As Joseph Von Hoffen walked down the ranks of soldiers, he felt the tension amongst the men the same tension he was feeling about the upcoming battle. He was worried but tried to put brave face on it the French outnumbered them. His warning had gone unnoticed by the Prussian general commanding their mixed force. His men wore their heavy greatcoats trying their best to keep the drizzle off their muskets. He gazed up to the crest of the hill where the general sat on his horse one eye to his telescope. Joseph stared in the direction the general was scrutinising, from his position here on the right flank, all he could see were trees. It made him uneasy, out in the forest was the French. He hoped the trees would break up the formations. The forest was at its densest on his right. The general was certain the French would take the easy route through the lightly wooded area to the front and up the slope into the maw of his cannon. Joseph looked at the clouds hoping for a break in the weather. The sky above him was overcast its clouds laden with rain. He felt an itch under his powdered wig and cursed. He should he never given it to that corporal to re-powder the man's own hair had been full of lice. There was a polite cough behind him. He turned to see his captain there with three other officers. From the expressions on their faces, they were of the same opinion as he was.
"Fool hardy." One man muttered under his breath. Joseph chose to ignore the comment.
"Prepare for a cavalry charge and fix bayonets." He told them. They saluted and turned to leave. There was no point in going over the general's plan again. He had fought alongside these men for the last five years. Joseph halted them. "Make sure the men keep their powder dry."
Joseph continued his inspection as he did the drizzle became more persistent. He hoped the rain would be enough to hinder an attack. Suddenly there was noise from the left side of the hill he knew his worst fears had come true. Somehow the French had found a way through and had fallen on the left flank of the army. Through his telescope, he could see the confusion on the crest of the hill. He began yelling hasty orders. The men turned to face this new threat. He drew his sword.
"Form a square!" The order was echoed down the line. His troops shifted into their new position. As cold and as sodden as they were Joseph's chest swelled with pride at the grim determination in their faces. The men changed formation just in time to see French cavalry swamp the positions on top of the hill. He knew their turn would be next. A trumpet blew and over the top of the hill rode the lancers. Joseph's heart sank. As one the lancers levelled their weapons and prepared to charge.
"Take aim!" He raised his sword. The muskets swung to bear on the approaching attackers. "Fire!" He yelled when he was sure they were in range. Instead of a roar, there were a number of flashes several splutters and a large amount of cursing. The damp had got to the powder. Before he could speak further, the enemy was upon them. He felt several bullets whiz past his ear. Hand to hand melee ensued, bayonet to sword and lance. Joseph found himself assailed by a cavalryman determined to take his head as a trophy. He fended off the blows suddenly his foot slipped in the mud and he dropped on his rear just missing being decapitated by another cavalryman that had slipped in behind him. Joseph struck out steel meeting flesh and blood he was rewarded by a grunt from the man. The trooper had good control of his horse. Both man and horse danced away avoiding Joseph's follow up. There was a lull in the fighting as both sides withdrew slightly. Bodies littered the field both his men and the French. He could see more troops coming over the crest of the hill infantry this time. The situation was hopeless he had one chance the forest behind him was dense enough to hinder the French formations. He knew if they remained here, his men would be slaughtered. The French were in no mood to take prisoners.
"Fall back to the forest!" He yelled. A fighting withdrawal the French seemed determined to keep his men from reaching safety. Several times Joseph found himself drawn into the thickest of the fighting. Finally he reached the safety of the trees feeling disgraced, but he was no coward he knew when the situation was hopeless.
He made his slow way through the trees fending off occasional attacks from the French. Now and again, he would stumble across a body, one of his men, one of theirs. He rested for a while trying to gauge his position from his surroundings all he could see were trees and more trees. The few glimpses of the sky were only to see the rain drenched clouds. He rested at the base of an ancient oak concluding he was truly lost. He must have dozed off a measure of his exhaustion. When he awoke it was starting to get dark. He staggered to his feet hungry and still tired. He headed off in the direction he assumed his men had gone. It was fully dark by the time he stumbled onto a road. He had no idea of where he was. In the dark, he had run into a French patrol there had been a short clash. He escaped but not before he had received a sabre slash to his hip. He could feel the blood fill his boot, his leg throbbing becoming stiffer by the hour. He limped down the road, no longer caring in which direction he was going.
He had no idea how long he was on the road. Then in the distance he heard the sound of horses. At first, he thought it was the sound of a patrol, then he heard the sound of metal rimmed wheels. He was too exhausted to run. As it came into view he could see it was a carriage. The two lamps either side of the carriage glowed brightly in the darkness allowing him to see that it had been painted black. At some unseen command the carriage rolled to a stop beside Joseph. The curtains opened and from the lighted interior a pale slim hand beckoned. There was a movement from the driver's seat and a man dressed in a cloak as black as the carriage leapt down. Joseph watched as the man opened the door. A woman leaned out into the night. The most beautiful woman Joseph had ever seen. She had long dark hair that hung in tresses framing a pale oval face, the woman's lips the deepest red, deeper than blood and her eyes dark, almost pulling him into them.
"Come." She called. "Sit with me?" Her hands waved him to her. Joseph staggered forward his hip making it hard to walk. Her eyes narrowed. "You're hurt." Her next words were directed to her driver. "Help him."
Helped by the driver Joseph scrambled into the carriage seating himself opposite the woman. He noted her dress a little old fashioned and of a dark silk. White lace peeked out of her collar and cuffs. Around her neck where a string of pearls that shimmered in the light of the single lamp. She smiled at him.
"I'm Serena, Countess Lefebvre. And you are?"
Joseph frowned surprised to find a French countess in the heart of Germany. She seemed to know what he was thinking.
"I left my French roots long ago and made this place my home. My family where driven out because of their religious convictions."
A French Huguenot! He apologised. "I'm sorry my lady I've just been in a battle with the French. I was just a little startled to find a French woman here."
She chuckled, her hand reaching out and patting his good leg. "But you still haven't told me you name?"
Joseph apologised again. "Joseph my lady. Joseph Von Hoffen a minor baron from a little town in Hanover."
"Call me Serena, Joseph."
Joseph asked a question that was troubling him. "Where are we going?"
"Home to my castle."
"I need to rejoin my regiment!"
She pointed to his leg. "If you carried on any longer the only thing you would have rejoined is the countless dead."
As if to make a point the pain in his leg returned with a vengeance. She stopped patting his good leg and leaned back her eyes transfixing his.
Joseph woke it took him a moment to realise where he was. He found himself staring at the velvet curtains of a canopied bed. His eyes roamed around taking in his surroundings. The walls had been plastered and white washed, several portraits hung around the walls all of stately dignified men of various ages. He got out of bed suddenly pain throbbed in his thigh. Whoever had put him in bed had washed him and bandaged his wounds. The nightshirt he was wearing was several sizes too big for him. Getting up he padded across the floor feeling the cold stone on his bare feet. A quick search of the chests dotted around the room revealed nothing. His uniform and his sword were gone. Carefully he opened the door to the room and stepped out into a stone corridor. There was no sound as he listened. He walked down the cold and draughty corridor all he could hear was the slap, slap of his bare feet. After several turns, he became totally lost. He was just about to go back the way he came. He heard the sound of a splash and then the sound of a brush dragged across a wet surface. Curious he went in search of the sound. A maid was scrubbing the floor a bucket of soapy water at her side and a stiff bristled brush in her hand. She had her back to him. As quiet as Joseph was she still heard him, she scrambled to her feet brandishing her brush towards him like a sword.
"I won't hurt you." Joseph said holding his hands out wide to show her he had nothing in them.
She stared at him not saying a word. Suddenly there was a flick of her eyes, alerting Joseph to someone behind him. Joseph turned to face a man, short and pale skinned dressed in black.
"Get back to your work girl and be quick about it!" The man turned his attention to Joseph. "You, my good sir should be resting. Her strict instructions were for you to have some peace and quiet." He rounded on the quivering maid. "If you disturbed her guest you'll pay for it."
The maid was on the verge of tears. Joseph felt it his duty to come to the aid of the maid who had done nothing wrong. "It was my fault she did not see me. I crept up on her while her back was turned."
The maid nodded her affirmative. The man seemed pacified. "Get on with your work." The man turned his attention back to Joseph. "You sir should be resting. I won't want you to burst all those stitches she had to put in your leg. I've never seen her pay that much effort on..." The man stopped claming up, then continued changing the subject. "Well, if you're up we'd better see about supper for you."
"My uniform, sword?"
"Was burned and as to your sword it'll be around somewhere. If you return to your room sir, we will call you when dinner is ready."
"The countess?" Joseph hoped she would be more inclined to listen to him than this stuck up servant was.
"Out she'll be back after dusk." Joseph noted that the words sounded as if the man had said them before many times.
He allowed himself be escorted back to his room the throbbing in his leg growing steadily worse.
Joseph dressed in the clothes that had been laid out for him, by another servant, they were as old fashioned, as had been the countess' dress. He tried to engage the man in conversation but he was as silent as the maid. The talkative servant that he had run into earlier, led him into a huge dining room and sat him at the head of the table. Joseph hadn't realised how hungry he was devouring everything laid in front of him. Sitting by the fire, he read a book from the library. Whatever could be said about the countess' fashion sense, her shelves were well stocked. The food and the warmth of the fire comforted him and try as he might to stave it off he drifted off to sleep. The pop of the fire woke him, he opened his eyes, seated in the chair opposite was the countess her head resting on her hand watching him. Joseph sat up straight guilty at imposing himself on her household.
"You had an interesting day by all accounts?"
"I'm sorry, I frightened your servants half to death."
"So I've been told. You shouldn't really be up and about. I didn't stitch you up to have you running about ruining my careful work?" She paused. "But since you are, I give you free reign to walk about my castle. I'll instruct the servants not to disturb you. Don't wander too far from the castle, the woods around here can be treacherous there are hidden bogs where you least expect them." She smiled. "Then, I don't really want you hurting that leg of yours."
"I'll abide by your rules my lady."
The countess frowned. "Call me Serena, Joseph."
"Serena." She smiled happily.
Six months had passed since Joseph arrived at the castle. He often wondered what called her away from the castle in daylight, each evening she was there often just to talk, and sometimes she would play the harpsichord. Joseph had to admit she was very talented, unlike his attempts, she was patient never a harsh word as they sat side by side. She tried to teach him to play. While she was away, Joseph found he had a talent for carpentry. He thought she would laugh at him. She just smiled and encouraged him further praising his efforts. As much as, he wanted to stay with Serena his thoughts would turn back to the regiment he had abandoned. It was early still as he sat by the fire reading he knew Serena would return soon. She had been excited the last couple of days when he asked she told him she was planning a surprise for him. As he read, the sound of horses and the coarse shouts of men interrupted him. French voices, fear, and anger gripped him. Anger at the French and fear for his beloved Serena. Halting at the top of the stairs in the great hall, he saw several French officers one was a full colonel, gathered around Serena plainly they were arguing about something. Slowly he walked down reigning in his anger for the minute he would have to play this carefully if he wanted to get Serena safely away. He nearly stumbled in shock as he got closer recognising the regiment the very one that had nearly caused his demise. Serena glanced in his direction.
"See my husband is here perhaps we can now settle matters. There are no enemy soldiers here."
Joseph was shocked, there he was coming to protect Serena, and there she was doing the same for him.
The French Colonel scrutinised Joseph carefully. "You are?"
Serena answered before Joseph. "Gentlemen this is my husband Count Joseph Lefebvre."
Joseph winced inside once for the title and once for the loss of his name. If it kept Serena from harm then who was he to object.
"Count." The French Colonel said bowing as did his fellow officers. The man stared hard at him. "Who do you support?" He was asked directly.
Joseph caught Serena's worried frown. "Depends on whose winning?"
The Colonel stared at him then laughed, it reminded Joseph of a braying donkey. "Excellent my dear scholar."
It was then that Joseph realised he was still carrying the book he had been reading. "Would you care to dine with us?" Joseph couldn't believe the words he was saying almost as if someone else was doing the speaking for him. "Simple fare I'm afraid the cook ran away to join the army."
"Simple will be fine." The Colonel replied.
Joseph couldn't reconcile the fact that he was having dinner with the very enemy that nearly wiped out his whole command. The Colonel kept up his questioning trying to draw him out. The man must have suspected that they were lying. Serena sat beside him at the long dining table her hand on his. Joseph noticed it was icy cold. She seemed to judge his moods, interrupting each time Joseph started to get angry, replying to the Colonel's questions with cool answers always referring to Joseph as her husband.
"You're not eating?" The Colonel asked Serena.
She replied before Joseph could come to her defence. "I'm with child." She smiled patting her belly. "I'll have something later." She squeezed Joseph's hand tightly.
Joseph began to wonder if Serena was with child. Where had the father gone? She must have sensed the way his thoughts were going. She shook her head slightly; Joseph had his answer like the story that he was her husband this was one of those to placate the French. Joseph thought further on this realising that he had never seen her eat. The only time he had seen her drink was some water and not much of that. Somehow her felt he disapproving gaze upon him. Had he not known better, it was like she could read his mind.
Joseph breathed a little better knowing the French had left the castle although it irked him to know they were billeted in the village a few miles away. There were times during the evening when his fingers had itched to be around the hilt of a sword. Had it not been for Serena's calming presence, it might have come to that. As the meal finished and the French had gone Serena excused herself claiming her head ached. Joseph was sure it was something he said that upset her. It now made him more determined to return to his regiment. His mere presence was putting Serena in danger. As soon as he found his sword, he would be gone. He lay in the bed staring at the canopied roof above him. A single candle flickered on a table close by. A sound alerted him to someone in his room. He moved swiftly, getting out of the bed in a blink of an eye. Standing by the door was Serena a candle in her hand. In its flickering light, Joseph could see what she was wearing. The sheer linen nightgown left little to the imagination. Joseph was embarrassed his eyes were drawn to her and much as he wanted to look away he found he couldn't. She smiled as if she knew what he was looking at.
"Come husband am I so ugly that you can't admire my form."
Joseph shifted uneasily. "Why do you keep calling me husband the French have gone?" The sight of her body had stirred feelings he hoped he had suppressed. It wouldn't be the first time he had lain with a woman. Most of the time gold changed hands. He wasn't like some coarse soldiers giving into his baser instincts.
She smiled gliding closer to him. "My house, my rules." She smiled again. "This was your surprise all along."
His head jerked up his eyes meeting hers.
Joseph woke the angle of the sun streaming though the windows told him was late afternoon. He felt drained and thirsty. Glancing around he saw Dieter the man he had the run in with the first day. Serena had assigned him as Joseph's personal body servant.
The man bowed. Joseph noticed he was carrying a tray with a shaving set on it. "The countess asked me to see to things."
"I shave myself?"
"The countess noticed that." Dieter frowned. "She doesn't normally make this much fuss over…" Dieter's voice trailed off then he grimaced. "Why is it that you bring out to worse in me?" he had meant to mumble this to himself but Joseph heard his complaint.
Joseph scrutinised the man realising the truth. He wouldn't be the first servant to become enamoured by his mistress. A hopeless love, the stations too far apart. It was an effort for Joseph to get out of bed. Last night's exertions making it hard for him to move let alone hold a razor. He remembered Serena climbing into his bed then nothing. He was sure they made love at her insistence. She said it was to consummate their marriage. So, he had let her have her way. It made Dieter's attitude all the more relevant. Joseph allowed himself to be shaved. He dressed himself glancing around he couldn't find his boots.
"Away for polishing." Dieter replied unable to meet Joseph's eyes.
Joseph suspected this was untrue. "My boots and the truth now!"
"She had then taken away as to why you'll have to ask her when she returns."
"Where has she gone?" Joseph began to worry. If she'd gone anywhere near the village then she could be in danger. "I want my boots and my sword now!" He strode away from his bedroom. He didn't go far his legs buckled under him. He fell, going down hard on his still injured leg.
He woke aware of the throb in his leg. His eyes roamed around the room alighting on Serena's face. She had a fixed expression on her face Joseph knew he was the cause of it.
"I'm sorry, I was worried. I thought you might be in danger. I really don't trust the French." He paused realising what he was saying. "I'm sorry I didn't mean that as a slur on you."
Serena waved her hand. "Of no importance." She stared at Joseph if looking into his heart. "The French are no longer our concern."
"No. There's an epidemic in camp. I've sealed the castle to stop it reaching us. No one allowed in or out." She moved something beside her. "Take these things I had them made in the village before the epidemic hit." She handed Joseph a pair boots. "Now rest I'll be back to see you tomorrow."
Joseph recovered he had been concerned at first about the epidemic but it didn't reach the castle. Strange thing about the disease it only seemed to have affected the French. The officers were the first to succumb to the illness and then the troops started dying. Four weeks after the French had set up camp Serena had the castle unsealed, the French were gone. Joseph was glad they had gone. His life had settled in to a routine. Joseph sat in his favourite chair waiting for Serena to return. As soon as the French had left, she had gone back to what she did during the day. The door banged open and Dieter stomped in carrying a large easel and a blank canvas. Joseph put his book down to watch him set it up.
"Dieter?" Joseph asked.
Dieter mumbled something under his breath by now Joseph had got used to his moods. He often wondered why Serena kept the man on. Serena glided in kissing Joseph it always reminded him of drinking snowmelt. Then she was up to the easel eyeing the blank canvas critically.
"New hobby?" He asked her.
"No husband an old one." She stepped away from the canvas looking at Joseph. "Move that chair to there." She pointed to a spot closer to the fire.
Joseph moved the chair. "This where you want it?"
She nodded, "Good enough, now sit."
Joseph sat. "Have you got enough light to do this? Wouldn't it be better when the sun is up?"
She grimaced. "I have to do it when the mood hits me. Now is just such a time."
Joseph sat while she fussed around until she had him in a pose she was satisfied with. Sitting still Joseph watched her sketch and then paint her fingers fairly flew over the canvas her hands moving faster than his eyes could follow. Then she was finished covering over her canvas. "Now that is enough for tonight."
Joseph got up stretching and yawning. He approached the canvas only to have her stop him.
"Not now it's not ready. It's part of my surprise."
Joseph remembered her last surprise he had collapsed the day after.
It was late morning when Joseph woke to a commotion in the courtyard for a moment he thought the French had returned. Looking out his window he saw Dieter ushering a number of peasants into the castle. Dressing quickly, he hurried down to find out what was going on. Dieter turned to him as he entered the great hall.
"What's going on here?"
"Something She's ordered." He smiled a chill smile. "Since you are here sir pick out the ones that catch your eye and the rest will be sent home."
Joseph felt uneasy about this. If it was something of Serena's then who was he to argue he was still her guest. Joseph picked three women and two of the men those he had thought would make good servants and dismissed the rest. "You will instruct them on their duties?" He told Dieter.
"It goes without saying sir. I'll be up to shave you later sir. She'll want your face clean."
Joseph left the hall and headed to the library. As much as, he hated to have that man's hands near his neck he had to do it. Somehow, shortly after his last surprise Serena had all the mirrors removed as to why he was unsure. This was her castle and as she was fond of saying her rules. Standing in the corner of the library was the canvas she had been painting. Curiosity took a grip of him and he peeked at the painting. Joseph had to admit she was very talented her picture of him was excellent. He could see why she wasn't satisfied. The picture the man in it had two wings of white in his dark hair. The more Joseph stood and examined the painting the more the style reminded him of all those paintings in his room. But the clothes were all so very different. Replacing the canvas, he left. He glanced at his reflection as he passed a window then halted in shock. He stood at the window staring at the reflection that greeted him. Like the painting, the reflection showed a man with two wings of grey in his hair. With a greater feeling of unease, he returned to his room to think.
Servants had laid out a brocaded waistcoat and breeches out for him along with a pair of highly polished boots. Dieter shaved him and for once, he seemed to take extra care with Joseph's face. He dressed and took up his usual seat in the library to wait for Serena. Joseph glanced up at the clock on the mantle piece above the fire. It was past her normal time he put down the book he had been reading and stood up. Just as he was about to move the door opened. He had been expecting Serena but all he got was Dieter.
"Dieter where's the countess?"
"She sent me to fetch you sir, she awaits you."
Joseph followed Dieter wondering where the man was taking him. They ended up in the cellar for a minute suspicion bloomed in Joseph's heart. Then Dieter reached up for an innocuous seeming wall mount. He twisted it sideways and the wall before him swung open. So, this was how Serena got in and out of the castle without him knowing. He followed Dieter down into a crypt. Massive stone pillars supported a vault. Stone sarcophagi lined the walls and the end of the crypt was an altar. Four candelabra illuminated the scene. A red silk cloth had been thrown over the altar. Joseph glanced around worried he wasn't sure what was happening here. He turned to confront Dieter but the man had gone. There was a movement in the darkness behind the altar. Serena stepped out into the light Joseph couldn't help but gawp at the sight he was presented with. Serena stood there a smile on her face her tresses piled on top of her head held there by strands of gold chains and pearls. Her dress was white and gold; a string of rubies hung heavy on her neck. She raised her hand and Joseph was drawn to her. He opened his mouth to speak but she placed her finger up to his lips silencing him. At her command, he lay on the altar. He did not move as she unbuttoned his breeches and moved over him, he felt himself inside her. She smiled at him as she leaned down and kissed him first on his lips then as he felt his pulses quicken she kissed his neck. Then darkness.
Serena drank until she felt the life leave him. Then at the last moment she bit down onto her own wrist and placed it to his mouth. His last reflect was to gasp as her blood filled his mouth. She climbed off him and rearranged his breeches. Blood always tasted better with sex. Now all she could do was wait. She smiled to herself he had been hers from the moment he stepped into her carriage. Not in the vampiric way, that had been her intention at first. She could see his heart had been hers, as much as he tried to deny it. She watched the body cool looking for signs it had worked this time. After so many failures, she had been certain he was the one. She hated to deceive him but it was better this way than to find out what she truly was. She would have time to change. She would have to burn the dress there was no way to get the blood stains out. She would regret it but it was the way of things. Dressed in other clothes she returned to the crypt her home when the sun was in the sky. Joseph lay where she had left him. She reach out and tenderly touched his face tilting his neck around. She gasped it had worked quickly she summoned Dieter.
"Bring them!" She commanded.
The five peasants Joseph had chosen were brought in. Serena had dealt with them earlier. She dismissed Dieter. Taking the peasants one by one, she manacled them to the stone pillars. A new wakened vampire needed to feed; these mortals would supply his first meal. Stripping them to the waist, she waited for Joseph to wake. She watched as he stirred. Then she smiled as he raised himself from the altar gliding over to the first of the female mortals. The woman sagged in Joseph's embrace as he drained her. He repeated this with the two other women. Suddenly he halted staring around in shock.
"What have I done?"
"Only what was necessary to stave off your hunger."
He turned to face her aware of the blood dribbling down the front of his once clean waistcoat. "You did this to me?"
"In your heart you wanted to marry me, for me the marriage must be between equals I made you my equal." She glanced towards the men.
"You take them, I feel sick."
Serena drained them she couldn't let them go. Dieter would clean up. Joseph sat on a sarcophagus staring into the darkness. Serena explained as best she could, her reasoning for making him a vampire and how it would affect him.
Joseph and Serena settled back into a routine. He came to accept his new life although he regretted the loss of life so he could live. In time, he learned how to take enough without killing. Most of the time they hunted together, there were times when each vampire valued their privacy and hunted alone. Joseph enjoyed the company of the gypsies as they crossed the forest. A dance and a sip from the exotic women and then they were gone. The both agreed on one-thing bandits and highwaymen deserved what they got. Whole gangs would fall prey to them. Both vampires showed them no mercy and they killed everyone they found. Serena grew used to Joseph's little quirks although it irked her at times. He preferred to kill the bandits with his sword rather the drain them. She at times despaired at the waste of blood. He often repeated her saying his place his rules. Serena was certain that he loved her as strongly as when he was alive. The years passed the servants aged and died but the two vampires remained young. One night Serena went out one of her forays on her own. Joseph paced the crypt dawn was fast approaching and Serena had not yet returned. The door swung open and she hurried door the stairs a concerned expression on her face.
"Trouble?" He asked.
"Tonight!" She kissed him more passionately than she had done before. "Get ready for dawn." She told him as she lay down.
Joseph lay with her questions filled his mind. All went silent as the sun rose.
He woke as she did. The question on his mind before the day found them was still on his mind.
"What was wrong I started to worry the dawn fast approaching and you had not returned?"
Serena grimaced. "Hunters."
Serena touched Joseph's face tenderly. "There is a lot for you still to learn. There are those mortals that hunt our kind. These were the worst they have a hunger greater than ours."
"We'll deal with them they're only mortals."
She touched his face again tracing a line from his eyebrow to his chin. "My husband so brave. There are too many for us to deal with easily. There are witches amongst them."
Serena pulled Joseph to her kissing him on the lips. "We have no option but to hide." She sighed. "The hiding place in not big enough for the both of us."
"I say fight."
"No husband my house, my rules you promised to abide by my rules while you lived under my roof."
"I will hide you in the stables. We'll dig a hole deep enough and bury you. It's the last place they'll look."
"And you?" Joseph tried to keep his concern out of his voice and failed miserably.
"I have my hiding place." She kissed him tenderly. "We must get this done."
The two vampires worked feverishly digging the hole in the stables. Joseph climbed down into the hole while Serena covered it up cleaning up and spreading straw over the top making it seem, as all was normal. She wiped away a single tear. She had lied to Joseph the hunters would only be looking for one vampire. This was to be her sacrifice, her sacrifice for love. She had dealings with these types of mortals before unhappy until they got what they wanted. She refused their offer knowing she signed her own death warrant. They would wait until dawn then strike while the vampires where vulnerable. She thought of Joseph buried where they wouldn't find him. She felt the ache of not holding him in her arms, hearing his voice and feeling his lips upon hers. She took her time dressing binding her hair with the gold chains and pearls she had worn the night she had embraced him. The dress she wore was old. It was her wedding dress. The one she had worn as her family fled from the Catholics over two centuries before. She had waited for her husband to be, but the man that came wasn't him he had embraced her making her a vampire. She had held on to the dress hoping to wear it again. It seemed appropriate to wear it now after so long. She lay on the altar in the crypt waiting for dawn.
"I love you Joseph my husband." She whispered, as the sun rose and she embraced oblivion.
Joseph waited buried deep in the soil beneath the stables. He hated to doing this but Serena had his heart in her hands he would do anything for her. The second night came and still no Serena, Joseph began to have dark thoughts. Serena wasn't coming for him. He began to dig it was hard going Serena had buried him deep and packed the dirt in around him. Dawn came and he slipped into nothingness as the day took its hold. As the sunset he woke and began digging. It was after midnight on the third night when grubby and dishevelled, he emerged from the cobbles of the stable. The scent of decay and smoke assailed his nostrils. He stumbled though the broken door of the stables into a sight that resembled the aftermath of a battle. The castle was a smouldering ruin. The rain had stopped the worst of the burning. A thick pall of smoke hung over the ruins. His concern for Serena overrode his growing hunger. As he crossed the courtyard, he could see the bodies of servants cut down without trying to defend themselves. Men, women, and children all slaughtered as they tried to flee. Anger muted his hunger as he continued his search. The cellar had mainly escaped unscathed. Several servants had gathered here perhaps to protect their master and mistress. Unarmed servants were no match to men armed with weapons. A feeble heartbeat caught his attention calling to his hunger damping down the raw anger. The secret door to the crypt had been smashed open. At first, he thought that the beat was from someone injured. As he got closer he realised it belonged to a child. It was hiding behind the altar the silk cloth had been ripped off. The were bloodstains on it not human. Joseph knew whose blood it was. Then it hit him like a building falling on him Serena had offered herself as a sacrifice to save him. Anger and hunger gave way to a deep grief he wanted to howl and tear at his clothes. Reaching behind the altar, he pulled out a small boy grubbier than he was. The terror the boy was feeling was echoed in Joseph's ears from the beat of his heart. Joseph recognised him. He was one of the servant's children. Slowly but surely, Joseph picked up a picture of what happened.
They attacked with the sunrise. The boy's mother realised what was happening and hid him in an empty barrel. Through the knothole in the barrel, the boy had seen his parents cut down as they tried to flee. The attackers killing anything that moved. Somehow, they found their way into Serena's crypt. Then they dragged her body into the sunlight where it burned as the sun touched it. Satisfied they ransacked the castle taking anything of value. According to the boy, they took great pleasure in wearing the ruby necklace. The same necklace Serena wore the night she embraced him. The boy had one more surprise for Joseph when from under his jerkin he produced a tin snuffbox containing some of Serena's ashes before the rain came and washed them away. As much as, Joseph's hunger called to him he spared the boy for this one act.
Standing on the ridge Joseph took one last lingering look at the castle. Patting the wax sealed tin box in his breast pocket it was all he had of Serena. She was gone the box was a reminder of her sacrifice, her sacrifice for love. He turned back to the gypsy caravan and the pox marked woman that waited for him. The gypsies were glad to be rid of her and he needed someone to watch over him while he slept. He regretted making her his slave but he had to carry out his revenge. This way she would serve him until she died. Climbing into seat beside her, he tapped the hilt of his sword. The hunt had began and so had his vengeance