Following this rebuff, Meier kept to his castle for several weeks. For
whatever reason, his assault on the senior Elbourne hadn't prompted the
hiring of hunters -- surely they would have sought him out by that time,
had they been summoned -- and that this remained so not only when he had
attacked a human (albeit not after the custom of his kind) but in the
face of Charlotte's still-palpable anger ... Meier was relieved, but
puzzled. Of course, the hunters might simply be waiting at the Elbourne
home for his return ... no. Probably not. Vampire hunters might wait a
few days for their prey, but they knew full well that a vampire who had
no motive for haste could wait them out for years, or centuries.

Meier settled for waiting until the moon had grown bright again, though
not quite full. He performed careful reconnaissance in approaching the
area, but nothing seemed out of the ordinary for the wee hours of the
morning. Everyone in the Elbourne household breathed with the rhythms of
sleep that night ... and for the nights afterward that Meier returned,
earlier and earlier, until one night Charlotte's drapes were open. Meier
clawed his way to a perch on the ugly tree and watched, enraptured, as
she went through the rather time-consuming process of taking down her
hair. The cross was still on the window, and that was an annoyance, but
at least it was not too near him, and he could focus his eyes beyond its
golden gleam at the doubled Charlottes -- one in the flesh, one in the
mirror -- as she took out pins and tucked them into a little ceramic
box, then unloosed her braids and gave her hair a hundred strokes with a
soft, broad brush. (Meier counted them too.) That such voyeurism was
beyond rude never occurred to him; he was mesmerized as surely as any
vampire's victim, and delighted with the sight of this simple, and to
him unfamiliar, ritual.

Charlotte had turned off the lights and actually pulled back the cover
of her bed when she glanced at the window and noticed the open drapes.
She looked for a long time -- was she afraid of what might be out there,
or was she simply tired and disinclined to cross the room for such a
trivial task? If the latter, she overcame her fatigue, and Meier
bolstered himself to see the last of her face that night, and perhaps
for many nights to come. But to his surprise, she opened the window and
looked out -- and right at him.

"You're there, aren't you." It wasn't really a question.

"Yes," Meier replied softly, suddenly feeling rather foolish about
perching in a tree like a cape-clad sloth. "Yes, I am. And I'm very glad
to see you ... to see you're safe."

Charlotte's expression wavered on the verge of anger and pain and ...
something else, something Meier couldn't have defined. Her fists
tightened on the window's frame, and for a moment he thought she was
going to slam it in his face again. But instead she softly asked, "Why
are you here? Father said ... today Father said I was sweet and gentle,
and I should have ... I should have ..." Her face crumpled with tears,
and she lowered it to her hands. With something approaching horror,
Meier leapt down from the tree and crossed the lawn to stand under her
window. It was wide open; the cross was no impediment now, and he could
have leapt or even teleported up to her side. But there was something
about her tears that forbade him to come close, even to offer comfort;
she seemed too fragile to approach, almost too fragile even to look at.

"Please don't cry." Meier didn't realize he was hugging himself as he
looked up at her.

Charlotte finally looked at him with her reddened eyes. "You told him
that." Her voice was ragged from crying. "He'd never said things like
that before."

"Don't you think they're true?" Meier asked softly.

"I don't want my father to be a vampire's slave. It's bad enough he's a
cripple now!"

"He's not my slave," Meier told her. "I told him to treat you kindly. He
decides what his kindnesses will be. And he is his own man in all other

"This is all my fault." Charlotte looked at the darkness before Meier's

"No, dear." Meier's voice was soft. "I don't know if any fault lies in
this, but if it does, it isn't yours."

"I wish you'd go away."

It wasn't just the words; it was the rigid calmness of their tone that
made Meier feel he'd been doused with icy rain. But he swallowed hard
and said, "May I ask one question?"

Charlotte looked at him, perhaps taken aback that a vampire would be so
courteous -- even tentative. "What?"

"I've seen no sign of hunters. Surely if your father owns such an estate
as this, he can afford to hire them. Why? If he knows I --"

"He doesn't," Charlotte interrupted. Her voice was barely above a
whisper. "Nobody knows. Nobody knows you were here. They think Father
tripped on his own feet and hurt himself." Charlotte's voice went lower
still, and she averted her eyes. "Nobody even said anything about the
window. Mother said it was God's punishment."

Meier went faint for a moment at mention of the Deity -- she really
hadn't needed to include _that_ detail -- and then he tightened his lips
to keep from smiling at the thought of being an instrument of the Divine
Justice that was antithetical, like the cross, to his very nature. This
was in turn overcome by a warmth that suffused him from within, a warmth
so unfamiliar he couldn't have begun to name it embarrassment or
gratitude. It was numinous and very real, with a powerful and
indefinable sweetness.

Charlotte looked at him once more. "You're Meier Link, aren't you?"

He bowed. "I am."

"Everybody says ... you've never used your fangs on a human."

"They speak the truth. Nor will I ever."

The silence was long between them, and Charlotte at last broke it with,
"I have to go to bed. Good night."

"Good night," Meier replied reflexively. Only after she closed the
window did he think to curse himself for not having asked her to remove
the cross.

But at least she had spoken to him kindly enough this night that it gave
him hope for the future.

 * * *

When Meier paid subsequent visits to the Elbourne estate -- and he did
most evenings -- he kept his distance from Charlotte's window, even
though he observed that the drapes were often open. The window itself
was closed, and the cross remained in place. Sometimes he did see
Charlotte, or at least her shadow, moving about, and for a time that
provided all the reassurance he could stand.

Nonetheless, it was easier to come later in the night, when he need not
wonder if she would be asleep. So Meier was rather surprised to see that
one midnight (so the courthouse bell tolled in the town) not only were
the drapes open, not only was the window itself open, but Charlotte was
there, leaning on the frame with her face in her hands. Meier was so
taken aback that he simply stared at the unaccustomed sight for nearly
half a minute before hurrying to within human earshot.

"Charlotte?" He spoke gently; he wouldn't have frightened her for the
world. "Is something wrong?"

Charlotte looked at him; she had been crying. "Meier Link." Her voice
was soft and sad. "I wondered if you'd come. I ... I thought maybe you'd

Under the circumstances, Meier was more than prepared to do so. "What is
it, dear?"

"It's ... Pete. He's dead."


"My bird." Charlotte gestured absently toward the empty cage, which was
out of Meier's visual range. "He was so clever. I had him since he was a
nestling. He couldn't fly because one of his wings was deformed, and I
adopted him. I could tell everybody was laughing at me for keeping a
sparrow as a pet. But there was nobody else for him. One of our cats
nearly ate him because he couldn't fly and get away, and I knew he
needed a home. And he was so clever. He'd always stay with me, and he
knew tricks. He'd come when I called, or jump over a stick, or hide if I
pretended to be a cat ... I'm sorry, I know you think this is awfully

To Meier it was all too alien to be silly, but he nodded and said, "It's
all right."

"I woke up this morning and he was dead in the bottom of his cage. I
didn't even know he was sick. And -- he was my _friend_. I want him to
have a funeral, and I want him to be buried in a place where I can put
flowers on his grave, and everybody else thinks it's all silly and he
ought to just go out with the trash. Alan said we could -- we could make
him into -- a cat toy..."

Meier waited for her tears to abate -- there was, after all, very little
else he could do -- and finally said, "I am sorry."

"Would you help? You're ... you're a vampire, and ... I thought you'd
understand about things like ... funerals."

Meier was in fact a very poor candidate in that regard. As a noble born,
he had not died himself, and human observances of death and grief were
not part of vampire culture; indeed, most would say they were not part
of vampire nature. Meier knew as much, but he also knew that the woman
who held his heart in her hands desperately needed comfort and had no
other source of it.

"What would you like me to do?" he asked.

Now that her wish was so close to becoming reality, Charlotte hesitated.
It was one sufficiently frightening thing to speak with a vampire at a
distance and quite another to walk at his side in the night, with only a
dead sparrow for defense. And then she remembered: No; not only a dead

"Would you ..." her voice dropped to a nervous whisper, "help me find a
place to bury him, and dig a grave? We could have just a little funeral
and ... would you?"

"Of course I would," Meier told her, his own pulse now racing. For the
chance to at last stand by her side, Meier would have dug a grave for a
behemoth, bludgeoned its brains to pulp, and dragged it in -- all

Charlotte glanced about almost guiltily, then whispered, "Meet me at the
back door, okay?"

Meier nodded. "Very well." He gave no thought to her closing the window
even as he turned away. If truth be told, Meier was nearly as nervous as
Charlotte, though for very different reasons. After a few minutes the
latch clicked and Charlotte stepped out, clad in a night robe and
leather slippers. A small box was tucked under her arm, and she held a
candle in one hand. The other hand was tightly fisted ... but a fine
gold chain dangled from it.

Meier would never have been happier for the cross to have stayed on her
window. But he only said, "After you."

Without a hand free to shield the candle, Charlotte had to walk very
slowly. The effect might have been appropriately funereal if she hadn't
been constantly glancing about, clearly nervous at the limited range of
her vision, as well as the company she kept. Offering to carry the
candle himself never occurred to Meier; it was such a distinctively
_human_ thing that it seemed fitted to her hand. When they were well
away from the house Charlotte stopped and turned to him.

"Can you dig there?" With the candle she gestured toward a rock-bordered
flower bed.

"Wherever you wish," Meier replied, not adding that the possibilities
included solid granite. "Perhaps you could be more specific?"

Charlotte nodded shyly and set the candle down on a flat rock. "There?"
She pointed to a riot of periwinkle. "I don't want anyone to know -- can
you do it so no one can tell?"

"I think so," said Meier. He had never so much as laid a hand on
periwinkle before, but he knew that there could be an antipathy between
vampires and plants, and he drew his aura to himself as much as possible
before pushing through the vines and digging his long nails into the
earth. He worked carefully, clearing a double area -- part for the grave
itself, part for the dirt dug out to make it. Very few minutes passed
before he stood aside. "There."

Charlotte carefully laid the box in the hole. Still on her knees, she
softly said, "Father in Heaven, look over Pete, and --"

Meier nearly blacked out. The effect was as difficult to describe as it
was unpleasant -- a short-circuiting of consciousness, a roiling of
something like nausea, a pull on his veins as if they would draw into
themselves. He backed away, clawing the air blindly, and had the good
fortune to encounter a tree before his knees ceased to support him. He
leaned on it hard, taking deep, shuddering breaths and clutching it to
keep himself from retreating further. He couldn't look up, but had it
been the way of vampires to pray to their own dark gods, he would have
prayed for a speedy end to this prayer to the God of light.

"...and bless all of us, and bring us peace. Amen." Charlotte opened her
eyes and blinked a few times, then looked aside for Meier. All she could
see of him by the candle's flame was the blotch of his white face and
hair in the darkness, and the tiny smear of pale that was one of his
hands on the tree trunk. Charlotte picked up the candle and walked a
little nearer -- then gasped at how positively ill the poor man looked.
"Are you -- oh!" For suddenly she realized what must have had such an
effect on him, and she glanced self-consciously down at her fist that
still concealed the tiny cross. "Oh my goodness."

"A surfeit of it," Meier muttered. He was slowly recovering himself.
Charlotte stood trembling, torn between wanting to see that he was all
right and dreading to come nearer a creature who was so affected by
something as simple and pure as a heartfelt prayer.

"Are you ... going to hurt me?" she asked, taking an even tighter grip
on the cross.

"Of course not." Meier looked a bit hurt, himself.

"I mean ..." Charlotte's voice dropped to a whisper, "if you could." For
she hoped that the talisman in her hand would protect her if this
creature preferred to follow his dark nature.

Her glance toward her fisted hand told Meier why she considered herself
so protected that she had added that last statement. He softly said, "My
dear, I could do you any amount of harm no matter what trinkets you kept
about your person. But I don't intend to emulate your father."

Both of them winced at his bluntness, and Meier hastily added, "I'm
sorry. I shouldn't have said that."

"No; it's all right." Charlotte lowered her head and turned away, and
Meier's own gaze went up in alarm; had he lost her already, because of
one impulsive statement? But before he could say more, she continued,
"You really haven't tried to hurt me. You really haven't. You --" her
voice broke as she stood over the little grave, and Meier felt his own
mouth going tight as he clutched the tree. After a moment she continued,
"You didn't have to do any of this, but you did. You don't deserve --"
she glanced at him where he stood in the darkness, where he had been
driven by one of the few weaknesses of the vampire nobility.

"And anyway," she concluded softly, "everybody ought to be buried with a
cross." She knelt over the little grave again and took the lid off the
box. It was like a shoe box, but smaller -- perhaps it had originally
contained some toiletry or ornament -- and Meier was too stunned to
avert his eyes as she let the cross drop along its chain, then lowered
the necklace in and replaced the lid. She looked sadly at the little box
for another moment, then sat on one of the rocks and started crying in

Meier wanted to hold her and comfort her and lick the tears off her face
until she smiled at him, but some nameless fear held him back -- and he
knew it would frighten her if he attempted such a thing, probably if he
even touched her. So he stood at her side and waited, his own head
bowed, cape wrapped tight about him, so that he seemed a very part of
the darkness. At least -- once she recovered herself -- Charlotte didn't
seem particularly alarmed that he stood so near.

"Would you cover him over now?" she asked softly, and Meier nodded and
proceeded to fill in the tiny grave, then rearranged the periwinkle over
it in what seemed a reasonable facsimile of its original disorder. When
he turned to face her again, Charlotte was regarding him with a puzzled

"Is something wrong?"

Charlotte shook her head but then observed, "Your hands aren't dirty."

Meier regarded his hands. The skin was pale, as it was all over his
body, and the nails were by human standards very long, particularly for
a man. No trace of dirt clung, not even in the whorls of his fingertips
or beneath those long, tapering nails.

"No," he said, now a little puzzled himself. "Should they be?"

"Well ... yes. I mean --" it didn't seem appropriate to finish the
sentence by blurting out that that's what happens when _humans_ dig in
the dirt barehanded. So she said, "It's what would have happened if I'd
done that."

"Would you like my hands to have dirt on them?" To a creature of earth
the notion had a certain sensual appeal.

"No!" Charlotte exclaimed, then started giggling. "No, I just --" She
reached toward him, and Meier held his breath, but her hand faltered in
midair, caution overcoming her curiosity. "It wasn't what I'd expect,
that's all." She looked down, embarrassed. "I'd better go back inside

Meier nodded a little sadly. He could scarcely ask her when she next
expected a pet to die.

But she looked up at him. "Lord Meier Link --"

"Meier. Please."

She clearly didn't know what to think of that, but he had spoken gently,
and that gave her courage. "Meier ... thank you. For coming out here and
... being so kind and everything."

"You're welcome, dear."

Charlotte's first thought was that Meier was, like her, sad about Pete.
Then she realized how little she knew about him, after all; he might be
sad about anything, or nothing. Perhaps he wasn't sad at all. Maybe
vampires just looked that way.

"Did you ever have a pet?" she asked him at last.

"No. It's not a custom of the nobility." He didn't add that keeping
humans _was_ a custom of certain among the nobility, or at least it once
had been, back in the days when nobles held power.

Back in an era as dead as most of the nobles themselves.

Charlotte spoke again. "I really have to go in. It's very late."

Meier followed her to the door, where she turned to look at him. "Thank
you again. Nobody else -- nobody else would have done that."

"You're welcome." Meier hesitated, gathering his courage, and at last
said, "May I see you again?"

Charlotte blushed. It was such a human question, and it put matters
between them on a very different and much less mysterious footing. She
was too embarrassed to reply and simply nodded.

"Tomorrow?" he asked. It was almost a plea.

"Yes," she said, careful not to smile too broadly. She didn't know what
to think of having a vampire as a suitor, but it was a much less
alarming thought than it would have been only an hour before. "But not
too early ... not at all early."

Meier nodded, understanding. His visits must remain clandestine.

"Midnight," he said, and Charlotte nodded again.

 * * *

End part 2 of 6

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