Guillaume turns to face Narcissa on the couch, causing his left knee to press against her right. But his demeanor is no longer seductive, or even sociable. His countenance has turned quite serious, giving him a dignified grace Narcissa has never noticed in him before.
"Alright, then,” he says softly. "I’ll tell you a vampire story:
"A little more than eight centuries ago, most of France was actually ruled by the King of England. The details of how that came to be are not so important. Not surprisingly, it was the result of those coincidences of birth, marriage, divorce, madness and death that always mold human existence. It is sufficient to understand that such a situation created a land of constant struggle between powerful men --- and occasionally women --- of shifting and opportunistic loyalties.
"In a place still called Normandy --- named for the strong and passionate men who conquered it --- there lived an idealistic Knight of unyielding fidelity to the English king. His devotion to his liege came in great part, no doubt, from the widespread rumor that the Knight was actually the King’s illegitimate half-brother. The King’s father had been a world-renown philanderer.
"This Knight followed the King on Crusade, and always fought resolutely for him in his subsequent wars against various rebellious barons, and even against the King of France. As a reward, the Knight received luxurious castles and extensive lands in France, England, and even the so-called Holy Land. As such matters were judged in those days, he was on top of the world.
"The only thing the Knight lacked was love.
"Soon, this final challenge was overcome, just as the Knight had successfully met every other obstacle in his life. The woman was descended from the Norman Kings of Sicily, and an heiress to rich estates in the south of France. What started as a political marriage soon blossomed into romance, as the Knight fell in love with this beautiful maiden with flowing gold hair and deep, dark eyes.
"To protect her from the bellicose chaos of France, he moved her to a bright, new castle on England’s southern coast. There, they shared a few, short months of marital bliss. Then, the Knight was summoned back to the Continent, to again fight at his King’s side.
"There his happiness ended. The King was slain, victim to a lucky arrow shot from the wall of a rebellious fortress. A new and unworthy King came to the English throne, and an ignoble peace negotiated.
"When the Knight returned home, everything had changed. The castle was in disrepair. The servants had fled. His beautiful bride had locked herself in her bedchamber.
"At nightfall, she admitted him to her room, and for a brief moment, it was like old times. They made love with unprecedented passion, so he did not understand the threat when his wife --- he believed in the wild abandon of ecstacy --- bit his neck. By the time he comprehended the danger, it was too late.
"He awoke horrified to find himself drinking the hot blood of a peasant girl from a nearby hamlet. But despite his revulsion, the unnatural hunger overcame him, and he drained her dead.
"He looked up and saw his wife, reclining on her bed, smiling at him. She explained that while he was away at war, she had grown bored, and dabbled in the Black Arts. This had drawn the attention of a vampire residing in the shire, who, because of the Knight’s wife’s loneliness, had little trouble seducing her.
"Boredom! The ordinary loneliness of a soldier’s wife! What pitiable excuses for her sins!
"In his anger and loathing --- both for her and himself --- the Knight took up his sword and attacked her. Without even thinking, he severed her head from her body... one of the very few ways to kill a vampire.
"Of course, that solved nothing, and only worsened his dismay. He was now alone, facing a radically different and horrific future, for which he was entirely unprepared.
"All the Knight had was lost. His overseas possessions went first, as the new King surrendered the Empire his predecessors had built.
"Soon, even his castles and land in England were gone. In the civil war that soon racked England, as the King quarreled with a dissatisfied and rebellious barony, the Knight’s lands were seized by one side or the other, and there was nothing the Knight could do to defend his rights. A knight cannot function if he cannot lead troops in daylight.
"He retreated into the dark forests of the Welsh marches to try to come to terms with his new, dark existence.... And there are those who will tell you that the Knight lives still, seeking redemption of a world that so cruelly betrayed him.”
Guillaume takes a sip of his wine and shrugs; his face remains oddly emotionless.
He looks deeply into Narcissa’s eyes and concludes, "I have known that story for almost my entire life. I have found nothing in this world to contradict it. What do you think? Is it merely a fairy tale?”
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