Feast or Famine? Ch. 04byathena_by_night©
Later that week in the late afternoon hours, Marianna decided to go for a walk with Kolya as an escort. She was taken with the idea of being outside, despite the inherent dangers outlined by Stephanos. She danced along the slightly overgrown path leading into the surrounding forest and Kolya patiently kept her in his sight as she skipped along uncaringly. They happened upon a glade that caused Marianna to gaze around appreciatively. She started gathering daisies to spin into chains and soon Kolya was wearing a handsome crown of them, as Marianna wore a necklace and a crown.
"Kolya, please tell me more of your time with Stephanos. I am indeed struck with curiosity." She glanced at him innocently from underneath her eyelashes, as a daisy partially covered one emerald infused eye.
"What do you wish to know, child? I love him, I am indebted to him and I am proud to be his friend." Kolya stated with emphasis.
"What's it like knowing that everyone you held dear has passed on from this life?" She said so wistfully with a tear in her eye.
Kolya looked slightly uneasy at the tear, not wanting to cause her hurts. He had come to love Marianna in the past week, seeing that she was completely captivated by Stephanos and was settling in very well to her new environment. She did indeed look lovely sitting there with the waning sunlight warming her face, a content look of satisfaction on her face. She had braided her hair back into a neat column that graced her neck down to the middle of her back. This she had covered with a brightly colored kerchief to avoid some of the heat of the sun. She was a good girl and had already brought happiness to their household, and for this he was very grateful.
"Child, I lived my life as I saw fit." He began. "I was in deep mourning and had been for several years before the covenant was enacted. I loved and do love my children and grandchildren and their children's children deeply, but my life was very empty without my beloved Natalya. The sun rose and set with her, she never spoke a cross word to anyone and to see her slip away slowly day by day tore my heart out. A fever had overrun the village, much like the one that took your parents' lives and as I watched her slip deeper into the sickness I was lost. I became very angry with God that he would strike such a gentle one as she in all of her goodness. And for awhile I became a drunken lout, that is until Master Stephanos arrived."
Marianna was transfixed with Kolya's story and paid rapt attention to him. She watched the fleeting emotions cross his face as he recounted his tale and squirmed impatiently when he paused to take a sip of water from the flask at his side.
"Master Stephanos quickly realized my unhappiness, though he said nothing. We were sitting in front of a roaring bonfire, hammering out the details of the covenant and I couldn't keep my eyes off of him. He so mesmerized me with his elegance of speech and in his fluid body movements. He was grace personified. Finally I approached him and humbly requested to serve him. He agreed readily and once the covenant was sealed in blood, I said my good byes to my family and traveled with him to the manor." Kolya sighed. "It wasn't easy at first being in his presence. Me, a simple peasant surrounded by all the beauty and elegance of his world. He was always patient with me, until the day I…"
Kolya broke off at the unbidden sound of a footstep. Warily he got to his feet and planted himself akimbo in front of Marianna. He sensed the evilness of the presence approaching, and he was prepared to fight to the death if necessary. He would not risk Marianna, her life or his honor by doing any less. Malevolence permeated the glade as they waited in tense anticipation of the coming danger. The creature that broke free of the surrounding foliage had the hairs on the backs of their necks standing on end.
Ivan! Marianna thought with a shudder, or what was left of him. He was deathly pale with a feral gleam in his eye and he appeared impervious to their stances. His clothing was tattered and his shoes were all but falling off. He eyed Marianna appreciatively, the leer evident on his visage. By his side was a scabbard that housed a long sheathed sword. Slowly, caressingly, his hand played over the hilt, almost like a lover. His putrid breath easily crossed the far side of the glade, causing Marianna to shiver.
Kolya never glanced at her, preferring to maintain eye contact with Ivan. He pushed Marianna behind his back even further and whispered to her that should he fall, she was to run like the wind towards the manor. He sent out a high pitched whistle to Zoya and Kirill in hopes that they would soon arrive. They had been lounging in the small barn when they had trekked to the glade. When Kolya whistled, Ivan covered his ears and screamed in pain. His features twisted even further into a grotesque misshapen mass that barely resembled the Ivan of old. He pulled the sword then and took a slashing step forward.
"Old man, I don't know who you are, I only want the girl. Hand her over and I may let you live." Ivan jabbed the air in front of him, moving relentlessly forward. He walked with a pronounced limp, but it didn't appear to slow him down.
"No! You have risked the wrath once more of Stephanos. He will see you are put into the ground for your continued insolences towards him and his!" Kolya appeared unmoved by his demands.
"One last warning, Old Man. Move or die. I care naught which you choose. Personally I would love to gain some retribution….so it will be die!" Kolya felt the slice of the blade to the bone of his forearm, his white shirt soaking up the red fluid that emerged as it spurted forth. Ivan hadn't struck a fatal blow, but he had clearly incapacitated Kolya, who wrapped his uninjured hand over the wound. Marianna saw her opportunity to confront Ivan and protect Kolya. She boldly stepped forward. Ivan placed the blade of his sword at her neck.
Marianna took a careful breath, despite her heaving chest. "Ivan, this man is your great great grandfather Kolya! Stop it at once, do you hear me? I will not willing submit to you, but I would that he not die."
Ivan remained mute and moved the blade to the top of her shoulder and deftly sliced the ribbon holding her blouse in place. The material folded to the top of her heaving bosom, exposing the creamy skin on one side. Marianna tried to keep the look of revulsion off her face to no avail. Ivan laughed menacingly and went to slash the other side just as Zoya and Kirill silently leapt onto his back, causing him to fall forward. With the sword extended in front of Ivan, he did not give himself a fatal blow, however the wolfhounds were doing their best to tear him to shreds. Just when Marianna thought they would escape safely, a second figure moved out of the shadows. He lifted a hand and the two wolfhounds clashed together to land in an unconscious heap at her feet.
"What have we here Ivan? I see that you are right! I recognize Stephanos' servant, Kolya!" The creature spat on the ground and advanced further into the glade. What once had seemed such a paradise and haven of safety to Marianna, was shattered with the unfolding events. She shuddered and recoiled in a futile attempt to ward off the stranger.
Kolya groaned in dismay. This man, this vampire, this unholy creature of the night, was Stephanos' sworn enemy. Count Luka Ivanovich Delacevic! What was he doing here? he thought impassively as the blood continued to drain from his arm. He swayed on his feet in an effort to remain conscious. Delacevic was last known to be haunting the Sarajevo countryside. He was an imposing man, standing a head over most of his countrymen, with aquiline features and thinning lips that barely covered his fangs. His fingers were beringed and elongated and his stance elegant. His suit was a fine silk and bespoke of the riches he possessed. His long dark hair was pulled into a tight ponytail at the base of his neck and his eyes were a soulless caramel brown.
Ivan slowly got to his feet and turned to his new master to seek his approval of the two before him. He whined low in his throat from his new wounds, but knew that his Master would address these in due time. It had purely been happenstance that he had come across Delacevic! If not for him, he would have frozen out in the open as he had been left. Delacevic had persuaded him to be healed temporarily, until he had gained his strength and could be made. He pledged his allegiance to Delacevic and in return, Delacevic was pleased to find a new method to torment his rival.
Marianna sucked in her breath at his features. He was well-made in form, but those eyes were dead to her. They briefly swept over her and dismissed her in the same breath as a non-threat. She deeply resented him, as she did Ivan, though she did not know his full purpose. She rushed to Kolya's side in an effort to help him staunch the profuse bleeding. She grabbed her handkerchief and fashioned a tourniquet just above the wound site. She was so caught up in assisting Kolya that she failed to notice that Ivan was reaching a hand to stroke her cheek. She swatted at his hand, intent on her task. She felt the force of the backhand leaving her dazed and seeing stars. Before she had a chance to react, Ivan wrapped her in a bear-like embrace and strode off with her into the dark of the forest.
Stephanos emerged fully awake in a vortex of rage at the scene unfolding in his mind, due to his link with Kolya. Fleeing the manor and swiftly arriving at the glade, he found Kolya barely conscious and Marianna missing for the moment. Gathering his old friend in his arms, dismissing his life's blood that flowed onto his clothing, Stephanos opened his wrist to place it gently at Kolya's mouth to allow him to feed. The rich nourishment immediately traveled to the wound site, causing it to start to close and brief pain to ensue with its healing powers. Much like the effect of carbolic acid poured, the wound fizzed for a moment and the poisonous aftereffects were expelled from Kolya's body. Stephanos removed Marianna's makeshift tourniquet and tucked it in his pocket, grateful for her intervention in slowing down the bleeding.
Kolya lay panting for a moment in Stephanos' arms, regaining his strength as Stephanos removed his wrist and closed off the site, to allow for his own rejuvenation process. He was in abject misery over the missing Marianna, not his wounds. He allowed his mind to be open to Stephanos so he could view the whole of the encounter freely.
"My friend, you have not failed in your responsibilities to me. You fought valiantly to protect Marianna." Stephanos spoke directly to Kolya's mind.
"You know Delacevic is back now. Master Stephanos, he swore to kill you at your last meeting! Now he has Mistress Marianna. I could not bear if anything were to happen to her! I love her as a daughter and she has brought you peace and happiness this past week." Kolya bowed his head in continued shame, forgetting that the daisy crown was still haphazardly hanging off his forehead, incongruously to the scene of blood and destruction.
Despite the gravity of the situation, Stephanos allowed a bemused look to mystify his eyes as he took in Kolya's accoutrements, including the daisies. He empathically linked with Zoya and Kirill and searched their bodies for wounds that would need tending. They each suffered a bump on the head where they had clashed, but would soon recover. Another sin Delacevic would pay for. His hounds were his beloved pets and stood him in good stead. He made his decision. He would allow Zoya and Kirill to heal naturally in the glade and he would move Kolya to the manor where he could tend the rest of his disarray on his own. Seeking the air, he swiftly deposited Kolya comfortably in his spartan room and sought the air once more.
He returned to the glade, where Zoya and Kirill were both stirring. Stephanos stopped to observe more fully the battleground, using his keen senses for anything overlooked. He quietly fingered the bit of cloth in his pocket as a connection to his Marianna. His eyes sought the path that Ivan had lumbered along with the reluctant Marianna in tow. Much as he tried, he could not link with her. She had been in the initial phases of learning this process, but had not accomplished the task as of yet. Partially because they had been in pursuit of other, more pleasurable goals. Stephanos berated himself momentarily for this lapse, and just as quickly refocused his energies on gaining further clues.
His violet eyes spotted a small keepsake at the very edge of the glade. Striding purposefully, he thoughtfully picked it up.
Delacevic would be livid at its loss, Stephanos knew. It was a cerulean velvet choker with a pendant attached. Inside, Stephanos knew he would find tiny pictures of his old friend Luka and Luka's sister Danijela. Stephanos pressed the charm to his lips in remembrance of Danijela. She was the reason Luka Delacevic despised him now. Sighing and weary with the roiling emotions these dark thoughts caused inside of him, Stephanos pocketed the necklace and returned to the glade to further assess the scene and his options. He minutely investigated every part, before turning his attention to the path once more.
Marianna tried using her body as leverage to slow the hulking Ivan down. She castigated him with her tongue until he cuffed the side of her head again. Moving his hand to her chin, he forced her emerald gaze to meet his lascivious one, his intentions clearly marked there.
"Marianna, you will pay! I will have my way with your beautiful body and you will submit to me." Ivan grinned evilly at her.
"I will kill myself before I allow you to touch me!" Marianna spat at him in contempt, no sign of her fears on her face.
"Alive, dead, it matters little to me. Your body will know my mark upon you. I will be the last man to know you and you will feel me, I promise you thus." Ivan crushed her further to his chest.
"You are vile and blasphemous! May your soul rot in Hell!" Marianna attempted to move her knee in a position to strike at him and incapacitate him into slowing down, even briefly. Sensing her movements, he twisted his body slightly and brought his cruel lips down onto her vulnerable mouth. Pressing her lips, he thrust his large tongue inside down to the back of her throat, causing her to gag at its presence and his fetid breath. Twisting furiously, she caused them to stumble. The stranger intervened at that moment.
"Enough Ivan! I grow weary at your game. I will tend the girl. Your oafish attentions are not going to rob me of my vengeance against Stephanos. I have waited far longer than you to be triumphant. Release her to me at once!" He stated in his cultivated tones. Ivan complied without protest and Marianna wiped her mouth with the back of her hand and glared at Ivan in derision. She spat directly at his shoe with accuracy. Ivan raised his hand to her again, only to be stopped by the stranger's hand. Instead, he backhanded Ivan in disgust at his lack of control. Turning to Marianna, he spoke to her for the first time.
"Girl, you mock him at your peril. Let's be reasonable for the time being. You are afforded no escape at the moment. Allow me to introduce myself; I am Count Luka Ivanovich Delacevic and you my dear are in my captivity. Behave yourself and allow the grace I know you possess to rule your passions for the moment. Your first name is Marianna as I am aware. What is your surname child?" Luka spoke eloquently and accompanied his speech with a bow. Marianna eyed his askance, but was entranced by his speech patterns.
"My name is Marianna Ivanka Dragovic and I belong to Lord Stephanos. Release me Count, for I cannot promise what Stephanos will do to you if you don't!" Marianna heaved, her body quivering with the force of her suppressed emotions.
Luka laughed lightly at her courage. He was going to enjoy breaking it. He would leave Stephanos with a broken doll in mind, body and spirit. He curled his lips in satisfaction at this thought, a shame though it would be with one such as lovely and feisty as she. It could not be helped and he would not divert from his path however. The thought of defeating Stephanos heated his blood and fed his soul. Stephanos Jagomirov would pay for the past and Marianna would be Luka's instrument of destruction.
Tiring of the tediousness in her manner, he looped a collar around her neck with a yard of chain attached. Marianna blinked in surprise at his methods. She had never seen anything such as what this creature had enslaved her with. The collar was tight fitting, but not unduly so and when Luka turned to proceed, he yanked at her to get her moving. Now, Marianna allowed the fear to seep into her very marrow as she stumbled forward hesitantly and the full force of her circumstances was reinforced by this man's dominance. Ivan brought up the rear, making haste to keep pace, not wanting to anger or displease his master further.
Kolya recovered from his wounds, made his way to Dubrovnik to learn what he could of Ivan and Luka. As much as he and Master Stephanos knew, there was always something that could have been overlooked and he wanted to ensure that they had all the answers they could to combat this age old feud. Kolya's first stop was Pyotr. The man was slow witted and had lived in the shadow of Ivan, but if anyone knew anything, it would be he. He found Pyotr tending his sheep.
"Pyotr! You will give me what I want! I want information about Ivan, give it to me now!" Kolya spoke forcefully knowing he had Pyotr's full attention with his demeanor. Pyotr had always been intimidated by Kolya's presence when he arrived in the village periodically.
"Zasto te to muci? Zao me je." Pyotr glanced at him in confusion and fear. He was not trying to offend the man by asking why he was so bothered and offered his apologies. He stepped back with his shepherd's crook, offering Kolya the warmth of his fire. His eyes covetous of Kolya's form as he moved gracefully forward and squatted to warm his hands, the only sign that the rapidly cooling evening caused him distress.
"Pyotr, I need to know what you know, however inconsequential you may think it. Ivan has returned and wrought a terrible wrong to Master Stephanos. He was in the company of a most vicious fiend and they have taken Marianna as a captive. I need information on Ivan's secret hideouts, his original plans towards Marianna, everything! If you value your life then you will tell me what I must know now!" Kolya surged to his feet, grabbing the man's shirt roughly and forcing his body close to his. He watched the dilation of Pyotr's eyes in both trepidation and unbidden desire. Satisfied with his unspoken responses, he awaited the reply to his queries.
Pyotr struggled for breath. The nearness of Kolya was so intoxicating and he welcomed the changes his body was undergoing, but he knew that he would not have a chance to explore them now. Sighing disappointedly he answered, "Kolya, I know very little of Ivan's doings prior to our arrival at the manor. He was secretive and withdrawn. I do know that he had planned on seeking Marianna out the day following Dmitri's burial. He was enraged when I told him what I had seen that night."
Pyotr stopped to catch his breath. "He had taken to visiting the abandoned cottage on the edge of Goran's property, you know, the one in the farthest outlying field from Dubrovnik. I think he planned to seduce Marianna there."
Kolya looked at Pyotr in disbelief. "You think him to be a seducer? He was going to ravish the girl and leave her to his friends! Ivan was evil before Pyotr, you fool. You bowed to his will and followed him around like the puppy you are! How could you not see and sense this? Bah!"