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4.

It took him less than ten minutes to put the body on his shoulders, sneak out of the mansion, and reach the riverbank. Philomela was like a feather. He closed her eyes after he murdered her. Like that, she seemed asleep. The river washed his hands and shortly, the water in front of Basic turned red from the blood. He wrapped her corpse in a dark cloth, which soaked the remaining blood dripping from the wound. Then, he tightened it with a rope, and left the end free, so he could tie it around a rock. With little effort, he pushed Philomela’s body into the river. It didn’t sink right away, but slowly disappeared from the surface. Soon, there was nothing except circle waves moving away from the place where the body was thrown into the water. Aranth sat down and watched the water for some time. Lavinia will be pleased. Her order was done, her wishes fulfilled. It’s not going to change anything. Her husband will have affairs, she has an ongoing affair, but one life was taken because her pride was hurt. The Basic did not try to justify himself. He was guilty as much as the governor’s wife. His only hoped was that she would change, once she gets away from all that made her depressed and upset. The Basic remembered the problem that Castor presented in front of him. What if he stops loving Lavinia? He didn’t need thoughts of that kind. The moment was wrong. If he had any doubts, he should have discovered them earlier, not now, when almost half of the work is done.

Aranth went back to his mansion, and entered like a thief, silent as possible, sticking to the shadows. He had to change his clothes. The Basic could hear that the party was in its full swing, and that apparently no one missed him. Nobody noticed that wasn’t there. Suddenly, he heard steps in the corridor, outside the room he was hiding in. The steps were loud and fierce. The owner of the feet stopped in front of the room and held his breath. The Basic went to the door and opened them abruptly to surprise the one was standing and waiting.

“You’re back. Is it done?” Castor appeared and looked at him.

“It’s you. Yes, I’ve killed her,” Aranth replied and put his arm around his friend’s shoulder.

“I’ve prepared your horses. If you want to, you can leave right now,” the vampire said. His face changed. He wasn’t so eager to follow Aranth’s orders anymore. Both men were different than they were when they saw each other in Alexandria. Having met Lavinia, Castor lost the trust he once shared with Aranth. She seduced him, but he was no better. And, the heart of the Basic was infested with tormenting ideas.

“I’ll go to see what Lavinia is doing. If she’s ready, then, we are leaving,” the Basic said.

“Good luck my friend. Expect me tomorrow, at this hour in the inn,” the vampire said and shook Aranth’s hand.

The Basic found himself in the part room again. He looked for the governor’s wife, and he saw her, standing next to her husband, busy in a conversation with a senator. Aranth wondered was it smart to interrupt her. So, he stood aside, watching her speak, and laugh, and smile carelessly. If she was acting, she was doing it well. The Basic waited for people to start leaving, but he soon realized that he was waiting for it in vain. He hosted a party before, and it ended in orgies. Apparently, this party would be just like his previous one. There was nothing he could do to stop it, nor he cared. If anything, it was perfect for him. Raving guests would enable Lavinia and him a smoother disappearance. The time was of the essence. The Basic approached the group among which Lavinia was and nodded.

“Having fun, I see,” he said and gave her a sharp look.

“It’s a party, isn’t it? What else should we do?” the governor replied, and other men giggled.

“Wonderful, I’m going to leave you to your partying then,” Aranth said, and gave a signal to Lavinia to join him in the corridor later.

“You did it,” Lavinia said, grinning. They were standing in the dim corridor, while shivering light was coming from the room filled with guests.

“I know it satisfies you, but please, don’t smile in front of me because of it,” Aranth said. Lavinia turned serious.

“Don’t tell me you cared for her,” she said.

“I did what you asked, let’s not mention it anymore,” Aranth said melancholically.

“Fine, I got what I wanted,” Lavinia said, and grinned again.

“And that’s all that matters to you?” he replied.

“What is it? What’s wrong?” Lavinia asked, holding his between her hands and trying to catch his look.

“What have I done? I have taken a young girl’s life because you couldn’t keep your husband in your bed,” the Basic replied.

“Don’t be angry with me. I can’t stand it. It was necessary, Aranth. You don’t know the girl. She was cunning, more than one expected her to be. We are going tonight, Aranth. We are going far away, where no one will find us. Our new lives will begin soon. And, we won’t have to hide anymore. We will be free,” she said. Her words were like medicine. She was so sure of what she was saying, so confident. Aranth kissed her. What else would happen to the girl? She would get married, have children, hate her in laws, and ten, one day, she would die. He only spared her the trouble.

“You need to get ready. The horses are waiting in the stable,” Aranth said.

“Alright, but first, I must write,” she replied.

“Write? Now?” the Basic was surprised.

“I need to write a note to Atticus, to explain everything. I can’t leave him with unanswered questions that will be raised in his mind. I’ll go home, to write, and to say goodbye to children,” Lavinia said.

“Go, but you don’t have to bring your clothes back with you. I have purchased all that you need, dresses, robes, everything your size,” the Basic said.

“Thank you, Aranth,” she replied and then went to the back door of the mansion. She was going to write a note for Atticus, but she also intended to write a note for Georgios. To tell him what had happened with his sister. And when he screams out, and demands revenge, Lavinia and her lover will be far away.

The governor’s wife reached her home, surprising the servants and the slaves in the house. She went to her children’s chamber, careful not to wake them up. They were soundly asleep, and Lavinia sat next to their feet, at the edge of the bed. She listened to their breathing. What were they dreaming about? Was it a dream, or a night mare? Did they dream about their mother? She’ll probably never see them again. Lavinia took the ink and the paper she prepared. She started writing her note to Atticus. In it, she thoroughly described her love for Aranth, and pledged him to be a kind parent to the children. They must be brought up and educated properly, and they must never lack anything. She also wrote that Atticus shouldn’t hate her for what she had done. She didn’t do it to spite him, for she always had tender feelings for him. It wasn’t his fault that she fell in love with another. If anyone should ask about her, the governor should tell the truth in case he thinks it’s appropriate. But, if he comes up with another story, she won’t mind. In his future, she won’t be present. That gives him the right to make up any reason for her departure. He shouldn’t be angry with her. He should understand. They spent so many marvellous years together. The memory of it should not be spoiled by a clean cut she made between them. It was a necessary cut. She was growing more miserable every day, and lately, they’ve barely seen each other. There are so many fine women who would accompany him to the world’s end. Atticus should consider his options, his choices. He shouldn’t make needless effort and search for her. He should let her go, and forgive her. Finally, she left out the truth about Aranth’s nature.

Lavinia put the note on the small table in the centre of the chamber. Whet the governor comes to see his children, he’ll find it. In the second note, she simply wrote that the blacksmith’s sister was dead because of her own recklessness of seducing a married man. She did not want to decorate the note with emotion, with sympathy. Her brother should feel what she felt when that girl took what belonged to the governor’s wife. He should feel dry hatred. She signed the note, and sealed it. Then, she found a slave and ordered him to take it to the Cretan blacksmith’s house as soon as the sun rises.

The guests were all drunk by the time she returned to Aranth’s house. Her lover was at the stables, taking out two horses and checking whether everything was set. The Basic saw the governor’s wife in a grey robe, running towards him. She mounted the horse in one jump. Without a word exchanged, they rode through the main gate, while the vampire watched them from the window of the mansion. The orgies at the party continued as usual, and no one thought about their host or about Lavinia. Not even the governor missed his wife. He was too occupied with the girls who rubbed their bodies against his.

The blacksmith spent the entire night awake, sitting in an armchair under the window. He smoked a pipe and glanced every five minutes at his wife, who was sleeping in the bed. Georgios envied her, and her calm nature, which allowed her to be carefree all the time. His sister still didn’t come back home. And it was the day of her return to Crete. Who knows in what ways those perverts were using her while he sat there. Maybe he should go and see what is happening there. But the patricians are probably well guarded and there was no chance that he could have passed the soldiers at the gates. On the other hand, perhaps he misjudged his sister. Perhaps she wasn’t such a sweet, graceful girl as he thought she was. The gleam in her eyes when she showed him the letter from the governor was enough for him to realize that she wanted to be a part of it, a part of the class that was unobtainable for Philephebos family. She said it well. What other chance will she have for a close look at the lavishness of the rich? The ink of the night faded in his eyes. The stars withdrew, one after another, until only Venus remained to salute the new morning. Georgios breathed as quietly as he could, and didn’t make a sound. He was listening if she had come home. But, there was no squeaking of the front door, nor clapping of her wooden shoes.  He got up, and looked through the window. There was no sign of his sister. She’ll show up, eventually. She must.

The dawn had come. Someone was approaching blacksmith’s house. Georgios hoped that it was Philomela, but he couldn’t be sure, because the person’s head was covered. He went downstairs, trembling in frenzy. Before the person even reached the door, Georgios had already opened it. It wasn’t his sister. It was a slave with a note. On the paper, Georgios recognized Lavinia’s handwriting. The slave wanted to leave, but the blacksmith stopped him.

“Wait for me to read this,” the blacksmith said. Georgios was literate, but when he read the letter, he wished he was not. His heart couldn’t decided what was worse, the news of Philomela’s death, Lavinia’s confession that she ordered it, or the reason she stated for it. Philomela had to die because she had an affair with the governor. She died by the hand of Lavinia’s lover. The slave, seeing how blacksmith’s face turned pale, took a step back. But, swiftly, like a beast, Georgios grabbed his forearm and threw him into the house.

“No, domine, please,” the slave uttered, but his words had little effect on Georgios. The blacksmith was furious. He cried tears of wrath and sorrow. He dragged the slave into the smithy, and put him in a corner. He locked the door of the smithy and started the fire in the furnace.

“You’re going to tell me everything, now. Where is she?” Georgios screamed.

“Where is who, domine?” the slave said with tremor in his voice.

“Where is your domina?” the blacksmith asked, losing his patience, losing his grip of sanity. His hands were shaking as he forced the fire to rise, to spread.

“Please, I can’…” the slave replied.

“Tel me where she is!” Georgios shouted and slapped the slave. Then, he poured all the metal he could find in one bowl and put it on the fire.

“Don’t hit me, domine, please,” the slave said.

“I’ll stop hitting you when you tell me where Lavinia is,” he said and slapped him again. The slave stood against the wall, his back pressed against cold concrete.

“Domina is not of your business,” the slave mustered all of his courage to say that. The blacksmith made a long step to face him. The man was sweating, crying and shivering in front of him.

“Not my business? She killed my sister!” Georgios screamed and squeezed the back of slave’s neck, pulling him towards the bowl, where the metal was melting. Half-melted mass was glowing in the badly lit smithy. The blacksmith pushed his face into the bowl, while the slave resisted.

“No, it’s hot, domine,” the slave pleaded, struggling to support his body by his hands, and keep it away from the heat. Georgios let him go, and the slave teetered backwards, opening his face for another one of blacksmith’s slaps. Only this time, the slap was made of metal. Georgios took a bar that stood out from the rest of the material in the bowl and hit the slave’s temple with it. The bar was hot, and the room was filled with the scent of blacksmith and slave’s burned skin. The poor man fell on the floor, hiding his wounds under his fingers. The blacksmith would probably continue to beat the slave with the bar, but the iron was burning in his hand so he had to drop it. But no physical pain could equal the pain he felt inside. Blacksmith’s tears wetted his face, leaving bright marks on his dirty cheeks.

“Tell me where is your domina? Where is Lavinia?” the blacksmith repeated his demand.

“But, I don’t know. She only said she was leaving, leaving the house, the children… And she is gone, indeed, she’s gone. Domina is not home…” the slave cried the words out. Georgios pushed the furnace to its limits. He is going to make a sword, thick and long to carve her heart out. And then, he’ll be his own judgement.

He unlocked the door, uninterested if the slave was going to escape or not. They were surely going in the same direction, to the governor’s palace. He wanted to confront the governor with the murder his wife committed. The blacksmith walked fast down the streets, not paying attention to surprised looks on people’s faces when he passed them by. He woke up one of his apprentices, and ordered him to keep the fire alive and going, to put more metal into the bowl, regardless of its kind. He heard the slave walking behind him, making insecure steps and breathing heavily. How did her lover do it? Did she suffer? Was she brave? Did she know she was going to die? Georgios kept slapping his forehead and letting out screams, dries, like an injured animal. He made a fist an bit it. It was as if his insides were tearing apart, his sight was blurred, but he did not give up. The guards at the governor’s gate could not stop him. He wiggled out of their grasp, and ran into the house.

“Atticus! Governor! Come and see me! Mighty governor!” he shouted as loud as his throat would allow him. House slaves, drawn by the noise, appeared around him.

“Is it you, Georgios?” he heard governor’s voice. Atticus was sitting on the steps, surrounded by the shreds of the note Lavinia had written for him.

“Your wife, sir. I need to speak with your wife,” the blacksmith said. He forgot about all the manners, about all appropriate forms of addressing a patrician. They were just two men, cheated and ripped off what they held most dear.

“She’s not here…” the governor whispered.

“And where can she be found? You see, my sister had been murdered by your wife’s lover, and I… I simply want revenge,” Georgios said. Suddenly, two guards burst into the room and jumped at the blacksmith. The governor lifted his hand.

“Release him,” was all that the governor said. The guards unwillingly obeyed his order and went out of the room.

“Do you know where she is?” the blacksmith was persistent.

“According to this, she is going east. She asks me not to blame her for all that has happened,” Atticus replied and sprinkled the shreds of the letter onto blacksmith’s shoes.

“She killed Philomela,” Georgios said and he the rest of the air was stuck in his throat.

“Yes, Lavinia was jealous of the girl,” the governor said, in a gentle voice, as if he was discussing the quality of a meal, not murder.

“She thought you and my sister had an affair,” Georgios explained. As soon as he finished the sentence, a sting ran through his chest. Who was responsible for that?

“That girl was like a daughter to me,” the governor raised his voice for the first time.

“I have to confess something, governor. I will kill your wife and her lover. Don’t try to stop me. You may send all the soldiers of Rome to apprehend me, I will still have my revenge,” Georgios spoke with one breath.

“We had sex outside the marriage before, you know. I was on the island, she stayed here. I didn’t expect her to be a Penelope. I couldn’t demand chastity from her, if I wasn’t like that myself. But, why did she leave me? And why did she kill your sister? I won’t stop you. However, I will direct your anger. Because Lavinia’s fate is now drifting in the sea of treachery,” the governor said.

“Are you going to help me?” the blacksmith asked.

“Her lover is general Aranth. Never before had I met a general who did not lose a battle. His reputation is perfect. And there is a good reason for it. When his troops would get tired, Aranth would ride into the field alone, and with only his strength and sharpness of his blade he massacred the enemy’s army. He was able to achieve this because he wasn’t human. I felt his grip once. I thought my bones turned to dust. A man cannot have so much power,” the governor said.

“What is he? I don’t fear anything now. I can go against dragons and monsters, it does not matter, now,” the blacksmith said.

“He is a monster, only in disguise. Lavinia did not know that I was aware of this. I saw him once, I thought it was wine that he was drinking. It was blood,”

“Perhaps he was in some kind of a cult?”

“Cults are for cunts. Aranth is the genuine force,” the governor said. Georgios came to the governor and sat next to him. The blaze of wrath was weaker. A plan had to be made, and he had to listen carefully. His mind had to be sharp.

“Are you sure?” the blacksmith asked.

“After I had caught him with blood, I decided to watch him. During a sword practice, I remember clearly, the boy who was put against him cut his shoulder. But, after a moment, the cut was gone. He later explained that the boy merely pressed his blade against his skin to leave a light mark. But, his words could not deceive me,” the governor explained.

“If it’s true what you say… How can I fight him? And how can I find them? You said they headed east, but that’s not precise,” the blacksmith said. He had forged many weapons in his career, but now he had to come up with something special.

“If I had made a good conclusion, the man I met last night at the party assisted them. I saw him going to the stables, most likely to saddle the horses for Lavinia and Aranth. But he did not follow them. He was in the mansion all night, until the last guest went home. Maybe he stayed to face and eliminate possible problems, like you for example,” Atticus said.

“It makes sense. If I go there, he’ll probably kill me. But, he won’t be in the mansion forever. Let’s say they had a deal. He is going to meet them at some point. We just have to wait until he’s on the move,” Georgios said.

“Is this between you and me an alliance of despair?” the governor asked.

“This is not an alliance. You offered to help, and you won’t stand in my way,” the blacksmith replied.

“I wish you luck, Georgios. The kind of luck I obviously lacked when I couldn’t keep my wife by my side. She’s turned evil, and so you must be careful. That creature has taken her from me and she is different now. She’s already dead to me. Follow Castor, the man who resides in Aranth’s mansion at the moment. But have caution, he might be like Aranth, strong and capable of anything,” the governor said. The blacksmith went to the door.

“I’ve hurt one of your slaves. My apologies,” Georgios said.

“I want to give you something. Use it well,” the governor replied and showed the blacksmith a familiar dagger. It was the blade Philomela made for Atticus, as a token of gratitude. Georgios took it. Such a fine work, light, but still dangerous and sharp. She was better than him.

“Goodbye, governor. I want you to have a happy life,” the blacksmith said and left.

The fate was cruel to Philephebos family on that day. The blacksmith went back to the smithy, where his apprentices kept melting the metal. He ordered them to start forging a sword and a shield. Then, he went into the house to wake up his eldest son. His wife was already up, worried that she couldn’t find him.

“What is it? I heard shouts this morning, but there was no sign of you,” the wife asked.

“I have some business to take care of. I am going on a trip, and I think I won’t come back,” Georgios said.

“What are you talking about?” his wife opened her eyes and mouth wide.

“Philomela is dead. The governor’s wife and her lover plotted to murder her. And it’s all my fault. Therefore, it is up to me to act accordingly. They fled the city, and I intend to find them and kill them,” Georgios replied. His wife covered her mouth with her hand, and tears appeared in her eyes.

“Philomela! No!” she screamed, which finally woke up her son.

“What’s going on?” the son asked, rubbing his face.

“Get up. You’re coming with me,” the blacksmith said, and his son immediately obeyed. The boy, of no more than fifteen, quickly dressed himself, and went outside to wash his face and neck with the water from the well.

“Don’t take him. Where are you taking him?” the wife said in panic.

“I need help if I want to succeed. Don’t worry, he’ll come back home. As for me, this is maybe the last time we see each other. I love you,” the black smith said and took his wife into his arms.

“Don’t go, please. I don’t want to lose all three of you at once. Philomela… It happened at that party, didn’t it?” the blacksmith’s wife said.

“Yes… But, if I had been less vain, none of this would have happened,” the blacksmith whispered.

“How can you blame yourself? Those people are evil, they are twisted by their wealth and power. They kill those they consider less than themselves for sport. You had nothing to do with it,” his wife comforted him. But she did not know about the envy that had stirred in her husband’s heart, which at one point turned into hatred towards Philomela. Maybe Lavinia and Aranth enjoyed taking the lives of innocents, but it was Georgios who had drawn their attention to his sister.

“I’ll keep Nikolaos safe,” the blacksmith said and let go of his wife. She was still holding her arms in the air.

“Don’t let him pay the price of your venture, Georgios. He’s still a child. Don’t let him soak his hand with blood,” the wife said. Her husband shuffled out of the room, defeated. He could not even find her body. Scavengers, bugs and worms were eating her flesh, and he was unable to give her a proper funeral.

“Cassius, I’ll finish the sword. You go to this house and watch it carefully. If a noble man rides out, you must hurry back and report this to me. Do not let anyone see you, don’t let the guards catch you,” Georgios told one of his apprentices when he entered the smithy.

However, Castor had no intention to go outside of the house building during the day. Aranth and Lavinia must have reached the inn by then. As soon as the night falls, he will ride to join them. The slaves were cleaning the room, and after they finished their jobs, Castor called them into the library, where Aranth had left their release notes. Each one of them was astounded upon receiving a document that set them free, but many were concerned where they would go now that their obligation to serve the Basic was cancelled. The vampire announced that he will leave the mansion as well, and proposed that they stay at the house if they wanted to. He showed them a wooden box where Aranth had stored some of his treasure and told them that they were free to use it, until they find jobs and earn their first coins. The servants and slaves did not believe him at first. It was all too good to be true. The vampire assured him that it was nobody was playing a cruel joke on them. They were free, and since their master was never to return, they inherited his fortune.

When the moon was already high in the sky, the vampire went outside on his horse, prepared for a journey. Cassius, the apprentice, ran to the smithy to warn Georgios and his son. Tied to blacksmith’s waist, the new sword shined. The wife was crying, strongly holding her other children next to her, as Nikolaos climbed the horse.

“Cassius, you’re coming with us. I have prepared food and blankets for you. Show us where the noble went,” Georgios said and three men slowly rode through the gate. They forced their horses into gallop, to catch up with Castor.

“Father, did you find the aunt?” Nikolaos asked.

“No, son. Her body is… I don’t know where she is,” Georgios said and in order to hide his tears, he looked down at the map of the Roman Empire he had finished some years ago. What was in the east for Lavinia and Aranth? All that Atticus told him, could it have been true? Was he really about to confront something non-human? As a child, he used to listen to the story about various monsters, with incredible powers and abilities. There was even a tale of a man who sucked blood of all beings, draining their happiness and life. But, Aranth was not an imaginary creature. He was real and dangerous. Georgios thought it was a mistake to take Nikolaos with him. But he had to learn how to hunt down and kill those like Aranth and his mysterious friend.

In the distance, they noticed Castor’s horse. It had slowed down to a stride, so they had to stop running as well. By that time, they had been out of the city. A long night ride was ahead of them. After several hours, Cassius was asleep in his saddle, and Nikolaos kept looking around to stay awake. Yet, nothing could disturb blacksmith’s concentration. He was looking at the front, at the lantern, which Castor used to shine his way through the darkness. Georgios recognized that lantern as a guide, and fixed it in his mind. The lantern was hope, but also a reminder of what happened and why. The clicking of horses’ hooves hypnotized him and made him give into his remorse. His sister is dead because of him. That is the truth that can never be undone, not even if he kills Lavinia and Aranth hundred times. It’s not strange that he was jealous of her, but it had gone too far. He had a chance to tell Lavinia that there was nothing between his sister and the governor, but he decided not to mention it, and Philomela was dead. Whatever he does in the future, whether he kills Aranth and Lavinia, nothing would change. Philomela would not come alive. His only option was to punish those who did her harm, and that included him as well. There wasn’t more appropriate end for him than that one. The fight with the general will be hard, but Georgios was accustomed to pain. He touched the hilt of the sword, and imagined that his opponent was in front of him. He had to be fast, to pull out his sword and slay the enemy, before the fight escalates. Because, the blacksmith knew that he stood no chance against Aranth’s full swing. If he was indeed as strong as the governor described him to be, he could end the blacksmith’s quest with a single strike. Perhaps Georgios ought to turn to tactics. As they were lovers, Aranth surely wouldn’t risk that Lavinia is hurt. She should be their primary target. Her capture will make the general surrender. Georgios looked at Nikolaos. The boy was tired, but determined. He too was drawn by the lantern that trembled in the dark. Father and son shared the same beacon of revenge. Nikolaos understood perfectly why this had to be done. His eyes showed no regret, and no fear. In his ears, sobs of his mother echoed clearly. Nikolaos made himself think of Philomela, his lovely young aunt. The more he thought about her, the more he missed her. And the more he missed her, the angrier he became. The anger will help him charge at those who killed her. His blood boiled when he constructed the scene of confrontation in his mind. They will be brave, and stand united against the wicked who took one innocent life. In case they start to beg for mercy, Nikolaos will not yield. He will remain calm, his strikes will be precise. He won’t disappoint his father, and if something goes wrong, he will not back down.

“Is he stopping?” Cassius suddenly asked, surprising both Nikolaos and Georgios who thought he was still asleep.

“Apparently, yes,” the blacksmith said and squinted his eyes to have a better look at the lantern. Its light was weak, and it didn’t move away from them anymore. They got off their horses, in order to approach Castor without drawing too much attention.

“What are we going to do?” Nikolaos whispered.

“Just wait. Don’t go after him, wait,” Georgios replied.

“I think he’s making a camp,” Cassius noticed. But, the vampire did not light a fire. Instead, he approached a pile of rock plates and noticed there was a hole beneath it, enough for him to sit in there and hide from the sun. He took two black blankets from the saddlebag. The vampire put one below the rocks, onto the cold ground and the second used as a cover over the hole, to shield himself from any ray of sunshine that might fall upon his little fortress. Three men watched as Castor stood over the hole, looking at the east, waiting for the sun to hit the earth. When the first light appeared, and the Venus was now in the west, the vampire gazed at the red horizon. The sun almost reached, and it caused tinkles all over his body. The skin on his right arm was turning dark, and the three men noticed that. Castor smiled, but then quickly jumped into the hole and carefully placed the black blanket to seal the entrance. The morning brought hope for Georgios and his son and apprentice.

“Did you see that reaction?” the blacksmith mentioned.

“He’s afraid of the sun?” Nikolaos replied.

“He’s not just afraid of it, it hurts him. Did you see how his arm looked?” the apprentice added.

“This is our chance, then. We have a tool for torture,” Nikolaos said, grinning.

“What if he refuses to talk? He surely won’t betray his friends easily,” the blacksmith said.

“We have to try. This is the opportunity we can’t miss. He is obviously going to meet with them, so we have to get that information from him,” Cassius said. He slowly stood up and moved through the grass to the pile of rocks and sat on it. He knew that the vampire had heard him, but he didn’t care. There was nothing Castor could have done to him. The blacksmith followed Cassius, and Nikolaos was walking behind his father, a bit upset because he wasn’t the one who made the first move. The apprentice signalled Georgios to get ready, and then he tapped the rocks and cleared his throat. A patch of silence had them all anticipating. Castor pressed his teeth so that his jaw started to hurt. His assumption from an hour before proved to be true. Someone was following him. Thieves? But, thieves would have attacked him already. These people were watching him, following him for another interest than his money. He felt they were waiting for him to speak first. The vampire decided to indulge them.

“Who goes there?” Castor asked. Nikolaos chuckled, but his father slapped him on the knee and he instantly turned serious. He couldn’t help it, though. He was amused by their superior position.

“We are Romans, from the city. We are on a mission,” the blacksmith replied.

“And what kind of mission is that, if you don’t mind me asking?” Castor said.

“Our mission is to find a man and a woman who went this way at least a day before us,” Georgios said.

“A man and a woman? That’s a bit broad, isn’t it? There are many men and women who go this way. What makes your pair different?” the vampire said.

“You know them,” blacksmith’s son said.

“I know a man and a woman that you are looking for? That’s ridiculous,” Castor reacted to a young, lively voice that replaced the older one. The vampire could tell who they were.

“Why are you afraid of the sun?” suddenly a third voice was heard. It was younger than the first one, but older than the second one. But, Castor was not concerned with the tones of their voices. What worried him is that they had discovered his secret.

“I don’t like light, as much as some don’t like dark,” the vampire replied.

“The man and the woman, where are they? Where are they going?” the oldest voice of the blacksmith asked. The vampire could feel them, closing in on him. They will torture him, and the vampire was afraid that he might succumb and reveal Aranth and Lavinia’s position.

“You must have realized who we are. So stop pretending like you don’t understand us, and tell us what we want to know,” the apprentice said.

“I know who you are, but your wish is impossible for me to grant. I won’t speak behind my friends’ back and I certainly won’t participate in your hunt,” the vampire felt the rush of courage.

“Perhaps you think you are in position to refuse, but you are mistaken,” Nikolaos jumped in front of the black cover and slightly pulled it up. A ray of sunshine broke through and the vampire shouted in pain. The light hit him on the shoulder, just next to his neck where his robe could not protect him. His skin was badly burned, covered in small wounds, which oozed blood and pus at the same time. Castor prevented further damage by pressing it with his robe.

“I am prepared for this,” Castor said, breathing deeply.

“We hope you are. You see, the longer you hold the information from us, the more I will enjoy in inflicting pain on you. Still, it won’t be even half of the pain my sister had to go through when your friend murdered her,” Georgios said, opening the cover again and letting more sunlight inside. He could barely make himself stop and cover the hole again. Watching the vampire smoke gave him a sadistic sense of power, power that Philomela did not have.

“Careful, if you let in too much of sunshine, he’ll die,” the apprentice warned him.

“I am aware of that, Cassius. You and Nikolaos go and watch the horses. Leave me with him,” the blacksmith said, while they listened to vampire’s silent whining.

“What? You can’t send us away like that,” his son protested.

“I’m not sending you away. It’s just that I want to speak with him without you two interrupting us,” the blacksmith said. His voice was calm and steady. That is what seemed unusual to Nikolaos, so he signalled to Cassius that they should really leave.

“As you wish,” Nikolaos said and went with the apprentice to see if the horses were still where they had left them.

“It’s just you and me now,” the blacksmith said and sat on the ground, in front of the cover. He stretched his legs and started picking out the grass. He could hear Castor’s attempts to move and protect himself from the next attack of the light. But, there was nowhere to hide. The moment the vampire chose the hole below the rocks, he chose his prison.

“There is little in that statement that makes me happy,” the vampire said, puffing to ease his aches.

“I cannot blame you for such sentiment,” the blacksmith added. Both men were tired of the games, but fully aware that they would have to play them, at least a little bit longer.

“My determination is the same. I won’t tell you where they are,” Castor warned him in advance.

“Let’s spent this day together, and see whether you’ll change your opinion. Don’t rush with your statements, your own words might trick you,” the blacksmith warned him. Vampire’s heart skipped a beat. Is more pain coming? Definitely. What could he do about it? Not much. He could start talking with the blacksmith about distracting matters, to prolong the conversation and wait till the sunset. But his enemy was not naive to let that happen. This was a man fuelled with anger and agony, and the two constantly fought for dominance inside him.

“You know what will happen if the sun is blocked? I will kill you, as well as your companions,” the vampire threatened.

“I wish you were able to see the skies. This is perhaps the clearest day of the month. Not a cloud above, just light, blue surface. Hardly will you get a chance to show your powers today,” Georgios replied.

“I just need a moment of shadow, a moment of clouds covering the sky, and you’d be dead,” the vampire said.

“There is no way you can get out of this situation, I just want you to know that. At the end of the day, if I feel threatened, or find you redundant, the sunshine will pour in. My offer is simple, give me the information about the general and governor’s wife and your death will be quick and easy,” Georgios replied.

“There is nothing easy about death. If you are an honourable man, how can you make such a dishonourable request?” the vampire asked.

“You took all the honour from me when you participated in a murder of a young woman who did you no harm,” Georgios said bitterly.

“I had nothing to do with it. My only concern was to help my friend,” the vampire tries to present himself as naive and innocent.

“Are you telling me you have no guilt, whatsoever? You feel nothing?” the blacksmith asked.

“My feelings died long time ago. My ties to this world grow thinner every day that goes by,” Castor commented.

“Then I’ll be happy to release you from the torments of this world. Where are they? Don’t you realize how important this is to me? Lavinia, as you probably know, ordered the murder of my sister because of pure jealousy. Don’t I have the right to fight back, if Philomela couldn’t?” Gergios said.

“I was brought here by Aranth, because he needed help with arranging his matters. Also, there is one more…” the vampire suddenly stopped speaking. The blacksmith noticed his hesitation and thought he was onto something.

“You don’t want to speak with me anymore?” Georgios asked and quite naturally pulled the cover up, burning the vampire’s skin again.

“No, stop it! Stop it!” the vampire screamed, twisting and turning in his hole.

“Tell me what I need to know! All of this will stop then!” Georgios shouted. He heard the voices of Cassius and his son in the background. The strong current of hatred was in his heart again.

“Just, stop…” the vampire whispered, and the blacksmith covered the hole. Dark grey smoke was coming below the cover, and Georgios turned his head aside to breathe in some fresh air.

“This is very important to me, in case you haven’t noticed. I won’t get tired. I won’t give up. All pain will end if you help me. Aren’t you bored of that life of yours? No sun, no day, just darkness and night,” the blacksmith said.

“Immortality has its benefits,” the vampire replied.

“Immortality? You are not immortal. One mild ray of sunshine could kill you,” Georgios laughed.

“I said it has its benefits, but it also has its price. Besides, I don’t expect your simple peasant brain to process what I am talking about. Endless life and endurance, if I’m careful of course. Endless possibilities, knowledge, wisdom.”

“And what does your wisdom recommend when a girl is murdered brutally, and without a reason?”

“She’d be dead anyway. I am sorry, but that is the truth. You will be dead soon, I can feel it. There was nothing you could have done. All of you must accept the simple truth of mortality.”

“I am aware that every step that I make takes me closer to the pit. From one hole into the other, that’s life. But to kill someone completely innocent, that’s a crime.”

“Was she innocent, now? The way Aranth told be, she had an affair with the governor,” the vampire said, checking the damage on his body.

“She didn’t have an affair with that man,” Georgios denied.

“Surely, that’s the brother speaking,” the vampire said.

“No, that’s a fact,” Georgios replied, mildly irritated. He thought he successfully suppressed his guilt, but vampire’s observation brought it back to the surface of his mind.

“If you say so,” Castor said and stretched his legs. It was uncomfortable in the hole, and he was a bit sleepy and hungry. His possible prey was just in front of him, only a piece of cloth dividing them. But, beyond that piece of cloth there was also death. Castor was never able to master the feeling of hunger and somehow keep it under control. He didn’t know which was worse, blacksmith’s torture or feeling famished.

“Are you willing to cooperate now?” the blacksmith asked. This man was truly ready to stay there all day, hoping that Castor will finally give away Aranth and Lavinia’s position. Castor didn’t like death. Maybe that’s why he turned into a vampire. Perhaps a higher force sensed his anxiety and fear and decided to grant him another life. He remembered the moment he died. He was badly wounded in a battle, and felt as if a stone was put on his chest, preventing him from moving or breathing. Was it a glorious battle? Probably not. Most likely, it was an attack ordered by a landlord, to silence the unsatisfied population. The vampire remembered the people screaming around him and running seemingly without plan or purpose. The thatch roofs were burning, and hoofs shook the ground. He remembered standing in front of a horseman, riding towards him with a spear pointed at Castor. The iron tip pierced vampire’s skin and he fell, his leather helmet rolling off his head, and his long hair dipping into dust. The horseman didn’t even look back. Castor struggled to release himself from the armour that had become more of an inconvenience than of a protection. He touched the source of the pain, but he could feel the wound from all the blood that was pouring out. Was he stabbed in the lung? Did he have a broken rib? He couldn’t tell, but diagnose meant little to him at that moment. He knew what was happening. He held his hand on his chest, waiting for the agony to end. His eyes were pointed towards the sky, which was partially cloudy. He felt a few drops of rain touching his face, turning the dust into mud on his lips and chin. A final humiliation. Maybe he would have had a better death if he were a hero, a fearless rider who fights for glory and justice. Then, even his enemies would celebrate and respect him. This way, he was just another poor, untrained villager, accustomed to farming, not waging war. With thoughts of his miserable demise, his gaze froze. It ended, finally. But, to his disappointment, he awoke after what seemed to him just a few seconds later. It didn’t end, and he had to learn to live in a new, different way. That was amusing for the first few centuries. It wasn’t amusing anymore.

“I died, you know,” he suddenly said.

“What?” the blacksmith was confused.

“I wasn’t born like this, I became like this. Aranth is a true immortal, and my kind is like a watered down version of his,” the vampire confessed. Georgios did not see the connection with this statement as their conversation, but he decided to let Castor speak.

“So, you are telling me that there is no way to kill your friend?” the blacksmith asked and smiled.

“He wants to turn Lavinia into an immortal,” Castor said. Was it possible that the vampire decided to help the blacksmith?

“I don’t understand what you are talking about,” Georgios complained.

“I’m talking about Aranth’s plan. Isn’t that what you wanted to know?” the vampire said, annoyed.

“Why the sudden change?” Georgios replied.

“Because you said I’d be dead at the end, and I fear what Lavinia may turn into. Aranth would never forgive himself to destroy her life, but I believe that she will destroy his,” Castor explained.

“You don’t have to elaborate her power of manipulation to me. I’m very well familiar with it,” the blacksmith said, but a sparkle in his mind reminded him that he was to blame as well.

“There is a ritual that could turn a mortal into an immortal, but it’s a great risk. It has to be done with proper tools, at proper place.  I had become a bloodsucker by a chance, and that is the way it should be, random, without order or intention. Lavinia, however will be made immortal, and that’s bad because the consequences of previous efforts failed and created monsters,” the vampire said.

“Isn’t she already a monster?” Georgios asked.

“Aranth doesn’t have a bad nature. He’s barely even ill tempered. He is a predator, but that does not equal evil. But imagine the power he has given to someone as vicious as she,” Castor said depressively.

“Why did you let that happen, then? Why didn’t you stop them? You could, but you didn’t,” the blacksmith said, looking at the cover which turned into a mirror for him.

“He is my friend, after all. I didn’t have enough courage to slice her throat. But you are the perfect material, you are driven by anger and hatred. You are unstoppable,” Castor said.

“But I still won’t be able to defend myself if he attacks me,” the blacksmith said.

“Since the ritual needs to be performed at a special place, there are many secrets that the place hides. Maybe there, in the woods of the east you will find a solution to your problem,” the vampire said.

“Don’t speak in riddles now,” Georgios was upset.

“The location is symbolic for Aranth. He is not the only one who can call himself the Basic, an elementary, the first breed of immortals, and the only one with no flaws yet found. It is the place where the first Basic woke up. If that is the place where one can become eternal…” the vampire whispered.

“Then it’s perhaps the place where one like that could die,” Georgios said.

“I’m not sure if you could hurt him severely, but that ground would definitely slow him down. Enough for you to have your revenge,” the vampire said. The blacksmith could feel that Castor loved Aranth. So he kept to himself the fact that if he gets a chance, he’ll kill the Basic, and won’t regret it. Philomela’s blood was on the hands of all of them. And all of them must die.

“Where are they now?” Georgios asked, first time without hate in his voice.

“They expect me at the inn tonight, the first inn on the road that you will find if you keep riding in the direction of east,” Castor said. Surprisingly, he did not regret telling blacksmith all of that. It felt as if it should have been done. The girl, his sister, was lovely, and he could relate to the man’s rage. Castor smiled at his newly found sense of honour.

“What happens if you don’t appear?” the blacksmith asked.

“Aranth would probably want to go back and search for me, but Lavinia will not permit it. Besides, I left him some instructions for the ritual, as well as a map to the site, so he can basically do it himself. The only reason why I am going with them is his lack of confidence. He fears that something might go wrong. As it probably will, without me,” Castor commented.

“That’s not my problem. All I want now is to get to the site before them,” the blacksmith said.

“Then ride now, and you’ll have a day or two of advantage,” the vampire said. He didn’t betray Aranth. It’s just the way everything was supposed to play out. He wasn’t even angry at the blacksmith anymore. They did something unnecessary and cruel, and what other than retribution could they expect? Realizing that, the vampire felt better.

“I need a map, I need a way to find that place,” the blacksmith said.

“I don’t carry around a spare one, just in case a vengeful blacksmith would come along, you know. The place is near Sirmium, ask the locals for the Black Trees, and they’ll give you directions,” the vampire replied. Georgios got up. He took the edge of the cover and Castor sad that.

“Thank you,” Georgios said.

“No, I want to thank you,” Castor replied. Georgios pulled the cover and threw it over the rocks. He turned his back on the hole and walked away. Castor thought of the moment he died. This time it was the real end.

“What did he tell you?” Nikolaos asked his father, when the blacksmith returned to their horses.

“He told me what I needed to know,” the blacksmith replied.

“Where are we going then? Did he tell you where they are?” his son was curious.

“We will ride north, and then east,” Georgios said and got on his horse.”

“What is out there? I thought we were looking for the general and the governor’s wife,” Nikolaos complained.

“Our destination is Sirmium. We’ll find them there,” Georgios replied. The apprentice and Nikolaos seemed confused, still nevertheless made their horses gallop after the blacksmith’s one. They passed Castor’s pile of rocks, which were now black and below them there was a burned corpse that disintegrated fast.

They were on the road, when an inn suddenly appeared on their left side. Nikolaos waited for his father to signal them to stop, but Georgios did not do that.

“There’s an inn, if you haven’t noticed. Our horses can rest there, and so can we,” Nikolaos said.

“There will be no stops today. The horses are well rested, they spent the entire morning eating and drinking. And if you two are hungry, eat in your saddle,” the blacksmith said. The son did not want to continue speaking, aware that he would eventually get into a fight with his father.

They rode quietly the entire day. Georgios thought if it had been better to go to the harbour and find a ship, which would have taken them directly to Dalmatia. It would have been faster, but also safer. There were many dangers on the road. Georgios could not allow anything to stop him. Wild animals, robbers, tribes, they should all just get out of his way. He didn’t want to spill their blood. He wanted to stay on the road because it was unlikely that Aranth and Lavinia would travel by ship. There were many side paths in the woods and in the mountains, offering them more privacy. The blacksmith could always tell his apprentice to slow down and monitor the surroundings, looking for the couple. Georgios thought of Philomela. Tears in his eyes threatened to slip out, so he blinked several times to stop them. What made him take that one step further? He didn’t hate her, there was just one moment of weakness that pushed him over. Could he ever think it would have ended well? The bloodsucker, the Basic, the governor’s wife and the blacksmith, they all contributed to death of a wonderful flower, of a gentle and a free soul.

“He’s different, don’t you think?” Nikolaos rode close to Cassius, so that he could whisper to apprentice. He loved his father, but blacksmith’s behaviour worried him as much as it annoyed him.

“He knows what he’s doing,” Cassius replied.

“Come on, you don’t have to be on his side, he can’t hear you. You know what I think? Aranth was in that inn. For some reason, my father decided not to confront him. Perhaps he’s afraid,” Nikolaos said.

“The man we followed must have told him where Aranth was, or where he and the woman are going. Yes, that’s it. Your father knows their destination, so he wants to get there first. Smart call,” the apprentice replied.

“I don’t like the woods at night, Cassius,” Nikolaos said.

“What, are you afraid? I thought you were fierce and mighty, ready to fight off any man that threatens you,” Cassius laughed.

“I like a good fight, but I don’t like to provoke it without a good reason,” blacksmith’s son said.

“Your father has a good reason, and we should stand by him. Your aunt was murdered. Don’t you want to see the killers pay?” Cassius asked.

“Of course I want to. But, I have the right to question what I find strange,” Nikolaos said. Cassius was a good friend of his, but Nikolaos was always bothered by the fact that the apprentice always seemed to be supporting his father. That’s the way it had always been, since they were children. Nikolaos could not blame him. The blacksmith provided Cassius with work, food and home. Cassius would be reckless to make remarks to moves his benefactor made.

“Trust your father, he has a plan,” the apprentice said. He seemed confident about it. Nikolaos knew he should feel the same.

In the inn, Aranth nervously tapped the wooden table with his fingertips. Lavinia was drinking wine, and often looked at the Basic, hoping that he would stop doing it.

“He cannot travel by day. That’s why he isn’t still here,” she said and took some of the olives the innkeeper brought them.

“It has been quite a while since the sunset. He made a break during the day, which means his horse should have rested enough to run until Castor reaches this place,” Aranth said, calculating in his mind. The governor’s wife didn’t seem to care that the vampire was missing.

“Have some wine,” she put the cup under his lips. He turned his head away, and rubbed his forehead. What could have gone wrong?

“You’re drinking too much,” Aranth commented, after he noticed that the bottle in front of Lavinia was almost empty. He had none of the wine.

“And you’re too tense. He knows how to take care of himself. But, just to make sure, what happens if he doesn’t show up?” she said. She asked the unpleasant question Aranth wanted to avoid somehow, but she was right. They had to think of their priorities.

“We’ll wait until dawn. If he doesn’t appear on that door by then, we’re leaving,” the Basic said and waved at the innkeeper. A skinny man, with dirty apron over his arm found his way to them through loud and reckless crowd. He was thirty-five at most, Aranth estimated, although he looked much older. His skin was sickly thin and peeling and it appeared as if he had no flesh on his face, just two sharp, red cheekbones sticking out under brown eyes.

“Yes, domine?” the innkeeper said.

“I would like to take a room upstairs for the night. We won’t go to bed yet, but when we decide to do so, I want to be welcomed by a warm room, with food and wine on the nightstand,” Aranth said and gave the man several golden coins. The innkeeper looked down at his hand, happy and smiling. That was his weekly income.

“As you say, domine,” the innkeeper replied, and went behind the bar with a wide grin on his face.

“I am starting to fear of the worse, Lavinia,” the Basic said.

“And what would be that?” she replied.

“That Castor is dead,” he said, with eyes focused on a dark line on the table surface.

“It’s not true, you’re being ridiculous. Relax, he’ll be here,” Lavinia replied.

“Are you really not concerned, or you’re just acting to make me more comfortable?” he asked. She did not immediately answer.

“If he’s dead, what could have killed him? Isn’t he agile and strong like you?” she replied.

“The sunlight would destroy him,” Aranth said.

“He wouldn’t expose himself to it. He is aware of both his powers and his limits. He’s on his way here,” she assured him, but the Basic did not believe her words. Though, he appreciated what she was doing for him.

“The blacksmith knows, then. He’s the only one who would have a reason to kill Castor,” the Basic said.

“If he’s truly dead. But, the blacksmith is no match for you, even if your assumption is correct,” she replied.

“The brother of that girl wants revenge and he deserves it. Of course, that doesn’t mean I’ll simply let him practice his rage on us. It’s just… I want to see if you understand this situation well enough,” Aranth said.

“You still feel guilty about it, don’t you?” Lavinia said. Aranth nodded.

“How could I ever stop? Speaking of which, it’s monstrous that you are so calm regarding everything that happened. Calm, and cold, as if it was nothing,” he said.

“I t was nothing,” she replied.

“Maybe for you. You didn’t have to take every life’s sparkle from her body and then toss it into the water like it was a piece of bread you couldn’t eat anymore,” Aranth said bitterly.

“And you didn’t have to put up with the humiliation of watching her smile in your face, while seducing your husband and taking him away from you,” she protested.

“Yes, indeed, murder is far less terrible than losing a man you didn’t even love,” the Basic laughed loudly and took a sip of wine from the bottle.

“Whether I loved him or not, it is none of your concern. Atticus was sometimes very charming. And he was mine, not hers. She should have known better than to play with other woman’s toy,” the governor’s wife said.

“You’re lucky that your toy as you call him didn’t sent his soldiers after us. Because, you are adulteress, and I am a murderer,” he said, and turned serious again.

“It’s not his way, he’s not vengeful. In difference to the blacksmith… But Georgios should have no right to be angry with us. I didn’t come to him, he came to me for help,” Lavinia said.

“What?” Aranth asked.

“That’s right. The blacksmith became envious of his sister and decided she had to be removed. She was a much better at the craft than him, so he came to me, seeing that Philomela was a problem for both of us, and we made a pact. Our intention was to separate the governor and the girl, and make her leave Rome. The only difference was that he wanted to put her on a ship, and I wanted my plans to have a more permanent result,” she said and grinned.

“I wonder what made me fall in love with you,” the Basic said, but his words had no witty, cheerful tone. He was grim for some time, but now it culminated.

“Because you use people, just like I do. We’re not that different, as much as you wanted to present yourself as a better of the two of us. You speculate, deceive and kill, actually more than me. As if she would have a good life. We did Philomela a favour,” Lavinia said. She was right. Aranth always thought of himself as a common man, just one of many who were trying to figure out life without damaging the others on his way. But, that was a dream, an illusion he created. In reality, he was a vicious provider of death, with insatiable hunger for blood and power.

“Then, we’re a perfect match,” he said and thought of Castor. The vampire belonged to those people who were desperately seduced by Aranth’s fake image. Lavinia was not seduced. She knew who and what he was. She accepted it, because she was more or less the same. And he recognized himself in her ambition and ruthlessness. She was in love with herself in him, and he was in love with himself in her.

“Aranth, if Georgios killed Castor, what could he do to us? To you?” she asked suddenly.

“So, now you believe that Castor is killed? The blacksmith must have exposed him to the sun. That man is smarter than we thought,” Aranth replied, thinking about his fallen friend and a new enemy.

“You told me that you are invincible,” Lavinia said.

“I am invincible. Do you fear that Georgios might kill me as well? It won’t happen Lavinia, don’t worry,” the Basic replied.

“Haven’t you ever wondered where are your limits? There surely must be some kind of way to destroy you,” she said. The Basic frowned.

“Are you summoning my demise? What got into you? A minute before you were lethargic and not even interested in my theory of Castor’s death, and now you want to find a way which could kill me?” Aranth raised his voice, which caused a few guests at nearby tables to turn their heads towards them.

“I want to know everything, Aranth. Apparently, nothing is safe anymore… Nothing…” she said.

“You’re asking about yourself? You want to know if your change is going to be permanent, and safe,” Aranth sighed.

“So, is it?” she asked coldly.

“I don’t know, Lavinia, I have never done this before. There’s a possibility that it won’t even turn the way it is supposed to,” the Basic whispered.

“What do you mean?” she asked. She did not like the words she heard. Was there a side effect of the ritual? She knew it was all too good to be true.

“There were complications in the previous rituals according tot eh record Castor and I found. I didn’t want to tell you, because… You know… But, it just doesn’t seem right to keep it from you,” the Basic said.

“Good that you’ve thought of it now, when we’re near the end,” she said, disappointedly.

“I didn’t know how you would react. But, at this moment, it doesn’t really matter. The damage has already been done, and your reaction will not change that,” he said. She never heard him sound like that, defeated, uninterested. He was the one who was always looking for a way out of every bad situation.

“I’m not angry with you, Aranth. My immortality is pointless without you, and you know this. I am willing to take any risk, if it will let me spend another moment with you,” she said and comforted him. Her words soothed him. Finally, he smiled. What hour was it? The Basic turned around to look at the rest of the room and noticed that the majority of tables in the inn was empty. The only guests who persisted in staying by their glasses were Lavinia and Aranth, and four drunks, sitting in the back of the room, occasionally stretching their arms and legs and drinking their wine.

“Lavinia, let’s get some sleep. Castor is not coming,” the Basic said and got up.

“So, we can definitely conclude that he is dead?” she asked and stood next to him.

“Dead, for sure. The blacksmith is after us. But there is something else I fear. What if Castor told them about where we are going?” he said and nodded at the innkeeper to clean after them. They went up the narrow staircase into a corridor where only one candle was burning. They had to wait for the innkeeper to show them their room.

“The best we have, domine,” the innkeeper said and bowed. The man opened the door of a cosy, warm room, with a spacey bed and exact items tat Aranth specified.

“Good night, good man,” he said and closed the door after the innkeeper bowed once again and stepped into the corridor. Lavinia sat on the bed, and put her legs horizontally in the air, so she could examine her feet.

“You suspect that Georgios knows about the plan?” she said, while he undressed himself.

“Castor was a loyal friend, but his sense of loyalty and honour is… Different from what you’ve accustomed to. He was against this whole mission, Lavinia. Furthermore, he was against killing Philomela. I don’t think Georgios had to torture him much before Castor started talking and giving away our plans. It bothered him, what I was prepared to do for you. He just thought of it as wrong,” the Basic sighed and sat next to Lavinia, slowly pulling his fingers through her hair.

“So, he just told the blacksmith everything?” she asked.

“If he estimated that the blacksmith’s cause is right, he definitely did,” Aranth replied and nodded lightly. Lavinia retained calm posture, but he knew she was worried. There was no chance that they would have sex that night.

“Aranth, all of this is suddenly turning against us,” she said.

“No, it’s not. We do not actually know what or how much Georgios knows. Besides, there is no being capable enough to match my power. You’re safe with me, just believe me and all will be well,” he said and pulled her along on the pillow as he fell onto it. She put her head on his shoulder, and closed her eyes. A day before yesterday seemed like an echo of a past life. Her husband, her children, her palace, it all belonged to another Lavinia, a woman she used to know. This was a step into the new, into exciting and fresh. In the previous life, she was old, in this one, she is young and strong. She was sleeping on the chest of a deity. What could bring harm to her when she is protected by such a force? The blacksmith stands no chance against Lavinia and Aranth. He was going to die, the same as his sister. And after a century, or two of immortality, Philephebos family would simply be a shivering image, a memory too old to be trustworthy. In a century, or two of immortality, Lavinia would doubt whether Georgios and Philomela ever existed. Her dreams were sweet that night, sweeter than the ones she had before. It was her first night of freedom.

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