BLAKE WAS watching her from his window again. The tutor’s daughter was climbing the trees outside and squealing like a pig as she jumped into the leaves below. When he first laid eyes on her, he was fascinated by how unladylike and feral she was, like no young woman he had ever seen. She was certainly nothing like the proper, upper-class girl he was betrothed to. Eden looked as though her every movement belonged in a Gainsborough painting.
“Master Thorne,” his French lecturer said, interrupting his thoughts. “Would you like something to be done about those unruly children?”
Blake dismissed the professor’s concerns with a wave of his hand. He was only eleven, but his teachers knew to respect his commands. Ever since his father died, his mother had been trying to occupy his every moment with a parade of subjects from Latin to anatomy, calculus to art history. He felt it was an attempt to distract him from his physical defects and his general loneliness.
He hadn’t really known his father, children of his class and birthright seldom did. What he did know, he had learned from his father’s faithful servants. All he knew was that his father was an important man and he had been horribly wronged. Blake often envied the tutor’s daughter. She was outside making castles out of leaves while her father blumbered through another useless lesson. What did that old fool teach again?
Blake closed his book and stood up. On most days, he was able to manage to get around with a cane. On other days, he still needed his wheelchair. He went to the window and leaned outside. “Vivienne,” he yelled. “Fighting imaginary dragons again?”
Vivienne pointed a broken branch at him “Come and play with me, Blake. We can go chase your mother’s bulldogs.”
Blake smiled at her, despite himself. “You know I can’t,” he answered. “Why don’t you go ahead and tell me about it?”
“No, come with me,” Vivienne yelled back, stretching out her muddy hand. “You know you want to.”
He did want to, more than anything. He knew if he did, he would come back covered in mud and it would infuriate his mother. It was unbecoming of a boy of his breeding to climb the ancient trees and wander through the muddy river banks. Although, there was something he could do, from where he stood. Blake smiled back at Vivienne, and slowly the tip of her branch started to glow gold.
“Master Thorne!” A voice beside him hissed. Blake looked up and saw Lichtus shaking his head. Winick had been the head butler to his father before his untimely death. Now, Lichtus had been promoted to his right-hand man. It was just as well, as the new Lord Thorne was an eleven-year-old boy. Winick’s son, Glenn, was a boy only a couple of years older than Blake. He was every inch the butler in training to Lichtus since his father died. “She’s an outsider. You know better than to reveal certain things to her,” Lichtus said. “Come along; let’s go back to your lessons.”
“Am I supposed to spend my entire life with dusty old books like a prisoner?” Blake asked. “At least with my condition, my life won’t be a long one.”
“You don’t smile at Eden the way you smile at her,” Glenn noted with a boyish grin. He looked as though he was playing dress-up in a white tie butler outfit. “Why don’t you go say hello?”
Blake shook his head and went back to sitting at his corner with his pencils and paper. He turned his back to his servants and hunched over, shutting them out. He heard them leave the room and then a few minutes later, the study door opened again and a small figure crept towards him. Vivienne appeared and kneeled down by his side. Her gray stockings were covered with holes, and there was practically a bird’s nest of leaves in her hair, but he felt his mood lifting as he saw her.
“Blake,” Vivienne whispered excitedly. “One of your maids let me sneak up here. I haven’t seen you in days. Are you okay?”
“I have things I need to do,” Blake said, as he kept his head down. “I can’t just go running wild outside with you all the time.”
“What are you drawing?” Vivienne asks as she reached for his paper with her grimy fingers.
“No, stop,” Blake caught her hand and paused. Her palms were ice cold. He tried to warm her fingers with his palms, but he knew it was a different kind of coldness that no amount of fire can heat.
Blake hadn’t told anyone, but he had been drinking the Dark Waters that his father had left behind. Small amounts, nothing to draw suspicion. His father had strictly forbidden him from it, but doing so allowed him to go outside for once. Was it so wrong to want to a little bit of joy for himself for once? The coldness of her touch made the darkness stir inside of him, as though it was answering to her call.
“Your hands are so cold,” he said. “Are they always like that?”
“Yeah,” Vivienne said with a laugh. “That’s just the way I am. My dad says my touch is like ice, to match my chilly eyes.” Vivienne curled up against his body and leaned her cheek on his shoulder. “You’re warm. Maybe I’ll steal some of your heat.”
Blake slowly, awkwardly wrapped one of his arms around her. He wasn’t sure what to make of her words. He knew how to help her, but he wasn’t sure if he should. From the beginning, he had been born with the power of the Strigoi; it was a form of white magic that had been in his family for generations. It was a blessing fate had given him perhaps to make up for his physical disabilities. He could sense the darkness inside of her, and if he only gave her his power, he could bind it. In that minute he decided to do it. Maybe it was fate that brought her to him. She needed something from just as he needed something from her. It was just as well, if he kept drinking the Dark Waters, he would grow physically stronger but his white magic would grow weaker.
Briefly, he wondered if he should ask Lichtus for advice but then immediately decided against it. Those old fools, they were so attached to their rules and their traditions. They just wanted him to sit in his wheelchair, stay indoors, marry Eden, and die in peace in his bed. For a moment, he just wanted to make his own decisions and perhaps even carve out a piece of the world that was his alone.
“I can help you if you let me,” he told her. “I can keep you warm even from afar. But in return, can you do a favor for me?”
Vivienne nodded. “I’ll do anything for you, Blake but only if you promise to come out and play with me again.”
Blake found the cameo necklace from where he had hidden it in the bookshelf. Holding it before, her he saw her ghostly blue eyes light up. He knew she would recognize it. He had kept it since she had found it in the attic where they first bumped into each other. Wrapping it around her dirty, grass-stained, wrist - he smiled at her.
“I’ll give you my warmth if you agree always to be mine, Vivienne. You’ll take this necklace and keep it on you always.”
There was so much he wanted to tell her, but he knew he couldn’t. As much as he was fond of her, Lichtus was right. She was an outsider. She’ll never understand the burden of his namesake, of the history of his house, and of the legacy his father left behind. It was by luck that she had found him. His family always had a healing power in their bloodline, the ability to suppress the demonic. From the Dark Waters, the Strigoi trees grow, creating life from death. As he passed the powers of the Strigoi into her, he saw the chain of the cameo necklace slowly turn gold. So, the fairy tales were true. With the bond between demon and human, their innate powers were also as one.
“If I agree, then you can come out to play?”
“Yes,” Blake said as he knew he couldn’t resist the lure of the demonic powers of the Dark Waters that could heal him. “Then, I can come out and play.”