"Daemones aduimur igni. Ut incenderent! Ut incenderent!”
Vanessa’s voice rang out like a siren in the room which had been rendered stark since her confinement.
“What did she say?” Ethan asked. Victor and Sir Malcolm looked at each other and then at Ethan.
“She said the Devil’s fire burns her.” Sir Malcolm answered. “She said she burns and burns.”
“Ut incenderent,” she whimpered again and reached for no one in particular before her hand dropped limply to the bed.
“You do not burn,” the doctor admonished. “Your physical illness has rendered you feverish and somewhat delirious. Hush now; you mustn’t exert yourself with unnecessary chatter, Miss Ives.”
“What language is that?” Ethan asked, looking back and forth between Vanessa, Victor, and Sir Malcolm.
“It is Latin,” Sir Malcolm answered. He stood a ways off from the others, his arm braced against a chest of drawers. “The mother tongue of her church,” he added bitterly.
“And apparently the father tongue of her demon,” Ethan added. It was all a bit much for the American cowboy, but not for reasons anyone could have predicted. He’d murdered villages of innocents back in his own country, and was no stranger to the strange or to bloodshed. But at this very moment, Brona lie dying in another bed and these men here seemed to recline on an odd sense of propriety at the wraith-like specter before them. It was almost as though what was happening was not really happening. There was no war cry, only the pinched notion that a thing would possibly trouble them if they gave it more than its due. Ethan did not appreciate this dismissive demeanor.
Victor applied a wet cloth to Vanessa’s forehead, dipped it into a bowl of water next to her bed and repeated the process. He left the cloth across her forehead. “Her fever does rage,” he said and shook his head. He stood and approached Sir Malcolm. “I fear for her brain if we cannot get this under control. She will begin to seize. I’ve some supplies back at my apartment, some other medicines and vitamins we could try. In the mean time, she must be kept as cool as possible.”
“Mr. Chandler, you should accompany the doctor. I will see to Miss Ives.” The two younger men looked anxiously at Sir Malcolm. “She is weak as a kitten now. Certainly she will do me no harm. And I’ve Sembene here should I need . . . assistance.”
“Very well,” Victor said briskly. “You will continue to apply the cool cloth to her forehead and her neck. If she grows any hotter, we shall have to put her in a bath of ice.” At this, Vanessa’s eyes snapped open.
“No!” She hissed and started to growl. Her eyes rolled back in her head and she writhed against the pillow. “No. Adolebitque malo.”
“She says she would rather burn than be in a tub of ice, and for good reason. As I understand, Miss Ives spent some time in a sanatarium where they used a very cruel and crude form of hydrotherapy,” Sir Malcolm explained. “I should be pleased to avoid traumatizing her any further.” He sat down on the bed next to Vanessa and took her hand. “We will do our best to avoid that, Vanessa,” he murmured. He moved to the chair next to her bed. He picked the cloth up from the bowl, squeezed the excess water from it and pressed it against her forehead. At his touch, she closed her eyes.
Victor rolled down his shirt sleeves and put on his jacket. “Very well then,” he said. Ethan jammed his hat down on his head and looked eager to escape the confines of eight Grandage Place. “We shall return as quickly as possible.”
For a while, Sir Malcolm sat, watching Vanessa’s chest rise and fall, listening to the raspy rhythm of her breath. She lay uncovered on the small bed, and her thin nightdress was open at the chest that she might be kept as cool as possible. He pressed the cloth to either side of the pale column of her neck, and then dabbed at the almost translucent skin over her breast. She’d grown so thin, he could see her collar bones and ribs working against her flesh as she struggled to breathe, and the network of blue webbing that continued to somehow pump life through her fragile frame.
He did not bother to look up when Sembene entered the room. “She seems to sleep now,” he said to his man servant. “But I do not know if she is long for this world.”
“You should eat. And you should rest. You are no good to her or to your daughter if you perish yourself, my friend.” He put a hand on Sir Malcolm’s shoulder. “I can take over for now.”
“No.” Sir Malcolm looked up as he uttered his resolute syllable. “But can you bring me a bowl of ice? She must be cooled.”
“I will see what we have,” Sembene said and took his leave. It was not long before he returned with a tray, upon which was set a large basin filled with chunks of ice. To the side of the basin, there was a bottle of wine and a glass along with some bread and cheese. “Can I bring you anything else?”
“No. Thank you. Leave us.” Sir Malcom rose from his seat and looked around the room until he found a fresh flannel, then he returned to Vanessa’s bedside. He set the flannel on the tray, on the bedside table, next to the basin of ice and the wine. He took a deep breath and sat down on the bed next to Vanessa, not in the chair next to her bed, but on the bed itself. She opened her eyes when she felt his body’s weight move the mattress next to her. “Vanessa,” he sighed. “I’ve got to help cool you. His hand alighted upon her hip and stroked down to the hem of her garment. He began to peel it up, over her legs, then her waist, then her ribs.
As he did so, he looked not upon her slight frame, but into the depths of her eyes. The initial apprehension he saw blended to a calm acceptance.
“Very well then,” he said when he had her nightgown over her breasts. He helped her sit slightly so he could remove the gown, and settled her back against the pillow.
With the clean cloth, he procured a few chunks of the ice Sembene had brought. He wrapped the ice in the cloth and brought it to the hollow of Vanessa’s throat. When he pressed it against her flesh, it almost seemed to steam and sizzle at the heat of her, and she caught his thick hands in both of hers. “Please,” she whispered and looked beseechingly into his eyes with her own. “Please, oh, please.”
“What is it you require, my dear?”
“Kill me. No one else is here. Smother me with my pillow. No one will ever know. Please. I beg you.”
Sir Malcolm trailed the dripping ice down in between her breasts. “Shhh, now. I will not hurt you.” He said. She turned her head away and choked on a sob which turned to a growl. For a moment he was scared she would gather her strength and attack, but she did not. Her hips ground against the sheets.
He plucked more ice out of the bowl and rubbed it against her neck and then her chest without the cloth. She was so hot, it was melting almost as soon as it touched her. His ice filled hand drifted down to her belly and then back and forth over the edge of her pantalettes. It occurred to him all of a sudden that the ice was melting equally as fast because of the heat of his own fist that held it against her.
He brought the ice back up and ran it underneath her breasts, and as he did, he felt the burning heat there, and saw her nipples pucker in response to his freezing touch. He rolled the chunk of ice back and forth, under one breast, and then under the other, watching as her skin rippled with chilled bumps. Her breath seemed to slow and her face almost seemed to relax as he administered this cool massage.
She rotated her head back on the pillow and opened her eyes to look at him. “Is it you?” She asked. Her lips nearly matched her violet eyes as she bit and chewed them.
“Yes,” he replied again. He stroked the ice along the side of her neck, against her collar bones and then back down in between her breasts, over her heart. He could feel it beat, hot under the ice. “You know I took a fever once when I was in Africa. I was very ill. There was no ice, but I was taken deep into a cave where it was very dark and very cool. There was a pool of water there, flowing through bedrock and it was about as cold as anything could ever be on that continent. A native woman administered a poultice of herbs and mud and that cold, cold water to me for days on end. And I did not die. You must have been a child then. I emerged days, or even weeks later, from the cave as a man renewed, almost reborn. And I returned home to you and to Peter and Mina.”
“You loved us once,” she snarled.
“Yes.” He took hold of her arm and raised it above her head. He brought the ice to her arm pit and she started at the frigid sensation. For a moment, he eased off and then more slowly, he brought it back. He rubbed it in the hollow beneath her arm, and then down the side of her breast over the most sensitive skin of her ribs. Her breath quickened, but not with any sort of duress, almost as though with a pleasure at the cold he brought her steaming body.
He knew it was wrong to derive any sort of carnal pleasure from her emaciated body, but something about the way she lie there, panting and writhing under his touch was nearly wanton. Something about the way her nipples changed from pink to purple pearls as his ice filled fingers glided over them made him swallow hard and look toward the bottle of wine Sembene had left.
“And me,” she gasped. “You loved me once.”
“Yes,” he hummed and his hand opened flat over her belly, pressing the ice into her navel under his palm.
“Then in the memory of that love, please, do this for me now. Release me from this mortal torment and sent my soul to wherever it next shall go. Heaven or hell, I care not. I only cannot stand to live like this any longer. I cannot bear the look in your eyes, or in Mr. Chandler’s when you see me as I am now.”
“You know I cannot do that, Vanessa,” he said. He tore his hand from her and used it to pour himself a drink. His fingers were numb from holding the ice with which he’d massaged her, and he fumbled as he brought the glass to his mouth. Wine drizzled into his beard and he wiped at it sloppily with the back of his hand. “I need you now more than ever. In this state you might be even closer to Mina than we know. Reach out to her for me. Find her for me and I will do anything you ask of me.”
She sank even deeper into the pillow. “How cruel you are,” she wept. “Always so selfish. You would keep me here like this for your own terrible delight as I burn. Ut incenderent!”
Perhaps it was her words or the wine, but he lowered his face then to her breast and took the plum bud of her aureola into his mouth and suckled upon it. He twirled his tongue around the hard point of her nipple and moaned as he found her other breast with his other hand and let it fill his palm. “You are wrong,” he hissed against her skin. “You are always so wrong.”
He sat back up with the taste and texture of her still in his mouth. He filled his mouth again with wine and found it did nothing to release him from the spell of her. The tears on her cheeks were mirrored by the tears slipping down his. He picked up a chunk of ice and brought it to her lips. He rubbed it slowly over her bottom lip and she stuck out her tongue to suck, to feel the cold, to hydrate herself.
“I am not wrong,” she mumbled against the ice, melting it, even as she spoke.