A/N: This is an outtake from my story Cold Fragile Hearts. If you're not reading that one, then this will be confusing to you - though part one is understandable. I'm working on at least two more parts to this, and I'll post them as soon as I can.
Aro's Cold Heart
Women! If I could boil down all the problems I've had over the last eighteen hundred years, I could place ninety-five percent of them all under that one heading – women! No mean feat for a man who's been married for seventeen hundred years!
Though I'd been nobly born, I was destined for obscurity from the beginning. My father was a casualty of the cursed hold women have had on our line since long before I breathed my first. My father was married, and a Roman Senator; which should have given me a clear shot at being a stone's throw away from the seat of power. However my father dallied with many women. His wife was not my mother, though I was her widowed sister's child when my father took her as his concubine. Still there were no less than fifteen sons born to several different women; all with my father's particular nose and chin.
Just as many daughters were born to him as well, and I cannot begin to tell you the amount of trouble those daughters brought to our family and me personally. For all of the treachery and in-fighting the sons represented, the daughters brought unequal measures of woe and strife to our existence.
Not the least of our worries were for those young swains who felt they could somehow attach themselves to the Senate seat by courting one of my father's misbegotten female whelps. There was maneuvering aplenty to arrange respectable marriages for them, and even more maneuvering to see to it that they remained respectable up until they were properly wed.
My father was hopeless at these arrangements, so it fell to me, as his fourth oldest son. When I should have been learning the law and the nuances of politics, I was instead trying to discern how much a potential husband was worth.
Of course my half sisters all wanted good husbands; and good meant young, attractive and wealthy. As if marriage had a thing to do with any of that – well maybe the wealth. I'd seen five of the troublesome little things into sound matches, and I was working on the sixth when Papa fell ill.
For all the chaos he brought to my life, I loved him dearly. He was the kind of man who was easy to love. He was passionate, and exuberant in his mannerisms. He embraced life in a wide hug, and brought joy to everyone he knew. It was the very reason women fell so easily into his arms and his bed. Papa had a zest for life that called people to him. No matter the mistakes he made, I loved him.
His illness laid him low, and he went from being a strong, vibrant, man, to one who could barely sit up in his bed. I hated seeing him like that. But more than that, I hated seeing all my brothers and sisters gathered around him, as it brought home the fact that I was nothing special. I saw how he deferred to my older brothers, and I realized once and for all I wouldn't be inheriting his Senate seat. When he spoke to me, he praised me for the work I'd done in finding his daughter's good husbands. He charged me with continuing in that role, even after his death.
I'd like to say I talked him out of this onerous task, but my father didn't last long, as his illness claimed him just days later. My oldest brother took his Senate seat, and the one after him took over his estate and finances.
I continued as match maker, and managed to marry off four more of my father's daughters. It was then it became evident that my brothers were mismanaging his estate. I still had six more to go, and there was no money to offer potential husbands. It was always better when the match was between those with equal fortunes. The woman got a husband who could provide for her, and the man got a wife who knew how to deal with his household. It also meant the wealthier side didn't have to worry about the family of the other coming to beg, borrow, or steal from them. With no dowry to send into a marriage, there was little chance of finding respectable mates for them.
My six youngest sisters were facing uncertain futures once the money ran out. I managed to get one more married, as she was the full sister of my oldest brother, and obviously noble by association.
Still I had five single women looking to me to keep them from being given as young brides to old men, or worse. There was the possibility of them being taken into slavery or prostitution as payment for my brothers' foolish spending. My own fortune was used up in caring for them, and I was having to make some tough choices on their behalf.
It became known that there was a wealthy land owner to the north who was looking for a bride. As strange as it sounded, he was offering marriage and a life of ease to the young woman who caught his fancy. He was entertaining petitioners in his home, which was rumored to be quite large and opulent. I thought it was the answer to at least one of my five problems. I packed up a mule with provisions and the six of us set off to find this wealthy benefactor.
My own full sister was with us. Didyme was the prettiest of the five, and the other four tried to sabotage her chances. No one would be openly hostile to her, for she was the sweetest woman I'd ever met – if such a thing could be said of a woman. She had so much of Papa's loving nature she was a joy to be near. I thought for sure after this trip I'd be saying goodbye to her, as I didn't see how any man could refuse her.
The others made her carry their packs, and one of them stole her sandals. She didn't complain, but when she fell behind I realized her feet were horribly cut and blistered. I made the others carry their own packs, plus hers, and I set her up on the mule to ride. That night the blisters burst, and oozed, and I wrapped her feet, hoping they would heal.
Three days later we were in the fabled land of the wealthy landowner. We asked those we passed, and were given directions. We paraded through a village, and the people seemed reluctant to point us in the right direction. Some even told us to go home. I couldn't help but think they wanted to marry their own daughters to his fortunes.
We passed through many groves of olives, grapes, and figs. They were well maintained and productive. When we saw the main house, we were all amazed at the splendor. It was a large two story structure, with white columns supporting the roof. It looked like it belonged to a king. We stopped near a well, and my sisters cleaned themselves up and changed into their best clothes. I had to help Didyme because she could barely stand.
Even after cleaning up, we must have seemed a sorry lot as we approached the magnificent home. Two servants rushed out, and one took the mule and the other lead us into the audience chamber. Even though we were strangers who arrived unannounced, we were treated like honored guests. We were given food and wine, and the servants offered us anything we might need.
As I watched them, my suspicion grew. They seemed almost fearful in their frenzied activities. They didn't answer many of my questions, though we clearly spoke the same language. They promised the master of the house would be back at dusk, and they told us we'd have to stay for the evening meal they were preparing. I began to wonder what manner of man would be so desperate as to seek a bride in such a way. I worried that he was some sort of brute who terrorized all who knew him. I wondered if he had a reputation for violence or cruelty toward women.
When one of the servants noticed Didyme's feet, he ran for water. He carefully removed the bloody strips of cloth with shaking hands. He washed her feet, then slathered them in medicinal salve before wrapping them again. He took the strips of cloth with him when he left.
I was on edge the hours we waited. My sisters verbally rearranged his household as they marveled over the statures, rugs, and mosaics. As the sun set, the candles in the sconces were all lit. We were left alone, as all but one of the servants left us 'to finish with the meal preparation,' they said. I knew they were lying.
I was trying to get my sisters gathered up. I wanted desperately to leave and be gone from the place before our host arrived. They resisted me, as they had worn themselves out on the trip, and the wine seemed to be affecting them strongly. I knew there was something wrong, especially when the one servant implored us to relax and enjoy our stay.
I had just managed to get them moving, and we were headed for the door, when the candles flickered. They came into the room so silently I thought they were ghosts. I had Didyme held tight against my side to help her, and we both gasped when we turned to look.
"Please don't leave." I didn't expect to see a woman, but my eyes were drawn to her in an instant, and she was the most beautiful creature I'd ever seen. Her dark blond tresses fanned across her shoulders in thick waves, and her eyes met mine directly. I knew in an instant she was more than trouble – she was dangerous.
The man was older, and I somehow knew the way they moved together that they were not a couple, nor were they related. Just watching the way he left her side and flanked us put me instantly in mind of hunters. He sized up the girls in a way that made me wish he were merely looking for a toy to abuse. I looked for the servant, and he'd disappeared.
I didn't know which way to turn, for I felt the threat on either side of me, but Didyme decided for me. She pivoted to face him, and her eyes lit up as if she were in the presence of the divine. I heard her sigh of wonder, as she let go of me and limped forward to reach him. My other sisters were frozen in place, obviously feeling like rabbits would in the presence of snakes. But Didyme was enchanted with the dark haired stranger.
She stopped herself, a polite distance from him,and humbly bowed as decorum required. The smile she bestowed on him was brighter than the missing sun, and I heard the laughter in her words.
"You could not possibly find me as delightful as I find you. For if you did, I have no doubt we would be married, and I would make it my life's purpose, to make you as happy as you have made me in this moment. However, if I do not find favor with you; know that I will love you and long for you, as long as I draw breath."
I had never heard such words of love and devotion from anyone before, whether man or woman. I never would have guessed she'd only just set eyes upon him. I was afraid our host would affect all of my charges the same way, but the others were clustered together, clearly frightened and confused.
He stepped toward Didyme with a grace that I'd never imagined a man could possess. I hurried to her side as he reached for her hand. I tried to stop her, but she reached for him as if under a spell. When they touched, they both quivered and their eyes locked onto one another. I still couldn't shake the feeling that we were all in grave danger.
I felt her behind me and turned as the woman moved with sinuous grace to join her partner. As she passed me, she trailed her cold fingers along the back of my neck, and I almost shrieked at the touch. Together they looked like royalty. They were both wearing intricately woven garments, dyed in the richest reds and purples. There was gold filament woven into the edges of her sleeves, and his hem was sewn with sparkling gemstones. They were more beautiful than any emperor I'd ever seen. I could easily imagine them being worshiped.
But at that moment, the only one who seemed to want to worship them, was Didyme. She hadn't let go of his hand, and he was still gazing into her eyes even as the lovely woman took his side.
"Allow me to introduce myself. I am Marcus, and this is Heidi..." No titles were given, which was unconventional at best, and at worst bordered on rudeness.. "...we're so pleased you could join us. Please, you must tell me your names, so I can know what to call this vision of beauty." He tore his eyes from my sister and looked at me with a knowing smile. His teeth were perfectly straight and white. I looked at him, and knew nothing was as it seemed. It was all so normal looking and I knew I was supposed to be disarmed by their charm and beauty. But I was on a knifes edge of wariness. Even the way he smiled at me was a lie.
I wanted to take my sisters and run. But the choice was quickly taken out of my hands. "My name is Didyme." Her voice sounded so soft and breathless to my ears. "This is my brother Armando, and these are my half-sisters." I was surprised to hear her speak my given name. She always called me Aro, as it was the way she learned to say my name when she was a child. She went on to introduce us all, and I realized he was still holding her hand.
"Please come and join us, we've had a dinner prepared in your honor." Without a word from me, he lead my little sister away, and deeper into the house. I hurried to catch up, and Heidi wrapped her arm around mine. She felt cold and hard, and at my startled gasp, she smiled in a way that I could only describe as wicked.
She leaned in to purr into my ear. "Come Armando, we're going to have a wonderful time tonight. Maybe I'll even let you bed me." The creature was beautiful, without a doubt, but there was no softness to her, neither physically, nor emotionally. My other sisters followed after us as if they were being pulled on a string. I looked directly at them and gave a shake of my head, and hoped they would take the signal to leave. But like sheep, they were totally dependent on me.
We found ourselves in a great banquet room, and we were each seated at a long table, worthy of Christ's last supper. Marcus at the head of the table seated Didyme on his right, and Heidi on his left. She seated me next to her, and two of my sisters sat beside me and two were beside Didyme.
Servants brought out platters of food, and began placing it on our plates. Goblets were generously filled with wine. Heidi's hand crept under my robes, and slid up my bare thigh. Marcus seemed enchanted with Didyme, and I heard her laughter again and again as they seemed absorbed in one another.
The woman beside me seemed intent on keeping me distracted, and I was shocked to feel her cool fingers wrap around me most intimately. I thought for sure someone would have to notice, but my sisters were eating and drinking as if there wasn't a thing wrong with the whole situation.
I was further stunned, when Marcus leaned over and kissed my sister, boldly on the lips, and her hand went round his neck invitingly. I stood up abruptly, dislodging the cold hand from my person.
"Enough! We are leaving immediately – I insist!" No one moved for long moments, but I looked around the table and realized all was lost. My sisters were clearly drunk or drugged, as they leaned heavily in their seats. Marcus casually wrapped his arms around Didyme, and looked me in the eyes before he kissed her possessively. All I could do was stare when he picked her up bodily, and carried her out of the room.
"Come Armando, take me to bed." I was mesmerized by her, as if I too were drugged. As she lead me from the room, I saw the servants gathering to move my sleeping charges from the table. I obediently followed Heidi to a room where the floor was spread with furs, and a fire was roaring in the hearth.
Every time my eyes met hers, I felt my will slipping away. Her eyes were the color of aged wine, and her lips tasted far sweeter. I had bedded women before – courtesans who recognized my father's title. But Heidi was nothing like any woman I'd ever seen. Her skin was hard and smooth, and her flesh was cold. I felt partially repulsed by her, but the way she smelled, and the way she looked at me, made me ache for her. I greedily kissed her honeyed lips and tasted of her cold mouth. We tore at one another, and her gold trimmed garment fell to my frenzied fingers.
I heard fabric tear as she shredded my robes, and I beheld her perfect naked body in the firelight. I knew it was wrong, but when we fell onto the furs together, I eagerly took her. It was as if she controlled me, and I couldn't stop myself, even though I tried. I was young and strong, and once was not enough for the beautiful creature.
I was in the midst of our third or fourth act, when I heard screaming. I recognized the voice of my sister, and I tried to get up and go to her. Heidi wrapped arms and legs around me, and wouldn't let me go. I struggled and she laughed.
"Armando, you beautiful man, you're not finished satisfying me yet." She held my head, and licked my neck. I felt her mouth on me... lips and teeth. Then the voice of Marcus stopped her.
"Hold right there, Heidi. I've not fed yet, and I want this one." She growled, but released me. She was unconcerned about our nakedness, and I scrambled away from them. There were metal tools for the fireplace, and I grabbed one to hopefully defend against whatever was coming next.
He laughed. "What have you done to the man, that he would want to attack you for bedding him?"
"Where is my sister, and what have you done to her?" I could still hear her screams echoing from someplace distant.
"Why so mistrustful? I've done nothing but show you my hospitality. You've been fed, given wine, had your every need taken care of, and still you look as if you would kill me. I have never seen such a response. Do you not feel safe and comfortable?"
"You're a fraud! I can see through your charms, and you're not what you say you are. We should have left sooner. You've both been lying to us... I was a fool to come here!"
"That's the smartest thing you've said all night." He came for me, and I swung the pitiful tool at him. He evaded me with ease. "Relax, you and your sister will be joining us. You're lucky she loves you so much, or I would have allowed Heidi to finish you."
"What have you done to her?" I shouted, and her screams punctuated my question.
"I've made her my bride. Isn't that what you wanted?" His calm demeanor and smile mocked me. I swung at him again, knowing it was futile. He plucked the tool from my hands, and wrapped his arms around me from behind. He held me in such a way that it was impossible to move. I could feel my ribs crack he held me so tight. When he bit me, I felt the burn immediately, and I screamed.
He drank deeply from me. As my life ebbed away, I felt suddenly as if I could feel his hunger as well as his satisfaction. I read him in that moment. I heard how much he loved my blood. I heard how he'd fed from Didyme, and how he fell in love with her the moment he first saw her. I knew he bedded Heidi regularly, but there was no love between them. I knew they lured strangers here to feed from them, and the servants and villagers knew and either helped them or kept quiet to save themselves. And I knew my other sisters were either dead or would be soon.
I read his whole life story just before he snapped my neck. He dropped me onto the furs by the fire, and I stared up at him, completely unable to move. He knelt beside me and pushed the hair from my face.
"There, there brother, I've done you a favor. I broke your neck to keep you from feeling some of the pain. Your body has to die now, so you can become like us. I did the same to your sister, though her spine has already healed. This is really going to hurt." I saw the shadow of memory cross his face. "I'm going to leave you now, so I can go and try to comfort my new bride. Thank you for bringing her to me." He left me then, and I felt the bones of my spine mend. Then I felt the agony of the burning.
Heidi came back to me, and curled against my side as I writhed and fought not to scream.
"Relax my dear Armando, it will be over soon. If you please me as much when you're dead as you did when you were alive, I might just have to keep you." I was being tortured, and still her hands played over my body with bold familiarity. Her touch nauseated me, though it wasn't because it caused me pain. It was because I could read her thoughts! She had already fed on my youngest sister, just minutes before coming to lie beside me. From her mind I learned of her voracious hunger, and a comparable sexual appetite.
Heidi may have looked like an angel, but she was more a demon in her behavior. The parade of her conquests and victims was more than I could stand, and I began to scream. It felt good to let it out, and I screamed for the pain, and for the four young women who would never rest in the arms of a good husband. My screams made her leave me – which was the only blessing I was to have.
Days later the pain peaked when my heart stopped, and I let go of being human with a last gasping breath. I woke to three sets of blood red eyes peering at me. Immediately I reached for the familiar hands of my sister Didyme, noting that she was more beautiful than I remembered.
She threw herself into my arms, wretched in her grief, and I was forced to console her. "I killed her! My god Aro, how can I ever be forgiven? She stole my sandals, and I stole her life!" She pulled back to gaze into my eyes. "We are fiends dear Aro... blood drinking fiends!"
There are many things I've done in my existence which shame me. But what I did to Luisa must surely top the list. I was lead to the room where my one remaining charge lay resting. Even before the door was opened, I could hear her – smell her.. My senses were narrowed to the sound of her breath and the beating of her heart. I could hear her lifeblood flowing through her, and she smelled of all manner of temptations. It was an overpowering combination I was helpless to resist.
I am blessed that she never woke. However I felt her every thought as I attacked her. I knew of her love and trust of me, and I violated that bond as I drank her in. Her blood was bliss! In that moment I would have given anything to satisfy my appetite in such a way. Trusting, young, Luisa became nothing more than a vessel to carry the ambrosia to my lips.
When I was sated, I found myself smeared in her blood, and I realized a monster had savaged her quite viciously. Didyme was right; we'd become fiends.
Didyme lamented her lost humanity, while I did not. She mourned over her lost tears, and her lost softness, and her conscience – which seemed to dessert her in times of hunger – only to return with recriminations after she'd fed. She longed for the sleep and dreams which were unnecessary, and she mourned deeply that she would never bear even one child.
Still, Marcus loved her as much as one of our kind is capable. He quickly arranged for a marriage, and we were witnesses as she became his wife. Her demeanor changed as soon as she became a wife. She fell into the role with a passion that defied reason. Merely a week later, she confessed to me that she was joyfully and wonderfully in love with her husband.
Of course he could no longer be the sexual partner to Heidi, and she turned to me to satisfy her lusts. She didn't care that I had a low regard for her, and that I considered her little more than a whore. She actually enjoyed that I could read her mind, and she demanded I satisfy her wanton fantasies.
We lived in this way for several years; changing the lure to a wealthy man looking for someone to help guard his treasury. It brought thieves and swindlers to our doorstep – which eased Didyme's mind a bit. When the villagers decided they had suffered our presence enough, they simply set fire to the home. Three of us wanted to go into the village and drink our fill before we left, but Didyme begged us not to.
We wandered for a while. We would often invade a household and feed on the occupants, then live there as long as it was convenient. It was in one of these raids that we met Caius. He was a visiting tax collector, who had made himself at home with the wealthy family we attacked. He argued quite furiously that he should not suffer their fate, as he was merely a guest. I wasn't impressed with the young opportunist, but Marcus enjoyed a witty repartee with him.
I knew with the brush of her hand, that Heidi wished to bed the virile young albino. We allowed her to have her entertainment, and afterward we moved in to kill and feed as was our way. I was almost distracted by the taste of his blood, but his thoughts were so much richer. It was what I saw in his mind that made me beg them to spare him. He was barely clinging to life when they pulled away.
His change gave him an edge and hardness he'd lacked in life. We weren't prepared for him to escape us. His newborn strength took him out of our reach faster than we could follow. He was gone for weeks, but he returned with a bride of his own. Athenodora was of mythical beauty, and I knew from his mind that he'd loved and courted her for years. She was snatched away by a man who simply beat him physically. His rival had taken the woman of his dreams, and made her his concubine.
Caius stole her back, and ended the existence of his rival and all who were associated with him.
We had a coven, but no home. It was the whole reason I'd wanted Caius to join us. He knew of a town where he was part of a scam to part people from their money, by posing as anointed clergy. His pale hair and face set him apart and people paid just to have him touch them, or for the opportunity to kiss his hand.
Before we went to Volterra, we learned our parts. We looked as if we were anointed by the saints themselves. Caius drew up official papers, and as we processed into the town, people bowed to us. We took up residence in the temple, and we began performing miracles. We drove out demons, we spoke with the dead, we read the very thoughts from their heads.
Weeks later, we were visited by those who owned the town, and all the surrounding lands. The man was unremarkable, but his daughter Sulpicia was a beauty who was spoiled, and used to getting what she wanted. They threatened our comfortable set-up, and even if we killed them, the land would never be ours. She wanted Caius; but he was already married. I was her consolation prize. It would get me out of Heidi's clutches, I reasoned, so I proposed marriage. The town and it's land was her dowry, and we held the ceremony in the temple.
I wasn't planning to change her. I felt that once her family withdrew, she would succumb to a terrible illness or accident. But when I failed to claim her on our wedding night, she accused me of being a lover of men, she accused me of being too weak to perform, and she said she would make it known that I was little more than a eunuch in Godly attire.
I did as she wanted, and claimed my rights as her husband. Our coupling was more than painful for her. I didn't want to hurt her, but she was fragile as a butterfly, and the very act tore and broke her in ways that made her scream. I had no restraint, as lovemaking by it's very nature, requires a loss of control. Flesh tore, and bones broke. I bit her during the act to quiet her screams.
I was going to be finished with her then and there, when I learned of her devious secret. There was a stipulation in the property transfer, that she must be wed a full year before the property became hers – and mine. Her death would mean we would have to give up the town and the land. I stopped myself from ending her, though for several hundred years I would regret the decision.
My new wife adored what she had become – almost as much as she despised me. She took great delight in following in Heidi's footsteps, and her conquests and victims were threatening to empty the small town.
It was Caius who saved them, and us. He made his first law, declaring that Volterra and any area within twenty miles of us, would be off limits for hunting. It didn't stop Sulpicia from bedding every man in the area, though. She just had to be more careful with them – oh she hated me for our wedding night.
Eventually our reputation for miracles and wonders spread. We couldn't heal, but we could diagnose some illnesses with our supernatural senses. It was obvious to us when someone suffered with a bad heart, or when they consumed too much alcohol. We often warned petitioners to follow the diet of Daniel – eating only vegetables and drinking only water. I could read unresolved guilt and pain, and Marcus could tell when a marriage or other relationship was in trouble.
Still it was my sister Didyme who brought people to Volterra. She merely touched people, and made them feel the joy of an encounter with God. She was the personification of our father. Everyone wanted to be near her. She was deeply in love with Marcus, and he worshiped the ground she walked upon. She reflected that love to all those who came in contact with her.
My own wife was never in danger of loving me. We had relations at first, but then she decided she preferred human men. She enjoyed playing with her food.
For three hundred years we built our reputations and our town. We built the castle and cathedral to bring in more pilgrims, and we observed all the requisite holy days. Caius wrote the laws, and we observed them. Over the years, others joined us, and we became legendary.
Legends have a way of falling.
When the Romanians came against us, we were completely unprepared. Their attack was merely a warning, and a demand that we pay them tribute. They changed who we were. They took away our softness and honed us to a razor's edge. They gave us a new focus
They killed Didyme.
Marcus was distraught and he sought to follow them and throw his life away trying to avenge her. But Caius counseled him to be patient. We took our time, and we built up our forces, and we obediently paid their tribute. We reinforced the wall around the city, and we trained.
Ten years later, when we marched on Poenari Castle in Romania, we weren't a dozen hapless immortals. We were a force of almost a hundred, trained and ready to kill. We slaughtered them. All but the two leaders, whom we left alive to witness that we were the law. They would pay tribute to us, or we would come back and eliminate them. They believed us.
Volterra rose in power and prominence, and even though the Holy Roman Empire collapsed, we were still strong. We were still the law.
Until Joham came to us.