Chapter Ten

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Ysanne

Edmond slept the rest of the day, waking only briefly every now and then, and Ysanne seized every opportunity to give him food and water. If he wanted to recover this, he needed to keep his strength up.

That night, she didn't sleep at all, but instead watched over him, only leaving the bed when the fire needed tending. Every time Edmond shifted, she put a hand on his forehead, feeling for any sign of fever. Humans were so susceptible to infection.

But when morning came, he was still with her, fever-free.

She changed his bandages, and fed him slices of bread and cheese while he lay in bed.

For more than a week she tended to him like this, not allowing him to move except when he needed the latrine.

While he slept, she dragged the bodies of the dead men out in the snow, and dumped them a short distance from the house. She'd have liked to take them further, but leaving Edmond was not an option right now. The last time she'd gone away, he had nearly died, and she was terrified that if she left again, he would slip away.

Feeding herself was a problem.

Hunting down animals in this bitter weather was already hard enough, but when she couldn't venture beyond the grounds, it was nearly impossible. She got lucky once, catching a couple of pigeons whose feet had frozen to the branch of a nearby tree, and once she had drained them of blood, she plucked them and roasted them over the fire for Edmond.

By the end of that first week, the colour was coming back into Edmond's face, and he was sitting up more comfortably. He was also growing restless.

"I'll decide when you're fit enough to move," Ysanne said, when he grumbled to her about being confined to bed.

Edmond ran a hand over his chin, where a beard was shadowing his skin. "At least give me a knife so I can be rid of this."

"I'll do it," Ysanne said.

"I'm not a complete invalid," he protested, and Ysanne pointed a finger at him.

"Don't argue with me, Edmond."

She heated water over the fire and sharpened her smallest knife on a whetstone, honing the blade to a lethal edge, then she sat on the edge of the bed, and tilted Edmond's head to one side.

"Tell me about Richart," Edmond said, and Ysanne paused, her hand cupping his face. His stubble prickled her palm.

"Why do you want to know about him?" she asked.

"I'm curious."

"You're nosy," she said, but she smiled at the same time.

"Perhaps," Edmond said, smiling back at her.

"He was . . . kind," Ysanne said, carefully running the sharpened blade up the curve of Edmond's throat, scraping away the bristly hair that grew there. "He loved me very much, and he treated me like a queen, but he wasn't trying to buy my affection. He treated me that way because he thought it was what I deserved, and I know he harboured hopes that I would come to truly love him in time."

"Do you think you ever could have done?" Edmond asked.

"Perhaps. I'll never know now. I married him because I knew that he would take care of me. I knew that he would be a good husband, and I knew that he would be a good father to the children I was sure we would have."

"Those beds," Edmond said, looking at the fire where Ysanne had burned them that first night.

"They would have been for our children. But we never had any."

"Why not?"

Ysanne sat back a little. "How on earth should I know? Perhaps I was barren. Perhaps there was something wrong with Richart. Or perhaps it would have happened eventually, if he hadn't died."

"Do you regret not having them?"

Ysanne blinked a little. "It's . . . complicated. I was raised to believe that my role in life was to be a good wife and mother, and until Richart died, I couldn't imagine a future that didn't have children. But I cannot say if that's because I truly wanted them or if it's because it was what I had always assumed my life would be. I know that Richart hoped for children early on, and he was disappointed every month it didn't happen, but I can't honestly say that I felt the same. Maybe I would have done, in time, but . . ." She trailed off. "Truth be told, I don't really know how I feel about it. When I looked at those empty beds, I did feel some measure of regret. But when Richart died, my whole life changed, and my hopes for the future changed too. Then I became a vampire, and that killed any hope I might have had of being a mother. Vampires cannot breed."

"Not at all?"

Ysanne slid the knife up Edmond's right cheek, to the sharp line of his cheekbone. "Not at all," she confirmed. "Vampires cannot be born, they can only be made."

"How do you make a vampire?" Edmond asked.

"You kill someone."

He looked taken aback. Perhaps he had hoped for something more romantic or mystical.

"To turn a human into a vampire, that human's blood must be drained almost to the point of death, and then they must drink the blood of a vampire. They will still die, but they will return as a vampire. It doesn't always work, of course, and no one really knows why. Sometimes humans just . . . don't come back."

Edmond quietly absorbed all that.

"Tell me about Lucy," Ysanne said, tilting Edmond's face to the other side.

She had come to care for Edmond so much, and yet there was still so much she didn't know about him.

He was quiet for a long moment, staring past Ysanne, into the constant fire that burned at the foot of the bed.

"She was quiet," he said at last. "I didn't notice her at first – she was timid as a fieldmouse. But she was kind. She always had a good word for my brother, for my sisters. She made them laugh. And when she smiled, it brightened her whole face. We didn't have much in our little lives, but she never complained, never asked for more. She was content with whatever I could give her. She was honest and humble and gentle, and she . . ." Edmond looked away, blinking rapidly. "She deserved better than the awful death that befell her," he muttered.

Ysanne knew the pain of loss – Julien's death was still so fresh in her heart, despite the decades that had passed – but she didn't know the pain of watching someone she loved fall prey to the deadliest of diseases. She didn't know how it felt to know that there was absolutely nothing she could do to save that loved one. Neither Richart nor Julien had been with her when they died. Their losses still weighed upon her, in different ways, but she hadn't had to sit by their beds, cleaning the blood that spilled from their noses and mouths, hadn't had to watch the terrible fever wracking them, hadn't had to listen to their dying moans.

She laid her hand on Edmond's, and he blinked again, coming back to her.

"I'm sorry that she was taken from you," she said.

She didn't say anything else on the matter, but inside she hoped that, one day, Edmond would love again, that one day he would meet someone else he could give his heart to. She hoped that there was a forever love for him out there, and that one day he would find it.

She hoped it wouldn't take him too long.

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