Feast or Famine? Ch. 08byathena_by_night©
Luka took a final, last shuddering breath and releasing it slowly, he wiped his cheeks with his fingertips. Nadia removed the handkerchief tucked in her bodice and gently dried his initial grief away. He smiled down at her pleased with the intimacy of the gesture. He reached out to stroke her hair for the first time, the strands glistening as they slipped through his fingers. Throwing caution to the wind, he grasped a fistful and brought his lips to hers, forcefully, powerfully the first time, all his pent up passion communicating itself to her soft yielding lips. He was all masculine satisfaction at the soft moans that emanated in her throat from his embrace. Her body started to mold itself to his when Stephanos ahemmed to gain their attention.
Luka looked up to see the dancing amusement in Stephanos' eyes. He shrugged. He was not sorry he had done that. Especially as Nadia was breathlessly looking up at him with such adoration. He felt alive for the first time in a long time. From his vantage point, he could see Irina and Aleksandr beaming at the couple, as they returned from the kitchen, carrying in the savory soup to be served soon enough. Marianna had her arm wrapped around Stephanos's, her head resting on his shoulder. She looked content. She was the first to break the quiet.
"My Lords Luka and Stephanos, I am sorry for your loss. The loss of Danijela and the loss of the intervening years of shared grief and friendship. She was truly beautiful, if her portrait is anything to go by. Such innocence and mischievousness alive in her face. Despite how this has come about, how can it be a bad thing now? You have much to grieve still." Marianna bowed her head reverently, in a show of respect for the dead and the grieving. Stephanos just pulled her closer to his side.
"My dear, as much as I wish to clear the air, right now all I want to do is hold you tight. You belong to me. I belong to you. And searching for you has only reinforced to me that you are mine for all eternity. Luka, if you can bear waiting one more night, before we attempt to make sense of long ago events, I would be most grateful."
Stephanos was still haughty in manner, but Luka recognized the gleam in his eye. And did think to goad his old friend a bit, but thought better of it. After everything he had put them all through, could he deny this request? No, he couldn't, especially as a small bundle was squirming in his arms. She commanded his attention. Her flushed, upturned face, her sparkling eyes, her Cupid's bow mouth pink and soft, all commanded his attention.
"Stephanos, your eagerness shows you for the rogue you are! Have Aleksandr show you to your room. And immerse yourself in pleasures; I care not at the moment. I would that I share a drink with Nadia." This time, when he waved his hand carelessly, it was a brotherly gesture of forgiveness. Stephanos quickly bowed in his direction and moved with Marianna to the doorway leading to the hall.
As they walked hand and hand through the portal, both Marianna and Stephanos stopped to take in its grandeur. The ceiling was vaulted and had a huge fresco of scantily clad nymphs cavorting at a small pool, with grinning cherubs strumming balalaikas. At the highest point, a thin chain dropped from the ceiling to a great chandelier that was lit with a thousand candles or so. Marianna admired the gleaming brass that cupped each candle and caused the hall to glow. The wainscoting was a dark ash, relieved by the alternating striped damask wallpaper of creamy white and maroon. A large coat of arms hung on the back wall depicting a mountain cat and raven battling for supremacy and the inscription of "Honor between Men" was an apt one. An old suit of armor, well worn and dented, had a place of pride in the great hall. Marianna ooh'd and aah'd her way to the bottom of the stairs, wondering over distance battles and honor above all else. Aleksandr patiently waited for them there.
Marianna slid her hand over the banister that matched the wainscoting. Its satiny finish caressed her fingertips as she trailed behind Aleksandr. She had a firm grip that tightened, the further they glided up. Glancing out of the corner of her eye, she saw Stephanos take an indrawn breath and his eyes dropped to her décolletage. She just knew he was thinking of other places for her hand to have a firm grip. A knowing smile curved her lips, as Stephanos tried to hurry her movements by placing an encouraging hand under her elbow.
But she was not fooled. He meant to stake his claim properly, lovingly, and for a goodly while. Just to tease him a bit, she stopped on the stairs to look at the family portraits that lined the damask covered wall. Generations of Delacevics stared down at her from their perches. All with saturnine, ascetic features. She could see where Luka got his looks. Stephanos lingered but a moment, before sweeping a laughing Marianna up into his arms. She can stop no more! He thought grimly. If I do not have her soon....
Just as the couple reached the balcony of the second floor, the front door burst open with a thundering crash. Glancing down, they saw Kolya cradling Pyotr in his arms. Both were pale and Pyotr appeared dead. Kolya, tears streaming down his cheeks, looked helplessly at Stephanos, as he sank to his knees with his precious cargo. The door continued to be caught on the swirling winds and repeated its rampage against the interior. Rain swept in and drenched the entrance, leaves danced ghoulishly as if in mirth over Pyotr's fate. Zoya and Kirill panted and stood guard over the fallen figures. Luka, Nadia and Irina rushed from the dining room. With piteously frightened eyes, Kolya looked at all of them and said, "Help me!"
His words released the startled trance everyone had been laboring under. Both vampires raced to Kolya's side. Aleksandr barred the door and Irina ran for bandages and the makings of a poultice. Nadia bounded up the stairs to Marianna, who had raced into a bedroom looking for blankets. Gently grasping the unconscious Pyotr from the limp fingers of Kolya, they swiftly brought him to the dining room. With a careless thought, Luka swept the table clean of glasses, plates, cutlery, flower bowls and anything else that was in his way. Irina tsked tsked him, as she dumped the medicinal supplies and ran for the broom. Gently, so gently the vampires laid Pyotr on his side.
Stephanos probed the wound and glanced sadly at Kolya. The damage the club had wrought was extensive and he didn't know if he would be able to save Pyotr. Kolya dazedly watched as Stephanos continued his exploration, searching for other hidden wounds. A slight hiss escaped Pyotr's lips as Stephanos ran his fingers along his ribs. Stephanos ripped his shirt and they all viewed the darkening mass on his side, indicative of at least one broken rib. Kolya castigated himself for missing it in the barn.
"My friend, my dear sweet friend. I don't know if we will be able to help Pyotr, but for your sake I will do my best. It is no less than you would do for me." Stephanos' eyes were anguished with his recently learned knowledge of Pyotr's wounds. "I want you to go with Nadia to the study for a drink. You need not watch this. And take Marianna with you, please."
"Stephanos! My healing arts might prove useful. I stay." Marianna shot him a darkling look that brooked no arguments. Already she was ripping a sheet apart to use as a wrap for Pyotr's wounds and one for the poultice to come. Her efficiency and economical movements were what decided Stephanos' mind that she did indeed stay.
Nadia led a protesting Kolya to the library. She gently pushed him into one of the recessed chairs and quickly brought him a snifter of brandy. Urging the glass to his lips, she forced him to tilt his head back to take in the liquid. Slow color suffused his cheeks and his breathing slowed as he drank. Once he was done, Nadia poured him another glass, but placed it by his elbow on the little table there. She then picked up each of his hands one by one and rubbed them between hers, fighting the remnants of the cold to restore his circulation. His chattering stopped and his lips were no longer that ghastly blue. She called to her father to stoke up the fire, and to scrounge up a dry pair of pants and shirt for Kolya. Soon a cheerful blaze warmed the room.
"Thank you, Mistress Nadia, for your kindnesses to an old man. I am in your debt." Kolya's speech was low and forced.
"Stuff and nonsense. I did you a kindness. You owe no debt, old man. One day you will do a kindness for a stranger and that will be your repayment to me. They in turn will do one for another." Nadia's musical voice was angelic against the crackling of the fire. "If you can, rest your eyes. You have no strength left. The dampness will seep into your bones, if you do not dry yourself out. If you wish, I will step out for a few moments and close the doors, so that you would change."
Without opening his eyes, Kolya nodded his acquiescence. He was weary. The shock of seeing Pyotr so still was echoing in his head. For such a stalwart man, he was undone by his young love's injuries. On whisper soft feet, he felt rather than saw Nadia leave, gently closing the doors behind her. Immediately, he grasped the snifter and downed the contents in one swallow. Not content with that, he moved to the decanter and poured another glass, which he set on the table. He removed his drenched clothing and quickly donned his borrowed clothes. Feeling dirty and ashamed that he had been caught so unawares, he tossed his clothing with the caked on blood into the fire. Watching them burn as he sat in front of the fire to nurse it; he brooded over the turn of events. He was also nursing the new glass of brandy. His eyes were starting to be glassy not only from shock, and no food, but also from drink.
He poked the fire as Nadia returned. He knew she would tell him if there was any news. Her sad expression spoke to his heart and she carried a covered tray of fruit and cheese that she placed within easy reach of Kolya. He couldn't eat. He couldn't talk. He couldn't catch his breath sufficiently. They sat in a strained silence as the ticking of the clock and the fire were the only sounds echoing in the room.
Determinedly, Nadia scooted her heavy chair over and started to brush out Kolya's damp locks. Startled, he looked over his shoulder at this young girl, so desperate to offer him appeasement. He nodded once in gratefulness, being too choked up to tell her verbally. Nadia started humming songs of their villages as she worked her brush and fingers through his blonde curls. Kolya was so bereft and still laden with such guilt, that he didn't realize it when he leaned against her outer thigh. Nadia saw no reason to correct him as she patiently worked the brush.
This was how Luka found them an hour later. His slow, measured steps beat out a tattoo of defeat to Kolya. He leapt to his feet, running to the vampire and grasped him by his shoulders harshly. Luka merely looked at Kolya's hands, and Kolya dropped them uselessly to his sides. He had seen the flicker of a warning in Luka's eyes, and he had not meant to disrespect him in the slightest. He anxiously awaited what Luka had to say, as did an equally concerned Nadia, who had stepped to his side and put a comforting hand on his upper back. All decorum had fled between them in this grueling hour.
Luka sighed. "Kolya..."
Stephanos and Luka became frantic whirlwinds of activity after Kolya left. Even though Kolya knew and respected what they were, they had no inkling of what his feelings would be if he should witness their attempts to save Pyotr's life. Empathetically, the two vampires linked seamlessly.
"Stephanos, I will offer my blood for Pyotr. Your hands are busy elsewhere."
"Luka...he has the beginnings of lung infection. It feels older than this past hour. I know not how advanced it may be."
"My friend, we will do our best. No more. No less." Luka was so affirmative in his declaration.
Stephanos was proud to call Luka friend again in that moment. Any lingering doubts of conflict were dissipated with his willingness to help. "Thank you, my friend, Luka. How I have missed you!"
Luka bowed graciously. He hadn't realized that part of his grief was over the loss of Stephanos as his companion. Something that he would now rectify at all costs, he vowed. Stephanos reading his thoughts just nodded his agreement; he was more concerned with a punctured lung and possible infection than the head wound at the moment and he was laying his hands over that spot to see if he could sense an internal injury.
Luka bit his wrist, causing a beaded line of red liquid to form. He gently laid it against Pyotr's mouth, bringing his other hand up, to lower his jaw, so that the potentially life-saving fluid was pooling in his mouth. Once his mouth was partially full, Luka closed it, and then started stroking his fingers gently against Pyotr's throat to see if he would swallow the liquid. He didn't want to force the man's head back, not with his head wound. Once that proved to be somewhat successful, he repeated the process. Pyotr never regained consciousness, but his throat muscles would work and force the healing blood in as it was stroked. Finally, Luka sealed his wrist and stepped back.
Marianna had been busy with Pyotr's head wound. She had had Irina bring her a mortar and pestle and she had removed the sachet of herbs that had hung from her belt. She put yarrow in the pestle and ground into a very fine powder, which she then sprinkled onto his gaping wound. She gently wrapped his head and left it as it was. She would have to check it frequently and add more yarrow as needed, but she didn't want to do too much. While she was doing this, she had Irina boil the vervain and the comfrey root in separate pots. The vervain would be stewed into a bitter tea, but was excellent in the prevention of blood infections. And the comfrey would become a paste with flaxseed oil that would be applied to Pyotr's side as a poultice that was changed frequently, before he would be tightly wrapped.
As much as she had faith in both Stephanos and Luka and their abilities, she knew these herbs, had seen them work in the past and felt they were of equal importance in their attempt to save Pyotr. Besides, what would they hurt? Anything that could be done to ease Pyotr's suffering had to be good, didn't it? She reflected as Irina carefully brought over the steeped tea.
And she continued to reflect on how honorable it was to help try to save a man's life. Her recent experiences in the village had been limited to her healing. And then, it had only been the women who had approached her, with reluctance and in secret. They would not have their men think they were consorting with a disreputable woman. None of the men looked at her or spoke to her after Ivan's contemptible rumors. She had been reviled for being honorable to Dmitri's memory. How strange life was in coming full circle. Ivan lost forever due to his evilness and she found forever due to her goodness. She shook her head to clear it of these thoughts, returning to the harrowing scene before her.
"Luka, please come take my place at Pyotr's head. Ease it gently into your lap. Yes, you have to crawl onto the table as I have done! Stop fussing!" Marianna knew his thoughts as they played out on his face. She actually caught the surprised laugh and grin on Nadia's face as she hurried by with a tray. Finally with Luka in place, she could start spooning the vervain tea to Pyotr. Slow and steady she brought the spoon repeatedly to his lips, easing the liquid in, and just as she had seen Luka do, she stroked his throat. His muscles continuing to work convulsively at ingesting the liquid.
Once she felt he had had a sufficient amount, she set aside the tea cup. While she had been doing that, Stephanos had taken the mashed and pulpy comfrey root and had applied it to the growing bruises on Pyotr's side. Placing a thick layer over his skin, he and Luka had worked together to bind Pyotr's side. Pyotr grunted low in his throat at their exertions, but he remained in his coma-like state.
Restless hand movements, attempts at clawing at his bindings, caused the vampires to move him upstairs after his initial injuries were seen to. They placed him under a downy comforter and when he proved restless, clawing unknowingly at his bindings, they used soft restraints to keep his hands down. Irina was instructed to remain with Pyotr for the time being and she began applying cold compresses to his forehead and face methodically. The two fiends then wended their way back downstairs.
She also murmured prayers over his seemingly lifeless body, as Luka would not summon a priest. Nor would a priest cross the threshold if invited, Luka's practice of his dark arts and mythic powers were feared. She felt that last rites should be invoked, even by her, in case Pyotr's soul was damned in death. As blasphemous as she felt in those moments, to her it was more blasphemous if it did not happen. She even dipped her fingers into the bowl of water to place the sign of the cross on his hot forehead, his lips, over his heart. And she ceaselessly worried her rosary as she performed her nursing ministrations.
Stopping first in the dining room, they saw that Marianna and Aleksandr were tidying up further. The tablecloth was ruined, but Luka spared not a second thought for it. He was over his rage and working to mend his relationship with Stephanos, and if helping Pyotr and Kolya was a means to achieve that, then he would do what was necessary. Marianna continued to wrap up her precious herbs, as Luka led Stephanos over to the buffet table and the bottle of breathing wine that had managed to escape Luka's earlier destruction. Leaning next to Stephanos' ear, he spoke in a lowered voice.
"My friend, I know not whether the lad can be saved. Even after my life's blood and Marianna's herbs, he is still so pale. It is good that he fights, but will it prove to be too much for him?"
"I don't know, Luka. The only possible solution left would be to make him one of us. But we do not have his consent and he is too weak at the moment to grant it anyway. To be made into one of us, the process is certainly easier with agreed upon consent. The risks of not asking his permission may outweigh the possible good. You know this! " Stephanos was forceful and emphatic in his delivery. "An unwilling man is a deadly man. Look at Ivan and his demise. Would you change that lovely young man into such an unstable being, risking death? I would not. Not without further thought. Perhaps, we should include Kolya in this discussion. After all they are lovers." Stephanos sighed heavily upon saying this. He would not make this decision without at least consulting Kolya.
"Very well, Stephanos. We will bring Kolya in on this discussion. As you say, they are lovers." Luka turned to leave when he felt a hand on his arm. Looking into Marianna's worried eyes, he sighed as Stephanos had done. "My dearest Marianna, we have no choice. If Pyotr survives the night, he can count himself lucky as having one more day above ground. But, we cannot promise anything. Stephanos' examination revealed that he was not constitutionally strong to begin with. He had the beginnings of pneumonia in his lungs before these injuries. We do our best. That is all."
Marianna felt the tears forming in her eyes, but she refused to allow them to be shed. She needed to be strong for Kolya. Kolya who had come to mean so much to her. If she couldn't do this now, in his time of need, what kind of friend would she truly be? So, her emerald eyes became more brilliant with those unshed tears, her backbone became straighter with her resolve, and she loosened her grasp on Luka's arm, so that he could make his request of Kolya. Stephanos was in awe of her proud carriage, her calm demeanor, her ruthless control. He placed a gentle kiss on her forehead to let her know that he was pleased at her thoughtfulness.