Feast or Famine? Ch. 05byathena_by_night©
Eighty years ago....
Stephanos broke the hold Danijela had on him. He had tried reassuring her to no avail that she would be safe whilst he went to feed. Danijela was young and she was petulant. She had yet to understand the Vampire ways.
"Enough, Danijela! I must feed; I grow weak from lack of nourishment! You have ensorcelled me these past two days, you vixen!" Stephanos' laughter was hearty and a bit forced at the scene unfolding.
"But Stephanos, I want to be with you! I have this foreboding and would feel safer in your company. Why won't you let me come with you while you feed?" Danijela cajoled.
"Danijela, my love," Stephanos recounted once again, "You would become overwrought with the process. I would that I spare you that. Until you make a decision with regards to remaining human or becoming Vampire, I will not subject you to that. It is a ritual, one that is made in blood. You must try to understand love. I mean only to protect you for what we both know is your uneasiness to face what I truly am. You will be safe with Kolya, I promise you this."
"Stephanos! You worry for no reason about this; I have no fear of what you are! If you won't give me your protection, I have heard enough. Don't come back here unless you mean to be with me! If I need anything, I will send for Luka. I don't wish to see you!" Turning her back on him, she pierced his soul with her words and he was helpless in the face of her anger. He had failed to listen to Luka when he had advised that he not pursue his sister. She was different and very opinionated. Stephanos had always thought it was a sign of her strength, but was quickly wearying of the constant battle with her.
Starting to lift a hand to her shoulder, he hesitated, and then let it drop to his side in frustration. "As you wish, Danijela, for the moment only. I have no intentions of releasing you. You belong to me. Your body and your spirit and your mind are mine. Never forget that. Your childishness bespeaks your youth and we will address it further upon my return. I need sustenance or you will find yourself in mortal danger from me, and that I cannot abide." With that, Stephanos turned swiftly ignoring her tears, as his own rising anger and hunger threatened to override his good sense.
He was careful in his selections and banked his anger for fear of uncontrolled rage and returned shortly. A keening wail sped his forward progress. His growing trepidation was realized the closer he got to the manor. But it was not Kolya and it was not Danijela, of this he was certain. He knew their cries. His unease ruptured upon seeing the door pulled practically off the hinges and signs of a recent scuffle just before his doorstep.
Rushing inside he found Luka cradling Danijela's lifeless body to his chest and Kolya bound and unconscious on the floor. Luka's ravaged face centered on Stephanos' horrified one. Rising to his feet, still with Danijela's rapidly cooling body in his protective hold, Luka spoke not a word to him. Hatred was blazing from his caramel eyes and he stepped closer to Stephanos who stood transfixed at the scene.
"You blind, ignorant fool!" Luka castigated. "She spoke of premonitions just before she died. She was too far gone for anything to be done. She died in my arms saying you failed to protect her. I gave her into your keeping because you had pledged to love her and keep her safe. Now this! You have made yourself a powerful enemy Stephanos. Heed what I say now, I will avenge Danijela!"
With that, Luka forced his way past a spellbound Stephanos and strode out into the night.
Stephanos roused himself from his musings of Danijela and Luka. He had failed one woman he had loved, he was not about to fail another. He had to remain focused on getting Marianna back, she had his heart. He could not dwell on the past and things that could be unchanged. He needed to be cool and calculating, not approach this in a hot-headed manner. He delved into his mind for remembrances of Luka and his habits.
His ears twitched, attuned for any unnatural sounds, his skin vibrated in the air around him seeking nuances and changes in his surroundings, his eyesight continuously searched the terrain below ceaselessly. He had been searching for hours. With the coming dawn, he knew he needed to go to ground soon or risk being burned. He decided that he would not return to the manor, but would bed down in the forest. He quickly created a force to open the earth to his aching body and he rested uneasily beneath the ground to wait. His heart thrumming with fear, he fell into a deep, trancelike sleep as the new day broke.
Kolya stirred in Pyotr's embrace. The lad had lavished him with love passionately throughout the night. And he had returned it with equal fervor. However he needed to rejoin the search, as pleasant as these past hours had been. Pyotr was watching him with apprehension. Kolya sighed. He is so young, untouched and doesn't understand all the events that have transpired. Kolya had to keep reminding himself. He eased back a bit and Pyotr immediately tightened his hold, throwing his arms around Kolya's neck in a death grip.
"Shhh, little one. I am overjoyed waking with you in my arms. But I cannot linger."
"Oh, Kolya! I feared you would hate me and I couldn't bear that." Pyotr wept softly against his neck.
Kolya was gentle. "No little one, I could never hate you. I am fond of you and I loved feeling you beneath me last night. It has been a long time since I felt so loved. For that I thank you. You have nothing to fear from me, my strong, handsome Pyotr. But I must go. I will return, I swear." He grabbed Pyotr's arms and tried to remove them.
Pyotr held on tight. "Kolya, please don't leave me. I am so alone. I want to remain with you. I promise I can be of use. Please don't leave me here."
Kolya prayed for patience. "Very well, little one. But know this, if you slow me down, I will leave you where you stand. I cannot waste another moment. If you betray me, I will deal with it immediately. My concerns right now are for Marianna. Her life is hanging in the balance. Don't make me make a choice you will not be able to live with." Kolya was deliberately gruff to drive home his point. Pyotr could only nod his head against Kolya's chest. "Very well, you may come."
Pyotr bounded up rapidly and started banking the fire and gathering provisions. He whistled for his sheep dog, whispering instructions to the intelligent animal who returned to his sentry post guarding the sheep. And then he went to relieve himself quickly. In under two minutes, he was standing trembling, but at attention in front of Kolya. Kolya nodded his approval. A last glance at the encampment with Pyotr grabbing the bedroll and they were off.
Marianna awoke chained to the wall of a small cottage. The weak light filtering through the window telling her it was late in the afternoon. She looked around in bewilderment, and then the lingering sting of pain in her cheek brought her situation to the fore once again. The floor beneath her was filthy, reminiscent with discarded scraps of food and other detritus. Her arm throbbed being chained above her, her raw wrist slack against the metal.
A loud snoring intruded. Ivan was sitting at the remnants of a table, his face resting on his forearms on the table, an empty flagon of wine before him. She made a moue of distaste at the sight of him, trying to discreetly scratch herself, feeling ants and who knew what else on her skin. She longed to bathe and relieve herself. Luka was nowhere in sight. She was loathe to deal with Ivan, choosing to remain quiet. A small dipper of water had been left for her and a pot to relieve herself.
As silently as the mice she was sure inhabited the place as well, she maneuvered herself over the chamber pot and quickly finished her business. She then slid it softly across the floor as far from her as possible. She knew her hair was straggling and starting to become matted. Her mouth and throat were dry and parched and her clothing was filthy. She was hungry and she longed for the comforts of Stephanos' arms around her once more. She missed him terribly.
Bringing the dipper to her lips she swallowed the rancid smelling water and couldn't stop. She soon emptied the cup, feeling her stomach revolt at the intrusion. She battled nausea for a few minutes, desperate to keep the water down and desperate not to wake Ivan. His smell permeated the room, adding to her nausea. She leaned her head back against the wall, taking shallow breaths to ease her suffering. It was small comfort. Tears formed in her emerald eyes and trickled down her cheeks unchecked. She held back the sobs, until it became too much and the dam broke.
Ivan jerked up immediately and wailed in pain at the crick in his neck. Rubbing it, he eyed Marianna malevolently and smacked his lips. Rubbing circulation back into his arms, he stood abruptly and seeing the chamber pot, stepped to it, unhooking his tattered trousers. Staring Marianna in the eye and despite her revulsion and shudder, he emptied his bladder in front of her, ignoring the spatter to his shoes and the bottoms of his pants. Holding his semi-flaccid member in his hand, he stroked it repeatedly. Proudly he waved the stiffening member in her face.
"Suck it, you little harlot. Give me what you gave Jagomirov. Do it now and do it freely or I will cram it down your throat. I want your lips around it. I want you to feel me in your mouth. Open now!" He made the last threatening step to a wide-eyed and defiant Marianna. Just before his tip would touch her mouth, she spat at it and him.
Ivan laughed evilly and rubbed her saliva over the tip. "Don't you know that you just made it easier for me? You are a fool, Marianna." Ivan continued to rub briefly then moved to her lips again. This time he grasped her hair and craned her neck back. "Open by God or I will beat you first and then take what I want from you!"
"Go to Hell Ivan. I will not submit to you!" Marianna spoke for the first time upon waking. Her voice was hoarse from the collar the night before and her sobbing. Ivan still held her hair, cruelly twisting it around his hand and yanked more. Her lips parted unwilling as she hissed with pain. He started to jam his manhood into her mouth. The added disgust, his repulsive smell, proved too much for Marianna's uneasy stomach. She gagged and choked and heaved. Ivan, disbelief in his eyes, hastened away, as Marianna leaned weakly forward so as not to soil her clothing further. Panting, holding one side, she cast Ivan a murderous stare.
"Now there is nothing to prevent me from having your mouth, wench." Ivan was triumphant in gloating. Striding back to her one moment, the next he was slamming against the wall and slumping to the floor. Luka standing impatiently over him.
"Attempt to touch her again, before I am ready for you to and I will kill you where you stand or where you snivel, Ivan. Your ineptness is overriding any usefulness I thought you to have. Stay down like the cur you are or I will strike you dead now! Heed my words. It is your last warning." Luka was magnificent in his rage, towering over the hunched Ivan. His caramel eyes shooting fire and brimstone. Satisfied with his message, he turned to an unbowed Marianna. He was pleased to see her spirit return after last night. Stepping to her, he extended a hand, gracefully assisting a wary Marianna in rising.
"My dear, I do so apologize for that lout and the accommodations. As much as you are a pawn to me, I do have manners and would not see you ill-treated. At least for the time being and as long as you comply with my wishes. We will be moving to my home shortly, this was but a place to rest and of course, to avoid Stephanos. But, there is a tub in the next room that you may use to bathe and I will have Ivan look for food while you bathe. I will stand guard, have no fear, he will not touch you." Luka spoke with assurance and Marianna unbent a moment to look gratefully at him, before remembering he was the reason she was here.
Being practical she accepted his offer with grace. "Thank you. I would like to bathe."
He smiled and it transformed his face, changing his ascetic features into a man of warmth and charm, however briefly it might have been. Marianna caught a glimpse of what he must have been like at another time in his life. He unshackled her wrist, and she immediately started to gently cradle it to her body carefully, to avoid hitting it with anything. Keeping her hand in his, he led her to the back room and out of Ivan's sight.
Ivan was furious! But he would bow to the creature's wishes for now until he could eradicate him from this earth. He no longer felt fortuitous in meeting Delacevic and he planned to right that as swiftly as possible. He staggered to his feet and made for the door, knowing that if he failed to return with food he was going to be doomed.
Luka concentrated a moment and soon steaming, soothing water was rising from the metal hip tub. He coaxed Marianna out of her clothing with the promise of fresh clothing and watched as she gracefully entered the bath. He had made it clear to her that he had no intentions of leaving the room and she was beyond caring at the moment. Sinking naked into the water, she let its healing restorative powers sway her further. She groaned in delight, feeling muscles ease for the first time in a day.
She bent forward in an attempt to thoroughly wet her hair. Startled, she felt Luka's fingers in her scalp as he encouraged her to be still. He then poured pitcher after pitcher of water over her hair. Picking up a scented bottle containing a soap mixture and wildflowers, he soon had her hair lathered. His fingers felt wonderful against her throbbing head. He soon had all pain fleeing. He then carefully rinsed her hair, pinned her hair haphazardly on her head, never saying a word to her during the entire process. He stepped away to give her privacy as she continued her bath.
Luka tried to be impassive, but in the light of the candles lit sporadically around the room, shadows of her movements were reflected on the barren walls. He felt his breath hitch and a twinge below. He reminded himself that it was not time! He must be patient! He could afford no mistakes, so in silence he suffered. Marianna remained oblivious. She extended a shapely calf slowly, enjoying the freedom of being able to do so. Balancing it on the edge of the tub, she luxuriated in smoothing soap over it, long, circulating strokes.
Every part she paid attention to, as Luka's discomfort increased which each moment that passed. When she realized she could not sufficiently reach her back, he gallantly stepped forward despite his misgivings. Grasping the bar of soap from her suddenly nerveless fingers, he concentrated on keeping his breathing even. She leaned forward, crossing her arms over her chest in embarrassment. Luka found the gesture to be quaint, but still said nothing. He finished quickly, not quite trusting himself, especially as her skin was satiny and pliant beneath his busy fingers. Giving her a final rinse, he backed away more quickly this time. His fingers still tingling from touching her so intimately and his mind humming with possibilities that he quickly discarded. He turned his back as she rose from the tub, reaching for the towel left there for her.
He heard her movements, stepping carefully from the tub, the briskness with which she dried herself, her breathing, her soft mewl of pleasure at donning fresh clothing, all designed to drive him mad in that moment. He tried breathing slowly and evenly, shifting uncomfortably from side to side. He dug his nails into his palms, palms that were itching to have her flesh beneath them once more. He even reviewed his plan of attack against Stephanos, all in the vain hope of dispatching his rising ardor. He gritted his teeth and stormed from the room abruptly.
Marianna glanced up startled by his swift exit. She heard something smash against the wall in the next room. Wondering at his outburst, she hastened her efforts to be dressed. It was a simple costume of a peasant blouse and skirt. There were even clean under linens to lie closest to her skin. Rolling the stockings in place, she slipped her feet into the sturdy shoes left to her. She sighed with relief at being clean, unwinding her hair to take a brush to it. Stepping closer to the small fire burning in the grate, she sank to her knees to untangle the mass.
She never felt him reenter the room, until he placed his hand over hers to remove the brush from her fingers. He patiently worked it through, starting at the crown and brushing to the end, her drying curls tormenting his knuckles, but he kept on. Luka was back under control, but barely. He would see this through to the end. Which end at the moment was debatable, but he found he was enjoying her company despite the circumstances. He hadn't expected that, but would relish his time with her. Not forgetting his mission, but setting it aside for the moment, he stroked repetitively.
Surging from the earth, Stephanos quickly found whatever forest animals were around to slake his thirst. It was not what he craved, but he had no time to seek out human flesh. Ravenous, he barely fed enough to sustain him. His ears pricked at heavier noises than he thought natural. Thinking it to be a bear or boar, he was pleased to see Kolya, Zoya, Kirill and one of the peasants who had been with Ivan at his doorstep earlier in the week. He raised an eyebrow at this, but would wait patiently to be introduced.
Kolya sensing his need, quickly went to his master to offer himself to him. Stephanos drank what he could from Kolya, quickly sealing his flesh and thrusting him from him. Pyotr was astonished at this. Sensing that Stephanos was not done, he bravely stepped forward, hoping that Stephanos would not drain him. Stephanos sensed his trepidation, but took what was offered. His mouth was singing as the fluid transferred itself to him. He stopped when he knew Pyotr had given him his all and gently swiped his tongue over the sight. Pyotr stepped back in relief. He was a little dizzy from the experience, but still breathing. Stephanos felt sated enough to speak.
He clasped Kolya to his breast hugging him tight. "My friend, it is good to see you and standing whole. I could use your skills at tracking and bringing Zoya and Kirill, a stroke of genius." Releasing Kolya, he affectionately patted each wolfhound in turn as they lapped his fingers with their tongues. Kirill woofed his affection for his master, Zoya swished her tail.
Kolya nodded once at his praise. "I brought along Pyotr, as he is willing to help us, Master. He has some knowledge of Ivan's mind and I thought it would be useful to have him as an ally." Kolya stared his master straight in the eye saying this. Stephanos sensed an underlying current of something else that he could not put his finger on at the moment, but let it pass in their need to find Marianna. He knew Kolya would speak with him privately when the first opportunity presented itself. He nodded slightly in Pyotr's direction, accepting what Kolya said. Pyotr expelled his pent up breath.
"Good. Let's go over what we know and then formulate our plan from there." Getting down to business, Stephanos listened to first Kolya, then Pyotr. Once they felt all the available information was expressed openly, Stephanos was thoughtful for a moment. "All right. My guess is that Luka and Ivan, if they are using this Goran's cottage will not remain there long. Ivan knows that Pyotr knows of the place and knowing Luka, he wouldn't risk staying long. He's cunning and he wants vengeance. He is not going to be easy to surprise. I think he will make his way to his fortress, but having both Ivan and Marianna will slow him down. So, we head for the village of Cavtat. He has the advantage of a head start, but I remember where he lives." Stephanos said in a deadly tone. He was looking forward to a confrontation with his old nemesis. He hated that Marianna was involved, but there was an old score to settle.