Seven


In which the natives are restless.



Darla led them up the main way, which was also the only way; it was narrow as an alley, and crawled past half a dozen blunt, mossy stone cottages with shuttered windows and closed gates. A cat ran silently through the horses’ legs and disappeared. There was a smell of ashes and frost and pigs.

They came out into a central square, no more than twenty yards across, faced about with cottages. The snow inside it was untrammeled, white as a square on a chess board. Darla rode in without pausing, but she let her hand drop down, her palm facing idly back toward them, and Angelus reined in just at the edge.

“Wh—“ Will remembered he wasn’t supposed to talk. Angelus gave him a dark look.

They sat and watched Darla ride straight to the center of the square, where there was some kind of small structure covered in snow. At first Will thought it was a cross, and wondered if she’d gone mad; then he saw something hanging from it. He stared but couldn’t work it out until she leaned down and reached below it. A clear cold peal jumped out, and he realized it was a bell.

It was piercing, after so many hours of silence. Will and Caitlin both jumped, and Drusilla opened her eyes and sat up. Only Angelus didn’t move, but sat with his hands around Drusilla’s waist and his chin on her head, watching Darla.

What the hell is she doing? Will thought, glancing around at the cottages. She’s going to wake up the whole bloody place.

He looked at Angelus, who ignored him.

She rang the bell for about a minute, then sat up and folded her hands. The sound seemed to linger, as if it had stained the air. A dog had started barking; after a minute another joined in, and then another. The whole village was baying. Will looked around uncomfortably, his nerves twitching. Everything he knew told him to get out of here, quickly.

He looked again to Angelus, an urgent Can we please go now? look, and Angelus spared him a glance. He looked annoyed.

“Stop that,” he murmured. “Both of you. Sit up, look calm.”

Will gaped at him for a minute, then glanced at Caitlin. She was looking at him with the same confused, half-panicked expression he knew he wore.

What the hell is going on?

No idea.

But Angelus had told him to sit up and look calm, so he did. He ran his hand one last time through his hair in case it was still muddy, and put on his best sod-you face, the one that Angelus usually smacked off him. If they were going to be mobbed with pitchforks and torches, he wanted to greet the event with the right expression.

Caitlin gave Angelus an apprehensive look, then straightened up and faced front. Drusilla was watching all of them with sleepy interest.

One of the dogs left off barking with a shrill yelp, and then another, and there was the sound of men’s voices cursing, and lamps were lit behind the shutters. Will’s horse shifted uneasily and he held it, trying not to look at Angelus again.

“This is insanity,” Caitlin whispered, without moving. “We have to run.”

Angelus reached out and grabbed the back of her neck without looking. Will watched his fingers dig into the skin, and Caitlin writhed silently. After a moment she made a tiny squeaking noise, and he gave her a hard shake and let go. Drusilla blinked and mouthed a languid “Ah.”

Caitlin raised a shaking hand and wiped her face, but didn’t say anything else.

A door opened on the far side of the square and Will tensed. A man stepped out with a lit lamp in his hand. Darla stayed where she was. A few dogs were still barking, hoarsely and with great excitement, and footsteps were starting to come up the way behind them. Will started to look around, but caught Angelus’s glance just in time. He forced himself to sit still while several men walked past him and into the square.

They were coming from the far side, too, and doors and shutters were opening in each of the cottages on the square. More lamps were lit. A man pushed close by Will’s bad leg and he jerked it away, hissing.

In less than a few minutes there was a group of men in the square, perhaps thirty of them, most with the same high broad hopeless forehead and narrow jaw. They all wore dull rumpled clothing, and most carried a lamp or candle. Although they’d come from all directions, they clustered at the far side of the square, away from Darla and the others. The few young ones stared in frank curiosity, but the older ones looked at the ground.

It was one of the strangest moments of Will’s existence. He sat looking arrogant and bored, thinking They’re going to kill us. There isn’t time to get away. They’d wreak their own havoc, but the sun would be up in minutes. We’re going to be killed by peasants. And on his first trip out of London.

Caitlin let out a quiet sigh, and he knew she’d come to the same conclusion.

He was waiting for Angelus’s signal to go to game face, thinking about his bad leg and wondering if he should try to stay on the horse, when a man stepped out of the crowd.

He had the same inbred features as the others, and he was easily the oldest, perhaps in his middle seventies. Although he was stooped, he held his head up and looked directly at Darla as he approached her.

They all watched in silence as he made his way through the ice crust, breaking in at every step and sinking almost to his knees. His breath steamed. He reached Darla’s horse and stood for a moment, then reached out and touched its head hesitantly, as if afraid it would disappear.

The horse snorted and pulled back, and he took hold of the bridle. Darla did nothing.

He stroked the horse’s nose, then swallowed and reached out to touch the toe of Darla’s boot. She let him do it. He tapped it, then lifted his face and smiled beatifically.

“She’s returned,” he said. He turned and looked over his shoulder at the other men. “She’s come back.”

Caitlin shifted, and Will pinched her.

As a group, the men came forward and surrounded Darla’s horse, reaching out to touch it or her boot or hem. She smiled slightly and stroked the horse’s neck.

“We’re going on to the tower,” she said, and the men looked up and fell back slightly. “John, you’ll come and speak with me this afternoon.” She directed that to the old man, who gave a little bow.

Then she took up the reins and kneed the horse, letting the men get out of the way as best they could. One fell on his back in the snow and made no immediate effort to rise.

Before Will could sort out what had happened, she was taking the one road out of the other side of the square, and Angelus was hissing Come on, and starting his horse at a run. Will kicked the horse and they surged forward, snow flying up in a white fan, the men scattering before them. Caitlin hunched down and clung to the horse’s mane, and he kicked its ribs again, thinking It must be dawn already, we’re going to burn out here.

But it wasn’t, yet—the road was dark and narrow and turning, and Angelus’s horse threw clots of ice up into their eyes, and every window they passed was filled with dazed pale lamplit faces—but it wasn’t dawn just yet, and in a minute they were out of the village altogether. The moor lay cold and open before them, white as a harlot’s throat. Half a mile off, at the top of a rise, was a tower, and Darla was racing for it.

Angelus forced his horse to a proper gallop, and somehow Will did too, and they plunged ahead together, flat-out. The air cut Will’s face, and Caitlin’s head snapped back and bashed him in the chin. The sky was nearly light in the east. He kicked the horse brutally and spared a glance to the side, to see Angelus grinning at him. He grinned back and leaned forward, forcing Caitlin against the horse’s neck, trying to get a little lead.

They came to the bottom of the rise and the horses took it at a leap. It jarred his leg and he saw stars. Angelus cursed his horse and sunk his heels into it, and made it up the slope in seconds. He wheeled it at the top and looked back with a gleeful smile.

“You ride like a sack of meal,” he called, then spun the horse again and galloped to the tower in Darla’s tracks.

Will hammered the horse with his boots, but it was blowing bloody foam now, and could hardly trot.

“He’s right,” Caitlin said. “You’re an awful rider.”

“Shut up. You’re worse.”

She shrugged. “True.”

They made it up the hill and to the tower, which he could see now was old and weathered and half-ruined. There was an outer wall with no gate, then an inner wall with a tall door. Darla was standing in front of it, sorting a key from her chatelaine.

“What’s going on?” he asked. “What happened down there?”

Darla put the key into the lock and turned it carefully. The tumblers made a grinding sound, and she pushed the door open. Inside was pure dark.

“Tie the horses and leave them here,” she said, and went in.

Angelus dropped off his horse, handed Drusilla down, and ushered her inside. Caitlin looked around at Will.

“Go on, then.”

He grimaced and swung down, then almost fell over when he tried to use the bad leg. Caitlin came down beside him and watched him curse.

“Get the horses,” he said, and started to limp for the door. She took the reins, tied them to a post a few yards from the door, then came back and took his arm.

He shook free. “Fuck off.”

She shrugged and let go. Angelus put his head out.

“Are you staying out, then?”

Will gritted his teeth and limped faster, and Angelus frowned.

“Two cripples, now.”

“I’m not a cripple, sir,” Caitlin said as they stepped over the threshold into darkness.

“No,” Angelus said, closing the door behind them. “But you will be when I’m through with you.”



Eight



Coquette

Home