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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: 3 (всего у книги 17 страниц)

CHAPTER FIVE

ELIJAH MIKAELSON WAS a survivor. It didn’t hurt that he was invincible, of course, but on top of that he had a real gift for adaptation, for getting along.

Since he and his siblings had arrived on the muddy shores of the crime-ridden outpost known as Nouvelle-Orléans, those talents had served him well. After Klaus’s initial rampage, they’d eventually made peace with the local witches and werewolves. They’d had to swear not to sire any new vampires, but the cost of making a home was worth it. The balance was fragile, but the truce had held for nearly a decade. After years of being chased by their murderous father across Europe, they’d finally landed on their feet.

But times were changing, and it was time for the Originals to change with them.

As Elijah headed out of the city, the close-packed buildings began to grow sparse, and the noise of the city center faded as his horse plodded forward. Humans rode and so he did, too, to maintain his facade, but mortal creatures moved at an achingly slow pace.

His path would be shortest if he cut through the private cemetery on the outskirts of town, and after the slightest of hesitations, he urged the horse beneath the high iron gate.

It was deserted, as any graveyard was likely to be with night falling, but Elijah did not feel alone. Unlike the public burial grounds, this small one teemed with the magic of its deceased inhabitants. No one but witches was buried here, and the concentration of their remains was potent. Incense burned beside many of the curiously inscribed stones, and the light from dripping candles distorted the shadows into fantastical shapes. There was no doubt that the place was thoroughly haunted.

Elijah’s horse shied and pranced, liking this place no better than he did. But the curve of the bayou would take him miles out of his way if he didn’t cut through the cemetery. It could be considered a test of resolve for Ysabelle’s potential visitors: Would they brave the unholy ground? Or take the longer path and lose an hour to their cowardice? Or, as she probably preferred, would the mortals stay away entirely, whispering tales about the witch who lived on the far side of the cemetery?

This place of magic reminded Elijah briefly, powerfully, of another witch who’d surrounded herself with this sort of beautiful ritual: his mother, Esther. A thousand years ago, he had considered her the strongest, most perfect and elegant woman in the world. Then she had cursed him in a desperate bid to save her family from rampaging werewolves, never admitting that she’d had more to do with those wolves than any of them would have guessed.

Her spell had made her husband, Mikael, and her children immortal, invulnerable, and murderers a thousand times over. She had done what she thought was best, but had come to regret it. She had died believing that all her children—those fathered by Mikael: Rebekah, Finn, Kol, and Elijah himself, as well as her bastard son, the half werewolf Niklaus—were abominations. She had died believing that it would have been best to let the werewolves kill them all.

Their father, the first vampire hunter, had made it his mission to eradicate the scourge of Esther’s children. Elijah and his siblings had run for centuries and crossed oceans to escape their father’s wrath. Whenever the thought of his mother crept up on Elijah, it hurt him to his core—the belief that his parents would never love him and wanted him dead.

There was nothing to be done except to focus on the witch at hand. Ysabelle Dalliencourt wasn’t half the witch that Esther had been, of course, but that could work to his advantage now. She was known to be ambitious: Her desire for power far outstripped her natural talents for magic or leadership. She might be inclined to do favors for other powerful beings in exchange for alliances and gratitude, and Elijah found himself in need of a rather simple favor.

The pact with the witches had not only cost the Mikaelsons the ability to make new vampires; the Originals had soon found that their attempts to buy or barter for land within the city limits, no matter how enticing—or menacing—were refused. The message was clear: They could stay, but they shouldn’t get too comfortable.

As a result, Elijah and his siblings had spent the last nine years living in inns, boardinghouses, and eventually hotels. Their accommodations had admittedly grown more comfortable as the city’s population swelled and prospered, but even the most lavish hotel room wasn’t a home. It couldn’t be owned; it couldn’t be defended. It certainly was no place for Kol and Finn, his two brothers who slept in their coffins after Klaus had daggered them in anger. Elijah could see the winds of change blowing into their city, and he had no intention of being swept away by them. It was time for the Mikaelsons to own a slice of New Orleans, and all he needed was one amenable witch to allow him to claim it.

The smell of incense faded as he left the graveyard, and the forest rose up ahead of him. His horse pranced sideways a little, objecting to the gloom. Elijah patted its neck reassuringly and kicked it forward, his sharp eyes scanning the edge of the trees for a shadow that was different from the others.

Just as he spotted the little house, a flickering light appeared in its window, and the horse shied again. Elijah sighed and dismounted; it had been overly optimistic to attempt to travel on the beast. Animals had never been as naturally suspicious of him as they tended to be of his siblings, but it was clear that a vampire was not the sort of companion this creature preferred.

Elijah couldn’t really blame it for that.

He tied the reins to a hardy sapling and covered the remaining distance to the house on foot. There was no one around to notice him being more than human, but by force of habit he walked, trying to look unremarkable. By the time he reached the house, more candles had been lit, and through a window he spied the shadow of the witch. Yet, when he knocked firmly on the door, there was not even the slightest rustle from inside.

He knocked again and waited: nothing. “Madame Ysabelle,” he called, trying to sound as polite as possible while shouting through a closed door, “I have come on business that I believe might interest you.”

“Every stranger comes on business,” a voice warned from behind him, “but it’s rarely any business of mine.”

She spoke in a singsong, otherworldly lilt, so when Elijah spun around he was surprised. The woman who stood behind him on the whitewashed veranda was tall and slim, dressed smartly in a striped pink dress that might have come directly from Paris. Her auburn hair was piled neatly on her head, and gleamed softly in the moonlight.

He realized with a start that he had seen her before: She had been at the ill-fated engagement party. Somehow he had never connected the murmurs about the odd and reclusive Ysabelle Dalliencourt with the stylish, even elegant woman before him. Youthful, as well: Vivianne Lescheres was her niece, but Vivianne’s mother must be a considerably older woman.

“Madame,” Elijah said formally, recovering himself enough to bow politely. “Thank you for speaking with a stranger.”

Ysabelle’s full lips twitched. “Vampire,” she said, “I’m sure you can understand why I do not intend to invite you into my house.”

“Of course,” Elijah said. “And your reasonable concern highlights the intention of my visit—even though I mean no harm.”

She smiled. “You’ll do me no harm,” she promised him, reaching out to take his arm and steering him away from the door. Together they strolled around the perimeter of the tiny house, toward the looming forest. Ysabelle’s sure feet found a path that Elijah had not noticed before, and she led him beneath the sweeping oak trees that dripped with Spanish moss.

“My family has lived here a long time, Madame,” he began as the clearing faded behind them. “Nine years. And yet we are not truly a part of this city; we do not belong the way that you and your kin do.”

“Whose fault is that?” Ysabelle asked tartly, gathering her skirt to step across some sprawling roots. “Your family hunted the werewolves on your arrival, and even after the truce was struck, you are still a threat to my kind. I can’t trust you, but that’s not your fault,” she went on thoughtfully. “You live by killing. You can’t help it if that’s your nature.”

Elijah gritted his teeth, but with the discipline of experience he kept his voice mild. “My family is very close, and we’ve learned to keep to ourselves”—he paused—“as I’m sure the other citizens prefer. But, Madame, by the decree of your family we have nowhere to keep ourselves, and so we remain homeless in this city nearly ten years after making it our residence.”

He felt her hold on his arm tighten. “That is not my decision,” she replied after the briefest of hesitations. Did that mean she agreed with him?

“We would like to own land here,” he pressed, not daring to look at her. “We think that, perhaps, if you could influence your brethren—”

“I have no influence,” Ysabelle interrupted, her tone sharp. “Certainly not to do what you mean.”

“Madame, I have heard nothing but praise for your wisdom and judgment.” It was a lie, but not an egregious one—he hadn’t heard the opposite. “And consider as well that you would have our undying gratitude. Gratitude that might be worth its weight in influence someday. It would not be the first time the Mikaelsons had taken an interest in local politics.”

Ysabelle gave a small laugh. “You think the favor of the vampires will give me a real voice in the affairs of this city?” she asked. “And all you require is some of our ancestral land?”

Elijah didn’t reply as Ysabelle steered him along the uneven path.

“For what it’s worth,” she continued, “I agree with my people in this. I don’t think it was wise to tolerate such an abomination as your family in the first place, and we certainly should not broaden the invitation. Especially now—”

“Because of the werewolves,” he finished for her. Elijah bristled at yet another witch calling him unnatural and denying him sanctuary. He was tired of being rejected by those who revered the magic that created the “abomination” in the first place.

“Oh, so you are aware that we are in the process of allying with your enemies? I thought you must have forgotten in order to ask such a thing. If I went before the witches and argued that we should play both sides, when the wolves are a legion and you are three, they would laugh at me.”

They emerged into the same clearing they had left, just to the other side of Ysabelle’s house. Elijah hadn’t even noticed the path curve. Perhaps she had enchanted it. “They would be wrong,” he told her, although he knew that it wouldn’t make a difference. “I have no more wish to quarrel with the werewolves than I do with the witches, but if it comes to that, we three will not need numbers, allies, or even the small parcel of land I hoped for in order to meet them on equal terms.”

“If that were true,” Ysabelle retorted, releasing his arm and moving gracefully to her front step, “you would not have come here tonight.”

In spite of his disappointment, Elijah found himself smiling. He rather liked the reclusive witch, and he suspected that she was not nearly as unwilling to negotiate with him as she wanted to seem. “I’ll return,” he said impulsively. “I will find a way to show you that you helping us serves your interests, and I’ll be back.”

With her hand resting lightly on the doorknob, Ysabelle turned and smiled so broadly that he knew he had guessed correctly. “You know where to find me,” she replied, “but I doubt I will see you here again anytime soon.”

You will, he vowed, but did not speak the words aloud. They both knew the challenge that he had thrown down, and they both knew that she had accepted it.


CHAPTER SIX

“IT ALL HAPPENED SO FAST.”

Rebekah had been repeating this mantra for days, and yet Captain Eric Moquet never seemed fully satisfied. That kind of restless curiosity might be appealing in a lover, but it was downright annoying in an investigator. She enjoyed the attention lavished on her by the captain, but he was becoming difficult, and Rebekah wasn’t sure how much more patience she had for these soldiers she had so confidently offered to win over to the Mikaelsons’ cause.

“But we must know, and only you can provide the truth.” Eric held Rebekah’s arm as he led her across the treacherous campgrounds. The soldiers had done their best to tame the terrain by the river, filling in marshy holes and cutting back undergrowth, but the wild bayou was barely contained by the orderly sprawl.

She sighed in frustration. Eric had decided that it was terribly important to help her, find the bad men, and punish them. He still wanted to root out her imaginary attacker and bring him to justice, and he was increasingly baffled by Rebekah’s reluctance to cooperate. Eric believed that the rule of law would win out over chaos, and she could not convince him otherwise. It was actually an endearing, if idiotic, belief.

Still, the more Eric questioned her about the supposed attack in the forest, the more Rebekah worried that she might have made a terrible mistake in staging the murder. He did not want to let the crime go unpunished, which she supposed was natural enough. But the problem went far deeper than that.

Until she had met Eric Moquet, Rebekah had allowed herself to forget that humans could be intelligent, insightful, or intuitive. She had expected a single-minded and military pursuit of the wrongdoers, which would run into the dead end she had created. Instead, Eric’s mind had shown flexibility that was, frankly, alarming. He attacked the problem with creativity and inventiveness, so that sooner or later he was bound to notice that she was lying.

As if to make her predicament worse, Eric had also proved himself to be extremely chivalrous over the last few days, not to mention even more handsome than she had realized at first. His hazel eyes were warm and sincere, while his dark hair with its scattering of silver strands made him look dignified and thoughtful. Combined with his deep rumble of a voice that was worth listening to at least as much as his carefully measured words, she found herself fascinated every time they spoke. He walked a gentleman’s fine line flawlessly, managing to provide attentive, charming company without intruding on her privacy. In spite of the worries that never left the back of her mind, they had spent many hours together in perfect companionship. The captain had even shared a wonderful amount of news and gossip with her from his home city of Paris, reminding her fondly of the time she had spent there and the people she had come to know.

But he had rarely spoken about himself, not even to hint at whether a wife and family were waiting for him back in France. Nor would he confide in her much about his obvious interest in the occult, which frustrated her greatly. That ridiculous fixation was almost certainly harmless—she had once caught him reading what looked to be a book of fairy tales with rapt interest—and she saw no sign that he knew anything specific or dangerous to her. But it would have been better if he knew nothing at all, and Rebekah was determined to steer his attention in a more productive direction.

Unfortunately, at the moment, his preferred direction seemed to be tracking down her imaginary bandits. He wanted her to look at the assorted criminals he’d caught in the last few days to see if any of them were her attackers, and wouldn’t take no for an answer.

In a burst of inspiration, it occurred to Rebekah that one of her problems might be the solution to the other. If she connected the mystery of her attacker with Eric’s interest in the supernatural, then he would solve one investigation while explaining the other. After all, what was one human’s life—a troublemaker anyway—compared to the safety of her and her brothers? If Eric didn’t know exactly what he was looking for, then Rebekah could convince him that any one of the suspects was the “supernatural” terror.

“Captain, I know you believe that we were set upon by...by some unnatural fiend,” she reminded him. “Could you not eliminate any suspect that’s a mortal man?”

“You saw these creatures in action and still believed them to be mortal men,” he pointed out, his eyes searching hers. “Perhaps we have caught one such fiend without even knowing it.”

“Well, then,” she agreed thoughtfully, “let me get a look at them.”

It took them only a minute more to reach the newly constructed prison. The building was more solid than the surrounding tents, but still rough and unfinished, cobbled together from whatever the soldiers had scrounged from the forest. It looked no better on the inside. The dozen or so men who had been unlucky enough to get caught were crammed into one small cell. Rebekah could only imagine how uncomfortable it must be to sleep. The straw beneath them was dank, and barely any air came from the one high, barred window.

Eric’s second-in-command, the black-stubbled, unimaginative Felix, stood guard by the door. He watched her intently as she passed, and Rebekah felt an inexplicable chill as his eyes raked across her face.

“You are perfectly safe,” Eric murmured in her ear, mistaking her disgust for fear. “Do you know any of them?”

“Perhaps.” She had to force the words out past her teeth, and she wished she could take them back as soon as she did. “These are your suspects?”

“They are, Madame,” Eric confirmed, his sun-weathered face looking satisfied.

Rebekah frowned as she scanned the group. There were more men than she had thought there would be...surely they were not all new arrivals. “Which of these were caught after I came here?”

To her surprise and mild alarm, Eric hesitated. In what light filtered in through the small window, his expression was unreadable. “I am a fair man.” Pride rang in his low voice, but there was an apology in the words as well. “Madame, if you know one of these criminals, then I am sure you will be able to distinguish him without us separating the new from the old.”

In other words, he would not narrow down her choices, testing her as much as the men in the jail cell. That made things considerably more difficult. If she pointed to the wrong thug, Eric would know it, and worse, he might even direct his inquiry toward her.

If she wanted to keep suspicion off herself, she’d have to pick the right wrong man. She could compel Eric to believe her, but she knew from experience that lies acquired lives of their own, and one lie always led to more.

She glanced at the caged men. Perhaps she could make some kind of guess based on which were the least filthy? It was not an easy distinction to make. Then, to her delight, she realized that she actually did know one of the faces...and had seen it the night before she’d killed the wagoner and his wife. Green eyes glittered brilliantly out of his swarthy face, and his left arm was bound in a grimy sling. Elijah had broken it, she remembered, when Solomon and his pack had surrounded her brother and ambushed him, six to one.

“That one,” she said confidently, raising her hand and pointing. “That’s the man who attacked me. I would know his face anywhere.”

Eric looked pleased, but the caged werewolf looked murderous. “The bitch lies,” he snarled, throwing himself forward to grab the bars between them, and she thought she detected some yellow starting to blossom in the green of his eyes.

She clutched Eric’s arm and pressed the side of her body against his, for good measure. “It’s him,” she whispered, and her apparent fear snapped him into action.

He spun her outside before slamming the door decisively behind them, then gestured for Felix to approach. The wind caught at Rebekah’s gray gown, twisting its skirt around her legs. “Bring the one with the broken arm to my tent,” Eric ordered. “I need to question him, and then I will carry out the execution myself.”

Felix saluted sharply, then cast one more lingering glance at Rebekah before he moved to obey. She wondered if he was jealous of the time she had spent with his captain, if he worried that he might be replaced as Eric’s confidant. If so, though, surely the wisest course of action would be for him to perform his duties more smartly and expediently than ever before. As if he had reached the same conclusion, Felix pulled a ring of keys from his red coat and marched stiffly back into the jail.

So that the captain can question and then kill the prisoner. Rebekah could only imagine how confused the werewolf would be by Eric’s questions. But he wouldn’t say anything that might incriminate her—of that she was sure. No lowly pack member would take it upon himself to reveal the existence of his kind to humans, and in protecting his secret he would have to protect hers as well. How fortunate that any werewolf would rather die than betray his kin, because die he would. And it would serve him right.

As they escorted the struggling werewolf out of the jail, Eric bent to pick something up off the ground. It was a fallen tree branch, and as she gasped he snapped it across his knee. Eric held one splintered half up to the light, and she knew exactly what it was: a stake.

Rebekah felt a sudden tightness in her throat. What would Eric want with a stake? The only reason he’d need one would be to kill her kind. All of a sudden the good Captain Moquet was looking less like an eccentric scholar of the occult and more like a fledgling vampire hunter. She raced back to the warmth of her tent to remove herself from any further involvement.

It was hours before she heard enough of a disturbance to peer outside. Four soldiers were carrying the werewolf’s lifeless body toward the edge of the camp. Even from a distance, with night having fallen across the bayou, she was sure she could see the broken tree branch still protruding from the left side of the man’s chest.


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