Fleur de Sang

"Missing?"

Hale sat in the chair at my desk, his lips set in an unyielding line.

"What do you mean, she's missing?"

He paused before answering, letting his gray eyes rove about the room before they finally settled on Pristina Medicamenta.

"You have an interest in flowers, boy?"

I nodded sharply, startled by the change of subject.

Hale stood up and walked to the opened book, still turned to the entry on Valerian Magdelaine had read from the night before. He traced the line of a leaf with one finger. "There's one flower you shouldn't have an interest in," he said, slamming the book shut. "And that's my fleur. If I find you've led her into trouble, boy--"

"Please, sir." I crossed my arms and looked down at the floor. "She left around midnight. I've heard nothing from her since."

"We've combed this whole goddamn island!" he shouted, pounding his fist on the cover of Medicamenta. "If she isn't here, she's in the lake!"

I forced myself to swallow past the knot of fear rising in my chest. "Then I think, sir," I said slowly, with a calmness I did not feel, "you may want to search the lake."

The shores of Mackinac Island are rarely smooth sand: there are patches of dry, tangled branches and lengths of rock and sharp gravel. It took the better part of a day to gather a search party and work our way along the eight miles of beach. What we were looking for, no one ever said; but there was a solemn, funeral-like air about us and we scrambled over rocks and through the cold shallows.

By nightfall we had returned to our starting point, the stretch of shoreline beneath the fairy arch. The group was exhaused, hungry and wet with the icy waters of Lake Huron. Thomas curled up against the base of a tree and lay his head on his folded hands.

"M. Morgan?" he called in a small voice. I went over and knelt on the ground beside him. "Do you really think..I mean, are you sure she left your house?"

I sighed. "You know I wouldn't lie to you, Thomas. Besides, Hale searched every room before we went up to the fort."

"It's not that," he said quickly. "I know he searched the house. But did he..." He took a deep breath and avoided my gaze. "Did he search the garden?"

I felt as though a rock had stuck me in the chest. "The fleur de sang," I whispered.

He nodded grimly. "The fleur de sang."

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We rode fast along the pitch-black road. The cold, the roughness of the trail, even the eerie cry of the laughing woodpecker did nothing to lessen our pace. We leapt off our winded horses when we neared my house, pausing only for a moment to loop their reins over the fence near my stable.

I ran to the garden at the back of my property and dropped to my knees in the dust. The flower was there, sticking its white head out of a crack in the old teapot, its petals soft and wide and streaked with bright, moist red. Magdelaine lay on the ground beside it, her face covered by the veil of her hair. A livid purple bruise ran along her throat, the skin broken and bloody in places, like the mark left by a noose. I grabbed her cold hand in mine and turned it over, frantically pressing my fingers to her wrist. I lay my other hand across her lips and felt for the faint stir of her breathing.

There was nothing. Magdelaine was dead.

"No," I whispered, dropping her hand with a shudder. "No, no, no..."

"Magdelaine!" Thomas screamed, throwing himself to the ground beside me. I hesitated, then lay an arm around his shoulders. His whole body shook with sobs.

For a moment, mine did too.

Then I felt something brush my hand, soft and wet and icy cold. I looked down with a cry of horror.

It was a closed bud of the fleur de sang.

The vine had grown twisted and rough, and longer than I would have expected; none of the other flowers grew to such a length. The ridges down its sides were crusted with something dark and brown.

Blood.

The bloodflower.

I looked once more at the bruise on Magdelaine's throat. Like a rope, and yet, too thin and delicate for the work of human hands. I shuddered and draped her soft hair over her neck.

"Thomas," I said, tightening my grip on his shoulder. "Tell me everything you know about the fleur de sang."

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It was a rough, dark road to the house of Mathew Hale, but I managed.

The shovel at my side was heavy and slowed the ride considerably, but I couldn't risk searching for one in Hale's stable. I clutched it like a sword, trusting the feel of the smooth and solid wood to calm my trembling.

The fleur de sang grows where blood has been spilled...

A slow breeze rippled through the bloodflowers, dipping them from moonlight into shadow. I leapt down from my saddle, walking to the side of the house, and began digging.

The earth was damp and heavy, but I ignored the fire shooting up my arms. I sliced through the thick roots with the side of my shovel, not fighting this time, but following them to their source. Every shovel-full brought the smell of blood into my mouth.

It feeds on blood as other plants do water...

The moon was full and bright enough to see by, now that it had risen above the tops of the trees. I could see the sides of the hole, rough and threaded with broken roots, glistening wetly where the roots had been cut. I had gone down nearly seven feet, much farther than before, and still the roots were spreading. Something cold and thick sprayed up at me as I sliced through the nearest one.

It smelled like blood.

My shovel hit something solid.

I knelt and scraped at the dirt with my fingers, slowly revealing something dry and white and thickly coiled with roots. It snapped as I tried to pull the roots away, but I found another nearby, and then another. A wave of nausea ran over me as I realised what they were.

Rib bones.

The house was built on a graveyard.

Dead blood will sustain it, but not for long. When the fleur de sang is taken from the groud where it has been feeding on dead blood, it will not grow back.

There had to be something else. I pulled myself out of the hole and started digging again.

By midnight, the yard was dotted with a dozen large holes. Each one yeilded more bones and more blood, until the red stickiness clinging to my clothing and skin ceased to bother me.

Even when its nourishment had been taken away, the fleur de sang does not die. It lies dormant, waiting always for a chance at fresher blood, and where it finds the grave of one newly dead, nothing will remove it.

But which of these graves belonged to one newly dead? I sank to my kness in the middle of the yard and looked around. Most of the old graves lay in a roughly rectangular cluster on the north side of the house, and it was there that the soil seemed most tightly packed. The new grave, wherever it was, would not be there...

Of course. I stood up, wearily stretching the muscles in my shoulders and back. The softest soil, the thickest cluster of flowers, the first place they appeared...the garden.

The fleur de sang is poison. Where it has touched the soil, little else will thrive.

Here, the fleur de sang had grown around other flowers, the slender vines of violet and trillium, the thorny branches of rose bushes. I hacked through them all with the edge of my shovel. Something to the smooth texture of the soil, the rich, earthy smell as I dug deeper and deeper, told me I was nearing my goal. At last I heard the light clink of my shovel against something metallic, and a glint of late moonlight shone against a small golden circle. Though much of the lettering had been worn smooth, I could make out two words along the top of the button: Bartholomew Godard.

"God bless you, Richard Kingsley," I muttered, tossing my shovel aside.

Thomas brought up the constable and a few men from the fort around dawn the next day. We must have made a strange sight lined up outside Hale's front door, Thomas pale and out of breath; me covered in blood and dirt, my hair hanging loose and tangled around my face; and the fort men standing straight and proper as if ready for a wedding. A week ago, a day ago, it would have irked me; now, I was passed caring. I would finish the job I had started, but nothing could make me take pleasure in it.

Hale opened the door on the third knock. Judging from his angry, bloodshot gaze, something more than blind luck had kept my excursion of the previous night from being discovered. "What do you want?" he snapped.

"To know how Bartholomew Godard found his way into your garden, to start with," I said.

From there, it went as should be expected.

He protested; I protested back; we went out to the garden and finished what I'd started. There could be little doubt that poor Bartholomew's death was anything but murder; the bullet holes in his coat were still lined in brown, flaking blood. Hale cursed once at each of us and then fell silent as we made the necessary preparations to take him back down to the village.

Thomas and I were about to make our way back to my house when he finally spoke.

"Where's Magdelaine?"

We all feel silent and exchanged looks, turning finally to the white mound of uprooted flowers.

It grows where blood has been spilled. But if the fleur de sang is taken and planted in clean ground, it must take blood for itself.

"She's dead," I said softly. I didn't have the strength to watch my words take effect. As the constable and his men lead Hale down the hill, I turned, lifted a handful of petals, and flung them into the nearest pit.

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I came home alone late that afternoon. Thomas had gone back to his mother's shop, where I was certain a little bit of work would ease him after the horrible news of the last day and a half. Besides, I needed some time to think.

Clouds had rolled in while I was down in the village, and my house was covered in a thick, night-like pall. It took me a moment to see that there was something covering the path to my door.

"No..." I whispered, loosening my grip on my horse's reins. "Dear God, no..."

I closed my eyes and fell into the soft whiteness of the fleur de sang.