A/N: Thanks for reading this far! I wanted to let you know that next chapter might be delayed. I'm moving to another country and I don't know if I'll have internet all the time as I don't have a place to live yet. I'll be staying at some hostel that supposedly has wifi while I look for a room to rent, so I think I might be able to write and post, but I don't know for sure how things will be. Just don't be surprised if the next few updates take a while; they will come in time.
Chapter 6: The Pen and the Sword
"And what are you looking for exactly?" Myra looked up from her writing to throw the older woman an exasperated glance. The spacious room looked as if something had recently exploded inside. Papers, clothes, cups, and maps were thrown at random places, covering the bed, the cushioned sofa, and the rich purple carpet. Frea did not pause to look at Myra and continued rummaging through all drawers, chests and wardrobes, making a lot of noise in the process.
"Something," the older woman murmured. "Anything we can use. Aha! Something like this."
"You found it?" Myra asked hopefully and frowned when she saw the box of colored pencils in Frea's hand. "Yes, these are mine. Vlad gave them to me in case I felt like drawing. What do you need them for?"
The old woman frowned and shook her head, her wispy white hair flowing softly at the movement. "Myra, have you forgotten your mission? Do you still remember why you came here?"
Myra forced a smile. For some reason, she did not like where this was going. "Of course I do. The initial plan was to assassinate the Prince."
"The initial plan?" Frea's frown deepened. "Has the plan changed?"
"No, not really," Myra said. "I am just waiting for the right opportunity, but so far none has presented itself."
"Waiting?" Frea said in disbelief. "You do not kill a Prince by waiting! You have to act! You do not wait for an opportunity to come along - you create one! Tell me, what does this look like to you?"
Frea sighed. "It is made of wood. And it is sharp and pointed. Now, tell me, what are pointed wooden objects used for?"
Myra nearly laughed. "You cannot be thinking we can use a pencil as an improvised stake! First of all, the pointy part is the core, and it is not made of wood, so I am not even sure it is going to work. And it is not even that sharp, or that sturdy. To use one of these to break the sternum and pierce the heart one needs way more muscle that I have. How am I supposed to do this? Hammer it as a nail in his chest?"
"If you have to," Frea stated calmly.
"And he is going to stand still and wait for me to finish?"
The older woman sat on the bed, examining the pencil critically. "Do you know if vampires are affected by drugs?"
Myra frowned in thought. She was not certain what the old woman was going for, and she already disliked this plan more than she wanted to admit. "I have no idea. I know they are affected by alcohol, so it is possible."
"The vampires have to keep a pharmacy somewhere," Frea said. "They always have medicines for the sick humans in the Farm. Perhaps we could find where it is and steal some sleeping drugs. Or perhaps I could pretend to need them? We will think of something."
"This is getting too far-fetched," Myra said.
The older woman's eyes glowed angrily. "Myra, you keep saying that you are here to kill him, but it seems to me you are not even trying! Have you forgotten who you are? Who he is? He has killed many humans, and will kill many more, unless we kill him first."
"I know that!" the younger woman said, annoyed. "I told you already, I know which side I am fighting on! But we will help no one if we do something reckless and get ourselves killed." She raised her hand, signaling for silence.
Frea looked about to argue more, but she too heard the approaching footsteps and fell quiet. The door opened and Captain Peroxide walked in.
"You are required in the throne room," he said, glaring at Myra before he turned towards her companion. "You stay here."
Myra followed obediently, briefly wondering if the vampire had come by himself for a change. She suppressed a grin as they exited the room. Nope – predictably enough, four more vamps were waiting to accompany her. The young woman walked after them, eager to get to their destination as fast as possible and be rid of their company.
The high doors opened and she stepped inside. A long red carpet was running from the entrance up along the dais and to the foot of the large stone throne. Tristan sat on the throne sideways, his legs flung over the armrest. In his lap were an open leather-bound journal and a bowl of cherries. The vampire was lazily eating the cherries, spitting the pits onto the stony floor.
"Ah, our honored guest!" he cried, not moving from his position. "Leave us!"
Captain Peroxide looked doubtful and Tristan glared at him. "I think I can overpower a single human if she decides to try anything. Now, wait outside."
The vamps hesitated but finally complied, throwing Tristan dark glares. The silver-haired vampire followed their way out with a smile, pretending not to notice the murderous glances shot in his direction.
"Approach," he called to Myra. "I do not feel like standing up." He raised the journal for her to see. "My lord has translated the first two chapters of his book. He read it to me once, centuries ago, with live translation, but this is the first time I see it written on paper. It is heartwrenchingly good, but I will leave you to make up your own opinion."
"What language was it translated from?" she asked.
Tristan shrugged. "I suppose something like Old Church Slavonic written with Greek letters, or some other ridiculous combination no vampire in his right mind should be able to read." He grinned when he noticed her surprise. "I guess it is unusual, but apparently the Cyrillic alphabet was only in the process of being invented at the time, and my lord never had any particular love for it anyway."
"How can one dislike an alphabet?" Myra wondered.
The vampire's smile disappeared. "Oh, he has a very valid reason. I beg you not to ask him about it - it is not a pleasant story."
Myra walked to him and took the book in her hand, resisting the urge to look through it right away. "Where is Vlad?" she asked.
"My lord went out hunting with Armida after he was done with the translation," Tristan said. "He should be back any time now. Why, you miss him?"
The girl shrugged. "I was just wondering. I thought he would be back already. What is he hunting exactly?" she asked with a clenched heart.
Tristan smiled at her, seemingly reading her thoughts. "No worries, he is not hunting humans. Deer, rabbits, foxes, wolves, the usual."
Myra breathed a sigh of relief. "I have always wondered about that to be honest. How do these animals survive, with no growing plants to eat?"
"Ah, but there are growing plans," Tristan said. "There is a forest to the southeast of here. We keep it sunlit for some parts of the days, so that plant can grow freely and animals can thrive. We go there hunting at night, or cover it in clouds if my lord feels the urge to go out hunting during the day. You may perhaps know about it? Where does the Resistance send its hunters?"
She glowered at him. "I am not telling you where our hunters go."
He grinned. "You still think my lord wants to destroy the Resistance?"
"I know he doesn't," she said. "I am not so sure about you."
"I want what my lord wants," Tristan said, grinning even more. "I am, after all, how did you put it again? Puppy-like, right?"
Just then the doors flew open and Vlad and Armida walked in, purposefully striding forward. Both were clad in tunics, breeches and riding boots made of tanned leather and were covered in dust, blood and leaves from head to toe. The Prince held a bow in his left hand, and a half-empty quiver was strapped to his back. Myra had never seen either of the two vampires disheveled like that, but she could have accepted it easily enough. What was a bit harder to accept was the wolf wrapped around the Prince's shoulders. The alive wolf, still struggling weakly but determinedly.
"Welcome home, my lord, my lady!" Tristan called. "How was the hunt?"
"Very productive," Armida said happily. "We drank our fill and enough unspoiled meat is left to feed the humans. But right now I cannot say 'no' to a hot bath."
"Could not agree more with you, love," Vlad said. "Please go ahead and order the bath prepared for us."
She frowned slightly, looking from him to Myra and Tristan, but left the throne room without a word. The Prince walked forward.
"Behold, the refined nobleman!" Tristan called cheerfully. "You look positively civilized, my lord."
Vlad walked to the throne and placed his bow on a low table to its right. "And how exactly did you spend your night, nancy boy?" He grabbed Tristan's hand and brought it to his face. "Doing your nails by the looks of it?"
Tristan pulled his hand back, scolding. "It would not hurt you to get your nails properly cleaned and shaped once in a while. But then again I suppose clippers, let alone nail files, were not invented back when you were born." He eyed the Prince carefully. "Quite a bit of blood you have on you, my lord. Is any of it yours?"
"Why, you want a lick?" The Prince glared at the cherry pits on the floor. "You will clean this mess."
"Make me," Tristan challenged and spit another pit at the other vampire's feet.
Wordlessly, the Prince grabbed the fair-haired vampire by the front of his shirt, lifted him up in the air and dropped him down. Tristan fell on his back unceremoniously and lifted himself on his elbows, glaring up at his lord.
"You almost make me regret that I brought you a present from the hunt," Vlad said and dropped the wriggling wolf into Tristan's lap. "Can you eat it like this, or would you require a plate and silverware?"
Tristan's face brightened. "Thank you, my lord, this is very thoughtful," he said and sank his teeth into the animal.
Myra averted her gaze but looked up again when she felt Vlad's eyes on her. "Wolf blood is his favorite," the Prince said as a manner of explanation.
"Favorite after human I suppose?" Myra said acidly.
Vlad shrugged. "Nothing compares to human, true, but we need some variety on our plates. If your favorite meal is, say, stuffed peppers, and you like it more than anything, you still would not eat it every day, would you?"
Myra shuddered. "You do realize you just compared people to stuffed peppers?"
"I did. Now tell me, did you get a chance to look at my book?"
"Not yet," Myra said, wondering if she had only imagined the flicker of uncertainty that passed across his features at the question. "Tristan gave it to me just now. He has been reading it apparently." The younger vampire threw her a warning glare and shook his head, and she grinned inwardly. "He said it was heartwrenchingly good." Tristan looked positively murderous and Myra winked at him.
The Prince smiled smugly. "Did he now? Heartwrenchingly good? I will not forget that."
"Oh, please, my lord, surely you know the human is exaggerating," Tristan protested. "I believe my exact words were along the lines of 'not too bad'."
"I am sorry, my boy, but I believe Myra this time." He frowned. "Myra, my dear, forgive me, I did not bring you a present from the hunt. I was not sure what you would like."
"If the options were a half dead wolf or a badger, I think I could do without a present," the girl said. "There is one other thing you can give me though."
"As long as your request is reasonable," Vlad said.
Myra hesitated. "When I was back at the Resistance's Headquarters, we did some weapon training. Swords, crossbows, guns. I was reasonably good with the range weapons, but ever since I came here, I have been getting terribly out of shape. I would like to continue my training. I am sure there are many skilled warriors among your people, yourself included, who will be able to teach me."
"Why exactly swords, crossbows and guns?" Vlad asked.
She was uncertain it was a good idea to explain this, but there was no point in lying. "Well, swords are practical for beheading vampires, and crossbows can be used for shooting stake-shaped sticks, that can be deadly if shot straight into a vampire's heart. A gun by itself cannot kill a vampire, but can slow them down sufficiently to use one of the other two."
"I see," Vlad said, strangely amused. "You have been learning how to kill vampires, and you want me to continue your training?"
"And you have been doing nothing but hunting down and killing humans. It is only fair that we fight back."
"Fair enough," the vampire admitted. "Well, I am not certain it will be a good idea to encourage your vampire-killing hobbies, but I have something else in mind to keep you in shape. Would you like to come hunting with me tonight?"
Myra was surprised by the offer. Hunting sounded terribly exciting… and terribly disgusting at the same time. And yet, she did have a vague plan and if she were to ever escape this place, she had to know where this forest was. "I think I will enjoy this."
"Yes, I think you might," Vlad said. "Can you ride?"
"I had never seen a real horse before I was captured."
"I will have to teach you then. Have no worries, it is not hard at all."
Tristan lifted his head from the wolf in time to give a snort. "Not hard! Myra, let me tell you this, as someone who has not been a master rider since the age of four – it takes ages to learn. One lesson will be far from enough, and your whole body will hurt for days afterwards."
Vlad smiled. "Do not listen to him. He is exceptionally untalented. It took him nearly two centuries to master some basic skills."
"Basic skills?" The younger vampire uttered. "Including, but not limited to, standing upright on a galloping horse, hanging upside-down off the side, jumping up and down a galloping horse, standing on top of two horses at the same time, one foot on each-"
"Yes, basic skills as I said," Vlad said calmly. "And you surely took your time learning. I am certain Myra will not be that pathetic."
Myra was not so sure about that. "Why would you even need to do all that for a simple hunt?" she asked and Tristan started nodding vigorously.
"My point exactly!" the younger vampire cried.
Vlad frowned at them. "Everything you are able to do on the ground, you should be able to do on horseback. Otherwise you are no true master. Now, I advise you to get back to your room and try to get some sleep in the afternoon as we will be hunting at night."
"Not all of us have vampire eyes," Myra protested.
"It is a full moon tonight, you will manage," the Prince said. "Now go and prepare yourself. I believe some of the guards are still at the door, waiting to escort you."
"Yes, I think Captain Peroxide is waiting outside," she said with a sigh and turned back.
"Who?" Vlad asked, and only then she realized what she had said.
"Ah, sorry, I mean the vampire with black hair that is bleached to a strange shade of orange. I do not know his name, so I call him Captain Peroxide."
Tristan doubled over on the throne with laughter and Vlad merely looked at her with a raised eyebrow. "I see. Yes, the name suits him."
"Oh, this is priceless!" Tristan managed in between sniggers. "Captain Peroxide! That made my day, thank you, Myra! I will call him that from now on! But I am being mean, not everyone can be born with glistening platinum hair!"
Vlad sighed. "See what you did? I will take my leave of you now, Armida is waiting for me. I advise you to try to get some sleep before the hunt."
"Easy for you to say, I just got up," Myra murmured as the guards escorted her back to her room. Frea, she noted, had been escorted to her own quarters.
She did not even have the willpower to try to sleep though, for there was something way more exciting to do. And so the first thing Myra did upon returning to her room was to plop down on the bed and open the leather-bound journal.
The words flowed before her eyes and she read on with bated breath. She did not realize when she had moved to the edge of the bed, her heart beating wildly, her muscles tense with excitement. And when the last word came, there was one single, all-defining thought in her mind. I need more.
Someone knocked on the door, but she closed her eyes, trying to ignore the sound. She was not ready yet to return to reality, to leave behind the wondrous world that she had briefly stepped into. But then the knock came again, and with a resigned sigh, she called an invitation to enter.
The moment the door opened, all images and fantasies the book had instilled flew away from her mind and her head was clear once more. "Lady Armida?" she uttered, surprised and somewhat worried. She had never talked to the vampire apart from her friendly advice in the dungeons and the brief exchange at the feast. "To what do I owe the honor?"
Wordlessly, Armida walked to her, grabbed her chin and forced their eyes to meet. "These days he spends more time with you than he does with me," the vampire said. "What can you give him that I cannot?"
Panic slowly spread through Myra's chest. If this was what Armida was thinking, then she was done for. "My lady, I never meant-"
"Oh, be quiet," the vampire said softly. "None of this is your fault. I have always known I cannot give him what he needs."
The admission shocked Myra and when the vampire released her chin, she sat down on the bed. "What do you mean?"
Armida looked up, her eyes glistening. "I love him," she whispered. "I love him more than anything. I love him… way more than he can ever love me."
Myra was growing more confused by the second. "What are you talking about, my lady? The Prince adores you."
The vampire smiled sadly. "Does he? I have never been what he needs, what he is looking for. He is always surrounding himself with writers, artists, composers, and I am none of that, never have been. Even Tristan used to be a poet before the Prince turned him."
Indignation flared at Myra's heart at that. Tristan used to write poetry? And Vlad turned him, knowing fully well that this would destroy the young man's talent forever? She had never doubted the Prince was pure evil and was prepared to expect anything, but at times he managed to surprise her once again.
"He said he was first drawn to me because of my name," Armida continued. "It was from a poem he loved, he said. I strongly doubt my parents have named me after the character. I doubt they had read the poem, or even heard of it. To tell you the truth, my parents could not even read."
Thousands of questions had sprung into Myra's mind, but there was a single one that bothered her most of all. "Why are you telling me this?"
"Because I need your help. I need you to help me make my love believe that I was a writer before I was turned."
Myra frowned. "My lady, this is folly. The Prince loves you, it is plain to see. He loves you for who you are, and there is no need for you to try to change. From what little I have seen of you, you seem smart and confident. It pains me to see you try to change only to please your beloved. Before all else, you should be true to yourself."
"This all sounds so wise and practical," Armida said bitterly. "I should be true to who I am. It is an insult to me to try to change and shape myself into the Prince's perfect companion. I should live my life, not his." She sighed sadly. "Yes, it all sounds so good in theory." She turned towards Myra, her emerald eyes burning like wildfire. "But I love him. And I am terrified of losing him. Every day I live with this fear. I would do anything to keep him. Anything. And if that includes persuading him that I used to be a writer, well, that is not even a true sacrifice."
"It is your decision to make," Myra conceded. "What are you planning?"
"You will write a book," the vampire said. "I will present it to him and tell him I had written it when I was a girl."
Myra resisted the urge to snort. "And he will believe that? He will not find it strange that you are only telling him about this now, and never mentioned it before?"
"I suppose it is a bit suspicious," she admitted. "But my love has no reason to doubt me. I can always tell him I wanted him to love me for who I am now, and not for who I was before I was turned. And now is a good time to bring it up – he is thinking about his own book and working on translating it. It makes sense for me to mention that I have also written a book."
"You know best," the girl said. "But if I am to write this book, I need to know more about your past, so that I can make the style match the time and place where you lived and avoid any anachronisms."
"You can do that?" Armida asked, admiration in her voice. "You can write a book so that it corresponds to different periods and cultures?"
"I hope so. I have a read a lot of history books, but this is hardly enough to truly know the societies of the past. And the Prince will not be easily deceived."
"He must be," the vampire said. "Very well then. I lived in eighteen-century Italy, a small village near Naples."
"I can work with that," Myra said. "But I cannot write it in Italian, even less your local dialect. Perhaps you can tell him that you translated it."
Armida shook her head. "This would be suspicious. The Prince can read eighteen-century Italian; there would be no need for me to do this. Maybe you could write the book, and I will translate it and tell him that it is the original. Yes, that much I can do. When do you think you will have it?"
Myra considered her reply, certain the vampire would not like it. "You do realize that a good book can take years to write?"
"No need to make it a full novel," Armida said. "A novella should be fine, or even a short story. Yes, I think a short story would be perfect."
"I could write a short story to present as yours in a couple of days," Myra said. "In fact, I have an idea already."
Armida smiled brightly. "Thank you. Thank you so much."
Myra's gaze suddenly turned hard. "I said I could do it. Not that I would."
The vampire narrowed her eyes. "You want something in return? Fair enough, I asked for a big favor. Name your price."
"My freedom," the girl said firmly. "You must help me and Frea escape."
The vampire grinned at her. "You do have guts. I like that. But you know this is a high price, and hard to accomplish."
"I think you will be happy to be rid of me," Myra said. "After all, you were complaining the Prince was spending too much time with me."
"You have a point here," Armida admitted. "Alright then. If you write the story, I will help you and the old woman escape."
Myra felt dizzy, unable to believe her luck. "Can you give me any guarantee that you will truly help us? How do I know that you will not simply kill Frea and turn me to those guards you were so friendly to in the dungeon? I remember they were eager to torture me for information about the Resistance, and if you do them this one little favor, they will always be on your side."
Armida rolled her eyes. "Oh, please. They will be on my side no matter what I do, so I have no need to do them any favors. Besides, keeping you hidden in the dungeons is a very bad idea. As soon as my love discovers your disappearance, he will send Tristan to have the palace searched. That little brat will not stop until he has found you, and if they investigate further, the tracks may lead to me. No, it is in my best interest to have you far away from here."
"I will trust you then," Myra conceded. "But do you have an idea how we could do it? You said it yourself that it would be very hard."
"I said it would be very hard to arrange your escape, yes," Armida said with a confident smile. "I never said it would be hard for me."
Any comments are treasured!