The demands of eternal life have been getting in the way of my writing recently, but I wanted to give you a little sneak peek at what is on the way. Here is a preview of part of Chapter One – narrated by Nicole
I didn’t know why we were running, only that we were. It felt like we had been running for hours. Papa said we had escaped the house just in time. I didn’t know what that meant. I didn’t know why there were so many angry people in the street. I didn’t know I should be scared.
The streets of Paris were filled with men and soldiers screaming “death to the Huguenots”. What was a Huguenot? Why were we still running? When were we going home?
Papa held me close against him with one arm, tightly clutching Mama’s hand with the other. She in turn was holding my eldest brother Denis’ hand, he grasped firmly onto my other brother, Frederic.
It seemed almost as if we were being carried by the momentum of the crowd. Women were crying, children were screaming and the men kept shouting “death to the Huguenots”. I peeked over Papa’s shoulder and saw bodies covered in blood lying on the ground, soldiers wiping blood from their swords. I quickly buried my face against Papa’s shoulder. I started to wonder if I should be scared.
Papa stopped running. I dared once again to take a peek over his shoulders. Soldiers were very close behind us, they seemed to be yelling at Papa. What did soldiers want with my Papa?
“Halt! In the name of the King,” one of the soldiers ordered.
Papa moved so quickly to the left that Mama tripped, momentarily losing her grip on Denis’ hand.
“Denis!” I screamed, as I saw him almost swept into the crowd. Mama reclaimed her grasp on his hand just in time. My brother Frederic still clinging tightly to Denis’.
Papa looked around, looking for what I don’t know. He must have seen what he was looking for because we were running again. We were now running down an alleyway joining the streets. In the distance I could hear the soldiers shouting, when I peeked over my father’s shoulder I could no longer see them.
“There Claude,” said my mother with a tired voice, inclining her head towards another alleyway.
It was starting to get dark. I could smell smoke coming from fires set across the city. I wondered grimly if the soldiers were also roasting their “Huguenots”.
We made our way through and emerged onto a street not quite so filled with people. There weren’t any soldiers, yet.
In front of us was a row of tall, narrow gable-houses. Only one showed any light in the windows, this was the one Papa chose. He released my mother’s hand and began rapping loudly on the door.
“What if they are Catholic Claude?” asked my mother in a hushed voice.
“If whoever is inside hasn’t joined the mob, we have to believe they aren’t,” replied my father. “Besides, what choice do we have Anne?”
I really didn’t understand what this exchange between my parents meant. I thought we were running from the soldiers, apparently it was the Catholics. Catholics, Huguenots? What are they? Where did my family fit in?
Behind the door, the sound of footsteps approaching could be heard. Both my father and mother were looking around nervously. They must be keeping a look out for those Catholics I thought. The footsteps coming from behind the door weren’t the only footsteps to be heard. Again glancing over my father’s shoulder, I could see soldier’s coming down the alleyway opposite. I tugged anxiously on my father’s shirt to get his attention and point this out. Did the soldiers see us? It was getting dark, perhaps they wouldn’t notice us.
The door was opened by the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. Given that I was only four years old and I only had my mother to compare, perhaps she wasn’t so beautiful. But to me, she was beautiful. As I looked at her, I forgot about the yelling and screaming in the streets.
She was about the same height as Papa and he was a tall man. Her hair was the darkest shade of anything I’d seen. It hung straight down to her waist and was thick like velvet. Would it feel like velvet to the touch? I couldn’t imagine anything being as black as this woman’s hair. Then I looked at her eyes. They were like liquid pools of coal. Her eyebrows framed her black eyes in a perfect arch. Her nose was neither too long nor too narrow. Her lips full, almost pouting, tinged the slightest shade of pink. The singular thing which stood out about this woman was her skin. It was so pale, like porcelain. Maybe she was a doll brought to life. I almost giggled at the thought. I wanted so badly to reach out and touch her face, to know if her skin felt hard like the porcelain it resembled. The woman was wearing a heavy red velvet robe tied at the waist and matching red slippers.
“Yes?” she addressed my father. Her tone was cool and calm. Could she not hear the screaming and violence coming from the surrounding streets?
“Please Madame, I need to hide my family. The city is besieged by Catholics. Soldiers and zealots are killing all those believed to be Huguenots. We barely escaped when they came for Monsieur le Duc whom we serve. Please, I beg you Madame. If are not Catholic, please help me save my family,” my father said hurriedly.
Without hesitating she replied, “Very well.” She stepped away from the door signaling we should enter, closing the door behind us.
“Madame there are not the words for me to thank you for what you have done,” said my father.
“Madame we are in you debt,” said my mother.
Denis nodded enthusiastically at my parents remarks. Frederic was still desperately clinging on to Denis. It looked as though he had tears in his eyes. I was curiously looking around the room. So much opulence and luxury. I had never been allowed into the main part of the house of the Duc my family served. Apart from all the running, today was turning into a discovery of beauty I didn’t know existed.
“Please, calm yourselves and rest. You are safe here,” replied the woman in a gentle voice. As she said this, her head turned towards the door. She stepped in front of my father, placing herself between the huddled group of my family and the door.
The door flung open and in marched the soldiers who had indeed spied us from the alleyway.
“In the name of the King I demand you hand over these vile Huguenots,” said the lead soldier. His sword was unsheathed and I could see blood on it.
My father was trying to steer us across the room and away from the soldiers. My mother was crying silently. As I saw the tears stream down her face, I realised why we had been running. We were in danger and now I was scared. The only thing between us and the soldier’s swords was this beautiful woman. I drew closer to Frederic and found I was I crying too.
Crying wouldn’t help anything. I loved my Mama and Papa so much and my two brothers. How dare these soldiers come in and demand anything, accusing my dear Papa of being a Huguenot.
I rushed forwards towards the soldiers; my mother reached out to grab me and missed. I stood defiantly next to the woman and said, “You leave my Mama and Papa alone.” Then I kicked the soldier who had spoken in the shin.
The soldiers all roared with laughter. The woman bent down and whispered to me, “It’s alright little one, nothing will happen to your family.” She very gently pushed me back towards my parents.
My mother smothered me in her embrace. I had to struggle for her to release me so I could turn round and see what would happen next.
“What proof do you have that these people are Huguenots?” asked the woman in an authoritative tone.
“They serve in the household of Duc de Sully, a known Huguenot,” stated the soldier. “He has fled the city, they may know his whereabouts.”
The “Duc” was only a boy. Denis sometimes played with him.
The woman turned and addressed my father, “Are you employed in the Duc’s household?”
“Yes,” my father replied.
“Did he flee the city?”
“Do you know where he has fled?”
She returned her attention to the soldiers.
“This man has no knowledge of the Duc’s whereabouts, so I suggest you leave and continue your search elsewhere,” said the woman.
“Step out of the way or I will have no choice but to place you under arrest,” replied the soldier.
“I can’t do that. I have offered shelter and protection to these people. I must insist you leave now.”
“You leave me no alternative Madame,” said the soldier, “Arrest her!”
What happened next is unclear, it happened so fast. No sooner had the words left the soldier’s mouth and he was lying dead on the floor. The remaining soliders unsheathed their swords and prepared to attack the woman.
My mother gathered me even closer to her as I craned my neck to see.
There was such a flurry of activity and violence, I lost sight of the woman amid the soldiers. Swords clashed and I heard gurgled screams coming from the soldiers. I only caught glimpses of the woman’s red robe. Then it was silent.
All of the soldiers were lying on the floor dead. There was blood everywhere. Some of the soldiers had been partially dismembered. Their bodies twisted and mangled.
As horrific as the scene was, I felt relieved. The soldiers who wanted my father were dead, we were safe. I said so to my father as I flung myself into his arms.
“We’re safe Papa, the soldiers can’t hurt you now.”
My father pushed me away as he stood up.
“What are you?” he asked the woman. There was terror in my father’s voice.
She turned around to face us, smiling. Blood smeared across her mouth, dripping down her chin. Her teeth were sharp and pointed like a dog’s. Her smile more like a snarl.
“Claude we have to get out of here,” said my mother, tugging at my father’s arm.
“What are you?” my father again demanded, this time much more hesitantly.
The woman bowed her head and sighed, “I am the one who has protected you.”
She retrieved a handkerchief from a pocket in her robe and wiped her mouth and chin, then turned and took a step towards us. Her smile was now more natural, I could no longer see the long fangs. My father corralled us and steered us all away from the woman. We were backing up, step by step, stopped only when we felt the wall behind us.
What thoughts were racing through my parent’s minds I didn’t know. All I knew was we’d been seriously threatened by the soldiers and now they were dead. Why should we be scared of the woman who saved us? My parents were obviously terrified, as were Denis and Frederic.
Screams and yelling were still coming from the streets. I didn’t want to go back to running in the streets.
She held her hands out to my father in a gesture of supplication and said, “Please, I do not wish to harm you. You are safe here. I am so sorry your children had to see this, but the soldier’s left me no choice. Would you rather they were alive and you were dead?”
“No,” replied my father, without conviction, “But what are you? You are no woman, of that I’m sure.”
“You are right, I am not a woman as you understand,” she said. The woman looked sad. I didn’t want her to be sad, she had saved us. “Please believe me when I tell you I will not hurt you or your family, allow me a chance to explain.”
My father considered this for a moment, speaking briefly in whispers to my mother. I couldn’t hear what they were saying. He stood with shoulders straight and raised his gaze to look the woman directly in the eye.
“If you meant us harm you would have done so already. You protected my family and for that I owe you gratitude. Therefore I cannot deny you a chance to explain yourself.”
“Thank you,” replied the woman. “Will you please take a seat?” she gestured towards a couch opposite the fireplace, facing away from the dead soldiers. “You must be tired and the tale I have to tell is a long one.”
There was barely enough room for all of us on the small couch. Frederic and I took up positions sitting on the laps of our mother and father.
The woman positioned a chair with its back to the fireplace, facing the couch and then sat. Her posture was impeccable. Back straight, head held high, legs gracefully crossed, her hands folded in her lap. Mama was always scolding me for slouching when I sat.
“Are you hungry? In need of refreshment? There is some wine and cheese in the pantry I can fetch for you,” said the woman.
“I believe we are in need of answers more than food,” replied my father. My tummy growled in disagreement. The woman obviously heard this, as she raised a questioning eyebrow and looked at me.
“As you wish,” she said. She glanced over towards where the dead soldier’s bodies littered the floor, then returned her focus to my family.
“As you have correctly perceived I am not a woman like your wife. The ancient word for my kind is Maeshevoth. You would call me buveur de sang, blood-drinker, vampire.”
My mother let out a shriek, her arms locked around Frederic and drew him closer. I wondered if Frederic could still breathe, my mother was holding him so tightly. My father didn’t speak, so the woman continued.
She spoke gently and calmly. Telling the story of her birth many hundreds of years ago, of how she was raised with other children who were like her. She explained that over time they learned what they were. They were each something very different from their human mothers.
When she explained that she needed to feed on the blood of humans to survive I could see the color drain from my mother’s face. She spoke for almost an hour, taking great pains to ensure we understood exactly what she was. Most importantly she wanted us to be assured she would not harm us in any way.
Over and over she apologized to my father, for his children to witness such violence.
She finished speaking and sat quietly. No one said anything. The tension in the room had seemed to dissipate, in its place was an uneasy silence. Having spoken for so long and having told us so much, the one thing I desperately wanted to know was her name.
“Paris is now too dangerous, you and your family cannot stay here. I will not be staying, more soldiers will follow,” she said, her gaze again fixing on the dead soldiers. “If you wish to leave, you are welcome to join me.”
The look on Papa’s face was serious, but he did not reply the woman.
“You know what I am, I can protect you and keep you safe. You will need to think on this offer, of what I’ve told you,” said the woman. “I need to take care of the uninvited guests. If you are here when I return I will take that to mean you’ve accepted my offer.”
She stood up and set to disposing of the soldiers. My father breathed an audible sigh of relief when she gone.He stood up and placed me on the couch beside my mother, then took a few steps across the room. My mother followed his lead and joined him.
The spoke quickly and quietly, try as I might, I couldn’t hear what they were saying. Mama kept looking over at my brothers and me anxiously. Papa looked grim and very tired. I managed to pick out the words ‘angel’ and ‘demon’ a couple of times.
Slowly I slid off the couch and cautiously approached my parents. I reached up and pulled my father’s sleeve to gain his attention.
“What is it Nicole?” he asked with exasperation.
“She saved us Papa,” I said matter-of-factly.
My father smiled as he reached down to pick me up.
“Yes she did mon cher,” said my father as he kissed my forehead.
“Then you’ve decided Claude?” asked my mother.
My father nodded. “Our best chance of getting out of Paris is with this vam…woman,” said my father.
I would later learn my father decided our saviour was a guardian angel rather than a monstrous demon. It took him a long time to be able to say the word ‘vampire’.
We heard the click of the latch on the door. My father stood rigid, prepared to meet whoever entered.
“I see you are still here,” said the woman, returned from her grisly duty.
“Yes,” replied my father, his stance relaxing a little.
I walked over to stand in front of the woman. I could feel my mother’s eyes follow my every step. I did my very best curtsy, which Mama says I need to practice more, and said to the woman, “My name is Nicole. What’s your name?”
After a brief curtsy, she knelt down to my level and said, “Pleased to make your acquaintance Nicole. My name is Bektamun.”