I did not think Aodac was upset over my hasty retreat. I knew he would ready himself to feed and leave the house for the night as well. I ascended the hidden corridor Aodac and I had descended two nights ago and emerged into the large foyer near the front door. I turned to my left and entered a small intimate entertaining parlor. I sat on a dainty settee near the middle of the room and called the servant Kramer in. My first impression of Kramer was of a man content in life. He was an older man that stood about six feet even with a medium build and a pleasant face. His hair was speckled gray with age and he had started to go bald on the crown of his head. His face was creased with smile lines and yet he presented himself with a stoic look upon his brow. His thin lips hid behind a full mustache and his eyes danced with life. I knew that if nothing else I would love this man as Aodac seemed to love him. I smiled warmly as I looked into Kramer’s eyes.
“Please sit.” I said in a quiet voice as I gestured to a chair next to mine.
Kramer lifted an eyebrow but didn’t say anything. He sat next to me in the proffered chair and waited for me to break the silence.
“Kramer?” I asked to confirm that it was indeed Kramer that I spoke to.
“Yes, madam?” he said in a bisque voice.
“It is a pleasure to finally meet the one Aodac speaks so highly of. I would like to ask that you keep this conversation strictly between the two of us and that we speak in quiet tones to ensure we are not overheard.” I asked.
Kramer nodded, indicating that he understood the instruction.
“Aodac assures me that you are one of the few servants in the house that is loyal. Aodac also assures me that I can trust you emphatically with an issue that is sensitive in nature and will require complete discretion. Is this true?” I asked him bluntly.
“Yes, madam. I am loyal to Master Aodac; therefore I am loyal to you. I would never do anything to hurt Master Aodac.” He said quietly and with sincerity.
“Might I inquire as to how you came to be so loyal to Aodac?” I asked him.
“I met Master Aodac a little over a year ago. I saw him wandering in the market one evening; he was babbling to himself. He was ill then. I think there was a touch of madness in him. I heard the things he babbled. He kept saying to himself “I killed her, I killed her.” I approached him, thinking to get him out of the street before the authorities were called. The authorities would have shot him dead without a second thought. He looked at me like I was a ghost and he called me ‘Cahol’. I tried to lead him away from the market before the authorities came, and he allowed me to walk him out of there. He kept saying ‘I’m sorry.’ When I asked him what he was sorry for he started babbling about killing this Cahol man, and then killing “my Francesca”. I found that if I let him think of me as Cahol he would talk openly. He told me about many things. He told me about vampires and he told me the most tragic story I have ever heard. I tried to take him to my home; I knew he was ill and he needed care, but he wouldn’t follow me. He kept saying ‘I have to get back to her’, so I followed him back to this house. I followed him to your side. I watched him crumble to his knees as he took your hand and sobbed, begging you to come back to him. He was convinced you were dead; however I could see you breathing and I tried to assure him that you were alive. ‘I killed her’ is all he would say. I stayed here with him for months as he knelt by you and begged you to come back to him. I constantly assured him that you were alive, though I didn’t know what was wrong with you. I helped him feed you. I helped him care for you. I helped him walk out of his madness. I have never seen someone so broken inside. I would never betray him or you. I would never be the catalyst to drive him back into the hell he lived in.”
“Why did you stay with him?” I asked. “Why did you help him when you knew what he was?”
“I felt pity for him. I knew he played a part in the story he told me, and I felt great sorrow for the losses that he had known for so long. He needed help; I gave it.” Kramer replied.
“What story did he tell you exactly?” I asked him. I was truly curious to hear Kramer’s answer. I was curious to know just how much Aodac had trusted this man.
“He told me that his beloved Francesca had loved another man and that he had killed that man. He told me what she did to him when she found out. He told me of a brief time in a place far to the north when he had loved her and she had loved him before she condemned him to a fate worse than death. He told me of being trapped in a wall for fifty years as hate consumed him. He told me of the revenge he had exacted on his former love. I know that you are the Francesca from his stories. What I am curious about is what you are going to do to him?” Kramer said as he looked at me sharply.
“I will do nothing to Aodac. The past is at rest and we mean to keep it there; however it is the present we must concern ourselves with.”
“How do you mean, madam?” Kramer asked me with a curious look on his face.
“Aodac and I have both suffered greatly; we have both sacrificed and we have both bled. That is over. However, there is a threat just as great hanging over this house and we must weed it out.” I said to Kramer.
“What threat is that?” Kramer asked me. “Master Aodac has endured far too much already. I will not allow anything to hurt him.”
“I am glad you feel that way, Kramer. However, know this… Since you know that I am the Francesca from Aodac’s stories you know how vicious my temper is when sparked. Do not double cross me to my enemies or I will exact a far worse revenge on you than anything Aodac ever endured.” I said with a biting warning in my voice.
“Madam, I will never betray Master Aodac. If Master Aodac trusts you then so do I. I am your faithful servant. Ask of me what you will.” Kramer said with a fierce loyalty in his voice.
“As you wish, Kramer.” I said quietly. “The new house guest, Alan, is not quite what he appears to be. There really is no subtle way to say this; I need you to spy on him. I want you to go through his belongings and his entire room when he is out of the house. I want you to eavesdrop on his conversations. I want to you do whatever you can to find information on this man for me without making yourself appear suspicious. I want to know everything there is to know about him. I want him watched, followed, and spied on at every opportunity. Furthermore, Aodac will know of what has been said here; therefore you are free to discuss anything with him should I be absent. One of us shall always be here for you to come to with anything that you find that may need our attention. Can you do all of this for me?” I asked him.
“I can, madam. However, I must ask why; after all it was you who invited him to stay two nights ago.” Kramer said mildly.
“Dearest Kramer, I invited him to stay because I do not trust him. Remember the adage ‘keep your friends close but keep your enemies closer’? That is what I am doing.” I said in the same mild tone.
“If I may,” Kramer began, “please explain that. You only just met this man. How can he be your enemy?” Kramer said in a confused tone.
“He basically told Aodac and me our life story the other night without using one name. Call this women’s intuition; call it a gut feeling; call it instinct; call it whatever you wish, Kramer. I know this man is not what he appears to be.” I said vehemently.
“How do you mean?” Kramer asked. I knew that I had truly peaked his curiosity.
“His words say one thing to you, and his eyes tell you a different story. He’s cold; his eyes are hard and calculating. He is not the happy-go-lucky free spirited man-child he would have you believe he is. I want to know what he’s hiding.” I said in answer to his question, only to ask one of my own. “I realize that I ask a lot of you. Constant watch on someone is not easy. Is there anyone that you would trust to help you with this task?”
“Well madam, there’s um, Blair and then there’s uh, Kevin. They are loyal to Master Aodac and me.”
Before Kramer could continue I asked him, “How are you so sure of their loyalties? What assurance do I have that they will not breathe a word of this ‘mission’ to anyone else?”
“Madam, they are my nephews. When I helped Master Aodac find his way back to sanity while I helped him care for you, I too needed help. They are the ones that helped me and they know everything I know about Master Aodac and you, as well as young Julie and Aliza. However, I dare not trust them with this. Julie has already remarked to me on the new Master’s handsome face and Aliza has already been seen with him.” Kramer said in a quiet voice that spoke of shame.
My temper sparked as Kramer told me this news. I was infuriated with Alan. His actions as such spoke volumes to me of his character. To know that he had only been under my roof two nights and he was already sleeping with a servant. He couldn’t have been more insolent if he had tried. My fury burned hot, yet I was still so weak. How dare he abuse my hospitality! How dare she! Who was this girl Aliza that she thought she could sleep with someone invited into my home?
“Kramer,” I said in my deathly sweet voice, “please tell me more about these girls Julie and Aliza.”
“You are angry with them, aren’t you?” Kramer asked me knowingly.
“I am infuriated with them as well as Alan.” I said in a biting voice full of fury.
“Please, don’t hurt them madam. They are strong willed, but they do mean well. They work hard. They just don’t know any better. They lack discipline.” Kramer said in an almost panicked voice.
“Why do you trust these girls, Kramer? Why did you trust them when you willingly cared for Aodac and me?”
“They are my daughters, madam. I would trust them with my life.”
“Just as you trusted them with mine?” I asked Kramer.
“Yes, madam.” He said in answer to me.
“Tell me Kramer, did you move your entire family into this house to help you care for Aodac and me?” I asked mildly.
“Almost.” Kramer said to me.
“Why did it mean so much to you to care for us?” I asked him.
“As I said, Master Aodac needed help and I gave it.” Kramer said to me.
“Does the entire house know what Aodac and I are?” I asked.
“No, not everyone. There are a few in the house that are ignorant.” Kramer said.
“Let’s do our best to keep it that way.” I said to Kramer.
“Yes, madam.” Kramer said to me.
“Kramer that is enough of the ‘madam’ routine. Please call me Francesca.” I said to him.
“As you wish, Francesca.” Kramer said to me with a slight smile touching the edges of his mouth.
“Kramer, you asked me not to hurt your children; however I cannot allow them to stay here either. Alan cannot be tied to this house day and night if you are to have any chance at all to do what I ask. This means that the punishment I exact on them will have to sound harsh to their ears, but it is for their own good. I would hate to see them caught up in whatever game is about to play out here.” I said to Kramer.
“I will trust your judgment, Francesca. All I ask is that you spare their lives.” Kramer said to me.
“I promise you I will not harm them.” I said to Kramer. “Would you bring them in to see me now?” I asked.
“As you wish.” Kramer said as he rose from his chair and left the room. He returned a few minutes later followed by two young women.
I appraised the young faces before me. I saw contempt and fear in their eyes. I saw the look of scorn they gave me. I found it curious for I did not understand why they looked at me like that. I wondered what might have prompted their contempt of me.
“Madam,” Kramer said as he inclined his head toward a young girl on his left of about twenty-three with long brunette hair framing a face with pointed features and chestnut brown eyes, “This is Aliza.” He said. He inclined his head to his right toward the second girl who had flaming red hair and bluish-purple eyes with a narrow frame and a striking haughty beauty. “This is Julie. Daughters, I’d like you to meet the Mistress of the house.” Kramer said to them.
“Hello.” They said in unison.
“Hello ladies.” I said with a slight smile on my face. “Would you be so kind as to tell me what you think of our new house guest?” I asked them with sweet venom in my voice.
Their cheeks burned red in unison. I watched as Aliza dropped her eyes to her feet and her cheeks turned an even darker shade of crimson. “I see.” I said with a lazy drawl in my voice. “Your reaction begs the question, how comfortable have you already gotten with our new guest?”
Aliza’s gaze lowered even more as her cheeks burned an even darker shade of red. Julie looked me in the eye and squared her shoulders. I knew then that despite what she may think about him she would never act on it.
“Ladies,” I said in my honeyed venomous voice, “you are both going home tonight. You will both be removed from this house until such time as your lust has cooled.”
“But, what…” Julie began.
“Why do we…” Aliza continued.
“Silence.” I snapped at them both. “While you are cooling your lust at home you are to have absolutely zero contact with anyone in this house. You are not to contact your father, your cousins, or Alan! Do I make myself clear?” I said in my most biting and harsh tone. I watched as their jaws dropped at my words and they immediately began to protest again.
“Why do I have to…” Julie started.
“What do you mean cool my lust?” Aliza demanded.
“Anyone who sleeps with a member of this house must be taught a lesson. I do not tolerate insolence well. You have no respect for Aodac or for me, which you have shown quite clearly by sleeping with Alan. I will not tolerate that. I will not have Aodac slapped in the face like that by anyone! Alan will be told of your departure. Neither of you are to either call this house or come near it until you have learned to keep your hands to yourselves. You are not to speak to Alan. You are not to attempt to meet Alan anywhere. If you do see him you are to quickly turn the other way and leave. And let me make one thing plainly clear to the both of you; I will know whether or not you have followed my instructions. Do we understand each other?” I barked at them.
“But, it simply,” Julie began.
“isn’t fair.” Aliza screamed stomping her foot on the floor in front of me.
“Whether it is fair or not is irrelevant. This is how it is. I am doing this to protect you as much as to punish you. I will say no more to you about this matter. Now, are we clear?” I demanded again as my voice grew even more harsh and cutting.
“Yes.” They both agreed grudgingly.
I looked Kramer in the eye. “Kramer, would you bring your nephews in?” I implored. “These ladies can stay here with me.”
Kramer, who had stayed very quiet during my brief exchange with his daughters, finally spoke. “Yes, Madam.” He said as he slightly inclined his head toward me.
We waited only a few minutes for Kramer’s return. He was followed by two young men. Kramer stopped just behind Julie and Aliza; his nephews stopped just behind him.
“Ladies, it is time for you to both go and pack your belongings. You shall be leaving shortly.” I said with a hard edge to my voice.
“But,…” Aliza began.
I turned my gaze towards Kramer’s nephews. Kramer was flanked on his right by a big, almost surly looked man-child. The boy was broad across the shoulders and yet despite his size he had a gentle face that was only accentuated with firm and roguishly handsome features. I found this boy attractive indeed. Kramer was flanked on his left by an even bigger man-child. The boy was muscular in his broad chest and shoulders and his face held a hint of the man that he would grow to be. He was attractive though not in the same sweet way that the other was attractive. “Kramer, would you please introduce me to your nephews?” I asked in a sweet voice.
“Certainly, Madam.” Kramer said to me in a formal way. He flipped his hand to his right and said “Madam, this is my nephew Kevin.”
“Hello, Kevin. It is a great pleasure to meet you.” I said in my sweetest voice.
“Hello, Madam.” Kevin said in a deep baritone voice that was at odds with his sweet face.
Kramer flipped his other hand toward his left and said “Madam, this is my nephew Blair.”
“Hello, Blair. It is a great pleasure to meet you as well.”
“Hello, Mistress.” Blair said quietly in a deep base voice that held no allusions as to what he would sound like in a few years.
“Kevin, Blair,” I said in a quiet voice that was husky and full of seduction. “Your uncle has spoken highly of you both to me and I would ask of you a mission that can prove itself to be dangerous if you are discovered in your task. Are you willing to accept the risk of my desire or would you rather turn away and not be involved?” My question sounded pouty to my own ears and I knew that these young men would grant me anything.
Kevin and Blair looked at each other. Though no spoken words passed between them they seemed to be having a silent conversation which ended with them both nodding their heads and turning back to me. It was Blair who spoke for them both. “Mistress, we are willing to do anything you ask.”
“Thank you.” I said quietly. “Your Uncle has informed me that both of you know about Aodac and me. Before I ask this of you I must first ask you what you think of what we are and if you would betray that secret.” I looked them both in the eye to gauge their answer and judge the truth of their words.
“Mistress,” Kevin began…
“Please do not call me Mistress. Call me Francesca.” I said as I interrupted him.
“Very well, Francesca. Blair and I found out what you and Master Aodac are when our Uncle came home one night and told us to come with him. He brought us here and we watched Master Aodac sob over your lifeless body. Our Uncle told us that we needed to go out and lure a woman back here for you to eat. Uncle did not spare us details. He was explicit in his instruction. We had to bring back a live person so that Uncle and Aodac could drain them of their blood to feed to you. That is what we did every night. We would go out and bring back a person that would feed you from the vein and then we would dispose of the body.” Kevin’s voice was even as he spoke and did not betray a hint of fear or disgust.
I pierced them both with my gaze and asked them, “Would you ever betray that secret?”
Their answer was a chorus, “Never!”
“I can see that you both are willing to do what needs to be done regardless of what it is. In that, I would ask this of you; I would like you both to help your Uncle spy of Alan. He is not what he appears to be, and I feel that Aodac and I could be in great danger from this stranger.”
It was Kevin who spoke the silent question, “Why do you think that? You only just met him.”
“I am aware of that; however he recited my life story to me the other night as well as Aodac’s. He knows us, but we do not know him. I need to know who this man is.” I said in a desperate plea to them both.
“We will find out who he is.” Blair said with a sneer in his voice.
“You must do this quietly. He cannot know that he is being watched or that someone is looking for answers into who he is.” I said in a piercing voice.
“Please trust us, Francesca.” Blair said. “We will find out who he is without giving ourselves away.”
“Very well.” I said to them both. “Should you find anything of importance then please come immediately to either Aodac or me. One of us will always be here, and we will help you during the night.”
“Don’t fear, Francesca. We will not let anything happen to either of you. We know what happened to Aodac and you, and we will not allow anything else to happen.” Kevin said in an adamant voice.
“Very well.” I said again. “Now there is one other thing I need from one of you.” I said in a mildly annoyed voice.
“You have but to ask.” Kevin said.
“I need one of you to drive your cousins into Heliopolis. They are going back to their home for a few months until they have cooled their lust for Alan.”
“Why are they going home?” Blair asked in a confused way.
“I have been informed that Aliza has already slept with him and Julie is not far from it. I cannot have him hanging around this house day and night if we are to have opportunity to search his belongings and follow him to find out who he is. He has to leave the house to do these things and I don’t want them involved with him. Everything in my instincts is warning me to tread cautiously with him. They need to be protected from themselves or he might hurt them.” I said vehemently.
“That’s reason enough to get them back home for a while.” Kevin said. “Ok, I’ll take them.”
“Thank you.” I said to Kevin.
I stood and embraced both young men. “Thank you for everything you have done for us.” I said quietly.
“We did what was necessary.” Blair said. “We will do the same now.”
“Thank you. Go and take the girls home.” I said. “When you get back you two will need to coordinate with your Uncle over the specifics of who will do what and when.”
“Ok.” Kevin said.
The boys left their Uncle and me alone once more. “Thank you, Kramer. I do not wish to send your family away, especially since they have helped Aodac and I more than I can ever thank them for; however they need to be protected from themselves. This is the least I can do to thank you for what you have done.”
“Fear not, Francesca. I thank you for sending them away. I do not want to see them hurt by their own foolishness.” Kramer said to me.
“I will leave you and the boys to work out what needs to be done. Aodac and I will help when we can.” I promised.
“Of course. I will speak with the boys when they get back.”
“Just be quiet about it. No one else can know what is going on here.” I cautioned in a quiet whisper.
“Of course.” Kramer said again.
“Be well, Kramer. I will speak with you again soon.” I said in dismissal.
Kramer inclined his head slightly in acknowledgement of my dismissal and left.
The time had come to feed.