Chapter 3 ~ A rogue within the wall
"It's nine thirty… Time of my true death due to boredom? In exactly five minutes…"
Full of expectation, Sören looked at his brother and hoped for a reaction. Any one. But no. He got not even a blink of an eye. Absolutely bored, he let himself sink backwards against the back of his chair with a sigh and swayed back and forth. He even stretched his head backwards, so that he could look out of the high windows in his back overhead. With deep satisfaction he noticed that the springs of the chair didn't support the movements well and started to squeak after a good minute. Grinning, he began to bounce even harder on the chair, so that it emitted sounds in rapid succession that easily caused an earache.
"Don't complain when it collapses. That piece is nearly 100 years old."
"A reaction from you! I'm thrilled," Sören rejoiced with a laughing voice.
"Aren't you a little old for these childish games?"
Smirking, he saw his brother's right eye start to twitch while he tried to stay calm at the same time. Well, as much fun as it was to annoy Eric a little, he knew not to overdo it and leaned forward so that he could support his elbows on his knees. The maltreated chair protested once again in agony as the backrest rebounded due to the rapid movement, to thankfully fall silent again.
"Come on, Eric, give me something to do. You can't expect me to just update the history books every few years. Which, by the way, I already have finished for this year. They are even already printed and in delivery to all schools. Give me more! Here-"
Before Eric could stop him, he took a piece of paper that lay on top of a pile on the large oak desk that his brother had crafted himself. With a quick glance he got an overview of what the letter was about and then looked up imploringly.
"Explain to me why, after so many years, it is suddenly so important to make contact lenses for all underage non-vampires and I will take care of the rest. That would be a huge relief for you and I would be busy. I wouldn't have time to bother you anymore," he said before a broad grin lit up his face.
With a deep sigh, his brother grabbed the sheet of paper out of his hand and put it back on the pile.
"You're not ready, Sören. It's good that you want to help, but let's face it, politics isn't for you. And if you had taken a look at the date of the letter, you would know that it is older. The contact lenses will be on the market in just a few weeks. Only the corresponding law must still be send out to everyone with the next round mail. You see, this matter doesn't need your attention. If you want to keep yourself busy, find Godric. He-"
"You know very well he's cut himself off! For five years, he hasn't even opened a rift in our connection. How am I supposed to find him? Should I search the whole planet for him?"
Eric closed his eyes and sighed, annoyed. Sören was right. But at the moment he found it hard to think. There was so much to do, the routine updates from all areas would start in an hour, his concern for Godric grew and grew with every year they didn't hear from him, and on top of it, there was turmoil in the south. Only a week in the dungeon had been able to stop Sören from going there with Eric's best troops and ending the first fight. There was clearly something in the air and he wasn't willing to lose his baby brother. Sören was just 67 vampire years old, and despite him liking his brother very much, should anything happen to him, Godric would skin Eric as soon as he came back.
His thoughts and Sören's grumbling were disturbed by a knock that resounded loudly in the office. With a frown, Eric listened for the person who was about to interrupt him and found not one, but two heartbeats standing outside the door. And it was the childish jump, probably heightened with excitement, that made his lips form an anticipatory smile.
"Come in," he exclaimed loudly, ignoring his brother's questioning look.
When the door opened and the two people entered, Eric rose and faced them with his friendliest smile.
"Thore, my friend, how nice to see you again. How are you?"
"Quite excellent, Eric. I'm afraid I don't have that much time. My schedule is very tight, but..."
When he lovingly put an arm around the shoulders of the young girl at his side, Eric let his eyes wander to her.
"Viktoria is unfortunately unable to attend today because she also has a job assignment right now, but nonetheless, I didn't want to miss the opportunity to formally introduce you to my daughter, Leanna."
The man leaned down to her and whispered in her ear that it was her turn now. And when she curtsied to him, Eric nodded with delight.
"It is an honor to pay my respects to you, Your Majesty. I am Leanna Palles, daughter by marriage of Thore Palles of Magdalena's lineage."
With a deliberate movement, Eric knelt down to her. When she lifted her gaze again, he was once more struck by her clear eyes. Eyes that, he hoped, would bring them back their sorely missed Godric in the near future.
"It gives me equal pleasure to meet and welcome the newest member of the Palles coven and my family. Tell me girl, how old are you?"
"I will be ten years old in just a few days, Your Majesty."
Eric had a hard time stifling a grin. Instead of simply saying that she was nine years old, she directly pointed out to him that she had almost reached the magical age of ten and could thus officially be considered a full member of her coven, when young witches had already manifested their powers. Well, Eric had already been convinced that this was the case when he had seen her for the first time.
"Well then, I think it is appropriate to congratulate you on your imminent entrance into Griffith Boarding School, Elevin Leanna. And know that my doors will always be open to you. You may not be of our blood, but know that we have high hopes for you in the future for this family and our world."
"Don't put so much pressure on the child, Eric," Sören whispered for his ears only. But instead of accepting his words as pressure for her, she seemed to grow with them. For she literally straightened up and looked at him with a competitive fire in her eyes.
"But tell me, Leanna, shouldn't you be in bed by now? Even as a prospective full-fledged member of the coven, you need sleep."
"That's true. And I thank you for your guiding words, Your Majesty. But this is not the first time I have accompanied Thore and helped him with his work. I have adjusted my daily rhythm accordingly. Day and night no longer have any influence on me as far as my sleep is concerned."
"Well then." Rising, he held out his arm to Thore. With a thankful nod after a sideways glance at his daughter, he grasped Eric's forearm with a firm grip, which Eric returned.
"Come, Leanna. The night progresses quickly."
Once more she curtsied before turning and hurrying after the man. When the door closed behind them both, he turned with a soft sigh. But the way to his desk was blocked by Sören, who stood with his arms folded and a look that radiated absolute seriousness. Eric was almost surprised that his brother was capable of turning off his playful nature. But even as a human, he had shown such thoughtful phases from time to time. And so he refrained from a funny quip to tease him and waited patiently to see what he would bring up.
"Who is she?"
"What do you mean?" For a moment, Eric had suspected that Sören would find it irritating how close he was with Thore. But that he directly asked about Leanna made pride expand in his chest. His training really seemed to be working, even if he didn't want to show it most of the time.
"I know how you deal with children in and out of our bloodlines, Eric. That was something completely different. You didn't even begin to treat her like a child of less than ten." His eyes wandered to the large window and Eric knew he was following their path with his senses. "You have high hopes for her for the family? Who is she? What are you hiding?"
Eric too let his senses wander and followed the sound of her young heart, while pondering whether it really wasn't time to actually give Sören an important task.
"What would you say if I told you she is the future?"
Going around his brother, he then leaned casually against his desk and looked at him with his head tilted. Sören's reaction wasn't long in coming. But it surprised Eric once again.
Kneeling in front of him, he placed his right hand over his undead heart. "You are my brother, Eric. My king. If you say that this girl is important, then I trust you. Should it be your wish, I will protect her."
"What makes you say those words?"
"Your position doesn't allow you to take personal charge of her protection. That would attract too much attention. And attention is what you want to avoid at all costs. Thore may suspect it, but no one else in our family has uttered a single syllable to the effect that she will be important. And in a coven where three families are united... Furthermore, it was not planned or foreseeable for you that I would walk in here today. That means that I am now an unwitting confidant that you didn't plan for. If you ever planned to tell anyone at all. For that reason, I offer you my services so that you won't regret that I now know, my king."
His words and determined gaze showed Eric that he really meant it and also understood that it didn't just affect their family.
"I'm not the only one who knows about her."
Slowly, he turned his upper body and looked at the painting on the wall behind his desk showing their former regents. While doing so, he could feel Sören frowning. Two seconds later he let out a surprised gasp.
"Godric disappeared the night you two were at her grave. What exactly happened there?"
Nodding, Eric turned back to his brother. "Leanna happened. She was there. She was the reason Godric disappeared after Enid told us the girl was her reincarnation."
Groaning, Sören rose. "Let me guess, he didn't want to hear about it."
"That doesn't even begin to describe it." Eric huffed at the memory. "In his fury, he almost tore me apart. He practically threw his crown at me and fled. But you should have seen him. Both of them... You were only a baby when Enid died. And you only know her as queen through books and stories. But I was there in her youth, saw how passionate Godric and she were together."
The room around him lost its contours as the memories grew stronger. He closed his eyes with pleasure and breathed in her scent, which had burned itself so permanently into his memory. Tasted her blood on his tongue once more like when they had performed the ceremony to induct her alongside Godric as the official head of their bloodline.
"Eric? Are you all right?"
He kept his eyes closed, merely bowing his head a little. At that moment, he didn't trust himself not to shed a tear at their loss.
"Godric had sensed it. He may deny it all he wants, but he felt it. It just wasn't the right time. He doesn't need a human child by his side, he needs a grown woman. Enid told me then that I would see Leanna again and it really came to pass. Without any help from me, she, her mother and grandmother found their way to us, to Thore. It is my hope that she will grow up quickly, because quite honestly, the little bit of connection that Godric has allowed so far through our bond is getting weaker with every year that passes. I don't know what state he'll be in when she's ready in a few years."
"The contact lenses... You brought the idea up after you came back without him. That's because of her too, isn't it?"
"She may be a witch, but even witches aren't immune to the glamour of vampires." Gravely, he looked at his brother. "There's nothing I wouldn't do for Godric. And protecting this girl is the only way I can do anything for him right now. But it's a double-edged sword. Like you said, I can't directly look after her safety myself, that would attract way too much attention. And with the riots spreading... If anything happens to her, I fear that Godric will never again-"
Swallowing hard, he clenched his hands into fists. In the next second he found himself in a tight embrace.
"He may not be my original maker, but Godric took me in and means a lot to me too. I swear I will do everything in my power to give Leanna the chance to bring him back to us."
For a few moments they both stood like that, breathing in each other's scent. Eric hadn't had time to be near with someone from his family like this for what felt like ages and it just felt good and put his mind at rest.
But the peace was over all at once when the shocked cry of a child echoed through the castle and they both immediately moved without thinking.
The sight that greeted them in the courtyard just a moment later would have turned Eric's stomach if he had been human. Next to him, he saw Sören quickly bite the back of his hand, probably to prevent just that. In front of them stood a frozen Leanna holding a flowerpot in her hands. Eric couldn't see her face, but her light-years-fast heartbeat drowned out nearly everything else. He had to force himself to turn his focus away from her and back to the cause of this commotion.
Only a few steps in front of her, in a rapidly growing pool of blood, lay Thore. His chest looked as if it had been ripped open in the most brutal way, and his expression spoke of a horror his now dead eyes had seen and that his mouth, opened to a scream, could no longer report! Next to him knelt one of the palace guards, looking up at a narrow balcony where Thore must have been standing, decorating the parapet. When Eric followed the gaze, he saw blood dripping from there as well.
"What happened?" he demanded to know, barely able to suppress the deep anger that was building up in his chest and swelling by the second.
How dare anyone touch his family in his own house!
Beside him, Sören started to move and knelt in front of Leanna while speaking soft words to her. Good! If she responded well to him, she would have a personal bodyguard from this second on!
"Your Majesty." A second and third guard came running and stopped in front of Eric. "Whoever that was didn't show themselves. The person came in and was gone immediately! Maybe it was a personal feud with Thore? No one else was attacked."
"No," Eric replied without thinking. Narrowing his eyes, he looked up at the balcony again before hovering beside it the next moment. A crumpled night flower lay with scattered petals in the blood that slowly dripped its way onto the courtyard. That had definitely been a vampire and vampires didn't do anything unless they had a personal gain from something. This had been no ordinary feud with a florist! That was a message. Only which one exactly?
"Brother, bring the child inside. Call her mother and stay with her. Mikkel, Lucas, I want all available guards on duty. We've been attacked, and until the sun rises, it's code red."
When he turned, floating, the two vampire guards had already disappeared, while the guard who had been with Thore spread a cloth over the lifeless body. As the cloth lowered over the lifeless left arm, Eric saw a momentary flash of the bracelet Thore had used to make it visible that he wouldn't allow a willing vampire to turn him in the event of a fatal accident.
Thoughtfully, he landed next to his relative and closed Thore's eyes before covering the latter's head as well. Could it be that whoever it was had specifically chosen him out of his family? Right after the end of the war, Godric had passed the law that it was forbidden to turn unwilling humans under penalty of true death. That was exactly what had happened to Sören's maker, may Loki impale him with his daggers for all eternity in the icy wasteland of Jotunheim!
Sooner or later it always came out when unwilling people were turned, because through the close-meshed net that Godric had built up and Eric had continued for now almost five years, they were quickly found. And even if the vampires fled to escape true death, they didn't get far after it could be determined flawlessly by questioning the newborn vampires. The humans had happily accepted the law and the vampires only got willing children who had previously given some thought to whether they really wanted to experience infinity.
The fact that this prevented any individuals seeking power from building up a large vampire army was a nice side effect. However, anyone who had paid attention to history knew that the king had a particularly close connection to the Palles trinity of witches. If anyone wanted to harm the royal house, they would only need to decimate the witches in their family by killing the unwilling ones.
Growling, Eric rose, and when the remaining guard looked at him questioningly, he had to pull himself together not to tear his head off.
"It's not a nice job, Victor, but I want you to stay with the body until the undertaker arrives. Jörmungandr shall devour me if I allow Thore not to have a proper burial."
"I understand, Your Majesty. You can depend on me. I will not abandon my post."
Nodding, Eric placed his hand on the dead man's shoulder for a moment and quietly took his leave. The man had been rendered infertile by an accident, but had always wanted children of his own. Now, this year, he had finally had the courage to ask for Victoria's hand in marriage and thus officially make Leanna a Palles too. Eric had never seen him as happy as he was in the months after the wedding. And now?
"Whoever did this to you will regret it, my friend. But for now… May you find your way to your ancestors and find peace by their side."
On the way back to his office, he sent several messages before scrolling through his directory and tapping a particular number. While he waited for the dial tone to give way to a voice, he simultaneously listened for Leanna. Apparently, Sören had managed to break her rigidity so that she could cry for Thore. Her muffled sobs tugged at Eric's heart and he quickly closed the thick oak door to his office.
"Brother. Is he back?" he was called back to the there and then.
"No, Nora. Something else has happened that I won't discuss over the phone. Is it possible for you to spare your Andrej for a few weeks?"
"I suppose I'll ring in the next group meeting? And who is the poor soul who is to do Andrej's training?"
"Yes and Sören," he answered curtly while looking out of one of the large windows into the night.
"Sören? Our soft-hearted farm boy of a brother? What did he do this time?"
Eric rubbed the bridge of his nose with a sigh. "Come to the emergency meeting and you'll find out everything. I'll send you the coordinates."
"Copy that. Be careful, Eric."
The line went dead, and for ten seconds, he allowed himself to just stand there and breathe. By Odin, how he hated being king. As soon as Godric was back, he would throw the crown and responsibility back at him and take his old place in Godric's ranks as his second again, sword in hand. He was good at that. Always has been. But until then, he had to try as best as he could to circumnavigate this new storm and, if that didn't work, maneuver their ship through it with as few casualties as possible.
Raising his arm again with his phone, he set about a king's never-ending work...