"Natasha, you still watching?" The disembodied voice dragged me back to the grayness that I was floating inside while watching the vampires named Charles and Beau decide if they were going to go to join the Southern Army in the Civil War back in 1863. I didn't know what I was supposed to be learning or who had done this to me but it was a distraction from the chaos that was going on at Balboa Park. I nodded, not sure if I was responding correctly, then was shoved back into the story unfolding before my eyes.
1863: somewhere in between Kentucky and Tennessee in the United States ...
"Beau," Charles tried again to get his older brother to focus on reality, "We are vampires not humans. For us to join in the fight with your acquaintance's side, what'd you say his name was -- Pee Jay?"
"Pee Dee Sedgwick," Beau tersely snapped out.
"Okay, Pee Dee, quite the name there," Charles taunted him with a slight grin, his fangs still extended. He wanted a visual reminder for his brother that they were not like humans. They were the hunters, not the hunted. The notion of willingly going into a battle of human beings for anything other than baiting a trap or light snacking was beyond ludicrous to him.
His sibling snarled at his mocking and looked like he was ready to explode. Charles held up his palm in a placating manner while saying, "Calm down, I just don't see any reason to join up with either side. And South Carolina is being torn to bits with all the clashes of the two parties." Charles did keep track of human politics just to make sure nothing would open a door to their exposure as vampires or worse. Wars tended to bring spies and networks of information that spread like wildfire and could be just as deadly if unchecked.
"Sorry, but Beau, you truly must be joking. It would not be practical in the least for us to enter a war." Charles wanted to cut the conversation short and get to riding before it got much later. Beau took his comment the wrong way.
"Practical? Charles, I am not joking. This war is tearing the country into pieces and we need to help our fellow men." Beau's pacing was starting to get on his nerves. Charles watched while his brother raised a hand distractedly and raked his fingers through his sandy brown hair. With a casually elegant motion Beau spun back to Charles and bit out with feeling, "We are stronger than just the average vampire. We can rise above our base needs. A few sips here and there from willing donors and we will be fine. Besides I've already sent Pee Dee a missive volunteering to be on the night patrols."
"Well, I hope you have fun. Be sure to write me when you get there. Don't take too long as I will probably be heading West soon," Charles drolly replied while nonchalantly picking a strand of the parlor maid's hair off his slacks. He would miss the little minx but there was no way he could take her with him. It just wouldn't be proper. Tempting, but ill advised for him to become any more attached. He was planning one last nibble, naturally, before his departure.
"Au contraire, mon ami," Beau used a flowing French to shake Charles up. Beau rarely used their mother's native tongue, too many memories for them both, their dear old maman was long buried and not in the least forgotten.
Charles shuddered. "Stop that, Beau, what do you mean?" He was starting to get annoyed with his brother.
"I volunteered you to join him with me. We leave tomorrow at dusk." Beau dropped his bombshell.
Charles bolted up from the settee where he'd been quite comfortably lounging with a slight look of terror on his face. Beau was not his Master but close enough after all the years together. He never could really cross him, but usually Beau asked his opinion before charting a course of action.
"Beau," he tried to keep the pleading out of his voice, "This isn't a sound idea!"
Beau shrugged and walked to the corner of the room and tugged on the silk tasseled cord used to summon the help. A bell was in the kitchen chiming the tones for one particular servant. Charles groaned as he could hear the mincing patter of Fitzhugh's feet heading in their direction. There was a soft tap and Fitzhugh opened the door without waiting for a reply.
Beau clapped his hands together excitedly and greeted his minion. Fitzhugh wasn't more than five feet tall. He was slightly built and never had been what one would call a healthy-looking specimen; a pesky sallow skin tone that no amount of sun could ever hope to bring color to didn't help his overall appearance. Charles had known the disturbing little manservant all of his life. Fitzhugh's duties to Beau were unending as a minion; Beau fed off Fitzhugh at times -- rare ones -- but it kept Fitzhugh from aging in the usual manner of humans. He aged, but not nearly at the rapid rate of the rest of the people. Fitzhugh was Beau's to call and Charles didn't care for him in the least.
The vampire connection didn't enhance Fitzhugh in any manner. He was still as grotesque and odd as he'd been to Charles as a child. In fact, he looked only a few years older than the creepy, disgusting little man that had chased after him and his brother in their youth. He basically had been tasked with following after the heir apparent, Beau, and once they both had been turned, it was explained that his brother was expected to keep Fitzhugh as long as he lasted. As far as Charles was concerned, it had already been far too long.
"Fitzhugh, my brother has been informed of the travel plans for tomorrow evening. Please consult with him and pack the necessary items. Have you informed the household that we will be departing to join the fight?" Beau was in full patriarchal mode waving his hands haughtily and flashing his fangs decisively. Fitzhugh whimpered with what Charles assumed was joy but for all he knew could be due to a poorly consumed meal or uncomfortable undergarments.
"Not yet, Sire. I was awaiting your word." Fitzhugh shot Charles a smirk. He was well aware of how Charles felt about the war and nearly as certain about how the vampire felt about him. Fitzhugh hadn't lived as long as he had by deceiving himself -- he knew Charles would rather see him truly dead than by Beau's side. But they'd arrived at an unsettled ever shifting truce of some sort years ago when Charles had woke early one twilight to catch Fitzhugh sneaking into his bedroom with a stake in hand.
It had taken Beau over three weeks to heal Fitzhugh enough for him to be able to do more than crawl out of his room. The only reason Charles hadn't killed him long ago was his promise to his brother. The uneasy alliance between the two went unremarked upon by Beau. He pretended that his manservant hadn't tried to slay his brother and his brother pretended the little man didn't exist.
"Well, you man inform the staff and assist them in closing up most of the house. Have Gaylord remain as caretaker for our eventual return. I've heard stories of rogue soldiers overrunning estates and stealing everything not nailed down." Beau nodded to Fitzhugh.
Charles had actually heard far worse tales of raping of the women folk, both the ladies and servants alike, and the damages wrecked upon the homes with little regard for the social mores much less civilized behaviors. There was a good reason that Charles didn't much care to be amongst the humans -- they were rapidly devolving as the pressures of the battles, loss of family and property ate at what little boundaries they possessed.
"Very well, Sire. And when should I come attend to your belongings?" Fitzhugh shot Charles a spiteful look unseen by Beau.
"When hell freezes over. Beau, I am not in favor of this little escapade of yours but I will 'attend' to my own needs and be ready," he didn't bother to add that he neither trusted Fitzhugh with his things nor was he comfortable with him pawing through his weapons. At least he'd escape the sycophant for a few days while the house was shut down.