“What do you fear my child?”
Granted, it wasn’t the usual question of a priest in a confessional. But then again, he was no ordinary priest.
Her young voice quaked, and it sent a shiver of compassion through his heart. It was unfortunate to be so young and so afraid. There was plenty of time for fear when one became older and recognized the real demons of the world.
“Yes, my child, I can feel fear.”
“I.” There was hesitation in her young voice and images of hardship, poverty, and even violence from her parents came flooding across his mind. It was ill-advised for him to use his powers in such a way, entirely too draining. But something about the young girl, no more than twelve he thought, tugged at his heart — his old, well-seasoned heart. “I don’t know Father. I think I fear the demons that come out of the forest.”
It became as clear as a crystallized picture in his mind that she lived in a province outside the city. The family had journeyed here for trading, and the rare occurrence it seemed to visit the cathedral for some religious reflection.
“Who told you demons come from the forest my child?”
“My parents, my brother — they said if I tarry too long and the night falls, demons and devil wolves will come and tear me asunder.”
He bowed his head. He knew that she expected him to tell her that was not true and that she was safe. But hers was a pure heart and his, well, his was always touched by purity. “Heed your parents child and say your rosary to the blessed mother. And don’t be afraid, living in fear isn’t a good thing. But be prudent.”
“Yes father,” she murmured as he leaned back in the confessional box. Prayers might help her indeed. Prayers might keep her safe from demons such as himself.
The year was 1350 in the town of Chartres, France where I was for a scant period of time a priest. But only for a time, I had already been a werewolf for over half a millennium.
It was stormy. The great dark clouds moved restlessly across the sky of the lakefront. And the water beneath shifted with an activity that was a few notches above its normal placid state. She sat on a stone bench breathing in deeply, trying to calm her mind, her heart. Her very skin prickled in aggravation. She bowed her head and strove to still her mounting aggravation. She must or else she would simply be too vulnerable. She would simply fall apart.
As she took in a deep breath, willing herself to be covered in a white energy of protection, she sensed without even looking that time had run out. She was no longer alone.
“Are you out of your mind?”
“Noel, you must calm yourself.”
“Mother, you know I am knee deep in planning my wedding. It’s less than six months away. You couldn’t possibly expect me to get involved with something of this nature now.”
The slender dark-haired woman reflected little expression at her daughter’s exasperation. “Why?” she said rather quietly. “Do you think Patrick would object?”
Noel frowned, as mounting frustration threatened to take hold of her. “That’s not fair Mother. As you are very well aware, I haven’t told Patrick anything concerning this aspect of our family lineage.”
Noel noted a slight frown cross her mother’s traditionally placid features as she casually stirred the cup of tea that Noel had prepared for her only moments earlier. Josephine Duverje had arrived unexpectedly on her apartment doorstep nearly a half an hour earlier. As it was, Noel wasn’t due in to work until the afternoon, so she’d only anticipated a pleasant impromptu visit — certainly not the potential grenade that was now laid at her door. “Yes, my dear. And as I have said before, I’m not at all sure this is the proper approach to take. After all, I thought marriage meant sharing everything.”
Noel swallowed on a dry throat and struggled to be calm. Lately, everywhere she looked was stress, stress, stress. “Patrick is different. I plan to bring him into things a little at a time. Besides my involvement in this aspect of the family is limited these days.”
“What a shame, you’ve always had such talents,” her mother commented fluidly. “Too bad you haven’t taken more time to develop them. But whatever the case my dear, you are part of this family and with that comes responsibilities.”
“I’m sure you could find someone else,” she murmured resentfully, although she was already well aware that this battle was lost.
And then Josephine looked up, giving Noel a bit of a chilling stare with her dark eyes that she remembered very well from childhood. “No, my child. It is to be you this time. So, clear away the clutter of this life you’ve arranged and prepare yourself.”
She wasn’t quick enough. She should have taken time to erect defenses to master her rampaging emotions. Her mother must have known that she was no way in the proper mental condition to deal with anything at all like this. “Am I mistaken?”
He was standing next to her lakeside bench — a man, not an old man, pretty youngish, she thought, but older than her. She forced herself to answer calmly, “No, you are not mistaken.”
Then he smiled with a warmth that she could feel. He was charming, wonderful. “Your mother, I believe arranged this meeting.”
She nodded slowly. Yes, she had. Bless her obstinate heart. “She told me you requested help from our family.”
Another smile and those eyes, wide blue grayish in shade but filled with light. He sat down right next to her in the empty space on the bench without as much as an invitation. “Yes, I did,” he continued speaking as if they were already well acquainted. “A bit of a historical connection that my family and yours possess enabled me to reach out for the aid that I rather desperately need.”
“Historical connection?” she echoed, with perhaps too much disdain in her voice. It was a failing on her part to not be very amiable these days. “That sounds remarkably ambiguous Mr.?” she pried directly. Again, it was abrupt and not terribly gracious. But on some level, she hoped to put him off enough that he would seek help elsewhere. All of this business was an irritant, interfering with her life. She turned her gaze back to the lake before them. The water had become more tumultuous, not unlike her mood.
“My name is Ethan, Ethan Garraint,” he offered, evidently willing to ignore her rudeness.
She turned to him, again struck a bit by his handsomeness, long ash-blond hair just at his shoulders. And a face, well that looked like it had been finely chiseled by some artist in stone — defined cheekbones, but again the eyes, a gaze that seemed to reach forward easily pushing past her innate defensiveness. Of course, not at all like Patrick with his dark, rough, brooding good looks. She sighed a bit, feeling an obscure dizziness sweep through her. “Well, Mr. Garraint, what exactly can I help you with?”
“You remember the promise.”
“Mother yes of course, but that was —”
The dark brown eyes hardened, “A long time ago.” There was steel in her words that told Noel succinctly that this was an argument she would not win. “But that does not in any way lessen the covenant that was forged between the survivors. Without aid from certain individuals, our line would have been wiped out completely, utterly, with the rest of the Cathars in Southern France. So many of our ancestors consigned to burn in flames, branded as heretics for our beliefs and our gifts. It was the first European genocide of a people. If not for the protection and generosity of a select few who gave us sanctuary, you and I would not be sitting here.”
Noel seated across from her Mother at the small kitchenette in her apartment felt deflated, out of protest. Her mother was still so connected to a long ago past, one that Noel could scarcely comprehend. How could she make her understand that this was no longer her life? That she had worked hard to suppress the abilities that the Duverje bloodline had gifted her with. That she now envisioned a different kind of future, mainstreaming herself into a world that did not acknowledge the things that much of her family prized.
She bent her head a bit and sipped her tea. Perhaps, perhaps if she acquiesced this time then that would be enough. After all, how often do such requests present themselves? Her eyes rose to meet her mother’s that were examining her speculatively. She wondered if she was reading her thoughts. There was no doubt that she was reading her emotions. At this, she was most adept. “All right, who do I need to contact?”
Josephine leaned back in the small espresso colored chair. “Don’t worry ma petite. I’ll arrange everything.”
He was dressed casually, short sleeved white shirt, khaki pants. After all, it was already May in New Orleans, dreadfully hot weather. But he was looking at her strangely, as though her question about what exactly he wanted was a curious one. He smiled a bit, staring out at the lake. “Well, you do get down to business.”
“Doesn’t seem any point to wasting time.”
She could feel distraction, as though his thoughts were being drawn elsewhere. “Well, in truth, it’s a bit complicated.”
Noel leaned back against the stone bench and closed her eyes. She didn’t have time to waste here. There was too much demanding her attention now. And then she felt the unexpected pressure of his hand on hers. “Don’t do that,” he whispered.
She opened her eyes with surprise. “I’m sorry I thought you wanted—”
“Some things can’t be rushed,” he murmured softly but with a curious edge of steel in his voice.
She suddenly looked down realizing that Ethan Garraint hadn’t removed his hand from hers. Rather he’d focused his attention on the elegant, glistening engagement ring that Patrick had presented to her out on the deck of the historic New Orleans paddleboat The Natchez only two months ago. Rather overcome by the awkwardness, she pulled her hand away from the contact. He looked up with an odd expression, a bit dazed she thought. “Sorry,” he said quietly. “You’re engaged.”
“Yes,” she answered. This felt very peculiar in a way that the conversation didn’t merit. “Look Mr. Garraint—”
“Ethan,” he interrupted.
“Look Ethan,” she began again. “I do intend to help you, but you must let me do things my way. Do you understand?”
“Yes, of course I understand. But Noel, if I may, what you don’t understand is the complexity of my situation.”
She frowned a bit with increasing frustration. This seemed to incessantly be the way of it lately. She would pound her fists to try to bully events into her liking, and nothing, absolutely nothing, would capitulate and go her way. “Well, chances are I won’t ever understand it if we don’t get started.”
And then he did the unthinkable. He laughed, laughed softly at her frustration. “Well, I see in any case our time together won’t be boring.” He stood up abruptly. “Since time is of the essence, I think I’d like to take you somewhere.”
She stood up slowly in response. “Where?”
“No matter, I’ll drive.”
“No, I have my car. I’ll follow you,” she stammered a bit. After all, she’d grown up in New Orleans and most certainly didn’t take rides from strangers, no matter how historically connected they were to her family.
And again, an elusive smile as though he found her amusing, “As you wish.”
Copyright © 2013 by Evelyn Klebert
In the heart of every man, there is a history. In the heart of every monster, there is a story. In The Broken Vow, (the first installment of The Clandestine Exploits of a Werewolf), Ethan Garraint is on a vendetta that begins in the heart of the Pyrenees with the fall of Montségur and leads him to the streets of New Orleans nearly five hundred years later. But the person he chases isn’t really a man anymore, and Ethan has been a werewolf for almost a millennium. With the aid of a gifted seer, he is on a blood hunt that will culminate in a journey that crosses the line between heaven and earth and ends somewhere in between.