"They are all very kind," Erik said as we walked.
The sun was shining brightly today and I flinched. Our skin, though not flammable under the sun as people believed, was very sensitive. Erik was used to it but I hadn't gotten there yet. Most of the places we moved to were in rainy climates. This is the first place we've been to that is closer to the weather I enjoy.
"The men are," I corrected.
"You will see," he promised. "The women are not like those in the markets."
I had told him of the minds I glimpsed into. It bothered him that I wasn't making more of an effort to dissuade their thoughts but I couldn’t care less. The women’s council, though…. That is going to be a different story.
The council met in what others would call a courthouse. It was a rather small building but managed to be cool in temperature. Everything was made of wood and there were a few doors branching off the main hall. On the other side of the building were two tables. Five women sat on the left and five men sat on the right. I was confused.
“I thought there were only five members per council,” I whispered as we walked over.
“Two are retiring,” he whispered back. “We are filling the empty chairs.”
We stopped at the base of the stair that led to the tables. Howard, the man that visited us the first day we were here, grinned.
“Good morning, Mr. and Mrs. Moreau,” he said and we returned his greeting. “As your husband may have told you, you will be joining our beautiful women’s council. They are excited for you to join them!”
No they’re not.
“Today will be a trial day for you and Mrs. Moreau,” he said to Erik. “Tomorrow, we will start integrating the two of you into our councils. Everything is very simple but it doesn’t hurt to be well informed, wouldn’t you agree?”
“Of course,” Erik said.
Erik let go of my arm and motioned for me to go to the women. I sighed and walked over, smiling.
They ranged from ages 23 to 65. The oldest, Carol, sat at the far end of the table. She smiled at me but her mind told me that she didn’t know how she felt about me. Beside her sat a young woman named Marie. I knew right away she didn’t like me; I didn’t need to read her mind, either. Next came Jenny who was also of two minds. I couldn’t figure out why she was, though. Perhaps because I was a stranger. The fourth was Barbara who gaped at me. What I read in her mind made me blush and I quickly looked to the final one. This was Gertrude, Howard’s wife. She was the only one who was truly happy to see me.
Carol stood up and held out her hand.
“Hello, Mrs. Moreau,” she said. “My name is Carol.”
I shook her hand. “It is a pleasure,” I said softly.
I let her continue down the table, avoiding Barbara’s eyes. A chair was brought to me and I was seated beside Gertrude. She beamed at me.
“I will be your sponsor,” she said. “I will explain everything to you and-”
She stopped when the door opened and we all looked up. A man came forward, pale as a sheet, and shaking.
“Kenneth,” Howard said with a frown. “What ails you, young man?”
“I-I was out hunting,” he gasped. “I found a deer. It-It had its throat ripped out!”
The women all made gasps of horror, me included, though my gasp was for a different reason.
I had forgotten to bury the deer.
I glanced at Erik but his face had taken on a concerned expression. I looked at the women and mirrored their shock and horror.
“Was it a wolf?” Howard asked, frowning.
“If it was, then it’s one I’ve never seen before,” he gasped. “The bite marks were horrible, Howard. It must be a large wolf.”
Howard rubbed his chin. “I see…. Thank you for bringing this to our attention. Please, go home and get a nice shot of whiskey.” He smiled kindly. “Worry not.”
The man nodded and left, still shaking. When the door shut, the men grouped together and Gertrude let out a shaking breath.
“Can you imagine such a thing?” she whispered. “Oh, how horrible.”
“Could’ve been a bear,” one of the men said and I used my enhanced hearing to listen in.
“We’ve never had problems with a bear before,” Howard murmured. “What do you think, Erik?”
“Perhaps we should wait,” he responded. “One dead deer does not mean we are threatened. If we find another, send a group to find this… predator, whatever it may be.”
“How can you be certain we’re not in danger, though?” another argued.
“I am not,” Erik answered. “But how can you be certain we are in danger?”
The man didn’t have an answer for him, just as I thought.
“Gertrude,” Howard said and she looked at him. “What do you think about this?”
“That it is much too gruesome!” she said. “This is something we really shouldn’t be a part of.”
“Yes, of course. Why don’t you ladies prepare the lunch?”
I frowned as we went through one of the doors to the kitchen. It wasn’t anything special and Carol went to get the meats while Gertrude got the bread and passed me the wine.
“What do you make of this?” she asked me.
“It is frightening,” I answered and she laughed quietly.
“I can tell you’re interested,” she said.
I looked at her. “Why can we not talk about it with the men?”
“Seriously?” Marie asked and I blinked. “That’s awful, Camille! That poor deer!”
“It is the way of animals,” I pointed out. “Some are more brutal than others.”
Marie sniffed haughtily. “What do you know? You’re just some silly noble who came to the country.”
I opened my mouth to retort but Carol cleared her throat pointedly and we all stopped.
“The men are better prepared to deal with this,” Gertrude said to me. “It is best for them to decide what to do. Our job as the women’s council is to provide support and plan events.”
“I am not very good at planning events,” I admitted. “I am more inclined to be a housewife.”
I cringed and Gertrude looked at me then cut her finger.
She hissed. “Oh, I’m so clumsy.”
I stared at her finger. I watched as the blood ran down her finger as if in slow motion. It lingered on the tip of her finger before falling onto the cutting board. I was reaching for it just as Carol passed Gertrude a napkin. The minute it was covered, I dropped the wine bottle. It shattered and everyone stared at me.
“I-I have to go,” I breathed and ran out of the kitchen and the council hall, my heart hammering. “S-S-Summon Johanna, please,” I said to a servant as I stumbled up the stairs and into my room.
I pulled the curtains shut and leaned against the window. When the door opened, Johanna smiled sadly, moving her hair. Without waiting, I bit into her neck, feeding deeply. She gasped and I knew I took too much.
“I am sorry,” I breathed and helped her sit on the bed.
“You shouldn’t wait so long,” Johanna said and I huffed.
“You sound like Erik,” I complained. “Are you all right?”
“I’ll be fine, Madame,” she said then sighed. “I think it’s time.”
I sighed, too. “I think so, too,” I grumbled.
“Then why fight it?” she asked. “He loves you.”
I scoffed. “Erik does not know love. All he knows his blood and lust.”
Johanna was about to say something when I smelled him. I groaned.
“Great. I am sure I am about to be lectured.”
The door flew open.
“Camille?” he asked, rushing over. “Are you all right?”
I was shocked at the concern and Johanna left. When the door shut, I walked over to the window again.
“What happened, Camille?” he asked. “Why do you feel… guilty?”
I bit my lip and wrung my hands in front of me.
“Gertrude cut her finger,” I whispered and heard him sigh. “I almost…. If Carol had not brought that napkin, I fear I would have done something rash.”
Erik had me turn to him but I didn’t look him in the eye.
“Is that why Johanna was here?” he asked and I nodded. “You cannot avoid human blood, Camille.” He took me to the bed and I hesitated but he just sat down. “Animal blood can sustain you for a while, but the longer you go without human blood, the more danger you put yourself and others in.”
I looked up at him. His eyes were red and I frowned. They only turned red for a few reasons.
“Are you angry with me?” I whispered.
“No,” he said, shaking his head. “Somehow, you have learned to control your bloodlust. I have not. It is because of that we have had to move so much.” He sighed regretfully. “I have told everyone you are ill for now."
I wiped at my tears. “I do not understand, Erik. Why will you not tell me these things before they happen?”
“I am your master and-”
I stood up. “That is not an answer, Erik,” I cried. “I need more than that! I almost hurt her!”
I shook my head and ran out of the room.