a Forever Knight story
by Elisabeth H.
Centre Stage Challenge: Miklos
The crack of the whip echoed around the throne room and then faded. Again and again the sound was repeated as the Royal Executioner administered thirty lashes to the peasant who had dared question the justice of his king. The courtiers watched as bidden -- their faces carefully schooled into bland expressions -- ignoring the blood that spattered onto priceless silks and brocades. No-one stirred, not even the man hung between two pillars. The only movement in the room came from the rise and fall of the executioner's arm and the undulations of the whip. When the lash finally ceased, the silence was deafening.
"Cut him down."
Two soldiers moved quickly, knives slicing through ropes. Unable to stand without assistance, Miklos fell to the ground. Pride ignited rapidly though, and, bracing himself against the marble floor, he struggled upright. Agony lanced through him when the sweat caused by his efforts dripped into the open gashes on his back. Somehow he made it to his feet, and raised his head to stare into the eyes of the tyrant who had destroyed his life. The loud rasping of Miklos's breath filled the motionless silence. As one, the courtiers turned to the man on the throne, waiting for his reaction.
Vlad Tepes, King of Wallachia, slowly stroked his moustache. He had not expected this. The man should be grovelling at his feet, begging for mercy. But control must be maintained. He could not allow this commoner, this piece of dirt, to appear to gain any advantage. Abruptly, he waved his arm. The room cleared immediately, relieved courtiers streaming out the only door. As soon as the peasant and his king were alone -- the two soldiers guarding the door did not count -- Vlad descended from his throne and stood eye to eye with Miklos.
"You gave me no choice." The accusation was flung into Miklos' face. "My laws cannot be broken by anyone, not even my former whipping boy."
"Anya . . . did . . . nothing. They . . . were . . . innocent." Speech came slowly, between the gasps of air that Miklos forced painfully into his lungs. "You . . . had . . . no . . . right."
"No right!" The tyrant's eyes bulged with madness as his face was thrust forward until only inches separated the men. "How dare you! She was a poor excuse for a wife. Allowing your boys to run wild. The cottage was barely clean when I entered."
Miklos stared back. Thoughts came slowly, fighting their way through the pain. "I . . . loved . . . her."
Spittle flecked both their faces, bubbling at the corner of Vlad's mouth. His voice was a low hiss. "Love. You forget yourself. Everything, everyone in this land is mine. I decide who lives, who dies. There is no love without my command."
"No. You are the one who forgets. It is God who owns everything. His decision is life or death."
The slap rang out loud. The king paced around his subject, then stopped in front of him again. Laughing hysterically, Vlad grabbed Miklos's neck, "You just don't understand, do you? I am your god. I will rule this land forever. Children will tremble in fear when they hear my name. I, Vlad Tepes, King of Wallachia and leader of the Draculs will be respected throughout history as the world's greatest leader."
Flinging Miklos away from him, Vlad stalked out of the throne room. Pausing between the doors held open by the guards, he ordered, "Get that garbage out of my sight. If he has not left Wallachia by midnight tomorrow, kill him." Turning to Miklos he continued, "You see, even now I am merciful. In honour of the time we spent together as children, I give you time to say goodbye to your family."
* * * * *
Anya lay in her grave, a child cradled in each arm. Wooden stakes still pierced their bodies. Sawing through the poles had been as much as Miklos could manage, and even that was forbidden. The bodies of those impaled by the tyrant were supposed to remain until the flesh melted away and the bones clattered to the ground around the stake that had caused their death. Tears fell on the shrouds as Miklos performed the rites. The villagers had refused to help, unwilling to risk their king's fury. Miklos could not blame them. Hundreds were impaled each month. If the tyrant kept this up, there would be no-one left alive in Wallachia. At least the priest had tended the wounds on his back and provided the holy water needed to complete the ceremony.
Rose thorns and petals sprinkled the faces of his wife and children. Cloves of garlic had been sewn into the shape of a cross on the front of each shroud. Raising the rough ceramic mug of holy water, Miklos poured it over the bodies of his family and then dropped the shattered mug into the grave. The holy words had been spoken aloud but, underneath, in a current of silent rage, he had promised revenge. Revenge upon the king who had destroyed his life. Miklos flung his oath at the stars, "On my life I promise, they will be avenged. No matter how long it takes. The Impaler will suffer for all eternity as he has made my family suffer."
"Do you mean that?"
Startled, Miklos spun around. The woman who had spoken was hidden in the shadows of a tree. He had not heard her approach.
"Do you mean that?" She repeated. "Would you like to live long enough, gain enough power to make the Impaler suffer for his sins?"
"Come with me and I will show you. Together, we can live forever. The world will be yours for the taking."
* * * * *
The Scholomance, Carpathian Mountains -- several years later
"Too late. Too late. Too late." Miklos stared at the corpse before him as the words ricocheted around his mind. He had stayed away too long. Years spent with Katerina, his beguiling Mistress, learning vampire survival skills. And, more importantly, planning his revenge on Vlad Tepes. So many nights spent with Katerina practising the mannerisms of the nobility until he could pass for one of them without conscious thought. And all this time Anya and their children lay moldering in their grave unavenged. Too many years. All wasted.
In death, the King of Wallachia seemed so much smaller than he had in life. Laid out on a plain wooden bier, even his flesh had shrunk until the cold white skin stretched taut over the bones of the skull. Miklos had insisted on seeing the body. He had to make sure that the tyrant was truly dead. It took all the vampiric persuasion he could muster, however, to get the monks at the Scholomance to allow him into the mortuary.
"He will be buried in an unmarked grave. We do not want to tempt the grave robbers. There are some who would even brave the mountains to desecrate the grave of the Dracul." The monk looked downward as he spoke, his face hidden by the hood of his robe. Did Miklos imagine the accusation?
"Leave me. I would say my goodbyes in private."
"Of course, my lord."
Miklos waited until he heard the door to the mortuary close and the footsteps fade away down the corridor. Then he moved rapidly, removing the king's breastplate and jamming a short wooden stake directly through the corpse's heart. He replaced the armour and stood back. There was no outward sign that anything had changed. "I would have killed you myself, but obviously that devil had plans for your soul. May it burn in hell for eternity."
One hand clenched the air over the dead man's neck. Hatred twisted Miklos's face, drawing his fangs from their sockets, colouring his eyes red. "It is not enough. If I cannot have your life, I will take away the rest -- what you valued above all else. As you stole what was most precious to me. I will have my revenge if it takes me the rest of my life . . . and I will live a very long life."
* * * * *
"I understand you are a writer." The Eastern European accent was faint, but still noticeable.
"A writer . . . yes. I am. Who . . . ." Seeing the expensive clothing of his visitor, Abraham glanced self-consciously around the inside of his home. It was clean, but poverty was obvious in the used furniture and the darned curtains.
"May I come in?"
"Of . . . of course." Abraham backed into the main room. "Please be seated. Can I get you anything? Some wine, perhaps?"
Miklos smiled as he sat carefully in the chair furthest from the small fire. "No, thank you. I do not wish to impose. I was given your name by a friend. He assures me that you write well."
"I try. Would you like to see some of my work. Currently . . ."
"I do not care what you are writing now or what you have written before. I wish to tell you a story. One that I think will interest you. All that I ask is that you write it down and arrange to publish it under your own name. You can make some changes, add whatever seems fitting. Any money you receive from the story is yours. I want nothing from it."
"Nothing?" Abraham hardly dared to hope. Could this offer be as good as it seemed?
"Nothing." Miklos smiled thinly. This was going better than he had expected. "There is only one condition. The main character must remain as I describe him. You cannot redeem him in any way." Miklos paused to look into the eyes of the mortal. "Do we have an understanding?"
"Yes. Yes of course. When do you wish to start?" Abraham quelled the fear that rose in his soul. There was something different about his visitor. Something cold. Almost inhuman. Something he could not identify. But the possibility of money was too important to pass up. If only this story could raise his family out of the poverty into which they had sunk.
Miklos passed many nights at Abraham's home. Although he always brought food and drink, he never accepted anything from his host, nor did he ever touch Abraham or any member of his family. Dressed always in black, Miklos promptly arrived two hours after sunset each evening and left shortly before sunrise. He talked while Abraham wrote. The scratch of Abraham's pen on paper continued each day long after Miklos left. When the story was finished, Miklos left and never returned. Abraham continued to work on the story for many more months.
* * * * *
The bookseller was packing up his stall when the stranger arrived. Unwilling to miss a sale, he stopped putting away the books and inquired, "Can I help you sir?"
"I'm looking for a new serial. Something different, I think, darker than the usual story. Do you have anything that might interest me?"
Pushing his glasses back up his nose, the bookseller rummaged through his boxes and pulled out some paper sheets. "Something like this?"
Dropping too many coins into the man's hand, Miklos laughed. "Yes. Something exactly like this." He started reading as he walked away. The title of the story and the name of the author were printed in heavy black letters: Dracula by Bram Stoker.
"And so my revenge finally begins."
* * * * *
Los Angeles 1979
Laughter filled the darkened movie theatre as the actors cavorted on the screen. The sound rose and fell, and rose again as a man tried to catch a "black chicken" for his family's dinner. Miklos left his seat in the back row and exited, a grim satisfied smile on his face. He had seen this movie many times, needing to hear the audience's laughter as they watched George Hamilton and the rest of the cast spoof a literary "classic".
Outside the theatre, Miklos watched the crowd lined up for the next show. Excited voices chattered. The sweet scent of mortality filled the air.
"Did you like the movie?"
Miklos looked at the girl who had stopped him. Laughter filled her eyes. In another time perhaps he might have taken her with him. But no longer. "Yes. It was very funny."
"Thanks." The girl turned to her friends and resumed talking to them. "See. I told you it would be a good laugh."
Across the street Miklos halted again. Neon lights brightened the night until it almost resembled the day. Laughter erupted as he read the name on the theatre marquee: Love at First Bite.
"Somehow, I don't think this was how you wanted to be remembered, my king."
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