As the fire spread light and warmth through the room Mira realized how cold she had been to this point. "Explore the rooms in this hall. You'll find a small store room. There should be everything you need to feed yourself or make clothes. It'll probably take you a while to bore yourself with what's there. If you decide you need something I can be found usually where you found me tonight." With that he turned and appeared to be leaving.

"Lord Tiernay," Mira started and almost didn't finish the question when he turned to look at her. "Um, what about you?" She spoke slowly and was trembling a bit as she did.

"You're not ready yet." Then he left, leaving her staring after him dumbfounded.


Her room was beautiful. As she lit the candles that were set on woven metal sconces around the room, light fell on a large canopy bed covered with silken blankets. There was a wardrobe, and she opened it to find that it was full of dresses. A morbid feeling went through her body when she realized that these were the clothes of the women who had previously been Lord Tiernay's companions. She sighed. They were still beautiful clothes. The women who made them must have had a great deal of time and talent. There was a dressing table with a large mirror and silver hair combs and several different brushes. There was a jewelry box with a number of necklaces and bracelets and broaches. There was a table with wine glasses and plates, forks, knives, and spoons. There was a pot near the fire and other cooking implements. She wondered if the elders knew that he did this and left it out of the lessons on purpose or if he kept this secret.

He had been right. It took her a couple weeks to explore the other rooms in her chambers. There was a small library. There was the store room that contained meats and vegetables. Now she knew where the items that the druids left went. She realized a couple days into her stay that he was gathering the things that the others left and was placing them in the store room when she was unaware, maybe when she was sleeping. There was a room that was just a big open room with mirrors on some of the walls. Mirrors of that size would have been difficult to bring here. She wondered what the room was for. Dancing maybe, she thought. There were a number of musical instruments in the store room. Finally there was a room with a bathing tub. There was space for a small fire or hot coals beneath the tub and a warmer for water. There were towels and a dressing gown in this room. There was also a tub for washing her clothes on the far wall, but it was the bathtub that kept her attention.

The water in the basin next to the tub appeared clear and clean as did the water in the tub itself. Mira lit the coals under the tub. Then she lit the coals under the warming basin for more water and waited for the water to warm before she got in. She enjoyed her bath. It occurred to her that she was being pampered probably as well as any noble in the roman palaces to the south. Lord Tiernay certainly knows how to try and keep his women happy, she thought. But that thought led to the more morbid thoughts. If he's so good at making sure his women have everything they could want that only leaves a couple alternatives. The women beg for death because he is so vicious in his feeding, or they die from the loneliness.

Mira had grown up with so many people always around. As she continued her explorations of her chambers she realized exactly how solitary this life was. He must keep us alone so that we won't run away. A person doesn't long for something as badly, if she's not being tempted by it.

After she was familiar with everything her chambers had to offer, she started reading the books in her small library. They were mostly history books or folklore. Some of them were in languages she didn't know. She set herself a routine. She found that her water was replaced regularly, and her store room was continually replenished. There were occasions that she felt as though she was being watched. But she was never able to catch him in her chambers even when she tried to wait up and see him.

It was several weeks worth of her solitary existence, in what she had come to see as a prison, before she was desperate enough for company that she ventured out the door at the farthest end of the hall. Carrying a lantern in one hand, wearing one of the simpler dresses, and walking cautiously down the hall, she listened for signs that Lord Tiernay was nearby. She managed to find her way to the room where she had originally met him, but he wasn't there.

The chandelier hanging from the ceiling was not lit and the room was dark and silent. Suddenly she was overwhelmed by the irrational fear that she would never see or hear or speak to another person ever again. "Hello," she whimpered into the darkness, but there was no answer. She walked around the room looking for another door or some clue as to where he may be. She hadn't really realized how lonely she was. Somewhere in her mind, she had always thought he was just down the hall. But now that she was standing here and the room was dark she felt as though her entire body was going numb. She continued her search for another door, hoping she'd find. As she came back to the door she had come in and had turned up nothing she fell to sitting on the ground in the middle of the doorway and began to cry.

She didn't care what he would do to her now. She only wanted some company. Any company. As she sat sobbing, a gentle hand touched her shoulder. "Shh. I'm here." His voice seemed, at that moment, to be the most beautiful sound in the world. She turned to see him bending on one knee behind her and she flung her arms around his neck. He held her and spoke softly. "I understand. Calm down." He stroked her hair and waited for her to stop crying.

"Mira, come with me," Rillan coaxed as he helped her stand up.

She left the lantern on the floor as she held onto Rillan. He led her through the darkness and set her in a large armchair. She could make out his shape in the darkness by the light of the lantern as he lit the fireplace that was near the chair. Light spilled into the room from the fireplace, forming an intimate circle of warmth around the hearth. Rillan stepped over to the lantern that was still sitting on the floor and picked it up, blew it out, then set it on the floor next to the chair he had placed Mira in. "You picked a bad time to look for company. I was sleeping." Rillan sat down on the edge of the chair across from Mira. He leaned forward, staring at her measuringly.

"Um, is it nighttime?" Mira was tentative. She felt as though she had forgotten how to have a conversation.

"No. I usually sleep during the day." Rillan's voice was resolute and almost harsh.

Mira wasn't sure what to say to him. She knew that he slept during day. She had been taught that. Why couldn't she think of anything intelligent to say? All she knew was that she didn't want him to go away and leave her right then. "I, I'm sorry to have awakened you. Um, do you need to go back to sleep?"

Rillan didn't answer right away. He had been up several days and wasn't overly interested in consoling his latest sacrifice. He couldn't see this one lasting very long. She may be resourceful and bright, but she was scared out of her mind. "I would prefer to go back to sleep."

"But you'll stay?" Mira was quick with the request.

Rillan sighed and sat back in the chair. "Alright. What do you want to talk about?"

Mira's mind raced. She didn't really know what she wanted to talk about. She just didn't want to stay alone in her room any longer.

Rillan cleared his throat impatiently. Mira panicked. "Um, this isn't what I expected when I came here," she said uncertainly.

He smiled wickedly at her. Mira's eyes widened as she saw his fangs. "What did you expect?"

"I guess, uh, I thought…"

"You thought that I would rape you, then suck your body dry and leave you to die."

Mira swallowed. "That's not what I meant."

"Isn't it?"

"What happened to the others then?" Mira couldn't help but ask.

Rillan's dark blue eyes seemed to look into her. "Do you really think you're ready for that?"

"I can't think of anything else right now," she whispered.

Rillan's eyes turned solid black and his voice dropped to a deadly soft tone. "I waited until they were lonely enough to come to me. Then I seduced them. I used them as long as they were willing. When they couldn't live with the idea of me any longer, regardless of how lonely they were, I offered them death. The ones who accepted what I am, lived longer. The ones who feared me died sooner."

"The ones who lived longer, why did they decide to die in the end," Mira asked softly.

"It's easy enough for you to pretend that you're happy and in love until the druids give me an assignment. Each of the ones who lived with me at length asked to die within days after I returned from an assassination. Most live until the first night I chose to feed." The emphasis he put on feed sounded like a threat.

"You mean you only have to to uh feed," she could barely say it, "when you choose to?"

He smiled at her again and his fangs seemed to be emphasized by the firelight. "Not quite as simple as that. I feed when I need to or when I choose to. Are you offering?"

Mira shifted uncomfortably in her chair. "I don't know. That's what I was sent here for. Does it hurt?"

Rillan's smile fell. "The druids have failed me in this respect. They were supposed to send me companions. But their teachings seem, in recent years, to result in girls coming to me afraid of the hunger and unknowing of the rest of their duties."

Mira was overcome with pity for him. "You're angry because you're alone," she said softly.

"You are the clever one," he said sarcastically. "Did it never occur to your teachers that it seems I go through girls much more quickly of late."

Mira shifted uneasily again.

Rillan could hear the increase in her heart rate. "What?"

Mira jumped in her seat at his quick question. "What?"

He shook his head as if he didn't believe her response. "Yes, what. What exactly about my comment caused you to become nervous?"

Mira's eyes dropped. "Oh." She sat a moment in thought. She didn't want to insult him anymore than she already had. She felt so sorry for him at this point that she had almost forgotten she was frightened of him. Almost forgotten.

Rillan grew tired of waiting for her response. He stood up. "I'm tired. If you've had enough conversation for one night I'll take my leave."

"No!" Mira stood up. "Don't go yet."

"Then answer my question."

Mira looked away from him again and walked over to the fire. Haltingly she said, "I guess they think that the, uh, deaths have increased because you're growing more…"

Mira heard his footsteps behind her. "Bloodthirsty," he asked as he finished her sentence. Then she felt his breath on her neck. "Cruel? Vicious?"

Mira turned around to find herself face to face with him. "Yes," she said suddenly feeling brave. "Are you trying to frighten me?"

He backed her into the fire hearth and pinned her against it, placing his hands on the mantle on either side of her. "What advantage would I possibly have by frightening you?"

She tried to push her way out of his arms, but he countered her movements and smiled at her, baring his fangs again. Her eyes widened, and then she pushed the fear down again. "I suppose that you'd have the same advantage in frightening me this way as you had in frightening me by leaving me to wander alone in the dark or by leaving me alone in my room for weeks on end."

He was taken aback by her confrontation. "What if I were to tell you that I haven't eaten in weeks." The black of his pupils bled out through the blue again and his eyes bore into her. "How brave will you be when I decide to take you to my bed? Are you so lonely yet that you'll give in to that?"

Mira swallowed hard. "I don't know. Why are you being so manipulative?"

Rillan moved away from her. She barely caught the change in his expression before he turned. "I'm done for this day. Go back to your rooms." At that Rillan headed toward the door.

He had almost vanished completely into the darkness when Mira realized what he was doing and called after him. "I know why." She heard his footsteps stop. "You give us two choices. You or complete and utter loneliness. That's why we can't talk with anyone but you. That's why this place is so dark and frightening. Then you wait until we are so desperate from the loneliness that we willingly submit to anything just to be near another body. In a strange way you've set yourself up to be a savior so that you don't have to rape us."

Rillan's tone was sad and hollow. "Go back to your room Mira. In a week's time I'll come for you. I won't be able to resist the thirst much longer. Prepare yourself for it." Then he was gone.

That night and through the next day Mira thought back to the first lessons she had been taught. The lessons in the beginning spoke of the great warrior who had come to the druids. He had been a good man. So this is what happens when a good man is turned into something that people believe to be inherently evil, she thought. He must truly despise himself. All he really wants is someone to care for him. It's hard to believe that he hasn't gone insane.

It took Mira most of the afternoon to reach the decision she finally came to. She soaked in a long bath, then put on one of the dresses in the closet that she was particularly fond of. It was a soft green and reminded her of spring. It wasn't one of the overly fancy ones. In another lifetime she may even have been able to own this dress. It fitted her personality much better than the heavy brocade and beaded gowns that it shared the closet with. She brushed her hair out and placed some barrettes in it. She had never owned jewelry so this seemed as good an occasion as any to wear them.

Mira stood in front of the mirror looking at herself. She decided that under the right light, she may even be considered pretty. She took a deep breath and realized that she was excited. She had been waiting a long time to lose her virginity. In some ways she was a little disappointed that it hadn't happened sooner. She was actually more scared that he wouldn't like her than she was of what else he may do to her. She pushed those thoughts out of her mind and resolutely walked out of the rooms and down the hall. Mira held the lantern high and stared into the darkness around her. She was familiar enough with where she was going at this point. She noted the sound of her feet on the stone floor and wondered how good his hearing was. She could feel a chill rush through the hall and wondered how cold it had become outside the cave. She thought about everything other than what she was doing. There was no point in dwelling now. Her mind had been made up.

Before she realized it she was standing in the room that she had now met him in twice. It was dark as it had been the last time she was here and he was nowhere to be seen. Mira turned around and headed out the door she had come in. Since she had thoroughly looked through this room for a door the last time she was here she was positive that his rooms had to be elsewhere.

She had passed several doors on her way to this end of the hall so she figured that she'd just have to start looking. She hadn't gone far when she came to the first set of doors. One led left and one led right. Well it's one way or the other. If one doesn't work I can go the other way. Mira walked up to the door on her right, turned the knob and opened it onto another hallway. She sighed. She hated that there was no light anywhere down here. Forcing herself forward she walked into the hall and the light from the lantern fell on a set of rooms similar to the rooms she was residing in. The only difference was that it was obvious no one had been here in a long time. There was a fine layer of dust covering everything. The bed wasn't made and there was nothing in the closet.

Mira turned and walked out of the rooms and reached for the other doorknob. When she heard a door slam somewhere further down the hall she jumped. It sounded as though it came from the direction of her rooms. She hear footsteps coming down the hall. They were heavy and fast. Suddenly her resolution failed her and she felt the need to hide. She turned the knob on the door and she slipped into the room closing it softly behind her. After a moment of heart pounding she thought to put out the lantern. She stood in the dark staring at the door she had just come through. The footsteps came closer.

Mira turned and softly padded down the hall into the main room at the end of the corridor. She was taken aback at what she found. This was what she had been looking for. Rillan Tiernay's rooms. There was a large bed similar to hers. The fire was lit and candles about the room were burning nearly completely down making the shadows dance strangely across the floor. The room smelled clean, like rain. That's when she noticed a small crevice in the cave wall that led up a shaft. There was a heave stone and metalwork cover that could be slid over it, presumably during daylight hours. She could smell fresh air wafting down the shaft and rain. It was pitch black but she knew that if there had been stars that night she would have been able to see them.

"You shouldn't be here." The cold voice made her jump. Mira turned around to see Rillan standing behind her glaring at her.

She swallowed hard. She had promised herself that she wouldn't let him frighten her. She was going to offer herself to him. That's what I was trained for. I belong to him. He's been more than reasonable waiting for me. "I don't want to wait a week. I've come to you now."

Rillan was amazed at the strength in her voice. He almost believed that she wanted to be there with him. Almost. "I'll not argue with that decision if it's truly what you want, but if we begin this and you change your mind I may not be able to stop."

"I don't want you to," she said in that same strong, resolute tone.

He reached out, allowing his fingers to graze the white skin of her neck. She shivered, from the coolness of his hand. Mira's eyes fluttered closed, and she breathed softly. She felt his fingernails tracing the line from just below her chin to the bodice of her dress. They continued around the rounded edge, then back up the other side of her neck, until his hand was pressed against her hairline. I never expected him to be so gentle, Mira thought, as she felt his other hand on the opposite side, turning her around and cupping her face. He's painted as bloodthirsty, a warrior with uncontrollable hunger. The druids never talk about this side of him.

Rillan watched Mira as his hands caressed her neck and cheeks. She had not flinched, as though he was a monster. The shiver that he felt against his palm was like that of an excited lover. He had expected frightened trembling. He leaned down, his lips only a breath away from kissing her. He still didn't quite trust her offering, coming as it did on the heels of his ultimatum. But she was soft under his touch, and he was nearly blind with hunger. He couldn't refuse her, not now that she was here. Her breath warmed his lips, and Rillan pulled her to her tiptoes to close the distance between them. The contrast always overwhelms me, he thought. Their warmth against my cold, balance. Mira accepted him, pressing her lips back against his. The kiss seemed to last forever.

When Rillan released Mira from the kiss, she sighed. "I wondered how that would feel," she said. "I spent a long time wondering." Her eyes were still closed, and a small flush began to creep up her chest, beginning just above the bodice of her dress. Rillan smiled, reminded that she was so much younger than he was. He moved his hands down her neck, caressing, pressing palms on her shoulders. Mira felt the movement and held her breath in anticipation. I'm enjoying this, she thought, surprised. Finally she opened her eyes and held his dark gaze. "So much I expected has been wrong," she admitted.

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