“…Everything after that is something of a blur. I remember a figure rising up from the bed, screeching and flailing at me; hands and teeth ripping at my flesh. The mass of red hair told me it was Katharina, but she did ot seem to know me, for all that I was screaming my name. I just remember the intense pain and then nothing. I suppose I must have fainted.”
“Understandable, given the circumstances,” said Brigitte. “We call it the frenzy, but I imagine you found that out later.” I nodded.
“I awoke, I do not know how much later, though I suspect it was after dark; and I knew that I lay in Katharina’s arms, being cradled as she cried my name and something in German – ‘Was habe ich getan?‘ over and over again. I felt very faint and everything seemed to come at me from a great distance. I was falling, further and further into some great void. Just before everything faded completely, I felt something drip into my mouth. I did not know what it was, but it felt like liquid fire and I was overwhelmed with a great and terrible thirst. I fastened my mouth around the source and drank as if my life depended on it. Which, I suppose it did. I still did not know what it was, but it outshone all the finest wines and brandies I had ever tasted. The fire spread through my body and I became acutely aware of everything around me. The room was still deep in shadow, yet I could see as well as if it were full daylight; I could hear the tick of her clock on the wall, the faint crackle of the cooling embers in the fireplace, the slurping noises I was making from what I now realised was Katharina’s wrist….” I tailed off as I realised that Brigitte was now frowning, with perhaps a hint of anger.
“She turned you?” she asked, “Just like that, with no preparation or warning?”
“I don’t think there was time,” I said. “As she told me later, she had very little choice. In her frenzy, she had injured me too severely, so her only choice was to turn me, or let me die. Perhaps that was wrong of her, but I hold her no ill for it. I am here, I am what she made me and I am content.” Brigitte still frowned at me, but the anger seemed to fade.
“What then?” she asked.
“It was a long evening, starting with long explanations of what she was and what had happened. We both cleaned up. As you can imagine, there was a lot of blood about the place and each other. She lent me a clean shirt she found in the bottom of her wardrobe, possibly a leftover from her husband. She told me some of our lore and customs. She taught me how to appear to eat and drink normally. Later, we went to the Blumengarten together, where she taught me how to feed. Some of the girls there knew her nature and were willing donors. In truth, I do not remember much of that evening. As you can imagine, I was in shock.”
“Yes,” said Brigitte, drily, “I would imagine you were.” I laughed.
“And that’s putting it mildly. At the end of that night, we returned to her apartment and I slept beside her that first day. I was a little calmer the following evening, and so she told me some more of our ways and gave me lots of advice about avoiding daylight and other ways to appear normal. We went back to the Blumengarten in the evening, where I had my first solo feed. Come the early morning, I had to return to my ship. That was the last I saw of her.” Brigitte frowned again.
“You never saw her again?” she asked.
“No. I returned to the Odiham Castle and continued my duties for the return trip. My cabin and office were below decks anyway, so it was not too difficult to avoid the daylight. It raised a few eyebrows, but it wasn’t too hard to blame my odd behaviour on my recent loss. We weren’t due to go back to Bremerhaven for a week so once we were back in England; I took some shore leave, telling the captain I felt unwell. I had a friend who was a doctor, and over a few drinks, I managed to persuade him to write me a medical note diagnosing me with a skin condition that made me very sensitive to sunlight. Not very original, but it was the best I could come up with at the time. Fortunately, feeding was not an issue. In port, there are always women who are prepared to accompany a sailor into a dark alley, and on board, I could usually rely on at least one crew member drinking himself to sleep in some quiet corner of the vessel.” I looked up at Brigitte, who was smiling faintly. “Hey, what can I say, I’m adaptable.”
“Your resourcefulness does you credit,” she said. “Especially given the circumstances, and your lack of training. But, do go on.”
“On my next trip to Bremerhaven,” I continued, “I went ashore in the evening. She was not at the Blumengarten, which was unusual, and the girls said they had not seen her in over a week. I went from there to the apartment. There was no answer to my knock, so I went to the aspidistra. There, attached to the key was a small note, telling me to look behind the mirror. When I let myself into the apartment, it was clear she had gone, and was probably intending to be away for some time. All the valises which usually lived on top of the wardrobe were gone, as was most of her clothing. What remained was carefully wrapped in dust covers, as was the furniture. There were several mirrors in the room, and eventually I found a note to me. It basically said she had to go away on clan business and hoped that she would see me again soon. I also found, behind another mirror, a letter from somebody in America, but it was somewhat badly stained, so I could not read it all. It appeared to be from somebody requesting her help to deal with some clan dispute in Richmond, Virginia. There was nothing else of any use, so I returned to my ship.” I paused while Brigitte refilled our glasses.
“So, you’re stuck in Bremerhaven, you’ve lost your sire… How came you to London?” She asked.
“By a very roundabout way,” I answered. “I carried on with my job as best I could, but it was difficult as I couldn’t always meet traders after dark and it was getting increasingly harder to maintain my masquerade. A few months later, I returned home and found I no longer needed to work as I had inherited a not insubstantial sum from Alexandra; so I resigned my commission. I spent some time visiting my family, but again, found it increasingly difficult to disguise my nature. My enquiries in Bremerhaven had come to naught, so I eventually decided to follow up on that letter I found. I booked myself passage to America and eventually made my way to Richmond. I had various adventures there, many of which I am not proud of, but it was as an indirect result of that that I found myself bound for London.” Brigitte raised a delicate and enquiring eyebrow.
“Adventures?” she asked. I nodded.
“A story for another day,” I said, finishing off my glass. “I have taken up too much of your time already.” She shrugged.
“I like to get to know people,” she said with a faint smile, “it makes things easier later. Welcome to London, to my domain. Are you prepared to swear loyalty?” I grinned at her.
“I’ve never met a Prince before. Is there some long and complicated oath?” She shook her head, causing the raven locks to tumble across her face.
“In your own words,” she said. I thought for a moment, my mind flying back to all those Arthurian romances and such like that I had read as a youth. I grinned at her and went down on one knee, taking her hand in mine.
“Unto Brigitte de Champagne, Prince of the City of London,” I declaimed in my best theatrical voice, “do I, Nathaniel Haskins Ballard, swear, by all that I hold sacred, fealty and homage, and hereby acknowledge and declare her my liege lord, offering all loyalties, obedience and duties due thereto, ‘ere until death takes me or I am released from this vow. I further swear to defend her against all enemies, uphold her claim to this domain against all gainsayers, and to uphold and hold true to the laws and traditions incumbent to this domain.” I leaned forward and kissed her hand before leaning back and awaiting her response. She looked at me with a quizzical eye.
“I thank you, Nathaniel Haskins Ballard,” she said, her voice formal, but on the verge of breaking into laughter, her eyes glittering with amusement. “And so do I, Brigitte de Champagne, accept your oath, and grant you domicile and hunting rights and right of sanctuary within my domain.” She released my hand and clapped softly. “Well said. You should be on the stage.” I relaxed, getting up from my kneeling position and brushing carpet fluff from my knees.
“I think I read too many Arthurian romances as a youth,” I said with a grin.
“It serves you well,” she said, “I have not heard an oath delivered so elegantly in a long while.”
“Thank you,” I said. “I like to think I’m raising the bar for the next person.” Brigitte laughed then looked across the room to a clock on the wall and sighed.
“You certainly have. But now, I must go. I have other business that needs my attention. I hope that I shall see you again soon.” She got up and moved towards the door. I stood, moving quickly enough to open the door for her. We descended the steps down to the street. “Good night, Nathaniel,” she said and started walking along the street, away from the direction I had come.
“Goodnight,” I said, watching her go. Soon she was swallowed by the gloom of the night.