"You brought our daughter to that place?"

Rebecca Chagal threw a bulb of garlic at her husband. Fortunately, he ducked in time to miss it and Sarah watched as it flew over his head and shattered into cloves on the floor. Mama was always throwing things at Papa, it seemed, and he never was all that upset about it. Sarah did not know why Mama was so angry in the first place: the castle had been so wonderful. Was she upset she had not gone with them?

"Now, my flower-"

"Don't!" Rebecca yelped, tossing her arms in the air and trotting off to the kitchen. Yoine followed and so did Sarah, wondering what the whole fuss was about. In her arms she clutched the little bear the tall man had given her. It was so soft, Sarah had never felt anything so soft before.

Yoine called, "It was perfectly safe, my flower! I promise! Do you think I'd bring our Sarah into danger-"

"What is that?" Rebecca looked at Sarah's new toy. In a moment the bear was snatched from her grasp and before Sarah even realized it there were tears in her eyes. What was so wrong? What had been the problem? Why had they taken her bear? The bear had done nothing wrong. Sarah's hated when mama and papa fought and they fought all the time. "Do not cry!" She pointed to Sarah before tossing the bear onto a shelf too high for Sarah to reach.

"I thought he'd be more agreeable if the child was there-"

"-you used our daughter as a bartering chip-"

"-he was, mind you, he'll forgive the debt just as long as we-"

"-this is low, even for you, Yoine. She's just a girl! Barely six years-"

"-provide him with simple things. That's all, my flower." Yoine breathed deep breaths. "That's all."

Rebecca smacked his head again then stepped back at stared at him coldly. Sarah did not like to see mama so cold, but it seemed that's all she was of late. Cold. It had not been cold at the castle, Sarah realized. There had been a fire, a big one, and The Count had let her sit by it while papa and he talked. The Count had been so nice to her the whole time, so she could not understand why mama was so cross. Sarah knew many people were scared of The Count, but there was nothing to be afraid of at all. Perhaps he was a bit strange looking, but he had been nice. He was very tall. Maybe they were frightened of how tall he was.

Sarah wanted her bear back. She saw the soft thing sitting on the high shelf and wanted it back. Never had she had a bear so fine.

"You are an idiot, Yoine Chagal. What if he develops..." Mama's eyes travels to her daughter and away again. She spoke in that low voice parents used when they didn't want you to listen. Sarah always listened. "...develops an interest in her."

"She's but a child, my flower," Her papa laughed easily. "They don't take children."

"I'm talking about when she's older, Yoine!" Rebecca bellowed so loudly that the whole tavern was staring. "They can wait! Waiting ten years, twenty years, a hundred years is nothing to them!"

"You're being paranoid, my flower-"

"Gah!" Rebecca tossed up her arms and walked far away from her husband and daughter. Tears had been coming down Sarah's face for quite some time, but it seemed neither her mother nor her father cared much. Unable to speak for her crying, Sarah pointed at the bear and her father gave it back to her with an absentminded sigh. Knowing her parents were upset, Sarah elected to go up to bed on her own. Sarah had become very good at going to bed on her own.

Out from the tavern she went, sneaking up the stairs and hiding the bear from sight. Mama might try to take it again and Sarah would hate that so much. When she made it to her bedroom, Sarah shut the door and locked it, tossing her bear to her bed and changing into her pajamas. She looked out her window. No one was out on a night like this. The snow was especially bad, though the snow was always bad, and it made her cold just to look at it.

Sarah thought, for a moment, if she looked really hard she might be able to see the castle. The castle would be a magical place to live, Sarah decided, as she stared into the clouds of snow. At the castle, they would give her toys and smile at her and call her a little princess. That's what The Count had called her: a little princess. If she lived in the castle, would she become a princess? Sarah moved to her mirror, pretending her nightdress was a beautiful white ball gown. She twirled and twirled until she was so dizzy she fell to the floor.

The people at the castle had been a bit odd. They were so pale and their eyes were hard and strangely colored. Sarah thought she wouldn't mind it though if she got to be a princess. If she went to the castle, she'd be a princess and everyone would love and admire her.

There was a knock at the door: "Sarah?"

Mama, Sarah breathed, her eyes darting to the bear on her bed. Snatching it into her arms, Sarah tossed it beneath the bed and out of sight.

"Yes, Mama?" Sarah opened the door to find her mama looking just as flustered. More strange was the garland of garlic across her arms and the silver cross stuck in her fist. Their family did not even pray to crosses. "Mama?"

But Rebecca stormed in without explanation, hanging the garland over Sarah's door and placing the cross on the window sill. Sarah watched wide eyed and the whole thing filled her with horror though she did not even understand why. Why would mama do this? What had upset her so? There was always garlic in the tavern and mama said it was to keep everyone from becoming ill. Was Sarah becoming ill? She didn't feel sick at all. Suddenly her mama grabbed her by the shoulders, leaning and staring her in the eye.

"You take none of this down: you understand?"

Sarah nodded, tears swelling in her eyes that her mama ignored.

Rebecca continued, "You let no one into this room besides me and papa, understand?" Another nod. "Where is the bear, Sarah?"

She said nothing, her eyes wide in terror. Not the bear. Mama was going to take the bear away.

"I know you like it, Sarah," Rebecca's voice was softer now. "But you can't keep it, I'm sorry. The man who gave it to you is bad."

Bad? No, no mama was wrong. Mama had not met him. The man who gave the bear was so nice, mama just needed to meet him. Mama just needed to... Tears poured out of Sarah's eyes and her mother relented. A deep disdain for herself grew in Rebecca Chagal's chest. She had not meant to upset her daughter, yet it seemed all she did was upset her. Sarah did not know. Sarah was young and Rebecca did not want her to know. She did not want her daughter filled with fear like all other in the town were. Not Sarah. Not her sweet, little Sarah.

No doubt those monster saw how sweet she was too, whispered that panicked voice in her head. Remember what Alana told you. You cannot be too careful with Sarah.

"We'll buy you a new bear tomorrow, baby." Rebecca stroked her daughter's auburn hair. "I promise you, we will. I just need to know where you put the other one."

Sarah did not speak, but her eyes darted to her small bed. Rebecca turned, seeing the dark fur of the little thing and grabbing it from under the bed. It was truly a lovely toy: an expensive toy. Rebecca and Yoine would not be able to afford such a thing for their daughter. It's no matter, she cannot keep it. She cannot.

"Thank you, Sarah," her mother spoke softly. "I'll take good care of it, hmm? And tomorrow you'll get a brand new one."

Sarah's nodded and whimpered again. Rebecca told the girl goodnight and left her alone in the bedroom. She knew she heard crying as she left but could not afford to be weak. The words that had haunted her for days rung in her mind. He wants a new...mate, Alana had giggled drunkenly at the bar a few days ago. That's what one of the others told me. Alana Van Welter kept the company of one of the creatures from the castle. One of many women to do so, she was treated equal parts as a pariah and a god in the village. They were never invited to social events, but always there when you wanted news of the castle.

Should we tell all our young women to hide? Rebecca had mused as she cleaned off one of the tables. Yoine had been across the tavern, drinking and cleaning nothing in his usual way.

Alana laughed, Oh, they'll wait for whomever they desire. The Count wants a new Countess, he will not take this lightly.

Can he not just pick from the brood he already has? A brood that included some of Rebecca's friends. Friends she had not seen since they went to the castle.

He wants something new, no doubt, Alana hiccupped. Wouldn't you?

Couldn't say, Rebecca responded with a sly look to her husband. Whom does he desire, our Count?

Alana shrugged, Silvio does not know. Or at least he won't tell me. She was filled with giggles again. You've a little girl, don't you Rebecca? Maybe it's her!

If your dear Silvio loves you so much, why does he not make you like him, hmm? Rebecca had swatted. She looked at the cuts on the young girl's arms. The bite was poisonous, either infecting or killing, but these human lovers had found a way around it. They could feed their vampires if a cut was placed. Disgusting, the whole matter, but they did it nonetheless.

You've had enough, Rebecca took the drink from the young woman. No more talk of the castle.

In the present, Rebecca looked down at the animal in her hands. She was being paranoid, just as Yoine had said. It was a bear, not a promise of anything. But why give her a gift at all? The Count was not one for sentimentality. He was not one to give something without expecting anything in return. Yoine had said he'd promised nothing besides goods to the Count. Did you really think I'd barter our daughter away, my flower? Her husband had pleaded. Nothing was promised. Nothing at all! Sarah is safe!

But this bear. This present. This could not be good.

Giving one more glance to the animal, Rebecca stuffed it in the bin and left it behind.

That's a tad rude, thought The Count, who'd been watching all the while. Watching without being seen, as he usually did, and moving in the shadows without being heard. Rebecca Chagal left the kitchen with a huff, but Von Krolock picked the small animal from the bin and dusted the bit of paper that had stuck to it. It had been his son's, this toy, and Herbert had kept it for sentimental reasons all these years. It had been his idea to give it to the girl. There had been nothing meant by it. Not really. She had been sweet and terrified. They never had children come to the castle. A welcome change was this little girl with starry eyes.

This family was not very kind to this little girl, he had gathered. Krolock had observed her before with the innkeeper and his wife and saw her often ignored and left to herself. Why bother having a child if you do not care for it? He had thought as he watched her eat meals on her own. Krolock took the animal in hand and found the girl's room upstairs. A pungent odor caught his nose: garlic. An entire garland of it guarded the doorway. In the window was a cross and he stepped back in revulsion. So it seemed the mother had taken all precaution against him.

Little Sarah lay on her bed and he heard muffled cries coming from her. It shattered him a bit to hear it, her small face turned away from him. Yes, they were cruel to her here. He would never be so cruel to her. He had not meant anything by the present before, but now things felt quite different. He could take Sarah from this fate. He could take her from these ignorant parents and melancholy lifestyle. Not as a child, of course. Children of his kind were even more melancholy and depressed. He could wait, he was certain, and take her away when she was older.

Am I getting a little sister? Herbert had teased when Chagal and his daughter left the castle. Krolock had not spoken, and his son took that as an admission of vulgarity. Oh, a new mother?

Do shut up, Krolock had hissed, shutting the door with one last look at the little girl.

He did not know what all he felt. Pity: that was one of the emotions. Empathy. He too had been ignored as a child. He too was often left alone. Protectiveness: that one was the strangest. Krolock wanted to step forward and touch the girl's hair but knew such a thing would be ill-advised. Krolock reached around and set the bear back in her arms. In her half dreaming, Sarah clutched it to her and shut her eyes tightly. A new warmth spread over him at the picture.

Krolock left, leaving whatever feeling had sprung in him in that room in the tenant house.

"Hide the bear better this time, Sarah," he whispered before he left. She had not heard him, he was certain, but a part of him hoped she had.

Want: that was the other feeling. Not a lustful want or a greedy want but the want a child has for a bear. The want of something soft and precious and utterly his.

Rebecca Chagal sat in the tavern, watching as her husband drank and laughed and ignored all that was happening. Sarah Chagal laid in her bed and dreamed of ball gowns and castles. Count Von Krolock stalked back to his home, wondering why such a child had caught his interest.

No one slept well that night.