Monday, 22 August 2016

Chapter Fourteen

"I think," Grace observed the towering snow structure that was taking shape on the wintery lawn, "That this will be the largest snowman ever made." A perhaps too-innocent smile played over her lips then as she added, "If only we could reach the top to make it even higher..."

Renaud stood back, regarding the sculpture with a shrewdly narrowed eye, sharp white fangs chewing thoughtfully at the inside of his lip for a moment. He would remember he had fangs one day, he told himself as he gave a wince of discomfort, and stop chewing his lip in moments of thoughtfulness. 

"Perhaps you might hop onto my shoulder for a little more height," the playwright said eventually, returning his hands to the luxuriant fur muff he carried for a second. He might no longer feel the cold, after all, but he was still a gentleman of fashion and he looked to the little girl with a beaming smile, taking in her own matching garment, as well as the fur coat the poodle at her side wore. 

"Perhaps I might," she agreed, before adding solemnly, "Or there might be another way..."

Renaud frowned, the look of mischief that glittered in his young friend's eyes wonderfully familiar and he asked, "Another?"

The girl gave a solemn nod, and then, as he watched, she seemed to grow taller, her head higher than it had been a moment before. It was only then that he realised that it was not that she had grown but that her feet were leaving the ground, until she hovered there with a triumphant grin on her face, looking down at him from at least a head higher than himself. 

"Choux!" Renaud gave an excited clap, voice tinkling with laughter. "You are a butterfly!"

"Would you like to try?" 

"Is the world round?" Renaud gives a little clap of excitement, "How does one do it? Tell!"

"You have to think it," Grace told him, a smile breaking over her face, "You have to feel it."

Renaud was good at feeling things, he knew; after all, he was not only gorgeous, but a man with an instinct for rouge and fashion, for gemstones and perfume and knowing exactly how to put a look together. Then there was his celebrated farces, doling out generous helpings of bawdy comedy to every class whether English or French. For a stunning Frenchman with a flare for words and fashion, flying should be easy. He was an artiste, after all.

Grace was watching him expectantly, even as she warned, "It will take practice...."

"Not for me!" He scooped up Sabine and placed her gently inside the fur muff, closing his eyes and merrily waiting to ascend.

"Your feet," came the laughed response a moment later, "Are supposed to be off the ground!"

Renaud opened one hazel eye and peered down at his feet, seeing the patent leather shoes with their enormous silver and sapphire buckles set well and truly on the snow. Undaunted he closed his eyes again and pictured himself flying, soaring in fact. He heard the sound of Grace very studiously saying nothing, no doubt in awe of his quick and easy mastering of the technique that took others ages.

"See, choux," Renaud announced, opening both eyes and unable to stop his ill-chosen words before they tumbled from his lips, "Some of us are just born talented!"

"Very talented indeed," Grace told him with a laugh, "At being on the ground!"

"Oh, this is too much!"

"You are not thinking properly," the girl took pity on him then, lowering herself a little and reaching out a hand to him. "I will help you."

In return he reached up and took her cool, small hand, the enormous sapphire on Renaud's own finger catching the moonlight for a second that he found most wonderfully distracting.

"Concentrate,"  Grace chided, "Look at me."

"This was a gift from her Late Majesty," the Frenchman sighed, mind dancing happily back to those heady days at the Petit Trianon. "Did I ever tell you of the time she and I and Polastron--" The look on the little girl's solemn face was enough to silence even the flamboyant playwright and he decided, "Perhaps I did tell you..."

"Do you want to fly?"

"But, choux, we were herding sheep! Little royal sheep, and Sab--" he waved his free hand, "Flying, oui, of course!"

"Hold my hand," she instructed, tone brooking no argument, "And look at me. Think of nothing but being in the air." This time he did as he was told, watching her with all the seriousness he could muster, which was never very much nowadays. "Now," she instructed, hand tightening as she slowly began to rise, "Come with me."

She would not be able to lift him, the thought was ridiculous; she was a girl of eight or nine, he a full grown man carrying a poodle and a considerable weight in silk, lace and jewellery. For a moment Renaud almost laughed, almost scrubbed her hair affectionately and told her it would come in time and then the moment was lost because his feet were no longer on the ground, but hovering a little above it. Her gaze never left his, blue and intense and burning into his as she reminded him, "Feel it."

"Mistress Sabine must not fall--" he clutched the poodle close to his chest, torn between wonder and fear.

Concentrate!"

Another deep breath and, with the dog safe in her fur cocoon and Grace's gaze matching his own, Renaud finally allowed himself to concentrate, to forget gossip and jewels and rouge and think only of the slow, careful ascent. They were, he realised, nearly as high as the snowman's head now, and still rising, the ground growing further away with each moment.

"Oh choux," he whispered, a tumble of excitable French following as he wondered again at this finest of friends.

"This," she assured him, "This is nothing!"

"I am but a novice!"

"Shall we go higher?"

"Oui!"

Her grip tightened, impossibly strong for one so young, and then the snowman was far below them, Grace guiding him effortlessly upwards. She truly was magical, Renaud knew, the angel sent to him to learn of this strange, wonderful world in which he found himself.

"If we wanted to," she was telling him, "We could land on the roof!"

"Take me there!"

There was a tug and then he was not just rising but flying of sorts through the air, though with less grace than his clearly more experienced companion. Of course, he knew that everything Fabien Renaud did had some measure of grace, so he was not a total loss. The yellow silk, fur muff and cloak would look wonderful from the ground, at least. Even as he had the thought he felt himself dip a little, jolting him to focus, to concentrate as the roof drew closer. He did not notice the darkening clouds above, nor hear the ominous rumble of thunder, let alone see the shapes that moved in those dark clouds, silhouettes on the moon.

"How did you like it?" Grace asked eagerly as they landed, the roof smooth and snow-covered beneath their feet.

"You are truly a marvel, little choux - you fly as well as inspire playwrights!"

The girl opened her mouth to reply, but instead frowned, fingers digging into his hand so tightly he almost cried out. Instead though he followed her gaze, eyes narrowing at the strange shapes in the night, black against black, moving fast. A moment later the head of that nightmarish tempest burst through the storm clouds, screaming shapes of amorphous darkness hurling themselves at the windows of the house below as the air filled with the sounds of wings, leather beating on leather.

"We need to go," the girl declared, “Now."

Renaud, however, was frozen in place, eyes wide, a hundred memories of the Terror flooding over him, wrenching fear growing in his breast.

"Come on!”

"Go..." the word was a whisper, confused and a little lost. "Where could we go?"

"Anywhere," came the hushed answer, "We can fly right out of here--"

"What of our friends? Mr Hogan--"

"She will take care of him," Grace shook her head impatiently, "There is nothing we can do."

"He would not leave us to.. I do not know what this is, choux, but he would not."

"Then he is a fool," the blue eyes were ice cold then, the girl before him seeming so much older than her slight years, "We must run, we have no choice."

"I am terrified," voicing the fear might, he hoped, push it aside but it did no such thing, the sickness in his stomach growing, "But I did not run in France, and I cannot run now. You take yourself and Sabi to safety, little choux, and I will see what a dandified playwright can do to help a strapping innkeeper and his girl!"

"You cannot go in there alone," Grace protested, "I will not hear of it!"

"I will not be alone," his cheer sounded forced even to Renaud, "I will have my perfume to keep me company!"

"I cannot leave you," the blue eyes blazed with determination then, "You will not come out of there if I do!"

"And I will not let you join me," Renaud pressed a kiss to Grace's hair, bundling the dog into her arms gently as he looked across the roof, keenly seeking out the slopes and plateaus where there would be a hatch into the house below.

He felt rather than saw her follow, the constant presence that he was not sure he could do without now, even as he wondered what lay ahead, what terrors had come to this place so unexpectedly. Whatever they were though he would weather them, for the friend who had never blinked an eye when Renaud went from consumptive to vampire, who had risked life and limb to see them safely in that barn just one evening earlier. No doubt he was quite able to look after himself, but a little gorgeous help never hurt anyone.

"Don't," came the soft warning, "Let them touch you."

"In this silk? They had better not even try!"

"You aren't thinking of going down the chimney then?" Grace’s tone was almost teasing.

"It is not Christmas," Renaud flinched at a gunshot from below, "So not tonight!"

"Don't," all humour was gone then, "Do anything stupid. Please."

"You would not let me, choux," Renaud paused at the outline of a hatch in the roof. "You are my guardian angel, after all."

"I'm no angel," came the denial, "But I will make sure you are safe."


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