That was a first. My muse absolutely wanted to write something as a first-person narrator and at the same time it has become the longest first chapter I have written so far. I hope you like it. The idea behind the story has been haunting me for a very, very long time and now I wanted to finally put it down on paper.
As always it is M-rated, you will see why in due time.
Disclaimer: I don't own True Blood or any character which you may recognize from the books or show. All belong to Charlaine Harris and Alan Ball. Everything else, however, is my own.
Chapter 1 ~ The guests arrive
It began. As best I could, I pulled myself together, banished the nervousness and the sound of my heartbeat so far away that it was no longer visible – or perceptible – to the vampires and conjured a radiant smile on my lips. After all, one of my main tasks was to be fine-looking and inviting for our guests who would be arriving soon.
With my hands flat on top of each other, I took a deep bow and turned to the guest who arrived as usual at first.
"Tanaka-sama, I welcome you back to my master's estate. How was your journey?"
"Uneventful as always. But the long journey made me thirsty. Am I right in assuming your master will be as generous with his refreshments as always?"
"Of course, Tanaka-sama," I quickly affirmed his assumption.
By rising slightly from my bow, I gave the waiting women the signal to approach. Karina took our guest's coat with a perfect bow and left again. I smiled – she had done her job well so far, but our Japanese guest had always been very polite and sociable with my subordinates. The question was whether she would be able to deal with the other guests as confidently. I hoped so, because she deserved to keep this job and not to have to make herself available as a serving maid again like Aliena, who also bowed, but at the same time raised her left arm and presented her wrist gracefully by slowly pulling her silky sleeve up a little bit with her right hand.
I envied her a little, as she was always so gracile and graceful, no matter which guest she had to be available for. Out of the corner of my eye I saw how our guest shortly but nonetheless elegantly bowed to Aliena for a moment, embraced her forearm then with a gloved hand and touched her skin with his lips. I heard her slightly raised pulse and how her blood flowed into his mouth, but never since I knew him had I seen his fangs. Neither towards any of the serving maids or boys, nor towards me or my master did he show them. And I was infinitely grateful to him for that. Because especially the younger serving maids were sometimes very disturbed when I couldn't lead them to a pleasant-natured vampire who would veil their memories afterwards.
And there were enough of those – I had no illusions about that fact. Nowadays most vampires in public pretended to be civilized and to live a peaceful – TruBlood drinking – life. But under the cover of such gatherings they showed their true faces. Twenty-three girls and boys, women and men I have had to bury in the last fifteen years – although my master only holds a meeting every five years. At the first ones my master still said that I didn't have to do it personally, but at some point he had given up – I wanted to memorize every single one of their faces and never forget them. For it helped me in my task to pick out for each visitor exactly the one he or she longed for. Because then the probability was higher that I would see them all alive again the next morning.
The voice of our guest brought me out of my thoughts again and, ashamed, I realized that I had to control myself better. I mustn't forget my task, because even when I messed up, my master always punished his subordinates, never me. Breathing deeply and quietly I straightened up a little further from my bow, so that I had only lowered my head a little.
"Has Aliena been satisfactory, Tanaka-sama?"
"Yes, child." After he had nodded to me briefly, he turned back to his serving maid and addressed her.
"I already know the procedure. You may escort me to my room now, Aliena-san."
As it befitted our maids, Aliena immediately complied with this request and I had a moment to myself afterward. One here, seven more to come. But in which order they would arrive, I unfortunately didn't know. Somehow nobody this year, except the always reliable Mr. Tanaka, had found it necessary to announce their arrival time. But it was all right, I could do it. I had arranged for the young men and women to stand by in the open room next to the door and wait for me to announce the names of the new arrivals. Each of them knew who they were assigned to and would step forward accordingly.
A few seconds later I felt the familiar tingling sensation on my skin again that gave me the knowledge of the arrival of a new guest. But which one would it be? This year it was a rather small group but it was also a special occasion. Normally my master wasn't sentimental, but for a longtime friend he had made an exception this time. Aryan Sharma celebrated the thousandth anniversary of his death this night and especially for him my master had invited other thousand year old vampires – well, except for Mr. Tanaka, who was even a little older than my master with his nearly two thousand years. I assumed that he wasn't here for only "pleasure". Although my master wasn't part of the European authority, he liked to play politics. And Mr. Tanaka had the highest political position in the Far East. So he could pretend to somehow have a say in important decisions, because the American authority under the guardian Roman Zimojic refused any cooperation with him so far, which always made my master angry.
Again I put on my brightest smile, even though I felt how the nervousness was trying to overcome me again. For even though the circle of guests was smaller than the last two times I had attended these gatherings, this time there were two vampires I didn't know yet – the birthday vampire and a Mr. Northman. Sure, I knew everything there was to know about them in theory. But you can't put a vampire's character on paper. You had to experience it. And two unknown and very old vampires didn't make me forget the fear for my subordinates.
Then I saw the one who had arrived. With a purple-black dress, glittering in the moonlight and which would have made the queen of the night from the Magic Flute envious, she came up the stairs elegantly as ever. When she was only a few steps away from me, I curtsied as best I could.
"Oh, come on, girl. Save the theatrics for the guest of honor. After all, you probably put the sari on just for him, didn't you?"
Damn, I definitely should have practiced that. But the sari I had chosen hadn't been chic enough for my master and he had had another one delivered to me at the last minute. And it was tailor-made – really beautiful, but incredibly skintight!
A wave of embarrassment swept over me but I nevertheless nodded to the vampiress.
"Bonsoir, Madame Lefevre. I trust your journey was pleasing?"
"Oh, child, if I told you of all the inconveniences on the way to this remote spot, we'd still be standing here when the sun rises."
As I listened to her, I saw her serving maid step beside me and curtsey better than I had managed.
"Oh, Carmen, my beautiful flower. It's good to see you again. We'll once more have a good time together. Come, walk me to my room for a little snack."
"It's a pleasure, Madame Lefevre."
"Oh, please, how many times have I told you to call me Juleka? I always feel so old when you address me as Madame. I am only fifty over a thousand."
I saw Carmen smile and was happy for her. Juleka Lefevre was a very talkative but good-natured vampire who had started the French Revolution – according to her own statement. I didn't know whether this was true, but I could well imagine that she had whispered the idea into the ears of the wives of the key men at that time. After all, she wasn't exactly holding back her opinion of incompetent men in high positions of power.
Just as I was about to concentrate on the night again, I heard her shouting out to me.
"Livia, darling, be a good girl and cross Pierre and Jacques off the attendance list. The two of them were arguing so badly once again on the way over here that literally shreds of skin flew off. The hotheads will never change, believe me. They made up again, eighty miles away from here, but were distracted by two good-looking men in the small town there. And you know how men are. Once they see an object of their desire, they don't let go that quickly... But where were we? Oh, yes. Come, dearest Carmen."
'Okaaay,' I thought, turning to Lex and Louis, who were already looking at me questioningly.
"Lex, you help out in the kitchen then. They could use an extra pair of hands there. Louis, please go to the master and tell him that according to Madame Lefevre, Jacques and Pierre Mercier won't be coming. Afterwards, please check that everything is ready in the banquet hall."
"Yes, Mistress Markaitis."
Nodding contentedly, I turned back toward the night and immediately felt that the next guest was about to arrive. But what was that? I didn't feel him or her arriving by land, instead... The brightly shining energy seemed to come closer in an incredibly fast velocity between the clouds! Frowning I noticed that the energy then split up and now two energy flashes continued to zigzag toward me.
One breath later – I had to pull myself together not to reflexively step back a few steps – the two vampires landed in front of me and I heard a deep laughter. While the second one was still crouching with a mocking smile, the other guest rose and laughed further. I knew immediately that this was our guest of honor, as he wore the typical Indian white dhoti and a midnight blue kurtas.
"You know, Northman, you don't seem to be up to your usually high. I think you used to be faster, old man."
"You don't really think I'd let you lose tonight, do you? That was intentional. But I have to admit it was fun anyway. After so many years of mainstreaming in front of the humans I found finally someone who was willing to do a racing with me." With these words our Nordic guest also stood up and turned to me with a smirk.
"But we shouldn't keep this beautiful welcoming committee waiting any longer."
With a humming approval Aryan Sharma turned to me and in an elegant arm movement I brought my hands together in front of my chest while slowly bowing to him.
"Namaste, Sir Aryan. I am pleased to welcome you to my master's estate tonight."
"Let me look at you, woman," he spoke with affectation. "Such truly beautiful colors... Rarely have I seen such magnificently detailed blue-green peacock feathers on a sari. Eric, look how the light is refracted in the individual golden hem beads."
He kneeled down in front of me and took the fabric in his hand to get a better look at it.
"Very nice, yes. But why such a high-up neckline?" My eyes found the gaze of the Viking, and in his bright eyes I saw clearly that he wanted to tease me. Well, he could wait a long time for that! Now I was very glad that my master had insisted on this sari, because the velvety almost night-black top ended right under my collarbones and covered me in a decent way.
"This color combination really makes me melt away. And how elegantly she wears it."
Okay, now I felt like a mannequin instead of a living person. But I didn't let my feelings affect my actions.
"Thank you for the compliment, Sir Aryan. It gives me great pleasure that you like the sari that my master has chosen for me to wear especially for tonight to give you a feast for the eyes. That is why my top is so high up, Sir Eric." I turned to him and now officially greeted him with a curtsy. This time I already managed to do that in a far more elegant way. "This sari is a tribute to the beauty of Sir Aryan's homeland and shouldn't be distracted by too much skin."
Again I curtsied and made an inviting gesture with my left hand. "But please come in, gentlemen. Surely your race has made you thirsty?"
Before I could speak any further, I was promptly interrupted by the Viking.
"Are you offering yourself to us?" Again this suggestive smirk adorned his face and smiling, I shook my head briefly in reply.
"Priya and Nila here are at your disposal, Sir Aryan and Sir Eric. I have the pleasure of receiving more guests before rejoining you in the banquet hall later."
"What a pity, pretty Livia. I would have loved to taste Dragan's daughter. Well, I will have to talk to him about that, won't I? What do you think? Will he refuse me? After all, tonight is the anniversary of my death. I'm sure it's gonna be a long night for you, young thing – as my personal present."
With these words he left me standing and pulled Priya – who was waiting next to me with Nila – toward him with a quick movement and buried his teeth in her neck. The young woman uttered a short, frightened scream, and I froze. With the sheer force of my will I enforced my body into motionlessness, but I couldn't prevent my smile from disappearing. Now I knew, from him I will have to protect my maids and boys.
"Forgive my friend, he seems very starved." In a flash I realized that Eric Northman was still standing next to me and when I looked at him I knew that he had seen my cold gaze and my disappearing smile. I tried to pull myself together, but this sudden act of violence against one of my maids had probably shaken me more than I would like to admit to myself. While the Viking himself now pulled Nila's wrist towards him – as I noticed far more thoughtfully and seductively –, I was already going through all the young women in my entourage in my mind. For one thing was clear, Priya would certainly not want to spend the night with our Indian guest after this act. He already drank an alarming amount, so I felt compelled to intervene.
"Priya, remember, you still have to escort our guest of honor to his room."
Thank God this little reminder of the planned schedule was enough. With a smacking sound, the Indian detached himself from Priya's neck and I quickly stepped to her side to support her. I heard her heart beating with fear and quickly pulled out a special skin-colored plaster from my sari and placed it on the nasty looking bite wound. As I had correctly assessed him, he hadn't found it necessary to lick over the wound at least once to stop the blood flow to some extent.
"Once you've shown our guest to his room, you'll go downstairs and assist Lex with the rest of the arrangements."
I could see in her grateful eyes that she understood me. Not only did Lex know how to cook, but he had taken four semesters of medical school before my master brought him to us two years ago.
With a wobbly gait Priya led Aryan Sharma to the stairs and I listened to them until I couldn't hear them anymore. The next second I became aware that I again have seemed to have somehow forgotten Mr. Northman, for when he passed me and Nila followed him with blushed cheeks instead of going ahead of him and showing him the way, I cringed for a moment. Actually, protocol dictated that I had to ask the guests if the donors had been satisfactory should they take a drink immediately upon arrival. But somehow I was just standing beside myself. My luck was that the Viking didn't seem to bother and soon he had disappeared with Nila as well.
I quickly took a panoramic view: Sascha, Karina and Sarai whispered with each other so quietly that I hardly understood them and in the house as well as outside there were no immediate vampires to be felt. With only five steps I was standing next to the entrance door and no longer in the direct field of vision of the two remaining waiting human, so that I allowed myself to lose my composure for a short moment. I felt my hands begin to tremble and bit my bottom lip to prevent my eyes from tearing up. A bad premonition was trying to spread inside me, but I couldn't let it. Not now. Two guests still had to arrive and it would have terrible consequences for all of us if I welcomed them with tears. Putting my hands over my heart, I closed my eyes and concentrated on calming and slowing down my heartbeat again so that it could no longer be heard by vampires. This was a very difficult task and had taken me several years of training before my master had appointed me as the welcoming committee at his gatherings. By now it went relatively fast and when I felt the next arrival a few minutes later, I was again a calm and smiling statue on the outside and willing to continue the charade, like my master demanded of me.
But tonight not many vampires seemed to want to stick to the protocol. Because before I could even say a word, someone rushed past me and threw his coat in my direction. It was the Irishman. But why was he in such a hurry this time? I skillfully caught his coat and handed it to Karina, who quickly came towards me.
"Welcome tonight, Sir Eoin. How did your journey go?"
"Grand, dear Livia, just grand... Look, I don't have time now for chit-chat, I'm expecting an important call and I have to retire until the party. Who will escort me up?"
Eoin Kavanagh looked past me and the corners of his mouth formed into a smile. "Sascha! Very nice, very nice. Come, my boy, show me the way."
I just had time to give Sascha a quick nod and then they were gone. In the blink of an eye, Eoin had vamped them both off. When a familiar laugh sounded behind me, I cringed. It wasn't the first time that evening and I was beginning to believe that the vampires were conspiring against me. Something was definitely in the air, I could feel it clearly. Maybe my master was testing me? Of course he was. That must be it. He knew he could rely on me if everything went according to plan. But he couldn't be sure how I would react if something went wrong. Ha! I would show him what I was made of.
With my best smile I curtsied in front of our last guest and welcomed her.
"Kalispéra, Lady Tatarou. I am pleased to welcome you again at my master's estate."
"Sas efcharistó, to paidí mou. And don't blame Eoin for being in such a hurry. I think the Pythia is responsible for this phone call." With a quiet laugh she handed her cloak to Karina, who took it with a respectful bow and curtsey at the same time. Yes, it was always special to have someone from the bloodline of the great Pythoness in the house. Normally, it was none of my business and with anyone else I would be careful not to ask personal questions. But I knew that Athena Tatarou was favorably disposed towards me for some reason.
"How is Her Excellency? And what would she want to know from Mr. Kavanagh? Doesn't he live a very private life, away from all world affairs?
I was dismayed to see the cheerfulness disappear from her face. Instead, she looked at me with unfathomable eyes and then gently cupped my cheeks.
"This need not trouble you, my dear. Have fun tonight and then rest well."
I didn't know what to say to that. And when she then kissed my forehead, I felt totally lost. What was going on that night? I must have been silent longer than I intended to be, because next to me I heard Sarai offering refreshment to our last guest. But as usual, Lady Tatarou politely declined. Just as I had never seen Mr. Tanaka's fangs, I had never witnessed the Greek vampiress drinking. Actually, I couldn't explain why she was invited today, as she was already approaching the one thousand five hundred mark. But I was a long way from making the guest list myself and still had to prove myself to my master many times.
Meanwhile it had become quiet again in the foyer and I turned around to close the big doors. But just when I was about to put my hand on the door handle, I felt an energy flame appearing right from out of nowhere at a short distance. Shocked, I audibly sucked the air into my lungs and then another vampire stood before me. But it was none of the French brothers. I had never seen him before but managed to collect myself within seconds. I knew nothing about him, who he was, how old he was or even where he came from. But what I could rule out immediately was that he was an ordinary traveler who only wanted to visit my master. He was much too elegantly dressed for that. He wore a dark green tunic, a belt beautifully decorated with ornaments, and tight brown trousers and boots. And I didn't know how, but I sensed that he was the oldest vampire on the estate now.
What I also sensed was Karina's confusion and nervousness behind my back, and I suddenly realized why. After I sent Lex and Louis away, she and I were the only ones in the foyer, her being the only – former – serving maid left. Making a decision, I bowed deeply to the stranger and then looked up again. His face was striking and his gaze focused and demanding and I couldn't help but admire the fire in him. Never before had I seen such a strong flame in a vampire. Our Swedish guest came very close in his intensity and within fractions of a second I noticed several similarities between the two of them, even though they looked absolutely different from each other.
But I had no time to be surprised about this. Since he stood in front of me, ten seconds of silence had already passed and I didn't want him to think me rude.
"I welcome you to my master's estate. May I introduce myself? I am Livia Markaitis. Would you do me the honor of telling me your name, sir?"
He had probably spent the short time examining the entrance hall behind me, but when I spoke to him, his eyes were again completely focused on me and my stomach became queasy. I couldn't read him! At least not like the other vampires. What should I expect from him? Was he a flirtatious Casanova, like the Swede, or a vampire who would treat my subordinates only like blood bags like the Indian? Where was my gift when I needed it?
"I am Godric and I am certainly not on the guest list. But there is a reason for that." A slight smile appeared on his face, which immediately reminded me of Eric Northman. Could they be in the same bloodline?
"Oh, well, then you must be a surprise guest, Sir Godric?"
He tilted his head slightly and looked at me as if he wanted to read me too. I froze. Where had that babbling suddenly came from? I really needed to pull myself together.
"You might put it like this. I have a very special gift to present."
Smiling, I quickly stepped aside and, with a wave of my hand, invited him in. Then I felt Karina come to me nervously and I quickly turned to her.
"Please close the front doors and check on Priya afterwards. Then you can retire for the night."
She looked at me with big eyes but didn't dare speak, and then bowed slightly to our unexpected guest and me, before taking care of the front doors. With an apologetic smile I turned to the vampire again.
"Forgive the brief interruption, Sir Godric. From now on I am entirely at your disposal for the duration of your stay. Do you wish for some refreshment?"
Smirking, he moved closer to me, took my right hand and guided it to his lips. While he breathed a tender kiss on my skin, his gaze never left my eyes for a second.
"Livia Markaitis... Am I right in guessing that you are the latest progeny of Dragan?"
"Hmm." Still not letting me out of his focus, he slowly turned my hand and then clearly scented my wrist.
"Tell me, Livia, how comes that you offer to feed me? Dragan was always very clear that his progeny should not give away their blood without his consent."
"Well... my master isn't here now and it would be rude not to satisfy your needs."
Without me realizing it, he had come even closer and put his right hand on my hip. Startled I opened my lips to say something, but somehow I couldn't think of any words. Damn, what was wrong with me?
"What about the woman who was here with you? It would not have been the first time that she had been a serving maid. The smell of different vampires clings to her skin even if they are faint."
I involuntarily took a step back and put myself – at least a little – away from him. With narrowed eyes and a noticeably colder voice I rebuked him.
"I'm very sorry if you are not satisfied with me, sir. But it is my decision as to which of my subordinates are available to escort you to your room."
Chuckling, the vampire bowed to me and then slowly let go of my hand again.
"It was by no means my intention to devalue your company, dear Livia. I merely wanted to find out why you decided to join me instead of one of your maids. Now, please, take me to my room. Currently I am not in need of any refreshments, as you so nobly put it."
"With pleasure, sir. Then please follow me."
With measured steps, I approached the stairs and then gathered up my skirt a little so I could climb the steps. Actually, I had no intention of continuing my conversation with Godric. But then he spoke to me again as I led him into the passage to his chamber.
"For someone who is wearing a sari for the very first time, you are doing an incredibly good job. You are very elegant, and I am sure Juleka Lefevre has secretly cursed you for your grace."
"Oh..." I tried with all my might, but I couldn't prevent my cheeks from blushing. "I thank you."
"You are welcome. Tell me, how come you are so determined on your path to a room when I showed up unannounced?"
Without turning around but in a more conciliatory tone, I answered him.
"Usually my master holds gatherings with many more guests. Accordingly, we have many rooms available. It is the duty of the lady of the house to keep all guest rooms in a ready state at all times and for this reason I can escort you to one without delay."
"Ah. Well then, I am fortunate then to find such a dutiful lady."
Instead of thanking him for his compliment, I remembered something else.
"The birthday party is to last three nights. Have you any luggage you'd like us to bring up for you, Sir Godric? The other guests sent their required garments two days in advance so we could already bring them to their rooms."
"What a thoughtful question. But no, that won't be necessary."
'Okaaay...' Meanwhile we had reached his room, and after I opened the door, I asked him in by stepping aside. "Then how long may I sign you up with my master, sir?"
After passing by, he stopped with his back to me for several seconds and probably looked around the room. With a measured movement, however, he then turned back to me.
"I think I will stay for the three nights of the festivity."
That's as far as I got. Suddenly he was very close to me and I felt his breath on my neck. At once I stiffened. I felt the power of his age in my whole body and I didn't dare to move.
"Do not worry about it, dear Livia. I thank you for your hospitality and will see you at the party."
With that, he leaned away from me again and went to a window. I knew I was dismissed and closed the door quietly.
After all this excitement, I would have liked a little privacy for myself. But after looking at the clock, I wouldn't have the time. The banquet was to start in twenty-five minutes and I still had to register the newcomer with my master, check on Priya, organize a new night escort for the Indian and then make sure one last time that everything was ready for the banquet. But that was no problem. Even though I didn't have many skills, at least I had the speed of a vampire...