Chapter Eleven

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As the days became weeks, she and Edmond settled into an easy rhythm. For a while, she continued to feed him, refusing to let him out of bed, but one day she was forced to venture further from the house to hunt for blood, and when she returned, he was chopping vegetables in the kitchen.

Reluctantly she had to admit that he couldn't recover his strength if she never let him out of bed.

She fashioned crude wooden brackets on either side of the front door, and felled a small tree nearby, dragging it back to the house, and using it to barricade the door so Edmond would never be vulnerable again.

She barricaded any further gaps in the windows too, in every room of the house, making it as safe as she possibly could.

Then, one afternoon when she was repairing one of the planks that had come loose, the strength faded from her arms, and she almost dropped the heavy slab of wood.

"Ysanne?" said Edmond, coming up behind her.

"I'm fine," she muttered, waving him away.

"No, you're not." He moved closer, peering so intently into her eyes that she saw the exact moment he realised what was going on.

"The animal blood you've been drinking – it's not enough, is it?" he said.

Ysanne held her tongue. If she confirmed his suspicions, he'd offer to feed her, and that was not an option. Not yet.

But Edmond didn't need her confirmation.

He pulled the neck of his shirt to one side, exposing the line of his throat, and Ysanne couldn't help looking. Her fangs ached to taste the blood pulsing just beneath the surface of his skin, but she couldn't.

"No," she said, tearing her gaze away.

"Why not?"

"You're still recovering."

"I'm strong enough to do this."

"You most certainly are not."

Edmond started to protest, but Ysanne cut him off.

"If I feed from you now, I will put a strain on your body that it is not currently prepared to cope with. You were stabbed, Edmond."

"Believe me, I did notice," he said, smiling wryly.

Ysanne didn't return the smile. "I know that you want to help, but I am not taking a single drop of your blood until you are better recovered, and that is not up for discussion."

"You're very stubborn," Edmond commented.

"That's as may be, but I'm still not drinking from you."

As Edmond's strength continued to return, he started helping her with more manual labour, though she kept a hawk-eye on him, making sure he didn't overexert himself. But fortune had smiled on him, and the wound was nicely healing up, without leaving any lasting damage.

Gradually, Ysanne let go of the fear that something bad would happen to him if she left him alone. Fashioning a hood from one of her gowns, she started going further afield to hunt for food.

Edmond helped her fetch wood as often as he could, and when she caught any animals, he prepared them for eating – after she had drained them of blood. There was usually a pot of something bubbling away in the fireplace, and he would add to it whenever they had fresh meat, or when Ysanne bought potatoes or vegetables from towns or villages in the surrounding area. As someone who enjoyed life's little luxuries, she had brought more jewellery on her journey than was strictly necessary, and now she was glad of it, because she had plenty to sell and barter. Edmond never had to go hungry.

Gradually, his thin frame filled out. He no longer looked like he was starving to death, and the work they did around the house started to build muscle in his arms and chest.

It came as something of a shock one day, when Ysanne realised how beautiful he was.

That wide-eyed, hollow-cheeked waif in the snow was becoming something else before her eyes.

The boy was becoming a man.

As soon as she noticed it, she felt strange. She had barely looked at another man since Julien's death, and when she had first found Edmond, cowering and shivering in the snow, she had never imagined that she could be attracted to him. She still didn't know that she was, not really, but as he grew a couple more inches, as his shoulders and chest broadened out, she could not deny the fact that he was devastatingly attractive.

But did that mean she was attracted to him?

One morning she went outside, to the courtyard that lay behind the house. Once it had been surrounded by a stone wall, but much of that had fallen to ruin now. Very little grew here except weeds.

And one small tree, battered and bowed by winds, but stubbornly still there.

It had been so very long since she'd planted that, in Richart's memory.

Julien's apple tree still stood in its pot, outside the door. She still hadn't been able to bring herself to plant it, and she'd thought that the constant snow and frost would kill it, but somehow the little tree struggled on.

Ysanne sat in front of Richart's tree, looking at the bare branches that twisted up towards a watery winter sun.

"You must think me a fool," she said, knotting her hands in her lap.

He wouldn't, of course. He'd never thought of her as foolish.

"Am I mistaking my concern for the boy for something else?" Ysanne said. "Am I misinterpreting how I feel? How can I misinterpret my feelings when I don't even know what they are?"

The tree's branches rattled slightly, nudged by the wind.

Ysanne sighed a little. "What would our lives have been like if you hadn't died?"

She gazed around the courtyard, remembering how it had been when she and Richart lived here, all those long years ago. That wall would still be standing, and the vegetable plots would be bursting with produce. There had been animal pens once, holding chickens and pigs, and Richart had talked about building a stable for horses. He'd never had a chance to.

What would it have been like if they'd had children?

Ysanne tried to picture it.

She looked around her and tried to imagine small versions of herself and Richart, running barefoot in the courtyard, chasing the chickens and picking fruit from the trees. Would they have had her blonde hair, or would they have been red-haired like their father? Would they have inherited his freckles, or her frost-coloured eyes? Richart had often talked excitedly about the names they would choose, but Ysanne couldn't remember a single one now.

They would have been content. Maybe Ysanne would have fallen in love with him, and maybe she wouldn't, but he would always have been good to her. He would always have made sure she was cared for, and their lives would have been happy.

But she would never have known the passion she had come to discover after his death.

She would never have known the true joy of sharing her body with someone she genuinely loved.

She would never have looked into Joan's dying eyes and felt something spark to life inside her, the need for something more.

Ysanne had chosen this path, and it hadn't always been easy, but she didn't regret it.

She just wished that, after so long, she understood her own heart a little better.

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