“Who is that?” Eve asked Lady Westmorland, gesturing with a white-lace gloved finger across the hall. The hair on the nape of her neck bristled, and her ears were ringing faintly.
“Where?” Lucy said, peering around. The room was dim and crowded, glittering courtiers drifting through it like a murmuration of exotic birds. Lucy craned her neck as she looked. The gems dangling from her ear lobes glittered appealingly, catching the light from the thousand thousand candelabras that lit the great echoing hall, and casting spots of light across her throat and bosom.
Lucy Colthurst, Countess of Westmorland, was a lovely young thing only recently married to an Earl who was twice as old and half as rich as she was. Both parties seemed to be delighted with each other. Eve was surprised to find herself a little jealous. Some years the centuries weighed heavier than others; some years the isolation was harder to take. It had been a long time since Eve had had a husband.
Lucy’s Earl was tall and fattish. He had a high, delighted laugh, and his face lit up sweetly every time his new wife walked into the room. He looked cuddlesome. Of course, Lady Westmorland, with her soft curves and wide grin, was enough to inspire anyone to cuddle. Eve had been considering giving it a go herself. She thought Lucy would be willing, if the Earl was.
Well, table that thought for later. Right now there was something considerably more pressing to attend to.
“The young man,” Eve said, pointing again to the corner where a knot of peacocks had gathered.
“Yes, but which one?” Lucy said. Her eyes twinkled endearingly. “Oriana, I was beginning to think you only had eyes for parchment. But it seems there’s blood in your veins after all—not just ink.”
Eve smiled, amused in spite of herself. Infiltrating the court of whichever Henry this one was had been expensive and risky (and had involved a shocking quantity of legerdemain) but so far it had been worth it. After several centuries of quiet, happy scholarship in the Middle Kingdom, Eve had begun to fear she had drained that nation dry (so to speak) of its stories and ideas. News of Herr Gutenberg’s clever presses arrived in Cathay, carried by a wave of Portuguese merchants, just as Eve was getting really, truly bored. Off she went, following the trade roads at night and calling on various old friends along the way to refresh her supplies. All told, it was an exhausting several years of travel, and by the end of it she wasn’t at all sure it would prove to be worth the effort.
Once she arrived in Europe, establishing herself in England had seemed the thing to do—Germany being dangerously full of alchemists. And if you were going to be in England, this Henry fellow’s court was evidently the place to be. Eve wasted no time in befriending a lonely barber-chirurgeon named Perkin who had a reliable supply of what she needed thanks to the ridiculous bloodletting practices of this place; and with a quick trip north to recover a stash of gems she’d buried eight hundred years prior in a Scottish bog, she was ready to become Oriana, a wealthy and eccentric noblewoman from a conveniently forgettable French province.
After a year or so of making herself welcome and ubiquitous in the right circles, Eve had let it be known that she harbored a passion for books and manuscripts, and her new friends had been happy to indulge her. Invitations to spend a day at this or that manor perusing this or that eccentric uncle’s collection began to appear.
Her scheme had paid off beautifully.
It had been wonderful—a long, lazy tour through the libraries of the nobility, buried in the smell of leather and parchment and glue, submerged in the words of Paracelsus, Lyndsay, Machiavelli. Printing was such fun. Yes, the printing press lacked the personal touch—the artistry—of a hand-copied manuscript. But the sheer variety popping up was remarkable. This outrageous bounty of the written word in England more than made up for the miserable slog she’d had, coming from the East.
Eve missed the tea—and the relative cleanliness—of her last home, but the literature here certainly was frisky.
There was no question, however: lulled by several centuries of peace and quiet among the Han, and distracted by the new amusements of English court life, Eve had probably gotten a little too comfortable. It had been a long time since she’d crossed paths with one of the Others. And of course this would happen in a crowded room full of mayflies. Hopefully the bystanders would serve to protect rather than hinder her if things came to a head.
She fingered the sharp point of the wooden spike she kept tucked away in her skirts.
“That one,” Eve said. “The gloomy one.”
The Other standing in the corner couldn’t have been more than twenty-five when he was turned, and Eve would be willing to bet quite a lot that he hadn’t been turned for more than a year or two. He stood a few feet distant from the cluster of cheerful, elaborately decorated courtiers, a marked contrast from them. Where they were bright and lively, he was dressed all in unadorned black and sullenly biting at a cuticle. Eve noted the slight tremor in the hand he was chewing on, the sallow pallor of his skin, and the dullness of his hair and eyes.
He was underfed.
He was also beautiful. Whoever turned him had caught this lovely child in the full flower of his grace and elegance, like a blossom pressed in a book of poetry. Even his unfashionably severe black garb, his obviously habitual scowl, and his ragged hunger only amplified the effect. He was ravishing. Luminous grey eyes; a long, elegant throat; a dancer’s poise…but more than that, there was something unvarnished about his obvious misery that Eve immediately found intensely endearing. He had the look of someone who was helplessly honest. She hoped she wouldn’t have to kill him.
“Oh dear,” Lady Westmorland said. “No, Oriana, not that one.”
Eve tore her eyes away and looked at Lucy, startled. She’d sounded genuinely sad.
“Why?” Eve asked.
Lady Westmorland pressed her knuckles to her mouth, an uncharacteristically unhappy gesture. “Our families are friends,” she said. “And I never did get any details, but he fell very ill last winter. He hasn’t ever really recovered. I’m surprised he’s here at all tonight; probably his brother insisted.”
She petered to a halt, an unhappy line still marking her brow.
“His brother,” Eve prompted gently.
“Martin. He’s recently been appointed Lord Privy Seal, and it has made the family very visible.”
“Which must be difficult for a younger brother who isn’t well,” Eve said.
Lucy didn’t answer right away. She watched the young man in silence for a while, as though hoping he would look up and see her. He did not.
“We were friends,” Lucy said finally. “As children. I think his family hoped there might be a match made between us. My parents probably would have agreed to it, because his family is very well connected at court. But I wanted a title.”
Eve smiled a little. For all the preoccupation the English nobility had with romance and chivalry, she appreciated the flexibility of mind that allowed their unvarnished self-interest to live side by side with those loftier ideals.
Lucy went on. “And anyway, I wouldn’t have known what to do with him as a husband. He was only ever like a brother to me. Last year, after his illness, he stopped talking to me altogether. Cut himself off completely from his friends, retreated into a disused wing of the manor. His mother tells me she only sees him at night, and that infrequently. She says his malady has made him shy of society and wary of sunlight.”
“And what is the nature of this malady?” Eve asked casually. She wondered how well the young man had managed to cover his tracks. He was certainly very beautiful, but beauty wasn’t much use without some wit to back it.
“An imbalance of the humors, evidently.”
Eve laughed out loud before she could stop herself. It was as apt a description of their kind as she had ever heard—a creature who suffered at all times for lack of blood was indeed unsanguinary in a medical sense, if often rather the opposite in temperament.
Lady Westmorland gave her a slant look. “You are a strange woman, my lady Oriana,” she said a little reproachfully.
“I beg your pardon,” Eve said, genuinely embarrassed. She was very fond of Lady Westmorland, who had distinguished herself among the other ladies at court by being both very nice to look at and a good deal of fun to talk to. For a mayfly, she wasn’t half bad. “Please, do go on.”
“There isn’t much more to say,” Lucy said with a sigh. “He was always an odd one, but I liked that about him. I like it about you, too,” she added, with a little smile for Eve that meant all was forgiven. “His family wanted him to go into the military,” she continued, “as you’d expect. But he wouldn’t have it. Wouldn’t even consider the clergy. He’s a brilliant musician, you know—which of course a young man of good birth ought to be. But he has no interest in sport or diplomacy or warfare or even in any of the other arts. I believe his family was a little embarrassed by him already before he fell ill, and now of course he is even more of an unhappy puzzle to them.”
Lucy turned her gaze back to the unhappy puzzle in question, who was looking more irritable by the minute. “In any case, I think he is lost to me as a friend,” she said, “and he seems to be lost to his family as well, and I miss him terribly, and I don’t understand it at all.”
They stood in thoughtful silence for a little while, sipping from little cups of wine, watching the young man pull at a fraying thread on his cuff. He steadfastly refused to look up or acknowledge anyone in the room. Eve guessed he was counting down the minutes before he could make his escape from the hot, close room and retreat back to whatever drafty wreck of a parlor in his family’s manor he’d made into his nest.
She wondered what he thought of his new condition. She wondered where he was finding potable blood. She wondered if he’d felt the same tingling alert to her presence that she’d felt to his.
Nearby, one of the musicians who’d been contributing to the innocuous layer of sprightly, tootling music that blanketed the evening hit a sour note on his rebec. Eve smiled in amusement as this proved to be the only thing that could get any sort of reaction from the unhappy young man. His shot an outraged scowl in the direction of the offending player, then fell back into his solitary, anxious gloom, muttering indignantly to himself.
His messy hair fell over his forehead and his thin, expressive fingers moved in constant restless agitation, tugging on the hem of his doublet and scratching the back of his neck, twining around each other, wrapping around his forearms. He was hungry, the poor soul, and lost, and probably very frightened, and probably, by now, becoming used to being hungry and lost and frightened.
“And what is the young man’s name?” Eve asked. She had already half-decided to take him under her wing. It had been a long time since she’d had one of the Others as a companion, and on one level it was absurd that this child was winning her over merely by standing in a corner looking sorry for himself. But Eve had learned to indulge her affections when they struck—largely because they struck rather infrequently, and there was little enough joy to wring out of life without them. One could not, quite, survive on the written word alone.
“Adam,” Lucy replied, and Eve felt something solid and sure surge through her bones. What a perfectly, wonderfully satisfying coincidence.
Adam’s family lived just outside London, in an unwelcoming stone heap with breathtakingly lovely grounds. Eve had put aside her customary white garb for this adventure, and now skulked through the garden in a black tunic and hose, with a black scarf wrapped around her hair. She darted from shrub to shrub, flattening herself against the shadows. She felt a bit like one of those legendary black-clad Japanese spies they told stories of back in the Middle Kingdom.
It was great fun.
As Eve clambered over the inner gate, a dark blur launched itself across the exquisitely manicured lawn, barking at her. She flashed a toothy snarl at it, and the guard dog slunk back to its post, whining pitifully. How satisfying.
Eve crept around the side of the building, reaching out with that nebulous Other-feeling, looking for Adam. It had been only a few days since she first laid eyes on him, but she’d been unable to stop thinking about the curve of his pale throat, or the elegant line of his black-hosed leg. He certainly left little to be desired as a physical specimen. But Eve was eager to get some sense of his temperament before she went so far as to arrange a meeting. And so: spying.
But was the young master even home? Eve circled around back, senses at the alert, but felt nothing. Finally, approaching a rundown wing that had clearly been in a state of profound disuse for at least a century, she felt that same whole-body electricity run through her, stronger now than it had been in the crowded hall. Adam must be on the other side of the wall, and it was as though her skin was singing with his presence. Eve actually felt a little light-headed. It had been a long time since one of the Others had affected her so powerfully. She hoped it was a good sign and not a very, very bad one. Either way, it had her completely rattled.
Reaching out to steady herself on the mossy stone, Eve allowed herself the brief, comforting distraction of sinking her mind into the wall itself. The stones themselves were ancient—quiet, patient things that had nearly forgotten their beginnings, they were so old. But the wall they stood in was only three centuries or so. Its memory was stronger, the faces of the masons who had pasted the whole thing together still half-remembered. The moss itself was only a few decades old and muddled by successive generations of growth and rot, growth and rot. Thousands of generations of spiders and mice had lived, loved, and died in this wall.
It was a good wall, and Eve felt much steadier when she pulled away. She patted it absently and began looking for a window to peer into.
Over the next few nights, Eve got to know Adam passably well from her perch just under the eaves outside his chamber. He barred the windows to block out the light during the day but rebelliously flung them open at night. Eve wondered if he’d been so unheeding of the old wives who warned against letting the devil in with the night air before he was turned, or if this was something in his new nature that he’d allowed to rule him.
Adam didn’t go out much. He stayed inside his decrepit hole, pacing and reading and writing, periodically, in a ragged old journal. He kept away from his family assiduously, and silently accepted the meals the servants brought him only to dump them, uneaten, down a disused well at night. He went out twice a week or so to find blood, but otherwise avoided the outside world altogether.
But mostly Adam made music. And oh, what music he made! Eve sat on her little outcropping of crumbling stone and mortar, night after night, and let her mind travel, carried along by the slow, deliberate, plaintive notes he coaxed out of his lute.
Eve had never heard such sad music before.
Evidently his family hadn't, either, because when she took a little time off from spying on Adam to spy on them instead, she found that a frequent topic of conversation was the ongoing and painful question of what, exactly, had happened to Adam, how it might be rectified, and when do you suppose he might start playing something a little more cheerful, don’t you remember when he used to play dances, sometimes, and not only dirges?
Adam’s quarters were a fair remove from the dining hall, but his lute carried through the halls and trickled into the room, like a melancholy ghost joining the dinnertime conversation.
His family was boring. Eve found their loyal concern about Adam endearing, but there was nothing of note about them. Where Adam was thoughtful and poetical, they were unthinking, dull. Where he was filled with imagination and ambition, studying the works of the great Greek thinkers and writing all sorts of daring, strange new music, they were humdrum, straitlaced, ordinary. Somehow this gem of a man had been born into the most unremarkable family imaginable.
And they were letting him rot away in self-inflicted exile, caged up in a drafty room that had last been used to store grain extorted from tenant farmers a hundred years previous. The corpses of decades-old weevils still lined the crevices.
Eve was furious about it. She caught herself several times in a state of possessive agitation: Adam was hers; what on earth was he doing hiding away in this dusty hole instead of following her into the world for adventure and music and excellent sex? But of course that was madness. Adam didn't even know she existed, let alone that he was hers. And there was always the horrifying, though hopefully remote, possibility that Adam would take one look at her and run screaming; that although she knew him to be her heart’s own, he might not see things quite the same way. Maybe he didn't even like girls. Best to find out, she supposed, before she fell any more in love with him than she'd already managed.
It was time to introduce herself.
Eve considered merely slipping in through his window some night, and announcing herself that way. It had the advantage of directness, but she suspected that Adam was still too much a creature of the mayfly world to respond well to a woman in trousers climbing in his window and declaring that she was also a demon or creature of the night or whatever it was he imagined himself to be. And so, polite society would have to serve.
Arranging the whole thing proved to be maddeningly complicated. The English were so tiresome about ritual and protocol. They were almost as bad as the Han, and that was really saying something.
Lady Westmorland, already being a friend of the family, would have to be her way in. Persuading Lucy to put in a good word for Eve with the family took a little doing, but Eve knew the household well enough by now to know that Adam’s drearily boring, responsible brother had in his possession an interesting volume of essays by an anonymous Russian clergyman. Eve mentioned this once or twice to Lucy, and relied on the crutch of being Very French and therefore understandably Somewhat Rude, to force the issue. A scheduling “mix-up” had her arriving for an evening call rather than the somewhat more socially appropriate morning drop-in, and soon Eve was standing as an invited guest in the hallways she had occasionally drifted through late at night as a spy.
The boring brother agreed to loan her the Russian book, probably in a bid to get her to leave, but Eve settled in with a glass of wine and let it slip how passionately she enjoyed sad lute music, and what wonderful things she had heard from her friend Lucy about the youngest son of the family and his prodigious talent as a musician. A footman was duly dispatched to fetch Adam from what Eve had begun to think of privately as his “lair of despair.”
And oh, what a pleasure to stand in the same room as the boy once more. Eve’s nerves started singing before he entered, but seeing him face to face was like a deep bell sounding. Adam walked in, all sullen slump, clutching his lute recalcitrantly, like a choirboy pulled out of bed for matins. But the moment he saw Eve, his face changed. He went, if possible, even paler, then bright red, then pale again.
“Adam,” his mother said gently, in the voice of all mothers everywhere, forever, since the dawn of time, reminding their sons to mind their manners.
“I beg your pardon,” Adam managed. “It’s a delight to meet you, Lady.” He cleared his throat and blushed violently again.
That settled that, as far as Eve was concerned. She had taken rather more care than usual with her toilette that evening, and it was gratifying to have such a visible effect on Adam. Turnabout was fair play, after all—Eve had been wandering around in a state of near-constant agitation and frustrated desire for the last several weeks.
Adam sank down onto an elaborately embroidered footstool to pluck out a plaintive tune on his lute. Eve had heard it before, of course—it was something he’d been working on the last few days. But it was lovely to hear it again, and to be able to watch Adam play, his elegant neck bent over the body of the lute, his beautiful hands shaking a bit.
The song was over too soon, and Eve knew even her foreign manners could not plausibly keep her here much longer. Well, she had gotten at least a bit of what she came for. So she made the appropriate noises and thanked the correct people in the correct order for their hospitality, and as it happened, that left Adam for the last.
Although she knew the gesture would be lost on him, Eve peeled her glove off before offering Adam her hand to kiss. Anyone who had spent more than a few years as an Other developed an aversion to bare hands outside of deeply intimate contexts, and their culture—what passed for a culture anyway—had codified this distaste into ritual. Of course Adam knew nothing of the world he now occupied.
Still, there was something about his face when he saw her removing her glove. Something avid, something hopeful.
Adam cradled Eve’s hand in his own like it was infinitely precious, infinitely fragile. She watched, transfixed, as he lowered his head to kiss it. His lips brushed the back of her hand, gentle and warm and shockingly intimate, and a sharp line of pleasure raced up Eve’s spine.
Oh, she wanted him.
Eve had vaguely planned to give Adam a week or so to think about her before she crossed paths with him again, but she was seized by an uncharacteristically strong urge to throw caution to the winds. And so, five hours later, dressed comfortably in what she thought of as her “skulking clothes,” she did in fact, finally, clamber in his window.
“Hello, Adam,” she said gently.
Adam had been staring intently at precisely nothing at all, a quill drooping from his hand as he considered the next line of music to commit to parchment. When Eve spoke, he leapt up, quill flying and ink splashing everywhere.
Adam stared at her in astonishment for a few moments and then choked out a very confused, “My Lady?”
“I apologize for the…unorthodox mode of entry,” Eve said. “But I wanted very much to speak to you privately.”
Adam nodded cautiously. Good, he wasn’t going to raise the alarm—at least not yet.
“You and I share some unusual qualities,” Eve said, her voice deliberately slow and calm. “And I believe I may be able to help you shed some light on your recent…condition.”
“My Lady,” Adam said, and then stopped, helpless. “I think perhaps you are laboring under a misconception—“
“Last winter, you were attacked,” Eve said, interrupting him. He paled and fell silent. “Your assailant fed on your blood and when you awoke, you found yourself as you are now: hungry always for blood, unable to bear the daylight, stronger and faster, and perhaps with one or two odd new abilities you never had before.”
Adam raced to the window and evacuated the contents of his stomach out onto the flowering shrub that growing outside. Eve’s stomach twisted in sympathy. She wanted very much to comfort him, to push the hair back from his face and stroke her bare fingers down his back. But she knew he would not welcome it. So she stayed put and watched as Adam retched again, shuddered, and then drew his head back inside the window. He crossed his arms along the window sill and laid his forehead down on them. It was a pathetic sight, and Eve felt a little bad for noticing how glorious his rear end looked right at that moment.
“How do you know these things,” Adam muttered, his voice muffled and soft.
“I am like you,” Eve said. “And like the one who turned you.”
“Oh God,” Adam said. “Then you are a demon, and so am I, and this is hell.”
“Is that what you have been thinking all this time?” Eve said softly.
“I don’t know what to think.”
“Then I will tell you what I think, shall I?”
“You should tell me what you know,” Adam said, straightening up and facing her. “Do not toy with me.”
“I’m not,” Eve said gently. “But I know very little, even though I am very old and a little wise.”
“My Lady, you are not old—” Adam blurted out. He blushed again, a rosy glow spreading prettily across his cheekbones.
“You are very gallant to say so,” Eve said, smiling. “And I thank you for it. But the truth is, I am shockingly old. I stopped keeping track a while ago, because it began to seem a little silly. But if I had to guess, I’d estimate I was turned somewhere between four and five thousand years ago.”
There was a brief, shocked silence.
“Why would you say such things,” Adam said faintly, pressing his hand to his mouth. Eve hoped he wasn’t going to vomit again. She very much wanted the evening to end with kisses, and the two things seemed rather antithetical to each other.
“Perhaps you have noticed,” Eve said gently, “that you do not fall ill, and cannot be injured, anymore, except for lack of blood to drink?”
“I tried to kill myself,” Adam said flatly. “I have noticed.”
“We are difficult to kill,” Eve said, “provided we are well fed and avoid the sun. Age has no hold on you anymore, Adam, and it has not had a hold on me for a longer time than any kingdom has survived.”
“Five thousand years,” Adam said again, softly. “Surely the world itself cannot be so old.”
“I believe it must be,” Eve said, “and older still than that. The man who turned me claimed to be several thousand years old when he did it.”
Adam sank down onto the floor and put his head in his hands. “What are we?” he asked, his voice quiet and lost.
“I don’t know,” Eve said. She sat down next to him. “Sometimes the mayflies find names for us, but I usually ignore them. What do mayflies know, anyway?”
“Mayflies,” Adam repeated.
“My word for ‘normal’ folk,” Eve explained. “After you have persisted on this earth for as long as I have, you find that fifty or a hundred years can pass as quickly as a day. A friend’s lifetime can go by in the blink of an eye.”
“Like a mayfly,” Adam said softly.
Eve sat next to Adam on the stone floor of the old tithe barn and let the silence unspool for a while. It was a lot to think about, she knew.
She didn’t notice she’d started humming until Adam raised his head to look at her with one eyebrow adorably quirked.
“How do you know that tune?” he asked.
Eve smiled, caught out. The melody was one Adam had been playing here and there, but he obviously had not shared it with anyone.
“It’s possible I’ve been keeping an eye on you for a little while,” she said.
“And by keeping an eye, you mean…”
“Oh, peeping in your window. Following you around, that sort of thing.”
“I think I ought to be more alarmed to learn this,” Adam said.
“No, it’s odd. I feel…well, I don't mind.”
Eve’s throat tightened. She finally, finally allowed herself to reach over and take Adam’s hand.
“I know this may be strange to hear,” she said, “but I have come to care about you quite a lot.”
Adam blushed, evidently tongue-tied again.
“I hope you will forgive me this impertinence,” Eve said. She raised his hand to her lips and returned the kiss he’d given her.
“My Lady,” Adam breathed.
“My name is Eve.”
Eve tilted Adam’s chin just so, and their lips met briefly, softly. When she moved away, Adam’s eyes were still closed, his dark lashes throwing shadows across his cheekbones. They fluttered open, and he stared at her in wonder. His fingers strayed up to touch his mouth.
“Come away with me, Adam,” Eve said. “There’s nothing for you here. Together, you and I can—”
“Yes,” Adam said. “All right.”
“Oh,” Eve said, caught a little off guard. She’d imagined that she’d have to coax him for a while.
“Let’s leave tonight,” Adam added.
“Is it that simple, then?” Eve asked, a smile tugging at her lips.
Adam pulled her in for another kiss, this one a little rough. Eve felt it all the way down to her toes.
“Yes,” he said.