by Graham B.
A young couple must find a way to deal with a curse.
|Fate announced itself with the faint glow in the East, the first glimmers of the full moon, not yet peering above the horizon, but tinting the few wispy clouds an ominous ghostly white.
Julian Berkeley paced back and forth within the topmost room of the tower as his mother, Fidelia watched. Fidelia’s black eyes followed her son around the room, and then flicked to the silver fittings – so important at this time of the month! Silver doorknobs on the heavy oak door, silver latches on the windows in their silver casements set into the tower’s gray stonework. Tattered remnants of tapestries hung from the walls, once priceless family heirlooms, witness to the monthly violence that ensued in the room.
“It is early yet, mother,” said Julian, running a hand through his shock of blond hair. “The moon doesn’t rise for another hour.”
“Indeed,” said Fidelia. “Yet it seems I must protect you from yourself once again.”
Julian’s questioning look was returned with a withering stare, and he realized that Fidelia knew what he had confided in Diana during the late hours of the night.
“Mother, I had to tell her my secret! How could I not? She had to know, lest she find me in that horrible state and think me a monster!”
“You are a monster!” cried Fidelia. “Your sin brought the beast to place its mark upon you. And now you dare to bring this woman into our house to share our secrets.”
“I love her, mother. And she loves me.”
Fidelia said nothing to this, but her cold eyes continued to watch her only son, and heir to the Berkeley estate. Her thoughts were cold and calculating as always, but beneath them simmered a fire of rage at what fate had inflicted on her family, rage at that night five years ago when her son had been bitten and received the curse.
From somewhere beneath them came the sound of footsteps moving through the castle as a servant approached the tower with someone else in tow. Julian heard too, and his eyes locked with Fidelia’s.
“What is going on, Mother?”
Fidelia didn’t reply but turned to the door and pulled it open to admit a petite slip of a girl with auburn hair and eyes the color pale morning skies.
“I present Diana Croswell, as requested, madam,” said the morose-looking servant.
He bowed and walked away, leaving the door ajar.
Stunned, Julian rounded on his mother.
“What are you doing?”
Fidelia affected a humorless smile beneath her cold eyes.
“I merely wanted to meet the woman who had captured my son’s fancy,” she said. “Diana, I must thank you for coming, for I have so wanted to meet you!”
“It is a pleasure, Ms. Berkeley!” said the girl. “I am so glad you are receptive. I know my family does not hold as prominent a status as yours, but few do!”
Diana smiled, but her eyes were wary.
“Oh, nonsense!” said Fidelia. “It is clear that you are of superior breeding and proper upbringing. I couldn’t ask for more for my son.”
“Diana, you must leave immediately!” said Julian.
“But, I’ve just arrived, my love,” said Diana. “How could I refuse an invitation from your own mother?”
“Indeed,” said Fidelia. “And I know that you love Julian.”
She glided toward the door, her eyes never leaving Diana.
“With all of my heart,” said Diana. She glanced out the window at the silvery clouds. “The hour grows late, Mrs. Berkeley. Perhaps we should-“
“I would do anything for him, and anything to protect him.”
“Mother, what are you-“ said Julian, seeing something in Fidelia’s eyes and starting forward.
“You know his secret, do you not?” said Fidelia in the tones of a frigid night.
Diana’s eyes flicked toward the silver doorknob on the door. A cold draft blew through the door, ruffling Fidelia’s skirts, and Diana leapt. With surprising speed she shoved Fidelia back into the room, hurried through the door and slammed it shut.
“Diana!” shouted Julian.
He rushed to the door and tried to pull it open, but Diana had already thrown the bolts on the other side, trapping him within the tower with his mother. Julian’s eyes met Fidelia’s and the eastern glow became bright. He felt a stirring in his gut and his eyes burned with yellow fire. He pounded savagely on the door.
“Diana, open the door!”
“I’m sorry, my love!” said Diana’s muffled voice. “This is for us! She will never let us be together!”
“Now we face the consequences for what we have done,” said Fidelia.
Julian fell to his knees, his eyes streaming.
“Mother, were you going to lock her in with me…?”
Fidelia went to her son and caressed his head.
“You did what any foolish young man would have done,” she said. “Now, it seems that my plan has turned itself on me. Remember that everything I have ever done, I did for you. Please forgive me my son, as I have already forgiven you for what you are about to do!”
She gently kissed Julian’s forehead, even as the first of the rough hairs sprouted there, the fangs lengthened in his mouth, and the first grunts of the beast began to escape Julian’s lungs.
Thus, it was that the moon rose in silvery fullness and shone through the windows of the tower to reveal the beast bursting forth in its fury even as Fidelia embraced her son.
The night passed, and with it, the moon. A lonely howl penetrated the otherwise quiet night. It was a sound so mournful, so piercing that those that heard it could not help but feel twinges of despair from the hidden depths of their souls.
Morning chased the moon away and brought light to a macabre scene within the tower. The bolts were withdrawn, the door opened, and Diana entered. She gasped, and nearly swooned at what she saw. Julian sat on the stone floor, his clothes torn and drenched in blood. In his arms he cradled the ravaged body of his mother.
Julian turned his head and regarded Diana with hollow eyes.
“I did this,” he croaked. “I…”
Diana hurried to his side.
“We must go,” she said. “We must go away, somewhere your father cannot find us!”
Slowly, Julian allowed himself to be pulled upright after gently lowering Fidelia to the floor. Despite the horrific injuries, death had somehow softened the hard lines of her face. She looked as if she was asleep.
“Where do we go?” he asked.
“My family are importers. I know people who sail to America. They can get us out of England!”
Diana began leading him out of the tower.
“If she had her designs, it would be me on that cold floor with my blood under your nails. Would you want that, my love?”
For the first time, Julian focused on her face.
“You’re right,” he said. “But my father’s reach is long. America might not be-“
“Where else can we go?”
Together the young couple fled the castle as the sun rose, not sparing a glance for its gray walls and ramparts. They found their way to port, sought passage from the numerous merchants, and vanished with the morning tide.
Rumors whirled about the Berkeley estate in their absence. Rumors of a savage beast killing the mistress of the house, of the disappearance of the son, and of Lord Berkeley’s frightful rage skittered about town from mouth to ear, but nothing was ever substantiated. The estate remained tightly sealed; the servants silent. For months, nothing was heard of the young heir.
Nearly three months later, a nondescript schooner left port in Boston and began plying the waves to the east. Deep within the hold, the captain made his way amongst the crates and barrels to his real cargo. Within a locked steel cage sat a young man with a shock of blond hair.
The man raised his eyes in the dimness of the hold and beheld his captor.
“Brought you some wine,” said the captain, holding a bottle forth. “You may as well be comfortable. You must be pretty important, considering what Lord Berkeley paid for your return to England. Worth more than my whole cargo it was!”
Julian didn’t take the bottle. Instead, he crept forward and looked upon the captain with beseeching eyes.
“You must let me go, sir,” he said. “You don’t know the danger you are in!”
“I can’t imagine what danger you might be, locked in that cage,” said the captain jauntily. “Strange that I had to put that silver wire around the bars, but Lord Berkeley’s orders were specific.”
Julian pounded the bars.
“You must let me go!”
“Sorry mate. Land’s already out of sight, and our sails have already caught the westerlies. This key,” the faint silver glint of a key dangled from the captain’s fingers, “stays with me until I get paid.”
He set the bottle down next to the cage.
“If you change your mind.”
The key went into the captain’s pocket as he turned and began making his way to the hatch. A shadow appeared next to the cage so suddenly that Julian nearly gave a startled gasp. As he watched in the darkness, a hand grabbed the wine bottle, and the shadow melted back into the cargo. Just as the captain reached the hatch, the shadow stepped from behind a crate, and the bottle smashed into the captain’s head. The captain had hardly fallen senseless to the deck when the shadow rifled his pockets, then hurried back to Julian’s cage.
Now, Julian did gasp out loud as he saw eyes the color of morning sky looking at him with untrammeled joy.
“Diana!” he exclaimed. “What are you doing here?”
“I saw those men take you away!” said Diana.
She unlocked the cage with the captain’s key, then began unwrapping the silver wire.
“I stowed away when I saw an opportunity,” she said. “I could not leave you to your fate at the hands of these men.”
“You shouldn’t be here!” said Julian as the wire came undone and the door swung open. “It is that time of the month. The time when the beast comes forth!”
As he stepped out, Diana embraced him and kissed him full and passionately on the mouth, a kiss that told of many nights on the run, hiding from mercenaries hunting them both, of snatching bits of happiness whenever they could. Then she pushed Julian away, stepped into the cage and closed the door.
“We will make our own fate,” she said as she began rewrapping the wire around the cage bars. “You and I will leave and go far from here, where even the mercenaries can’t find us.”
“And my curse?”
“We cannot run away from the curse,” said Diana, reaching through the bars to grasp Julian’s hand. “But we will find a way to live with it. Now, do what you must.”
Julian smiled at her and squeezed her hand. He strode away, stepping over the captain’s prone body.
It was already the darkest night, and crew members who were standing watch topside didn’t notice a slender young man climbing up from the cargo hold. Julian took a deep breath of the salty sea air and felt a howl building deep within his chest. As he watched, the full moon peeked above the distant horizon and shone into burning yellow eyes.
Word count: 1909