The standard, I do not own Angelus, Darla, Drucilla, William, or for that matter any historical figures. The vampires belong to ME. The historical figures belong to posterity and stuff. Any mistakes are my own, except, I'd like to pretend that I intended them.
My apologies to my great grandfathers Harald and Minehert. It's just that your names were so cool: I had to use them.
Introduction | Index | Chapter 2
It was a beautiful day. The sky was stained glass clear and aching blue. Cold for this time of year, but Darla didn’t mind the chill.
She’d always loved a view and her palazzo on the hill has such wide open windows. It’s all in the exposure.
She looked out across the city. The clustered red tile roofs hinted at secret shadowy streets and hidden plazas. She could just make out a pale white finger column of the forum. She smiled to think of the armless vestal virgins lying like so much cold marble in the ivy.
Darla took a deep breath that she did not need. Even on this blue winterish day, Rome smelled like a city. All those warm unwashed bodies clustered together with their rotting fruit and meat and refuse. Yesterday, there had been a riot over grain supplies. The air still had a faint burnt smell. Darla inhaled ashes deep into her dead lungs and returned to the work at hand.
Her full skirts whispered over the tile floor as she considered the good Cardinal Innocenzo del Monte, currently suspended upside down in naked splendor from her ceiling. She’d have liked to have hung him from a cross, but that might have been unwise.
She slapped her leather quirt in red gloved hands. She liked the sound. Innocenzo shivered. She trailed the quirt’s black tip down his young plump back. Trailed leather over olive skin and red rising welts from earlier love taps. Deep in his throat where only she could hear, he sighed. The wicked Innocenzo was ripe. Time to pluck him down.
She put down her quirt.
The time for the obviously banal was done.
She didn’t glance to where Henri was sitting on a short stool in the corner of the room. It was important that she focus, but she knew Henri was watching.
Good. Some things are easy to teach, but this required study.
She looked into Innocenzo’s wide liquid eyes and said, “Wicked, wicked boy,” traced the side of his pretty face with the back of a single gloved middle finger, “you reek of voluptuous sin and I should know.” Darla pinched Innocenzo’s ear and twisted, “Who am I?” Darla struck him with the flat of her palm.
Innocenzo spun as the flax rope twisted and groaned in the iron ring on the ceiling. “The devil’s whore,” said Innocenzo.
“That’s right,” she said. Darla walked slowly to a marble side table where a black wicker ball bristled with shorn feathers. She pulled out a long raven’s pinion. She rolled it idly in her fingers. It had been sharpened to a fine point. “Although they say,” she pinched his elbow and pushed the quill half way through, “that blood washes away sin.” Innocenzo gasped. Blood dripped down the quill’s open end. It made a cloud pattern on the blue tile floor.
“Yeah,” said Innocenzo. “blood. I want…” His lip was split. He licked a drop of blood from his lip. Tasted salt and copper and himself. “I done everythin’ else. Done every sin. I want…”
Darla went to the wicker ball and pulled out another quill. “Then say what you want.” She tapped its sharp point lightly on Innocenzo’s skin, just pricking the surface. She could hear his heart beating double time. He said nothing. Just hung trembling on her rope. Darla traced an old white scar on his arm with her quill. Over bronzed skin tight and puckered in the cool air. She nicked an earlobe and a drop of blood welled like a flower. “Oh, poor wicked boy. Nineteen and weeping because there are no more worlds to conquer.”
“What?” said Innocenzo, “Don’t want to conquer the world!” He swayed slightly on the rope and then said his words all in a rush, “I want the devil’s whore to drink of the blood God give me. I want to be…wicked.”
“Charmingly blunt,” said Darla. She leaned forward, “Why should I? You’ve yet to give me what I want.” Darla walked around Innocenzo. She trailed the quill over blue river veins, but she did not let the blue out to become red. “You’d think that the pope’s chief political agent could find some suitable See for a loyal son of the church.”
“I asked him,” said Innocenzo, twisting on her rope, his drying blood a cypher on her floor.
“And yet here I stand,” said Darla, “waiting.” She spread her hands. “I don’t like to be kept waiting.” Darla finished her circuit around Innocenzo. “Pope Julius would find France a generous ally.” Darla plucked the flax rope where it stretched from her painted ceiling to another iron ring in her pale plaster wall. The rope quivered with its tension and Innocenzo swayed. In the distance a soprano bell began to ring.
Innocenzo said, “I’ll…”
There was a timid knock at the door. A small dark girl scurried into the room. Darla said, “Maria, I don’t wish to be disturbed.”
“Yes, mistress,” said Maria, “but we’ve just received word.” She glanced at the spinning Innocenzo. “The pope, Julius. He’s dead.”
Darla waved Maria away. “And that is the problem with elderly popes,” she said, turning to Henri, “No sooner do you position yourself with his favorite Ganymede, but they drop dead.”
“I can still help you,” said Innocenzo, “I’m still the chief political agent.”
Darla laughed, “Monkey-boy, you’ve already wasted enough of my time.” She put one small gloved hand on his neck and twisted with the other. There was an audible crack. In the distance, tenor and basso bells began to ring. “I’m already bored with you.” She spun Innocenzo’s body on her rope and said to Henri, “Now then, sweetheart, with the old bastard dead, what is our problem?”
Henri thought for a moment, “We need to make sure that the new pope likes us.”
Darla smiled, “Yes, and?”
“The Holy Roman Emperor is France’s enemy and he’ll try and make sure the pope is friendly to him and not us.”
Darla gestured with the quill, “So, what should we do about that?”
Henri smiled, “Oh, I know. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. We should write…”
“Shhhh… not in front of the innocent.” Darla took Henri’s hand and pulled him from his stool, “I think someone deserves a sweet ice for being as clever as a little prince should be.” Darla and Henri left the room.
In a moment Maria came into the room and looked up at the body hanging from the ceiling. She sighed and said, “I just cleaned this morning.”
Suleyman Khan - Shadow of God over all nations, Lawgiver, Sultan of Sultans, the Shah of Baghdad and Iraq, Sultan of Egypt, Caesar of all the lands of Rome, tenth Sultan of the Ottoman Khans - knelt in his aerie. Knelt on the tenth balcony of the fourth minaret of the Suleymaniye Mosque that Sinon built.
The north wind oozed black sea frost through the open windows and made its way south. Suleyman did not notice.
He prayed softly. The north wind paused and the world that was mighty Istanbul held its breath.
The still waters of the Golden Horn shimmered in the light of the dying sun. Suleyman did not look down. His eyes were closed. The bloodied sun hovered on the horizon and splashed red light on domes and minarets.
Europe and Asia grappled with tectonic earth arms and magma muscles, whimpered with tension beneath the red gold water. Suleyman did not hear. His ears rang with the sound of the limitless sky. The djinns on their perches preened and prayed and waited in the echoing light.
The old man, the great sultan, the mighty king sat up with creaking bones.
As the north wind began to skulk across the city and the sun slipped into the orange haze oblivion, the djinn began to sigh whispers in the voices of smokeless fire. Gave tidings in the sound of rain. Of hot sedition and frozen rivers. Of the deaths of old pontiffs and child kings. Of requests and demands and secrets. Related offers that dared not be written. Whispered the world.
Suleyman the Lawgiver listened. He smoothed gnarled fingers over the knots in the carpet. He looked down at the awakening lights and the sleeping masts at harbor. He laughed, “It is in the interest of great kings to come to the aid of minor princes,” he said. The aerie glowed in the light of the djinn as they clustered around their king to keep him warm in their regard.
“Great kings,” they whispered. “Wise protector of the faithful.”
“Is there time, you think, before the sun’s light fades?” he said looking at his city, his throne of lonely niche, his wealth, his love, his moonlight.
“Yes,” they crackled. “Just enough time,” they whispered, “before the light fades.”
“Perhaps, there is time to bring the faithful to Vienna. I hear it is nice this time of year,” said the great sultan Suleyman, slave of God and ruler of kings.
The djinn shifted on their perches and blinked burning eyes.
A single feather fell from a red gold djinn. It spun like an ember, like a star. It fell down to the dusty street far below, where it winked once and then went dark.
King Phillip II of Spain, the Low Countries, certain portions of the New World, and King Consort of England, Defender of the Faith, had a head cold. “It never stops raining.” he said and held a spice ball up to his nose. He sneezed.
Angelus smiled, “You should visit Galway. Sheets of rain falling 360 days a year.” He leaned forward and lowered his voice, “Everything covered in mildew and mold and rot. Not so much green as grey.”
Phillip shuddered and irritably waved his wife, her gracious majesty Queen Mary away. She was trying to hand him a linen handkerchief that had been blessed by the papal legate, Cardinal Pole. He already had an Egyptian cotton handkerchief that had been blessed by a Pope.
Angelus smiled with his lips and waited.
Phillip broke first. “What have you learned then? Did the man name his accomplices? The nature of their plottings?”
“He spoke,” said Angelus.
“God moved him to speak,” said Mary, as she carefully folded the handkerchief and left it on a dark oak table where Phillip could reach it.
“That and my size one thumbscrew,” said Angelus. “The man had small thumbs.” Angelus held up both thumbs and then on consideration, turned them both down.
As Angelus moved, Phillip’s eye was caught by the birds embroidered on Angelus’ doublet. By Mary rubbing her belly with her short thick fingers. By the sound of rain pounding the heavy leaded windows. By the feel of damp despite the roaring fire.
Mary said, “We should have his flesh pulled with pinchers and burned with brands and drawn and quartered, his ashes scattered to the ends of the kingdom as an example to those who would dare to oppose God’s will.”
“Your majesty makes it difficult to be a villain,” said Angelus.
Phillip sighed, “Well, Angelus, what did the man say?” Phillip thought longingly of being able to breathe and blew his nose.
Angelus smiled slowly and said, “He was a part of a conspiracy to overthrow her Majesty and place her sister, Elizabeth, on the throne England.”
“Elizabeth is not our sister,” said Mary. She slammed one hand palm down on the table. “She is the baseborn bastard of that whore, who bewitched our father into thinking that she was his, but I see the truth.”
Angelus walked around Mary. “But your Majesty, I understand that Elizabeth is the living image of your father made feminine.”
“No, no, no!” Mary grimaced as her belly cramped, “She has her hair from Smeaton. She is nothing like to me and is not my sister.”
“Calm yourself. You will injure the baby,” said Phillip. He rubbed his eyes.
“More like tumor,” muttered Angelus, who began to pace back and forth across the small antechamber. To the carpet hung walls and then back to the window shuddering with wind and rain.
Phillip said, “In addition to your other restrictions, Angelus, you are not to refer by act or word, both written and spoken, to the lady Elizabeth in the presence of Mary, my wife, unless I specifically request information. Is that understood?”
Angelus shrugged. “Yes,” he said.
“Now then, about the conspirators,” said Phillip.
Mary rubbed her stomach, “We should like to see anyone identified brought to the Tower in chains. Use your full force to bring them to justice. We cannot let anything happen to our baby.” She looked at Phillip. “He’s destined to bring our lost sheep back to the fold. We must burn out anyone who might harm him.”
Phillip coughed. “Perhaps, some measure of restraint, my dear. If the Irish vampire of a Spanish king brings in too many men for questioning, your people might grow more restless.” He took a deep sniff of his pomander and said to Angelus, “Do we have the names of his accomplices?”
“Yes, but they were all middlemen.” Angelus looked at the sniffling Phillip and his queen and said, “He mentioned an attempt on the Exchequer. That may bear watching.” Angelus leaned forward slightly. “I’ll have to go out into the city to learn more.”
“Yes, well go to it.” Phillip waved vaguely at Angelus, who stared for a moment and then left the room. Phillip went to the window. “Will it never stop raining,” he said.
Drucilla was skipping over flagstones in the great library. Her long rotting dressed slithered and dragged over the floor. She was singing, “My pain for thee balm in my sight resembles.” She leapt from the gray to the grey flagstone. “Thy black hair spread across my cheeks, the roses,” spin and dizzy leap, “And the stars in the sky gone down resembles, For shame it blushed,” she spun the planets in their miniature metal orbits, “it blood outright resembles.” She fell to the ground laughing. “My weeping, Liege, the ocean's might resembles. Lest he seduce my dread and terror. That rival who Iblis in spite resembles. The stars gone nameless down.” She lay back and made a dried flower angel on the floor.
Dr. Dee stepped from the dark hall. “Good evening, Drucilla. How are you tonight?” He went to the wall and shelved the book that he was carrying. Ran his long fingers along leather spines and around loose leaf papers and papyrus scrolls to remind himself of what was his.
Drucilla laughed and spun tracks of light with her seaming fingers. “Venus is feeling naughty. Her heart is all on fire. The Iblis resembles. Only half a Tun shopping days left before Alantun and I still haven’t bought daddy a present.”
“Really,” said Dr. Dee. He went the great oak table and pushed the open copy of Agrippa’s De Occulta Philosophia out of the way. “I know there was some paper here earlier,” he said. He found a letter with space on the back. He wrote down Drucilla’s words.
“Yes, really!” Drucilla said, “When can we leave here? It’s cold and dull. There’s no one to play pretty games with.”
Dee held out an old hand to Drucilla’s soft young one. Pulled her to her feet. Brushed a strand of dark hair from her face and said, “Let’s take a look.”
He went back to the table and poured some water from a silver flagon into a granite basin. He waved a hand. “Stir my dear, if you would.”
Drucilla picked six rotting flower petals off the floor and let them fall one by one into the water. She stirred them with her pale little finger.
Pale ghosts hovered on the great hall’s edge while the Margrave drank. Swallowed down bitter red wheat beer.
William sat on the floor amid the filthy rushes and the whining dogs. Two dogs began to quarrel over a bone thrown to the floor. William did not look away from Margrave Sigismund. William sat on the floor amid the dogs, as he sharpened the spikes on his armor. Watched the Margrave and his men drink. Waited.
Sigismund leaned back in his chair. “This has been an enormous waste of time. Dog.” Sigismund threw a chicken bone at William, who did not move. It bounced off his face and a white bitch grabbed it and ran from the room. “Instead of hostages, now their kinfolk will be out for my blood. Idiot!”
Sir Harald said, “Uh…ya…Francois may be hiring. Lots of opportunities in a war.”
Sigismund snorted, “Pffft, France. Fodder for the meat grinder.” He took a deep drink. “No, we want something easy. Soft.”
Sir Minehert said, “Uh,” and took a deep breath. “Women’er soft.” He grabbed at one of the wenches from the nearby village. “C’mere.” His fingers couldn’t quite reach as she moved away.
“Yes, women,” said Sigismund, “Or rather, a woman.” He smiled. “Who is the best marriage in all the parish?”
Sir Minehert said, “Uh, what?”
“Elizabeth of York and Scotland. She’s of age. Unmarried. Slayer. Hear they run hot. She must be ripe for a real man.”
William stopped sharpening. Tilted his head and listened. Rubbed his collar with his index finger. The spell on it wouldn’t notice if he didn’t think about it. Waited.
Sir Harald said, “But every unmarried prince is after her. We don’t have…” he waved his hand in the air, “stuff.”
“True,” said Sigismund, “but if she wanted a prince, she’d have married one by now. They say she likes handsome men who bring her toys.” He looked at William and snapped his fingers. “You.”
William stood up and brushed the reeds from his linen hose and padded jerkin.
“I didn’t hear you, Bloody Awful,” said Sigismund. His men began to giggle drunkenly.
William narrowed his eyes, “No sooner had the words left Margrave mouth, Then I in action am truly tardy, What deed do you require gaping twee trout, What can wormish I bring to the party, Effulgent, manly, handsome, witty lout?”
Sir Harald laughed, “He’s really terrible. Make him do another one.”
“In a bit,” Sigismund said. “Bloody Awful, I want you to go to the nearest kobol cave and grab as many trinkets as you can carry.” Sigismund took a drink. “And no dawdling, stopping to attack villagers, inciting the locals to riot. Go to the cave. Get me something to impress a Slayer Queen and come back without delay. Do you understand?”
William raised a fractured eyebrow. “Yes, oh mighty toxin of a Margrave, Sweet slayers two in my time have I slain, And here I think I may make their thoughts plain, Kobold’s caves dark and deep do not contain, Sufficient sparkle for your intent lame, And yet on your way I must go, As blaggards huff and puff and blow,” said William, as he picked up his armor, bowed and left the room.
“Pfft,” said Sir Minehert.
“Has he really killed two Slayers?” said Harald, blinking bleary eyes and trying to focus on his beer.
“Yeah, it’s in his papers. You’d think a vamp like him’d be more useful. So, far he’s been a waste a money. Should’a bought the horse.” Sigismund shrugged, “Now where were we?”
Sir Minehert belched.
She was flying in a clear blue sky. Undulating through the humid breeze. The warm wind ruffling her feathers.
Then she fell.
She was a panther at the hunt, muscles bunching under her skin. Free as she ran.
Then the hunter came.
She was the hunter. The Slayer. Sleeping on a bed of bones. She could feel her tangled hair and wrapping rags. The beast struck her and she flew back. The bones in her chest cracked and bled.
She wanted to speak, but she couldn’t. She had no words. They had been taken. Sacrificed.
She wanted to cry, but the flood would not fall. There was no time. Time. The furred dark would devour the sleepers, if she didn’t strike true.
They grappled like lovers, but they’d taken her heart and set it on fire. Given her a stone in its place. They rolled like killers in the dust. She drove her stake into its demon heart as its teeth closed over her throat and she opened her eyes.
Elizabeth blinked as the heavy brocade canopy swam into focus. The white falcon on her crest blinked embroidered eyes. The roses growing from the stump it sat upon seemed to wave and reach. Thorns reaching for the blinking hawk. A cloud raced across the moon, but she knew what words were there. “Always the Same.” Her motto embroidered in gold and silver on heavy velvet draping her bed and holding her in.
Elizabeth sat up. Her ladies of the bedchamber, Kat Ashley and Blanche Parry, still slept in their trundle bed.
Elizabeth wanted cold clean air. She jumped down from the high bed and went to the window.
The moon was sailing a waning galleon before the whipping wind in the trees. The rabbit painted on the moon laughed at her. She opened the window and looked at her kingdom and felt the hunter roll under her skin. She breathed in the bone chilling air. It felt good. She could slip into the night. The two guards standing watch on the Rose Tower would not even see her drop down. She rubbed the gold ring of office that she wore on her wedding finger and whispered, “God, I give praise to thee for making me, though unworthy, thy instrument.”
Behind her, Kat stirred, “Your Majesty,” said Kat. “Is there something wrong? Shall I send the page for a posset?”
“No nothing. Go to sleep,” said Elizabeth. Her long fingers curled over the window sill.
Blanche sat up in her bed. “Is it a vision, Your Majesty?” said Blanche. “Shall we summon, my Lord Watcher?”
“No, tis nothing,” said Elizabeth, staring out at the clear night sky. Traced her old friend the North Star down the dipper’s pale line. She paused, dark eyes narrow, “Or perhaps something. Yes, bring me my Lord Spirit. Bring Sir Cecil here now.”
“Yes, my lady,” said Kat, who shook the page at the foot of the bed and went with him to the next room.
“What is it, my lady?” said Blanche, as she went to the window. “I don’t see anything.”
“Precisely,” said Elizabeth, “which isn’t good when you should see be seeing stars.” Elizabeth sighed impatiently. “Look, woman. There is the little Dipper, where is its mother?” Elizabeth pointed out at the sky. “The great bear has ambled off. Where has she gone?”
The east wind answered her, but Elizabeth did not speak its language, so it flew on.
Introduction | Index | Chapter 2