Author’s Note: Thanks very much to my Beta’s, Letomo and Cordyfan. The following ways of notation may be found in this story. This is excluding whatever I need to represent chatting, texting and stuff like that. Speech:
“Who’s on first.” Thought:
*What’s on second.
#I-don’t-know’s on third.# This is a prequel to all the current stories in the ‘That the Autumn leaves were turning’ series. This story is dedicated to Mr Noel Harrison, who sang the song the titles for these stories are taken from. Mr Harrison died on the 19th of October 2013. Like a Snowball down a Mountain The Solicitor who got up from the dead London, 1878
William Pratt, also known as William the Bloody Awful Poet, made his winding way around the streets of London. He carried a bottle of brandy in his hand and another two in a bag slung from his shoulder that he'd taken, together with the bottles, from the footman who’d been sent out to get them. William didn't know whose footman it had been, but he'd been well fed and had tasted quite nice.
Once he was done with the bottles, it might be time to have a few words with his friends about poetry. He was sure he now had a far greater insight, a whole new point of view, about death and life. And if they didn't believe William, there was always the quick nip to the carotid artery and a good, deep drink. Not that any of them really knew what lay in the heart of a poet. William knew. He'd been a poet. And he'd ripped the heart out of a few published ones, yesterday. He’d been a bit miffed since his mother...
He cried a little remembering her and what he'd done. Crying was a thing vampires were not supposed to do, at least according to his Grandsire, Angelus. William hadn't been a vampire for very long, but he'd come to realise pretty quickly that his Grandsire had a certain reputation. And it wasn't for hugging kittens.
William had also realised that Angelus didn't think very highly of William himself. William was too soft, too genteel, too well read, too English, too many things Angelus had not been when he had been sired. And therefore Angelus delighted in tormenting his only Grandchilde. Together with the debacle that had been the siring of William's mother, it was enough to turn a man to drink. The young vampire took a swig from his bottle, and then another. It took quite a bit more to get a vampire drunk than a man. William was the first to admit he'd been a bit of a lightweight, but as a vampire, he could drink any of his former friends, no, be honest, acquaintances under the table. And then drink them, too. William sniggered. Drunkenly.
He finished the bottle, threw it at a nearby window and listened approvingly as the nearby households woke up, to check the damage. He stood hidden in deep darkness and watched the servants check the damage. Once that excitement was over, he started a new one, finishing that too, as he wandered through the streets into areas far more squalid than he'd frequented as a living man, then out of them again. Once more the houses were solid middle class, large, comfortable. The house he'd grown up in had been bigger, loftier, and richer. His father had been the second son of the third Baronet Wye after all. His uncle was the first Baron of Wye, in the County of Kent. He might even have inherited the estates and titles. Well, if his three cousins all died without children, before he did. Had. Whatever.
He took another drink and noted this bottle was empty too. He threw it away and heard it connect with a thud and a tinkling of breaking glass. He looked up at what he’d hit. It was a carriage, standing in front of the Albert Memorial, the great gilded statue of the Prince Regent flashing and sparkling in the light from the carriage lamps. William blinked a bit as a man got down from the front seat, in full regalia of a highland clansman. Several other men calmly stepped out from the shadow of the coach.
“Whae’ in hell, dui you thing yuir duin’?” the man asked in an ice cold voice and a broad Scotts accent filled with rage.
“I-I well, I was drinking and I threw a bottle. I errr, well that is it. What is it to you?” William straightened his spine. He was a vampire now, and need fear no man.
“Brown? Who is this man and why did he throw a bottle at our carriage?” A commanding feminine voice spoke from the still closed and curtained coach and William swallowed. *Our carriage? Oh… Oh dear…*
“Y-your humble servant William Llewellyn Pratt, Ma’am,” William answered, his voice slightly slurred.
“Ah. And why exactly did you feel it necessary to throw a bottle at my carriage?” The voice within inquired.
“I was – am drunk, Ma’am,” William truthfully admitted.
“Drunk?” the voice was not merely disapproving; it was even colder than the servant Brown’s.
Brown, who had suddenly taken up position in front of the carriage door, called out. “Ma’am! Mr. Pratt died two weeks ago. His obituary was in the paper.”
There was a rustle of cloth in the carriage. “Indeed. Mr. Pratt? Are you dead?”
William drew himself up. “Vampire, Ma’am! But I’d never attack you, Ma’am! Or any of your fam’ly! Hic! I’m your faithful servant! Hic! Rule Britannia! Hic! God Save the Queen!” an expression of great gravity sat on William’s face, right until the silence was broken by another “Hic!”
“My faithful servant?” The voice from the carriage was slightly bemused. “Mhhmm. Mr. Pratt!”
William drew up to his full height, the bottle in his hand nearly forgotten. “Ma’am?”
“Are you willing to swear to that, Mr. Pratt? We could find use for a… man… such as yourself in our service,” the voice from the carriage altered as the speaker moved and the door opened.
Brown extended a hand and from the carriage, Her Imperial Majesty the Queen-Empress Victoria emerged, her face serene and her eyes stern.
William bowed, and then very slowly sank to one knee.
Victoria eyed the vampire and then nodded, decisively. “Repeat after me, Mr. Pratt. I, William Llewellyn Pratt, do swear that I will well and truly serve Her Majesty Queen Victoria and her heirs in the office of Special Officer in the diplomatic service. So I swear and affirm by my honour as a gentleman.”
William repeated the words, enunciating each clearly.
After the oath was completed Victoria nodded again. “See that you keep your… appetites in check within our domains, Mr. Pratt. And know that if you fail in our service we will be disappointed. And will deal with you harshly.”
William swallowed and bowed his head once more.
Victoria leaned forward and touched his shoulder with her hand. “However, if you serve us well, you will have our gratitude, and that of the nation.”
William nodded and then looked up, meeting the Queen’s eyes. “I will not betray your trust in me, Ma’am.”
“See that you do not. Brown, we shall be leaving. I think we have accomplished what dear Albert wanted done tonight,” Victoria looked at the statue, glittering and brooding in the light of the torches and lamps and then nodded at William.
“Good night, Mr. Pratt. Until we meet again. Report to the Foreign Office next week Wednesday, after sundown. You will be expected.”
“Yes, Ma’am. I will not disappoint you, Ma’am. Good night, Ma’am,” William had risen and stood looking at the departing coach.
Then he took out his bottle, looked at it, and then at the gibbous moon, shrugged and knocked off the top of the bottle against the decorative railing surrounding the monument.
He saluted the statue with the bottle. “I’ll keep her safe, sir. And your children too.”
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William wandered some more after that, drinking solidly from his remaining bottle. He even bought another two bottles of hard spirits from a Gin-runner and set off to explore the parts of London a proper young gentleman never visited, musing drunkenly on his mother, his Queen and his Country. It wasn't long before he’d finished the brandy and the first bottle of cheap, harsh gin. He reached for the second and last bottle of gin and it was then that he realised that it was not quite as late as he thought it was. It was early. Dawn was coming.
William looked around, seeking a place to spend the day. One of the houses on the row was empty and William wandered down the street, found an alley, and using strength no human possessed, climbed up the side of the end house, making his way across the roofs to the one that stood empty. The garden behind it was quite overgrown and served as a way to identify the place. He dropped down and casually ripped a bolt of a window and gained entry. The house was in the middle of a row and William looked around in drunken curiosity once he'd clambered in. The place smelled musty, with a slight undertone of sewage and damp, not unusual in an empty house where no regular fires were kept and the drains were bad.
A few pieces of furniture remained, heavy and solid and unattractive under the dustsheets. Stumbling upstairs, the vampire found a bedroom where a bed still stood, heavy curtains in place at the windows, the shutters closed. It made for a perfect place for a tired, drunken and depressed vampire newly in the Queen’s service to sleep.
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William woke the next morning to the sound of high pitched squeaking. With a groan he sat up and shook his head. He heard voices from outside and then the turn of a conversation.
“… Seven shillings for the lot of them, Mister!” the voice was deep and sounded offended.
“Seven shillings? SEVEN Shillings? What do you take me for! Five and eight, not a penny more!” This voice was high and excitable and sounded to William’s mind, utterly untrustworthy.
“Guinea pigs don’t grow on trees. Seven shillings.” the first voice rumbled.
“At that cost I might as well breed them myself! Pshaw! Very well. Here.” There was a clink of money and the squealing intensified and then he heard a door close. *Guinea pigs in bulk. Who buys Guinea pigs in bulk? Doctors? Natural scientists?*
Spike groaned and went back to sleep.
When he woke up again he set out to explore the house. It was evening, but still not so dark he wanted to venture out. In the attic, he could hear the Guinea Pigs sing. He walked around in the garret and found that there was a passage, narrow, low and cramped, that led out of the empty house’s attic to the one next door. He was feeling peckish and Drusilla swore that drinking the blood of certain animals helped against various ailments. Womble was the best for headaches, but he wasn’t entirely certain if that was a creature she had made up or a real one. Reality and madness were sometimes hard to separate for his Sire.
There was a door into the garret next door and it was on a simple latch. He knew he wouldn’t be able to get into the inhabited part of the house, but might be able to open the door. It opened with a creak and slowly swung to the wall, showing that the house was at least slightly crooked. There was a cage in the room with Guinea pigs inside it, but the cage was open. And the Guinea pigs were loose. And squeaking. And upset that a large, undead predator was at the door and ready to eat them. William looked at the anxious milling mass of furry little bodies and sighed.
He could hear his Grandsire now. *What kind of vampire are you, William? Can’t even eat a couple of Guinea Pigs because you used to have one as a boy!*
He took a step forward, expecting to be stopped by the magic of the threshold. But he wasn’t. He felt a tingle of something across his skin, something that made him shiver. On a tray by the fire were two sparkling rings, green and yellow. They looked like pure crystal filled with luminous fluid. With a hesitant hand he reached for them, only to spring back with an oath when one of the panic-ridden guinea pigs ran over his foot. That was when he saw the gloves, lying on the armrest of the well-upholstered, if worn chair set in front of the fire. The rings glowed in his mind, they grated on his senses. Slowly William reached into a pocket and withdrew his own gloves, now rather dirtier than he had ever allowed them to get in life. A result of digging his way out of his grave with them. He pulled them on, picked up a ring of each colour and dropped them into a small leather purse he had taken from a young woman he had fed on earlier that week.
The Guinea pigs were in an uproar of frightened excitement by now. Hardening his heart, William leaned over and grabbed one, sinking in his fangs. After he had finished two, he did feel better. On an impulse he tried the door further into the house, but it was sealed. Whoever lived in this attic apparently did not consider it a home. Or maybe those rings had something to do with it? William shrugged. He looked around the attic one more time and then returned to the bedroom in the abandoned house. He grabbed another Cavy. He played with it a bit. And then he drained it dry before leaving for the lair his Grandsire had set up.
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William looked around, trying to see if he'd been followed. He was quite sure that Angelus would do some rather horrible things to him, before he was staked, if he ever found out that William was actually keeping his word and going to serve his Queen. Seeing no one, he tapped lightly on the tradesmen’s entrance of the stately building that housed Her Majesty's Foreign Office.
The door was opened almost immediately by an elderly caretaker. “Good evening sir. Could I have your name, please?”
“William Pratt,” William replied.
“Ah. You're expected,” The man stepped aside and William entered.
There was no threshold of magic to keep him out and the caretaker closed and locked the door and then led him through numerous corridors to an office on the second floor, fairly small, but with a large anteroom and a big desk. It was mostly empty. Behind it was a man of about thirty, who was quickly approaching corpulence. The man had obviously never been slender, but now he wasn’t merely stocky, he was definitely running to fat. Atop his growing bulk sat a head that was incongruous with the rest of him, strangely thin and ascetic looking, with a high, sweeping forehead and a full head of black hair, carefully brushed, a hawk-like nose flanked by two deep set steel-grey eyes, with firm lips and an expression that seemed mild, but held an indomitable will.
The man rose, with obvious reluctance, as if the movement was a personal affront to his dignity, and extended a soft, long-fingered and shapely hand. His grip was unexpectedly strong.
William nodded. “Yes. You have the advantage of me, sir.”
“Quite. And I most certainly intend to keep it that way. You may call me… The Official,” The man tilted his head, studying William.
“And yet your very appearance here, pursuant to Her Majesty’s orders, is so unexpected that I feel a slight need to reciprocate with common politeness, despite your species,” the man sat down. “I would offer you a drink, but your kind does not partake of tea, I believe?”
“I fear your information is incorrect, for if you have a squeeze of lemon with it, I would certainly not say no to a cup, sir,” William replied.
The man nodded and rang a bell. The caretaker came in. “Could you bring some boiling water, please?” He very pointedly did not use the man's name.
The official sat behind his desk, gazing at William until the water arrived. Then he prepared the tea, with his own hands, from a caddy that stood on a table in the corner, with a delicate porcelain tea service.
He sliced a lemon and gently handed a cup, a squeezer and a slice of lemon to William. “I believe you took six drops while you were alive, Mr. Pratt?”
William added six drops to his tea and nodded. “Your information is correct, sir. How did you come by it?”
The Official waved a hand. “Such things are easy to find out. Even if you did slaughter a few of your former, more artistically inclined acquaintances, several of your friends at Harrow and Oxford and even Gray’s Inn have memory of you and were quite willing to share.”
“Ah. Perhaps you could tell me why I am here, exactly?” William asked.
The Official put his fingertips together and to in front of his mouth, gazing thoughtfully at William over them. “William Llewellyn Pratt, son James William Pratt and Eulalie Pratt, née Bothwick. Your father died when you were three. You considered joining the Navy, but your mother convinced you otherwise. You went to Oxford and gained First Degree Honours in English and Law, then joined Mr. Hall's Chambers and were admitted as a barrister last year after a pupilage for which you were highly praised. As a child you suffered from a lung ailment. Your hair is by nature rather wavy and you use pommades to force it flat.”
William made to speak, but the Official continued. “Your were killed and your body made a vampire by Drusilla Mary Sophia Calhoun, daughter of John Calhoun, wholesale grocer, a Roman Catholic, who still managed to make a great deal of money by supplying her Majesty's Armed forces with everything from biscuit to brandy. She herself was turned by Liam O'Connell, of Ireland, who himself was turned by Anne Hepplewith, a former prostitute and courtesan.”
William tried to muster some courage while filing away the facts about his forebears that he was learning. “Errr, quite. Still no answer as to what it is that you want me to do.”
The Official sat back. “Her Majesty is well aware of the fact that sometimes there are matters that cannot be resolved by diplomacy and yet if resolution was attempted by force of arms, a war of greater proportions than any sane man would desire could easily result. Or when certain information must be gathered from our enemies or neighbours and brought to the attention of those in power.”
“So you want me to be a spy and assassin?” William sipped. “I fail to see how that makes you any better than Angelus, then.”
The Official smiled icily. “Do not try to needle me, Mr. Pratt. We are nothing like Angelus. We do not slaughter expectant mothers and nail their unborn babies over doors to break the hearts and minds of their menfolk. I daresay that all of the illicit killings during Her Majesty's reign do not surmount the number of deaths caused by that beast in a single year, since he crawled from the grave the corpse he inhabits was buried in.”
“Possibly, but the wars rather make up for that,” William countered.
“But discounting a few unpleasant individuals who revel in warfare and bloodshed, we do not enjoy it,” the Official stroked his chin. “Nevertheless, the offer stands. If we cannot come to an agreement, your oath will be dissolved and Her Majesty's servants will hunt you down like a rabid dog, and your vampiric kin as well.”
William put his cup down. “So... you're offering me a government sanctioned license to kill Her Majesty's enemies at home and abroad. In exchange I have to refrain from slaughtering Her Majesty’s subjects?”
“In essence, yes. Though Her Majesty would prefer it if you prevented Angelus from committing any more atrocities in her Dominions,” the Official shook his head. “He is quite good at running away, considering the number of people over the years who've wanted him dead. But eventually he will be caught and I highly doubt that his demise will be either pleasant or short.”
“Why me?” William asked bluntly.
“Because you seem to retain a modicum of honour,” the Official mused. “A notion of the value of your given word. And love.”
“Love?” William asked hoarsely. “What?”
The Official leaned forward. “We know what happened with your mother, Mr. Pratt.”
William had to fight back the urge to lunge over the table and throttle the man. “And?” he managed to grate out.
“Painful though the experience might have been for you, it demonstrates that your mentality is not that of a typical vampire. Indeed, most of your kind would not merely have gotten drunk. They would have slaughtered as much of London as they could, before being caught and turned to dust. Maybe one day that will change. But until it does, your country, your Queen, need you,” the Official stroked his chin again.
William sat back and thought. *A special kind of vampire, eh? This man seems to think that's not a bad thing, but that is a human opinion.*
“Would I be paid? What would my standing be? And I assume that the Government would disavow any knowledge if I was caught?”
“In reverse order, that is usual in such cases, you would receive a commission in the Armed Forces when pursuing matters that deal with war and the defence of the Empire and possible diplomatic status at other times, and yes, but on a case by case basis, since the occasions will be very rare,” The Official replied. “There certainly won't be an annual stipend.”
“I'll do it,” William decided. “At the very least it will annoy Angelus when he finds out.”
The Official gave him a measuring and disdainful look. “That, I suppose, is the best that we can expect.” End note: Queen Victoria was a real person. I apologize is anyone is offended by my portrayal of her, however she’s been in so many stories and films I must admit I feel little guilt. Mr John Brown was her servant. This story will span over a great part of Spike’s existence and a number of crosses. The first two appear in this chapter. The Chronicles of Narnia were written by C.S. Lewis. I do not own them nor do I claim any rights to them. The Official was created by someone else too. I shall leave you to guess until the next chapter on who.