Chapter 4 - Role
The rumor mill revealed to Rowan that the human populace regarded Alena as aloof and distant, never cruel, but uninvolved with their affairs. Some say she was different until she fully came to understand what her father was capable of, and Carla slipped into her own world. The change in her happened gradually but cemented itself the day Carla committed her ill-fated suicide.
Victor trained his daughter to be a soldier at his side when they were away from home, and a princess in his castle. She could hunt with the best of the men and ride a horse as if she was born on one. His actions brought their people under the impression that Victor groomed Alena to succeed him. The news that he chose Marcus instead, shocked his people and angered them. The swift movement of power-hungry enemies and former allies, to usurp Victor’s lands, tested Marcus’s mettle, but also made his new subjects realize that Victor’s decision might have proven wise. She couldn’t help but wonder if Alena knew Marcus was his heir?
“Your letter brought me here sir, but I fear you mistake me for someone else,” Rowan informed him politely, but firmly. She saw the flash of anger in his eyes before he controlled the emotion.
Her voice carried no inflection. It surprised both Marcus and Alena to hear the unmistakable tones of someone who received a rather rounded education. It wasn’t something you could just pick up, and it showed in the way she carried herself, her stance. Someone bothered to teach her proper comportment and elocution. Given her past circumstances, she should have had the rough language patterns, and mannerisms, of a baseborn commoner.
Brought into this world as the daughter of a former lady, whose family lost everything in the wars, Rowan had no access to education. As far as either of them could tell, Victor did little more than sire and abandon her. It was the second unforgivable thing Alena blamed Victor for and felt guilty over. She grew up with all the privileges of a princess, being a close relative to the Vampire King himself, while Rowan received no care. If their father had any sense of decency, he would never have allowed a child of his to live like that. Alena broached the subject once, and Victor became so angry that she never dared mention it again. He rarely lost his temper, but criticizing his decisions was a sure way to earn Victor’s wrath. He forbade Alena to mention Rowan’s name ever again.
“Who would I mistake you for Dhampir? You are the only one, Rowan,” Marcus said the word with emphasis, and although her eyes briefly blazed blue, her face remained impassive. She did not like the word Dhampir. To her, it had become a derogatory term that most vampires used with more negative emphasis than they did human or rat. Marcus baited her because she so clearly intended to irk him.
“You mistake me for someone who cares,” Rowan clarified with more than a suggestion of disrespect. Alena stepped forward with her teeth gritted and her mouth set in a firm line. She didn’t know why she became angry when Rowan said those words. Why did she want the Dhampir to care for their plight? Especially when they had so obviously not cared for hers? Neither of them expected such blatant antagonism from her. It reminded them that, despite whatever ill-fated education she received at some point, she was little more than a stray dog. They should not find her behavior either shocking or disappointing, and they could not deny the facts: Rowan was a mercenary, a hired killer, a pariah, and an outcast.
“I told you this couldn’t work,” Alena declared quietly, but when Marcus’s gaze veered from Rowan to her, his eyes flashed more fiercely than her own cold, clear displeasure. Alena almost stepped away from the unexpected ferocity in him. It took a mere moment for her to grasp that he wasn’t just angry at her, but also at the hopelessness of their situation. Rowan represented their last chance to save their people. Even without her defiant arrogance and defensive antagonism, she had nothing to offer them. What would Rowan know of millennia-old prophecy?
Alena realized her displeasure made her forget her place. Marcus wasn’t her father, and she didn’t hold the same position she did before. She was neither his daughter nor his wife; just his first in command and Marcus was her master.
“My lord,” Alena added belatedly, and Rowan wondered if he noticed the resentment in Alena at having to admit her servitude with that word. It hadn’t occurred to Rowan that despite Alena’s position in their hierarchy, she now belonged to Marcus in the same manner that every other inhabitant of his lands did.
Marcus noticed, and he paid heed to her inner anger at her changed circumstances, but he pretended not to notice. Alena needed time to deal with the feelings of betrayal born from Victor’s choices. Despite his concern for her, his understanding, and his faith that she would adjust, he could grant her no quarter. She would have no regard for him if he didn’t keep her in line. Victor left some huge boots to fill, and Marcus suspected he would have to do more than fill them, to earn her respect.
“You care, otherwise you would not be here. You live with them, and you have killed your own kind for them,” Marcus’s face revealed some belligerence as he indicated the two humans behind Rowan. They glanced at him with apparent distrust and fear in their eyes, but also something else, hope. They didn’t react to his words, but Rowan’s eyes blazed, and her jaw hardened, proving Marcus’s point for him.
The two humans bowed their heads to her and wandered away from the building tension. Marcus reckoned that they feared their presence would hurt the chances of him listening to Rowan. Rowan acknowledged to herself that Marcus was right; she cared for her humans. Despite her origins and the threat she represented to them, they took her in when no others would. Marcus spotted her admission in her eyes, but he didn’t feel vindicated, he felt sorry for her. Those frail humans represented her world, and it saddened him. If Rowan were his daughter, he would not have denied her existence as Victor did, nor would he have allowed her to suffer, and he wouldn’t have given a damn about the consequences to himself.