Lothaire Read online

Page 2


Page 2

 

  Lothaire could scarcely imagine such a place.

  "After all our wanderings, I feel we are close, Son. "

  That first night, as theyd wended through the terrifying Bloodroot Forest that surrounded Helvita, shed feared Lothaire wouldnt make it through the freezing night. Again and again, shed tried to teleport them to Dacia, only to be returned to the same spot.

  Hed survived; shed exhausted herself.

  Now she was too weak to trace, so they plodded toward another village, one that might provide a barn to shelter them from the coming days sunlight.

  Unfortunately, each village teemed with filthy mortals. They always gazed at Ivanas beauty and the foreign cut of her clothing with awe-then suspicion. Lothaire received his share of attention for his piercing ice-blue eyes and the white-blond hair forever spilling out from under his cap.

  In turn, Ivana ridiculed their unwashed, louse-ridden bodies and simplistic language. Her loathing for mortals continued to grow, fueling his own.

  Each night before dawn, she would leave Lothaire hidden while she hunted. Sometimes shed return with her cheeks flushed from blood, and triumph in her eyes. A slice of her wrist would fill a cup for him as well.

  Other times, she would be wan and sullen, cursing Stefanovichs betrayal, lamenting their plight. One sunrise, as hed drifted off to sleep, hed heard her mumble, "Now we sleep with livestock, and I must drink from the flesh. . . . "

  Ivana slowed, jerking her head around.

  "Are they following us, Mother?" Humans from the last town had been more hostile than in any other, trailing after them, even into the wilderness.

  "I dont believe so. The snow covers our tracks so quickly. " She trudged on, saying, "Its time for your lessons. "

  During each nights journey, she instructed him on everything from how to survive among humans-"drink from them only if starving, and never to the death"-to Dacian etiquette: "outbursts of emotion are considered the height of rudeness, so naturally I offended my share. "

  And always she extracted vows for the future, as if she thought shed soon die?

  "What must you do when you are grown, my prince?"

  "Avenge this treachery against us. I will destroy Stefanovich and take his throne. "

  "When?"

  "Before he finds his Bride. "

  "Why?"

  Lothaire dutifully answered, "Once his fated female bloods him, hell become more powerful, even more difficult to kill. And he will father a legitimate heir on her. The Vampire Horde will never follow Stefanovichs bastard while his true successor lives. "

  "You must be utterly certain that the Horde will swear fealty to you. If your effort to claim the crown is unsuccessful, they will annihilate

  you. Wait until you are at your most powerful. "

  "Will I have to go red-eyed to fight him?"

  She stopped, tilting her head. "What do you know of such matters?"

  "When a vampire kills his prey as he drinks, he becomes more powerful, but blood stains his eyes. "

  "Yes, because he drinks to the quick, to the pit of the soul. It brings strength-but also bloodlust. Stefanovich has become one of the Fallen. " She added vaguely, "And it will be all the more torturous. For him, in particular. "

  "Why?"

  She gave Lothaire an appraising look, as if deciding something about him. "Think not of these things," she eventually said, making her tone light. "Never kill as you drink, and you will never have to worry about them. "

  "Then how will I . . . " He blushed with shame. "How will I ever be strong enough to slay Stefanovich?"

  Ivana reached for him, pressing her frozen hands against his cheeks, raising his face. "Forget all youve heard from your father. When you are older, immortal males will tremble before you in dread while their females swoon in your wake. "

  "Truly, Mother?"

  "You are perfectly formed and will grow to be a magnificent Dacian, a vampire to be feared. Especially once you become blooded. " She peered up at the cloudy sky, snow dotting her face. "And your Bride?" Ivana met his gaze once more. "She will be incomparable. A queen that even I would bow down to. "

  He squinted at her to see if she jested, but her demeanor was earnest.

  Lothaire hoped he found this female quickly. He knew that when he was completely grown, his heart would slowly stop its beat, his lungs their breathing. As he became one among the walking-dead vampires, hed feel no need for females.

  His uncle had once chucked him under the chin and said, "Just when youve forgotten how much you miss the cradle of a females soft thighs, youll find your Bride, and shell bring you back to life. "

  Lothaire cared naught about bedding, but the idea of his heart stopping horrified him. He asked Ivana, "How long will it be till I can find

  her?"

  She gazed away, saying in an odd tone, "I know not. It might take centuries. Outside of Dacia, female vampires grow scarce. But I do know that you will be a good and faithful king to her. " Then she asked, "And what will you do when you possess the throne of the Horde?"

  "Unite with your father, aligning the Daci and the Horde under one family crest. "

  She nodded. "Serghei is the only one you can trust. Not my brothers or sisters with their scheming and plots. Solely my father. And of course you can trust your Bride. But what of everyone else?"

  "Im to use and discard them, caring about none, for they matter naught. "

  She curled her forefinger under his chin. "Yes, my clever son. "

  They spent the next few miles in this manner, with her teaching him the intricate customs of the Daci as they tried to ignore the cold. A lowering sky threatened even more snow; dawn would claw through the dark in mere hours.

  Lothaire shivered, teeth and baby fangs chattering.

  "Silence," Ivana hissed. "The humans did follow. " She scented the air. "Gods, their smell aggrieves me!"

  "What do they want?"

  She murmured, "To hunt us. "

  "Wh-where can we hide?" They were in a wide valley with high plateaus to the east and west. The mortals advanced from the north. Mountains loomed far to the south.

  She gazed around despairingly. "We must make it to those mountains. I believe that is where well find the pass that leads to Dacia. " She gave him a shove. "Now run!"

  He did, as fast as he could, but the snow was too high on the ground, blinding bits of it raining down too swiftly. "Well never make it, Mother!"

  She snatched his arm and attempted to trace with him. Their forms briefly faded but wouldnt disappear. Gritting her teeth, she tried once more, to no avail.

  Releasing him, she spun in place, searching for an escape-then stilled, listening. Her eyes shot wide. "Father!" she screamed, the sound echoing down the valley. "I am here! Your Ivana is here. "

  No one answered.

  "Father!"

  Mortals in the distance gave shouts as they neared.

  "Papa?" She swayed on her feet, her expression . . . lost. "I know I sensed him and others. "

  So had Lothaire. Immortals of great power had been here. Why not rescue their princess?

  Crimson tears slid down her beautiful face as she dropped to her knees. "We were so close. " The proud Ivana began to dig into the snow, using her claws to stab through the permanent layers of ice.

  Even as her claws tore off and her fingers began to bleed she continued digging. "How low Ive been brought, Lothaire. When you remember me, recall not this. "

  With each handful of ice, a hole grew. "You are the son of a king, the grandson of a king. Do not ever forget that!" When the skin on her fingertips began to peel away, he tried to help her, but she slapped his hands, seeming nigh maddened. Finally, she pulled him into the small pit shed made. "Come. Hide here. "

  "I must make it deeper, Mother. Theres not enough room. "

  She whispered, "Theres room enough. Ill make sure youre safe. "

  His eyes widened. She meant to fight them? "Trace from here alone," h