That afternoon, Marianne went through the ritual, meshing her blood and flesh with that of Elena’s, and then drinking the elixir. Charles and Elena waited until Marianne awoke from a deep slumber where she dreamed of past lives in Egypt, Athens, Persia and Rome.
“I never felt so free,” she revealed to her brother with a bright smile. “It’s as if a whole new world has opened to me, allowed me to experience all the wonders of the universe, while never having to leave my bedside.”
“And best of all,” he added, giving her a gentle hug. “We will always be together, you and I, and Elena.”
Marianne’s expression clouded for a moment. “Yes, and Elena.”
Earlier, Charles had asked Elena if she had instructed the Serbs to go to Marianne’s chamber and gave the young maiden a taste of sex. But his lover vehemently denied planting the notion of rape and torture in the minds of those two foreigners. It had been there own barbarous idea.
“Now Marianne will have her revenge,” Elena swore. “Her inaugural feast will be the blood of Sergei who will never torment her again.”
As she had before, Elena lured her prey into her bed chamber where she stripped Sergei naked and bade him to lie along the bed. She had taken off her robe but still wore the gold belt around her waist with the hidden blade. Charles, naked also, joined them on the bed while Marianne, also stripped of her clothing, looked on from where she sat nearby.
Tamping down his anger, Charles focused his thoughts on the task ahead. He would go through the motions, all the while eagerly awaiting that moment of triumphant bliss when they took this monster’s life and drained him of blood.
Now Charles plied his clever fingers over Elena’s smooth silken body while she straddled Sergei and crushed his mouth with her demanding kisses. When she mounted the Serb, she rocked him with short, brutal thrusts. He growled with pleasure and arched into her, his big rough hands clamped on her hips.
As she continued to stoke his arousal to the breaking point, Charles kneeled behind her and between the Serb’s legs to caress her breasts and kiss her neck and shoulders. Bending her head back, Elena let out a coo of delight as Charles nibbled her earlobe and reached down to massage the small engorged muscle beneath her soft pubic lips.
Once, he glanced over at his sister who sat demurely on Elena’s velvet-padded chair, her thighs pressed tightly together and her arms crossed protectively over her breasts. Her gaze seemed transfixed on the scene before her, her cheeks flushed a rosy red, her lips parted slightly in what he thought to be anticipation. Charles smiled at her, ready to bring her over to the feast.
As soon as Sergei bucked and groaned with release, Elena unsheathed her knife and deftly and neatly slashed the Serb’s throat from ear to ear. As his comrade had done before, shock registered in his dark eyes just before the moment of death. Blood flowed and collected between the dead man’s brawny chest and his extended belly, the result of too much ale. In fact, his torso created a pocket or human bowl in which the blood pooled after dripping down from the gash like a scarlet waterfall.
Elena began the feast, her thirst wicked and greedy. Charles motioned for Marianne to join them, creating a little place between him and Elena in which she could kneel and partake of her first drink. Unfolding her arms, Marianne stood and took small, hesitate steps toward the bounty. Elena glanced up, her mouth and chin coated with blood. Smiling, she coaxed the girl forward with a commanding gleam in her eyes, her gaze also admiring Marianne’s petite body with the small alabaster breasts and pert nipples.
Elena moved over so that her new companion could have free reign to partake. Marianne mounted the bed and knelt before the dead Serb, her gaze fixed steadily on the man’s gaping neck. Bending over the makeshift cup, she tested the liquid with her tongue, and then took her first sip. Suddenly, coughing, Marianne reared back with the splutter of blood, her expression clearly expressing the horror of what she had done. A few dark drops peppered her breasts around the coral nipples.
Fetching a towel, Charles gently plied it to her mouth, chin, neck and chest, all the while whispering words of encouragement to her. “The first sip is always the hardest,” he revealed, “but the more you drink, the more you will find it tastes like the nectar of the gods, and you can never get enough to slake your thirst. Try it again, Marianne, and you will see I am right.”
“Drink, my pet,” Elena soothed and massaged the girl’s back with slow, tender strokes. “Share in the joy of our eternal union. The drink stimulates your powers, makes you vital and alive. And from now on, we will revel in the happiness and joy we bring to one another.” She glanced at Charles. “We should have a toast, my darling, a toast to new beginnings.”
“Of course.” Rising, he went to trade the towel for a gilt-coated goblet near the wash basin. Returning to the women, he dipped the goblet in the pool of blood. When he filled it, he held the gold cup aloft and declared, “Here is to the gods who have made us, and to us the immortals, to our power and strength, and our ability to love and live forever.” He handed the goblet to Elena.
“To us,” she murmured and then took a sip. She returned the cup to Charles who also drank. Then he offered it to Marianne. She took it between her small trembling hands and stared at its contents for a moment.
“To us,” Elena repeated in a soft murmur.
“To us,” Charles added. “To the liquid of life.”
Marianne sucked in her breath. “To us,” she whispered. Bringing the cup to her mouth, she took a long, successful drink. When finished, she licked her lips to catch any lingering blood.
“How do find it now?” Charles queried as he took the goblet from her. “More to your liking? As I said, it takes time to get used to the taste, but once you acquire it you feel as if you are drinking the wine of the gods.”
“I like it,” Marianne revealed with a slight nod, her expression blank
Elena offered a light, happy laugh. “Excellent! Let’s continue our feast.”
Charles refilled the goblet and handed it to his lover. After she drank her fill, Elena returned it to him. Charles enjoyed a hearty drink, smacking his lips in pleasure when he finished. Excusing herself, Marianne slipped from between them and off the bed.
Thinking she wished to wash, Charles informed her of their ablution arrangement. “The basin is filled with warm water,” he told his sister. “And there is rosehip soap for washing and plenty of towels, plus mint oil to rinse your mouth.”
“Yes, thank you.” Marianne returned to the chair where she had draped her gown, one of the new lingerie items given to her by the countess, of aubergine chiffon with black lace along the neckline and sleeves.
Charles turned his attention back to Elena and their feast. After they drank their fill, they would have to dispose of Sergei’s body in the same mMarionr as Anatole. After midnight, the duo would weigh down the body in the boat and then row out to the deep end of the lake where they would throw Sergei overboard to join his fellow Serb along the dark silt bottom. Plus, a fine mist usually formed along the lake and so cloaked their illicit activity. The plan proved simple and tidy, and with very little stress to mind and body
But now he and his lover would rest for awhile after rolling Sergei up in the bloody sheets and placing him in a hidden cabinet under the bed, away from any unexpected visitors. Elena had the bed frame made to her specifications by a discreet carpenter. She also had a specially-made artificial cover that protected her mattress from the overflow of blood. And they could pull the drapes of maroon and gold damask around the bed to give them added privacy.
Charles knew Marianne would appreciate these precautions. She might even wish to partake in the disposal of this particular body tonight. It still made him angry to think of the lingering welts and bruises on his sister’s tender flesh. As much as he preferred not to know, he had asked Allegra earlier as to the extent of Marianne’s injuries. The young Italian girl, barely of sixteen years, had sadly shaken her head as she recited the multiple injuries in a calm, mature manner. This detailed report continued to ignite and inflame Charles’ anger, especially with the revelation that Marianne’s virginal groin had received a brutal puncturing and battering by both abusers.
Thankfully, Elena possessed the ability to calm him down and soothe his troubled mind as well as his soul. Nestled now in bed, he held her tenderly in his arms as they rested after such a large, satisfying feast. Charles was just about to drift off to sleep when a frantic pounding at the door propelled him into a wary, alert state.
“Signora! Signora!” Tomasina, the cook, had been knocking and now shouting through the locked door, her voice tremulous and high-pitched. “Dios mia! Venga, Ave fretta, Come, come quick!”
Elena sat up and searched for something to wear. When she found her robe at the foot of the bed, she quickly donned it and went to answer the frantic summons. She unlocked the door and opened it a wedge.
“What is it, Tomasina? What has happened?”
The woman’s fleshy face appeared in the doorway, her dark eyes wide and glossy with shock. “Venga con mia, al lago, to the lake!” She glanced over Elena’s shoulder, into the shadowed depths of the bedroom. “The signori, he must come too. La sua sorella, his sister. She has drowned. Humberto spied her in the lake and pulled her out!”
As the cook blurted out this devastating news, Charles scrambled to find his clothes and dress. All this time he thought that Marianne had returned to her quarters in order to rest. She must have left through the terrace doors and gone down to the lake while he and Elena finished their meal. Her drowning had to be an accident. He couldn’t imagine otherwise.
Then again, it had to be a mistake! It had to be another girl that Humberto fished out of the lake, not his beloved sister, his Marianne! She had always been so cautious, so practical, and so down to earth. Plus she loved life, embraced it fully...at least until today.
Once they both dressed, Elena slipped her arm around Charles’ waist and led him down to the lake. Humberto had laid Marianne on a grassy knoll. At first glance, she looked so peaceful, as if simply asleep, but her wet strands of hair and her chalk white flesh attested to her fate. Humberto had been standing watch over the body, his battered hat in his hands, his fingers working the brim around and around in his anxious state. Elena said something to him in Italian and he answered back in quick, clipped sentences. Then he bowed to the countess and left the couple alone with the dead girl.
“Humberto says she simply drowned,” Elena stated as she gripped Charles’ hand. “I assume that Marianne went into the water to bathe, to cleanse herself after her initiation. She swam out too far where there are large clots of reeds that can be dangerous if you tangle in them. No doubt, she became caught in the tendrils and they dragged her down before she could cry out for help.”
“I suppose that explains it,” Charles murmured. “Marianne was never much of a swimmer.”
Elena glanced over to the lake. “We shall give her a decent funeral as befitting such a lovely young woman, but do so for ourselves only. The others need not know the details.”
Charles shook his head sadly. “I still don’t understand. Why, after she took the elixir, she did not survive.”
Turning to him, Elena placed her hands on either side of his jawline and cupped his face, the look she gave him tender and solicitous. “She was not strong enough yet, my darling. She needed another dose of the elixir, more time and instruction. You were different; you had strength in you before your transformation, strength, fortitude and the willingness to embrace a new life. Marianne still struggled with the idea of change.”
“Yes, she was always so delicate,” he reflected, “strong in her beliefs but not in body. I should have never allowed her to become...like us.”
He choked back his sorrow. Throughout his mortal life, he had been taught that men do not show weaknesses, especially those emotions saved for women.
Knowing that he struggled to hold back physical demonstrations of grief, Elena placed her arms around Charles and held him close. “There, there, my love. Marianne is at peace now. I sensed the turmoil that raged inside of her, wanting so much to join us in eternal joy and yet at the same time loathing the very idea.”
He bent his head and laid it on her soft shoulder. “I should have paid more attention to her feelings. Worse, I abandoned her after I encouraged her to come on this trip. I left her alone, Elena, all alone.” He exuded a sigh, heavy with regret and sadness. “Of course, when she agreed to the transformation, I should have forbidden it. I brought her here, and therefore I was responsible for her, in life and now in death.”
Suddenly, Elena pulled away and held him at arm’s length, her expression stern and somber. “I won’t allow you to blame yourself, Charles. Marianne had a mind of her own and she made her choice. Now we must give her a proper burial, discreet of course. I will assume the cost. Grieve as you like, and I will do the same, but then we must go on with our lives, plan our future together, forever. But know, too, that Marianne will always be with us in spirit.”
“Yes, Elena. You are right, as always. We will give her a proper burial, and I thank you for your love, generosity and kindness.” Charles paused for a moment, took in a breath. “Then I must ask you to do me one special favor: that you write to my parents and tell them that Marianne and I drowned in a boating accident. You do not have to include all the details. This way, they will never have to wonder what happened to their ungrateful and disobedient children. They will then know that Marianne and I got what we deserve.”
Elena took her lover’s hand again, her expression softened with sympathy. “As you wish, my darling, but you and Marianne had a right to make your own choices and live your own lives. You chose to begin life again, and so did Marianne. Unfortunately, sometimes fate intervenes in the cruelest way.”
She coaxed Charles to follow her back to the villa. “Now you must rest. Leave it to me to handle the arrangements. Humberto will take Marianne to the parlor and make her comfortable there while I arrange for a casket. Come now...back with me.”
But before they left, Charles broke from her grasp and went to kneel beside his dead sister. He laid a hand over her heart. Her wet gown clung to her small pallid form, revealing the outline of her petite breasts and soft nipples. Only an hour ago, her heart beneath had pulsated with life, even with the anticipation of eternal life. Now it lay silent.
Yes, he would go on and claim his own fate, even accept Elena’s explanation for Marianne’s death, but deep down he would always assume that his sister had taken her own life, knew that Marianne could never accept what she would become if she allowed the transformation to take place. He tried to imagine the extreme loathing she must have felt when she took her first drink of blood. Marianne always had delicate sensibilities.
“Tell me something,” Charles postulated as he rose and joined Elena. “Was it you who killed Daphne Asquith that night at the party? I thought you rather took a fancy to her.”
“I did.” Elena ringed her arm around his and patted his hand. “My darling, I had a tremendous thirst that night and Daphne suited my needs. You will understand this in time. Those we admire with affection often become our best source of renewal. Of life, Charles, always of life...for the blood is the life.”
He would always remember her words as they moved on in time. As promised, Elena gave Marianne a lovely, private funeral, although Charles’ sister had been buried in an old cemetery west of Rome, her small headstone indicating that she had been Marianne Solieri. Elena then sold the lake house and her Rome villa. There had never been a Count Solieri, her husband a fictitious character who lent his “name” and “title” to his “wife” so that Elena could acquire property and open bank accounts. In a male-dominant climate, women could do neither. Nor could they travel alone without inciting speculation. So the Countess Solieri had joined the company of Lord Hazelton who became her traveling companion and sometimes lover. But once she met Charles, Elena shed the protection of Lord Hazelton. He had served his purpose and now it was time to move on.
After liquidating her properties, Elena took Charles on an extended trip throughout Europe. They settled in France for awhile as Henri-Charles and Elise, the Comte and Comtesse de Lamballe. They moved in royal circles, and withstood palace scandal and the revolution. Then they migrated to England where the couple—now as Edward and Eloise Latham—became a part of the social influence set with the likes of Lord Byron and Percy and Mary Shelley.
The Victorian era found the couple moving in a social, intellectual and creative circle, among their friends the science fiction writer H.G. Wells and the witty, social commentator and author Oscar Wilde. As the twentieth century progressed, they returned to Paris; and as Carl and Elsa Lansing, they reveled in the company of such artists as Diego Rivera, Pablo Picasso and Amadeo Modigliani, and writers F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway.
When the Second World War and The Nazi regime threatened the peace and security of the European nations, the couple immigrated to America where they made their home first in New York City and then in Washington. Here they settled into a less conspicuous lifestyle and used Charles’ family name of Lambert, his one last link to his fine and noble heritage.
But now his name no longer mattered, nor did he in Ellen’s world, at least the one she had created just for them. He would die and she would go on and on and on, always with a new love when the old one withered and died. Perhaps Ellen would finally perfect her formula for immortality so that whoever took his place would not have to suffer like Charles and the others who had come before him, Penelope, Leif. At least he held on to one brighter prospect: that he and Marianne would be together again...if God allowed it.
But first He would have to forgive Charles Lambert his one great sin...that a mortal dared to become a god.