@copyright 2005 Jean G Hontz
I laughed in the face of the emissary, but I allowed him to remain in Florence. I’d even given him guest quarters at my villa. Of course I’d assigned one of my most trusted fledglings to keep a close eye on Claude de Monet.
Vitorio had been a guard captain for the current Doge of Venice. He’d been fatally stabbed defending his charge. Fortunately I had been in Venice at the time, or I’d have arrived too late.
It hadn’t been easy to get to Vitorio to offer him a chance to become a vampire. The Doge had provided a room in his villa and a physician to care for Vitorio. But it had been clear from the first the trusted captain would die.
I needed to employ all my skills – stealth, invisibility, silence, and even cat burglar- to reach him (no, I cannot turn into a bat and just fly to an upper floor balcony). Slipping into a human house leaving the inhabitants unaware was for the most part easy (my particular brand of vampire is not too much troubled with the whole need to be invited into a home shibboleth). But entry through a household on high alert after a recent attack was a bit more of a challenge and at the very least exciting.
Vitorio had luckily been passed out from pain when I arrived. I stood over him for a time, looking down on him. He was o medium height and weight, although in his pain and nearing death, he looked fragile and his skin sallow. He was a handsome man; his body bore the scars of a swordsman, however. Those would never fade.
He stirred, and I hurried to put a hand over his mouth to stifle his scream of warning when he found an intruder by his bed. The moment I touched him I used my personal vampire whammy to calm him.
Once he was quiescent I took a seat beside him. “I have hear of you Vitorio. I am sorry to see you are dying. You are far too valuable a swordsman for me to stand idly by and let you go to your Maker. I am here with a proposition.”
His eyes were glazed with pain, but I knew him to be an intelligent man. He listened, without saying anything, as I laid out his options. The continuation of the painful and slow death he was enduring, or… or come to work for me, and live a slightly different lifestyle.
“I will not insult you by assuming you were sent here as an agent of the Devil tempting me to Hell.”
“I thank you for that,” I commented dryly.
His eyes narrowed as he regarded me. I wiped the sweat of pain gently off his brow.
There were normals who were aware of us others. Mostly they kept that knowledge to themselves as getting denounced by Mother Church and possibly coming to the attention of the Inquisitors was not a wise idea. And as a previous Doge had known of Darius, this one knew of us also.
I could read many of Vitorio’s thoughts as they raced through his brain (another skill I acquired with my condition). He’d guess who I must represent, or at least what I was. When I supplied my name he blinked in surprise. Yes, he’d heard of me. The Doge sent me a very nice stipend for helping him to keep the criminal element of Venice in check. Well, the criminals not blessed by the Doge.
“You came to me yourself? Dangerous.”
I shrugged. “I recruit my own. I merely pay you the respect that is your due.”
Vitorio was eminently logical. He was not eager for an early and far too painful death.
“Do I receive a salary?” he asked a grin playing through the grimace of pain on his face. “Or do I merely become your slave?”
I frowned at him. “I suppose that is a fair question. You would be accorded a suitable rank and given responsibilities. You would be a fledgling, however, and that means you will be under my control, to some extent. I am sorry, but that is how the turning works.”
“Well, I never expected to make it to Heaven anyway,” he replied.
So it was he agreed to join me. Since then I have never been sorry for the trouble I took to recruit him.
And now he guarded the French emissary.
I sent word up to Claude de Monet inviting him to join me in the garden. It was small but I tended it myself. I was there already when Claude was brought to me. Vitorio and I exchanged a look. De Monet had made no suspicious moves and indeed had shown a great deal of trust that I wouldn’t just have him executed.
He hadn’t liked me laughing at him in public, but he’d maintained his demeanor despite it. I respected that.
Now I sat back on my heels where I knelt before a flower bed and looked up at the man who’d come to offer me a… “A Princedom?” I asked Claude aloud.
Claude’s lips twitched. “We would even welcome a barefoot Prince.”
I grinned. I liked that he made a joke about my feet. I enjoyed going barefoot.
“Help yourself to a glass of wine,” I said.
He took a glass, held it to his nose, swirled the amber liquid and tasted it delicately. “Not as good as my own vintage, but passable.”
I laughed aloud again. I got up and walked over to join him at the table in the garden.
We spoke for some time. Eventually, as I knew he would, he got round to Corbeau.
“We know he killed your friend Darius.”
I shrugged. “Old news.”
“We wish the Council to enable a sharing of such information and perhaps in that way we can track such monsters, and capture them before they can do more harm.”
I looked over at the flowers and considered this. “I am not interested in pomp nor fancy titles, Claude. But I might consider your offer if you can assure me that the Council will keep its nose out of my internal affairs.”
Claude was wise enough not to promise me this. If he had I’d have dismissed the entire scheme out-of-hand. As with any such enterprise, its final form would be a very different beast than its initial planners might have hoped. Only a fool would predict the outcome, never mind swear a pact resting on it.
We’d ceased talking business and were discussing roses when Ruffina walked in. Claude’s eyes widened. She had that sort of effect on everyone.
I sat back and watched the two of them interact. Claude was intelligent, quick, and gracious. Ruffina’s flirting only got her so far with him. Of course it would have been most undiplomatic to accede to her obvious intentions. No doubt Claude thought this a test I’d devised.
Well, yes, it was. And he passed.
I sent Claude on his way the next evening, making no promises beyond considering the idea. I also gave him an escort to the border of Italy and France. That ritual would become a staple of the Council of Vampire Princes when it finally actually came into existence.
After Claude had left, I discussed the situation with Anton. I liked the idea of a magic worker amongst my cadre of trusted lieutenants. Especially when he told me of something I had no idea he could do.
“I could transport you to a meeting in France if that is where they choose to hold it,” Anton suggested smugly.
I blinked. Anton’s beard was a mare’s nest, his clothes a disgrace. Was he actually capable of such a feat? And did I trust him with my person?
“Hah! Didn’t know I could do that, did you?” He leered at me.
I smiled at my old friend. “No, I didn’t. I confess it is a method of transport I had not previously thought possible …although…”
“Although?” Anton prompted.
I replied, “When I was human someone appeared mysteriously in my room. I think he may have come there to kill me. Instead he carried me magically, I now guess, to Florence and released me.”
“And what did this person look like?” Anton asked.
“An angel,” I said.
“Ah, I know exactly who it is then,” Anton replied as he
sipped the last of his wine.
My insides froze. Since I am vampire Anton could not know that. My demeanor did not change outwardly. And my voice when it came was quiet and sounded just barely curious.
“Ah? Tell me about him.”
“His name is always Julian, but his surname changes over the
years. It always begins with a V however.
He is a very powerful mage. There is a rumour he helped the hordes
I was shocked to hear this, as you can imagine. I had no idea he was that old – that anyone could be that old. But, at last, I had a name to put to my angel. I meant to find him. And quite possibly, with a bit of luck, kill him.
The Council of European Princes was eventually formed. It was, for the most part, a method to lessen suspicion across borders. But it also allowed cabals and hidden agendas to form. There was jealousy and rivalry. Some Princes wanted more power. Others of us were quite comfortable and content and merely wished to be left in peace.
Armand, the Prince of France, was a wise fellow, a bit like Claude de Monet. Blaine of Great Britain (I always referred to him as Blaine of England because it made Blaine’s consort snort) hid a sharp and wily mind behind the façade of an easily flustered accountant. The Swiss Prince was nothing to write home about. The Spanish Prince and I hated each other on sight.
Germany was hostile toward me immediately, also, for no apparent reason. She (females were also titled Prince, by the way, in a rather silly attempt to point out that to vampires one’s sex was no handicap) formed a cabal with Spain against me almost from the first. No, I am not being paranoid. It was, alas, true.
The other Princes were… of no real interest to me beyond pawns to be played at Council sessions.
I was not universally liked, alas. Merely because I refused to be predictable. Politicians tend to hate that in one.
Ruffina and I became lovers. Inevitable really. I trusted her a bit but her ability to cause me to lose focus with a look kept me wary. I’d like to say I knew that one day she would betray me, but the truth of the matter is I did not.
God help me, I came to love her.
When the Council formed I was named Prince of Italy (not without some holding out on my part). I named Ruffina my consort, but not my successor. That position I left vacant, and that was perhaps my most costly mistake.