Part One - Caelan's Sowing of Seeds
Chapter One: The Dark Castle.
It was a cool, crisp evening, and the sky was slowly but surely beginning the transition from day to night. As I laid silent and still in the comforts of my soft and warm four-poster bed, I brooded over one thing only. It was as though my tongue had possessed a mind of its own, for it would constantly shift directly under a new sharp fang that had finally finished ripping excruciatingly through my young gums. It was the first of many pains, I knew, as my milk teeth would fall, and my adult teeth would take their place. I was not worried about these teeth. It was the appearance of the second fang that had me fretting. When it grew in, which would be at a random time like any tooth, my life would change, and I would no longer be an innocent little boy. So far, it had remained hidden.
Quickly deciding against staying in bed, I pushed back the covers, stretched my muscles out, ready for movement, and sat up. Still sleepy and groggy, I sat there for some time, fighting the desire to fall back down onto my bed and return to sleep.
Before I could calculate how long I had remained idle, a soft knock on my bedroom door resonated through the room.
“Caelan, dear, are you awake?” Came the quiet voice of my mother.
“Yes, Mother,” I replied, clearer than I truly felt.
As she slowly opened the door and stepped into my room, a sweet scent of sunflowers wafted in with her. It was a scent that had always lifted my spirits to something brighter. The scent was soft enough to only cling to the air, not to soak it. Taking in a long deep breath, I inhaled the scent. My heart and my mood lifted.
“Did you sleep well?” She asked as she closed the door.
“Yes, Mother,” I replied as I pushed myself from the bed and turned to her.
She stood before my armoire, with every intent to help me dress for the night. She was a beautiful woman; her beauty was unmatched. Her coppery hair shone like a glimmering garnet and placed artistically around her head. There were many small twists and braids wrapped in such a manner that they looked like little roses, completed with a singular hairpin, with a ruby on the top. Her face was pale and clear of any blemish. Her eyes, wide, doe-like, and as bright a green as well-watered grass. For that night, she wore an olive-green velvet gown that had puffed out sleeves and golden trimming around the bodice. It had laced up in the back, tied tight and neat. A white strip of lace, with a golden butterfly broach attached, adorned her slender neck.
“Good.” She replied with a nod and a smile before opening the doors to the armoire and selecting my clothes.
Muttering quietly to herself as she selected a crisp white button-up shirt with puffy sleeves, a black vest with golden buttoning and some black trousers, her lace necklace had slipped up her neck slightly, and I saw that at the base of my mother’s long neck were two deep dark puncture wounds. I had seen these wounds on both of my parents over the short years that I had lived. I had always been curious about them and why they were there, but I never asked. It was not my place to know.
“My son is curious about my little wounds.” She laughed softly as she gently closed the door with the arm that was not draped with clothes and smiled at me.
Unable to deny this, I blushed hotly and turned my face away, hoping to hide my embarrassment.
“Do not scowl so, my son.” She whispered. “You will ruin your handsome features.”
“Why are you injured?” I asked, choosing not to look at her, lest she see my irritation at her being hurt.
“Unfortunately, you are too young to be told such things yet.” She replied kindly, as she moved toward me and sank to my level. “But one day, when you are a fine young man, you will understand.”
My child’s mind had failed to understand my mother’s words that day. Most children would put away whatever they did not grasp, but I could not. I was a seeker of knowledge and a watcher. Not understanding something was always abhorrent to me.
“I understand your frustrations, Caelan.” My mother consoled as she stroked my hair. “But there comes a time when waiting can provide the best answers.”
Satisfied that her words had reached me, she pushed herself up to stand and flew about my room, pushing back curtains, straightening pillows, and smoothing bedcovers. With the tidying done, she tasked herself with dressing me for the night.
“You will be a very handsome young man.” She told me as we stood before my tall, narrow mirror, impeccably dressed and primed.
As I stared back at both of us, I felt as though I were staring at two versions of my mother. Save for my hair, I had her fine and feminine features. Her full lips, her fine brows, her high cheekbones, her slender nose and small forehead. I also had her bright grassy green eyes, but my hair was a deep chocolate brown. It hung smoothly around the base of my neck. I wore a deep side part, shortening the hair around my face to hang around my jaw. Looking back at myself, I felt old.
“Do you see yourself, Caelan?” She asked, as she too stared at my reflection.
“You must always be clean and well-groomed. To be anything less would insult your beautiful looks. Remember that.”
“Yes, Mother,” I replied, hearing the truth of it.
“You are ready to face the night.” She said upon taking in a fresh breath. “We are going somewhere special tonight.”
“Where?” I asked as I turned my face away from my reflection, and up to my mother.
“You will see, Caelan.” She smiled, placing a hand on my shoulder, and guiding me from my room.
Stepping out into the hallway, I saw that the velvet curtains shielding the tall narrow windows in the large entrance room below us had been drawn back to welcome the light of the moon. Many candles had been lit, including the ones sitting in the candleholders that were dangling from the roof.
As my mother and I moved down the wooden stairs, we spied my chocolate-haired father standing by one window, staring out into the darkening night.
He was a tall, proud man. He had the admiration of everyone who had the pleasure of knowing him.
“Finley.” My mother called softly as we reached the bottom of the stairs.
My father seemed to be engrossed in his mind and did not hear her call him.
“Finley.” She repeated louder, with an amused laugh. “Finley!”
“Yes, what?” He replied with a start, blinking several times. He turned around and saw his wife with an amused smile on her face.
Dressed like myself, my father looked sharp and well-presented. His hair was a deep brown like my own, but it was thick, tied away from his face with a black ribbon at the nape of his neck. His pale, unblemished face was crisp and clean-shaven. He was not as finely featured as I, nor were his eyes as large, but I had always considered him handsome.
“Ah, my Finley, always so deep into your mind.” My mother laughed.
“I am sorry.” He replied earnestly before giving her a wide smile. Both of his fangs were visible, and as I saw them, I thought about the lone one that had finally appeared in my mouth. I would not tell them that it had grown in. I could not.
“How are you, Caelan?” He asked as he turned his sky-blue eyes onto me.
“Fine, Father,” I replied.
“Good.” He nodded. “Let us leave if you are ready to. I have called for the carriage.”
One of our maids stepped toward the heavy wooden double doors and pulled them both open for us. Outside, the air was cool and fresh. The sky had darkened, and millions of shining stars accompanied the full moon as they worked together to brighten the night.
The family manor fringed the edge of a thriving forest, away from the hustle and bustle of life. Built by my father’s ancestors, its care and legacy would fall to every male born into the family, and he would become its Lord. Eventually, that role would be mine.
The dark but pretty carriage, bearing our family crest on its door, sat and waited. Two steel-grey Clydesdales were strapped to it with heavy leather harnesses.
“Goin’ to see Master Piper and his family, are we, sir?” The skinny, old driver asked as he pulled open the door, revealing a dark, navy blue velvet interior, complete with one small lamp hanging from the ceiling for light.
Mother prodded me toward the carriage and lifted me over the delicate step and into the interior. I took my seat next to the other door and watched my father as he offered a hand to my mother. Taking it and grabbing a fistful of the skirt of her dress, she lifted it so she could step up unhindered. Shifting across and next to me, she smoothed them over her legs and pushed back a stray hair.
The carriage dipped slightly as my father stepped in, sat opposite my mother, and reached for the door.
It took several long moments for the driver to seat himself at the front of the carriage, and ready the horses to take us to where we were to be. Finally, a soft crack ripped through the air, and we lurched forward. With little else to do, I looked out beyond the small glass window and watched the large water fountain beside us slowly slip by. We turned around it and headed toward the gates that closed our manor away from the world.
Rocking and clattering along, we slowly made our way towards ‘Master Piper and family’. I was rife with boredom. Carriage rides were stifling and incredibly dull. There was very little to see beyond a vast expanse of land. Land that was darkened by the night. On long journeys such as this, I had taken to imagining what the land, nature, and the seasons looked like during the day. The bright white of winter, vibrant colours of the rainbow in spring, and happy shades of green and blue in summer…
In imagining these joyous things, I recalled a most painful memory. As a mere child of four years old, I had been curious to see what the world was like with bustling people, and just how different the world had looked while I slept. Full of excitement and wonder, I had retired at the crack of dawn and slept only four hours before I forced myself awake. As I opened my eyes, the sheer brightness of the sun against white walls was a bitterly uncomfortable feeling for my eyes. They had ached and complained, but in my bid to see the world, I fought against the desire to shut them, and left my bed to explore. Passing my doors to my small balcony, the sun had mauled my eyes. It caused me extreme pain, and an instant pounding headache that threatened, ferociously, to blow up my brain. Temporary blindness washed out my vision, and I remember crying out then, closing my eyes so tightly, and fighting against a wave of nausea. Feeling my way around my bed and to the door, I had deemed it safe to open my eyes once more.
An ordinary, less curious child would have thought the adventure too painful to continue and have retired back to bed. Doing so would have been a wise decision for me to make, but I had wanted to venture outside just once. So, I waited for the nausea to take its leave, and for my sight to return, before I set off once more.
It took several moments for my vision to return to me. I went from seeing nothing but darkness to seeing shadows, to forms, to colour, until finally, to a higher detail.
Confident that my vision could get me by without hindering, I stretched out and pulled open my door. As I stepped into the hallway, I saw that the manor was closed and sleeping. The velvet curtains were closed, preventing all light from out of doors seeping in. It was dark and silent as I excitedly made my way down the stairs, eager to be outside, so that I could see the world as it was meant to be seen.
Bounding youthfully across the room to the shielded glass doors, I grabbed the curtain and pulled it aside. I felt the warmth of the sun on my knuckles as I did this, which had only fuelled my desire to see the day.
What I had not expected, however, was for the sun to be gleaming right through the glass and into my face. The sun was the brightest thing I had ever seen. It was not the gleaming yellow orb that I had read about in books. It was a cream colour. But beyond the sun, I had not the chance to have even one glimpse of outside, before the sudden brightness caused my head to ache monumentally. The nerves behind my eyes felt like they had simply exploded. I had wailed loudly whilst suffering this agony. My body’s self-defence mechanism had taken control of my body then, forcing me back into the protection of a velvet curtain that dangled nearby. The dizziness brought on by the heat and brightness, forced upon me a violent illness, losing all contents of my stomach onto the wooden floor.
“Oh! Little Master!” One housemaid wailed as I heard her running across the room. “Are you alright?”
I found that I could not answer her, as my mouth felt filthy, and I was grossly ashamed that a mere maid saw me at my most vulnerable.
“Good heavens, you’ve been sick, too. Never mind. Let’s get you back to bed.”
She reached for my hand and moved to lead me along, but I could not move.
I shook my head as gently as I could, lest the movement encouraged the pain in my head to worsen. If that were even possible. I continually rubbed at my eyes, trying to see anything beyond the darkness.
“What is happening out here?” Came the voice of my father, probably from atop the stairs.
“I do not know, sir.” The maid replied nervously as she turned to face him. “I was asleep. Then I heard young sir wailing in pain. I came out here to see why this was so, and he was huddled in the corner before a pile of sick rubbing at his eyes…”
“Why is the curtain open?” My father asked as it sounded like he was descending from the stairs.
“I do not know.” She said again. “They were like that when I got here.”
“Close them and clean up the sick. I will deal with my son.”
There was a moment of silence before I heard the scraping of the curtains, and the pattering of feet hurrying away.
“What have you done to yourself, Caelan?” I heard my father ask gently. I fought with the sudden desire to cry.
Perhaps I had frowned, because my father gently patted me on the head, a notion that caused my head to thunder painfully with each pat.
“Did you try to see outside while the sun was out?” He asked.
I nodded gingerly.
“Oh, Caelan.” My father sighed understandingly. “Unfortunately, the sights and sounds of the day are not for us. We cannot even hope to try… We are enemies to the sun and day, so we must function when the world sleeps.”
“Why?” I questioned as my eyelids burned with friction.
“That is just how we were born to be.” He replied. “I cannot wonder why we are what we are. We must simply live with it. I am sorry, Caelan…”
There was a silence for reflection before the maid returned to clean up the sick that was somewhere in front of me.
“I fear something else happened to him, sir.” She added as I heard the sloshing of water and a plop of a wet cloth hit the floor. “I tried to move him earlier, and he wouldn’t move.”
My father was silent for a moment, I assumed he was inspecting me.
“Caelan, open your eyes and look at me.” He told me. I ceased the rubbing at my eyes and tried to locate the exact position of his voice. I saw nothing but black.
“Oh, no! He looked right passed you, sir. What is wrong?”
“He has been blinded.” My father said correctly.
“Oh, no!” The maid squawked. “Is it permanent?”
“I should think not.” He replied as he seized me around my waist and lifted me high until I sat uncomfortably on his hip. As the jarring movement was made without my vision, a fresh wave of nausea attacked me, and I did not want to lose more stomach content all over my parent.
Though my father had been right in saying that my vision loss was not a permanent thing, I remained sightless and indisposed with a migraine for three days hence.
Focusing back on to the present, and back to the dull carriage ride, I glanced out of the small window with a sigh and noticed that we were presently rolling through a small village. The carriage jarred and clacked over the cobbled road. Tall black lamps lit the road for travellers, shining brightly in contrast with the night. Small huts and dingy houses lined the road as we passed by. Inside, I saw that the inhabitants had had their lamps lit, not yet ready to retire.
On the dirty streets, however, many ragged, thin people were wearing old and torn clothes, old shoes with holes and no soles, or simply no shoes at all. Caked in dirt and other filth, they looked to me to be ill. Even the dogs and cats along the streets were thin, matted, and ragged, and even feral. As I watched the sight of the vulnerable people, my heart sank and ached for them. The air was far too chilly to brave the streets unprotected. What had frightened me more, was that I knew that winter was not yet upon us and that when it came, most of these people would die alone and out in the snow, unloved and invisible.
“Yes, it is a sad thing to see, isn’t it?” My father acknowledged. I turned from the sad sight outside and looked at him. “So many people without a home, no family, no friends, no food… that is hell.”
Turning my face back to the village, I looked out and mentally nodded. Yes, this village was hell. How could there be so much pain and suffering in the world? Was there no one to care?
An angry urchin saw the coming of our carriage and took it upon himself to hurl a rotten tomato at us. It splattered in a mess of chunks and juice, as it slid slowly down the window and to the ground. Curious to see why this man had shown us this sporadic act of violence, I turned my head, and looked to the long glass window at the back of the carriage and saw those young children not much older than I, scrambling and fighting over who would win the rights to eat the splattered rotten fruit. Yes, I felt as though I were travelling through hell.
“I want to get out of here. Now.” I begged, as the sadness and empathy for these people was quickly overwhelming me.
My mother slid her arm comfortingly around my shoulders and gently drew me to her. The warmth of her body and the sweet scent of her perfume was still clinging to her skin, and it calmed me.
“I know it hurts when you see people struggling to stay alive while there are people like us, who live comfortably and not too far by, that could ease their suffering.” My mother consoled as she stroked my hair softly.
“That is why we receive hostility like that.” My father added sombrely.
It was then that I wished I had a basket full of bread. Christmas was nearing, and I believed they deserved to have something in their lives worth looking forward to. It saddened me greatly to know that currently; they did not. They cared little if they lived or died. I believed that many of them wished they could die, to save themselves from their own lives. In all the books that I had read about poverty and human suffering, none had prepared me for seeing such things firsthand.
As the carriage rolled on, and an exit was in sight, I could not have been more relieved. I remember that I had hoped never to see such sights for as long as I lived. It had, of course, been a sincere hope, and was not, by any means, a reality.
After departing from the village, the interior of the carriage was silent and motionless, each of us preoccupied with our thoughts. Try as I might, I could not rid my mind of the boy who had pre-emptively thrown the rotten fruit at us. His emotions, though hostile, were raw and honest. Was there cause for it? I believed so. For if the social statuses were reversed, I was certain that I would have behaved in the same manner. I found myself appalled at the blatant disregard for the underprivileged by the Lords and Ladies of the region.
“Caelan,” My mother called quietly. I was beckoned out of my rage. “Do not let it get to you so.”
“But it irks me that there is no support for them. In most cases, it is by no fault of theirs that they end up on the streets. We have more than enough money, so why do we not help them out?” I asked as my brows knitted together.
“Because there are those who would take advantage of that charity, to indulge rather than to help.” My father added.
“But there are some that would not.” I challenged.
“You would be correct, but it is difficult, if not impossible, to know which people you would be right to help. Each one tells you that they desire money for food, water, or medicine. Who is telling you the truth, and who is not? It is impossible to know.”
Though my father’s words were wise, they were unacceptable to me. ‘It is better to have tried and failed than to have not tried at all.’ Grudgingly, I left the disagreement alone. I did not like confrontation of any form, and I knew better than to cause it.
For the duration of the journey, we remained mute and reserved.
Finally, after what had indeed felt like a lifelong carriage ride, we had moved off to the right and slowed to a halt before a large cast-iron gate.
“The Stone family is here at the request of His Majesty.” The driver called to the gatekeeper, who moved along the closed gate to get a better view of us. Satisfied that we were indeed the stated family, he then moved to open the gates.
His Majesty…? I thought, completely and utterly dumbstruck.
This ‘Piper family’ was royalty? My father was the friend of a king? I stared disbelievingly at my father, who simply gazed at me and smiled warmly, absolutely comfortable. I then turned my face up to my mother, but she too was calm and collected. I, however, was unravelling slightly.
With the gates now fully open, the driver cracked the horses onward, and we moved off with another uncomfortable jerk.
The sound of the horses’ hooves pattering on the dirt road beneath us, and the rickety sound of the wooden wheels could not have been louder, as these sounds drew us closer to the royal family.
Curious to see what kind of place a royal family inhabited, I pulled away from my mother and peered out of the small window. The expanse of land that was rolling passed us was awe-inspiring. There were beautiful, tall, and old trees, perfectly tended shrubs and plants, and pretty little flowerbeds.
My amazement was heightened when the mansion itself rolled into view. It was a castle. Its masonry was ominous. The manor was at least double the size of ours.
The carriage took another right turn and slowed to a halt before the porch.
“We have arrived.” My father announced as he pulled down the small handle and pushed open the door. I leaned forward passed my mother to get a better view of the manor. Small lamps had lit the way to the entrance like a bridge of light. The doors were tall and heavy-looking like our own, and there were two plant-pots on either side of the doors, probably to add some colour to the otherwise dreary place.
Fresh out of the carriage, my father paced back and forth for a time, trying to get the blood to flow back into his legs after all that sitting.
He was lending his help to mother, as she too descended the carriage when a tall and frightfully thin man emerged from beyond the heavy doors to greet us. He was elderly, but well dressed, wearing a black shirt buttoned close to the neck, and deep grey trousers, with clean and polished black leather shoes.
“His Majesty welcomes the Stone family to his abode and hopes that you will have a pleasant stay.” He greeted me with a deep bow, as my mother lifted me from the carriage and placed me gently on the ground before her.
It immensely relieved me to be free of the contraption, taking a greedy lungful of the fresh night air, and tried to move my legs inconspicuously, as they were stiff and complaining.
“Where is the delightful fellow?” My father laughed, looked passed the man and toward the door.
“He and Lady Regan are currently away, fulfilling some… needs, sir. They should be back within the hour.”
“Have we arrived too soon?” My mother asked.
“Oh, no Mum. I have been instructed to invite you indoors, so that you may wait in warmth and comfort.”
The man bowed deeply once again as he outstretched his arm toward the door. My father smiled kindly at the man and led my mother and I down the bridge of lamps toward the manor. He pushed back the wooden doors and stepped inside.
Inside, the manor was as dreary as it had looked on the outside. Small candles and oil lamps were lit to light the otherwise dim interior. The first and most obvious thing I had noticed was the grand wooden staircase in the middle of the room. It was a beautifully graceful thing, fitting for the abode of a King. At either side of the staircase sat two flat-leaved plants, probably there to add some colour to the otherwise dull room.
To the left and right side of the room sat two dark velvet settees, with small square wooden tables next to them. On each little table sat a cluster of small lit candles.
Around the room, I noticed that there were several portraits of a pale-haired family, some with spiralled curls springing about their faces, of young children, and even one of a dark-haired couple. These people were unrecognisable to me.
I did, however, stare at a portrait of a fair-haired young girl, who, in the painting, was around my age. As was the raven-haired adolescent male I had seen in another painting. He had looked mischievous, bratty, and arrogant. But the young girl had looked shy, but kind. She had oval-shaped, steel-grey eyes, and thick, but well-defined light brown brows. Her lips were full but innocent, her nose small but well structured, with high cheekbones and a small chin. Her fair hair looked to be quite heavy. It was woven into a wide braid and brought over her shoulder. It had streaks of light brown through it, and I assumed it to be quite long because I did not see the ends in the portrait. Nor was what she was wearing, beyond a black lace collar around her neck. I thought she had looked like a porcelain doll.
“Do you like her?” My father asked as he moved to stand beside me. I looked from the pretty girl to him. He gave me an amused smile.
“Of course not!” I spat, tossing my head away from him, burning with embarrassment.
“Her name is Princess Leslie Faye Piper.” He added. “She looks like her father, but she got her finer features from her mother.”
“Yes,” My mother agreed, as she too had appeared. “She will have many men swooning over her when she grows into a woman.”
To my surprise, I felt my heart sink at the thought, as I stared up into those grey eyes, and to the face that was gently smiling at me.
The creaking of the door hinges behind alerted us to other people, and we turned toward the noise. We found a broadly built fair-haired man, his mass of curls bound back at the nape of his neck. He was dressed entirely in black, and a small slender woman, with hair as dark as the night itself, bound in a singular braid around her head, beside him. They walked through the doors, bringing with them the cool air, and a slight smell of blood.
“My goodness, did you see the old man running like he had seen the bowels of hell?” The lady laughed as she allowed her husband to remove her coat. Under it, she had sported a sky blue gown, similar in design to my mother’s. Only her gown was silken, and her sleeves ended at her elbows with white lace trimming.
“Poor man.” The male laughed loudly.
Turning to head up the staircase, they noticed us and stopped in their tracks. As I looked at these powerful people, I saw that both of their lips were tinted red, with what I could only have assumed was blood. It was not a sight I was frightened of, however, because on the nights that my parents would return after being away for some time, they too sported this look.
“Ah, Finley! Lady Elise! You have arrived.”
“That we have, Solomon.” My father replied as he shifted around me and took the king’s hand.
“Elise!” Cried the lady happily, as she stepped passed her husband to hug her friend affectionately. “We do not see enough of one another.”
“I fear not.” My mother laughed as she returned the affection willingly.
“And who is this strapping young man?” The lady inquired as she sank to my level. I could smell no perfume wafting from her, only the faint smell of blood. It had smelled divine.
“I am Caelan, Lady,” I replied timidly. These people my parents seemed to be friends with, had frightened me with their outgoing, loud attitudes.
“I am Queen Piper.” She answered with a gentle smile. “I had the misfortune of marrying that man over there.”
“The woman lies, young one.” The king laughed as he turned his grey eyes to me. “Take a lesson: women are horrid creatures, who, with one look, can sap your soul!”
I could not have disagreed more, but I dared not voice my thoughts to this man who frightened me so.
“Speaking of women, where are my children?” He asked the man who had entered indoors and was standing at the far end of the stairs.
“Young Sebastian is in the library with the Governess, and Miss Piper has not yet risen, sir.”
“Is she still ailed?” He asked as his smile fell.
“Yes, sir, though her fever has broken.”
“Ah, that’s my girl.” He replied with a wide smile, clearly relieved by this news.
“Your daughter is unwell, Solomon?” My mother asked, full of concern.
“She has been for many days, Elise.” He answered, all manner of jest gone. “The girl loves horses, you see. She went out riding with the stable boy during the rains, staying out until sunrise. She returned to us soaked to the bone and burning up.”
I found myself deeply disappointed that I would not get to see Miss Piper during this visit. I had very much looked forward to meeting the girl in the painting.
“Oh, my.” My mother gasped as she covered her mouth.
“We hope for her swift recovery.” My father added solemnly.
There was a short but heavy silence, as every mind in the room rested on the ailing Princess. I, too, hoped for her recovery.
“Come, my dear.” Queen Piper chirped, breaking the silence. “Our guests have travelled some way and are no doubt hungry.”
“Oh, of course!” He agreed quickly, as if to have forgotten that we had needs. “Come, the eating room is upstairs.”
The king led all of us up the carpeted stairs and guided us to the large open room on the right. This room had no door, but a wide wooden archway. There was a long narrow table with many chairs around it in the middle of the room. A lit fire cracked and snapped in the stone hearth that was built into the left wall.
Two large glass doors were left wide and open. Beyond them lay an arched balcony with stone fencing, and some cast iron furniture on either side of the stone staircase that led down into the endless expanse of garden. A cobbled pathway wove through, so that you could walk the gardens if it had pleased you to do so. I wondered just how much garden there was to explore.
The king sat at the head of the table, his back to the doors, his wife sat to his left, followed by my father, then my mother, and at the end of the table, myself.
Conversation fluttered about, which had included many things I could not understand. So, I had taken the time to examine the elegantly decorated china dinner set, and to stew on how positively famished I was.
“My son!” The king greeted happily. The conversation had momentarily ceased as the young prince entered the room. “Come, greet our guests.”
I received a cold and hateful glare as the dark-haired prince passed me to stand by the fire to chase away the chill of the house. He had looked to be around the same age I was, and like his father, he too wore dark clothes. He had worn a dark tie under his striped vest and over his dark shirt. His skin was pale, his eyes were dark and hard, his lips narrow, his nose was long and defined. His hair was thick and curly, hanging about his collarbone.
As I watched him, I sensed that he was a person of aggression and hostility.
“I hope you enjoy your stay.” He said, rather rudely. I had been right as I looked upon his portrait. This boy was arrogant and bratty indeed. I hoped that he would mellow out as he grew. “I am certain an introduction is unnecessary.”
“There is one person present that does not know you, Sebastian.” His father told him sternly. “Introduce yourself properly.”
Sighing and rolling his eyes, the boy turned to me.
“My name is Sebastian. I have a younger sister who is currently delirious with fever. Who are you?”
“My name is Caelan,” I replied politely with a low dip of my head.
“I am pleased to have met you.”
“That is better.” Sebastian’s father said with approval. “Now, come and sup with us.”
Sebastian bowed deep and straight at his father before complying. I had hoped that he would not choose to sit next to me, but alas, my hope did not come to fruition. I fought the urge to shift away from him, but I did not, out of sheer politeness.
With Sebastian comfortably seated, conversation resumed post-haste. I took to watching the embers of the fire rise and burn out. I found this to be notoriously relaxing.
“Are you not going to talk?” The young prince asked. There was irritation in his voice, and I supposed that it could only come from his dislike of being ignored.
“Preferably not,” I replied nonchalantly.
“Why not?” He probed. “Do you not know how to commune? Are you an invalid?”
A fit of dangerously violent anger boiled inside me, as the young prince flung insults. This boy was being inconceivably rude, and I was profoundly insulted. I wondered at whether his manners were still in his mother’s womb, or if they had not been conceived at all.
It seemed, however, that luck had been on the prince’s side this night, as introducing food saved him from hearing my retort.
As they placed the plate in front of me, I saw that it was a large piece of beef cooked rare, as there was a wonderful puddle of blood around the meat. Next to it sat three boiled potatoes cut like a lotus with a dollop of soured cream in each one and an assortment of garden vegetables.
“I told my cooks that you enjoyed your beef rare.” The king told me. “I hope this decision does not displease you, Caelan.”
“Oh, no, not at all. Thank you for the courtesy.” I replied earnestly.
To my surprise, a goblet filled with what looked and smelled like blood was placed before me. All children who had not grown both of their fangs were given blood in this manner. The desire of blood begins at conception and continues until the minute of your demise.
It took an enormous amount of effort not to pick up the glass and pour its contents down my throat in three gulps. This blood had not come from my parents, so I felt hesitant and nervous about accepting such a charity from somebody else.
“You look confused, Caelan.” The young prince laughed menacingly.
“Caelan,” Came the quiet voice of my mother on my other side. “It is alright. You may drink the blood if you are thirsty.”
“I do not wish to drain another family’s supply,” I replied, feeling very much torn. The blood sat neat and still in the goblet, taunting me with its delicious smell and promise of good taste.
“Elise, is there a problem with your son?” Asked the king. “He has gone very pale.”
“He is hesitant to drink the blood, your Majesty.” My mother answered.
“Whatever for?” My hesitancy took aback him.
“Because it has not come from our home, and he does not wish to accept such a charity outside of it.”
“Oh.” He laughed. “I permit you, as your King, to drink the blood, Caelan. Our donors are willing ones. They do not die from blood loss.”
I looked reassuringly toward my mother once more, who gave me an inconspicuous nod. Taking the goblet in my hand, I took it to my lips and sampled the blood. It was warm, bitter and slippery on my tongue, obviously freshly donated. As the first mouthful slid down my throat, it was as if the taste had woken a ravenous beast inside me, and I desired more. With each new swallow, I felt the tension I did not know I felt slowly evaporated, and a sense of satisfied happiness took me. At the end of the glass, I felt calm, light, satisfied, and pleased.
Next to me, the prince had also received a glass, with which he took no manners in consuming. He had scooped it up and wolfed it down with great gulping sounds.
Feeling every eye on him, he lowered his glass, blood smeared all around his top lip, and noted his parents’ bitterly disapproving looks. He seemed not to care, as he lifted his glass and drained the rest.
It was by sheer and utter absent-mindedness that I had picked up my serviette, and offered it to him, which he too, absent-mindedly took and wiped his mouth clean, before he offered to give it back.
I shook my head and waved my hand. He shrugged and placed it under his dinner plate, away from view.
Light and pleasing conversation bounced about the table once more as we ate. For dessert, we enjoyed a chocolate cheesecake. Maids came in soon afterwards and cleared the table of dirty dishes and linens.
“That was delightful!” Queen Piper announced happily. “I shall thank Grace when our guests return home.”
My meal was also delicious and satisfying, and I too wanted to find this Grace and thank her.
“I believe that Elise and I shall wander the gardens. I am sure the adult males around the table will discuss whatever it is you men discuss.”
She turned toward the prince and I.
“Caelan, dear.” She smiled. “I shall leave you in the care of my son. Is that a bother to you?”
I shook my head. Being left in his care had bothered me greatly. He too, for I heard a disapproving growl burst from his throat. Queen Piper replied simply by tilting her head to the side slightly and raising her eyebrows threateningly. The prince sighed and had lost the battle.
As if to follow in the actions of queen Piper, those left still sitting, pushed back their chairs. My father and the king departed up the singular staircase to the right. My mother and the queen, talking amongst themselves, walked through the glass doors and down the stone staircase. Leaving me to struggle with the awkwardness of dislike, alone.
A long, heavy silence descended as we sat unmoving at the table. The crackling of the fire served as our only distraction.
“So…” The prince began awkwardly. “Since I have to entertain you like a random mutt, we may as well converse, or something…”
“You have a lovely home…” I said nonchalantly after a momentary silence. I had not wanted to ‘converse’ at all. I had wanted to find a delightful book and read it until we were ready to go home.
“Eh,” He replied with a shrug. “I think it is too big for the four of us and the servants. It grows rather silent here.”
I sighed inwardly. This was going to be a long, disagreeable conversation. I abhorred such things.
“So…” He repeated after another silence. “You will stay here for a few days, then?”
It would ask too much of my mother and I to travel here and home again in one night, given that the journey had lasted several hours.
“You know what?” He snapped after another bout of silence passed us. “I cannot be the only person trying at a conversation! If you do not wish to talk to me, so be it!”
With that, he pushed back his chair and stomped through the room, up the stairs, and out of sight. Relief flooded through me. I was not interested in pretending to be friendly with a person I did not like. It was hypocritical and manipulative. I was neither of those things.
Just as I was debating what to do next, a maid had wandered into the room with a damp cloth and bucket.
“Excuse me,” I began as I dragged my hair from my eyes with my hand. “Is there a place I can go to read?”
“Oh yes!” She replied enthusiastically. “The Piper manor has an extensive library. It is just up those stairs and is behind the door on the back wall. It is unmissable.”
“Thank you,” I said as I turned and moved up the stairs.
The third floor was, unsurprisingly, like the parts of the manor that I had already seen. Dark and dreary. On this floor, large wooden doors were standing from the roof to the floor in the middle of the wall. There were no windows, or other doors on that wall, so I had quietly wondered what room could be so big, that it took up that much space.
As I moved along the floor, I found that there were two doors on end walls, behind which could be a library. There was the door directly in front of me, or there was the door down the hallway to the left. Taking a gamble, I chose the door directly in front of me.
Nervously, I rested my hand on the iron handle and turned it slowly. I had fully expected it to be entirely the wrong door, ending up in someone’s bedchambers, but, as the door clicked, and I eased it open, I noticed that there was a wall-sized bookcase to the right of the door. Confident that I chose the right door, I opened it fully.
It was as though I had simply died of joy and was now floating around in the Spirit World. The walls were completely and entirely covered with books. There were small windows for some natural light, of course, but bookcases had been made to fit around the windows. There were candles lit on iron stands about the corners of the rooms to offer more light. The room itself was minimalistic in furniture, having only two large settees facing each other in the middle of the room, and a small desk and stool under the back window.
I had been so engrossed in my glee that I had failed to notice another. Their back was presented to me, so features were hidden, but this person was wearing white, had pale skin, and fair hair.
“I am so sorry!” I fumbled as a deep embarrassment took hold. I had intruded on the person. “I did not see you here!”
“Wait.” The person said softly. Their voice was at a whisper and barely audible. “Who are you?”
“My name is Caelan Stone,” I answered as I straightened. “I am visiting this manor.”
“I see…” They replied thoughtfully, but not before falling into a fit of coughs. It had sounded like the bark of a dog.
“I am sorry,” They said, gasping for air when the fit had passed. “I am ill, you see… I did a foolish thing and am now paying the price. Is that not awful?”
The person did not move to look at me, but slid down the settee, just enough for me to see that the white item of clothing was a nightgown, worn by women. My heart bounced in my chest like a large ball, and I fought with my facial muscles as they wanted my mouth to smile with glee. It was her!
“Perhaps your bed should be the place for you to be.” I offered, though I did not want her to leave at all. I wanted her to remain so that I could finally meet the girl in the portrait.
“I have spent four days in the blasted thing. If I spend but one more, I will lose my mind.” She said as she shook her head carefully.
“Why are you in the library?” I asked, unable to fight my curiosity.
“Because this is the coolest room in the manor. I feel like I am on fire.”
It was only as she said it, that I realised that she was indeed correct. Air seemed to flow cooler in this room than in any other. I wondered why this was.
To my great discomfort, a long silence passed by us. I was not accustomed to making conversation, and I was scraping my mind for a single ounce of conversational topics. But I could come up with none. I had not wanted to talk about myself, largely because that was a topic I disliked, and because I did not wish to appear self-centred to her.
“I would sit up and face you, Mr. Stone, but I am terribly dizzy and my body aches as though I am a hundred years old…”
“Do not trouble yourself,” I said earnestly as I closed the door behind me, finally realising that I had been standing there like an oaf with the thing wide open.
“There is another settee over there.” She said as she weakly pointed toward the other settee in front of hers. It fell limply to her side, as if the sheer effort of pointing had been exhausting. “Please, sit.”
I could do nothing but oblige.
As I moved to the seat, I could feel her eyes watching me. Turning to sit, I saw that the girl was indeed Miss Piper and that her steel-grey eyes were watching me, with a severity that had made me mightily uncomfortable. I also saw that her pale skin was drenched in a feverish dew and that her lips were cracked and dried. I was correct in thinking that her hair was exceedingly long, however, for it sat in a thick braid over her shoulder and looked like a long snake, as it rested down her front.
“I look hideous.” She laughed weakly, before fighting the urge to cough once more. “You can admit it.”
“You look unwell…” I replied honestly. I did not think she was hideous at all.
“And you look like a replica of your mother.” She retorted with a smile.
“You know my mother?” I asked curiously.
“Oh, yes. Your father, too. They come here often.”
“So, tell me. Why did you come here?”
“Because my parents whisked me along,” I answered.
“I know that.” She laughed weakly. “Why did you come here… to the library?”
I felt like a fool. Of course, she had meant the library. Though I was thoroughly enjoying this conversation with her, I felt my intelligence and wit slowly leaving me. When it came for this to end, I truly felt that I would leave the room a blubbering simpleton.
“I was hoping to catch a read,” I admitted.
“Oh, well, do not let my presence hinder you.” She said as she waved a hand toward the bookcases in front of her.
“My mother has built this library to quite an extensive length. I am sure you will find many books to pique your interest.”
I stood and moved toward the bookshelf and scanned the spines. Miss Piper was right in saying that the library was extensive. Many books were ranging most any topic and genre.
“So, what do you do for entertainment?” I asked, scanning the bookshelf.
“Lie about and become ill, it seems.” Once again, she tried to laugh, but this laugh came out in a series of dog-like barks.
Leaving the bookcase, I made to move toward her to help her sit up so that she did not choke on the filth rubbishing her lungs. But she had pushed herself up and raised a hand to halt me and continued to cough. This time, this coughing fit lasted longer than the one before. When it was over, she fell back weakly and tried to take in big breaths, but as she exhaled each time, her breath came out in shallow wheezes and high-pitched gurgles. I frowned inwardly. Her lungs were in a poor condition.
“You look frightened.” She observed.
I had remained silent after her statement, lest I confirm what she had already known to be true.
“I shall answer your question… I like to paint. But whether I am good at it, is another conversation entirely.”
She stopped and looked at me as if waiting for a response. Feeling under pressure and tremendously uncomfortable, I wondered if she was waiting for some form of validation. I saw no need for that.
“You are not a conversationalist, are you?” She asked with an amused smile after another silence.
“I am sorry.” I apologised with a shrug. “Truthfully, I am a very boring person.”
“On the contrary!” She argued. “I have been watching your body language closely, and it has told me many things about you. You may not say much, but your body speaks volumes.”
Once again, I saw no need to comment and turned back to the bookcase behind me, more in search of a distraction and less a read.
“I am making you very uncomfortable.” She continued. “And you are unsure of how to act.”
“You are an excellent people reader,” I replied, as she had been very right.
“I have to be. I am royalty. While we are highly respected by most, some would disagree with our methods and would like to do us harm. Reading people is the best way to discover one’s true intentions.”
The royal family of our kind was, in all ways, the law. Keeping the rest of us in line and honourable toward humankind was their sole role. Most adhered to and respected them greatly. Any who did not, or broke the rules, were dealt with accordingly.
Feeling that she was watching me closely once more, I bent down and selected a factual book about vampires. ’The Truth about the Shadow Lurkers.’ Read the title. Shadow lurkers? How curious.
Shrugging, I turned and sat back on the settee before beginning the book.
Several hours slipped by, as I continued to read the book I had officially named ‘The Book of Utter Nonsense.’
In it, the writer had described my kind as never aging and immortal. He had validated this statement, saying that one can be ‘turned’, and that any human having done so, would remain as he was for all of eternity. In another chapter that supposedly contained facts about our behaviour and other mannerisms, he had explained that we were a violent and unpredictable race, that possessed an inability to care about the ‘Fragility of humans.’, and because we were technically ‘dead’, we could not reproduce, and so, to expand our people, we would victimise humans, and bite them. They would then suffer a long and painful transition. He had also written that we were nightwalkers simply because we would burn to ash if the sun caught us unawares.
Our race was not and could do none of those things. We were not immortal, we did, in fact, age at the same rate as humans. There was an end to our timeline, just like any other living organism.
One also could not be ‘turned’. There was no such term. Vampires were conceived like humans, and by vampiric parents who loved each other. Therefore, we were not infertile by any means. Nor were we dead. We were warm-blooded creatures, just like humans. Our hearts beat, pumping normal, red blood through us, and we possessed emotions, once again, just like all humans and animals. We suffered in life, just as they did.
As for our inability to function during the day, it too was a fallacy. We certainly did not turn to dust in the sun. All vampires could function during the day if they so desired. It was simply an excruciating, torturous thing to do. The sun could do no worse than burn our pale skin, blind us, cause migraines and dizziness which would lead to becoming violently ill. Since no sane person desires slow torture or being ill for all time, we choose to live during the night when we can function without hindrances. Dying from simply being caught by the sun was an impossibility unless it was by dehydration or third-degree burns. Even humans and other mammals could die from that.
The only thing that could not be explained was our extra need for blood. We know that in our saliva, there is an enzyme that prevents the clotting of the blood. No vampire knew why this was the case. It was never questioned or researched either. After all, why question something that simply is?
Finally, vampires were not once human. Our race has existed alongside humans since the dawning of time.
“You are frowning so deeply, Mr. Stone.” Said the weakened voice of Miss Piper. “Does the book offend you so?”
“It is full of lies and fallacies.” I spat as I closed the book and tossed it onto the settee.
“What was the title?”
“The Truth of the Shadow Lurkers.” I repeated, feeling disgusted by the title alone.
“Oh… that book.” She laughed. “That one is funny, isn’t it?”
“I found no amusement in it,” I replied solemnly.
“It was given to mother as a gift. She too was curious about it, read it, and laughed the entire way through. She keeps it for a small pick-me-up now.”
“It is an awful read, and a colossal waste of time.” I spat, angry that I had wasted several hours reading something that had not only contained untruths and insults, but that the author, whoever he had been, had written it to begin with. Many trees were killed in the book’s making. Trees that I would have left standing.
A soft knock on the door gave this conversation a reprieve that I could not have been more pleased about. I had wanted to forget about the damned book and its incorrect contents as soon as was possible.
“Oh!” Came the relieved sigh of a female housemaid. “There you are, Miss. I have been looking high and low for you!”
“Phoebe, you are an unbelievably rude maid! Can you not see that I am with a guest?” Miss Piper snapped. It was a fit of anger I had not expected.
“I am sorry,” The maid replied earnestly. “But the dawn is almost upon us, and you must return to your chambers for your medicine…”
Surprised by what had seemed like a sudden change in time, I turned my face toward the window and found that the sky was indeed brightening. Time had passed us by, and we had not even noticed.
The maid moved into the room to assist Miss Piper, and I stood, reached for the book I had discarded, and placed it back in its space, hoping never to see it, or others like it, again.
As I turned back, the maid’s arm was securely around Miss Piper’s waist as she was assisted to stand, but a bout of dizziness took her, and her legs threatened to collapse under her. The maid too suffered recoil. Fearing that both would be sprawled on the floor in an unseemly manner, I moved to stand beside Miss Piper, ducking my head under her arm, and resting my hand below the maid’s.
“Thank you, Mr. Stone.” The maid said, obviously grateful for my help.
Together, we walked Miss Piper from the room. Passing through the doorway, however, I became parallel with a furious and glaring prince, leaning casually against the wall. I wondered how long he had been standing there.
As we made to move passed him, he reached out, seized my arm, and yanked me backwards. All were stumbled by this action, as Miss Piper’s arm had rested on my shoulders. If it were not for the quick-thinking Phoebe who had taken on the entire weight of Miss Piper, both would have fallen to the floor.
“That was dangerous!” I growled, confronting the foolish boy. A dark rage took me, following his blatant disregard for the safety of others.
“Get away from my sister, you little leech.” He replied darkly as he moved to his sister, aiding her along in my place.
Our roles were reversed. I stood watching them move away, my rage whirling inside me like a tornado. With nothing else left for me to do, I turned and headed toward the staircase.
“Caelan.” Her weak voice called.
I turned to face the caller of my name and found the princess standing on her own and bowing from the waist.
“Do not bow to the likes of him, sister!” Her brother hissed. “You are royalty!”
“I would like to thank you for a pleasant evening.”
Surprised to be given such a low bow from someone in a much better social standing than I, I returned the deep bow and did not rise again until she was long since gone…