It felt like one of Lydia's dreams she had when Jamie was gravely injured and she was in Paris, waiting for Jamie to recover. But this was no dream.
It was 1914. The fall chill crept into Oxford as it always did. The butterflies were starting to migrate away from the city, but the bumblebees were still buzzing around. It was also afternoon. Miranda was observing some of the bumblebees that were on the flowers in Lydia's garden on Holywell Street.
“Careful, Miranda,” Lydia said, hovering over her daughter. “The bumblebee might sting you.”
“Yes. It's one of their natural defenses. Whenever they feel threatened, they sting.”
“Do butterflies sting?”
“No, Miranda, they don't.”
“Butterflies sting like bumblebees.”
Lydia laughed. “No, they don't. I wouldn't lie to you.”
Lydia felt something behind her moving in the shadows, as if that something was trying to avoid the sun.
Lydia held Miranda tighter, fearing something would get closer to her daughter. But nothing happened to either one of them. Miranda didn't notice a thing. The bumblebee on the flower was more important to her in that moment.
Lydia waited until Asher came back from university to talk about the feeling she felt while she was in her garden with Miranda. By now, they knew what to expect from vampires, through years and years of travels and communications with Ysidro. The two decided Miranda would sleep with them in their bed that night with a silver pendant around her neck. That way, if there were any vampires and Lydia and Asher had to fight them off, at least Miranda was safe.
Indeed, there was a vampire in Oxford that night. Because of the pendant around Miranda's neck, the vampire kept his distance from the Ashers. But the vampire could silently observe them in a corner of their bedroom. Nothing changed since their last meeting, at least physically. Asher still had his bushy eyebrows and Lydia her fiery red hair. Miranda inherited her mother's red hair, and it seemed like, when Miranda grew up, she could potentially look like her mother's twin.
It was Lydia who jolted out of bed and saw the vampire. It was none other than Ysidro. Lydia stifled a scream upon looking at him, although she knew she shouldn't be surprised by his appearances, physical and how he made these appearances, by now.
“I want to talk, Mistress,” Ysidro said. “I promise not to hurt your child. You can take her to her room. I have arrived alone. She will be safe. Wake Asher. I will meet you both in your drawing room. I feel you would like privacy while you put on your kimono.”
Lydia was still stunned at seeing Ysidro in the corner. She nodded. “Thank you, Don Simon.”
Ysdiro vanished as soon as Lydia thanked him. Lydia stood up and wrapped her kimono tightly around her body. She picked up Miranda, taking her to her room, the silver still around her neck.
As Lydia lit candles in the drawing room of the Ashers' house, Ysidro was revealed to be sitting in a chair across from two empty chairs. Beside Ysidro were three wrapped parcels.
“What's going on?” Asher asked as he sat in one of the chairs. “You never show up unless there's some sort of emergency or we need your help.”
“That is precisely why I have come. I have taken upon myself to visit you at a time when you do not need my help.”
“Why did you come now?” Asher continued.
“This war has kept alarmed a lot of us, humans and vampires alike. I wanted to see you before I am needed somewhere in Europe. I feel I will be needed, depending on the duration of this terrible war. And I wanted to give you gifts to remember me before I leave you.”
Ysidro picked up one of the packages and handed it to Asher. Asher opened it and examined the present inside. “A book?”
“Some light reading,” Ysidro said. “Nothing that pertains to your work.” He picked up the other presents and gave them to Lydia. “A present for you as well as your daughter.”
“Which present do I open up first?”
“Whichever present you would like.”
Lydia opened the smaller of the two presents. Inside was a bottle of one of Lydia's favorite fragrances, something from the Rue de Rivoli. Lydia looked at the bottle in disbelief. “I never asked you back in Paris, but I always wondered how you knew about everything I liked.”
“I watched your insufferable aunt pack your things in your residence, Mistress. I dare not disturb her, but I wish I could have.”
“Did you sneak into my residence?”
“I have my ways.”
Lydia opened the other box. Inside was a spinning top.
“I observed your daughter in your garden.”
“I know,” Lydia said.
“I do not know if your daughter is old enough for the top. When she is, I'm sure the top will match her sense of curiosity about the world.” A pause. “I would like to meet your daughter one day. But if you do not wish for me to see her now, I understand. She is young. 'Tis a time of innocence for her. I'm sure the sight of someone like me might destroy what innocence she has at the moment.”
“I don't think this is the right time, Don Simon,” Asher said.
“What do we tell Miranda about the top when we give it to her in the morning?” Lydia said.
“Tell her it is from a dear friend of yours, and nothing more. I won't fret if Miranda never met the friend that gave her the top.” Ysidro rose. “I must be going. I'm to be at Bristol by sunrise. I need to be back to where others can reach me.” He walked over to Lydia and kissed her hand. “But I am forever in your service, Mistress.” He looked at Asher. “And I am forever in yours.”
Ysidro vanished as soon as he was finished, leaving the Ashers with presents in their laps in the middle of the night.