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FIUR and VLAMME

 

present

 

CHRONICLES OF DARKNESS

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BOOK TWO

HEART OF AN ANGEL

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CHAPTER FOUR

 

THE PAINTING

 


 

Night had fallen and thick clouds covered the silvery sickle of the moon. From time to time its light could spread out when the clouds retreated for a short moment. As soon as they returned though, the valley was cast into a deep blackness again.

Inattentively, Sadden looked out into the darkness, nervously playing with a silky handkerchief. Then she turned to her protégée and said firmly, "Enough. We will stop with the lessons for today. You have mastered the manipulation nearly perfectly. I think far too well, but so be it. I hope you have mastered the responsibility for this gift just as well." With these admonishing words Sadden turned to the door and her student followed her.

"But you did not even look!" Lilith exclaimed, clearly outraged, and pointed at the ghoule behind her. He was still dazed and shook himself, not knowing what had just happened to him. "Doesn't matter," Lilith grumbled on. "I can count myself lucky when you even know that I am in the same room with you. Just what is it you are thinking about when you stare out of the window like that? Lately, you are not caring about anything anymore." The young vampire thought about it some more and then she felt she knew why her teacher was always so enraptured. "Tell me, Sadden!" Lilith demanded to know.

Unmoved, Sadden continued on her way through the dark corridors of the castle.

"I know about your repeating visions. I just cannot see them as you see them."

The vampire stopped walking and waited till the younger one had caught up with her. "Oh that..."

"Well?" Lilith asked confidently. "Have you finally decided to tell me about the secret concerning the Sunlions?"

"No," Sadden responded firmly. "You really have to learn to be more patient. Would you like to have a look with me at the two new arrivals of Ardeal?" she asked her protégée instead.

"What?" Lilith replied dumbfounded. "You want to go to the village now? You have never been to the village!"

A waggish smile appeared on Sadden's lips as she said, "I don't have to go to the village to see them." With a little nod of her head the blue-eyed vampire motioned for her student to follow her.

 

 

*****

 

 

Standing on a stone-carved balcony, Elea Sophia gazed at the beauty of the night. A thick forest spread out below and in front of her. The moon gleamed silvery from the sky and thousands of stars sparkled and shone in a far distance.

Her long, blonde hair fell over her shoulders and the fresh night wind, which blew gently, played with it. An owl called and rose from a nearby branch to go hunting for its prey. Elea Sophia watched it until it disappeared in the darkness and thicket of the forest.

"Here you are," a warm, tender voice whispered into her ear. "I have been looking all over for you."

Unable to prevent it, a big smile appeared on Elea Sophia's voice. But it disappeared just as quickly, because as she turned around, nobody was there. Only impenetrable darkness. "Where are you? Please, show yourself."

"I am where you are. We are one. Together forever," the voice sounded and once more the young woman whirled around.

The person was cast in shadows that kept her hidden from Elea Sophia's eyes.

Slowly and with a wildly beating heart the priest's daughter walked towards the person. She reached out a slender hand to touch them. "Do not go away, I want to see you," Elea Sophia whispered, shaking, and her lips trembled slightly. She feared that any moment her heart might burst from happiness.

And then it happened. For a tiny second she caught a glance of the face that was hidden in the darkness in front of her. A short flash of sapphire-blue eyes and then everything disappeared, leaving Elea Sophia alone and lost in the darkness. Sorrow and desperation took hold of her and left a piercing ache in her chest. "NO, do not go! Come back! Where are you?"

 

With a gasp Elea Sophia woke up in her roof chambers and sat up. One of her arms was still stretched out as if she was reaching for something. Her other hand was pressed tightly against her chest where her heart was pounding out of control. It took a moment until her mind could loosen itself from the pictures of the dream and she realized where she was. She closed her eyes, took a few deep breaths to calm down, but most of all to calm her racing heart. Slowly she let herself sink into the pillows once more. "God, what a vivid dream. It has been going on for several days now," Elea Sophia whispered into the silence of her room and stared unseeingly at the ceiling. "And once more the shadows did not reveal the identity of the person. If only I would know who it is that raises such strong emotions inside me? I wish I could see the face." Pondering some more about these thoughts, she fell asleep again as the tiredness conquered her body.

 

 

*****

 

The whole way to Andrej's chambers the vampire master and her student had been silent. Even now as they entered the rooms under the castle's roof they didn't speak a word.

The tall man was surprised about their nightly visit. Before he greeted the vampires, he threw a linen cloth over an unfinished painting that he had looked at in silent doubt.

While Sadden and Andrej were talking, Lilith marched right up to the canvas and pulled the sheet off, ignoring the protests that the man wanted to voice.

"But that is a girl!" the young vampire exclaimed, clearly perplexed.

"Why are you looking so surprised?" Andrej grumbled back and stepped next to the vampire to glance at his piece of work again. "She has to be your age."

Lilith cocked her head in his direction and raised her eyebrows.

Bashfully, Andrej corrected himself quickly with adding, "I mean... she would be, if you were human."

She pressed her lips together and decided to be satisfied with that statement.

But then the tall man grinned and continued, "It's not like I would ever get the idea to want to consider you a human."

Lilith's eyes flashed dangerously and she snapped back, "It will be better if you sleep with one eye open from now on. Could be that I will come visit you at night to suck the blood from your veins."

Both of them were so into each other that they didn't notice that Sadden had come over from the fireplace and was staring wide-eyed at the painting. She walked closer and was standing in front of it, only mere centimeters away from the canvas. With gentle fingertips she touched the contours of the portrait. To Sadden it felt as if the picture would come alive and speak to her. It was so real. She couldn't take her eyes off the emerald ones on the canvas that looked so longingly into a far distance.

Lilith felt how Sadden's mood changed. She walked to her and looked deeply into the blue eyes that didn't notice her. Then her gaze went to the portrait and back to the eyes of her teacher. For a very brief moment a door opened for Lilith and she could see into Sadden's soul. But this door closed quickly and soon enough she saw herself confronted with frightened blue eyes that stared at her.

Overwhelmed with this knowledge she had gained, Lilith whispered smiling, "I could read it in your eyes." Slowly she walked backwards and retreated from a dismayed Sadden. "You have chosen her." Her sea green eyes were gleaming with excitement.

Before Lilith was able to realize Sadden's intentions the master vampire jumped at her, clamping her long, pale fingers around her student's jaw, shutting her up.

Jerking, bucking and fighting with all she had, Lilith clawed her hands in Sadden's arm, but instead of loosening the grip the vampire tightened it even more. "You do not know at all what is going on here!" Sadden shouted at Lilith, who was helplessly caught in her grip and filled with pure hatred that was reflected in her eyes.

"Come to your senses, Sadden!" Andrej interrupted. "Do you hear me?" He stepped in between the two, breaking their eye contact. He reached for Sadden's shoulders and shook her. After that she let go off Lilith's face.

"Just what has gotten into you?" Sadden heard his reproachful question. Stunned, she looked from Andrej to Lilith and retreated a bit.

An oppressing silence fell that was only pierced by the occasional crackling sounds of burning wood in the fireplace.

While Sadden was looking at the painting again, she felt shivers running over her pale, white skin. With a quiet voice she turned to Andrej, "Please, bring the painting into my bedroom. I am begging you." Finally Sadden walked to the door with quick steps.

Lilith retreated suspiciously. Slowly the red imprints on her face that her teacher's fingers had caused faded from her aching jaw.

As soon as the door had closed behind Sadden, she walked to Andrej, who was at a loss. Carefully, Lilith touched her face and found her voice again. "She nearly broke my jaw! That is just not normal! She cannot attack me every time she is in one of her... weird moods!" she spat, angry about her teacher's behavior. "If I would have had the chance I would have bitten off her cursed hand and then scratched her eyes out!"

Still shocked, Andrej came back to himself. Not listening to anything Lilith was saying against Sadden, he asked the young vampire, "What did you see in her eyes? You mentioned earlier that Sadden has "chosen" her. Do you mean she wants her..." A queasy feeling overcame him at the thought and he stopped.

"Her blood?" Lilith finished for him. "No, even though I think that Sadden believes that I meant that. She thinks I do not know better. But I know what I saw." Crossing her arms in front of her chest, she stepped in front of the painting that showed a young woman. "Constantly she tries to hide her true nature from me."

Andrej walked to her and stood next to her as she added contemptuously, "By the way, she tries to hide it from you too, human." Lilith reached out with her hand but something held her back and she didn't dare touch the picture. Instead she thought of her teacher and smiled to herself. "...but now I am a part of you Sadden and this enables me to look into your soul. I have learned a lot during the past years, more than you think. You are not going to get away anymore as easily as you did just now."

Without losing another word to Andrej, she too left the room.

Confused, the young man was left standing there. "It looks like she is not going to tell me anything. I also believe, it will be of no use to ask Sadden for an answer." Shaking his head he gazed at the portrait of the priest's daughter. "Maybe it wasn't such a good idea to paint you."

 

 

*****

 

 

Sadden had retreated into herself and was brushing her long, dark hair with careful, soft strokes. The next moment though she raised her head as she became aware of something. "The smell of oil paint," she whispered.

Only a second later Sadden heard the slightly muffled, familiar voice, before there was a gentle knocking at the door of her bedroom. "Please, enter, Andrej," she called out softly.

Hesitantly, Andrej walked in. Wordlessly, he went through the room and put the covered portrait on a chair, leaning it against the chair's backrest.

"You are feeling uncomfortable," Sadden mentioned and slowly put her hairbrush aside.

The tall man felt uncomfortable indeed. Nervously, he ran a hand through his dark blonde hair. He didn't say anything to that. Instead, he replied, "The painting is not ready. I have not finished with it yet, but you wanted to have it right now."

Pensively, the vampire looked at Andrej. "My dear friend, I can hear so much disapproval in your voice. Should I know the reason for it?"

His eyes shone with lack of understanding. "Yes, indeed. It is impossible that you have forgotten already what just happened in my workshop."

Absent-minded, Sadden answered him as her thoughts went back to that situation. "I do remember. I have been thinking so much and since then I am concerned only with this painting. That was very thoughtless of me. You are right. I should apologize to Lilith for my behavior."

"I don't think that will be enough, Sadden," Andrej responded, shaking his head.

"What do you mean?"

"I don't need to be a vampire to notice the change you are obviously going through."

"Oh, Andrej. Please, let us talk about this another time. Instead, tell me about the girl." Full of anticipation and excitement, she walked to the painting. Her fingers were trembling hard as she pulled off the sheet and let it fall to the floor. Completely enraptured, she stared again at the portrait and impatiently, she begged once more, "Please, tell me. What do you know about this girl?"

Reluctantly, her friend began to talk. "Her name is Elea Sophia Valeanu. She is in the beginning or middle of her twenties. She came to Ardeal together with her father, the priest Everon Valeanu. He is supposed to take the place of Ion Marlin and as I have heard, he is a harsh man when it comes to church business. They live in the small, old house close to the church. Other than that I don't know anything about them... just in case it is of any interest to you... she has a horse," he closed grumpily and crossed his arms in front of his muscled chest.

Attentively, Sadden had listened to his little report and silence fell.

Andrej couldn't let go of the premonitions and imploringly he said to his closest confidante, "Sadden, now please, tell me. Just what it is you believe you are seeing in this innocent child?"

A mild smile appeared on her face as she walked over to stand next to him. Gently, she stroked his cheek once and looked him deeply in the eye. "I have to be absolutely certain about this myself first."

This answer hurt Andrej and he cut her off roughly, "But I don't understand..."

She placed her index finger against his lips to shut him up. "Do not worry about me and also not about the lovely Elea Sophia."

Sighing, Andrej relented to the wish of his friend. "Still, you can't prevent me from being worried about your well being." Gently, he took one of her hands and placed a tender kiss on the fingertips.

"Thank you for that," she replied, touched by his concern.

Long after Andrej had left her chambers and had closed the door behind him, Sadden was still standing in front of the canvas, staring at the picture of the young, blonde woman with the emerald eyes. Caught by the vivid expression of these eyes, she couldn't turn away. " Elea Sophia Valeanu. What an enchanting name. As lovely as your precious face. It is you. Yes, it is you." A smile appeared on the vampire's features while she gently and carefully traced her index finger across the oil paint of Elea Sophia's portrait.

 

 

*****

 

 

It was the darkest hour of the night, shortly before dawn. It was silent everywhere. Only from time to time did a gentle wind blew through the leaves of the trees, making them rustle.

In Ardeal it was also dark and quiet, as well as in the small rectory.

Cuddled up in her feather blanket, Elea Sophia lay, peacefully slumbering. Behind her closed lids her eyes were moving from side to side, showing that her dream world was very active. The young, blonde woman sighed softly in her sleep and turned on her other side. A small smile lifted the corners of her mouth and she sank deeper into her dream.

 

She found herself in a high hall, with cold, stony walls. Torches and candles were giving their light and Elea Sophia knew she must be in a fortress or a castle. Disbelieving, she looked down upon herself, for a short moment unable to comprehend what she was seeing. Elea Sophia wore fine clothes, made of emerald green velvet and silk, just like those that usually nobles wore or characters in the fairy-tales her grandmother used to tell her. The fabric felt wonderful as her fingers slid over it. The young woman directed her gaze in front of her again and realized that she was standing in front of a big massive portal. The high doors were made of deep black ebony and adorned with ingenious carvings. From a distance, she could hear music playing. Soft sounds from harps, violins and soprano flutes invited her to dance. As if they had a mind of their own, her feet started to move and walked closer to the portal. Like magic the doors opened on their own, revealing the room they had hidden from Elea Sophia's eyes until now.

A pleasant warmth spread throughout her chest the moment she entered the room. A lot of men and women in magnificent clothes were present and moved gracefully to the music, which seemed to come from the background of the room.

Slowly, she walked past the dancing and whirling pairs, her eyes scanning the decorated hall. The barren walls had been covered with fine tapestries. Each was showing a huge bird that rose from a sea of flames. They had been embroidered with golden threads. Elea Sophia knew this bird. She had heard of it in old myths and legends. It was a phoenix. She felt taken over by a weird feeling of familiarity. It was as if she had seen this tapestry before. But she was certain that couldn't be. She had never been to this castle before. She reached out a hand and gently touched the embroidered picture.

Elea Sophia could feel how somebody stepped behind her and hugged her gently. The warm feeling in her chest gained intensity and for a moment it simply took her breath away. Her heart skipped a beat only to continue pounding at a faster pace. She closed her eyes and leaned back into the body behind her. There, in these arms she felt safe. Her fingers found that of the other person, which rested on her stomach, and intertwined with them.

"Together forever," she heard the velvety voice whisper once more into her ear.

"Yes, forever," Elea Sophia replied in her dream and turned around quickly. But again, she couldn't see anything. The hall, the music, the dancing pairs, everything had disappeared and only shocking darkness stared back at her. Also the one, who had held her so tenderly mere seconds ago, was gone. Faced with that loss, a feeling of desperation overcame her and she felt tears gathering in her eyes. "Where are you?" The question was forced tortured from her throat.

 

Overwhelmed by her sadness Elea Sophia awakened and sat up in her bed. She looked at her window. The first sparse rays of a dawning sun were visible through the tiny cracks of the wooden shutters.

Elea Sophia wiped the sleep from her eyes, her thoughts still circling around the dream she just had. "For a few days now the dream is returning. Every night it is a bit different but the feeling it leaves behind is always the same. I should know the person that appears to me... they seem to be kind of familiar in a strange way but still... still, I know for sure that I have never met anybody in my life with such magnificent, sapphire-blue eyes."

Contemplating, she sank back into her pillows, her gaze still locked on her closed window. A memory from the day of her arrival here in Ardeal suddenly reared its head. Her eyes widened in realization. "The castle! I am sure it has something to do with the castle. Why else would I be seeing one in my dreams? I have to know more about it. But how could I get this information? The people here are not very outspoken and it's not like they trust us..."

Loud coughing from downstairs drifted to her ears and interrupted her thought processes. Her father was awake.

Hastily, Elea Sophia jumped out of bed, opened the shutters to let the sun and also the fresh morning air into her tiny chambers. Hurriedly, she flitted down the stairs, pressed a little peck to her father's head in greeting and went to the kitchen to prepare breakfast and to brew the tea.

 

 

*****

 

Dressed up as if he was about to go to a royal ball, Rouven left the house of his parents. Once more he checked and adjusted the correct fitting of his clothes, also that his high, black boots had really been polished to a shine. With a winning grin, he went on his way to the stables to fetch his horse. In his excitement to carry out his plan, he had been unable to sleep the past night. It was a wonderful, warm day. The sun was shining brightly from a blue, cloud-free sky. Maybe today was the day where Father Everon would agree when he would ask for his beautiful daughter to accompany him on a little ride. He whistled happily as he led his horse from its box. "Ah, Elea Sophia. Today is the day. I can feel it."

"Today is the day? For what?" a familiar voice interrupted him and after Rouven had turned around, he saw himself faced with his best buddy Sergej. "Man, you know how to dress up. Are you going to look for a bride?" the red-haired, tall man asked before bursting into loud laughter. "Rouven, Rouven. I never thought it possible that I would live to see this day. But, I guess it's true after all. Wait till I tell the guys."

The mayor's son scowled at him. "And what day are you talking about?"

Sergej grinned roguishly and waggled his eyebrows suggestively. "The day, where all of Ardeal will realize that Rouven, the mayor's son, has fallen in love. Ooooooh, can you hear it? Everywhere the hearts of girls that had hopes to be chosen by you are breaking... all the girls that you made hoping that one day you would marry them..." Sergej kidded exaggeratingly and held a hand to his forehead, only to laugh loudly about his own stupid jokes a second later.

Rouven rolled his eyes in annoyance. "Sergej, you really should learn when enough is enough and most of all, when it's best to keep one's big trap shut. You don't understand anything at all!"

Astonished, Sergej raised his eyebrows and his eyes widened. "Just what's wrong with you? Ever since you got it in your head to court the priest's daughter you are insufferable! Don't you understand a joke? And above all, I'm getting the feeling you suddenly think that we simple people are unworthy to be seen in your presence. We wanted to go on a hunt today. But with the way you are dressed, I can tell for sure that you've forgotten that again. Constantly your head is somewhere up in the clouds and your mind in some silly fantasy world. If you don't be careful you will soon have no more friends that stand by you, because you are driving them away with your stupid behavior!"

Rouven snorted in disgust and climbed on his horse. Looking down at his friend, he said, "I have told you before. I have no time for childish games. Grow up!" With that, he left Sergej standing there and with his head held high, he rode off in direction of the little rectory.

Shaking his head, the other man watched him leave and mumbled, "At least remember the saying 'Arrogance comes before the fall' and I can't shake off the feeling that your fall is going to be a big and painful one." One last dark glare followed Rouven, who slowly disappeared in the distance. "I hope he will come around again. The guy is acting like the biggest, most stupid idiot." With a depreciative hand motion Sergej dismissed him and left the mayor's properties to be on his way.

 

 

*****

 

 

Father Everon sat relaxed in the kitchen and read in his bible. He was planning to say a mass soon and hoped that this time a few more people would show up to listen to his wise words and return to the ways of the church.

Elea Sophia sat down opposite him. Her fingertips were drumming nervously on the shaky, wooden table.

"My child. If there is a question burning on your soul, please, voice it," Everon said without looking up from the Lord's word, smiling softly.

Elea Sophia thought about it for a moment how she could put her thoughts into words without raising too much attention and her father's suspicions. Finally, she began hesitatingly, "Well, father... we have been here a while and I would like to know some more about the history... uh... and the origins of this village. Whom could I ask about that?"

Everon looked up and his gaze locked on her. "Why is that of interest to you, my child?"

"You know how I am. I always want to know what is behind everything," she explained with an innocent, little smile.

The priest nodded, knowingly. "Yes, the curiosity of the youth. I understand. As far as I know they have a chronicler here. His name is Costin Luchian. He administers the annals of the community and if anybody knows something about the history of this village it is for sure the chronicler." He turned back to his bible.

Elea Sophia didn't move. Instead she stared dreamy-eyed out of the window.

"Why do you not go and look for him?" Everon announced after a while.

"Who?" Elea Sophia asked horrified as she was so abruptly brought back from her thoughts.

"The chronicler... to get answers to all your questions and quench your thirst for knowledge. Or did you have something else on your mind?" Everon responded immediately.

Feeling trapped, the priest's daughter blushed. She couldn't and didn't want to tell her father that the real reason for her curiosity lay hidden in her dreams and that she believed the key for realization was to be found in information about the castle, which she had seen on the day of her arrival.

As Everon saw how the redness spread across his daughter's delicate features, he thought he had caught her day-dreaming about the mayor's son. "He is a good boy, that Rouven, is he not?" he began with that subject.

"Father?" Elea Sophia asked, pretending to have no idea what he was talking about.

Everon laughed. "I may be old, but I am not senile. And as you know, once I was young too. I know it is hard to imagine that. You like him, yes?"

Elea Sophia stuttered and stumbled a bit through her next words until she finally agreed with her father that Rouven was nice.

"Good," the priest answered satisfied. "That is all I need to know."

The young woman rose from her chair, declared that she would now go to the chronicler and left her father behind in the kitchen.

Everon engrossed himself once more into his book and the preparations for the coming mass. "The Lord will steer everything in the right direction. If I am no more, my daughter will have a good and moral life at the side of this nice young man."

 

 

*****

 

 

The chronicler was sitting deeply bent over a yellowish scroll. Light scratching noises came from the black quill he used to scribble on the parchment with supreme effort. His long, pointy nose nearly touched the document and as usual his white hair looked disheveled and pointed in each direction as if he had torn it a few times already. The tip of his tongue was peeking out from between his chapped lips and the expression on his face was the epitome of concentration.

He jerked roughly as somebody cleared their throat gently. The results were some nasty scrawls that appeared in the middle of his writings. Mad about the interruption, he looked up and his face darkened even more as he saw the reason for the disturbance.

It was the daughter of the priest.

Costin exhaled sharply. "You came here uninvited and unwanted," he grumbled. "If you are here to ask me if I want to come to church, don't waste your time. I'm not interested."

"Please, forgive me that I have disturbed you. I am not here to invite you to come to church. Still, the door will never be closed for you, should you once be in need of support."

Costin snorted outraged and so Elea Sophia explained, "No, I came to you because I have some questions and thought that you could give me some answers." Obviously, it had not been such a good idea to go to the man that was sitting opposite her with such open hostility.

The old man made another scornful sound. "I don't think I have anything to say to you that could be of interest for you. As you can see, I'm very busy and thanks to your interruption I have to start all over again," he answered scowling and pointed annoyed at the parchment in front of him.

Elea Sophia though wasn't about to give up. "If you would allow it then I could go over the books and scrolls myself. You would just need to give them to me. I am searching something about the history and origins of Ardeal. But above all, I want to know about the castle."

Costin blinked in confusion and it took a moment until his mind had processed what she had just said. "What? Having you snoop around in the valuable, handwritten records of centuries?" The old man declined and responded, "Pah..." Then he seemed to remember something and grumbled, "Mmhh...why don't you go and bother the giant up there with your request... hehehehe..." He couldn't suppress the evil laugh that followed.

The priest's daughter nodded, a bit confused and smiled bashfully. "Alright... but I would not disturb you at all. Whom do you mean with 'giant'?"

"Andrej, the weird guy. I'm sure you have seen him on your arrival here. He is always there when a carriage arrives to get his deliveries, most of all books." More to himself he wondered, "I really would like to know how he manages to pay for such valuable things like books."

Carefully, Elea Sophia drew the man's attention to herself once more. "Oh, good... uh... about the castle..."

Even before she was able to finish her sentence, Costin had jumped off his chair. "Don't you dare to ever ask about it again!"

Faced with the small man that was trembling with rage, Elea Sophia's eyes widened as he now stood in front of her, leaning on his cane. "But what..."

"Never again ask about the castle!" he yelled and his usually pale skin reddened due to his anger. "And now, get out! I have wasted enough time on you!"

Frightened by the explosion, Elea Sophia hurried out of the chronicler's house. Obviously there was more about the castle than she had thought at first. Outside, she stopped and took a moment to recover, her hand resting over her wildly beating heart. She blinked against the sun. "Just what is it about the castle that nobody wants to say a word? Even in broad daylight it seems as if a suppressing burden is lying on this beautiful valley, intimidating the people." She sighed sadly, thinking back to what just happened.

After a while, she looked over to the market place and discovered the big post carriage and the tall, blonde man, who was busy helping to unload it. Elea Sophia didn't think for long until she came to a decision. With quick steps, she walked up to the working man. "I wish you a good, sunny day," she greeted in her usual, polite manner. As the man kept ignoring her, she added, "Andrej."

He stopped and wrinkled his forehead. "You know my name?" After a short pause, he continued, "But we have not been introduced, have we?"

"Well, I guess we could take care of that." Friendly, she reached out her hand. "I am Elea Sophia, daughter of the priest Everon Valeanu. It is nice to meet you."

The tall man considered this and finally he reached out, took the presented hand and squeezed it firmly. Quickly, he turned back to his work. "I know who you are. The whole village is talking about you and your father."

The young woman blushed and embarrassed ran a hand through her long, blonde hair. "I do not know what to say to that. Everything here is still new for me." But her attempt to start a conversation failed.

Calmly, Andrej continued to go through the wooden boxes, checking everything about the load. Without looking up from his task he said, "Excuse me, but if you want to be accepted in this village you shouldn't let yourself be seen with me."

Impulsively, the priest's daughter replied, "I have heard stories about you, but I do not care about the silly sayings, honestly." She stopped then, wondering about her courage to be so outspoken.

For the blink of an eye the tall man looked up from his work and looked directly into Elea Sophia's shining eyes. He turned away then and loaded some boxes on his wagon. Andrej secured them with ropes and climbed up on his wagon, taking the reins of his horse. He clicked his tongue and slowly the horse started to move.

The young woman followed him and he met her questioning gaze with a glare. "You should care about those sayings," he grumbled.

"But there is so much I would like to ask you... about the castle... and its secret..."

"There is no secret!" he shouted back and was soon out of range.

Completely at a loss, the priest's daughter stood rooted to the spot. "Why was he so rebuffing? I do not believe this to be his true nature."

Andrej shook his head as he continued on his way back to the castle. "Where there is a secret there is usually an evil expected too."

 

 

*****

 

 

Having observed the little talk between Elea Sophia and Andrej from a distance with a frown on his face, Rouven made his move.

The priest's daughter was still standing in front of the tavern as he rode over to her, his head held high. He jumped off his horse and pressed the reins into the awaiting hands of the tavern's stable boy, who led it away.

Once more Rouven adjusted his clothes and then walked towards the young woman. He bowed deeply in front of her. "I wish you a wonderful, good morning. What a nice surprise it is to meet you here," he sweet-talked.

"It is indeed nice to see you, Rouven," she answered friendly. "I see, you have dressed up... is there a special occasion?"

"Well, what else can I say but to admit that yes, there is a special occasion... you."

Blushing, Elea Sophia lowered her eyes and swallowed.

Rouven grinned happily and continued, "Please, let us go for a little walk. It is a nice day of spring and listen how beautifully the birds are singing their song." He presented her his arm, hoping that she would wrap hers around it, but she hesitated. "I don't know." Unsure, Elea Sophia scanned her surroundings, checking if somebody was looking at them.

"Don't be afraid," Rouven tried to destroy her doubts. "I have been talking with your father. Actually, I wanted to ask him if he would allow you to accompany me on a little ride. But let me tell you all about it during our walk."

Finally she took his arm and they went on a walk to the outskirts of the forest.

 

"That means I just barely missed your visit. Did you really have a good conversation with my father?" the young woman asked after Rouven had explained everything to her.

"Of course, we are getting along very well. He is a great man, deeply rooted in his firm believes. Somebody like that is a shining example for me."

"Thank you, Rouven," she responded impressed.

The young man immediately stopped. "What for?"

"I like it that my father has somebody else aside me to talk to. That is good for him." A bit of melancholy was in her voice as she answered him.

Rouven, of course, noticed that and wanted to make use of the situation. "Keep your beautiful head up, dear Elea Sophia," he said softly. Gently, he put his fingertips to her chin and lifted it a bit so that the young woman looked him directly in the eyes. "It is only a matter of time until the people in this village will fully accept you."

These words reminded her of her talk with Andrej. She couldn't think about them too long because suddenly Rouven's head came closer. Before she could retreat as her manners would force her to, he backed off and just smiled at her. Her heart pounding strongly, she was greatly surprised that he had stepped back a bit.

Meanwhile Rouven thought, 'I know exactly how I can wrap you and your father around my little finger. I already accomplished more with him than I ever dreamed possible. I already have him and soon you will be mine too.'

They reached a fallen tree and the mayor's son pulled off his jacket and placed it on it. He invited the young woman to take a seat and sat down beside her on the tree. Elea Sophia inhaled deeply the fresh forest air, regarding the wild flowers and first butterflies. For a few moments, she forgot all about her doubts and confusions and just relished being in the presence of the friendly man.

Finally, Rouven dared to tell her the actual reason for this little trip. Tenderly, he took her hands into his, stroking them gently with his thumbs.

This scared her a bit and she looked at him with frightened eyes.

The mayor's son pretended to be bashful, as he started to speak, "I hope you know that I like you a lot." He paused to give his chosen the time to agree.

Completely unsuspecting, she put a fake smile on her face. Inwardly she gathered all her courage to continue listening to what he had to say.

Rouven cleared his throat loudly before he finally held his rehearsed speech. "While I was talking with your father today I asked him bravely to be allowed to court you. He said yes with all his best wishes and blessings. He really likes me." Confidently, he waited for Elea Sophia's reaction.

Her feelings were in an uproar. Dozens of thoughts whirling in her mind, she just sat there. She became dizzy and haltingly, she replied, "I think my breath just got taken away." Panting, she took her hands away from Rouven's.

He interpreted her expression wrong and felt his magnetism acknowledged. "Are you feeling charmed?"

Elea Sophia felt a little ill and whispered, "I could need a bit of coolness."

"Of course. There is a little spring close by. I will go and fetch some water for you." With these words he left her and the young woman had gained some time. Slowly she realized what Rouven had just told her. "He is asking for my hand." Again and again, she repeated this sentence, so unbelievable was the situation to her. "And father agrees." In disbelief she stared at the ground. "Well, he is the mayor's son after all, making him a good candidate..." Confused by her feelings, she tore at her hair. "What am I saying here?" At a loss, she looked up to the sky. "What answer will I give Rouven? To me he is always so friendly and nice. But this is going too fast for me. What can I do?" In this moment she saw him coming back and thought, 'He is a strong, young man... also handsome, that cannot be denied... but... will I be able to love him?' Searching for help her fingers fumbled for the silver cross around her neck. "Can I disappoint my father? No. I will have to forget about my dreams."

The young man reached his chosen and gave her a wet handkerchief. "Here you go. Are you feeling a bit better?"

Gratefully, Elea Sophia took the handkerchief and dabbed her face with it, before she held it against her hot forehead.

Full of expectation, the mayor's son knelt in front of her.

She took the handkerchief off her forehead and squeezed it tightly in her hands until her knuckles became white. Having gathered every bit of courage she could muster she said, "At my mother's death bed, I promised that I would always obey my father's wishes."

For a minute silence ruled until Rouven saw the answer in that respond. "So, your answer is 'yes'," he blurted happily.

"I think... I believe... yes..." she whispered almost inaudible. Elea Sophia was unable to say anything more.

He hugged her hard and held her firmly in his embrace. What he didn't see were the tears that silently rolled down her cheeks.

 

 

*****

 

 

A new moon had come up above the castle. Its gleaming sickle cast the cool spring night in a silvery, mysterious light.

There was no trace of happiness in the big hall. Lilith was still in a bad mood and mad at her absent teacher. Constantly, she grumbled and mumbled new curses against her.

Andrej instead found himself concerned with other worries. He always had to think about his little talk with Elea Sophia. "I didn't want to be so unfriendly to her, but if one is living up here like a hermit, one gets to be grumpy without even realizing it." Unhappily, he opened the wooden boxes and freed the books from the excelsior. Carefully and treating them like the treasure they were, Andrej placed them on the table.

"I know what I will do!" Lilith exclaimed suddenly and stopped her pacing. "Heed my words. From now on, I will never talk one word with Sadden again." Satisfied with her decision, the young vampire crossed her arms in front of her chest.

"If only you would be so obliging with me too," Andrej responded while looking at the titles of his books.

"Oh, suddenly you are listening to me, yes?" She grumbled, clearly offended.

"Who was talking with you?" Andrej mentioned and shrugged his shoulders. "You know, there are hundreds of other rooms in this castle where you can stay. Go, look for a different one and leave me alone."

"I would not even dream of it. You can go somewhere else yourself, human," she snapped and sat down in an overstuffed armchair, staring into the dancing flames.

Andrej looked at the big grandfather's clock and noticed how time had passed. "I think Sadden will stay away this night too, instead of joining us."

"Yes, and that is such a bad thing," Lilith hissed venomously.

 

 

*****

 

 

Elea Sophia drew the curtains aside and gazed thoughtfully out of her window. The cool night air brushed over her skin, making her shiver slightly. "Just what was I thinking to agree?" Sighing, she leaned her tired head against the window's frame. "Is that really what I want?" Sad and sorrowful, her eyes stared into the darkness. "But father is so happy. He has not been that happy in a long time." Her gaze found the moon. "Rouven is not such a bad guy. I should not be so ungrateful and stop complaining about my life. If only I had somebody to talk with." Exhausted she turned away and went to bed. For a while she lay there, wide awake, thinking about the past nights. "I am almost scared to fall asleep and dream again. Another part though is very excited and can barely wait to reach the dreamscape. If only I knew if it is bad of me to dream like that?" Lost in thought, she clenched her silver cross in her hands and finally a little verse came to her restless mind that gave her some peace. 'Peacefully I lie down and fall asleep; because you alone, God, make me rest unworried.' Then Elea Sophia closed her eyes and gave herself to the warm embrace of sleep.

 

 

*****

 

 

For hours Sadden had been sitting, unmoving, on a stool in her chambers, staring at the portrait of Elea Sophia. With a soft, heart-wrenching voice, she pleaded, "Remember me." Almost imploring she talked with the picture. "Close your eyes to rest for the night and dream our true dream. Free your mind finally, come back and fly with me through time and space. Let yourself be guided by your feelings." For a moment her face seemed to blur before Sadden's eyes, but then the vampire noticed that her own tears were veiling her gaze. "Those that are made for each other will always find each other."

TO BE CONTINUED...

 

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