Ravensdale Estate could have been a castle. Its tower appeared to be some strange, massive vine winding crookedly upwards to pierce the clouds, and the gardens behind the estate overflowed with such perfectly formed roses of the most brilliant scarlet, they were rumored to rival even Arpiar’s. Nestled between two rolling hills, the Beauclarian structure’s dark stone contrasted starkly with the sunlit golden grass that swirled in the evening wind. Above the Estate’s tall towers its namesake bird cawed and spiraled lazily around the turrets, adding a certain eeriness about the otherwise peaceful place.
Father Basile Bastien wished with every ounce of his being that the Estate didn’t look quite so terrifying. The black stone seemed to be to be a ghostly mirage appearing in the dusky orange sky.
“It’s just an old Estate,” Father Basile muttered shakily to himself, urging his horse closer to the building. “Nothing to be worried about, eh old boy?” The horse whinnied, sounding nearly as nervous as Basile, and inched closer to the looming building. The tall doors to the Estate swung inward, and a young maid appeared before Basile could climb awkwardly off his horse.
“Are you Father Basile Bastien?” She asked, looking a bit mad with her wide blue eyes staring out from behind pale hair that romped about her face. Becoming somewhat tangled in his new robes, Basile nodded her way and then swung down off his horse. “I am,”
“Iubdan’s beard, you’re young!” The maid swore and then ushered the new priest inside before he could scold her for her language. “They’ll want to see you immediately.” A hand to his back, she pushed rather than led him down the hallway and into a large room, which Basile guessed was the parlor. “He’s come,” She blurted after practically shoving him into the room.
Four pairs of eyes scrutinized the young man.
Basile straightened and waited for someone to say something. He smoothed a dark, shiny strand of hair away from his sweaty forehead, and his eyes bounced nervously across the faces of his hosts. A rather robust man sat in a plush armchair by the fire, occasionally adding a haziness to the room with the languid puff of his pipe. Finding the arrival of the priest not amusing in the slightest, he set back to work reading a book that was propped open with his thumb and forefinger.
Across the room on the settee, a young woman sat by the dirty parlor window and briefly inspected the newcomer with one swift glance before turning back to her needlepoint. She tossed her hair over one shoulder dismissively.
Directly across from her a handsome man sat by the dusty bookcase. He rolled a glass of mulled cider around in his hand. Disheveled hair and clothes lent him a dramatic appearance, and stubble dotted his chiseled jaw; his eyes were embers as he stared at the lovely redhead.
Then—“Welcome, Father Basile. I am Lady Camille. It was I who sent you the letter.”
Basile’s eyes were drawn to the lady who had spoken—the lady who was undoubtedly in charge. She sat grandly in the center of the room, her dress pooling outwards from her chair like spilt ink on a rug. Brown hair streaked with grey was pulled loosely away from her face and constructed in an elegant bun at the nape of her neck. She was a strange balance of coldness and warmth.
“How do you do?” Basile stammered.
Lady Camille smiled a smile that wasn’t too large or too small. “Thank you for coming on such short notice.”
Father Basile replied nervously, “Y-yes. Of course. Anything to appease—I mean—please you.”
The grand lady raised and eyebrow. “You’re quite young, you know.”
He blinked. “Yes,”
“This is your first wedding I presume?” She smoothed her skirts nonchalantly.
“It is.” Basile cleared his throat nervously and glanced over at the beautiful redhead and the fellow who wouldn’t stop staring at her. He looked back at his hostess. “May I ask who the happy couple is?” His voice squeaked and then cleared his throat.
“But of course.” She gestured to the girl who was still solely focused on her needlework. “My daughter, Evelyn, is the bride-to-be. Her fiancé is just upstairs. I’m sure the two of you will meet before the wedding tomorrow.”
“Of course…” Basile nodded, trying to think of something to say that would fill the strained silence.
But Lady Camille spoke first. “Denise,” She addressed the wild-eyed maid who had shoved Basile inside the room. “Instead of standing there, eavesdropping like a misbehaved country bumpkin, why don’t you fetch Father Basile’s bags for him?”
Turning red, the maid nodded and fled the room, closing the door with a click.
“Stupid girl,” Lady Camille muttered to herself, clasping her hands delicately in front of her. She looked back at Basile. “Take a seat, please, Father Basile.”
Basile nodded, “Thank you,” He sat down on the sofa across from the robust man.
“We’re all quite thrilled about the wedding.” Lady Camille announced happily. “Aren’t we, my love?” She asked the question loudly addressing the pipe-puffing man by the fire.
“Yes, yes, anything you say, my lovely.” He spoke absently around his pipe.
Lady Camille frowned. “Oh, dear, I didn’t introduce you to my husband, Lord Gaspard.”
“Pleased to meet you, my Lord.” Basile nodded the gentleman’s way. Lord Gaspard only mumbled something smoky and then coughed.
Tick. Tick. Tick.
The repetitive clock was the only sound in the parlor, but the strings of tension spoke volumes.
Basile was tapping his finger along with the clock beat when another noise assaulted the quiet room from above. It sounded almost like someone bounding down the stairs. Then the parlor door was flung open, and a golden haired, scarlet clad man made his entrance.
Evelyn’s attention was instantly drawn away from her needlepoint and she tossed it aside. “My darling, what were you doing?” Her voice was bright and sweet, and her red locks bounced gaily as she embraced her intended.
“Oh, a little of this and a little of that,” Her fiancé replied. “You know how that goes.” She giggled and her betrothed looked beyond her to the brooding man by the bookcase. “Ah. Fifi Flavius is still with us. How nice.”
The dark bookcase man downed the rest of his cider and then growled, “My name is Finley Flavian.”
“Sadly, it is,” The golden haired man agreed. “What were those parents of yours thinking? Fifi Flavius is much more effective.”
Finley glowered before rising and shattering his glass into the fireplace. With a heated glance towards Evelyn, he exited the room, the door slamming in his wake.
Lady Camille spoke, “Really, Eanrin, must you antagonize the boy so? That’s the fifth glass we’ve lost today!” She rebuked her future son-in-law, but an amused smile tugged at her lips.
“I shall attempt to control myself, my Lady.” He bowed dramatically. “Oh, is that the priest?”
Realizing his mouth had been hanging open, Basile shut it with an audible click. “Hullo,” He stood, nodding in Eanrin’s direction. “Pleased to meet—Achoo!”
Eanrin looked offended.
“Excuse me,” Basile drew a handkerchief from within his priestly robes and dabbed at his nose. “I don’t know what came over me.”
Sniffing, Eanrin said, “Don’t worry, old chap. Perhaps you’re allergic to something.”
Basile was about to mention that he wasn’t allergic to anything but cats then the dinner gong sounded.
“That’ll be dinner.” Lord Gaspard leapt up with as much spry as a young hound dog and charged out of the room, sniffing out his meal.
Eanrin bowed; his bearing was as debonair as a poet from a story book. “After you, my dearest ladies.” He addressed both women and watched smugly as they left together, thrilled with how dashing their favorite man was.
Basile moved to follow the women, not wishing to become trapped alone with this unusual man, when Eanrin held out a staying hand. “A moment if you will, Father.”
The young priest began sweating again. Good heavens were these robes stifling!
The groom pulled out the priest’s kerchief from within his robes and shoved it at him. “Stop doing that,” Eanrin looked affronted. “It’s terribly annoying.”
Basile sniffled. “So sorry.”
“Never mind,” Eanrin waved a dismissive hand. “I presume you’re trustworthy being a priest and all?”
Surprised and a bit miffed, Basile replied, “Of course I’m trustworthy!”
The silvery voice of Lady Camille floated down the hall. “Gentlemen! Supper is waiting!”
“One moment, dear lady!” Eanrin called back with an equally charming tone. He turned back to Basile, his voice taking on a scheming manner. “You might want to keep your wits in close range tonight,” As he exited the room, he gave the priest a fleeting glance over one shoulder. “One never knows what sorts of things might transpire.”
The dining room was as gloomy as the rest of Ravensdale Estate, decorated with wilted flowers and raven’s feathers. It was eccentric and horrible, thought Basile as he entered the feathery room along with the rest of the odd company. The priest felt as though he had fallen into some horror story in which he played the victim. Perhaps one day village folk would tell stories about the poor young priest who entered Ravensdale Estate and was never heard from again.
His shoulder itched uncomfortably and he turned to see Denise the maid serving the company. Something shifted in the shadows behind her.
No—Basile’s nervous mind was only playing tricks on his eyes. He shook his head.
“We imported this fish straight from Parumvir!” Lady Camille exclaimed with excitement.
Eanrin perked up at this news. “Marvelous!” He pulled his chair back and settled down, thrumming his fingers on the table to some nameless tune in his head. Evelyn caught his eye and they both shared a knowing smirk. To most members of the party that would have appeared to be a lover’s smirk shared between two people that madly adored each other. But it didn’t seem to Basile as being a loving look. That smirk was similar to two naughty children sharing a secret under the noses of their elders.
“Do sit, Father. Here,” Lady Camille pulled Basile from his observation and gestured to a seat near her. “Come, sit by me.”
“Thank you,” He settled into his seat and fiddled with the long sleeves of his robe.
Denise sidled beside Lady Camille balancing the plate of fish in her hands, and served them, not meeting her mistress’s eyes. It would seem that she was still embarrassed by the reprimand she received earlier.
She moved down the table and Basile watched her go…he noticed Lord Gaspard was watching the young girl as well.
“Lady Camille,” he began, keeping his eyes on Denise, “Is she a, um, good maid?”
His hostess laughed a gentle, tinkling laugh. “Oh, I suppose. The girl is quite reckless at times, but I can never bring myself to get rid of her. She’s quite innocent and...a bit odd. But Denise has potential to be a very good maid.”
That same shadow seemed to move again, and Basile gulped. “Does it ever seem to you that there’s something just behind her...in the shadows?” A silly question, he knew.
Lady Camille took a dainty bite of fish. “My dear boy, I believe you’re in need of some rest!” She chuckled and Basile attempted to chuckle along with her.
But he couldn’t help but feel that there was something terribly, terribly wrong going on in Ravensdale.
He remembered Eanrin’s rather strange warning. The priest tried to follow his instructions of keeping his wits in close range by suspecting ulterior motives in every word spoken around the dinner table. Then a thought struck him—how could he be sure that Eanrin wasn’t one to be wary of?
“As I was saying, it seems to me this whole ordeal of ‘secret fairies’ is rather ridiculous. Really, why would any Faerie in its right mind come to wreak havoc away from its own realm? And disguised as a human, no less!” Evelyn addressed the whole company while cutting a tiny bite of fish.
“Perhaps they do so because they’re board.” Finley materialized out of the shadows, causing Basile to jump. The dark man didn’t startle anyone else, though. He simply pulled back his chair, allowing it to scrape miserably on the wooden floor, and sat down next to Evelyn who refused to spare him a glance.
“Fifi, old fellow! So glad you could join us.” Eanrin smirked and dabbed at his lips with his napkin. Finley, anger staining the tips of his ears, attempted to ignore the man across from him.
Evelyn gasped and looked around the table. “What if one of us was a Faerie in disguise! Wouldn’t that be thrilling?”
“Quite,” Eanrin said while shifting in his chair, a sly smirk spreading across his handsome features.
“Eanrin here could very well be one of the Faerie folk,” Finley stated, his eyes shooting daggers towards his rival. “He’s only been here for what, a week now? And he’s already bewitched every single one of you.” His gaze rested on Evelyn, gauging what her response would be to this statement.
She only glanced lovingly towards her betrothed.
Basile’s eyes twitched between Eanrin and Finley. Was it true that Eanrin had only been at Ravensdale for a week?
“He hasn’t bewitched me.” Lord Gaspard grunted from his end of the table before shoving a forkful of his supper into his mouth.
Lady Camille smiled. “Don’t be ridiculous, Finley. Eanrin is the cleverest man I’ve ever met, and while he does have an affinity for teasing, he is certainly no Faerie.” She sipped from her goblet with an air of finalization, warning him to drop the topic.
Defeated, Finley’s gaze slumped to his lap.
Then Lady Camille coughed.
Evelyn began another conversation, and Basile attempted to join in, but no one seemed to hear his thoughts.
The Lady next to him coughed again.
“Are you quite all right?” Basile asked with raised eyebrows, noticing that her neck was turning red.
“Yes,” she croaked, not sounding all right in the least.
The rest quieted down and looked at Lady Camille in concern.
“I say, do you need a pat on the back?” Eanrin offered, leaning forward in his chair.
She waved him away, but stopped suddenly, her eyes becoming wide and panic-stricken. One hand clawing at her throat, Lady Camille struggled desperately to breathe. Everyone leapt up from their seats, rushing towards her.
Grasping her free hand, Basile asked frantically, “What can I do?”
“She can’t speak, idiot!” Finley shoved the priest away and unbuttoned the collar of her dress.
Evelyn shouted at Finley, “Do something!”
Before Finley could respond, the light in Lady Camille’s eyes faded, and she sagged back limply in her chair.
No one dared to breathe.
“She’s…dead.” Eanrin announced dully. The shock of what had just transpired was evident on his face.
“Finley, what did you do?” Evelyn whispered, inching away from the corpse. “What did you do? You’re a physician! You should have…done something to—to save her!” She distanced herself from her mother’s body and collapsed in her father’s seat at the end of the table, sobbing.
Finley Flavian looked even more depressed than normal. “I—” He moved away from Lady Camille as well, rubbing his jaw and looking away. “She’s right. I—I should have...” Then he turned and stormed from the room, escaping Evelyn’s sobs.
“She isn’t! She couldn’t possibly be…”
Basile jumped, placing his hand over his heart as though the action would slow it down, for he had completely forgotten about quiet Lord Gaspard standing just behind Eanrin, whose jaw was clenched tightly shut for the first time that evening.
“My poor, dear wife!” Lord Gaspard moved closer to his wife and knelt, clenching one of her lifeless hands in his own. “What…how did…?”
“My Lord, I believe your daughter may need a bit of comforting. Why don’t you see to her?” Eanrin suggested, his grim gaze not leaving Lady Camille’s deceased form.
The Lord blinked. “Yes. Of course.” He stood, giving his wife another glance as if to see if she really was dead, and that this whole evening hadn’t simply been a nightmare.
Then Lord Gaspard moved to the end of the room where his daughter sat sniffing between sobs.
“Well—” Basile began attempting to fill the horrible silence, but Eanrin interrupted him.
“My dear priestly fellow, we have a delicate matter on our hands.”
“Well of course we do,” agreed Basile, irritated, “our hostess just died at the dinner table!”
Eanrin put a finger to his lips warning Basile to quiet down. “There is more to this scene than you think, old boy.” He whispered.
“What do you mean?” Basile glanced behind himself to make certain Evelyn and Lord Gaspard couldn’t hear.
“I mean she’s been murdered.” Eanrin inched closer to Lady Camille and tilted her head back cautiously. “See the rash? If you look closely you can see that it forms the shape of a flower. That is a symptom of the rare and deadly Fittletat blossom. Our dear Lady was poisoned.”
The room seemed to tilt and Basile steadied himself by grasping the back of a chair. He had unwillingly arrived at a horrible estate where an equally horrible deed had just taken place. Oh, why did his first assignment have to be so dragon-eaten difficult?
“Language, Father.” Eanrin reprimanded as he tapped his chin absent mindedly.
Basile blinked. He hadn’t meant to say that out loud. “Well, what do we do?” He asked frantically. “And how do I know you didn’t kill her?”
“How do I know you didn’t?” Eanrin turned the tables on the priest. “You were sitting directly beside her; an easy position for anyone to poison her drink.”
“Wha—I couldn’t have possibly…” He stammered.
“Don’t worry, I don’t suspect you. However,” Eanrin frowned. “I do suspect someone. We must watch and wait, Father. The killer will be revealed to us in time.”
Basile cleared his throat. “I need to get out of this room.” He staggered to the door, tripping over his robes.
Eanrin steadied him with a helping hand. “Quite right. One can’t think beside a dead body.”
Once the two were alone in the hallway, Basile began thinking with a clear head. Why was he still in Ravensdale? The woman who had requested his visit had just keeled over in the dining room. He doubted a wedding would take place after that little incident.
“I’m leaving.” Basile announced and instantly began striding towards the foyer, holding his robes aloft in front of him.
“Half a moment!” Eanrin stepped on Basile’s extensive clothing, lurching the priest to a stop. “Someone here is a murderer,” Eanrin began, “and we’re the only two people who certainly didn’t do it.” He tilted his head and thought better of what he had just said. “Well, I still have my doubts about you, but you can at least be sure that I didn’t do it.”
“I am certain of no such thing,” Basile tugged desperately at his robe that was still under Eanrin’s boot.
He huffed. “Come now, old chap! Where’s your taste of adventure? Besides, it’s quite dark outside by now, and you know what they say emerges in these hills when night falls.”
Basile stopped struggling and gulped. “The Nightwalker? You mean to tell me it’s real?”
He nodded grimly. “I do. Seen it myself, actually. Night before last.”
Eanrin released the priest. “But leave if you must. I expect it could let you live...not maul you the way it did those other poor travelers.”
Basile shifted. “I suppose I could stay the night…”
“Excellent! I’ll meet you in your room when the clock strikes twelve.” Eanrin turned to leave, but the dining room door opened revealing Evelyn and Lord Gaspard, their eyes red and puffy.
“No one is to enter that room,” he said. “We’ve laid her down covered her—” He took a deep breath. “I’ll just…inform the servants of what—” Lord Gaspard pinched the bridge of his nose. “—what happened. Everyone…get some rest.” He left the hallway abruptly and walked towards the kitchen, Evelyn slowly trudging upstairs to her bedroom.
That was certainly odd, Basile thought. If Eanrin was the girl’s fiancé, she would need some sort of comfort from him, wouldn’t she? But no—they didn’t even spare each other a glance. Quite odd, indeed.
“Midnight, remember!” Eanrin whispered urgently in his ear before disappearing upstairs with the rest of the company. Basile followed, darting anxious glances over his shoulder should the murderer suddenly decide spring upon him. His room was across from Eanrin’s, and the priest was surprised at the comfort he felt in knowing this.
Soon, all was silent in Ravensdale Estate. Darkness crept throughout the web of hallways, snuffing out the moon’s cool rays of light. Then the clock’s sound of midnight’s arrival woke Basile.
Actually, it was the sound of a cry that woke him. The noise sounded desperate, though muffled.
“Eanrin?” Basile whispered to the darkness.
He received no answer.
Standing, he tip-toed to his door and slowly peeked out. No one was there. But where was Eanrin?
Then he heard the cry again. And that was when Basile realized that Eanrin’s door was opened ever so slightly.
With no thought for himself, Basile leapt across the hallway, sliding on his socks into the room to find two figures struggling on the bed. One man was straddling the other, forcing a pillow over his victim’s face, smothering him. As Basile prepared to tackle the killer, an orange streak charged past his legs and dived towards the bed, furry, white paws extended menacingly. A scream followed after the orange streak attached itself to the murderer, clawing at the man’s face until he fell off.
Finley Flavian sat up in bed tearing the pillow away from his face, and gulped in the air around him.
Basile was confused.
Then Eanrin was suddenly in the room, too, holding a scratched Lord Gaspard by his collar. “Good work, Basile boy! We’ve found our murderer, and I must say I’m quite surprised.” He sounded pleased with himself.
“How did you get in here?” Basile asked, feeling severely uninformed.
Eanrin answered, “I ran right past you. Didn’t you witness that thrilling act of heroism? I tell you, tonight will be remembered by all. I’m planning on writing an epic.”
“Is this why you wanted to switch rooms with me?” Finley asked, outraged. He struggled with his blankets as he attempted to stand.
“Fiddlesticks,” Eanrin answered. “I simply like your room better than mine. Too much black in here, you see.” He glanced around the room, nose wrinkled. “This little incident took me quite by surprise.”
Lord Gaspard struggled. “Let go of me, you pontificating poet!”
“Not until you tell me why you killed your wife.”
Defeated, Lord Gaspard’s shoulders sagged, and Eanrin released him. “It…she was never supposed to die. Dragon’s teeth, she wasn’t even supposed to be the victim!”
“And who was that poor intended soul? Though I’ll wager I can guess who it was.”
The Lord gritted his teeth. “You were.”
“What’s happened? Is everyone all right?” Evelyn appeared in the door way, pulling her robe close about her shoulders. “I heard commotion and…” She looked around the room and blushed when her eyes settled on bare-chested Finley. Then she saw her father and the bloody scrapes across his face. “Daddy? What happened?” She rushed towards her father.
“Evelyn, my darling, it—this was never supposed to happen! The drink wasn’t meant for her!” Lord Gaspard’s eyes were nearly overflowing with tears.
She slowly began to grasp what her father was trying to say. “You did this?” Outrage was evident on her face.
“He made me! I swear, he made me! He said he would kill everyone if—if I didn’t murder the Faerie Knight…” His voice broke and he began to sob, covering his face with his hands.
“Who made you?” Asked Finley, stepping forward.
Lord Gaspard took a sharp breath. “The Nightwalker.”
A terrified silence settled over the group.
Until—“Ha! Oh, that is rich,” Eanrin chuckled dryly. “There is no ‘Nightwalker’. I started the rumor to explain the sighting of a strange cat-man. Which is me, by the by.”
“You’re a Faerie?” Basile sputtered, his nightcap slipping backwards ever so slightly, giving him the appearance of a little boy who had just awoken from a nightmare.
Eanrin glanced his way. “I’m Eanrin of Rudiobus, Knight of Farthestshore and finest of poets; Lord Gaspard here is a murderer claiming to have been threatened by a made-up creature, and the reason I came to Ravensdale in the first place was because Evelyn here felt as though something like this would happen. Pay attention.”
Finley’s eyes widened. “Evelyn?” He looked from Eanrin to the woman he adored.
“It’s true,” she said, “I met Eanrin in the village, and he agreed to…oh, Finley, Eanrin and I were never in love. He told me he would discover why I was feeling so…frightened.”
“If you’re really a Knight, why would you prod me the way you’ve been doing?” Basile asked Eanrin heatedly.
The poet shrugged. “I stoop to such things when I’m bored.”
“He’s real, I tell you!” Lord Gaspard exclaimed wildly. “The Nightwalker is as real as you and I, and he’ll kill the lot of us if we don’t give him the Knight!”
“Hmph. Well, glad to see you feel so badly about your attempted murder.” Eanrin crossed his arms. Lord Gaspard said something back, and Evelyn and Finley began to argue. Their voices faded away in Basile’s mind as that itching feeling returned between his shoulders.
He turned his head slightly to look back at the door.
Nothing but darkness waited in the hallway.
“You’re lying, Gaspard, admit it!”
The company continued their bantering, ignoring the existence of the priest who was slowly inching to the door.
“Um,” Basile attempted to interrupt. “I think I just…saw…something…” His voice faded away as he realized no one would listen to him. Who would? He was useless in this house; as useless as an old pet that simply followed his master’s footsteps. So, Basile left Eanrin’s room. Or Finley’s. Whomever it belonged to.
An endless, black corridor stared back at him, daring the priest to step into the deafening silence. Only…the hallway wasn’t completely derived of sound. Basile’s ears perked at a sudden slithering noise of something heavy slipping across the polished wood.
Straitening his nightcap, Basile followed it, determined not to talk himself out entering this black hole. He followed the hushed sound, his footsteps silenced by the soft socks on his feet. Making certain his shaking hand was touching the side of the wall, he continued his journey into the bowels of Ravensdale Estate. The swishing sound paused suddenly, and the priest stopped with it, breaking into a cold sweat. Then, as though it decided there was no one following, it resumed its course. Basile could tell the end of the hallway was near, and he paused when the silvery beams of the moon suddenly broke through the stormy midnight clouds and burst into the corridor’s window. The rays lit for a moment a small doorway which led to what Basile presumed to be the servant’s quarters. Movement caught his eye and he stared wide-eyed at what he was following.
A tail—a thick, long, gray tail slid heavily around the doorway and disappeared.
Basile couldn’t continue. Not after seeing that. Such daring adventures were meant for men like Finley…not a poor, abandoned priest like himself.
Never alone, Basile.
Basile stopped and looked around. Had someone just spoken? He glanced over his shoulders in hopes that Eanrin or Finley had shown up to finish tracking whatever was prowling the hallways, but no one was there.
No one but a bird with a speckled chest sitting outside the window, blinking curiously at the man in the nightcap.
He continued on, wondering how a trip to perform a wedding could turn into his worst nightmare. Peeking around the open door, Basile saw a set of stairs leading downwards into more darkness. Saying a quick prayer, he plunged into more blackness. His feet touched the bottom of the steps, and a faint strip of light alerted him that another door had been opened. Moving closer, Basile slowly peeked inside.
It was a small bedroom that he had stumbled upon—a servant’s bedroom, and Denise the maid lay sleeping soundly in her plain bed. Her wild curls tumbled across her round face, casting an angelic glow about her in the soft moonlight. But the lovely scene of the sleeping angel was darkened by the devil standing in the shadows at the foot of her bed.
Basile bit back a strangled cry upon viewing the creature he had followed. It stood taller than any human he had seen, and sported a chest that was filled with stone-like muscles. The creature was the same color as its tale—muddy, dark grey, with tufts of black fur spotting the creatures back and head. It stood like a man, had the form of a man, even, only there was nothing human about it.
The creature was a cat.
A tall, powerful cat standing like a man and clenching its fists—not paws—as an indecisive human would do. Its thighs were thick as tree trunks, and its feet had the agility and power of a cat’s.
Feline ears sat upon the creatures head, and twitched as its strange golden eyes gazed at the sleeping girl. Basile realized that, oddly, the creature wore black breeches that reached down to its ankles. Its tail flopped back and forth thoughtfully.
He’s deciding if he’s going to eat her! Thought Basile, horrified, and wondered what he could possibly do against such an opponent.
Denise chose that moment to mumble something incoherent, and to nestle further into her blankets, obviously chilled from the cold night air. The creature then reached forward, extending a long arm towards the unsuspecting girl. Its black claws were so extensive, so sharp, they could tear her small body easily apart in one swift movement. Basile’s muscles tensed, preparing to fling himself at it if need be.
But the cat-man only grasped her blankets, gently pulling them upwards and tucking them around her shoulders.
Basile recoiled as he understood what he was witnessing. The monster, that horrible cat-man, the Nightwalker, had feelings for a simple maid.
Basile’s nose tickled. He frantically searched for his kerchief and smothered his nose.
The Nightwalker looked up sharply, sensing Basile’s movement, and flattened his ears against his head. A feline growl sounded from his throat, and Denise’s eyes slowly opened. She bolted upright.
“You!” She cried, pulling her blankets about her for protection. The Nightwalker looked at her, and then glanced at the door. He hesitated. Then he spoke, his voice deep and rumbling like one thunderous, but strangely soothing purr.
“Protect.” He said, thrusting one long claw towards his chest, and then to Denise. “C—c—” It seemed to be struggling as it thought of what to say. “C—ome?”
She shook her head, pale curls trembling. “I told you. I don’t need protection.”
The Nightwalker huffed, frustrated. Then, he made up his mind, and reached forward, his plans of stealing Denise away evident.
Seeing his chance, Basile showed himself. “Denise!” He called, looking ghostly in the moonlight with his white nightcap and gown. Screaming, Denise bolted towards him, and he seized her hand, dragging her upstairs and into the hallway. The Nightwalker howled and followed, bounding upstairs and sliding into the hallway with them.
“Help!” Basile didn’t know what else to do but scream as the Nightwalker gained on them. “HELP!”
Suddenly the fluffy, orange cat showed itself, charging the Nightwalker valiantly. But the Nightwalker didn’t even glance Eanrin’s way. He dodged him easily and passed Denise, running powerfully towards a different target. Then Basile noticed that Finley, Evelyn, and Lord Gaspard were in the hallway as well, backing away from the creature charging towards them. Before anyone knew what was happening, the Nightwalker had wrapped his large fists around Lord Gaspard’s neck, and held him up from the floor.
Basile remembered something then. He recalled Lord Gaspard’s frantic words about the Nightwalker, and how the creature had forced him to attempt to murder Eanrin. And then he remembered the Nightwalker trying to talk to Denise. The creature could barely speak.
“Stop!” Basile called out, and for once, everyone listened. Even the Nightwalker turned its head to hear. “I believe the Nightwalker is innocent.”
The creature set Lord Gaspard on his feet again upon hearing these words.
Eanrin shifted to his human shape. “Whatever do you mean, Basile?”
Basile turned nervously to Lord Gaspard. “You really were trying to kill Eanrin, but not because the Nightwalker forced you to. You didn’t want him marrying your daughter, and you were afraid he would discover you foul plans. And what’s more,” he continued, “Killing your wife was part of your plan as well, wasn’t it? She ruled this house—not you.”
He paused, allowing this to soak into everyone’s mind. “And you couldn’t force Denise to marry you if your wife was still living, could you?”
The shock on Lord Gaspard’s face was evident. He had been discovered, and there was nothing he could do about it.
“I knew he was lying,” mumbled Eanrin from behind Basile.
Finley shook his head. “But what does…it have to do with this?” He asked, tossing his head the Nightwalker’s direction.
“Protect.” The creature gestured Denise’s way again and then looked back at Finley.
“He has followed after me ever since I was a child.” Denise said, eyes downcast. “He only just revealed himself to me this past month, telling me I had to leave this place. I was afraid…I didn’t tell anyone.” She shuddered. “But I always felt that he was there.”
“I say,” began Eanrin, speaking overly loud to the Nightwalker as though it couldn’t understand him, “Why have you been protecting her?”
The creature’s ears twitched. “Deserves…to be.”
That was when Lord Gaspard made his move. A dagger suddenly materialized in his hand, and he lunged towards the creature. But the Nightwalker was quicker by far. He dodged the dagger and grasped the Lord’s shoulders, and in one powerful stroke, threw him against the wall.
Lord Gaspard collapsed dead in a crumpled heap.
Evelyn let out a sob, the reality of this bizarre evening settling in, and cried into Finley’s shoulder.
Eanrin heaved a sigh. “This certainly is a mess, isn’t it?”
No one slept that night. The group stayed huddled in the parlor, save the Nightwalker. He vanished shortly after Lord Gaspard was killed. They immediately sent word for the grave diggers, and were prepared to hold the funerals for Lady Camille and Lord Gaspard that afternoon. Basile packed his bags, realizing he was truly no longer needed, and left Ravensdale Estate, wearing plain breeches and a loose shirt. He felt quite comfortable. He stepped into the cool morning air and breathed deeply.
“Leaving? So am I.”
He turned at the golden voice of the Faerie Knight, and smiled crookedly. “You’re engagement has been broken, and I supposed that I was no longer needed.”
Eanrin walked towards him, brilliant in red, hands in his pockets. “Quite. I’m no longer needed either. We’re a pair.” He sighed dramatically, striding easily along as Basile neared the stables.
“Where will you go?” asked Basile, curious.
The poet shrugged. “Wherever my Master calls me.”
At these words Basile remembered the little bird outside the window, and the soft voice that encouraged him onwards. “Who is your Master?” He asked.
“The Prince of Farthestshore.” Eanrin smiled saying his name.
The priest nodded. “Then we serve the same Master. Although…” his voice faded.
“Although…?” Eanrin urged him on.
“Although I’ve lost sight of him these past months. But he hasn’t lost sight of me.”
Eanrin nodded, serious for a short while. “He seldom does. Ah! There’s Callypse.”
“Who?” Basile asked, looking back at the Estate. The only person he saw was Denise, trimming the hedges around the house. Then he saw a shadow just behind her. He would never have noticed it had Eanrin not brought his attention to it.
“The Nightwalker. His real name is Callypse. Had a nice little chat with him last night…cat to cat, you know. He was born of a race of cat-people—entirely different from my own glorious self, mind—who live to protect those most in need. Nice fellow, really. The last of his kind.”
“There’s someone for everyone, I suppose.” said Basile thoughtfully.
Eanrin stiffened beside him. “I suppose.”
The priest looked at the Knight of Farthestshore and saw for the first time who was truly Eanrin of Rudiobus. There was no dash, no sarcasm, and no smug smirk in the real Eanrin’s bearing. The poet appeared vulnerable and in pain. He seemed to be thinking of something…or someone.
The moment passed, however, and he brightened yet again. “Well, cheery-bye, old boy! I’m off to new adventures!” He morphed into his cat form and trotted into the golden sunrise. But then Eanrin paused, his plume-like tale twitching thoughtfully. He looked back at Basile. “Care to join me?”
The priest, grinning, mounted his horse and followed the cat to whatever quests lay in the bright, sunlit hills ahead.