself does not look terribly thrilled to see two women enter his shop, doubtless considering it the repository of sacred masculine wisdom, and clears his throat in a pointed fashion. In Czech, he says, “Madam, may I help you?”

“Er, yes,” Lucy answers. “I have just arrived in Prague, and my husband is in search of some books.” When in doubt, explain your actions as something your husband told you to do. People might still be suspicious that way, but less so. Depressing, but there you have it.

Hearing her accent, the proprietor blinks. “You are English?” he asks, switching to it. If Kelley and company are regular patrons, he has probably felt it worthwhile to learn it, and if Lucy might be one of them, he could get considerably more helpful. “Newly arrived?”

“Yes.” Lucy can sense him waiting for a name, and isn’t sure if she should offer it. “I was hoping you had some books of alchemy.”

There’s a faint rustle from the other customer, who she can sense is now paying attention to them, even as he remains ostensibly engrossed in his book. The proprietor considers her shrewdly, as if wondering if he can strategically overcharge a woman who will know (at least, so he thinks) less about the sacred art and which volumes are the most valuable. “Is your husband a practitioner then, madam?”

“He has an interest,” Lucy says, truthfully enough. “He has read the works of Paracelsus, and there are any number of new texts to be had here, I imagine?”

There’s another rustle from the other customer, and she catches him watching them out of the corner of his eye. She stares at him, calling him on his rudeness, and he coughs, placing the book back on the shelf and turning to her with a courtly bow. “Apologies, my lady,” he says, in German-accented English. “I am something of a connoisseur on the works of Paracelsus, you see. I have collected and copied out many of his manuscripts. Perhaps there is something among my holdings that your husband would wish to purchase?”

Lucy is surprised. “And you are?”

The German bows again. “Herr Karl Widemann, my lady. To whom do I have the honor of addressing myself?”

Lucy just manages to keep the surprise off her face. Karl Widemann – she knows that name. If she’s not mistaken, he is in fact a collector and curator of alchemical manuscripts, particularly Paracelsus – and more importantly, he is Edward Kelley’s personal secretary. He is also supposed to have had something to do with the sale of the Voynich manuscript to Rudolf, as one of the other theories about its creation is that Kelley deliberately faked it to fool the emperor and earn a fat payday. This would not be out of character for Kelley, who also used a constructed language, Enochian, to transcribe the messages of the angels he claims to communicate with. But as Lucy has settled the provenance of the manuscript elsewhere, this is not her main concern. Widemann is an important and useful person to know, and she inclines her head. “I am Mistress Flynn. This is my mother and my – my son.”

Widemann looks surprised, since the thirty-something Lucy doesn’t really look old enough to be the permanently twenty-something Christian’s mother, but is well-mannered and thus does not openly question either a lady’s age or her skincare regimen. “Charmed, charmed,” he says, bowing to Agnes and Christian, who looks delighted to be referred to as Lucy’s son. “And your husband would be – ?”

“Recently arrived,” Lucy says again, as if pretending not to know that Widemann would like more information on him. “Perhaps you would be willing to make some introductions for us to the alchemists at court?”

“I would, of course, have to meet your husband first.” Widemann raises an apologetic eyebrow. “What is it precisely he has an interest in?”

Lucy explains Flynn’s supposed alchemical investigations, showing enough familiarity with the terminology and complicated elemental correlations of the subject that the proprietor gets a disappointed look, as if realizing that cheating her is not in the cards. Widemann, however, seems impressed, and compliments her on what a capable assistant she must make to her husband, while Lucy smiles closed-mouthed and thanks him. He recommends a few of the books, which Lucy is then obliged to purchase, and hands over some silver ducats. While the proprietor wraps them and ties them with string, Widemann says, “May I be permitted to call upon your husband later, madam? Where in the city are you staying?”

“At a lodging house near the clock square.” Lucy wants to keep him close at hand, but she isn’t going to give too much away too quickly. Widemann probably wants to scout a rival on his master’s behalf, as any English alchemist arriving without warning in the city isn’t necessarily something to be welcomed. “I will be pleased to ask him.”

Widemann seems to accept that she must await her husband’s permission, and they part cordially enough. As they step back out into the street, Christian looks at her with awe. “That was amazing, Aunt Lucy. You are most knowledgeable.”

“Thanks,” Lucy says, admittedly rather pleased. Despite her uncertainty about how to handle Meg, she might not have totally blown that, and it is a solid lead on Kelley, no matter what Flynn and Gabriel have managed to do (in whatever sense of the word) at Rudolf’s court. They make their way back to the main thoroughfare, and Lucy makes an executive decision. “We should walk by Kelley’s house,” she says. “Nobody can blame us for that, can they?”

Agnes and Christian glance at each other, then shrug, and follow her lead. Kelley’s house is up the hill and down a side street, and it is already known as the Faustus House, which makes Lucy think of Kit; the original Faustus is sometimes said to have lived in Prague. It acquires a suitably mystical reputation in later years, with tales of supposed hauntings, though in the midday sun it looks thoroughly ordinary. There is a gate leading to the inner courtyard, and children and servants hurry back and forth within. One of them looks suspicious at seeing Lucy, Agnes, and Christian stalling outside, and they move on, even as Lucy glances up at the thatched gables of the house. Kelley’s workroom is in the attic. Is Ashmole 782 up there right now? Are they just steps away from it, perhaps opened in pride of place? She was half-joking when she suggested the midnight smash-and-grab, but not entirely. Even Gabriel, good as he is at many things, isn’t likely to succeed with Rudolf in a day. But this…

Lucy reminds herself that brazen burglary would get them hanged, not to mention causing a legion of other problems, and they should put up a good-faith effort to acquire it through legitimate channels. But is Kelley actually going to let it go? He already went to considerable effort to swap it with the Voynich and steal it from Dee, and it’s the one authentic piece of magic that he possesses, among all his smoke and mirrors and trickery. He gets imprisoned in 1591 and only released upon swearing to actually produce gold for the emperor this time, and with Ashmole 782 at his disposal, he could extend his career for any number of years. Lucy wavers, terribly tempted to suggest to Christian that he climb up the wall and break a window. But this is deeply irresponsible of her, and she bites her tongue. “Come on.”

They circle away from Kelley’s house and back toward the bridge. It is going on early afternoon by now, and Lucy is very hot and would like to get out of the sun and have a drink of water. When they reach the inn, Flynn and Gabriel still aren’t back, which hopefully means that things are going well at court and not that they were immediately thrown into a dungeon for outrageous behavior. While she eats midday dinner, Lucy opens the books she purchased and begins flipping through the pages in search of more clues. Did Gabriel tell Flynn about Henry de Prestyn? She can’t be sure, but she doesn’t think so. Are there other examples of hybrids being hunted for their unusual powers, or preserved in grimoires? Even if Gabriel did kill Henry, they haven’t established who retrieved the body and sold it to Dee. That might not matter either, but Lucy is a historian. She likes being thorough.

Her eyes start to cross under the constant onslaught of crabbed gothic script, and she is dozing off when there’s a soft sound at the door. She turns with a jolt to see Flynn, who looks apologetic. “Sorry,” he says. “I didn’t mean to frighten you.”

“No, it’s fine.” Lucy rubs her eyes, gets up, and goes over to kiss him. He tastes like pipe smoke, wine, and wind. “Where’s Gabriel?”

“Still at court,” Flynn says, with a tolerantly exasperated tone. “I came back here to see how everything is going. What are those?”

Lucy explains her morning, her meeting with Widemann, and her reconnaissance of Kelley’s house, at which Flynn looks both impressed and alarmed. “That was brave of you,” he says. “And clever. But I’m not sure it is safe for you and Agnes to wander the city alone.”

“Christian was with us,” Lucy reminds him, though she knows that this is also part of his concern. Christian can definitely handle himself, especially against human opponents, but the idea of him getting into more trouble is one to stress Flynn out. “And I was just at a bookshop. We weren’t actually in danger.”

“Kelley is dangerous,” Flynn says. “Not in the usual way, perhaps, but he won’t stand for his cozy position to be threatened, he will do anything to protect it, and we should not forget that. And – ” He glances around and lowers his voice. “Has anything else happened with Meg?”

“No.” They left Jack with her when they went out for the morning, since she’s fond of him and has been looking after him for most of the trip anyway; to suddenly whisk the boy from her clutches might play as suspicious. “She was perfectly normal. Did you say anything about that in your letter to your father? When will he write back?”

“Yes,” Flynn says. “And hopefully soon. A vampire running at full speed should be able to make it from Bohemia to London and back within less than a week. Gabriel and I know a few of the Knights of Lazarus here, we fought together in the Hundred Years’ War. Battle of Caen. If we can’t trust them, we can’t trust anyone.”

Lucy blinks, performing that swift mental calculation she does whenever Flynn casually mentions an event from his life – in this case, the Battle of Caen was in 1346, and she imagines that the Knights, among the French force trying vainly to resist Edward III’s assault, were protecting civilians from the infamous five-day sack that followed. “Well,” she says. “That’s good to know. What did you two get done at the castle?”

“I’m sure Gabriel went there just as much to entertain himself as anything.” Flynn sighs. “At the very least, he’ll have everyone talking about us, so someone in the emperor’s court might decide to see what we’re up to. What form that takes, who knows. As for Gabriel – ”

Lucy waits, but he doesn’t go on. Then she prods, “What about Gabriel?”

“I just…” Flynn trails off. “God, it’s just so strange. In a good way,” he hastens to add. “An amazing way. It’s just – that’s why I can’t trust it, not entirely. Not because of anything to do with him, but the two of us, we – I’ll ruin it somehow, I know I will. I’m afraid to love him again, even if I can’t help doing it. I just feel all the time like I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop, for us to go back to hating each other, and I – I’m not prepared for that. Not again.”

“You two never hated each other,” Lucy reminds him. “Not really. And I know it’s difficult to trust this, especially when no matter how much this Gabriel forgives you, it won’t matter to what happens at home. But that’s borrowing extra trouble, and we don’t know. I support you, all right? I love you and I’m here for you. It’s all right to let yourself love him too.”

Flynn doesn’t answer, but a sigh shudders through him from head to toe. Then he lifts her hand to his mouth and kisses it, and straightens up. “I love you too,” he says. “Where’s Christian?”

“Downstairs, probably.” Lucy wonders if she should get back to slogging through the books, but she’s had enough of that for now. “At least I hope so. I’m not sure we’ve had quite enough dramatic adventures for his taste just yet.”

Flynn snorts, but they make their way to the inn’s common room, as another question occurs to Lucy. If they’re staying in Prague for any length of time, it will get cramped, not to mention expensive, to live out of an inn for weeks, and since Flynn is paying for the entire entourage, that could be an issue. Even the de Clermonts are not endlessly made of money, though Asher would not leave them under a bridge. “Are we going to take a house in town?”

“Maybe,” Flynn says. “If we’re going to be doing any entertaining, or have callers, we can’t exactly receive them here, and persons of our status would not be lingering in a common coaching inn for long. I’ll have to think of it.”

Before Lucy can ask what the Prague real estate market is like in 1590, they are interrupted by the dramatic advent of Gabriel. (Though all of his advents anywhere are dramatic, so that just goes without saying.) He bangs the door open and sashays in like Bohemia’s Next Top Model, as the other patrons turn to stare but then decide it’s better not to say anything. Gabriel flings his cloak over one shoulder, struts up to Flynn, and leans in to kiss him on both cheeks, with an expression of such immensely self-satisfied smugness that it can probably be seen from Jupiter. “Well, darling,” he says. “You have your ball.”

“My what?” Flynn looks alarmed. “A ball? Did I ask for a ball?”

Gabriel shrugs, as if to say that someone asked for a ball, and by God, he has now provided it. “No better way to arrive at court and make your mark, don’t you think? Even the emperor might be obliged to appear briefly. And, of course, they are always such fun.”

Lucy, who has less-than-enjoyable memories of the ball with the Pembrokes (though at least Gabriel will not be threatening her life at this one) isn’t sure about that, but it is true that Rudolf would have to attend, and it is the quickest way to get an introduction. “When?”

“Friday evening.” Gabriel looks sleeker than ever. “That does give us a few days to let our legend spread, so that the whole of the emperor’s court will be vying to spot us when we arrive. If we play our cards correctly, we shall have our choice of patrons.”

Flynn clears his throat. “And how exactly are you going to spread the legend?”

“What do you think?” Gabriel kisses his nose. “By being very charming.”

Flynn starts to say something, seems to feel that no good can come of it, and that he will just have to shut his mouth and take his medicine. This was the purpose of bringing Gabriel along, after all, though Flynn still looks vaguely disgruntled. They go up to bed with no overtly suspicious acts committed by Meg, though Lucy has kept one eye on her all evening. She is once more doubting her conclusions from earlier. Maybe it really was something else.

The next few days continue in this vein, enlivened on Thursday morning by the arrival of a letter from London. Apparently the Knights of Lazarus really are as efficient as advertised, and this ability to talk to Asher – not exactly instant messaging, but as fast as you’re going to get for the sixteenth century – is somewhat encouraging. However, they are not sure whether Asher’s news qualifies as that or not. On their advice, he has discreetly cultivated Guy Fawkes on the topic of the Prestyn family from Lancashire, and Fawkes has indeed had a thing or two to say. According to him, they were social pariahs, regarded dimly in both vampire and witch circles and never fully accepted in either, so his specific knowledge is limited. He in fact has met Henry de Prestyn on a few occasions. He seemed unfortunately unamenable to Fawkes’ favored hobbies (viz. explosives), so Fawkes dismissed him as something of a boring fellow. Why exactly do they want to know?

“He’s alive?” Lucy says, floored, even as she remembers Amelie saying that her father was over a hundred years old when he was killed, and didn’t look any more than thirty. He must have been born in the 1520s or 1530s, so yes, the younger Henry de Prestyn is in fact still alive in Lancashire, despite his older self’s murder in London in 1589. If they get Asher to travel to Preston and find him, will they alter all of history so that Henry doesn’t get the idea to timewalk, isn’t killed, and isn’t made into Ashmole 782? Is that the best solution? But they’re hanging onto the manuscript as their answer to so many magical quandaries, not least the antidote for Gabriel, and if it isn’t created, the consequences will ripple through time as well. It’s the reason they met. The pages are already faded to the point that the alchemical wedding is no more than a few splashes of paint and gilting. And his death already happened. Lucy knows exactly by who, even. It’s not their fault if they don’t actively interfere, is it?

“I suppose he is, yes,” Flynn says, frowning at his father’s letter. “But since we’re still not sure how he ended up dead, aside from whatever Kit said, I’m not sure we can – ”

Lucy glances sidelong at him. She has waited patiently, and she’s not going to be insensitive about this, but since the question has just become explicit, she will have to answer it. “We do know how he ended up dead,” she says. “Gabriel told me on the – on the journey.”

Flynn looks up sharply. “He what?”

“He told me what happened.” Lucy tries to sound as casual as possible. “He’s the one who killed Henry. He wouldn’t tell me why, exactly. He asked me not to tell you, so I didn’t. I was hoping he would bring it up with you, but I – I’m not sure why he didn’t.”

Flynn still looks confused, not to mention considerably thrown. “Gabriel wouldn’t do that. He can be a hothead, but not an arrant murderer.”

“I don’t think he did it just for fun,” Lucy says. “He seemed to imply that Henry was acting bizarrely, threateningly, and it forced his hand somehow. I thought he might be trying to protect someone, and that it would be either Christian or you. As I said, I don’t know.”

“He – ” Flynn shakes his head, as if to chase out a troublesome thought like a buzzing fly. “He never mentioned it to me – well, my past self – that I can remember.”

“He wouldn’t have thought it was important,” Lucy says. “He would have had no reason to know that Henry was consequential in any way. Might have just seen him as a madman rambling in the streets and threatening his family, no reason to burden you with it. He doesn’t know what happened to Henry’s body afterward, or who might have sold him to Dee.”

“This still doesn’t – ” Flynn breaks off and paces restlessly around the room. The inn is indeed getting very cramped for everyone’s sensibilities, and he has sent Parry and Karl off to make enquiries about taking a house in town. “Why did Kit lie about it?”

“Gabriel only said that he’s fighting the right wars.” Lucy moves over and puts her hands on Flynn’s shoulder blades, which are tense and hard as marble beneath her touch. He clearly feels that the trap he keeps expecting, the catch to his miraculously restored relationship with Gabriel, is about to spring – that he can’t push at this question without endangering it, and if he doesn’t push, he might miss the key to the entire mystery. “I think Kit is still protecting Gabriel, and you, even as much of a pill as he’s been. I was hoping that Gabriel would have told you more about it, but…”

“Do you realize what this means, if it’s true?” Flynn spins around to face her so fast that Lucy takes an inadvertent step backward. “A de Clermont killed a de Prestyn. That is the reason that Ashmole 782 exists. Could that be why it’s the two of us who have to find it, why it is the two of us to start with? A de Clermont and a Preston started this. A de Clermont and a Preston have to end this, to symbolically reunite what was broken. But if this whole time, Gabriel knows we’ve been looking for this, why wouldn’t he – ”

“He didn’t know that Henry had been used to make Ashmole 782,” Lucy reminds him, before Flynn can spiral too anxiously off into the hinterlands. “He would have had no reason to connect it to any of this. Does your father say anything else? About Hubbard, Rittenhouse, anyone – ?”

Flynn, still clearly distracted by the Gabriel conundrum, grabs for the letter and scans it quickly. “Hubbard’s lying low. No more plays for attention, probably doesn’t want the creatures of London banding together to investigate what’s going on in his hive. Papa isn’t sure about Rittenhouse, he hasn’t caught wind of him recently. But he advises us to be vigilant, says that there were reports of strange attacks in eastern France not long after we passed through. He thinks there is definitely a chance that Rittenhouse followed us.”

Lucy looks around reflexively, as if there might be a fanged nightmare monster lurking in the corner, but nothing. She’s not eager to be chased through the streets of Prague after dark like she was in London, even if Christian might find it appropriately diverting. “If it’s the David Rittenhouse from the eighteenth century, that means someone sent him after us specifically. Do you think – back in the twenty-first century, do you think that your family is… that they’re also in danger?”

Flynn snorts an utterly humorless laugh. “I’ve never thought they weren’t. What with Temple, Cahill, Emma, Keynes, and whoever else, I imagine that Maman, Cecilia, Wyatt, Jiya, and Rufus have all the trouble they can deal with. I can’t think about it too much, I can’t dwell on not being able to protect my own daughter again, or I’ll go insane. I’d rather have that thing here, after us, than after her, but I don’t delude myself that it’s the only monster they can muster against the de Clermonts. If this is true about Gabriel, our family is at the heart of everything the creature world fears and doesn’t understand. They were trying to destroy us before you and I left. I very much doubt that they’ve stopped.”

Lucy winces at the raw pain in his voice, the fact that he doesn’t need a reminder that no matter where or when he is, he will not be able to defend everyone he loves – and for Flynn, that is a fate worse than death. “I’m sorry.”

“No, it’s not your fault.” Flynn racks his hands over his face. “We need to think about these things. I just – should I confront Gabriel about this? I’m sure he thought he was doing the right thing, but I don’t – I want to know.”

“Then ask him,” Lucy says. “But be careful about it. If we write back to Asher, what should we tell him to do about Henry?”

“Nothing,” Flynn says distractedly, reaching for the quill and a fresh piece of parchment. “The best thing we can do for anyone is to leave off meddling more than we already have. If Henry de Prestyn is presently alive in Lancashire, we should just bloody leave him there.”

Lucy nods her agreement and leaves him to it. She imagines that nobody needs to tell Asher to be diplomatic and discreet, and it is also useful to give Flynn a moment to collect his thoughts. The news about Gabriel has clearly rattled him, and since he is still so out of practice at dealing with anything about that relationship in a proportionate fashion, it’s best that he doesn’t burn in a hundred degrees too hot and torch it all over again. Isn’t it?

At that, Lucy struggles once again to push away that faint jealousy that she can’t help but feel, however much she doesn’t want to. She has been as supportive as she possibly can, she knows that Flynn needs this, she is as dedicated to saving Gabriel as when she made the bargain with the Goddess, but she can’t help but fear the lure of an old life. If Flynn patches everything up with Gabriel, maybe he will want to return to the way things were with them. Gabriel was his companion and his confidante for centuries. How can Lucy, a mere mortal woman that he’s known for months, compete with that depth of knowledge and affection? Maybe if they go back to that, Flynn won’t want her around anymore. Maybe she’s just a stopgap to what he really needs. She absolutely hates thinking that, having that hesitation, but she does. She knows it’s irrational, but still. She’s never been good enough for anyone, not on her own. She’s only just started to trust that it was the case for Flynn. It’s just… hard.

Lucy doesn’t sleep much, and wakes up on Friday morning already cranky and out of sorts, which doesn’t bode well when it will be a very long night at court with the heat and noise and excessive etiquette (and need to woo various important people). The ball starts at eight, with supper first, and it will take several hours to get ready, so Lucy does not have much time in the day before she must remove to be primped and pampered. At least the permissive atmosphere of Prague extends to its fashion sensibilities, so she will not be expected to turn up in a ruff, fifty pounds of golden petticoats, and a faceful of lead makeup, and instead is able to arrange a more naturalistic look. When she sweeps downstairs like a fin-de-siècle debutante, Flynn gets a very gratifying look of total stupefaction on his face and is lost for words for a good thirty seconds. Then he bows and offers her his arm. “My lady?”

Lucy takes it, unable to resist a flourish, as they are joined by Gabriel and Christian. Gabriel is glittering in black and gold, nicely complementing Flynn’s black and silver, so they look like a pair of alchemical elements themselves. The doublets are slashed and the hose is tight, as Gabriel is clearly ensuring that all eyes will be on them when they strut in. Christian is playing things somewhat more conservative in blue and cream, which makes him look like a Renaissance angel who should be playing a lute on a painted ceiling somewhere. They do make a striking foursome, and as they climb into the carriage for the journey to the castle, Gabriel remarks breezily, “This is rather lovely, isn’t it? All of us, so familial? So cozy?”

Flynn shoots a look at him, then away. This is clearly not the time to confront Gabriel over Henry de Prestyn, but Lucy can see him wondering, all his unanswered questions and old anxieties swimming in his eyes. Then Flynn says, “It is, yes.”

Gabriel smiles affectionately at him, taking his hand, and Flynn grips back, as if he does not care about the truth of anything so much as the fact that he has this. It is a slow, bumping procession through the golden streets and across the Charles Bridge, lit with the westering sun that dazzles like a polished mirror on the Vltava. Like any city river in this era, it’s not exactly scenic, but there is something about the effervescence that makes you forget. Church bells boom across the city, crows rise cawing from the thick woods on the riverbank, and they bump through the gates and into the walled castle precinct. The unfinished spire of St Vitus towers into the candy-colored sky, casting deep shadows below, and lanterns flicker among the warrens, eerie lights in the windows. All it needs is a magical rose and some talking furniture, and it could be straight out of Beauty and the Beast.

They pull into the line of carriages, come to a halt, open the door, and both Flynn and Gabriel offer Lucy a hand down, which she accepts. She takes their arms, gazing up at the bright-burning portico overlooked with scowling gothic statues, as Christian marches ahead like a herald. Lucy hopes she’s not being melodramatic that it feels like a hellmouth, a place where sinners enter and do not emerge unchanged. Not entirely an abandon-all-hope-ye-who-enter-here situation, but still not something to take lightly. A procession of bejeweled Bohemian nobles are making their way in, the men wearing fur and gilt and feathered caps and the women with some rather daring headwear, hems edged in scarlet thread and sleeves dripping with pearls. Lucy takes a deep breath, and a better grip on the boys, and follows them in.

Her first impression is of sprawling, splendid space. As they step into the majestic Vladislav Hall, braided with intricate ogives and hung with rich tapestries, Lucy remembers visiting here on a crowded weekend and wondering how it looked in its heyday, full of pomp and circumstance, how that would have transformed the feeling and the function of the space. She can see it now. The walls are painted and plastered, thick with gilding, and the lights of a thousand candles flash and flitter like exotic fish. The facets of countless jewels throw dancing sparks like kaleidoscopes, and between the summer night and the press of people, it is hot enough to instantly break a sweat. The great windows that line the right-hand side of the hall are open in search of some breeze, and Lucy holds tighter to Flynn, as they have been left adrift while Gabriel forages toward the dais in hopes of securing the coveted imperial audience. That there – that has to be Rudolf II. Lucy recognizes him from the carved busts and statuaries. He is of indifferent height, with thinning brown hair that curls to a slight widow’s peak and a neat beard. The Hapsburg nose is not quite as prominent on him as others, though still noticeable, and he is dressed in sable and silk and brocade, fingers crusted with jewels, brow banded with a golden circlet instead of a heavy ceremonial crown. He also has the look of a man who would very sorely prefer to be alone in bed with a book, far away from all this mess and nonsense, and Lucy feels a brief sympathy. Relatable.

She and Flynn watch as Gabriel insinuates himself expertly through the crowd, finally attracting Rudolf’s attention. He flashes a dazzling smile that makes Flynn narrow his eyes, as if wondering just how far Gabriel’s emperor-seducing plans have progressed, and leans his elegant dark head close to Rudolf’s, whispering in his ear. Finally Rudolf nods, glances around, and that is clearly their cue. Flynn and Lucy fight through the crush, attain the dais, and sink into a deep bow and curtsy. “My brother, Your Majesty,” Gabriel says in Latin, which has apparently been decided as the most convenient lingua franca. “Sir Garcia de Clermont, Baron Clairmont, and his wife, Lady Lucy Clairmont. Late of England.”

Rudolf considers them critically, then jerks his head, giving them leave to rise, and Flynn and Lucy step forward to bow over his offered hand and kiss his ring. It is a considerable honor to be received in person by the emperor after no previous acquaintance, and Lucy can feel the attention of the entire hall beating on their backs, both curious and hostile. “Your Majesty,” she murmurs, following Flynn’s lead. “We are deeply grateful for the honor of your presence and estate.”

Rudolf nods graciously, though he is clearly still sizing them up. After all, Lucy expects that it is not usual for him to suddenly find himself in attendance at a ball conjured up on someone else’s volition, for a strange English couple he has never seen before. “And so are we pleased to receive you, my lord, my lady,” he says. He doesn’t sound like a naturally confident public speaker, though he has doubtless tried his best. “We hear that you are a devotee of the mystical arts, Sir Garcia, and that is the reason for your interest in our lovely city?”

“Ah – yes, Your Majesty, I do.” Flynn glances back over his shoulder, clearly in recognition of the fact that if they spend too much time chatting to the emperor, everyone else waiting for a chance is going to get tetchy. “Indeed, is it not so that my countryman, Edward Kelley, has achieved some prominence at your court for the greatness of his deeds? Perhaps we might be afforded an opportunity to wait upon him?”

Rudolf eyes him narrowly. Lucy wonders if this was too obvious, since Rudolf has to be aware of the drama surrounding Kelley and Dee, and might well take it into his head that they are spies for the latter. Besides, he still believes wholeheartedly in Kelley’s mystical abilities. Rudolf does not want an ambitious rival arriving to poach his pet alchemist, and the moment is briefly tense until Gabriel once more swoops in. “You must not suspect any ill of my brother, Your Majesty. He is a great admirer of Sir Edward’s work, that is all.”

Rudolf’s face relaxes somewhat, though he still looks vaguely suspicious. Being in extended proximity to Gabriel de Clermont at his most charming is something that robs any mere mortal of their critical faculties, so Lucy has to admire that he is capable of this at all. By the impatient coughs and throat-clearings from the waiting crowd, they really need to move along, so they all bow and curtsy again and are shuffled off before Rudolf has given them a proper answer either way about calling on Kelley. Not that he was likely to do so without several days of due consideration beforehand. As they pluck offered goblets from a silver tray, Lucy mutters, “How do you think that went?”

“Hard to say.” Flynn glances back at Gabriel, who is taking a more lingering farewell of Rudolf. “He didn’t say no, at least, and he clearly is… susceptible, so there’s a possibility that he could be persuaded. I’m not sure how much the ball helps, though. Rudolf hates them.”

“We could find a reason to allow him to beg off early?” Lucy gives a hovering dandy in an excessively fussy doublet the step-along-buddy look common to all women at parties. She is literally standing right next to her husband. “And was there any other way we were going to be assured of an introduction? A promised private meeting could have been put off indefinitely, but it would have been much harder to shirk on this.”

“True.” Flynn gives her an appraising look. “But we shouldn’t test his forbearance too much. Do you see Kelley himself anywhere around here? I could go for the jugular.”

“Metaphorically, I hope,” Lucy says, though she does not put it past Flynn to actually grab Kelley by the collar and give him a good shakedown in a dark corner. She wouldn’t object, but she doesn’t want him to get into trouble. “Do you think there’s any chance of talking to Rudolf again tonight, or could we just – ?”

“We only just arrived and were personally received by the emperor,” Flynn says, reading her mind. “It would be the height of rudeness to turn straight around and leave. So I’m afraid we’re stuck with staying the rest of the night anyway. Go and talk to as many people as you can. You never know who might know something interesting. I’ll do the same.”

Lucy muffles a groan, but does her best to buck up, pasting a smile on her face and foraging off into the crowd. The language barrier is a bit of an issue, since most of the imperial aristocracy speak German rather than Czech, or have been raised at other royal courts across Europe, and Lucy knows less German than she should. Many of them also speak French, though, and a few have some scattered words of English, so she flirts and fans and swans her way through the endless masses with a sleek composure that she far from actually feels. They are interrupted to be called into supper, retreating into the antechambers painted with colored heraldry on the ceilings, where tables are laid among several rooms. Lucy finds herself sitting next to none other than Karl Widemann, who looks at her in some surprise. “Mistress – Flynn? Was that not the name you gave me at the shop?”

“Er, yes.” Lucy can’t be sure if he heard their introduction to Rudolf as not that, and doesn’t want to give the game away. “How do you do this evening, Herr Widemann?”

“Very well, mistress, very well indeed.” Widemann lifts his goblet. “How did your husband like his alchemical books?”

“They were most helpful, we thank you kindly.” Lucy wonders if it’s too late to switch seat partners, or if she is going to spend the entire meal thinking of clever deflections to his questions. “Is your master intending to attend tonight, Herr Widemann?”

“Sir Edward is greatly consumed by the cares of his art, and does not have the time for frivolous entertainments. Though perhaps he may arrive later, to please the emperor.” Widemann is looking at her closely. “Do you have some particular interest, madam?”

“Only that he is a great alchemist,” Lucy says, hopefully not too simperingly. “And if he is truly able to converse with angels, to speak their very tongue, then – ”

“Sir Edward knows many dread and wonderful secrets of the arcane arts,” Widemann says. “And as I am his supplier in these matters, mistress, and as you clearly know something of it, could you give me the names of any men in England who could sell such books? Perhaps, say, Dr. John Dee?”

Lucy keeps her face as still as she can. Widemann has clearly reached the same conclusion that she suspected of Rudolf, that they are here as spies and agents for Dee, and after all, he is not entirely wrong. “My husband and I are not here on Dr. Dee’s behalf, Herr Widemann.”

“Are you not?” The German considers her with pale, unreadable blue eyes. “Your reception at court seems quite fortuitous for a pair of anonymous English gentry otherwise. Or perhaps you have some other name, that I was not earlier privileged to hear?”

Lucy hesitates. Widemann isn’t an enemy, per se, but he’s not a friend either, and his chief interest lies with Kelley, who will not take well to any attempts to filch Ashmole 782 out from beneath his nose. “We are not here for Dee,” she says again, as if repetition will make it sound more trustworthy. “We have… other interests.” Oh, what the hell. If anyone will know anything about this, it is a man who buys and sells esoteric manuscripts and is connected to the magical book trade across Europe. “What do you know about the use of human skin in the bindings of certain works of… particular importance?”

Widemann stares at her. “That is a gruesome question for a lady at any hour, madam. Particularly at suppertime.”

“Perhaps.” Since everyone has been served and Rudolf has started to eat, this is a sign that everyone else can as well, and Lucy lifts the knife and two-pronged pewter fork. “Is it a common substance? One would hope not.”

“Indeed.” Widemann shudders. “It is not a common substance at all, thanks be to God. Though not completely unknown, I will grant you. Why do you ask?”

“I have heard of a few books of particular power that were said to be clad in skin.” Lucy takes a decorous bite. If she’s managing to frighten Widemann into thinking that she’s a stone cold bitch not to be trifled with, she won’t object. “And if we were speaking of suppliers in London, is there anyone you know who might provide such a thing?”

“I hope you do not mean to imply that I consort with villains and grave robbers, madam,” Widemann says, rather stiffly. “Or that I myself would flay the hide from a – ”

“Who sold a body to Dr. Dee?” Lucy is out of patience with beating around the bush. She reaches forward and grabs Widemann’s arm as he is taking a drink, causing him to choke on his wine and put his goblet down hastily. “Surely you or your master would be interested in that news, if it meant embarrassment for Dee, or further question of his methods?”

Widemann looks as if he’s not the only one wondering if the seating arrangements can be altered at this late hour. He seems to be resisting an urge to back away. Let him be terrified, Lucy thinks. She is the white queen, she is the pinnacle of all their alchemical art, and she has questions that she goddamn well intends to get answered. After an intimidated silence, Widemann says, “We did hear that Dee had acquired a certain body last year, and used the skin in the completion of his book. He had bought it in London, from – ”

“Who?” Lucy maintains direct, level eye contact. “Who sold it to him?”

“A Father Andrew Hubbard, my lady.” Widemann looks as if it might be against his better judgment to answer, but he’s too scared not to. He lowers his voice. “A vampire.”

Oh, son of a bitch. That has to be it, the missing piece in Henry de Prestyn’s death – well, one of them anyway. It is no secret that Hubbard and the de Clermonts have bad blood, and if one of the hive stumbled on Henry’s corpse and was initially planning to blackmail Gabriel over it, that plan could have changed on realizing its value. Hubbard also doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who is big on encouraging the news of interspecies relationships and mixed-blood creatures, and arranging to dispose of Henry discreetly for a large sum would have solved several problems for him at once. No wonder he’s had such a bug up his ass about the de Clermonts, though. He had the perfect opportunity to turn them in and get them into all sorts of trouble, but couldn’t do it without breaking the cardinal rule: never admit to the government what you are. Couldn’t think of any way to spin it without implicating himself and threatening the safety of his own hive. Or maybe he doesn’t know that it was Gabriel himself who killed Henry, since that doesn’t seem like a blackmail opportunity that he would let pass him by. But after the whole drama about how they can’t go after Hubbard and Rittenhouse without threatening the fragile peace of the London creature world –

“Ah,” Lucy says, unsure how Mistress Flynn would react to the news of vampires – swoon away in the figgy pudding? She doubts Widemann would buy a swoon from her at this point, anyway. If he and Kelley know the identity of Dee’s supplier, does that mean they have sounded Hubbard out for the possibility of another one? Think that he’s running some sort of organized racket to kill half-bloods and sell them for parts? Hubbard is distasteful in many ways, but even Lucy doesn’t think he’d go that far. Henry was an accident, as far as anyone knows. He just happened to be in a convenient position to profit.

“Indeed.” Widemann sits back, eyeing her warily. “Do not fraternize with the vampires, madam. They will drain you dry in all the ways that God can number.”

Lucy, who is fraternizing with several vampires (particularly one) on a regular basis, makes a noncommittal noise, and conversation rather withers on the vine after that. Once the several courses of supper are finished, Rudolf stands, so does everyone else, and they return to Vladislav Hall, which has had the tables and sideboards cleared away in expectation of dancing. Musicians strike up a reel, and the floor turns into a whirl of brilliant fabrics, flashing jewels, and spinning couples.

Lucy is almost lost in the chaos, since there are far more people here than at the Pembrokes’ ball, and it feels approximately twice as hot. She dances with a stout Bohemian nobleman who smells strongly of feet, and is relieved that there does not seem to be the same expectation of kissing partners as there is in England. She has long since lost sight of Flynn, Gabriel, or Christian, though she finally spots Flynn dignifiedly partnering an elderly doyenne whose pointed cap barely reaches his chin. Gabriel is once more orbiting around the emperor, and Christian is out of sight. She tries not to worry. They already have enough apron strings tied to him, they should probably just let him get his adventure over with.

The partners of the dance once more change, and to her considerable surprise, Lucy finds herself face to face with Rudolf. They look at each other, bow and curtsy as the music starts again, and Lucy is taken in hand by the Holy Roman Emperor. “Lady Clairmont,” he says in her ear. He sounds like a childhood stammerer who has struggled to repress it, and she feels another vague sympathy that he has been forced into a role he is clearly so ill-suited for. “We have heard much of you this evening.”

“Have you, Your Majesty?” Lucy is not the most coordinated person in the best of times, and she is focused on not stepping on said Holy Roman Emperor’s feet. They are also speaking Latin, which takes extra concentration. She can read it, but her opportunities for casual conversation have obviously been limited (though she could always practice with Gabriel). “Has my husband’s brother said good, I hope, and not ill?”

“Your husband’s brother is a charming man.” Rudolf glances inadvertently in Gabriel’s direction. Ignoring the crowd of hopeful women eager for a turn, Gabriel is now dancing with Flynn, the two of them cutting a broad swath through the lesser (and tinier) mortals that surround them. “He says much, and indeed, much of it is fair of you. But a man who sups too unquestioningly on blandishments and flattery will live to regret the taste.”

Lucy glances at him with reluctant acknowledgment of this quiet shrewdness; they’ve basically assumed that they can cozen and manipulate Rudolf into doing whatever they want, which in retrospect definitely seems more than a little arrogant. She meets Rudolf’s gaze as levelly as she can. “What exactly were you wondering about me, Your Majesty?”

“Many things,” Rudolf says, as he spins her daintily by the hand. “Not least your actual purpose in coming to our court. We do not believe it is merely for your husband’s interests. Earlier he asked in a most forward fashion after Sir Edward. What is their connection?”

“He is only an admirer, as he said.” Lucy thinks hard, trying to guess what Rudolf might be the most concerned about. “He has no purpose to take him back to England, or steal his secrets.” Well, aside from one secret, that is. One book. No big deal, minor thing.

“We will not have our pocket picked,” Rudolf says. “Nor our own courtiers stolen away. Is that so, Lady Clairmont?”

“We only wish to speak to him.” Lucy isn’t sure if Rudolf is expecting her to beg, or plead, or offer a variety of other favors in exchange for the privilege. Dealing with Elizabeth has given her some practice in massaging fragile royal egos, but this is different. “Does your majesty see any way such a small courtesy could be arranged?”

“If we are frank, we do not trust the pair of you, But Lord Gabriel has pled prettily for your good nature, and…” Rudolf glances at the handsome vampire again. It’s clear that he is far from immune, and he can be tempted into idealistic folly; he’s not exactly a hard-nosed realpolitiker or cynical mastermind, as his disastrous Ottoman wars will show. “We will consider it, my lady. So long as no strife becomes ourselves or Sir Edward in the doing.”

Strife seems to become everyone these days, and Lucy’s hands ache with the urge to take Rudolf by the shoulders and shake him until he says yes, but that would definitely backfire. This seems to be as good as she is going to get, and when the dance comes to a close, she and Rudolf once more exchange courtesies and part ways. Lucy is desperately thirsty and needs some air, and her back aches. She darts to the edge of the crowd and into the cooler passages at the back of the hall, which lead into darkened state rooms. Some of the noise fades behind her as she reaches an airy room that overlooks the headland on which the castle is built, the city of Prague spread out on the hills below. There is an open window in here, it looks like a chancellery, and to her mingled surprise and disquiet, Lucy realizes that this is the famous Defenestration Window where two counts and a secretary were chucked out on the morning of May 23, 1618, setting off the Thirty Years’ War. She thought it was funny when she visited the modern castle, but now the sight of it unnerves her. She turns, and –

Just then, a shadow moves, an arm reaches out, and the door slams loud enough to sound like a shot in the stillness. Lucy jumps around as a figure steps out, glances her up and down with a thorough and far-from-friendly air, and nods. “Ah, yes,” he says, in English. “I thought it must be thou, the strange beldam, the white woman. I hath been waiting long in hopes of speech, and yet you throw yourself, small bird, so willingly into mine own nest. It will make this much the easier.”

Lucy stares at him. She doesn’t need to ask who he is, though the woodcuts she’s seen don’t bear much resemblance. He’s not much older than her, just thirty-five, though his date of birth, along with much else about the man, remains uncertain. She inclines her head, though her nervous knees are briefly inclined to curtsy. “Sir Edward, forgive me. I had not meant to disturb – disturb your work.”

“So thou dost know me.” Kelley seems equally unsurprised. “I hath already heard thy tale. Gave yourself to my assistant as Mistress Flynn, and to the gracious emperor as Lady Clairmont. Which is the true name, madam? I wager that I can guess. The de Clermonts of France are not so unknown as that to mine eye, and come here from London.”

Lucy opens her mouth, then shuts it. Kelley seems to have crossed the floor without visibly moving, a sinuous glide as if his black robe conceals wheels instead of feet, and he is closer to her than she would like. Lucy feels her back hit the windowsill, and raises her hands again, preparing to use magic to defend herself. Kelley, however, looks avidly eager, as if he was hoping for this. From somewhere about his person he produces a small glass vial, and holds it up. “Please,” he says. “I would be obliged.”

Lucy stares at him. All that practice with Lady Beaton to create her familiar, the firedragon, seems designed for situations like this, but what if Kelley captures it and uses it to coerce her somehow? He clearly has access to just enough real magic to make him very dangerous, he presently possesses Ashmole 782, and he has to know or guess something about her particularly symbiotic relationship to the book. If he wants her to use magic or conjure the familiar, she probably shouldn’t, but what then should she –

“I see no need for us to be enemies, thee and I,” Kelley goes on, when Lucy makes no move to contribute to the conversation. “So long as thou strictly bide by what I say, and attempt never in any manner to cross it. You will stay away from my house, madam, and my books, and my place at the emperor’s court, and my secretary, and everything else that I value and do good dealings upon. You will say no word of this to John Dee, in letter or in person, nor bear any tale to anyone that could reflect poorly on my doings here. Indeed, if anyone should ask, there is no greater alchemist in Europe than Master Edward Kelley, and his work the truest pursuit of the art. If you do not – ”

He pauses for effect, though it would be hard for him to one-up the threat that Gabriel delivered to Lucy at the Pembrokes’ ball; clearly whenever she goes to one of these damn things, someone threatens to kill her in inventively colorful Elizabethan ways. She isn’t intimidated by Kelley, exactly, but she is not taking him lightly either. They continue to stare at each other, the open window at her back, as the night breeze pulls giddily at her hair and the lace of her sleeves. Then Kelley reaches into his robe, produces a twist of sulfur, and lights it without a match or brazier. He tosses it onto her skirt, where it hisses and leaves a small burned spot as Lucy brushes it hastily off, stamping it out underfoot before it can set the floorboards alight. “Am I,” he says, each word coldly and carefully enunciated, “quite clear in my demands, Lady Clairmont?”

Lucy continues to stare at him. It is clear that the plan of trying to get Rudolf to approve an audience with Kelley has just gone up in possibly-literal flames, if he has made clear that he will have absolutely nothing to do with them. There is no chance of getting to Ashmole 782 through the sedate diplomatic channels, in other words, and thus their entire purpose in Prague has to be rethought. They aren’t going to leave without it, but if is, in fact, a question of breaking into his house to outright steal it, that – to say the least – complicates things a bit.

When she doesn’t answer, Kelley lights another sulfur twist and throws it on her harder, scorching her bare skin, and grabs her with the other hand, shoving her up against the window and almost over. Lucy screams as the world tilts out from under her, and scrabbles at him – bad idea or otherwise, she has no choice but to use magic if she doesn’t want to make the events of 1618 become, technically, the third Defenestration. But just as she is about to unleash the firedragon, she hears the door bang open, and the next instant, Kelley is ripped off her hard enough to send him flying. He hits the wall and slides down it, skullcap askew, as two strong hands grab Lucy and pull her sharply back inside. For an instant she assumes it’s Flynn, then in the next Gabriel, but it’s neither. It’s Christian, and he looks quite different from how she has ever seen him before. He is so easy-going, so angelic, so kind and caring and welcoming to everyone, that you almost forget he is not only a vampire, but a scion of the notorious de Clermonts, the most feared supernatural warriors in history. There is no chance of forgetting that now. His face is pale and cold and hard as diamond, his eyes burning blue fire, and he sounds very much like his father at his most terrifying as he demands, “Did that bastard hurt you?”

“I – no. No, I’m all right.” Lucy does want to put some space between her and the window, and they take several steps away. She discovers that she is shaking, which is annoying, and looks around to make sure that the other sulfur twist is out. “He was just – ”

Christian wheels on the groaning Kelley. “I would not,” he growls. “What means did you have on her, you – ”

“Christian,” Lucy says in an undertone. “Christian, that’s – ”

“I beg your pardon, my lord,” Kelley says unctuously, raising both hands in preparation for any renewed attack. “I did not realize that your – ?”

“My son,” Lucy says, as Christian links his arm protectively through hers as if to say yes, that is goddamn correct. “My son naturally would take offense to your rough and ungallant treatment of me, Master Kelley. So if you thought I would be – ”

It’s hard to say whose face undergoes more of a journey at this: Christian’s, realizing that the blackguard he just ripped off her is in fact the alchemist they have been looking for the whole time, or Kelley’s. Lucy can’t place it, but it frightens her far more than any of his threats and physical violence. Suddenly it strikes her that Kelley knows she’s a witch, and that her husband is a vampire. If Christian is in fact their son, that means he’s a Bright Born, the same kind of creature as Henry de Prestyn. If one hide made such a magical book as Ashmole 782, what might a second do? It was clear in Lucy’s conversation with Widemann that Kelley knows about that, that Dee was reduced to purchasing an opportunely murdered body out of a gutter, but now here his own chance is, standing right in front of him. Lucy is struck by a sickening conviction that she should not have said that, and puts her arm in front of Christian, trying to back them out of the room. “Good night,” she says, as icily as humanely possible. “Rest assured that we will not be troubling your lordship with a call.”

“What was that?” Christian says, the instant the door has shut behind them. “What does he – Aunt Lucy, you’re shaking. Are you – if he hurt you, I swear I’ll – ”

“I’m fine,” Lucy says, which is decidedly not at all how she feels. They’re going to have to steal Ashmole 782 outright, that much is certain, and she may have just put Christian in real danger of being turned into the sequel. She has to warn Flynn and Gabriel immediately, and maybe send Christian out of Prague. But would that keep him safe, especially when he was so keen on coming here? They have been trying to think of a way to save him, not kill him again. “I think we should find your father and your uncle and get out of here.”

She means from the castle, from the ball, from tonight, from everything they can escape. But she pauses briefly at a window, gazing out at the rising moon. It covers the city in a glow of bone and porcelain, of shadows and stillness, and it blots out the fading stars. As ever, the sight is unbelievably lovely. And yet, for all of Prague’s beauty and magic and mystery, for all its gold and gilding, Lucy cannot escape the feeling that now, for all of them, it is a cage.

Chapter Text

It is very late by the time they get back to the inn. The streets are quiet, except for the squabbling of stray animals and the occasional window opening for a voice to shout sleepy curses in Czech at the carriage as it rolls past. Lucy and Christian are still on edge, as they didn’t feel that they could explain what happened with Kelley. For one thing, it comes with a high risk of Flynn, Gabriel, or both causing a scene, and if they are going to be forced into grand theft larceny, they need to stay out of prison long enough to plan it. They managed not to run out, but by midnight, Rudolf had clearly had enough, the footmen were discreetly encouraging the glitterati to be on their way, and Lucy’s surprised that the coach has not turned back into a pumpkin. The spot on her collarbone where the sulfur match burned her is throbbing, and her feet ache. Christian keeps glancing at her surreptitiously, clearly worried, and Lucy shakes her head minutely. Not until they have a door that closes and locks.

They step down and make their way inside. Lucy mostly keeps it together up the stairs, but her legs give out on the last bit, and Flynn catches her in a flash as she stumbles. “Lucy?” he says, half-carrying her over the threshold and into their room. “Moja ljubav, what’s wrong?”

Lucy sits down heavily on the bed, her hair coming loose in tangles from its elaborate pins. “I need something to drink.”

Flynn immediately procures a goblet of cool water from nowhere, and sits beside her, watching her sip it. “I could tell something was up on the way home. Your heart is going crazy, you smell… what happened at the ball? Did something – Lucy, what’s this?”

He hovers one long finger over the burn mark on her chest. When he looks up, his eyes are black, and his voice is a snarl. “Who did this?”

“Kelley.” Lucy knew he wasn’t going to take this well, but she reaches out, grabbing Flynn’s wrist. “Edward Kelley. I met him in the chancellery – I went to get some air, and he was there, he must have been working late. He told us to stay away from everything, his house and his books, and he was threatening me when Christian caught him. I said that he was my son, but Kelley knows that I’m a witch and you’re a vampire, so now he thinks – ”

She doesn’t think she’s making any sense, rambling and talking over herself, more upset now than when it was happening, and Flynn kneels in front of her, then takes hold of her shoulders, gripping her ferociously. “Jesus,” he says, stunned. “Lucy, I didn’t – why didn’t you say something back at the castle? I would have torn his spine out through his stomach.”

“That’s why I didn’t.” Lucy cups his face in her hands, trying to get him to focus. “Garcia, listen to me. Believe me, I’m not protecting Kelley. But if we’re going to have to execute some kind of Ocean’s Eleven caper to get Ashmole 782, we can’t do it with you in a dungeon for murdering the emperor’s favorite alchemist.”

“I could escape,” Flynn says stubbornly – which, in Lucy’s opinion, feels like missing the point. “You said – Christian? What did he – is he all right?”

“He’s fine.” Lucy understands why Flynn and Gabriel worry so much about Christian and try to keep him away from anything remotely dangerous, she does. But she also has a feeling that they see him as a perpetual child, when he’s not, and perhaps it is that overprotectiveness which has left him so restless and eager for a proper dust-up, to stretch his wings and try his luck. “He took care of Kelley without a problem. It’s just like I said – Kelley thinks that Christian is a Bright Born, the same kind of creature as Henry de Prestyn. I know he does, I could see it in his eyes. So he thinks Christian’s hide could be just as powerful as Henry’s, and if he wants his very own book of magic – ”

“Shit,” Flynn says, turning paler than usual. “So he wants to kill Christian and skin him for vellum. Obviously we would never let that happen, and I’d like to see one human outmatch three vampires, but Kelley has powers, associates, things we don’t know about. And he has Ashmole 782. If there’s any kind of spell in there for weakening or unmaking creatures – ”

“That was why Benjamin Cahill wanted it,” Lucy says, flashing back to her first conversation with the Congregation witch in Oxford. “He thought there was something in it that could be used to destroy vampires. That if it was the secret of our origins, it was also the secret of our endings. I’m sure he wanted to get rid of the other creatures, or at least to get witches to rule over them and be able to do what they wanted, whenever they wanted. If Kelley does know anything like that, then yes. He has a real chance of hurting Christian, if he got him.”

“We won’t let him,” Flynn says. “We won’t let him do that. Does Gabriel know?”

“Not unless Christian said something, and I don’t think he made the connection.” Lucy hesitates. “Garcia, should we tell him?”

Flynn’s eyes meet hers, with the same agonized question in them. They are clearly not going to keep Gabriel in the dark about the existence of a credible threat to his beloved son, but Gabriel has not been fully honest with them about Henry, despite repeated opportunities, and this skates perilously close to the topic of Christian’s fate in the future. After a pause, Flynn says, “I suppose we have to, don’t we? Hold on.”

With that, he springs to his feet and strides out, as Lucy wonders if she’s up to having this conversation now. They’ll rouse the inn if they aren’t careful, and she can’t help but think of Meg, who could be lying awake and listening through the wall. Besides, while she is more or less confident that she can restrain Flynn himself from doing something rash, she is far less sure of her control over Gabriel. If he storms out into the midnight streets determined to make Kelley’s head roll, they will have a very hard time stopping him. Besides, calm and reasoned decisions based on the facts haven’t exactly been Gabriel’s métier. Is this just going to –

Lucy’s worried preoccupations are then interrupted by the return of Flynn and Gabriel. Gabriel looks as if he was in the middle of changing for sleep, wearing just his blouson white shirt and breeches like a romance-novel cover model. Nonetheless, the basilisk stare he turns on Lucy is anything but dreamy. “What’s this? What happened tonight?”

Unsure if she wants to explain it in detail all over again, Lucy cuts to the chase. “I met Edward Kelley in the chancellery. There was a situation, he threatened me, but Christian handled it. Except now Kelley thinks that Christian is a Bright Born, like Henry de Prestyn. A witch-vampire hybrid whose skin has considerable powers, and he wants to kill him for it.”

She gazes directly into Gabriel’s eyes as she says this, since he, after all, is the one who killed Henry, and has been consistently evasive as to why. He flinches, almost imperceptibly, and turns away. Flynn glances between Gabriel and Lucy, a plea in his eyes, but doesn’t say anything. There is a rather nasty silence. Then Gabriel spits, “Clearly we will not stand for this.”

“Of course not.” Flynn has been forced into the role of peacemaker and conciliator, which is not something he naturally does. He reaches out, grabbing his brother’s arm, and pulls Gabriel around to look at him. “We won’t, do you hear me? We will not, we will not. We would never. We can’t – not with Christian. Not again.”

At that, he bites his tongue so hard that Lucy can hear his jaw click, but too late. Gabriel rears back like a cobra. “What do you mean, again?”

“It – I – nothing. I misspoke, I promise.” Flynn grabs Gabriel’s other arm, restraining him as much as comforting him, and the veins on Gabriel’s neck stand out. “Gabriel, moje srce, it’s nothing, all right? It’s nothing.”

This is the only thing he can say, the only way to prevent more kindling from being tossed on the fire, but Lucy can see a piece of his soul visibly crumble at being forced to explicitly lie about this. Gabriel breathes like a tempest through his nose, fangs bared, eyes blacker than Flynn’s, still fighting a clear impulse to burst out and hunt down Kelley in whatever foul den he has weaseled into. It is a predator’s uncontrollable instinct, the first time Lucy has really seen either of the de Clermonts on the very edge of their finely honed manners and control of their more animalistic urges, and it frightens her. Flynn holds him harder, pressing his mouth to Gabriel’s ear and whispering something in a language that Lucy doesn’t understand. The last part, however, she does. “No,” Flynn says. “No, no, not now, no.”

After an extremely tense few moments, Gabriel shakes his head and wrestles himself back to sense. He steps away from Flynn and speaks with too-precise crispness, as if to assure Lucy that the lapse has been managed. “Thank you for informing me of this, my dear. I had a feeling that Kelley was liable to be a villain, and I cannot say I am greatly surprised to have it confirmed. But we do not need to fret overmuch about what one greedy little human can muster against us. One of us could squash him like a fly.”

“Yes, but you shouldn’t.” Lucy feels as if she may spend a lot of time in the near future repeating this, in hopes it might actually sink in at some point. “At least not until we have Ashmole 782. And we’re clearly not getting hold of that without some kind of trick, and we did say that we couldn’t come here and start a war. If you kill Kelley – ”

“He threatened my son.” Gabriel’s voice is tight. “According to you, he means to kill and skin him. What do you expect me to do, send him a rude note?”

“Will you listen to me?” Lucy snaps. “He threatened me, he nearly threw me out the window, I promise this is not some matter of protecting him or insipid morality or whatever else. But it has never been more important that we get Ashmole 782, and if we leave Prague in flames, it will create even more consequences that you, your father, and your Garcia will have to deal with. So if you storm off now and try something idiotic and destroy our chances for doing anything we goddamn need to, I swear, I will kill you myself.”

There is a pause. The look in Gabriel’s eye is distinctly reminiscent of the one he wore after she shouted at him in Sept-Tours, recognizing that very few creatures have the backbone to confront him directly, and he seems impressed more than ruffled. After another moment, he inclines his head. “Of course, sweet sister, you have thought this through with somewhat cooler blood than we have. But you cannot advocate that we sit dumbly and wait for Kelley to prosecute his evil designs upon us first.”

“Obviously not.” Lucy gets to her feet, pacing across the floorboards, and comes to a halt across from Gabriel, lifting her chin to look into his eyes. “We will be careful, we will warn Christian to keep an eye out for him, and we’ll do everything else we can to get Ashmole 782 as quickly as possible. But both of you – I don’t think you should coddle Christian over this, all right? You need to trust him to take care of himself. He doesn’t need you hovering every minute, and I honestly think it’ll make him more determined to run off alone if you do. He’s a grown man, he’s over seven hundred years old, and he had no problem with Kelley back there. He’s not – he’s not a child. He’s not helpless.”

Gabriel and Flynn exchange a look. Between Agnes with Jack and now this, Lucy seems to be giving a lot of parenting advice where she does not necessarily feel qualified to do so. But she knows how frustrated she got with Denise and Michelle’s well-meant but suffocating attempts when she was a teenager, and how it drove her further away from the witches and the community she was supposed to belong to, rather than closer. She is well aware that she will not be forgiven if her advice to back off is what gets Christian hurt, but still.

“Christian is my son,” Gabriel says again, emphatically. “I will continue to decide what is best for him, my lady. But I thank you, sincerely, for your concern.”

Lucy can tell by that stiff my lady, rather than sister or my dear, that she’s back to arm’s length with Gabriel – though honestly, she’s not sure that she’s ever any closer. She can tell that he’s making a real effort to get along with her, that he does like her a little, and is impressed with her chutzpah. Yet her emotional relevance to him remains a corollary of her importance to Flynn, and Gabriel loves Flynn too much to hurt anything that he cherishes, but that doesn’t mean that he entirely welcomes her presence and her hold on Garcia. At that, Lucy feels an unexpected pang of missing the Gabriel that they left in the twenty-first century. He could also be a handful, to say the least, but she had some assurance that he saw and cared for her as her own person, and not just as a manifestation of the trouble, danger, and disorder that his world has been plunged into. She reminds herself that it’s not this Gabriel’s fault, that he’s handling it like anyone would (if with two hundred percent the necessary drama, because Gabriel), but she struggles with the frustration. They are trying to warn him. They are trying to stop his greatest tragedy. Can’t he just listen?

Flynn glances between them, as if trying to defuse the unspoken conflict. Then he clears his throat. “Gabriel, you know we – we do all want what’s best for Christian. Truly. Lucy is just trying to help.”

Gabriel considers that, then smiles. It looks painful, as if he’s trying to remember all the progress they have made and does not want to knock it aside now. But none of them can forget that again hanging in the air, the poisoned promise of something that they dare not broach, and the fact that Gabriel, clever as he is, must have pieced together that they know something unspeakable about Christian’s future. He’s not going to dig now, because he can’t stand to, but the subject is not resolved, and the air remains unsettled. Then he rubs both hands over his face and nods. “Aye, of course. It was good of you to say so. Shall you warn Christian of this, then? I am afraid he may think it rather glamorous if it came from me.”

“I’ll do my best.” Surprising herself as much as him, Lucy puts her own hand on Gabriel’s arm, trying to offer what comfort she can. “I promise.”

Gabriel’s eyes flick down to it. For all his blithely casual offers to sleep with her when they first met, and his careless playboy persona in general, he does not appear to know what to do with this. He coughs, gingerly removes it with two fingers as if it is something contaminated and dangerous, and offers half a bow. Then with that, he shows himself out. The door closes behind him, and silence falls twice as thick as before.

“Well,” Lucy says at last, hollowly. “I can’t help but feel like that was a disaster.”

“It was my fault.” Flynn reaches out to take her in his arms, as she tucks her head beneath his chin and buries her face in his collarbone. “I was the one who – I shouldn’t have said that.”

Lucy doesn’t answer, though she utters a noncommittal hum into the hollow of his throat. The suicidal idea of just telling Gabriel has occurred to her, have it out in the open and let the chips fall where they may, but she can’t deal with anything else on that front right now, cowardly as it is. They have enough going on, she’s the one who keeps uttering dire warnings that they can’t just throw Kelley out his own window, and besides, they’re going to save Christian anyway, so what does it matter? They’ll bring him back to the real Gabriel, they have to. That is what is ultimately the most important. None of this is ideal, or what anyone wants, but they are stuck in an impossible situation. They have to make choices, unenviable as they may be, about containing the damage, the bigger picture, and the long game. This will blow over in a few days, once they’ve dealt with this. It has to.

Nonetheless, Lucy still can’t get to sleep, tired as she is, and Flynn finally rolls her over onto her back, slides down between her legs, and sets to work, slow and deep and thorough, until her hips wrench and her back arches and she clutches at his hair, gasping, as the white heat of release rushes through her. He lifts his head, and she pulls him up to properly kiss her, wet and musky on her mouth, his stubble scratching her chin. Some of the accumulated stress drains out of her, and she nuzzles close to him as he wraps both arms around her, pulling her against him like a small sailboat sheltering in the lee of a mighty cliff. “Sleep, moja ljubav,” he says in her ear, low and rumbling. “I’m here.”

Lucy wraps her hand around the firmness of his forearm, anchoring herself, and follows his advice. When she opens her eyes again, it’s morning, and she manages to get herself up, dressed, and into the common room for breakfast, where Parry and Karl are presenting the results of their house-hunting to Flynn. He seems inclined to a townhouse by the Karolinum, the building that serves as the heart of the Univerzita Karlova, Charles University. It is just a few minutes north of here, on the other side of the town square, and will not be much trouble to move to – besides, having the Univerzita at hand cannot hurt. Its reputation and resources took a hit during the Bohemian wars of religion, but it is reviving under Rudolf’s regime, and Lucy, nerdy academic that she is, will never complain about getting to hang out in a gorgeous medieval university. It is decided that they will take it, and Flynn sends Parry and Karl back out, along with one of the innkeeper’s sons to serve as translator, to finalize the transaction. Everyone else is obliged to get packed up and prepared to move, and by the time the grooms return with the happy news that the place is theirs, it is an only mildly chaotic endeavor to transport everyone approximately three hundred meters up the street. As the trunks and luggage are being hauled up the steps, Lucy plucks at Christian’s sleeve. “One minute.”

“What is it, Aunt Lucy?” Christian glances at her with the solicitous expression he has been wearing, as if to ask whether she wants him to serve as her personal bodyguard from now on. “Did you – have you seen something else – ?”

“No,” Lucy says. “It’s not me that I’m worried about. Yesterday, when I told Kelley that you were my son. He interpreted it to mean that you’re a special creature, with particular powers, and he wants to kill you for it.”

Christian looks startled, but not particularly alarmed. “It was you he was trying to throw out the window, Aunt Lucy,” he says, as if wondering if she needs her memory jogged. “And Kelley is a human. I don’t think he can do anything to me.”

“I hope not.” Lucy pulls him aside as Karl plows through with trunk in hand. “But I can’t be sure. Just be careful, all right? Tell me if you see anything strange, or your father and your uncle.”

“I can manage,” Christian insists, and Lucy isn’t sure if she should argue. After all, she was the one saying last night that they should trust him to do it. “I thank you for the warning, but I still feel that it is you in the greater danger. Shall I set forth and see what he is doing, the villain? I could find his house again, and – ”

“No, I don’t think so,” Lucy says hastily, as they make their way into the house. It smells like sawdust and plaster, has a few pieces of furniture but not many, and this gives it an odd, piebald look, like a diorama at a museum that is in the process of renovation. Sunlight slants through diamonds of lime glass, and the beamed ceilings, while comfortably admitting most members of the party, mean that Flynn and Gabriel will have to watch their heads. “We’ll think of something, some kind of plan, as to how we’re going to do that. Don’t go wandering off on your own in the meantime, all right? And that goes for everyone. Kelley knows we’re here now, and if he sees any of us near his house or the castle, it’s going to make it harder.”

Christian agrees, though still with a dubious look, and Lucy herself feels the pang of having a child (of sorts) who just will not listen to the solid and seasoned life advice you really are trying to give them. The evening is spent unpacking, they all fall into bed and sleep like logs and nearly miss church on Sunday, and on Monday morning, Lucy decides to pay a visit to the Univerzita. As a woman, she is unlikely to be admitted alone, so to kill several birds with one stone, she deputes Christian to accompany her. If Christian is going, Jack wants to come too, and Lucy, feeling like a mother duck who keeps inadvertently collecting extra ducklings, agrees. Flynn and Gabriel have decided on some errand that they are being unnecessarily mysterious about, which Lucy cannot help but feel probably involves some element of criminality, and frankly, she would rather not know. She rolls her eyes, informs the boys that they had better not get arrested (at which they look too surprised at the very idea to be convincing) and sets out.

It takes the usual runaround to get in, but at last, Lucy is allowed to enter and even to consult the library, though the rector insists that she must be brief. It would help if she knew exactly what she was looking for, apart from a handbook on how to steal a priceless alchemical manuscript from a local dickweed, but her thoughts on that and most other topics are driven out when she steps inside. The reading room has a feeling of impossible space and light and grandeur, the walls decorated with painted friezes and tiled mosaics, and it casts shadows of all colors, secret whispering passageways down dark side aisles. Odd devices stand in glass cases, looking like the sort of thing that Harry Potter would give his eyeteeth to get hold of. The place is lilac and gold and violet and pearl and onyx, and smells of dust and polish and that thing she forgot last Thursday, flickering just out of reach or sight, enticing her to come remember. Codices and scrolls and vast leather books with tarnished clasps are stacked up a dozen high, and black-robed scholars huddle in their carrels, scribbling away with ink and parchment and casting the ubiquitous death glares of academic disapproval as Lucy, Christian, and Jack pass by. For his part, the latter – a scruffy street child from London who has never seen such a place in his life – looks like he is itching to steal anything he can get his hands on, and Lucy gives him a very stern stare. “Behave,” she whispers, feeling more matronly than ever. “Or you’ll have to wait outside.”

“Aye, my lady.” Jack cranks his head around to gape some more. With a look at Christian warning him that he will be responsible for enforcing this, Lucy slips off down the nearest aisle, decides that she will never get anywhere searching by hand, and draws up her magic, focusing on what she wants. Give me a way to find Ashmole 782, she instructs the library, feeling it tremble like a finely plucked string. Show me what I need to do.

At first there is no response, although her hands grow warm enough that she jerks them back, fearful of setting the reams of very flammable old paper alight. Then she grows aware of a pulsing brightness down another aisle, and follows it like a traveler lured by a will-o-the-wisp into a swamp. Hoping that it will not end unfortunately, she turns down a row of cramped dark shelves and reaches the scroll that the seeking spell has lighted on. Lucy works it out as carefully as she can, trying not to crumble the fine parchment, and carries it to a window for some better light. When she undoes the seal and unties the browned thread that binds it, however, she realizes quickly that she can’t read it. It’s written in Hebrew.

Lucy frowns, thinks hard, and then has a sudden stroke of genius (at least, so she hopes). She ties the scroll up again, returns to collect Christian and Jack, and finally manages to persuade the rector (not without a bit of magical cheating) to let her take the scroll out of the library. They emerge from the Karolinum and head up the street, then turn left into the handsome yellow-painted, gothic-roofed synagogue that sits as the university’s next-door neighbor. It in turn is next door to the vast, sprawling Jewish cemetery of Prague, which is not quite as crammed and piled with thousands of gravestones as it becomes in the modern day – indeed, it looks almost sedate, shaded with trees and encircled with a protective stone wall. Hoping that this is not a mistake, Lucy raises her hand and knocks on the synagogue door.

After several moments, it is opened by a young Jewish scholar in sidelocks, prayer shawl, tefillin, and kippah, spectacles perched on his nose, who regards her in curiosity and wariness. The Jews of Prague live in relative harmony with their Christian neighbors, at least right now, but the various outbreaks of persecution means that unexpected visitors can never be entirely welcome. In Yiddish-accented Czech, he says, “May I help you, madame?”

“Er – yes.” Lucy tries to look as unthreatening as she can. “I was wondering if the Maharal was here.”

The young scholar looks surprised, but not blankly confused, which must mean that her hunch is correct. (Lucy’s historical hunches usually are, but still.) “The Maharal? Was he expecting you?”

“He – no, but I have a question I was hoping to ask him. Something for him to look at, if he had time?” Lucy holds out the scroll. “I am recently arrived at the emperor’s court, and would much welcome the Rabbi’s help and counsel on a particular matter.”

This is stretching the truth somewhat – well, she was received by Rudolf personally last night, that isn’t a lie, even if Kelley might already be working on him to revoke that privilege – but the young man, doubtless one of the Maharal’s Talmudic students, considers carefully. Then he nods. “I will see if the Rabbi is at leisure. One moment.”

With that, he disappears into the synagogue, as Christian looks at Lucy with the usual expression of awestruck delight at her genius that he wears around her. (It’s flattering, though she’s not a genius.) “Who are we here to see, Aunt Lucy? A Jewish teacher?”

“Yes,” Lucy says. “The scroll that I found is written in Hebrew, and I just remembered – well, I know that he was here right now. The Maharal, Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel. He’s one of the most famous Jewish mystics and philosophers, and he advises Rudolf on the Kabbalah, among other things. I was hoping he could translate.”

Christian looks even more awed, as Lucy also remembers that Rabbi Loew is the man associated with the legend of the Golem of Prague – the clay giant brought to life to defend the Jews against anti-Semitic attacks, said to sleep in the attic of the Old-New Synagogue even now, waiting to be charmed awake by a new master. As far as Lucy knows, that was just a nineteenth-century German legend, but Rabbi Loew does know all sorts of strange and magical things. Whether those will be the sort of things that can help, or if he has any reason to trust them – who knows.

After several minutes, the young scholar returns. “The Maharal says you may enter. He is in his study. Are you married, mistress?”

“Yes,” Lucy says. “Should I cover my hair?”

“Yes, and please also wash your hands in the mikvah, just there.” The scholar eyes the boys. “These are kinsmen? Sons?”

“Something like that.” Lucy accepts the scarf that Christian helpfully produces, wrapping it around her head, and glances back at them. “Stay here. Hopefully I won’t be too long, but it could take a while, even if he agrees to help. Don’t get into any trouble.”

With that, she lifts her skirts and steps over the threshold, the doorposts bound with mezuzah, and after a stop to rinse her hands, proceeds into the airy interior of the synagogue. It is rich with gilt and glass, some of the designs reflecting the southern Sephardic influence, and the scholar’s fellows sit together, copying out Torah scrolls, arguing vociferously over rabbinic opinions, and tidying the candles and lamps. Heads turn at Lucy’s entrance, as a well-dressed gentile noblewoman alone must not be a regular visitor, and whispering follows her up the steps to the second floor. Her escort reaches a door at the end, knocks, and calls something in Yiddish, to which another voice answers. Then he opens it and steps back. “Very well.”

“Thank you.” Lucy nods awkwardly at him and ventures into the small, steep-roofed study, which is crammed to the point of bursting with scrolls, parchments, books, and letters in countless languages. Sitting at a writing desk in the middle of it is a venerable Jewish elder, though his precise age is hard to discern. At this point, he could be almost eighty, or about sixty-five, and his silver beard and round spectacles give him the look of a wise old wizard. That is how he is seen by many subsequent generations, to be sure, and his robes are black beneath his white prayer shawl, which is fringed with gold. He has been writing something down with great care, but replaces his quill and looks up at her expectantly.

“Ah – good day, Maharal.” Lucy hopes she’s not giving inadvertent offense, and does not offer a handshake, as an observant Jewish man is not likely to initiate physical contact with an unrelated woman he has only just met. “I’m sorry for the interruption. My name is Lucy – Lady Clairmont, from England. My husband and our household have recently arrived in Prague, and I was consulting the library at the Karolinum earlier today. It – it is a long story, but I was wondering if you could help in translating a scroll that I’ve found.”

Rabbi Loew raises an eyebrow. He glances at her up and down, assessing, then gets to his feet and inclines his head in courteous greeting. “Lady Clairmont.” His voice is deep and gruff, with an undeniable air of command and clear indication that this is not a man to be trifled with. Not cruel or capricious by any means, but shrewd, powerful, and justifiably wary. He speaks English, to her surprise. “You were at the Karolinum, at the Univerzita Karlova? You must be a woman of educated sensibilities, then?”

“Yes.” Lucy wonders if she’s supposed to explain how she heard of him, or assure him of her propriety in the visit. “My – my son is downstairs. If you are busy, we can – ”

“No, no.” Rabbi Loew holds out a hand. “Show me this scroll.”

Lucy hands it over, as he undoes the thread and rolls it out in the light streaming through the windows. He regards the faded Hebrew characters with an inscrutable expression, then looks up at her again. “You said you came from England, Lady Clairmont?”

“I did, yes,” Lucy says carefully. “We arrived in Prague just over a week ago. We – ”

“No,” Rabbi Loew interrupts. “Where did you come from?”

“England,” Lucy repeats, confused. “My husband, Sir Garcia, has a place at Her Majesty’s court, so he has lived in London for some time, though his family is French. Near Poitiers.”

“Yes, yes. That was not what I asked.” Loew regards her levelly. “Unless you expect that I could not see that you are a witch, my lady? And furthermore, one who, if she does come from England, is an England far from here in more ways than one? Nor do you speak like any lady of Queen Elizabeth’s court that I have known, and there are many of those in Prague these days. So again, since you have sought me out, I ask where you have come from.”

Lucy hesitates. She was just reminding herself not to underestimate him, and if he is going to have the least motive to trust her, she will have to fess up about something. He’s not a creature, but he is claerly well versed in magic. “I came from the future,” she says, after a long pause. “Some – many years in the future.”

“A timewalker?” Rabbi Loew regards her critically. “Yes, I thought as much. Those are a rare sort, and often troublesome. How did you find this scroll?”

“I used a spell,” Lucy says. “A small spell in the Univerzita library, trying to locate something that would help me get an item I’m looking for. It’s complicated.”

“Mmm.” Rabbi Loew glances down at the scroll again. “And what made you think of me?”

“Because I knew that you were alive and working in Prague at this time.” Lucy wonders if she will be asked to sit, but she doesn’t want to move any of his stacks without his permission. “If it turns out the scroll is completely irrelevant, I apologize. I didn’t mean to waste your time. I just… that was what the spell led me to, and if you could just tell me quickly what it means, I’d be obliged. After that, I can think of something else.”

Rabbi Loew smiles faintly, as if asking a rabbi to tell anyone what something means, even if it has been written down, is an hours-long argument waiting to happen. Still, however, he takes her meaning. “It is a scroll of ancient Hebrew magic,” he says. “Powerful incantations that should not be misused, from the time of the forefathers. Among them is the formula to create a great man of clay, a servant called a golem.”

Lucy can’t decide if she’s surprised or if she isn’t. It crosses her mind to wonder if she’s the reason that Rabbi Loew becomes associated with the golem legend, but that is getting ahead of themselves. “And?”

“A golem is a dangerous thing.” Rabbi Loew taps his fingers on the desk. “Impervious to all sorts of attacks and damage, but requiring a sacrifice from its creator, and not one to be undertaken lightly. It is a copy of a human, made as the Almighty forged Adam from the earth of Eden. What use would you have for such a thing, Lady Clairmont?”

Lucy supposes that making a golem and sending it to rob Kelley’s house would be one way to solve the problem, and even Kelley would be hard put to stop it. But a golem is only supposed to be used defensively, to protect the Jews from violence. Making one for her own selfish purposes could implicate the community instead and provoke Christian suspicion, never far away, that their Jewish neighbors are secretly plotting to murder them, poison wells or spread plague or perform blood libel or control the world or any of the other litany of dreary anti-Semitic conspiracies that flourish down the ages. After a long pause, she says, “Do you know Edward Kelley?”

Rabbi Loew’s mouth goes thin. “Few in Prague these days do not.”

“He has something that I need.” Lucy knows that she sounds like a jealous rival, scheming to steal as blithely from Kelley as Kelley has stolen from everyone else, and wonders how to impress that this is more than a professional dispute. “I – well, as you saw, I’ve come from the future, and there’s a lot riding on whether or not we can get hold of this.”

“Which is what?”

“A manuscript,” Lucy says. “A magical manuscript that we’ve been trying to track down for months. It was originally written by Dr. John Dee, but Kelley stole it from him, which is why we’ve travelled here. It’s a long story, but – ”

“Ah.” If Rabbi Loew understands more than she’s saying, he doesn’t let on. “Well, I have no love for the man. Kelley is a charlatan and a peacock who claims to speak with angels and unveil the mystical wisdom of lost ages, and he swindles everyone who has commerce with him. I am sometimes invited to the castle, to advise His Majesty on the Kabbalah, and Kelley is always lurking in some dark corner when I do. He does not brook rivals of any disposition or vocation, and I have never felt comfortable turning my back on him for long. So far as it goes, I can understand why you might wish to remove such an item from his clutches, but that still does not answer why you need it instead, or why I should aid in its giving.”

Lucy wonders how on earth she could condense the sordid saga of Ashmole 782, and why she and Flynn have been after it so long to so little apparent point and purpose, into a pithy tidbit. “I know it doesn’t. You don’t have any reason to trust me, Maharal, and I’m not sure what to say to convince you. But the lives of many people we love are at stake, and we’re not going to give up until we find something. You don’t have to help, and I can leave the scroll here if you want. But we – ” She looks down. “We can’t – we won’t stop.”

She can feel the rabbi evaluating her with something that feels different from an ordinary gaze. Silence falls, until she can hear the muffled arguments through the floorboards. Then Rabbi Loew says, “I do not care to translate this particular scroll. Words and knowledge are dangerous things to set loose in the world unguarded, especially of this sort. But I will pay a call tomorrow, I think. Where are you and your husband lodged?”

Startled, Lucy gives him their address, and Rabbi Loew thanks her. There is a clear sense that their audience is at an end, and Lucy thanks him and is escorted out. She collects Christian and Jack, who are glancing at her questioningly, and once they are once more out in the sun, she says, “He wants to come by tomorrow. Talk to us more, I think.”

“Is he going to help?” Christian asks. “Did he know what it was?”

“Yes, but I don’t think we should discuss it out here.” Lucy notices that they have gotten several steps ahead of Jack, who has stopped and is staring down an alley, and doubles back to round him up. “Come on,” she says. “We’ll find something to eat, then – ”

“Down there, my lady.” Jack points. “He is back. The man who was in the library.”

Lucy frowns. “What man in the library? Do you mean the rector?”

“No, the other one. I knew him from somewhere, I had seen him. He was familiar.” Jack stands on his tiptoes, craning down the narrow lane. “He was in the library the whole time, my lady. He was watching you. I wondered that you did not see him.”

Despite the heat of the day, a chill goes down Lucy’s back. Jack has always been slightly creepy, but if he full-on turns into the kid from The Sixth Sense, that will be a problem. She wants to ask if he’s now seeing dead people, or if they have a particular interest in her, and as she looks back at Christian, she can tell that he’s just as befuddled. “What does the man look like?” she asks instead. “Where did you know him from?”

“He was old, I think.” Jack screws up his small, sun-browned face. “He had spectacles, and white hair. He had on a neckerchief and a brown coat. He didn’t cast a shadow.”

Lucy glances quickly down the still-empty alley. “Do you see him now?”

“No. He’s gone.” Jack doesn’t look away. “But he could return.”

Christian puts a hand on his sword. “I can deal with the rascal.”

“I don’t know if you can.” Lucy ushers the boys hastily along, even as she wonders if the ongoing question of David Rittenhouse’s whereabouts might be solved. Jack used to be his thrall, after all, and despite Asher’s best efforts, some of that connection might remain, allowing the boy to perceive him even if Rittenhouse has craftily concealed himself from all other magical or mundane gazes. If he no longer resembles a horrible hellbeast, and is more or less a human, he must have either taken in enough blood or worked enough spells to regain a proper body, and that would also mean that his power is greatly increased. It was nothing to sneeze at before, but Asher’s letter warned them about attacks close behind them, that Rittenhouse could be on their trail. If he is arrived in Prague, has he been shadowing them this whole time, patiently gleaning their strategy and waiting for them to set the terms? Confident enough that he can win no matter what, or – ?

“Have you seen him before?” Lucy asks Jack urgently, kneeling down and taking his skinny shoulders in her hands. “It’s important. When did you first see him in Prague?”

“Some few days ago, my lady.” Jack looks worried. “When I was with Mistress Broxton. She spoke to him in the market. She said I was not to say anything.”

Oh, Jesus. Lucy sits back on her heels, feeling as if a giant lump of ice has congealed in her stomach. She knows exactly what day Jack is talking about – their first full day here, when she went out with Christian and Agnes, and had seen Meg leaving the inn on that mysterious errand the night before. That was when she and Flynn had their conversation about what to do, and decided to play it casual. They left Jack in Meg’s charge that day, as usual, and if they went out too – if Meg met with Rittenhouse then and warned Jack not to say anything – Jesus. If nothing else, this confirms that they can’t put it off, they’re going to have to confront Meg about it. “Do you know.” Lucy stops and has to start again. “Do you know if Mistress Broxton has seen that man again?”

“I don’t.” Jack shakes his head. “I don’t know. She said it was a game, a secret. I was not supposed to tell.”

“You’ve done well,” Lucy says. “It’s all right, I’m very glad that you did.” She looks up at Christian, who can’t seem to decide whether to be insulted that his young protégé has kept this even from him, or outraged at this manipulation of a boy who barely escaped Rittenhouse’s clutches the first time. “We’re going to sort this out, okay?”

Jack’s lower lip wobbles, still clearly under the impression that he will be punished, and Lucy hugs him quickly, then stands up, possessed of a cold, calm resolve. She doesn’t want to confront Meg without Flynn and Gabriel for backup, in case it really goes bad, but she’s no shrinking violet. She’s the White Goddamn Queen, as she was at pains to remind Widemann the other night, and this ends now. She remains where she is, then starts to stomp forward like a general on the march. “Come on,” she snaps. “We’re going back to the house.”

It’s not far, only ten minutes or so until they return to the new townhouse, as Lucy sweeps up the steps with an expression which is enough to send several grooms scattering. She pushes open the front door and shouts, “Meg? MEG!”

There is a confused flurry from upstairs, the stairs thump and creak, and Meg appears, her arms full of dirty linens. She blinks to see Lucy in such an evident temper, and sets them down on a chair. “My lady? Is aught amiss?”

“Who did you speak to in the market the other day?” Lucy demands, small and fierce as a wolverine. “A man, apparently. You told Jack not to say anything. An older man, with spectacles and white hair? What did you say to him?”

Meg stares at her, completely blank. It would be difficult for anyone to be that good an actress, and since her behavior has been completely normal, it hits Lucy suddenly that Meg herself may not remember. “My lady, are you feeling all right? It is quite warm today, perhaps I should make you a cool drink and – ?”

“You spoke to someone,” Lucy insists, even knowing that a maidservant might speak to any number of people on the daily rounds. “On our first day in Prague, you and Jack were out at the market, and you were talking to a man. Jack says you told him not to tell anyone.”

Meg continues to stare at her, confused and concerned. “I did?”

“You left the inn the night before that, late,” Lucy says, with somewhat less certainty. “I saw you sneaking out. Who are you reporting to?”

“Nobody, my lady.” Meg takes Lucy’s arm, making her flinch. “Are you sure you don’t want to sit down? Master Parry said he’d hire a proper cook today, but I can manage a tonic for the nerves in the – ”

“You genuinely don’t remember any of this?” Lucy isn’t quite ready to let it go, even as Agnes appears from around the corner, drawn by the commotion. “You’ve been talking to someone – someone possibly very dangerous – and you don’t know anything about it?”

“What’s this?” Agnes asks. “What’re ye bletherin’ about, Lucy?”

“I just – ” Lucy’s righteous indignation is swiftly melting into even greater bewilderment. Perhaps this is a warning on why you shouldn’t go bursting into situations before you know the full facts, and it is not inconceivable that Rittenhouse would conveniently wipe Meg’s memory about each of their encounters. God, he really must be getting powerful. “I need you to think very hard. Have you spoken to anyone, an older man with spectacles, or anyone that reminds you in any way of the beast that chased us home in London that one night? I think it might be the same entity – person – and that he’s here in Prague. And that you might have been telling him everything we’ve been doing.”

Meg’s hand flashes to her mouth. “My lady. No, I would never.”

“You may not have had a choice,” Lucy says grimly. She inspects Meg’s eyes, not sure what she’s looking for, or if there would be a particular giveaway that she was bewitched. “Agnes, is there some way we can break any enchantments that she might be under?”

“Aye, though it wouldna be pleasant for the lass.” Agnes glances at her with alert, frowning intensity. “What is it you’re on about?”

“Later.” Lucy is already starting to feel embarrassed. “Just – take her off and keep an eye on her, all right? Make sure she doesn’t go anywhere.”

Agnes considers, then shrugs, takes hold of Meg, and tows her off, even as Meg is protesting that she has chores that need doing, and more or less imprisons her in the pantry. It is thus an extremely awkward environment until Flynn and Gabriel get home, which they do early that evening. They are both scruffy, sooty, and inclined to be closed-mouthed about whatever they have been up to, though Flynn seems surprised when Lucy runs to kiss him with more than usual concern. “Are you all right?” he says, when they pull back. “Did something happen? What did you find at the Univerzita?”

“I – one thing at a time.” Since Meg seems to be their biggest problem, Lucy explains what Jack said earlier, and the fact that Rittenhouse could have a live update feed on their plans. “Should we send for your father?” she finishes up, feeling anxious and breathless. “He dealt with all this the first time, and if Rittenhouse is getting this strong – ”

Flynn and Gabriel glance at each other, communicating something unspoken, and Gabriel murmurs under his breath and excuses himself from the room, presumably to assure himself that Christian is also still in one piece. Once they’re alone, Flynn says, “I can’t deny that I want Papa with us, for any number of reasons. But if we get all of us in one place… if something did happen. The only male de Clermont left would be Wyatt, and meaning no disrespect to him – well, not much – that would destroy the family, the Knights of Lazarus, and everything else we’ve been doing for hundreds of years. We’ve known all along that our enemies are playing a clever long game. I’m just… not sure.”

Lucy looks up at him. It strikes her that Flynn is mortally afraid of putting too many precious eggs in one basket, especially when the threat to Christian’s life is already hanging over their heads. It is true that they might be expected to hastily call for Asher in this circumstance, and she remembers what he said after he fought Rittenhouse in Essex, that he seemed to know Asher particularly. It’s not out of the question that Asher had something to do with bringing Rittenhouse down in the first place, and Rittenhouse may well want spectacular revenge. It seems impossible that any common trick or trap could take down Asher de Clermont, but his family must have thought that too, up until they found his body in the Nazi bunker. Besides, Rittenhouse isn’t just any plebeian enemy. He’s an immortal as powerful as any of them, if not more so, and with a wide array of abilities that are only coming into full use. If they make a mistake here, it is going to cost them dearly. It might well already have.

“What should we do?” Lucy whispers. “Garcia, what should we do?”

Flynn considers. Then he says, “Gabriel and I – we acquired a fairly comprehensive dossier of Kelley’s movements today, his house, his habits, and who he called upon. We could stand a few more days for completeness’s sake, but we could find a way to break in.”

Lucy is about to ask if it’s wise for them to follow Kelley so closely, but they are vampires, they’re used to being unseen by humans, and frankly, scouting out the enemy and doing advance planning is a lot more sensible than she was expecting from them. “Are you sure?”

“I’m not going to let that rat bastard get away with doing a damn thing to my wife and son.” Flynn’s mouth turns into a grim granite line. “You can have my word on that.”

Lucy stands on her tiptoes and kisses him again, and they remain there for several moments in silence. Then she pushes herself back. “I’m going to ask Agnes if there’s any way we can contact Amelie Wallis again tonight. You and Gabriel keep an eye on Meg. Do you think we’re getting anywhere at all?”

“I don’t know.” Flynn blows out a tired breath. “I hope so. But I don’t know.”

Lucy has to agree that that is an unfortunately familiar feeling, and they go out into the main house together. After supper, Lucy and Agnes make their way up to one of the smaller rooms in the attic. According to Agnes, there is a formula in one of the books Lucy bought the other day which should help them, and they roll up their sleeves, kirtle their skirts, and get on their hands and knees, drawing an intricate pentacle with grease-chalk on the floor. They light the candles, take hands, and Agnes once more recites the summoning spell.

For whatever reason – whether the loss of Lady Beaton’s third part, the fact that the spell has to traverse a much greater distance, or anything else – it takes much longer than before. Long enough, in fact, that Lucy starts to think it didn’t work. Then at last she hears the rushing sound, can sense some door opening across time and space, and in a moment more, slowly at first and then all at once, Amelie Wallis appears in the pentacle.

She is visibly many years older than when they spoke to her last, in Essex. That time she was barely more than a teenager, whereas this time she looks to be in her forties. Her hair is streaked with grey beneath her white cap, her face is strong and weathered, and she’s heavily pregnant, a flour-stained apron tied over her belly and her dark woolen dress. She looks as if she might have been plucked out of her family’s kitchen while making supper, and muted surprise registers in her eyes as she takes in Lucy and Agnes – who, of course, look exactly the same as they did several decades ago. Then she says, “Good evening. Where is your other sister?”

“Lady Beaton? She is – she’s not here.” It’s true enough, after all. Lucy coughs. “It’s – it’s good to see you again. I wasn’t sure if it – if you’d come.”

“But I have seen you.” Amelie considers them. “You, at least. It was not long after Jebediah and I built the house. You were in the witchwoods, and I had to help you with the tree. You left again without speaking. I often thought I must have dreamed it.”

“I… yes.” That was, of course, the first time that Lucy herself met Amelie, popping back to save Flynn, Gabriel, and Jiya, the first time she ever properly timewalked. For Amelie herself, however, it would have been their second meeting. Nonlinear time: it’s a bitch. “So you are settled in – New Amsterdam? New York?”

“New York, aye. It was renamed two years ago, when the English took it.” Amelie shifts her weight, and Lucy, deciding that it is polite to give a pregnant woman the chance to sit down, passes a stool into the pentacle, which Amelie accepts. “You have bidden me here from a dangerous year. But perhaps you knew that?”

“1666,” Lucy says, realizing. It has to be, since New York was renamed in 1664. If so, it is twenty-four years since the last time they spoke, since Amelie said in Essex that she came from 1642, and 1666 was another year in which the world was theoretically supposed to end, due to the similarity with the Number of the Beast, 666. The Great Fire of London happens in September, which doubtless makes plenty of people think that there’s something to it. Amelie would have missed that, at least, but there must be enough murmurings to reach her even in rural seventeenth-century colonial New York. “Is something going on in particular? With the creature world, or – because of what happened to your father?”

This is as delicate as she can be in probing for what Amelie knows now about Henry de Prestyn and his fate, and her many-times-great-grandmother’s eyebrows raise speculatively. There’s a long pause. Then Amelie says, “Indeed, what about my father?”

Lucy winces. “What do you know about that?”

“I asked first.” Amelie’s voice remains level, but she clearly does not intend to be jerked around. “Did I not?”

“You did.” Lucy thinks fast. She doesn’t want to throw Gabriel under the bus, especially since he’s not here to defend himself, but they still haven’t gotten him to explain this even to them. It’s deeply frustrating that they have to call upon someone from seventy-six years in the future, rather than the person who’s already here and who knows, but won’t say. “Someone killed him when he traveled to November 1589. His body was sold to Dr. John Dee by Father Andrew Hubbard, the vampire primate of London, and his skin was used to make the parchment for the book we’re looking for, the one we mentioned last time. Ashmole 782. I asked if you knew anything about it, and you said you didn’t have anything to do with alchemy. But this time I thought… you might.”

Amelie looks revolted, but – thankfully – not as if this is the first time she has heard the story. “I know the book,” she concedes. “Indeed, it was the fact of your mentioning it those many years ago that drove me to search it out, and answers for what had happened to my father. I do not remember much about his death. He came home in a greatly agitated state one day, when I was eight years old. He said that he had learned something terrible and he was going to see if he could do something about it. He gave me a kiss and told me to be good for my mother, and then he left. That was the last time I ever saw him.”

“I’m sorry,” Lucy says, her throat thick. “I – I lost my father when I was eight, too. Both my parents, actually. His – his name was also Henry. Henry Wallace.”

Amelie looks surprised, and not unsympathetic. “I am sorry. What happened?”

“Someone murdered him too.” The similarity of it has managed to evade Lucy until now, why she feels so strongly about uncovering the truth of her great-odd grandfather Henry’s death, if she can somehow get that ever-elusive closure for her own. “I think I know who, or I wonder, but – do you know anything about why your father went? If he learned something terrible, where did he learn it from? Have you ever found out?”

“I cannot be sure.” Amelie taps her fingers together, dark brows drawn. “Nor, of course, can I take responsibility for what might happen if I should tell you. But I have grown increasingly certain that it was from a vampire. Michel of Antioch.”

“Michel of – ?” Lucy bites her tongue hard enough that she tastes blood. Michel of Antioch is better known as Michael Temple, since it was his original name, and it goes without saying that anything he told Henry de Prestyn, anything he made him do, was very definitely evil. She can’t be sure if this would be the original-timeline Temple, who’s been plotting revenge on the de Clermont family since 1307, or a future-timeline Temple, traveling back with Rittenhouse’s help to interfere at the crucial moment of Ashmole 782’s creation. After all, if Henry doesn’t die, the book isn’t made. Does Temple want it, or not want it, or – or what? This makes far too much depressing sense for Amelie to be lying, and she’s been honest with them thus far, so Lucy doesn’t think she’s wrong. It’s just, well. Completely terrifying.

“Michel of Antioch, yes,” Amelie repeats. “If that name means something to you, take care. Whatever I had learned of him, I… did not much like.”

It strikes Lucy that Amelie did not emigrate to the New World, and then settle in the most remote part of a territory that was until recently claimed by the Dutch, because she wanted to be anywhere near England or anything they controlled. They thought it was just because of her encounter with the infamous Matthew Hopkins, Witchfinder General, but Hopkins died in 1647, three years before Amelie and her husband Jebediah even built the house that stands on the future site of Denise and Michelle’s place in Madison County. If Amelie was just running from him, she could have come back to England whenever she wanted. But if there was someone else she was afraid of, especially after she learned that her father was made into a book… someone obviously still very much alive and good at pulling strings… someone who has been as dangerous and as perennial an enemy as Temple…

All at once, Lucy thinks they might have taken a foolish risk in calling up Amelie, when there’s still the possibility that their actions and their information might be compromised. She left the boys downstairs to keep an eye on Meg, but what if that doesn’t matter? It seems rude to just yank Amelie out of her life every few decades, get her to divulge some crucial secret information, and then yeet her back into oblivion, but as contorted and confusing as the timelines are, the very fact that Amelie is here is proof that the consequences will affect all of them. If Lucy isn’t careful, she will meddle herself right out of existence. “You must be tired,” she says, nodding at Amelie’s stomach. “We should send you back. Is it the – ?”

“The sixth,” Amelie says, getting to her feet with a grimace. “If nothing else, I am accustomed to it now. It will be a boy, I think. Do you suppose I should name him Henry?”

Lucy remembers that her father was descended from Amelie and Jebediah Wallis via their sixth child and youngest, also named Henry. In other words, if something happens to Amelie before this child is born, Lucy is very possibly temporal toast. She suddenly feels an urge to check the corners and the closets for lurking malefactors, wonders if Temple or Rittenhouse has their nose pressed to the window outside. “Yes, that sounds good,” Lucy says, aware that if Temple from one timeline or another has made it to 1666 New York, sending Amelie back is in fact no guarantee of safety. Perhaps they should even keep her here, but that would snarl things even worse. “Thank you, you’ve given us a lot to think about. We’re sorry for the interruption. I’m not sure if we’ll speak again, but – ”

“Oh,” Amelie says cryptically, eyeing them up and down. “I should think we will.”

With that, and the sense of a door blown shut in a sudden wind, she’s gone, as Lucy and Agnes glance at each other with troubled expressions. It’s Agnes who finally says, rather unnecessarily all things considered, “Something evil’s well afoot, lass.”

“I know.” Lucy sits down heavily, rubbing the bridge of her nose. She can see the jaws of the trap closing in on them from all sides: Rittenhouse here, Temple God knows where or possibly several places at once, her own existence suddenly thrown into peril, Kelley having threatened Christian’s life, Gabriel beginning to suspect the worst of them, the true and morbid scale of absolutely everything that they stand to lose. “If Michel of Antioch gets to her somehow, before she gives birth – and I don’t put it past him – then my own father might end up never being born. And for that matter, me.”

Agnes looks slightly squiggle-eyed, but does not ask for clarification on how this works. They clean up the chalk and candles and the rest of it, and Lucy goes down to find Flynn and warn him that Temple, far from remaining content to sit on his hands in the twenty-first century until they get back, is now actively and malevolently interfering in their timeline. If nothing else, whatever he said alarmed Henry de Prestyn into timewalking to 1589 trying to stop something, and if so, it makes Temple the prime mover behind all of these events, whether or not he was in the first place. That might partly explain why Gabriel killed Henry, but still not entirely. Lucy knows, however, that if they push Gabriel for details on that, he will push them for details on Christian, tit for tat. And if it’s what they need to do, so be it. They will have to accept the sacrifice. But God, at what cost?

Yet again, Lucy doesn’t sleep very well, and what with everything, she has forgotten to mention that Rabbi Loew will be calling the next day. The servants thus appear shortly after breakfast, with an air of bewilderment, to announce that there is a strange Jewish gentleman on the front stoop who seems to expect to be let in, and Lucy hastily orders them to do so and make up a new cup of tea. Used to odd requests, they hop to it, and Rabbi Loew steps into the sunlit dining room with his air of quiet gravitas. “Good morning, Lady Clairmont. I hope this is not too unsociable an hour. I have been awake with the halakhic scrolls half the night.”

“No, you’re quite all right.” Lucy glances at Flynn, who is looking equally confused. “This is my husband, Garcia. Garcia, this is Rabbi Judah Loew.”

She says the name hoping it will mean something to him – she’d be surprised if it didn’t – and Flynn’s eyes spark with sudden and shrewd understanding. They make a place for Rabbi Loew at the table, and he sits between them, graciously accepting the tea. “I have considered what you said to me yesterday,” he says, speaking directly to Lucy, rather than explaining his presence to her husband or seeking Flynn’s approval, as might be expected. “I will help you, if only since Edward Kelley has a baneful influence on the city and the emperor already, and I have no wish to see it grow any stronger. You said it was a manuscript that you wished to retrieve from his house, yes?”

“Yes.” Lucy fights a feeling of both relief and foreboding. “Would that be with the help of the scroll that I brought to you yesterday?”

“I think so.” Rabbi Loew considers, stirring his tea. “It is an old spell, and little used. But if you wished to make a servant of clay, it would serve well enough.”

“A golem?” Flynn blinks. “Is that what you – ?”

“It is called a golem, yes, as I told your wife yesterday.” Loew glances at Flynn narrowly. “However, even a small golem would take time and effort to construct, and the ways to speed up that process are blood magic, black magic. You are goyim, so it is not my role to instruct or command upon your moral state or the precepts of your consciousness, but if nothing else, I do not advise entering into it lightly.”

Lucy can imagine that he doesn’t, but she is reaching the point where she’s just about done with empty platitudes, virtuous displays of Good ™, or dutifully playing by the rules, just to watch their enemies slip in the back door, cheat, and win. “What exactly does it involve?”

Rabbi Loew weighs his words. At last he says, “I would sculpt the golem’s body from the clay of the banks of the Vltava, according to a secret recipe and at a certain phase of the moon. A magical scroll, a shem, would be inscribed with the golem’s instructions – in this case, to steal the manuscript from Kelley, and let none hinder it in the doing – and placed in its mouth. An eye, also enchanted, would be placed in its head, and through this, you, its mistress, would observe its movement and control its actions. It would be your blood that the shem was written in, and the invocations are to a different sort of power.”

“The Devil?” Lucy is not going to sell her soul to Satan for one corn chip, so to speak, and Marlowe is literally writing Dr. Faustus right now, for all the cautionary tale imaginable about getting too deep in the pursuit of arcane and powerful knowledge. “Is that what you mean?”

“Something of that sort.” Rabbi Loew shrugs. “Fallen angels, darker beings, demonic entities, dukes and princes of hell, of the creatures outlined in the Key of Solomon and other such grimoires. Of course, the Key claims that the magician must clothe himself in the power of Yahweh and invoke His protection first, but that is a flimsy pretext. Be not deceived, you would be taking a great risk. It is the sort of magic far better studied than ever uttered aloud.”

Lucy and Flynn exchange a look. They know better than to scoff off or underestimate what Loew is saying, and if they cut corners in the pursuit of a quick advantage, they could end up paying a much higher price later, in any number of ways. Lucy says, “How long would it take to create a golem without the black magic?”

“I could not be sure,” Loew says. “Rabbi Eliyahu of Chelm is said to have done it as well, I would have to consult his scrolls. But it would not be sooner than several months.”

“We don’t have several months,” Flynn says brusquely. “Do you have something else to suggest? Besides a golem?”

Lucy gives him a sharp look, since Loew doesn’t have to help them at all and is sticking his neck out to do so, and Flynn gives the older man a brief, apologetic nod. For his part, the rabbi does not seem ruffled. “Yes, of course,” he says. “You could endeavor to steal the book yourself, in your own person. My help would be less direct in that case, though still possible, perhaps. I understand that you are a man of… certain abilities?”

Flynn glances at him, as if trying to guess what the Jewish theological position on supernaturals might be. Clearly more accommodating than rigidly intolerant Christian dogma, at least, and Loew doesn’t seem ultimately opposed to performing the magic if necessary – just that he won’t have it said that he didn’t warn them about the effects. If nothing else, Jewish law and practice focuses on challenging everything, on arguing all positions, on calling into question the existence of God himself, rather than the Christian insistence that there is only one way to believe and act and everything else is unconscionable heresy. Loew is a pragmatist, and he is reluctant to use his power, but not unwilling. He would only be the messenger, after all. The responsibility for its making, and quite possibly its violent unmaking, would fall on Lucy and Flynn.

“I do have certain… skills, yes,” Flynn acknowledges. “Beyond that of ordinary men. But if it went wrong – or if Kelley was hoping that I personally came to rob his house, myself and my brother Gabriel, or my nephew Christian – it could be a trap waiting to spring.”

“In that case, yes,” Loew says. “It would be more sensible to send the golem as proxy in your place. The shem would give it considerable power. It could turn invisible, and it would be resistant to all attacks, magical or mortal. Even Kelley would find it very hard to resist.”

Lucy and Flynn look at each other again. Lucy really, really doesn’t want to send Flynn, Gabriel, or Christian to do the robbery in person, as she can’t escape the conviction that that is indeed exactly what Kelley wants. They obviously don’t have several months for Rabbi Loew to make the golem the nice way. She can do this, or –

Just then, they are interrupted rather spectacularly by Gabriel bursting through the door – which is what he usually does, but this is different. Even upon seeing that they have a visitor, he barely stops to acknowledge him. “You two,” he barks at Lucy and Flynn. “Come right now. Something’s happened to the maid.”

Evidently he has been continuing to ensure that Meg stays away from important meetings, which is good, but at that, all of them, including Rabbi Loew, jump out of their chairs. They hustle down the corridor after Gabriel and into the sitting room at the back of the house, where a terrible scene awaits. Meg is on the floor looking like something out of The Exorcist: eyes rolling madly, foaming at the mouth, kicking and thrashing, as Christian tries to hold her down. It’s taxing even his vampiric strength, and he looks up, panting and distraught, as his aunt and uncle hurtle in. “I don’t know what happened! We were watching her, she – she took over sick like this, we can’t – ”

Lucy hesitates only a split second, then throws herself to her knees next to Meg, grabbing her hand. She summons up her magic, but when she tries to use it, she can feel the presence of something huge and black and a hundred times stronger than her, which flicks her efforts aside as negligently as swatting a fly. She tries again, but Meg screams, a horrible, choked sound as if she can’t get it around whatever – whoever – has her in its monstrous grip. Then her head cranks to the side as eerily as a clockwork doll, her maddened eyes fix straight on Lucy, and her dribbling m