Beauty and the Beast
“ There be three great mysteries in life, and magic controls them all. To fulfill love, you must return again at the same time and at the same place as the loved ones; and you must meet, and know, and remember, and love them again. But to be reborn, you must die, and be made ready for a new body. And to die, you must be born; but without love, you may not be born.”
Part 1- Birth
There are many in this world who are blinded by outward appearances. They equate a pretty face with a sweet nature. They are led astray by false promises mistaking beauty for a beast and vice versa based on few facts and many wild fantasies. As a child I watched my three sisters change from scrawny girls into beautiful young women. I watched them weave spells with a bat of a lash and then break hearts with no more thought than one gives to the kicking of a pebble. The three of them became cruel not only toward the world outside but toward our father and me as well. I would hear them whisper that I was jealous of their beauty and of the hearts they broke. What they never guessed at in their vain assumptions was that rather than envy it was pity I felt toward them. A beautiful face rarely lasts forever but if you keep your heart pure, if you look past appearances and you ignore what others might say; it is possible for anyone born of this earth to find a love that will last until time itself stands still.
I had learned many lessons from those around me by my seventeenth year. My mother had been dead and gone six years, my father suddenly seemed old as if age was a condition that snuck up on him in the middle of the night, and two of my three sisters had already sealed their fates with men as different as night and day. One was a young lord rich in title alone. He was cruel and cold and my oldest sister Adelaide was miserable living with a character so like her own. My other sister, the one closest to me in age, married a very rich man who worshipped her as if she were a goddess in the flesh. To him she gave nothing but harsh words and bitter jeers but he seemed trapped in her web.
I myself had become beautiful I was told but even if I had wanted to dwell on this fact I had no time. My father, the only man I had ever loved, was dying by the hour and of his four children I was the only one that would tend to him. The hours of work on his behalf were nothing compared with the pain I felt as he grew weaker, paler, and smaller with each day that passed. When at last the disease took him from me it was close to Christmas and a snow storm had blown into the French countryside unlike any other I had seen before it. My dear father could not be buried until it had passed and I could not bear to be trapped inside of our small home with a rude ninny and the body of a man I loved more than the waking world.
“You cannot leave me alone with a corpse! Where will you go in this mess?” My sister Agnes demanded as I pulled my father’s coat on over my own. All of my life I had been a good girl, doing what was expected, seeing the best in people even if they had little to offer in that regard. When my mother passed I vowed to be good to my sisters, no matter their crimes against me, and I promised myself I would stay home always to assist father as a son might have if any had lived that long. But with my father lying still in the same bed where mother took her last breath and we girls took our first, I felt a crazy painful freedom rise up inside of me. It was the sort that comes with having nothing in this world left to lose.
“Agnes, I have wasted too much of my time on you already. You have many suitors as you are fond of pointing out. I doubt they will leave you here for long. Any of them would brave hell and a blizzard with it to prove their adoration. Goodbye and good luck, sister. I hope life brings us just what we deserve.”
In truth I had no idea where I was going or what I would do when I left my home in a dead man’s coat. The snow was flying so hard and so fast that I couldn’t see my hand before me and, best of all, I really had nowhere in the world to go. The only plan I could think of as I started off was to follow the light of the moon. It was full that night and incredibly bright despite the storm. It was the only thing one could see for the storm. In my moment of grief induced insanity that was as good a plan as any.
I walked on when my feet went numb, I walked on when my hands began to burn from the wind, I walked on when my chest burned and breathing became a chore. Finally when the trees cleared and I was able to see a large structure before me the world began to fade out. I tried so hard to keep going knowing that if I stopped, if my body dropped where it stood, I would freeze to death. But I had eaten nothing in three days, I had not a drop of water that day at all, and I had gone farther from my home than ever before. Everything did not go black all at once. There was a gradual fading out and then the world was simply there no more.
When I opened my eyes the first thing I saw was a roaring fire set in a fireplace larger than any I had ever seen before. My first thought was the same of many who survive death: I believed I was dead. I thought I had entered another world. Then I tried to stand. I realized two important facts at once; the first was that I had been stripped down to my bare flesh and the second was that I had been chained to the cold stone wall. Instantly I knew that I had lived and I feared that I was spared only to die at the hands of another. There was but one thing to do. I screamed louder and longer than ever before.
A man, obviously the master of the house, came in followed by a chambermaid. It took me a moment to register that the girl was in the room because as soon as I laid eyes on him the rest of the world faded away. I had seen plenty of boys and men in my life but never had I seen a man so beautiful, so…enchanting. I forgot that I was naked, I forgot the manacles upon my wrists, and I lost myself completely in his strange dark eyes. They were forest green, unlike any color I had come across in my life. And his skin was so white it looked almost translucent. Despite the death white of his flesh, his hair was black as coal and as long and well-kept as my sisters’. “Who are you?” He demanded in an icy tone.
I forgot that it was I who should be indignant and I whispered apologetically, “Arianne.”
“Why did you come here?”
This question confused me. “I am not even sure where ‘here’ is, sir.” I replied.
Instead of coming forward to free me and offering me some clothes, perhaps a spot by the fire, he pulled up a heavy looking chair with one hand. His eyes never left mine but this is something I only noticed later. “‘Here’ would be the estate upon which you were found unconscious and nearly frozen to death. Anymore time spent out there and we would not be having this conversation. Instead I would be burying a body.”
“No, you wouldn’t.”
“Beg pardon?” His raised eyebrow was so condescending that it brought me back to my situation. My anger was frozen in my veins until that moment. Now it was flowing through me like liquid flame.
My throat burned badly from thirst but I managed to get out, “The ground is too hard right now to break so you wouldn’t be burying my body…at least not for a while. I need water.”
“And what will you give me in return?”
I wanted to hate him. I would have given anything to feel disgust along with my anger but try as I might I could find none. “I will refrain from telling the townspeople that a madman chained me to his wall.”
“Very well.” There was a faint smile at his lips as he gestured toward the girl. It was then that I saw her standing there. “Cherise, get our…guest some water please.”
Turning around to glare at her, he seethed, “Find some!”
What was that supposed to mean? If this was the place I had seen before I fainted surely he had something as common as a well. “Clothes…?” My throat was too dry, my voice barely a whisper. But he heard me.
“They were soaked from the snow. It fell so fast…Well, you know how it was. You were foolish enough to go walking in it. Which makes me wonder…are you a madwoman, Arianne, or are you a…”
The chambermaid returned before he could finish his sentence. “Freshly melted snow, miss. It is nice and cool. I hope it suits you.”
I was accepting the water she ladled from the bucket and poured into my mouth. Nothing had ever tasted sweeter. When I had my fill I backed away from her hand and I turned all of my attention toward the man that I now knew as my captor. “Please free me. I will tell you how I came to be here and when I do you shall see that I mean you no harm.”
“No. Tell me why you were on this land, this estate, which no others besides my family and I have been on in centuries, and then I will consider freeing you…from the chains anyway. After tonight I may never be able to let you leave my home.”
I should have begged him to release me from it all, not just the restraints that bound me to a bitter wall of stone. But instead I looked at him and I replied in a voice I barely recognized, “What would that matter to me? I have no place to go.”
“Splendid!” Something sinister, vicious, flashed across those strange eyes of his and for a moment I felt true fear. My survival instincts, however, warned me to hide this fear at all costs.
“Could I get some clothes, sir?” I tried to make my tone as cold as the look he had a moment earlier but I could not tell if I succeeded.
“Clothes are hard to slip over chains and cuffs so you will get those as well after you tell me how you came to be here.” He let me dangle on his words knowing, perhaps, that I would feel the cold at my back even more since this comfort had been denied me; that I would watch his gaze as it slid over my body and feel the intensity there. Then he stood and grabbed a throw from one of the sofas in the grand room and in a moment of tenderness he came to me and wrapped it around my body the best he could. “Better?” I would have said yes to anything if it meant he would move away, for in that moment I felt a pang of lust for the first time in my life. “Great! Now where were we? Ah, yes…you were about to explain to me why I shouldn’t shoot you for trespassing.”
I disguised my fear with a weapon I hadn’t known I possessed until that night…sarcasm. “Oh, is that all? I thought you wanted to know how I ended up here. Well, sir, you shouldn’t shoot me because if the rest of your home…or shall I call it a castle?...looks anything like this room you will make a mess of your finery. Brains, blood, and all of that. No matter where you aim there is bound to be a disaster for the maids to clean and I doubt they will be thrilled about it. The maids tell the cooks you’ve wronged them, the cook puts the wrong ingredient in your soup, and your wife gets this great big house all to herself. A real tragedy.”
His laughter both surprised me and it eased my mind because it was pure, genuine, like sunlight and roses. Something inside of me knew that it was all that remained of the man he once was but at the time I didn’t understand what this meant. “There is no wife, my staff would kill for me, and I would eliminate the mess by shooting you outside. You have spirit, though, even under these conditions and I appreciate that. Anything else?”
“No, I am afraid that is all I had. My only request is that you bury me as soon as you can. I do not want animals eating me for a midday meal.” I felt almost possessed as I spoke. This was not the girl I had been two days before, the devoted daughter, the vigilant sister, the quiet mouse that said nothing out of the way. Had my father’s death truly driven me to insanity or was it possible that I had shed my former self like a dead skin as soon as I walked out of my father’s door? Either one could be a possibility but neither one felt right. They didn’t feel honest. What seemed most likely as I sat there was that this man had come from nowhere, he saved me like the white knight in the old tales, and now he held me spellbound in a place of enchantment. I tried to shake my head against the farfetched idea but I could not. It was wrapped around me tighter than any blanket and it kept me just as warm.
“I don’t think I will do that at all. At the very least, I will not shoot you for a rodent’s lunch until I’ve heard you out. What…or who…brought you here?”
It wasn’t until that moment that I realized I was afraid to tell my story. It all seemed like such a dream to me now and I was afraid if I spoke about it I would awake again in my father’s small house beside of his pale corpse. But the man was growing impatient and I could tell already that, innocent laugh or not, he was not a person to leave hanging. “It was my father that led me here; or rather, it was his death. He was the only person in this life that loved me, the only person I truly love, and last night when he drew his last breath I decided I had nothing to lose and no reason to stay and prolong my pain watching the flesh rot from his body until the snow melted and the ground softened enough for a proper burial. I had no place to go so I just walked. By the time I got here I was too weak to go on. I thought I would die out there if I fell but there was nothing left in me. I would be dead if not for you and I do thank you for that. I am forever in your debt, monsieur.”
“First, let me say that by the time all is said and done, you may not feel so grateful. I should tell you that you were stupid for doing what you did last night. You were. Don’t misread me on that point. But I am no stranger to pain or grief. I understand why you fled even if it was almost your last mistake. Now, that will be all for tonight. Cherise will show you to your room. It seems I now have some business to attend to.”
“What is it now? Clothes? She will have some for you. A hot bath perhaps? She can draw one for you.”
“I am very hungry, sir. Could I get a meal?”
“Damn!” He swore in a way that made me think he would tell me to go to hell. “Can you wait until the morning? You will have anything your stomach desires. The cook will not be available to you until evening; we keep odd hours you see, but you may avail yourself to anything you need. Is that well enough?”
“Yes, thank you.” I said simply though there were many questions I wanted to ask.
He moved to take his leave but when he reached the doors he stopped and turned back toward me. “Do you have any siblings, Arianne?”
“Yes, I have three sisters. Two are married and one lives at home.” I was so confused that I never thought to question his reasoning behind this inquiry.
His smile was again as sharp as a steal blade. “Thank you.”
As soon as he left the room, the chambermaid came in carrying a dressing gown and a key. “Everyone has eaten for the night so Master says to set you free.” She explained vaguely but with a warm smile.
Instead of questions I only smiled in return as her ice cold hands did their part to free me from my chains. I rubbed my wrists a moment before she handed me the gown and gestured toward a screen that I could use to dress privately. I found it odd that a dressing screen should be sitting in a parlor and just as strange that she should offer it to me as she was looking at me naked. But again I kept quiet going behind the partition to dress while making casual conversation. “Your accent…you speak French well but is that English I hear in your words?”
“Yes, it is. Do you know any English?”
“People or words?” I asked with a chuckle as I fought to button myself with numb hands. “Because I’ve met a few young men from England, soldiers they were, in the village when I was younger. The language I am fluent in.”
Suddenly she stood before me assisting me with the gown as if I had already asked. “You are?” She questioned, switching from my native tongue to her own.
“Yes as well as Spanish, Italian, German, some Russian…”
“Greek?” Her eyes lit up with enthusiasm and my guess at that moment was that learning Greek was a lifelong dream of hers. Then I remembered myself. Most girls I knew could barely write their names, let alone speak a language so foreign to us.
“Yes, Greek as well, and Latin. My father schooled me as he would have a son. If there was something he wanted me to learn that he could not teach, he found someone who could.”
“The Master shall be pleased at that. Greece is where he’s from, you see. I can’t understand him when he has a fit but now…”
“What do you mean, ‘when he has a fit’?” I asked, following her out of the room and into a large hall. Paintings hung on the walls but there wasn’t enough light for me to get a good look at them.
“Oh, aye. He’s got a temper on him. He can be the kindest creature that ever lived but if you cross him…he’s a shouter for sure. Sometimes he breaks things. But he would never hurt a soul. His bark is worse than his bite.”
We were outside a room and Cherise smiled, pride lighting up her eyes. When she opened the door I understood why. That one room was bigger than the whole house I spent my life in. The bed was a four poster, cherry wood, and the bed curtains were made from real velvet. The silver vanity, the ornate wardrobes, the lace curtains on the massive floor-length windows would have fed my entire village for years. I was half afraid to touch anything. “This is where he wants me?” I asked in disbelief.
“That’s what he says. He also told me to pass along the message that he’ll have a tailor for you on the morrow to make you up some clothes.”
“Make me clothes? That won’t be necessary. I’m not staying.” Until that moment I had no thought of leaving but the way she spoke made me feel like a bird trapped in a gilded cage.
Her face changed suddenly and for a moment I felt my body shiver with fear. “Oh no, Miss, you’ve got this all wrong! The Master might treat you like a guest but he will not let you go until he knows why you’ve come and you will not leave here until the Master lets you go.”
I sought to hide my fear behind indignation as I marched to the door we recently came through. “He may be your master but he is not mine and I will leave when I damned well please!” I turned the knob slowly only to find that Cherise had locked it. Again I faced her with my hands on my hips and I demanded, “What is this master of yours? Some sort of madman? Does he have a collection of lost people all throughout his palace?”
“No, not at all! I assure you, it is nothing like that! He is private and very leery of the townspeople. He has traveled the world over and he has not been welcomed, not even in his home. People do not visit him and he has no people that he visits. You are the first guest we have had since we came to this place and that was a century ago.”
I brushed off her final statement as a figure of speech as I sulked toward the bed. For the moment I was resigned to my fate and I watched the young woman build a fire in the massive fireplace across the room. “Perhaps no one likes him because he is not a likeable person.”
The girl’s laughter was genuine and for a moment it made me smile. “It isn’t like that at all. He is actually wonderful to have on your side. But few people understand him and fewer even try. They see his temper, his eccentricities, and they shun him. Between you and me, I think it hurts him to have so many people turn their backs on him every place he goes.”
She was standing next to me now and she had lowered her voice as if she were sharing a secret with an old friend. If her intention was to make me feel empathy toward this stranger she failed. “It might help his case a bit if he refrained from taking townsfolk prisoner. Since I have no way out I might as well ask his name. I may have no choice in my stay but I will not call him master. I would rather not speak to him at all.”
“So like him to forget a proper introduction. His name is Lucania but those close to him call him Luke.”
“And the rest of you call him Master?” I asked. I was desperately trying to get an idea of the situation I found myself in. The place was like a dream but the circumstances were more like a nightmare and I was again thinking that perhaps I had died and I was now in some sort of purgatory.
“No. I alone call him that. If you knew the life he saved me from you might better understand. He took me from a miserable life and he gave me a new existence. He asked nothing in return for all of his kind deeds. It was I who made myself available to him as a maid. It was the only skill I had back then and it was the least I could do.” Somewhere in the distance a clock chimed the hour and she jumped as if startled. “I’ve chatted too long. I must go but Mother will be along shortly to see to your bath.”
“Mother?” I questioned.
Again Cherise flashed her angelic smile. “Yes. She is like a mother to us all.”
I was left alone with my thoughts for an hour and in that time I went through a range of emotions unlike any I had known before. I expected the anger at my predicament. I had done nothing, after all, to deserve being locked up. I wasn’t surprised by my sorrow either. I had not yet been given time to grieve for the man I loved above all else and a part of me hadn’t accepted yet that he was truly gone. The emotion that caught me off guard, the one that rose from a place inside of me I was unaware of, was the bitterness. Despite what Cherise told me I was beginning to believe that if I wasn’t dead already, I would be by the time Master Luke was finished with me. And what living had I done? I had never traveled, I had never attended a party or a ball, I had never had a suitor, and my lips were still unkissed. All of my life until then I had given to others and I vowed to myself that if I beat the odds and I made it out of that castle alive I would dance, I would sing, and I would never again hand over my days on earth to another to spend.
When the woman everyone called “Mother” came for me my gratitude was great. I feared that if I spent any more time with myself I would start to go a little mad. I looked at her and I was stunned by her age and her beauty. If she were a mother, she was unlike any I had seen before. Her eyes were dark as night, her hair was long and black, but like Cherise and Luke, her skin was as white as marble. “Are you ready for your bath, child?” She asked. Her voice was so soothing it felt like I could drown in it. Instead I nodded yes. “Follow me.”
She was a woman of few words. I noticed that right away. She said nothing at all as she led me down the hall a bit to a lavatory. The room was pure white and it included a mirror and a basin, a steaming tub big enough for two, and a chamber pot in a corner. I had heard people talk of rooms like these, a place to bathe and do your private business without the cold of an outdoor toilet or the gracelessness of an old tin tub. This was the first such room I had ever seen and it took my breath away. “This room is also yours. Like the water you drank, your tub is filled with melted snow heated to warm your skin. Our well has frozen up in this storm so that is all the water we have. Get in when you are ready.”
I was encouraged by her words and I thought I might learn more about my mysterious captor after all. I was silent as I climbed into the tub and for a moment I sat enjoying the hot water on my skin. When Mother gently put my head back so she might wash my hair I asked, “How did you meet Luke?”
“I was his nurse. I raised him.” She said simply. Her words shocked me. She looked far too young to have raised the man I met. As if reading my mind, she said, “I was a child when he was born. My family was servants to his and he was put in my charge. I am not like the girl, Arianne. If you wish to know more about Lucania you must wait until tomorrow evening and ask him. Now put your head back. I need to rinse.”
I went to sleep that night hungry but warm. My door had been locked behind me and I did my part not to think of this fact. I wasn’t sure how I could be so tired after all the time I spent sleeping in my chains but I was indeed exhausted. I had planned to stay awake until I heard the hoof beats of Luke’s horse announcing his arrival home but when I lay down on that mattress of feathers and I closed the velvet curtains around me my eyes grew too heavy to hold open and I could fight sleep no more.
I slept late into the morning and when I woke I was again left to process all that happened the night before. The bed was black as night around me and this did nothing to clear my confusion. Remembering the bed curtains, I opened them and I was blinded by the sunlight pouring in. Nothing had ever looked as beautiful as that room bathed in the frosty glow of morning. Unable to resist, I pulled the blanket around me to ward off the chill and I walked over to the three windows that made up the south side of my cell. Looking out over the grounds I realized for the first time how large Lucania’s estate was and how high it stood above the town. I was perched on a hill that was nearly a mountain and to look from the third floor of the castle out upon the grounds was to feel as if you stood on the edge of the world. For the first time in months I felt my lips curl up in a genuine smile and I felt again that crazy thrill of freedom.
I walked back toward the bed intent on making it when I noticed a note set upon a beautifully bound book. My hand trembled a little as I lifted the white piece of paper and saw Luke’s signature scrolled across the bottom. This mysterious man that had left me chained naked to a wall, that had ordered even my own room to be locked against my escape, had come in while I was sleeping and stood just feet from where I lay. Anger again washed over me at the hypocrisy of it. I wasn’t free to leave the room without his consent but he was free to come in without mine? I almost ripped up his words in my fury but in the end curiosity won out. How could I help reading what he had to say? ‘Arianne, the kitchen has been stocked with all you need. Eggs and milk are in the cellar. You are free to use what you wish and we will meet this evening for a proper tour of the house.’ My eyes drifted past his name to his message at the bottom. ‘I bought a diary for you to keep. In times of hardship sometimes one finds peace in words.’
I lifted the blue book up and I found that it was bound with empty pages waiting for my story. It was perhaps the most thoughtful gift anyone had ever given me and it further confused my emotions toward the man that gave it. He had signed my full name on the cover and it took me a long time to realize I had never told him any but my first.
When I turned the knob on the heavy door it opened easily. Because I had no idea where the kitchen was, I headed first to the lavatory and then I went off exploring. Being the third floor, I never expected to find a kitchen there but I went looking anyway. Every unfamiliar door I came to was locked, the hall was still dark as night, but there was sunlight streaming in at the end of the hall. Having no other place to go, I followed it and what I came upon was the largest kitchen I had ever seen. I said I never expected to find one there but it was not unusual. I had heard my sisters talk of estates with six or seven kitchens in them. The tales that once seemed fanciful all looked as if they were true after all.
The cellar Luke referred to in the note was not a cellar at all. It was a small pantry of sorts made of brick that was kept cold by the weather outside, its position in the room, and its distance from the stove. I did find eggs, milk, and meat stored within. It never occurred to me to wonder where he found food at the late hour he left. I suppose I assumed he stole it. The kitchen was as marvelous to me as my room, the parlor, and the lavatory. It was all white save for the stove, there were two large windows to the west and one small window to the east and it was so clean that it looked as though it had never been used. There was no dining room and no table to set up anywhere but there were high chairs around an island in the center of the room. Considering the disposition of the home’s master I wasn’t surprised by this anymore than I was by the fact that all of the dried foods were left upon the island. He has probably never put food away in his life, I mused to myself with a grin. I was still smiling at the thought of him while I started the fire to cook.
After I finished my meal and cleaned up the mess I needed something else to do. The entire place was silent around me and loneliness was threatening to creep into my soul. I was used to people, voices, always having the sound of another living soul nearby and it was the silence of being completely alone that forced me to remember the situation I was in. Again I decided to explore, heading down the hall opposite the way I came, past the lavatory, my room, the parlor, and the many locked doors in between. I did not think twice about going down the circular staircase I came to although I almost knew what I would find on the second floor.
It was dark and dusty and there was no grand kitchen to light the way to the end of the hall. Instead there were more locked doors, more paintings on the walls for only the bats to see, and another staircase leading down to the first floor. Again I took my chances hoping I would find something down there to occupy my day.
At first there was only more darkness when I stepped down and my heart sank until I realized I was standing in a parlor. Sunlight was streaming in broken patches through the bottom of long thick curtains and the holes that each set had. I breathed a sigh of relief, grateful that it was curtains and not shutters which blocked the light. But I gasped at what I found when I turned toward the room once more. From floor to ceiling it looked as if no one had touched it in a decade or more. The layers of dust were so thick upon the mantle, the mirrors, and the canvases that it looked like the snow upon the ground outside. Cobwebs were in every corner and a large spider web hung down from the center of the high ceiling. Some of the furniture had been stacked up chair on top of chair and table on top of that in various places in the room and the upholstery had holes from the mice like the canvases that covered all the rest. Just in the ruined things alone there was probably more money than my poor dead father had made in a year and Luke, spoilt brat that he obviously was, had let it rot without a second thought. When you work hard and you’ve little to show for it waste makes you angry and as I walked through that part of the first floor opening curtains and finding the same mess of waste and neglect I was furious!
In a closet by the first floor kitchen I found all that I needed to clean and in the kitchen itself I found multiple buckets of water. I had no idea where they came from or what they were for. I intended to use them how I wished. I scrubbed past lunch time, I dusted long into the afternoon, and I was sweeping when evening came. I found candles scattered around the first floor, unused and sitting in filthy candelabras. I cleaned them up when the shadows started to fall and I used matches for the fires to bring them to life. I only finished the sitting room and the massive entryway leading in from the front doors but I was proud of the work I had done. I gave no thought to the master’s reaction to what I had done. As far as I was concerned, he should have never let his home get in such a state of disrepair in the first place.“What in hell’s name has she done?” The first sound of his voice coming in the front door with the cold made my heart beat a little faster. I couldn’t admit, even to myself, that a part of me had waited for him all day. “What has she done? Arianne!” He shouted my name so loud that it shook the glass things on the mantle.
I stood prepared for a fight. His tone told me he was less than pleased and when he entered the parlor with Mother and Cherise behind him, the look on his face proved my suspicions. “I am right here, Lucania! You don’t have to shout! What I have done is a thing that should have been done long ago. It is called cleaning. With all of these rooms it is unreasonable to leave Cherise to do it alone. She could never keep up. Even if Mother helped, it would be too much. You need an entire staff like all estate lords have. Until you acquire that, pick up a rag and do something!”
The eyes of the women behind him were large and from their reaction I did have a momentary fear that I had gone too far. But I was determined to stand my ground. “This floor is not cleaned because I have no use for it. We have four among us, five counting you, so the third floor alone is enough. I have no guests, I host no parties, why pay someone to keep up what one never uses?”
This new tone of his was soft and dark. I ignored the warning there as I shot back, “Why have what you never use at all? Sell this place and all of the things you deem useless within. Better yet, since you are wealthy enough to throw your money away, give these beautiful things to people in town that would appreciate them, people who work their fingers to the bone and could still never afford your nice things! And you let them rot? You should be ashamed of yourself, master!”
“You have no idea what you are talking about.” That was his only reply and I thought it had to sound hollow, even to him.
“I know exactly what I am talking about! You have too much, you appreciate nothing, and you have obviously never spent a day of your life as a mere human like the rest of us!”
“As I said, you have no idea what you are talking about. Now…” He moved so fast that I didn’t see him until I was slung over his back.
“What are you doing?” I cried out.
“I’m locking you up, little one. Isn’t it obvious?”
When I thought of those chains upstairs, of the helpless feeling that would come over me if he put those cuffs on my wrists once more I started to kick and shout at him. “Put me down! Damn it, unhand me you beast…you…” I had never called anyone a vicious name in my life but when I realized I couldn’t fight his grip and he was again putting the cold metal restraints against my flesh, I seethed, “You bastard…you son of a bitch…your mother probably wept the day she gave birth to you!”
When he had me secured against the stones in the parlor once more he looked in my eyes and asked in a poisoned tone, “Do you hate me yet, Arianne? Have you come to despise me so soon?”
“Yes!” I lied. Maybe it was not such a lie at that moment.
“And what about fear? Have you finally learned to fear me, little girl?”
“What is there to fear, Lucania? You are nothing but a child…a spoilt child!” He nodded and he sneered at me before walking away. I spent some of my time beating my hands against the wall but all I got for my troubles were bloody knuckles. Again I felt resigned to endure what was done and I went over all that had happened trying to discover what went wrong. I still felt justified in my anger, I felt that it was he, not I, who was in the wrong, and I was determined to make my escape as soon as an opportunity presented itself. I would teach the master a lesson he would never forget. You cannot bind people to you through fear.
When Cherise walked in I noticed her eyes looked red around the rims and I could tell by her expression that she had been crying. “Oh, Miss, I am so sorry. He didn’t mean for tonight to turn out this way. He sent me to unchain you and to apologize…”
“It is not your place to apologize for that bastard. He made this mess and he can damned well clean it up for himself!” She blinked down at me in surprise as she worked to uncuff me. “I assume it’s his fault you’ve been crying as well?”
“Remember what I told you about his temper and how he gets? Well, he’s in a mood tonight. But don’t worry as he’s in the middle of calming down right now. He asked me to take you to the kitchen where Cook prepared a meal and after you’ve eaten Master will meet you in the parlor downstairs. The tailor won’t be coming tonight on account of the snow that’s falling again so you will have the night with Master to get to know him. I swear by tomorrow you will have a changed mind where he is concerned.”
I doubted that very much but I kept my mouth shut as I followed her down the almost familiar hall to the kitchen. Cook, as everyone called him, was still sitting in the room looking perplexed at a plate of burned Eggs Benedict. “I am sorry it did not turn out so well, Miss. I am rusty with a stove and I am not used to making such dishes. Luke is no help. He has never made a meal in his life…”
I sat down, resigned to eat the eggs no matter how bad they might be. Did I find it strange that there was a cook in the house who could not actually cook? I just came from chains on a wall. Nothing surprised me about Luke’s household. “This smells wonderful, Sir, and you needn’t cook for me at all. I could always make my own meals.”
“You cook?” The man asked, his eyes lighting up. I couldn’t help but notice that he looked out of place. Not just in the kitchen but in the entire world as I knew it. “We could work together, you and me. You can teach me what you know and I could show you some dishes of the Mediterranean.”
I smiled at him. Like Cherise, I adored Cook right away. Mother was like Luke, very guarded and mysterious. But Cook was a kind old soul. “I would like that very much. If it suits you we’ll start tomorrow evening.”
With that settled, Cook went on his way and I finished my meal in silence. I left Cherise behind when it was time to make my way downstairs. I handled her master’s temper far better than she and I thought her nerves had been upset enough for one night. I found him sitting in one of the high backed chairs watching the flames dance in the fireplace. A part of me wanted to attack him immediately but I refrained. If we were to live together until I figured a way out, we might as well attempt to get along. There was one question I did need an answer to and I asked as soon as I took the chair at his side. “Do you intend to chain me up every time I cross you?”
He winced as if I had smacked him but he kept his gaze on the fire as he replied, “I did not chain you up because you crossed me, you little fool. There are things that go on here that I cannot risk you seeing.”
“What things?” I asked.
Now he faced me as he spat out, “If I wanted you to know I would not have chained you up! Tomorrow night we, the others and me, will begin a new routine so the chains can come down. Does that suit you?”
“Do you expect me to say no?” I countered.
For a while we sat in silence, him and me. It was unnerving to be alone with him but I discovered a peace in our silence. His presence felt good to me despite my many reservations toward him. It was his words that seemed always to excite my temper. “Would you like to see the rest of the house? After your passionate speech I assume you will want to do your damage elsewhere. It will keep you occupied if nothing else.”
I stood when he did, following him through the familiar foyer and on toward a part of the first floor I had not gotten around to earlier. The candelabra in his hand cast shadows on the walls as we walked in silence and when he stopped it was so abrupt that I almost ran into him. “This was my study,” he said as he opened the door, “not to be confused with the library which is down the hall.”
“You have a library?” I exclaimed in shock. I barely noticed the room around me, grand as I am sure it was, for his words.
“Of course!” I was mildly irritated with his blasé attitude on the subject but I said nothing. “And judging but that look in your eyes I would say we should head in that direction.”
My breath caught when Lucania threw open those heavy double doors. This room was not like the rest of the first floor. Aside from its sheer size (at that moment I thought my whole village could fit in that room though now I know it was typical for a castle) that was the thing I noticed right off. Since that night I have seen much more of the world but I have yet to see more books in one private collection. It was circular in shape, or so it appeared at first glance, and from floor to high ceiling stood the bound treasures I loved so much. “Are you going to comment? I would never have guessed you had it in you to become speechless!” My guide said with a laugh as he took a seat in one of the few chairs in the room. Despite the size and the books there were only two chairs and two small tables in way of furniture. In my mind I was redecorating when he finally grew impatient enough to bark out, “Damn it girl, sit down already!”
I did as I was told but my eyes were still drinking in the beauty all around me. There was a massive chandelier made of what appeared to be gold and crystal and there were more candles on the walls, on the mantles, even one apiece upon the tiny tables. On the ceiling was painted a beautiful mural but it was so high that I couldn’t make out the pictures. Two huge fireplaces were glowing to the left and right of us. And in this room there was no sign of the neglect that had taken over the rest of the floor. At last I tried to speak. “Lucania…this is a dream!”
“This is no dream, I assure you. And please call me Luke.” He paused for a moment while he stood to poke one of the fires. “These are my most beloved possessions. I have collected them in my travels. Some of them are quite old, others have been in the world less than a year. They are all in different languages…You read, I assume?”
“Oh yes.” I replied emphatically.
“I knew it by your reaction. Well, you are welcomed to come in and borrow what you like. There is a sliding ladder for the books that require great reach…I used to put them in order of language but now I put them in order of age. Still, I am sure some of the newer ones toward the bottom are in French…”
“I read other languages as well.” I said simply. When he turned around I saw surprise on his face and I went on realizing Cherise had neglected to share this information with her Master. “Yes. I read English, Spanish, Italian, German, Latin, Greek…”
Cherise had lit up when she found out but Luke’s face grew darker, more mysterious. I was half afraid to answer him. “Yes. I also speak these languages.”
“That is...interesting.” As soon as it came, the look passed from his eyes and he came toward me once more. “Well, you are welcomed to read anything except the ones on the top self all the way around. Those are the…oldest…and no one touches them anymore. If we are going to finish our tour we should probably go.”
That night I went to sleep with the lightest feeling in my heart. I was happier than I had been in many years and in that happiness it was easy to forget the situation surrounding it. My door remained unlocked and this made it even easier for me to forget that I was a prisoner in this palace. Before dreams came I was even starting to entertain the notion that my father, bless his soul, had led me to Lucania so I might at last have the life he had always wished for me.
The next day I arose at an early hour, ate my breakfast surrounded again by silence, and started my work on what was left of the first floor after finding the front door locked just as it had been the day before, from the outside. Like the previous evening, Lucania and his family returned with the night, a little later than before, and with a stranger in tow. He was introduced to me as the long awaited tailor who would fit me for my new wardrobe. I knew the man in my village that had his shop of dresses and I realized immediately that this man must have come from a village that was not my own as I had never lain eyes on him before. Again I felt that pang of disappointment in myself for the fact that I had never even bothered to travel to a neighboring town once in my life. But that disappointment was pushed aside as excitement welled up at the thought of my first set of clothes that had never belonged to one of my sisters before being passed to me. The whole ritual of being fitted and looking over cloth and patterns was just another aspect of the dream I felt like I had found myself in.
Instead of being angry with me for the work I had done around the house, Luke seemed genuinely pleased and after the tailor had retired to a room on the third floor where he would stay the night, the master of the house and I sat down and talked of his new plans. “You are right. I’ve let this place go and after the effort you’ve put into making it beautiful again it would almost be a sin for me to let it fall back into disrepair once more. I am hiring a staff from your little hamlet to come during the day and keep things up. They shall take up the task of the second floor so tomorrow you are free. You may now spend your days with the books if you choose…or making the dishes Cook is preparing to show you as we speak.” He sniffed the air and while I caught only the scent of candle wax, he smiled at something more. “You should probably go up there before he burns us out. I’m going out for the night. I’ll see you on the morrow.”
Of course I didn’t ask him where he was off to on such a bitterly cold night. I had no right to ask. But a part of me wished we were intimate enough for me to wrap a scarf around his neck and beg him to be cautious. Waving the ridiculous thought from my mind, I walked upstairs sure that Luke had been wrong until I entered the kitchen to find Cook struggling with the lighting of the stove. I gave him a sympathetic smile as I showed him the simple task and suddenly he was helpless no more as he showed me how to make fasolada. It was the start of a culinary give and take between us, one of his recipes for one of my own. He was quite a wonder in the kitchen as it turned out. He only needed help with the food of my country. During those long winter nights and the lonely quiet mornings, I found solace both in the things he taught me and in the treasures of the library down stairs.
Lucania kept his promise and the next morning there were indeed a staff of my townsfolk at the door ready to work. They had been summoned by the tailor posing as the master, something I found odd, and they all wanted to know how I had come to be there. Something told me I could not speak the truth to them. Instead I made up my first lie I could ever remember telling. It was a practice I would in time get very good at thanks to those around me and it should have felt strange that first time but some part of me seemed born to do it. I told them the master of the house was my mother’s third cousin and he had come back to his ancestral home just weeks before. Upon hearing of my father’s death he sent for me. I had no suitors, I was alone, and he had promised my father in a letter that he would care for me. It was as simple as that. They believed the tale, commented on my good fortune, and went to their work with silent jealousy making them almost unrecognizable to me.
That was the first day I found myself in one of the high back chairs by the fire with the sun all around me and a book in my lap. I passed over those in French as I knew most of them and I moved on to a beautiful novel of love and death in Italian. I barely realized night had fallen and I might not have noticed at all had my page not become impossible to see in the dark. Lighting a candle I simply went on, weeping at the beautiful pain in those pages, until I was startled out of my paper world by a tap on my shoulder. “Have you been here all day?”
For a moment when I looked up I didn’t see Luke before me but rather the doomed prince from my book come back from the dead to claim his true love. I was almost so lost in the fantasy that the words of love that I knew I had felt growing since our eyes first met nearly spilled from my mouth. Luckily reality returned and with it my good sense so instead I gave him a smile as I closed the book I had finished some time before and I wiped my eyes and my mind of the haunting story that had continued inside my head. “Yes, I suppose I have. Is it very late?”
“No, not very late.” He replied softly as I stood to put the book back in its place on the shelf. “How did things go with the cleaning people today? Were they glad to see you?”
A bitter laugh escaped me and it took me by surprise. “They believe I have fallen into great fortune. That isn’t something you typically see around these parts so the same people I once played with before we could properly walk now despise me. Yes, all went well.”
I tried to walk past him but he stopped me in my tracks and put reassuring hands upon my shoulders. “Surely that is not true. After your loss I imagine they are all happy that you have found a home so nice. People who are a part of you cannot be so cold.”
There came again that unfamiliar bitterness and I couldn’t stop myself from saying, “Really? Is that why you traveled so far from your home, Lucania?” I knew I should apologize when I saw the look of pain cloud his eyes but I said nothing and he let me pass.
“Have you seen them yet? Oh…they are so beautiful! Have you seen them?” Cherise questioned in an excited rush as I came into the parlor.
“Seen what?” I questioned, very much confused.
“The tailor finished two of your gowns. He said they are on your bed. You haven’t taken a look? Well, you must!” And with that she took me by the hand and led me up the two flights of stairs to my chamber. I was smiling by the time I walked in because her smile was contagious. But when I saw the beautiful gowns made of velvet and trimmed in lace that lay upon my bed, I literally gasped. I had never been one to dwell on material things but I had never owned something as beautiful as the deep burgundy and the beautiful lavender garments intended for me alone that were draped delicately across the duvet. “Aren’t they magical, Arianne? Like something from a fairy story!”
“Can you call for Luke, please?” I asked in return.
“Is there something the matter?” She asked in obvious confusion. In response I only shook my head no as I wiped away tears I did not understand.
I could not think of a single place I would ever go where such finery would be appropriate and I knew that the gowns had to cost Luke a small fortune, just those two without all of the others. I knew I should decline them. But that was the kindest thing anyone besides my father had ever done for me and refusing such gifts would be rude. When I heard his high boots upon the floor I turned and, without thinking, I wrapped my arms around him whispering, “Thank you. For this and all of the other good things you’ve done for me, thank you so much.”
His skin was like ice even through his clothes and he looked taken aback by the gesture but as I broke the embrace he smiled at me. “It’s no trouble at all, my girl. So long as you are content I am glad to do such things.”
“But why? Why is my happiness important to you at all?” I asked softly. It wasn’t distrust for his motives that prompted the question. I am not sure why I asked it at all. Maybe I wanted to hear him tell me that he was falling in love with me as I was sure I was falling in love with him. At the least, I wanted him to admit he cared. Instead he only smiled at me as he kissed my head and turned to go. “Wait!” I called out. I didn’t want him to leave. I wanted to speak the truth that was already in my heart. I wanted to tell him that I yearned to press my lips to his, to feel his cold skin against my own… “Cherise…she liked the gowns. Since the tailor is already here and it doesn’t look like the snow will be letting up anytime soon you might want to think of having gowns made for her as well. She certainly deserves them far more than me.”
His expression turned to one of confusion. “If she wanted new dresses why didn’t she simply say so? I would have gladly had them made for her.”
He lived with the girl night after night and he knew so little of her nature. Sometimes I looked into his eyes and they seemed so wise and yet when it came to people he knew nothing until it was spelled out for him. “She doesn’t want to bother you. Trust me in my judgment. She would love to have a few gowns of her own.”
Nodding his head, he thanked me and promised to see to it immediately before he took his leave. He was a puzzle to me, the strange master of this strange place. He could be so kind yet so harsh, so wise yet so blind, and though I knew that he had the capacity to love deeply inside of him, I had never seen proof of this. Yes, he loved Cherise, Mother, and Cook but while I wondered about the extent of his relationship with the girl I could see that the love he had for her wasn’t quite the romantic love I thought he had to give. I wanted to know him. I wanted to sit at his side and talk of his life before I came, of the things he liked and disliked, of his life in Greece, a place I had only dreamed of seeing. But there was nothing about the way he behaved with me that gave me hope of such things ever coming to pass.
A few weeks passed and I seemed to follow the same routine with each day. The tailor finished my gowns and made a new wardrobe for Cherise at a speed unheard of for me. I had never seen her as happy as she was when Luke surprised her with the finery. I was content there. I was glad to spend my days in the library and my nights with this strange little family that had so accepted me. I longed for the warmth of spring so that I might go out and explore the grounds. Luke had talked to me of his rose bushes and I had never seen a rose in my life outside of drawings so I anticipated the day that I would look out my grand windows and see them all in full bloom. At some point I had stopped wanting to escape and instead I was anxious to make my place there. What I wanted most of all was the one thing that seemed the most impossible task for me. I wanted Luke’s love and devotion. While the family gave me every indication that I was a part of them, Luke still gave me no hint that he shared my desire.
One night late in February Luke came in to the library earlier than usual and he was smiling. Cherise was right behind him looking unsure and I was immediately confused. “You never told me that your village has a theater.”
“Lucania,” I said, looking at him in a solemn way, “I must confess. My village has a theater.” I laughed. I had no idea why this fact was suddenly important to him.
“Your village does indeed. Thank you for that information. As it happens, I have a house full of women who are tired of this long hard winter and they need a bit of entertainment. It’s not exactly the opera house in Paris but it can’t be that bad. What do you say we get dressed up and go see a show? It’s Saturday night. Something must be playing.”
“I told him we would be terribly overdressed for such a small place.” Cherise said softly, as if this were a sin that might be unforgiveable.
I thought of the women who came to clean the place once a week and of their hateful stares that seemed to grow bitterer with each week that passed. I imagined the pain I would feel if I were treated that way by everyone I once knew and I was sure I would be. As if he sensed this in me, Luke crouched in front of me and took my hands. “Look at me.” He demanded softly. I did and what I saw surprised me. He not only knew what I was thinking, he completely understood it. “Are you going to let them all make you feel as if you didn’t deserve something better? They said nothing as your sisters married well, or appeared to. They said nothing of their big houses and their nice things. And you were the sweetest, the fairest of them all. So who are they to say you don’t deserve to be here? Be brave, little Arianne. Dress yourself in the most beautiful gown you have, paint your face in Cherise’s things, use Mother’s perfumed oils, and walk into that little theater tonight with your head held high. If you cannot do it for yourself than please, do it for me. Show me that you know you are good enough.”
“Why do you care what I think of myself?” I retorted.
He smiled at me and nearly whispered, “Always asking why I care as if you don’t know by now that I do.”
I didn’t know that at all but I did get ready and I let Cherise make up my face with her paints in a way that I had never been made up before. We were like sisters that night as we got ready for the evening ahead. Mother refused to go and Cook had no interest in seeing a show so it would be the three of us alone. I was grateful for the warm cloak and the fur trimmed gloves that Luke had purchased with my dresses and I felt a bit like a princess as I slipped them on. I was sure that the townspeople had already heard stories of me up in the castle lounging around all day among my books and I was sure that they would have resented me for that even if I had come to them dressed in rags. So I might as well hold my head high in clothes so expensive that the cost of them could have kept the theater going for years. But despite that defiance put in me by the few who seemed to scorn me, I couldn’t help but feel guilty when it came to the many that had never done a thing wrong to me.
On the carriage ride I began to shake and I told myself it was due only to the cold but I knew better. I was terribly nervous. I didn’t want to see hate in the eyes of my old friends but I couldn’t blame them for it if I did. Suddenly Luke took my hand in his and I nearly jumped. “It won’t be as bad as all that, my girl. I swear to you, it won’t. The man who owns the theater, he was a friend of your father’s, was he not? He watched you grow up. Do you think he would look at you differently because of your pretty dress?”
“How did you know all of that? About my father and Monsieur Moreau?” Instead of answering what I saw as a reasonable question, he only smiled and again silence fell around us the rest of the way into town.
There had been a little snow fall during the week but nothing like the snow we had seen a month before and it looked like many in the village were gathered around the theater and the pub and tavern on either side of it. It seemed like everyone was tired of being inside their homes and as the theater and the tavern were the only places where entertainment could be found, it wasn’t surprising that everyone was there. The carriage stopped outside of the building that was our destination and Luke’s driver assured him that he would be there to pick us up when the show ended. As we climbed out, I looked at the small town square that had always seemed like the center of the world throughout my life and I realized for the first time how tiny it looked to me now. Looping his arm inside of Cherise’s Luke moved to do the same with mine and instead he clasped my hand and gave it a tender squeeze. We walked forward and were almost to the door when Monsieur Moreau and his wife appeared. Instantly I was embraced by the couple as I was asked all about the way that I was fairing in the “big house” outside of town. There were no traces of animosity from these wonderful people at all. Only the love I had always known and it warmed my heart more than I would have guessed. Before he let us go the great Monsieur looked at Luke and winked. “When you marry the girl, be sure to invite us, won’t you, son?”
“But of course.” Luke replied with a smile as he led us inside.
I only looked at the man who was so cold and distant and pondered his response. Marriage? Ha! I didn’t even know his last name! But I said nothing as we went into the tiny theater that provided only the most basic comforts to those who came. Still, to me, it always felt like home. I sat in the center row to the right of the stage, the seats that had always provided the best view without the heat from the candles up front. “What are they putting on tonight?” I asked because I had not noticed the sign outside in my trepidation. All of my frazzled nerves had gone. But of course they had. I loved that little theater and when I sat before that stage I dreamed of a day when I might be up there playing the lead as people cheered in awe.
“It’s something fairly new called Idoménée. It is a tale of…”
I smiled at him. “I know. I’ve seen it. I used to practice the voice of Venus while I cleaned our home.” Was I beaming? Possibly. This truly was the greatest place he might have taken me on a cold winter’s night.
I was lost in the twisted story of a woman in love with the son of a potential suitor who ends up shipwrecked only to be saved by Neptune who wants the sacrifice of the man’s son in return. By the end you think that all will be well. The son and the woman are united with the father’s consent, he has outwitted the Gods…and then… “Oh, that was just terrible!” Cherise cried out as we left the theater. She made us sit for five minuets after the curtain went down to absorb what she had just witnessed. “That damned Neptune, that bastard! Driving Idoménée insane in such a way! Illione left heartbroken like that just when she thought all was well for her! Oh, what sort of person would write such a horrible story?”
Luke put his arm around her as we walked across the street to where the carriage was waiting as promised. “My sweet girl, I told you before we left that this play is a tragedy.”
“But you did not tell me some poor girl was going to go through hell to turn up all but widowed! You said nothing of that, Lucania!” She protested as we climbed inside. It was the first time I had ever heard her call him by his name and it made me smile.
Until that night I had forgotten my dreams of the stage. I had forgotten the times that Monsieur Moreau had allowed me to come in and watch the shows for nothing, the times that he had invited me to watch rehearsals if I had time during the day, and the way he had always told me that one day he would come to Paris to watch me on the stage. It was my destiny, he always said. I had wanted him to be right. I had wanted that with all of my heart once. Now that dream was gone. I couldn’t say why I felt that way but I did. Whatever might have been my destiny the night before my father died, it was all changed now. “I watched you tonight. I saw the way you whispered the lines, the way that you lost yourself in the story on the stage. It seems to me that you would be well suited for that type of work. It’s an art, you know. But the people can be cruel, especially to women in the theater. However, if you could endure that…”
We were sitting before the fireplace in the first floor parlor. As soon as we came home he had asked if I were tired and when I said I was not, he had produced a nice bottle of wine and he launched into a conversation about my future even as he poured. He was being kind. What he did not know was that this dream I once had was so intertwined with my father, the only person who encouraged me toward dreams of that nature besides the great Monsieur, that to think of it now broke my heart. ‘One day you will take to the stage and when you look out I will be sitting right up front looking with pride at my petite beauté.’ That is what papa would tell me. He was saving the money to send me to Paris for that purpose, a little at a time. But when he got sick I spent what he had on medicines and meat, things we needed. I never told him. I wouldn’t dare. That was his dream and it would have broken his heart to know that it was sacrificed for reality. “No, I will never take the stage. It is not for me.” I replied simply, hoping he would leave it alone.
“That’s absurd. Monsieur Moreau told me stories, the way that you took to the stage like a duck takes to water, how you would come and watch the actors prepare and you would show them the proper way to move or to say their lines. He said if you had not had so much responsibility at home he would have put you in a show before your tenth birthday but you never seemed to have the time. He said you have a gift. Why would he say these things if they were not true?”
“Why did he tell you those things at all?” I asked in return.
Lucania seemed suddenly uncomfortable and I watched him shift uneasily in his seat. “I was in the village, at the tavern to be exact, and he came up to me asking questions about you. I want no damage done to your reputation, of course, and the fact that I am supposed to be a distant relative is hardly enough to keep people from talking. So I told him I intended to marry you. He only wants you to be happy. I think he told me those things believing that I was your future husband because he wants to know that I will allow you your dreams. He is a good man and he is very fond of you. He kept calling you something, a nickname that he and your father used for you…”
“La petite beauté…or just petite beauté. Yes. All of my life, as far back as I can remember, they called me the little beauty. They would have disputes over which of them first called me that. Monsieur Moreau still says it was he, that my father bundled me up the night I was born and he brought me to the theater to show Monsieur and his wife and as soon as he saw me he gave me the name. Father contends that the story is rubbish, that he called me that as soon as I was born, and they will…or they would…” I could no longer speak over the lump in my throat. For a moment as we spoke of these things I had forgotten that my father was dead now, that I would never see his handsome tired smile again, the deep lines in his face from hard work and worry, or feel his protective arms embrace me. And when I realized this it was as if I was facing his death again for the first time. I did not want Luke to see my tears so I turned my face away but he came to me, this beautiful mysterious man, and he took my hands in his. His skin, always so cold, was comforting to me then.
“You do not need to be ashamed of your tears, Arianne. Your father’s death is the greatest loss you’ve ever known in your short life. From what I know, your father was a very good man and he loved all of his children but he loved you just a little more because he knew that you were special. He did amazing things for you considering how poor you were. He educated you in a way that rich men never think of doing with their daughters. In this way, though he had little money to spare, he gave you something that was worth more than a rich girl’s fancy things and no one will ever be able to take away that legacy. When such a great man dies, there should be tears. In fact, when a man like your father dies the entire world should weep.” Luke did something then that took my breath away. He leaned forward and he kissed me. It was just a soft peck on the cheek but it was enough to put fire in my belly and joy back in my heart. Then he patted my hair and left me without a word.
After that night Luke began taking me to the theater twice, sometimes three times, a week. Cherise refused to go again unless she was assured that the show was a comedy, apparently feeling quite duped by her first experience there and wishing never to repeat that. As comedies were only shown about once a month, she did not go often. But even though the people in town seemed to hate me a little more each time I arrived in my fancy gowns better suited for the opera house in Paris with a beautiful man at my side, a man everyone believed was my betrothed, I had learned to ignore their glares and their sneers. Besides, inside of that theater I was safe from all of that because that humble place of humble shows was a home to me and Monsieur Moreau would have shown anyone out who dared to challenge that. More than once Monsieur sat with us once the curtain came up and he mouthed the words to the shows just as I did. He had once been an actor on a large Paris stage. His name had appeared in papers and he was celebrated as a great talent. Then he met a young girl who stole his heart and he left it all behind to have her for his bride. The two were still very much in love though God had never given them children, something that secretly pained them both. When my mother died the two did all they could to help us and even before that they were like family to me. So it felt right to have him at my side, his old weathered hand in mine, as we recited together the words of the shows we both knew well.
In March when my birthday came Monsieur Moreau carried on a tradition that began when I was only five years old. You see, I received my name from a great tragedy from my father’s youth written by the great but largely overshadowed Thomas Corneille. The play, of course, was Ariane. It was a story of a princess abandoned by her love and each year on my birthday it was shown in the little theater in my village by my father’s dear friend, the man who helped name me when my father brought me in bundled in rags with the March snow on his coat. Because this was my first birthday without my father I spent the day in the library weeping for my memories and I had no intention of leaving the house that night. I thought, with my father gone, that Monsieur would abandon the tradition altogether. So when Luke came in with a grin on his face and presents under his arm telling me to get dressed at once, I told him no. How he knew it was my birthday, I wasn’t sure. But if he planned to celebrate it, he would be celebrating it alone. At last he talked me into putting on a gown I had not yet worn because it was the most expensive and ornate one in the bunch. It was an emerald green silk that had been imported from what I heard and one of the packages he offered me contained an emerald necklace and ear bobs to match. For this occasion he got the entire family to come out and I tried to be happy but I could not shake the sorrow in my heart. The whole day I had felt as if someone very important was missing and even with those I loved around me, he could not be replaced.
As soon as we arrived at the theater my eyes welled up with tears and I fought as hard as I could to blink them away. I was silent as we went inside but I was shocked to see that the place was packed in the middle of the week. Not only was Monsieur showing Ariane, he was doing so for free to encourage all to come. He was such a good man and I was suddenly glad to spend this night with him. If I could not have papa, Monsieur seemed almost as good. Although this was all put together in honor of my birthday, no one made an effort to come up to me. They treated me as they did every time they saw me, as if I was an outsider now. And on this night that hurt me very much. When Monsieur took the stage he cleared his throat dramatically and a hush fell over the place at once.“Eighteen years ago tonight my dearest friend in the world braved a snow storm to bring to me his new beautiful girl. As we sat here in this very theater and thought of names I remembered a play, a great tragedy, that I had once played a part in when we were both young men. The play was Ariane and it had been one of our favorites in our youth, mine and my friend’s. And so as we looked at this little creature with the spark of greatness in her eyes we called out the name and she smiled. No, no, it is true, she did. Every year I put on this show for her and she sits right up front, where she is now, despite the heat of the lamps, with her father sitting on one side and me on the other but this winter my little beauty suffered a great loss. My dear friend, Arianne’s father, was taken into the arms of God. So this year she will sit with her betrothed at her side and her father smiling down on her as we carry on the tradition that he so loved.” Raising his glass in a toast, he commanded, “Rise, my petite beauté, rise and take a bow! Happy birthday, sweet girl! May you be forever as happy in this world as you are right now!” It was the same thing he said every year only this time when I stood my father was not there to stand with me and Luke did not know to take my hand and kiss it.
I was in tears by the time the show began but Luke did take my hand in his and he held it the whole time through. When the show was done Monsieur insisted we go with him behind the theater to the little house attached that he and his wife had called home for decades. He offered us cake and wine and stories of the little girl I had been. Luke seemed to be interested in these tales so much that I nearly forgot that all he had told my godfather about our future together was a lie. Mother got on well with Monsieur’s wife. In fact, I had never seen her smile or engage in light hearted conversation before and it was nice to watch. Cherise stayed close to me and she listened to all that was being said looking a bit like a scared kitten until I showed her around the place and told her my memories of each room. Because everyone seemed to be fine in their little groups, the men on one side and the women on the other, I took her back down to the theater and as local boys cleaned up I put on a one woman play of sorts that I made up entirely as I went along. I had done this so many times in the past spending all of my spare time here, even studying my books right on the stage, and I was lost in the moment until I took my bow and looked up to see that everyone from the house was now gathered at the entrance clapping for me. I saw Monsieur whisper something to Luke and I knew what he was saying. ‘See, I told you…take the girl to Paris and put her on a stage’’ or something along those lines. So I jumped down at once, something my papa would have scolded me for, and I was quick with my goodbyes before I walked out into an unseasonably warm night.
“Go ahead.” I heard Luke say to the others. And to his driver he whispered something before turning to me. “It is a nice night and after all the months of snow and ice I thought you might enjoy an evening stroll.”
“I’ve seen enough of my past, Luke. I’ve revisited enough of the memories for one night. So if you are thinking of taking me somewhere…”
“No, not at all. I am sorry the night upset you. I saw your friend when I came to the village last night and he told me that today was your birthday and that I had to bring you in for the show, that it was a tradition for you. He seemed so hopeful that you would come that I promised him I would…”
“You did the right thing. You did. I would never want to give that wonderful man a moment of disappointment. He has been so good to me and it is our tradition. He and my father devised it as soon as I was old enough to sit still for a show. It was right that I came. But that doesn’t make it hurt me less. I felt my father there tonight. I felt him at my side. He seemed close enough to touch but when I reached out my hand it was your skin I felt. I want to thank you for being with me tonight. I am very lucky to have a friend as kind as you are.” I said to him and I meant it. In the month or so since we began spending nights together in the village or reading silently side by side until dawn, I had forgotten that he could be cruel. I had forgotten the feeling of chains on my wrist and cold stone at my back. Luke had become something else in my mind altogether and yes, I loved him. With each night that passed I loved him a little more. And I was grateful to him for all he had done.
For a long time we walked and then I realized we were approaching the house. We had gone in a way that was opposite the usual way we traveled and yet we had returned to the grounds I knew once more. “No matter which way one takes out of the village, one will end up here.” I said quietly.
“Yes. From what I understand, the village was actually built around the house so to speak. Anyway, there is something I want to show you. I noticed it while I was riding last night. As soon as I saw it, I couldn’t wait to show it you.” He seemed excited as he led me through the grass toward high bushes of some sort that were already full and green though full spring was not yet upon us. I could see this long line of bushes from my bedroom window and I knew that there was a line of this sort on both sides of the dirt road that led up to the house. But it seemed as if there was something in particular that he was looking for as he led me onward. Finally he stopped and silently he pointed as if whatever it was that he wanted me to see was so magical he couldn’t even speak of it. Bending down I looked and at first I saw nothing but then, as my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I put my hand over my mouth in surprise. “A purple rose? Is that right?” I asked because in all of my reading I had never heard of such a thing.
“Yes, that is correct. It is a crossbreed of some sort that I found in the Orient. As soon as I came here I sent for seeds and I planted them all along the path. I have red roses in the garden, pink and white and even yellow as well, but these are too proud to be anywhere but here, don’t you think?”
Purple was my favorite color and I thought that this Oriental rose, however it came to exist, was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen in all of my life. More beautiful, even, than the ornate gown on my body or the gorgeous necklace at my throat. When I said as much, Luke smiled. Then he took my face in his hands and my heart began to pound as he whispered, “Arianne, my beautiful Arianne, there is no one who compares to you. Any woman who looks at a rose on the vine with more love and adoration than jewels or gold, any woman with a mind that absorbs so much and judges little, any woman with a smile full of life even when she hurts, is extraordinary. You are extraordinary. Happy birthday, little beauty.” And finally he kissed me, a kiss so full of passion and fire that it made my legs weak and my hands trembled. When he moved away I stood a little higher and I kissed him. I had no idea what I was doing but it didn’t seem to matter. Whatever the future brought, I would remember this for the rest of my life. “Go on in the house and ask Mother to bring you the rest of your gifts. I have something I must do. I will see you in the evening. Dream of angels.” And with that he walked away.
So much was running in a river of emotions inside of me that I could not identify how I felt. I was disappointed that he left like that, happy he had ever stood there with me in the first place, anxious for the future, sad about the past…I faked smiles as Mother, Cherise, and Cook gathered around with my gifts that included my own perfume from Paris and face paints Cherise had no doubt recommended as well as a set of ivory combs for my hair. They were all very nice things, things I never dreamed I would own, but my mind was out riding in the night with the thoughtful man who had purchased them. Before going to bed I wrote a note to him thanking him for everything but I couldn’t seem to fall asleep until I heard his horse come up the drive. Where did he go when he arrived? I still had no idea. I did not know where any of them slept. But I could close my eyes in peace knowing he was home.
After that night something came over Luke turning him cold toward not just me but everyone around him. Even Mother wasn’t safe from his sharp tongue or his quick temper. He stopped taking me to the theater, he stopped spending time with me in the library; in fact, he stopped spending time with me at all. So in response to his cold shoulder, I ignored him. My heart was aching at this change, the coldness that was again in his eyes, but I was not going to give him the satisfaction of knowing that. Cherise, on the other hand, took to heart every mean word, every tantrum he threw. She was in love with him. I knew that. And I was quickly getting tired of seeing the pain in her eyes and knowing that he was the cause of it. Finally in mid-April his behavior came to a head and I had enough of it. My plans were to go down to the library, open the windows, and read with the scent of the newly blooming roses outside coming in to me on the wind. There had been a nice breeze outside all day and I had spent most of my time that past week in the gardens until evening when I would then return to the books and the escape they provided. But as I was walking downstairs I heard shouting in the parlor and I walked in on another of Luke’s temper tantrums. I was sickened by what I saw.
Cherise was at his side, her face crumpled in pain, and he was going on and on about some repair that was supposed to be done a week ago, some man who had not shown up. I listened to this from the doorway where I was watching it thinking he would get it out of his system and that would be that. Then he turned on Cherise. Even though his anger, his fury had nothing to do with the poor girl at his side, he began shouting at her, first in French, then in English, and by the time he switched to Greek, I could hear her heavy sobs behind the tiny hands that covered her face. I had had enough of it all. I was finished with him taking his rage out on the most vulnerable among us just as I was finished with him pretending not to see what was right in front of his face. “Enough, goddamned it!” I shouted in Greek. I had never spoken to him in his native tongue and I think the surprise of hearing it was what shocked him into silence. His eyes were fixed on me and it was obvious he wanted to shout some more but for some reason, he said nothing. That was how I wanted it because there was much I had to say to him. “You have no right to treat her this way and you will do it no more, Lucania! You will not bring her to tears, not when she loves you so! Oh, don’t look so surprised, you stupid fool! She is in love with you! And when you shout at her, when you say the cruel things you never mean, she takes it all to heart! So you’ve done it for the last time!”
Cherise had stopped crying and she was wiping at her face even as she looked at us, no doubt wondering what was being said. In the dim light I could see that there was something, a streak of color where her tears had been, but before I could give that much thought he replied in a soft voice, a voice wrought with uncertainty, “But I am not in love with her. I love her as one might love a child. What am I to do with that?”
For some reason his words surprised me. I think a part of me had assumed that he used her in a way that one would not use a child and that she was his lover. Now I saw that I had been very mistaken about their relationship all the while. “Figure it out!” I shouted and then I turned to go.
I was in my room no longer than half an hour before he came knocking. This was why I had sought sanctuary upstairs instead of going into the library as I had intended when I came down. Here, at least, he had to ask permission to disturb me and I could throw him out if it came to that. “Come in.” I called out. And I waited. No one came. Annoyed at all of this, I got up and opened the door to find a flower from the garden on top of a note. ‘Meet me in my chambers. I have much to say.’ It read simply but I had to go over it three times to make sure I read it right.
I had never been inside of Luke’s personal chambers and I actually had to ask Mother where they were. Instead of saying anything, she investigated the note and then she lead me up a hidden staircase one could only access through the lavatory and only if one knew the right spot in the wall to push on. When I asked about this as we scaled the very dark, very narrow staircase, she said only, “For his protection, child.”
Again I had the feeling that there was much, so much that I did not know. I was in love with him and yet I knew virtually nothing beyond his name and that once he was a child in the Mediterranean sun of Greece. I had so much I wanted only to ask him, so much I wished he would share, but I knew it was all but impossible that he ever would. Nearly five months I had been with him in the same house day after day and night after night and this was only the first time I had ever seen where he slept, where he stayed no doubt when he could not be found. I could probably spend an eternity with him and never know his secrets, I thought, as Mother left me outside of a door after knocking thrice on it. If I never knew him, I wondered as I waited, could I ever really claim to love him at all? Yet when he opened the door he smiled at me and like it did so often, that smile almost made me forget all else.
“Please, come in.” He said softly, stepping aside so I could do just that. I sat in a chair and I said nothing, confused by the meeting as much as by my emotions. “How did you know? About Cherise, I mean?”
Straight to the point tonight, I thought. “It’s quite obvious. I would think anyone would know.” I replied simply.
“Have you ever had to tell someone who loved you that you did not love them in the same way, someone you cared about, a close friend perhaps? Can you offer no suggestions?”
I was irritated with him. He ignored me for over a month and this was what he wanted to discuss? “No, Luke, I was too busy to get myself into situations like that. So if that is all…” I stood to leave but he moved quickly, putting his hand on my arm.
“No, that’s not all. Please sit. Be patient with me while I try to say what’s on my mind. This is not easy for me. Emotions are never easy.” He began to pace and I sat as he had asked because this, whatever it was, seemed like something I did not want to miss. “First, I want to say that I am sorry for being distant lately. We were spending so much time together and I thought…I don’t know what I thought…that it was for the best? I am not the sort of person you want to care for, Arianne. I am not a man who deserves your love. And I saw something in your eyes that night by the roses that mirrored closely what started to bloom in my heart…it is better sometimes to cause someone a little pain in order to spare them from a greater sorrow.”
I started to laugh. I couldn’t help myself. I wondered who it was that he was trying to convince here, me or himself, because I didn’t believe any of this. “How do I seem to you? Do I seem like a fragile flower you fear crushing? I may have been that once but that was another life and if anyone noticed the change in me I would have thought it would have been you. I always think of you as a wise man. But perhaps in some ways you have no more wisdom than the boys in the village. If you fear love or affection than say as much but don’t kiss me in the moonlight and then treat me like a stranger and tell me you did it because you thought it was best. Best for whom? Not me, certainly. I have known great sorrow. It did not kill me and I do not fear facing it again. Perhaps you are sparing yourself from such a thing but you’ve saved me from nothing by pulling away your hand of friendship.” I retorted, proud that my voice did not tremble with the anger I felt inside. “Who was she, Luke? Who was the woman that hurt you so bad that you will turn me out for her sins?”
He stopped his pacing at once and looked at me in surprise. Ah, of course. Only someone who had been hurt before could fear being hurt again so much. “I have no idea what you are talking about.” His voice was barely above a whisper and his eyes told me he was lying. I had had enough.
Standing, I made my way to the door. “That is horseshit! You know perfectly well what I am talking about. You’ll turn away from me because of her, whoever she is, but god forbid you tell me the story. Yes, it would be a crime to actually divulge a truth about yourself, wouldn’t it? You know everything of my life. What I did not tell you, you went around the village gathering from those who knew me and I know nothing about you. It is one of many things about us that appear to be one-sided. Go back to avoiding me. At least that makes a cold kind of sense.”
When I stormed out he did not follow me. As if to remind myself that I had thought for a brief moment that he might be mine, I sought refuge in the yard, the gardens. I sat in the grass breathing in the scent of flowers trying to remember the way my heart had beat when his lips touched mine. It was all a lie. Perhaps not in the moment. I knew he had meant everything that night. But if there would never be anything to follow it up with, it was a lie now. I began to think then about leaving. I didn’t think he would try to stop me at that point. Whatever he had kept me there to prove once appeared to have been proven to him long ago. So I could go if I wanted. But that was the problem. There was nothing I wanted less.
“Her name was Charlotte.” I looked behind me and I saw Luke standing there staring off into nothing. I thought he would sit down but instead he went on. “She wasn’t from around here. It was another small French village a long time ago. Feels like centuries. I can’t tell you the particulars of the story. But I loved her despite all of the warnings I got from the others, despite my own good sense, and when she told me she loved me I believed her. In the end she betrayed me. Knowing that each whispered sigh in the dark, each soft caress, each declaration of love was a lie, hurt far more than the betrayal. In the beginning she was a lot like you. And I trusted her as I have come to trust you. So if I pull away when I see the start of love in your eyes it is not because I don’t care. It is because I cannot stand one day discovering that you, the sweet girl I see now, are nothing but a deception.” I tried to follow him when he left me there but it was no good. He moved too fast in the dark and I eventually gave up on him for the night when my pleading outside his door fell on deaf ears. No one in the house saw him for three days after that. The rest of the little family did not seem worried by his absence but I was. He had never left like that before. I remember saying little prayers I could barely recall to the Virgin so that she might protect him. I suppose I thought she would take pity on my female heart and return him to me. I don’t know. But I was heartsick and I knew only that I wanted him to come home.
Someone was watching me. I had not been asleep long but I had fallen deeply into dreams when I closed my eyes and suddenly I was startled from the maze I was attempting to navigate in my dreaming world, the one that would take me to something important, by the knowledge that I wasn’t alone in the room. Opening my eyes, I saw Lucania at last. He had opened my bed curtain so he could stand back a little and watch me sleep. “I was very worried about you.” I said softly, yawning as I sat up.
“I’ve been very worried about myself.” He replied. His voice sounded troubled, not at all like itself.
For the longest time he stood where he was and we simply stared at one another. I thought of everything I wanted to say the night he told me of Charlotte, I thought of my fears while he was gone, that he would never return, and most of all I thought of what I promised the Blessed Mother. I would be honest with him if he returned. I would tell him how I felt if she would only see him home. It was a promise to myself really. But now that he was there in my room I could say nothing, do nothing, but watch him by the light of a weak half-moon and hope that he would come to me at last. “Sit, please.” I said finally. My heart was pounding. But he didn’t move, he didn’t speak. He only stood there looking at me in a strange way. For a moment, just a brief moment, I was afraid of him. I was afraid that I had misjudged him and that he was in fact the monster I imagined the first night I met him.
Suddenly he came to me and when he cupped the back of my neck with his hand I actually pulled away. But he did me no harm. Instead he kissed me with passion and with something else, some sort of urgency I could not understand yet. When he broke the kiss he didn’t flee from me as he had before. No. He looked into my eyes and then he held me against him and though he did not weep I swear I heard tears in his voice. “I love you, Arianne. Though I have no right to, though there is so much I cannot tell you and you may never really know who I am, I love you. And I want you.” I moved to look at him and again he kissed me. My head was swimming. I remember thinking ‘This is the moment. There is no turning back now’. I could have if I had wanted to but all I wanted in that moment was his cold body against mine. To hell with all I had been taught of marriage and decency. Here in this world that he created, that he controlled, none of that mattered.
“I want you too. I’ve always wanted you.” I whispered softly.
“I assume you’ve never…?” I shook my head no. “Are you sure you want this?”
“More than anything.” I replied. I kissed him as I worked at the buttons on his shirt. I wanted to see him as I had never seen him, or any man for that matter, before. But he took my hands after I removed his shirt to keep me from going further. It was nothing for him to explore my body through my thin dressing gown and at first that is what he did. The feeling of the silk against my warm skin while his icy hands moved over it was enough to drive me over the edge of reason. By the time he removed it, I wanted more. But he refused to rush anything. Without a word he explored me as if I were new territory to claim, his mouth, his hands working over me as I bucked against him and cried out for release. Finally he undid his trousers and I saw in the near darkness the beauty of his body. It was then that I got nervous. I wanted to touch his manhood and yet I also wanted to back away, call the whole thing off. But without words he reassured me that all would be well. So I laid back and I waited. “I love you. No matter what happens in the future I will always love you, petite beauté.” He whispered against my ear as he entered me slowly. There was pain and at first I wasn’t sure if I could go on. He was so hard inside of me, so cold, but soon I relaxed and time stood still. It felt like seconds, it felt like an eternity, I couldn’t tell but soon I was crying out his name and riding the waves of my first orgasm. Higher and higher he took me and then back down I came only to go back up again. When he let out an inhuman growl I came again and it took a moment to realize it was over.
Suddenly I felt very cold with his body covering mine but I said nothing because I didn’t want him to move. I wanted to savor this moment. I think I believed that he would send me away after that. Some part of me thought that if he would ignore me over a kiss surely he would turn his back on me altogether over this and I wanted to keep my arms around him as long as he would allow me. He was so hard. My fingers were gliding over the muscles in his shoulders, his back, his beautiful black hair that fell around him in waves. When he did move he didn’t go far. Instead he lay at my side and opened his arms to me. Everything about him fit me like a glove. It felt as if my body were meant for his as I pressed myself against him and I couldn’t help but smile. “This means something to me. I did not take your innocence tonight so I might turn you away tomorrow. I may be cruel sometimes but I do not play with hearts. If you want me for now I am yours. One day we might part. But for now…” He paused as he kissed me. “For now I’m yours.”
This was everything I had wanted. When I fell asleep, he was holding me as I had always dreamed he would and he was whispering words of love, the things I had wanted to hear from him for months. There was no one else like him. I knew that. And just before sleep came I remember wondering if he was even human because he seemed like so much more.
As the spring turned to summer, the love between Luke and me grew. He seemed so different with me after our first night together. He seemed different in general. It was as if he were lighter somehow. He let his smile come easily, he laughed often, he was even playful at times. I never would have guessed that first night I met him that such a man existed under his hard exterior. We got into the habit of going to the theater now and then but not nearly as often as we had in the past. It was too warm outside to be within the hot and humid play house. So we spent hours riding around the woods and playing in the gardens. Although no one discussed it, after a time I assumed that everyone in the house knew what was going on between us. I was sure Mother did. Sometimes she would come outside with us and I would catch her looking at us in a way that I couldn’t quite read. Still, although I fell asleep in his arms each night, I woke up each morning alone. I assumed this was done in an effort to keep secret what I thought should be so clear.
We went on this way for months. If I had ever been happier, I could not recall it. His family had become my family. His life was now our life together. In the beginning I was always waiting for the other shoe to drop, for him to change his mind and call it all off, but as the summer began slowly fading into autumn those fears seemed to pass with the season. I got to a point where I was comfortable with our life, where I felt I could rely on him to come to me at dusk, where I felt like it was really possible that he might love me for the rest of our lives. And just as the tension and the fears disappeared he, in one night, gave me reason to doubt everything I now knew of his intentions.
The sun had been down a little longer than an hour and though I was in my room waiting for him, Luke had not yet come. When I heard a knock at my door I thought it odd for he had long ago stopped knocking but when I answered it I found Cherise on the other side. She smiled nervously and said softly, “The Master is requesting that all of us meet him downstairs in the parlor.”
“Why? And why did he send you instead of coming to me himself?” I asked, my heart already pounding in my chest.
“I don’t know. He just asked that I fetch you.” Again there was the uncertain smile, the one that made me worry even more. I nodded but I shut the door. I needed a minuet to sit and compose myself, to ready myself for whatever was about to happen. I thought I knew only too well what was going on and already the tears were threatening to choke me. He was sending me away. What else could it be? But when I was sure that no tears would fall, I held my head high and I squared my shoulders determined to meet him with all of the strength I had acquired in the past few months. If I was going to break, he would never see it, I told myself as I walked. He did not deserve to.
When I arrived in the parlor I saw that Cherise still seemed worried, Mother seemed resigned, and Cook…Well, poor Cook looked lost. All of this alarmed me as I ran over in my mind the things that might have led to this meeting. Was he really making me go? Had he only kept me there to make sure I would tell no one about those first few nights and now that I had kept my loyalty for him strong, was he ready to see me off? My heart sank at the thought but I waited with all the others to hear what he would say. He cleared his throat and the room was so quiet that the sound made me jump. “Mother, Cook, and Cherise probably know what I am going to say. They have gone through many periods of my absences over the years. They may not like it, perhaps, but they know it is necessary. But you, sweet Arianne, you’ve never watched me go before. My family, I must travel for a while. Not long…not like the last time. I shall be gone at least a month but no more than two. If circumstances change while I am gone, I will write and tell you where to meet me.”
“What about Arianne? If things change and we must go, what will we do about her?” Mother asked as if I were no longer there. I wished I wasn’t. I wanted to be upstairs packing my things so I might follow him wherever he was off to. I wanted him to ask me to come along. But it was foolish, that thought, like all my thoughts of kindness for him, all my feelings of love. Yes, he was telling us before he went but that did not take away from the pain of his going. And for what? He would never answer me if I asked. I was sure Mother probably knew just as she probably knew where he was going but she would never tell us. She was the keeper of his secrets, his guide, the one who kept things together in his crazy world. And now it was to her that he gave his response concerning my fate.
“If it comes to that and she would like to come, of course she may. But if she does not want to uproot, she can stay here. Leave her the house…”
“I am right here, Luke! Speak to me about my future! You could at least spare me that kindness, couldn’t you?” I demanded. I couldn’t sit there another moment. Anything he would say would be a lie or a half-truth concerning this ‘absence’ of his. Again he would ask that I understand without knowing what it was I was supposed to be making allowances for. I had been in his house, in his arms…and none of it mattered at the end of the day because Luke was going to do as he damned well pleased with no thought for my feelings on the matter. I got up silently and went upstairs, locking my door behind me. I had told him in the past that I wanted not to change him, that he was perfect as he was, but the truth was there inside my chest where a ball of hurt had lodged. There were some parts of him that pained me too much and the truth was that he would never change, not even for me.
He must have anticipated what I would do because he came in the door with Mother’s key in his hand and a sly smile on his lips. “I have spares to every room, you know. You’ll have to do better than that if you want to keep me out.”
I turned from the window where I was pretending not to notice when he walked in and I replied bitterly, “No, if I want to keep you out all I have to do is ask for an explanation or a say in what you do. You would stay out well enough then.”
He was on his way to where I stood until I spoke. As I turned I saw that he was standing in the middle of the room with a look of anger in his eyes. “What’s all this? What is going on inside that pretty dark head of yours?” He tried to smile but I knew it wasn’t real. So much of what he had shown me lately was like that.
“I share your home, I let you share my bed without the protection of marriage vows, but you will never let me share your life. For all of your pretty words and your tender promises, you won’t hint at that. I have no say in what you do though you have all but built the life I live. And now you will be gone for what will feel to me like a small eternity and all you can do is take me in a room and tell me with everyone else. When you discuss how I shall be handled, for that is exactly what you were doing down there, I would prefer it if you would do so with me, not Mother. I think I’ve had enough choices made for me if it’s all the same to you.”
He thought he understood. I knew that when he gave me a real smile and came over to embrace me. “I won’t be gone so long, my love…”
I broke from his arms and I moved away from him because if I didn’t I knew that I would slap him in my frustration. “It doesn’t matter! It doesn’t matter if you were only leaving for a week! What matters is that you do not love me enough to love me all the way! That is the problem with us, Luke, and that is what makes me wonder why I share your bed or your home! What are we doing?”
I sat on the bed, pressing my back against the pillows as I drew my knees up to my chest. For a moment he said nothing, he did nothing, he just stood there looking at the spot where I had been a moment before. I thought he would leave then, go hide away in his rooms as he was so fond of doing. But instead he came to me, sat beside of me, and he tried to take me in his arms. When I resisted, he draped an arm around my shoulders and he said softly in Greek, “There are so many things you do not know because you cannot know them. I cannot share with you everything. To do so would put us both in great danger, sweet girl. It is not that I don’t want to. I have searched for an eternity to find someone outside of Cook, Cherise, and Mother that I could love, someone I could love in the way that I love you. But when you are old and you take your last breath, you will leave me. So I cannot give you all. There are differences between us that you would never understand and I cannot get around them. But I beg you to try, for tonight at least, to understand those things you cannot know so I can have this time with you before I go.”
I wasn’t satisfied with his explanation. I wasn’t happy leaving things like that. But he was right on one point. I did not want him to go without having one last night before he went off. I got the impression from the way that he and Mother talked downstairs that there was danger attached to this trip and I could not bear the thought of him being harmed in some way but even worse, I couldn’t stomach the thought of such a thing happening without us having one more night of love. So I let him kiss me and I kissed him just as deeply. I let him run his hands through my hair; I let him explore my body as he had done so much in the last few months. Where once there was fear in moments like this, now I felt only lust and anticipation. I wanted him, god help me I did, and I loved him with all I had. In the days of loneliness to come that may not feel like enough but in that moment, it was all I needed. His cold skin against mine made me shiver. I had come to love the feel of it even if I didn’t understand it at all, the icy way it felt even in the summertime, the hard marble-like feel of it under my finger tip…I craved it. That was one aspect of him that I would never question. It was the one mystery I wanted to forever keep in our fairytale.
The next evening when he came down I could hardly look at him. The sorrow was already settled in my stomach and he hadn’t even gone yet. While he kissed me and stroked my hair back from my face, Mother seemed to soften toward us. There was something in her expression that made me think as I let him go that she definitely saw what was growing between us, the love that I had for her beloved Lucania. She was even kind enough to turn away when he moved in to kiss me so I didn’t have to feel shy about returning the kiss. As soon as he whispered his goodbye to me, he turned to her and embraced her and it was then I thought he might break with the emotion that appeared on his face but he did not. Not even as Cherise, poor dear, wept in his arms and ran from the room when he said he had to go. But as soon as Cook hugged him, he rushed out into the night, the cool air of early autumn lingering as a final goodbye. My heart was aching in a way it hadn’t ached since I lost my father and I found myself whispering a prayer of protection for his travels that I thought I had long forgotten.
In the days and nights that followed an almost unbearable loneliness settled inside of me and it seemed that the company of the others only intensified it. And why not? Every time I looked at them, every time I walked around the house, the grounds, even my own bedchamber, I thought of him. It was only in the library that I found peace. Sure, he and I had shared moments there but since the first time I laid eyes on that room a part of me had claimed it as mine and mine alone. So that is where I sought my refuge, amongst the beauty and the books. When Luke left it seemed my ability to sleep went with him and I spent more hours in that room than I could count, reading everything I had not read before until I was bored with what was left. The desire to get my hands on one of the old books at the very top of the massive shelves began almost as soon as he departed. I can’t say why but it seemed to me like this was my chance to prove that I still had a mind of my own, that I could do things of my own accord and I could still be the mistress of my own life. Perhaps it also seemed like a way to pay him back for leaving in the first place. It took two weeks before the temptation to peek inside of those ancient texts overwhelmed me until I found myself at the top of the massive sliding ladder stretching to reach one of the old books I was told to leave alone.
Most of the people in the villages around us would have been highly disappointed in my position because the first book I took down was written in a very old form of Greek. Fortunately, I was able to understand enough to read it and make out what it was saying. The text was about two pieces of Greek mythology I couldn’t remember reading before. The first was about a creature called Empusa, the daughter of Hecate. As I read a story was woven about the creature taking the form of a beautiful young woman in order to seduce men and drink their blood. I thought this odd to be sure but I often felt that way where myths were concerned and so I read on to the next tale, one of a former human woman named Lamia. She was not a deity like the blood sucking female whose story preceded hers but rather the daughter of a king. Like so many in Greek myth, she had an affair with Zeus and when Hera found out she, as she was apt to do, turned her rage toward the woman instead of her unfaithful husband and she killed the children the couple had sired behind her back. In return, Lamia swore to get revenge by consuming the blood of infants. At the end she could no longer close her eyes (another hateful act from Hera) and her face was turned gruesome as a result of her terrible acts. I thought the story strange, perhaps a bit tragic, but it was the notes I found in the margins of the book that really intrigued me. The words were also the same form of old Greek, though they were scrolled by someone in an untidy hand, and all I could make out was talk of a change, destruction of humanity, and something about a link…a link between these tales and a change that had occurred. I was too confused to stop after that.
The next book was thin and it was written in a Latin typical of old Rome. It was a book about creatures the ancient Romans called “striges” that could change into the shape of owls and would drink the blood of babies. Again there was the handwriting from the first book scrawled in the margins and again the words were in Greek but this time they were neater on the page and easier for me to make out. The one sentence that I made out in its entirety said, ‘No shape changing (lie/myth), no knowledge of anyone drinking from babies, but still a connection?’ A connection to what? I did not know but I was determined to read until I found out. Over the next few days I poured over those ancient manuscripts reading about vampire legends from around the world. The strigoi in Romania (notes in the margin? ‘Strangest myth yet. Virtually no truth to it. Only the part about the blood is accurate), books on German vampire forms like the Alp and the Breslau, fairy vampire creatures from Scotland and Ireland, the Upyr in Russia, and finally the most recent book talking of the vampires in England. It was only about fifty years old, and like all of the rest it had that same handwriting down to the way it was slanted in the margins. By the end of it all I was left with more questions than answers and I was about to give up on it altogether when I found, as I was replacing that last small volume of lore, what appeared to be a small book. But when I opened it I realized at once that it was a journal. Not just any journal in fact but Lucania’s…only that was impossible. Because the date on the front cover made it nearly one hundred years old.
As I held the bound book in my hand, much like my own journal upstairs, my heart began to pound. Something was telling me to put it back, to end all of this searching before I discovered something I would never be able to wipe from my mind. A thin sheen of sweat broke out all over my body despite the fact that the large windows were open to the cool evening breeze. Soon the others would come down from their rooms and one of them might recognize what I held in my hand. I had to make up my mind in that moment whether I would put the book back and leave well enough alone or whether I would walk out of that room with the book clutched in my hands so I could squirrel it away upstairs and pour over everything that was within. For a moment I did move to replace it but I found when I tried my hand froze in mid-air, my heart pounded a little harder, and I could not do what I thought I must. Instead I found myself trying to stuff the book down the front of my dress and when I thought I had succeeded to the best of my ability, I walked quickly down the ladder and rushed from the room. I held my breath as I walked at a speed that was nearly a run up the two flights of stairs and only as I turned the lock on my bedchamber door was I able to really breathe. I had done it…yet the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach all but warned that what I was about to do would not give me cause for a celebration.
The first thing I noticed when I turned to the first page of the journal was that the handwriting here was the same handwriting I had seen again and again in the margins of the old books downstairs. It was identical right down to the language it was written in and although it wasn’t impossible for someone to know this form of Greek so completely in the century before, it was rare. That was odd. But it was the name, written in English for a reason I could not understand along with the date that really gave me pause. I had seen that handwriting before and as my mind raced I moved to get my own journal from the place I kept it so I could compare the way my name had been written out to the way ‘Lucania’ looked in the book before me. Sure enough the two were identical. I thought I had been mistaken and I probably studied the two pieces of writing for over an hour before I would accept that they were, indeed, penned by the same hand. There was no denying it. Though how it was possible, I did not know and in order to find out I swore to myself I would read through this and if it did not answer my questions than I would find a way to break into Lucania’s rooms upstairs and I would search until I found the answers I was looking for.
At first I thought that perhaps, somehow, the date was simply written wrong. The first two or three entries were nothing more than mundane facts about Luke’s nights with his little family. Talk of leaving England for France was put on hold when he met a young girl named Cherise. The entry after that spoke only of his desire to take her from the life on the streets that threatened to claim her, the pimp that beat her nightly, and his feelings of a brotherly affection toward her. I smiled as I read this declaration of affection. But then my heart again began its hard thud and the sweat again came forth from me as I read that forth entry. I was shaking by the time I had finished it, the talk of Cherise having a disease that was incurable, Luke’s knowledge that if he did not ‘turn’ her she would surely die, and his internal struggle over ‘turning’ a ‘sweet, precious girl’ into a ‘demonic thing’ like himself. What could that mean? And if she had some terrible disease once, how was it that she was now walking through the house a picture of perfect health as I read?
The fifth entry, the next one, was the one that turned my stomach as I fought to take in what it was telling me. Luke started out expressing his misery, his pain over what he had been forced to do. He wrote of the night that Cherise came to him burning alive with fever talking nonsensical madness of mercury baths and dirty men who had all but killed her, and he took her in knowing he no longer had time to contemplate the choice he would make. It was now or never, he wrote, because he knew she would not live through the night unless he made it possible. He talked of stripping her of her clothes to alleviate the heat of the fever and he spoke of going to a neighbor to borrow water so he might wash her down with a rag and let her drink a little. He tried to care for her while Mother advised against what he wanted to do, telling him that what was happening, as tragic as it was, was the nature of ‘humans’ and that he must let the girl die as it was her time to die. But when she began entering the final stages before death he kicked Mother out of the room where he was holding vigil beside of her bed because he knew he could see her suffer no more. All of that was bad enough, confusing enough since I knew she lived still…but what he wrote next was the part that literally took my breath away. He told of the way that he bit into her wrist as Mother had told him to do once before and he drank her blood until her heart was close to stopping. He then bit his own flesh on his wrist and made her drink the blood he had just stolen from her. He ended the entry by saying that for better or worse, what was done was done and he only hoped that his dear friend did not hate him for it when she woke up a monster.
I closed the book with a bit of force then because I couldn’t go any further. If his words were true than this truth would turn my life, my love, upside down. I mean, he was talking about being a vampire and about making Cherise a vampire too. And if Mother was the one who taught him how to ‘turn’ her than that meant she was a vampire as well. My head was spinning, my mouth was dry, and just when I thought I had pushed the threat of sickness away, I had to run to the lavatory because the sickness was coming up in my throat. When I could stand, when my head stopped spinning, I made my way down to the kitchen where I knew there were bottles of brandy that Cook kept for some of the recipes he had tried out. I grabbed one of the bottles, thought about the things I might be forced to accept, and grabbed another. The others had woken up and they had left as they did every night only that night as I sat on my bed with the silence of an empty house around me I found myself wondering if they were out hunting humans for their blood. It did explain quite a bit about the way all of them lived, even Cook, though it made me sick to admit it. I had never seen a single one of them out when the sun was shining. I had never watched any of them consume food despite that fact that Cook spent his nights slaving away over a hot stove. And when I came did Luke not have to give me melted snow and did he not have to go to market to find something for me to eat? But if all of this were true, if the man I loved and those he kept around him were all vampires, why had they never tried to do me harm? Everything felt like it was just too much to take in but as I sat drinking brandy from the bottle I knew that as soon as I could, I would read on.
When I was numb enough from the drink, I opened the book again to the passage directly following the last one. According to the date on the entry a month had passed since Luke had made Cherise into a vampire and they were now, along with Mother and Cook, traveling through the French countryside to a house he claimed he had owned for the better part of four centuries. As he described it I realized with a start that it was the very house I was sitting in. He made reference to a terrible thing that had happened the last time he was in France and how he hoped never to repeat such a horrible experience, especially with a newborn vampire (yes, here he finally said the word) traveling with him. In this entry he also told of teaching Cherise to hunt, showing her how to read minds to pick out people who were bad, evil in some cases, and instilling in her the importance of never drinking from an innocent just as his maker had once done with him. This was the first time he really spelled out the murder he was committing, the murder he taught Cherise to commit, in black and white leaving no room for denial. With a deep breath I went on and this was how I spent the rest of the night and most of the next morning. The journal had covered the span of ten years, their first ten years here at the castle, and by the end my head felt as if it might cave in with the weight of all I now knew. By the time I fell asleep I had already decided what my next move would be. When I woke up I was going to find a way into Lucania’s bed chambers one way or the other.The plan I came up with when I awoke to the late afternoon sun was quite simple. If I was in fact surrounded by vampires as I now believed I was, I had roughly two hours before the sun went down. Although I knew Luke’s bedchamber was made very dark even in the midday, I also knew that there was a large window at the end of the hall that had no shutters because they were ripped off during a wind storm the month before and no one had replaced them yet. Yes, even Luke’s reaction to that now made sense where, at the time, it had only left me puzzled. When the groundskeeper told him what had happened he said only, “At least it happened at night.” At any rate, all three of my companions slept on that floor so I knew that if they were in fact monsters, I had two hours to get in the room and grab what I could of his books and papers and get the hell out before the rest of the house awoke. Grabbing a hair pin from my vanity, I prepared myself for what I was about to do.
I was silent as a church mouse as I walked up the secret staircase I had come to know well. I was all but holding my breath when I reached the landing and made my way to Luke’s door. I must admit that a part of me wanted very much to shout, make some noise, and see Mother come running because if she did than I would know all I read the night before had been nothing more than a fantastic tale. But I could not risk my life just in case the terrible feeling in my stomach was right and all I had read was truth. So I was completely silent as I used the hair pin to pick the lock on the bedchamber door. I had never done this before but somehow I was able to manage it with an ease that surprised me. It took little time before I was in. I wanted very much to open the shutters but I feared if I did, one of the men who took care of the grounds might see and mention it to Mother so I stumbled around with the light of one candle in the absolute darkness not even sure what I was looking for but hoping I would know it when I found it.
I moved quickly, perhaps quicker than I ever had before. In his large desk I found papers but they were mostly correspondences concerning the maintenance of the house, bills from the tailor, and things of that nature. There was nothing more than mundane things there and in a way I had expected no less. Knowing what I knew of Luke, I couldn’t believe he had made a mistake like leaving his journal with its important truths in the library where I could easily get to it. After investigating the walls in the room to see if I might be able to find a secret weak spot where he might hold important documents, I realized that there was nothing like the book I found downstairs in his bedchambers. As I snuck out of the room, careful to lock the door behind me, I wondered if perhaps he had destroyed any other journals he might have once owned somehow forgetting the one I found. I actually went straight to my room thinking it was pointless to continue my search. I needed more answers than I had received but if they were gone…
Suddenly I had a memory of the wall that I was once chained to. That wall was the only original wall left in the house that had not been covered with wood, the only one that remained only stone as all the walls once were. And the second night I was at the house when I leaned against it just right one of the large stones had shifted slightly. Perhaps it wasn’t in his bedchambers that he kept his secrets. Maybe it was the parlor there on the third floor. In a way it seemed perfect if that were the case that he should keep such secrets in the same place where he once kept me. Armed once more with resolve alone, I made my way quietly down the hall. I had about an hour left before sundown and if my hunch was correct, I wouldn’t need that long to do what I needed to do.
I locked the door behind me when I entered the familiar room. Mother had a key and if I did take too long, she could get in if she chose but I would have time to hide the evidence of my crimes if I could hear her unlocking the door. As I could never forget my first memories of my time in Luke’s home, I knew exactly where my chains once hung and I went to that spot as I fought to remember the place where the stone slab shifted. Pushing on the possibilities I found that there were four loose spots, not just one, and with much difficulty I began the task of moving them out of my way. Or rather, I moved the first one, stuck my hand inside the considerably large spot where it was, touched what felt like a stack of books, and then I began moving the others. In my excitement and my intense concentration I could have been caught because I wouldn’t have heard a blast just then, let alone the turning of a lock. But I was lucky.
Once the stones were moved I found probably thirty thin books all like the one I had found the night before and a leather satchel that contained within it a stack of parchment. I had no time to investigate. As fast as I could, I replaced the stones, gathered up what I could carry at once, and at a run I took them to my room before going back for the rest. The sun had started to go down so I knew I had little time to hide what I had found. My window seat seemed like the perfectly obvious place so that is where I put it all save for one journal that I left out to read. It could take months to read all of them. I knew that. But if I found what I thought I might in the words I wouldn’t need that long because I would be gone before Lucania returned.
I was about to start reading the one I had kept out, the one that started twenty years before the last, when I was startled by a knock on my door. Hiding the journal behind my pillows, I got up to turn the lock only to have Cherise come in looking visibly upset. Actually I had never seen her quite like this before. She wasn’t upset; I realized as I looked at her again that she was angry. “What is there between you and the Master?” She demanded. Although no one in the house ever discussed it openly I thought everyone knew what had been going on between Lucania and me for the past few months. Also, I couldn’t believe I was about to have this conversation in the middle of everything I had learned knowing that this was no longer my dear, sweet Cherise as I knew her but rather a vampire who could kill me in the blink of an eye. But no, she wouldn’t do that, would she? Because her Master instilled in her the importance of never killing an innocent…
“Whatever are you talking about?” I asked in return. Perhaps she wasn’t talking about our affair. Maybe it was something else she thought she knew.
“I am talking about you going to bed with the Master…my Master…knowing how I feel about him! Because you do know, I am sure of it. You are not like the others. They do not pay attention to the emotions that are hidden by those around them but you do. I know you do. How could you?”
She looked beautiful in that moment with her strange white flesh turned a little pink (something I had seen on all of them at one point or another though I could not say what created the change) and her light hair an absolute mess falling out of her chignon. I wasn’t about to lie to her. Vampire or no, she had been good to me as long as I had been in the house. And she was right; I did know exactly how she felt about him. But I also knew how he felt about her and I would never tell her that information so I opted instead to tell her the truth of what was between us and to feign confusion about her feelings. “I am in love with him, Cherise. Yes, I’ve been sharing his bed and there was a time when I thought I wanted to share his life. But I am afraid I do not know what you mean about your feelings for him. I thought that he was like a brother to you.”
For the longest time she didn’t speak. She only stood before me with her pretty face, usually serene, contorted in anger before she hissed out, “You do not know him! You will never know him! And because of that, what is between the two of you was doomed before it started! And as far as you not knowing I am in love with him…you are a damned liar, Arianne, and I don’t believe I shall ever forgive you for this!”
With that she stormed out of the room dramatically slamming the door hard behind her. I thought about going after her and attempting once more to explain my lie to her but I didn’t have the heart or the energy for the argument. I decided that I would let her cool down and when she was ready I was sure she would come to me again. In the meantime I had work to do. I was going to find out my lover’s secrets even if it meant killing our love in the process. I had a bottle of brandy left from the night before and I took it from my bedside table. Again I felt as if I needed it to get me through what I was about to read.
Because Cherise was angry with me and Mother never was one for randomly visiting with me, I was left alone for a week. During that week I went through every journal I had found and I was startled by it all. Page after page going back three hundred years talking of the murder of human beings right alongside tales of his travels. In the older ones he talked about his youth in ancient Crete, about his parents, details he remembered of his daily life there. He also talked quite a bit about the sunshine he remembered from his youth and how badly he sometimes yearned to see it again. If these words belonged to someone else I might have pitied him but I was too hurt, too startled by the things that I read to feel anything else. In one entry he talked of his history with Mother and Cook, how Mother had indeed been his family’s slave and how his earliest memories were of her and the love she showered upon him even though she was only ten years old at the time of his birth. Cook had been the one who prepared the meals for his family, another slave. He wasn’t Greek as Mother and Luke were but rather an Egyptian child stolen from his home. All of this I read feeling, by the time I got to the oldest of the journals, completely detached from all of it. These were no longer the stories of the man I loved. No, this was something to be studied and picked apart…the words of an ancient monster.
The one entry that did make me feel for him, the one that did make me remember that this was the same man who held me less than a month earlier, a man whose absence made me weep, was when he talked about being made a vampire. Apparently Mother was turned first. She had befriended two men who simply appeared one night in Knossos, the city of his birth in Crete. The men told no stories of where they came from and they had the strangest living habits. No one saw them outside during the day, they refused to eat even if food was set out on a plate for them, and they had death white skin that was odd for the location and the fact that one of the men, the one called Lucius, was Greek. Mother started leaving with these men at night and then one morning, a few months after they came, she didn’t come home. It was six months before Luke saw her again and when she did return it was to see the boy she had raised because she had heard that he was dying.
In fact he was dying. He had contracted a disease native to the Mediterranean at that time and when Mother showed up he estimated that he would have been dead by dawn. When he saw her he thought she was a ghost. Her skin was pale white now, her eyes had changed, and when she wept for him her tears were stained with blood. When he tried to speak his voice was gone and Mother took his hand telling him she had a way to save him, a way to not only make him live but to let him be young and beautiful for all time. She told him her friends, the strange men from out of town, had the secret and she would have to take him to them. As she told him this he got sick and when Mother looked she saw that he was throwing up blood. No longer waiting for his consent, she got Cook and demanded that he help her sneak Lucania out of the house and to the other side of town. Luke’s memory faded at that point until he awoke briefly and saw one of the men, the Greek one, hovering over him. “Are you sure this is what you want, boy?” Luke nodded, not knowing what the man was talking about. He remembered feeling a sharp pain in his neck, memories of his life flooding his mind, and then he lost consciousness.
So he had consented to becoming a vampire without really knowing what he was saying yes to? I closed the journal because I needed to digest all of this. Mother had done what she thought she had to do to save a boy that was a son to her despite the lack of blood between them. But had she regretted it? Is that why, when he wanted to make Cherise to keep her from dying, she had advised him against it? That was my theory. But knowing Mother as I did, I doubted she would ever admit to such regret, especially to Luke who might take it the wrong way. She could be hard, she could be cold, but never would she say anything that might hurt the man she loved so much. Hiding the book behind my pillow, I got up to go to the kitchen. I had been living on bread and cheese for the better part of a week…bread, cheese, and plenty of brandy. When Cook made the list for the man who got my groceries he must have taken note of my new habit and he had the man to pick up more bottles of liquor than I’ve ever seen outside of a tavern.
The other members of the house had stayed clear of the third floor. Cook had stopped his nightly work on new recipes, Cherise never came to my door as I thought she would, and Mother…well, like I said before, she was never one for socializing in the first place. I missed them all but knowing what I now knew about their nature stopped me from seeking them out. They had taken me in and befriended me knowing that I was human, that they were vampires, yet each night they hunted people just like me probably from the same village I had grown up in. This left me feeling conflicted. On the one hand, I wanted to run from the house and never return. On the other, I had never felt as much love as I had had in that house with my own blood sisters and they were all I had left. All of this was playing on my mind as I walked to the kitchen and I was almost startled to see Cook sitting alone with his head in his hands. It wasn’t until I entered the room that I smelled the food that still sat in pans on the stove. When he heard me come in he said softly, “I made food. I suppose it is right. You will have to taste it and tell me.”
I smiled at him. No matter what his nature, Cook was one of the kindest souls I had ever met and there was nothing that could make me behave coldly toward him. “Thank you, dear friend. I am sure it is delicious.” When I patted his shoulder he nearly jumped. “What has you troubled, Cook?”
“You hate us, Arianne. You are only here for Luke and you pretended to be our friend…but when he left you stopped talking to us. If he left forever, you would just go home. That has me troubled.” He replied softly.
I sat down beside of him, my heart hurting for the pain I had caused him. I was still so confused, so lost with the knowledge I had and this only made it worse. How could a monster be sad because he thought a human didn’t care for him? This was all so confusing, so draining. No one ever told you how you should behave with a house full of vampires that you had come to love. “That isn’t true. I care for you and Cherise very much. I even care for Mother. But Cherise is angry with me…”
“Yes, she is but that’s not me. I’m not angry with you. I wouldn’t mind if you stayed with Luke forever. She thinks you two do not belong together, that you are too different, and that it should be her instead. But he doesn’t love her like that and he has been happier since you came than I have ever seen him…and I have known him a very long time. It is time for Cherise to let go of him, to see that he cares for her like a dear friend and that will never change. Maybe now she will see…”
He paused then and I realized something that I should have seen months before. Cook was in love with Cherise. “Why don’t you tell her? Tell her that you love her.”
He looked me in the eyes and I was sure I had never seen such a sorrowful expression. In Lucania’s journals he had said on more than one occasion that one of the worst parts of being a vampire is the intensity with which they feel emotions, as if the inability to feel physical pain somehow heightened one’s ability to ache emotionally. I didn’t believe it when I read it. But as I looked at Cook I was sure that Luke’s words had been true. “Me? Why would she ever want me? She is so beautiful and I…I am only the cook.”
“She doesn’t feel that way. She cares for you. I’ve seen it in the way she looks at you. If you only talk to her…”
Suddenly he stood, shaking his head no. “Try the food. I hope it is good. And please remember us once in a while as you sit in that room alone. Some people have to be alone, you know. They don’t have friends who love them. But you do. So don’t stay away so long.” And then he walked out leaving me in a state of confusion worse than any I had felt before it. I had decided that once I finished reading I was going to leave. I decided that the first night, that I would go back to the little shack with my evil sister and bear my fate in silence. But now I wasn’t so sure. I had grown to love them all and they had not changed. It wasn’t as if they were human when I came…no, most of them hadn’t been human in more than a thousand years. Was it right for me to change toward them? It seemed I would be betraying my own kind by staying but what had my own kind ever done for me besides mistreat me? The only person who ever treated me with love and kindness was my dear papa and now he was dead too. So should I leave those who loved me to go back to those who couldn’t care less if I lived or died?
After I ate, I cleaned up the mess, grabbed a bottle and went back to my room. I read Luke’s words about those first years as a vampire, about Cook being changed because he wouldn’t leave until Lucius made it possible for him to stay with the two people he loved above all else. He talked of leaving Greece with Lucius, the other vampire known as Angelus, Mother, and Cook, of traveling for the first time to countries like Spain and France, and of finally deciding that it was time for his little family to part ways from the men who had so altered the course of their futures. Mother, he wrote, was the silent leader of their clan though he took the reins in many ways. A part of him resented during those first years what had become of him though he wouldn’t say it. He thought he should have died that night as was the plan for his life so he might have gone on to his next life because that was the way of things. But he knew that his only way out was suicide and he would not consider that. So he learned to accept what he was and he took note of all the things Lucius had taught him, what Angelus had taught him, though Angelus was not much older than Luke. And he expanded on this knowledge night after night with books he found on his kind and through trial and error. In this way he made it through the centuries…
Someone was beating on my door and then I heard Cherise screaming, “He’s home, Arianne, he’s home! The Master is driving up on his horse right this moment! Come on, come greet him!”
I froze. What should have been a happy moment for me was now a moment I met with fear and trepidation. I had to tell Luke what I knew. To my way of thinking, there was simply no way around that. I don’t know how he had managed to keep his secret from me for so long but I could not lie in his arms as he would expect me to with such a secret between us anymore. But how would he react when he realized what I knew? What would keep him from killing me, throwing me out, vowing never to see me again? He had written about a terrible thing that happened the last time he was in this house. Had it involved a human, perhaps one that he had trusted who turned on him when she learned the truth? Was it Charlotte, the betrayal he had mentioned once before, that led to it? It was only when I thought of it that I realized I had no intentions on telling anyone his secret no matter what way everything went. With a deep breath I rose, intent on meeting my lover with my strength intact and facing whatever may come.
He was already in the house when I reached the first floor. Cherise was hugging him to her telling him how thrilled she was that he was home safe. Mother was watching the stairs as if she were waiting on me to come. I gestured to her to go to him, feeling it would be best if I was the last to greet him but as soon as I did that, his eyes met mine and despite all I had learned, I felt my heart leap. I wanted very much to go to him, to feel his arms around me, but I found that I simply couldn’t. The look on his face changed as I watched from a puzzled expression to one of fury. I was confused, more so when he walked up to me, took my arm, and whispered, “Go to your chambers. I will meet you there shortly.”
What the hell was going on? I wasn’t sure but I did as I was told, waiting on the window seat for him to come in. When he did, he slammed the door behind him and I knew I had not misjudged what I saw on his face. He was in a proper rage. In his hands he held a small bound book that looked quite a bit like the others I had taken. “My dear Arianne, you forgot one. Here, take it!” With that he threw the book across the room so that it landed on the bed. “What do you feel now? Hum? Disgust? Are you revolted by me? Now have you learned to hate me, to fear me? If I thought you could handle the truth, goddamn it, I would have told you myself! Now that you know I suppose you will leave and I will not try to stop you. But if you betray me, know that you will never see me again. I can forgive many things but putting those I love at risk is not one of them! Why couldn’t you have simply accepted what I gave you and asked for no more?” He gave me no time to speak before he turned and left me. I wanted to go after him but I stayed where I was long after he had gone. Was he telling the others that I knew? Was he planning to leave at once just in case I betrayed his trust?
In that moment I felt as if I had no choice but to go. However, I wanted to read the journal he brought me first. I can’t say why. Perhaps it was just my curiosity or maybe I was truly looking for a reason to stay. The first entry was just three months before I came and at once I read through these waiting to see what, if anything, he had written about me. The first night that I was there, the night that I was unconscious, he wrote that he was at my side, that he couldn’t help stroking my hair, that he hoped I would live because I was the most beautiful creature he had ever seen. He hoped the townspeople hadn’t put me up to coming, that this wasn’t another trick like the last time, because he couldn’t stand to feel for another woman only to find that her love was fake and that she had been pretending all along so she and the others might destroy him. As I read on, there was line after line talking about the way he was falling in love with me, how I made him feel warm, human, and how it would pain him when I decided to take my leave of him. The last entry was written the night before he told us he had to leave. It did not speak of why he had to go, of any danger, but rather of the way that he would miss me, how he would ache for me until he saw my beautiful face once more. I was weeping when I shut it and as I looked outside I saw that it was nearly dawn. I had very little time left if I wanted to go to him and I did, very much.
At a run I went up the secret staircase knowing he was in his chambers and I beat upon his door until my fists ached. “Luke, let me in. I am sorry…I am sorry for everything. But it isn’t what you think. I don’t want to go and I would never tell a soul…I would never put you in danger. I love you still, you damned fool, and if you don’t let me in…”I almost fell through the doorway when he opened the door. “If I don’t let you in what? You’ll bust through the door? Five feet of pure fury you are.” He should have smiled with that but he did not. “What do you want? What could you possibly have to say to me? I am a monster, a beast, and you…Well, look at you! You are a beautiful mortal woman with your entire life ahead of you! What is there to keep us together?”
“You were a vampire when you left this house, were you not? Nothing has changed. I know your secret so you no longer have to worry that I might find out. You don’t have to hide who you are in the shadows. I know.”
Looking at the window down the hall, he took my arm and brought me inside. I couldn’t see him in the darkness but I knew that he could see me. “And do you accept me? Do you accept what I am, what I do to survive?”
After everything I had done in the name of truth, I could not lie to him. “Not yet, no. I have battled with it since I read the first journal. I have often thought to myself that I had to leave, go from you and the others I love here. But then I realized that you were all vampires when you took me in, when you fed me and clothed me, when you loved me. So now I want to stay and I want to accept it. I know that in time I can.” In the darkness I grabbed for him and I smiled when he took my hand. When he pulled me to him, I was finally able to lay my head on his chest and feel his arms, his powerful arms, encircle my waist. “I love you still, Luke. I know who you are and I love you still. That is how I know that in time I will be able to accept who you are. But if you choose to cast me out, we will never know.”
“And how will you feel when you are an old woman with no children because you loved a monster? How will you feel when you are on your death bed and I cannot hold your hand in your last moments because the sun is up or when your skin begins to wrinkle and your hair turns white but I look as I always have? Will you still love me then?”
“I think in such a case the question is, will you still love me? Will you want me when my skin is old and my hair is gray knowing that you could so easily go on and be with another who is as young as I am now?” I questioned in return for I had surely asked myself that enough in the last few days.
He kissed the top of my head, my eyes, my cheeks. “You foolish girl, of course I will. But you don’t know, you don’t realize in this moment, what you will be giving up to love me for a lifetime. Casual affairs between humans and my kind are common enough I suppose but to love a human their whole life? I’ve never heard it done. And I am not surprised. You will weep because of me, you will feel lonely at times, it will not be easy, this match. I can never marry you. I can’t give you children. All of the things women dream of…”
I put my fingers to his lips to stop the words from coming. “Let’s stop. Just stop with the horrors of the future, with what might be, and see what is, Lucania. I not only love you, I burn with love for you. If I left you I would spend a lifetime wondering what would have happened if I had stayed. The truth is that there would be no happiness in that either. Whatever divides us, we have this and if it were not binding I would have gone already. I thought on it more times than I can say. I couldn’t. I could not leave you even knowing what you are. Does that not tell you something?”
Suddenly he let me go, all but pushing me away, actually. “It is late. I will get into bed and I will tell you when it is safe for you to open the door.” He said simply.
But I already knew that I would go nowhere. I knew the danger to him now. I knew what I could not do. And I saw no reason anymore for me to sleep in my bed while he lay in his. If I had argued the point he would only have risked injury to force me out if it came to that. So I waited for him to get into his huge bed and to call that I could go and I opened the door, shutting it for him to hear. What I know now of the vampire senses assures me that he knew I was still in the room. He could smell my skin, my blood, hear the sound of my breathing and the beating of my heart but he said nothing and when I was sure he slept I felt my way around the room to the bed. I stood in place with the bed curtains clutched in my hand afraid to open them. I can’t say why. Taking a deep breath, I pulled them back and climbed as gently as I could into his bed, a place I had all but dreamed of being for so long. In the dark as he slept I would listen to his chest knowing his heart would not beat for me to hear. I would touch his ice cold skin knowing at last why it was cold. I would run my fingers through his beautiful hair knowing at last why it was so silky, so unreal. I would do all of the things he never gave me time to do in the past and I would do it without the questions that his body so often formed for me. This was the beginning of my acceptance, the first step in loving him for what he was.
I awoke to hard lips passionately working my mouth. Half asleep, I raised my hand to stroke Luke’s hair and I couldn’t help but smile against him. All that had passed before seemed to dim in comparison with the simple joy of waking up with him. It was like a dream, the way he touched me, and when he entered me I could do nothing but sigh in my pleasure. Whatever he was, he was mine. And by god, I loved him. I loved him so much it ached even as it made me grin. “You are a foolish girl to put yourself at such a disadvantage. I could overpower you, end your life at once while you are wide awake. How easy do you think it would be to kill you while you slept at my side? Waking beside of a hungry vampire who can hear your very heart pumping that precious blood through your warm body? Foolish is an understatement. Perhaps you have a death wish.” He said in a dark tone even as he thrust inside of me. I suppose if I had any sense I would have been afraid. I should have been. But I wasn’t. I had long ago put all of my trust in him knowing that at any time he might break it. If the stakes were now my life instead of just my heart, it only meant that whatever game we were playing, we were certainly playing for keeps.
“The first time I laid eyes on you I was bound against your wall. You could have killed me at any time even if you had been as mortal as me. I trusted…” I couldn’t speak for a moment as a wave of ecstasy ripped through me. “I trusted you then and I trust you still.”
He made a noise that was not quite human as he slammed us both headlong into a climax. All of the times before had been wonderful but this was something different altogether. This was pure beauty. I wanted him to hold me as he always did but instead he stood up and he put on clothes in the dark. I watched him the best I could feeling confused when I realized that he was just going to leave me there. “Are you going to run again? Is that what this is? You fucked me and now you’re going to disappear for a month like none of it matters?” I questioned, using anger to mask my pain.
He moved so fast that I had no time to register the fact that he had moved at all before his hands were planted firmly on my shoulders. “First thing’s first. I come and go as I please.”
I shook my head and when I pulled away I was frustrated to realize he wouldn’t let me go and I couldn’t get out of his grasp. “No. Not if you plan to keep on living a life with me. I am nothing more than a moment in your life, Luke. You were here for centuries before I was born and you will be here centuries after I am dead and buried. You have the rest of eternity to be a stubborn bastard who does things on his own time. But if you want me with you in this way, you will no longer live your life for you alone. I don’t. I would never walk out without an explanation and return whenever I felt like it. Give me as much respect as you get. A vampire you may be but if you are capable of love you are capable of showing human kindness.” I replied firmly. I could see his mesmerizing eyes in the darkness, I could feel him trying to get into my head. Not this time, I thought.
For the longest time he didn’t speak and then he let go of me and said simply, “I am going out to hunt. I’ll be back when I’m through.” And though he slammed the door so hard the very floor boards shook as he left the room I considered that progress.
I was in the library when he returned. Although I had been a bit too busy to notice the night before, it seemed that my beloved had picked up some new books and apparently his travels had taken him to Scotland because each and every novel in the crate, all of the books that I placed on the shelf, was penned by Scottish writers. I was reading poetry when I heard his heavy boots outside the door and when he paused I wondered what sort of mood he would be in. Knowing Luke, it was just as likely that he would come in and tell me to fuck off as that he might be in high spirits. One simply never knew from one moment to the next. As he walked past me his expression was nearly unreadable. Still, there was something contemplative in his eyes. “I assume you have questions. You must. My journals told you a great deal but they didn’t tell you everything.”
I put my book aside at once and devoted my attention to him. This wasn’t what I was expecting but it made me smile. This told me more than simply that he wanted to share things with me. It told me that he wanted to continue on with what we had. “I have many questions. Where would you like me to start?”
He made a gesture with his hand as if it didn’t matter but he said, “Start with the simple ones and we’ll work on from there.”
“I read the books of lore that you had and there must have been at least ten different names for the sort of creature you are. How did you settle on the term ‘vampire’? Where did it come from?”
“I believe it’s Greek, or it comes originally from Greece. The Greek form of the word, as you may already know, is but one letter off from the word for bat. Some of the mythology surrounding us links us to those unwholesome creatures, a likeness that I have never appreciated, personally. The one who made me said that the term came from the Gods who cursed him. That’s a story for another time so please, don’t ask me now. However, it was not a word that was used by outsiders until a book was published about two hundred years ago that brought it into public consciousness.” Without another word he stood and I watched him go to one of the shelves and push gently to reveal a very small cubby space. From it, he pulled a book that he immediately brought to me. “This I hide with care. It is the only completely true account of our kind that I have ever found. This is not myth, it is not legend, it is real.”
I opened it gently feeling somehow as if this was special in a way that even his own words could not match. Something led me to the back of the book and my heart pounded hard as I read the declaration of love from the priest who wrote it to the vampire who inspired it. “Who were they? Father McFadden? His lover? Do you know?” I asked, amazed. So I wasn’t the only one, I thought. I don’t know why but since I found out about Luke’s nature I had started to feel quite alone in my love, as if I was the only person who had ever really given her heart to a creature with cold white skin and a taste for blood.
“I know very well. Her maker was made by my maker. Her name is Rapunzel and she was the wife of Richard the Lionheart.” At this my eyes shot up. “So you know of him? Of course you would. She’s been wiped from his history entirely but though she may not know it, people still tell her story and she is quite famous amongst our kind for the tale you hold in your hands. If she wasn’t the true love of Angelus she would have been found and killed long ago. But he put out the warning immediately as did Lucius. Anyone who touched her would burn slowly until they begged for death. No one is foolish enough to go against those two. They are the oldest vampires in the world. So no one dared do her harm. Frankly, though I don’t know her reasons behind the book, I admire her spirit. I also admire the fact that she made Angelus fall in love with her. If you knew him…hell, if she truly knew him…you would know that that was no small feat. So I say long live the princess.” With that he laughed a real laugh. I imagined if he had a glass of wine, he would have toasted her name. A quick flash of jealously shot through me but I said nothing of it.
“And what of the priest? Angelus didn’t…” I let my words trail off thinking of how dangerous a jealous male vampire could probably be.
“No, of course not. He was killed by his own church. They burned him alive as a heretic because of that book. The story goes that on the night of the execution Rapunzel went mad and after collecting the ashes of the priest, she burned down the church with everyone in it before leaving the Scottish village. They’ve since rebuilt it. I was just there, actually. Still, I think her spirit lives on in that place. You can tell by the way the locals look at me each time I visit that they have not forgotten the stories they were told of her long ago.”
“Why were you there?” I asked, feeling that damned jealousy well up inside of me again.
He must have sensed this because he laughed. “She’s long gone from that place, I assure you. Besides, even if I did not have you I would never dream of touching Angel’s love. It wouldn’t be proper. No, I had business of another sort to attend to, an old friend I needed to see. There was news. That’s all.”
I could think of nothing else I wanted to know that was basic or general. There was but one burning question that had haunted me since he first mentioned it, haunted me even more since I had learned his truth. Asking might cause him to shut down completely because this was a wound that was still unhealed but I wanted to know. After all, how can you fight a ghost that you can’t see? “What did Charlotte do to you, Luke? How did she betray you? Can you tell me now?” I asked softly.
When he stood up I thought he was going to walk out without a word but instead he began to pace back and forth. I was silent as I waited on him, waited to see what he might say. If he told me he couldn’t speak of it yet I would have understood. I knew this wound was deep. But he started to talk as if he were far away from me lost in thoughts better left forgotten. “She came to me much as you did. She appeared on my doorstep one night saying she had lost her way in the woods and she had walked for hours…in those days I kept food and drink around in case suspicious townspeople ever came to call. So I offered her anything she wanted in the kitchen and when she had her fill, I took her back to her home. Soon after she came again, to thank me she said, and in time her visits increased. Then one night, perhaps a year after that first time, she came again, always at night, only this time she was hysterical saying her father had beaten her badly and she was afraid to return to her home. Indeed she was in a terrible state so I sent for a midwife to tend her wounds and I allowed her to stay. I was already a little in love with her I suppose. And in the months that followed that love blossomed until we were nearly as close as you and I have been since the spring. She gave every portrayal of a girl madly in love and I was stupid enough to believe.”
I wanted to stop him and I actually stood, prepared to do just that. There was a misery clouding his features that broke my heart and I wanted to make it go away, if not for his sake than for my own. But he never saw me rise from the chair and somehow I knew that he needed to go on. So I sat once more to listen to the rest of his tale.
“At some point Charlotte began making trips to town in the daylight hours. She started observing us all with a close eye and asking questions about the way we live. Mother was suspicious at once and she was constantly telling me to send the girl away but this was the first time we had shared a home with a mortal in a long time. I thought that alone was making her uneasy and I chalked the girl’s questions up to human curiosity. One night the three of us came home from hunting and there was a group of men from the town with torches blazing prepared to kill us all…and she was with them. She was shouting the things she knew, the things she thought she knew, telling insane tales of people chained in dungeons, of their cries piercing the night.”
He sat so suddenly it made me jump. I wanted to touch him, to comfort him. Instead I wept soft tears for us both. “What happened?” I asked, assuming he would answer that he and the others fled at once. For a moment I suppose I forgot what he was.
“I killed them all. What else could I do? They came to destroy us, Arianne! But Charlotte…I could not, could not, take her life. Despite what she had done, despite the lies that cut me to the quick, I simply couldn’t do it. She was running through corpses to save her own life the last I saw of her and that night we packed what we needed, left the rest, and fled the country at once. We did not return until the last century.”
“So it was here?”
Looking at me at last he had an odd expression on his face for a moment as if he had forgotten that he had lied before on that point and then he said simply, “Of course.” For minuets that passed like hours, we sat in complete silence. I had so much I wanted to say to him but it all sounded so foolish in my head so I said nothing at all. Eventually he said in a tone just above a whisper, “I need to be alone tonight. I am not leaving, I will be no further than my own chamber, and I will come to you as soon as I’ve fed tomorrow evening.” He wasn’t asking my permission but he was explaining his intentions and that was all I really wanted. After all, how could I demand or desire that a man who was alive for the fall of Rome answer to me? I didn’t want that, not from him. His strength was part of what I loved so much. I only wanted a bit of respect. When he softly kissed my lips I accepted it with a smile and then I watched him go, retreating to be with his ghosts.
For weeks we did not speak again of vampire ways. Instead we went on as we always had even though I had thought when he was gone that such a thing would be impossible. There were changes of course. I shared his bed every night following the story of Charlotte and I felt I understood him in a way I never had before. Our time together seemed real to me in a way that it sometimes had not when the secret was between us. But the future seemed like something that we would face when it came. We were living in the present only and I would have been content to do so for the rest of my life. However, fate interceded with other plans.
I awoke with a start. I knew that it was daylight outside of our darkened bed, the darkened chamber we now all but shared. And I knew that if I wasn’t careful, I could seriously do harm to Luke but I had to get out of the bed. My stomach was positively rolling and I almost didn’t make it to the lavatory before the diarrhea came. When the sun went down Luke found me on the floor of the lavatory where I had spent the entire day and I was too weak to speak. I knew I needed to tell him that there was a midwife outside of the village…I had been sick in this way once, the winter before my father died. She was the only one who knew what to do. She saved me. But I simply could not. The rash, the sickness, and the loss of rational thought I was already starting to experience…it was all the same as before and only one person could help me but I couldn’t give her name. Soon the world was gone and I was back in my mind, back to childhood days I had long forgotten and a dream I had over and over again when I was a little girl…a dream of a man…but it couldn’t be. I wouldn’t have forgotten a thing like that…and besides, I hadn’t met Luke yet…at least not in this life.
That was the way it went for weeks. Most of the time I was unaware of the world outside of my mind. I would catch parts of conversations…Luke begging someone to save me….Mother telling Luke that just a little of his blood wouldn’t hurt and it would heal me, that I would never have to know…and then I would retreat back into my memories of days long gone and the dreams I now knew completely that I had once had of Luke though I had never laid eyes on him. I felt as if there was something more, that I had known him in a different time, a different place…but just when I would grasp the answer, it would leave me to the darkness of uneasy sleep.
I awoke disoriented. I had no idea where I was but there was a bitter taste on my tongue and candles were lit all around me. There was a cold hand in mine and I knew who it belonged to. If nothing else, I could be sure of that, though I wasn’t sure if that was real or if it was another dream. Still I squeezed it as I whispered through cracked lips, “Lucania, my love?”
He jumped at the sound of my voice. After a moment of stunned silence, he came into his bed with me (of course it was his…who else’s?) and I knew he was weeping as he held me to him. “You were dying, Arianne. I could hear it…your heart…it beat too slowly and your breathing was too shallow. I sent for physicians. One even came from Paris but they had no idea…”
“Did you find the midwife then?” I asked, glad that I lived but very confused by the fact that I had.
For a long time he said nothing. Finally he whispered, “I don’t know any midwives.”
“So how did I…?” And then I knew. Yes…I remembered Mother’s words about his blood, about it being the only way… “Will I be a vampire now?” I asked quietly. I had no idea what this entailed, my ingestion of his stolen blood. I had forgotten to ask him if it only took the blood…“No, of course not!” He protested and I knew then the truth. That if his blood alone had not healed me he would have watched me die instead of ‘turning’ me as he once had Cherise. I tried to get out of bed because this realization infuriated me but when I attempted to break away from him, to move my body at all, my head spun and I realized how weak I really was despite the magic blood. Luke saw all of this and gently, effortlessly, he moved me back against the pillows. “Are you angry that I gave you the blood? I didn’t know what else to do…Mother assured me…”
“No, I am grateful for the blood. It saved my life. I am angry that if it had not you would have simply let me die instead of doing for me what you once did for Cherise.” I whispered.
Instead of uttering any sort of denial, he simply pressed his lips to my limp hand and walked out of the room. Moments later Mother and Cherise came in. Cherise, poor dear, was a mess. Her blood tears, the ones she had never let me see before, were dark red on her pale cheeks. Blood, dried and cracked, served as testament to the tears she had shed for me during my illness and when she hugged me I did my best to hug her back. When I looked over at Mother, who was sitting in the chair that Luke occupied when I first woke up, she was smiling a strange smile. “How are you, child?”
I tried to smile back but I honestly couldn’t tell if my efforts paid off. “I am alive.”
Patting my hand, she nodded. “You gave Mother quite a scare. But all is well now.” With that she walked away and it was the first time I ever really suspected that she might have grown to care for me, perhaps to even love me, since we had been together. For some reason this lifted my spirits so that by the time Cook came in with a tray of soup that made my mouth water at once, my smile came easy. I even accepted Luke’s presence at my side. Cook, always the gentle giant, put the tray across my lap and then he hugged me as if I was a kitten and it was that that had the tears coming for what I might have lost. “I missed you.” He said simply.
“I missed you too, dear friend. I missed you all.” I meant those words with a passion I didn’t realize I felt until that moment.
For an hour the four of us sat talking of all I had missed in my illness. The end of autumn was fast approaching, the last of the beautiful things outside the windows of the castle had died, but something had been born. Cherise and Cook had found each other at last. I imagined that if it were possible for her to do so, she would have blushed as she whispered of their love. I drank the soup, a broth really, that Cook had made me until I could eat no more and then I was given cup after cup of delicious cold water as I listened to it all. But as happy as I was for them, I felt tired and in that moment, despite being surrounded by those I loved the most, I suddenly felt desperately alone. Luke must have heard my thoughts or sensed my mood because softly he ushered them out, declaring that their ‘patient’ was exhausted. I was grateful. I did not want them to see the sadness in my eyes and mistake it for something it was not.
“Even with the blood it will take some time to get well. You were so ill…so terribly ill. But they have waited just as I have and I knew they would want…”
“No, I am glad I saw them. It feels like it has been so long…Well, I suppose it has, hasn’t it? A month? It truly is a miracle I lived even with…your help.” I couldn’t come right out and say it yet I felt no guilt over taking it. It seemed so foolish. He took my hand cautiously and when I did nothing to object, he gently guided my head toward his chest. Yes, I had missed this as well. The comfort in his protective embrace was perhaps what I missed most of all. “Do you suppose Mother would mind helping me with a bath? I want one very much.”
Looking down at me, he smiled. “There is no need to call for Mother. Wait here while I prepare your water.” He was as good as a nurse maid as he came up and carried me to the lavatory when he had everything prepared. In addition to the water, he had a crisp white gown and a robe laid aside for me and he had all of the oils and soaps at the tub that I used. I was prepared to wash myself but he insisted on cleaning my hair and the thoroughness with which he washed it had me grinning. “You find this amusing? My nature only gives my hair its sheen, my love. The length was mine alone. I know a great deal about keeping it in good order.” He insisted. Two months before I would have felt passion as he washed my body but in that moment I felt only tenderness. This increased as he dried me off and helped me dress until the affection, the love for him lodged in my chest.
We were back in his bed and I was somewhat aware of the clean sheets and the new duvet that replaced the old while I was in the bath. There was medicine waiting for me as well and it made me sleepy almost instantly. As I lay against him I couldn’t stop the tears as the odd combination of extreme love and total loneliness warred within me. “You were wrong earlier…when you said I would have let you die. The blood was our last resort. If it had not worked I would have turned you just before dawn. I wanted to be strong enough to let you go, little one. I wanted to be able to say that I was detached as my kind is supposed to be with humans, detached enough to let nature take its course. But I could have never followed through with that. No, I had my intentions firm in my mind. I would have turned you.”
Whether it was the illness and the very act of coming so close to death or whether it was the blood of a vampire, I cannot say. Perhaps it was both. But I was not the same after that. I felt it the night I awoke and I thought in time it would pass. If anything the feelings grew stronger in the days, the weeks of recovery. I know now that what I had is a disease called Pellagra, that the lack of sunlight I was getting because I had been living on vampire time, so to speak, and the lack of meat in my diet from a shortage around the countryside probably triggered that second occurrence of it as total starvation had once triggered the first. But even now the illness itself, the cause for it all, seems irrelevant. What came from it is what matters. And what came from that entire experience, my lost month and the recollection of dreams long forgotten, the dead blood that helped me live, was that I awoke each night after with the knowledge that I would not know peace until Luke did what he promised he had planned, until he took my mortal life from me and replaced it with an eternity we could share until the end of time. Yes, I needed, craved, the blood of the vampire forever flowing in my veins and I knew one way or another I would find a way to persuade him even if I had to threaten my own suicide to make sure it was done.
I knew enough to know that I could not simply ask Luke for this thing at first. He spent all of the time he could with me as I healed and I used this time to ask him things about his nature. I learned, for instance, that to become a vampire one had to be drained of their blood nearly to the point of death and then they had to drink from the vampire who drained them. Although he would not tell me the entire story of how vampires came to be, he did say that the reason vampires could not walk in the daylight was because the first one, Lucius, had deeply wronged the sun god, Apollo. I don’t think I believed this then. I had read the myths of the ancients of course but I had never met someone who believed them as truth. I certainly didn’t. In my village there were but two sorts of religious people. There were the fervent Catholic believers and those Catholics who did not believe at all but appeared to believe even more than the fanatics. My father had taken us to Mass often enough but he was cursed with the practical mind of a scientist, a scholar, even if he had the life of a farmer. He did not believe in religion. And I simply didn’t think of it. I went to hear the words of the Bible because everyone did, it was silently demanded, and when I was in trouble I found the face of God looked like my mother’s and that my prayers were always directed at her.
Luke talked a little about his mortal life in Greece after I shared with him what I learned from his own words but it seemed as if, to overcome any feelings of loss toward his mortal life, he had completely distanced himself from that time and he had no desire to bring it up again. At the time I could not understand this. I thought when (yes, I already looked at it in terms of ‘when’ and not ‘if’) I became a vampire I would still hold onto my years in the sun of my poor French home, the smell of baking bread and crippling poverty that hung over my childhood memories. Of course, I was a fool. I was looking at the situation with the mind of a mortal who understands nothing about the things one denies in order to deal with the passage of time, in order to survive eternity. But in no time I felt as if I was prepared to take it all into myself.
My body was well enough for me to walk around, first the room, then down to my own chamber, and eventually as far as the library. The trip to the library came on a night when I heard the most haunting melody coming from someplace below me. I followed it to find Luke at a piano in a room I had never seen on the second floor weeping even as he played. Sitting down at his side I asked him what he was playing and for the first time he did not comment on my health as he would have if he had paid attention to how far I had walked. Instead he whispered only that he wrote it while I was ill and he named it La Petite Beauté after me. Afterward, once he was fully in my world again, I went to the library with him right on my heels in case I needed assistance and we stayed there until dawn. But the image of him and that beautiful song stayed with me long after the night had passed.
My lust for the dark blood grew as my connection to the illness weakened and I had begun to dream again those dreams I had in childhood as if they were memories recycled and played back. For some reason they drove me mad, those dreams, along with all of the answers that never came concerning them and perhaps that helped fuel my desire to be free of my mortality. Whatever the case, as the Christmas month came to us once more, the first anniversary of my father’s death and my arrival at the castle, I found myself burning with the desire to shed my life like an unwanted skin.
In my mind I had already prepared the speech I planned to give Luke. In fact, I had thought of little else in my precious moments alone. The night before the anniversary of Papa’s death I felt I could wait no longer. My lover went to feed and I sat alone in the library waiting for him to return hoping against hope that he would embrace the idea and if he wouldn’t turn me that very night, I could at least be a vampire before the New Year came. When he came in there was snow in his hair, on his long dark eye lashes, and his skin was alive with the blood of his victim. He looked beautiful and I couldn’t help but smile. “How are you tonight, my girl?” He asked as he kissed my cheek. Since I came out of my bad state, he began every night with this question and while I appreciated his concern I had grown to hate that reminder of the month I lost.
“I am fine. Sit, please. I have something I want to talk to you about. It’s been on my mind for a long time, since I woke up, and…”
He did not sit but suddenly something changed in his expression, his eyes grew dark, and I cursed myself for forgetting to lock up my thoughts against his mind. “No. Do not speak of it, do not ask it, forget it altogether and we will act as if you never entertained such a thing.” He commanded. Then the condescending ass actually turned his back on me. This simple gesture ignited the spark of fury inside of me.
Standing, I stepped in front of him and I crossed my arms over my bosom to make it clear that I was prepared to stand my ground. “No. No I will not forget it. I nearly died, Luke. Because that is what humans do…they die. And once I was at peace with this thought but now that I know what I know, now that I love you and I know I can have you for all time, how dare you ask me to forget it? If I was the vampire and you were the human…”
“I would have had the good sense to leave as soon as I learned what you were. Now, I am in high spirits tonight. I saw a delightful scene outside the theater and the great Monsieur…”
Suddenly I screamed. On this night of all nights I did not want to hear any funny stories of the dear friend that one year before was with me, holding my father’s hand before the worst of the storm made it impossible for us to see him again, knowing that by the time he returned to our shack his friend, the only great man I ever knew, would be dead. So I let out a piercing scream that had Luke covering his ears, had the others running to see what the matter was, and when I released that frustration I looked at him with cold eyes and spat out, “What must I do, Lucania? Grab the sheers from the garden shed, the knives from the kitchen, and stick them all inside of me one by one to make you understand that I will have this or I will end this life of mine? Because I will! This world, the world I know, holds nothing…NOTHING…for me. It never has. So if you do not turn me, I promise I will be dead by winter’s end.”
I walked past him thinking I had made my point clearly. I meant every word of it too. Nearly dying had taught me that my life could be extinguished at any time and if that was the way of it, the way it would remain, I could not see a reason to keep on with the charade. I wasn’t living. I was only going through the motions until death came for me again and refused at last to let me go… A crash had me turning around and I jumped back as Luke threw the chair that was usually his across the marble floor, shattering it as he had already done with mine. “You damned idiot of a girl, you know nothing! Do you hear me?” The beautiful little tables were smashed and then he went for the books. Oh, my heart broke as he ravished the library that was as much a part of my happiness as he was. But I was truly terrified of him and even Mother, who had been there with the others since my screaming, moved to shield me in case he turned his temper toward me. “You are a selfish bitch the same as the last one was! To tell me you will end the life we all worked to save because I will not make you into a monster, a monster that murders without care night after night? So end it!” He was in front of me so quickly that I could only blink as he shoved Mother aside and put a hand on either shoulder to hold me in place. “End it, Arianne! If that is what you want, I have no right to stop you! What you will not do is force me to end it for you because you are too weak, too spineless, to go out into the world and live!”
With that, he literally tossed me aside and he stormed out into the frozen night. I stayed on the floor where I landed and I looked at the disaster he had made. He had done it on purpose of course, destroying what I loved most because of what I had said, because of the demand I placed on him. And as I watched some of the books burn in the fireplaces, as I realized some were torn to shreds as if an animals had gotten ahold of them, my heart was broken. Mother, bless her, tried to comfort me but on this night I was inconsolable. Why shouldn’t everything be torn apart? Perhaps it could be my new tradition for this date… “He did not mean this, little one. He didn’t. He is not prepared to give you the thing you believe you want and you frightened him with your talk of death. It has not been so long since we all sat around you as you lay more in the realm of the dead than in the world of the living, you know. Don’t weep child…”
Standing suddenly, I did not bother to wipe my tears. “I should have died, Mother. I should have died the first time the illness came, I should have died in the snow outside this place, I should have died last month…yet I am still here. For what? So I can pretend as if I did not taste death on my tongue, so I can pretend to believe there is meaning in this temporary mortal existence…”
“The existence of a mortal is not temporary. For each ending there is a beginning and with death comes rebirth. The soul is eternal. You do not need…”
“To be a vampire? How many life times do you think it will take before I find him again, before I find you again? How many existences will I blunder through between now and then assuming there is any truth to what you say? I have known him before, I am sure of it, yet he did not know me when he saw me. And it will be the same the next time. This is completely pointless. Like I said, I should have died. You do not give a person a drop of death and then take it all away and call her a fool for wanting to drink her fill.” I walked away without another word and I made sure I moved one of the dressers, the only one I could push on my own, in front of my door after I locked it. It wouldn’t keep him out if he wanted in but it would annoy him and that was something. Besides, I doubted I would see him at all in the nights to come.
I couldn’t sleep that night but I made sure my drapes were pulled tight against the window so Luke wouldn’t know how restless he had made me if he did come home. Dawn was but an hour away when I heard his heavy steed coming up the drive. My heart began to pound in my chest as I prepared myself for a second round to our fight. Quickly I extinguished the candle and I pulled my bed curtains tight, deciding that I would pretend to be asleep if he came inside. I doubted he would, though. Part of me thought that, if anything, he was more likely to come in and personally throw me out in the cold. But to my surprise he did attempt to get in the door. As I suspected, it was nothing for him to get past the dresser but I heard him say softly, “Do you see this? How dare she try to keep me out! The damn…”
“Stop it, Lucania. You did not see her face through your red hot rage, the pain you left her with. To destroy the only things in this house that give her joy? How could you be so cruel? She is still as weak as a kitten and you tossed her on the floor like garbage, the same woman you told me you love? You were taught better than that. Besides, she does have a point.”
This entire conversation was occurring right outside my bed and I kept my eyes closed and my mind locked so they would continue to think I was sleeping if they threw the curtains back. “What? How dare you, Mother! How can you say that? You still regret…”
“No, I don’t and I never have. I could not imagine eternity without you, Lucania. You only fear that I regret it. You always have. Still, that has nothing to do with this situation. She knows what we are, she has drunk your blood, and she has nearly crossed death’s threshold twice in the last year. Let us not forget the times before…you were going to do it once. Have you forgotten? So it seems to me that when you realize all of this, you, my boy, have three choices where she is concerned. You can turn her, you can kill her, or you can set her free. There is pain, loss, danger, all of that in these choices. But you are the damned fool if you think that after all of this, all that has passed in this place since she came, you can go on as if all is well and no changes will have to come! She has changed already. Can you not see that?”
Nothing more was said and soon they were gone. He did look at me for a moment and I felt his cold hand stroke my cheek, heard him tell me in his native tongue to sleep with the angels and awake with the sun, and when they were gone I had too much on my mind to sort through any of it just then. What would he do? It seemed the most obvious thing would be to send me away. He knew I would not do what Charlotte once did. Already he knew that. So there was no danger in that for him. But perhaps he would kill me instead just to be sure. No, he would never do it himself but I thought that if he convinced Mother it was for the best he could probably persuade her to do it for him. All I knew for sure as I drifted into uneasy sleep was that Mother was absolutely right when she told him something had to change, that I had changed already. I no longer recognized this woman or her thoughts though people continued to call her by my name.
I awoke to the sunlight streaming through my windows much like my first morning there and I was surprised that I hadn’t missed it all those mornings that I spent in the darkness of Luke’s embrace. Walking down to the kitchen I found coffee warming on the stove and a note signed by Cook telling me he ordered the beverage special for me and he thought I might like some. I smiled as I sipped it, carrying the steaming cup down to the library. It hurt me anew to see the shape that beautiful room was in. But I was hell bent on making it beautiful once more and, perhaps as an act of pure rebellion, I took the chairs and the small tables from Luke’s own study to replace the ones he had senselessly destroyed. I even swept the fireplaces of all traces of the books he had demolished and I was careful with those that were tattered from the storm they had weathered. Each and every one of them was my friends and it hurt that even one was gone. But by dusk the library was turned right once more and I went up to my room hoping to avoid Luke until I wanted to see him. He had been tender when he came to me the night before, with his touch, even the way that he listened to Mother’s strange defense of me. But this was one tear in our world that I wasn’t sure we could ever fix.
I was sitting on the window seat reading one of the books he had brought from Scotland before my illness when he came in. I expected he would start right off by discussing the fight as that is usually the natural order of things. Instead he sat beside of me and said nothing for a long time. When he stood again and spoke at last, his words shocked me more than I imagined “I read your diary once, you know. And I remember those things you said that you had never done. You have had your first kiss, you have known love, and we can travel as often and to as many places as you like if I go through with this. But there is one thing I would like to give you before we…do this thing.”
My entire body was alive with excitement. I never would have thought he would come this close to agreeing so soon. Hell, it had been less than a day since he completely destroyed the library over this same line of talk. Was it what I had overheard between him and Mother last night that had changed his mind? Had she meant it when she said he had better do something? A chill went down my spine but instead I looked up at him and replied only, “Oh, and what is that one thing you would like to give me?”
“Your first ball. We can invite people from the village, your sisters, their husbands. We will tell them that we’re to be married and we are leaving this place so you can also say goodbye. That is a gift in itself and one that few of us ever had.”
“So you’ve decided that I am not a selfish bitch, a stupid fool, a damned idiot of a…”He put his hand up and I couldn’t help but smirk as he closed his eyes against his own words of the night before. “I am sorry, truly sorry for ever saying those things to you. But I am not telling you I will do this as a certainty. I am simply trying to open my mind about it and attempt, in this idea of yours, to find something good that might come from such a thing. I have yet to find it but at least I am now trying. And should I find something that will not make me cringe about it, something that will make me give you this terrible thing you believe you want, I want to have a ball before I do it because once it is done we will have to go from here. You will never see the people you love again.”
“That would not be a hardship, Luke, when there are no people that I love in that village. People I share blood with, perhaps, but they are cold and unkind. They have always been that way. The only warmth I have known aside from the love of my father was found in your cold embrace, the sight of Cherise’s red tears, laying my head upon Cook’s chest though no heart beats within it.”
“But there are other villages, other people…”
“And if you were me, would you leave those who love you, those you love in return, to seek out those other people who might come to enjoy your company knowing they will never love you like the souls you left behind? Knowing they would never understand you? I wish I had the power to read minds right now as it is the only place I will ever hear you admit that you would not! You were still conscious the night you were made but you were also dying. And who was it you wanted? Why did you go with Mother? Because it was she, not your blood family, that had loved you and it was she you trusted, she you wanted.”
“And if you were dying, perhaps that would somehow factor into this conversation.”
“I nearly have…twice just since you’ve known me! Damn it, you said you read my diary. What more do you need to show you that when I came here I was as good as dead inside! And if I grow old while you remain young, it will kill me. But if I leave you all it will surely end the same.”
He came to me, kneeling at my side, and he took my hand. With a smile he said, “My girl, you are young…so young. You said yourself that before you came here you had never known love, not the kind of love between the two of us. You had never left the little place of your birth. How do you know there isn’t a man, a mortal man, one hundred miles from here that you would love even more than me if you only met him?”
Moving off of the window seat, I sat before him, taking his face into my hands. “Because I dreamed of you all of my life before I met you. I have girlhood dreams with your face inside. I existed before I met you, yes, but the first time I felt alive was when I woke up chained to your wall and I watched the man that had stalked dreams almost forgotten as he walked into the room. I belong here, Lucania, and no matter where I went in this world there would be no other man because I belong with you. You’ve told me things plainly and I know that even if you do agree we may some night decide to part. I can accept that. I will accept that. But I know with just as much certainty that one night we will find one another again because I know with all I am that it was I who was meant to walk at your side. Can you deny it? You have far more wisdom than any mortal possesses, I am sure. Can you look me in the eyes and tell me that this is all a young girl’s foolish notions?” When he said nothing, refusing to deny it but not willing to say I was right, I kissed him gently and whispered against his lips, “I am strong. I can handle eternity. I can handle centuries without you if I must. I only ask that you give me forever. You fear too much, mon sombre amour.”
“And you haven’t the sense to fear enough. I am not just your dark love, sweet girl, I am a beast. Now, instead of fleeing as you should, you wish to join me. If I were a wolf in the woods, would you run from me then? I am more cunning, more clever, and I am decked out nicely in my sheep’s clothing. Yet you would turn from him, wouldn’t you?” As if he had an idea, he jumped to his feet suddenly and extended his hand to help me up. I watched silently as he walked over to the corner where I had carelessly tossed my cloak earlier and I was still in wonder when he brought it to me. “You have never seen the wolf as he is. That is the problem. Perhaps the reason why you cannot accept that I am a beast is because you’ve never seen me as a beast. Would you like to come with me? Can you watch me kill? If you can and it doesn’t change your mind, perhaps I can say yes to it all. No other person has ever watched me feed and lived to tell of it, Arianne. You may see it and decide that you must go. I will accept that. I know even now that it is possible. But if you cannot watch me take a life how can I believe that you are ready to make this choice and know that you are prepared for all of it?”
I put up my hand to tell him that I needed a moment to think on it. I did indeed. I knew he was right, that there was a possibility that I would watch him take a life and never see him in the same light again. But I also knew that he was right about me needing this. How can you accept what you stay blind to? If I was to decide to be a vampire I would do plenty of killing of my own and if I were to love a vampire I needed to see him once and for all as he was, the complete picture. So I slipped on my cloak and with a pounding heart I took his hand. Although the night was cold it wasn’t the temperature that had me shaking as I got on the back of his great steed. I held on to him tightly as he rode thinking that this was the first time I had left the grounds since the summer months had passed, since my illness, and that this may be the last time I would want to hold him so tight. It felt not as if I were going to watch him take a life but more like I was going to watch him duel. The man I love could die in my eyes by the end of the night so it was for that that I felt the tears fall against his back, it was for that that I pressed my body as close to his as I could, and it was to prevent it that I prayed to the mother of a child once sacrificed for the love of the world that I would still be able to love Lucania the same come daybreak.
When we stopped at a place a few miles from the house, I gasped. It was my sister’s home, the one who had married the cruel man like herself. I put my hand on Luke’s arm as he dismounted and I whispered, “My own blood, Luke?”
“No, I’ve come to do your sister a favor. By morning she will be a widow and at last the young girls in town will be safe from the bastard she wed. Come on. You are going to lure him out.” When my eyes grew wide, he only pulled me down. “Knock softly. She is away, your sister, but that doesn’t mean he’s alone. Who knows what innocent child he’s lured in tonight. I’ve had my sight set on him for some time but your dear sister stays away all night but once a year. Last year my plans to kill him were destroyed by a frozen girl I found when I rode out.” With this he actually smiled. What’s worse is that I smiled back.
“But where does she go?” I asked, confused by all of this.
“How the hell should I know? Now go, my dear, and if he calls out sound as young as you can in your reply. Say something simple, something childish. He’ll open the door quick enough. I’ll only be here.” And he stayed in place at the side of the house as he pushed me forward.
I had always known my sister’s husband was a despicable man but I almost couldn’t believe the things that Luke was saying. Still, I did know that a few children had gone missing in the village shortly after he married her and settled in their home. But that proved nothing… As I knocked upon the door I listened for any sounds of a child within and I prayed that my big sister had continued to swear off pregnancy in the past year, sickened by the thought of what he might do to a child of his own. There was no answer so softly I knocked again and then I simply called out, making my voice as childish as I could, “Hello. Can someone help me? I’m lost in the woods…”
Sure as hell, he flung the door open as if he had been waiting for a moment like this. For a moment I was actually frightened by the look on his face but then, before I could so much as motion for him, Luke moved so fast I did not see him and he drug my brother in law from his home by his throat. He was whispering obscenities, accusing him of things that made me sick, and all he received in return was that ferocious smile. Without further ado, I watched unblinking as he punctured the man’s flesh. I heard the man make a sound as if he was trying to breathe and I almost turned away but Luke grabbed my hand. I had never known anything like what I experienced in that moment. Flashes of rapes, murders, bodies of women and children, even some young boys, buried by my brother in law himself right under our feet flooded my senses until I broke the link between me and my lover and I fell to the ground. When I looked over, the man whose wedding I had stood in was looking at me with the stare of the dead and Luke was using a pinch of his own blood to cover the wounds his teeth had created. I was more sickened by the dead man’s actions than by Luke’s act of murder. “Did you see it?” He asked me as he helped me to my feet. “Were you able to see what I saw?”
“Yes.” I whispered. I was shaking harder now and I felt as if I would never be warm again. “But how do I know you did not plant those things inside my head to make me believe you?”
“What would it matter if I did? I didn’t bring you along to be this man’s judge as his execution took place. I only wanted you to see what you will see each time you feed if I turn you. I carry thousands of images like that with me. It is easier when the last thoughts are like his, thoughts of their crimes. It is not so easy when they think of happy childhood days spent under the sun, of innocence and peace. You will have them both from now until you end yourself or until the world itself stops turning. You will do this a million times over. And I can’t help but wonder how when you can’t even manage to look me in the eye.”
He walked off then and for a moment I thought he would leave me. In that moment I was trying to decide if I would mind it if he did. Because I decided I would, I began to walk determined that when I reached him I would have the strength to look at him again. He gave me no chance to as he all but pulled me onto the horse behind where he sat and began his hard ride home. “I love you still, Lucania.” I whispered close to his ear so he could hear me above the wind.
“Then you are a damned fool.” He replied harshly.
No more was said between us that night. In fact, once we returned he went straight to his bedchambers making it clear that I was not to follow. I went to take a bath and wash the night away as I wondered how I could love him after what I watched him do. Maybe it was me that was a beast. He was built to take lives now and he had been for a very long time. But I was human still and aside from my initial shock and fear, I felt nothing at what I saw. Would I have felt differently if it had been a child, an old lady in her chair?
“Of course you would have, little one. He would as well. We all would. That is why we do not hunt little old women in their chairs, you see. Put your head back. You never get the soap out.” I put my head back so Mother could rinse my hair as I listened to her give me the first bit of maternal wisdom I could remember receiving. “You love my Luke and he loves you. Love can make you blind but it is not because of love that you were not appalled tonight. You knew that man and in your heart you had known all along that there was something terribly wrong with him. You felt it. Having someone tell you the truth was the same as having him confirm your fears. You are not a beast for not mourning that man. The children are safe, your sister is safe, and perhaps those bodies will be found so the families might know at last what happened. This is all good. And if the death of one brings good for many, even humans condone it. Look at war, public executions, it happens all the time. There is nothing wrong with the way you feel. What you should be asking yourself is if you can be happy in this life. Is it really what you want? And if it is not, my sweet girl, then you need to leave. You will only break his heart and yours if you stay without the change. I could not stand it for either of you. I will work on Luke but as I do, you need to spend the time to see if it is what you truly want. This is not a game. It will not pass in a month. This is forever.”
Silently she walked out, going not the way she came but up to the floor that housed her chambers. I wondered if she was going to talk to him now. I also pondered her words knowing that at last I had heard something that was truth without the fear.
No more was said of immortality and Luke avoided me for three nights but on the third night he woke me up with a kiss and a smile telling me he had just come from the village and all of the plans was set for a ball on the last night of the year. “The tailor is working on a gown right now that will make you the envy of this place for years and years to come. I have done everything I could to make sure that this one night be as perfect as possible. I personally invited your sisters and although Adelaide is deep in fake mourning she couldn’t hide the twinkle in her eyes at the chance to come and see the eligible men for a night. Speaking of your sisters and their mates…did you know that Agnes is engaged?”
“No.” I whispered. I did not care. I cared nothing for any of them. The only thing I thought of was what this meant. “So you’ve decided to do it, then? You’ve decided to turn me?” I asked.
Kissing me once more he replied simply, “I said I would give you your ball, did I not?”
In the next couple of weeks our home was alive with activity. When Luke said he thought of everything to make the ball spectacular, he had not overestimated things. People were there constantly, decorating the place for the holidays, bringing in pianos, making beautiful garments for us all…even Mother got in on the fun of it. In the year that I had been there, I had never seen the place so alive. Cook wanted nothing to do with the ball itself but he wanted very much to prepare the food for it. Seeing that he would be unhappy having it any other way, Luke allowed this and I was then called upon to sample everything. I often joked that if he kept feeding me, I would not be able to get into my gown by the time the ball came. I still had no idea what it was to look like, my gown, as Luke had ordered the whole thing and the tailor who once stayed with us to make my clothes, the same one who made Cherise and I a new wardrobe for the summer months, was making it in his shop, wherever that was. Christmas night Monsieur Moreau came bringing gifts and telling me that his players were doing small skits at the ball. He was impressed by the place and he was thrilled with the way my ‘fellow’ was taking care of me. I would miss him, I knew, when I was changed. But of all those I knew, he seemed to be the only one who made me feel that way.
Two nights before the event, Luke left to retrieve my gown. At least once each night up until then I would ask him about his decision to turn me because I could not, in all honesty, believe that it had taken so little persuasion. Each time I questioned him he would allude to the ball as if it were the physical evidence of his intentions even though he never once actually told me those were his intentions. Still, by the time he departed I saw no reason to believe that this wasn’t exactly what he had in mind and as I kissed him goodbye I felt like a bride just days before her wedding.
I began to grow nervous when the last day of the year came and Luke had not yet returned. Mother assured me he would make it but we had heard talk of storms hitting close to the village, of the possibility that our guests might be unable to make it or that they might be snowed in with us if it hit while we were making merry. I was very worried that he might have been caught in one such storm. However, that morning was beautiful. The sun was high in the sky making the little bit of snow already on the ground sparkle like tiny crystals from my spot by the window. I sat there on the seat for hours that day writing in my diary and thinking of the past and the future. New Year’s Eve was a good time for such thoughts, especially on this year when so much had changed and I was on the edge of even more alterations.
The rest of the day I spent around the chateau as people came to put finishing touches on everything. Cook had already prepared anything that could be stored and kept good for the event over the course of the past two nights and he had a list still of things to work on after he awoke. I knew my townsfolk would be delighted with the Mediterranean dishes he made, so exotic and unlike anything they had experienced before. In addition to this he made many dishes the people would recognize and there was an entire table the length of one wall full of deserts. After my illness I got to see how fast a vampire could prepare food, the way he could actually use stoves in both kitchens simultaneously and never burn a dish because of his ability to travel three floors in the span of moments. He had certainly employed this skill of his for the occasion. I still wished that he would actually join us for the fun but he was dead set against it. However, I thought he might change his mind when the people arrived.
For this event the second floor, the one we never used, had been made beautiful and it was going to be open to everyone. It was only after it was cleaned and all of the doors were unlocked that I realized the architectural treasures that floor held as I had only been in one of its rooms before, on the night I found Luke at the piano. The most stunning of all was the ornate ball room that was at the very end of the hall. A breathtaking mural covered the walls, the floor was a beautiful polished marble, the ceiling was covered in mirrors, and a large chandelier bigger than any I had ever dreamed adorned the center. There would be music, there would be plays, there would be laughter, food, and drink…and it seemed to me the perfect ending for a person’s mortal life.
“He’s still not back!” I cried out as soon as Mother emerged for the night. I had been pacing the floors since mid-afternoon even though I knew it was impossible that he would come before the sun went down.
Laughing, Mother replied, “Give him time, child. The sun has only been down a quarter of an hour. We are going out to feed so we look somewhat human and when we return I will need the assistance of my girls to get this old woman ready for the ball.” With that she kissed me on the cheek, something that surprised me completely, and I was left with my worry as people began to come, those who had been hired to help serve and to play the music.
I waited for them to return hoping that when they did, Luke would be with them but they came back a trio just as they went out. Cherise and I helped Mother with her new gown and when Cherise insisted Mother allow us to paint her face, she agreed without too much of a fight. The smell of food on the stoves in the first floor kitchen was wafting up to my bedchamber where we had decided to dress and as I applied paint to Mother’s lips I was near to tears. “Up or down?”
“What?” I asked impatiently, irritated that Mother was breaking through my thoughts as I held vigil at the window.
She only chuckled. “My hair. Cherise wants to pin it up, I want it left down. So it’s to be decided by you. Up or down?”
“Your hair is too beautiful to pin up. The townspeople should see you the way you are in all of your glory.” I replied softly, truthfully. My god, she looked gorgeous, I realized. Mother was beautiful anyway but with the dark red satin on her body, so different from the type of dresses she favored, and the paint upon her face she was absolutely glamorous. I felt love for her wash over me along with pride that she was part of those I claimed as mine.
Coming over to me, she touched my cheek softly with her cold hand and she smiled. “He will come, Arianne. This night is too important for him to let even the worst storm keep him from it.”
For some reason the certainty in her tone put my mind at ease and I was able to talk and laugh as we helped Cherise with her new lavender gown and the chignon she wanted her hair in. I was painting her face when Mother excused herself and when the chamber door opened I looked over expecting to see her. My heart leapt when it was Luke who stood in the doorway. My god, he looked positively breathtaking! Never one for the breeches and stockings of the day, he had on pants that were not unlike the fashion that would come a century later. His starch white ruffled shirt and the blood red frock coat with gold trim suited him. His hair was pulled back but even that did not detract from his beauty. And to think that he would soon be mine forever…
Cherise took her leave as if we had asked her to. I wanted to call out to her to come back…I needed assistance with my skirts…but all I could do was stay silent in the moment of locked glances and one thudding heart. “I braved a blizzard to get your gown to you safely. I hope that you are pleased with it.” He said at last.
I put my hand to my heart when he took the lid off of the box and lifted the dress for my inspection. It was truly the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. The color was a deep blue and it was trimmed on the sleeves and at the bottom in a white fur. It was absolutely exquisite! When I said as much, he smiled. “Good. I will have Cherise come back in and assist you but please, be quick. The first of our guests have already arrived.”
“Who? Monsieur Moreau and the actors?” I asked, though my mind was suddenly far away. For a brief second I thought I saw deep pain in Luke’s eyes and I couldn’t imagine why.
“They are here already, yes, but I was referring to your sisters. Amelia and Adelaide, along with Amelia’s poor husband, are downstairs as we speak. In fact if you would like me to send them up…”
“No!” I practically shouted. I was uneasy knowing they were so close, knowing I would soon see them. I knew already there would be no joy in this reunion of ours and I did not want to endure it a moment longer than I had to. “No, just Cherise. I would like my true sister to help me get ready for this night.” I replied softly but with passion. He nodded as if somehow he understood this. Perhaps he did. When he was about to walk out I was suddenly overcome with emotion for him. I can’t say why. But I found myself calling, “Wait!” and by the time he turned to me, I was already rushing toward his embrace. I kissed him but it was the feel of his arms around me that brought me the peace I suddenly needed. “I missed you, Lucania.”
“I missed you as well. Now put on your pretty things and come down with your head held high and a smile on your face. This night is yours, sweet girl, and I want you to worry over nothing at the ball.” With that he kissed my head and took his leave and I began to undress as I waited for Cherise.
As she and I descended the stairs arm and arm my hands were shaking and my stomach was in knots. While I got ready she told me how she had met my sisters, that she didn’t like the look of Agnes’s intended one bit, that she couldn’t believe Amelia had such a kind husband, and that she could not believe I shared blood with the three cold women she met. Just the mention of their names was enough to spoil my excitement and I wished I had told Luke not to invite them at all. But then when she went into a fit about the amount of Luke’s money that must have gone into their gowns I was instantly confused. When pressed she explained that he had been financially caring for Agnes since he learned of my sister last year and he had recently started to do the same with Adelaide after the unfortunate death of her vile husband. Now I felt confused, angry, not at all as I hoped I would on this night. She explained that it was part of the illusion, that of him being a rich distant relative, but I thought it was something more. I thought he felt guilt for taking me from them and if that was the case he was a bigger fool than I had ever given him credit for. Just before we reached the landing, though, I took a deep breath and I held my head up but it was more like a fighting stance than a sign of pride.
Everyone turned to look at me. The room looked like it was full of my entire village and as soon as I entered the parlor on the first floor all heads turned toward me. I saw mixed emotions on their faces. Many hated me even more after seeing the place I lived in and the nice things Luke had but some seemed almost proud of me. As if I represented them up in the big house, a symbol of their hopes for the future and of the possibilities that lay in impossible dreams. I spotted my sisters in a corner gossiping like girls while Amelia’s husband held their drinks but my eyes were searching for someone else… “You are by far the most beautiful angel I have ever seen, sweet girl.” Luke declared as he took my hand and bowed as he kissed it. “May I have the honor of being your escort this evening?”
I smiled despite the emotions that had been churning inside of me moments before. “Of course, kind sir.” I replied with a curtsey and though I thought it impossible I soon found I was smiling, giggling, and enjoying myself with the people around me. Luke stayed at my side, my hand in his the whole time. And my god was I proud of the jealous looks I got over him! I wanted everyone to see him that way, as the great man, the beautiful man who had so completely saved me. Because for all of his faults that was who he was in my heart. Even the sneers of my sisters could not dampen my mood. They looked at me as if I was the biggest traitor that ever lived and when they set their sights on Luke it was lust and envy that I saw. Why me, they wondered. I could tell it. They wanted to know how their stupid waif of a sister ended up with the exotic rich stranger when I was, to them, the most unfit among us. Perhaps they were right. Adelaide’s lips were fuller than my own, better suited for a pout; Amelia inherited our mother’s gorgeous blue eyes while I was saddled with a hazel color that was not so great; Agnes was the one with flawless creamy skin and stunning auburn hair. Yes, physically they were all beautiful still and would be for years to come. And it is possible that any one of them was far prettier than me. But their beauty eroded their souls so I never envied them and as they stood there looking at me as if I were a bug that should be squashed I could only smile as I thought of the last words I had said to Agnes, about the two of us getting what we deserved from life.
“Arianne, Monsieur Moreau has a favor to ask you.” Luke said as he led me up to the second floor. “It seems that one of the girls in his troupe came down with a cough and he needs a female lead. It’s obviously a small production but he believes it may be fun for you and it will be over in time for us to make the dances in the ballroom. He says you know the part well…”
Indeed I did. I learned the lines to this particular play before I turned seven and I spent hours as a child pretending to be the lead actress on the stage. At first I was reluctant to take on such a thing but when my dear friend used guilt against me (I imagined my father smiling down with pride at him for forcing my hand in this way) I could not resist. As the lead was that of a queen it was decided I did not need to change and only my hair was done differently as it was pinned up and a fake but heavy crown was put atop my head. Despite the fact that it was, indeed, a very small thing I was quite nervous about doing it. When Luke went through the blasted house announcing to everyone that a great production was about to start debuting the season’s new rising star of the stage…well…I murdered him twice with fire in my mind. But from the moment I began the lines to this tragic story of England’s Virgin Queen from the makeshift throne I sat upon, I was completely at home. There was only me and the story I was acting out. The rest of the world was gone. And for forty-five moments I felt absolutely alive.
The sound of applause brought me back as I bowed. Everyone was cheering, smiling, calling out, ‘Bravo!’ and I could not contain my grin. Small as it was, that role felt like a dream come true. I tried to push away the sudden sadness that came with the realization that until then, the dream I once had was not actually as dead as I had believed. Of course it was too late now when I would soon be a vampire with the stage beyond my reach. I told myself that it was fine, this fact, and that immortality far outweighed the stage. But as Luke took my hand and sang my praises down to the ballroom some part of me refused to be convinced no matter how hard I tried.
As we entered the ballroom I saw that there was a full set of players and instruments ready to provide the music of the night and my smile was beaming. There was even a harpsichord. I had never heard the instrument played before though I had yearned to after I read about its sound in books. Although it wasn’t appropriate even for a couple “engaged” as everyone thought we were, I kissed Luke on the cheek. “You have made three of my dreams come true in the span of the last two hours. I could never…” Tears filled my eyes but they were tears of joy. Wiping away the few that fell he smiled his sweetest smile.
“The love you have given me, the life you breathed into me, it was more than I have ever given you. I could never repay you, Arianne. You have already paid me by showing me that there truly is a point to all of this after all.”
With that he led me onto the floor as the first notes of Bach’s Suite No. 1 began. Over the next few hours we danced to older tunes from Vivaldi and Handle and pieces of the time by Scarlatti and Couperin. Somewhere along the line I lost myself in the music and the movements. I forgot the people around us and I was in a world of my own where only the music existed alongside Luke and me. I had never felt so free, so deliciously alive. I never knew just how much I had been missing in my quaint country life. But on that night I felt as if I had it all. When we took a break from the dancing so I might eat and we might mingle I was tingling with excitement for it all. “You have never looked so happy.” Luke declared as he gave the illusion of tasting something from the plate he had made me. He was so good at it that I almost believed him. “I am thrilled to see that gleam in your eye. It was worth it all.”
At one point I had to use the lavatory and because it was habit, I went up to my own on the third floor. As I was coming out I found my sister’s fiancé in the hall. This was odd because that floor had not been opened up to guests. “Did you lose your way? It’s easy to do in this place. When I first came I used to carry breadcrumbs to find my way back to my bedchamber.” I said with a laugh. I was determined to be nice to him despite his cold eyes if for no other reason than because at that moment I did not have the heart to be mean.
“I believe I have promised myself to the wrong sister.” He replied with a devilish grin. I was not amused.
“You are…stunning, Arianne. Luke? Is that his name? He is quite the lucky man to have happened upon the most beautiful cousin he had in such a way. But tell me…” He then whispered a question in my ear that was so vulgar I slapped him across the face for it. Not to be deterred, he tried to crush his lips to mine and for a moment I was afraid. Suddenly he was gone and when I opened my eyes I saw Luke with my sister’s fiancé in the air by his throat.
“Don’t kill him, Lucania. Remember your strength.” I said simply and as if that was all it took to break his madness, he dropped him at once. “How did you know?” I asked as he hugged me to him. His opponent had scurried off as soon as he was set free.
“I will always know when you are in trouble, my love. I will always hear your call. Never forget that.” Holding me away from him for a moment, he smiled. “Are you ready to return to your adoring public?” And just like that the incident was forgotten and we were back inside the spell of the night.
It was four in the morning before everyone had gone. I had seen the last of the guests out but Luke had disappeared somewhere. Just as I shut the door, ready to go to sleep in his arms after the excitement of the night, he was behind me and the pained look I thought I saw much earlier was now obvious in his eyes. “Are you happy?” He asked suddenly.
I laughed, wondering where this was going. “Of course. Like I said before, you made all my dreams come true tonight.”
“And will you promise to never doubt my love?”
Suddenly I thought I knew where he was going with this and my breath hitched in my chest. “Never, Lucania. How could I?”
“Say it. Say that you swear it.” He demanded softly.
“I swear never to doubt your love but…”
“Please, follow me.”
I followed him as he asked up to the turret, a part of the estate that I had never bothered to explore before. The floor where my companions slept led up to it and as I walked those cold stone steps I felt as if I were being followed by ghosts of ages long passed. I shivered when I reached the top only to gasp at the beauty around me. Candles were lit all over the circular space and windows on all sides provided a beautiful view of the grounds. The moonlight was streaming in and as I looked at the worry on Luke’s face, my heart began to thud. The ball, his last gift to my mortal self, was over and it had been quite a success so I thought as I looked around and back at him once more that he was about to give me the biggest gift I could ever ask of him. When I moved closer to him he backed away from me nearly falling over a chair in the process. This wasn’t like him. The man had reflexes and instincts that any wild predator would surely envy. Finally he looked at me with deep anguish swimming in his beautiful dark eyes and I knew somehow that the dark gift would not be mine that night.
“Arianne, I have lived a very long time. I have met many women and when I was younger and more carefree I loved often. But time and its effects, watching the mortal women I loved succumb to time as nature intended, and the trickery of one woman in particular all made me cold. I shut it out, this love I once gave away. I made myself the outsider that the human world, if they knew about me, would expect me to be. I never thought that I would feel for anyone what I feel for you now. I have never looked at any female, mortal or otherwise, the way that I look at you. A secret of immortality that one must learn alone is that while your ability to feel pain physically dies with the tainted blood, your ability to feel emotions intensifies in a way no mortal could ever understand. Whenever you think that I do not love you as you love me, rest assured that my love for you and the ache I will feel at dawn is more powerful than anything you’ve ever felt in your life, anything you will ever feel.”
“What the hell are you talking about? What of this pain at dawn?” I nearly cried out even as my blood ran cold in my veins. I knew, god help me. I knew he was about to send me away and before he could get out the words my tears were flowing.
“My sweet beautiful girl, I cannot do what you ask of me. Not when you know nothing of the world but simple village people who could never understand you and vampires who are separated from you in ways you do not comprehend. To do this thing is bad enough, to do it while someone you love is dying can be attributed to desperation, but to take a perfectly healthy girl and turn her knowing she isn’t really sure it’s what she wants? Well, it is a crime far worse than rape or murder. And I am not the sort of monster who can commit such a crime. Mother is downstairs right now packing your things. You will find money, a great deal of it, in your cases and a map that will lead you to Paris. There you will see things, you will meet people who can speak to you in three languages, you will go to parties and kiss handsome men. You will live, Arianne. And that is what you must do because it is what you were born to do, damn it! There is culture in Paris, people who can understand you at last, people who will make you see that your place isn’t with the dead.”
I was silent as he spoke. Even my flood of tears made no sound. I had slid to the floor when I realized that this was reality and when he came to me I put up my hands to keep him away. How could I let him hold me, kiss me, whisper tender words into my ear as he cast me out into the cold like an unwelcomed guest? So he sat across from me leaving some space between us and when I looked up I saw the red tears he was so ashamed of streaming in a thick mess down his own face. Good, I thought. He should weep a million tears for what he was doing to me. I would not plead with him to change his mind. I had decided that as soon as he started to speak. I would not beg him to let me stay. The tears I could not help but the rest? I was too damned strong for it and as far as I could see, he did not deserve the satisfaction of witnessing such pain.
“I know you hate me right now. I expected you to and I do not blame you for that. Even Mother refuses to speak to me for what I’ve done and Cherise and Cook have locked themselves inside her chambers refusing to open the door to me. If it means knowing that you are living, knowing that you are somewhere smiling and dancing and drinking wine as you watch the sun set, I will take all of the hatred that is being directed at me. I will also accept my own ache, my own grief, at watching you go and living my nights without you. I would take on the pain of the world if it meant that you could live out your days happy, sweet love. The only thing I cannot take is having you go away believing I am doing this because I do not love you. I need you to know…perhaps not tonight but in time…that I am doing this because I love you more than the waking world. If it was possible and I could do it I would keep you in my arms for all time. I would, Arianne! But that isn’t the way our story is supposed to go.”
Suddenly my anger overcame all else and I jumped up, a mess of pain and fury. “You bastard! Shut the hell up! Just…SHUT…UP! All of this talk is not for me. It isn’t to ease my pain as I weep alone at night and yearn for your touch! It’s all for your conscience alone that I am here right now listening to this shit you are trying so hard to feed me! You are right, Lucania, I do hate you tonight. I imagine I will hate you for a while. But I will love you as well and I will think of you often and your goddamned ghost will haunt me every place I go in Paris. I will look at those handsome men and I will compare them with you and find something lacking. You have already ruined me. This is only the completion of what you started when you didn’t toss me out last year! You kept me here because you wanted me and then because you loved me and in doing so you made me love you back and now…NOW…when you might do something to make our love possible you find that you have too much of a soul for it. Where the hell was your soul when you chained me to your wall, when you shouted cruel things at me, and where was it when you held me knowing I could never really have you because your mind was already made up? Where the hell was your conscience then?”
“It is ghosts that haunt you, ghosts that keep you from me, your great misery of four hundred years ago with a woman who never loved you at all. And you call me the fool? You are not giving me a chance at life by what you are doing. You are destroying me and you know it, you son of a bitch! And yes, I hate you for it with everything I am!” With the rage flowing through me, I slapped him harder than I could ever recall slapping another right across his beautiful face. And I wanted to do worse, so much worse. I wanted to cause him deep pain that I could see and enjoy, something much better than his useless blood tears. When he took my wrists in his hands and pulled me to him I couldn’t resist his strength but I could punch him with both fists on any spot of his body that they happened to land. So that is what I did as he tried to hold me. I fought against him and I hoped to all above that he knew for a moment what I felt each time he fought against me.
“I love you, my girl. Think what you want tonight but I do love you. And I will miss you every night of my life. If the years pass and they are not kind to you, you may come back to me. I don’t care how old you are when you come. At one hundred you would still be as beautiful as you are tonight and I would love you just as much. I will stay here long enough to see if you return. Do not do it in a month or a year. Go out there and really try. But if you love me still as the years pass and things happen as you believe they will, all you have to do is come home. I will be here waiting to see which way your path takes you. I have nothing but time. Take what you need. Just promise me you’ll try.”
It was this that made me stop my assault on him and it was this that made me lay my body against him like a child as he wrapped me in his arms. “I promise.” I whispered and then no more words were spoken between us. We simply sat there together tangled up in one another as we each sobbed for what was coming. I still hated him for doing it; I still believed that I was right, but I knew that he was doing it for me and me alone. And though I hated him for it, I could not blame him. All I could do was let him hold me just a little too tight as I held on to him and prepared for what was about to happen. I felt so frightened, so alone. I knew that I would be back. But for him I would keep my promise and before I returned I would live as much as I could. Not for me, not for those things I had never done, but for a man who had done it all and who loved me enough to want the same for me. He wanted me to dance in the sunshine before he cast me forever into the night. How could I blame him for that?When Mother came in to take me down Luke looked at me for a moment with true fear in his eyes. It was only there a moment before he pushed it away but it was enough. Then he kissed me and if it is possible to pour a lifetime of love and sorrow into one kiss, I swear he accomplished it in that moment. This was his goodbye and I accepted it as if it were an elixir that would get me through the years ahead. When he broke the spell, I touched his cheek gently before I stood and followed the woman who had, in her way, loved me as a mother truly would have as she led me away from the man I would miss until I saw him again. As I promised myself, I did not beg or plead. I shed but a few tears as Cherise hugged me to her and Cook promised to continue working on his skill so that when I returned he could make me a feast. I was almost numb to everything as I helped Mother grab my trunks and I listened patiently as she told me where she had put the money and the map. It was only when I got to the front door and I went to hug this woman who had always been so strong and I saw the red tears of her kind standing in her eyes that I broke. God, how I loved her and leaving her and the others was almost as hard as leaving the man who had my heart. I might have begged then if she hadn’t all but pushed me out the door with her tears still flowing and into the cold night I went on a horse I had once shared with Luke thinking not of the future ahead of me but of all that I was leaving behind in that house of the dead.
I promise that this blog will soon go back to normal (political rants, witchy posts, and things I like...ya know...normal...lol) so if you have absolutely no interest in any of this Beauty and the Beast stuff, feel free to ignore me until the blog is returned to its former glory. :)