Date: 97-04-14 17:36:56 EDT
This is a repost of my story "Petit Fours" - actually, I'm rewriting the whole thing and making it longer, so now I'm posting parts 1,2 & 3 and there'll be more to come. Thanks, Marci! Thanks Cathy B.! And thanks to all of you who expressed your enjoyment when I posted the original.
This is my response to Izzy's recent challenge: "What did the girls in the "Pit of the Condemned Bimbos" talk about? It is, of course, placed during the FK episode, "Fallen Idol" and occurs _just before_ the scene where LaCroix visits Nick and finds him caring for Fleur's son, Andre'.
This is fanfiction based on characters created by J. Parriott and B. Cohen for the TV series Forever Knight and no copyright infringement is intended.
Ro Hart (Roandshan@aol.com)
copyright April 1997
I hereby give permission for "Petit-Fours" to be archived.
This story is dedicated to Cathy Beckstead, the "Dark-Roast Perkalator" !
Thanks for 12 weird years, Nitroace! <eg>
In the beginning, there was Joan, Mimi, Elaine, and Therese.
The sun was nearly up. Master Nicolas had just left his personal "nosh-pit", filled up on blood and carrying the remains of his latest meal (Elaine) up the stairs. He knew of a secret corridor where, through a shaft, he would dispose of her body in the river.
Elaine had been a large girl, ample in the bosom, very feisty but short on conversation. It was a good thing Nick had extravagantly indulged himself two nights before with Mimi, or else tonight's meal might have....disagreed with him. But, since they'd all witnessed their Master feast on Mimi, nobody _dared_. Elaine went willingly.
Not that any of the women in the Pit _had_ much strength to...quibble with Lord deBrabant. He was a master in the arts of mental coercion, emotional enticement, physical seduction, and copulation. _Especially_ the latter. Enthralled, they could only wait in anticipation. Every evening when he arrived they whispered to one another: Which of us will he pick? How will he do it? Who will be next? Who will live to tell the tale? A buzz of anticipation swept the chamber each sunset. Those who survived the day longed for the night and the arrival of their master.
Therese sat in the pit and looked at her companions. Three of us left, she noted idly.
"What did it feel like?" mused Joan aloud. "Blissful? Intense? Fantastique!"
Joan was a thin, not-too-bright, eager young thing from two towns away. She'd come here on a market trip with her brother when Nick had whisked her away one evening. That had been a week ago, and her brother hadn't even raised a loud voice in the tavern, questioning her whereabouts. She wasn't much missed. It was assumed she'd either wandered off, got lost, and died in the woods, or run away with dreams of becoming some local lordling's servant-girl, with an eye toward sharing his bed.
Joan went on. The envy in her voice was palpable. "Did you hear how she cried out in passion when he took her? How she died! Smiling, in his arms! What was it like, I wonder?"
"Wonderful," sighed Mimi, a local whore. Mimi was blonde, pert, and pretty. She had been savored by their master Nicolas two nights ago, and was still very weak. "He was soooo wonderful", she moaned, remembering.
"Not for _you_, stupid!" snarled Therese. "For Elaine!" Therese had been a long-time enemy of the late-great Elaine, whose still-warm remains left with Master Nicolas not too long ago. Therese had been relieved that Elaine was chosen first. But Therese was also angry to be stuck down here (still!) with these two idiots!
Mimi just sighed, and lay there, glassy-eyed.
Therese went over to her and shook her. "And if you expect our Master to repeatedly lavish his attentions on _you_, you'd better eat something!" Therese turned and strode to the corner table. On it was the food and drink they all shared. She took some to Mimi, and forced the girl to eat most of it.
Therese suspected it to be laced with some herbs to keep them all docile. Though she was not immune, she was far less susceptible than most. Her special training, at her mother's knee, had been in herbs, healing and mid-wifery. (some fanatics like Elaine had even accused them both of witchery, tho' not to the men whose wives they'd saved with their arts!) Therese _had_ to eat and drink, but consumed very little, to keep the effects of the herbs minimal. Their Master admired her mind, and her life would be over very soon if she did not keep her wits about her.
Therese remembered how they'd met. Late one night after she'd assisted in a particularly messy birth, she was walking home alone. Exhausted, she never saw him coming until he'd swooped down and carried her far above the treetops.
At first, she was terrified. One of the servants of the Devil had finally come to claim her, she thought. The accusations of witchcraft were true after all! When Master Nicolas had brought her back to earth, she then realized the situation she was in. He was a vampire! He was one of the dead who fed on the blood of the living. This was no false rumor. This was not make-believe. This was one of the creatures Therese had learned about from her mother's mother when she was just barely old enough to understand.
"Little one, remember," her grandmere used to say in hushed whispers before the fire. "These things you should beware of while you go abroad in the land. Beware the smile of a stranger. Beware the shadowed forest. Beware the poisonous berry and the deadly nightshade. Beware the moonlit night and the fairy-ring, the Elves will entrap you for all time. And, most of all," grandmere had said, in a solemn voice, "Beware the moonless night and the Vampires; seductive blood-drinkers who roam the skies, lest they carry you away to your doom."
How truly those words had been spoken! And now, Therese was captured by one. As was her way, she'd studied Nicolas closely when they arrived at the residence he shared only with his nephew and a few old servants.
He was typically arrogant and forceful, but gentle in other ways. He'd tried to "influence" her mind. When that failed, she was certain he'd kill her. At first, she'd offered him her body. She was still young, not even sixteen, with a pretty face. She was small, with curves aplenty and an abundance of long, red hair and bright blue eyes.
But Nicolas smiled at her, saying "I will have that and more, soon enough."
Despite her fears, an intense longing for him took hold of her. She was overwhelmed by a fierce desire for his hands, his mouth, his fangs to touch her, taste her. His presence was so powerful, so enticing. She fought the urge to throw herself in his arms. She felt her will dissolving. As her mind screamed at her to flee, he touched her cheek and the spell was broken.
"You're a strong one, aren't you?" Nicolas taunted her. "How were you taught, girl?"
Suddenly, she'd found her salvation, temporary though it might be. Engaging him in conversation, she charmed him as best she could with stories of her healing abilities and small accomplishments. To her amazement, she found he was actually interested in her work! He was more thirsty for her knowledge than he was for her blood. So each night since then he'd brought her upstairs after his nephew Andre' had fallen asleep. She'd dined with him (not that he ever ate) and taught him about this and that. They were still Master and chattel, but it was amiable.
But, this past evening when she'd seen Nicolas, he was very restless. His eyes were haunted, and he refused to talk with her very much. He'd been late in bringing her upstairs. The others taunted her, saying that he'd found a new favorite. And, for awhile, it seemed to be true!
Six hours after sundown, Nicolas had appeared at the top of the stairs to the Pit with a new woman in his arms. She was unconscious, but alive and unharmed. She was beautiful, with pale, white skin and honey-gold hair. Nicolas flew down and laid her on the stone ledge.
He took Mimi and Joan aside, holding them with his eyes. "This is Ysobell. Care for her. I will come again later." He kissed them each on the lips. Then, he gathered Therese in his arms and flew upwards.
He paused only once in his ascent to bolt the door of the Pit.
In his private rooms, he paced, brooded, and drank three goblets of wine mixed with blood. The only words she heard him mutter over and over again were, "Merde! _He's_ coming! Very soon! I can feel it!"
Fearful, she asked his leave to go. Nicolas turned on her, snarling. His eyes were yellow, his fangs descended.
Rather than running from him, Therese spoke softly, as if to calm a crying child. She kept her demeanor quiet and submissive. He came close to attacking her. Then, suddenly, he locked her in his quarters and went instead to the Pit to feed on Elaine. After disposing of Elaine's body, he escorted Therese back downstairs, saying that he enjoyed her company, but it was time for her to sleep.
He left Therese in the pit with these cryptic words: "You are in charge _here_. Keep them quiet!" He touched her cheek. "I have no wish to see _you_ harmed."
Therese sensed the unspoken word: "_yet_" hanging there, and shivered.
With a hard kiss and a lustful smile, he left her.
She was puzzled by the implication of his words. What did he mean by: "Keep them quiet". They were in a deep stone pit, with thick walls and at least two floors between them and his chambers. Who could hear them all the way down here, even if they screamed?! Plus, they were all drugged and under his influence. They had no wish to escape anyway.
And what did her Master mean by: "I have no wish to see _you_ harmed." Who? Me? Why? Harmed by whom? Who would _dare_? Nicolas was lord of this place. He was a god. A daemon. He could fly, control mortal minds, snap a man in half and drink his blood. He'd made it very clear what they were all here for. This was their prison, he was their lord and master and they were his women, to do with as he pleased. They had no rights, no hope, and no escape. They were here, and when he came for them, they served him. Willingly. With their bodies, with their blood, with their lives.
Therese pondered these things as she found herself a clean place on the stone ledge near Ysobell, to sleep the day away. She could hear the rats scurrying in the straw where Mimi and Joan lay in a stupor.
The last question she had before sleep and the herbs claimed her was this: Why _would_ our Master care if _I_ was harmed? Am I so special to him?
Master Nicolas had shown her often enough that, though he enjoyed her company and conversation, she would still be... well, _food_ for his table. (Does he think of me like some...some prize-winning cow??) Therese's resentment flared, but then another thought occurred to her and she smiled. (No, perhaps I'm like a prized puppy, who has pleased her master with her cleverness!) Well, the idea was a _little_ comforting. The sounds of the others sleeping near her was also.
"And again we are four," she whispered to herself.
But something told her great change was not far away.
Ro Hart (Roandshan@aol.com)
copyright April 1997
The day passed without incident. Ysobell woke once, crying in her sleep. Therese held her and spoke softly until the girl had quieted. Then she fed Ysobell a little food and weak wine mixed with water. The food's added soporific made the girl fall asleep soon afterward.
Therese was hungry too, but she wanted to be awake at dusk when their master came down again. That time was not far away.
Joan and Mimi had awakened. Mimi was sufficiently recovered from Nicolas' attentions to attempt to wash herself from the tub of water their master had left in a far corner for their ablutions. Therese smirked, watching Mimi. Like most people, Mimi spent as little time as she had to in the water, and just threw on her old clothes after she was done. She seemed to be in a hurry to get dressed again, and gave Therese a dark look and crossed herself when she noticed the midwife watching her. Joan only dunked her hair in the water, giving it a cursory rinse. Then the two girls sat near the food table, eating and whispering together, occasionally throwing Therese suspicious glances.
Therese sighed. She knew from her training that regular washing of the body and one's clothes was a necessity to drive away the evil humors that built up. She washed herself, especially her hands and face when she dealt with all the sick people and pregnant mothers. She knew from her own observations that soon after her ministrations, those patients who refused to wash at least once a day often fell ill and sometimes died. She'd prayed about it and worried that maybe it was her fault, but her practical mind knew better. It was her patients' stupidity, in refusing to follow her instructions that caused the illness. Not her simples, her herbs, or her clean hands.
She never forgot that common belief held that washing was dangerous, as some still believed that "night-air is bad" and kept their homes locked up tight against it. The church fathers agreed with this notion. Bathing was considered contemptible. They condemned all those who "took too much interest in their bodies by disrobing, cleaning and exposing their bodies for anyone to see. It bred the sin of vanity, of lust and of depravity." It was one of the hardest things about her job. To fight common belief and to contradict the local priest was a very dangerous thing. No wonder Elaine had no problem casting doubts in the villagers' minds and spreading rumors that Therese was a witch, or at very least, a practitioner in foreign arts and magic potions. Both rumors were enough to mean her death, should the local priest or magistrate believe them.
Therese turned her back to the other two and tried to close her eyes and relax until their Master appeared.
She waited so long, she fell asleep and dreamed.
In her dream, Therese was an unseen observer in Nicolas' dining chamber. An older, tall, light-haired man was seated at the table, talking with their Master. Nicolas' manner was calm, but she could tell he wasn't happy with his visitor. Nicolas' nephew Andre' was also seated at the table, eating his dinner. At a certain point in their conversation, the older man said something that made Nicolas angry. But he gently told his nephew to go to bed. The boy politely took his leave of his uncle and their guest, scampering off to his rooms.
The scene changed. She saw Nicolas standing here in the pit, with Mimi and Ysobell in his arms. They were almost dead. He laid them down and reached for Joan, whispering, "I have been saving your life...for tonight." His eyes were golden with the bloodlust and his fangs were very much evident.
Therese felt rather than saw the presence of little Andre' at the top of the stairs, looking with horror at his uncle in the pit. His uncle's visage which was so other-worldly that Andre' stood there in shock, unable to move. When he saw the women piled at Nicolas' feet and the girl in his arms, he let out a gasp. The vampire heard it, and turned his head. But it was too late. Andre' had run, screaming, from the Pit, from the house, as far as he could.
Therese heard her master cry out something to the boy, but the sound was drowned out by the evil, triumphant laugh of scorn and derision, coming from the fair-haired visitor who had been there before.
Then, as she watched the older man laugh, the scene changed and they were back at the dining table. The older man was laughing again, then said something to Nicolas. Her Master was angry, but he kept his temper in check. When the stranger had left, Nicolas downed the contents of his fine metal goblet, then crushed it in his hand. He stormed out of the room.
In the dream, Therese knew where he was headed, and she moved to call out to him, but at that moment, she woke up. The way her head throbbed, she could tell it was one of her "true" dreams. A seeing. She sometimes had the ability to see events that were to come. It was a hard gift to bear. Sometimes it saved lives, even her own, but it was difficult to explain to others without risking the dreaded label of "witch".
It was nearly dawn, but despite this, Master Nicolas had appeared at the top of the stairs. He was in full-vampire mode. He flew down, abruptly picked up Joan and sank his fangs deeply into her neck. She swooned, but he didn't stop. When he was done with her neck, he viciously ripped her dress off and bit into her inner thigh, where Therese knew from her healings, the large streams of heart's-blood ran to nourish the lower body. Therese turned her head away from their Master's savagery. He was normally a bit more gentle with his women, wanting them all to last as long as they could to feed his Hunger. But Nicolas was angry and Therese feared that he would kill Joan and perhaps whoever was chosen next before his anger burned out.
Luckily, he stopped feeding before he'd drained Joan completely. The woman was limp on the floor, but Therese could sense that there was life in her still.
Nicolas felt the dawn arrive, the heavy wave of sunlight creeping over the castle. He stood, hissed loudly, then flew up and away to the safety of his dark chambers.
In his haste, however, Therese noticed that he'd left the door closed but unbolted! Feeling an odd sense of euphoria, Therese decided to wait for a little longer, to be sure Nicolas was deeply submerged in his daylight slumber. Then, she would climb the stairs and try to escape from this pit and its pitiful denizens.
Ro Hart (Roandshan@aol.com)
copyright April 1997
This story is dedicated to Cathy Beckstead, the "Dark-Roast Perkalator" ! Thanks for 12 weird years, Nitroace! <eg>
Therese could hardly keep her excitement hidden.
As soon as the others were asleep, she silently crept up the stairs to the door, every sense alert, listening closely, lest anyone should appear. She made it to the door and peered around it. The corridor was empty. It was dark, but she was used to that, having been in the Pit for some time.
Therese gathered her ragged skirts up and went out the door, closing it firmly behind her. She had to move very cautiously, lest she make a sound. She'd been this way before, with Nicolas, but he always carried her and moved at impossible speeds, so she'd never really had a clear picture of the way to the main floor.
She came to another staircase and went up once again. At the top was another large wooden door. It too was unbolted, so she went through that and was astonished to find that it ended in a large closet of some kind. She saw some of her master's good doublets and cloaks laid neatly on top of a clothes-press, and several chests on the floor. There was the last door ahead of her. She saw no light coming from beneath it. She opened it slowly and flinched when it creaked. Therese's heart was pounding loudly in her ears. She had to breathe slowly and regain her nerve before she dared move the door again. She saw with horror whose room she'd entered. It was Master Nicolas' ! He lay in the far room, the doorway just opposite to her position. She had a clear view. He was lying in the large bed, still as a corpse, his hands folded neatly over his chest. Not a breath, not a twitch marred his perfect sleep.
Now Therese was terrified. She knew she must get herself under control or the vampire might sense the presence of her mortal heartbeat, the blood rushing through her body, and awaken.
Therese crept back into the closet as far as she could. She sat on the floor and closed her eyes. She prayed, "Please, Saint Luke, Master Healer, help thy servant Therese. I am but a foolish mortal woman, but I have always tried to use my talents in a good and just manner. I have cared for the weak and the sick. Now, Saint Luke, calm my heart and clear my mind that I may be silent and invisible to the one who sleeps in the other room. Let him not hear me, not sense me, for I am in terrible danger lest he awake and kill me. Protect me, my patron saint, and guide me."
As she prayed, she felt her heart slow, her fear pass. Therese began planning each of her next moves with meticulous cunning. She'd only get one chance.
When she was sure she was ready, Therese crept again to the slightly opened door of the closet and looked out. Master Nicolas was still unmoving, still asleep.
Therese kept her eyes on him, but her mind on her destination. The far door of this anteroom, to her left, led to the outer corridor away from Master Nicolas' rooms. She'd been escorted down this way many times to her Master's dining table, where he'd fed her delicacies and they'd spent many evenings in conversation. Beyond the dining hall with its enormous fireplace was the main hall where guests were received. The main entry with the front door and the outer gate with its portcullis lay beyond that room. Therese remembered this from the night her master had brought her here. It was a dim memory, but Therese thanked God that she'd partaken of so little of the drugged food in the Pit. Her mind was still her own, and as clear as it could be, under the circumstances.
Silently, she stepped out of the closet and closed its door. She tucked her skirts into her waist-band and swiftly made it to the anteroom door. Slowly, she opened that door, nerves on edge, lest it should creak. It didn't. But just as she slipped into the hallway, she heard the heavy tread of the old manservant, who watched over the main house during the day and kept the fires lit at night. He was old, but his body was still strong and he was no dotard. If he saw her, he'd immediately knock on the Master's door and ask Nicolas why this woman was roaming the corridors unescorted by day. That would surely be the end of her.
But Therese wasn't one to be frozen in panic, especially not in a crisis situation. She immediately decided on a plan and ran down the hallway in the opposite direction. She opened the first door she came to and slipped inside. She pulled the door shut and listened closely. The old man tromped past the master's door, past this one, and kept on going. She heard his steps fade into the distance. With a silent prayer of thanks, she sank to her knees and tried to calm her nerves.
When she felt better, she turned to look at her surroundings. It was an anteroom, similar to Master Nicolas'. She saw that the sleeping quarters were to her left, the door to the closet was to her right. There was a small window, high up, covered in a small mosaic of colored glass. The sunlight streaming through it warmed the room and gladdened her heart. She feared she'd never see the sunlight again. She crept toward the bedchamber, and was not surprised to see that it was empty. There were some toys on the floor, and she realized that this was Andre's room! The boy must be outside having archery lessons or riding his horse. Master Nicolas often remarked that he was trying to further Andre's education in the things any noble-man's son would need to know. Nicholas wanted the boy's routine to stay as normal as possible, since the death of his mother. Master Nicolas talked of his late sister, Fleur with affection, but also with some pain at her passing, though never the manner of it. He never spoke of the rest of his family, nor did he ever speak about the boy's father. Therese assumed the man was dead. At least, the way Nicolas looked when she'd once asked him the question, the man was better off dead, for if he still lived, her master would have long since found him and killed him.
Therese turned from her inspection of the room and headed for the door. She had to make it out of this place while the sun was still high in the sky. She knew Master Nicolas wouldn't be able to follow her now. Sunlight was fatal to the undead.
But before she could leave, she heard the scamper of a child's feet in the hallway. Andre' was back from his lessons!
The door burst open, the boy ran in, slamming the door behind him and tossing his cape and hat to the floor. He spun in the direction of his bedchamber, but was startled by Therese's presence and jumped back, squawking in surprise and falling on the floor.
Therese knelt at once to pick him up, but he batted her hand away. "It's all right," he announced. "I am unharmed." He picked himself up and grinned at her. "Lady Therese, I am pleased to see you! You never come around except at the evening meal, and I've wanted so much to talk with you. I know Uncle Nick would find it bad manners for me to interrupt your discussions with him, so I've had to wait and hope that someday you'd have a chance to visit with me too!"
The boy was eager and irrepressible. "I've just finished my archery lessons, but Master Thomas said my horse-riding will have to wait until the afternoon, since Aster isn't feeling well. He's asked Jacques, the stable-hand, to pick one of the new ponies for me to ride. Ugh!" Andre' made a face. "I'm too old to ride a pony, but Master Thomas insists and Uncle Nick has told me to obey my tutor's wishes."
Andre' pulled off his boots and slipped on some soft house-shoes. "Would you come with me? I'm going to the pantry. Cook has promised to save me some pastry from last night's dessert to eat for breakfast. She says that despite her thickest porridge, she can't seem to fill me up anymore!" Andre' grinned up at her. "I'm growing!"
"Yes, I can see that!" said Therese, smiling back at him. "And I would love to join you for breakfast. But, won't Cook mind? And what will Master Thomas say?"
"Master Thomas tells me to mind my manners and always be polite to a lady. It is only proper that I invite you to eat with me, though I hope you don't mind its in the kitchen. Besides, this is my free-time today. Until my Latin lessons begin at mid-day. After that, I may go riding." He took her hand and pulled her out the door and down the hallway, chatting as they went.
Bless the child, thought Therese to herself. He would be her companion today and the means of her escape!
Ro Hart (Roandshan@aol.com)
copyright April 1997
Therese accompanied little Andre' to the kitchen. The cook had set the rough table in the corner with bowls of stewed fruit, fresh bread, cheese, and a bowl of porridge.
When Andre' introduced "Lady Therese" to the cook, the old woman smiled indulgently and curtsied to them both. "My lady, we're honored!"
Obviously recognizing Therese from her many meals with Master Nicolas, Cook whispered to Therese, "Dearie, there's water out back, should you need to refresh yerself before y'eat." She winked at Therese and went back to Andre'.
Out the back door of the kitchen was the well, and Therese raised a couple of buckets from it and used the cold water to wash herself well. As for her clothes, she'd have to find some replacements, quickly, if she wanted to pass herself off as anything other than a ragged scullion. "Lady" indeed!
She spied baskets of laundry near the well, and, thanking her luck, she ran over to them and quickly exchanged her filthy dress for a clean chemise and a green kirtle, over which she slipped a pale-green over-dress which reached nearly to the ground. As for shoes, near the root-cellar, she found a pair of leather slippers which fit well enough. The clothes were made of finely spun material. Therese wondered if any of them belonged to the late Lady Fleur. She hoped no one questioned their origin, or hers, for that matter. Therese wadded up her old clothes, hoping to burn them later.
Therese listened as she dressed while the old cook took a clean wet cloth to Andre's face and hands. "Ah, not too dirty, this time. Them fencing lessons must've taught yer some poise, m'lad. Here, let me look at you! What a young man you've become! 'La, Master Andre', yer such a scamp! Bringing a lady of quality to yer Lord Uncle's scullery!"
Contrite, Andre' called out to Therese, "I apologize, m'lady!"
Therese answered back, "Accepted, m'lord."
She could hear Cook giggle, then, as Therese entered the kitchen once more, she heard the old woman muttering to herself, "The boy means well, but since his poor mam went with the angels, God bless 'er, he's more'n Master Tomas and old Henri can keep up with! And with 'is Uncle takin' sick, most days-like, well..." the old woman chattered on and on, fussing with this and that.
She seated Andre', laid another place and filled another bowl with porridge, for Therese. She poured some milk for the boy and a glass of ale for Therese.
When Therese was seated, the old woman went back to her other cooking. "I dunno what's to become of the poor lad, more's the pity. Saints preserve Master Nicolas from all harm, until the boy comes of age."
Therese quickly ate the porridge, spooning some of the stewed fruit over it. The cheese was excellent and the bread was soft and fragrant. The warm food gave her renewed strength and the ale went quite to her head. She excused herself from the table, as Andre' devoured his meal and then reminded cook of the promised pastry. While they were distracted, Therese sidled toward the huge fire where already a roast pig was sizzling away. She tossed her old clothes as far into the fire as she could, and watched as they burned.
"Would m'lady care for anything else?" called Cook. Therese hoped she hadn't been spotted.
"No, thank you, Cook," replied Therese. Casually, she returned to the table and watched Andre' polish off his pastry and wash it down with milk.
"Well, m'lord, what next?" she asked Andre' with a smile. "Jousting? Dragon hunting?"
Andre' grinned at her. "You jest with me, m'lady. Would you care to walk with me to inspect the orchards?" He stood and gallantly held out his arm.
Therese took the proffered arm, curtsying to him. God above, how like his uncle he was, blonde, charming and very handsome!
These thoughts reminded Therese of the intense longing she'd felt when in Master Nicolas' presence. He was so powerful, so enticing. The memories: watching him kiss and caress the other women in the Pit. Overwhelmed by desire, she yearned for his touch as well. Imagining his cold lips on her mouth, his fangs piercing her flesh. All the nights she'd fought the urge to throw herself in his arms.
Then, Therese shuddered, thinking about her vision. She prayed that it would never come true, that this beautiful boy never witness the Dark Beast which dwelled in his beloved Uncle Nicolas. But, what _might_ happen to Andre' if he never knew the real danger he was in??
Therese pondered these thoughts as she followed the boy. He ran across the fields to the apple orchards. As she watched him, she vowed, "whatever happens, I will try to help and protect this boy, and if I cannot, then, when he needs me, I will find for him a hiding place until he is safe from Master Nicolas and that other evil man from my vision.
Ro Hart (Roandshan@aol.com)
copyright April 1997
Therese stayed with Andre' until he went to his Latin lessons with Master Tomas. She didn't linger to meet the tutor, but instead made her way back to the kitchen. Cook was down in the root-cellar.
Quickly, Therese went to the laundry, picked out a dark-green cloak and slipped it on. In the kitchen, she found a clean cloth and filled it with provisions. She tied it to the waist of her gown, under the cloak. Then, she casually made her way to the stables.
She knew that after his Latin, Andre' would be coming to the stables, then off on his daily ride. Let me see, thought Therese. What was that stable-hand's name? Ah, yes!
With all the poise she could muster, she called out imperiously, "Jacques!"
The boy came out of the far stall, sweaty and smelling of horses. "Yes'm?" he answered. He peered at her nearsightedly, and sketched a short bow. "Pardon, m'lady!"
Obviously, the clothes made the woman, thought Therese wryly. She kept her expression haughty and said, "I was sent by the Lord de Brabant to inspect his nephew's horse, Aster. I understand the animal is unwell. I am a learned Healer and am well-versed in such matters, be it ill from a pestilence or a curse."
The boy nodded and led her to Aster's stall. "Here, m'lady Healer. Y'see, she won't eat nor drink and she's got sores where there weren't none. I swear, m'lady, she's had the best of care! No one rides her but Master Andre' and he loves this horse so! He'd never mistreat her!"
While Jacques talked, Therese examined the horse. She was young and healthy. "I'm sure he wouldn't," she agreed. She looked closely at the sores. Some were fresh, not fully closed. Each mark consisted of a twin-set of holes, about an inch apart. They were mostly on the animal's neck and on the leg where the animal's largest vein went.
Therese knew immediately what, if not who, did this. "How long ago did these appear?"
"Two nights ago, m'lady," answered Jacques.
Therese remembered her vision. Since Master Nicolas had blood aplenty, from his women in the Pit, he'd have no need to drink from his nephew's horse. These must have been made by the older stranger. So, it was a true seeing! And, he must be around here, hiding from the day. Tonight he would pay a visit on the Lord de Brabant and it would all come to pass as she'd foreseen.
To spare the poor animal, and any others here, she ordered Jacques to head for the kitchen and ask Cook for the following ingredients: two strings of garlic, some herbs, and two buckets of clear water from the well. "I will make a poltice for the horse's wounds," she told him, "and I will pray and place charms against evil on the stable. None of the horses will be further harmed."
Jacques hurried to obey. He seemed very relieved by her pronouncements.
When he returned, she ground the herbs into a paste between two rocks. Then, she whispered a prayer over the water, blessing it. With this holy water, she washed all the wounds on Aster. As she touched each one, it smoked slightly. The horse's ears twitched and her eyes were wild, but she stood stock-still until Therese was done.
Jacques held the Aster's bridle and made calming noises.
She daubed some herbal paste on each of Aster's wounds. Then she anointed the forehead of each horse in the stable. She hung a bulb of garlic in each stall, then told Jacques to break up two of heads of garlic and rub all the doorways and outside wood of the stable with the individual cloves. He complied, while she poured the holy water around the perimeter of the stable. She poured the last bucket into the horses' water-trough.
She turned to further instruct Jacques, "When Master Andre' comes for his riding lesson, tell him this for me: 'The Lady Therese says the horse Aster is suffering from an illness in her blood. She has placed healing words about this place to heal Aster and to insure that no further harm come to any of the other horses.' Meanwhile, Jacques, give him this talisman."
She'd fashioned a bracelet from the dry twines of the garlic braid, softening it with holy water to make it pliable. All the words of warding and healing that she knew she'd whispered over it. She handed it to Jacques, looking him straight in the eyes. "This will protect Andre from any harm, especially from whatever preys on his horse in the dark. Be certain to give him this with my exact words. Is that clear?"
He was held by the power in her voice, the intensity in her green eyes. "Yes, m'lady," he bowed to her. "I understand."
"Bless you, boy," she smiled. "Tell Master Andre' if he has need of me, I can be found in the cottage near the Lark's Corner crossroads. Now, saddle the bay. I must leave at once."
Jacques nodded and readied the horse. After he helped her mount, she turned to him with these parting words, "Heed me well, boy. After sun-down, do not leave this place for fear of your life. An evil spirit walks the night and would surely kill you. But, these wards I have placed here, he cannot cross. You will be safe in the stables."
Jacques was obviously terrified. He'd seen the marks on Aster, he believed in Therese's warnings. "Will the evil go away, m'lady Healer? When will it be safe again?"
Therese recalled her vision. "Two nights hence, the evil will leave, never to return. There may be shocking or terrible news, but have faith and do not despair. Tell the other servants that God will protect the innocent and bring all things to right once more."
Her words seemed to comfort Jacques a bit. He bowed again to her, murmuring, "God bless you, m'lady. And, thank you."
Before she spurred the horse away, she turned and said to him, "Just in case, Jacques, have young Andre's pony saddled at sun-down, ready to ride. Put some provisions and water in his pack. If master Andre' does appear, he will seem frightened. If he is, remind him of my whereabouts and make him leave here quickly, or the evil I spoke of may come for him too."
Jacques crossed himself. "God forbid! Yes, m'lady. I will do as you say."
At that, Therese rode off, on her way to freedom.
Ro Hart (Roandshan@aol.com)
copyright April 1997
Therese knew an old healer, a friend of her mother's, whose cottage was nestled in a grove of trees, not far from the crossroads at Lark's Corner. She made her way there, urging the horse on as fast as it could go, arriving just before dusk.
Though Therese was exhausted, she penned the horse just inside the woodshed, giving it some hay and water. Then she entered the cottage.
The man sat before the fire. He was the wisest person she knew. If anyone could help her, he could.
"Master Taleyn?" she said as she entered.
He turned to see her, then ran to embrace her. "Therese! Ah, my little one! How did you come here? Where have you been? Your mother didn't give you up for dead, but prayed nightly for your return." He held her tightly. She could tell he was holding his tears back.
She hugged him back, then released him.
Therese sat in a chair, while Taleyn poured her a warm cup of herb-tea. Then he brought her some honey-cakes and didn't let her talk until she'd eaten every one.
"Now, then, my dear. Where have you been?" he asked gently. With his sharp eyes, he noticed her fine gown and cloak, only a little worse for wear from her frantic ride.
"It is a long story, master, and not over yet. First, please tell me. Is mother well?"
"She's worried, but she told me her bond with you was not broken, so she knew you lived." Taleyn pointed to her clothes. "Where did you get these? And where is your herb-bag?"
"Before I begin, I must insist that you help me raise the wards on this house, inside and out in a perimeter of 15 feet around it."
"Whatever for, child?" asked Taleyn. Nevertheless, he moved to the water jug on the table and reached for his herbs. "You flew in here as if the devil were on your back!"
Therese crossed herself, answering, "Almost." Then they got down to business. She drew clean water from the stream nearby, he readied the herbs and scattered the garlic outside in a large circle around the cottage. Inside, Taleyn muttered an incantation over the fire and threw in the herbs. A sweet scent filled the room. He watched as she blessed the water. Together they both sprinkled the holy water on the doors and windows, then outside on the stones of the cottage. When they entered his home, he securely bolted the doors and windows.
When they were seated again, Therese told him everything. About the night she was abducted by the vampire Nicolas, the location of his home, the Pit and the women who died in it, and lastly, about her vision: the arrival of the light-haired stranger to the castle. The unspoken threats that hung in the air between Nicolas and this man. Little Andre' following his uncle to the Pit and witnessing the horrors there, fleeing from the unnatural Beast which was his Uncle Nicolas. Then, the sound of the evil man's laughter, mocking Nicolas' obvious pain at Andre's discovery. Servants, shocked at the sudden disappearance of Lord deBrabant and his nephew. Lastly, the empty hallways, the fleeing servants, the dead women rotting in the Pit, and young Andre' fleeing on a small pony, with Aster in-tow.
As she recounted the tale, the vision sprang to life before her eyes again, and she saw at the end, the leaping tongues of fire burning away all evidence in the Pit, the smoke billowing out of the castle windows and doors. And a solitary figure, floating above the apple trees, watching it all.
Therese found herself being shaken by Master Taleyn. She dimly heard his voice, "Come back, child. Its over. Its over and you're safe now."
She shook her head and gazed up at him. Wincing, she grabbed her skull and waited until the room stopped spinning. "My head is pounding!"
"Shhh, its just the backlash," he soothed her. "Here, drink this. It will help."
As she sipped more tea, Taleyn leaned back in his chair. "What terrors you have seen!" he whispered. "And more to come!"
Quietly, Taleyn made Therese a warm bed by the fire. Then, he helped her lay down and covered her with a blanket. "You've done enough, Therese. I can see you're now a woman grown, with great powers. I will watch for your lordling Andre'. He will have a safe haven here."
Ro Hart (Roandshan@aol.com)
copyright April 1997
The night seemed to last forever. All through her dreams, Therese kept seeing her vision, over and over again. The evil light-haired visitor mocking Master Nicolas. Nicolas flying down to the Pit, and feeding on Mimi, Joan, and Ysobell. Whispering his seductive words to each girl as he ended their lives in his bloodlust. Andre's shock and terror at finding his uncle's true nature. Nicolas' misery at losing Andre' and all that might have been. Nicolas finding Therese gone. The hue and cry of the servants, searching for the lost boy, Nicolas' bitterness at having to flee. The castle on fire, the flames charring the corpses in the Pit to ash and destroying every memory of Fleur deBrabant's legacy to her son. And, finally, the boy racing through the woods, hiding in the shadows, his heart in his mouth. Sick with shock and sorrow. Following an invisible thread with his instinct rather than thought, heading for the only person he hoped would give him shelter from the insane world he was now trapped in.
When dawn came, Therese wasn't rested at all. But she knew the instant she felt the sun touch the earth that Andre' was safe within these walls.
She sat up and saw the boy asleep on the floor near her. His packs were near the door. She guessed that his pony and Aster were safely stabled next to her own bay mare.
The poor little thing was white as a sheet, and there were scratches on his face and hands where the twigs and brambles caught him in his frantic ride. On one wrist was her talisman. She sighed in relief, thankful that Jacques was true to his word.
Taleyn entered the room and started some hot water for their tea. Then he began to cook some porridge. He whispered to Therese, "Andre' arrived three hours before dawn, too terrified to talk. I assured him you were here, told him who I was, and only then did he release the reins and allow me to bring him in here. I stabled the horses and brought his packs in. By then, he'd collapsed there," Taleyn nodded where Andre' was sleeping. "He's been asleep ever since."
"He's a brave lad," replied Therese softly. "I'll see him through all this."
"Oh?" replied Taleyn, "and who's going to see you through?"
She grinned at him, "Why, you and mother, of course!"
Over tea and breakfast, Taleyn asked her, "What will you do now?"
"I must keep Andre' hidden until I am sure his uncle and any others of his kind are no longer in this area. Then, I must bring him before the king's magistrate and be sure his legal rights are secure to the land and properties which he should've inherited from his parents."
"How will you do that?" he asked.
"I hope one of my former clients, Marie Delachamps, will beg her husband to help me in these matters. He's a lawyer, and, thanks to me, the father of strapping twin sons."
Talien laughed. "There are some fringe-benefits to your occupation, I can see that."
"Master Taleyn, will you let my mother know where I am? If she were to come here, she could protect Andre' for me while I go see Marie. I shouldn't be more than two or three days."
Taleyn nodded. "I will contact her, but _you_," he shook his finger at Therese, "you don't go anywhere until she arrives here, understood? Monique would have my head if I let you go before she could see you again, after all the worry she's been through."
Therese laughed. "True. All right, I'll wait."
The rest of the day, she took scraps of cloth from old clothing of Taleyn's and made herself some new dresses. They were nothing as fine as the green one she'd appropriated from the castle, but they would be more in keeping with her station and more practical in her work. As she worked, she sang softly, words of healing and pleasant dreams over the boy while he slept.
Finally, mid-afternoon, he woke. She knelt at his side and caressed his hair. "Shhh, Andre'. Fear not. I am here."
His eyes focused on her, then he flung himself into her arms. She held him as he cried, soothing him. After a long while, he quieted, and she rocked him in her arms. They stayed that way for nearly an hour, before Andre raised his head and spoke to her.
"I'm hungry," he announced.
Therese smiled. "Come and eat, m'lord, and I will listen if you need to talk."
Taleyn came in and helped Therese feed the boy. As he ate, he was the child she had met only yesterday, bright and eager. But when he was through, he began to recall the events of last night. She could see it. The light went out of his eyes. He grew sullen and angry. Taleyn cleaned up as Therese went back to her sewing.
She sang softly again, and Andre' began to drift back into sleep. Tomorrow, she thought, tomorrow he'll be better. And perhaps, mother will have an easier time than I will. She's certainly had more experience!
Ro Hart (Roandshan@aol.com)
copyright April 1997
Twenty years had passed.
Andre' deBrabant ruled his small estate as best he could, with the advice of Therese and Monsignor Delachamp. He was a crafty lawyer,and a good businessman, who had eyes and ears everywhere in the markets and towns, even as far as Paris. His information network helped Andre' run a profitable business in trading his region's wool for a variety of goods. His best deal was with the manufacturer of a new type of wine-press, which was much in demand by vintners in Bordeaux. The income from this had helped Andre' purchase more land for the sheep to forage on, resulting in larger herds and more wool to export.
Therese and her mother Monique kept working throughout the countryside as healers and midwives. They had both been invited by Andre' come and live with him, but they both wanted to use their skills for what they knew best.
Andre' did not rebuild the castle that had been his mother's, which had been completely burned that dreadful night when Nicolas, Lord deBrabant, had disappeared without a trace. Everyone feared that young Andre' had died too, but a month later, he arrived at the king's magistrate in the company of two servants from his old household (Jacques & Master Tomas), and Mr. Delachamp. His identity and legal rights to the land were soon verified. After two hard years of work, Delachamp and Andre' had raised enough money to build a new home on the land. The stones of the castle were razed and a new chateau was built near the old apple orchard. When it was finished, Andre' had the local priest come and bless the entire estate, especially his new home. The site of the old castle was condemned. Cursed. The hole where the castle's foundations and the Pit had been was filled in with unusable stone, dead branches from trees, and became a sort-of refuse-dump.
Still, no one dared come near it after dark.
It was Autumn, and harvest-time at Chateau deBrabant.
Andre' was out supervising the hunting party, which, it was hoped, would bring back a few big boars and some lesser game, to be slaughtered and preserved for the coming winter.
Andre's wife, Eaudette, was helping the servants pick apples and gather nuts. The barns were full of fodder for both horses and sheep. There was even plenty of wine and cider in the wine cellar, the pick of the past 15 years' best, a fringe-benefit of their trade with Bordeaux.
Eaudette was a pretty little thing, five years younger than her husband, who was now thirty-two. She was a second-cousin of Madame Marie Delachamp. When Andre' first met Eaudette at one of Marie's parties, she seemed like a bossy, little tyrant. After all, he was _so_ much older than she! He was a man of fifteen! But the older they both grew, the better friends they became. By the time Andre had entered his early twenties, he was courting Eaudette. She'd become more tactful and less tyrannical. She wasn't a gorgeous beauty, but she had a coquettish aire and a pretty face that hid her extremely practical mind. She was the organizer behind their very successful estate. She kept the books, supervised the provisions and purchases of the household. She won all the servants' loyalty with her sweet ways and made sure they were all clothed and fed.
Andre' and Eaudette were very happily married, though at twenty-seven, she despaired of ever having a baby. Therese herself had come to visit lately and had examined Eaudette carefully. As far as she could tell, the girl had nothing physically wrong with her. She was strong, healthy, and not one given to fevers. She told the girl to keep eating well, get enough rest, and if it helped, ask the local father to come and pray with her. Therese didn't want to say it, but she believed the problem was with Andre', not Eaudette. But that was in God's hands. She knew he still lived with scars on his soul from that horrible night long ago. He was pious enough, but he refused to discuss that night with anybody except Father Paul, the local priest. Therese knew that when he was ready to talk with her about it, he would.
The last person Andre' had spoken to other than the priest had been with her mother Monique, two nights after it had happened. But, he'd constrained her silence about that discussion, and Monique had never broken that vow.
Ro Hart (Roandshan@aol.com)
copyright April 1997
It was late afternoon when Therese left the Chateau. She arrived home at dusk to the cottage she shared with her mother. It had once been Master Taleyn's, but he'd died eight years ago, and left it to Monique and her daughter.
The main room was empty. The fire was out and some mice had gotten into the bread. Therese shook her head. Mother was probably asleep, and that lazy Merissa hadn't built up the fire before she left!
Therese put her herbs and ointments away and set about making a fire and cleaning up the mess. Andre', as usual, had loaded her horse with provisions; dried meat, dried beans, fresh bread and some apples from the harvest. Eaudette had included a bottle of her favorite brandy, with a note for Monique to use it to relieve her winter chills and aches.
Monique had been ill for the past two years. She'd survived years of hard work, difficult travel from place to place, sometimes fleeing from suspicious priests or angry patients. When her medicines and care worked, the mothers blessed her coming and the husbands paid her in silver and goods, bursting with pride over their new offspring. When her herbs and simples were not sufficient to help the patient, she was cursed. If the patient died, she often had to flee for her life. The distraught people often called her a witch, and she had no wish to be burned at the stake.
Monique now suffered from pain in her joints, which crippled her. She also had difficulty breathing, especially in winter. The catarrh last winter had nearly killed her, if not for Therese' constant care and herbal cures. Monique's weakness made her a semi-invalid. She could feed herself and knew enough to stay inside the cottage or just in the front yard. And Therese paid Merissa, the young girl from the farm nearby to check on Monique every day when Therese was away.
Therese had the fire going and put some water on for tea. Carrying a candle, she went to her mother's room and peered in. Monique was not in her bed! Though it was very unlikely, Therese climbed the stairs to her room in the loft. It was empty too. Now, Therese had a bad feeling. It was now after dark, and her mother was not in the cottage. Where could she be? With her infirmities, she couldn't get far on her own.
Therese threw on a cloak and lit the lantern, a gift from Andre'. Then she went outside to look.
Casting about with both her eyes and her other senses, she called out, "Mother! Mother, its me! Where are you? Monique!" She could hear nothing. Only a slight breeze and normal night-noises. "Mother! Answer me if you can hear me!"
Therese closed her eyes and felt for the mental link she shared with her mother. It was still there, but weak. She gave up on shouting, and followed where the link seemed strongest. She made it to the stream which flowed through their property. Near the crest of the hill from which it flowed, she found her mother.
Monique was lying by the stream, her dark cloak obscuring her form.
With a cry, Therese ran and knelt by her mother. The old woman was still conscious, but Therese could sense that death was not far away. "Mother, I'm here."
Monique's hands were as cold as ice, and she was slightly blue. She had great difficulty breathing. She was trying to say something. "Therese, I must tell you..."
"Hush, mother, rest yourself. I'll get you home and warm you by the fire." Therese tried to lift her mother, who was normally as light as a child. But she couldn't budge her. "Mother, don't be stubborn," chided Therese. "Release your will and let me take you home."
Although weak and dying, Monique still had formidable strength. "No, child! I am bound before I die to lay this burden on your heart, that you may carry it now."
Therese knew it would be useless to argue, so she sat back, cradling her mother in her arms and listened.
Monique went on, "The night of the fire, the night Andre' fled the castle, he told me later what he had seen."
"Yes, mother, I know. I foresaw that night's events, remember?" answered Therese. "I know of the vow of silence you made to Andre'. Its all right, you don't have to break it for me."
Monique shook her head, "No, child, you must know, so you can protect the boy now. He lives in terror every night of his life, and only you can understand the source of his terror."
Apparently she'd forgotten how old Andre' was now. But Therese reassured her mother, "I will, mother. I will."
Monique gripped Therese's hands and whispered, "The tale is this: as Andre' rode away, he turned, and over his shoulder he saw his uncle Nicolas...flying! Like a black bird of death, he flew around and above the castle, setting it afire. And then, he hovered over the apple trees, watching the castle burn. Andre' prayed the thing which was once his uncle would not see and pursue him, and he made a reckless dash through the thickest forest he could find. Despite this, he arrived safely at this cottage. But, that sight has haunted him all his life, and he lives in constant fear that some night his uncle might appear once again and kill him and anyone he loves."
Therese shook her head. From her visions, she recalled seeing such things. Poor Andre'.
Short of breath, her mother gasped out these last words, "Beware the night! Beware the vampire..." With that, Monique breathed her last and died.
Sobbing, Therese laid a kiss on her mother's forehead and said a prayer for the dead. "I know, mother," she said. "I remember. I know."
Ro Hart (Roandshan@aol.com)
copyright April 1997
A month later, Therese was at home in her cottage. She tended the fire that evening, remembering her mother's funeral nearly four weeks ago, now.
The funeral had been private and small. Andre' and Eaudette came, Jacques and Master Tomas, a few of Monique's friends, Merissa, and two young girls who been Monique's pupils.
Therese thanked Andre' for all the years of kindness he'd bestowed on her mother, and was doubly honored when Andre' ordered that Monique's grave be placed within his own family's hallowed grounds. He then instructed Father Paul to have the bones of Master Taleyn moved to rest beside Monique's grave, and trimmings of rowan, comfrey, Blessed Thistle and bayberry to be planted over each grave.
Therese smiled and thanked him for remembering their earliest conversations, all about the properties of herbs and their natural powers. Rowan to drive away evil, comfrey for its universal healing powers, and lastly, bayberry and Blessed Thistle were both used to aid women with their monthly cycles and in giving birth. In so doing, all those who picked from these plants in the future would be reminded of the pair of healers who rested there.
Before he left, Therese pressed a small packet into his hands. "M'Lord," she whispered to him, "these are for you. My mother gathered these before she died. She wanted you to use them, and in doing so, honor her memory."
"What are they?" he asked quietly.
Therese knew better than to spell it out for him, so she just said, "Something she hoped would bless you and prove efficacious to you in your...future efforts." She smiled enigmatically, kissed his hand and bowed.
In the packet were herbs for healing and for male impotency. Damiana, echinacea, saw palmetto, periwinkle, garlic and two rare herbs from the far east: ginseng and gota kola.
Earlier, Therese had made up a similar packet for Eaudette, who took them eagerly. She recognized many of the herbs already, having taken them before. There was goldenseal, marshmallow, Blessed Thistle, red raspberry leaves, black cohosh and Queen of the Meadow.
"May these herbs cleanse your body and strengthen your womb, that you may bear your lord a son." Therese said to the girl as she gave them. Eaudette was in tears, but smiled and hugged her.
"God willing. Many thanks, Lady Therese," said Eaudette, before the carriage came to take Therese back to her cottage.
As Therese remembered these things, she began to doze before the fire. She was warm and cozy, and she dimly heard the winter winds which had picked up outside, rustling the trees nearby.
She began to see a true Vision in her dream.
It was a moonlit night. The wind was wild but not cold. She was standing at the top of the hill behind the cottage. Nearby the stream gurgled. She stood with her back to the cottage. As she gazed out over the far-away countryside, she sensed a presence. It was very familiar to her. She turned and saw a man nearby. He was dressed all in black, and his hair shone in the moonlight. His face was beautiful, yet pale as the snow and twice as cold.
"So, girl, we meet again," he whispered. His voice was deep and melodic, and she longed to hear it again.
"M'Lord," she said. She found that she was shivering. With fear? From the cold? She didn't know. "My name is Therese. And I am not a girl any longer." She spoke these words with pride, daring him to contradict her.
"I can see that," he answered. He took two steps closer, and now she could see his eyes. They were like two beads of blue topaz, bright and clear. His expression softened suddenly, and he said to her, "Forgive me, my lady Therese. I did not come here to mock you. Rather, to thank you."
This was a surprise to her. "Thank me? For what?"
"For all the good that you've done. For your healing herbs and your magic spells which, even now, protect what is left of my...mortal family." The man smiled at her, a predator's smile. Promising more than his thanks, more than mere words.
"M'Lord," she murmured, lowering her eyes, "My powers are from God, who blesses us all. For, even as He showers rain upon the just and on the unjust, so does He rain all good things upon the earth for our benefit. The fruits of the fields, the herbs of the forest, the good sunlight."
The man winced at the mention of God, and she thought she heard him hiss at her comment about the sunlight.
"Why have you come here, M'Lord?" she asked.
"To help you. To offer you a gift," he replied. His expression was crafty, his lips cruel.
In that instant, she knew him. She recognized him. Therese raised her arms in the form of a cross and exclaimed, "Begone, false creature! You spread lies and rumors and seek to harm the innocent. To crush for all time the dreams and hopes of all the living and the dead."
The man hissed, and his face was truly changed now. His eyes were bright yellow and his fangs were evident. He snarled and backed away from her, shielding his face from the Holy Symbol she made before him. "Leave me, Lucifer!" she said, then began reciting Words of Power and Spells of Warding.
The creature snarled and hissed at her, then took to the skies, fleeing from her.
Therese woke with a start, her arms held out before her as the were in her dream. She was weak and trembling. Her head pounded fiercely. As she shakily made herself some white-willow-bark tea, for the pain, she remembered the man's face. It had been the same light-haired man who long ago visited Master Nicolas and probably laid a compulsion on the boy Andre' to follow his uncle to the Pit that fateful night.
Therese swallowed her tea and poured herself some more. She was shivering with the psychic backlash of her vision, knowing that in part, if not in all, it was soon to come true.
Ro Hart (Roandshan@aol.com)
copyright April 1997
For the next week, Therese was watchful. She never went out after dark, but kept the woodpile inside high and the one outside higher. The snows came, dumping drifts around the cottage and forming icicles on the eaves.
Therese sent a message to Andre, with the help of Merissa, the neighbor-girl who had once cared for Monique in her illness. She assured him that she was fine, but that the cold weather kept her housebound. She did not lack for provisions, nor wood. But she looked forward to seeing Andre' and Eaudette at the mid-winter feast.
The message was partly true. She had provisions enough, and little Merissa was some company, but it wasn't just the cold weather which kept her housebound. Since her mother had died, Therese had been feeling poorly. Not just in spirit, though that was to be expected. In her body. She felt tired, sore and she couldn't keep much food down. When she tried to study herblore, the words blurred before her eyes, and none of her usual cures worked. She had the unmistakable feeling that something was very wrong with her, but, for once in her life, she didn't have the courage to find out what.
When the week ended, Therese didn't feel any better. She was coughing up blood now, and when she looked at herself with her healing powers, she saw a black film covering parts of her body: her breasts, her upper arms, and her lower abdomen, and it was growing. She'd seen this before, in her patients. She knew immediately what it was.
Weeping with pain and anger at the irony, Therese began to search through the stores of herbs she had left. There weren't many. Burdock, echinacea, golden seal, myhrr, yellow dock; all these would help a little, but not enough. There was no cure, and sometimes all she could do was to ease their pain enough to allow them to die with some dignity. Pain killers and relaxants: white willow bark, catnip and lobelia. And finally, if she chose to use it, deadly nightshade.
That evening, she'd gone out at dusk to draw some water from the stream, which still gurgled under its thick coat of ice. The wind had lessened, and the evening stars twinkled in the sky like diamonds. As she made her way back, Therese paused, listening.
She heard the sound like the wind rushing past her. She put the bucket down and turned. There, framed against the pink clouds on the far horizon, stood Nicolas deBrabant. He looked no older than she'd last seen him, over twenty years ago. His golden hair framed his perfect face, and his eyes were the deep blue of lapis.
Therese stood there, frozen. Too startled to speak, too angry _not_ to, and too weary to flee. She gave him a stiff nod and said, "M'Lord Vampire, what brings you here?"
He smiled, and it brightened his face like a star in the night sky. Therese's eyes were fixed on his and she could not look away.
"I've come to thank you, M'Lady Therese," he said. His voice was light, his expression open.
Therese shivered at his words, so like, and yet, unlike those in her vision.
Nicolas noticed this, and held out his hand. "M'Lady? You are not well, and the night air is cold. Come, let me take you by the fire inside and we may talk more comfortably."
Therese knew it was insane to even consider allowing him into her house, but she found herself taking his hand and letting him lead her to the cottage. He hung back at the door, and Therese remembered her grandmere's stories. "A vampire cannot cross a Christian threshold unless the resident gives him leave to enter."
She wasn't sure how true that tale had been, but Nicolas stayed outside. She turned and looked at him. He was so handsome, so enticing! A wave of desire ran through her again. She wanted him, very badly, but she fought against the urge. She closed her eyes and used her "sight" to study him. As a creature of the night, he was nearly invisible to her inner vision, covered in a gray mist which obscured him completely. Yet, she saw no blackness, no stain of evil on him. Surprised, she opened her eyes and nodded to him.
"You may enter, Nicolas deBrabant, and be welcome. But, beware, there are many charms of power and wards against evil in and around this cottage. They will repel you and most assuredly harm you."
Nick entered, wincing as he did so. "My thanks, lady Therese," he answered politely. She sat before the fire, in her mother's chair, and he took the seat opposite her.
Therese studied him closely. He seemed...different, somehow.
Ro Hart (Roandshan@aol.com)
copyright April 1997
"You have changed," Therese observed. "Oh, not in appearance, but in...manner."
Nick nodded, "I have...learned many things."
"With age, they say, comes wisdom," she countered.
He smiled wryly at this, and answered, "Perhaps. And perhaps, you were one of the wisest young mortals I had ever met."
Therese began to reply, but had to stop. A long bout of coughing and a sharp pain overcame her. When she was done, her handkerchief was bright red with her blood. Quickly, she threw it in the fire, lest it arouse Nicolas' blood-lust.
"You're very ill," he observed. To her surprise, he seemed genuinely concerned.
Nick studied her with all his senses and realized that this woman before him was slowly dying of cancer. She was in a lot of pain, and it was spreading rapidly throughout her body. He looked into her eyes, and saw that she knew! There was fear, anger, and a kind of resignation.
"I know," she said shortly. "Soon, I will be with my mother and my grandmother." She coughed again, then, leaned forward in her chair, clutching her abdomen in pain.
Nick wanted to help her. "I can ease your pain," he whispered.
For a moment, she didn't dare look at him, then she slowly raised her head. "No. Not yet." Despite her pain, she still was overwhelmed by his magnetism.
"Why must you suffer?" he asked her.
"I have yet to understand why you are here. When I know that, then perhaps I will know enough to...consider your kind offer."
Nick saw that she was still in pain, so he gently picked her up and carried her to the other room. He laid her on the pallet there. He took her hand in his, and waited for her expression to clear.
When Nick saw that the pain had passed, he began to speak, "Therese, twenty years ago, I was a different person. A foolish person. I thought I could be whatever I wished to be. I thought I could live both in the mortal world and as a vampire. Since that night, I have come to understand that I cannot. My very nature demands that I be true to what I am. A vampire. This means feeding on mortals, taking their blood, their lives, and their memories. And, to hunt discreetly so that I may not endanger any others of my kind. The situation I created at the castle, the life I made for myself long ago was a farce. And it nearly killed an innocent boy, my sister's child, whom I loved."
Therese listened carefully as he spoke. His words rang true, she could feel it. Despite his nature, she still could not see any taint of evil on him. Had her fear of his Darkness blinded her to his basic goodness? How could she have missed this?
Nick went on, "I have heard how you protected Andre'. How you sheltered him that night and how you assured his future prosperity. How you befriended him and helped to make him the man he is today." He kissed her hand gently. His lips were like ice. "For that, I thank you."
Therese felt a thrill of pleasure as his lips touched her skin, and she smiled at him, "You're quite welcome, Nicolas."
But, as she said these words to him, Therese remembered the Pit. Elaine, Joan, Mimi, Ysobell, so many others. The girls who came and left and died. The drugged, hazy days passing by like leaves in a high wind. The nights she sat in the dining room with him, teaching him of her life, sharing her knowledge, while the others sat enthralled in the Pit, dying for and dying from Master Nicolas' attentions.
Nick saw her expression change, and knew why. "I'm not here to apologize," he said coldly. "I cannot deny what I am, and I have no guilt or shame because of it." His arrogance came naturally to him, and Therese felt insignificant before it.
Then, her own temper flared, "I won't apologize for what I am either! I'm a Healer! I saved lives, brought new lives into this world. You and I are exactly the opposite. You kill and I heal." A wave of pain caught her again, and she clenched her jaw and her fists against it.
Nick watched her with hooded eyes. When the pain had passed, he took her right hand and opened her fist. It was bloody, from her nails digging into her palm. He raised her hand to his mouth, and sensuously licked the blood off. She shivered with desire, overcome by her old longing for his touch. "I kill, and you heal," he whispered harshly. "Healer, heal thyself!"
Therese fought back the tears as she snatched her hand from his grasp. "Leave me now," she said bitterly.
"Why?" he countered. "So you can...die in peace?"
"Its _my_ life!" Therese snarled, turning away from him. "What do _you_ know about pain and death?"
Nick's expression became sad, as he reached out to caress her back. "Probably more than you'll ever know," he said. "Eternal life means watching eternal death occur all around you."
To her surprise, Therese heard the pain in his voice. She turned back to look at him. "And...never touching you," she said.
He nodded and smiled at her. "Yes. Never _letting_ it touch you."
Suddenly, Therese felt such great empathy for this man, this vampire, that she felt she finally understood him in a way she never had before. She was angry at herself for the way she'd begun to accept her inevitable demise, how she'd given up so soon. Here was a man who had somehow cheated death, and yet, still didn't know how to live! She had so much to teach him! So much to learn from him! And, she realized with a shock, so much love to give him.
Ironic, she laughed at herself. To discover all this when my time remaining is so short!
Nick asked her, "What's so funny?"
She wanted to explain it all, but she couldn't. It was too much, and she was losing her strength. "I...I have to tell you about my vision," she said.
"Vision? What vision?" he asked, puzzled.
Ro Hart (Roandshan@aol.com)
copyright April 1997
Therese recounted her recent vision. She described to Nick the man she'd seen, what he'd said to her, what she'd done to him and how he had fled. "It was the same man who I 'saw' in my vision twenty years ago. I saw him then, coming to your castle, mocking you, influencing Andre' to follow you and find out what you are."
Nick's expression grew grim, then resigned. "LaCroix."
"Is that his name?" she asked. "Who is he?"
"Lucien LaCroix. He's my Master, the one who made me."
Therese lay there, stunned. She remembered her Master, Taleyn, who had taught her so much, had been a father-figure to her all her young life. "Do you...love him?" she asked Nick softly.
His expression became unreadable. He was obviously torn. "Sometimes, yes. Often, no." He frowned. "Its a bit...complicated," he finished.
She smiled, "I can see that." She touched his arm. "Parents are like that. They have a power over us that lasts our whole lifetime."
Nick nodded, not daring himself to speak.
Again, Therese was struck down by her pain. It was worse each time, and each moment left her weaker. She felt fresh blood on her lips. "I...I'd love to continue our conversations, Nicolas," she managed, "but..."
Nick took her face in his hands and caught her eyes. "I know, ma petite." He gently stroked her hair. "I don't wish to lose you," he whispered.
Therese heard the loneliness in his voice already. She felt lighter, somehow, gazing into azure eyes, blue like the heavens. Distanced from her body and its pain. The end was near.
Nick kissed her bloodied lips, and his eyes went gold. His fangs extended. He still whispered to her, but his voice was rough with the Beast and his emotions. "I can help you, Therese, but the choice must be yours, and freely given."
She indicated her understanding, and he went on. "I can either ease your pain until you die, or ..." he growled softly, "I can make you what I am. Immortal. Unchanging. A vampire."
Therese felt a flood of warmth break apart within her chest, making it hard to breathe. Her eyesight was failing. Yet, she could still 'see' him before her. His golden hair, yellow eyes, sharp teeth. His enticing words, falling from those perfect lips.
"Choose quickly, Therese. To die as a mortal? Or to live throughout eternal nights?"
She managed to croak, "To live, with you," before her throat was flooded with her life's blood.
Nick threw his head back, feeling the bloodlust overtake him. Swiftly, he bit into her neck and feasted on the blood, gushing fast and hot from her failing heart. Tasting the sour tang of disease in her blood, yet also savoring there the sweetness of her herbs.
Her natural healing powers hit his brain like lightning, and he broke his fatal kiss just in time. He ripped open his shirt, cut his own chest, near his heart, and pressed her mouth to it, whispering hoarsely, "Drink, dear one."
As soon as his rich blood touched her tongue, Therese began suckling like a newborn. Nick felt the loss of it, but did not stop her. She seemed to sense exactly how much she needed, and when she'd had enough, she stopped. Nick was surprised. LaCroix had warned him that fledglings had no self-control whatsoever and must be forcibly stopped from feeding when you brought them over.
Nick kissed her on the lips, tasting his own blood there. "Sleep, now, Therese. You will awaken into your new life soon enough."
Nick looked back into the other room, seeing the sky begin to lighten with the coming dawn. However, it would still be a dark, overcast winter day. Nick could sense a storm on the way. They would both be safe enough for the day here. There were horses in the stable he could draw blood from, if need be, to sustain him enough to keep feeding Therese his own, rich blood.
Nick closed his eyes, picking up memories from her blood. The young girl, Merissa, was due here today. If it came down to it, Nick was sure he could get enough from the girl to feed his new fledgling properly, perhaps without even killing Merissa. Or, he grinned, perhaps this was to be his daughter's first kill...
Ro Hart (Roandshan@aol.com)
copyright April 1997
"Petit-Fours" - 14/16
Therese woke. The first thing she noticed was how sleepy she felt. The next thing she noticed was the silence. Her once-sharp hearing seemed to be gone. The sounds she did hear seemed muffled, distant. She sensed the animal-noises outside, but that wasn't what was missing.
Her eyes, though, showed her a different world than she had known. Each object, each shape seemed as clear as if it were bathed in sunlight. Each object had its shadow, and the shadows were in all the dark colors she'd never seen: black, ochre, dark gray, light charcoal, the palest ultra-violet, the deepest purple, and the darkest emerald. She saw that her doorway had been draped with a heavy quilt, and her window was completely blocked by a large armoire. Somehow, she didn't feel the winter cold anymore. Suddenly, she realized what sounds she'd been missing. Her own heartbeat! The sound of her own breathing!
Panicked, she tried to stand, but as she did, a wave of hunger hit her harder than any pain she'd ever felt. It was nothing like the pain in her chest last night. It was as if she was being consumed by a dark void from within, and she had to fill that void quickly to save her life.
Before she could fall to her knees, she felt his hands on her. Her master, Nicolas.
He lifted her easily back onto the bed and sat beside her. "Drink this", he said, handing her an enormous pewter goblet. She normally used it to mix herbal tinctures. It would hold at least two litres of liquid. It was now filled to the brim with blood.
Instinctively, Therese gulped the warm liquid down. It was warm and rich, just what her body craved. She finished the whole thing. The void wasn't there anymore, but she still felt starving. But Nick, anticipating this, handed her a bota, saying, "Drink slower this time, beloved. It will taste...different, but it will sustain you for now."
She took a swig, then grimaced. "Ugh! What _is_ this?"
Nicolas just smiled, "When you finish it, I will tell you." The love and encouragement in his eyes thrilled her and she did as he bade. It tasted mostly like her master's blood, and she even sensed a little wine, but overall, it was as dissimilar to her first meal as stale water was to fresh, warm milk.
Therese managed to drink it all, in small mouthfuls as Nick had instructed her. When it was gone, she put the bota down.
"Well?" she asked him. "What was it?"
He had a mischievous smile on his face. "Horse."
She made a face and a gagging noise. Nick laughed, then added, "Not all of it, my love. I mixed it with plenty of my own and a little wine." Therese still wore her disgusted expression. "There was little else to feed you," he continued. "Are you replete?"
"Yes," she said. "I understand. It _was_ rather unpleasant, like drinking swill after you've tasted champagne." She thought a moment, then asked, "The first blood, it was human, wasn't it?" Her eyes never left his. "Marissa's?"
"Yes," he acknowledged. "Does that bother you?"
Therese closed her eyes. She looked deep into her soul. "It should. All my life, I have tended to the sick, the ill, those in pain. I helped bring new lives into this world. I've watched many die."
She opened her eyes, and looked up at Nicolas. "But, that part of my life is over now. I am...reborn. Newly made. And this body, which you have so greatly changed for me, requires a new kind of sustenance."
Therese smiled with growing joy at her Master, who smiled back. "I feel no regret for making this choice. I have no shame or guilt for merely following my new instincts. I thank you, my lord, for this wonderful Gift which you have given me, and I'll gladly learn all that you can teach me. I am yours, forever."
A thrill went through her as Nicolas bent and kissed her gently on the lips. "Forever," he agreed.
She felt full, warm and a little woozy. Her strength and energy had returned, though. She felt as light as a feather and as powerful as a goddess. She also felt very, very aroused. The sight of him, his scent, the memory of the taste of his blood, all made her want him. She was acutely aware of how near he sat to her. She longed for more of his touch, and he seemed to know it.
Gently, Nick touched her hair. The long, red strands slipped through his fingers. Her eyes were peacock-blue and very bright. The Transformation always made new vampires more erotic, more _real_, thought Nick, than their former selves could ever be! Combined with their natural magnetism, their race had a beauty which mortals normally ascribed only to the angels. He smiled. If only they knew how close they were! _Dark_ Angels.
"You are very beautiful, ma petite fleur," he whispered to Therese. "Mon coeur, ma fille."
Therese's joy was almost tangible, and it lit up her face. Her skin was like perfect marble, only warm and soft to the touch.
Nick bent to kiss her mouth once again, and she responded, pulling him closer and deepening the kiss. Therese opened her mouth, and their tongues entwined. The kiss went on and on.
Nick's hands went around her waist, and he stood, lifting her up. She straddled his hips, her legs wrapped around him. His kiss moved from her mouth to her face, her eyes, her ears. He nibbled her earlobes, then nuzzled her neck. Softly, Therese growled. She could feel the wetness between her legs as her body responded to his attentions.
Nick laughed gently. "Little beast! Impatient, aren't you?" He grinned at her, then bent his teeth to her blouse, ripping it slowly open. He held her close in his arms, and he turned to pin her body against the wall, her legs still around his waist.
Then Nick moved his hands lower to caress her buttocks. As he did, he lowered his head to her breasts and licked her cleavage. She leaned back in his arms, clutching at his golden hair. He moved lower, kissing her breasts, then teasing her nipples with his tongue.
Therese moved her hips, aroused by his hands and his mouth. She was panting, hot with desire for him.
When he raised his head from her breasts, he had a seductive smile on his perfect face. His voice was husky with unspent passions, "Ah...my love, I will torture you with little pleasures, entice you with tender kisses, arouse you with such caresses that you beg me for mercy."
Therese couldn't move her body much, but her arms were free. With one hand, she ran her nails up his back, then up into his hair. He leaned back a bit, closing his eyes in pleasure. She leaned into him, rubbing her breasts against his face, as she lowered her other hand. While he was distracted, she reached around his hands which were holding her ass, and underneath, she pressed her palm against the swell of his cock, cupping his erection in her hand. Then, as he realized what she was doing, she lightly ran her nails along the length of it, arousing him.
Now, it was his turn to growl.
Therese pulled back to see his face, releasing his member. "Who will torture who, my lord?" She felt him let go of her legs. Her feet touched the ground, and she stood before him, still rubbing herself against him. Her arms were around his neck, her bare breasts against his chest.
"Perhaps," she whispered to him, "we will both beg for mercy."
His answer was another passionate kiss.
"Petit-Fours" - 15/16
Ro Hart (Roandshan@aol.com)
copyright April 1997
After a long while, they broke the kiss. Nick growled once again, and pushed her down onto the bed. They tore at each others' clothes, eager with lust. With a laugh, she freed her legs from beneath his and flipped them both off the bed and onto the floor. Beneath her, Nick grinned and wrestled the rest of his clothes off. Then, he wrapped his arms around her hips and rolled, neatly reversing the flip and pinning her under his body.
Within moments, they both lay naked on the heavy fur rug. As her master fondled her breasts, kissed and licked her neck, Therese moaned beneath him. She could feel the warmth of her last meal running through her, infusing her immortal body with such power and strength! She found her eyes had taken on a golden cast, and she growled in passion, her fangs evident.
Therese felt Nicolas' erection against her belly, and she looked up to see his beautiful blue eyes change to gold too. He was glorious, a golden god, poised from above to ravish her. (And _be_ ravished!) she promised silently, baring her fangs
"Ah... my lady..." Nick whispered, "we will share endless nights of passion, endless days filled with erotic dreams."
Nicolas lowered his mouth to hers, kissing her savagely. She teased his fangs with her tongue and fed him with her blood. He sucked and swallowed. After a while, she broke their kiss, grinning with a wild joy.
"And each evening," he panted, "we will wake together and hunt our prey."
He rubbed his cock roughly against her mons, teasing her. She arched her back and moved her hips, trying to capture him.
"And we will _take_ them," he growled, as he penetrated her. She threw her head back with a cry, as he moved within her. Faster and stronger than any mortal lovers, they writhed together in the rhythm of sex, each taking the other to higher and higher levels of passion. She raised her hips higher, and he pounded deeper and deeper into her.
Nick could feel himself on the edge. He raised his head and bared his fangs, then bit her deeply. Therese bucked her hips as waves of pleasure filled her. She threw her head back and bit him as fiercely. They remained there, locked in passion, giving and taking blood, lost in their rapture for the rest of the night.
"Petit-Fours" - 16/16
Ro Hart (Roandshan@aol.com)
copyright April 1997
Paris, one week later:
Nicolas deBrabant looked on fondly as his fledgling made a graceful bow to his master LaCroix. Therese was magnificently dressed, in an emerald gown, with a velvet overcape and a black-lace veil over her beautiful red hair.
Janette stood beside him, whispering, "Such a solemn little thing, Nicolah! Does she ever laugh?"
LaCroix stretched out his hand to Therese, and she meekly knelt before him, kissing it.
"What a lovely child you have made, Nicolas," murmured LaCroix. "And such a feather in your cap." LaCroix cupped her chin, forcing Therese to look up at him. "A bright jewel. No doubt, she's of good stock. Some nobleman's wayward daughter, perhaps?" He released her chin, but not her hand.
Therese silently asked her master's leave to speak, and then she said, "No, my lord LaCroix. I am...was but a simple healer, of humble birth. But my lord deBrabant has chosen me, twice over, for his own." She lowered her eyes as she spoke, and did not move. She was a bit afraid before LaCroix's steady gaze.
After a moment, he released her hand as well. "You may stand, my dear," purred LaCroix. "Twice over?" he asked Nick, with a raised eyebrow.
Nick just smiled. "She was well worth the wait," he replied proudly. Casually, he and Janette followed LaCroix to the large table. Nick poured four drinks. He gave one to his master, and one to Janette, which he presented to her with a bow. She smiled at him, and sat next to LaCroix. Then Nick carried one glass to Therese, then led her to a seat. They were all silent for a moment as they savored the rich blood.
"So, tell me more," encouraged LaCroix. He was quite over his anger at Nicolas for disappearing so abruptly over a month ago. Especially if his wayward son returned with such a prize!
"Yes, Nicolah, do!" said Janette eagerly. While he was gone, she'd dallied with a few young men, and had some conquests of her own. But now, she was quite bored with mortals and eager to learn about this new fledgling.
Between the two of them, Nicolas and Therese recounted the story of her life. Of Nick's decision to honor Fleur's last request to care for her son. (at this part, LaCroix grew angry and silent, remembering what Nicolas had made him give up, what he had agreed to do for love.) Therese could sense the tension in the room, but, with her talented voice, she continued to spin the tale past these unhappy beginnings, and on to other things.
Next, Nicolas told how he found Therese and brought her to the Pit, originally to assuage his Hunger. But, later, how he'd become enchanted with her as a person and how she'd talk to him during the long nights, teaching him what she knew of herbs, healing, the way of growing things, the spells and wards and little magics she knew. Therese watched her master as he spoke, and she could see the happiness these memories gave him. The Pit had been an horrific place, but in the end, it had brought them together in ways no one could have ever imagined.
Then, Therese told them of her last dream in the Pit, her prescient vision of what came to pass that night. Of her escape, of Andre's flight, the vision of Castle deBrabant burning to the ground. How Andre' fared through the years of his young manhood, reclaiming his lands, marrying, and managing a prosperous estate. Then Therese told them both of her mother's death, and of her own unforeseen illness, which swiftly brought her to the brink of death. "And that's how my Master Nicolas saved me and brought me to this life," Therese concluded.
"My dear, what an exciting life you've led," said Janette warmly. "It reminds me of the stories one tells to children, about the stolen princess who was raised like a peasant and led an unhappy and dangerous life, until she was discovered and saved by the prince!" Janette's tone was a bit teasing, but Therese could see it was all for Nicolas' benefit.
Therese shook her head. "My Dark Knight," she countered, smiling slyly at Janette.
Janette laughed. "Well, my dear," said Janette, approvingly, "I see how well he cares for you! Your gown is exquisite! And, what is this? Such a lovely necklace!"
LaCroix reached forward and examined the necklace Therese wore. "A silver caduceus?" he asked Nicolas. "And what's it wrapped around? An emerald stem? Herbs, I would imagine. Really, Nicolas."
Nick didn't bridle against the implied insult. "She may not have formal training, LaCroix, but her Healing powers are real. I felt them in our link, when I brought her over."
"Interesting," was all LaCroix would say. "Well, my dear, welcome to our family." His smile was predatory, obviously meant to intimidate. "I'm sure we'll have plenty of time to ...deepen our acquaintance." With that, LaCroix held out his hand to Janette, who took it and stood. "Come, Janette, let us go hunt."
Before he led her out of the room, Janette bent to whisper to Therese, "Courage, Therese, ma belle. LaCroix can be...persuaded."
Therese smiled her thanks to Janette, and watched as they left.
Afterwards, Therese felt herself relax. "He's...he's very old," she whispered. "And he carries within him such pain and anger, I wonder that he does not explode!"
Nick came to her and kissed the top of her head, "Shhh, my love. He is my master. He can be cruel at times, but I also know that he loves me."
Therese raised her hand to caress her master's cheek. "If such a one is capable of love, I am not surprised that he loves you. For who could not?" She kissed Nick softly, then said, "Since we have an eternity together, we will try to heal him together, my lord. I with my Talents, Janette with her charms, and you with your love."
Nick hugged her close. "Will that be enough, I wonder?" he asked.
Therese had no answer, but stood there drawing strength from her Master's embrace.
Then, Therese looked up into Nicolas' eyes. "And now, we are four," she said, and kissed him again.
end of "Petit-Fours"
Ro Hart - 1997