The standard, I do not own Angelus, Darla, Drucilla, William, or for that matter any historical figures. Nor did I own Sparkita, who lived and cantered quite a few years before I was born, but about whom I've heard only good things.
Chapter 2 | Index | Chapter 4
The night was not particularly young, but it hid it well.
Tiny panes in the window glinted in the lamp light, reflected ghosts in the warped glass. The lowest pane threw back a shattered image of a carved cedar cabinet, refracted a rainbow of flasks and vials.
Tonight, Darla was holding a class in art appreciation. Therefore, she drank red wine from an old master. Grapes from 100 year old vines. Her cup smoothed and varnished from three hundred year old ringed heart wood. The lip of her wooden cup was still wet from Henri’s art experiments earlier. Clear paint from the Americas, thousands of miles away.
It seemed like Henri was the only wide eyed young thing in the night.
He sat at a long low table writing an essay. Henri paused and looked at a leather bound book. The pages crackled as he turned them.
“Darla, what is a hemotoxin?” said Henri.
“Look it up in the dictionary,” said Darla. She picked up a brush, held it in her mouth and twirled the soft rabbit’s hair bristles with her tongue, before scrapping it across a pale pancake of powder in a red lacquered container. Let the powder absorb into the brush, dissolving with her saliva, as she painted a pearl in a strand.
“Darla, what is a neurotoxin?” said Henri.
“Look it up in the dictionary,” said Darla. The white pearl gleamed in the clear lamp light. Darla picked up a short bristle brush and dipped the brush in a green vial. She held the pearl rosary’s gold cross in a pair of pliers as she softly skimmed the crosses’ surface with the brush.
“Darla, what is an anticoagulant?” said Henri. Darla put down the brush and looked at Henri. He was looking at her with wide innocent eyes.
Darla widened her eyes and stared.
Henri crankily kicked a table leg and said, “I’m bored.”
Darla’s pale white face did not change; smooth in the oil lamp’s clean light. “Then you lack imagination.” She held up the rosary. “What is this?” she said.
“A rosary,” said Henri.
Darla arched one eyebrow. The minutes ticked by. The night began to show its age.
Henri sighed. “A rosary with poison on it,” said Henri.
“Dear boy, if I were teaching you poisons I would not call this art appreciation.” Darla poured the strand of pearls from hand to hand, carefully avoiding the cross. She watched the way the light shimmered on the pearls, glittered on the gold, caught on her garnet ring. Her ring’s clasp was closed. The tiny chamber, with its white powder contents, was safely hidden. She held out the rosary, “This is possibility in the palm of my hand.” Darla’s small pink tongue flickered on red lacquered lips. “I’ll expect you to translate your essay into Castilian and then back into French before you go to vote on the new Pope in the morning.”
“But that’s not fair!” Henri whined. His low lip jutted in a pout.
Darla moonlight smiled. “True. I would also like a sestina to my Lady Boredom. You may pick the language.” Henri rolled his eyes. Darla’s smile waxed. “You’d better get started.”
He sighed and went back to studying.
Darla took a sip of wine from Henri’s art project. Savored the taste of brambles and earth and death on her tongue. Really, an excellent vintage. True, the poison was a bit young, but it had possibilities.
Isle of Luzon
Lapu walked in the stream bed and let cool mud refresh his tired feet. He looked down at Village. Wife waved at him. She pointed. Son was under House again. Most like he was hiding from Rooster. Most like Wife would want Lapu to do something about it. Lapu sighed. Soon now.
He looked up at Mountain Left to Grow. Its cone puffed rings of smoke. He looked at the still trees. Soon Rains would come. Soon now.
Plant rice. Fish by Blue Ocean. Harvest. A good life.
Maybe, he should kill Rooster. Mean creature. Cook him in ginger and sugar. Make him sweet. Son would like that. Maybe sacrifice Rooster to Mountain Left to Grow. Stop Mountain’s cranky rumbling. Eh. Soon now.
Lapu walked down the stream bed to Beach. Blue Ocean washed white powder. Sand burned his feet good. He twitched his feet to sink into cool.
Got into his little skiff and paddled from shore. Fishermen were in by now.
Sun beat down.
Lapu liked Heat. Silence. Just Blue Ocean and Paddle and Lapu. Soon Rains would start and he’d have to stay close to shore.
He paddled out over the waves.
Drank water. Ate rice. He would go home soon now.
Lapu’s belly rumbled. He sat up and began to head back to Beach. Watched Mountain Left to Grow puff and rumble.
Then Lapu’s world stopped. Mountain spat fire into Sky and burning mud rolled down Mountain’s sides and trees flamed.
Lapu paddled, but Beach was so far away.
Lapu paddled and Sky went gray as burning white powder began to fall. On Mountain. On Village. On Beach. On Blue Ocean. On each island in the connected island chain.
Villagers on far away islands and cays pointed.
Mountain Left to Grow, Penitubo, was spitting fire and mud and ash.
And soon now, Rain would begin to fall.
Betting was lively on the cock fight. The red Bantam was larger, but the little white was fast. The razors strapped to their spurs flashed in the light. The little white darted forward and the crowd roared.
Ashton’s in St Lawrence Poulteney in the City had hardly been open an hour, but the air was already thick with smoke and spilled beer and sweat.
Young Liam had lost a packet on the green cockerel in the last match, but he was ready with a smile. “Easy come, easy go me lads,” he said. “Another round. Redmund’s paying.” He smiled at his friend. “He’s done well enough on the cocks. Haven’t you?”
“Yes, whatever you say,” said Redmund. He sourly fished a handful of copper from his purse and flung them on the worn oak bar.
“Why so sour, Reddy? The ale is sweet.” Liam reached over and gave a passing barmaid a quick goose. “And the women sweeter.” She pinched him back as she walked by with a tray of drinks. “Isn’t that right, Ashton?”
Christopher Ashton took a healthy draft of his ale and wiped his face. “Aye. ‘Tis. But you haven’t finished telling me, what’s an Irish Dog such as yourself is doing in this cess pit?”
“Ah, me own father threw me out of the house for drinkin’ and whorin’, if you’ll believe it.” He winked at John Throckmorton, who brayed into his drink. “I kicked about for a bit and then I thought to meself, where are there better whores, but in London. And drink, well, this piss isn’t a shade on what we have at home, but your women…they are a lovely sight. And so kind to a poor lad so far from home.” Liam grinned and drank down his ale. “Course, they’re leavin’ me a bit let in the pocket, but Reddy tells me you’ve got a little somethin’ going that could keep me swimming in wenches.”
“Aye, that’s right, but what I’m getting at is, if you’ll pardon my suspicion, is why would a bloody Papist be wanting for work in London under the Queen we’ve got?” said Ashton.
“Papist, hell the Priest was the one who got me father to throw me out. He said I was fit to burn.” Liam ran his finger round the top of his cup. “And he wasn’t far wrong. If Lucifer’d pay me in women and song, I’d sell me soul to the devil, I would.”
“And some might say you have no soul,” muttered Redmund. At a look from Liam, he said in a louder voice, “Yes, you always have been a ready one for action.”
“A man after my own heart,” said Throckmorton, turning to give the giggling wench at his side a hearty buss on the lips.
“Yea, we’ll see,” said Ashton. “You’ve got Redmund to speak for you and that goes far with me. But still, I want to see how you are out of the pub and in the stink of it. Plenty of men that bellow in their beer, punk out in the field. I’d like to get the measure of your mettle before I know if you’re ready to serve my Lady.”
“Whatever you say,” said Liam. He smiled genially. “I think you’ll find that there’s very little that I won’t do.” He reached out and pulled the returning barmaid into his lap. “Now then, another round. I’m feeling lucky tonight.”
Rain ran rivers down the inn’s roof and fell in waterfall floods to the ground.
Drucilla stared out the tiny window at the falling water. She turned to Doctor Dee and said, “We should be going. What if we’re late and they start without us?”
Doctor Dee patted Drucilla’s shoulder, “Patience, my dear. There is not a ship to be hired for love of God or money in this storm. There is still plenty of time.” A crack of light flashed and thunder rolled over the sound of falling rain.
Drucilla ran her hands over the scratchy weave of her plain wool bodice. “But you got me a new dress and my skin is melting into it. Chysalis. Chrysali. I’m ready to flutter.”
Doctor Dee held out his arm. “My dear, I think that you are forgetting something?”
Drucilla swayed from side to side, “No.” She spun and stopped. “Oh!” She smiled shyly and took Doctor Dee’s arm.
They held hands as they walked down the cramped inn stairs and into the main tavern. Old salts and young tars nursed ales as the fire spat and crackled in the great hearth.
One young sailor, spying Drucilla, stood up and walked over to the couple. “Not much pleasure you be gettin’ from such a dry old-un,” he said. He raised his glass and winked. “I’ve got wick enough to keep you sweet and juicy.”
Drucilla smiled and looked at the young sailor through long loose strands of hair that fell forward across her face.
Doctor Dee brushed back her hair with his free hand and turned to the young sailor. “I’ll thank you to speak to my ward as a Lady.”
“I’m thinking a Lady’d wear shoes,” said the young sailor. He smiled at Drucilla. “Not there’s nothing wrong with barefoot. Prefer it myself on the deck of a ship.”
Drucilla swayed back and forth, staring at the young sailor with unblinking eyes. She smiled and said, “You smell like pitch and brine.” She leaned forward a little and inhaled.
Doctor Dee said, “Drucilla!”
She mouthed, “Later,” and turned to follow Doctor Dee out the door, as they walked into the storm.
The falling rain made little water devils dance on the crushed shell and sand path. Banshees howled in the wind. Fingers of green lightening raked the streaming hair of the cloudy sky.
Doctor Dee and Drucilla walked arm in arm down the sea shore looking at shells. He would pick up a blue clam shell and Drucilla would shake her dripping head. She would pick up a muscle shell, gleaming dark pearl, and he would say, “Quite nice, but not quite my dear,” as rain streamed from his beard.
They would walk on.
Finally, they came round a bend to a circular cove lined with pine. And there, pale on the dark sand, a conch shell brooded. Drucilla picked it up and ran her rain pruned fingers along its curves. “The jewel of the sea sings by the seashore.”
“Not yet, but soon.” Doctor Dee smiled as the storm shifted into a gentle patter.
“Sea fool by the wind pour,” said Drucilla. She held the shell up to her neck. “I think I’ll wear it as a broach at a party just for two.”
Doctor Dee took Drucilla’s hand. “Now Drucilla, you have to be careful. If you hurt that boy we’ll miss the party and I would have to be cross with you.”
Drucilla leaned forward. “I’ll be ever so careful and sweet as pickles in their brine.”
Doctor Dee shook his head. “I could tell you to go back to the inn and just stay in your room, but…your kind have a way of getting what you want.”
“Please Doctor, please, I’ll be ever so good.” Drucilla waved a hand in the air.
Doctor Dee sighed. “Except you don’t really have good in you.” He took the shell from Drucilla. “Remember what I said. Be careful.”
Drucilla smiled and kissed Doctor Dee on his weathered cheek. In between raindrops, she turned and ran back to the inn, barefoot in the surf.
The Hall of the Mountain King
William’s armor clattered as his stolen horse picked her way up the narrow mountain trail. They’d climbed past the tree line. As far as the eye could see, clouds gleamed in the starlight. Black mountain top islands peeked through the pale froth.
“Cold enough to freeze a witch’s tits, ay Sparkita,” said William.
Sparkita chuffed slightly and kept walking down the narrow path. Over the ridge and round the bend, clattering they came to the cave’s mouth, exhaling warm dry air into the frosted night.
William slid down and patted Sparkita’s neck. “Now be a good girl and wait right here.”
William laughed, “Right then love. Hang round till I face the nasty cave gremlins for the sheer evil of it. There may a rub down in it for you.”
Sparkita blew hot horsy air in William’s face and closed her eyes for a standing snooze.
William rolled his head and his face shifted into vampire’s ridges. He stood at the cave mouth, gripped his sword and ran in. “Ahhhhhhhhhhh!”
His yell reverberated off the echoing walls. Bounced and ricocheted off an empty cavern and seven openings into the dark.
He stopped yelling, stood silent.
Torches flickered on the cave walls. Dark dustless squares gleamed on the cave’s stone floor. A sharp acrid scent lingered and blue sparks crawled across the floor.
“Well, that’s a big lump of disappointment,” said Spike. He looked in the first aperture. “Hallo.” He poked a pile of rags with his sword. “Anyone here?” He looked into the next opening. “How about your stuff?” He saw a glint amid a pile of straw.
He picked up a tiny hammer and flipped it. It spun and shone in the red light. William caught it. Shrugged. Stuck it in his belt and kept looking.
Empty crannies lost in stone. Here and there, some forgotten slip of a thing. A cracked silver bell was caught in a fissure. A forgotten book lay face down on a shelf. A gold candlestick lay bent on the floor. And in the seventh cavern, William found a tunnel.
William looked at the opening and sighed, “Bleeding midgets.” He began strip off his armor, which he piled with his scraps of loot at the cave entrance. He laughed. “Cold enough to freeze my wrinklies is what it is.”
Sparkita ignored him.
When he was his smallest self, William took a torch from the wall and crawled into the tunnel. “Bit like being born,” he said, “cept that was only six feet under.” The tunnel narrowed and William began to crawl sideways. He inched down through the earth. “Good thing I don’t have to breath. Cept for the part where I’m talking to myself.”
The tunnel dipped and William smacked his head on the tunnel ceiling, “Bloody Hell!” He shoved his torch forward and crawled. Twisted. Bent. Curved.
Finally, the tunnel opened onto a vast room of glowing blue stalactites and mites and a dark pit. William threw a stone into the opening. The rock clattered and finally there was dim splash. “Right then, obviously there are no trinkets down there,” he said. He tapped the iron collar around his neck. “Right? Right.”
The blue lights began to wink out.
The earth all around him groaned and the cavern jerked side to side. A stalactite fell and shattered against its stalagmite lover. The blue light winked out and the torch was the only light in the room. “Bollocks,” said William.
The torch light winked off a small treasure, a barrel of last year’s apples stored in the cool of the cave. William smiled, “Trinkets. Treasure carefully hidden. Right?” William tapped his collar. “Right.” William grabbed several apples and looked at the tunnel mouth. “Try not to crush me, will ya.” He began to crawl the long way out.
It did not crush him.
As he came out of the tunnel, the last few faint blue sparks winked and died. The cavern began to shake. “The universe bloody well hates me,” said William. He ran out the cavern opening just as the cave collapsed.
“Yeah, yeah.” William held out an apple to Sparkita, which she munched as he loaded the saddlebags with his odds and ends. Trinkets. The Margrave really should learn to be more specific.
Queen Elizabeth’s royal progress stretched down the old white Roman road like a fantastic dropsical lizard. Liquid sunshine whipped over the purple gorse and seared eyes with the hot brilliance of sky. Black butterflies fluttered from purple shrub to gray bush. Free ranging goats, recently shorn of their winter wool, grazed and cast indifferent evil eyes at the column of riders and carts.
Elizabeth rode at the head of the glittering line, listening to Master Tallis play a song in praise of Gloriana Regina upon a lute. Sir Cecil propped a leather and vellum book upon the horn of his saddle, as he took notes on a wax tablet. The velvet courtiers and lace ladies chatted. The servants whispered and the pages giggled their pranks. Bells sewn into oiled leather tack jingled and the carts squeaked and shuddered down the old, old road.
Finally, the vast flat gave way to a gently curving hill and hedges lined with foxglove and bluebells. At the bottom of the hill, some five or six white daubed cottages huddled together for company.
“Goatland, I presume,” said Lord Merriweather, gesturing at the goats wandering the packed clay street.
“There should be someone here to greet us,” said Elizabeth. She gestured to Sir Reginald, the Captain of her Guard. “Send pairs of men to search the houses.”
Sir Reginald signaled and foot soldiers trotted off to each building. The Queen and her progress waited in the center of the street, shorn goats milling around their horses legs.
“Your Majesty, I’m sure that the good folk are just at their labors,” said Lord Merriweather.
“Yes, because their Queen rides through this bustling metropolis every day,” said Elizabeth. She gestured at the cottages. “And they’ll have no truck with such common place pleasures.”
Sir Reginald approached Elizabeth. “Your Majesty, the cottages are undisturbed. There is just no one here.”
“Hmmm,” said Elizabeth. “Everyone keep an eye out. We should push for Whitby by nightfall.”
The column began to climb back out of the valley, horses prancing nervously in the silent morning. Pale daisies nodded mutely in the faint salt breeze and grass blazed green.
Sir Cecil mopped a trickle of sweat that rolled down his cheek. A flutter of blue, black, green butterflies spun by in some whirlwind of their own.
Lord Merriweather pointed at a goat idly chewing grass by the road. “Look ‘tis the pastoral infernal.” He winked at his nephew, William, among the pages. “Beware!”
William snickered and whispered to another page. They laughed.
Elizabeth scanned the flat horizon. The spring grass, the grazing goats, and the whirling butterflies.
The breeze shifted and the butterflies broke into a chaotic mass, into a living blanket over a goat.
The horses shifted, startled.
The wind stroked the grass. The butterflies twitched and the blanket rose. White bones gleamed in the light.
“Sweet mother of God,” said Lord Merriweather.
Obsidian black butterflies lazily lifted from the thatched roofs in the village below and hovered over the road.
One of the ladies screamed. The dogs began barking. William’s horse reared and bolted out across the grass. Swerving right and left, harried by black wings. William tumbled from his horse and fell wheezing to the ground.
Elizabeth sighed, “Children, pha!” and yelled to the caravan. “Leave the carts and run.” She urged her horse off the road. The butterflies swarmed forward. She yanked off her lace collar and began swatting the butterflies with its stiff folds.
They swirled left and over William’s horse. It bucked and ran.
“Quickly, take my hand.” Elizabeth held onto her saddle’s horn and reached out to William as she rode by. She pulled William onto her horse and she circled back to the road and up its white length.
The clouds of butterflies fluttered, blotting the sun, carpeting the grass, but they didn’t come down on the road.
Finally, the Queen’s running progress came to an old white standing stone, a pilgrim’s cross carved into its surface and the butterflies hovered and wheeled back to the village.
Elizabeth slowed her horse to a halt and helped William down from her horse. She looked at Lord Merriweather. “You might wish to take better care of your nephew. The pastoral can be quite infernal.” Lord Merriweather swung down from his horse and hugged William.
Elizabeth shook her head.
“That was very reckless, your Majesty,” said Sir Cecil, “but…admirable.”
“Children, obnoxious brats every one of them.” Elizabeth looked away from Sir Cecil. She twisted the ring on her left index finger. Its clasp was closed. The miniature paintings were safely hidden. “But what kind of Slayer would I be if I decorated my progress with the bones of brats.”
“Of course, your Majesty,” said Sir Cecil.
Elizabeth fiddled with the lace collar clutched in her hand. “Well, my Spirit. Any thoughts?”
“I’ve never read anything about such creatures.” Sir Cecil looked back at the wide open moor, where he imagined that butterflies fluttered over his book and wax tablet lying in the green grass.
Elizabeth rolled her eyes. “I’m getting heartily weary of hearing that.”
Sir Cecil turned back to Elizabeth. “My lady?”
“Calm down, Cecil. After all, even for Ourself, murderous butterflies are hardly normal.” Elizabeth pulled a butterfly wing from the folds of her collar. “Owe!” She dropped the wing and sucked at her finger. “It’s sharp.”
Sir Cecil reached over and picked up another butterfly wing. “It is made some kind of stone or glass.”
Elizabeth carefully picked up a butterfly by its body. Its cat’s head snarled with tiny white teeth back at her. “Tiny lions and missing bears. I think, my Spirit, it’s time to start making things up.”
Chapter 2 | Index | Chapter 4