The soulful baying made Niles Gule wince. Because the vampire’s hearing was more sensitive than a human’s, the foxhounds’ din rattled his brain but he didn’t mind. Nor did he mind the cold snap in the air or the pale sun that bled faintly pink through a cloudy sky. As a vampire, he should have been asleep during daylight, but he’d risen early. He wasn’t going to miss this opportunity.
A foxhunt on a cloudy day.
Niles suspected his co-workers in the Baltimore PD would be shocked to know he engaged in foxhunts. It wasn’t a hobby he admitted he enjoyed. He didn’t need any more ridicule from officers who already thought him effete as it was. Nor did he desire to explain why he hunted even through his physical pain. Contrary to popular opinion, vampires didn’t vaporize when exposed to daylight. They merely burned. Their skin had not evolved protective pigments so any exposure to sunlight resulted in extensive radiation burns. To survive, Niles wore wrap-around sunglasses to protect his brilliant blue eyes and slathered his pallid face with several coats of sunblock. Fortunately, traditional foxhunting attire covered the entire body, so he didn’t need to worry about burning his arms and legs. Even his short, blond hair was covered with the black velvet riding helmet that was required for the hunt.
That afternoon, Niles had joined Iron Bridge Hounds for a day in the countryside. He’d learned to hunt as a young vampire in New England in the 1870’s. Although the sport had faded from its former glory, it continued to survive in Maryland, much to the vampire’s delight. The state hosted seven hunts and land owners willing to allow horsemen on their property.
Niles rode a boney dun horse named Marvel who was anything but. The gelding had an attitude he aimed at other horses and his rider. His mouth of steel allowed him to ignore the bit. Niles loved the nasty tempered beast. His sour attitude seemed fitting for the cold and wet of winter. At that moment, his ears were pinned and he flashed his teeth at a mare that moved too close. Marvel’s expression was all vampire. Teeth and rage. Niles patted him fondly.
A pack of black, white and tan foxhounds milled, eager for the afternoon to start. An elderly gentleman in tweed kept the pack under control while the group waited for the Master of Hounds to arrive. Twenty other riders sat aboard their horses sipping coffee to keep warm. Being a vampire, Niles didn’t notice the cold.
Bethany Montgomery ranged alongside. She was a rapacious forty-something divorcee desirous of marrying again. Preferably someone tall, rich and handsome. Someone, she seemed to think, like Niles.
“Niles!” Her flaming red mouth wore a brilliant smile. “It’s wonderful to see you.” She gave him a reproachful look. “You really should join us more often. You know what they say about all work and no play.”
Bethany didn’t know Niles was a vampire who could only ride on cloudy days. He used his work as an excuse. “Duty calls, Lady Montgomery. The criminals of Baltimore never sleep.”
She tittered at the word lady. Niles used it deliberately.
She laid her hand on his arm. “I’ve having a luncheon tomorrow. I would be ecstatic if you could come.”
Niles placed a gloved hand atop of hers, hinting at an intimacy he didn’t feel. “Unfortunately, I’m working tonight. Tomorrow I’ll be sleeping.”
“You don’t have to sleep alone,” she offered. “I could cancel my luncheon.”
Niles allowed a roguish gleam to flicker in his blue eyes as he shook his head. “Alas, I think not.”
Niles looked around. “What are we waiting for? Where’s Milton?”
She gestured. “Helping some new fellow. Just joined. Big dollars and all that.”
Niles lifted a brow. “I’m surprised you aren’t welcoming him to the fold. Is he single?”
Bethany’s look turned wicked. “Now, Niles! Are you becoming jealous?” When he didn’t answer, she gestured with her crop. “There they are.”
A pair of riders approached. Niles recognized Milton, the Master of Hounds. With a stab of shock, he also recognized the second man. Malcolm Deschamps. The tall, thin man was dating Niles’ partner on the Baltimore PD, Mariella Cruz. The two men had developed an immediate dislike for each other. They were too much alike and a woman each desired stood between them. Stags in the forest understood the emotions the two men felt.
Malcolm recognized Niles immediately. His ebony eyes ran down Niles’ form, seeking a flaw in the vampire’s appearance. There was none. Not a scuff on a well shined boot. Not a hair out of place. Just as the same could be said for Malcolm.
“My word, the two of you look alike!” Bethany gushed.
Two sets of eyes, one black as night, one blue as a summer’s day, stared at her.
“I meant your general form,” she recovered, gesturing to both men’s long, slender bodies. “In hunt attire, you look quite the thing.”
Ignoring Niles beyond a vague nod of his head, Malcolm rode to the front of the group. The Master of Hounds gestured, the huntsman blew his horn and the hounds took off, baying with delight. In a mass they broiled across the countryside, sniffing for prey and howling at scents.
Niles felt no need to curry favor near the front of the pack. He settled towards the back to enjoy Marvel’s rolling canter and the wintery landscape scrolling by. The hounds scrambled beneath a fence. Marvel launched himself over it. Niles flexed and landed cleanly. They cantered on.
As the group swept through a pinewood, Malcolm pulled his mare alongside Marvel. The man glanced at Niles with a wicked gleam in his eye. Then he reined hard, plowing his horse into Marvel. The big roan stumbled. As he dropped to a knee, Niles flew over his head and landed in the trees. Malcolm reined in and feigned concern.
Brushing himself off, Niles tramped after Marvel who’d stopped as soon as he lost his rider. He wasn’t going to expend one ounce of extra effort if he didn’t need to. Niles was grateful. He didn’t have to chase the beast.
“Bad luck, eh what?” Malcolm commented, affecting an English accent. He kept his face bland.
“Not as bad as yours,” Niles replied as he remounted.
Niles sidled Marvel alongside Malcolm’s mare. The female flicked her ears back, not liking the dun. He didn’t like her much either. He pinned his ears and bared his teeth. As the mare tried to dance away, Marvel lanced out with his teeth. He landed a solid bite to her flank. She whinnied then bucked. Malcolm tried to hold on, but Marvel went after him next, grabbing him by the breeches. Niles heard a tremendous rip then Malcolm went flying with a giant hole in his backside.
Niles allowed Marvel to finish off the mare with another bite. That sent her fleeing for her life, reins and stirrups flapping. Then he settled Marvel and smiled politely down at a huffing Malcolm.
“Bad luck, eh what?” Niles asked.
Malcolm glared at him.
“I’d offer you a ride, but I’m sure you’d refuse to ride pillion,” Niles commented. “So I’ll wish you an enjoyable walk home.” He turned Marvel in the direction the others had taken.
“And just so we’re clear,” he added over his shoulder to his fuming enemy. “Stay away from anything I claim as mine.”
His blue eyes hardened with warning.
© 2016 Newmin
Niles comments: Fox hunting is alive and well in Maryland. No foxes are killed any longer. Instead members can engage in a 200 year old tradition outside in the fresh air, enjoying camaraderie and excitement. Howard County Iron Bridge Hounds offer a number of events for the equestrian including cross country hunts, team challenges and fund raisers for charity. Check out their website and if you live in Maryland, join the fun.