The July sun was high and hot, washing the courtyard with light as the teengae boy slipped out a side door, hoping to exit unnoticed. Several servants were milling about attending to their chores, not the least of which was preparing the large, ornate carriage which sat across the yard for its departure later in the day.
He smiled to himself as he passed, contemplating his plans for the next week. His father would be departing to Spain on business, and like any adolescent, he intended to take full advantage. He slipped out of the courtyard and through the ancient gate of the Chateau du Bois, a place which felt more like a prison to him than a home. But it would not do to dwell on such thoughts on a bright, joyous day like today. Soon, his father would be gone and he would spend the rest of the day in the forest, out from under his father's withering gaze and crushing shadow.
He strolled down the hill on which the chateau brooded, feeling the sun on his skin. The countryside spread out before him: on his right, innumerable fields stretched to the horizon, crossed by the old north-south road. A small village lay huddled to the south, straddling it. Before him lay a sea of trees, undulating in the slight breeze.
As he continued to walk down the hill, he began to get hot. He loosened his cravat and began fanning himself with the piece of paper in his right hand. He followed the path to where it intersected the road. Here, he crossed and entered the forest. Perhaps he should have been more careful leaving the chateau, said a nagging voice in the back of his head, maybe he should have ensured he was not being followed or watched. He was young, he was crafty, he was Armand Baptiste and he was invincible. Nothing would impede him on this day. Surely, he would meet no trouble as he went into the forest's cool eaves; trouble was for lesser sorts.
He walked into the verdant wood, the afternoon sun filtered though the trees, lending a certain dappled look to the ground, giving it a resemblance to fine lace. He struck a small stream and followed it to the northwest. At length, he reached a small, bubbling pool full of clear, cool water.
A girl sat there, dangling her feet in the water. She was dressed in simple peasant clothes and her skin was lightly tanned from toil in the fields. Her thick, brown hair lay untidily around her shoulders. She looked up as she heard Armand approach, her bright eyes lighting with delight. She sprang to her feet with a delighted cry, running up to him and hugging him tightly.
“Ivonne,” he whispered, holder her close. He felt his insides churning with the thrill of reckless, youthful infatuation. “'tis good to see you once more.”
Ivonne smiled at him, leaning forward to kiss his lips. Armand flushed as their lips brushed each other, full of the vigor of his age. His hand strayed to her hair, which spilled from beneath the simple cloth she had tied about her head.
“I'm glad to see you are well,” she said, her face rosy and radiant.
* * *
They sat by the pool, dangling their feet in the cold water, cooling themselves in the heat of the day. Armand had taken off his cravat and vest, his white shirt hanging open and exposing a sliver of his soft, pale skin. He held Ivonne close, his arm about her and her hair against his cheek. She lay against him, slowly breathing.
“You are ever-so-beautiful,” said Armand, “You are among the only things in this would which brings me joy.”
She smiled and made a soft noise of contentment, nuzzling his chest and brushing his skin with her nose.
“I love you,” she whispered, her breath warming his breast.
Armand shivered with excitement as he began to feel pleasantly warm. He felt a sudden pain as her nose struck the skin just beneath his shirt. He winced.
Ivonne jerked her head up, looking concerned.
“Are you alright?”
“Yes,” he said, a bit more firmly than he had intended to, “I'm fine.”
She shook her head, taking ahold of his collar and sliding the left half of his shirt down to expose his shoulder. A large, dark bruise glowered on his chest, marring its milky whiteness.
“Gaston?” she asked with a slow, lifeless quality in her voice.
Armand nodded. “I'll be fine, 'twas only a trifle.”
“Armand...” She laid a hand on his bruise.
“As I said, I am fine.”
Ivonne looked at him, a terrible pain in her eyes. “But Armand...” she said quietly, running her hand over his skin, “You must do something...go to your father, or the constable...or....”
“You know my father would not care in the least!” he paused as Ivonne shrank back at his suddenly harsh words. “Ivonne....I am sorry....” He leaned forward and wrapped his arms around her, holding her close to him. He kissed her forehead. “I should not have been so intemperate...besides, I cannot involve the constable either....”
Armand paused once more. This was not the first time the opportunity had presented itself, to tell her of his true nature and that of his family. A terrible dread coursed through him, a sudden rush of fear and uncertainty. Should he tell her now? Would he ever tell her? He simply did not know. He sat there, striving with himself for what seemed like forever, until he felt Ivonne's hand on his cheek.
He sighed, averting his eyes.
“I could not involve the authorities if I even desired to.”
She frowned slightly, not comprehending.
“I'm sorry Ivonne; perhaps I shall tell you another time. But know this: things will be different someday. I will take you with me to the chateau, we'll be married and never want for anything. Know that I have the ability to make such a thing happen someday. Gaston goes not frighten me, and one day, I shall pay him back for every blow he's dealt me.”
His voice became heavy and passionate as he spoke, holding his beloved Ivonne to him. Yes, he thought, he would accomplish this and more. How could he not? When his father died, so too would Gaston, that brute who made it his mission to torment his younger brother however he could. Such lurid pictures flashed before his mind, his slaying of the horrid creature, his ascendancy to the head of the Baptistes, his subsequent marriage to Ivonne and their perfect life together in the Chateau du Bois. Nothing would stop him; he would rise, he would dominate, he would crush the brute. It did not matter that his brother was larger and stronger. He was fighting for Ivonne, for their love and their life together. Nothing would deter him from his quest.
“Armand...” she whispered, “you know...he is far too powerful...he'll...”
“No my love, I can defeat him...I will defeat him one day. Then, we'll be safe, we'll finally be able to face the world together, unashamed, unhampered by anything that might come between us.”
He said this in the heat of passion, drawing strength from his seemingly boundless reserves. He felt his heart and breathing speed up as he clutched Ivonne, an arrogant boldness rising in his chest. He leaned forward and kissed her full on the lips, pouring all his pent-up fervor into his kiss. Ivonne gasped at his intensity, but quickly reciprocated, wrapping her arms around his neck and pulling him in.
As they kissed, a large figure watched them hungrily, crouching behind a bush, licking his lips as he did so. This was all he needed to see. The large man stood quietly and began making his way back through the forest, the beginnings of a wicked plan forming in his mind.
The sky was clear and blue, much like the previous few days and the sun was beating down upon the chateau once more. Gaston Baptiste was sitting on a balcony, surveying the land which would one day be his. He wore a sardonic smile on his face as he sipped the wine close at hand. He reveled in the deviltry he had committed earlier that day, savoring the sights, sounds, and smells of it in his mind, tasting once more the lives he had shattered, the ruin he had heaped upon his victims.
Yes, this terrible act would have ripples, spreading its poisonous effect to his intended target. Armand would be devastated, his imagined pain sending a shiver of pleasure up his spine. He was a rutting, insatiable beast, Gaston Baptiste, a gaping maw swallowing whatever it could wrap itself around. This was life, he thought: power, domination, raging ruin heaped upon the weaker, the unworthy to remind them that they were utterly worthless.
He would be head of the Baptiste clan one day. He was powerful, the best, the most worthy of Guy's sons and he would prove it through his actions. He had proven it. All were merely vessels for his will, targets to exert his power upon: that pathetic peasant girl with whom his worthless brother would pollute the Baptiste line with had be been given the chance, Armand the weak, womanly romantic. Yes, he would have finally, irreparably broken him, he thought. He smiled at that thought, baring his sharp, bestial teeth.
He turned as he heard the crash of the door behind him thrown open. There stood little, pathetic Armand, his chest heaving with rage, his limbs trembling, brandishing a sabre. His cheeks were stained with angry tears and his teeth were gritted.
“Gaston,” he shouted, his voice breaking, “you damned fiend! You....you...defiler! I'll kill you! I swear!”
This was all Armand could manage as he felt white-hot fury boiling in his chest. He could barely speak, he could barely form the words. He saw her face in the back of his mind, her bright, beautiful eyes lifeless and staring, her formerly musical voice low and despondent, shrinking away from his questions and his reassuring touch. The sight made him want to weep eternally, but the time for tears was over. They had burned away with the all-consuming desire to make Gaston hurt, bleed, die.
He saw the towering man get up from his chair, a savage grin on his chiseled face, a sadistic glint in his eye that would have sent him running any other day. Gaston laughed at him, the cackling of a demon in hell as the torment of a sinner.
“You will,” asked Gaston, “You will beg for death when I've finished with you. Who knows? I may go back to the village for more, then complete the job. You were always weak Armand...you take too much after mother, both worthless fools who have no place in the Baptistes. Perhaps I'll bring you back your peasant whore's pretty little head to keep as a souvenir...”
This was all Armand could take. He screamed and charged him, feeling a boldness he had never known. Gaston drew his own sword and parried, kicking the boy back. Armand staggered back, but kept his footing, once more pressing the attack. He fought wildly, possessed of a desire to cause harm, to stab, to rip, to tear, to smash the leering, arrogant face which hovered above the swirl of blades.
Gaston was a strong and experienced fighter, in control of the battle, beating back his brother's animal intensity toward the wall. He batted the sabre from Armand's hand, driving the point of his own sword deep into his brother's soft shoulder, pinning him to the wooden doorframe. He laughed, letting go of the sword and striking a blow to his face.
Armand barely registered the pain as he felt blood pouring from his broken nose. He tried to break free, a blind, explosive force struggling to free itself and bring ruin on Gaston. He felt his brother's fist connect with his stomach, ripping his breath from his lungs. He gasped, rasping an incoherent roar. The evil giant went for another punch to the face, but Armand caught his fist in his mouth, burying his teeth into his flesh.
He could feel a coppery-tasting liquid dripping onto his tongue as he bit down. Armand felt a strange sensation....he could taste something more, Gaston's surprise, shock, a momentary loss of conscious thought, a sudden pain and outrage. He could taste a thick, lustful, brutish flavor pouring form his brother's veins, the blood of a brute.
Armand felt a certain pleasure building his his stomach, a fluttering his his guts and a building, tingling rush flowing through his body, an energy he had previously not known. He closed his eyes, sighing as he was overwhelmed with these new sensations, a power mingling with his vengeful bloodlust. He wanted more, wanted this power to flow into him forever. Kill, drink, eat...kill drink, eat...kill, drink eat...
Gaston cried out and wrenched his tattered, bleeding hand from Armand's mouth, snarling and panting. Armand reached up and wrenched the sword from his shoulder, ignoring the damage done to his own hand and threw himself at his tormentor, teeth bared and eyes blazing red.
This was all Armand could remember afterward. The rest of the fight was incoherent and foggy in his mind. All he knew was that eventually he sat, straddling the red ruin that had once been a man, feeling utterly invigorated, his entire body trembling and burning with the pleasurable taste and surge of Gaston's last, panicked thoughts as death took him, the nourishment of blood which knitted his grievous wounds shut, the heady, drunken rush of his victory. He held a deflated sac in his hand, perhaps it was once a heart...
Armand Baptiste threw his head back and laughed, utterly consumed with the power of a bloodwritten. Ivonne had been avenged and now they could live happily together for all eternity. He would rule the Baptistes when his father finally died and that was all that mattered. The damage had been done, but he would help her recover, do whatever he could to heal the awful wounds inflicted by the dead man beneath him. But what's more, he was powerful, he was invincible. For the first time in his life, Armand felt as through he was in charge of his destiny. In fact, he had it by the throat.