Freyja tells Charlotte a tale of a puppet master.
London – 1842
Freyja was sat on the back of the Serpentine with a cream parasol on the ground beside her. She was wearing a deep red dress that went very nicely with her white hair and greyish skin, but I had to wonder what she looked like to everyone else.
‘You scared the ducks,’ she said as a group of ducks dropped off the bank into the water. ‘Do you know how long it takes creatures to get used to me on this side?’
I lowered myself onto the grass beside her, not an easy manoeuvre in a corset and heavy dress. ‘You should rotate your schedule.’
‘Don’t I?’ She blinked. ‘That’s the problem with you mortals, time moves so slowly for you.’ She opened a watch on a bracelet round her wrist and checked the time. ‘Shall I continue to annoy you? More sex jokes, perhaps? My personal favourite. It’s a pity Brandon isn’t here to squirm.’ She sighed. ‘What shall I go for today? Quantity? Quality? Shan’t bother with size, it’s no fun if there isn’t a man around to be insulted.’
‘I have a question,’ I said.
Her lips thinned but she said, ‘Only one, Little Red? I might lose my patience.’
I looked at her in silence. She was honour bound to answer my questions as truthful as she could, however much I tested her patience. Besides, if she really want to find out where I got my immunity to her telepathy from she wasn’t going to do it if she didn’t answer my questions too.
She got to her feet and dusted off her dress. ‘I’m an old woman give me your arm and we’ll go for a turn about the lake.’
I got up and handed her the parasol which she opened against the pale sun. She her hand into the crook of my arm and started walking at a genteel pace.
‘Why does Richard hate Bran so much?’ I asked after a few minutes of watching the sun play over the ruffled water.
‘Now there’s a tale. I wasn’t myself there so I couldn’t say it’s all true, only what I’ve heard is true. Is this acceptable?’
‘Yes,’ I replied without looking at her.
She tilted her parasol and it skimmed across the top of my head. Nobody was paying attention to the two ladies, it was a common enough sight but it wouldn’t surprise me if she could do a trick like Bran to make people not notice her.
‘The story goes,’ she said, ‘that Richard, way back when he had a different name and another life, was a warrior, I forget where from. He goes away for a bit of a pillage, as men do, and like Odysseus he was away for many years. When he comes home… well…’ She spread one arm and decapitated some flowers with her parasol. ‘His lands have been Christianised. The old gods are gone. His wife belongs to another man. And it’s all a bit convert or die. They tried that on me a few times. Didn’t take.’ She shook her head. ‘Now, this being so long ago I can’t remember what happened between but the next story he turns up in he’s tearing apart monasteries and treating the monks like a buffet. A memorable tale’
She smiled showing her obsidian teeth. ‘Now, your boy’s called The Priest. I have to wonder…’
‘There’s be no satisfaction in him corrupting a corrupt priest,’ I said.
‘Clever girl.’ She smiled but it was false. ‘All those vampires of his. The mad and the bad and the dangerous to know. They were all good priests once, so the stories go.’
‘He corrupted them as vengeance against The Church,’ I added. ‘Or God.’
‘Top of the class.’ She tapped me on the head with her parasol. ‘I owe you one questions.’
I rested a hand against my corset waist, a little lost as to what to do without a knife belt or pockets. If Richard was motivated by revenge I knew a few things about that. Revenge I could work with.
‘I am interested to see how this all turns out,’ she said. ‘A human taking on a vampire as powerful as The Puppet Master.’
‘And why would that interest you?’
‘The sheer amusement of watching what happens.’ She looked up towards the encroaching clouds. ‘Not a fight you can win but… at my age you do enjoy the long odds.’ She checked her watch and frowned. ‘I shall simply have to find someone else to bother.’ She unhooked her arm from mine. ‘Toodles, Little Red.’
‘Hm,’ I said, not really listening.
She walked off leaving me standing in the middle of the path staring at a puddle until a man bumped my shoulder and apologised, looking confuse, as if I’d appeared from nowhere. I ignored him and started walking back in the direction of home.
The answer was obvious. I’d known it all along and I’d been avoiding it.
If I wanted to stop Richard I was going to have to stop avoiding it.