Aleron: Book One of Strigoi Series (Stringoi Series) (10 page)

“Thank you, my lady. All will be done exactly as you wish.”

“Goodbye, Eliza. Until my return, farewell.”

 

While drifting in and out of consciousness, I experienced dreams so vivid I could feel, smell, hear, and taste the realism they mimicked, places I’d never been. An unfamiliar castle, immense in size and more dark and mysterious than the one I’d resided in for so long. This fortress stood overlooking a vast and rugged mountainous region. At its base was a
moat that was just wide and uninviting enough to deter even the most curious of creatures. My awareness seemed to flow through the solid stone walls like smoke through a screen door. This drifting was unobscured and without the slightest effort on my part. I was being drawn in. Many candles lit an otherwise dark and damp place. Rodents roamed freely in and out of the many cracks and holes along the base of the walls. Paintings of nobles covered much of the dark stone walls, similar in style to the ones I saw in Mynea’s castle. The air was moist with the smell of mildew and the unmistakable stench of wet dog.

Suddenly I could hear someone speaking in an unfamiliar tongue, the dialect so old as to have been beyond mortal recall. Increasingly, the voice became louder, as if I were getting closer to its origin. I continued to penetrate a number of walls until I saw beings that resembled people standing in a room, their faces blurred, their movements unnatural for mortals. There was a lone man standing as inanimate as a statue before them, draped in black and red robes from collar to foot, hands outstretched, palms up, as one would imagine a priest’s would be when offering forgiveness. I drew closer. It seems I was being drawn in to him. His features remained blurred, save his eyes, which were the same eyes I saw when Mynea shared her blood with mine, the same eyes that have haunted me day after day. Yet again, they were focused on me—so I thought.

An unexpected appearance by my lovely princess being summoned by him! I reached out for her. I cried out with a loud voice, yet she didn’t respond. Closer and closer she drew toward him, farther from me.

I felt my senses retreating from the dream as if I were being sucked backward. I retraced the path on which I came, backward through the chambers, through the walls, and into the air. The castle began to shrink into the distance. The vast moat reduced to a splash, the creatures of the night resembled scurrying ants. The moon became a speck. His eyes remained until the last detail of the vision was extinguished. And as his evaporated, mine opened.

When I awoke, I immediately sensed that something was different. For the first time in decades, Mynea’s naked body wasn’t sharing the warmth of our bed. I got out of bed and looked around the room. I scanned the
surrounding areas with my mind and vampiric senses. I sensed nothing. I silently called out to her and searched for her thoughts. Again, there was nothing.

Suddenly I felt an excruciating pain, pain I’ve only felt twice in my immortal lifetime, this time being the first.

It was a feeling of unimaginable loss and utter loneliness, complete and total despair. I was a child who’s lost his parent, a man who has lost his wife and best friend of sixty years to some debilitating disease for which he can offer no salvation or cure. He can only witness her passing. And even these emotions described herein are human. The anguish I encountered then was a thousand times more debilitating. An uncontrollable deep shudder overtook me as I dropped to my knees like a stone.

I heard a wail that could wake the dead and was surprised when I realized the wailing came from me. I held myself, wrapping both arms around my body as if clinging for dear life, my hands gripping my limbs, my nails tearing at the flesh beneath them. I was crying, though no tears fell, only dry sobbing.

Eliza entered the room and saw me kneeling. I didn’t have to turn and look at her eyes, for her thoughts told all. She felt sorry for my anguish. She understood my affliction, yet she wasn’t surprised. She knew. She knew before I did. If she knew, then she had known!

The cloudiness caused by Mynea’s disappearance and my distress evaporated. I released myself. The wounds resulting from my nails ripping my skin healed instantly, leaving only dried blood in their place. I slowly stood and turned toward my servant.

“Eliza,” I said with a calm and authoritative voice. “Where is she?”

Eliza’s face immediately displayed anxiety. “My Lord Aleron, Mynea has left me with instruction to care for you as I cared for her,” her voice quivered with each word spoken.

“Answer me!” I demanded with a countenance that was unforgiving.

Tears began to well in her eyes and tiny translucent drops slid down her cheeks. “She’s gone, my lord. Her whereabouts are unknown to me.” With her head down, looking at the floor, she continued, “She knew that if I knew that you would read my mind, and—”

I lifted her by her arms. Her feet dangled helplessly, searching for the ground below.

“I won’t ask again, Eliza. Know that I’m not Mynea; I still don’t quite know my own strength. However, I would much rather test my limits of unspeakable cruelty on another.”

I held her close to my face, close enough for my stinging breath to leave moisture in her ear. I spoke softer and slower. “Make no mistake, my dear, I still have an enormous hunger burning within. Your blood would be no different from that of a vagabond at the Peasant’s dungeon!” Though the rage in me was building, I wouldn’t harm Eliza.

“My lord, what I tell you is true. If you don’t believe me, then take my blood into you and satisfy your curiosity. But I beg of you, please don’t take my life, for I must do what my mistress has ordered.”

I already knew she was telling the truth. However, an offer of blood was still too irresistible. “I will oblige your request, and I hope, for your sake, that the blood memoirs are cohesive and depict what you’ve told me,” I said while maintaining my stern glare. I allowed her feet to slap soundly onto the stone floor as I released my grasp. Her knees buckled slightly. She continued to stare at the floor as she meekly raised her wrist in offering.

I drank, and true to her testimony, I saw no visions of where my queen had gone or when she would return. Nevertheless, Eliza’s blood sent me into a frenzy. A battle ensued within me. Why should I let her live when her life meant nothing to me? I intensified my hold on her. She gasped. Her encounters with Mynea began to flash in my mind. I watched her memories as vividly as a motion picture. I could see and hear their intimate conversations, confirming that she spoke the truth.

Periodically, Mynea spoke candidly to Eliza about the life of a vampire, in which she detailed the agony of the immortal heart. I witnessed visions of Mynea in a weakened state being comforted by her faithful servant; Eliza raising her wrist in offering to Mynea; Mynea’s acceptance and rejuvenation from the sacrifice. In the reflection of Mynea’s eyes, I could see the expression of envy and lust on Eliza’s face. How badly she wanted immortality. How she longed for an intimate kiss from our queen. And as the blood continued to flow into me, I saw it—Mynea
giving Eliza blood. Vampire blood! I now witnessed Mynea squeezing minute drops of her immortal blood into the waiting mouth of Eliza. I saw this action occur repeatedly over decades. Still, Eliza remained human. The blood had made her life unnaturally long while it slowed the sands of time. More than a mistress and servant, the two were symbiotic, thriving off each other. Before I knew it, Eliza’s heartbeat began to slow. Her eyes were wide open as mine regained focus. Then I heard the sweetest voice, “Care for him, as you care for me.”

I noted my queen’s voice via her memories. Every fiber of my body wanted to drain Eliza of her soul completely and soundly, driven by the thought of being able to hold on to her visions of my queen. But I stopped. Her eyes weren’t as wide as before, but they remained open. She had an exhausted expression on her face. Her complexion had lost most of its luster.

She continued to stare right into my eyes as I gently laid her on the white bear fur. Her expression had changed. Previous feelings of comfort had been replaced by fear and intrigue. Realizing the possibility of her own mortality had strained her usual calm state. Indeed, Eliza spoke forthrightly. Even in the face of uncertainty, she had told me the truth. She feared what she didn’t understand. My intentions remained a mystery to her—and to me as well. I guess the combination made me ever more intriguing and terrifying to her. My thirst satisfied and now assured that Eliza hadn’t withheld anything, I knew there wasn’t anything else to gain this night from her.

I picked up Eliza and carried her to her quarters. While in my arms, her head swayed to and fro to the rhythm of my footsteps, teetering on the brink of death. How terrible I began to feel! The harm I brought to such a beautiful creature, who catered to our every desire, grieved me. Eliza never questioned a command given by her lord or lady. She had truly won the favor of Mynea.
What a monster I was. How could I do such a thing?
I thought.

Though I didn’t look at her, I knew Eliza was staring at me as we traveled up the stairs to the third level. Her head must have felt twice as heavy dangling on her swan-like neck. I adjusted my grasp to support her head. Her thoughts began to speak to me.
I can see why my lady
loves you so. I’ve always been fond of you, Aleron. My lady talks of you to no end, and you’ve haunted my dreams for decades and, I pray, for decades to come
.

I proceeded to her room. As I approached the closed door, I envisioned it opening, and before I reached out, it opened inward, more forcefully than I had intended. The momentum of the door caused a glass of fresh apple nectar to crash to the floor. The sound of shattering glass ricocheted off the stone walls. It took me only a few steps to reach the bed. This chamber didn’t display the luxury found in the many other rooms throughout the castle. There were cotton curtains in place of silk. The only thing that hung on the wall was a mirror, which was situated above a small wooden desk on which stood an old lamp. The room felt drab and simple. Embers burned in a circle of loose stones in the center of the room. Eliza gracefully fell from my arms onto the wooden bed. I was surprised to see that the sleeping pad was made of down furs and feathers, definitely better accommodations than I’d seen within the quarters of any slave girl. But Eliza was more than just a slave.

Eyes sunken and nearly as pale as the dead, she strained to speak. “Please don’t leave me like this, my lord. I won’t last through the night. Please. You have the power to spare me.”

She was right. I noticed the lines in her face were more pronounced than ever before. The excess skin under her eyes sagged. Her hair seemed thinner. Her bones seemed feeble. She had aged and continued to age right before my eyes! It seemed I had sucked the youth right out of her body. To save her, I knew what must be done.

I sat beside Eliza and took her head into my arms. It flopped lifelessly against my chest. I punctured my wrist and allowed the crimson wine to drip into her mouth. With every bit that landed on her tongue, she swallowed and took me into her. I could feel vigor returning to her bones. I didn’t know how much to give. However, she, it seemed, knew how much to take, and suddenly she stopped. This was unlike my kind, feeding on one and bringing him within an inch of his life, more often beyond. With the steady flow and the abrupt turning of her head, some of my blood dripped down her face and neck. Within seconds, my self-inflicted wound was gone. Her eyes were now closed. I could feel
passion and renewed life electrify her entire body. Her body warmed, a direct contrast to my much colder soul. I loosened my hold.

After I had decided to sit with her for a while, I picked up an interesting-looking book on the table next to her bed to help pass the time. The book looked as if it were of a different time, of a different place. I was intrigued. I picked it up, and suddenly a flash memory of those haunting eyes invaded my mind and then disappeared just as quickly. I turned to Eliza to see if she saw what I’d seen. Her thoughts didn’t reveal such a vision. I lifted the book closer for observation.

It was heavier than its physical dimensions suggested, much heavier. There was no inscription on the front or back. I turned the book to its side; there was no writing on the spine. I ran my fingers along the binding and realized it had been stitched with fine, dark hair. The hair had not originated from the head of a mortal. Tiny imperfections as human hair grows didn’t accompany this binding. The smell of it was familiar, and that’s when I realized it was vampire hair—from the crown of my queen!

I opened it and explored the first page with my eyes and hands. The pages of this book were made of thin, dried, tanned skin. The ink reminded me of the masi used in India, made from burnt bones. The book had an unusual scent. If old had a smell, then this book would epitomize it. It was written in a language and alphabet I hadn’t encountered throughout all of my nights as a historian. I perused it with my vampire eyes and began to recognize a word that was used frequently throughout. Indeed there was one such word, rather a name. I silently said the word, and the eyes that had plagued me for so long, gazed upon me yet again. I had summoned Vlad.

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