Feast or Famine? Ch. 06byathena_by_night©
This chapter is a labor of love and of collaboration, I could not have done it without my family...thank you for giving me excellent suggestions and helping beef up this chapter. Thank you for all your input in transforming this into a wonderful reading. Also for your comments, which spur me on to greater heights, knowing you love these characters as much or more than I do. Your time and patience with a fretful author is duly noted and well received. I love your support and I adore you all...
Luka brought the quivering horse to a shuddering standstill in front of his imposing manor house. The horse snorted wildly, his breath evident in the icy night air, tossing his mane in displeasure at being out on such a night. Luka leapt off its back and dragged Marianna into his arms, heading for the open portal. Aleksandr was there awaiting his Master. Marianna's face was pressed against his throat and her short pants of breath were distracting him. Warm tendrils of desire coursed through his veins, heating his blood and pooling into the very center of his being. How he wished she would press her lips there, just once. But he knew that even then it would not be enough. It had been a long time since he had felt the stirrings of his loins for one such as her. Oh how he wished he had found her before Jagomirov! Of all the damnable luck he lamented in frustration.
"Aleksandr! Keep the door unbarred and prepare for the imminent arrival of Jagomirov! I am going to deposit this lovely one and will return quickly. And take care of the horse please. He is a good mount." Luka strode towards his study that was facing the imposing entryway. He set Marianna down on a plush chair and cast one slender wrist into the restraint on its side by the banked fire. He carefully tucked a small throw blanket over her trembling body. He stepped back, masking the edgy desire she had stirred. She looked at him in confusion and supplication.
"I am sorry, my sweet Marianna. I cannot attend or accommodate you more than this. I will send Irina in with some water and wine. Please try to be comfortable in my absence. I will return shortly." Luka whispered, brushing the hair off her face and traced a lone finger over her soft cheek. He turned abruptly keeping the door open to the hall, leaving her bewildered and more than a little bereft. Surprised at her thoughts, she sat contemplating their meaning.
She found that despite the circumstances, she liked the man. He had frightened her, protected her, cared for her in turn and she was beginning to believe he had no instincts towards hurting her. Her puzzlement was in that she loved Stephanos; there was no question of that or where her loyalties lay. But neither of them did she want hurt. She was a mass of confusion over all the events that had so recently transpired. She tugged futilely for a moment at the restraint and then sat to wait. There was nothing else she could do however much she wished it was not so. She tried remembering all the actions that had occurred since yesterday. And try as she might to conjure up any ill feeling for Luka there was none there. Despite their initial meeting and her subjugation to him with the collar, he had protected her from Ivan, and for that she was grateful. She knew he did not have to, but had done so anyway. And he had behaved with honor towards her.
She worried her bottom lip unconsciously, seeking out details. It had been an exercise Stephanos had had her practice, to become more aware of her surroundings. At first they had been small scenarios, but she had been working with larger settings before her captivity. That was one of the reasons she had persuaded Kolya to take her to the glade. She had wanted to surprise Stephanos with her practice. No use ruminating over what could not be changed. She only hoped she could broker a peace between them.
The elegantly appointed study was well suited to the man. Dark cherry wood formed strong moldings and crowns. The contrasting wallpaper in a muted moss green was interrupted with bookshelves that lined the walls. The mantle of the fire place was a creamy off white on which two candelabras rested with their cheering light. A portrait of what must have been Danijela graced the wall facing his cherry desk, where a ledger lay open. And in the picture she was holding a bouquet of wildflowers, her hair streaming around her and a look of wonder in her eyes as she smiled down on Marianna. So very young and so very full of life. Marianna sighed with heavy knowledge of what sadness had gone on since for the loss of one so lovely and full of life. Luka seemed to only half live his life in the present, mired as he was in his grief over the past.
A slight knock at the open doorway and a serving woman entered. She was apple cheeked and smiling hesitantly, her soft blue eyes offering kindness. She had a slight limp as she walked and an apron was tied around her ample waist. She approached Marianna carefully and set the tray of drinks within easy reach. She curtsied and was hurrying away when Marianna spoke.
"Thank you. Irina, is it?"
"Yes, Miss. It is."
"Irina, please sit with me by the fire. I would that you chat with me a moment." Marianna was thinking to learn something more of Luka, in hopes of finding an opening she could use to avert disaster. The comforts of his home she catalogued in her mind and more of his personality and bearing was what she sought now. She was trying to use all of her senses to get a clearer picture of this tormented man and the grief he struggled with. His kindnesses towards her in deep contrast to his embittered feelings of Stephanos. She longed to know more of what happened that fateful night that caused Danijela's death and the rift between the dark beings.
Irina eyed her warily. "But Miss, this I cannot do."
"Please Irina. I am weary and long to talk with a woman. I mean you no harm. I would welcome your company. " Marianna pleaded.
"Very well, Miss. No tricks." Irina sat awkwardly on the companion chair to Marianna's. She eyed the restraint with dismay, but said nothing of it. The ways of her Master still so mysterious to her even after all these years. She crossed herself in silent supplication that he would be well taken care of in his quest.
"No tricks, Irina. And please call me Marianna. Thank you for sitting with me as I know you are busy. I have not had a good chat in a long while with a woman and I have missed it dreadfully. Have you worked for Count Luka a long time?"
"Mistress Marianna, Aleksandr and I arrived shortly after our marriage twenty years ago. The master is good and kind to us and we provide for him the best we can." Irina puffed up at saying this. She was hesitant to say more than this, but was drawn to the lovely young woman seated so proudly in front of her even in dire straits. There was a fire and passion in Marianna that reminded her of her only child, Nadia.
"Do you have any children, Irina? I am sorry if that's personal, if you tell me that, I won't ask." Marianna was trying to find a way to ease into the conversation she really intended to have with the timid Irina.
Irina brightened further. "Yes, I have a daughter, Nadia. She is away at school, the master insisted. He says she is intelligent and he would that she explores her mind. I miss her terribly. But I know it's for the best. The master would never hurt her and only wants the best for her, he loves her. She will be home soon though for good, until she marries."
Marianna pondered this information and felt she had found her opening. "You say that Count Luka loves her?"
Irina realized she had misspoken, but it was too late to correct. Standing up stiffly, she bowed to Marianna and left the room abruptly. Irina was hoping for a match between her Nadia and Count Luka, she just knew they were made for each other. They were a striking couple to behold. Luka's eyes would follow Nadia's movements when she wasn't looking. But she was not privy to his thoughts and Nadia could be a strong-willed girl. She hurried from the room, praying that Luka would survive this night of mayhem and chaos as Nadia was due home soon and then what needed to be seen to would be seen to.
Marianna was sorry for Irina's withdrawal, but this was certainly information worth puzzling over. She wasn't sure she had the right of it, but perhaps... She relaxed her shoulders into the cushion of the chair and considered what she could do with this new knowledge.
Luka moved with grace after a quick bath, even though he was aware the situation was going to quickly turn explosive soon. He had needed the time to reflect on what he planned to do. His unbidden thoughts of Marianna's loveliness had caused him to make allowances that could have deadly consequences for him. He needed the time away to coalesce his thinking and keep his objectives in mind. And he felt a twinge of remorse that he would be so moved by her, when he knew his Nadia was making her way back to him. She didn't know it yet, but he planned to declare himself and hoped that she would have him. Now he was befuddled by his reaction to Marianna. As if he needed more headaches. Blast!
He changed into tight fitting breeches with polished knee boots and donned a white shirt, open throated at the neck, lace cascading down the front. He didn't bother with a vest or coat, but did attach his sword and scabbard to his side. He bound his hair carelessly with a cerulean velvet ribbon. It had been Danijela's favorite color and it made him feel closer to her somehow. He was heartsick over the loss of the locket and would return to the glade to find it after dealing with Stephanos. Striding from the room he went to check on Aleksandr and the preparations they had discussed before he ventured to his room.
Arriving in the entranceway once more, he looked around in satisfaction. He had wanted to lure Stephanos to his home for a long time. So no boards had been used to cover the windows, the front door was unlocked. The preparations for a repast had been completed. He planned to dine well and lavishly once he had dispensed with him. And Luka was hoping to keep Stephanos further off balance by seeming insouciant and very very offhand. His lips twitching, he awaited his expected guest.
Stephanos reined the horse in a short distance from Delacevic's dwelling. He knew that there was a sheer drop to the roiling sea below on two sides, so his approach would either have to be from the front or the right of the entrance. Memories flooded his mind once more of their earlier companionship as he tried to remember the interior of the house.
Ninety years ago...
Bursting through the front doorway, the two friends clasped each other on the back. The race that had ended at Luka's doorstep had been a tie. They laughed and exchanged ribald jokes as good friends are wont to do. They were returning from a night of carousing and had stumbled across two lithesome beauties who had satiated their needs for a bit of gold and some food. Little did they realize that they also had given some of their life's blood to sustain the two vampires.
Just reaching their majority at twenty-five, they felt that the world was theirs for the taking. And they were still reeling from their experiences from six months ago. That was when an aged vampire had found them on a night similar to this. And he had made them his. Having been in fear of their lives, they were grateful to still be breathing. And being young men, they were not done sowing wild oats.
Stephanos smiled indulgently at these memories, but he needed to be focused on more recent events. Sighing heavily, he returned to the time three months before Danijela's death.
Eighty years ago...
Stephanos had been invited by Luka to come visit. The two friends had not seen each other for two years, both busy with their holdings and in learning more of the ancient art of vampirism. Each had overseen the other's property for a period of time while they were undergoing tutelage from their master, Dragen and were going to renew their friendship and celebrate the return of Danijela, Luka's sister. She had been away at school for the last twelve years, she was but a young girl the last time Stephanos had seen her. But he remembered her as if it were yesterday. She would follow them around like a puppy, if they let her. All before their respective transformations, so there was apprehension in her receptiveness for both of them.
Danijela had been nine the year they were made. A late marriage for Luka's father had produced her. She had had cornsilk blonde hair and a gap toothed smile. On the last day before she left for school, she had announced her intentions of marrying Stephanos, much to their amusement, but not hers. She had had a quietly serious expression when she said it. Stephanos had trod very carefully, bowing to her hand and thanking her for the compliment. He then had vanished into the interior of the house, not to be seen again until after she had left.
He was looking forward to seeing the young woman she had become. He hoped she had outgrown what he hoped was her passing fancy with him. Bounding up the steps, he lifted the knocker twice and waited patiently for it to be opened. He was ushered in quickly by Luka's butler. He handed him his gloves and hat and was in the process of removing his coat when he heard a light step on the stairs.
Glancing up at a soft noise, his heart stopped beating for a moment. Descending slowly was the most gorgeous creature coming down towards him. Her hair was artfully arranged to expose her swan like neck, her vivid sherry colored eyes were fixed on his, and her lips were curved into a coy smile. She was elegantly turned out in a shimmering gown of the lightest butter yellow nipping in at her waist and leaving the tops of her bosom exposed to his feasting eyes, kid slippers gracing her feet and she was showing a bit of ankle with each descent. Stephanos reached up a finger to adjust his collar, the only sign that he was disturbed by her loveliness and by the unbidden surge of desire for his friend's sister. He cleared his throat in an attempt to regain control.
She glided over to him, extending her fingers, which he gladly clasped and brought swiftly to his lips. Danijela laughed, remembering that was the last gesture he had show her when she was nine. She parted her lips at the bare brush of his lips against her flesh and waited from him to finish his bow.
"Danijela, you are lovely. There is no sign of the mischievous imp chasing us around. It is good to see you."
"My dear Count Stephanos, I am not that girl anymore. I would hope I am more refined than that." Her musical voice wafted to his ears and he welcomed it. He felt a tightening in his chest at the mere touch of her fingers in his.
"Come to the study. Luka said he would join us momentarily. In my impatience, I left him to finish giving instructions to Irina for dinner." Stephanos willing followed her to the study, careful to keep his eyes on her neck and not her swaying hips, but it was difficult. He adjusted his collar once again.
Danijela turned unexpectedly then and launched herself into Stephanos' arms. He had no choice but to catch her. She turned her face to his shoulder and hugged him tight. Stephanos could feel the outline of her body pressed to his, and knew that it was indelibly printed on his mind. He gently eased her arms from around his neck after embracing her briefly and setting her before him once more.
"I've missed you Stephanos! I know that is gauche and girlish, but it's true. I have counted the time until we would be reunited. I'm sorry!" She covered her mouth taking a step backwards.
"Please don't be, Danijela. I...have missed you as well. I hadn't realized how much." Stephanos was surprised to hear himself mouth this, as he had been intending to say something vastly different. He would not retract it, especially as her eyes lit up even further and her lips parted again. Gallantly, he tucked her small hand into the crook of his elbow and saw her safely ensconced on a small divan. He grabbed a small aperitif, returning to her side and bowing as he handed it to her.
Luka joined them then, devilishly handsome in his own right. They conversed for a time until it was dinner. Then they moved to the dining room and continued their conviviality. Luka was perplexed by the undercurrents and glances between his sister and his friend, but chalked it up to their renewing acquaintances. Further into the evening he was bemused, realizing he was witnessing that the both of them were falling in love at the table.
In the days that followed, Luka gave them his blessings. Stephanos and the newly arrived Danijela had only returned to his home for a week before tragedy had struck. Stephanos had not seen Luka with his promises of retribution since that terrible night.
In his mind, Stephanos had revisited the house as he had his memories. He was prepared to go forth and rescue Marianna. Knowing that Luka would be waiting, he strode up to the front door and kicked it in, in one burst of supernatural strength. Luka stood at the far side of the entranceway, not startled in the least by his forceful entrance. Marianna had been moved there as well with a soft rag covering her mouth. Her eyes were huge and they tugged at Stephanos seeing her there bound, drinking in the sight of his love in the fiend's clutches.
"Well met, Stephanos. Good of you to join us." Mockingly Luka gave a short bow, never taking his eyes off of Stephanos. His hand hovering over the sword, not quite touching it. His reflection cast in shadows on the wall, dancing merrily with the lit hallway.
"Luka! I swear by all that's holy if you have harmed one hair of Marianna's head..." Despite his roiling emotions at facing his old friend, Stephanos was cool in his delivery, a deadly note evident in his speech. He was fingering the cameo, threading it between his fingers, ensuring that Luka saw it there. Winding it around his fingers, caressing the velvet, mocking in return.
Pretending to be unperturbed by seeing the familiar treasure and choking his unmitigated rage back inside, Luka merely shrugged. "My dear Stephanos come come. My scorn and anger are reserved for you, not this dear, sweet child. I must tell you that her flesh is succulent, supple and so very tasty." Luka brushed a seemingly careless hand through Marianna's tresses. Marianna was horrified by his comment and tried to project to Stephanos the untruth of his words.
Enraged, Stephanos flew at Luka, who took to the air coming at him with swift vengeance. They clashed in the middle of the room, grappling in hand to hand combat. It would seem they had all but forgotten their swords as they slashed at each other with bitter claws, talons extended. They raged for what seemed like hours, neither giving an inch, both holding onto their resentments and fueling their hatred with the contact. With hissing and snarling, they gnawed at the cold dish of revenge with hot passions stoked vehemently.
In the clutches of Luka, Stephanos pressed the heel of his hand to his rival's chin, strongly but slowly, forcing his head back to keep it at bay. Knowing Luka could easily tear into his flesh with his fangs, ending this feud quickly. Luka grasped his throat abruptly, plowing his clenched fist into his midsection strongly. It sent the man sailing through the air, where he landed with an impressive crash on the far side of the room. The room thundered with the resounding force of the impact. The wall he had landed against shook, a crack edging its way diagonally from the foundation towards the ceiling. Stunned for only a moment, Stephanos shook it off as he gathered himself up off the floor he had sunk to. He was suddenly struck again, being forced to the wall once more, by an angry growling Luka. The two of them resumed their fight once more. Blow after blow ripping at flesh that slowly healed as the fight stormed on.