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Первородные: Восхождение
  • Текст добавлен: 15 октября 2016, 06:37

Текст книги "Первородные: Восхождение"


Автор книги: Julie Plec






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Текущая страница: 2 (всего у книги 17 страниц)

CHAPTER THREE

THEY NEVER SAW HER COMING.

The cart horse shrieked as Rebekah launched herself at the humans, who had mistakenly believed the twilit forest north of the city a perfectly safe place to be. But the warning came too late for the couple, who didn’t even manage to look up before Rebekah was upon them. Climbing up onto the wagon, she snapped the woman’s neck with her left hand, and with her right she pulled the man’s head back to expose his weathered throat. His life ended in a burst of thick, hot blood before he could even wonder why.

Rebekah normally would have preferred to take a little more time with her meals, but she had too much to do. The army patrol passed by these woods every hour, and she had no intention of greeting them as a murderess.

She ripped apart the straps of the harness that yoked the horse to the wagon. She raised a hand to shoo it away, and the beast bolted as soon as it was free. The broken harness dangled uselessly in the dirt, and Rebekah kicked in one of the wheels for added effect. Spokes shattered and the hoop cracked, emphasizing how helpless and stranded she was supposed to be.

The woman, of course, must not be found. Rebekah dragged her from her seat, carrying her into the trees until the broken wagon was no longer in sight. Roots and thick undergrowth made digging even a shallow grave a risky waste of time, so she shoved the body under the densest bush she could see, and then examined her work. It had been wise not to drain the woman, even though she wouldn’t have minded a second course to her meal. The ground was barely disturbed, and this way there would be no telltale trail of blood to lead anyone to the corpse.

Rebekah ran back to the clearing, turning her full attention to the dead man. The bite marks were small, but a more obvious cause of death would be an improvement. Eyeing his neck critically, she found a knife in the cart and slashed it across his throat, severing an artery and hiding the marks from her teeth. It wasn’t perfect—and he didn’t have nearly enough blood left to make it as dramatic as she would have liked—so she added a few extra cuts to his hands and arms to tell a more detailed story.

Finally, she lifted him from the cart and propped him against an oak tree in what she cheerfully imagined looked like a valiant—if hopeless—last stand. Her rescuers might notice how quickly she healed if she injured herself, but she carefully ripped at her own clothing, creating a few artistic tears in the powder-blue fabric. She rubbed her hands in the dirt. Wrinkling her nose a little, she smeared some on the apples of her cheeks, then streaked her delicate collarbone and the skin where her torn dress revealed a creamy slice of abdomen. She could hear hoofbeats now, so she tousled her hair roughly while glancing around one final time at the scene she had set. Then she collapsed against the oak tree next to the dead body.

From the sound of the horses, she guessed there were six men. They stopped, and she heard startled murmuring. It was all she could do to keep her eyes closed and her body still while they took in the disaster in the clearing. They approached carefully, and she could picture them examining each of her clues. Even though the sun had already slid below the tops of the trees and the light was poor, she was glad she had been so thorough.

“She breathes,” one of the soldiers announced suddenly, and Rebekah let her long eyelashes flutter open. She stared around in apparent confusion, pressing one hand to her head as if it ached. Six soldiers stood in long blue coats that cut away to show flashes of red. The French army had arrived to save the day.

Rebekah’s head rolled to the side so that she could see the dead man propped against the tree trunk. “My husband!” she shrieked, clutching her hands to her chest. One of the rips in her dress gaped strategically, and out of the corner of her eye she noticed several of the men watching it keenly. “Those horrible men killed my husband.” She threw herself melodramatically across the wagoner’s lifeless chest, hiding her smirk against his shirt.

“There have been reports of bandits on this road, but nothing like this,” one of the soldiers told the others quietly. “Do you think it’s the villains that the captain has mentioned?”

“It may be.” She heard some of them shift uncomfortably, and wished she could stop playing her role long enough to look up and read their expressions. The soldier’s voice dropped so low that a human wouldn’t have been able to hear it, although of course a vampire could. “She called them men, but we can’t be sure that it’s not one of those other crimes.” His volume returned to normal. “The bandits must be getting bolder. The new captain will surely want to increase patrols.”

“You won’t be able to spend so much time in the city brothels anymore,” another one chuckled, and Rebekah heard sounds of scuffling.

Really? A murdered man and a damsel in obvious distress, and they still acted like children? Humans could be so predictable, so undisciplined. She could barely remember how it felt to be their kind of alive—the kind that was temporary. She cleared her throat a little and straightened up again, tossing her loose blonde hair as if it were the accidental result of her movement. Once again, she had the patrol’s undivided attention.

“Madame,” the nearest soldier began, diplomatically placing a hand on her shoulder, “I am a lieutenant in the garrison here, but please just address me as Felix. I am terribly sorry this has happened. We will escort you back to the city.” He was reasonably attractive, Rebekah decided, with thick black stubble and a hooked Gallic nose. She still intended to aim for the captain, but a lieutenant could be useful as well. More important, this Felix could be enjoyable enough company while he escorted her to her real target.

“I can’t go back,” she disagreed, taking hold of the wide cuff of Felix’s sleeve. “My husband had debts; the Navarros were looking for us. My husband hoped to join his cousin in Shreveport, but he hadn’t answered our letters yet when we were forced to leave. I don’t even know if the cousin is still there.” She softened her grip on the lieutenant’s arm and made her eyes wide blue pools of shock and sorrow. “I warned him his gambling would ruin us.”

“We can’t send her back,” a short blond soldier said worriedly. “The Navarros are criminals; she won’t be safe if she can’t pay them.”

“We can’t very well escort her all the way up to Shreveport,” another countered. “And who even knows if she has people there?”

Felix nodded his head decisively, as if agreeing with his own thoughts. “We will bring her back to camp for now,” he ordered. “She will have military protection until the captain can determine a safe place for her to go.”

“Thank you,” Rebekah whispered. “Thank you all so much.” Fainting seemed like overkill, so instead she let the hook-nosed lieutenant help her onto his waiting horse.

“Bring the husband. The captain will want to inspect him,” Felix called over his shoulder as he mounted his horse and situated himself behind her. “And of course we must give him a proper burial,” he added more softly for, Rebekah assumed, her benefit. She shifted forward in the saddle as much as she could. Oh, dear. She had hoped to leave the body behind entirely to avoid further inspection, but that had probably been unrealistic. The patrol arranged the wagoner on a roll of canvas secured with rope, and Rebekah hoped that her late “husband” was fat enough that the ropes would break from his weight.

Even with the extra burden of the dead man, the encampment was only about a half hour’s ride. Rebekah was relieved, as it quickly became apparent that she had drastically overestimated her lieutenant’s charms. No matter how many hints she dropped about her new status as widow, he had little to say aside from clumsy attempts to console her. She hoped that his captain would demonstrate a little more imagination; she preferred to save compulsion for emergencies rather than relying on it for every little thing.

There was no doubt which tent was his: It stood proudly in the center of the camp and fleur-de-lis decorated every available surface. Rebekah had to remind herself not to dismount too fluidly, instead falling into her gallant soldier’s waiting arms with deliberate clumsiness. The horse helped by shifting and shying away as she moved; it was better trained than the cart horse had been, but it was no more fond of her. “Please be brave, Madame,” Felix whispered as he released her hand, and Rebekah stifled a laugh.

The short blond man must have run on ahead to alert the captain, because Rebekah noticed him hurrying back toward them on foot, and he was not alone. The new arrival crossed the camp in long, easy strides that indicated effortless authority. Although there was no doubt in her mind that he was in charge here, he was younger than she had expected; maybe not even over thirty.

The French had a sizable army stationed outside of New Orleans, so either he was an unusually adept commander or extremely well-connected. Or, most likely, both. His hair was thick and brown with just a hint of gray at the temples, which Rebekah immediately decided was attractive. His eyes were a warm hazel shade, and surprisingly kind—with an alluring hint of mischief. When he looked up at her and smiled, she felt so protected and reassured that she forgot she wasn’t in any real danger. Rebekah knew that a man this handsome could only lead to trouble, and she felt herself already starting to travel down that dangerous path. A striking Frenchman in a position of authority was exactly her type—and she’d been long starved of it.

“Madame,” he said, his voice rumbling and powerful. “I am sorry to learn of your circumstances. You will be safe here until we can arrange for your passage home.”

“Home,” she repeated softly. Her brothers were the only home she had. Their parents had made them immortal and then turned on them, believing that their own children had become monsters—that saving their lives had been a terrible mistake. What kind of home could she build with that shadow constantly hovering over her? In truth, she was even more adrift than the character she was playing for the captain.

“We will search for your family and your late husband’s,” he clarified. “Or we will find something else. Please don’t worry about all that now—you have already been through so much this evening.”

“Thank you,” Rebekah said.

He smiled again, as if weapons and death didn’t surround them, but his eyes flickered to her hands as if he was looking for something—and then she realized that she had forgotten to take that damned woman’s wedding ring, and her daylight ring sat on her right index finger. The ring allowed her to be in sunlight, and she dared not take it off even though the sun was already beginning to dip below the horizon. She chided herself for being so careless, and hoped that no one would wonder that bandits had left such a striking gem on her hand. “My name is Captain Moquet,” he told her. “But call me Eric. Do you mind if I ask you a few questions about your attackers? I think that they have stolen your ring?”

“Yes,” Rebekah replied with deliberate eagerness. “I feel so strange to suddenly be without it.”

“I understand, Madame,” Eric assured her with such conviction that she wondered if she had inadvertently compelled him without realizing it. Then his hazel eyes turned to the dead wagoner, and every trace of softness—everything human—disappeared from his face.

He approached the corpse, and the soldiers stepped back. He leaned down, his long fingers tracing the wounds Rebekah had inflicted without quite touching them. “Bandits, you said?” he asked, pointing toward the short blond soldier without looking away from the dead body.

A few of the men glanced nervously at Rebekah and then away again. Some shifted uncomfortably. She had heard one of the men refer to him as “the new captain.” How well did he know his new post? She decided it was best for her to say nothing and wait.

“No,” Eric said at last, bringing one fingertip down on the edge of the long slash across the dead man’s throat. “The marks are almost hidden, but they are here. This is not the work of any man.” He looked up finally, his eyes burning into Rebekah’s so deeply that she couldn’t possibly look away. When he spoke again, it was as if the words were meant only for her. “There are unnatural and cursed things in those woods. You were lucky to escape with your life.”


CHAPTER FOUR

KLAUS MOVED ACROSS the cobblestones, grimacing at the chattering roar of hooves and carts passing by. When the Mikaelsons had arrived in New Orleans, there had been nothing except dirt tracks, but civilization had not left their grimy little French outpost alone. In addition to the elegant manor houses and villas that seemed to spring up like weeds, there was now a bona fide town center, with cobblers, jewelers, a surprisingly up-to-date milliner, and a few taverns.

Progress marched onward, Klaus supposed philosophically, but not everything was an improvement...especially not after the dizzying, skull-shattering night he had just spent on the town. New Orleans may have grown more sophisticated, but its whores were just as raunchy and wild as they had ever been. And the brand of whiskey served at Klaus’s favorite brothel, the Southern Spot, was almost enough to drive the residue of discontent from Klaus’s tongue. Almost.

There had come a point when he could no longer see her glittering black eyes, when her mocking smile no longer broke in on his every thought. But, to his intoxicated vision, every neck he had tenderly bitten had looked like her slender and marble-white throat; every drop of blood had tasted of her. Niklaus drank because oblivion could not come too soon and, given his headache this morning, it had probably come far too late.

The sun was high and the locals were bustling. He kept reflexively touching the daylight ring on his finger, willing it to somehow work more. Everything was too bright and too loud—until suddenly it was perfect. He didn’t need to glimpse more than the merest sliver of her profile to know who it was. With the way she fit into her white muslin dress, she might as well have been created with Klaus alone in mind.

Her. She glowed; she pulled the light in. It was as if he’d made her appear. No matter what people whispered about the cursed fate of vampires, at that moment, he felt positively blessed.

Luckiest of all, she was unchaperoned. Vivianne stood alone at the side of the high street, gazing into the window of a couturier, who boasted of having just arrived from Paris. There was no one to interfere in their conversation, unlike at that miserable engagement party.

Klaus took a moment to brush off his coat and smooth the collar of his loose white shirt. She didn’t need to know how he’d spent the night. As he approached her, he could feel the whiskey mixing treacherously with the blood in his stomach, but he would have bet his never-ending life that she would not be able to tell how deeply their first meeting had shaken him.

“Mademoiselle Lescheres,” he purred, trying to keep his voice from rasping. His throat felt sore and hoarse, which was hard to understand given how many hours he’d spent lubricating it with food and drink. “You are even more radiant in the sunlight than by chandelier.”

She did not bother to conceal her shock at the sight of him, but it was unclear how happy the surprise was. “Niklaus Mikaelson,” she said formally, as if demonstrating a true society girl’s gift for memory. As if he’d made no real impression on her at all. “I would not have thought to encounter you here so early in the day.”

Because sunlight was poison to his kind? Or because she could see the previous night’s excesses written on his face? Knowing that she had bluffed her way politely through several dances without mentioning the blood on his mouth, it was difficult to guess what else she might choose to leave unspoken.

He felt an almost overpowering need to check his coat for telltale stains or tearing.

“My lady Vivianne,” he replied instead, with what he knew was a winning smile, “had I known that you would be here, I would have arrived even earlier so as not to miss a moment of your company.”

Her answering smile was perfunctory, but she seemed distracted. A cart piled high with crates of produce rattled by, and she watched it go as if even carrots were more interesting than Klaus Mikaelson. “That would have been unnecessary,” she explained in a clipped tone, “as recently I can’t seem to turn around without meeting you.”

Impossibly, she didn’t sound pleased by this coincidence. Had his first impression on her really been so unremarkable? It was understandable that the sight of blood might upset a young woman. But in Klaus’s considerable experience with women, upsetting them did not tend to make them any less intrigued. Yet Vivianne’s face showed no fear, no disgust, no curiosity. Could it be that he was drawn to her because of her disinterest?

He ached to gently brush back a tendril of black hair that had snaked free from under her cap and coiled along her collarbone. Then, perhaps, to throw an arm around her narrow waist, pull her to him, and kiss her. And maybe bite her, just a little, as well. Surely she would have to feel some real emotion toward him then.

“Speaking of unexpected pleasures,” he recalled, “I have not yet had the opportunity to congratulate you on your engagement. You must be deliriously happy.”

“Deliriously,” she confirmed, ignoring the sarcastic edge in his tone completely. “Thank you for your well-wishes.”

“I would have offered them more promptly, had you mentioned your situation when we met,” he said. Not that he actually cared, but he trusted her to understand his real meaning—that she had deliberately kept the news from him as long as she could. A woman who avoided mentioning her betrothal usually had a motive, and it was typically one that her fiancé would disapprove of. Vivianne might not show any overt signs of interest, but she had some kind of game on her mind. He felt sure of it. She was far too aware of him to care as little as she was acting.

“I thought you knew!” she said smoothly, raising an eyebrow. “You were attending the engagement party after all.”

“I gate-crashed the engagement party,” he corrected. “I was simply in search of decent champagne.”

It bothered Klaus that the entire city seemed to know of her engagement before he did. Once he started listening, there was nowhere he could go without hearing about the beautiful girl who had ended the war between the witches and the werewolves of New Orleans. Under the circumstances, getting so very drunk for the past few days had definitely been the best course of action.

Vivianne shrugged and ran a gloved hand along the filmy fabric of her skirt. “I assumed you were simply desperate to be among the first to congratulate me. Us.”

It was a very minor slip of the tongue, but it gave him hope. “You know,” he offered impulsively, “I could escort you on your errands today, and save you all that trouble of trying to run into me again by chance. These streets are not always the safest for a lady alone anyway.”

A real smile touched her red lips, and he felt his pulse quicken in triumph. But she wasn’t looking at him. “Armand,” she answered, a little more loudly than he had expected.

She lifted one gloved arm to wave to someone farther along the cobblestoned street behind him.

Armand, most likely.

Klaus resigned himself and turned around. Indeed, the lanky werewolf was making his way toward them with amusing haste. His foot slipped on the cobblestones and slid into a muddy puddle, but he was so eager to interrupt them that he did not even appear to notice his wet shoe.

“Vivianne,” Armand called out a tad too cheerfully as he approached, and Klaus smirked. He may not have made much progress with the young half witch, but it seemed her fiancé had his own doubts about his ability to hold her attention. It wasn’t much, but it was yet another of the tiniest of encouragements that could add up over time. And Klaus had plenty of time.

“Armand,” Klaus repeated heartily, holding out his hand so that the werewolf could not reach Vivianne without either shaking it or mortally insulting a vampire in broad daylight. Armand glowered, but opted to shake; his hand was disgustingly hot in Klaus’s cool palm.

“I’m sorry to leave you alone for so long, Viv,” Armand continued, as if Klaus’s greeting had never interrupted him at all. “But I saw this and simply had to have it for you.” He sidestepped his rival and held out a lavishly wrapped box, and Klaus rolled his eyes without the slightest attempt at discretion. There was a distinction, after all, between thoughtful and pathetic.

Vivianne’s eyes widened for a moment in surprise, although whether at her fiancé’s rudeness or his gift Klaus could not be sure. However, she accepted the box gracefully, rising onto her tiptoes to kiss Armand’s cheek in thanks.

Armand smiled down at her, and Klaus fantasized about splintering his neck into dozens of tiny shards of bone. If he struck now, the tall werewolf would never even see the blow coming.

“We should really be going,” Armand said smugly to no one in particular. “Lingering where you’ve no business does nothing but invite trouble.”

Vivianne’s lips pressed together, concealing either disapproval or a smile. Klaus still could not read her any better than when they had first met, and he was starting to wonder when—not if—he would ever have the opportunity to learn. The werewolves would be keeping a close eye on her, and he couldn’t count on her cooperation if he tried to spirit her away. She couldn’t possibly love the priggish, correct Armand, but if she never got the full experience of Klaus’s charms she might faithfully marry Armand anyway. And live a dull, proper life. It would be too terrible a waste to contemplate.

“Of course,” Vivianne purred, turning to go without so much as a meaningful glance over her shoulder.

For a moment, Klaus played out what would happen if he broke Armand’s arrogant, undefended spine. Vivianne would be angry—Elijah would be livid—but eventually everyone would agree that the world had not come to an end because of one dead werewolf. Time would prove Klaus right; it always did.

Then he noticed the way Vivianne held her head high as she walked along the bustling cobblestones. Klaus sighed and let the idea go. Killing the competition had its advantages, but for a woman like Vivianne, it might not suffice. To win her, he would have to pull out all the stops: Klaus would need to prove himself to be the better man.


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