Shadow of Night – Deborah Harkness

We arrived in an undignified heap of witch and vampire. Matthew was underneath me, his long limbs bent into an uncharacteristically awkward position. A large book was squashed between us, and the force of our landing sent the small silver figurine clutched in my hand sailing across the floor. “Are we in the right place?” My eyes were screwed shut in case we were still in Sarah’s hop barn in twenty-first-century New York, and not in sixteenth-century Oxfordshire. Even so, the unfamiliar scents told me I was not in my own time or place. Among them was something grassy and sweet, along with a waxen smell that reminded me of summer. There was a tang of wood smoke, too, and I heard the crackle of a fire. “Open your eyes, Diana, and see for yourself.” A feather-light touch of cool lips brushed my cheek, followed by a soft chuckle. Eyes the color of a stormy sea looked into mine from a face so pale it could only belong to a vampire. Matthew’s hands traveled from neck to shoulders. “Are you all right?” After journeying so far into Matthew’s past, my body felt as though it might come apart with a puff of wind. I hadn’t felt anything like it after our brief timewalking sessions at my aunts’ house. “I’m fine. What about you?” I kept my attention fixed on Matthew rather than daring a look around.

“Relieved to be home.” Matthew’s head fell back on the wooden floorboards with a gentle thunk, releasing more of the summery aroma from the rushes and lavender scattered there. Even in 1590 the Old Lodge was familiar to him. My eyes adjusted to the dim light. A substantial bed, a small table, narrow benches, and a single chair came into focus. Through the carved uprights supporting the bed’s canopy, I spied a doorway that connected this chamber to another room. Light spilled from it onto the coverlet and floor, forming a misshapen golden rectangle. The room’s walls had the same fine, linenfold paneling that I remembered from the few times I’d visited Matthew’s home in present-day Woodstock. Tipping my head back, I saw the ceiling—thickly plastered, coffered into squares, with a splashy red-andwhite Tudor rose picked out in gilt in each recess. “The roses were obligatory when the house was built,” Matthew commented drily. “I can’t stand them. We’ll paint them all white at the first opportunity.” The gold-and-blue flames in a stand of candles flared in a sudden draft, illuminating the corner of a richly colored tapestry and the dark, glossy stitches that outlined a pattern of leaves and fruit on the pale counterpane. Modern textiles didn’t have that luster. I smiled with sudden excitement.

“I really did it. I didn’t mess it up or take us somewhere else, like Monticello or—” “No,” he said with an answering smile, “you did beautifully. Welcome to Elizabeth’s England.” For the first time in my life, I was absolutely delighted to be a witch. As a historian I studied the past. Because I was a witch, I could actually visit it. We had come to 1590 to school me in the lost arts of magic, yet there was so much more that I could learn here. I bent my head for a celebratory kiss, but the sound of an opening door stopped me. Matthew pressed a finger to my lips. His head turned slightly, and his nostrils flared. The tension left him when he recognized who was in the next room, where I could hear a faint rustling. Matthew lifted the book and me in one clean move. Taking my hand, he led me to the door. In the next room, a man stood at a table littered with correspondence. He was of average height, with a neat build and expensive, tailored clothes and tousled brown hair.

The tune he hummed was unfamiliar, punctuated now and again with words too low for me to hear. Shock passed over Matthew’s face before his lips curved into an affectionate smile. “Where are you in truth, my own sweet Matt?” The man held a page up to the light. In a flash, Matthew’s eyes narrowed, indulgence replaced by displeasure. “Looking for something, Kit?” At Matthew’s words the young man dropped the paper to the table and pivoted, joy lighting his face. I’d seen that face before, on my paperback copy of Christopher Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta. “Matt! Pierre said you were in Chester and might not make it home. But I knew you would not miss our annual gathering.” The words were familiar enough but coated in a strange cadence that required me to focus on what he was saying in order to understand them. Elizabethan English was neither as unlike modern English as I had been taught nor as easily understandable as I’d hoped, based on my familiarity with Shakespeare’s plays. “Why no beard? Have you been ill?” Marlowe’s eyes flickered when they spotted me, nudging me with the insistent pressure that marked him unmistakably as a daemon. I suppressed an urge to rush at one of England’s greatest playwrights and shake his hand before peppering him with questions. What little information I once knew about him flew from my mind now that he was standing before me. Had any of his plays been performed in 1590? How old was he? Younger than Matthew and I, certainly. Marlowe couldn’t yet be thirty.

I smiled at him warmly. “Wherever did you find that?” Marlowe pointed, his voice dripping with contempt. I looked over my shoulder, expecting to see some hideous work of art. There was nothing but empty space. He meant me. My smile faltered. “Gently, Kit,” Matthew said with a scowl. Marlowe shrugged off the rebuke. “It is no matter. Take your fill of her before the others arrive, if you must. George has been here for some time, of course, eating your food and reading your books. He is still without a patron and hasn’t a farthing to his name.” “George is welcome to whatever I have, Kit.” Matthew kept his eyes on the young man, his face expressionless as he drew our intertwined fingers to his mouth. “Diana, this is my dear friend Christopher Marlowe.

” Matthew’s introduction provided Marlowe with an opportunity to inspect me more openly. His attention crawled from my toes to the top of my head. The young man’s scorn was evident, his jealousy better hidden. Marlowe was indeed in love with my husband. I had suspected it back in Madison when my fingers had traveled over his inscription in Matthew’s copy of Doctor Faustus. “I had no idea there was a brothel in Woodstock that specialized in overtall women. Most of your whores are more delicate and appealing, Matthew. This one is a positive Amazon,” Kit sniffed, looking over his shoulder at the disordered drifts of paper that littered the surface of the table. “According to the Old Fox’s latest, it was business rather than lust that took you to the north. Wherever did you find the time to secure her services?” “It is remarkable, Kit, how easily you squander affection,” Matthew drawled, though there was a note of warning in his tone. Marlowe, seemingly intent on the correspondence, failed to recognize it and smirked. Matthew’s fingers tightened on mine. “Is Diana her real name, or was it adopted to enhance her allure among customers? Perhaps a baring of her right breast, or a bow and arrow, is in order,” Marlowe suggested, picking up a sheet of paper. “Remember when Blackfriars Bess demanded we call her Aphrodite before she would let us —” “Diana is my wife.” Matthew was gone from my side, his hand no longer wrapped around mine but twisted in Marlowe’s collar.

“No.” Kit’s face registered his shock. “Yes. That means she is the mistress of this house, bears my name, and is under my protection. Given all that—and our long-standing friendship, of course—no word of criticism or whisper against her virtue will cross your lips in future.” I wiggled my fingers to restore their feeling. The angry pressure from Matthew’s grip had driven the ring on the third finger of my left hand into the flesh, leaving a pale red mark. Despite its lack of facets, the diamond in the center captured the warmth of the firelight. The ring had been an unexpected gift from Matthew’s mother, Ysabeau. Hours ago—centuries ago? centuries to come?—Matthew had repeated the words of the old marriage ceremony and slid the diamond over my knuckles. With a clatter of dishes, two vampires appeared in the room. One was a slender man with an expressive face, weather-beaten skin the color of a hazelnut, and black hair and eyes. He was holding a flagon of wine and a goblet whose stem was shaped into a dolphin, the bowl balanced on its tail. The other was a rawboned woman bearing a platter of bread and cheese. “You are home, milord,” the man said, obviously confused.

Oddly enough, his French accent made him easier to understand. “The messenger on Thursday said—” “My plans changed, Pierre.” Matthew turned to the woman. “My wife’s possessions were lost on the journey, Françoise, and the clothes she was wearing were so filthy I burned them.” He told the lie with bald confidence. Neither the vampires nor Kit looked convinced by it. “Your wife?” Françoise repeated, her accent as French as Pierre’s. “But she is a w—” “Warmblood,” Matthew finished, plucking the goblet from the tray. “Tell Charles there’s another mouth to feed. Diana hasn’t been well and must have fresh meat and fish on the advice of her doctor. Someone will need to go to the market, Pierre.” Pierre blinked. “Yes, milord.” “And she will need something to wear,” Françoise observed, eyeing me appraisingly. When Matthew nodded, she disappeared, Pierre following in her wake.

“What’s happened to your hair?” Matthew held up a strawberry blond curl. “Oh, no,” I murmured. My hands rose. Instead of my usual straight, shoulder-length, straw-colored hair, they found unexpectedly springy reddish-gold locks reaching down to my waist. The last time my hair had developed a mind of its own, I was in college, playing Ophelia in a production of Hamlet. Then and now its unnaturally rapid growth and change of hue were not good signs. The witch within me had awakened during our journey to the past. There was no telling what other magic had been unleashed. Vampires might have smelled the adrenaline and the sudden spike of anxiety that accompanied this realization, or heard the music my blood made. But daemons like Kit could sense the rise in my witch’s energy. “Christ’s tomb.” Marlowe’s smile was full of malice. “You’ve brought home a witch. What evil has she done?” “Leave it, Kit. It’s not your concern.

” Matthew’s voice took on that note of command again, but his fingers remained gentle on my hair. “Don’t worry, mon coeur. I’m sure it’s nothing but exhaustion.” My sixth sense flared in disagreement. This latest transformation couldn’t be explained by simple fatigue. A witch by descent, I was still unsure of the full extent of my inherited powers. Not even my Aunt Sarah and her partner, Emily Mather—witches both—had been able to say for certain what they were or how best to manage them. Matthew’s scientific tests had revealed genetic markers for the magical potential in my blood, but there were no guarantees when or if these possibilities would ever be realized. Before I could worry further, Françoise returned with something that looked like a darning needle, her mouth bristling with pins. An ambulatory mound of velvet, wool, and linen accompanied her. The slender brown legs emerging from the bottom of the pile suggested that Pierre was buried somewhere inside. “What are they for?” I asked suspiciously, pointing at the pins. “For getting madame into this, of course.” Françoise plucked a dull brown garment that looked like a flour sack from the top of the pile of clothes. It didn’t seem an obvious choice for entertaining, but with little knowledge of Elizabethan fashion I was at her mercy.

“Go downstairs where you belong, Kit,” Matthew told his friend. “We will join you presently. And hold your tongue. This is my tale to tell, not yours.” “As you wish, Matthew.” Marlowe pulled at the hem of his mulberry doublet, his nonchalant gesture belied by the trembling of his hands, and made a small, mocking bow. The compact move managed to both acknowledge Matthew’s command and undermine it. With the daemon gone, Françoise draped the sack over a nearby bench and circled me, studying my figure to determine the most favorable line of attack. With an exasperated sigh, she began to dress me. Matthew moved to the table, his attention drawn by the piles of paper strewn over its surface. He opened a neatly folded rectangular packet sealed with a blob of pinkish wax, eyes darting across the tiny handwriting. “Dieu. I forgot about that. Pierre!” “Milord?” A muffled voice issued from the depths of the fabric. “Put that down and tell me about Lady Cromwell’s latest complaint.

” Matthew treated Pierre and Françoise with a blend of familiarity and authority. If this was how one treated servants, it would take me some time to master the art. The two muttered by the fire while I was draped, pinned, and trussed into something presentable. Françoise clucked over my single earring, the twisted golden wires hung with jewels that had originally belonged to Ysabeau. Like Matthew’s copy of Doctor Faustus and the small silver figure of Diana, the earring was one of the items that had helped us return to this particular past. Françoise rummaged in a nearby chest and found its match easily. My jewelry sorted out, she snaked thick stockings over my knees and secured them with scarlet ribbons. “I think I’m ready,” I said, eager to get downstairs and begin our visit to the sixteenth century. Reading books about the past wasn’t the same as experiencing it, as my brief interaction with Françoise and my crash course in the clothing of the period proved. Matthew surveyed my appearance. “That will do—for now.” “She’ll more than do, for she looks modest and forgettable,” Françoise said, “which is exactly how a witch should look in this household.” Matthew ignored Françoise’s pronouncement and turned to me. “Before we go down, Diana, remember to guard your words. Kit is a daemon, and George knows that I’m a vampire, but even the most open-minded of creatures are leery of someone new and different.

” Down in the great hall, I wished George, Matthew’s penniless and patronless friend, a formal and, I thought, properly Elizabethan good evening. “Is that woman speaking English?” George gaped, raising a pair of round spectacles that magnified his blue eyes to froglike proportions. His other hand was on his hip in a pose I’d last seen in a painted miniature at the Victoria and Albert Museum. “She’s been living in Chester,” Matthew said quickly. George looked skeptical. Apparently not even the wilds of northern England could account for my odd speech patterns. Matthew’s accent was softening into something that better matched the cadence and timbre of the time, but mine remained resolutely modern and American. “She’s a witch,” corrected Kit, taking a sip of wine. “Indeed?” George studied me with renewed interest. There were no nudges to indicate that this man was a daemon, no witchy tingles, nor the frosty aftereffects of a vampire’s glance. George was just an ordinary, warmblooded human—one who appeared middle-aged and tired, as though life had already worn him out. “But you do not like witches any more than Kit does, Matthew. You have always discouraged me from attending to the subject. When I set out to write a poem about Hecate, you told me to—” “I like this one. So much so, I married her,” Matthew interrupted, bestowing a firm kiss on my lips to help convince him.

“Married her!” George’s eyes shifted to Kit. He cleared his throat. “So there are two unexpected joys to celebrate: You were not delayed on business as Pierre thought, and you have returned to us with a wife. My felicitations.” His portentous tone reminded me of a commencement address, and I stifled a smile. George beamed at me in return and bowed. “I am George Chapman, Mistress Roydon.” His name was familiar. I picked through the disorganized knowledge stored in my historian’s brain. Chapman was not an alchemist—that was my research specialty, and I did not find his name in the spaces devoted to that arcane subject. He was another writer, like Marlowe, but I couldn’t recall any of the titles. Once we’d dispensed with introductions, Matthew agreed to sit before the fire for a few moments with his guests. There the men talked politics and George made an effort to include me in the conversation by asking about the state of the roads and the weather. I said as little as possible and tried to observe the little tricks of gesture and word choice that would help me pass for an Elizabethan. George was delighted with my attentiveness and rewarded it with a long dissertation on his latest literary efforts.

Kit, who didn’t enjoy being relegated to a supporting role, brought George’s lecture to a halt by offering to read aloud from his latest version of Doctor Faustus. “It will serve as a rehearsal among friends,” the daemon said, eyes gleaming, “before the real performance later.” “Not now, Kit. It’s well past midnight, and Diana is tired from her journey,” Matthew said, drawing me to my feet. Kit’s eyes remained on us as we left the room. He knew we were hiding something. He had leaped on every strange turn of phrase when I’d ventured into the conversation and grown thoughtful when Matthew couldn’t remember where his own lute was kept. Matthew had warned me before we left Madison that Kit was unusually perceptive, even for a daemon. I wondered how long it would be before Marlowe figured out what that hidden something was. The answer to my question came within hours.


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Updated: 10 October 2021 — 15:58

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