Dedicated to Valeska Vampire Queen. She set the challenge, gave immense support and quick-edited. Thank you dear.
"Man is the hunter; woman is his game. The sleek and shining creatures of the chase, we hunt them for the beauty of their skins; they love us for it, and we ride them down."
Alfred, Lord Tennyson
The Alps gleamed in the sunlight, clad already in their autumn colours. Not too long now before the first snow would arrive. The cows and goats had been brought down to their winter quarters just a few days ago and the people of Northern Italy got ready for the darker time of the year.
It was the last batch of apples that the young woman in the corner of the market sold today. There she sat, enjoying the still warm sun, now that it wouldn't sting her skin anymore like it did in summer during the harvest. Still she was unused to the high temperatures that suffocated even the north of Italy; after all she had been born in a much colder part of the world.
Her second autumn in this country was even more beautiful than the first, or maybe she only believed it to be; now that she finally seemed to have escaped the clutches of her former existence. Another chance at life was what she had been given and she had grasped it in her little hands like one of the apples she had plucked from the trees. The time before she had come here, eighteen months ago, appeared far away. Sometimes nostalgia would creep up on her like a thief in the night, bringing with it a homesickness that pricked at her heart. She quenched it by reminding herself what would have awaited her had she stayed. The horrors that ruled Vaseria and the Carpathians weren't to be escaped easily and she thanked the Lord that she got out when she still could.
"..ria. MARIA! Are you sleeping girl?"
Startled she looked up only to see a big grin topped by unruly black curls. Alberto, her employers' son, had taken a particular liking to this help of his father's. Especially the honey blonde hair seemed to interest him, the thick plaits which reflected the sun so well.
"Did I catch you daydreaming Maria? What were you thinking about?" At eleven a young lad doesn't know yet that some questions shouldn't be asked. Nevertheless she couldn't help but smile back at him. He was sweet though much too young for her.
"I was thinking about how we have only a few apples left and can go home soon." His eager nod showed her that she had answered in the right fashion.
"Yes father told me to get you to help him packing up. I shall take your place here and sell the last apples-not that there are many left." Trying his best to adopt the scrutinizing look of his elder, he surveyed the almost empty baskets around her. She couldn't help but laugh at his antics and ruffle his curls after she got up from where she had sat.
"Very well then. I should be back soon." The green skirt was shaken out and smoothed down before she turned to walk to the direction she knew the farmers cart would wait. Only three steps away she heard how someone approached Alberto with his goods.
"I'd like an apple please."
"Of course Sir. But why not buy two? One for each hand?" Amused she stopped to hear what the costumer would answer to the boy's banter.
"One is enough for I only have one mouth." Something in the response struck a wrong chord within her and she turned around to take a look at the man who bought the apple when Alberto's excited voice was already raised in exclamation.
"But you sound like our Maria here. When she speaks she also has this strange noise. Maria, Maria...look, this gentleman sounds exactly like you!"
Wide-eyed she stared at the man who had just paid for the apple. She would have never recognized him if not for the voice, so unfamiliar did he look in the bright Italian clothes of the nobles which were entirely different from his usual black garb. Yet there was no mistaking the eyes, those blue, cruel orbs that fastened on her form and held her rooted to where she had pivoted. Count Dracula had found her.
Blood rushed through her veins; its sound deafened even the excited cries of little Alberto who couldn't get over the fact that there was someone else who spoke like her.
She couldn't believe he had been able to catch her, here in Northern Italy where she had been safe since she had fled Vaseria two winters ago. How was he able to stand in the afternoon sun unscathed? Didn't they always say that vampires would burn in the sun? One could not even believe the old tales anymore.
Now he tipped his head in a greeting, his damnable smirk well in place. He even had the gall to answer the boy.
"It might be that we know each other…me and your…Maria was it?" A step towards her was taken and it was what she needed to fall out of her stupor. Horrified she shook her head.
"No!" Gathering her skirt she did the one thing that had helped her before when dealing with Dracula-she ran.
She can hear Alberto's shouts as she high-tails through the narrow alleys of the market but she doesn't care. The need to get away is stronger.
A collision with the owner of the parasol stand brings her to a sudden halt. Bosom heaving she throws a frantic look back behind her only to see-nothing. No sight of the Count. Had she really lost him in the throng of people still milling around? Breath flows more freely with each second. She can't believe it had been that easy. Now, if she could only get to the farmer's cart and stay out of sight there till they got home, all would be well.
Turning left into the area where cloth is sold she stops dead when she spots him again, calmly eating his apple, observing her like he would one of the silks on the market stand next to him. How he got there so fast is beyond her, the shortest way is the one she took. Staring in shock she watches as he finishes the fruit and throws the core behind him before he starts in her direction.
Once more she turns. This time she is not able to lose him again. He always seems to know where she wants to go and is there, waiting for her. If she turns left she will find him standing in the middle of the alley, if she turns right he will be there examining the goods from another stand. Running straight ahead she finally notices where he wants to chase her. The small city streets beyond the Northern part of the market are perfect for trapping.
In a desperate attempt to throw him off she hitches her skirts higher and jumps, directly over the baskets of someone selling wool. Her foot catches and she tumbles, the basket crashing with her. The sting in her hands and knees is unimportant as are the angry yells of the marketer.
Bells start ringing in the near distance and in her haze she realizes that she is on the direct way to the church. Blindly she runs towards the sound, the only thing that might give her safety for now. The holy house of God.
Speeding up a last time she stumbles up the chairs and almost throws herself inside the cool room. A dark corner near the altar becomes her hiding place as she huddles there, arms wrapped around her knees, shaking. Hazel eyes stare at the pew in front of her only to see a different scene.
It had been the night of her cousin's wedding. The music of a violin filled the air and for once Vaseria felt a bit of happiness again. Couples found themselves to dance in the firelight. It didn't last long however. The Valerious' had warned them there might be danger if one celebrated during the night but even they couldn't banish such an age old tradition like the celebrations on the evening of a wedding.
The bride and groom were just about to be led to their bedchamber when sudden shrieks rang through the air. Every man, woman and child in Vaseria knew what that meant and so each of them had started running in panic for the safety of the houses when the vampires swooped in on them.
She had sped towards an open shed and hid herself in a corner just like she did now at the church, hoping she wouldn't be seen, hoping that no one noticed that a human hid here. Her wishes proved futile however when a shadow in the doorframe cut off the light from the fire. Outside screams could be heard as well as the voice and cruel laughter of the bride. That left only one person to stand there at the entrance of the shed.
He had found her of course, and drawn her out of her hiding spot. Yet, instead of feeding off her blood he had examined her like an expensive horse. Cooed to her. Touched her in a manner which made her feel faint and had kissed her in a dizzying way that none of the boys of the village had ever achieved. His hard arms were the only thing that had still kept her upright as he backed her into the wall. Hands had started to pull up her gown and explore her body when they were interrupted by the riders of the Valerious, well-armed and ready to fight.
With a cheeky grin he had kissed her again and promised her he'd be back for her at the next full-moon. Only when the vampires had long left, the panic had subsided again and the dead had been counted and stacked, did she realise what that meant. Count Dracula would come back to get her-in four days time. Even as dawn approached she could see the remnants of the moon shape up to reach its fullness soon.
Heedlessly she had run into the woods. Without a goodbye and only with what she was wearing she had fled into the direction of where she knew the old trade route was situated. She had walked for almost two days before she fell down in exhaustion only to be found by three old traders. They helped her on one of the carts tutting about her run-through shoes and bloody feet. Her clothes were torn from the branches of the forest so they provided her with a blanket to cover herself and a needle and thread to close the most gaping holes. She had been lucky for once. Their pity was given without demands and somehow Dracula didn't seem to think of checking the trade route over the Carpathians.
After a long journey through countries with people who looked strangely at her and whose languages she didn't understand they arrived in Italy. Again they had helped her, setting her up as the help at a fruit farm in the north before waving goodbye. Never before had she met such friendly people. And never would she meet similar ones again.
Eighteen months. For eighteen months she had been spared, had thought she had escaped the monster from the village she had been born in. It was not fair. Why her? She balled her fists when sh got up from her corner. Near the entrance the basin with the holy water beckoned to her and she took her water flask off her belt. Dipping it low, she filled it as much as she could with the liquid that might just save her life.
Night had already started to fall when she slowly opened the heavy door to cautiously peer outside. No one was to be seen except for the lone stray cat that hurried away on the other side of the now empty market place. Slowly she set her left foot outside. Then the right. Nothing happened. No demons came pouncing out of the dark, no screams shattered the silence.
Taking a deep breath she descended the stairs and started to walk towards the outskirts of the city. Maybe the farmer would forgive her if she gave him a good explanation of why she'd started such a ruckus today. Clutching the little bottle with the holy water to her chest, always ready to open and fling it, she reached the narrow country road. One hour walk, then she would be at the farm.
Determined she moved towards her goal, feeling more at ease with each step. He probably had thought her unworthy after her display today and had left again to seek other prey. Yes, the Count must have gone back to wherever he had come from. Her strides widen while her mood rises. Already she was among the apple trees that she had helped to harvest, from which the apples she had sold today had come. Not far now, she could almost, almost see the lights in the distance.
Only a few more minutes.
The moment she passed another row of trees her hope was shattered. Harsh hands coming out of the night grabbed her and all but threw her against the trunk of the nearest tree. It protested of the disturbance by sending a rain of autumn leaves down and when she opened her eyes the man she had been running from was right in front of her. Three feet away the open flask lay in the dirt, the holy water slowly seeping away.
Tears spilled down her cheeks, frustrated, angry and frightened tears, that couldn't be stopped as much as she tried to will them to stay hidden.
"Sh, sh, sh. There's no need to cry." Soothing fingers brushed over her face, then her hair.
"We played and you lost. All games have to end at some point." Tipping up her chin he gazed into her wet eyes.
"Where I am going to take you, you will live for eternity. Never grow old, never die, never be alone again." A gentle kiss was pressed to her forehead and she felt faint as if she had drunk too much of the wine Italy was famous for.
"However, we can't have my bride running away from me, it just won't do. Understood?"
They were staring at each other and somehow she nodded her assent even though she didn't want to.
"Good girl." Before the Count's mouth dipped down to kiss her she heard him whisper,
"Well met again, Marishka. Well met indeed."
Contrary to certain rumours and information that tells differently, I never left. Getting a degree and working two to four jobs next to it, however, takes up a bit of time I found and the muse occupied herself while I drowned in work.
She (the muse) is back for now though. I have no idea how long she intends to stay so I am going to make good use of her. Keep a weather eye on the horizont for an update of LW and other little tidbits I may crank out in time.
This little ditty above has been quick-edited by Valeska and proof-read by me. However the beta comb has not been taken to it yet, so there may be things we missed. I'll upload the fully betaed version as soon as I can but I didn't want to keep this one-shot from you.
Oh and, of course: Read&Review!