Chapter 5: When the Music Stops


Myra slowly opened the door to the Prince's study and peeked inside. "You called for me, Your Highness?"

The Prince stood up from the piano chair and gave her a small bow. "Indeed I did. Please, come in, my dear, and take a seat. I have been meaning to discuss something with you for a while." He sat back on the chair and started playing.

For the first time in her life, Myra was hearing someone play the piano. The melody was hauntingly beautiful and tugged at her heartstrings in ways she had not expected. She felt a sudden urge to hum along, but restrained herself and sat down, waiting for the Prince to speak.

"Have you heard this music before?" the vampire asked.

She shook her head. "I fear not, my lord. Sadly, we have no pianos at the Resistance's Headquarters. The only musical instruments in our hideout are crude woodwind instruments we have made ourselves and an old balalaika salvaged from somewhere during the Nightfall, but no one knows how to play it. None of us have any real training. Most of the music we ever hear is simple unaccompanied singing - songs from the Old World the older among us have taught us or songs we have made up ourselves."

"This is how music first started, after all, by creating your own instruments, and making up songs and experimenting. Humans are born to create, to compose, and if your small community survives long enough, I am certain they will produce some remarkable pieces," the Prince said. He continued to play the piano as he spoke, never pausing. "What you are listening to now is my own piano arrangement of Shostakovich's Second Waltz. It sounds better when performed by a proper orchestra, as it was always intended, and you will have the chance to hear it at the concert I am having in the Grand Hall in two weeks. For now this will have to do for your lessons."

"My lessons, my lord?" She was not sure she liked the sound of that.

"I am planning to teach you how to waltz, if you would like it of course. If you are able to dance, you will enjoy yourself much more at the upcoming ball."

Myra could not believe him. A ball? And he would probably gift her with a lovely flowing gown and lead her on a dance? What was the vampire thinking? That just like that she would start seeing the castle as a place of beauty, and music, and dances, and literature, and blooming culture, instead of as a disgusting butcher house?

"Your offer is very generous, my lord," she said.

"I know it is very generous," the arrogant jerk said. "And yet, you are not grateful. Why?"

"I am grateful, Your Highness, please do not misunderstand me. I would love to learn." That much at least was true - she did want to learn how to dance. She had only wished for it to happen under different circumstances. Any other circumstances.

The Prince looked about to say something, but a knock on the door interrupted him and Tristan entered without waiting for an invite. "The wine and chocolates you requested, my lord."

Vlad sighed. "Tristan, how many times do I need to tell you that you should send servants for such requests? It is not your duty to wait on me."

The silver-haired vampire placed the tray on the central table and plopped on an armchair, leaning back casually and flinging one leg over the armrest. "If you rely on these idiots, you will have to wait until the next millennium to get any service," he said and reached out for the chocolates.

Myra gazed thoughtfully at the wine and the severely expired chocolates on the tray. She wondered for how long these supplies would last until the vamps realized that they had to actually work and produce something if they wished to maintain their current lifestyle.

"I can see you have invited yourself to the party," Vlad said dryly, eyeing the three glasses. "Well then, you can perhaps do something useful. I am planning to teach Myra how to waltz."

Tristan choked on his chocolate and stared at the black-haired vampire with wide, unbelieving eyes.

The Prince raised a dark eyebrow. "Is there something funny you would like to share?"

The other vampire had managed to regain control over himself and smiled innocently. "Forgive me, my lord, but you are planning to teach her?"

"And what is that supposed to mean?" Vladimir asked icily.

"Well, it is just that everyone knows I am better at waltz than you. Much better."

The Prince had raised both eyebrows now. "Is that so?"

Tristan shrugged. "It only makes sense, does it not? Waltz was not even invented when you were born, old man."

A dark smile appeared on Vladimir's lips. "I learned waltz easily once it was invented. I am a nobleman after all, and the cultured dances are in my blood. On the other hand, ballroom dances must have felt quite unnatural to a peasant boy, such as yourself."

"A nobleman? You?" Thankfully, Tristan had given up on the chocolate or he would have probably choked once again. "Your grandfathers were savages, drinking fermented horse milk. The only reason you call yourself noble is that you conquered the locals and ruled over them. You were the ones with stronger bows and sharper arrows, not higher culture and nobler blood."

The Prince's eyes burned dangerously as he crossed his arms across his chest. "First," he said with chilling calmness, "I would have you know that my people were highly cultured and had well-established aristocracy system even during their nomadic years. Second, the drink you describe is extremely delicious and has numerous benefits. Third, we did not conquer the locals, we liberated them, and in fact tried hard to integrate them. And last, even if there was the slightest amount of substance to your arguments, which is not the case, they all fall apart as I was born well after we had settled down. My own upbringing was very different from that of my grandfathers."

"Are you trying to tell me you have not been raised in the way of the horse lords?" Tristan challenged.

The Prince casually leaned back against the piano. "I do not deny that I have been taught how to ride before I could walk, and I have been tutored in horseback archery since I could hold a bow. Yet I fail to see in what way this makes me any less civilized. In fact, similar activities were a standard part of a young noblemen's education in many courts for centuries since. Besides, the rest of my learning did not suffer in any way, and I continued improving long after I was turned. You are well aware that I am well versed in literature and history, art and music, mathematics and the natural sciences, and that I am fluent in forty-two languages, even if some are now extinct or have evolved beyond recognition. How many 'savages' can say that?"

Tristan flung both of his legs across the armrest and ran a hand through his long hair. "Fine, fine. Arguing with you can give me a headache."

"This is what you get for picking the wrong side in the argument," Vlad said with a smile. "You were right about one thing though. You are the better dancer. Now, will you teach the girl?"

The two vampires turned towards Myra, and she looked away, trying to hide the shock on her face. What was wrong with Tristan today? He was always so servile around the Prince, but now he was inexplicably cheeky and cheerful. It felt like watching a completely different person.

"What is it?" The fair-haired vampire asked, apparently noting her confusion.

The girl shook her head, trying to collect her bearings. "Forgive me, Lord Tristan," she said and silently chastised herself as he raised his eyebrows at the title. No one called him that. "I noticed you were different today, and it surprised me. I meant no disrespect."

"Different?" The Prince looked at her quizzically. "I noticed no such thing. How is he different?"

"Well, you know," Myra looked at Tristan helplessly. "You must have heard what everyone says about you." He had heard, right? She had noticed that many of the vampires were talking freely in front of her as if she was not even there. It was annoying, and yet convenient as it gave her the chance to hear most of the gossip around the palace. She would not have been surprised to learn that there were rumors only she and the ones involved knew about. Still, she could not imagine Tristan was completely unaware of what everyone was saying behind his back.

The silver-haired vampire crossed his arms across his chest and stared at her intensely. "Enlighten me."

She gulped nervously. "You surely know what I am referring to. Normally you are so puppy-like around His Highness, and-"

"Puppy-like?" Tristan cried indignantly, while the Prince collapsed into the piano-chair with laughter. "What do you mean puppy-like?"

"These are not my words!" Myra quickly defended herself, hoping she had not crossed a line. "Everybody says so - the guards, the servants, the noble-vampires."

"Today is nothing unusual," Vlad explained. "Tristan is always like this, but he tends to be a bit reserved in front of other vampires. You do not think I would enjoy his company if he was 'puppy-like' all the time, do you?"

"My company is always extremely pleasant, whether I am puppy-like or not!" Tristan declared, scolding.

Myra tried to come in terms with this new side of Tristan – and of the Prince – that she had witnessed. "But you always look so unhappy with the other vampires around," she said.

Tristan wrinkled his nose in distaste. "This is because I am unhappy with them around. I have an extreme dislike towards other vampires," he admitted. "I know that the feeling is mutual, and I could not care less. I cannot stand them; I hate their faces, and their voices grate on my nerves."

Vlad sighed overdramatically and gave Myra a tired smile. "See what I have to deal with? I have to protect my people and ensure their happiness and wellbeing, and my closest friend and adviser could not be happier than to see them all burn to dust. What happened to you, Tristan? You used to like vampires even before you were turned."

"That was because you and Lady Callisto were the only vampires I knew at the time," Tristan said as he opened the wine bottle and poured three glasses. "You never warned me what the others were like."

Myra took her glass and sniffed at the wine suspiciously. There were a couple of wine bottles stored in the Resistance's "Headquarters", saved for special occasions. In her lifetime they had opened only one, during one of Zack's "spirit-lifting events". It had been one bottle for many people and Myra had barely managed to taste it. She had neither experience, nor any idea what her limits were, and silently decided to tread carefully.

An idea had come to her mind. She knew that no matter how well she learned to lie, the Prince would never trust her word. He had already assumed that she was playing a role, that she was lying, before she had even started to speak. She needed to change the game, to mix the truth and the lies, and make him believe that she was always sincere. And the only way to do that was to make him permit her to speak freely. Myra raised her glass, meaning to take a small sip for courage, but then put it back down. If she was to do this, she had to be completely sober.

"There is something I cannot understand, Your Highness," she said. "You claim that you enjoy Tristan's company because he is not puppy-like all the time-"

"Oh, enough already!" Tristan cried, but Myra ignored him.

"Then why is it that you require the opposite of me?" she asked. "Why do you ask me to grovel at your feet, instead of to speak my mind? Why do you want me to be puppy-like, Vlad?"

This was the first time she had called him that out loud after the boy's murder, and she fervently hoped she had not overstepped her boundaries. She expected a violent reaction if not from the Prince, then at least from Tristan, but both vampires regarded her silently.

"You do have a point," Prince Vladimir said after a while. "Perhaps I will indeed enjoy you better untamed."

"Untamed?" Myra uttered. "You must have tamed many horses in your lifetime, my lord, but you cannot put a leash on a human being. Even if you keep me a prisoner here, you cannot take away my free will."

"Oh, I can do that and much more, never doubt that. You are right though, I do not need another puppy. After all, I have Tristan already."

"Hey!" The vampire in question scolded and aimed a chess knight in his lord's direction, which the Prince caught easily.

"You know, 'Vlad' is not even the proper way to shorten my name. But it matters not, I like it well enough," he continued and reached out for his glass. "You may continue calling me that if it is to your liking. But come now, I promised you a dancing lesson."

The Prince sat on the piano chair and started playing. Myra looked up sharply. "This is not the same melody as before. What is this?"

Vlad turned around to look at her. "This was composed much later, as a part of a movie soundtrack, but it is still a type of waltz. One of my favorites, even if once again a piano cannot do it justice."

Myra felt her face grow pale, strange emotions awakening in her heart. "It is… it is beautiful. You must teach me how to play this," she managed to say, her voice strangely choked.

The vampire smiled knowingly. "It makes your heart bleed, right? That is what happens when you have spent a lifetime cut off from any good music. Of course I will teach you how to play it. But perhaps you would wish to learn how to dance first; it is much easier."

Tristan showed Myra the basic steps and led her on a dance. The steps themselves were easy enough, but doing them without thinking and coordinating her legs and moves in time with the music was more challenging. Still, Tristan was a patient teacher, and Myra soon realized that the vampire was doing most of the work in the dance and all she had to do was follow.

"My lord tells me you were interested in my hair," Tristan said with a smile.

Myra felt a wave of annoyance towards Vlad for blabbering about their private talks and tried not to blush. "Well, your hair is quite interesting."

"Everything about me is interesting, human," the vampire said smugly. "You will do well to remember that. And if you would like, I would be more than happy to give you a few hair care tips."

"What, give me a vampire makeover?" she asked incredulously. "Many thanks, but I will decline your generous offer."

The dance was slow, but tiring for Myra's untrained feet, and after a while she and her partner collapsed into the stuffed armchairs. "When shall we see your admirable dancing skills, my lord?" Tristan asked.

"Oh no, my friend, Myra has done nothing to deserve that," the Prince said and the younger vampire grinned, thinking his lord was admitting defeat. He should have known better, Myra thought and smiled when Vlad continued. "If I am to dance, you need to play the piano."

Tristan glared at his Prince. "Are you insulting my pianist skills, my lord?" he asked, his voice low and dangerous.

"Not at all, my boy," the Prince said cheerfully. "How could I insult something that does not exist?"

Before Tristan could retort, the door opened without warning and Armida walked in. The vampire was wearing a glittering black dress and her long burgundy hair was falling around her bare shoulders in intricate braids.

"You are late, my love," Vlad said and turned around, letting the woman give him a kiss.

"And I have missed much from the looks of it," she said smiling and sat on the arm of the chair Tristan was currently occupying. She ran her fingers through the vampire's silver hair, smoothing it down, and slowly started to braid it.

"You did indeed. I will tell you all about it tonight," Vlad promised and took a sip from his wine.

Armida's eyes moved across the filled glasses. "Interesting. Only three. Tristan, dearest, am I to assume you did not want me at this party?"

"Any party without you is not worth attending, my lady," Tristan said. "I simply assumed you would be sharing my lord's glass."

"I could," Armida mused. "But to be honest, I never liked glasses anyway. Tell me, dearie, how much wine is flowing through your veins right now?"

"Not much I am afraid," Tristan said. "I just started drinking."

"Well then," she said thoughtfully and brushed the vampire's half-braided silver hair away from his neck. "I suppose I would need to drink more."

Myra could not stifle a gasp when the vampire sank her sharp teeth into Tristan's neck. Tristan threw his head back and closed his eyes, inhaling sharply. The girl looked at Vlad in confusion, expecting him to do, or at least say, something, but to her utter shock, she found the Prince gazing at the two other vampires with an affectionate smile, as if the scene playing before him was the most natural thing in the world.

Armida continued drinking the other vampire's blood, and Tristan gasped, whether in please or pain, or both, Myra could not say. The girl felt nauseous and tried to look away, but found her eyes strangely glued to the scene.

"Myra, I wish to discuss something with you," Vladimir said calmly, not even seeming to notice what was happening around them.

She stared at him in disbelief. "Here? Now?"

He frowned. "Forgive me, I am losing my touch with human customs and lifestyle. Is it your bedtime already?"

"It is not my bedtime!" Myra said incredulously. "My lord, you mean we are to have this discussion here and now? While they-" She gestured at the other vampires, trying to find the right words. "They are… doing stuff!"

The Prince raised an eyebrow. "They are not 'doing stuff'. Armida is drinking a blood-and-wine cocktail. The combination has an exquisite taste, but if it bothers you, we can move to your room. See, my love, you scared the human."

Armida lifted her head, smiling at him, and licked her bloody lips. "Forgive me, love, this was never my intention. Tristan, muffin, you know I like my cocktails stronger."

Tristan opened bleary eyes. "As my lady commands," he mumbled and reached towards his glass.

Myra was quite certain her sudden desire to vomit must have shown on her face and the Prince laughed at her. "I would really like to leave now!" she hissed at him.

He picked their two glasses and a Backgammon set. "My love, when you two are done, could you have another bottle sent to Myra's room? Thank you. And don't drain him too much." He walked out of the room, closely followed by Myra.

"Our ways may disgust you now, darling girl, but one day you will learn to tolerate them, and perhaps even desire them."

He has to be mad, Myra thought and looked up at him timidly. "Can he… can he die of this?"

"Tristan you mean? Of course not. You cannot kill a vampire by drinking their blood, but it can weaken them, and they would need to feed well to regain their strength. If a small amount is drunk, it will leave the vampire in a pleasant, drugged-like state, which will not last too long. This is what Armida is doing right now. Now, a greater blood loss is not so pleasant. If a vampire loses enough blood, it could weaken them a lot, so much that they might be unable to hunt and feed, or even walk or move. In such a case, someone has to feed them if they are to recover. If enough blood is lost, the vampire may lose consciousness and remain in this state for centuries until someone feeds them enough blood to wake up. It is a nasty state to be in; the vampires are trapped in a sea of dark nightmares until someone brings them back to life. Still, this will not kill them; even if the last drop of blood has been drained from their body, they will still live. And yet, they will be completely dependent on someone to save them. There must be dozens of vampires around the world, trapped in such a state, waiting for someone to revive them."

"Why does no one revive them?"

Vlad shrugged. "In some cases they are simply forgotten, buried or lost somewhere and no one is looking for them. In others, someone keeps them like that on purpose as a form of punishment for past wrongs. And more often than not, nobody cares enough."

"This is terrible," Myra muttered and the Prince looked at her sharply.

"I thought you desired death for all vampires?"

"I do," she said. "And I would gladly give them all a clean death with a stake to the heart, but to be trapped in eternal torment is something no one deserves."

"I agree," the Prince admitted. "It is not a fate I would wish upon my worst enemies."

"So it is only blood that can revive a vampire?"

"No other food can sustain us," Vlad explained. "Blood feeds the magic that keeps us alive. Any other kind of food or drink we take only for taste and enjoyment, and alcohol affects us to an extent, but it has no nutritional value for us. Indeed, a vampire who has not drunk blood in a long time can lapse into the same weakened state. Same applies for wounds – almost nothing short of a stake right through the heart, a decapitation, fire or sunlight could kill us, but any other severe wounds can weaken us considerably, especially if a blood loss is involved. Why are you so interested in this, anyway? Looking for ways to kill me?"

"Of course not, my lord!" Myra protested, a bit too quickly. "I only find it strange that you would drink each other's blood if it has such negative effects upon your kind. I am simply trying to understand you better, that is all."

The Prince gave her his annoying I-do-not-believe-a-single-word-you-say-but-I-will-pretend-I-do-for-the-sake-of-the-game grin. "There is nothing strange about it. As I said, a small amount causes more pleasure than pain. You must understand that sharing blood plays a great role in our culture and society. For one thing, it is a way to share intimacy, a way to express both a bodily and emotional and spiritual closeness."

Her disgust must have shown on her face and the vampire's grin only broadened. "Why are you so disturbed by this? It should not be so foreign to you. The concept of blood brothers has existed in a variety of human cultures since the beginnings of time. Sometimes the men to become blood brothers would cut their thumbs, press their wounds together and mix their blood, other times they would squeeze their mixed blood into a cup and drink it. After the ritual they believed to be blood brothers, ready to do anything for each other, simply because the same blood flowed through their veins. And think of true, biological brothers. They are supposed to be close because they share the same blood. It is the same with us. I drink a vampire's blood, and he drinks mine. My blood flows through his veins now, and his through mine. We are brothers, in spirit and blood."

"So you only drink the blood of vampires you are close to?" Myra asked.

"Not necessarily. This is only one of the uses. You can drink a vampire's blood as a form of domination. Say, for example, one of my people disobeys me. Then I could overpower them and drink their blood, until I have brought them to their knees, begging me for mercy."

"Is that how you came to lord over all vampires?" she asked, carefully trying to keep her voice neutral.

He laughed. "I did have to resort to such means occasionally, but there is no need for any of that anymore. My people obey me now."

"They certainly do, my lord. Are there any other uses of blood drinking that will not make me sick?" Myra asked, unsure if she wanted to know.

"All I told you about are trivialities," the Prince said. "Most of all, blood is food, blood is life. It is a way to save lives. Imagine for example that you are trapped in the wilderness, together with another vampire, who is weakened by blood loss or starvation. There is no living being around, and so there is only one way to save your companion – let them drink your blood. Let them feed off you, like a babe feeds off its mother's milk."

Myra sighed. "I thought I specifically asked for ways that would not make me sick." She regarded the Prince carefully. "Have you ever been saved in such a manner, my lord?"

"I have not," he said. "And your attempts to figure out my past are starting to become pathetic.

As they spoke, they walked past the guards stationed in front of her chambers and entered inside. Frea was sitting in front of the desk, eating some dried fruit the servants had brought earlier.

The Prince bowed slightly. "My lady, I would ask you to leave Myra and myself alone for a moment. I have ordered separate chambers to be prepared for you, not far from here. The guards will be happy to escort you."

Frea threw Myra a questioning glance, and the girl smiled and nodded reassuringly. The old woman curtsied and thanked the Prince, but the fire in her eyes was impossible to miss.

The vampire followed her with his gaze. "I see why you like her," he said. "She seems to be the same wild animal as you are."

"Vlad." Myra said firmly. "If you want me to have any respect for you, you will stop comparing people to wild or domesticated animals."

"I will try to avoid it, if that is what you wish," the Prince said, sounding strangely tired. She had expected him to argue, and that took her by surprise.

"Please, take a seat," she said, realizing that he was treating her as the host in her chambers and was expecting an invitation.

He sat on the chair behind the desk and nervously flickered through some pages. She had never seen him like that. "You wanted to discuss something with me, my lord?" she prompted.

"Yes… yes I do," he said.

When he made no move to continue, Myra raised an eyebrow. "Well? Are we going to discuss it tonight, or do you prefer to come back tomorrow? Perhaps you have other duties to attend to?"

He sighed. "No, to be honest I have been meaning to talk to you about this for some time."

Myra nodded in encouragement, patiently waiting for him to continue.

"One thing I noticed about you from the very beginning was your approach to writing longer stories," he said. "You seldom had a plan how the story was going to reach the end; you simply started somewhere and kept writing, on and on, relying on ideas to keep coming to you. And they always did."

She ran her hand through her hair impatiently. Were they going to discuss this again? "Yes, I know, we have talked about this already. It is a very bad practice and I should not rely on it. I should learn to be more organized and to plan my plots in advance."

She was surprised when he shook his head vigorously. "No, not at all. In fact, I was quite happy when I learned this was your manner of writing."

Myra frowned, trying to detect some irony in his words and finding none. "How so?"

The Prince hesitated again. "Because it gave me hope that you may be able to help me."

Now this was the last thing she had expected. The Prince admitting that he needed her help? And the nerve of him! After all he had done to her and to so many humans, he expected he could ask her for a favor?

"What do you want from me?" she asked icily.

Just then someone knocked on the door and a guard entered, carrying a bottle of wine. Vlad poured two glasses after dismissing him and handed one to Myra. "Would you like to play backgammon while we discuss?" he offered.

She narrowed her eyes at him. "And would you like to stop procrastinating and tell me what this is all about?"

He smiled slightly and took a sip from his wine. "I was just like you once," he started. "I used to make up stories, never knowing the end, coming up with more and more ideas as I went along. I had even started a novel. You see, at the time and place I grew up, writing fiction was not at all common. Hardly anyone could read or write, and the two most common languages of the realm I lived in had no writing systems of their own. Writing at the time was rare and mostly intended for correspondence with other rulers or defining laws. It mattered not to me. I wrote the novel for myself, and to entertain my wife and my daughters. I wrote the chapters and read them to my family, one after another, never planning more than two chapters in advance. And then, they were taken from me because I refused to let my people's legacy be forgotten."

He took another long sip and fell silent. Myra patiently waited for him to continue.

"I was turned shortly after and for many years my book was the last thing on my mind. After a few centuries, the burning agony gradually turned into a dull ache and I finally found the courage to reread my book. I liked it a lot, even if I say so myself, and I wanted to know what happened at the end. But I did not. I had never come up with the ending, and had relied on ideas coming to me. And they would have come if only I had remained human for a while longer. You know the rest of the story - I am a vampire now. I am devoid of my imagination and cannot come up with any new tales. My book will always remain unfinished and I will never learn what happens at the end."

"You want me to finish your book?" Myra guessed. "You want me to think of an ending and write the remaining chapters?"

"Yes, I would like that very much. I saw that you have imagination, but your writing talent was unrefined. However, in the past weeks you have improved greatly, and I think I trust you enough for this."

Myra felt her heart beating wildly in her chest. She wanted to tell him she owed him no favors, and that she would not finish his book unless he released all humans and let her go home. She wanted to tell him that if he had spent a lifetime wondering what happened in his book, it was the smallest of punishments he deserved for his cruelty. And yet, she was extremely curious to read the Prince's book. Perhaps it would finally give her some insight into his past and his mind before he was turned.

But most of all, she was overwhelmed. The Prince trusted her to finish his work. This book must have meant so much to him, and now he had enough faith in her skills to let her do this.

"I can give it a try," she said.

He seemed to breathe a sigh of relief. "Thank you. I suppose you will first need to read what I have so far. I am going hunting tonight, but I will try to translate one or two chapters before I leave."

He walked out of her room, looking more cheerful than he had in days. Well, at least someone is happy, Myra thought gloomily. She herself felt more disturbed than ever.


TBC

Thank you so much for reading this far! Comments are greatly appreciated!