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In the flickering light of a candle the quill scratched over the yellowish parchment. Highly concentrated, Sadden was thinking about the right words. "More than five years have gone by since we got the new powers… but the source of those powers is still beyond our knowledge. I have to tell you that my visions concerning that fateful occurrence are still haunting me."
Sighing, Sadden leaned back and looked at the written words, which stood out in black ink. After the ink had dried, she folded the parchment to a small letter. She reached for the little chunk of blood red wax, warmed it on the candle and sealed the letter with it. Sadden pressed her signet ring into the melted substance and rose. She hesitated a brief moment and stared devoutly at the phoenix emblem. Finally she chased away her dark thoughts and stepped onto the balcony. "HRABAN!" she called out in a loud and clear voice. Sadden didn't have to wait long for the black bird to appear.
Croaking, Hraban landed on the balustrade and carefully Sadden tied the message to one of the raven's legs.
Tenderly she caressed the bird's feathers with the back of her hand and said, "Carry this letter safely and quick to the castle of the Dragons."
Hraban cocked her head and croaked. She understood what Sadden wanted her to do. Spreading her night black wings the raven dived from the balustrade into the depths only to rise with the wind and to disappear into the night.
Sadden looked after her until she couldn't see Hraban anymore and whispered, "May you reach your destination safely."
At the horizon a bright lining was spreading, heralding the arrival of dawn and the vampire went to her sleeping chambers.
Dreamy-eyed and a huge smile on his face, Rouven sat on his horse and stared ahead into the green of the surrounding forest. His thoughts circled around the priest's daughter and he didn't realize what was going on around him.
"Hey Rouven!...Rouven!... ROUVEN!" As Sergej's insistent shouting didn't get him the wanted reaction, which was the attention of the mayor's son, he steered his horse right next to the young man and shoved roughly against his shoulder. "Hey! Are you dreaming or something?"
"What do you want?" Rouven growled, obviously annoyed at being disturbed.
"Are we here to hunt or to admire the nature? Where are you with your thoughts, huh? You missed another chance to kill the deer that we have been chasing for days."
Rouven only shrugged his shoulders. "You could have killed it just as much. Why do I always have to do it? I have more important things to do that need my attention."
Sergej looked at him in surprise. "More important things? Since when are there more important things beside hunting?"
The mayor's son rolled his eyes and urged his horse on. At a leisurely pace they followed the well visible trail of the deer.
The others followed them and for the first time Rouven noticed the scornful expressions and sneers on their faces.
"I would really like to know what's so damn funny?!" he shouted angrily into the silence of the woods, scaring some birds.
Nearly all of his men turned serious then. Only Sergej was still grinning.
"What?" Rouven snarled and scowled at him.
Greatly amused the corners of Sergej's mouth twitched as he finally asked, "Was it a nice dream from which I have woken you?"
"Shut your trap, you idiot!" the other man hissed.
"Are you going to tell me who put that nice smile on your face? Was it Ljudmilla?"
Rouven wrinkled his forehead. "Ljudmilla? How did you come up with her?"
"Well, I thought there is something going on between the two of you. You did notice how she admires you and how her eyes light up whenever we sat foot in the tavern of her father, didn't you?"
The mayor's son just snorted contemptuously. "It might have slipped your mind but all girls of Ardeal admire me...not that there are that many. I have to admit the assortment from which to choose from is rather small."
Sergej rubbed his red beard, pretending to be thinking hard. "Good, good, if it isn't Ljudmilla, who is it then? You are right the choice is not big so it should be easy for me to find out which girl has you falling into dreams during the light of day and on a hunt no less..."
Rouven glared at him darkly. "How about you just leave me alone with your childish games?"
"I've got it!" Sergej shouted in delight, but then he lowered his voice and whispered to his leader, "I didn't think they were your type but... which one of the miller's twins is it?"
"Have you gone completely crazy now?!" Rouven screamed outraged, hitting at his friend.
Laughing Sergej ducked and dodged his blow.
Rouven squirmed in disgust. "I really can't say which one of them looks uglier and I'm still unsure if they are really women. To me they seem like coarse guys."
Screaming with laughter his companion agreed. "Yes, I'm sure in a marriage with one of them you wouldn't have much to laugh about. One hug and your rib cage would be broken without a doubt."
Silence fell and Rouven thought the subject was finally through as Sergej started again, "Come on, tell me. Which one of our village beauties has caught your eye?"
The mayor's son relented and thought pensively about his chosen. "Well, she is a beauty, of course, but she is not admiring me... at last not yet."
Sergej frowned. "Did I miss something? All girls of Ardeal are admiring you. You said so yourself just a moment ago."
Rolling his eyes Rouven sighed. "It's really beyond me how stupid you act sometimes. Have you forgotten who came to our village not so long ago? Wait, I'll help you along... blonde hair, cute face, a little bit shy but that's probably because of her strict upbringing by her father."
Shocked about the words Sergej's eyes widened. "What? The daughter of the priest?"
"Ahhh, finally you got it!" Rouven grinned and rapped his knuckles against the other man's head. "You really should use your thick head more for thinking."
Dismayed, Sergej shook off Rouven's hand and turned serious. "You are kidding, right? You can't be serious about this."
"And why not? What could be said against it? She is easy on the eyes, has manners...when I kissed her hand at the day of her arrival I could see the interest in her eyes... and what beautiful, shining eyes they are..."
"Does the word 'priest' mean anything to you?" Sergej interrupted him. "You really think her father would allow it if you dare to approach her? In my opinion you set your aim a bit too high and this time you will not succeed in reaching it and..."
Rouven placed a large hand on his mouth, silencing him and motioning for him to keep silent. Then he pointed into the woods. There the proud deer stood, appearing as a wonderful target.
Silently the men slid off their saddles and reached for their bows. During their conversion they had left their other hunter companions behind and now there was only the two of them. With restrained breathing Rouven placed the feathered arrow on his bow, pulled back the string and let go. The arrow whirred through the air until it reached the deer and stopped, deeply impaled in the body of the majestic animal.
The deer fled, but Rouven and Sergej knew it wouldn't be able to run far due to the wound.
"Did you see, Sergej?" the mayor's son asked arrogantly and mounted his horse once more in order to follow the wounded, fleeing animal. "I always succeed in reaching my aims. Just as I killed the deer I will win Elea Sophia Valeanu's heart and nothing will be able to stop me. As for her father, I'm going to convince him. Soon the old guy will see that I'm the one and only for his daughter. Now, come on. Let's hurry with the deer. I still have many things to do today." His speech finished, he urged on his horse and galloped off.
Shaking his head, Sergej looked after him. "Well, that's alright with me. With Rouven out of the way I can have a go at Ljudmilla." That thought pleased him immensely and grinning he climbed into the saddle to follow Rouven.
It was around midday as Elea Sophia fetched Dawn from the tiny stables and went for a ride. But it didn't make her as happy as it used to do, because as she made her way through Ardeal the village seemed deserted. Once in a while the young woman caught movement of shadows behind tightly closed windows. Frowning she realized that the villagers made it a point to stay away from her. "It is really a strange thing, Dawn. Also that nobody is coming to visit us or the church. It's very different from the town, where we used to live."
Goosebumps broke out on her skin and Elea Sophia urged on her mare to ride out of the village as fast as possible. They left the houses behind and passed by a lone farm.
The young woman pulled at the bridle and stopped her mare as she saw a flock of sheep at the way's edge. The newborn lambs bleated. Elea Sophia jumped off her horse to get a better look at the animals. With an enraptured smile on her face she went to the prancing lambs. She ripped a few dandelion leaves and held them up, trying to lure the animals closer. "My, are you cute...come here...come..."
Hesitating they came closer to Elea Sophia, who squatted down. Carefully they drew closer to the outstretched hand that held the juicy green plants. At first they only sniffed but after realizing that there would be no danger they took the dandelions from her hand. Happy about their trust the young woman gently stroked the lambs' soft fur. Suddenly the idyll was interrupted by a loud shout. Elea Sophia jerked in fright and also the animals ran away as fast as they could. Curious about its origin Elea Sophia went in the direction the shout had come from. Her eyes widened in shock about the scene she witnessed.
The shepherd stood with his back to her, holding one of the lambs clamped tightly between his legs. His huge hand held its head still while a very old woman mumbled some unintelligible words. Again and again she dug her index and middle finger in a small bowl and rubbed a green-brown substance on the lamb's forehead. During that she repeated the words in a weird rhythm.
Elea Sophia couldn't explain to herself what purpose that strange procedure should serve.
In this moment the old woman raised her head and looked at her.
Scared by the expression that lay in the crone's dark glance Elea Sophia turned around quickly and hurried back to Dawn. She was about to mount the mare as she stopped and leaned her forehead against the saddle and closed her eyes tightly to collect her thoughts. After regaining her composure she chided herself, "Just what is wrong with me? Usually I'm not that easily scared."
A male voice sounded behind her. "That happens to everyone when they see granny Ana for the first time."
Elea Sophia turned around and recognized the young man, who had kissed her hand in front of the tavern. He stepped closer to her and this time the young woman had a better look at him. The guy seemed to be in her age and he was tall and slender. He wore his long, dark blonde hair open over his broad shoulders and he had a beard on his still boyish face. His dark brown eyes were locked on her. "Hello, Miss. Be glad that the meeting occurred in broad daylight and not in the dark of night." He said and smirked.
Self-confident, Elea Sophia replied, "Hello, Rouven, right? I'm not scared of anything. I was just taken by surprise. What did you call her? Granny Ana? She had a strange look in her eyes."
Rouven simply answered, "The old woman always looks like that."
"What did she do to the lamb?" Elea Sophia asked, eager to know more.
"Oh that. That was the 'Wolf-Banishing-Speech'" Rouven replied arrogantly.
Elea Sophia frowned in confusion. "The 'Wolf-Banishing-Speech'?"
"It's a kind of magical spell to protect the young lambs from the wolves."
Horrified the young woman repeated, "Magical spell?"
Unconcerned, Rouven continued to explain, "Only granny Ana can carry out the ritual because she is the only one who knows the right herbs to use."
The priest's daughter thought back to what she had seen. "So for protection she rubs herbs on the animal's forehead?"
Rouven nodded. "Yes."
Confused the young woman mumbled to herself, "Such unchristian behavior...that's heresy...yes, it has to be heresy..." Aloud she said, "I have to return to my father." Hectically she turned around and had another scare. Like out of nowhere the old woman stood suddenly right in front of her and her dark eyes gleamed nearly black.
Before the young blonde could get out a word of greeting, Ana's gouty hand shot out. Her thin fingers dug deeply into Elea Sophia's shoulder, holding on forcefully.
Ana pulled the young woman down so that the tips of their noses nearly touched and stared into the girl's emerald eyes that were wide with fear.
Rouven's impatient voice sounded after a while of the staring match. "Stop it now, granny. You scared her enough for one day." He grabbed the old woman on her bony shoulders but she shook him off. At the same time she also let go of Elea Sophia, who released a relieved breath.
"So, the daughter of the priest, huh?" Ana croaked before she turned away and left them, giggling and shaking her head.
Elea Sophia felt very uncomfortable. Wanting only to get away she climbed upon Dawn's back. She already had forgotten about Rouven, who stepped in front of her and held Dawn's reins. "Please, don't take it too hard. The old woman is not right in the head."
She looked into his warm brown eyes. Smiling, she thanked him for his help.
Thinking back on his earlier talk with Sergej, Rouven used his chance. "Please, if there is anything I can do for you, let me know, yes?"
Elea Sophia thought about it for a moment and then answered, "I could use some help in our house. There are a few things that need to be repaired."
Finally he let go of the horse and bowed. "Then I will come to you. I wish you a great day."
The young woman nodded shortly and urged Dawn into a fast gallop. They rode back to the church where she hoped to find her father to tell him about the strange encounter.
Before going in to see her father, Elea Sophia wanted to calm down a bit. Her nerves were still frayed. Climbing off her horse, she hugged the mare's head to her chest and stroked Dawn's neck for a while. Then she left her at the entrance of the cemetery and walked slowly over the wild and run-down area. "Does nobody here take care of their dead ancestors?" Elea asked, shaking her head in disbelief as she looked at the graves. She reached the back part of the cemetery where the newer graves lay. Among them also the one of Ion Marlin, Ardeal's former priest. There was one difference to the other graves in the cemetery's front part. No tombstones could be found, no wooden crosses either. Here there was not one sign to be able to recognize who lay in the graves. "Strange," Elea Sophia whispered, "like plain hills of stone, but still..." She squatted next to one of the graves and touched the small delicate leaves. "Somebody took great effort in planting all these wild roses everywhere."
As the young woman rose she threw her long, blonde hair back and scanned her surroundings. She noticed another weird thing. Again and again she looked from the graves to the East. "It seems as if the graves point to the woods." Elea Sophia tried to look around the trees but the forest's deep darkness seemed to swallow every ray of sunlight immediately. It stood like a black, invincible wall in front of her as if it was trying to hide something from her eyes.
A few minutes went by until the young woman remembered why she had come here. Quickly she left the cemetery.
Her heart pounding wildly, Elea Sophia reached for one of the iron rings and pulled open the church's heavy, wooden door. Her eyes needed a moment to adapt to the sparse light inside, which fell through the tiny windows. Hurriedly, she crossed herself and walked past the simple wooden benches to the small altar.
Everon was busy cleaning the picture above it from cobwebs with a straw broom as his daughter came to him. He didn't seem to notice her at all.
Elea Sophia sighed and then blurted, "Father, do you know anything about a 'Wolf-Banishing-Speech'?"
Instantly, Everon stopped his work and looked at his daughter with a serious expression. "What do you know about it?"
Slowly she told him about the encounter on the meadow and what she had seen. After finishing, she noticed that her father had a strong grip on his cross.
He wrinkled his forehead but nodded. "It is good that you have told me about it, my child." Everon turned away and looked at the altar, deep in thought. "Almighty God, protect us now. It is even worse than I thought." He went to a small room of the chapel where all books, documents, scrolls and parchments of Ion Marlin were kept.
The young woman followed her father, who was searching for something among the disorder on his desk.
"I am sure I have seen it somewhere here," the priest mumbled.
Finally he seemed to have found what he had been looking for and said darkly, "This village is filled with heresy and heathenism!"
Faced with these words Elea Sophia couldn't reply and placed a hand on her chest in fright.
Comforting Everon took her hand in his and squeezed it firmly. "Never fear, my daughter." In his other hand he held a small book. The leather cover was well-worn and its title covered in dust.
"Father, what is that?"
Everon released her hand and wiped the cover. The stamped in title became visible. "This is the 'Rituale Romanum'." He slapped the cover lightly with his palm. "Yes, yes, the old Ion Marlin was quite smart. He knew what kinds of ungodliness and blasphemy was going on here and wanted to face it bravely. What a dedication to our Lord. We really should follow and continue the way Ion Marlin has started for us." Satisfied, Everon went through the pages that told in Latin about exorcism and other things to get rid of people that pray to the devil.
Knowing what kind of horrible tortures and deaths were in the book Elea Sophia asked frightened, "Is that really going to be necessary? Do you want to say that people here are no Christians?"
Everon answered smiling, "They are lost souls that have to be set on the right path of our creator again. This book will be our guide in helping us to fight against their superstitions and heathenism."
The young woman really trusted her father with everything, but there were still doubts in her glance.
"Who is of firm belief doesn't have anything to fear, because God will always be with them and protect them," Everon said to destroy the doubts in his daughter. "You will go to this Ana and talk with her."
Elea Sophia didn't dare to oppose her father and nodded, but her heart clenched tightly as she thought about the old woman. She went to the place where she had left Dawn and guided her beloved mare back to the stables. The young woman took the saddle off and gave Dawn some food. She sighed heavy-hearted and went to the village.
Soon Elea Sophia reached the place in the middle of Ardeal and asked herself where the old Ana could be living. "Hmm... I think the best choice would be to go to 'The Howling Wolf'. Maybe I can ask the daughter of the tavern owner."
As the young woman went in direction of the tavern, she could hear dull, metallic sounds from the opposite side. Curious, she walked by the well and came upon a huge barn door that was half way open. A sign above it, which showed a hammer and an anvil, told her what was inside the building. A forge.
Carefully, Elea Sophia peered inside and saw two men. While one of them was forming a horseshoe on the anvil, the other was working the big bellows.
Greatly fascinated, Elea Sophia watched how the sparks flew each time the hammer met the hot iron.
Suddenly the guy at the bellows stopped and looked at the priest's daughter in astonishment. Sweat was running down his face and he wiped it off with the sleeve of his roughly woven shirt.
Now the other stopped with his work too.
"I'm sorry. It wasn't my intention to disturb your work."
The man at the bellows panted, "I'm Dimitri, the smith's son."
Before Elea Sophia could reply he added, "I already know who you are. I'll go and get my father. Wait here."
Uncomfortable silence fell as Dimitri went to fetch the smith.
The other man stared bashfully into the fire and it was impossible for Elea Sophia to begin a conversation with him.
Dimitri returned with his father and the smith turned to the young man. "Hey Anatol! Go with Dimitri and help him with shoeing the horse, boy."
"Yes, master," came the shy reply. Letting go of the hammer, Anatol followed Dimitri to another part of the forge.
Mikahel ground his teeth as he grabbed Anatol's unfinished horseshoe with the nippers and placed it back into the fire. "He is a hard-working young guy. But sometimes so thoughtless. All it takes is someone to guide and instruct him properly… he will become something great."
Elea Sophia smiled at the warm words the smith had for his apprentice.
"Well? I'm at your beg and call, young lady. What can the smith Mikahel do for you?"
For the first time the young woman felt really comfortable in the presence of a villager. "You know me?" she opened the conversation with a question.
Mikahel couldn't suppress a grin. "Who doesn't know of you and your father? Such news travels fast in a small community like ours."
The priest's daughter returned his grin. "Please, call me Elea Sophia."
"Well then, Elea Sophia. What has brought you to my door?"
"I'm searching for the old Ana's house. I would like to visit her."
Surprised, Mikahel lifted his brows. "Oh, that's very nice of you. But, what do you want from our granny?"
"I met her today around noon and I would like to continue our interesting conversation. I have a feeling she might like some company."
"Interesting conversation?" the smith repeated and frowned. "Be careful. You cannot believe everything she says."
"Was that supposed to be a warning?" Elea Sophia wanted to know.
"No, just a well meant piece of advice," Mikahel finished their talk quickly and wanted to turn back to his work.
"Please, I have one more question. Where do I find Ana?"
The smith stepped with Elea Sophia in front of the forge and pointed in direction of the forest. "Follow the path until you reach the outskirts of the woods. Then you go right and you will come upon her house. You can't miss it."
"Thank you for your help. Goodbye."
Her legs became heavy as she arrived at the crone's house. It looked more like a cockeyed hut than a comfortable home and was surrounded by a thick, thorny hedge. The roof was in serious need to be repaired. A small entrance door lay in the middle of two tiny windows and a small bench sat under the right one.
Taking a few deep breaths, Elea Sophia gathered her courage and made her way through the undergrowth. Useless things lay scattered on the sides of the small path that led the young woman to the house. She slowly raised her hand and knocked, inwardly praying that the old woman wouldn't be at home.
A few silent moments went by and then a voice croaked from inside the house, "Who is there?"
The blonde hastily stuttered her name. "It's Elea Sophia Valeanu."
When no answer came she added, "We already met today, granny. I'm the priest's daughter."
Again it was silent and Elea Sophia pressed her ear against the door, which opened suddenly and Ana eyed her skeptically. "Come in."
Supported on a knotty cane, the old woman went first and Elea Sophia followed her reluctantly because an unpleasant, penetrating stench floated up from the house. As soon as she had set a foot inside, the scent of garlic met her nose with such a force that the young woman covered her face with one hand and staggered back.
Ana noticed that and smiled smugly. "Don't be so shy. This root has an enormous cleansing effect... not only for the body though."
Elea Sophia had no wish to know what the old woman meant with these words.
"Well, my child. To what reason do I owe the honor of your visit?"
"I came to bring greetings from my father, the priest Everon. He hopes to see you at the next mass and he would like to meet you in person."
Elea Sophia observed the reaction of the old woman, whose dark eyes had widened in surprise. The corners of Ana's mouth twitched in amusement at the thought of being eye to eye with the priest. "My dear child," she smirked, "chances are higher that the sky falls onto my head than that I will ever set one foot on ground that has been blessed by the church."
At these words the priest's daughter paled and her breathing hitched.
The old woman took her hand and dragged her to the oven, where she made her sit on a bench. "You're suddenly as white as a sheet, my child. Wait, I'll give you something that's good for you." Ana grabbed a clay cup, dripped a bit of the honey-colored fluid on a deep wooden spoon and gave it to the girl, who was still too shocked to realize what Ana intended.
Elea Sophia's nose wrinkled as she felt the tincture running down her throat, leaving a bitter aftertaste on her tongue. Horrified, she leapt from the bench and spat, but it was too late. "What was that?" she cried out.
"Ahh, I see, you're feeling better," the crone chuckled satisfied and sat down.
The priest's daughter sat down next to Ana and asked once more, "What did you give me?"
"A herb tincture with a stimulating effect. I won't say more because you don't need to know more."
Elea Sophia was still skeptical about it. Seeing that, the old woman stroked her hand gently and added softly, "It won't harm you in any way. Take it as a gift from Mother Nature."
Having recovered from her shock the priest's daughter asked curiously, "Your...uh... different opinion towards Christianity... Where does it come from?"
Ana didn't have to think long about an answer and said frankly, "The truth is not written in a book on which you build your belief. It is within us."
"So, you are meaning to tell me the holy bible is a lie?" Elea Sophia cried.
"Now, you said that," Ana retorted and a roguish smile appeared on her wrinkled lips.
Confused, the young woman locked eyes with the crone, who returned her stare calmly until Elea Sophia turned away, because she had the weird feeling that Ana could see right into her innermost being. Becoming more uncomfortable with each passing second, the blonde felt the need to leave Ana's presence as soon as possible. Hurriedly, she said her goodbyes. "It's so late already. My father will be worried."
As Elea Sophia went to the door, she noticed a gap at the lower end of the door. She pointed at it and asked Ana, "Granny, the mayor's son is coming to our house to repair a few things. Would you like me to send him over later to take care of this big gap?"
Ana's eyes followed her outstretched arm and then she laughed. "No, no, my child. This gap there needs to stay right where it is. It's a 'cat hole' which lets the house ghost in and out. To close that gap would annoy him and bring bad luck to my house."
Elea Sophia shivered. Faced with so much superstition she had no words and she thought, "I've never met a stranger woman before.”
Whistling a merry tune, Rouven was on the way that led to the church. Then he took a turn and soon reached the vicarage. He knocked loudly until Everon opened the door. Politely bowing, Rouven greeted the priest, "Good evening, Father."
"What can I do for you?"
"My name is Rouven. I met your daughter earlier and offered to do some repairs concerning your house," he explained.
"That is very nice of you. Come in."
Respectfully, Rouven wiped clean his boots and followed Everon inside where he asked, "Where shall I begin?"
"My beloved daughter mentioned something about the door to her chambers. According to her, it opens not very easy. " Everon pointed to the stairs that went up to Elea Sophia's room.
Rouven nodded. "I'll look at it right away. You can return to the warmth again, I'll take care of it, don't worry." Alone, the man went upstairs and curiously he entered the chamber.
At the same time the door downstairs opened and Elea Sophia's voice could be heard. "I'm sorry it took so long, father. I will start to prepare dinner immediately but before I have to speak to you about Ana."
His actual task already forgotten, Rouven stood at the stairway and listened to the conversation that took place downstairs.
The priest's daughter told Everon every small detail about her newest encounter with the old Ana.
"What? She gave you a tincture? What kind of tincture? What do you mean when you say the old woman refuses the one true belief?"
Rouven could hear the priest's angry pacing.
Everon continued, "It was a big mistake to send you to her. But that will not happen again. From now on you will stay away from that crone."
His daughter tried to calm him but Everon wasn't about to relent. He mumbled something and Rouven had to strain his ears to be able to catch what the priest was saying. "You need protection... but sadly I cannot always be near you. The church needs my help to bring back all those misguided souls... Just what shall I do?"
"Father, please think about your health. You shouldn't get so upset. Please sit down. I'm going to fetch the potatoes and then I will make our dinner." Elea Sophia left the house.
Rouven used the chance to come downstairs and tell Everon about the plan he had just thought up. "I couldn't fail to notice that you are a very hard-working man. That's why I'm greatly concerned about your lovely daughter in these surroundings, which are still so foreign to her. She is so open-hearted and good-natured. It can easily be that people with impure and evil intentions will make use of that."
"Are you talking about specific persons?" Everon asked with a sharp glance.
Rouven stuttered a bit until he finally admitted after a faked sigh. "I'm no friend of defamation but... well... Unfortunately there are also people in our beautiful village that would give everything to ill-use the naivety of a pretty, young girl, such as your daughter is without a doubt."
The priest's sharp glare was still locked on him and Rouven hurried to explain, "I'll get to the point. There are a few brawlers here that are of my age, but I ensure you that I have nothing to do with them."
Everon rose, stepped in front of the young men and clapped his shoulder in acknowledgement. "Thank you for the honest warning. My daughter just told me about her weird conversation with a granny Ana..."
Before the priest could finish his sentence, Rouven cut him off in pretended horror. "Oh no! Your daughter should be especially careful about the old woman. It is best if she were to stay away from her at all! She is not right in the head." He tapped against his temple and added, "If you know what I mean."
Everon saw his own belief proven and nodded. "Thank you, boy. I would like to give you another task. I want you to protect my beloved daughter."
Rouven beamed happily as the priest said his goodbyes. The mayor's son had gotten what he wanted. From now on he could always be close to Elea Sophia.
Shortly after that, Everon's daughter returned with the potatoes and found her father in a happy mood, which made her happy too.
While she sat at the table, peeling the potatoes, her father asked matter-of-factly, "What do you think about Rouven, my daughter?"
Elea Sophia frowned and asked a question of her own, "How do you come up with him?"
"Oh, excuse me, you cannot know, of course. He was here not so long ago to repair the door to your room. I had a talk with him. He seems to be a very nice guy."
His daughter blushed and responded, "Well... yes, I think he is nice, too."
Everon nodded satisfied and let Elea Sophia go back to her work. She was making his favorite meal for dinner, mashed potatoes with cream.
After having finished their meal, Elea Sophia went upstairs to go to bed. While opening the door she noticed that it was still scraping heavily across the wooden floor. "Strange, didn't father say that Rouven repaired it? It seems to me that he didn't do much about it."
And so she went to bed after her rather eventful day.
Nighttime fell and the weather turned colder. Thick fog covered the secluded valley.
Andrej came from the kitchen where he had just finished his lonely dinner. Usually Sadden was keeping him company but the young man had not seen her at all today. Slowly he climbed up the stairs that led to the chambers and rooms on the castle's upper floors. Torches illuminated his way.
As Andrej stepped into a big corridor he saw a light shining from under the library's door. His paces quickened and he opened the door. At first he saw that the wooden shutters on the windows were still tightly closed. He had installed them once to make sure that Sadden could enter the library even in bright daylight, if she wished to do just that.
Next he noticed the ghouls. One of them made a fire, another lightened more candles and a third was about to open the shutters. They carried out their tasks silently and once more Andrej wondered how easily he could forget about the presence of the many mute servants. Most of the times nobody got to see them when they worked. As the three noticed Andrej, they hurried to finish and left the library bowing. Then they just disappeared.
The young man shivered. The soulless, pale creatures always had and always would terrify him a bit. Andrej walked around the long couch that stood in front of the fireplace. Surprised he discovered Lilith, who lay on her stomach on some pillows in front of the fireplace and slept. Scattered around her were open books, old scrolls and other documents.
Quietly Andrej sat down on the couch and regarded the disorder on the floor.
His arrival had been noticed. Lilith awoke due to his presence and sat up on the pillows.
"For how long have you been here?" Andrej asked her with interest.
"A few days, I think," the young vampire answered.
"Are you searching for something specific? Or do you want to read the whole library? You sure would have the time to do that."
Lilith snorted in disdain before sitting down on the couch and looking absentminded at the books at her feet. "Sadden does not want to tell me anything about her visions. Although I know that it has something to do with my condition."
"Your condition? What condition?" Andrej wanted to know.
Lilith countered, "What do you know about vampire hunters?"
"Why do you want to know that?" the young man was astonished about Lilith's interest.
"I think there may be a connection. I read something about the existence of several clans of vampire hunters. All of them have been destroyed but not..."
Andrej finished her sentence, saying devoutly, "But not the most powerful clan, the Sunlions."
Lilith was surprised, "How..."
"I already had a hunch when Sadden started to talk about a lion cub. I thought it was rubbish and I didn't know what to make of it."
Lilith looked disbelieving at Andrej and grinned. "You are doubting Sadden? Now this is something completely new."
The young man didn't reply. Instead he went to the bookcases and pulled out a big, thin book. "You only needed to ask me. I would have shown it to you."
The vampire declined. "Do not go to any trouble. I learned a lot while reading. Some of these books were very interesting and gave me a good view about many things."
Not answering, the tall man sat back on the couch and opened the book on his lap. “This is a collection of ancient maps. There is also a family tree of several vampire hunter families."
"How did Sadden get that?"
Highly concentrated Andrej went through the fragile pages, trying to find the illustrations.
"Now I understand. It somehow ended up in your possession," Lilith responded offended.
"So what? I purchased it honestly... Ahh, here we have the right page. Look." He pointed at the name Leosol.
The vampire's eyes widened. "Leosol, the only survivors... I have never even seen a vampire hunter." Fascinated, she looked at the clan symbols and asked, "Why have these hunters not been killed long ago also?"
"Ever heard about the balance of nature?" Andrej replied.
Lilith raised her brows scornfully and while looking at the lion head, which was the heraldic sign of the Leosol family, she said, "What is it about these hunters that Sadden does not want to tell me anything? Something about them has to be different than it was with all the others."
"Maybe that's the reason they are the only clan that could hold their own against the vampires," Andrej speculated and leaned back.
Lilith shrugged her shoulders and lost in thought she stared into the blazing flames of the fireplace.
A few nights later, Hraban reached the stormy coast of England . Her feathers were disheveled and exhausted from the long way she landed on the open terrace of the castle. Croaking loudly, she drew attention to herself.
Instantly Ajatarah stepped onto the terrace and knelt next to the raven. Untying the letter from the bird's leg, she looked at the seal with the phoenix. Excited she called for her husband. "Zephriel! A message from Sadden."
He came to her and motioned for her to open the letter.
A strong feeling came over her as soon as she broke the seal and Ajatarah hesitated.
"What is it, my beloved?" Zephriel asked calmly.
Her pale, slender fingers slid over the rough paper, her green eyes cleared and she announced, "The next gathering will soon take place."
Zephriel was surprised and took her hands in his. "Where?" His gaze followed that of Ajatarah, who was still looking at the phoenix seal and answered quietly, "Sadden. The next gathering will be at Sadden's castle."
"Well, so it will happen. Now, please, read what she is writing."
Ajatarah unfolded the parchment and began to read,
" My dear friends,
It's been a long time since I last heard from you. More than five years have gone by since we got the new powers but the source of those powers is still beyond our knowledge. I have to tell you that my visions concerning that fateful occurrence are still haunting me. Greatly concerned I ask if you know more. Those unknown powers seem to change Lilith and I am worried because I do not know where this all will lead.
Lady Sadden D'Azoon "
Zephriel paced restlessly, thinking about the words. Then he came to a decision. "We will write an answer immediately where we explain to Sadden that we know about the source of the powers."
Ajatarah added, "But give Hraban a few days of rest. She needs to get her strength back."
Her husband nodded in agreement and stroked her silky hair as he saw the sad expression in her eyes. "We will see our daughter again."
There was fear in Ajatarah's voice as she responded, "Yes, but to what occasion? Will those changes Sadden mentioned assume horrendous proportions?"
"As fate sees it fit to happen, it will happen and we will accept it."
Guided by an inner restlessness, Sadden walked around in one of her gardens. This time though it was different. The feeling was intense and exciting and Sadden felt elevated. Happiness overcame her as she recognized the reason. Familiar images, which she had tried to banish from her thoughts, came into her mind. All her senses suddenly reminded her of happy times. "You are here... all my pleadings have been heard. My beloved has returned to me..."
TO BE CONTINUED...
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