While on the run from highwaymen who want to steal his wares a nobleman hides in an abandoned castle that once belonged to a vampire. The vampire, presumed long since dead, doesn't cause the nobleman any fear but the superstitious highwaymen are terrified and are afraid to follow. However, they still want to get their greedy hands upon the nobleman's large purse of money and their greed soon outweighs their fear. It's not long before they too enter the castle. This story is told from the nobleman's point of view and shows how the notion of good and bad isn't quite as clear-cut as it may at first seem.
* * *
There was a biting chill within the air that night. The sky was clear and there wasn't even a hint of a breeze but the cold had teeth and it bit through my tunic as though it had fangs. My cloak was worn and moth-eaten but it was my favourite item of clothing which I had possessed since childhood which incidentally felt like an age ago. The rest of my clothing, my tunic, trousers, undergarments and neckerchief were of impeccable quality, made of the finest silks and cloths. I was a man of refined taste and was proud of my handsome features. Even my beard was neatly trimmed without revealing a spec of protruding stubble.
Resting my hand against the top of my hat I continued at a fair pace as my sturdy boots trod heavily against the frozen clumps of mud, on the outskirts of Tulcea village. I was heading for the local inn to collect their due rent and no doubt a free drink, something to warm the cockles.
As I traversed down the narrow lane I could make out three figures ahead. They were dawdling as though they had nowhere to go, and it was too cold a night for standing around. One of the figures was sat upon a farm gate while the other two leant against it.
"Good day," I called out while tilting may hat as I casually passed by.
"You're a gentleman," the one on the farm gate said as he jumped down and hurried over to me.
The other two dark figures followed the other. All three of them were rough unkempt males and stank of stale booze. The one in front appeared to be their leader of sorts as it was him that did all the talking while the others had a contorted expression of frozen smirks upon their faces.
"You off to town then?" The man standing directly ahead of me asked while rubbing his facial stubble.
"Yes I'm off to the inn," I said in a confident tone, "You're welcome join me and partake in a beverage or two."
I hoped the offer of free booze would calm the tension and allow them to let me pass, but it was clear they wanted something far more valuable than a free drink.
"That's a heavy purse you got there," the man said, "Maybe we'll just relieve you the burden of carrying it an' all."
One of the other men at my side pulled at my cloak attempting to get a closer look. Within a flash I yelled out a curse word and pushed the man ahead of me to the ground. I then turned on my heels and ran into the forest.
"Get him!" I heard one of the men yell from behind.
The frigid air of the night filled my lungs as I ran at full pelt into the darkness trying my best not to slam into a tree. The undergrowth and thicket crunched against the underside of my heavy boots with no way to hurry in silence. There were also the sounds of the men hurrying behind me. They were surely intent on doing far more than steal my monies after what I had done, they would likely beat me or worse, and I so deplored violence.
"He's around 'ere somewhere I can hear his footfalls," one of them said.
I couldn't see them but knew they were very near. My heart pounded and it was difficult to catch breath. I needed to rest but there still wasn't enough distance between us, if only there was a place to hide. I ran as fast as the forest would allow me taking care not to trip hoping that my wouldbe attackers would take a tumble of their own.
The old castle came into view ahead of me, I couldn't believe I had caught up with it so quickly. I knew of the rumours about who once lived there and hoped the men giving chase knew of them too. Dashing out of the thicket and into clear view I hurried across a field heading for the stone path that led to the castle gates.
"Over there!" I heard a voice from behind.
Without looking back, and with all my will forcing my tired legs to run faster, I dashed towards the open door of the castle then as silently as possible hid among the shadows.
My hunch was right and my wouldbe attackers didn't follow, however they stood outside daring one another to enter and I knew it would only be a matter of time before one of them did.
"Go on, you a chicken or what?!" The leader of the group said.
"You're crazy? It's cursed. There's a werewolf that lives in there everyone knows that!" Was the reply from another.
"It's a blood sucking vampire not a werewolf you nutter!" Said the other man.
"Whatever it is I'm not going in there, you go if yer so brave!" Replied the man.
Their bickering continued to and forth while I crouched panting heavily trying to regain control of my exhausted body. I wished I could just jump to my feet rush over to the door and slam it shut, but the huge oak door on its rusted hinges would be an impossible task especially in my condition.
While still within the shadows of darkness I slowly crept across the floor over to the staircase making my way upstairs. Each footfall caused the dilapidated steps to creak making it all too obvious where I was heading. I cursed myself for doing such a thing but there was no turning back.
"Well if he's not afraid then neither am I," said one of the men as he entered the castle.
I crouched then tried to move as silently as possible continuing up the stairs upon my hands and knees, but it was obvious from the creaking steps as to my location and as each step flexed beneath me I knew it wouldn't be long before the men followed.
"Listen, shut up!" One of the men said as the other two made their way into the castle.
I stopped moving, imagining I was a little mouse, breathing shallow, forcing myself to remain as quiet as possible. The only sound was dripping water which eerily fell at an inconsistent pace. Drip, drip, drop, drop... drip, drip, drop, drip. I hoped it would spook them, causing them to flee, but alas they had a sudden spurt of bravery.
"The cunning blighter's gone up stairs, get after him!" The leader of the group shouted.
All three of them hurried toward the stairs causing me to jump to my feet and run in the darkness. Their footsteps were heavy but alas despite the ruined state of the stairs it still wasn't enough for them to break beneath the men's feet. There was a room at the far end of the landing to which I swiftly dashed slamming the door closed behind me. It was only moments before all three of the men figured where I was hiding and they burst open the door with one forceful kick.
The moment my wouldbe attackers entered the room they were greeted with the flickering light of an oil lamp illuminating the small room. A number of chairs and a small table had been arranged as to greet the new guests. I was already sitting.
"Welcome," I said calmly, "Make yourselves comfortable."
"What's going on 'ere?!" One of the men moaned, "Bash his head in and grab his purse."
I stood up and walked across the room causing my shadow to remain motionless before swiftly catching up with me. An illusion caused by the oil lamp perhaps but enough to install a chill down the spine of even the bravest of men.
"Are you familiar with the works of Mary Howitt?" I asked calmly knowing full well they were uneducated ignorant fools.
All three of them looked at one another wondering whether to attack or turn and run, each wishing someone would make the first move, all sensing looming danger.
I took a step forward and proceeded to speak, "Will you walk into my parlour said the spider to the fly, 'Tis the prettiest little parlour that ever did you spy, The way into my parlour is up a winding stair, And I've many curious things to show when you are there."
The door behind them slammed closed of its own accord leaving them looking bewildered and trapped within the room.
"Welcome to my parlour," I said calmly, "This is my castle, and you're my next meal."
I laughed ecstatically while they clambered at the door in panic.