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Child of the Night


Author: NA27

Fandom: Dracula

Pairing(s): Dracula/Nicole

Warnings: NC-17, death of major character, some brutal scenes, abuse, incest, consent issues

Spoilers: Err...Slash retelling of Dracula

Summary: In fifteenth century Transylvania (Wallachia), Prince Vlad Tepes Draculea rules with a bloody, iron fist. His method of dealing with enemies, both personal and political, has earned him the name of The Impaler. Though he has bedded many, Draculea's heart has never been touched, until he seeks a bride.


He chooses a young noblewoman, but it is not she who captures his heart. Instead, he falls in love with her bastard half-brother, Nicolae. After winning the boy over, he is happy, for a time. Then tragedy strikes. Draculea willingly takes on the curse of vampirism to await the rebirth of his lover.


Centuries later, Draculea meets Jonathan Harker, a naive young Englishman who bears a striking resemblance to his lost love. Convinced that he is his beloved Nicu's reincarnation, Draculea sets out to take him, no matter what... or who stands in his way...


Nominated Category:

Best Romance - Slash (as it is predominantly)


Best First time - Slash (for ch22)



This is a sort of 'mental movie'. It does not cleave to any one version of Dracula, filmed or written. I have included elements of the original Universal, the Hammer Studios version, and the more recent Coppola film. The cast is of my own choosing. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the talented and delectable Peter Lucas, you may find photos of him at his home page. http://www.peterlucas.com Peter played Baron Freiderich von Glower in the excellent, and very slashy, pc game, 'The Beast Within.'


Vlad's father called himself Dracul (Dragon), so Vlad became known as 'Draculea', or 'Son of the Dragon (or Devil)'.



Dracula, or Vlad Tepes Draculea ................................. Peter Lucas

Mina Murray/ Elisabeta Varga ................................. Wynona Ryder

Abraham Van Helsing ............................................... Peter Cushing

Dr. Jack Seward .............................................................. Val Kilmer

Lord Arthur Holmwood ................................................ Hugh Grant

Quincey P. Morris (shut up, he's fine) ............................ Clint Black

Lucy Westenra/ Lena ............................................ Drew Barrymore

Jonathan Harker/Nicolae(Nicu)Calugarul (Varga) .... Keanu Reeves

R. M. Renfield ................................................................. Dwight Frye

Bride One/Rill .......................................................... Joaquin Phoenix

Bride Two/Rock ..................................................... Ewan MacGregor

Bride Three/Sinn .................................................. young Tom Cruise

Simion ........................................................................... David Warner


Chapter 1: Duties

Child of the Night, Part One

The Year of Our Lord, 1460

Castle Draculea, Wallachia



"My lord, you must marry, and soon."


Count Vlad Tepes Draculea, Wallachian prince and ruler of Wallachia, slammed his gilded goblet down upon the table, dark red wine sloshing from its side to stain the rich linen tablecloth. He scowled at the old man his father had, before his death, charged with advising him. "Why, Stefan? Why must I?"


Stefan sighed wearily. The young prince was a headstrong man, much as his father had been. That was why the elder Dracul had placed much of the power of his estates in the hand of Stefan, his trusted steward, before he passed away, leaving it to his son, Vlad.


Vlad was not a stupid man, but he was... self indulgent, for all he was a fine warrior. He had avoided marrying and bringing a rich dowery to his family for far longer than most youths of the royal class. He was in his early thirties, middle aged for this time.


And he was not doing his duty to his bloodline. He had no heir, either legitimate, or born on the wrong side of the blanket. This rather puzzled Stefan. Vlad's father had left a liberal scattering of bastards among the peasants, though thankfully all had been girls. A boy child might have been... awkward. And, while Vlad was far from sedate, he did not seem to have his father's taste for womanizing.


While Stefan approved of the fact that the prince did not go a-whoring, he was still surprised that the palace wenches seemed to be safe from his attentions. While his companions disported themselves, wallowing in the carnal delights of female flesh, Vlad seemed to be content to roister with his friends and vassals.


Still, he must marry, and an heir must be produced. More than one, if possible. The infants died so easily these days...


"I have explained before, my lord. It is your sacred duty to produce more of your line. The Dracul have always been dedicated to the service of the Holy Mother Church. To deprive it of more of your bloodline would be a sin. And, wealthy though you are, the family coffers would benefit from a fat dowery."


Vlad's scowl deepened. The prince was a strikingly handsome man. He was tall, taller by a head than most men, and his body was kept lean and hard from the daily practice of his warrior's arts. His arms were thick with muscle from swinging the heavy double edged sword, his legs and back strong from learning to move quickly in the heavy battle armor. His hands were large and callused from gripping sword, spear, and mace in countless hours of practice, his fingertips roughened from drawing bowstrings in archery.


His hair was thick, falling over his shoulders in glossy black waves and curls that would be the envy of any daughter of Eve. His eyes were the crystaline blue of the sky in winter, unusual among a generally dark eyed people. These features might have made him look feminine, but instead they only enhanced his pure, masculine beauty. He had the face of an angel, with a lightly cleft chin, and a strong jaw. No, perhaps not an angel... unless it was a fallen one. The mouth was wrong for a celestial being. Far too sensuous and often cruel.


Taken all in all, he was the sort of man to lead even the best of women (poor, weak creatures that they were) to temptation. And yet he was unmarried at an age when many men were already expecting their first grandchild. This would not do.


Draculea snorted. "So, you will have me tie myself to a cow, and have her produce whelps to carry on the name? And while I am at it, I must choose one who will give rich milk."


Stefan sighed. "Marriage is man's natural state, my lord. You fly in the face of God Himself by scorning it, since you have not taken Holy Orders. The bible admonishes us to be fruitful, and multiply. I cannot understand your reluctance. It will not tie you down. You know as well as any how a marriage in your class can be. You have your parents for an example, if nothing else."


Yes, his parents certainly had been proof that marriage need not mean one was bound to their spouse in aught but legal terms. His parents had occupied the same castle, but they might as well have lived in seperate worlds for all they interacted. His mother had been raised in a convent, as was customary for many women of gentle birth, and had known nothing of men till she was presented to his father on their wedding day. That one night had convinced her that she wanted as little to do with men as possible thereafter.


Unfortunately, this included the son she bore almost nine months to the day after she was painfully, and messily deflowered by her groom.


His mother had her ladies, her garden, and her needlework, and he saw her every few days, for a few moments. Occasionally there were pats on the head, and vague inquiries about lessons and training. These died to a trickle, then ceased when he became a teenager, and took on the physical aspect of a man. When his mother finally died of some form of fever or other, he had not seen her for almost a year, though they had lived in the same castle.


Vlad grew up in the rough company of his father, his father's friends, and his father's soldiers and servants. A man's world.


Oh, there were women. Wherever there are men who follow the path of war, there will be women of less than pure virtue to satisfy their physical wants.


Vlad had, of course, sampled their charms. His father had pushed him into bed with a plump whore when he was all of fourteen, and he had acquitted himself well. It had been a mildly enjoyable experience, and he repeated it from time to time. Truly gratifying sexual pleasure had been found... elsewhere.


Still... a son. Yes, he would like to have a son. A child to be raised and taught.


"All right, Stefan. I grant you your wish. I will marry."


Stefan beamed in relief. "Excellent, my lord. Who is the lucky woman you will grace with your offer?"


He shrugged, sipping his wine again. "Oh, I do not particularly care. As long as she is not too damnably ugly, or too poisonous of temper. Young, I suppose, since you want heirs. Of noble blood, of course. A long bloodline, and a fat dowery would help. Have you any suggestions?"


"I do, in fact. There is one very likely candidate I wish to offer for your approval."


He rolled his eyes. "And who would this marvel be?"


"Elizabeta Varga, daughter of Ernestu Varga. While, of course, they do not have the illustrious history of your own family, my lord, they are noble indeed."


"Hm. And what virtues does this woman possess to make her worthy of the Draculea name?"


"Aside from her proud family background, her father offers near two hundred acres of rich crop land, a cash dowery of three hundred gold pieces, a full wardrobe, five fine horses, and a choice of servants from his own household to attend her in her new home."


"Well, her material goods are acceptable. What of her person? Her personality?"


"It is said that she is quite beautiful, my lord. She is just eighteen, all her childbearing years ahead. As to her temperament... I cannot say. I do know that she can read and write, a rare enough accomplishment for a woman, and one I am not sure is exactly pious. In this case, however, I believe it to be harmless."


"So you think I should marry her?"


"I think you should consider it, my lord. Carefully."


"Hm." He drained the last of his wine. "I suppose you'd better arrange a visit to her father's house so I can see if I will be able to stomach her. Her father would be agreeable to the match?"


He bowed. "Her father would be most eager. She is the youngest of his brood. The others are already established in life, and he wishes to push this last fledgeling out of the nest."


"Write him, then, Stefan. 'At his earliest convenience... Beg his hospitality...' The usual proper drivel."


Stefen bowed again. "I hope you are not offended, my lord, but I have already sent a message to Varga. He will be delighted to receive you and whatever party you bring. I suggest we leave tomorrow, and we can be at his home in less than a week."


Vlad paused in the act of pouring more wine. "Dog!" he growled. "And how long have you been planning this?" Stefan merely smiled. "Judas, you are a sly one. Very well, begin arrangements."


"At once, my lord."


As he was leaving, Vlad called, "Send in one of the footmen."


"Any particular one, my lord?"


He waved lazily, sipping. "It makes no difference."


Stefan left. A few minutes later, a burly man dressed in the colors of the prince's servants entered the room. He stopped at the door, head down, waiting for his lord to acknowledge him, and instruct him.


Vlad looked him over absently, noting the sturdy limbs and neat appearance. He looked a little familiar. "Lock the door and come here." The man obeyed, and came to stand before the table where Vlad was seated. "No, no. Around here, by me."


The man came around the table. The prince turned in his chair to face him, and again studied him. "I know you."


"I am Dmitri, Lord. M'lord has been pleased to use my services several times."


"Yes, I remember now." Good skin, clean hair, all of his teeth. He'll do. The older man worked the laces on his breeches, opening them. Reaching in, he eased out his cock. It was half hard, but pulsing quickly toward a full erection. "I require your ministrations again, Dmitri."


Without a word, Dmitri sank to his knees before the other man. He moved forward and began licking the flushed, swollen head of his master's prick, then took him into his mouth and suckled gently, listening to the appreciative groan. Settling in, he began to service Prince Vlad Tepes Draculea in a manner that would never have occured to his illustrious father.


Chapter 2: Destiny

Child of the Night, Part Two

The Year of Our Lord, 1460

A week later

Castle Varga, Wallachia



On their journey, Vlad passed through the land that he would receive in dowery, if he chose to marry Elizabeta Varga. He was pleased. It was well tended, and looked as if it would produce abundant crops. He also spotted a few fine flocks of sheep, and some cattle. He assumed that these would be part and parcel in the bargain, as that was how such things were usually done. He had a large household, and extra provisions were always welcome.


Varga's castle was a good bit smaller than Castle Draculea, but well made, well fortified. In the courtyard, vassals ran to take the reins of their horses. The small party dismounted, and Vlad studied the area as the animals were led away.


A group of people came through the front entrance of the castle, a plump, gray haired man in their lead, his hands outstretched in greeting. "Maria Ta Draculea!" He bowed deeply and Vlad returned a polite tilting of the head. "I am honored that you will consider my sweet Elizabeta for your consort. Please, Domn, grace my humble home."


Vlad droned the proper response. "It is I that am honored that you will allow me the possibility of asking for the hand of your precious child." He glanced over the small crowd that had come out to greet the visitors, but did not see anyone who looked as if they might be the youngest daughter of the household. He did, however, see someone interesting.


It was only a glimpse, really, of a figure who hovered at the back of the crowd for a moment, watching the heavily armed men of Vlad's entourage with something akin to dismay. He was a tall, slender youth in a coarse brown smock, the shapeless garment belted at the waist with a simple cord. Vlad wondered that Varga would allow his household servants to dress so poorly.


He caught the boy's gaze for a moment. The lad's eyes were large, velvety brown, and seemed to tilt just the slightest bit at the outer corners: doe's eyes. He slipped back into the castle, and Vlad stared after him, letting his host's fulsome welcoming speech wash over him unnoticed.


Who had that been, he wondered. Footman? Steward in training? He was a bit old for a page. A stable lad or assistant to the gamekeeper or hawkmaster would not have been allowed in the house.


Vlad was led inside, and shown immediately to his room. It was, of course, the most impressive in the building. Ernestu had probably moved out of it only the day before, so that his royal guest might have fitting accommodations. "You will wish to rest and refresh yourself before the feast this evening, Domn. Please, ask for anything you need or crave. My servants are your servants."


How comforting to hear, Ernestu, he thought. For I have a definite craving for one of your servants, I think. Yes, I believe I need him quite badly. When the older man was gone, Vlad spoke to Simion, his aide. "I saw a young man among the household: tall and slender, with short, dark hair. Sixteen or so. Great brown eyes. Bring him to me, Simion."


Simion smiled, bowing. He had been with the prince many years, and knew him well. The master must be smitten indeed to call for the boy so quickly upon his arrival, not even bothering to pretend patience. The boy would find himself walking awkwardly soon, if Simion was not wrong. He rather hoped that the lad would be able to appreciate what a boon the attention of Vlad Tepes Draculea was.


He asked about, only to be met with blank stares. No, there was no young male household servant of that description. Unwilling to return to his master empty handed, he prowled the servant's quarters, and the kitchens. Nothing. Reluctantly, he returned to Vlad's room.


He found his master ready for his desired charmer. He had doffed his heavy travel clothes, and wore only a thin, white robe. He looked even more angelic than ever, until one noticed that the cloth, when he moved, molded itself to a very human and needy erection. When Vlad saw that his servant returned alone, his face darkened into a scowl. Simion said hastily, "My Lord, I tried! He is nowhere to be found. All the servants deny knowledge of him."


"I'm not blind, Simion, nor a fool. I know what I saw. That boy is here, somewhere." He didn't add, And I mean to have him. There was no need. Simion knew.


"Patience, Domn. If he is here, I will find him." Boy, thought Simion. I only hope you delight in men. Otherwise your life will be most uncomfortable for a while. Vlad does not like to be denied.


Simion continued his inquiry as discretely as he could, while seeing that his lordship's party was situated, and their animals well cared for. The servants of this household, he noted with satisfaction, knew to give the utmost care to the belongings (material, human, and animal) of the visiting royalty.


He still had no luck when the time of the feast had arrived. Vlad's expression was nearly as dark as the somber formal wear he donned for the banquet. But, when he entered the hall, he arranged his features into a pleasant expression. He had little love for the social politics of his class, but he knew what was necessary.


The tables were set up in a U shape, the place of honor being at the end bar. The ranks of the guests descended as one moved toward the ends of the table. Vlad was escorted with much ceremony to the place at the right hand of his host, who sat in the very center of the upper table.


The room was already filled with guests, standing behind their seats, and awaiting the arrival of the favored suitor. Vlad was introduced to them with a short, but excessively flowery speech. He replied with a few courtly thanks. Then Ernestu said proudly, "Now, Domn, my treasure, my Elizabeta."


The young woman swept into the room, followed by a few nervously giggling maids, and made her way to the head table. Vlad watched her, with a wry appreciation of the chit's self presentation. This was no trembling, shy flower. She had a sense of her own worth.


Elizabeta stood on the other side of her father, and curtsied low. The square cut neckline of her ruby red velvet dress showed the tops of small, high breasts, the milky white sought by all noblewomen. She had raven black hair, twisted into a smooth coil at the base of her neck and covered by a small chaplet of knotted gold cords.


Her eyes, when they met his, were a bit of a shock. They were the very eyes of the youth who had caught his fancy: large, dark, and slightly tilted. There was even a touch of resemblance in the face, with the high cheekbones. But her mouth was smaller, where his had been generous, almost lush. There was something peculiar going on here, he thought.


Being a proper daughter, she did not speak, because she had not been given permission to do so. On this, their first meeting, she was seated on her father's other side. Later she would be allowed to sit beside Vlad, so that they might become at least nominally acquainted.


As the entire company was sitting down, one last guest slipped into the room, taking a seat at the very end of one table, the humblest seat in the room. There was no mistaking the slender figure with the close cropped dark hair. It was the youth he had seen in the courtyard.


So... not a servant, Draculea mused. No serving boy would ever dare sit at table with his lords. What a pity I'll have to be a bit more cautious in my pursiut. Still, he must be a very low ranking member of this house. I'll just have to move more slowly.


Vlad kept up the polite illusion of interest in the woman who would possibly be his bride, passing remarks to her over her father, half listening to the replies. His eyes kept straying to the end of the table.


The boy ate slowly, almost daintily, pulling his food into tiny pieces before consuming it. Rather than licking his fingers as most of the lords and ladies did, he wiped them often on a cloth he kept draped on his lap. When a servant tried to pour wine for him, he covered his goblet with his hand, shaking his head. Another brought him a carafe of water, and that he accepted.


No one spoke to him as he dined. He was generally ignored, and he seemed content with this. Stranger and stranger, Vlad thought. Low rank, modest garments, abstinence, short hair... Possibly a cleric? Hm, that might make things more difficult. But not impossible. Vlad smiled to himself. If the boy practiced celibacy, it would be a real treat to unleash the energy he was keeping bottled up.


Vlad said conversationally to Ernestu, "Do you keep a priest? I may wish to make confession later."


"Of course, Domn, of course. The report of your piety preceeds you." Vlad lifted his eyebrows skeptically. He observed the formalities of his religion, but he hardly had a reputation of saintliness, and he knew it. Ernestu gestured toward a bald man in black robes sitting a little farther down the table. "Father Mircea is always ready to perform his Holy Offices. You can generally find him in the chapel... or the library." He said the last word with the slightest hint of dismissal.


Vlad sat a bit straighter, interest piqued. "You have a library, Varga?"


His host looked puzzled, but continued smiling. "Yes, Domn. Some very fine volumes." Vlad knew what he was thinking. The Dracul were renowned warriors. They were not expected to be interested in anything as soft as literature or learning, not unless it involved marital philosophies, and tactics. But in fact, Vlad's ancestors had respected, perhaps even revered knowledge. There was an impressive collection of books, papers and scrolls housed in Castle Draculea. They were sadly neglected these days, as the last librarian had died in his father's time, and had never been replaced.


Elizabeta, eyes demurely on her plate, ventured, "We will have more, as time passes. Nicolae works so hard, every day."


Ernestu grunted. "That's all he's good for."


"Father, please. It is what he was trained to do. You can hardly expect him to be a warrior or huntsman with the way he was raised."


"You can't blame that on me, girl. I had no idea he'd turn out so soft."


From the sound of things, this was an old bone of contention between these two. Vlad found it interesting. Till now Elizabeta had been the model of a meek daughter, willing to bend to every whim and command of her father. What was this Nicolae to her, that she defended him?


Elizabeta was continuing. "What did you expect when you sent him to live with the friars? You knew they were scholars. If you had wanted him to be a warrior, you should have sent him as squire to a knight. But of course..." her tone was bitter, "you would have had to outfit him, and that would have been much more expensive. All that was required at the monastery was a few coarse garments and a pittance for his food."


"Beta! Enough. You act as though he were your brother."


Her eyes now flashed up at her father. Well, this one has spirit after all Vlad thought.


"He is my brother!" Elizabeta's voice was low and hard now, completely different from the gentle fluting she had used before. "Albeit we were not nurtured by the same womb, we spring from the same seed, Father."


Ah, that explains it. A bastard. Common enough. The situation seemed a bit unusual, though. From what he was hearing, it seemed as though Elizabeta and this Nicolae had been raised together, at least during their early years. Her affection was obvious. Noblemen often provided for their by-blows, especially if the mother were anyone above peasant stock. But very seldom was an illegitimate child allowed contact with a legitimate one.


Vlad didn't think much of Varga so far, but he seemed to have done more than his duty for this child. He had apparently raised it for a time, then fostered it in a place where it would be safe, and learn a trade. Few would have done as much.


"He reads?" Vlad broke in, and both father and daughter looked at him a little blankly. They had been caught up in a long running argument. "I admire those who make the effort to learn. I myself enjoy the library at Castle Draculea."


Elizabeta, sensing a possible champion for her favorite, nodded eagerly. "And he writes, too, Domn. Not just copies, but writes his own thoughts! Oh, he has a beautiful hand! So clear, so perfect. It is an art."


"May I meet this artist?" It was a way to earn favor in the girl's sight, and irritate her father. Varga dared not refuse his guest anything, no matter how it might annoy him.


Ernestu sighed heavily, and beckoned to a footman. "Bring the librarian."


The footman started down the table. With each step he took, Vlad felt his heart begin to beat faster. The servant passed the ranks of nobles, and each turned to watch his progress, curious as to who was being summoned to the table of honor. He walked all the way to the end of the table, and stopped by the dark haired boy in the rough brown garment, speaking to him quietly.


The boy turned from his plate to listen, then looked up toward the table, his large dark eyes anxious and questioning. There was a dab of sauce on his lips. The summons must have made him nervous because, unmindful of his napkin, his tongue darted out to lick away the smear. Vlad felt himself begin to grow hard beneath the table.


The boy stood up and came around the end of the table, walking up the space between the two sides. The room was very quite as the other diners watched him pass. Vlad could hear the soft pad of his slippered feet. At last he stood before them.


His gaze flicked over Vlad, moving away quickly to the man who was his father in the flesh, if not the spirit. Then he looked at Elizabeta, and his eyes grew soft and warm. A small smile graced his face, making him look even younger, and so desirable that Vlad ached. For a moment, he almost hated the girl who could win such a look from him.


Then he looked back to Varga, his smile fading, and dropped his gaze. His voice was quiet, respectful. "You commanded my presence, Domn?"


"Our honored guest has expressed a desire to meet you." Ernestu's tone said 'though I cannot fathom why'.


The boy again looked at Vlad, then quickly at the floor, a hot flush rising to stain his cheeks. The way the visiting lord was looking at him was most... disconcerting.


My God, he is beautiful Vlad marveled. He spoke kindly. "Look at me, boy, and tell me your name."


The youth raised his eyes hesitantly. The prince's eyes were blue, and blue should be a cool color. Why were they so intense, so hot? He barely managed to lift his voice above a whisper as he spoke to Prince Vlad Tepes Draculea for the first time. "If it please my lord, I am called Nicolae Calugarul."


Ah thought Vlad. So, Varga will not risk any of his estate by claiming the boy as a Varga. Nicolae the Monk, eh? I shall have to see if I cannot make certain that the name does not remain... fitting.



Marie Ta: Your Highness

Domn: lord


Chapter 3: Infatuation

Child of the Night, Part Three

The Year of Our Lord, 1460

Castle Varga, Wallachia



Vlad's gaze roved hungrily over the young man standing before him. But he was a seasoned noble, able to conceal his true emotions when necessary, so he kept his voice mild, and his expression bland. Only the boy himself seemed to be aware that the count's interest was more than cursory, and that was only a suspicion. "The Lady Elizabeta sings your praises, Calugarul. She believes you to be an artist with the quill."


Another fond glance at the young woman caused Vlad's hand to tighten on his goblet. "The lady is most kind and generous. I like to believe that I have some small skill."


"She says that you do not merely transcribe. You do not simply copy what you see, but can write to express your own thoughts."


The boy's blush deepened, and Vlad realized why when Ernestu snapped, "With the price of parchment these days?! He had best not! I'll not be wasting good paper on the meanderings of a white-livered stripling." Now the boy paled, and Vlad saw his fists clench at his sides, almost hidden by his robe.


So, you haven't grown a thick skin yet, boy. The old warthog can still sting you with his words.


Ernestu was continueing. "You haven't been up to such foolishness again, have you, boy? I hope the last beating taught you the error of such folly."


Vlad looked at the older man sharply. Yes, servants were beaten for disobedience, and for wasting their master's resources. But this... Even if Ernestu were the sort who believed in raising his children by the rod, it seemed a bit severe for a few sheets of paper.


Nicolae's gaze dropped again, and there was a barely discernable tremor in his voice. "No, Tia Maria. I have not forgotten." His shoulders hunched slightly, as if in memory of the painful lesson.


"I would like to see your work, Calugarul. Will you show it to me tomorrow?"


"Of course he will." It took an effort of will to keep from back handing the other nobleman.


Vlad ignored the older man. "When will be a convenient time for me to come to you in the library?"


Again the boy was not allowed to answer for himself. "Any time you please, Domn. It is not as though he has an important schedule to keep. The scribblings can be done at any time."


Draculae ignored the man again. "Calugarul?"


The youth bowed slightly. "Whenever it pleases you best, Domn. I am there the greater part of each day. If not there, I am usually in the chapel, or the garden. I am not difficult to find."


"Good." Vlad wanted to continue talking to the boy. Hell, he wanted to pull Nicolae down onto his lap and plunder that wide mouth with kisses, till he was gasping and sweetly squirming. But he simply waved a dismissal. Nicolae bowed again, and made his way back to his place at the end of the table.


For the rest of the evening Vlad was a man half distracted. He responded to Ernestu and Elizabeta, and whoever else was brave enough to speak, with reflexive courtesy. But his mind was on the young man at the end of the table.


When all the food was cleared away but the sweetmeats, the entertainers came in. The rank of seating was relaxed, and guests moved about, forming small cliques to watch the minstrals and jugglers. Ernestu himself moved, finally allowing his daughter to sit beside the man he hoped she would marry.


Seeing his chance, Vlad laid a hand on Elizabeta's arm, a gesture that was considered rather bold. He said, "Lady, I believe you miss your young companion. Why not call your Calugarul to sit here with us?"


Her eyes were grateful, but she said, "You are kind, Count. But my father will not allow him to sit with me."


"I believe, though, that he will not object if I request his company." Vlad raised his voice above the hum of conversation. "Calugarul!"


Nicolae stood up again. "My lord calls?"


He gestured. "Come sit with me."


Whispers followed the boy as he made his way around the table, up to the place of honor. When he came near Vlad, he paused, looking at Elizabeta, and Ernestu questioningly. Elizabeta smiled encouragingly. Ernestu scowled, and indicated with a jerk of his head that Nicolae was to fulfill the guest's desires.


Vlad slid a little to the side, baring a narrow portion of the bench he was seated on, and patted the smooth wood. "Here, boy. The best seat, I think. You will be able to see everything, here."


Nicolae sat tentatively. The space he had been left was little more than a sliver. He found his side pressed against the older man beside him. He couldn't put any more space between them without risking falling.


Nicolae wasn't... exactly uncomfortable. He was just very aware of the other man. The count was so big. Nicolae, though rather slender, was tall himself. Few men of this age could stand flat footed, and look him in the eyes. But Draculea was at least a half head taller than he, and broader. No, not bulky. He was too well proportioned for that. But... solid. Very solid.


As the minstrals began a tune about two lovers sneaking off for a moonlit tryst, Nicolae dared to slip a glance toward his neighbor. He was horribly embarrassed when he found that Vlad was staring back at him, and he dropped his gaze quickly. It was very bad form to look a superior in the eyes, bordering on insolence. And insolence was punished. But the count made no remark, and Nicolae began to relax a little.


He is a handsome man, Nicolae thought. At least Beta will have that. She was so afraid that her father would wed her to a fat, ugly, graceless old man. The count is none of those things. And he is rich, and powerful. Beta will be a great lady. Good. She deserves it. But I will miss her.


"What are you thinking?"


The question was softly spoken, but it startled Nicolae, nontheless. He jerked, and lost his balance. He would have fallen, and he had a moment to think No, please, not before all these people. Ernestu thinks me enough of a fool as it is.


But he didn't fall. A strong arm went around him, catching him and dragging him back safely onto the seat. Surprised, he turned to meet the count's gaze, purposefully this time. Those light blue eyes were once again warm. "I am sorry, Domn."


"For what, boy? You were startled, nothing more. It was my fault for being so abrupt. But answer me. What were you thinking of, to put such a pensive look on your face?"


It never occured to Nicolae to lie. "I was thinking of the Lady Elizabeta, sir."


"Oh?" There was a coolness in the voice that was at odds with the heat in his eyes. "Yes, she is such a one to haunt the mind of a healthy young man, like yourself."


Nicolae blinked. What an odd thing to say. "She is my sister, Domn. I will miss her when... If she leaves."


"I see." The chill was gone from his tone now. "You are great friends, are you not?"


"She is the only one who has ever loved me," he said simply. His eyes grew wider as he felt the older man's arm tighten around him.


Vlad's thumb stroked the boy's arm slowly. Beneath the coarse cloth he felt the slightly rounded firmness of his bicept. His outward appearance was a little fragile, but Vlad guessed that, unclothed, he would prove to be sturdy, and well built. He very much wanted to see if his surmise was correct.


"That is sad, Nicolae." For the first time, the count used his Christian name. Nicolae could not restrain a small shiver, but for the safety of his soul, he would not have been able to say WHY. "Some day..." The hand drifted up, and rested for a moment on his head, smoothing the sleek, dark hair. "Someday, you will be loved. Deeply."


"It is the fondest wish of every mortal man, Domn."


"No, Nicolae. Not every man. Perhaps only the very foolish, and the very wise."


As they spoke, the minstrals had given way to a man with a trained monkey. Noticing the two so seemingly deep in conversation, the man urged his creature toward them.


The tiny monkey leaped to the table before the two men, squealing. The younger gave a start, and would have toppled over if the elder hadn't caught him again, laughing. The monkey bounced before him, chattering. It touched a plate of candies sitting before the two men. Then it dropped to it's knees and clasped it's tiny four fingered hands in an attitude of begging.


Nicolae burst out laughing, along with the rest of the company, covering his mouth. Vlad nudged him. "Feed the supplicant, Nicolae."


Having been given permission to make free with the foodstuffs that he had not paid for, Nicolae chose a glazed chestnut, and offered it to the little simian. It snatched it away, stuffing it in it's mouth to bulge it's cheek. Then it threw it's hairy arms around Nicolae's neck, pressed it's wrinkled lips to his cheek, and bounded away again.


The company shrieked with laughter, none more so than Nicolae. Tears of mirth streaked his smooth cheeks. It was all Vlad could do not to grab him and lick the damp tracks away, then swallow the laughter with open mouthed kisses.


Seeing that he was watching again, Nicolae choked, "It... Oh, dear. I fear my love has come. And... " He could scarcesly speak, "And I had so hoped for someone a bit more handsome!"


Now the room truly exploded with laughter. No one, except Simion, stationed near his lord, noticed that the prospective bridegroom did not join in the merriment. He did not laugh, but he did smile. And his eyes never left the flushed face of the boy sitting beside him.


Chapter 4: Substitutions

Child of the Night, Part Four

The Year of Our Lord, 1460

Castle Varga, Wallachia



Somehow Vlad managed to restrain himself through the rest of the evening's entertainments. It wasn't easy. The heat and scent of the boy beside him was a constant temptation. The Draculs had kept their primitive blood, with their dedication to the way of the warrior. Vlad's first instinct was to simply claim the boy, tossing him over his shoulder and carrying him back to some private place to ravish.


As he was guest of honor, protocol demanded that the other guests not retire until he did. He was reluctant to part from his new infatuation, but when he noticed the boy swaying slightly, and covering yawns that made him look heartbreakingly young and innocent, he excused himself.


He'd beaten down his carnal impulses, but at a price. He was grateful for the fashionable cloak he had chosen to wear. When he stood to leave, he could wrap it around himself, and disguise the massive erection that thrust against the straining fabric of his breeches. Though it would most likely please Ernestu, as he would think I am lusting for Elizabeta, and that is what he wants.


In his quarters, Simion moved to help divest him of his clothes. He was a little surprised when Draculea pushed him against the wall, and pressed his long body against him. It was, of course, impossible to mistake the iron hardness pressing against his leg, but it had been some time since his lord had favored Simion with this sort of advances.


Vlad rubbed against his servant roughly, stimulating himself even more. Simion, without needing to be ordered, spread his legs to allow Vlad to move into the V, bringing their crotches together. The prince gripped his aide�s shoulders and humped against him. Simion felt his own cock stir in answer. Simion had his choice among the footmen and other sevants of the castle, but he had always found his lord and master a most attractive man. And, due to his station, he had never felt he could be the initiator in these encounters, so he had to wait for the times when Draculea decided to favor him. Vlad continued for a moment, the hot thrusts making Simion feel his knees begin to weaken, then he growled in frustration and pulled away.


Simion immediately resumed the task of stripping the nobleman. "My lord is lusting tonight."


Vlad gave a bitter laugh. "Aye, Simion. As hard as ever I have since my sap first started to rise. The boy..." His eyes narrowed, and he looked toward the door of the room, as if wishing for the object of his desire to appear.


"Yes, Maria Ta, the boy. Shall I bring him to you? He will come. He seems an obedient lad."


Vlad sighed. "Yes, he would come. And I could have him, but... I do not think he is ready, Simion. I suspect that he has not yet felt a carnal embrace. I would not frighten him, if I can avoid it."


Simion looked at the floor to hide his smile. So, Vlad Draculea, Vlad, Son of the Dragon. You have found someone who can make you think with your heart as well as your dick, have you? I wish you luck with this one, my master. I think you will find the walls around his virtue both high and strong.


Aloud, he said, "My master is most kind, to worry about the child's sensibilities. So, in the mean time..." He had stripped the older man naked by now, and his fingers gently skimmed the hot length of his rampant prick. "How may Simion serve you tonight?"


Vlad went and sat in a chair, sprawling naked, and indicated the thick shaft between his thighs. "You can demonstrate your skill as a horseman by riding this stallion, Simion. Ride it till it is lathered."


Simion quickly removed his own clothing, knowing that his lord would wish him nude. Draculea loved the feel of skin on skin. And, though Simion's lightly furred body was not the smooth one he had been lusting for, it would serve well enough for now.


Simion found the small bowl of sweet oil that had been placed beside the bed earlier in the day, placed in anticipation of the boy his lordship had glimpsed in the courtyard. He was about to prepare himself, when Draculea held out his hands. "Come, Simion. I want to do that tonight."


Again Simion was surprised. Always before he had prepared himself to receive his lordship's staff. After the first time or two with a fresh lover, Vlad grew bored with performing the little intimacies, and merely wished to be serviced. Who would deny him?


At his lord's direction, Simion placed the bowl on a table at Vlad's elbow. Then he lowered himself across the strong thighs of his master, face down, and spread his legs.


Vlad dipped his fingers in the cool, greasy liquid, coating them well. With one large hand, he spread the buttocks of the man lying across his lap, and stroked down the deep crevice. Simion shivered slightly. Vlad took more oil, massaging it into the tender skin, He found the puckered ring of Simion's anus, and began to stroke around it, kneading the taut flesh. Under his attention, the tough muscles gradually relaxed.


"It's been awhile," Vlad said, sliding the first finger deep into his ass.


Simion gasped, "Yes, m'lord. But m'lord knows he has but to command, nay, only indicate a desire, and I am his, joyfully."


"An admirable sentiment, Simion." Vlad pulled back, then pushed in, finger fucking him. He worked another finger in beside the first, listening with satisfaction to the half lustful, half pained whine his vassal made. "Damn, you're still almost as tight as the first time I fucked you. You were almost a virgin then, weren't you?"


"With men, lord. I had been with women aplenty, but you were only my second man."


"Um." A third finger quickly joined the other two. Simion winced a little at the abrupt stretching. Vlad was, indeed, impatient tonight. But there was a certain allure to his urgency. "You seemed surprised enough when I threw you on the bed."


"I had never dreamed such a great man would desire one as humble as myself, lord. It was... a shock. But a most welcome one." He concentrated on the feel of Draculea's fingers moving in his ass, probing and twisting. This was going to be very quick tonight, but there was no reason why he couldn't enjoy it, too. Especially in the position the lord seemed to want. Simion would have some control over angle, depth, speed, and force. He should be able to bring Vlad's prick in contact with that magic spot deep in his own bowels that gave such pleasure when it was caressed.


Vlad pulled his fingers free of the clasp of his servant's body. Then, feeling almost playful, he laid a brisk smack on one muscular cheek. Simion jerked slightly, yelping, but Vlad felt the man's cock twitch against the inside of his thighs. He graced the other buttock with a like blow, watching the almost imperceptible pink flush rise, and feeling the warm streak of wetness against his leg from where Simion's swollen cock had begun to leak the clear fluid that accompanied arousal.


He pushed the stocky man off his lap, and spread his legs even wider, slipping further down on his spine. His prick jutted up invitingly, long and thick. It, too, was drizzling with the glistening syrup of lust. Simion eyed it, licking his lips unconsciously. He would have enjoyed tasting Draculea, but that wasn't what his master wanted right now.


Simion gestured toward the little bowl. "Master, if I may... ?"


Vlad grunted. "Hurry."


Simion dipped up a generous amount of the cool oil, and slathered it over Draculea�s quivering prick. He worked quickly, but carefully, being sure to annoint the broad, dusky rose head lavishly. That had to slide into him, and he wanted to ease the way as much as possible. When he noticed Vlad's fingers beginning to thrum on the chair arm, he heeded the warning.


Turning away from his master, he bent and reached back taking hold of the thick, fleshy rod. He felt Draculea spread his cheeks again, and help him guide the knob to rest against the loosened ring of his anus. Then Simion took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and began to sink back.


He gritted his teeth as he was slowly spitted on Vlad's prick, the engorged flesh filling him to capacity. When the head passed over that special spot in his bowels, he threw his head back, whimpering in pleasure, and heard his master laugh, a deep, chesty rumble. Finally his buttocks settled against his master's groin, and Vlad lifted his knees, setting his feet flat on the floor, so that his flesh-spitted lover was cradled.


Vlad allowed him a moment to adjust, running his hands up and down Simion's back, reaching around to toy with the other man's dripping cock. Simion trembled at the sensations, breathless. He had forgotten how full he felt when Draculea was inside him. Despite the intensity of the sensations he was experiencing, a smile ghosted across his face. There was that nickname his master had acquired, from a favored method of dealing with enemies. The act of piercing the unfortunates anally on sharpened, mounted stakes, and leaving them to dangle their lives away. Vlad the Impaler. He almost laughed. Oh, they don�t know how appropriate the name is.


Simion felt an insistant tug at his genitals, and knew it was time to begin. He braced his feet, tensed his leg muscles, and rested his hands on Vlad's wide spread knees for support. Then he slowly lifted himself a few inches. He bit his lip as the cock inside him passed again over the tiny bump that was capable of giving such joy, but he kept his pace slow. He continued the upward glide till only the bulbous glans were still trapped in his body, then he began to lower himself again.


Vlad groaned as his vassal's body settled around him once more, swallowing his lust heated flesh. Simion might not be the pinnacle of his imaginings, but he was a solid, reliable fuck. He would give Vlad what he needed to be able to sleep tonight.


Vlad closed his eyes and let the other man work his body up and down on his straining shaft. His hands drifted to his own chest, teasing the hard nubs of his nipples as he imagined that it was another who touched him. In his mind, a lean, graceful body straddled him, willingly taking his cock into honeyed depths, and long, artistic fingers roamed over him. Dark eyes, slightly tilted at the corners, shone down at him, and a wide, beatutiful mouth was softly open in desire.


Simion, rising and falling steadily, glanced back to see how his lord was faring. Draculea's head was back, and his eyes were closed. Odd. Simion knew that part of Vlad's pleasure usually came from watching his own prick spearing into the body of his chosen lover, seeing the way he stretched the submissive flesh. Vlad's lips moved silently, forming one word over and over, and Simion nodded to himself. Of course. It might be Simion's body in which Draculea would spill his seed in this world, but in his imaginings, he was fucking the young librarian.


Well, then, my lord. I must see to it that your little lover does not disappoint you, at least this first time. He began to move more quickly, giving his hips a minute twist to increase the friction.


Draculea grunted at the increased sensations, plucking roughly at his own flesh. He was moving quickly toward his climax. Simion began to fear that he would have to leave quickly and quietly when his lordship was done, so that he could soothe his own needy cock.


But then Vlad could keep still no longer. Strong hands seized Simion's hips, holding him still, and Vlad began to thrust up into his bowels. Simion wasn't allowed to move. He had to just crouch there, and accept the stabbing insertions. He didn't mind. Vlad's prick rubbed constantly against his prostate, washing him in a continuous wave of pleasure. Since he was held firm, he could release his hold on Draculea's knees, and he put his now free hands to good work, masturbating quickly. He need not delay his own release to ensure his master's.


In fact he came before Vlad. His sperm fountained from the tip of his prick, splattering his hands. He groaned, his ass muscles spasming around the thick staff that had given him such pleasure, milking it. It triggered Vlad's own orgasm. With a gutteral cry he jerked Simion down on his stiff cock almost viciously, forcing it so far up into him that the experienced man winced with pain even as his orgasm continued to roll over him. And Vlad held him there, panting, as his dick pulsed, throwing his heated lust juice into the snug, accepting back channel of his servant.


They stayed like that for a minute or two, both heaving from their exertions. Vlad idly petted Simion's sweat damp back, silently commending him. Simion dropped his head in an equally silent acknowledgement, and thanks. Then Vlad once again smacked his ass, and Simion stood up. He winced again as the now softening cock slid out of him.


A little shakily, he went to the table, and poured water into the basin provided. He brought it back to where Draculea still sprawled, knelt between his legs, and gently cleansed him, wiping away the spunk, and traces of shit and blood. He would clean himself once his lord was comfortably abed. Once Draculea's genitals were damp and clean, Simion dared to press a small kiss to the now smaller, pale pink head. He felt a hand rummage in his hair with rough near-affection, and rested his face for a moment against the strong inner thigh.


He had known from the first time that Draculea took him that he would never be this magnificent man's love. The most he could hope for was to be his servant, perhaps his occasional bed partner, and, hopefully, his friend. He was willing to settle for this, and was content. He spent his life trying to facilitate Draculea's happiness. If it would take this boy to ensure that, then Simion was willing to do all in his power to push the boy into Draculea's arms.


Still naked, he got up and filled the warming pan with hot coals from the fire that flickered low on the hearth. He passed it quickly between the sheets, removing any chill that might linger, then watched as his master slipped into the bed, settling down for the night. Long years of closeness gave him the boldness to speak without being bidden. "Will you be able to sleep tonight?"


"I think so, Simion." He reached out. One hand lazily caressed the other man's hip. "Thanks to your attentions." He yawned. "There's no one like you for taking the edge off. Good night."


Simion bowed low. "Sleep well, Maria Ta Vlad." Draculea smiled faintly at the mixture of respect and familiarity, his title with his given name, and turned over, burrowing into his pillow.


Simion watched him for a moment more, then washed himself quickly, donned his clothing, and slipped from the room. As he made his way to the lonely bed that had been assigned to him, his body aching, but replete, he reflected that he was a fool to love such a man, when there would never be anything more than this in return. But as long as I have this, it is enough. He lay in bed, staring at the ceiling for awhile, finally drifting off to sleep with the thought, Boy, I only hope you appreciate him.


Chapter 5: Ambivalence

Child of the Night, Part Five

The Year of Our Lord, 1460

Later That Night

Castle Varga, Romania



Nicolae wished he could have spent a few moments speaking with Elizabeta after the feast, as he was eager to learn what she thought of her suitor. But Ernestu father made sure that was not possible. He herded his youngest daughter from the room the moment the prince left, scowling darkly at his bastard son.


Elizabeta and Nicolae had both been born on the same day, only hours apart. Ernestu still couldn't imagine what had possessed him to allow the boy to be raised in his own household. Perhaps his mother had been a witch? It would be nice to think so, because he wouldn't feel so obligated toward the boy. Some how Christina, his wife's lady-in- waiting, had persuaded him to keep the boy on. On her death bed, she had extracted a sworn vow that little Nicolae would never be thrown out into the world to starve. So Ernestu was stuck with him, unless he could find the boy a substantial position elsewhere.


Nicolae hadn't had a very happy childhood. Oh, the actual abuse wasn't so bad, not compared to what it could have been, or to what others of his station suffered routinely. He knew that, and dutifully thanked God in his prayers. But it had been... lonely.


Ernestu was indifferent, his wife hated Nicolae as proof in the flesh of her husband's infidelity, and the servants either couldn't be bothered, or were afraid of incurring her displeasure. The only ones who were kind to him were the religious brothers employed to tutor him and Elizabeta, and his half-sister herself.


Elizabeta was the only mortal to ever express open, personal love for Nicolae. And Nicolae had to admit that between the two of them, his love was the greater. He tried not to fault her for it. It was the world into which they had been born, he told himself. The world functioned on a strict hierarchy, ranging from God in Heaven, down through celestial beings, to Man, to the Beasts, and down into the Crawling Kingdom. Those of a higher order were always aware of the gaps. A relationship, even one as benign as sororal love, was not really permitted between a high born lady and a bastard of dubious gentility. So he watched sadly as his sister swept out of the room, surrounded by her giggling entourage. She seemed happy. He was glad of that.


He sat for awhile longer, picking at the plate of sweets before him. This was one thing he had missed in the monastery. The food there was usually ample (unless there was a fast decreed), but so plain. Nicolae feared that one of his secret sins was gluttony. He just couldn't resist the cakes, pies, and confections that Ernestu's cooks turned out so steadily.


Nicolae had no idea how charmingly young he looked, rummaging among the sugared almonds and candied fruit. Several of the women, and not a few of the men, watched him covertly. He was very tempting: so young, beautiful, and innocent. But he was in Ernestu's disfavor, and no one was willing to risk that to try to sample his charms. A few remarked, though, that perhaps the visiting Prince would not be cowed by Ernestu's disapproval. He'd certainly kept the boy close enough throughout the entertainment.


Nicolae finished his meal, still refusing all offers of wine. It had been hotly argued in the monastery as to whether or not wine should be consumed outside the Holy Sacrament. Some advocated complete abstinence. Others pointed to the miracle of Our Lord changing water into wine at the wedding feast. Surely he could not object? Nicolae, as in most things, felt it was better to err on the side of self restraint. He hadn't seen all that much of the world, but he knew that strong drink could lead some men to act in a less than godly manner.


He remembered a certain incident not long before he had been required to leave his sanctuary and return to the castle. One of the laymen who occasionally helped the friars had found the medicinal brandy that their healer kept in the still room. Nicu had found the man, drunk, on the floor. The proper thing to do would have been to alert a senior brother immediately, but... The man, some ten or fifteen years older than he, had been kind. He had treated Nicolae with rough good humor, making a few mildly coarse jests that had left Nicu blushing in confusion, and amused the man even more.


Nicolae had stared at the man, sprawled on the cold stone in a drunken stupor. His tunic was rucked up around his hips, exposing sturdy, hairy legs, marked here and there by a scar acquired in his labors. It must be cold, Nicolae had thought. He doubted that he could help the man up and to his bed, but perhaps he could make him more comfortable.


He squatted beside the man and gently tugged at the hem of his garment, trying to pull it down for the sake of warmth, and modesty. He had been shocked when the hard, callused hand had closed over his wrist. The laborer wasn't as drunk as Nicolae had thought, it seemed.


Or was he? Nicolae looked into blood-shot eyes, and the man slowly smiled at him. "Well, hello, pretty." he slurred.


Nicolae said quietly, "It's all right. I want to help you."


"Oh, aye, lad, aye. Ye can help me well." Nicolae froze in surprise as the man pulled his own tunic up higher, and dragged Nicolae's hand down into the wiry thatch of hair at his crotch. He formed the boy's fingers around the thick tube of flesh that was just beginning to stir there. "I been wond'rin when ye would come ta me, but yer worth waitin' for."


Nicolae shivered violently, and the man apparently mistook it for passion. He'd been hoping that the dark-eyed male beauty, who moved among the plain friars like a thoroughbred colt among a herd of plow beasts, would prove willing, and now it seemed his wishes were being answered. "Aye, lad, for you. You're the prettiest piece, man or woman, I've seen in dog's years."


"No, please," Nicolae whispered desperately. "You don't understand."


Now the man's hand was moving up under Nicolae's robe, running along the outside of his thigh. "S'alright, m' lovely. I understand. A sweet bit like yerself, locked up here with these dry sticks... Only ta be 'spected you'd want a taste of a real man."


Nicolae was horrified to feel a stirring in his groin. It was one that usually only came to him late at night, or else he awakened to it. He started to feel light headed as his blood began to pound in his veins, seeming to rush directly to that one point between his legs.


The man was moving Nicolae's hand now, using it to stroke himself. The flesh under Nicolae's palm felt heated, and it swelled ever greater by the moment. Nicolae felt the other man's hand slip around to tickle at the sensitive skin of his inner thigh, fingers crawling upward toward the center of his heat. He moaned, and the other man chuckled, a perfectly evil sound, "That's right, m'pretty. Ah, if ye only had a set of teats, ye'd be just about perfect."


It was like cold water thrown in Nicolae's face. What was he doing? He tore his hand away, falling backward, landing on his bottom. The other man whined in protest, and started to try to crawl over to him. His penis was now engorged, thick and long, and a clear stream of liquid drooled from the head. It swayed pendulously as he crawled toward the boy, who was scooting away. "Come back to me, pretty. I won't hurt ye, I swear. I'll be gentle..."


Nicolae scrambled to his feet and fled. He ran to the chapel, and crouched at the alter in supplication, then went to kneel before the blessed Madonna, lifting his hands in wordless appeal.


He was in turmoil, more frightened than he'd ever been in his life, because part of him had wanted to remain there on the still room floor, had wanted to allow the drunken, lusting man to crawl over him, and had wanted to find out exactly what he had meant when he said he would be gentle...


Nicolae prostrated himself, lying on his face on the cold stone, arms outstretched to either side, and tried to pray. But he was too aware of the heat of his cock, erect and throbbing, pressed between his belly and the floor. He couldn't even manage a rote Hail Mary, or Our Father. All he could do was whisper, over and over, "Please, God. Please, God. Please, God."


Eventually the insistent swelling abated, and his flesh cooled, if his mind did not. He got on his knees and spent the next hour begging for forgiveness for his lustful thoughts. But he did not dare tell the priest about them during his next confession. So far he had confessed them only to the Blessed Virgin. He hoped she understood, and wished that she would grant him peace from the images that had begun to plague him. Because he kept seeing that swollen shaft of flesh, swaying proudly, glistening...


Nicolae shook his head, looking around the banquet hall. It was almost empty now, most of the revelers having gone off to bed: their's, or another's. Past time for him to be abed, also. The Prince might wish to come to the library early tomorrow.


Nicolae padded through the twisting corridors, ever lower into the depths of the castle. He often tried to console himself that since his room was beneath the dank earth, it would mean he was best protected if the castle was ever attacked. He would have liked a window, though, so he could catch a breeze, or see by something other than lamp and candle light.


In his tiny room, which really wasn't much different than his cell at the monastery had been, he lit only one candle. It was all he needed for his evening's devotions, and to see himself to bed.


Sitting on the edge of his plain, narrow cot, Nicolae read a chapter from his bible, choosing Proverbs He liked that book: such simple, clear directions for life. Then he knelt on the cold stone floor and prayed his rosary, letting the drone of words and click of beads soothe him, as it always did.


He was a little ashamed that his mind did not, perhaps, always remain fixed on the Divine Mysteries as he chanted the prayers. In penance, he said the beads again, feeling his knees go numb on the hard floor, and feeling the twinge in one calf that warned of an approaching cramp. Luckily, he finished before the muscles tensed, and arose.


At last he stripped off the rough tunic. He decided to keep on the smooth linen under drawers that Elizabeta had given him. She had been horrified to learn that he went nude under his robes. He had been near dead of embarrassment.


It seemed that one of her ladies had gossiped that the order he had stayed with felt that undergarments were an unnecessary vanity. Indeed, Nicolae could see how the garments could be considered a temptation for the earthly clay. They were wonderfully sensuous, cool and smooth against his skin. He felt almost guilty for his enjoyment of them.


Nicolae blew out the candle and crawled under his thin blanket. He pillowed his head on his arm and tried to sleep, eventually succeeding... to a point.


He dreamed. He'd had such dreams before, and they were more sensation that sense, more feeling than thought. He felt washed by waves of delicious warmth, as if strong hands were stroking the length of his body. He turned on his belly with a sigh, and his now tumescent cock pressed into his thin mattress. His hips moved unconsciously, rubbing the sensitive flesh against the smoothness of his drawers.


Nicolae hummed in his sleep, long body writhing slowly to the rhythm of his dream. He felt an aching emptiness in his body, as if something were missing, as if there was a void that needed to be filled. In his sleep, he buried his face against the mattress, feeling phantom hands caress his back, his sides, his neck. Unconsciously, his legs spread...


...and he awoke with a start, feeling the warm gush of fluid that bathed his belly and began to soak into his bed. He sat up with a cry of shame and distress.


Standing, he quickly stripped off his drawers. There was water in the basin for his morning wash, and he rinsed the soiled garment, then spread it carefully on his one crude chair to dry.


Nicolae turned his mattress, putting the damp patch on the other side, then started to lie down again. But he stopped, biting his lip. The dream was still too close. If he slept now, it might return.


Instead, he knelt again on the rough stones, naked this time, and began to pray. He tried to keep his mind fixed on good works, virtues and charities. But for some mad reason, all he could think about were blue eyes...


Chapter 6: Courtship

notes: Vlad is spending some time at Castle Varga to determine whether or not he wishes to marry Elizbeta Varga. Royalty of this time often did not have this luxury, as marriages were often political arrangements, set up with the two subjects never having met.


warnings: The description of how Vlad disposed of some of his enemies isn't as graphic as it could be, but it is definitely disturbing, and reveals his cruel side.


Child of the Night, Part Six

The Year of Our Lord, 1460

Castle Varga, Wallachia



Vlad was an early riser, had been all his life. As a prince, he could have theoretically lain in bed as long as he wished. Being a practical man, in most matters, he knew this was not wise. If the people thought that their ruler was lazy, it might give certain factions dangerous ideas. Vlad cultivated the impression that he slept little, if at all.


He arose, as was his custom, in the grey light that signaled the coming dawn. As early as he was, Simion was up before him. His servant was poking the slumbering coals of last night's fire into life, feeding it carefully. He glanced back over his shoulder as Vlad swung his long legs over the side of the bed, sitting up. "Good morning, Maria Ta Draculea." In the light of day, he was back to the formal mode of address. "You slept well?"


"Well enough, Simion. It would have been more satisfying had I someone sleek and warm curled close beside me."


Simion nodded. "Soon, master, I am sure."


"I hope so, Simion. The boy was raised in a monastery. What might those sexless drones have done to his spirit?"


Simion's smile was arch. "They aren't all sexless, m'lord. I believe you know that from experience. I seem to recall a certain young abbot..."


Vlad chuckled at the memory. "Well, he was an exception. There wasn't an altar boy in the province he hadn't debauched, and half the priests as well." His eyes darkened. "It was a shame he was a traitor. I really hated having to spear that sweet ass with hard, sharp wood instead of a good, solid prick."


The cleric in question had been foolish enough to have dealings with the Turks, even hiding some of them in his monastery. He had to die for that, no matter his previous relation with the Prince. If Vlad had allowed him to live after such a blatant betrayal, it would have seriously undermined him in the eyes of his people.


So the fair abbot, along with several of his Turkish friends, had writhed his life away on a tall stake, as thick as a brawny man's arm, set up in front of Castle Draculea, He had thrashed, naked, as his weight had slowly forced him down on the sharpened wood driven up his anus, while the man who had fucked him with such passion not a month before dined placidly at a table that had been set up before him. He had no way of knowing that Vlad, in his own way, and as much as he felt able, was being kind. The stake had been sharpened, so that it would pierce more quickly. The Turks had been impaled on blunt stakes. It took them much longer to die.


Simion saw that he had led Vlad to a memory that darkened his mood, exactly what he had wished to avoid. He set a kettle of water on the hob over the flames to warm, and stood up. "Will you breakfast before you take your morning ride, Domn? I have brought something, if you wish."


Vlad stood up and stretched, distracted from the unpleasant memory by the thought of food. He hadn't eaten as much as he might have last night. He'd been too preoccupied with observing Nicolae. "Yes, Simion. I can eat."


He slipped into the simple morning robe that Simion held for him, and went to the table. There was bread, cheese, sausage, and apples laid out for him. He munched his way pensively through the simple repast as Simion bustled about the room, setting the bed to order and laying out his clothes for the day.


When he was finished, Simion brought a basin of steaming water, soap, a cloth, and the razor. Hanging the cloth over Vlad's shoulder, he worked the fine, scented soap onto his prince's face, bringing up a lavish lather, and began to shave him.


Most men of this age, if not clerics, preferred to grow beards, or at least moustaches, rather than struggle with the daily chore of shaving in an age when only the wealthy could afford to keep fine, keen edged razors. Simion suspected that the religious did it as a form of penance, using dull blades to scrape the stubble from face and head.


Shaving was not an ordeal for Prince Vlad. Simion made sure the razor was kept stropped to a hair fine edge, and he used a special soap, formulated by an apothecary to soothe his prince's skin, prevent scrapes, and speed the healing of any cuts. But there were never cuts. Simion was an expert with any kind of edged instrument. He could either coddle, or destroy. With his prince, he was meticulous.


Vlad was probably aware of the expertise and care, but he took it as only his due. He waited till Simion was wiping lather and stubble on the cloth to say, "I wonder if he shaves yet?"


Simion did not need to ask who Draculea was referring to. "I expect he does, though that baby skin might give me the lie. In any case, it can't be necessary more than twice or thrice a week."


Simion returned to his task, carefully working his way along the strong jaw. "I asked around a bit in the kitchens, since I knew who to inquire after." He said nothing more as he cleared a patch on Vlad's cheek, daring to tease his prince.


When Simion again went to wipe the razor, Vlad blurted. "So? What have you learned? Tell me!"


Simion stilled him by again setting the razor to his face. He smiled inside. This was the only way he knew he could silence Draculea, and he didn't dare push it too far. Vlad's temper was volatile, and uncertain, and he was very, very focused on the boy right now.


"There is not much to tell. I'm sure you gleaned most of it from the conversation at table last night. He is Nicolae Calugarul, Nicolae the Monk. Though he hasn't taken Holy Orders... yet. He is the son of Varga and one of his late wife's ladies. She must have had a bit of a hold on him, because he waited some years before fostering the boy out. Nicolae lived here, and even spent time with Varga's legitimate get, till he was ten."


More speckled foam was deposited on the cloth, and Vlad took the opportunity to speak. "He sent the boy to live among those drones? Criminal."


Simion tilted Vlad's chin up, stretching his throat. It was a monumental show of trust for the royal to allow him to glide that glistening blade over the gently pulsing veins in his throat. "You must remember, my Domn, that Varga does not see the boy through your eyes. Much to the lad's good, I might add. He could very well have taken him to his bed in rank incest. It wouldn't be the first time that a noble seduced his own lower born get." Vlad grimaced, thinking of his own father. The senior Dracul had more than likely tumbled a few of his own daughters among the peasants. Simion almost laid a tiny cut on his chin. "Please, Domn!" he scolded mildly.


"I'm sorry, Simion." Vlad muttered absently. Anyone outside his circle would have been flabbergasted. A prince, apologizing to a servant? It didn't happen often, but it happened.


"The boy is older than you think. He was prepared to take orders and enter the monastery as a full brother. But Varga learned of the gift that was expected, and called him home. The lad was very upset. He had his heart set on being a friar."


"But why?" Vlad snatched another cloth and impatiently wiped away the last specks of soap. He allowed Simion to wipe his face with a damp cloth, then apply a cooling ointment. "Why would anyone with blood in his veins choose such a life?"


"I think, Domn, that it was preferable to what he had here. He was not well cherished. Among the brothers, he received attention, even affection and praise. He is, to all accounts, a very bright lad. He might be brilliant, if anyone cared to nurture and promote his intelligence. Alas, that requires effort and expense, and no one is willing to offer either."


He began to assist Draculea into his clothes. "Varga made a vow on his mistress' death bed that the boy would be cared for. When it seemed he would have to expend a bit of his gold to keep the boy in the monastery, he had him brought here and installed him as librarian. This way he has a keeper for his books and papers without having to pay, and he fulfills his promise by not allowing the boy to starve."


Vlad straightened his shirt carefully, looking thoughtful. "A rather cold life, I would think, Simion."


Simion bowed. "I cannot help but agree, my prince."


"A life he might, perhaps, be persuaded to trade for one with more... warmth?"


"Very possibly." Simion smoothed a wrinkle from the butter-soft leather of Vlad's breeches, stroking down one strong thigh, and chose his words and tone carefully. "If the persuader is patient... and gentle."


"Simion," there was a touch of silky menace in Draculea's voice. "Are you accusing me of being an impatient man?"


"My prince is, on rare occasions... impulsive."


Draculea laughed. "Had you been higher born, Simion, I do not doubt that you would have excelled in politics. You can say the rudest things in the most civil, tactful way." Not waiting for his manservant, Draculea quickly ran a carved ivory comb through his long, unruly dark hair, arranging it as well as he could.


He examined himself in the looking glass, a luxury afforded only to nobility and royalty. Cocking his head, he studied himself, taking in the strong, stubborn features, the light eyes, and the large, hard body. "What do you think, Simion? Will I lure him, or scare him away?"


"Only ignorance and fear, or innocence, could hold him back, Maria Ta."


Vlad shrugged. "In any case, I must see to exercising Lucifer before I go hunting my little lamb. I can't allow my best war horse to grow fat and lazy, any more than I'd allow myself to do the same."


Nicolae had taken his meager breakfast from the kitchen and brought it to the library on the second floor, as was his habit. He spent as much time in the room as possible. He was not disturbed here, and the presence of the tomes and scrolls around him soothed him as the company of people never could.


Nicolae pushed open the heavy window and climbed up on the wide stone sill, arranging himself comfortably with his back against one side, knees bent so that his long legs would fit. He cradled his bread and cheese in his lap and began his repast, staring out into the slowly gathering light. The window faced the east, and he could watch the sunrise.


The horizon gradually lightened, going from dark blue, to pink, to lavender and gold. The trees, bare now of leaves, held stark black branches against the changing colors, like dark lace on a lady's satin gown. He could hear the occasional sleepy twitter of a bird from the castle garden, around the side of the building, and the stamp and whinny of horses from the stable on the other side of the courtyard he was seated above.


Nicolae liked this time of day. It was now that he felt both most alone, and most at one with the world. Peculiar, but true. It was easier now to turn his mind toward God, and the Divine Mysteries. Although, he thought guiltily, I seldom do that. Like today.


As he slowly chewed the slightly tough bread, his mind wandered to the banquet last night. What a feast that had been! They didn't actually skimp on his victuals here, but it was made clear to him that every mouthful was a charity provided by his reluctant sire. That was a rather bitter sauce for any meal.


Last night he had been able to eat without curbing his natural appetites, and he had been a bit greedy. He blushed now, remembering the relish with which he had devoured fish, fowl, flesh, bread, and sweets.


Oh, the sweets! He closed his eyes for a moment, face lighting with the memory. How he loved them. Could he really consider himself a man when he kept this childish love of confections? Varga father sneered at him, asking on occasion if he didn't want a sugar teat, like they made to quiet the infants who were sprouting their first teeth, or being weaned from the breast.


Nicu broke off a piece of the bread with a sigh, opening his eyes and dropping his gaze idly to the courtyard...


...and found himself gazing into sharp, light blue eyes.


Prince Vlad Draculea stood in the courtyard, dressed in dark leather riding breeches, high boots, and a loose black shirt. An hostler was leading the lord's great black stallion to him, the magnificent beast prancing eagerly, breath steaming faintly in the cool air. Vlad had been in the process of drawing on a riding glove, but he paused, staring up at Nicolae.


The boy was perched in the second story window like some casual faerie prince, amusing himself with watching the mortal world, his back to the stone, his long legs curved up before him. The cassock he wore was pulled up, showing strong, shapely calves and surprisingly delicate ankles.


Nicolae had a bit of bread half way to his mouth when they noticed each other, and he froze there. Vlad let his gaze run over the boy without restraint, not bothering to try to hide his interest, now that there was no one nearby to note it. He returned his look to the velvet brown eyes, and smiled slowly.


When the boy licked his lips nervously, the smile faded, his expression growing intense. Not knowing what else to do, Nicolae finished the bread's journey to his mouth, and nibbled at it tentatively.


He saw Draculea shut his eyes, and a tremor seemed to pass through the long body of the prince. Then he snatched the reins of his horse from the stable lad and vaulted into the saddle. As he landed, he set his spurs to Lucifer's side, jerking back on the reins.


The temperamental stallion took immediate offense, rearing with a squeal of rage. Nicolae gasped as the huge beast slashed viciously at the air with it's front hooves. The stable lad dodged to safety, narrowly missing having his skull split, but that was an occupational hazard. The midnight black beast plunged and capered, and Nicolae expected at any moment to see the headstrong Prince dashed to the cobbles beneath him.


But it didn't happen. Vlad kept his seat as the animal writhed, doing everything it could to throw him. Slowly the beast quieted. At last it stood still, trembling, its sides damp and heaving. Draculea bent over, whispering in the flickering ear, stroking the sweat lathered neck, gazing up once again at Nicolae. He smiled again at the boy. You see? his eyes seemed to say. I am master. Nothing stands against me for long. All can be broken, but I prefer a bit of spirit in my mounts.


He turned the beast, and cantered out of the courtyard. Nicolae watched him go, round eyed, and hugged his knees. "Oh, Beta," he whispered. "Are you sure he's what you want? We are alike in many things, but I have led an humble life, dear sister. I know humility. I do not think that you have it in your nature to submit as such a man would demand."


Chapter 7: Suitor

Child of the Night, Part Seven

Year of Our Lord,1460

That Same Morning

Castle Varga, Romanie



Vlad rode Lucifer long and hard, challenging his mount. Lucifer, as always, met the challenge with enthusiasm. He flew over the countryside, leaping hedges and ditches with scarcely a touch of his master's spurs. Peasants leapt from the narrow roadways as the Wallachian prince thundered past on his great black steed . A few cursed, but most merely shook their heads in admiration.


When Vlad felt that he once again had a bit of control, when he knew that he would be able to meet the boy without throwing him to the ground and ravishing him, he turned back to the castle. An ostler came running to take the reins as he dismounted. Before walking away, Vlad grabbed the peasant's collar and said quietly, "See that he's walked to cool him down, and be sure he's dried and combed. If you let him drink too soon, and he founders, you'll learn firsthand why I earned the name 'Impaler'."


The man was trembling as the prince entered the castle. There had probably been no reason to threaten him: there was no cause to believe he would neglect his duties. But Draculea operated on the principle that it was always sound politics to let your people know exactly where you stood, and what you were capable of doing.


It was still very quiet in the castle. Only servants were in evidence: Ernestu and Beta were apparently still abed. Slugabeds, eh? Good. I'll have to make at least a show of attentiveness when they are awake and about. But I can devote this time to my sweet scholar. He smiled to himself as he mounted the stairs, going in search of the library. And I have never objected to a bit of a cuddle in the light of day.


He remembered the location of the window in which Nicolae had perched, and found the room easily enough. Vlad paused outside the thick door, listening for a moment. No sound. But then, how much noise did copying out script make, he reproved himself. He paused to run a hand through his ride-disarranged hair, swearing softly when he found that he'd forgotten to remove his gloves. The boy already makes me addle-headed. I can only hope that once I've slaked my lust I will regain my fled senses. he thought wryly, as he tucked the gloves in his belt.


Once again he passed a hand through his hair. He considered seeking out Simion to have his vassal brush him down for travel dust, but Simion, you speak the truth he was too impatient. Instead he hastily slapped at his sleeves and ran a handkerchief briefly over the smooth surface of his trousers. There. That was as presentable as he would make himself. It wouldn't do for the lad to get the idea right away that Vlad was taking pains for his sake.


As he lifted the latch, it occurred to him to wonder at himself for being so concerned for the boy's opinion. It had never mattered to him all that much in a bed partner. He knew his own worth, and did not feel the need for others to reflect it back to him. But for some reason, he very much wanted to impress this obscure novitiate.


If small, the castle was well-maintained. The heavy door swung open silently on well-greased hinges. Draculea stood for a moment in the doorway, peering in. It was a good-sized room. Each wall was lined with shelves, which were loaded with books, scrolls, and neat piles of manuscripts. The only free space was the large window. It stood open, admitting a fresh morning breeze, scented by the late blooming flowers in the nearby garden. The sweet smell would be lost soon as the blossoms drooped and died in the coming cold. But now the scented wind was a delight, and it ruffled the silky hair of the boy sitting at the table before the window.


His back was to the door, and his dark head was bent over the piece of parchment stretched out before him. Vlad entered the room silently, his boots making no sound. For a large man, he could move with stealth when he wished, and now he wanted a chance to observe the boy unawares. He moved up almost beside him, a little away, and studied him He was not noticed. The rest of the world had ceased to exist for Nicolae. He was so absorbed in his task that the roof would needs have crumbled on his head for him to notice.


His eyes were intent as he scanned the tattered document stretched to one side. He ran one long finger along a fading line of script, lips moving silently, brows drawn slightly together in concentration. Then he dipped the quill he held into a small pot of ink and set the nib to the fresh sheet of paper before him. He began to write.


Draculea watched the graceful motion of the slender, strong hand as it formed the careful curves, loops, and strokes of the letters. His script was meticulous and clear, but somehow... Somehow his personality shone through it. Elizabeta was right: it was a work of art. Mindful of smears and smudges, Vlad waited to speak till the boy sat back to regard his work. "You are at your occupation early this morning, little monk."


Nicolae gave a near imperceptible jerk of surprise, almost dropping the pen. He stood up hastily, bowing to Draculea. Even a noble did not remain seated when a prince entered the room, much less one as humble as Nicolae Calugarul. "Yes, Maria Ta. I was taught in the monastery that industriousness is a virtue to be coveted."


Vlad looked at him solemnly. "But boy, isn't covetousness a sin?"


Nicolae felt a wash of dismay. It was true! The Commandments themselves said so... Then he noticed Vlad's smile, and realized with a start that he was being teased. No one but Elizabeta had ever done so. Not knowing how to react, he turned to the always comforting solidity of his work. "Maria Ta, if I could beg your indulgence for a moment... The ink needs to be set on this paper."


"Of course, boy, of course. Finish your work." When Nicolae began to move the chair out of the way, Draculea said, "No." He urged him down into the seat with the press of a hand on his shoulder, letting it linger there for a moment more than was needed. "Sit. No need to stand on ceremony. We are alone." He moved a second chair close beside Nicolae and sat. He noticed that the boy shivered slightly when he said the last three words, and he smiled to himself. Yes, there was something there.


Nicolae opened a small wooden box. It contained dust-fine sand, and he scooped up a small amount and began to sprinkle it over the wet ink slowly and carefully. Vlad watched the precise movements, the way the long fingers flexed as he sifted the grains over the paper. Nicolae's hands were very pale, and there was a dark smudge of ink on his thumb. Draculea imagined taking that thumb into his mouth, wondering if the tang of the ink would overwhelm the taste of the boy's skin.


At last Nicolae was satisfied. He dusted his hands, nodding. "Now it must sit and dry, so that the ink is properly absorbed into the paper."


Not looking at the article in question, Vlad said, "It is a handsome effort."


The boy blushed slightly. "Thank you, Domn." He gently touched one corner of the document. "It is an important work, part of the writings of St. Paul. When I have completed them all, I hope that my... my patron will send them to the monastery to be bound."


He was going to say 'father' "Don't librarians usually possess that skill?"


It had been an idle question, meant only to keep the boy speaking. But Nicolae bit his lip, looking away, and said quietly, "I was to begin learning that from Brother Teodor when I took my vows. The materials are so precious that they would not risk them on a mere novice."


Draculea knew very well that Nicolae had not left his sanctuary by choice, but he pretended curiosity, "So, you decided that the life was not for you, eh? Too quiet, too sterile..."


"Oh, no, Maria Ta!" He turned earnest eyes on the prince. "It was... it is my greatest wish to enter the brotherhood. Ambition is vanity, and vanity is sin, but that is my ambition. I pray for God to forgive me for it, and to send me the patience to accept my lot in life, but..." He trailed off.


"It is not easy to give up the dream of something you truly desire, is it?"


Nicolae looked down at his hands, toying restlessly now with the little box. This man is so strange. Why do I feel that he says more to me than just the words he speaks? Aloud, he said, "Dreams are... a luxury for some of us, Domn. What we wish counts little in this world."


"It should not be so, Nicolae." Vlad removed the box and set it aside, then held the boy's hand. "Why can you not join with your little brown friars?"


Nicolae was bewildered. A royal did not have physical contact with a vassal unless he was receiving some sort of service. But then, a vassal did not protest a royal's touch. The intimacy of Draculea's gesture confused him greatly. But he was being asked a simple question, and it was not in his nature to evade or lie. "Because my patron finds the required gift to be too expensive. He does not feel I am worthy of the expenditure, and so he calls me here to serve him."


"I notice, Nicolae, that you say 'calls me here'. Not 'home'?"


"This was once my home, Domn, when I was very small, when my mother lived, and I shared my life with Elizabeta. But my mother died, and Elizabeta became a lady, and I was no longer fit company for her. The brothers welcomed me into their family. I was accepted there." His expression crumpled slightly. "I... thought I was. I had hoped I might remain as a lay brother, if I could not take my vows. I think my lord would have allowed that. But the abbot said there could be no exceptions."


"Poor Nicolae." Draculea was stroking the smooth skin on the back of the boy's hand, petting him. "Poor child." His other hand came to rest across the back of Nicolae's neck, just below the wisps of dark hair that graced the nape, and he rubbed gently. "The world has not been kind to you."


The situation was peculiar, but the gentle touch was soothing. No one touched Nicolae, save Ernestu when he administered a cuff or a beating. This was so different. Nicolae found his eyes half closing, his head bowing to allow that strong hand better access. His voice was unsure, small. "Why should the world favor me, prince? I am low born, poor, a bastard..."


"You are beautiful."


Nicolae froze as the hand at his neck was replaced by Prince Draculea's mouth. He gasped as the older man's lips nibbled softly at the sensitive skin. A tingle shot through his body, causing his scalp to prickle, and he felt a stir of warmth in his groin.


Draculea laughed quietly at his startled sound, pulling back from the delicious temptation he had been nuzzling to gauge the boy's reaction. He looked utterly astonished, but there was a dawning awareness in the velvet depths of his eyes. Vlad started to lean forward, wanting to take his mouth now.


Nicolae, his heart beginning to thud, his sex half hard beneath his cassock, stared into Vlad's eyes. Blue eyes, oh God help me, blue. Like last night. "Domn..."


"Hush." Vlad touched his lips lightly to Nicolae's, not pressing or demanding, though it took an effort of will. The wide mouth trembled under his own, soft lips pressed shut. Vlad stroked them with his tongue, asking silently for entrance, wanting desperately to taste the younger man.


For a moment, he thought the boy would surrender. But then Nicolae jerked away from him, bolting from his chair. He stood shaking, hand pressed to his mouth, and eyes wide and shocked above the fingers. Vlad was perplexed. The boy had been responding; Vlad had lain with enough men, and women, to know the signs. If he needed any more proof, the evidence was there, tenting the front of his robe.


"Boy?" He held out his hand. But his tone was inquiring, not commanding.


"I..." Nicolae swallowed hard. His voice broke when he spoke. "Forgive me, Domn, I did not mean to tempt you."


"Nicolae, you've done nothing wrong. You can't help being what you are, and what you are is a strong, fair, desirable young man. I want you. Don't be afraid. Come." Again he beckoned.


Nicolae was shaking his head rapidly. "Please, Domn, you don't mean it. Satan whispers to you, he whispers to us both. We must be strong."


Draculea's laugh was a bit harsh. "Is that horned bastard whispering in your ear, sweet Nicolae? Shall I thrash his fork-tailed ass for daring to try to cosset you, my little one?" He stood up and reached for the boy. It hurt more than he could have imagined when the librarian cringed back from him.


"Oh, Domn," Nicolae mourned. "You don't know what you say, truly you don't. This... what you ask for is... is wrong. It is condemned by the Holy Church as unnatural."


Draculea scowled. "Rules made up by men who deny themselves the pleasures of the flesh, and believe all should share their abstinence. Men who believe that sex should be only for whelping more mortals, to add more souls for them to direct."


Nicolae's expression was horrified as he listened to the older man. The words stunned him, striking at the beliefs he had desperately clung to for a bit of stability in his life. It wasn't so much that he believed them, but that he had to believe them. Otherwise, he had nothing.


Draculea, if he had realized how stricken the boy was, would have stopped. He would have waited for another day, given the boy time to think, and perhaps come to terms with what he was feeling, what was happening. But he was, as Simion had said, an impatient man. He wanted Nicolae, and if the boy's guilt had to be appeased, so be it. He thought he knew how.


"In any case, why do you trouble yourself? Enjoy what I have to offer. Then, if your spirit troubles you, sit behind the screen and confess to that shaven-headed gelding who sat at table with us last night. He will give you absolution, and after you have recited the prayers he requires, you can return to me. But come to me now, Nicu."


He undid the lacing on his breeches, pulling out his fleshy staff. It was eager and swollen, the first clear drops of the liquid of passion oozing from the tear shaped slit in the dusky head. "You see, sweet one? I need you."


Nicolae stared, mouth dropping open softly. He swayed, and a tiny moan escaped him. Vlad moved toward him slowly, thinking, The table? Or the chair? If it's his first time, it should be in a soft bed, but I'm damned if I can wait for that...


With a small cry, Nicolae turned and bolted. Vlad was so taken by surprise that Nicolae had the door open before he realized what was happening.




Nicolae never hesitated, but fled like a deer flushed by the hounds. Vlad started after him, but the sound of voices coming along the corridor made him realize his state of undress. Swearing violently, he forced his near painful erection back into his breeches, lacing them again with a little difficulty, as the voices neared. A prince could do many things without fear of chastisement, but chasing a terrified boy through public halls in broad daylight, the evidence of his thwarted lust swaying before him, stiff and drooling, was a bit much even for royal privilege to excuse.


As Elizabeta and Ernestu Varga entered the library, Vlad quickly turned the gloves tucked in his belt so that they hung in front, disguising at least a little the insistent mound at his crotch. Ernestu smiled unctuously. "Prince Draculea, we thought we might find you here. My lord is up with the very sun." Ernestu looked about, frowning. "Where is that lazy excuse for a servant? Why isn't he here to show you the library? I would have thought they'd thrashed the laziness out of him in the monastery, but if they haven't, I can..."


"He was here, long before I arrived," Vlad broke in coldly, wondering why he was bothering to champion a tease who had just left him aching. "He left suddenly." Vlad paused. "Perhaps he was ill, not used to the rich food of last night."


"Oh, poor Nicolae!" Elizabeta's smooth brow wrinkled in concern. "I can get him something from the still room to ease his belly. Perhaps some ginger and lemon tea, with honey. He does like his sweets." She smiled fondly. "Or a few cloves. Oh!" She clapped her hands. "I know the perfect thing! A few drops of peppermint oil on a lump of sugar! If it doesn't cure him, it will make him forget..."


"Beta, you're not going to run play nursemaid to that pup!"


"But father..."


"No! The idea, a girl of your station. Don't think I don't know that you visit him in the garden. I've allowed it, but you'll not be going to his rooms to tend to him. What would the prince think?"


"He would think," Vlad's voice was as hard and cold as steel, "that she was a kind and compassionate young woman, who cares deeply for an unfortunate boy." Ernestu flinched. Vlad really didn't want to let him off the hook, but it would be better to leave their company as quickly as possible, before they noticed his state of arousal, because it wasn't going away.


"Now, if you will excuse me. I have ridden well this morning, and am none too fresh. I am not fit company for a gently bred lady." He bowed, ignoring Ernestu's protests, and left the room.


Vlad was tempted to take the route the fleeing boy had chosen. Nicolae was somewhere nearby. He had to be. But common sense and expediency won out narrowly over lust, and he instead went to his room.


There a very surprised Simion received his second buggering within twenty-four hours. He enjoyed it heartily, but as his master thrust his loins against Simion's buttocks, his hungry cock splitting his servant again and again, Simion couldn't help but wonder. What on earth sort of game is that dark-haired librarian playing with my lord? And does he have any inkling of how very dangerous it can be?



Chapter 8: More

Child of the Night, Part Eight

The Year of Our Lord,1460

Later that Day

Castle Varga, Wallachia



"Simion, is it possible to be driven mad in so short a time?"


Simion was washing the dust and sweat, the latter accumulated as much from the rigorous fucking he'd just experienced as from the Prince's morning ride, from Vlad Draculea's body. Vlad stood in the large copper basin while Simion poured water over his back, washing away the soap. The servant enjoyed the sight of the foam sliding off the firm, muscular rounds of Draculea's ass to stream down his long legs. He chose his words carefully.


"There are only two types of madness that I know of that can spring up so quickly on first meeting, m'lord."


"And what are these two madnesses?"


"The first is the most common, and it is a madness of desire. One wants the new inamorato so intensely that a fever heats the blood, and drives away good sense for a short time."


"It has a ring of familiarity. And the second madness?"


"That one, Maria Ta, is much rarer, and far more dangerous. It can steal a man's sense, as well as his senses. It can steal his soul, as well as his heart."




"Of a kind, Domn, but nothing to do with Satan. It is merely love."


Draculea snorted. "Love? I've had love aplenty, and never felt quite so at a loss."


"If you will pardon me for my boldness, my lord, no."


"No? What do you mean, no, Simion."


Vlad stepped from the tub, and Simion wrapped him in a thick bath sheet, beginning to dry him. "No, my prince, you have not had love. You have had lust, desire, infatuation, even a bit of friendship and affection. But you have not had love."


"You speak like a woman, Simion." Vlad grumbled, pushing him away, irritated.


"There are some truths that, perhaps, women understand more readily than we, my prince."


Vlad scowled, reaching impatiently for a fresh pair of breeches, and handing them to his servant to hold while he donned them. "In case you have not noticed, Simion, I am not a woman."


Simion's voice was warm. "A fact of which I am well aware, and for which I have often thanked God, my prince."


Vlad stood in silence while his vassal continued to dress him. At last he said, "It must be the first sort of madness, Simion. I doubt I am susceptible to the second." Simion shrugged, arranging a gold pin to hold closed the throat of his master's shirt. "You fault my view of myself, Simion?"


"Would I do that, Domn?"


"Not out loud, no." Draculea's voice was dry.


"I am sure you are right, my lord. Doubtless this attraction you have for the librarian is nothing but a craving of the flesh. Satisfy it quickly, and have done with it. The next time you encounter the boy, drag him somewhere private and ride him, fast and hard."


Vlad frowned. "But I'm sure he's still untouched. It would be hard on him."


Simion cocked his head, hands on his hips. "And this matters because...?" Vlad's lips twitched. "Do you see, Maria Ta? Never before have I known you to worry about whether the stallion you chose had been broken to the saddle or no. What makes it different this time?"


"I do not know, Simion," he confessed. "But it IS different." He sighed. "It seems the boy will require more courting than the wench. She seems willing enough, and her father is more than eager for the match."


"Will you marry her, Domn?"


"Yes, I think so," he said casually. "She's young, healthy, of good bloodlines, and inoffensive to the eye. The only drawback I can see is her father, and I need not deal with him once the marriage is consummated. She'll do. I should be able to produce a child with her quickly, then my duty will be satisfied, and we each can follow our own pursuits. I'll offer today, and give her a day or two to prepare, then bring her back to Castle Draculea for the wedding. After I speak to the girl, I'll send a rider back, and they can begin preparations. It will be near ready when we return."


"A bit hasty for a wedding of state, my lord."


"I'm marrying at their wish, not mine, so I'll not cater to their need for spectacle by parading myself like a prize bull. If the people must have a gala celebration, they can plan one for the first anniversary. We should have an heir to celebrate also by then."


Vlad once again examined himself in the mirror. Simion assured him, "You are enough to win the heart of any maid, my lord."


He laughed cynically. "I don't need her heart, Simion. Just her womb. And it isn't a maiden's heart I seek to ensnare."


He checked the library on his way down to the ground floor, but it was empty. The manuscript Nicolae had so carefully copied out was still stretched in the sunlight, the ink near dry. Draculea skimmed one fingertip a hair's breadth over the lines, tracing the graceful swoops thoughtfully.


As they had that morning for Nicolae, the sounds of the world outside drifted through the open window. Draculea heard two voices in the garden that lay out of sight around the castle's corner: a male, and a female, both young. So, Nicolae. That is where you ran to, eh? Nature's beauty, instead of the miserable cell I am sure Vargas has allotted you. Yes, good for you, boy. You belong in the sunshine. You are too pale.


He went down the stairs, and Vargas met him at the bottom. He looked like a hound that has been recently kicked: wary, but still willing to lick the boot that bruised him. Draculea bowed to him stiffly. "Sir, I ask permission to offer my hand to your daughter, Elizabeta." And I should, perhaps, kill you for that look of triumph you sport now, you fool.


"Dear prince, of course. I am humbly grateful. My dearest wish for my child has been answered by your..."


"Yes. She's in the garden?"


"I believe so."


"I will speak to her." He bowed again, so shortly that it was more of an insult than a courtesy, and left.


The garden was large, and well tended. Most of the flower beds lay fallow at this time of year, but here and there a patch of color and fragrance bloomed. Vlad followed the murmuring voices to a great flowering bush, thrice the size of a large carriage. A hollow had been pruned in the branches, just large enough to hold a small bench, and those who might choose to hide themselves in the recess.


He approached from the side, quietly, and the two sitting there did not notice him.


"There, Nicu! How handsome you look." Elizabeta's voice was light.


"Sister, why waste these lovely flowers on me? They are better adornment for you." Nicolae's tone was fond, and Vlad found himself gritting his teeth.


"No, do not dare to remove that! It pleases me to see you wear it."


"Then, if it gives you pleasure, I will abide."


"You are feeling better now, Nicu?"


"Yes, Beta."


"The prince said you were quite ill. What do you think caused it?"


"I... do not know, Beta. It came upon me suddenly. I think... I hope I am over it now."


"Prince Draculea made father allow me to tend you. He must be a kind man, though one hears such stories."


This was fascinating. Vlad moved forward cautiously.


"I am sure he is a fine man, Beta. Though you must understand that royals do not operate by the same code as you and I. Sometimes their acts are hard to explain, or understand." His voice was bewildered. "Will you marry him, if he asks?"


"Of course, Nicolae. Why should I not? I would be a princess!"


"You are already a princess, dear sister," Nicolae said warmly, and Draculea heard the girl's careless laughter. To have such devotion, and to hold it so lightly...


He cleared his throat, and there was a sudden hush from the little alcove. He stepped around to the front, and regarded the two young people.


Elizabeta and Nicolae sat side-by-side, very close because of the narrow bench. On his brow, Nicolae wore a woven wreath of leaves and white flowers. With his almost other-worldly look, and his humble brown garments, Vlad thought he resembled one of the wood spirits of ancient myth.


"It does my heart good to find youth and beauty expressing such joy." He smiled at them both, but his eyes lingered longest on Nicolae.


"Well met, prince." Elizabeta smiled up at him. "Are you refreshed from your ride?"


"Yes, I thank you, lady. I was quite tense after my morning exercise, but cold water took care of that matter."


Nicolae blushed beneath his pointed stare, looking at the ground. "Lady Elizabeta, I should go now."


"Yes, yes, Nicu. I will see you at table tonight."


Nicolae stood, slipping from the alcove, close to Vlad, and started for the castle.


"Boy?" The voice was soft, but there was a hint of steel in it.


Nicolae turned reluctantly. "Yes, Maria Ta Draculea?"


"Do not go far. My business with the lady will soon be done, and I wish to speak to you further about your... talent." The boy paled, but bowed his head humbly and went to stand by the door leading back into the castle.


Vlad seated himself beside Elizabeta. "Elizabeta, you know why I came to your home." It was a statement, not a question.


"Aye, prince." She looked demurely at her hands clasped in her lap, but she was smiling.


"Would the match be agreeable to you? I would not have a reluctant bride."


"Aye, Prince Draculea, it would be most agreeable to me."


Draculea tapped his knee thoughtfully, studying the girl. At last, rather curious, he said, "It does not trouble you, lady, that I do not speak of love?"


"No, prince. Love is usually a luxury in unions of your station, and often for those of my ilk as well. Love would be... nice. And perhaps it may come, in time."


"You are a most sensible and practical girl, Elizabeta Varga. What would you expect from marriage to me?"


Elizabeta did not hesitate. This was obviously something she had considered long and hard. "The title of Princess, of course. To be housed, and clothed, and fed in a manner worthy of your wife. To be accorded respect for my station. If you will take a mistress, then a bit of discretion..." Vlad's eyes widened. The girl was practical, and had a very realistic outlook. "And a child. At least one, to continue my line, and establish myself in the eyes of the people, the church, and the other courts of the land."


"That is all?"


"Well..." She cocked her head. "Personal servants of my own choosing, amusements. I would not wish to live like a nun, Prince Draculea, no matter how exalted my station."


He smiled. "I think all these things can be agree upon."


"Then it is settled?"


"Yes, it is settled."


"Good. Be sure that you receive from my father my entire dowery. He wishes this marriage, but he is a miserly thing, and will cheat you if he can."


"I have no intention of that happening. I will send word ahead to Castle Draculea this very day, so that they may begin preparations. Begin gathering your things, and decide who you wish to take with you. Your father has said I may commandeer any servant I think will benefit our household."


Beta brightened, as if an idea had suddenly occurred to her. "Oh, Maria Ta, please!"




"Would... would you consider taking Nicolae?" She spoke in a rush. "You have said that you have a library, and he is so good at his work. He is so sad here, and Father will not let him return to the monastery."


"Would that please you, Elizabeta?"


"Oh, yes, please!"


"I will... consider."


"Thank you, my lord. That is all I ask."


Draculea looked at the proud tilt of the girl's jaw. It may be all you ask now, Elizabeta, but I somehow feel you might be a bit more insistent if things do not go as you wish. That is not unacceptable. Perhaps you'll bring strength to any child we breed.


Elizabeta misinterpreted the interested look, and smiled coyly. "We are betrothed now, my lord. You may kiss me, if you wish."


Draculea's eyebrows climbed. So, he was being given permission? That was novel. He wondered if the chit realized that he would have had her here, on the bench, if he had been so inclined, without worrying about being given leeway. *Let her keep her illusions. They do no harm.*


He touched his fingers under her chin, lifting it slightly, wishing for the slight rasp of fresh barbering. Then he leaned forward and gravely touched his lips to hers. She closed her eyes as he did. A lady did not boldly stare into her lover's eyes at a moment like this. Thus she didn't notices that Vlad's eyes moved past her to seek her half-brother where he stood by the castle.


Nicolae watched the prince kiss his half-sister, knowing that this signaled the sealing of their pact to wed. His emotions were in a turmoil. He felt glad for Elizabeta. This was what she wanted more than anything else in the world: a powerful marriage. God bless and forgive you, little sister. You are an ambitious woman. May you be content with the bargain you have made, for I fear you may have been dealing with a devil.


But even as he thought this, Nicolae's feelings toward the Wallachian prince were confusing him so that it made his head ache. Draculea was a great man, this was indisputable. History would remember him for his strong leadership, his loyal service to the Holy Church, and his ruthless suppression of the heathen forces who threatened his land.


Nicolae now knew first hand that he was, indeed, a man, and not some high flown ideal. He was a man of distinctly earthy and strong appetites, one of which he seemed determined to slake with Nicolae's own flesh. This must not be allowed. Any carnal indulgence, even within marriage, that was not for the sake of providing more souls to worship and serve God was frowned upon, but this... It could be nothing but pure lust, if something so base could even be called pure.


How could Draculea make such advances when he was in the very act of courting Elizabeta? Elizabeta, who was so good, and pure, and beautiful. And desirable. I suppose. The last thought was a bit doubtful. Nicolae could recognize and appreciate beauty in all things. Prince Vlad Draculea, for instance. The man could not be termed simply handsome: the word was far too weak to do him justice. No, he was beautiful, in a hard, masculine way that sent an unexplained shiver through Nicolae's very core when he thought on it too long. Elizabeta... Nicolae had never understood the physical attractions of women. He had supposed that was a gift from God, suiting him all the better for the life he had chosen. Now, he was not sure.


Nicolae watched, and remembered vividly the touch of those same lips upon his own. They had been warm, and firm, and they had moved. Elizabeta had kissed him before, childish tokens of affection he had never dared to return, but it had been nothing like that. And there had been the hot, wet touch of his tongue, drawn over Nicolae's lips. How odd. Why...? Nicolae's eyes widened as it occurred to him what Prince Draculea had wanted, and he felt his mouth flood with saliva at the thought. He felt a flush of heat begin to gather in his loins, and almost moaned in despair.


Draculea pulled back from Elizabeta. Her eyes still closed, she was smiling smugly. Oh, you are very pleased with yourself, are you not, child? He let the knuckles of one hand gently brush her cheek, amused that the rabbit believed it had trapped the fox. Believe that, if you like. You will be all the easier to control.


He stood up. "I will speak to your father and formalize the agreement. Stefan will need to speak to his lawyer, draw up the marriage contracts. And you," he laid a hand on her head in the sort of absent caress one would give to a pet in passing. "You will have much to do the next day or so. This will be your first test of your ability to organize a household, Elizabeta."


"I will not disappoint, my lord."


"I do not expect you to." With that, he turned and walked toward the castle, to the boy who waited there.


Chapter 9: Persuasion


Child of the Night, Part Nine

The Year of Our Lord, 1460

Castle Varga, Wallachia



Nicolae was waiting nervously by the castle as Vlad approached. He walked past the boy with a subdued "Come with me." It wasn't easy to resist touching him or at least taking his arm, but he did. The younger man exuded a mouth-watering scent, the fragrance of the flowers mingling with his own faint, clean masculine musk. Just inside the castle, Draculea stopped, turning to him, and said, "The wreath suits you."


Blushing, the boy pulled it off. "A harmless affectation of the lady, Domn. I did not have the heart to refuse her."


"No, the lady was right. You look most handsome in it." Draculea took it from Nicolae's hands, fingering the delicate blossoms before setting it aside on a table. "I'd say you looked like the god Pan, prepared to frolic with his nymphs but you haven't the proper lascivious look about you. We will speak in the library." He started up the stairs. "You can check on your manuscript."


Nicolae followed him reluctantly. He would have much preferred that the prince hold this audience in a public chamber but he dared not suggest, much less insist. Draculea knew his feelings because as he entered the room he said, "You may leave the door open, if it eases your heart." It did, but not much.


Draculea gestured to the table. "Check your work, librarian."


Even his nervousness could not mar Nicolae's devotion to his work. He examined the parchment minutely, seeing that the ink had dried well and unsmudged over the entire document. He picked it up carefully and took it to the window. There he gently blew across it, dislodging the fine sand that had absorbed the excess ink, sending it out over the ledge. Draculea watched the pursing of his lips, and felt the familiar tightening begin in his groin.


When he was satisfied Nicolae placed the paper on a shelf, moving weights on top of it to keep the edges from curling. Finally he no longer had an excuse to avoid the issue that had brought him here. He turned back to the prince, folding his hands and looking at the floor. "It is done. You wished to speak to me, Domn?"


"Don't you think we have much to say to each other, Nicolae?" When the boy was silent, refusing to look at him, Draculea sighed. He sat and indicated the chair beside him. "Sit, boy. I will not strain my neck looking up at you as I speak simply to satisfy some silly protocol."


Nicolae settled gingerly in the chair next to him. After a moment Vlad laughed, a little bitterly. "I am not going to eat you, boy." His tone gained a little warmth. "At least not in the manner you fear. I see that I was too eager this morning. I have intimidated my chosen lovers before, but I confess that this is the first time one fled like a flushed rabbit."


Still Nicolae said nothing, looking down at his clasped hands.


"I knew when I first saw you that you were inexperienced, but I feel I did not know the extent of your naivity. How old are you, boy?"


"This is my eighteenth year, Domn." His voice was small.


Draculea's eyebrows rose. "So old? You look scarcely more than a child. I would have though you had no more than sixteen turns of the seasons behind you. But I think it must be your life behind the monastery walls that has kept you so untouched by time and the world. Are you untouched, Nicolae?" The boy turned his head away, pink staining his cheeks. Holy Mother, he is so beautiful. "I will ask you this, Nicolae, and you will answer me, and answer me truly. Have you ever lain with a woman?"


"No, Domn." His voice was clear.


"Have you ever lain with a man?"


Now the boy did look at him, a single, stricken glance before his eyes dropped again. He whispered. "No, Domn."


Draculea sighed. "I thought as much. A pure virgin. Nicolae, I'm sorry if I frightened you. I didn't stop to think that such feelings might be fearful to you in their newness."


Nicolae blinked in bewilderment. The prince was apologizing? To him? But perhaps it would be all right now, if he realized how wrong he had been. "It is nothing, Domn. It will be as if it never happened."


Draculea's voice was gentle. "No, child, you misunderstand. I'm not sorry that it happened, only that I didn't have the patience to move more slowly with you. I was wrong to approach you here." He laid a hand caressingly on Nicolae's arm. "Your first time must be in a great bed, with smooth sheets and soft pillows. There should be perfumes to scent the air and sweet oil to soothe the way when I slide into your body, so that there is scarce any pain, only pleasure."


Nicolae was trembling. His great dark eyes were bright, but with tears or something else Vlad could not say. The boy did not try to pull away, but his voice was faint and pleading. "Maria Ta, I beg of you. Do not order such a thing. It is a sin."


"How can it be a sin to love?" Vlad put his hand against Nicolae's chest, pressing tight, feeling the strong hammering of his heartbeat. "Is it a sin for me to want to be good to you, Nicolae? To want to give you pleasure, make your blood thunder, as it does now?" His hand slid across Nicolae's chest, and he felt the hard points of his erect nipples thrusting against the coarse cloth. He smiled as the boy moaned softly, his eyes half-shut. "How can anything so sweet be wrong?"


"It is." But Nicolae's voice was the voice of a man desperately trying to convince himself of something, because to believe otherwise would be too shattering. "Domn, even though I have not been able to enter the order, I have dedicated my soul to God."


"He may have your soul, Nicolae." Draculea stood, pulling the boy to his feet. "It is your body that I want." With one arm around the boy's waist, Draculea reached between them with his other. Nicolae felt a large hand cover the mound that had begun to press against the front of his robe. He gasped as Vlad rubbed, pressing his fingers firmly against the rapidly swelling bulge that grew there. "This. This is what I want, Nicolae." The hand at his waist slipped lower to cup and squeeze one muscular buttock. "And this, and what lies hidden there most of all."


Nicolae whimpered, torn between a desire to press forward into the grip that had formed around his near fully erect member, or back to the fingers that were stroking the crease of his buttocks, pressing in even through the fabric of his clothes. For a moment he just hung there, helpless in the hands of the man who had come to marry his sister. It was the thought of Beta that broke the sensual spell under which he was falling. He gasped, "No!" and tore himself away from Draculea's embrace, stumbling to the door.


Draculea watched, dumbfounded, as once again the boy fled, almost in tears. "Damnation," he whispered, dropping back into the chair. He wanted me, I know he did. Hell, his prick was like an iron bar, just taken from the forge. Given a moment I think he would have fucked himself on my hand. And then, pfft! He runs. Perhaps I am not the only mad one here.


Luckily this time his own need had not progressed to the point of painfulness, but it was still so frustrating. More than ever he was determined that he would have the boy. Nicolae would simply have to be helped over his inhibitions. But even as he thought about the delights to come, when he would finally be able to do as he pleased with that long, pale body, Draculea was thinking of how it would be to wake each morning and see a gentle face close to his own, sweet and slack with sleep. He imagined hours spent in a quiet room, watching a dark head bent studiously over a slowly moving quill as it spun out graceful script. Simion, I think you were right. I lied to the boy. It isn't just his flesh I crave. I want his heart, too, and yes, I want his soul! You have so many, God, you can spare me this one small boy. And if you will not give him to me willingly... Vlad scowled at the ceiling. "Curse you! I will take him."


This time Nicolae ran directly to the chapel. He bruised his knees throwing himself down before the statue of the Blessed Virgin, lips moving in prayer even as he winced at the pain.


Father Mircea, contemplating a holy book in his usual place near the altar, watched the boy as he swayed, his long, slim fingers quickly working the beads on his rosary. What had the child done now? Or, rather, what did he think he had done?


Father Mircea sighed, shaking his head. Poor Nicolae. Whovever had been responsible for the boy's religious training had given him all the fear and guilt, and none of the joy. Micea knew that there was no real evil in the lad, but he was constantly begging forgiveness of the Divine Powers for some petty offense with which most of the world would scarcely trouble themselves.


In truth, Mircea was secretly glad that Ernestu had refused to allow the boy to take his vows. Nicolae, he was sure, did not have a true vocation, no matter how devoutly the boy wished to believe it was so. Nicolae wanted the monastic life for the security and serenity it offered. His short life had been filled with uncertainty, and he knew that the brotherhood was one place where he would be assured continuity. He could spend his whole life there among people who knew him, and would support him, spiritiually and otherwise. He felt that his freedom and the chance to have an intimate relationship with another were reasonable sacrifices for this.


Mircea shifted enough to get a look at Nicolae's face, and frowned. This was not just a common bout of self-castigation. He could tell by the strained look on the boy's face that he had a serious problem on his mind. Heeding his calling, he got up and went to where his favorite parishoner knelt.


When he touched Nicolae's shoulder the young man started, turning anxious eyes on him. Mircea said gently, "Nicolae, you are troubled? Do you need to confess?" When the boy nodded mutely, Mircea helped him to his feet and urged him toward the confessional. They each entered on their own side, and sat.


Mircea slid the panel open, exposing the carved screen behind which Nicolae sat. Immediately the boy murmured, "Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been two days since my last confession."


"So long?" Mircea meant it to be a gentle teasing, but the boy took him seriously.


"Yes, Father. Sloth, that is my first sin. I should have been here before I went to bed last night, but I preferred to sleep."


"I think we can pass over that, my son."


"But I am guilty of gluttony also, Father. At the feast, I ate far more than I needed. The excess could have fed some poor soul well."


"Again I think you are too hard on yourself, boy. But I will consider it when I give you penance. Anything else?"


His voice lowered. "I have had disrespectful thoughts about my patron. I question his motives for offering the lady Elizabeta in marriage to Prince Draculea."


This interested Mircea. "You do not think it a fit match?"


"I do not think he loves her, Father." There was a pause. His voice had a curious timbre as he said, "I know he does not."


"Well, boy, you must see that in marriages of this class, love often comes at last rather than at first. You must see what a blessing such a union would be for Elizabeta. She is a good girl and could do much for the people of the land in such a position."


"Yes, Father. I just want her to be happy."


"An admirable sentiment, son. But that isn't all, is it? I sense that something else still weighs on your heart. Here you can confess all, Nicolae. Tell me."


For a long moment there was silence. Mircea began to think that the boy would not respond. He was almost ready to give him absolution, when the low voice floated through the grill. "I have had impure thoughts."


Mircea smiled to himself. Well, boy, it's about time! I was wondering when you'd begin to notice the wenches about the castle. I've had enough of them confess their dreams of you to me. Aloud he said, "Go on."


"I... I had a dream. When I awoke, I had... soiled myself."


Unseen, Father Mircea covered a smile. No, Mircea. This is serious to the boy. How can I make him see that this is the way of the world? Trying to keep his voice steady, he said solemnly. "Did you touch yourself, Nicolae?"


"Oh, no, Father!" he said hastily.


"I see. You understand, it wouldn't necessarily have been a bad thing if you had?"


Utter asonishment. "It wouldn't?"


"No. God gives you these urges, and he has given you a means to satisfy them without corrupting an innocent girl. It is only a very tiny sin to pleasure yourself, Nicolae, despite what any may have told you."




Such dawning wonder in that one word. Mircea bit his sleeve, stifling a laugh. Oh, lad! I know what will occupy you the next time you seek your bed!"


But Nicolae was speaking again, and his voice was even more serious. "Father, there is more."


Mircea sobered. "Tell me."


"I... I did nothing. I do not think I did anything, but... But I must have. Otherwise he would not have... have approached me in that manner."


Mircea's voice was sharp. "Who, Nicolae?" Mircea had his suspicions. He served Ernestu Varga as his spiritual guide and knew well enough that the man's feet had for many years been set firmly on the path to Hell. Unlike many of his fellow priests, Mircea did not believe that sin could be bought off with purchased indulgences. He believed that only true repentance could wipe away the stain, and Ernestu Varga had never truly repented of anything, unless it had somehow caused him discomfort.


When the boy was silent, Mircea said gently, "Nicolae, you told me you have not lain with a man."


"I told no lie, Father. He... touched me. And I felt ashamed, but it... it was so... " Words failed him, and he did not know how to express what had happened. "...pleasant?"


The boy's tone was so lost and aching that Mircea felt his heart swell in compassion. Mircea had voluntarily given up pleasures of the flesh, and he followed his vow of chastity and celebacy with a willing heart. But the boy had made no such commitment, and still he tortured himself.


One thing, now Mircea was convinced that the man Nicolae referred to was not his father. If it had been Ernestu, the boy's horror and terror of damnation would most likely have reduced him to gibbering.


Remembering how the visiting prince had called Nicolae forward then kept him close by for the remainder of the evening, Mircea thought he could guess who had tried to seduce his young friend. Well, Prince, can I blame you? He is good, and fair. His very purity would draw even the strongest. But he is still so much a child. But again... Mircea's eyes narrowed in thought. if you were to take him under your patronage his life could not help but improve. At least he would be away from the whoremonger who sired him.


Knowing he would not get an answer, he still had to ask again. "Nicolae, can you not tell me who has tempted you?"


"Father, I am not the keeper of his soul. He must find his own absolution, in his own time."


Mircea nodded. He'd never liked the directive to get each confesser to incriminate others. We teach our children not to bear tales, and then try to coax them into this. "Fair enough, son. We will concern ourselves with you. Is that all you have to tell me?"


"Yes, Father."


"Very well. Your sins are not great, Nicolae. Be of good cheer. I think two more tellings of the beads before you sleep tonight will satisfy the Lord of your repentance." He made the sign of the cross, speaking the ancient Latin phrases that absolved the boy of his sins, and listened to the relieved and grateful response.


Suddenly the curtain was whipped back from the other side of the booth. The light spilling in let Mircea see the pale profile of the boy lifted in shock. He heard Ernestu growl, "Finally!"


Nicolae was jerked from the confessional with a small cry, and Mircea knew that Ernestu had taken a bruising grip on the boy's arm to drag him along. Mircea burst angrily from his place in time to see the lord of Castle Varga dragging his bastard son up the aisle. "Varga!" The man stopped near the door, looking back impatiently. "You would profane the sacred office of penance?"


"He was through, Father. I heard so myself. Remarkably lenient you are, these days." Nicolae had turned as pale as milk at the knowlege that his father had heard his confession. "And while you see to heavenly matters I have business here on earth to attend to. This..." He shook the cringing boy roughly. "I have been cursed with this responsibility. I see no reason why he should not be turned to my advantage, as I have seen to his shelter and upkeep all these years. And it seems that he has not the sense to realize what is best for all, so it must be driven into him by more than words."


With that, he dragged his son from the chapel. Father Mircea, himself shaken, knelt and offered up prayers for the boy.


Chapter 10: Coercion

Child of the Night, Part Ten

The Year of Our Lord, 1460

Castle Varga, Wallachia



Nicolae made no protest as Varga dragged him through the castle, headed for his study. The servants or lingering guests who saw the hurrying pair stayed back. They could tell well enough by the anger on Ernestu's face, and the fear on Nicolae's, what was going to happen.


In Ernestu's private sanctum, Nicolae was finally released with a shove. Ernestu growled, "Was what you told the priest true? Did Prince Vlad express a special interest in you? And I don't mean did he ask after your work, boy. Has he handled you? Tried to bed you?"


"Yes, Domn."


"And you refused him?"


"Yes, Domn."


Nicolae had known that he would be struck sometime before this audience ended, but he was still not prepared for the vicious back hand that caught him across the face. He didn't cry out, knowing that would only earn him another blow. Neither did he try to wipe away the thin trickle of blood that ran from the small cut Ernestu's signet ring had left on his rapidly bruising cheek. Trying to clean himself before Ernestu directed him to was a sure way of increasing his wrath.


"Fool!" hissed Ernestu. "The richest, most powerful man in all of Wallachia lusts after you, and you are stupid enough to deny him?" He struck the boy again, the blow landing in the same spot, inflicting another cut.


"Domn, what have I done to displease you?"


Nicolae's bewilderment seemed to enflame Varga. "What have you done? Only endangered my plans with your selfish priggishness. Didn't I instruct all the household that Vlad Draculea was to have everything, everything, he desired while he was here? Didn't you realize that included any sexual favors he might fancy?"


"But Domn, what he asked was a sin."


Ernestu threw up his hands in exasperation. "A sin! And I suppose that betraying your father is not a sin."


Nicolae stared at him. Finally, his voice low, he said, "You have never named yourself my father before. Why do you now?"


Eyes blazing, Ernestu raised his hand again, this time clenched into a fist. Nicolae flinched, shutting his eyes, wondering if his nose would be broken again. But Ernestu saw the bruise and cuts he had already inflicted and hesitated. What was he doing, marking the boy where it would be clearly visible? The prince might not be interested in damaged goods.


"Why did you turn him down, stupid boy? He is wealthy, and powerful. He might have given you a rich gift. Princes often reward their favorites, even with titles and gifts of land." Secretly, Ernestu did not believe Nicolae could earn any such rewards, but the thought might prove an incentive.


"I want nothing. You know that I am willing even now to take a vow of poverty."


"Huh. It would be precious little change for you, boy. If not for the possibility of gold, then why not for the pleasure? Draculea is a handsome man."


"Domn!" It was almost a wail. "He is a man!"


"Pfft! Boy, do you expect me to believe you lived all those years among those tonsured fools, and none of them lifted your cassock even once? I won't believe it. What with no women, you would be the softest piece they'd have about. I would be surprised if you did not have a staff down your throat or up your arse every night, and twice on Sundays."


Nicolae, both shocked and hurt, gasped at the crudity. "Domn, you mustn't speak so of the Holy Brothers!"


"And now you will dictate my very speech!?" He shoved Nicolae up against the wall, twisting his hand in his dark hair. "Listen to me well, bastard! I want this union for Elizabeta. Draculea has spoken for her, and usually that would be enough. But he is a prince, and princes make the laws. Nothing is final till the marriage contract is signed, and that will not be till just before the ceremony, at Castle Draculea. Till then, he must be cossetted and pampered. He must have everything his heart desires. Every passing whim and fancy must be catered to. You will do what you must to see to this."


"I... I can't. You ask too much."


"I ask my due!" Ernestu roared, bouncing Nicolae's head back against the rough stone. "For eighteen years I have seen that you had food in your belly, clothes on your back, and a roof over your head. I saw to it that you learned the religion you now would use as an excuse to thwart me. I even arranged for you to learn a trade, that you might not starve when I am gone."


Ernestu conveniently overlooked the fact that what he had done was nothing more than common Christian decency, and that Nicolae would never need fear want if Ernestu was willing to acknowledge him, and make provisions for him.


"You owe me your obedience, boy!" There was still a flicker of defiance in Nicolae's eyes, and Ernestu used his final weapon. His voice became more quiet. "If you will not do it for me, do it for Elizabeta."




"You want her to be happy? If Prince Draculea breakes the betrothal..." Ernestu shrugged. Nicolae's shoulders slumped, and Ernestu felt a stab of triumph. Surely the boy would acquiesce now.


But Nicolae said, in a meek voice, "I cannot, Domn."


Ernestu trembled with rage. His hands itched to go around the boy's throat, but murder would not serve his purpose. He doubted that Prince Draculea would be best pleased by a cooling corpse. No, the boy had to be warm, and alive, and beaten into submission.


"Nicolae, bring me the rod."


Nicolae had been white before, now he seemed almost green. "Domn, please." he whispered.


"Get it, boy, or I add stripes for your recalcitrance."


Nicolae swayed, then walked slowly to the cabinet set against the wall. He had not done this in years. The rod was Ernestu's way of punishing particularly severe trasgressions in his household, and Nicolae had felt it across his back on a regular basis before he went to live with the friars. But since his return his punishments had been limited to cuffs and kicks. He had hoped that he was safe from this particular bit of Hell.


He opened the cabinet, and found the rod in it's old place, hanging on the inside of the door. It was about as long as his arm, and made of springy willow, peeled clean. At it's base it was thicker than his thumb, and it tapered to half the breadth of his smallest finger at it's tip. It would have been a fearsome enough instrument of punishment if that was all. But Ernestu had wrapped it in thin, brazen wires.


Nicolae's flesh crawled at having to touch it, but he had no choice. As he lifted it down from it's place, he thought that the bare patches of wood peeking through the brassy strands seemed darker. Blood stained, even when it was quickly removed.


His steps faltered as he brought it back to where Varga stood. Knowing the ritual required, he turned his back on the man and knelt. Then he bowed his head, and lifted the rod in the air over his head, holding it flat on his palms, like an offering.


Ernestu took it from his hands, then walked to a table. There he poured himself a glass of wine, and said, "Make yourself ready." As he sipped, the boy silently loosened the ties that fastened the neck of his robe, and slipped it off his shoulders. It fell till it was caught by the cord about his waist, leaving his upper body naked. Then he clasped his hands behind his neck, bowed his head, and waited.


Ernestu eyed him as he finished his wine. He was surprised to see a pattern of old scars across the boy's back, white against cream. He hadn't thought he had marked him so deeply when he had punished him as a child. This wasn't good. There was no telling how tolerant Draculea was of physical imperfection. No, he'd have to give the boy his medicine another way.


"Not like that, dolt. Cover yourself." Nicolae obeyed, again silently. When the robe was in place, Ernestu said, "On your hands and knees, and lift the robe up, tuck it in your belt."


The boy shuddered. His voice was pleading, "Domn, please..."


Ernestu moved swiftly to cuff him on the back of the head. "Do as I say! And take down those fancy drawers I know Elizabeta gave you. After all, you'd hardly want to ruin my daughter's gift, would you?"


Shaking in apprehension, Nicolae lifted his robe and tucked the hem under his belt, so it would stay out of the way. He unlaced his drawers and lowered them to puddle around his knees. Then he assumed the kneeling position Ernestu had demanded.


Nicolae kept his legs tightly together, hoping that this would sheild his most tender parts. He remembered his other beatings well, knew what to expect, and he was afraid. He wasn't a physical coward, but he knew that such an instrument in the hands of someone viscious could effectively geld a man.


He closed his eyes as he heard the swishes that told him Ernestu was limbering up his arm. Then the first stroke fell. His body jerked with the sudden explosion of pain across his buttocks. He didn't scream, but his sharp intake of breath was almost a cry. The first bright splash of pain faded a bit, but it felt as if a brand had been laid upon him.


Ernestu paused after the first stroke, watching the bright red line rising across the white flesh. Damn, he colors up nicely. I expect a bare hand would quickly bring a pink flush to those cheeks. He didn't pause to wonder that he was having such thoughts about his own son, but swund the rod again.


He watched with approval when the boy jumped as the lash fell, and another stripe grew below the first. "Do you begin to see your error, Calugarul? Do you see how you have failed me?" He struck again, and again, trying to keep the marks parrallel. But he misjudged, and one of them overlapped.


Ernestu watched, fascinated, as a bright bead of blood bubbled up at the crossing point, looking like a garnet set against white satin. His mouth was suddenly dry, and he wished for more wine, but did not want to take the time to get it. This was important, it needed to continue. His eyes narrowed, following the crimson drop as it began a slow trek down the back of the boy's thigh. Yes, very important.


At least this time he does not make me count the strokes and thank him for each one, Nicolae thought. The pain would begin to haze his mind soon, and a missed count would mean that they would have to start again.


Ernestu sent the rod whistling through the air again to crack against quivering flesh. "Do you see how wrong you are to disobey? How wrong it is to deny me this thing?" Now every stroke fell across an earlier stripe, and blood welled at each juncture. Still the boy did not cry out, though he had bitten his lip raw with the effort.


As the assault continued, Nicolae felt his limbs begin to weaken and tremble. He prayed that it would be over soon, before they gave way entirely and he suffered the added humiliation of taking the last of the beating face down on the stone floor.


It was good that he had kept his legs together, because Ernestu did not spare the backs of his thighs. They, too, were liberally striped and dotted with blood. His entire lower body was one great, flaming pain by now. He had heard that those who endured great torture eventually became numb to it. If he had not yet gained that loss of sensation, he feared what he would have to suffer to attain it.


Ernestu's questions about his lack of filial duty had degenerated to muttered curses and obscenities as he swung the rod with all his might. At last he slowed, his arm aching, and he knew he would have to call for a soothing liniment tonight if he did not want to be stiff and sore in the morning. Damn the boy for making him exert himself so in his corrections!


For the last minutes, Ernestu had been aware of nothing but the whistle and crack of the rod. Now the world came back to him gradually. He heard the soft sobbing of the boy who crouched before him, and saw the damage he had done. The stripes were so many and so overlaid that they could not be numbered. Blood ran in thick streams down the boy's legs, staining the linen pooled at his knees. So, he had ruined Beta's gift after all. Thoughtless child. He gave him another stroke for that carelessness.


Ernestu walked around in front of Nicolae and presented the rod. This was another part of the ritual, an important one. Nicolae managed to raise his head shakily, and kissed the rod. His lips came away smeared with his own blood. He begged God that Ernestu would not force him to lick the instrument of his torture clean, as he had when he was a child.


Instead Ernestu tossed aside the weapon, and Nicolae sighed with muted relief. But he was too soon. Ernestu tangled his hands in the thick, dark hair and dragged his head up, till his neck was straining and he looked his tormentor full in the face.


What he saw frightened Nicolae more than anything he'd seen in his life. Ernestu's expression was twisted, his teeth bared, his eyes glittering. Beneath his breeches there was the clear outline of a lust-wakened prick, a damp patch showing at the head.


Ernestu stared down into the handsome, tear streaked face, searching it hungrily for every scrap of fear and pain. He enjoyed men as much as women, but he'd never felt this way when he had disciplined Calugarul when he was a child. Somehow the sight of his strong young body, so cowed and submissive, stirred Ernestu's blood.


He thought. I think I understand what the prince sees in him. Maybe, just maybe... And how would he know? Such things cannot be tested, as they can with a woman.


"I hope this has been enough, boy. I do not want to damage you if it can be helped." He laid his free hand on Nicolae's back, just above where his robe was tucked. "You must be good and faithful, and do as you are bid. It is a small thing I ask of you."


"It is a great thing." The voice was ragged, breathless, and Ernestu ignored it. The boy wasn't saying anything he wanted to hear


. The older man reached farther, laying his hand on the heated flesh of the boy's buttocks. Nicolae whined at the fresh pain. The salt in Ernestu's sweat stung his raw skin.


The soft, protesting sound made his patron's fever rise even higher. Ernestu stoked the firm flesh, feeling his fingers slide in the hot blood. His voice was hoarse. "You are very like your mother, boy." He gripped hard, letting his fingers sink shallowly into the cleft. "Very like her."


Nicolae felt abject terror as Ernestu released his hair and reached for the lacings of his breeches. This could not be happening. Finally desperate enough to struggle, he threw out a hand to push him away, moaning, "Father, please!"


He misjudged and his hand pressed against the hard bulge of Ernestu's sex. Immediately, before he could withdraw it, his patron had seized his wrist, clamping down hard enough to bruise, and ground himself into Nicolae's palm.


Varga stared down at the slim, long-fingered hand splayed over his arousal. It proved too much, far too soon. He was not a young man anymore, and his stamina was short. He came in a hot gush of liquid seed, his sperm seeping through the cloth, and running down to bathe his tight balls.


With a cry of frustrated rage he struck the boy again, knocking him backward to the floor. He had a brief glimpse of Nicolae's loins: hair almost as dark and silky as that on his head, and a member that was impressive for one so young. But he was soft, quiescent, and for some reason this was what angered Ernestu most.


Knowing his father's rage, Nicolae had quickly rolled into a ball, hoping to protect himself. But Ernestu was spent, in more ways than one. "Get up, slut. Go clean yourself, and make yourself ready should the prince call for you."


Nicolae untucked his garment, pulling it down to a decent level. Unable to bear the thought of anything against his torn skin, he completely removed his drawers, mourning silently when he saw the crimson stains that marked them. They would never be the same again. They would always bear signs to remind him of this day.


Finally he made his way shakily to his feet, and moved toward the door. Ernestu had gone to the table for more wine. Now he called, "Boy! You forget yourself."


Stifling a sigh, Nicolae went back to perform the final rite of punishment. He took Ernestu's hand and kissed it, murmuring, "Thank you for correcting me, Domn."


"See that the lesson remains learned." He gripped Nicolae's chin hard, studying the damp, flushed face, marking the rising bruise and the cuts. "You had best hope that Draculea will not mind a bit of color. And you will do all he requires. If he wishes you to whore yourself for him, then whore you will. If I hear differently, you will think that this has been no more than a fond caress." He shoved him away. "Go."


Nicolae left the room. In the corridor, he began to limp painfully toward his own room, one hand braced against the wall for support. Any who passed him might have felt compassion, but they looked away. It was not wise to interfer with Ernestu's vendettas, or his pleasures. And, in Nicolae's case, it was fairly obvious that the boy was both to his father.


Chapter 11: Care

Child of the Night, Part Eleven

The Year of Our Lord, 1460

Castle Varga, Wallachia



Simion had taken his mid-day meal early, and was returning to his room in the servants' quarters. He was planning on a quick, freshening wash when he saw the boy. Nicolae was in a corridor leading to an even more obscure section of the domestic quarters. Simion stopped at the turning, staring down the hallway, watching him. The young librarian was of interest to his lord, therefore he was of interest to Simion.


The boy was standing motionless a little way down the hall. He had his back to Simion, and was leaning against the wall as if he needed support. As Simion watched, a small bundle of white cloth dropped from his hands, and Simion saw that it was splotched red. His eyes drawn downward, he saw several thick streams of blood crawling down the boy's leg below his cassock.


Simion's gut clenched. "Oh, Master," he whispered. "Could you not wait? I think he would have come to you soon."


Nicolae knew that he must be close to his room by now, but he was having trouble thinking clearly. The pain throbbed through his whole body. He'd been halfway down this hall when he'd felt the grey beginning to close in on him, and had to stop for a moment. The stone wall was rough and cold, but it was solid.


He was too dazed to be startled when the hand touched his shoulder. He was turned, and he found himself looking at an older man with ash blonde hair. "Nicolae?"


He tried to straighten, but fell back against the wall. "I am he." The man pushed something into his hands, something soft. Looking down, Nicolae saw the red-stained cloth. "Oh," he said sadly. "Beta's present." He looked at the man. "I ruined it."


Simion took the boy's arm and urged him back up the corridor. "Come with me. I will help you."


"You need not trouble, Domn. If I can but get to my room... I know it is dreadful laziness in the middle of the day, but if I could lie down for a moment..."


"Nicolae." The tone was chiding.


A tremor wracked him, so violent that he would have fallen if the man had not put a strong arm about his waist. Finally giving up his pretense, Nicolae whispered, "Yes, please. Please help me."


Thanking God that his room was close by, Simion led the staggering boy. All the while his mind was racing. This did not seem possible. He knew that Draculea had been eager for the boy, and if the librarian had struggled to preserve his virtue too strenuously, things might have become... rough. But this... Vlad Draculea was a lusty man, but to the best of Simion's knowledge he had never torn a partner so.


In his room, Simion helped Nicolae to lie on the bed, placing him on his belly. He wished for warm water but did not feel he should leave the boy to go to the kitchen, and there was no fire in his room. Cold would have to do. Luckily there was a large pitcher, filled to the brim, on his night table.


While he poured the water and got a cloth, Simion studied the boy's face. He noted the dark blue bruise rising along one cheek, and the cuts. This didn't feel right. Draculea had been so entranced by the child's beauty, it hardly seemed credible that he would mark him in this manner.


When Simion went to lift the boy's cassock, Nicolae held on to it desperately, giving Simion a pleading look that tore at his heart. "It's all right, Nicolae, I'm not going to hurt you. But I must see what was done and cleanse you. You understand that, don't you? You must not risk poison setting in your blood." Reluctantly Nicolae released his grip on the garment. He turned his handsome, battered face into Simion's thin pillow, gripping the soft cushion with trembling hands.


Simion lifted the robe. He'd seen men who had been raped before, and violently. He thought he was prepared for what he would see, but he wasn't.


He couldn't hold back a cry of disgust, horror, and aching sympathy. The boy had been nearly flayed from the base of his spine to his knees. The skin was cut and torn in what had to be more than a hundred places. At the edges, Simion could see that they were the type of stripes caused by a slender rod, but across the center it was impossible to tell where one wound ended and another began. They were all very fresh, and most of them still oozed thick blood.


There was no doubt in his mind now: Draculea had not done this. He knew his master could be cruel, but the vicious, deliberate torture of an innocent, inoffensive young man, especially such a beauty, was beyond him.


Simion tried to keep his voice steady as he began to wash away the blood. "Boy, who did this to you?" There was no answer, only a quiet whimper as the cloth passed over the tattered skin. He tried again. "Nicolae, why were you beaten?" Nothing short of high theft or the assault of a noble could justify a beating like this, and Simion sincerely doubted Nicolae was capable of either.


"I... displeased my guardian."


Ernestu, of course. The bastard. "What did you do, Nicolae?" And whatever it was, he is a monster for doing this to you.


To his shock, the boy gave a weak, almost hysterical laugh. "It is not what I did, Domn. It is what I failed to do. What I refused to do." Simion rinsed the rag. Seeing the water stained, he went to pour it out in the hallway. At the door, he froze as he heard Nicolae's soft response. "I refused the prince, Draculea."


Simion turned back slowly, and went to pour another basin of water. He had refused Vlad? And his father had beaten him for not debauching himself. Oh, Ernestu, you have made a grave mistake. Did you think my lord would be grateful that you tried to whip the boy into his arms and his bed? How little you know the Draculea, and his pride.


Simion continued cleaning Nicolae. He pushed the robe up farther, to get it out of the way, and discovered the old scars. He touched them, running a finger along one narrow white track, and the boy shivered. "I see this is not the first time you have been punished, Nicolae."


"Oh, no." His voice was flat, disconnected. "I was a sore trial to my patron when I was a child. A week did not pass that the rod was not taken from its place. I did not like it when I had to lick it clean. The blood was so salty."


Simion had to stop for a moment, putting his hand over his face. Nicolae continued, unaware. "Since I returned it has not been so bad. Only a few blows, and hardly ever with his fist. Except the one time I did not want to copy out that bawdy story." He touched his nose. "He broke something here, I think. It was hard to breathe for a while."


Simion did not want to cause the boy any more distress, but with what he had learned now of Ernestu and his relation with his bastard son he knew he had to check one last thing. He had to be sure that Nicolae had not been violated. The cuts he could tend to, but if he were injured inside...


When Nicolae felt the hands grip his buttocks, he stiffened with a sharp gasp. But Simion said quickly, "Be easy, boy. My purpose is not carnal. I need to see if you are injured here."


Nicolae buried his face again, his entire body shaking. Simion parted the cleft as gently as he could, and examined the boy. He was relieved to see that the blood seemed to all come from the surface cuts. The boy's anus was a small, tender pink pucker. It was not the gaping, torn hole he had feared. Apparently he had been spared that horror, but by how much, Simion was not sure.


He let the flesh close again, and got a small jar of medicinal ointment from his things. He always carried it, not trusting to local physicians. It had special herbs in it that would not only cleanse the wounds and protect them from the rot that could set in, but would soothe the pain a bit.


As he gently began to smooth the lotion on the raw patches, Nicolae said, "Father... Father was going to do something very terrible, I think. But God protected me, and he spilled his seed before he wished."


"Wait, boy. I will be back."


Simion stepped into the hall, shutting the door. Then he pounded his fist into the stone wall till his knuckles were bruised, biting his lip bloody to keep from screaming curses at the beast who would so ravage his own child. When he could at last control himself, he went back into the room.


"I must go to my room. They may want me, and I must be there when they call," Nicolae mumbled.


"No, boy. You are too ill to go now. You will sleep here." Simion poured a glass of brandy from a small flask. Out of the boy's sight, he stirred a white powder into the amber liquor, making sure it was well dissolved.


He urged Nicolae onto his side, and held the cup to his lips. When the boy saw that it was strong spirits, he tried to balk. But Simion said sternly, "Boy, I am your senior. You will drink this. God will not mind, and it will do you much good. It will help you sleep."


Nicolae looked at him, puzzled. "But I will never sleep again," he said simply, as if this was a thing too obvious to deserve discussion.


"Yes, you will." Simion tipped the glass to his mouth, and Nicolae drank. "And sleep will heal. At least a little."


The boy's system was in such shock that the drug acted even more swiftly and thoroughly than usual. In moments he was in a deep sleep, so deep that it was near unconsciousness. Simion then stripped the cassock the rest of the way from him, and covered him with a clean sheet. Then he went in search of his prince. He had much to tell him.


Chapter 12: Concern

Child of the Night, Part Twelve

The Year of Our Lord, 1460

Castle Varga, Wallachia



Simion was helping Prince Draculea dress for the second feast in his honor at Castle Varga. They were taking particular care with his appearance, as tonight Ernestu would announce the engagement to the local gentry. It was to be quite an affair, especially for such a rural area. The presence of the prince meant great prestige, and now one of their number was marrying into the royal line!


On his way upstairs, Simion had done a great deal of thinking. He knew that his lord was only lukewarm about this union, but he also knew that it was necessary. If he did not wed and at least seem to be trying for an heir, there was a real danger of rebellion. Some factions in the land would hint that the Dracul were a thinning line, and it would be better to set someone else on the throne. Or perhaps topple the throne altogether?


Usually Simion felt sure that Vlad could be trusted to look ahead and weigh the consequences of his actions. But when it came to this boy...


Simion had a feeling that if the facts were presented too abruptly, too baldly, Draculea would not hesitate. He would seek out Ernestu Varga and murder him on the spot.


The only question would be the method he chose to dispatch the whoreson. Simion had a feeling that in this case Vlad Draculea would only be satisfied with using his bare hands. And he could do it, easily enough. Simion had seen his master kill strong men in battle, using nothing but the strength, speed, and agility God had given him. One fat, lecherous old child-beater would present no challenge.


But such a public and personal execution would cause a scandal that would spread throughout Europe. It might weaken his support among the people, and other powers might see that as an opportunity to invade or attack. Ernestu had to live, at least until after the marriage. And then, if possible, his death had to be managed... discretely.


Draculea might be able to make his way through the feast, sitting beside the man who had flogged his desired lover, but it was by no means a surety.


"He ran from me again, Simion." Draculea was frowning, but his tone was more wistful than angry. "Must I court him with flowers and love sonnets?" Simion couldn't help smiling, picturing his lord reciting the intricate phrases that were popular in wooing maidens. Vlad saw, and made a face. "Not my style at all, eh, Simion?"


"No, my lord. You are more direct." Which is why I must be most careful in breaking this news to you.


"He's close, I think. I almost had him earlier. A few more moments... He was hot and hard in my palm, Simion, with only that brown rag between us. He moaned so sweetly." Draculea closed his eyes briefly. "I want to hear him say my name in that tone."


No, my lord, I most definitely do not tell you what happened to your sweetling now.


As Vlad made his way to the great hall, Simion hurried to his room to check on Nicolae. He was as he had left him, sleeping heavily. The sheet had become flecked with blood. Thankfully the ointment kept it from sticking to the wounds.


Simion smoothed on more ointment. As his fingers stroked over the welted skin of Nicolae's buttocks, the boy gave a quiet whimper. Simion looked, but his eyes were still closed. He slept. But as the older man continued to massage the tender, bruised flesh, the boy's hips lifted, only a fraction, pressing up to his touch.


Poor child. So hungry for comfort and affection that you seek it even in your dreams. Experimenting, Simion gently squeezed the abused globes. There was another soft sound that mingled pain and longing, and again Nicolae's hips lifted, more strongly this time.


Simion sat back, thinking. Then he folded the sheet so that the stains were hidden, and laid it over the boy once again. Nicolae's breathing and heartbeat were strong and slow. Simion stroked his hair, which was matted with the sweat of his earlier ordeal. "I think I can do a service to both you and my lord, boy. He needs you to be willing, and you need to be absolved of responsibility."


Again Simion poured out a measure of brandy, and mixed in the white powder. He shook Nicolae's shoulder. "Boy." No response. Again, "Boy?"


Nicolae's eyelids fluttered. He gazed at Simion, his deep brown eyes unfocused, and made a questioning sound. Simion lifted his shoulders, turning him slightly, and put the cup to his lips. "Drink."


This time Nicolae did not hesitate or protest. He drank as meekly as a child, sighing when Simion removed the empty cup. Again he looked at the older man, and slurred, "Domn? They... want me?"


Simion eased him back to the mattress. "Sleep, Nicolae." As the boy's eyelids closed, he murmured, "Yes, you are wanted."


The company was seated when he slipped into the hall and took his place behind Prince Draculea. Vlad was pretending to listen to some rambling of Ernestu, but his eyes were fixed on the empty seat at the end of the table.


When Ernestu turned his attention to Elizabeta on his other side Simion leaned over Vlad. Before he could speak, Vlad muttered. "He isn't here, Simion. Did I frighten him that much?"


Simion could not tell him now, but the hurt in Draculea's voice hurt him also, and he felt he must say something. "It is not on your account, my prince. There are circumstances that keep the boy away." Vlad looked at him sharply. "After the feast, Domn. Remember your duty before your pleasure."


Draculea had faced unpleasant experiences for the good of his country and people before, he could endure an hour or two of this for the same reasons. He looked pleased and proud as Ernestu, the braying jack ass, stood and announced their betrothal. He even managed to stand and say a few graceful phrases himself, and look properly contented when Ernestu moved Elizabeta to sit on Draculea's right hand, where Nicolae had sat the night before. Vlad gave Elizabeta much more room than he had the librarian.


As they ate, Vlad said, as casually as he could, "The dark haired boy does not join us tonight?"


Elizabeta frowned, only then becoming aware of her half-brother's absence. She shrugged. "Perhaps he had a return of the malady he suffered this morning." She giggled. "Or he may be on his knees in the chapel, begging forgiveness for actually enjoying himself last night."


Draculea's feelings toward the girl had been lukewarm at best. He could feel them cooling even farther now. Yes, he thought the boy agonized too much over his tiny transgressions, but it was through a good heart rather than foolishness or false piety. He did not like it that this girl, whom Nicolae obviously adored, could jest about something so important to him. Draculea did not like the spiritual strictures that helped keep Nicolae from him, but he respected the boy for them.


Vlad graciously accepted all the fulsome congratulations as each noble in turn approached the table and wished him well in his marriage. There was much talk of strong sons and beautiful daughters, and Vlad thought, with mild interested, that Elizabeta did not smile quite so brightly during these.


Finally he felt he had endured enough to leave without insulting guests or host, and he rose, making his apologies. He used the excuse that his future bride needed her rest so that she could attend to her packing the next day. The guests murmured at his boldness when he pressed a kiss to her hand before he left.


The moment they were away from the hall, Vlad took Simion's arm. "Nicolae?"


"I will speak of him to you as you change, my lord. You must put away your finery." When Draculea started to protest, Simion said firmly, "Maria Ta, I have my reasons. Have I ever given you bad advice?"


There was no need to answer that. Simion had been Vlad's most trusted companion and advisor for many years. He trusted the older man's wisdom, so he did as Simion wished.


In his room, Simion helped him strip out of his stiff formal wear and don simple breeches and shirt. "Now, you must come with me to my quarters. I have something to tell you, and something to show you."


As they entered the servants' area, Simion told him, "Distaste or fear was not the reason the boy was not at table tonight, Domn."






He stopped at the hall that led to his room. Draculea did not know which were his quarters, so it would be difficult for him to locate them without Simion's direction, and Simion did not intend to lead him there until he had a promise from his lord.


"Before we go farther, my prince, I must ask something of you."


Vlad frowned. "You are grave, Simion. I have never denied you anything of great import. What do you desire of me?"


"This, my lord, is something different. It is no material thing I ask for, but your solemn oath that you will not act rashly on what I will reveal to you."


"Simion, of late you have showed little faith in my patience."


"In this, Prince, I believe myself justified. This is of mortal importance. You must swear to me that, no matter your rage, your pain, or your heartbreak, you will not commit a violence. Not now."


Vlad's eyes narrowed. "Simion, I begin to suspect a great wrong. You fear that I will do murder."


"Yes, my lord."


"Is it so serious?"


"Yes, my lord."


His face paled. "Nicolae?"


Simion drew a small crucifix from his pocket and held it up to Vlad. "Give me your word, my prince. For the sake of your country, your people, and your own soul."


"Simion..." His voice was threatening.


"And for the sake of the boy."


Draculea hesitated, then bent his head and kissed the cross. "I swear by the Most Holy Cross and the blood of Christ that this night I will not commit violence." He turned burning eyes on Simion. "Beyond that, my friend, I cannot say."


Simion pocketed the crucifix. "It is enough, I think."


He led the prince to the door of his room. "Wait a moment while I light the lamp. I did not want to leave a flame."


Draculea waited impatiently in the hall. He heard the rasp of flint and steel, saw the sparks jump, and then the wick in the oil lamp caught, flickered, and the flame burned steadily. He stepped into the room. Simion moved behind him quickly, shutting the door.


The room was tiny, and his eyes went immediately to the bed in the corner, and the figure lying on it. There was no mistaking the dark head lying on the pillow, face turned to the wall. There was also no mistaking the fact that he was naked beneath the thin sheet.


Draculea's eyes flicked, surprised, to his servant. "He is willing, then? Simion, why did you not bring him to my room?"


Simion was shaking his head. "He may very well be willing, my lord, though not fully aware of it himself. No, that is not why he is here. I found him earlier in the hallway, without the strength or sense to find his way to his own room."


"What do you mean, Simion?"


Simion gripped Vlad's arm. "I charge you to remember your vow, Prince Draculea."


Vlad shook him off, hissing, "What has happened?" He went to the bed and bent over the boy. "Nicolae?" No response. He bent farther over...


and his gaze fell upon the swollen purple bruise that surrounded the two blood crusted cuts. Vlad jerked back violently, eyes wide with shock, and dropped to his knees beside the bed. Simion, who had come to stand beside him, reached down and lifted away the sheet.


Vlad gazed at the ruin of torn skin, the thick pink-purple welts extending from the rawness like greedy, clutching fingers. The only sound he made was a sharp intake of breath.


Draculea's eyes moved from the ravaged lower body and noted the criss-cross of old scars across the boy's back. For a long moment he was as still and silent as if he had been carved from stone.


Then Simion saw his hands slowly clench into fists at his side, and he threw himself in front of the door a split second before, with a low, keening cry, Draculea surged to his feet. There was no question, no doubt on his face as he stalked toward Simion. "Ernestu!" The name was a curse on his lips.


"My lord, your vow!"


Draculea had almost reached him. "You will not hold me to it, Simion. God will not hold me to it! The man died the moment he laid rough hands on what is mine."


"I will hold you to it, my lord. Remember the boy!"


Draculea stopped, only inches away from Simion. He was fairly quivering with rage. "How will it better his lot if that filth draws one more breath?"


"Filth he may be, but he is the boy's father..." Draculea snorted in disgust, but Simion spoke over him. "and you have seen how the child torments himself. If he knows that you killed Ernestu because of him, what will it do to him? Would you kill any hope you had of winning him along with Ernestu?"


Vlad hesitated. Simion saw the rage and grief fighting against the cool logic of his words. Restraint finally won out, but only barely. His voice rough, Draculea said, "And what do you suggest, Simion? Surely he will know it is I, even if I delay."


"He may suspect, my lord, if you do as I suggest. But he will not know. And, as his heart is good, he wishes to believe the best of every man. He will not condemn you unless he is sure. You need only contain yourself a few more days, until after the wedding. Ernestu is going to Castle Draculea for the ceremony. Afterward he will return home. And there are many dangers on the road."


Draculea was silent, staring at Simion. At last, he smiled. It was cold and cruel. Had Ernestu seen it and known it was at the thought of him, he would have soiled himself like an infant. "Simion, you are a treasure. This puts me in mind of a saying the Italians have."


He walked back to the bed, sitting on the edge of the mattress, and resting a hand lightly on Nicolae's back, feeling the steady rise and fall of his breath.


"What is the saying, my lord?"


Draculea's eyes were the color and chill of a winter sky. "Revenge is a dish best eaten cold."


Chapter 13: Seduction

Child of the Night, Part Thirteen

The Year of Our Lord, 1460

Castle Varga, Wallachia

Simion's Room



Draculea looked up at his patiently waiting servant. "He shouldn't be disturbed now, or I would have him moved. Simion, go to my room. Bring back whatever will be needed for Nicolae and myself to rest comfortably."


"You will remain here tonight, Maria Ta?"


"Yes, Simion. I will not leave him like this. You will take my room."


Simion had expected no less. He hurried to the prince's room and returned with all he thought they would need. He spread smooth sheets and a soft blanket over the sleeping boy, replacing the thin pillow with a fat one, stuffed with goose down. He carefully tipped Nicolae's face to the side when he did this, so there would be no danger of the boy suffocating in his sleep. Simion made sure there was >another lamp, well filled, in case his lord desired light throughout the night.


As his servant worked, Draculea said, "Simion, did the filth truly think that he would win my favor by beating the boy into my bed?"


"It would seem so, Domn."


"Good God. I can only hope that his daughter will not pass on his stupidity to our children. It astounds me that he would not realize that this is an insult. I have not needed anyone to pimp for me since the night my father chose my first whore. In any case..." Draculea stroked Nicolae's hair wistfully, "It doesn't seem to have worked, not in the way he expected. The boy has a stronger will than he thought."


"The boy is afraid, Domn." When Draculea looked up sharply, he continued. "Oh, not of you, my prince. Well..." He smiled. "Perhaps a little. You can be overwhelming at times. He fears himself. He finds that he wants what he has been told all his life is wrong, and he fights the urges. He fights valiantly, but this is one battle he should lose. The question is, will he be forced into submission, or coaxed to surrender?"


Vlad, from his campaigns, knew the difference. Some lands and people were taken only through bitter struggle. They preferred to destroy themselves rather than submit. Others welcomed their conqueror as a savior, placing themselves freely and joyfully under their new master's hand. Which would Nicolae do? Vlad desperately wanted the boy to do the latter. He knew from bitter experience how difficult it was to hold on to that which was taken in violence. Preparing to go, Simion said, "He should sleep till break of day, master. He may seem to awaken, but it will be a waking dream for him. The drug I have given him will keep him peaceful, but dazed." Draculea nodded his understanding.


Simion considered a moment, then took the jar of ointment once again from his bag and placed it on the tiny table beside the bed. "This is what I used on his cuts, my lord. It is soothing without being numbing. It is very slippery, so if you choose to tend the boy's wounds with it, be careful of your grip when you are done."


Draculea studied Simion, then looked down at the little pot of white salve. "I understand, Simion. Thank you. I will not need you further tonight." Simion bowed his head, and left the room.


Draculea gazed thoughtfully at Nicolae for a moment, then shook his head. No. I do not want a simple vessel for my lust. I want a warm and willing partner. Unable to resist touching him somehow, he began to toy with the wisps of dark hair that feathered against his neck. They were as soft and fine as that of an infant.


Vlad sat for awhile, but he soon decided that he must lie down. Tomorrow he must face Varga and pretend that he did not intend to kill him at the first opportune moment. Holding his temper would take all his will and strength. He should rest.


Vlad removed his boots. After a moment's thought, he removed his shirt, also. The boy was a limp, warm bundle when he lifted first his torso, then his legs, and moved him over in the bed, near the wall. Vlad would sleep on the outside, so that there was no chance Nicolae would fall out and hurt himself in his drugged state.


He left the lamp burning: the low flame gave only dim light. Vlad slipped beneath the covers and stretched out on his side beside Nicolae. "This was not how I pictured the first time we would lie together, little one," he whispered as he laid his head on the pillow beside Nicolae.


His breath seized in his throat as the boy's eyes drifted open, dark lashes rising slowly, but they opened only halfway. His gaze was vague, his pupils dilated till the rich brown of his irises was a mere hair-fine ring around the black pools of his pupils.


Does he see me? Draculea dared not move for fear of frightening the boy. Simion said it would be nothing but a dream to him. Does he even know I am here?


Perhaps he did. His lips, bruised from where he had bitten them during his ordeal, moved. As close as he was, Vlad barely heard the whispered word. "Blue..." He thought it might have been naught but wishful thinking. But then Nicolae spoke again. "Blue eyes..."


Vlad felt a soft touch on his chest. Looking down, he saw that Nicolae had laid his hand there. It rested limply, but then the long, slender fingers moved slightly. He looked again into the boy's face, trying to gauge his consciousness.


The gentle touch moved against his left nipple. He closed his eyes, drawing in his breath. He does not know what he is doing. His touch is innocent. But it came again, warm and lingering. Vlad felt his nipple begin to stiffen, drawing into a hard, pebbled peak. The fingers circled, squeezing. Sensual warmth spread from the teased flesh, drifting over to cause his other teat to begin hardening, and settling down to his crotch.


Vlad bit his lip. I swear that he is unaware, but his touch... It is as if he knows the very things that delight me.


The sensation was becoming too much for Vlad. He took the boy's hand, holding and stilling it, seeing the same ink smudge he had noted this morning. It seemed long ago, and he followed the impulse he had then. Lifting Nicolae's hand, he took the thumb into his mouth and sucked it softly.


As he had imagined, the tang of the ink was faint. It was overwhelmed by the sweet, meaty taste of Nicolae's flesh. He felt Nicolae's fingers fan against his face, settling along his cheek. Releasing the thumb, he instead drew the two middle fingers into his mouth and suckled them. He swirled his tongue over and around them, licking to tickle the sensitive skin in-between. Nicolae sighed quietly.


Vlad removed the spit slick fingers, and drew them down again, settling them against his right nipple. Immediately the boy began to stroke and pinch in the same dreamy manner, and Draculea groaned, his lust rising.


"Nicu," he whispered. "Little one, do you know me?"


"Strong." The single word was no louder than the others had been.


Vlad might have been able to resist but for what Nicolae did next. The boy's hand crept upward slowly, burning a trail along Vlad's skin. It moved along his throat, then draped over his neck and ran up into his hair, and the boy whispered, his voice achingly humble and needy, "Love me?"


Vlad felt as if his heart would burst in his chest. "Yes, Nicu. Yes, I do. I will. Yes." But how? How can I pleasure you without causing you pain?


Vlad fumbled behind himself, blindly finding the little jar that Simion had left. Nicolae made a sound of protest when Vlad sat up and threw back the covers, but the prince stroked his back soothingly, and he quieted.


Draculea coated the fingers of his right hand with the slippery ointment, and knelt on the mattress beside the boy who would from this night forward be his lover. Careful of bruises and welts, he gently spread the cleft of Nicolae's buttocks. The dark haired young man whined deep in his throat as Vlad stroked the cool, oily substance down the shadowed valley. Vlad murmured, "Hush, Nicu. Just a little cold, just a little pain. It will feel so good very, very soon." He rubbed, working the salve into the boy's flesh, warming it with his own body heat. The whine died slowly.


Vlad eyed the crinkled pink spot that marked the entrance to Nicolae's most private part. "So tiny, so perfect." He massaged, feeling the strong, springy muscle. "You will grip tight when I take you, dear one." He patiently ran his finger around the opening, coaxing the flesh to soften. It did not take much, the drug in the boy's system had relaxed him.


When he thought it was time Vlad pressed one finger to the virgin hole and pushed forward. He slid in slowly, not stopping till his knuckles were nestled against the stretched opening. Nicolae moaned, and his hips shifted slightly, but Vlad put his free hand on Nicu's back, holding him in place. Soon he was still again, but his breathing was deeper.


"Yes, boy," Vlad murmured. "You see? Not so bad." He pumped in and out, holding him so that he could not twist away. But he really didn't need to. Nicolae quivered, but he made no attempt to evade the thick finger moving in his back passage. Vlad dared remove his free hand long enough to dip it into the white cream again, and smear more around the loosening hole.


He pulled out entirely, but then inserted two fingers, held close together. Nicolae took them with scarcely a murmur. Vlad's prick was fully erect now, straining against his breeches insistently. "Why am I doing this to myself? I can't fuck you tonight, Nicu."


The boy sighed, as if in answer, and began to hump shallowly against the mattress. "Oh..." Vlad pushed deeper, feeling, and found the small bump. Nicolae tensed slightly, probably as much as he was able in his state, and made a mewling sound of pure longing. Smiling fondly, Vlad caressed the boy's most sensitive spot till Nicolae was gasping, his hips moving jerkily.


Curious, Vlad slipped his left hand under Nicolae's body. His fingers closed around firm, hot flesh. "Sweet Nicu. You want me even if you do not know it. There must be some way."


Nicolae had pushed his face into the pillow, hands fisting by his head like a sleeping child. Now he was moving as he had longed to this morning when the prince first caressed him. He thrust his hardened prick down into the large, hard hand, and pushed his bottom up onto the deliciously impaling fingers. When both were withdrawn, he whimpered with loss.


"Wait, impatient one." Vlad stood, and stripped off his breeches, then went back to the bed, naked. His prick was fully and proudly erect. It was already slick with the first issue of the liquid that eases the way for a man's seed.


Vlad maneuvered Nicolae onto his side, then moved farther into the bed and pulled the boy down on top of himself. He spread his legs, and settled the boy between his thighs, bringing their crotches together.


The younger man sprawled loosely, his head settling on Vlad's shoulder. Vlad just held him, arms wrapped around his back, feeling the warm, living weight. It was so odd. The boy was a mixture of oblivion and awareness. His eyes had closed again, but Vlad felt the firm points of Nicolae's aroused nipples press against his own with each breath.


Vlad again dipped his fingers in the salve. This time he reached between their bodies and smoothed it first on Nicolae's straining erection, then his own.


Vlad guided the boy's body with his thighs, shifting him slightly. His own prick had been lying up against his belly in its excitement, and now Nicolae's slick, heated flesh slid against it. Draculea put back his head, groaning, and began to thrust upward slowly, grinding himself against the pliant body above him. It was not all that he wanted, but it was very, very good.


The boy's head rolled, more than could be accounted for by the motion of their coupling. His eyes opened again. The pupils had shrunk a bit toward normal, but he was still drifting. He had some awareness, but no understanding.


All he knew was that someone was holding him close. He could not remember anyone doing that except his mother in his dim and distant past. It felt good. Gradually he became aware that it felt very good. He scarcely felt the pain that had gripped him since he had received the first stroke of the rod. He was bathed in warmth that seemed to come from inside as well as out. Large hands, a little callused, stroked his back in rhythm to the rise and fall of his body.


He felt the delicious heaviness in his groin that had always accompanied the dreams, the dreams that had left him weak and sticky when he awoke. He could remember the feel of his linen drawers against his swollen flesh, but this was different. It was hotter, and slick. The friction as what was beneath him moved was maddeningly pleasurable.


Moved? Nicolae suddenly realized that he was lying on living flesh. It was a man's body that lay pressed beneath his own, and it did not just lie: it moved. They were both naked, and the man's loins thrust up to his own hot flesh, their arousals rubbing together firmly.


A faint spark of panic flared deep in the boy's hazy mind. His head was heavy, but he lifted it a little, wavering, to see who it was who was giving him such pleasure at the peril of both their souls.


He looked down into hot blue eyes, set in a face handsome enough to make an angel weep. Nicolae gasped in dismay. "Domn."


A hand cupped the back of his head and pushed him down till his cheek lay against the solid, shifting shelf of his shoulder. Nicolae began to struggle, but his efforts were kitten-weak. The one hand held his head down, and the other arm went about his waist. Again he squirmed, and felt a dart of shamed lust when the man below him made a greedy, approving noise.


"Please, master, let me go." The words were husky, cracked.


"Not yet, Nicu." The prince's voice was thick. "Soon, sweet lover. I am very close." He never stopped moving. When Nicolae again tried to pull away, Draculea hooked his ankles over the boy's calves, locking him in place, and began to pump against him more strongly. "I can't stop, Nicu. Don't you see?"


Nicolae began to cry silently, tears streaking his face as the prince thrust against him, his hard dick streaking the boy's belly and thighs. Then Vlad's grip tightened, and Nicolae felt a gush of hot liquid coat his belly and his sex as Draculea found his release.


The prince stilled, except for his heaving breath. His grip on the younger man relaxed into more of a caress. Nicolae managed to pick his head up again, and looked at Vlad. The prince's face almost seemed to glow, and there was a serenity in his eyes Nicolae had not seen before. For a moment Nicolae hesitated, unsure. Could a man who had just committed what he had always been taught was a grievous sin look so peaceful?


Vlad said quietly, "Why do you weep, my lover?"


Nicolae did not know what to say. He supposed it was the brandy that the prince's servant had given him that made his senses reel and his head so light. Not really knowing what he was saying, he stammered, "Master, please... I... I didn't..." Didn't want, didn't know, didn't consent...


But Vlad was nodding as if he understood perfectly. "I am sorry, pet. You will think me selfish." He pulled the pillow from beneath his head and put it against the wall, then rolled Nicolae off onto his side, so that he was propped comfortably against it.


He brought his face up to the boy's, and licked away the salt drop that was trickling down his cheek. "I understand. Do not worry." His hands were smoothing down Nicolae's torso, and the boy shivered at the sensation. "I will take care of you."


He moved down on the bed. Nicolae cried out as Draculea flicked his tongue, darting it across the slick head of his sex. The feeling was like nothing he had ever experienced. It came again and again as Vlad lapped away the clear fluid that drizzled from his slit.


Draculea seldom pleasured other men with his mouth. He far more often merely sat back and received service, but he wanted to do this. Nicolae was delicious, and he felt half starved for him.


Nicolae could never have imagined anything more intense, and then Draculea took him into his mouth. All resistance, all thought of anything but the hot wetness engulfing him fled. Nicolae reached down and tangled his hands in Vlad's hair holding him and pushing deeper.


For some minutes it was like that. There was no sound in the room save the boy's sobbing breath and the wet sounds of Draculea feasting on his manhood.


Nicolae's climax, when it came, was not the abrupt spasm he had been used to in his involuntary dreams. It rolled through his body, long and sweet and hot. He felt his seed pour forth, surging into the man who held him deep, swallowing his entire shaft. The prince did not pull away, did not reject him. If anything, he pulled the boy closer, hands on Nicolae's jerking hips. I am dying Nicolae thought, dazed. and it is so beautiful.


When the boy was spent, Vlad cleaned him with his tongue, licking away their combined sperm in voluptuous leisure. Nicolae lay quiet beneath his attentions. He did not speak again till the prince moved up in the bed and pulled him to lie against his side, tight in his embrace. Then the boy whispered dully, "Am I damned?"


"No, Nicolae." Draculea pressed a kiss to the ruffled hair. "You are blessed."


Chapter 14: Claiming

Child of the Night, Part Fourteen

The Year of Our Lord, 1460

The Next Day

Castle Varga, Wallachia



Nicolae came awake slowly. This was not unusual. When he had a deep sleep, he often spent a peaceful half hour in a state of drowse, moving gradually toward consciousness. This sleep had been deeper than any he could remember. It was as if he had dropped off into a pit at some point the previous day.



He remembered his shock when the curtain of the confessional was suddenly whipped aside, and he remembered the rage on Ernestu's face. After that there was confusion leading to blackness, more confusion, and more blackness. He wasn't really sure that he wanted to be aware of what had happened. Somehow he knew that much of it was very unpleasant. But oddly enough, he had the sense that some of it had been far from unpleasant.



The first thing he knew for certain was that he was in pain. Ernestu must have beaten him again. Well, there was no surprise in that. That had happened often enough for him to accept it as part of the natural order of things. He could tell that it was bad, but he had endured others not much gentler.



The next thing he was aware of was that he was naked. That was unusual. Since Elizabeta had given him the drawers, he had slept in them. He had decided that in doing that, they became a help toward modesty rather than a vanity or sensual indulgence. Why was he not wearing the garment now?



Eyes still closed, he tried very hard to think. There was something about the drawers, they... I ruined them. In his mind he saw red bloom on the white linen like rose petals against snow. Why didn't I take them all the way off? I might have saved them. It never occurred to him to blame the man who had flogged the blood from him.



I need to get to the library. So much to do...He tried to push himself upright, but failed on the first attempt.


He was just trying again when the door opened. The prince's manservant, Simion, came into the room, carrying a tray. He said sharply, "Boy! Lie back down. You are not fit to be getting up now."



Nicolae was surprised, but he obeyed, because really, he was lightheaded with that small effort. "Sir," His voice was hoarse. "Please, you need not tend to me. I am..." He trailed off, taking in the details of the room. "I am not in my own room?"



"No." Simion put the tray on the bedside table, drawing a chair up beside the bed. "This is my room. You could not be left alone. Move closer to the edge of the bed, Nicolae." Nicolae managed to scoot a few inches over, and Simion nodded approval. "You cannot sit yet, and you are weak. I will feed you."



Nicolae blushed as he brought a spoonful of stew to his lips. "Please, Domn, I am not a child."



Simion smiled sardonically. "No? In any case, I am not a Domn. I work for my living, the same as you. You will call me Simion. You may use 'sir' if you wish. I am your elder, and deserve that respect. Now eat."



Nicolae's stomach rumbled at the rich, meaty smell drifting from the bowl, but he felt queasy. "Please, sir. I do not think I can."



"You will. You need nourishment, boy. You cannot have eaten since you broke fast yesterday morning, and it is near noon now. Take a little of the broth to start. Once you have something in your belly the sickness will pass."


He still turned his head away. "Nicolae, the prince ordered me to see you well fed. Will you make me fail my duty to him?" Nicolae stared at the older man. But the next time Simion offered the food he sipped the broth dutifully. After a few mouthfuls, his stomach settled and he was hungry. Simion fed him, and the boy finished the entire bowl, and a good slab of bread spread with sweet butter. Licking away a last greasy smear from his lips, he said hesitantly, "The prince... the prince knows of my... misfortune?"



Simion put away the bowl, and his eyes were unreadable as he looked again at the boy. "Yes, Nicolae. He is aware. And he knows why you suffered."



The boy's pale face grew whiter still. "How?"



Simion crossed his arms on his knees, leaning forward to speak. "How much do you remember of yesterday?"



"Not much."




"You remember the beating?"



"Some of it, sir."



"Do you remember how you came to this room?"



He shook his head. "If I troubled you, sir, I am sorry."



"Stop it, boy. Do not apologize for something that was none of your doing. You were viciously abused, and you did not deserve what was done to you."



"I angered my guardian. But sir..." One hand gripped the hem of Simion's tunic, as he struggled to convince the man who needed no convincing, "I could not do as he wished!" Why does he look at me so oddly? "I cannot tell you what he wanted, but it was something that would lead me and another down a perilous moral path."



Simion sat back. "I know what he wanted you to do, Nicolae."



The boy's hand dropped. "But how?



"You told me when I brought you here to tend you."



He turned his face to the pillow. "You should not have listened to me, sir. I no doubt spoke little sense. And that should have been heard by none but my confessor."




"Why?" The tone was so blunt that Nicolae looked back in surprise. "There was nothing for you to confess, boy. As I told you, you did no wrong." He stood up. "I must dress your cuts again. They are already much improved, almost all are closed. Still, you must be cautious for the next day or so, lest you tear them open again. And you will not sit comfortably even then, I think."



When Simion went to pull down the sheet, Nicolae clutched at it instinctively. Simion's voice was amused, "There is nothing under there that I have not already seen, Nicolae. Think of me only as your physician. Now, stop fighting what I try to do for you. Do not make me report your misbehavior to the prince." He had only been teasing, but he saw the half-fearful look on the boy's face as he released the sheet.



Simion pulled down the sheet, and retrieved the little jar of medicine from the table. He examined it, and his lips quirked. Yes, there was a good bit less than there had been when he had left the room last night. That would have explained Prince Draculea's good mood and peaceful demeanor when he returned to his rooms this morning. It also explained the heavy, musky scent of the room when Simion had slipped in to check on the boy.



But from the healing state of the cuts on the boy's buttocks, his lord had not taken his pleasure in that manner. Still, something had occurred, but Nicolae did not seem fully aware of it. Simion wondered how much of it was because of the drugs and his shock, and how much had been willfully blocked out. Simion once again cleaned the cuts, and dressed them with the salve. "You heal quickly, Nicolae. It will not be long before Prince Draculea can show his devotion fully." The boy shuddered, and turned alarmed eyes on Simion. Simion spoke to him gently as he replaced the sheet. "Come, boy. You are innocent and ignorant, but you are not stupid. If you care to, you can remember most of what happened last night. There is no reason why you shouldn't."



Nicolae closed his eyes, whispering, "I had hoped that I dreamed. I have... odd dreams, sometimes."




"No dream, Nicolae. I know not the details, but it is clear enough that Prince Vlad took his pleasure of you last night. And I cannot help but believe that you found pleasure with him, as well."



"I am weak of spirit, and weak in the flesh. I should have stopped him.



"Pfft. How could you? Even had you not been both weak and drugged, my lord is a powerful man, both in body and in will. You would have surrendered to him eventually, Nicolae. It is better that this first time was eased by the medicine I gave you." He touched the boy's dark hair. "You see? It was not your fault, Nicolae. Your heart can be free of regret in this."



"No, sir. I must bear this burden."



"If you are troubled, Mircea will hear your confession, and give you absolution."



"He cannot, sir. I cannot speak of this and ask for forgiveness."




"But why, Nicolae? I do not understand."



"Sir, the grace of absolution is granted on four conditions: confession, penance, sincere regret of the sin, and a determined purpose to not repeat the sinful act." Nicolae's expression was miserable. "I can comply with the first two, but the last two..." He swallowed hard. There was so much pain in his eyes that Simion felt the urge to take him in his arms and rock him like a child, soothing it away. "The regret, and the vow to never repeat the act? Simion, I do not think I can do that."



Simion's face relaxed into a smile. "Boy, you cannot know how happy that makes me." He took the tray and went to the door. "I must attend my lord at his mid-day meal. Rest, Nicolae. Do not try to leave this room, nor even the bed you lie on. There is a chamber pot beneath it, should you have need."



Nicolae's head was low, hair hanging over his eyes, shadowing them. "As you said, Simion, I must work for my living. My patron does not notice me save to pick at my faults, and shirking my duties will earn me another beating."



Simion's voice was firm and cold. "He will not touch you again, Nicolae." He paused, and there was a significant tone to his next words. "In any way. My lord has claimed you, and no one hurts what is his."




When the other man was gone, Nicolae lay, stunned by the import of his words. The prince claimed him? It wasn't possible. He was such a great man, he could command any servant, even any noble. Why would he stoop to concern himself with one so poor and obscure as Nicolae Calugarul?



Even if it was only fleshly desire there were others more beautiful, male and female, who would fly to him at the least hint of interest. A passing amusement, Nicolae thought sadly. To him I am like a flower in a field. Walking past, it catches the eye for a moment. One may even feel driven to pluck it, and keep it for a little time. Perhaps it is tucked in the bosom for the sweet smell, perhaps worn in the hair for its gay look. But soon the freshness fades, and the flower is tossed aside. When I am tossed aside, where will I land? I will surely die if I am torn from my place and discarded.



He mused on this for awhile, finally deciding that his only hope was to try to forget what had happened. Indeed, it was half done. All he had was flashes and impressions.



The clearest memories were these: the sense of something filling him, moving inside him and bringing a sense of wholeness and great pleasure, and the incredible warmth and wetness that had engulfed his sex just before he once again fell into blackness. And... tenderness. He had been held and caressed with gentleness that seemed to speak of caring. But he thought it better to forget these things. His life would be easier if he had nothing to regret losing.



His hunger sated, he grew drowsy again, and drifted off to sleep.



Vlad wished he could have avoided Ernestu. When he looked at the man, he felt a near overwhelming urge to take his neck in his hands and wring his head from his shoulders, like a chicken. But he restrained himself, for Nicolae's sake. Simion was right. If Vlad killed the man out of hand, he might escape punishment, but it would kill the boy inside, so Vlad held his temter. The beast would be allowed to walk the earth a few more days before he was sent to his justly earned place in Hell.



The prince was scrupulously polite, but still Ernestu Varga was suspicious. Vlad had never been warm to him, but he had been cordial, if condescending. Now the stiff formality of his addresses and the coldness of his gaze told Ernestu that the Wallachian ruler was highly displeased about something.



It's that damn bastard, it must be! Either he disobeyed me and did not go to Draculea, or he was so clumsy in bed that the prince was displeased. Either way, I'll whip the skin from his body if he spoils Beta's chances.



Ernestu wanted to do just that. He remembered the sight of the boy crouched before him, robe rucked up to expose smooth, pale buttocks. He remembered how the flesh had quivered and reddened under the stroke of the rod, and how soft and trembling his mouth had been as he pleaded with Ernestu. Most of all he remembered the hot, liquid rush when the boy's hand had come to rest over his lust swollen flesh.




Unconsciously, Ernestu licked his lips. He wondered why he had ignored the boy for so long. This convenient bit of flesh had been in his charge for eighteen years, and he had yet to taste him. I have been wasteful. The boy can do more than copy out scribbles. When Beta is safely married and out of the castle there will be time. It had been some time since Ernestu had someone to warm his bed on a regular basis. Once he set himself to training the boy, Nicolae should serve admirably.

Sitting across the table from his fiancee's father, Vlad noted the flush rising in the plump cheeks, and the swipe of tongue across dry lips. I know what you are thinking, you incestuous dog. You'll not have him. I will take him from you, and kill you with my own hands. I have men enough to kill at my bidding, but I will not deny myself that pleasure.



They were in the process of negotiating the marriage contract. Vlad and Stefan sat on one side of the table, Ernestu and his lawyer, Ivan, on the other. They had already specified the lands that would be turned over to the prince, along with the people who tilled them, and the livestock thereon. Stefan had smoothly argued the gold of the dowery up to three hundred gold pieces. Ivan would have bargained, but Ernestu, a bad haggler, was eager to agree. His lawyer could only shrug and acquiesce.



Ernestu proudly boasted of the rich wardrobe Elizabeta would bring with her. "You will not need to dress her for some time, Domn. She has dozens of garments, from the simplest to the richest. She will not disgrace you on any occasion, be it gracing your household from day to day, or a ceremony of state." Draculea only nodded, his expression never changing.



Stefan studied the notes he had made. "Now we come to the final and lesser part of the agreement. Elizabeta is to bring with her any servants the prince deems necessary for her comfort, or a benefit to the prince's household."



Draculea had been lounging in his chair, toying with a glass of wine. Now he sat up and leaned forward. He was suddenly interested in the proceedings.



Ernestu nodded eagerly. "Of course, of course. She will need some of her maids to attend her. I do not hint, Prince Draculea, that you could not supply her with adequate body servants, but some of these women have been with Beta since she was a little girl, and she would miss them terribly."



"How many?" It was the first time Draculea had spoken since the negotiations began.



"Well, no more than two or three. She must certainly bring Lena Abul with her. The woman has cared for Beta, and tutored her, since she was young."




"Abul, and two others of her choosing," Stefan looked to Draculea, who indicated his approval. "Any others?"



"No, those are the only ones we ask that you bring. The prince is welcome to order whoever else he wishes."



Stefan looked at Draculea, who appeared to be giving the matter consideration. "My lord, unless you have run across someone you simply must add to the household, there is no need. We have a fine staff, and others available from your own land, should the need arise."



"Could you spare your priest, Varga? The lady would most likely be more comfortable with a confessor she knew."



Ernestu agreed quickly. "You are kind and thoughtful, Maria Ta. Yes, Mircea will be happy to accompany Beta, I am sure."



"One of your better cooks, also, I think. They can teach my kitchen the dishes that the lady most enjoys."



"Yes, my prince. An excellent thought. My second cook has been looking for a chance to travel, I think."



"What else? It seems there was one more..." Draculea put a finger to his brow, frowning, as if in deep thought. At last he said, "Ah, I remember now. Elizabeta wishes to bring along the librarian, Calugarul."



Ernestu's expression fell. "I would grant you anything joyfully except that, Prince Draculea. The whelp must remain here."



Stefan exchanged glances with Ivan. This was a complete turnabout. Till now Ernestu had fallen over himself in an effort to give Draculea more than he asked for. And to balk at such a trivial and useless thing as a librarian...



"Your daughter expressly asked me to request the boy accompany us to Castle Draculea."



"Perhaps he might be allowed to see her wed there, Maria Ta, but he must then return here with me. You would not want him in your household. Elizabeta is a good, kind-hearted girl, but it makes her foolish sometimes. Calugarul is not a fit companion for a lady of high birth."



Vlad was silent for a moment, tapping his fingers on the table. At last he said, "Varga, I hope that you trust me to control my own wife once we are wed." His voice was quiet, but there was steel beneath it.



Ernestu felt himself paling. "I meant no disrespect, Prince Draculea."



"That is good to know. Now, what other reason could there be for the boy not to leave your household and join my own?"




"I... he is all I have to tend the library, my lord."



"You seemed little impressed with his efforts before, Varga. If I recall correctly, you said that his 'scribbling' could be done at any time, and was of no consideration."



"I did not wish for your lordship to be inconvenienced by his absorption in his work. He seems humble enough, but there is a rebellious streak beneath that meek exterior, Domn. He needs constant correction to show him his place in the world, and his duties toward his betters. Choose any other of my people, and they are yours."



"Varga," Stefan, alarmed at the quiet, hard tone of Draculea's voice, looked at him. The prince's face was unreadable, but his eyes burned. "Are you refusing me this small thing?"



Varga gestured helplessly. "I do not understand your interest, my lord. The boy is nothing, no one, practically useless."



"And that is why you babble in an effort to keep him in your 'care'?" There was a twist on the last word that escaped no one.



Castle gossip moved swiftly. Everyone knew of the beating Nicolae had suffered the day before, and some suspected Ernestu of more than simple violence. "I will make this clear for you, Varga. Elizabeta wants the boy to come with her. I have a library at Castle Draculea that has been sadly neglected since my father died. He can be a companion to Elizabeta..." He paused. "and he can serve me. I will have him, or there will be no union. Nicolae Calugarul must be included as part of the dowery." Stefan started to say something, and Vlad growled, "You will not question me on this."



Ernestu studied the prince, seeing no softness or indecision in him. He means this. The boy must be better than I thought. Damn, and I have not sampled him yet. Still, there is nothing to be done. There will be time, though, before we go to Castle Draculea, and before I must return home. Perhaps then.



Varga bowed his head, spreading his hands. "It will be as Prince Draculea bids. The boy is in my charge, to dispose of as I will, and I give him to you, with my blessings."



How wise, Ernestu, since you knew I would take him otherwise. To Stefan he said, "Write. Get it down on paper."




Stefan dipped his quill, and began to write, muttering. "Among the household goods included in the dowery are one cook, one lady's maid, two serving wenches, and... a librarian."



"Use his name. He's not just an object."



Stefan blinked mildly, then wrote, "One Nicolae Calugarul." He looked up at Ernestu. "And by what authority do you make disposition of this man?"



"He is the bastard child of a lady's maid who served my wife."



"And you took charge of him? Rather generous, sir." Stefan observed. "No other reason? If the boy is free born, we cannot just order him from the control of one to another."




"I have authority over him."



"But what authority? Have you papers showing guardianship, given by the parents?"



Ernestu was slowly passing from the red of embarrassment to the purple of mortification. At last he said stiffly, "The boy is mine. I sired him."



Stefan nodded. A father could dispose of his children as he would. Draculea stared at his future father-in-law with barely concealed loathing. It is good that you did not say you fathered him, Varga. You have been no father to the boy. No, sired is the proper term. You dropped your seed, then moved on with no thought for what you had created save how it inconvenienced you. Well, he is out of your charge now, dog. And some day you will have cause to regret ever emptying your balls into that poor woman who bore my Nicu. How a bag of pus like yourself could spawn such an angel, I will never know.


Chapter 15: Dominance

Child of the Night, Part Fifteen

The Year of Our Lord, 1460

Castle Varga, Wallachia

Later in the day of the marriage contract



Elizabeta sat beside Prince Draculea at supper that night, at his right hand as was befitting his betrothed. Beta had always been the highest-ranking female at her father's table, but now the assembled guests seemed to look at her with even greater respect and admiration. At least it seemed so to her, and she was perfectly happy to accept the added attention. She deserved it, after all. She was going to be a princess.


But in her new station, Elizabeta did not forget her obligations and promises. She leaned close to the prince and said confidingly, "The marriage contract is signed?"


He nodded. "This afternoon. I put my seal to it, and it has been sent ahead to my castle archives. Your father retains a copy."


"Did you ask him to let Nicolae come with me?"


Draculea's smile struck her as a little odd. "The boy will come to Castle Draculea."


"Oh, good! I am so happy. Now, I need only one thing to make my happiness complete."


"And what is that, Elizabeta?" Vlad had no objection to keeping the girl happy, as long as it did not interfere too greatly with his own interests.


"If you will but say that my dear Lena may come with me, I will be fully content."


"Lena... Ah, yes, Abul, your maid. Yes, Beta, she was included in the marriage contract. As long as she is willing, she will be with you."


"Oh, she is willing, my lord! She half raised me. She is my dearest friend and confidant. I could not have thrived without her. And she will be a benefit to your house. She is a very clever woman."


The most dangerous kind. Draculea frowned as this thought flitted across his mind. He dismissed it as unworthy. "Which one is she?" He was a bit curious as to whom his future bride deemed indispensable.


"There, just down the table on the right." Beta pointed to a thin woman with jet-black hair.


All ladies of the gentry tried to achieve a pale complexion, but this woman was so white as to be almost ghostly. In contrast, her lips were blood red. I do believe the wench wears cosmetics. I wonder that Ernestu would let a woman who paints near his precious child. Vlad shrugged the thought off. Lena Abul was of little concern to him.


Instead he was anticipating seeing Nicu again in a few hours. The boy was still in Simion's room, and Vlad intended to spend the night there again, with him. They would leave early in the morning, and it would be simply too indiscreet to have the boy too close when they encamped on the trip. That meant that unless they joined again tonight, Vlad would have to remain celibate till after his wedding, because the ceremony would take place the very day they arrived. "Have you finished packing?" he asked, not really curious.


"Oh, yes! Lena was invaluable in that. She knows my possessions better than I do."


"Really?" Not a trait I would trust overmuch in a servant. Well, any servant save Simion.


"In the castle, Maria Ta, how shall I live? Do you wish me with you at all times? I must confess that I am used to my occasional solitude, and would miss it."


"You will have your own room. There is a small hallway that connects it to mine, so that I may travel to and fro without making it known to all the castle."


"And my maid?" "There is a dressing room that lets off yours that she may occupy. Or there is a trundle under your bed, which on which she may sleep when I do not visit you. It is your choice."


"Oh, good. I do not think I could sleep if she was not near."


It sounds as if Abul will keep you well occupied. That is good. It would not do for you to feel neglected, and I fear I will have little time for you. I suppose it is a selfish thing I do, marrying you when you might have some young man who actually loved you. But you are not being forced into this. I only hope you do not regret choosing rank over passion.


Vlad had no way of knowing that Elizabeta was in no way giving up her passion for rank.


She was pleased when the prince left the table early, explaining that it would be best for all of them if they retired, so to be fresh for their journey on the morrow. As usual, her maids accompanied her to her chambers, whispering and giggling excitedly. Elizabeta did not have as many attendants as some women of her rank, so the three maids she was being allowed to bring with her, and Nicu, were her entire coterie.


In the bedchamber, Lena turned to the other, younger women. "Off to bed with you. I know you two, you will chatter the night away if I allow it, and we need our rest. I will attend my lady."


The other girls didn't mind. They shared a room, and intended to spend a good bit of time talking before they slept, no matter what their senior said. They left in a rustling of brocade and scuffing of velvet slippers.


Lena turned to the young girl she had cared for over six years, smiling. "Well, Beta. So it is set in motion. Soon it will be accomplished, and you will be a princess."


Beta smiled at her coyly. "Nicu says that I am already a princess."


Lena's smile became stiff at the mention of the librarian. "Nicu is something of a fool." She did not like Nicolae. Well, she disliked anyone else who occupied a place of interest or affection in her Beta's life. When she saw Beta begin to pout, she said quickly, "I only mean that he cannot see the practicality of things, Beta. You know very well that he lives in his own world."


Beta sighed. "Yes, Lena, I know. But sometimes I envy him that world. It is so full of goodness and hope. He wants so much to believe the best of all people."


As I said, my dear, a fool. But Lena did not say this aloud. She did not want to alienate Beta at this late stage. Her misguided affection for the boy would have to be dealt with later, subtly.


Lena stepped behind Beta and began to undo the many buttons that closed her dress in back. "I suppose we cannot do without dreamers, but some of us must see to the practicalities of life. You, my Beta, you must think of your future. Yes, Prince Draculea has chosen you, but men�s attentions can fade. We will have to be clever to keep your newfound position secure."


Lena slipped the girl's stiff brocade dress off her, leaving her to stand in her thin silk shift as she laid the dress aside in a trunk, prepared for the trip to Castle Draculea. Elizabeta went to sit on the side of the bed as she did this, kicking off her slippers.


"Beta!" Lena scolded as she set the shoes neatly in the trunk (all the travelers would wear sturdy boots for the journey). "You still act like such a child sometimes."


Beta had unfastened her garters, and was rolling down her fine wool stockings. Her shift was rucked high, and Lena had a good view of her pale, shapely legs as she pulled the stockings off. "But I am not a child, Lena. You know that," she said teasingly. Lena licked her lips. "No, Beta. You are a woman." Lena Abul was in her thirties, and had never married. She was considered by most to be a hopeless old maid. She was pretty enough, but of low rank, and poor. Even with these handicaps she might have made a fair match, if it was not for the fact that she was a clever, ambitious woman, and incapable of concealing either trait for long. Lena had early on determined that she would not be able to better herself through the common method of marriage. Well, then, if she could not rise through a man's help, then why not a woman's?


This suited Lena fine, as she had never felt desire for a man. Women were much more suited to her taste: the softer and more feminine, the better. Women actually admired her strength of character, and her intelligence, and did not view them as a threat.


When Ernestu Varga had begun looking for a woman of gentle birth to teach his daughter to be a lady, Lena had presented herself. Ernestu was not tempted by Lena's physical attributes, and knew that she had no dealings with men, so he saw little potential for scandal, and engaged her. It never occurred to him that there might be women who fancied other women, though he himself indulged occasionally with a fresh faced youth. Ernestu was, in many ways, a very stupid man.


Lena took charge of Elizabeta when she was twelve. She was already a charming, pretty child, but Lena was scrupulously correct for the first few years. She made sure that Beta loved her. She was a friend, ally, and confidante.


All the while she imbued the girl with the idea that the male of the species was somehow slightly ridiculous, and physically distasteful. Men were by nature crude, unrefined, and simply not worth the fuss that was made over them. True, they must be catered to, at least in public, but a cunning woman could usually get whatever she wanted from them without expending too much energy.


She had told Elizabeta the facts of life when the girl first asked, a shockingly incorrect thing to do. She had made the girl promise not to tell anyone: father, confessor, or lady's maid. The act, as she described it, sounded messy and uncomfortable, if not actually painful. She provided Beta with sketches of the male anatomy, both at rest and aroused with desire. "I would not have you shocked into hysterics on your wedding night, child." she had said at the time.


Lena saw to it that there was little chance for Beta to satisfy her natural curiosity. She made sure the girl was even more thoroughly chaperoned than most girls of her class. The only man with whom she was ever alone with was her father (thank heavens the pig had not formed a desire for his own child. Lena would not have put it past him. It was fairly obvious that he'd developed a lust for his bastard, Nicolae. Maybe that could be fostered, to insure that the boy remained at Castle Varga instead of going along to Castle Draculea). Lena did not even trust Father Mircea. She sat in the nave while Beta made her confession, narrowly watching the priest's side of the booth.


Her attention and diligence had paid off--Lena was the most important person in Elizabeta's life. It was to be expected that the girl turn to her when her physical desires began to manifest themselves.


It had started when Beta was just past fifteen. Lena had allowed herself to be caught in the act of dallying with one of the younger maids. Beta had hurried into Lena's room to find the older woman with her hands up under the skirt of the youngest lady-in-waiting, a girl only two years Beta's senior. The girl's bodice had been open, her nipples stiff pink points peeking over the top of her shift, which seemed to have been pulled down to improve access. Beta had realized with astonishment that those little buds were wet and shiny. Since Lena had just been lifting her head from the girl's bosom, it was apparent that the older woman had been licking or sucking them.


Both of the other women were breathing heavily. The little maid had been flushed, but now a tide of red flowed from her neck up to her hairline as she frantically tugged at her clothing. Lena pulled her hands out from under the girl's skirt, and Beta saw that the older woman's fingers were also slick and shiny.


Lena had patted the maid on the cheek, murmured to her reassuringly, and sent the girl out of the room. Then she calmly sat on her bed, looked at Beta, and said, "You have questions?"


Beta came to sit beside her. "What were you doing with Elise?"


Lena smiled. "Just playing with her a bit. Making her feel good. Making myself feel good."


"But what were you doing?"


Lena reached out and touched the young girl's throat. "Would you like to see? I think you are old enough now, Beta. You have your woman's courses, your bosom has filled, your maiden-hair has grown. You are ready to learn about pleasure. I would like to teach you."


Feeling breathless, Beta had said, "Yes, please."


Lena had locked the door to her room, then slowly stripped both Beta and herself. There, on her narrow bed, she had explored the girl's untouched body with hands and mouth till Beta was squirming and whimpering, her sex dripping with desire. Then Lena had knelt between her legs, parted the lips of her sex, and found the little bud of flesh that had become hard and swollen. She had lapped and nibbled at it till Beta was arching and crying out, then had thrust her tongue deep into the fragrant, wet slit and moved it vigorously till she felt the girl's body clench and shudder in her first orgasm. From that moment on, Beta belonged to Lena.


Beta grew to be a lovely young woman. She and Lena spent many nights cuddled together in Beta's bed, whispering and laughing. Gradually, Lena taught her all the things that women could do together to give each other pleasure. Now the girl was almost as proficient a lover as Lena, Lena thought that she'd have to tell the girl to act awkward and shy, if not frightened, on her wedding night. That should not be too difficult.


Despite their lovemaking, Beta was still a physical virgin. Lena had made sure of that. Whenever she used her fingers, Lena was careful to penetrate the girl's slit only shallowly, no matter how Beta begged her do go deeper, harder. "No, child. You must keep your maidenhead. If you do not bleed on your wedding night, there will be a scandal. Your husband will have just cause for annulment, and you will be disgraced. You know very well that your father will send you to wither in some convent if that happens. And much as I love you, pet, I could not wall myself up by your side." Beta still pouted occasionally, but agreed. She knew enough of the world to know that what her lover said was true.


Now Lena sat on the bed beside Beta, reached behind her, and removed the pins that held the heavy coil of her hair in place. It tumbled down the girl's back in blue-black waves. This was one way she resembled her bastard half-brother. They had the same coloring, and the same slanted brown eyes. Lena supposed that if it were possible for her to desire a man, Nicolae Calugarul would have been the one, since he resembled her.


Lena kissed her, gently at first, nibbling at the tender, pouting lips. Beta parted her lips readily, silently inviting Lena. The older woman accepted, slipping her tongue in to explore the sweet, moist interior of the girl's mouth, even as she tugged the shift down to expose her breasts.


Beta sighed into her mouth, her nipples rising to stiff points as Lena toyed with them. She loved this so, and Lena never failed to satisfy her, but there was more that she wanted. Pulling back a little, she murmured, "Can we use The Staff tonight, love?"


"Of course, my darling."


Lena stripped as Beta pulled off her shift and stretched out on the bed. From a hidden pocket in her skirt, Lena drew The Staff. It had been a gift to her from the concubine of an eastern vizier who had once visited court when she was younger. The barbarians in the east had remarkably novel ideas about sex. Since their women were shut away from all but their husbands or consorts, and since the men wanted the women to be satisfied enough not to seek other men, they were allowed toys.


The Staff was a tapered cylinder of wood, about nine inches long. It was near four inches wide at the base, tapering to about two inches at the peak, and it was fitted in a smooth sheath of soft leather.


Beta eyed it hungrily as Lena climbed on the bed, holding it. She was not allowed to use The Staff on herself: her virginity must be preserved. Lena had promised her that this would not be so, once she was married. "When you have been breached, my love, then... Then I will plumb your depths. I even have a belt and harness it will fit on, so that I may take you in the manner of a man. But I will be more careful of your pleasure than any of them will ever be. Untill that time, Beta could watch Lena use The Staff, or she could herself work it into the older woman's soft, grasping hole, but that was all.


Beta fondled Lena's tits, leaning down to suckle and nip at the woman's dark nipples, which thickened at her caresses. "Let me take you tonight, Lena."


"Yes, Beta. But first, sweet girl, taste me." She spread her legs wide, and Beta eagerly moved up between them. She parted the coarse, dark curls that covered the slit of Lena's sex. Pressing the crease open, she began to lick and suck. Lena lay back with a sigh. She loved this, loved having the young, beautiful woman, who was her superior in class and rank, service her like a common wench.


Elizabeta ran her tongue over the pink folds of flesh, licking diligently till the small slit began to trickle with clear fluid. Then she pressed her mouth to the flow, flicking her tongue against the little opening till she managed to penetrate it. Lena groaned as Beta thrust her tongue in and out of her cunt, probing as deeply as she could. At last she said, "Now, Beta."


"I wish we had the belt. I wish I could mount you."


"So do I," she lied. She did not want Beta to fuck her in that manner. Lena enjoyed having the upper hand, but there was no harm in pretending that she was interested. She was sure that once she actually got The Staff inside Beta, the girl would be content to remain the submissive in their relationship.


"Lie down. I will position myself so we can pleasure each other at once."


Beta lay down, and Lena turned to face the foot of the bed, then straddled her charge on her hands and knees, her face hovering over the girl's groin. The smell of musk was already heavy, and she could see the glisten of juice on the girl's sparsely haired sex. "Now, Beta. Fill me, but gently at first."


Beta pressed the tip of The Staff to Lena's hole and pushed gently. Her lover moaned as the false prick slowly speared into her steaming sex. Beta watched, fascinated as the dark leather disappeared between the pink lips into the white flesh. It amazed her how much of The Staff Lena could take inside herself. Beta was sure that she, herself, would split in two if she tried to do that. But the idea was intrigueing.


At last there was only a small bit of The Staff outside Lena's body, enough for Beta to hold. Lena lowered her head and began to delicately lick Beta's genitals. She used her thumbs to press aside the pads of flesh so she could get at the marvelous little bud that gave such pleasure, and proceeded to drive the younger girl wild with desire.


Beta began to move The Staff, pulling it almost all the way out, then thrusting again, deeply. As Lena tormented her with soft licks and sucks, she increased the speed and strength of her pumping, till she was shoving the dildo in and out of Lena in short, hard jabs. Lena enjoyed rough sex, despite her praise of the gentleness of women, and the older woman was panting so hard that she had to concentrate to keep devouring her lover.


In reward for her diligence, Lena thrust her tongue deep into Beta's cleft, licking toward her very core. Beta moaned Lena's name, pressing her streaming crotch hard against the woman's mouth. "Your fingers, Lena! Please! I feel so empty, I need them!"


"Then fuck me harder, pet, and I will give you what you need." As Beta drove The Staff harder and harder, jolting the woman on top of her, Lena plunged two fingers into Beta's wet sex and began to pump. But she ignored the girl's cries to go harder and deeper. She would not endanger the precious maidenhead, even in the throes of passion. Instead she used her other hand to pinch Beta's clitoris, hard, while she fingerfucked her. She felt the girl begin to spasm around her probing fingers, as she wailed in release.


And Lena found her own release, shuddering around The Staff as it plunged in and out of her body. Ah, there was never a man who satisfied as well, and The Staff was always ready for another round of pleasure. It did not try to command, it did not sneer at dreams or ambitions, and it could not plant a whelp in your body. How could it be more perfect?


When they were done, Lena moved off the limp girl and lay beside her, the dildo still deep in her body. She rather liked to keep it there for a time, after they had made love. Occasionally her or Beta would reach down and give it a few lazy pumps, keeping the embers of desire glowing for long moments. She would remove it later, wipe it clean, and return it to the secret pocket. It wouldn't do to leave it lying about. Most castle inhabitants would not have guessed its purpose. But Ernestu had a small collection of indecent literature, and just might have known what it was. She couldn't risk that.


Beta snuggled against her, but continued to complain about not being able to use The Staff herself. Lena finally grew weary of her whining, and thought of an amusing way to quiet her, and tighten her hold at the >ame time. The more humiliation the girl was willing to accept for Lena, the closer they would be bound.


Lena said thoughtfully, "Well, if you really must try The Staff, there is a way to do so without losing your virginity."


"How?" Beta sounded eager.


"Do you wish to try it?"


"Yes, please!"


"I warn you, it will be uncomfortable, perhaps as much as your actual deflowering will be at the hands of Draculea." She never missed an opportunity to critisize 'normal' relations.


"I don't care! Anyway, I don't see how it could."


"Very well. You have committed yourself to this. I will not let you back down. Turn on your belly."


Elizabeta obeyed. She watched as Lena moved the dildo in her dripping pussy for a moment, then removed it. It glistened with Lena's juices. "How can you put that in my sex and not break my maidenhead?" she asked curiously.


"Foolish child. Don't you know that God gave you more than one hole?" As she spoke, she had spread the white globes of Beta's ass. Before the girl knew what was going on, Lena had clapped one hand over her mouth. With the other, she rammed The Staff into the girl's rectum.


Beta felt a stabbing, burning pain. It felt as if she were being torn open, split in two. She tried to scream, but her lover's hand was tight against her mouth. Lena did not stop. She twisted The Staff, sliding it deeper into the trembling girl's bowels. The only lubricant she had used was the oils from her own body, and she had not taken the time to gently tease Beta into relaxation, as Vlad had with Nicu. But then, Lena was not making love to Beta now. She was cementing her dominance.


"Quiet, Beta. I know it hurts, but you wanted this. It will be easier to bear in a little while. After a few times, you will even come to enjoy it." Beta moaned as Lena once again began forcing the dildo in. It wasn't easy, given the dryness and tightness of the virgin passage. Lena reflected that it was a good thing that there would be a wagon or carriage to carry the women tomorrow, because her lady wouldn NOT want to mount a horse.


At last Lena stopped, with about six inches of The Staff anally impaling her young lover. She wouldn't force the entire length into her tonight. That might cause damage. She finally took her hand away, and listened to the girl moan, her own sex growing even slicker.


"Take it out, please Lena." There were tears streaking Beta's smooth cheeks.


"No, child. Now that you have it, you must get used to it. You will keep it inside you the rest of the night, and I will remove it in the morning."


"Lena, please, it hurts."


"I warned you, didn't I? Perhaps you will listen to me the next time. Now, be quiet, and sleep." She lay back, listening to the girl whimper.


Every time Beta shifted to try to get more comfortable, the false cock would move in her ass, bringing fresh pain. She tried to sleep, but every so often Lena would grip the base of The Staff and move it a few strokes, fucking her ass. Gradually it did begin to hurt less, but it didn't become pleasureable, as Lena had said.


At last Beta said, "This wasn't what I wanted, Lena."


"I know. You wanted me to fuck you. Very well, if it will make you be quiet."


Lena got up on her knees, throwing a leg over Beta. Beta realized that she was crouched right over the protruding end of The Staff. "Lena! No!"


"Be quiet, Beta." Lena lowered herself till the thick, blunt end of The Staff butted against her vulva. Then she pushed down, taking the short exposed end into her own sex and finding a narrow grip with the circle of her thumb and finger between their bodies. Holding The Staff, she began to move her hips.


It drove the blunt end shallowly in and out of her own cunt. She began to pump back and forth, and soon she was plunging the dildo in and out of Beta's ass as the girl moaned in pain and the beginnings of desire. Lena continued this till she orgasmed again, ramming the rod all the way into Beta's cringing flesh this time.


Leaving it embedded, Lena quickly pumped two fingers into the girl's slit, and rubbed her clitoris hard till she came, muffling her scream by biting the pillow. Finally Lena lay back down again. "There, Beta. That is a little of what a man would do to you, given half the chance. I was only cruel to prepare you, you know that."


Beta kissed her, leaving wet patches on Lena's face from her tears. "I know. Thank you, Lena. You always look after me."


As the girl tried to go to sleep, despite the throbbing agony in her ass, Lena thought smugly. And you will take care of me, Beta, no matter who I have to deal with.


Chapter 16: Lulling

Child of the Night, Part Sixteen

The Year of Our Lord, 1460

Castle Varga, Wallachia

Simion's Room



Simion returned to Nicolae that afternoon but had to leave him alone that evening, going to help Draculea prepare for the evening meal, and waiting on him at table. He did not really like doing that: the boy was far too quiet and subdued to suit him. He had been expecting questions about his lord, the natural curiosity of a young man about a new lover.


Nicolae scarcely spoke at all. He had his rosary, which had been tucked in his belt, and he told the beads ceaselessly, his lips moving silently. His eyes would be closed and the steady, whispered stream would falter. Dark brows would draw together in dismay or frustration. The brown eyes would open to dart around the room, then close, and the litany would begin again.


You have a hard time keeping your mind on your devotions, boy. Simion thought. I would hazard a guess that it is thoughts of my lord that draw your concentration from the spiritual path.


When Simion left, Nicolae got up and dressed, pulling on his cassock. He looked at the drawers, but left them folded. He was much better, but his bottom was still far too tender for him to want any cloth close against it. Once he had this meager token of modesty he thought about going back to his own room, or to the library. But Simion had told him that he was to remain here. "Your father has been warned, boy, but it would be better for you to stay out of his path as much as possible."


Nicolae shuddered. Yes, that was wise. He had remembered most of what had happened the day and night, before, and it frightened him terribly. Ernestu had never shown a carnal interest in him before. It had never occurred to Nicolae that he might.


Oh, Nicolae knew of his father's debauchery. The castle was small. No doubt there were secrets there, but one had to work diligently to keep them. It was well known that Ernestu could not keep well-born pages or squires because of his proclivities. The base born servants, male and female, had no recourse. Most, if not all, had been tumbled in some fashion at some point. But Nicolae had never expected Ernestu to stoop to pursuing his own blood. He never had with his own children. A mark, I suppose, of how close he feels to me, Nicolae thought ironically.


He was pacing again when the door opened. Simion frowned at him as he entered, carrying another tray. It was laden with a plate of rich foods, and a goblet of wine.


Draculea came right behind him. Nicolae froze in the presence of the other man, feeling a wave of cold, then heat sweep over his body. Draculea observed him, his wide mouth quirking slightly. "Well, I suppose I could not keep you naked forever, though the thought is tempting."


He indicated the brown robe, as Simion set the tray on the small table by the bed. "Simion, that rag is offensive. Find something more suitable for him for tomorrow, would you? No doubt one of the higher servants or lesser nobles will have something they will gladly donate." He gave the word 'gladly' a twist, and Simion smirked. No one in the castle was likely to deny Draculea anything he wished.


Draculea went to Nicolae, and stroked the boy's arm, murmuring, "We'll have to make do for a little while, pet. Soon I'll have you dressed in more fitting style."


Nicolae looked at the floor. "Domn, I could not repay you."


"Not in coin, perhaps. But there are other ways to recompense me, sweet." He looked at Simion. "Some warm water, I think, Simion, then you may leave. I trust you to wake us in due time on the morrow." Simion bowed, leaving the room, and Vlad turned his attention back to Nicolae. "Did you sleep well today, pet?" Nicolae nodded. "You were very weary from your ordeal, and I..." He touched the boy's cheek. "I am afraid I did not help you last night. I'm sorry if I wearied you further, but you were quite irresistible."


"Maria Ta..." Nicolae whispered. He turned away from Draculea, pressing against the rough stone of the wall.


"What is it, little one?" He felt the large hands on his shoulders, then gently stroking his back. "You are grieving yourself. Why? I tried so hard not to hurt you. Did I hurt you, Nicu?"


Nicolae shook his head numbly. "Oh, Domn." He swallowed. "I had thought that I had overcome such wicked urges. Nothing but a little brandy, and the devil took hold of me."


Draculea moved up behind him, and Nicolae drew a deep breath as he felt the big body pressing lightly against the length of his own. "No, Nicolae. Do not blame either the spirits, or the devil. You may, if you wish, blame the Son of the Devil. I know that some call me that, though never to my face."


He sighed, and Nicolae felt him nuzzle the nape of his neck. It sent a shiver through him. Draculea whispered against his skin. "You have to forgive me, Nicolae. I should not have taken you so soon, not when you were only half aware and half able to enjoy. But I did my best to make it good for you, pet." His lips grazed over to the side of Nicolae's throat, resting over the spot where his pulse beat strongly beneath the skin. "I believe I succeeded. Your seed was hot and salty, your flesh sweet."


Simion came back in with a large pitcher of warm water. He was not surprised by what he found: he had expected his master to begin seducing the boy as quickly as possible. And the pair scarcely seemed to notice him. Nicolae darted him a glance that was wordlessly pleading, but Simion only shook his head. This is your situation now, boy. You can enjoy it, if you allow yourself. He left quietly.


Draculea was pressing against him more firmly, fitting his loins against the cushion of Nicolae's buttocks. The boy finally tried to squirm away, "Please, Domn."


Draculea pulled back a little. "I'm sorry, child. For a moment I forgot your hurt." He stroked Nicolae's rump lightly. "Is it still very painful?"


Nicolae pulled away from his touch. "I... a little. But it is not that, Domn. You must not."


Draculea ignored his protest. He sat on the edge of the bed and pulled off his boots, then swung his long legs up and took the tray across his lap. Patting the mattress, he said, "Come. Sit and eat." When the boy hovered anxiously, he said patiently. "Nicolae, if I must order you, I will, but it would please me greatly if you would obey without a command."


After another moment's hesitation, Nicolae went and sat on the bed beside Draculea. He tried to stay at the edge, but that was not allowed. "You'll fall off, boy. Closer." Draculea put his right arm around Nicolae's shoulders, and drew him close, leaning back so they were both propped against the wall. "Can you sit like this for a while without discomfort?"


"Yes, Maria Ta."


"Good. Now," he indicated the tray. "I had them fix this from the food prepared for my table." He touched Nicolae's cheek. "Only the best for you, pet."


"Thank you, Domn." he whispered.


Draculea picked up a choice bit of meat and brought it to Nicolae's lips. "Thank me by eating well. Simion said he had to coax you this afternoon."


Nicolae turned his head slightly away. "Domn, I can feed myself. I am not a child."


"Oh Nicolae, how wrong you are. You are a child in so many ways." Draculea put his hand into the soft, dark hair and turned Nicolae back toward him. "You will not deny me this pleasure, Nicu." His touch and voice was gentle, but his eyes said that he would have his way.


Nicolae opened his mouth, and Draculea tucked the morsel inside, then chose another as the boy chewed. Truthfully, Vlad was a little surprised with himself. Oh, he was generally thoughtful of his lovers, seeing that his servants made them comfortable and tended to their needs. But Nicolae was the first one he had ever felt the urge to care for with his own hands.


Draculea spent pleasant moments feeding the boy. As the meal progressed and the plate emptied, his fingers began to linger against Nicolae's mouth after he gave him the food.


The last of the food was a small cake, soaked with honey and smelling deliciously of orange-water. Vlad broke it into small pieces, and again fed Nicolae. This time the boy accepted eagerly, and Draculea smiled. "Yes, you like your sweets, don't you?" When the boy blushed, he said, "There is no shame in that, Nicolae. Your appetites are not so gross as you seem to believe."


When the last crumb was gone, Nicolae sat back with a satisfied sigh, licking smears of honey from his lips. Draculea watched him, eyes almost glowing. Nicolae was surprised when Draculea again brought his hand to the boy's mouth. He pressed his fingers to Nicolae's lips, and the boy felt the sticky smears. "Clean me?" Nicolae stared at the prince, his eyes going round. Vlad ran one slightly rough fingertip over the boy's delicate bottom lip. When he spoke again, his tone was still soft, but firm. "Clean me, Nicolae."


Hesitantly, Nicolae put out his tongue, and lapped at the sweet stickiness. Draculea watched as the boy's warm pink tongue slithered over his fingers, wiping away the last traces of the dessert. As he licked, Nicolae's eyes drifted half shut. When the fingers pressed, slipping into his mouth, he did not pull back, or protest. Closing his eyes the rest of the way, he sucked softly.


When the fingers were removed, Draculea cupped Nicolae's chin, rubbing his thumb over his bottom lip. "Are you thirsty, Nicu?" He offered the goblet.


Nicolae bit his lip. "I do not drink... wine, Domn."


"No? This is not so strong, Nicolae."


He wrinkled his nose slightly, and admitted. "It is not so much that. I do not like the taste."


Draculea smiled. "I think I can teach you to enjoy the taste." Draculea took a sip of wine, then leaned across Nicolae to place the goblet on the table. But he did not sit back. He remained leaning over the boy, and pressed his mouth to Nicolae's. The younger man opened his mouth to protest, and Vlad let the wine trickle from his mouth to Nicolae's. Nicolae tasted the tartness of the wine mingle with the honey he had eaten. Then there was the taste of the prince himself as Draculea's tongue moved into Nicolae's mouth.


The boy moaned deep in his throat. Draculea pulled away for a moment, "One moment, pet. Let me put this aside." He moved the tray to the floor, then reached for Nicolae again.


Nicolae whispered desperately, "Maria Ta, please don't."


He sighed, pressing his forehead against the boy's. "Nicolae, you won't fight me, will you? I don't want to hurt you, I only want to give us both pleasure." His hand moved to the neck of Nicolae's robe, and his fingertip dipped into the hollow made by his collarbones. He bent his head and licked the sensitiva little spot.


Nicolae closed his eyes, feeling helpless. The heat was rising again, despite his fear and shame. "There are so many others who would gladly service you..."


"That's not what I want, sweet Nicu." Draculea moved over him, straddling Nicolae's thighs. He took the boy's hand and pressed it to the front of his breeches, forming it over the bulge that grew there. "This is for you, Nicu. You are all that I want."


Nicolae turned his face away, and his voice was bleak. "Now."


The sorrow in the boy's tone brought Vlad up short. For a moment he was surprised, then almost angry. But that quickly faded as he looked at Nicolae's pale face and downcast eyes. Yes, what else could he believe? When a royal makes advances to one who is little better than a serf, what can he think but that it is no more than a dalliance? An amusement?


The trouble was, Draculea was not sure himself what this thing was that he felt toward the dark haired young man. He knew that he desired Nicolae more than he had ever lusted for anyone else, that much was certain. He also felt very protective of the boy. Ernestu would die for what he had done, and what he had almost done.


He also wanted to care for Nicolae. He had some idea of how harsh and barren of comfort the boy's life had been, and he wanted to do things for Nicolae, give him things. He wanted to see him clothed in soft garments, wanted to feed him rich foods. He wanted to see his eyes light up at the sight of the great library at Castle Draculea. He wanted to spend long moments watching his graceful hands move, transcribing the wisdom of great men. Perhaps most of all, he wanted to be able to awake to find Nicolae in his arms, peaceful and safe.


These were not impulses that Vlad was familiar with. He had taken countless men and women to his bed over the years. He had liked all of them, been fond of many of them, but there was never anyone like Nicu. How had the boy crept into his heart so quickly?


Draculea sat back on the bed, pulling Nicolae once more into his embrace. "I move too fast for you, don't I, little one? It's hard for me. I am not used to one so innocent and tender. I've been ruled by my flesh for so long that it isn't easy to deny myself, Nicolae. So..." he rested his chin on the boy's head. "I must go slowly. Very well. Tonight all I ask it that you let me hold you. Can you do that, boy?"


Nicolae nodded. "I... would like that.


" "Let me put out the lamp." Draculea arose from the bed and snuffed the lamp, then began to remove his clothes.


Nicolae said, "Domn, you said..."


"I do not sleep clothed, boy. It is not healthy. Neither should you. Take off that rag. Do not fear. I will... restrain myself."


Nicolae pulled the cassock over his head, dropping it to the floor. He blushed, even though he knew Draculea could not see him in the darkness. The prince climbed into the bed beside him, and pulled him into his arms. Nicolae turned to him, tentatively draping an arm across the man's broad chest, and Draculea sighed.


As he lay there in the dark, Draculea thought Well, I am either mad, or a fool. I have the boy in my arms, and I do nothing. In fact, Vlad was half aroused, just from the nearness of Nicolae. But he was determined not to do anything further to distance the boy, not this night.


He was almost dozing, when he felt the touch. It was so light that at first he thought it was part of a dream he was to be gifted with. Then he realized that Nicolae was brushing his cheek across Vlad's chest. The boy's skin was not quite as smooth as a girl's. There was the first bare roughening of a beard, just enough to stimulate. Vlad held very still. It was the first caress Nicolae had offered willingly, and he was afraid to respond, lest the boy shy away.


Nicolae hardly knew what he was doing. He only knew that Draculea had stopped this time when he protested, and he was grateful for the consideration. And it was so good to be held like this, almost as if someone actually cared. He only wanted to show his appreciation for the prince's kindness, and understanding. It was such a simple gesture, he had not expected how he, himself, would react to it.


The crisp hair on Draculea's chest tickled, and he smiled to himself in the dark, then repeated the gesture. The prince was so solid, so warm, so alive. Nicolae found himself rubbing his face against the broad chest, listening as the heartbeat that pulsed so close gradually sped up.


Kisses were tokens of respect, weren't they? Respect and gratitude. Nicolae placed a humble kiss on the firms swell of the prince's chest. Then another seemed most appropriate. And another, and...


Nicolae's lips brushed a small, stiff peak, and he paused. There was a groan from the man who held him, and Nicolae's immediate response was to soothe, so he repeated the kiss, making his lips soft against the hardened bit of flesh. Draculea shifted, groaning again. It wasn't enough? What else...?


Of course. He'd seen animals tending a swollen and aching paw, and knew what to try next. He licked carefully, swirling his tongue over the thrusting point. Draculea's voice was hoarse in the darkness. "Jesu, Nicolae. Are you trying to drive me mad? I promised not to take you tonight."


Nicolae moved up to bury his face against Draculea's neck, contrite. "I am sorry, Domn. You have been good to me. I wanted to tend your hurt."


Now he sounded puzzled. "My hurt?"


He gasped as Nicolae took his nipple between his fingers. "You see?" His free hand had been smoothing over Draculea's torso, and passed over the other nipple, fastening on the hard bud. "Oh, and here, too. Swollen, Maria Ta." He was astonished when he felt and heard the quiet rumble of Vlad's laughter. "You must not laugh at sickness, Domn! Should I call Simion? He seems most skilled in tending hurts."


Draculea wiped at his eyes. "Yes, boy, this is the type of hurt that Simion is quite skillful at tending, and he has done so for me, many times. Oh, Nicu, and you say you are not a child!"


"I only meant to help. I am sorry if I am stupid."


"No, sweetheart. Not stupid. Only very young and very new to all this. There is nothing wrong with me, Nicolae. This is a most pleasant type of swelling." Nicolae squirmed as he felt Draculea's hand questing across his chest. "Here." The prince took Nicolae's hand and guided it to his own smooth chest. "Feel."


Nicolae found that his own nipples were as swollen and straining as those of the prince. When he touched them, there was a sharp tingle of pleasure that washed through his body, down to his groin. No wonder the prince had moaned. "Oh..."


Draculea's eyes had adjusted to the dark. His night-vision was excellent, and he could just see the boy. There was an expression of pure wonder on his face as his long fingers plucked lightly at the hard tips of his nipples. Vlad felt his sex begin to harden as he watched the boy pleasuring himself. He reached down and touched himself, stroking his length firmly.


Nicolae needed to be shown that there was no wrong, no shame in physical pleasure, that he could satisfy his desires without the risk of hellfire.


Vlad looked down Nicolae's torso. The thick, pale shaft was beginning to rise from the dark nest of curls that cushioned it. Draculea licked his lips, remembering the thick trickle of fluid he had drawn from it the other night, then the hot gush. But he did not reach for the tempting sex himself. Instead he gently guided one of Nicolae's hands down the boy's own body, pressing it to the warm flesh at his crotch.


Nicolae moaned quietly, and Vlad hardened even further, till he was like stone. He continued to pump himself as Nicolae tentatively caressed himself. He hasn't even done this. Vlad marveled. He doesn't know how to touch himself to achieve the greatest pleasure. "Stronger, Nicu," he whispered. "It's all right. You'll know if you are too rough, but it will feel so much better if your touch is more firm."


The boy gave his shaft an experimental squeeze, and suddenly bucked his hips, throwing himself into his own grip strongly, with a little grunt. Draculea chuckled. "You see? Touch the head, Nicu. Find the liquid that you have made, and use it. Your hand will glide." Nicolae followed his suggestion, smearing the pre-come over his straining flesh. His hand slid more easily, and he gave a cooing sound that made Draculea want to throw him over on his belly and ravish him. But he did not.


Instead he watched as the boy brought himself to a long, shuddering climax, hips arching wildly as his seed sprayed strongly. Draculea cupped his hand over the boy's jerking prick, catching the spunk. Then, slicking it on his own fevered organ, he quickly found his own release.


The boy, panting, lay watching him. At the very end, he mimicked Draculea, holding his hand over the prince's sex as he spewed his lust. Vlad lay, catching his breath, and saw Nicolae peering at his fingers in the darkness. Then he sniffed at them delicately, looking thoughtful. Finally, he tasted the milky drops that clung to his fingers


. "God, Nicu!" Vlad pulled him roughly into his arms, kissing him. The boy's body was pliant, yielding, and Draculea tasted himself in the boy's mouth.


Nicolae, relaxed and sleepy, settled against the older man's side, again resting his head on his chest. So, that is lust. It is not as horrible as I thought. But perhaps that is just because it was with him.


Nicolae sighed. It was such a shame that things could not be different. If he was a noble, perhaps this man could have loved him. As it is Nicolae thought sadly, I must plan for what I will do with Beta away. I cannot remain here after Ernestu... After what he tried to do. I fear he will not be stopped next time. No, I must return to the abbey. The abbot is a kind man. Perhaps he will let me stay on as a lay brother, helping in the labors. And if I work hard, they may let me see the scrolls, sometimes.


Nicolae knew that life would be rough, with little joy or comfort, but he honestly saw no other recourse. He listened to the sleep quiet breathing of the man who held him in his arms, and thought of how nice it would have been to be loved.


Chapter 17: Passage

Child of the Night, Part Seventeen

The Year of Our Lord, 1460

Castle Varga, Wallachia



Nicolae awoke the next morning to Simion jogging his shoulder. "Awaken, sleepy head. My lord has already broken his fast, and is seeing to the disposition of the goods his bride will bring with her."


Nicolae sat up, yawning and stretching. He felt wonderful, completely relaxed. He hadn't known that feeling often in his life. But he was a little sad that the prince would be leaving today. The man had frightened him, but it seemed that he meant Nicolae no harm. Besides, while a rosy blush rose in the boy's cheeks to think of it, he had made Nicolae's body sing. "Yes, I must get up. Elizabeta would be angry if were I not there to say farewell." He was preoccupied with trying to spot his garment, and did not notice the questioning look Simion gave him. "Simion? My cassock?"


"Has been properly burned. Its work here on earth is finished, and it has gone to its reward." Simion laid a pile of clothes on the bed, and set a pair of boots beside them. "This will serve till my lord can acquire more for you."


Nicolae examined each garment. There was a soft, white linen shirt, stockings, loose, dark breeches, and a pair of drawers. He looked at the last item, and picked them up with a glad cry. "Beta's present! I thought they had been ruined."


"Blood is not easy to remove, but it can be done. Will those aggravate your wounds?"


"I do not think so. I am much improved."


"Let me see." When Nicolae hesitated, Simion said briskly. "We have gone over this ground before, boy. I have to be sure that the wounds do not become poisoned." Simion got the jar of ointment again. "Show me." Blushing deeply, Nicolae turned on his side, moving the sheet up.


Simion looked at the boy's buttocks critically. "Yes, much better. They will heal smoothly, as the scabs are already soft. It is now mostly bruising. Hold still." He once again smoothed the ointment on the abused flesh, careful not to press too hard. Then, under pretext of continuing the nursing, he slightly parted the boy's cheeks and looked. His opening was still tiny and pristine. I know my lord. Nature has gifted him generously, and no matter how gentle he was, there would doubtless be some tearing the boy's first time. He did not take him like that last night. My opinion of his self-restraint rises every day. He finished the treatment with a last dab, and went to wipe his hands.


As Nicolae pulled up the pants and tied the lacing, Simion said, "Tie them tightly or you will lose them. I got a pair from the fattest man I could find in the household, so that they would not bind your hurts." Nicolae smiled his thanks, buttoning the shirt. "And try the boots now. I have to see whether they fit."


Nicolae sat on the bed and picked them up, admiring the gleaming leather. "I am sure they will."


"No guessing, boy. If they are too large or too small, I have to replace them immediately. You could not go long in ill-fitting boots without agony. Let me help."


He knelt before the boy and eased first one, then the other foot into the boots. He allowed his hand to linger for a moment on the boy's firm, shapely calf. It was a pleasure to perform such small, subservient tasks for one so pretty, and so appreciative. "Try them."


Nicolae stood up, and made a few steps across the room. He turned quickly, grinning at Simion, and strode back, making the heels rap on the stone floor. Simion returned his smile. "I'm guessing that those are your first boots."


Nicolae nodded, bending down to run a finger over the mellow leather. "They feel wonderful. But I do not know how I will repay the prince for them, and I scarcely need anything so fine for the castle."


"Nicolae, you could not possibly wear those flimsy sandals on the journey."


"Journey?" Nicolae's face lit up. "I am to go see Beta wed?"


Then he hasn't told him. Did he just assume that the boy would know, after the last two nights? Well, if the prince has not seen fit to tell him of his new position, I will not. "Yes, Nicolae. You will see Lady Elizabeta married."


He clasped his hands together, almost bouncing in eager happiness. "I have wanted that so much! I even prayed to the Blessed Virgin to let me, if it was not too much trouble. But I did not think my patron would allow it."


"The prince insisted. He knows how fond you are of the lady."


"Oh, yes! There have not been many in my life who have been truly kind to me, Simion. Beta, a few of the brothers, and now you and... and the prince."


"You think him kind, Nicolae?"


Nicolae became very interested in the toes of his boots again. "I... was afraid of him. I still am... a little. But I do not think he means me harm. He has been... good to me."


"Yes, Nicolae. Prince Draculea has it in him to be kind. It is simply that there are not many who bring out that side of him. Now, what do you want to take with you? You won't need much. No more than what will fill this sack." Simion shook open a canvas bag, and prepared to argue with the boy about the amount he was allowed to bring. Draculea wanted him to have as little as possible to remind him of this place. He wanted to provide everything for him.


The young librarian gave him a sunny smile. "My packing is easily done, Simion. Let us go to my room."


Once there, he took a rosary and a bible from the table, dropping the book into the sack. Then he hung the rosary around his neck, kissing the crucifix before he dropped it under his shirt. "I will wear this."


Simion peered into the bag, then looked at Nicolae. "This is all you want?"


He shrugged. "It is all I own."




"Truly, Simion. That and the cassock and sandals, but I don't want to scrape the ashes from the grate, and I have my boots now. All the scrolls, the ink, the quills... They belong to my patron. Really, this is all I have, but it is all I need. Now..." He patted his stomach. "I must go and feed the lion that has made his lair in my belly before it roars and scares the women."


Simion slowly tied a knot in the bag, watching the boy go. Would that your cheerful mood lasts once you know your new situation, boy. I have never known anyone who had such a low opinion of himself, and deserved it less.


He passed through the kitchen on the way to the courtyard and found Nicolae eating bread and cheese, ignoring the bountiful remains of the meat pies that had fed most of the household that morning. "Nicolae, will you please stop trying to starve yourself!" Simion scolded. He set a well-filled plate before the boy. "Don't you realize how much harder you make it for me when I have to keep wheedling you to eat? You will need your strength for the trip, and if you fall away, I will never hear the end of it."


Simion had judged Nicolae correctly. While the boy tended toward abstention, he could not bear the thought of causing trouble for someone who had done him a kindness. Simion left, satisfied that the boy would eat a hearty breakfast.


Draculea was in the courtyard, supervising the loading of the goods Elizabeta would bring with her. He sighed, indicating the crowd of wagons, draft animals, and mounts. "You'd think I was an Eastern potentate bringing back a treasure train. I don't think I can justify not taking some of Ernestu's men to help guard, but I'll not bring more than three." He eyed Simion significantly. "An easily controled number." Simion smiled his understanding. "So, are Nicolae's things packed and ready to go? I want to leave soon. We'll be moving slowly, and I do not want to waste good daylight."


"Aye, lord. His packing was done quickly."


Draculea did not notice his servant's ironic tone. He gestured to a sturdy horse that already had a number of bundles strapped to its back. "Will it all fit on this one, or do I need to order another beast?"


"I believe it will fit."


"Good. Take all the men you need to carry it. We are almost ready to go."


"No need to trouble the others, Maria Ta. I can handle this myself." Simion stepped up to the horse and tied the bag to the cords that held the other burdens in place.


Draculea looked at the limp sack, then at Simion. "Simion, are you jesting with me?"


"I often jest with you, my lord, but not in this."


"That is all?"


"No, my lord. He has a rosary, but he prefers to keep it on his person. That is his bible."


Draculea hefted the sack, feeling its meager weight, then looked again at the rest of the caravan. He turned burning eyes on Simion. Varga, I did not think it was possible for you to fall further into disfavor, but I believe you have managed it.


"A book and his beads, that is all he has to show in material goods for eighteen years on this earth? Simion, the trousseau Varga sends with his daughter fills two wagons and burdens three more horses, and this is all he gives his son?" Draculea's voice dropped to a growl. "It will be a joy to kill the vermin."


"Softly, lord, softly." Simion glanced around cautiously, but those around them were busy. "Varga is unlikely to be loved by his people, but loyalty can be inspired by fear, also. We do not know how sharp the ears of his followers are, nor how diligently they guard his well-being. Such matters are better left unspoken."


"Wise counsel, as usual, Simion." Draculea pulled on his gloves with vicious tugs, working his hands into fists in a manner that spoke eloquently of what he would like to do to his future father-in-law. "See to it that Nicolae is comfortably placed in the wagon with the cook. I've had some cushions put in for him, and make sure he doesn't give them all away to the other man. I know him well enough by now to know he'll think first of the other's comfort. I must go and escort my bride to her seat."


Nicolae was already making his way to the courtyard, and Simion met him in the halls, urging him along. The boy was eating an apple, crunching as he hurried to the courtyard. Simion reflected that this was the happiest and most relaxed he had ever seen Nicolae. In his new clothes, well fed and cheerful, he looked as fine as any young noble. It may be wise that my lord places him with the cook instead of with Elizabeta and her ladies. I think he would make a few hearts beat faster.


In the courtyard Simion took Nicolae to the wagon that would be just behind the one carrying Beta and her ladies. The cargo wagon was open, not closed like the passenger one, but there was a heavy piece of canvas that could be secured over it in case of foul weather. As Draculea had predicted the first thing Nicolae did after greeting the cook was try to press the fattest cushion on him. The cook noted Simion's warning glance and refused graciously. Nicolae settled himself and watched the rest of the activity with lively eyes.


Draculea came from the castle, leading Elizabeta by the hand. The girl was dressed in sturdy, but rich, traveling clothes, her hair modestly covered by a cloth to keep out the dust of the road. She was followed by her ladies, all similarly dressed, and so excited that it was a surprise that some of them did not faint. Surely the excitement would fade after a few hours on the road.


Elizabeta spotted Nicolae in the wagon, and threw him a quick smile as Draculea handed her up to her seat. Her two youngest ladies noted her look, and began whispering to each other almost frantically. They craned their necks to see him as they mounted the wagon, amazed that this fair young man was the same quiet, plain librarian they were accustomed to ignoring. Nicolae was perfectly innocent of the interest he had aroused.


He had also aroused interest that he would have been better off without. Ernestu noted his daughter's gaze. When his eyes lit on Nicolae, the man frowned. The last time he had seen his bastard son, the boy had been bruised, bloody, and completely humbled. Now...


The cook said something to Nicolae, and the boy laughed excitedly. He was a picture of youth, joy, and beauty. Ernestu had his pick of the servants in his household, but they were all of obvious peasant stock: coarse and sturdy. Nicolae... The blood Ernestu would have denied leant the boy a fineness that his harsh life could not erase.


Before it had been just a craving based on convenience, but now Varga felt his lust rise up in earnest. There had to be some way for him to have the boy before he returned after the wedding. He would just have to look for his chance.


At last they were ready to leave. Draculea, Simion, Ernestu, and the guards were all mounted. It was a matter of honor for Draculea to ride behind the advance guards, leading the party. Ernestu, as second in rank, came next, and the rest of the party ranged behind.


As they moved out of the castle gates, Nicolae took his rosary from around his neck and calmly began telling his beads, letting the familiar litany lull him into a peaceful near trance as the wagon jolted and swayed down the road.


The cook watched him curiously. So, this was Prince Vlad's new lover. Everyone in the castle knew it, except possibly the spoiled daughter of the household.


There were very few things hidden in such a close environment. When the cook had first heard it he had been skeptical. He knew Nicolae as only a shadowy, humble presence in the castle. The librarian was scorned by Ernestu and his attendants, treated with off-hand, careless affection by Lady Elizabeta (when she could be bothered), and mostly ignored by the rest of the household. This young man seemed totally different. The cook could well imagine that he might become the favorite of royalty.


Well, good enough. He isn't so high and mighty as some might be. He seems to have a good heart. And it isn't beyond chance that he might remember kindness.


The cook took a small cloth from his bag of belongings, and nudged Nicolae. Nicolae finished an Ave and looked at him questioningly. The cook opened the kerchief and offered it to him. "Sugared almonds?"


Nicolae's eyes brightened as he reached for the offered candy, and the cook smiled.


Chapter 18: Traveling

Child of the Night, Part Eighteen

The Year of Our Lord, 1460

Romania, On the Road



Father Mircea was mounted also, having declined a place in one of the wagons. "I have a fine mule. Let the space go to someone else who doesn't." In any case, he liked the idea of being able to range up and down the length of the caravan, speaking with the various members of the party.


Not long after they were away from the castle, he checked in on Lady Elizabeta and her women. The young girls were much more subdued than they had been when they boarded the wagon. Though it was the sturdiest, with the best balance and cushioning, and the road was well maintained, none of the gentlewomen were used to traveling. It was not unusual for someone to be born, live their entire lives, and die and be buried without going outside a ten mile span.


Next he located Nicolae in the second cart. The boy looked wonderful. Mircea had always known that he was handsome, and the new clothes were a proper foil for his youthful good looks. But it wasn't just the garments that made a difference. Nicolae's features were animated, his eyes bright as he chatted to the castle cook who shared the wagon's bed with him. Here is how he might have looked if he had never known his father, Mircea thought. Blessed Virgin, you look after innocents. Let this go well for him? He is such a sweet soul, and Ernestu will kill him, physically or spiritually, if he remains at Castle Varga.


Nicolae saw Mircea, and greeted him gaily. "Father, you fare well? You aren't tired yet, are you? You can ride with us, if you are. There is plenty of room, and I have cushions..."


"No, Nicolae. I do very well on Patience." He patted the mule's neck. The beast stretched its neck toward Nicolae, large dark nostrils quivering, and gave a questioning bray. Mircea laughed. "You've been feeding her treats again, Nicolae. Now she expects it."


"Yes, Patience. Just a moment." Nicolae reached back into the wagon and came up with an apple core. He leaned out toward the mule, offering it on his palm. The beast took it from him delicately, velvet soft lips brushing his palm and making him laugh.


"Nicolae." Simion rode up behind Mircea, frowning. "Careful, boy. If you fall and break you neck the prince will break mine for not watching you."


"Yes, Simion." The boy sat back dutifully, but not until he had stroked the mule's nose again.


Father Mircea nodded to Simion, and indicated with a subtle movement of his head that he wished to speak to him farther up, out of earshot of the boy. Simion followed him, drawing along side to pace him. Mircea studied the man for a short distance, then said. "You are the prince's man."


"I am that."


"He entrusts you with many things, unless I am mistaken."


"Yes." The priest has something he wishes to say or know.


"Including the care of his possessions?"


"That is so." Yes, old man. Go on and speak what is on your mind.


Mircea stared over his mount's head, not looking at Simion. "Would that include Nicolae?"


"It most particularly includes him." Simion waited for the disgust and outrage.


It didn't come. "Good. He needs someone to care for him. He's had little enough of it in his life to this point, and I fear things would only worsen if he were to stay at Castle Varga. Ernestu has scented him now, and the boy will have no peace in his keeping. If Ernestu can keep the boy in his power..." The priest flushed, but if it was from embarrassment or anger, Simion could not say. "...I would fear for his body and his mind"


"Not his soul? I thought that was your main concern."


Mircea looked at Simion, as if surprised that the man did not understand. "No one can touch his soul, Simion. That will remain as gentle, sweet, and pure as a dove. I won't say he's a saint." Mircea smiled. "He loves this world too much for that. No, he doesn't long to discard it so quickly in favor of the next."


"You care about him a great deal."


Simion's tone was mild, but Mircea heard the hinted question. "Like a favored child." He shook his head. "Your master has nothing to fear from me. I long ago crushed the embers of fleshly desires, and I will not try to turn the boy from him by railing of sin and hellfire. I only want Nicolae to be safe, and happy. Can your master give him that?"


"He can, priest. He will, if the boy allows him."


"But for how long, Simion?" Mircea glanced back at the wagon. Nicolae was once again telling his beads, his long fingers moving slowly, his gentle face placid. "If he knows tenderness, then is sent away, it will kill him. Even worse to be kept on and pushed aside in favor of another."


"I can assure you of nothing, Father. But from what I have seen, I think you need not fear. Draculea is a worldly man. Though he has taken many to his bed, never has he taken one into his heart. Nicolae has a place there, if the boy is willing."


"I will pray, Simion. The boy has so much love to give, and up till now no one to lavish it upon. Oh, there's Beta, but..." He sighed. "I don't want to speak ill of her, but the chit is self-involved to a fault. And she listens to the wrong people, people I fear have no great love for her brother."


"So?" This interested Simion.


But Mircea again shook his head. "Those are matters of the confessional, Simion, and may not be spoken of outside its holy confines."


"As you will, Father." It shouldn't be too hard to figure out. You seem worried of a continuing influence, and we do not bring many with us from her home.


Simion rode farther ahead, pulling up to the wagon that contained Elizabeta and her ladies. There were shutters to cover the windows in case of foul weather, but these were raised. He peered inside. None of the four women looked best pleased by their situation, though the one called Abul seemed the most sour. "Ladies, you fare well?"


Before Elizabeta could respond, Lena snapped, "We are jolted half out of our senses, and near choked with the dust. How long till we may take a rest?"


Simion's eyebrows climbed. "Lady, we have scarce begun. The prince will not call a halt till time to break fast at mid-day. Even then, it will be brief. Granted, the longer we take to arrive, the more preparations will be finished for the nuptials, but he is not a man who is patient with delays." Before Lena could protest further, he put his heels into his horse's side and urged it forward. That one will bear watching.


The day progressed, and the troupe moved more slowly than Draculea would have thought, or liked. At this rate they would have to spend two nights sleeping on the road, and would arrive at Castle Draculea at dusk or twilight of the next day. He was eager to get Nicolae to his new home, and his bed, and to get the nonsense and pomp of the wedding out of the way.


At midday they broke their fast. The horses were tethered where they could crop lush grass, and the servants brought them buckets of water to slake their thirst. Draculea was careful of every living thing in his care, Father Mircea noted with approval.


Draculea had spent his time at the head of the line, fulfilling his duties as leader, but now he was ready to relax a bit. He moved among his men, saying a word here and there, slapping a shoulder, letting them know that they were appreciated. Draculea could be a hard master, but he was a fair one to those who served him with diligence and loyalty.


At last he went to where a cloth had been spread in the shade of a great tree, and Elizabeta and her ladies were taking their meal. The priest and Ernestu sat with them. Vlad looked around for Nicolae, and finally located the boy, sitting with the servants. He frowned at this, but perhaps it was best. He was better off away from that whoreson, Ernestu.


He gestured to the ladies to remain seated as he approached, in consideration of their weariness. "Please, ladies. We are informal here on the road. Ceremony can wait while we are in the open air." Draculea did not stop Ernestu from struggling to his feet, however, though he quickly motioned for him to sit again. He felt no urge to set the man at his ease.


Vlad sank gracefully to sit beside his fiancee, accepting the goblet of wine she offered him. "How do you fare, Beta?"


He noticed that she glanced at her senior lady's maid before speaking to him. "This is the longest journey I have ever taken, Prince, and I find it tiring and uncomfortable."


Draculea shrugged. "Nothing more can be done, lady. Only the Eastern potentates, who are carried in litters, travel more smoothly than you. And as for the length of the journey, it is not even a third gone. You must gird yourself to endure."


Lena looked darkly at the prince, but smoothed her expression when he returned her gaze. That is not the right attitude, she thought. You will have to be more solicitous by far, Prince Draculea. But the training can wait until after the ceremony. I must not risk you simply sending us back, for you might very well do that, I think, despite what is expected of you.


Lena knew very well how lucky Beta, and by extension herself, was to have secured this marriage. If Draculea had chosen to take the time to consider all possibilities, he could have chosen among many women who were just as young and beautiful as Elizabeta, and perhaps more wealthy and well-born.


Draculea ate a wedge of cheese while Abul leaned over and whispered to Beta. His future bride nodded, then turned to him. "We wish to bathe this evening, before the meal."


Draculea cocked an eyebrow. Mm. That had more the air of an order than a request. His tone was equanimous. "An excellent idea, lady, if we can reach the area I am thinking of before even fall. There is a fresh spring there with a sandy bottom, perfect for bathing."


Elizabeta looked startled. "Oh, no. Bathe in open water? No, the servants may set my bath up in the shielded wagon. My ladies may use it after me."




Beta's cheeks pinked. "My bath. The great tub of copper."


"Oh, that. Yes, if I recall correctly the servants were packing such an item. I told them to remove it from the cart."


"What?" The exclamation was from Lena Abul, and she quickly lowered her voice. "I am sorry, Prince Draculea. I had seen to that particular item being included myself, and did not... did not expect to be countermanded."


Draculea shrugged. "I am being most generous in allowing my bride to bring what she needs for a comfortable life, but she did not need that. There are baths enough at my castle, and we did not need an added burden on our journey. You need not fear for your modesty, lady. The spring is well shielded by brush and trees. The women can bathe first, then any man who wishes. Now, if you will excuse me." He stood, brushing his hands. "I want to see to the rest of our band before we proceed."


Now, finally, Draculea went where his heart had been urging him. He strolled to the little knot of servants who were seated beneath another tree, at a fair distance from the gentry. All of these leapt to their feet at his approach; there was no question of lax etiquette here. Indeed, the more humble travelers would have been uncomfortable if Draculea had seemed overly familiar.


Again he gestured for them to sit, and they did. Nicolae lingered a bit longer than the others before dropping back to sit. Draculea stood beside him, looking down. The bright sunshine picked out glints in his glossy hair, like the sheen on a raven's wing. Draculea tried to speak casually, but there was a particular warmth in his tone when he addressed the boy. "How fare you, Nicolae?"


He tipped a shy smile up at Draculea that made the older man's heart catch. "I am well, Domn. This is a great adventure. Never have I been so far from my birthplace, not even when I went to live with the friars."


"I am happy you enjoy this, Nicolae." He glanced back at the party he had left. "There are others among us who are not at all content with their present state."


Nicolae followed his look and, as was his habit, made excuses for his half-sister. "Well, Maria Ta, she is a woman, after all, and a lady. They are not used to such rigors. Can we fault her when it is we men who cosset them, and protect them from all the harshness of life that we may?"


Boy, should she spit in your face, you would claim she did it only to give you drink. Draculea squatted beside him. He noticed the faint pink rising in the boy's face, and thought, Let it be because of me. Let my nearness bring the sweet blood to his cheeks. Aloud he said, "I think tonight we camp near a spring, Nicolae. Would you like to bathe?"


"Oh, yes!" he said swiftly. "Domn, I have missed that so much since I returned to Castle Varga. In the monastery we bathed each week, perhaps even more often if our labors had been great."


"And you stopped at Varga's?"


"I tended myself with my basin, lord."


"But why not bathe?"


"There was no means nearby, save for the pond in the garden."


"Nicolae, I know that there was at least one bathing vessel in the castle. I have almost been scolded for leaving it behind."


He regarded Draculea with surprise. "But that belonged to the family."


He felt another brush of anger. "You were not allowed to use it?"


He shook his head. "I asked once, when I first returned. My patron told me to bathe in the horse trough, as the chickens did." Draculea felt a sting of pain, and realized that he had dug his nails into his palms. Nicolae did not notice, but continued speaking. "That was far too public. But..."


He looked at the ground, the blush rising even hotter. "I will confess that there were times when I couldn't stand it anymore. I had to feel the pure water all over my body. Late at night, while the castle slept, I would go to the pond and bathe."


The image arose in Draculea's mind of Nicolae, naked under moonlight, bathing himself in the dark quiet of the garden pond. He knew that the thought would haunt him until he had seen it with his own eyes, instead of just imagining it. "You will have your bath tonight, Nicolae."


Draculea arose and called his company back to their respective mounts or seats. It was time to recommence their journey. He was more determined than ever to reach the spring before nightfall.


Chapter 19: Ablution

Author's Notes:Barbarism and barbarity. The English word barbarism is used to refer to ignorance or crudity in matters of taste. On the other hand, barbarity, refers to savage brutality or cruelty in actions.


Child of the Night, Part Nineteen

The Year of Our Lord, 1460

Wallachia, On the Road



It was dusk when they came to the area Draculea had been speaking of. There was a lush grove of trees and brush a hundred yards or so from the road. The party made camp quickly. The tent for the women was set up in the most sheltered area, under a large tree, with another beside it for Ernestu. The wagons were drawn up around them.


"You have no tent?" Ernestu asked Draculea.


The prince shrugged. "I saw no need for the added burden. I have often slept in the field with my men: this will be no great hardship." He turned away, dismissing the man, to speak to Elizabeta. Indicating the grove, he said, "There is your bathing spot, Lady. I have been here before. It is small, but lovely: very clean, very clear, with a sandy bottom instead of mud."


Elizabeta glanced at Lena, then said regally, "We will wait until we arrive at Castle Draculea. I will not bathe in the open air like... like a barbarian."


"As you wish. I myself have no problem with a bit of barberism." His eyes glittered as he looked at Lena. "Or, indeed, with barbarity. I will bathe later, after supper. And speaking of that meal, I will go and check its progress."


He knew well enough that the meal was progressing apace. The Varga cook had martialled his men to find wood and haul water, and was already preparing several tempting smelling dishes over two large fires. Nicolae hovered by him, fetching spices and herbs when asked. Draculea smiled when he saw the boy, sniffing hungrily, stretching his neck slightly toward the fire where a pot of something good bubbled. "Niclolae."


He turned to the prince, and Draculea was gratified to see the small, shy smile. "My prince."


He put a hand on the boy's shoulder, turning him and pointing out the trees. "There. That is where the spring I told you of lies. I will bathe tonight. Come with me?"


He nodded. "Yes, Maria Ta. I long to feel the water."


Draculea's hand slid up to massage the back of his neck. There was no one nearby, and he whispered, "I long to feel you, Nicu."


"Domn," Nicolae's voice was just as soft, but this time it was not as distressed as it had been the other times Draculea voiced his desires. "You should not."


Draculea continued rubbing, watching as the boy's eyelids slowly drooped to half-mast. "I think I make progress, Nicu. This time you tell me I should not, rather than I must not." He gave the boy a gentle shake before releasing him. "We shall see."


That evening, Nicolae again ate with the servants, and Draculea ate with his bride and her party. He managed to remain civil, but it was a struggle. Elizabeta was turning out to be less than he had hoped. She seemed interested only in gossiping, and about the most frivolous subjects. Judging from her cutting remarks about some of the lesser members of her former household, her sweet, soft exterior hid something more stinging than Draculea had suspected. He noted that the Abul woman seemed to aggravate this fault, subtly goading Beta to ever more acid jibes against others. Then there was Ernestu.


The older man had enough sense to not try to engage Draculeain conversation, but his very presence... nay, his very existence was gauling. And Draculea did not miss the way he watched Nicolae when he thought himself unobserved. All through the meal he stole glances at the boy as he sat a few yards away, laughing and murmuring with the common men. You hunger, old man, but not for the food in your dish. I know that you have your eyes on a more succulent, dainty morsel. He's taken, dog. He's mine, and you had best remember that. Your fate is sealed. You are dead, but I plan to let you see your daughter wed. I only hope you do nothing to force my hand before I am ready.


When the meal was done, Simion approached Nicolae. "My master bids you attend him at his bath, Nicolae."


Ernestu had been hovering nearby, waiting a chance to speak to the boy. "But are you not Draculea's man? Why do you not attend your lord?"


Simion's reply was chilly. While remaining scrupulously civil, it held warning. "I am Draculea's man, and so I do not question his orders." He turned back to Nicolae. "Come with me, boy."


From one of the wagons, Simion took two large, soft cloths, and what looked like a stone. He led Nicolae toward the grove. "My lord often bathes in a stream or spring. His father..." Simion shrugged. "The elder Dracul was bathed when he was born, and when he died. He felt that bathing weakened the blood."


"I have not noticed that, Simion, though I know full well that its lack strengthens smell." Simion laughed in delight. When he had seen the broken, bleeding young man in the lower halls of Castle Varga he would never have guessed that he might hide an impish sense of humor. Yes, he would be good for Draculea. His master was entirely too grim at times.


At the edge of the grove, Simion pointed out a narrow path that wound through the concealing brush and trees. "Follow the path, Nicolae. It will take you to the spring."


"But Simion, you do not come?"


"No, boy. I stay here to watch the path, and turn away those who might pry." As he spoke, he glanced back at the camp. Ernestu sat by the fire, staring after them. Simion pushed the cloths and stone into Nicolae's hands. "Take these to him."


Nicolae draped the cloths over his arm. "These I understand well enough, but this..." He examined the stone curiously. It wasn't exactly a stone, he saw, but a lump of some smooth, pale, waxy substance. He sniffed experimentally, and looked at the older man in surprise. "It smells of flowers."


"It is called soap, Nicolae. It is quite new, only now becoming fashionable in royal courts. Usually my lord does not bother with the passing fancies of society, but this he likes."


Nicolae turned it over in his hand, intrigued. "What do you do with it?"


"You use it to cleanse yourself." When he saw the confused look, he continued. "You wet it. Nicolae, have you seen beer foam when it is poured roughly?" The boy nodded. "The soap makes foam like that, and the foam cleanses the body." Again the boy looked at the soap doubtfully. He couldn't imagine cleaning with beer foam. Simion smiled at his bewilderment. "My lord will show you. Just remember, it becomes very slippery. Now go." Nicolae looked past Simion, his eyes straying to where his patron glared after him. Simion said softly, "Do not think of him, Nicolae."


"But Simion, he is my guardian. He..." The boy's expression puckered anxiously once again, and Simion sighed inwardly. "He is tolerent now, but when we return to Castle Varga..."


"Nicolae." Simion touched the boy's shoulder, drawing his gaze away. "Wipe him from your mind. Think only of the prince. Can you do that?"


Nicolae hesitated, then said quietly, "I will try." He started down the path. Simion positioned himself in the center of the walkway, turning back to face the camp.


The trees of the grove were close growing, their branches entertwining over Nicolae's head so that he seemed to walk down a narrow green tunnel. When he stepped out into the open air, he blinked. It suddenly seemed brigh, almost as bright as day, with the beams of the great, full moon streaming down to reflect off the water of the spring.


Draculea was sitting on the sandy bank, arms wrapped around his drawn up knees, watching the fireflies that darted across the grass nearby. He looked up, smiling, when Nicolae approached, and gestured toward the silvered water. "What think you, librarian?"


"It is beautiful, Maria Ta. So peaceful, almost as if we are the first men to venture here." He came slowly to where Draculea sat, his gaze roaming the clearing. "Or as if we were the only ones in the world."


Draculea stood, his long body uncoiling from the ground, and looked down at the boy standing before him. He reached out to caress a cheek still smooth, unroughened by a man's beard. He tipped Nicolae's face up, and studied him. The great, tilted eyes were even darker in the moonlight, mysterious pools. "Yes, Nicolea, let that be the way of it. We are alone in the world at this moment. Nothing exists outside this place: neither country, nor man, nor God. Only we two."


He bent toward the boy. This time Nicolae did not pull away. To Draculea's delight, he did not close his eyes, either. They remained open as their mouths touched.


Draculea kissed him lightly at first, waiting to see his reaction. The boy just remained still, his breath warm against Draculea's lips. Vlad cupped the back of his head with one large hand, held his chin in the other, and pressed more insistantly.


With a sigh, Nicolae's lips parted. Draculea ran the very tip of his tongue over them, then flicked it into the the boy's mouth, shallowly. Nicolae gave a small, muffled laugh.


Draculea pulled back and looked at him, and the boy smiled. "It tickles."


Draculea laughed, pressing his head briefly to the boy's shoulder, then pushed him away and pulled his shirt over his head. "Remove your garments, Nicolae, and we will bathe."


Draculea made quick work of his own clothing so he could enjoy watching Nicolae strip. Whereas the prince had discarded is clothes with the carelessness of one who has never had to concern himself with such matters, Nicolae carefully folded each article, laying them in a neat pile beside his boots. When he came to his drawers, he hesitated, glancing shyly at Vlad. Draculea said nothing, made no move, and finally the boy pushed the drawers down his slim hips and stepped out of them.


In the weak lamplight of Simion's room, Nicolae's skin had seemed like pale gold. Now it was silvered by the moonlight. Yes, he was all silver and black, with the darkness of his eyes and hair. As Draculea stared, Nicolae moved his hands to cover his crotch, shielding his sex from Draculea's hungry eyes. Vlad smiled. The boy's modesty was fetching, but he would cure him of that soon enough.


Vlad realized that Nicolae was returning his stare. He felt a spark of heat as the boy's eyes roamed over him. Draculea did not hide himself as Nicolae did: he presented his body proudly for the boy's inspection. He was not vain, but he knew that he had a body to be desired. He said quietly, "What are you thinking, Nicu?"


The boy's eyes flickered. "You called me beautiful, Maria Ta."


"Yes, Nicolae. I meant it."


"But my lord, you..." He lifted his hand, reaching toward Draculea. But before he touched him, he stopped, biting his lip. "You... The good book tells us that we are made in God's image. Looking at you, Domn, I can truly believe."


Draculea was tempted to pull Nicolae down to the sandy ground and take him, then and there. But no. Perhaps the boy would not fight him, but he would still be frightened, and unsure. Draculea wanted the first time he entered him to be nothing but pleasure. They would be at Castle Draculea tomorrow, if they hurried. He could be wed the next day, get the consumation out of the way, and turn his full attention on Nicolae.


"Come, Nicolae." The boy followed him as he waded out into the water, stopping when it lapped up aboout his hips.


Nicolae looked at the soap he was holding, then offered it to Draculea, skepticism clear in his voice as he said, "Simion says you use this to wash?"


"You haven't seen soap before, Nicolae?"


"No, Maria Ta."


He smiled. "You will like it. Give it to me." Nicolae handed over the lump, and watched as Draculea dipped it in the water, then began to rub it between his palms.


The boy's eyes grew round as the white lather spread over the prince's hands. "Simion spoke truly. It foams like beer." He took the soap hesitantly when Draculea offered it to him, and mimiced the prince's actions. He was amazed when the foam bubbled up to cover his own hands.


"Now, like this." Draculea spread the lather over his shoulders and chest, and down his belly. Nicolae did the same. He grinned in delight as his hands slipped and slid in the lather. They passed the soap back and forth, scrubbing it over legs and arms.


Draculea called Nicolae to him. He put the soap in the boy's hands, then grasped them in his own, and worked the soap until both of their hands were thickly slathered in white and turned away from Nicolae. The boy understood, and began to wash his back.


Draculea relished the boy's touch as Nicolae rubbed away the tension that had settled in his back and shoulders during the day's ride. Then Draculea abruptly sank beneith the water, ducking himself. When he came back up, the said, "Your turn now."


Nicolae turned from him, and Draculae worked up another lather, then tossed the soap on the grass. He put his hands on the boy's shoulders, then ran them the length of his back. Nicolae shivered slightly, but did not move. Vlad washed him slowly, enjoying the shift of muscle beneith the velvety skin. He moved closer to the boy, and put his arms around him, letting his hands glide up and around.


He found Nicolae's nipples, and began to stroke them softly. Nicolae sighed again. He touched Draculea's arms, but did not push them away. Instead, his hands rested lightly on Vlad's forearms. Vlad pinched softly, bending to nibble at the junctor of his young lover's neck and shoulder.


Draculea moved even closer. Nicolae gasped as the prince's hard member nudged against his buttocks, and Draculea whispered, "No, sweet one. Not tonight, not here. That is for later." His hands glided down to cover the boy's stirring prick. "I only want to touch you now. Relax." He stroked gently, his hands sliding easily in the soap.


Nicolae pushed back the worries about how the Church would view such an act, and what Draculea might want from him later, and allowed himself to enjoy this moment. He was supported by the solid body behind him, and the strong arms around him. The hands that moved on his sex were warm, firm, and knowledgable. Soon he was thrusting his himself into the tight grip.


Draculea paused in his manipulations to rub one hand quickly over Nicolae's buttocks, slicking them with the soap. Then he resumed pumping the boy's turgid member, and began humping against the smooth flesh of his rump. Nicolae whimpered, his fingers digging into Vlad's forearms as he felt the heated flesh slipping into the crease of his flesh. "Calm," Draculea whispered. "I promised you, Nicu. Not yet." He moved, relishing the tight press of the boy's cheeks. "Soon, little one. Soon."


Feeling his orgasm approaching, Nicolae instinctively ground himself against Draculea's arousal. The feel of the hard length of Draculea's prick sliding over the tender skin that lined his crease, brushing over the sensitive pucker that marked his back opening, was intense. He came, his seed glimmering milkily in the moonlight as it splattered the water.


Draculea groaned, shifting his grip to Nicolae's hips, and pumped against him with hard, fast strokes. He had to move quickly, because the temptation to spear into the boy was so great. He came with a few strokes, clutching Nicolae tight and shuddering, spraying his semen in a hot wash over the boy's buttocks.


He held Nicolae for a few more moments, then dipped up handfuls of the cool water to wash away the evidence of their passion. He led the weak legged boy back to the shore. There he took one of the cloths and wrapped Nicolae in it, drying him tenderly.


Nicolae sat on the grass while Vlad toweled himself. By the time he was done, the boy had curled on his side, dozing lightly. Draculea watched him for a moment, then shook his shoulder gently.


"Mm?" Nicolae murmured.


"Dress, child. You cannot sleep here."


Nicolae stretched, then looked at Draculea with dreamy eyes. "You could lie with me, Domn."


Draculea felt his heart squeeze. "Not tongiht, pet, but I'd like that. We need to get back to camp, or tongues will wag."


"Oh." Nicolae sat up quickly, suddenly awake, and reached for his clothes.


Draculea noted the blush that flamed up the boy's cheeks. He realized what the others of the party might think, and he was ashamed. It saddened Draculea. He wanted his relationship with Nicolae to be easy for the boy. Well he thought as he dressed himself, It will be different when I have him at home, and am rid of Ernestu. He will see that he is an honored member of my household. I will show him that he has a place in my court, and my heart.


Chapter 20: Retribution

Child of the Night, Part Twenty

The Year of Our Lord, 1460

Castle Draculea, Wallachia



They arrived at Castle Draculea near sunset. Even in the waning light it was easy to see the frantic preparations taking place. The castle was thronged with extra servants and guests who had arrived early and would be staying the night. There was room for all: Castle Draculea was spacious, and the provender was always ample.


Elizabeta tried to act unimpressed when she was shown her chambers but her pleasure could not be disguised. They were well situated, spacious, and richly appointed. A giggling maidservant indicated to her the discreet door in one corner that led to the short hall connecting her bedroom with Draculea's. Lena noted sourly that there was no lock on her door, but she ventured to guess that there was one on his.


Beta finally got her bath, with Lena scolding the household staff to bring fresh hot water several times. She took her meal in her room, as Draculea's friends were having a bit of a celebration in the great hall, saying farewell to his bachelor state--nothing huge, since the wedding was to take place the next day.


There were some twenty of what could be considered his closest friends and as many of his most trusted men in attendance. Ernestu was included. Draculea did not want him there, but did not very well see how he could exclude him without causing a scandal.


Nicolae had tried to beg off. He was shy, and the idea of being in such a crowd of strangers (who would most likely be the worse for drink) made him uncomfortable. But Simion told him pointedly that the prince himself had requested his presence, so he could not refuse.


The party was lively, though not as boisterous as some. There were many toasts to the groom, and to the bride, most of them only slightly obscene. Nicolae was kept in a constant state of blush by the ribald comments of the company, and the free-spirited groping of the giggling wenches who served them. At one point he found himself with a lapful of wiggling girl, and the room roared at his astonished expression.


Draculea did not enjoy the festivities as he might have. He would have been perfectly content if he could have had Nicolae by his side or, better still, on his lap. But that would have been too indiscreet, so he allowed the boy to sit halfway down the table, and kept a close eye on him.


As he had known, Nicolae was attracting attention. His good looks and simple modesty drew the more jaded members of Draculea's court, but Simion had let the household know that the new librarian was special to the prince, and there was nothing but speculation so far. Very few men were stupid enough to consider poaching on the territory of Vlad, The Impaler.


They did, however, exist. Ernestu could not keep his eyes off the boy. I had that under my roof, and I never noticed. Damn. I might have bargained harder with the prince if I had known. Perhaps when he tires of the whelp I can have him back. Yes, I'm sure that Draculea is a man of varied tastes. He'll tire of him once his dewiness begins to fade, and that shouldn't be long. I can offer to take him off his hands. Besides, once he beds my daughter, I've no doubt she can turn his interests. He'll be preoccupied with producing heirs.


Nicolae soon rose, and bowed to the prince. "Prince Draculea, I beg your permission to seek my bed. I fear that I am not used to travel, and I would like to be fresh for the ceremony tomorrow."


"You would leave me so soon?" There was a hint of wistfulness in Draculea's tone.


Nicolae answered with perfect seriousness. "Oh, no, prince. It is not that I wish to leave your presence. It is only that this flesh with which the Lord has gifted me is weak, and needs slumber."


"Go, then. Gentle dreams." Vlad watched him leave, longing in his heart. But he felt a chill, then a flush of hot rage as Ernestu got up and followed him out. Resisting the urge to spring after them and beat the man to death before all his guests, he called Simion over. "Simion..."


"I saw, my lord. I will attend to it."


"Just get him away from the boy, don't do anything... permanent. Leave that for me. I look forward to it." Simion hurried out. He knew where Nicolae's assigned room was, and he started for it.


He found them not far from the great hall, and was glad that he had followed as quickly as he did. The change in the boy's demeanor in the few moments he had been out of Simion's presence was dramatic. The cheerful liveliness was gone. He was pale, and his eyes had taken on the alarming dullness that Simion had seen after his beating.


Ernestu had hold of the boy's arm, and Simion could see his fingers biting into the flesh. He heard the older man's hissing tones as he approached them. "...still your guardian, boy. You'll do as I say. I want you in my room in an hour. None of your false, blushing modesty. I know what you've been up to with the prince. I'm not a fool."


That, Simion thought, is highly debatable. "Nicolae, there you are." Both heads jerked toward Simion. There was a flare of hope in Nicolae's eyes, and a spark of rage in Varga's. Simion stopped near them, and bowed his head to Varga. "I thank you for stopping him, Domn. The prince has asked that the boy stay in my room, as there is pressing need for the one he was given. Come, Nicolae." He touched the boy's arm, staring hard at Varga. Reluctantly the other man released his hold. "If you need an attendant, Varga, there are servants aplenty in the hall."


Simion could feel the boy trembling as he led him away. When they were out of sight he said quietly, "Did he hurt you, boy?"


"No." He rubbed his arm. "Not really, not my body." His expression twisted, and Simion wondered what had been said before he arrived. Given Ernestu's proclivities and brutal nature, he could well imagine.


Simion took him to his room. It wasn't in the domestic quarters, as Nicolae might have imagined. Granted, it was small, and simple, but it was not the room of a servant. Simion lit a lamp for him, and indicated the bed. "You should sleep, Nicolae. I doubt that pus-bag will dare come here, but there is a bolt on the door. I must return to the prince, and I will sleep in his room tonight." He put a hand on the boy's shoulder. "You will stay here. You will not go to Ernestu, no matter what he said to you, no matter what he threatened if you did not."


Nicolae sat on the bed, covering his face with his hands. "He... if I anger him, Simion..."


"Nicolae, do not trouble yourself." He stroked the boy's soft hair. "You are under the protection of Prince Vlad Tepes Draculea. None can hurt you and live while he extends his patronage. Bolt the door after me."


Simion left, listening in the hall till he heard the bolt drop into place. Then he went to make his report to Draculea, and place another stitch in Ernestu Varga's shroud.


Nicolae lay back on the bed, feeling numb. All his joy of the previous day had fled with Ernestu's rude touch and loathsome demands. He had been graphic about what he expected from Nicolae, and it had been all the boy could do to keep from screaming. "While he extends his patronage," he murmured. Tears streaked his face. "Holy Virgin, what do I do when I go home?" If Draculea had known the depths of Nicolae's distress, Varga would not have seen the next dawn.


The only thing that allowed Draculea to sleep was the knowledge that he would soon be able to rid the world of Varga. That would have to wait until his future father-in-law began his journey home, but Vlad had decided to mete out a small punishment before that.


The castle stirred early on the day of the nuptials. Servants scurried about madly with last minute cleaning and decorating. The kitchen saw more work than all the festive events of the previous year combined. The upper servants were driven near mad by the demands of guests for help with dressing and last minute touches to hair and wardrobe.


Simion delivered new clothes to Nicolae before the ceremony. The boy was near speechless over the finery. It was all of the softest, smoothest silk. The close-fitting breeches were black, and the elegant shirt was a rich wine red that brought out the paleness of his skin and the darkness of his eyes and hair. There were new shoes of leather so supple that it felt like a caress. "I will accept them, Simion, because I must not shame Beta at her wedding. But really, I cannot continue to take things from the prince when I can never repay him."


Simion sighed. "Nicolae, haven't you learned by now that no repayment is expected, or wanted? Draculea delights in giving you things. It pleases him. Will you deny him this?"


Nicolae blushed. "I am not ungrateful, Simion. It is just that... It hurts that I have nothing to give in return when he has been so good to me."


Simion watched him dressing for a moment before leaving, shaking his head. The boy truly had no conception of the power he held over Draculea. If he wished, he could coax riches, finery, and titles from his lord. But that was not in Nicolae's nature, and this was part of what attracted Draculea. The boy never spared a thought for himself or his possible advancement. It was uncanny how different he was from his half-sister.


Finally the appointed time drew near. The great hall was filled with guests, the chapel being too small for the gathered throng. The archbishop of the diocese waited at the upper end, ready to unite the couple in holy matrimony. All that was missing was the bride and her maids, who waited anxiously upstairs in Beta's room.


As it neared time, Draculea, in magnificent court clothes of a blue so dark that it was almost black, whispered to Simion. He sent an enigmatic look toward Varga, who was standing in the front ranks of the crowd, then went into a small room off to one side.


Simion went to Varga. "My prince has an urgent matter to discuss with you before the ceremony can commence, Domn. He asks that you attend him." Varga, puffed with importance, followed Simion to the side room and passed inside. Simion closed the door, then placed himself before it, arms crossed. The message was clear: the prince's business with Varga, whatever it was, would not be disturbed.


In the private room, Ernestu approached Draculea, smiling. "You wished to see me, prince?" His smile faded as he saw Draculea's cold expression.


"No, Varga, I do not wish to see you. It would give me the greatest pleasure if I never had to lay eyes on you again, but there is a matter that must be attended to before the marriage can take place."


Ernestu felt a thrill of apprehension. Nothing must be allowed to interfere with this marriage. He was prepared to do anything, even kill, to see it through. "What is it, Prince Draculea? A legal matter? Shall I summon the lawyers? The priest?"


"No, this has nothing to do with legalities, nor religion. Justice, though... Yes, it has to do with justice."


"I... do not understand, prince."


"What punishment do you deem fit for a man who would despoil his own male child?"


Ernestu swayed, the blood leaving his head in a sudden, dizzying sweep. "Domn, I know not what the bastard told you..."


Perhaps if Ernestu had not been within arm's reach, Vlad might not have reacted as quickly as he did. But the man was near. Draculea lashed out, his hand moving even before he had formed the intent to strike. Ernestu staggered back, clutching his face from the ringing, open handed slap. He would quite possibly have been rendered unconscious if Draculea had chosen to close his hand into a fist, but this was as humiliating as it was painful. It showed contempt. Draculea did not deign to use his full strength.


Draculea's voice was grim. "Your son told me nothing, dog. I did not need his supplication to see what was going on."


"Domn, I swear, I never touched the boy!"


"Except to beat him?" Ernestu made no reply. He knew there was no way he could answer this that would ease his trouble. "You tried to whip him into my bed, Varga. Do I look to you as if I need a procurer?"


"Domn, I only..."


"Silence. I prefer my bed mates willing, Varga. And even if I'm tempted to take one who is reluctant, I need no assistance. Lusting after your own flesh and blood, insulting me by pandering... These offenses are bad enough, but then you compound them."


"What is it? What have I done, Maria Ta?"


"Nicolae is mine, Varga. You know that. You have known it since the marriage contract was drawn, and still you covet him. Last night you would have ordered him to your bed, had I not sent Simion after you."


"Lord, I..."


"Do you deny it?"


Varga made gabbling sounds, but could produce no sense. Finally he shook his head mutely, falling to his knees. He was certain that he was about to die. Draculea would kill him, leave his corpse in this small, obscure room, and go out to the great hall to marry his daughter while his blood still cooled.


Draculea took the last few steps to where the man cringed on the floor, and loomed over him. Varga stared up at him, pasty faced, and managed to whimper, "Great prince, please. Do not kill me. Have mercy."


Draculea studied him coldly, his fine mouth twisting in a sneer. At last he said, "I will not curse my wedding day by spilling blood. But you will commit an act of contrition, Ernestu."


"Yes, Domn, yes!" he babbled in relief. "Anything! Rosaries? I can say many rosaries. Or a new stained glass window for your chapel? I'll hire the finest artisans." Draculea's expression was growing even colder. "Or a pilgrimage! I will visit every holy site in our land, if you will just spare me... and... and wed my Elizabeta."


"You want that very much, eh, Varga? Very well. One act will spare your life this day and ensure the marriage."


"Anything!" And Varga was sure in his own mind that he truly meant this. He was sure until Draculea began unlacing his breeches. "Prince Draculea? You... do not mean..."


"You were willing enough to prostitute the boy to get what you wanted. You should be willing now to perform the same duties yourself." Draculea had pulled forth his prick, and was stroking it roughly. "Don't think I will enjoy this, Varga. You disgust me. But you will learn that when I decide on a course of action, nothing keeps me from it. Neither God, the Devil, nor my own mortal flesh."


"But Domn, you cannot truly mean this."


"If you do not drink my seed, Varga, I will go from this room and send the assembly home. You can carry your daughter back with you and see what luck you have finding her a decent husband once I have rejected her." Draculea had massaged his staff to semi-hardness. Now he pushed it at Ernestu. "It is your choice." Trembling, Varga reached for Draculea, only to have his hands struck down. "You will touch me with nothing but your lying mouth, swine."


Ernestu leaned forward, and Draculea closed his eyes as he felt the first, dry rasp of his tongue. He wanted to flinch, but held himself. He had resolved to do this. It was the most humiliating thing he could think to do, save one. And I will kill him rather than fuck him. There was no desire in this act, only hatred and rage. Once he was aroused, that would be enough to carry him through, but he wondered if Ernestu could give him enough pure physical stimulation for his body to override his mind's revulsion.


Draculea turned his thoughts to Nicolae. He would not imagine that it was his beloved performing this act: that would seem like a sacrilege. But he would think of him, contemplate his beauty and goodness. It did not happen quickly. The guests began to whisper and fidget in the great hall as Ernestu desperately licked and sucked at Draculea's reluctant member. But finally the thoughts of Nicolae turned the trick.


Vlad imagined the boy nestled in his own great bed upstairs: safe, warm, and happy at last. He imagined slipping beneath the sheets and pulling the long, pliant body against him, feeling the stir of the boy's member awakening against his own as he kissed him.


He was a little surprised to open his eyes and find that he was fully erect. But that was a good thing. Now the punishment could proceed. He grabbed Ernestu's hair, setting his hands in it tightly. "Open your mouth, whoreson. And mind your teeth, if you do not want me to snap your neck."


Ernestu obeyed, and near choked when the prince roughly rammed into his mouth. He had no time to recover. Draculea pulled out, then thrust again, hard. This time he managed to force himself down Ernestu's throat, bruising and even tearing tender tissue. The man moaned around the muffling flesh, and Draculea began to rape his mouth with short, vicious jabs.


"You will remember this, Varga," he snarled. "You will remember this as long as you live. This," He said as he gripped the back of Ernestu's skull and pounded into him, "is what you would have done to my Nicu. This, or worse. Do you like it? Is it pleasurable?"


Ernestu whined in pain and submission, and the vibrations were a further stimulation. Draculea was a little dismayed that his prick could take such pleasure from congress with one such as Ernestu, but he realized that it was more his anger than desire that drove his rampant dick again and again down the throat of the man he hated.


At last his climax approached. He jammed Ernestu down on his cock, holding his face against his body and commanded, "Swallow it, dog! Every drop you spill will earn you a blow." He closed his eyes as the first joyless orgasm he'd ever experienced washed over him. All he felt beyond physical release as his seed spewed down the frantically working throat was a sense of bitter triumph.


Finally it was done. He pulled free, shoving Ernestu so that he fell back on the floor. While the older man puked and moaned, Draculea went to a basin and cleaned himself, eager to get the man's spit and blood off his body. When he was done, he closed his breeches, wet a cloth, and returned to where Ernestu curled on the floor, retching. He threw down the cloth and said, his voice emotionless, "Clean yourself."


Ernestu sat up, wiping his face and mouth. He groaned when he saw blood on the cloth. "It will heal in a few days, though I would not advise drinking spirits. They would be like molten lead on the raw spots. Get up. It is time to see your daughter wed. You've got what you wanted, old man. Your daughter will be a princess. Your grandchildren will be of royal blood."


With lips bruised, throat torn and raw, and the bitter taste of Draculea's come and his own vomit in his mouth, Ernestu followed the prince out to the great hall and took his place at the front of the crowd. Those who looked at him closely decided that Prince Draculea had been laying down the law to the man. What else could account for his pale features, and the terrified look in his eyes?


Chapter 21: Marriage

Child of the Night, Part Twenty-one

The Year of Our Lord, 1460

Later That Same Day

Castle Draculea, Wallachia



Draculea exited from the side room, and took his place before the archbishop. Simion came to stand beside him. At the prince's nod, he gestured to a footman, who hastened from the hall. He ran up the great stairs to Elizabeta's room, and gave them the news that it was time.


A small group of musicians played on pipes, lutes, and guitars as the ladies slowly made their way down the grand staircase. As Elizabeta trod the length of the hall, moving at a slow, stately pace, there were admiring murmurs from the crowd. She was very beautiful in her gown of sky blue velvet. When she stood beside her groom, it was whispered that she looked like the morning sky, and he the sky at midnight.


Nicolae watched as Beta passed, ready to offer her a smile of love and encouragement, but her eyes slid past him to fasten on the priest at the head of the hall. Nicolae felt a brief twinge, then told himself that of course her mind was elsewhere. This was the most important day of her life.


And as his half-sister stood beside Draculea, and the prince took her arm, a peculiar feeling washed over Nicolae. He felt suddenly... bereft. He is marrying her, he thought. And he suddenly realized that he was not feeling worry for Beta, binding herself for the rest of her life to a man who was known to be hard, and sometimes cruel. He was feeling sorrow because Draculea was marrying her.


They will be husband and wife, forever. He will hold her, touch her, kiss her. Like he did... Nicolae had to look down, pressing a hand briefly over suddenly stinging eyes. Like he did with me. Foolish Nicolae. You knew this day was coming, why did you not prepare yourself?


The boy drew in a shaky breath that was dangerously close to a sob. The people beside him looked at him curiously. Oh, yes, he was a relative of the bride, wasn't he? How sweet for him to be so emotional at her wedding.


I will not cause a scene. I will not embarrass him before these people. Nicolae lifted his head, dropping his hand, and managed a smile. All attention turned back to the bride and groom, where it should have been.


The archbishop spoke the words of the ceremony, intoning them gravely. He spoke of duty, and faith, and honor. He did not mention love. At the end of the rite, Draculea slipped the traditional wedding band of the head of the Dracul family onto Elizabeta's slender finger. Then, holding hands, they turned to face the crowd, and the archbishop introduced them for the first time as man and wife.


While he smiled at the cheering, clapping crowd, Draculea's eyes sought for Nicolae. He found the boy among the minor nobles. Nicolae did not shout and clap like the rest of the throng. He stood quietly, watching the couple at the altar. His face looked strained, but when Draculea lifted his eyebrows in question, the boy smiled faintly, nodding, and Vlad relaxed. He knew that Nicolae was romantic enough to believe that a marriage should be made for love, and he'd worried about the boy objecting to his beloved half-sister going into an arranged union.


The guests moved to the sides, and servants rushed in madly to set tables in place, then load them with food. It did not take long for the feast to be in full swing. The ceremony had finish close on the noon hour, and the celebration lasted well into the evening.


Outside the castle Draculea's servants who were not needed to attend and the local peasants and townspeople had their own celebrations. A great deal of drinking went on both inside and outside the castle, and there would be more than one chance-begotten babe born nine months after the prince's wedding.


The meal seemed to go on forever. Every man and woman with any pretension to gentility wanted to offer a toast to the couple, and Draculea and Elizabeta received them graciously. Finally, halfway down the table, Beta saw a familiar looking young noble rise, and hold up a goblet. "To rhe Princess and Prince Draculea, the fairest of both their sexes. May God bless you both with long life, good health, and the love that you both deserve."


The voice was familiar, and Beta finally recognized Nicolae. "Nicu, you drink wine ?" Her voice was teasing.


He bowed his head. "To honor you, my lady. And my prince." Nicolae tipped his head back and drained the goblet like a seasoned drinker, and there was applause from the table. As he sat down, Draculea saw one of the younger nobles gesture to a servant, who quickly refilled Nicolae's glass. The boy regarded it with an almost puzzled expression, then sipped.


Draculea felt a twinge of unease. It didn't seem like Nicolae to drink in celebration. But the next well-wisher was rising, and he had to at least pretend to pay attention. He watched Nicolae through the rest of the feast. The men on either side of him kept his glass brimming, and he drank steadily. But he seemed to grow no more cheerful. The smile that he had offered with his toast was gone, and he looked almost melancholy.


At last, when the night was not too far advanced, Draculea rose, taking Beta's hand and pulling her to her feet. He bowed to the risen assembly and said, "We thank you for your attendance, and your kind wishes. If only a small part of the good things wished for us come to pass, we will be blessed indeed." He bowed, and Elizabeta curtsied gracefully, then they left.


Some of the guests made their way out to the courtyard and stables, where horses and carriages were waiting to take them home. Others were to remain overnight at Castle Draculea. Most of these either repaired to their rooms, or went out to seek fresher, more earthy amusement among the local peasants.


The castle grew quiet. Soon the only ones stirring were a few servants, clearing away the last of the feast, and a handful of the more libertine young nobles. They gathered before the hall's great fireplace, the one that could easily have roasted a whole oxen. They were amusing themselves by getting the prince's new favorite drunk.


They whispered and laughed together as one of their number refilled his goblet, assuring the boy that the wine had been watered and was scarcely strong enough to addle the head of a child. They watched Nicolae with measuring, speculative eyes, and more than one wondered if the Prince would decide to share after the first flush of infatuation had worn off.


He was quite delicious, they all agreed, but he seemed so sad. What did he have to be sad about? He was young, desirable, and the darling of a rich and powerful man. His life was good.


Nicolae drank. He had found that the taste became more tolerable as the evening wore on. From his own observations and his talks with the brothers, he knew that men drank both to make merry and to drown sorrows. Nicolae wasn't entirely sure of his own reason for indulging in spirits tonight. He only knew that neither goal was being accomplished.


Ernestu, Simion, Stefan, and Ernestu's lawyer moved past the little knot of revelers, toward the great stairway. Nicolae watched them, and said, "They pace so gravely, as if they go to perform some solemn act."


There was much nudging and smiling among the other young men. One said, "Don't you know where they go, librarian?" Nicolae shook his head. "It is the prince's wedding night. They go to bear witness to the consummation." When Nicolae's eyes widened in shock, he laughed. "No, no. They will not look upon the act itself. Though no doubt that would be an entertainment to remember." Laughing agreement greeted this statement.


Enjoying Nicolae's confusion and embarrassment, the young lord leaned toward him, putting a hand on his knee and confiding. "You understand, don't you? They must be sure that the girl is pure, and that the marriage duty is done. There must be no doubt that every effort is being made to produce a legitimate heir. So, they wait in the corridor outside the bridal chamber. When the marriage has been consummated, the prince will present them with a token to prove that he was the first to..." He eyed Nicolae's dismayed expression, and had a little pity on the boy., "have congress with her."


"Token?" Nicolae's voice was choked. "What token?"


"Why, a cloth stained with her maiden's blood, and his seed. All honest brides bleed on their wedding night."


"And some not so honest," interjected another youth. "There are all sorts of devices they will resort to, if they have dallied before wedding. A tiny sponge soaked in animal blood has saved the honor of more than one girl."


"And I have heard," said another, "that certain unscrupulous midwives will sew a stitch or two in the braver ones, so that they truly are torn when their husband comes inside them for the first time."


Simion came back down into the hall. Looking about, he located Nicolae, and went to him. He glanced pointedly at the hand on Nicolae's leg, then turned hard eyes on the young man who owned the offending member. He withdrew hastily. Nicolae did not notice this silent exchange, and was startled when Simion spoke to him. "Nicolae, you've had enough. You are not used to spirits, and your head and belly will rebuke you tomorrow if you continue."


He set aside the goblet. "Yes, Simion."


"You should go to your room. Your room."


"Yes, of course." He got up, swaying slightly, and Simion took his elbow.


Leading him a few paces away, he said softly, "Make your goodnights, Nicolae. I do not think the prince will be long with his new bride." He looked searchingly into the boy's eyes. How much do I need to tell him? How much has the prince said? Surely my lord has explained things to him by now. "Do you understand?" Nicolae nodded, and Simion gave his arm a squeeze before going back up to the little group waiting outside Elizabeta's room.


After Simion left, Nicolae stood for a moment, eyes closed in thought. The prince would go to Elizabeta, and after that... After that, there will be no place in his life for me.


He remembered the feel of Draculea's hands on his body, the softness of his lips against his throat, the hot urgency in his voice as he whispered to him. He remembered the shock of sensation as the prince's hardened flesh slid in the crease of his buttocks, and the shivering flash of pleasure as it had rubbed over the tiny pucker that marked the entrance to his body. At the moment that had happened, Nicolae had been seized by an almost overwhelming urge to push back. He had felt an aching emptiness that he somehow knew only Draculea could fill. And Draculea himself had promised that. Not now. Soon, he had said. But now...


Tomorrow or the next day he would have to return to Castle Varga. He knew that Ernestu would not wait till he reached his home to take what he wanted. The first night they were on the road he would call the boy to his tent. Nicolae shuddered as he contemplated what would happen. The idea of Ernestu's hands, plump, but somehow still hard and hurtful, roaming his body as Vlad's had done made him ill.


"Librarian!" Nicolae turned back to see the young men watching him. One gestured, "Come, sit."


Nicolae shook his head. "I have to go."


"Surely you won't seek your bed so early? Your lonely bed." There were chuckles at the suggestion in his tone.


Nicolae only shook his head again and repeated softly, "I have to go."


In his room he stripped off the wedding finery, then donned the simple clothes in which he had traveled , murmuring to himself, "I have to go. I have to."


Upstairs, Simion went to Draculea's room, ignoring the other three men clustered outside the bridal chamber. Draculea was in a simple dark robe, pacing restlessly. His eyes glittered with anticipation, and Simion knew well enough that it was not for the woman waiting at the other end of the private hall. He stopped when his servant entered, and said, "Well?"


"As you thought, my lord. The lordlings were amusing themselves by making him drunk. I do not think it would have gone any further, though. They show more wit than some of their elders. I sent him to his room."


Draculea frowned, then shrugged. "Perhaps it is just as well if he has drunk a bit. It will make him more relaxed." There was no need to discuss why this was a good thing. Even the gentlest, most patient deflowering could be... uncomfortable. "The good thing about being with Elizabeta first is that I should be able to hold back longer with Nicolae."


"How soon shall I bring him to you after you return here?"


Draculea thought. "An hour. Give those old fools time to repare to their rooms and settle in. I wouldn't want the boy embarrassed by being seen coming to me so soon after I said my vows." He walked to the door that opened into the private hall. Putting his hand on the knob, he paused, sighing. "Well, I think I've made a bad bargain with Beta, Simion. The only good thing about this marriage, I fear, will be that it brought Nicolae to me." He smiled. "But that is a great good thing." Simion went out into the hall to join the others as Draculea entered the little hall.


There were candles burning in the wall sconces, left by efficient servants. There was no fear of fire here, as the hallway was nothing but stone, with no paneling, tapestries, or rugs. Draculea walked the short distance to the door that led to his bride's room, and paused.


Now that the moment had come, the idea was distasteful. Oh, not disgusting, as his congress with Ernestu had been, but it was nothing that he wanted or needed. Still, it had to be done. Custom had to be satisfied, even if he were not.


Best to get this finished as quickly as possible, he thought. The girl, if she is anything like the others of her rank, will know nothing about pleasing a man, and will care even less about learning.


Draculea reached down and cupped his sex through the robe. It was quiescent, and he sighed again. He stroked himself a few times, but there was little response. He looked down at himself ruefully, muttering, "So shy?" A few more strokes brought little more response, only a very slight thickening. Yes, I know. You are reluctant. But think of what we will have when this duty is done. Think of Nicolae.


He did, remembering the taste of the boy's skin and the soft brush of his hair against Vlad's cheek as he had leant trustingly against him in the spring. His staff began to fill with blood as he stroked it gently, imagining that it was Nicolae's hands on his hardening flesh. So far there had been only those few brief, drugged caresses that first night and the hesitant bathing on their journey, but now... Now he will love me. He will not be afraid, and he will touch me and give himself to me.


Draculea's hand moved faster. He looked down to find that he was fully erect, his eager prick tenting the front of his robe and leaving a damp patch on the cloth. Now we are ready.


He entered the room. It was dimly lit by a good fire, and a few candles. It was empty save for his bride, her attendants having readied her and left. Lena had lingered the longest, giving her charge a brief, passionate kiss when the others were gone, saying, "Courage, my pet! He is only a man, so it will not last long. When he is done, tell him you are weary and ask that you be allowed this first night alone. I will come to you..." She stroked one small breast, and soothe your hurts." Thus Lena increased Beta's dread of the coming act, while holding herself forth as a comforter.


Elizabeta lay in her great bed, dressed in the gown that had awaited this night since she was a small girl. She and her ladies had spent many hours stitching and embroidering dainty garments for her wedding. It was such a pity that there was no one to truly appreciate them. Her dark hair had been woven into a thick braid, and hung over her shoulder. She watched her new husband approach, her eyes huge and dark. Like Nicu's, Draculea thought. But not like his. His are warm when they look at me.


He stood beside the bed. "Lady. Are you ready?"


Elizabeta sat very straight, and said stiffly, "I am prepared to do my duty, my lord."


Draculea smiled ruefully. "Child, I have seen men go to the headsman with more good will." He tugged lightly on her braid. "I cannot promise you great joy. But I will be as gentle as I can, and as quick as I may."


Elizabeta cast her eyes down. "I thank you, my lord. I confess that I am more than a little apprehensive."


"You know what will happen?" It was not unheard of for women of Elizabeta's class and tender age to be totally ignorant of the ways of sex.


She nodded. "My maid told me, some time ago. It sounds..." She trailed off, making a face.


"This is Abul you speak of?" Beta nodded again. "Yes, I can well imagine." Draculea pulled the robe over his head, dropping it on the foot of the bed.


Elizabeta did not exactly gasp, but she drew in her breath sharply. The drawings that Lena had shown her did not prepare her for the living embodiment. She knew that The Staff was actually larger than the prince's sex, but somehow it did not seem so. The fact that Draculea was warm, living flesh seemed to impart a greater stature.


"Beta, there must be wetness for the union to be as painless as possible. Do you want me to try to draw it from you, or would you prefer that I use oil? That will be quicker, and surer. I could try to prepare you, but..." He shrugged. "There is no guarantee. You are young, and very nervous."


Beta knew that Lena had no trouble making her wet. She could have her sex dripping with juice with only a few caresses, but the idea of Draculea doing the same revolted her. "The oil, please."


"Sensible girl." Draculea took the small bottle that had been left on the table beside the bed and poured a generous dribble over his erection, rubbing it in thoroughly. Then he coated his fingers, and climbed into the bed with the girl.


She stiffened, and he said, "Beta, try to relax. It will be much more painful if you do not, for both of us."


She regarded him in surprise. "For you?"


He smiled. "The bit of flesh I will be using is sensitive, Beta. It can be like battering myself. Spread your legs."


She lay back on the pillow and did as he bade her. Draculea reached up under her gown and found the tangle of curls between her legs. Huh. Nicolae's is softer than this. The thought of Nicolae brought another pulse of blood to his staff, and he quickly stroked the oil down the crease of Beta's sex, then probed till he located the tiny slit. "I will open you a little first, Beta."


She gritted her teeth as he eased a finger up inside her. Lena had done this before, of course. How slim and elegant her fingers seemed in comparison to this.


It is good that I used the oil. She is as dry as dust. It's rather a pity that neither one of us is going to enjoy this. Vlad moved his hand carefully, but there was scant softening or loosening. Finally he gave up on waiting, and forced a second finger inside. The girl seemed to clench even tighter, giving a small, complaining moan. "I am sorry."


"Please, prince. Just do it and be done."


Suddenly Vlad lost patience. "As you wish, lady." He pulled free, jerked her gown up around her waist, and rolled on top of her. The girl made a startled noise, and he quickly braced himself to take most of his weight off her. He reached down between them, positioning the weeping head of his prick at the narrow opening, and said, "Breathe deeply. I will be quick."


He thrust forward, not brutally, but firmly. He intended to breach her maidenhead in one stroke, and he succeeded. The thin membrane split before the fleshy intruder, and the unused walls of her sex were rudely forced apart as Draculea buried himself in her body. She shrieked in shock and pain. Out in the hall, the three older men looked at each other with solemn nods. Simion, behind them, rolled his eyes.


Draculea moved quickly, pumping into the girl with short, strong strokes. It would have been less painful for her if he had gone more slowly, but neither one of them wanted to prolong this act. It lasted only a very few minutes, but that seemed an infinity to Beta. The hard flesh moving over her and in her brought no pleasure.


Soon Draculea gave one last, hard thrust and went still. She felt the scalding wash of his seed with relief, knowing that it meant her ordeal was almost at an end.


Draculea pulled free of her clasp quickly, having no desire to linger. He rested beside her for a moment, watching as she quickly pulled her gown back down. She said nothing, so he felt no need to speak. At last he got up and took a folded piece of white cloth from the table. He used it to wipe himself clean, then donned his robe once again. Finally he lifted the sheet once again, saying, "We need proof for the legal vultures who hover in the hall, lady."


Reaching under Beta's gown, he wiped the cloth the length of her slit. Then he went to the door to the outer hall and opened it. The lawyers and Ernestu looked at him expectantly. The prince threw the cloth at Ernestu, who caught it, startled. He handed it to his lawyer, who opened it. He and Stefan bent over it, examining it. It was thickly stained with blood and semen. They nodded, looking back at the prince. Stefan said, "The marriage has been consummated." The official pronouncement had been made.


Draculea bowed to them ironically, and shut the door, then went back to Beta's bed. Elizabeta was trying to think of how to best ask him to leave her for the night when he bent and dropped a disinterested kiss on her forehead. "I will leave you to your rest. I will also give you a few days to recover before I visit you again. Pleasant dreams, Beta. I hope you will be happy in your new life."


Beta watched him go, just a bit disconcerted. But, she told herself, I am happy he did not wish to stay. She settled back to wait for Lena to come to her.


Chapter 22: Mating

The Year of Our Lord, 1460

The Prince's Wedding Night

Castle Draculea, Wallachia



When Draculea shut the door to the bridal chamber once again, Simion left the murmuring trio in the hallway. Draculea had said to give him an hour before bringing Nicolae to his room, but Simion wanted a chance to have a talk with the boy. He had a feeling that his master still had not made the situation clear to Nicolae, and he did not want to send the boy in unprepared. He knew that Nicolae was attracted to Draculea, and that there had been some small dealings between them, but...


But my prince has not fully taken him yet, and that opens a whole different world. I expect he has little idea of what will happen, and it must be a bit frightening for him. A few words may ease his fears. Simion smiled to himself. He's had a glimpse or two, but he'll be finding his true nature tonight.


Nicolae was not in his room. Simion frowned, but decided that the boy still might not have felt safe there. So he went back to his own room, but it was empty also. Feeling a tickle of unease, he went to the library, even though Nicolae had not been shown to it before. Draculea was reserving that pleasure for himself, and there had not yet been time.


The great room was chill and dim, the shelves of books and papers towering along the walls that rose two stories on every side. There was a smell of dry dust and disuse in the air, and Simion reflected briefly that it would change, now that the place had a keeper.


Where else? Surely he wasn't still hungry? Even so, Simion checked the kitchen. The few scullery maids tiredly washing the last of the dishes shook their heads when he asked after Nicolae. No, no one, noble or otherwise had come there.


The unease was rising to alarm now, and the hour's time was running out. There were still a few drunken young nobles before the fire. One of them, an ambitious pup, was sitting on Ernestu's lap, his arms around his neck. Simion grimaced in distaste, and decided that he must watch this one. If he was hungry enough for advance to endure the fumblings of a pig like Varga, he might prove either useful or dangerous.


Simion stopped before them and said, "Gentlemen, have you seen Calugarul, the librarian?"


They all shook their heads. Ernestu, his hand moving in the loose, open shirt of the youth on his lap, said sullenly, "He left after you spoke to him." His eyes glinted maliciously. "I expect he's found some bed to warm." Such a remark would usually have won chuckles from the decadent group, but now they only exchanged nervous glances. The man was a fool, speaking so about the prince's favorite to the prince's closest confidant.


Simion turned away without reply. He knew well enough that even in the unlikely event that Nicolae had sought out someone else, the other few guests left in the castle were unlikely to have been foolish enough to accept his advances. There was still one possibility. Perhaps the boy had gone for a walk outside to clear his head after his unaccustommed drinking.


Simion went outside and quickly searched the courtyard, and the stables. The boy was nowhere. Thunder rumbled overhead, heralding an approaching storm, and Simion worried. It would be a violent storm, from the sound of it, and he did not like to think of the boy outside when it finally arrived.


The appointed hour had elapsed, and still he had not found Nicolae. A group of lower servants were sitting near the gate, drinking ale from a small keg that had been provided in celebration of the prince's wedding. They were all more than half drunk, but they were the only ones who might have seen Nicolae. Simion went to them.


When the men saw Prince Draculea's man approaching, they struggled to their feet. Two of them tried to clutch each other for support and ended up dragging one another to the ground once again. The others swayed unsteadily. Simion said, "Have you seen a boy come from the castle? A dark haired youth, tall and slender, with dark eyes?"


They thought, scratching their heads and beards. Finally one said slowly and uncertainly, "Aye, there were one what came from t' castle a bit before now." He looked at his companions for confirmation, and received drunken nods. "Near purty as a girl, he were. Ast him to sit an' share a pint, but he jus' kep' sayin' he 'ad to go." A shrug. "An' he left."


Simion was horrified. "You just let him walk off into the night by himself?"


The man frowned. "I ain't been told to hold no one. Figgered he were a guest off to home, or else a young lord goin' to the festival in the village to look for a bit o' sport." He nudged a friend, who almost fell over. "Plenty o' sport to be had tonight. Why?" He tried to straighten. His tankard tipped, spilling ale. "You need us to go find 'im for some reason?"


No, that wouldn't do at all. It was known that Draculea was interested in the boy, but it was one of those things that was not spoken of too freely in public. "No, go back to your celebrating."


Simion headed back into the castle, beyond simple worry and moving into dread. What in God's name was the boy thinking? Hadn't he known that Draculea would send for him shortly? Simion hadn't actually said as much, but surely he had known, surely he could guess...


Simion stopped with a groan. Why surely? I know how the boy was raised, and how little the world has touched him. If he was not told, how was he to know that Draculea has made a place for him here, and intends to keep him, and cherish him?


There was no other course of action left open to him--Draculea would have to be told that his young lover had run away. Simion started for the prince's room, hoping that Draculea would not react without stopping to think. If he gave free reign to his emotions instead of listening to reason, then Simion greatly feared for Nicolea. Draculea had been more patient than Simion would have ever imagined, but that patience was worn thin. He wanted the boy with a hunger that bordered on obsession. And to be denied now, when he was so close...


He never got to Draculea's room. The prince met him at the top of the grand staircase. He was dressed in simple clothes that looked hastily donned. His dark, wavy hair was disarrayed, as if he had run his hands through it in distraction, and his expression indicated this could well be true. He looked pale and distraught. Simion saw that he was holding the dark red shirt that Nicolae had worn earlier.


Draculea's voice was hoarse. "You didn't come, Simion, and I became impatient. I went for him myself. He's not there. Where is he?" Simion hesitated, unsure of how to break the news to Draculea. There was a very real old saying about those who killed the bearer of bad tidings. Simion did not fear for his life, but he knew very well that, in his anger, Draculea could strike out before getting control of himself.


Draculea saw his hesitation. "He isn't with Varga." His voice was very soft. But then, Simon thought, death can come with a whisper as well as a shout.


"No, my lord. Varga amuses himself with an ambitious noble in the great hall."


"Then where..." His face tightened, and Simion watched with alarm as a fire kindled in his eyes. "He's gone." He grabbed Simion's arm, and the older man winced as iron fingers bit into his flesh. "Hasn't he?"


"Yes, my lord. Men at the gate saw him leave but a little while ago. He cannot have gone far."


Draculea released him, and Simion rubbed at the already bruising flesh. He watched, concerned, as the tall man swayed slightly, all color draining from his face. There was a tearing sound, and Simion looked down. Draculea had ripped the shirt in half, seeming unconscious of what he had done. Simion's eyes flashed to Draculea's face in alarm. Vlad's teeth were bared, and his handsome face was set in hard, cold lines, but his eyes burned. "He left me."


"Domn, no! It is not like that, I am sure. Let me go for him. I will bring him back to you. I am sure that all that is needed is a few words, a bit of explaining..."


The eyes Draculea turned on him were frighteningly lifeless, for all their heat. "He--left--me!" Then he was gone, racing down the steps and throwing open the door.


Simion rushed after him. He did not call out: in this state, it was doubtful that Draculea would have heard him, but someone else might have. He knew where his lord was going, and prayed he would be in time at least to delay him long enough to let him cool down a bit.


But he was almost run down by Lucifer as the great black beast burst from the stables, Draculea clinging to his back. The horse shied at his nearness, rising on its hind legs to paw the air with a shrill whinny. Draculea stayed fast on the plunging animal, despite the fact that he had no saddle, only a rough piece of leather that looked like a stableboy's cloak thrown over the beast's back. Simion called, "Prince, please! Let me go! Return and wait!"


"No, Simion. He's mine, I will retrieve him. And if you value your life, do not follow. This matter concerns no one but Nicolae and myself." Then he dug his heels into Lucifer's sides, and the horse leapt away, thundering out the gate past the men who watched in stupefaction. They were so drunk that for years to come they would tell of how they had seen the devil ride out on Prince Draculea's wedding night.


Draculea flew down the road, driving Lucifer through the darkness. Normally the road would have been bright with moonlight, but it was pitch black tonight. Not a singe star winked overhead: all were blanketed by angry black-purple storm clouds. The only illumination came from the lightning that laced the clouds in ever more frequent flashes. The wind was rising into cold gusts, and even the revelers in the nearby village and the estates of the prince began to seek refuge wherever they might. It was whispered that it was an ill omen to have such a storm on a wedding night.


Nicolae paused as thunder boomed almost over his head. The storm was going to be a bad one, and he needed to find shelter. In the brief flash of lightning, he saw a small cottage up ahead by the side of the road. No light gleamed around the edge of the door, and he knew that the owners were probably either at the castle or in the village, roistering. He could take refuge there, and probably leave before they returned. Surely no one would be moving about in the coming storm, but would stay wherever they were.


He took a few steps toward the cottage, but stopped again, listening. There had been something different about that last grumble of thunder. It hadn't stopped. It was continuing, and it was growing closer. No, not thunder. Hoofbeats. Feeling the fear welling up inside him, he gazed back up the road.


At first he saw nothing. Then there was the barest hint of something, black moving on black. Another bolt of lightning split the sky with a crash. In that second the land was illuminated as bright as day, and Nicolae saw the approaching rider. At the distance he might not have seen the man's face, but there was no mistaking the huge ebony stallion: Lucifer. And there could be only one man the beast would allow to drive him with such violent kicks. "Draculea," Nicolae whispered.


He felt numb. He had been found out, and the prince was angry that he was trying to escape his new in-law's service. Nicolae knew that there were harsh penalties for any man or woman legally bound to another who tried to escape. It was not the law he feared, though, but only what Ernestu would do now that he actually had an excuse to abuse him.


As Draculea approached, part of Nicolae's mind screamed at him to run, to bolt for the forest on the other side of the road. There he might be able to lose his pursuer, or hide in some cave or hollow. But he couldn't move. What is the point? I could never escape him. The boy watched sadly as his destiny raced toward him.


He was there, standing beside the road. He didn't try to run, or hide. Beneath his anger, this puzzled Vlad. He was fleeing: why did he not continue?


When he neared the boy, Draculea hauled back on the reins, and Lucifer skidded to a stop, dancing madly in excitement. Nicolea moved then, cringing back from the near maddened beast in alarm. Draculea thought, You need not fear him, boy. You have other things to fear.


He threw himself off, landing neatly in a near crouch, and Lucifer skittered over to stand beside the cottage, his sides heaving. For a moment Draculea looked at Nicolae. Then he straightened up and came toward him. Still the boy did not flee.


Draculea regarded the boy. NIcolae's eyes were downcast. At last the prince said, "You ran."


The boy's head drooped even lower, and his voice was meek. "I am sorry, my lord."


"Sorry?" He grabbed Nicolae's hair, jerking hard so that his head was forced back, and Draculea put his other hand on Nicolae's throat. His voice hissed. "You apologize to me, boy? You think that will be enough to right what you have done?"


"It is all I can offer, Domn."


He pulled harder, till the boy's neck was arched sharply, and he squeezed lightly, till Nicolae gasped. "No, Nicu. You have much more to offer. Much more." A cold raindrop splashed on the hand that gripped the unresisting boy's neck, and Draculea seemed for the first time aware of the approaching storm. "But not out here."


He looked around, and spotted the cottage that Nicolae had seen earlier. He released the young man with a shove, pushing him toward the building. "Go inside and wait for me." As Nicolae went to obey, he led Lucifer to the small open shed that stood beside the house and tethered him in its shelter. It wasn't as warm or comfortable as his stables, but Lucifer was a war horse: he was as used to hardship as his master.


Draculea went to the cottage. Inside, he saw that Nicolae had lit a lamp, setting it on the mantle of the fireplace. Vlad looked around the structure quickly. It was no different than most houses of the time: nothing more than one large room, with different areas for different things. There was a decent enough bed in one corner, and he saw with satisfaction that it had sheets, which even appeared to be clean.


He looked at the boy waiting quietly beside the crude table, and turned, dropping the bar in place across the door. Then he turned back to Nicolae, voice toneless, and said, "We will not be disturbed till this business between us is finished."


He walked to Nicolae and stood before him. When he lifted his rigid palm to the boy, Nicolae merely flinched and did not try to evade the blow he saw coming, making Draculea hesitate.


I can't beat him. God help me, I can't mark him like Varga did, even if he does toy with my heart. But I will have him tonight. Nothing will stop me: neither Heaven nor Hell.


He grabbed the back of Nicolae's neck, his hand hard, and ripped the front of his shirt away with one vicious pull. The boy gasped, eyes going wide. "Why, Nicolae? Tell me why you ran."


"I... I was afraid, Domn."


He removed the remains of the shirt with impatient jerks. "Afraid? Damn, boy, what have I done for you to fear me before this night?," he growled. "I have shown you nothing but kindness, nothing but gentleness and care." His heart should have been hardened by now, but when tears welled up in those dark, slanted eyes, he felt a stab of pain.


"Yes, Domn. You have been so good to me, more than I could ever deserve. That was why I had to go."


"Madness!" Draculea snarled. With his grip on Nicolae's neck, he threw the boy face down on the bed. Then, before Nicolae could move or arrange himself, he turned him onto his back, pulling him up to lie full length on the straw stuffed mattress. Then Draculea swiftly straddled him on his hands and knees. "You've made me mad, too, librarian. What can I do but give in to this insanity?"


He bent and kissed the boy roughly--no gentle coaxing this time. Draculea's mouth moved hungrily on Nicolae's, forcing his lips open so that his tongue could sweep inside. The boy made a pitiful sound that might have been protest, or pleading. Draculea ignored it. His hands moved to the boy's chest, his thumbs stroking hard over the soft nipples. He rubbed, his fingers digging into the flesh at his sides as he plundered the boy's mouth.


Nicolae's hands fluttered up, but he did not try to push Draculea away. They settled against his shoulders, stroking timidly. When Vlad pulled up a bit to breath, the boy gasped, "Please, Vlad."


Draculea froze. My name, he called me by my name. No one in his adult life, save his father, had ever dared call him that. It broke through the haze of angry lust that had possessed him, and he truly listened to what the boy said next.


"Do not send me away. Let me stay and be your servant."


"Send you away? What do you mean?"


"Please, master." He stroked Draculea's cheek timidly. "I can care for your library, make it the finest in the land, and I ask nothing. Only... only do not send me back to my father."


"Varga? Nicolae..." he hesitated, a feeling of dismay washing over him. "You thought you were to go back with him?"


Nicolae nodded. "Please, Domn. I will die. Either he will kill me, or I will commit self-murder from despair."


Draculea closed his eyes. "Blessed Virgin, I am a fool."


His voice was bitter, and Nicolae said hesitantly, "Domn?"


"You said outside that you ran because I had been kind to you. What did you mean, Nicolae?"


The boy turned his face away, unable to look in Draculea's eyes. "I have never known such tenderness before, master. To go from that to my father's doubtful mercies... I cannot bear it."


"But why did you think you would be sent away?"


Nicolae looked at him in surprise. "You have Beta now."


"Nicolae, did you think you were a substitute? Did you think that I pleasured myself with you only because I did not yet have her?"


His voice was small. "She is your wife."


"Nicolae," He took his chin, forcing the boy to meet his eyes, and said deliberately, "Beta may be my wife, but you are my mate. It is you I want." He kissed him again, gently this time. "It is you I love."


"Love?" The bewilderment in Nicolae's voice made Vlad ache. Nicolae's eyes searched his anxiously. Draculea returned his gaze steadily, letting the boy see the truth of his feelings. Finally the worry drained slowly away, leaving a soft wonder. "You... love me?"


"More than my own life, little one. When I thought you had left me..." He dropped his head on Nicolae's chest. "Forgive me, Nicolae. Can you love me, just a little?"


He felt the gentle, long fingered hands move through his hair. Nicolae whispered, "How could I not love you?"


Draculea sighed as the boy ran his hands over his back, stroking slowly. "You will return with me, Nicu. You will stay with me."


"Yes, my lord."


Draculea looked up at him. "You called me by my given name before. Say it again."


He smiled up at him. "Vlad. My Vlad."


"Yes. Yours."


Nicolae reached up and pulled Draculea down for another kiss. This time his tongue shyly touched the older man's lips. Draculea opened his mouth eagerly, inviting him inside with a flick of his own tongue. Nicolae was hesitant at first, barely daring to touch, but soon, with Draculea's obvious pleasure in his actions, he grew bolder . He licked almost delicately into his lover's mouth. learning his taste.


Draculea was still on his hands and knees over the boy. Now Nicolae put an arm around his waist and pulled him down till he lay on top of him. He spread his legs so that Draculea settled between his thighs, bringing their groins together. Vlad moaned quietly, and humped against the boy. He reached between them, cupping his hands over Nicolae's sex.


The boy was soft, but as Draculea touched him he gave a shuddering sigh and pushed up into his hand. Again he spoke the words he had said the first time Draculea had held him, and this time there was no drug clouding his mind. "Love me." He pushed again, and Draculea felt the first thickening. "Please."


"Oh, God, Nicu, I want to. But I have nothing to ease the way, my darling. I don't want to hurt you."


He craned his neck and bit very softly, his teeth rasping at the hinge of Draculea's jaw. "Please Vlad. I don't care. I need you."


Draculea moved his hips, rubbing their arousals together. "This will be enough, till I can get you back to the castle."


He was surprised when the boy shook his head. "No! There is more, I know there is more."


"Yes, pet, there is more." He bent his head and found Nicolae's nipple. The little bud was hard, and he kissed it, then drew it into his mouth to suckle. Nicolae arched to him, sighing. Draculea released the morsel of flesh with a tender bite. His hands slid under Nicolea, and he cupped his buttocks. "Here. Do you remember the first night, when I used my hands to pleasure you that way?"


"I... a little, master. But there is more."


"Yes. When you are ready I will mount you, Nicu. We will truly be joined then, in flesh as well as in spirit."


Nicolae clutched at his shoulders. "I want that!"


"Nicolae, no, not now. I want your first time to be special."


"It will. It cannot be anything less than that if I am with you. Please, domn. I ache. I feel so empty. Fill me."


"Nicolae, please..."


Nicolae grabbed his head, stared into his eyes, and said very deliberately. "I want you to fuck me." Draculea shivered. He had been hard, but now... Hearing the obscene plea from the sweetly innocent boy, he grew still more rigid. Nicolea saw his response, and knew that he was weakening in his resolve. He continued quickly, "Give me your staff, my lord. I want to feel you inside me. I want to feel you moving, feel the heat and hardness of your flesh plunging into me. I want to feel your seed..."


With a groan Draculea began to strip off his clothes. Nicolae helped as best he could. When Draculea was naked, he removed the last of Nicolae's garments, and began running his hands over the boy's smooth skin. "I still must prepare you, Nicu. Since I have no oil, there is only one way left. Get up on your hands and knees."


Nicolae rolled onto his belly, then pushed up onto his hands and knees. He felt Draculea grip his buttocks again. This time he spread them, and his thumbs brushed down the crease. Nicolae jerked slightly when he felt a fingertip caress the puckered opening that guarded his back passage.


"Easy, Nicu. You must be easy. Let me help you." Draculea bent forward. Nicolae groaned as he felt the soft wetness of his lover's tongue on the sensetive, crinkled flesh. Draculea kneaded the firm flesh of Nicolae's rump as he licked steadily, feeling the tight, muscular ring begin to relax. He pressed forward determinedly, working his tongue into the narrow passage, and relishing the soft noises that the boy made. The taste of Nicolae's flesh was earthy, but somehow clean. He pushed hard with his tongue, driving it in and out, mimicking the action he would soon perform with his sex.


After a few moments, Draculea pulled back and spat into his hand, then rubbed it on the twitching entrance. "Breathe, Nicu." He put one finger to the boy's anus, and pushed firmly. It slid in slowly.


"Oh." Nicolae's exclaimation was breathy, and Vlad stopped, his finger buried deep.


"Are you all right, my love?"


"Yes. More, please."


Draculea kissed his back. "Patience, my pet. Get used to this first." He moved his hand, pushing in and out slowly, and Nicolae hummed softly, beginning to thrust back to meet him. Draculea laughed. "You like that, my sweet little wanton." He added a second finger, and the boy almost purred. "Oh, Nicu." Draculea worked his fingers, carefully stretching the resilient ring of muscle. Reaching under the boy, his other hand found the stiff prick that angled up along his belly, and he stroked it.


Nicolae groaned. What his lover was doing made him ache a little, but it was a sweet pain that melded into pleasure, and he wanted even more. He protested when Draculea removed his fingers, but Vlad said, "Wait." He rubbed his fingers over the head of Nicolae's sex, gathering the slick moisture that oozed from the slit, then did the same to his own straining sex. He returned his fingers,and this time, with the added slickness, pressed three fingers into the willing hole.


Nicolae tried to impale himself even deeper, pleading, "Now, master, please! I burn."


"Your legs, Nicu. Spread your legs." Draculea's voice was hoarse as he once again pulled free. The boy quickly parted his knees, bracing them wide, and looked back over his shoulder eagerly. He watched as Draculea got onto his knees and moved up between his legs. He put one hand on Nicolae's ass, once again spreading the cheeks. With the other he he gripped his sex and fitted the swollen, weeping head against the loosened ring.


Draculea pushed, spreading the entrance and moving forward till the bulbous head of his organ pushed past the guarding ring and was swallowed in Nicolae's body. He paused, feeling the boy trembling, and wanting to give him time to adjust.


But Nicolae had waited too long, and could not bear a delay. He thrust backwards, hard, and Draculea's thick staff slid deep. The boy cried out as his virgin passage was breached, the narrow, clinging walls of flesh spread apart. He paused, panting raggedly, sweat forming on his brow.


Draculea was very still, fighting desperately not to spend himself while still only half inside his lover. "You're so tight, Nicu, and so warm."


"Please, lord. I... I can't do any more. You must be the one."


In reply Draculea gripped the boy's hips tightly, tilting them a little higher, and moved forward with a strong, steady pressure. He slid in slowly, and Nicolae whined as the firm head rubbed over a tiny spot deep inside, sending out a hot flare of pleasure. Draculea noted the point where the boy reacted, tucking the information away safely for Nicolae's future pleasure, and began to stroke into the boy.


At first he moved slowly and gently, mindful that this act could cause pain as well as ecstasy. Once Nicolae became acquainted with the novel sensation of something moving inside him, he relaxed a little more, and Draculea could penetrate more easily. He mostly stayed buried deep, not wanting to cause fresh pain with forcing the passage to close, and open again. But every few strokes he drew back far enogh to pass over the boy's anal gland, making him jerk and whimper with need.


Nicolae was moaning continuously now. "Please, please, oh master. So good." He thrust back again. "Harder!"


Drauclea answered his plea with a growl, slamming his loins against the boy's buttocks. Nicolae shrieked in pleasure, his own hips working, frantically fucking empty space. Again Draculea bent and caught hold of his bobbing prick, stroking him in time to his thrusts.


The prince felt the boy's orgasm approaching first in the way that the sleek internal muscles rippled along his buried shaft. Then Nicolae gasped, "Vlad! I die..." and reached climax. His essence spurted from his sex in thick white streams, coating the hand that caressed him, slicking it so that it slid even more easily over his sensitized flesh.


Draculea pulled free of his body, and Nicolae cried out, "No! It can't be over. Vlad, you haven't spent yet. Give me your seed, I need it!"


"Yes, little one, but not like this." He grasped the boy around the middle and flipped him onto his back again. Nicolae gazed up at him with lust glazed eyes. Draculea loomed over him, face flushed, body sheened with sweat, cock jutting lewdly from the tangle of dark hair at his groin. Nicolae licked his lips unconsciously. The prick was huge, glistening with his own body's moisture and the clear passion liquid that dripped from its tip.


Draculea gripped his knees and lifted, pushing them back. Nicolae realized what he was doing, and willingly lifted his legs to brace them over his lover's shoulders, opening himself for the mounting. With no hesitation this time Vlad thrust into him again. This time the way was open, and he slid all the way in smoothly, and began to ride the boy hard.


"I want to see your face...," Vlad panted. "Your eyes, your beautiful eyes."


Nicolae gave him that, never looking away or turning his head as Draculea drove into him. His cock had softened only a little. Now, with the astonishing resilience of youth, it was full and hard again. As the other man fucked him, he reached down to grasp himself, jerking the turgid flesh. "Come, my lover," he crooned to the man working over him.


Unable to any longer resist the sweet, hot grip of Nicolae's body and the whispered urging, Draculea let go and plunged to his own release. He shuddered as he let loose jets of hot semen, bathing the tender flesh that enfolded him. When he felt the liquid bursts deep in his rectum, Nicolae cried out in release and triumph, and came again. It was no more than a weak dribble, but it was intense, despite that. He felt drained in more ways than one.


Draculea pulled out of Nicolae and sat heavily on the bed, then pulled the boy up onto his lap and held him, burying his face against his pulsing throat, whispering, "Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful..."


Nicolae leaned over him, draping over his body in a half-trance of satiation. At last he murmured, "We can do this again?"


Draculea chuckled. "Not right away, boy. I am not so young as you are."


Nicolae sighed. "No, I meant to speak of the future. We can do this again, in days to come? I will stay with you, and you will love me like this... often?"


Draculea sat up, kissing him. "As often as I can will this mortal flesh to perform, boy."


Nicolae smiled blindingly. "I will pray for you, my prince."


Draculea laughed helplessly. But he felt a wetness on his thighs, and reached down to pass a hand over the boy's rump, trailing his fingers down his crease. Nicolae winced slightly. When Draculea looked at his fingers, they bore traces of his own seed... and blood. He sighed. "Oh, Nicu. I'm sorry. I didn't want to hurt you, my treasure."


Nicolae kissed him. "Do not apologize, beloved. It is fitting."


Puzzled, Draculea frowned. "Fitting? How so?"


With a yawn Nicolae cuddled even closer in his arms and said sleepily, "I have heard that all honest brides bleed on their wedding night."


Chapter 23: New Union

Child of the Night, Part Twenty-three

The Year of Our Lord, 1460

The Day After the Wedding

Draculea's Estates, Wallachia

New Union


Vlad came awake slowly. Half-awake, he analyzed his environment. It was always good to know what you were waking up into: sometimes your life depended on it. He was in a bed, but it was not the great, luxurious bed of his castle. The sheets were a little coarse, not the silken ones he was used to, when he had sheets at all.


But the single most important thing about this awakening was the body curled half over him. One long, bare leg was thrown over his own, two firm arms were twined about his neck. He felt the soft tickle of hair on his chest, and the warm, moist puff of measured breath. A sense of peace and joy settled over him. "Nicu."


It was a whisper, barely spoken, but the body stirred against his own, and a sleepy voice said, "Master?"


Draculea lifted Nicolae's head and planted a lingering kiss on lips that were still a little swollen from earlier kisses. The boy's eyes had been shut, now they drifted open to gaze at him solemnly. Then a slow, sweet smile broke over his face, and he dipped his head to nuzzle at Draculea's neck. "I fell asleep."


"I know. So did I."


"I wanted to stay awake."


"Why, Nicu?"


"Just to be with you."


Draculea stroked the silky hair, sifting the dark strands through his fingers. "You will be with me always, Nicu. You can sleep safely."


"Our time is so short on this earth, Vlad. I do not want to miss a single moment I can be with you."


Vlad sighed, and sat up, pulling the boy with him. This time he kissed his forehead gently. "So solemn, my love. So serious. We have many years before us, Nicolae. Do not worry about them. Just enjoy today." He made a tutting sound. "Listen to me. I counsel you to live in the moment, and now I must look to the future. We have to go, boy. We should be in the castle before daybreak to avoid wagging tongues."


Nicolae did not protest. He merely got up and began dressing. Before they had lain back down that night, Draculea had kindled a small fire and warmed water, then washed them both. Nicolae had stood naked before the fire, the flames casting a golden glow on his smooth skin, and allowed his lover to gently clean away the marks of their shared passion.


Now he finished slipping on his boots and stood, crossing his arms over his bare chest with a small frown. "Domn, I cannot go out like this." He picked up the rag that had been his shirt and eyed it. "And this is good for naught but wiping pans now."


"You will have many more, my love. But for now," There was a coarse shirt hanging on a peg, probably the only change of clothing the peasant who lived there owned. Draculea took it and handed it to the boy. "wear this."


"Stealing, Domn?" Nicolae's voice was horrified.


Draculea chuckled. "No, boy, not stealing. Look, you." He searched his pocket, and found a single small silver coin, showed it to Nicolae, then placed it in the center of the table. "Will this suffice?"


Nicolae whispered, "Oh, Domn, your generosity..."


"Nicu, please." He hugged the boy, then took the shirt and slipped it over his head. "You will learn some day that money means very little to me. I have taught myself to live simply when I must. Paying the owner of this cottage is the right thing, and I am happy to do it. I do not just take from those who have so little. Now come. Lucifer will have his morning exercise today, but I expect he is hungry. I did not see much fodder in the little shed."


Lucifer was not happy about having a second rider, but he stood still and allowed Draculea to lift Nicu up onto his back, then climb up himself. Nicolae took hold of the steed's coarse mane as Draculea reached around him to take the reins. He leaned back against Draculea, resting against the solid comfort of his body as the horse ambled down the road to the castle.


It was still dark when they arrived at the castle. The courtyard was deserted except for the two guards at the gate. Valuing their lives, they had taken no spirits on their watch. They watched curiously as the prince rode into the castle confines, the new young librarian perched before him, but they said nothing. And they would say nothing later. Neither was a fool.


Draculea dismounted near the stables, helping Nicolae down, then slapped Lucifer on the rump. The horse walked obediently into the stable, went to his own open stall, and began to munch grain. Draculea led Nicolae to the castle.


Simion was waiting inside the great hall, pale and anxious. When the two men entered, his eyes searched Nicolae quickly. He saw the soft, adoring look that the boy turned up to Draculea, and he relaxed with a gusty sigh. He had been very afraid. Simion knew that Draculea's desire for the boy had been like a fever burning in his blood, and when his master's blood ran high, he was dangerous.


Simion put a hand on the boy's shoulder, and Nicolae gave him a shy smile. "Simion, you were worried about me, weren't you? I am sorry I behaved foolishly."


"Not foolish, boy. Just..." He grimaced, looking for words, "ignorant of the facts. Ignorance is cured by knowledge."


"Nicolae, can you find my room?" When the boy nodded, Vlad kissed him on the cheek. "Go and get into bed. You still need more sleep."


Nicolae laid his cheek for a moment against Draculea's shoulder, then looked up at him. "You will come soon?" He stroked Draculea's chest, toying with the buttons of his shirt.


The older man smiled. "I mean you to sleep, boy. Go." His eyes followed Nicolae as he climbed the stairs and turned down a corridor, then he looked to Simion.


"So." Simion tipped his head inquiringly. "From the look of him, I would say all went well when you met, and he understands now how things will be."


Draculea's expression sobered. "I almost hurt him, Simion. I was so furious that he would leave me, my grief was so great..."


"But you did not hurt him, Domn. You saw there was no malice in what he did."


"But I came so close. And I could have handled him more gently."


Simion snorted. "There are times for gentleness, lord, and you will have them with Nicolae. But the emotions you both felt were too strong to be held back this night. What happened had to happen, and the boy is happy. Look at that, and forgive yourself."


Draculea nodded, and his expression grew even more grim. "Now that the marriage is official, and I have my Nicolae, there is but one more thing to be done."


Now Simion smiled, and it was not a pleasant sight. "Yes, Domn. How will you do it?"


"He leaves today for his own castle. I fear that poor Ernestu will meet with bandits along the road. Such a shame. You know, Simion, that I can usually control them here in my own lands, but, well..." He shrugged. "Even I cannot be everywhere at once, and tragedies do happen."


The two men started up the staircase. "And what are my prince's plans for today?"


"A few more hours sleep with my love, then I will see my father-in-law off, and wish him pleasant journey." Draculea's smile was cruel. "Then I think I shall go hunting."


When Draculea entered his own room, it was dim. The only light came from the fire that barely flickered on the hearth. He made his way to his bed and paused at its side, drinking in the sight he had longed to see for days. Nicolae lay there, snuggled beneath the rich velvet coverlet, his hair very dark against the white case of his pillow. Draculea had been right about his needing rest because he was already deeply asleep, his chest rising and falling in the slow rhythm of deep slumber.


Draculea stripped quietly, then slid between the sheets to lie beside his lover. Carefully, so as not to awaken the boy, he moved closer to him. As if sensing his presence even in the depths of sleep, Nicolae turned toward him, pressing against his side. Draculea felt the vibrant, living warmth along his body and offered up a prayer of thanksgiving before giving himself up to slumber.


The second awakening with Nicolae was as sweet as the first. A servant had crept in some time before. A good fire blazed on the hearth, and candles were lit. When Draculea opened his eyes it was to find Nicolae sitting up beside him, watching him. With his hair tumbling before still sleepy eyes he looked all of fourteen. Draculea stretched. "Good morrow, Nicolae." He reached out and stroked the boy's arm. "You slept well? I think you are not used to sleeping with another."


"I am not, Domn, but I will greatly enjoy becoming accustomed to it. My sleep was most excellent."


"Good." Draculea pulled Nicolae down for a kiss, which became two kisses, which became three. At last he moved the boy away with a sigh. "I am greedy for you, my love. The hunger seems to grow with the feeding."


"May I always satisfy you, my lord."


"You do. You will. But," He sat up. "the other fleshly hungers must be attended to." He got out of bed. "I will send Simion up with breakfast for you. I want you to stay here until I come for you, or send for you."


Nicolae watched as Draculea dressed. "As you will. But..." His voice was doubtful. "I am not to stay here always, am I?"


Draculea sat on the bed, pulling on his boots. "What, never leaving this room?" He smiled, ruffling Nicolae's hair. "It is a pleasing thought, but no. You are not a prisoner here, boy. You are not confined. It is only that I would have you untroubled, and the festering sore that sired you has not yet gone. He will soon, and then the run of the castle is yours." Draculea stood up. "I will see him on his way, then I will show you your new workplace."


Nicolae's eyes lit up. "The library?"


"You say that with the same voice that a zealot would use to say Jerusalem. Yes, the library." He bent for another kiss, and Nicolae threw his arms around his neck clinging to him. Vlad enjoyed the embrace for a moment, then gently disengaged himself. He touched Nicolae's face and murmured, "Soon, my pet. Soon you will be rid of him. Do not let him trouble your heart for another moment." His step was firm as he left the room.


Draculea found Simion near the entrance. "How many men will accompany Varga, and where are they now?"


"Only three, Domn. They are in the kitchen now."


"Good. Come with me to the treasury." They made their way to a small room hidden deep within the castle, down among the crypts and dungeons in its bowels. The only thing to mark it as different from any of the others was the two men guarding it. They went inside.


The walls were lined with chests and coffers. Draculea took three small leather sacks from a shelf and opened a chest. It was filled with gleaming silver coins. He dipped his hands into the mass, then hesitated, thoughtful. He shut the chest and opened another. This revealed an equally large mass of gold coins. Draculea scooped up a handful and began to fill the bags. "Did you ever execute that bandit that was captured last month?"


"You did not specifically order it, my lord, so he still lives."


"Good. I had forgotten about him, till now. He will be of greater use this day than he ever was in his previous miserable life. He would have rotted in his cell, but now he will be granted a swift death instead." Draculea finished filling the last bag, tied it shut, and shut the chest. He slipped the bags inside his shirt. "When we get to the kitchen, take some food to Nicolae and sit with him for awhile. He may wish to talk with someone, and I have business that needs attending before I return to him."


In the kitchen Ernestu's men were finished with their meal and happily harassing the kitchen girls. They bolted to their feet when the prince and his man entered the room. Simion directed the maids to go find tasks elsewhere, then gathered food for Nicolae and left his prince to speak to the men.


Draculea regarded them. They were nothing special, about what he would have expected of Varga's household. If he was correct in his assessment of their character, or their lack thereof, there should be no problem. If he wasn't... Well, men died every day. It was the way of the world.


Draculea folded his arms. "Are you free men, or are you serf?"


They all straightened. The tallest, the leader of the trio spoke up proudly, "We are free men, Domn. Varga is too proud, too niggardly to spend what he would need toward training his serfs. It is less expensive for him to hire mercenaries, such as ourselves. But our contract with him is over soon, and we will seek work elsewhere."


"Let me guess. He is not over-generous."


"As I have already said, Domn, he is niggardly. We would not have taken his offer had we not been desperate at the time."


"Would you like to leave his employ early, and with enough money to live comfortably till you can find another post?"


The men exchanged looks, wondering if the prince was offering them work. It did not seem likely. They knew that he already had many men to serve him, all better equipped and better trained than they. "That would be a most welcome opportunity, prince. But how could it be?"


Draculea pulled a leather bag from his shirt and tossed it to the leader. The man opened it, and his eyes bulged at the sight of the coins. It was almost unimagined riches to a man who had never owned more than a few silver coins at any time. He showed it to his companions, who were as amazed as he. At last he looked back at Draculea. "What is it you wish us to do, lord?"


"Your master is not long for this world."


The man frowned. He looked longingly at the coins again, then tied the bag up, sighing, and offered it to the prince. "I am sorry, Domn. I cannot commit murder, even for so rich a prize."


"I do not ask you to commit murder, fool." Instead of taking the bag, Draculea produced two more, tossing one to each of the other men. "I ask you to do nothing. That is exactly the point. You will do nothing, and then you will be free to go your own way, live your own life. All that you must do is leave this country after what happens and never return, speaking nothing of what transpires." When they looked doubtful Draculea said, "You know what manner of man Varga is?" They nodded grimly. "He has hurt one I love. I will see him dead, with or without your help. I would prefer with." His eyes glinted. "I will have enough blood on my hands."


In Elizabeta's room Lena was helping her mistress dress. Beta was less than happy. "I wanted to sleep, Lena. I am a princess now, I can do as I please."


"Like most you have the wrong idea of how a princes lives. A prince, perhaps, may do as he pleases, but a princess is like any other woman: bound to her duties. Your father is leaving, and you must see him off."


"I don't see why," Beta said grumpily. "It is not as if either of us did not wish this. I am glad to be away from him, and he will shed no tears over my being gone."


"Still the illusion must be kept up for the world, Beta. What is matters little to the world beside what seems to be. After this chore you will not need to have many dealings with him: only a letter now and again, and perhaps a duty visit when your first child is born."


Beta grimaced. "The thought of that gives me no pleasure, Lena."


"The visit? He could come here."


"No, the child. The idea of something growing inside me..."


"I know, I know. But it cannot be avoided. You must produce an heir to seal your position. Just one, if it is male and healthy. Then there are ways to stop the coming of a child, and I can find access to them easily enough." She wound Beta's hair into a smooth coil at the base of her neck, pinning it securely and fitting a dainty net of silk cords over it. "There. You are so beautiful, my Beta. Draculea may rule Wallachia, but you will rule him." And I will rule you, she thought.


The two women made their way down to the great hall, to find Ernestu sitting in a chair by the fire, dressed for travel. He rose to greet his daughter, dropping a dry peck on a reluctantly offered cheek. "So, Beta. You are a wife now. Soon to be a mother, I hope." His tone said that she had better devote all her energies to producing an heir as quickly as possible.


"As the Lord wills, Father."


"No, as you lord husband wills, child. Remember that. Perhaps you think that you are free of constraint and control now. I warn you, daughter, to watch yourself. Do not take too many liberties, or you may find yourself slapped back into your place. The Draculea is not a man to be trifled with." He rubbed his throat absently. "I know."


Draculea entered the great hall and approached the group. He made a short, formal bow, which Ernestu returned as the women curtsied. "Varga, your men are ready to accompany you."


"I thank you for seeing to them, my lord."


"It is nothing, Varga. I was happy to do it."


They went outside to find the men waiting, each beside his horse, waiting for their master to mount. Ernestu kissed Beta once again, and she murmured dutifully, "Safe journey, Father."


"Thank you, Beta. Be a good girl." He glanced back at the castle, an unhealthy light in his eyes, and said, "Tell Nicolae that I will be thinking of him, and not to pine. I am sure we will see each other again."


"Yes, Father," said the bewildered Beta. Since when did Ernestu worry about his bastard's feelings?


Draculea had overheard his words, and his fists clenched at his sides, but he managed to give Ernestu a faint, false smile. "Good journey, Varga. May you safely reach the end that destiny has prepared for you."


Ernestu blinked at the odd choice of words, but accepted the good wishes gracefully. He mounted his horse and tossed a last look at the castle, thinking of the boy hiding somewhere inside. As he turned his horse and rode through the gate, he was considering how soon he would dare write Beta and suggest that she send Nicolae home to comfort him, now that his other children were gone.


Elizabeta was trying to think of a good excuse that would allow her to avoid Draculea's company when he turned to her and said, "Well, Lady, you will be wanting to get acquainted with your new domain. I will send Simion to you, and he can show you the castle and begin acquainting you with the household. Will this be agreeable?" The last question was, Beta knew, a courtesy. This was what he was expecting her to do, and it suited her well.


"I would be pleased, my lord. And how will you spend your day?"


Draculea smiled wolfishly. "I will hunt."


Elizabeta shivered as she watched him leave, muttering to Lena, "Men and their blood sports."


In his room, Draculea found Nicolae talking excitedly to Simion, who listened patiently as the boy outlined his hopes and plans for the castle library. He was finishing with, "...of course I have not yet seen it, so I have no idea of what I will be working with, but I am sure it is very fine."


"You will see for yourself now, boy." The smile that broke across Nicolae's face when he saw Draculea warmed the prince's heart. "The traveling party is away, duty is done. Now I will show you to your sanctum, then go to my hunt. Come." Nicolae hurried to him, and Draculea said, "Simion, the princess and her maid await you in the great hall. I trust you to show her all she will need to know in her new position." His eyes said, And no more than that.


As they walked through the halls Draculea told Nicolae, "You will have full charge here, Nicolae, and there will be much for you to do. It has been sadly neglected since my father died, I fear. You will make it live again. You said you wished to learn book binding?" The boy nodded eagerly. "Good. I can have tutors brought in to teach you. Any supplies that you need, you have only to tell Simion or myself and they will be provided. I have already ordered ink, quills, and parchment, but there should be some in the library for you to start. Here we are."


Draculea opened the heavy door and urged the boy in before him. Nicolae stopped dead just inside, gazing around in near stupefied wonder. Draculea watched indulgently as the boy's eyes roamed the great banks of shelves. His expression was the closest to greed, he thought, that it probably ever approached.


Nicolae wandered to one case and reached out, touching the dusty volumes with hesitant reverence. He said softly, "I... I think I should inventory it first, so that my lord will know exactly what he has, and be best able to determine what else he wishes to acquire."


"Do as you wish, Nicolae. I already have everything I want, but if you think I should have anything in particular, then I will have it." He took the boy's hand and turned it, kissing his palm. "This is your domain, Nicolae. I know you will take good care of it. Now I must go. I will be back this afternoon or this evening, and you must stop then, else I shall become jealous of your work. You will have your days to spend here as you wish, but your nights belong to me."


Before Draculea could release his hand, Nicolae drew it to his own lips. "My nights, my days, my life, dearest Vlad. All yours." Draculea left quickly, feeling a suspicious sting in his eyes. He had never been one to believe in tears of joy, but Nicolae could almost persuade him that they existed.


Chapter 24: Rough Justice

Child of the Night, Part Twenty-four

The Year of Our Lord, 1460

The Day After The Wedding

Castle Draculea, Wallachia

Rough Justice


Vlad went to his room and changed into his hunting clothes: leather breeches, a simple, dark shirt with the sleeves fastened up to leave his hands free, and sturdy boots. Then he opened a small chest that sat against one wall and studied the contents.


It was a deadly array. There were several daggers of varying length and shape, a small mace with a lethally studded head, and other, less easily recognizable instuments of pain and destruction. After considering them for a moment he chose a large, heavy, single edged knife and hung it in its sheath on his belt. Another moment's thought, and he locked the chest. Nicolae might return to the room. Despite the fact that he was not inclined to pry into the affairs of other, the boy's natural curiosity about his new home might get the better of him, and Vlad knew that this evidence of his lover's cruel side would distress him.


When he went down to the stable, two of his men were waiting to accompany him, standing beside their mounts with their bows and quivers slung on their backs. A stable lad held Lucifer's reins, shifting occasionally to avoid the restive stallion's hooves. Lucifer was as much a veteran as Draculea, and he could sense when there was to be bloodshed.


Draculea took the reins and mounted, waiting for his men to follow suit before guiding his mount through the gates. Once outside the castle confines, he turned away from the road, and they entered the forest that surrounded the castle. They moved into the woods at a leisurely pace, weaving through the thickening trees. Out of sight of the castle, they came to a small clearing. There another four men waited. Three of them were Draculea's men at arms, and they bore bows and quivers slung across their backs. The fourth was a different story.


He was once a large, sturdy man, but he seemed wasted. Long months in Draculea's dungeons had leeched his skin of color and a scanty diet had made the once solid flesh fall away, leaving him almost gaunt. He was filthy, his hair and ragged clothes crawling with vermin. In truth, his state of cleanliness was not much different than it would have been had he been free the last few months.


The man was lashed securely to his mount, unable to grasp the reins to keep his seat. His hands were bound behind him, and a none-too-clean rag was stuffed in his mouth and tied in place. The eyes above it showed surprisingly little fear. He had come to terms long ago with his fate.


Draculea addressed the men. "I hunt today, but for very special prey. It is a beast that walks on two legs, mocking God and man. You all know that when I brought back my new bride I brought others of Varga's household." They nodded. "Among this number was one who is very dear to me."


He did not need to speak Nicolae's name. His household was well aware of their master's enamorment with the young librarian. Simion had been careful to inform everyone so that there would be no clumsy mistakes that would provoke the prince by frightening or upsetting his lover.


"This vile creature, Varga, has been the author of much pain and sorrow for someone I care for deeply. I would not count myself a man if I allowed him to continue to walk the earth. You may wonder why I chose to enact this justice in such a secretive manner. I am a prince: I may boldly chastise or even execute those I feel deserving. In this case I choose discretion. You see, my love is tender hearted. No matter how this beast has abused him, still he will grieve his death, and I must not be seen as the one who brings it about."


There were murmurs of agreement. "Thus I allowed the scum to breathe for a few more days, and set his feet on the road to his home. He travels, I hunt the woods about my castle. Who will question me?" The men were silent. It would take a bold, or stupid, man indeed to suggest any direct connection between Prince Draculea and any mishap that occurred in his lands.


"I spoke with Varga's men before they left. Unsurprisingly, they bear him no love. We will follow their band. Before our approach becomes evident, we will leave the road and draw nigh them under cover of the forest on either side. At my signal you," he smiled, "my bandits, will attack. Now this is very important: you may wound one or two of the men, but only lightly. There must be nothing life threatening, no serious hurt. Afterwards if anyone questions them they can show the mark to prove the truth of the attack. But on no account will you kill any of them. I have given my word. Fail in this, and your own life is forfeit." He spoke matter-of-factly, as if this hardly needed to be mentioned, and it scarcely did. His men were aware of the penalties for disobeying a direct order.


"The men will flee, leaving Varga. I will," Draculea's lips drew back from his teeth in a humorless smile that made more than one of the men shudder, "deal with him myself. This," he gestured at the prisoner, "will be left to prove the bandit attack." The prisoner closed his eyes, but briefly. Knowing Draculea's history of dealing with his enemies this could be counted a merciful death. Better an arrow or a knife blow than twisting for hours, spitted on a wooden stake.


They started after the small group. There was no banter among the men: this was serious work, and none of them felt inclined to frivolity. If they had been, one look at their grim faced leader would have silenced them.


It was near two hours before they sighted the group, barely visible in the distance. At a gesture from the prince the group split, entering the forest on either side of the road. They moved slowly enough so that they would not be readily noticed from the road, and it took them almost another hour to draw abreast of the group.


For a few moments they rode parallel to the men on the road. Draculea watched Varga, eyes narrowed. At last he motioned to one of his men. The soldier drew his bow, notched an arrow, and sent it hissing over the road.


The soldiers broke from the forest with bloodcurdling screams. It was over quickly. Varga's men milled in terror that was probably not entirely feigned. They knew how easy it would be for the prince simply to dispose of them, eliminating any chance that his plan might come to light. But the prince's men had their orders, and obeyed as meticulously as ever. One of Varga's guards took an arrow in the thigh, another had a slash across his chest, so shallow that it would scarcely leave him a scar to show the tavern wenches he wanted to impress. In moments they were fleeing, disappearing through the forest.


Ernestu had attempted to flee also, but he was cut off. Every direction he turned was blocked by a hard faced man with drawn bow, surely bandits. He called out, "Hold your fire! You want me alive, bandits. I can bring you a rich ransom if I am delivered to my home unharmed."


As he spoke another horse came from the cover of the trees. Varga was so agitated that it had almost reached him before he recognized the rider. "My prince! Flee, for your life!"


Draculea continued to approach, silent and unhurried. One look at his expression, and Varga knew. He tried to bolt. In his desperation, he managed to swerve around the men who would have blocked his way. They might have stopped him, but Draculea roared, "Don't touch him! He's mine!"


The chase was brief. His horse was no match for Lucifer, and the great stallion drew level with him quickly. Draculea was so close that he was able to reach out and catch the noble by the scruff of his neck. With one hard jerk he unseated the man, letting him tumble to the dusty road. The horse, happy to be free of a disagreeably heavy and demanding rider, cantered away, tail high. Draculea turned, circling back to where Varga was struggling to his feet.


When Varga stood, he found himself surrounded again by the soldiers. If he moved in any direction he risked the stamping feet of their horses. He dodged from one side to the other, only to be driven back into the center, but none of the men touched him.


Draculea entered the circle, then slid down from Lucifer, tossing the reins to one of the men. He paused and took his time pulling on a pair of gloves. Varga was trembling. As Draculea came toward him, he dropped to his knees. "My prince, mercy! Please!"


It was so quiet that the gathered men heard the creak of leather as Draculea's hand curled into a fist at his side. Vlad had slapped Varga in the private room before the wedding, but his purpose then had been mainly to humiliate. Now he was bent on punishment. The backhanded blow knocked the older man sprawling.


When he beat someone, Varga had always administered more blows when the victim attempted to rise after having been put down, so he did not try to get up, but he quickly learned that this tactic would not spare him when Draculea drove his boot into his side. "Get up, dog!" When Varga did not obey immediately there was another kick. "Up, I said! I could easily kill you like this, but I have other plans."


Frantically hoping that he might yet escape death, Varga struggled to his feet and faced the prince. A purple blotch was already rising on his cheek, and he thought that perhaps a rib had been cracked by that last blow, but he could easily survive those injuries. Indeed, he would be grateful if those were all he had to deal with. "Please, Domn, whatever I have done to displease you, I truly repent."


"And even now you would profess ignorance?" Another blow to Ernestu's face, not quite as strong as the other, made him stagger back. He was nudged forward again by the large body of one of the horses. "What makes you think I crave your repentance, Varga? That is the province of the church: I'm sure they would be happy to sell you an indulgence for whatever sins you have committed. I am not so easily satisfied. I am like the Lord rather than his earthly servants: I demand blood in atonement."


He threw another blow, driving his fist deep into Varga's soft belly. When Ernestu bent double, Draculea lifted his knee, smashing it into his face. Even through the thin leather of his breeches he felt the cartilage crunch. When Varga stumbled back he left a bright smear of blood behind.


Varga clutched at his ruined nose, and stared in horror at the blood that slicked his hand. The blood of others did not trouble him, but his own was a different matter. As he stood, stunned, Draculea wrapped his hand in Ernestu's shirt, holding him fast, and struck him again. The beating had begun in earnest.


And it WAS a beating: it never approached the level of a fight. Ernestu, while a bully, had never been a warrior or even a brawler. He preferred to deal with those who were weaker than he, or those of a lower class who did not dare raise a hand in return, lest they face execution. He was not used to facing a man of equal, much less, superior strength, and he had never faced one who was determined to kill him.


Again and again Draculea's hard fists smashed his face and gut. Vlad took his time, choosing his targets so that the maximum pain would be inflicted without risking fatal injury or unconsciousness. He wanted Varga aware through every last moment of his suffering in this mortal realm.


Finally the only thing holding the older man upright was Draculea's grip, and he let him go. Ernestu slumped to the ground, whimpering in a manner that Draculea might have found pathetic, had he not known the man. He kicked Varga over onto his back, and broke another rib for good measure.


Draculea stood looking down at the battered man for a moment. The prince's breath had scarcely increased from the exertions. He regarded his victim almost dispassionately. If I left him as he is now, perhaps having him dragged off into the brush, he would most likely die. It is doubtful that any who chanced to pass this way would find him, and if they did it is by no means sure that they would tend him. There are those who would claim that I was not truly guilty of his death, that I was leaving it in the hands of God to decide.


He spat on the ground. But I am not one of those. Before heaven's throne of judgement I will proudly claim this deed. And since I will take the responsibility, I will do it in the manner that will best please me.


Draculea sank to his knees beside the man on the ground, moving to straddle and pin his legs, the position almost a parody of one he had enacted with Nicolae during a tender interlude. But there was no gentleness in Draculea at this moment, and this passion was far different than that which he had shared with his young lover.


There was shifting and murmuring among the watching men as Draculea drew his great hunting knife. Now it would be over quickly. The weapon was fearsome: honed to a razor sharpness that could split tough hide with the lightest flick. Draculea held the knife, blade down, in his fist. But instead of raising it high and plunging it into Varga's heart or slashing it across his throat as they had anticipated, he hesitated, the blade hovering.


Then his hand darted forward. Ernestu screamed as the point was buried two inches in the meaty part of his right shoulder. Draculea held it there as Ernestu's cry faded. Then he twisted the blade.


A few of the horses, those who had not seen battle, shied at the piercing scream, and their riders had to fight them back under control. Lucifer gave them a jaundiced look, as if contemptuous of those who would be upset by a little thing like a man being stabbed. He watched calmly as his master withdrew the knife, its tip dripping gore, and plunged it into the other shoulder, giving him a matching wound. The scream was just as loud this time when he turned the blade.


As he went on, though, the cries grew fainter. Arms, chest, belly, upper thighs... Draculea spared only the areas where he could not be absolutely sure that a shallow stab would not prove fatal. He used the gleaming blade to rip the tunic open and changed from stabs to slashes. There was less chance of killing him outright that way. He remembered the state of Nicolae's back, his legs and buttocks, and worked determinedly.


As he drew the edge of the knife across Ernestu's chest, he said, "Have you ever heard of the Death of a Thousand Cuts, Varga? It originated in Nippon, or perhaps Cathay. The orientals are wonders when it comes to cruelty, they quite put our humble efforts to shame. This method of execution can take days if it is administered by a skilled torturer, a true artisan."


Draculea made the first cut on the mewling man's throat, being careful to avoid any vital veins or arteries. "The prisoner is slowly whittled away. They remove a fingertip here, an eyelid there, then perhaps an earlobe or a bit of heel. Always the less vital parts of the body. Blood is staunched where necessary lest the poor bastard die from loss. The torturer who allows that merciful death may find himself on the other end of the blade."


The knife flicked, and the tip of Ernestu's nose was removed. He had breath only for a whimper. His hands clawed upward in a futile effort to defend himself. Draculea caught one wrist almost casually and drove the knife through his palm, continuing to speak. "That is the sort of end you deserve, but it simply isn't possible. You can't just disappear, and your death must appear to be thw work of bandits, though particularly vicious ones."


He nodded to one of his men, and an arrow found its mark in the heart of the bandit prisoner. The man was dead before his body fell sideways to dangle in its bonds. One of the men removed the gag and bindings, then cut him loose. He tumbled into the road and lay, prepared to be a silent witness to an attack that never happened.


"No Varga, I can't do as I'd truly like. If I could, I'd slice bits off you and feed them to my hounds, except that I would fear poisoning the beasts with your putrid flesh." The blade flashed again, and he flipped a severed nipple into the dust. Varga's eyes rolled upward, showing the whites, and he stopped shuddering.


Draculea swore, and pressed his ear to the bloody chest. He came up with his face and hair gory. "He's only fainted. Damn it, he won't get away that easily. Water!" One of the men brought Draculea a skin of water. The prince took a deep drink. Then he tipped it to his lips once again and spat a mouthful in Varga's face. The man trembled and moaned. Draculea poured more water, casting aside the empty skin, and slapped him briskly. "Waken, pig! I'm not through with you yet."


Some of the men looked away as Draculea went to work on Varga's face. They were used to the heat and clash of battle. This cruelty, cold and intense, was frightening to them. It served a purpose that Draculea had not considered: it insured that each man who witnessed it would do his utmost to please the prince. None of them wanted to risk arousing wrath in a man who was capable of what they were seeing.


By the time Draculea began to feel that perhaps a little of Nicolae's suffering had been paid back, his gloves were soaked with gore, and it was streaked past his wrists. Splatters and splashes stained his dark shirt. The blood on his face and in his hair from where he had listened for Varga's heartbeat was beginning to congeal, becoming sticky.


At last he reached back and wiped the blade carefully on Varga's breeches and resheathed it. He pushed at Varga's chin, noting the white gleam of bone throught the ragged flesh. "Can you hear me, vermin?" He was answered by a moan. "Good. You know, you still might live. If I were to leave you now, and someone came along very soon to treat you, you might. Of course, you would live as a horror that would make children scream, women faint, and strong men clutch their bellies in sickness. You wouldn't want that, would you, Varga? You prize beauty, don't you? You would not like if it was driven from you by your own hideous appearance."


"No, I won't let you live. I could bring you a quick end now with the blade, but I won't do that, either. Your continued existence on this earth would be a betrayal of my love for Nicolae." He began to tug off the gloves. The blood had seeped through even the leather, and his hands were stained red. He tucked the gloves in his belt, saying, "I prefer this method. It is more personal."


He closed his big hands around Ernestu's throat and began to apply slow, steady pressure. "And do you know the ironic thing, Varga? Do you know what will happen when Nicolae learns of your death?" His grip tightened. "He will pray for you. He will light candles for your soul, and urge Mircea to say masses to shorten your stay in Purgatory. All in vain, Ernestu, all in vain. You are not bound for Purgatory. No, that is for souls who can be redeemed. You will fly straight to your rightful place in Hell."


There was still enough will to live left in Varga to let him lift his hands to scrabble weakly at Draculea's arms, then his face. He even managed to gouge a shallow scratch on the prince's cheek. Draculea did not flinch or pause in strangling the man. "I hope it scars. That way each time I look in a mirror I can remember this day. Do you wonder, Varga, why I left your eyes untouched? I want my face to be your last sight on this Earth. I want you to carry it with you into an eternity of suffering."


Ernestu tried to gasp, but could not draw even a sip of air. On his face, what little skin that was left unmarked flushed red beneath its skim of blood, then began to turn purple. His eyes bulged, and his tongue protruded. If not for his wounds, he would have resembled a fat, petulant child, making a rude gesture in his anger. His hands fell to pluck weakly at Draculea's fingers, sunk deep in the puffy flesh of his throat.


"Why do you struggle? Don't you know that you are dead, Varga? You died the moment you laid rough hands on my Nicolae, the moment you turned your rutting thoughts toward him. The innocent told Simion that God protected him from your lust by causing you to spill your seed at a timely moment, before you could slake your foul desires. I will protect him in a more direct manner."


He leaned forward, throwing his weight behind his grip. "You shouldn't have hurt him!" There was a crackling sound, and something collapsed in Ernestu's throat. Even the faint wheeze he had been making stilled, and his body was racked by a fierce shudder. There was a sudden, foul stench as his bowels and bladder loosened and he soiled himself like a month old babe. His eyes rolled up once again, showing the whites.


Still Draculea did not release his hold. He tightened it even more, nails gouging out flecks of skin, causing wounds that no longer bled because the heart had ceased to pump. He held on for another full minute. Finally, reluctantly, he eased his grip and put his ear once again to Varga's mutilated chest. The men were silent. Even the horses were still. Draculea listened with an intent look on his face, as if he were hearing the secrets of the unvierse whispered in his ear.


Finally he pulled himself upright, and spat in the corpse's face. "Done, Nicu," he whispered. "For you, but you will never know, my angel. You will never know, because it would break your gentle heart to learn I could do this, even for love. Especially for love."


Once again Draculea drew his knife. He spread Ernestu's limp, cooling hand flat on the ground and chopped off two of the fingers. When he picked them up, the men saw that there were rich golden rings sunk deep in the swollen flesh. Varga had probably been unable to remove them for years, and no self-respecting bandit would have left them.


A quick search of Ernestu's body revealed a small bag of coins. These were shared out amongst the men, the bag left in the road beside the body. The rings, still on the bloodless digits, were flung deep into the trees. A fox or weasel would find them soon enough. Perhaps a magpie would steal the rings to decorate her nest. In any case, they might be recognized, and so were to be left behind.


Draculea mounted his stallion, and walked Lucifer over to Varga's body. Many horses were spooked by death: Lucifer hardly noticed. Draculea leaned down from his saddle. His men exchanged quick glances as he spoke to the corpse. Perhaps their master was mad? What they had just witnessed seemed to give creedence to that thought. But then, if he was mad, who would then be mad enough to point it out?


"I have been called the Son of the Devil, Varga. If that is true, I charge my infernal sire to prepare a special pit for you and there let you spend eternity as the plaything of his foulest, most vicious demons. May what you experienced today seem like a brief moment of joyous serenity."


He suddenly hauled back on his reins, setting his heels in Lucifer's sides. The great beast reared and stamped in protest, his hooves crashing down on the body. If Varga had any spark of life left, it was snuffed out then. Draculea fought Lucifer into submission once again and started back to his castle, sparing no further thought to the lump of torn and crushed flesh in the roadway.


They rode at a leisurely pace, and the light was deepening into the gold of evening when they returned to the castle. Nothing was said as Draculea dismounted and strode into the castle. The men who had accompanied him would not speak of this day, not even amongst themselves, not after what they had seen befall a man who angered Draculea.


Vlad went directly to his room. Simion was waiting for him there. When he saw Draculea's dusty, bloody appearance he said quietly, "So. It is done."


"It is done."


"Good." Simion did not ask if Ernestu had suffered. He could not look at his lord and doubt it.


Draculea sat and held out his foot. Simion knelt quickly to pull off his boot as Draculea said, "How is Nicu?"


"As happy as a spring lamb in a meadow of clover. He is probably more dusty than you, Domn, with shifting the library contents."


Draculea smiled as Simion pulled off the other boot. "I want to see him, but not just yet. He has not seen me like this and I do not want to frighten or distress him." Draculea got up and went once again to the small chest against the wall. He unlocked it and laid the knife inside. Then he pulled the gloves from his belt and dropped them in on top of the weapons. When his servant raised his eyebrows, he shrugged. "A reminder, Simion. A memento. They served me well." He examined his red stained hands. "I did not bruise. That might have been hard to explain to the boy." He closed the chest and locked it once again. "I must wash before I see Nicu."


Simion had one of the castle's tubs brought to the prince's room. There was already water heating in the kitchen, as he had guessed that his lord would wish to refresh himself after his exertions. Simion supervised the pouring of steaming buckets of water while Draculea relaxed with a glass of wine.


When the tub was filled and the other servants gone Draculea drained the last of the wine and stood, going to dip a testing finger in the water. "Good. This heat will be welcome. I ache, Simion. I fear I am getting old."


"Nicolae will keep you young, my lord," his friend assured him.


As if in answer, the door burst open and Nicolae swept in. The moment he laid eyes on Draculea he began to chatter brightly about his day. But he broke off abruptly, his eyes growing wide with horror. "Vlad!" he cried, rushing to the prince. He touched the blood crusted scratch on the prince's cheek, then began to frantically tug at Draculea's clothing. "Where? Where is it?"


Surprised, Draculea took hold of his arms, trying to calm him. "Where is what, Nicu?"


But Simion understood. He put a hand on Nicolae's shoulder and said firmly, "Boy! It's all right, the blood is not his. There is no wound."


Nicolae looked at him, some of the panic seeping out. "No wound? Truly?"


"Truly," Draculae assured him. He kissed the boy's forehead. "I am safe, Nicu. As are you."


Nicolae ignored the last words. His fingers plucked at the gore-damp shirt, them moved to touch his ruddy hands and his smeared face. "But the blood..."


"Not mine."


"No?" He wilted against Draculea. "There's so much of it. I was afraid."


"I know, pet. That's why I didn't want you to see me like this. I planned to bathe, then come to you in the library."


"And I just broke in." His voice was sheepish. "I am sorry, Domn. It's just that I wanted to share what I am doing."


"Of course you did, and I wish to hear it. But first I must cleanse myself. And these are your rooms as well, Nicolae. You need not apologize for entering your own home."


He had released Nicolae's arms, and now the boy embraced him. "Home is a beautiful word, isn't it, Domn?"


Draculea gave him a squeeze, then let go. "Back to your library, Nicu, for another hour or so. I know that you are loath to leave it"


"I will admit, Domn, that I leave it happily only for you or to perform my devotions, and..." he looked abashed, "I am afraid that I am not quite as enthusiastic for my devotions." Draculea laughed, and NIcolae touched one large stain on the prince's shirt, and frowned. "Was your hunt fruitful, Maria Ta?"


"In a way, but I brought home no meat. The beast I killed was most likely diseased."


Now Nicolae looked alarmed again. "Sickness? Simion!" He looked to the older man in appeal. "You will watch him, won't you? You are clever with medicines. He must not sicken, or take blood poisoning from the creature."


"Never fear," Simion assured him. "I believe that the sickness this particular beast carried could not be spread."


"What was this animal?"


Draculea looked down into Nicolae's eyes: so soft and warm with love and concern. He found himself saying, "It was an old, dangerous creature, Nicolae. One that had lived far past its appointed time and done much damage. It was grizzled, and vicious."


"But what was it?"


He smiled gently, strokeing the boy's hair. "It was a wild boar, Nicolae. It was a pig."


Chapter 25: Vows

Child of the Night, Part Twenty-five

The Year of Our Lord, 1460

Castle Draculea, Wallachia



Nicolae went down to the library to wait for his lover to finish with his bath. He surveyed the mess that he had made of the room that day, shaking his head. It always seemed that you had to create greater disorder to finally achieve order. Several of the shelves were empty, their contents piled on the large tables scattered through the room, and the great desk in the corner was adrift in loose documents. All would need to be sorted, cleaned, catalogued, and replaced in a logical arrangement.


He let his eyes travel over the dozens and dozens of packed shelves. He had barely begun on one tiny section, and to do this properly would take months, if not years. Instead of being daunted by the thought, he was elated. He finally had something that would make him feel useful, as if he were truly using the talents with which he had been gifted.


There was not much he could do in a few minutes about the piles of books and papers, he decided, but he wanted to make the room a little tidier for his lover's first visit to his new domain. The maids in the kitchen were a little surprised when the prince's new favorite showed up asking for hot water and cloths.


They were even more surprised when he turned down their offer to have a servant tend to whatever it was he wanted cleaned. "No, no," he had said cheerfully, hoisting the bucket of steaming water, the rough cloths slung over his arm. "You have quite enough to do. This is my business." The staff had exchanged bewildered looks. None could remember the last time any of the people they served had indicated that they thought the servants were amply supplied with tasks. Most seemed to believe the staff sat idle, and thus should be assigned more tasks each day. Nicolae had begun unconsciously to endear himself to Draculea's household.


In the library Nicolae carefully scrubbed the emptied shelves, then wiped them dry. Finally he sat at one of the tables and began to wipe clean each volume, inspecting them for any sign of wear that should be repaired and setting them aside if it was needed. He did not hear the soft footsteps that came up behind him, and was startled when a hand touched his arm.


"Brother." Beta said, laughing. "Oh, Nicu! Your dress may be richer, but you havel not changed very much, have you? Still so absorbed in your work." Nicolae stood up quickly, a glad smile lighting his face. He started to take his sister in his arms, but paused, hands falling to his side. "What is it, Nicu? No embrace? No welcoming kiss? You love me still, do you not?"


"Beta!" he chided. "You know that the sun will cease to rise before my love for you fails. But before your vows I was bold enough in my familiarities, considering the breadth of the gap between our stations. But now? Now you are a princess."


"And I am still your sister." She put her arms around the tall young man, standing on her toes to kiss his cheek. "There. I hardly think Draculea will scold me for that. And if he does--feh!"


Nicolae laughed, but said, "You must not say such things, Beta. He is your lord husband, and you must obey him and seek to please him as best you may." He gently unwound his sister's arms, continuing, "I, too. He is my master now. All my obedience and respect is due to him, and I must do naught that would displease him."


"It would be very difficult for you to displease me, Nicolae." They both turned as Draculea entered the library, coming to the table where they stood. He gave a short, formal bow to his wife, who answered it with an equally correct curtsey. "Elizabeta. Simion showed you all?" The question was for politeness' sake: Draculea knew that Simion had shown Beta everything... that she was meant to see.


"Yes. Your castle is very grand, lord husband. There are parts of it that are..." she hesitated, pretending to seek words to express herself in a tactful manner, "less cheerful than they might be."


Draculea shrugged. "My mother died more than two decades ago, and the place has not known the presence of a lady during all that time. It has become a bit grim. You may, of course, do what you feel fit to make it more to your taste, lady. Within reason."


Beta smiled, but inwardly she winced at those last two words. She had a feeling that Draculea and Simion's idea of reason would be a great deal different from Lena's and her own. Still, there was no need to worry so soon. Thus far things had gone well enough. The wedding night had been distasteful, but not as bad as it might have been. At least he had not been difficult to get rid of. Once he was gone Lena had come to her. Lena had cleaned Beta, held her while she complained and wept a little, then made her forget him with judicious use of her talented tongue.


"That reminds me, Nicolae. Have you found that you need anything for the library?"


Beta smiled at the glow on Nicolae's face. He was so dedicated to his work, it was really quite sweet. It was too bad that he had not been of higher birth and able to indulge his interests, or that he had not turned his devotions to other more profitable pursuits. He was so charming that he might have made a life as a courtier, if only he hadn't been born a bastard. He is handsome enough to be the favorite of some great queen,she thought. Watching his animation as he described the materials he was discovering in his work, she added wryly, or perhaps a king. But no, he gave himself to the church, and the church would not have him. Poor Nicolae. Well, he will always have a home with me. I will insist.


Beta was not an observant woman. She had since childhood been so wrapped in her own concerns that she noticed very little of what went on around her if it did not directly impact her own comfort. She had known that her father disliked Nicolae and was occasionally harsh with him, but had no idea of the depths his abuse had reached. And now, seeing the gentle interest Draculea turned on her half-brother, all she thought was that he was being charitable, for her sake.


Nicolae was saying, "Some of the shelves are cracked, Domn, and others have been attacked by woodworm. They should be replaced before they can break, or before the creatures can transfer their attention to the volumes. Some of the things eat paper and glue, and..."


"Yes, Nicolae, the shelves will be replaced. I will send men to take the measurements soon. Also I will have samples of wood brought, so that you may choose the most pleasing material."


"You are too generous, Domn. There is no need to replace all. I can just find the ones that are damaged."


"Nonsense. After all, Nicolae, it isn't as if this is a simple whimsy you've dreamed up. This library will be a legacy to my descendants."


Beta watched as Nicolae showed Draculea the list he had begun of the library's contents, one long finger running down the items as he explained each one. She marveled at her husband's patience. He even managed to seem to enjoy Nicolae's prattling.


Well, Beta had made her duty appearance, and now she wanted to get back to Lena. She said, "My husband..."


Draculea looked back to her and, for a moment, it was almost as if he had forgotten she was there. "Yes, Beta?"


"I hope you will excuse me from joining you for the evening meal. I am a bit tired with the castle tour this morning, and would like to sup in my room."


"Yes, yes, of course. As you wish. Simply direct the servants to bring you what you require. Sleep well." He turned back to Nicolae. "And this is a rare volume, you say?"


Beta hesitated a moment, scarcely believing that it had been that simple to gain her freedom for the night. Though Draculea had said that he would allow her time to recover, she had half expected him to demand his nuptial rights again immediately.


Draculea did not speak to her again, but Nicolae gave her a soft smile. "Rest well, dear sister. Do not neglect your prayers. We must both offer thanks for our new lives."


"Yes, Nicolae. Good night." As she went to find a servant and order a meal for herself and Lena, she wondered when the last time had been that she had prayed. Oh, yes. Just before Draculea had arrived at Castle Varga. She had prayed that he would find her pleasing, and would make her his princess. Well, that had come to pass. Perhaps she should pray more often.


When Beta left the room Draculea pulled the chattering Nicolae into his arms and stilled his lips with a kiss. The boy immediately clung to him, opening his mouth to receive the gentle invasion of his lover's tongue. His hands crept up to card through Draculea's dark hair, then cradle the back of his head as the kiss deepened.


At last Nicolae pulled back a little, laughing breathlessly. "My lord! You act as if we had been parted for weeks."


"And so it seemed, Nicu." He kissed him again, nipping lightly at the soft lips, making Nicolae moan and sigh. "Any parting is far too long."


Nicolae rested his head on Draculea's shoulder, his hand stroking his lover's throat. "I would have gone with you. I am not a hunter, but I could have ridden beside you."


"No, love. It was far too dangerous. The beast I hunted was vicious, and it might have turned on you. What would I have done had you been injured, NIcu? Besides..." He tilted Nicolae's face up so he could meet his gaze, running his thumb over one high cheekbone. "It would have grieved you to see even such an evil natured creature killed."


"That is true, Domn. Though I can see the necessity at times, it does not stop the regret. Every creature that walks the earth belongs to God, and some of them he made violent."


"Yes, Nicu. But some of them give themselves over to the Dark One willingly." He jounced the young man in his arms. "Enough of that! Come back to the room. Simion will have food there for us, and I am hungry." He kissed Nicolae again, drawing the boy's tongue into his mouth and suckling it for a moment before releasing him. "Hungry for many things, Nicu." He took the now blushing librarian by the hand and led him away.


In her room Lena asked Beta, "So? He has agreed to let you do as you wish with the castle?"


"Yes, Lena. There was no trouble at all." Beta picked daintily at the platters of food that had been brought by the servants.


"He gave you free reign? Anything?"


"Yes, he said anything within reason."


Lena groaned, shaking her head. "Beta!"


"What is it?"


"Those two words, Beta--'within reason'. Those two words may be used to block us."


"Lena, he has set no limits."


"Not to your face. It will be easier for him to simply deny you when you ask."


"But surely it is only fitting that he set some boundaries?"


"Not if he loves you!"


Beta regarded her, puzzled. "He doesn't love me. You know that."


"He should. He could. You could make him love you, Beta."


"But Lena," she regarded her lover with dismay. "If he loves me, then I will never have peace. He will want to be with me all the time. He will come to my bed often. I shudder at the thought."


Lena sighed. "I know, but sometimes sacrifices must be made. Perhaps all it will take is giving him a son. Men are absurdly grateful for such things." She thought. "It is a bit late tonight. You will make sure that he comes to you tomorrow."


"Ugh! Must I, Lena?" She pouted. "I still ache. He is so rough."


Lena regarded her with bitter tinged amusement. La, child, how selective your memory is. I'm sure I've done worse to you, and will again in the future. But since I've instructed you in what beasts men are, you cannot help but view them as such, can you? Such a willing pupil. "You must, pet. Afterwards I will send for a bath to soothe your pains. I'll give you a massage. You like that."


Beta smiled. Yes, she liked that. It always led to sex, and she would want something to wipe the memory of Draculea's touch from her. "All right, Lena. It shouldn't be too difficult. After all, the serving wenches here are uncommonly ugly. There will be little to distract him."


Draculea had pulled a chair away from the table and now sat in front of the fire. Nicolae sat before him, leaning back against his knees, staring into the flames. They were quiet. Nicolae finally seemed to be talked out.


Draculea played with Nicolae's hair, combing his fingers through the dark silk, gently following the outline of his skull. Occasionally the boy would sigh, tipping his head back just a little farther. He thought Nicolae had gone to sleep, and was considering carrying him to bed, when he spoke. "Vlad?"


Again Draculea felt the small, secret squeeze to his heart as Nicolae called him by his Christian name. "Yes, Nicu?"


"You said that this is my room also. What of the one I was given when I arrived?"


Draculea considered how to best explain the situation. "For show's sake, Nicolae. If anyone not of the household inquires after where you lodge, they will be told that you stay there."


"Must we lie?" He sounded very young, and very sad.


"Nicolae, sweet," Draculea bent over him, and the boy turned his head to gaze up at him. "I'm sorry. I know it hurts you, but yes, we must. Certain things must be done for show. Even the greatest king does not officially lodge his paramour in his own chambers. It is a matter of respect for Beta. To the world you will have your own little room." He caressed Nicolae's face, then his throat. "But you will stay here, with me. It will not be too hard for you?"


Nicolae got on his knees, turning to face Draculea and put his arms around his neck. "I can endure. I can endure much, as long as you love me."


Draculea stroked his back. "Never doubt that, Nicu. Heaven may fall and Hell may rise, but I will always love you."


"You must not make such vows." Nicolae's voice was soft, but concerned. "Please, Vlad. You tempt fate."


"The only thing I want to tempt is you, sweet love." He moved his hand into the open front of Nicolae's shirt, his fingers finding one small, soft nipple and squeezing. Nicolae gasped, arching toward his touch, and Draculea smiled as he felt the bit of flesh swell and stiffen. "Do I?" His hand moved to the other side, bringing the other bud to attention. "Do I tempt you, Nicu?"


"Most sorely, master."


"Would you please me, Nicu?"


"With all my heart." Draculea released Nicolae and spread his legs, beginning to unlace his breeches with one hand. With the other he reached out and touched Nicolae's mouth, running a fingertip lightly over his lips. Nicolae opened his mouth, and the finger slipped inside, stroking his tongue. Nicolae licked it, gave it a brief suck, them pulled back. His head down, he peered up at his lover through a fringe of dark hair and said shyly, "With my mouth, Domn?"


"Please, Nicu. If you will."


"I will try, but you know my ignorance. You must guide me." Draculea had opened his garments. As Nicolae stroked the strong muscles of his thighs, he reached into the gap and lifted out his prick. The boy gave a shuddering sigh that started Draculea's blood pounding.


Nicolae moved forward into the open vee of his lover's legs, and nuzzled his face against the still soft mound of Draculea's sex. The older man felt the smooth slide of high cheekbones and the faint rasp of stubble that was still too new to be harsh. Then Nicolae turned his head and dropped a kiss at the base of the shaft, just at the point where it joined his pelvis. Cradling the member in his palm, he began to kiss his way down its increasing length till he came to the tip. There he stopped and, with the very tip of his tongue, teased the first clear drop of pre-ejaculate from the sensitive slit. He lingered there for a long moment, lapping softly.


Lifting the stiffening prick, he began to work his way down its underside. Now he brought his lips into play as well as his tongue, licking, then mouthing. By the time he had reached the root, Draculea was achingly hard, and pre-seminal fluid flowed copiously. He gripped the chair's arms as Nicolae paused at the base and worked on the small spot between his staff and balls. As he licked, Nicolae dipped into Draculea's pants, pulling aside the cloth, and eased his testicles out, rolling and squeezing gently.


Draculea's breathing had deepened, and it came more quickly. "Ah, Nicu, if this is ignorance, then may you be preserved from wisdom."


Draculea's hips gave tiny jerks as the boy placed soft, sucking kisses on first one testicle, then the other. "I do well, master?" His breath was warm against the moist skin.


Draculea's laugh was a little rough. "The flesh doesn't lie, boy. You can see what you do to me. But as sweet as this is, it is still torture. Take me in your mouth, Nicolae."


Nicolae pulled back a little, and ran his fingers over Draculea's shaft, biting his lip thoughtfully. "There is so much of you, my lord. I wonder that I was able to hold it all. I do not think I will be able to swallow such a great staff."


"Take what you can, Nicu. It will be enough. Wrap your hands below your mouth."


The young man gripped Draculea's staff gently, but firmly, bent, and fitted his mouth over the dark, engorged head. Vlad moaned, closing his eyes as the wet heat enfolded him. Nicolae sucked a little, then tentatively dropped lower, taking in another inch. He pulled back up, still sucking, then slowly lowered again, taking in another inch. He repeated the actions again and again, till gradually he managed to bury half of the straining staff in his mouth. Pulling free he said regretfully, "That is all I can manage, master. I'm sorry."


"Oh, God, boy! Do not apologize. That will do magnificently, but continue before I go mad." With a small smile, Nicolae obeyed. This time he immediately took as much of Draculea into his mouth as he could and began sucking. Draculea tugged his hair gently, to get him to rise. Nicolae pulled off, looking up at him inquiringly, and Vlad fought down a chuckle. He mustn't laugh now, not when the boy was trying so hard to please him. "No, Nicolae. Up and down, and stroke the bottom."


"Oh. Yes, of course," he murmured, returning to his task. Draculea put his hands in Nicolae's hair and urged him along with soft pushes and tugs till he had found a pleasing rhythm.


Finally unable to remain still, Draculea gripped Nicolae's head firmly, whispering, "Be still a little, sweet boy. Let me..." Nicolae held onto Vlad's thighs as his lover began to thrust, fucking his mouth with short, careful strokes. Vlad resisted the urge to ram deeper. Nicolae was willing, and he was talented. Vlad had no doubt that soon the boy would learn to take his entire staff down his throat, and would do so joyfully.


When he climaxed, Vlad tried to pull free, not wanting to choke his lover. But the boy was not willing to relinquish his prize, and clung to him. His glans was barely captured between Nicolae's lips when his seed spurted. As he had anticipated, it startled the boy. He gave a muffled gasp, sperm spilling down his chin, eyes astonished. But then he gulped, trying to swallow the liquid gift.


Laughing now, Draculea pulled him up onto his lap. He used the hem of his shirt to wipe Nicolae's face, saying, "You look like a kitten who has had his face pushed into a dish of milk."


Nicolae hugged him, saying, "I will do better next time."


"You will kill me with pleasure, Nicu. Now," He rubbed the boy's crotch, finding him hard, "I must take care of you."


"Please," he said simply, resting his cheek against Draculea's hair.


"Yes, Nicu." The laces were opened, and he found the hot length of Nicolae's sex, and began to stroke. "I will always take care of you."


"For as long as I live?" There was a haunting need in the boy's tone.


Vlad kissed him, stroking him firmly till the boy shuddered and cried out his release, spilling liquid heat over his hands. As Nicolae trembled in his arms, Vlad kissed him again, and his whispered words were a vow. "Beyond that, Nicolae. Forever."


Chapter 26: Thwarted

Child of the Night, Part Twenty-six

The Year of Our Lord, 1460

The Next Day

Castle Draculea, Wallachia



"The gold gown, Lena?"


"No, Beta."


Beta pouted. "But it goes so well with my hair and eyes."


"And it makes your skin sallow. What we want is a rich, jewel-like color. The burgundy, I think. Yes. This will compliment your hair and eyes also, and it will make your skin seem as white as the first snow of winter."


Lena helped Beta into the chosen dress, then arranged her hair careful, knotting it just at the nape so that the long curve of her neck would be accentuated. The long sleeves were tied at her wrists with white ribbons, and a swatch of matching lace was tucked in her bosom, discreetly masking her cleavage. She was the image of a well-bred, well-born, attractive young lady.


Lena fluffed the lace carefully. "He is in the library with Nicolae, consulting with a craftsman about those damn shelves, I think. Go, and let him know that you would welcome him to your bed tonight."


"But what will I say?" Beta whined. "Lena, give me one more day of peace before I have to give myself to that rutting beast again."


"The sooner you are with child, the sooner you can turn away all his advances, Beta. As to what you should say, be subtle. The upper classes do not expect their women to enjoy the physical side of their unions, the fools. Act accepting, but not eager. He is sure to be looking eagerly for signs, so it shouldn't take much."


Grumbling to herself, Elizabeta made her way to the library. She found Draculea and Nicolae standing together behind a squat, powerfully built man who sat at the library's desk, sketching something on a sheet of parchment. The man was dressed in the neat, sober clothes of a guild craftsman, but his hands were rough from physical labor. Whatever his trade, he had learned it through experience.


As she entered, he was saying, "You see, my prince? If these tables are moved away from the wall, and the vertical distance between the shelves is decreased only a little, you can increase the library's capacity by more than a third."


Draculea peered over the man's shoulder, then shrugged. "What do you think, librarian?"


Nicolae was clasping his hands like a child being offered a treat. "Oh, yes, Maria Ta! The books are so crowded as it is, and there is no room for expansion. This would be ideal."


"Then it's done."


How easily you give in, my husband. And if you do this for my brother, what wonders will you grant your wife? Beta fixed a smile on her face as she walked toward the men. She meant it to be indulgent, but instead it was condescending. "Husband." The word was uncomfortable, even distasteful on Beta's lips, but Lena had said to remind him of his role and his duty at every turn.


Draculea and Nicolae turned to her, and the craftsman sprang to his feet, bowing low. She nodded to him graciously, indicating that he could stand at his ease, then turned her attention to the others. Nicolae beamed at her, his pleasure in her company shining like a beacon in his smile, his eyes full of admiration.


Draculea favored her with a small, formal smile. "Beta, good morning. You are lovely today." There was no extra warmth in his words. He might have been remarking that yes indeed, the sun HAD risen that morning. It was as if he assessed her, catalogued her points, and decided that she deserved the description, but it still meant little to him.


She curtsied. "I thank you."


"Was there something you wished?"


"I..." Beta fumbled for words, feeling a blush creeping up her cheeks. What am I supposed to say to that? Yes, I want you to come to me tonight and give me a baby so that I may never have to withstand your touch again? In any case I cannot say anything with Nicolae here, staring at me. "I only wanted to enjoy your company."


Draculea raised his eyebrows. This was something new. Beta had not sought his presence at any other time during their short acquaintance. Damn. I hope she isn't going to try to be my boon companion. Still, I can't very well run her off, especially not so soon after the wedding.


"I am afraid you may find it tedious, my dear, but you are of course welcome to stay. Nicolae, would you find a suitable seat for your sister?"


Nicolae hurriedly looked about, chose a chair, and brought it nearer. He wiped the seat and back carefully with a cloth that had lain over a stack of dusty shelves that were waiting to be cleaned. "I'm sorry, Beta. You should have a cushion, but the only ones here are so full of dust I fear they would ruin your fine dress. I will find fresh ones soon, so that you may be comfortable when you visit me here."


She sank into the chair. "How kind of you, Nicolae. But I hardly think I'll be spending much time here. There is so much to do with renovating and redecorating, and then there is the running of the household."


Which we all know you will leave mostly to Simion, unless you have some delicacy or luxury you wish provided, Draculea thought cynically. He saw the slight hurt in Nicolae's eyes at her casual dismissal, and was torn. On the one hand he wanted the boy to have everything his heart desired. But on the other, he could not help but feel that Beta was perhaps not the ideal companion for his lover. Nicolae was devoted to her, but Beta had shown time and again how little she appreciated that devotion. He hoped Nicolae would find friends among his household. It might mute the hurt that was sure to grow when he realized that Beta needed him only as another admirer. "Nicolae."


At his soft call the sadness melted from the boy's face, and he turned to Draculea with a smile that showed the falseness of Beta's expression. "You must oversee this alone for awhile. I need to go train with some of my men."


"Train, Domn?"


Draculea resisted the urge to stroke Nicolae's cheek. It wouldn't do to caress his lover in front of his wife. "I am a warrior, Nicolae. Skills grow rusty if they are not honed."


"Oh." The boy's clear expression clouded at the reminder of the violence that always hovered near. Then he said shyly, "Barnabas knows what I want. I could come watch you?" He spoke the last as a question.


"Not today, not this training. I must practice with my hand weapons. It gets rough, Nicolae. You would be distressed. Perhaps you can come when I put Lucifer through his paces, or practice with the spear or bow and arrow, but not today. Stay with the carpenter." Nicolae sighed, but he nodded, acquiescing to his lord's order. He turned back to watch the carpenter as he made tiny corrections to the sketch.


Draculea gave Beta a small bow. "My lady."


He was surprised when, as he passed her, she caught his sleeve, murmuring, "Husband, a word with you?"


He paused. "Of course, Beta."


She tossed a glance at the other two men, then looked back to Draculea. "Privately?"


It took him a moment to realize that she expected him to dismiss the others. Draculea managed to control the frown that rose to his lips. If she wanted to hold audiences in solitary splendor, she had her own rooms. This place belonged to Nicolae, and Vlad was not going to chase the boy out at Beta's whim. "Certainly." He offered her his arm.


Beta hesitated, obviously wanting to explain to him that he had misunderstood her wishes. Then she looked at his eyes and realized that he understood her very well. She stood, placing her hand on his arm, and allowed him to lead her from the room.


Neither noticed Nicolae watching them wistfully. Then he shook his head briskly, turning back to his work. He must not envy his sister's place at Draculea's side in the eyes of the world. Vlad loved him. He had said so, he had shown him.


Draculea did not want to bother with the walk to Beta's room, so he stopped in the entry hall, near the door. When Beta looked around he said, "We are alone here. My men are waiting, Beta. What did you wish to say?"


She took a breath and said softly, "I am feeling well rested and refreshed, my lord."


"I am most pleased to hear it." He waited for her to continue.


Beta fidgeted. Lena had said he would need only a hint. "The rigors of the wedding were not as great as I had feared."


"Again I am happy."


"I thought... perhaps..." She floundered.


Good God, Draculea thought wryly. The chit is inviting me to her bed. "I see, Beta." She sighed, obviously relieved. "The resiliency of youth is remarkable." He kissed her hand. "Perhaps in a day or two we can again try to fulfill the order that the blessed Lord gave us to be fruitful. But not tonight." With that he went into the front courtyard, leaving Beta gaping in a most unladylike manner.


"I must wait."


"What? Beta, I told you, you have to do this, no matter how distasteful."


"You don't understand, Lena. I tried. I told him I was feeling well, that the distress of the wedding night was past."


"Perhaps you were too subtle. I would hardly credit, though, that a man like Draculea would mistake an invitation."


"He didn't. He understood well enough, but he said not tonight. Perhaps in a day or so."


"Perhaps?" Lena's eyes, already small, narrowed even more. "Perhaps. That is not good enough, Beta. Not good enough at all. We shall simply have to change his mind." Lena plucked the froth of lace out of Beta's neckline, took hold of it, and pulled the fabric down, exposing the upper curves of her breasts.


"Lena..." Beta smiled and leaned toward the older woman for a kiss, only to be pushed back. Puzzled she said, "But I thought you wanted..."


"If he is not interested in subtlety, there are other tactics." She pulled the pins from Beta's hair, letting it tumble free.


Beta saw Lena's intention, and shook her head. "No, Lena! I couldn't do it. I couldn't make myself... common for him."


Lena gripped her shoulders, squeezing hard. Still she was careful not to bruise the delicate flesh, not when it had to be on display for its legal owner. "Listen to me, girl! Marriages have been annulled because of the wife's infertility. I will not risk that happening to you. You WILL do this, Beta. For both our sakes."


As always, Beta submitted. "Yes, Lena," she said meekly. She comforted herself with thoughts of how Lena would try to soothe her after the ordeal was over, and decided that it would almost be worth it. Almost.


Barnabas had finished the sketch and gone to begin searching for the proper sort of materials to build the shelves. Nicolae spent a few moments cataloguing, but for some reason was feeling restless.


It was the fact that Vlad was training, he decided. Nicolae had known, of course, that his lover was a warrior. Prince Draculea had led his forces many times against the heathens, fighting at the behest of the Church. He had repelled attacks on Wallachia and, even during this time of relative peace, occasionally led his men in efforts to control the bandits that preyed on his people.


With his sheltered life in the abbey, Nicolae had not seen much violence. There had been a few brawls among the lay workers that had resulted in bloody noses and split lips. There had been travelers, attacked by bandits, who had been brought to the brothers for their healing skills. Some of these unfortunates had even died.


But for such a raw and violent age, Nicolae had witnessed very little actual mayhem. The thought of men deliberately inflicting pain on each other made him feel cold and sick, but there was still a certain fascination. After all, it was what Vlad did. It was a part of him. Surely Nicolae should be acquainted with every aspect of the man he loved?


He had found a window that looked out over the courtyard where the prince was training with a few of his select men. Nicolae crouched, peeping over the sill to watch the activity below. He didn't want Vlad to see that he was disobeying.


Nicolae knew that someone with an easy conscience and a smooth tongue might argue that he was not disobeying, since he had not tried to join the men below. But Nicolae was scrupulously honest with himself. He knew very well that Vlad did not wish him to witness the rough swordplay. He silently hoped that Draculea would be too preoccupied to notice his spying, and that if he did, he would be forgiving.


The combatants wore light leather armor, and their weapons were wooden swords. While the blades were too blunted to cut or cause death, they left impressive bruises when wielded with the force of a powerful man like the prince.


As Nicolae watched, Draculea and Simion fought. The older man did not have the prince's size and reach, but he was quick, nimble, and cunning. And he did not hold back, that was important. There was always the chance that a training partner, fearful of inciting Draculea's famous temper, would check his attack, not putting forth his best effort. That enraged Draculea. "How can I expect to gain the skills I need to survive when they do not try? Do they think my enemies will be so considerate?"


The wooden blades clattered and clashed as the men fought. Nicolae watched a heavy blow strike Draculea's thigh, and he winced. That would leave a bruise, even through the leather armor. He saw Draculea patting Simion on the back, congratulating him on a strike that would have effectively crippled the prince if they had been using standard weapons.


Then the group of men turned almost as one to look toward the front of the castle. Nicolae flinched back, at first thinking he had been discovered, but then realized that they were watching someone who had come from the front hall. Nicolae wondered who could have garnered such undivided attention? Surely not a servant.


He had his answer when the slender figure walked into view, approaching the men. Though her back was to him, he recognized her as Beta from her dress. But something was different... Then he realized what it was. Instead of being caught up in a neat, modest bun or snood, her long, dark hair was tumbling over her shoulders and down her back.


Nicolae blinked in disbelief. A respectable, well born woman, past the freeness of childhood, did not appear in public with her hair loose. Even the household servants and peasant women, the ones with some pretention to respectability, only loosened their hair in their bedchambers. What was Beta thinking of, going out like this before men?


Draculea, on the other hand, knew EXACTLY what Beta was thinking. The gown that had been so proper and fashionable earlier now looked decadent, the neckline exposing the rounded tops of her small, but well-formed breasts. Her dark hair flowed over pale shoulders in waves, and he thought briefly that he must ask Nicolae to let his own hair, so like Beta's, grow out of its monkish crop. The idea of burying his hands in such a thick, silky mass as they made love was incredibly erotic. Even as annoyed as he was, he had to fight down a smile as she drew near. She arrays herself like a whore to entice me and only succeeds in turning my thoughts to her brother.


But as she drew nearer the amusement faded to be replaced by anger. Her lips and cheeks were unnaturally red against skin that was even paler than it should be. The girl was wearing cosmetics. While it might be fashionable for the more daring court ladies, it was not something suitable for a princess, and most especially not for the eyes of anyone but her husband.


Draculea went to meet her, not wanting her to come any closer to the small group of staring men than necessary. "Beta," he growled. "What in God's name possesses you?"


She flinched, then straightened her shoulders. Perhaps she could get this over with quickly. She made her tone silky and suggestive. "You tax yourself, husband. I only wish to offer you a bit of respite, and comfort." She steeled herself and reached out to gently wipe a bead of sweat off his brow. "Why not come stay with me for a while? My room is cool and quiet."


"Then I suggest you go there. Perhaps you could have your Lena order a bath so that you might remove that paint." He took hold of her wrist, his grip firm almost to the point of pain, and said quietly, "You will not appear like this again. Do you think I want my men to see my wife tricked out like a tavern wench?"


"I only wanted..."


"I KNOW what you want, Beta, believe me. I will visit you when I feel it is fitting, not before. Do not worry, I fully intend to have a child with you, if God is willing. But neither you, nor..." his lips pulled back from his teeth, "any other will dictate my schedule."


There was a call from the man on watch at the gate. "My lord! Travelers approach."


Draculea, still holding Beta, looked to the gate. "And why do you tell me this?"


"Lord, I fear there has been another bandit attack. They bring a body across one of the horses."


Draculea released Elizabeta and said shortly, "Beta, go inside." Beta moved as if to obey, and Draculea turned to go to the gate. But as the three horses entered the courtyard, she turned back and stealthily came after him, her velvet slippers making her steps silent.


In the castle Nicolae hurried away from the window. He headed first for the chapel. There had been a body slung across one of the horses, covered with a cloak. Father Mircea must attend. If there was any spark of life left at all, the last rites must be performed. If there was not then prayers for the soul of the unfortunate should begin immediately.


The two men who had brought the corpse dismounted and bowed to the prince. "Prince Draculea," said one. "We were returning to the village, and we found this poor soul in the road some miles from here. We came immediately, knowing that you would wish to know."


"You did well. It looks as if it is the work of bandits?"


"It would seem so," the man agreed, "though it is the most vicious attack I have heard of." He shuddered. "The man was not just killed: he was destroyed. In any case, there was an empty money bag beside him, and two fingers are missing, no doubt taken for their rings."


Draculea nodded. Well, Ernestu, I knew this would come, but I had hoped for another day or two. "Do you know who he is?"


"No, Domn, but he is either a noble, or a wealthy man. His clothing is rich."


"I fear that one of the guests did not make his way home." He gestured for the man to remove the covering.


Ernestu had not fared well during his time in the open. The ravens had taken his eyes, of course, and local dogs had found him. There was very little flesh left on his face. His teeth gleamed, naked, his lips haveing been stripped away by a fox who had been delighted to find such an easy meal. "Well," Draculea drawled, "We may have to wait until his people miss him, and begin searching..."


There was a scream behind him, and he whirled to find a white faced Beta staring at the corpse. The rouge on her cheeks stood out starkly as the color drained from her face, and her dark eyes were enormous. "Father!"


"What? Beta, no. Your father left here with three armed men, surely he would have been safe. You are distressed. I told you to go inside."


"No, it is Father."


"Only God himself could recognize this poor wretch. If it will ease your mind I will send men to Castle Varga for news, but you must..."


"No!" She pointed a shaking finger, and Draculea looked.


A necklace hung from the dead man's neck, swinging lazily as the horse shifted. Dangling at the end was a thick signet ring. "That is his sealing ring. He could no longer wear it, so he kept it on that chain. It must have been inside his shirt, and the bandits missed it."


"Yes, that must be so." And I should have thought to check, Draculae thought sourly. You would have thought that some beast or thief would have made off with it by now. Honest men can sometimes be a curse. "Are you sure, Beta?"


She held out her hand. Reluctantly he removed the necklace and dropped it into her palm. Draculea saw Nicolae hurrying from the castle with Father Mircea at his side. He gestured for the young man to stay back, but it was useless. As strong as his will to obey his lord was, it was outweighed by his instinct to offer aid and comfort.


The girl examined the heavy seal as Nicolae approached, then looked up at Draculea with eyes brimming with tears. "Yes. It is his." She turned another horrified glance, one that contained more than a little disgust, on the corpse.


The two men reached the little tableau. Mircea went directly to the horse. Wetting his finger with holy oil from a small bottle, he drew a cross on the mutilated forehead of the dead man and began to implore God for mercy on his soul and forgiveness of his sins. Nicolae touched Beta's shoulder. "Beta, you should not be here."


"Take her inside, Nicolae," Draculea ordered, hoping to get him away before he had too close a look at the body.


When Nicolae gently took her shoulder, Beta slapped at him, crying out, "Don't! I won't leave, he needs me."


"Beta, please, you cannot help this pour soul, and you will make yourself ill," Nicolae chided.


"Poor soul? Fool! Can't you see?" She thrust the ring at his face. "It is Father, Nicolae. Father is dead." Draculea cursed silently. He had hoped that he would be able to break the news to his lover gently.


Nicolae blanched, his eyes flying to the flayed face of the body. Bright tears pooled in his eyes, and the wide, soft mouth that Draculea loved so well trembled. But his voice was quiet and steady as he said, "Then we must go pray for his soul, Beta. Come." He tugged at her gently. "We must not think of ourselves now."


The girl crumpled against his side, and he put his arms around her, supporting her. She sobbed. "I'm sorry, Nicu. But Father..."


"Sh, it's all right, Beta. Come." He lead her back toward the castle, his strong young body supporting her. As they went he stroked her hair, murmuring words of comfort.


Watching them go Draculea thought, She does not deserve him. I do not deserve him. He sighed. The world does not deserve him. Then he turned back to instruct his men on what to do with the corpse. "Take it to... I'd say the stables, but it has begun to stink, and it might frighten the horses. There is a small room off the great hall. Put it there till we can arrange for him to lie in the chapel."


As the body was lifted down and carried inside he thought, Why not, Ernestu? Let one of your last habitations on earth be the room where your punishment began.



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