Feast or Famine? Ch. 11byathena_by_night©
As the hours of the night grew long, everyone kept vigil by Pyotr's bedside. Irina had reheated her soup and they had eaten their fill. Luka and Nadia rejoined them finally, looking slightly disheveled but everyone kept his or her comments to themselves. The two kept exchanging heated glances, but kept their hands and lips to themselves. Stephanos looked up from his thoughts and pierced Luka with his gaze.
Luka understanding what was implied and gave an almost imperceptible nod. He bowed his head for a moment to gather his thoughts, knowing that he was going to reveal a wealth of pain that he had kept inside lo these many years. He had tortured himself with the knowledge that he had failed Danijela. And he knew that what he revealed now would cause Stephanos pain as well. He had been in such disbelief over what Danijela had whispered in her final moments, that he had blocked that knowledge from his mind. It was only through Stephanos' intervention hours ago that he fully realized the events of that long ago night.
He didn't know how he was going to say what he had to, nor did he know how anyone would react to this information. He prayed that Nadia and Marianna would help both of them heal and deal with the grief of betrayal. For that was what this was going to be. Betrayal of the worst kind. Mentally he had tried to prepare himself and the rest of them for that betrayal. Part of the reason he had pulled Nadia aside was to draw strength from her for the task ahead. Sighing once and looking them all in the eyes, he started his tale.
"This is what Danijela revealed to me..."
Eighty years ago...
"I arrived at your doorstep Stephanos, to find that it had been pummeled open, almost torn off its hinges. Kolya was unconscious and bound, a large gash on the side of his forehead and Danijela had been beaten and there was blood all over her clothing. She was just before dying..." Luka started crying as the images replayed themselves in his mind, as was Stephanos. Everyone else was paying rapt attention.
"I flew to Danijela's side and gathered her into my arms. Her eyelids fluttered open and she tried to speak. It was so hard for her, Stephanos, so hard. One of her eyes was almost swollen shut and blackened. There were bruises forming around her throat, almost as if she were wearing a necklace and it appeared as though her windpipe was crushed. Tears were streaming from the corners of her eyes, leaking down the sides of her cheeks and disappearing into her hair. God, she was like a broken doll! Her nails were torn and bloody, she had fought like a wildcat. Her clothing was in disarray. She had been horribly attacked." Nadia had wrapped her arms around Luka and they were all crying now at what he was disclosing.
"She tried to sit up, but she couldn't manage it. Some of her ribs were broken and one of her arms. Still she tried to lift her hand to my cheek. She sobbed more when she realized that she couldn't. She had pain everywhere, there wasn't one part of her that wasn't tormented and either beaten or broken. I tried to get her to hush, not to speak, try to conserve her energy, anything. But as you know, she was so stubborn Stephanos." Both men smiled briefly at the other, a flicker of humor overshadowing their shared grief for a moment. "Oh Lord, was she stubborn. She said that earlier in the evening she had fought with you and terrible things were said by her, but that she didn't mean them, Stephanos. She wanted you to know that she was sorry."
Luka looked up again. "I am so sorry, Stephanos. I was so enraged by Danijela's death, that I couldn't tell you what she said. I know I was wrong. That was the last I remembered of that night, until you used your healing light earlier on me."
"Luka, I bear no grudge against you for your actions. I love you as I always have." Stephanos spoke in a heartfelt voice as he captured Luka's gaze.
"Thank you, Stephanos. I love you as a brother. I always have. It was just buried under my guilt and anger. And as much as I am sorry for taking Marianna, and would not have caused either of you pain, it has helped us arrive at this point. For that, I am not sorry." Stephanos quietly rose from his seat by Marianna to go hug Luka. They stayed liked that for a minute. Once their hug was over, Luka continued his tale.
"Danijela then said that she was crossing the foyer when the door was knocked off its hinges practically. Standing before her was..."
At that moment, Pyotr stirred. His pain glazed eyes opened and Marianna rushed to his side, as Kolya took up his hand once more. She nodded once in satisfaction, finding that the fever had broken. They both helped Pyotr to sit up a bit on the pillows and Nadia brought over some of the healing broth for him. While everyone was impatient at finally finding out what happened to Danijela, they kept that from Pyotr. He glanced around in confusion.
"What happened?" He breathed his voice raspy.
Kolya eased himself over on the bed and gently embraced Pyotr, his head resting on Kolya's chest.
"My love, you were attacked by Ivan. He is no more. The hounds and I dispatched him to the sea. You have had a fever and have been unconscious since last night. Oh, I feared for your life! I prayed and I wept and I stayed by your side."
Kolya hugged him a little more fiercely to him. He was not prepared to tell Pyotr how he had broken down, nor how he had tried to will himself to death, thinking Pyotr had gone to his. Not yet anyway. None of the others would say anything either. What happened between the lovers was going to be kept that way. Over Pyotr's head, Kolya blinked his eyes in silent acknowledgement of the service they did him now. He still had to work through his own shame over his breakdown in the face of Pyotr's life-threatening injuries. But there would be time enough for that.
Everyone fussed for a few minutes more, while Nadia kept her eyes and thoughts trained on Luka. He smiled when everyone else did, but she knew it cost him. It was evident in his slumped posture and in the nervous tic that appeared by his left eye. Knowing that he was not anxious to continue his tale, but that he would continue it nevertheless. Her vampire was an honorable man, a courageous man. She had known this for a long time and she would stand with him through whatever lay before them. He was her heart.
Marianna was equally concerned for Stephanos. He wasn't as obviously distressed as Luka appeared, but he was clearly struggling for his composure as well. She had no feelings of jealousy for the deceased Danijela and the shared feelings between the two. She knew that Stephanos was hers. And he had to know that she was his. She stroked his cheek to let him know that she was there and he clasped his hand over hers, letting her know that he was with her in all things.
Once they were all calm again and Pyotr was well attended by Kolya, Luka resumed.
Eighty years ago...
"Standing before her was Dragan..."
Kolya let out a gasp, Stephanos looked thunderstruck, Luka nodded sadly.
Stephanos felt as though his soul had been brutalized and his heart wrenched from his chest. Dragan! Why would he do such a thing? How could his mentor deceive him so horribly? He looked at Luka with wounded eyes, waiting to hear what he had to say next.
Eighty-five years ago
Dragan had been visiting Luka for a period of time. He said that he was there to assist and observe Luka in his skills training, but he had a darker reason. He wanted Danijela. He had timed his visit to coincide with her arrival for one of her infrequent visits from school. Having picked up the knowledge of her impending arrival from Luka six months before, he bided his time.
For some time he had formulated how he was going to broach the topic with Luka. He knew that he had to be careful of the fledgling vampire, known for his quick temper and precision with the rapier. He also knew that he desired her above all others. So, he was calculating. He was attentive to her, but not overly so. He would solicit her opinion on financial matters; he would take to spending his evenings in the library with her conversing about an assortment of topics. But while she didn't outright snub him, she really paid him no mind. He seethed inwardly at her soft speeches about frivolities and her indifference to him.
One night he had started to declare himself to her and in her pretty way she had rejected him. Irate at her refusals, he had taken himself off, vowing silently to himself that he would one day make her pay. No one, no one treated him as she dared to do! No one! His vanity and pride in shreds with her insouciant repartee.
Luka didn't understand why Dragan abruptly left his hospitality. And Danijela in her defense hadn't realized the seriousness of his intentions towards her or her offense to him in the denial of her affections. She didn't think to mention it to Luka. For she was but sixteen at the time and as young girls are wont to do, she was more interested in fashion and gossip than considering the feelings of men.
Eighty years ago...
"My darling brother, Luka, I didn't know! How could I?" Danijela was trying to make Luka understand in relaying what had happened five years previously.
"Oh Danijela, you weren't at fault. You were young and innocent, as you still are. And you had declared yourself to Stephanos when you were eight. Dragan didn't know this and Stephanos and I had laughed at the time about your thoughts on the matter. Not to hurt you dearling, never that. Just that you have always been impetuous and impatient. But you quickly turned the tables on us recently. And I was so very glad to see Stephanos return your love." Luka brushed a gentle hand through Danijela's locks.
"I am sorry Luka..."
"You have nothing to apologize or be ashamed of Danijela. Dragan should never ever have done that! And for that I will seek my revenge on him!"
"Luka, please! You will find yourself dead! And that I could not bear!" Danijela was weaker now in her speech, barely holding onto life.
"You must promise me that you will not seek vengeance! I beg of you!" Her pleading was falling on deaf ears, as Luka crooned tunelessly to her, trying to halt her ramblings. Her eyes started to glaze over as she succumbed further to her wounds. He didn't even need to hear the details of what Dragan had done to her. The evidence was before his eyes. And he damned the vampire to all eternity for bringing such a vibrant life to an end.
Danijela knew that the last of her breath was leaving her body. It was harder and harder to breath with her crushed lung and little droplets of blood were starting to aspirate from her mouth. Her feet and hands had been cold for sometime now, numb. She shivered as she lay in Luka's arms. She was having trouble focusing on his beautiful face and she knew that she wouldn't live to see Stephanos' lovely face again either. She regretted that their parting words had been ones of anger and that she was leaving his side forever, something that she had recently promised she would never do. She made one last attempt to speak.
"I love you and I love Stephanos. Please remember that. I go to my death loving you both. No reprisals. I don't want..." And with that Danijela passed from the life she knew to one that was only spoken of in hushed whispers and with reverence.
Luka pulled her lifeless body harder to his chest, weeping over her, as her body grew even colder in his arms. He rocked with her like that for a long time. He didn't notice when Kolya woke up, he didn't notice the passing of time, and he didn't notice the cold that was permeating the house through the opened door. He didn't notice when the things Danijela had revealed to him started to slip from his conscious mind. But he knew pain. A deep keening pain that overtook his soul. And as he sat there with her, the bitterness of her passing caused his heart to harden against Stephanos. Stephanos was the cause, the root, he had destroyed Danijela.
"I am sorry Stephanos. This knowledge of Dragan and his evil misdeeds became a blank in my mind." Luka fell back against the chaise, exhausted from the revelations.
Everyone wept at the manner of Danijela's death. Copious tears and gasping breaths at the betrayal of Dragan. Especially as Dragan had continued to be a part of Stephanos and Luka's lives. As he had tried to broker a peace between them, imploring one then the other alternately to sit down and repair their relationship. Dragan was responsible for the rift, the breech and he had never said anything.
"Why? I don't understand! How could Dragan have betrayed us so?" Stephanos wailed from the bottom of his abdomen. "He has been our teacher, our guide, our mentor. How could he betray that friendship, the loyalty in which we have served him all this time?"
"I know not my friend. I do know that I wish that I had not blocked this. I do know that I wish that I had never impugned you. I do know that I regret my behavior deeply."
"Ah Luka, you are not the one who has wronged our friendship! That was Dragan! I see that very clearly. And he shall pay for this. If nothing else is to come about, he shall pay for what he has done." Stephanos growled low in his throat.
The rest of the night passed with plans being hatched for the eventual demise of Dragan. Near dawn, everyone stumbled off to their respective beds, still without a final denouement agreed upon. But there was time. Especially as Dragan had no way of knowing what had occurred in the past week. He had announced to both Luka and Stephanos separately that he was off to France for a year about three months ago. They knew that they would have an opportunity to prepare for the coming battle. And with that knowledge they would plot to destroy their mentor, they were united once more with a common goal. There was time...
I would like to take this opportunity to thank all my friends out there in Lit and in life who offered suggestions, constructive feedback and ideas that made this story possible. You have been a guiding and driving force in what I have achieved with this story and I couldn't have done it without your support. You all in essence were my mentors and I ultimately wrote some parts of this with you in mind. Any liberties that I took with established lore, and historical accuracy or inaccuracy were done with deliberation. I came to love all of these characters.....well, with some notable exceptions and they all had their own quirks and imperfections, but that is what in my eyes makes them great. I hope you have enjoyed reading this series as much as I have done in creating it. And in case you missed it, I left a cliffhanger! LOL