II

BONNIEJEAN: HER DUTIES THE DOG-LORD: HIS SOLUTION

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This man, (Radu's 'voice' was eager, almost panting, in Bonnie Jean's mind), this Harry Keogh. I have seen him with your eyes and know how he strikes me. But how did he strike you?

BJ. didn't quite know how to answer. 'As ... mysterious,' she finally said, and tried to suppress her involuntary shrug. 'As if he hid secrets where there couldn't possibly be secrets, because he was beguiled. He struck me as a man who has seen and experienced things no other man ever saw or experienced. He was warm, gentle, human ... and yet he was cold, hard, and - '

-  Inhuman? (The Great Wolf sniffed in her mind, literaly a bloodhound on the trail). Yet still you tell me that he's not one of them!

'He is human, my Master,' she told him. 'I would stake my life on it.'

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Oh, but you already have, he answered with a low, rumbling growl. But as B.J. recognized the threat, he quickly added, All of our lives! Which served to relieve something of the onus he had seemed to place on her.

'Master,' she set out to convince him, 'this man had me in his power, however briefly - but long enough to kil me, certainly! Instead he kept me from trouble, from harm. He admits to skils that would be of great benefit to you. He has worked for ... a covert agency,' (she was finding difficulty in describing Harry's duties; and no wonder, for she scarcely understood them herself). 'He was ... above the laws of the land. Now, as your agent, he could prove invaluable. As a fighter, he's quick and strong. And as a thinker, deep, I think. If there's more to him than I have found, I know you can find it where I have failed.' There was nothing more she could tel him.

After a while:

As to how he struck me: forcefully, Bonnie Jean. He struck me powerfully, and with more than any normal power. Why, I felt it in your mind! He was beguiled, aye, but he likewise beguiled you! You were attracted to him as a man, not so? Don't deny it, for even though you won't admit it to yourself, you cannot lie to me. I have felt it: your fascination for this ... this mysterious one, aye.

'But... but...!' B.J. sputtered, because her Master had seen what she had not, or what she had refused to accept.

Oh? Ha-ha-ha-ha! Radu's laughter was a staccato barking that stabbed briefly, harshly in her mind . . . before coming to an abrupt halt. And is that why he's still alive, Bonnie Jean? Because you desired to feel him in your body, his root burrowing in your soil, seeking to seed itself in the garden of your sex? Is it so? Did you desire to fuck him, Bonnie Jean? Or for him to fuck you?

'My Master, I... "

Then you should have! For there are more ways to enslave a man than by sharing your blood, your essence; better ways to enthrall him than by a bite; other ways to seduce than by addiction to poisoned wines. His voice fell to a whisper, a whine, a fetid panting. And it seemed that he stripped her to the soul as he informed, Why, your woman's body would more than suffice to enslave a man - any man, or creature - I am sure. Your soft breasts and thighs would enthrall, enfold him. And the suction of your sex would be a greater addiction, a sweeter poison by far than any wine, however strange and rare ...

Bonnie Jean got down from the rim of his sarcophagus, stood with her head bowed, and stared at the buckled flags supporting his great coffin. She felt shame, for plainly her devotion had been to other than her Master. But it had taken Him to identify emotions that she had rejected. Radu felt B.J. 's confusion, her dejection, and said:

No, Bonnie Jean, you are not at fault. You're a woman, destined to be more than a woman. And you have suppressed emotions that are instinct in you as they are in me. In so doing, you've also proved a point: that you are not yet Wamphyri! For the Wamphyri may not suppress their emotions. If they could, then were they unstoppable, unbeatable! Aye, and that is important to me, Bonnie Jean: that you are not yet of that high station. For the ... condition of the Great Vampire is such as to make it, well, let us say undesirable, at this time.

He fel silent (musing, she thought). But his meaning had not escaped her ...

After a while - if only to change the subject and divert his thoughts -BJ. felt it prudent to prompt him: 'Master, I am here early, that's true. But in any case it is close to the time of your renewal. While you give thought to the things I've told you, we should see to your replenishing. Also to the needs of your creature ... "

My warrior? He was at once interested. Is the beast well? Does the great vat support him? Does he wax and quicken? Surely it is so. For since he is of me, he too must feel the time narrowing down.

'He waxes, my Master. He ... quickens in his vat, yes.'

See to it, then, he told her. Tend the beast first, while I lie here and think, and consider... oh, a great many things.

But hurry, Bonnie Jean, for you have awakened me and my time is nigh. And I hunger like a helpless child stirring in his crib, but the faithful little mother is at hand to bare her breast...

B.J. went out onto the bald, domed roof of Radu's redoubt and followed a south-westerly route that she'd known for the better part of two centuries. Indeed to her keen eyes and senses there was now a clearly discernible track between scattered boulders, across gaping fissures, and through the treacherous scree jumbles of the high, narrow passes.

Her camouflaged denim suit was crag-grey and lichen-green, matching her surroundings. Over her left shoulder, tied across her back, she carried a rope; also on the left, two small grappling irons dangled from her wide leather belt. A crossbow hung on her right thigh, and was strapped-just above the knee so as not to swing with her movements.

These things, plus a knife in a leather sheath, were all that Bonnie Jean carried.

To her relief, the sun was hidden behind bank upon bank of clouds sweeping in from the west, across the Monadhliath Mountains and the Spey. It was mid-afternoon, creeping towards evening; the shadows of the crags beginning to creep, too, but that meant nothing to B.J. Her eyes were feral as the wilds she traversed; they saw the wildcats sporting in the heather before the cats saw her. Only the eagles, circling on high, had any great advantage.

But she wasn't interested in cats and eagles. Both were difficult, and both dangerous until stone dead.

But on the penultimate, false-plateau of a series of mighty terraces east of Loch Insh, B.J. knew there were near-inaccessible woodlands and copses in the lee of the upper heights. Knew, too, that she'd find deer there - indeed, a small herd of deer. Her kill would not be missed; these were creatures of the wild; she was the only one who had ever culled them. And she required just one, a faun; not for sweetness but size. It must be easily portable, back to the lair.

She came to the rim. The forest-belt sprawled a dark, misted green all of seven hundred feet below, and the chimney of a teetering stack was her route down.

At the top of the last stage of her descent, B.J. used her rope to form a hoist and lowered the grapples, and without further pause went hand over hand to the bottom. Her prey had long since sensed her and fled, of course; in this place, there were no sounds extraneous to nature. Any sound that was strange was also dangerous.

So she tracked them through the woods. And from then on, never a snapped twig or the swishing recoil of a brushed-aside branch to give her away ... until the last moment, when the gut of her crossbow thrummed and the lethal bolt hissed unerringly to its target...

Paralysed, with its spine almost severed at a point one inch forward of the flanges of its shoulders, the buck merely trembled as B.J. used the rope and grapples to hoist it by stages up the cliff. The animal had voided itself in the woods and so didn't foul her. Then the four-mile trek back to the lair, with the shuddering buck on her shoulders, and B.J. hoping against hope that it wouldn't die along the way. No, for at the vat of Radu's beast she would require the engine of its pounding heart to beat to the very last.

At the lair, she lowered the animal into the vent closest to the great vat, folowed it into darkness. Shortly, she ascended the ramp to the rim of the vat and tossed the buck down onto the yelow, semi-solid surface. Then back down and around to the rear of the vat, where a copper implement was stored in oiled wrappings. It was a holow tube three feet long, three-quarters of an inch in diameter, with a trumpet-like funnel at one end. The pointed end had been cut through diagonaly, like the tip of a hypodermic needle.

Back up the ramp to the buck, where B.J. moved the paralysed animal aside in order to drive the sharp end of the funnel down into the resin ... at which the obscure outline or silhouete of Radu's creature stirred visibly, however sluggishly, in the gelatinous soup of its vat womb! For the fluids in the saclike core were not alone of resin and therefore less resistant. She saw the sudden movement, which caused her to start. It was the first time in al B.J.'s time that this had happened. And it meant that her Master was right: his beast was indeed quickening!

Then, without further pause (or, if anything, more urgently, while yet her mood was right for it) she worked the copper tubing down into the gummy resin, a good two-thirds of its length, until the funnel stuck up like a pouting mouth. And grimacing a little, but with no other sign of reticence, she cut the buck's throat and held its body steady on the rim, watching its life's blood spurting into the obscene bel-mouth of the funnel, from there to gurgle its way to the thing in the vat.

Down there, there might be a rudimentary mouth or mouths. B.J. didn't know, couldn't say. She only knew that the living blood of the buck would be absorbed into her Master's creature. A quart of blood, maybe. So little for so much, but enough. And only a little less for Radu, despite that he had only one-tenth of the vat-thing's bulk. But then, Radu needed - or demanded - so much more. And not deer's blood ...

In a while (surprisingly long minutes later, when the flow was less than a cloting trickle), B.J. dragged the buck's body to one side and drew out the long funnel. Taking it to a place where water fel verticaly from above, and cascaded into conjectural depths below, she washed the funnel out, replaced it in its wrappings, returned it to its niche behind the vat.

Then she cut out the raw, fresh heart of the buck to take with her, and toppled the stiffening carcass down the dark and unknown course of the waterfal. And now it was time to attend Radu.

The day had seemed very short; it was the season, and B.J. had had much to do. Outside, the sun was setting, the light fading.

Her eyes readily adjusted to the gloom of the cavern complex, as she returned to the sarcophagus, kindled a fire of bone-dry faggots from a pile of prepared wood, boiled water on a tripod and brewed tea. Hungry herself now, and succumbing at last to her own needs, she ate the buck's heart raw with teeth that formed razor cusps even as they worked at the wild flesh. Jaws like a steel trap finished the job in short order: not much by way of sustenance, but the heart's dark muscle had been strong and B.J.'s system would make best use of what litle there had been. She could have saved more of the buck, but hadn't wanted to glut herself. No, for now she must stay alert, and not give in to the inevitable drowsiness of her imminent... depletion.

Her depletion, yes, for her Master would have it no other way. How often had he told her: The flesh and blood of one's own must always be the dearest, as it is always the sweetest!' His meaning had never been entirely clear - at best it sounded sinister - but B.J. had taken it to mean that the blood of men and women, human beings, was the natural fare of the werewolf. And apart from a handful of occasions when she'd brought various thralls and recruits here, this perhaps dubious duty had been hers alone.

Fortified by her meal, now it was time ...

Radu's funnel was of soft beaten gold; only its needle tip was of copper. B.J. took it from its secret place, carefully wiped it clean, carried it up to the rim of his sarcophagus and gazed down on him. 'Master, I am ready.'

As am I, Bonniejean! His answer rang at once in her mind. As am I, yesss. And I have given thought to everything you've told me. Now, as you attend me, I shall tell you what must be done. For time is narrowing down, and my dreams scan ahead of me to strange new tomorrows. Nothing must be allowed to interfere with my ... my resurrection? And everything must be done to enhance it.

For while I have 'seen to that point, beyond it lies uttermost confusion. The future of all men and creatures was ever a devious thing, Bonniejean. And mine - and yours - no less. But for you 1 have seen a full and glorious moon: a wondrous good omen, yesss! While for myself, I shall be bright as a star! And so our places in tomorrow's firmament seem fixed, which is the where and the when of it. But as to the how of it: that remains to be seen ...

While he 'talked' to her, B.J. busied herself. She pushed the feeder into the resin crust of Radu's sarcophagus and used her weight to drive it slowly but surely deeper into the semi-congealed stuff within. A gauge-mark scratched into the golden tube, coming level with the surface of the resin, told her precisely where to stop. Any deeper and the sharp, holow 'knife' point of the funnel would drive right into Radu's face.

About the watcher, Radu continued, as she prepared a tourniquet on her left arm, but left it slack. If this is no innocent or coincidental thing, then it can only be one of extreme menace. And indeed I feel menaced! This watcher is a thrall: a Ferenczy, or a Drakul, aye. He watches you to discover me. And he wil discover me, if he can, and lead his master here to my lair-through you, Bonniejean, through you! And so there is only one answer to it: dispose of him. But not now, not yet.

First learn al about him; know him as you know yourself, if that is at al possible, so that he may not creep up on you unannounced. Then, closer to the time - but only when I give the word - then see to him! For if he were to suddenly disappear, now, immediately ... why, his master would surely understand that he had found me, and that I had found him!

And shortly thereafter there would be two watchers, then three ... until in the end I would starve up here, because you could not come to me. Or if and when you did, my enemies would folow you and find me helpless here. And be sure, Bonniejean, that they would deal just as cruely with you as with me. For you are a woman and comely, and they ... are Wamphyri!

B.J. sat beside the rim of the sarcophagus with her back to an angled slab of stone, but not too comfortably, and without glancing away made one slicing cut through the arteries of her left wrist with the razor-sharp blade of her knife. Indeed it was so sharp that she scarcely felt its bite -or only very briefly - and the cut was so clean that for a single moment it remained closed. Long enough for her to lean forward over the rim and direct the first sudden spurt into the golden funnel.

But Radu had 'heard' the hiss of air between her clenched teeth, felt the sting in her mind, sensed the tightening of her stomach, and knew what these things meant. And, Ahhhh! he said, as the hot, red, salty stream commenced to flow down the golden tube to his encysted figure. Then, to cover the unmistakable lust that suddenly burned like fire in his thoughts (and must surely burn its way into Bonnie Jean's), he forced himself to continue with his instructions:

... So then, he barked, we have dealt with this watcher. Or we will, eventually. But always remember, Bonniejean, that revenge is a dish best served cold. Revenge? Oh, yesss! for I have seen in your mind how he has worried and angered you with his snooping. And I know that you would be avenged, even as I must avenge myself against his master, one of mine own enemies out of ancient times. But attend me well, Bonnie Jean. It can be nothing dramatic, nothing spectacular. When the time comes this watcher should simply ... yes, disappear! Let his master wonder but never know. That way, by the time he must know the way of it, and when his curiosity brings him to seek me out, I shall be up and about in the world. Time then for my revenge, aye! But only think, Bonnie Jean: if such as you have felt the urge to strike at our enemies - and for what good reason, eh? The small irritation of covert observation? The shuddering anticipation of some unknown, unspecified DOOM waiting just around the comer - then what of my passions, whose torment has lasted for two thousand years? Huh! Wel, let me tell you: there were blood-feuds before mine, and bloodwars since. But the next one will be hot, be sure.

As hot as every hell that men have ever dreamed ...!

Then a pause so sudden., so sharp it was almost a gasp in B.J. 's mind, as the first drop of her blood, then a gush - a crimson, bloating bubble in the yellow envelope of fluid surrounding him - stained and suffused the area of Radu's weird wolf head.

And:

Ahhhh! It was almost a sob of pain, but an agony so sweet that it vibrated like some unbearable note struck on the chords of the mind. And in B.J.'s mind it was the rushing, irretrievable cry of climactic sex, the nerve-wrenching howl of a shovel in clay-cold ashes, the joy of the full moon when its call can no longer be denied. It was all of these things, and more. It was the blood that is the life.

Her blood, and Radu's life, as the influx, the monstrous infusion, commenced.

And it was always the same: as if her Master were a live, alien current, which the conductor of her blood carried back to Bonnie Jean. For once the connection was made, the current came flowing back up the life-stream and into her.

It leaped to her, quick as light, with the speed of an electric arc: the incredible, terrible fact of Him! And as always - if only for those first few unutterable, unbearable seconds -she knew the truth of Him. That there was no truth in Him!

It came and it went, and left her floating, drifting on a sea of unknown emotions, no less than his bite would have done. For one brief moment the agony of Truth ... and for the rest of time the inescapable acceptance of a Great Lie.

And before she could consider the difference, or even the existence of a difference:

Yesss! (His hiss sounded that much clearer in B.J. 's innermost being). Ah, yesss! Child of my children, my life is in you, as you were in me. My life is you, as yours will be mine. But not yet awhile, not yet...

And as something of his unthinkable pleasure receded, and he accepted the renewal of his hideous life: As for the girl, gone for a year and never to return: we must accept that she is no more. At best she has become one of theirs: a Drakul or a Ferenczy, aye. More likely, she's a husk, drained of knowledge and life both. Let us assume that you are right and she could not talk. Still she 'told' enough to interest them; hence the watcher. Or has he been there a long time, Bonnie Jean? Longer than you suspect?

Even years, decades? The latter, I think. If not, then how did they know to take one of yours in the first place? What came first, the egg, the spore, or the leech? It is a riddle; it moves in a circle and is best left alone. Likewise the girl... forget her. She is no more.

B.J. listened with the one part of her mind that remained alert. As for the rest: her eyes were closing, her head nodding until she struggled to keep it upright. Drowsing, she was carried on the current of Radu's life, and was nothing without that she belonged to him. It was his art, his hypnotism, the beguiling. She had it, too, but by comparison was an infant where he was the old, old Master ... but a master of more than mere hypnotism.

And B.J.'s heart thudded, her blood pumped, and her mind listened ...

Finaly we have this ... this mysterious one, (Radu eventualy continued). Of whom you admit to wondering: perhaps the Mysterious One? Yesss, Bonnie Jean, and you have set me to wondering, too. For I have seen him in my dreams these many ages, and the one whom you have shown to me is not dissimilar. But in my dreams ... strange, but I never saw him clearly. While I was given to know of him, I was never permited to know him. He was blurred, aye, or at best il-defined, as al dreams of the future are, only more so. And so I came to think of him as The Man With Two Faces, because while he remained the same ... his face changed! Not that he was 'two-faced,' as in the common usage of that term, you understand. No, for this has nothing to do with simple treachery.

So ... what does it mean? For I have read it in your mind, that you, too, Bonnie Jean, have seen another side of him - as if some other were looking out through his eyes? But could that other be me, in some future time? If so, then indeed he is the Mysterious One of my dreams. Or -

- Is it al a trick, a trap, a clever subterfuge? (Radu's mental voice was suddenly sharp as B.J.'s knife). He helped you when he could have kiled you, you say.

But I remember how, in the Greek Sea, the fishermen would bait their hooks with little fishes - to catch big ones! And this 'covert agency' he worked for. Whose agency, 1 ask? The powers that be, you say. For what good purpose, I ask? To which you answer, 'to usurp the laws of the land, and supplement them where they will not sufice!' Eh? Usurp the laws? I am astonished! For this agency must be powerful indeed, that it works outside of governments and laws! Very wel, then who were this Mysterious One's masters? Alas, here we have no answer, for this was a line you did not pursue. Ah, but be sure that I will...!

Radu paused, probed a moment with his vampire mind, and immediately, worriedly inquired: Is al wel, Bonnie Jean? Do you hear me? Best atend me, for my needs shal go on beyond today. And I would that you go on with them!

B.J. jerked awake. She had been awake, the part of her that listened, at least. And she saw that the funnel was overflowing into the sarcophagus, where her blood pooled on the crusty resin. Like the gauge-marks on the stem of Radu's funnel, this was her warning, telling her, 'this far but no further!'

It was not the first time that this had happened, nor that her Master had 'saved' her life. But then, what would become of him without her?

She tightened the tourniquet on her arm, watched the spurting slow to a sporadic spatter, willed her metamorphic flesh to action. Heal me! Then, as she got stiffly down from the sarcophagus, a last twist on the tourniquet, which she taped in position. And finally the slow, awkward business of bandaging her wrist with dressings from her pack.

While she worked, Radu talked to her:

How many times had I expired without you, Bonnie Jean? How often haw I escaped the true death? But the sweet hot spark of your life's blood rekindles mine and I live anew ... if such as this may be considered life. (A creature of moods, now her Master was sour again. And B.J. knew why. It was always the same when his needs had been satisfied - or his immediate needs, at least).

Ah, you read me well, he told her. For I would be up again, and abroad in the world of men. I would be up, even now, except pestilence put me down. And so I stay here, waiting out my time. And I keep myself quiet, lest my thoughts go out into the world and others hear them. And I dream my red dreams, and keep them quiet, too, for the same good reason. And my bones stiffen, and my flesh sags, and even my memory fades a little, for time is a long, long thing. So that sometimes I wonder at the purpose of it all...

... Until you return to me, and then I know the purpose of it all! For once I was as men and lived with men. I fought side by side with men, as were they my equal. I tried to be the same as men, but was different. I reined back on my spirit, which is a roaring fire that devours!!! And I quenched it as best possible. But I was wrong to try, Bonnie Jean. Aye, for to be Wamphyri is to be other than men, more than men.

Oh, I have a man's appetites, be sure. Indeed, I have them tenfold! I do not love but lust; which is better than love, for when love lies spent lust drives on. And the strength of a man? Why, in these hands of mine strong men have snapped like twigs! As for the span of a man: what mere man has survived for thirty lifespans? And as for a man's passions: who before me has hated for twenty long centuries, and will continue to hate so long as his enemies survive, even to the end of time?

And my thirst, my thirssst! Ahhh! Do you recall how it is when the day is hot and the way is long, and there is no water? And then the sparkle of a stream ... your hand trembling as you lift the water to your lips? Well, I have thirsted for six hundred years, Bonnie Jean! Ah, no, I am not ungrateful, and you have sustained me ... but a quart? Sometimes I think I know the source of these measures: for is not a quart one fourth

part of all your blood? Close enough, I think. But a quart! Why, I have bathed in blood, the blood of whole men, and women, and babes - and stil / wanted more!

Men? With their puny needs, they are as ticks on the back of a goat. But I am a wolf, and the field is filled with goats! Except I am crippled, trapped, immobilized. Why, I lie so still they don't even suspect I'm here at all. Only the other wolves know. Only my own sort, aye ...

He rambles, B.J. thought, unmindful of her own thoughts as she rekindled her fire, with which to warm a can of soup. He is delirious on my blood, like a man who has drunk too much strong liquor. These are only his frustrations coming out of him, and nothing more. This is not the way he will be.

WHAT? Her Master at once shouted, or snarled, in her mind. And is it for you to say how I will or will not be?

'Forgive me,' B.J. answered wearily from where she sat by her fire. 'I... I think I must be delirious, too, for it seems you've had more than a quart, my Master. And I have rarely felt so tired

He was at once solicitous. Ahhh! Bonnie Jean, Bonnie Jean! It is my fault, my fault! But! hungered so ... I let it go too long, too long.

'No harm done,' she sighed. 'I have Auld John's soup, his strong tea. I'll stay here the night, and rest.'

Aye, he answered, aye. The way down is hard, and you must be strong for it.

The way is nothing,' B.J. shook her head. The climb is child's play. But in the dark I could slip, and the way I feel right now

Best rest, he told her. Best rest...

But in a little while, spooning soup as she huddled beside her fire in a blanket, B.J. was curious to know something.

'My Master, how would it have been? What would be the result if you had not roused me up? Not death, I know. Not the true death.'

Indeed, no, my Bonnie, he answered, so low it was a coughing rumble in her mind. Never the true death, not for you.

For you, undeath. But with you ... quite unnecessary. You are what you are. A throwback? No, a throw forward! That is the way of it. Blood tells, Bonnie Jean, and in you it runs true.

'I would be ... Wamphyri?'

Will be, perhaps. (But now she sensed a seething darkness in his mental voice).

'Perhaps?'

Her master at once came alive again, and the darkness receded. Time will tell, my faithful one, he said. Aye, time alone will tell...

B.J. gave herself a shake, as the dog-Lord abruptly enquired: Where ... where was I? For it appears you were right, and I rambled? Certainly my mind has wandered.

It was as if he, too, had been asleep; his thoughts were dull, uncertain, groping in her mind.

The lair was so much darker now; B.J. 's fire burned low; a sappy branch crackled and popped, and sent a few last sparks flying.

Through the rocky tangle of the high crystalline vaulting, a lone star glittered like an eye frozen in a stony orbit.

The Mysterious One,' B.J. reminded her Master. 'Have you reached a solution?'

I remember, Radu's 'tone' was more focused now. But you are mistaken; I had already reached a solution, but I had not voiced it. I must see him - talk to him with my own 'voice - have him here, where I can decide for myself his value ... or his threat? But not yet. Not yet a while. So, my solution:

He has things to do, you say. Then let him do them. For a year, even two years. He would search for his missing wife and child? Good! let him search. Ah, but he is resourceful; he has talents. Excellent! Let us put them to use. We are agreed that my enemies seek me out. Very well: let this 'mysterious' Harry Keogh seek them out! Let him locate them for us. Then, when or if they do not see fit to come to me, I can always go to them! So, how is that for a solution?

'And if he draws attention to you, what then?'

Huh! But their atention has never been absent! They have sought me for long and long! And as always, I shal rely upon you to hold them at bay.

'And if he places himself in jeopardy, maybe gets himself killed?'

What is that to us? Or should I say, to me? For plainly it is a great deal to you! But I take your point. You are asking: why sacrifice a valuable ally? Is that it? Wel, for one: his value is not yet proven. This could be the ultimate test. And for two: if he is indeed my Man With Two Faces - the Mysterious One of my dreams - then he'll sufer no harm. How can he, and still come to me at the time of my coming forth?

'But... before he can seek them out - the Drakuls and the Ferenczys - he must know of them. And you have always forbidden me to speak of them. As you lie secret in the world, my Master, so must they, else alert men to the presence of us al!'

A good argument, (Radu seemed genuinely pleased with her). But a false one. Do you think I would let someone loose in the world with that sort of knowledge, without that we place certain strictures upon him? Of course not! You have told me he is in thrall. True?

'Beguiled,' she nodded. 'And by now addicted to your wine. He knows nothing at al of you; nothing of me, except that I am an innocent, a friend, and possibly - '

A lover?

B.J.'s silence answered for her.

All to the good. For I tell you, Bonniejean, that if he is not your lover,

or does not at least aspire, then he is not a man by my books. Which means he is not my man!

'And if he does ... aspire?'

What? And should I send you out to whore for me? (But seeing her confusion): Oh, ha-ha-ha! And now you would tell me you have no mind of your own, and that you are guided in all things by me. (His sarcasm smoked like acid as the laughter faded from his thoughts). Huh! And you know how I cannot abide a liar!

'You ... you're playing with me.' She stuttered. This ... this has to be a word game. It must be!'

Indeed! Radu growled. And if you cannot win them, then do not play them! Certainly not with me ...

B.J. waited, tried not to tremble, and eventually he said: Very well. And did I not hint - and more than hint - that you should use your woman's ways, your female wiles, on him? Better ways than poisoned wine? Other ways to enthrall a man? Aye, but use them on him, Bonnie Jean, not on me!

'Yes, my master,' she bowed her head.

See to it, then, and when next you come make report.

'Yes, my master.' She curled herself up.

And Bonnie Jean, do without the wine. If you have weaned him on it, now wean him of. Doubtless it served its purpose, but an end to that now. I want a man, not a sot. And finally - in the event that you do seduce him, or he seduces you, whichever - one last thing. Be sure, absolutely sure, that nothing of you, of us, gets into him. Above all else, be sure of that. For when he comes to me, he must be human - al of him.

'I understand.'

So be it. And now sleep well, my Bonnie.

'And you, my ... my ... my Master.' (His final words had been a command, and she was his thral. Already B.J. was yawning, her eyes closing).

And as he felt her slipping away, and knew that she would not hear him: Aye, sleep well, Bonniejean. For if I was up - or when I am up- there shall be no sleep for you, but a night such as you never imagined. Indeed, a night to die for! One of us, anyway ...

In the grey dawn B.J. woke up, changed her dressing, saw that the scar was knitting and no fresh blood flowing. There was a cold cut of cooked venison in her pack, courtesy of Auld John. Washed down with strong tea, it served as breakfast. Then she saw to the cleaning of Radu's feeder and stored it away. She should have attended to it last night but had been too weary. And finaly she took her departure. As she left the lair, the psychic aether was empty of her Master's emanations. He continued to sleep his sleep of ages. Coming up, her spirits had been high; she had revelled in the climb.

Going down, she took the easiest route; her mood was different and she must think things over ... about her Master's instructions, of course. (Oh, yes, for she was still too close to him to think ... other things). Confused, disorientated in al manner of ways, finaly she did little thinking at al but concentrated mainly on her climbing.

She was not naive, Bonnie Jean - with so many years behind her, how could she be? - but she was enthraled, beguiled. Radu held her in his spel no less than she held Harry Keogh. And as his thral she must always obey him. But as a Lady of the Wamphyri... ?

Except that was a thought she must never think, and so she didn't -

- Until midday, back at Auld John's place, when he noticed a spot of blood on her dressing and changed it for her. Then he had cause to remind her.

'Why, Bonnie Jean!' he exclaimed. 'It's no more than a wee scratch. Ye must have stretched it a bit, that's al. But... I never saw healing like it! Surely ye couldn'ae hae gone so deep this time?'

'Deep as ever, John,' she told him. And in the next breath, 'But we al heal quickly. It's part of us - part of you, too.'

'Aye, but never like this!' For a moment in awe of her, he stepped back and gaped. And then, eagerly: 'But he did promise ye, after al. And we've always known that sooner or later - '

'Later, John, later!' she hissed, suddenly angry, but with herself as much as with him. 'When he's up ... when he says so, and not before. So don't you say it, nor even think it!'

'No, no!' He blinked rapidly, licked his lips, peered at her. 'Ye're right, of course ye are, but - '

'No buts, John!' She cautioned him. There can be no buts. I told you: don't even think it, because I daren't think it!'

But later, in his tiny bathroom, after she had bathed and when she applied a minimum of makeup:

B.J. paused, then stood stock still in front of the smal mirror. Mirrors hadn't much bothered her before; they had never been a problem. But now, for the first time ... was there something wrong? Or not wrong but different?

She stared harder at her own image. The grey in her hair. Not a premature grey but the natural colour of wolfish fur. It wasn't fur but hair, but the colour was al wolf. Much more so than before. And her eyes: their slant, the golden rim of their cores. And her ears: elfish before, but now ... longer?

And when she put up a hand with a square of tissue to dab pale lipstick from the tip of an eyetooth ... surely her teeth were longer, too? And behind her teeth ...

B.J. held her breath, bared her teeth, al the way, then flicked her tongue over them - or flickered it, like a snake's tongue. Her cleft tongue!

Not al the way, not yet. But indented at the tip, beyond a doubt. And

suddenly her blood was singing in her veins, singing a strange, savage song. But one that she must not, dare not sing! She remembered how easily she had changed for Harry Keogh. And how she had known she could do it. Oh, she had known before him, but always at the time of the full moon. Now, apparently, she could do it any time. It was simply a matter of will.

And standing there, before the mirror, she wiled the grey from her hair, wiled her tongue to its human shape, wiled her eyes and her ears back to normal. And they were ... normal?

Wel, yes, for a normal human being, anyway ...

That afternoon she slept. She didn't need it, but made herself sleep. That way she was out of Auld John's way; he couldn't ask her things, and she wasn't tempted to think or experiment.

As night fel she set out, with John as back-up in a batered old car he'd owned for years, doing the same job her girl had done two nights past. Through Pitlochry she saw his headlights blink twice, and his car quickly faded in her rearview. Then she was on her own, on her way home.

And no time to spare, because B.J. had given the 'Mysterious One,' Harry Keogh, specific post-hypnotic instructions to cal her early tomorrow morning before the three-week stricture she'd placed on his departure was up. She had supposed that by that time she would know beter what to do about Harry; which she did, courtesy of the dog-Lord Radu. Now she had other, more important orders to pass on, and she must speak to Keogh before he commenced his search abroad, which from now on would be that much more important and so much more dangerous. But she daren't miss his cal, in case this close to the ful of the moon Harry took this to be his 'obligatory' cal - in which case it could be the last opportunity she would have to speak to him for more than a month, until the next ful moon.

Ful moon, aye, in just a few days' time. B.J. could even feel it, tugging at her mind. But these sudden complications in what were once long-established, uninterrupted routines. Harry Keogh; and Radu's -what, churlishness? - his impatience, anyway; the changes taking place within herself, of which she was ever more aware. And the unknown watcher, this Drakul or Ferenczy thral. And al of it weighing on B.J. 's shoulders.

Upon a time, no problem. She could have dealt with al of this and much more. She had dealt with many problems, down the decades. But her system, thought processes, mutating emotions, were badly out of kilter. And even if Radu hadn't detected it - even though he might deny it - still B.J. knew what was happening to her. But she, too, must deny it ... or deny him! And after al this time, that last was unthinkable.

She wasn't giving her best concentration to the road, her driving; her hands were too loose, or occasionally too vicious, on the wheel; her speed was too great for the bends and uneven camber. When the front offside tyre blew it was as much as she could do to hit the brakes before the car skidded off the road, smashed through a fence, nose-dived down a grassy decline, and slammed to a halt in the pebbles of a sluggish beck.

On impact, B.J.'s head snapped forward, banged down hard on the centre of the steering column -

-  And for quite some time that was all...

So maybe Radu was right after all. For would a little knock like that have put a true Lady of the Wamphyri to sleep? Even as B.J. realized that the thought was her own, she felt a hand fumbling on her shoulder through the shattered mess of the driver's window.

And as the hand went round her neck, seeking her pulse, she wrenched herself free and snarled, 'What?' And then, in a more reasonable, even a pained voice - feeling the aching in her neck and head, and turning the latter to squint into the early morning light

- 'W-what?' It had to be six or six-thirty in the morning. She must have been out for hours!

A policeman stood beside the car, ankle-deep in the cold water of the beck. His face was full of concern. 'Dinna try to move, miss,' he told her. 'We're calling help right now. Ye'll be out o' there in no time.'

He was right, and sooner than he thought! 'I'm . . . okay,' B.J. said, unfastening her seatbelt and wrenching at the handle of the door, which at once sprang open. 'I'm all right. Just a bit shaken, that's all.'

There were two of them, the second one leaving his vehicle to come scrambling down the bank. They assisted her back up to the road and into their police car. 'How long were ye there? We would'nae hae known if not for the broken fence. We'll take ye into town for a check-up,' the driver glanced back at her. 'That bruise of yours - '

' - Is just a bruise,' she told him, then smiled. 'Look, the last thing I need is a check-up. I'm fine. As for my car: a tyre burst. But if you really want to be helpful, you can take me on to Perth where I can get a taxi. I've an important appointment in Edinburgh, and I'm late already.'

They looked at each other. B.J. dug in a pocket, produced documentation. 'Details of the car,' she said. 'Insurance documents, for your notebooks. I hired the car. You could do me a favour and let them know. It's their ... junk, after all! Their problem to recover it. My name and address are on the agreement there if you should need to contact me later.'

One of the officers scratched his head. 'Ye're an awfy cool lassy, for someone just out o' an accident.'

'Accidents happen!' B.J. snapped, then bit her lip. 'Look, I realy am in a hurry. I'm sorry if I appear ungrateful Too late. Her attitude had been all wrong and sorry wasn't going to put it right.

In the police station in Perth they recorded her statement and had a doctor look at her anyway, if only to cover themselves.

Which meant it was after ten before she could call a taxi and get under way again ...

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