I walk through the crowded street, the calls of the whores and sounds of the night in my ears. I don't breathe as I make my way, the stench of the humanity around me unbearable, despite the fire that decimated so much of the city. London is being rebuilt from the ground up; St. Paul's cathedral, numerous churches, and other buildings, are all being rebuilt in brick and mortar, timber is banned. Still, it is in the back alleys and narrow cobblestone streets where I'll easily find my meal, where no one will look askance at me or wonder what became of the whore I hired.
Tonight's repast is a brunette with the sound of the country on her tongue and the smell of the sewers on her body. As I hold her against the wall, sliding in and out of her without passion, I sink my teeth into her neck, the fetid taste of her skin quickly replaced by the warm, metallic taste of her blood. I fill her body with my dead seed and retract my fangs. She falls to the ground, alive but faint. I've taken enough to survive, but the taste and smell of her is repugnant. I prick my finger and heal the wounds on her neck, not for her sake, but to hide my presence. I shake her until her eyes open and then I glamour her—her eyes, already half dead from her own existence, glaze over. It doesn't take much effort to change her memories; her mind willingly gives up her current existence for the one I replace it with.
I make my way along the Thames, listening to the drunken revelry of a group of party goers, young men enjoying the benefits of King Charles' years in France and the Netherlands, and the return of joy and levity after the hard years of the Interregnum under Cromwell. I smile to myself, pleased by the sounds of their mirth. Perhaps I'll join them, or others like them. Mingle with the humans and pretend, take in their smells and sound and warmth. Spend some time discussing Locke, or perhaps the poets Dryden and Waller, or even Aphra Behn if the company feels scandalous.
But something holds me back, and I can't deny that I recognize it as ennui, an unfortunate side effect of my long existence. Despite the energy of the age, and it is an exciting time, I'm tired and I've met no companion to inspire my day to day existence. I survive, but I do not thrive. I live on the outside, able but unwilling to join in the modern world. I read and I eat and I fuck, but I feel nothing. It is rote, dull, and frankly, I'm bored.
A shout pulls me from my reverie. I look up and see that I am not far from Whitehall. I did not realize how far I'd come. More shouting draws my interest. I don't know why, human drama rarely intrigues me, but perhaps my mind is seeking out a diversion, something, anything, to focus my attention on the moment, to be in the present. I come to the water's edge and see an elaborate barge, and a flurry of activity. It appears that two people have fallen into the nearly frozen River Thames and the others are trying to extricate them. Of course, this is not made easy by the heavy clothes people wear in this age, which tend to drag many a poor fool to his watery grave.
I decide to lend my assistance and considerable strength to the rescue. I think it is out of boredom, although the more calculating side of me thinks that perhaps there might be a pecuniary award. It isn't that I am without funds, but letters of credit and transfers often take weeks to arrive. A bit of cash will be welcome, and will go a long way to ensuring that my rented room will not be disturbed during the daylight hours.
Before I can question my motives, however, I'm reaching down and dragging a man from the water. I help him to the waiting arms of his friends. He is sodden and cold, but conscious. Additional cries of, "The Duchess! The Duchess!" brings my attention to a smaller splash of water and I watch as someone is dragged down into the murky depths of the river. I dive in, my eyesight somewhat hindered by the lack of light, but still better than a human's, and I catch her about her waist. I surface and drag her limp form back to the dock, where the entire group erupts into shouts and calls for additional help.
I stand to the side, water dripping from my tall frame and remove my coat and shirt and wring them out. A group of women, courtiers from the looks of them, surround the duchess and blankets are being wrapped around her and the gentleman I pulled from the Thames.
"Enough!" a commanding voice shouts and the group falls silent. The man strides forward, a blanket wrapped about him. His hair is long and dark, wet curls brush his waist. He is tall, perhaps only a few inches shorter than me, and he has the dark and sensual look of Italy about him.
"Good Sir," he addresses me. "We owe you our lives. Please, let me see to your comfort." He claps a hand to my shoulder. "By God, you're frozen! Archer! A blanket for this good man," he orders. He looks at me and asks, "Your name, good sir?"
"Eric," I answer. "Eric Northman. And you, Sire? Whom do I have the honor of addressing?" I query.
There is a collective gasp from the assembled group, but the man before me merely smirks before one of the men replies icily, "this is His Majesty, Charles the Second, by the Grace of God, King of England, Scotland, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith—"
"I think he gets the point, Archer," His Highness interrupts.
"Your Majesty," Archer says, bowing like a true sycophant.
"Your Majesty," I repeat, and sketch a bow. I realize that everything hinges on this single moment. I can be done or undone with a word, and there are too many present to subdue and glamour. "Forgive me my impertinence. I meant no disrespect."
"Oh come now, Northman," he chides, "I think a little leeway may be given to the man who saved my life." He says the last part a bit louder, as if reminding the others of the favor I've done him. "Now, it is past time we were indoors, in dry clothes and before a fire, with wine in our cups and ladies on our laps."
And just like that, I am being hustled into Whitehall Palace in the retinue of King Charles II, King of England, Scotland, France and Ireland. I am taken to a small room where a young man deftly undresses me, and then redresses me in clean, dry clothes. If he notices the unusual coldness of my skin, he says nothing. The clothes are a bit small, few men of this land are as tall as me, but they are fine and well made.
I finish drying and dressing, and I'm escorted to another room. The furnishings and décor reflect His Majesty's years in France. Formal and gay, the windows and furniture are draped in silks and velvets, Oriental vases and pottery decorate the room and a large tapestry hangs from the wall. It is sumptuous, resplendent, and fit for a king, which is appropriate as His Highness is indeed such. He sits on a settee, a beautiful young girl on his knee feeding him from a heavily laden table.
He alternates between bites of the tender morsels between her fingers and nibbling on her pert breasts, which swell over the top of her corset and expose her dusky nipples. This is no courtier. A serving girl? An actress? Perhaps, at best, she's a maid to one of the Queen's ladies.
Her Grace, the Duchess of Cleveland and the king's mistress, is resting in her chambers; her near brush with death from drowning and hypothermia is creating quite a stir. The king, however, recovers much quicker, used to the freezing temperatures of the river as a result of his daily swim therein.
I bow once more to him, "Your Highness."
"Ah, Northman! The man of the hour," the king calls out. "Come, come! Join us," he says motioning to a nearby chair.
I sit in the proffered chair and immediately my lap is filled with a plump maid, warm and soft, with curves in all the right places. She tells me her name, but it is inconsequential. The king questions me: how long have I been in England? What brought me to her shores? What do I think of their fair isle?
I answer as honestly as I can, seeing the shrewd discernment in his eyes, despite the illusion of licentious nonchalance. I tell him that I am a traveler, wishing to see more of the world, to learn more of its mysteries. His eyes light up and he asks me to tell him of what I've seen. So I do. I tell him about the cold lands of the north where I was born, of the women and spices and heat of Egypt, and the snake charmers and gods of India—until an argument ensues amongst the gathered company as to the nature of God and gods, but the philosophical debate does not last long as most are well into their cups.
All the while, to maintain the illusion of humanity I take bites of food and drink the wine the girl pours into my mouth, knowing I will have to bring it all back up later. In the end, I divert her with a hand under her skirt and my lips on her neck.
The mood in the room is festive, debauched. Eventually, the king and his conquest of the night make their way from the room and the party disperses, each to their own quarters with a girl, or two, in tow. I am no different, and in my room I take the girl again and again, her body pliable and warm against mine. I drink of her, a sweet, if cheap, vintage that erases the rank taste of the whore from earlier in the evening.
As the dawn approaches I glamour the girl and the young man serving me, and slip out to find a secure place for my repose, knowing I will likely rest in the ground that night, but grateful for the short winter days so that my absence will not be felt too keenly. When the day's death descends I'm thinking of how to either extricate myself from this situation, or use it to my benefit.
The next several nights are spent in a similar manner, although sometimes after a formal court reception the king changes into regular clothes and we carouse amongst the commoners in the rum shops and brothels of Southwark until the dawn calls us away. He delights in the theater and goes often. The man has stamina to rival a vampire, often bedding one of his mistresses in the afternoon, his queen in the evening, and another mistress after that before dragging us to the brothels, and then often complains that our partners in "crime" cannot keep up with the two of us. Yet even after such dissolute nights, he awakens early in the morning to walk in St. James Park with his beloved dogs, allowing any and all who can keep up with him to join in.
He is a king of the people, and they adore him. I realize that although he has been raised to royalty, and despite spending time in the court of his more aloof cousin, Louis XIV, he loves his people and the city of London. He has reopened theaters, revived the tradition of Maypoles, and has encouraged free thinking and revelry after more than a decade of dour, soul-crushing rule under Cromwell and his ilk. The king enjoys spending time amongst even the most common of his people, and he is a truly kind man in a manner atypical of one of his station.
After a time, I realize that he is unwilling to let me leave and I . . . I am unwilling to give up this pretense of humanity, of belonging, nor am I willing to relinquish the unusual bond between myself and the king. He seeks my company, my conversation, my counsel. In him I have found a uniquely open mind, and a connection to this new age. History may brand him a licentious and cavalier king, but I know him as a man of many pleasures, and while those of the flesh are what he may be famous for, it is his mind that intrigues me, pulls me in and compels me to seek his company.
I no longer worry about being discovered during the day. My private moments with the king have allowed me the opportunity to glamour him. I do not abuse it, however, wanting only to guarantee my safety as I sleep—a command from the king to his servants not to disturb his guest's rest before sundown ensures exactly that. I don't want him stupefied or addle-pated; I look forward to our talks—talks of politics, of philosophy and the nature of man and God, good and evil, and everything in between.
For the first time in over a century I feel . . . alive.
"Do you not see the conflict?" he asks.
"No. The Catholic Church, by its very nature cannot be allowed to exist under Locke's theory. He is right in this."
"But it is paradoxical to preach tolerance above all, only to exclude those whose teachings and tenets offend!"
"Perhaps in a vacuum, Your Highness, but in reality the complexities of governance require such exclusion. Tolerance of various sects—the Quakers, the Ranters, even the Muggletonians—is all well and good, but to allow Catholics to flourish is antithetical to peace! As Locke notes, they are ipso facto sworn unto another prince. They cannot, by definition, be trusted as patriots as they are sworn unto Rome."
"Ah, but that presupposes that those other sects are sworn to me in the first place!" he argues. "You presume a faith that is not empirically proven."
And around and around we go.
Then there are our arguments over literature.
The validity of the new form of the novel versus epic poetry. The efficacy of the novel versus the visual of a drama.
And, of course, the content of them . . .
"My dearest Ms. Behn," the king says with a laugh, "has positively scandalized London. Have you read her work, Northman?"
"Of course, Your Highness. I find her openness . . . refreshing." I choose my words carefully, not wanting to make the leap too far, yet.
He smiles and looks at me, his head tilted, "It is not like you to hold back, Northman. Please, speak plainly. I am not easily shocked."
He is right. The libertine king is not easily surprised, nor does he deny himself anything pleasurable. So I proceed. "She speaks of pleasure for pleasure's sake, without the constraints of society's mores. Male, female, it is irrelevant—only sexual pleasure matters."
"Does this offend you?" he asks.
It is my turn to eye him, wondering how far I may take the conversation. In this new world order he is a refreshing voice, a leader of light and pleasure after a time of darkness, but he is still mortal, still tethered in many ways by the constraints of his station, his upbringing, his religion. Whereas I, with my centuries of exploration and experimentation have few, if any, reservations. I am unbound.
I decide to answer truthfully, knowing that should the worst occur, I can use my influence upon him. "No. I happen to agree with Ms. Behn. Pleasure, at its core, defies definition or constraint. To fully embrace it, one must throw off the shackles of societal constraints and accepted roles. If one truly wishes to explore pleasure, then the players and the methods are irrelevant."
"And they call me a libertine," he laughs.
"Among other things," I dare.
He eyes me speculatively, then nods and smiles. "Ah, they talk of the Duke of Buckingham, perhaps? Or is it linkboys and pages?" He turns to me. "Or, do you speak of my dear, departed friend Wilmot?"
I shrug. "It makes no matter to me where one takes his pleasure," I respond. "But, your friend, may he rest in peace, had the wrong of it. It is not simply about the act."
"No? Then, pray tell, what is it about?"
"It is about finding pleasure in someone as a person, completely. Whether that is for an hour, a day, a year or more is irrelevant. What is important is finding favor with that person regardless of their sex. Your friend refused to acknowledge a preference for gender or, even a lack of preference for either, seeing only the act as one of rakish libertinism, and ignoring the possibility that one may enjoy the company of either sex in the same way. Your Merry Gang, for all of its flouting of tradition, still maintains its pretense of finding 'love' only in the opposite sex, despite their preferences for their linkboys and pages."
I realize as I speak that I, myself, have forgotten these lessons, allowing the instincts of my vampire nature to control me, to reduce sex to a mere act, a mere need to be fulfilled. My detachment from humanity creates a paradox wherein I espouse freedom but am chained by my complacency.
"And, are you saying that you have . . . how did you put it? Thrown off the shackles of society and accepted roles?"
"Long ago," I reply with a laugh, knowing he cannot begin to imagine just how long.
I watch as he takes a sip of his wine, his pose languid and relaxed. The light of the fire dances across his skin. His intelligent eyes are no longer on me, and I can see the crease in his forehead that tells me he is thinking. As he drinks deeply, his throat constricts and relaxes, and I find myself wanting to sink my teeth into it, to taste him, his salt and musk and the coppery delight that pulses beneath his skin. I find in this man—this human—a bright mind, and a thirst and lust for life that I had almost forgotten and now wish to embrace.
I cannot help but wonder if this is how my Master felt so many years ago. I think of how he took me unwillingly—both as a lover and a child—though now it no longer chafes. In fact, I've learned to enjoy men as well as women as lovers, my initial reticence merely a facet of my upbringing. Where I came from, those who were on the receiving end were derided and shamed by society. I am grateful to my Master for awakening me to all the possibilities of this world.
I look at Charles again. I appreciate the long, lean lines of his body, and the dark, sensual eyes imparted to him by his Italian grandmother. I see him grip the leaded crystal goblet with his elegant fingers, and I realize I want those fingers wrapped around my cock. I grow hard with the thought. I continue to appraise him. His mouth is full and wide, lush.
I want him—his pleasure, his blood, his mind, his passion, and his power. I know I can bring him to me, but I want it to be his choice. So I wait.
"Tell me," he commands.
"What do you wish to know?"
"Everything," he replies. His voice is breathy, husky.
It has been nearly three weeks since I pulled the king from the Thames. I shall have to depart soon, before my odd hours and cold skin begin to attract notice that even Charles cannot command away. Yet each day provides me with an excuse not to leave, until I am forced to acknowledge that he is the reason I endanger my self-preservation.
It is the third night since that risqué conversation, and I am finally summoned to his quarters. There is a sumptuous spread of food on the table, and a pitcher of the opium fortified wine that has become a favorite at court. The fire burns hot in the hearth; velvet and tapestry along the window and walls, as well as Oriental rugs on the floor, warm the room despite the freezing temperatures outside. Charles dismisses his servants.
We are alone.
He loosens the cravat about his neck and slides his coat and waistcoat off, leaving only his ruffled white silk shirt and the loose scarf. "I," he begins, and for the first time since I've met him he is unsure of himself. "I want . . ." he trails off and takes a breath. "I want you to show me," he says in a shaky voice, and takes a large, fortifying draught of the wine before looking at me again.
As soon as the words leave his mouth I feel my body responding. I harden shamelessly, and I feel my fangs lengthen in my mouth. I am going to make him mine, claim him in every way.
He reaches for the glass of wine again, but in a blur I am next to him, the fingers of one hand wrapping around his wrist, stopping him from drinking more, while the other hand grabs the cravat and slides it from around his throat. "I want you lucid for this," I tell him. There will be no falling back on the excuse of drunken debauchery or drugged stupor. He will experience this fully, completely, passionately; a willing participant and eager student.
He looks at me, smiles, then quotes his friend, a hint of cynicism in his voice:
Thus in the zenith of my lust I reign,
I drink to swive, and swive to drink again,
Let other monarchs who their sceptres bear,
To keep their subjects less in love than fear,
Be slaves to crowns—my nation shall be free,
My pintle only shall my sceptre be.
My laws shall act more pleasure than command,
And with my prick I'll govern all the land.
Refusing to take the bait of his cynical styling, I move my hand to the back of his neck and grip him tight, then bring my mouth to his and kiss him. At first he balks, unused perhaps to the intimacy, familiar only with the carnal act itself, or only with dominating the scene. The truth is I don't know how much of the rumors and innuendo to believe, and he has done nothing to confirm or deny it.
It is not my concern. Instead, I kiss him with all the artistry my centuries of experience have gifted me. His mouth is sweet and tastes like grapes and sunlight and the Orient. His lips are soft and full against mine and his tongue darts out to taste me. I tighten the fist in his hair and take control, mastering the kiss, mastering him. He turns languid and pliant in my arms, and an erotic purr reverberates in his chest.
I twine my fingers in his long, thick hair and pull his head back, exposing the delicate, patrician skin of his neck to me. I watch the veins pump and pulse, blue and enticing, the elixir they contain tempting me, but it's too soon. So I run my tongue along their tracks, following their path to the juncture of his jaw, where I kiss him before turning my attention to his ear, nipping and tugging at the lobe before whispering, "I love the taste of you on my tongue."
His hands grip my waist, bunching the fabric there until I feel the tips of his nails through the silk and linen. I pull back, allowing him to breathe, enjoying the blush in his cheeks, the rise and fall of his chest. His eyes are glazed with desire, and I'm filled with need. With a growl I push him against the table, and with a sweep of my arm I clear enough of the food to spread him across the dark wood, an offering on an altar. I rake my eyes over him before grabbing the front of his shirt and tearing it from him, exposing the pale flesh of his chest flushed with excitement. I drop my head to a nipple and take it into my mouth, sucking hard at the tight peak until he arches and cries out.
I stand between his legs, which are spread wantonly. As I lean forward, I press my still clothed cock alongside his, rubbing against him before I switch sides and take his other nipple in my mouth. My hands run along his ribs to his hips, touching, teasing, tormenting.
"Oh merciful Lord in heaven," he pants.
I make my way down his chest, tongue swirling and tasting. His hands fist, clenching with abandon and pleasure, and I enjoy the sounds he makes as I lave his skin and blow cool air over the wet before gently biting the delicious flesh. I reach the waist of his breeches and run my tongue just under them, reveling in the way he bucks and moans beneath me.
"You'll be the death of me, Northman," the king gasps above me. He has no idea how possible that is, or how much I desire it.
With a feral snarl I grasp the silken fabric and, with the tip of a fang, I tear it open and pull it down. The breeches catch for a moment on the stockings pulled about his knees, but with preternaturally adept fingers I roll it all down until it falls off his legs and he is naked before me, the silk of his shirt beneath him on the table, splayed out like the wings of an angel.
"Beautiful," I whisper.
His cock is long and thick, worthy of its reputation, and I pause to admire it. It throbs with his desire, red and suffused with blood, which only further serves to inflame me. I lean down and swipe my tongue along the slit, tasting the very essence of him as he shouts my name to heaven.
"I'll show you God," I growl at him, and plunge my mouth over him, sucking deep and hard all the way to the base of him.
Not needing to breathe has its advantages as I continue to minister to him with my mouth, swallowing him into my throat, swirling my tongue around his tip with each pass. My hand plays with his sac, rolling each heavy ball in my fingers before sliding down to tease him gently, not penetrating, but tickling softly and pressing lightly, until with a keening wail he is filling my mouth with hot, salty fluid, delicious and thick on my tongue.
He is breathing hard as I crawl up his body, and I know he feels exposed and powerless as he lies there naked and I press against him fully clothed. I bring my face to his. "Taste yourself, lover," I breathe against his mouth and then kiss him. He hesitates, but then opens his lips and his tongue tentatively sneaks into my mouth before he succumbs and begins to explore, tasting himself there. I break off the kiss and whisper, "So good, isn't it?"
His only response is a moan.
My hands haven't ceased exploring him, and soon I feel him stirring against my thigh once more, and I'm thankful for his legendary stamina. He'll need it for what I plan to do with him, to him. I pull the small pot of grease from the pocket of my waistcoat and set it to the side. I keep myself pressed against him, between his legs as I say, "Watch me, lover."
Slowly I remove my clothes, enjoying the expressions on his face as my body is revealed to him. He has seen it before, during our romps in the brothels, but not like this. He has not scrutinized it before. It has never been on display for him. I enjoy the approval I see on his face.
I liberally coat my fingers with the contents of the pot, and lean forward to kiss him again. My hand moves between his legs and my finger circles the tight opening. He tenses and I whisper, "Relax." I circle my hips against his, trapping his hardening cock between us and generating a lazy, grinding friction as I slowly insert a finger. "Relax," I repeat as I begin to slide my finger in and out, and I skim my other hand down to grip his cock firmly. I stroke with long, slow movements, not to bring about his peak, but to distract him and increase his pleasure.
I add another finger and work them both back and forth, loosening and stretching him, and he's gripping my shoulders and muttering and moaning, his body bearing down and seeking my fingers each time I pull away. On the next pass I crook them, brushing against the small gland there. He bucks and wails beneath me, and I squeeze his cock at the base, not wanting it to end yet.
"More," he pleads.
"With pleasure," I respond, and in a moment I have coated myself and lifted his legs, hooking them over my arms.
"Like this?" he asks, confusion clear on his face.
I merely lift my brow.
"But I thought," he begins, and I know he thinks that he must be on all fours.
"No, lover, I want to look in your face. I want to see you when you come undone beneath me. I want you to watch the pleasure you give me." And with that I begin to press into him. He tenses and I see the pain in his face. I remind him once more to relax, and I release one of his legs to stroke him again. "Let go. A moment of discomfort and then . . ."
And then I'm in, sheathed tightly inside him. His eyes widen, but a moment later roll back in his head as I begin to move.
"Oh God!" he cries out.
I chuckle and can't help quipping, "No, but I think I can make you see him." And I redouble my efforts. I'm striking that sweet spot inside him with each stroke, and his head is now thrashing from side to side as he babbles.
"Didn't know . . . feels . . . feels . . ." He groans as I lift his legs higher, placing them on my shoulders, thrusting deeper.
"Look at me," I tell him. "Watch me."
I take him in hand once more and stroke him with purpose now. His groans become wails and whimpers and I sense that he is close. I feel him thicken in my hand. With my other hand I secure his leg, and as I sense his finish coming, I bend my head to his thigh and bite, drinking deeply.
"I DIE! I DIE!" he cries out. Le petite mort, the little death. He is shooting his seed across his stomach and chest, and I raise my head from his leg and lick the wound, sealing it. His head is loose on his neck, his eyes closed, his breath is hard and fast, and he is trembling like a horse that has been ridden hard.
I pull free of him and lift him in my arms, carrying him to the bed in the adjoining room. "What are you?" he mumbles against my chest, too limp to fight me.
"I am Eros. I am Dionysus. I am eternity if you should wish it," I reply as I lay him on his side upon the silk sheets. I get in behind him and lift his leg, sliding back into him, not wanting to leave his tight embrace.
His head falls back against my shoulder and a deep moan escapes his mouth. "You truly will be the death of me."
"Only if you want it," I tell him on a thrust, because I will turn him if he wishes. I want him—as a child, companion, lover. I want him, but I will not force him as I was. Instead, I ply him with pleasure, so that if this night is all we have we will both remember it for remainder of our years, whether they are measured in decades or centuries.
I surge into him again and over and over, until I feel my balls tightening and with a low growl I bite into his neck, once more tasting the honeyed nectar of his blood coursing down my throat as I pulse inside him.
When we've recovered, I pull out and fetch a cloth, dipping it in the washbasin and returning to the bed. I clean us both and return to lie next to Charles. His eyes are closed, but I know he isn't asleep. I can hear his heart speed up as I trail my hand along his arm but I say nothing, allowing him to come to terms with what he has learnt this night.
After a minutes he says, "You are not human."
"No. No longer," I reply.
He turns to face me. He lifts his hand and traces the contours of my face, the planes of my chest. "It is a remarkable likeness, except you are colder to the touch."
"It is no likeness. I was a man once. I still am. I'm simply changed."
"There is nothing simple in this magic," he responds. He continues to stroke my hair, my cheeks, my hips.
"I suppose," I answer. "I know the mechanics of how this was done, but not the how or why of it."
"And the biting? You drank of me?"
"But verily, I have seen you eat and drink at my table!"
"An act. With time one becomes adept at blending in."
For the next half an hour I answer his questions.
Finally he asks the question I've waited for, the one the few humans who know of us and which every new vampire asks, "Is this state of being . . . evil? A thing of the devil?"
Because despite the rationality of thinking Charles possesses—science and math fascinate him—and despite the enlightenment of the age, he is still the product of his upbringing, still a slave to simple concepts of God and the Devil, good and evil.
"I do not know," I say. "But I think not. I am merely me. Have I killed? Yes. Did I take pleasure in it? At times. But I do not seek to cause pain or harm, unless it is to my enemies. I do not thrill to it. I am as I was, only . . . better."
He contemplates my answers as we return to the sitting room and finally sit down to the partially ruined meal on the table. He picks at some fruit and a piece of cheese. I spear a hunk of meat and pass it to him. "Eat." When he raises his brow at my commanding tone I smile and say, "You'll need your strength."
"Oh yes. I haven't had my fill of you and there are still hours before the sunrise."
There is heat in his eyes as he takes a bite of the roast.
I spend the next several hours loving him, teaching him, touching him, exploring him and letting him explore me. When he finally takes me, it is with gentleness and thought; it is not the rough couplings of his past—the buggering of a younger boy as he is bent over a table and slicked with a little spit. Instead, it is with the tenderness of a lover, no longer simply an act of release, but one of mutual pleasure and regard, no different from his mistresses.
I feel the pull and tug of the approaching dawn. Charles, asleep beside me, wakes as I slip from the bed and dress. He props himself on an elbow and watches me. "Did you mean what you said earlier? If I wished to become . . ."
"Vampire? Yes. I would. I think you would be suited to it. The world would be ours to explore, Charles. Think on it."
Two weeks pass. There is no reprise of our night. Instead, life continues as before, and I know I must take my leave. I am packing my belongings, the few I've been gifted, along with the things I retrieved from the inn I stayed at before. There is a commotion at the door, and then Charles enters.
"Your Highness," I say as I bow. The niceties must still be observed in front of others.
He dismisses everyone, and then goes to stand by the fireplace. His back is to me as he begins to speak. "I've considered it, your offer—"
"But you are declining," I finish for him.
"How did you know?" He turns to me.
"Because if you were going to accept it, you would have done so before now," I say, and I can't keep the disappointment out of my voice.
"Northman," he begins, but then changes tack. "Eric, I thought about it long and hard this last fortnight. The idea of spending an eternity in your company . . . well, there are worse things I can conjure." He smirks at me. "But this is where I belong. I know you don't, but I do believe in God, and I do believe that this is my divine destiny. I was born to lead my people. It is my duty. I cannot shirk it. This burden has been laid upon me by God himself, and I cannot abandon it."
"Ah, the theories of your Caroline Divines," I say.
"Do not mock me!" He is quick to anger.
"I do not mock you," I reply. But perhaps I am. I am frustrated, disappointed and . . . hurt. He has chosen his people, this meaningless "destiny" over me, and the sudden realization stings. "But know that long after your destiny plays out, I shall be roaming this world, tasting its wonders and pleasures while your bones rot in the very ground you consecrate!"
I throw a few more items into a satchel then stop. "Forgive me," I say. "I suppose I am more disappointed than I thought." I look at him then, at his tall, lithe body, his dark coloring, his intelligent eyes that see so much and, therefore, are infused with an aura of melancholy. "It has been a long time since anything, anyone, held my interest, Charles. You have brought me into the modern era in a way none of my recent wanderings have. I feel reborn with you. I shall miss that." I turn and grab my things. "I shall miss you," I say.
Then he is behind me, and his hand on my shoulder, trying to force me to face him. He may as well try to move a boulder, but I acquiesce and turn. He reaches up and cups my face. "And I shall miss you," he tells me, and then leans forward to place a kiss upon my mouth.
His lips are soft upon mine, and the kiss is fraught with meaning and emotion. I tangle my fingers in his hair one last time and kiss him back, sealing his taste in my memory.
Then I am gone.
I leave London and wander through the English countryside, as well as Wales and Scotland, unable to bring myself to leave the island yet. I enjoy the wet, lush, green landscape, and the friendly nature of its people. It has been too long since I enjoyed such simple pleasures.
Three months after I last see him, the news arrives in Edinburgh. Charles has died. The great age of the Cavalier King, the Merry Monarch, is at an end. So much for divine destiny. Yet amidst my cynicism I grieve. I grieve for the loss of a great man, of a lover, and above all, I grieve for the loss of my friend.
The next day I depart for the continent and I do not return for a long time. Eventually, centuries later, England will provide me with another opportunity for deep friendship and companionship, but that is a tale for another day.