Friday, November 28, 2014

Serial Sundays: The Gypsy's Curse

Copyright Lily Silver, 2014
       "Where are you going?" she called after him.
        "I'll be looking for tracks, sleigh tracks in the snow."
       With that, he raced down the stairs again. He paused in the hall, and strode quickly to the back of the house, to the armory. He would need a weapon. Stephan unlocked the case and took out two rifles. He grabbed a handful of balls, and started to load the weapons.
       "May I help, sir?" Jasper stood in the doorway. "Are you hunting the wolf?"
       "I am. He's taken Miss Jennings."
       "The wolf, sir?" Jasper's brows raised.
       "Yes, the werewolf has abducted Miss Jennings and means to kill her."
        Jasper made a face. His expression became grave. "And who might that be, sir?"
       "Brisbane." Stephan had loaded the first rifle and set it aside. He started loading the second one.
       "Ah, that's bad. Took the sleigh out, said it was for you and Miss Jennings." He reached into the cabinet and pulled out another gun. The old fellow started loading it, his face grim.
       "I suppose you think me mad." Stephan remarked. "I thought I was, for a long time."
       "No, no, sir." Jasper's voice was unusually calm. "You are entirely sane, if I might be so bold. But I doubt it's the same with your valet. He never seemed quite right in the head."
       "You never mentioned it, Jasper." Stephan lifted his weapons and strode to the door.
       "It wasn't my place to question your choice, sir." Jasper followed after him. "Just as it's not my place to question your claim of the man being a wolf-creature."
       Stephan stopped, and turned to his old retainer. "You amaze me. You don't think I'm mad for wanting to hunt for a man who can change into a wolf?"
        "No, sir." Jasper held his level gaze. "I've lived in these woods all my life. There be queer creatures here, master, all manner of unnatural things. A man that denies those things exist is lying, to himself and those he hopes to fool. There has been a beast of Lexford Woods for as long as I can remember, and longer still. Let's move, sir, the light is dying."
        They hurried to the stables. As they arrived there, Stephan found his horse had been taken care of by Jasper. There was a strange howling in the woods. The kind of sound that makes men who know better shiver and tuck their collar up about their necks to ward off the sound of evil.
        "That might be your wolf, sir," Jasper whispered.  "Or it might be the howl of a banshee."
The sound of a horse coming round the drive caught their attention. Richard was coming, with Mr. Leeds clutching onto him from behind. "Stephan, you could explain before you raced away. We're two of us on this beast. We couldn't keep up. What's this, rifles?"
       "Sarah is missing. Brisbane, I suspect, is doing mischief," Stephan explained as he moved to take the reins of Richard's horse. "Hurry down, I must go searching."
       "Not with this beast, you won't," Richard said as Mr. Leeds hopped down. Richard swung his leg over the saddle and dismounted. "This animal is spent. We tried to catch up to you, but as you can see, we've exhausted the beast."
     "The beast," Stephan murmured. "I can find them as the beast. You follow me, with Jasper and the guns."
     "Stephan, is that wise?" Richard looked from Stephan to Jasper and back again.
      "I cannot delay. Brisbane has taken her into the woods. He means to do her harm."
Richard's curse echoed in the silent courtyard. He took the rifles from Stephan. "Mr. Leeds, would you be joining Mr. St. John in the hunt, or would you rather accompany me?"
Leeds looked as if he'd swallowed a stone. "I'm not sure what you're saying, Doc."
      "Yes, you are. Decide, we are off, follow whom you will. Jasper, horses?"
      "We have Mr. St. John's horse, Hades, and this poor beast. Both are spent."
      "Come man?" Richard hissed. "We have no horses to give chase."
Stephan stepped away from the men. He went into the stable, and into the tack room. His coat and shirt were off before he stepped inside the small room. As he bent and lifted one leg to remove his boot, a shadow cast over the door. Mr. Leeds.
      "I am not able to control myself, not like you, sir." Leeds offered. "I'll come along, but I can't promise much."
      "Trust your instincts as the wolf and follow me." Stephan removed one boot, then the other. He unfastened his trousers and let them drop. His small pants remained, but not for long. "The man we seek is a killer. He has taken my betrothed." 
       Leeds nodded, and started removing his clothing.
       Jasper and Richard were surprised when not one but two large wolves came bounding out of the stable, ran past them and into the woods. The leader had russet fur, and a slighter one following had a sandy colored pelt. The larger wolf paused at the edge of the stable yard and turned back to look at Richard.  
      "We'll fetch lanterns and follow." Jasper told the canine, as if he knew who it was he spoke to.
Richard gave the old fellow a curious look, and then started trudging down the road with his rifle ready. He didn't get far before Jasper caught up with him and handed him a tinned lantern on a pole to carry over his shoulder.

          Zara jostled and twisted, attempting to make herself fall back on the chair in the hope of breaking it. At least if she could get her arms free from the chair back, she might be able to tend the fire through the night. With any luck, St. John would search for her when he returned, or in at the very least, come the sunrise. She had to survive the night.
        She tipped the chair backwards, and rocked hard. She landed with a thump on her side, on the hard ground. The chair didn't break. Now she was cold, as the cloak offered little protection from the hard packed snow beneath her. She uttered a curse under her breath. Just perfect, she would freeze faster now. She wiggled, and shimmied, and twisted.
       The chair creaked. Her foot, the one bound up in that wooden trough contraption, was clumsy. She couldn't feel around her with it, and moving it brought pain. She was lying on her right side, with her right foot, the free one, beneath her.
       The sound of wolves howling made her stop her struggles.
Alone in the woods, with no weapon. The fire might deter them for a time, but when it died, and it would within an hour, she would be helpless.
       Think, Zara, you're a clever girl, think it through, her uncle's voice echoed in her head. How many times had he told her just that, told her to use her head to solve a difficulty rather than giving up.
       Think. Ropes loosened, with work, they could loosened. She struggled to edge the ropes up her wrists, to the wider part of her arm, so they might loosen a little bit. They were old ropes, not new, not tight. It was work, and it was harder than she liked. Still, it was lie here still and quiet as she waited to freeze to death, or struggle to be free of either the chair or the ropes, hopefully both.
        The chair back. That might be it. If she could roll onto her back again, and roll over it, her weight might . . .
         Howling again. Closer this time. Her heart darted away like a fleeing rabbit. Zara lay still in the cold snow. She listened and held her breath. The woods were silent. Too silent. There were no noises of birds as before. There was only that awful silence that came with death in the forest. When a predator drew near, birds grew silent and squirrels hid in their nests. Mice and rabbits grew still, and the predator found its prey.
       A rustling of leaves and snow below the hill told her that she was not alone. She gazed up lifted her head to see what was coming up the rise of hill. A wolf came rushing up the embankment, as she expected.
        Not just any wolf. It was a russet colored wolf, one she recognized as it came to her side and sniffed at her with curious concern.
        "St. John?" she whispered, shaken, but hopeful. "Stephan, is that you?"
          His nose sniffed her cheek, his hot breath a welcome warmth. A quick flick of his tongue on her face told her that he was indeed Stephan St. John, the man she loved.
         He stepped back, and his eyes quietly surveyed the gloom beyond the firelight.
        Another wolf followed him, a lighter colored animal. The ears on that one flattened as it looked at Zara, as if it meant to strike. It snarled, and the ruff on its neck rose up.
        The wolves both began growling low in their throats. The hair on their backs raised.
       They saw something they did not like beyond the firelight.  
        Zara edged away, useless as that action might be, she was not about to lie still and be attacked, by one of them or another intruder. She arched her back and twisted her hips, inching backwards.
        The russet wolf leapt over her. The tan one followed him in leaping over her in an elegant arc and sprayed snow in her face as he landed just inches from her head. She scrunched up her face and tried to rub the clump of snow from her eye with her shoulder. She gasped at the harsh feel of the frozen spray clinging on her skin as it melted from the warmth.
        A horrific noise of snarling, snapping jaws made her shrink back, away from them and close her eyes tight. She remained still, waiting for the attack with gritted teeth.
        When nothing happened, she opened her eyes to determine what that disgusting sound might me. Were they fighting each other?
        No, the beasts were attacking something else, something hiding beyond her in the darkness. She arched her head and rolled forward to try to see what it was. It was a black wolf.
       A pure black wolf--it the sign of the evil one.
      Zara shivered, and whispered an ancient prayer.

      She watched as the trio circled and snarled. The black wolf was large and powerful, but it was no match for the two attacking it. With a shrill yelp, it staggered and stepped away. The russet wolf lunged. There was a fearful snapping of jaws and ferocious growling. The black wolf and the one she knew as St. John were rolling on the ground, both wild beasts determined to kill the other one to survive. 
Copyright Lily Silver, 2014

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Serial Sundays: The Gypsy's Curse

Copyright Lily Silver, 2014
"I'd like you to come home with me, to Carlisle."  Richard told the young man in the ensuing silence. "I can give you a safe place to live and help you understand this new life. And in exchange you will allow me to study you. I'm a scientist as well as a physician, I would not turn away a fellow human who is suffering, and you have been suffering, haven't you, my good fellow?"
Leeds sat down in the chair, he hung his head, seemed to crumple inward. "I thought I was going to go mad. I thought of shooting myself, ending it, lest I become like Marcus Graham, a beast no matter what form he takes."
"You're not alone. St. John and I will help you. Isn't that right, Stephan."
"No." Stephan ignored Richard's plea as he rushed to the door. He turned on his heel and gave Richard a steely glare. "Brisbane is like me. He won't want the curse lifted. He'll do whatever it takes to stop the wedding from taking place. I have to get home."
Chapter 25

The days had passed with sweet anticipation. Zara found herself humming the Christmas carols Maggie had taught her as she passed the time. The housekeeper had snagged Maggie for the day to prepare some baked goods, and so Zara was alone in the parlor.
She had been told that St. John and the doctor would be late for dinner, so she was to hold it for them. She sat by the fire, quietly reading the gothic novel she'd found in the library. In just two more days, she would be Mrs. Stephan St. John. It had a wonderful sound, and she had made peace with leaving behind her gypsy heritage and embracing her English one. She lived enough in the wilderness, being scorned by her tribe and treated like an outsider. Now, she would be an English man's wife, a wealthy English man's wife. She would be content.
"Miss?" Stephan's servant, Brisbane stood in the doorway. He had her cloak and a sable fur muff in his arms. "Master sent word, you are to come with me."
She set her book aside. Excitement filled her. "Oh, is it another sleigh ride?"
"Yes, a romantic picnic just the two of you, at the old church ruins. He bade me to fetch you and bring you there. He's waiting. He has a surprise for you." Brisbane's smile was wide, and his eyes seemed to sparkle with some inner glow.
An unsettling feeling came as she looked at him. It would be dark in an hour, perhaps less.
"He has a surprise for you, Miss Jennings."  Brisbane said, stepping into the parlor with the cloak opened. "Let's get you ready for the ride."
She stood up, and allowed him to help her with the cloak. He put the hood up and tied the lacing for her, a gesture of kindness she didn't expect. As she started to limp toward the door with the help of his arm, she paused. "I should tell Annie where we are headed."
"No need. I told her when I came in from the stables." Brisbane smiled. "I have a hot brick ready for you, Miss, to keep your feet warm on the ride." 
She allowed him to help her to the door, and lift her into the sleigh once they were outside the abbey. The horses pulled the sleigh away from the abbey and down the long drive. Brisbane was tooling the reins. Zara was settled in the back seat, and bundled under the heavy furs. As he had promised, there was a warm brick for her feet. She gazed at the woods as the shadows deepened.  Stephan wanted to surprise her. How odd.
There seemed no reason for his valet to lie. There wasn't a coachman or any footmen about, only old Jasper and Brisbane at the manor. Stephan and Dr. Richard had gone out earlier this afternoon. Supposedly on business.

The  trees whirred past them as they traveled down the wide road. Zara was surprised by the pace that the valet was setting for the horses, as their previous sleigh ride had been much more leisurely.  Perhaps he wished to get to the appointed place before the sun set.
Still, as she watched the snow around them turn from white to a deepening blue, she felt a prickle of fear. Was this Stephan's doing, or was the valet up to some mischief?
They turned off the main road, onto a small clearing. As he set the brake and settled the horses, Zara gazed about them. No one was in sight. Not a soul. There was the outline of an old building on the hill, the remains of a chapel, it appeared. She could see a small fire had been made within the structure. Was Stephan waiting for her there?
"Here we go, Miss. It's best of I carry you, as the snow drifts are high." He reached in for her, and Zara didn't protest. She allowed him to lift her into his arms. He snatched a fur for her and draped it over her.  Then he began trudging through the snow and up the hill to the chapel.
"What sort of surprise is this?" she asked, impatient and uncertain. "I don't understand why he would want to drag me out here."
Brisbane didn't answer. He was huffing, out of breath. They reached the top of the small hill, and the chapel was before them. It had no roof. A an old wooden chair had been set up near the fire, so she reasoned that St. John must have set up this odd surprise for her.
As she expected, Brisbane walked to the chair and set her carefully in it. He arranged the fur on her lap, tucking it about her. The fire was warm. She reached one hand out toward it, and was shocked to find a loop of rope slipped over her wrist. She gasped, and struggled. He was stronger. He took her arm roughly and pinned it behind the wooden chair. He tied her other wrist, and she was caught, just like that.
"What is the meaning of this?" she demanded. Brisbane, like her, had gypsy blood, she could sense that about him. "Let me go? Where is St. John--"
Brisbane's face changed from the benign mask of indifference he usually wore to a snarl, a feral, animal snarl. "Silence, bitch."
"What are you doing?" She shouted. "Help, help me, someone . . . St. John, Stephan . . . " Zara knew her only hope of rescue would be if someone else were nearby. She kept shouting, as panic seized her and she struggled against the bonds on her wrists.
"Shut up." Brisbane's hand met her face in a stinging blow.
 She gazed at his face, horror slicing through her like thin prickles of ice.  
"By the time he finds you, it will be too late, you'll be dead, frozen, a corpse bride." The deep growl resonated in his throat. "You will not release him from the curse."
Zara tasted blood on her lip. His huge claw-hand had bruised her cheek and she'd bitten her tongue. "Why are you doing this? What do you hope to gain by my death?"
He bent low, crouching inches from her, his eyes feral and his lips curled. Hatred.  She saw hatred in those animal eyes. Hatred for her. "Time. More time. He's marrying you for one reason, you are of gypsy blood, he must marry a gypsy woman to be free of the curse."
Zara gasped. Her breath came out in a white rush. It was cold tonight, bitter cold. She'd freeze before dawn. The fire would dwindle, and she freeze sitting here. She couldn't walk, not with her ankle in the brace, and she couldn't crawl to the road, not with her hands bound behind her chair. The fire would go out, and she would die alone, in the cold.
"Please, please, have mercy." Begging, it was not her way, but this was her life, not a crust of bread or a plea for coin. "Please, I've never harmed you."
"Mercy?" he stepped away from the circle of the firelight. "Mercy! They gave my brother none. Your kind, our kind. T'was the Romany who killed him. I listened to his screams. I listened, and couldn't help him. He was innocent. They mistook him for me."
"How did it happen?" She asked, hoping to keep him talking, hoping to bring reason to his disordered mind. "What did they do to him?"
"They burned him." Brisbane turned to face her. "Be grateful I did not plan that end for you." He started to walk away, toward the path he trod in the snow in carrying her up here.
"No, wait . . . please--please!"
He kept  walking. His silhouette in the twilight disappeared as he moved down the hill.
Zara took deep breaths, seeking calm. She had to think, she had to figure out a way out of these bonds. She had to find a way to survive.

Stephan did not spare the horse as he raced back to the abbey. The roads were hard, as the frost had hardened the ground before the snow came. He would kill Brisbane, with his bare hands. He would hang him. No, he would shoot him. Better yet, he would tear out his throat as the wolf. No one would take Sarah from him. He would kill to keep her safe.
As he galloped on, Richard came after, shouting after him to slow down, to wait for them.
Them. Yes, Richard had convinced his new specimen into coming home with them, so Mr. Leeds was riding behind Richard on his horse. They could not hope to catch up with him.
Stephan didn't care about anything except reaching Sarah before Brisbane did her harm.
He rounded the curve and galloped up to the manor, pulled his horse to a stop outside the heavy oak arched doors, and rushed inside. "Sarah!  Sarah, where are you?"
The parlor was empty. The warm light from the fire cast an inviting glow over the large room, giving him respite from the cold winds as he entered the chamber. Her book was there, beside the chair. It appeared she must have just vacated the room moments ago.
He left it, and returned to the great hall. "Sarah, where are you?" His heart was galloping still, galloping so fast he feared it might explode from the violent pounding.
"Mr. St. John?" Annie came rushing from the kitchen, her apron in her hands. She appeared to be wiping her hands on them as she ran. "What has happened? You look a fright, sir."
"Where is Sarah?"
"I--I left her there, in the parlor." Annie pointed to the room he just vacated. "Is something amiss?"
"Yes, she's gone. Where is Brisbane?"
"He went out, at your direction, I believe. Had Jasper hitch up the sleigh. Said you and Miss Jennings were going out for a ride."
"Sir?" Maggie was jaunting down the long corridor from whence Annie came, from the kitchen. "What is it? Is Miss Jennings ill?"
"No, where is she?" Stephan went up the stairs, two at a time. He raced down the hall to her room and thrust open the door. She was not there. He looked behind the dressing screen, just to be sure. A sick premonition came over him. Brisbane, taking the sleigh out at dusk. Why would he do so, unless he had someone with him? He could easily just saddle a horse for his own needs.
Annie came huffing down the hall after him. She barely made it to the room, and he was dashing away again. "Stop, sir. Please--" The poor woman was holding her chest.
"Are you ill?" He paused, searching her ancient face. "Annie, are you--"
"No--no, God, no!" She waved him away. "I'm just old, sir, I can't be chasing after you like this. What in heaven above is happening here?"

"She's missing," he explained, and breathed a sigh of relief when Maggie came up the stairs. "Maggie, find Jasper, hurry. Sorry, Annie, I must go. When Richard returns, tell him I'm searching for Miss Jennings."  Copyright Lily Silver, 2014

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Serial Sundays: The Gypsy's Curse

Copyright Lily Silver, 2014
Leeds had gone white. His eyes glimmered, and his cheeks suddenly rippled in a wave. The eyes grew dark, all pupil, and then, as he released his anger at being held in a stranglehold, the change started in him.
Richard swore and backed away. He turned about for a weapon as their host slipped from Stephan's grip and dropped to the floor on all fours. Stephan was not afraid. He let go of his own anger, and shifted. His clothing dropped and he lunged forward, pinning the younger wolf to the floor by the neck with his teeth. The younger wolf snarled, but then stilled. He rolled onto his belly, giving a sign of submission.
Stephan backed away, panting, watching his prey for any sign of attack. The young wolf whimpered, and continued to show him his belly.
And then, slowly, the fur started to fade, and the limbs lengthened into arms and legs. Leeds was changing back to his human form as he calmed.
Stephan remained in wolf form. He didn't trust the fellow.
Once the young man was back in his own skin, so to speak, he shot up out of the way and backed up behind a chair. "God in heaven!  It's a wolf--how did he get in here?" He searched about the room for a weapon, and found a revolver on the hearth. He lifted it and aimed at Stephan.
"Hold on." Richard moved quickly to take the gun from the naked young fellow. "Do you remember the last few moments? How did you become naked? Do you remember being a wolf?"
The man blanched. He shook his head violently.
Stephan sat down on his haunches. He was panting, and he felt a strange sense of compassion for the whelp. He started to change. As he did so, Leeds started to shake and gasp.
It was painful, but over in less than three minutes. Once he was back to himself, naked as his opponent, he made a courtly bow to the startled fellow behind the chair. As his head tipped up again, he grinned, as he couldn't help feeling a bit devilish.  
The young man looked to Richard, as if for confirmation that this was happening, and then at Stephan again. He was shocked. And he was shivering. It was winter, after all.
Stephan tossed the man his trousers and grasped his own clothing. He started to dress again, ignoring the man who stared at him as if he were the devil incarnate.
"Do you remember being as he was?" Richard asked the man again.
Leeds shrugged. "I . . . I. . . don't know. It's as if I lose my true self when it happens. It's like a dream world, all muddled and confused."
"Yes, that is how it is in the beginning." Stephan said as he slipped on a boot. "As you mature in the art of shifting, you will be able to maintain some rational thought and memories. With time and practice, you'll learn to control the change, and be in control when you change."
"Unless someone is drugging you," Richard wagged his finger at Stephan.
"Can you help me, sirs?" Leeds looked from Richard to Stephan. He had donned his trousers and was pulling on his shirt. "Can you teach me not to lose myself as the wolf?"
"I can help you." Richard assured him. He placed a fatherly hand on the young man and looked to Stephan.
"What happened the night that your aunt was murdered?" Stephan stepped closer to the fellow. This helping business was all fine and good, but they were here to question the man as a suspect, not nanny him as he became accustomed to his new wolf identity. "Be quick, be brief, and honest. And don't you dare try to say a woman did all that to you and your aunt. Either you killed your aunt, or another werewolf did and you are protecting him."
The barest hint of fear came to Leeds' eyes. His nostril flared, and his breathing quickened. The changes were subtle, so subtle that only another beast would perceive them. The man was afraid, he was hiding something, alright. Or covering for someone.
"You didn't kill your aunt." Stephan said quietly. "Tell us who did, and why."
"I--I--can't. He'll kill me for sure."
"We'll protect you." Richard said, still carrying on as the paternal, caring soul to Stephan's killer wolf, a nice touch, Stephan thought. "We will get you out of the area. As I was about to say, I'll take you to--"
Stephan strode quickly over to Richard. He grabbed his arm and walked him away from the boy. "What is wrong with you?" he asked through gritted teeth. "I'm trying to get to the truth and you are coddling the fellow as if he were a lost puppy you found on your doorstep. Leave off with the niceties until we at least get the name of the alpha he's protecting."
Richard appeared shaken by Stephan's rough treatment. Good. He was being too soft. He nodded to Stephan and stepped away.
"Who is it." Stephan demanded. He took two steps toward Leeds, and the man bolted away, backing up into the fireplace mantle. When he could go no more, he stared at Stephan with rabbit eyes, frightened and quivering. "Tell me, and as the doctor said, we'll protect you, see you away from here."
"But this, this is my place. My inheritance. This farm belongs to me." The man gestured to the hovel surrounding them.
"It's a pigsty." Stephan shot back. "A filthy hole. And if you continue to live here alone, without help, you'll go mad, give in to your animal instincts, and become a killer, a murderer. Is that what you want?"
"No. Of course not, God!" The man was suitably appalled by the notion.
Stephan stared him down, his own instincts as a wolf giving him the direction needed in this case, intimidation, wolf pack style. He was an alpha, compared to this crude fellow, and as the alpha, he could take this one down or drive him away. The man needed assistance, if he were to survive. He needed the help of one who understood his bizarre situation.
"Lord Graham's son, Marcus. He's the one who . . . bit me." Leeds said the last with revulsion. "We were drinkin' that night, and whoring. He came home with me, determined to have his way with that gypsy girl. My aunt pulled a gun him, told him to leave. He . . . he changed, in front of us both. And . . . there was blood . . . screamin'." Tears welled up in his eyes. "I saw him kill my auntie. She was a mite touched in the head, but, she didn't deserve that. And then he turned on me, started to go after me, cut me with his claws, and bit my shoulder. She woke up, the gypsy--she had a knife, and she was saying some words in a foreign tongue. Casting a spell, I think, something that affected him, and he ran off. I passed out. Woke up in the morgue the next day."
"Why did you say it was her who did this to you and your aunt?"
He shrugged. His chin wiggled, and then he looked away from Stephan's determined gaze. "They's all bad, them gypsies. Murderers, thieves, don't matter. She'd a likely killed my aunt, sooner or later. Can't trust them gypsy folk. No one would believe Marcus Graham did this, not with his father being the law around here as magistrate. And he came to see me after, threatened me if I changed my story, he did. He knows I'm like him."
As Stephan listened to the fool babble on, he realized again just how clever the curse was, and how difficult, nigh impossible it would be for a man to free himself by marrying so low by society's standards.  The only way a man would consider marrying a woman considered lower than a street whore was if he were in love with her.

"Unless someone is drugging you," The implications of Richard's deduction was chilling. 
Stephan had not been aware he could control the beast, until he hired Brisbane. He hired the man to help him. Bit by bit, Brisbane revealed secrets he'd learned from his brother--the werewolf shifter.  Brisbane made the sleeping potion for him, and not long after that, Stephan started blacking out. He started experiencing lost time, and woke up with no memory of where he had spent the night as the wolf. He hired Brisbane just before he married Julia, and the man's tales of having helped his brother through the changes and covering for him had encouraged Stephan. The murders began happening around him shortly after that, but he never put them together with his own actions until Julia was killed.
If Julia were fucking everyone in the area, why not Brisbane as well? He might have been angry with her. He might have been spurned by her, as had many of her lovers. 
If Brisbane were the wolf responsible for the murders in London, and those in the area since they arrived, then Brisbane was hiding behind Stephan, using him as a shield to mask his own crimes.
The last thing the valet would want was for Stephan to be freed from the curse. 
Copyright Lily Silver, 2014

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Serial Sundays: The Gypsy's Curse

Keep reading, we're almost there. Will there be a Christmas Wedding or a tragic death? 
Copyright Lily Silver, 2014
Put like that, it sounded sinister. And made Stephan seem the fool. The truth was, he didn't care, for a long time, he simply didn't care. He took the potion, it helped him sleep, but it didn't stop the transformation as he hoped. It merely made it difficult for Stephan to recall anything about his wanderings as the wolf, come the morning. It made it difficult to know if he had actually killed someone as the wolf, or if he merely had dreamed of killing.
The London papers left an uncomfortable question in his mind, as much of his nocturnal wanderings while in the city had coincided with the murders. It was horrifying to contemplate. Too horrifying, so he shoved it to the back of his mind and tried to ignore the ugly clues.
"I didn't care. After Julia died, I didn't care about anything for a long time."
Richard released a heavy sigh, filling the air with his steaming breath. "I can see how that would cloud your mind. You've been drinking a lot, I noticed, and coupled with whatever concoction your man has been giving you, it's no wonder your mind is muddled." 
They passed through the small village of Lexford, and out toward the Widow Kendall's farm. It was moments from town, Stephan noted. If the woman, or women, had screamed, surely the townsfolk would have heard something?  Perhaps not, he reasoned, as they drew closer. The farmhouse was two miles from the church at the edge of town. Two miles was goodly distance for sound to carry. Drawing up to the neat, one and a half story house, they noted the plume of wood smoke coming from the chimney.
After dismounting, Stephan knocked on the door. He waited with Richard for someone to answer. It took a few moments, and then the door was thrust open.
A sandy haired young man of about twenty two glared at them. "What do you want?"
"Mr. Leeds." Stephan began, stepping past him into the house. Richard followed him. "We are here to speak to you regarding the night your aunt was murdered and you were severely injured. We are part of the investigation, sent by Magistrate Graham. I am a lawyer from London, and this is Dr. Richard McManus  from Carlisle."
"Aye, that snobby lord won't let it be!" The young man huffed. "Won't take my word for what happened here. Says I'm making it up. That no young woman could do the damage that was done to my aunt and me. Well, I ain't making it up. That gypsy girl, she's long gone, but they keep questioning me as if they believe I'd kill my dear old auntie."
Stephan could feel the blood coursing through the lad's veins, hear his heart beating fast, and smell the sweat flooding from his pores. He was hiding something.
"Calm down, sir." Richard soothed. "Have a seat. We are here because we have new evidence regarding these strange attacks and a theory we would like to put to you. Who better to ask the pertinent facts than one of the surviving victims?"
Richard was good at this. Stephan wondered if he had done this sort of thing before. Perhaps he was not exaggerating his talents regarding anatomy and its relation to homicide cases.
"There are other survivors?" The man licked his lips. "I didn't know that."
"Not here," Richard said. "Further north, in the bens, and in the region near Carlisle. We have compiled a list of symptoms that the survivors of these animal attacks have exhibited, and we wanted to know if you have had some of these symptoms as well. If so, then we suspect that a new disease may be rampant in the northern regions."
The young man swallowed. He touched his throat, as if it ached. "What kind of symptoms?"
"Unusual changes in hearing, the sense of smell. Prickling, burning sensations in the fingers and toes."
Mr. Leeds nodded. His Adam's apple bobbed up and down as he swallowed convulsively. "Is there . . .?" he asked, and then seemed abashed by his proposed question and stopped. He brushed his mouth with the back of his hand.
"Go on, son." Richard said kindly. "We're professional men here. No one will make sport of you for what you might be suffering."
Stephan glanced about the small house. It was filthy. Since the woman's death, the nephew was not keeping it up. A deer carcass lay on the table in the kitchen, the belly gutted, but the head and limbs intact. The smell of death lingered. The man was feeding on raw animal flesh.
"I . . . ah. . . I have a strange craving for meat," the lad confessed, seeing Stephan's gaze resting on the dead roe on the table. "A craving for bloody meat, raw meat."
Richard glanced at Stephan. He nodded. That was one of the most disturbing symptoms.
"Do you experience moments of extreme thirst?" Richard continued.
The head bobbed up and down. "I do, drives me near mad, it does." Leeds touched his throat. "I drink water, but it don't help me."
"Trouble with horrifying dreams?"
"It's to be expected, as I survived that dreadful night, wouldn't you say?"
"Yes. Do you experience moments of lost time, moments you cannot account for, and perhaps a feeling of being overly hot--feverish?"
"I-I-I . . . I cannot say." The lad's hair was askew, his clothing rumpled. He had deep circles beneath his eyes, and his pallor was striking. His fingernails were grimy, not just with dirt, but crimson with dried blood. "I lived in Martinique most of my life. I thought it was hot there, but I'm troubled by flashes of unbearable heat here. I can't understand it."
"So hot you feel the need to remove your clothing?" Stephan spoke this time. "Like you are burning from within?"
"Yes, that's it. And my skin, it's almost as if it's on fire, and then it's . . . changing, rippling. I think it must be a hallucination, my hands change form before my eyes."
"Yes, yes, that is a sure symptom of the disease," Richard admitted. "Now, I'm told you were injured, bitten or clawed by some kind of animal that night? May I look at your wounds?"
"You don't believe me when I say it was the gypsy girl?"
"No. A woman's method of murder is usually non-violent. Poison, suffocating a person while they sleep, non-confrontational. The violence here indicates a different type of attacker, more than likely an animal, a wild animal. A wolf or a bear."
"They put a note out for her arrest." Leeds said. "They believed me, at first."
"They wanted her for questioning, nothing more." Stephan put in hotly. "They have since moved on to other explanations for these crimes." It was more speculation than truth, as Stephan had heard nothing from the magistrate and no one had come back to the manor house.
"Yes, there seems to be some kind of illness affecting the survivors, and that is our concern." Richard put in. "We are here to help you, my good man, not accuse you of wrong."
Mr. Leeds was visibly shaken by the doctor's list of symptoms. Stephan understood more than Richard could. This young man was indeed a wolf, but his symptoms were new, and therefore troubling. If he had experienced them for any length of time, he'd be accustomed to them by now and would hide them from those who asked, not openly admit to them.
This brought another dimension into the investigation, as whoever survived a werewolf attack must be able to become a wolf. Perhaps it wasn't anything to do with gypsy magic at all? What if this were some kind of natural phenomenon and not a curse. What if it were merely a legend passed down from generation to generation to explain shape-shifting?
If that were the case, then marring Sarah would not change anything in Stephan's life. He would not need to marry her to be freed of a the curse. But he would need a mate who understood his affliction and who would stand by him. Sarah knew he was a werewolf.
Richard coaxed Mr. Leeds to sit down in the parlor chair. The man had to move aside the stack of newspapers and books to get to the seat, but once he was seated, he started to unfasten his shirt. Richard knelt near the young man and examined his scars. They were healing, but still red and jagged. The slashes on his chest were lines, like claw marks. The fellow lifted his shirt to reveal a wound on the shoulder that resembled fangs, four fangs, far apart, as if whatever had bitten him had a gaping maw beyond that of a large dog. The werewolves were larger than true wolves. The wound was still red, and likely would remain so for some time.
"The magistrate reports that you were near death, so near death, in fact, that they thought you dead and took you to the morgue. Can you explain it?"
Mr. Leeds shook his head. "I just woke up and I hurt terrible. I had slashes on my abdomen," he pointed to them with his fingers. "And they were large. Dr. Mulleins, he said the cuts were clean to the bone, and it's a wonder I didn't bleed out and die. But they healed up fast, within days they were closed again."
Incredible healing. That was a symptom as well. Stephan walked through the small house. He paused at the ladder leading to the loft. Sarah had slept there, he surmised. The widow would have slept in the bedroom off the kitchen. He moved up the stairs, and stood in the small loft where the pallet lay. He could still smell the faint essence of the woman he cared for. The faint scent of rosemary lingered, as a few items of her clothing was still here.
Richard was talking to Mr. Leeds in a soft tone. Stephan could hear it, if he listened carefully, but he trusted Richard would tell him the gist of their conversation when they left.
A gypsy blouse and a red skirt were hanging on a peg. Sturdy black leather boots were in the corner. She must have fled in her night clothes! The thought of Sarah, running for her life, being hunted down by the villagers like a dog, being chased through the woods, alone, frightened, and perhaps wounded herself, it made his blood simmer and churn.
And this lout had the audacity to accuse her of the vile slaying of his aunt? 
It was too much. His emotions were bringing on the beast. Stephan felt his skin prickle, his hands burn and his teeth lengthen. He gasped, and took in deep, steady breaths.
Focus, focus on staying human, not changing. That was the key.  
Anger, yes. Anger brought the beast. So, this young man had been angry that night. What precipitated that anger. He wanted to hurt Sarah, perhaps? Had the aunt interfered?

Before he knew what he was about, Stephan had descended the stairs and was holding Mr. Leeds by the throat. "Tell me what you did that night, tell me." He growled. It was no coincidence that his voice was deep and rough, more beast than human. 
Copyright Lily Silver, 2014

A Christmas Trilogy

A Christmas Trilogy
3 women; 1 houseparty; 3 different love stories!