There was really no need to shout, but Meier had to vent his excitement
somehow, and flying back fast enough to risk a sonic boom had not
sufficed. Robespierre's sensors were everywhere in the castle; they had
to be for the A.I. to maintain all systems and to serve his master,
Meier Link.

"Yes, noble lord."

Meier moderated his tone, chastened by Robespierre's robot-like
flatness. "Robespierre, what is an appropriate gift to bestow upon a
human woman?"

"It depends upon many things, including the nature of the relationship
and degree of familiarity. Flowers are a suitable gift for any human
woman. Gifts of candy or other sweetmeats denote a slightly greater
degree of familiarity. So does a ribbon or scarf. Gifts of jewelry are a
great honor to a woman, but the value of the jewelry should be
proportionate to the familiarity of the relationship, and should also be
appropriate for the woman to wear: simple items for a younger woman,
more elaborate pieces for a mature woman. Gifts that reflect the woman's
interests or pursuits are appropriate, but only insofar as the value --"

At Meier's upraised hand the synthesized voice fell silent. Meier said,
"This is a woman who means a great deal to me. I would spend eternity
with her if I could."

"For that the gift of vampirism will suffice."

Meier stared, then his brow furrowed. "Robespierre, that is _not_

"Thus have many noble lords honored human women," Robespierre pointed
out. (Robespierre's programming did not include a sense of humor, and
Meier knew it.)

"This noble lord is not going to be among them," Meier said sharply. "I
wish to bestow a gift upon a human woman who will remain human. But I
want to give her something magnificent." And nothing short of jewelry
would suffice.

Meier had not been in his mother's quarters -- what had been his
mother's quarters -- for many years. When he was a child, her jewelry
had fascinated him. She had a great deal of jewelry, although she never
wore much of it: sometimes an emerald brooch that set off her eyes;
sometimes a simple gold chain around her neck; and once a tiara set with
seed pearls, to denote her rank at a function attended by many of the
nobility. But she had owned many pieces, more than Meier could remember
ever having seen before. There were bracelets set with lapis lazuli and
chalcedony, platinum pins with moonstone cabochons, elaborate rigs of
rings and chains that he eventually untangled into a sort of whole-hand
jewelry, copper chokers with black engraving, bronze arm rings with gold
insets, finger rings thick with diamonds, bloodstone carved in

He finally settled on a necklace a little too long to be called a
choker. It was a fine gold chain with small ruby beads set at intervals.
He wanted something for her throat -- partly so he could always see it,
and partly as a reminder that he would have no more to do with her
throat than that; the rubies would be the only red that would ever
appear on that lovely neck because of him.

 * * *

Midnight was slow in coming. Meier's winged form cut the night in lazy
circles -- he had to work off his nervous energy somehow -- but as the
town clock struck the hour, he descended to the Elbourne lawn like a
stooping falcon, then spread his great wings to land, softly as
thistledown, on the grass. Charlotte of course was watching and waiting
and made a soft "Oh!" at the sight. Meier simply looked up at her -- at
the open window, the open drapes, the beautiful face they framed.

"You look lovely," he told her.

Charlotte smiled. "Thank you. Would you ... would you like to come in?"

Meier nodded, and before Charlotte could agree to meet him at any door,
he simply vanished -- only to speak a moment later from behind her. "I'm
very glad to see you."

Charlotte gasped and whirled to stare at him; she hadn't intended
bringing him into her chamber quite so soon. But then, there really
wasn't a better place to entertain him, and she was already seeing a man
without her parents' leave -- a man who wasn't even a man. The further
impropriety of having him in her room suddenly seemed inconsequential.

"How ... how did you do that?"

"I'm sorry; I didn't mean to startle you." And he looked truly
embarrassed. "It's called teleportation."

"Oh." Charlotte looked nonplussed. "Would you like to sit down?"

"I'd like to give you something first." He reached into an inside coat
pocket and produced the necklace, holding its length in a gentle curve
between his hands. "Please."

"Oh..." Charlotte had never seen anything quite like it, and the rubies
fairly glowed in the light. She started to reach for it, then drew back.
"Meier, I can't accept that."

Meier looked puzzled, nearly hurt. "Why not?"

"What would I tell people? How could I explain having such a thing? I
could never wear it anywhere, and even if I kept it in my room ... the
maids or my mother come snooping around, and there's no hiding anything
from _all_ of them." Her hands had hovered toward the necklace as she
spoke, but now she clasped them together at her breast, and her voice
dropped to a whisper. "It's beautiful, Meier. It really is. But I just

Meier was not so easily deterred. He came nearer, held it within inches
of her throat. "Wear it tonight, at least," he said softly. "I want to
see it on you."

Charlotte looked at his eyes, as red and as luminous as the gems, and
finally nodded. She took the chain in her hand and ran its length over
her fingers, then laid it against her neck and swept aside her great
mane of hair. The catch was a simple one, and Charlotte quickly guided
it shut, then brushed her hair back into place. She looked up at Meier
and smiled.

"It looks beautiful on you," he said earnestly.

She lowered her eyes, still smiling. "Thank you." It occurred to her
that she'd have very little opportunity to see whether she agreed with
his observation, and she brushed past him to stand in front of her
vanity and its mirror. Meier watched from where he stood, remembering
the night she had brushed her hair ... and spoken to him a little kindly
at last.

"It is beautiful," Charlotte told him, turning back to him at last.
"Meier, won't you sit down?"

Meier took a seat on the couch beside the window and Charlotte rather
tentatively sat at the other end.

What do lovers talk of when they haven't become lovers yet? How does a
vampire break the silence of centuries, or a young woman overcome
warnings that she's heard all her life? How, in short, does such an
incongruous couple conduct themselves on their first real date? Offering
refreshments was out of the question, but Charlotte soon found that she
did have a great deal to tell him. About Pete, while thanking him again
for his kindness. About her father's recovery (although from what was a
matter she carefully skirted). About her brother Alan, and her mother.
About her neighbors, her social set. She did have the presence of mind
not to say anything about church-going, but she told a little about the
charity work she helped the women with.

Almost in mid-sentence, she stopped. "I'm being very thoughtless. I want
to know about you, too. Do you --" and an enormous yawn cut her off.

"I've kept you up much too late." Meier had drunk in her every word, his
eyes always encouraging more -- not with a vampire's hypnosis, but as
lovers' eyes do. He felt less certain he wanted to tell about himself;
his world was so different, he wondered if she would think him more like
an exotic animal than someone (not some_thing_) she could confide in.
"I've so enjoyed learning about you. I mustn't let you tire yourself. We
can continue this another evening. We must."

Charlotte smiled at him. It was long past her proper bedtime, and
despite the excitement of being with _him_, she was sleepy. "All right,"
she said, rising, and Meier rose as well. Should he even try to kiss her
goodnight? He wanted some contact, but --

Charlotte unfastened the necklace but hesitated, and Meier hoped she had
thought of some stratagem that would enable her to keep it after all.
She opened one of the drawers of the vanity.

"I want to give you something, too," she said. Her eyes were so
luminous, so brilliant. "Come here, won't you?"

Meier obeyed, and he was rather surprised when she pulled out the
vanity's stool and all but pushed him to sit on it. What strange human
ritual was this? Charlotte gestured toward the mirror -- and when her
gaze followed her hand, she gave a little shriek.

Meier could move very fast when he had to, and he caught both the
necklace and the heavy blue ribbon that had been in Charlotte's other
hand before they hit the floor. Charlotte was staring at the mirror,
hands to her mouth. Meier glanced from her to it and came about as close
to blushing as his physiology would allow. That he had no reflection in
a mirror was a given he seldom thought of, and he knew it was one of
many respects in which humans and vampires inexplicably differed. That
this difference would be made manifest to Charlotte and would distress
her so --

"Don't be afraid," he said, reaching for her but not touching her. "I
won't hurt you. Charlotte, no matter what, I won't ever hurt you."

Charlotte looked at him, the fear in her eyes gradually transforming to
something softer as her breathing slowed. "I know," she finally said,
her voice a little thin. "I knew ... I knew ... I just ... I'd never
_seen_ before."

"It's all right."

"Anyway." She pulled herself together, and then she touched him with a
fear-chilled hand. "That's for you, but I want to put it on you."

Meier couldn't help himself; he gently placed his other hand over hers.
"For me? This?" She meant the ribbon.

Charlotte nodded and disengaged herself, and the ribbon, from his grasp.
"Sit still." Meier couldn't really watch as she moved behind him and
tied the ribbon over the plain black band that held his hair in a
ponytail. "There, don't you look ... oh." For of course Meier couldn't
see just how handsome he looked with this new accoutrement.

"My dear, everything that I need to see, I see in your eyes." Meier
rose. "You don't have to give me things."

Charlotte looked hurt. "Don't you like it?"

"I adore it," Meier told her. "And I'm grateful to have a gift that was
not only given of your own kindness but was the work of your hands." He
had pocketed the necklace once more, however regretfully, and took both
of her hands in his. Charlotte smiled into his eyes and returned that
gentle grasp, and Meier would have been happy to remain unmoving until

But instead he asked, very softly, "May I kiss you goodnight?"

Charlotte's smile never wavered as she nodded assent, trusting him to
mean "kiss" in only the human sense. And Meier did, carefully pressing
his lips to her forehead -- this to Charlotte's disappointment, but
Meier feared endangering her if he tried anything more intimate.

*lt;<There will be other nights,>> he promised himself.

 * * *

There were other nights. They had to schedule them carefully, for their
trysts were possible only after the rest of the household had gone to
bed, and too many late nights would have Charlotte looking like a
vampire's victim no matter how chastely they spent their time together.
Sometimes they talked in Charlotte's room; sometimes, particularly if
there was a moon, they went outside. Meier disliked the risk of waking
the household that was involved in Charlotte's slipping out the back
door; he scooped her up in his arms and took her out the way he came in,
landing feather-light despite the added weight. He was afraid to try
teleporting with her; the process was of course harmless to him, but he
didn't know what effect it might have on a human, and he certainly
didn't intend to risk Charlotte's health finding out.

Charlotte, for her part, enjoyed walking the grounds hand in hand with
him, or with his arm about her shoulders. Little by little, she
persuaded him to tell about himself: what he saw where her eyes could
perceive only darkness; about his castle and Robespierre; about his
long-dead mother and eternally cold father; how he drank synthetic blood
and always had, and always would.

When she pressed him on the matter, he explained: "When the nobility
came into power, they were determined to become self-sufficient, and of
course that meant providing for a food supply. I think it was a matter
of vanity as well; to be able to manufacture the very essence of life
and survive on that. Some nobles still preferred to prey on humans, of
course, but in most circles those who held to such customs were looked
down on." Meier didn't add that they were looked down on for engaging in
what some considered tantamount to bestiality -- not because the
vampire-kind had any concern for the welfare of the human race.

"So you wouldn't drink ... my blood?" Charlotte asked. She was nestled
against his shoulder as they stood in the park under a waning but
still-bright moon.

"Not for all the world, Charlotte. I wouldn't endanger you. Not for any
pleasure. Not for anything."

Charlotte rubbed her hand across his chest "But we can love each other.
Can't we?"

"Charlotte, I love you so very much." He pressed his cheek to her hair,
voice dropping to a whisper. "So very much."

And he kept his cheek pressed to her hair, jaws clenched tight, until
his fangs had retracted to their usual near-human length.

 * * *

Usually Charlotte waited for him at her open window, and Meier found her
silhouette in its frame a welcome sight. But a midnight came when only
the open window greeted him, and an unlit room behind it.

Meier's alarm didn't altogether get the better of him. He approached
more cautiously than usual, listening for human breathing or heartbearts
where they didn't belong, nostrils wide as he scented the air for any
trace of strangers, eyes narrowed as he scanned the area. Everything was
anticlimactically normal -- except the darkness in Charlotte's room, and
its window, open but empty.

Meier teleported in, prepared to leave the same way in a blink if it was
a well-planned trap. But the room was altogether its usual self -- Meier
could of course see every detail even in the darkness -- except that
Charlotte lay curled in bed, her breathing calm in sleep.

<<She can't have forgotten....>>

For a long moment he simply stood and watched her. He had never seen her
asleep before, and he found her vulnerability touching ... and her face
so beautiful in repose. He loved her even if she had forgotten.

But if she had forgotten, the window would have been closed.

So Meier gave her shoulder a gentle shake. "Charlotte? Charlotte, it's

Charlotte woke with a soft sound in her throat. "Meier. Oh, Meier!" She
sat up and reached out to take him in her arms, and he slid onto the bed
to sit with her and return the embrace.

"Oh, Meier." Her face was buried against his chest, and now she was
crying. "It's awful."

"Sh, sh, it's all right. I'm here now, it's all right." Meier carefully
stroked her hair as he held her. When she seemed calm enough to speak,
he asked, "What's wrong, dear?"

"Father ... Father's decided I'm going to marry ... Tom Horton. He told
me today that I should get married ... he said at my age it 'befits a
woman of my station.'"

Meier felt a wave of dizziness. He remembered his words to the elder
Elbourne -- that it would be his wish now for Charlotte to have
everything that befit a woman of her station. It had never occurred to
him that an arranged marriage would fall under that rubric.

"I don't want him!" The words were a sob. "Father told _everybody_ else
before he told me, and now the whole town has decided that Tom and I --"

"Oh, my love." It was only a murmur, but a heartfelt one.

"I couldn't believe it. I couldn't _believe_ he'd just do such a thing
out of the blue. Everyone seemed to think I was just supposed to be
pleased because they have a bigger estate than ours and Tom's father is
going to build Tom his own house at the other end of it. He said it
would be ... our love nest. And I said I'd rather be married to Meier
Link than Tom."

If Meier had been capable of going paler, he would have. "You didn't."

"I did! It's true." She looked at him with her tear-streaked face. "Tom
doesn't care about anything but hunting -- I've never seen him without
mud on his boots, and he never talks about anything but what he killed
and how big it was and what kind of noises it made before it died, and
how long _that_ took. Nobody listened to me anyway." She pressed herself
against him again. "I didn't say I'd been seeing you," she added, voice
almost a whisper. "But I said I knew you'd have better manners."

Meier decided that damned him with remarkably faint praise. "My love,
I'm sorry."

"You aren't going to leave me, are you? _You_ aren't going to make me
marry him -- not you too?"

"No, no, no, no -- don't think such a thing."

Charlotte wept with relief, and Meier held her for a long time. Finally
he said:

"Charlotte ... we can do ... what you spoke of. Not here. We'd have to
leave this place and go far away, to a place where no hunters would

"Can we do that? Couldn't -- couldn't hunters go anywhere we could?"

"No." There was an edge to Meier's voice, an edge honed by memories
stretching back for millennia. "There _is_ a place ... but not on this
earth. It's called the City of Distant Stars. When nobles ruled the
earth, we traveled beyond its confines in ways humans never did. There
were rockets that went far into space, to outposts that would support
our life -- and human life as well. Some few humans were also
transported to those places. And the City of Distant Stars was foremost
among them."

Charlotte shivered. "The City of Distant Stars," she repeated softly.
The significance of what Meier had said was beginning to sink in. "And
we could never come back, could we?"

"I don't know, Charlotte. I doubt if it would be safe here, ever. We
_would_ be safe there. It is a world very like this one, transformed by
our technology. There is a domed city, a shelter where the atmosphere is
like this world's, with its own light, like moonlight. The buildings are
like our castles -- huge, sculpted in a thousand colors. There are
gardens of flowers and trees of every kind. It's very beautiful."

"You went there?"

"No. I've never traveled into space. But I have met nobles who did, who
told me what they had seen with their own eyes. It is a place of peace,
a retreat from the troubles of this world."

Charlotte hugged him tighter, torn between not wanting to leave her
family -- for she did love them -- and not wanting to lose Meier, who
had come to mean so much to her.

"Is it really possible to go there?"

"I will find a way." It was a vow. "We are not yet all dead, and our
technology was designed to outlast the ages. There are still the old
castles, and the old spaceports. There _is_ a ship that can transport
us, and I _will_ find it, Charlotte. We will travel to the stars and be
free of all this -- the hunters, your father, everyone."

Charlotte hesitated. "It's hard to leave my family and ... everything,

"Including your fiance?" Meier said dryly.

"Meier, don't."

"I'm sorry. You're right, love. This is your decision also."

"Isn't there anyone you'd miss?"

"No." Meier averted his face for a moment. "I no longer have anyone.
Except you, now." He gently caressed her cheek. "Will you come with me?
To a place we won't have to hide anymore?"

Charlotte held him for a long moment. "I do want to, Meier. I _do_."

"Then say that you will. Won't you, love? Come with me. Choose this
instead of what your father has chosen for you."

Charlotte swallowed hard, then took his hand. "All right. I will."

Meier pulled her close, held her hand to his cheek, at last found his
voice. "I do love you so very much. And I will take you to the stars."

Charlotte looked up at him. "Really?"

"Really. You have my word."

"I was so afraid you wouldn't come," she whispered. "I was so afraid you
thought what everyone else did, that I was going to marry Tom, and I
just went to bed and cried..."

Meier thought of Charlotte lying in bed, crying herself to sleep alone
in the darkness, and felt something grow tight within him.

"I will never desert you," he told her gently. "I love you very much."

"I love you too." Having agreed to in essence give up life as she knew
it for the sake of being with him had shifted something within her,
given her new, if imperfectly fixed, determination. That as well as her
apprehensiveness came through in her next words: "Meier -- I want you to
make me yours."

End part 3 of 6

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