Underworld: Blood Enemy, page 17
He knocked hesitantly on the door, then quickly slipped inside, closing the door behind him.
His heart soared at the sight of Sonja standing before the altar, clad in a sylvan green gown brocaded with velvet vines and leaves. Her turquoise pendant rested atop her breasts. All his fears were momentarily dispelled by the thrill of finding himself alone with his beloved once more. They ran toward each other eagerly, falling into a passionate embrace. Their lips met in joyous reunion, and Lucian lost himself in the heady sensation of kissing Sonja again after weeks of loneliness and deprivation. The familiar taste of coriander and honey stirred his senses, and he wondered how he had ever survived without her.
She alone makes my life worth living. At length, their lips came apart, and reality intruded upon their idyll. Sonja rested her head on his shoulder, her arms still wrapped tightly around his waist. “Thank fate you came!” she exclaimed. “I’ve been trying to slip a note to Grushenka for days, but Soren seems to haunt my every movement. I think he’d lock me in my chambers from dawn to dusk if he dared.”
Sonja’s lament sent a chill down Lucian’s spine. How much did Soren suspect? And how far would the ruthless overseer go to regain Viktor’s favor?
“What is so urgent?” he asked her. “Not that I do not welcome any opportunity to be in your company.”
She gently pulled away from him. A smile played on her features as she took his hand and laid it on her stomach. Lucian stared at her in confusion until, beneath the brocaded silk, he felt life stirring within her belly.
He gazed at her in wonder. “You are with child?”
“Our child,” she affirmed, smiling back at him.
Lucian was stunned by her revelation. “But how is it possible?” He could not tear his hand away from the new life quickening within her womb. “A lycan and a vampire…?”
“You and I are both pure-blooded,” she observed. “You were born a lycan, and I a vampire. I daresay this rare combination is what allowed us to conceive a child together.” A speculative tone entered her voice. “There are vague references in the ancient annals that hint as much—and suggest that such a union might produce a being of extraordinary power.”
Lucian marveled at the very idea. A hybrid of our two races, he thought. Half lycan, half vampire. Who knew what wondrous attributes such a child might possess? Perhaps enough to change the world….
Sonja eyed his thoughtful expression. A flicker of concern showed on her face. “Does this news please you, beloved?”
“How can you doubt it?” he answered, rushing to reassure her. Honor and emotion both compelled him to his knees. He knelt before Sonja and took her hand in his. “Dearest Sonja, jewel of my existence, will you do me the incalculable honor of becoming my bride?”
Tears of happiness burst from her eyes. “Of course, dear Lucian, with all my heart!” She glanced about her, an irresistible idea dawning on her jubilant face. “And look, my love, the chapel is already prepared for us.”
Like her, Lucian saw no reason for delay. No Elder or Council member would ever sanction their union, so a private ceremony of their very own would have to suffice. He rose to his feet and escorted Sonja to the altar. The fabled Wolf and Lamb looked down on them from the tapestry as they prepared to take their vows. Lucian filled a tarnished brass communion cup from a sack of wine they had hidden away months ago. He lifted the goblet before him as he faced Sonja before the altar.
“I, Lucian, of the lycan breed, swear upon my eternal life and soul that I will love, honor, and protect you for all time to come. With this wine, I pledge you my everlasting fidelity.”
He sipped from the goblet, then passed it to Sonja, who accepted the cup readily.
“I, Sonja, daughter of Viktor and Ilona, likewise swear that I will love, honor, and cherish you for all eternity. With this wine, I declare myself your true and ever-faithful wife.”
She sipped from the same cup as he, then placed it reverently upon the altar. Her lovely face beamed radiantly.
It is done, Lucian thought. No rings had been exchanged, no blessings bestowed, yet he had no doubt that his life had been transformed irrevocably. We need no vaunted authority to sanctify our union; the purity of our love is sacrament enough.
Now they were truly man and wife.
He took Sonja into his arms again, feeling a profound sense of responsibility toward her and their unborn child. Marriage and maternity, he realized, had forced a momentous decision upon them.
“We must flee this place,” he told her. Never mind that he could not allow her to go through the farce of wedding Nicolae a few weeks hence; her pregnancy and the birth of their child would surely expose their affair for all to see. “We must leave the coven forever and never return.”
“Yes,” Sonja agreed. “I understand.” She trembled within his fervent embrace. “But how will we escape my father’s guards? You know that he will stop at nothing to capture us both.”
Lucian nodded. The risks were great, but they had no other choice. Each passing day increased the odds that Soren or someone else might become aware of Sonja’s delicate condition. We must get far away from Castle Corvinus soon, he resolved.
* * *
In his dreams, Soren once again dined at the high table, at Viktor’s right hand. Respect and authority were once more accorded him as was his due. He savored his status among the other vampires, which rendered the ignominy of his squalid mortal past of no consequence. He had come a long way since his days as a pitiful Viking slave….
“Master Soren!” A husky voice intruded upon his triumph. An insistent hand nudged his shoulder, rousing him from slumber. He awoke to find himself back on his cot outside the castle’s dungeons. Plain linen sheets covered his muscular frame.
A servant wench leaned over him, still tugging on his shoulder. Her coarse wool kirtle and tumbling mane of wild black hair marked her as a lycan even before Soren identified her as Leyba, a wanton scullery maid no better than the rest of her degenerate breed.
He sat up angrily, shoving the wench aside. “Lycan slut!” he cursed her. “How dare you disturb my rest?!” Tossing aside his sheets, he reached for his whips, which hung on a wooden peg next to the dungeon door. Although he was deep underground, he sensed at once that the sun had not yet set. “I’ll teach you not to accost your betters!”
“Wait!” Leyba cried out. Sprawled on the dank stone floor, where Soren’s blow had deposited her, she held out her hand before her. A shiny golden ribbon was clutched between her fingers. “Don’t you want to know what the Lady Sonja is getting up to… while you sleep the day away?”
Soren paused at the mention of the princess’ name. Forgetting his whips for the moment, he snatched the ribbon from the wench’s hand and examined it closely. The gleaming fabric was nothing less than the finest silk, of the sort only the most highborn vampire ladies might possess. It dawned on him that the Lady Sonja had a gown of much the same hue.
“Where did you get this?” he demanded.
Leyba smiled slyly, seeing that she had his attention. “Far be it from me to cast doubt upon the virtue of an Elder’s daughter,” she declared. “Let me say only that I found this keepsake beneath the pallet of a certain lycan whom I know to be besotted with the princess.”
“What?” Soren clenched his fist, crumpling the delicate ribbon. He had no doubt that the wench was referring to Lucian, whose untimely rescue of Sonja had led directly to Soren’s own fall from Viktor’s favor. I knew it! he fumed. His cold blood heated up as he recalled how Sonja had brusquely dismissed him when he caught her squirreled away in that rundown chapel. I knew the haughty tart was hiding something.
Still, caution compelled him to eye Leyba suspiciously. “How do I know you didn’t steal this ribbon yourself?” he accused her, threatening her with the back of his hand. “If you’re lying to me….”
“I speak the truth, I swear it!” Rising to
Soren would sooner trust the Devil than a lycan bitch, yet he felt convinced that Leyba was not deceiving him, if only because her lewd insinuations confirmed his own suspicions that the princess could not be trusted. A rare smile graced his saturnine features as he saw before him an opportunity to restore himself to Viktor’s good graces.
Thrusting the ribbon back at Leyba, he strode forward and grabbed her roughly by the arm. “Come!” he commanded, all but dragging the wench toward the spiral staircase leading to the castle above. “The Elder must hear of this at once!”
They met in her bedchamber early that afternoon, after Sonja dismissed her various servants and ladies-in-waiting. Their plan, such as it was, was to leave the castle the second the sun disappeared below the horizon, then head for the densest regions of the forest, much as they had during their nocturnal trek to Ordoghaz months ago. Soren would no doubt notice Sonja’s absence at once, but with luck, they could elude the inevitable search parties by avoiding the main roads and pathways. Moving quickly, they hoped to reach the ruined village of Strasba before dawn, so that Sonja could take refuge in one of the surviving buildings.
And then what? Lucian fretted. The full moon would rise tonight, giving him the strength to effect their escape, but at some point they would have to try to blend into the mortal world. Sonja’s jewelry would pay their way for a time, at least until he could find employment as a mortal. But what trades were available to a lycan retainer who had served the vampires for all his immortal existence?
While Sonja packed the last of her jewelry into a small ivory chest, Lucian took a moment to survey his love’s private chambers, which he had never dared to visit before. A wooden canopy bed, hung with curtains, dominated the room. With its feather mattress and pillows, the bed looked far more luxurious than Lucian’s own humble straw pallet. Sprigs of lavender were sprinkled atop the bed to sweeten the sheets and keep away fleas. Pine chests held the princess’ wardrobe, while sumptuous tapestries, cleaner and in better condition than the one in the chapel, adorned the walls.
His hand delicately swept along the edge of a lacquered cherry vanity, tenderly exploring the combs, hairpins, and perfume bottles arrayed atop the table. Lifting his eyes, he gazed into the brass mirror above the vanity, heedless of the silver beneath the polished glass, and stared thoughtfully at his own reflection.
Hers has always been the life of a princess, he realized, accustomed to only the finest accommodations and possessions. What can I possibly offer her in comparison?
“Forgive me,” he said, “for forcing you to leave all this comfort and opulence behind.”
She closed the lid of her jewelry case. “Do not be foolish, my husband,” she assured him. She smiled at him from a few paces away. “I made my choice of my own free will. Happily will I face the world at your side, rather than live without you for one night more.”
Her reflection joined his as she slid up next to him, resting the soft curves of her body against his rougher form. Contrary to mortal folklore, her peerless beauty was fully captured by the polished mirror. They kissed, and he felt once more how lucky he was to have found her. One way or another, he vowed, I will carve out a place for us in the outside world. He pressed his hand against her belly and felt again the cherished life they had created together. We will live in happiness forever, Sonja, I, and our precious baby….
Without warning, the locked door burst open. Viktor stormed into the bedchamber, his face a livid mask of rage. Fiery eyes took in the incriminating scene of Lucian and Sonja embracing before the mirror. “What is the meaning of this?!” he roared in fury.
Lucian stepped protectively in front of Sonja as Soren and a pair of armored Death Dealers followed Viktor into the chamber. To his surprise, a familiar female figure squeezed past the guards to reach the Elder’s side. “You see!” Leyba yelped, casting an accusing finger at Lucian and Sonja. “It is just as I said.” She glared at Lucian, a malevolent smirk on her face. “Your precious daughter entertains a wolf in her boudoir!”
Spiteful bitch! Lucian cursed her. He was dismayed to see Sonja’s gold silk ribbon—his fragile token of their love—wrapped around the female lycan’s finger. He had noticed earlier that it was missing, but in his excitement and anxiety over Sonja’s pregnancy, he had given the matter little thought. Your petty jealousy has doomed Sonja and me.
Viktor ignored Leyba’s taunts, intent on his disgraced daughter. “How could you do this, sully yourself with an animal?” Rage contorted his patrician features, and he hissed through his fangs. “You have dishonored your noble heritage, as well as your mother’s memory!”
“Please, Father!” Sonja begged, holding on to Lucian from behind. “Do not be angry! I love Lucian, truly I do. We are man and wife!”
“What?” Viktor raged. “Have you taken leave of your senses?” He turned to bark at Soren, who stood a few paces behind the irate Elder. “This is your fault! You were supposed to watch over her!”
Soren went visibly pale. “But milord!” he protested, aghast. “I did my bes—”
“Enough!” Viktor silenced the anxious overseer. “I shall deal with you later.” He turned back toward Lucian and Sonja, and the unchecked fury on his face gave way to a look of icy resolution. “Take them both,” he instructed the guards, “and round up the rest of the filthy lycans.”
“No!” Sonja protested, but to no avail. Viktor stepped to one side and let the two Death Dealers surge past him.
Chain mail covered their leather armor. One-handed swords hung at their sides.
“Stand back!” Lucian warned. Without the full moon on his side, he was badly outnumbered, but he would not surrender Sonja without a fight. He drew his wolf’s-head dagger from his belt and adopted a defensive stance. He bared his fangs as a growl emerged from his throat. “I’ve never killed a vampire before, but there’s a first time for everything!”
The first Death Dealer—Ulrik by name—lunged at Lucian, grabbing for the lycan’s arm. Lucian slashed out with his blade, slicing open the soldier’s palm. The scent of spilled blood filled the chamber.
Ulrik backed away warily. Drawing his sword from its scabbard, he exchanged a glance with his fellow soldier, Lazar, who likewise drew his sword. Silver-plated blades caught the candlelight. The guards cautiously advanced toward their intended prisoners, circling Sonja and Lucian as much as the chamber’s generous furnishings permitted.
It was best to keep them on the defensive, Lucian strategized. With his free hand, he snatched up a writing quill from the vanity and hurled it like a dart at Ulrik’s face. The pointed quill speared the Death Dealer in the eye, and he dropped to his knees, clutching his face in agony. Cold vampire blood seeped between his fingers.
An instant later, before anyone could react to the first soldier’s blinding, a glass perfume bottle shattered against Lazar’s face. Slivers of broken glass invaded his skin while the oily perfume stung his eyes and cuts.
Take that, churls! Lucian thought triumphantly. He viciously slashed the air with his dagger, and a frightened Leyba ran out of the room. Never underestimate a lycan in love!
“Bah,” Viktor snarled impatiently. “Must I do everything myself?” He strode past the stricken guards, menace in his dark eyes.
Lucian readied himself for battle, but the Elder was too swift, too strong. He came at Lucian like a thunderbolt, knocking the dagger from his hand with a single blow, then grabbing Lucian by the throat and lifting him from the floor. Viktor held Lucian at arm’s length before him, so that Lucian’s feet dangled impotently in the air. He kicked and thrashed in a desperate attempt to free himself from the Elder’s iron grasp, tugging on Viktor’s clenched fingers with both hands, but he was helpless before the
“Stop it, Father!” Sonja cried out frantically. She pounded against Viktor’s adamantine form with her fists, but she might as well have been hammering on the castle walls itself for all the good it did; the Elder remained unmoved, either physically or emotionally. “Don’t hurt him, I beg of you!”
“Soren,” Viktor intoned, not even looking in Sonja’s direction. He ripped Lucian’s pewter badge from his tunic and hurled it angrily across the room. “See to my daughter… if you think you can manage that.”
“Yes, milord!” Soren hastened to obey. He rushed forward and seized Sonja from behind, clamping her arms to her side. She tried to twist free, but the burly overseer easily overpowered her. Lucian watched in agony as Soren roughly hauled Sonja out of her own bedchamber. No doubt the humiliated brute welcomed the opportunity to abuse the apparent source of his troubles. Unhand her, you vein-sucking monster! Lucian thought.
A jabbing pain in his side brought him back to his own predicament. “I’ve told you before, lycan,” Viktor snarled, withdrawing the blade of a silver dagger from between Lucian’s ribs. “Keep your eyes to yourself!”
He squeezed more tightly on Lucian’s throat, cutting off his air. Lucian gasped like a fish out of water, choking to death within the Elder’s grip. He tried to growl in defiance, but all that emerged from his larynx was a pitiful squeak.
Forgive me, Sonja, Lucian thought as all-enveloping darkness encroached on his vision. Viktor’s demonic countenance, glaring up at him with malign intensity, was swallowed up in shadow.
I tried to protect you!
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