The castle of little Princess Clo’s father was said to be impregnable by men. So when she awoke one night to find someone on her balcony, she knew it could be no man.
“Who are you?” she asked the shadowy blot.
“I am hungry,” the shadow said in a hissing, raspy voice. “Tonight I am craving princess blood.”
Clo remembered a trick her mother taught her in the event that she ever came face to face with a monster. “I’d gladly be your meal, but I’m much too small and there’s hardly any blood inside me.”
The monster smiled. “When I was a little girl, I used that trick on an ogre. So you know what he did? He changed into a lion, much smaller. Then I told him I was still too small to make his meal, so he became a wolf. And when I told him I was still too small, he became a rat. Then I broke his neck.” The blot chuckled and stood, revealing itself to be a beautiful young woman with the palest skin Clo had ever seen. “You have amused me, princess. Allow me to wait in your bedroom while you bring me something else to eat that pleases me, and I won’t bother with your small body’s worth of blood.”
The princess told the woman to sit on her bed and then she ran to the kitchen. There she found the butcher’s cleaver, hacked into one of his pigs, and poured a bowl of blood for the strange visitor.
“Pig’s blood?” the woman hissed, tossing the bowl over the balcony. “Is this how royalty treats guests? Don’t you have anyone expendable in the entire castle? Or am I to believe that the dear little princess sits at the bottom of palace society? There must be someone of low class.”
The princess ran off again. She first tried thinking of someone she didn’t like in the castle, but Clo was so kind-hearted that she hated not a soul. So she followed the pale visitor’s guidance and thought of the person of lowest class in the castle. She couldn’t think of anyone with less class than Duke Vastly, who became miserably drunk most evenings, even at the king’s banquets, and made more a fool of himself than her father’s fool in motley.
He was still awake, still drinking when she found him in the guest hall, but even so red-faced, the duke couldn’t refuse a visit to royal chambers. The princess led him up to her room and he stumbled and sang all the way. He never realized the monster was on him, not even when she ripped open his throat and drank his blood.
“That was wonderful,” the woman said, tossing the duke over the balcony. “Nothing tastes quite like a rich man. I look forward to seeing who you feed me next week.”
“Next week?” Clo squeaked.
“You can’t think I would only eat tonight and never go hungry again.” The woman climbed onto the ceiling of the princess’s bedroom and slid into the shadows between the cracks in the stone. “I can hide in any shadows, girl. The shadows of the woods, the shadows of bodies, even the shadows of men’s hearts—so though you won’t see me, don’t forget I’m here.”
The princess sat on her bed, awake, perhaps watched, certainly uncertain what to do. She couldn’t do this again. Someone would eventually notice the bowls and bodies plummeting from her balcony. Her mother’s advice had saved her for tonight, so the next day she went looking for a little more.
“Mother,” she said to the queen. “If you do trick a monster into not eating you because you’re so small, and it believes you, and then wants you to fetch it other food instead, what should you do?”
“I would try fetching some kind of animal,” the queen said.
“What if she doesn’t like animals?”
“She? Are you this monster who won’t eat her meat?”
“She doesn’t want animals. She wants other things.”
The queen laughed. “You’re a silly girl. If there’s something you want, talk to your father. He’s the king. That means he can get anything.”
Princess Clo ran to her father. She had to wait until he finished with court and as she waited, she watched. The dukes and nobles made proposals about laws and birthrights, and the king usually granted them what they wanted or sided with the ones who had bigger laws and better birthrights. The peasants made requests using fairness and hearsay to support their claims, and the king didn’t grant many of these. Clo thought of how to ask her father for what she needed in a way he would like, a way steeped in law and order.
“You poor girl of mine, having to wait so long,” the king said when he finally had time for Clo. “What is it you needed? A new house? Perhaps a sweet cake?”
“Actually, it’s about court,” Clo said. “We need a new tax to make sure everyone remains loyal. A little from everyone should do it, not enough to miss, and it’d show they were yours.”
“And you think a few more pennies will show this?”
“Not pennies. Blood. I propose a blood tax.”
The king laughed. “And what will we do with this blood?”
“Give it to me. I’ll put it on my balcony and let the sun drink it up, an offering to the heavens.”
The king thought about this and liked it a great deal. The next day, he declared that the tax collectors would take a couple drops from all the king’s subjects, from nobleman to nobody. Over the course of the week, several bowls’ worth were collected and placed on the princess’s balcony.
At the end of the week, Clo’s pale visitor descended from the ceiling. “Where is my meal?” the woman asked. “Who have you brought me? Another rich man, I hope.”
“Some,” the princess said.
“Some? You brought me more than one?”
“In a way.”
The vampire snarled. “Out with it, child. Where’s my meal?”
“In those bowls,” Clo said, pointing at the balcony. “I couldn’t keep bringing full-grown men, but a few drops from everyone should do and give a variety of flavors.”
The strange woman expected a trick of some kind and slipped cautiously to the bowls. They were brimming with blood, as promised. She lapped it up, bowl by bowl, until all was gone and she’d had her fill.
“You could have put holy water in there and burned off my tongue and jaw,” the stranger said. “You could have fed these people garlic or wolfsbane.”
“I didn’t want to hurt you,” Clo said. “But I didn’t want to hurt anyone else. There will be more bowls next week, if you’re still hungry.”
“I will be.” The creature stared inquisitively at the princess, and then sank into the shadows of the ceiling once more.
On this went, week after week. The king’s tax men collected the blood tax along with their usual coins and the bowls of tax were fed to the vampire. Farmers swore their crops grew better now that they gave blood to the sun and noblemen said the kingdom had grown more prosperous, but it was only their confidence that improved their lot. The sun never touched a drop of the stuff. The kingdom grew more powerful, and the rulers of other nations feared to upset the king who dared take his own people’s blood.
In the castle, things changed too, for many, many weeks passed, enough to make years. As with most princesses who aren’t first kidnapped by dragons or cursed by witches, Clo grew up. It came time for her parents to match her with a prince.
Having no son, it wasn’t in their interest to give Clo away to the would-be king of a far off land, and she was too dear to lose. Instead they chose a third son of a far off king, one who would never inherit his father’s throne, but instead the throne of his father-in-law. He arrived without much in the way of gold or guards, but he was handsome, pleasant, and all the other things the people wanted in a prince, and they threw a great celebration for the engagement.
Princess Clo was married to Prince Aude that very day. The king led his daughter to the altar and gave a grand speech. All would have been well for a time, except he ended the speech in an odd way.
“And may both be blessed under the sun, and may it continue to drink our blood to give that blessing!”
The people cheered. The prince gaped in horror and confusion. There was no time for questions or answers though. He said his vows, the princess said hers, and he couldn’t say a word about blood until the banquet.
“Let me understand,” he said. “Being from a far off land, your customs aren’t all known to me. You give your blood to the sun?”
“Absolutely,” the king said. “It was my daughter’s idea, years ago. The people give drops of their blood to show loyalty to me, and we in turn give it to the sun so our kingdom will prosper. You’ll give some when the next round of the blood tax is due.”
The prince had no intention of doing that. He thought on this while dining and dancing. He thought so deeply and without pause that everyone believed he was mesmerized by his pretty wife. Clo was so moved that she didn’t say a word, and neither bride nor groom spoke at all until they were on their way to the room of their wedding night.
“No, this won’t do,” the prince said to himself while his wife tittered and laughed with guests on the stairs. “Taking blood is sickly, even barbaric. There are better ways to learn the people’s loyalties, I’m sure. When I’m the king, there will be no more blood tax.”
Satisfied with his quiet decree, the prince took his princess to their chamber and their night was wonderful. The party settled, the castle calmed, and everyone was at peace. Yet in the princess’s old room, shadows stirred in the ceiling, having heard all through the chambers. “No,” she said. “This won’t do.”