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ROYAL BLOOD
by Rhys Bowen

Genre: Mystery, Historical, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller

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I climbed into bed and lingered for a while before I dared to turn off the bedside lamp. I had always thought of myself as the daring one in the family. I had allowed my brother and his school friends to lower me into the castle well at home. I had sat up all night on the battlements once to see if my grandfather’s ghost really did play the bagpipes. But this was different. I felt a profound sense of unease. I wished I still had a nanny in the next room. Finally I curled up into a little ball and tried to go to sleep.

I was drifting off when I thought I heard the smallest of noises—a light click. My eyes shot open, instantly awake. Although the outer regions of my room were pitch black I was somehow sure that someone was in the room with me. The curtains around the bed obscured my view. I leaned out a little, then drew my head back quickly. The fire had died down but from the glow I could make out a dark figure, moving closer and closer. At last he stood over the bed. I opened my mouth but I was too frightened to move or to scream. The glow from the fire illuminated his face. It looked just like the young man from the portrait on the wall.

He leaned closer and closer to me and he murmured something in a language I didn’t understand. He was smiling, his teeth reflected in firelight. Everything Belinda had told me about vampires biting necks and the ecstasy of being bitten rushed back to me. In the safety of London and daylight I had laughed at her. But the face above me was all too real and it seemed as if those teeth were heading straight for my neck. However terrified I was, one thing was certain. I was definitely not about to be turned into an undead.

I sat up abruptly, making him leap backward.

“What do you think you’re doing?” I demanded in a way that my great grandmother, Queen Victoria would have been proud of.

The young man gave an unearthly moan of horror. Then he turned and melted back into the shadows.   

For a while I couldn’t move. I sat up, my heart beating so rapidly that I could hardly breathe. Was the creature still in the room with me? How did one ward off vampires anyway?  I tried to remember from reading Dracula. Some sort of herb or plant? Parsley? No, that wasn’t it. I thought it might be garlic. Had I eaten enough of that in the venison to breathe on him? I wasn’t about to try and find my way down to the kitchen to locate some. I also thought I remembered that crosses might work, but I didn’t have one of those either. Stakes through the heart? I didn’t think I could pull that one off even if I had a stake at my disposal.

Then I thought of something more solid, like maybe one of the large candlesticks on the mantelpiece. Surely even a vampire could be kept at bay with a whomp over the head with that. I slipped out of bed, made my way across the room and picked up the candlestick. Then I crossed the room cautiously until I reached the light switch. I turned it on and found nobody there. Of course then I had to lift the various curtains, one by one, experiencing at least one heart-stopping moment when a blast of cold air hit me in the face and I realized that one of the windows was open. 

I tried to close it but it didn’t latch properly. I told myself that Siegfried’s room was next door, but I pictured myself standing at his door in a nightdress again, trying to explain at that a vampire had just been trying to bite my neck. Somehow I didn’t think he’d believe me. Then I noticed a large tapestry bell pull beside the bed and was half tempted to yank on it and see who it brought. But since they probably spoke no English and I would have felt equally foolish explaining a vampire attack to them,  I left it and got into bed, still clutching the candlestick. At least I was relieved knowing that the bell pull was there and if he came back I could summon help before he could get his teeth into me. 

The moment I was in bed I remembered the chest that I hadn’t managed to open before. I could never sleep not knowing what was in there. I got up and crossed the room slowly while the portrait of the young man looked down with a mocking smile. I jumped again as I caught site of my reflection in that wardrobe mirror and it did occur to me that I had never seen the young man’s reflection as he came toward the bed. Wasn’t that another thing about vampires—that one couldn’t see their shadow or their reflection? I shuddered. The lid was too heavy to lift. I struggled and struggled until at last I had it open. To my intense relief it only contained clothing, including a black cape. The interesting thing was that there were some half melted snowflakes on it, which made me suspect that my vampire visitor had climbed the wall into my room.