Chapter 9

That very day, I decided to send out the letter. Christopher had taken the note I had written, calling for a courier within the hour. Of course, he noticed my change of mood, regarding me with several curious glances as we all sat about the table earlier. But, he knew better than to ask me what had happened.

We all, including Boris Valerious, sat around a large table, eating the food set before us in complete silence. Beside me, on my right, sat Christopher, who would throw glances in the direction of Anna. She seemed not to notice. But if she did, she hid it well, keeping her eyes glued to the plate in front of her.

Velkan remained impassive throughout the whole meal, careful never to meet my gaze. He had chosen the seat opposite me, making sure to make as little contact as possible whenever our hands touched. (He reached out several times for the breadbasket, only to meet my hand.) The chills of fire scurrying through my body as we touched I managed to contain rather well. He most likely felt the same way, his hand shooting away from my own in surprise. I could only smile weakly at him before reaching out for some bread, his hand finally reaching in after mine to do the same.

Taking the seat to the left of me, Boris had begun eating his meal, his cautious eyes like a god watching over us all. Of course, most of his glances he threw between Velkan and I, finding amusement in our avoidance of conversation. We were much too afraid to compromise our secret. Boris, who I had begun to think of as Zeus, did not say a word, but he had no need to: the amused glint in his eye was voice enough for what he must have been thinking.

And so we all ate in uncomfortable quietude. It seemed as though hours passed, until finally we soon found ourselves filled with our meals.

Anna left the table to the armory, muttering a quick dismissal. Though my uncle attempted a warm smile, she ignored it completely, her body whirling about as she hurried off, her shoes making the only noise in the room as she walked away. Her brother followed suite behind her, casting a warm yet furtive glance in my direction as he left. Christopher lingered behind for some seconds, following Anna's retreating form with disdain until she disappeared into the subdued lighting of the hallways.

"Well, I must be out to smoke a cigar." I heard Boris say as he rose quietly. He smiled down at me, before looking up to meet my Uncle's confused gaze. "Christopher, I hope you and Christine enjoyed the meal?"

Seeing my Uncle's nod in assent, Boris smiled. "Good….I am glad of it…" I could sense the hesitation in his voice as he continued. "Then I hope to speak to you again later as to the….'meeting'…. with Marishka." Boris said. Christopher murmured a quiet thank you, smiling at Boris as the elder Valerious made his way down an opposite hallway, towards the gardens. Slowly, his footsteps grew fainter and fainter, until we could hear them no more.

"Come, Christine." I heard Christopher say to me as he rose, holding his hand out expectantly for me to take. I could sense the cold tone in his voice as he spoke, obviously finding irritation in Anna's ignoring him. I furrowed my eyebrows in confusion, longing to find out what may have occurred between those two, but I knew better than to ask.

"This dinner was much to quiet for my own good." I said to Christopher as I rose, taking his hand. Christopher nodded eagerly in response.

"Romanians, I suppose, do not often entertain foreigners." He answered. "They are not well versed in manners…." Christopher laughed as a thought popped into his mind. "Please, if you ever marry, Christine….avoid them at all costs. They are a burden."

I felt my heart jump into my chest as he uttered those words. How unknowingly close he had come to the truth. Struggling to keep my composure, I laughed quietly. Now, at least I knew better than to tell him the truth….

Christopher led me away, having a small conversation with me as we walked along. Seeing the library ahead of us, I turned to him and smiled.

"I think I will spend some time in there, Christopher." I said to him, stopping by the imposing doors. His eyes narrowed in confusion.

"Whatever for?" he asked me.

"I should like to read." I answered him, feigning a look of annoyance. "Do I need permission?" Christopher laughed.

"I wouldn't assume so…." He answered, his voice slightly hesitant. "But, don't let that stop you. Read to your heart's content!" Christopher left me quietly as I turned to enter the library, the imposing shelves nearly taking my breath away as I fought to decide what I should look at first, the books on vampires, or on werewolves?

Deciding on vampires, I poured over the volumes, struggling to absorb every piece of information I could about them. What were their strengths? What were their weaknesses? How could I kill one? But, I would find no definite answers, regarding Dracula. According to every scholar I had read, there was not yet a method discovered as to bringing about his demise. It was not surprising….he was still alive after all. If they had found a method of dispatching him, these scholars would have done so long ago!

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I had left the library several hours earlier, following the voices of the Valerious family. I had found them in the armory still, each member perusing the many weapons that they had stowed away.

The day had passed rather uneventfully after our meal. And I watched with an apprehensive mind as the sun moved higher in the sky, until dipping low, slowly setting over the horizon. The day was almost done, dusk was at hand, and Marishka would be on her way soon. As the day had begun to progress, I felt my head beginning to pound, a headache slowly growing until it began to throb.

"Perhaps you should stay…" I heard Anna say to me as she noticed me slumped over in my seat, my hands upon my head. Velkan had noticed this as well, confused about my sudden sickness.

"What is wrong?" he asked me.

"A headache." I answered. I had sat at a table watching out the window as they prepared for the night. The voices of the Valerious family nothing but hushed whispers as they chose what weapons they would bring.

Velkan approached me as Anna watched us. Kneeling down, he reached out to touch my forehead. His hand lingered upon my head, until finally pulling away. I noticed his eyes rise in surprise, not understanding why I had become so sick so very quickly. Of course, I had not an idea as well.

"I think it would be a good idea if you stayed here." He said quietly to me. Rising from his spot before me, he turned to face Anna and his father.

"Christine is not feeling well. I think it is better if she stays here." He said. Boris' eyes traveled fleetingly between us until he grunted out a yes, returning to his work. Anna looked sympathetically in my direction.

"Go to your room." I heard Anna say. "You need some rest."

By then, Boris Valerious had already prepared a plan, calling for his children to arm themselves as I walked away quietly, towards my room. Feeling somewhat unwell, I decided to take a bath, my head beginning to feel as if a small being was beating on the inside.

"Are you feeling alright?" I heard Christopher as me as I made my way to the room. He had just begun to pass me in the hallway, tucking into his vest a dagger he had brought with him, concealing it carefully within the elaborate folds of his clothing. I slowly raised my head to meet his concerned gaze.

"I have a bit of a headache." I said quietly to him, reaching up to rub my temple. He furrowed his eyebrows, his eyes darkening in worry. "I think I will take a bath…perhaps that will make me feel better…." I murmured.

"If you are not feeling well, then I suggest you not come." He said, approaching me and taking my arm. Slowly, he began to lead me back to my room, where I could ready myself for the bath. "I will not allow it." I felt relief flood through me as I heard those words. I really did not want to go anyhow…I truly was not feeling well.

"I think it is the stress of the day. I might be a bit apprehensive about meeting Marishka…" I said to him as he led me away.

"It wouldn't surprise me, Christine." He answered. "You were always the worrywart." I laughed softly, feeling my head beginning to pound even more.

"It seems as though no one wants me to come…" I said quietly, as we slowly began our way to my room.

"Don't feel put out, of course we would love for you to come…but….I hardly think Mr. Boris Valerious," Christopher answered, feigning a Romanian accent. "Would approve of having a sick woman in the party." I could not help but laugh at his comment, finding some truth in what he said.

"I hope Marishka would not be terribly disappointed at not having me there." I said to Christopher as I finally caught sight of my door. In moments, we had reached my room. He pushed me inside gently, almost eager for me to not go with him. "I didn't know you wanted me out of the way so badly…"

"Somehow, I think Marishka will live…" he said, looking away somewhat embarrassed. "I would personally feel better if my niece is safe. We do not have an inkling of an idea as to how Marishka will respond to seeing you. After all, she does harbor a bit of a grudge. Perhaps this headache is a blessing in disguise, a sign that you should not go."

I opened my mouth to speak, but shut it again as I felt the throbbing pain beginning to rear its ugly head. Christopher smiled. "By the way, I would never want you 'out of the way', I love you…you are my neice…." Kissing me gently on my forehead, Christopher ordered me quietly to the bed.

"Go to sleep." He said. "I can bet you my life savings that when you wake up, you will feel infinitely better than you do now." I nodded quietly before he left me with a silent goodbye. Shutting my door, I took his advice and walked immediately to my bed, not even bothering to undress. I fell onto the bed, and I closed my eyes.

"It is such a shame to wake you…" I heard someone murmur. "You are quite the angel when you are asleep." A male voice. Romanian accent. I knew who it was before I could even open my eyes.

I opened my mouth to cry out, but in moments the figure was at my bedside, his cold and pale hand covering my mouth to prevent any sort of rescue. "Shhhh…." He whispered quietly into my ear, all the while holding my struggling body to him. "You wouldn't want to do that, my dear….at least not until I have said what I have to say…."