The Devil's Knell
by Cat MacLean
circa December 1996
"Carol! Carol!" Natalie had to shout to make herself heard over
the caucophony of "Jingle Bell Rock" blaring from the CD player
accompanied by Carol's less than on key contralto. Oblivious to Natalie
presence, Carol continued to rhythmically transfer the stack of reports
in her hands to the file drawers, along with the occasional bump and
grind in tempo with the music. She slammed the last drawer shut with a
swing of her hip, pivoted around on one foot, still singing at the top
of her quite generous lungs and spotted Natalie standing open-mouthed at
the open door.
"Hi, kiddo. Sorry, let me just turn this down a bit." Carol
swiped at the volume button on the tabletop system and Johnny Helms
receded into relative quiet. "I'm going to get in the Christmas spirit
if it kills me." Carol grinned at Natalie and waved her hands to draw
her attention to the decorations which had magically appeared since
Natalie had been at the latest crime scene.
""And me too, huh?" Natalie slowly turned in a circle, taking
in the sight of what had been, until recently, her lab. "Geez, Carol,
it looks like the North Pole blew up in here."
Natalie could have sworn that she'd been gone less than an hour.
Multi-colored, tinsel hung garlands were strung from every corner of the
room nearly obscurring the overhead lights, giant snowflakes were
shedding sparkles on the once sterile tiled floor and it looked as if
Carol had raided her childhood stuffed animal collection and brought
them all to the morgue. Large and small teddybears of every description
perched on and in every available nook and cranny in the room. Each
and every bear was dressed for the occasion, sporting a satin bow, a
hand knitted vest or hat, all in red or green, of course. Natalie
stopped counting stuffies when she got to thirty.
All of this paled in comparison to 'the tree'. "How in the
world did you get _that thing_ in here?" demanded Natalie, pointing
accusingly at the eight foot noble fir, surmounted by what looked to be
an antique blown glass angel, standing next to her desk. At least,
that's where her desk had been when she'd left. All Natalie could see
of it was a huge overstuffed reindeer sitting in her already overflowing
in-basket, wearing a huge red bow, a smile and eyelashes that would be
the envy of a certain religious personage's ex-wife.
"Isn't it great?" Carol beamed like a proud parent and lovingly
rearranged an errant piece of tinsel or two on the already laden tree.
"This is too much. It's got to go." Natalie shook her head and
took a firm tone.
"Nope. No way, not doing it." Carol just kept smiling and
tucking ornaments more securely on the drooping branches of the tree.
"I mean it, Carol." Natalie had on her stern 'I am the boss'
"Nope. I'm going to be in the spirit and so are you. If I have
to drag you there kicking and screaming." Carol deftly plucked
Natalie's purse and bag from her, steered her towards the desk chair and
gave her a small push. Natalie sat down warily, afraid she might sit on
one of Carol's furry friends and surveyed what used to be her domain.
She cast her eyes heavenward in exasperation. "Carol. What is _that_?"
There was a beribboned ball of greenery hanging ominously over her
"Misteltoe, as if you didn't know." Carol smirked and pursed
her lips together in an exagerrated kissing pose. Natalie just put her
head in her hands and groaned. "Here, have some of this; you'll be
singing along with me before you know it." Carol thrust a large
steaming mug into Natalie's hands. The fragrance of cinnamon spiced
cider rose up to her and she sniffed appreciatevly, then sipped
"Umm, this is good, Carebear." Natalie savored the feel of the
hot mug in her hand and the taste of the sweet cider on her tongue. "I
guess you can leave this stuff up, since it's already Christmas Eve."
Idly, Natalie ran her fingers over the plushy fur of the reindeer in
residence on her desk and flicked the tiny bell on the bow. She smiled
in spite of herself.
"Yep, it's already Christmas Eve." Carol sighed and then cast a
sideways glance at Natalie. "What are you doing tonight?"
"Yes, you are. You're coming to midnight mass with me."
"Oh, I am, am I?" Natalie peered at her over the rim of her
"Yep, I figure we can just go from here." Carol forestalled
Natalie's objections. "And, you look fine. So, that's all set." Carol
turned up the music again and smiled at Natalie, just daring her.
"All right, Carebear, you asked for it." The twice as loud, but still off
key rendition of "Jingle Bell Rock" echoed throughout the now
appropriately festive morgue.
Outside in the hallway, Nick stopped short, his hand on the door
handle. Was that Natalie singing? He recognized Carol's voice not only
from the tone, but more definitely from the sheer volume. He winced as
the duo rendered a particularly discordant passage, giggling all the
while. Quietly, he pushed the door open just a fraction. Natalie and
Carol were standing, arms around each other, toasting each other with
mugs of what smelled like spiced cider, evidently very much in the
Nick had to smile; he was glad that Carol had managed to cheer
Natalie up, even if it was just for a while. Christmas wasn't exactly
the most convenient time of year to be a vampire, or be involved with a
vampire. They had both been through so much in the past few months, he
was glad that Natalie could relax and let herself go with Carol.
Watching the two friends, Nick felt weighed down with centuries
of memories, Christmases past and friends lost, time passed, people came
and went, but he was still here. The memories were especially painful
this time of year, but, some things were worth remembering. He
remembered the blazing heat of the yule log as he stood warming his
hands, the look on his sister's face when she beheld the first snowfall
of the winter, the taste of heavy, spiced wine drunk with friends and
family in celebration of Christmas Eve.
Her fingers trembled she proferred the welcome cup of heated
wine to him. The heady scent of good wine and foreign spices rising
from the goblet was intoxicating, but not as alluring as the lady who
stood before him. She was an angel come to life, spun from his dreams.
"Sir Nicolas de Brabant, this is my only daughter, Annalee,
mistress of my house." The baronet stood, watching his only daughter
"My thanks, lady." Nicolas took the goblet from her hands,
brushing her delicate skin with the rough leather of his glove. "Thanks
to you for the welcome and the wine." He drank deeply, holding her gaze
with his deep blue eyes, smiling a slow, disconcerting smile. He placed
the goblet back into her shaking grasp and gently closed her fingers
around the bowl to keep it from clattering to the flagstones at their
As if suddenly aware that she had been staring at him in
a most disgraceful way, Annalee hurridly cast her eyes down demurely.
The lord of the manor clapped Nicolas heavily on his mailed shoulder.
"Pay no mind to my daughter, Sir. She is young and unused to the
worldly ways of men."
"Then it is the loss of men everywhere, my lord...my lady."
Annalee wasn't the most beautiful woman he had ever seen, but there was
an ethereal quality, a fragile tenderness about her; looking into her
clear, hazel eyes he could tell that she had a most beautiful soul. She
was real, not a mere figment of his imagination, this angel in womanly
form standing before him was as solid as the castle walls rising around
them. He appreciated her high cheekbones, a faint blush upon them, her
lush lips, ripe for kissing. The barest wisp of a chestnut curl escaped
endearingly from her maidenly coif and made him want to reach out and
wind the strand around his finger, binding him to her. But, he did; he had seen her
countless times in his dreams, both waking and sleeping, but had
despaired of her actual existence. He had looked for her in vain in
every woman he had met, and found them wanting.
Nick shook himself out of his reverie, eased the morgue door
shut and quietly made his way back the way he had come. The filtered
sounds of a rollicking chorus of "We Need a Little Christmas" drifted
out to him, the singers still off key, but no less sincere in the
The night was breathtakingly still, the traditional midnight
clear of Christmas Eve. The old church stood, a gothic monument of
stone paying man's tribute to God; many faithful hands had carved and
placed each stone along with their prayers.
He watched, a shadow among others, waiting for Carol and Natalie
to appear. He knew he would have no trouble discerning Natalie's
telltale heartbeat in the crowd, it was so dear to him, as she was.
Besides, Carol knew he would be there, waiting for them, for Natalie.
He held no parcel in his hand, but held a gift for Natalie in his heart.
"Nick? What are you doing here?" Nick stepped quietly into the
pool of light spilling from the church doors to greet Carol and Natalie.
Natalie was more than a little surprised to see him, trying not to
betray just how alarmed she was to see him so close to the church and
all the dangers it held for him.
"Waiting for you.". He smiled at them both but it was a special
warming smile for Natalie, a reassurance.
"See you later, kids." Before Natalie could turn around, Carol
was gone, slipping into the crowd moving into the church.
Natalie spun back to Nick, wonder and questions on her face.
"What's going on, Nick? What _are_ you doing here? I mean, isn't
it...?" Her voice trailed off selfconsciously; she didn't want to hurt
Nick by her thoughtless words.
Nick slipped her arm through his and smiled down at her. "Come
on, take a walk with me." So saying, he led her past the churchyard and
up a narrow walkway to the crest of a small hill.
Their breath frosted in the cold air as they climbed the
embankment, Natalie's heels slipping on the icy steps once or twice, but
each time Nick was there to steady her and hug her closer to him. As
they reached the summit, Natalie caught her breath at the spleandor laid
out before them. Multicolored lights sparkled like raindrops on the
city streets, she could see forever, the peace of the scene below
stilled and soothed her weary heart and brought a single tear to her
"It's beautiful, Nick. Thank you for bringing me up here." She
gazed up at him and blinked the moisture from her eyes.
"So are you, Nat. I just don't tell you often enough." Nick
leaned down and kissed her softly, a featherlight carress.
Surprised at Nick's sudden show of affection and not knowing
what to say or do, Natalie looked back at the church and then asked him
again, "What are you doing here? You didn't just come to show me the
view, did you?" Her tone was light, but she couldn't keep the emotion
from her eyes.
"Yes, as a matter of fact, I did, come to show you the view.
And to tell you a story." He pulled her back against him and wrapped
both arms around her, protecting her from the chill wind.
"A Christmas story?" Natalie settled into his embrace, resting
her head trustingly on his shoulder and folded her hands on top of his,
holding him to her.
"You might say that. Once upon a time..." Nick's breath
tickled her ear and ruffled a stray curl on her neck. She twitched and
"Stop that, it tickles."
Nick ignored her and continued, "As I was saying..."
"I know, long, long ago, in a land far, far away. Is that how
it goes?" Natalie chuckled over her shoulder at him.
Nick breathed in the scent of her and doggedly went on with his
story. "Yes, long, long ago, in a land far, far away, on a Christmas
Eve much like this one, a man met an angel."
"Uh, huh. An angel. A real angel, Nick?" Natalie twisted a
bit in his grasp to look him in the eye, daring him to go on. Nick was
more than up to the challenge.
"The man was a knight on his way to the Crusades and the angel
was the daughter of his friend. She was very beautiful..."
"Aren't all angels beautiful, Nick? I thought that went with the
"Shhh, Nat. Do you want to hear the story or not?" This time
Nick blew cold breath down the collar of her coat in earnest, making
Natalie jump with the sudden chills running down her spine.
"OK, OK, I'll shut up. Tell me the story, Nick." She sounded
repenitent but there was still the sparkle of mischief in her eyes.
"Her name was Annalee and before she sent the knight off to face
his destiny on the battlefield, she told him that they would meet again.
He had imagined an angel, in his dreams and looked for her everywhere,
but he never found her until that Christmas Eve, long, long ago."
Natalie closed her eyes and let herself be caught up in the tale
that Nick spun. Mesmerized and lulled by his soft and compelling voice,
she was vaguely aware of church bells ringing, solemnly, slowly from a
They stood silent, expectant, listening to the devil's knell.
Their breath mingled in the promise of love, frosted in the midnight air
and hung between them in frail wisps. They were strangers, yet bound by
a mystical power that neither understood. They only knew that each was
the mirror image of the other, the missing half of their soul, the love
they had sought in vain.
"Do you hear it?" The fair haired knight and the angel in his
arms gazed up at the sky, listening for the silvery peal of time being
"Aye, the bells ring out the years of Christ."
"And count the days of our lives."
"I fear I shall not have many more days. War is a hungry
master, my blood may be demanded of me on the field." The knight bowed
his head before his fate, as if he knew that no good would come to him
in his venture.
"And yet you go?" She questioned him, questioned his faith to
follow blindly on this, doubtless yet another bloody and foolish
"Willingly, lady. For the Church and my salvation. For the
message Christ brought us mortal souls, for the redemption of our
spirits." It was his destiny to go, to fight, to preserve the honor of
the Church, the honor of his soul.
"You will leave me, just when God has brought us together?"
Tears stood in her hazel eyes, witness to the grief in her heart, the
shattering of her hope.
"But, unwillingly, lady. I shall carry your memory with me to
the battlefields and beyond, through all my days until we shall meet
again." A righteous God would not bring him to the angel of his dreams,
the only woman he would ever truly love and then take her from him.
There would be a tomorrow. He had faith, he had been lessoned well in
"Take this." Annalee reached up to the jewel ornamented clasp
of her knight's cloak and tenderly tucked a tiny sprig of holly between
the folds. "They say that holly holds eternal life. Bear this for me,
in token of your promise to come back to me."
"No matter what life may hold, we shall be together, forever. I
swear it to you." Nicolas bent his head to hers and captured her lips
in a kiss of warmth, of promise.
The bells continued their tolling, ringing out their celebration
of the devil's departure from the earth, the silvery chiming shimmered
in the air around them as they clung to each other in the night.
"Do you know what that is, Nat?" Abruptly, Nick brought them
both back to the present, their uncertainty in each other, their
wavering hopes and dreams.
"The bells?" Natalie hurridly brushed the tears from her eyes.
The story Nick had woven so vividly, so sadly, tore at her heart. She
was well acquainted with tragedy, perhaps that was one reason that she
understood Nick so well, even when he didn't understand himself.
"It's called the Devil's Knell, Nat. At least that what they
called it in the old days. The bells will ring once for each year since
the birth of Christ. To chase the devil from this world, to keep evil
in it's place. Or, so I was taught, so I used to believe." He still
stood, holding her as if she was his rock, and he the stormtossed sailor
in a sea of confusion.
"You still believe, don't you, Nick? A little?" Natalie turned
to face him, and lightly caressed the marble of his cheek with her hand.
"I have to, Nat. I have to believe." His voice was full of
longing, of dreams of the past and future as yet unfulfilled.
"I do too, Nick. And you have to believe that even after all
that's happened this past year, I love you, just as I did the first time
I saw you. Remember?" Natalie smiled briefly in memory of the night
Nick had come into her life and taken ten years off her life from the
"The first time I looked into your eyes, Nat, I knew that I
loved you, that you were an angel. But, I've never felt truly worthy of
your love. But, I have hope now, Nat. Hope and faith that you've
restored to me." Nick folded her hand in his and kissed first her
forehead as a benediction and then her lips in passion.
"I'm hardly an angel, Nick." Natalie shook her head in denial.
"I'd almost lost my faith, too." She fought to keep the tears from
spilling down her cheeks. It had been so long that she had wanted,
needed to hear these words from Nick, for the walls to be broken down
and the honesty to come through.
"But, even when you doubted, Natalie, you had enough faith for
both of us. And love, and hope." He kissed her again, lingering,
savoring the taste of her, the warmth of her, basking in the love that
shone from her.
Finally, Nick set her away from him and took a deep breath. He
was close, so close to the end of his journey, to the fulfillment of his
quest. The spell of the moment broken, Natalie began to rummage in her
pocket for her handkerchief and her fingers instead encountered
something else. "Oh, I almost forgot that I had this. Carol had this
stuff all over the office and I put a little piece aside for you."
Natalie held the tiny sprig of greenery in her hand and then carefully
tucked the holly in the buttonhole of his overcoat.
Natalie's eyes met his, hazel gazed into blue, the years between
them vanished, the snowy air whirled around them, leaving them in a
cocoon of magic. A sudden sense of wonderment filled her, Natalie
gasped for breath, she felt filled with a light and the chiming of the
bells filled her mind.
"They did meet again, didn't they?" Her voice was the merest
whisper; she yearned desperately for his answer and yet she already knew
it, she felt it in her heart.
"Yes, they did. You're my angel, Natalie, didn't you know
that?" How many times had he wished for just this moment, an overlap in
time, in the past that would remind her of him in that long ago.
"It's not possible." She was stunned, unable to move, to
breathe, to grasp the enormity of what she felt and knew in her heart.
"Now, do you know why I never really stopped believing? Why I
trust in your faith in me, our hope for a future? You asked my why I
came here tonight, Nat. Isn't this where you come to pray for miracles?
I prayed that you would remember, remember me, remember that Christmas
"I do, Nick, but I can't." Natalie closed her eyes for a moment
and then looked up at the midnight sky. She abandoned all her maybes
and couldn't-bes and gave herself up the the mystery of the season.
"But, I do, Nick. And you kept your promise; you came back to me."
Natalie was heedless of the crystal tears coursing down her cheeks as
Nick swept her up in his fervent embrace, holding her as if he would
never let her go; his promise was indeed truly kept and never would the
knight and his angel be parted again, come the ends of the earth.
A miracle had taken place tonight; the miracle that faith and
hope and love, eternal and everlasting will not be denied, cannot be
lost in the waves of time and will ever endure to those who truly