In which current events are discussed.
Inside the tower it was black as ink. True blackness, the kind that came from five feet of stone between him and the dawn, and no windows. The door shut with a boom and he heard Angelus set a bolt. For a moment he was blind. Then his eyes started to adjust and he could make out Dru leaning against the wall a few feet away, and Caitlin standing nervously off to the side. The air smelled of dust and quietude.
“Come on, all of you.” Angelus brushed past him and walked down the hall without looking back, and Dru started after him right away. Will stood for a moment, fighting down a rush of hurt and anger. She hadn't even looked at him.
Something touched his arm and he jerked away; it was Caitlin again, playing crutch.
“I said fuck off,” he spat, and shoved her. “Christ, you’re a toady.”
She caught her balance and raised her fist, and he was sure she was going to hit him. He wanted her to; it would give him an excuse to break her arm. But at the last moment she seemed to think better of it, and dropped her hand.
“Catch up when you can, then,” she said, and walked quickly off after Angelus and Dru.
He wasn’t that slow, even with pain jabbing up his leg with every step. He followed behind her with his jaw set, thinking Can’t wait till Angelus does for you, cuckoo.
There was a light up ahead at the end of the hall, and in a few moments he came out into a large room. It was square, high-ceilinged, all of the same dull old chiseled stones that made up the tower walls. There was a long wooden table and a few broken chairs, a cold hearth, an iron chandelier suspended from a chain. A long dark rug, ribbed with moth holes, lay on the floor in the middle of the room. There were no windows here either.
The light came from a candlestick that Darla had lit and put on the table. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to see her smile by. The smile was radiant. She was pale, and the skin beneath her eyes was translucent, but at the same time she shone with a kind of serene joy. Will couldn’t remember ever seeing her like this before, and he realized that she was enjoying this. The routing, the flight, the cold and hunger and peril. She liked it.
“Home again,” she said to Angelus, and he smiled back, distractedly.
Home? Will looked around at the dark recesses of the room, the silent dust and decay, the neglect of ages. There was the faint watchful creeping sound of little animals retreating. The walls breathed cold. He shivered and crossed his arms to hide it.
“Want to sleep,” Dru said, running a hand listlessly through the dust on the table. “There aren’t any beds, though.”
“There are beds,” Angelus said. Darla glanced at him sideways and they shared a smile.
“And I’m hungry,” Dru said. As soon as she said it, Will felt his stomach contract and start to ache. Sometimes Dru could put things very plainly.
“You’ll have to wait,” Darla said. “Just a little longer.”
Dru put her knuckles in her mouth and chewed them briefly. “We could eat the cuckoo,” she said after a moment.
“No,” Angelus said. “Don’t touch her. Go up and go to sleep, and when you wake up there’ll be something to eat.”
“Go up where?” Dru asked. Angelus sighed and looked at Darla; she made a slight shooing gesture, and he turned back to Dru.
“Come on,” he said. “I’ll show you where to sleep.” He waved in Will’s general direction. “You too.”
“The cuckoo?” Dru asked, and Angelus shrugged.
“Yes, fine. All of you, come on.” There was a door in the far wall, and he pulled it open and went through. Again, they followed him. This time, Caitlin lagged behind Will, as if she were reluctant to go at all.
He looked back as they left the room, and saw Darla standing alone at the foot of the long rug, staring up into the vaulted darkness, her mouth open in a smile.
Angelus led them down a short hall, then up a stone staircase. At the top was another hall, this one lined with doors. He opened the first one he came to and stood aside.
It was a small chamber, perhaps a servant's room, with a few basic articles of furniture rotting against the walls. The bed was hardly big enough for two, and the bedclothes were thick with dust and mouse droppings. Drusilla made a moue.
“Daddy, it’s nasty.”
Angelus rolled his eyes. “It’s a bed, Drusilla. Use it or take the floor.”
“Not with the cuckoo,” Dru said. Caitlin had stopped in the hall, and even in the darkness Will could see that her expression wasn’t happy either. She said nothing.
“A minute ago you said you were tired,” Angelus said. His voice was getting flat and dangerous. “Here’s a bed.”
“The cuckoo can sleep on the floor,” Will said, stepping in before Angelus could get really angry with Dru. “It’s fine, pet. Come on.” He went over, pulled the dusty blanket off the bed, and dropped it to one side. “Underneath, it’s fine.”
She looked uncertainly at Angelus, who raised an eyebrow at her. “Where will you sleep?” she asked.
“I’m not going to sleep. I’m going back down to Darla.”
“I want to come with you. I can sleep in front of the fire.”
“There’s no fire. You’ll sleep here and you won’t come down until you’re sent for.” He turned to Caitlin. “Come in, then. There’s your place.” He pointed at the blanket Will had dropped, and she came in slowly and stooped to pick it up. When she passed by Dru, Dru leaned away and hissed.
“Go to sleep,” Angelus said. “All of you. No teasing, no fighting. No playing, Dru. Do you understand?”
Her eyes were fixed on Caitlin’s back; she pulled them away and nodded unhappily. “Yes, Daddy.”
“If I hear any nonsense from this room after I leave it, I’ll come back and give each of you a dose of misery.” He gave them each a look, and Will tried not to sneer.
“We’ll be good,” he said, and when Angelus’s gaze snapped to him, added, “Sir.”
Angelus stared at him for a moment, then turned and went out, closing the door behind him.
For a moment they all stood silently, listening to his footsteps go back down the stairs. Then Dru turned and looked at Caitlin.
“Little cuckoo,” she whispered in a tone of revolted fascination.
Caitlin ignored her, shook the blanket out, and walked to the far side of the room to lay it down. Will sat on the edge of the bed and ran his hand down his bad leg. It hurt fiercely, and he could feel a cold swollen bump just above the knee. Was it broken? It couldn’t be; he couldn’t walk on it if it were. It hardly mattered—it would heal in a day or two either way—but he couldn’t lose the human habit of wondering these things.
“Come on,” he said, trying to get his boot off without too much pain. “Come to bed, Dru.”
She made a funny fluttering noise, and he looked around to see that she’d moved closer to Caitlin, who was kneeling to spread the blanket out on the floor. Dru’s back was to him, but he could tell from the way she held herself that she was working into one of her states. She seemed almost to lift up on her toes and vibrate, like a dog at point.
“Dru, he said no playing.”
“I’m not going to play,” she said absently. “Just want to look a little closer.”
Caitlin finished fussing with the blanket and looked up. Her face was tired.
“Go to bed,” she said.
Dru stood still. There was a moment of silence.
“Come on, Dru,” Will said. “For Christ’s sake, it’s not worth it.”
He didn’t expect her to come back, not really—but she did. She turned around and walked back to the bed and climbed up without any fuss. He studied her face for a moment, wondering if she were playing at something, but her eyes were closed and she’d lost the sharpened air. So maybe he wouldn’t be thrashed after all.
He pulled his other boot off and lay back beside her, on his side so that he could throw an arm across and pull her tight. She smiled slightly and turned her face to his.
“You smell like darkness,” she said, and kissed his nose. “Like the spaces in between the stars.”
“Like river muck,” he said. She kissed his cheek and worked her hand inside his shirt to lie cold against his side, and he buried his face in her hair. She smelled like Dru, herself, and he couldn’t imagine anything better than that.
“There’ll be mice for dinner tonight,” she said.
Mice, he thought. I bloody hope that’s a metaphor. His stomach took a baffled, angry turn and he thought about the men in the square, all that blood they could have had—and then sleep opened a pair of cool dark wings and closed him up inside.
He woke up to Angelus’s step on the stairs, a few seconds before the door to the room swung open.
“Get up,” Angelus said. “Come downstairs now, all of you.”
Then he was gone, leaving the door open behind him, and Dru was sliding off the bed on the far side. Will sat up and grabbed for his boots. There was no window in this room, just a loophole that was too small to let light in. He couldn’t tell what time it was, and had no idea how long they’d slept.
“The mice are here,” Drusilla said excitedly, and he paused in pulling the boot onto his bad leg. She was right—there were people downstairs. Humans. He could hear their little tintinnabulations, and he could smell them. All men, smelling of dirt, manure, sweat, and general human grossness.
His mouth watered and he yanked the boot up without caring about the pain. Darla and Angelus must have hunted.
Dru was out the door already and he jumped down to follow. As he went to the door he noticed that Caitlin was standing still at the far side of the room. She had an odd expression on her face, as if she were slightly repulsed.
“What’s wrong with you?” he asked.
She frowned and sniffed. “You can’t smell it?”
“It’s the people. The same smell as before, but…more so.”
He sniffed. He could make out the smells of family, the primitive odour of the men, the pleasant scent of a fire someone had laid. And for a moment it almost seemed he could catch what she was talking about—underneath the men’s scent, a queer flat quality. He tried again but it was gone.
“You’re mad,” he said. “And I’m hungry. Feel free to stop here; I’ll just tell Angelus you’re too fine for his table.”
He went out, trying not to favour his leg too openly, and after a minute she followed behind.
He took the stairs carefully, sniffing but not getting anything new from the air. Now that he was rested he couldn’t help but wonder what was going on. So far they’d broken every rule of common sense; they’d come north instead of fleeing south right away, they’d killed people without hiding the evidence, they’d even introduced themselves to the local populace. And now they were holed up in a moldering castle, exhausted and famished, their horses half-dead with fatigue. If the Slayer turned up now, they’d be slaughtered.
Worse, Darla had called this place home.
If they’d truly relocated to this tip, he was bloody well going to strike out on his own.
He made it down without falling and continued on to the main room. It was warmer due to the fire, and as he stepped through the door he realized he’d got used to being cold. The stiffness in his neck and back retreated slightly, and he wondered if they might be allowed to sleep down here today.
Someone had climbed up and put lit candles into the iron chandelier, and there was an oil lamp burning in an alcove, so altogether it was quite cheerful. Dru was standing just off to the side, looking at Angelus, who was sitting in a chair pulled back from the table. Darla was nearer the fireplace, speaking to one of the men.
That was the first surprise—the men were standing up. He’d expected to come down and find two or three of them curled insensible on the floor, bashed and bloody, soaked in the vinegar of fear. It wasn’t a challenge to feed on someone else’s leftovers, but under the circumstances he wouldn’t complain.
The men weren’t injured, though, and they didn’t look as though they’d been hunted at all. There were five of them, all clearly men from the village, standing in a compact group by the fire like schoolgirls clustered for comfort. None of them were bound. They smelled edgy and alert, but not terrified.
He should have noticed that sooner, he realized, and glanced at Angelus out of habit.
As it happened, Angelus was looking at him too, with a slight appraising smile on his lips. Their eyes met and Will tried to look calm and unsurprised.
“Good afternoon,” Angelus said. “We’ve just been speaking of you.”
“Oh yeh?” He couldn’t think of anything else to say, and so fell stupidly silent. He knew better than to ask questions.
“Indeed.” Angelus smiled at Darla, who had stopped speaking to the man and was looking over at them. It was the old man from last night, Will realized—the one she’d called John. “We’ve been discussing loaves and fishes.”
The men shifted uncomfortably, and Will said nothing. The smell of live blood was starting to make his head spin.
“We won’t be here long,” Darla said, speaking not to Will but to the old man. “It’s been many years, hasn’t it?”
The man was holding his hat in his hands, turning it unconsciously and fretting the brim. “Many years,” he agreed softly. “I was…I was two-and-twenty, Lady.”
“But not so long that you’ve forgotten your obligations, John?”
“No, Lady, never so long as that.” He paused, but seemed to want to say something else. Darla put her hand on his shoulder and prompted him gently, while Will stared.
“What is it, John?”
“Only—only that the old ones, like myself, Lady—we remember. But the young ones have grown up not knowing, and they’re balky.”
Darla studied his face, then glanced at the group of men by the fire. Two were stout and middle-aged, but the other two were no more than thirty. They looked back at her with fear and resolution.
“The young ones aren’t willing?” she asked, and there was a line of winter in her voice.
“Willing enough,” John said hastily. “Most are willing enough—we’ve always told the stories, and they’ve grown up knowing the bell. Just a few are…fractious. And with—with there being so many in the party…” He trailed off.
Darla stood in thoughtful silence for a moment, then patted his shoulder and smiled. “It’s all right, John,” she said. “I understand. The young ones are always troublesome, aren’t they?”
She sent a smile in Will’s direction while John nodded.
“Well, we’ll simply have to make do as best we can,” she said.
John dropped his head and folded his hat into quarters. “We’ll talk sense into them,” he said in a low fierce voice. “Don’t worry, Lady. Whatever you need, you’ll have.”
“I know it,” she said, and turned to face Dru and Will. “Now—you two, hanging about back there. Why don’t you come and meet our guests?”
Will took an eager step forward, and Angelus stood up and caught his arm. He pulled Will in close and whispered in his ear. “Gently. Do as she does. And stop when you’re told.”
Will stared, but Angelus had already let go of his arm and stepped away. Darla was holding out a hand to him.
“You first, Will. John, if you please.” She motioned to him and he put out his hand. Will took it without thinking, purely from force of habit. The man’s palm was warm and hard as wood.
“John Maitland, sir,” he said.
“William,” Will said. It sounded too naked, so after a moment he said, “William…Aurelius.”
Darla smiled and took something from her chatelaine. “John,” she said. He rolled his sleeve up and held out his bare wrist, and Darla cut a dark red line across it with her knife.
She didn’t go to demon face, just dipped her head and fastened onto the wound and started to drink. John took a deep shuddering breath. The smell of blood leaked out in rich waves.
Will looked over his shoulder at Angelus, who met his gaze without surprise. What’s going on? Will asked with his eyes, and Angelus frowned and nodded back at Darla. Watch. Drusilla was standing beside him, one arm trapped against his side. Her face was open and hungry, and she clearly wanted to go to the men by the fire. After a moment Angelus pulled her bodily back to him and started to whisper in her ear.
Caitlin was standing even farther back, her shirt half-untucked, her hair unkempt. Her gaze was fixed on Darla, and her expression was strangely calculating.
John shifted slightly, and Darla raised her head. Blood welled out of the wound as soon as she took her mouth from it.
“You brought bandages?” Darla asked, and John nodded. His face was pained. One of the younger men came forward with a satchel, out of which he produced a handful of cloth bandages. With slightly shaking hands, he bound up John’s wrist.
“That was...enough, Lady?” John asked, even as the wound was being dressed.
Darla smiled and touched the corner of her mouth. “Thank you, John,” she said. “That was extremely generous.”
He touched his forehead and stepped back, and his knees sank a little. The young man caught his elbow and held him up with a look of concern.
“Thank you, Thomas,” John said. “I’m all right.” He gently pulled his arm free.
“Will,” Darla said. He stepped forward and she beckoned to the young man with a smile. “Thomas, is it? If you will.”
The man stared at her for a moment. He was less than thirty, unhandsome, with a weak chin and long female hands. His eyes slid sideways to John, who nodded.
“Go on, lad. That’s our Lady—and besides, it won’t hurt.”
Thomas licked his lips and Will swallowed hard at the smell of fear coming off him. He was so hungry his bones hurt. It was all he could do not to lunge forward and tear the man’s head off.
“Go on,” John said again, with a touch of impatience in his tone.
Thomas took a step forward and thrust his arm out, all but closing his eyes in anticipation of the cut. In another mood, Will would have laughed. Now, he just held his fists behind his back and struggled not to let the demon out.
Darla smiled and tapped the man’s wrist gently.
“Your sleeve, Thomas.”
He looked in confusion at his arm, then pulled it back and yanked his sleeve up. When he put it back out again, the naked skin of his wrist was soft and pale as a child’s.
“Thank you.” Darla drew the knife across, and he sucked in a breath of pain. Then the tang of blood was doubled in the air, and Will felt his fangs start to grow.
“Will.” Darla stood aside, and he had to take a moment to compose himself, to be sure the wrong face wouldn’t show. Then, before even a drop of blood could be wasted on the floor, he dipped his head and drank.
He hadn't drunk properly in days, it seemed—nothing since the boy in the cottage, and the night before that just a taste of scullery maid. He’d been punished for something, he forgot what. There’d been Angelus’s blood on the riverbank; a minute of heaven, but he’d used it up fast. Nothing else.
It was salty and hot on his tongue and he wanted nothing more than to change faces and abandon the man’s wrist, just rear up and rip a proper hole in his throat. He wanted to finish this one off, take every drop that was in him, and be full. But he wasn’t allowed to do that, and he knew he wouldn’t get full from this. He’d get enough to take the edge off, enough to help his leg heal, but not enough to stop his stomach aching. He sucked hard, trying to get as much as he could before Darla told him to stop.
“That’s enough, Will.”
He kept on for just a second longer, which was all he judged he could do, then raised his head and licked his lips. Thomas was pale and blinking, his eyes drugged. Blood started to run down his arm, and Will eyed it hungrily.
“John, do you have the bandages?”
He did, and he led Thomas away and bandaged him while Angelus brought Drusilla forward.
Will wiped his mouth and backed away, and another of the men came forward, rolling his sleeve up resignedly.
“You’re very kind,” Darla murmured, making the cut. Drusilla fed without changing face, perhaps because Angelus hovered beside her the whole time with a hand under her elbow. When she lifted her head her eyes were sparkling, and her lips were painted red. The man stared at her with an expression of dazed lust that Will recognized from a thousand kills.
“Sweet mouse,” Drusilla whispered, and Angelus’s hand tightened on her arm. He whispered something in her ear and she turned and went back to sit at the long table. Angelus waited while one of the last two men came forward. He was a big man, perhaps in his middle fifties, with a shock of dark hair and a heavy beard.
“Tell me sir,” he said, his eyes fixed on Angelus’s face while he folded his sleeve neatly to the elbow. “How is it with us in the Crimea?”
Angelus paused and glanced at Darla, who merely waited. “The Crimea,” he repeated. “It’s...well.”
The man held his arm out and Darla cut it. “We’re standing firm?” he asked.
“Indeed,” Angelus said. “We’re acquitting ourselves most admirably.” He dipped his head and drank, while the man stared into the middle distance with a pensive expression. Will swallowed the last traces of blood in his mouth and tried not to stare at Angelus’s lips on the man’s bare skin.
After a time Angelus lifted his head, and the man pressed his hand absently over the wound. “Forgive my asking, sir,” he said. “We don’t have the rail here, or much post. But some of us like to keep up with the world.”
Angelus smiled and stepped back to let John wrap the man’s wrist. “Not at all,” he said. “I’m most happy to oblige.”
The man regarded him soberly. “You’re sure, sir, that we’re well fixed? Not going to be beat by the Cossacks?”
Angelus paused again, then shook his head. “I don’t see that the…Cossacks have any chance of beating us,” he said.
The man shook his head and flexed the wrist that John had finished bandaging. “Thank’ee, John. And thank you, sir. My mind’s at ease.”
Angelus took out his handkerchief and wiped his mouth, smiling.
Darla turned and looked past Will’s shoulder. “Come along,” she said, tapping a finger on the handle of the knife. “Unless you want to do without.”
They all looked around at Caitlin, who was standing forgotten in the shadows with an odd unhappy expression. The attention seemed to flummox her, and she walked quickly forward with her eyes on the floor. Will noticed that she gave Angelus as wide a berth as possible.
“If you please,” Darla said to the last man. He started, and rolled his sleeve up in a hurry.
Caitlin shifted uneasily, her eyes on Darla’s face as though she were trying to communicate something. Her nose was wrinkled, and Will recalled the expression of distaste she’d worn in the room upstairs. The flat smell she’d made out—if it came from the men, it must be stronger here. He sniffed quietly, but there was too much blood in the air and in his palate to tell.
Darla took hold of the man’s wrist and made the cut, then held his arm out to Caitlin. Caitlin took hold of it, but didn’t drink. She blinked and sniffed and a little shudder went down her back. Darla frowned.
“Come now,” she said, and there was a flat edge in her voice. “This man is being generous.”
Caitlin swallowed hard, then bent her head and drank. Her throat worked, and for a moment Will thought she was going to choke. Angelus tensed, and Darla’s face went cold. Caitlin lifted her head and coughed, then screwed her eyes shut and started drinking again.
She drank until Darla told her to stop, and then she pulled her mouth away as if the man’s skin were hot. A few dark drops flew to the floor.
“My apologies,” Darla said to the man, who was already being bandaged. “He’s very young.”
The man touched his forehead, and Caitlin wiped her mouth and pushed a shaking hand through her hair. Her eyes were brighter, but there was something slightly fevered in her appearance, as if the blood had sickened as well as fed her.
Will sucked on his teeth again, but couldn’t taste anything strange.
Caitlin backed up and started to retreat to the shadows. As she passed Will and Angelus, Angelus caught her arm and pulled her close.
“If you vomit, I’ll break your neck,” he whispered.
She stared at him dizzily for a moment, and then he let her go. She walked away to the far wall and stood leaning against it.
“You’ve been very kind,” Darla said. The men had regrouped by the fire now, each nursing a white-swathed wrist. “I knew you would be faithful, John.”
“Ah, Lady,” John said, smiling at the floor. “Whatever you ask, is yours.”
Darla smiled with something like affection, and folded up her knife. “We need rest,” she said. “Will you send a boy to take charge of the fire, and the horses?”
“Aye,” John said. “And clean bedding, no doubt. And…we haven’t any clothes to suit you, Lady—“
“That’s all right,” she said. “But bring a change for the men.”
John eyed Angelus doubtfully.
“Do the best you can,” Darla said.
“Aye, Lady, we will.” He gave a little bow like the one he’d given her in the square, then turned and led the men out. Their footsteps went down the hall to the great front door, and there was a hollow clang as it closed behind them.
Will turned and addressed the room at large.
“What the hell was that?”
Darla studied the drops that Caitlin had let spill, then carefully put out her toe and rubbed them into the stone.
“That,” she said, “was an atrocious display of ingratitude.”
She turned and looked at Caitlin, who was still leaning against the wall, her arms crossed over her belly. “Is she going to be ill?”
“No,” Angelus said.
“Come here,” Darla said. Caitlin pushed off the wall and came forward into the firelight.
“Are you going to be ill?” Darla asked again.
Caitlin shook her head. “No ma’am,” she said. She was very pale, with two round circles of colour in her cheeks.
“What’s the matter with her?” Will asked. “Was hers sick?”
Angelus frowned. “Did he smell sick?”
“Then don’t be an idiot.”
Darla put her hand out and took hold of Caitlin’s shoulder. “You feel ill?” she asked. “Their blood makes you feel ill?”
Caitlin nodded, then remembered herself and said quickly, “Yes, ma’am.”
Darla turned and smiled at Angelus. “How interesting.”
He raised his eyebrows and said nothing.
“Perhaps because you’re not family,” Darla said, turning back to Caitlin. “It would make sense, I suppose.”
“What would make sense?” Will asked. “Will somebody please—“
“This is Purwall,” Darla said, without looking at him. “The tower, and the village. It’s mine. The people are mine.” She glanced at him over her shoulder. “You believe they’d feed us if they didn’t belong to me?”
Will stared at her, then looked at Angelus, who was no help. “What do you mean, they belong to you?”
“They’re mine,” Darla said simply, turning back to Caitlin. “They owe me a debt of protection, and that extends to my childer as well. But you’re not my childe, little one.” She took hold of Caitlin’s chin and turned her head slowly from side to side, examining her as if for the first time. “They smell odd to you, and they don’t sit well. It’s very interesting indeed.” She dropped her hand and Caitlin stared fiercely at the floor. “Still, I doubt any of it will kill you.”
“No, but a stoat will kill a cuckoo,” Drusilla said from where she was sitting, and they all paused.
“Thank you, Drusilla,” Darla said evenly.
“Why do they owe you a debt?” Will asked.
“Oh, it’s very old,” Darla said, “and very boring. And I’m quite ready to sleep.” She tapped Caitlin on the forehead. “You stay here and let the boy in, when he comes. The rest of us will go up to bed.”
“I’m not sleepy,” Will said at once.
“No one asked you,” Angelus said.
“You have an entertaining gait just now, Will,” Darla said. “Do you expect it to be permanent?”
He straightened—he’d been unconsciously favouring the bad leg—and said, “No, Madam.”
“I’m glad. Because the Slayer might find it less comic, your crabbing about like that.”
He said nothing, and Drusilla hummed a few notes in the silence.
“I want to sleep with Daddy,” she said after a minute, standing up and leaning forward along the table. Angelus scowled.
“Stop that, Drusilla. You’re getting dust all down your front.”
“To bed,” Darla said curtly, walking away. Angelus followed and Drusilla went after, giggling and brushing at the front of her dress. Will stood alone for a moment, then looked around and saw Caitlin watching him.
“Don’t puke,” he said.
“Don’t freeze,” she said. Then, to his annoyance, she sat down directly in front of the fire and closed her eyes.
“Bitch,” he said quietly, and walked out after the rest of them, back to the cold and dark and sleep.