A minute before midnight, there came the softest of knocks at the door. If she hadn't been expecting it, she would have missed it, but as it was Katherine rose from her chair, setting her knitting aside and pulling the shawl she was wearing over over night dress tighter around her shoulders. Her hand on the latch trembled a little as she opened it, but when she spoke, her voice was low and steady:
"I wasn't sure you would come this year. Not after what was said last time."
The man on the stoop was tall, wrapped in shadow. From the depths of his hood his eyes glowed redly and his voice held a faint echo as he spoke, as if it was coming from a great distance:
"I considered it. But they are mine, after all. I will not neglect them."
Katherine bit back the acerbic reply that a visit a year did not a father make. Especially when he arrived long after they were asleep. There were reasons why, after all, and it was not for her to throw them back in his face. "Come in. They're asleep, but you already knew they would be. Can I get you something, perhaps some mulled wine? It's a night not fit for man nor beast."
"No wine. The cold doesn't bother me." There was a brief glimmer, as of moonlight off the bared fangs of a wolf before he stepped inside. "You look well. How are you faring?"
"I do well enough. It is not easy, raising two children alone, but the village believes that I am a widow and lends their help where they can. They believe my husband died in the Crusades."
"Not such a falsehood." The hood was tugged back, revealing a man younger than Katharine. His hair was thick and richly curling against his collar, his face unblemished and smooth, pale as marble. Only his eyes, glowing with that red light, betrayed him as something other than human. "After all, the man I was died on those battlefields, even as I was reborn as you now see me." He grinned, revealing sharp fangs, and Katherine stepped back, hand moving to her throat. "Have no fear. I have already fed. I would not harm you, or my children."
"I want to believe that." She said nothing more, just nodded towards the door. "You know where their rooms are. Please, Richard, make your visit and go."
His face twisted, but he nodded, accepting her request. "Very well. Once I have seen them, I will take my leave." There was a muffled jingle as he pulled a pouch from under his hood. "Silver. For their care."
"Thank you." Her face, too, was like marble, not in colour but in its frozen remoteness. "I do not mean to be rude, Richard. It is just..."
"I know, Katherine. You don't need to apologise." And with that he dropped the purse on the table before moving to the children's room, as silently as a shadow. "Thank you, for allowing me this... indulgence."
"You're welcome, Richard." Katherine said the words automatically, even as her hand moved to the crucifix she wore at her throat.