Title: Knight in Chester
Author: Marla F. Fair
Summary: A Gothic tale of vampires, lost loves and old loyalties that leaves no one untouched in 18th C Chester. Jeremy alone must resist their power to save General Lafayette from certain death...or worse. Crossover with the TV series Forever Knight.
To paraphrase a very wise author, Eric Sloane: The places and people in the following story have been represented accurately to the best of my ability; yet my writing is supposed to be a tale, and as in any historical novel, my own imagination has blended with fact to create poetical reality.
Another night. Another death. And so it goes….
Another month. Another year. Another century. And so it goes. And goes. And goes….
Will it never end?
I left Janette and LaCroix behind. I do not know how long I can elude them this time. I need them and I hate them. Especially him. There was so much blood on the battlefield, I pray they may be satiated and sleep. I pray that in their contentment they will forget about me. That they will not think to look for me in this tiny burg. That they fail to remember I exist.
And yet I know my prayers, as always, will go unanswered for I have no right to pray.
None at all.
Ahead of me there is a light. A candle burning in a window, an offer of shelter to the wayfarer such as me. Hospitality. A room. Bread and wine. I will ask, ‘How can I repay you?’ ‘A coin’, they will say. ‘The work of your hands.’ Or, ‘As we have done to you, do you unto another.’
And how will I repay them? ‘A word of advice, my friend. Lock up your daughters’, I will say, and ‘Do not grow too close to me.’ Shall I tell them that their kindness will most likely be repaid in blood?
Theirs and their children’s.
No. It is best if I simply stay away. I can ‘repay’ them best by never darkening their doorstep. I can repay….
Would that I could – repay.
The city of Chester, Pennsylvania is like an ant hill when compared to the mountains of London and Paris where I have walked. Perhaps LaCroix and Janette will not think to look for me here. And even if they do, there will be little chance to feed. Everyone knows everyone. There are few strangers or vagrants. Too many deaths would be suspicious and they would not want that. They do not want to die –
As I do.
But I am weak and the dawn is coming and I must seek shelter from the sun.
I am so weak….
There is one prayer I will pray. It is not for me – so perhaps He will listen this time.
God, protect those who will give me shelter and shield me from the dawning light.
Protect them from me.
Elizabeth stirred and closed the book she had been reading when the knock came at the door. Her uncle was away and she had agreed to house a meeting of the Yankee Doodle Society at the farm. A contingent of Redcoats, headed by several high-ranking officers, had settled in the town and some suspicion had fallen on Henry when a man known to be a rebel spy had been seen leaving his apothecary shop late in the evening. The irony was the man had come for a much-needed remedy, knowing nothing of Henry’s involvement in the Cause. But for the moment Jeremy thought it better that they meet out of the town – and out from under the Redcoat’s turned-up noses.
Picking up the single candlestick she had left in the window as a signal, Elizabeth went to the door and opened it, smiling broadly. “Jeremy, I thought you’d never – ”
It wasn’t Jeremy. A handsome stranger, blond as the one she loved but older – closer to Robert’s age – stood on the stoop. Even by the light of the candle she could see the man was extremely pale and in need of rest. His breathing was labored, and he constantly glanced over his shoulder at the east and the advancing sun, as though dreading the dawning day.
“Oh, you’re not Jeremy,” she said, feeling stupid.
He had a lovely smile. “No, though by your greeting I might wish I was, Madame….”
The stranger removed his tricorn hat and executed a short bow. He was cloaked, but she could tell by the cloth that showed on his exposed arms, his clocked stockings, and the chased silver buckles at his knees and on his shoes, that he was wealthy. “Allow me to introduce myself,” the man said. “I am Nicholas Knighton, and I am pleased to meet you, Goodwife Coates.” His pale blue eyes searched the interior of the room behind her. “Is your husband in?”
She laughed. “It is ‘Miss’ Coates. I am afraid, sir, I have no husband. And my uncle is away.”
He seemed distressed. “You are alone then?”
Elizabeth knew it was not wise to admit so, but she did. There was something about the stranger that seemed to command trust. “Yes.”
Nicholas replaced his tricorn hat. “Then I must go. It is not proper or fitting for you to be seen speaking to me, let alone for me to ask shelter of you. Goodnight, Miss Coates.”
“But sir, you are miles from town. The nearest shelter is several hours away and you seem weary,” she protested.
He glanced over his shoulder again at the mounting light. “Still, I cannot compromise the reputation of a good woman. I will find some hole or cave to rest within. Good day.”
Elizabeth watched him turn and start down the path. She didn’t understand why, but something in her didn’t want him to go. Something compelled her to call him back. “Sir!”
Nicholas turned and looked. “Yes?”
“What of the barn? You are most welcome to sleep there. I can give you a blanket.”
He looked at the sun again and then back at her. A smile, shy but grateful, lit his pale face. “That would be acceptable. Thank you.”
“Just a moment.” Elizabeth crossed the room quickly to the wooden chest that rested against the wall and drew out two blankets, one wool and the other linen. She returned to the door and stepping out, handed them to him. “It is not the Chester Inn,” she admitted, “but it is warm and no one should disturb you.”
Nicholas bowed again. “I thank you for your Christian kindness to a stranger, Miss Coates.” He turned away but then seemed to think better of it. Pivoting, he met her stare. “There is one more thing, Miss Coates….”
Elizabeth blinked…and found herself standing outside on the flagstone path. The light was dawning in the east and she had forgotten her shawl. She turned back to the house to fetch it, and then suddenly couldn’t remember having walked out of the door – let alone what she had left the house to find. Puzzled, she stood motionless on the path until a hail from the road that ran in front of the house called her back to the present. She looked up to find Jeremy, Isak, and Henry emerging from the trees.
Elizabeth raised her hand to return the greeting and then, with a longing glance at the barn, went to meet them.
Nicholas Knighton watched Elizabeth Coates from within the barn, still fighting the instincts within him that called on him to take her, to meet his needs – to slack his thirst. He had made a decision some years before that he would only feed on vagrants or the dying, but it was hard. Very hard. Having fed on the battlefield, he could resist the urge tonight – resist the sight of the blood pounding through the veins in her delicate white throat – but he dare not stay any longer. When the sun set and her sister-moon arose, the vampiric hunger would take him again and it would be harder to control.
Elizabeth was very beautiful.
Nicholas smiled as the dark-haired beauty hesitated on the flagstone path. He had mesmerized, and then instructed her to forget him. He would sleep in the cool black nothingness of the barn’s tenebrous shadows through the day, and then flee as the sun set. She need never know he had been there. All Elizabeth would be left with was a shadow of regret, a hunger of her own – a longing for something she did not understand that would vanish with the night.
Along with him.
The sound of several male voices caused him to retreat from the barn door and become one with the shadows that lined an empty cattle stall. Just as he did the door opened and three men walked in. The first was a black man with powerful arms – most likely a blacksmith or wheelwright. When the black man spoke, his voice rang like a mellow bell. The second was a portly man with glasses, perhaps in his early twenties. Nicholas grinned. If he had not known better he would have thought it was his friend, Benjamin Franklin. But the inventor was older and still in France, enjoying the ladies and the fine wines, far away from this bucolic setting. The third was a tall man, blond as he, with a commanding voice and way. The trio headed for the hay room close by the cattle stalls and took seats on two of the bales of hay.
Moving silent as the shadows that were a part of him, Nicholas joined them and listened.
“Henry, I think you should leave town. You are under suspicion. Even if you do nothing wrong, it is likely they will take you. You know the British.”
“Yes, I do,” Henry answered, exasperated. “And Jeremy, I can tell you the worst thing I can do is run! If I run, they will judge me guilty. If I stay and continue to perform my duties as though I have nothing to hide, they will soon forget about me.”
Jeremy shook his head. “I disagree. Isak?” he asked the black man.
Isak was quiet a moment. Then he nodded. “The British have long memories, Henry. Long as the ropes they use to hang us rebels with.”
“But….” Henry paused, defeated. “But where would I go?”
“To the General’s camp. You would be safe there.”
“No!” Henry stood up. “I will not burden General Lafayette with my problems. He has more than enough to worry about with this British regiment in the town. No, Jeremy!”
Lafayette? Nicholas frowned. Lafayette…. It could not be Michel. He had seen that brave man die on the battlefield some twenty years before. No. This must be the son. Gilbert, that was his name. Gilbert had only been a babe when Nicholas had visited castle Chavaniac to take the fateful news to Michel’s wife.
What was the boy doing here in America?
“Maybe the General could use your help, Henry,” Isak suggested. “He has many wounded men and still suffers from the hurt he took at Brandywine, and on the hill shortly after. I am sure another man with medical knowledge would be welcome in the camp.”
“Yes, Henry. You could do him a service. Think of that,” Jeremy added.
Henry was silent for some time. Then he asked, “How long would I have to stay? The regiment may be in town a long time.”
“Long enough to be safe, but not so long that they recruit you.” Jeremy clapped him on the shoulder. “We need you, Henry. Here, with us.”
“Yes. What of the business we came here to speak of? The reason for putting Elizabeth out so?” Henry said. “And where, may I ask, is she? Why has she not joined us?”
“Elizabeth is finishing up in the house before her uncle’s return. She will join us if she can,” Jeremy answered. Then he went on. “There is a rumor but a few days old, that an assassin has been sent from England to seek out rebel leaders and to kill them. General Washington fears for Lafayette, though truth to tell, it has not been our military leaders who have paid the price, but those civilians who work in secret. This man, this mercenary, seems to be able to ferret them out, to find them as no other can. Seven have died so far, from Philadelphia to here.”
“Then Jeremy, it is you who are in danger!” Henry declared.
The blond shook his head. “No one knows who Yankee Doodle is. How can I be in danger? You need not fear for me. But our brothers in the Cause, those who work in Darby and Marcus Hook and the towns beyond, these we must warn. And offer them protection. First we need to meet with the General and see what men he can spare.” Jeremy turned to Henry. “We can drop you off and then be on our way.”
“Jeremy, no! If your life is in jeopardy – ”
“I tell you, it is not. Unless the man speaks with the spirits of the dead or can force a man to tell him his closest secrets, or can read a man’s mind – how could anyone know? No one knows I am Yankee Doodle but you two, Elizabeth, and those in the General’s camp. I am safe. Our other friends are not.” Jeremy grinned. “Unless one of you means to betray me!”
Nicholas shifted in the shadows. It had been evident from the beginning that the man called Jeremy was the leader of these three. But Yankee Doodle? He had heard that name. A young man from Chester he had met on the road had spoken glowingly of a hero who had inspired him to serve in Washington’s army. A Patriot named Captain Yankee Doodle.
So this was he. Nicholas shook his head.
So very young.
Isak crossed to the blond man and placed a hand on his arm. “You know, Jeremy, that we will never betray you. But there are other men who might suspect. Perhaps it is you who should remain in Lafayette’s camp.”
Henry’s smile was triumphant. “Yes! I agree.”
Jeremy fell silent, hoist by his own petard. “All right,” he said at last. “You have me. If there is to be danger for one, then all three must face it. I needs must go home, my father expects to find me in bed.”
“And I have a client who is to call for the parts for his wagon,” Isak said.
“Henry?” Jeremy asked.
“A few loose ends. I can have them tied up by sundown.”
“Then it is agreed. We meet at sundown. We must go to the General and tell him what we know as soon as we can, and find out what intelligence he has in return. Yes?”
Henry and Isak nodded. As all three headed for the barn door, Isak asked, “Do you know the name of this assassin, the one who is coming to Chester?”
Jeremy frowned. “It is not an English name. Though I am not certain if it is French. LaCroy? LaCrosse….”
“Why do you bother with these petty little squabbles, La Croix?” Janette du Charme tilted her stylish hat to the left and adjusted the ribbon tie under her chin. She was dressed in a heavily embroidered gold satin sacque gown with a pair of narrow basket hoops beneath. While she admired the men’s clothing of the age, these four foot wide dresses had to be one of the more peculiar feminine ideals of beauty. She sighed and said aloud, “The kirtle of the Middle Ages with a simple linen chemise was so much easier to manage.”
“Complaining again, my dear?” LaCroix stood before the window, watching the sun set. He finished fastening his sword belt and then walked to her side. Taking her hand, he kissed it, nipping her knuckles.
She grinned as he tasted her blood. “Well, why not, when I am so expert at it?”
LaCroix wiped his lip with the tip of his little finger. “A thousand years, give or take a few, does tend to make one perfect at most everything.”
Janette laughed. “Except for keeping track of Nichola….”
LaCroix growled. “Nicholas is a child. A very ungovernable child. One who deserves to be punished.”
Janette pulled free. She walked to the mirror hanging on the wall of the room they shared in the Chester inn and sighed. “I do so wish I could see my reflection. Just once. It is so hard to know if one has one’s hat straight….”
“You look lovely. Perfection does not need to preen, my pet.” LaCroix wagged a finger at her. “But you will not distract me so easily. This has to stop. First England, then the incident in Auvergne, and now this. When I agreed to bring Nicholas over, I had no idea he would prove so….irritating.”
“But you love him, is this not true?”
“We prove our love by administrating discipline,” LaCroix snarled. “No one likes a willful child, Janette.”
“No.” She tossed her cloak about her shoulders. “But they are, often, the ones held most dearly to the heart.” Janette frowned and indicated his crimson coat with a nod. “You mean to draw Nichola out by this…charade?”
LaCroix was dressed as an English General. The uniform had come from a man the ancient vampire had drained dry on the battlefield. He looked quite handsome, though she had to smile at the powdered wig that covered his usual short white hair. The wig made LaCroix look quite the ‘dandy’.
If a dangerous one.
“Charade? You wound me, my dear Janette. I am offering my services to weed out the roots of this Rebellion.” LaCroix growled, “America – like Nicholas – does not seem to appreciate the hand that feeds it.”
“Nichola, like America,” she said softly, “only wants the freedom to make his own choices.”
LaCroix caught her hand and bent it back. “The choice has been made for both. By me. Neither he, nor this weak ungrateful nation will be free. Not if I have anything to do about it!”
Janette grimaced. Immortal she might be, but LaCroix – who had created her – still had the power to hurt her.
And to hurt Nicholas.
LaCroix released her and reached for his cloak. Then he offered her his arm. “We are keeping our host waiting, my dear. It just isn’t done, don’t you know?”
Janette nodded. They were on their way to the house of the Mayor of the town. The old man, Samuel Larkin, had graciously invited them to supper. She glanced out the window and smiled at the last rays of the dying sun.
“Night has come,” Janette whispered as she took LaCroix’s arm.
He sneered. “Time to feed.”