Charlotte asks a favour of Josef.
London – 1842
I found Josef in his workshop tapping away at a piece of wood with a chisel and hammer. He was shirtless, but that was to be expected. Josef took any opportunity to get his shirt off, despite vampires not sweating. I suppose any man who had muscles like that would want to show them off, Lord knew why.
‘What’re you making?’ I asked, inhaling the scent of fresh cut wood and beeswax.
‘I’m not sure yet.’ he murmured and continued tapping. ‘The wood knows what it wants to be.’
I blinked. That wasn’t the answer I expected.
‘I need a favour,’ I said.
‘Hasn’t meeting Freyja Deacon taught you anything about favours?’ He blew little bits of wood out of the groove he’d cut. ‘They’re dangerous things.’
‘Oh, I think you’ll like this one.’ I grinned. ‘I’ve got a heap of work to get through so I was wondering if while Bran’s away you’d like to take the children on a trip for a few weeks.’
He stopped carving and straightened, trying and failing to suppress a smile. ‘We could go to Hadrian’s Wall and slay barbarians.’
‘I don’t think they call the Scottish that anymore,’ I replied.
‘They invented shortbread. That’s barbaric,’ he muttered.
‘You’re up to something,’ he said, brandishing his chisel at me. ‘I think Bran knows, or at least suspects, but he won’t tell me.’
‘I’m always up to something, Josef.’
‘I know, it’s disturbing.’ He went back to his carving. ‘We could go looking for The Lost Legion.’
‘As long as it’s not dangerous,’ I said.
‘Oh, it was a long time ago. It’s perfectly safe.’
‘Says the two thousand year old vampire.’
He shrugged his muscular shoulders. ‘There is surely no safer place to be.’
‘I hope so.’ I ran my fingertips over the wood. ‘If you don’t look after them I might have to beat you to death with one of your own carvings.’
‘If anyone could, it would be you.’ He set his chisel aside. ‘You’re the most remarkable woman I’ve ever met. And I don’t mean your abilities, I mean everything about you.’ He stepped close. ‘But you still have the folly of youth. You don’t understand that a vampire cannot resist their maker’s compulsion, even if that command is to kill the person he loves.’
‘That’s an interesting insight,’ I said.
‘I’ve had a long time to think about the worst things Richard could do to Bran but he’s never had anyone like you before.’ He gripped my chin lightly and looked me straight in the eye. ‘Richard will do something special to you if it takes his fancy.’
‘Are you trying to make me run away?’
‘I’m giving you a warning I know you won’t pay attention to.’
‘Then why warn me?’
He caressed my cheek. ‘Because I have to. Bran’s not the only one who loves you.’ He snorted and lowered his hand. ‘You know how to get under a man’s skin.’
‘I made no effort to get under yours.’
‘Exactly,’ he said and went back to his carving. ‘Perhaps it’s the punishment for all my wrongs, to love someone who will never love me back.’
‘It’s been a long time since I felt this kind of love. I thought I’d forgotten it but it was only sleeping.’
‘What’s brought this on?’
He stopped tapping his chisel. ‘Bran has been so morose these past few days your mortality suddenly struck me. You’re a changeling you might live a hundred years, or you might live no more than any other human. One day you will die.’
‘I told you before. Death is the only certainty,’ I said, drumming my fingers on the wood. ‘The workhouse taught me that.’
‘Whatever you’re planning Bran is worried and that’s a bad sign.’ He sighed. ‘He always worries but he’s more than worried, he’s terrified. I think he wants me to stop whatever it is you’re planning.’
‘Are you going to?’ I asked.
‘No,’ he said. ‘For the same reason Bran won’t.’
I arched my eyebrows at him and waited.
His callused fingers traced my jaw. ‘I know once you’re on a path you won’t be swayed. That’s why I love you. Why we both love you.’
‘Aren’t I lucky?’ I muttered. ‘So, will you take the children on holiday?’
‘Yes, just tell me when.’
‘Good.’ I turned to go then paused. ‘Oh, take Mrs Stapleton too. Even old vampires need help keeping up with those three. Ask Bran.’