PART 3

I took the time to torch Francis Kemp's picturesque little cottage, then set off back to my estate to question Lady Amelia about the real extent of her involvement with him, leaving the vampyre himself to perish in flame. When I arrived back at the house, Lady Amelia was nowhere to be seen. Assuming her to be out killing some unfortunate peasant in the nearby village, I proceeded to her bedchamber to await her return. She had taken the trouble to lock the door - presumably as a precautionary measure against prying servants - but this did nothing to dissuade me. Locked doors cease to be a barrier when you can reduce yourself to mist.

The room I had set aside for Lady Amelia was relatively nondescript; the main furnishings being an unimpressive bed, an oak dresser and a few classically inclined tapestries. The sight that greeted my eyes when I materialised was anything but nondescript. Lady Amelia had created a veritable shrine to the pursuit of fashion and luxury living. Expensive gowns were strewn across the floor, like a carpet of velvet and silk, and vividly coloured wall-hangings hung from the ceiling all around. In the midst of this sea of finery were a pair of ivory chests inlaid with silver scrolling and a vast number of leather-bound books. Candles blazed in all the wall sconces and in strategically positioned candelabra, flooding the room with their fiery brilliance and banishing shadow from what had previously been murky corners. The light of the candles was multiplied many times by an array of mirrors that glittered on the walls, so that darkness seemed but a distant memory. The top of the dresser was cluttered with an assortment of vials and pouches, containing all the trappings commonly associated with meretricious beauty. Two of the dresser drawers hung immodestly open. They were crammed with a jumble of undergarments and hosiery. The other drawers contained more clothes and a stash of wigs and hairpieces - in a seemingly infinite variety of lengths and hues.

I had little time for most of Lady Amelia's possessions, although it was interesting to learn how vain she obviously was. What I did find fascinating were the two ivory chests. It was more than likely that they contained predominantly jewelry, but there was a possibility that their contents might include documents and letters, revealing something of Lady Amelia's background and her relationship with Francis Kemp. Unfortunately the chests were locked, and as I was not confident enough to force them open and risk Lady Amelia's wrath, I had to content myself with studying their exteriors.

As I stood looking at the chests, I heard two voices approaching from the corridor outside. I immediately recognised the first as Lady Amelia's, but I could not place the other one. It was a man, I was sure of that, but I could make no conjecture as to his age or social standing. Lady Amelia was engaged in professing her undying devotion to the fellow, whilst he in turn assured her of his own dedication. No doubt my concubine was playing out some kind of charade with her latest victim before killing him. Not wishing to interfere, I secreted myself in Lady Amelia's dressing room, leaving the door ajar, so that I could watch what occurred between them.

The door of the bedchamber swung open and Lady Amelia flounced through, dressed in a resplendent magenta dress inset with emeralds. She was closely followed by a young man, whose appearance was indicative of a moderately successful yeoman's son. He had prim blond hair, blue eyes and an overly slender neck. He was attired in a Lincoln green tunic and scarlet hose. I studied him distastefully. Hardly the kind of person I would have expected Lady Amelia to sully her fangs on. He seemed on the verge of speaking, but Lady Amelia placed an arresting finger on his lips. She teasingly ran her hands over his scrawny body and his eyes sparkled with the anticipation of what was to come. No doubt he had never expected to meet an aristocrat, let alone indulge his sexual appetites with one. Lady Amelia pulled off his tunic and hose, flinging them heedlessly to the ground. The boy stood looking at her, with his mouth agape. She continued to stroke his body, gradually becoming more and more intimate. Before long the boy was groaning ecstatically as she gently massaged his loins.

Lady Amelia struggled out of her dress, tearing the rich fabric in her eagerness to escape its confines. To the young man's delight, she was not wearing anything underneath. He gazed amorously at her voluptuous curves, though I don't think he could see very much, as most of her body was hidden under the shining mass of ringlets that fell over her fulsome breasts and down her shapely back, even managing to conceal the curling golden down between her legs. I suppose that it is true what they say about women being all the more enticing when they leave something of themselves to the imagination. Not that the youth necessarily appreciated this, as he seemed to want to start exploring Lady Amelia's assets as soon as possible. He gingerly reached out to touch her impeccable form. It was not surprising that he was unsure of himself. Lady Amelia's beauty and presence would have put the goddess Aphrodite to shame. She nodded her encouragement and smiled expectantly as his hand became more audacious. He began fondling her nipples and she whimpered rapturously, sinking backwards onto the bed. The boy scrambled on top of her and clamped his lips over hers passionately.

Their bodies rubbed together as they kissed and I felt myself yearning to take the boy's place. I watched with no little jealousy as he rolled off of Lady Amelia and placed an impudent hand between her legs. As he stroked her gently, she began moaning contentedly to herself. I had long since convinced myself that she was only pretending to be enjoying herself, but it still chafed to see her in the arms of another. Perhaps it wouldn't have been so bad if her acting hadn't involved such attention to detail, but everything about her bespoke rapture. It was all I could do not to shout out. I gritted my teeth in anger, as her hips rose and fell uncontrollably, in time with his caresses.

By now Lady Amelia had reached out her hand and was eagerly exploring the boy's erogenous zones. Their ecstatic groans seemed to merge together into one long exhalation of licentious desire. Surely Lady Amelia should have put an end to this by now. She could not possibly mean to copulate with this young upstart - not after telling me that I was the only man for her. I did not love Lady Amelia, but the thought of someone else defiling what was in effect my property disgusted me beyond words. As I stood drinking in every detail of the scene before me, I became increasingly incensed, until it was only my fear of Lady Amelia that prevented me from confronting them and venting my seething anger.

As I contemplated Lady Amelia's undulating body, I was forced to confront the fact that the young man's touch was driving her wild. I won't even try to describe how this made me feel. I almost bit my lip in fury as she took hold of his head with one hand and pushed it down to her throbbing groin. He began kissing her velvety down and her erotic groans increased in volume. In a few moments she was screaming desperately for completion. The boy continued to lick her, seeming to relish in her rapidly moistening lips. He was about to penetrate her with his throbbing erection, when the whole situation became too much for me and I could stand to watch no longer.

I plunged into the room, fastened my hands around the boy's thin neck and broke it, as though he were a goose at Christmas. Considering how utterly betrayed I felt, he got off relatively lightly. Had I been thinking clearly, I would have made him suffer dearly before killing him, for daring to debase my Lady Amelia. As it was, anger had obscured my reason and the only thing I cared about was that the fellow lost his life. After he was dead, my feelings became significantly more complicated.

I threw the youth's lifeless corpse from me and sat down abruptly on the floor. My illusions about Lady Amelia had been shattered. It was exactly as Francis Kemp had claimed. She was merely using me for her own ends and did not care about me at all. Had I loved her, I suppose that I would have been crushed. As it was, I was only mildly upset. The emotions that were predominant within me were hatred and a corrosive desire to destroy this manipulative woman. I cannot even begin to describe how livid I was.

Lady Amelia had risen from the bed and pulled on a velvet cloak. "What have you done?" she demanded coldly.

My eyes narrowed. "I think I am the one that should be asking you that, harlot!" I shouted. "You told me that you loved me and that you wanted to spend eternity with me. Why then did you intend giving yourself to this lout?"

"I have been alive for centuries and during that time I have never loved anyone," she retorted. "I choose my partners solely for their ability to satisfy me. I chose you as a potential recruit for the ranks of the undead, because I hoped that you might prove a stimulating sexual companion. You were a great disappointment. The only reason I went ahead with my resolve to make you into a vampyre was that I needed somebody vicious to kill Francis Kemp for me. To be blunt, you are only good for destruction, and as you fail to fulfill me, I had to find somebody that would."

My fingers closed on the knife that hung from my belt. I know that Lady Amelia was only questioning my sexual prowess in order to get back at me for putting a stop to her behaviour, but her words stung like so many knives just the same. "Nobody will ever satisfy you," I said morosely. "You are searching for someone whose lovemaking can compete with killing. Well let me tell you something - you will never find anyone. Sex is bound to leave you cold. It is killing without the rush of life-giving blood. Eroticism for us should lie in feeding on mortals. This is sex without responsibility, guilt or consequence."

Lady Amelia pulled her cloak tighter around her as though against a draft. "You would not say so if you were a real man, instead of just a shell!" she exclaimed. "For me sex is as much a part of being a vampyre as anything else. I could never attach myself to anyone who did not feel the same way."

"Even if they had killed the dreaded Francis Kemp for you?" I inquired, freeing my knife from its sheath.

"So you succeeded," Lady Amelia said slowly, "as I knew you would, and I am free of him at last. It would seem that I am in your debt. As a result, I shall refrain from destroying you for what you have done, but be warned, next time I shall not be so lenient."

Ignoring this comment, I casually inquired of her, "Do you know what I discovered about him?"

"I cannot imagine," she replied, flicking her hair back over her shoulders, "but I am sure that you intend to enlighten me."

"He was a vampyre," I informed her, "but then I think you already know that. Francis Kemp implied that the twelve vampyres he has exterminated perished because they insisted in defending you. If this is true, and I believe it is, then you must have done something to earn his wrath. Otherwise, why would you need people to defend you? You sent me to wage war on someone I had very little chance of besting and I want to know why."

Lady Amelia stamped her foot impatiently and protested loudly, "He was no match for you. I knew that or I would never have chosen you."

I fixed her with a piercing glare. "Why did you not tell me he was a vampyre?" I pressed.

"The majority of what I told you about Francis Kemp was fabrication," she replied prosaically. "In reality, he and I were lovers about seventy-three years ago. When we first met, he was known amongst the undead as the scourge of mankind. The blood of mortals supposedly ran in rivers when he was around. His reputation for violence was a considerable aphrodisiac and I gave myself to him readily, but I soon began to grow weary of his unimaginative demands. He was not the companion that I wanted him so much to be. He would not share anything with me, other than his body and even this was not particularly exciting, so I determined to leave him. What I had not counted on was that he had fallen in love with me. When I told him of my decision, he said that he would never let me go - I left anyway!

"For years it seemed as though I had rid myself of him. Then one night, he turned up again, completely out of the blue. It was the middle of a particularly icy winter and I was travelling home after a spell in London. My path took me through a thick forest and somehow I had managed to get myself lost right in the middle of it. Snow lay thick on the ground all around and a driving blizzard made it nigh impossible to see where I was going. I was aching with the need for blood, and was on the verge of feeding on my horse, when I spotted a dilapidated hut up ahead of me. I immediately decided to seek refuge within. At first I thought that the decaying hut must have been abandoned, but then I noticed a blazing fire through one of the tiny windows. I knocked on the rickety old door. Before long, I heard bolts being drawn back and the door creaked open. Light spilled into the gloomy forest and heat emanated outwards. An elderly man was standing in the doorway, holding a lantern. 'What can I do for you?' he inquired in a rasping voice.

" 'I was hoping that you could offer me shelter from this infernal sleet,' I told him in my meekest voice. 'I have lost my way, and am cold and hungry. If you do not help me, then I think I might give way to total despair.'

"My plea did not fail to move the man. He stepped quickly out into the snow and helped me down from my horse, saying warmly, 'You are welcome here for as long as you like, though I must warn you that I am a poor man and my dwelling is humble to say the least. As a Lady you are no doubt used to luxury. I am afraid that I cannot offer you that. I...'

" 'All I ask is a place to rest and a meal,' I interrupted. 'I am so very hungry.' He nodded and led me into the hut. It was every bit as plain as he had implied. Two wooden chairs stood in front of the crackling fire. A table and palliasse occupied most of the rest of the space.

"The man gestured towards the palliasse. 'I wish I could offer you more, but what you see is all I own. I would be honoured if you would sleep there. I will content myself with a chair.'

" 'That will not be necessary,' I told him, flinging my arms around him and making as though to kiss him. He seemed shocked, but did not resist me. My teeth slid into his tender neck as easily as if it had been made of melted butter. He screamed at first, but quickly lost consciousness. His blood was sweeter than wine. I drank long and hard, and as the precious liquid flowed into me, I felt that feeling of rejuvenation that drives all vampyres in their hunt for blood.

"When I looked up again, Francis Kemp was standing by the fire, watching me. 'Hello, Lady Amelia,' he said thoughtfully. 'Did you really think that you could escape me?'

" 'I did not expect to have to escape you,' I replied, dropping the old man's body and joining him by the fire. "I thought that once you realised I did not love you, you would be only too glad to leave me alone. Surely you realise how futile it is to pursue something that you can never have.'

" 'You do not begin to comprehend how deeply knowing you has affected me!' Kemp replied passionately. 'Before you took me to your bed, I lived only for mayhem. My relationship with you altered that. To this day, I am renowned for my savage nature; the irony is that it left me the first time we made love. That is why I never asked you to kill with me. You would have expected me to live up to a reputation that I could not have lived up to. You deprived me of my killing instinct.'

" 'Then I destroyed the only part of you that I was ever really interested in,' I informed him coolly. 'I will never come back to you, so I advise you to make a fresh start.'

" 'That is not possible. You have ensconced yourself in the deepest depths of my heart,' he said, striking his chest for emphasis. 'I cannot live without you.'

" 'Well, I cannot live with you,' I declared harshly. 'If you will not let me go voluntarily, then I must extricate myself from you in some other way.'

" 'Is that a threat?' he asked grimly.

" 'Not so much a threat, as history!' I exclaimed, pushing him roughly to the floor. Before he could regain his feet, I had kicked him in the face, knocking his head into the fire. The roaring flames engulfed his hair, and within seconds, he had become a living torch. I looked on in horror; then turned and fled, leaving Francis Kemp to what I thought was certain death.

"A short while later, I learnt that he had survived. When he came looking for me again, I had taken up with Klaus Von Starkenburg, whom he quickly eliminated, in much the way I described to you before. His face was horribly scarred, as a result of our previous encounter, but not half as much as his psyche. He wanted revenge for what I had done to him and he informed me that nothing would stop him from getting it. I bolted from his odious presence and have been running from him ever since."

"Until now," I added with a grimace.

"Yes, until now," she agreed. "Well, if you have no more questions, I have a lot to do, so I would appreciate it if you left me in peace." She pointed to the door authoritatively.

I folded my arms and shook my head obstinately. "You cannot order me around in my own house," I told her.

"Yes I can," she corrected me. "Thanks to my erudition, I have you under my thumb, and as long as you remain there, you will do anything that I tell you." She turned her back on me and bent to examine the dead youth. I raised my dagger high up above me - then brought it stabbing down into my own stomach. It was the only way I could think of to curb my rage. Lady Amelia did not even notice. She was too busy lamenting her precious mortal and the enormous pleasure she thought he would have given her. I stormed out of the room, determined to be avenged on her for renouncing her love to me.

Within a few days, I had formulated a suitable plan for retribution. A lot of it was based on my understanding of peasant rumours and on certain vague superstitions that I had been reading up on, but it was the best I could come up with. I certainly did not want to waste time acquainting myself with alternatives. Lady Amelia's very presence now grated on my nerves. The sooner she was gone, the better. It was a terrible thing that I had in mind, but I thought her more than deserving. So it was that the following evening, I set out for the local village, with iron intent and an expression as dark as the heavy sky above. Lady Amelia had killed someone in the village every night since her arrival. Perhaps not surprisingly, the occupants had convinced themselves that they had a witch in their midst. This fact was integral to what I had in mind.

It was not long before I reached the village. I wandered from one squalid hovel to the next, searching for my faithless paramour. I was adamant that I would find her here. Given her warning to me about feeding on the household servants, because of the suspicion it might generate, it was our most viable source of nourishment. The village was as silent as the grave. Diana's orb was wrapped in cloud and the wooden houses swam in a profound obscurity. I flitted from shadow to shadow, like some revenant of times long past, striving to ensure that Lady Amelia did not discover my presence until I wished her to. Here and there the night was disturbed by a lit window, but for the most part the houses were empty. I thought it likely that superstitious natures had compelled the residents to seek out the company of others in the tavern. Few would have wanted to spend their evenings in the solitary confinement of their houses, when there was a supposed devil-worshipper going around murdering people in their sleep. Peasants have always been firm adherents to the belief that there is safety in numbers.

As I drew near the village green, I noticed something on the ground in front of me. To a mortal it would have been a light spot in a deeper darkness; to me it shimmered mysteriously as though bathed in a glorious lunar brilliance. I stooped to retrieve the object. It was a crude white handkerchief, woven from low grade wool. Not particularly remarkable considering where I was, except that one of the corners was wet with fresh blood. No doubt Lady Amelia had attacked some hapless peasant girl and then taken her somewhere she could drink without fear of disturbance. I knelt down to examine the muddy terrain around me, for some sign that would confirm my suspicions. Sure enough, there were tracks in the earth that were suggestive of one person dragging another across the green towards the looming church.

I stealthily traced the markings through the village, until I found myself standing before the low wall that surrounded the graveyard. Chuckling to myself about how easy Lady Amelia was making it for me, I crept up to the ivy-enshrined wall and peered cautiously over. Makeshift wooden graves scowled at me from either side of a winding dirt path that meandered through the gloom on its way to the sombre stone church at the centre. For a long time, I could not see Lady Amelia anywhere. Then, I spotted her. She was partially concealed behind one of the gnarled trees that dotted the graveyard, like twisted reproductions of the buried corpses. She was bent over the body of a supine young girl, whose bloodstained cotton blouse had been torn open to reveal a pair of pert breasts. Lady Amelia was attired completely in black, so that she seemed for all the world like an angel of death, examining its victim, before extricating her soul. She reached out a hand to touch the girl's russet hair, which hung in a plait over one of her shoulders. "Sleep now, my love," she said softly, "and do not worry about throwing off the shackles of your earthly existence. Reality is not as one-dimensional as rational men like to think - my own presence is proof of that. Who is to say that you do not have an immortal soul that will soon be winging its way to the great beyond?" The girl moaned incoherently as Lady Amelia started tenderly caressing her shapely bosom, then languidly made to push her away, but Lady Amelia was not to be discouraged. "Do not rebuke me," she crooned, "for though survival compels me to kill you, in the short time that I knew you, I came to love you." Satisfied that Lady Amelia would be occupied with the girl for some time, I hastened to the tavern, which was situated on the far side of the village.

It took me no time at all to traverse the silent hamlet. I stood for a moment, gazing at the faded plaque above the tavern door, then marched boldly through. It was small wonder that I was struck by the sign. The name painted across it in cracked red lettering was The Hunter's Arms - more than a little ironic, considering what I was about. As I had expected, the majority of the village populace were inside the tavern, consuming inordinate quantities of alcohol, in order to try and instil themselves with the courage to go to bed when there was at least a chance that they would never wake up again. Even so, they only occupied about a third of the long wooden tables and one wench was managing to serve all of them. The main reason the tavern was so empty was its sheer size. It had been built to cater for the stream of travellers who had once flown through the village on their way to London, but who now exploited a newer, more direct route. Consequently, it was a good deal larger than a village of the size needed. One wall was dominated by an enormous lit hearth, which was currently contending valiantly with the cool draft that gusted under the timeworn door. Above this fire, there was a portrait of King Henry V, who had supposedly visited the tavern whilst on one of his royal tours of duty. Against another wall was a small bookcase, which bore a selection of books and games for the use of the patrons. The room was warm with the light of blazing torches, but the atmosphere amongst those within was anything but warm. Those villagers that were making an effort to break the taut silence spoke in guarded whispers. Nobody broached the subject that I knew was on the minds of all, lest by doing so they brought the evil eye upon themselves.

I was well-known in the village, and as the assembled peasants became aware of my presence, their uneasy murmuring died away into taciturn contemplation. They were clearly perplexed about what I was doing there. The serving wench hurried over to apprise me of her willingness to cater to my every need, but I waved her away dismissively. She seemed to be more than reasonably disappointed at my declining to order a drink and glanced coquettishly across at me at regular intervals as she went about her duties. Doing my best to ignore her, I strode to the centre of the room, where I might most effectively address the amassed villagers. "My friends," I began loudly, "if you will lend me your ears, then I will tell you a story about a village which has recently come under the power of a particularly vicious witch. She is a heartless fiend, who kills without discrimination, even stooping so low as to prey on women and children. If the truth be known, she seems to almost enjoy targeting those that cannot defend themselves. My friends, the village I am speaking of is none other than your very own - a once happy and contented place that now cowers in abject fear, and not without good reason, for the witch is slaughtering people in order that her master might have their souls. My words may sound like mere conjecture, but they are the truth. Those already dead are now writhing in the eternal fires of hell! This woman is evil in a way that none of you can comprehend and must be destroyed.

"Do not look upon me as your superior in this matter, but as your equal, for my house is as much under the thumb of this whore of the devil as any of yours. A short time ago she presented herself to my father in the guise of a respectable peeress. He quickly fell under her spell and agreed to let her stay with us. She then proceeded to murder a number of our servants. When my father discovered this and challenged her, she killed him and his wife, contriving to blame their deaths on bandits. As soon as I realised this, I knew I had to bring her reign of terror to an end. I cannot begin mourning for my parents, until I am sure that their killer can never endanger another life. I will not suffer anyone else to die, unless it be me in striving to prevent it. I intend to seek out the witch and destroy her. This sad state of affairs has gone on long enough. Let Satan tremble, for the arm of the Lord is long. Who will join me in defending our fair village against this pestilent invader? Who will help me purge our community of this evil and send it back to the pit of sulphur from whence it came?"

A cheer of enthusiasm arose from the villagers and several of the men stood up abruptly, waving their fists in the air approvingly. I smiled slightly as I surveyed the monstrous throng that I was about to unleash on my dear unsuspecting Lady Amelia. Their willingness to raucously pledge themselves to my cause spoke volumes about the level of hostility they felt towards their precious witch. I suppose that it was only want of a leader that had kept them from hunting her down already. Now that they had somebody to guide them, they were only too ready to take action.

All of a sudden, an authoritative voice boomed out across the tavern, quietening the villagers to an unruly muttering, "Hear me one and all! I do not dispute that that we have a witch in our midst. What I do dispute is that we can be certain that Sir Henry is right about her identity. The extermination of witches is the responsibility of the church and as its mouthpiece, I say that you will not hunt down this woman, until we have held a trial to ascertain her guilt." The speaker was the village priest, a prematurely aged man, with silvery hair and cracked skin. I had seen him sitting alone in a corner when I first entered the tavern, but I had not noticed him stand up to make this terse speech.

"There is no time for a trial!" I exclaimed angrily. "Has she not killed enough people already? To hesitate is to deliver even more to the slaughter. If you seek proof that she is a witch, you need only examine her right cheek, for it bears the mark of the devil, though she strives to conceal it with powder. She is without doubt a witch and we must destroy her tonight!" The villagers bellowed their agreement.

The priest raised his hand in a gesture of prohibition. "No, I will not allow it," he said sharply. "I cannot condone the unsupported condemnation of one who might easily be innocent." He strode across to join me in the centre of the tavern and said to me quietly, "Come Sir Henry, cease this irrational display of bravado and tell the villagers that I am in the right. If this Lady is indeed a witch, then we will unite against her, but now is not the time." He placed his hands on my shoulders, but I pushed him roughly away.

Shaking my head, I calmly declared, "Even if I did want to retract what I have said, which I do not, the people would not listen to me. It is far too late for that. The dam is burst and the river is released. Attempt to stem the torrent at your own risk. If you wish to do anything for the woman we are hunting, then come with us and make sure my companions do not torture her before they destroy her, as she so richly deserves." I climbed up onto a nearby table and shouted at the top of my voice, "Even as we waste time in idle talk, the witch is about her wickedness. Let all who would stop her follow me. Soldiers of Christ onward!" I pointed towards the door dramatically, then leapt down from the table. The villagers were in a frenzy. I grabbed a torch from one of the walls and headed towards the door. The priest was trying furiously to make himself heard over the clamouring, but in vain. He had managed to quell the masses once; they were not prepared to listen to him again. They just did not want to hear what they knew he would say. They bustled past him in their hurry to follow me out of the tavern and he reluctantly allowed himself to be carried along by the tide.

Lady Amelia was still crouched over the body of the unfortunate peasant girl when we arrived at the graveyard. My companions were stunned by the sight of her. She was after all, the very embodiment of feminine beauty, with her lustrous skin and curling golden hair. As we watched, she started passionately kissing her victim's pale neck. Cries of horror and indignation erupted from the villagers. Lady Amelia looked up, and for the first time, saw the force that I had amassed against her at the graveyard wall. When she realised that I was the leader, her face contorted itself into a mask of fury and she screamed out angrily, "Do not dare to attack me in this way, Sir Henry. I am more powerful than you can possibly envision and you stand no chance of success. I shall transform into a cloud of mist before any of you can lay your hands on me."

"Did you hear what she just said?" I asked those around me quietly. "Only a witch can change herself into mist. She is guilty by her own admission. All we need now is some way to prevent her from casting her evil spells. I have read that no servant of the devil can stand to come into contact with anything that is sacred in the eyes of God. If one of you will hurry to the church and bring back some holy water, then we may well have the means to do battle with her." Holy water featured heavily in my plan to trap Lady Amelia. I had come across a passage detailing the dire effect it can have on vampyres whilst looking through some old volumes on the supernatural, and had tested their veracity earlier that day by placing a drop on my arm. It had stung like the touch of the fires of hell, but it had been worth the pain to uncover such a useful tool against my hated enemy.

A lanky young boy with a grubby face stepped forward to volunteer, but the priest forestalled him, "I will do it. I see now the error of my earlier words. She is indeed a witch, and as a servant of the church, it is assuredly my responsibility to dispose of her."

I nodded my acquiescence, but he was already gone. All I had to do now, was keep Lady Amelia talking until he returned. Allowing her to duck the net would be absolutely fatal. She would devote herself to making me rue the day I ever met her. "Lady Amelia," I called out to her, "you misunderstand the situation. I was on my way to apologise to you for the part I played in rupturing our relationship, when I was set upon by a mob of bloodthirsty villagers. They think that I am responsible for the numerous deaths that have taken place in the village recently. Fortunately I was able to convince them to listen to reason and brought them here so that you could avouch my innocence." I vaulted over the wall and warily approached her. It seemed as if she was on the verge of trusting me, but I did not intend to relax my guard. She was too dangerous an adversary to take any chances with.

"It does not matter what part you played," she replied, rising gracefully to her feet and regarding the villagers with a mixture of fear and malice. "What they have seen will have damned me in their eyes. If I stay here, then they will fall upon me and possibly overcome me with their sheer numbers. I cannot allow that to happen. I must flee this place while I still have the chance."

"Stay a moment, dearest," I pleaded with as much pretence at sincerity as I could muster, "and tell me that you forgive me for what I have said to you in the past. I feel as though we are enemies and I never wanted it to be that way. You are everything to me - my most cherished acquisition, the closest thing I ever had to a mother. You gave me a new life and for that I owe you my very soul. There is so much that I can learn from you if you are willing to indulge me."

Lady Amelia peered at me curiously. "If it means that much to you, then I do forgive you," she said slowly, "but you must promise to leave me to my own devices in future. If I decide to take somebody to my bed, then that is my business and nothing to do with you! If you will agree to respect my privacy, then I will teach you whatever you desire." Obviously Lady Amelia had not realised that I was stalling for time or she would have left immediately. I suppose that she was so confident in her irresistible beauty that it never occurred to her that I was not actually in love with her. She was used to having men fall for her and so had started to take it for granted. Not that she cherished the amorous attention she received. She tended to use the love of her admirers to taunt them. My present situation was a classic example. She had an ideal opportunity to toy with my affections and she could not resist taking it.

"You have my word on that," I said solemnly. "Though I harbour the most ardent affection for you, I will not interfere in your affairs."

Lady Amelia laughed uproariously at this. "So the great killer intends to pander to the wishes of a mere woman," she crowed. "How can you agree to have your beloved laying with other men under your own roof? If you had any pride, you would not suffer yourself to be treated so; or are you so afraid of me that you do not dare to raise a hand against me?"

"Love robs the hardiest man of sane thought," I replied distantly, playing along with her ideas about my love for her. "It might not be altogether in my best interests for me to ally myself to you, but my feelings dictate that I cannot do otherwise."

"You are a fool, but you are not the first," she said with a sardonic grin. "It seems to be my lot in life to keep company with fools. Which reminds me, what are we going to do about your friends?"

"My friends?" I inquired obtusely. Lady Amelia's response was to gesture at the crowd of villagers waiting outside the graveyard. They were becoming increasingly restless with each passing moment. I stuffed my hands into my pockets and turned my back on Lady Amelia in an attitude of deep thought. The priest had not yet completed his mission, so I needed to continue my delaying tactics a while longer. "I have some sway with them," I said ponderously. "If you will give me a moment with them, I think I can persuade them to disperse."

"I am not so sure of that," Lady Amelia told me. "I think my best course of action is going to be to take my leave of you and meet you back at the house later. I would like to talk to you about a few things without fear of interruption."

"There is no need for you to leave," I earnestly asserted. "I can handle these louts."

"Where is the sense in risking their wrath?" she asked suspiciously. "By far the best option is for me to escape now, while I have the chance."

"You are forgetting one thing," I said quickly. "If you leave now, you will not get to enjoy this fine specimen of maidenhood." I pointed to the unconscious girl on the ground next to her.

Lady Amelia glanced from me to the girl, then back again sharply. She nodded, saying regretfully, "That is very true, but it cannot be helped."

"Of course it can be helped," I told her placing my hand on her shoulder and pushing her into a crouch near her victim. "Feed on her at your leisure. I will take care of the villagers."

To this day, I am not really sure why Lady Amelia decided to stay in the graveyard, and believe me, I have thought long and hard about it. I do not think it was because she had any faith in my declaration that I could protect her from the villagers. One possible explanation is that she was banking on her ability to instantly transform into a cloud of fog if there was any trouble. Another was that her obvious attraction towards the woman she intended feeding on, coupled with her thirst for blood, had overwhelmed her capacity for rational thought. This is often the case when a vampyre's nostrils pick up the scent of the living and we hear a human heartbeat thumping in our ears. Do not forget that the terrible bloodlust experienced by vampyres is the driving force behind their very being. At any rate, for whatever reason, Lady Amelia made no move to fly from her enemies. In a way, it was out of character for her to face a situation like this, but her manner indicated a supreme belief in her own preternatural powers. She was all too willing to accept that the villagers posed no threat to her, because it flattered her ego. She eagerly resumed kissing the helpless young peasant girl, though I noticed that she made no attempt to bite her - presumably because she wanted me to get rid of the crowd before she started her feast.

The villagers were visibly incensed by Lady Amelia's behaviour and raised their voices in a wild condemnation, loaded with the foulest of obscenities. One audacious fellow even made to scramble over the wall. I bounded across the graveyard, seized him by the neck and proceeded to rebuke him harshly, "We do not make our move until we have the holy water, you idiot. It is the only way we can even hope to succeed."

The villagers roared out their disapproval. "If we wait any longer, she will surely escape," cried one. The others vocalised their agreement and surged forward. In the next instant, they were mounting the wall. I raised my hands in a desperate attempt to dissuade them from their intent, but they ignored the motion and carried inexorably on. I was awash with asperity. If they pursued this rash charge, they would surely startle Lady Amelia into flight, ruining all of my carefully laid plans.

To my enormous relief, it was at that precise moment that the tardy priest returned from the church, clutching a vial of what I presumed was holy water. Without even pausing to explain what I was doing, I snatched the bottle from him and dashed back towards Lady Amelia, who had now noticed the oncoming mob and stood facing them with a look of total concentration on her face. She was obviously about to effect her escape as a cloud of mist. Already her body was on the verge of becoming incorporeal. In another minute she would have dissolved completely. Was I too late? "I will meet you back at the house, Sir Henry," she shouted angrily as I drew up beside her, just moments ahead of the villagers. "We have much to discuss."

"I do not think so!" I yelled, flinging the holy water into her face. "You need to be absolutely focused to use your power and you cannot be focused while you are writhing from the corrosive touch of a sacred fluid." Lady Amelia recoiled convulsively, screaming in pure and utter agony. As I have already suggested, holy water is far more harmful to a vampyre than the most potent of acids is to a human. Lady Amelia was no exception. Her face was seething from the vicious liquid. She stumbled backwards, clawing ineffectually at her bubbling flesh. I was confident that there was no danger of her getting away now. The villagers poured forward, pushing each other rudely aside in their eagerness to lay hands on her. She seemed only vaguely aware of their approach, but fought frantically with them when they began to come at her. She was like a cornered animal battling to protect its young from some insurmountable predator and never quite accepting how utterly hopeless its endeavours are. What chance of success did she have against such an overpowering force? No sooner had she knocked down one group of peasants, than they were replaced by more of the same. Wild with pain and terror, she screamed out madly that she was innocent of all the crimes that had been blamed on her and that she could prove it, but the mob paid her no heed whatsoever. They had found their witch and they would not rest until they had destroyed her.

I made my way back to wall and leant against it, watching her grappling with a burly man, who must have been twice her size. Despite the way she had treated me, I could almost feel sorry for her. She was putting up a valiant struggle, but was utterly oppressed by the sheer volume of her opposition. The villagers had surrounded her and were pressing forwards. She was forced to her knees and finally seemed to accept how futile were her efforts to free herself. She hunched over and started wailing disconsolately.

"Get back, all of you!" cried the priest suddenly. "Anyone who touches this woman without my permission is violating the divine law of God." He hauled a number of peasants away from Lady Amelia and attempted to shield her from the relentless attack.

"Stand aside!" shouted one peasant, folding his arms over a portly belly threateningly.

"Providence has placed her in our power," exclaimed another, "and we shall submit her to whatever vengeance we see fit!"

The priest flung his arms out to either side of him and said despotically, "Defy me at your peril. No matter how terrible the vengeance you choose to inflict on this friendless witch, it will pale beside God's vengeance on you for your disobedience. There are rules to be adhered to, even in matters such as these. We will burn her as the church has ordained we must, but we will not forget that she is a human being, and as such, deserves our compassion. Jesus himself tells us that we should love our enemies and do good to them which hate us."

"Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live," I declared loudly. "That is the only relevant Biblical quotation in this kind of situation."

"Sir Henry is right!" screamed the serving wench from the tavern. It was nice to have this indication that I was managing to retain the crowd's support, but I was all too aware that she was not the best person to rely on as a gauge of the general feeling. Judging by the way she had been looking at me earlier, she would have agreed with anything that I said. To my immense satisfaction, a number of the others were quick to echo her sentiments.

One particularly incensed individual even saw fit to demand passionately of the priest, "Where was Jesus when this whore of Lucifer murdered my wife? Nothing we do to her today will even begin to atone for what she has done to us."

The priest shrugged his shoulders despairingly. There was very little he could say to that. The furious mob had lost too many of their loved ones to contemplate offering Lady Amelia any degree of mercy. To them she was only one step away from the devil incarnate. "I beg you to relent," he floundered, "and consider what you are doing..." He was silenced by an impatient peasant punching him in his stomach. He doubled over with a grunt and a number of the other villagers dragged him away. He kicked at them in a blaze of indignation, but they seemed wholly unconcerned and sent him sprawling prostrate into the dirt.

Lady Amelia was still curled up in a ball, howling at her terrible predicament. I could not really blame her. For countless centuries she had prevailed over all who dared to challenge her with her power and cunning. Now she had been thoroughly outmanoeuvred and the pillars of her seemingly impregnable world were crumbling around her. Still, it was her own fault. Her arrogance had prevented her from recognising the potential danger that she was unleashing on herself when she made me into a vampyre. I am not the sort of placid individual who is prepared to be subservient to anyone else, and as Lady Amelia was foremost amongst the undead, I could not allow her to endure. It was time for the past to give way to the future. Just as Zeus overthrew his father and assumed control over the gods of Olympus, I was overthrowing Lady Amelia and thereby asserting my authority over the rest of my kind.

Lady Amelia was such a good judge of character that I was surprised she had not seen this coming. Though I suppose that if she had, then I would not have succeeded. From what I knew of her, she was as impenetrable as solid rock whilst she was in control of a situation. It was only by catching her off-guard that I had gained the upper-hand in this one and gleaned the opportunity of destroying her. Her wretched tears denoted her blighted hope. The balance of power had shifted -I was the one pulling the strings now. Lady Amelia had no conception of what to do for the best. After years of unnatural life, she was finally looking death in the face and it terrified her.

Dozens of clutching hands seized hold of her now and wrenched her to her feet. Her once beautiful face was a mass of writhing blisters, as a result of the holy water that I had thrown at her. Tears streamed uncontrollably down her cheeks - though the burning ferocity of her expression suggested that they were borne out of pain, as opposed to misery - and she glared around her with eyes that were like windows to a blazing furnace. Her gaze alighted on me and I smiled at her, inclining my head slightly in a curt bow. She struggled desperately to get at me, but the villagers held her with the unyielding firmness of steel. She shrieked out her contempt for them and threatened them with a thousand terrible reprisals, but they merely laughed at her and proceeded to blitz her with their pounding fists and grasping nails. There was no way Lady Amelia could defend herself against the volley. Blood flowed freely from wounds that were not given a chance to heal and she stumbled from one persecutor to the next in a stupor of agony. The villagers tore her clothes from her, drowning her pleas for reprieve with lewd insults and appellations. They flung her roughly into a heap of reeking manure, then pelted her with stones until she ceased to move.

Only Lady Amelia's tormented groans revealed that she had not died from the dreadful assault. It would perhaps have been better for her if she had, but her immortal body would not allow it. She was not even afforded the temporary relief of unconsciousness. In fact, it was not long before she recovered somewhat and managed to regain her feet. The crowd roared out their resentment as they fell upon her with renewed severity, kicking and punching furiously. I had not realised the true extent of man's malice until I witnessed this attack on Lady Amelia. It was worse than any of the crimes I had perpetrated. The maddened peasants proved able to come up with an almost endless variety of ways to inflict pain. They passed her between them, attempting to surpass one another's cruelty with increasingly sadistic acts. Eventually, she crumpled to the ground again and they stopped their attack. They spat on her prone body and cheered gutturally; then they continued their brutality. Not since the insane Maenads slaughtered Pentheus for Dionysus has the world been witness to such savagery. The villagers were like rabid wolves, tearing apart their prey and allowing nothing to interfere with the gratification of their thirst for death, least of all Lady Amelia's frenzied screams.

When the attack at last came to an end, Lady Amelia was little more than a mass of battered and bloody flesh, and yet her periodic wails told us that she was still painfully aware of everything that was happening. The crowd dragged her body through the village to the green, where a group of men were driving an enormous stake into the soil and stacking wood against it. She was lashed to the stake with a number of thick ropes, whilst the expectant mob chanted loudly, "Burn the witch!" They jeered at her and threw more stones, failing to appreciate that this brief respite was allowing Lady Amelia's body time to regenerate itself. Eventually my raging need to see her destroyed caused me to rush forwards, snatch a flint and tinder from one of them, and ignite the fire myself. The flames licked at the base of the stake greedily. Lady Amelia fought against her bonds maniacally. Despite the billowing smoke, I could clearly distinguish that apart from her ruined face, she was her old self again. Even so, she could not concentrate enough to free herself. Her eyes blazed with fury and fastened firmly onto my own. Then, as her flesh began to burn with a satisfying crackle like roasted pork, she shouted coldly, "If I die, I forgive you; if I live we shall see!"

I turned my back on the faithless woman's funeral pyre and walked slowly away from the village green, listening passively to her agonized howls as the flames engulfed her. I cannot say beyond all doubt that she perished that day, but I have never seen her again, so I think it likely. If she had survived, then I feel sure she would have come after me to avenge herself. She was that kind of person! As for myself; I cared deeply for Lady Amelia, but I did not regret what I had done. She betrayed me and I could never have forgiven her for that. I went back to my house and prepared to embark on the great adventure of liberal vampyre life, having learnt beyond doubt that love is inconstant and that power is the only thing that lasts.

THE END

N.B. An extensively revised version of this story appears in Bloodlust Variations.

The right of C. J. Carter-Stephenson to be identified as the author of this story has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or otherwise, without the prior permission of the author, or a license permitting restricted copying. Any breach of copyright will result in legal action. Wherever you are, there is no escaping the long arm of the law.

 

 

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