As dawn approached, Francoise finished the letter with a flourish. "I am coming," she read back. "I will take what is mine and neither you, nor all the demons in hell, can stop me." Claude nodded and she held the quill towards him. He pushed it aside roughly. There had been no time in his previous life for things such as writing. He could do no more than make his mark, and more was needed here. His cheeks flamed in anger and shame and he determined that he would learn. He had all the time in the world now, and he would learn everything. He would put them to shame.
Without comment she dipped the quill into the pot of blood and signed his name to the end. "Are you sure that you wish to give him warning? Would it not be better to sneak upon him on the morrow?"
"No," he rasped. His throat was tight and hot again. "He will have the rest of this night and all the day to panic and then to posture and boast to himself. He will not run, but hide away like a rat in his hole. When we come upon him tomorrow I want to watch the confidence in his eyes melt into terror. I want to feel his fear." He broke into a wide, sharp smile.
Francoise's eyes gleamed as she surveyed him. "That is why I so enjoy you, mon enfant." She glanced to the darkness and shouted, "Henri! Send a messenger to the castle!"
Claude bedded down for his first immortal slumber. A bout of pain came, and then receded, leaving him thirsty. But there was no blood to quench the fire, only the other immortals, snugged tight in their wooden boxes, hiding from the sunlight.
He swallowed down his agony and tried to soothe himself with thoughts of her. Her long golden hair was so pale that at times it looked silver. Her blue eyes were the shade of a warm summer sky, her skin pale as a spring dawn, and her lips, soft and pink, begged for something more.
He had known of her since childhood, though only laid eyes on her after the orphanage kicked him out. There were too many fatherless children to keep them all, and he'd been thirteen.
That was when Sister Mary had told him the truth of his lineage. Though she said she knew not his mother's name, his father was a mighty ?cuyer in a castle of stone. "Noblemen are known to acknowledge their bastards, for so is the unfair standards of this world. The world is an ugly place, but perhaps you will get lucky and find some beauty."
Claude had pushed for his mother's name, but came away with nothing. In the end, he'd told himself it was just as well. His mother had given him away once, denied him once, so even if he could find her, it was doubtful she'd welcome him with open arms. No. His mother would be useless to him, but his fatherhad the man had even a chance or choice? Perhaps Sister Mary was right and he would be delighted to have an heir. So, he set out to meet his father, , dreams of a warm welcome rattling in his head.
His na?ve, stupid head.
The guards had laughed at him. When he'd gotten angry, their humor reached new levels of levity, until one of them suggested they should actually take him to their master for an even greater laugh. Sniggering all the way, they'd escorted him to the ?cuyer himself.
They'd found the man sitting behind a table, a plate of half eaten chicken before him, a tankard by his hand. Claude had stared up at him in awe. He wore clothes after the latest fashion, his hair the same golden blonde as Claude's in a fashionable style. Blue eyes snapped as he'd looked from snickering guards to the ragged youth. "What is this?"
"Lord, this child claims to be your son," one of the guards had managed with minimum sniggers.
Claude had held his breath while the man looked him over, taking in the color of his hair, the shade of his eyes, his pale pointed features.
The ?cuyer had given a snort of contempt. "I have no son. Take the urchin away."
A guard had grabbed him, but Claude slipped from his grasp to grab table with both hands. "Please, sir. My mother, she was sent to the sisters. Sister Mary-"
The man had drawn back, his nose wrinkled and lip curled. "I said, I have no son. Take him."
"Perhaps no one told you!" Claude had cried desperately, even as the men grabbed him. "If you ask the sisters-"
The ?cuyer had stood, his face contorted with rage. "I will ask no one! I care not what some nun has told you, nor what some wayward woman may have blamed upon me. You are none of mine. Be gone and come not back, or the dogs will have at you."
The men had dragged Claude out, and thrown him through the gate. He landed in the mud, rolling to a stop. The guards had laughed, until one shouted at him never to return.
Claude had pulled himself to his feet and stared at the gate, closed to him. He'd left, but after a few days he'd come back, with every intention of doing so again and again, until he was granted an audience with the ?cuyer and audience where the man would actually listen to him.
That was when he first saw her. One or two years his junior, she was an unaware child bundled in finery. He'd watched his father lift her into a carriage and follow after, shutting the door with a slam of finality. Claude had stepped back, watching as they trundled past, his anger gone to the memory of her pale face.
It hadn't taken long to find out who she was. The ?cuyer's niece, daughter of his favorite sister. He'd taken her as his adopted daughter at a young age, and raised her. With no wife, and no heirs, it was whispered that she would inherit everything when he died.
If only the stories had stopped there, but they didn't. Venom laced rumors said he'd taken the child not as a daughter, but as something more sinister. More charitable tongues said the ?cuyer planned to wed her when she came of age, while others suggested his only plan was to use her. Meanwhile, the most unfriendly suggested he was already doing so.
The thought burned through Claude like fire, and he worked to get inside the fortress again, no longer to speak to the man, but instead to ask her himself what transpired behind those cold walls.
It had taken him two months to find a way inside. Dressed in the rags of a street urchin, he'd managed to hide in shadows, away from eyes that would recognize him as a trespasser. He'd found Arowenia sitting before a window, her long silver blonde hair falling down her back, her eyes staring at something in another realm that only she could see.
He'd stood, back pressed to the cold stone, watching her dream. At last, he'd whispered her name. She'd jolted, then spun, her blue eyes glittering with first surprise and then terror. He'd shushed her with a motion, and she'd backed away, until she was pressed against the wall, her hands clasped before her as though she were praying.
"You don't need to be frightened of me," he'd whispered to her. "I'm not like him."
"WhoWho are you?"
Though a simple enough question to most, to him it was colored with complication and ire. His anger must have shown on his face, for she'd squealed and ducked around him, running from the room with a cry for her father.
The guards had caught him fleeing and whipped him in the courtyard. The lashes stung, but worse had been knowing that she was somewhere inside, watching his humiliation. The ?cuyer would pay for this, and for more.