DARK PRINCE is a gay romance/political thriller set primarily in the US. It is mainstream with gay primary characters. It is not erotica. If you want the erotic version, dig through the Nifty archives for CONFESSIONS OF A VAMPIRE. DARK PRINCE is an extensive rewrite of that (and I have to rewrite it again, extensively, which is why it's appearing on Nifty).
DARK PRINCE is fiction but I hope you would realise that as there are vampires in it. It copyrighted to me and I permit only Nifty to release it electronically. If you are under 16 -- 18 in America -- DA is pretty tame sex-wise. Your preacher will condemn you to Hell for reading it. And you aren't even supposed to visit Nifty. Perhaps you should go...
If you like this chapter and look forward to reading more, perhaps you give Nifty a few dollars on your credit card.
I stress again that the following story is in main part a political thriller. It's in the same genre as THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, 7 DAYS IN MAY, and THE DAY OF THE CONDOR are. There are few Bush government's programmes mentioned and few negatives shown other than the ruined US economy. There is a certain smugness at how naïve Americans are on the part of the 157 yo Austrian Prince, but that's not really anti-Americanism as I see it. Nor is it Bush bashing. The bad guys mostly aren't even in the government.
I would appreciate your comments and suggestions, good or bad, at Vichowel (just one L) at aol.com. If you like PRINCE, I'd like to refer you to my unfolding historical thriller FLIGHT AT PEENEMŰNDE in the Beginnings folder.
(The Ostmark's border with Yugoslavia – 1940/The Austrian border with Slovenia -- 2004)
Edelweiß. I smelled edelweiß and slowly remembered a field of white flowers. I – we – had been running across it under the full moon. Dark peaks had risen to touch the black sky ahead of us as I pulled an exhausted Würther along. We were nearly to the border. The occasional bark of gunfire followed us, coming always closer. I carried the stench of fear on me.
Fear? Me afraid?
Definitely unbelievable. Quite unnatural. My eyes snapped open, my mind pulled from the fog of seamless sleep that had held me.
I moved one hand and then the other. I did the same with my feet. All of me was together, in one piece.
Escaping what? The thought demanded attention. I lay on rock; I could feel its hardness and its chill against my back. I slowly lifted my head and bumped into even more cold rock barely beyond my nose.
I touched what was above my face with my fingers. I traced the rock down one side until it joined the rock beneath me centimetres beyond my shoulder. It was the same on my other side. By spreading my knees and then my feet, I learnt the dimensions of my resting-place. I lay in a cavity of rock only slightly larger than I was. A crypt.
I forced myself to relax, pulling thoughts from closed compartments along the corridors of my mind, searching for memories of what had happened to me.
Würther and I had been running, escaping. The dream had told me that much as it awakened me, but no more.
I touched the fog of memories covering the uneven terrain of my mind, trying to know it. I realised that my throat was working autonomously, sucking dryly. Trying to swallow emptiness.
I understood then why my memory was so unwieldy, my thinking unclear. I was weak from hunger. Had it somehow generated the dream that had awoken me as well?
We had been found out. I blinked uselessly in the darkness. Found out?
We had been fleeing the SS, Würther and I. We had aided Jews to escape Vienna from my house on Akademiestraße, helping them enter the Slovene province of Yugoslavia where they could make their way to Greece and, there, book passage to British-mandated Palestine.
We had fled. The SS followed us out of Vienna, tracking us across southeastern Austria, past Klagenfurt and into the mountains still white with their snow from the winter. The SS had been mongrels with the single-minded souls of pedigreed hounds on the scent.
It was obvious that I had reached the cave. This rock crypt that held me confirmed that. Where then was Würther? And the gold we had carried from Vienna?
The memory of that night crashed over me finally, nearly drowning me in its flood of cold waters.
Würther, the impossibly handsome curate I had stolen from the Church of Peter. He and I had carried the three bags of gold coins that we had managed to bring from Vienna. The coins that had been my father's collection – gold commemorative Reich schillings from the coronation of Franz-Josef the year after my birth in 1847.
We had been making our way deeper into the Carpathian Mountains – climbing through gullies and over washed-out lanes, cow-paths. We had finally reached this field of edelweiß less than a kilometre from freedom in Yugoslavia.
But we had never been more than a step ahead of the SS.
Würther sprained his ankle and I held him, pulling him along. The roar of a motorcycle ground and clutched its way after us.
"Go, Karli," he whispered. "Leave me."
"No," I growled and pulled him hobbling through the white alpine flowers.
I had held myself too long to only my natural senses. For him. I hadn't once extended myself to seek out and destroy our pursuers during our escape.
I had known the fear a mortal man knows. And did not once consider what I was capable of doing, that which would have saved us. Because that was how Würther had wanted me to be, and, for three years, I had bent my will to his.
I heard the spit of death a Mauser made. Nearly upon us. Fifty metres, no more. Würther slumped against me, a sudden dead weight added to the three bags of gold I carried.
I lowered him to the bed of flowers and ripped open my shirt, fingernail tearing aside skin and flesh, pushing past rib bone. "Drink, Liebchen," I commanded him and brought his face against my bared chest, his lips to the opened vein.
He turned his head. "No," he whispered and was then slack in my arms. There was a rush about me and I knew he was dead.
"Pigs!" I growled and visualised the timber wolf of these mountains, a form I had come to know well over the past seventy years. Hair sprouted over my body and I began to change shape, becoming lupine. I could not change what Würther had chosen, but I could exact a small token of revenge.
Unseen in the field of flowers, I raced towards the rifleman, my tongue lolling from my jaws. Würther's killer stood in the sidecar searching the field for me. His companion stood beside the cycle looking back the way they had come, his hand on his holstered pistol. I sprang towards the rifleman, feeling the cool air of night sweep past my snout, past my paws.
"Höllehund!" the rifleman screamed as his mind finally accepted what his eyes had seen the moment before. But too late. With unnatural strength even for wolf form, I ripped his arm from his body as I sailed past him. I dropped it as I landed and sprang immediately for the driver pulling his service pistol from its holster. My jaws snapped closed on his throat, crushing his windpipe and tearing it from him.
I turned back to the rifleman then and found him collapsed back into the sidecar, slumped into shock as his life spurted away from the severed artery that once fed the bone and flesh of his arm.
I had already gone the last two nights without feeding, running and hiding with Würther and living in the stink of fear. I did not allow his blood to be wasted. My snout quickly sank into the torn muscles and bone that remained of his shoulder and lapped and drank until I was sated and he was dead.
Blood still oozed from the jagged hole that had been Würther's chest, but his face was at peace. The beautiful curate whom I had stolen from the church the summer before the Anschluß was now returned to it and its promise of life-everlasting in the moment he had chosen against me and the reality of true immortality.
I was beyond thought as I picked up his body and the bags of gold and made my way to this cave. And its cavities in which Jewish men and women had been able to hide if their escape were discovered along this last leg of their flight from the hell the Nazis gave Germany.
I placed Würther in the first cavity and hefted the rock cover to close him from the world he would no longer know. The body of the curate who had denied himself my dark immortality lay in an unhallowed grave far from Holy Mother Church which he'd proved to love more even than me.
The bags of gold had gone into the second cavity and were closed off. I returned to the field of edelweiß then, shock turning slowly into fatigue as I felt the threat of dawn warming the mountain as it rose behind me.
I swore to myself that I would not grieve until Würther had been avenged. I swore it on my lover's blood. I swore it to my father. And I swore that Würther's flesh would lie in hallowed and free ground before I grieved.
If he had been avenged, I did not remember it in my dark crypt dug into the mountain. I remembered nothing. Not my return to the cavern. Not my hiding myself. Nothing.
I managed to place both hands above my head and pushed against the rock that covered my cavity from the cave beyond it. It failed to give and I was surprised at how weak I had become. I pushed again with everything I had and heard rock grind on rock.
Fed, I had the strength of ten men. I was weak, however. I couldn't push a simple rock from its groove.
Yet, one of the last things I remembered was feeding. Even months without blood would not leave me this weak.
I pushed again, adding anger to the strength I had gained in 1874, three years after the Prussians united Germany into a second Reich. This time, the rock cover fell away to crash against the floor of the cave. I cringed at the noise that seemed to echo through the cavern forever but used my fingers to pull myself down along the slant of my tomb.
My head passed the bottom lip of the stone crypt that had held me, then my arms. I grasped the rough side of the cave and pulled the rest of my body from the hole in the mountain where I had slept.
It was as dark inside the cave as it had been in the cavity. My limbs were weak from hunger and disuse. I had sight less than a metre beyond my nose. I hobbled towards the remembered cavern entrance, supporting myself by leaning against the stone wall. I halted when I found the seams that separated rock from rock, that separated the solid rock face of the wall from the mass of small pebbles and dirt that sealed the entrance.
Rock slide. The realisation sent tremors of fear through me. A fear as old as humanity itself and carried into the vampire strain of the race. I was buried alive. Thousands of kilograms of rock separated me from the field of edelweiß beyond this cavern. Kilograms I was too weak to move. I sank to my knees and finally surrendered to the fear that had hovered just beyond me, surrendering to my mortal human roots. Tears stained my cheeks.
I slowly became aware of a faint stirring of air on the hairs of my arms and, with a simple joy I had not known in a hundred years, I knew I would find my way back out into the world. Smiling at the thought, I raised my arm to dry my eyes with the sleeve of my shirt.
No cloth touched my cheek, only cold skin against cold skin. Surprised, I looked down at myself, using what was left of my vampire's vision to see myself.
My clothing was shredded from me, much of it now lying beneath what had been my crypt. Leggings, shirt – even my underclothing – were but threads. What was left was the lederhosen I had worn that last night as we fled the SS. Hard, brittle leather covered my groin and backside. My climbing boots were still on my feet. Nothing remained of the cotton clothing I had worn. That lay rotted on the cavern floor.
Gott im Himmel! How long had I slept? I stared about me, fighting against the shock threatening to disable me. But nothing spoke of any life here in the cavern but my own.
I was weak. The thought flooded back through the corridors of my mind. Dangerously weak. I could not die of hunger any more than I could any disaster other than my decapitation or immolation. But, as weak as I was, I could not fend off a single man's attack either. I had become a mass of shrivelled veins and alabaster, leathery skin. And long hair, as I accepted that the sensation I felt on the small of my back was the whispery touch of my mane grown long.
I followed the scent of fresh air in a near stupor, climbing the wall of the cave until it became sheer. Pausing, I knew I did not dare chance such a wall in my present state. Fed and my strength as it should be, I could have made it with ease. Now, though, I could easily fall and break bones that would take years to mend, years in which I would become progressively weaker.
I stared up into the blackness that was the ceiling that offered me escape from the cave-in. How could I reach it? Not in human form, not without endangering myself beyond the point I was willing to go. Not in any animal form either, for the same reasons. Not even as a little Fliedermaus, for I would have to fly then and use more energy and strength than I had. I cringed as I accepted the only form that offered me even a chance at safety.
I concentrated, visualising myself becoming a mist, a form that a vampire tried never to become. Such a shape admitted weakness, even inability to move with speed – complete vulnerability. Worse, it was cohesive only as long as I was conscious and controlled it. But I would take any shape, weak or strong, that would free me from this cavern that I might feed. It took all my remaining strength to effect the change and I wondered if I would ever again walk the earth in human form.
As mist, I drifted towards the small opening that was but a crack in the rock ceiling above me. The overpowering sense available to vampiric mist was hunger, its instinct was to feed. To rebuild strength. To once again become a vampire. It sought the warmth of living blood as it floated along, touching the nearest surface to it.
I would soon feed. The mist would ensure that as long as I remained conscious to hold it together. Vole, rat, or lynx – I as mist would wrap myself about it and draw from it its life force, leaving a collapsed mass of dehydrated meat and bone in my wake. In the meantime, there was nothing else to do but experience the memories that now flowed through me as blood flows through a mortal life.
In 1872, I had sat in a curtained box in the Reichsöperhaus in Berlin. I was there as a member of the Emperor Franz-Josef's delegation to the first Sedantag, the anniversity of the creation of the German Empire. I was at the opera because I was still trying to convince myself that Richard Wagner was not mad, but a genius.
I was Karl Josef Gustav, Fürst von Maribor. I was a Prince, but not of Habsburg blood – a subject and loyal Prince from the southeastern marches of the early Dual Monarchy. I was noble enough to represent my Emperor at this celebration. But I was never noble enough to aspire to the purple of imperial Austro-Hungary. My bloodlines held Slavic ancestors, and the wrong Germans and Magyars.
On stage, Wotan jumped from mountain to mountain to watch a battle and Brünhilde rode from Valhalla to claim the fallen heroes; my attention wandered. It was drawn to the Russian delegation in the box across from our own. My gaze quickly found a dark-haired angel.
I was instantly mesmerised. Coal black curls framed a round, alabaster face. A long, graceful neck became wide manly shoulders. Even with him dressed in all the finery available to the Romanovs, I could see his muscled chest taper into a small athlete's waist. I smiled to myself.
I knew I had to meet him. I had to learn if my already developing fantasy of him could become reality during my remaining stay in Berlin.
I oozed through the thin break in the rock ceiling and flowed down along the lichen-slickened outer face of the mountain. Cool summer night air wafted along the edges of my form as I moved hunger-crazed towards a nest of voles. A full moon, almost yellow in its brightness, rode high in the dark sky above me. The mother squeaked as I seeped into her nest and then was silent as I wrapped myself about her and her babies, ravenously squeezing their life from them.
I still hungered as I patrolled the small part of the mountainside I could permit myself. I had tasted but not fed. Not enough to fill a vampire weighing eighty-five kilos when healthy.
My senses extended further, pulling on the strength I'd gained from the rodents. I was rewarded immediately with the nearby scent of a fully-grown lynx by the feel of her. A huntress searching for what I had already found. But warm, full of blood, and full of a near-term litter. A feast by my present standards.
I drifted silently towards her.
The Russian angel was the Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovitch, presently of Odessa. The Öperhaus staff were happy to show how knowledgeable they were. As soon as I was returned to my house, I had sent my batman to the Russian embassy with my card, asking permission for me to call on him.
A Princeling, this Sergei Alexandrovitch, and brother to the Tsar of all the Russias. His father had been blown up when the Grand Duke was barely a toddling infant, he was now far removed from Petrograd and its power – and its dangers. From the looks of the young man, he was more German than Slav. I wanted more than a look.
"My Prince von Maribor," he greeted me in German and bowed slightly from the waist. Very Wilhelmian, but gracious. I clicked my heels and smiled as the door closed behind me, acknowledging his greeting.
He served our coffees himself.
"You are young to represent your Tsar," I told him, staying within the formality required of such as we. "It is a great honour Alexander has bestowed on you."
He smiled, an imp seeking freedom from an imprisonment dictated by protocol. "There was some doubt in Petrograd whether we wanted a strong German state on our Polish border. Though but nineteen, I was close enough to the throne not to be an insult but far enough removed that Russian concern would be noted."
I smiled back and told him: "The Germans are often so fastidious that they become boring – especially for a healthy young man."
"You aren't so very much older than myself," he offered shyly and I permitted myself to wonder if this were a game at which he was well versed.
"At twenty-three, I am Lord of my holdings. I fulfil my duty to my Emperor."
He nodded. "Franz-Josef. He had already sat on the throne of the Dual Monarchy twenty years when I came squalling into this world." He stood and refilled his demitasse, glancing questioningly at me.
I shook my head and wished I had him alone in my bed.
"There must be something interesting to youths such as we in this dour German city," he said softly, his words carrying only as far as where I sat.
"There are cabarets as well as museums and zoos to rival those of Paris – even bordellos," I answered. "Are you free to explore what life does exist here?"
He smiled and he was Pan scenting a fellow bacchant. "With you as my guide?"
"I would be honoured," I allowed and smiled knowingly.
"Then, may I call upon you at your embassy at seven this evening? Perhaps you can show me the fun that Berlin has to offer?" His eyes twinkled with the promise of bacchanalian merriment.
I stood, clicked my heels, and bowed to him. A proper Austrian acknowledgement of his rank. "It will be as you wish, Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovitch Romanov. But you'll need to call upon me at my house, not the embassy." I gave him the address.
The lynx caught the sense of me, but I was already upon her. I wrapped myself around her and drained the life from her and her unborn kittens.
I was stronger instantly. But extending my senses to their increased levels showed nothing more for me to feed upon along this small tableau I could permit myself. I sensed too that dawn was no more than an hour away. Regretting my incapacity, I willed the mist that I was back towards the cavern where I could rest the day ahead.
Sergei called at the house I maintained in Berlin, the last sane thing my father had acquired before succumbing to senile behaviours and, finally, surrendering to pleurisy. Far from the prying eyes of our respective parties, we quickly learned our interests were much the same and forewent the dubious pleasures of the cabarets of Berlin.
"Karli...?" I turned to peer at his face next to mine in the dimness of my bed chamber.
"Why do you call me that?" I asked, still caught in the languor that followed good sex for me.
He chuckled, the sound silver in the darkened room, touching me with its warmth. His warmth. "I would not call you Fürst again now that I've conquered you, mein Karli."
"Most call me by some form of Gustav, Sergei..." I pushed myself up onto my elbows, his bare leg brushing both of mine as I moved.
His words were a flashing beacon to me. "You've conquered me?" I demanded while keeping my tone light. "I would have thought the reverse is true."
"Who has ploughed whom? Besides, I rather like Karl better than Gustav."
"Karl it shall be then." I nuzzled his downy cheeks. "So, the one who does the ploughing is the conqueror in this game as you Russians play it?" My hand reached for his member, grasping it in the dark. I altered my position and sent my other hand between his legs.
"Nie, Karli!" he cried and his voice was not playful as mine had been.
I let him go and sat up, uncomfortable now in his rejection, the languor of but moments ago forgotten. "You've had your pleasure, Russian," I said, making ready to bid him a cool farewell.
His use of the archaic form of noble servitude caught me. I held my tongue and, after only the merest hesitation, he continued: "I'm virginal in the ways of receiving a man there, Karli. I would stay that way until I know I've found the man I love."
He pushed himself from the pillow, his face drawing close to mine. "There is no dishonour, perceived or real, in what we've done together – what you've done tonight." His lips brushed my cheek.
"I meant my allegiance to you just now. I accept you as my liege Lord as long as you don't dishonour that commitment. I hope to give you myself as physical proof of that commitment – as a virgin for you to own as you will."
I still did not speak, my heart wanting more of his reassurances, my mind telling me to show him the door as soon as practical.
"You are beautiful, mein Karli," he continued, "hair the colour of the sun, a body Michelangelo would crave to sculpt, a dagger thick and true. You are German manhood perfected..."
"Mine is a Slavic name, not German," I reminded him, my voice neutral as my mind and heart warred for my soul.
Sergei chortled: "The wonders of miscegenation!" His mien immediately normal again, he continued. "I'm supposed to be the scion of a Slavic family but am Hellene. You appear German but are Slavic in name, yet you are probably mostly German in blood. How long has it been since noblemen actually had the blood flowing through them of the people they would rule?"
I remained locked in the struggle between my two halves, caught by the honour of both.
"You would deny us both continued pleasure with the other?" he asked then, finally addressing the distance I'd put between us and seeking its parameters and duration.
"I think we need to evaluate our respective positions, Sergei Alexandrovitch," I told him as I slipped my legs over the edge of the bed.
"You deny me my honour then, Karl Josef Gustav?"
"I deny you nothing," I permitted myself to fume as I stood naked by the bed and looked back at him. "We've shared each other. I looked forward to our continued sharing. You, however, announce that you refuse to share..."
"You didn't enjoy it?"
"Irrelevant, Count of Odessa. To share is to give as well as to take. However, you would only take."
"And you would hurt me that I should give?"
I laughed mirthlessly. "That's an old wife's tale," I told him. "Preparation and tender application would ensure your pleasure."
We continued to argue our respective points and I found myself again filling with indignation. I saw no way of convincing him of his error and saw my own position as one of growing weakness. I teetered on the verge of pulling on a robe, asking him to dress and leave.
In the darkness of the room, I had not seen him move to the side of the bed closest to me. And I did not see his hand strike out across the distance between us.
His fingers formed a fist about the width of my manhood, gripping it before I could react. "I would taste you again, Karli," he said softly and I felt the warm wetness of his tongue push.under the bunched lace of prepuce that covered my glans. His other hand found my cheeks and pulled me to him. Weakening, I surrendered to him.
For two years I met Sergei Alexandrovitch whenever we could make our paths cross. In Berlin. In Vienna. In Odessa. In Petrograd. Even once in Sofia. I remained faithful to him, no man or boy could sunder the bonds with which he had come to hold me those nights in Berlin. He was my Alexandros and he had conquered me.
I learnt his tastes. He played the piano as well as I did. He greeted me in Odessa with Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik as I was shown into his palazzo's music room. I was in heaven. The man I had come to love was as smitten with the genius of Salzburg as I was. He enjoyed long walks, and we walked the entire Ring during his visit to Vienna. He loved the risqué; we visited every cabaret in Paris. He complemented me in every way, except that my concept of manhood was constantly under fire when I was with him. I was totally in love with him.
I was alive and even alert when I felt the sun leave the heavens above my sepulchre. I was still weak, but only normally, vampirically so. I needed to feed, however; I was ravenous. But I again had my non-human senses.
I recognised the safety the rock slide blocking the entry to this cave had given me. No mortal had found or could have found me with it there to block his entrance. I could now smile at the luck that had threatened me with starvation only the night before. When the last ray of sunlight receded beyond the western mountains, I willed myself again into mist and drifted up to my escape through the thin membrane of soil in the ceiling of my tomb.
In human form and nude, I sat on the rockface above the field of edelweiß, casting my senses out beyond the field and the side of the mountain behind me. I would take a goat, sheep, or cow to feed upon. Any reasonably sized animal would fortify my returned strength, securing it. I could survive on non-human blood, but it would be as if I were a mortal myself making do with pabulum instead of meat. But I had not forgotten Würther, Sergei's incarnation.
I would hunt Nazis, mortal humans whom I could claim as evil, to make my meals. That would be the beginnings of my revenge. There would be more, much more; but that would come when I had time to plan.
The Nazis had destroyed my well-ordered and comfortable life in post-imperial Vienna. They forced me into risks no man or vampire should take, merely to save helpless men and women from meaningless death. They took my Würther from me. My hunting had always been for survival. It still was but would now be focused. The weakest of each species were the first to be gobbled up by predators. I was a predator and any Nazi was, by my definition, weak – a mindless creature in human form.
Still, revenge is always sweet. It becomes even sweeter when one such as I can destroy evil more real than that said to rest in my soul. So, yes, Nazis would stand at my abattoir – and I would exact a little revenge each time I fed. A death as ghastly as I could make it. One that would have the strutting peacocks shaking in fear of where I would next hunt – once I had made plans for them.
I sensed thought in the valley below me. A mortal male from the touch of thought I had of him. Without waiting to read the evil that might lie within him, I imagined myself as a bat and felt my body change. The transformation completed, I lifted into the air.
Thrilling to the wind whipping past my snout and layering the thin hairs inside my ears, I slipped into a downward current and stretched my wings to ride it. I squeaked in joy at this freedom and sent out impulses to locate the mortal below me that I may follow their echoes to him.
In 1874, Sergei Alexandrovitch asked that I visit him in Odessa.
I gazed at him as he shut the door of the bedchamber and turned to me. My heart pattered wantonly. I, a Sovereign Prince of the Empire, master of the southeastern marches of that empire, was again a scarlet woman swooning at the nearness of the man I wished to possess me.
Sergei smiled, his dimples so beautifully boyish still, and said: "I have invited an interesting man to visit us tonight – I hope you'll find him interesting."
My intellect has always been my bane. And intellect is a close associate of curiosity.
"What man?" I asked, surrendering immediate gratification to my curiosity.
"A man who's purported to have lived the past four hundred years, my love." He smiled shyly. "He has agreed to meet with us."
"Four hundred years?" I exploded into laughter and wiped at my eyes. "What is he? A vampire?"
"So I'm told, Karli."
I saw that he was serious. "Such creatures are wives' tales to frighten wilful children," I responded and managed to impart seriousness to my words, though I wished nothing more than to laugh again. "There is no scientific basis to such nonsense."
"We shall see then, shan't we?" His seriousness vanished immediately and was replaced by the impish grin I had come to adore. He removed his coat slowly, his eyes holding mine.
"In the meantime, we need occupy ourselves with reality. And my most pressing reality is I've missed you for too long."
He pulled his tie off as he took a step towards me, dropping it to the floor beside his coat. Before he moved another step, he had doffed his waistcoat. He crossed the room in measured steps as he unbuttoned his shirt. I wondered distantly if he had practiced this in order to perfect it for me. Centimetres from me, he let the white cotton slip to the floor.
That evening, we sat alone in the sitting room adjacent to his bedchamber, candles flickering away the fabric of a summer Black Sea night. Dinner was behind us and I had been more than effusive in my compliments to his chef. His servants were finished with their duties. We waited for his visitor. Our visitor, Sergei had dubbed him – including me in his exploration of the insanity of mysticism and monsters of the night.
A visitor I believed would never come. I gazed at my love and wanted to feel his naked, warm body against mine. Our lips and bodies grinding together as our tongues duelled. As if of their own volition, my fingers touched his wrist, intending to travel along his arm until they could grasp his neck and pull his face to mine.
"He'll be here at ten, Karl; he promised to be punctual." He pulled his arm from my touch and smiled. "It would be a bit embarrassing to have him find us as you would have us."
"We'd have a far better chance of a cow flying through the room," I groused but sat up. With regret, I made myself become the proper-seeming noble subject of the Emperor Franz-Josef.
He leant towards me and nuzzled my cheek, his eyes twinkling, his full lips a smile. "I love you, Karli."
The curtains moved in the stillness of the evening far more than could be expected from the slight summer breeze beyond the Odessa palazzo. We both looked there in anticipation and, in my case, with an unknown and unexpected fear that sent my fingers scurrying inside my shirt to find the gold cross my mother had given me as a confirmation gift more than a dozen years before.
A young man stepped into the room and I studied him closely from behind my crucifix. His hair lay close to his scalp. The skin of his face and hands were pale. His appearance was that of most Slavic peasants anywhere throughout central and southeastern Europe – wide cheeks, oval eyes, short wide nose. It would be becoming in a pubescent lad, but this was a man. Sergei's vampire was no one I would want in bed beside me.
He was dressed in a black suit, cape, and boots. His attire seemed to be of good quality and I found myself wondering how supposed vampires acquired and maintained an income.
He took a second step into the room, knelt to one knee, and said in passable French: "My Lords, thank you for inviting me into your home."
Sergei nodded his acknowledgement of the man's obeisance and the vampire rose before us. Taller than he had seemed when he first entered the room. He studied me.
"Boris here understands my desire not to age and die as other men do," Sergei told me, comfortable with the man still a metre from where we sat. "That is why I've asked him to join us."
Sergei Alexandrovitch didn't want to grow old and die? No man wanted that, but no man could prevent it happening, Prince or pauper. I almost laughed. Sergei? A man of only twenty-one years? What did he know of ageing? Four years older, I had already felt the stealthy creep of age, sensing it lurking in the shadows ahead of me.
"You would provide us with immortality, Boris?" I asked.
"I would," he replied.
"Why?" I asked.
"There are but few of us and the dangers about us are great, my Lords. I met that danger less than two years ago in Paris and have run ever since."
"Aren't you Slavic, perhaps Slovene?"
He smiled, his eyes hooded. "Yes. From your lands actually, my Prince von Maribor. I am of Slovene origin, but immortality gives one the sense to climb from one's place. Our feeding habits often require relocation if we are to survive and enjoy our immortality."
"We drink blood, my Prince. Human blood preferably."
I cringed and tightened my grip on the crucifix in my hand.
"Why would you permit us to join you?" Sergei asked, and I immediately intuited the question was for my benefit. "Why would you give us the benefit of immortality?"
The vampire lowered his eyes and looked at his hands. "My misfortune in Paris left me penniless. What I could bring with me, I did. But buying silence as well as passage has left me in this city without acceptable income."
We questioned the man for hours deep into the night. My fears seeped away from me as I became able to see Boris as a man victimised by fear and ignorant hatred. Finally, he shuddered and broke in on some answer he had been giving to one of my questions.
"My Lords, I must leave or face extreme pain once the sun rises. I suggest you make arrangements to provide yourselves with the money that befits your stations, to leave it with the gnomes of Switzerland to handle in your absences, and to set yourselves up in large cities where you may live without fear.
"Permit me to return in one week's time. If you are willing to do as I suggest and still want my immortality, I shall give it to you for the agreed upon price."
I started to reprimand him for his impertinence, but he simply was no longer before us.
I saw the man was short and middle-aged as I winged metres from him, riding an air current and touching his thoughts. He was a gastarbeiter and pined for his wife and more children than I could count in the momentary image I received from him.
A guest worker? I did not know the term and wondered if it meant exactly what the word said it did.
He was also Turkish and that confused me as I caught an updraft and circled back towards him. Turks had not stood on Austrian soil in the nearly four hundred years since they besieged Vienna and the foolish Poles came to beat them back only to lose their own country shortly afterwards to Austrian troops. The Germans had Jews and Slavs whom they used as slave labour until they died of exhaustion. Turks again in Austria? I landed and shifted back to human form to read his thoughts more clearly.
The man was illiterate and abysmally ignorant. His life centred about a small village somewhere in the Anatolian mountains – until he found his wife was again pregnant and he needed to find work or face everyone's starvation. He had been flown into Vienna to work.
Flown? And the size of the aeroplane on which he arrived? Unbelievable!
I did not know whether to believe his memories or not. If the Reich had indeed won the war as it had appeared to be doing when France fell the month Würther and I fled Vienna, it was possible Turkey was a client state and its citizens were being used as imported workers. It was also possible the feebleminded were no longer disposed of in the Reich but were put to work herding sheep and goats. I only knew the man was not evil. He had a need to live, his income continuing to be sent to his village and to feed too many mouths.
The Turk wasn't evil and didn't deserve to die; yet, I was still weak and needed to feed. I quickly reached a compromise with myself. I would direct him into the deepest slumber and take only what I needed. I wouldn't kill him.
I immediately forgot about Boris and advised Sergei Alexandrovitch to do likewise. Talking to the vampire had been too much like visiting a medium, only the spiritualist's table usually quaked and jumped whilst the vampire had offered no show.
As we lay in the arms of Eros that night, the man who pretended to be a vampire was forgotten. Who could think of such impossible things as vampires at such a time? I had my Sergei Alexandrovitch. I could ride bucking bisons and shoot like the Amerikaner Buffalo Bill Cody. I could shoot a cigar from a man's lips at ten metres as Annie Oakley did.
A lark. I convinced myself that was all the episode with Boris had been. Sergei Alexandrovitch's little seance to place me into the mood for his greatest of gifts – himself. He had finally decided that he loved me.
Parting from him and Odessa after our fortnight together was impossible but necessary. My life was not strictly my own. I was von Maribor, both estates and people; and I had to tend to my charges.
We promised to meet in Mayerling in the autumn and give ourselves a month together. He bade me farewell from within the palazzo, swearing he could not bear to burst into tears at the station in front of everyone.
I understood. I too hated the thought of tears shed in public, to be made into the gossip of fishwives and worse. I knew our leave-taking would be such a display. I felt bereft as my carriage rolled away from him.
Russian railways left much to be desired, but my railway carriage sped along the Black Sea into Rumania where I detrained to take another coach that ran on Austrian-gauged tracks, standard to all of civilised Europe. For five days I rode from Odessa to Galati, to Bucharest, to Belgrade in what was then the Kingdom of Serbia, to Budapest in the Hungarian Kingdom of my own land, and finally to Vienna where I would once again be present as the head of von Maribor.
I sniffed in sadness for the first two days of the journey. And for the next three tried to develop a stratagem that would permit Odessa and Vienna to be linked together more easily. I arrived tired and dirty at Vienna's Praterstern. And jaundiced.
I was weak as my phaeton followed Praterstraße and then Aspernbrückengasse across the Danube and turned onto the Ring. I was feverish before my batman could pull my travelling clothes from me in my house on Akademiestraße. The housekeeper sent for a doctor and I made my batman promise to wire Sergei were my chances to prove bleak.
I spent that night and the next day sweating away my life, sinking into delirium. I had contracted jaundice. My chances were bleak.
Sergei Alexandrovitch stepped into my room as evening cooled the air about me that night, even as I continued to waste away in the fires raging through my body. He smiled and took my hand.
I felt myself being pulled away from the demons I fought inside my mind at that moment. Pulled back to a civilised Vienna in 1874, back into my twenty-five year old body. Back into the comfort of my love for him.
"I'll attempt the latest London therapies, but you must leave," I heard him say to someone in the room I could not see.
"Are you a physician, sir?" an older man's voice demanded, and I supposed him to be the doctor the housekeeper had called to administer to me.
"Yes. And trained in London. You must leave."
"Why can't I watch you, sir?" The doctor's voice, though still stubborn, had become a whine. "There is much I might learn."
"I dare not," Sergei answered. "You see," his voice lowered, becoming conspiratorial, "there is much of what I am about to do that is only theoretical. I promise, if he recovers, I'll tell you everything I have done."
"How are you here?" I asked weakly when he was beside the bed, taking my hand again in his. "Have I been like this for so long?" Through my fever, I tried to imagine my appearance after the five days it would have taken him to travel from Odessa.
His fingertip traced my jaw-line, brushing only light stubble. "No, Karli, not so long. You arrived home only yesterday."
"How are you here then?" I asked, trying to assimilate his statement with my knowledge of its impossibility, but I was weak and could make no sense of his statement.
"Would you live that I may continue to love you?" he asked softly, bending over me to whisper in my ear.
"Always, Liebchen," I answered. That, at least, I knew. I would know it with my dying breath.
"You have little time left, Karli. You won't live through tomorrow – if you refuse me."
Mystified, I looked up at him and he smiled. "No man can know the hour of his death," I told him, fighting back the fear that rose and threatened to return me to the delirium I had just left.
"You can know the hour others meet the man on the white horse, my love – if you become as I have." He kissed my eyelids gently and the cool of his lips felt cool against my feverish skin. "Will you join me in immortality?"
"Immortality, Sergei Alexandrovitch?" I attempted to chuckle but began to cough instead. I feared I would bring up my insides before the coughing finally subsided.
"You rejected it in life a week ago. Now, on the borderland of death, will you accept it?"
"I don't understand." I stared at him, attempting to make my mind work but it was proving to be an unbroken horse refusing the bridle.
"I am a vampire, Karli. That's how I could be here in Vienna one day after you yourself arrived – only hours after receiving your man's wire." He unbuttoned his shirt, spreading its flaps. "Join me or die tomorrow. Those are your choices, Karli. The only ones you have left."
His fingernail pulled skin and flesh back from his smooth chest, exposing bone. I watched in amazement even in my fever. His flesh remained white, the belly of a fish just pulled from the stream; no blood welled in the wound he'd made on himself.
The Turk slept, weakened more than I intended, but alive. I rose from my feeding and extended my senses. I could feel the life that abound over the entire mountain now and further. I sensed the throb of the heartbeats of people kilometres from me and felt the tiny voices of their thoughts as they encountered their individual lives. The taste of the man's blood remained on my lips, the taste of a glass of passable wine given to a man fainting of thirst.
Pain. It reached out to me from kilometres away. The burst of pain that came as a fist slammed into a jaw. Innocence vilely misinterpreted; the misunderstanding punished thoughtlessly and cruelly. I concentrated my thoughts on it, bringing it into focus.
Evil. My heart sang. A drunken man, burly and simian, grinned as he bent over a frail woman who I understood was his wife. Her face already battered, bruises forming under her eyes, as she vainly resisted creeping unconsciousness. I sensed a clearing set among trees from the woman's disorganised thoughts.
A satisfying feast. Gluttony. Every vampiric cell in my body could be satisfied. Yes.
I concentrated on the man's brutish thoughts and willed myself to them.
He was as much a brute in body as he was in thought. His fists were still clenched as I appeared behind him. The woman lay unconscious on the ground before him, before us. Perfect. No shelter into which I needed permission to enter. No witnesses. I could sate myself with leisure.
I stepped up behind him, reaching both hands to his skull and twisting with a quick, sudden movement, snapping his neck. I sank my teeth into his jugular even as he began to collapse, my arms cradling his fall.
His eyes glazed over as I hungrily lapped each new tide of blood. His heart continued to beat, faltering but strong in its effort to live. Colour came to every centimetre of my skin. My body became warm with his warmth. And I gorged myself until he finally died, his heart a beast's – unwilling to cease its beating until it had nothing left to pump.
I stood then, reeling, drunk with the excess of my feeding. Strength, like wine, flowed into every forgotten cell of my body.
As vampires, Sergei and I travelled great distances on thought alone. Only one of us needed to hold a mental picture of our destination and share it with the other. Two nights a week we chose not to feed and met carnally in innocuous little villages in Serbia and Rumania. We gave ourselves four holidays a year where we had a month together to enjoy being with the other.
Because even young Princes must grow old, we plotted the appearance of our own deaths. We planned the adoptions of non-existent but distant cousins when our continued youth would make it impossible to perform our duties. Of course, the cousins would be ourselves. But we also laid aside funds and placed them in the hands of Swiss bankers to administer, for anarchy and revolution threatened the very fabric of the society in which we existed.
My first arranged death came in 1890. I selected winter, when the weak sun would not burn me. When the caisson carrying my empty coffin left the funeral train from Vienna, I, as my heir, joined the Archduke and the imperial party in following behind it to the crypt that was supposed to be my final resting-place as it had been the rest of my family's for centuries. And Sergei stood with me as the coffin was slid into its stone crypt. That night we made love on my bed.
As my heir, I became Josef to my people and all who would know me – except Sergei Alexandrovitch. I was still his Karli to him.
Tumblers whirled and clicked into place and I opened the door to the store before me. Nude and with hair that reached the cheeks of my buttocks, I had chosen the door on the small alleyway behind the store rather than the double doors facing on the wide main street of the town as the point at which I would enter the store. I needed clothing, not attention.
My vampiric eyes found undershirts and boxer undergarments that were not much different from those I knew when Würther and I had made our escape from the SS. But there were other undergarments I didn't know – T-shirts and Y-fronts. Suspicious of them, I still selected a few of each to try at my leisure in my cave.
The store carried mostly corduroy trousers that were not dissimilar to what I had known when last I bought clothing that allowed for my 80-centimetre waist. Quickly, I added socks and large-sized leisure shirts to my supply of clothing. The sturdy paper bag with cloth grips was full when I stepped back into the alleyway and re-locked the door. I shifted into the shape of a wolf and, gripping the bag with my teeth, began the long return to my sanctuary.
Sergei had travelled to Petrograd to give Tsar Nicholas II his obeisance as the winter of 1905 fell over Europe in earnest. Franz-Josef did not need or wish the fawning that Nicholas required of his subjects, but I understood Sergei's need to attend parties and be seen properly enjoying his subservience to his ruler as Nicholas blessed the waters of the Neva River. We agreed not to meet for our weekly tryst while he paid court to his Emperor, but we still touched each other with our thoughts nightly.
I woke in my thickly draped bed, fear pounding my heart, the winter sun heating the air about me. Daylight!
I cringed. Fearfully, I parted the drapes only enough to stick my finger into the light bathing my western bedroom, mindless of naught but my experiment in survival.
I felt the heat, uncomfortably so. But it was not painful. I chuckled softly to myself at my fear then, even as it began to retreat. I remembered my first venture into sunlight only fifteen years earlier, at my own funeral. I laughed until a new thought struck me.
What had awakened me? A creature such as I was practically bedridden and comatose during the hours of sunlight. Only by an extreme act of will could I force myself into consciousness and go out into full sunlight. And then, I could do so only in winter when the sun rests in the Southern Hemisphere. So, what then could have pulled me into consciousness?
It was only that night that I learnt what had awakened me. After I nearly forgot the incident.
Sergei Alexandrovitch didn't respond to my thoughts when I reached out to him. I thought little of it until I picked up wisps of mortal thoughts from Petrograd.
The images! Gott im Himmel! No man should see what those men and women had seen and heard.
Revolution! Glee ran through some of the thoughts I read, an undergirding to them. Fear and sadness ran through others. Soldiers shooting unarmed workers. Hussars with drawn sabres killing noble and bourgeoisie – any who dared to march to the imperial compound. Carnage. More than one man was beheaded in the killing frenzy the Russians unleashed upon themselves. It lasted but a day and was confined to Petrograd. Revolution would wait until the Great War had left all the Russias hungry and weak.
I knew what had happened to Sergei. I didn't want to believe it. I refused most of that night to believe it. And I tried over and over again to touch my mind with his. But I knew. The next morning's newspaper only elaborated the circumstances that meant his death to me; it took another fortnight for me to be informed officially. It was then that his batman's letter reached me.
My priorities since awakening had been met one by one. My strength was again fully vampiric, as were my senses. I had clothing with which to walk undetected among mortals. Now, I needed news of the world about me that I could place myself in it, to realign my thinking and behaviour with the reality of the world into which I must step. But, first, I needed to free myself of at least a metre of my golden mane.
I found scissors in a cottage in the valley and tried not to think of the electric lights and indoor plumbing I found in such a lowly home. I took a child's rucksack that I might appear more like what I intended to be – a plebeian hiker. I was an uninvited guest there and was only able to enter because its residents were away. My need was sufficiently great, it overrode the normal confines that dictated vampiric behaviour. The powers that determined those controls permitted me my abridgement. I left a gold schilling from my cache to pay for my theft.
At a stream, I cut every hair I could feel extending past my neck, dressed, and walked to the slumbering village closest to me. It was only now that I understood the limitations under which I operated as a vampire. If I would appear clothed, I could not change shape; I was limited to mortal locomotion. I smiled to myself. I would not feed tonight. I needed information more than I did blood.
I let myself into the newspaper office, using the alleyway door rather than that in the front siding the main street.
Most of the local newspaper concerned itself with local conditions and farming. Fortunately, it did carry a page on national and international happenings. At first, I merely perused an article here and there in the latest edition. But comments about satellite photographs showing weather fronts confused me. I finally thought to look at the date.
I was 157 years old.
I read the national and international clippings for the past year with speed and greed. The last Russian troops had left Germany more than ten years ago, ending a forty-nine year occupation. Germany was a Federal Republic, a democracy. American and Russian administrators welcomed Japanese astronauts on board the first operating section of a space station. Wars of national liberation raged across the independent republics of Stalin's Soviet Union. Japan and America threatened each other with a trade war. The European Union adopted a go-slow policy of admitting southeastern European countries.
Space exploration. A democratic Germany. Bolshevism dead. Russia divided into independent republics. Europe under neither German nor Russian yoke, but still uniting. It was the most fanciful dream of a visionary member of the resistance and the worst nightmare of Hitler or Stalin come true.
I had slept almost sixty-five years! And the world was a totally different one from the one I had known.
I grieved for Sergei. I was still grieving when Franz-Josef finally died and the Emperor Charles was forced to abdicate after only two years of rule. Austria became but one of the republics that rose from the ashes of the eight hundred year old Empire. I performed my duties as required by imperial law and then Republican law. I cared for those of my people and my estate left me in truncated post-war Austria. I was a Prince in name only under the Republic, but I was still the most substantial landlord on the southeastern marches. My duty kept me from following Sergei into the interminable night I saw death being.
Thirty years after he was lost to me, I had not arranged another funeral for myself. I had grown haggard in my grief. The only part of me that was true to my vampiric nature was my weekly feeding; yet, even that followed the duty that had become my life. Weekly, I had my fill of bovine blood. Afterwards, the carcass was given to the estate's employees to supplement their diets.
His whispering touched my mind. I feared I had become mad. But it stayed with me day after day – muted and feeble. But irrefutably Sergei's.
I began to listen, straining even vampiric senses to understand him. To have him identify where he was so I could search him out. While that proved futile, I lived again, laughed again. And began to look younger, increasingly more like the twenty-five year old I shall always be.
I arranged a new death, a new funeral. A new distant-relative to succeed me. The deception was easier the second time around. And I listened to Sergei Alexandrovitch's whispering, following it through all of Austria in my search for him.
Austria. The thugs stomped up and down the streets of our villages and our cities. The depression gave them fodder – poor men willing to believe even stupidity if it promised food in the bargain. Only Dollfuß, a gangster – but an Austrian one -- kept the eagle to our north from devouring us.
I paid my taxes and kept my people away from politics. They were fed and sheltered. Dollfuß' local functionaries were paid to leave me and mine alone. But, still, I could see the growing Nazi presence near my own lands and in Vienna. I, as my new successor, chose an heir from Switzerland and had his selection duly recorded in both gau and Republican courts.
Sergei Alexandrovitch's soul whispered to mine, gurgling and cooing -- incoherent thoughts. I thought I would go insane.
I found him in the summer of 1935.
He wasn't Sergei Alexandrovitch Romanov. But he was.
In my own house.
The village priest had called upon me, intent on introducing his new curate to the Lord of the land. Fortunately, they called in the evening, I was on the estate, and I was available to entertain them. The whispering stopped as the young priest entered the hall, his soul recognising the manor as significant, though unable to understand why in that initial moment.
In the drawing room, I heard the whispering stop and the mental gasp that followed. I sensed the flicker of his recognition and the resultant confusion. I chewed at my nails in anticipation of once again beholding my beloved and grew angry my servant was not bringing him to me faster.
The old priest entered the room and bowed from his waist to me to recognise my temporal superiority. I inclined my head to him, recognising his spiritual position. It was an old game to us, the forty years he had served my people and my two in this guise. It was one I had to play even as I waited for my first sight of Sergei and wondered how I would be able to restrain myself in the vicar's presence.
He was tall and German with brown curls which refused to be tamed. He wasn't Sergei Alexandrovitch. Yet . . .
I felt my beloved inside the youth bowing before me.
Our eyes locked and, that one time, they were the windows into both of our souls. We knew each other. I felt weak. The young priest fainted.
"Father Würther!" the vicar called and rushed to the stricken man. He took the curate's hand and patted it, all the while mumbling the man's name.
I told my servant to bring water, a flannel, and smelling salts and joined the priest in hovering over Father Würther. And knew death was not an interminable night because my love had come back to me.
I made to leave my cavern and whatever remained of Würther's mortal body I'd laid in its stone crypt almost sixty-five years earlier. Now, I had modern clothes and knew when I was. I was again strong and in possession of all my senses. I even dared to suspect Würther might have already been born again in order that we might be together again.
I washed in a stream in the valley, dressed, stored clothing and gold in the book bag, and began to walk along a country road westward under a full moon. When I could safely do so, I would return to ensure Würther rested in hallowed ground.
I started for Zürich, the banking house that had handled my personal affairs since before the last century began. I would also find a trader in precious metals or heirlooms there. My three bagsful of gold were coins, mint commemorative coins of Franz-Josef's coronation. Even, if nothing was left of the holdings of von Maribor or my personal fortune, I was still wealthy.