Romanian: Casa celui de-al șaptelea Menuet
The next time I woke, everything was dark. The crystal was glowing only dimly, and I could barely see the outline of Erik’s body in the corner of the seat. There was a small pillow protecting his face from the side-wall of the carriage, and Xanthus leaned alongside him. They were both sound asleep, and Matthias was nowhere to be seen; I assumed they’d traded off driving. I felt groggy and a little sore, as well as hungry.
I sat up slowly and tried doing some stretches to ease some of the soreness. Since it was so dark inside, I tried to focus on the smells and sounds coming from outside. The carriage was traveling on a dirt path, and was pulled by what I assumed were horses, or at least something tangential. There were also several… I don’t know, somethings, running along side and behind. Maybe the werewolves were still nearby, because they sounded heavy. They brushes through the foliage now and then, but I was certain they were trying to avoid having their traveling cause a ruckus.
The air smelled of soil and moss. It was fresh and cool– cold, actually. It was also a little thin, as though we were at a higher altitude. There was moisture, but I couldn’t tell whether it was because a waterway was nearby, or if it was rain. I wish they’d had the forethought to give me a blanket, especially considering that my dress as so badly torn. All I could do was adjust the fabric a little here and there and sit with my knees close to my chest, hoping that we didn’t have much further to go.
My mind wandered as we traveled, trying to process what I know about Tierney Ríocht and– well, everything else that was going on. Stefan had been raging the whole time he’d been trying to protect me, and I hoped he was okay– and not taking unnecessary risks. I appreciated him wanting to help, but if he got hurt, that would only make it worse. Larsa had been trying to tell me something about his behavior lately, but Stefan kept shutting him down, which didn’t help matters.
My thoughts were eventually pulled back to the present when the carriage came to a stop. It rocked slightly as someone climbed down from the driver’s seat, and a minute or two later, the door opened and moonlight streamed in.
“Is this our destination?” I asked, trying to see past Matthias; all I could make out were the night sky and the shadowy tree branches.
“Not quite,” Matthias replied. He stepped inside and gently roused Erik. “We’re at the gate, sir.”
Erik looked around slowly and eventually nodded. Then he shifted Xanthus into the stop he’d been in, and Matthias sat down on the other side of the bench-seat. Erik turned to look at me, trying to appear stoic and mysterious instead of sleepy. I gazed back up at him.
“What gate?” I asked. “Is it magic? Where does it lead to?”
“It is merely a metal gate as you might find anywhere else,” he explained wearily. “This is one of the few roads leading up the master’s castle, and we keep it locked.”
“Enough questions,” he said in a tone of finality. “I would invite you to sit with me on the last part of our ride, but the danger you’d be in if you attempted to run away is too great.”
“I don’t even know where I am,” I harrumphed. “Where would I run to?”
“You’re a resourceful young woman,” Erik told me, almost complimentary. “You’d find a way to get to where you wanted to go. The problem lies in the risk though; you are more likely to die trying to flee, or at least incur substantial injuries. I promised to deliver you to my master safely, and I cannot break my word to him.”
“Safely?” I scoffed. “What about all these scratches? And I’m sure I have at least one bruise…”
He gave me a long, silent look. “Werewolves are not known for being gentle,” he eventually explained. “You shall be treated when we arrive. For now, please do not annoy Matthias, and trust that we shall be at the castle soon enough.”
Erik shut the door, and I heard some sort of locking mechanism turn. There were footsteps leading away, then the flint clinking of metal. Erik called out something I couldn’t hear clearly, and I heard the sound of werewolves running by. The carriage moved forward a little before stopping again, and it took a couple minutes for Erik to close the gate and climb up to the driver’s seat.
“So I’m your prisoner, then?” I asked Matthias once were were moving smoothly.
He narrowed his eyes at me. “Eric thinks you intelligent, but I do not,” he said coldly.
I started at him for long moments, uncertain whether to call him out for insinuating that I was stupid. He didn’t bother to offer me an explanation. “What’s stupid is this situation! I’m sitting here on a hard floor, my clothes are torn, and it’s cold, yet I don’t even get an explanation?”
“We’re almost at the castle,” he reiterated.
“So what? Why should I wait?”
Matthias glared at me. “You wasted no time in becoming annoying.”
“Ha! Wanting to know what’s so important that you guys tore apart Jean-Marc’s house and put me in a rolling cage is annoying?”
“It’s better that you see what’s at stake rather than hear about it.”
“It must be something big if those werewolves went in knowing they’d suffer losses.”
“You know the ballad, don’t you?” he snarled. “By all the shadows, you are dense.”
“You’re wrong there!” I snapped back. “I’m new to all of this, so give me some credit for trying to get my bearings first. Besides, I don’t know the entire ballad.”
“We don’t have the luxury of being able to wait for you to understand.” His voice was like acid.
I sat back and watched him for several moments. He was really upset about the thought of me not thrilled about being there. And bringing up the ballad– the document that spoke of how Tierney Ríocht was to be rescued from peril? Something was hitting really close to home for him.
“Does this have something to do with Brielle and Ingrid?” I asked him after a while.
Matthias’s eyes narrowed, and he seemed to be breathing harder.
“Sir Maël made it back to Jean-Marc’s house,” I went on when he refused to speak. “Well, barely. He was almost drai–“
“Stop. I cannot explain anything to you now. The master has asked that it all be left to him.”
Matthias refused to talk to me after that. No matter what I said, he wouldn’t look at me, and he wouldn’t speak; he wouldn’t even nod or shake his head. Eventually, I worried that Xanthus would wake up and decided that I should stop before it got to that point. I wished there was at least a window I could look out of if I was to sit in silence.
The carriage finally came to a stop after traveling a short distance over a cobbled road. I heard what sounded like large wooden doors being shut and barred before Erik climbed down and spoke to someone outside the carriage. Their voices were too soft for me to hear what they were talking about, but they did seem a little formal. Matthias sat up straighter and nudged Xanthus before giving me a serious look.
“Be respectful to our master,” he warned me in a low whisper.
I gave him my coldest ‘or else what?’ look; they weren’t going to do anything that would hurt me. Whatever they had planned, Matthias took the ballad seriously, and that meant he was worried about the fate of Tierney Ríocht. This master of his had to be worried, too, even if he showed it differently. Matthias did not look pleased to see that I was far from the submissive type.
Erik opened the door to the carriage and stepped aside to let the man beside him look in. I assumed this was their master. He was slightly taller than Erik, lean and elegant, with an ancient sort of grace. His skin was deathly pale, his hair silver and impossibly long– mostly straight with only the most subtle waves– and he looked me over with crimson eyes that had seen millennia come and go.
“Lady Leila Moss,” he began in a voice as rich and smooth as velvet, “welcome to my castle and home. May I begin by apologizing for the forcefulness with which you were brought here? I understand that it is hardly a consolation now, but I intend to offer you my full hospitality now that you have arrived.”
I didn’t respond right away; I stared at him for long moments, trying to gauge how I wanted to respond to him. “I’m not so sure that any amount of hospitality is going to make up for what happened at Jean-Marc’s house.”
He didn’t react in anger. Someone else might have, but he’d been around far too long to not have the self-control to consider my perspective and react in a way that didn’t make things worse. “It seems that there is much to tell, Lady Moss. Before we speak of such things, however, may I show you to the room I have arranged for you? You could change out of the dress the wolves have torn, and my nurse can treat your wounds.”
I looked from him to Erik, wondering whether he was being sincere or putting on an act of nobility in order to charm me into doing what he wanted.
“Erik, she’s had a rough journey,” his master said when I didn’t speak. “Let her out of there.”
“Master, if she ru–”
“Matthias, you were not asked for you opinion on this,” the older man said. As calm as he sounded, there was something in his tone that told Matthias that there would be hell to pay if he made any other protests.
He kept his mouth shut and climbed out of the carriage to kneel before his master. Xanthus followed suit, and they were dismissed just as quickly as they’d moved to kneel. Erik, meanwhile, stepped over to the back of the carriage. I heard him fiddling with something, then a metallic click. A wide panel in the back wall soon opened up, and Erik held his hand out for me.
I accepted his hand and scoot over to the edge of the carriage, then leaned into his arm as I climbed out. My body was stiff and sore, and I wasn’t sure what I wanted first: food, rest, or a hot bath. The master stepped up beside Erik and held open a massive cloak of dark gray fur, the inside lined with matching silk.
“I should have reminded them to bring things with them to better care for you,” he said. “Please give me the chance to show that I am not entirely barbaric.”
He wrapped the cloak around me, and all I could do was nod stiffly. “Y-yeah… sure… but you know my name, and I guess where I’m from and what that means, so isn’t it fair that I know your name, too?”
“Of course, Lady Moss,” he replied as he led be through a pair of guarded doors. “I am Damien Averel Thorne, lord of this castle and grandmaster of the vampiric bloodline living herein.”