Why do vampires endure in our society? In the middle ages and ancient times, the vampire was thought to be a demonic creature, a manifestation of ultimate evil—mostly the result of superstition, a lack of understanding the scientific process of decomposition of cadavers, and a fear of premature burial. To the illiterate and comparatively ignorant people of the past, the idea of evil beings returning from the grave (but repelled by the power of religious icons) made perfect sense; to us twenty-first century people of science, it seems absurd.

            Why, then, has such a fantastical creature endured the centuries and continued to enthrall audiences of novels, movies, TV shows, and more? Certainly, the appeal of vampires stems partially from dark fascination—but could the underlying reason be that we identify with these creatures? Older versions of the vampire attribute only evil to them—the crimes of murder, lust, and desecrating the sacred. Perhaps this was a way that people displaced their own faults onto an external enemy, personifying their own vices of aggression and lust as something otherworldly, because they did not want to admit those traits to be human.

            Modern interpretations vary greatly, but the newest trend in vampire lore is the vampire as a tragic hero instead of the epitome of evil. Vampires can often have a choice to be benevolent or not. For instance, in the Twilight novels, vampires can stave off their own bloodlust by drinking animal blood instead of human. Perhaps to our modern audience, the vampire is even more an allegory for ourselves than to the medieval folks—the way we, too, grapple with desires and urges that are seen as immoral (aggression, greed, sexual desires, ambition, dishonesty, etc), and the way that we also have a choice. Those vices—like the vampire’s bloodlust—are always there, always nagging at the back of our subconscious; but like the vampire who struggles to lead an ethical life, we can conquer them by our choices.

            Vampires, to us, embody that battle of good versus evil within our own selves.


            The full moon flooded the sky with silvery light—a pristine, calmly beautiful night. The moonlight seeped in through the open window, past the fluttering curtains, and onto the figure of a sleeping young woman.

            She was exactly what he was looking for. The man sitting on the edge of her bed—so cautiously that she did not even stir—was watching the slumbering lady intently. She was young—eighteen, perhaps—and vibrant: he could hear the blood pulsing through her veins, her breath coming and going. It had been so long since he’d been in such proximity to a human; he’d almost forgotten that longing, that craving for the hot, dark blood in their veins to soothe his desiccated throat... He could tell from the fragrance coming off her skin that her blood would be sweet, sweeter than honey...

            He hungered for her in other ways, too—more human ways. She was soft-featured and feminine, almost angelic in this light. Even in her white nightgown and tucked under her quilt, she was so beautiful—creamy skin, long lashes, tumbling brown curls, and a soft, curvy body. He found himself staring at her full, delicate lips, wondering what they would feel like. This was a longing he could barely recall feeling before. 

            And yet, there was something more than just bloodlust and the other lust. Something about her face—it was kind. Innocent. Pure. Something just felt right about her—he could feel it inside him, like he was being drawn to her. She just had to be the right one.

            She’ll be frightened at first, he reminded himself, but in time, she’ll be happy too. I just know it.

            He bent over as though to kiss her—and he did brush his lips against her throat, just to feel the silken skin, and she stirred the tiniest bit. Slowly, like a caress, he opened his mouth and struck. His fangs sunk deep into her flesh; warm blood streamed over his lips and her body stiffened as she registered the pain.

            He covered her mouth to muffle her scream.


            Just three days earlier, Rosalind had been invited by her uncle to stay with him, as her parents had died two weeks ago of diphtheria and left her with no one. She rode into the village on horseback, around the winding dirt road through the waving fields of barley and wheat, the cottages and farmhouses, the tanner’s, shoemaker’s, blacksmith’s, and woodcutter’s shops. At the far end of the road was a little church with a bell tower.

            But Rosalind could not see anything but the castle perched on the mountain behind the churchyard—it drew the eye, both fascinating and menacing at once. Surrounded by a dense wood, a dark chill seemed to cling to the stone towers and Gothic windows, its arches and pillars and the gargoyles perched on the rooftops; the darkened windows seemed to survey the village like narrowed eyes.

            “Uncle,” she asked as the man helped her dismount, “who lives there?”

            Rosalind’s uncle did not have to look up to know what she was talking about. “The Count lives there,” he said shortly. She noticed a shiver pass between his shoulder blades, but from the set of his square face, she knew he would not say any more on the subject.

            It wasn’t until the next day, when her aunt sent her into the village for water from the cistern, that Rosalind noticed something very strange: every building, even the tavern, had a wooden cross nailed to the door and a garland of what seemed to be cloves of garlic. She mentioned it to the other women at the well.

            “Why are there crosses on every door? And what is the garlic for?”

            “For protection,” shuddered one of the women, wide-eyed, and the others nodded in agreement.

            Rosalind stared into the five suddenly ashen faces and wondered aloud, “Does it have anything to do with that castle, perhaps?”

            The women exchanged glances.

            “The devil lives there,” an old woman whispered.

            A frail-looking lady beckoned Rosalind closer to the churchyard. Confused, Rosalind followed her into the cemetery.

            “I will show you why this town lives in fear,” said the woman gravely. She pointed to a weathered stone monument:

Count Igor Romanov


            “We found this tomb and did not know what to make of it,” breathed the woman, “because we have seen the Count before. He is not in his grave, but still walking the halls of his castle.”

            Rosalind blanched. “Then who is in his grave?”

            “No one is. When we first discovered it, the ground was torn up, like someone had clawed their way out of the coffin and through the earth to the surface.”

            Rosalind laughed nervously. Surely this was just an old wives’ tale, a superstition to keep these old gossips entertained. “That’s absurd. The Count returned from the grave?” she scoffed weakly.

            The woman glared at her with orb-like eyes. “Let me tell you something,” she rasped. “We did not believe until we began to find our livestock dying mysteriously once a month—all of the blood drained of one of our cows, our pigs, a goat or two. And we realized that it could be one of our children next. A demon lives in that castle, Rosalind. Stay away from it. And keep your home protected so that he cannot enter. There is no telling when he may carry off one of our pretty maids for his own. Beware.”

            The warning, however ludicrous and superstitious, left her feeling chilled right to her very soul.

            She looked back up at the citadel, and noticed the ravens circling above it, like an omen.


            Four days later, Rosalind awoke in the morning but kept her eyes shut, unwilling to get up and do her chores.

            Such a strange nightmare she had had sometime in the middle of the night. It was quite vague, just an ambiguous terror, a sharp pain, and then the strange feeling like she was being carried off someplace, cold air rushing past her face but darkness shrouding anything she might have seen. The moon had been veiled in a cloud.

            But she was awake now, she comforted herself, and when she opened her eyes, she would be in her uncle’s house, safe and sound. She rolled over, and pulled the thick comforter closer.

            Her eyes opened automatically when she realized she was not in her own bed—the fine linen sheets and down pillows were nothing like her own rough mattress. She sat bolt upright.

            This was not her room.

            She was lying in a massive four-poster bed with heavy burgundy drapes and an embroidered gold eiderdown. The room was luxurious, even aristocratic in its furnishings—an elaborately carved wardrobe, a vanity with a scrolled gilt frame and a solid gold brush and hand mirror set. She took in these surroundings, too dazed and confused to formulate an explanation.

            Then she noticed on the third finger of her left hand was a ring she had never seen before—an intricate gold ring with a huge blood-red ruby set in it. She tried to pull it off—but it was stuck very tightly. The harder she tugged on it, the tighter it seemed to encircle her finger.

            “I wouldn’t do that if I were you. It’s an enchanted ring—it won’t come off.”

            She started at the sound of the deep male voice—rich and melodious, but dark and cold, a voice like twilight. In the doorway stood the owner of the voice, who had appeared as silently as a wraith—his form was merely a silhouette.

            “I wondered when you would be awakening, madam,” continued the man, sweeping silently into the room. “I must beg your pardon for such a rude welcome to my castle—had you been conscious, I would have given you a tour.”

            Now in the candlelight of the chamber, the man’s face was illuminated—stark white against his voluminous black cape, with almost a grayish tinge in his cheeks and in the circles around his eyes; his features were angular and precise: a sharp nose, heavy brow, angular jaw. Though he looked as though he had not slept in weeks, the man still carried himself with poise, charm, and refinement, as though he were royalty.

            “Count Igor,” she breathed. There was hardly any question about that.

            He did not acknowledge it, nor did he deny it. She took it as assent.

            “What am I doing here?” Her voice was barely audible.

            His face was nigh-impossible to read, and his voice was simply quiet and calm as he seated himself on her bedside. “I’ve chosen you to be my bride.”

            Rosalind felt her stomach drop and her eyes nearly burst out of their sockets. She scooted as far from him as the bed would allow.

            “Come, let me show you something,” he said, yanking her out of bed by the wrist and dragging her to the mirror. She recoiled at his touch, her mind churning with disgust, shock, and dread warring with one another.

            “Look at yourself, Rosalind,” he said softly.

            Rosalind stared into the mirror with growing horror. Her once-rosy cheeks had been drained to a bone-white—every inch of her skin almost silvery white, like the moon—and subtle shadows had appeared under her eyes. In stark contrast, her full lips seemed redder than ever, her glossy brown locks even darker.

            She could not, however, see the Count’s reflection at all, though he stood behind her.

            “What have you done to me?” she cried.

            “I’ve made you like me,” he said simply.

            She bit her lip—but at the sight of her own sharpened fangs, she clapped a hand over her mouth so that only a whimper of revulsion escaped.

            “Why?” she squeaked.

            There was a pause. She did not turn around to see his face, but his voice was very quiet. “Because I was lonely,” he said.

            She stifled her sobs with her hand, but tears still overflowed. “Why me?” she sobbed.

            “I had a good feeling about you. You just seemed right.”

            “So what was this, just a whim?” Rosalind’s voice was almost hysterical.

            “No it was not,” he growled. His voice was so suddenly dark and frigid that she automatically turned around in alarm—which she instantly regretted. His eyes were narrowed dangerously. “The fiend who created me acted on whims,” he spat, “but I do not.”

            He watched her shiver with paralyzing terror for a moment. She was too petrified to move. After a long pause—though his face was difficult to decipher—his expression seemed to soften. He sighed.

            “Forgive me. My resentment is not towards you,” he explained. “I chose you to be my companion, Rosalind—I mean not to harm you.”

            Feeling it would be too dangerous to point out that draining a girl of blood and transforming her into another bloodthirsty creature was hardly short of harm, Rosalind asked feebly, “How do you know my name?”

            The Count swept off to gaze out the window at the faraway village. “I know more or less everything that goes on in the village,” he said quietly, “and heard that you were arriving.”

            “You spied on me,” she realized with yet another chill down her spine.

            He looked at her for a moment with his unreadable face and changed the subject.

            “The castle is your home now,” he said, “so you can go anywhere you please. Everything that is mine is yours.”

            Rosalind considered this for a moment.

            “You can try to escape if you like,” he warned, “but I do not deem it wise. You are quite inexperienced, having been a vampire for just a few short hours, and that makes you very unstable. It would be extremely foolish to try and live on your own.”

            She flinched visibly at the word.

            “If there is anything you need, my servants will attend you. When the sun goes down tonight, I will take you out to feed—you must be rather thirsty by now.”

            The meaning of his words sunk in rather slowly, the full implications of her transformation only just dawning on her—and another muffled sob threatened to burst from her. Prey off of humans? That was murder, massacre—she just wouldn’t do it. No, even if she had to kill herself with starvation, she would not do it! Being a monster was not her choice, and she would not be forced into betraying whatever sense of decency and humanity she had left to her. Remembering the crosses nailed to her neighbor’s doors with a glimmer of hope, she wondered if they really protected the humans inside.

            He studied her face silently while her thoughts seethed in inner turmoil. Whether he sensed what she was thinking or not, he showed no sign. With no reflection, she could not see his face when he stretched out one bony finger and tentatively traced her bare shoulder. She shuddered, closing her eyes and willing herself not to scream.

            “You’re mine now,” he breathed against her skin, so softly she hardly caught it.

            He vanished from the room like a draft, leaving the curtains swaying from his departure, and leaving Rosalind alone to sob into her arms.



            She could have stayed there for hours on end, sobbing into her elbows propped up on the vanity—if she had not looked up momentarily and noticed that the door was still ajar. The Count had not locked it.

            Suddenly the ornate room seemed to be closing in on her, and she began to feel suffocated, as though the curtains and the wallpaper would smother her if she stayed any longer. She bolted for the door. Vampire or not, unwelcome to the village or not, she was leaving this place. Perhaps if she ran fast enough and far enough, she could escape her own monstrousness. Perhaps when she reached home, everything would return to normalcy.

            Her room was apparently the closest to the stairway, she realized with gratitude as she flew down the wide spiral staircase. It was eerily quiet and empty, but she was running too frantically to notice.

            All the walls, floors, and ceilings were made of polished grey stone, cold and bleak; the foyer had a vaulted ceiling that reached to the very pinnacle of the castle. The forbidding oak doors stood three times as tall as Rosalind. But she hesitated for only a fraction of an instant and then rushed forward to yank the doors open.

            A deluge of blinding sunlight hit her the moment the doors cracked open.

            She slammed the doors shut. She covered her mouth and closed her eyes in an effort to keep from screaming.

            Bizarre and inexplicable though it was, the light had made her feel twice as aghast—like it was making her sick, like it was...her enemy. Sunlight frightened her. It seemed so very wrong, to shy away from bright, healthy sunshine, especially when her alternative was to languish in the shadows with the Count.

            What’s wrong with me? she thought feverishly, breathing shallowly.

            “I’m sorry you had to learn that the hard way,” his voice came suddenly from her left. “The sun is far too bright today. I didn’t think to warn you. Forgive me. I just didn’t expect you would try so soon to escape. It won’t hurt you physically, it just drives us away.”

            Rosalind shook all over.

            “It gets easier,” he said soothingly. “The first year is hardest, but it gets easier, I promise. And you have me to help you.”

            “I’m a monster,” she said in a low voice, wrapping her arms around herself.

            There was a long pause.

            “I do not believe that,” he murmured finally.

            She turned to look at him, but he had vanished again.


            Trapped by the brilliant sunlight in this dank, oppressively gloomy castle, Rosalind had no alternative but to return to her room. Loath to seeing the Count any more than need be, she shut herself in the chamber—which must, she realized with dismay, be the master bedroom, with all its finery. She wanted to lock the door, but the key was not in the handle. Flinging herself onto the bed, she wept and wept.

            Too late, she heard the small click of the key locking her in from the outside. Alarmed, she leapt up to the door and tried the handle—locked—and beat against the door desperately.

            “Let me out!” she choked. Did he mean to imprison her until she went completely mad? Never mind that she had closed herself in this room on her own, the fact that he was trapping her here made this room all the more a prison. “Let me out of here, please!”

            She could not be certain, but she thought she heard a sigh on the other side of the door. “I’m sorry,” he muttered, “but this is for your sake and others’.”

            Rosalind did not understand the remark, but the slight whooshing sound—like whenever he presumably appeared and disappeared into thin air—told her that her captor was gone. She could not even find the energy to pace her room. She just sank, defeated, onto the bed and allowed the despair to well up in her and manifest itself with still more tears. The comforter below her was soaked with saltwater.

            I don’t want to be bad, I don’t want to be evil, I want to be good, she prayed to herself. Oh God, can’t you have mercy on me and just let me be properly dead? Better to be dead than undead, preying on people I love, slaughtering the innocent!

            But as she sniffed to herself and stared at the ceiling, her fervent prayer actually gave her a glimmer of hope. She still cared about her morality. Perhaps it was mad to hold on to such a childish belief as a vampire still retaining their soul—but if she still had empathy, if she still wanted to be good...then perhaps she still was herself after all. Perhaps she was not a demon yet. Perhaps if she never drank blood, this compassion would never leave her! Perhaps there was still hope yet for her eternal salvation.

            But how to prevent herself? Surely, as time passed, she would grow ravenous and mad with longing for blood. She chewed on this for a long time. Locking herself in here for now seemed the only option, albeit a short-term one.

            She would have to settle on this solution for now, she thought grimly, biting her nail.

            Her thoughts turned to other problems. Her aunt and uncle would have discovered her empty bed by now—maybe even guessed as to her fate. Why hadn't the cross and strand of garlic kept him out, she wondered with anguish? But with a sob she realized—that fiend—he must have come through the window. Those kind people, who had let her stay with them like their own daughter, did not deserve the grief of knowing their niece was captured thus. And surely there was no returning to them, for though she wanted to tell them she was alright, she could not be certain that she would not hurt them. And who would care to see their niece changed thus, with bone-white skin and sharpened canine teeth almost protruding over her lip?

            And this castle—what was she going to do here? She could not escape the Count forever. He always seemed to know precisely where she was; he could be anywhere and seemed to melt out of the shadows like a wraith.


            Only numbly aware of the hours passing, Rosalind did not realize the sun was setting and the sky was streaked with red; the heavy drapes over all the windows cloaked the outside world. She heard the metallic click as someone on the other side of her door unlocked it—she felt as though a bolt of lightning were running through her—and she felt a rush of wind as the door swung open.

            The Count’s tall, menacing silhouette took up most of the doorway.

            “It’s sunset now,” he said. “You must be very thirsty by now.”

            Rosalind put a hand to her throat in surprise. She had been noticing dimly over the past few hours a strange parchedness in her throat, and an inexplicable, gnawing craving like an insatiable hunger—for blood, she now realized with nausea.

            He came forward and seized her wrist.

            “Come,” he said firmly, “it’s far more dangerous to let you thirst—you will be a menace that way. You are young and have not yet learned to fast; the thirst is greatest for the first year.”

            He towed her out of the room, though she resisted and dug her heels into the floor as best she could. The hand closed around her arm felt like iron in its strength, like the power of twenty men resided in this monster.

            “No, no, no!” she cried, too afraid to look him in the eye.

            He ignored her pleading and wrenched her forward, his face set harder than stone. Down the corridor, her supplication echoing off the stone walls, she was practically dragged all the way to the marble staircase.

            Finally, he turned to her, not letting go of her wrist.

            “Must I carry you all the way down?” he demanded.

            When fuming, his face was terrible—eyes blazing like hot coals, brow furrowed, and sharp teeth just visible in a veritable snarl. The sight stunned her into utter silence. She was still.

            “Good,” he snapped, and she followed more quickly—like a frightened mouse—as he towed her along down the spiral staircase, through the grand entrance hall. She could still sense waves of barely contained wrath radiating from him as he strode purposefully to the doors, pushed them wide open, and snatched her hand again.

            Without a word, the Count led Rosalind off into the darkness.


            The moon was only a slender crescent with an amorphous cloud drifting across it. Down a set of weathered stone stairs littered with dead leaves and pine needles; through a mostly-dead garden full of thistles and briars that had choked the life out of most of the rose bushes; past worn stone fountains and statues of weeping angels and holy martyrs—the Count led her through his grounds to a wrought-iron gate that towered above her head, tangled with thorns. He unlocked it with a key from his cloak, nodded for her to step outside, and closed the gate behind them.

            She allowed herself one brief glance back at the castle. Ominous yet striking with its looming stone towers and sharp battlements forming a jagged skyline, the castle seemed to fit right in with its rocky wilderness surroundings as though it were a natural formation. It did not comfort her to leave this place, nor did she believe it would be comforting to return.

            His hand gave her a small nudge on the small of her back to propel her forward. Flinching, she kept pace with him.

            The forest enclosed the path after this in a sort of tunnel of dark, withered branches. Rosalind, though shivering with dread, could not help but be astounded by how much she could see in detail, despite the darkness. Hardly any moonlight filtered through the branches above to the mossy forest floor, yet her visual acuity seemed improved. But then, she thought bitterly, what sort of a vampire would she be without night vision?

             The chilly night air seemed to fill her lungs and give her a strange alertness; even stranger because she ought to be feeling sleepy by this time—but even in her thin white nightgown and bare feet, she did not feel cold.

            Meanwhile, the Count, with his black cape billowing out behind him, kept glancing at her with unreadable eyes. She did not have the courage to ask him where they were going, for her worst nightmares told her that they were returning to the village for a ghastly banquet.

            They reached a fork in the path—one road led downwards, towards the valley; the other led into a denser, wilder region of trees.

            He finally spoke, though simply to say curtly, “This way,” and grasp her wrist again—and much to her astonishment, leading her deeper into the woods, farther from the village. She did not dare ask why.

            They walked a long way in silence, Rosalind’s wrist starting to ache from the viselike grip of the Count. Finally, he came to an abrupt halt.

            “Shh,” he whispered, putting a hand out to stay her.

            She was already mum, but pressed her lips together tightly and leaned around his arm to see why he had suddenly become rigid and alert.

            A faint rustling sound came from the trees. Rosalind felt her stomach clench in apprehension. What were they looking for? She gulped. A hapless traveler lost in the woods?

            He put his lips to her ear. “Break its neck first so the poor creature doesn’t feel anything,” he breathed.

            She clapped a hand to her mouth at his words, appalled, and shrank away from him—how callous was this monster that he could refer to a person as “it” and a “creature”? She almost retched.

            His face was stony, but she could have sworn he had rolled his eyes. He clasped her shoulders almost painfully tightly and forced her to gaze into the thicket.

            A stag was stepping gracefully through the bushes, his magnificent antlers held high.

            Rosalind blinked.

            A stag. Not a human.

            She was so astonished she could not speak or move. He had taken her to the woods to hunt for an animal?

            “Go on, you are thirsty,” he reminded her, seeming to notice her mingled shock and relief.

            With the reminder, her thirst seemed to flame in her throat. The creature may not have been as satisfying as a human might have been, but it still had living, warm blood pulsing through it, and would placate the awful craving for a time.

            It shocked her, how easy giving in was—the instant she succumbed to her id, it was as though she were no longer controlling her own actions, but watching herself from afar. Lunging forward, breaking the stag’s neck instantaneously with a nauseating crack that seemed to ring through the forest, tearing open its flesh and gulped down some of the hot, dark blood streaming from it with a grateful moan—Rosalind did not even realize that she had killed it until she had drained it completely and knelt, panting, over the carcass.

            Slowly, the still body of the deer and its glassy eyes, the blood all over her hands and dripping gently from her lips, and her actions to have made it so, dawned on her.

            Her mouth falling open in disgust—how in God’s name had she done something so brutal, so animalistic?—she stared at her bloodstained hands like they were cursed.

            The Count had materialized with a linen handkerchief, and began to wipe her hands clean. After his show of harsh force with her earlier, she was taken aback by the softness with which he took her hands.

            Nevertheless, she pulled back and had to bite her lip hard to keep a sob from escaping her.

            “Come, let me take you home,” he said quietly, standing.

            “Aren’t you going to find something?”

            If it were possible for the Count’s harsh, dark eyes to show emotion, they looked almost uncomfortable about answering. “No, I’m...satisfied at the moment,” he said hesitantly.

            “With my blood,” she realized, a grimace twisting her face. He was still well-fed from his indulgence on her own blood just a day ago.

            An almost imperceptible shadow seemed to cross the Count’s face. She could not tell what emotion caused his lips to press together in a tight line, but he held his hand out to her.

            “Come, I’m taking you home. Dawn is just a few hours away.”

            She did not take it, but stood—stubbornly—without his aid. 


            By the time they reached the castle gate, she did not know what she was feeling—so many contradictory emotions warring within her. Horror, anguish, dread: she was a monster, a savage creature that had actually drunk off another living thing’s blood. Relief, gratitude: the thirst was soothed, and she had not murdered anyone. Most of all confusion, wondering: did the Count allow her to hunt for an animal just to soothe her? Or was this a common practice for him? She remembered the villagers saying they had found farm animals dead in their village at first—never a human, then. Perhaps it was not the crosses and garlic that kept him out of their houses, but his own conscience.

            No. No, no, no. She could not begin to believe that the Count had a conscience. As he gripped her wrist and dragged her back into the gloomy castle—a bride, against her will—she narrowed her eyes at the sight of him and his cruel face, his careless eyes, his cold hands.

            He is a monster, she told herself. He cannot be otherwise. I must hate him. I must. He is trying to lull me into a false sense of security.

            Besides, she told herself—almost with relief, to find a logical reason to keep hating him—even if he has qualms about murder, he is still a monster for taking me as his wife like this.

            Whether or not he guessed her thoughts, he let go of her wrist slowly when they reached the master bedroom.

            He cleared his throat. “There are dresses in the wardrobe for you,” he muttered.

            She wondered why he had said it—until looking down, she realized that her nightgown was spattered with brownish bloodstains.

            There was an awkward silence that lasted a heartbeat.

            “Well...I will leave you now,” he said with a quick, courtly bow, and disappeared with a swish of his cloak down the stairs.


            The village was abuzz with gossip—though not the juicy, deliciously scandalous type that usually entertained the tavern patrons and the housewives. This tale, for the most part, was told in hushed voices and grim tones as though the peasants truly believed the castle inhabitants could hear from this distance.

            It began at dusk, three days after one of the village girls—a newcomer, actually, by the name of Rosalind—had mysteriously disappeared. Her guardians, an uncle and aunt, were at the same time frantic and resigned. They had simply discovered her bed empty—and tiny drops of blood on her pillow. Everyone whispered, everyone suspected what had occurred, but no one said a word confirming it.

            But at dusk on this particular day, when the cobbler’s wife was hanging her wash out to dry, she happened to glance up at the castle and notice someone standing on the balcony off the widest turret—someone who was clearly not the Count.

            She rushed quickly to her neighbor’s house to relate the tale.

            “I was just looking up when—there, you can still see her there on the balcony! Look right there! A lovely lady with dark hair and a white wedding dress.” She was so agitated that she spit many times as she spoke, wringing her hands. “Don’t you see what this means?”

            The blacksmith’s wife clapped a hand to her mouth. “Poor, poor Rosalind,” she whispered. “Well, now her fate is clear. Oh, what a dreadful thing to happen to such a dear young lady!”

            They watched out the window, straining their eyes through the gathering darkness to see the lady in white—stunning even from this distance—leaning against the railing. Something about her body language conveyed restlessness, even from afar. From the room, a shadowy silhouette seemed to call her over, for she turned reluctantly and went inside.

            The blacksmith’s daughter, a very freckly thirteen-year-old, felt rather excluded. “What happened to her, Mother? Why is it terrible that a lady is in the castle? Do you mean that Rosalind was the lady?”

            “The Count now has a Countess,” the cobbler’s wife explained grimly. “He took the poor girl for his bride.”

            The girl clapped a hand to her mouth. “But how could anyone stand to live with him? Isn’t she afraid he’ll kill her?”

            “He has made her like him,” her mother shuddered.

            The girl’s eyes were round in dismay.

            “Someone has to tell Olaf,” the cobbler’s wife muttered. “She is his niece. He has a right to know.”

            “You can do that, Ingrid; there is no chance in heaven or earth that I could tell him.”

            “Now there are two monsters in that castle.” The woman gazed heavenward, crossed herself twice for good measure, and made the sign for warding off the Evil Eye.

            “God help us all.”


            On her wedding night, Rosalind’s head spun with perplexity.

            First, she was confused by how awake and lively she was feeling. Though she had awoken from her death twenty four hours ago and had not slept since, she felt no longing to sleep. She did not yawn or feel her eyelids drooping. Dawn was beginning to slink over the horizon—she shut the thick curtains before the light could make her wince—but she was wakeful as ever. In fact, her recent feast in the forest had left her feeling electrified, brimming with energy.

            Perhaps vampires did not need to sleep? She pondered the strange notion for a moment. The only person who could answer her was her...husband, she thought with a cringe.

            Which brought her to the second thing that puzzled her—and made her nervous: the Count had simply disappeared and left her alone again. Why? He had brought her here to be his bride. Looking uneasily about the ornate master bedroom, the enormous bed with its soft pillows and luxurious eiderdown, she could only think of one purpose for it, if he was truly an unsleeping creature. And it seemed the normal reaction for him to expect to make love to his young new wife, as any husband would do on his wedding night, even in an arranged marriage.

            Would he come to her soon, then? Perhaps he was waiting a moment so she could compose herself?

            Though her undead heart did not beat, it felt as though her pulse were racing—probably because she was taking such quick, shallow breaths. Her palms turned to ice. She would never, ever let him touch her. Rosalind was not an antagonistic or belligerent individual, but she was stubborn and, when she knew what she wanted (or didn’t want), no one could force her to change her mind.

            I hate him, I hate him, I hate him, she thought to herself frantically, grinding her teeth. Just the very knowledge that he was her husband made her stomach turn. She paced the room in an attempt to settle her nerves, but it caused her to catch sight of her reflection in the mirror.

            She was a mess, she realized sheepishly. A trickle of blood had stained the corner of her mouth—she hastily scrubbed it off with a basin of water on her vanity—and her nightgown was beyond repair. Opening the wardrobe doors with trepidation, she saw only one dress inside, a white silk one.

            She almost fainted: it was a wedding dress.

            Did the Count have a sick and twisted sense of humor? She had nothing to wear but this wedding dress and therefore had no choice—though putting it on felt like she was allowing him to win. She did not want to give him the satisfaction of whatever kind of cruel joke he was playing; she felt as though she were shriveling inside as she slipped it off the hangar and took off her ruined nightgown.

            Once on her, the white gown looked even worse. It was beautiful—wide, voluminous skirt with ruffled petticoats underneath and scalloped lace at the hem, daringly low neckline, off the shoulders, with a very tight waistline that emphasized the hourglass shape. And yet it was horrible—she appeared outwardly to fit the part of a bride.

            Worse, she appeared to be a true Lady, an aristocrat, when she knew she was nothing but a peasant girl.

            Almost compulsively, she found herself brushing her luscious curls and making them smooth. Why was she doing this? She did not want him to find her attractive, though it was obviously too late for that. She wanted him to leave her alone!


            The Count never came.

            She had paced around for hours, but the Count had never come to their room, never consummated their marriage, never even visited or spoke to her. Night came and went. She did not see any sign of him. She was not thirsty again—apparently she did not require as frequent of sustenance as a human would—and so she breathed a sigh of relief. Apparently he did not expect their relationship to be of that sort—at least not yet.

            But trapping herself inside the master suite, enormous and lavish though it was, put her nerves on edge. Rosalind screwed up her courage and opened a set of double doors on the other side of the room; she shut them hastily when sunlight began to spill inside. The doors must lead to a balcony on the tower, she thought, and made a mental note to explore at nighttime.

            She did not want to leave the room, for fear of meeting the Count again, and yet the more she paced the room, the smaller it seemed to become.

            Finally having enough of pacing, tapping her feet, twitching, and sighing, Rosalind swung the door to the hallway open forcefully—and inhaled sharply in surprise to find someone on the other side of the door. But it was not the Count.

            “Pardon me, My Lady, I did not know if anyone was inside,” squeaked the speaker.

            A middle-aged woman stood behind the door, though now she was flattening herself against the opposite wall; she was thin as a birch tree and with skin just as parchment-like, and her eyes kept darting from side to side like an animal that lives in constant fear of death. She wore an impeccably clean but faded dress under a stiffly starched apron.

            Rosalind was scarcely able to believe her eyes. She had thought that the Count did not have any servants—but here was a flesh-and-blood human woman, cowering like a frightened mouse with her quivering eyes fixed on her, Rosalind.

            “Who—who are you?”

            The lady curtsied nervously. “Helga, My Lady, the housekeeper,” she said, “I have not yet had the pleasure of meeting Your Ladyship.”

            She’s terrified of me, Rosalind realized, and the thought gave her pain. The one other person in this castle who could possibly give her company was too afraid.

            “If there is anything that you require,” continued the housekeeper, “I will attend you.”

            “Are you all alone?” Rosalind asked, a lump forming in her throat.

            Helga seemed to understand what she meant. “There is only the gardener—my husband Gregory—and I.”

            Rosalind took a deep breath—and understood why the Count had locked her door before she had quenched her thirst. Human blood was like a perfume—no, it was like a tantalizing meal being cooked in the next room, mouthwatering; and she could see the blood pulsing in the vein in Helga’s neck, taunting her—

            Rosalind buried her face in her hands. No, no, no! She could not think like this. Think of other matters. Distract yourself. You are not even thirsty. She is a person and you cannot harm her, or you shall be a murderer.

            Helga said timidly, “I’m sorry, My Lady, if you would like me to leave. The Master did warn me...”

            So she knew.

            “No, I’m fine,” Rosalind assured her quickly, and resolved to make this true. If she fixed her eyes on the housekeeper’s frightened features, it was easier to be strict with herself. “I won’t hurt you, I promise.”

            “Well, if there is nothing you need, Madam, I must be going,” stammered Helga, giving a subservient bow and all but racing down the hallway.

            Rosalind bit her lip, trying not to cry. She was still alone here.



            The sun rose and set many times. Rosalind was learning to mark the passing time with nights, not days. Weeks were passing, she knew, but it was difficult to keep track of them.

            She had taken to wandering the castle now, feeling too on edge to stay within the confines of her room. Though she had not yet seen another sign of the Count, she still explored warily, as if he would melt out of the shadows any moment, or be around any corner.

            Most of the rooms were dusty and filled with cobwebs, she noted. Guest quarters—and there were extensive halls filled with only that—seemed completely untouched, their silk coverlets smooth, not slept in for centuries, inches of dust settled on the floorboards and desktops. It filled her with a quiet sadness when she saw these rooms, as though she could still see the ghost of the glamour it had once possessed, though long faded. Once in a while, she caught her own reflection in the grimy mirrors, and it always filled her with renewed anguish to see her pale, beautiful, inhuman face again.

            Some rooms, however, did seem frequently used, or at least kept clean. She stumbled across a cavernous dining hall on the first floor—its ceiling reached at least seven stories tall; a long oak table in the center stretched to seat twenty-five; each of the three fireplaces against one wall could have fit three men inside comfortably, or a roaring fire of that size; colorful banners with crests and coats-of-arms hung underneath the windows; and the heads of boars, stags, and elks were mounted in rows along the wall. In the light, it was most likely a majestic and proud sort of place; in the night, the animal heads cast eerie shadows, and the banners appeared to mourn glory long past.

            To her delight, she discovered a library on the third floor—if the word library could even do the room justice. Floor to ceiling, corner to corner, including the balcony, there were mountains of bookshelves that dazzled her with their sheer numbers and glossy spines. She could not possibly read them all in one lifetime—but then, she did have longer than that, did she not? Silently, she blessed Gutenberg for his wonderful printing press, and blessed her dear late mother for teaching her to read from the family Bible. Here was one ray of solace, at least. She carried a stack of books back to her room and set them on her vanity to read at her leisure, to distract her whenever she was in most need of it.

            Nights continued to pass. She did not feel tired or hungry or even thirsty for blood yet. With luck, she would not need to see the Count until she thirsted again.


            One day, as she was sitting on the vanity stool, attempting to read a book of garrulous poetry, she felt a draft enter the room. She had to stifle a groan—she knew she had been fortunate to see so little of the Count thus far, and she could hardly expect to avoid him completely. She could sense him coming up behind her.

            It did send a shock through her body when he placed his hand on her back. She flinched. Without a word, he lifted up her dark curls to clasp a necklace of teardrop diamonds around her neck. He stood back as though admiring the way they glittered against her collarbone. She bit her lip: she was so very unrecognizable from the peasant girl—the human girl—she once had been.

            A chill ran through her when—to her shock—he brushed his fingers against her throat lightly, as if he were afraid he would break her.

            “You are unhappy here,” he said—cool, quiet, and calm as always.

            She looked down at her folded hands. “Yes,” she said tonelessly.

            “I know you are afraid,” he murmured, “but it need not always be so. I do not expect you to trust me right away, but there truly is nothing you need fear. I cannot do anything to harm you, even if I wanted to. And I am your husband. I want your trust.”

            Rosalind scowled. “I can never trust you,” she said in a cutting voice. “You took my life away from me.”

            He straightened up to his full intimidating height, the stony mask of detachedness back on his face. “And I gave you another in return. You may detest me all you please, but that will not make you happy.”

            His voice was icy and dangerous. She instantly regretted saying a word. But he went on with his tirade, pacing the room and glancing at her only occasionally, his cold voice becoming more and more agitated as he spoke.

            “Would it have been so very different if any other man had taken you for his wife? True, he would have asked your uncle’s permission for your hand—it is not that I have no sense of propriety, but simply that I knew your uncle would only acquiesce out of fear. Perhaps another man would have tried to woo you beforehand—or perhaps not.

            “In fact, your life here will be better than what another man could give you. Despite your beauty and charm, you were still the daughter of a farmer—the most you could have hoped for was marriage to a prosperous merchant or artisan. But now you are a Lady! You have an entire castle to command. I can give you anything you want—all the fine dresses, jewels, furnishings, status that could possibly want. You are a Countess! You should be proud of this.”

            He paused for a moment and looked down. His harsh tone softened.

            “I—I do not think you are so shallow or trivial that these things are all you need to be content. But they can help.”

            Her eyes were still stinging from his biting reprimand.

            Do not let him see you cry again, she told herself sternly. Do not show such weakness in front of him! But her burning eyes started to spill over nonetheless. She tried to hide them by looking down, but she could tell he noticed. He was silent for a long moment.

            She was crying too hard to be surprised when he knelt down in front of her so that their faces were on the same level.

            “Ah, my dear,” he sighed. “Forgive me. I’ve frightened you again, haven’t I? Don’t you see how I need your sweetness, to even out my temper?”

            She couldn’t speak or look at him, but was startled by his gentle tone.

            “Forgive me. It was inexcusable to be so harsh on you. You have lost a great deal in a short amount of time.”

            She dared to glance at his face—and she could have sworn it was a different man before her. Not stoic, or cold, or infuriated, as she had seen him prior to this: as if a mask of stone had been removed, he looked truly alive, almost human.

            “I know I cannot make you love me,” he whispered, “that you must come to me on your own. But do not think me incapable of caring for you.” With these words, he touched one finger to her lips delicately. “Is there nothing at all that I could do to please you?”

            She closed her eyes and shook her head.

            “Then I will wait. I waited for forty years for you—sixty-eight, including my human lifetime—and will do so for another century if necessary.”



            Rosalind passed most of her time in a deadened haze, as if her mind was too distressed and too afraid to accept reality. Usually, she was able to avoid her husband completely—but for a second time, when her thirst had abruptly returned and made her anxious with craving, he dragged her out of the castle (though she resisted less, knowing they were not preparing to massacre the village) and directed her towards an elk to hunt. Then he returned her to the castle with scarcely another word, and left her to her solitude again.

            Her exploration of the castle became mindless wandering as the weeks passed. Though she had a feeling that she had not delved into half of the chambers and the secrets the fortress held, the dusty quarters had begun to wear on her with sadness, and she was no longer curious. But she walked, simply for something to occupy her with, though her mind was not engaged at all.

            The lack of sensation came and went—some days, as if making up for her inattentiveness, her mind seemed hyperaware of her surroundings, and every shadow seemed to be the Count’s eerie silhouette. But these days were few and far between.


             One day Rosalind sat on the vanity stool and brushed her long, glossy curls—a comfortingly familiar habit. She was feeling that peculiar numbness again.

            In the mirror, she saw her bed curtains swinging with a breeze; she saw no one’s reflection besides her own. It must be the Count. She bit her lip, pretending not to notice and praying that he would leave without a word.

            A hand touched her hair. She gave a tiny startled squeak.

            “Forgive me, my dear. I did not mean to startle you.”

            She refused to look at him.

            “I only came because I have something to give you,” he said quietly. She flinched when she felt his fingers in her hair—pinning a few of her curls up with a comb set with glistening emeralds. It was strange in the mirror-image to see objects moving seemingly of their own accord, but Rosalind was far from laughing.

            “You are so very beautiful,” he murmured. She felt the back of his hand stroke her cheek; she shivered uncontrollably. “Please try to remember that you are my wife, and I would do anything to make you happy.” He sighed. “I just don’t know how.”

            “If you want me to be happy, make me human again.” She finally found her voice, though it cracked mid-sentence.

            She heard him inhale sharply.

            “That is not possible. I’m sorry. Truly, I am. I know the anguish and the loss you feel, and I wish I could make this easier for you. I wish I could make it disappear, Rosalind.”

            He caught a tear that was rolling down her cheek.

            “And I will be here to wipe every tear away, until you make your peace with what you are. Perhaps one day you will come to forgive me.”

            She held her breath as he pressed his lips to her bare shoulder.

            “Perhaps one day you will not shrink from me.”



            As months began to pass by in this manner, the housekeeper was beginning to notice her mistress’s unsettling behavior—and her concern was enough that she dared to approach her master as he stood at the balcony overlooking a moonlit rose garden. His shadowy tall figure was intimidating, and she approached with the utmost caution.

            “Sir,” said Helga timidly, balancing a basket of freshly laundered linens on her hip, “may I have a word with you, My Lord?”

            Abruptly, he turned to her, apparently surprised that she was initiating a conversation with him. “Of course you may. What is it?”           

            Helga wet her lips nervously. “My Lord, you know I do not wish to seem too bold or to interfere with your private affairs...”

            “You may speak freely, Helga,” he said reassuringly. The unexpectedly kind tone to his voice gave the housekeeper courage enough to continue with little fear.

            “It is My Lady, sir. I am worried about her.”

            He frowned—not crossly, but with dismay.

            “What makes you worried about the Countess?” he asked. She was surprised to hear a hint of concern in the timbre of his usually-stoic voice.

            “Well, sir...I know that she has no need of food or drink or rest—and there is little that could harm her—but she has acted so strange of late that I fear her heart is very troubled.”

            “Strange how?”

            Helga shuddered. “As if she is...empty,” she explained. “She just walks around through the corridors in a sort of trance—day and night, endlessly, except when you take her to the forest—she simply walks and paces about with a sort of miserable, numb expression. I try to speak to her, but it is as though she cannot hear me. I believe that you care for her, My Lord, but I am afraid My Lady is very unhappy.”

            “I thought that my presence would only upset her more, make her adjustment more difficult,” the Count said quietly, almost to himself. “Perhaps I was wrong.”

            “You are her husband, sir,” Helga pleaded. “If you cannot comfort her, I know not who can.”

            “She utterly loathes me,” sighed the Count. “She will scarcely speak to me. She will not let me touch her.”

            “She needs time, sir, but perhaps she also needs you.”

            He turned away and muttered bitterly, almost whispering to himself, “How does a man tell the woman who hates him that he loves her? How do I tell her how her that her timid sweetness unmakes me, or that every time I look at her I am transfixed?”

            Helga was silent. The servant and Master looked at one another for a moment with newfound respect—though their relationship was still an uneasy one, particularly on the human’s part.



            Rosalind’s wandering took her to the first floor one evening, to a set of carved wooden doors nearly as tall as the castle entrance. For the first time in weeks, a spark of curiosity lit up her usually deadened face.

            The tall wooden doors creaked open on rusty hinges, and Rosalind peeked inside.

            It was a chapel. Enormous stained glass windows bathed the wooden pews in pools of blue and green light; the marble altar sat in a spotlight from the elaborate window in the front depicting the Virgin Mary and her Child in her arms. Rosalind felt a hush as she entered, a solemnity that seemed to hang in the air with the dust motes and caused her to want to hold her breath.

            To her puzzlement, an elaborate jeweled cross stood just behind the altar—but it did not seem to make her cringe or ward her off the way sunlight could. She stared at it for a long time, wondering, quizzically, why a cross did not even affect her and presumably not the Count either. But it gave her the tiniest spark of hope that she was not completely unworthy or unclean simply because of what she was.

             A smaller wooden door off to her right caught her attention—there was a Latin inscription on it, but she could not read Latin. Intrigued, she opened it, though she had to exert more force than she had expected.

            A narrow set of stone stairs greeted her. The air was stale and musty as she descended; she must be beneath the castle itself. A craggy passageway, cold and grave as a catacomb, led to a candlelit room the size of the chapel above.

            It must be a crypt, she realized with dread. Two stone sarcophaguses lay in the center, surrounded by marble statues of various saints and archangels, their hands raised in benediction. Tapers were lit—and recently, for they were slender and melted quickly.

            Moving closer, Rosalind realized that a single rose had been affectionately placed on each grave. She read the names.

Count Vladimir Romanov                                              Countess Carlotta Romanov

1567-1616                                                                             1571-1616

            A voice spoke behind her. “My parents, you know.”

            Rosalind gasped, startled at the noise after so much pressing silence. The Count’s face was impassive as he studied her.

            How does he appear out of thin air like that, she wondered indignantly?

            “Forgive me for startling you,” he said graciously; “those are my parents’ graves.”

            It seemed peculiar to think of the Count as having parents—but, she mused, he could hardly have sprung into existence from nothing, inhuman and strange though he was. In the dim candlelight, his masklike face looked even more sharply defined and carved of stone.

            “My father was struck with the plague and died a week later,” he explained. “My mother could not bear her grief—she flung herself off the tallest tower.”

            Rosalind trembled at the thought of the poor Countess’s fate before her. So this place was haunted by sorrow and grief; she had felt it long before she had known it.

            “I was fourteen years old,” he added. When he caught sight her look of surprise, he said with bitter amusement, “Yes, I was human once, too. As difficult though it is to believe, I was born of human parents and grew just like any other child...until I was twenty-eight, of course...” He trailed off with a shudder, seeming to forget his wife’s presence completely for a moment. She had never seen him perturbed, but his countenance was very troubled.

            She was too afraid of him and too unsettled at seeing him frightened to question him further on the matter. Her eyes cast around the dank catacomb for a change of subject.

            In one corner was a dark hole—simply a jagged opening in the rock that led to...something. She walked over and peered inside it, but all she could see was a damp, dripping cavernous tunnel with stalagmites jutting up from the floor and stalactites hanging from the ceiling like lethal icicles.

            “That leads further into the mountain,” he explained, “It’s a bat cave.”

            “Ugh!” she shuddered, jumping back from the entrance. She could hear now a faint rustling and chirping sound echoing from inside—it seemed to be growing louder and louder: closer. Her eyes widened.

            “It’s sunset,” he observed calmly. “They will likely be heading outside to feed. I would stand against a wall if I were you.”

            As if on cue, a torrent of bats burst out of the cavern entrance towards the dim light. Rosalind shrieked and cowered as they squeaked and swooped past her—she ducked and covered her head, but bats’ wings still brushed her hair. The swarm resembled a cloud mighty enough to obscure the moon; they flew up the staircase and out into the chapel, where, she assumed, they found an open window, for the sounds of their chirruping grew fainter as they ascended.

            Of course the Count stood amidst the swarm without a hint of revulsion—to the contrary, a faint smile played about his lips.

            “Do bats frighten you?”

            “Of course not,” she snapped, crossing her arms over her chest.

            He nodded to himself, watching the last few bats soar up the stairs with a curious look in his eyes.

            “I could close up that cave entrance or clear them out,” he told her, “but I don’t want to.”

            “Why not?”

            “Bats and I have a considerable amount in common,” he said simply, though this was hardly illuminating.

            They are frightening, bloodsucking monsters like yourself, she thought venomously, though she hardly believed this was what he meant.

            He must have noticed the venomous expression on her face, for his voice was almost uncomfortable when he said quietly, “I came looking for you earlier, Rosalind, because I wished to speak with you. Could you please come with me, for just a moment?”


            Startled by the polite request—when he usually tended to demand—she was instantly curious yet wary. What did he want from her? She followed him hesitantly; he led her silently up the stairs, through the chapel, out the front doors and out onto the grounds. She could not help but notice his head was bowed and he did not look at her. Finally, at the wrought-iron gate, he unlocked the padlock and let it fall to the ground.

            “I’m not thirsty yet,” she said.

            “I know. I didn’t intend on taking you hunting.” He turned to her at last, but seemed to be having difficulty in finding the words he wanted. He closed his eyes as if collecting himself.

            “It was wrong to take your life away,” he said. She could have sworn his voice trembled. “It was selfish beyond measure—cruel and self-interested. I thought it was justified because I believed I could make you happy eventually. I was wrong—and even if you had been content, that is no excuse. I wish...I wish with all my heart that I could reverse it and send you back home, but I cannot.” He buried his face in his hands. “I want to somehow atone for my sin, but there is no penance on earth that could make things right. All that I can say is...I am sorry. I am so very, very sorry, Rosalind.”

            His usually masklike face was full of naked agony, and tears glistened in his dark eyes. She was so stunned that she could not even move.

            “Although I cannot undo what has been done,” he choked, pushing the gate open, “and you most likely can never return to your aunt and uncle, at least you ought to be free. Your control has become disciplined enough by now that you will be capable of resisting human blood without my guidance.”

            Her heart leapt. “Do you mean--?”

             “I release you,” he said in a hollow voice. “You may leave here right now if you wish.”

            She was too shocked to feel the elation slowly sinking in. “I’m free?” she breathed. “But why?”

            “Because you deserve a man who will not make you cry,” he said in a rough voice, turning his face away. “Because keeping you here, imprisoned, is a crime. Because I am a monster. Because I cannot stand to see you anguished any longer. Because I love you.”

            She did not know what to say. A small choked sound escaped her lips, but no words came.

            He smiled faintly, though his eyes glistened. “Give me your left hand, please.” He touched the ruby of her wedding ring; she could feel it growing inexplicably hot. It seemed to enlarge just enough for him to slide the ring off her finger. She felt the bare circle of her third finger, now freed, in wonder coupled with confusion.

            He leaned over and kissed her cheek in farewell. She closed her eyes and tried not to shiver.

            “You may leave now, if you wish,” he whispered, holding the gate open for her. Numbly, she walked through, and he closed it behind her. She began to walk away in a trancelike state.

            “Rosalind,” he called after her. She turned.

            “I truly hope that you can be happy, wherever you go,” he said softly.

            “Thank you,” she stuttered, tripping over the first stone step.

            Her last glance at the Count left her feeling very strange—not guilty, for she was more than justified for wanting to leave this place, and yet not comforted either. He had turned away so she would not see his face, but his shoulders were hunched over and his head in his hands. She could hear him weeping with remorse.

            She turned and fled.

            Down the stairs, along the path, she suspended her incredulity about her release to run as far from this dank prison as she possibly could, before he could change his mind. Deeper and deeper into the forest she flew, hardly noticing the branches and ferns that brushed past her. She stumbled over rocks and protruding roots, but never paused for more than an instant to right herself. Thorns caught her dress and tore the hem; low-hanging claw-like branches caught her hair. She did not slow her pace.

            She was far from the path now and had paid little attention to her direction—but now it was clear that she was moving further from the valley and into the wildest part of the forest. Moss clung to every tree trunk, lichens to every rock, mushrooms and plateau-shaped fungi encircled every fallen log, and the pines grew very close together. Rosalind had to slow in order to keep from colliding with them.

            Where was she? And for that matter, she thought with a sigh, where was she going? Obviously, returning to civilization was out of the question. Would she simply wander the world like a gypsy? Live isolated in this endless forest forever? Her eagerness to leave the Count had overruled any logic or planning ahead in her mind.

            She changed direction and pointed herself towards a slight brightening through the trees. Desperate now to be out of these ancient trees for a moment, she sped towards the clearing, running, running—

            A cliff!

            Rosalind gasped and leaned back to catch her balance. Her toes teetered at the edge of a steep precipice crumbling away beneath her. She stumbled back, thoroughly shaken.

            Trembling and numb from what had almost just occurred, she continued on in the opposite direction with slow, careful strides. She attempted to take deep breaths and walk like a lady.

            She had almost recovered from her shock when she heard a soft rustle, rustle in the bush just yards from her. Her body stiffened as she looked for the source, senses on high alert.

             A low, animal growl rumbled behind a leafy fern. Rosalind tensed.

            The creature leapt forward into the open—and her jaw dropped in terror.

            It was a wolf—or was it? For what wolf had such mangy brown fur standing on end; such mad yellow eyes, luminous as lamps with dilated pupils; such terrible claws that tore up the ground beneath it; such hideous dagger-like teeth dripping with threads of saliva? The wolf-creature crouched as if to spring at her, baring its fangs in a snarl.

            Rosalind’s scream lodged in her throat. She had no notion of how to fight this creature.

            Could she outrun it?

            Without pausing to consider the possibility long, she bolted. The wolf pursued at a gallop; she could hear it snapping at her heels and growling in frustration as she flew on desperately, always a step ahead.

            Surprisingly, she did not feel out of breath or exhausted, but as though a rush of adrenaline was invigorating her to run faster, faster, outrun the wolf and flee to safety...but where?

            She heard the panting and the footfalls of the monster growing further away, falling far behind—with satisfaction, she smiled at having escaped. It must see that this pursuit was in vain. She was a vampire! She could not be caught by a mere animal.

            Suddenly the stationary wolf threw back its head and howled.

            She screamed and halted abruptly.

            Another wolf had sprung out in front of her in answer to the first creature’s call. To her right and left, four more wolves stalked towards her—an entire pack. They circled slowly, closing in on the frightened vampire and salivating with anticipation. She could have sworn she saw one lick its lips. Frantically she searched for a hole in their ranks for her to dash through, but the vigilant pack was never lax in its prowling.

            Rosalind, trembling violently with terror, closed her eyes and prepared herself to meet her Maker.

            An unexpected sound made her eyes fly open: a piercing animal wail as of pain, a horrible, twisted sound.

            Rosalind looked to her left just in time to see one of the wolves crumpling to the ground and writhing in agony—and the Count removing the silver dagger he had plunged into the creature’s back.


            Rosalind watched in paralyzed shock as the Count fought the remaining five wolves with astonishing ferocity.

            One wolf immediately pounced, locking its jaws around the Count’s forearm—but the vampire threw it off with such force that it flew back and smashed into a tree; to Rosalind’s disappointment, the wolf did not seem remotely hurt and leapt to its feet again. At the same time, two other wolves rushed at the Count from opposite sides, snapping at his legs and trying to overwhelm him. Seeing this strategy as more effective, the remaining two joined the swarm of slashing claws and snapping fangs, but the Count put up a tremendous fight and managed to throw off two and stab another with his dagger—it whimpered and rolled off him. The last wolf sliced a gash in the vampire’s neck—he roared in pain and rage—but he sank his teeth into the monster’s shoulder, and immediately it went limp and landed on the ground with a moan.

            Panting, the Count reached into his cloak and pulled out a sprig of some leafy plant, waving it at the pack that was quickly re-forming its ranks.

            “Be gone!” he bellowed. “I have already killed one of your members and injured two others. You may have strength in numbers, but I am still the strongest. I banish you from this place! Away with you!”

            The wolves, though grumbling low in their throats, could not seem to approach the Count—they shied away from the plant he waved at them: wolfsbane.

            “Be gone!” he repeated in a snarl. “And do not return if you value your miserable lives!”

            With almost sour looks, the pack turned and fled.

            Rosalind had stood rooted on the spot the whole time, too petrified to even scream. Numb relief seeped through her now, coupled with a strange vicarious exhaustion after watching the Count fight.

            The first wolf he had stabbed, she noticed, was still twitching on the ground infinitesimally. Blood as dark and thick as molasses spilled out of its wound and its yellow eyes dimmed. Its whines were pitiful. But as she watched, the wolf’s body contorted and seemed to be shrinking: fur contracting, snout disappearing, teeth shortening, limbs re-forming, until it was no longer a wolf, but a quivering, convulsing man dying on the carpet of dead leaves. Rosalind stepped cautiously towards him, horrified, but the mortal wound had already taken effect. He exhaled one last shuddering breath and was still.

            A sound to her left caught Rosalind’s attention. Though he had stood bravely as he had banished the wolves, the Count crumpled to his knees now; his breathing was labored and his face twisted with pain. Without thinking, Rosalind rushed to him and caught him by the arm before he collapsed completely. His shirt was in tatters, and through it she could see huge unbleeding rends in his skin. He was in too much pain to speak.

            Overcome with pity, she put his arm around her shoulders and half-carried him back to the castle.


            As she sat on the edge of the couch where the Count laid, hours later, Rosalind could not fathom how she had managed to help him limp all the way up to the castle again and into the first-floor study. A blazing fire flickered in the grate, providing just enough light as she sewed up his wounds with a silver thread. It was easier for her to not be squeamish if she pretended to herself that she was simply darning some fabric instead of skin.

            “You did not tell me that, without blood in our veins, nothing heals,” she remarked as she threaded the needle.

            “It was unbelievably foolish of me to send you out without even arming you,” he sighed, frowning. “I am truly sorry.”

            “I’m not the one with countless wounds.” She paused in her sewing for a moment. “What were those creatures you saved me from? As it died, one of them turned into a man.”

            “Werewolves,” he said, a shadow crossing over his eyes. “You had the luck of encountering particularly brutal specimens.”

            Rosalind shivered. “I had hoped those were simply superstition.”

            “No more than you and I,” he said grimly.

            She finished closing the long gash on his forearm. The scar was scarcely noticeable against his pallid skin.

            “Here,” she said awkwardly, lifting up his torn shirt, “there are some serious cuts over here that I ought to stitch up as well.”

            He said nothing, but took off the shirt so that she could seam together some of the more gruesome tears in his skin. Her face felt strangely burning at the sight of his hardened muscles—shaking herself back to her senses, she busied herself with a rend near his heart, forcing an attitude of businesslike briskness onto her countenance.

            “This isn’t the first time this has occurred?” she guessed with numb horror as she noticed many other scars across his chest and shoulders—though sewn up rather clumsily. He had probably done the stitches himself.

            “Never precisely this situation,” he replied. “I’ve never had anyone to protect.”
            She refused to look at his face.

            “I thought,” she said slowly, “that we undead could not be harmed.”

            “I unintentionally misled you,” he said apologetically. “We cannot be harmed by anything except for werewolves or other vampires—and, on rare occasion, a massive mob armed with stakes.”

            “That’s...unfortunate. What about werewolves? Are they almost invincible too?”

            “Our weakness for wooden stakes is rather parallel to their weakness for silver weapons,” he explained, showing her the bloodstained dagger he still held. “And just as we are repelled by garlic, they are repelled by wolfsbane.”

            Rosalind frowned, chewing on her bottom lip. “Creatures like you and I thirst for blood,” she muttered with a bitter taste in her mouth, “but what drives them to kill? They could not have obtained any blood from killing me.”

            “Werewolves are an interesting case,” he said darkly. “They are humans, but can transform themselves into wolves at will—except on the full moon. Then the transformation is compulsory—and they do not retain their human mind on that night. Instead they are driven mad for want of carnage and destruction.

            His words made her shiver.

            “It is not so very different for us,” he mused.

            “How do you mean?”

            “It is not nearly so pronounced a difference as for their kind,” he clarified, “but for vampires, the thirst is greatest at the full moon—and our powers are at their most potent.”

            “I had never noticed,” she said, startled.

            “It is subtle,” he shrugged. “It took me many years to realize it.”

            She sewed in silence for a moment and closed up the last scar on his torso.

            “Let me stitch that one on your neck,” she murmured, “it looks serious.”

            He leaned closer so she could reach over. He winced the tiniest bit when she threaded the needle through the cut, but clenched his jaw to keep from making a sound.

            “Rosalind,” he said after a moment.


            “Thank you for doing this,” he said softly, laying his hand over one of hers. She looked into his eyes—startled by how close his face was, by how sincere his expression was.

            Taken aback, she looked down at her hands quickly. “You’re welcome.”

            She blinked a few times as she realized that she meant it. He had saved her life—and after watching his ferocious battle with the lycanthropes, she could not help but feel the smallest twinge of awe mixed in with her gratitude.

            I still do not like him, she insisted to herself. He may have protected me from the wolves, but he still did take my life away. A small voice in the back of her head, however, whispered, He did kill you, but he also saved your life... doesn’t that make it even?

            The Count was oblivious to her internal conflict.

            “You may leave again if you wish,” he said seriously. “You are not obligated to stay. But you are always welcome here.”

            Rosalind bit her lip for a moment, weaving the needle through his torn flesh. He flinched almost imperceptibly.

            “I think,” she said reluctantly, “I will stay. The outside world is more perilous than I realized. And honestly,” she sighed, studying her hands again, “I have no place else to go.”

            “As I said,” he smiled gently, “you are always welcome here.”   

            She tied the last knot in the stitches and bit the excess string off. She rolled up the spool of silver thread and stuck the needle in it.

            “Igor?” she said hesitantly.

            He started at her use of his first name; she had never used it before. “Yes?”

            “Thank you,” she said quietly, “for saving my life...and for letting me go.”

            He placed a hand over hers once again.

            “You’re welcome.”


            Rosalind was almost sheepish when she spoke to the Count the next night—both of them behaved rather awkwardly: he, cool and quiet, even more than usual; she, biting her lip and not knowing quite what to say. When he had set her free, he had shown more emotion in front of her than all the days she had known him combined—and their new, uneasy sort of truce was rather foreign to them and took some getting used to.

            They sat by the roaring fires in the long dining hall, sitting in great winged armchairs and reading—but, as Igor kept glancing up from his book at her, Rosalind assumed that he was absorbing about as much of his novel as she was.

            But they were supposed to be friends now, she reminded herself. She was here under her own power—she was a guest.


            He sat up straighter immediately, as if the sound of his first name had sent a bolt of electricity through him.

            “Yes, Rosalind?” he said politely, though his eyebrows were raised in legitimate interest.

            She took a deep breath and finally dared to ask what she had been afraid to say before this. “How did you...become like this? You were not always one of the undead—you were human like I was once; someone must have transformed you, too. You told me, the day I first met you, that your creator ‘acted on whims.’ What did you mean?”

            Igor shuddered visibly, his countenance with a dead sort of expression on it. He stood up and paced in front of the hearth as he told his story.

             “When I was twenty-eight years old, I received a letter from another Count that I had never met before, who lived not far away in another mountainous castle. This Count invited me to stay at his citadel in the hope of establishing a friendly alliance. I, being quite innocent to the minds of men, accepted without any trepidation, and rode to his residence in the Carpathian Mountains.”

            “Was it a trap?” she guessed in a hushed voice.

            “It was indeed,” he replied bitterly. “I feel like such a fool now. Despite his gracious manners and charm, there was still something...peculiar about him, something very ominous. I simply could not explain why I was so uneasy in his presence. He welcomed me with every sign of friendliness.

            “The second night I was staying there, I made the grave mistake of falling asleep in the study, where I was reading at a table, instead of in my guest quarters. I awoke to the sound of my name being called softly.

            “It was a woman’s voice that called me—a delicate, airy sort of voice, calling me from the hallway. In a sort of trance, I rose and drifted to the door. In the doorframe stood three of the loveliest creatures I had ever beheld—besides you, my dear, but you had not even been born yet. Two were dark-haired, the other a blonde; they wore flowing white dresses and were ghostly pale. As I gazed upon them, they smiled, and I felt as though I was under a spell—and as they beckoned me forward, it was as though I had no choice but to obey and follow them. They led me down many flights of stairs and corridors, and finally into a cold, dark passageway that turned out to be a crypt.

            “I was frightened beyond measure, and yet I could not seem to disobey these lovely women. The blonde one leaned over with a coy smile, as though to kiss me, but—

            “A voice interrupted her. ‘Girls,’ said a mock-scolding male voice, ‘did I not tell you that this gentleman is mine to kill? I shall give you your own prey tonight.’

            “With horror, I realized that it was the Count speaking. I was too petrified to move or scream when he seemed to materialize out of the shadows. The women parted reluctantly to let him pass, and then...”

            Igor trailed off and put his hand on the mantle, turning away from her.

            “He bit you?” Rosalind prompted timidly.

            He nodded curtly.

            “When I awoke, I found myself in a dark, enclosed space—as I felt the walls and discovered they were silk, I realized with no small amount of dread that I was in a coffin, buried in the earth.”

            Rosalind clapped a hand to her mouth in horror. “No!”

            “Yes, my few servants had observed me, apparently dead, and buried me already,” he said grimly. “The Count had sent for them and told them that, tragically, the plague had taken me as it had taken my father years ago, and thus I ought to be buried quickly.”

            “But why,” said Rosalind slowly, “did he transform you at all?”

            Igor looked away from her again, his face stony. “I believed for many years that he simply changed me on a twisted whim,” he said, “and while that was undoubtedly part of it, I believe he also hopes that I could be useful to him—another strategically placed aristocratic vampire who could be an important ally.”

            “You make it sound as if he were planning a war.”

            “While he was alive, my creator was a warlord known as Vlad the Impaler. He relished bloodshed and psychological warfare long before he became undead—and although he is not likely planning a full-out war, he may want to establish a widespread reign of terror. Of course,” he added with a smirk, “he has no idea that I would only join him when hell freezes to ice. And he does not know of our...’eccentric’ lifestyle, though no doubt it would appall him.”

            Rosalind shivered. “And then what happened?”

            “I had to dig my way out of six feet of earth. Thankfully, it was night when I emerged, and no peasants witnessed my resurrection. I fled to my castle.

            “When the sun rose, I realized what must have happened to me, what I had now become. I cannot describe the horror and disgust that followed—though I do not think I need to. You remember your own awakening.

            “But I was alone. I was a creature shunned by society, abhorred and feared by man, with no one to accompany me into the shadowy exile into which I retreated.

            “I tried to end my anguish the way my mother had found peace, but, alas, I learned too late that suicide is utterly impossible for our kind. And so I banished myself to this castle, disciplined my thirst very strictly (as you know), and sunk into the utter despair of true loneliness for forty years, loathing the monster I was—am.”

            Rosalind’s eyes stung from his words, so desolate and miserable. She swallowed forcefully.

            “And then,” said Igor in a shaky voice, turning his face towards her, “a girl arrived in the village: a beautiful, innocent, compassionate girl that had lost her parents too. And it dawned on me that I perhaps did not have to be lonely anymore. I longed so desperately for a partner, an equal, just one other creature like me who underwent the same struggles and losses, someone who could understand me.”

            He knelt in front of her chair so that their faces were on the same level.

            “All I wanted was to be allowed to love someone,” he pleaded. “My desperation overshadowed my judgment, and I acted very selfishly accordingly. It was not my right to decide your fate. This is not an excuse, Rosalind—just a reason.”

            “Why are you telling me this?” she sniffed.

            “Because I want you to understand why I made the choices I did,” he said passionately. “Even though I do not deserve it, I want to earn your friendship—and I do not think I can do that unless you understand why the offense was committed in the first place. I wanted you to know that it was desperation that drove me to such selfish actions; I am not usually so callous or self-interested. I do not want you to believe me a tyrant.”

            The way he spoke to her now, pleading for her understanding, sharing the memories of his heartache, she could not hate him. No, she pitied the wretched man, languishing in his self-imposed imprisonment.

            He paused for a moment.

            “I do have a second motive,” he admitted, clasping her hands. “I know you have suffered a great deal, too. I simply wanted to tell you that...I am here. If company could ease the pain any, if conversation could comfort you any, I can give you that.”

            She slipped her hands out of his uncomfortably, but she nodded.

            “Thank you. I appreciate that.”



            After the uproar over Rosalind’s disappearance had subsided to an extent, and the villagers merely offered their condolences and sympathies to her uncle Olaf and his wife, another event almost two months later shook the town’s façade of calm and instilled even greater panic.

            It was a foggy midsummer night, unseasonably cold. The blacksmith’s thirteen-year-old daughter had crept silently out of her house around midnight, while the village was sleeping, to rendezvous with the tanner’s son near the edge of the forest.

            She snuck past the cottages with a giggle building in her throat—it was so easy to sneak out of her parents’ regulation! Her mother always claimed that she was too young for that boy, too young to be looking at any boys at all—ha! How very wrong her mother was. She was almost an adult, she thought haughtily. And one day, Ivan would marry her, and they would live so very happily together. The others simply did not understand love.

             Her pulse pounded in her ears; a deep flush spread across her freckled cheeks. Past the tavern and the granary she flew, feeling strangely giddy with the lateness of the hour and the excitement of what was to come.  The boy’s sweet blue eyes were all she could think about as she rushed through the churchyard to reach the edge of the trees. She could practically hear his voice as it had spoken to her by the well that afternoon: Come to me by midnight, meet me by the woods behind the churchyard.

            But as she stumbled through the graves, and her pace began to slow, the clinging chill of the graveyard began to settle on her. An ethereal mist was rising.

            She was a few minutes early, she realized, in her haste to be here. Gulping, she prayed that her suitor would hurry to her, too—as much as she hated superstition, she remembered that being alone at night was unwise, even as she clutched her rosary in one hand.

            She pulled her cloak more tightly about her. The tree branches looming ahead of her were dead and leafless, crooked and twisted like skeletal hands. Trembling, she stepped over the cemetery gate and into the forest that encroached.

            “Ivan?” she whispered, peering into the pitch-dark wood. Her dry throat could not manage a greater volume.

            A shushing sound, like the rustling of bushes, came from the grove. The girl froze.

            “Ivan?” she squeaked. “Ivan, please tell me it’s you.”

            A silhouette leapt out of the trees, and it was not her lover.


            The villagers did not know precisely what had happened, but they could guess. The girl was found the next morning—oh, the horror of that grisly scene, when the priest came to the graveyard to tend to his roses!—lying in the cemetery half-dead, spread-eagled, her body bruised, bones fractured, and hideous wounds festering in her skin—great slash marks puncturing her neck and ravaging her face. But she was still breathing.

            Too weak to explain what had happened to her, delirious with pain, the girl was laid gently on a straw mattress and her wounds were bathed with herbs.

            Her mother sobbed in the next room while the village apothecary examined her. The prognosis was not good.

            “She has lost a great quantity of blood,” he informed the blacksmith and his wife grimly. “And the wounds already seem to be infected—almost as if with a sort of poison or venom or something of that nature... I can’t guarantee that she will make it through the night.”

            “W-what’s g-g-going to happen to m-my baby?” the mother cried. “What did this to her?”

            “I’m sorry, ma’am, but—her wounds...they look...” The apothecary hesitated, tugging at his collar nervously. “They look like bite marks.”



            As Rosalind sat by the dining room fire one night, sewing contentedly, she chewed on her lip with an expression of concentration—not on her sampler, but on the thoughts echoing around in her mind. It was curious, the way Igor had behaved this evening. For the past two weeks, he had been uncommonly polite towards her, never showing any impatience towards her or dominating her in any way. She found herself reluctantly detesting him less and less. But this evening, as they had sat by this very hearth, he had acted oddly uptight.

            A faint, distant sound had made him stiffen in his chair as if he had heard his name being called. She had cocked her head to the side, trying to hear what he had heard.

            “What are you listening for?” she had asked curiously.

            His stony face had been very grave.

            “Oh Lord,” he had hissed under his breath. He leapt to his feet and strode to the door.

            “It seems I have a few things to do,” he called back over his shoulder. “Stay where you are, Rosalind, I will not take long.”

            “But where are you going?” she had asked, bewildered.

            But he had already vanished out the door. She had heard the massive front castle door slam closed behind him.


            And now she was sitting here, several hours later, still baffled by his abrupt disappearance. Hours had passed; she was almost finished with her embroidery—her fingers moved more quickly through sheer anxiety.

            She tensed. The familiar strident creaking of hinges announced the Count’s return from...whatever task he had apparently been carrying out.

            She flew to the doorway and peered into the foyer, just in time to see his silhouette swoosh through the hall and to the spiral staircase.

            I wonder what he has been doing...he probably will not tell me, she thought.

             Stealthily, she shadowed him.

            It surprised her how easy this spying was to her, though she had never done anything of the sort before. She seemed to simply melt into the shadows, like they embraced her and cloaked her from view—was this, perhaps, a part of her nature that she had not yet discovered?

            Possibly it was his haste to rush upstairs that allowed her to pursue with his notice—and he did seem frantic to reach the second floor. She paused behind a pillar to hide while he entered the master bedroom, and then slunk to peer around the doorframe.

            He was hunched over the vanity, where a basin of water was sitting. She adjusted her position a little and she had to stifle a gasp.

            His lips were dripping with blood.

            Even as she watched, he bent over the basin and spat out a mouthful of dark, thick blood—unusually viscous, like molasses.

            “Ugh,” he muttered, shuddering, as if it had made him sick. He washed out his mouth with water from the pitcher.

            Even worse, his palms were covered in blood—she watched him wash his hands and dry them with a hand towel from the dresser.

            Rosalind withdrew and flattened herself against a wall where she could no longer see him, clutching her mouth to keep from sobbing out loud. It felt as though her insides were writhing with horror.

            No, no, no, it can’t be! He doesn’t harm innocents, he doesn’t! Surely I know that much about him.

            But these thoughts made her realize, with a sinking feeling in her stomach, how good she had truly believed him, how much faith she had actually placed in him. And this made the pain all the more acute when it seemed she had been wrong! For if he had simply been hunting down animals, surely he would have taken her along; he would not have avoided her thus.


            She gasped. The Count had caught her spying. His frozen expression of horror probably mirrored her own.

            “Rosalind, it’s—it’s not what it seems,” he said slowly. “I realize how...dreadful this appears.”

            “What have you been doing?” she demanded, her voice so shrill that it was more in a bat’s range of hearing than a human’s. “Why is there blood all over your hands?”

            “I...good Lord...I know how this must appear,” he said, his voice becoming thick. “I am sorry, Rosalind, but I cannot tell you what I have been doing tonight.”

            A sob escaped from her lips.

            “No, no, no,” he pleaded, lightly placing his hands on the sides of her face to keep her gaze locked with his. “Please believe me when I tell you that I would never harm an innocent creature of any sort—never, ever. I realize how suspicious this must seem, but please, my dear. I need you to trust me. I would rather burn at the stake than murder an innocent being.”

            His words were so desperate, his face so beseeching and gentle, that slowly, ever so slowly, Rosalind nodded her head.

            “I believe you,” she whispered.

            He blinked a few times, and the corners of his lips twitched.

            “Thank you, Rosalind. Believe me, I shall prove myself trustworthy to you somehow. I do not deserve your trust yet, but I shall earn it—I shall.”

            She closed her eyes. She wanted to believe him so badly. She wanted to trust him.



            The next day, while wandering the castle with all the curtains drawn securely, Rosalind still pondered last night’s events. Her thoughts tended to spin in circles as she searched for the answer—was he to be trusted or not?—but she kept returning to the same memory: Igor racing to her rescue, driving away the werewolves and putting his own life on the line for hers. She could not get the image out of her head.

            Did that not tell her a great deal about him? Didn’t her own experience prove what sort of character he had? Surely he was not a murderer.

            She paused by one of the cloaked windows and swallowed hard. It must have been another situation like hers—protecting an innocent. It had to have been.

            “Pardon me, Madam, I did not see you there,” said a timid voice.

            Helga had accidentally collided with Rosalind on her way down the stairs and dropped her handful of clean laundry. She hastily bent to pick them up, as if fearing retribution.

            “I’m sorry, Helga,” she said quickly, and helped her fold them back up again. The housekeeper calmed her demeanor a fraction.

            “Thank you, My Lady,” she said with a hesitant smile, and stood to continue on her way.

            “Wait, Helga,” said Rosalind. “I...I promise you that I am no danger to you or your husband.”

            Helga blinked a few times, looking startled. “I believe you, My Lady.”

            “What I mean to say is, please do not be frightened of me. Why, I’m simply a peasant girl like you—I am your equal,” said Rosalind almost beseechingly.

            “I...I appreciate that, Madam,” Helga said sincerely. “That is most kind.”

            “I am rather short on female companionship,” Rosalind continued, “as, I’m sure, are you. So perhaps we could be friends.”

            The housekeeper’s anxious face was unusually calm, and a smile flickered across her face. “You are a very decent young lady, Countess,” she said. “I would enjoy the company.”


            Twenty minutes later, Rosalind found herself sitting in the servant’s quarters, where a small, unremarkable apartment was reserved for Helga and her husband. There was a separate, simple kitchen, with a stone hearth and small wooden table where the Countess and the housekeeper sat across from each other, Rosalind’s elaborate mahogany dress looking peculiarly out of place.

            Gazing around the room curiously, she noticed a number of religious objects about the room: a wooden cross nailed to every door, beaded rosaries wrapped around each doorknob, a lead crucifix hanging above the mantle. She began to wonder if, having lived all these years in such proximity to a vampire, the gardener and housekeeper had not become a bit paranoid.

            Helga was busily boiling tea over the fire.

            “I don’t suppose you would like anything?” she offered over her shoulder.

            Rosalind smiled. “No, thank you.”

            Helga set her cup of tea on the table and sat down.

            “Helga, how much do you...know?” Rosalind asked tentatively.

            She raised one eyebrow. “I know all about what you and the Count are, ma’am,” she said dryly.

            “Is that the reason for all the religious paraphernalia?” she guessed.

            “Not exactly, My Lady,” said Helga with a bow of the head. “I know we are in no immediate danger from the Master—nor would these weapons stay him. These are for his enemies.”

            Rosalind frowned. “I don’t believe I understand.”

            “Allow me to explain. The Count, as I am certain you understand by now, has set himself in complete opposition with the evil most of your kind has turned to. If you and your husband have not allowed the evil of murder to take root in your souls, well, then, how could a symbol for something very good drive you away?”

            “I see,” she said, her brow furrowed in concentration as she thought. This seemed a certain proof that Igor was irreproachable in his dietary habits. Rosalind breathed a sigh of relief.

            “Last night, that dreadful incident...” Helga muttered, shaking her head. “I do not want my husband and me to be next, you see.”

            Rosalind’s eyes widened. “Incident?”

            Helga wet her lips. “I thought your husband would have told you—no? Well,” she said, lowering her voice so that Rosalind had to listen carefully to catch it all, “I went down into the valley this morning, to buy some food from the granary. The man there told me that, last night, a young girl had been brutally savaged by some sort of monster, and she was near death.”

            Rosalind gasped. “No!”

            “Yes, it was horrible,” Helga shuddered. “The villagers believe it was the work of a werewolf—maybe more than one.”

            Rosalind’s mind was reeling. “Werewolves? Are you certain?” Werewolves—not a vampire. Not Igor. But then why did he have blood on his hands?

            “I do not know anything for certain,” said Helga.

            “Werewolves,” she muttered again under her breath. The Count had killed two from that pack that had attacked her... Perhaps he was finishing the job.

            “The girl,” Rosalind said slowly, “what happened to her?”

            Helga shook her head. “If it was a werewolf that bit her, I fear she will become one of them.”

            “Maybe he tried to save her and failed,” Rosalind whispered.

            “Pardon, My Lady?”

            “Never mind, Helga,” she said quickly, jerked out of her trance.



            When Rosalind left Helga to her evening meal, she descended the spiral stair gracefully to search for Igor. She did not have to search long.

            “Rosalind,” he said in surprise, standing at the foot of the stair. A crease came between his eyebrows. “ are you?”

            She bit her lip. “Alright, thank you.”

            An awkward paused ensued.

            “Rosalind, I...”

            “We shan’t speak any more of it,” she said firmly. “I believe you when you say you never harm innocents. You also say you cannot tell me what you were doing—therefore I will not ask. When you are ready to tell me, if ever, then you shall. Until then, we will put the matter out of our minds.”

            His mouth fell open infinitesimally. “I...I appreciate that, Rosalind,” he said quietly. “Are we friends again, to a degree?”

            Her mouth twitched. “As close to friends as we ever were, Igor.”

            This seemed to break much of the tension. He actually cracked a smile.

            A light seemed to flicker in his eyes for a moment.

            “Rosalind, may I show you something? There is a part of the castle that is always kept locked—but I think you might like to see it.”



            “Where are you taking me?” Rosalind asked for the umpteenth time.

            “It is a surprise, Rosalind,” the Count answered yet again without a hint of impatience. “Keep your eyes closed.”

            This request was superfluous, as he kept one of his hands over her eyes while his other hand guided her lightly by the shoulder.

            “Will you not even give me a hint?”

            “We are almost upon it,” he assured her with a low chuckle. She was quietly amazed by his unusually high spirits. “Trust me, it shall be worth the wait.”

            She could hear her own slippers echoing softly on the stone floor, keeping pace with Igor’s clacking boots, but she could not guess which part of the castle they were striding through. Eventually, his footsteps began to slow.

            “Keep them shut,” he said sternly as he lifted his hand from her face. She heard him unlocking and opening a set of heavy wooden doors.

            “May I open them?”

            “Not yet,” he said—she detected an unfamiliar undercurrent in his tone: excitement, perhaps? He took both her hands and led her into the room; she tried to see something through her eyelashes, but failed. He released her hands.

            “Alright—open your eyes.”

            Rosalind gasped. She shut her eyes and reopened them. Her mouth fell open. But it was real, beyond a doubt.

            They were standing inside a vast gallery the size of a basilica—the vast expanse of the ceiling almost too high to see, the hall stretching seemingly forever—and every panel of the wall was covered with art.

            Canvases ranging from the size of her hand to larger than three people, painted with passionate brushstrokes from famous geniuses, hung in rows on the walls, resting in elaborate gilt frames. Paintings from the last two hundred years, many of them Italian, captured beauty, movement, and majesty; they glorified the triumphs of humanity while revering the divine.

            Tapestries, some recent, others dating as far back as the 1200s, filled many of the spaces in between. Most subjects were either Biblical—the sacrifice of Isaac, the fall of Lucifer, the visit of the Magi—or mythological: Poseidon surrounded by naiads, the labors of Heracles, Odysseus blinding the Cyclops. A number of tapestries were historical as well, showing ancient battles, triumphs of warlords, crowning of kings.

            In the center aisle of the hallway stood many sculptures of marble: Venus in the arms of her lover, Mars; Pan piping his flute merrily; archangels grappling with demons or gazing piously heavenward.

            The beauty and passion of such art left Rosalind captivated and speechless.

            “It’s so beautiful,” she cried. “Where did you get all these masterpieces?”

            “My father adored collecting art—the more priceless, the better,” he replied. “He traveled to Italy to marry my mother, who was a Contessa, and he fell in love with the master works as deeply as with my mother. I suppose I inherited his partiality for it.” He walked over to her side. “Do you like it?” he asked.

            Rosalind choked, “Like it? It’s indescribably magnificent.”

            “Then is it yours,” he said eagerly.

            She gaped at him. His face was earnest and smiling. He looks so human, she thought in surprise. “Mine? What on earth do you mean?”

            “The castle is your home, too,” he reminded her. “And if the gallery pleases you that much, you may have it.” He closed her hand around a fancy brass skeleton key.

            She beamed, at a loss for words.

            “Thank you,” she breathed at last.

            “I’m very glad it makes you happy,” he murmured.

            When she turned around to study his face, she was startled by how close to her he was standing. Lifting one trembling hand, he brushed her cheek with the back of his hand.

            Rosalind’s mind was numb, and she—for whatever reason—was trembling violently too. He had not touched her since setting her free.

            She had never noticed before, but the Count’s sharp-featured face was beautiful in a harsh kind of way—just as white and still as the marble sculptures around them. Except his face was so close to hers that they were almost touching—the tip of his aquiline nose almost against hers. She felt peculiarly dizzy.

            With a sharp inhale, she stepped away and turned her back.

            What just happened? she thought with a sudden burning feeling in her cheeks and neck.

            Afraid of looking back, afraid that his expression might make her return to him, she cleared her throat uneasily and walked out of the hall without another word.


                        Rosalind’s head spun with disquiet. Alone, in the master bedroom that no one slept in, she paced as she had not done since her escape from the castle. Igor had very nearly kissed her on the mouth, she was certain of it. And she had almost obliged him.

            No, no, no, no, she berated herself, tearing at her hair. You do not need to hate Igor, you can be civil with him, but you must not, under any circumstances, be attracted to him!

            And that, she thought with a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach, was what had happened the very night he had rescued her, when she had stitched up his torso and blushed at the sight of his muscled chest.

            You must stop this right now, she told herself severely, thoroughly disturbed. He is bewitching you or something. That is all.


            Rosalind studied the night from the balcony off her room, leaning against the railing and feeling curiously invigorated by the cool night air. Moonlight seemed to flow over the valley below like a silvery river—somehow her night vision was sharper than her daytime sight, for she could make out all kinds of minute details: the slender cross atop the church steeple, the thatched roof over each house, the graceful wings of the owl that alighted in a birch tree far below. The air was quiet, but not silent, for she could hear the soft rustling of the owl’s feathers and its gentle hoot, the rush of air under a bat’s beating wings as it swooped and fluttered across the moon, and the hushed sigh of the trees as the breeze whispered through their leaves. Rosalind could no longer abhor the night. It seemed as though the shadows embraced her lovingly, and the moonlight bathed her in some kind of comforting salve—this, then, was where she truly belonged, in the night and the dark. She had never known that darkness possessed its own inexplicable, breathless beauty.

            She was not even startled by the sudden appearance of the Count’s tall, thin silhouette. He stood just a pace behind her.

            “So you have discovered, then, that the night is not as loathsome as you feared?” he asked gently.

            “I just...didn’t expect it would be so beautiful,” she admitted.

            The Count paused awkwardly for a moment, but she could sense that he was trying to decide how to say something.

            “Perhaps,” he murmured hesitantly, “in time you may discover that I am not as loathsome as you fear?”

            Rosalind bit her lip and could not say anything. Neither of them spoke for several minutes.

            It surprised her not, for the serenity and subtle sensuality of the moonlight had somehow prepared her for it, when the Count slowly wound his arms around her waist from behind her. She felt his cool breath on her skin, his lips pressing against her shoulder, touching her so lightly that it tickled. A strange lightness spread through her limbs, a tingling sensation across her skin as his mouth glided to kiss her throat and the hollow behind her ear. Her head tilted back involuntarily; she was suddenly breathless, her head was spinning dizzily.

            Then she made the mistake of turning her head and looking into his eyes: they were dark, piercing...bewitching...

            Before she knew what she had done, she had touched her lips to his. The moonlight seemed to shine through her eyelids; her shiver was not one of fear. His arms—with their steely strength of twenty men—pressed her closer with restrained ardor.

            She pulled back a few inches with wide eyes to view his expression, unreadable as ever. With a sudden frightened feeling, like he had entranced her and now she had freed herself, she slipped out of his arms and raced inside, covering her face with her hands.


            “Rosalind. Rosalind! I’m sorry. I’m sorry; I never meant to upset you so.”

            She was too engrossed in her humiliated sobbing into her pillow to absorb a single comforting word from the Count. What had she done? She had succumbed to precisely the thing she had sworn to avoid for eternity. She was supposed to hate him, not be drawn to him!

            His voice was slightly alarmed by her obvious turmoil.

            “Rosalind, I’m sorry,” he pleaded, “and I shall never kiss you again if you don’t want me to! Just please don’t cry. Whatever are you so upset about?”

            That’s just the trouble! She wanted to cry. I did want you to, and that is the worst part of it!

            But she could not speak anything intelligible.

            He sat beside her on the bed and murmured consoling words to her over and over, but she could not manage to stop crying. He patted her back and stroked her hair softly, but she still hid her face in the pillow and would not look at him.

            Finally, after kissing her hair tenderly, Igor rose and left her in solitude.


            They did not speak of that particular night ever again. For the most part, they behaved as if it had never happened, though the memory of that stolen kiss haunted the back of Rosalind’s mind.

            The next few weeks were uneventful, but Igor frequently made an obvious effort at pleasant conversation—about her aunt and uncle’s farm, about her parents, about the few friends she had had in the village, books she had read and faraway places she had heard of. She could not help but notice how intent he seemed on speaking about her—to put her at ease, perhaps? The way his eyes always remained fixed on her so intensely made her uncomfortable, yet she was touched by his apparent interest.

            Eventually, he began to speak freely in her presence as well. Rosalind found his conversation more interesting: he described his father’s reign as Count, when Vladimir had intimidated the wealthy Saxon merchants into paying him yearly tribute; how he had taught his son to read and speak Greek and Latin, read the works of Homer and Aristotle, and play the harpsichord; of the times the mighty warlord had beaten back invaders; of Vladimir’s lovely wife Carlotta who had eventually killed herself rather than face a world without her love.

            The stories intrigued her, but the more they talked, the more she felt they were getting to know each other.

            Why, perhaps we are friends, almost, she thought to herself.


            Another full moon had come upon them, and Igor and Rosalind scoured the deep wood for sustenance by the silvery light. Her throat ached; it was hard to concentrate on anything when she was this thirsty. Her cloak made a strange hushing sound as it trailed over the carpet of dead leaves.

            “Probably just a bit farther,” he assured her, though his strides were becoming impatient too.

            They were quite deep into the forest; the trees were dense and covered in moss, and the path had long since disappeared.

            “I certainly hope you recall how to find our way back,” Rosalind muttered.

            “Don’t fret. I always remember,” he said.

            She raised an eyebrow at him and his complacency, but he didn’t seem to notice.

            Igor halted suddenly, a rigid look on his face.

            “Do you see something?” she whispered, scanning the trees for another stag or elk.

            “Shh,” he hushed, steering her behind a large oak. “Stay very quiet.”

            She frowned curiously at him, but his face was stern and solemn. He seemed tensed for a fight; his fists were clenched and he watched a particular grove of pines warily. Rosalind watched the same spot with trepidation.

            Stepping out of the bushes was a man dressed in ragged, filthy peasant’s garb—but Rosalind gaped at him when she noticed his abnormally chalky face. His hungry eyes were fixed on the two of them; a leer stretched across his face, revealing pointed fangs. Horribly, spittle was dripping from his mouth, and he licked his lips as he stepped through the foliage towards them.

            “What brings you to this part of the forest, stranger?” Igor called out. “This is my territory, and I have made it quite clear that newcomers are not welcome.”

            As he spoke, he pushed Rosalind behind his back surreptitiously.

            “Who made you the law enforcement of the valley, eh?” snarled the stranger. “I ran into some wolves—seems you’ve killed a few of their numbers. They were rather put out.” He chortled unpleasantly. “So they’ve decided to make themselves a new member, to replace the ones they lost!”

            “I know all about their vicious ‘initiation’ last week,” Igor spat. “And I am telling you that, if you refuse to leave this region and insist on attacking the village, I shall have no choice but to stop you.”

            Igor stepped out to face the vampire with a truly terrifying glare—Rosalind shivered just to see his eyes burning so. The vampire, however, seemed unaffected; in fact, he laughed.

            “But see, we don’t want to leave,” he said. “We don’t think it’s fair, you keeping this valley all for yourself, not even taking advantage of all that blood, nice and close by.”

            “Stay away from that village,” Igor growled. “And stay away from us.” Rosalind shrunk behind Igor’s back, as if she could hide from the other vampire.

            “Why don’t you force me?” jeered the stranger.

            Igor drew something out of his cloak: a small wooden cross. Though the feral vampire attempted to keep his bravado in place, when Igor thrust the cross in front of him, the creature’s face contorted with fear.

            “Nostrum Abbas ,” Igor muttered, like a chant, “quisnam est in Olympus , sanctio exsisto thy nomen.”

            The vampire covered his ears, as if the chant was excruciatingly painful to hear. His eyes were shut tightly.

             “Vestri regnum adveho ,” Igor intoned, “vestri ero perfectus in terra ut is est in Olympus.”

            The vampire wailed, an animal sound, and his face twisted so ugly that he appeared like a demon.

            “Tribuo nos is dies nostrum cotidie panis ,” he continued, now having to raise his voice quite a bit while the vampire screeched as if in dreadful pain, clawing at his ears as if he would rather tear them out than listen, “quod indulgeo nos nostrum trespasses , ut nos indulgeo qui trespass obviam nos.”

            The sight was horrible: the wild vampire writhing on the ground in agony, screeching as if Igor’s incantation pierced him like knives.

            Igor nearly had to bellow the last few lines, “Quod plumbum nos non in tentatio , tamen vindico nos ex malum!”

            The vampire, panting and wide-eyed like a hunted animal, stopped writhing when the words were over.

            “Leave,” Igor said coldly.

            The vampire did not need to be told twice—he scampered off into the forest with a yelp.

            Everything was still for a moment.

            “What was that you were saying?” Rosalind breathed. “Some sort of spell?”

            “Hardly,” he snorted, “it was the Our Father in Latin. I didn’t have a stake with me—they’re rather cumbersome to carry with me at all times.”

            Numbly, Rosalind realized that, in her terror of the moment, she had clung to Igor and was still gripping his shirt with an iron grasp. She loosened her hands slowly and cleared her throat uncomfortably.

            Evidently this fact was dawning on him too.

            “You...came to me,” he said slowly, amazement lighting up his face. “You were frightened and you came to me.”

            She turned her face away stubbornly and crossed her arms over her chest.

            “And if I did?” she said through gritted teeth.

            “Do you trust me now?” he said softly, putting his hands on her shoulders.

            Rosalind looked down. “I suppose I do,” she mumbled.

            Igor laughed breathlessly—not an amused laugh, an amazed one.

            “Come on, my dear,” he said cheerily, putting his hand under her elbow. “Let’s find some sustenance, shall we?”


            Nights passed swiftly, and Rosalind was vaguely aware of the changing seasons—leaves were falling from the trees and carpeting the forest floor with brown, orange, and gold. By moonlight, however, it all looked the same, and she was not affected by the oncoming chill.

            Rosalind and Igor grew friendlier towards each other every day—as if every kind word from her chipped away at his icy exterior, Igor seemed pleasanter and warmer with the passing time. She, in turn, felt her despair slowly slipping away.

            However, he did still have his occasional dark moods, and she rarely understood what brought them on.

            One unusually clear night, as they were watching the stars twinkle weakly through the thin clouds, Igor stiffened as if listening for something—again.

            Rosalind leaned over the balcony railing and listened closely. She could not be certain, but she thought heard baying, as of wolves, far off in the distance.

            He cursed under his breath and rushed to the bedroom door.

            “Where are you going this time?” she demanded, hands on her hips.

            He paused at the door and strode back to her.

            “Rosalind,” he said solemnly, putting his hands on her shoulders, “Swear to me that you shall stay inside the castle, that you shall not leave the premises no matter what.”

            His brow was furrowed and his jaw clenched in seriousness.

            “I—I promise,” she stuttered, startled by his urgency.

            “Good,” he said, relaxing visibly. “I will return shortly.”

            He was out the door like a wraith.

            Rosalind watched the forest from her balcony, searching the trees for any sign of Igor and whatever task he felt obligated to perform tonight. The breeze sent wispy dark curls in front of her eyes; she brushed them away irritably and scanned the trees harder. There were no gaps in the foliage, to her frustration. She may have been watching and waiting for hours, or perhaps only minutes—time seemed to be moving very peculiarly tonight.

            The howling seemed to grow louder, wilder.

            She found herself chewing on her nails. What was happening? Was he alright?

            There were many howls, like a multitude of circling wolves, and she felt a gnawing terror in the pit of her stomach as she thought of Igor, who—though he was a vampire and thus nigh-invincible—was only one man.

            Was she...worried about him?

            She shoved the uncomfortable thought aside. She had worse things to consider at present.

            The howls had become wails—animal cries of pain. If Rosalind was not mistaken, she heard a humanoid screech mixed in—oh, good Lord, was it Igor? Was it an innocent human bystander that had gotten in the way? They grew in volume and stridence, and Rosalind clenched her hands together in nervousness; what was happening down there?

            Somehow, the distant sound of the castle door creaking open reached her ears. With a gasp, she flew down the stairs and into the foyer.

            Igor stormed back into the castle and rushed up the stairs so quickly that he was almost a blur; the massive doors slammed shut behind him.

            “Igor!” she called, her voice echoing around the spiral staircase, “What is happening in the woods?”

            He didn’t slow his pace as he climbed another set of stairs—she followed one pace behind him.

            “There isn’t time for explanations,” he said over his shoulder.

            Rosalind was not satisfied.

            “But where are you going?” Her voice was shrill with distress. “Are you fighting more werewolves?”

            He seemed to be evading her gaze as he strode to a tower door that she had never been inside before; it had always been locked.

            As she stepped inside after him, she could understand why.

            The room had clearly once been an armory—she could tell from the few battle-axes and shields remaining on the walls—but most of the swords and spears had been replaced with new weapons: the entire room was filled with wooden stakes and various silver weapons of all shapes and styles. Presently, he was hurriedly gathering a few stakes into his arms and attaching numerous daggers to his belt. She stared at him, alarmed by the hidden stash of lethal weapons.

            “What is a vampire doing with an arsenal filled with stakes?” she asked, nonplussed.

            His face was wrestling with several emotions at once: discomfiture, anxiety, impatience. Finally, concern triumphed. He turned to her suddenly and gripped the tops of her arms to convey the vital and imperative nature of his message.

            “Rosalind, you must listen to me. There are lives at risk right now. I will explain all when I return, I swear to you, but I must make haste in leaving right now.”

            His expression was so urgent and worried that she nodded.

            “Before I leave you again”—he reached into his cloak and placed a lethal-looking dagger and scabbard into her hand—“please promise me that, should anything drastic happen and I am not around, you will defend yourself.”’

            Rosalind blanched at the sight of the blade. “But I can’t...”

            “You can,” he said firmly, “I never told you this before, but now I must: you are more powerful than you know—I allowed you to remain ignorant of this to protect Helga and any other human in close proximity—you have the strength and speed of twenty men, simply because of what you are. If you have no other choice, use it!”

            He closed her other hand around a small golden crucifix.

            “And should one of our own kind be a danger to you, this will help.”
            He kissed her forehead swiftly.

            “Stay safe, my dear.”

            He vanished like a draft of wind.

            “But wait!” she cried, attempting to follow him. Please do not get yourself killed, she thought miserably. If only she had thought to tell him sooner that she no longer hated him...

            With a groan, she remembered her solemn oath to stay inside the castle. An interminable period of stressful waiting and pacing and wondering awaited her. Why was he battling more of the undead? Clearly this was a common practice for him, illustrated by the arsenal of supernatural weapons. Did it give him a sort of twisted delight or sense of adventure? Was it vengeance?

            She was surprised by how quickly her mind rejected these notions. All she could think of was how he had rushed to her rescue that night when the wolves had surrounded her, how he may have defended that little girl the werewolves had savaged.

            The truth presented itself to her like a splash of cold water.

            “Oh Lord,” she muttered, covering her mouth with one hand. “Oh God, please protect this good man. I know what he is doing now... Why oh why did I not tell him earlier that I love him?”


            When he returned, Rosalind was waiting for Igor in the master bedroom. They stared at each other for a long, uncomfortable moment.

            “Are you hurt?” she asked finally.

            “Not at all,” he said. He set the bloody knife down on the vanity. “Rosalind...I can explain.”

            “You do not have to. I know why you frequently slay the undead,” she said, folding her arms across her chest.

            “Do you?” he said quietly.

            She raised her eyebrows and sauntered out onto the balcony. He followed. They both stared out at the tiny sleeping village.

            “You don’t terrorize the village,” she said softly, “you protect it.”

            He bowed his head.

            “Igor,” she sighed, “why did you not tell me before? That girl that was mauled so long ago—I knew, instinctively, that it could not have been your doing—but still, it would have soothed my uneasy doubts if you had told me yourself what had really occurred.”

            “I tried to save her,” he said in a hollow voice; his face was bleak and stony. “I was too late. She is a werewolf by now. If I had only arrived sooner...”

            “You tried; you did what you could.” Slowly, Rosalind reached out and placed her hand over his on the railing. “You are...a brave man, and what’s more, an altruistic one,” she stammered.

            She glanced out of the corner of her eyes at him; he was blinking furiously from the onslaught of emotion caused by her praise. He stared at their intertwined hands as if it were the most beautiful sight he had ever beheld; his other hand hesitantly stroked her fingers.

            “But why do you allow the village to blame you for all the atrocities?” she inquired. “Why do you not tell them the truth—that you only seek to defend them?”

            He sighed. “Better for their fears to be concentrated into one tangible enemy,” he explained, “for they would be far more petrified if they knew how many real dangers were encircling them.”

            Rosalind was quiet for a long moment, but she tightened her grip on his hand.

            “I want to help,” she said suddenly.

            He stared at her. “Excuse me?”

            “I wish to help you protect the village,” she said with a smile. He opened his mouth to protest, but she overrode him. “Ah, but you said that I have the strength of twenty men. That makes me as useful as twenty men, does it not? And one day you shall get yourself permanently killed if you do not have a partner.”

            The corners of his lips twitched. “You are not a woman to be argued with,” he muttered. “Very well, you may help. If you do not know how to fight, I shall teach you.”

            “I would like that very much.”

            He sighed and looked at their intertwined hands. “I suppose I...would not mind having your aid.”

            Rosalind grinned for an instant. He had finally admitted that he could not win against evil on his own. They lapsed into silence for another long moment.

             The Count watched a few bats fluttering overhead, hunting for moths and mosquitoes; Rosalind followed them with her eyes and noticed again that, though eerie, the creatures possessed a strange kind of grace in the way they soared.

            “You know,” she told him softly, “you were right. Bats aren’t so sinister after all.”

            His dark eyes flickered to her and away.

            “Igor,” she murmured, “these past few months, I have had to...seriously re-evaluate my first impression of your character. And in so doing, I have realized that I—I don’t hate you.” Her throat closed up and made it difficult for her to continue. “I...I don’t even dislike you.  I’m sure you have known that for a while now. I have known of my feelings for you for some time, and would have acquainted you with my new conclusions, if not for pride and stubbornness. I did not want to admit that I was in error.”

            He seemed to sense that she was trying to say a great deal more with these words.

            “That takes humility and courage to confess to,” he said gently. His voice became choked. “But...I am glad you feel that way.”

            She stole another glance at him and saw, with amazement, that a few tears clung to his eyelashes, try though he might to conceal them.

            She turned to face him, screwing up what little courage she could muster, wetting her lips and taking a deep breath.

            “I would like to have my ring back, please.”

            He gaped at her.

            “You would?”

            An astonished smile lit up his face until he was scarcely recognizable as the same man. How on earth had she denied to herself for so long his gentleness, his sincerity? Temperamental and moody though he was, when he laid bare his soul, he was so endearingly good that she could not help but love him. She nodded vehemently.

            He reached into his pocket and drew out the ruby wedding ring.

            “You have kept it with you all this time?” she exclaimed in surprise.

            “I suppose you could say that I never gave up my last shred of hope.”

            They smiled at each other for a long moment.

            He took a deep breath and she placed her hand in his.

            “I, Igor, take thee, Rosalind, to my wedded Wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and cherish, till death us do part, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereto I plight thee my troth.”

            She cleared her throat and repeated the marriage vows in a shaky voice, though altered for the bride’s perspective. Something caught in her throat at the end; she finished in scarcely a whisper. He took the ring and slid it onto her finger.

            “With this Ring I thee wed, with my body I thee worship, and with all my worldly goods I thee endow: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.”

            He kissed her hand.

            It felt as though a solemn pact had been sealed between them

            She stepped forward and embraced him. She had never noticed before how he smelled like the pines that surrounded their castle—comforting, safe, like home. He was evidently startled by this response from her, for he stood paralyzed a moment. But he recovered and wrapped his arms around her.

            “I have loved you long before this,” she whispered in his ear, “but I did not know it.”

            He clasped her tightly. “Need I tell you how dearly I love you?”

            They remained that way for a long moment—and Rosalind, with her ear against his chest, noticed how ragged his breaths were coming and going.

            “Are you crying?”

            “Of course not,” he answered brusquely, but his lie was transparent.

            Finally, he tilted her head back to brush his lips against hers tenderly, one of his hands on her neck. At first, he touched her delicately, as if he would break her otherwise. But when she parted his lips and clung to him firmly, his kiss became passionate, and in a moment he had her back pressed against the balcony; her whole body was tingling as if an electric current was passing through all her nerves—she had never felt with such potency this longing, this yearning before tonight, but now it was surfacing as powerful as her bloodthirst had been, and every bit as desperate. His hands ran along the sides her of dress as if he wanted to tear it off, which—she thought while she unbuttoned his shirt—he probably did.

            To her disappointment, he detached himself one inch for an instant and cast a meaningful look at the village below, where they were likely still visible. With an embarrassed chuckle, Rosalind fastened her arms around his neck. He scooped her up in his arms and carried her into their bedroom.


            It was an utterly perfect night—a promise made, a love requited, a marriage consummated. Even as dawn began to creep over the horizon, Rosalind remained where she was, listening to her husband’s breaths come and go while he kissed her throat.

            “I love you,” he murmured against her skin.

            “And I love you,” she whispered breathlessly.

            He brushed her hair back from her face and simply gazed at her tenderly for a moment. A thought occurred to her as he held her: eternity was not going to be so lonely or desolate after all. It was breathtaking, to love and be loved so ardently.

            She smiled and pressed her lips to his once again.