AN: Okay, I am re-posting this story, because I hated the beginning, so I went back and fixed it. I also edited the rest of it, so it shouldn't have as many errors. I'm seriously considering getting it published (or trying) so I could really use your reviews. If you think I should try, please tell me. If you think it would be a waste of time, I understand and I thank you for your opinion. So, please, nit-pick, criticize, be brutal; just please don't flame. I thank you in advance and I hope you enjoy-

Bonded

Prologue: The Treaty of Roses

The rose garden was generally a peaceful place at night. A few candles burned in the darkness to guide the occasional noble who chose to visit the sleeping roses. Or, perhaps, to star gaze; it was the only room in the castle with a proper view of the rising moon and the twinkling stars. Two people now stood in the rose garden, doing just that; their heads inclined upwards to view the shooting stars and the shining moon above.

Candlelight, from the flickering taper the woman held in her hands, spilled onto them, illuminating the pale faces of the new King and Queen of Lorrayn. They had been married only a few months ago, on the same day that the two first met, but though it had been an arranged marriage, they had quickly fallen in love with each other. So now, they stood beneath the stars and gazed at the heavens, wondering why their gods had chosen to bless them with such happiness.

However, another pair stood off to the side, observing the two royals. They were cloaked in shadow; no candlelight touched their pale faces, and so they were invisible to the stargazing Lorraynians. They regarded each other silently for a moment, and with a nearly-imperceptible, encouraging nod from the female, the male stepped forward and into the light, revealing his handsome, though pallid, features.

The royal pair was still unaware of his presence; his footsteps made no sound as he walked. The male waited for a few moments, taking a few steps forward before he cleared his throat softly, drawing the Lorraynians' attention to himself. For a moment, the two simply stared at him in shock, the whites of their wide eyes made bright in the candlelight.

As soon as he recovered, though, the king thrust his queen behind him, using his body as a shield against the man- the creature- that he instantly knew to be a vampire. "Guards!" he cried, but the vampire only took another step forward, driving the royals back.

"They can't hear you," the vampire said softly, his voice almost melodic in the midnight air, "But it doesn't matter. You won't be needing them anyway."

"If you've come to take us-" the queen spoke from behind her husband, voice trembling lightly.

The vampire cut her off with a wave of his clawed hand. "No. I have no intention of taking you anywhere or killing you at all. In fact," he said softly, "I have no intention of taking another human life ever again."

The two humans paused in their retreat, staring at him in disbelief. "Who are you?" the king finally asked.

The vampire, though he had no need of breath, allowed a soft sigh to escape his lips. "You know me as the Dragon," he replied, voice still soft. The king slowly turned from the vampire's red eyes to look at the tattoo encircling his right wrist. There, clear as day, was the image of a black dragon, biting its own tail to form a never-ending circle around the owner's arm. Seeing his gaze, the vampire shifted so that his hands were both concealed easily behind his back.

Wetting his lips nervously, the king raised his eyes back to look up at the vampire- at the Dragon. "Gods help us," was all he managed as he started to tremble.

The queen, from behind her husband, offered her somber agreement- as if she was already mourning the loss of her life and the loss of her husband's life. A flash of anger lit the vampire's eyes, and he hissed harshly, "I already told you that I have no intention of killing you- or anyone, for that matter." The sharp, animalistic tone of his voice, however, only made the royals flinch and step backwards- away from him.

The sound of bells drew his attention, and a soft, pale hand gently touched the vampire's elbow. "Nicholas," his female companion- also a vampire- whispered softly, "You can't rightly expect their help if you're going to act like such a-"

"A what?" he asked roughly, anger still visible in his eyes, "A vampire?"

She only sighed and turned away from him, toward the two humans still quivering before them. "Forgive him," she said softly, voice gentle and kind, "he's…just frustrated. But, in all honesty, we have no intention of hurting you- you or your people. We actually want to make a deal with you."

She looked up at the other vampire, encouraging him to take over the negotiations. Again, he allowed a soft breath to slip through his lips. "Yes; we want to make a deal with you." The anger had drained from his voice, replaced with a sort of soft honesty that neither human had expected from the infamous vampire.

Perhaps it was the sincerity in the Dragon's eyes or the sweet softness of the female vampire's voice, but the king looked up at the pair and asked softly, "What kind of deal?"

The female vampire slipped back, her movements accompanied by the soft tinkling of bells, and allowed the Dragon to step forward to take control once more. "We are offering to protect your people from ours- from now until this kingdom collapses," he said.

"Until the kingdom-" the king sputtered, forgetting himself for a moment, "This kingdom is eternal; it will never fall!"

The Dragon only laughed bitterly, staring at the royal with bright, reddened eyes. "Nothing is eternal," he corrected the king, "Nothing human, at least."

It looked as if the king might argue further- forgetting, in his pride, exactly who and what he was talking to. The queen, however, put a hand on his arm and said softly, "Darling, I think the, um, Dragon is offering to-to keep our people safe from other vampires. I-is that right, Vampire Lord?"

The vampire shook his head. "I'm not a-" But he could see that his words were wasted. The two royals would, from now on, refer to him as the 'Vampire Lord'. Perhaps it was to sooth their pride. After all, if they had known that they were cowering before a blacksmith's son, they never would have been able to look their nobles in the eye again. So he allowed them their illusion, saying only, "Yes, that is what I am offering, majesty." If they insisted on titles, then he would have to use them too. Just to keep the humans happy.

The king and queen- perhaps surprised at the honorific address- looked at each other, eyes wide. Then, the king slowly turned back to the Vampire Lord. "In exchange for what, may I ask?" He added a hasty 'my lord', much to the vampire's chagrin.

The vampire glanced at his female companion for a moment, taking heart as her mind brushed encouragingly against his. "You're doing fine," she told him, mind-to-mind. He nodded and returned his attention to the royals.

"In exchange for my protection against other vampires, I ask only for this: the first female child born to you. Or, if you two do not have a female child, the first female child to be born to your family." He saw their eyes widen, and he added quickly, "I have no intention of feeding from her, if that is what you're thinking. I want to bond with her- something equivalent, I suppose, to human marriage."

The queen recovered first and, perhaps in the interest of saving her future daughter, nodded toward the vampiress standing behind him. "What about her? Isn't she your…wife?"

The two vampires stared at each other for a moment, before both redirected their attention to the two humans. "Sonya? She's…more like a daughter or a sister. I could never-" He shook his head, trying to push the thoughts away. "No. She is not my…'wife'."

"But, I don't understand," the queen continued, "why? Why do you want our daughter as your bride?"

The vampire did not respond to the queen's question. Rather, he asked impatiently, "Is it a deal, or not?"

The royals looked at each other for a long time, as if they too were capable of mind-to-mind communication. Finally, the king sighed. "Darling, I think you had better fetch the scribe. If we're going to make a deal with the Dragon, we had better make it a formal treaty."

The vampire nodded his agreement, trying not to smile. The plan that he and the vampiress had stitched together a few days ago- though both had been thinking about it for a lot longer than that- was coming to fruition. Soon, it seemed, they- and other vampires like them- would be able to rejoin human society. They would no longer be met with fear or stakes when they entered a human village.

But the Dragon was only partially correct. 'Soon' came six hundred years later. Though other female children were born to the royal family, none of them made it to marrying age. It was ten generations before the girl destined to become his bond-mate was born. Her name was Rosaline of Lorrayn.

And her life was about to change.

But she didn't know that. Not yet, at least. She didn't know that she was the child the Dragon had waited so long for. She didn't know that her distant grandparents had essentially signed her life away to the vampire. No, she didn't know; her parents had carefully kept all knowledge of the Treaty of Roses- so called because it had been signed in the castle rose garden- from their daughter, afraid to let her know her fate. But they couldn't keep it from her forever. When she turned sixteen, she would be of marrying age, and all would have to be revealed to her.

For her parents, that day came much too quickly.