Freda Warrington - fantasy author
Extract from The Dark Blood of Poppies, Book Three
of the Blood Wine Sequence...
daughter she is
not, nor Angel’s bride
Chapter Two. Friends and Strangers
On clear cold nights, when a full moon hung over the Swiss Alps, Karl and Charlotte often walked for hours through the magnificent peaks. In temperatures no human could endure, they climbed impossible slopes with ease. Anyone seeing them would think they were ghosts.
As compensation for the darkness of immortality, Charlotte reflected, this was among the greatest; to stand on a mountain summit with the world rolling away in white silence below, Karl’s arm around her, their coats blowing in the icy wind.
Below the peak on which they stood was a straight two-hundred-foot drop. Irresistible. Detaching herself from Karl, she went to the very edge and hesitated, drunk with euphoria. Then she spread her arms, and dived into space.
Freezing air made a banshee wail in her ears. She felt weightless and completely at peace. This is what it means, to be mortal no longer...
She landed in deep soft snow. Plumes of white powder rose and blew away on the wind. She lay on her back, staring at the sky: a glorious arch of black velvet clustered thickly with stars. The moment seemed eternal.
There was another explosion of snow nearby; Karl had jumped after her. Finding his feet, he waded towards her.
She accepted his hand and stood up, shaking snow from her coat. The spark of anger in his eyes startled her.
“Have you gone mad?” he said, staring hard into her eyes. “If you want to fly, enter the Crystal Ring. Don’t attempt it on Earth.”
His fervour took her aback. “I wanted to see how it felt to jump. I knew I couldn’t kill myself.”
“No, but you might have been badly hurt. Our flesh can tear and our bones can break. We heal, but the pain is terrible.”
“I know.” She lowered her eyes. “I’m sorry. But there’s no harm done.”
He relented with a rueful smile. “You must forgive me, also, for being overprotective. Sometimes I still think you are human.”
“Well, I’m not.”
Karl shook his head, more amused than annoyed. Her beautiful demon lover.
“Shall we go home?” he said. “Now we’ve taken the short cut.”
On a winding path though a pine forest, they walked arm-in-arm like an innocent couple out for a stroll. Charlotte loved these times when she could forget the blood-thirst. Simply bask in the pleasure of being alone with Karl.
Both sensed the presence before they saw her: a peasant woman, heavily wrapped up against the cold, walking towards them. Charlotte smelled animal blood on her, and guessed she’d been up half the night helping cows to calf. Now she looked forward to her warm bed.
In the two years that Karl and Charlotte had been together, they preferred to hunt separately. Both felt that the drinking of blood was too personal to be witnessed. Perhaps it was a form of denial. To hunt together would have been conscious collusion, a step too far across the borderline of evil.
Normally they would have let the woman pass by. Nothing was different this evening…
Yet something happened.
Unbidden, mutual need flowed between them. No word was spoken. As the peasant woman reached them they stopped, blocking her path.
She appeared to be in her thirties, fresh-faced and charming in her headscarf, shawl and long skirts. A benevolent soul. But Charlotte, seeing her through a mist of hunger, perceived her as prey; as meaningful and precious as a sacrifice, but prey all the same. And Karl, his eyes like flames behind amber glass, no longer looked human at all.
The woman froze in shock. Gently they closed in, embracing her with tender hands. Charlotte fed first, then held her while Karl sank his wolf-teeth into the plump throat. Moving behind the victim, Charlotte fed again, breaking the virgin skin on the other side of her neck.
Her hands met Karl’s around the human’s hot body as they fed. They clasped each other with the victim between them. The moment was eternal, primal, throbbing with heat and blood. Transcendent.
It was the first time they’d fed together like this. More than lust, this was a blood-ritual, connecting them to the darkest side of their natures. Entwining them in wordless ecstasy… and damnation.
Afterwards, they carried the woman to the edge of a farm to be found, either to live or die. Then they went home without a word.
What was there to say? They were both shocked to the soul, swimming in the same shadowy lake of passion. Moved, excited, afraid.
Home was an isolated black chalet poised high in a pine forest beneath the Alps. The peaks of the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau floated on the horizon. Within, the rooms had a timeless, faded luxury. Dark pine walls and high ceilings supported by rafters. Persian rugs, panels of muted floral wallpaper, elegant furniture; a library lined from floor to ceiling with books, a music room, a kitchen used only by their housekeeper, who climbed the steep hill twice a week to clean the house. If she thought her employers strange, she was too well-paid to ask questions.
Vampires had few material needs – only human blood was essential – so they could have lived naked in graveyards, if they wished. Charlotte knew no-one who did. They still preferred to live like humans. The trappings of ordinary life were a fascinating luxury to some: to others, a poignant connection to their lost humanity. In this, Charlotte and Karl were no different.
In the drawing room, Charlotte forced Karl to look at her. He seemed hardly able to do so. His exquisitely sculpted face, dark eyebrows giving bewitching intensity to his lovely eyes, his soft full hair of darkest mahogany – black in shadow, red where the fire caught garnet lights on the strands – still stopped her heart with their beauty. But sometimes he scared her to death. Tonight had added another, irrevocable layer of darkness to their relationship.
“Now do you believe I’m not human?” she whispered.
Charlotte lit candles on a low table, each flame adding a new wash of light to her golden-pale skin. Fragrant incense smoke coiled through the glow.
Karl watched her. There was silent reverence between them, for what had gone before and what would surely follow.
The drawing room took on the feel of a church prepared for midnight mass. This was a kind of ritual; dream-like, unplanned, but inevitable. A celebration, or wake, for the death of delusion.
Karl, seated in an upright chair, felt the familiar curves of the cello between his knees. Scents of old, varnished wood mingled with the peppery incense. He set his bow to the strings and began to draw out deep warm notes. He played a nocturne in a minor key, mournful and evocative. Charlotte, arrested, blew out her match and closed her eyes. He saw her body tauten, saw the tip of one fang indenting the rose-red curve of her lower lip.
The solitary line of music expressed all that had happened this evening. The mad leap from the mountain, the mutual bliss of killing. How easy it was, he thought, when we hunted alone, to pretend we’re better than we really are. Until thirst comes in a primitive rush and we fall on our prey like animals… And, dear God, it was so like making love. Devouring each other while that poor woman faded between us...
As Karl played, Charlotte rose to her feet and began to dance. So hard, even now, not to see her as the sweet young mortal he had first met. So hard to believe she had shared the kill with him! In a dress of cream, rose and gold lace she was slender and graceful, her upright back and neat square shoulders swathed by waist-length hair. Her hair was a shimmering wreath of soft brown and gold, framing her sweet, ageless face. She smiled as she danced. She looked so carefree, so heart-breakingly pretty, no one would believe that blood had ever touched her lips.
Only her eyes had changed. The amethyst-grey irises were layered with experiences and sorrows that no mortal could imagine.
She was an elemental, a nymph, an enigma. Karl watched her rippling hair, the subtle roundness of her breasts, hips and thighs moving beneath the lace. He felt an intense longing to make love to her... but that could wait. They had all night.
The nocturne wound to its sombre end. Charlotte curtseyed, her arms stretched behind her like wings.
“I’m not Violette,” she said apologetically.
“Thank God for that,” said Karl.
She came to him and stroked his hair. “Do you still dislike her so much?”
“Liebchen, as I keep telling you, I don’t dislike her. I meant that I want to be with you, no-one else. And I do not want to talk about Violette.”
“But we must.”
“Well, we can’t talk about…” She gestured at the window, meaning the outside world, the forest, the shared feast. “Can we?”
He folded his fingers around her hand. “Not yet.”
“I’m sure Violette will be all right. As long as she goes on dancing, there’s hope.”
“That she won’t destroy us?”
“That she’ll keep her sanity, and not be unhappy.”
“And not carry out her threats against us?” Karl said.
“Dear, she wasn’t herself.”
“Yet she said it. She threatened to take you from me, and change us both into people we would not recognize. I can’t afford to ignore that.”
Karl wished Charlotte would forget Violette, but it was Charlotte’s obsession that had made her into a vampire. Now she felt endlessly responsible for the dancer.
“However,” he went on, “I won’t live under the shadow of any threat. I had enough of that with Kristian. We’re free now. I refuse to fear Violette.”
“I’m not afraid of her. I made her.” Charlotte knelt beside him, her face shining in the candlelight. “She’s like my mother, daughter, sister––” Karl was glad she didn’t add lover–– “and I won’t turn my back on her.”
“Of course not, but that doesn’t mean she’s not dangerous. The last time I saw the three supposed ‘angels’, they warned me against her. Although I don’t trust them, I think the warning was genuine.” Memory enveloped him. He felt the frost-burn of the Weisskalt and saw the three – angels or devils, they had been more than vampires – leaping like jets of fire into the black cauldron of space. Simon, Fyodor, Rasmila – who also called themselves by mythical names: Senoy, Sansenoy, and Semangelof.
Karl wondered what had become of them.
“We should be cautious, that’s all.”
Her hand, rosy with stolen blood, rested on his thigh. “Yes, but we must remain friendly with her. If we avoid her, that may make her more dangerous.”
She looked anxious for his reaction, but for once he agreed with her. “You’re right, beloved. Safer to keep an eye on her, no?”
Charlotte relaxed. “It will be all right, Karl. Play for me again.”
This time she remained beside him, sitting on the carpet with her head resting on his thigh as he played. The strings were responsive under his fingers; he’d lost none of his once-human touch. The slow melody drew them deeper into the lake of sensuality. Sharing a victim had generated a richer desire that they could only sate on each other. Each felt the moment drawing nearer… the unutterable joy of fulfilment becoming deliciously, languorously inevitable.
Karl played the last note, and leaned down to kiss Charlotte. Her tongue touched his lips, parted his teeth; he tasted blood in the sweetness of her mouth.
“I always remember the first time you kissed me,” she whispered. “Do you?”
“In the garden at Parkland Hall, on the bridge. I had tried for so long not to give in.”
“And you said that you were bound to hurt me.”
“But that night you came to my room anyway,” he said, his words running into hers. “I knew that if we went any further I might be unable to control the blood thirst, but I couldn’t stop.”
“Nor could I. I didn’t care about the consequences, my reputation or anything. Even when you said you couldn’t marry me. The secrecy was terrible. It almost broke my heart, knowing it couldn’t last, but not knowing why.”
“I could hardly have told you I was a vampire.”
“I wish you had, instead of the way I did find out! But I can’t regret it. The secrecy was also delicious, knowing we shared a bond that no one around us guessed.”
“Your father would have wished to kill me,” Karl said, smiling.
“And I thought David had killed you. Gods, when I thought I’d never see you again – I’ve no idea why I didn’t die of a broken heart.”
“Because you’re strong.”
“No… because I couldn’t bear to believe you were gone forever. I thought if I hung on long enough, I could will you back into existence.”
“In a way, you did. Ah, but I would not have put you through what happened for anything.”
“But it was inevitable,” she said, “from that moment on the bridge…”
Their mouths touched. A faint, unwelcome sense of intrusion made Karl draw away from her. He sat back in the chair, sighing.
“What is it?” she asked, puzzled.
“You are not concentrating,” he said. “We have visitors.”
Not visitors, but a deputation, Charlotte observed, trying to be as effortlessly courteous as Karl. Ilona, Karl’s wayward daughter: blue-eyed, callous Pierre: Stefan and his mute twin, Niklas. With them came two immortals whom Charlotte had never met: Rachel, a white, rarefied creature with scarlet hair, and a small, monk- like man named John.
Charlotte was always pleased to see Stefan. She greeted him with a kiss. He smiled, but his bright, cornflower-blue gaze avoided hers.
“What brings you here?” she asked.
“This is a little awkward,” he said softly, moving to Niklas’s side. Both blond and china-skinned, their only physical difference was eye-colour. Niklas’s irises were pale gold. His movements echoed Stefan’s in mindless, silent reflection of his twin.
“Don’t be coy,” Ilona snapped. “We’re here to talk about Violette Lenoir.” As always she looked exquisite, a perfect fashion- plate with her bobbed hair, a sleek unstructured dress of dusky red flowing to just below her knees, a black silk rose on one hip.
“What is there to say about her?” Charlotte was instantly defensive. Karl quietly took the visitors’ coats, betraying no reaction.
“You tell us,” said Ilona, “what there is to say about Violette.”
Without asking, Ilona wound up the gramophone and put on a record. The thin, cheerful lilt of a jazz band made an incongruous background as the vampires seated themselves around the drawing room. How awkward, Charlotte thought, that they had no social niceties to ease the atmosphere; she couldn’t even offer them a drink. Like birds of prey they settled and gazed unblinking from lovely, piercing eyes. All watching her.
Charlotte busied herself stoking the fire and lighting lamps. As she finished, Karl came to stand beside her near the fireplace. Rachel, too, remained on her feet. She seemed restless, repeatedly touching her neck with both hands.
“Do you really think it’s fair,” Charlotte said, “to discuss Violette when she’s not here to speak for herself?”
“You wouldn’t want her here,” said Rachel. “Believe me.”
“Why?” Charlotte glanced at Karl, chilled.
John, the hard-eyed stranger, said, “Tell them.”
Again Rachel scratched at her throat. “A vampire who places herself in the public eye is unnatural. We should exist as chameleons in the dusk. No human should know our faces or names. She’s breaking the laws.”
“There is no law,” Charlotte said impatiently. “What does it matter if she’s famous? No-one will guess what she is.”
“Someone might, if she reaches seventy or eighty without a line on her face,” Pierre drawled. He didn’t appear to be taking this seriously. Rachel shot him a vicious glance.
“It’s not just that,” she went on. “There’s something wrong about her. It’s no secret that she believes herself to be Lilith, the progenitor of all vampires. She’s plainly mad and too powerful for her own good.”
Charlotte’s anger was fuelled by guilt. She feared Rachel was right, but couldn’t accept it. “You don’t even know her! At least give her a chance before condemning her.”
“Oh, we gave her a chance,” said Rachel. “We went to see her. We asked her politely to stop dancing, to stay well away from humans and vampires alike.”
“Well, I can imagine how she reacted to that. Who went, exactly?”
Stefan answered uneasily, “Niklas and myself, Rachel, John and Matthew.” Cautiously he met Charlotte’s eyes. She glared, but he held her gaze.
“Not Ilona and Pierre?”
They shook their heads. Ilona said, “We’re only here now because Stefan seems to think it’s so important.”
“Much ado about nothing,” Pierre added, “but amusing.”
“Nothing?” Rachel’s chalky face lengthened.
John leaned forward, his eyes black with hatred. His modern but shabby suit hung on him like a stage costume. “Matthew is dead. She killed him. He was the dearest companion of my heart, my only refuge from the madness of this century, and she slew him. She tore off his head with her hands.”
Charlotte gaped. “How? Why? What did he do?”
“Nothing!” John flared. “She flew into a rage and attacked him for no reason!”
Stefan added quietly, “Actually, Matthew suggested that unless she took our advice, her ballet dancers might be in danger.”
“Oh, God,” Charlotte gasped. “He threatened their lives, and you’re surprised that she reacted? She would give her life to protect them!”
“But it was only a threat, mere words,” said Rachel. “She didn’t argue, she tore off his head. And that proves my point. She’s insane, capricious, a danger to all vampires.” Again she rubbed her neck, fingers tangling in her flame-red hair. “She attacked me, too… and I’ve lost myself. I’m so afraid.”
A long, heavy silence. Charlotte watched Rachel in dismay, realizing she was not merely agitated but in torment. She thought, Violette has done this.
Controlling her emotions, she said, “What do you expect us to do?”
“You made her immortal,” said John.
“But I didn’t act alone.” She willed Stefan to come to her defence, but he only shook his head, looking helpless.
“It’s no good appealing to him,” Ilona said tartly. “Stefan may have helped in the transformation, but we all know you initiated it.”
Charlotte couldn’t look at Karl. “I can’t know the truth about Matthew unless I hear Violette’s side of the story. Why are you trying to turn me against her?”
“We don’t want another Kristian!” said Rachel.
“Don’t be ridiculous. She’s not seeking to rule you.” As Charlotte spoke, a ghastly memory rose of the way they’d banded together to assassinate Kristian. She felt Karl’s hand on her shoulder and knew he was sharing her memories. Gods, were they proposing a similar lynch-mob against Violette?
John said, “We need to know why you transformed her.”
“What business is it of yours?” Charlotte said indignantly, but Karl’s hand grew heavier.
“Tell them,” said Karl. “We have nothing to hide.”
“All right.” Charlotte composed herself, determined to outface them. “It was my fault. I forced her. I can’t justify what I did. As a human she was beautiful and I was drawn to her… you know how it can be. But I never planned to change her – until I learned she had arthritis that would eventually stop her dancing. I couldn’t bear her talent to be lost, or to see her grow old and crippled. Was I selfish? I wanted her to stay perfect forever.”
Karl’s fingers were now so tight that they hurt like the kiss of fangs.
“And then she went crazy,” said Pierre. “Stefan told us.”
Charlotte felt betrayed that Stefan had told others about such intimate and painful events.
“Which of you didn’t go mad in the first moment of becoming undead?” she said. “Who wasn’t horrified by the blood- thirst, who didn’t believe himself damned?”
“Damned, yes,” John said thinly, “but none of us became Lilith, the queen of vampires.”
Charlotte said helplessly, “I can’t explain. It’s too complicated. I could theorize all night, but I have no answers.”
“When you made her,” said John, “every vampire felt a darkening of the ether. Everyone knew! She’s sown a seed of darkness in the Crystal Ring that will destroy us all.”
Charlotte didn’t reply. She had noticed changes in the Crystal Ring but couldn’t talk about them, even to Karl.
“And what of you, Karl?” said John. “Have you nothing to say?”
“Like Charlotte, I prefer to reserve judgement until I’ve spoken to Violette,” Karl said like the diplomat he was. Charlotte wished he would defend her wholeheartedly. She understood his distrust of Violette, but all the same, she hated it. He added, “Violette may present danger. However, I trust that you are proposing caution rather than assassination. We are not extremists, and like Rachel we all prefer a quiet existence. That is why we opposed Kristian. Let’s remember that we’re all on the same side.”
“Of course we are!” said Stefan. John’s expression remained closed.
Charlotte decided to speak plainly. “Yes, it’s my fault Violette was initiated, and I take full responsibility. You don’t know her! Until you understand her reasons, don’t pass judgement on her. All she cares about is dancing; why should she be remotely interested in any of you? Don’t pester her, and she won’t touch you. But if you approach her with threats, what do you expect? Leave her in peace and you’ll be safe. You have my word.”
“You must be very sure of your influence over her,” Rachel said acidly.
“I cannot forget Matthew,” said John. “An eye for an eye…”
“If you go anywhere near her––” Charlotte flared, close to losing control.
“I support Charlotte,” Pierre broke in. “The whole thing is ludicrous. What’s become of us, that one neurotic fledgling sends us screaming for maman? Grow up and leave Violette alone.”
Charlotte ignored him. Why was it callous, sarcastic Pierre who came to her defence, not the ones she really cared about, Stefan and Karl?
“Do whatever you like,” Rachel said, her voice faint. She leaned against the windows, ghostly pale against the night. “I want nothing more to do with Violette. I want…”
“Where are you going?” John cried.
“I don’t know. Away.”
And she vanished into the Crystal Ring.
“It appears the case for the prosecution is collapsing,” said Charlotte, looking pointedly at Stefan. “I think you’d all better leave.”
Karl, expressionless, brought their coats and distributed them without ceremony.
John left without a word, but the look he gave Charlotte was sourly threatening, almost deranged. He seemed entrenched in age-old dogma of God and Satan, as Kristian had been. I don’t know you, she thought. I don’t care what you believe, just get out of our house and leave us alone!
Ilona, unperturbed, presented herself to Karl. He kissed her forehead. Charlotte was learning to read his feelings, for all he was so skilled at hiding them. She saw his age-old sorrow and the bitter-sweet love he felt for his daughter.
Charlotte said, “Ilona, you don’t agree with them, do you?”
Ilona turned to her with a cool smile. “Very little frightens me, dear, except Violette. For some reason she scares me to death. But I won’t give in to her.”
The admission floored Charlotte. Before she could respond, Ilona melted into the Crystal Ring. Pierre gave a sardonic bow, and followed.
Stefan glanced at Charlotte, as if intending to leave without saying anything. She said, “Wait a moment.”
He came to her, Niklas a silent mirror-image at his side. His hair was a white-gold nimbus, his eyes angelic. His was a teasing cruelty: he loved to rouse affection before he stole blood.
“Are you angry with me?” Stefan said. “H’m, silly question.”
“How could you turn against Violette, when you know what she is to me? You helped to transform her!”
“Charlotte.” He touched her arm lightly. “I haven’t turned against her. I only said what I believe.”
“And so did I.” She looked sideways at Karl. He was watching her, one side of his face lit by fire, the other in shadow.
“You know my feelings,” said Karl. “I don’t trust Violette, but there are very few whom I do trust.”
“When I came into the Crystal Ring,” said Charlotte, “I signed no agreement that I must answer to other immortals.”
“We answer to no-one.”
“Then why do I have to suffer crowds of them coming here and threatening my friend?”
“I didn’t threaten her,” said Stefan. “I’m truly concerned about her, and have been since the moment of her transformation, as you know perfectly well. If anything, I was trying to protect her. I went to her in friendship; unfortunately, the others had different ideas and things got out of hand. It was meant to be a friendly warning, because if she doesn’t take herself out of the public eye and live a quiet life, she is going to make enemies far worse than John and Rachel.”
Copyright (C) Freda Warrington