Port Appin, Fife, Scotland, 1893
The demonic beast came to lie over me in the disguise of my queen. Her false red curls caressed my face as she moved restlessly upon me, pulling at my clothing as I lay on top of my bed. Her fevered kiss cast a wanton poison across my lips as I reached for her. Caught in the brief moment between sleep and wakefulness I truly believed Juliet lay above me. I kissed her passionately, joyfully believing she had awakened from her death like slumber and our time to consummate our love had come.
Her slender nimble fingers undid the buttons of my vest and then made fast work on my shirt. I moved my hands to her small waist and hungrily devoured her mouth. I had been starved of Juliet’s closeness for too long and I could not satisfy my thirst for her. She opened my shirt and straddled me, hitching her skirt about her waist. I had not expected such forthright physical behaviour from her but I was glad of it.
I smiled against her lips as she giggled and began to undo my trousers. My ardour rose to meet her. I raised my body from the bed to roll her over. I wanted her beneath me. But she suddenly hissed her disapproval and flattened me back down on the bed with her palm resting on my chest. My eyes widened with surprise and confusion.
Her pretty face now wore a scowl. I stared and slowly she softened it. I saw Juliet but as I looked more closely I felt something was wrong. Juliet’s coyness and been replaced with lust and her delicately carved features bore a harsh cruelness about them that I had not seen before. Her scent was different. My mind seemed clouded. Although I felt Juliet inside my mind, her consciousness did not equate with the woman above me.
Her palm caressed my chest, hoping to subdue me with seduction. But I relentlessly pushed through the fog that filled my mind, knowing that answers lay beyond it. The woman’s free hand rose to stroke my throat. My eyes narrowed darkly at her, a small cruel smile lighting my lips as I found my answer. Juliet’s form shimmered and the scales were cast from my eyes. The spell of illusion was broken.
A harpy straddled my body. Her great wings flapping out behind her in an agitated beat. She bore an attractive face, the arms and legs of a human and the voluptuous breasts and body of a female’s naked form. But her hands and feet were bird like with great long black talons. Her body was dark grey apart from her breasts and face that were a pale white. Her long grotesque tail thrashed at my legs as I let go of her to reach down for my sword resting on a small table next to the bed. She gave a shriek and her talons were suddenly around my throat.
I vainly reached for my sword but as I hurriedly made to grab hold of it, the sword clattered to the floor. The harpy had me pinned to the bed and pride would not allow me to call my friends for help. She laughed as though reading my thoughts. When she spoke her voice bore a slithering sickly sound to its tone that turned my stomach.
“My mistress desires your blood. The Knight of Swords blood is powerful and she must have it.”
“Who is your mistress?” I demanded.
The creature gurgled a laugh.
“I must not tell you. I will drink your blood and regurgitate it for her. Tis her wish, vampire.”
My face twisted with repugnance. I began to wrestle with the monster but she was a strong creature to defeat. She lowered her mouth and sharp teeth to my chest. Her bite stung as she painfully drew blood from my body.
I searched the small room at the Scottish coaching inn for an idea to assist my escape. A fire blazed brightly in the hearth on the cold winter’s evening. I leaned my head away from the beast and stared at the fire across the other side of the bed. I searched through the flames and lifted the hottest of the coals from the fire with my mind. I guided them across the room and poised my collection of fiery weapons in mid air behind the harpy and then directed them at her back in one punishing blow.
The harpy screeched and lifted her savage mouth from my bloody chest. Her body was set alight. Her hold over me was lost in her torment. Her hand left my throat and clawed at her body in a vain attempt to remove the flames. I seized my chance and rolled out from under her and down to the floor to reach my sword.
I stood and coldly watched the tortured creature burn. Her large wings beat air against my face as I thundered a question to her.
“Who is your mistress, harpy? Why does she want my blood?”
“You will not defeat Drusilla. She is too powerful even for you Knight of Swords. Accept your fate. You will belong to her.”
“I belong to no one but my queen.”
The creature’s wailing increased as the fire burned hotly through her thick hide.
“Release me Knight. Drusilla will kill the Queen of Talus. Tis written. Accept your fate.”
“Enough, harpy. You have a sharp tongue. Now accept your own fate.”
I fanned the flames upon her body with my mind and coldly watched them engulf her form with my blackened eyes and icy heart. When I could stand no more of her wailing I swept my sword through her middle and cut her in two, ending her demonic life.
Dylan and Jason swept into the room and stopped dead as they viewed the scene. I stood before them, a bloody mess on my chest as I watched the two halves of the harpy’s body burn to ashes. I related events but was interrupted by the innkeeper and his wife making their way to my door in a panic after hearing the noise. I despatched Jason to make them forget the event had ever occurred.
“A harpy. I haven’t seen one of those in a very long time, especially so close to humans.”
“I have never seen one, nor do I wish to again.” I wiped my mouth with my sleeve trying to remove the taste of the beast. I vainly attempted to erase the very idea that I had nearly made love to the harpy from my mind.
“They are bound to the lower orders of the world and are the servants of witches. They are sent to torment those who have offended the witch. They bring disease and death to the humans by contaminating their food or preventing the poor soul from eating so they starve,” Dylan informed me as he gazed down at the creature’s ashes littering the floor. “This Drusilla, the harpy talked of, sounds a powerful witch. We must tread carefully until we can find out what she wants. I am now glad you doubled the guard around the queen before we left. The witch will not be able to harm her.”
“I wish I had not left Juliet without my protection.”
“You have no choice if you wish to wake her from the coma Sebastian forced upon her. We need this cure the Lycan leader has promised.” But still Dylan appeared uneasy. “I wish Gabriel were here. He knows so much about the demonic creatures . . .”
I interrupted him quickly feeling my anger and frustration rise inside me at the mere mention of the man’s name. I still blamed him for my Juliet’s fate. “I will not talk of Gabriel. I do not wish his name to be mentioned in my presence. We will find the truth ourselves. He cannot be trusted.”
Dylan’s dark eyebrows rose at my outburst and then he slowly nodded. “Perhaps, our charismatic Lycan leader Marcus Duart will be able to enlighten us about the demonic entities in these parts.”
“Yes, perhaps he will.”
“You must change. We leave for his home in precisely one hour and we must be punctual.”
I nodded. “Do you really believe he has a cure or is this just another ruse?” I was surprised at the plea in my voice and my need for reassurance.
Dylan stared at me directly and rested his hand upon my arm. He spoke quietly. “I have every faith that Marcus Duart is an honourable man. I just wish I had been able to read his mind but then I might not have lived if I had offended him by doing so.” He finished his sentence with a grin. “Marcus Duart does not suffer fools.”
“Good, neither do I. And woe betide him if he lies and tries my fragile patience,” I told Dylan darkly.
Dylan, Jason and Byron accompanied me in my carriage. It climbed the steep path that led to Castle Roydon, Duart’s family home that sat upon a high rock shaded by woodland. It was a dark foggy night with remnants of icy snow still clinging for life upon the road and our surroundings. I felt an uneasy stirring in my stomach as though we travelled into an unseen danger. I spoke not a word of it. Perhaps I was paranoid. I was about to enter the lair of a Lycan and his clan. I had every right to be.
The Lycans were an unpredictable, volatile race I had been told and their trustworthiness was to be questioned. Although allied to our people there had been incidents within our joint history that had brought us into conflict over territory and the stealing of our women, for their females were also depleted in numbers. They had fooled our people many a time into accepting their false trust. I decided that I would form my own opinion but keep my wits about me.
I handed my top hat and evening cloak to the footman and with my men followed the butler to the drawing room. Marcus Duart greeted us with much enthusiasm the moment we walked through the door, rising to shake my hand and introduce his raven haired beautiful wife who came to stand by his side.
I studied him closely as we exchanged pleasantries. He was a little shorter than myself but only by a couple of inches. His chestnut hair was brushed back from his forehead. It was full and long and streaked with strands of the colour in his eyes, russet. His features were handsome but older than my own. He appeared around the age of thirty. Small fine laughter lines creased his eyes as he smiled and a small dark goatee beard gave him a dashing air that many a woman of my acquaintance would have found endearing.
Eventually Marcus spoke of the reason for our visit when we were apart from the group by the fire.
“I am sorry to hear of your predicament. Sebastian is a cunning enemy. You must be fearful for your queen. I have been told of her great beauty and her strength. Had I not wed such a wonderful creature of my own I would envy you,” he informed me glancing back at his wife as he took another drink from his glass of malt whiskey.
I nodded. “I have been told you possess a cure.”
He smiled and took another gulp from his glass. I stared at him, waiting patiently for his response. He lowered his voice so the others could not hear us above their conversation with his wife Kathleen and his sister Liza Duart who had only moments ago entered the room.
“It is not a cure as such but I believe it or rather he should be able to help your queen. I caught the boy wandering into our territory uninvited. He is one of your kind, a Taleian vampire hybrid just like yourself. He appears to have no memory but he used all kinds of wizardry against my men when they attempted to apprehend him. Thankfully, he was weak, half starved of blood and we eventually caught him. He now languishes in my dungeon.”
I gave Marcus a curious look.
“But first, Lord Valancourt, we must eat. After dinner, I will bring the wretch to you and you may read his mind. Maybe you will be able to shed light on who he is and if he may help.”
“Must I wait,” I said fiercely. I groaned inwardly at my expression of impatience. My diplomatic skills were required with Marcus not my temper if I were to procure a cure for Juliet.
But Marcus’s face lightened with sympathy and not with disapproval.
“I would be in the same temper if it were Kathleen, Nathan. But patience is a virtue. The wretch is not fit for company before dinner and besides he does not take well to Kathleen. He appears to be afraid of her despite her efforts to befriend him and he has twice bitten her. I do not wish for her to be hurt again. We will wait until we are without her presence.”
I agreed and restrained my impatience to follow Marcus with the others to the dining room, wondering about the boy.