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1749   by Ruas

Summary: Belle Morte, Jean-Claude, and Co. visit Morvoren's stronghold on Council business.  Jean-Claude encounters Damian for the first time - how do they survive what befalls them?
Rating: NC-17

Chapter 1: Chapter 1 Prologue

The war had ended the year before.  This war had done what wars always do; made some people more powerful, others less so: some people richer, others less so.  That it had made a lot of people dead was of small concern to some of the people who had become richer and more powerful, because they were dead before the war started.  Vampires were very skilled at profiting from turmoil among the living.

The War of the Austrian Succession resulted in Maria Theresa remaining on the throne of the Austrian Empire.  The Empire was now smaller by the province of Silesia, a small cost considering that she had been pitted against the might of France and Prussia. They and their allies had backed a male candidate as a pretext for their land-grab, on the theory that a mere woman was unfit to wield the power of empire. That notion alone would have set the vampires laughing – they knew well that gender meant nothing when it came to power.  Some of the most feared among them were women, and to discount them for their femininity meant to be conquered by them.   If Maria Theresa could do the same, she was to be saluted.

The actual fighting had not come near the small town on the edge of the North Sea there in Lower Saxony.  Actually, most of the wars that had flared sporadically across northern Europe had bypassed the place; the town had an interesting reputation. As a medieval port with some small industry, it was known as a good place to do business, even in wartime.  But it was a very difficult place to approach with hostile intent. Generations of generals planned to avoid it; the troops tended to desert if forced near.  Small forces could approach, but they could not leave again, and the few escapees returned incoherent.   No one knew why.

Save for the vampires, and they weren’t telling.  They knew that this was the stronghold of a night hag, and the days were long gone when Morvoren’s castle could be overrun by hostiles.  The day had never existed when her keep could have been taken; she was well able to defend what was hers.

Not so the vampires of Prague.  The war had claimed them in 1744 when Prussian troops stormed the city.  The Master of Prague perished when his elegant half timbered house was shelled, letting daylight do what artillery could not.  The lesser vampires that did not burn with him never rose again, and many of the masters saw the sun in the looting that followed.  Of the few survivors, none was strong enough to survive as Master of the City once a small horde of would-be Masters arrived to battle for a prized territory. A victor had emerged from the carnage, and as was the custom, had sent out the invitation for followers.  Most kisses in Europe contained members from most, if not all the major lineages, and the repopulation of a major territory was serious business.

So serious a business, in fact, that it forced the Council to send representatives traveling, a chancy undertaking. So a Dutch fluyt that had sailed up the Seine to Paris had returned to the sea carrying La Belle Morte and her entourage.    The little ship steered to the northeast, bound for the port in Lower Saxony.


Chapter 2: Chapter 2 Visitors in the Castle

The halls of the castle were dim, the only light provided by torches stationed periodically along the walls.  The servants had concluded the bulk of their activities at sunset; all heavy work had to be done when the vampires would be undisturbed.  Only the occasional serving girl hurried by, carrying some comfort requested by her master or mistress.  Fear was palpable in their wake, now that the castle was filled with guests of unknown temperament.

Fear was the usual underlying mood of this castle; its mistress caused and savored this emotion, fed upon it.  The fear had a different flavor now, for so many new vampires could only present new ways to cause offense, new ways for those offenses to be punished.  The pleasures that the guests had also provided led to more fear; no one knew better than the servants of this castle how quickly sex could turn to pain. So far the guests had been gentle, causing only the little death of orgasm.  Everyone wondered how soon this would change, and for whom.

The visitors had come from France, from the courts, resplendent in the latest fashions, the most sumptuous fabrics, the amazing hairstyles, the heady perfumes.  They seemed bright birds amongst the ravens who lived here, who never had reason to feel provincial before.  If the castle with its thriving town was no Versailles, it was still prosperous and cause for pride, yet Belle and her company made the place seem somehow less for not being the ornate Rococo backdrop to which they were accustomed.

The effect was not lost upon Morvoren and her people; it was, after all, part of the jockeying for power so common among the vampires. But this was her place of power, and she would not easily be cowed, not with important matters at stake.

Not cowed, certainly, but she could become very irritable.  She had been irritable to begin with, because preparations for this visit had not been completed before the visitors arrived. The ghastly state of the mails was to blame; while letters and messages had been sent by land and by sea, the exact dates of this visit had not been confirmed far enough in advance. In fact, the letters of notification had arrived after the fluyt docked in the harbor, and one letter had actually been carried on this very ship.  The vampire messenger that had been the final redundancy had not returned from the last trip back to Paris and was presumed lost.

Belle had been magnificent in her condescension in letting the program of festivities be rearranged.  She expected that the negotiations regarding Prague could be twisted to her favor, since she had caught her rival off-guard.

The renovations that should have been complete before the visit were still in the final stages and the workers were being hurried. The irritability was thus flowing downhill, and not improving matters. The artist, Tiepolo, who was adding murals to the walls of the great hall, was so incensed by the hurry that he threatened to abandon the project and leave directly for Wurtzburg, where he had another commission waiting. Damian had to have a brief but serious talk with him, after which he returned to his brushes in better spirits.

The Viking remained uneasy, however, for more such troubles were possible, and he was not the only one of Morvoren’s kiss to be disturbed.  Unease was passing from the castle’s vampires to their charges, for each visitor had been given a companion, to be guide, concierge, and hunting partner.  Few of the visitors were actually involved in the Council’s business, it was intended to be a great social occasion, and they had had days to entertain themselves casually before the formal events were rescheduled to begin.

Damian touched down lightly in the courtyard, wind-blown from an evening spent flying with the guest in his keeping.  He and Jean-Claude had gone north-east up the coast, enjoying the moonlight upon the water and the contrast with the land. Jean –Claude had remarked on the beauty of the evening and clean scent of salt water, much more pleasant than the rankness that was Paris. It was now midnight: they had plenty of time to get ready for the banquet.


The Viking and the Frenchman had gotten to know one another over the last several days.  They were not directly concerned with the council business that had brought the French entourage; they had had most of the visit so far to themselves.  Given license to entertain his charge as he saw fit, Damian had taken Jean-Claude out into the countryside every evening after the official visiting was done. The banquet tonight had been scheduled far later than the less formal socializing; they had been having most of the nights to themselves.

The red-haired vampire was nearly drunk with unaccustomed privacy and a ready ear. He had been reticent at first, but the sincere interest offered by Jean-Claude had loosened his tongue.   They had discovered much in common as the subordinate members of the households of powerful ladies, and a friendship was growing.

The soil had been rather rocky at first. 

Their first evening of freedom had been spent flying inland to a warm spring.  Jean-Claude had wished to remove the stains of travel, but hot bath water was a luxury, and this night, he had not the rank to command it. Damian had seldom enjoyed it at the castle, but had discovered his own source.  Having sworn his guest to secrecy, he escorted Jean-Claude to a pool that was hidden in a mist of its own making, surrounded by a stand of oak and ash trees.

“None at the castle know of this save you?”  Such a wonderful secret to have, thought Jean-Claude, as he watched the tendrils of mist rise.

“I have never encountered another vampire here, and of course if I asked around the truth would be out.  The shepherds would come here, but the sheep were spoiling the grove.”  Damian chuckled, “I began descending on them in a fury. I’d kick the camp apart, and feed, messily, on the man that ran slowest. I only have to do it once every twenty-five or thirty years, to renew the legend.   The place has a reputation for being haunted, it seems.”

“Imagine that.  How long did it take the area to recover from the damage?”  Jean-Claude knew something of the habits of sheep.

“Years. Destructive beasts-I like them best as cloth.”

Jean-Claude laughed. “An entire war has just been fought with a sheep-raising district for a prize, and you chase them away.”

“I’ll chase them all the way to Silesia if they spoil my grove again.” Damian meant it. This grove with its pool was one of the few joys of his life.

“What are we waiting for?”   The dark haired vampire began to shim out of his clothing, so impractical for a trip to the country.  He was down to his skin in a moment, and hung his clothing neatly on a branch.  Damian, too, had stripped, and was headed to the water, when a small sound made him turn.

“Did you say something?”

“No.  Just appreciation for the beauty of the scenery.”  Jean-Claude thought that Damian’s muscular shoulders and tight ass added a great deal to the little grove’s appeal, but did not say so.

“I sincerely hope that you do not consider me part of the scenery.”  Damian’s eyes narrowed.  Suddenly, bringing Jean-Claude here seemed like a very bad idea.

Since Jean-Claude’s body had already answered that, he didn’t try to deny it. “Would that bother you?”  His voice was mild.

"I do not care to be lusted after by another man.”  Damian’s hard-earned emotional control did not permit his anger to show in his voice, but it simmered below the surface.

“I do but notice what is before my eyes.  I assure you, I will make no advances, since you are clearly unwilling.”  Jean-Claude broke eye contact and headed to the water.  “Is there a drop-off here?  I am an indifferent swimmer.”  Perhaps the best way to defuse the situation was to turn away from the subject completely.  This would not be the first budding friendship to wither because of his inclinations.  He moved to the water, where he submerged to the neck with a small sigh, and did not look again at his companion.

Damian had been ready to defend himself against either seduction or rape, and was off-balance to encounter neither.  He watched Jean-Claude’ dark head move in the mist as he paddled in the shallow water. He was puzzled by the complete absence of discussion.  Never in his life as a vampire had this subject been dropped without completion or a fight once it had been raised. He shook himself, aware that it was he who was offering to be looked at by continuing to stand on the bank, and aware, too, that it was he who was staring.  Damian hurried to the water and eased into its warmth.

“I do not know what you have been told about my duties as your host,” he began, suddenly thinking that his guest may have been told to expect such favors.  Had he committed a faux-pas of dreadful proportions?

“Only that we would entertain ourselves as seemed agreeable.”  Jean-Claude looked at Damian, whom he was sure was completely submerged. Surely looking at his face would be acceptable?  “We now know one thing that is very agreeable,” he flipped some water at his companion, “and one thing that is not.”  He thought of the other possibilities.  “Were you commanded to bed me if I desired?”

“I was told that your whim was law.”  There was no inflection whatsoever in Damian's voice.

“My whim, non, my burning desire, was for hot water, which, by the way, is most delightful, otherwise, becoming naked with a new acquaintance would not have been my entertainment of choice.  Unless she was willing, for then I would not need to make pretty conversation.”

Damian was now completely confused.  “But you…” he stammered and could not go on.

“Yes, I looked. And I admired.  And I responded, first to what I saw, and then to what you said.   I have no taste for force.  And, unless I am compelled, I touch no man but Asher.”  Jean-Claude thought of the games his mistress liked to play, and how he could no longer enjoy them, only endure them. For Asher’s sake, he had to endure them.  His sadness must have shown on his face, because that was what Damian replied to.

“It sounds like you have your own experience of such.  No,” he held up a hand as Jean-Claude turned to him, “no, you need not say.  But we are alike in this distaste for force, and need not fear it from each other.”   Damian’s expression brightened.  “So let us enjoy the hot spring.  And it has no drop-off, it tapers to a depth of perhaps ten feet. If you go to the bottom, just stand and begin to walk uphill. Some things are so much easier if you need not breathe!”

Chapter 3: Chapter 3 Neck Deep in Hot Water

The vampires visited the spring each night, sometimes hunting in the town first, sometimes after feeding from the castle humans, blood for them both, sex for the guest.  Jean-Claude thought the warm spring was the most wonderful place, and his joy in it helped Damian past the regret of sharing the secret.  After that first tense night, Damian was even able to stop thinking about the fact that they were both naked, since Jean-Claude was so blasé about it.

The mist from the warm water in the cool air shrouded them further, and made it very easy to talk.   They would swim a while, then sit immersed to the neck and speak of anything that came to mind.  Trust was growing between them- they could speak of important things, as well as the trivial or amusing.

 They spoke in German, that being the language common to them.  Jean-Claude was aghast to find that Damian knew no French.

“How can you not know the tongue of the continent?  They speak French in the courts at Berlin, at Potsdam! They speak no Russian at the courts of St. Petersburg, they speak French!”

Damian was stung. “They don’t speak French around here. German, Dutch, Danish, yes, but no French. How could I learn it?”

“I must teach you, I see.  How else will you be prepared to speak to kings?”

“Ah, yes. I spend so much time speaking with kings,” Damian deadpanned.

Jean-Claude was not to be deterred.  “You might.  Has it not occurred to you that you might be sent to Prague?  That is what has brought us here, to determine who will represent each lineage.”

Damian went still, the stillness of the ancient vampire.  “That would be fortune beyond my wildest dreams.  Who is Master there now?”

“Suleiman, once of Budapest, of the line of the Dragon.  I know little of him, save that he is strong enough to prevail over others I knew.”  Sorrow colored Jean-Claude’s voice, those others had been friends. “Did you not know this?”

“No. My lady shares little with the rest of us.  But if French is spoken in Prague as well, then yes, I must learn it.” Damian sounded intrigued.  Jean-Claude suspected that he did not know much of the Dragon.

“Then let us start with the words of importance.”  Jean-Claude launched into a language lesson.   “The word for ‘blood’ is ‘sang’ and the first verb you must know is ‘mordre’, that is, to bite…”

Another night… They spoke of finances. Damian had little to relate; his mistress kept complete control of the finances of the kiss, making gifts where she pleased.  “Those of us who are not directly tied to her business ventures depend on her completely; a few are allowed to buy shares in cargoes, if she favors them.  It has made some of my fellows wealthy.”

“But not you?

 “I have had nothing more than pocket money for many years, certainly not money in capital amounts, and to produce some now would bring me only the gravest difficulties in explaining. I have been promised a one percent share of a tea cargo, if I can retain her favor long enough for the ship to return. I have offended my lady prematurely for the last three seasons.  I have given up hope; I think she is just toying with me.”

Jean-Claude could sympathize.  "I, too, am financially bound to my lady.  Many of us invested heavily in the Mississippi Company.”  He sighed.

“Was that not a good investment?”  Damian had heard of this company only in passing, years ago.

“It was, for a time.  It was a wildly speculative company, we knew that, but we all thought that we could sell before the shares dropped.  My lady and Asher made tremendous profits, but I thought they had sold too early, and that I would wait, and grow wealthier. Alas, I waited too long.  The price of shares fell to nearly nothing, and I lost my original investment, and borrowed money besides.  That was nearly thirty years ago, and I am not free of debt yet, though I do tend to win at the gambling tables.”

“I’m sure you do.  Are the stakes not very high?”  Damian imagined that Jean-Claude preferred games of bluff to games of pure chance.

“Very high, the trouble is getting the nobles to pay up.”  Jean-Claude fell to brooding.

Another night…  Jean-Claude spoke of Asher, who had not been permitted to come on this trip.  He spoke with yearning, for his friend and lover, now so bitter towards him for being forced to survive.  He spoke with sorrow, of his own part in his lover’s disfigurement, and how he had bound himself for one hundred years, to ensure that survival.  “For if I did not,” he grieved, “then he would be beyond hope, and I cannot let that last hope go, though he hates me for it.  And what will happen after that century is done?  He may never speak to me, nor let me near him.”

Damian did not know what to say to any of this, so he patted Jean-Claude’s shoulder, splashing a little as he did.  The contact surprised the French vampire enough to bring him back to himself. He shot the Viking a look of gratitude, before plunging headfirst into the deeper water.  He did not surface for a long while.  Damian considered that others might have just as difficult a time as he, if differing in the details.

They spoke of life in the castle. Damian related how his lady had bullied the merchants of the Hanseatic League into using her small port for shipping, when so many harbors were more suitable.  She had amused and fed herself considerably in the process, alternately frightening and soothing the delegation, and the results had made her little estate quite wealthy.   “The burghers never did determine why they could only meet with her at night, nor why a mere woman could outmaneuver them in matters of business,” he chuckled.  “Nor did they ever determine why they felt so poorly afterwards.  They were tasty, though, from all that butter and cream and pork they like to eat.”  Jean-Claude had laughed, knowing that his own lady held much political power through similar means.

“Oh, we had to roll them into forgetting, lest their fear prevent them from returning as traders.  My lady had me escort them to the outhouse before all meetings, lest they soil themselves in her presence a second time.  I thought she should have sent them the fear once they were in the outhouse, that would have cleared them out, but no, I had to roll them into shitting.”

 Jean-Claude laughed so hard he submerged himself, and rose, sputtering. “Why did she have to frighten them so?  She had what she wanted, did she not?”

The laughter drained from Damian.  “She fed.” He saw his friend’s incomprehension.  “She feeds on the fear.  She sends fear until you think you’ll choke on it, and then she drinks, deeply.  She says it’s better than blood.” 

Understanding dawned.  Jean-Claude could only whisper, “That’s like my lady, like, like me.”  Again, he sought refuge at the bottom of the pool.  When he resurfaced, it was to find Damian playing a small bone flute.

“A lovely tune. It is new to me.”  Jean-Claude liked the lilting tune with its air of wistfulness.

“It’s an Irish piece, called Give Me Your Hand.”  Damian launched into the second variation.

“I thought you did not want my hand, or any other part of my body.”  Jean-Claude couldn’t resist teasing a little.

Damian glared at him out of the corner of his eye and missed a high note.  “Rory Dall O Cathain wrote it to say that there was friendship between him and another person, after a quarrel.”  He resumed the tune at the run-up to the high note.

Jean-Claude was abashed.  “I would have only friendship, and no quarrel between us,” he said softly, and watched as his friend’s eye crinkled a smile, as the melody rolled on.

“My cousin taught me to make these,” Damian explained about his flute.  He played another little tune, one that Jean-Claude recognized.  “Vivaldi should have written for the bone flute particularly; the range is too small for most of his music.”  He resumed playing.

His friend could laugh a little, again.  “Vivaldi never sounded better.  When did you learn it?” 

Damian stopped playing.  “How did I learn it, you mean?  On the sly, lest my lady think I was enjoying myself.  She has an arrangement with the Elector of Saxony, who sends her the new music.  His Court Composer does some lovely stuff, too, but she has to have her servant sort out the church music before we can even look at it.”  He squelched the memory of the hapless violinist who didn’t notice the title page before he began to play the Crucifixus from the Mass in B Minor.  At least the violin wasn’t singed, though the varnish bubbled. “The orchestra will be doing some of the newest pieces for the banquet tomorrow night.”  He played a few more notes before tossing the flute into the bushes.

Jean-Claude raised an eyebrow. “That was your flute.”

“That was an old mutton bone, with holes in it. I can make another, any time.  But I miss my harp.”  Jean-Claude made a small I’m-listening sound.  “I brought it back from Scotland, and taught myself to play it.  Nine strings, very nice, the others would sing in the evenings, and I would play.  Then the strings wore out, or broke, and none of us knew how to make more.”  He sighed. Some of his attempts to make harp strings had almost worked. He could get more now, but the harp had been ash for seven centuries.

“Didn’t you ask for extras when you bought the harp?”

“How old are you?”  Damian eyed his companion. He was fairly certain Jean-Claude was about two hundred fifty, which was still young enough to make his point.

“About one hundred sixty, why?”

“Then you clearly missed my people showing up in Paris, youngster.  I’m a Northman. I didn’t buy the harp.  I took it away from some blind man who was hiding under a table. We took a lot of things away from people.  Why do you think it’s called Normandy?  Why am I thinking so much about my first life lately?”  It was Damian’s turn to flee below the surface of the water.


Chapter 4: Chapter 4 Up the Coast

The night of the formal banquet, the pair had elected to fly up the coast, rather than visit the spring, as Jean-Claude had been promised a hot bath in his suite. It was a wonderful night for flying; thousands of stars twinkling through the wisps of cloud.  A breeze blew in the direction of the North Sea, as the warm air over the land ran to meet the low pressure over the water.  Half a moon peeked through the clouds from time to time, casting more than enough light for the vampires to see anything of interest on the shoreline that presented itself; a rocky promontory, a partially submerged shipwreck, and once at a spot that only Damian could identify.  There, to Jean-Claude’s great surprise, he plunged naked into the seawater. He returned with a double handful of old Spanish coins, gold from the time of the Armada.

“Here,” he said, “someone who could spend it should have it. For you there will be no questions. For me there would be no peace.”

Jean-Claude nearly gaped as he saw what was poured into his hands.  The thrice bedamned tailor would be satisfied, as would most of his other debts.  And a gift for Asher, who was bitter about being left behind. Little enough Jean-Claude could have done about him being stuffed into the cross-wrapped coffin, there to exist until the return of La Belle Morte.  She did not plan to spend the power to maintain him at a distance, and would not bring him along.  Yes, certainly a gift for Asher.  He tried to find words for thanks, but Damian had dressed quickly and taken to the air again.

Each time they paused on the shore, they had talked. At the rocky promontory, Damian had spoken of his life.

“I have passed into and out of favor with my mistress many times,” he had confided to Jean-Claude.  “To be out of favor is to work hard and be constantly cold, but to be in favor is to be frightened most of the time.”

“What sort of work?” This was a new thought for Jean-Claude.

“The Strength lends itself to building.  The castle is much larger now than when I first came, and I have worked on many parts of it.  The room I am using now is part of the tower I helped to build. That is how I learned stonework and masonry.  I also did carpentry and some fine wood working.  It was like the shipbuilding I learned as a boy.”  Damian dragged his thoughts from his youth, so long ago, in a far country, and those wenches were certainly dead.

“Your current chamber is not your usual chamber?”

“No.  My regular quarters are in a high tower overlooking the sea.  The view was sufficiently fine that I was moved so that some of your human pets could enjoy it.”

“Does not the view offer danger from the sun?”  Jean Claude preferred to spend the day below ground.

“Well, yes, and does not my lady enjoy my fear of it?  I built my own coffin to be sure it would not leak light.  I could not trust others with that task, if I wanted to survive in a room with windows.”   Damian had rolled up in a tapestry every morning while his coffin was in progress.

"You said you are in favor at this time, for at least until the clipper ships are due with the tea. Are you really that afraid?”  Jean –Claude thought Damian’s demeanor very calm and assured.

“At this moment, no. Ask me again after the banquet tonight.”

And then they flew on.  As they watched the waves break over the dismasted brig, they spoke further.

“What happened to the ship, do you know?” There was an odd odor in the air that Jean-Claude could detect even over the complicated scents of the sea.

“I know exactly what happened to this ship.” Jean-Claude looked at Damian sharply; his voice was very fierce.  “I wrecked it, or caused it to be wrecked.”  His face had elongated, his lips had drawn back in a snarl directed towards the broken hull.  “It was a blackbirder. A slave ship.  Humans.  They think we are monsters, and do not see the monstrosities they perpetrate.”  His eyes glittered a dangerous, pupil-less green.

Jean-Claude took a step back before he asked, “How did you accomplish that?”

Damian calmed himself visibly; his features returned to their usual handsome state before he replied.  “I used their own rules against them.  The ship had come from the Americas with a load of sugar, which they had gotten for the slaves.  They had intended to exchange that for trade goods, to take back to Africa for more slaves. Before they came into harbor, I flew to the top mast and tied a yellow flag there.”  His teeth showed, but it could not be called a smile.  “That means plague, or some other disease on board, and they cannot come into port for forty days.  But they didn’t know it was there, so in they came.  The Hansa warship was accepting no excuses, they would not let a plague-ship come to shore.  The warship chased them out of harbor, and it was no use them trying to talk to the warship, every time they tried to get near enough to hail, or to send a small boat, the warship fired on them, they would not risk the contamination.  The brig was run aground, the hull holed. The cargo was ruined, of course.”

Jean-Claude was fascinated. “What of the men?”

Damian spat, before he looked at his companion. “They tasted like the scurvy dogs they were.”  And again he was airborne.

Damian had declared a turn around point that would do to return them to the castle in good time for the banquet.   They lit on the boulder-strewn beach for a brief rest and conversation.

“My own mistress drinks lust as yours drinks fear,” Jean Claude wanted to explain why he had retreated to the bottom of the hot spring.  “As do I; it is a curse and a joy to feed this way from one’s lover.  And she can raise the ardeur, the sexual heat, in groups of people, to raise great power for the feeding. She might feed this way for hours before she is sated. Or her victims humiliated to her taste.  I would not wish to cause lust in one not inclined to me, but there are times…”

“You are her lover. Does she feed from you?”

“Yes, and I from her.  It seems to be the energy. And you?”

“She takes me.  I am not her lover.  There is no joy in it for me.” Damian tried to imagine his mistress using lust rather than fear, and shook his head.  To feed one’s master with something pleasurable seemed beyond dreams.  “It would seem you have the better of it, then.”

“I am not sure, though I may find out shortly. La Belle Morte has promised me to your lady for a night.”

Shock rolled through Damian. “Have you displeased your lady, then?”

“I had not thought so.  Perhaps I am but a guest gift.”  Fear began to bloom within the French vampire. He was so tired of being chattel, so often Belle’s use of him threatened his very existence. What new danger loomed in his hostess’ bed? His new friend was clearly disturbed, and not by jealousy.

“She may take you joyfully, if only for the novelty of it, and respect for a guest.” Damian thought back to the last night spent in her bed, not a joyful one for him. He did not wish to frighten Jean-Claude, nor to give him false hope. She- who- made- him was fairly consistent in her demands, more was the pity.  The vampires met each others’ eyes, and by unspoken consent returned to the air.  The rocky promontory drew them back, a last stop before they landed at the castle.

“You know this coast well,” Jean-Claude remarked.  He gazed into the night sky, bright with stars.  “Have you ever considered just flying on. And on?”  Such a daring remark.

“Oh, yes. And my freedom would last precisely until dawn.  I am no master; I would not wake again if my lady suspected an escape. I have thought, too, of flying out to sea and letting the sun catch me over the water.”  Such grief colored Damian’s voice that Jean-Claude was sorry he had asked.  “I would choose such an ending, if only I did not believe that one day, another way out, a way with a future, might present itself.  Change has come to me before. Perhaps I will be sent to Prague.” He looked at the breakers throwing up spray; it might have been that rather than a tear that ran down one cheek.

Jean-Claude could only place his hand on Damian’s shoulder in understanding, before the two took to the skies again.

The return flight was mostly silent, though Jean-Claude did offer his thoughts once.  “Change could come, in the form of joining my lady’s court.  She has a taste for handsome men of unusual coloring, she has noticed you.”

Hope dared to flare in Damian’s heart.  “I could lust for your lady.”

“You would. She would see to it.” Honesty compelled Jean-Claude to add, “You would lust for her, for me, for le Comte d’Artois, for anyone to whom she decided to send you.  She would compel what you do not want.”

“I am not a lover of men, and I have had a bellyful of being forced.” Damian’s voice was so flat and forbidding that Jean-Claude spoke no more.


Chapter 5: Chapter 5 Preparations for the Banquet

Author's Notes: The Russian vampires, Sergei and Piotr, are meant to be speaking with bad grammar- I use it to convey their lowly origins and their disdain of trying to fit in by speaking properly. Their grammar hurts my ears, but it is part of the characterization.

Jean-Claude landed in the courtyard next to him, pushing his hair away from his face.  He looked at the sky, which told him ‘midnight’, then at Damian.  “The banquet is set for two of the morning, non?” Damian nodded assent, at which Jean-Claude looked stricken. “I must make haste, there is barely enough time to become presentable!” Such is the cost of elegance.

Damian turned. “There is a shortcut to your chambers. I will take you there.”

The vampires melted against the wall, where Damian ushered his guest through a concealed door into a servant’s passageway. They were striding up the hallway when Damian pulled Jean-Claude into a nook and motioned for stillness and silence.  They remained frozen as voices boomed out.  Two enormous, brutish vampires passed down an adjoining hallway, away, fortunately, from the pair in the shadows.  They laughed coarsely, and one said. “Maybe I gets to be the one tonight, I do good hurting…”  That earned a punch in the arm from the other, which staggered him, and a honk of laughter.  Further ribaldry sounded as they moved away. “Oh, yeah, you does good hurting….”

Damian and Jean-Claude remained still until the noise dwindled into the distance. Jean-Claude followed his guide swiftly and silently until they reached the guest chambers.  Damian pulled Jean-Claude into the sitting room, and bolted the door behind them.   He turned grave green eyes towards his companion, and grimaced.

Jean-Claude cocked one eyebrow in question.  “And who are the charming persons from whom we have just fled?"

 “I had hoped that you would not have encountered those two during your stay here.  They are particular pets of our lady’s; she likes them for the talents they were bragging about.  Those who know them fear falling into their hands.  They are not inventive, but they are thorough.” The look on Damian’s face suggested personal experience.

“Have they names?  Even beasts have names.”

“Beasts, yes, they are beasts.  Sergei and Piotr.  At least they are not masters. They are so strong even as lesser…”

“They had odd accents.  Where did they come from?” Jean Claude was curious.

“When Tsar Peter came by on his way home from France, not all of his entourage completed the journey with him.”  Damian was still listening hard, he looked wary.

“I think I remember them, or at least the group of them.  Tsar Peter’s men did tremendous damage while they were at Versailles. The barbarians thought it entertaining to dance in hobnail boots on the parquet floors, and to ram the shrubbery with wheelbarrows. And the Tsar was as bad as any of them.”  Jean-Claude made a noise that might have been a snort had it been less elegant.  “How many of them did you end up with?”

Damian sighed.  “Too many. These two are the last of them; they did most of their fellows in.”

“My lady might like them.  She goes for the peasantry as a diversion.” A matched pair of brutes might keep her entertained for quite a while.

“My lady will not touch them.  She says dogs should stay in their kennels.”  Damian thought that a good, strong kennel, preferably one that caught the morning sun, would be an excellent place for those two.

A  knock at the door produced a start from both vampires.  Damian took a long sniff, clearly nervous about the Russian vampires, and moved to shoot back the bolt.

It was a young woman, human, wheeling a hot water can. “I was watching for your return, Herr Jean-Claude.  I have water for your bath.”  Jean-Claude expected to become very familiar with the contents of the can; it would be his for several days, but only hot tonight.  She passed through the sitting room to the dressing area, vampires drifting in her wake. “I was given instructions to pass on to you, Damian.  You are to feed early, before the banquet.  And I left fresh clothes for you in the bathing room.”   She smiled shyly.

“Ah, the bathing room. The source of all the frigid water one’s heart could desire.”  He winked at the French vampire, before turning to the young woman. “Thank you, Ulrike.  Please, pour out the hot water for our guest. I will find food, and dress.” The Viking nodded politely to her, and turned to the door.

The young woman coughed and stammered. ‘I, uh, I would feed you. If you liked.”  She blushed and began to pour the hot water into the hip bath in the corner.  Pink showed brightly against her blonde hair, even as grey eyes sought the floor.

Presented with this offer, Damian considered where they might go for feeding. Ulrike had fed him a few times before, and she had shown him small kindnesses in the past; perhaps this time she would agree to a bit of privacy for taking blood.

Taking his pause for rejection, Ulrike said, in a small voice, “I’ll go, if you don’t want me.”

“Oh, but I do!” Damian was quick to speak. “I was just thinking of where we might go.”  She lifted her face to him and smiled, careful not to meet his eyes, as she had been trained from childhood.

Jean-Claude cleared his throat. “If I may, I would point out that a bedroom lies beyond that door, and I have all I need for my toilette in here.”  He caught Damian’s eye, and winked. “I am notorious for the amount of time it takes me to dress.”

Damian looked a quick question at Ulrike, who looked surprised and pleased as she nodded. 

“We thank you, Jean-Claude, and we will try not to disturb you on our way out.” Damian could not believe his good fortune.  He followed the young woman through the door, smiling.

Jean Claude began to unbutton his lacy shirt, eyeing the steam from the hip bath.  Given how Ulrike had practically run into the bedroom, he had no doubt but that he, too, would feed.  The closed door provided no real barrier to the ardeur.  He hoped only that one of them would think to remake the bed.

Chapter 6: Chapter 6 The Banquet Begins

Fed, dressed, and combed, Damian made his way to the banquet hall, there to act as host.  He had done this many times at occasions for lesser personages. He was glad to have fed early; there would be no time during the banquet to break his duties for more than a snack.  He knew he would be busy mingling with their guests, and hoped there would be no trouble.   The mood in the castle was growing even more tense; he was grateful that he and Jean-Claude had been able to spend most of their time elsewhere. At least the scaffolding was down from the walls of the great hall, though the odor of wet paint remained. Tiepolo had apparently finished the murals and decamped.  Damian hoped the artist got paid before he left.

There were few people in the banquet hall when he arrived, mostly servers and musicians.  He spoke to the string players, asking them to omit certain fast dances and to change the order of a few others.  At least he could reduce the chance of the guests falling from their fancy high heeled shoes.  He was very much looking forward to hearing the new orchestral suites sent by the Elector of Saxony. That J. S. Bach fellow wrote lovely music.

Vampires were entering the banquet hall, fashionably late, some with humans trailing respectfully behind.  Damian drifted from group to group, speaking politely with both the visitors and his colleagues, being charming and sometimes issuing instructions.  His lady entered and caught his eye; Damian flinched reflexively, but she smiled and apparently approved of his social maneuvering.

There were easels and small tables set up here and there around the great hall, covered with linens, shapes showing beneath the cloth. These were the guest gifts that were to be officially exchanged tonight.  Those trimmed in green ribbons were gifts from Morvoren to Belle, those trimmed in red, from Belle to Morvoren.  One of the preparations not yet completed when the fluyt made harbor were certain of these guest gifts. 

The banquet flowed on, more smoothly than Damian had dared to hope.  Some of the conversations were quite vicious, but no overt arguments had broken out, and none of the food humans had expired before being removed from table.  That was a damnable nuisance, they tended to lose bowel and bladder control, so Damian kept a careful eye on them and their handlers.  One of the guests, Musette, he thought, kept leaving them dripping.  He permitted himself an internal chuckle. He might not know much French, but he did know his Bach, and he wondered if she knew her name meant “Bagpipe.”  After a brief chat with her he decided to never, ever, mention it; she seemed very dangerous, and not one to take the joke well.

“Damian! Come here!”  Greta called to him playfully. She was one of the lesser vampires of his kiss, perhaps half his age, brunette and sleek, though not so handsome as to arouse the ire of their lady. Tonight, she was a vision in violet silk, a dress Damian was pleased to see; those wide skirts flipped up so nicely.  He and she were not so much lovers as casual bedmates, seeking each other out when no better partner beckoned. “Tell Angelito about the monstrous animal!  He does not believe a word I say about it.” She flipped her fan coquettishly.

“The rhinoceros, you mean?”  Damian came to join them.

Angelito glowered at him.  “What would you know of the rhinoceros? It only came to Paris this winter!”

“This is a seaport.  The rhinoceros came here three years ago, before its handlers started trundling it all over Europe.  An amazing beast; who could believe in it without seeing it?”  Damian had been fascinated, and had peppered the owner with questions.

“And I suppose you know all about its natural history and habits?” Angelito seemed more antagonistic than a chat about an exotic animal would warrant.

“I watched it eat greens,” Damian responded politely. He suspected that he was being used to toy with Angelito, that Greta was furthering her own agenda here, and he did not care to play the game.  He started to excuse himself from the conversation when his eye was caught by a nearby linen covered table, dressed with a green ribbon.  The shape was entirely too familiar, shrouded though it was.

Greta followed his line of sight. “Oh, Damian, so clever of you to have that ready in good time for our visitors!”   She smirked behind her fan.  “But I had to find it for our lady, since you didn’t put it in the correct storeroom. Such a mazik* you are, stashing it away like that.”  Her eyes, peering over the fan, were much harder than her lighthearted words.

“How careless of me.” His words were completely without intonation, the closest he could come to showing anger.  Damian wasn’t sure if Greta had absconded with his work to suck up to their lady, or out of some sort of spite, but did it matter? His work was as good as gone, out of his hands, no hope of retrieval.  “Perhaps our visitors will find some merit in it.  Excuse me, please.”  He had to get away before he lashed out at her. He would have revenge, but later, when he had a chance to plan something suitable.  Two years of work she had stolen, it would have to be subtle and stinging.

**                                                                                **

The guest gifts had been unveiled, with all due ceremony, and the speeches made regarding them.  Damian had used all his control to remain calm as his name was announced as the artist, and to accept the applause as the linen cloth was lifted.  He had intended to keep this one work for his own pleasure; now he would bid it farewell.

Jean-Claude joined him as he stood before the carved wooden figure of a nude woman.  Her arms were lifted upwards, palms to the sky, her face raised also, hair flowed down her back.  She seemed to be offering herself to the welcome spring rains. She stood perhaps twenty two inches high, and she was glorious.  The French vampire studied the figure, then studied his friend.  He started to speak but thought better of it. He returned his gaze to the statue, and then melted into the crowd. He would not intrude on this private sorrow.

Damian found Jean-Claude later, as he came away from the buffet table, dabbing the blood from his lip with a snowy napkin. Their eyes met, and without words they turned as one to the table where the nude figure stood.

“If I cannot keep her, it is well that she go to your household.”  Damian spoke at last. “She was driftwood that I found on the beach; see how her arms were a fork in the main trunk.  When I started to carve it was as if she sprang from the wood…” His voice trailed off with the memory.

Jean-Claude could say only, “You released a dryad from her tree.”

They drifted around the great hall together, looking at and commenting on the other guest gifts.  They stopped before a large painting on an easel, which bore the red ribbon of a gift from Belle.  It showed a laughing woman in a blue dress playing on a swing, and a man leaning against the tree, watching her approvingly.  The skin tones were lush, the fabrics fairly glowed, and the foliage was luxuriant. Damian glanced at Jean-Claude, silently asking for information.

“Francois Boucher painted this.”  Jean-Claude’s face was unreadable.

Damian studied the picture. “The man; that is you!”

“And the lady in the swing is the incomparable Belle Morte.” Jean-Claude laughed without mirth. “We had to pose at night, of course.”  He looked at the scene that everyone but he found charming.  “So in a way, I will always be here. Standing in sunlight.”

 **                                      **                                                **

A/N Mazik- Yiddish word meaning a mischievous person, a prankster   


Chapter 7: Chapter 7 From the Frying Pan

Author's Notes: Sergei and Piotr are Russian peasants.  They speak ungramatically as part of the characterization.

 A firm grip on his arm stopped Damian as he moved to look at another of the guest gifts. Damian turned to find a tall, dark vampire leering at him.  “I think you should meet me in my chambers, perhaps a quarter hour from now?” He winked; Damian’s stomach turned.

“I fear I would not please you greatly.  May I introduce you to Gerard or Reynold?” Damian named fellow vampires whom he knew took male lovers.  He could not accept this invitation, yet he could not risk causing a scene.

“I have met them, I have tired of them.  I wish for you to join me.”  The leer had become a flat stare.

Damian kept firm control of himself, to panic would be fatal. He didn’t see many ways to talk his way out of this one, yet he had to try.  “I have no skill in offering you pleasure.”

“Skill is not required.”   The flatness of the visitor's voice promised pain.

“Oh, but it is! Such lovely carvings adorn my chamber!”  Jean-Claude had swooped into the conversation.  He took Damian’s arm and steered him towards the far wall, which had a door. “Oh, escuse moi, Paolo, I insist that Damian do as he promised, he is almost a Grinling Gibbons!” he called over his shoulder.  “You simply must show me the other fine carving that you have done!  Come, come!”  Jean-Claude towed his friend away from the astonished Paolo, whose face darkened.

Once out the door and down a hallway, Jean-Claude released Damian’s arm and let his shoulders slump every so slightly.  “Let us hope Paolo does not become friendly with your Russian beasts.  The whole world would be in pain,” he murmured.

“Thank you.  I do not think I would have escaped him.”  Damian was shaken by the close call.

“Unfortunately, few escape Paolo forever, but perhaps you can delay until we sail for home. There will be hell to pay, but pay it later rather than sooner.”  Jean-Claude set his jaw in a way that made Damian bite back what he planned to ask.

While they discussed the best way to return to the banquet while evading Paolo, they did not see the angry vampire speak with La Belle Morte, who then spoke with their hostess.  Morvoren in turn summoned the hulking Sergei and Piotr, whose faces lit up when they understood their tasks.


**                                                                          **


The music, which had been a background to the feeding and conversations, provided their entrance back to the great hall.  The sounds of the initial sarabande cut through all the babble, summoning the partiers to the dancing. Damian and Jean-Claude took their places in the ring of those watching the dancers, glad to see Paolo in the center, bowing to Musette, twirling gracefully to the sounds of Handel. If Paolo was dancing, he was doing nothing else.

The sarabande gave way to a bouree, a much faster dance that required four couples in each pattern.  The men and the women moved fluidly around the square, touching only at the hand, smiling smiles that were more a part of the dance than any real expression of enjoyment. Damian found himself smiling at Belle as he came to her in the pattern, watching her spin gracefully under his arm in her wide skirts. She looked at him in a way that brought heat to his loins, and then she passed to Angelito on his left, peeking back at Damian through her lashes.  Angelito had deliberately come near Damian when the dancers were forming into patterns; why, he could not say.  For his part, he would have been glad to give Musette’s servant wide berth.  He was scowling at Damian, and every time Greta passed him in the dance, he scowled more.

When the dance steps brought the men into the center of the circle, Angelito landed a quick kick on Damian’s ankle and snarled quietly, “Clumsy fool!”  He seemed to expect a retort, but Damian disappointed him with a murmured “so sorry.”

This time a gavotte, where the men and women formed lines to dance the quick little crossing steps. Damian made sure there were several men between Angelito and himself; he wanted no incident that might incur his lady’s wrath. He wondered just what Greta had been telling the man.

Jean-Claude found himself on the end of the line, opposite Morvoren, leading the dance. Too much the courtier to do anything else, he smiled as his feet tapped heel and toe, dreading the kiss that was choreographed into this dance.  The kiss came far too soon for his comfort, and he had to touch Morvoren’s shoulder as he reached for her cheek with his lips.  She turned to meet him, and caught his mouth with her own, taking advantage of the music to flick her tongue quickly between his lips.  Jean-Claude’s face didn’t change as he received this salute, but Damian’s heart sank as he saw it from his position five couples down the line.  The gavotte required that the lead pair dance down the line, the man kissing each woman, the woman kissing each man. When Morvoren danced her way to Damian, she brushed her lips against his cheek and whispered, “I’ll taste your friend tonight,” and laughed as she turned to Gerard.  If Jean-Claude had to spend the rest of this night in the torment that was her bed, it would at least be over sooner than if she started early with him tomorrow.  Damian found that thought small consolation.

When the music changed to three beats per measure, Belle took the honor of the first minuet, no doubt to show off the latest variations danced in the French courts. Paolo joined her, knowing those steps, and the rest of the dancers formed circle around them to watch; only one couple at a time would dance the minuet.  Damian melted away from the circle, intending to visit the buffet table for a little snack.

No sooner had he turned away from the young woman with the glazed expression and the multiple punctures to wipe his mouth, he was accosted by one whom he would prefer to avoid.

“Message from the mistress.” A copper ring was pressed into Damian’s hand, proving the source. He turned to see Piotr grinning unpleasantly.  “Change of plans, Red. You get to be part of the entertainment tonight after all.” Damian’s heart sank. He had hoped his role as host would insulate him from that.  “Mistress says, go to the retiring chamber and peel down. You gonna do it, or do I get to drag you? I wanna drag you.” Piotr licked his lips.

He had been dragged, more than once, fighting all the way.  The punishment that would go with causing a disruption at this banquet would be brutal, he knew, and he could be sure of losing his lady’s favor and any chance of going to Prague.  Returning the ring to his thuggish messenger, he merely said, “I will do as our mistress bids,” and turned to go. It was the smallest of satisfactions to see Piotr’s face cloud with disappointment.  He moved very swiftly, lest Piotr try to drag him anyway, frightened of what was to come. Public nudity always meant something bad. The music changed, this time to a gigue, which would be the last dance of the suite.  It wouldn’t last long; Damian hoped fervently to hear another sarabande start a second complete dance suite.


Damian sat on the bench in the retiring room, his folded clothes in his lap.  He had not been on the entertainment list this time, dammit.  He knew he was to stay there until summoned, and his imagination was not his friend.  Allowing himself some deep breaths, he slowed his heart rate and tried to blank his mind.  He wished to show only composure to the assembly, no matter what happened.  That would be a feat this time; his mistress would wish to show off. Then he wondered if this change of plan was meant as a test, to see if he could comport himself well enough to be chosen to represent his lady’s line in Prague.  He held to that thought for strength, because he knew what entertainment had originally been planned.  He wondered if he would survive the spectacle, and if the prize would be worth it.

The dance music ticked off the time, all too quickly.

The door opened, showing Piotr.  “C’mon, Red, to the dance floor.”  He looked hungrily at the naked vampire, who did not let his shudder show in his flesh.

Damian rose gracefully, six feet of pale muscle, red hair flowing like blood down his shoulders.  The candlelight flickered over him as he strode out the door, pushing past his tormentor. He held his head high; he was a warrior, and he would not give him the satisfaction of his fear, not now.  Later, there might not be a choice.

The buzz of voices rose at the end of the music, and hushed as the mistress of the castle clapped her hands.  The dancers abandoned their positions as they crowded around their hostess. From his vantage point at La Belle Morte’s side, Jean-Claude saw Sergei haul a long oaken table to the center of the dance floor.  It was at least eight feet long, with shackles at corners and sides, and stains that diligent scrubbing had not quite removed.  The table offered a host of possibilities to entertain those who liked fear, and sex, or both together.  Paolo stood some ten feet away, eyes glittering with imagination. Jean-Claude was relieved to see Damian was nowhere near the sadistic batard.

And then there was Damian, entering the hall, nude. He stopped well short of the dreadful table, the Russian vampire trailing in his wake.  Face expressionless, he hoped fervently that he was not to be disemboweled again; that hurt so much, both in the doing and the healing.  Last time, they had wrapped his guts around him, binding him to the table, then released the shackles and left him to free himself.  No, if the guests liked lust, it would probably be rape.  Shit.

Morvoren’s voice rang into the silence.

“We have an unplanned treat in your entertainment tonight, my dears.  Before you we have one who would be choosy about his partners. He would pass over the men here, without due consideration of their charms. Is that not a shame?”  The audience murmured their condemnation of this shame.  “We will teach him the error of his ways, nein?  We will teach him the pleasures he would refuse untried.  One of our guests shall bring him to completion before us, that we may know he has learned well.  And if he does not show himself well-schooled, he shall be punished, then schooled again, until he learns.”

Damian could pick out faces in the crowd as Sergei and Piotr pushed him towards the table.  Paolo, mouth open in anticipation, Jean-Claude, shocked, La Belle Morte, wearing a feline smile, Greta, triumphant, others, eager; all registered as the pair of thugs dumped him roughly on his back and fettered his wrists and ankles to the table’s corners.  Voices rose and fell as wagers were placed.  Then silence, as She-who-made–him spoke again.

She turned towards her principal guest. “Madame, may we have one of yours to do the honors?”  Paolo started towards the table, but stopped at his hostess’s upraised hand, disappointment written on his face.  “Jean-Claude, if you please?”

Chapter 8: Chapter 8 Into the Fire

The crowd began to buzz as all heads snapped around to look at Jean-Claude.

 “It may be that our chosen teacher is ineffective in his methods.  Therefore, he shall have three lessons, and if he cannot bring our student, he shall share the punishment, to teach him the value of thoroughness.  I shall call time in my own unmistakable way.”   Morvoren smiled her sweetly toxic smile.

Paolo changed his look of outrage to one of calculating pleasure. Jean-Claude knew he would like nothing better than to see the two of them punished for daring to thwart him.  He might think it would be even better than playing with Damian himself. And he might be allowed to help.

Belle Morte looked into her vampire’s expressionless face.  “Go, mon cheri, show them your skill.  Shall I take any bets for you?”

Barely moving his lips, Jean-Claude said, “I cannot do this to my friend.  He does not want me this way.”

“Would he prefer Paolo to you, do you think?  Would you prefer Paolo to him?  Both can be arranged.”  Belle could not believe what she was hearing, did not bother to keep her voice down.  Did her pet think to argue with her?

Clearly Damian had heard that, for he looked over his arm with wide eyes to meet Jean-Claude’s eyes, and formed the word “No” silently with his mouth.

Jean-Claude kept his face impassive as he moved towards the table. He thought furiously how to accomplish this dreadful task, to cause at least the semblance of pleasure in one who bore him no desire. Perhaps to spare them both the punishment, Damian could bring himself to cooperate?  He could hear the babble of betting behind him: Musette’s voice rose shrilly as she offered ten livres for success in the second round.  There would be retribution to face from those who lost their bets, as well.

Bending to place his lips near Damian’s ear, he could smell fear; he hoped it was fear of failure, not fear of his touch, but he could not be sure.

Damian whispered, “We are fucked.”

“We are? I thought you were a Northman.” Jean-Claude whispered back.

“I am; what does that matter? We are so fucked.”

“I thought that meant you were a warrior.”  Jean-Claude persisted.

“It does.” Damian glared at him, hard to do at such close range, but he was angry and upset enough to show it.

“Perhaps seven hundred years ago.” Damian’s eyes narrowed further.  “Now you surrender without a fight.”   Jean-Claude pulled back enough to give Damian his mocking blue eyes.

“I surrender nothing.”  He was furious, at his friend, and the situation. Why was his friend assaulting his honor?

“Then you fight at my side?”  Up went one eyebrow.

“We fight.”  Damian understood battle. “We defend ourselves.  But this is the damnedest battlefield, and unfamiliar weapons.”

“It is my battlefield, my weapons. We can prevail.”  Jean-Claude put all his confidence into that statement.  “Trust me to be your captain, and let there be a little pleasure that there may not be great pain for us both.”

Damian could see Sergei and Piotr through the curtain of his friend’s hair.  They were nearly drooling with anticipation; they certainly believed they would have the two at their mercy, and Damian knew they had none.  Something Jean-Claude said earlier nipped at his memory, perhaps they could prevail.  He swallowed hard, and whispered back, “Captain, I am unblooded.”

“Open your mind to me, I can ease this.”  Jean-Claude rose the few inches needed to look into anxious green eyes, and willed his friend to calm.  He was rewarded to see tension leave the shackled body below him.  “I will accomplish this with as little damage to your sensibilities as I can, but there must be some show, or my own mistress will not be satisfied.”

“She did not say how long we would have for each attempt.”  Damian tried not to look at Jean-Claude.

“Then I must begin now. Do not think of me; think only of what I make your body feel.”  Jean-Claude began to run one hand down Damian’s torso, the other through his hair. Merde, the man was stiff as a board, all the parts of him save the necessary.  “I can make your body feel very good, indeed.”  He looked into Damian’s eyes again, and rolled with a bit more force. Good, he felt more like flesh and less like marble.

Jean-Claude ran his hands up and down Damian’s chest, fingers stroking softly, occasionally flicking a little against a pale pink nipple.  Damian twitched with each flick, eyes closed, trying to ignore everything except sensation. Jean-Claude hoped he was ignoring the low comments from their rapt audience.  There was a running commentary on the successes of his efforts.

“Yes, he’s hardening, I saw it move.”

“Not very fast though.”

“But it’s happening, I never thought it would.”

 “Maybe it’s just us; maybe he likes the visitor better.”  Jean-Claude shot a quelling look at that last speaker, hands never stopping their slow dance.

 “Maybe this guy is just that good…”

 “Maybe this guy isn’t hurting him, bonehead.”

 “Maybe I like hurting better than anything else, schweinhund.”

Definitely a response here.  Jean-Claude took a step to his left, to run his hands across Damian’s hips and thighs.  This would be a pleasure in itself, were not the stakes so high. His fingertips skirted what was blooming before his eyes, which would be such a fine sight on any other occasion.  Damian’s manhood lay against his belly, long and straight, hard enough to please any lover. Jean-Claude wrapped his hand around the shaft, eliciting a low moan.  He stroked gently, daring to murmur a few words of encouragement.

“Ah, oui, mon ami, give yourself to the pleasure.”

But Damian only shushed him, never opening his eyes.

So Jean-Claude fell silent, pumping with one hand and continuing to stroke hips and thighs, thinking this might work out after all.  Damian moaned softly, when abruptly he screamed.  Jean-Claude screamed as well. His knees buckled and he fell to the floor, striking his chin on the table, forcing a fang into flesh.  His bitten lip was lost in the wave of fear that rolled over him, drowned him like surf.  As quickly as the fear washed over him, it passed, leaving him panting.

“Time,” said Morvoren sweetly. “The first attempt to educate Damian has proven a failure, though not a complete failure, it would appear.”


Chapter 9: Chapter 9 On the Hot Coals

The babble of wagers rose in volume, as those who had won or lost on first round bets made new bargains. Morvoren remained silent; no one would make bets with the time-keeper. Jean-Claude rose to his feet, working his jaw back and forth, which prompted a fresh round of commentary. He didn’t try to pick out the speakers; he tried to ignore them, but individual voices still came through.

“Hey, he’s warming up!”

“Hah! Limp! Gotta start all over again,” spoken with a Russian accent.

“Heard he’s good,” in the same accent but deeper.

“Maybe he’d do me?”

“Down a chance, he’ll need that mouth.” Jean-Claude recognized that voice, and it sounded closer than it had before; the crowd was inching towards the table. Morvoren and Belle, he noticed, had not come nearer, and some of the audience had even stepped in front of them in their yearning to see the show. “Maybe we can watch the punishment.” Paolo slid sideways, putting a shoulder in front of their hostess. And maybe some punishment will fall on you, thought Jean-Claude, as he noted this bit of rudeness.

Now he gave commanding eyes to the crowd, stopping the forward movement. “Move back!” Jean-Claude dared to order the watchers. They had moved closer and closer, their lusts filling the air like invisible smoke. “You are spoiling the view for our mistresses!” The atmosphere cleared abruptly; the crowd backed away, parting to flow around Belle and Morvoren, who had not moved from their spots. Then, as they settled at a safer distance, their desires returned, washing over Jean-Claude like the incoming tide.

“Begin again,” Morvoren instructed.

Jean-Claude narrowed his focus to include nothing but Damian. He bent again to whisper, “Now we know the allotted time. Were you close?”

“I was almost there.’ Damian sounded a little ill.

“I thought to spare you the contact, but we must do more, in less time.”

For answer, Damian turned his head towards his friend, reaching for his lips with his own. Jean-Claude thought this was a kiss, but Damian only caught his torn lower lip, and sucked urgently. Realizing that blood, even vampire blood, would do more to restore Damian than anything else he could do, Jean-Claude let him suck, playing one hand over his chest. The blood from the standing vampire’s lip had partially brought back the bound vampire’s erection. Jean-Claude had feared that he would use up more valuable time coaxing back the stiffness, but at least some good would come of the damage he had taken. Jean-Claude wished to bring more arousal back to Damian before dealing directly with his erection, thinking that Morvoren would discount time spent elsewhere. The vampire knew well that any part of a man’s body would respond to what he planned to do.

The crowd was giving him much to work with. The lusts that pushed at him were not pure, too much desire for pain and fear contaminated them, but there was enough desire for the beautiful body of the man below him that he could feed. He brought the sexual lusts into himself, feeling the odd pulling sensations that always accompanied feeding from a distance, and felt the darker lusts flow around him. The lust roiled through him, filling the empty spots; the energies did not stop at the boundaries of his skin, but danced through him and hovered around him. He could use this.

Damian was doing his part to help, tongue working at Jean-Claude’s lip, trying to keep the last drops of blood flowing. The wound closed after a moment; Damian let his head fall back and breathed, “Do what you must, Captain.”

What he must do, Jean-Claude thought, was not all that he could do, and was glad for his friend. Knowing Damian’s body and responses better this time, he began to move over Damian, not touching, but letting the sexual energies that played around him stroke his companion.

He worked his way over Damian’s chest and belly, letting his warm breath caress his skin, letting his long hair trail and stroke his skin. He rested his weight on his hands, not touching Damian, not wanting to skim over his body and alert the watchers to what he was doing. Damian writhed under the caresses, but no sound escaped him. Jean-Claude risked a glimpse towards Morvoren; she seemed distracted by a whispered conversation with Belle, too low for him to hear. Belle, he noted, had collected companions. He dared to add fingertip touches into the hollows where muscle met hips, adding a physical presence to the metaphysical.

Movement from the audience caught his eye; Morvoren had stopped whispering and turned to look straight at them. Jean-Claude hoped he had roused Damian enough to complete matters quickly with hands and mouth — a glance towards his face revealed the slackness that could precede orgasm.

He bent over Damian’s groin, letting his breath tickle sensitive skin, and saw ripeness and readiness. Again, he wrapped long supple fingers around, again, he began the motions that should bring release, and again, he pushed against Damian’s mind to make him accept the pleasure. Mentally tallying the time, and finding it short, Jean-Claude leaned over what he held, and began to flicker his tongue over the head. Once again, small sounds began to come from the captive. Thinking to bring matters to a quick conclusion, he plunged Damian’s hardness deep into his mouth once, then twice, and then was thrown backwards with a fresh wave of fear.

“Time,” there was the dreaded word, in a happy voice. “The second lesson has not proven successful either. We begin to doubt the skill of the teacher.”

Jean-Claude had landed hard on his back on the stone floor. Now he tried to rise gracefully, but found himself being yanked to his feet by the Russians, who had moved near the table at a sign from their mistress. Foul breath bearing foul words came to his ear.

“We gets to hurt you tonight, Prettyboy.” One of the Russians twisted his arm as he spoke. “Red never spends for no man, three hundred tries and he’ll never.” Was that a prediction? Or a history? Mon Dieu. “And that’ll make us rich, and happy 'cause then we’ll get to play with you and then you won’t be so pretty, hur, hur, hur.” Vicious laughter tore at him, tore at his confidence. He shook off their hands and brushed himself off, trying to resettle his clothing and his spirits. He reminded himself that he had gifts unknown to the vampires mocking him.

Shutting his ears against the comments from the crowd, Jean-Claude stepped again to Damian’s side, and then laid his cheek against the other man’s. “She is not keeping fair time,” Damian whispered. “She knows me too well; she knows when I am on the edge of release.”

“I did not expect fairness,” Jean-Claude whispered in return. “We will have to surprise her. I will have to surprise you.”

“How?” Dread colored the question.

“I have one more weapon, one that has never failed me. Trust me that it can be done.” Jean-Claude could see the tension and fear in Damian, now that they had only this one last chance. “Remember what I told you on the beach? Remember, and help me here! Help me to save us both! Now kiss me!”

Even as Morvoren called out for them to begin the third and last attempt, Jean-Claude captured Damian’s mouth with his own, probing hard with his tongue and his power, forcing Damian to open to him, letting the ardeur wash over him. At first Damian froze, then he began to respond, tongue dancing, exploring. Finally, having filled his frightened comrade-in-arms with desire, Jean-Claude pulled away from the kiss.

“And is it not a mighty weapon?” he smiled into wide green eyes. “There is more to come. Try not to moan.” With that, he kissed Damian’s mouth too quickly for a reply, and then trailed his own mouth down, down, over neck and collarbone, across chest, following the line of ribcage, swirling across belly, then followed the line of red hair pointing down from the navel.

He caught his target in one hand, pointing it upwards, and slid his mouth over the head and shaft, moving deceptively slowly. With his other hand, he played with the soft, moveable parts at the base. Knowing that speed was of the essence, he offered all he could before Damian’s reactions would betray them. Oblivious to the watchers, he sucked, he stroked, moving his hand smoothly from balls to thigh. Then, with unworldly speed, Jean-Claude pushed Damian’s leg to one side and sank his fangs into the meat of the inner thigh. He pushed a great spark of power into his bite, knowing that it would be the last touch needed to push Damian over the edge; he rejoiced at the cry and the pulsing in his hand. Damian’s orgasm washed over him, and he let the ardeur feed, almost as a payment for its aid.

Jean-Claude’s only awareness apart from Damian had been for the call of time that would have doomed them. It hadn’t come, and they were safe. Safe! He leaned his forehead against Damian’s thigh and let out a small sigh. A full blown reaction of relief would have to wait for the leisure to indulge it. The awareness of the crowd grew in his senses; there was much shouting and squabbling as the bettors paid up or collected. Several vampires came towards them, Belle Morte leading the way, her hands linked through the arms of two of the castle’s vampires. Jean-Claude released Damian’s body parts and stood straight to greet them.

Belle Morte smiled at the two of them; the look on her face told Jean-Claude that she, too, had fed from them. “Bon, tres bon, mes beaux chéris. I have won handsomely tonight; the winnings will pay the charter of the fluyt that sailed us here. Perhaps you should anger Paolo more often.” She beamed at Damian, regarding his well made form, spattered with his own fluids, as she rubbed her shoulders against Gerard and Reynold. Reynold had no apparent awareness outside of Belle; Gerard eyed the Viking, taking in his heaving chest and still firm manhood. Damian glared back at him in a way that promised retribution for daring to look.

“I suspect that Paolo feels more wrathful than ever, particularly if he lost money on the wagers.” Jean-Claude reached to release the bindings on Damian’s wrists and ankles; no one else was doing it, and his friend wanted his freedom.

“La, he has been forbidden to express his displeasure with you, or with your friend.” Belle reinforced her order with a stern look at the glowering Paolo. “It could be that the two of you, with Asher, could be strong enough to make him bottle his displeasure permanently.”

“That is the stuff of dreams, Madame.” But such a wonderful dream.

“We shall see. For now you may run away and amuse yourself.” She pulled the two vampires closer to her. They looked pleased about it; Jean-Claude was pleased that Belle had chosen Gerard and Reynold, not Damian and himself, for her own evening’s amusement. He remembered why Damian had spoken the names of these two earlier and thought that they would now pay the price for enjoying themselves at his and Damian’s expense.

Damian swung to a sitting position; before he could take his feet he needed to collect himself - the encounter left him shaky, unlike any other sex he had experienced. It truly felt like the aftermath of battle. A moment or two, and he felt able to stand; he hopped from the table. He needed to stretch; how long had he been on that damned rack? But he would not do it here, it would seem weak. He turned and bowed to his dread lady.

“It seems that an old dog can learn a new trick, Schatzen*,” she purred. “We must see how well you remember it.” Morvoren trailed a finger down his chest, smearing the droplets across his skin, and drew a curlicue around his navel.

“Given the last seven hundred years, my lady, I would say it depends entirely on the trainer.” His heart sank, there was no way this could be repeated with anyone other than Jean-Claude, but she would try, oh, yes, she would try. Just when he thought he had experienced all the variety of hells she could invent. Perhaps they could go straight to the punishment part. If not? Well, the sun rose every morning, and the sea was always there.

“You have entertained us well this night. Go clean yourself, and consider your duties done.” Morvoren turned and offered her hand to Paolo, who scowled at the two men as he tucked it into the crook of his arm. “Jean-Claude, will you indulge me, and let us postpone our time together? I think I shall play with our guest; it may be I can change his mood.”

A/N German, literally "little treasure", used like "Sweetie"


Chapter 10: Chapter 10 Calm Before the Storm

Jean-Claude swung the light cloak from his shoulders and offered it silently to Damian. Surprised and grateful, he wrapped himself, trying to keep the cloth off the damp places. He headed for the retiring room to recover his clothing, the other vampire gliding along side. They moved in silence until they came to the bathing room.

Once there, the tall redhead removed the cloak and returned it to his companion. “I was careful. I don’t think it will need to go the fullers. Thank you for the loan.”

Jean-Claude flipped the cloak back over his own shoulders. “No thanks are needed. It was little enough, after what I had to do.” He was careful not to look at Damian, who had begun to wash himself. Enough violation had been done this night, he would not watch, though the sight was surely glorious.

Damian dabbed at the puncture marks on his thigh. He glanced up at Jean-Claude, who seemed to be studying something in the middle distance. “I do thank you, though, for shifting your bite.” He bent his head again, letting his hair hide his face. He might have been blushing.

“That is not a matter of thanks, either, only experience. I have been forced to play this particular game before.”

“Not a game, a battle, as you said, and had we lost, our lot would have been worse than any prisoner’s. To think that these are the wounds of battle. I have never before won one of these battles.” Damian was having trouble making the wounds stop oozing; Jean-Claude must have thrust great power into the bite.

“At least it was a battle with a decisive outcome. It is better, by far, that there is no question regarding success.” A memory flickered in the blue eyes, quickly suppressed.

“Success; how many things that describes. There was no reason to punish us, your lady won much money, my lady was happy, I have spent no time with Paolo, the audience was entertained, neither of us has bled. Much...” Damian pressed harder on the punctures. “That is success.”

“Add to your list that Paolo has taken my place in your lady’s bed tonight.” They both chuckled at that.

“Let us hope it gives him no new ideas to try at home.” They sobered.

“There may be many people angry at us for our success.” Damian ran a washrag dipped in the chilly water over his chest and belly. “Those who know me would never have predicted this outcome.”

“As may be. Those who know me would not believe any other outcome possible. They will think taking three attempts came out of showmanship, not of wanting to spare you the contact.” Jean-Claude finally looked towards his companion as his eye was drawn by the flap of the linen as Damian dressed.

Breeches and blouse now in place, Damian crossed the room to a bench to replace stockings and shoes. Jean-Claude took a few steps towards him, then stopped.

“I do ask your forgiveness, for doing what you had had “a bellyful.” I would not have willingly given you a bad night.”

Damian was suddenly on his feet, face to face with Jean-Claude, clutching his upper arms. “Bad night? You think this was a bad night? Face up, with a bit of pleasure, and a cloak afterwards, instead of face down, pain, and more humiliation after? Friend, on a truly bad night, I ...” His gorge had risen at the memory of the last truly bad night. He could not, would not, tell the tale of that night. He stopped shaking the other vampire, and forced the memories down. Swallowing hard, he continued more softly. “You were under threat, even as I. We defended ourselves. We defended ourselves successfully! Remember that!” He permitted himself a deep breath, and loosened his grip. He looked into Jean-Claude’s eyes, willing him, almost rolling him, to believe.

After a moment, Jean-Claude placed one hand atop Damian’s, and said softly, “I will remember.”

As they left the room, Damian spoke. “There is one thing I wish to know. What is a Grinling Gibbons?”

“Oh, that. Babbling on about him was all I could think of on such short notice. He is, or was, he’s dead now, a Dutch woodcarver, very skilled in carving fruits and flowers and such. Quite the fashion in England. I saw some of his work on a trip to London with my lady. A cascade of flowers and for some reason, a duck, cunningly shaped. I myself don’t care for the odor of limewood.”

“You have seen my best work already. I have done some other decorative carving, some cabinetry. Most of it has passed from my hands, like the dryad. It is a good way to pass a long night, here.” Damian thought he would like more nights to spend in such pursuits, it meant he was left alone.

“In order to have my story straight for that thrice-cursed Paolo, perhaps I should see what ever of your work you can show me. My only artistry is fashion, and my only canvas is myself.” Jean-Claude did not think it politic to mention his reputation for artistry in bed.

They chatted in this way until they came to Damian’s temporary chamber, which contained only a wardrobe, a chair, and a coffin. The coffin was gleaming oak, with overlapping planks riveted together, hand rubbed with an oil finish. It sported handles formed of hawks’ heads, four on the box, four on the lid, which was not hinged to the box. These Damian had carved himself, and it could be seen that his skill grew as he completed each of the eight heads. Jean-Claude duly admired the work, and enquired as to the construction of the coffin.

“Clinker-built,” Damian explained. “This was the way we built the longboats, though we would have used more rivets. I did not lay a keel, though; it would not have been comfortable! A last vestige of my first life.”

“And your lady permits that?” Jean-Claude recalled that his hostess liked to remove pleasures.

“Only because she believes the memories grieve me.” The Viking stroked the side of the coffin, feeling the overlapped planks bump against his hand.

The French vampire said nothing more. He knew that there was both pain and comfort to be had from such relics.

Jean-Claude looked into the coffin, curious to see what had been used instead of a keel. The bottom was flat, and cradled a vicious-looking blade four feet long from pommel to tip. He quirked the corner of his mouth towards Damian. “A ferocious companion, is she not?”

“Actually, no.” Damian picked up the blade with one hand and fell into a two-handed guard stance; the grip had just enough length to accommodate his hands. “It keeps the ferocious companions away. Mostly.” He swung the blade two-handed, and then performed the same stroke one handed, something a human could not have managed with the same grace. “I like the length, and the hand guards are much wider than the swords I learned with. I hate hand injuries; they slow me.” A hand injury had helped bring him to his current state.

“Indeed. I work out with lighter blades, with basket-type hand guards. I hate getting the blood out of my cuffs.” It had been many years since that had been a problem, but the French vampire saw no reason to brag.

Damian shushed him. “If my lady learns of that, we may find ourselves in the arena tomorrow night, using each other’s weapons.”

Jean-Claude found that alarming, so he changed the subject smoothly, peeking through the bars covering the sole window of the room.

“One floor up from the courtyard, and an eastern exposure,” he said with a shudder. At least your rest cannot be disturbed by the noise from below. Can your lady detect your fear from across the castle? Why else would you be given such a chamber?”

“She can taste the fear from a distance, even as one can smell cooking odors from the kitchens. This room was meant to contain humans, originally.” Damian’s chuckle was mirthless. “One can skimp on materials used for such, they lack the strength to force their way out. Other parts of the castle are built far more strongly.”

Suddenly Damian looked at Jean-Claude, then looked away. He started to speak, and caught himself. Another deep breath, and the question came out. “Jean-Claude? What you did to me, your weapon… Was that the ardeur?” He looked at the floor, not at his friend.

“It was.” Jean-Claude looked out the window. “I didn’t want to do it, I didn’t want to do any of it, but I saw no other way to save us.”

“I think there was no other way.” Damian’s voice went soft. “I am just glad to know that it was something outside of me, not something part of me.” The redhead glanced quickly at his friend, who had glanced at him. They broke eye contact almost faster than they had made it. “Because I am afraid of what I would have done had I not been shackled.”

Jean-Claude’s voice was barely audible. “That is the nature of the ardeur. It is the curse of my line; there is no shame in it.” Damian still was looking away from the French vampire, so he did not see his lips form the last words silently. “For you.”

There was more than one narrow escape for them to discuss that night, though it might only be a temporary reprieve.

“My lady said she intended to take you tonight-she will not be deflected for long. Do you think you might be able to overwhelm her that same way? That there might be pleasure for her and safety for you?” For the first time Damian felt hope for Jean-Claude.

“I don’t know. But be assured that I will try!” Jean-Claude felt hope, too, no one had ever broken the grip of his ardeur, though no one of Morvoren’s level of power had ever tried. Perhaps Morvoren would not try, either.

“Damian?” Suddenly, Jean-Claude was unsure how to ask his question. “That fear, that she threw at us? Does she do that in bed?”


“And you can still…?”

“I have to. I told you, there is no joy for me there.”

“I wonder how Paolo is doing?”

“Wish him the joy of it.” Green eyes met blue, and they both laughed. Jean-Claude threw Damian a look of admiration, and changed the subject.

“So. I think I must leave you now. I do not wish to be found here by the sun. Perhaps we can fly again after dark?” Jean-Claude took his leave, intending to return to his room and add something to his long letter to Asher; far better that he should learn of tonight’s events from Jean-Claude than from another.

** ** **

Jean-Claude was traveling down the last corridor to his own underground chambers, when a coarse voice addressed him, and large shapes loomed from the darkness.

“We don’t like you, Prettyboy. We don’t like you at all.”

“Quelle dommage. So sorry to learn that.” Jean–Claude tried rolling Piotr and Sergei, planning to just disappear and leave them wondering. But when he tried slipping past, a huge hand flashed out and slammed him into a wall.

“You cost us everything, Prettyboy. We shoulda won those bets. Red don’t ever spend for a man.” Jean-Claude ducked away from the hand that flashed out to punch him in the right side, only to slam into the fist that struck out towards his left, rocking him backwards. These two had decades to practice fighting together, they would be trebly dangerous. Hurting, but still thinking fast, the French vampire threw out great power, intending to roll them this time and escape. But he could not evade all of the punches that rained down on him, and the taunts kept coming.

“Oh yeah, roll us, will ya? Just try.”

“Think you’re some kind of master, do ya?”

Unimaginative, but thorough, Damian had said. With luck he could survive that combination, if he could just make it to dawn, if they had no weaponry. This corridor might even be dark enough to survive the daylight, if he could just endure the next few minutes.

Jean-Claude could not influence them, so he thought to rise and flee overhead. He launched into the air, but the low ceiling didn’t leave enough clearance. One of the Russians caught a handful of cloak, pulling him down again. He cancelled the levitation to fall heavily onto his assailant, bearing him to the ground. The other kicked swiftly, intending to rock the smaller man’s head back, but Jean-Claude was as fast as he, and pulled away to let the hobnailed boot crash into the attacker on the ground.

“Hey! Watch it, dumkopf!” roared the kicked one. His head was entangled in the cloak, but lack of sight didn’t keep him from striking out, catching his quarry on the side of the head. Shaken, Jean-Claude was not fast enough to evade the next kick, which caught him full on the thigh. He heard as well as felt the bone give. A kick low to his back produced an ominous lack of pain in his lower extremities. He then heard the cloth of his cloak rip, as his attacker finally yanked the fabric apart to free himself. The Russian flashed to his feet, to add his kicks to the melee. The kick he aimed for Jean-Claude’s face was deflected, though at the cost of one, perhaps both bones in the forearm, so he turned his attention to ribs, which cracked under the onslaught. Jean-Claude was weakening under the blows and the pain, and failed to turn fast enough to avoid a last kick to the head. The recoil slammed his head against the stone floor, and he lay still, dazed but conscious.

“Drop his breeches, Sergei,” commanded Piotr, who was fumbling at his own.

“What for?” Sergei looked towards the door that led outside.

“I kicked his ass, now I’m gonna fuck it.” Piotr’s breeches were now down around his thighs; he spat into his hands and rubbed his hard-on.

“You wanna be tucked away by dawn, you don’t have time.” Sergei scooped Jean-Claude up and threw him over his shoulder. Every broken rib screamed pain at the impact, and screamed again at every step as the Russian giant jogged down the corridor. He opened the door to the courtyard, and went through. “I’m gonna leave him where his ass’ll get toasty warm.”

With that, the giant vampire threw his burden to the ground, and bolted back indoors, laughing.

Jean-Claude had recovered himself enough to scream at last, a thin little scream that none but a vampire could have heard inside the castle. “M’aidez! M’aidez!” As he cried out, he lifted himself on his unbroken arm to see how his hips were turned at an unnatural angle, one which he could never have assumed on purpose, that might quickly become permanent. He lay flat and cried out into the dirt as he tried to shift his pelvis with his hands, the broken bones in his arm grinding as he moved. He could not stand, too much was broken, he was too weak to levitate, and the sun was coming.

** ** **

Already lying in his coffin, stripped for the daylight, Damian heard the call. It took a moment to understand who was calling; then he flashed to the window. He saw the bundle on the ground that was his friend, and he froze for an instant. Gripping the bars across the window, he heaved, and ripped them from their moorings. He had built this, he knew how most efficiently to dismember it. The bars came out as a unit, which he tossed to one side. Had he been in his usual chamber, he would have thrown down the tapestry from his wall, but here there was none; the only thing of use he had was his coffin. With speed borne of fear, he picked it up and stuffed it out the window opening. One of the carven handles flew off as it caught on the sill, but he forced the coffin through and trusted to his workmanship to keep it intact. It landed with a reverberating crash close to his friend, but not close enough for him to reach. It seemed whole: Damian was about to trust both their lives to it.

He followed the coffin out the window, spending a little power to control the descent to the courtyard below. “Can you straighten your body?”

“Non, I am too damaged.”

Damian grasped both of Jean-Claude’s feet and pulled him straight, pulling a scream from him. Thinking hastily about the interior dimensions of his coffin, he dashed over and raised it on his back, looking very like a turtle. He ran back to his friend, to stand with his feet near his friend’s face. He gasped out, “Sorry, this will hurt,” as he threw himself down flat on top of the wounded vampire, covering them both with the coffin. He chinked one or two places with the shreds of the once-fine cloak, but the edges mostly met the ground where he could see. Then the vampires went limp and dead, as the true dawn came.

Chapter 11: Chapter 11 A Day Outside

Many thanks to my dear beta, Queen of Nightmares, for her thoughts and guidance with this chapter!

~ ~ ~

A vampire’s castle keeps vampire’s hours: the human contingent therefore kept later hours than similar, wholly human establishments. It was mid-morning, then, when the servants of the castle found the coffin lying in the courtyard, where no coffin had been seen before.

A knot of men was standing around it, debating what to do. Their first thought was to replace it in its usual spot, their second was to wonder why it was there at all. It occurred to them that someone might be underneath it, who would not appreciate their ministrations at all.

Ulrike was proceeding to her early tasks, armed with bucket and scrub-brushes, when she saw the men standing about. She ran across the courtyard, afraid that she recognized the coffin.

“What is Damian’s coffin doing out here?” she asked, voice shaking.

“Damian’s? Huh.” was her only answer.

“How do you know it’s his?” a carter asked.

“Don’t I dust and scrub their rooms?” she replied. “No one else has that shape and finish, or those handles.”

“You sure? Maybe you should just run in and check.” said one man, slyly.

“But why is it here?” she persisted.


“Heard there was some excitement at the banquet last night. Maybe this is a part of it,” another laborer offered.

“Think we should just put it back? Doesn’t belong out here.”

“What if he’s under it? He’ll burn in the sun!” Ulrike was shaken by the thought.

“So what if he does? Good riddance.” She didn’t know the man who ventured that comment. He was dressed in the breeks and smock of a laborer, and might have come in with the cartload of wood that was partially unloaded by a service door.

“Yeah, one less vampire in the world.” There was much murmured agreement.

“You‘re just saying that cause you like him, huh, girl? Better than us real people? Cause he bites so nice?” The blacksmith spoke in a mocking drawl, and eyed her in a way that made her feel naked.

“I’ve fed him. We’ve all fed them. He didn’t ask for more.” She did not want to lose her temper, lest she lose this argument.

“Bet he didn’t have to ask, did he?” She had never liked the blacksmith, and could grow to hate him now. He had begun paying attention to her lately, not that she wanted him to. She touched the knife in her pocket, a gift from him, and thought about stabbing him with it. Then she noticed something that might make them leave the coffin alone.

“But look!” Ulrike knelt on the cobbles and fingered the fabric that showed beneath the edge of wood. “I saw this in one of the guest’s rooms. Maybe that’s who is under there.”

“How can you tell from a little scrap of fabric?”

“It’s far finer than anything we have, and it’s a different weave from anything our vampires have. See, there’s a pattern woven into it.” She stroked the jacquard gently.

“So what?” The men had begun to warm to the idea of a vampire bonfire.

“So, if a guest goes up in flames, the mistress will be so very angry. It will reflect badly on her, and she’ll take it out on us!” That seemed to give the group pause.

“So who’s gonna tell her?” That was a groom, who had reason to hope never to speak to his lady again.

“When she punishes, is she fussy about who?” asked the carter, who had been punished for offences not his own. He looked around at the other men, meeting their eyes to remind them of this truth. Most of them knew the story; they looked sideways at the groom, who should have had the beating the carter had taken.

“No, and they can smell stuff, like hounds. We’ve been here a while, she’ll smell us, punish all of us!” The groom sounded frightened, as well he should have been. The beating he had received from the carter and his friends rivaled the punishment ordered by Morvoren.

“We’ll never get a better chance at ‘em” The blacksmith had his own grudge against Damian, one he was not planning to discuss with the other men.

“You know, for one of them,” that last word was spat, “He ain’t all that bad.” Ulrike looked approvingly at the carter, who knew exactly what had happened between the blacksmith and Damian. Never telling the tale kept his horses shod.

“Yeah, Jens, he did you a good turn a couple days ago.”

“Like what?” Apparently no one else had heard the story.

“In the stables, when that guest, that Paolo guy, told you to bend over, Damian came over to get a saddle, and he had to let you go, and my, didn’t you run!” This brought much laughter. Ulrike nodded thoughtfully.

“Not sure he meant to do that. I think it just happened.”

“Most of ‘em woulda just got in line.”

“He’s polite.” The carter had no such high opinion of any other of the castle’s vampires.

“He still bites.” The blacksmith would not tell the other men what else Damian did. Ulrike glared at him.

The debate might have raged all day, but Ulrike dropped her bucket and brushes and climbed up to sit upon the coffin. “This stays here until dark,” she declared. That way, our mistress will know only that we have tended one of hers, whether it’s a guest or not, and she’ll be pleased with us.” There was doubt on the faces around her. “She might even reward us.” That brought smiles.

The carter stepped forward and patted Ulrike’s shoulder as he addressed the crowd. “Let the girl stay here and guard. If we can take punishment when we did nothing, shouldn’t we take the rewards when we have done nothing?” As the carter looked over the crowd and smiled, they laughed. He swung his gaze to the blacksmith, challenging the man to accept his words. The blacksmith would not meet his eyes and turned to go, with a last unreadable look at Ulrike. “So let’s go, and let her do our work!” and the men dispersed, some still muttering.

So all the day, Ulrike sat on the coffin, a small guardian in blonde braids, of exactly whom, she was not sure. Hungry, thirsty, with a bladder threatening to burst, she stayed at her self-appointed post. Twice, a few of the men came out to suggest she go to the kitchen for a meal, or that the outhouse was not far. She did not trust the glitter in their eyes, and stayed, resolute. When the head housekeeper came out to chastise her for neglecting her chores, she explained her reasoning.

“Still, girl, you’ve got a certain amount of work to do, it better get done, even if you think you have to be out here til dark.”

As Ulrike did think she’d need to stay that long, her heart sank. This would be a very long day, indeed.

** ** **

Towards sundown, a crowd began to gather in the courtyard. Thwarted of the bonfire, they expected to be entertained somehow by what emerged from beneath the coffin. Nor were they disappointed.

As the light faded away, thumping noises came from the coffin, with muffled shrieks. The crowd stepped back as one, but stayed, avid. Ulrike scrambled off and stood at a slight distance. The coffin flew up and over, revealing a naked redhead leaping to his feet. They gaped as he flipped a dark-haired vampire to his back and yanked on his legs, straightening his spine. When he planted his foot firmly in the prone one’s groin and pulled, hard, on his leg, they gasped. When he held the other’s crooked forearm across his knee and broke it, there were screams. And when he manipulated the forearm to reduce the fracture, one or two fainted. When he palpated the clothed man’s ribs, there were catcalls.

At last, the naked physician stood and surveyed the crowd. Modesty was completely beside the point, now. “He needs to feed, now! Who will help him?” Damian looked over the assembly, hoping for a volunteer. No one budged. “Please!”

Ulrike wordlessly held out her arm. Damian pushed it down, gently. “No, no. It’s too soon for you. There will be another.” Again he scanned the group. “Jens. Please. Help my friend.” And just before he decided to roll the man, Jens walked up to the vampire on the ground, knelt, and held out his arm. The trepidation on his face eased as Jean-Claude struck and began to feed. The pain lines in the vampire’s face smoothed out, the waxy whiteness of his face changed back to a more normal pallor. Jens’ face went slack; he closed his eyes, and shifted himself inside his breeks with his free hand. Jean-Claude, it seemed, was making it worth his while to permit a feeding.

Damian turned to the crowd again, and said, “We thank Jens. The rest of you, be off about your business.” No one moved, everyone stared. Well, he could reinforce an order with a rolling, or…”unless you all like looking at my manhood.” The crowd, almost all men, began to melt away. A few women took a really long look, before they moved away, too. Damian turned to Ulrike. “How long have you been here?”

“Since morning. Some of the men wanted to move the coffin,” she confessed.

“You must be most uncomfortable then. Please, go, get what you need. I will find you, for a talk, later.” He let the smile crinkle the corners of his eyes. “We will be fine, now, thanks to you.”

She bobbed her head briefly and took off with the most dignified gait she could manage, directly for the privy.

A sigh at his feet told him that Jean-Claude was fully fed and that Jens was glad of it. The man rose unsteadily and ambled off, a dreamy smile on his face. Standing, Jean-Claude removed his cloak, then realized it was not in the same condition as when he had last lent it. Bemused, he offered it to Damian, who took it from his hand and ripped it the rest of the way to part it in two. Fashioning himself a loincloth, he regarded the fashionably dressed, though tattered Frenchman.

“Do you think the style will catch on at court?” he asked Jean-Claude.

“A man of many skills can make his own fashion.” Now intact and fed, Jean-Claude began to stretch out his arms and legs, apparently reveling in how everything moved in only the correct directions and at the proper places. “Is field medicine much needed here?”

“Someone has to reassemble the toys.” Looking very primitive, with his streaming hair and impromptu garb, Damian inhaled deeply through his nose. “You smell of the Russians. How did you encounter them?”

“Mostly with my breakable parts. They caught me in the lower corridor, to complain of lost wagers and other lost opportunities.” He flexed interlaced fingers. “I could not roll them to escape.” His eyebrow asked the question.

“They are very strong, stronger than they should be, given their age and status. I think my lady strengthened them somehow.” Damian snorted. “She should have made them smarter, instead. To have a guest burn in the sun would create grave difficulties with a Council power. Even given your survival, this will be a huge political problem. The repercussions could last for decades.”

“I am grateful to have survived, with only injuries that could heal. They certainly intended to do more harm than that.” Jean-Claude looked pensive, then brightened. “Tell me, if they had broken my nose, would you have planted your foot on my face to set it?” he teased.

“It is good they did not.” Damian touched his own nose, which was not quite straight. “I don’t set noses well.”

“You build coffins well. This was not destroyed by a fall from an upper story window.” Jean-Claude drifted to the overturned box and began to run his hands over the wood. “There are no open seams, even after you flung it from us.” He came to the broken handles, and stilled.

Damian, too, was inspecting for soundness. He had already found that the one handle had been jerked off in its trip through the window, and now saw that another hawk’s head had broken off where the coffin had bounced during their exit from it. He began to look around for the piece. Finding it, he handed it to his friend. “Here, you have a memento of danger passed.”

Jean-Claude turned it over in his hand, admiring the realistic carving. The hawk had to be the last one made, or second to last, from the excellence of the detail. Then he tucked it into his pocket. “I will think of it as the figurehead of your ship which sailed us past the dangerous rocks.” He patted the coffin. “It is built as stoutly as a ship.”

The Viking nodded. “A seafaring people need seaworthy ships.”

Jean-Claude rose, and made to lift one end of the coffin. “Well, then, mon capitaine de vaisseau, where shall we dock it?”

Chapter 12: Chapter 12 Aftermath

The battered dandy stood before his mistress, who was making her own toilette. She smoothed powder on her face and tried different placements of the little star shaped beauty patch as she listened to the tale of his recent misadventures. He left nothing out, knowing that she would be incensed by certain aspects, if only because his attackers had not received her sanction, or arranged to let her watch.

“Damian saved me, at great risk to himself.” he concluded.

“Damian? The handsome redhead whose virtue you compromised last night?” La Belle Morte had not troubled to learn his name, though she recalled the lines of his body quite clearly. “He must have enjoyed your attentions more than he was willing to admit.”

“He is my assigned host. He takes his duties seriously.” Jean-Claude refused to let her see how that comment stung. Time to plant an idea. “This is a serious breach of guest etiquette, ma jolie, an insult to you. How shall you demand recompense?” He would not presume on his own value to her.

Belle regarded her reflection in the candle-lit mirror. She turned to admire her various angles. “This may take some thought. The Earthmover has forbidden me the usual compensation; I may not duel while acting in the name of the Council, nor may I strike the first blow, and the insult direct was not to me, so he will declare a first blow. The chateau is nearly finished; I will not provoke him.” Belle took a rice powder puff and dusted her shoulders. “But there are other ways. There should be political advantage for me, as well as some material gain.” She patted her cleavage with the rice-powder puff. “The insult to me was done through you. Have you a preference?” Not that she would honor it unless it suited her, he thought.

“You could deprive our hostess of something with great utility to her.” Belle smiled. “Preferably something whose absence causes many little pricks of annoyance.” Belle smiled and preened. “It need not be anything you want especially for yourself. You can always trade it later, and know she misses it.” This was good political thinking, Jean-Claude knew. It would appeal to her self interest, and make someone else unhappy at the same time. “You could ask for unlimited harbor rights, and direct much shipping through this little port. It would cut into her labor pool and her income.”

Belle smiled as she thought of clogging the local artery of commerce. “Your head injuries have not clouded your thinking, Jean-Claude. That would annoy her greatly, and would benefit me, as I know a few heads of shipping concerns that would pay well for such. It may be that she considers that as well, and decides that it is too high a payment.”

“This is true. Perhaps then, the crops from a specified acreage, for a period of years. Lest she stint on the labor for those fields, any yield below a certain amount would have to have additional tonnage added. That, too, would cut into her income, and also cause shortages for her people, perhaps make them go hungry. It might even foment rebellion against her, after a time, and it could not be laid to your door.” Jean-Claude knew she would love long distance trouble making. “Then, it would also add to your income. Perhaps a combination, the crops, with harbor-right for the ships to transport it. Or sell it back to her, at a premium, that her humans be fed and peace kept in her district.” He summoned a smirk. All those lessons beaten into him as a child were helpful now.

“She has been master here a long time. It may be that she sees the long term risks of that plan even more clearly than we. You are a fount of ideas, but tres grande, tres grande! Think of something annoying on a smaller scale.”

Belle reached for the perfume bottle and began to dab scent here and there. She looked sideways at Jean-Claude, to be sure he was admiring the show properly. Ever alert, he changed his look from greed to desire, and let his eyes roam over her neck and chest. Still depleted from his recent ordeal, he hoped she would not make demands upon his flesh.

He continued, “I have not learned the estate here well enough to know all the people. Have you learned of any whose absence would create the irritation we desire?”

Belle looked at him full on. “You must be addled after all, Jean-Claude. Have you not been telling me of just the person?”

“Have I?” He schooled his features to bewilderment.

“Mais oui, my pretty featherhead. Have you not just told me of one who entertains, builds, manages the humans, produces art, lies with the mistress, rescues the unwary, is lovely to look at, and as you would know best, delightful to touch?” She reached for her hairbrush and playfully rapped at his knuckles with it. “Have you not been paying attention to all the little things your playmate, Damian, does to make this household run smoothly? His absence would create many little pinpricks.” Belle smiled, almost wide enough to flash fang, at the thought. “I believe I shall demand him as the price of my soothed pride. Perhaps with two or three others, lest she think him most important to me. Now, run away, play with your friend, while I negotiate her future discomfort.” Belle made a shooing motion, to hasten him from the chamber.

But Jean-Claude did not turn to go. “My lady, there is one other thing…”

“And what might that be?” Belle did not turn away from the mirror.

“Our hostess has not yet taken her promised time with me; she changed her mind last night and took Paolo. I would not wish this to hamper your negotiations.” Jean-Claude was uncertain which direction this reminder would take, but it had to be considered.

Belle smiled, the sort of smile he did not like to see. “No doubt the experience was most instructive for Paolo. I have not seen him yet this evening… But it hampers nothing! You are a tasty treat,” and Belle reached out to pat Jean-Claude’s backside, “and she shall not sample you until this other matter is made good. I shall say that you remain indisposed from your ordeal. Now, off with you, and do not be found until the wee hours!” This time, Jean-Claude bowed and disappeared.

The bedraggled vampire made his way back to his own chamber, wary this time of the Russians, who might be foolish enough to try again. Once bolted in his room, he stripped off his shredded clothing, intending to clean himself in the now-chilly bathwater. Catching sight of himself in the dressing room mirror, he bowed grandly to his naked reflection, admiring the flawless skin, the straight limbs, which could have been taken from him by his recent beating but were not, thanks to his vampire constitution and his vampire friend. Then he bowed again, this time sweeping an imaginary plumed hat across his body, and murmured, “Felicitations, canny one, on making her think of it herself! And you have laid the foundation for moving him beyond her court!”

He set one foot in the hip bath, and began to wash one section of himself at a time. The room-temperature water was not nearly so pleasant as the hot water at the grove; Jean-Claude had never had access to hot water as frequently as he had during this trip. He was sure Damian had no idea exactly how much he treasured their nightly visits to the hot spring. There had to be a way to provide such a treat indoors, for would it not be splendid to have all the hot water one desired? While he was dreaming grand dreams, he would have the dirty water remove itself. In this wonderful dream, one could wash his hair and have it be dry soon after. Jean-Claude hummed a Lully gavotte and tried to imagine a world that contained such delights.

Jean-Claude finished his bathing, dressed for flying, and went in search of his companion. Entering Damian’s chamber, he saw repairs underway. Damian had used the time to collect tools and supplies and mix mortar, and was ready to replace the bars he had wrenched off that morning.

“You are just in time. We will reseat the grill, then you hold it while I set the pins. I have already cleared out the old mortar.”

That done, Jean-Claude watched as Damian expertly troweled on mortar and smoothed it neatly. “Is that repair meant to hold humans or to hold vampires?” he finally inquired.

“Oh, humans, definitely. One never knows, I may have to make a quick exit from this room again some time.” Damian gathered up his tools, intending to clean and replace them. Perhaps his mistress would overlook the damage to the building since he had done the repairs promptly. Perhaps she would recognize a service to her as host since the damage had been done to protect her guest and, it could be said, her honor. Perhaps they would encounter a pig in the air as they flew.

“Are you ready to fly? I would like to go out, if only for a short distance.” Jean-Claude was sure Damian would understand not only his need to be elsewhere, but his lack of stamina.

“Of course. Here, take these, and we’ll go. I haven’t fed yet, so we can go to a village where I am well enough received that there are volunteers, even at this hour.” Damian, too, wished to be away from the castle. The Russians couldn’t fly, and he was sure that they’d heard by now of the escape of their victim. They would probably have words and blows meant just for him, since he had spoiled their betting as surely as had Jean-Claude.

As the men leaped into the air, the liege lady of one encountered the liege lady of the other. The accord between the men extended the length of the night and included a pleasant time with a brunette who smelled of bread, and later, of sex and blood, who bid them farewell with kisses. The accord between the ladies lasted less than ten minutes, and that encounter ended with angry words and a ringing slap.


Damian and Jean-Claude returned this time to a hustling and bustling, as servants loaded carts and drove them towards the harbor. They looked at each other in sick understanding, knowing that the abrupt end of the visit had something to do with the events of the previous morning.

Jean-Claude looked around for any of his fellow vampires, thinking they would have news. Seeing none, he realized he would have to go to Belle. He had said nothing of his machinations to Damian, being fairly sure that he would not see a temporary attachment to Belle’s court as either good, or temporary. Things must have gone badly between the master vampires, probably because each expected to always get her way.

Belle was in a terrible temper. She began to shriek as Jean-Claude appeared at her door, where she was directing servants in packing. “So, the stupid bitch sees nothing wrong with her fools beating you to a pulp, trying to rape you, and then trying to burn you! She has no propriety, that one, the etiquette of a dog, the manners of a baboon! She is a boil on the face of society, and the sooner we are out of here, the better!” She picked up an ornament, not her own, and threw it against the wall. “’We must expect hot tempers,’” she whined in imitation. “’We must consider the disappointment!”’ Belle looked around for something else to break.

“Guest right has no meaning to her! Council has no meaning to her! She shows no proper respect! ‘We could trade subordinates,’” Belle mocked again. “Trade? Trade! She thinks Paolo is a proper trade for her little Damian, of human skills and inferior power! No, she makes no recompense for the insult, nor an apology! She thinks her power is great enough to brazen this out! Oh, but I can curtail her power! There will be no one, not even one, of her lineage, in Prague! I shall return to the Council and tell them she has made no one suitable, and let them think what they like of her powers!” Finding no more breakables, the crunching underfoot indicating she had exhausted the supply already, she kicked at a drum table, which exploded into matchsticks. Jean-Claude restrained his flinch: the table was oak.

“Oh, but she will pay! Her people will pay! She herself will make them pay. After they have made her pay!” With this enigmatic scream, La Belle Morte abruptly noticed that Jean-Claude was there as a person, not just an audience for her tantrum.

“Well, my little politician, have you any more suggestions?” Jean-Claude said nothing. “Then tell me this: who among her people does she find most objectionable?”

This he could answer. “I know only that she refers to the trolls who beat me as dogs who should remain in the kennel, she will not couple with them.”

La Belle Morte’s face narrowed out, became even less human as she considered this. “Tres bon, tres, tres bon,” she hissed. “Then I shall have my satisfaction, after all.”

Abruptly, she became all business. “You are dressed for travel. That is well. Go directly to the fluyt. Your rooms are packed. We depart on the tide.” She regarded him shrewdly. “There is no time for farewells.”

All he could do was bow, and go as he was bidden, heart heavy.

** ** **

Damian, too, was given instructions by his mistress, who encountered him in the corridor. “Take your coffin and your other things back to your old tower room,” she hissed. “That stupid bitch who calls herself a Council power has gone too far this time.” She eyed him sourly. “I cannot imagine for a moment what she sees in you.”

Damian had far too much control to gape at her, but he had no idea what brought that on. He only bowed, and replied, “As my lady commands.” He waited respectfully until she had swept down the hallway, then turned to do as bidden. It would be a nasty task to get the coffin up that spiral staircase alone. He would have to do it turtle style, the curve was so tight. That would certainly cut into time spent with his friend… He realized that it truly meant that there would be no time with his friend, ever again, why else would the room be vacant? He knew the tides, the ship would either have to leave soon or wait until the daylight ebb tide. Either way, there was no time. He drew himself to full height and reminded himself that he was a warrior; he would not show weakness. Head high, he marched forward into his loss.

High in the tower that overlooked the small natural harbor that had tempted the longboats centuries earlier, Damian leaned his head against the bars of the window. He could see the little Dutch coaster that had brought their guests only days before bobbing on the water. The last of the large items had been swayed aboard, and now the seamen swarmed through the rigging, making ready to cast off. Damian could see their recent guests on deck, standing at the taffrail. A familiar figure, with long dark curls blowing and a heavy cloak curling around his legs, gazed up at the castle, searching, perhaps, for him? A raised hand - a salute, perhaps, for him? He straightened and raised a hand in his own farewell salute, then gripped the bars again..

He watched the little ship work its way off shore before turning to follow the coast back to the mouth of the Seine.

“He was my friend, the only one since Perrin. He risked himself for me. And now, he is gone.” Damian’s pain finally welled up through his mouth. Again he leaned his forehead against the bars, clenching them with both hands. Tension flowed through him, the bars began to deform under his grip. He had spent several centuries trying to rip this grill out of its wall; this was a part of the castle meant to hold his kind. This was as close as he had come to winning free. But it was not the only exit from the room.

He nearly flew down the circular stairs, intending to fly to the ship. It was not yet out of sight. Belle had noticed him, had smiled at him with approval. Would she blood oath him that he might live past the dawn, away from this ghastly place? Was she not incredibly strong, a sourdre de sang surely could protect him from She-who-made-him? Was not anything better than his life here?

He had left the door open.

He rounded the last curve at high speed, and crashed into the oaken door, now locked and barred. Now sealed with a cross. He was trapped, well and truly trapped.

Back to the window he shot, in time to see the last of the ship’s lights disappear. He began to weep, great tearing sobs, sobs coming to the surface after hundreds of years of being denied, as only a strong man could deny them. He fell to his knees, still clasping the bars, as despair washed over him, fear that his life would be as barren, hopeless, and painful as before. It seemed so much worse, now that he had a taste of something better. They had had but a brief time of camaraderie, they had both been oppressed, but they had been stronger together than either was alone. And now, nothing of his friend remained save for a figure in a picture, painted in sunlight.


Chapter 13: Chapter 13 Belle's Revenge

A big thank you to my dear beta, Queen of Nightmares, for her thoughts and guidance with this chapter.


Night had fallen and the vampires had begun to move about before the day’s cleaning had ended. The mistress had decreed that every trace of the visitors should be scrubbed away, that their very scent should not remain to pollute her demesne. Everyone was busy, even more so than during the days of the visit. Everyone was frightened, even more so than during the visit, for now it was certain that matters had gone horribly wrong.

Damian had risen, grieving, but pulled himself together by raw force of will. Shoving every shadow of emotion back into the recesses of his heart, he composed his face to blandness and set off to the great hall, as was the usual routine of the castle. He passed various servants, who fled from him, though he looked neither right nor left. The young vampire, Gerard, started to greet him, but the intensity of his shielding kept Damian from noticing him. He did notice Ulrike loading something into a dumb-waiter, but did not acknowledge her presence, even as she looked him squarely in the chin and smiled.

He was one of the last to arrive in the great hall. So tightly was he shielding that he did not feel the prickles of power that made the other vampires stir uneasily. He heard someone nearby complain that someone’s wrath was overflowing this night, and heard someone else comment that this felt too enticing to be wrath. Wrath spilling over everyone in the hall Damian could understand; he expected his lady to be wrathful, but nothing of her powers ever felt enticing. Enticing power made him think of Jean-Claude, and he did not want to think of what his friend had enticed him to feel. He would have to think about that when he had the leisure for it, and now was surely not the time. Overflowing power, no matter whose power it was, had to take first priority. He tightened his shields and looked around him with that sideways glance that enabled him to see the roiling of power. He had never dared discuss this with another vampire, but he had always assumed that others saw as he did, when power twirled the air like heat ripples over a fire. The entire room was shimmering slightly, which he had never seen before, and which brought him into a state of high alert.

Looking around for the source of the shimmer, he saw his nemeses, Sergei and Piotr, standing near the far door to the great hall, laughing about something. The shimmer seemed most intense around them, but it was not any power he had seen them display before, which worried him. Three steps backwards toward the door felt like a good idea, especially if they were manifesting new powers. He tweaked his shields to make himself inconspicuous.

Damian wanted to keep as much distance between himself and the Russians as possible. They were not known for their forgiving ways, and the lost bets would rankle bitterly. They were not so favored by their lady as to be wealthy, but they would have been so sure of him that they were surely flat broke now. Broken bones would be the least he could expect if they caught him, though he planned to be hard to catch. What could he do to make Morvoren think well enough of him to shield him, he wondered, but nothing came to mind. Rather, he thought, a night spent with them in the arena for her amusement might happen instead.

Greta passed near enough to him that the breeze fluttered his clothing, though she didn’t acknowledge him in any way. Rather, it was if she didn’t notice him, and perhaps she did not, since Reynold actually trod on his foot as he passed, without the polite apology he would usually make. Damian would not make an issue of it; tonight seemed like a good night not to be noticed; he had shielded for this very thing, perhaps better than he thought. Greta’s attention was not wanted just now, since he was still thinking of something suitably awful to do to her. If she wheedled and walked her fingers up his arm as she did when she wanted sex, he might try to yank those fingers off, and miss out on doing something that would truly hurt. The little bitch headed towards Sergei. Those two deserved each other, Damian thought, as long as they didn’t start plotting together.

A wave of fear pushed through the great hall, its passage marked by everyone taking a step away from the far door. Their lady must be coming, furious, and pushing the fear ahead of her as she so often did. Everyone, human, vampire, and the scattering of weres, stopped in their tracks and tipped their heads up, exposing their throats in the vampire submission. Tonight, Damian thought, someone might pay the price that this deference promised. He was glad to be at the far end of the room, scant protection though it was.

When she blew through the door, he saw the fear as a nimbus of glitter, gold tonight from her rage, rather than its usual silver, but it was winking in and out in waves. Hands on hips, she surveyed the multitude of her people, eyes narrowed. Her face narrowed and elongated as she saw Sergei and Piotr; did she blame them for the shambles of the Council visit? Or did she blame him? Damian could just barely see her with his head tipped back, but it looked like she opened her mouth and reached up for Piotr’s throat as she put her hand to his shoulder to bring him down far enough to savage. At barely five feet tall, she was dwarfed by the Russian, yet she dwarfed him with her power, and he bent, eyes screwed shut, to let her rip him open.

But no sooner had her mouth touched his flesh than everything changed. The winds of fear stilled as if they had never been. Her nimbus and Piotr’s shimmer overlapped, combined, and ignited, no longer showing separate power sources, only something shimmering, round, and growing. The air took on a heavy feel, velvet and moist. All over the hall, heads snapped back down, staring at their lady, who had suddenly given over her anger and pressed her mouth into Piotr’s. His eyes had flown open, and his hands, which had been at his side, had begun to grip his lady’s buttocks through her gown. Damian braced for the explosion of power that would surely come, but Morvoren put one arm around his neck and ripped his shirt away with the other. Sergei’s shimmer coalesced with the other and he joined them, pulling Morvoren’s gown apart in a shower of buttons. The brass discs twinkled as they flew, partly obscured by the mushroom cloud that formed around the three of them.

In a wink, they were tearing at each others’ clothes, shredding fabric and popping buttons with their inhuman strength. As they sought one another with mouths and hands, heads snapped forward and jaws dropped all over the hall. Had not their lady declared her revulsion towards touching these two? And why here, in public? Why now, when she had been so furious?

Morvoren’s bodice was gone with Sergei attached to one nipple when the cloud had widened enough to touch Reynold and absorb the shimmer around him. The cloud pulled him in, and he charged towards the three. Gripping the back of Piotr’s breeks, he ripped them in two and dragged the halves down his thighs. Piotr responded to this by sticking his ass out and continuing to rip at his lady’s skirts. Morvoren had thrown her head back and twined her fingers into Sergei’s greasy hair with a look of ecstasy. And the shimmering cloud grew.

Each person it touched, human or vampire, ran to the group, stripping, groping, caught up in the lust. As Damian watched with disbelief, the woman nearest the writhing group ran to join them, followed by two humans standing a short way behind her. The misty cloud pulled the shimmers in as it reached to touch the onlookers, and then the onlookers were pulled in, now participants. The cloud reached Greta, who ran to the group. Damian could her face in profile, wearing the curious slackness of her arousal. He saw her skirt flipped up by someone’s human servant, and then she disappeared as he began to thrust against her.

The rest stared, spellbound, unmoving as the transparent rippling in the air reached out to them, drawing them to the mass of undulating bodies. Damian stared with the rest, until the cloud reached the woman four paces from him, who ran to join the developing orgy. He ran, too, but the other way, out the door; the power had not touched him yet and he thought to evade it, that he might not be pulled into this horror. He realized that he alone could see the advancing danger that would take him if he stayed, and might take him anyway, for who knew how far this thing could reach?

He blazed down the corridor, heading for the nearest door out of the keep. He bellowed at anyone who might listen to get out, get out and save themselves. Most only gawked at him, but a few began to move, mostly vampires. He dodged a pair of footmen, and saw a runner in the doorway who might not clear it before he exploded through it. A second glance turned the runner from an obstacle to Ulrike. Vampire reflexes let him grab her just out of the doorway without slackening speed. She screamed as he flipped her over his shoulder and kept going towards the stables, the point in the enclosure farthest from the great hall. He hoped that distance and emptiness would keep the cloud from reaching that far.

He set her down at the ladder to the hay loft far more gently than he had picked her up. She puffed for a moment, and then looked up, only now recognizing her carrier. Astonishment and fear chased across her face, but all she said was, “Shall we go up and make ourselves comfortable?”

The escape must have made him giddy, because he bowed gravely and motioned towards the ladder. “After you, my lady.”

Ulrike settled in the loose hay before Damian dropped next to her, not close enough to touch. She regarded him apprehensively, saying nothing, waiting for him to explain. He listened to the sounds in the distance, inaudible to her, and felt, hoping to detect danger before it arrived. He thought about the speed of the cloud’s expansion, calculated how long it would take to traverse the yard to the stables. When his estimate of that time elapsed, and elapsed again, and nothing happened, he relaxed a fraction.

“I do not think we should touch in any way. It might call that power to us. Otherwise, we should be out of its range.” The vampire wanted to sound confident, lest she panic and clutch at him. He didn’t want to drop shielding enough to roll her to calmness.

Then he realized that if she was going to panic, she would have done it by now. Apparently Ulrike wasn’t the panicking sort. He strengthened his already high shielding, knowing that that was the only true way to hide from that power. The hayloft was only a shield from people who might still be about.

“You know what this is?” Her voice quavered a bit, but she stayed still.

“I fear it is the ardeur that Jean-Claude spoke of. His mistress is to lust what our mistress is to fear, he said, she can cause it and feed on it. She can make everyone in a room lust for one another, lust wildly and without control, until she is sated. Which, he also said, could take a long time. He did not say anything about rousing this lust from a distance, and she must be far down the coast by now, but I cannot think of what else would provoke what I saw.”

“I only know that you ran and cried warning. What did you see?”

“I do not wish to describe it, lest I call it to us. Say only that everyone who stayed in that hall is busy coupling.”

“We are alone here. Would it truly be that bad, to be found by it now?” She spoke softly.

“I would not take you by force, nor would I want you to feel forced to take me. If the desire is not truly yours and mine, it is force, no matter how we enjoyed each other before.” The words carried heat. More gently, he continued, “And then, if it found us, it would find others. How long would we then be alone?”

She shuddered and hugged herself. “I will most certainly keep my hands to myself.”

“La Belle Morte must have been very angry indeed to have made this sending. She must wish to punish our lady.”

“Actually, she was livid, but what makes you say that?”

“The trouble in the hall started with our lady and the Russians, whom she would never touch. Who could be more horrible to her to couple with for all to see?” Damian, too, thought them too horrible to touch, and was not at all sorry that She—who-made-him was getting what he had had far too much of. “How do you know she was livid?”

“I sat on your coffin all day, and still had to finish my chores. I was still cleaning the corridor when she and our lady met to talk about what happened to Jean-Claude. They were screaming like fishwives. It would have been funny if it wasn’t so frightening.”

“I am surprised they did this while you, or anyone, were near.”

She looked at him oddly. “Am I a person to you?”

What a strange question. “Yes.”

“I am furniture, to them. Would they care what a chair saw or heard?”

Suddenly she yawned, hard enough to creak her jaw. “Damian, I think I should be afraid, but I am too tired to be afraid.” She yawned again. “I’ve been awake since daylight. Do you think we’ll need to stay out here long enough for me to sleep?”

“I hope that the ardeur will dissipate before dawn, but I have no hope that it would end much earlier. We may both need to sleep out here. But I will guard you, and I will wake you before sunrise. Are you cold?” He removed his jacket and offered it to the young woman, who was shivering slightly.

She donned it and curled into its warmth. “Oh, that’s nice.” He reached for the buttons on his shirt, but she waved him to halt. “Keep that on, this is fine.” Especially since admiring his body, even for the very few minutes she could remain awake, would be such a bad idea just now. “I’ll just burrow into the hay, that will be really warm.” Thinking about that, she mumbled, “Then you could have this back.”

“Keep it.” He peeled back a layer of hay and let her roll into the hollow, careful not to touch her. He covered her up, and heard her giggle.

“We are going to be all over hayseeds, you know. Better braid your hair if you sleep in here.” With that she flipped out one of the thongs that held her braids. “Take this.” There was a slight rustle as she nestled in, and then silence, punctuated with soft, even breaths.

The night passed, uneventfully, at least in the stable. The horses stamped and blew, if he passed too near, and the barn cats moved silently around him, hunting the little creatures that liked the hay. He could hear the faint noises of the orgy in the great hall, far into the night. He wondered who else had avoided joining it- no one else had taken refuge in the stables. It was blissfully dull. He braided his hair just for something to do.

There were humans there; some of the grooms slept in the stalls with the most valuable horses every night. He took advantage of this, and fed from the wrist of a sleeping man. He judged rolling the man into a coma was less a risk than him waking to raise a hue and cry. The vampire wished he could have rolled the beastly horse; the stupid creature stamped and tossed his head at the odor of blood, twice he kicked at Damian.

The hours wore long and quiet. As he explored, the vampire found a piece of tack waiting to be repaired. He found needle, awl, and waxed thread, and entertained himself by stitching up the leather. Hanging the bridle back on the peg, he wondered how the humans would explain this little mystery to themselves. He had found dishes of milk and bits of bread left out after he had done such small tasks in the past. The fools never did think of the obvious.

The sounds from the castle had died away, less than an hour before dawn, he judged. He let more time elapse before waking Ulrike. He didn’t want to spend the day out here; the risks of getting stabbed with a pitchfork, or exposed to the sun, were just too great. He spent that time looking at her as she slept. Baby-fine blonde hair, caught up in two long braids, one working undone without its tie. Gray eyes, he recalled, topped with white-blonde brows more texture than color. Teeth, slightly uneven, and a bottom one missing, showed between parted lips. Her body, hidden under the hay, he remembered as lithe and muscular, from a life of hard work. Pretty, not beautiful, and the port-wine stain that spilled from her right jaw down her neck was her final protection from the jealousies of the mistress, who would not tolerate the presence of anyone more attractive than herself. He had seen many of the keep’s families scar their prettier children, even amputate fingers, to keep them from the perfection that would draw the mistress’s ire. She was interesting to look at, he decided, as he shook her awake.

“Half an hour to sunrise,” he informed her. “The hall is silent. I think we should go back to the keep, unless I feel power stirring.”

She wrapped his jacket more tightly against the morning chill, and nodded. “I can go back to my pallet until regular wakeup.” She swung down the loft ladder.
No flicker of the shimmering power troubled Damian as they approached the keep. They discussed what they would tell anyone who questioned them about what they did during the time of the ardeur as they walked back across the courtyard. The hayseeds that did indeed cling to them would be the basis of the story, and they could stick to the truth for most of it, and claim not to recall many details. This planning carried Ulrike all the way into Damian’s tower room, which surprised them both.

“I need to secure myself,” he whispered into her hair as he held her tightly for a moment.

“Quickly,” she agreed, and kissed his jaw, then released him.

He began to strip as usual, but stopped as he recalled his companion. Sensing his ambivalence, she reminded him softly. “I have seen all of you. Do as you always do.” He dipped his head, and finished removing his clothing. He climbed into his coffin, moving the long blade to one side, pulling the thin sheet around himself.

“We don’t smell right.” Damian was alarmed as he realized this. “We don’t smell like we’ve been caught up in — that.”

“It’s more likely someone will smell you than me.” She reached under her skirt. “And since we were alone in the stables, there will be no reason for anyone else’s scent to be on you.” She lifted the sheet and touched his groin with damp fingers, then painted scent on his hands. “You’ll have to take care of the man-smell yourself, when you wake.”

“Rise,” he corrected her as he lay back.

“You’ll need to rise, all right,” she teased, and was rewarded with a tiny smile.

She pulled the sheet around him a little more snugly, finger-combed some red strands away from his face, and kissed his lips softly. She helped him place the lid and patted it down twice over, was she not sure he was protected from the light? He could hear the light patter of her steps, and the closing of the door as she left.

Damian had one astonished moment in the darkness to realize that he had, for the first time in nearly seven hundred and fifty years, been tucked in.

Chapter 14: Chapter 14 In The Daylight

Ulrike had dozed off again on her pallet in the unmarried girls’ area of the kitchen. They all slept here, not rating bedrooms, and it was the warmest place in the castle. Fewer sleeping shapes than usual dotted the straw mattresses here and on the men’s side. There would be wild tales to compare later, no doubt. There might even be babies. Possibly babies whom the midwife would have to twist.

She had lain down without undressing, and then another thought had come. What would Damian’s children have looked like? Did he have a family in the northlands before he sailed off, never to return? She pictured sturdy redheaded toddlers running to his arms. Was he the ancestor of people living on the far side of the sea? There was no chance of those toddlers now. The vampires almost never sired children, and the few that did were the most recently made. The midwife had to twist almost all of them, too.

He was old, she knew, centuries old, though he looked like a young man. She had been born in this castle, had known from babyhood the terrors here, and knew that she knew only the smallest part of what he knew of those terrors. She could only guess at the loneliness, but knew that the castle’s vampires did not trust one another, did not form the kind of community she was used to. She was amazed that he had done so much to protect her last night, since she had no formal standing with him, not being servant, lover, or pomme de sang. That might come, though. Ulrike smiled as she drifted off.

The smoke and the screaming woke her and all the others sleeping in the kitchen. They ran towards the source, knowing there was little they could do to put out fires, but possibly they could contain the damage, save some of the people. With no running water, all they had to work with was a bucket brigade or blankets to smother the flames. Hopeless, really, for an established fire.

The great hall was bathed in daylight from the clerestory windows. The sun had risen far enough to illuminate the hall, but the burning bodies on the floor cast a light of their own. Some of the bodies lay inert as they were consumed, vampires who had not retreated before dawn, exhausted from hours of unslaked ardeur. Others writhed, trapped beneath the vampires, or ran madly, beating at the flames with their hands. They must have fallen asleep once Belle released them, not considering the danger they were in from the vampires around them.

The new arrivals began to beat out the flames with the blankets that had so recently sheltered them. They captured and extinguished the runners, preventing further spread of the fire. They pulled tables and chairs away from the burning forms on the floor. Some of the rugs could be pulled far enough away not to catch fire, and the stone of the floor would be a firebreak. The odor of cooked meat became nauseating, especially after one man was dragged from beneath a pair of burning vampires. He was the only one they could reach through the flames; there were two others within a ring of fire that no one could breach. The screaming continued, losing individual voices as the victims either died or passed out.

The vampires crackled as they burned with dancing yellow flames but little smoke. Some of the discarded clothing burned, too, adding colors to the flames and a stench of burning wool and leather. It was a scene straight out of Dante’s Inferno.

Having done all they could do to contain the fire, the humans either retreated from the hall, or stayed watching the bodies dwindle to ash. Ulrike fought back vomit as she thought of how close Damian and Jean-Claude came to this yesterday. It was difficult to count the bodies on the floor, recognizing them nearly impossible. They would not know who had been lost until nightfall. With one, no, two, exceptions. The enormous hobnailed boot with a charred bone protruding could have only belonged to one of the Russians, and there were three others like it, emitting smoke. One of the men walked over and kicked it, causing the bone to fall into a heap of ash. The crowd began to cheer.

Movement caught their eyes, they turned as one to see a young woman crawl from beneath a table. Hands drew her from the floor, she was shaking too hard to stand. She was naked and battered, one eye blackened and a lip split, blood crusted on her pubis and thighs, hand print bruises all over her body, and several pairs of puncture wounds. The men lowered her onto a bench, gently, but not gently enough: she yelped as she sat. An older woman went to rummage in the small pile of salvaged clothing and returned with a nearly intact skirt and a shawl. She draped the girl as modestly as possible, and brushed the hair away from her face with her hand, offering comfort. Ulrike dashed back to the kitchen and returned with a mug of ale and had to help her drink it. The shaking subsided as the girl realized she was safe.

“Can you tell us what happened?” The woman who dressed the girl took both her hands in her own, and caught her eyes. Ulrike stared; this was Maja, who had the pallet two over from hers.

“It was madness.” The girl swallowed hard, and looked at the mug, then at Ulrike; she held it to Maja’s lips again. She took another swallow, and continued. “Madness. Everyone touching, kissing, biting, fucking. Anyone close enough to touch, it didn’t matter. The men fucked the women, fucked the other men, the women shoving themselves on the men, touching anyone, everyone.” She stopped to wipe her forearm across her mouth. “All night. All night long. They’d climax, and look for the next one to take. They’d bite you and get enough to go on the next one. It was like you had to, like there was nothing else in the world you could do, nothing else mattered. And then it stopped. Finally. You didn’t have to, any more.” Tears squeezed out of her closed eyes.

This could have been her crawling out from under the table, Ulrike thought, if she had been fortunate enough to be able to crawl by the end of the night. Not all of the human corpses had died of fire; some lay in puddles of their life’s blood. The vampires had not been careful and had left so many of them dripping, until there was nothing left to drip. Damian had kept her from this.

The woman cupped Maja’s face with one hand, smeared away a tear with her thumb. “Then what happened?”

“Some of us just crawled away, just anything to stop touching. Some people left, some of the vampires left, it wasn’t dawn yet. Everyone else just lay there. Tired, so tired. And then the sun came up, and the vampires died. And then — you saw.”

One of the men asked what everyone burned to know. “Our lady — did she leave, or stay?”

“She left. Angry, so angry. Said something about that French whore, that it was her fault. So angry.” Maja snuffled, and hiccupped, and broke down into harsh sobs as the woman cradled her battered body, and Ulrike and the rest looked on helplessly.

So, their emancipation was not complete. Some of the most vicious of their overlords were destroyed, but their mistress was intact, and angry. There was nothing else to do but clean up, and hope that her rage did not fall on them.


Chapter 15: Chapter 15 Morvoren Responds

Many thanks to my dear beta, Queen of Nightmares, for her thoughts and guidance on this chapter.


They swept up the debris, and scrubbed the stone floors. Clothing and small objects that escaped the casual looting were laid out in the hall, to be claimed by the owners if they lived, pilfered if they did not. The ashes of the burned vampires were sailed out to sea and scattered over the water; no sense in letting the late unlamented Russians recover, and for the rest? Less blood to share out.

The evening gathering in the great hall was fraught with tension. Those who had left the hall in time learned now of the deaths of their fellow-revelers. Damian and the others looked around, to see who had returned, noting who had perished. The toll was high; more than a third of the castle’s vampires did not return that night. There were gaps amongst the humans, as well, and word was already spreading about someone’s human servant found dead in bed, face horridly contorted. Apparently, his vampire master had come to a fiery end that morning. The whisperers added harsh comments about his dereliction in escorting his master to safety before dawn; he should not have left the hall alone.

The wave of fear roiling through the hall announced the imminent arrival of their mistress. Before she ever appeared in the door, the fear had grown to crushing proportions, and the screams were loud and anguished. Pandemonium reigned; vampires, humans, and the few weres associated with the castle cowered, or ran, trying to escape the fear Morvoren poured over them. Fights erupted as the tormented ones ran into or over each other, frantic in their terror. Some clutched at others in their panic, looking for any kind of safety, protection. The vampire Gerard found himself sailing backwards and far when he pulled at Damian’s arm. Damian threw him off in his own panic, being clutched at in his terror only added to it. Gerard hit the stone wall and slid down to the floor, where he curled into a ball, the pain of the broken arm lost in the fear his lady sent. Later he might consider himself fortunate to get off so lightly; Damian then picked up a wooden bench and used it to bat away anyone who came near. Some that he swung at did not rise again.

Anyone with enough mind left to pay attention would have seen the mistress of the castle stand by the door, sucking in deep breaths as the fear boiled through the hall. Her hands twisted in a strange dance as she wove the energies into something nearly tangible and pressed them against herself. Had Damian been able to focus on her, his strange sight would have showed him the silver glitter becoming a silver cable in her hands, the end disappearing into her core as she fed. He saw the flashes as he turned to swing the bench at anyone who approached too closely, but had not mind enough to interpret what he saw. He knew only the terror, and the need to keep everyone at bay.

Who could say how long this went on? For the tormented ones, it was an eternity. For Morvoren, it wasn’t long enough, but the fear in the hall was diminishing, because the dead could not fear, could not feed her. The dead were beginning to pile up, and hamper the living and the undead. It wasn’t only the human dead; at least one vampire lay on the floor, wood protruding from her chest. Someone may have tried to fend her off, or she might have done it herself in her desperation.

Morvoren walked among her people, freezing them in place with her will, tasting the individual fears as she put her mouth to theirs, in mocking kisses. Those she kissed fell to their knees, or to the floor. They would stand again, most of them, but for now they were ripe fruit to squeeze and suck the juices, and the rinds to be tossed away. She walked past Damian, who looked at her with glazed green eyes, to taste a young master vampire just eight years made, who would not see nine.

From one end of the hall to the other the spectre walked, taking what she wanted from her people, gradually growing sated. At last she stopped in the center of the hall, and released them from the fear. For a few seconds, the hall was silent. Bodies hit the floor with fleshy thuds, a wooden bench fell with a ringing and a splintering sound, and the weeping started.

“Silence.” Morvoren’s voice was not loud, but it carried across the hall on her power. “Clean this up. Be gathered here in one hour.” She turned on her heel to leave. She trailed her hands across the people as she passed them, her usual parody of comfort. Damian had to turn his head to look her full on as she ran her hand over his head; to look at her sideways was blinding, so full of power was she. He wondered what she meant to do with the power, or if she meant to do anything at all. He knew what he had to do, though, the hall was wreckage and the body count high.

The hour passed, and the hall was again orderly, though some of the furniture was missing and the floor shone wetly from the scrubbing. To everyone’s great surprise, the time of gathering was only an hour and a quarter later than the usual time; had so much horror really been packed into fifteen minutes? The vampires gathered and waited for their mistress.

She entered, silently swinging her gaze over the assembly, clearly doing a head count, and finding it short; close to half of her vampires would never gather here again. In clipped phrases she issued orders, nostrils flaring in anger when she realized that tasks could not be done by the usual vampires. Damian found himself with his own usual work, and that of the late Reynold. He was glad to not be of the group dispatched to the infirmary to dine on the burned man, who would be crippled if he survived. Of course, that would not be permitted, he would be drained, but Damian knew there would be enough poppy left in him to make the vampires slow and silly, and he needed his wits about him. He hoped to evade his lady long enough for the rage to dissipate.

Late in the night, with much yet to do, She found him. She sniffed critically, making him glad he had taken the time to make the odors authentic. He stood respectfully, as she circled him, brows knitted.

“And how did you spend the night last night, Schatzen*?”

The endearment chilled him, it always meant trouble. “Something very odd happened. I took a girl out to the stables. We were together all night, long after I usually tire of them.” He hoped she could not place Ulrike’s name with her scent; belatedly he recalled that there were no fresh puncture wounds on her to substantiate the story. He also hoped she would not question his phrasing, he had to tell the truth with each statement.

“Did you enjoy that, Schatzen?” Her voice was so cold.

“Not as much as one might think. It had the feel of a compulsion.” He hoped she had not noticed him in the hall before the ardeur had ignited. He tried to radiate complete ignorance of events in the hall; it would go badly with all who had witnessed her humiliation, and he had wanted no more of her punishments tonight.

“You did notice the absence of so many of our vampires?”

“I did.” There were more at our first gathering tonight, my lady. “Also the smell of fire in the hall.” Change the subject.

“Just so. This compulsion exhausted them; they did not retreat in time for the dawn.” She would not mention that the compulsion had affected her, very well, he would help her pretend. “Do you know what might have caused it, Schatzen?”

“This is beyond my experience, my lady.” Perfect truth. Would it be enough?

“Could it have to do with our recent infestation of French, do you think?”

“Their powers are the powers of sex, my lady. Jean-Claude showed no such ability beyond what you witnessed.” More truth, if incomplete. Perhaps he could protect his friend. “Is this like anything you know of La Belle Morte from other days? Both of you are of much more ancient heritage than I.” Remind her of the difference between sourdres de sang and their lessers.

“It is, though I would not have credited her with the strength to perform this compulsion unless she was present. I would not care to find she had developed strength I could not match. Hmm. It may be that I can perform at a distance, as well. I have never thought to try. When we have the leisure for such experiments, I shall send you here and there, to find out the length of my reach. It would be lovely to repay this favor in kind, even though she were snug in her little palace.” Her expression was quite frightening. Damian thought distance between them while he was in the grip of the Fear was preferable to experiencing it as he had experienced it tonight, and far preferable to experiencing it in her bed.

“Do not hope to find the safe distance to run, Schatzen.” Damn, had that shown on his face? “There is no safe distance the world over when I send out the call to return home. We shall no doubt hear wild tales of adventures from my fledglings who will be shortly turning up on our doorstep, for I have summoned them home. We are short handed, as I said before, and will be, until the travelers return, or I make more of you.”

“Very true, my lady. Has your summons let you determine how long our nestmates will be in returning?” He would be glad to have only his own work to do.

“Oh, a few need only take ship up the coast, and a few more from England: a week or two for those. Those who must come from inland, a week or two longer. I did not summon everyone; I would not care to strip the enclaves completely, they are too profitable. We will need some new faces.” She looked thoughtful. “Schatzen, what is yours is mine, nein?”

“Of course, my lady.” Of course, he had little beyond some clothing, a coffin, and a few hand tools. He did have a lovely carven dryad, but she had already taken that.

“And in all these centuries, have I ever let you make any fledglings, Schatzen?”

“No, my lady.” He had no desire to change anyone into another being who would have to endure a life like his; company would not reduce the misery. Then, too, they required entirely too much tending at first, though Morvoren always delegated the tending when she turned someone. Damian himself had been tended and taught by a ferocious old Celt. The care he had received made him glad to kill the older vampire in the arena, one night when battle with sharpened stakes had been the entertainment.

“You, at least, have acquitted yourself well in this chazzerstahl** of a Council visit. I would reward you. And since what is yours is mine, even unto fledglings, you shall share in the joy of the making, and further my lineage.”

Damian’s heart sank. This reward he did not need, not now, with double tasks already upon him. He had wondered what sort of trouble might go with being addressed by that stupid pet name; this was trouble, all right.

“My lady, I am honored; and you are of course correct in all you have said, but do we wish to divert the time and effort to tending new vampires at a time when we are missing nearly half of our usual complement?” Delay, delay, and then perhaps she would have time to get angry with him and rescind this reward. Damian was astonished that he could regard his mistress’s wrath as welcome under any conditions, but there it was.

“Oh, it will be a problem for a few days until our closest fledglings return, but you will, after all, have three nights to look after other matters.” She patted his cheek, then pulled him down for a kiss. “Come along, we will get started immediately. I do not want to have to spend my own energies quelling a rebellion among our humans, who might think that deaths among the vampires should be encouraged. The fierce hungers of the newly turned should eliminate the troublemakers and convince the rest not to come to my especial attention.”

She linked her hand through the crook of his elbow and they moved silently through the corridors. Only long practice enabled Damian to endure her touch as they went; from the corner of his eye he could see she was still glittering with power, and the fear she always radiated was very strong. The layers of clothing between her hand and his arm did little to mute the effect of contact. A core of ice seemed to ride in the pit of his stomach.

“I have put a likely candidate in the turning chamber.” This cell was reinforced adequately to contain even a revenant. “Then we will not even need to move the body. See, Schatzen, I have thought to keep the work involved to a minimum.”

They passed the sleeping chambers, and went down a last flight of stairs, coming at last to the turning chamber. She smiled as he shot back the bolt on the cell door and peered into the darkness. “And I have even chosen one known to favor you, Damian.”


And his heart dropped like a stone down a well to hear his name on Ulrike’s lips.

*German — literally , Little Treasure, used like “Sweetie”
**Yiddish — literally, a pigsty; loosely, a huge mess

Chapter 16: Chapter 16 Convinced?

“Go on, go on!” Morvoren ushered him into the turning chamber, shut the door, and shot the heavy bolts behind him. “Take your time, Shatzen, you have the rest of the night to play. I’ll be back for you after dark.” She laughed, a tinkling poisonous sound, and left him there in the flickering torchlight that filtered through the heavy grilled door, whose bars were faced in silver on three sides.

Damian was standing in a windowless stone- walled room. It was perhaps eight feet by eight, and contained nothing except a wide straw pallet on a stone shelf, and a young woman smelling of violets, wrapped in a thin sheet against the chill. Enough light came in from the corridor that he could see Ulrike clearly, and he suspected she had been in the dimness long enough to see him, as well. She rose from her seat on the pallet and came to wrap her arms around him. She laid her head against his chest: mechanically, he placed his arms around her. She was shaking slightly; Damian thought he knew why, and then decided he did not, when her tremors quieted instead of increasing as she leaned against him.

“I’m glad to see you.” Her grip on him tightened. “But this is such an odd chamber for a tryst.”

“Is that what they told you?”

“Yes, Greta woke me, and brought me to bathe, and then brought me here. She said you’d want me to be nice and clean.” There was a certain hollowness in her voice. Ulrike must have heard it, too, because her next words had a forced cheeriness. “She gave me hot water, and scented soap, and let me use some of her nice hair soap. I’m scrubbed and scented, and dressed in something that seems to come off awfully easily. I don’t think I’ve ever been so clean!” The last remark, at least, sounded genuine to Damian.

So, at least one of the other vampires knew what was going on. Greta would never believe Damian would rate a night of sport with so many tasks undone, not even as a reward for “contributing” a guest gift, and she had probably helped plan this. He had accounts to settle with Greta as it was, he would have settle them swiftly and decisively or this could become a long-running feud. He patted Ulrike’s back gently, wondering how to break the news.

“Damian, have I offended? You don’t seem glad to see me.” She peered up into his face.

“You might not be glad to have seen me. Ulrike, she lied to you. That’s not why we’re here.”

She thought a moment. “The door. She locked us in. Something bad is supposed to happen. To me. To us.”

“You may not think it’s so bad. I am to make you one of us.” His voice was expressionless.

“And will you?” Ulrike had stiffened at his words, frightened.

“As my lady commanded, so will I do.” He sounded very far away.

“Have I not served well? Have I done wrong to her or to you?” Ulrike tried to wrench herself out of his embrace, but could not. She tried again, and this time Damian released her. She ended up with her back to the wall, staring at him wide-eyed. The tremors were back, with a vengeance.

Damian sat down on the pallet wearily. “It is not a matter of wrong-doing that I know of. It is only that this is the order I have been given. Ulrike, please, sit down. I will not pounce on you like a cat on a mouse.” He beseeched her with his eyes. “We will talk.”

“Will the talk change anything?” Her voice trembled.

“Only your mind.” He hoped she’d sit down before she fell down; her knees looked none too steady.

“And if my mind doesn’t change?” She had to clear her throat twice to get the words out.

“I will be sorry for it. At least hear me.” He rose, steered her towards the pallet, and sat her down more gently than she might have managed for herself. He sat next to her and put his arm around her shoulders, pulling her close. She resisted the embrace.

“Why would you do it?” Anger had joined the fear in her voice.

“My lady has commanded it. It is not for me to countermand her orders, Ulrike. This is not something I do willingly. We, neither of us, have a choice in the matter.” He gave up trying to pull her closer and settled for rubbing her shoulder. She felt like a piece of oak.

“There is always a choice. It just isn’t always obvious, and it isn’t always pleasant.” Something had changed in her, she was sitting up straighter. This puzzled him, after all, it wasn’t as if she had a lot of choices in her life as a human. A servant, especially a servant of this castle, had few choices.

“There isn’t a choice this time. She can make me do almost anything. No, She can make me do anything, or she can make me wish that I had. The only choice I have is how hard I fight, how much punishment I am willing to take, before I obey.” There was nothing but complete sincerity, and infinite regret, in his words. She relaxed a bit and huddled against him, and reached to touch his face.

“I don’t understand. You’re one of them, one of the vampires, powerful.”

“Only compared to humans. We, even more than you, are subject to her will.” Abruptly, he was on his feet, pacing around the cell. “She can make you want to do what she wants you to do, and be happy about it, there is no fight. Us, she can bend to her will, as painfully as she likes.” He turned to face her from the far side of the cell. “I can’t die under her tortures, I can’t even pass out. My mind might break, but my body will revive. You humans, you don’t know the full force of her power, she takes care never to push you to open rebellion, even as she takes what she wants from you. Me, she might decide that it is time for my heart to stop beating, but it would never be at the same moment that I might be yearning for that.”

“So she can force you to anything? Even this?” Her voice was soft with wonder; she was watching a vampire legendary for his even temper become agitated. Then she became frightened, realizing that what agitated him would kill her.

“Oh, much more than this.” Suddenly, he wanted to make her comprehend. Sitting heavily on the pallet, he cradled his face in his hands, elbows on knees. He spoke to the floor; he could not tell this and see what might cross her face. “I might as well tell you this myself, that schmuck Gerard will make sure you find out soon enough, and then maybe you’ll understand, and forgive me. Once…” His mouth went dry at the memory. “Once, she put the Fear on me, you know she can do that?” He looked up enough to see Ulrike nod. “She put the Fear on me, worse than ever before, and left me like that for a long time. Then she took most of it away, enough to let me have my mind back, and offered me a bargain. She said,” he had to swallow hard, “She said that she would take away the fear, not send it again for a year, if I gelded myself.”

She dropped to her knees before him, wormed her way between his legs to hold him. The vampire put his own arms around her and buried his face in her neck. His breathing was hard and ragged.

Her voice was tiny. “But you’re intact. I know you’re intact, we lay together.”

He barked a mirthless laugh. “I was intact again before sunrise, but only by good fortune. She offered me three knives. Two were silver: it might have been permanent. It was bad enough as it was. But the fear was worse.” He pulled her closer and said into her neck, “I can’t protect you. I can’t even protect myself.”

There was no comfort she could offer that would offset the memory of such as that, so she did the only thing possible; she held him, and swayed him gently, and if his shoulders shook she said nothing. And if that couldn’t comfort him for what had happened, it did comfort him to know that someone did care that he had taken hurt.

After a time, Ulrike asked, softly, “Did She keep her bargain?”

“After a fashion. She didn’t send her Fear to me directly for that year. She likes her little joke, all she had to do was say something about silver knives, or steers, or a gelding she planned to buy, anything to remind me, and I would remember, and think of what might have been.” He sighed heavily. “Do you see now why I said there was no choice?”

“I see.” He swung her up onto the pallet next to him, as easily as if she weighed nothing. She jumped up again with a yip. Picking up a small object, she sat down next to him again. “I found this, and kept it for you. I didn’t know if you could repair it.” She was almost babbling, to relieve the tension. “I was sure you’d want it back.” It was the hawk’s head handle that had torn from his coffin when he’d thrown it from the window.

Putting one arm around her, Damian took the broken carving from her, and turned it over in his free hand. “Thank you. I can repair it, I think, though it would never be as strong again.” He felt like he was babbling, too, but at least they were speaking of a less intense matter. “See, this one is crude, it was one of the first I made. I gave Jean-Claude the other one that broke off, it was far finer, I got better with practice…” Gentle fingers touched his lips; he stopped talking, and sighed.

“So what are you supposed to do with me?” Apparently she was able to speak of difficult things again.

“I have to bite you three times, and drain you to the death. Then, if you are one of the ones who turn, after three days of lying dead, you’ll rise, and be very hungry. I’ll take care of you during the beginning, and teach you what you need to know for your new life.”

“Not everyone killed this way rises as vampire?”

“No. We don’t know why. We think it has to do with a fierce hunger to live.”

“Have you done this to anyone else?” Her tone was mild, but he flinched internally all the same.

“No, and you know I don’t want to do it now, either.”

“I know.” Ulrike spoke softly, and reached for his hand. Hers was cold with fear, and his was not much warmer. “Why me?”

“I don’t know. Her choices are seldom random, but I cannot always follow her thought. Perhaps it’s because you witnessed her fight with Belle, but I would think she’d just kill you for that.” That made the girl shiver. “She said this was to be a reward, and she might really have meant it, but that seems so unlike her. Perhaps she wants to punish me for something, having pleasure with you, perhaps, but she seldom notices who I bed, if it isn’t her.” That drew a small noise from her, which made Damian turn to look her in the face. “Seven hundred years is a long time, Ulrike; I most certainly have taken other girls to bed.” She nodded, and he kissed the tip of her nose. “Perhaps she just thinks you would make a good vampire.”

He pondered that. “You would, you know. You are practical, and levelheaded; you think fast. You’d learn fast. You didn’t panic the other night, you’re not panicking now. We’re talking about your death and you aren’t screaming, and I haven’t had to prevent it.” He nuzzled her ear, and remembered something Belle had said. “You would be a good vampire, perhaps a master vampire. We could be very strong together.”

“Or I could just be dead. I’m not sure I have that fierce hunger to live.” She stood up, and went to lean her forehead against the massive grill of the door. “There’s not enough air in here.” She breathed deeply through the grill. “Oh, Damian, there were so many things I wanted to do, so many things I liked to do. I wanted to sail somewhere on a ship. Taste marzipan- I’m told it’s heavenly. Pick wild strawberries warm from the sun, and let the juice run down my chin. Love a man.” She looked at him, looked away again. “Bear his children.”

“You can still do a lot of those things. Jean-Claude sailed here on a ship. I can show you where the wild strawberries grow.”

“You just can’t eat them.”

“True. Tasting new foods and bearing children and anything to do with the sun will not be for you. But there are other things, new things. You might be able to fly-I can fly! Ulrike, have you no other hopes?” He took her by the shoulders and turned her to face him.

She could tell him now. “I had hoped you would choose me for your lover, or maybe for your pomme de sang. That you could protect me, at least that much.” She looked up into his face, against all her training, looked him in the eyes. “The blacksmith has been after me.”

“Only for protection? Is there not even a little affection?” The need in his voice was open.

“I wasn’t sure how much you could care for a human.” Ulrike was barely audible. “But I thought you might like me enough to keep me around.”

Damian touched his lips to her forehead, then each cheekbone, then her mouth. Suddenly the kiss went from chaste to ferocious, as he forced her lips apart and darted his tongue into her mouth. He broke the kiss when he sensed her struggling for air.

“We can still be lovers. And you can protect yourself from the blacksmiths of the world.” Damian almost grinned at the thought; he knew the blacksmith’s tastes. He had rolled the man once to stop his predations, but his productivity had dropped like a stone. Damian had reluctantly restored his mind, and his output, and then resorted to physical fear to keep him in check. So far, at least, the man treasured his remaining testicle enough to keep his hands off the very young.

“Damian, let's be lovers now, while I’m still me.” She kissed him more softly than he had kissed her, but with open mouth and searching tongue, breasts pressed against him through the thin fabric she wore. “I want this pleasure before I die.”

“Gladly, and you may have it again, and again, after you rise.” He nibbled down the side of her neck, and across her shoulder. She tasted good, and the fear scent was dissipating. “You said this garment seems to come off easily?” He searched out the strings that held her shift closed, and pulled the bows untied. The crisp white lawn billowed around her, and he slipped it from her shoulders and hung it on a peg by the door. Her hair was braided loosely; he slipped the thongs and worked his fingers through the twists to let it hang freely. It had been wet when she braided it, so now it hung in blonde ripples to the tops of her buttocks. He ran his hands down its length and over her butt, then suddenly lifted her against him, letting her feel his excitement through his clothing. She laughed and leaned back enough to find the buttons of his shirt. She could only undo a few, so she turned her attention to his hair, loosing the bit of leather that held it, then fluffing it around his face. He slid her down his body until her feet were again on the floor, and then their hands raced to unfasten the rest of his clothing. He was suddenly nude, and they sprang apart, suddenly surprised by their nudity.

“I want to look at you, really look at you.” His voice was husky. He hadn’t seen much of her when they had their few moments in Jean-Claude’s suite; they had not dared to strip.

“Look. And then I get to look at you.” She had to clear her throat to speak.

She stood in the center of the open area, turned to face the door so that what little light came in would fall on her. Damian approached her a little to the side, so his shadow would not cover her, and began to run his eyes and his finger tips over her skin. His touch was so light that she shuddered repeatedly, but she didn’t catch at his hands. He punctuated his feather touches with feather kisses, on shoulder and neck, on hip and belly, on thigh, and once on a nipple, which nearly buckled her knees. He turned her around, and looked at her from the back, moving her river of hair to one side. Finally, he rose from his knees to embrace her, and whispered, “You will be this lovely always,” and felt her quiver at the words.

Chapter 17: Chapter 17 Changes

As they kissed, he thought to himself that she was taking this well. She no longer seemed upset or angry; he didn’t want her dying still angry with him. She might rise still angry with him, and stay that way, and he didn’t want to roll her out of it lest the rolling not hold after she rose. She was enough shorter than he that when he straightened, she could turn her kisses to his chest, tongue-flicking, nibbling kisses that forced little pleasure sounds from his throat.

“My turn,” she finally said, and moved back enough to see his body. The definitions of his muscles jumped in the torchlight. She ran her hands over him as she looked, with a firm, flat-palmed touch, first over his torso, then down his arms, and finally his legs. He gasped when she placed one hand on either side of one thigh and massaged gently, feeling the play of muscle beneath skin. Then she ran her hands down the length of his leg, and treated the other leg to the same caresses. Only then did she turn her attention to his manhood, which was pointing at her, demanding attention. She examined him carefully, rolling the shaft in her hands, feeling the slide of foreskin and softness of glans, not trying to pleasure him, but looking, really looking. He moaned, more from the tension than the stimulation, and reached to stroke her hair. Ulrike looked up at his face, then rose and turned him, feeling the big muscles in his back and shoulders, moving to his butt.

When she slid the edge of her hand down his crack the spell was broken. His hand flashed out and caught her wrist in an iron grip, and he turned to pull her against him. She squeaked in surprise, and then she surprised him by saying only, “You don’t like that. I won’t do it again.” He thought she would ask questions, and he was not going to explain every awful thing that had ever happened to him. Then he realized that she could probably figure it out for herself.

He tried for lightness. “There are so many things I like better.”

She laced her fingers behind his neck. “Tell me what you really, really like.”

There was something that he adored, but never had often enough. The vampires he occasionally bedded weren’t trustworthy for it, and the human girls were seldom willing. He could make them do it, but he couldn’t make them show passion about it. His lady, of course, thought only of her own pleasure, and was the least trustworthy of all. She would do it only when she really, really wanted to terrify him.

“Take me in your mouth.” Lightning ran through his body for even saying the words. “Taste me, explore me with your tongue, suck me.” He stopped himself, to his own ears it sounded like begging.

He found himself guided backwards towards the pallet, gently seated. With hands on his waist, she steered him to the position she wanted, lying lengthwise in the center of the pallet. Ulrike lay next to him and struggled for a moment to find a good position. Finally she twined her short legs around his long ones, took him in her hand, and bent her head. He was waiting eagerly for the contact when she looked up and said, “Smile. Really wide.” He propped himself on his elbows and smiled for her, but, “Wider. Show all your teeth.” Now, that was an unfamiliar expression, but he complied. “Just as I thought. This would be really dangerous if I had fangs like that.” She slipped the head into her mouth and moved up and down his shaft a few times. “See what I mean?”

Damian flung himself back on the pallet. “Please, don’t talk any more! Just… oh, yes, just do that…”

And she did. Soft wet things, firm wet things, licking things, engulfing things, everything she did drew sounds of pleasure from him, moans and soft noises, and finally he could no longer keep his hips still, but thrust to meet her. With a final cry, he exploded into her mouth, which surprised her into inhaling. Coughing and spluttering, she pulled back from him. Lost in the sensation, he barely noticed.

After they had both recovered themselves, Ulrike snuggled into Damian’s armpit, resting her head on his shoulder. “Happy?” she smiled, and he nodded, rubbing his cheek against her hair. “I was afraid I wouldn’t do it right, but you made enough sounds to guide me. It was a bit like playing the oboe.”

“That was the Damian Sonata in B-Hard.”

She sounded confused. “The what?”

“Never mind. I’ll have to teach you about music.” First joke he’d made in years and she didn’t get it.

“But you should warn a girl about that ending.”

“That’s what usually happens when you bring a man with your mouth.”

“I know that now.”

He raised up a little, and frowned at her. “What do you mean, now?”

“Think about it, Damian.” She pushed him back down. “You bathe regularly. Most of the vampires do, but not the men. Most of them wash at Midsummer and New Year’s and think that’s enough. Why would I even think of tasting them?” She began to twist a lock of his hair in her fingers. “I’m glad you gave me complete directions of what you wanted, I wouldn’t have known.” She giggled. “Do you, um, ever do something like that back?”

“Only if I wash the girl myself. Give me a minute.” Belatedly, he recalled that the last one who had done this particular service for him was Jean-Claude, who was infinitely more experienced, but he had not enjoyed it nearly so much. The fangs hadn’t been a problem, though. Damian had not previously thought how a man would be more understanding about the fangs, more trustworthy. But he was still going to rip Gerard’s lungs out if he patted his ass again.

“I’m fresh from the bath. Greta scrubbed me down. She was very thorough.”

Something in her tone told him exactly how thorough Greta had been. Adding that to the score she had already racked up with him, he decided that Greta would soon be very, very sorry.

He trailed kisses over her body, pausing here and there, nibbling, tasting, sucking. He made her giggle, he made her gasp, and he made her call out his name when he finally settled between her thighs to explore in earnest. Fresh from the bath, sweet, and tender, and he played his mouth over her moistness, finding folds and ridges, and a little nubbin that made her scream. He played her with his tongue and lips, until she arched her back, and he could feel her pulsing, then she collapsed. One last flick, right there, and then he rested his tongue like a poultice against her, and let her catch her breath.

When her breath had come back, Damian began to kiss her inner thighs, very softly. “I need a little help for this next part, ‘Rikeleh.”

“Sure, what?”

“This.” And he struck, taking the blood he needed to refresh himself from the spot he had just kissed. He fed there on the softness of her leg, just long enough to feel himself grow, and then he moved to cover her. Poised with his tip just brushing her opening, he paused, to wipe his mouth on his forearm and swallow hard. “Kiss?”

“Kiss.” Her mouth found his as her hands found his ass, and she pulled him inside. They began to rock together, finding a rhythm that suited them both and her arms were tight around him.

“That was one,” Ulrike mumbled into his neck as he thrust into her. “Don’t sneak up on me again.” Then she bit him hard enough to hurt.

“Hey! Don’t do that again. It could have some really weird effects on us both.”

He had actually forgotten, in the thrill of the sex, that his little snack would count towards the task he was charged with. Just as he had let himself forget, as he tasted her, that her hot bath was not for his delectation, but to retard spoilage during the three days of death. And he didn’t want to risk any vampire marks being placed on one who was to leave her humanity behind.

He caught her mouth, probing into her with his tongue, even as he probed with his body, changing to a little rolling motion with his hips. She matched his movement, gasping, and then changed the movement, to something less sideways. Her breathing grew choppy, and she had to tear her mouth away for air. Damian put his mouth to her neck, and gave a hard thrust with his tongue against the diagonal muscle that stood out when her head was turned. Again and again, he flicked against the resistance of that muscle, until it was too much, and she pulled him tightly to her and screamed. She contracted around him as she pulled him in, and he had to muffle his own scream with her flesh, then he poured his seed into her depths.

Damian stayed on top of her, taking most of his weight on his elbows, smiling down at her. They exchanged little brushing kisses, and she trailed her fingertips up and down his back in little swirling motions, first one hand, then the other. He almost missed her motion then; one hand was trailing up and down his back, but the other had reached to the edge of the mattress and was bringing something out. He smacked her hand flat to the mattress, and saw she had a small sharp eating knife in it.

“You can’t kill me with that.” Damn, stab wounds after sex was something his lady would do. He felt suddenly tired.

“I didn’t think so, given what kind of gelding you make.” She bucked her hips a little for emphasis, causing him to slip out of her. “But I could kill myself with it.”

Only now did Damian realize that everything Ulrike said meant that she had expected a permanent death, and that she had reason to expect it. She wasn’t resigned to the inevitable at all. Nothing he had offered had lured her.

“I can’t let you do that.” He squeezed her wrist to make her drop the knife; then he flicked it to the floor. It hit with a clatter; he was glad there was no one near enough to hear the sound.

“I know. I’d hoped you’d be distracted long enough…”

“Is that why we did this?”

“No, it’s not. This was wanting, real wanting, but there’s a reason that we’re here, and there would only be this one chance of your attention wandering.” She sounded close to tears now. “I thought, a clean death, I wouldn’t rise, lots of blood for you, and you wouldn’t be blamed.”

“But I would be blamed, for carelessness, and I would deserve it. How is it you still have a knife?”

“No one knew I had it. The blacksmith gave it to me, a courting gift, he said. I hid it and the hawk in my clothes after the bath, I was afraid they’d be stolen if I left them in my other clothes.”

“Oh,” he breathed as he trailed kisses across her eyes and down her nose. “You really would make a good vampire. A good ally. So practical. And you would be in a position of power, which you didn’t have before.”

“And I would be in a position of damnation, which I also didn’t have before.”

“As damnation goes, it’s a lot like life.” Damian tried to salvage something.

“As life goes, it’s a lot like hell. You certainly aren’t happy.” The tears in her voice had been joined with anger. She slapped his hip. “Just get off me.”

He was going to have to roll her, and hope it held after she rose. He sighed as he did a push-up over her, and she turned to her side. Dropping down behind her, intending to spoon against her, he stuck himself on the little carving that had been lost on the pallet in their passion.

“Ow.” Damian dug it out from beneath his thigh. Holding it in his fist, he flipped his arm over her, kissing an angry unresponsive shoulder as he settled. He’d give her a moment to sulk, and then he’d change her mind for her. “At least it’s not big enough for a stake.”

“Damian! That’s it! That’s the answer!” Ulrike popped up and tried to pry the carving out of his hand.

“What is? Staking me with a splinter two and a half inches long, and then using it to pick the lock and escape?” He was so dumbfounded that he let her open his hand. She raised the hawk to her face to examine it.

“Stupid man! Where is your imagination?” She turned the wood over and over in the dim light, looking for details. She had to be very excited to forget herself so far as to say that, he thought.

“Fine. Explain it to the stupid man, then.”

“Oh. Sorry.” He could sense the heat crawling up her face. “But really, it is the answer, and you don’t get staked, even a little.” She settled on her back on the bed, snug against him. Damian raised himself on one elbow to pillow her head, and wrapped the other arm around her, mindful of distractions and the knife on the floor.

Holding the figure so they could both see, she went on. “You said this was an early one, that you got better with practice, that the one you gave your friend was a later one, a really good one. You said you never made a vampire before-the first one might not be very good.” She smiled up at him. “The first one might not turn out vampire, at all.”

He hated to crush her. “I really do know how to do it. It’s not that hard.”

“Yes, but if you helped me, by doing it just a little wrong, in a way no one would question, then you would have obeyed. You would have done what your lady wanted, I would get a clean death, and you wouldn’t be punished.” Ulrike was pleading, now.

Damian thought about it. It sounded possible. It would give them both what they wanted. He didn’t want to bring her over at all, and he doubted she’d ever forgive him for it. If she would make a good ally, she’d make an equally bad enemy. And it would be a small blow against the domination of She-who-made-him. It would be grand to thwart his mistress and get away with it.

Thinking out loud, he murmured “How?” but she had an answer for that, too.

“How did you make this?” Ulrike sensed a victory. “Don’t bite me, cut me-I’ll bleed, especially if you keep licking the wounds, and three days will come and go, and then someone will have to dig a large hole. See?”

Damian pondered. No one knew they had the knife; he certainly didn’t own one. If he cut artistically enough, the wounds would be taken for bites. Why else, after all, would someone bleed out in the presence of a vampire? She would die, and her failure to rise would be only her failure, not his, and she beyond reach of punishment.

He surprised her with a bark of laughter and a big hug. “Yes, we could do that.” He laughed and held her and kissed her, and she laughed and hugged him and kissed him, until her laughter became hysterical, and finally, she wept.

Ulrike’s tears startled him into silence, then Damian realized that the joy of the planning had passed, and now it was only her own death she saw. He cradled her against him, and kissed the tears as they fell, and wondered how she could cling so tightly to the one who would kill her. And he grieved.

Far sooner than he expected, she stilled herself. Wiping her face, she asked him how long he thought they had.

“It lacks perhaps an hour and a half to dawn.”

“The Lady said she’d be back at nightfall for you.”

“True, but I can do nothing after the sun rises.”

“Then we best start.” She was right, he thought. Not only that, but he realized that they had to finish it as well. There was no way to keep her from the knife once the light came, short of throwing it out into the hall, and that would bring trouble of its own. He tried to remember if he told her that the bites should be spaced out over three days, and decided he had not.

Ulrike was on the outer edge of the pallet, so she reached out to grope for the knife. Finally she had to get up to reach it, dancing a little with the chill of the floor. Handing it to the vampire, she touched his face, and said, “Wait. There is something I must do.” She stood in the farthest corner of the cell, then knelt. He could hear her murmurs, saw her cross herself. His stomach flipped over, hard.

When she returned to the pallet, something of it must have shown on his face, even in the gloom, because she asked, “What’s wrong?”

“You were praying.” He swallowed hard.

“If I prayed aloud, would that make you burst into flame?”

“I don’t think so, but I would certainly puke on you first.” He held up a warning hand as she took a breath. “Don’t try it. If it works, you’d be in here with a pile of ashes and a different vampire, and if it doesn’t, you’d be covered in puke.”

Her shoulders slumped. “It was an idea. Actually, if it worked, I’d be in here with a pile of ashes and a knife.” She sat down next to him.

“We want the same thing, Rikeleh. We want one of us to walk out of here. Not both of us,” this caused her to flinch, “and not neither of us.” She moved against him for comfort; he embraced her gently before nudging her flat to the pallet.

He knelt between her legs, again. “I need to look.” She snorted. “At the bite,” he added, repressively.

After examining the punctures, he sat up, cross-legged on the pallet. Holding the knife, brows knit, he suddenly bit his own forearm and studied the holes. The wounds started to close, so he bit himself again. This time, he stuck himself with the tip of the knife, close to one of the punctures. He licked the blood away, and compared the marks, though they closed once again. A third time, he bit and stabbed, this time giving the blade a little tearing motion to widen the mark, and seemed more nearly satisfied.


“It has to look right. I never really looked at it before. I strike, I feed, I go. I don’t stop to admire the wounds. And I can’t do it on you, it would show.” This time he stabbed his arm and compared it to her leg. “That looks good.” Then he damped the pleasure, knowing it was tactless.

He touched his thumb and fingertip to the tips of his fangs and braced them with his other fingers. With a nod he drew blood, and reached to touch the big pulse in her neck. Ulrike flinched slightly at his touch. “Lie down again.” He parted her thighs with his free hand and touched her unbitten thigh on the flesh over the femoral artery. “Marking the distance,” he explained. “You have one real bite, the other two have to match.” Only now did he recall that he had bitten her exactly three nights ago, with her hearty cooperation. He didn’t think an extra bite would matter.

Now Ulrike was growing distressed. At his touch, tender though it was, and his words, she let out a little whimper. He lay next to her, to whisper in her ear. “I will be gentle with you, little one. It need not be completely awful.” He had one hand between her legs, to keep her from smearing the markers. He stroked her thigh softly. “Do you want me to take your mind first?” She shook her head —No. “I can make it sweet for you. Let me make it sweet for you.” He put power into his voice, this much he would insist on. She shivered and nodded, numbly.

A last kiss, and he was down between her legs. A last look at the real bite, and he pushed the little blade into flesh, once, twice, with the little flick, not deeper than he could have penetrated with his fangs. She began to bleed with a flow that said he had put a small nick into the big vessel. Putting his mouth to the wounds, he began to feed, sucking and swallowing, blissful. He stroked her ass and moved his hand up the smoothness of her side; she caught his hand and held it tightly. His other hand stole up to her crotch, and as his lips played her skin, his fingers began to play her sex.

She was moist from their last joining, with her juices and his. One finger slid out of sight, and back again, and again. He curled his finger, feeling the special nubbly spot within, feeling her tremble with every caress. His tongue probed the punctures, and his thumb went down onto her button, swirling gently, firmly. He fed, and played, and the fear whimpers were replaced with whimpers of pleasure. One finger was joined with another, and her cries took on a fuller throated quality, as she came closer to her climax.

Replete, Damian moved his mouth from her blood to her sex, and replaced his thumb with his tongue. He had teased her enough, he thought, and set to licking her into orgasm. He stopped his hand’s slow thrusting, to press upwards with both fingertips as he pressed in with his tongue, stroking her inside and out, and she came for him, quivering and calling his name. He withdrew his hand and inserted his manhood, and began to move with long deliberate strokes that sheathed him to the hilt. He groaned his pleasure, and she raised her hips against him, matching him stroke for stroke, arms wrapped around him, clutching. That brought her again, and he buried his face in her hair and let her orgasm tip him over, too.

They lay quietly together, hearts pounding. His slowed quickly, but hers did not-it was trying to make up for the blood loss. They shifted, and Ulrike squeaked as Damian put his elbow on a length of her hair. He levitated briefly, letting her pull the offended locks away and flip them over the edge of the pallet. Once he settled, he held her against his chest, able to look into her eyes. There was something he had to ask her.

“You have two real bites, ‘Rikeleh. The one from the night of the banquet counts.” She looked into his face, puzzled. “You could change your mind. You could stay with me.” He brushed her cheek with his fingertips.

“You changed your mind. You didn’t want to do this, now you do.” She sounded slightly accusing.

“I didn’t think there was a choice. You showed me there was a choice. I didn’t want to force you, as I was forced. But we could be good together, for a long time. We could be strong. But it has to be your choice.” His eyes held hers, wishing but not compelling her to say the words.

“I can’t. The cost is too high. My soul…” Her voice trailed off, as she looked up into his eyes. “We found a way out of her trap.” She put a hand down to feel where her life was leaking away.

He hadn’t really believed she would say anything else, though he had to try. “You’re sure?”

“Very sure. And I would hate you if you did it anyway.”

“I know.” He kissed her. “But I had to ask. How did you decide so quickly, that death would be better than becoming one like me? Humans don’t surrender their lives lightly.”

“It wasn’t a quick decision. We, I and my friends, I mean,” and she had to pause for enough breath to finish speaking, “we’ve talked about it a lot, what we would do if this offer came to us. I’ve known for a long time what I’d do.”

“A decision made in the daylight, without your lover in your arms.” Damian would try one last bit of persuasion.

“But still my decision.” She shushed him with bloody fingertips on his lips. He kissed the fingertips and acknowledged defeat.

“I can take your mind for this,” he offered again.

“I want to be aware.” Her voice was soft. He suspected that she feared he would take her mind and bite her anyway.

“I can take only the fear, leave you thought. I know you are afraid, I can smell it.” He cupped her face in his palm. The scent was mingled with the scent of the blood that pooled beneath her thigh; the bleeding had not stopped.

“Yes, please. Just the fear.” She had started to shiver.

Gently, delicately, he held her eyes and excised the core that was the terror. He felt the little thoughts dancing as he did it. At least, he thought, as he cast that core from himself, there was a part of her that did want to go on, with him.

Ulrike melted against the pallet as the tension ran out of her, and she kissed him. “Thank you.” She was too weary with sex and blood loss to put a lot of force into it, but the sincerity was unmistakable.

Damian turned her head to search out the marks he had drawn in blood. “This is the last of it, Rikeleh. I will be quick.” He had to be quick, the dawn was coming. The blade bit into her neck, and his mouth covered the marks. He wasn’t sure how deeply he had hit the big vessel-with his fangs he would have known- and was rewarded with a feeding gush, more than he expected from a second wound. With his mouth on the wounds, he sucked and swallowed, though his hunger had been sated long before.

She surprised him by giggling. “You’re hard again.” It was true; he was erect, and pressed against her hip.

“Can’t help it, sorry. It’s all the blood, does it to me,” Damian mumbled as he drank deeply.

“Don’t be sorry. Do it.” The words came softly, she hadn’t much breath. He pulled away to stare at her. “ ‘S my last chance. Want you. In me.” The blood was coming away from her, she was losing strength. “Now.”

Death was coming, dawn was coming; if he were to come first he’d have to come fast. Damian flashed between her slack legs, and sheathed himself in her. He chose a rhythm meant to suit only himself, and was careful to rest no weight upon her; he desperately wanted to be complete before she died. She had the strength left to run a hand over his back; she had no breath to spare for moaning. He put his head down to drink again, shaking his head to toss his hair away from the wound. One more great swallow put him over the edge, and as warm thick fluid went into him, so did warm thick fluid spurt away from him, and he had to throw his head back and scream. The sound had barely stopped echoing when he again lay at her side. She was fading, but happy; her eyes were closed but a tiny smile played at the corners of her mouth.

He laid gentle, bloody kisses on her lids and her lips. “It will all be fine,” he whispered. And it would: either she wouldn’t rise, or she would, but he had done his part. Damian wasn’t sure if his saliva alone had enough of whatever it was that turned someone vampire, but he thought not, and he had done exactly as she asked. He smiled and stroked the hair from her face.

It was nearly dawn, and one task yet remained. Damian rose from the pallet to find the sheet, long since forgotten on the floor. He tucked it in around her tightly, starting at her feet, moving up her body, intending to cover her head. She was still aware enough to mouth his name when he had tucked her shoulders, and he bent his head to catch the last words. Had she spoken more quickly, or the sun risen more slowly, he might have heard something to break his heart, but the dawn broke and he collapsed across her. His weight crushed the breath from her, and within seconds, she lay as still as he.

Chapter 18: Chapter 18 Escape

The sun had yet to clear the sky; Damian began to return to consciousness with still an hour of light left. He found himself sprawled over Ulrike’s body, his legs hanging off the pallet. Dragging himself to a sitting position, he tallied all he needed to do before She-Who-Made-Him came to release him.

This had been happening more and more often; if his mistress thrust enough power his way, he would rise early. He had even walked in the sun with her, terrifying though that was. He had walked in the light with Perrin, too, though Perrin had been ashes in the wind for many years. It seemed appropriate to think of Perrin just now, as he sat by another dead companion. He thought of Jean-Claude now, as well, one of the few of his friends to leave his company on two feet. He hoped his friend had not suffered at his own mistress’s hand for all that had happened during the visit. Damian also wondered if Paolo would obey orders and not retaliate against Jean-Claude. His experience in Moroven’s bed might make him think he had a completely new reason to strike out at the other vampire. His own experience suggested that something nasty but seemingly unrelated would happen. He might never find out, though.

Start with covering the body completely. Damian looked into Ulrike’s face for a time, thinking of what might have grown between them. Why had he dared to hope that this time, someone who cared for him might be permitted to stay with him? True, she had chosen death, and might yet rise, unlikely though that seemed. He could dare to hope for that, then, and also to hope that she would not hold it against him if she did. She was a brave one, and he owed her his life, once, possibly twice. Damian stroked the hair away from her face, and closed her eyes gently. He had no coins to cover her eyes; he hoped her beliefs didn’t require paying the ferryman. Then he raised the sheet over her, not knowing whether this would truly be the last time he saw her.

He swatted the first curious blowfly, then bent to collect his clothes. He wanted to keep them clean, which meant a long naked march through the castle, since he was wearing as much blood as he had swallowed, not all of it dry. Buttoning his breeches would have been a problem, if he’d actually intended to dress; his belly was distended from all the blood he had taken. He really had fed too heavily, too close to sunrise — he probably would suffer for that. He meant to collect the knife as well — he had no other way of obtaining a blade so fine, and of course, it had to remain secret.

An explanation. Damian had learned long ago that the only way to lie successfully to his lady was to say only true things, but to string them together in such as way as to be totally misleading. She could detect only the individual truths, not the global lie. Oh, yes, he could tell her nothing but the truth, this time. He tried to remember what it was like to be drunk. Happy, unsteady, pleased with himself — that demeanor should suffice. After all, it was partly true.

As he sat at the edge of his pallet, he thought of the many who had passed through his life, who had been kind. So many were dead now, a few by his hand, like Senta, for whom death had been a mercy. Others, like Jean-Claude and Timothy, now Master of St. Petersburg, the lucky dog, were gone, and no way to know if they would meet again. Still others, and his heart ached as he thought of Alke and Hartich, he knew not what had become of them. Damian wondered who had been summoned back; it was possible that friends would return to him. He wanted to hold fast to that thought, it would help him appear cheerful for She-Who-Made-Him.

He heard her coming, but stayed seated until she had swung the heavy door open. Emerging into the torchlight, blinking and stretching, he hoped to distract her with his blood-dappled nakedness. He smiled tipsily, another distraction, as she seldom saw him in any good mood.

“How did the night go, Schatzen?” She pulled him down for a kiss with one hand; the other held something against her skirts. She licked the blood from around his mouth as she broke the kiss, and let him go. He wondered what she had there, but wisely did not ask.

“Quite well, thank you. She was delicious.” He put his hands together behind his back and raised them, making his shoulders and chest ripple.

“Was delicious?’ They both knew from where they stood that no heart beat in the chamber. “Schatzen, were you hasty?”

“I fed from her thighs, and her neck, this morning. I had bitten her the night of the banquet, and wanted to be sure everything happened within the three day period for making.” (All true, he thought virtuously, though the reasons were mine own.) He rotated his shoulders and his head; Morvoren appeared entertained.

“I did tell you to take your time,” she murmured as she watched him flex.

“So much to do. I have to get back to work.” He rubbed his eyes, and lurched as he stooped to retrieve the pile of clothing he had left at his feet. He was careful not to let the knife slip out as he rose. “I have three days before she needs more attention.” (Such as a burial, he thought.)

“What is your estimation of her?” His lady seemed genuinely interested in his opinion. That was unusual.

“Very strong-willed. Clearheaded. Practical. Those are qualities good for the kiss.” Damian stifled a small belch in his fist. “ ‘Scuse me. Though we’ll have to see what of your great powers I have transmitted- so little has clung to me. (True, all true!)

“And what of her attitude?” She looked up at him with wide blue eyes, a delicate face framed in blonde curls, and a look of angelic interest that showed nothing of her poisonous heart. A man could be fooled by that face, he knew, because he had been fooled once.

“Oh, once we understood each other, she didn’t fight me. And she was certainly, ah, ardent to the end.” This time he grinned. “My lady, may I go clean up? I won’t need to feed any time soon.”

Morvoren reached out to pat the bulge in his middle. “Yes, Schatzen, go wash.”

He ambled, a trifle unsteadily, down the corridor, his bundle of clothing held slightly away from his body. He felt her gaze on his back, and willed himself to continue as he was, to show no worries, only the pleasure that the servant should take in serving the master well. It wasn’t too hard to show pleasure; had not his lady smiled and let him leave without harming him?


Chapter 19: Chapter 19 Greta

The following nights were busy; everyone had double tasks to do, sometimes more, as one vampire or another was taken from the work list to tend the newly risen. Morvoren had not relied on Damian’s making alone; she had turned another two humans. The recalled vampires were trickling back home, but not quickly enough to help with the work load. Damian was relieved not to be called to tend Ulrike. He thought their plan had worked, and was glad for her. He had heard nothing else about her, not even the summoning of a burial detail, but was not greatly concerned. The newly risen tended to make their presence known. To keep his lady from becoming suspicious, he asked if he should be tending to Ulrike himself, and was told only that she had not risen.

Damian continued to rise far earlier than sunset. Perhaps since his lady had fewer vampires to animate, her energy was concentrating on those who were left. He could daywalk, if he could cloak himself. As it was, he had no cloak, so the first evening after waking on top of Ulrike’s body he had lots of time in the dark of his coffin to think. He thought of many things, including that his time of early waking might be limited. He thought of what he might do to suit himself with this extra time. And he thought of Greta, and caressed the handle of the sword.

Before dawn he rearranged his coffin near the wall where his tapestry hung. He placed his carving tools and a bit of wood in the coffin with him. By draping the bottom of the tapestry over the top of the coffin, he was sure that he could raise the lid just enough to get a very small amount of well-filtered light, enough to see what he was doing with the wood. He entertained himself the next evening by carving; this piece seemed to want to be some kind of animal. Lying on his back with his work above him gave him the freedom of his hands, but the wood chips kept landing on his face. Propping on his elbows kept the debris out of his mouth and eyes, but restricted his movements with his hands. He finally settled on lying on his side and being very, very careful not to slash his face as he worked. Grimly, he considered the relative ease of building a double-wide coffin versus obtaining a cloak.

Two evenings he enjoyed this way. The wood had yielded its secret; a fox was emerging from the piece of pine. Damian concentrated on his work, but every now and then something else would cross his mind. He had a plan.

After his third evening of carving in the confines of his coffin, he stowed his sword, his tools, and his work in his wardrobe. If his plan didn’t work tonight, he could always retrieve them, but to have them there at dawn might spoil his plan. One chance to make it work, he thought, one chance, but he would make it good.

Shortly before dawn, his path crossed Greta’s. He gave her a pleasant look as he passed, and exulted to have her call to him.

“Damian, you aren’t angry with me about the carving, are you?” she inquired, archly.

“It was to be a gift to our lady,” he lied. “I had wished for the pleasure of presenting it myself, but it was hers to distribute as she saw fit.” He kept his face pleasant, a testament to his control.

Greta took his arm and smiled seductively. “I wouldn’t want you to be angry with me,” she purred. “I was hoping to spend a bit of time with you.” She walked her fingers up his arm and across his shoulder.

“I’d like that very much,” he murmured, and this time, he wasn’t lying. He kissed the fingers as they walked across his lips. “Tonight? There’s time.” He gave her hopeful green eyes.

“Let’s go,” she murmured back, and did not protest as he steered her towards his tower room.

Once in his room, he took Greta in his arms and kissed her lying, treacherous mouth. She opened to him, kissed him with as much eagerness as she had ever shown, and melted against him. He ran his hands up her back, smiled into her eyes with all the insincerity he possessed. He began to undress her; she shrugged out of the simple frock she wore. Damian ran his hands over her sides and buttocks; she rubbed against him and ran her hands under his clothing. He rubbed back, and nibbled her neck, and thought about tearing her throat out. He calculated the time before dawn and began groping her breasts to keep to the timetable in his head. He wanted to do several things before the sun came up.

She moaned and reached for his groin; that pleased him, he wanted to keep the pace up. Busy fingers unbuttoned his breeches, pushed them down enough to expose his erection, wrapped around him, pumped him. He backed her up against his coffin, kissed her again, and flipped her over. She thrust her ass against him, rubbed against his hardness, and cried out as he penetrated her, thrusting himself into her depths. In, out, he stroked, enjoying the sensation, knowing he would enjoy what came next even more. He ran his hands up her back, over her shoulders, down her arms. He didn’t know why Greta was fucking him tonight, he didn’t care much; it suited his purposes to fuck her. He lay against her back, his arms resting on top of hers as she stretched them out to each side, something he knew she liked to do in this position, something he was depending on. Stroking in and out, moving side to side, he plunged against her in a rhythm familiar to them both, one that usually brought her quickly. He kissed the back of her neck and stood upright, even as he grabbed her wrists and brutally pulled her arms up behind her. Something popped; she screamed, and her arms bent up too far, shoulders dislocated. She wouldn’t heal, because she wasn’t wounded; nothing was damaged, only displaced. She would be perfect again once he reseated the joints, but now she was helpless. His expression was grimly triumphant, as he slammed his rigid length into her once again.

He stopped, and waited for the screaming to stop. She didn’t quiet fast enough, so he shook her. “Shut up, you little bitch.” He held both wrists in one hand, and turned her face towards him with the other. The fear she showed both sickened him and satisfied him.

“Now,” and he slammed into her again, “why did you take my carving?”

She cried out and could not answer. He let her arms move lower, the movement to a less tense position still brought tears to her eyes. “Why?”

“Our lady,” she gasped out, “was going to send either you or me to Prague. I had to make sure it was me.”

“Keep talking.” He slammed into her again; she screamed as the ball joints displaced muscles.

“If you got angry, I had to do something bad enough to make you angry enough to do something stupid, make our lady angry with you…” she cried out again as he rammed her.

“And Angelito? You wanted us to fight?” That was the only thing that made sense about the visitor’s antagonism towards him; he had surely given the man no cause.

“Yes,” she grunted with pain. “You have so much control, but if Angelito started it...”

“So that’s why you looked so pleased when the Russians bound me!” he snarled.

“I thought you’d lost favor, because of Paolo!” and she screamed again as he beat his body into hers.

Damian leaned down to hiss in her ear. “And Ulrike? What did she do to you?”

“She liked you! And you and that damned Jean-Claude fucked up my chances! No one went to Prague! It’s all your damned fault!” She cried out again from the impact; her shoulders were agony, he knew, he had been tortured this way.

“So what did you do to her in the bath?” he grated. “Anything like what I’m doing now?’ His hips jolted against hers. “Because she was helpless in your hands and you could?” He didn’t wait for an answer, again he pounded her, making her joints grind, making her scream. “You fucked my chances to escape?” his anger was close to boiling over. “You fucked my chances to get out of here?”

“You fucked mine!” Greta shrieked. “And you would have escaped to the ship if I hadn’t made the footman put the cross on the door!” She froze, pain and anger forgotten as she realized what she had confessed.

“I did nothing to you!” he slammed her. “I got raped, I nearly burned, you stole two years of my work, you tormented an innocent and set her up to die, and you fucked my chance to get out of here! Twice, you fucked my chances! Why should you rise tonight?” He wrenched her arms higher.

“Damian, please!” Greta cried.

He became aware of the sun, dawn was nearly upon them. He rammed her one last time, then threw her into the coffin, never releasing her wrists. This was far worse than he thought; he had been his lady’s choice to go to Prague, almost! Escape was within his grasp, and then taken, twice! He could have wept, would have wept had not time been so short. He leaped in on top of her and set the lid over them, slightly ajar with the open edge to the wall. Reaching out through the gap, he set the tapestry’s lower edge over the gap, just as he did when he planned to carve. When Greta squirmed below him, he bounced on her. “Stop that!” And then the sun rose, stilling them both.

As he expected, Damian became aware of the world while it was still light out. He replayed the information he had extracted from the woman below him, who had done all she could to keep him in bondage. What he had planned originally no longer seemed adequate, after all she had said. Power wasn’t enough to keep her in check, nor was pain, she would do everything she could to retaliate, and that might be enough to get him killed. He had not lived through the centuries by taking unnecessary risks. His life might be completely wretched, but he would die a final death by his own choice, or his lady’s choice, or by dreadful accident, not because he would deliberately leave an enemy at his back.

He had expected to lie on top of her for some time while awake, but what he had not considered was how lumpy she was. Damian shifted around, trying to find a bit of comfort, and finally succeeded in moving her to one side. That would make it easier to carry out the next part of his plan, he thought, as he rehearsed his lines. The truth, of course, in each statement, but taken as a whole, a lie.

We were having sex, he would say, when the sun came up. True, and they were known to be intimate from time to time. She couldn’t get to her room in time, so I put her in my coffin. True again. The lid wasn’t down tight. True. I woke before the sun set. True. I thrashed around when I saw the sun. True, or it would be, but he wouldn’t say why he thrashed. Let them assume it was fear; as it would be for any other vampire. It knocked the coffin over — she spilled out, into the sun, and burned. And that would be true, too. And I was so frightened. And that would be true, too, he would make sure of it.

Now. There was still sunlight from the northern exposure of his window, enough, he judged, but not enough to do him harm if he was careful. He rolled wildly, the edge of the tapestry in his hand. He sent the coffin careening over as he pulled the tapestry down on top of him. It rolled over, and he threw Greta’s limp body out and into the patch of sunlight on the floor. She began to burn with a merry flame; he watched from beneath the tapestry on the floor against the wall. He saw her body curl into itself as the flesh was consumed, and imagined that he and Jean-Claude were the ones burning, as could have so easily happened. The fear bloomed within him, and he began to scream.


Chapter 20: Chapter 20 Epilogue

Morvoren sat at her desk, looking over reports that had been sent from St. Petersburg and her other northern enclaves. The reports had come in after that nosy Council bitch had left, for which Morvoren was grateful. Things had gone so badly, and for such foolish reasons, that she did not want to explain why she had sent some of her people to colonize the northern reaches without the approval of the Council. The new kisses made her wealthy, and they made her powerful; they were populated with vampires of her line only. If none of her get went to Prague, what of it? There was only her get in the new Russian capital. There would come a time when Belle would bow to her, and it might come sooner rather than later.

Too many strange things had happened during this visit, and too many strange things had happened afterwards. She did not like new and strange things much, unless she had been the one to make them happen. She had not liked the new and strange havoc Belle Morte had wreaked upon her; no, she had not liked that one little bit! At least the sun had taken the Russians before she had to look at them again. She would have punished them, killed them eventually, once her pride had been satisfied, though they might have continued in torment another hundred years. They had dared to touch her! She would punish the others who had dared to touch her, just because it had not been her idea to be touched. Or had it? The memories were scrambled.

Damn that Belle! Every time they had to do anything together, Belle somehow got the better of her! This was not the first time, though it was certainly the worst time. Belle was always in her way, somehow, always thwarting her. Even in something as small as guest gifts, she interfered! Morvoren never did get her hands on all the men she was promised. She narrowed her eyes as Jean-Claude entered her mind, she’d been looking forward to playing with him; he should have been very entertaining. Paolo was fun, to be sure, but she still felt cheated. Belle owed her for that! A good thing that slut never got Damian in her bed, she didn’t deserve the pleasure!

Of course the sex she had gotten courtesy of Belle did not make up in the least for the sex she had not gotten. How did she manage to put that compulsion on her from a distance? Morvoren thought sourly that Belle’s powers had grown since their last (unpleasant) meeting. Had her own powers grown to keep pace? There were ways to find out, though it wouldn’t happen any time soon. Too much had to be reorganized, too many new vampires turned and trained, and her returning children reintegrated into the kiss. Then, the next time she sent someone on a voyage, she could test the length of her own reach. Surely she could manage to send her own little surprise to Belle.

She’d need to send a lesser vampire, just to make sure he came back to report. A master might see the opportunity to make a run for it. Morvoren spared a thought for that brat Alke, and her servant, Hartich. Alke had made a run for it, and may have succeeded, for all Morvoren knew. Her spies had not returned any information on the little wretch’s whereabouts, but that might only mean she’d kept running. She’d better keep running, all the way to Siberia, because Morvoren was still angry. Very angry. Better (for her sake) that the little bitch be dead than fall into her mistress’ hands once again, though Morvoren had thought up several new torments to try in the event she ever caught her. That incident was as nasty an experience as what Belle had just done. Worse, even. Morvoren felt queasy from thinking about it, and it was ninety years in the past.

Damian had been at the center of too much that was new and strange, she thought. His friendship with that Jean-Claude had developed to the point where he had surprised her in matters sexual. She didn’t like that, but since it had happened, she’d have some fun with it.

Damian had surprised her again, with a show of independence when the French vampires had run from her demesne like the skulking dogs they were. He had done well to keep the damages from the Russians’ little prank to a minimum, which showed initiative. But trying to leave! Had Greta not shown some initiative of her own in imprisoning him, he might have shown entirely too much initiative, and given Belle another reason to laugh at her.

Losing Greta annoyed her. The story Damian had told about her burning smelled of the truth, even though it seemed odd. But there was nothing she could point at and call false. She would just have to ration the power she sent him, lest he panic again when she couldn’t benefit from it.

And Damian had surprised her once more. He had tried to leave, and then it was as if there had never been reason to doubt him. She had known he would not like to turn his little servant-girl, but he had obeyed and more than obeyed. She couldn’t fault him on that, though she would find something else, eventually. Morvoren thought back to the evening she released him from the turning chamber.

She had turned the lock and shot the bolt back to let Damian out of the turning chamber, where the dead girl lay. He explained why she had died so soon, and all should have been well; she should have risen, and he could have been back to work much sooner than expected. As he talked, he had stretched, and he was lovely to look upon, painted with the girl’s blood, though his stomach was bulging most comically. She had given him permission to go wash, and as she watched him leave she had grown angry at the sight of a well-defined handprint on the upper swell of one buttock. Suddenly, a vampire Ulrike seemed like a threat, even a rival.

Morvoren had entered the cell, yanked back the sheet to survey the body. The wounds on the girl’s neck were visible, though the marks on her thighs were not, but the bloody smears on legs and pallet told the tale plainly enough. The reek of sex was bitter in her nostrils. Damian had certainly enjoyed himself! Her anger flashed over into action. Too fast to see, she plunged the ash stake she had concealed in her skirts into the chest of the corpse. The stake was meant for Damian, should he have failed her in this making. She knew of his attempt to leave with La Belle Morte and his foppish friend, and expected this task to reveal any lingering disaffection. But he had passed her little test, and his loyalty seemed whole.

Back in the corridor, she had straightened her skirts and called for someone to take the garbage out.




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