Much Fall Of Blood — Snippet 16
Vlad’s head was in a turmoil. He was, by nature, a very precise person. Enough people had told him so, from King Emeric himself to the servants who had marveled at the geometric positioning he liked of the few accoutrements in his room. He could not understand why everyone would not wish their world so ordered. He liked to know precisely how things worked. In the small world of his tower in Buda castle, that had been easy enough. Some things, like his careful dissection, had upset and revolted Father Tedesco. But birds were free. They flew to the tower, to the high window, and away at their own choosing. He had merely wished to understand how it was possible. He had gained some understanding of just how they beat their wings and how the feathers flared from their wings. And of how thin and frail their bones were, even compared to mouse bones.
He had done penance for that.
He wondered now if he should do penance for this. He would have liked to have Father Tedesco to advise him. To try and make sense for him of all the unfamiliar emotions. She lay against him, her body softly curved and warm and scented. She had drawn his hand onto her thigh and now her fingers trailed across his the skin on the back of his hand, barely touching him. How she could maintain such control as the carriage jolted and swayed on its leather springs was something a small part of his mind was fascinated by. The rest of his mind was overwhelmed by the sensations she was creating as she traced strange patterns with her perfectly manicured fingers.
After a little while he decided that he really didn’t like it. It made an odd heat within him, not entirely a pleasant sensation. He felt as if he might take her into his arms even or tear the fine fabric and lace away from her breast. It was beyond his rational control. That too he did not enjoy. So he pulled his hand away.
She laughed throatily. “Do you not like me, Prince?”
He blushed and stammered some reply. Was he being terribly rude? Was this how men and women conducted themselves outside of his tower? He had been escorted to King Emeric’s Throne rooms several times. There had been women and men there, but he did not recall noticing anything like this. Nor in his reading. nor in his distant memories of growing up.
For the first time in many years, Elizabeth was both surprised and intrigued. Her senses were enhanced in such a way that she saw and felt things denied to ordinary mortals, just as their so-called salvation was denied to her. Pah. What had she ever cared for that? There was a virginal innocence to this boy that was almost intoxicating to her. It could only come from rearing him in such isolation from the world.
Yet… there was a darkness in him, too. Not at all like her carefully cultivated darkness, with its rewards and price, but wild savage darkness, more like some great volcano of power and passion held in rigid check. And he had strength as well. Power, for which he had paid no price. Power enough to pull away from her spell of binding and subjugation as if it had been a mere spiderweb. She had used sigils of dark magic that should have made him her slave.
He had pulled away.
She knew that his blood had value in magical terms, but she had merely seen him as bait. Bait for an ancient, rare and magical creature, useful to her plans. Now she realized his blood might be even more valuable than she’d believed. Possibly even worth keeping within his veins for a while. Who would have thought that mixing blood could have that effect? She might have to experiment with it herself. Of course, if it only affected offspring it would be of little use to her.
She would set Mindaug to investigate the matter. He needed work. She would watch Mindaug more carefully than Chernobog had been able to. Elizabeth had less interest in geographical power than Chernobog, but there were aspects to this strangely powerful pawn in that area too. So much — besides pain and betrayal — had become ennui as the years passed. This would provide a fascinating distraction. She would have him in the end. She would enmesh him and strip him of his innocence and then his power, and enjoy a brief period of lust and darkness with him before all was done. But in the meanwhile, let the prey think he had sprung the trap. That he had got away.
“What shall we talk about, Prince Vlad?”
He was silent for a while. “My homeland,” he said. “And please, I need to open these curtains. The swaying makes me feel sick.”
Both requests surprised her a little. She disliked bright sunlight, and the countryside. So dull, only good for hiding things in. And her knowledge and interest in Carpathia’s countryside was sketchy at best. “It is mountainous. There are a great many trees.”
“Pine trees. I have run and hunted there often,” Vlad said longingly
He had been taken from home when he was ten, she knew. He must have been somewhat differently raised to the boys of the royal house in Buda. “You remember that?”
He shook his head. “I dream it. I dream it often.”
And that, to one such as her, was more worrying than his resistance to her entrapment.
They panted and lolled in the shade of the small copse on the hillock, three rangy, grey-eyed men, in ragged, patched clothes that spoke of travel.
“Why could she not have chosen a cooler day for it?” said Grigori, wiping his face with a multicolored kerchief. “Or gone by night. Running at night is safer and more pleasant.”
Angelo shook his head. “Not from her. Remember who she is. And this is not our home range. It is hers.”
“I am just glad that the roads do not run too straight. At least, it’s cooling off. Do you think that she will go on through the night, or stop at her nunnery?”
“Stop, I think. The horses are tired and there is nowhere else here she can get a change. Not that I know of, anyway. I have scouted this country, but I know it less well than I like.” Angelo handed a wineskin to his companions. “Drink. I see dust. It will be the carriage.”
“Is he definitely still in it?”
Grigori wiped his mouth and handed the wineskin on. “Hard to tell through the curtains. The carriage has been out of our sight a number of times. Would she fear pursuit enough to set us a false scent?”
Angelo peered toward the dust. “She is old enough and devious enough. But she is also arrogant in her power. All we can do is follow until we can get close enough to get the scent of him. And getting too close may be foolish too. I have watched her kill.”
The enclosed carriage clattered closer along the road. But now the drapes had been drawn aside. They could see him clearly despite the distance, his skin pale and his hair as dark as his grandfather, the dragon, with the same heavy moustache. His face was lean and long. His expression: troubled.
They watched as the carriage and the outriders passed some quarter of mile away. Their keen eyes noted details. Details others might not have spotted, but then, they were hunters. The offside horse was beginning to go lame. The countess would have to slow down soon.
Angelo got to his feet. “That’ll make the chase easier. She’ll be there at nightfall now, not before.”
“It’s an ill time to get there. We could strike before?”
“If the chance arises… otherwise,” Angelo sniffed. “The weather is on the change. That may help us tomorrow. Come, brothers. The chase calls.”
A shepherd boy walking back to his flock with a hat full of blackberries saw a carriage and outriders pass. He waved. No one waved back, but that was hardly surprising. Then he dropped his hat and stood staring.
Those looked like great grey wolves loping across that field. Surely there were no wolves here? He felt suddenly very frightened and alone, and aware that his flock was further away from him than it should be. He stood indecisively for a long moment. And then, without stopping to pick up his hat, let alone the wild berries, he ran in the opposite direction from the wolves or the carriage. The carriage had outriders, doubtless with bows or guns. Let them deal with the wolves.