Charlotte discovers there’s more to her memory than she thought.
For past episodes of Victorian Mistress see the Weekly Serial page.
London – 1840
‘What’s missing?’ I murmured.
The shelves looked full but there had to be something missing. There was no way a man like Bran with such an extensive library of things you never thought to ask to things you wished you hadn’t read wouldn’t have books on vampires. I’d found mentions of vampires, vague things alluding to folklore and myth but there had to have been something more at some point.
I’d been in the library before I started living in the house and reading the books so, somewhere in my head, was an image of the library from that first time. Of course, there might never have been anything and I was wasting my time, but you didn’t survive if you didn’t cover the angles.
I scoffed at myself. If I’d been covering all the angles I should’ve thought of it sooner. Bran was meticulous about his books, even when they looked like they were heaped on a table he knew exactly what was where, the only time he didn’t was when they got knocked on the floor in our enthusiasm. In his study there were catalogues that listed all the books and where they should be on the shelves. One had pages missing. Bran wasn’t the type to tear pages out of any sort of book, I should’ve known there was something suspicious about it, I was getting lax in my dotage.
I inhaled deeply and thought back to that first visit. I’d been astounded by the number of books, I’d never seen so many before, I hadn’t realised so many had ever been written. In the library the first thing I did was to peruse the bookcase to the right of the door.
I opened my eyes, and stood in front of the bookcase. My fingers caressed the dry leather spines. I remembered that first time, feeling that worn leather, the crispness of the pages, the resistance as I slipped a book back into place.
I took a step back.
Overlaid with the real shelf was a translucent one; it would’ve been invisible if not for the shadows, they didn’t match. It was summer and the sun was bright and creeping towards its zenith, the first time I visited it had been winter and the pale sun had been sitting low in the sky.
I stepped close to the bookcase again and touched it. The wood should’ve been warmed by the sun coming through the window, instead it was cool.
‘This is new,’ I whispered.
I walked along the shelves, fingers tracing the cool wood, and the image grew a little stronger. If it was working and I wasn’t hallucinating all I had to do was find a book that didn’t match. Assuming it was on a shelf, if it was on a reading table I’d never recognise an ‘out of place’ book.
I examined the shelves that lined the walls and their escaping tendrils that made cubbyholes and nooks, though they were too big to warrant the name. Bran didn’t like small spaces, he never said but he never went in any either.
Halfway round I paused. I walked forward a little, then backward a little but the books on the shelf by the furthest reading table were different. The books of the present were collections of Radcliffe and Austen and new Dicken’s novels. The books in the overlay looked like journals, handwritten and slim.
I touched the translucent spine of one, it was fractured from constant opening and closing, with only the leather cover holding it together. I’d expect an ancient tome or scrolls, I never would’ve found them.
The question was where he’d hidden the real ones. They were small so they wouldn’t have needed much space, they could’ve been secreted anywhere. The books grew more solid the longer I stared at them and I wondered. It was a stupid wondering, but still…
I slid the first one off the shelf and flipped it open. At first I thought my head had covered the pages in writing and pictures because I’d never seen inside them to remember the contents. I shouldn’t have opened it and found it full of Irish. Some of it I recognised and some I didn’t, but what I could read of it was coherent, there were even notations between lines and in the margins.
I flicked through the pages. They were all full of Bran’s elegant calligraphy, even the notations were tidy. From what I could read it was an encyclopaedia, not only of vampires but other supernatural beings. I recognised ‘sidhe’ from old Irish stories of the Fair Folk; I’d read an English translation once, from the fragments the ‘sidhe’ in Bran’s journal weren’t like the ones from the stories. There was drawing of one in profile with pointed ears and a tattooed face, the stories hadn’t mentioned that.
I’d always know my memory wasn’t a normal memory but I’d heard about other people who could remember everything. I’d never heard of them remembering things they’d never seen before. Josef had said my memory was magically enhanced, retrocognative he’d called it. I hadn’t believed him. It was one thing to hear someone say my memory was magic, it was another to take it seriously.
Arms closed around my waist. I tensed.
I was standing in the library again, in front of a shelf of new books, staring at my empty hands.
‘Sorry,’ Bran said. ‘I understand if you don’t want to… I just…’
I caught his arms before he could take them away and held them there. ‘You surprised me, I was thinking which book to read next.’
He peered at the books as an excuse to put his cheek against mine, his eyesight was perfect. ‘Will you put them back in the right order?’
‘I’m undecided.’ I kissed his cheek.
‘I was worried you wouldn’t want me to touch you after…’ he said, still frowning at the books. ‘I thought maybe that was why…’
‘Take it as a compliment. I’m so relaxed around you I don’t feel the need to swing round and punch you in the face. Or kick you in the balls, quite effective as I recall.’
‘I hadn’t considered that.’ He sighed.
I grinned and nuzzled his face. ‘Where were you getting your blood from? Obviously you don’t go stealing people from alleys.’ Plenty of vampires did, spend enough time on the streets and you got to know about vampires and other things, most human.
‘There are places…’ He shifted against my back. ‘I can buy it. Your allowance doesn’t cover all my appetites,’
‘Technically, it only covers being your companion.’
‘You do like contracts,’ he murmured.
‘I like knowing where I stand. Not always the same.’ I leaned into him. ‘How much blood do you need? Average, not extremes.’
He tilted his head to consider me. ‘Too much for one person to sustain.’
His gaze went back to the books. ‘Why would you want to give me your blood?’
‘I don’t like the idea of you going off and sucking on someone else’s thigh,’ I said.
His glanced at me. ‘You’re not jealous.’
‘I might be. I’ve never been jealous before.’
I waited for him to reply but he worried his lip with his teeth and said nothing.
‘If need be you could give me a few drops of blood in return and it’s all regenerated in a jiffy. No harm done. The fact you drink blood to survive doesn’t bother me, Bran.’ I put my hand over his where they were clasped against my stomach. ‘Is that what’s bothering you?’
His muscles tightened as his brain tried to catch up with what I’d been saying. I didn’t need to be able to read his mind to know it had stuck on the idea I might be jealous. The idea that someone getting jealous over him was as difficult a concept for Bran to process as fossils for some.
‘I should make you leave,’ he whispered so quietly I suspected he didn’t want me to hear.
‘I wouldn’t go.’
‘If you’re going to say I don’t understand I’ll refuse sex for a week… A few days… Five minutes…’ I nipped his jaw. ‘You’ll suffer.’
I turned and rose up on my toes to say against his ear, ‘So am I.’
Now you can find Charlotte’s adventures on Wattpad @JesseQuill