Carabosse never would have arrived late that fateful night, and then Count Lilac and his merry band of meddling morons would not have been able to thwart her, had Caradoc not been particularly trying that day.
He was only three, yet already had titanic willpower and no one but his mother – formidable as she was – against whom to test it. He’d refused every meal, and now he would not go to bed, not even after Carabosse had tried a sleeping enchantment on him.
So she’d brought him along. She was running late as it was, and she warned Caradoc not to make a sound when they got to their destination.
Once they were inside the nursery, Caradoc glanced into the cradle and spat out, much too loudly: “But that’s only a baby!” Like he’d expected a dragon or a giant instead.
“Hush,” Carabosse hissed at him.
She tried to drag him away, but he clung to the cradle, still staring inside. Carabosse noticed that the baby was awake and staring back at Caradoc with big eyes, yet made no sound, like Caradoc had hypnotized her.
Carabosse let go of her son’s arm and leaned down to speak softly in his ear: “Do you think you could keep her quiet while mommy casts her spell?”
Caradoc’s voice remained too loud: “Of course. Babies are stupid.”
But he kept staring raptly at the rapt and silent infant. He reached into the cradle and placed one hand on the baby’s blanket. The baby Aurora wriggled and batted at his hand with her tiny fists, but continued silent.
Later, after they’d been caught and sent away with neither dignity intact nor purpose accomplished, Caradoc kept uncommonly quiet for most of the journey home. When they alighted in their garden of stone paths and trees which never bloomed, he spoke up, startling Carabosse, who had been so busy brooding on her failure that she had almost forgotten her son was with her.
“She won’t be a baby forever, will she?”
“What? No, of course not. She’ll grow up, just like you, my little prince.”
Caradoc mulled this over. “Can we go back, when she grows up? I’d like that.”
Carabosse gave him a sharp look, and he looked away.
“I could keep her quiet again,” he mumbled unconvincingly.
There were no other children in Carabosse’s domain, and the peculiar silent bond between the two children began to, if not make sense to Carabosse, at least take shape in her mind as something she could turn to her purpose, now that her initial plan for revenge was spoiled. How sweet it would be if Aurora, the apple of her parents’ eye, were to bloom into womanhood only to choose as her suitor Carabosse’s only son - a briar rose plucked by a raven! Carabosse would have to be vigilant and ensure that influence ran only in one direction, from Caradoc to Aurora – he had seemed as enraptured by Aurora as she had been absorbed by him, and that simply would not do. Carabosse had no use for a gentle son who valued a friend over his own mother!
Carabosse smiled and stroked her son’s black mop of hair. “Of course, my dear. We shall go back many times, and you will have no end of fun with that little girl when you’re both older.”
“Do you promise?” Caradoc asked suspiciously. Carabosse had gone back on an ill-judged promise of a pet rat a few days before, and this was her punishment.
Aurora did not like him.
Caradoc had not expected that she would, for he was his mother’s son and the chit must have sensed their shared essence in some way, to flinch at his touch and shrink away from him so. She danced happily enough with all the young fops at the garden party, yet her parents had to scold her for her lapse in manners when she pretended not to see Caradoc’s outstretched hand.
Caradoc had expected her to distrust him, or to pretend coyness, but not this – this obvious revulsion. The unfairness of it angered him, for had he not kept a close eye on the girl, even from the cold, misty place where he had been exiled alongside his mother. Still pools of water had shown him a crawling infant, a toddling child, a running girl, and then finally this leaping, laughing young woman, forever bursting out of her hairpins and corset, who danced happily with everyone, even the young man with a monocle and a suit at least ten years out of style.
Everyone but Caradoc. Well, she didn’t have to like him, but she would come to him regardless. He had learned patience and craftiness from his mother. Carabosse had little else to leave him as her legacy, but that and the magic he carried inside him would be more than sufficient.
Caradoc held out a rose, dark as crimson damask or a desert sunset, and Aurora very nearly took it. She had but to pluck it from his hand, and then he would pluck her from her life, but she withdrew her hand at the last moment.
Caradoc told himself that her refusal did not give him a thrill, even as it made him want to fling Aurora over his shoulder and flee the ensuing confusion under cover of a well-timed thunderclap. She had no right to refuse him, not when he’d waited so long for this, but even so: the wildness in her enchanted him. He wanted her to give him more, so he might fill himself with her as with opium smoke.
He dropped the damask rose on an empty stone bench and withdrew into the shadows, to watch what happened next.
He hadn’t meant to do it.
It wasn’t Caradoc’s fault that not every true love’s kiss could wake her. It wasn’t his fault that his true love for her had proved insufficient!
Aurora had flinched away from him upon waking, stared around her with the eyes of a wild animal, called to her parents, and cried and cried when Caradoc dragged her away, through the open gates and into the forest.
She wouldn’t stop crying, and watching over her for a hundred years, Caradoc had grown bored as well as hungry.
Later, his shirtfront and waistcoat soaked with her blood, his chin sticky with it, he’d clutched her pale and cooling flesh and wept bitterly.
“Mother, I didn’t mean to,” he cried, his face pressed to Aurora’s chest, her heart silent and still. “What do I do now?”
But his mother was long dead and could not answer him. Calling to her in his despair did not bring the relief Caradoc had hoped for, any more that having Aurora wake up or even swallowing her life while she struggled feebly in his arms had done.
4. Romantic drama
Leo shifted on his sleeping bag and winced: “I asked you last time not to be so rough.”
Caradoc continued buttoning his shirt and did not answer. Vampires were supposed to be rough. For all that Count Lilac pretended to be better than Caradoc, he might have taught the boy that much. Caradoc himself had learned that lesson early and often from his mother: to be a vampire was to claim and feed on others. Anything else, anything less was an invitation to have a dagger plunged between one’s shoulder blades and become someone else’s meat.
Behind him, Leo sighed. “You could… stay?”
He sounded so uncertain that Caradoc almost laughed, and he hadn’t laughed even longer than he’d shown anyone but his mother any tenderness. Whenever he pressed Leo’s face to the sleeping bag and buggered the erstwhile gamekeeper turned the world’s most pathetic vampire, Caradoc told himself he was exerting dominance in the face of weakness, he was confirming his place in the vampire hierarchy, he was…
He was passing the time. A hundred years could be a very long time to have to wait for something, even for creatures that lived forever, and Leo was the only other person still alive who knew what drove Caradoc. (Well, there was Lilac, but Caradoc had no desire to cross that line. He wasn’t desperate, just bored.)
“We could play cards,” Leo offered. “Or go owl stalking. Do you ever do that? Sneak up on them at night and watch them nearly fall out of their nests in shock that you managed to get close enough to touch their pinions? I didn’t use to think owls could be so graceless.”
“No, I don’t want to play cards or give any owls heart attacks,” Caradoc cut Leo off. “Stop talking, or I’ll shove your filthy sock in your mouth next time.”
Leo’s tone turned lighter, almost mocking. “Oh, so I’ll see you in about a month, then.”
Not bothering to dignify that with a reply, Caradoc gathered up his boots and crawled face-first out of Leo’s tent. Leo presumed too much. Really, Caradoc ought to stay away, that’d show him.
He sat down on a tree stump to pull on his boots. Eighty-nine years had passed, the mortals insisted on calling this the millennium, but of course that was not for another year. And then, just ten more years...
Caradoc could manage ten more years. He was immortal, after all, time was a detail, it would be easy. He didn’t need Leo. He didn’t need anyone, now that his mother was dead and gone. He was waiting for Aurora to become his, and then all this would have been worth it.
He walked away through the autumnal forest and didn’t look back at the locked wrought-iron gates covered in creeping rose vines, or the little green tent beside them.
Aurora never opened her eyes, not even for a moment.
Whether she lay still in her bed, or she moved her fingers and arms as though she were conducting a silent orchestra of ghosts, or she stood up on tiptoe and walked, skimming the floor, her arms almost floating beside her, it was obvious that she remained asleep throughout.
Sometimes she spoke, names mostly, pebbles dropped into a still and indifferent pond: Mama. Papa. Nanny. Leo.
She often called Caradoc Leo. She never said Caradoc, not even when he sat her astride his lap and plunged into her to the hilt, while her hands clutched blindly at his shoulders and she panted and sighed, her head lolling back. The skin around her eyes remained uncreased, her eyes always serenely closed, like she was in the lightest of slumbers, even when she thrashed and moaned in Caradoc’s arms, even when she smashed her knee into furniture while gliding around the castle.
Caradoc had stopped moving heavy chests and tables out of their customary places, to the middle of corridors and various rooms, in the hope that this time the pain of her flesh encountering a sharp wooden edge would be sufficient to awaken her before her time – and if that didn’t work, at least Caradoc would know that she was in pain, even if she didn’t realize it. He moved all the furniture up against the walls instead, clearing the space for Aurora to move in. Caradoc followed along, behind or beside her while she sleepwalked, and sometimes he took her limp hand and pretended that they were dancing in the silence of her long slumber.
Aurora only ever roused herself when he gave her the dark purple rose to sniff, as she had done that day in her parents’ garden, clinging to her servant boy with a new passion, before she’d pricked her finger and become Caradoc’s.
But even when Caradoc passed the purple rose over her face and she sighed deeply, and nearly sat up on her own, and smiled and stretched wantonly and reached for the only warm body around – Caradoc’s – squeezing her arms around his torso and opening her legs to him, still she did not wake. Not when he kissed her, nor when he first entered her, whether in one greedy plunge or slowly, willing her to feel him, to recognize and accept him. Her climaxes were not really a culmination, except that she always whispered Leo and returned to her customary limpness, so that she sagged like a rag doll in Caradoc’s embrace, her hands falling away from him like withered petals. Caradoc would crush her to him, raging that she had come so close to waking yet remained beyond his reach again, and thrust and thrust into her, bouncing and shaking her in his grasp, till his own climax was ripped from him like a piece of his flesh being removed with red-hot pincers.
+1. Romantic comedy
“Listen to this, Leo: Once upon a time, there lived a king and queen who were very sad because they had never been blessed with a child. Driven to despair, they sought the help of the dark fairy Carabosse, who vowed to give them a child to call their own.”
Aurora looked up from her book and laughed. “Well, I can’t imagine how that could ever go wrong, asking a dark fairy for help with something like that!”
Leo smiled at her from where he lounged in a wicker chair in the dappled shade. “Were none of the other fairies available? Count Lilac not responding to their telegrams?”
Aurora swatted at him with her handkerchief. “Hush, you. Don’t let Lilac hear you, we owe him better than that. Anyway, what nonsense is this about a king and queen? We were barely gentry, my grandfather made all his money in salted pork…” Aurora was leafing through the old volume, Leo gone from her mind for the moment.
“Sorry, Lilac,” Leo told the summer day, the air full of the drowsy hum of bees, then addressed Aurora again: “What is that you’re reading?”
“Just something I found in the library. Can’t imagine how it got there. Caradoc must have brought it, though I can’t imagine him passing the time reading fairytales.”
“Speak of the devil…”
Leo bent sideways in his chair, leaned down, and scrabbled at the air an inch above the cut grass, trying to reach the ground without having to get up. Finally, he managed to snatch up a tiny pebble, which he flung into the nearby hedge, while Aurora laughed at his athleticism.
“Are you coming out of there any time soon?” Leo asked the hedge. “We’re having tea. We bought raspberry jam.”
The hedge stayed predictably still for a long moment, then it began to rustle and heave, till finally it parted to allow Caradoc to crawl forward and out of it, his hair and clothes festooned with torn leaves, his expression that of a cat that had just fallen gracelessly off the back of a sofa.
“You know I dislike raspberry jam,” he said.
“Oh, did I say raspberry?” Leo replied, as though Caradoc wasn’t being horribly rude, hadn’t even said hello and sorry for not using the garden gate again, in favor of playing the spy. “I meant peach. Peach jam is your favorite, you said last time.”
“You tricked that out of me!” Caradoc snapped.
They had been reminiscing about the world a hundred years before, and Caradoc had slipped up and mentioned that when he’d been very little, before their exile, his mother had sometimes tied on a red-and-black checked apron and made jam in the kitchen where usually she boiled poisons and magic potions. Leo and Aurora had glanced at each other, and Caradoc had sworn to himself that he would murder them both and drink their blood if they said anything, anything at all in response. Neither Leo nor Aurora had obliged him by speaking, and so he had subsided into dreading how this would come back to haunt him.
Leo got up from his chair and clapped his hand on Caradoc’s left shoulder, while Aurora slipped her arm through his right arm, surrounding him.
“You can pay me back by thrashing me at chess again,” Leo said. “But first: tea and scones.”
“You two forgive your enemies, eat human food, and sit out in the sun all day,” Caradoc said bitterly while Leo and Aurora walked him toward the manor which had never come close to being a castle. “You are a disgrace to all vampire kind. If that bastard Lilac hadn’t banished me again, I’d never come within a hundred miles of you.”
Aurora rose on tiptoe in midstride and kissed Caradoc’s cheek, while Leo smiled and squeezed his shoulder, the softness and the strength in the two of them always shocking Caradoc a little.
“We like seeing you too, Caradoc,” Aurora said.