Watch and Ward, 1
 

There is a chateau in nothern France.  It is much like many another
chateau, although this one has a rather indefinable air of being
untouched by time.  True enough, the stone is weathered, the door
stained and somewhat cracked, and some of the metalwork is rusty--but
that is all superficial.  There have been no modern improvements to the
castle, save for unobtrusive electric wiring and indoor plumbing.  It
has not been sandblasted, or turned into a Bed and Breakfast.  Although
it is of minor historical importance, for a brief clash in the War of
Religions took place on the grounds, it is not listed in any guides. 
The chateau's mistress does not wish it to be.

She moves through her domain with the calm and grace of a princess,
though she is of common birth.  She has been described at being the very
embodiment of air and fire.  A strangely tall woman, she is beautiful to
behold with her pale blonde hair and blue eyes... odd, though not
unheard of, colouring for a Frenchwoman.  She is clad in a deceptively
simple designer gown the colour of her eyes and does not need to be told
she looks splendid in it.  It has not escaped her notice that she is the
sort of woman who would be beautiful dressed in a paper bag.

Her name is Genevieve.

Underneath the beauty and grace lies a very intelligent mind and a
driving force that could be deadly.  Many an enemy has underestimated
the lady only to discover that the blue of her eyes is steel.  She is
neither helpless nor stupid; and had not been even when she was human and
women were expected to be both.

Four hundred and ninety-five years ago, she became a vampire.  She has
long since buried two parents, two husbands, two children and several
lovers.  To say nothing of her enemies.

____________________________________________________________________

A small black and white cat brushed up against her mistress' legs. 
Genevieve picked it up absently as she climbed the tower stairs.  The
cat's name was Aurore.  Dawn.  When the world was black and white.  A
small jest from a woman who had not seen dawn in almost five hundred
years.

She reached the top of the stairs, a feat that would have left a human
breathing heavily, and opened the heavy wooden door that led out onto
the roof.  There was a spectacular view from up here; but she could
only reflect a little sadly that the view had changed drastically in the
centuries since the castle became hers.

Once there had been forests thick with mystery, fields where labourers
tilled, meadows where livestock grazed, and perhaps the occasional
distant cot or hut.  Now there were roads, cars, houses, trucks and
wires everywhere.  The few trees left clung to the hill around the
chateau like frightened children to their mother's skirt.  There was
still working vineyards, though; so there was green enough to suit her
and provide both an excuse and an income for the chateau.

'I am a cliche,' she thought wryly.  'A vampire in a castle.'  But where
else would she live?  The chateau had been Claude's.  To leave it would
be to lose the only thing she still had that was his.

Genevieve stroked her cat and gazed over the battlements to the river
below.  Approximately three hundred and fifty years ago, she recalled
with a smile, a very young vampire had stood at this spot and listened
incredulously as someone had instructed him on how to turn into a bat.

"'Maybe you just jump from tower, and it come naturally'," she chuckled
to herself.

But the young vampire had long since found his wings and flown.  She was
proud of him, her surrogate son.  There were other 'children', of her
own turning, too.  It had been over a year since she had seen any of
them, even Jean de la Mare, the most beloved and most infuriating of all
her get.

Genevieve's preternatural hearing alerted her that someone was about to
trespass on her aerie.  There was no one on the staircase.  The intruder
was climbing up the exterior walls of the chateau.  Aurore meowed in
alarm, and Genevieve soothed her while remaining alert.  A thin and pale but
strong hand grasped one of the battlements.  From this grip, a spry,
vaguely human-looking creature nimbly thrust its starved body onto the
roof of the tower.  It stretched, revealing long, wild white hair framed
around a pinched face.  It had bright jade-green eyes with no pupils,
and far too many pointed teeth.

"Elrich," Genevieve sighed at this nightmare apparition.  "Can't you use
the stairs?"

The ghoul shrugged.  "Important message," he hissed.  "One comes."

Genevieve had never learned how the "little cousins", her term for the
two ghouls that served her, knew things before she did.  She accepted it
and went down the stairs, Aurore still in her arms.

Elrich, grinning hugely, climbed back down the tower wall.


Genevieve had just arrived in the hallway of her chateau when she heard
the knock on the door.  The other little cousin, Jared, materialized to
answer the knocking.  He, too, flashed that unsettling, pointy-toothed
grin at his mistress.

The woman in the doorway was shorter, plainer and darker than Genevieve.
Her brunette hair was cut short and was in disarray, as if a hand had
been run frequently through it.  She was wearing a frayed old sweater
and rolled-up work pants, clothes thrown on in a hurry.  Genevieve
extended a hand towards her in concern.

"Claire!" exclaimed the chatelaine of the chateau.  "Whatever..."

"Madame," said the younger vampire urgently.  "There is news. I came at
once."

"News?" Genevieve repressed a shudder of anticipation.  "Then out with
it."

"There is something in the place you have set us to watch."

The tall blonde woman drew in a short breath and her eyes narrowed.  So,
at last, there was a justification for her worries.  This did not
reassure her.  Rather the opposite, in fact.

"Come and have a brandy," she commanded Claire.  "Then tell me."

The younger vampire nodded and obediently followed "Madame" into the
chateau's friendliest room, where there was a fire and a decanter
waiting. As always, the ghouls had anticipated the lady's desires. 
Genevieve had ceased to find this unnerving.  Once Claire was settled in
one of the wing chairs with a snifter, she relaxed a little and was able
to spin her tale out coherently.

"We have watched always," Claire began.  "You know we are faithful to
our pledge, Madame, always."

Genevieve nodded.  She had no doubts of the loyalty of her watchers.
"Go on," she urged.

"Yet something got past us," Claire's face darkened.  "We watched, and
yet it eluded us.  It killed Maurice."

Genevieve's face tightened with pain.  Maurice was one of her own
turning.  Another child lost.  So many...

"When?" she asked.

"Just before dawn.  There was no way to get word to you, Madame.  I am
sorry.  Maurice was a good man."

"I know.  Well, continue, Claire.  We will save grief for when there is
time for it."

Claire inhaled the warm amber scent of the brandy and stroked Aurore's
soft fur.  The cat had leapt up onto her lap, sensing unhappiness, and
was currently purring away in a feline attempt to banish it.  It was
like having a small warm motor lying there, and Claire cheered up a
little in spite of herself.

"It killed Maurice," Claire picked up the threads of her narrative. 
"And none of the rest of us know what we saw.  But it is inside now, you can
tell."

"And you do not know what it is?" Genevieve asked without much hope.

"No, Madame.  I do not think it is a vampire, but even of that, I am not
sure.  The others have increased their vigilance, you may be sure.  I
came as soon as I awoke to tell you."

"Bien sur."  Geneveive sighed and stood up, pacing a little before the
fire, the soft material of her expensive gown flowing with her
movements.  "I knew it had been too quiet," she murmured, casting her
eyes upward ironically.  She turned and regarded young Claire
thoughtfully.  "I will go back with you tonight," she announced.  "And
we shall see if we can determine what has moved in to ... that place."


As Claire's car sped along the roads of the Loire valley, Genevieve
closed her eyes and tried to still her racing thoughts.  Six years, she
had watched and waited.  A blink of the eye for a vampire.  A childhood
for a mortal.  And for what had moved into the old keep...?

Chateau du Monet was one thing--a respected winery, the home of a lady
spoken of with respect and delight by the locals.  The place her
children and employees guarded was something else entirely.  It, too,
was a castle; or rather a keep.  A fortified house on the banks of a
river; built perhaps to keep off reivers and strays from the many wars
that had torn France til she bled far more than a vampire's victim, the
keep had once sheltered an evil vampire.  Genevieve had known him as
Etienne Corbeau.  Her adopted son, Gideon Redoak, had known the keep's
master as Kent Ravensbrook.

Six years ago, Ravensbrook had finally met the true death.  He had not
gone easily or willingly into this state.  It had taken the concentrated
efforts of the whole Brotherhood to kill him.  Genevieve herself had
driven a stake into his spinal cord, driven the ash wood point home for
Claude and for Gaspard.  Both her husbands, one vampire, one mortal, had
been murdered by the monster Corbeau.  Claude had at least been killed
during open warfare; had known his possible fate and met it bravely. But
poor Gaspard had been ill and helpless; his death still rankled after
400 years.

The keep had been watched since the mid 1600's; since even before Elrich
had dug up the coffin in which a young vampire named Gideon had been
buried while still this side of the true death.  Buried alive, if you
looked at the term from the vampiric viewpoint.  Concious, at any rate.
That had been a culminating act of cruelty, and even then it had set off
a chain of events and circumstances that had finally led to
Ravensbrook's demise in 1990.  Once Corbeau--or Ravensbrook--had been
sent to hell, Genevieve and her followers had tried to burn the keep.
The flames had turned on them, and they had barely escaped intact.

Genevieve thought that the building had become saturated with the
essence of evil.  Even in the car, speeding towards the site and with
one offspring dead and others in danger, that thought made her smile
sadly.  So melodramatic -- "the essence of evil".  Corbeau had been
rather melodramatic, though.  But still evil, damn him.  He had been
everything that humans believed vampires to be.  And more.  He had lived
for power, and the darkness had given it to him until it had, in the
end, betrayed him.  His greatest delight had been in innocence.  He had
loved to take it, betray it, crush it. 

She'd been inside the keep, once, when its master was dead.  The very
walls had been painted in pain.  The psychic resonance of torture and
hopelessness had been so overwhelming that she'd had to let Jared help
her out to the clean night air.   How had Gideon ever emerged sane and
whole from that place?

He hadn't, of course.  350 and more years later, he was still struggling
to mend the invisible scars the place had left in his mind.  He would
possibly never be fully healed.  That he had not been warped to evil
spoke very well of him.  Stronger minds had broken under Corbeau's
caresses. 

Genevieve had made it her personal quest to track down those that
Corbeau had forged in his own image and put them out of the world's
misery.  She had many willing followers, her own Brotherhood although
they did not call themselves that.  Claire was one.  Maurice had been
another.

Maurice.  No, there was no time for grief.  His death would be avenged,
if possible.  No use in making vows that might not be fulfilled, because
there was no telling what had moved into the keep.  Only something truly
evil could have done it.  Something evil and very dangerous--Maurice had
been no careless fledgling.

"We are here, Madame," said Claire, somewhat unnecessarily, as the car
stopped.

Genevieve could of course see for herself that they had arrived.  The
keep occupied a large portion of the landscape; but even if it had been
invisible the _feel_ of the place, like old blood on the tongue, was
inescapable.  Both women shivered.  Genevieve found herself wishing
she'd brought the ghouls.

The other watchers crowded around their mistress, eager for comfort,
wanting her presence to make the bad thing go away like children wishing
their mother would banish the closet monster.  Dead grass crunched
underfoot as Genevieve walked as close to the keep as she dared, her
silence imposing itself on her followers.  The very air here was tainted
with the miasma of evil from the keep; Genevieve wrinkled her nose in
distaste.  She might have to drink blood, but that didn't mean the smell
of it was welcome--especially such quantities of it shed a long time ago
and left to rot...

The place did not even look French.  It bore no resemblance to the
chateaus in the Loire Valley; its battlements would have been more at
home in Germany.  The stones were old and stained; the lady did not like
to guess with what.  Nothing grew on the walls--no ivy, not even slime.
The grass had withered and died within a hundred yard radius of the
walls.  Common sense told Genevieve that this was because the stones
leaked acid into the soil; but her imagination supplied the subtext that
nothing could bear to grow near the scene of so much death.

>From a relatively safe distance, Genevieve regarded the stone structure
thoughtfully.  It was probably Norman, part of her brain registered the
distinct features of the architecutre; even while she chided herself for
wasting time with inconsequentialities.  It mattered little if the keep
was 600 or 6 years old.  What did matter was learning the identity of
the new occupant.

She gathered her faithful minions -- there was no better word -- around
her.  Several of them kept casting nervous glances at the building
behind them.

"Tell me," she said when she had their full attention.  "Tell me how
Maurice died."

"It was at first like any other night, Madame," Claire said after a
period of silence that had been filled with bodies shifting and a great
deal of nonverbal communication.  Claire faced Genevieve unflinchingly,
for she had nothing to be ashamed of.  "We came to our posts soon after
sunset, as always.  The place felt no different than it ever had. 
Maurice went to his post joking about how he would rather be drinking
wine.  I told him that the wine had better be Chateau du Monet, and
Benoit said it was a good thing no vampire had ever turned one of the
Rothschildes.  So you see, Madame, we were in a cheerful mood, expecting
no trouble. We were on the laert, of course -- always prepared, but we
had no presentiments or forbodings, you understand?"

"I understand," Genevieve nodded.  Few if any of the tragedies in her
life had been preceded by a 'bad feeling'.  "Go on."

"The night passed as it always does.  Nothing untoward happened for
hours.  We saw and heard nothing.  Night was beginning to fade, and we
were thinking of going home when..." Claire looked at the others. None
of them met her eyes.

"When?" Genevieve prompted, more patiently than she felt. She really
disliked it when people made dramatic pauses in the middle of a
narrative.  She was not a fan of cliffhangers.

Claire made a gesture with her hand that indicated her inability to
express what had happened.  "Then Maurice died," she finally said, a
shrug acknowledging how inadequate that was as an answer.

"But how?" Genevieve looked at the each of the watchers inturn.  She saw
that they were afraid -- these tough, seasoned vampires, all veterans of
the constant struggle against evil, were afraid of ... what, precisely?

"That is just it, Madame," Benoit spoke up.  He had been older than most
when turned, and his hair was grizzled grey, his face weatherbeaten, and
his eyes told of human experiences not shared by many vampires. 
Genevieve relied on Benoit and Claire the most of this handful of
watchers.  They were her trusted lieutenants.  As Maurice had been.

"I do not understand, Benoit," Genevieve told him.

"Nor do we," replied her lieutenant bluntly.  "Not one of us is certain
what we saw or how Maurice died."

There were nods all around.  Genevieve recalled that Claire had said the
same thing about no one being certain what they had seen.  It was very
puzzling.