Blood Maidens (Page 25)


‘Just as well,’ was Texel’s only comment, when Lydia gasped that Madame Ehrenberg was – as far as she was able to tell – killing Dr Theiss. ‘She stays quiet for two or three hours after she kills.’

‘She has been killing all along, then, hasn’t she?’

He looked at her as at an impossibly naive child. ‘What, you think I’m as stupid as old Theiss? Herr Gott!’ Holding one arm pinned agonizingly behind her, and his other hand gripping her hair, he pushed her through a sort of gaudily frescoed vestibule and into the long whitewashed room that Theiss used for his laboratory.

Lydia recognized the equipment immediately, as she had the smaller version at the clinic: filters, separators, the blue flicker of Bunsen flames, long coils of distilling equipment. A giant rack of reagents, and another of phials, carefully labeled, of dark liquid. There was a safe; on top of it, a couple of bright-colored candy-tins, of the sort Jamie had described as containing poor Lady Irene’s severed fingers. Beside the safe, in a tiny silver-barred alcove barely larger than a closet, was a device that nerve doctors called a ‘tranquilizing chair’, fitted up with not only straps, but also chains.

‘So poor Dr Theiss didn’t know why she wanted all this?’

Texel sniffed. ‘If you mean, has she been lying to him from the start, the answer is yes.’ He pulled open the dimly shining grill-work of the bars, jerked Lydia into the alcove and pushed her into the chair. When she made a move to twist free, he caught her by the throat and, shoving her back into the chair, leaped with sudden litheness on top of her, straddling her hips and grinning down into her face. ‘And you sit still, Madame,’ he said nastily. ‘I don’t think, dressed as you are, you really want a wrestling match with me – do you?’ His eyes glittered as he stroked the torn nightshirt down from her shoulder. ‘It’s just a pity we have so little time.’

Lydia forced herself to sit still. ‘What are you going to do?’

‘What I’ve been trying to do since the start.’ He swung his leg back over her as if he were dismounting a horse and, standing again beside the chair, jerked the straps tight over her wrists and around her upper arms. ‘Serve my country.’ He pinched her breast through the thin cotton, then turned to take a hypodermic and a tourniquet from a nearby drawer.

‘What is it?’ The liquid in the syringe was clear, not the brownish color of the various serums in the rack on the wall.

‘Something that will kill you.’ He plunged the needle into the vein of her arm before she could cry out. ‘If proper countermeasures aren’t applied quickly enough.’ He unbuckled the straps, pulled her to her feet again. ‘You don’t think I’d be fool enough to tell you what it is, do you? It would be signing my own death warrant. This way.’

Since it would be, at this point, lunacy to flee from him, Lydia followed, heart hammering with panic and despair. A door at the far end of the laboratory opened onto a circular stone stairway; Texel took an oil lamp from a table, lit it from the gas jet. Outside the windows, the long twilight was dwindling at last to darkness, though the glow from the steelworks still silhouetted the towers of the monastery wall. Night seemed to rush up from the stairway as he pushed Lydia ahead of him down the lightless brick treads.

‘Are you a biochemist as well?’ asked Lydia, struggling to keep her voice calm. ‘Is that why you were assigned to him?’

‘I’ve taken enough chem classes to know what to look for.’ Texel shrugged. ‘Mostly they sent me because I speak Russian. All they knew was that Theiss was onto something that would render a man immortal . . . and able to slip past the closest guards unseen. And that it had something to do with the properties of the blood. I didn’t believe in Madame myself until I saw her in action – and saw what happened to her friend Lady Eaton when Madame dragged her body out into the light, when we were done with it. Madame’s a cagey one,’ he added, opening the doorway – its planks overlaid with a netting of silver wire – at the bottom of the stair. ‘She only picks the weak ones to turn into vampires . . . Through here, quickly.’

‘Does the serum let her touch silver as well?’ Lydia was trembling as they crossed the darkness of an underground vault, her fear having given way to a strange cold sensation, at once dreamy and very clear.

My child, she thought. Whatever is happening, let it not hurt my child . . .

She stumbled on the rough floor, and Texel dragged her upright again. ‘Stay on your feet, Leibchen. There are at least two of Madame’s little maidens wandering around down here: one from some of the early test batches, before Theiss got the proportions right . . . and then that other one a few weeks ago, God knows what went wrong there. Maybe more. Yes, Madame can touch silver, or thinks she can. Myself, I think Old Theiss’s serum just postpones the burns, and the welts show up elsewhere. He’s been pretending all along that he knows what he’s doing, but personally, I think half the time he’s just guessing. It’s why he was so wild when Madame killed Lady Eaton – if she was dead, when Madame got me to drain off her blood and slice her up. He knew he really needed to test these things on a true vampire, not those deluded little grubs Madame keeps making . . .’

She was finding it harder and harder to follow his words. ‘Is that why Dr Theiss wants Don Simon?’

‘That’s your sweetheart, is he? Don Simon?’

Lydia bit her lip. ‘He’s not my sweetheart—’

‘I heard you talk in your sleep.’ Texel’s grin was ugly in the yellow flare of the oil lamp. With his free hand he took her left one, raised the thick gold wedding-band to his lips. ‘He know?’

Lydia tried to pull her hand back, and Texel laughed, grabbed her arm again, and shoved her before him down a short, straight flight of stairs. Even in the summer heat, the small chamber at the bottom kept the clammy chill of autumn. There was a well in the center, covered with a grille of silver bars. Texel handed Lydia the lamp. ‘Hold this. Don’t drop it – and don’t get cute with me. I know what I gave you. You don’t.’

He bent, to unlock the grille and move it aside. Lydia crept close, aware that she was getting sleepy – opiate of some kind? – and that it was becoming hard to breathe. The lamplight didn’t penetrate into the darkness below, but she smelled water, and the cold seemed to flow up over her. One of the tide-flooded crypts Madame Muremsky had talked about? ‘What’s down there?’

He took the lamp from her, set it down carefully, then with a quick move grabbed both of her wrists and kicked her legs out from under her so that she staggered. Before she could regain her balance, he swung her over the edge. ‘You are.’

Lydia screamed as she fell, tried to get one foot back up onto the rim of the pit, and Texel shook her violently. ‘Hold still, you silly bitch—’

‘Don’t! Please, don’t! I’m with child—!’

‘It’s only about ten feet, and that water’s six inches deep. Down you get . . .’ He knelt on the edge of the well, lowered Lydia by the wrists as far as he could. ‘Oopsy-daisy, Liebchen . . .’

She still fell hard, crumpling to her knees in the water, unable to catch her balance. Above her, she heard the grille clank back into place and the grate of the locks. Texel’s shadow moved across the lamp. ‘Eleven thirty. Go ahead and scream if you want to, schatzie. Your boyfriend should be up and about by this time. Just remind him when he shows up that unless he meets my terms you’re going to be in a coma by sunrise, and dead by noon. And I’m willing to bet that even if he finds the key, and gets the grille up, he’s still not going to be able to figure out what I injected you with in time to do you – and that little bun you say you’ve got in your oven – any good.’

Lydia sank down with her back to the wall, wanting to remain on her feet – the water was icy cold, and there was no telling what else might be swimming around in it – but unable to do so. Her breath was slow, and waves of dizziness lapped over her, but she couldn’t seem to inhale any more quickly or deeply. The water seemed to chill her to the marrow of her bones, then the core of her heart. Simon, she thought. I can’t let Simon be captured. Not if they’ll use him . . .

Jamie, where is Jamie?

Even Don Simon didn’t know.

He could be dead. They could both be dead . . . Well, she reflected, Simon already IS dead, and has been so since 1555 . . .

She wondered again what it would have been like to know him while he was alive. No good, he had said, can come from the friendship of the living and the dead . . . Because the other vampires would have none of it? Because such friendship put each of them in danger?

Certainly, poor Theiss had found it so.

Because the blurring of that line blurred others? Because of the vampire’s seductiveness, which drew the living man or woman into excusing whatever the vampire chose to do, to survive?

She felt herself slipping sideways and thought, I have to prop myself in a corner . . .

But the well was round, no corners.

If I fall asleep I’ll drown . . .

My child. My poor baby. Jamie, I’m so sorry . . .

Somewhere in the darkness – or she may already have been dreaming, she thought – a soft voice asked, ‘And what are your terms, Herr Texel?’

‘Where are you?’ In spite of his earlier bravado, panic edged his voice like the rim of a rusty can-lid.

‘Close by. What are your terms?’

‘Show yourself.’ And then, after long silence . . . ‘I would have you make me into such a one as you are.’

Another stillness, like the smooth patch in a river, deadly and deep. Lydia remembered Don Simon’s thin face, like a skull’s within the long wisps of his colorless hair, the eyes like sulfurous jewels.

‘I can turn you into a vampire, if you so desire it; yet not into such a one as I. Time only can do that. And, indeed, I would advise against it. Once through this gate, there is no turning back, unto death or Time’s conclusion.’

‘Don’t play your little games with me – Simon is your name? Don Simon? You are Spanish?’

‘I was Spanish in life.’

In a dream she saw them, facing one another across the silver grill-work of the well, Texel in his rough French tweeds, Ysidro as he had been in the cellar, a white face and white shirtsleeves banded by the black stripes of braces. His long pale hands had been burned – silver? – and the old claw-rakes that he’d taken in Constantinople stood out like dribbled lines of sealing wax, as colorless as the rest of his flesh.

‘Do as you’re told, and when all is over, I’ll bring the girl up.’

‘Bring her up first. You’ll sleep afterwards.’

‘Then you’d better hope I wake up quickly, hadn’t you? And that the Ehrenberg hag doesn’t walk in on us. A hundred times over the past two years I’ve asked her, but it’s something she wants to keep for herself . . . and for children who think she’s some kind of angel. There’s a laugh! She won’t thank you for giving her real competition to worry about.’

‘I doubt she feared your competition.’ In her dream Lydia watched Ysidro walk towards him, with the weightless drift of a dancer or a ghost. ‘To make a fledgling is to make love, to take the whole of what you are and who you are into my soul—’

‘Do whatever you have to do,’ snapped Texel. ‘But do it quickly, before the Ehrenberg quits sniveling over her kill and comes looking for your girlfriend down there. I doubt she’ll bring her up.’

They stood almost breast to breast; Lydia could hear the German’s nasal breath, see every lineament of his face with the always-startling clarity as if she wore her spectacles. She suspected he’d taken his first experience of sexual intercourse the same way. Give it to me, and let’s have it over, girl . . .

Ysidro’s voice was so soft she wasn’t sure if he actually spoke the words, or if she heard only in her mind, as one hears in dreams: When you feel me draw you, let go, and follow. Hold fast, for your body will try to drag you back into death. As if she were Don Simon instead of herself, she felt the slit of his long talons down the vein in his wrist. Drink it . . .

And when, repelled by the taste, Texel tried to draw back—

DRINK IT! Ysidro’s hand gripped tight in the German’s mousy hair, forced the man’s lips against the bleeding vein. A plunging faintness as the blood poured out, like teetering over a cliff’s edge in darkness. The horror of falling, in the second before balance is irretrievably gone. Then, like a violent kiss, Ysidro planted his lips on the young man’s neck. The taste of blood, the white cataclysm of the soul rushing out.

Lydia thought, Is it like that, then?