Huge adoration and incredible respect to my partner in crime and one of my very closest friends – winterstale (Jenn).

Thanks to blondie aka robin for checking this all out with her very discerning eye and also for betaing this monster at the last minute! Lavish praise to ms_ambrosia for the fascinating banner, likewise created on short notice. Much love to Vanessarae who was unable to edit; hope you're feeling better, baby. Cheers to AngryBadgerGirl for song-searching and listening to late-night (sloshed?) ravings when she had much better stuff to be doing. As ever, this was written with the support of the very best women in fandom and beyond, the lovely (sick, wild, and weird) ladies of the DW.

We wrote this with the intention of entering the Cougar Revolution contest (hey, voting is now open on that one). However, the story grew to immense proportions, and we felt we couldn't cut it to fit the word limit guidelines. It's going to be a two chapter novella; we hope you enjoy the Tigresse as much as we've had a most interesting time writing her!

This is important, a ton of time was put into researching this little two-shot, so, although we took the liberty of messing with Habsburg royalty and some aspects of the Castle, market, etc., the settings, dress, language are as historically accurate as possible.

The song that inspired us for chapter one was Summoning the Muse, by Dead Can Dance.


~~Dedicated to one Miss Viola Cornuta, who kind of wants to strangle us right now for keeping her in the dark. We love you~~


The Tigresse of Csejte
Chapter One: Arousal and Abomination

Budai Vár
Buda Castle Parklands
Budapest, Hungary, 1806

Preface

At the age of thirty-six I was made over as this undying druid, a stone carved succubus. Swiftly, all my fleshly faults were erased, though the repudiation, the exorcising of my soul, my heart, my very viscera, was not such a hasty working. Arduous, long-lasting, inflammatory, a fire built inside my veins and rippled like hot char into my tissue. To be burnished from within, roasted, my host's body crippled in paroxysms, my throat eviscerated in endless screams. To wake from this magma a wholly replenished fantastical woman was paramount to dining on cherub's wings.

My skin was firm and unblemished, my pockmarks invisible, the scars of my tortured body blended into a porcelain carapace. I found not a looking glass, but a still, clear pond in which to inspect the visage that quirked back at me, questioning the Ottoman-dashed emblem eyes, the buttery locks laid to silken rest about my shoulders in flawless waves, lips curved snidely. All told, a cruelly beautiful disuse of a body quite familiar with punishment and ordeal.

Since that day, nothing had hurt me.

Except. Except the flames crawling up into the back of my mouth and lighting upon my tongue!

Thirst, unbearable thirst, only slightly eased by a scent, a bouquet of musk and male and potency.

I lowered my eyelids, sheathing my unresting orbs beneath feathery black lashes. Inhaling, deeply, I scrutinized the perfume wafting to me.

It was him.

Silently rising, needlessly brushing off my flawless white gown. Ornamented with lace petals set to bloom with gems of all spectrums, prisms glittered from my square, low bodice refracting the dappled sun in its wintery wink through verdant yew, linden, and poplar. Birds stilled and quieted. They understood a tigresse when they saw one approaching.

He did not.

Mute footsteps brought me too close.

I just wanted to look at him.

The parklands became a claustrophobic maze enveloping me. On his territory, in his perimeter, I circumvented, watching him from all angles. He was sniffing the air, just like me. Fanatically searching for something.

Of wide shoulders, majestic height, lithe hips, and so very young of age, this nobleman bore his physique with pride, and the expectations upon his head with fatigue. But I knew his reputation. If he wanted, he took. Sardonic, willful, temperamental, deliciously handsome and sensuous. Naughty, impertinent, bold.

I wanted him.

Watching him stroll, gracefully padding his lands, stopping at a well-worn knobbly dead and fallen over chestnut trunk. Shaking dew from his copious crown, a thing made of tassels of the most rosy dawn, he pulled a skinned journal from his pocket and put nib to parchment.

Needing to see his sketch, his calligraphy, I stepped closer, so steeped on the viney tangle of his innate cologne. Only within his surrounds was I so unthinking as to give up my hiding place. Starving nobility, strangling with expectations.

The snap-crunch of foliage shook through the dense fog of Budapest's billeting wintry sunrise. Frostily and slatey, the Danube wept a trail of frigid tears beyond the naked arms of the forest.

The twig cracked through the quiet, booming like thunder!

His regal head turned to my station.

Staunch prowess put his black-polished boot-shod feet in motion.

Towards me.

Underbrush tangled like a thorny cane cage into the blooming hem of my gown, trying to halt my progress.


I ran. Ran and ran, serrated leaves wanting to cut a wily swathe into my bared cheeks and over my heaving breastbone, lashing against my loosely corseted bosom.

As if human again, I reached to my ankles and gathered my dress in both hands, pulling it high as my thighs, unheedful of revealing my legs to my pursuer.

I heard the grunts of his breath like sunrise dusting over me, getting closer, closer.

Flogs made of branches desired to encroach my flesh.

With widened, hunted eyes, gold like the dome of St. Stephen's Basilica, looking over my shoulder, halting to fumble with my hem maladroitly, I saw him.

Not the iron maiden who'd chased me through such similar coppices, harnessing the force of Nemesis' phaeton – never promising me her sorority after two decades of decadent devilry and disgustingly dark dealings – she who had clawed me, and had supped from my veins, not to kill me, but to feed off me yet keep me alive. To return me to her turret where I'd been obliged to continue my servitude to her. I was rebirthed in 1598, but not at the severing teeth of my lady.

This chasing tawny woodsman was the youngest, most pleasured, most handsome Prince of the Habsburgs. Agile and leonine, angry and broken from his inured gentrified boredom.

He was notorious for his antics.

What negligent, confrontational desire had brought me back here, again, was beyond my rationalizing. Cruelty, brutality, amour...belonging?

He rankled me.


So I dashed! Pitchforks, burnings, crucifixions...none of that martyrdom held a waxy candle to my need, now, to deviate this man.

The one I wanted above all others.

The one I couldn't have.

This attraction was insupportable. Ingrained in hatred, one more hex from my evil rancid mistress, for the Hapsburg throne -- she a Protestant Transylvanian aristocrat and me a common Saxony Transylvanian -- I should have felt nothing for this princely young man. I should have destroyed him without compunction.

He imagined he could catch me, that I was nothing more than a doe-eyed gazelle cavorting, trespassing, on his imperial land.

Shivering against the passion to turn and face him, I sprinted headlong through the raping fen, escaping my own demons, and the creature I could make of him.

"Megállás, asszonyom!" he neither bellowed nor yelled, but his deep, normally disdainful, sensual voice demanded servility nonetheless.


I did stop, to laugh, to expel a force of wind from my lungs that knew not the pleasure of breath for its nourishment and livelihood. Asszonyom, Madame...yes! I was ages old, older than him, at any rate. Had I even been of human stock, I'd still be sixteen years his elder. As it was, my two hundred and forty-two years surpassed him heedlessly.

I would call him boy, fiú.

Lips, like the rubies on his own crown awaiting him to take the throne, pulsing and full and luscious with fluid gushing thimbles of blood begged me to suck, to destroy him. His mouth parted as I stalled, half-crazed, hungry, wanton.

Eyes like laden fruit I'd never taste again made their fathomless way down my stayed breast to my cinched upper-waist, clapping to my near denuded legs as I still held up the frip and froth and frill of my gown.

As if appealing to a stray rabid cat, this Prince of Dalmatia held out his hand, palm to the ground before he lifted his calloused knuckles to my lips. Did he know what danger he was putting himself in with this engorged bloody proximity?

Denying to kiss his ring in fealty, I jumped back two paces, wary as a kitten at the scummy still water behind me.

He should kiss my feet.

Now, standing apart, I observed deliriously when his glass-bottom eyes lasciviously wafted, and halted, at the luxurious material I still fisted about my upper thighs. The twinkle of gems echoed the deepening greenery of his look.

I motioned with my ankle, as if to fall into curtsy. Though I wouldn't, yet.

He ate over my flesh with his jade stare alone.

It was enough to set me on phosphorescent fire.

Lowering my underdress one layer at a time, I preened to the deepening furrow of his brow. My dress to my shoes, smoothing over my short Spencer jacket.

Fleet-footed, he edged towards me at the verge of the swampy pond, the one still holding a fairytale image of me in its depths. Did he not know what I had in mind for him?

Conceitedly, he pursed his fist to my mouth, again, barely shielding the thin edge of my bite with his hard knuckles.

Fidelity was his price.

My kiss to his grand regality.

Begging my touch to his astonishingly arrogant stroke.

Like the demon I was, I sniffed and licked his skin, and finally curtsied.

Giving liege to his signet ring, regaled with topaz and garnets in the formation of his Habsburg crest.

He should have bowed first. Gőgös fiú!

I was his elder.

His soon-to-be-mate.

I was...válnak. Vampire.

And he'd snared me.

~~ll~~

I'd been caught before, by a black widow, a virulent vixen, a Viscountess, a woman of clout, my lady.

Her web extended a sticky maze across countries; Hungary, Austria, Transylvania. Capturing the innocent. Using me and my family to do her bidding.

Countess Elizabeth Báthory, Báthory Erzsébet, the Blood Countess, the Bloody Lady of Čachtice. She'd held my papers of human indenture. And she used them most unjustly.

The despicable actions she dealt upon my body, even more, the vile atrocities Countess Bathory perpetrated upon her short-lived victims, toying and demented, would always fracture me.

The stronghold of Csejte held our gynaeceum, the inner chamber, more a dungeon than a physician's practice. It was here I was forced to deliver highborn and peasant alike, to earn my keep and keep my own head above the bloody cesspool flooding the vault of Her Grace, the most horrific villainess.

Exquisitely manifested, malignant royalty, a lady, she was in the prime position to lure innocents into her inglorious fortress.

She and Mama, both widowed, were the perfect tandem of courtly manners and a serf's expediency. The Count was lost in one of our country's innumerable battles with the Turks; Papa at the shredding maws of the enormous and vicious Carpathian wolves. Their reputed stature said to be astounding, almost mythic, and with an icy and ruthless calculation about them. The vassals residing below Csejte in their peasant huts spoke of them as though they were not of this Earth: the very hounds of hell.

My mother bound us all, in our new destitution, to the Countess' service: Mama, her most trusted lady's maid, me naught but a girl-child when I came to her employ and, of course, my nagy testvér, szeretett Teodor. My older brother, darling Teodor, made even the netherworld to which our own dam lashed us - as mere children no less - an adventure: a tale to be laughed over while we hid under the profaned statue of St. Andrew in the unused chapel, sharing bits of stolen black bread. The Countess first saw him as merely brute force, good for little more than toiling in the stables, but once his affable smile, twinkling aquamarine eyes, and settling manner were observed by her, she set him to her own purposes as well.

Procurement.

Her bloodlust was scaling the most revolting of heights, and she required more than one agent afield to bring her new playthings.

Darling Teodor, as gentle of heart as he was imposing in form - so much like Papa - would laugh and chuck my chin when I tried to tell him the fates of the girls he brought to work for the Countess.

"Work is hard for these spoiled girls from the country," he would say, the laughter rumbling through his broad chest.

He was too good at his travail, gave himself heartily too it, even after I'd warned him he must be capable, yes, and bring pretty girls to the castle but never too much. Never the most finely wrought in form, never the most charming and especially none to rival Her Grace's still steadfast beauty. She must know he performed his duties well...but never too well. She must not ever truly notice, for to be noticed was to be pressed - literally - to her whims.

I choked on my own bile the afternoon I entered her chamber and found him in the old Count's chair with his feet on the rail by the fire. He held the same stone encrusted goblet we all had: her method was singular and precise, never deviating from a rigid progression of steps through her chamber to the mass graves below the foundation of Cjeste. I had sipped the almond-scented wine from that cup as a girl of thirteen and now at eighteen knew more of flesh - and the ruination of it - than my own brother of five-and-twenty.

Smiling broadly at me, his weather-worn skin glistened with sweat in the sweetly vaporous firelight. I was too late. My Teodor had drunk from the Count's goblet, surely feeling himself quite honored for the excellent dispatch of his duties.

"Teodicu, drink your wine," I said evenly.

He smiled again indulgently, casting my request aside with his usual bonhomie.

"In good time, húg lány."

Snorting softly, I pushed the wine at him again. It would be his only salvation from the torments awaiting him: Teodor must be drunk and unaware from the wine of her imp-vintner before she took him up as her evening's entertainment. Once again I was utterly powerless to stop any of it, a mere cog in the workings of Her Grace's unholy machinations. My placid expression, exquisitely rendered from years of practice, concealed my sudden, frantic need to assure a foggy descent into the death awaiting him. I fought the urge to stamp my foot indignantly, thereby earning his dismissive 'little sister.'

My own brother. My darling Teodicu.

Strand by strand, my heartstings snapped.

He would die tonight, sooner rather than later, and I would be wholly alone in this putrid sea of browning crimson.

"Please," I urged him with a new and wild urgency as I cast my eyes over my shoulder toward the Countess' bedchamber. "Please, dear Teodor. Drink..."

Relenting finally with a sigh and furrowed brow, he drained the cup, allowing me to replace his measure of the dastard liquid and then some. He was so big…how much would he need? I tried to calculate, remembering the night my own Mama handed me the Count's goblet and told me tonelessly to drink. How much had I needed? Surely more than one cup, and my brother was so much larger.

Shuddering at the memory of Her Grace's first attentions to my body, I sloshed the wine over Teodor's hand. It spilled, thick and red, down his arm and onto the hearthrug. I gasped and fell to my knees, wiping at the stain with my hand-laundered skirt.

"Baba lány, you're nervous as a little kitten. What troubles you?" His hand rested gently under my chin, turning my darting eyes to his. "This is a good evening, sister. I've brought Her Grace a real Princess: a beautiful, willful girl who is in need of discipline and service to docile her boastful ways."

And she would docile: Forever and most likely before moonrise with my own brother her bridegroom in death.

"Just drink, quickly. " Another and another, Saint Andrew tessékplease. Let me have him stupefied before she returns.

"You, girl."

Mama. Her aide-de-camp.

"Madame?" I answered as I stood, my spine annealed at the sound of her voice.

"You are required in Her Grace's bedchamber."

God help me, may I bear this in silence. She will be most vengeful: a Princess and pronounced as a beauty by Teodor.

"Drink another, two if you can manage." I pleaded softly to him, then followed the woman who bore me into this world to the very bedchamber of the Archfiend's consort.

She'd had her way with the unfortunate Princess. Several times, it appeared. The poor girl, likely close to my age, was gagged heavily under leather and wads of reeking cloth, bound to each corner of my Bloody Countess's workbench and already draining into the copper ewers. Her beautiful azure eyes searched weakly around the bedchamber, her tears a steady and useless brook meandering through the blood seeping from her cheeks and into her wheaten hair.

The Countess rarely maimed her girls' faces: she liked a pretty picture to look upon as she had her fill of them. The Princess had been ruined, as she had ruined me. A dark rivulet of blood ran from between her legs. My Lady had, then, it would appear, not been kind.

"Her Grace will require her bath, girl," Mama sniffed regally as if she were the Countess herself. "Be sure it is well-heated. There's a chill in the air."

Heating the copper basin she bathed in required pots and pots of boiling water, then five stout men from the stables to carry it upstairs, grunting and moaning all the while over their scalding hands.

As I exited through the antechamber, I heard the Countess' sneering simpering laughter marrying with good Teodor's own easy mirth. Ah, Blessed St. Andrew, he sounded a bit in his cups. She would be plying him with more of her special vintage and little bits of sweets.

Please. Quick.

Impossible.

I had but one choice. My own safe haven rested in tiny grains within the locket my father purchased for me from an old cigány woman at a village festival for the feast day of Szent András so many years ago. I'd swept the potent powder into the case one evening after she'd dealt with an investigator sent by the Lutherans and was careless with the bottle of Veninum Lupinum . The rod my mother administered to my hands and feet after the bottle was discovered tipped over on the Countess' rug was worth it. This drug was quick and someday, when Her Grace turned her glinting sanguine eyes on me, I would thwart her with my own speedy release.

Some time later as I paced, skittish and harping, directing the pustule-covered ever-sweltering scullery maids over their buckets of boiling water, I heard a single strangled cry, cut off awkwardly as it reached a crescendo.

It was done.

I turned my eyes aloft – as if heaven were still conceivable from the bowels of this Abaddon – and silently blessed the gentle soul of my beloved brother. His presence was the last scrap of light and love in my life. It fluttered away like a girl's ribbon on a strong gust of wind.

I opened her chamber doors, head down, and stood aside quickly to permit the grunting men admittance. Steam curled from the hand-wrought copper basin, bathing my cheeks and neck in fresh moisture. Inside, they set about staging the tub by the roaring hearth as I readied the heavy cloth meant to hold in the heat as long as possible. Her overwrought moans and sighs slithered from her bedchamber; her foulness had aroused her again and she was joined in congress a new, possibly even with my mother.

Behind me, a metallic clink drew my attention from my task. Slowly I turned, my movements suddenly ungovernable for my mind knew surely what I would behold.

There before me lay another of the Countess Bathory's grisly tableaux. My brother hung just above the Princess, their faces almost close enough for an embrace. He was suspended by crude iron chains and muzzled harshly with a barbed leather bit and collar. My senses swam at the thick cadence of his dripping blood. Fresh horror, the like I'd staunched my notice of years ago, flooded my conscience and I swallowed the retch of acidic fluid strangling my throat.

She had removed his hands and feet. The raw tissue and bone sitting proud of their stumps glittered in the candlelight.

He moved. Groaned heavily.

My hand went to my throat, clutching my locket.

"That is all. Away with you," I hissed at the men.

I sped to Teodor, wrenching the tin chain from my neck as I went to him. His eyes opened weakly and found mine, filling with glassy tears.

"Sorry, my szeretett. So... so sorry," I said between panicked gasps. "I have something to speed you. Quickly, Teodicu, you must swallow and keep it down.". My hands were trembling mightily. How could I look upon him for another second?

His face contorted and suddenly I realized why.

Unmerciful mistress! She had cut out his tongue.

I would give him his ease but there would be no words of parting for me.

I removed the bit, gently as possible from his abused lips and tipped the contents of the locket into his willing mouth. He tremored immediately and looked as though he might heave. I shook my head at him, glancing over my shoulder at the bedchamber door and then back to him beseechingly.

"Swallow, brother. Please. Try."

Somehow, he managed. I heard his dry throat clicking.

"The poison is quick, szeretett. I promise. I've kept it for my own end for years."

His head inclined to me slightly and he tried valiantly to speak. I shook my head savagely and replaced the bit as loosely as possible.

"This is what it is here, Teodicu. There is no safety for any of us. Go to Papa and pray I may join you both soon."

His body began to shake wildly, rattling the chains that suspended him like a marionette from a traveling actor's playwagon, then lurched in great spasms.

"Szeretett Teodicu, I love you, my dear brother," I whispered.

As his eyes met mine again and then fell shut, I believe he forgave me.

The last soft chink of his chains had been the death of my heart. Stonied, I'd turned and waited for my Lady, ready to be of whatever service she might have required.

Lehel Piachoz
Lehel Market

A call through the confining dale cramped with our agitation and silent dispute had broken both my reverie and the Prince's scrutiny of me that morning within his castle's walls while I'd stood stationary at the edge of the pond. His attention held, minutely, elsewhere, I'd extricated myself from the arrow of his timbrous eyes. He'd blinked, and I'd disappeared amongst the muck of mud, hoarfrost, and snow that seethed to the colder touch of my limbs.

With effort, I'd remained apart, away from his citadel, his carnal wishes, his proud and pale and somehow pleading pull that tugged me. A chain, like the one that had bound Teodor and myself alike to Her Grace, figuratively tying us in knots, literally chinking us to her revolting loathsome desires, constrained me to him.

I'd recoiled to recognize such want, such disintegration plaited with impurity and princely price. Pride.

His sneer had made an operatic piece in my mind. Just one more curl of his lips, a softening, would be his magnificent mask when he made his formidable way inside my body.

Seven days had passed.

Not nearly the longest of my life, but my impatience rose higher than ever before.

I skirted aside the maleficent manifestation of my desire for him. I went on about my days, and nights. And yet more days.

One more…day.

Though it was January, and not quite midday, the sun cast its pleasantries over my form, cascading rays about me, creating an alluring and fetching sheen to my Limoges complexion. Strolling negligently, I held my finely laced fan in one hand, closed, and tossed a jojó up and down from my index finger to cobbles and back again, with my other. Didyme, my lady's maid, held herself with assured comportment behind me, offsetting my elegance with her puritanical robes, my indolence and insolence with her straight posture.

From Hosk tere, Heroe's Square, we ventured to Lehel Market, bypassing the arts musees of Szpmvszeti Mzeum and Mcsarnok with their Renaissance appeal meeting Byzantine architecture and onion domes. Where East met West, adjacent to the Danube. Warm vapors rising from underground hot springs swirled into the square through stone vents, wafting up my skirts, causing a rebellious trill inside my thighs. Having descried nearly all sense of decency, I was often a visitor to Gellrt Baths, to be handed but a small apron to cover my womanly parts as I walked from pool to spring and hot bubbling waterfall. Sluices of heated waters fingering over my denuded body begat as much delight as a sensual interlude with a human man.

Until this boy happened to come to my attentions.

Now there was sinful desire, an exigent twinging. Some intensely abyssal discomfort that wouldn't lessen without his presence.

I should have killed the Habsburg herceg already.

Didyme and I entered the hub-bub of the market, she with her basket and me with my accoutrements befitting a lady.

Though I would never partake the breads, meats, fruits I occasioned to purchase, I slapped my brocade fan in the direction of items made to complete my act as a human woman. Imperiously I nodded to Didyme -- this pulpy nauseating fruit, that mealy-textured vegetable -- and she did my bidding with not a word from my mouth.

Though I held the gap in our status most dear, I treated her, at home, in my little palace, as a sister.

She would never be my pet.

Refusing to be defeated, deafened by the shrill crack of human hands, the slap of their feet, the high-pitched intonations of their voices, the rush of the crowds migrating to the best stalls, I stole a hand around the low oval shawl collar of my morning dress, touched the heavy rosy braids at my upper arms, the lacing criss-crossing between my breasts. The cameo at my neck was arranged to highlight my deep and lovely cleavage. I was utterly cold to the touch.

Fearlessly, I opened my fan, the billows from the underground sulfurs unsettling me.

Not nearly as much as the vision almost on top of me!

Time stood still on its heels. Teetering and waiting to topple me over.

Handsome in his bearing.

Hedonistic in his hungry wandering over my gown which emphasized my slim waist, my womanly hips, my charming décolletage.

Unparalleled in his winking glean and half smile as he took in my festooned hat, a tall confection atop the squalls of butterscotch curls flowing down my back.

Recognition curdled with haughtiness, heightening the color on his razor-clean cheeks. The beat of my breaths tapered out like my pulse had long ago, a clinching in my stomach filled with need raided over the inferno of bloodlust lapping heatedly up my throat.

His attire was entirely in keeping with his eminence; a long-tailed coat with a short front, opened over an equally abridged vest. A blossom of creamy ruffles in a lackadaisical horse collar knot reprised the breadth of his strong throat, his own respirations chopped like a berg to water. I wanted to stitch my fingers to the broad lapels of his dove gray jacket, find home in the notches of that collar, and I looked, decidedly, at his tight trousers, up his calves and thighs to the most tempting institution of fashion this day and age. His fall-front breeches in resplendent blue, their pockets astride his hips were nothing more than open gaps leading to his member. Eyeing the warp and strain of cloth across that barely buttoned frontispiece, I imagined my hands waltzing inside.

By reputation he was well-endowed. By this, my second sight of him, I understood the gossip to be truth.

Clothed as he should be, he managed to appear absolutely...wicked.

I fanned faster.

Didyme closed my parasol and held my minor train aloft.

The palatine laughed boldly up to the sky! His guarde widened their keep as he strode closer. The entourage a monument to masculinity and heirs of this time just as he was.

I felt the shiver from my corpse stagnate as my young lady rustled my underskirt to proper shape, appeasing me, hoping to distract me.

A drop of sweat sweetened down from behind his ear, sat upon the lobe.

Jerking my gown from Didyme's brown hands, I stepped closer.

He stooped.

The tear of salt dropped.

I reached out a finger, plucking it from air.

Coyly, I held it aloft to him, that wobbling bubble on my fingertip. When his tongue drew out in a pattern on the whorled air, I recoiled, replenishing my thirst with nothing but a gambit of his essence, his perspiration. A pastiche of what was to come.

"Mmmm," I hummed over the pad of my finger, ingesting his taste, angling for more.

With a flick of his canonized copper head, he propelled the equally impressive man at his side to lean forward. The frown on that one's face, dimming his bright blue eyes, became unimportant next to the script on the square of linen he held out.

I was bewitched between slapping the well-bred man for having his underling -- still a prosperous figure in his own right -- greet me, and rising to his challenging glass-worked eyes. His thick eyebrows rose, understanding my battle.

To accept or deny.

Without looking, I hooked the proffered invitation back to Didyme.

Subservience was hereditary, I found.

That thing I'd interred was now exhumed.

I gave the unbearably pompous palatine my card, forcefully, condescendingly, as if I did not care for his attention, nor if he called on me. Of my own hand, instead of demanding staid Didyme to do my bidding...to express we were equals. There was only one way I wished to be beneath him—and that he would know, from the look in my eyes and the brush of my breasts against his fully muscled upper arm as I slid the Roman letters into his palm.

More enchanted than I, he shot one hand about my waist while the other brought my announcement close to his face. In depthful deliciousness, his phrasing was flawless, "Esmerelda Davrulia."

The curve of his brow furrowed, "Esme?"

Inky stains beat my irises.

Sensual and forthright, this pasha seemed so familiar!

I turned, because I couldn't combat him.

I walked away, because it was the only way I could stop myself.

The ruche of lace at my wrists, the fat silk bow low at my back both guided his voyeuristic voyage to a stop above my derriere.

I made a mistake.

I stilled.

Crestfallen, craving, he prowled to me, just beside the merchant of Eastern spices.

Suddenly voluminous, my toppling skirts hobbled me.

Too near, too devastating, too toothsome, I nearly upended into his lap!

I was a pagan untouched by soul, almost.

Breaking free of his steadying hands, I turned.

To the spires of Matthias Church, I ran.

Inside a niche, with crumbles of sculptured archangels pouring sandstone palisades over me, I traipsed over the beloved paper taken from my pocket, where Didy had secreted his announcement.

Edouard Joseph Leopold, Archduke of Hungary.

Eschewing the unbearable primal longing to make him mine, this young man of rank and file, just coming into his prime while I would always be in mine; I was devastated. Incapacitated. Untamed, forsaken, untouched...he could break me once more.

Soft-shod, I entered the temple. An enclosure of snakeskin guarded by gargoyles.

A temptress, in hiding.

The ecumenical surrounds erased my past, made of me a tabula rasa.

Finding a chapel, to My Lady, I knelt and pontificated.

Begged and pleaded!

Dusty sparkles dazzled in an array of rubies, sapphires, onyx, diamonds.

Halos glistened.

My God would never listen to me again.

The flap of angel's wings belted me further to the prie dieu.

I'd been discarded.

I had discredited.

In the cloisters of the temple, feeling a gathering of ill will settling about my bastardized soul, I shuddered beneath the foul weight of the Countess.

She haunted me. Leaping out of carved recesses, from the heights of parapets.

I alone had known the truth. A bloody queen she was. But she was no mere murderer of humans. She was the penultimate phantasmagorical creation...a válnak.

Through servitude, abject obeisance, I'd gained my life.

For I had been her little pet. Her kevés tigresse.

~~ll~~

After foully, grievously exsanguinating and dismembering my dear brother Teodor, Her Grace had kept me as her heinous helpmeet though it seemed I could do no right by her. With each misstep, I had incurred her wrath and, as a wraith, she used my body like that of a slave girl instead of a servant. Violently, wielding a strength that bespoke of her unyielding existence, and a warped dreadfulness expressing her diminishing sanity, she wounded me with her talon-like fingernails, her viperish fangs, flaying my flesh, nibbling delightfully at my breasts and nipples, my stomach and upper thighs and often into the juncture between; causing festering incisions in and around my maidenhead where a man had never been, I feared never would be. Threshing me with her martinet, the scourge-like whip whose leather lashes were hardened by soap, even punishing me with the wooden handle, inside my body, when she was in just the right sadistic mood. Crowing gleefully to the sound of my screams entombed in the palace's thick stone walls, she had sipped from me and flagellated my skin only where it would never be seen by proper society. The scars inside of me were incorporeal, and never to be viewed by the eye not beholden to dreams and nightmares.

In all this anguish, I whispered silently, for death, for deliverance, for escape to my Lord and my brother. Deviously, Bathory kept me hanging on just enough to survive, to recuperate, to continue, to remain her tortured kevés tigresse when the whim fell upon her.

The adjudicates, the ministers, the authorities had been alerted. But only after one thousand and more deaths. Grisly trials of human gore never to be righted, laid to rest.

Under house arrest, I had been allowed to serve her, still. Injustice! Could they not see the flail of flogs, the blazon of scars atop my emaciated arms when I'd lowered my shawl? I'd been only dedicated to her for my life, because she'd held my death in her fine-boned hands, like a noose she liked to gather tight if I appeared at all negligent, feisty, or disobedient!


Even now, centuries between us, the number of times I'd caught the fetid stench of her overwhelmed my ability to quantify it. Likely a parcel of my soul would always be her prisoner, her presence had so dominated my human life, even as my Sire had taught me the pleasures of this life. So many say we surrender our immortal spirit when changed; yet, after the wretched existence my own human mother had indentured me to, this life -- my supposed half-life -- had been the ascension from the nightmare. My Lady could no longer claim whole provenance over my body and mind. The slip of consciousness still unable to keep her fully at bay had been a small price to pay for the release from her governance granted by the beautiful cloaked being who'd descended as my own avenging angel into the Earthly Valley of Hinnon where I'd resided.

That they took me in under their protection and care was still inexplicable to me over two centuries later. No longer a gimcrack in an unending spectacle of horrors, they doted on me like the child I never was. Every amusement, any comfort, all manner of diversion their unending wealth could obtain, was mine simply for asking. Eventually, the opulence glutted me much as the asceticism of the Countess' lair left my psyche bone-dry. I made my way into the world on my own, with the blessing of my Sire.

For the first time in twinned existences, my life was truly my own to shepherd.

Was I fearless? Relieved? Frightened?

Frightened.

Fretful and starving.

Wandering leagues, I'd risen through society.

A quick study, I certainly understood how a lady of consequence was to behave.

Remembering my pilfering, pickpocket brother -- his antics never forgotten -- I capitalized on my newborn coquette's ability to captivate those with open money-pieces, the way to a purse often found through the codpiece of breeches. I was choosy to a fault. I felt I deserved something for my bargain with Lilith, the devil's wife. Young, ripe, honored by my presence, my regard, my attention, these men were often of import...brothers, lovers, soldiers, sons; they would be missed. I tried so very hard not to kill them. Occasionally I triumphed over the insatiable huntress hissing inside of me.

Managing to survive, to, in fact, thrive, I had the sleeplessness of ages during which to consider that which I'd been short-shrifted: a husband, love, a family, safety, a home.

The dearth of normalcy was to be my codicil.

Becoming a woman of means had enabled me through class. Using my feminine wiles allowed me to line my bank accounts.

A meal of a man was squandered here or there.

I had a taste for masculine, derelict, delicious, blue blood.

I may have tasted a Hanover or two in my time.

Erzsébet Bathory always followed me, sharp on my footfalls. Deriding my decisions, jeering me for the maid I used to be.

Sometimes my hands trembled, when I held the throat of a doe, or a man -- never a woman -- just so. As if she were scolding me for my imperfect form.

In her esteem, I always returned to savagery. The tigresse of Csejte. Years folded into decades turning around centuries. I relinquished my pursuit for companionship. Mortals always died, I could hardly stomach my own kind, I'd killed more than I'd allowed to live and I was incapable of making a mate in my own image. Turning my back on knowing humanity, I became the undomesticated thing I was. Answering only the call of my body's twin excessive hungers.

Until Edouard.

Here, now, the doors of my sanctum flung open. I had enough wits to spy the man who'd followed me. His manservant. His comrade. His brother? No. They didn't look the same. This one was of longer hair, almost olive-toned, an odd combination with the flaxen waves falling to his chin and his piercing falcon's eyes of cerulean blue. Edouard had called him Janos.

And Janos was searching for me.

On feet that made no noise over the aged tiled floors, within the ecclesiastical bastion of Mátyás-templom, I followed the knave to the altar, spying an escape. By way of a dank, little-used tunnel, I foraged through nightmarish dark and old souls, the cathedral's jeweled lights from the narrow rows of stained glass sanctioned off from this mine. A heavy, iron clasp released with a guttural whinge and delivered me out of the guts of the church of Queen Wicha del Aguila, into her buttresses, and from there to the teeming square, which hid me from further chase.

To the Danube, I hurried. Only upon reaching the edge of the water, did I stop. To ponder. To cherish. That he'd sent his man after me? I was getting soft! He should have followed himself!

But his look, in the market...his square jaw tipping down to me, his clearly lined red-wine lips smoldering up, his glade-eyes shading into the darkness of a forest-toned boudoir. The jump in his cheek of a muscle clenched, and the wash of flush across those crests! Aquiline, his nose had ended with a widening of nostrils, tasting the air for me, as I did him.

The mess of wily hair upon his head echoed off the copper-tiled rooftops as he'd brought one wide, long hand back to massage a tension from his nape. His throat followed the wave of a hard swallow. I inhaled when his Adam's apple dipped and rose. And I made no mistake as I licked from one corner of my lips to the other, longingly inspecting the desirous bulge in his breeches.

He'd crumpled my card within his fist.

I'd curtsied, lowering my head to him...something I'd not done since I was in the nefarious employ of the Countess.

This time I did it willingly.

No man in the Holy Roman Empire had garnered my favor thus.

Budai Vár Vadászat

Buda Palace Hunt

Re-fashioning myself after one of the higher echelon of Transylvania, I'd passed my dossier around dutifully to the royal Habsburgs and their courtiers, their crones and cronies. A long list of regal aquaintances, many of whom I'd charmed faciley with my wit, ethereal grace, ingenious and insouciant cunning, my unsurpassed skills as a madame made for man's body, in one form or another, had aided my arrival amongst the elite. It hadn't been difficult to inveigle an invitation to January's Grand Hunt at the castle.

I affected complacency at the introductions, though really I was bored. An imposing beauty in her own right, Elisabeth Amalia, Queen Consort of Hungary was Edouard's mother. Another Erzsébetto haunt me, goad me with her perfect offspring, dangling him like ripe fruit for a betrothal to salvage a guarantee with between the religious and dynastic fashions of Saxony and Roman Empire.

Nádorispán Edouard Alexander Leopold of the House of Habsburg-Lorraine, the Palatine of Hungary was his father. A sheet of defeatism cloaked his former grandness.

There was one more, his sister, Alizka, the Serene Grand Duchess. I had yet to catch sight of her or Edouard the younger.

Baroness Esmerelda Davrulia, I was introduced to the gathered, fatuous, snobbish milieu.

With tawny cat's eyes for one man only.

Holding forth with pleasantries, a tight smile on my claret lips, unsaid insult curling my mouth, I swept past the balding pates, flouncing skirts, mildewy custard flesh of ignoble creatures who imagined themselves more patrician than I.

My hand kissed, my wrist stroked, my ire heated. My thirst unquenched, my sight starving, I finally found him in the stableyard.

Outfitted in my own heraldry, I was attired like a little general in a black woolen greatcoat adorned with the golden raven, glittering golden soutache, boullion ropeing and four rows of gleaming gilded buttons. A little red fez perched jauntily atop my shimmering locks and was secured with a gilt ribbon Didyme had tied fetchingly at the curve of my jaw. My legs, round with compacted power were clad in my own perfectly tailored scarlet breeks; I would have no blushing maiden's chaste riding habit. Certainly, I drew appraisal now...and I knew there would private comment on the scandal later. And to that, what beast might I ride? My very appearance had set several to nervous whinnies and pawing at the frozen earth, clearly aware of the threatening presence now among their masters' and mistresses' ranks.

He was beside me in an instant.

"Baroness, what a singular pleasure." He all but purred as he raised my gloved hand to his lips.

"Yes, indeed." My eyes matched his in confirmation that it would be a most unique revel.

"Where is your mount? May I ride with you on the hunt?"

"I have none to speak of, " I replied mildly, examining the fine detail of my cuff. "And I have no affection for such beasts. I prefer to walk."

"In this weather? " He tossed back his head, laughing indulgently I was sure at an image of my small frame struggling through the waist-deep snow.

It was no hindrance on my way to the stables.

"Come, then, Baroness. Might you accompany my dear sister, Alizka? She has been unwell of late but insists on coming out on the hunt."

"I'm sure her company will be most intoxicating."

He waited for the 'Sir' that still would not come. I smiled placidly at his simmering countenance, awaiting his challenge.

It also did not come.

Turning on his highly polished heel with a grunt, he stalked across the stable yard to a small sleigh. A racking cough came from within, sending a small plume of frozen breath into the air.

Once aside the sleigh he turned, expecting me to be behind him.

I smiled pleasantly, still in the spot of our original greeting.

He snorted, not unlike his own stallion, and stalked across the frozen cobbles.

"Baroness," he said through gritted teeth. "Would you be so kind?"

"Nothing would pleasure me more." I accepted his arm and we made our way to the sleigh.

"Alizka, az én -m kicsi édes nővér, may I present the Baroness Davrulia."

The words could still unsettle me: my little sweet sister.

Two hundred years of ache were automatically pushed aside as I leaned into the sleigh, smiling gaily. Within, wrapped in innumerable furs and blankets, was the smallest, palest creature I'd seen at court. Her ebony curls were piled high around her forehead in the latest fashion, topped with a bonnet made of the brightest emerald wool and embroidered with fanciful Maygar designs. Even as they betrayed a stubborn illness, her gray eyes sparked and danced with genuine enthusiasm.

"Oh Baroness! How delightful to finally make your acquaintance." She took my offered hand in her small one and squeezed our palms together in a surprising show of solidarity. " Are you wearing…? Oh, my how clever! A jaunty little uniform! It's the most delightful thing ever for a hunt, is it not, brother? How sensible of you, Baroness, to keep your legs from the cold! And is that your family hearaldry? How stunning, a golden raven! Isn't it stunning brother?" She drew in a wet gasp and began again. "Janos! Fitalezred Vitlok!"

Ah, Janos, the manservant!

Also, it would seem, the Junior Regimental Officer of Horse.

He turned from checking a saddle, expression softening from the hardened regimental officer who had chased me at Edouard's bidding to a doting young man, his sapphire eyes full of total adoration.

Might Edouard cast such a look at me?

Why would I care?

I adjusted my coat, suddenly feeling quite ridiculous in my attempt to turn my nose at Edouard and his retinue of admirers. Alizka and Janos were the two that mattered to Edouard; sadly for him, nothing occurred to them but each other.

I hurried to the other side of the sled and arranged myself under a fur or two, lest the Commander Vitlok see my ensemble.

"Sweeting, you should be indoors," he said, taking her hand and no note of me or Edouard.

"Hmpf. Janos, I need fresh air and activity and to be with you. Besides Ma-ma's physician applied the leeches this morning…"

I stared in horror as her voice trailed away.

Leeches.

Weeping wounds.

I reached into my reticule and extracted a large linen handkerchief soaked regularly in lavender oil by Didyme for such purposes, pressing it delicately at my face against the coming assault.

The Grand Duchess was a delightful, charming girl, full of amusing stories and tender anecdotes about her dear Commander Vitlok.

She would be dead before spring.

The running sores left behind from numerous encounters with the leeches exposed the malady within. The illness was in her blood and she was wasting: Decay.

Consumption.

The scent of her diseased blood was stirred further by the air as we moved across frozen lane and woodland path. I swallowed repeatedly, forcing my venom down my throat, rapt with each word she uttered. I was desperate to distract myself from the scent of warm human blood and the looming frenzied need to feed.

The horses were already riderless when we arrived. I made my goodbyes to the young Grand Duchess and she agreed, at my insistence, to remain in the sleigh and entertain herself with a new novel in English. I promised to send Janos back from the hunt to capture a few stolen moments with her amid the starkly beautiful winter environs.

As I passed the stable boys holding the horses, several of the Habsburg's proud Austrian Lippazans rose in irritation, bucking their forelegs and crying out in desperate whinnies as they pulled against their grooms. With a low and threatening growl rising in my throat, the colossal and storied beasts silenced as I passed, drawing a haughty amusement from me at their strum und drang.

Even without the myriad arrangement of footprints in the snow, the gathering was easy to find. The exquisite bouquet of human scent wafted from the bitter fragrance of snow and I gnashed my carnassial teeth in frustration. Ahead, the group spread, clearly tracking the pungent beast I smelled over their own, more redolent posy-perfume.

Suddenly, my own instincts blazed.

I was being tracked.

Lifting my head, I scented, and found dog.

A furious dog, none other than Edouard's massive hunting Kuvasz, his cultivated need to protect and defend sparking off him like a Catherine Wheel.

Our blackening eyes fixed on each other, warning snarls echoing to the other across the white expanse. In my periphery, Edouard turned, his eyes searching, then alighting on me.

"Jakov!" he called to the cur who pawed at the snow and crouched, readying for attack. "Jakov, here!"

The enormous white animal pounced and raced towards me, his impetuous barking punctuated with foolish bluster.

I plotted madly, working out how a human woman might react to such an attack. It would come within full view of the hunting party and my descent into animalistic rage could reveal all. I affected a horrified gasp, turning my body slightly from the charging beast and willed myself into the quiet sanctuary of my mind, much as I had occasion to do under the Countess' ministrations.

"Jakov!" Edouard called again as he ran towards us, his voice full of fury and...fear?

The substantial dog sprung for me and we tumbled to the hard packed snow, his disgusting dripping muzzle at my throat immediately. I made dumb-show of resistance, all the while shuttering my senses with supreme effort.

Amid the sounds of the assault, Edouard's voice rang out clear in outrage. With the hand obscured by the dog's body, I pulled as lightly as I might at his fur to distract him. He yelped in complaint and redoubled his assault, spraying me with his revolting saliva as he attempted to find purchase around my diamond-hard throat.

I was slipping quickly, my control scattering to the wind as this animal attempted yet another parry.

Just as I batted the side of the dog towards a stand of beech, the staccato crack of gunshot heralded a rush of heated, bloody mist showering my face and arms. The dog flew across the field with the combined force of Edouard's shot and my angry thrust.

I was covered in warm, thick droplets of blood.

Springing to my feet, I raced, barely under control, away from the hunting party, with Edouard in pursuit. Senses hazed with the scent and taste of fresh blood spurred me on into the forest. When out of sight, the veil dropped and I allowed my body full reign, racing through the rapidly thickening woodland until Edouard's voice became a distant, then unintelligible murmur behind my hissing, snarling fury.

And then, like running into a stone wall…ah, áldott András!

I caught the musk of a predator.

I crouched, scanning the underbrush, until I spotted it: a perfect male lynx pawing and tearing at the remains of some small animal. The big cat's purrs as it fed would serve to camouflage any slight misstep as I crept behind it. I readied, then pounced. The feline snarled, thrashing about in my arms like an Earth-bound Swan embracing my Leda. His neck was easy work under my hand; I punctured his most vital vein neatly with a talon-like nail. The thick crimson nectar was such soothing balm to the inferno in my throat, I sighed as the tension flowed from my body in waves. Feeding, normally pleasurable, was quite intense after such a long tormented afternoon of denial and then the surge of battle with Edouard's dog.

I clutched the cooling Lynx to me as the last drops of blood traveled into my mouth, steadying myself against the pale papery bark of a birch tree. As my field of observation shifted slightly, a most unnatural sight appeared on the landscape. Standing at the top of the ravine and watching the entire scene was Edouard. He made no move to run in horror nor to call to his men to attempt to restrain me so they might give me to their priests for amusements equal only to the Countess Bathory herself.

No, Edouard stood, staunch and, frankly, mesmerized.

He worked his jaw slightly, teeth grinding at each other. I lowered my eyes, before snapping them to his quickly, taunting him as I gave my whole body over to drawing blood from the Lynx's body.

Edouard Joseph, Archduke of Hungary and Prince Habsberg watched me feed; pinked under his hawkish brows, he reached out to a heavy oak tree to steady himself. His tongue flicked at his lips and his face was a tapestry of want.

"My God," he mused to himself. I could hear him quite clearly, even at such distance.

He wasn't frightened in the least.

He was aroused.

I tongued delicately at a small drop of blood in profile, then faced him and made my way back to his side. My gaze never faltered from his, even as I fisted his linen collar and pulled his plump confection of a mouth down to mine. His tongue swirled greedily inside mine, shuddering as he had his first taste of what would eventually sustain him.

I broke from the kiss with a harsh sigh and dabbed my lips with the back of my hand, dodging my tongue against the taste of him there. My eyebrow lifted slowly and I kneeled, placing the spent shell of the lynx at his feet.

"The spoils of the hunt, Prince," I whispered, in advance of disappearing into the forest in a flash of scarlet and black.



~Did we manage to surprise you? Have Esmerelda and Edouard captured your attention? Please send us a comment~

List of Characters in Order of Appearance:
Esmerelda Davrulia - Esme

Edouard Joseph Leopold – Edward

Báthory Erzsébet, Elisabeth Bathory, The Countess, Her Grace is a real historical figure -- wikipedia her, if you dare.

Teodor – Emmett

Janos Fitalezred Vitlok - Jasper

Elisabeth Amalia, Queen Consort of Hungary - Elizabeth Masen

Edward Alexander Leopold- Edward, Sr.

Alizka - Alice

~~ll~~

Final notes:

Winterstales o/s Homecoming is up for a Twific Indie in the Love Conquers All o/s category.

My Incarcerated is also up for two Indies: Best Love Triangle Complete, and Love Conquers All Novella. Voting until the 25th of March, link on my profile.

Winterstale will be updating her Sire next week (it's Emmett, AU, awesome!) and you'll have the next chapter of my Youth without Age and Life without Death also next week.