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A Barrel Of Stones

 

the vampire by edvard munch

Leaning against a barrel, Eva Drodescu stared into the distance and breathed in the fresh salty air.

One of the deckhands, late getting below deck, approached her. “Be a barrel of stones, miss,” he said with a wink and a charmingly rough English accent.

“What?” Eva asked him.

He pointed at the barrel she leaned on, “A barrel ‘a stones, that is, miss,” he repeated, adding, “Captain says it’s for a woman he’s hopin’ to see when we arrive.”

Eva nodded. “I see.” In truth, she didn’t want to be bothered and was unsure why the deck hand decided to tell her about the captain’s business.

“Ye’ shouldn’t be leanin’ on it, Miss. One rough tumble with the sea and it’ll push ye’ right over the edge,” he said as he scampered off, leaving Eva alone. The only others above were the two lookouts sleeping at their posts.

A black sea stretched for miles in every direction, its inky depths bringing forth an image Eva had thought she’d lost forever. It wasn’t the portrait of herself she should be seeing in 1705. She should have been nearing one hundred and thirty, round or about. No wrinkles on her face, no gray in her hair, Eva was still, for what appearances would give, a twenty-six year old woman. The sea could not give her the solace for which she searched.

A pale half moon spilling light against the calm of such a sea only magnified the beauty she’d held onto passing a century and forward. To prepare for the journey into the Americas, Eva had twisted her yellow hair into what the socialites in Hungary said was the latest in French fashion, which was apparently what the American women were striving for those days. It made little sense to Eva that colonists would give a flip about their hair when the entire world they lived in was in constant upheaval, but Roman had encouraged her. He’d also encouraged her to buy new dresses for the journey.

“Where we’re going,” Roman had whispered into her ear earlier that week, “Your name will be on the lips of everyone you grace your presence with. Your face will be all they see when they think of what a woman should look and behave as.”

Of course, Eva thought, Roman was usually right, but sometimes for the wrong reasons. A fashionable woman was nothing if she couldn’t leave her home during daylight. None of the settlers she would be likely to meet would be out through the night hours, either. She and Roman had both been warned that most of the Americas was wild, uncharted territory full of natives angry at the theft of land which was once theirs. Naturally, Roman saw opportunities where Eva had seen something much darker.

As though being summoned by her thoughts, Roman appeared at Eva’s side and wrapped an arm around her shoulders. Whispering into Eva’s neck, he said, “It’s a little bit cool, my love. Should we away to the cabin?”
Eva could barely look at him. Roman was nothing if not a solid provider, always sure his family was provided for before himself, but he could be cold. Sometimes, Roman was downright cruel.

“We should away right back to Drodescu castle,” Eva huffed.

Roman released her and stepped back. His features darkened as he ran a hand through his dark black hair. “Your great granddaughter is married off to a Hapsburg! What else is there for us in Transylvania? In Romania? Even in Hungary! There is a new king, my love, and he knows nothing of us. He knows nothing of the lady Bathory, either. We have nothing to lose. If nothing else, there is a constant supply of nourishment in the American colonies.

And still you sulk!”

Eva stiffened and relaxed her jaw. She could feel the pressure of her fangs pushing against her gums. Were he not her husband, she would bite.

“And where is the lady now?” Eva asked.

“Ersebet has gone elsewhere, pet. She mentioned France, but I have the feeling she’ll retreat to Italy. She has a lover there,” Roman frowned and, as he took a deep breath, admitted, “I really don’t know where she went.”

“The wolves,” Eva shook her head, “They could have killed her and we wouldn’t have known.”

“Perhaps,” Roman shrugged.

“Would it matter, then?” Eva asked him, resting her hands on her hips.

Roman cleared his throat. “If you wish to remain above deck and stare into a black sea, looking for things that aren’t there, will never be there, and have never, in the past, been there, be my guest. Hope and wish and pray your life away, dearest. But, me? I’m living the life I was given. There is a healthy cabin boy in our cabin downstairs waiting on us. Should you decide you’d like a drink, please do join us there. But, I do request that you throw your tantrum before you return else I might have to lock you up and keep you in a cell for the next decade!”

Watching Roman storm off, Eva stiffened and hoped no one else was about. It was a small ship, carrying mostly cargo, but was the only one Roman could secure for them on such a short notice. She was confident Roman would get over the silly notion that a fortune could be made in the colonies. What could a desolate land possibly have that their former home did not? Why leave everything they’ve ever known for a place called the Albemarle Sound? Coastal living didn’t sound like a good thing to her.

Everything she’d worked hard to keep was gone now, and not just in name. Pretending to be dead was one thing–she’d been there and done that a century ago–but, truly losing everything, giving up everything she’d hoped to keep for the next several centuries, was a different animal altogether.
At first, in the aftermath of her change from mortal to immortal, staring at her own grave marker was just a drop in the bucket. She’d not only had to fake her own death after a few years, but she and Roman had to give up their daughter, Anna, after losing the ability to uphold the facade of simply looking young. Of course, Roman had made sure Anna was raised by a very close cousin and that she had a dowry to make the daughters of king’s jealous. Being the careful planner he was, Roman had made arrangements for Eva and himself to enjoy their immortality in the shadows, while still keeping an eye on Anna.

But, then Anna had been married off to a man twice her age with a ton of money. Heirs were born, but they weren’t heirs to the Drodescu family. Drifting through one party or another, clinging to the veil of midnight, Eva had watched over all of her grandchildren, though they never knew and they never saw her. She’d kept them safe in situations that could have turned deadly. One by one, though, they married off, too, each going in a different direction.

Within the blink of an eye, Anna was gone, having died of some malady or another. She’d grown gray with age first, though, which had been harder on Eva than what Eva let on. After Anna’s death, a sickness spread out of nowhere, reaching all of her children. All four of Anna’s children caught the disease, whatever it was, and three out of four passed on into their afterlife. Eva had one grandchild surviving, a man named Josiah. His daughter Kata had married a Hapsburg and moved into a higher social bracket than what was expected of her, making her father undoubtedly proud, but moving Eva into a further sadness. Of course Eva was happy for her great granddaughter, but a Hapsburg?

The king, however, was pleased with Kata’s union and, having known about Roman and Eva’s condition, made the necessary arrangements for a meeting. King Leopold had been an ally to the damned, realizing that having a vampire on your side was far better than having them at your throat. Unfortunately, before the meeting could take place, a new king came into power. This new king, King Joseph, was not so keen on the undead. In fact, he denied such things were in existence.

Eva and Roman had lost every single tie to the Drodescu family they’d worked so hard to keep. Roman’s line was nearly died out. Their money was dying out, too, and all Eva could do to keep from flinging herself into the murky black waters of the sea was keep reminding herself that it wouldn’t kill her. It would only be cold and Eva wasn’t a fish lover.

ocean

It was well after midnight and a light rain had begun to fall on deck, ruining Eva’s plans for sulking in the moonlight for the rest of the night. Roman’s promises of a cabin boy and a quiet night in hadn’t sounded half bad, but she worried. What if they were discovered with a body in their cabin? How would they possibly move it out to sea without someone discovering them?

As she opened the cabin door, Eva breathed in, hoping Roman had forgotten their spat. A meal usually put Roman in a better mood, but be that as it may, Eva was skeptical of her abilities to soothe her husband’s appetites for other things. Afterall, she’d been married to him for decades. Roman was the sort to grow tired of things after only a short while.

To her surprise, Roman had the cabin alight with candles and the cabin boy mumbling incoherently into a bottle of rum. The mood for murder, as Roman called it, was set to his liking. She hoped that meant he was ready to move on from their argument. Most things, Eva figured, weren’t worth arguing over anyhow and petty issues were best left behind.

“Close the door,” Roman requested.

Eva did as Roman told her and moved toward him. He wasn’t wearing his jacket, which meant he was comfortable. Eva liked it when Roman took off his overcoat. Something about his form in just a shirt moved her like nothing else. His silhouette moving along the walls of their barely acceptable cabin shook her from within.

“It’s raining,” Eva announced, undressing until she only wore a thin shift.
Roman nodded toward the young man in the corner. “His name is Paulo.”

Eva supressed the urge to kiss her husband and, instead, turned to Paulo and said, “Is it, then?”

Paulo, a young man of maybe twenty-one, sat on a shoddy stool with his bottle of spirits in one hand and the other hand grabbing at the wall.

“Yes,” Roman laughed, “Sometimes my bottles make the walls move, too, but it’s all good fun, isn’t it, Paulo?”

 

With a hiccup, Paulo nodded, “Yes, Count, it is.”

“Italian?” Eva guessed aloud, moving her eyes from Paulo’s wet mop of dark messy curls which hung loose and scraggly over a pair of dark green eyes.

“Italia!” Paulo yelled out before babbling something else in Italian, which Eva couldn’t quite understand.

Roman’s eyes widened. Roman, of course, could speak Italian, and most other European languages. “Why, Paulo,” Roman laughed, “I am shocked!”

Paulo turned his glassy eyed gaze to Roman and mumbled again.

Eva sat on the edge of the feather mattress they were lucky to get in their cabin and crossed one leg over the other. “Is it always going to be like this?”

She asked her husband.

Roman shook his head. “No, Eva. It will always change. Everything always changes. Times change. People change. Monarchs change. Everything changes, Eva. Everything. Even you. Even me. Everything.”

“Will we always want blood?” Eva asked.

Roman didn’t answer and he didn’t have to. Eva already knew the answer to that particular question. She figured she’d asked him the same thing nearly a million times already and the answer was always the same. Instead of a reply, though, Roman curled up one lip and allowed his fangs to decend.

Paulo’s eyes widened. Dropping his rum to the ground, he stumbled back until he hit the wall. Roman lunged at him and opened Paulo’s veins in seconds.

There was no longer any sport to it. Trap the meal by way of pretty promises, take them by surprise, and bite. That was all there was to it. Mortals were no match for Roman or Eva. The only art to be mastered was that of body disposal. While at sea, the options were minimal.

Feeding from mortals, however, did speak volumes of the immortal in the act of drinking blood. All immortals Eva had met over the past hundred years carried out the act in different ways. Roman was quick, but his fangs ran the deepest. Eva tended to bite gently, but pull the blood from mortal veins with strength. Others enjoyed the hunt more than the feeding.

But, it had been Countess Bathory who had perfected the act, turning it into the art that it was. She killed with skills and creativity Eva had never seen before, but that hadn’t been surprising. Eva had heard stories about her, about how she had bodies buried on the grounds of her castle, about how the young girls of surrounding villages had disappeared.

Eva could almost hear the voice of the countess saying, “Learn from my young mistakes…don’t kill the ones with families to miss them.”

“Eva, come to me,” Roman called out to her, his lips stained from Paulo’s blood. Tilting Paulo’s head to one side, revealing a very open bloody gash, he added, “He’s dying. Come quick, before it runs cold.”

Eva sighed. She could smell the copper–that was always the first sign she was about to lose control of herself, if only for a moment. Her fangs dropped, her heart pulled on her chest hoping to beat again…it was all a show of mortality. She couldn’t resist it, not that she wanted to. It was her burdon to live the rest of her life as a leech, pulling the life out of the living to prolong her own, but she enjoyed it for the most part. What other option was there? She’d never been given the choice between living and becoming the undead. That decision had been made for her, as it had been made for Roman, too.

The meal lasted only seconds more and as Eva sucked the last breath away from the young cabin boy, Roman stood up and pulled on his overcoat. “We’d best get this body taken care of, love.”

Eva licked a splash of blood from her bottom lip. “How do you think the people where we are going will take to your accent? To mine?”
Roman narrowed his brow. “What is this you worry about?”

“Your Romanian accent,” Eva said.

“Eva, there are other things to worry about right now. We need something heavy, something that will sink.”

Eva thought as Roman pulled a piece of linen from his trunk to wipe away the tiny amount of blood he’d spilled on the chair Paulo had been sitting in.

“The trunk?” Eva asked.

“The trunk is made of wood. Wood floats,” Roman frowned, adding, “You know that.”

“But, what is inside the trunk may hold it down.” Eva argued.

“Clothes are in the trunk. Our heavier things are in the cargo hold, one more deck down,” Roman said. “And it’s guarded. Best not kill the guards, either. It wouldn’t go unnoticed.”

“A barrel of stones,” Eva suggested, “There is a barrel of stones up on deck.”

Roman stiffened. “Now, there’s my girl,” Roman said.

andries van eertvelt storm at sea

Roman had produced a length of rope on top deck and carried Paulo’s body himself. Eva had followed Roman for no reason other than to be a lookout.

Of course, the two lookouts above deck were still knocked out asleep, which made Eva uneasy in case of a real emergency. She made a note to speak to the captain about it later, after she and Roman found a permanent source of nourishment for the trip, one that wouldn’t require the constant disposal of bodies. The last thing they needed was to be caught on a sinking ship with boards popping loose everywhere, the danger of having one such board splinter into a stake big enough to pierce a vampire’s heart by way of natural disaster.

Roman tied the rope around Paulo’s legs, knotting it in several places before forming a lasso around the barrel to secure it. Pulling it tight, he knotted it one more time and gave it a tug.

“I’ll throw the barrel over. You push the body over the side, love,” Roman instructed.

Eva nodded. A lump formed in her throat as she watched Roman effortlessly pick up the barrel and heave it over. Eva did as she had been instructed and pushed the body over after the barrel. Roman wrapped an arm around her and they watched Paulo sink until his form was no longer visible in the dark waters.

“Messy business, dear one. I never thought I’d be disposing of bodies with you. Never you. I fought the Turks thinking of you. I never would have wanted you to see the things I saw,” Roman admitted.

Eva shook her head. “It’s no matter, Roman. It’s just the loss of a barrel of stones. Mortal lives do not last forever.”

Roman nodded in agreement, “Of course. Just a barrel of stones, then.”

© 2015 Rhiannon Mills.  All rights reserved.

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