“A contract of true love to celebrate.”
—The Tempest (Act IV, scene 1)
“Two households,” murmured William Shakespeare, his gaze fixed on the family crypt of one of them. “In fair London, where we make our scene.”
The remains of the day were overcast, as ’twas often the case in fair London. A light rain had begun to tumble down. The dreariness of the weather fit the setting—a shadowy graveyard at dusk, the skies fair weeping over the young mistress so recently entombed.
Will’s mistress. The only woman he’d ever loved in several lifetimes.
Will was a vampire, had been for so long he could barely recall when he wasn’t. He wished that he weren’t, that he could live—really live—a true lifetime with his love, that he could once again be human; but as far as Will knew, a vampire was forever.
Unless someone cleaved his head or shoved him into the bright morning sun.
“From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,” he whispered.
If Kate’s husband found out what they had done, his grudge would certainly break something.
“A pair of star-crossed lovers,” Will continued, the beginnings of a play he’d been toying with trickling through his mind. A prologue, mayhap, shared by the Chorus, setting up the entire sorry mess he envisioned. He hadn’t written a decent tragedy in a while. It was time.
“Whose misadventured piteous overthrows do with their death bury strife.”
Only Kate’s “death” could bury the strife with her husband. If everything went according to plan—Kate took the potion that made her “appear like death”—then Reginald should have forgotten about his wife the instant the door slammed shut on her tomb. It wasn’t as if he loved her. With any luck he would have returned to the New World, and the plantation he managed there for Kate’s father, on the next ship, never to be seen or heard from again.
Which would save Will the trouble of killing him.
Just the thought of how the bastard had ill-treated his wife—Will’s love—had Will’s teeth itching, growing.
“Puppies,” he murmured, forcing his mind away from bloody murder. Instead he focused on sweet, fat-bellied balls of fur gamboling across spring grass until his fangs went away.
Will glanced at the azure sky. Now that the sun slept and the moon had awoke, the chill of a London autumn eve would soon seep into the stone mausoleum. Will had promised he would be there to greet Kate when she arose from her feigned death, so he hurried forth, intent on the door beneath the stone-cut lettering.
That was not his love’s true name, but she was a fine jewel just the same.
He reached for the door, and the portal swung open of its own accord, emitting a loud, wretched creak that caused Will to start and draw back his hand to rest atop his sword.
He’d come directly from a performance at the Rose Theater still wearing the costume of Valentine—a doublet of dark green wool with breeches a shade lighter. As Valentine becomes king of a band of outlaws, the sword was part of the show.
And proved a welcome adornment when the zombie loomed from the crypt.
“Brrrr!” it said. “Brrrrrrrr!”
“Zounds.” Will drew his weapon, the slick slide of the metal from its scabbard slicing through the heretofore silent night.
He had not expected zombies. He’d believed London cleared of them by both his efforts and Kate’s. That a woman could be an accomplished zombie hunter had at first surprised, then amazed, Will. Together they had fought the lurching horde set upon their queen by one who would topple her throne and throw England into chaos. They had triumphed, but apparently at least one of the creatures had escaped.
Will would have cleaved the horror’s head from its shoulders, returning the soul to God and the body to ashes, if he hadn’t caught his foot on a loose stone.
There were times when he was grace personified …
Will landed on his arse with a thud.
And times when he was not.
The zombie, a well-to-do merchant from the appearance of what was left of his clothes, which hung in tatters and revealed more than Will ever wanted to see of another man’s—be he dead or living dead—anatomy, blinked at the sudden disappearance of his prey. One of his eyelids came off, skating down his rotting cheek like parchment skipping off the edge of a tabletop in the wind. The bit of flesh landed on Will’s upturned face, and he panicked.
He hacked at the man’s legs, but the blows did no harm. The creature merely stepped out of Will’s reach and disappeared into the darkened crypt.
Will frowned. Why on earth would the zombie go in there when there were fresh brains to be had right here in Will’s head?
Will might be undead, but his brains still worked—quite well, if his reviews were any indication—and they were therefore a delectable meal for any shambling cretin.
Climbing to his feet, Will kept a firm hand on his weapon as he awaited the return of the creature, but the gaping, gloomy doorway remained empty.
“Thou detestable maw.” Will crept closer. “Thou womb of death. Gorged with the dearest morsel of the earth.”
A chill went over him as he heard his words and understood why the zombie had gone in rather than stay out.
Certainly most of the occupants were long dead, their brains as rotted as the one who now walked among them. But there was one who had not begun to rot. One who lay alone and vulnerable, whose fresh and tasty brains would be a dear morsel for this gibbering fiend.
Will plunged inside, sword at the ready, just in time to see the decaying head haloed in a beam of moonlight as he bent over what had to be the resting place of Will’s sweet love.
“Brr!” the creature said again. “Brrrr.”
In truth, zombies rarely said aught else.
Leaping forward, Will sliced through its neck with one sweep of his blade. The zombie disintegrated, coating Will’s face with ash.
“Zombies,” he muttered, wiping the gritty remnants from his eyes. “I hate those guys.”
An image flickered—a man in a battered brown hat sneering at other men in pressed uniforms as they goose-stepped past, arms stretched upward in a salute.
An invincible hero. The ultimate evil.
Will shook his head, and the idea disappeared. He tried very hard to bring it back.
“Something about an ark,” he murmured, but it was gone, driven from his mind by more pressing matters.
Will tightened his fingers about the hilt of his sword, gaze scanning the crypt for anything that moved. But the tomb remained as still as those who inhabited it.
He moved to the flat stone pallet where Kate should rest. Nothing was there.
Desperately, Will searched every crevice and corner. He found dozens of bodies in as many states of rot, but not a single trace of Kate.
Why was he surprised?
The course of true love never did run smooth.
Copyright © 2012 by Lori Handeland