Gravesby Manor had seen it all. Civil War, visits from royalty and members of the aristocracy and many a great change to the lives of its various owners since the day it was built hundreds of years ago.
'The Manor' , as it was affectionately known by the inhabitants of the nearby village of Gravesby-By-The-Water, had stood in the same spot though throughout all the upheaval time had thrown its way.
The grand old house nestling faultlessly into the surrounding downland with a permanence thoroughly deserving a property of such grandeur. Its magnificent tree-lined drive adding to a sense of opulence that was almost tangible.
It was high on the list of 'must see' places for visitors to the area and indeed the manor was usually open every weekend throughout the Summer for such a reason. And its owners did very well out of this popularity.
But now the wind of change had blown once again to bring about the onset of a new chapter for Gravesby Manor.
The previous owner, the businessman Miles Phillipson, had recently passed away after losing his long battle with cancer.
Phillipson, who had tended to be away in London or Glasgow more often than not throughout the week when he was a healthier man, had lived in the manor these past 10 years, along with his wife Amanda.
And they had appeared to be very happy there.
Amanda Phillipson was a keen organiser, as well as writing features and assorted articles for a well-known women's magazine, and was often involved in village matters. Fetes, charity dinners and such like.
When it came, the death of Miles Phillipson was not totally unexpected, due to him being more or less a permanent resident at Gravesby Manor in recent months because of his illness.
But what happened next sent shockwaves around the village.
'Amanda Phillipson would never sell the manor?' cried the villagers in unison.
And they had all been wrong. So very wrong!
Amanda had long-since decided to up sticks and return to her heartland of London 'if' and, what had grown ever more likely, 'when' her husband finally succumbed to that awful disease and had wasted no time at all liquidating his estate, and disposing of the manor was just a part of the whole process.
But before the 'For Sale' signs had been erected...before the half-page advert in those glossy magazines had reached the 'To Do' stage...Gravesby Manor was sold!
'Snapped up by a foreign businessman and his wife apparently' said one local with more than a touch of envy in their voice.
The deal had gone through quickly. Very quickly indeed!
And not only had the asking price been met...but the new owners had also proffered a bonus of £250,000, such was their determination to secure the property.
The days came and went though. Even the weeks came and went. But nothing. Not even the merest glimpse of the new owners.
Sure, the removal vans had been spied by those in the village that had the time on their hands for such things. But they'd belonged to Amanda Phillipson, who had done her part by moving out lock, stock and barrel one day to leave the old place as empty as the day it was completed, all those years ago.
'Why had no-one moved into Gravesby Manor yet?' everyone cried.
Jacqueline had actually taken residence in some style however, but not one villager saw her rather grandiose entrance, via the rooftops of some of the less grand houses on the outskirts of sleepy Gravesby-By-The-Water.
She'd soared majestically, high above the old manor house, taken full stock of her handsome new abode, and promptly flown in through an open window at the very top of the main wing. She'd insisted, through her solicitor of course, that the window in question be left fully open at all times...'for ventilation purposes'!
Jacqueline had longed for this moment. For centuries in fact. And soon she would be free...free to live, if that was the appropriate word, for all eternity with the love of her life. Away from enemies, old and new.
Her last journey (final journey?) had seen her fly through time and space from 18th Century Paris into a future, or past if absolutely necessary, full of renewed hope and expectation.
Friedrich would be here soon too, she mused.
'Dear, sweet Freddy' she said out loud, whether or not she had intended to.
Freddy's arrival at Gravesby Manor was going to be a much more complicated affair all together.
Their solicitor, Mr Smyth, was on hand for matters such as this but there was only so much a mere mortal could do after all!, thought Jacqueline.
The morning after Jacqueline arrived, at 11-15 AM to be precise, a well-built, dark-haired man in his 50's clambered out of his car, a red Nissan Juke, and knocked hesitantly on the large front door of the manor.
Jacqueline didn't hear him...why would she? She was otherwise engaged shall we say!
Moments later another car, an old blue Triumph, also pulled up outside the manor. This time two women got out and made their way over to the first man.
'Mr Smyth?' said one of the women, emphasising the 'y' sound in his surname and offering her hand.
'Indeed yes!...Adam Smyth (clearly pronouncing it the same way as plain old Smith!)...and you are the Dawkins sisters, have I got that right?'
'Yes! I'm Brenda and this is my sister Emily'
'You have a key I assume?' said Brenda
'I do indeed' said Smyth
'I knocked...but there doesn't seem to be anyone in' added Smyth with a look of exaggerated puzzlement on his face.
'To be expected really sir' said Emily knowingly
'Shall we all go in?' said Smyth, pointing to the front door and making a door-opening gesture with the keys.
Inside Gravesby Manor all was quiet. There were no paintings by old masters (or anyone else for that matter) on the walls and all the rooms, on first sight, appeared to be totally devoid of furniture.
Fortunately the manor hadn't been neglected for too long and so the electric light in the large hall immediately illuminated the scene at the throw of a switch just like anywhere else.
There was something stirring in the grand old place though...Emily felt it almost instantly but chose not to say anything, in case it caused upset to Mr Smyth!
Brenda, and in particular Emily, were psychics...that was without question.
They had proved their abilities on many occasions, whether by providing the police with information from otherworldly sources to help their investigations or giving comfort to individuals via messages from the afterlife.
They had never married and lived together in a little cottage in the South West corner of England.
But despite being cut off from the hubbub of modern life, the sisters had no phone or other such gadgetry in their house or in their personal possession, they were easy to contact...if you knew how!
Jacqueline knew exactly how but chose to use the reliable Mr Smyth on this occasion...though the information she passed on to the sisters via the unquestioning solicitor (The Smyth's had been family 'friends' for years...many years actually!) made it impossible for Brenda and Emily Dawkins to ignore her request.
Poor Freddy didn't know where he was!
One minute he'd been walking down the Champs-Elysees, as was increasingly the fashion these days, deeply engaged in conversation with his beloved Jacqueline, when the next minute she'd suddenly taken flight and by the time he'd fully remanifested in a nearby park, where he thought she might have flown for cover, he was somewhere else completely...somewhere dark...somewhere very dark. Where there were no lights, man-made or celestial. A place where there was no light at all!
Freddy's full name was Friedrich Von Osterlicht. He was loosely related to the Prussian aristocracy!
He had lived the last years of his life quite quietly, and happily enough, reminiscing about the past in his ancestral home in virtual seclusion, high up in the mountains, where snow lay around and about for most of the year.
Upon his death, at the tragically tender age of just 39, 'the castle' (as it was known locally) passed down to a distant male cousin of Freddy's and he and his young family, a wife and two small children (both boys) had set up home there.
But their lives had been shattered one cruel night by a devastating and frenzied attack by the chapter of vampires to which Jacqueline had belonged.
While others in her group had callously slaughtered all before them, including all the servants, and had joyously drunk the blood of young and old with equal relish, Jacqueline had stopped short of joining in the mayhem.
The moment she entered the castle, she had sensed something, something none of the others could sense.
For Jacqueline possessed special abilities, far beyond those of any ordinary female vampire.
She picked up on Freddy's lingering ghost in less than the blink of an eagle's eye and straight away felt a strange connection with the sad phantom who still dwelt within the castle walls.
Freddy had never found, or been close to finding, love.
That special girl, or woman for that matter, had never entered his life.
People had tried...of course they had...to fix Freddy up with this Baron's daughter here or this widowed heiress there...but true love had remained an alien sensitivity.
Freddy was happy enough however and despite falling terminally ill, he'd gone to his grave a fairly contented man, grateful that money had never been a problem for him and that he'd had the privilege to reside in such a splendid dwelling...in such splendid surroundings.
His spirit was obviously not so content though and Freddy hadn't yet passed over into the 'other place', as he'd always thought he would when he was alive. His restless soul had chosen instead to wander the large rooms and cavernous grounds of the castle...searching for eternity if needs be...searching for something...something that had eluded him in life.
Jacqueline proved to be the answer to Freddy's quest for love...a quest that had continued, almost unknowingly, beyond the grave.
From the shadows, he was at once captivated by the beautiful vision in front of him, this half-woman/half-beast who took no pleasure from the vile behaviour of her cohorts and refused to drink the blood of the slain, despite her pallid appearance suggesting she was in desperate need of sustenance.
She was truly a sight to behold, thought a totally enraptured Freddy, her raven-black, long hair perfectly framed her angular face...and her amber eyes seemed almost jewel-like to an utterly besotted Freddy.
Jacqueline caught Freddy watching her though. Her senses were razor-sharp and detecting spirit activity was an ordinary occurrence for her.
Unlike the other members of her chapter, who were all pretty bog-standard vampires (three males and two other females), Jacqueline was blessed with attributes none of her kind possessed.
She had been 'turned' in her homeland of Canada but she was special before that...so very special!
Her Mother, Jessica, had practised dark witchcraft from a young age, as had her mother before her and several generations of female relatives prior to that.
But Jacqueline was the finest practitioner of them all, her talent far outweighing that of any other family member before her.
Toronto city, however, was the scene of another vampire 'strike'. And Julius had taken great pleasure 'turning' Jacqueline.
He was the one who spotted her leaving that little bar downtown where she worked for a few evenings a week, trying hard to maintain a 'normal' life and resisting the temptation to fully embrace the darker side, as others in her fold had to their cost.
He was the one who had summoned his superhuman strength to overpower her that dark, dark night.
And he was the one who had sunk his teeth into her pale, white neck and drunk her delicious blood!
At first, Jacqueline had taken to life in the chapter just like any other convert to the magical world of vampirism.
She had learned to fly long and hard into the inky night sky as well, if not better, than those around her. And, Julius thought, she'd adapted to the ways of a vampire wholeheartedly too, taking full part in all the necessary 'strikes'.
So it was a shocked Julius who watched on in horror as Jacqueline took flight, with Freddy's fearful ghost in tow, that night at the castle.
Jacqueline and Freddy had escaped!
Jacqueline from the clutches of the chapter and Freddy from his endless search for love.
By dint of Jacqueline's witchcraft, finally deciding the time was right to put her powers to good use, they had ended up in France.
Paris to be precise.
Freddy was understandably somewhat confused to have suddenly found himself in the French capital...and according to a newspaper he'd read over the shoulder of a patron of one of the many kerb-side cafe's, it was the late 1700's!
He wasn't even born yet...not for many, many years...but somehow here he was, or at least his ghost was!
And he was accompanied by the divine Jacqueline Dupont, the woman he'd fallen head over heels in love with, who was a vampire!
Surely they were safe here, thought Freddy. But Jacqueline had told him that ordinary vampires too could time travel. They would have to be on their guard at all times. Julius and the others would come for them one day. That was their way!
And everything was wonderful...for a while.
Freddy and Jacqueline's mutual love deepened to a level no human could ever dare to imagine and life as honorary Parisiens suited them just fine.
There were some obvious drawbacks. Freddy and Jacqueline could never stroll along the banks of The River Seine, for example, in daylight together like so many other romantically-involved couples.
But by some magic or other, Freddy could at least 'feel' the warmth of the sunshine on his solitary excursions around the city and little things like that made him forget that he was dead...long dead...years ahead in the future!
For Jacqueline the major adjustment had been the drinking of animal blood instead of human.
Away from the pressures of the chapter, she had no desire to kill or 'turn' anyone. She bore no human any malice and thought there were already enough vampires in the world without creating any more!
But eventually Julius and the other four remaining members of the old chapter tracked Jacqueline and Freddy down.
They'd pursued their quarry using the one method they had at their disposal that Jacqueline and Freddy didn't.
They had friends...very powerful friends...and many of them.
Many witches had been slain, many of them tortured first and many spells had been given up to the vampires.
Hunting down Jacqueline and Freddy after that had been easy!
But Jacqueline's magic was strong...very strong and, in a flash, she'd been able to transport herself forward in time...many years forward...to 21st Century England.
The spell she used had included Freddy as well, of course, but Julius had hexed poor Freddy, using magic stolen from the witches ('Wasn't that the best kind!' thought Julius to himself), before she could respond.
Freddy was sure he would manifest in the park they'd agreed to use as a rendezvous in the event of an emergency such as this one. But although the co-ordinates had been correct he was somewhere else entirely.
Emily Dawkins sat at the head of a long, oak table. To her immediate right was her sister, Brenda, while to her direct left was the inestimable Adam Smyth.
On the table was a single candle, the only illumination in the room, flickering slightly this way and that in a gentle breeze that had begun to blow across this most unlikely trinity the moment Emily had mentioned Freddy's name.
Emily knew where Freddy was...even if he didn't have the slightest clue.
He was trapped inside a spell, inside a spell, inside a multitude of other spells.
But Jacqueline's encyclopaedic knowledge of both dark and light magic meant Emily's psychic skills, aided as always by her sister Brenda's own particular talents, had a better than even chance of rescuing poor Freddy's spirit from the dark dungeon in which he was currently held within.
Via Mr Smyth, Jacqueline (who was presently resting upstairs in her custom-made coffin, though still psychically alert) had passed on ancient tools of the trade to the sisters Dawkins.
Armed with these, Emily had soon located the whereabouts of Freddy's soul and now she was uttering ancient words of her own, passed down by generations of Dawkins, to call back Freddy to those who loved and cared deeply about him.
The candlelight was suddenly snuffed out by a violent gust of wind...the room was thrown into a darkness that was darker...much darker than it should have been.
Then all three of them saw a spluttering outline start to form, out of nothing, and then the features of a man became more discernible.
A fine-looking man too, with the most magnificent pale blue/light green eyes and...the bearing of a nobleman.
Freddy was back!
Freddy was safe!
Freddy had arrived at Gravesby Manor!
Later that day, when the last beams of sunlight had fallen on the village of Gravesby-By-The-Water, there was a reunion like no other.
Jacqueline had rocketed out of the upstairs window at the first opportunity available to her.
She'd been aware that her beloved Freddy was back...back from God knows where, as soon as the Dawkins sisters rescue mission was successfully completed.
And she'd been buzzing with a kind of electric charge ever since...even though she'd had to stay within the confines of her coffin.
But now she was free and she climbed up higher than she'd ever flown before, up above her and Freddy's new home, feeling as if she could float forever up here...and she probably could have!
However, on spying the instantly recognisable apparition of her dear, dear Freddy, walking nonchalantly, as only he did, along the fabulous tree-lined drive of Gravesby Manor, her heart (her dead heart!) virtually exploded and she had to make an urgent, and rather ungraceful, landing only a few metres away from the object of her desire.
It was going to be interesting, to say the least, making the manor work for them both. But for now, at least, they were free to try and forge a life together.
The Dawkins sisters had placed a 'ring of protection' around the manor and its environs...and all Jacqueline and Freddy could do was hope that it would stay in place long enough...these things were known to hold fast for several hundred years after all.
But, such was the tenacity and durability of the vampire, Jacqueline and Freddy knew deep down that they would remain under threat forever!
Everyone agreed that Friedrich 'Freddy' Von Osterlicht and Jacqueline Dupont were an absolutely charming couple, worthy new occupants of Gravesby Manor.
True, Freddy had needed to politely decline the request for Jacqueline and him to open this year's Village Fete and he had also apologised for his somewhat pale complexion ('Nothing a holiday abroad wouldn't put right' said one of the villagers, completely unaware that Freddy's spirit was due a period of long regeneration...and only Jacqueline knew how to carry out that particular task!).
But he'd gleefully accepted the duo's invitation to a Midsummer Masked Ball, which was to be held after sundown in the grounds of neighbouring Astbury Hall...oh yes! he and Jacqueline were quite looking forward to that!