In which some knowledge of iconography is useful.
Drusilla was being a nuisance, of course—she’d let Henry back in at some point, and when Will got downstairs she had the boy trapped white-faced and shaking against the table. She looked up as Will came in, and smiled.
“You smell delicious,” she said, abandoning Henry at once and coming over to sniff Will’s neck. “You smell like Daddy’s been—“
“Did you bolt the door after you let him in?” Will interrupted, casting a quick glance at Henry. Dru closed her eyes and buried her nose in his shirt collar.
“You have to set the bolt, Dru,” he said, pushing her off gently. “And don’t harass the help. Angelus said so.”
“You smell like a posy.”
“I bathed. Henry, did you bring more soap?”
Henry blinked and stared at him, then realized he was being asked a question, and nodded.
“Good. Lay it out, and some proper towels if you’ve got them.” He dropped the shirt and the coal scuttle, and went down the hall with Drusilla tagging behind, catching at the back of his shirt. She had set the bolt, of course. She wasn’t stupid.
He turned to go back and she put her head in his neck again. He didn’t move away. She draped her arms around his shoulders, and he leaned against the door and closed his eyes, and made believe she was there just for him, and not for the smell of Angelus on him.
After a minute he lifted her chin and kissed her, and she stood passive and let him do it. When he opened his eyes he found she was staring at him in the darkness.
“There’s a star on your forehead,” she said, and touched the scrape. He smiled a little, and she pulled him forward and smelled him there. “It smells like Daddy.”
“He licked it,” Will said, and she grinned.
“May I, too?”
He sighed and let go of her chin. “Why?”
“Because it smells like him.”
He stood for a moment staring at the wall, then shrugged and bent his head. She ran her cool little tongue over the spot. Then she kissed him, and even though he knew it was just a reward, he kissed her back hard and closed his hands tight on her shoulders. Sometimes he could make her see him, like that.
And sometimes there was too much of Angelus in the way. She didn’t fight him, but she stood motionless and he might as well have been kissing a wall. He broke it off abruptly, pushed her aside, and went back up the hall to the main room. She tripped after him, still tugging at the back of his shirt as an amusement.
“Angelus wants you,” he said shortly, as they entered the room, and Henry gave a little moan. “Not you, dunce. Drusilla. He says to go up.”
She made a gleeful little sound that scalded him, and disappeared through the far doorway. He watched her black skirts flicker out of sight and listened to her light step up the stairs. In a moment, the door to the bedroom closed behind her.
For a moment he stood staring at the space where she’d been; then he became aware that Henry was still standing by the table, watching him with an open mouth.
“What are you gawping at?” Will asked, turning on him.
“Go tend the fire in the kitchen.” Henry started out hastily. “No—wait. This shirt wants washing.“ He picked Angelus’s shirt up off the table and they both surveyed it. It was a gory mess. “It’s been—“ He couldn’t think what to say. “The…gentleman had a bloody nose. You don’t have anything to fit him, I expect?”
Henry was staring fixedly at the shirt, and didn’t answer.
“Do you have anything, or not?”
“No—no, I don’t think so, sir.”
“Then wash this. You can do laundry, can’t you?”
“Yes, sir. I mean—I’ve seen it done.”
“Fine. Cold water, or you’ll set the stain.” Will wadded the shirt up and threw it to Henry, who caught it with a look of revulsion and fear, and scurried out.
Will turned back to the fire and stood for a few minutes staring into it in silence. He ran his fingers absently over the mark on his forehead, then over the back of his neck. He pinched himself experimentally. It was nothing the same, of course.
After a while sounds started to drift down from upstairs, and he shook himself and picked up one of the bottles of water on the hearth. He rinsed his mouth several times, spitting on the floor. Then he filled the coal scuttle as noisily as he could, and poured the rest of the bottle out into a bowl. He picked one of the damp pillowslips off a chair on his way to the staircase door.
He tried to go quickly, but he still heard Dru making a low drawn-out moaning sound, and Angelus saying something sharp and crude and not quiet enough to mistake.
He walked down to the last door on the left and toed it open, then knocked it shut with his heel. If he didn’t pay particular attention, he couldn’t hear them with the door closed.
The room was small, the cold air still thick with the stink of blood and fear. There was just a pallet in one corner and a wardrobe against the far wall. The few loopholes let in almost no light. He couldn’t see Caitlin anywhere.
“Where—“ he started to say, then saw a small dark lump in the corner by the wardrobe. She was huddled in the niche with her knees drawn up to her chest and her head bent. A faint blood trail showed that she’d dragged herself there.
He walked over, set the bowl and slip down, and surveyed her. She’d certainly bled all that she’d drunk recently, as well as whatever reserves she’d had before that. Considering how little they’d fed, he was surprised that she’d managed to bleed much at all.
He reached out and lifted her head, and saw that she was unconscious. Her face was bruised black and one cheek was split—the same one as before, he noticed absently. And Angelus had bitten her neck. There was blood on her collar and down the front of her shirt, so likely he’d just bitten her and let her bleed. That tended to be unpleasant at the best of times, but particularly when they were so starved.
Will let her head fall and sucked some blood off his fingers thoughtfully. He’d expected to feel cheered up by the sight of her, and was irritated to find that he didn’t. He didn’t even particularly want to feed off her; he only licked his fingers out of habit, and the taste didn’t thrill him. Probably it was because he’d just had Angelus’s blood, and after that everything else was dull for a while. And there was no satisfaction in taking revenge on someone who wasn’t awake to feel it.
He drummed his fingers on his knee and wondered what kind of secret she was keeping, if she had one at all. It was starting to seem likely that she really didn’t know why she’d been sent. Perhaps there was no reason. Perhaps Rebecca had chosen to save her at random, or because she was no good in a knock-down fight, or because she sang prettily. Frankly, he couldn’t see why it mattered anymore.
He sighed and yanked her to her feet, walked her over to the pallet, and dropped her. She raised a cloud of dust and left bloodstains on the cloth.
“You’ve got either a will of iron or a head of complete shit,” he said, bringing the bowl over. She made no clarification.
He wiped the worst of the blood off her face and hands, and the bloody water ran down into the mattress and spread out from her body like a shadow. Apart from the bite he couldn’t see much serious damage—he’d taken plenty worse himself, and hadn't fainted from it.
He soaked the cloth, then squeezed it out over her face.
“Come on, wake up.”
Her eyelids twitched. He pried one up; there was blood in the white, and the pupil was a pinprick. She made a low unhappy sound.
“You’re not hurt that badly,” he said, surveying her body. “You’ve still got all your clothes on, anyway. That’s something.”
Her eyes fluttered open and she looked at him with confusion. After a moment, she said, “Colin?”
“Oh good Lord,” he said, dropping the cloth back into the bowl. “I’ve done my bit. No doubt he’ll be back for a second engagement soon.”
Her eyes were closed; she was gone again. He left the bowl by the bedside and went out quietly, closing the door behind him.
He didn’t like the tower. It was freezing cold and smelled of dust, except where it smelled of mold. There were vermin. He’d got used to rats in London—didn’t like them, just knew there was no getting rid of them—but hearing scuffles in the tower walls gave him a queasy angry feeling. It reminded him that they were far from home, and thinking about that made him feel helpless.
Also, there was nowhere for him to go. He’d come quickly back downstairs, trying again not to listen to what was happening behind the bedroom door. The main chamber downstairs was warmest, but he could still hear Dru and Angelus from there. He tried the kitchen, but Henry was in there with a bar of soap and a scrub brush, panicking over Angelus’s shirt.
“I think it’s coming, sir,” he said earnestly, hiding the shirt in a pail. Will looked past him and saw a door on the far side of the room.
“Where does that go?” he asked, pointing at it.
“Wheel-stair, sir. Up to the chapel, or down to the stores.”
Will walked over, glancing into the pail as he passed. “Put a hole in it, and he’ll put a hole in you,” he said. Henry blanched.
Will opened the door and found himself on the landing of a spiral stair. He peered up and down into the darkness.
“You’ll want a lamp, sir,” Henry said, starting to get up.
“Didn’t ask for one, though, did I?” Will said, and stepped through.
The staircase breathed cold, and the steps were thick with dust. At the top he found himself in a short windowless hallway with a few doors on either side, and one at the end. He paused for a moment to orient himself, then realized he was roughly on top of the kitchen, facing the rooms he’d just come from. There must be some communication between the wings, because he could hear Dru laughing quite clearly.
He hesitated, then set his shoulders and stepped forward. There was no getting away from it, and it was stupid to sulk in a corner with his fingers in his ears. He wasn’t a child.
He opened the first door on his left and peered in. It was just another small chamber, dusty and bare. He went down the hall opening doors, and they were all the same. They had small windows that let in a fading daylight no stronger than watered milk. The glass had broken in some, and two of the rooms on the right had miniature drifts of snow in the corners.
Dru’s voice was getting clearer as he made his way down the hall. He paused at the final door, which was a little finer and more substantial than the others, with a pointed arch above it.
“Chapel, eh?” he muttered, and pushed the door open.
He hadn't been inside a church since he’d died, and had that thought in his mind as he stepped in. He was ready to step right back out again, if he had to. He half-expected to be struck down by an invisible power, or at least to feel the lash of his own demon rise up.
He felt nothing, except cold.
It was just a room. There were a few long benches shoved against the wall, a fireplace, a little wooden table with nothing on it. There were windows on one side, the central one glazed with stained glass, the others plain. Another door like the one he’d come through faced him from the far wall.
He walked across and leaned on the windowsill to look out. The glass was old; it had sunk in the lead, and the world outside looked warped. He could see a wavering white landscape, a dark blot that must be the village. Directly below was the outer wall, like a strict black hem on the white skirt of snow.
He rested his fingertips on the cold glass, then started to recognize an unpleasant itch beneath his skin. The light was weak, and it would be dark in an hour perhaps, but as Angelus said, almost dark wasn’t dark enough. He stepped away from the window and rubbed his hands to get rid of the tingling.
Dru was cooing somewhere close by, then gasping. He frowned and looked around at the bare scraped floor, the cold little fireplace, the stained glass in the central window. It was a bird of some kind, its head bowed, tearing at its own breast. A few nestlings crouched below, their bills open to the falling blood.
“Cheerful,” he muttered, and turned away. As he did, he noticed for the first time a plain wooden cross on the wall above the fireplace.
He stared at it for a minute, then took a step forward. All of a sudden he couldn’t hear Dru’s voice; couldn’t hear anything except a light rushing sound that might have been the snow falling outside, or the wind along the roof, or the echo of humanity from Purwall, half a mile away. There was a taste of metal in his mouth. His fingers tingled and the back of his neck crawled. He took another step forward.
Then the taste in his mouth went rancid, and his whole body seemed to stutter. He jerked back, hearing himself hiss like an animal. His bad leg folded, and he stumbled back without looking and fell over the little table. It broke under his body; for a second he lay on his back wondering if he’d staked himself, and thinking confusedly, Angelus will thump bloody hell out of me if I’m staked.
He wasn’t staked. He got up slowly and kicked the broken pieces of table aside, then rubbed his head and glanced sideways at the cross. It hung silent and unmoved.
He went out the same door he’d come in, but backwards, keeping an eye on the cross.
At the door to the kitchen, Henry stood watching for him with a worried expression. The front of his shirt and trousers were soaked, and his hands were red and wet.
“I heard a bang, sir,” he said.
“Did you?” Will said, pushing past him and going to the fire. “Where’s that shirt?”
Henry gestured hopelessly at the pail, and Will hauled it out. He stared at it for a moment with pursed lips, then sighed.
“Give me the soap.” Henry dove to fish it out of the pail, lost it across the floor, retrieved it, and handed it over. “And the brush.”
He crouched on the stone with his aching leg turned to the fire, and began to scrub the stains out of Angelus’s shirt.
Night fell in about an hour; he felt it even though there were no windows in the kitchen. He was still working on the shirt. Henry was perched half-asleep on a stool in the corner, the oversized coat draped over his shoulders and a slice of bread and cheese in his lap. There was no sound from anywhere else in the tower.
“Dark out,” Will said automatically, when he felt the slight release in the air. Henry started and sat up, almost dropping his meal.
Will watched him fumble to pull the coat more tightly closed. He was shivering, his back pressed to the stone.
“You can come nearer the fire, you know. I won’t bother you.”
Henry gave him a sickly smile. “I’m all right, sir. Thank you, sir.”
Will frowned and examined the shirt; there was still a faint brownish tint to the breast. “What do you think of us, Henry?”
Henry gaped, then closed his mouth and tried to continue with the smile. “I—I don’t know, sir.”
“You’re afraid of us?”
Henry swallowed. “No, sir. I mean, if you like, sir.”
Will looked at him.
“The…gentleman’s very large, sir,” Henry said softly.
Will smiled. “That’s because he eats well.”
Henry said nothing, but shifted uncomfortably.
“You’re afraid of our Lady?” Will asked.
Henry kept silent for a moment; when he did speak, his words sounded rehearsed. “We owe a debt to Our Lady. We keep the bell to remember. She said she’d come back, and she has.”
“That doesn’t answer my question,” Will said.
Henry stared miserably down at his bread and cheese.
“Well, if you’re not afraid of her, you should be,” Will said, going back to the shirt. “You should be afraid of all of us.” He paused. “Except maybe the cuckoo. She’s not much threat at the moment.”
Henry squinted in confusion, and Will changed tacks.
“That chapel, upstairs—who made it?”
Henry shook his head. “Our Lady, sir. She made the tower and everything in it.”
“Is that what you people think?”
Henry stared at him.
“Well, she didn’t. Believe me. She’d no more make a chapel than—“ He paused. “What exactly do you know about Our Lady, Henry?”
Henry paused, then started to repeat: “She saved us, we owe her a debt—“
“Yes, I know,” Will broke in. “I don’t suppose you know what she saved you from, though?”
“The Devil,” Henry said simply.
“The Devil,” Will repeated.
Henry had pressed himself back into the corner at the mention, and pulled his knees up to his chest. He regarded Will solemnly over the tops of them.
“The Devil,” Will said again. “You mean—Lucifer.”
A tremor went all through Henry, and he nodded.
“The Devil menaced Purwall, and Darla chased him off,” Will said. “When exactly did this happen?”
Henry shook his head. “A hundred years ago,” he whispered after a minute.
“I don’t think so,” Will said. “That man—John—he’s not a hundred years old, is he? And he remembers her.”
Henry stared at him for a moment; then his eyelids flickered and he dropped his gaze. “A hundred years,” he repeated softly, plucking at the collar of his coat.
Will sighed and went back to the shirt. “All right, a hundred years. What’s the rest of the story?”
Henry said nothing, and Will looked up in annoyance. “Come on, there must be—“
There was a clear pretty laugh in the doorway, and they both looked up. Dru was peering around the door at them, grinning.
“You look like a washerwoman,” she said to Will. “And you—“ turning to Henry, and then pausing to frown, “look like…” There was a moment of silence, while Henry sat frozen. She smiled again and cried, “A pepperpot!”
Will rolled his eyes and started to wring out the shirt.
“A washerwoman’s pepperpot,” Dru said. “A pepperwoman’s washpot. You were in the wrong room, Will, being bloody-minded. Did you see the pelican?”
“Dru—“ he said, and then gave up. She came in, gliding silently without seeming to move her feet. She smelled very strongly of Angelus.
“Daddy wants his shirt now,” she said, running her fingers through Will’s hair. “He’s talking with Grandmama about—“ She broke off with a look at Henry. “About never you mind,” she said primly, tilting her chin at him.
“His shirt’s still wet,” Will said, shaking it out and looking at it. “And that’s as clean as I can get it. Next time he should take it off first, or bring a spare.”
“Bloody-minded,” Dru sang, drawing it out into a sentence. “We had a lovely time, and I could smell you in the bed—“
“Is he coming down?” he interrupted. “Or should I take it up?”
“Up,” Dru said, and settled on the hearthstone. Henry stood up at once.
“Eating bread and cheese,” Dru murmured, fixing her eyes on him. “I remember bread and cheese.”
“Don’t bother him,” Will said. “Henry, stay and keep the lady company. She won’t touch you.” He paused, then leaned down and took hold of a handful of Dru’s hair, at the base of her skull. From where Henry stood, it wouldn’t be obvious. He tugged lightly. “You won’t touch him, Dru. Angelus says so.”
She gazed up at him with bright eyes. “Won’t touch,” she said. “We’ll have a lovely natter.”
Henry sat back down slowly, his face unconvinced.
“I won’t be long,” Will said, and went out.
He wrung the shirt out a few more times as he went up the stairs, and it left dark drops on the stone. He wasn’t looking forward to handing it over to Angelus.
They were in the big bedchamber down the hall; the door was ajar and he could hear them talking quietly. He knocked and waited, holding the shirt behind him.
“Come in.” It was Angelus’s voice, sounding harassed. Will pushed the door open with one finger and went in.
They were lying in the bed, Darla still under the covers, Angelus propped on one elbow on top of them. Her hair was spread across the pillow, and she’d taken her dress off at some point and tossed it to the foot of the bed. Angelus was wearing his trousers and nothing else, his braces dangling.
“What is it?” Darla asked. “Why aren’t you with Drusilla?”
“Angelus wanted his shirt, Madam,” he said. Then he just stood there, and they stared at him.
“Well, where is it?” Darla asked, and Will brought it reluctantly out from behind his back.
“It’s a little damp still,” he said, trying to angle it so the stain didn’t show.
“What’s that down the front?” Darla asked. Will glanced at Angelus, who was studying his thumbnail. “Angelus, did you beat her with your only shirt on?”
“I thought I had a spare,” he said. “I did have a spare, but we left it in the coach so we could bring your stockings.”
“Oh, you dunce,” she said. “You could have taken it off first.”
“And your boots, and your mittens, and that ridiculous velvet muff-bag—“
“Stop it. It’s bad enough you’re going to walk about looking like a knacker. Don’t be rude on top of it.”
Angelus nibbled his thumbnail and said nothing.
“Well, bring it here,” Darla said, gesturing at Will. “It may not be as bad as—“
He brought it closer, and she frowned. “Sometimes, Angelus, I could positively smack you.”
Angelus picked her hand up and kissed it, and she twitched it away with an irritated glance. “The men will be here shortly, and having you look like a barbarian won’t help matters.”
Angelus rolled away and put his hands behind his head, staring at the ceiling. His ribs stood out starkly, and his belly was tight and concave. “What does it matter?” he said. “We’re going to starve at this rate, licking wrists once a day. We’ll be weak as kittens when the Slayer arrives.”
“Angelus,” Darla said, in a warning tone. He glanced at her, then lifted his head and looked at Will, who was still standing holding the shirt.
“What—him? He might as well hear. We keep him in the dark too much.”
Darla frowned. “Will, leave the shirt and go out.”
“Let him stay. He’s worried about always doing things wrong, but half the time it’s because we haven’t told him anything.”
“And the other half is because he’s stupid and disobedient,” Darla said. “Out, Will.”
“He’s not stupid,” Angelus said mildly. “I don’t turn fools.”
“Just lunatics and milksops,” Darla said, and flung the covers across so they landed on Angelus. She slid naked out of the bed on the opposite side, while he dug himself out angrily.
“You’re hungry,” he said. “It’s making you a shrew.”
“And you’ve forgotten whose house this is,” she said, bending down and heaving a pile of underclothes onto the bed. “I’m happy to remind you, if you should need it.”
Angelus rolled off the bed on his own side, and walked over to take the shirt from Will. He held it out at arm’s length and examined it while Darla disentangled her linens. Her own belly was cupped taut, Will noticed—though he was trying not to look.
“It’s not that bad,” Angelus said after a moment, and handed Will back the shirt. “Not worth making a fuss over, love.”
She ignored him, reaching for the dress she’d left lying across the bed. Angelus walked back and handed it to her, then straightened the covers absent-mindedly.
“We need to eat,” he said. “Properly. We’re in no condition to fight. We can’t keep begging scraps like this.”
“We can and we will,” Darla said grimly, rubbing at a spot on her skirt. “We can live off what we get from them for another day or two.”
“And what if the Slayer comes tomorrow?”
Angelus sat on the edge of the bed and watched her shrug into her corset and start lacing it.
“We need to take a couple of them,” he said quietly. “At least two, for the four of us.”
“We aren’t taking any of them yet,” Darla said. “Not until I say so. Come here, you idiot, and do this up for me.”
Angelus got up and took over the lacing. “We’re too weak,” he said. “Especially Will, with that leg. It’s too much of a risk to let it go any longer.”
“If we take any of them now, the rest will turn against us. And what will we do then, Angelus? Where will we go?”
He pulled her laces tight and said nothing.
“I suppose you have another haunt waiting, if we abandon this one. In Norway, perhaps?” Will shifted uncomfortably and she shot him a glance. “And given our current famished state, do you plan to keep feeding him daily, as you have been doing? Perhaps that’s one reason you’re so keen, Angelus—you’ve been opening your veins for that genius childe of yours ever since we left London.”
Angelus finished lacing the corset and tied the cords neatly over her breasts. He stroked the silk with his thumb. “This is a pretty one,” he said. “I like it very much.”
Darla’s mouth twisted and she reached around him for her petticoat. “We don’t take any of them until I say so,” she said again. “This is my house, Angelus. I know what’s best.”
He lay back in the sheets and watched her step into the petticoat. Will shifted again and Angelus glanced at him.
“Well, you’ve learned one valuable lesson at least,” he said. “Don’t let strangers into the house.”
Will smiled weakly and took a step backward, hoping to get out quickly before Darla could catch hold of the comment and use it on him. She was busy with her dress, though, and didn’t take the opportunity.
“Was beating her any use?” she asked, frowning at the mud on her hem. Angelus put his arms over his head and stretched.
“It was not,” he said. “At least, it didn’t produce any new information. We’ve yet to see whether it improved her character.”
“I’m not interested in her character, Angelus. I find it extremely unpleasant—“ she glanced at him, noticed his eyes were shut, and raised her voice pointedly. “Extremely unpleasant, Angelus, to wait here for the Slayer without knowing why Rebecca sent that girl. I’m surprised you don’t feel the same way.”
“Oh, I do,” he said, without opening his eyes. “I took her throat half out, I find it so unpleasant.”
“It won’t help us if you kill her. Come and do my buttons.”
“Will, do Darla’s buttons.”
Will started forward, and Darla shot him a withering look. “Not him, he’ll pull half of them off. Get up and make yourself useful.”
“Because you spent the afternoon fucking your childer. Get up.”
Angelus sat up with a sigh. “All right, come over here.” Darla gave him an icy stare, and he sighed again, then stood and went over to contend with the buttons.
Darla ran her hands through her hair and adjusted her sleeves. “Rebecca wasn’t stupid,” she said. “She must have known you’d kill a stray, even one she sent. And the girl must know it too, but she has nothing to say for herself.”
“Perhaps Rebecca couldn’t stand her company anymore, and incinerated herself on purpose.”
Darla turned her head and stared at him. “That isn’t amusing, Angelus. Rebecca and I once shared a Quaker meeting.” She paused. “Not so pacifist at all, when you’ve got them pinned to a pew.”
“Sorry,” he said absently.
“I’ll miss her, when I’ve got a minute to think.”
Angelus kept silent. Will made another move to leave and Darla looked up.
“I can’t imagine why you’re still here. Go and find my combs.”
“What should we do, Will?” Angelus asked, as if she hadn't spoken. “Take a couple of them tonight, or wait a little longer?”
Darla made an aggrieved sound.
“What, love?” Angelus asked, his eyes still on her buttons. “You started this trend. I’m only following your lead. What do you think, Will?”
Will shifted uneasily and said, “Uh…”
“I think we should wait,” he said finally, twisting the shirt behind his back. “We can wait one more night. I mean—I’m all right, I can do without.”
Darla snorted. “Of course you can,” she said. “You’ve been like a tick on Angelus.”
Will opened his mouth, then closed it. Angelus gave him the briefest glance over Darla’s shoulder.
“You disagree with me?” he asked quietly.
Will gave him a hopeless look and said nothing.
“Behold genius,” Darla said. “Combs, Will. Now.”
He tried to catch Angelus’s eye, but couldn’t.
“Hang that to dry in the other bedchamber,” Darla said, nodding at the shirt. “And make sure Drusilla has all her clothes on.”
“She has,” Angelus murmured, and Darla rolled her eyes.
“No thanks to you. Get out, Will.”
“Yes, Madam,” he said, and got out.