Blood Maidens (Page 22)


At least I’ve done what I’ve done for a good cause, Horace Blaydon had said, when Asher had brought up the subject of the man’s turning loose his artificial vampire to feed in the backstreets of London and Manchester . . . cities of the country he claimed he was working to protect.

And yet, Asher reflected, wasn’t he one of them himself? Every kill he makes henceforth will be upon your head . . .

In the endless darkness of the crypt, Asher could barely tell where memory ended and dream began. Only the fear remained, of what Benedict Theiss might be doing, and what would come of it, during the coming war, and after. Did they think a living weapon like that would not acquire a life of its own?

I had to do what I did, what I am doing, for the common good.

He drew a breath, trying to keep his mind clear. Leaned his head back against the pillar behind him.

They all said that.

I know what I’m doing, Blaydon had said.

They all said that, too.

God preserve us, Asher reflected wearily, from people who ‘know what they’re doing’.

Myself included.

The crypt was cold, as if all the winters of all those years in which it had been in existence had sloughed there and pooled. Despite his shabby jacket he shivered, unable to truly sleep. Yet he knew each waking hour filed something from abilities he’d need in two days’ time – if his calculations were correct – when he and Jacoba reached Berlin. He guessed how she’d try to control him in the daylight hours and knew he’d have to move very quickly, or he would be a dead man indeed.

Charlottenstrasse. That would be out towards Potsdam, one of those handsome brick villas that the Junkers who ruled the country built for themselves, for when they came into town to attend the opera and marry each others’ sons and daughters: feudal nobles despite the pretense of a parliamentary Reichstag, warriors whose whole souls were invested in the Army.

Soldiers who could not wait for the War they were certain they would gloriously win.

And who did not consider what that War would make of the world that would come after.

They ruled the country, those landowners for whom the only honorable profession was that of arms. Like the French, who considered it appropriate for ladies to get off the pavement to let brilliantly-uniformed officers pass. Of course they could not conceive of a world in which war had become too devastating, too beastly, to be waged anymore. The answer was always more courage: the intuitive depth of the pure-blooded German soul.

He had no idea what he’d do when he reached Colonel von Brühlsbuttel’s doorstep.

But whatever it was going to be – and he was almost certain it would involve killing the man, if Ysidro hadn’t done so already – he would have to do it swiftly, to be out of Berlin on the noon train.

Lydia whispered, ‘Don’t hurt them.’

Even the smooth-running motion of Madame Ehrenberg’s motor car made her so dizzy she feared she would faint.

‘Hurt them?’ Petronilla Ehrenberg raised one beautifully-shaped brow. ‘My dear child, Dr Theiss will guard them as if they were his own children, until Texel returns with coffins and a cart. Thank Heavens he had his medical bag with him, to keep the servants at the house from waking before time.’ The green glance slipped sideways to Lydia, the pale gleam of early morning flashing in Madame’s eyes. ‘What happened? And how is it that you, Frau Asher, have the acquaintance of not only what appears to be a mature vampire – who is he, by the way? – but also one of my little maidens?’

Lydia thought it wisest to drop her head back against the elaborately-tucked plush of the car seat – she didn’t need to conjure up the effects and appearance of a splitting headache – and mutter again, ‘Don’t hurt them . . .’

The car went around the corner, and Lydia, jostled, felt a surge of nausea sweep her, and despite the agony of throwing up while wearing a corset, she didn’t hold back. It earned her several violent slaps, but convinced Madame that she was too weak and disoriented to question – something she certainly was after being slapped with a vampire’s terrifying strength. She was barely conscious of the car turning into the courtyard of St Job’s, and of the chauffeur – after locking the gate – carrying her to what had been a chapel off the main monastic church.

When they woke her later Dr Theiss was there, and the angle of pallid sunlight through the single arched window was close to seventy degrees towards the perpendicular. The light fell full on Madame Ehrenberg, resplendent in several shades of rose and watching with sharp impatience while Theiss peered into Lydia’s eyes with his bright little mirror, and gently felt her neck and the back of her head. ‘How many fingers?’ he asked, holding up two – mightily blurred, since her spectacles had been left behind at the izba, but distinctly two.

Lydia made a show of blinking, squinting – would a doctor be fooled as easily as her Aunt Faith? – and mumbled, ‘Three? No . . .’ She reached clumsily to touch his hand, making sure that she missed. Her head still felt like someone had forgotten to remove the ax blade from her skull, and even the attempt to grope for Theiss’s hand made her feel faint, so she dropped back to the pillow – which seemed to date from the original monastic establishment, she thought – with a piteous cry. Behind Theiss, a whole array of mildewed Byzantine saints glared from the wall, as if about to chorus, She’s making it all up . . . ‘I want Jamie,’ she whispered and began to weep, needing very little effort to sound as wretched as she felt. The tears flowed easily.

‘Give her something,’ snapped Petronilla Ehrenberg. ‘I need to know who that vampire is, and what he was doing there.’

‘Madame, there is nothing to give her,’ explained Theiss, with a patience in his voice that told Lydia he’d explained this two or three times already. ‘She is suffering from a severe concussion—’

‘How soon will she be able to talk?’

‘I don’t know, Madame. One never does, with head injuries.’

With the swiftness of a striking snake, Ehrenberg was at the doctor’s side, leaning over him to catch his lapel, jerk him towards her. From where she lay, Lydia couldn’t see the details of her expression, but the woman’s sudden rage flowed off her like smoke from ice. ‘And what kind of doctor are you, not to know that? If you are as ignorant as you—’

‘Petronilla.’ Theiss laid down his mirror, looked up into those gleaming eyes. There was not the slightest trace of fear in his body or his deep, calm voice. ‘My beautiful one. No doctor knows these things. You know this – of course you do . . .’

She released her grip, fell back a half step, her lace-gloved hand to her temple.

‘You are exhausted.’ Theiss quickly got to his feet, took both her hands in his. ‘And it is no wonder. The latest injections—’

‘I am well.’ She straightened up, smiled a smile that Lydia could feel, a warm loveliness . . .

It is our lure to be attractive, Ysidro had said once to James. It is how we hunt.

And Dr Theiss was in love with her. Drawn, as James had been drawn – in spite of himself – to the vampire Countess of Ernchester eighteen months ago.

As I am drawn to Ysidro?

For a moment she thought she could still feel the light touch of his claws on her forehead.

‘It doesn’t matter who the other vampire is,’ Theiss went on, ‘nor how Evgenia encountered Madame Asher. It makes no difference in the quality of their blood. By the look of those makeshift weapons we found, Madame Asher was clearly fighting against vampires: either Evgenia and this other man, or the vampires of Petersburg . . . He is not one of them, is he? I know you have nothing to do with them, but have you seen—?’

‘If he was one of them, he would have killed her,’ she snapped. ‘What I fear most is what he may have told poor Genia. We shall need to keep her separate from the others – right away from them – until I’ve had a chance to speak with her. It’s too bad we have to keep him in the chapel.’ She glanced over her shoulder at the door. ‘Genia’s cell in the crypts is too close to the others. Their hearing is sharp – some of them already have worked out how to whisper through the old pipes. The last thing I need is for the others to start becoming restless, before their systems have evolved past the point of a physical craving for the hunt.’

He nodded gravely. Lydia wanted to shake him and demand, Is THAT what she’s told you . . .?

It evidently was, because he asked with great tenderness, ‘And your cravings have never come back?’

‘Now and then. A twinge.’ She shook her head, produced a gallant smile, and brought her hand to her temple again, with considerably less realism, Lydia thought, than she had after her fit of rage. ‘I find that prayer will lift all thought of it from me . . .’

Theiss clasped her hands to his chest.

As Mrs Grimes would say – Lydia took strange comfort in the recollection of her cook’s sharp little face – arhh, why don’t you go pull me other leg?

Theiss guided Madame Ehrenberg from the room, closing the door behind them. Lydia heard the lock click, but listened in vain for the sound of a bolt. Their voices retreated across the chapel outside.

Was the chapel she dimly recalled being carried through, Lydia wondered, the same one in which Ysidro was being held? In a coffin or box, presumably . . . She recalled windows. Light.

Petronilla Ehrenberg’s golden hair catching the light.

Carefully – trying not to sit up until she absolutely had to – Lydia drew up her skirt and petticoat, to feel for the small, flat packet buttoned to the bottom of her corset.

The picklocks were still there.

The cot where she lay was a low one, set crosswise on what had been the altar step of a smaller chapel that in later years had been walled off from the main sanctuary. From the ceiling above her, ranked choirs of soot-darkened angels dimly chorused a silent dirge. Lydia rolled gingerly off the cot, the floor swooping horrifically beneath her; she knelt on all fours for a few minutes, as if clinging to the uneven stones, fighting not to be sick again. You can do this. You can get to the door . . .

Trembling, sweating, and repeatedly tangling her knees in her skirt, she crawled. The lock was a simple Yale tumbler model, the kind Jamie had taught her on. Thank you, God . . .

It still took her what felt like hours to pick, clinging now and then to the handle of the door, fighting waves of faintness. I’ll never do it . . .

You will. You’ve made it this far. Simon is the only one who can find Jamie, help him . . . If he CAN be helped . . .

She pushed open the door. Afternoon sunlight drenched the chapel, red and gold and gorgeous with serried lines of, presumably, saints and angels, though for all Lydia could make out details they might have been a line of chorus girls at the Palace Theater. The altar and iconostasis had been removed at some time in the past. In their place, on a low trestle table, lay a coffin, its lid criss-crossed with chains.

I’ll have to stand to reach it. The thought of picking another lock – or more than one – made her want to weep. And I’ll have to figure some way to make it look like the locks are still in place, in case someone comes through later. Moving as slowly as she could, she propped herself against the door jamb, pulled up her petticoat hem and found where Ellen had repaired it: carefully teased out two feet of thread. This she wound around her fingers, then crawled – it felt like miles – the thirty feet or so across a floor wrought of slabs of green and brown onyx, worn to uneven ripples by the bare feet of pious men long dead.

Whatever you do, don’t faint now.

It was eerie, how still the monastery was. As if the slums of the Vyborg-side, the Putilov Steel Works, had ceased to exist. Everybody must be at the clinic, thought Lydia as she bent forward, probes still in the lock, to rest her forehead on the black oak of the coffin lid. She was willing to bet that Ehrenberg’s chauffeur wasn’t in on the secret . . .

Give me enough money and it’s not my business.

Or maybe he was in love with Petronilla as well.

And poor Dr Theiss thought this was all about Petronilla’s redemption. That this desire of hers to become human again was a way of saving her soul. Ironic that her pretended goal was so real and deadly serious to poor Evgenia.

Dear Heavens, what will she do to Evgenia, now that Evgenia knows the truth?

I should find her next . . .

Lydia knew that would be utterly beyond her strength. Her vision was already blurring, her eyes going in and out of what focus they had. Twice, and three times, the thin hooks slid and fumbled in the old-fashioned padlock . . . Even when it dropped open, when the slant of the light through the barred chapel windows – silver bars, Lydia could see – showed her there was another yet to do.

Theiss will have to come back before it gets dark and move the coffin elsewhere, if he wants to draw Simon’s blood . . .

Or does Petronilla want to speak to Ysidro first?

The thought occurred to her that if Don Simon proved recalcitrant – and Recalcitrant, not to say Ornery, was the Spanish vampire’s middle name – it was herself, Lydia, who would be used to convince him to cooperate.

When the second lock came off, Lydia’s hands were shaking so badly that she had to sink to the floor, lean against the trestle, and rest, before she was capable of tying the ends of the chains together with knots of thread, with the closed padlocks bound into the knots to give the appearance – from a distance, to someone not paying much attention – that the locks were still in place. Please, God, keep them both busy with something else until dark . . .

The outer door of the chapel was bolted from the outside. Lydia almost wept with gratitude that it wasn’t possible to go rescue Evgenia, a task she knew herself utterly incapable of. Amid their clouds of gold-and-crimson splendor, the saints and angels watched impassively as she crawled the length of the chapel again, back to her cell. She opened an inch of seam at a corner of her pillow – Jamie had taught her to be thorough – and slipped the picklocks inside, before she laid her head down.

God, please don’t let this start me bleeding. Don’t let this hurt my child.

Because she knew there would be a child. The certainty of it was the last thought that went through her mind before she passed out as if she had been drugged.