The girl sniffed the air. It had been awhile since she had last eaten, that had been three small eggs from a bird's nest. The smell of new baked bread drew her like a magnet towards the farmhouse. She pressed her hands to her stomach fearful of the noise it was making. She was afraid of being chased away but hunger eroded her fear. Hesitantly she edged towards the farmhouse her feet feeling pain in every step. She stood on the porch her grubby hand raised to knock when the door opened. The girl stood staring at a well-dressed woman in her thirties her brown hair tucked into the white of her bonnet. She was pretty. Her hazel eyes regarded the child in front of her. A waif with jet-black hair and covered in rags and dirt.
"Please Mistress Goodwife may I have some bread if you can spare some?" The child's speech was punctured by her stomach rumbling loudly.
The woman scrutinised the child taking in her destitute condition. "I think we can do better than that." She gestured to a basin beside the fire. "Come in child I'm Phillipa Stagge, wash up in the basin. I'll find you some clean clothes." She eyed the child critically. "They be boy's, but it's all I have."
"Thank you Mistress!"
"Call me Phillipa and you are?"
"Mary, Mary Withy."
Phillipa noticed Mary limping. "Sit here Mary I need to look at those feet of yours?"
Mary sat wincing slightly as Phillipa examined her feet. "God child? How long have you been walking in bare feet? The bottoms are cut to ribbons."
A tear tickled from Mary's eye. Phillipa wiped it away. "Don't cry." It was meant to soothe but it opened the floodgates. She held Mary close until her sobs subsided. She washed and bandaged Mary's feet cleaning the cuts with one of her lotions to ease the pain.
Phillipa sat at the table her son Nathan on her lap watching Mary eat. Washed and dressed Phillipa noted that Mary was a pretty child. She tried to ask Mary about her family but every time she broached the subject Mary burst into tears. She sat there silently watching. Nathan chattering happily on her lap.
"Its good to see someone else get some wear out of those clothes."
Mary paused in mid bite staring at her. Phillipa continued. "He would have been about the same age as you are, he drowned. The waters swept him away before anyone could reach him." She smiled sadly.
"I'm sorry I didn't know." Mary replied the same sadness in her eyes as she remembered her little sister and brother. Dead now as were the rest of her family. Staring at this woman that had shown her so much kindness. She sighed as much as she wanted to trust this woman she felt a kinship with, the memories of how her family had died were too strong for her to tell Phillipa of her quest. The combination of the food and the comfort of the farmhouse lulled her to sleep. She woke briefly as Phillipa laid her in a bed pulling the cover up around her neck.
Mary woke it was late little Nathan slept in the cot next to her. She could hear voices in the other room. One voice was Phillipa the other was a man. Mary crept to the door the bandages on her feet muffling her footsteps.
"This girl you found on the door step where did she come from?"
"I'm not sure but wherever she's from she has the gift."
The other voice hesitated. "You sure?"
"I can tell, I knew as soon as I saw her, she has it."
"It's been used?"
"I would have known I can tell."
"So what do you want to do this is your province not mine?"
"She needs rest and food more than anything."
"Be careful the less outsiders know about us the better."
"Haven't I always."
The rest of the conversation was muffled. Mary crept back into bed unsure as to what she had got herself into. Whatever it was, it couldn't be any worse than what she had endured.
Phillipa was up early she re-bandaged Mary's feet satisfied her lotion was doing its work. Mary sat at the table when Phillipa's husband walked in Mary stiffened colour draining from her face, her heart beating like a drum threatening to burst from her chest. The man was dressed from head to foot in black, a white collar around his neck. Phillipa saw Mary's terrified expression and enfolded the child in her arms making calming noises.
"Abriam won't harm you Mary." She glanced up at her husband. "I'm sorry Abriam but this be woman's talk."
"God go with you My Heart, God go with you child." He turned and walked out the door.
Mary couldn't stop shaking until she was sure he was gone.
"Come Mary talk to me?" Phillipa asked Mary then seeing her distress continued. "I'll guess then you can say yes or no?"
Mary nodded fearing to speak.
"Not all men of the cloth are what they seem. Some hide their evil behind the face of the Good Shepherd Abriam is not one of them. I guess you encountered one of these?" Mary nodded. "Your parents ran afoul of one such as this?" Again the nod. Phillipa continued. "Let me guess. Your mother was accused of being a witch. You and your family were imprisoned and your land seized. Something happened and you lost you family." Mary's terrified silence confirmed her worst fears she held her close. "Nothing like that will happen here! You're safe with me."
"How can I trust you?" There was a fearful quiver in Mary's voice.
Phillipa's heart went out to Mary the girl had lost her whole family to ignorance. She came to a decision Abriam would not be comfortable about it, he loved her, and that was all that mattered. Holding Mary close she rolled up her sleeve exposing the scars on her wrist. The marks of a true witch.
"I'm a witch, a real witch not some poor unfortunate accused of doing nothing more than caring for her family. A witch will always be marked so. The magic comes from her blood and to do that we must bleed ourselves."
Mary stared at Phillipa stunned. "Why are you telling me this?" she said slowly.
"Because we share a closeness that has nothing to do with family. The blood that flows in your veins flows in mine. You are as much a witch as I am."
Mary shook fearful unable to comprehend Phillipa's words. "Does he know?"
"Abriam's known all his life we grew up in the same village."
Mary felt her world shaken here was the very woman she hunted for. "Was my mother one?"
"I don't think so not every one can become a witch. It was entirely possible your mother never knew. The same way you would have never have known."
"Could you teach me?"
Phillipa smiled. "That was I intended I want to pass on all my knowledge on to you. It will be hard work you'll be expected to do chores and learn your letters if you want to become a witch."
Mary trembled with fear and excitement. "Please I wish to learn."
Phillipa hugged Mary relieved that the child had not screamed in fear. Slowly she began her task to teach Mary witchcraft. She highlighted the rewards and the dangers of being a witch. Time passed for both teacher and pupil.
Mary hoed the weeds from between the vegetables. She stopped and stretched her back ached. She couldn't believe how fast time had passed. Five years ago, she was a homeless orphan now she was part of a family. She bent back to hoeing when a cry from the woods made her glance in the direction the sound was coming from. Out of the trees, a mousy hair six-year old boy burst shouting excitedly something cupped in his hands.
"Mary! Mary! Look what I've found." The boy yelled thrilled.
Mary smiled at the boy fast approaching heedless of a headlong charge through the vegetables that Mary had just hoed.
"What is it Nathan?" She asked the boy as he skidded to a halt beside her.
"A baby bird it fell out of his nest." He told her thrusting a limp bundle of feathers and down into her face. "I think it's injured?"
"I'm afraid it's beyond my help."
Nathan looked crestfallen, "But?"
"Sorry it's with God now."
Mary tried hard to look stern but Nathan's dishevelled appearance made her smile. She laughed out loud. "If Mother catches you climbing trees again she'll tan your hide."
Nathan glanced around nervously. "You won't tell her will you?"
Mary laughed again ruffling Nathan's hair. A shout from the house made her look in that direction. Phillipa was calling to her. Phillipa watched her son and the child grown into a woman walk towards her. She allowed herself a smile. Mary had grown in power and maturity but she was still young, not really noticing the convert looks the boys of her age were giving her.
"Mother?" Both said together.
"Mary, Master Fleming's potion for his gout is ready, will you go into the village and give to him I've got to go out, Mistress Chase's time is near."
"Can I go with Mary?"
"No you will go in and clean up. Then write on your slate as to why you should not be climbing trees."
Nathan looked crestfallen. Mary packed the potion in a basket while Phillipa gave her a few last minute instructions. With a kiss from both Nathan and Phillipa, she took the two-mile walk to the village.
It was not a large village, As Mary walked down the street she waved to those neighbours that called out to her as she passed. Master Fleming was waiting for her seated in a chair on his porch.
"Godspeed Mary, your mother busy?"
Mary allowed herself a smile everyone regarded her as Phillipa's daughter. "Yes Master Fleming she was going to see Mistress Chase."
"Her time nears?"
"Yes Master Fleming. I have your potion for your gout. Mother says if you didn't drink so much you wouldn't have this problem."
Master Fleming laughed then fell silent staring out to a dust cloud on the horizon. "Visitors." He said without any enthusiasm.
Mary stood by him as the carriage rolled to a stop in the middle of the village. A manservant helped a well-dressed woman out of the carriage. The woman stood and surveyed the village distaste plain on her face. A hard face to match her eyes they seemed to burn holes in everything she saw.
"Who's that?" Mary whispered to Master Fleming.
"Trouble. She was banished."
"She tried to get her claws into your father. She hadn't bargained on Phillipa or the rest of the village. We had to banish her in the end. I wonder why she came back?"
Mary had the same thought as the woman approached them.
The woman's smile was positively malicious. "Master Fleming." Her eyes were on Mary.
"Why are you here?" Was Master Fleming's frosty reply.
"Just passing through, I'm not stopping." She sneered, her eyes fixed on Mary.
Mary fumbled in at her belt for the shiver of a blade she had hidden there ready to invoke her magic to protect herself. She sensed a kinship with this woman, knowing like her this woman was also a witch.
"Such a lovely child." The woman's hand reaching out to touch Mary's face.
"Leave my daughter alone!" Master Fleming exclaimed.
The woman pulled her hand back with a jerk frowning. "Daughter?"
"I remarried, a widow woman this was her daughter."
The woman frowned looking as if she didn't believe it. Mary kept herself calm although Master Fleming's pronouncement had surprised her. Mary was aware of a crowd growing behind her. Her ears picked up the angry muttering directed towards the woman. Hastily the woman backed away getting in her carriage. The manservant flogged the horses in an effort to leave the village.
"You're wondering why I called you daughter?" Master Fleming said as he put his hand on her shoulder. "Had she known you were with Phillipa she would have made your life a living hell. For once, I'm glad little Nathan didn't come with you. He looks too much like his father. She would hate that and would have gone out of her way to harm him."
"Not while I still breathe!" Mary replied eyes on the dust trail in the distance.
"Go home child. Your mother and father must be told about this and be careful I wouldn't put it past her to circle around and come back another way. She threatened to kill your mother." He sighed. "Phillipa is such a gentle woman she couldn't bring herself around to kill her, so she banished her instead."
Mary walked home her nervousness showing every time there was a noise in the woods around her. A number of times her hands strayed to the blade in her waistband a spell ready on her lips. Mary was relieved to see both horses in the yard. Her hands trembling she opened the door and went in. Phillipa glanced to Abriam as Mary continued her tale of the encounter in the village.
"Sounds like she found herself a rich husband buy her out of trouble. I think you blundered when you only banished her. She should have been sent to the pit of hell she came out of."
"No Abriam that is a path I would never go down for anyone."
Abriam shrugged. "I'll leave it in your hands." He turned to Mary. "I'm sorry to involve you in all this it was something I would never have wanted for you." He smiled sadly and grasped her hand.
Phillipa took her other hand. "We are counting on you to keep you eyes open for anything unusual." She kissed Mary's hand. "I'm going to have to lumber you with Nathan. It will be your responsibility to watch over him."
"I will do this mother."
Phillipa smiled. "Thanks you've the best daughter I could have ever asked for. Now help me prepare supper the men will be hungry."
"Yes mother!" Both women laughed and chatted together as they prepared the evening meal.
Three weeks passed without incident and Mary started to relax. She was in the village talking with Master Fleming when a large party of men rode in, a wagon trailing behind.
"There a tavern in this godforsaken hovel?" The leader of the men bellowed.
"Nay good master, The village of Helingham has one." Master Fleming replied.
"Helingham how far is that?"
"About ten leagues good master."
"We'll camp here then."
"As you wish. May I suggest the meadow on the far side of the village?"
The man stared in the direction Master Fleming pointed. "Good!"
He began bellowing commands to the men around him. Mary watched there was something about these men she didn't like or trust something that made her blood run cold. Instead of moving on the next day them men seemed to stay making the meadow their home. They seemed to be waiting for someone or something. The villagers were nervous of the newcomers going out of their way to avoid these rough men. A week passed and the men had not left.
Mary was out in the woods picking the berries Phillipa needed for one of her potions. Abriam was out and Nathan was playing in the yard. Basket in hand Mary trudged back to the farmhouse tired and hungry. The thought of Phillipa's cooking giving her flagging energy a boost. She was on the edge of the woods when she saw the attack on the farmhouse. Fear held her back. She tried to comprehend the madness she witnessed. She saw men carrying a bundle out of the house something man sized and wrapped in a blanket. Then heard Nathan's scream as he struggled in the grip of the man that held him.
"Leave my mother alone!" He cried wrenching himself out of the ruffian's grip.
She watched in horror, as one of the men holding the bundle she guessed was Phillipa backhand Nathan with a gauntleted fist. A spray of blood, Nathan collapsed to the floor Mary knew he was dead before his little body hit the ground. Unable to stop herself she screamed, alerting the men to her presence. A shout went out; one of the men aimed a musket in her direction and fired. The buzz of the bullet passing her ear finally unfroze her feet and she ran into the woods, dropping the basket in her headlong flight into the depths of the trees. The sounds of men and horses crashing through the brush behind her pushed her legs to even further effort. Out of breath, she halted her back against the bole of a tree the sounds of pursuit all around her. Her hands shook uncontrollably as she fumbled with her shiver of a blade. It took several tries before she managed to slice her wrist and invoke a spell using it to fade into the shadows. The thrill of the magic muted by her terror. The search went on for a while it was an effort to sustain the spell. When she was sure they had gone she released it, her legs buckled from under her, and she fell against a tree.
It was a while before she could move again. The trouble about using magic was it took much out of you besides burning away your blood it drained you physically. Slowly she crept back to the to the farmhouse making good use of the woodsman's skills Abriam had taught her. The men had gone Abriam sat on the edge of the porch cradling the lifeless body of Nathan in his arms weeping uncontrollably.
"Mother?" Mary asked fear gripping her. Abriam ignored her rocking the Nathan's limp body in his arms. "Father!" She said more firmly.
"Mary? Thank God child I thought you'd been taken."
"They're holding her in the church. She's awaiting trial accused of worshipping the devil."
"I'm sorry father I couldn't stop them I saw them kill Nathan and I ran." It sounded bitter as she said it hating herself for not doing more.
Abriam stared at her. "You did what you had to I can't fault you for that. I made a vow a long time ago never to hurt another soul." He grimaced. "It's been sorely tested today."
"Mother?" Mary asked again.
"Go to her child we talked about a day such as this. She would speak to you. Be careful the church is surrounded it will be hard to get in and out." He smiled it was a sad smile. "I know you can do it. Go with God Mary."
With one last lingering look over her shoulder, she headed towards the village.
The sun was just setting by the time she reached the outskirts of the village. It was deserted except of the ring of men around the church. Mary sneaked closer searching for a way past. Her hand went to her belt a deft slice to her wrist she let the blood trickle through her fingers. She invoked the concealment spell as she did so she felt a surge of magic joining her own. The touch was so familiar that Mary almost cried. Concealed by the magic it was easy to slip pass the guards at the back of the church. The little widow was slightly open. Mary climbed inside it was a close thing the window was just large enough for her to get through. Phillipa was tied to a post wrapped in a blanket to stop her from cutting herself on the ropes. In the flickering light of the lanterns, Mary could see Phillipa was flushed and sweating.
"Mary. You came I knew you would."
"I can help you to escape mother."
"It's too late."
"It's never too late. You've always told me that mother."
"Someone knows about our magic. That's why I'm wrapped up in this cover."
"I've have my blade I can cut you out."
"No child don't!"
"I can get father and we can flee!"
"Abriam will not be here much longer I can feel his life leech way. We planned this a long time ago. If we run, we will be running forever. I know Nathan's dead there is nothing left for us here."
"What about me, mother?"
"This is why I'm doing this." Mary could see her faint smile in the light of the lamps. "They may have trussed me up to stop me from cutting myself and invoking magic. They forgot one thing I'm a woman, they bargained without my moon blood. Something that even God couldn't stop."
"What are you going to do?"
"All those that know about me are here in the village. I'll deal with them. I have a task for you I need you to get my book."
"I do this for you mother. Then I will be back and help you to escape."
Phillipa sensed Mary leave her magic covering Mary's exit. She was tired but she had one last task to perform. She felt Mary leave, her presence fading she smiled and relaxed. Invoking a spell, she sealed the village off from the rest of the world. She felt the magic burning through her blood she was dying. "Good bye." She whispered then invoked her last spell.
Mary felt a powerful surge of magic stronger than anything she had felt before. Turning, she ran back towards the village headlong into an invisible wall. Desperately she pushed against the barrier to no avail. From the church came a despairing scream that wrenched at her heart. She knew full well whose voice it was. There was a sudden flash of light and burst of heat that blasted her backwards sending her tumbling head over heals. Mary picked herself off the ground, the village was gone in it's place was a blackened circle. Of the buildings nothing remained, all were gone destroyed in a moment.
"Mother!" Mary screamed to the silent air. "Oh God no!" She turned racing back to the farm and her home. A light was burning in the window as a tearful and exhausted Mary reached the farmhouse. Stumbling inside she collapsed into Abriam's arms weeping uncontrollably.
How long she sat on Abriam's lap his arms around her comforting her she had no idea. She glanced up at Abriam's drawn and pale face through her tear soaked eyes and started. A trickle of something black dripped from the corner of his lip.
"Father?" She uttered as she scrambled out of his embrace.
"Mary I love you as did Phillipa and Nathan we always have." He pushed a cloth bound rectangle towards her. "Phillipa always intended for you to have this. Guard it well it's her legacy to you."
"What is it?"
"Her spell book it's yours now. I've taken poison I will be dead soon. I've held on this long to wait for you." He coughed, black spittle spraying the room. "I ask one thing before you go and go you must you are no longer safe here. Go to a big city, it will be harder for them to find you there. Take what you need and one more thing Mary, burn this place with Nathan and I in it. They will only desecrate our bodies if they find us here or in a grave."
"Father?" Mary felt numb.
"Please Mary do this, otherwise your mother's sacrifice will be in vain."
"God go with you father!" She whispered as the light faded from his eyes.
Mary watched the farmhouse burn taking her hopes and dreams with it. The small bundle at her back the only things she had taken. She could have lived here in the arms of a loving family happy. Now that had been wrenched from her. All she had to remember the love was Phillipa's book, Abriam's silver crucifix and a lock of Nathan's hair. There was nothing to stop now. Her revenge on those that had destroyed her family this one and her real family. Turning away from the flames she walked away determined to make them all pay.
The young woman stepped back into the shadows pushing her long jet-black hair back into her bonnet. The house she was watching a dim silhouette against a starry night sky. She shivered the slush of early spring thaw seeping through the thin soles of her worn out shoes. There was movement in the house. Several lanterns could be seen shining through the windows. Pulling her shawl around her shoulders tighter she stepped out from her position feeling the chill of the wind ruffle through the folds of threadbare dress. She hesitated, a sense of dread washed over her coming from the direction of the house. Suddenly she heard the crunch of someone stepping on a patch of unthawed snow. Swiftly she swivelled around her hand going to her waistband and the small blade she had secreted there, her heart thumping like a drum. Outlined in the night was a shape, a woman's shape.
"Who are you?" The girl asked trying to keep the fear out of her voice.
"Someone who wonders why you want to throw your life away? Such a waste." The woman's voice sounded low and melodious.
"I don't understand?"
"They're waiting for you."
"Those men in the house. It's a trap. The one you seek is not here."
"How do you know?"
"I have my resources, so to say. Then again I have been watching you for the last couple of days."
"How and why?"
"What can I say I was bored. I needed something to do while I wait for a ship going in the direction I want to travel."
The girl hesitated, her fingers on her blade and the beginning of a spell on her lips. One squeeze and she could release her magic.
"Come with me you must be cold and hungry?"
"I'm not!" A rumble from the girl's stomach made those words a lie. "Ok so I am but I'm not leaving."
"Fine stay here. Waste your life I expect they'll be happy to fill your empty belly with lead shot." Abruptly the woman turned and walked away.
The girl trailed behind reluctantly wondering if she was doing the right thing. The woman stopped and waited for her by a lantern outside a tavern. Inside could be heard the sound of raucous laughter. She could see the woman better in the light. She wasn't as tall as she had first thought. Her hair was as dark as hers was and long, unbound not confined within a bonnet. Her dress was a dark green and silk. Gold rings glinted on her fingers, a lady of quality. Not the sort to walk, the type to travel in a fine carriage or a sedan chair and not get her clothes dirty.
"That's much better." The woman said as the girl caught up with her.
She looked out of place next to the woman in her finery. She could smell the food wafting through the cracks in the panes of glass. Her stomach rumbled again, she had to admit she was starving.
"You have a name?" The woman asked her.
The woman regarded her curiously. "That's not your real name is it?"
"No." Mary admitted. "It was the name of the family that took me in when I had no where to go."
The woman seemed satisfied with that answer. "Well Mary Stagge, I'm Lucretia Gaius Stephanina. A welcome to you. Come in and sit we can talk and you can eat."
The interior of the tavern was smoky and dim. All conversation ceased as Lucretia sauntered in followed by Mary almost stepping on her skirt hem. Then the conversation picked up again as the two women found an empty table in the corner of the room. The tavern keeper hurried to them wiping the dregs of foul smelling beer of the table with a dirty cloth. He was fat, the bulk of his stomach hidden behind the grubby leather apron, he smelt of stale beer and rancid grease.
"My lady what will be your pleasure?" He asked sounding obsequious but there was lust in his eyes.
"A plate of your finest fare and room for the night."
"An' for your servant?"
"That was for my friend." Lucretia's hand moved fast gripping the tavern keep by collar hauling him nearly off the ground. "And if I were you I'd keep my eyes to myself otherwise I'll pluck them out."
The man went pale. "Yes my lady, sorry my lady."
Mary watched him go her hand never leaving the blade in her waistband. "There's something about him I don't trust. Can't we find another place there are more taverns in this city than this one?"
"Not all have the things I need to have close at hand."
"A decent room with no questions asked."
"A decent room in this place?"
"Yes you'd be surprised at what money can buy if you want a romantic tryst with a married woman."
Mary was shocked she had never heard of such a thing.
A jaded looking serving woman bought her a plate of steaming stew and grain mash. Mary's stomach rumbled loudly. She hesitated, her spoon hovering over the plate her eyes on Lucretia.
"Eat you need it."
"Would you like some? I feel guilty eating and you sitting there with nothing."
"Oh I'll eat later, I need to get you settled in your room first."
"You do know there's no way I can repay your kindness?"
"Oh you do my dear, but you really don't know how deep it will go."
Mary never heard her say this, so concentrated on the food in front of her. It tasted like a hint of heaven to her hungry stomach. She couldn't believe things were finally turning her way. She pushed the plate away feeling full, there was a shadow of doubt in her mind that this woman was going to pull a cruel hoax on her.
Lucretia smiled at her seeming to look at the crucifix hanging around her neck. "I wonder why you never thought of selling the cross it must be worth several shillings?"
Mary's hand gripped the cross protectively. "No never!"
"Sorry if it causes you pain. This family that took you in something happened to them. Something that involved those in that house?"
"Yes." Mary replied her hand releasing its hold on the cross.
"I won't ask yet. But there's something else you've not told me?"
"That you've never been with a man?"
Mary blushed, flustered feeling a crimson glow spreading through her body from her face.
"I'll have to deal with that. If you want to go to your death it's better you not die a virgin it would be such a waste."
Lucretia summoned the tavern keeper whispering to him in his ear and pushing several gold coins into his hands. The man laughed sending a shiver down Mary's spine. He led the two women upstairs to a well-appointed room.
"As to the other matter my lady, I know just the one you asked for."
"He better be clean?"
"He is, he is that." Then he was gone.
Mary surveyed the room. She had never seen one so fine. A large four poster bed dominated the room. The covers a dark velvet and the linen bright and clean. She felt smelly and dirty in comparison to the room. Lucretia plonked herself in the only chair in the room next to a roaring fire. There was a knock on the door. Mary answered it letting in a maidservant with a bundle of linen over one shoulder and a steaming basin in her hands. The woman placed the basin next to the fire and the linen on the bed. Mary could see a cotton nightdress and the drying cloth amongst the bundle.
"Wash it will make you feel better."
Mary felt self-conscious undressing in front of the woman. She was glad to be out of those dirty rags. She washed enjoying the scent of the perfumed soap aware she was being watched. She heard the rustle of silk as Lucretia knelt beside her.
"Give me the soap I'll wash your back and your hair."
With great reluctance, she allowed Lucretia to wash her. Unbidden the memories of Phillipa gently washing her hair came flooding back to her. A tear tickled down Mary's face mingling with the dirty water of the basin. She permitted Lucretia to dry her off then help her don the nightdress. The clean cloth felt good against her skin. She sat on the edge of the bed while Lucretia pulled a brush through her hair. It had been so long since she had felt this good. A hard knock on the door broke her revelry. She was about to go and answer it when Lucretia bade her not too. She opened the door and let in a young man a couple of years older than Mary. He had a vacant look as if there was nothing in his head. He shuffled in standing next to the fire staring at the flames. She heard the clink of coins, and then Lucretia shut the door. Mary glanced at her looking nervous.
"Just lie on the bed."
Mary felt her body shaking as she complied. The slack-jawed boy just stared into the flames. Then if on some hidden signal he turned undoing his breeches. She felt him pull her dress up to her waist as he moved over her. She closed her eyes gritting her teeth as she felt him push her legs apart. She felt him thrust himself into her, grasping feeling pain, then a stirring between her thighs. Then he was off her pulling on his breeches returning to his examination of the fireplace. She glanced down seeing a red stain on her thighs. She lay back feeling the pain and shame. The slack-jawed boy left. Mary lay on the bed staring at the roof aware Lucretia had witnessed the whole act.
"Is it always like that?" She finally asked not looking at Lucretia.
"The first time is always painful, it does get better, more pleasurable. Find the right man and you'll never look back." Lucretia shrugged. "Unfortunately those as too scarce to find."
"What happens now?" Mary asked the throbbing was subsiding.
Mary climbed in between the covers worried about what was going to happen. She looked up to see Lucretia leaning over her then sleep took her.
She woke feeling tired and thirsty. She got out of bed and glanced around Lucretia had gone on a table under the dirty window was a flagon of bitter tasting mead. She drank spilling some down the front of her nightdress. The fluid quenched her thirst. Her rags had gone and some better clothing left for her on a dresser by the fireplace. Suddenly she went cold her cross and her book where under her new clothes. Does she know what I am? Why hasn't she called the authorities and have me hauled away? Realising that Lucretia was not about to have her burned at the stake she wondered what the woman wanted from her. Along with her meagre possessions was a note and washed leather purse. She picked up the purse it jingled as she shook it. Opening it she could see it was full of coins, not base copper pennies but shiny silver shillings a small fortune by her standards. Putting the purse down she opened the letter and stared at the lines of writing on it. She was glad she could read but the flowing script on the note was hard for her to decipher. It was a set of instructions mostly on getting purchases from several stores. She dressed in the new clothes the cloth feeling clean against her skin. She put on the crucifix, placing her precious book into a bundle, and tied it securely to her waist. Confident that everything was fastened. She left the tavern. The cobblers were busy and Mary had to wait to be seen.
Glancing at her note she said. "I'm Mary Stagge you have a pair of shoes for me. The lady in a fine dress said they would be ready?"
The cobbler scrutinised Mary carefully. "Oh that one, woke me in the middle of the night told me to make some shoes. Paid gold to." He pulled a fine pair of shoes from under his counter.
Mary took the shoes surprised that she didn't have to pay for them.
She walked back to the tavern a porter carrying her purchases. The items all in a dark wood iron bound travelling trunk. She wondered why Lucretia had asked her to buy these things when she had already paid for it all. The only time she dipped into the leather purse was to pay the porter to carry her purchases. She saw the tavern keeper stare at her lust in his eyes as she walked past him to her room. It made her feel vulnerable without Lucretia's protection. Safe in her room she locked the door behind her. As she sat down by the fire, she wondered why Lucretia was going through all this trouble for a ragged girl from the streets. Was it because I'm a witch? Phillipa told me I would be able to sense one of our kind. She couldn't feel that in Lucretia nor was there was loathing or fear of witchcraft. She yawned she was tired. Just a an hour or so sleeping and she would feel fine. Lying on the bed, she drifted to sleep.
The sounds on someone stirring the fire with a poker woke her with a jerk. Lucretia was standing by the fire staring into the flames an iron poker in her hands.
"There's a meal on the table for you." Lucretia said without looking in her direction.
"I got everything on your note. Where did you go?"
"I had business to attend to. Did you have any trouble?"
"No but don't like the way the tavern keeper was looking at me."
Lucretia turned to her. "He won't be problem for much longer I can promise you that."
"And what about me? I might have got with child after what you had me do last night?"
"Your hips aren't shaped to bear children. They will not be in your future. Now eat."
Mary ate savouring the food. It was the best she ever tasted; she ate delicacies she would have never dreamed of. Feeling full, she sat on the bed watching Lucretia prepare a basin of water for her to wash with. She washed, as before Lucretia washed her back and her hair. Drying herself, she sat on the edge of the bed.
"Lie back." Lucretia told her gently.
Mary did, as she was told, uncomfortable lying on the bed feeling the chill against her naked skin. She stiffened in fright as she saw Lucretia undress her skin pale in the firelight.
"What are you doing?" Mary asked frightened.
"You will thank me later." Lucretia replied her eyes pinning Mary to the spot.
Mary struggled to stay awake her lips drooping. Slowly she slipped in a deep sleep.
There was no dreams only an unrelenting blackness. Mary woke instantly aware of three things. A gnawing hunger unlike anything she had experienced before. She had been starving but nothing this intense. There was noise a pulsing sound that that threatened to burst her eardrums. She felt a weight upon her, something thrusting urgently between her thighs accompanied by a grunting sound and smell of rancid grease. Her hunger overrode all coherent thought. The pulsing called to her. A reflex action jerked her into motion and she bit into a neck, filling her mouth with a sweet tasting fluid. The weight struggled in her grip the movement seemed to excite her more. She drank until the pulsing noise stopped. She shoved pushing the weight from her body. It felt to the floor with a thud. She glanced at her naked form and then to bed. Slowly she got up then started. The body of the tavern keep lay on the floor his breeches around his ankles stone cold dead. His eyes open and staring, flecks of blood dribbled from two holes in his neck. Her eyes ranged around the room. Seated in the chair by the fire was Lucretia fully dressed watching her intently.
"What happened?" Mary asked her body trembling, the hunger in her stomach returning.
"You needed to feed. He was the ideal choice."
"What did I do?" Mary tried to ignore the hunger it was a hard struggle.
"His blood fed you you'll need more." Lucretia rose her dress falling from her until she stood as naked as Mary was. "Come we must hunt."
Together as silent as two ghosts they purged the tavern of the living. A dozen bodies lay strewn about the floor of the tavern room. No one had escaped. Men women and children had fallen prey to the two predators. Sated Mary surveyed her trail of destruction feeling a sickness inside her and disgusted by her actions.
"Why?" She turned to the woman that had taken her in. "What have I become?"
"You needed to feed, a freshly woken vampire is always hungry."
"That is what we are, vampires. We feed on the blood of the living to survive."
"I don't understand?"
"You will in time. For now we to clean up and then this place must burn." Lucretia picked up a pail of water and tipped it over her head sluicing way the blood splattered over her body. Mary copied the water washing her clean.
"Go get our clothes Mary and don't forget your chest you'll need that. I'll answer your concerns when you return. "
She hurried to obey not sure she would manage the heavy chest. Picking it up she was surprised to find it weighted nothing at all. Dressed she returned to the taproom to find Lucretia stacking a number of small barrels by the door.
"You said you'd tell me why." Mary said handing Lucretia's clothes to her.
"I don't do this to everyone I come across. You were a special case I watched you for while all the time observing your movements. Then I saw how much you suffered not revealing what you really were. Your determination to do what you had to get yourself through the night never falling to the temptations thrown in your path. You set yourself a goal and stuck to it. For this I decided to embrace you."
"Make you a vampire. This way you'll live forever."
"And kill to survive. More innocent blood on my hands?"
"Not all have to die for us to feed. I will show you how to feed with out killing I prefer not to." She smashed a barrel with her fist pouring the contents over the bodies.
Mary caught the scent of strong brandy. "You'll set this place on fire to hide our murders?"
"Murders, no not murders, justice. They sold the destitute to slavers from the south. Indentured service they called it. Slaves they brought in from Africa. Others were debtors and the despaired. They also made a good living smuggling liquor."
"This was why you picked this place. The room upstairs was too good for smugglers and slavers?"
"It had other uses, unwilling girls of your age where taken there for those with money to despoil before they were sold into slavery or killed. Their throats cut to silence them."
"How do you know all this?"
"The keeper told me all this while we waited for you to wake."
"You let him defile me for your amusement?"
"Never that, he was your meal. I needed to get him close for you to feed."
"And the boy?"
"Sometimes the transformation doesn't work. I didn't want you go to your grave not experiencing what it's like to lay with a man."
"And you getting into bed with me was that the same thing?"
"No I find that the embrace works best when the recipient is in the throes of sexual peak."
Mary wasn't sure what to make of all this. "So what happens now I can't forget my promises?"
"Another reason why I embraced you. You would have never had a chance had you still been mortal. You would have been cut down before you got halfway."
Lucretia smashed more barrels pouring the liquor about making sure the floor was covered. Mary picked up the chest and waited by the door. Lucretia picked up a lantern dashing it against the counter. The liquor caught instantly with a whoosh the whole tavern was ablaze. The two vampires hurried out of sight hearing the calls of alarm in the distance. Well away from the tavern, they slowed to a more sedate pace, Lucretia outlining what Mary must do as a vampire. Secrets she must keep, places she would be safe. They stopped by the gate of a graveyard. The church stood on the furthest edge of the yard.
"We hide your chest in the church and find a recent grave to hide in."
"The sun will kill us?" Mary asked. "I know you explained this to me I just wanted to understand it correctly."
"We can be killed or the light of the sun burn us but other than that we will live forever."
"Time has no meaning to the likes of us. Find yourself something to pass the time."
"And you what do you do to pass the time? Embrace more like me?"
"Only those that are special as you are. The deserving."
"So what do you do?"
"I search. Search for the one that embraced me. He is called the Traveller an ancient as old as time itself. Why he embraced me, I don't know. It's what I do to pass the time."
"And me?" Mary asked, feeling the lonely years stretching out before her.
"That is entirely up to you?" Lucretia glanced towards the east. "We must hide your chest and prepare for the coming morning."
Mary followed Lucretia into the church it seemed oddly deserted at this time of the morning.
"Put the chest down you'll need to put your clothes in it. They'll get dirty."
She disrobed. Mary followed suit placing her clothes in the chest. Lucretia closed the lid and leapt chest in hand into the rafters of the church wedging the chest in a darkened corner then dropped lightly to the floor.
"No mortal will see it there. Come I saw a fresh grave we can use."
"Won't people see the ground has been disturbed and how will we breathe, all that dirt will suffocate us?"
"That's why I said a fresh grave the earth is already disturbed. As to suffocation, you don't breathe. That, reminds me don't go swimming we have a tendency to sink like a stone."
Burrowing into the soft soil of the grave was easy although a little frightening. Lucretia's last minute instructions fixed firmly in her mind. Day came pushing away all thought blackness replaced it. Suddenly it was night Mary had harder job pushing her way out the soil had frozen. She scrabbled at her eyes wiping away the dirt. Her ears alert to the sound of mortals close by. All seemed distant.
"Wash." Lucretia called to her as she smashed the ice off a pail of water.
Mary washed not feeling the cold. Dressed she felt less exposed.
"So what now?" She asked feeling a hunger gnawing her belly.
"You need to feed. Then we can plan how you can tackle that house."
Mary agreed she couldn't concentrate with her hunger calling to her like it was. "Will I always be hungry like this?"
"Not always, until your body accepts your change you will need to feed constantly."
She followed Lucretia closely the sound of heartbeats drawing her ever onwards. She started seeing a familiar figure hurry towards her. She recognised the young woman before she heard her heartbeat. They had shared the same hovel. The beat of her heart called to the hunger within her.
"Martha." She called softly, the sound of her voice stopping the woman in her tracks.
"Mary? Sorry I didn't recognise you? You've changed?"
Mary locked eyes with Martha drawing her close. "Feed me!" she whispered into Martha's ear.
Martha tilted her head sideways exposing her neck. Mary lunged her fangs penetrating Martha's neck. She sighed sensuously as Mary drained the life from her former roommate. Suddenly Mary pulled back her arms wrapped around Martha. Martha hung limply in her grasp, her head back two holes in her neck. She still breathed her chest moved in rhythm to her breathing her pulse weak.
"God forgive me! Martha speak to me! I'm sorry I don't know what came over me." She still gripped Martha as she turned to Lucretia her eyes pleading. "Please tell me she'll live?"
"You want to save this mortal? I thought you burned for revenge?"
"Not her, she was kind to me. Please what can I do to save her, make this better?"
"Give her some of your blood."
"It is that only thing that will save her now. Either that or drain her."
"It will save her?"
"And bind her to your will. She will come when you summon her. Give her your blood three times and she will be yours body and soul willing to die for you."
"If I don't?"
"She will die. But it's a shame to waste the blood."
"What do I do?
"Bite your wrist them place to her lips and command her to drink. She will sleep until nightfall tomorrow."
She did as Lucretia bade feeling shock at the awareness of Martha's mind in hers sensing her very thoughts. She carried her back to the hovel they had shared placing her in the bed.
"Will she be alright here?" Mary asked Lucretia.
"As long as no one disturbs her she will be fine."
"If they do?"
"She's on her own we cannot help her. More than likely burn her for being a witch."
Lucretia's statement made her remember her own secret.
"You did know I was a witch?"
"I gathered that from your spell book. It belonged to the woman that trained you. The one that fell foul of those in that house."
Mary nodded no wanting to speak the memory of her adopted family and sacrifices they made strong in her mind.
"You must tell me?"
Mary spoke telling Lucretia all, the deaths of her real family. The betrayal and death of Phillipa. Abriam's suicide and little Nathan's callous murder. She wiped away the tears with a square of linen Lucretia has silently handed her.
"My dear you have suffered. I'm sorry I put you through these painful memories."
"I guess I'm not a witch any more."
"I wouldn't be too quick to dismiss your magic."
Mary stared at her. "What do you know about witches?" She asked.
"A bit, we don't really mix much. Although I did meet a wizard once he was a bit stand-offish but he did speak to me."
"What a male witch?"
"No wizards are different their magic is not the same he was quite smug about it."
Mary listened thinking hard. "So what happens now?"
They crept to the spot Mary had picked out to observe the house from. Lucretia was right it was a trap. Her newfound vampiric sight and hearing easily picked out the trap. She counted the heartbeats there were at least twenty people in the house more than could be accounted for by Masters and servants. She fumbled in her waistband for her blade, pulling across her wrist invoking a concealment spell. She felt a whisper of countering magic from the house realising that her opponent was a witch. Rapidly she cancelled the spell feeling her hunger return calling to her. She moved, speed was her only chance now before anyone in the house could react. Her hunger urging her forward. She killed as she went her mind remembering the horror of Phillipa's death over and over again. The mortal men no match for a hungry vampire intent on feeding. Bullets had no effect on her. She moved too quickly for the clumsy sword thrusts of the mercenaries. Her fangs ripping throats and draining blood replacing what she had lost and sating her hunger. She moved through the house a whirlwind of death. Finally, she halted sensing two heartbeats behind the door to the master bedroom, one close to the door. Mary punched through the wall her fingers slicing into the chest of her victim and ripping out its heart. There was a gurgling scream and a thud. She wrenched the door open and stepped through the wreckage. A woman sat on the bed blood dripping from a wound in her wrist. She instantly recognised her as the woman in the carriage the day Master Fleming had called her his daughter.
"You!" The woman gasped going pale.
"Remember me? Remember Phillipa." Mary said coldly.
"You! What are you?" The woman invoked a spell, tendrils of black smoke wreathed towards Mary wrapping themselves around her. She shook them off without a further thought the spell would have frozen her bones within her body had she still been mortal.
"For Phillipa." Mary yelled launching herself at the woman. The woman screamed once then it was all over. Nothing living moved in the house. Lucretia glided in a barrel of lantern oil under one arm a cask of gunpowder under the other.
"Burn?" She asked Mary.
"Please let me do this."
"Phillipa?" Lucretia said simply.
"Yes for her."
Lucretia handed her the barrels and was gone. Mary surveyed the room blood was splashed all over the place. With an empty feeling in the pit of her stomach, she consigned the building to flame.
She watched the house burn Lucretia a few steps behind her a large iron bound chest in her hands. Mary had no care for what Lucretia carried her grief burned away with the house. She clutched her book to her chest, her legacy from Phillipa. She wondered what she would do next. She hadn't thought any further then getting revenge for the deaths of those she cared for.
"So what do I do now?" She asked.
"The girl Martha what will you do with her. One look at the marks on her neck and she'll burn for sure."
Mary shivered she was responsible for Martha's fate. "I can't do that to her. It was my fault I let the hunger rule me."
"Come back to the church the night will not last much longer."
Mary followed the other vampire to the church and the grave.
She rose Lucretia was not with her citing she had something to do. She left Mary to hunt on her own. She considered her options. According to Lucretia, Martha would be waking soon and with her hunger growing, she would be in danger. Mary sort out a tavern seeking a drunken man stumbling through the darkened streets. She worried about leaving marks, bite marks she realised that she had the solution in her hands all the time. The slim blade she used in her witchcraft would be ideal for her problem. She watched the body stiffen on the ground completely drained of blood. The only wound was the cut in his neck. It was an easy task for her to slide the body into the cold water of the harbour. It would wash up sooner or later without it being traced to a vampire. She made her way to Martha's. Lucretia was waiting for her.
"Yes." Mary explained about her idea and the results.
"It will work. But if I were you, I wouldn't feed too many times this way. It's a waste, not only that the man's family may look for him?"
Mary hadn't thought about that. "I'm sorry I never realised that." She felt guilty thinking about Phillipa. She would have been horrified at her callous actions.
Martha woke seeing Mary. "Mary I had a terrible dream. A voice called to me then I was drowning in my own blood." Her voice trailed off staring at Mary's clothes and those of Lucretia behind her. "Mistress." She curtsied to Lucretia.
"Mistress Gradon, Mary here was saying she needed a maid for the new house. She recommended you."
"House?" Mary whispered to Lucretia as Martha stared at the two of them open mouthed.
"I bought one for you, it has a nice deep cellar perfect for vampires. Martha will watch over you while you sleep. It will keep her safe as she keeps you safe."
Followed by Mary and Martha, Lucretia led the slim girls to their new home. She would stay a while Mary still had a lot to learn. The slack-jawed boy waited at the gate to the house. All four entered the house. Mary's haven and the beginning of her new life in the world of eternal night.
Samuel Clemeneau hurried down the darkened Boston street he was late his silver-topped cane making an urgent tap-tap noise was he walked. Mary would be waiting for him he had promised to take her to the opera tonight. His duties at the hospital forced him to work late. There seemed to be more patients this year and he assumed the war had something to do with it. The southern states had seceded taking a good number of doctors with it. Most of the men that had left he had been well acquainted with. One having even married into a prominent Bostonian family. His wife remained behind while he had taken himself away on a principle. God he didn't believe in Slavery but his stiff-necked temperament had called him home. It had been five months since the fighting started and according to the papers there had been a number of clashes. He halted beneath a street light and flipped open the case of his pocket watch. It showed 9:15 Mary was expecting him over an hour ago. He closed the case with a snap and shoved it into the pocket of his frock coat. He hurried on picking up the pace of his footsteps. Patting the pocket of his coat he checked the ring was there. All he could afford was a small plain silver ring with its solitary diamond. I'll ask her again, she must say yes this time. She refused before not giving him a reason. He was sure she loved him but for some reason she was reluctant to accept his offer. He knew she enjoyed his company whether it was a stroll through the park or an evening at the Theatre. She had even accompanied him while he did night shifts at the hospital expressing interest in his work and showing her competence and assisting him with his rounds even spotting things he would of missed.
The lights of the house shone in the night. He slowed by the gate before gazing up to the lighted windows. The house was old, one of the oldest in the city. Hand on the wrought iron surface of the gate he opened it. It squealed a little as it opened. Walking up to the front door he rapped on it with the handle of his silver-topped cane and waited patiently. The door opened slowly and an elderly sour faced man peered from the open door. His black coat rumpled, it was Mary's servant. Samuel didn't know why she kept him on.
"Awld, is Miss Withy in?" Samuel asked the man.
Awld as uncommunicative as always opened the door wider ushering him in. The hall was long, to the right, as you entered was a door and set of stairs leading to the upper floors. On the left were three doors. The whole hall was panelled in dark wood and crimson wallpaper. Awld led him to the first door on the left, Mary's withdrawing room he opened the door and roughly shoved Samuel through into the room. Samuel turned to admonish the man for his rude behaviour. Awld ignored him closing the door in his face. He became aware he wasn't the only person in the room. A man and a woman sat in two armchairs by the fireplace. The woman was young, but older than Mary and dressed in black. The hoops of her crinoline skirt spread out from her over the floor perilously close to the fire. He studied her face she was pretty and pale skinned, her hazel eyes seemed to bore into his very soul, her ruby red lips inviting. She pouted at him removing her bonnet made from the same material as her dress. She shook her head letting the brunette ringlets of her hair fall to her shoulders. The man was older, grey haired wearing old-fashioned mutton chop sideburns. He had a moustache that had been twirled into points on the end. His frock coat seemed as outdated as the rest of his clothes.
The man spoke first. "You must be Samuel. I'm Kris and this is Martha we're cousins of Mary."
"Mary?" Samuel asked politely.
"Making herself presentable I expect."
"I was supposed to be taking her to the opera tonight. I'm afraid we're going to miss the first act."
"You mustn't blame Awld, he's getting old, he can be abrupt at times." Martha told him.
"Just visiting?" He asked making polite conversation.
"No we'll be staying awhile." Kris told him rising from his chair and shaking Samuel's hand it felt cold against his. "Please be seated I'm sure Mary won't be long."
He sat in the chair Kris indicated and waited. Martha resumed what she had been doing before Samuel entered. He watched her pick up an embroidery hoop and needle. Her quick movements fascinated him. He felt uncomfortable here with these two strangers.
"So you're a doctor?" Kris asked suddenly.
"Yes that's why I was late. We seem to have more patients and fewer doctors these days. The war, we've lost four orderlies in the last week all thinking it more exciting than caring for the sick in the hospital."
Kris nodded. "The drum has a siren call. Many think they'll find glory on the field."
Samuel's reply was left unsaid as the door opened and in stepped the object of his desires and hopes. He found himself staring at her as he always did. She was slight, small framed, ten years his junior but he didn't care. Her raven locks curled into ringlets, her eyes dark. She wore a green crinoline dress with a pattern of white flowers on it. She had white lacy finger-less gloves on her hands.
She held her hands to him smiling. "Samuel."
Samuel rose from his seat and walked to her taking her hands in his, "I'm sorry Mary my love I'm late."
"No not at all Sam, just in time." She kissed him on the lips, her mouth chill against his.
"I'm afraid we've missed the first act and more than likely most of the second."
"That doesn't matter you're here and that all that counts." She smiled lifting Samuel's heart. "I see you met Kris and Martha."
"Yes my love shouldn't we be going?"
She let go of his hands. "Yes." She nodded. "Kris and Martha 'till later."
Enfolding his arm in hers, they strolled out to the waiting coach chatting.
The opera over the two lovers walked through the park arm in arm. Samuel was silent thinking hard on the way to broach the subject, worried that Mary would refuse again. Mary stopped taking a grip of his arm.
"There is something troubling you Sam?"
"Sorry Mary my love just thinking. I'm sorry I ruined your evening. We missed the start of the opera I promised take you and I was late."
Mary shook her head, her ringlets taking on a life of their own. "I'll tell you if you've ruined the evening. There's something else troubling you? Isn't there?"
Sam spied a bench. Please sit Mary I need you ask you something?" He guided her to the bench, waiting patiently until she arranged her skirts without them flying in her face.
"Yes?" She said when she was settled.
He fumbled in his pocket for the ring hoping he hadn't lost it. He questing fingers sort out their target. He pulled the ring from its hiding place his heart in his mouth.
"Mary would you have the honour of being my wife."
Mary stared at the ring in the silence he was fully aware of the sound of his own beating heart.
"Yes." Was her breathy reply. "I would."
The rest of the evening passed in a blur.
He woke thirsty and staggered to the sideboard pouring out a cup of water draining it in a second. Dressed he made his away to the hospital wondering what he did last night. He remembered Mary's passionate acceptance of his proposal and then it was a blur until he woke this morning. The hospital was busy most of the newer patients seemed to be casualties of the war, unlikely to resume their original occupations, ex-soldiers without a limb or two. Doctor Augustus Green the senior staff physician. An elderly man with a brushy grey bread and sideburns, a large cigar in his mouth was talking to another man younger, in a military uniform they seemed to be arguing. Doctor Green and the military man turned in his direction. Sam was uncomfortable at the way the military man was eyeing him up.
"This is our most promising young surgeon, Doctor Samuel Clemeneau." Doctor Green said, then indicating the military man. "This Colonel Theodore Henderson."
"Doctor." The colonel said nodding in Sam's direction.
Doctor Green continued his conversation. "I know you need more doctors in the army but not at the expense of this hospital."
"Doctor Clemeneau what say you?" The colonel asked.
"Sorry I agree with Doctor Green. I got to cover for those already in the army, besides I'm engaged to be married. I can't rush off and leave my patients that would go against my Hippocratic oath."
"Just think of the Glory, women will swoon at your feet. Mothers will name their children after you!"
"I've got enough glory making the sick better. As to women swooning at my feet, I don't think Mary would approve of that. And children it's a thing I can discuss with her after we're married."
The colonel abruptly turned and stormed out his face clouded. The two doctors watched him leave.
"So she's accepted this time?" Doctor Green asked.
Doctor Green smiled broadly and clapped Sam on his back. "Good for you. Come we've work to do."
Sam continued his rounds his mind on Mary.
It was late evening he stood in front of Mary's house feeling guilty, work had kept him away. Three days had passed since his proposal ample time for her to rethink her acceptance. Knocking on the door he was let in by Awld and shown into the withdrawing room. Mary wasn't there but her cousins were. Kris stepped over to him taking his hand and shaking it.
"Congratulations are in order?"
"Mary?" Sam asked looking around.
"Family business in New York." Martha replied to his question looking up from her embroidery hoop.
"Yes, she'll be back in a few days." Kris told him. "Please be seated."
Sam sat not knowing what else to say, he had only met them briefly.
"She came home looking excited and happy. The happiest I seen her for a long time." Martha said seeming to peer into his very soul. "I only hope you don't disappoint her?"
"I promise I won't."
Martha stared at him harder. "Yes I can see that." She turned to Kris. "A drink for Samuel if you would?"
Kris stared at Martha for a moment blankly, then replied. "Oh yes sorry I forgot."
He poured Sam a generous glass of Brandy from a decanter.
"You're not having any?" Sam asked.
"I'll have something later."
"Like Kris I'll have something later."
"Do you know how long Mary will be?"
"I'm not sure." Kris replied. "I'll tell her you called she was planning something special for you."
Sam was intrigued. They talked and it was late when he left the house a little worse for wear.
He trudged home turning a corner he knocked over a man in a military uniform.
" Sorry." He apologised helping the man up then realised that it was Colonel Henderson. "Colonel."
"Doctor Clemeneau. You alright? You seen a little shaky?"
"I've been celebrating my engagement with my fiancée's family."
He never saw the smirk on the colonel's face. "A drink with me to celebrate your fortunes and no hard feelings for the other day."
Sam agreed one drink wouldn't hurt.
He woke to a riot of sound his head hammering like a smithy with an anvil. He was aware something was blocking the glaring light.
"Did sweetie have a lovely sleep." A harsh voice bellowed in his ear. Then he felt the world move.
"You're in the army now!"
Sam found himself looking up at a man with a sergeant's stripes on his arms. "Where am I?"
"You signed up, you're mine. Get up! I've got to drill some sense into you maggot."
"Not possible." Sam replied staggering to his feet. "I've got a hospital to run."
"You signed the papers." He shoved a document in Sam's face.
With a growing horror Sam realised it was his own signature a bit wobbly but still his.
"Could I have a pen and paper please I've got to write to my fiancée?"
Mary was angry she crumpled the letter throwing it in the fire and turned to the two standing behind her then turned back to the fire.
"He!" She couldn't say anything further, her anger clearly showing on her face.
"I know this wasn't his idea." Kris told her.
"What?" Mary said coldly turning her glare from the burning letter to him.
"From what I've found out, he was drunk at the time. Some Union recruiter got him drunk and made his sign up."
"You don't think he did this deliberately?" Martha told her, he threw his heart at your feet without your coaxing. Do you think he would throw that away?"
Mary sat in a chair in a quandary she was at a loss as what to do. She had feelings too strong for her to ignore, she wasn't sure whether to weep or rage. "Bring me this Colonel."
Kris shrugged. "A bit late for that. He's entertaining the fishes at the bottom of the harbour."
"You didn't?" Mary asked him.
"I never wasted a drop. We had a nice conversation before hand."
She sighed. "You did what you had to?"
Time passed for Sam all that drilling and marching was taking a toll on him. When he wasn't marching or drilling he was attending to the injuries caused by the exercise. The army moved through a succession of camps. He was tired and dirty, sick of the unsanitary conditions, sick of patients dying despite his best efforts to keep them alive. The smell of death was everywhere. He worked with a small medical staff unable to cope with the volume of wounded passing through their hands. He missed Mary, the thought of her at home and he here made him feel despondent. Every day he wrote her a letter and each time there was a mail call he waited patiently hoping for a letter from her. None came, he asked for leave to see her and was refused, and deserting was not an option. They caught and hung three deserters in front of the whole regiment. He watched feeling heartsick and lonely wondering what she was doing and if she was going to love him after all this.
Mary spent her time weeping and not feeding after hearing Kris's revelations. He knew she was taking things hard.
"I could go and bring him back for you?" He asked her.
Mary was in her study sitting at her desk Sam's letters scattered across it in front of her. "What?"
"Get him, bring him back." Kris told her adding. "You need him. I hate to see you this way."
"Kris is right." Martha spoke from her position by the window looking out. "He's the best one to find him. Just tell him where he is and he'll have him back before you can blink." She frowned. "It would have been better if you had given him your blood."
"I couldn't." Mary replied her voice low and sorrow filled. "I love him."
Kris shivered Mary had fallen in love for the first time in her unlife. She had fallen for a man whose life would pass in a moment. She was afraid to embrace him fearing that he might change and no longer love her. She was afraid that it might not take and he would be permanently dead then she would spend her long nights regretting what she had done.
"I do it." He told her. "I'll embrace him, then if he dies it will be my fault and you can take your wrath out on me?"
She stared at him. "No! I know your trying to help but leave him be. He'll find his way home to me?" She clutched the crucifix around her neck.
Kris glanced and Martha knowing Mary was trying to sort out her feelings. All they could do was wait and hope he was safe. He was certain Mary was making a mistake but it wasn't his place to correct his Sire.
Sam sat in the wagon a driver at his side. His task ferrying medical supplies from the ferry to the Union camp. He felt every jolt, worrying over the glass bottles of powders and tinctures. They had done their best to stuff old paper and straw between the bottles. Supplies were running low. He glanced back to the other wagon and then to their escort, a cavalry troop. The Rebels where in the same situation as they were and raids of the supply trains were frequent. He was tired, dead tired he couldn't remember when he last slept his dreams full of nightmares. The only thing that kept him going was the thought that Mary was waiting for him. His white coat stained and dirty, fouled with blood. None of them were clean. He couldn't remember the time he last had a decent bath.
From ahead came a shout. Them from all around them figures in grey rose from the bushes. The noise was defending, the whine of musket balls and the screams of the wounded and dying. Orders shouted from hoarse throats. Sam was rooted to the spot fear taking hold of his heart. A trooper on a horse went down in front of him goading him into action. He grabbed a satchel of bandages and leapt from the wagon. Avoiding the horse's flailing hooves he raced to the trooper's side. Red stained the man's blue tunic, struggling he managed to free the wounded man from his horse. The animal was up and bolting away. Suddenly he felt a sharp pain in his stomach as if something punched him there. He folded over falling to the floor, the contents of his satchel scattering over the ground. He put his hand to the spot and brought to his face. It was covered in blood, his blood. He felt weak unable to hold himself up he slipped to the ground. The battle raged around him, he looked up to see the butt of a rifle descending for his head. There was a shout and a voice called his name.
"Mary!" He called, the pain making him confused. He felt a hand gently turn him over he stared up at a face. "John? John Petersen?" He asked.
"Samuel I'm sorry it was you."
Sam realised the speaker was wearing an enemy uniform. "John?" He said again.
John sat in the dirt beside him reaching for bandages from the satchel. Sam heard him talk to some unseen man. "Get me the Opiates from the medical chest."
He missed the rest of the conversation until he tasted a foul fluid at his lips. He drank feeling his pain ease. John had his head cradled in his lap.
"Empty the wagon and get one of the prisoners to drive it. This man is going back to his own lines." John's voice sounded authoritative.
He blacked out again.
He woke the dull canvas of a tent flapping over his head. He was on a cot and standing over him was a Union officer in a white coat, with a beard that seemed to reach his belly.
"Morning." The man said briskly.
Sam felt the pain in stomach. He was weak and light-headed. "Peritonitis?" He asked.
The doctor nodded gravely.
"Days, weeks. I can't tell?" The doctor replied.
Sam knew his time was limited. He had one last letter to write and ask Mary for forgiveness, to free herself to marry again. "Please is there? Someone to write a letter for me I'll dictate."
The doctor nodded, knowing full well that he would not live, they never did.
Mary swept into her study ignoring the three there for a moment. Even from this distance she could feel his life slipping away. Slowly she turned around. She had hesitated for too long and was angry with herself for waiting, turning her anger on the one that caused all this. A woman with long red tresses sat in a corner facing her. Her hands folded into her lap. She regarded Mary with her green eyes. Mary slipped Sam's ring from her finger letting it clatter on the desk. The only sound in the silent room.
"Pick it up!" She said to the red haired woman. "He's dying, it's your fault."
"Mary, I canna say how sorry I am?" The woman had a strong Scottish accent.
"Pick it up and put it on!" Mary commanded.
The woman picked up the ring sliding it onto her finger.
"Wear it and remember how close I came to killing you. You will return to New York. There you will wait until I summon you. And if I ever hear you've got near that Hannoverian again. I will make sure you beg for death before I kill you. That clear?"
The red haired woman nodded not daring to speak her eyes fixed on the ring.
"You still here!" She ranted.
The woman stared at her for a moment then hurried out, the slam of the front door and the clang of the gate told them all she was gone.
Kris glanced across to Martha seated by the empty fireplace. "What now?" He asked Mary worried about her.
"If he dies before you get to him?" Martha asked her.
Mary frowned. "I must?"
"Martha's right Mary you must face facts he could be dead when you get to him?"
"I don't care alive or dead I will bring him home."
They could see Mary wasn't going to be moved on this.
"Your confrerie or mine?" He asked Martha.
"Mine, that girl of yours hasn't a brain in her head."
"What are you talking about?" Mary demanded.
"We'll need someone to watch over us while we sleep."
"What?" Mary asked staring at them.
"You didn't think we were going to abandon you?"
Mary stared at her two children, knowing they were right. Kris was only looking out for her. They had tried to live as mortal a life as possible but it seemed to be unravelling they were reverting to form once blood drinkers always blood drinkers.
He tried to move the pain in his stomach shooting through his belly.
"Opiates! Please I need them!" Sam groaned, clutching at his stomach shivering going hot and cold.
The same doctor that had seen him when he first woke leaned over him pulling his cover up.
"Opiates!" He groaned again.
"Sorry." The man said. "They've all gone."
"We only recovered the one you were transported in. It was empty."
"That's the odd thing. They emptied the wagon not taking it. The orderly that brought you back told me the Reb Captain seemed to know you personally?"
Sam groaned. "Peterson, John Peterson."
"How do you know this man?" Another voice asked.
He tuned his head his eyes trying to focus on the speaker. He was dressed in a General's uniform but as to the man he was unsure whom it was.
"Peterson was a doctor before the war. We worked together in the same hospital. He married into a Boston family I was at his wedding. We interned together I was shocked when he resigned. He wasn't interested in Slavery Virginia was his homeland. He left his wife behind she wept the day he walked out. She went back to her family. The last I heard from her she was seeking divorce. I'm sure that her family put pressure on her. She loved him but I never saw him until the attack."
"The sad thing is this war pits brother against brother. Rest doctor." The general said adding. "Give him what he wants he hasn't that long."
Sam drifted in and out of consciousness the Opiates numbing the pain. Time was running out for him.
"Tell Mary I love her." He whispered as the light faded from his eyes.
The doctor pulled a cover over the dead man muttering the words of a prayer under his breath. He had others to attend to. Some orderly would move the body. The space was needed for the still living.
The carriage thundered down the dusty road Mary drove with Kris seated beside her clinging to the seat. He was unhappy he could sense the horses were dying but Mary's urgency urged them on to new heights. He wasn't sure what she had given them to drink that pushed them on without a pause he wasn't going to ask her.
"The horses need to rest." He told Mary.
"Not yet it's not much further."
"Mary!" He jerked the reins from her hands pulling the horses to a stop.
She rounded on him her eyes blazing. "Why did you do that!"
"The horses are dying, listen to their hearts?"
She scowled at him knowing he was right. One of the horses gave a plaintive whiney then collapsed followed by another then another. The last stood on trembling legs.
Martha poked her head from the back of the carriage her lips stained with blood. "We've stopped. Thank God for that! It's hard trying to feed while your being bounced about like that." She climbed out rearranging her shirts. Her dress was gingham without the crinoline, what was popularly called a frontier skirt. "Horses?" She asked.
Kris was already searching for fresh horses. He was up and away before the other two could react. Martha helped Mary pull the dead animals from their traces.
"How many does that make now?" She asked.
Mary frowned. "I stopped counting." She gazed in the direction Kris had disappeared to. "He very fond of his animals. I would have thought since his embrace he would have lost that?"
"I don't know? You embraced him?" Martha replied.
It was a while before Kris returned with four horses to replace those that died. He was fingering a slice in his frock coat his face pensive.
"Problems?" Mary asked him.
"Ran into one of our kind, real unfriendly. He had a sword tried to run me through." He smirked. "Didn't realise I had my knife. Thought I was unarmed I certainly surprised him." He pulled a wooden knife from his boot examined the scorch marks on the blade then slid it back into place. Mary sighed it wasn't the first time they had run into hostile vampires. Teamwork and her magic had retrieved them from several tight situations. She helped Kris hitch the horses giving them a swig of the potion she had brewed up to help them run for longer. The carriage moved off with a jerk continuing it's mad dash.
The surgeon looked up to see three civilians bearing down on him. It had been a long thankless night. There were wounded and dying everywhere and not enough time to treat the living or move the dead, just the next victim to his butcher's table. All three had a piercing gaze and their noses twitched. They halted in front of him.
"Yes?" He said wearily. "If you've got any complaints take it up with the Surgeon General."
The youngest spoke seeming to be the leader. "We're looking for Samuel Clemeneau."
The surgeon pointed to row upon row of shroud covered corpses. "Somewhere over there."
Mary sniffed the air the stench of blood was clouding her senses. She hurried down the line searching. Suddenly she halted pulling the cloth from a body. Tears trickled down her cheeks as she stared at Sam's cold dead face. Kris gathered the body as an officer hurried over to him.
"What in God's name are you doing?"
"Taking her fiancé home." Martha told the man.
He backed away rapidly seeing the hungry look in her eyes.
"Come!" Mary said abruptly. "Before we lose ourselves to the smell of blood."
She gently placed Sam's body a coffin having purchased it when she woke finding him dead. Kris wasn't going to comment about that, she could have taken what she wanted but she insisted on paying. He assumed it was a way of her assuaging her grief. Hiding from the sun by day, they headed back north slower this time. Mary's magic preserving Sam body from putrefaction. It was late when they encountered a Rebel patrol. She let her children indulge themselves, listening to the screams fade in the distance. She allowed herself the time to weep here alone with the remains of the man she loved. The two vampires returned.
"Never wear gingham when hunting." Martha moaned removing her blood stained dress and putting on a fresh one."
"None escaped." Kris told her.
She smiled sadly feeling empty. They continued north. One night they halted on the edge of the woods a meadow stretched in front of them in the moonlight. Mary led the procession to a jumble of stones at the heart of the meadow here she halted. They dug a hole lowering the body into it, then covered it placing stones over the grave.
"Sleep well my love you are in good company." She whispered, "Take care of him Mother." She turned and joined the others.
"What now?" Kris asked her.
"You and Martha will return home."
"I've not finished."
"Just be careful." Kris told her.
The vampires departed in different directions. A wind blew across the meadow ruffling the grass, revealing a stone, names scratched upon its surface.
Here lies the last resting-place of:
Someone had added Samuel Clemeneau. The wind whistled around the stone and was gone, silence returned to the night.