Vampire Prince of Italy 
Chapter Four

@copyright 2005 Jean G. Hontz 

 My life from that point on changed immeasurably.

 

Darius explained to me, over the next week, the truths of his condition. I listened, mostly, asking a question now and again. But he wanted me to understand far beyond my tentative questions.

 

It was clear now why there had been no food packed beyond that needed for the horse; he’d had none to pack. I remembered that I’d never seen food nor drink pass his lips beyond a bit of wine now and again. 

 

I understood now why we’d always met after dark, and parted before dawn.

 

I understood now why he could melt into the shadows. 

 

I understood now why others never saw him if he did not wish it.

 

There was yet more.  I heard the words he told me, but believing them… ai!

 

Next he informed me that he was far older than he looked, and that he would not change. Not ever.  Also, that he could heal himself from most injuries (I shivered at that word ‘most’), that he was totally vulnerable when he was in the death sleep, and that he drank the blood of living creatures for necessary sustenance.

 

I suppose that last ought to have shocked me. It did not, although I confess that watching him feed the first time was difficult. He explained that while vampires might prefer human blood,  killing humans for that blood was unwise.  I could see his point. If he wanted to remain in any place for very long he would not want to litter the town with dead bodies drained of blood. All that would do was rouse suspicion.   So he drank the blood of animals when necessary, and ensorcelled humans enough to take some, but far from all, of their blood.

 

He told me that he could put in his victims’ minds memories and even emotions to explain what had happened to them, and to erase from their minds memories of him.  I asked him if he had ever done that to me.  He looked aghast at the question. I was immediately contrite. But if he could do that to others, then certainly he could do it to me.  He agreed that it was so, but promised that he had never yet taken any sort of advantage of me.

 

“Why not?” I asked. “Why .. “  And then I asked the question that had been hiding in my mind for some time. “What was it about me that made you approach me? Why did you let me see you?”

 

He hesitated a moment then turned the conversation.  I had the distinct impression he would not explain this to me.  But since there was so much already that I did not fully  believe, nor really understand,  I did not press him. At dawn, when he entered his death sleep, I was alone and free to mull over the things he had told me the night before.

 

I spent the first few days of our flight in a sort of half-dream.  I wondered if I had gone mad at times. I wondered if I was in Hell. But if this was Hell then I had gone over to the Dark One totally, as I was, despite the very real danger we lived with, and the shock of everything that had happened, happy.

 

Later, as the repetition of seeing him die every day at dawn eased my fears as to his safety,  I began to accept my –our - new reality.

 

There was much to do as well as much to ponder.  As the last of the sun’s rays sank into the west and Darius awoke, we would talk as we did the chores of readying us for our journey.  And as we let the horse set his own pace, we spoke more as we sat, our shoulders brushing, on the wagon seat.

 

Some nights we remained where we were, not journeying onward.  On those nights Darius would go off alone to scout the territory; leaving me, the wagon and the horse somewhere we both hoped would be safe.  He explained that since he could glamour minds so that people did not even see him, it was far safer for him to go into nearby towns to learn if we were being pursued.  I accepted this.

 

He also provided me clothing: tights and shoes and a fine tunic that would mark me as having once been in service to a wealthy house. There were many such young men; many who’d left one house to seek a better place in another house.  And this helped explain my obviously high-toned speech.  I had never sounded very much like a mere vegetable farmer Darius pointed out gently. He was right and I knew it.

 

We concocted a story that he and I were charged with delivering several trunks of personal items to our employer.  It would not be unusual to have an armed guard for something as valuable as books.  Thus if we were to be asked when we stopped in a town I would not be completely at a loss as to what to say. I was a lousy liar so I needed all the help I could get.

 

After more than a week of travel, of his entering towns in ways that no one would see him, he’d gathered enough gossip and listened in to enough conversations that he was relatively certain there was no one yet looking for us.  Or, at least no one had guessed our route.

 

He did his best to assure me that had there been pursuers he would have overheard bullies and drunks talking about how they would earn gold coin by finding us.  Also, if armsmen were riding up and down the hills asking questions, he would have heard of them having been staying in the towns or hear of them asking questions.

 

Both of us relaxed our guard just a little.

 

As for food for me, that was easy.  Darius had acquired what I needed for hunting and fishing (not to mention he could easily capture me a rabbit if nothing else had come to hand during the days).

 

Mostly we did not travel that much by day, so I had many hours alone to mull over things, to grow impatient with myself, to imagine what wonders Darius had seen and to wonder, more importantly, why he bothered encumbering himself with me.

 

When I asked him this again, this time he answered me.  He said that he loved me, and that although vampires were predators, long ago they had learned the value of friends and family.  Although his family by necessity must not be of blood, or at least of blood of a different sort (he told me he would explain this later) it was just as beloved to him as if it were. And I was his family.

 

I did notice the evasiveness of his answer.  But I was not secure enough in myself to press him.

 

Instead I asked him about friends and past lovers.  He told me of a few people. Mostly these were either in other countries, he said, or in Venezia. He said he knew of some vampires here in the area and meant to meet with them for news, but he would not introduce me to them, for reasons he was not willing to explain.

 

I learned, eventually, that these local vampires were watching us.  Me, anyway. I confess to sensing nothing until told this. Then I sometimes swore I knew when they were near. I might be sitting by the fire and suddenly I would feel the nap of my neck twitch, and be looking over my shoulder and feeling a bit rattled.

 

I worried they would feed on me, or even kill me.  But Darius assured me that I was safe as they knew I was his friend.  He also pointed out that if they were watching me it was only at night (he did not tell me that they had allies who might watch me during the day) and that besides, if they did not want me to know of their presence I would never be able to sense them.  This was not very reassuring.

 

Generally, it was Darius who would sense when they were near us; he then would leave me by the fire and go out to speak with his… his kind.  In regard to this, he explained that vampires were suspicious by nature and slow to trust. I could understand why if they were so vulnerable in the death sleep.

 


 

Such was our journey.  And that journey took many weeks. We were in no hurry and wanted to cover our tracks. We also avoided larger cities, and tried to enter towns on market days when there were many strangers milling about so that one more stranger would not be particularly noted. On market days, too, many vendors and buyers would spend the nights in town and we could sit in the taverns and over-listen conversations regarding what was happening in the countryside.

 

As Darius had gold florins we would take rooms at such inns periodically, which then gave us access to public baths and barbers. I was sporting a fairly thick beard by now.  Darius said it made me look a bit older.  He was probably being kind.

 

Despite everything, this was a life that I found oddly comforting. I wasn’t sure I ever wanted to stop and try to settle down again. I suppose I was afraid to put anyone else in danger; afraid whatever was hunting me might one day catch me and then harm my friends.

 

Even though I was happy when Darius was awake, I suffered bouts of depression and guilt during the days when I was alone. I still hated myself for causing Donata’s death. I felt I’d taken Darius’ options away from him and forced him to flee with me. He had his own safety to be concerned with, and now he was forced to consider mine, as well.

 

When I finally confessed this to Darius he was surprisingly angry with me. He told me I should not deny those who loved me the right to risk themselves if they so chose. That I had no right to deny them this and that I ought accept such service from those who offered it with grace and dignity. Donata, when I’d first come to her, knew she was taking in a child who was hunted, he pointed out. She did it for love.  She knew she might die for me, but had loved me anyway.

 

I told Darius he was right, but in reality it did little to assuage my grief or guilt. Instead I learned to hide those feelings better.

 

Then, after so many nights on the road I’d  lost track of where we were or where we were heading, Darius brought the wagon to a stop not far from  a major crossroads.  We pulled off to the side of the road and found a safe place to overday.  Darius sat with me in front of a fire while I cooked a rabbit I’d caught in a snare.  He watched me for some time and when I sat back to relax once the rabbit was cooking on a skewer he said, “We have several options. I’d like to discuss them with you.”

 

“All right, I’m listening.”

 

“I am running low on coin, so we cannot continue as we are.  I see two choices. We can go northward to Switzerland. I have friends there. You’d be safe there.”

 

“The other option?” I asked.

 

“I told you I had friends in Venezia. I can hire on as a guard for the Doge. He’s a good man. He might be willing to hire you as ….”

 

“A vegetable farmer?” I asked, my lips twitching.

 

Darius smiled. “I had more in mind something like a groom or a guardian to one of the Doge’s sons. You are handsome, tall, you sit a horse well. You handle them even better. And you are fair with a sword.”

 

“I’m better with a knife,” I said, frowning down at dinner.  “How can you get a job, Darius, when you cannot respond to duty during the day?”

 

“Ah, there you see, that is why I must go somewhere where my limitations are understood. The Guard Captain there understands certain things. He would swear on the Bible he knew nothing of magical beings, but he would make certain I had an excuse for any daytime duties I could not fulfill.”

 

“Ah…” I said. 

 

“What do you wish, little mouse?” he asked.

 

“I think Switzerland is too far away for me to eventually take revenge on the Medicis.”

 

Darius frowned. He’d been trying to talk me out of such thinking for weeks. But it was a blood duty. I had to attempt revenge. That is probably why the Medicis had bothered to  hunt me down in the first place. A young man wasn’t much of a worry, but a grown man might be.

 

Darius sighed. “Venezia it is, then.”

 


 

Venezia, you might know it as Venice, proved a good choice for several reasons. There were Abrizzi there, unassociated with my family in Florence. I therefore used my own last name, since Cabria could be traced.

 

Darius did indeed land a job as a guard for the current Doge, the head of a prominent Venetian family, and I ended up as babysitter/companion for the Doge’s youngest son. He was four and hell-on-wheels.   He needed a keeper.

 

Because the boy liked me a great deal his father arranged to have me tutored formally in weaponry. Darius had taught me the rudiments of the art, but we’d never had the time or the discipline to get me to the point where we thought I could actually hold my own in a battle. The Doge also liked knives and I was taught by his head of security the art of the hidden stiletto and how to always have it on one’s person and at the ready for swift action should someone attack your charge.

 

Also, being a member of security for such a prominent family meant I was privy to the sort of knowledge I wanted. The Doge’s business interests clashed with the other city-states and that meant he had to be up on what was going on in Firenze. 

 

I was careful not to show my interest too openly, but I made it my business to be in a position to overhear discussions which interested me.

 

The downside of being a member of such a household was that Darius and I lived apart.  We managed to share a night only now and again, but at least we were both safe, and we saw one another frequently, even if we could not be intimate very often.

 

Darius had introduced me as his sister’s son, so his interest in me was seen as natural, explaining why we tended to spend our time off together.

 

All in all it wasn’t a bad life. I actually liked my charge and Darius was happy in his work as well.

 

I knew there were other vampires in Venezia, Darius had told me so. Yet I never saw one.  Darius said most were solitary creatures, staying apart out of mistrust of each other.  It seemed humans were not the only creatures with blood feuds and an interest in power and war-making.

 

After we’d been in Venezia for a year, I was called in to see the Doge himself. He, of course, seldom dealt with the servants. His wife had interviewed me several times at the beginning of my time there, and I knew she often asked little Giovanni if I was properly courteous and so forth.  I gather he complained of me, too, so when the Doge called me into the fastness of the family itself I was considerably anxious. I needed more weapons training. I was not yet ready to try my hand against the Medicis. I was concerned he might dismiss me.

 

I wore a very handsome set of clothes I’d been given so that my appearance would be suitable for escorting Giovanni among the children of his father’s friends.  I trooped down to the Doge’s office and sat on a chair in the hallway awaiting my turn to see the great man. Oh, I’d seen him often enough, but we had yet to speak a word.

 

Finally the Doge’s secretary came for me.  When I was shown into the room, the Doge was alone.  The secretary did remain but he took a seat at a small desk of his own and took no part in the interview itself. I gather he was there to write down any orders the Doge decided upon.

 

Doge Foscari was an imposing man. He was large, tall, and had a booming voice. He was every inch a ruler. He eyed me with a frown.  I just barely managed not to fidget, as I stood to attention before him, his desk between us.

 

“Sit,” he rumbled. I sat.

 

“Giovanni is not happy.”

 

I looked down.

 

“I understand you fetched him a solid thwack on the rump when he raced his horse the other day.”

 

“Si, signore,” I said, barely managing not to sound defiant and struggling even more not to defend my action.

 

“You also were adamant he not punish the maid who brought his lunch late.  Why?”

 

“Giovanni had asked for something special. The cook had to make it, the maid had to wait.”

 

The Doge’s eyebrow rose at my tone, which I admit was not as deferential as it ought to have been.

 

“You are well educated. You read, you know your sums, you speak well.”

My heart started to pound.

 

“Where did you learn such things?”

 

Darius and I had practiced a story for this.  I recited it now. “My mother was governess to a small house. She taught me when she was not teaching the children.”

 

The Doge frowned, and then stared at me for an uncomfortably long time.  “Who was your father, boy?”

 

I flushed.

 

“Yes, some employers do take advantage of their servants.”

 

I was relieved he believed my reaction was embarrassment, not fear.

 

“My wife and our two youngest children will be traveling.  You shall go with them. I expect you to guard all three.”

 

I must have looked apprehensive, as he grinned. “There will be a full guard contingent and the usual retainers. But you will ensure the children do nothing foolish when their mother is not looking.”

 

“Si, signore.”

 

“They leave in two days. Be ready. Oh, I’ve assigned you your own horse. See the stablemaster.”

 

“Si, signore. Thank you for your trust.”

 

“You’ve earned it, Carmine. A guardian without good judgment is no good to me; he must have the sense to step in when a young boy makes a mistake.”

 

I learned later that day that we would be traveling to Firenze. Darius was not assigned to the guards making the journey, for obvious reasons.