They were all silent until they had passed out through the gate again, and traded the sweet toxic air of the gardens for the harmless stink of the streets. Darla set a quick pace and led them south toward the front.
“Will—” Drusilla whispered, still crushing his hand in her own. “The cuckoo’s come back, Will. She’s going to take pride of place.”
“Hardly, love. Stop it, you’re cracking my bones.”
“I don’t like her,” she said in a soft and desperate voice. “I don’t like her at all, Will. Not at all.” She put her other hand round his neck and pulled him so close he could hardly walk. He could smell her fear, like pure milk gone sour, and it made him furious.
“Let go a minute,” he said, pulling free. He raised his voice and called ahead to Angelus and Darla. “What was all that about? How did that little brute come back?”
No response, and he hurried Dru up until they were walking just a step behind. “What’s going on? I thought she was dead.”
Darla increased the pace again, until he had to pull Dru almost to a run to keep up. They were almost at the shore; the air was hot brine. “I said, what are we going to—”
“Shut up,” Angelus said, turning suddenly and stopping, so that Will ran straight into him. Darla kept walking, leaving them behind. Will backed up a step and kept his hold on Dru, who had tried immediately to go to Angelus.
“What’s going on?” he asked, staring up into Angelus’s frown. “We left her with a stake in her, at sunup. What’s she doing here now?”
Angelus stared at him grimly. “I told you to be quiet,” he said. “Didn’t you understand me?”
“I don’t understand anything—”
Angelus glanced left and right, then smacked Will across the face. Will skipped back another step.
“—anything that’s going on. How does that French bitch know where we’re lodging? And why are you letting her—”
Angelus cracked him over his right ear, before he could even see it coming to dodge. He lost hold of Dru’s hand and staggered to stay upright. For a moment the pavement and the sky threatened to swap places.
Then Angelus’s arm was around his shoulders, hauling him up, and they were walking quickly forward again. Angelus’s voice was in his ear.
“Shut up, boy. I won’t explain myself to you, and I won’t have you bothering Darla. You take your sister’s hand and be good and quiet while Darla and I talk, or I will knock your head off your shoulders. Do you understand?”
Will shook his head to clear it, and Angelus gripped the back of his neck. Pain went down Will’s spine to his heels, buckling his knees.
“Yes sir,” he gasped, and Angelus let go.
“Good boy,” he said. “Do as you’re told and don’t be a nuisance, and it will be all right.”
Will was silent, and Angelus rubbed his neck lightly. Darla was disappearing through the seawall break, continuing down to the sand. Some part of Will’s mind fussed that her skirts were going to be ruined.
“What about Dru?” he asked, as Angelus glanced over to the right, where she was keeping pace with them, watching them with wide horrified eyes. “She’s getting into a state.”
“She’ll be fine.” Angelus let go of Will and put out an arm to Dru, who came at once and pressed against his chest. “No reason to take on so, Drusilla.”
She gave a ragged sob and dug her fingers into his coat, and his face twisted impatiently. He glanced again at the seawall where Darla had disappeared. “Come along, stop that. Here—” He patted her hair, then her back. “For God’s sake, Drusilla—”
“She’s frightened,” Will said. “Seeing that girl gave her a turn.”
“Did it,” Angelus said, without much sympathy. “Girl, there’s nothing to be frightened of. I don’t have time for this nonsense.” She shook and clawed at his neck, and he slapped her hands away. “Christ—stop that. Listen to me, you’re perfectly safe—”
“She’s come back!” Dru cried, raising her face and staring at him with huge-eyed terror. “She hasn’t died properly, she dies and dies and won’t turn to dust, and she’s the new princess, she tells the children what to do—”
“Sweet mother Mary,” Angelus said, and grabbed her wrists. “Take her, Will. Keep her quiet, and don’t wander off. I haven’t the time for this.” He thrust Dru at Will and strode off after Darla.
Will caught Drusilla’s wrists and pulled her close, while she fought and cried for Angelus. “It’s all right,” he whispered, kissing her face. “Stop that, Princess, you’re safe, you’re perfectly all right—” He cast an anxious look over his shoulder at Angelus’s retreating back. “Come along, she’s only a stupid girl, it’s nothing to cry over.”
She wailed and struck his chest, and he had trouble catching her arms with his mending hand. “Ow—come on, let’s go after Angelus, shall we? We’ll walk behind, and—ouch, dammit—they’ll tell us what it’s all about in a little while. Come on, love.” He trapped her arms and yanked her against him, and started off after Angelus. She wept quietly, her head bowed.
Darla and Angelus were well ahead now, walking almost at the water’s edge. Will kept a little higher up the sand, and murmured reassurance to Drusilla, and kissed her hair. Slowly her weeping stopped, and she rested her head on his shoulder and let him lead her. Under other circumstances, he would have been happy.
They walked the shore for the better part of an hour, tracing and retracing a route between the piers, with Will hanging back with Dru at a respectful distance. Angelus kept his hands clasped behind his back, and stared at the sand. Darla held herself rigidly straight and spoke continuously, without inflection, her gaze straight ahead. Only once did her voice rise, and Will caught the word idiot, spoken coolly as another woman might say table. Angelus did not look up at that, or at anything else.
At last Darla led the way back up to the seawall; she and Angelus passed within a few feet of Will and Dru, but made no acknowledgement. Will held his peace and followed behind all the way back to the hotel, trying not to look at any of the humans reeling past. To his own amazement, he was hungry again.
The desk clerk gave them a sideways look and touched his forehead, and they went up to their rooms. Angelus opened the door to the first, and Darla went in without a word.
“You two take the other room tonight,” Angelus said in a low tone, turning to face Dru and Will. “Go to sleep. No noise, or I’ll be in and make you sorry.”
“Yes sir,” Will said immediately, trying to cover his surprise. Dru made no such effort—her face dropped and she let out a stifled cry.
“I’m to be with you, Daddy, it’s our room—”
Angelus scowled. “Hush, girl. If you’re going to throw a fit make it a quiet one. This is a respectable establishment.” He gestured at Will to take her away, and Will didn’t wait for him to change his mind. He caught Dru’s elbow and walked her quickly down the hall to the second room.
He was worried she might indeed throw a fit, and since Dru’s fits were never quiet he was prepared to wrap her in the bedclothes and lie on her until she was done—but she didn’t. The fight had gone out of her. She let him lead her, spiritless, into the room, and watched without expression while he closed the door.
“It’s all right, love,” he said again—he’d been saying it all night, it seemed. “Come on, let’s get you to bed.”
She let him undress her, and lay silently while he undressed too and got under the covers beside her. He lay next to her and ran his hand through her hair, then turned her face and kissed her. She stood it. He stroked her shoulders and her breasts, and she stared at the ceiling. After a while he realized she was listening to the indistinct sound of voices from Darla and Angelus’s room—a few moments after that, he realized he was listening, too.
He kissed the point of her shoulder and sighed, then curled up with his head next to hers on the pillow. They stared at the ceiling together, not breathing, not moving.
This one is sweet, she said, trailing her fingers down his cheek. Her skin was cold and moist. I would drink him like hock.
She caught his broken hand and brought it to her own face, clinging when he tried to pull away. Her grip was strong, and hurt him. She slipped his fingers into her mouth and ran her tongue over them, watching with lashless black eyes to see his expression. Her lips were wet and wide. There were small mottled markings at her temples and throat, and drops of water slid down her brow.
Sweet, she said. Are you certain he is your childe, Angelus—your very own? I have heard otherwise.
No one answered, and she smiled and swallowed Will’s hand to the wrist. The pressure of her throat was agony, and he cried out and tried to pull free.
I would drink him like hock.
He woke with a start, and pulled his aching hand out from underneath Drusilla. It was daytime, or morning at least—the edges of the curtains were white. He lay staring at the ceiling, cradling his hand against his chest and trying to quiet the panic in his belly.
The hotel was full of the normal human sounds of morning, the harried petty snappishness of parents and the excitement of children, discussions about toast and trains and newspapers passing through the halls. Outside he could hear horses and their trappings, the tinny jangle of a barrel-organ, the cries of birds. Beneath all of it was the gnaw of the sea, which had become such a constant in the last few weeks that he’d forgotten it entirely.
He stared at the ceiling and bit his lip and thought of all the ways that humans were stupid—eating and working and ageing helplessly, feeble and soft as jellyfish. They were food, that was all. You caught them and played with them a while, and then you ate them.
But still, a pair of women went down the hall laughing together, and his heart twisted. For just a moment, he wanted to be able to get up and go downstairs to the sunlit breakfast room, where humans would be eating boiled eggs and scolding their sons. He wanted to sit in company, where there was movement and activity, where there was a salt cellar on the table and a cream jug in the willow pattern of his childhood.
It was the stupidest thing he’d wanted in years, since the very start, when he didn’t know any better. He couldn’t imagine why he wanted it now, and he hated himself for a fool, but that didn’t dispel the wanting.
His hand ached and he shook it, then got up carefully and found his watch. Nine o’clock.
He settled on his haunches at the foot of the bed, and sighed.
By three o’clock he was famished, and half mad with boredom and anxiety. Dru was still asleep. She had driven her face into the pillow, and slept with an air of fixity and determination, as if wilfully removing herself from the world. There had been no sound at all from Darla and Angelus’s room; probably they had talked all night, and were resting now for whatever was going to come next.
That was what occupied most of Will’s mind, as he sat with his back against the bed, testing his fingers ritually—what would come next. Darla had agreed to let Venétiane come to the hotel, and the more he considered that, the more he found it a deeply disquieting notion. Another master was going to visit them in what amounted, for the moment at least, to their home. The thought raised a queer mix of anger and nausea in him.
And not just another master, but that bloody girl, Caitlin, who by all rights ought to be dead. Who by no rights whatsoever should be paying them a call in their rooms. Who had looked solider and surer and older than he remembered, and who had stared at Angelus with a cold, purposeful hatred that bothered Will even now.
He found himself returning again and again to the moment she had stepped out onto the lawn, and each time he was more disgusted with himself. He ought to have noticed more—how she smelled, and whether she had healed entirely, and a hundred other things that Angelus would have caught right away. Whereas Will had been thinking about her hair. She might have produced a stake and a bottle of holy water from her pockets, and he wouldn’t have twigged until it was too late.
He berated himself for a while, then slipped sideways into a series of consoling fantasies. Caitlin emerged from the bushes and he noticed at once that she was lame and blind in one eye, and had recently fed off an opium fiend. Caitlin didn’t have a chance to emerge from the bushes—he smelt her first, and called her out in a commanding tone. Caitlin emerged from the bushes and he crossed the lawn in a few steps, pinned her against the trunk of the laurel, cracked her chest, and yanked out her heart as a gift for Dru. Of course, that left him with the unpleasant consequences of having killed another master’s minion. Venétiane’s black eyes snapped at him, and he veered away and went back to testing his fingers.
Stefano was another problem. Stefano had followed him back to the hotel, and for that Will owed him a broken hand. And there was the matter of what Venétiane had said: a lovely couple, so beautiful, so gallant. Will thought of Stefano’s smile, and his heavy grey eyes running down Dru’s body, and a rush of fury filled his head. For that—for just the suggestion of that—he owed Stefano a broken neck. He dwelt on that until he felt a little calmer. It occurred to him that Caitlin had stood a few feet away from Stefano, as if she didn’t like to go any nearer.
Will stared at the wall and wondered how she hadn’t died. She dies and dies and won’t turn to dust. The girl had been killed six ways to Sunday, and somehow she was still walking. Which only proved, of course, that she was no better at dying than she was at anything else. But he thought of how she’d looked at Angelus, and wasn’t comforted.
He stretched his aching fingers and checked his watch again. Three thirty. His stomach growled, and he lay down on the carpet and stared at the ceiling, and wished for night.
He fell asleep shortly before dark, and woke again at the feel of it. A few moments later, the door opened and Angelus came in, knotting his tie. He paused and frowned down at Will.
“What are you doing on the floor?”
“Couldn’t sleep.” Will sat up and ran his hand through his hair. Angelus was still staring at him, so he added, “It’s cooler down here.”
Angelus shook his head dismissively, and looked at the bed. Dru was still asleep; she hadn’t moved all day. “Wake Drusilla up, and tell her to come next door and get dressed. Darla will come in and fetch her own clothes shortly.” He paused and studied Will. “Your face is a little better—how’s the hand?”
Will held it up and flexed it without comment. Angelus nodded. “Good. Though it hardly matters, once she’s noticed it. Get dressed properly, and comb your hair.” He finished his tie and turned to go, and Will stood up.
Angelus turned back, one hand on the doorknob.
“Well—what’s going on exactly? What are they coming to talk about?”
Angelus frowned. “You were present last night. You know as much as any of us, at the moment.”
“So you don’t know why she’s coming?”
“Unless I have forgotten some crucial exchange, she didn’t say.”
“Well—” Will scratched his chin and tried to order his thoughts. “Well, you know her, don’t you? You and Darla both do. Or at least you know who she is.”
Angelus leaned against the door and crossed his arms. “Yes,” he said in an elaborately tolerant tone. “She is roughly Darla’s contemporary, though I don’t know that they have ever met in person before.”
“Oh. Well, what do you think of her?” Angelus raised his eyebrows, so Will added, “I mean, do you think she can be trusted?”
Angelus laughed. “Trusted? I don’t know, Will, what do you think?” He tipped his head to one side and studied Will closely. “Perhaps I ought to lend you out to her, as she suggested. You might enjoy the experience—you wouldn’t have to call her sir.”
Will swallowed. “No, sir.”
“No to what?”
“No, I don’t think she can be trusted. And you can’t lend me out. I’m not a bloody carriage horse.” He realized as soon as he’d said it that it was an unfortunate metaphor.
Angelus’s eyes dropped to Will’s right hand, then came back to his face. “I think you’ll find,” he said, “that I can do pretty much what I like with you, William. Fledges can be traded. You might remember that, the next time you throw a tantrum.”
Will looked away.
“Get dressed,” Angelus said, turning and opening the door. “And wake Drusilla up. They’ll be here before midnight.”
There was a soft step and a tentative knock, and they all turned toward the door.
“Come in,” Angelus said.
The door opened and the night porter stood looking at them with some perplexity.
“Begging your pardon sir. As you said, there’s a—there’s some folk here to see you.” He had his watch out, and gave it a quick glance as he spoke.
Angelus nodded. “Show them up.”
The man stared at them a moment longer, then pulled the door to and disappeared.
Darla ran her hand over her hair and looked at Angelus. “You should have reminded him of my photosensitivity, darling. He’ll think we’re mad.”
Angelus drummed his fingers on his knee and made a noncommittal sound.
“Mustn’t let our guard down now,” Darla said in a soft reproving tone. She turned and gave Will one last look over her shoulder. “Is it any use telling you to behave again?”
He shrugged. He was wearing his least favourite coat, the one that Darla liked and that itched his neck and wrists. Angelus had done his collar and tie, and they were very tight.
“Try at least not to curse at her,” Darla said, turning back to face the door. There was a waspish edge in her tone, and she was holding herself very straight. As Will watched, her right hand stole to her reticule and traced the outline of the jaw; then she caught herself and folded her hands in her lap.
Dru was standing behind Angelus’s chair, a bookend to Will. When he had finally got her up she’d been somnambulant, talking in fragments about toads and lizards and cuckoos, and making quiet burring sounds beneath her breath. Even now she was torpid, and leaned on the back of Angelus’s chair.
Will tried to catch her eye, but there were steps coming down the hall, and then another tap at the door. He turned back sharply and straightened up.
“Come in,” Angelus said, without standing.
The porter pushed the door open with one finger, and stood looking at a card in his other hand.
“Uh—Madame Venétiane,” he said, mangling it badly. “For Mr. Arlees.” He pocketed the card and stood aside, and Venétiane came in, followed by Stefano and, after a moment’s pause, Caitlin. Will glanced at Dru again automatically; her eyes were wide and blank. When he looked back he found Stefano watching him with a slight smile. Will straightened and let his lip rise a fraction, and Stefano looked away.
The porter lingered a moment, staring, then caught Angelus’s look and disappeared.
“Master Angelus,” Venétiane said with a smile, and dropped into a curtsey. She wore a blue dress now, with the same dark ribbon around her neck. “Madame Darla. Again, I am in your debt for this kind service.”
Angelus stood and bowed. “Madame Venétiane. We’re honoured by your visit.”
“Please sit,” Darla said, indicating the pair of chairs facing her own and Angelus’s. “I regret we cannot offer you refreshment.”
Venétiane waved a hand very slightly. “Thank you, I have already taken something. I find Brighton most hospitable, the promenade especially.” She sank into one of the chairs, and watched Angelus sit opposite her. “It is most hot, is it not?”
“Indeed,” Angelus said. Stefano glided to a position behind Venétiane’s chair, while Caitlin hung a few feet back. Angelus didn’t look at either of them; his gaze was fixed on Venétiane.
“Is this common in England, such heat?”
“Not common, no.”
Venétiane fanned herself slowly with one hand, smiling. “I quite enjoy it. Have you ever travelled to the Côte d’Azur, Angelus?”
Angelus tapped his right knee a few times, quickly, then stopped and leaned back in his chair. He crossed his legs and rested his hands in his lap. “A beautiful region,” he said. “Though the taste of the locals is an acquired one.”
Venétiane laughed. “We will travel there someday, perhaps,” she said. “Together. I will show you the best hunting grounds, and you will see there are many tastes to be tried.”
Angelus smiled and said nothing.
“Or perhaps,” Venétiane went on, “you will favour me with le grand tour of your own country. The Irish are a charming people, when they are fed.”
Will fidgeted slightly, casting another sideways look at Dru. Venétiane immediately turned to him with a smile.
“Bon soir, mon enfant,” she said. “That is a delightful coat you wear. Tell me, if I wish a coat such as that for my boy Stefano, where may I find it?”
Everyone looked at Will. He cast a glance at Angelus, who looked back at him without expression. Angelus’s fingers were tapping his knee again, though, and Will thought he smelled the faintest trace of worry in the air.
“The coat was made in Leeds,” Angelus said, turning back to Venétiane and stilling his hand. “I can provide you with the tailor’s address, if you wish.”
Venétiane shrugged and smiled. “You dress the boy well, Angelus. He is fortunate to have such an attentive sire.”
“I remind him of that fact often.”
Venétiane laughed; it was a pretty, tinkling sound. “I am certain that you do, Angelus. You are spoken of—do you know this?—as a master who knows the old ways, and follows them. L’ancien régime, you will excuse the expression. And this of course is why I come to you.”
Darla, who had sat silent and unmoving so far, shifted in her chair. “Forgive me, Madame Venétiane,” she said quietly. “You came to England to seek the Slayer, did you not? Or perhaps I misunderstood.”
Venétiane looked at Darla as if surprised to find her there. “Ah yes,” she said, and smiled. Then she turned back to Angelus. “But I do not inquire into your personal affairs, Master Angelus. What may, or may not, have occurred to the girl is not for me to ask.”
“As you say.”
“Indeed, I have forgotten her already. Bof—like a cloud, she disappears.” She blew lightly over her palm, then fluttered her fingers. “I come for the future, Angelus, not the past.”
Angelus looked at her without speaking. She leaned forward slightly and fixed him with a serious gaze.
“France,” she said, “is dying.”
Angelus shot a quick sideways look at Darla. “Indeed,” he said in a neutral tone.
“Yes, these hundred years. Mon beau pays—it is gutted, cut up by butchers and fools. They throw it to the dogs, these humans; they throw my country to the dogs in the street.” Her voice was low and steady, and her eyes held Angelus’s without blinking.
“You speak of the revolution,” Angelus said.
“The revolution, yes. The world turned upside down, so a paysan may stare at me in the street. Madness. You have had our nobles here, I think, begging from your own people, while heads fell in Paris.”
“I should think,” Darla said, “that such circumstances would be to your benefit. You cannot entirely regret them; you wear the ribbon.”
Venétiane paused, then turned again to Darla. “No,” she said, touching the band at her neck. “I do not mind la guillotine, in its place. And there is a certain pleasure to be found in human confusions. One is a little more free.” She dropped her hand and frowned. “But this is more than confusion. France will not have a king again.”
There was a pause, while Angelus studied the carpet and Venétiane watched him closely.
“That may be,” he said finally, rubbing his jaw. “And it may not. But you asked leave to visit for another reason. That girl is hanging back there like a gorecrow, and I would like to know why you have brought her.”
Venétiane leaned back in her chair and sighed. “Of course,” she said. “Please excuse my forgetfulness. Come here, girl.” She curled her fingers over her shoulder, and Caitlin came forward and stood beside her chair. Stefano glanced at her from under his lids, then looked away. Venétiane regarded her with a slight smile.
“How long, do you think, before she can tie back her hair?” she asked absently. “Like my Stefano—but not so handsome.”
Angelus shifted, and Venétiane turned back to him. “Forgive me. I think it best I show why I bring her, rather than try to tell. But if I do so, I must first have your agreement to one thing. I am here as your invited guest, Master Angelus—and my childe and minion, too. You will not harm us while we are your guests.”
Angelus put his hands on the arms of his chair and pushed himself straighter. He looked at Darla, who hesitated, then nodded. Angelus turned back to Venétiane.
“That is the traditional arrangement,” he said slowly. “And I agree to observe it tonight. As long as you offer no harm to myself or my family, you are safe.”
Venétiane nodded. “Thank you.” She turned and looked at Will. “Come here, mon enfant. Step forward a moment.”
Angelus immediately shook his head. “No,” he said. “Whatever you have to show me can be done without involving my childer.”
“Ah, but in fact it cannot. I promise you, Angelus, I intend no harm and will do no harm. I am your guest.”
“No. I want an explanation, not a pantomime. Speak French if you wish, but you may not use him.”
Venétiane held up her hands in a gesture of helplessness. “I cannot,” she said. “You would prefer, perhaps, the girl—?”
Will stepped around Darla’s chair. “I’ll do it,” he said. “Whatever it is.”
Angelus shot him a dire look, but Venétiane laughed delightedly. “Oh, this one speaks his mind! How old, Angelus?”
“Get back, William.” Angelus’s voice was cold and tight. Will glanced at him; he was sitting forward in his chair, as if about to stand up.
“I’m all right,” Will said. “She said no harm. What do I have to do?”
“He is quite safe,” Venétiane said, still gazing at Will with sparkling eyes. “I promise you as your guest, Angelus—he will not be harmed. I did not become so old as I am by breaking my promises, did I?”
Angelus stared at Will without speaking, and Will raised his eyes to look at Dru instead. She was watching him with an odd fixed expression: more expectant than afraid. He half-smiled and turned back to face Venétiane.
“What do I have to do?” he asked again.
“Nothing, my boy. Only be, as you are. Just so. And then, girl—” She turned to Caitlin, and everyone’s gaze followed hers.
Caitlin stared at Will, and he met her gaze with a slight sneer.
“Hullo again,” he said softly. “Fancy another draining?”
A furrow formed between her eyes, and he smiled.
“Sit down,” she said.
He took a step to the chair beside Venétiane, and sat in it.
There was a moment’s pause, and he looked around and wondered why everyone was staring at him.
“Stand up,” Caitlin said. He stood.
“Sit down,” she said.
He sat again. Angelus’s expression was extremely odd, and Will himself was feeling strange. He couldn’t put his finger on it; it was as though he had forgotten something. He couldn’t think what it was.
“Stand up,” Caitlin said, and he stood again.
“Stop it,” Angelus said softly. Caitlin looked at him, and her lips curved in a small, cruel smile.
“Sit down,” she whispered, and Will sat.
“Enough,” Venétiane said sharply. She reached out and yanked Caitlin’s waistband. “Aux genoux.” Caitlin dropped to her knees, her eyes on the floor.
Will watched with confusion. There was a familiar smell of anger in the air, but he couldn’t think what he’d done to warrant it. Darla was staring at him with that fixed expression that meant she’d been shaken. Dru’s eyes were huge and wet. It was too much to think about right now. He looked away toward the window, and wished vaguely for a breeze.
“William. Will. Get up, come here.” That was Angelus speaking to him, his voice gentle. But the air still smelled of rage, and the contradiction was impossible to unravel. Better to listen to the sea, or the faint sound of voices from the front. Laughter and shouting, and hurried footsteps in the street below—
A hand touched his. He looked down and saw pale skin and beautiful sharp fingernails.
“Your sire speaks to you, my boy,” Venétiane said. “You must listen.”
He looked into her face, and her black eyes held him, deep and sober. It occurred to him that someday Dru would be that old, and that when she was, she would be the most beautiful woman in the world.
“Will,” Angelus said again. “Come here.”
Will blinked, took his hand from under Venétiane’s, and stood up. He crossed over and stood behind Darla’s chair before he noticed that Angelus’s hand was held out to him; then it seemed awkward to switch sides, so he stayed where he was. Angelus dropped his arm. There was silence.
“My apologies,” Venétiane said after a moment. “She continued, after you wished her to stop. I will speak to her on the subject.”
Angelus said nothing; he was staring at Venétiane with dark hard eyes, and the smell in the room was smouldering. Darla glanced at him quickly.
“That is most interesting,” she said, and her voice was calm. “She casts spells, I take it?”
Venétiane laughed. “Ah—no,” she said. “A spell needs study, understanding, control… She has merely an aptitude. Perhaps the girl of Angelus is the same?”
Darla frowned. “No,” she said. “Hardly the same, I should think.”
“But she too tells a man, ‘Do this,’ and he does it, no?”
Darla made a gesture that neither confirmed nor denied. “This aptitude—you taught it to her?”
“No. I teach her control, and to use it for the right purpose.”
“And what is the right purpose?”
Venétiane smiled and looked at Angelus. “But Master Angelus does not forgive so easily. I am sorry—it is a liberty, I know, but I cannot explain in words. I must show instead. And as I promised, no harm has been done.”
There was a brief silence, and then Angelus repeated, “No harm.” His voice was flat.
Venétiane sat back in her chair and looked at Will. “No, Angelus. He is perfectly well—see him? Let him tell you so.”
Everyone looked at Will, and he shrugged. His gaze was drawn back to the empty chair beside Venétiane; he knew he’d only just been sitting there, but couldn’t remember why he’d done so. Surely not because that idiot girl had told him to?
“I’m all right,” he said, when no one spoke.
“And this one,” Venétiane said, reaching out and flicking Caitlin in the side of the head, “I will remind of her place. But still, Angelus, you see there are possibilities.”
“Possibilities,” Angelus repeated.
Venétiane nodded. She had begun absently to run her fingers through Caitlin’s hair. “Indeed. You see why I bring her to your attention. She is so interesting, so curious—I would be selfish to keep her to myself. To…hoard her, I think you say?”
Angelus sat silent for a moment, his hands wrapped around the arms of his chair and his gaze on the carpet. Then he looked at Venétiane. “Have her do it to me.”
Venétiane raised her eyebrows, and Darla stiffened. “Oh, but she cannot,” Venétiane said at once. “Not that I would in any case permit her to.”
“Why can’t she?”
“Because you are too old, Angelus.”
“How do you know?”
Venétiane laughed. “Because I made certain, of course. I would not wish a minion who could tell me stand or sit, and I should have no choice. Or to my children, either. I made certain before I accepted her.”
“How did you make certain?”
Venétiane smiled and looked at her own fingers in Caitlin’s hair. Caitlin’s eyelids had sunk halfway, and her expression was dazed. “You are older than my boy, Master Angelus,” Venétiane said. “Not many years, perhaps, but he is old enough. She cannot make him do as she says. Only humans, and fledges. Little things. Amusements.”
“Amusements,” Angelus said softly, and Darla gave him a quick look.
“Nevertheless,” Darla said, “you understand we wish to be sure. Have her try with Angelus, please.”
Venétiane shrugged and took her hand from Caitlin’s head. “Au debout,” she said. Caitlin stood, blinking. “Vas-y, avec le monsieur.”
For a moment Caitlin didn’t move; then she rubbed a hand over her eyes and took a step forward so that she was in front of Angelus’s chair. He looked up at her, and for a moment she faltered. She hesitated, began to step back, then glanced over her shoulder at Venétiane. Venétiane regarded her without expression, and Caitlin squared her shoulders and looked round at Angelus again.
“Stand up,” she said softly.
Angelus didn’t move. His eyes were locked on her face, and she swallowed and cleared her throat.
“Stand up,” she said, with more force.
He looked at Venétiane. “How do I know she isn’t shamming?”
Venétiane shrugged. “I tell you, she cannot. Only little things.”
Angelus gave Caitlin a bleak, considering look. “Permit me an experiment,” he said, speaking still to Venétiane. “A small one.”
Venétiane sighed. “Certainly. But of course you recall I am your guest, and she also?”
“I recall what you are,” Angelus said, and stood up. Standing, he loomed over Caitlin, and she took a quick step back. There was a thread of fear in the air now, under the smell of his anger.
“No harm,” Venétiane said softly, and Angelus nodded. Then he reached out and wrapped his hand around the back of Caitlin’s neck. She squeaked and rose up on her toes.
“Stop me,” he said. “Make me let go.”
“Let go,” she gasped, and he squeezed harder. His fingertips dug into her flesh.
“Master Angelus—” Venétiane said, in an imperturbable tone.
“Stop—let go—stop—” Her toes were barely touching the floor now, and her whole body was arched backward and trembling. Tears ran down her cheeks.
Angelus pulled her close, until his face was only inches from hers. She stared at him in silent terror. He lowered his face to her throat and she began instantly to writhe and claw at his hand.
“Master Angelus—” Venétiane said again, with a trace of irritation.
Angelus put his nose to Caitlin’s neck and sniffed, then gave her a little shake. “No,” he said softly, as if to himself. Then he let her go, and she stumbled backward and fell over the chair Will had sat in. Stefano smiled slightly and looked away.
“As you see,” Venétiane said, watching Caitlin pick herself up. “She cannot. Though perhaps we will next time agree what is meant when we say, ‘No harm.’”
“She isn’t damaged,” Angelus said calmly. “And I feel obliged to state that I in no way consider that a conclusive test.” He sat down and fixed Venétiane with a cool look. “This is all very interesting, Madame, but you haven’t answered my question.”
“Have I not?” Venétiane asked. “I should think I have. As I say, Angelus, I would be most selfish to keep such a girl to myself. I wish to share her. But not with any master—rather, with one who is strong and wise, who remembers the old ways. That a master is just that—a master—and a minion is also just that. And so I bring her here, to you.”
“To have me teach her.”
“Share her, yes.”
Angelus laughed sharply and opened his mouth, but before he could speak, Darla interrupted. “You are most generous to think of us, Madame Venétiane,” she said. “And your offer is quite extraordinary. We will, of course, respond in due course.”
Venétiane looked from Angelus to Darla, and then back. Angelus had closed his mouth, and sat in silence, without expression. Venétiane nodded. “Of course, Madame Darla,” she said. “I hope for the pleasure of your agreement.”
“Thank you so much for your visit. May we contact you in the same way?”
Venétiane tipped her head slightly and gave Darla a slow smile. “Oh no,” she said. “I thought to avoid the fuss, and to be available if you should wish me near. And so we have taken rooms here, in the…what, the ‘Waterloo’? A charming establishment.”
Darla paused, just for an instant. “Wonderful,” she said. “Though perhaps, on second thought, it would be better for you to lodge elsewhere, to prevent the staff wondering at all of us keeping such hours?”
“Ah,” Venétiane said, standing up. “But your ailment is hereditary, Madame Darla. And we are, after all, sisters. What is more to be expected than two frail, sickly sisters keeping company together?” She winked, then dropped a low, prolonged curtsey. “Master Angelus, Madame Darla, I await your response.”
Angelus stood and bowed, and Darla did something that might have been a curtsey. Stefano bowed and went to hold the door for Venétiane, who left with a final smile at Angelus. Caitlin neither bowed nor curtseyed, and had to catch hold of the closing door to let herself out after Stefano.
As soon as Venétiane was gone, Angelus turned to look at Darla. “What are you doing?” he asked.
“What you should have done months ago,” she said. “Thinking ahead.”