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Thursday, June 4, 2015

“Bite-Me-Not or, Fleur de Fur” by Tanith Lee

First appeared in Shawna McCarthy's Asimov’s. Reprinted in some major genre retrospectives by Alan Ryan, Leonard Wolf, Martin H. Greenberg, Stefan R. Dziemianowicz, Robert Weinberg, Tom Shippey, and Otto Penzler.

Inside a magic-fortified, erased-of-the-color-red castle, the inhabitants huddle away from the flying vampire beasts that will drink the blood of any being. Here, the Duke accepts Rohise, a scullery maid, as his own daughter since she is uncannily like her. Empathetic, Rohise has dreamed has dreamed of such a moment to help the Duke. Her empathy knows no bounds.

Meanwhile, a vampire beast, Feroluce breaks through a chance-cracked window. He is able to slip through, maiming his own wing. He spots the Duke's lion and drinks its blood, even as it maims his wing further that he has to sleep off the injury... and finds himself caged upon waking.

Rohise hears Feroluce's silver voice, enchanted. The Duke plans to sacrifice the beast to feed the Fleur de Fur, a vampire repellent.

Rohise frees Feroluce, which thinks of Rohise as its pet. It can drink of Rohise's blood. It cannot understand her love but only her passion.

The story opens:
"In the tradition of young girls and windows, the young girl looks out of this one. It is difficult to see anything. The panes of the window are heavily leaded and secured by a lattice of iron."
This suggests a primer for young women, who look out on the world, wondering about what's outside, but the view is obscured. Safe yet also trapped and uneducated. The primer teaches on men: fathers and lovers. Her father stumbles upon her, gradually comes to love her, if by accident. He despises the beast that Rohise comes to love fiercely. Her love frees the wild beast who cannot love her as she loves. But the beast, too, comes to a kind of love, if unlike her own.

Lee describes of Feroluce and his tribe:
"He is the Prince of a proud and savage people. The pride they acknowledge, perhaps they do not consider themselves to be savages, or at least believe that savagery is the proper order of things."

On the one hand, it may appear reductive to have only two types; on the other, it is a short story, not a doctoral dissertation. Moreover, this may be how men appear from the outside. The story shows as well an admirable acceptance of things or attitudes foreign to herself, which is becoming rare.

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