Rain soaked through the wool cloak surrounding her body. The night’s chill soaked through to her bones, making Elanna shiver. She’d only been in London less than a year, having lived all her life on the Isle of Iona with the nuns who’d taken her in as a child. She’d led a simple, quiet life there, spending her days sewing garments for her sisters, the nuns, and the other ladies who lived in the village. She spent hours spinning wool into fine threads, then several days dying some of the thread in black, grey, and dark blue, using various herbs and flowers as her sisters taught her. She would also set some of the thread out into the sun to fade the dull grey color from it, producing a lovely creamy white which she used to make undergarments. When the threads were ready, she would sit for hours in front of the loom creating fine cloth, in various thicknesses depending on what she would be creating… cloaks, dresses, aprons, or undergarments.
Once the cloth was ready, Elanna would take it to the large wooden table and using templates, she would cut out the patterns, setting each piece to the side. And then the real art would begin… stitching each piece together by hand with expert skill, adding small embroidered patterns to cloaks and dresses, pockets to aprons, and crocheting lace on the undergarments.
Such was her life from the time she could sit still at the spinner or loom until recently when she kissed her sisters goodbye and crossed the sound to find her fortune in London. With only a small satchel, papers of introduction and recommendation tucked inside, she landed in London on a cold, foggy February morning.
It was 1431, in the year of our Lord. Elanna was just barely twenty-one.
She’d been greeted at the docks by a short, plump gentleman dressed in the refined manner of a servant belonging to a wealthy family. He’d taken her satchel and helped her into the carriage, then climbed on top and set off along a dirt path. The fog was much too thick for Elanna to even see where the path led, but she strained her emerald eyes to catch glimpses of stone buildings, light posts, and iron gates. The dirt path twisted and turned through city streets and then inclined up a hillside. Before long, the carriage pulled in front of a huge mansion where Elanna was greeted by several female servants, all young giggling women except for one, who was as far as Elanna could tell, in charge of the others. When the gentleman servant helped her out of the carriage, the older woman stepped forward.
“I am Mrs. Whitter, head of housekeeping here at Blackwell Manor.” She extended her hand and Elanna took it, giving the older woman a curtsey.
Looking back up at the older woman, she noticed that Mrs. Whitter had a concerned look upon her face. And then the older woman brushed aside Elanna’s hood. “Raven-haired? No one told me you were raven-haired. I just assumed that with Irish heritage you would have either red or blonde hair. This will not do!”
Confused, Elanna whispered, “I don’t understand. What does the color of my hair have to do with anything?”
And just like that, the older woman grabbed her by her cloak and pulled her inside the Manor, through various rooms and into a large sitting room, lit only by a fire blazing in the hearth. Larger than life, above the fireplace, hung a painting of a raven-haired beauty dressed in a green velvet gown, accentuating deep green eyes which appeared to follow one around the room. Elanna stared at the painting, her mouth slightly agape. The woman could have been her, a slightly older version, but nonetheless, the similarity was uncanny.
Turning to Mrs. Whitter, Elanna whispered, “Who is she?”
“Was…” Mrs. Whitter began, and then lead Elanna out of the room and back through the Manor into the large kitchen. Once settle into the kitchen, the older woman put a kettle on the stove and then turned to Elanna, who was sitting on a bench by the door. “That was Lady Blackwell, my Lord’s wife. She died during child birthing, many years ago. Lord Blackwell has never gotten over her death and no dark-haired women are allowed to work in his home because they remind him of her.”
Elanna glanced down at her hands, still unsure of her future. “And the child? What became of the child?”
Handing Elanna a cup of tea, Mrs. Whitter began again, “She lived but a short time. I wasn’t employed here then, having only heard the rumours. It was said that no wet nurses could be found to feed the child and Lord Blackwell was so grieved, he didn’t pay any attention to the child and it starved to death. Mind you though, that is only a rumour.”
“You of all people should know better than to listen to rumours, Mrs. Whitter,” said a gruff voice behind them. “And you know full well that she didn’t die. I gave her away.”
Slowly, Mrs. Whitter turned from Elanna to face the Lord of the manor. Curtseying, Mrs. Whitter moved towards the stove, her head bowed and her eyes lowered. “Forgive me, my Lord.”
Stepping forward, Lord Blackwell leaned down and with one hand, lifted Elanna’s face. His deep dark eyes stared deeply into her own. “And who are you?”
Stammering slightly, Elanna finally managed to tell him her name, “E…lanna MacKinnen, my Lord.”
Elanna watched as his already dark eyes grew darker, pitch black and anger shown upon his face. “Oh are you, indeed?” Turning back to Mrs. Whitter, he screamed, “Is this another street urchin claiming to be my long lost daughter? Didn’t I tell you not to let any of these types of girls into my home?”
“I am no such thing! I have papers, recommendations from the nuns, letters of introduction, and I do believe, sir, that I was granted employment by your very hand!” Elanna grabbed her bag beside her, opened it and withdrew several documents, one revealing the seal of Blackwell Manor upon it. “See? Is this not by your very hand, sir?” she asked, her temper slightly flared, and handed him the document.
Turning his attention back to Elanna, he snatched the paper from her hands and glanced at it. As recognition crossed his face, he looked down at the raven-haired girl sitting before him. “Yes, yes, this is by my hand, but in a previous letter to the nuns, I specifically asked that no dark-haired girls be sent.”
“I do believe, sir that you also asked for their best seamstress. That would be me.” Elanna said, determination in her voice, her green eyes blazing up at him.
Lord Blackwell continued to stare at her for a few moments, then throwing the paper back into Elanna’s lap, he turned to Mrs. Whitter and exclaimed, “Fine, she can stay, but keep her out of my sight. She can have a room in the West Tower. Tell Stephen to move all the sewing material there.” Turning back to Elanna, he continued his rant, “If I see one hair on your head, you will be out on the streets. Do I make myself clear?”
And before Elanna could say a word, he stormed out of the kitchen.
Life became a constant influx of sewing and mending for Elanna. She rarely left her rooms in the West Tower, but to partake of meals with the other servants, long after the Lord of the Manor and any guests he may have had over had eaten. The meals were usually lukewarm and barely enough to go around for the entire staff. Elanna didn’t complain because at least here, at the Manor, she received three meals a day instead of the two she received when she lived with the nuns.
She quickly fell into a routine, knowing when she could roam the Manor freely and when she would have to avoid Lord Blackwell. As the weeks passed by, turning into months, Elanna noticed that Lord Blackwell was spending more and more time away from the Manor. She’d heard the other servant girls whispering about, spreading rumors of a possible new Lady Blackwell coming into the picture. Elanna didn’t care for gossip and therefore kept to herself most of the time. Some evenings, while the Lord was away, she would sneak into the large sitting room and stare at the former Lady Blackwell’s painting. Often, she would even bring her sewing down with her and curl up in the large leather chair by the fireplace, stitching away while glancing at the woman.
Such was the occasion in late November of her first year at the Blackwell Manor. She’d taken her sewing basket with her to the large sitting room and began sewing, but drifted off to sleep in the chair. She was awakened by voices drifting into the room from the large library across the hall.
“It’s been confirmed, my Lord. That little urchin is your daughter,” a male voice said in a matter-of-fact tone.
This time, it was Lord Blackwell’s voice that Elanna heard. Startled and now completely awake, she gathered up her things as quietly as possible and then crept towards the doorway. She had to get back to her room without being discovered. Peeking around the doorway, she didn’t see anyone in the hallway and the door to the library was only ever so slightly ajar. Tiptoeing, she stepped out of the sitting room and into the hallway, her shoes barely making a sound on the floor-coverings. She’d almost made it to the stairway when she heard Lord Blackwell once again.
“Stop right where you are!”
Turning ever so slowly, Elanna kept her head bowed and her eyes on the floor. She knew she wasn’t supposed to be in that part of the house, but she thought Lord Blackwell wouldn’t be returning home until the following Monday evening. She waited, standing inches from the stairway. Why didn’t she just turn and flee? But no, she waited until he approached her. And then she glanced up at him. His dark eyes were ablaze with anger and the expression on his face that of rage.
“Didn’t I tell you to stay in the West Wing? You know the consequences of disobeying my orders! Go to your room now and pack. Stephen will drive you into the city and get a room for you.” Taking a bag of coins from his trousers, Lord Blackwell shoved it into Elanna’s free hand. “This should cover your severance package. Now go!”
Without so much as looking back at him, Elanna turned around and quickly ascended the stairs, tears streaming down her eyes. As she entered her room, she noticed that her bag was already on the bed. Had someone else found out that Elanna spent so much time in the sitting room? Did they rat her out to Lord Blackwell? No one had time to get to her room before she did. Apparently this day was to be her last day of employment here, regardless if she had been discovered in the sitting room or not. She glanced around the small room, noticing all the unfinished sewing projects she would be leaving behind. Tossing the bag of coins on the bed beside her satchel, Elanna quietly walked to a large chest and removed her own clothes, those that she had brought with her when she came to Blackwell Manor. She would only take what she had brought, nothing more, she decided. After filling the small bag, she placed it on the floor by the bed. Taking a pen and parchment from a nearby table, she wrote a note to Mrs. Whitter, explaining to her that should she need any of the items left unfinished, that Stephan would know where to find her and he could bring the things to her and she would complete them. She left the note on the table, picked up the bag of coins from the bed, her satchel from the floor and walked out of her room.
She’d been employed at Blackwell Manor for just seven months.
Elanna had been given a room above a fairly rowdy pub in the City, The Knights Inn. She’d spent the first few nights there feeling scared, alone, and usually crying herself to sleep. Soon, her money would run out and she would be forced to find herself another means of employment. Her room had been paid up until the end of the year, so she had about a month to pull herself together and find a new job. She spent her mornings and early afternoons down in the Inn chatting with the barmaids and the cook. Eventually, she took on a few sewing jobs for them for a few pence or as a means to pay for her meals.
In the late afternoon, she would take stale bread outside behind the Inn and feed the large gathering of birds who greeted her each day. Every now and again, she would notice some rather large black birds sitting high up on rooftops watching her, but they never came down to participate in the bread as the other birds did. That was, until Elanna went back inside the Inn. Then she would hear their loud cawing as they descended down to the alleyway and chased off the other birds. She would then watch them from the small pane of the backdoor as they devoured all the leftover pieces of bread.
Sometimes their cawing would be so intense, that the cook, Mr. Stockholmes, would come running out of the Inn with a butcher knife, screaming “Damn ravens, get out of here!” This amused Elanna, which is probably why she continued to feed the birds every day.
She spent her evenings across the square, usually at a smaller, less rowdy Inn where she would have her evening meal and a glass of wine, but only one glass as she had to conserve her dwindling money supply. Her evening meal usually consisted of some kind of stew, usually without the meat as she could ill-afford it and a slice of bread. The only time she was able to splurge for meat was if she’d just completed several sewing projects for the barmaids.
The month was passing by quickly. She was awakened one morning in mid-December to a tap on her door. When she opened the door, the finance officer of the Inn stood there with a notice in his hand. Without a word, he handed it to her and left. She slowly opened the parchment and read the words written upon it: Rent is due in full for the month of January no later than the fifth of the month. Failure to comply will result in your removal from these premises. Sighing, Elanna tossed the parchment down on the desk by the door and walked over to the bed. Lifting the mattress, she opened a small opening and pulled out her bag of coins. After counting the remaining coins, she realized that she could either pay her rent or eat now and look for better employment. As her stomach grumbled, Elanna decided upon the latter choice. To further conserve her money, she opted for one meal a day, at the small Inn, and no wine with her dinner.
As the days disappeared, and all hope of finding a job on her own began to fade, Elanna finally confronted one of the barmaids and asked her if she knew where she might gain employment. The barmaid, a buxom blonde, glanced up and down Elanna’s body. Then giggling, she replied, “Well you are much too thin to work here, missy, I can tell ya that. Let me do some checkin’ around for ya.”
It was true, what the barmaid said, Elanna had lost a considerable amount of weight in the past month. She rarely looked in the mirror anymore because she barely recognized herself. Even Mrs. Whitter hadn’t recognized her when she literally ran into her on the street one day not too long ago. After her conversation with the barmaid, she ascended back up the stairs to her room to dress for dinner. She wore a simple black dress that she’d taken in one time too many recently, wound her hair up on top of her head, allowing only a few ringlets to fall, and pulled on her grey cloak. Stepping outside into the cold night air, Elanna pulled the cloak tightly around her body. The evening fog was settling in as she made her way across the street and up the road to the smaller Inn.
She was greeted at the door by the usual doorman. “Come right in, Miss MacKinnen,” he said as he ushered her to her usual table, a small one by the fireplace, and took her cloak.
The barmaid came over next and brought a glass of wine with her. Sitting it down on the table, she waved her hand as Elanna began to protest. “The gentleman at the bar sent this over, Miss. He also said for you to order anything on the menu you would like at his expense.”
Leaning over to look past the barmaid, Elanna saw a tall, rather scruffy looking gentleman sitting at the bar. He lifted a large pint-sized glass and nodded in Elanna’s direction. Blushing, Elanna smiled back at the man and bowed her head slightly to signal her acceptance. If I wasn’t so hungry… The thought lingered in her mind as she felt her stomach rumbling again. Not wishing to cause the gentleman too much expense, Elanna accepted the glass of wine, but still ordered her usual vegetable stew and bread for dinner. As her food arrived, so did another glass of wine, again, the gentleman nodded at her when she looked up at him. She was about to finish her meal, and the third glass of wine, when the doors to the Inn opened, the cold air breezing into the small dining area. And there he stood. Lord Blackwell.
He didn’t notice her immediately. Instead, he removed his top hat, gloves and black cloak and handed them to the doorman. With his back to her, Lord Blackwell took a seat at the bar, a couple of stools away from the gentleman who’d been supplying the wine to Elanna all evening.
Elanna watched as Lord Blackwell struck up a conversation with a few of the patrons. She knew if she wanted to leave undetected, she would have to do so while he was occupied. She tried to stand, but she suddenly felt very dizzy and had to sit down again. She gripped the side of the table as she felt the room begin to spin. I’ve had what? Three glasses of wine? She slowly closed her eyes, her hands still gripping the table.
“Miss? Are you alright, Miss?”
She heard the voice but it was as if she was hearing it through a dense fog. Opening her eyes slowly, she saw the gentleman from the bar hovering over her. She felt his hand on her back and his hot breath near her neck as he leaned in and whispered to her.
“Come, let me walk you home?”
Elanna looked up into the gentleman’s eyes and shook her head. Are his eyes red? She looked at him again, but no, not red, just very dark eyes. And then there it was again, a flash of red. Frightened, she tried to stand, to run away from him, but her knees buckled on her and she landed back in her seat again. Her head was spinning as she glanced around the room, noticing that many of the patrons were watching her, their eyes also glowing red. She looked back up at the gentleman and saw that he had a sadistic smile across his face. He smelt of rum and burnt flesh. She looked at his hand on the table in front of her and could see that it bore burnt scars, but she could swear the scars were disappearing slowly before her very eyes.
She tried to stand once more, but this time, the gentleman leaned in and lifted her from her seat, pulling her up into his arms. Beating her hands against his broad chest, Elanna protested, “No! Put me down!” But to no avail. He just laughed at her as he began to carry her towards the Inn’s doors.
Then she felt a tug on her arm and a voice… his voice…
“The lady said she didn’t want to go with you!”
The gentleman dropped her and she landed on the floor with a slight thud.
Glancing up, she saw Lord Blackwell standing before him, both men of equal height, however, the gentleman was by far the larger of the two men.
Again he spoke, “Sir, the lady said no. Now just leave her alone and go about your business.”
The gentleman leaned in close to Lord Blackwell, grabbing his jacket with both hands, then leered at him, “What’s it to you?” Pulling Lord Blackwell down to his knees, he shoved him close to where Elanna sat, still stunned and shaking with fear. “Is she someone you know? Cause if she isn’t, I am taking her out of here!”
Elanna watched as Lord Blackwell stared at her for a moment, the gentleman’s hands shoving him further to the ground. And then she saw it… the recognition in his eyes. He knows who I am… Father? Father? Say something!
“No, I don’t know her,” Lord Blackwell finally said as the gentleman pulled him to his feet. “Go ahead, take her,” he finished as the gentleman removed his hands and Lord Blackwell smoothed out the jacket he was wearing.
With a quick scoop of his hands, the gentleman lifted Elanna back into his arms and headed toward the door. Elanna looked back at Lord Blackwell, at her father, a look of shock and horror on her face, but before she could say anything to him, he turned his back to her and sat down at the bar once more.
A feeling of detachment washed over Elanna as the gentleman carried her out of the doors. Twice he had known who she was and twice he denied her as his daughter. She’d let it go easily the first time because she was afraid of him; however, living on her own the past month had made Elanna stronger. She was getting used to fending off men.
The gentleman stopped at the doors, grabbed the girl’s cloak from the doorman and then kicked both doors opened with his foot, sending the double doors bursting open and allowing the cold night air to rush into the Inn. Once outside, Elanna got a surge of energy from the chill and began kicking her legs against the gentleman’s thigh and banging her fists against his chest again. He was used to playing with his food, but that was usually hunters who hit him with crossbows and then fled. The pursuit with them was half the fun. But normally, when he’d had his special wine served to some lass in a pub, they were easy prey. He looked down at this one, squirming and beating on him. This one was different. This one had spunk. Just as he was about to calm her down again, he felt something sting him in the back. Turning, he saw one of his enemies in the distance and the empty vial of holy water on the ground beside him.
“Awwww, go tae helllll…” he moaned as he ducked into an alleyway. Sitting the girl down onto a large crate, he turned to her and whispered, “Stay here. Do not even think about fleeing because I will find you again.” And in a flash, he was gone.
Elanna sat on the crate for a few moments, waiting… When he didn’t return right away, she climbed down off of the crate, wrapping her cloak around her body. She crept slowly towards the street, her heels making a slow scrapping noise on the cobblestones. When she got to the edge of the alley, she peeked around the corner. The street was empty, but she could hear wailing and screaming off in the distance. Her room at the Knights Inn was just across the street. Dare I take the chance?
I will find you again… his words echoed in her mind as she hurriedly crossed the street. Silently, she slipped into the back entrance of the Inn and climbed the stairs to her room. Did he really think I would just wait there for him to return? She turned the key to her door and allowed it to creak open. The room was pitch black, even the lantern she’d left burning had extinguished. She walked inside and closed the door behind her. And then she sensed that something wasn’t quite right. That smell was back… burnt flesh… She turned around quickly, backing up and then felt a hard body behind her as a hand covered her mouth before she could scream.
“I told you I would find you,” he whispered in her ear.
And then she felt the first sting on her neck, just a slight bit of pain. And then another, this time a harder stinging sensation, more pain… She felt her knees giving way as her life-force was being sucked from her neck. And then an arm encircled her waist, pulling her towards the bed. He tossed her onto it and she tried to crawl away from him, pulling the covers with her. She still couldn’t see him in the darkened room, but then she felt the weight of his massive body on the bed beside her.
“Come here, little one,” he taunted at her as he grabbed one of her wrists.
Again pain surged through her body as she realized he was biting into her wrist. She could feel her hot blood trickling down to her fingertips and then his tongue licking up the drops of blood. She didn’t know if it was still the wine affecting her or if it was the seductive sensations this man was sending through her entire being. She was lightheaded and she lifted her free hand to her head, trying to steady it. She felt faint, and then her head hit the pillow.
She didn’t know how long she’d been unconscious, but when she finally came to, her body ached… her neck, her wrists, and then she felt rough hands sliding her skirt upward… those same hands roaming on her thighs and then the burning of teeth sinking into first one inner thigh and then the next… she tried to kick him, but he had his full weight on her legs, straddling just above her. He was slowly draining every drop of blood from her body. Why is he torturing me? Why doesn’t he just finish it already and let me die? In answer to her questioning mind, she felt him slide his body up hers and then he sank his fangs into the other side of her neck…
No pain… this time desire coursed through Elanna’s body. A burning desire she’d never felt before. She heard a deep moan echo through the room and then realized it came from her own lips. She lifted one arm and brushed aside the shoulder length hair from his neck. Lifting her head, she touched his neck with her lips… lightly at first until she felt his own body shudder from the touch… and then she sank her own teeth into his neck… it took her a long while to break the flesh, but she found a spot that was still unhealed from the attack on him earlier in the evening… And then two weird sensations mixed in her body at one time… her death as he drank the last of her blood… and then a new feeling… a feeling of rebirth… as the drops of blood from his own body entered her mouth..
Am I dead? Am I alive? And then an intense pain overtook her. She looked up at the man still hovering above her… her green eyes searching for just a glimpse of him in the darkness…
“You are neither,” he whispered and then she felt his weight leave her.
She screamed as the pain intensified. Her whole body was convulsing.
“What am I?” she screamed, “What have you done to me?”
From across the room, she heard him laughing, “I did nothing but what I intended, to drain your blood. It was you who took mine.”
And then she felt the weight of his body on the bed beside her again as he leaned down and kissed her on the cheek. “Yes, you are different. When you are ready, come find me.”
“Find you?” she whispered, as her chest heaved up and down… “I don’t even know your name.”
The door creaked open slowly and a slight ray of light filtered into the room from the lanterns in the hallway. She could see more of him then… his darkened eyes, his chiseled face, his massive form… “Murrz Ramirez… just ask, someone will know where to find me.” And with that, he disappeared from the room, the door closing quickly behind him.