“ㅡyou see, the thing about vampires is: it’s not all about the teeth and the violence; it’s about living forever and experiencing an amazing world beyond a human’s understanding. I’m not a monsterㅡI mean, I drink human blood, yes, butㅡI hardly ever kill my victims anymore. I don’t want to be the alpha species on the planet. It makes no difference to me whatsoever that my father is king; I have no qualms telling him that I’m out of the coven.
“Ellie, just listen, I know I shouldn’t have pretended to be human, but I’m not lying when I say that I love you, and I would never hurt you! Pleaseㅡplease stop pulling away. It’s me, sweetheart. I’m still the sameㅡ”
A dark oak stake slashed through Bennet’s chest. The sharp weapon left the trembling hands of a blond-haired, blue-eyed girl who wept regretfully.
“You’re a vampire,” Ellie hiccuped delicately around a sob. She skirted around the injured man who collapsed to his knees. His white-knuckled hand clutched the handle of the stake that protruded from his bloodied chest, and his face twisted in pain as he yanked.
The sound of wood clobbering on wood echoed in the candle-lit room of Ellie’s small cabin. The stake, stained red with blood, rolled to the girl’s pink slippered feet. Her pretty hands snatched up the skirt of her dress as she flattened herself against the wall.
“Ellie…” Bennett rasped, his head hanging from his limp neck. On hands and knees, his chest rose and fell with deep, determined, breaths, as he said: “Ellie, my sweet girl… Thank Christ you have terrible aim.”
Horrified, the young woman nearly swooned when the sole of Bennett’s boot found the floor. From his knee, he raised his eyes to hers.
“Why aren’t you dead?” She spoke first.
“You missed. Why did you stake me?” He countered.
“You’re a vampire.”
“I was a vampire ten minutes ago and that didn’t stop you from loving me!” He growled, his patience wavering. In its place: hurt.
Ellie cowered when she caught a glimpse of one white fang flashing in the dim candlelight.
“Oh, stop it.” Bennet drawled dryly as he finished the rise to his feet, standing nearly two feet taller than Miss Kenneths. “I’m not going to eat you.” He observed as she inched tentatively towards the door, her back never parting with the wall.
“You...your...” Her voice quivered. “Your father is the vampire king?" She licked her lips. “You’re…” Her eyes went round like saucers. “You’re the dark prince?”
“Does that matter so much?” His eyes softened and his hand cradled her jaw. “I don’t have to be the dark prince. I can be a regular vampire for you."
“What if I don’t want a vampire?” Her unblinking reply forced Bennett’s features to stone.
“You don’t want me at all?” He studied the blue eyes that welled with tears. With a shake of her head, one tear fell swiftly down her cheek.
Bennett studied her for only a moment more. The pain in his chestㅡunrelated to the freshly healed wound within less of an inch from his heartㅡrobbed the warmth from his eyes.
Straightening to his full height, Bennett took a step back. He cleared his throat.
“You may go.”
Only a moment’s hesitation kept her feet rooted to the floor, and within those brief seconds, Bennett nearly crumbled to the wood again and begged her to love him. But before he could, she was gone with a swish of her skirts.
All but holding his breath, Bennett turned, scanning the small sitting room for a chair. When his eyes fell on a leather armchair by the fireplace, his heavy feet carried him to his desired location. With a grunt, he slumped ungracefully into the seat. To his left, a decanter of honey-colored liquid beckoned him with the promise of a drink that would burn his throat and warm his belly. It didn’t disappoint. With a tumbler in one hand and his forehead in the other, he finally allowed himself to sigh around the crushing weight that tortured him deep within his ribs.
What was he doing here? This was her home. Why did he allow her to leave? What dark monsters lingered in these woods, ready to attack, aching to sink its yellow, venomous, teeth into his sweet Ellie’s flesh?
He should go after her. She may not want anything to do with him, but surely she wanted to be alive above all else.
The tumbler of whiskey thumped against the floor at the chair’s side, and Bennett strode quickly towards the door.
“Bennett.” A body appeared in the half-closed door. Stunned by the abrupt appearance, Bennett reared back.
“Farnham, please tell me you didn’t hurt the girl.”
“Idiot, I wouldn’t.” The man named Farnham, Bennett’s oldest friend, twisted his lips in offense. “I may be hungry all the time, but that doesn’t mean I would eat your girl.”
“She’s not my girl anymore. But that doesn’t mean I’ll let her get herself killed in her attempts at avoiding me.”
“Ah,” Farnham nodded like a man who expected nothing less than for his good friend to lose the girl. “That’s it then, isn’t it?”
“No.” Bennett raised a determined finger. “I still have time.” He shoved through the doorway and out into the storm-filled night. “She couldn’t possibly see through this pitch black.”
“Perhaps the flashes of lightning will guide her path?”
“Lightning also attracts ghouls.” Bennett grimly replied, piercing the dark with his inhuman vision. “We need to hurry.”
“Bennett,” Farnham’s hand planted heavily on Bennett’s shoulder. “There isn’t time. The king is waiting.”
“I can’t let her die!” Bennett whirled on his old friend, imploring him with his eyes to understand.
“Bennett…” Farnham’s face crumpled with sympathy for his friend.
Studying the pained eyes that mirrored his own, a surge of rage accompanied Bennett’s heartache. “Goddammit! How could I have done this!”
At two hundred and twenty-four years of age, Bennett’s time to take the throne was upon him. His rein would have started three years ago had he not bargained a deal with his father. Bennett had no qualm with stepping in as king. It was the initiation that stopped him; the tradition within his family that would be followed with or without Bennett’s compliance.
He had to kill a girl.
Now, being a vampire, killing people was never an issue. Bennett had killed more than his fair share of innocent humans in his lengthy lifetime, however, the rules of the Initiation Kill were twisted and gnarled into an ugly arrangement that forced any throne-hungry vampire, into pitfalls of despair and madness.
The initiation was written by the Elders; four, grey-haired, three-thousand-year-old decaying sadists, and it went something like this: a vampire prince is to be given a human maiden that meets his preferences and desires, guaranteeing he will fall in love with her. Months will be provided to the lovers, but on the night of the prince’s coronation, the maiden must die, and the prince has to be the one to kill her.
The Elders call this ‘the symbolism of loyalty.’
Three kings ago, Prince Gannon acted so horrendously towards the girl that she was forced to be repelled by him. Her hatred made his love less empowering. Two kings ago, Prince Hamlin revealed his identity immediately, and instead of playing human in the human world, he hauled his poor maiden through the Bewitched Forest, inside the gates of the vampire’s kingdom, and locked her in a dungeon where he kept her in darkness, unclothed, and alone for three months.
The last king, Bennett’s father, Kendrew, a man who was wise as he was kind, spent his three months of love in absolute rapture. On the night of his coronation, it's said that he kissed his weeping darling before he gently bent her back over his arm and sank his teeth into her fragile neck, drinking the blood from her body until she was dead.
He told Bennett to do the same all those years ago, to which he agreed because he didn't care about love. Bennett knew what he wanted, and it wasn’t a doe-eyed maiden to woo and lose his heart to. NoㅡBennett was a man of habit, and he preferred to take his women for pleasure only, and he enjoyed the kill.
His unsavory reputation stretched beyond the Bewitched Forest and into human territory. The young women of the human village penned him the Dark Prince. The title only fueled his devious delights. The fear of falling in love simply wasn’t there.
It wasn’t until eyes as green as the moors of Scotland blinked innocently into his did he realize how horribly wrong he had been. Within three months, Bennett was hopelessly, blindingly, and aguishly in love with a human girl named Lara. He loved her beyond comprehension. He loved her so much it hurt. He loved her more than blood.
And he was sure it was a spell; something concocted by the Elders, cast by the oracles, and cursing him to feel something that wasn’t real. It enraged him. He wouldn’t abide having his feelings toyed with.
When he approached his father, he begged for an alternate way out. Surely, there was something that could be said by his wise father that would change the Elders’ mind. But instead of going to the Elders, Kendrew told his son to bring Lara to the initiation, and do what he was meant to do, and he would see; it would be OK. When Bennett didn’t understand, Kendrew said: “this love isn’t real, son. She doesn’t even know who you are. Do you think she will still love you when she finds out you’re a vampire?”
His father’s words resonated deep within, and Bennett heeded the advice. But come the night of the coronation, he couldn’t go through with it. That’s when he made the bargain with his father.
‘If Lara accepts me as a vampire, then I want permission to keep her alive.’
‘That’s dangerous, son.’ Kendrew had replied. ‘If the Elders find out…’
Bennett’s determination swayed his father’s decision, and under a full moon with fireflies waltzing around their entwined bodies, Bennett confided Lara in his secret.
That was the first time Bennett wound up heartbroken. When he managed to persuade his father into letting him try again, he failed a second time. And then again. And again. Years passed, many girls took his heart, and every nightㅡthe night of his initiationㅡhe told a girl his true identity, and she fled.
Except now, he was out of time, and this girl was his last, and whether she wanted him or not, she was the one that had to die. He had loved every girl dearly, but Ellie was special. He was so sure she would have been the one to accept him, and it shattered his heart that she hadn’t. Not only would she die...he had to be the one to kill her.
Why couldn’t he be as brave as his father? Why was it so easy for him to say goodbye?
Blinking his wary eyes into the clouds pulsing with light, a curious bud of an idea sparked like a new fire in Bennett’s brain. He allowed a second more to stoke the flame before he turned back to Farnham, and said: “go after her. Bring her back to the fortress. I have one more card to play with my father.”
Vampires were faster than ten humans’ speeds combined. Within minutes Bennett had scaled hills damp with rain, zig-zagged through trees within the Bewitched Forest, and whirled through the kingdom’s gates. He had no doubt that Farnham had already found Ellie and would be along shortly.
Inside the fortress’s walls, servants flattened themselves against walls as he passed. Candles flickered as he whisked down the corridors to his father’s study. Throwing open the door, refusing to wait entry, he stormed across the shiny fur pelts, accenting the cold, stone, floor, with long determined strides.
“Ah, my son.” The king smiled from behind his large oak desk. “Right on time. It’s about thirty minutes from your initiation, so let’s get on with it. Tell me why I should give you another chance with another girl, but be warned, my boy, I am not allowing another opportunity. If you’ve failed, you’ve failed. This is it.”
“That’s what you said last time.” Bennett flattened his palms on the smooth service of his father’s desk. “But, I’m not here to ask for another chance.”
“No?” Kendrew’s bushy grey eyebrows shot up with surprise.
“No. I’m here to find out how you snuck in a substitute maiden for the night of the coronation so you wouldn’t have to kill the love of your life.”
“Bennett, that’s ridiculous. The Elders... The Oracles… I never would have gotten away with it.”
“But you did, and that’s what I’m asking. How did you do it?”
Kendrew frowned pensively, his features hardening with displeasure.
“Things were different back then, Bennett. I tried to do the same for you, but that was years ago, and the Elders will be expecting you to do something like that now. I’m sorry, I can’t help you.”
Bennett straightened. The air rushed out of his lungs in one painful huff.
“You could have helped me keep Lara alive?”
“Well, she isn’t dead, is she? She’s just...gone. We let her go, but...yes. In a way, I could have done for you what I did for myself. And I tried, Bennett; don’t think I didn’t try. I told you to bring her. I told you to do what needed to be done. I had it all taken care of, son.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?” He shouted.
“The Elders have their Oracles’ eyes and ears everywhere. I couldn’t risk them finding out what I had done on my coronation, and what I planned to do for you. I’m sorry, Bennett. Truly.”
Pacing away from his father’s desk, Bennett’s hand smoothed across his mouth. His heart hammered heavily within his chest and the desire to kill something was powerful.
Why couldn’t his father have been honest with him? After seeing his son open his heart to so many women, watching the suffering, and the heartache; why?
“I want out.” Bennett spoke to the door.
“Out?” The sound of creaking leather indicated that Kendrew had risen from his chair.
“Out.” Bennett faced his father once more. “I want out, or I tell everyone what you did.”
“Bennett…” Bennett’s father’s face paled. “My sonㅡ”
“No.” With a shake of his head, he stopped his father before he could speak any more. “I leave the coven, or I tell everyone what you did. This isn't personal, dad. I just can’t do this. You got your way out; this one’s mine.”
Father and son studied each other for some time, both unwavering, both unblinking in their impenetrable stares. When Kendrew spoke again, his voice had changed dramatically, resembling a man who had admitted defeat.
“Who will take the throne?”
“You. You’re already on it. Sit tight for a few years, try to change this god awful law, and I’ll come back if you do. I swear it.”
A miserable frown settled across Kendrew’s mouth.
“And what about the girl?”
“I’m going to spend all the time I have convincing her that I’m not a monster. Maybeㅡwith timeㅡshe’ll learn to love me again. For who I really amㅡa vampire. Maybe, by the time I’ve succeeded, we can come home.”
With that, Bennett turned to leave, but his father’s voice stopped him in the doorway.
“Bennett.” Kendrew waited until his son looked back to continue. “Give her time.”
Bennett nodded, and his father nodded in return, offering a smile that lifted some of the weight from Bennett’s chest.
Outside the kingdom’s walls, Farnham waited with an unwilling girl that struggled against him mercilessly. Upon Bennett’s arrival, Ellie was using her dainty fists to pound at Farnham’s chest.
“Let go of me, you blood-sucking demon!” She screeched.
“Ellie!” Bennett rushed forward and the girl in distress turned her fists to him. That’s when Bennett spotted the stake in Ellie’s grip. “Good God. How many of those do you have?”
“I had suspected my neighbor was a vampire, but I would never have guessed it was you, you mongrel!”
“Ellie, stop for a second.” He approached carefully, palms up in surrender. “Look at me. It’s me, love. I know that I’ve scared you with this vampire business, but I’m still the man you fell in love with. Listenㅡthings are finally falling into place. We can be together. Just give me time to show you thaㅡ”
And for the second time that evening, dark oak slashed through his chest.
“Shit,” a stunned Farnham released the girl who didn't hesitate to run away and knelt at Bennett’s side. “Did she stab true?”
“No, thank God,” Bennett grunted his reply, growling through the pain as he yanked the dagger from his chest. “She’s got horrible aim.” He tossed the stake aside and took a moment to catch his breath as his wound healed.
“Should I go after her?”
“No, that’s OK, Farnham.” Bennett rose to his feet, clapping a hand on his friend’s shoulder as he stared after the white skirts that disappeared into the trees of the Bewitched Forest. “I’ll go. I’ve got a lot of time to chase after her.”
“What about the coronation?”
“It isn’t happening.” Bennett grinned triumphantly.
“But… Your legacy… The tradition… Who will take over?”
“No one. I hope. I want the throne, Farnham. Just...not like this.”
“I understand." He watched Bennett step towards the trees. "Will I see you again?” He called after his friend.
Bennett threw one lingering smile to his oldest friend, knowing they’d meet again. Then, with a deep breath, and a heart full of hope, he dashed off into the trees after his girl.