Excerpt for Vampyre Desire Immortal by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Vampyre Desire Immortal

By Joni Green

© 2017 Joni Green

Smashwords Edition

Also by JONI GREEN

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Cupid’s Archer (A Cupid/Archer Mystery 2) – 1920’s Murder Mystery

The Dust of Death (A Cupid/Archer Mystery 3) – 1920’s Murder Mystery

Ashes of Yesterday (A Cupid/Archer Mystery 4) – 1920’s Murder Mystery

Pale Moon Over Paradise (Book 1) – 1950s Jim Crow Era

Five Miles to Paradise (Book 2) – 1950s Murder Mystery

Songs of the Night – Civil War Romance

The Bad Room – Horror

In the Belly of the Beast – Dark Paranormal Romance

Behind The Smile – Collection of Short Stories



Children’s Books by Joni Green

Let’s Count to 10

The Alphabet is Easy

One Raindrop

The Magic Trunk



Table of Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Chapter 44

Chapter 45

Chapter 46

Chapter 47

Free Book

About the Author

Also by the Author



Chapter 1

Dead Man’s Sleep

Sleep the sleep of dead men drowning

In a sea of blood.

Let that sleep protect you, darling.

Vampires gather for the feast.

*****

I was a beautiful child. Everyone in the village said so. I look around the room: stone walls, a bed, a table, a bronze candle stand. No one else hears the faint scratching on the window pane. The whole house sleeps like dead men.

Dead.

That’s how I feel.

The cold winds blow in. I shiver, stuffing a rag tighter between the cracks at the sill. I hear the sound again above the screaming winds. Louder this time. More insistent. The candle’s orange flame flickers. Will it go out and leave me enveloped in the depths of darkness? Beads of sweat pop out on my forehead. I feel my fluttering heart waver inside my chest.

I should be under the covers, not traipsing about barefooted with nothing but my nightgown on. I will surely catch a cold. Then, what will I do?

Perdix says there’s only so much his alchemy can do to remedy the pangs of the body. I think Perdix can do anything. He’s a wonderful alchemist and a brilliant wizard. He knows the Great Secrets. But he says no, not everything. Perhaps, he is right.

A large rat skitters across the floor, seeking invisibility in some far corner. I pay him no heed. The scratching is getting louder. Louder still. It threatens to drive me mad.

Who are you? Can’t you just leave me alone?”

I cover my ears. It does no good. It seems I will drown in this noise that grates on my nerves and echoes in the chambers of my ears. I sink to my knees.

Oh Lord, help me.”

The sound, like iron nails scoring over slate, stops. The winds abate. The room becomes as quiet as a tomb. The candle flame burns steadily, its faint glow casting dim shadows here and there.

The unicorn hangs on my wall, white and noble, and about to be slain. It is a most lovely tapestry. I can spend hours looking at its intricate detail.

The dogs are many. The hunters number more. They have their spears drawn. It won’t be long before it’s all over. I feel the old ache in my heart. I wish I could enter that woven scene and set you free, my friend – my companion for all these years I have lived behind these castle walls.

I feel for you.

I am you in so many ways.

There are not many of us, you see.

Unicorns and princesses.

We are both dying breeds.

Perdix says so.

The wail of the gale picks up again. He rides the wind. There. There it is. The scratch upon the pane. Louder now. Louder still. It is no use. No use. I cannot stand it.

Throwing open the window I feel the damp cold burst upon my skin. I thrust my body into the blast. The howling madness of the night swallows me whole.

And there he is, floating in front of me, high above the ground like a black mourning dove. I wince as the needles of his sharp fangs pierce my neck.

I see the unicorn before my eyes.

The hunters’ spears have hit their mark.



Chapter 2

The Alchemist’s Spell

The earth sleeps for all save the nocturnal creatures of the night.

They are alert and roaming.

It is the feeding hour.

*****

“Why in heaven’s name are you still up? The hour is late, and demons play in these moments before dawn.”

It is Gilia.

“Get to bed this minute. You will catch a chill. Off. Off with you. Why can’t you sleep? Is it the wind?”

“You hear it, too?”

“Of course,” she said. “It howls like a mad witch from Gilvynna.”

“Perdix says . . .”

“Please, milady. Permit me to speak. You mustn’t listen to anything that old Mahoun says. He is a fox, that one is. The devil’s apprentice, I say. And a mighty old, worn out one at that! Put no stock in the witchcraft he does. I don’t. And you shouldn’t either. His sorcery is as feeble as he is.”

“You speak ill of Perdix because his ointment failed to rid you of that lump that grows on the end of your nose. Speak truth, Gilia. That is the reason, isn’t it.”

“And why not? Look at this thing. It is awful. I’m ashamed to show my face outside your chambers. The salve does no good. It is useless. This hideous thing is getting as big as a toad. All I am doing now is waiting for it to sprout hairs so I can braid them.”

“But how can you expect the spell to work if you do not do as Perdix says?”

“Bah! Who has time to venture to the hog pen five times for three days to smooth pigs’ mud over it? A mask of mud he says. With piglets’ poop. I’m supposed to smear that scite all over my nose. I could not breathe for the stink. But a pretty corpse I’d surely make. Give me strength not to pop my cork. I must keep my wits about me.”

“I think you are too harsh. Again, I say, how can the ointment work if you do not follow what Perdix says?”

The ointment should be enough. Enough, I say. The old man is daft.”

“You could let him cut it off with a hot knife like he suggested.”

“And bleed to death!

“Perdix says the heat of the blade will staunch the flow.”

“And what if he’s wrong? This thing grows larger every day. All my blood is pooling in this monstrous growth,” Gilia said, pointing to her nose. “I’m sure of it. No. No, thank you.”

“You favor Urien because my father likes him so,” I said. “But he hasn’t helped you either.”

“That’s because I was cursed by the old alchemist’s magic. Urien took one look at this wicked bump and said there’s nothing he can do. But Urien’s spell to rid your father of that pesky soreness of the foot worked didn’t it?”

“I think that had more to do with staying off it for several days.”

“You speak nonsense. It was Urien’s spell. He is young. His magic is strong. Ask anyone.”

“I pumped ship in your palm, and you took it straight to Urien. What did he tell you? Did he say I am mad because my piss tastes of henbane? Tell me, Gilia. Tell me now.”

“You talk out of your head, Milady. It is late. Now, get to bed this minute. Up all hours. I swear my eyes will snap shut tomorrow from the lack of sleep tonight! Get to bed. You will be the death of me.”

*****

The brown-headed little boy was still crying. The piece of black, stale bread should have stopped the flow of tears. Mitings were such spoiled little mongrels these days.

Perdix watched intently as the white horse the child sat upon slowly made its way through the cemetery. They had already spent many hours here. His arm shielded his face as he glanced at the progress of the sun.

Clop clop. Maybe, he thought, I have picked the wrong graveyard.

That was ridiculous. Ars magica. The stars would never let him down. Not now.

The crying slowed. The little boy had the hiccups. Perhaps, he should have chosen the blonde one. No. The omens pointed to this one.

Chosen.

But such a frightened little fawn.

Perdix hawked and spat upon the ground.

The horse stopped. He twitched his long tail, batting the few flies that buzzed around him. The breeze picked up, wafting through the leafless tree limbs, bending the branches like skeletal claws.

Perdix gazed skyward. Strands of long, steely gray hair whipped across his face. His beard blew over his shoulder. The dingy layers of dirty rags danced away from his body, flying about like flags on a pole.

The heavens darkened from blue to charcoal. Clouds roiled overhead. Perdix heard a clap of thunder in the distance. His breath caught in his throat.

Was this a false alarm?

Would the nag begin his course again?

A white-hot finger of lightning struck near the round tower of the old church. Sparks flew from the tree, and it cracked in two. The ground shook beneath their feet, yet the three stood suspended as in a painting. The clouds split. The sunlight, binding earth to heaven, beamed its steady rays upon one gravestone.

The horse neighed and pawed the ground with its hoof.

Perdix smiled.

If he’d been brought to this place and forced to pick one stone where strong magic lived, it would be this very one. Sinking into the earth and green with moss, the lichen-speckled marker was one of the oldest in the cemetery. The stone slab rested flat on the ground like a table top. It bore no name, only the family’s crest and a cobra and a quiver of arrows. Nevertheless, he knew who rested there.

Dyryke d’Cerroj.

Warrior of Death.

Goosebumps prickled his skin. The die was cast. Now, it was time for the real work to begin.

Chapter 3

Betrothed

The children sleep inside their little hovels. So soundly. Like angels. They are so succulent, juicy, moist, and tender. To pierce their flesh is a joy unfathomable.

Except for those whose parents hang around their necks the iron amulets.

That is an abomination most horrific. It is a cruel joke to play upon the one who feeds beneath the indigo curtain of night’s starry skies.

*****

I throw open the shutter and look up at the sky. Dusk is coming. Even now, I see the lazy rise of the great orb above the horizon. It is a full moon, and in two more, I will be thirteen.

A woman.

The wedding will happen soon.

And why not?

Although I wish it could have happened differently, I was promised the day I was born. Word has already come that Wolfstan is making his way toward my home of Castle Corlac.

Perdix has promised to help me.

And he must!

Holy Mary, give me strength.

O Blessed One, give Perdix success.

*****

The young man threw the leather bag above his head and emptied its contents. Red wine spilled down his shirtfront, leeching across his chest like a giant blood stain. The branch he held loosely in his other hand was long and supple.

“If you beat that horse much more,” said Galleron, “he’s going to drop dead in his tracks. I only say this because he is a fine animal. No finer can be found in all of Megara.

“You’re right, Galleron,” he said. “And that is the only reason you escape with your life for speaking to me like that. You may be my cousin, but blood means nothing to me.”

He slapped Galleron across the face with the bough, laughing merrily because he caught the young man off guard. Blood droplets formed along the angry red stripe that marked Galleron’s face.

Galleron never winced. He averted his eyes, looking at the ground so Wolfstan would not see the fury that burned in them.

“Give me your wine. My bag is empty, and as always, I thirst,” Wolfstan said, scratching his groin. “It is only the grape that makes this fire in my inguen bearable. Why should pleasure torment me so?

A curse on all the fairer sex. Whores and their filth and all their rotten diseases. By God’s bones! There never was a woman born t’was nothing but a peevish flirt.”

Galleron handed Wolfstan his leather bag full of wine.

“Eve the Great Deceiver beguiled the hapless Adam with her charms to eat the fruit forbidden and then be damned,” he said.

Wolfstan gulped the wine. It left a bloody trail zigzagging down both sides of his face.

“And I must admit,” Wolfstan said, wiping his chin with his sleeve, “that Nether World between their legs is like forbidden fruit. I find it so irresistible.”

He winked at Galleron like a sly, wicked boy.

“And it is so much tastier if snatched from a wench who denies me, who fights and screams for mercy and screeches her protests in vain!”

*****

“You see, Perdix,” said the sorceress, “my crystal does not lie.”

Perdix looked into the clear beryl stone. The corners of his mouth arched down.

“You must help me, Fye,” he said.

“But why Dyryke?” Fye asked. “Of all the dried up bones in the graveyard, why him? Didn’t he hurt you enough when you were younger?”

“The past cannot be changed. Tis best forgotten,” said the old man. “Dyryke’s magic was strong. If we are successful, then his ghost will make the king see that the princess must not marry such a wretched scoundrel.”

“But this marriage has been arranged forever. Besides, the King listens to no one,” Fye said.

“I fear you are right,” said Perdix. “But if there is any voice he will heed, it is bound to be that of the specter of Dyryke d’Cerroj. Our Majesty respected that man. It’s my only chance to stop a catastrophe.”

“You speak as one most desperate, and this is no small favor you ask, Perdix. Why should I agree to help you?”

“We are old. Our lives are spent. Her Royal Highness is beautiful, young, and innocent. She does not deserve this man.”

“You are in love with her,” said the old witch. “You want the fair child for yourself. You old devil! The fires of lust never die in your kind. I’m always amazed by that. But then, I think it is because women burn up the lusty flames.”

Fye spat on the ground.

“When the womb withers, desire fades,” she said. “But males. By God’s nails. You are like stallions ready to mount any young mare. And she is a looker, that one. You have good taste.

An aged alchemist coupling with a beautiful princess. Ha! Ha!

It is a funny picture you have put in my wicked, old head.

Bumpity. Bump. Ouch. Your crown, Your Highness. Hide it in a drawer. Each golden point is a spire that my old spindle can never hope to match in length. Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!”

“You are mad,” he said. “That is insane.”

“Ah hah,” she said, “I see I have struck a nerve. I knew I was right. You dirty, old man. But whatever your plans for the princess, they mean nothing to me. It is gain I seek. If we are to forge a deal, then you must make it worth my efforts. What you are proposing could get us both killed.”

“Nonsense, we will practice the utmost care. No one will know. We will strike from the side where they dare not look. We will be fine. Trust me.”

“What’s in it for me, Perdix? You still haven’t said. You’re asking a lot. The price you are willing to pay must be precious.”

“I will give you the Philosopher’s Stone.”

“The Great Work,” she said. “You have done it. If there was anyone in this valley who could have achieved this, I would have said that it was you. But this is a magnificent gift you offer. What strings do you attach to it?”

“There are no strings,” he said. “You help me raise Dyryke, and I will give it to you.”

“But what if your plans go awry? Things have a way of veering off chosen paths.”

“If I fail, it does not matter. The Great Work is yours. Think of it. All the gold and silver of this world will be yours. It works; you have my word.

The basest metals lying around at your fingertips, you can turn to silver or gold. Silver and gold. Gold and silver.

I will give the Stone to you, and you will have in your hands the makings of a treasure beyond your wildest dreams. Or if you would rather forsake treasure, then eternal life is yours. Whatever you wish, it will give you one of those two things. But you must choose which one your heart desires most.

Promise you will bring your strongest magic. We will try. Once the act is over, it’s yours.”

“But this one,” Fye said. “You know what he did. To raise him could destroy us both.”

“He is the one. The gods have shown me. I don’t want to do this, but we have to. If the princess is to be saved, we must.”

“But I fear . . .”

Perdix dug into his layers of rags. From some hidden place, he withdrew a small vial on a string. Inside was a tiny stone floating in a clear liquid. He held the tiny vial, like a precious jewel, between his dirt-blackened thumb and index finger. He twirled it in the sunlight.

A kaleidoscope of colors appeared inside the bottle, throwing off a rainbow across the witch’s face. He quickly put the string back over his neck.

“Ahh,” she said.

Fye’s eyes narrowed. She licked her lips.

“I don’t know,” she said, but already he knew that Fye was clay in his hands.

Chapter 4

Resurrection

Just one wish in all the universe –

The River Red floods its banks

To quench my beastly thirst.

*****

The raising of the dead is no easy task.

There would be many dark days and nights ahead.

The old alchemist was lost in thought.

What are you doing?”

The memory of those words echoed in the cold chamber.

Perdix sat on a low bench at his long wooden table staring into the small flame that flickered in front of his face. There were scores of beakers full of colorful liquids and a myriad of dusty jars with ingredients unimaginable.

Spices of every variety and a mountain of dried flowers and plants lay scattered about the room. Flasks and jars of ointments and balms lined the shelves behind him. From a tiny window behind his back, gray light lit the room.

The flame flickered. He did not blink as scenes of the past played out in front of his rheumy eyes. His lower lip moved in a silent monologue.

There was no turning back now.

Perdix ground his teeth. He’d wanted to warn the King the youth was no good. The young Princess forbade it. He must say no more. To do so would risk banishment from the castle. Or worse.

A quick rap on his door broke his reverie.

“The door is unlocked,” he said. “Come in. Come in.”

He heard Gilia’s voice through the crack in the door. She refused to enter.

“You are a skittish colt,” he said.

“And you are such a boar, Perdix.”

“What? What is it? You waste my time,” the old alchemist said.

“It is the Her Royal Highness. She has fallen on the steps to the stables. I explained to her that you would be of little aid. But she is deaf to whatever I say.”

“How many times have I told that one to steer clear of those stones? They are loose. And now she has fallen. Is she gravely injured?”

“No, Perdix. It is only her knee. It is cut and swollen. But you know the slop that is on those stones. They are covered with filth dropped from the tower rooms above. You must do something. A balm. A salve. A prayer. Anything,” said Gilia.

“What about Urien? Won’t her father call for him?”

“The child calls for you, Perdix. Only you. She forbids me to seek out Urien. I fear she is in much pain.”

“I will come as soon as I can prepare the magic,” he said. “Where is she?”

“Her chamber.”

Perdix skittered about the room. He gathered many ingredients and set a metal pot over the flame. Dropping leaves and twigs and sundry other things in, he watched them catch fire. He waited until the flame turned cerulean and quickly poured a brackish liquid into the mix.

A thick cloud of acrid smoke rose from the potion. The vapor turned from gray to white. Perdix poured the viscous liquid into a small stone box and set it on the ledge to cool.

It would take several minutes before it congealed. He stared out over the land surrounding the castle.

The fog of yesterdays two year prior rose before him. He frowned deeply. He should have known he could not save her. That magic was too strong. Even for him.

*****

It was two years ago.

The black feather of the crow had blown through the window. It was an omen. A bad one. Perdix abandoned his beakers and flew to Ava’s chambers. His heart was pounding in his throat.

Adrenaline filled his muscles with unearthly strength. He pushed open her door, and it clattered against the stone wall.

His jaw dropped, and for an instant, he could not move.

"What are you doing?” Perdix yelled.

“How dare you barge into the chamber of the princess without permission! I will have your head!”

Wolfstan held Ava by both wrists. She was struggling, but there was no chance the small girl could escape his grasp. Her gown was ripped. She was as pale as the delicate blossoms of the summer snowflake.

"Get away from her,” Perdix said, storming across the room.

Wolfstan drew his knife with blinding speed. He slashed across the old man’s face, ripping a jagged wound from the top of Perdix’s scalp, across his right eye and cheek, and slicing across the old man’s left shoulder. Blinded by rage and blood, Perdix kept charging.

He slung the young man across the room. Wolfstan slammed into the stone wall and slumped to the floor.

“Did you kill him?”

“No. He merely sleeps,” said the alchemist.

“Pity.”

“Are you alright?”

“I am now. But you are not. Oh, Perdix! What has he done to you?”

“Do not worry. I will be fine. Where is Gilia?”

“He sent her away.”

“Galleron! Galleron!” Perdix called. “Get your master out of here.”

Galleron rushed to Wolfstan and began helping him to his feet.

“Take him to his chamber. He will recover soon. I am going to the King, Precious One. I must convince him to break this horrid arrangement.”

“No, I forbid you. My father will not listen. You will be banished, Perdix. And I will have only Gilia to protect me.”

The old alchemist’s shoulders slumped.

“I must go see Fye,” he said, disappearing as quickly as he had appeared.

Chapter 5

The Cat’s Eye

Barbed tongue and loathsome fangs.

We are but prey to Evil’s child.

*****

“Can you restore my sight, Fye?”

Fye was outside her hovel. She stopped skinning the rabbit she was preparing for dinner. She looked at the old man, lifting the dirty rags he’d wrapped about his head.

“I don’t know,” said the witch. “The wound is very deep. I hope I can. Come with me.”

Fye led him into her hut made of mud, straw, and sticks. She lived in the woods outside the castle where there were no prying eyes and none of the gossip that permeated everyday life inside the walls of Corlac.

“Down on the skin, Perdix.”

The old man got down on the deerskin on the hard ground near the fire pit. Fye went outside with a handful of herbs. She came back and crossed the room, removing the lid from a large wooden box in the corner.

The stench was pungent. She retrieved several other ingredients and returned to the gutted rabbit outside her door. She scooped up the organs and stoked up the fire beneath the cauldron.

Dumping each item in, she repeated several ancient magic words. The acrid smoke bellowed from the boiling pot.

Fye gathered the coals in the pit together in a heap. Adding more kindling, she stoked the flames even more. Sweat droplets formed on Perdix’s face.

“Good, old man,” she said. “We will start by burning out some of the poisons in that eye.”

He merely groaned. Fye paid no heed. She was too busy. She went to another corner of the room and dug into the ground. Retrieving a large parcel, she loosened the skin coverings.

“Ahh, yes,” she whispered as she unrolled the ancient scroll.

The sacred scroll was filled with drawings and inscriptions and had been handed down for many generations. Fye could not read, but the Ancients came to her in dreams, telling her the meanings of the glyphs and drawings. If she was to find a spell for Perdix that would restore his sight, it would be here.

She worked nonstop. She fed Perdix a broth that made him sleep soundly. He must not move or make one sound. At the end of three days, exhausted, she sat upon a rock beside him.

She brushed across his face with the magic herb. She blew her breath upon him.

He stirred.

“How do you feel?” she asked when he roused.

“Not bad. Not good, either,” he said.

“Look,” Fye said, holding up a reflection crystal in front of his face. “It’s magnificent. Far better than I could ever have hoped.

Perdix studied his face.

“The window to my soul is no longer round,” he said, pulling down his lower eyelid. “But the yellow color around it is quite beautiful.”

“Close the other,” Fye said. “Can you see?”

“The rat scurries from the shelf in the corner to the dark hole that leads outside. Fye, I fear he has made off with some of your prized seeds from the wooden bowl you keep on the ground.”

“Ahh,” she said.

She laughed, and the gap-tooth hollow of her mouth was wide and dark. The remaining teeth were velvety with plaque and food. Perdix noted that her breath smelled like a stagnant swamp. He looked about the dimly lit room. His mouth pursed. His brow creased. The mystery was solved.

“Your cat,” he said. “It has one eye.”

Chapter 6

The Raising of Hell

Remove the sorcerer’s heart and spit upon it. Stake it to his eye and rid me of the pest that wants one thing – for me to die!

*****

“By God’s nails, you have brought the bishop,” Fye whispered.

“Of course,” whispered Perdix. “He speaks the language of the angels, does he not? Besides, Wolfstan is an infidel. After he marries Her Highness, he will sweep the vestry clean.

The bishop would make a pact with Lucifer to retain his comfy seat in the palace. Look at him. Fat. Finely dressed. You would do the same, Fye. Don’t try to deny it.

Besides, he has the Book of Spells. He has agreed to read it. But only once. I do hope once is enough, but it is the best I can do. Then, he’ll leave the rest to us.”

Perdix looked up into the clear night sky. The galaxies hung low. He felt the weight of the full moon bearing down upon him like the mountains of the Tetzel.

“My Lord,” Fye said, bowing her head to the regally dressed man.

“The pit burns well,” said Perdix. “Its light should last long enough.”

Fye bowed her head again.

The bishop glanced her way, said nothing, and stared into the fire.

“And we have the dogs of the court,” the alchemist said.

“Good. They will alert us to the scent of Dyryke’s ghost,” she said.

“Remove the stone that covers the grave,” the bishop said to Fye and Perdix.

“Yes, My Lord,” Perdix said.

Both bent low and picked up the flat stone tablet. When they went to place it on the grass, the marker began to jiggle and dance like the earth was shifting beneath it.

There was a deafening cracking sound. They dropped it like a hot coal beside the hand-dug hole. Perdix and Fye jumped back.

The grass beside the stone glowed orange and yellow. A blinding flash of green-blue light and a roaring peal of thunder shattered the silence of the graveyard.

A huge cloud of dark, gray smoke billowed up, stinking with the burning smell of sulfur. Their eyes watered, and they hacked and coughed and tried in vain to expel the intense burning that made their throats raw.

The bishop screamed and turned as white as snow.

“Stand your ground,” Perdix yelled to the bishop. “Fye!”

Fye lifted her head to the heavens and began chanting a magic spell. Lightning flashed. Thunder pealed. The winds picked up and blew with a mighty force. It seemed as if a war was being fought above their heads.

Fye’s words echoed over the graveyard.

Once, twice, she repeated her spell. Then silence.

The winds stilled. The stars twinkled. The three stood among the gravestones as blue shadows danced over the graveyard. The flames in the pit popped and sparked as Perdix threw another log onto the fire.

“It is finished,” he said. “We may begin.”

Dyryke’s stone slab was no more. The blacken pieces of rubble smoked and trembled and dissolved into the dirt.

Dyryke’s stone slab was no more. The blacken pieces of rubble smoked and trembled and dissolved into the dirt.

The fire from the pit lit up the jagged hole that was about three feet wide and five feet deep. The ragged remains of a wrapped body lay inside with a few trinkets and a golden goblet, intricately decorated with jewels and precious stones. The chalice rested on the corpse’s stomach.

Here and there, a bone broke through jagged holes in the burial wrapping that wound about the body from head to toe.

“Well,” said the bishop, “I guess it’s time for the witch to prove her metal. I can only hope she’s as good as you say.”

Perdix looked at Fye. He shook his head. Fye nodded once.

She moved closer to the open grave and peered down into the dark hole. She took a deep breath, spit into her hands, and rubbed them fiercely together. The dirt and grime melted into her saliva. She pressed her wet palms tightly against both temples.

She squatted down on the ground. Her long matted, greasy locks fell across her bosom. She lowered her chin onto her chest and began to chant in a strange, ancient language. The bishop had never heard anything like it.

“You were right,” he said. “Her magic is strong. It is freezing out here. Look. I blow my breath. It becomes a frosty cloud, and my teeth are jumping in my gums. We will catch our death out here in this godforsaken winter blast. By God’s cross, I should have worn my furs.”

“Shh,” said Perdix.

“By God’s nails, I’m turning blue.”

“Shh.”

Fye was in a deep trance. Her head rolled from side to side. Strands of frizzled hair danced back and forth and round and round like leaves caught in whirlpools. Bits of foam formed at the edges of her lips. Her eyes rolled back into her head. She threw her face skyward and screamed.

The bishop jumped.

“Is she dying?”

“No. Now, please, Your Grace. Silence.”

The bishop said no more. His tongue was stopped in his mouth.

Fingers of thick gray smoke suddenly begin to rise from the grave’s hole in serpentine coils toward the stars. There was a strange buzzing sound from deep inside the pit. A bright blue glow and then, a spear of light flashed brilliantly from the center of the grave. A loud roar peeled from the earth, and the two men saw the silhouette of Dyryke’s stiff, flat corpse floating in the air.

The rotting strips of cloth that wrapped the body fluttered like dancing butterflies in the eerie light. Fye screeched out commands in her ancient tongue, and the cadaver began to move to one side. When it was safely floating above the solid ground, Fye let go of her temples and spun around in a blur of motion seven times.

The remains dropped gently to the grass.

“Look at the cup,” said the bishop. “They said he was buried with it. It is incredible. More beautiful than anything I have ever seen. So many jewels. So many wonderful stones. And solid gold, too. I must have it, Perdix. I must.”

“But My Lord, we are not here to rob the dead but to restore unto him life.”

“Nonsense,” said the bishop. “I’m stuck in this cemetery in the middle of the night freezing my nuts off. I deserve something of greatest value for my misery. Give me the chalice.”

Fye reached down and picked up the precious vessel. She felt the heat burn her dirt-encrusted fingers.

“It rages with fury, Perdix,” Fye said, throwing the vessel onto the ground.

“What are you doing? Have you lost your senses?” the bishop said, grunting to bend over and pick up the cup before it rolled back into the grave. “Scite, you haggard fool.”

Fye looked on as the fat man fingered the jeweled object without burning his hands. How odd, but she kept silent.

The bishop stood there. His fat, ruddy cheeks were like round apples as a smile spread across his face. His eyes caressed the shining object.

A clap of thunder rumbled in the distance. The bishop jumped, almost dropping his precious find. He cleared his meaty throat.

“Unwrap the bones. We haven’t got all night. I must be back before dawn. Tomorrow is tax day.”

Chapter 7

The Rotten Stinking Corpse

The bewitching hour is short and passes fast.

The Feast of Red is long.

Fore’er, it lasts.

*****

The old witch skittered down into the black hole.

“What is she doing?” asked the bishop.

“My Lord,” said Perdix, “she is gathering some of the dirt the bones have been resting upon.”

“Get out of that hole! You’re wasting time,” he said.

“Fye,” said Perix, “hurry up. We are losing precious night.”

“Don’t pinch your nipples,” the old witch yelled from inside the grave. “It isn’t every day a blessing such as this comes round. My sack is almost full. You know I cannot pass this up. I’m going as fast as I can.”

She climbed out of the grave and began to help Perdix unwrap the strips of cloth that bound the body.

“I’m glad that Dyryke is not a rotten, stinking corpse,” said the bishop. “I’d hate to think I might spew the pottage I just ate all over this unholy ground.”

The bishop belched loudly. He rubbed his large stomach.

Perdix’s stomach growled. It had been many hours since he’d eaten the small piece of black bread and honey.

As Perdix finished loosening the last bit of rag from the body, he whistled softly.

“Look, Fye. The body is bones but the face is . . .”

“The face,” Fye said, “looks like it was never in the ground. And he is as handsome as I remember. Such a face was sculpted by the gods, Perdix. I feel like jumping his bones and riding in joy to the moon.”

“Do not even think such things, Fye. Tis a black omen,” whispered Perdix.

“You are right. Forgive me,” she said. “But you have to admit, he is beautiful even in death.”

“If you two magpies are finished, I would like to get this over with.”

The bishop had opened the Book of Spells and began reciting in Latin over the body. He refused to look at it, reading as quickly as he could to finish the spell.

“You must have paid him a pretty penny, Perdix,” Fye whispered. “Dyryke was buried in secret. No one knew the chalice was buried with him.”

“Aye. Between the two of you, I will die a pauper.”

Fye held no store in the robed man’s words. He was flabby and soft and obviously deaf to the wisdom of the Ancients. But never in a million sunsets could she have imagined what would happen next.

Chapter 8

It Is Finished

O Unsuspecting Prey,

You think that walls protect you.

I come to you in dreams to feast.

Insensible fools, Insensible fools, lost in oblivion.

You sleep.

*****

“Do you hear that Perdix?” the old witch whispered.

“I do. It is the cries of the Damned.”

“What’s he doing? Are you sure he’s reading right spell?” she asked.

“How would I know, Fye. He’s a learned man. I know many things, but I don’t know Latin.”

“Scite,” said Fye. “The fat fool will have the whole graveyard up and walking on our heads. We only want the one. Not the hoards. Do something, Perdix. Do it quickly. The bewitching hour is soon over. This is our only chance. The Ancients have told me so in a dream.”

Perdix looked left and right. It seemed the whole cemetery was about to awaken. The earth covering the bodies in the cemetery glowed red like a hot fire from the center of the earth had been stoked beneath the sod where each one lay in repose.

The bishop was racing through the spell.

“No! No! No!” Perdix screamed, plowing into the holy man and knocking the book from his hands.

Fye quickly swiped it up and hid it in the innumerable layers of rags she wore.

The bishop was sitting on his ample bottom, red-faced, and sputtering curses at Perdix.

“Are you mad?” he asked.

“Look around you, my Lord,” Perdix said.

The bishop cut his beady eyes across the graveyard.

“By God’s Grail. They are all stirring.”

“Gabriel’s horn could not do better,” said Perdix.

“I’m getting out of here,” said the bishop.

His sausage fingers grabbed the jeweled chalice he had dropped on the ground.

“I’ll take this with me,” he said, hugging the precious cup. “We’ll call your debt paid.”

“But you can’t leave now,” said Perdix. “The one we want still sleeps.”

“Let him sleep with the Dead forever.”

The chapel bell began to toll.

The bishop looked toward the lonesome sound.

“Stay here if you want, you fools. I don’t know why I ever let you talk me into this. You and your dirty little friend can kill yourselves out here if you like. As for me, I’d rather wake up safe and sound in my own bed than be found staked in this graveyard of purgatory.”

“But . . .” said Perdix.

“But nothing.”

The bishop disappeared into the blackness.

“What do we do now?” Perdix said. “Fye, what are you doing?”

Fye busied herself, cutting some of the silky black hair from the dead man’s head and burning it in the fire. She took off her the rags and the coarse tunic she wore against her body. She bent down on her knees and scraped some dirt from the grave, smearing it on the eyes and mouth and chin and forehead of the corpse.

Naked, she picked up the bishop’s book and held it high over her head. She walked around the grave seven times. Spitting in the fire pit, she lowered the book and lay on the ground, placing the sacred text on top of her face.

“When it is still and balanced atop,” she said, “take a hot coal from the fire and put it in the center of the book.”

“Fye,” he began.

“Do as I say, Perdix. That fat man is right. Time is running out.”

She reclined on her back. Her palms were facing skyward. Perdix found a stick and wedged a flat stone in the ‘Y’ of the branch. He reached into the glowing embers at the edge of the pit. Retrieving a hot coal, he placed it in the center of the book. It burned a small black hole clean through. He saw Fye’s palms clench into fists.

Just at the instant he was sure he’d killed his friend, she grabbed the book from her face and tossed it aside. Scrambling up, she smiled. A large circular black stain of charcoal marked the center of her forehead.

“I have what we need to know, dear friend, right here,” she said, pointing to her forehead. “We must hurry before the magic escapes us.”

Fye knelt down on her knees beside the bones. Solemnly, she began to intone a different spell in Latin. The air around her became electric. Perdix watched as the graves around them ceased to glow.

Rings from heaven shot down from the stars and encircled her. They pulsed and vibrated and gave off eerie sounds. Perdix cupped his ears.

Fye began to sway. Her eyes were white orbs in their sockets. Her head tilted up, and she faced the low, full moon.

A ray of silver light shot down from the celestial orb into the ancient burial ground. It lit the bones of Dyryke. They rattled. Perdix heard their noises. The neck of the dead man buckled, and the lips of the corpse opened wide in a hideous silent scream.

The ground about the bones began to smoke. Grass and vines and all sorts of green plants sprung up from the blackened earth. They wove a cocoon around the corpse from head to toe. Perdix felt his breath involuntarily fill his chest. He gasped.

The full moon moaned above their heads. The plants withered and died before his eyes. Perdix heard sounds like steps on dried leaves as they fell away.

The bones were bones no longer. It was a body, full of flesh, and the jet black hair on Dyryke’s head glistened beside the glowing fire.

Fye finished the spell and collapsed into a heap of dirty rags that lay on the ground. A black cloud swept across the lower half of the moon. A blast of frigid air drove through the gravestones, whistling and whirring.

He heard the crow caw. The owl screeched. Swooping down from the black night’s sky, a gigantic bat flapped right by Perdix’s head and landed on the ground atop Dyryke’s still body. Perdix watched in horror as the creature covered itself with one gauzy wing, transforming into a vampire.

The vampire turned back, looking Perdix squarely in the eyes, smiled, and swooped toward Fye. He threw her down on the ground and bit her in the neck. She screamed and fought to no avail. Before Perdix could move, the vampire disappeared in a puff of smoke.

Perdix yelled to Fye and moved toward her, but the witch was too quick. In a flash, she dashed toward the body and disappeared inside his opened mouth and down his throat.

“Fye! Fye! What have I done?”

Chapter 9

Black Mourning Dove

Black. the mourning dove.

Coos at end of day.

Black dove of mourning.

After Death has had its say.

*****

Perdix heard the air sweep into the dead man’s lungs.

The Breath of Life.

But was it all at Fye’s expense?

The alchemist was frantic. Fye had been a friend for many years. He sank to his knees and bowed his head against his chest.

“Afterling, do you know that weaklings are the one thing I despise?”

Perdix looked up into the glowing eyes of Dyryke. Did they burn with madness or an evil so depraved that demons cowered before him?

“Your Grace,” Perdix said softly.

“What is it that you want from me?” the towering man asked. But Dyryke’s long slender hand stayed the alchemist before he said one word. “Do not trouble yourself to say it aloud. I already know. It is written on your face and carved into your heart.”

Perdix heard a mirthless, throaty laugh.

“You have your wish,” Dyryke said. “I will make it so. Your beloved Princess will prevail. Go back to your beakers, your experiments, and your workbench. Leave it all to me. I pity you. Your time on earth is short. Leave me. I have no use for you.”

Perdix turned to go, but not before he heard a loud whoosh and felt the hot breath of the black mourning dove as it flew close by, barely missing his head by inches.

Chapter 10

Too Much Is Not Enough

It is a wretched night.

The ghouls, they go a’howling.

It is a wretched time

When Ichor goes a’prowling.

*****

I hear the maids outside my door.

Gilia. Gilia. Just go away and leave me in peace.

How sluggish I feel today.

So unlike myself.

It’s as if the wind has been sucked from my lungs.

My energy wanes.

I must sleep.

Was I out all night?

How quickly the purple shades of evening recede into the roses, pinks, and oranges of the new day.

I lick my lips.

The taste of blood is sweet upon them.

Dyryke promises that with time I will grow stronger. Stronger, perhaps, than even he. It is possible, he says. But we will have to wait and see.

Dyryke says I must go through with this wedding. I must, he says, for the good of Megara.

But we will wait and see.

I think of the people who live around my father’s castle. For all my life, I have looked down on all but a few. They are animals. Savages. Brutes. Dirty peasants. Horrible gruntlings. Trolls, the lot of them.

But more and more, I find my attitudes are changing. No, they are not quite so repulsive. Not so very much.

My mind recalls their dirty faces, their grimy hands, the filthy rags they wear as clothing, and a warm glow blooms inside my bosom.

A very warm glow.

So many of them.

My people.

Full of Life.

Going about their daily tasks, unaware that they haunt my waking hours.

Dirty faces. Grimy hands. Filthy rags. The squalid little rats they call their children.

The infinity of endless nights ahead.

I sigh.

So much blood.

Chapter 11

The Heart Once Stopped

The days and nights of wanderlust.

The nights and days.

Unhallowed thirst.

*****

“I hold the Trinity in my hands,” Perdix mumbled.

The alchemist was at his workbench.

“Trio of Universal Wisdom and Light.

Mercury. Sulfur. Salt.

You are here before me. Why in Jupiter’s realm can I not see the answer?”

He’d ransacked Fye’s house and found the sacred scroll.

Dry drops of ox blood o’er a dying fire.

Fill a quill and blow into the wind.

The heart once stopped

Will quiver faint and beat again.

It had to be here. Somewhere. He kept looking over the ancient text.

His eyes were bloodshot. His head pounded. How many days had it been since he’d lain down and slept?

He did not know.

The muscles in his back burned like hot irons had been dropped inside his tunic. The candle burned low in the stand. The wind wailed outside. A storm was coming up. He glanced around to the tiny window at his back.

The shadows of dusk were fast approaching.

Something touched his foot.

A rat, he thought. He kept reading.

It tapped his shoe again.

Again.

Harder this time.

“Fadoodle. You rodents must go somewhere else to play your games. Can’t you see I have so much work to do?”

The nudge was even harder.

Peering under the table, Perdix saw no animals. Only the Book of Spells lay at his feet. He had brought it back to his chambers.

But he’d had no use for it. Unlike Fye, his knowledge was hard-earned and self-taught. He had no direct line to the Ancients.

“I wonder how she talked to them,” he muttered.

He put the book on the table alongside the scroll. The black hole in the center of the bishop’s book gave off a smoky smell. Like Fye. She smelled of many things, including smoke.

“Oh, Fye. Had I not insisted. Had I not asked for your assistance. You were right. You were right. I was a foolish old man in love with her and the idea of saving her. I am a foolish, old man. A foolish, old man. Forgive me, Fye. Forgive. It is all my fault. My fault.”

The scarred work table began to shake. The workbench tumbled backward, and Perdix fell on his back to the floor. He got on his knees, grabbed the table’s edge, and peeked up over it.

The charred circle in the center of the Book of Spells glowed red like an ember. An acrid curl of yellowish-green smoke rose to the ceiling. There was an audible whooshing noise and a blue flame popped out of the center of the black hole, burning hot and bright like a beacon.

How strange, Perdix thought. The center burns hot, and yet the book itself is not engulfed and turned to ashes.

He gingerly touched a corner of the book. It was icy cold.

“I must get the bishop. I must,” he muttered.

Turning to leave the room, he stopped in his tracks.

The bishop would do no good. He’d screwed up the spell that night in the graveyard. On purpose? An accident? Perdix shook his head to clear his thoughts. He did not know. What must he do?

“Oh, Fye,” he yelled. “If I only had you here to guide me and steer me toward a true answer.”

Yes! That’s it.

He whipped around and grabbed the book, prostrated himself on the floor and placed it on his face. His fingers curled into two tight fists. His knuckles were white. The long, dirty fingernails gored his palms, and blood from his hands streamed onto the stone floor.

When he awoke, it was morning. A blackbird hopped on the windowsill. In his beak, he held a long white feather. Perdix groaned and rolled over on his side. The Book of Spells fell beside him. Sunrays lit the dust motes, and for an instant, the old man watched them dance reels before his eyes.

The blackbird moved to the edge of the sill. Its beak positioned inside the room, it dropped the feather, and Perdix watched it float to the floor beside him.

“Give me strength,” he said.

As he stood to his feet, he felt the pricks of a thousand white feather quills drag across the lining of his stomach wall.

Chapter 12

Child’s Play

To feast.

A glutton.

Gore smeared on my face.

To feel this life force vital in my veins.

A wicked paradise, indeed.

I wish to never, ever leave.

*****

It should have been child’s play, Perdix thought. He’d copied Fye’s method, and it should have worked. He even had the charcoal tattoo on his forehead to prove it.

But something was not right.

He gathered the herbs from his shelf, grabbed a frog’s head from the bowl of dried animal parts, added and poured, chanted and intoned. The gooey mixture over the flame sizzled and turned into a light gray scaly lump.

Perdix threw the mess out the small window behind his back.

It was time to start over.

“What am I missing? What in Mercury’s heaven am I leaving out?” he muttered.

Wiping the bowl clean with his sleeve, Perdix decided he needed some fresh air. It was time to go hunting, and he gathered his walking stick and a small leather bag.

He walked through the castle gate, speaking to no one. Nobody noticed the frail, bent man. They were all busy with chores or gossiping.

Perdix did not have to travel far.

Just outside the castle walls were a stream and a meadow. Several cows grazed on the emerald grass. Perdix retrieved a scraper from his leather pouch.

It had rained recently. The ground was soft.

“Ahh,” he said, spying the mushrooms growing in and around the cow dung. “Perfect.”

He filled his bag with many specimens and hurried back to his workbench inside the castle walls.

Chapter 13

The Blood Plague

An orgy of blood.

Tis too divine to contemplate.

*****

“I am busy. Go away.”

The knocks on his door persisted.

“Please, Master. Please. It is Xhahari. Terrible things are happening in the village.”

“Come in. My door is always open to you.”

Xhahari was the seventh son of the king’s sister. The boy, a favorite of Perdix, was smart and eager to learn, and unlike Urien, Xhahari’s cousin on the King’s side, humble to a fault.

When he entered the alchemist’s room, he stopped.

“What?” Perdix asked. “What is so important that you interrupt my work?”

“Is something wrong, Master? You do not look well.”

“Forget that,” said the old alchemist. “Why do you bother me?”

“I finished my studies early,” said the youth.

“And why is that unusual? You are always twenty-five steps ahead of your teachers.”

“Nothing is odd about that,” said Xhahari. “But I was milling around outside castle gate. Just watching the people come and go. Something terrible is happening.”

“Explain,” said Perdix.

“There are many who come from great distances. They beg for safety, Master, for shelter inside the castle walls.”

“Is there some evil that ravages them, that makes them come here?”

“I could not believe the fantastic stories they tell. It is a horrible, horrible plague that has befallen us.”

“What kind of plague?”

“The Blood Plague.”

Chapter 14

I Am a Dead Man

A drop.

One drop.

Oh, it takes much more.

For I must drain you.

Bring you to Death’s door.

But the specter flees.

For I will do just as I please.

I’ll make you mine,

Eternally.

*****

I stand in the chapel. Not to pray. Though I must go hunting soon, I tarry. I like it here. The peaceful quietness is remarkable and rare. The smells and noises do not lay heavy inside these walls.

Is it because the holy pray?

I think it is because the priests regularly scour the place. Or maybe, it is because so few come here, anymore.

They are afraid. Afraid to venture far from the safety of their homes.

What false hopes they cling to.

In the darkening recess, the altar candles burn.

Quivering flames.

A consecrated band of orange light.

The hosts of heaven bend an ear to hear the saintly prayers sent on your blessed incense.

Vaporous tendrils, ethereal and smoky.

Little flickers.

Little prayers.

Little people

How I long for the darkening curtain of Eventide to fall upon the earth.

The stars move above as I fly about looking for my next delight.

I am not choosy.

A cow.

A peasant.

I snicker in spite of myself. Witty lines fill my mind.

A pleasant peasant presently chews his cud. The cud he chews I will eschew. I’ll wait for a banquet of blood.

This ravenous desire devours my every waking thought.

Wolfstan will come tonight, too. He has sent a note. He wants to taste my ‘forbidden fruit’ before the vows are made. He thinks he shocks me. But it is I who will surprise. Throwing my head back, I enjoy a hearty laugh.

*****

Wolfstan could not stop giggling. Perhaps, it was the wine, but Galleron thought it was more likely the fact that Wolfstan believed his ‘plan’ would work wonderfully well tonight.

The ulcer that had appeared on Wolfstan’s spindle had been painless, and so he had ignored it. But then, the rash came with foul weeping sores on his face and body that threatened to drive him mad.

Galleron had seen this evil pox many times before. Grown men screamed as their flesh dissolved to the bone. Just desserts, he’d thought. But a second later, he remembered the young princess soon to be Wolfstan’s bride.

When Wolfstan arrived at Castle Corlac, he’d immediately dispatched his servant to find someone with a balm to ease his suffering.

“Find me a cure for this odious malady,” he had drunkenly demanded.

Galleron spoke to the people who were milling near the castle gate. They told him the alchemist, Urien, was the king’s favorite. He went at once and demanded a cure for his master.

“I have just the answer,” Urien said. “Quicksilver.”

Perdix was standing nearby. He had been summoned by Gilia who was frantic because the young princess was pale and lethargic.

“I fear she has been stricken by a fever,” said the old maid.

“But the king has forbidden me to see her. He trusts only Urien in these matters, now.”

“That quack speaks from his toes, Perdix. Once, I believed in him. But no more. I’ve seen him with our precious jewel. He stuffs her with potions, smears her with salves, and babbles spells like a brook. Nothing he has tried has helped her. She is worse. You are my last resort.”

“He is young and has much to learn,” said the old man.

“He knows nothing. A braggart. A leaf who thinks he is the tree,” said Gilia.

“Give him time,” said Perdix. “He has many mistakes to make before humility’s robe he wears.”

“What is with you? Why do you keep putting me off? Are you ill? You look like you’ve aged a hundred years. I come to you for help. You give me dull words that are meaningless.”

“My magic fails me,” Perdix said. “No matter how hard I try. Nothing works.”

“Nonsense,” said the maid. “You’re simply suffering from a dry spell. Look at my nose. It is healed.”

“The pigs’ mud.”

“When all else fails, try the thing you absolutely know cannot succeed. The mud was my last resort.”

“It worked.”

“Yes, I did as you said. I had to. The knot threatened not only to overtake my nose but swallow my whole face. Do you see it? No. It’s gone. And I will smell like the hogs’ wallow for the rest of my life, but a little stink is a small price to pay for the radiant blossom of good health, is it not?”


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