Much Fall Of Blood — Snippet 63

Later, when the merchant had left with his empty wagon, they broke camp. Vlad was surprised at how quickly, and with how little fuss it could all happen. He was also surprised in another way just before they set off. His new quartermaster brought him a cloak. “Black, Sire. As you like it. Made up already . . . But I had to get the girl to use some of the purple satin for a lining. There wasn’t enough to go round, Sire. And best that it go to you, without the men fighting over pieces to give to their lemans.”

Vlad took the cloak. It was stitched neatly, with a high collar, and lining of rich purple satin, and crimson inset to the collar. “What girl did this?”

The quartermaster looked as if he’d bitten into something unpleasant. “Rosa, Sire. I, um gave her some of the crimson for her trouble.”

“I did not know we had a seamstress. I didn’t know we had any women here at all. This is well done. But it is not safe for her to be here.”

The quartermaster shrugged. “There’s a certain kind of girl that’ll always show up in the tail of an army, Sire. Your grandfather . . . he, um, was odd about it.”

“Continue, quartermaster.” He’d heard some fairly vicious stories about the old man.

The quartermaster plainly assumed he knew just how his grandfather had been odd. “Well, we didn’t know how you’d stand on it, Sire, so we’ve kept them hidden.”

“Do not hide things from me, Quartermaster. I don’t like surprises. What are they doing here?” It was a statement of fact. Vlad was surprised to see the man cringe slightly, as if he’d said something sinister.

“Well . . . the usual, Sire. You know,” Mirko said, rubbing his hands together.

Actually, Vlad was largely unsure. He’d been confined to six rooms in a tower, with menservants who barely spoke to him, since he was ten. His elderly tutor and priest had not taught him much about the world, let alone women. His occasional contacts with the court had been closely guarded and supervised. He knew men and women got together. He had some rather indefinite ideas about what happened then. He’d had some very confused and vivid dreams about it. Mostly involving death. “Why?” he asked.

Mirko shrugged. “Some of them have lost everything and had nothing else to sell. Some who want money. Some, like Rosa, who are too wild to keep to one man, Sire,” he said uncomfortably.

“Oh. Well. Tell her I would like to thank her sewing this for me.”

Mirko blinked and swallowed.

Down the hill one of the Sergeants bellowed. “Move out.”

The quartermaster saluted. “Have to go, Sire,” and scuttled away, plainly welcoming the interruption.

Vlad went to mount his horse, wondering just what he’d learned.

They rode or marched to the new camp that the scouts had located some days before. There was even a half tumbled down old shepherds hut for him to sleep in. For some reason, his sergeants decided that it was appropriate accommodation for their Prince. It was a gesture of consideration and respect. Vlad understood this. He hoped they would also understand why he had refused it. It had walls. Walls and a roof. And no windows. The thatch was old and rotten, and there was no door — or flooring. Yet it was still too confining for him now. For that reason, although it was a hovel, it reminded him far too much of his tower in Buda Castle. Walls might provide shelter, but they also provided confinement.

Instead, Vlad chose to bed down a little way away from the main encampment between some gray rocks that would provide some shelter from the wind and privacy. He had always had privacy, and had grown accustomed to the solitude. The together-living of his soldiery he found hard. The men were used to sharing small accommodations with a large family. He had had six commodious rooms to himself, most of the time. He would have the stars and openness, and a quiet place by himself. His sergeants were welcome to the shelter and its fleas.

He was becoming quite a seasoned campaigner by now. He cut some heather for a bed. It did not look as if there was any chance of rain that night. So he did not bother with any form of lean-to. He simply laid his old cloak on the heather. He would wrap himself in the generous, thick folds of his new cloak after they had eaten.

That night as they were sitting around the fires — the schnapps had added a little volume and a little extra cheer to the troops, but they were anything but raucous — one of his sergeants came to him. “Sire, the poachers that Sergeant Emil assigned to follow that trader are back. You were right, Drac.” He said with deep respect. “The traitor met a Hungarian patrol. They escorted him. And the men say the patrol was waiting for him. We will kill him if he ever sets foot in these mountains again.”

Vlad digested this information. “I must forbid you from killing him, even if he deserves death.”

The sergeant looked puzzled. “But why, Sire?”

“It seems probable that they will try to attack our camp again. When they do not find us there, they will probably punish him. However, I owe him an amount of silver. That debt must be paid. And then I will deal with the traitor in an appropriate fashion.”

The Sergeant saluted smartly. “I shall make sure that everyone knows that, Drac.” There was something approaching reverence in his voice as he said that. Vlad wondered why. It seemed only fair.

As usual, he found himself sitting slightly aside from the rest of the men. He did understand that they felt this to be a measure of respect. It would also seem that they found themselves a little uncomfortable too close to him. However he had keen hearing. He did not think they realized just how much he eavesdropped, and how much he was learning from them. It was better than admitting he knew little of how to deal with people, let alone organize armies. The breeze brought him to wafts of conversation, some of which he could make very little sense of, and others like ” . . . Knew it was a trap.” Or ” . . . he’ll pay. Look at what he said he do for that German merchant.”

Satisfied, Vlad took himself off to his rest. This time at least, he had made the right decisions.

He had found that he was quite a light sleeper — once he had recovered from the sheer exhaustion of his first few days as a free man. He had little fear that anyone would be able to sneak up on him while he was asleep. He also noticed that among the sentries the Sergeants appeared to have one whose duty it was to watch over him. They were careful to leave him his space, however. He lay there looking up at the stars, somewhere in the region between wakefulness and sleep, when he heard a slight noise. A rustle of cloth. He was sharply and suddenly very awake, ears pricked, not moving but with every sense alert. His hand rested right next to his dagger haft . . . and he waited. Vlad was unsure just how late it was. There were no sounds coming from the camp fires. And yes, that was definitely someone trying to move closer quietly.

There was also, now that his senses were so utterly keyed up a faint scent. He caught sight of a black figure silhouetted by the moonlight. Whoever it was, was not particularly large. Ever so slowly, trying not to rustle cloth, Vlad drew his dagger. He closed his eyes, and then peered through a tiny slit, and tried to breathe easily and evenly. He expected the attacker to rush him at any moment.

What he did not expect was for the person to kneel down, and say in a quiet but recognizably female voice, “Drac?”

Vlad rolled and stood up in one easy movement. In his hand the knife gleamed silver, as his cloak flared around him. The woman gave a small gasp of horror and held out her hands defensively.

“What are you doing here?” He asked, not relaxing. She had been looking for him, not a quiet place to relieve herself.

She giggled nervously. “Mirko said that you want to thank me. So . . . um . . . I came to be thanked, Drac.” It was clear moonlight. Vlad could see that she was smiling warily at him. “I am Rosa. I sewed the lining into your new cloak.”

Vlad slipped his dagger back into the sheath. “Ah. Yes. But why now, young lady? I very nearly killed you by accident.”

“I did not want everyone to see, Drac. I had to wait until people were asleep,” she said her voice husky. He looked at her and saw how she looked back at him, brow lowered. She licked her upper lip. “Can we lie down among the rocks again. I do not want the guard to see me.”

Vlad nodded. He sat down on his bed of heather again. She came too and pushed him back down gently on it, lying half on him, half next to him, her body soft against his, her lips brushing against his jaw line, hands running across his shoulders. She rolled slightly, and undid the buttons on her blouse. Moonlight shone on the full curves of her white breasts, and she began undoing the buttons on his shirt.

This was more alarming and confusing than merely being stalked by some killer. “What . . .” She put a finger to his lips and began to slowly, languorously kiss her way down his chest, unbuttoning as she went. She paused just short of the last button, and then slid her way up again, her breasts brushing against his chest. She put a leg over him and ground her hips against his. Then she sat up on top of him, rubbing her pelvis against him. She took his hands and led them up to touch the great soft globes and the firm nipple standing out from them. He felt the curve of them, touching and caressing, barely knowing what he was doing, but not wanting to stop either. He could feel his own pelvis thrusting up and against her. His body seemed to know what it was doing, even if his mind was less sure.