His origins are obscure, his lineage doubtful. They say he was born in the year of the child, in the time of revised spells. These days, he sits in smoky inns and dreams of winters. He has teeth in the back of his head, and a reputation as large as a plate of raw meat, and as appalling. Nevertheless he believes that no-one has a heart more susceptible to love. But still, Bluebeard is as shunned as a six-legged calf. Every day he prowls the hedgerows and streets looking for someone to love.
Every Sunday, in his dark blue Sunday suit he ends up at the Red Lion down by the canal, sinking his dark-blue Sunday kiss into a pint of bitter, leaving behind him a trail of trampled loosestrife and campion. From his seat by the grimy window he can see the sour, pockmarked canal. He can imagine the soft slap of water as it hits the dark stone. In his pocket he fingers the tiny key to the red room.
One Sunday, it is a Sunday just such as this, he sees her, standing at the water's edge. She is as pale as a cracked bride. The gentleness of graveyards is upon her. She tilts at gawkiness, hesitates on the edge of grace. His eyes glitter with recognition, and something stirs in his throat.
Just as he is wondering whether to leave the public house and make some sort of introduction, the dark door flies open and there she stands, for all the world like the knife-thrower's girl welcoming the dangerous bouquet of blades as they fly to towards her.
It is not so. It has not been so and it never will be so. But just for this moment, it is so.
'Come with me' he says, bending his mouth to her ear, 'to my palace in the fields and I will show you a place where the early hyacinths sweeten the air, where cowslips and the wild clover grow. I will open your nostrils to the strange perfume of the trees coming into their green.'
No-one, he imagines, will have ever spoken like this to this girl. Understanding less and less, he takes her by the hand and leads her up the winding nursery hill to his private kingdom. Flowering nettles gather spit in their throats as the two of them stagger past. Behind them the short afternoon empties of air, light, logic, and fills with the bruising compulsion of evening. When at last they reach the castle, he leads her up the stone steps and hands her the iron key laying it across her palm like a challenge. 'Put it in.' he commands her. 'Put it in.'
All the time, he is dreaming up new ways to kill her.