The Lady Katherine Chronicles 23

Lady Katherine and The River Of Blood

By Sazzy

Posted March 2010




Codes: uber J/7

Rating: NC-17

Setting: May 1193, Nottinghamshire, England

Thanks: To berlinpup for beta reading. A special thanks to KathieGotAGun for the original name and idea for this one – that manip came in handy in the end!

Disclaimer: This is a work of fan fiction but uses characters that bear a striking resemblance to those that are copyright of Paramount Pictures.  No infringement on their copyright is intended by the author in any way, shape or form - this is just a bit of fun. This story includes an all female relationship, so if you don’t like that then look away now. P.s. no claims on historic accuracy are made!





Anne slid down the dew-laden river bank, her feet going from under her and depositing her resoundingly on her backside. A quickly extended boot stopped her slithering right on into the river itself. Fortunately no one was there to see her embarrassing slip being as it was the middle of the night and the middle of nowhere. Looking up to the moon that filtered through the clouds, she wondered what she was doing there, rather than being safely tucked up back in bed with Katherine. That prospect was certainly more appealing than her current damp sitting place. She resolved to look around for another few minutes and then give up her task as a wild goose chase.


The only reason she’d decided to investigate the reports of strange goings on by the river was that it was on the north of the estate and close to the boundary with Retford. The attack on Eaton and then the peculiar discovery of excavations near the village in the same region had been enough to make Anne suspicious when the rumours surrounding the river found their way to Markham. Foremost on her mind was a potential connection to Lord Edgar. Even though she’d humiliated him at Katherine’s fair some three weeks previously, Anne suspected he was still planning something.


Normally Anne wouldn’t give much credence to reports of a river running the colour of blood and ghostly apparitions, putting such things down to the over-active or superstitious imaginations of peasants. From her investigations so far, she’d yet to be dissuaded from that notion. Most likely some villagers had come out into the woods at night, been spooked by a fox or a badger, run home and made up a wild tale to cover up their fear. Clambering back to her feet, she stared out over the slowly flowing river. The white light of the moon rippled benignly across its surface. If anything the woodland seemed calm and peaceful, but then Anne always had felt at home out amongst nature, even at the dead of night.


The sound of a twig snapping behind her drew her out of wistful remembrances. She spun round, eyes peering into darkness of the trees that stretched on away from the river. No doubt it was some woodland creature out for a late night hunt. Just to be sure, Anne climbed back up the bank so she could get a better look. Moving through the trees she let her mind drift, reaching out to touch nature, become one with it. It was then she realised there was something wrong; there was nothing to touch. The forest should be alive with nocturnal creatures but instead everything was quiet, unnaturally so. Movement off to her side caught her eye and her head swung that way. Yet there was nothing there either. How could there be when she hadn’t sensed anything? Becoming more unnerved by the second, she drew her sword from her scabbard.


“Is there someone there?”


There was another swishing movement from behind her and she whirled round on the spot. All that met her swiftly searching eyes was the sight of the dark wood.


“I’m with the Markham guard,” she stated, “so you might as well stop playing silly buggers and show yourself.”


Anne didn’t hear any movement this time. Instead all she felt was a solid form crashing into her side. She was knocked right off her feet, sent sprawling amongst the twigs and dead leaves. In an instant she was back on her feet, sword at the ready. Before her stood a young blond-haired woman, Anne having a hard time believing the slight figure had been the one to down her. Yet something in the woman’s intense stare indicated malice.


“Who are you?” demanded Anne. “What are you doing out here at this time of night?”


The woman smiled enigmatically. Not the reaction Anne had been expecting. Anne noticed the young woman was only wearing a thin dress, hardly attire for wandering round the woods on an unseasonably chilly May night. Her feet were also bare. Yet the other woman didn’t seem perturbed in the slightest by either fact. She just starred at Anne, her gaze unwavering. Anne felt something brush past her arm and she turned once more, finding a second equally inappropriately dressed young woman standing right next to her.


How did she get so close? thought Anne in consternation.


The red-haired woman addressed her companion. “Now, now, Elizabeth, you know it’s rude to keep tasty morsels to yourself.”


The reply came from right by Anne’s ear. “No fair, Arabella, I saw her first!”


Again Anne was unnerved by how close the one called Elizabeth had got without her sensing it. She took a step back from both women, raising her sword once more. “Who are you?”


A voice from behind Anne answered. “I think the more accurate question is - what are we?”


Anne spun round, but she was too slow. A third woman caught her arm and wrenched it upwards, jarring her sword from her hand. She followed up with a surprisingly powerful kick to Anne’s stomach, sending her crashing to the ground on her back. Before Anne could even think about getting up the other woman was on top of her, straddling her chest and using her knees to pin Anne’s arms at her side. Anne tried to twist free, but the woman was amazingly strong. Her hand shot down to grab Anne’s jaw, holding it in a steely grip so Anne was forced to look up at her. Unlike the other two she was older, somewhere in her forties. Her black hair tumbled about pale cheeks. Anne thought she actually saw the woman lick her lips in anticipation.


Then suddenly the woman was knocked off her, the one called Elizabeth coming to stand over a stunned Anne. “I said I saw her first; I want first go!”


Elizabeth’s head was yanked back as Arabella appeared behind her, pulling her hair. “You’ll have to fight me first!”


Sensing the squabble was her chance; Anne rolled over and started scrambling for her sword. She hadn’t got far though when she felt hands on her back, grabbing at the material of her blue tabard. She was thrown bodily backwards, crashing down on the ground once again. As she lay there catching her breath, she had to wonder how in the hell the women were so strong. Meanwhile the three of them were marching towards her.


“How about we share?” suggested the older woman at the centre of the trio, Elizabeth and Arabella nodding their assent to the compromise.


“No! She is mine!”


The authoritative voice commanding the other women rang through the forest causing them to freeze where they were. Anne also froze. She recognised the voice. Yet her mind couldn’t quite believe it until her eyes shifted to the side to see the speaker stepping forward into the moonlight. The white glow reflected off a familiar auburn head.




Anne’s unbelieving question went unanswered. Katherine just stared back at her, a wild look in her eyes that Anne had never seen before. Then suddenly Katherine was upon her. Anne had barely seen her move. Katherine’s hands pinned her to the ground, gripping hard about her wrists. As the other woman’s eyes bored into her Anne searched them, looking for any sign of the woman she loved, but the normally warm blue eyes were oddly soulless. Gazing up into them Anne felt something she never thought she would in Katherine’s presence. She felt fear. Anne struggled to move but she couldn’t break Katherine’s grip. This is wrong, this can’t be happening. Anne wondered if she was dreaming, but it was too real, too frighteningly real. Katherine’s lips curved into a seductive smile, revealing two sharp canine teeth.


“Katherine, please …”


Anne’s entreaty went unheeded as Katherine sized her up like something juicy on her plate, waiting to be devoured. The other woman bent down, her lips brushing along Anne’s neck. Normally Anne would find such a gesture erotic, but now it filled her with an irrational dread. Again she struggled to free herself, but it was futile. Somehow Katherine was much stronger than her. Anne heard Katherine inhaling deeply, sniffing at her exposed skin.


“You smell good enough to eat.”


Suddenly pain flared in Anne’s neck. She screamed as her flesh was punctured. Katherine’s mouth pressed harder, sucking, licking. Anne screamed again but no one was listening.





The first rays of the morning sun peaking in through the window stirred Anne from slumber. She blinked a couple of times and stretched her limbs under the bedcovers, easing the sleep from them. The body next to her gave a small grumble before shifting and promptly falling back to sleep. Anne chuckled to herself, thinking it would take a whole flock of cockerels to stir Katherine before she was good and ready in the morning. Finding herself strangely thirsty, Anne eased herself out of bed and crossed to the desk to pour a goblet of water.


She took it and moved over to the window to see what that particular May day had in store for them. A few clouds dotted the sky, but it wasn’t long before the sun re-appeared. As it broke through the white cover Anne squinted, her eyes sore under the harsh glare. It was so painful she had to move back into the shadows of the room. She rubbed at her temple, trying to shake off the uneasy feeling. If anything she would have thought she had a hangover. Only she hadn’t been drinking the night before. Instead she had gone to investigate the ludicrous reports of a river running red at night and then … Anne had to rub her head again. What did I do then?


Before she could ponder it more, she felt a pair of arms enveloping her from behind. Obviously Katherine had decided she was good and ready for rising after all. The other woman nuzzled up against Anne’s back, her lips coming up to kiss Anne’s neck. Anne flinched, unsure why. Katherine noticed the reaction.


“Is everything all right?”


Anne shook her head and tried to dispel the disquiet she felt. For some reason she had the urge to rub her hand across her neck.


“Anne?” prompted Katherine, sounding more concerned this time.


Anne turned round and offered a weak smile. “It’s nothing. I just feel a bit … out of it - probably still half asleep!”


“I know what you mean.” Katherine yawned and lazily stretched her arms up above her head. The action pulled her nightshirt tightly across her breasts and Anne couldn’t help staring, her uneasy feeling soon dissipating to be replaced by something else entirely. As Katherine brought her arms back down she noticed the perusal. “Feeling better now?”


Anne smiled. “Very much so.”


Katherine moved closer, just close enough to place her lips gently on Anne’s. “And now?”


“Very, very, warm.”


Katherine chuckled before drawing back. “Well, you’re just going to have to cool off for now, the ride should help.”


“The ride?” queried Anne stupidly, her mind still elsewhere, somewhere in the region of Katherine’s lips.


“The hunting party,” Katherine reminded her.


“Right,” said Anne, recalling it now. Obviously her brain was still a bit addled. Hopefully the ride would not only cool her ardour but also clear her head.





The green land of the Markham estate flashed quickly by as Anne galloped over it on her horse. Yet it seemed she wasn’t galloping fast enough for up ahead Katherine was already disappearing over the brow of a hill. Anne wondered if the other woman was making it deliberately hard for her to carry out her duties that day. She was the only one accompanying Katherine as they made their way to the rendezvous for the hunt. That was probably fortunate since Tobias would not be amused if he knew Anne had lost Katherine even if only for a short time. She wasn’t too pleased about it herself. Anne dug her heels in, hoping to elicit some more speed from her mount. She crested the hill where she was greeted with a panoramic vista of rolling green fields and trees. Unfortunately the view did not include a noblewoman on a horse.


Anne pulled up sharply, looking anxiously around. Suddenly a horse came bounding by her with a laughing Katherine atop it. “Having trouble keeping up?” she called as she bounced past.


Obviously Katherine had been deliberately hiding in the copse of trees just over the ridge. At least the other woman seemed to be going slower now as she trotted along, allowing Anne to draw level.


“I wish you wouldn’t do that,” she remarked.


Katherine appeared unrepentant. “Do what?”


Anne frowned, unsure what had brought on this bout of reckless abandon. “Try to lose your escort again,” she outlined. “I heard what happened on the way back from Gainsborough.”


Katherine raised an inquisitive eyebrow. “Someone been telling tales have they?”


Anne had been uncertain enough not personally escorting Katherine on the short two-day trip, but Lord Gainsborough was one of the most conservative and old-fashioned nobles there were. It was a struggle just to get him to meet with Katherine as a female head of an estate, but turning up with a woman guard would have killed off any talks before they’d even started. Anne could have gone as a maid, but the prospect of being pawed at by the misogynistic old nobleman was enough to persuade her to trust her fellow guards to take care of Katherine in this case. Unfortunately she’d later found out that on the way back Katherine had managed to gallop off and lose them for a short time.


“It was all Delta’s fault,” said Katherine now by means of explanation, “he wanted a proper run out.”


“And I suppose it was Delta’s fault this time too was it?”


Katherine just offered a cheeky grin. “You worry too much. Nothing happened did it? They eventually caught up again, as did you this time.”


Anne sighed. “I just wish you’d take more care, especially after the fair.” She saw the remark hit home, Katherine’s smile quickly disappearing. Was that why she was acting so strangely? It wouldn’t be the first time the other woman had let a brush with danger lead her to disregard her own safety as a consequence. “We never caught that potential assassin,” Anne reminded her, “for all we know they could be waiting to try again.” She didn’t want to scare the other woman, just make her see sense.


“It’s been three weeks now,” replied Katherine. “Surely if they were going to try again they would have done? And anyway, who’s to say it was deliberate? It might have been an archery accident.”


“I know that’s what we spread around to deflect from the truth, but that doesn’t mean you’re meant to believe it too!” Anne cried in exasperation. “I hardly think a mysterious figure in black shooting at you and then running off was an accident.”


Katherine shrugged dismissively. “Either way I can’t live my life in fear, cooped up in the house just in case.”


That idea didn’t sound too bad to Anne, at least until they tracked down the would-be assassin. Her silence prompted Katherine to bring her horse to a complete standstill before fixing the young woman with a penetrating stare.


“Can I?”


Anne stopped too and held up her hands. “All right, no, we can’t keep you under constant guard at the house,” she allowed grudgingly.


“And you can’t follow me around every single second of the day either,” Katherine added. “I love you, Anne, but everyone needs some space.”


Anne grumbled under her breath to herself. She knew Katherine had a point, but that didn’t mean she had to like it. Even after all this time her own insecurities regarding losing those she loved coloured her thoughts and actions sometimes. Though she was now a grown woman, the feelings of the eleven-year-old who’d seen her parents murdered before her eyes were always going to be part of her. She supposed the fear would never completely disappear; she just had to learn to handle and control it as best she could.


Katherine could see Anne’s contemplations, her voice softening as she continued. “You’ll just have to find out who was responsible and allay your fears that way.”


“My money’s on Lord Edgar organising it.”


“Mine too,” agreed Katherine, “probably trying to make good on his threats from Nottingham.”


“I wonder what he’s after,” mused Anne out loud.


“Maybe he just doesn’t like me?” suggested Katherine. “Though quite what I’ve done to him, I don’t know. I’d never even met the man before Nottingham. Perhaps he’s just another one of these chauvinists who can’t stand to see a woman running an estate.”


“Possibly,” allowed Anne, “or maybe he just wants to extend his holdings into Markham.”


“Talking of which, did you find anything of interest by the river last night?”


Anne felt an odd prickling between her shoulder blades that curled up and round her neck at the mention of it. More troublesome was that she still couldn’t recall the exact events of the previous evening.


“Anne?” pressed Katherine when no answer was forthcoming. “Did something happen?”


Seeing the anxiety she was engendering in the other woman, Anne quickly composed herself. “No, it was a dead end.”


Seemingly satisfied with the answer, Katherine gave a nod. “In a way I’m glad – I’m not the only one who shouldn’t be running around on their own courting danger!”


“I did live in the forest with a bunch of outlaws for fifteen years,” pointed out Anne.


“And I lived in a manor house with the likes of Kirby for company,” shot back Katherine. “I’m not sure which was most dangerous.”


Anne laughed, relieved to ease some tension from her body.


“And if we dawdle here any longer,” added Katherine, “Archer and the others are going to get all the best game!”


Anne gripped her reins ready for the chase. “Just try not to lose me this time.”


Katherine rolled her eyes, but didn’t admonish the protective words further. “You better keep up then,” she said before urging Delta into a gallop.





The meeting point for the start of the hunt was close to Ollerton. The western village was the nearest settlement on the estate to Sherwood Forest and as they approached Anne could see the vast swathes of trees on the horizon, feeling a twinge of nostalgia at the sight. A small part of her would always belong to her former forest home, and more particularly the men she considered family who still lived there. She wondered where Robin was that day. Would he be close by? Might she bump into him? Though the thought was appealing, she also hoped not, since any of the rest of their party discovering the outlaw leader would be forced to arrest him.


That party was already waiting for them as Katherine and Anne drew up. The group of knights consisted of the six vassals of the estate, each man responsible for one of the main villages and its lands and reporting directly to Katherine. Organising a hunt for them all was a good informal way for Katherine to keep up with the business of the estate without it appearing that she was too obviously checking up on her vassals. Instead they could share banter over the hunt and a welcome goblet of ale back at the manor house later.


Katherine greeted each man in turn with a smile and some kind words, putting them immediately at ease as was her way. Anne simply nodded her greetings. She had met each of them before and though those meetings had always been civil, she suspected at least some of them harboured misgivings surrounding her background. Once an outlaw, always an outlaw was a common belief. In an odd way she was glad if they were suspicious, at least it showed they took Katherine’s safety and welfare seriously. Most of the knights had been at the fair three weeks ago and witnessed her victory for Markham so she hoped that had at least improved her standing. If not, then she wasn’t about to lose any sleep over it. At the end of the day only one person’s opinion mattered to her.


That person was pulling at her reins now, eager to get going. “Are we all set?” asked Katherine.





Katherine trotted to the front of the group and led them off at an easy pace. Philip Archer, the Ollerton knight, drew alongside her seeking an audience.


“Philip,” acknowledged Katherine. “How are things round the village?”


“Actually I have some troubling news to report, Milady.”


Katherine had suspected as much as soon as he’d approached. She noticed Anne was moving her horse closer having obviously been eavesdropping. Raised eyebrows from Katherine indicated Archer should continue.


“We’ve been getting a marked increase in outlaw activity to the south-west of the Ollerton ward,” stated the knight. “A number of villages have been hit already this month.”


“That is troubling indeed,” agreed Katherine. “First to the north and now to the west - it seems Markham is suddenly the target of choice.”


“I can’t comment on the situation in the north,” replied Archer, “but I think we all know who’s responsible for the problems to the west – Robin Hood.”


Katherine didn’t get the chance to answer as Anne leapt into the conversation. “Do you have any actual evidence of it being Robin Hood?”


Archer didn’t look best pleased at being interrupted by the young woman. He slowly turned to her, his voice carrying an edge of disdain as he spoke. “No, but it doesn’t take much deduction given the nearness of my land to Sherwood.”


“You mean the nearness of her ladyship’s land,” corrected Anne.


Archer glared at her for the pedantic comment. “The point is,” he said, switching his attention back to Katherine as if Anne wasn’t worth talking to any more, “we should track these outlaws down and stop them pillaging the Markham estate.”


Again Katherine didn’t get the chance to reply. “Even if it is outlaws,” continued Anne, “there is more than one group of those within the Forest. We need more investigation of who’s responsible before we go charging off half-cocked.”


Archer was fast becoming annoyed. “You almost sound like you don’t want us to do anything; not trying to protect someone are you?”


Now it was Anne’s turn to look aggrieved. “Are you questioning my allegiances?”


Archer gave a sly grin, glad to have hit a sore point. “Not at all, we all already know where your original ones lie.”


Katherine saw Anne’s fists tightening about her reins and deemed it a good time to jump back into the conversation.


“Thank you for drawing this to my attention, Philip,” she said diplomatically. “I think you’ll agree it would be wise to gain more information before we take action. I’ll get Tobias and Anne to meet with you to ascertain the best way forwards.”


“I don’t think we need her input,” grumbled Archer.


“On the contrary, I think Anne’s background could provide us with a useful insight, wouldn’t you agree?”


Archer paused, caught between wanting to pursue his dislike of Anne and contradicting the lady of the manor. “I suppose it would be prudent,” he allowed.


Katherine could feel Anne’s smug look without even needing to look at the young woman. “Good, now let’s hunt!”






Some twenty minutes later the party was trotting slowly over Laxton Chase. Leading them was Archer’s best tracking dog, its nose pressed close to the ground as it sought out the scent of their quarry. Anne herself sniffed at the breeze, seeing if she could sense something before the dog. Somewhere at the back of her mind she felt a faint stirring of thoughts not her own. Up ahead the dog stopped, alert, ears perked up. Then it was off and running; the chase was on. The horses pounded after the dog, crashing through the ferns. Archer took the lead in pursuit of his animal while Anne was content to keep pace with Katherine in the middle of the pack. Looking over at the other woman, Anne saw she was scanning the green landscape flashing by. Suddenly Katherine pulled up. It took a moment for Anne to yank on her reins to do likewise. By then Katherine was already galloping off at a tangent to their original path while the rest of the party continued on after the dog. Anne turned her horse and set off after Katherine.


After urging some extra speed from her mount she managed to draw level. “What are you doing?” she cried over the sound of the buffeting wind. “The dog went the other way!”


Anne could just see Katherine’s grin through the whipping auburn strands of her hair. “But we can beat them to the deer this way.”


Anne was doubtful, but willing to let the pursuit prove Katherine wrong rather than try and argue her point. She didn’t have to wait long for the other woman to slow Delta before bringing him to a complete standstill. Katherine’s eyes swept the landscape, eventually coming to rest on Anne. Katherine held up a hand. “Don’t even say it!”


Anne looked innocently back at her, deciding there really was no need to, at least on the subject of their lost quarry. “You know you don’t have to prove anything,” she said instead.


The curious look on Katherine’s face indicated she didn’t quite get the meaning of the words.


“The reckless abandon, the eagerness to win,” outlined Anne, “you don’t have to prove you’re still young, that you can still keep up now …”


Katherine’s eyes pinned her in place as Anne considered the wisdom of completing her sentence. In the end Katherine finished it for her. “Now I’m forty?”


Backtracking seemed a good option at this point. “Which of course is really no different to the thirty-nine you were a couple of weeks ago,” added Anne hastily. Katherine continued to glare at her. “If it’s any consolation, I’ll catch you up sooner or later,” she tried, thinking of the curse she was under.


Katherine frowned at the reminder and Anne decided it was probably best to try and change the subject. “If we head east we should pick up the trail of the others again.”


A muttered assent was all she received as Katherine turned her horse in the direction indicated. Once facing that way, the dark look on the other woman’s face quickly lifted, a broad grin returning. “I knew it!” she cried triumphantly.


Anne followed her gaze, seeing the deer standing about fifty feet away from them. It had spotted them too. It stood for a moment, studying them with dark brown eyes. Anne could feel its quick heartbeat, hear its rapid breaths. Suddenly it darted to the side, bounding off through the undergrowth once more.


“See, there’s still some sense in the old brain yet!” cried Katherine before spurring her horse after the deer.


The animal led them a merry dance over the land, but sooner or later Anne knew it would tire as long as they kept on its tail. That was the skill of the ‘chase’ part of the hunt. Once it could run no longer there would come the ‘baying’, when it would stop and turn to confront its pursuers. That time was fast approaching as Katherine urged Delta on to keep up with the jigging deer.


Finally it came to a halt, antlers swinging to face them. Katherine pulled Delta up at some distance from their quarry and drew her bow from her saddle. The deer went to make one last darting run, but it couldn’t beat the arrow. Katherine’s shot downed it where it stood.


They trotted over to where it lay and hopped down. Anne’s mind connected with the last feelings of the dying animal. She could sense its life ebbing away with the blood spilling out over the grass.


So much blood. Hot, gushing blood. Tempting, tantalising blood.




Anne started as the sound of her name registered over the pounding in her ears. She realised she was now kneeling on the ground, her hand sliding through the bloody entrails. She quickly withdrew it and tried to wipe it on the grass.


If Katherine found her behaviour odd, she didn’t make much of it, a light-hearted comment next past her lips. “I guess we’d better get the deer back and roasted for dinner before you eat it raw!”


Anne laughed half-heartedly as she stood up. The scary thing was that was exactly what she had been about to do. Why she didn’t know. A sudden heat had just engulfed her along with an irresistible urge to feast on the animal. Fortunately that desire had subsided, though the recollection of it haunted her thoughts on the way back to the manor house.






Once back at Markham Manor, Katherine and the other knights headed into the house with their bounty while Anne took the opportunity of stabling the horses to get some time on her own. Leading Delta into his stall, she gave him a reassuring pat. She let her fingers linger on his neck. The pulse of his heart pounded strong in the arteries throbbing under her fingers. The beat of the blood echoed in her mind. Blood, thick, gushing blood.


Anne quickly whipped her hand away, staring at it as if it would yield a reason for the odd sensation. It was nothing like her normal connection with nature. Whereas that was a mutual connection, what she’d been feeling had been swamping her, taking over.


She rested her head on the cool timbers of the stable interior and closed her eyes for a minute. However, this did little to help. If anything the pounding behind her eyes intensified. Her head felt fat, confused. At the same time heat was building in her chest and out through her body, burning her up. She was suddenly aware of all the horses in the stable, a dozen thumping heartbeats calling to her. She took a deep, shuddering breath, fighting for control. There was a swish in the straw behind her, the sound helping to focus her thoughts. Anne whirled round to see one of the other guards, the antagonistic Benedict. Behind him lurked the young squire John.


“Praying will do you little good,” commented the guard in reference to her previously bowed stance against the stall, “you are well and truly damned.”


“Since I don’t believe in God, I’ll take my chances,” she replied.


Benedict’s lip curled in disgust. “Ah yes, I forgot you were a heathen”


“Watch out she doesn’t put a pagan spell on you, sir!” chipped in John.


Benedict looked over his shoulder and laughed. “She doesn’t scare me.”


As he turned back, Anne was quickly up in his face. “Are you sure?” Heat coursed through her. Benedict’s vein pulsed invitingly at his neck. All it would take was one more step. Blood. Pumping, scarlet blood.


“Are you even listening to me?”


Anne forced herself to take a step back and focused on Benedict’s face. She hadn’t heard a word he’d said, not that she would have missed anything interesting.


“Did you want something in particular?” she asked him.


“No, it seems you have the servants’ duties well in hand. Carry on!”


Benedict and John snickered to themselves as they left the stables. Anne just shook her head. Sooner or later Benedict would get bored of taunting her. Until then she could cope with a few puerile barbs. Moving along to the next stall, she pushed open the gate and was immediately drenched with a shower of water from above. The bucket that had been balanced precariously above her now rolled around at her feet. Outside she could hear laughter. She supposed she should be grateful it was just water and nothing worse.


“And you still maintain this is where you belong?”


Anne wiped the remaining droplets from her face, moving some lank strands of blond hair out of the way before she turned to the latest person in the stables. The French accent had already given away their identity.


“What do you want, Axia?”


“Would it be too cliched to say ‘to take you away from all of this’?”


“That presumes I need rescuing, whereas I am quite happy here.”


Axia looked the soggy Anne up and down. “Really? I don’t know why you persist in pretending to be one of them.”


“I’m not one of anything; I’m just me.”


“Spoken like a true individual. Though we both know your thoughts and actions aren’t always driven by your own desires.”


Anne sighed. “You know you might have a much easier time getting me to go along with this crazy pagan collective of yours if you accepted the place Katherine plays in my life.”


Axia merely muttered something to herself. Anne guessed it was too much to ask. For some reason Axia couldn’t stand Katherine and Anne was well aware the feeling was mutual. Perhaps it was fortunate that due to the covenant she was under she was unable to tell Katherine about the other woman’s presence.


“This covenant I agreed to,” Anne began, as something occurred to her, “it doesn’t have any side-effects does it?”


“Such as?”


Such as a bizarre fascination with blood? “Never mind,” said Anne, realising the ridiculousness of it. More likely she was just coming down with something. “What was it you wanted?”


“The time for our first meeting has come.”


“In case you hadn’t noticed we’ve already met, unless by some small miracle this is all a hideous dream and I’m going to wake up in a minute and discover you’re still back in France.”


Axia ignored Anne’s flippant remarks. “Our first proper meeting to develop our abilities in preparation for the coming battle,” she outlined.


“The battle in which we don’t know who our opponent is, or when and where it will be?”


“Yes,” answered Axia, still not rising to Anne’s baiting tone.


“You must know something, else why would we be meeting here and now?”


“Really, I know little more than you.”


Anne waited, sensing there was more. For a moment she didn’t think Axia was going to elaborate, but eventually the other woman caved in.


“There is an ancient pagan text that has been handed down through the generations and currently resides with my clan in France. It foretells this battle and gives an indication of when it will be, but it is not exact. The approaching alignment of the stars indicates it will be soon, this summer some time, but that is as precise as we can be for now.”


“That explains the when,” noted Anne, “but not the where or why I have to be involved.”


“As I demonstrated to you already, I have an ability to look into the future, though it is not precise and gets less so the further into the future I try to see. When we knew the time was approaching I reached out as far as I could which was enough to give me a vision of Nottinghamshire.”


“So as we get closer to the time, you’ll be able to see more?” pressed Anne. “Such as who or what it is we need to fight?”


“I hope so.”


“Great!” said Anne sarcastically. “We’ll have no worries then - we’ll win no problem as long as you ‘hope so’”


Axia sighed, clearly frustrated by the other woman’s continued obstinate attitude. Anne decided to relent, supposing it would just be easier to go along with Axia and her visions for now – they had been right in regards to Katherine’s near death after all. Not to mention that if there really was a threat to Markham then Anne wanted to be ready for it, even if that meant siding with Axia and her pagan friends for the time being.


“Where shall we meet then?” asked Anne. “We can hardly keep sneaking around Markham like this.”


“Do you know the old woodsman’s hut, near the convergence of the Clipstone and Budby streams?”


“Of course, I did grow up in the forest. I can’t come for the next three days at least, though, we’re going away to Newark.”


“Fine, come there in four days time and we will start our journey together.”


Anne was glad Axia conceded the delay without argument this time. Perhaps she was starting to realise that Anne’s devotion to Katherine and her newfound duty couldn’t be swayed.





Fortunately no one had missed Anne by the time she returned to the great hall, so she didn’t need to lie about her whereabouts, or more precisely who she’d been speaking to. Axia’s covenant prevented Anne from discussing the other woman or her mission with anyone outside it. Anne knew that would become more and more troublesome as time went on. She’d lied plenty of times when she’d been an outlaw, but the prospect of having to do so knowingly to Katherine caused an unpleasant sensation in her stomach. She only hoped Katherine would understand why she had agreed to it in the first place; that she was just thinking of Katherine and all the people of Markham. For now Anne pushed it to the back of her mind, something to worry about when the time came.


Inside the great hall Katherine was busy entertaining the knights, with the drink already freely flowing along with the raucous boasts of hunting prowess. Unusually Katherine left before the conclusion of the meal, leaving Anne to fulfil the diplomatic role and make polite conversation with the other knights. It was not something she found easy. She was more than grateful when the last of them had retired for the night and she was free to ascend to Katherine’s chambers.


Entering the room, she found it was nearly dark, a single flickering candle on the desk the only illumination. Anne wondered for a moment if Katherine was already asleep. Perhaps the hunt had tired her out more than she had let on. Then a seductive voice broke the silence.


“I was wondering when you’d get here.”


Katherine stepped out from the shadows near the bed. Anne could only stare, her pulse quickening at the sight before her. Katherine had changed out of her hunting gear into something a lot less practical and a whole lot more revealing. Anne had never seen the dress before, what there was of it. The material was incredibly thin, the red lines of the dress flowing over the curves of Katherine’s body. There was a large slit up one side of the skirt, allowing it to fall away and reveal the pale flesh of Katherine’s thigh beneath while more tantalising flesh was revealed by the low neckline.


Katherine seemed to glide over the floor towards her, her bare feet making no sound on the floorboards. Anne was frozen to the spot, mesmerised. The other woman circled her, coming to a stop at Anne’s side. She couldn’t have been any closer without actually touching. Anne could feel the other woman’s breath by her ear as she spoke.


“Were you deliberately keeping me waiting?” purred Katherine.


“Uh…no,” managed Anne. Her throat was dry and the pounding in her head seemed to have returned.


“Good, because I might have to punish you if you had been.” The wickedly saucy remark was accompanied by a light brush of Katherine’s fingers between Anne’s legs. Anne gasped at the bold contact.


Somewhere at the back of her mind, Anne knew something wasn’t quite right. Katherine didn’t behave like this, neglecting her duties to sneak away for illicit encounters. Yet Anne was having trouble focussing those thoughts. Katherine’s body pressed hotly against her. The drum beat of the blood in her veins grew stronger.


Anne felt Katherine’s lips on her neck, a gentle caress. “Mmm, you smell good enough to eat.”


Anne froze for a second, the sense of déjà vu pronounced. She wheeled round, her hands shooting up to grab Katherine about the shoulders so she could peel the other woman off her.


“This isn’t right,” she said, shaking her head and attempting to bring some sense to her thoughts. It was so hard though when her body just wanted to succumb to the fire building inside her. Underneath her fingers she could feel the warmth of Katherine’s body through the sheer material. All she wanted to do was rip the barrier away so she could glory in the feel of their naked flesh writhing together.


“Of course it’s right,” said Katherine, blithely ignoring the other woman’s concerns. She easily shook off Anne’s hands and slipped closer once more. “Don’t resist, you know you want to.”




Anne’s objections died on her lips as Katherine’s own captured them in a full-blooded kiss. Anne could feel the pulse of the other woman’s heart through the material of her dress, driving the blood through her body. Blood. Hot, tempting blood. The fire in Anne flared into a raging inferno. She pulled Katherine to her, crushing their lips together. Her hands roamed up Katherine’s back to her neck and into her hair. Yanking Katherine’s head back she exposed the other woman’s neck. Anne took one savouring look and then plunge her head downwards, biting into the yielding flesh. The nectar of blood trickled down her throat.





Katherine stirred from sleep, blinking a few times as the light of morning hit her eyes. She hauled herself up, running a hand through her hair and rubbing at her head to ease the confusion of slumber from her brain. Only her mind didn’t seem to want to clear that morning. She tried to recall the events of the night before. She remembered being in the great hall with the knights, laughing and joking about the hunt among other things. Then at some point she had left. Why had that been? She wouldn’t normally be so rude as to leave her guests. And after that? She rubbed at her temple again. Brief flashes came to her. A red dress. Burning desire. Ripping clothes. Hot, sweaty bodies.


The thoughts were disjointed and try as she might she couldn’t bring them into focus. Katherine shook her head. She’d heard of mind-blowing passion, but this was ridiculous. Casting a glance to her side, she saw Anne was still asleep. That was unusual too. Normally the other woman was awake first, or if not her highly-tuned senses would wake her as soon as Katherine stirred. Even with a slight prod now, she slept on, her blond hair splayed out across sheets and naked shoulders.


Katherine slipping out of the bed still failed to garner any sign of life from Anne, and the older woman moved towards the window. The floorboards were warm where the sun had caught them already. As she neared the window the rays tracked up her body, filtering up to her face and eyes. Katherine winced and scrunched her eyes shut as a sharp pain seared at her temple. She stepped back and flopped into the chair at the table.


This wasn’t the first time she’d experienced a disconcerting feeling first thing in the morning recently. Only the day before she’d woken with what must have been her dreams still fresh in her mind. The impressions were so vivid, for a moment she’d been confused, almost feeling like they really had happened. She could still smell the forest; see the moonlight rippling across the river. No doubt thoughts of Anne exploring somewhere similar had wormed their way into her subconscious, but the effect was still unnerving. Then there was how she’d felt during the hunt the day before, almost out of control with her desire to track down the stag.


Whatever she was feeling she needed to shake it off. She had a meeting with Lord Andrew and Lord Alfred of Newark the following day to discuss their potential alliance. It would take most of that day to ride there and after a night staying at Newark the talks would start in earnest. Katherine couldn’t afford to show any weakness. She needed to be as strong and confident as any man would be if they were to persuade Newark into their group. She took a deep breath, straightened up and held her head up high. It didn’t matter what she felt, Markham needed her.





It wasn’t long into the negotiations that Katherine realised persuading Lord Alfred to join them was going to be no mean feat. The noble had a reputation for conservatism and playing it safe and she was amazed Lord Andrew had convinced him to meet them in the first place. Then again, Andrew did seem to have a knack for getting people to agree to things. Katherine still wasn’t sure this was the best way forwards herself, but was willing to go along with it if it meant strengthening Markham, especially with the recent incursions and threats from the north. She could appeal to Nottingham for aid if the threat became something more real, but somehow suspected that would be slow in coming given her current poor relationship with the Sheriff.


“So tell me,” said Lord Alfred, “why exactly should I risk the Sheriff’s ire by joining this alliance of yours?”


He stared at Katherine, waiting for an answer. At least he was addressing her now, recognising her position and place in the talks. When they’d first arrived he’d spent most of his time talking to Andrew and acting as if she was just there to look pretty at his side. It soon became apparent she was more than capable of speaking for herself, though.


“Because the financial benefits would be considerable,” she replied. Most nobles were concerned with money, land or power and Katherine had discovered long ago that appealing to their interest in one of those was usually the best way to get their attention. The fact that it would also be beneficial to the people or help protect them might have been important to her, but most other nobles would rank that as a minor side benefit. “If we cut out Nottingham and organise ourselves to pay our taxes direct to the crown we can get a much better deal. Plus there are other benefits - we’d agree to trade directly with one another and provide support in other areas such as defence should the need arise.”


“So if we form this independent alliance we won’t have to pay taxes to the Sheriff?”


“That’s right.” Katherine could see he was intrigued and just let him mull it over some more.


“And you think the king would allow this?” queried the other noble.


It was time for Katherine’s trump card. “Well, I do have the King’s ear after all,” she said with a knowing smile. Of course she hadn’t mentioned anything about the alliance to King Richard, he was away fighting somewhere abroad again, but Alfred didn’t need to know that right now.


The potential for royal approval seemed to have interested Alfred who was stroking his bearded chin thoughtfully. “I’m not sure; the Sheriff’s taxes aren’t that bad.”


“They’re extortionate,” said Katherine, “especially to the commoners themselves.”


“And why should I care about them? They should be grateful to be allowed to work my land. Anything I deem fit to charge them in tax is fair as far as I’m concerned.”


“How much do you charge them?” asked Katherine.


“Fifty percent.”


“But the Sheriff only requires thirty.”


Lord Alfred looked at her like she was mad. “Yes, but I need my cut too. No wonder you’re having trouble with your finances if this is how you operate.”


“My finances are perfectly fine,” stated Katherine, “I just don’t feel the need to exploit the people on my land.”


“It’s not exploitation; it’s sensible management. Obviously you’ve let your emotions and attachment to these people cloud your judgement, but then what could you expect from a woman.”


Katherine bit her tongue. Now was not the time to allow her pride to get in the way of negotiations. Instead she pushed her seat back and rose slowly from the table. The two men hastily followed suit to avoid any breach of etiquette.


“I think a break is in order, don’t you?” she informed them, not waiting for an answer as she swept from the room.





The rest of the afternoon didn’t yield much progress and Katherine would have happily given up hope of persuading Lord Alfred over to their side. However, Andrew had convinced her to stay for dinner that evening at least. Perhaps he was hoping that some drink might loosen Alfred’s intransigence. So far there was no sign of that. They’d already had the first course and a number of goblets of wine and Alfred was being as obnoxious as ever. Even if he did say yes now, Katherine wasn’t sure she wanted to be allied with someone with such opposite opinions and morals to her own. Unfortunately she couldn’t afford to be so picky. Thankfully Andrew seemed to be taking up the mantel of speaking to the other noble, with Katherine only contributing when she could be sure she wouldn’t say something offensive.


As she took another sip of her wine, Katherine had to wipe her forehead. It seemed incredibly hot in the hall and a dull pounding headache was starting to form at her brow. A small fire burned in the hearth at one end of the hall but its presence wasn’t enough to explain her discomfort. She wondered at what point she could politely excuse herself and go to bed. Since Lord Alfred wanted any discussions to be in private Anne had been excused any guarding duties and Katherine envied her freedom.


A procession of servants coming in from the rear of the hall indicated that the main course was on the way. A huge roast pig was placed in the middle of the table and Katherine felt a fresh wave of heat course through her. Her head was positively throbbing now. She had the strangest urge to leap forward and rend the animal limb from limb, stuffing the hot succulent flesh into her mouth with her fingers, smothering herself in its fatty juices. She clasped her hands tight in her lap to fight it.


“Go on, tuck in,” invited Lord Alfred from his seat beside her, mistaking her reticence for something else.


Katherine managed a smile. “Thank you.” She dug her knife into the meat and sliced off a piece for her plate. The stench of death wafted up her nostrils. It was intoxicating. It was all she could do to pick the food up with some modicum of restraint and put it in her mouth. While she savoured the meat, Andrew and Alfred resumed their discussions.


“I do admire your boldness, putting yourself in competition with the Sheriff,” noted Alfred.


Katherine barely heard his words. Her heart thudded against her chest. The incessant pounding of the blood in her veins nearly drowning out everything else.


“Though from what I gather it’s not the Sheriff you need to be worried about,” continued Alfred.


Katherine tried to focus on him, but her eyes were drawn to the pulsating vein in his neck, pushing tight against his flushed skin. Blood. Hot, tempting blood.


“I hear Lord Edgar has designs on Markham.”


The sound of the lord’s name only stoked the fire burning in Katherine further, mingling a good dose of anger into its midst. She hadn’t forgotten how he’d threatened her in Nottingham, trying to use his strength to scare her. If he had been there now she wouldn’t have been scared, in fact she would tell him exactly what she thought of him – that he was an arrogant, obnoxious pig. Unfortunately he wasn’t there. Instead Lord Alfred continued to witter on.


“He certainly seems to have made his mark in Retford and I guess Markham is next on his list. Maybe I should pursue an alliance with him instead?”


And maybe you should shut your big fat mouth. Katherine just about held back from uttering the words out loud, though it was getting harder and harder to restrain herself.


“I’m sure it will only be a matter of time before Retford and Markham are one anyway.”


Katherine balled her fists in her lap, silently seething. It would be so easy to silence him. Just one quick bite could tear his throat right out.


“Especially if these ‘outlaw attacks’ continue to weaken your estate.”


Before she knew what she was doing, Katherine had leapt up, grabbed Alfred by his collar and was pushing him back into his chair.


“What have you heard about those?” she demanded ferociously.


Alfred was dumbstruck. Katherine could smell his fear. The vein strained harder against the skin of his neck, tempting her to release it.


“Not much,” he stammered, “just rumours your outlaw activity might not be outlaws, or at least not ones who aren’t paid for.”


“Katherine, why don’t you let Alfred go?”


Something in Andrew’s calming tones penetrated the fire raging in her. She managed to release her grip, taking a couple of uncertain steps back. The heat in the room was stifling now, burning her up.


“I … have to go outside,” she managed between heaving breaths.


“Katherine, are you all right?”


Even speaking was becoming difficult, her chest tight where her heart pounded against it. “Too … much … to drink.”


Katherine practically ran from the room and out into the courtyard of the manor house. The cool night air did little to relieve the burning need that suddenly filled her. She was hungry, but not for food. The night called to her, a thousand distant heartbeats in the countryside. She had to feed the craving, had to satisfy it. Not really knowing where she was going she dashed from the manor grounds and out into the woods and fields beyond. She moved swiftly, searching, seeking. The flickering lights of a small village filtered through the trees. She stopped just within the tree line and crouched down out of sight. Closing her eyes, she let the scents of the village wash over her, a myriad of tempting smells - pigs, goats, chicken, people. So much life, just waiting to be taken.


She licked her lips, her tongue catching on two sharp points in her mouth. Tensing her muscles, she prepared to pounce. Yet suddenly there was another scent, approaching fast from behind her. It was strong, powerful. Katherine turned just as a body crashed into her. She was driven onto her back, the other person looming over her. The moonlight caught blond hair. Anne smiled, revealing her own pronounced canines.


“You weren’t going to eat without me, were you?”


The blood rushing through Katherine’s body reached a thumping crescendo. Any thought of the village was gone now, her desire for the other woman overwhelming her. She pushed up, forcing Anne over so she could take a dominant position.


“I wouldn’t dream of it.”


As her teeth sunk into the inviting flesh at Anne’s neck, any last conscious thought was lost to her.





Katherine descended the stairs from her chamber at Newark manor, feeling more tired than when she had gone to bed the night before. Again she had woken with a gnawing unease, something not quite right that she couldn’t put her finger on. Most likely she’d had some sort of nightmare, though she couldn’t recall it. Maybe the fact that she slept alone had exacerbated it. Anne had been staying in the servants’ quarters, both of them deeming that safer in terms of disguising the real nature of their relationship. As she reached the bottom of the steps, she saw Andrew approaching her from along the corridor. He caught her eye, an immediate look of concern crossing his face.


“Bad night’s sleep?” he asked.


Katherine gave a rueful laugh. “Thanks for not saying what you were thinking – that I look terrible!”


“Well…” started Andrew before Katherine stopped him with a playful punch on the arm. He rubbed it in mock hurt. “Seriously, though, are you all right? You left rather suddenly last night.”


Katherine would have answered but her attention was elsewhere. At the other end of the corridor Anne had come in the door. She stopped, her blue eyes locking with Katherine’s. An odd mixture of sensations washed over Katherine accompanied with flashes of the woods at night, rolling on the ground, heat filling her. Andrew couldn’t fail to notice her distraction and he glanced over his shoulder to seek the source of it. Anne seemed to start, realising for the first time he was there too. The mesmerising connection with Katherine broken, the other woman started up the corridor towards them. Katherine found it hard to look at her, fearing she would be lost again and also scared what that could mean.


“Good morning, Milady,” said Anne formally, showing more composure than Katherine felt at that moment. “Milord,” she added as an afterthought to Andrew.


“Good morning, Anne,” replied Katherine, amazed she could speak evenly when her heart was racing so. “I trust you slept well?”


Anne paused tellingly before answering. “Adequately so,” she said, swiftly moving on. “Do you wish to leave today as planned?”


“Yes,” said Katherine, before glancing to Andrew, “unless you think there’s any point in further discussion?”


“Not at this stage,” he replied. “I think we’ve given Alfred something to think about, if we push him too hard he’s liable to become more resistant.”


Katherine nodded in agreement before addressing Anne again. “Prepare the horses and we’ll leave in an hour or so.”





The first part of the ride back was carried out in near silence, Katherine still feeling an overwhelming tiredness in her bones. It didn’t help that the sun was out, the brightness of it hurting her eyes. Anne seemed equally happy not to talk, only breaking the quiet when they stopped to give the horses some water at a roadside stream.


“You look a little tired,” she remarked. “Did the dinner and talks with Lord Alfred go on late?”


Katherine sensed a slight loading to the question, almost as if Anne already knew the answer. “No, I left early in the end,” she replied. At least she remembered that, even if what happened afterwards was somewhat hazy.


“Oh? Did things not go well?”


“They could have gone better,” she said, having some recollection of practically threatening Lord Alfred. “But all is not lost, especially not with Lord Andrew’s persuasive powers on our side.” Katherine couldn’t quite put her finger on it, but the conversation seemed forced, like they were both skirting round something neither wished to mention. She knelt down by the stream and scooped up some of the water before easing a cooling hand across the back of her neck.


“Do you wonder if Lord Andrew has an ulterior motive in his plans?” asked a still standing Anne.


“Such as?”


“Such as seeking one alliance in particular, with Markham via marriage.”


Katherine laughed, trying to ease some of the tension from her body. At least she felt a bit safer on this topic. She stood back up. “I don’t think so – he’s practically young enough to be my son!”


“You do like them younger,” pointed out Anne.


“That is true,” conceded Katherine with a wink. “But no, I don’t think Andrew has designs on me in that regard. I like him, but not in that way and I’m pretty sure the feeling’s mutual.”


“He is very friendly,” pressed Anne, “almost overly so.”


“He’s like that with everyone, though. You just think every unmarried nobleman I meet is after me!”


“Because generally they are!”


“Am I really such a prize catch?”


“I think you know that you are,” said Anne. “Not only are you beautiful, intelligent and have a hundred other virtues that I could elaborate at length on, but you come with a prosperous manor as a nice little wedding present too.”


“And I think you might be somewhat biased,” replied Katherine, “though I wouldn’t mind hearing about those other virtues.”


She gave Anne a gentle nudge on the arm, the other woman unable to stop the half-smile creeping onto her face. Katherine smiled in return before continuing.


“But seriously I just don’t get that kind of feeling from Andrew at all, there’s really no need to be jealous.”


“Who said I was jealous?” said Anne. “I’m just being conscious of your welfare as part of my role as your personal guard.”


“Ah, of course, and giving Andrew a look that could kill in the corridor, that was all part of being conscious of my welfare too?”




Katherine chuckled, glad to be feeling a bit more like herself. The rest of the ride home was much more pleasant and by the time they reached Markham well into the afternoon she had forgotten all about the disquiet of the morning. They rode directly on into the stables where they dismounted and eased the stiffness from their limbs for a moment. Katherine felt every one of her forty years in the cracks and pops that emitted from her knees as she flexed her legs.


“I need to go and talk to the friar about something,” she noted, “but after that why don’t we have a quiet dinner, in my chambers?”


After the stress of having to deal with Lord Alfred and the odd feelings that had been plaguing her it would be nice to get back to something normal such as dinner with the woman she loved. And who knew what that might lead to. Her mind was already flicking through a few options involving a rapid loss of clothes as Anne answered.


“Sounds like a good idea to me,” she agreed. Katherine had to quickly remind herself that Anne was referring to dinner and not Katherine’s other lustful thoughts while the other woman continued. “Would you like me to go and inform the kitchen?”


“I’m not sure how long I’ll be,” said Katherine, quelling her rising libido for now, “so I’ll speak to them on the way back in.”


She also thought it might look less suspicious that way. Though she didn’t think anyone suspected anything about their relationship, Anne ordering herself dinner to be delivered to the lady’s chambers was just a little too obvious. Mindful of the need for at least some discretion Katherine quickly surveyed the surroundings before she leant forward and gave Anne a brief kiss. She kept it short to avoid her thoughts from moments ago rising up and banishing any of the friar or dinner. “I’ll see you later.”





The walk up to the church was a short one, but that was enough for Katherine to get waylaid by more than one of the Markham villagers on the path to it. They never liked to pass up a chance for a chat with the lady of the manor. Most other lord’s wouldn’t have deigned to give them the time of day, but as usual Katherine stopped to exchange pleasantries, showing genuine concern for any troubles they might have. By the time she finally got to the church the sun was dipping low over the hills. As she passed under the arch into the churchyard she felt a strange chill prickle at her bones. It was enough to cause her to pause, wondering at its source. With the sun still out the air was generally warm with little breeze, certainly not enough to cause the sudden coolness. She gave a shiver, trying to shake the unpleasant sensation off. Up ahead a dark-haired young woman came out of the church and down the path towards her. She waited for her maid, Beatrice, to reach her.


“Good afternoon, Milady,” greeted the young woman. “How was your trip to Newark?”


“Not quite as we might have hoped,” confessed Katherine. With anyone else round the manor save perhaps Tobias she might not have been so candid, but she had long passed the stage of keeping anything from Beatrice.


“I’ve heard from other servants that Lord Alfred isn’t the most agreeable of masters,” remarked Beatrice. “Then again, few are, present company excepted.”


“He’s by no means the worst I’ve come across, though,” said Katherine. “We still have hopes of persuading him to join us.”


“If not it will be a very cosy alliance with just you and Lord Andrew.”


Katherine frowned at the hint of suggestion in the remark. “Not you as well.”


“Anne been given you a hard time about him has she?” guessed Beatrice.


“With no reason,” insisted Katherine before deciding a switch in topic was in order. “Have you been in seeing the friar about the wedding?”


“Yes, I can’t believe it’s only just over a couple of weeks away,” said Beatrice. “There’s still so much to organise!”


“You will let me know if you need any help, won’t you?”


 “I’m sure you have better things to be doing with your time than arranging the marriage of your maid and one of your guards.”


Katherine took a moment to fix her gaze sincerely on Beatrice. “You know I think of you as far more than just my maid.”


“And Thomas?” prompted Beatrice. “I know you say you’ve forgiven him for what happened last year, but have you really in your heart?”


A slight pause was enough to give the answer away, but then Katherine wouldn’t have attempted to deceive the other woman anyway. “I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little wary of trusting him,” she explained, “but ever since the unfortunate events of last year his conduct has been exemplary. At the end of the day I just want you to be happy and I can see that together both of you are.”


To reinforce the sentiment of her words she reached out to stroke a hand down Beatrice’s arm, offering a reassuring squeeze on the way.


“Anyway,” added Katherine, “I know I can rely on you to keep him on the straight and narrow. I’m sure any thought of upsetting you and having to deal with the consequences is far more of a scary prospect than having to handle my displeasure.”


“Indeed, he was lucky to keep all his body parts last time - I don’t think there’ll be any repeat!”


Katherine laughed before bidding goodbye to the young woman and continuing on into the church herself. The chill in her bones returned with a vengeance as she passed over the threshold. It was so unpleasant she almost turned on her heel and went back out, but thought that would be ridiculous. Instead she forged on up the aisle, though with each step a sick sensation built in her stomach. When she got to the altar she automatically glanced to the cross on it. A sharp pain flared instantly at her temple. Her gasp echoed round the church as she stepped back.


“Katherine, are you all right?”


The friar had come out from the small room at the back of the church in time to see her bizarre reaction to the cross.


“Yes, I’m fine,” lied Katherine.


The friar didn’t look convinced, especially given that Katherine appeared to be swaying slightly on her feet. She swallowed hard, tasting bile at the back of her throat. “I just need to confirm the service for this weekend,” she said, wanting to conduct her business as soon as possible and get out of there.


“Of course,” said the friar. Though he made no more of it, Katherine could see him glancing uncertainly at her as they moved towards the pulpit where the thick bible sat. Another large cross hung behind it, Katherine’s eyes drawn to it despite herself.


The friar continued. “I was thinking of reading from Psalm 40, it refers to… Katherine?”


Katherine started. She hadn’t been listening at all; she’d been too busy just concentrating on breathing and not throwing up. Sweat beaded on her forehead while her skin was cold and clammy.


“Are you sure you’re all right?” asked the friar.


“You know, I do feel a little off colour,” said Katherine, deciding that honesty might get her an exit sooner. “I’m just going to go back to the manor and have a lie down.” She was already starting to back away when his next comment came.


“Do you want me to take a look at you?”


“No, there’s really no need,” she attempted with a dismissive wave of the hand.


Suddenly something splashed across the back of that hand. Katherine cried out as it burnt her skin and quickly cradled it to her.


Her eyes shot back to the friar. “What the hell was that?” she demanded.


“Just water,” replied the friar with a look of grave concern on his face, “holy water from the font.”


Katherine frowned and looked down at her hand. There was a nasty red scald on the back of it. “How can just water do that?” she asked angrily, showing him. “I think I’m not the only one who isn’t feeling well! Maybe you should go and lie down too, rest your head and get some sense back into it! Just water indeed!”


She stomped off down the aisle, barely able to breathe now, desperate to just get out. She managed to make it through the door and out into the welcome fresh air before the friar caught her up.


“Katherine, wait, you can’t just ignore this!”


She took a few fortifying deep breaths before she turned back towards him. “What, you acting like a crazy man? I would have thought you would want me to.”


He ignored her comment, instead posing his own question. “Have you experienced anything else odd recently – strange night time desires, lapses in memory?”


The accuracy of his remarks caused her to pause before she gave a standard answer of denial. Obviously something was wrong with her and though normally she would tough it out, this malady was unusual enough to make her think she needed help. “Maybe,” she allowed.


“I see.”


The breath he sucked in was enough to let Katherine know it wasn’t good news.


“What is it? What’s wrong with me?” she demanded.


The friar knew her well enough not to prevaricate. “I think you’ve been infected by a vampire.”


“A what?”


“A vampire,” he repeated though the name still meant nothing to her. “I thought perhaps they were a myth, but then I’ve seen enough mystical and unexplainable things by now not to make assumptions.”


“So what is one of these vampires?”


“Outwardly they appear human, like you or me, but supposedly they’re already dead and gain their sustenance not from food but from drinking human blood. That’s how they infect their victims, by biting them. In extreme cases they can convert someone into a full vampire too by killing them and feeding them their own blood to revive them.”


Katherine recoiled at the grim description. “And you think one of these creatures has bitten me?”


“Quite possibly. When someone is bitten, but not killed, they develop some of the characteristics of the vampire too, such as an aversion to sunlight and anything related to the church – in particular crosses and holy water.” He let the last point hang a moment just to make sure she got what he was hinting at. “They also become infected by the vampire’s blood lust. Once the sun goes down they will feel the uncontrollable urge to drink blood too, though they rarely remember this.”


“But I don’t remember being bitten either,” pointed out Katherine.


“As I said a side-effect is the selective loss of memory. There are also some other side-effects I’ve read about, to do with … um … increased sexual desires.”


Katherine shook her head, unwilling to accept it and certainly not about to discuss her sexual habits with the friar. “This is preposterous! It’s some sort of ghost story to scare children!”


The friar grabbed her hand and turned it over to show her the back of it. “And is that preposterous too? It really was just water I threw on you.”


Katherine sighed. It all sounded so unlikely, but then so did spirit planes, dragons and witches and she’d encountered all of those in the last couple of years. “Say I do believe you, is there something I can do to cure the infection?”


“You have to destroy the source of it. You have to find the leader of the vampire coven that bit you and kill it.”


“Didn’t you just say a vampire was already dead?”


“Yes, but they can be destroyed by staking them through the heart and cutting their head off.”


“Oh, easy then,” said Katherine sarcastically.


“Not to mention they possess superhuman strength and speed,” added the friar.


“You’re not really encouraging me here,” pointed out Katherine. “And if I don’t do this, what happens to me then?”


“Then eventually the infection will consume you, you’ll become a monster intent on only one thing – blood.”


“Then I better find this vampire,” Katherine said grimly.


“In order to do that we need to work out how and where it happened,” noted the friar. “Have you been out alone anywhere recently?”


“No, I don’t think so,” replied Katherine. “Anne accompanies me most places if I leave the manor.” She thought about it some more. “There was the trip to Gainsborough. I might have given my guards the slip for a bit, but I don’t remember anything untoward happening. They just caught me up in the end.”


“Are you sure?” pressed the friar. “You can remember exactly what happened while you were on your own?”


“Yes, I just galloped Delta on, past the river at Torksey and then … “




She rubbed her head for a moment, but it didn’t make her jumbled thoughts any clearer. “I can’t remember,” she admitted. “The next thing I recall is the guards catching me up.”


“And did these strange feelings and lapses in memory start after that?”


“Now you mention it, yes, that was when it started. It must have happened somewhere near the river at Torksey” Katherine paused as mentioning the river again brought something else to mind. “Oh my God …”


“What is it?”


Katherine fixed a worried stare on him. “Anne went out there too.”


“Have you noticed any odd behaviour from her recently?”


“No, I …” But even as she tried to deny it she was met by a sudden flashing image of Anne, blue eyes bright in the dark, sharp white teeth shining in the moonlight. “I have to go warn her!”


“Katherine, wait!”


The friar’s words came too late to stop her, though. Katherine was already off and running back towards the house as the sun started to set over the hills.






Katherine flew in the front door to the manor house, garnering some bemused looks from those preparing for dinner in the hall. Not waiting for any questions, she ran up the steps to her quarters two at a time. Outside she could see the sun was nearly below the horizon. She didn’t have much time. She barged straight in through the door which whacked into the wall and rebounded shut again. The loud thump caused the already present Anne to whirl round in surprise.


“Katherine, what is it, what’s wrong?” she asked, immediately sensing the other woman’s urgency.


Katherine was breathing hard and she had to take in a huge gulp of air before she could speak. “Have you experienced anything strange recently,” she panted, “not been feeling quite yourself?”


Anne looked confused. “No, I’m fine.”


Katherine grabbed her about the arms, desperate for the other woman to understand the seriousness of the situation. “Anne, this is important, you don’t need to be stoic, just tell me the truth.”


Anne sighed, not liking admitting weakness. “Yes, I have been feeling a little off colour, especially in the mornings. It’s almost like I haven’t slept at all. It’s probably just the phase of the moon or something.”


Katherine let go, her worst fears confirmed. “I think it’s the ‘or something’”


“What’s going on?” asked a perplexed Anne. “What’s all this about?”


Katherine glanced anxiously to the window. “We don’t have much time, so I’m going to have to explain it quickly and it’s going to sound pretty insane. I think you’ve been bitten by a vampire.”


“A vampire? Aren’t they some mythical creature that drinks human blood?”


“That’s right,” said Katherine, “only not so mythical it seems. If one of them bites you, you become infected with vampiric tendencies too, have the irresistible urge to drink blood at night.


“That’s crazy!” exclaimed Anne as she backed away shaking her head. “I don’t want to drink anyone’s blood …”


Katherine needed to make her point. “I’ve been bitten too,” she stated starkly.


Anne stared at her, starting to comprehend the enormity of the situation. “What can we do, is there a cure?”


“We need to find the leader of the vampire coven that bit us and kill it. I think it’s been prowling the river at Torksey. So we need to go there and track it down.”


She looked to the window again. The sun had finally disappeared behind the hills, dusk setting in. When she turned back to Anne the young woman was much closer, her chest practically touching Katherine’s. Her hand reached out to slowly stroke down Katherine’s arm. “Are you sure you want to do that now?”


Katherine’s first instinct was to say no, but she fought the pull of her desires. She took a step back. “It’s the vampire blood lust, you have to resist.”


“But why?” Anne stepped towards her again. Katherine had nowhere to go. She was pushed up against the wall by Anne’s body. Katherine closed her eyes, desperately trying to curb the pulsating throb in her veins.


“We … have to go … the river …”


Anne’s leg slipped between her thighs. Katherine gasped, fast losing control. She had to hold on. She could feel the heat of Anne’s body against her, her own blood starting to burn with an unnatural desire in response. She summoned all her willpower and shoved Anne off her. She managed a couple of steps before Anne caught her arm again. The young woman pulled Katherine back against her, immediately dipping her head to Katherine’s neck. Yet she didn’t bite as Katherine was expecting, instead flicking a teasing tongue along her skin. The barest graze of teeth against her flesh caused a fresh surge of heat to flare in Katherine. The pounding was back in her head, the hunger on her lips.


“Oh … God …”


“Hardly,” whispered Anne.


The relentless pulsating was maddening. Katherine had to sate it. “Just do it!”


Anne didn’t need to be asked twice. She bit down hard, Katherine moaning her pleasure as the teeth sunk in.






A bird chirped the morning chorus enthusiastically outside Katherine’s window, the sound eventually penetrating her sleeping mind enough to wake her. As she stirred she noted the tuneful song was backed by the rhythmic beat of rain on the grass of the courtyard outside. It didn’t sound like an inviting day and she just lay there for a moment, content to stay under the covers and next to the warm body beside her.  Instinctively she nestled closer to Anne while her thoughts drifted somewhere in between sleep and waking. As they veered towards the latter, the friar’s words from the day before came back to her. Vampire.


Katherine shot up in bed, the action jolting Anne rudely awake. The other woman gave an indignant grunt as her sleepy blue eyes focussed on the upright Katherine.


“What’s the rush?” asked Anne, her voice husky from sleep.


Katherine herself was now fully awake. “Do you remember what happened last night?”


Anne ran a lazy hand through her hair. “That good was it?” she asked with a smirk.


“Anne, I’m being serious,” castigated Katherine. “Do you remember our conversation when I came back from the church?”


“No, I …” Her eyes widened as the conversation obviously came back to her. “Oh, gods, yes!” She sat up too, her anxiety now written across her face. “We succumbed again didn’t we?”


Katherine sighed. “It seems so.”


A harsh rapping on the door precluded further comment. “Milady? Are you awake?” came the call from outside. “There’s been trouble in the village overnight.”


Anne was already out of the bed and pulling on her clothes as Katherine answered. “Just give me a moment!”


Katherine hastily pulled on her own clothes and checked that Anne was fully presentable before she opened the door. Hopefully whoever it was would assume the young woman had simply arrived early to report something or carry out her duties. Another of her guards stood on the threshold, bouncing in agitation on his feet.


“Calm down, Peter,” Katherine instructed him gently, “and tell me what’s happened.”


“I think it’s best if you come see.”


Anne was at her shoulder without needing to be asked as they left the room and followed the anxious man down the steps. As they exited the building, Katherine quickly pulled the hood of her cloak over her head to protect her from the driving rain. They trudged the short distance out the gate and into the village that sat just outside the walls of the manor house. No one spoke over the constant beat of the rain.


A small gathering of people outside one of the houses indicated their destination. The guard ahead of them cleared the way, allowing Katherine through. Even before they entered the small abode Katherine could smell the scent of death in the air. Normally such a thing would cause her to recoil, but that day she felt strangely drawn on by it. She ducked inside the door, immediately seeing the prone form on the floor. The man was deathly white, a faint trickle of dried blood visible on his neck close to two puncture wounds.


“I came in this morning and found him like this,” said one of the neighbours who was craning his head in the door. Anne and the other guard had managed to squeeze their way inside with Katherine, both of them looking down at the grim scene while rain drops plopped from their clothes.


Katherine knelt down by the dead man and reached out to inspect the wounds. As her fingers touched his cold skin she felt a sudden rush of warmth through her body.


“Could it have been some sort of wild animal?” she asked.


“I’ve never seen an animal do something like this, Milady,” replied the neighbour. “It’s far too ordered, too precise.”


“Then what?” she asked, already fearing the answer.


“If I didn’t know better I would say a person did this.”


Katherine’s felt the blood draining from her face. I couldn’t have, could I? She glanced round to Anne, her own concerns written all over the other woman’s face too. Katherine straightened up and addressed those assembled.


“Obviously this is cause for grave concern and I can assure you we will make every effort to determine how this happened. Until we find out what did this, I will increase patrols round the village at night. I want you all to know that I take your safety very seriously.”


There were a few murmurs and whispers amongst the throng, but mostly they seemed satisfied with her proclamation. Katherine gave Peter instructions for dealing with the body before she stepped back outside. She left her hood down and turned her face up to the sky, welcoming the cooling effect of the rain across her flushed skin. She felt a presence by her side, not needing to look to know who it was.


“Do you think one of us did that?” whispered Anne.


“I honestly don’t know,” answered Katherine. “I hope not. I don’t recall leaving my room last night, but then I don’t recall much after we started…”


She trailed off as some vague recollections flashed through her mind along with a building desire. She clamped down on it, at least able to do so while it was daylight for now.


“I can’t imagine being particularly tempted to leave my bed and seek further sustenance afterwards,” she said, “but who knows. Either way it demonstrates that we need to do something about this and fast.”





Not wishing a repeat of her visit to the church from the day before, Katherine this time sent one of her guards to bring the friar to the manor house. Katherine waited anxiously by the fire in her room, drying herself after the soggy trip into the village earlier. Meanwhile Anne stood gazing out the window, lost in thought as she watched the incessant rain. Fortunately the friar came quickly, no doubt guessing the reason for the urgent summons. As he stepped inside the room he was still brushing the remnants of the inclement weather from his simple brown robes.


“Good morning, Milady,” he greeted, nodding to the young woman by the window too. “Anne.”


“Good morning, Edward,” said Katherine. “I’m sure you know why I’ve asked you here.”


“Something to do with our conversation yesterday evening and the unfortunate events in the village last night?”


“You heard about that then?”


He nodded. “It’s a small village and bad news travels fast.”


Katherine gestured him to come and sit by the fire with her. “Yesterday you mentioned a way to cure us of this infection?”


Having taken his seat, the friar glanced back round at Anne. “You are affected too then?”


“Unfortunately so,” she replied as she moved closer to join the conversation.


The friar drew in a pained breath as he turned back to address Katherine. “As I mentioned yesterday you need to find the leader of the vampire coven, stake it and cut off its head. The big problem apart from all that is being a full vampire they will only come out at night and as we know that’s when you have trouble retaining control of your faculties. You could send someone else to complete the task?”


“No, I won’t risk anyone else,” stated Katherine. “There must be some way to retain our senses, some sort of protection from the effects of the blood lust, even if only temporary.”


“After you left yesterday I did some more research,” he replied, “and there might be something to help.” He delved inside the bag he’d brought with him and pulled out a small cross on a chain. Katherine flinched as a dull pain started throbbing at her temple.


“How exactly is that going to help, apart from giving me a headache?”


“Well, that’s kind of the point. The mild pain should be enough to keep you aware of your actions.” He offered the cross to her, Katherine reluctantly taking it.


She had to swallow down the sickness that was starting again. “I wouldn’t exactly call it mild pain,” she noted, “but I guess if it’s the only way I’ll have to put up with it.”


The friar swivelled round to Anne with a second cross in his hand. “I have one for you too.”


Anne took it, Katherine surprised to see that she didn’t wince in the slightest.


“Don’t you feel anything from it?” asked Katherine.


“No, should I?”


The friar slapped his forehead in realisation. “Of course, Anne isn’t a Christian, it won’t work for her.”


Anne looked to him. “Then how do I keep my thoughts?”


“You can’t,” he stated.


Katherine pursed her lips, not liking what she was about to say. “Then I guess I go alone.”


“Katherine, you can’t!” cried Anne. “I’ll find a way to resist.”


Katherine got to her feet so she could look Anne in the eye. “We both know you won’t be able to without this protection,” she said gently, but firmly.


“I could try!” insisted Anne.


“And if it doesn’t work?” questioned Katherine. “You could be more of a hindrance than a help. Who knows you might side with this head vampire against me.”


“I wouldn’t!”


Katherine reached out to the other woman, trying to calm her obvious agitation with a soothing touch. “Anne, I know you want to protect me, but this time you’re going to have to trust me to handle this.”


Anne wasn’t about to be placated, though. “You can’t go on your own! Tell her friar!”


The bald-headed man held up his hands, not particularly wanting to get caught in the middle. “Actually she’s probably better equipped than anyone. The bite of a vampire has some beneficial effects – increased strength and heightened senses to name a couple.”


Giving up on help from him, Anne swung her eyes back to Katherine, the fear and panic obvious in them. “At least take someone else with you even if I can’t go, someone who’s not infected like Tobias.”


“And risk them getting infected to? No, as I said before I won’t do that. This is my responsibility.”


“Forget responsibility, this is your life we’re talking about!”


The other woman’s anxiety was palpable, her insecurities over loss bubbling close to the surface. Normally Anne’s composure was steadfast, the fact that she was losing it testament to her degree of fear. Katherine stepped closer so she could place both hands on the other woman’s arms, trying to impart some of her own fortitude.


“If the roles were reversed, you’d do this for me.”


“Of course, but that’s besides the point.” Anne leant in closer, obviously not wanting the friar to hear her next words. “I don’t want you to get hurt,” she whispered.


“Believe me, I don’t want to get hurt either.”





The rest of the day was spent nervously waiting for night time to come. Katherine tried to distract herself with other tasks and duties with limited success. Her own apprehension was reflected in Anne, who insisted on following her everywhere. Eventually Katherine gave up on getting anything useful done and returned to her room in the early afternoon. She would need to leave soon for the ride to the river anyway. Along with the cross for protection, the friar had also given Katherine a number of other items she might find useful, including a vial of holy water and some wooden stakes. As she checked them over for the last time she felt Anne hovering by her side.


“I want you to take this too,” she said, offering up a sword.


Katherine recognised it as the one Anne had won in the contest at the Spring Fair a few weeks previously.


“You’ll need a sharp sword,” outlined Anne, “and this is the best one I have.”


“Better than the lucky sword?” asked Katherine, trying to inject some levity into proceedings to ease the tension.


Anne didn’t seem to be in the mood for jollity though. “Why don’t you try out the balance?” she suggested seriously.


Wanting to do what she could to allay Anne’s fears, Katherine took the weapon and drew it from its scabbard. She still wasn’t entirely comfortable handling swords, but had gotten a lot better at it over the last two years or so. She wasn’t sure if she should be troubled by that fact or not. With her limited experience, she had to acknowledge that this sword seemed a particularly fine example. She wafted it out in front of her a couple of times, amazed at how light it seemed. As she slid it back into its holder, she read the Latin inscription at the base of the blade.


“Fortune favours the brave,” she translated. “Let’s hope so!”


“You know I’m still not happy about you going on your own,” said Anne, unable to contain her troubling thoughts any longer.


Katherine sighed and put the sword down on the table before turning to the other woman. She gazed up into the worried blue eyes.


“I know, darling, but you understand why I have to do this?” said Katherine. “It might not have been us that attacked that person last night, but it’s only a matter of time. I can’t be a danger to my own people.”


Anne grumbled to herself for a moment before voicing something aloud. “Talking of being a danger, what about me while you’re off at the river?”


Katherine gave her a quizzical look, not quite getting what she meant.


Anne elaborated. “From my hazy recollections and what the friar’s said I think the only reason I haven’t killed anyone yet is that my … lust has been directed elsewhere.” She stared at Katherine as if it wasn’t plainly obvious where she meant. “If you’re not here, who knows what I might do.”


“But we’ve already agreed you can’t come with me,” said Katherine.


“I know and that wasn’t what I was suggesting. But I do think you should secure me before you leave, so I can’t hurt anyone once the sun goes down.”


“Secure you?”


“Tie me up,” clarified Anne.


Katherine just stared at her aghast. “You want me to tie you up, here in my quarters.”


“Unless you have somewhere else better in mind?”


“Well, no, I can’t say as it had crossed my mind at all.”


“Just think,” said Anne, “if you don’t make it back, it will certainly give the maids something to talk about when they find me in the morning.”


Katherine could only stare in shock again at the comment as Anne raised her eyebrows. “It was a joke,” she stated. “You yourself have encouraged me to use my sense of humour.”


“You didn’t seem particularly receptive to my attempts a minute ago,” pointed out Katherine.


“No, but it’s either try to make light of it or go out of my mind with worry.”


Katherine thought Anne’s sense of humour could do with some work, but wasn’t about to deny the other woman any comfort she could find. Having agreed to the plan, Anne disappeared downstairs and returned some minutes later with rope and chains. Katherine didn’t even want to know what excuse the young woman had used to obtain them. Anne secured the chains round the column of the fireplace and then her only ankles before sitting in the chair close to it.


“You’ll need to tie me with the rope,” she said to Katherine, offering it up.


Somewhat reluctantly Katherine took it and started winding it round Anne’s torso and the frame of the chair.


“Make sure you do it nice and tight,” Anne instructed.


Katherine tugged harder on the rope, eliciting a grunt of discomfort from Anne. “That’s not too tight is it?” queried Katherine.


“No, it’s good,” replied a slightly breathless Anne.


With more care, Katherine continued her task. Anne continued to chatter as she did, displaying her nerves.


“At another time and in other circumstances this could be kind of erotic,” she noted.


Katherine paused in front of the seated woman. “So now it’s wildly inappropriate suggestive comments rather than dodgy jokes?”


Anne tried to shrug, but found it rather difficult with her shoulders pinned to the chair. “We have to find some sort of bright side to all this!”


“I suppose you’re right,” allowed Katherine, “on both counts.”


Anne raised her eyebrows in question.


“The bright side,” explained Katherine, pausing before adding, “and the erotic nature of restraint.”


Anne smiled despite everything. “So maybe we could try it another time, when our lives aren’t in immediate danger?”


Katherine allowed a smile to cross her face too. “See now I have a really good reason for making sure I come back in one piece.”


She finished up with a few sturdy knots before stepping back to view her handiwork. It wasn’t a pleasant sight, only bringing home to her what she was about to attempt on her own. Any lightening of the mood from the previous discussion was quickly gone again now. She found herself unable to move, reluctant to leave Anne there. The young woman’s eyes met her own, betraying her own doubts with the sorrowful look in them.


Anne took a heaving breath, the ropes creaking across her chest. “You better get going,” she said, trying to inject some strength into her tone though the waver in it was noticeable, “before it gets dark and before I start crying.”


“Oh, Anne.” Katherine stepped forward and hugged her as best she could, pulling the other woman’s head to her so their cheeks touched. She could feel the dampness where they did.


“Damn, too late,” whispered Anne.


Katherine pulled back and eased her thumb across Anne’s cheek to wipe away the tears. “I can do this; I’ve had instruction from the best after all.” She gave a reassuring smile. That seemed insufficient though and she leant back in, pressing her lips softly to Anne’s before drawing back again. “I love you, I’ll be back.”


Not wanting or able to extend the farewell for fear of losing her courage, Katherine quickly gathered up her things and left the room.





By the time Katherine reached Torksey it was early in the evening with the sun having just set and the light fast starting to fade. Fortunately the rain of earlier had stopped and it was now clear up above, though that also meant it was cooler than it might have been. As Katherine hopped down from Delta’s back she gave a slight shiver, partly due to the temperature and partly due to the creeping apprehension prickling up her spine. She secured Delta just off the road and started off through the trees in the direction of the river.


The surroundings seemed eerily quiet, only the sounds of her own boots squelching through the mud and leaves underfoot breaking it. A skittering noise caused Katherine to freeze where she was. She tightened her grip on the hilt of Anne’s sword at her side and peered into the growing gloom of the woods. Suddenly a lone deer came bounding out of the trees as if fleeing from something. It dashed straight past her without stopping. Katherine watched it go, having a sudden urge to chase after it. She could feel its strong heartbeat, calling to her. At the same time she felt an odd stirring in her mouth, realising in some shock that her two canine teeth were growing. Under her top came a burning sensation where the friar’s small cross sat.


She closed her eyes and struggled to focus her thoughts – forget the desire … think of the task … find the vampire … kill it. When she opened her eyes again she found the blood lust had subsided, though her sharp teeth still poked at her lip. Everything else around her seemed to suddenly be different too. It was like she could see the woods on a whole other sensual level that she hadn’t been able to before. The sounds and smells were magnified tenfold, her skin almost humming with sensitivity as a slight breeze rippled across the back of her hand. She wondered if this was anything like how nature felt to Anne when using her special pagan abilities.


It was completely dark now, but that didn’t hinder Katherine. She found that her vision was enhanced too, allowing her to easily pick out a path the rest of the way to the river. As she watched the gently rolling waters more sounds filtered to her - a slurping, sucking noise coming from close by in the trees. Katherine let her ears lead her to the source, finding a red-haired woman hunched over an animal on the ground. She had her back to Katherine, but must have sensed something as she swung round on her knees to face the noble lady. Katherine could now see the animal was a deer whose innards were ripped out, a good deal of the blood from inside the creature dripping down the face of the young woman. Katherine’s first emotions on seeing the sight were horror and revulsion and she supposed she should be grateful for that. Though unpleasant, it was certainly better than the quickly following on urge to join the other woman. To her surprise the young woman smiled at her. It revealed her pointed canines, shining white in the moonlight.


“Would you like some?” A bloody heart was offered up for Katherine’s delectation.


Katherine suppressed her gag reflex. “No thanks, I’ve already eaten.”


The young woman laughed. Katherine had been prepared for a fight, but it seemed the woman saw her as some sort of ally, a fellow blood-sucking monster. Katherine kept her hand close to the hilt of her sword just in case. The other woman rose up and half-heartedly wiped her face though several bloody streaks remained. As she moved closer Katherine caught the smell of it in the air, taunting her senses.


“I hope you didn’t eat too much, Gwen has a special treat for us.”


Katherine assumed Gwen was the one she was seeking. “And where is she?”


“In the usual place.”


From the answer Katherine had to assume she herself had been there before. Unfortunately she couldn’t remember it. Her only option was to play along. “Shall we go together?” suggested Katherine.


As they made their way on a parallel course with the river Katherine focussed on the task ahead, keeping a tight hold on both her sword and the bag slung over her shoulders with the wooden stakes in. Concentrating on those also helped keep her mind off the building hunger inside her. Several times she had to take deep shuddering breaths to try and calm herself. Fortunately the young woman walking at her side didn’t detect Katherine’s unease and continued to chat as if they were two friends out for an afternoon stroll.


“On your own this time then?” she asked amiably.


“Yes,” replied Katherine, thinking it best to keep her answers short to avoid revealing her lack of knowledge.


“I thought you might have brought that tasty blond back with you again.”


Katherine felt her pulse quicken further at the mention of Anne, having to fight a powerful urge to run back to the manor house right there and then to feast on her. While Katherine struggled to contain her instincts, the young woman continued.


“I wouldn’t have minded a little bite this time.”


“She is mine!” Katherine’s outburst came before she could stop herself. At the same time she automatically bared her sharp teeth in a show of dominance.


The other woman took a couple of steps back at the warning sign. “That’s what you said last time, but it’s fun to share you know.”


Katherine just glared back at her, unable to think of anything rational to say when her vampiric instincts were threatening to overwhelm her. She tried to push thoughts of Anne away, especially ones where the young woman was writhing hot and naked beneath her as Katherine sucked on her neck.


“Fine,” said the other woman, looking away from the piercing gaze, “no sharing, but don’t expect me to reciprocate either in that case.”


Katherine thought she could live with that considering what the woman had been trying to share with her before. Not to mention she would rather rip the woman’s throat out with her teeth than let her anywhere near Anne. A slight burning at her chest reminded her such thoughts were not Christian. Katherine placed her hand over breast, able to feel the impression of the cross beneath her clothes. It infused her with strength and courage for what lay ahead.


After a short walk they came to a glade by the river bank, Katherine immediately able to see what lay there thanks to her enhanced vision. A young woman not much more than twenty lay on a downed tree trunk with a flattened side looking for all intents and purposes like a sacrifice on an altar. She didn’t appear to have any injuries yet and Katherine prayed she was simply asleep or unconscious and nothing worse. Katherine forced herself to stand where she was until she knew she had subdued the urge to rush over and sink her teeth into the neck invitingly exposed where the young woman’s dress had slipped off her shoulder.


Hovering close by the tree was another woman she assumed was Gwen. She looked a couple of year’s older than Katherine, but then the friar had mentioned true vampires lived for many years so who knew what her real age was. A pair of dark eyes swung to the new arrivals.


“Katherine, Arabella,” greeted Gwen, disconcerting Katherine with the fact she knew her name, “you’re just in time. As are you Elizabeth.”


Katherine glanced over her shoulder, seeing they’d been joined by another woman. Were all vampires women? Or did Gwen only seek out other women to join her coven? Looking back to the leader, Katherine could see the predatory gleam in her eye as she viewed the body before her. Katherine’s grip on her sword tightened again, though she knew she needed to get closer to make her move. She suspected she would only get one shot. If she failed to act decisively and quickly the other women would gang up against her and she didn’t fancy her chances against three vampires.


“Who wants first blood?” asked Gwen.


Katherine baulked. How far was she going to have to play along in order to make her move? Both Arabella and Elizabeth seemed eager to take up the offer, jostling to be the first to the downed woman. Katherine moved closer too in order to avoid suspicion and to get closer to Gwen. As Arabella bared her teeth ready to strike Katherine wasn’t sure she could just stand by and watch. Yet if she didn’t do what she had come to there could be many more victims. She just had to pray the others were only intending to drink from their young prey and not kill her. The vampire’s teeth sunk into the young woman’s neck, blood blossoming immediately. Katherine wondered what it tasted like. Her mouth was suddenly dry, heat building inside her. Once Arabella had finished, Elizabeth also took great delight in sucking and slurping away at the blood that was freely flowing now. Katherine continued to take deep, measured breaths.


Eventually Elizabeth pulled away. “Your turn,” she said to Katherine, wiping her bloodied lips with the back of her hand.


Katherine stared down at the woman’s neck, the fresh blood marring the pale skin. She was torn between repulsion and a thirst for that very blood.


“Are you waiting for something?” asked Gwen.


The older vampire stood near the head of the young woman. Katherine’s best chance of getting close in a non-threatening way was to do what they were asking. She stepped forwards, the thump of her heart increasing. The eyes of the others were all upon her, she had to make it look good. She took one last fortifying breath and bent down. The scent of the fresh blood was intoxicating, just crying out to be drunk. Katherine resisted. Instead she brought her hands up to the woman’s neck as she leant in close, making it look like she was revelling in swirling them in the blood when in fact she was using them to cover up the fact none of it was actually going in her mouth. She smeared some it round her face for good measure, trying to block out the arousing aromas from the hot liquid. When she thought she’d put on a good enough show she straightened back up, unable to stop her rebellious tongue from snaking out onto her lips and licking off the bloody remnants. The immediate sensual explosion was overwhelming. She craved more. All she had to do was bend back down, sink her teeth in. She closed her eyes, pretending to be savouring the taste of the blood while she fought the primal urges. The cross burnt hotly against her skin reminding her of her duty.


Seemingly satisfied, Gwen moved to take her turn. This was Katherine’s chance. The other vampire would have to take her eyes of Katherine as she bent to drink. Katherine’s fingers wound round the hilt of her sword, starting to ease it slowly and silently from its scabbard. The woman’s black hair flopped over her shoulders as she leant forwards, the back of her neck invitingly placed. Katherine whipped the sword the rest of the way out and swung in one quick motion. The blade clattered into the tree trunk as Gwen darted backwards. Katherine quickly wrenched it free, but Gwen was already out of reach and laughing, mocking the noble woman.


“Did you think I couldn’t smell the disgusting stench of the church on you?”


Around her Katherine could sense the other two vampires moving to flank her. She kept her sword up pointing at Gwen.


“It seems Katherine doesn’t want to be one of us,” Gwen said. “Obviously we haven’t done enough to convince her of the pleasures of this life.”


A hot brush of breath whispered past Katherine’s ear. She whirled round, swishing the sword to make Arabella back off. The young woman grinned.


“Why resist, Katherine?”


The voice was seductive, tempting. Another one came from close behind her, Elizabeth this time.


“Just give in to it.”


Katherine spun round and in one quick motion stabbed the sword into Elizabeth’s side. Shocked by the sudden attack, the other woman fell back onto the ground. Katherine didn’t want to kill her, assuming she was a victim of Gwen too. Unfortunately she didn’t think the others would be so worried about her health. To prove her point Arabella let out an enraged cry and launched herself at Katherine. She clattered into her, sending the sword flying from her hand. Katherine managed to get a hold of the other woman and shove her away. She watched in amazement as Arabella flew a good few yards back through the air before crashing down. Strength coursed through Katherine’s muscles, obviously another side effect of the vampire bite. Unfortunately Arabella was similarly imbued and was quickly back on her feet. She darted for Katherine again, tackling her to the ground. The weight of the other woman pressed down on Katherine, pinning her in place.


“I bet your blood will taste especially sweet,” said Arabella with a sharp-toothed smile.


Katherine struggled to free one of her arms. Arabella was bending down to bite her. Her teeth were mere inches from Katherine’s neck. Finally Katherine’s arm popped free. She swung, cracking her fist into the side of Arabella’s head. The other woman howled in pain and rolled away. Katherine leapt up, swinging the bag round from her back and delving inside it. Her fingers closed over one of the vials of holy water. Undeterred Arabella was coming for her again. Katherine uncorked the vial and flung the contents at the other woman. An unearthly scream rang round the glade as it splashed across Arabella’s face. Katherine could hear the faint hiss of the water searing into flesh.


However, Arabella was still coming, Katherine too surprised to defend herself as the other woman smacked into her and sent the pair of them tumbling backwards into the river. Katherine staggered to her feet in the thigh-deep water with her soaked clothes tugging heavily at her body. She was barely up when Arabella hit her again and she splashed back down into the water. Arabella swiftly followed up, grabbing at Katherine’s top to push her under the surface. Katherine thrashed around, trying to find some purchase on the other woman. Her boots slithered through the muddy bed of the river, finally banging into rock. She jammed her foot against it and thrust upwards. As her head broke through the surface it cracked straight into Arabella’s chin. The other woman was catapulted backwards into the main flow of the river, the current carrying her away.


Katherine trudged to the bank and clambered out onto the grass on her hands and knees, but any respite was short-lived. Gwen was waiting for her. The other woman reached down, grabbed Katherine’s top and proceeded to fling her right back across the glade where her back whacked into the prone tree trunk. Katherine slumped against it, trying to catch her breath. Even with the vampiric blood coursing through her veins she wasn’t sure how much more punishment her body could take.


“You really should have just yielded to the gift I gave you,” said Gwen as she stalked towards her. “Now I’m going to have to kill you.”


She yanked Katherine to her feet and shoved her back against the tree. As the deadly points of Gwen’s teeth flashed in the moonlight, Katherine summoned the last of her reserves and the killer instinct that was already straining to be unleashed. Grabbing the other woman’s arm, she managed to roll Gwen round while her other hand shot to her bag. With Gwen now up against the tree, Katherine drew out one of the stakes and plunged it straight into her heart. The force of the blow was such that it went right through the other woman’s body, pinning her in place. Gwen could only look down in shock as Katherine staggered wearily back. Yet there was still one more thing to do. Luckily the sword lay close by. Katherine picked it up and prepared to deal the final blow. The blade was up when suddenly someone barrelled into her, knocking her flat on her back on the ground, the sword bouncing from her grasp once more. The other person had also tumbled over, landing on top of Katherine. Their hands grabbed at her wrists and pinned her in place. Katherine looked up into familiar blue eyes.


“Anne? How did you…?”


“Why did you leave me?” Anne swiftly interrupted. “I need you!”


To show what she meant she immediately bent her head to Katherine’s neck, her sharp teeth grazing tantalisingly across Katherine’s flesh.


“Oh…god…Anne,” said Katherine raggedly, “we have to fight it.”


Though her words were brave, Katherine could feel her body betraying her. As Anne’s tongue flicked out across her skin she arched up into the other woman, grinding her hips downwards so she could rub herself against Anne’s thigh. Heat flooded her, blotting out rational thought. Her heart pounded, thudding in time with the blood she could sense pumping in Anne’s veins. The tip of Anne’s sharp teeth pricked at her skin. The cross at her chest flared white hot.




Katherine shoved Anne from her and darted for the sword on the ground. She had to do it now, before she was consumed by the lust. Even with the friar’s defence she knew if Anne touched her again she would be lost. Snatching up the weapon, she ran towards Gwen. Out of the corner of her eye she could see Anne was already up and after her, intent on stopping her. Katherine had to focus on her target, just do what had to be done. Still running at full pelt, she raised the keen blade up above her head. Gwen’s eyes swung to her from her position pinned to the tree. The confidence in the vampire’s gaze was gone to be replaced for the first time with fear. Katherine didn’t falter. The woman was a monster, not even alive. She brought the sword down in a vicious arc, watching it slice clean through the vampire’s neck before it embedded itself in the wood. The vampire’s body exploded in a shower of dust, Katherine losing her grip on the stuck sword and falling back on her bottom. She sensed a presence at her side and warily looked up, hoping that it had worked but scared it hadn’t. Next to her stood Anne, confusion knotting her brow.


“Katherine? What am I doing in the woods and why are you wet?”


Katherine’s relief rushed out in a loud laugh which only confused Anne further. Katherine got to her feet, realising her own blood lust had disappeared now. Without the driving power of it she also felt incredibly tired. Anne must have sensed as much, extending a helping hand as she swayed upright.


Katherine gave her a reassuring smile. “What was the last thing you remember?” she asked.


“I believe I was tied to a chair in your bedroom,” said Anne as if she didn’t quite believe it.


“Then I’m guessing you somehow got free once the blood lust overtook you.”


“And came seeking you out?”


Katherine shrugged. “I guess I’m just irresistible.”


“I was under the influence of a vampire,” pointed out Anne, “and not in control of my actions.” She saw Katherine frowning and smiled. “But I can’t dispute the accuracy of your statement,” she quickly added.


The sound of movement from across the clearing reminded them they were not alone. Glancing over, Katherine could see that Elizabeth was clambering to her feet and looking extremely bemused. Thankfully it appeared the wound Katherine had inflicted had healed before the spell of the vampire blood had worn off and Katherine hoped Arabella was similarly cured wherever she’d ended up. Elizabeth’s confused eyes fell on the other two women.


“How did I get here? What’s going on?”


“That could take some explaining,” said Katherine slowly.


A light of recognition sparked in Elizabeth’s eyes. “You’re Lady Katherine aren’t you?”


“Yes I am,” confirmed Katherine, “so you can trust me when I say there’s nothing to worry about any more; you’re going to be fine now.” Katherine crossed to the other woman and placed a comforting hand on her arm. “How about I tell you all about it on the way back to the manor house where you’ll be my guest? I think we could all do with some sleep at last!”








It was well into the afternoon the following day when Anne made her way through the woods to the cottage near the convergence of the Clipstone and Budby streams. She had spent the whole morning sleeping, making up for the previous nights when the blood lust had disturbed her slumber. In the end she’d left Katherine still in bed to make her appointment. The other woman had stirred when she’d tried to sneak out and Anne had been forced to make some excuse about guarding duties to cover up where she was going. She hated lying, but she had no choice.


As she neared the cottage the door opened and Axia stepped forth, a smile immediately appearing on her face when she saw who it was. “You came then.”


“I told you I would and I keep my word,” stated Anne. As far as she was concerned this was all just a means to an end – defeating whatever threat was on the way to Markham.


There was a flash of movement behind Axia from inside the cottage and Anne’s hand immediately went to her sword. She had it drawn before Axia managed to speak.


“Wait, it’s only one of the others!” She motioned behind her and a young man stepped outside so Anne could see him. He was only about twenty years of age, fair-haired, short and stocky. He simply smiled and nodded in Anne’s direction.


Anne ignored the friendly gesture and glared at Axia, not liking the sense the other woman was still keeping things from her. “I didn’t realise there would be anyone else here.”


“The task ahead is serious,” she said, “we need all of the nine to accomplish it.”


“The nine?”


“The nine chosen ones who have special abilities,” explained Axia. “You are the seventh. Johannes here is the third; he’s come all the way from Germany.”


“I’m the Seventh of Nine?” repeated Anne. Something about the statement stirred a faint memory but she couldn’t place it. Dismissing it for now she focussed back on Axia. “So we can expect another six of us to turn up? When are they arriving?”


A faint smile lifted Axia’s lips as Anne spoke.


“What?” asked Anne, unsure what had caused it.


“You referred to ‘us’,” Axia replied.


“It was a slip of the tongue.”


“Of course,” said Axia, though the smile still played across her face. “The others should be arriving within the next few days, some of them have far to come. Why don’t you come inside and I can tell you more about them?”


Anne hesitated. Each time she spoke to Axia she seemed to get sucked just that little further into her world and had more things she needed to keep secret from her other world, from Katherine.


“There’s nothing to be scared of in there,” Axia said, “just some food and drink including my speciality – honey coated buns.”


“I’m not scared,” corrected Anne, “just wary.”


“Everyone is the first time they try my buns,” joked Axia. She gestured to the door again. “But I promise you’ll like them.”


Anne sensed Axia wasn’t really talking about bread products at all. Sighing to herself, she stepped on into the cottage.








COMING SOON – Lady Katherine and The Belligerent Bride