Vampire Prince of Italy 

Chapter 11


@copyright Jean G Hontz 2005 

I stared morosely down at the invitation. Ai. Invitation my ass. It was the usual oh so proper demand for my time.  Why had I ever agreed to be part of the bloody Council of European Vampire Princes in the first place?

 

I didn’t realize I’d said it aloud until Ruffina’s laughter filled the room. “Because Spain and Germany tried to block you from becoming a Prince, that is why.”

 

I frowned and looked away from her.  But she was right. Spite. It would kill me one day.

 

The Council had been in existence, well, in some semblance of existence, for 50 years now.  There’d been more worthless and contentious meetings than I cared to remember. Now they wanted to have a Ball. Ai….A Vampire Ball. My head hurt merely imagining it.

 

“Oh, stop it,” Ruffina said. “You adore to dress up and strut past Rodrigo and Ingrid and antagonize them.”

 

I shrugged. True. It amused me. What didn’t amuse me were the long nights spent traveling, the staying in wretched inns, the dragging along a security detail and official retainers, and most definitely the unsettling all my plans.

 

“You will have a lovely time.  As will I,” Ruffina commented as she finished packing her trunk.

 

A trunk. “Figlio di buona donna.”

 

“I do wish you’d watch your language, Carmine. I can hardly be that as I’d be a daughter of the bitch.”

 

“Ah, cara, I was not …”

 

She turned to meet my eyes. She raised one eyebrow. “You are only irritated about going because you wish to stay here and kill Julian Valois.  You can kill him when we return from Spain.”

 

I had a suspicion she was laughing at me.  I tromped down to the garden and stared glumly at it.  Anton appeared and took the seat next to me.  “Magic would be so much easier, Carmine. I’ll just pop you there.”

 

“Si. But I prefer the Council not to know you have this particular ability Aton. No sense showing one’s hand if one does not have to.” Besides, I had no desire to show up standing next to the grubby old fellow. His beard was once again a fright.  And who knew the last time he’d bathed. Ai!

 

“Well, enjoy Spain,” Anton said as he got up to leave.

 

“Wait,” said I.  Once he’d sunk down to retake his seat I added, “You shall come with us.”

 

His eyes opened wide behind the odd little glass things he wore over them.

 

“You’ll make me dress up,” he grumped.

 

“Si. And you’ll have that beard and hair seen to.”

 

Anton looked appalled. “I’m an old man.”

 

“Nonsense. You’ve been an old man for at least a century.  Vitorio!” I yelled.

 

“Si, my Prince?” Vitorio asked. He’d been lurking just inside the house.

 

“Anton will be accompanying us. See that one of the fledglings cleans him up. And get him some clothes. Steal them if you have to.”

 

“No need,” Vitorio replied. “Signora Ruffina had some very nice robes made for him that were delivered only last week.”

 

I hated it when she anticipated me.

 

My newest fledgling, a very proper looking young man, who had taken to shadowing Anton’s every move, came in to drag the old man off to get a bath and a cutting.  I grinned as I listened to Aton’s feeble protests.

 

My thoughts went back to the Council… Ai… You’ve never seen such a hive of scum and villainy…

 

England was all right, and I liked Blaine’s consort Olivia very much indeed. They both had a sense of humour.  Of course Olivia had to have one to put up with Blaine.

 

France was… Armand was a bit stiff in all the wrong places; he could use being stiff in the one he wasn’t.   He took himself far too seriously and would never have allowed someone to see _him_ barefoot.  I’d once wagered Olivia that Armand would, within five minutes of entering the Council meeting, straighten his cuffs and wipe non-existent dirt off his sleeves at least two times. I won.

 

Kalonice of Greece was a bit severe and formal but at least she smiled now and again. And Russia tended to be far too silent. I planned to badger her into speech during the Ball. Switzerland, and Scandinavia… a banker and a troll.

 

Hans of Austria or Hungary, or some odd combination of militant Germanic species was all right despite his unfortunate heritage.  He’d laughed quite nicely when I embarrassed Germany by kissing her cheek at the last Council meeting.  Ingrid hated me.  The feeling was entirely mutual.

 

The Prince of the low countries was worrisome. I think she was caballing with Rodrigo of Spain at the last meeting. I’d have had no objection to the balling, you understand, it was the first syllable that worried me, because if Rodrigo was plotting I was fairly certain my demise figured prominently in his planning.  He wanted Italy, preferably over my dead body.

 

I’m unclear on how he’d come to hate me so much.  Perhaps it was just jealousy. Hardly my fault he looked like a prune.

 

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I did not have much fear of Rodrigo attacking us on our journey. Part of the Council rules is that each Prince must guarantee the safety of his fellow Princes from the moment they enter his area of control. Well, at least when they were invited in. His head was forfeit otherwise.

 

Anton complained the entire way. How Ruffina manages to keep a cheerful disposition when he does that is beyond me.

 

But finally we arrived in whatever Spanish town it was this time. I suspect Rodrigo changes demesnes so often because the local peasants regularly run him out of town with stakes and crosses.

 

This time, however, he’d outdone himself. The place was a palace, and it glittered with gold and marble. His Court was dressed entirely in red. How quaint.  I immediately chose to dress simply just to irritate him.  No gold, no jewels. Besides, I look very handsome indeed in unrelieved black. I even wore shoes.

 

The visit was fairly uneventful. I was happy to see Claude de Monet there. He at least could be depended on for intelligent conversation.  And he was up to date on the latest controversies and gossip.  He needed a wife though. I wondered why some young woman hadn’t snagged him yet.

 

Ruffina was making a spectacle of herself, of course. She knew how to play a room like no other woman I’d ever seen. Although I did scowl when she laughed with Blaine. I suspected they were laughing at me.

 

The Vampire Ball itself was at least interesting. I did condescend to dress for it. Ruffina and I looked fabulous and we irritated the hell out of both Ingrid and Rodrigo. Anton shocked them. Mission accomplished.

 

As for the Council meeting itself, the least said the better.

 

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I escaped the confines of the carriage and all my security and sycophants the moment my foot hit Italy again. I’d long planned to scout out the area around Lake Como for quite a few years and this was an opportunity to do so.  I sent Ruffina and Anton on to Florence, and I stayed on at Bellagio alone.  Vitorio scowled but I was adamant. I needed some time to myself. I needed to breathe fresh air, to hunt alone, to … to think.

 

There was a monastery nearby in Varenna and I confess I spent some time staring at its walls and wondering what my life would have been like had Julian Valois not shown up. Or, had he killed me then and there. Then I went off to find dinner. No, I’m not one to dwell too long on might-have-beens.

 

I was happily feeding on a hapless monk when I was quite rudely interrupted.  A huge, uhm, creature, ran into the square near where I’d taken my victim into an alleyway.  I zapped my prey’s mind so he’d remain where I put him and turned to watch the fireworks. A little excitement in a rather boring night, that’s what was needed.

 

The large creature was humanoid, but quite bearish too.  It had run into the square but was now to winded to run further. It turned, at bay, as a large group of men arrived panting and angry and determined to capture, more probably kill, the creature. They shouted epithets at the creature and brandished their weapons. The creature bared fearsome teeth and stood up on its hind legs.

 

I saw then that the creature was quite badly wounded.  And worse, it began to turn back into a normal man. Any advantage it had had, was now gone. He shrunk down to normal human (well, he was a rather large human) size, and stood there, naked, vulnerable and panting with exhaustion. He was clearly at the last of his strength.

 

His changing did not cause the men to hesitate. If anything it encouraged them to close in on him with the clear intent to kill him. He straightened up, blood seeping from a nasty wound in his side, unarmed. He was clearly not ready to just let them kill him.

 

I decided I needed to release some of the tension from that irritatingly boring Council meeting and stepped out into the square. The man/creature saw me and moved as if he thought I was an additional attacker.

 

I reached out for the nearest human and slung him across the square to fall, his back broken, against the far stone wall.

 

The man/creature reassessed my intentions.  I eased toward him so we could stand back to back. The humans hesitated after seeing my entirely unnatural strength.

 

“Have you done anything truly awful to deserve such enthusiastic pursuit?” I asked.

 

“I killed someone,” he replied.

 

“Anyone I know?”

 

“Some politico,” he replied.

 

“Ah, well then. We will emulate Stilicone,  and defeat the invading Visigoths.”

 

“Who?” he asked.

“Never mind,” I answered and swung into action. I was most put out that I could only kill two more before the whole gang of them turned tail and ran.

 

My companion leaned wearily against a convenient wall.

 

“Allow me to carry you to safety,” I said.

 

He looked at me like I was crazy. He was, I admit, about twice my weight and a good deal taller than my mere six feet.

 

“Oh hang on a minute. I left dinner unfinished.”  I sprinted off to said dinner, polished off my earlier snack and gave my donor a fabulous vision to dream about who was almost as sexy as Ruffina. He’d be reciting his rosary and wearing a hair shirt for the next six months

 

I was back beside my fighting companion in time to catch him as he toppled over in a dead faint.

 

“Hmm.  Rather unfriendly of him to pass out before even telling me his name.” I hefted him up over my shoulder and sauntered off to where I’d gotten a room (no, I no longer had to sleep in graveyards. I was civilized now).  I did hope he’d wake up in enough time before dawn for me to secure him or send him off or something. I did not wish him to eat me for breakfast.

Thus it was I met Uberto.  He was the first were-anything I recruited into my Court. He returned to Florence with me, having failed to make a meal of me in Bellagio, and works for me still. He is loyal and amazingly gentle. He is humble and kindly, when he isn’t tearing heads off, that is.