Nadia Comenov ran feeling the dirt and grass beneath her bare feet. She laughed distancing herself from her companions.
"I win!" She shouted breathless. Her hand, touching the bark of the lone tree in the centre of the grassy meadow. The gaggle of girls her age all laughing as they approached Nadia and the picnic laid out under the spread of the leaves. The girls were more her friends than servants.
"You ran like the wind Nadia." One of the girls called out as they sat to enjoy the simple meal of bread and wine.
Nadia noted they were picking the bread taking only the barest minimum guessing that they were saving themselves for the grand banquet tonight her brother's coming of age. She didn't want to spoil the moment thinking about her brother's odd behaviour and brooding moods. She looked up gazing at the scenery her eyes taking in the dark forests and the snow capped mountains thrusting themselves up through them.
"Will there be many men there?" Another of her friends asked.
"I do hope so." Nadia replied. Her parents had spent the last six months preparing for this day. All the nobles from the surrounding estates would be coming.
"Andrei Besrenov has been invited and I've heard women swoon at his feet." Another girl giggled.
Nadia laughed. "I heard he's had more than ladies swooning at his feet. I heard tell." Her voice dropped to a whisper making all her friends lean towards her. "A number have been found swooning in his bed."
There was a moment of silence before they all burst out laughing the sounds seemed to echo round the meadow.
Nadia smiled with the banquet over her parents would find her a suitor and she'd be married within the year. She yearned for the freedom that it would entail free to leave the place she was born in.
A bell tolled in the distance calling her back to the castle that was her home.
"Pack up!" She told her friends. "I'll race you back to the castle." She ran her long dark hair flowing behind her.
The castle loomed up before her. The stone walls grey and old. One turret its top crumbled the others showed more repairs. Several workmen were hanging bunting from the battlements the colours sharp and bright against the grey. Nadia skidded into the narrow courtyard. A woman stood before her arms folded and her face set hard. The woman wore a simple linen gown low at the bodice and edged with lace. Cut in a style twenty years out of fashion her long dark hair hidden beneath a straw bonnet.
"Come child!" The woman remarked. "How many times have I told you off for fraternising with the servants? They are here to serve our needs."
"Yes mother." Nadia curtseyed as she had been taught. "Sorry mother. I won't let it happen again."
"See that you don't. Get to the bath I want you washed and dressed." And then when Nadia failed to move quickly enough she added. "I said run or it's a dose of the strap for you."
Nadia hurried away not failing to see her brother watching her from the battlement. She shivered under his unrelenting stare. Since he had returned from the city he was stranger than usual. Nadia and her brother were similar in appearance. She even with her slight frame and flat chest couldn't be mistaken for anything but a woman.
Nadia washed letting the water sluice the dirt from her feet and hands. Her mother often despaired of Nadia's tomboy attitude. In her room a dress had been laid out on her bed. Nadia picked it up running her fingers over the stiff brocade. Long and narrow at the hips then flaring out at the hem. The corset was heavy and tight the embroidered design picked out in red and gold Nadia felt as if she was some ancient queen. Two of her maids came to help her dress she waved them away impatiently.
"Get yourselves dressed!" She ordered the maids.
"The mistress' orders my lady." The taller of the two girls replied.
Nadia turned to stare at the women she regarded as her friends. "When did we start getting so formal?"
"Your brother ordered it."
Nadia's eyes narrowed. "Viktor got himself a swollen head when he returned from the city." She almost spat out her brother's name. "God willing I'll be free of him and this place within a year." She valued her independence. "Braid my hair!" She ordered. If Viktor could play the old style count then she could.
The clatter of hooves on the cobbled courtyard floor and the creak of carriages had her to the narrow arrow slit window of her room. Peering out she could just about make out the arrival of the guests.
"Come on!" She shouted excitedly to her two maids as she hurried out of the room. "We'll get a better view from the high gallery." It was only when she was halfway to the gallery that she remembered that she was running in her stockinged feet. Her shoes were in her room. With a curse she ran back and hurriedly slipped her feet into the silver buckled shoes then ran out the door to greet the guests. Her parents stood waiting to greet the guests as they entered the great hall.
Nadia's father was taller his once dark hair faded to grey he looked uncomfortable in the stiff coat he wore. She was sure that her father hated the cut and floral pattern of the coat a hundred years out of date. He smiled and winked when he saw her. Nadia had nothing but admiration for her father. She loved his sense of humour and endless patience. Well with a wayward daughter, a brooding son and an over bearing wife he had to a contrast to her mother's disapproving glare. In her eyes Nadia was a constant disappointment, Nadia on the other hand did her best to live up to her mother's low expectation of her. She placed herself at her father's side feeling the reassuring grip of his hand.
"Nada, you've surpassed yourself today. You're a daughter any father would be proud of."
Nadia's chest swelled with pride complements like that were rare from her father, unfortunately her mother deflated the moment.
"Disgraceful child. Why have you not powdered your face and applied rouge? You know how."
Before Nadia could reply her father spoke up.
"Nada is no painted woman. If you wanted on of those then I'm sure I could hire one of them it would certainly be cheaper than this mummer's performance."
In the corner of her eye she saw her mother's lips tighten as she bit down a comment.
Nadia turned her attention to the guests arriving scanning the faces of the men as they were presented. Nadia could see there weren't as many as she hoped for. Finally the last guest arrived and Nadia breathed a sigh of relief that it was over. Oddly she reflected that her brother that should have greeted the guests and not her. The banquet hall adjoined the great hall and that was where she found her brother seated at the high table looking for all the world like a king. That was the tradition he was for all intensive purposes 'king for the day'. Nadia found herself relegated to one of the lower tables wedged between two elderly nobles both of whom she had only a passing knowledge of. The only thing that marred her enjoyment of the evening was her brother's constant stare in her direction. She shivered a strange premonition told her that the evening would not bode well for her. The servants began to bring the food round Nadia perked up with the smells issuing from the steaming plates. She sat there eagerly but when her food arrived it wasn't as she expected. A bowl of grey gruel was dumped in front of her. She recognised the server as one of her brother's hangers on. Her eyes darted to the dais and her suspicions were confirmed on seeing the triumphant expression on her brother's face. She felt her face heat up her hands clenching and unclenching. This was a deliberate insult the elderly couple she had been placed with glanced at the high table disapproval strong on their faces. Nadia was shocked to see anger on her mother's face. She must have said something to Viktor as the colour drained from his face. Nadia sat back contented to see her mother berate her brother was a change she welcomed. The bowl was replaced with something more in line with the rest of the banquet.
Feasting over the minstrels assembled as the servants moved the tables making room in the centre of the hall in preparation for the dancing. Nadia noted her brother had not moved from the throne on the dais and that he had another goblet of wine in his hand. She found herself lining up for the dance determined that her brother would not ruin her enjoyment of the evening. The minstrels struck up a tune after a few hesitant first steps Nadia got the rhythm and for once was glad her mother made her practice. She danced all evening finally she sat breathless fanning herself noticing that she wasn't only one. One by one the guests started to leave the only thing that marred things was her brother's drinking she ignored him staying in the hall until the last of the guest had left. With a grateful sigh she eased off her shoes then wandered the quiet halls her stockinged feet dancing the steps she had learned tonight the tunes running through her mind. A noise at the end of the corridor made her halt. She peered into the semi-darkness.
"Who's there?" She called out.
A figure shifted out of the dark. Stepping into the light of a gutting candle she recognised her brother he was drunk.
"You are mine!" He slurred his words making a lunge for her.
She easily evaded him. "Go to bed and I won't tell father about this."
He stared at her unbelieving. He made another wild lunge at her. She easily evaded him again. He growled taking a wild swing in her direction she danced away out of his grasping hands.
"Go to bed!" She repeated louder.
He stopped staring into the darkness. "I want her! Seize her!"
She became aware there were more than just she and her brother in this corridor. Horror filled her soul she turned and ran. Her stockinged feet slipped out from under her on the polished floor and she fell heavily. As she struggled to her feet she felt hands grasp her. She screamed once before a cloth was stuffed into her mouth.
They dragged her struggling into her brother's bedroom and held her down as he stripped her gown from her body. They seized hold of her legs pulling them apart. She struggled and tried to scream, the gag prevented that. He repeatedly raped her while his companions looked on laughing. She had been a virgin what man would have her now? Finally she was shackled to a wall. She curled into the corner and wept the gag removed. Exhausted she slept in her nakedness. A maid woke her with a fresh shift.
"Please put this on mistress." The maid's hands shook and there were bruises on her face.
"Please tell my parents my brother's gone mad!"
The maid stared away frightened. "You don't know do you?"
"What?" The maid's voice frightened her she still felt the pain in her crotch and belly from her ordeal in the night.
"Mistress your parents are dead. The other guests have fled. There's no one to come to our rescue. Your brother holds life and death over us."
She felt her whole world collapse round her ears. Shivering in her nakedness she heard a noise at the door. Her brother stood there hastily she snatched the shift from the maid to cover her modesty.
"Why!" She accused her brother. "Why Viktor."
"Silence whore!" He strode into the room striking the cringing maid down.
Nadia tried to dart away but she wasn't quick enough. His friends grabbed her forcing her onto the bed. She struggled as they held her down forcing her legs apart. She felt her brother on her, violating her again and again. Sated he rolled off her Nadia thought that was the end. Her brother was replaced by one of his friends, one by one her brother's companions took their turns. The pain made her faint the sudden splash of water revived her. They had chained her to the wall her bare flesh cold from the water yet she smelt of her own blood and excrement. A bucket of water was given to her to wash with and drink.
Nadia no longer cared all she wanted to do was die. She tried to strangle herself with the shackles and was whipped for her attempt she was watched constantly. Then when she refused to eat the gruel they gave her she felt strong arms grip her forcing her jaws apart they rammed the food down her throat forcing her to swallow. She became pregnant feeling the child growing in her belly. That made her brother angry he beat her for that then whipped her again when she lost it. A blood fever came over her she lay on the floor shaking and sweating, praying for death in her more lucid moments. Even the peace of death was denied to her and slowly she recovered. Her only solace was the little arrow-slit window allowing her to peek at the world beyond the room. Sometimes her brother would bring some poor unfortunate peasant to her bed to beat and rape. Nadia considered the lucky ones were those that died from his attentions. A couple of months after she had recovered from her illness he had her moved.
The dungeon a place she once had played at a child had been transformed. The stocks and torture racks were still there. Nadia shuddered seeing fresh blood on some of the implements. It wasn't what her brother had brought her down here for. A cell had been purposely built with a balcony above a windowless room. An iron-grilled door barred the only exit. In the middle of the floor in clear sight of the balcony was a bed. She guessed that she could be watched while someone raped her. They still shackled her to the wall so she could watch her brother rape another poor peasant. Days turning into weeks, and weeks into months the time passed without her condition changing, her hair grew long and dishevelled. Her body was covered in dirt and grime the occasional wash cleaned her off. She no longer cared about herself it brought a small blessing in a way it gave herself time to prepare herself for her brother's depredations as these were the times she was washed. The freedom she longed for was gone she would be at her brother's mercy until she died. Hidden here in the bowels of the castle away from the fresh air and light. Months passed into years. At times her brother would be away for weeks at a time. The only way she knew there was weather outside was rain trickling down one of the walls. The taste of the rain a blessing to her drab water ration. Late one night a stranger came to the door asking for shelter from the storm. She lay in her bed exhausted from the latest atrocity. She was raped by a succession of her brother's friends this night one after another. She tensed thinking that it was one of her brother's companions. She found herself staring into the face of a handsome man like the ones she dreamed of before this ordeal.
"Please kill me!" She begged. "Or set me free."
The stranger turned his face from her and she wept. Strangely her brother never returned for a year she remained chained to her wall unable to leave the confines of her room. Some sort of normality returned to her life. She began to wonder if her brother had died that was her fervent hope. It was late and there was a commotion in the corridor outside the room. Her heart sank when she heard her brother's voice. He entered the room looking paler than she had last seen him. She stared in horror at the blood around his lips. He was on her in a minute his mouth to her neck. She felt him bite his teeth penetrating her neck she screamed. She felt herself floating as her life was stolen from her.
Nadia woke a pulsing hunger in her belly threatening to rip through her very soul. Noises all around her called the hunger in her belly. She lay on the floor staring up at the ceiling noting ever seam and crack in the roof of her cell. Oddly she reflected she had never noticed this before. She heard a pulse come closer calling to her. Looking up she saw her brother standing on the balcony. With a sudden flick of his hands her threw something. Nadia reacted a speed she wasn't had. Catching the bundle she sank her teeth into unyielding skin draining the fluid that took on the edge off her hunger. The red mist faded from her eyes and she stared at the lifeless form cradled in her arms. The young girl was dead her eyes open wide and accusing. Nadia glared at her brother.
"You did this!" She pointed with her dirty finger. "What have you done to me? Rot in Hell! The devil take you!"
Her brother chuckled. "No more for you. You'll come crawling when the hunger gets the better of you. Beg now! It amuses me."
Nadia spat her brother turned and left. Nadia hunger grew until it made her scream in pain. Another unfortunate was pushed from the balcony Nadia attacked with out thought or reason draining her victim dry. She knew in her mind she hated this and yet she yielded to the call savagely killing all morsels her brother tempted her with.
"Why?" She dared to ask on evening as two lackey's dragged the corpse away she submitted to the chains knowing it futile to resist.
"I will create a kingdom of vampires and rule the world!"
Nadia remained silent her brother was as insane as a pox-ridden whore and just as dangerous. Although she was no longer the subject of his rapes he had a new torment in store for her. Starving her until the hunger had her screaming in anguish and then releasing her to savage some poor peasant she hated every moment. In the quiet hours when all was still she tested her chains. One day they would break and she would be free to wreak a terrible revenge on her brother and all those that served him.
Nadia sat in her corner brooding the remains of her last meal lay on the floor before her. The man's dead eyes staring accusing at her. She hated the feeling being at the beck and call of her brother. A woman entered one of those still mortal. That was what her brother called them those he regarded as food and nothing else. The terrified heart beat called to her hunger.
"What do you want?" Nadia demanded.
"Please don't kill me yet!" The mortal begged. "There's an army at the gates."
Nadia came to life at those words. "An army?" Then the rest of the mortal's words registered. "Yet?"
It was then that Nadia saw the iron bar in the trembling mortal's hands. "Why?" was all she asked.
"He'll kill me either way. I don't want to be one of his vampires. God have mercy on my soul! I'd rather die quickly than that."
"I will kill you?" Nadia replied sadly knowing what the mortal was asking.
The mortal nodded mutely. "Just make it quick."
Nadia understood she hated the sacrifice this mortal was making but she needed the strength to escape.
The mortal lay dead at her feet. Nadia knew time was against her if she didn't go now then there would be no second chances. The bar snapped the already weakened chain and Nadia was free. In a blink of an eye she was out of the cell and hurrying down the narrow corridors her bare dirty feet making little noise. A sound ahead made her hesitate. She saw her brother gesticulating and shouting to several vampires all armed and armoured for battle. She crept past while he had his back to her. Her goal the secret passageway in the kitchen. The kitchen was long disused but there was a vampire and several mortals guarding the entrance. They had been prepared for at frontal attack but never saw Nadia until the last moment all looking the wrong direction. Nadia attacked with a ferocity fuelled by her pent-up anger. The vampire was dealt with first. A smoking pile of ash was all that remained of him. The mortals were no match for her for her. She killed with ease using their blood to feed her hunger. She stole a pair of pants and a shirt the material feeling unfamiliar against her skin after all her years of nakedness. The secret door opened with ease and Nadia followed the downward spiral, bushes blocked the exit. She halted and for the first time in years smelt the scent of pine on her nostrils and the breeze ruffle her unkempt hair. She shook herself it was her intention to be as far away as possible before the sun rose. She ran then suddenly halted sensing mortals all around her there was no way to avoid a confrontation. She hoped a superior turn of speed would give her time to escape there was no way of knowing whether this was the army or some of her brother's mortals. From the brushes a man stepped out looking oddly out of place in his archaic chainmail armour. His long blonde hair covered by a fluted helm. What was more important to Nadia was the huge two-handed sword he held in his hand. She knew he was a vampire and from the way he held his sword an expert as well. The vampire whistled Nadia found herself surrounded. There was no way she could surprise them like the vampire and the mortals in the kitchen.
"I am your prisoner." She said holding her hands forward to show she had nothing in them.
The vampire didn't lower his sword he seemed to take in her state and the clothes she wore. "You from the castle?" His voice seemed have a heavy accent.
"I escaped from the cell my brother was holding me in."
"Come!" The vampire said. "Walk before me. Do not deviate from the path."
Nadia complied there wasn't much else she could do.
A camp spread out in the meadow she used to play in. As she walked through the camp she noted groups of mortals and vampires together. One of the vampires must have said something funny as the knot of mortals he was with erupted into gales of laughter. None of the fear and loathing she had experienced in her brother's castle. Oddly she hadn't really called it home since he had violated her. She was puzzled, wouldn't these mortals be cowering knowing the vampires would kill them. Yet here they were taking ease with the very creatures that fed off them. Before she had a chance to ponder this she was directed to a large gaily-coloured tent at the heart of the camp. Two armoured vampires stood outside and eyed her up and down.
"Wait here and remain silent!" Her captor ordered.
He went inside the tent and Nadia waited. It gave her an opportunity to examine her surroundings more thoroughly. Of the mortals she noted that a number spotted bite marks on their necks or arms. So they don't kill all the time. Nadia wondered how they did it there must be a way. The tent flaps opened and the blonde haired vampire peered out.
Nadia walked forward the two guards at her heels. Two vampires sat on high back chairs at the end of the tent a number of rugs and bearskins covered box-like shapes on the floor. Nadia stared at the two vampires. The woman was tall her hair dark contrasting with the white of her skin. Her burgundy gown old fashioned and edged with gold trim. The man was equally attired his burgundy doublet was faced with pearl buttons, a slim rapier was belted to his waist, his beard dark and oiled to a point. The woman's hand rest lightly on the man's.
"Explain!" The woman commanded.
Nadia spoke guessing it would be best to tell all. She spoke laying out her life from the night of the banquet until the moment of her capture. She could feel the woman's eyes boring into her very soul. Nadia stiffened defiantly. "Let me go or kill me! Either way I will be free of my brother."
"And why will I do either. I have you here in the palm of my hand?"
"I will tell you how to take the secret way into the castle. But do not ask me to show you the way I'd rather die first."
The woman seemed to consider Nadia's statement. "Freedom is what I grant you. Know this before you go if I find you with forty leagues of this place I will execute you without hesitation." She gestured to the blonde vampire. "Escort her to the edge of the camp furthest away from the castle." She turned back to Nadia. "You child better start running time is against you."
"Thank you my lady." Nadia curtsied.
"Go with God!" The woman said as Nadia hurried away.
Reaching the edge of the camp she took the path and ran not looking back, a prayer on her lips that her brother would meet his end.
The last hours before dawn found Nadia high in the mountains. She surveyed her surroundings looking for a place to sleep. One thing her brother had told her, although he had neglected tell her others was the need to sleep when the sun rose. The same sunlight that would be her death. She searched the rocky crags finding herself a bear's cave unfortunately it was occupied. Nadia lay on the ground the bear's blood healing the injuries it had inflicted on her. She grimaced at the sour taste in her mouth the bear's blood tasted worse than it looked. She embraced the nothingness. Night called her out the sink of the blood and the corpse drove her from the cave. She continued her lonely journey with one thought in mind to get as far away as possible from her brother. The sounds of heartbeats drew her to a shepherd's cabin beside the trail she was following. She knocked on the door slowly it opened and a face peered at her. Then a hand beckoned to her welcoming her into the house little knowing they had let death in.
Nadia stared at the bodies on the floor her head full of regrets.
"There has to be another way!" She said sadly. As she laid the sad corpse of a child on a bed. "I can't be condemned to this torment forever?" She stood watching the cabin burn more than regrets on her mind slowly she turned the blazing cabin a beacon in the background and continued her journey. Nadia wandered through the mountains her direction west never stopping always moving on. Her travels brought her into contact with other vampires most wanting to kill her. Those that didn't ignored her and a couple even gave her hints of what she had to learn.
The little town in the Bavarian Alps surrounded by trees and tall mountains reminded her of home the place that was as dead to her as her own heart. She settled there taking what she had learned on her travels. She could feed without killing and cloud people's minds to make them forget they had seen her. Her house was modest situated on the edge of town her neighbour a single woman that dispensed herbal remedies from her back door. Years passed for Nadia and she began to think this place her home. One evening not long after she had risen for the night she noted a number of heartbeats outside in the street. Too many for this end of town and from the sound all agitated. Fear clutched her chest. Have they found out? If they had wouldn't they have come in daylight? Cautiously she peered out of the lace curtains. A crowd had gathered round her neighbour's house all shouting and chanting. She heard the crash of glass as stones were thrown at the windows. Nadia threw open the door and hurried out. One of the townsfolk saw her approach.
"We're stoning the witch!" Shouted pointing to the woman's house. "They've got a fire waiting for this Hag of Satan."
She heard a scream seeing the woman dragged from her house. Nadia had a dilemma. Reveal that she was a vampire and save this woman who had done no one harm or remain silent and hope she wouldn't be the next target. She owed the mortal some compassion after all she was sure the mortal knew she was a vampire or at least suspected the same. The flames were burning well in the town square as they dragged the woman forward. Nadia prepared herself for the moment. Then she stopped a chill spreading through her body. She saw a face on the other side of the square a face from a waking nightmare. All thought of rescue forgotten she turned and fled cursing herself as she did so. The mortal's fate forgotten in her headlong panic to run away from her brother. Nadia fled heading east back to the land of her birth abandoning her way west thinking her brother not would seek her in that direction.
Nadia shifted uneasily the waiting had made her tense but she had to judge the timing perfectly. Her wandering had brought her to this point hiding out in a warehouse waiting for the last possible moment to board as ship bound for the New World. She used what the mortals called the Great War and Influenza epidemic to effectively hide her tracks. With so many mortals heading west it was ideal for confusing her trail. Still she couldn't afford to be complacent finding her brother in places she was sure he wouldn't be. She turned and frowned several black clad figures stood behind her waiting for her word. They were her children she had created them. They knew better than to disturb while she was thinking.
"There was no sign?" She asked one of them.
"None." Was the reply the voice speaking in its native tongue.
Nadia frowned again. While she had made an effort to speak in the local language her children remained set in their ways their clothes and their habits. She smoothed down her dress trying to get the wrinkles out of the silk. She liked this dress with its clusters of embroidered flowers. A reminder of a time when before it was so cruelly snatched away from her. She noted the heartbeats around her as the ship was readied for sailing. She licked her lips wondering what freedom tasted like. With luck and God's will she's taste it tonight when the ship was far out to sea. Nadia began to relax she would finally be free. She determined the time right and she and her children crept aboard the ship finding a space in bilge. Dawn came and she embraced death. Night found the ship underway. For the first time since the night her brother destroyed her world Nadia began to truly believe she was free of him. Time will tell if she was right. Then she had all the time in the world.