Dark Fantasies

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Chapter 6: Memories of the Wedding

“Well, since you weren’t able to be there, Henri, please, allow me to make sure that you get one of the spare books of the pictures that were taken, so that you have something to show anybody who asks about it.

But you should know that there is no need to apologize for that; you sent your regrets at the time... that should be sufficient for anybody!” Joanna said, with a smile and a reassuring pat of her own. Then, she added, “Remind me to get it for you before you go home, okay?

Oh, and there should be a few pictures from the coronation in there too, but if there aren’t, let me know, and I’ll see that you get copies of those also, if you want... ” as Henri smiled in agreement.

“But, to answer your unspoken question, the ceremony itself was... beautiful, with all the lights and the colors...” Joanna said, reminiscently as she cast her mind back over the years since the ceremony had happened.

“It was held outside, at night, and Amelia and the planner we had hired had spent most of the afternoon getting all these huge paper lanterns and these long garlands of fresh flowers strung up-- all different colors-- all around the edges of the garden and the seating area...

I think it was mainly to try to keep people from falling into the pond, but if that was the case, it didn’t really work; Drew managed to find a way to fall in anyway... Poor Brenda... she was so embarrassed when he fell in...” Joanna said reminiscently as she shook her head.

Joanna chuckled, remembering how the young man had looked as he had emerged from the water that surrounded the island the ceremony was being held on; water dripping from his flattened curls and a big glob of water plants dripping from each shoulder of his borrowed suit jacket.

But he had quickly gotten cleaned up and had come back to his seat without further mishap, and they had been able to continue without further interruption or mishap that evening.

“Most of the guest’s seats were set up on the lawn where it surrounds the pond, you know, and the priestess stood over under the lowest branches of the Rubywood that is on the island in the pond.

There was a bridge to get to where she was, and that was where my family and Vlad’s sons and daughters, and the children we share between us all sat...” Joanna said as she remembered the way the ceremony she and Vlad had chosen to share with their friends and family had gone that night, gesturing out one of the huge open windows in the appropriate direction to illustrate her point.

It had been wonderful; chaotic and crazy, but wonderful, she thought as she thought about it. There had been many nightskystone and stonecloud tinintabulum hanging from the branches of the trees all along the path they had walked onto the island, and there had been a breeze to stroke them into sweet tinkling as Joanna had approached with one of her youngest daughters acting as flower girl, and the flower girl’s twin brother acing as ringbearer.

Another pair of Joanna’s daughters were helping their mother by carrying the train across the bridge for her so that it didn’t snag on anything on her way to the altar.

There had been a carpet of orchid, lily, camellia and rose petals for Joanna to walk on as she had approached the spot where she would kneel before the priestess, and when she arrived, there had been a handmade pillow for her to kneel on.

The ceremony itself had been short; the priestess making a short speech about how Vlad and Joanna had sought for many years to find each other, and now they had elected to make their choice public to include the world in their joy as they celebrated their union in the eyes of the gods, and then Vlad and Joanna had exchanged hand written vows.

It had been one of the few times that she had actually felt beautiful; the way the dress had fit had been perfect and the way it had moved when she did couldn’t have been improved in her opinion, seeming to ripple and glide gracefully over the path of flowers to where Vlad stood waiting in front of the priestess, watching her in glassy-eyed wonder, even though she knew that he had seen the dress years before.

And she realized she was glad she had taken as much time in the making of it as she had; the final effect on the crowd was worth all the effort involved in its creation, as well as the ability to render all my lovers speechless with awe at once, including Vlad, Joanna thought smugly.

The dress had been designed after an exceptionally old fashioned--almost Triumphan style—traditional cathedral length wedding dress with a very full skirt, train and bustle, and it had been completely hand crocheted from sewing thread.

Both the bodice and the designs on the skirt had been hand beaded with thousands of tiny, shimmering skystone, bloodstone, lifestone and stonecloud beads, sewn into classic Triumphan style roses and leaves, seashells and waves.

It was complete; even the fine, light weight, almost invisible double paned veil was crocheted, inset with finely woven and tatted panels, and decorated with multitudes of the tiny, glassily shiny beads, although she was sure that everyone there knew they weren’t glass but real gemstone beads.

But at the same time, Joanna was glad that she hadn’t felt obligated to make all the beads by hand for the dress too; she might still have been working on it instead of having been finished with it since just before her son Mason had been born.

Considering the fact the each bead was made from a real gemstone, she would have had to first facet each stone, then drill them for use as a bead, and she knew that was just more work than she wanted to go to.

She had already done a LOT of work on the dress without having to go to the extra labor of making all the beads for it, the gloves and the bouquet too.

But that wasn’t all of the total outfit that Joanna had created; the flowers and leaves of her bouquet were also made of very finely crocheted cloth, and decorated with still more of the tiny gemstone beads, but this time in reds, greens, and various metal tones. And the very fine thread of the gloves matched the dress in every particular.

But at the same time, she knew that this dress wasn’t the only fancy outfit she had now; she had a dress of the same cloth that had been brought from the castle; the same type of cloth as Vlad had worn at the wedding, that had been intended for her Coronation outfit. And that one too had been stunning, even though she hadn’t crocheted it.

At the same time, Joanna knew that Amelia suspected that Joanna had gone so far as to have made the undergarments for the wedding dress as well, when she had first seen it years ago now, though she hadn’t found out for certain until later.

The shape of the bodice had suggested a specially constructed corset at the very least, in the same way that the shape of the skirt suggested a hoop skirt and possibly also a bum-roll at the top of the skirt to help fill it out just a little bit more.

Some of what had appeared to be lace in the veil and decorating the trailing sleeves was actually Eirean crochet work; incredibly detailed roses, shells, peonies, orchids, leaves and shamrocks scattered across the fine netting of the veil like mist as it trailed down her back from where her pink, white and cassia stonecloud circlet held it pinned in place.

And the edge of the hem, collar and train had been all bobbin tatted into complicated looking orchids-- constructed of hundreds of thousands of miniscule Iosepha knots-- and loops made of millions of simple lark’s head knots. In short, the gown she wore that night was fit for an Empress’ coronation, and Joanna knew it.

And as a direct result, she had gotten more than sixty orders to replicate the outfit for other weddings, each one paid in full, in advance, regardless of the wait time involved.

Of course, as she had approached, Joanna could see that Vlad was nearly as resplendent as she was in that instant, dressed in what appeared to be a military type uniform of dazzling white, looking as though he was standing in the direct beam of a spotlight at first, which was unusual for him to do in her experience. In fact, those who hadn’t noticed her yet were staring at him in amazement.

Then, heads had begun turning in her direction, and there was a collective gasp, and then a sigh that sounded like the wind had picked up for a few seconds, before it was lost in the swell of the music that accompanied her down the aisle with her Father and Joanna and Vlad’s daughters, Chione and Amber.

They too had been wearing crocheted dresses of their Mother’s design, in shades of peach, pale blues, rose, pale greens and lilac blossoms—all the girls were that day, except Miracle, who wore her bloodstone and noir student’s robes from the Magickal Academy of Sciences in Cevrym.

She was studying in Luralio that semester, and had only been able to return too late to have a dress from her Mother’s hand made for the wedding, though she had had the time to get some of her gems braided into her hair and hanging from her tail in streamers in celebration of her Mother’s joy.

And of course, except for Philomena Garnet—Joanna’s second oldest daughter-- who was wearing something of her own creation—a painted crocheted suit jacket paired with tasteful slacks-- though her colors were in keeping with the theme of the celebration, in light, pastel shades to not outshine her Mother on this, her wedding day.

Phil, as she preferred to be called, had come in from her gallery in downtown Rauschenberg—called Behind the Walls-- where her latest show—Wall Art is a Thing-- was being hung, and she too hadn’t had much time to change, though she had added a string of shells and naragyts to her hair, in keeping with the tradition of wearing the stone she was named for.

But none of the other dresses were as elaborate as Joanna’s; Chione’s was beaded in lifestones—as were the streamers of the jeweled combs that held her black and silver curls in place that night, and her preferred lifestone earrings and bracelet set that her father had made for her on the occasion of her graduation from college-- and Amber’s was in her name stone and stoneclouds, with glittering, polished warmstone hairpins in the coils of her quodoa colored hair, as well as warmstone and stonecloud drop earrings as they escorted their Mother and Grandfather to, and across the footbridge, and onto the firm land of the island.

Chione and Amber’s journey with their Mother ended at the far side of the bridge onto the island in the pond in the front yard where they carefully set down the corners of her delicate crocheted train that they had been carrying to keep it from snagging on debris in Joanna’s path to the altar where their Father awaited her.

And then they had gracefully peeled off to either side in silence to find their seats amongst the family members and friends who had assembled from far and wide to witness this long awaited wedding.

And as she looked Vlad over as she drew nearer to where he waited so patiently for her to arrive, Joanna noticed that he had an almost... delicate looking necklace on over everything, which she wasn’t sure that she recognized at first. Then she realized it was the same symbol he had always worn—the symbol that had always looked like two symbols merged into one to her; a silver and stonecloud Nilnean style reed feather woven into an aurantium ankh, with a bloodstone in the center in the shape of a drop of blood, flanked by identical Nilnean staves, and she knew that from tonight, the symbol would be hers to use as well.

Then, it occurred to her that the reason the symbol looked so strange at first was that it had also been the one on the crates from the castle that had so confused her when she had seen it there, though the feather had been turned to one side or the other in many of those symbols... and the stone in the center had been a skystone, instead of a bloodstone in some cases... and in one memorable instance, the ankh itself had been upside down, though the rest of the symbol had been right-side up...

And Joanna remembered wondering even then if they had been marked that way because they had belonged to another member of his family, but they had been stored there for safety’s sake. However, she knew then that she wouldn’t find out unless she asked, and during the wedding wasn’t exactly the right time to do that.

But those symbols, she knew had been three dimensional, and the various parts were meant to be able to move. Vlad had warned her not to open the crates where the ankh was upside down; they were crates with specialized traps that she wasn’t fast enough yet to be able to avoid.

Then Joanna recalled that she had pushed away the puzzle of the symbols and focused her attention again on what she was doing right then; getting married to the man she had loved all her life, and for many of her past lives.

At that instant, she remembered that the breeze chose to rise again, stirring the curls that had been allowed to hang free under her veil, and Joanna could smell something that smelled like eternity blooms coming from the arm of the pond that she had just passed over.

She glanced over at the water, and smiled when she saw two of the eternity blooms that she had planted in other end of the pond nearly half a century ago were finally beginning to bloom on this end of the pond.

The difference was in how the seal was being displayed that day, Joanna had decided as she approached. And she was glad that she had chosen to wear the earrings that he had given her that were in the same shape, so that they were more closely linked in decoration, even though he didn’t have his crown on at the minute.

She knew that he was planning to do that for the Coronation that was to be later in the year, so she wasn’t too worried that she was the only one of the two of them to be wearing a circlet that night.

But then, as she had smiled at him, and he had smiled broadly in return, Joanna realized that what he was wearing was made of the same cloth as she had found at the castle and that was what had seemed so different to her about what he was wearing.

Then it occurred to her that most of his garments were the same way, though the colors had always reflected both the weather around him and his mood at the time as well as the lighting where he was. It was then that she realized that they had also shifted styles with his desires; a suit one day and casual wear the next, and she wondered if that was simply his tastes, or if it was a function of the fabric itself.

The cloth of his garments were all colors of the rainbow and none at the same time, shimmering in the moonslight, and seeming to glow as though he was standing in the living heart of a jewel as the lantern light broke over him as the breeze stirred his half cloak where it was swept back over one shoulder as he had waited for Joanna to reach his side so they could kneel for the priestess’s blessing on their union.

And she wondered who he’d gotten to make it for him; she didn’t recognize the work, though she knew it was quality craftsmanship. At the same time, she knew that she hadn’t been the one who had made it for him.

The effect he had achieved so effortlessly was not the result of millions of tiny beads like her gown was; it was a function of the material the cloth was made of, Joanna knew, and she glanced around at their audience as she glided down the aisle to where Vlad waited, and she knew too that she would be getting orders for clothing made of the same cloth as his outfit was made from, as well as for her own dress.

But at the same time, she wasn’t sure how many she would be able to fill right away; she only had the forty bolts of the cloth and the crates of yarn from the castle’s storage rooms that she had been able to convince Amelia to transport home for her about three years ago now.

And at the same time, she wondered how many orders Phil was getting; there was certainly a lot of attention being paid to her jacket over the course of the evening after the ceremony had been completed. But Joanna knew that wasn’t anything that Henri would really be interested in, so she held her peace about the beautiful painting that Phil had somehow incorporated into the design of the jacket that she had worn to the wedding.

And getting more of the cloth that had been used in Vlad’s outfit might be hard, Joanna knew; she still didn’t know what exactly it was made of, though she knew that some of the fibers were from the plant she knew as ‘Goldenroots’.

But she hoped that she would be able to find out soon. If she could find the information she needed in time, she knew she could make more of the cloth; she had the requisite skill at weaving, and the loom space available, but she knew that she needed the knowledge of the fiber, and to have the fiber available, before she could begin.

And, what was worse, she didn’t know that there was more of the cloth already made to be had; but Vlad did.

But Vlad had known even then that he was going to have to show her the seeds that he had put aside of the plant the main fiber was made from, knowing that she would be able to replace what she used of the cloth that he had made certain was available for her use from the castle.

And he knew that he would have to bring her more of the finished cloth from his stockpiles in some of the other castles where he had stored belongings.

Or even some of cloth that had been stored in some of the many warehouses in Aurypa that remained untouched by disasters, he thought as he waited beside the priestess, stunned by the vision of loveliness that was gliding slowly toward him in the form of his talented, eternal bride.

And the next day, Joanna had made sure that sixty of the most dexterous of the many girls she employed knew the pattern she had used for the dress, and were working on filling the orders that had come in the day of the ceremony, though she knew that it would still take about three years to make the dresses that had been ordered.

And she had made sure that those who had ordered the dresses for their own ceremonies-- or for their daughters’ or sisters’-- understood that the pattern of the beading might vary from dress to dress, as would the crocheting of the veiling, and the tatting of the sleeves and hems. But for now, she wanted to bask in the glory of having stunned most of her family with the complexity of what she had made.

Other employees were working on replicating the outfit that Vlad had worn the day before, from material that Joanna had provided, with explicit instructions to use the least amount of the cloth needed to make the clothing, to spare the supplies of cloth that were available.

Then, the next day, Joanna discovered that Vlad had surprised the group that was working on the replication project by bringing in several hundred bolts of the cloth, so they could work without as much worry about making mistakes with the precious cloth.

Many of the guests had later asked about how the chimes in the trees overhead had been made. But since Joanna hadn’t known at the time, she couldn’t really answer until much later, when she had had the time to find out. But at the time, she had been pleased with the way they had turned out.

However, a few days after the ceremony, she even had the answer to their questions about the chimes too. And as she was sending out the ‘thank you’ notes for her wedding gifts, she also sent out notes detailing how the chimes had been made to those who had asked, along with gifts of the small wind driven chimes for them to remember the ceremony by.

Memories swirled in her thoughts as she tried to decide which parts to share next with him; then it occurred to her that the vows were likely to be the most important part of what had happened that evening, instead of descriptions of what everyone was wearing that night, although that sort of thing interested her, at least for things like her wedding.

There were people that she knew for whom the clothes-- and who had worn which colors, or danced with whom and when, how many times and for how long-- would be the most important consideration, but Henri wasn’t really one of them, Joanna knew. And she knew that she wasn’t ready to share the details of the true wedding ceremony that she and Vlad had shared; telling him about the public one is good enough, Joanna thought firmly.

She smiled as she heard again in her memory Vlad’s voice reciting the vows that he and Joanna had written to be exchanged on their public wedding night. “I shall hold you sacred, as long as there is life in my body, blood in my veins, and hope in my soul. You have saved me from the darkness in my hearts, more than you shall ever know, and I shall always be there to save you from the darkness in your mind. You are the light of my previously darkened life, and you show me the path into eternity.

I have crossed lifetimes to find you, and waited an eternity for your birth. I would wait as long again, if you were at the other end of the wait, my love. I have loved you for as long as I have drawn breath, and I will love you for the eternity that remains after the last breath has left my body. I am yours, if you will have me .” he had said aloud.

And in her thoughts, Vlad had been saying, ◊You are my loving wife, my Bonded Mate, body and blood, mind, hearts and soul, together forever as we have been in dreams for years without number. You are blood of my blood; our hearts always have been, are now, and always shall be united.◊

And Joanna had replied with a smile in her eyes, no matter how somber the moment, “You saved me from the darkness in my soul, and have chased the bad man from my dreams for as long as I can remember, my protector. I have always honored you before all others. I have always loved you. You are the light of eternity for me. I have waited lifetimes to be able to say to you: My hearts—my life-- are yours, always, if you’ll have me, as the priestess prayed over both of them, blessing them with her sistrum a few seconds later.

And as she had spoken the public words of her vows, Joanna was whispering in his thoughts, ◊Body and blood, mind, heart and soul, together forever. Blood of your blood, belonging with you, always.◊ as she had on their wedding night.

And Vlad smiled, knowing that this ceremony was only for show; they had already accomplished the deep connection that would sustain them for the rest of their existences. But most of their guests didn’t know that, and this was to show outwardly what they had decided in their hearts years ago.

And when he was told he was allowed to kiss his bride, Joanna had teasingly bared her throat to him, and gasped in delight when she felt his fangs sliding through her skin once more as her nipples hardened at the first touch of his fangs against her skin.

He had only taken a small sip when their guests were on their feet, applauding and cheering loudly as Vlad sealed the small, but visible wound he had made.

Then she turned to him as he bared his throat to her, and she returned the tiny love bite she had received, with interest, knowing that this very public ceremony had been only the barest taste of the real ceremony that had made her his wife for eternity as she had sealed the wounds she had made in his throat in return, and the applause and cheering grew ’til it sounded like thunder over the ocean’s roar.

The real ceremony had been much smaller, and far more private--and it had happened almost a decade before the public one--she thought, remembering with a small, secret smile that nothing could embarrass. That had been just the two of them, in her bed, a little more than three and a half decades ago.

Then, in a flash, she recalled the night they had taken the next step in their Bonding; the night that he had told her he had to find out what Barius and his fledglings were up to, and how afraid she had been that Vlad had meant that he was leaving her forever that night. It hadn’t been that long after Mason had been born...then she deliberately turned her memories back to the night they had closed the Bonds between them, knowing that the older memories were still tender.

And she allowed the memories to play out like a movie in her mind once more, as she had done many times since that magickal night when her husband had reclaimed her from the worst of their enemies at last. Though as they began, she made sure to keep the images and memories inside her head, where they belonged.

As she had settled back into her blankets—Joanna recalled-- she had abruptly realized she wasn’t alone in the bed as her unexpected bedmate that night had rolled sleepily toward her. One gentle touch, and she knew it was Vlad; his thoughts brushed hers and she knew he had been waiting for her to return.

Ohhh,” she had sighed as his hands moved over her skin slowly and sensuously, and his mouth fastened first on one nipple, remaining until he had it standing at attention once more, then kissing a path to the other as his fingers wandered the length of her belly, and she had opened her legs a little bit as the questing fingertips brushed over her mound, then danced away again.

And as the memory filled her thoughts once again-- she wondered, as she had for years-- what had brought Vlad back home and into her bed that wonderful night. But she knew he wouldn’t tell her if she were to ask, so she never had.

◊My beautiful priestess of AthanniaVlad had whispered in Archaic Ladten in her thoughts—in her memories-- then he added in Elandi spoken aloud, “will you consent to share your bed with me, to share your beautiful body with me again in reality as you have been so generous to do in our shared dreams and many of your visions?” and she knew he was truly there, in her bed with her, where she’d wanted him to be again for years.

She sighed softly as she thought about that night, knowing that her life had changed forever that wonderful night, and she was glad it had. She just hoped that what they had done together that night would be enough to keep her and the children safe for eternity.

Fragments of memories of the first time they’d shared a bed in this lifetime—it had been spring of the year she had turned seventeen-- flitted through her mind as she spoke in his thoughts.

And Joanna knew that she had forgotten that she had been thinking about that that night, but she couldn’t really afford to get tangled up in the memories of that first night as well, or she would never be able to find her way back to the party.

Even though those memories were among her happiest memories of her late childhood, she knew that lingering through them wasn’t something that she was planning to do, not when there were the memories of her wedding night to enjoy over and over again.

Then—in her memories-- she had gasped, a jolt of something electric shooting through her hearts at the thought that had just crossed her mind, knowing she had seen this before, many years ago, and she wondered if it was truly going to come true tonight.

And she hoped that it would, though she knew it would bring great change to her life if it did.

◊Mea defensor, mea cordis, mi amor... I have never wanted to do other. Make me yours in truth, my lover... Wally told me about the fangs, my love. Will you feed me if they come back tonight?she asked breathlessly as he continued to caress her intimately.

I welcome it more than you yet know, my eternal love, and more than you will realize for many years to come. I have waited for this day longer than you know, and now it is finally here. I want you to bear my children as you have born the children of some of the others already, my love, and if you would share my life, I would count myself among the blessed for the gift of your touch.

Open to me, my love, and we shall make our own magic between us tonight. Tonight, we shall complete our Bond, begun so many centuries ago, as I promised you all those lonely years ago that we would... I have loved you always...” he said, before pressing his lips to hers as tenderly as he had the last time they’d been together. The kiss seemed timeless, and Joanna knew that there would be many more like it, now.

And she wondered if he knew about the bugs she’d been mounted by so far that night. If it bothered him, she was sure that he would have told her about it in advance, but Vlad hadn’t said anything about it...

Then, Joanna decided it didn’t matter; all he had to do was touch her skin once and she was instantly horny again, like she hadn’t had a partner in more than a month. And she knew that was how he had always affected her; in every lifetime.

Though she wondered what he was thinking about; if those memories were even a part of what he was thinking about as he touched her now.

And Joanna knew that this time, they would be completing a circle that encompassed millennia, and she embraced her lover eagerly in the hope that they would never be apart again after tonight. Joanna sighed again as the memories swirled through her mind, and covered the slight lapse with a sip of her punch, knowing the music had covered the sound; Henri had his attention turned to the dancers once more.

For an instant, Joanna wondered who had caught his attention amongst them, then she realized that Chione had arrived on the arm of her brother Michael, and escorting another young lady who could only be Chione’s lover Brekona.

And Joanna smiled, and waved to them, knowing that she had been hoping that Chione and Michael would be able to get home for tonight’s party. She smiled wider when Michael waved in reply, but they didn’t come over to her table as yet.

Looking more closely, Joanna noticed something unusual about the way Chione was moving; gingerly, as though she was in pain, and Joanna knew that she would have to find out what had happened at some point during the party, even if it wasn’t right now as her memories continued to roll through her thoughts like an unstoppable tide of delight.

Like the change that had come to my life that night... But I hope Chione is okay... Joanna thought abstractedly as she watched Brekona take Chione’s hand and lead her out onto the floor into a slow dance that allowed her to be held close, and Joanna nodded as she saw Chione slip her fangs into Brekona’s skin as they danced.

Joanna knew the girl had been subtle; she was willing to bet that she was the only one who had noticed that it was going on besides the two who were caught up in the intensity of feeding as Chione’s pain faded almost visibly as Joanna’s memories washed over her attention once more, as she realized abstractedly, that she was glad no one had noticed what was happening.

But there was nothing that Joanna really wanted to try to do about it at the minute as her memories continued to flow through her thoughts, though she did wonder what Henri was thinking about in that instant.

She had taken his hand and guided it eagerly once more to her open legs, gasping in delight as he slid two fingertips into her body and slowly stroked her to a gentle orgasm as he set his fangs against the soft skin of her throat. As he was pushing the tips of his fangs slowly into her skin, she had gasped, “Vlad!”, feeling her own fangs erupting from her upper jaw once more; a pleasant form of pain, and a harbinger of change immediately to come.

∙ ∙ ∙ ∙ ∙ · ∙ · ∙

And Vlad gently removed his fangs, and moved so that she would be able to see that he could see her, though he didn’t remove his fingers, sliding them deeper yet.

And she knew somehow that Vlad was remembering the same thing as she was remembering it; she could feel his thoughts wrapping around her, as though he was standing beside where she was sitting, recalling one of the most wonderful nights of her life at the same time as she was. And she knew that he was glad she recalled it so fondly. But the memories didn’t end there.

And she realized that the memories were especially strong today because today was also the anniversary of that miraculous night.

She didn’t know that he had returned and was standing leaning against the wall of the ballroom, watching her as she basked in her memories, sharing them with her as he had every time she had allowed them to fill her thoughts again.

And he wondered at the same time how he would break the news to her that the threats were somewhat more serious than he had thought they were, though he suspected that they weren’t serious enough to warrant much tighter security than they already had in place to come online later that evening.

But at the same time, he was enjoying watching her enjoying her party too for a change, and he was loath to interrupt her if he didn’t have to tell her about the worst of what he had found out.

And in that second, Jerrica noticed him standing there and gave him a tiny wave from where she stood to get his attention as he stepped over to where she awaited him. He could tell by her actions that she had something more concrete to report than simply threats, and he focused his attention on her concise report, knowing that this was something that he could deal with, and more importantly, it was something that he had to deal with before he could return to Joanna’s side for the rest for the week.

Stepping out of the ballroom a few minutes later, Vlad hurried to Richard’s office and set in motion the rest of the security measures that he, Jerrica and Richard had organized between them, and sent out further patrols to make sure that they were working.

And soon, all the secondary patrols had reported back in that the new measures were up and running as they should be. With a deep sigh, Vlad relaxed against Richard’s desk where he had been leaning, knowing that for now, there was very little else he could do to protect Joanna, save to be by her side. And that was where he was heading with his next breath.

Meanwhile, Joanna was still involved in remembering her wedding night as in her memories, Vlad came into the feeble glow from the fire on the other side of the room then and she saw him smile at her.

She knew in that instant that he was pleased beyond measure at this development in their relationship as he bared his throat to her, saying, “Drink, beloved, and join me in eternal life... be my loving wife, my Bonded Mate, body and blood, mind, hearts and soul, together forever as we have been in dreams for years without number. You will be blood of my blood, and our hearts will be united always. ” he added as her fangs pierced his skin.

And she whispered in his thoughts, ◊Eagerly, meum defensor◊ as she had echoed his spoken words, “Body and blood, mind, hearts and soul, together, forever. Wife and lover, your Bonded Mate, for all of eternity. Blood of your blood, belonging with you, always.” And, as she saw the memory unfolding in her thoughts once more, she realized again that she had made the right choice in accepting his Embrace that night.

And Joanna wondered in that instant if she was going to have to prepare for another addition to the family in the person of Brekona having accepted Chione’s Embrace soon.

But if that was indeed the case, Joanna knew that it would be something they would deal with as it came, not right now. She knew her daughter was too well brought up to Embrace her lover on the dancefloor in the middle of her Mother’s birthday party, as Joanna lost herself in her memories of the night she had been forever changed once more. But she knew too that if it came down to it, she would welcome her daughter’s lover into their family with open arms and an open heart.

Vlad’s blood had tasted different yet from any she had tasted, strong and vital as it welled up around her fangs and she swallowed twice, then thrice again, and then again, knowing that she shouldn’t take too much, but wanting to stay connected to him. She stroked the tiny holes with her tongue, feeling them slide closed, and she sucked gently on the spot she’d just fed from.

Joanna had been so involved in her own feeding that she hadn’t felt his fangs pierce her throat, or his member slowly penetrate her as he began rocking gently within her, slowly drinking from her, a drop at a time, and only sealing the wounds he’d made when she started softly moaning his name as her orgasm built and built within her.

As they rocked, his thrusts became more and more urgent; she knew he was almost there too, and she bit down firmly on his throat again.

The blood filled her mouth, and she swallowed once, then again as she was sealing the wounds, knowing that he was so close; it would only take a little bit to push him over the edge of their shared release, and she whispered, “Oh, gods, oh Vlad, yes... you can’t hurt me, my love, take me... OH GODS, VLAD, YES!” as he slid two fingers into her to either side of his erection, and stroked them both off inside her as she was shaken violently by their shared release.

Remember, you are mated to me now, my eternal angel. And, though you may not always see me, we will never be apart again. You will always be in my mind, as you have ever been a part of my hearts. And I will be in your mind as I am in your hearts.” he had said a few minutes later, as they had rested and she had drifted into a state very like sleep in his arms, content in a way she had never known was possible before. But it only lasted until she realized he was going to leave.

She couldn’t move for the lassitude of sleep that was already washing over her limbs, but she knew he was leaving her there, and she began to panic at the thought of being alone. All she could think about was the warning he had given her about how leaving a new fledgling alone was akin to leaving a newborn alone and expecting them to be able to fend for themselves; essentially a death sentence to the new fledgling.

◊Be at peace, my love. I will not leave you. Go to sleep, beloved. I am with you, always.he said soothingly in her thoughts as he wrapped his arms around her once more, holding her close so she could feel his hearts beating so near her own and be comforted by it, as well as his continuing presence.

And she knew, now that he had been right; he had never truly completely left her behind; they had been in constant mental contact every time he had gone on an errand for Lilitia, and he had returned as soon as he could each time.

But at the same time, Joanna knew she couldn’t have helped feeling what she had that night; she had been changing, and on the verge of change for so long that any period of separation was enough to cause panic attacks.

And she took another sip of the flute of punch in her hand, knowing that soon she was going to have to find a way to get down to the ‘wine cellar’ soon as the memories of that night continued to flow through her mind.

At the growing terror in her eyes, Vlad had kissed her again and wrapped her mind in his thoughts once more as he had continued vocally, “You are safe, my Princess. Feel my arms around you and know you are always safe within my embrace. And in the morning, reach to me before you do anything else, and I will ease your rebirth and guide you through your first true feedings. Be at peace, my only love...we are apart no longer, my eternal love-- you are safe-- we are together forever now.” his tone reassuring as he slowly faded from view again as her eyes slid shut with finality this time.

And the memories continued to swirl through her thoughts; the way her gown had glittered in the moonslight at her coronation as his Eternal Queen, the gems in her state crown and the way they had caught the light of the chandeliers that had been overhead as she approached where their thrones had waited for her.

And of course, the amazing array of colors and styles of dress decorating the crowds that had turned out for her wedding; both formal ceremonies and so many others. The walls of the Council chambers reminded her of something, though she wasn’t sure what it was for a moment, then she had it; it reminded her of being inside a shell.

She smiled again and said, “Well, if that’s the case, then life has been going about as well as can be expected, I suppose, with Vlad and so many of the others away as often as they are.”

And she told him about how business had been, many of her hopes for her art business as well as what the children and her newest grandchildren had been doing, making both of them smile many times—and occasionally, laugh uproariously-- during the course of the conversation.

And of course, their conversation was not limited to just them; others contributed to the flow of the conversation, and gave fuel to the flow of topics.

The topic had wandered all over; from her asking about his children to telling him about her wedding, to Henri asking her how well her garden was doing this season, to Joanna asking what his people were getting lately for the specialized yarn they spun from the shed wool-like substance that grew on their backs.

And of course, she danced many times, both with Henri and many of the others who asked her to. Joanna still loved to dance, and this time, she knew she could indulge herself as much as she wished without worrying about slighting one partner for another as Devon requested a dance from her at that moment.

And the whole time she wondered what Chione had done to hurt herself seriously enough that she would be willing to feed nearly openly while on the dancefloor.

But she knew too that the only way to find out was to ask the girl herself, and that would be something that would have to be later, when they had the time to be private again.

It probably would be best to do it after dinner, Joanna had thought as she watched the dancers while she rested between dances, but she knew that she could ask one of the others to find out for her too, and she would likely have her answer much sooner.

As she danced, her thoughts drifted to the reception that had been held after the wedding ceremony; the array of finger foods available that night had been simply staggering, and Joanna realized-- as thoughts of the reception crossed her mind-- that she was beginning to get a little hungry again.

But she knew too that she couldn’t get much to eat as yet; Mira wasn’t quite ready to serve dinner yet, and the only things that were available were the trays and trays of nibblies that had been set out in the dining room that people had been serving themselves from all day.

And that was a long way from where she was right then; deeply involved in dancing with Devon, who had wandered in looking for her. Although she knew she could send him to fetch something to snack on, she wasn’t planning to unless he volunteered to do so.

And of course, after that dance was done, he asked as he escorted her to her seat once more, though she remained standing beside the chair for several seconds, “Joanna, my love, you look hungry. Have you eaten yet today?”

She nodded, saying, “I had a few bites of fried ground tuber with my omelette this morning, and a nice bulletfin sandwich at luncheon, but not really a whole lot since then, except the plates of nibblies that Mira has been having set out in the dining room most of the day.”

Devon nodded, then he switched to speaking in her thoughts, and asked, ◊Have you fed yet today, lover? You know Uncle would be most cross with me if I didn’t make sure you had...◊ he added as he fixed her with a stern glance as she nodded meekly.

And he told me that I should ask you, in case you’re wondering, lover. He has been watching you, and I agree, you look too pale for either of our tastes.◊ Devon added firmly.

I know, Dev.◊ she replied in the same manner with a soft mental sigh. ◊But really, I haven’t had a lot of time for getting to feed in. Oh talking of that, did you know that Chione is here? I wonder what happened that she had to grab a sip from her lover on the dancefloor... And I noticed that Mason is here and dancing with that young Risian girl that arrived with Alyx.◊ Joanna replied in his thoughts as he stared at her in amazement.

She did what??!◊ Devon thought, alarmed as he stared at Joanna in shock.

Devon, Chione didn’t kill the young woman. She only took enough to keep from passing out, from what I could tell from over here.◊ Joanna thought reassuringly, and he visibly forced himself calm again, knowing that it wouldn’t do to alarm their guests over something that had already happened without damage to anyone, including the two people who actually had any right to be possibly upset about it having happened.

“Yes, I have had some to eat, but not much.” she replied aloud, then added in his thoughts, ◊And I had a sip from Amelia and another from Raven this morning, not to mention some from Mason a couple hours ago. But, I know I need to feed more. I planned to head downstairs to the new ‘wine cellar’ in a few minutes to take care of that problem.◊

“If you would permit me, I would consider myself most fortunate to be allowed to bring you a plate of whatever you would care for, m’lady,” Devon said, taking her hand and raising it to his lips for a formal kiss, as though the party was a Court function and not her birthday party at all. She gave him a half smile and said softly, “Whatever you think best, Devon. I know you will anyway.” Then she added in his thoughts, ◊Though going to the playroom for a few minutes is starting to sound better than food. You know how horny dancing makes me...! And I feel as though I have been dancing for hours!◊

“Of course.” he replied aloud mildly, though his eyes gleamed wickedly at her and she knew that he was seriously considering what she had said about going to the playroom instead of eating right away. Then he said in her thoughts, ◊What about a little of both?◊ with a wicked grin.

I’ll have to absent myself from here, and excuse myself to Henri, but yes, please. Let’s go downstairs. I’m so horny right now I can hardly sit still. I need you, Dev... Let’s go. But at the same time, you’re quite right. I will need to eat something solid when we get back, and by then, I will be far more ready for it.◊ she replied, dipping into a formal curtsey.

Rising from her curtsey in the next instant, she turned to where she remembered that Henri had been sitting, and found him dancing, laughing and flirting with one of the female centaurs. He noticed her looking his way, and waved as Joanna smiled, knowing that he would be well taken care of while she was away.

It was just then that Joanna took a quick second look at the young centaur that Henri was flirting with, and she snickered; the young lady in question was one of Miracle’s friends from school, by the name of Cielanoir; a reference to her having been born at night.

But she was well known to have a preference for minotaurs, so it was possible that Henri was simply following one of the customs of his people, and arranging a union of one kind or another. In a way, Joanna kind of hoped she would find out later, but she knew that was likely to not be information that would filter back to her through her conversations with Miracle.

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