By Heather Amaral, Anne Fraser, Jean Hontz, and Amanda Rush
To sum up a great deal of prelude: there was a Vampire Ball held in Spain. During this ball, the Spanish Prince, Rodrigo Longorio de Quinones, saw fit to insult Carmine Abrizzi, Prince of Italy, and his chosen consort, Nimue, Lady of the Lake (yes, that Nimue.) Carmine slapped Rodrigo, and a challenge to a duel was promptly forthcoming.
Hans of Austria (et al.), the Senior Prince of the Council, declared that the duel would be fought with the magical swords that are the symbols of Princely power, and that Vienna would be the locale for the duel.
Rodrigo chose Veressia Amaraldi, an Immortal, as his second. At Nimue's suggestion, Carmine chose Evan Jones of the Nameless Ones. The seconds corresponded with each other a few times and agreed to meet in Vienna to study the proposed duelling grounds.
This is where our story begins.
street, found himself fighting back a grin at the name. Prinzplaz... Prince's place. It was a small miracle he hadn't named it Hansplaz.
Still, at least it wasn't a castle...
As he contemplated the taste of Princes, Evan heard someone approaching him. It was a dark, cloudy night in Vienna, not too many people, either Viennese or tourist, were abroad. And it was about the time he'd agreed to meet Veressia here. It would look better if they went in together to inspect the duel site.
"Women," he remarked, without turning his head, "always late."
"Yes, well," Evan shrugged. "Shall we? It doesn't do to keep a Prince waiting."
Ressa nodded and they ascended the steps together. Evan rang the discrete bell.
"Maybe we should have gone to the back door," Ressa suggested.
"It would take us an hour to walk there," Evan said. "Anyway, there are guards. And alarms."
"Yes, I noticed."
He gave her a sideways glance. "You're good."
She ushered them inside. They were hurried through beautiful rooms full of delicate antiques (good thing Josh couldn't see this, Evan thought, he'd be drooling) towards the rear of the mansion. Then out another door and back outside, but into beautiful if severe formal gardens.
Hans of Austria, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and countries to be named later was sitting in a garden chair at a small table. He rose when his visitors were brought and introduced to him.
Hans longed to share with the both of them how much he regretted this idiocy, but it was hardly proper to tell two non-Princes that he was tired to death of dealing with the contrary and Machiavellian (probably Carmine had given _him_ lessons) Italian Prince. Hans had known from the first word Armand had said of Carmine he'd be nothing but trouble. As for Rodrigo, never did a man more need to be laid throughly and often than did Rodrigo. Instead Hans just sighed.
Hans lead the two seconds around some shrubbery and down a garden walk to an open expansive lawn.
"I thought perhaps here."
" Should we test it to make sure?" she asked casually, looking up at Evan to gauge his reaction.
Evan looked at her for a minute, then winked. "I'm willing if you are..." he said, starting to take off his jacket. When he reached for his belt buckle, Ressa glared at him.
He grinned back at her, exposing very white teeth, and also saluted Hans. The senior Prince of the Council stood up and said, simply, "Fight."
Evan's sword moved to en garde.
Ressa stayed on the balls of her feet, her sword held en garde.
Evan thrust and she parried, the blades ringing as they met. He quickly went on the attack, forcing her to always be on the defensive, moving backwards as he pressed her.
Ressa moved back as he pressed on, letting him gain momentum while she stayed on the defensive. She evaded one swing of his sword and dropped down to one knee. Using the momentum he had gained to trip him up.
He pivoted on one foot, moving like a dancer; nobody with those muscles should have been able to move like that. For one exquisite moment, he fought for balance and won. He turned, sword held in prime, half-scowling and half-grinning, to find that she had already leapt back up to her feet and was attacking.
Ressa watched him move and made her attack work for her benefit and not Evan's. Dancing into him to attack and pushing against his sword to test his balance again. Occupying his sword with her own so he couldn't attack immediately
On the defensive now, Evan fought fiercely. He wasn't one of those men who condescended to women in a fight, not taking them seriously or letting them win so as not to hurt their feelings. She was good, if not perhaps entirely well-trained in some of the finer points; she was fighting more like a pirate. She should duel with Jean...
Then their swords locked, the hilts temporarily stuck together, and they were face to sweating face.
"Go out with me?" Evan asked.
Ressa stared wide eyed at the man over the cross of blades. Her heart rate was kicked up even higher by the fact that he was talking during a fight. She hadn't expected that from him but she should have.
"Are you serious?" she asked in disblief. Keeping her hand tightly on the hilt of her sword for when they would part again.
"Yes," he said. "After the real duel, of course. I suspect it wouldn't be considered appropriate before that."
And he leaned in and kissed her, then twisted his sword so that the hilts disengaged.
Ressa growled at what he did and was immediately back on the attack. Mostly because he was distracting her from what they were doing. It would have gotten her killed in a real fight. She spun around so Evan didn't know where the blow was coming from and swung upwards to catch his sword from coming down on her.
"If we both live through the duel then yes, but stop distracting me!"
He met the blow, and returned it, and once more they fought, back and forth across that smooth lawn.
"You must learn to deal with distractions," he advised her as once more they danced closely together, swords flashing.
Ressa gave him an evil smirk, pushing him back with her sword and taking a step behind him to bring the flat of her blade across his backside with a loud thwap. She held up her sword at the ready again.
"I'm not used to being asked out during a duel."
He laughed, spinning around and meeting her sword with a blow that made her hand tingle. Gods, he was strong. "I'm not used to being spanked during one," he said.
"Is this a fight, or foreplay?" Hans called out.
The vibration of the sword in her hand reminded Ressa which one it was. But she laughed anyway and danced back from him to put room between them.
"You should ask Evan, I remember it being a fight," she said curling one finger for him to come at her.
"A good fight is foreplay, Prince," Evan replied, moving like oil on silk, sword barely rippling, meeting Ressa's blade with ease. "I know I'm getting turned on here."
Hans shook his head, but he was laughing.
Ressa smirked and grabbed the wrist that was holding Evan's sword,making sure the sword swung over her shoulder. She used the suprise to roll to the ground and bring her feet to Evan's stomach so she could toss him over her to the ground.
"I'm sure that was exciting," she said sarcastically, the words ruined by her smile. It was the first fight she actually enjoyed, mostly because her life wasn't in danger.
He bounced to his feet, eyes narrowing at her, sword held firmly. "You are so going down, lady," he growled at her. One eye closed in a very brief wink, though.
Then he attacked.
The fight continued on, swords clashing in the dark, Ressa's breath coming in short pants as she parried his attacks and Evan's hair wet from sweat. But their energy did not seem to wane.
Ressa brought her sword down on his neck and hoped to god the Nameless was aware enough to catch it.
He did. His free arm shot out and his hand clamped around her wrist. He forced her sword arm away from his neck, slowly, painfully, until she was worried the bone would snap.
"I am so going to spank you," he warned her. "Now fight."
Ressa gritted her teeth and glared at him. Using the fact that he was holding her to kick him away, switching sword hands to rotate the wrist before she went after him. Her attack a flurry of movements that didn't have aim.
Evan fended her off for a moment, watching her. She'd lost focus. He'd succeeded in making her angry, her first real mistake. He parried her furious thrusts, then brought his own sword against hers so sharply that her hand stung again and she dropped her blade. She looked up to find the point of his sword pressing against her heart
"Touche, I believe," he said.
Ressa blinked as if she'd just come out of a haze. She stared down at the blade against her heart and took a sharp intake of breath. The Immortal couldn't believe that she had done that, that she had allowed Evan to manipulate her like that. She looked up at him but the playfulness was gone, she had lost.
"I'll be clearer when we really fight, Evan, if we fight," she said.
"That was a real fight," he replied. "Any realer than that, and one of us would be dead."
Ressa didn't even flinch "That's what I meant, Evan. I don't lose focus when my life's on the line."
"You should learn not to lose focus in any fight. It's always a bad idea to let an opponent distract you or make you mad. Never attack in anger." He held out his hand. "Well fought, all the same."
Ressa picked up her fallen sword and sheathed it before she took Evan's hand. "You too," she said and pulled him towards her so she could plant a kiss on his lips.
She pulled away with a smile. "Now we're even."
Prince Hans was walking towards them, applauding, so Evan bowed and smiled to Ressa.
"Well done," said the Prince. "That was some excellent swordplay. I take it you approve of this as the venue?"
Ressa nodded and looked at her sparring partner. "I agree if Evan does. The only thing that sent us flying was each other."
Evan turned to the Prince. "I fully approve, Mein Herr. It is an acceptable venue for the duel. And the witnesses can stand behind these hedges, out of the way but still able to observe."
"Yes, there should be room for the whole Council," Hans agreed.
"I know we have to discuss witnesses, so I'm going to make a request now," Ressa said. " I want Kara here as well. I know that each duelers counterpart is going to attend and she is the closest thing I have to family. I want her included."
Ressa stood, readying herself for some other rule to the duel that would stop her request."I have no objection," Evan replied.
"Do you have a request of your own?" Hans asked him.
"If I may, I would like my son Owen to attend."
Hans looked at Ressa. "Any objection?"
Ressa looked a bit suprised by that. Evan had a son? "Uh..no," she said. " I have no objection to that."
"It will be good training for him," Evan said. Then, "I did not realize that the entire Council would be witnesses."
"It is the first time Princes have duelled with their personal swords," Hans said. "I suspect nothing short of natural catastrophies would keep the rest of them away. Naturally they want to witness. I would suggest you not voice any objections."
Ressa held her hands up in her own defense. " I stay out of the politics of this game best I can. You'll hear nothing from me about it."
"Me, either," said Evan.
"Good." Hans nodded to them both. Then looked a tiny bit hesitant. "This may not be entirely 'appropriate', but to hell with the rules. Would you both stay for dinner?"
At this Ressa bowed her head a bit, looking ashamed for the first time that night. " I would love to Prince Hans, but Kara doesn't really know where I went tonight or about the duel. I still have to break it to her without losing a limb." She smiled apologetically at Evan and the vampire Prince.
"I understand," Hans replied. "Also, you must report to your firsts. I will see you the night of the duel, then." He waved to his security chief, who was there instantly. "Hilde will see you out. Guten nacht."
"He really wanted us to stay, you know," Evan remarked mildly as they were once more escorted through lovely rooms.
Ressa kept her eyes to the ground. She was raised better then this when it came to royalty and generosity. But she had Kara to think about. " If your son didn't know about this duel, would you be dining here knowing what waited at home when the news came out?" she asked.
Evan smiled. "I should explain about Owen. He doesn't live with me. He's actually a member of the Prince of France's Societe des Gardiens. Nameless don't raise their own children. It would take too long to explain why not. I asked for him as a witness because he's never seconded a duel, and as a Nameless One and a Gardien in the service of a Prince, it may be something he will be called upon to do."
Ressa smiled. " Well, Kara is my daughter in every sense of the word. Except by blood, and she will not be happy with this. Dueling is the reason we came to the Unnamed City, among other things." She let the subject die there and looked at Evan as they walked to the check point where the Nameless reclaimed his weapons and his 'joke'. " You still could have stayed."
He shook his head. "Just one of us staying wouldn't have been right. It had to be both, or none. For the balance. Otherwise, you rightfully could have protested my seconding the duel, claiming I came under undue influence from the owner of the venue."
He looked back at the mansion as they exited onto the street. "He's very lonely, you know."
She stopped and followed his gaze. " I don't know him well enough to know that, Evan," she said feeling worse off now than she had.
Ressa sighed and decided she could hold off her doom for a little while longer. "Kara's dismantling of my body can wait a few more hours if Hans doesn't mind the sudden change of mind."
"Atta girl," he smiled at her, and offered his arm. She accepted, after a moment, and they went back up the stairs. The door opened before Evan could ring, and Hilde looked them over.
"I'll tell the waitstaff to set two extra places," she said. "You can keep the paperclip."