Read the first chapters of William the Damned by Lynette Ferreira
THE SQUARE RIGGER, weighing ninety tonnes, glides across the still waters, towed along with the tides. The waves lap at its sides lazily, while seagulls swoop languidly onto its deck. The sun beats down upon it relentlessly.
Should another boat pass it, it would look like a ghost ship, with not a soul upon its deck. However, should the innocent passer-by, happen to board the ship and proceed down to its lower levels, a sight of great horror would await such a wretched person. For below the deck, there is a sight beyond belief, fifty men and women dead upon their backs.
Their eyes are closed and their hands twined together upon their chest. Here on the lowest deck, where not an inch of light manages to intrude, they lie dead.
SUSANNA BOARDS THE Majestic to travel from England to France. Betrothed to Lord Francois, her heart is heavy, but she knows she has no choice. Her father died and left them with nothing, so now her and her mother’s only salvation is for her to go to France and to marry Lord Francois.
Grace, her servant girl, walks behind her, lifting the back of her dress so it does not drag across the dirty deck. Although Susanna is sure the captain keeps it clean, many feet have trampled mud all over it, from down below on the docks.
The ship is not more than three times as long as it is wide, and Susanna crosses her chest shocked when she walks into her cabin. The cabin is hardly big enough for her to turn about in. There is a single bed pushed against the wall and an armoire against the wall opposite the bed. The space between these two items of furniture is just large enough for her to walk into, the wide expanse of her dress brushing along the sides. The small porthole is in the centre of the wall, and looking out of it, Susanna notices she is level with the water lapping against the side of the boat.
Grace starts to unpack the bags for the long voyage, and they manage to move around each other with great difficulty. Susanna decides to go up onto the deck, while Grace finishes her tasks.
Up on the deck Susanna leans against the railing, looking down with curiosity as she sees the crew untie the anchor, she hears the cries of men as they hoist the sails, and then sadly she watches the coast of England drift away from her. Her mother did not come to bid her farewell, as she has an urgent appointment with her solicitor, which she could not postpone.
When the captain learned Susanna would be travelling with him on the journey across the channel, he invited her for dinner, so when the time drew nearer to dinnertime, Grace helps Susanna to wash from the basin of lukewarm water.
Grace helps her into the heavy dress and then Grace pulls her dress in at the back, while Susanna feels as if she is going to faint. Seated on the little chair in front of the large oval mirror on the wall, Grace starts to brush her hair and tie it up behind her head in the latest style.
Susanna looks unseeing in the mirror and she thinks back to her mother, left behind in England. Her mother will join her within a week or two, so it makes the situation even more daunting for Susanna. The only person she knows, who she can turn to now, is Grace.
Susanna must go to a country where she has never been, to meet a man she has never met.
Uncertainty and fear almost overwhelm her, but then Grace leans across her and lightly touches her shoulder, smiling reassuringly at the reflection of Susanna in the mirror. Susanna returns her smile nervously.
Susanna glances at her own reflection one last time and she fleetingly notices her dark hair tied up into a chignon behind her head. The blue dress she is wearing compliments her clear, sapphire eyes and her naturally rosy cheeks and lips.
She takes a deep breath, as deep as her dress would allow, and then she walks out of the little cabin and along the narrow, dank passageway toward the captain’s great cabin, where he entertains and eats.
The decorations in the great cabin are lavish. A chandelier hangs low over the centre of the large wooden table. Presented in large silver dishes are an assortment of sweet and spicy meats, vegetables and potatoes. They eat from white china, exquisitely decorated with dainty blue Dutch windmills.
The captain is a burly, friendly and slightly effeminate man. He is the opposite of everything Susanna believed a sea captain was and she is pleasantly surprised.
They talk long into the night, about his seafaring adventures. Susanna has always found it easy to relate to strangers and because she is naturally inquisitive, people often share their most intimate secrets with her. She usually allows people to talk, while she listens attentively.
Later he takes her up on the deck. The moon is full, reflecting on the water and Susanna feels as if they are riding on a pathway straight toward the bursting moon. A wintry breeze flirts across her bare shoulders and she feels a chill down her spine.
The galleon suddenly jerks violently to the side, and Susanna hears men screaming and yelling fearfully and panic-stricken.
Surprised Susanna hears the clashing of sword against sword. A moment ago, everything was peaceful and quiet, but now pandemonium reigned upon the deck of The Majestic.
Through her shock, she hears the captain yell with certainty, “Pirates! Go to your room and lock the door. Do not come out until daybreak.”
Without hesitation, Susanna lifts her skirts in both her hands and her dainty feet run across the deck toward the stairway, when suddenly she runs into a wall.
She falters and hands grab onto her arms roughly. Susanna catches her breath loudly and a squeak pushes past the fear lodged in her throat. She looks up, into a face more beautiful than she had ever seen. The wind is playing in his light-coloured hair. His dark eyes look at her inquisitively, while his brows form a frown, creasing his forehead. A smile plays seductively across his lips and she sees with distress him lean down to her.
William looks down at Susanna, the fright and panic in her eyes excite him, and he leans down to her long neck. He can hear her blood rushing through her veins faster and faster, he can smell the sweet smell of her blood. He can imagine the taste of it, melting over his tongue.
Suddenly she steps away from him, while she hits her small fists against his chest. Quickly he wraps his arms around her waist, and pulls her closer to him and unexpectedly he decides to keep her, convincing himself she would serve well as dessert.
He lifts her squirming body without difficulty over his shoulder and then with unbelievable speed, which frightens Susanna even more, he jumps across to the other ship next to The Majestic.
Before she can resist, before she even knows what is happening before she can scream or close her eyes, she lands onto a huge, soft bed and then she hears a door slam shut.
Hesitantly she stands up and walks toward the door, feeling her way through the dark. The locked door resists her attempts of pulling and pushing at it.
Replacing the painful screaming and shouting from above, Susanna now hears whoops and shouts of joy. Susanna feels the boat rock as the pirates jump across from The Majestic onto the deck of the pirate ship, and a renewed trepidation takes hold of her heart, more powerful than earlier.
Her eyes have barely adjusted to the dark and the faint light from the porthole helps her to find a hiding place.
Cowering beside a cupboard in the corner, she hears the key turn in the lock and she whimpers once, softly.
The moonlight from the porthole turns him into a large, daunting shadow and as Susanna’s eyes rest on him, she involuntarily catches her breath. She feels herself shiver with panic.
Although it is dark inside the room, he walks directly toward Susanna and then he graciously holds out his hand to her.
Apprehensively she puts her hand into his and then she stands up from her crouching position. She decides she must be brave if he saw fear in her he might be provoked into harming her or be enticed even more to kill her. She must be courageous and convince him, somehow, to let her go.
Standing erect, she concentrates on keeping her breathing slow and natural, while William softly traces her bare shoulder with his hand, letting it trail up along and into the nape of her neck. He folds his hand around her neck and then gently drawing her closer to him, he touches his lips to hers.
Susanna wants to shout, she wants to fight and run away, but she feels she needs to bide her time. She has no doubt she will be able to escape, she could steal away during the night, steal a boat where it was stowed against the waist of the ship and then drift away toward the nearest shore. However, when his lips make contact with her lips, softly and caressingly, she feels a knot in her stomach, which she immediately dismisses as fear.
He smiles slowly, seductively. “I am William. Who do I have the pleasure of entertaining?”
Politely she says, not smiling, hiding the fear nestled in the hollow of her throat, “Pleased to meet you. I am Susanna.”
“Well, Susanna, tell me where your destination was going to be.”
Dismissively she replies, “I was on my way to France. Where is Grace, my servant girl?”
“I am sorry, but she most probably did not survive.” He does not look sorry.
Appalled Susanna stares up at him where she is still standing too close to him. She pushes away from him and he lets her go. He turns away from her and walks around the room lighting the gaslights.
Dismayed Susanna asks, “What do you mean – she did not survive?”
He laughs suddenly, a sadistic laugh. “If you have not noticed yet, we are pirates.”
“You do not take prisoners?”
He does not answer, but Susanna can hear him sneer. “You can sleep here in my cabin and I suggest you do not leave this room, ever.”
“Why can I not leave this room—ever?” Susanna asks. She cannot keep the hint of sarcasm hidden; she is trying hard not to offend him.
“My crew, even if I told them to let you be, might and most probably would not be able to resist.”
“They would not hesitate to kill me? This is preposterous. I am betrothed to Lord Francois from France and he would pay you a handsome price if you delivered me safely to him.”
William looks back at Susanna while he lights the last gaslight. A frown flashes across his face and he smirks. “Betrothed?” He looks at her amused, a small smile starting to play on his lips. “That is interesting. How sure are you he would pay for you?”
“I will make sure you get the money, once I am safely in France,” she insists. It feels as if she has convinced him. He is after all only a greedy pirate. It would be easy, surely, to buy his co-operation for the right amount of money. For the money, he would take her safely to France. She would have given him the money now if she had any, but now embarrassingly she would have to convince Francois to pay the amount, before she has ever met him. She hopes the amount of money this thug would want is not too great.
He walks to the door and dismissively he instructs her, “Dawn is upon us. You should sleep.”
William leaves the room and once again, Susanna hears the lock turn in the door. She is going to have to formulate an escape plan if she cannot convince him to take her to France.
Standing with her back against the door, she searches the room for something to barricade the door with. She notices the huge double bed in the centre of the room. A wooden writing desk, a heavy dressing table and the cupboard she was hiding next to earlier on.
She decides on the dressing table because it is the closest to the door. With great effort, she pushes it toward the door and then against it, making sure even if he unlocks the door he would be unable to get into the room again.
Exhausted she lays down onto the bed. The tied ribbons, which pull her dress in around her waist, are constricting her breathing and she is so unbelievably uncomfortable. If she untied it, though, she would never be able to tie it back up by herself again, so she leaves it.
She was only going to lie down for a moment to catch her breath, to calm her heaving chest, but her heavy eyelids drop closed from the continuous see-saw motion of the ship.
Not long after she falls asleep, William enters the room softly. He has come to tell her he has decided to take her to France. He smiles amused when he notices the dressing table wedged against the door, but with a quick shove, the table eases away effortlessly.
Walking across the room toward her silently, he sits down on the bed as he listens to her soft, deep breathing.
TWILIGHT WASHES THROUGH the room and Susanna stretches lazily when she opens her eyes. She looks around her and realises with shock she still had not woken from this frightening nightmare.
Her eyes run across every detail of the richly decorated room and then toward the door. With fright, she sees the dresser has moved away from the door and she chastises herself for sleeping so deeply. Someone had come into the room while she was sleeping and she can only be thankful she is still alive or that nothing dreadful happened to her.
Susanna gets up from the bed quickly and she walks toward the little porthole. Looking out of the salt-encrusted glass window, she sees she had slept right through the day. A multitude of orange hues colour the sky and a large yellow semi-circle hovers on the horizon before it slowly continues dipping into the dark water of the ocean.
Everything is silent and she can hear the gulls as she sees them circling the boat. She can hear every creak and scrape. She can hear the ocean licking against the hull of the boat.
When the sea swallows the last bit of yellow, her stomach announces loudly it is hungry. Susanna puts her hand across her stomach absent-minded.
He softly asks from behind her, “Are you hungry?”
Susanna jumps with fright, but answers obstinate, “No, I am fine. Thank you.” She is determined not to let him see her fear.
“I will go and look if we have anything in the kitchen. I cannot make any promises, but I will make a plan.”
Susanna turns around to him and notices he has a cotton waistcoat, drawers, stockings, linen shirt and a pair of shoes in his hands.
“What do you mean, you will make a plan? Do you and your crew not eat?”
He laughs cruelly. “No.”
Before Susanna can question him further, she hears the door swing open wider and then immediately a soft hissing sound. In a blur, William moves away from Susanna.
When Susanna sees him clearly again, he is standing in front of a beautiful woman with bright red hair tumbling over her shoulders, her skin so pale it is luminous. The woman bares her teeth at Susanna. Susanna notices with revulsion the two longer incisors protruding from between her lips and she hears William talking to this woman softly, barely audible and so fast, Susanna can only make out the words No and Mine.
In an instant, the woman turns from him angrily and then she disappears. One moment she is standing there and the next she is gone, just evaporated, magically, as if in a puff of smoke.
Susanna takes a deep breath, stepping backwards away from William. Her resolve not to show fear is for the moment forgotten. She says accusingly, “What did you do? Where is she?”
Looking back at Susanna, William smiles amused. “Nothing. She left the room.”
“No, I never saw her walk out. You made her disappear.”
Then he laughs a sound which shocks Susanna. The sound of his laughter is so unexpectedly musical and joyful, lighting his eyes with a million sparkles. He says, still laughing amused, “We just move very fast.”
Susanna frowns as she looks at him and then he steps closer to her again. He holds his hands out to her. “Here, put this on.”
She takes the clothes from William hesitantly. She would not want anyone to see her wearing this, but until he returns her to France, she would wear it, and keep her dress clean and safe for when she meets Lord Francois, not wanting him to meet her dishevelled when her entire future rests in his hands.
William smiles at her impishly and then he turns away from her. “I will go and see what there is for you to eat.”
Susanna suddenly remembers she wanted to ask him, why he never ate, but he is already out of the cabin. She hears the key turn in the lock and then she quickly unfastens the straps of her dress behind her back, which is not an easy task. Her arms bend back by the elbows and she works the bow until it falls down unfastened. She pushes her fingers through the criss-crossed straps and she feels her lungs automatically take deeper breaths. She cannot reach all the way to the top, but once she has the ribbons around her waist loosened, it is easier, somehow, to squirm out of the masses of material.
Eventually the dress drops to her ankles and then she puts on the white, billowing shirt, cotton waistcoat, drawers, stockings and shoes. She ties the rope which came with the drawers around her waist tightly so it can stay up around her hips.
William walks toward the kitchen area, an area they never use, because the crew of this ship does not need to eat human food, their needs are very basic. He remembers looting the captain’s cabin and the great cabin of the ship they pirated the night before and scooping up the heavy silver bowls. Some of them still had food in it. During the events which followed afterwards, he forgot he left the food on a cabinet in the kitchen, he also forgot her need to eat. He wonders why he would have put the silver bowls in the kitchen, instead of having them cleaned and added to their plunder. Did he decide then already he was not going to kill her? He admits reluctantly that there is something about her when he looks at her, something he could not explain.
Susanna is folding her dress neatly when she hears him coming back inside the cabin. She looks up at him after she puts the dress carefully onto the bed. She notices he has a silver bowl in his hands and she recognises it from the table of Captain John, from The Majestic.
“There is only enough for two days,” William says apologetically. He has captained this pirate ship for years, he is in a position of authority and now he is apologising to this frail, weak human. He feels incensed.
Susanna hardly hears him. She takes the bowl from him, smiling up at him thankfully and she sits down on the stool in front of the dressing table. She eats the sweet and spicy meats with her fingers, trying to eat with etiquette, but she is too hungry and she gulps down each mouthful.
William looks at her and he notices her hunger as well as the way she is scooping the food into her mouth. He is trying to fathom what it is about her that has him so interested in her. He has come across many, many women before, but the night before, when he went down to the lowest deck to sleep—only minutes before the sun rose—he could not fall asleep. Thoughts of her kept him awake and each time he closed his eyes, he saw her.
When the plate in front of her is empty, she looks up at William embarrassed. She notices him staring at her in deep thought, so she looks down at the floor, self-consciously.
Swiftly he steps closer to her, feeling irate. She is causing strange, unknown emotions within him. Roughly he pulls her up from her seated position by her arm. He demands, “Why were you on that ship?”
His voice is hard and accusing. Susanna sees a muscle in his jaw jut out, indicating he is biting down on the back of his teeth. She notices his fist hanging next to his side tighten and loosen. Frightened she tries to step away from him, but he pulls her closer to him. The arm which was hanging by his side comes up and folds around her waist, holding onto her tightly. He lets go of her hand and then his arm reaches across her hips. Before she can resist, he abruptly lifts her off the ground and holds her close to his body.
His lips are close to her lips and Susanna cannot help letting her eyes drift to the fullness of them. He smiles slowly when he sees her eyes move to his lips. Bringing his face forward and with a deep groan, he kisses her. When her lips part slightly under his own, his mind goes numb and it is only he and Susanna in the world, everything else falls away.
He lets her slide down against his body and he brings his one hand from behind her back forward and then he softly traces the form of her body over the shirt, upwards over her hips, over her middle, briefly touching the side of her breast. He holds his other arm tenderly, yet securely around her waist, reluctant to let her move away from him.
Susanna catches her breath. She cannot help it when she feels ecstatic. She knows she should be scared, but she convinces herself she is only returning his kiss so he would be convinced to take her to France. He will feel some kind of fondness for her and he will feel obliged to take her where she belongs.
He traces his hand tenderly over her shoulder and then holding her head closely to his, he kisses her more passionately and single-mindedly. Their tongues meet and at that moment William realises, he wants her more than he has ever wanted his life-giving blood. He needs her more than he needs to kill to survive.
Susanna feels her stomach plummet and she is not sure if it is from pleasure or panic, but still her arms creep up against his hard shoulders. She laces her fingers through his hair and shockingly she pulls herself closer to him.
He moves his hand from the back of her head and then a few moments later, her world tilts slightly when she feels his cool hand against her skin, caressing her middle and moving seductively upwards. William thinks amazed how soft she is, how warm and comforting.
His hand moves upward to her breast and as his fingers are about to reach up, to cup it, Susanna draws courage from deep within her and she pulls away from him reluctantly.
She could not allow this to happen. She could not go to Lord Francois as a tainted girl. Lord Francois expects her to be a virgin when he marries her because of the agreement between him and her mother. Her mother assured Lord Francois she was untouched and Susanna believed it should include her entire body.
William looks down at her, a frown across his brow. His eyes are broodingly dark as he looks deep into her eyes questioningly and then he moves away from her abruptly. He asks darkly, “So you are betrothed to Lord Francois from France?”
Susanna squares her shoulders and answers him defiantly, “Yes, I am.”
“Have you ever met him?”
“No, I have not. This will be the first time I will meet him. I hear he is very kind and well-mannered.”
“Yes, he loves the ladies,” William smirks and he starts to walk toward the door.
“Wait…” Susanna calls out. Then she adds softly, “Please.”
William looks at her questioningly and suddenly she feels childish, bringing the subject up again, but she takes a deep breath, and then she asks him, “You said you do not eat. How can you not eat?”
He looks at her, the frown deepening, the muscle in his jaw pronounced. “Have you heard of The Vampire?”
Susanna steps backwards, knocking the stool over which was standing between her and the dressing table. She topples and he grabs her. As his hand circles her arm, a soft, pleading, “Please, no,” escapes her lips as her arm comes up defensively to her neck.
She sees the hurt on his face as he lets her go abruptly. He turns away from her and he walks out of the room.
William walks up the few stairs toward the deck and then he walks to the railing. He holds onto it tightly and he stands there quietly staring up at the night sky. He was born many years ago, a half-blood. His father a Vampire and his mother a human, he was born with a lust for blood, but a curse of humanity. The same curse of kindness which stopped him from killing Susanna, the same feeling he now has that the stars would disappear from his sky if he lost her.
Charlotte comes to stand next to him. She whispers accusingly, “What are you going to do with her?”
William looks around making sure none of the other crew members are near and he whispers softly, despondently, “I do not know.”
“You know you cannot take her to France. She will tell. We have a good life here. We accumulate riches we might never have a need for and we feed regularly, never leaving survivors to testify the pirates attacking is bloodsucking vampires. The most feared creature.”
William looks at Charlotte and he smiles down at her reassuringly, although he feels uncertain. “Never leave any survivors.”