Thibor the Wallach, that cursed ingrate - to whom I had given my egg, name and banner, and into whose hands I had bequeathed my castle, lands and Wamphyri powers -had injured me sorely.

Thrown down burning from the walls of my castle, I experienced the ultimate agonies. A myriad minion bats fluttered to me as I fell, were scorched and died for their troubles, but dampened my flames not at all. I crashed through trees and shrubs, and pinwheeled aflame down the sides of the gorge to the very bottom. But my fall had been broken in part by the foliage, and I came to rest in a shallow pool which alone saved my melting Wamphyri flesh.

As close to true death as a vampire might come and remain undead, I put out a desperate call to my faithful Gypsies where they camped in the valley. They came, lifted my body from the still, salving water and cared for it, and carried me west over the mountains into Hungary. Protecting me from jars and jolts, hiding me from potential enemies, keeping me safe from the sun's searing rays, at last they brought me to a place of rest. Aye, and it was a long rest: a time of enforced retirement, for recuperation, for the reshaping of my broken body; a long, long rest indeed!

For how Thibor had hurt me! All bones broken, back and neck, skull and limbs; chest caved in, heart and lungs amangle; skin flayed by boulders and sharp branches, and seared with fire... even the vampire in me was burned, bruised and battered. A month in the healing? A year? Nay, an hundred years!

My long convalescence was spent in an inaccessible mountain retreat, and all the while my Szgany tended me, and their sons, and their sons. Aye, and their sweet, firm-breasted daughters, too. Slowly the vampire in me healed itself, and then healed me. Wamphyri, I walked again, practised my arts, made myself wiser, stronger, more awesome than ever before. And eventually I went abroad from my aerie and made plans for my life's adventure.

Ah, but it was a terrible world in which I emerged, with wars everywhere, great suffering, famines, pestilence! Terrible, aye, but the stuff of life to me - for I was Wamphyri!

I found myself the ruins of a keep in the border with Wallachia and used the tumbled stones to build a small castle there. Almost impregnable within its walls, I set myself up as a Boyar of some means. I led a mixed body of Szgany, Hungarians and local Wallachs, housed them and paid them good wages, was soon accepted as a landowner and leader. And so I became a small power in the land.

As for Wallachia: I avoided venturing there, mainly. For there was one in Wallachia whose strength and cruelties were already renowned: a mercenary Voevod named Thibor, who fought for the Wallach princelings. I did not wish to meet this one (who should by rights be keeping guard over my lands and properties in the Khorvaty even now!), not yet; for in the event of my seeing him I might not be able to contain myself. Which could well prove fatal, for he was now grown to a far greater power than I myself. No, my revenge must wait... what is time to the Wamphyri, eh?

Time in the tumult of its passing, where an entire day is like the single tick of a great clock - it is nothing. But when each vastly extended tick is precisely the same as the one gone before, and when they begin to fall like thunderclaps upon the ear...ah, but then one discovers time's restrictions, from which only boredom and uttermost ennui may ensue. And that is everything! I was restless, confined, pent up. There was I, lusty, strong, something of a power, and nowhere to channel my energies. The time was coming when I must go further abroad in the roiling world.

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But then, in the year 1178, a diversion.

Over a period of some few years I'd been hearing tales of a Szgany woman who was a true observer of times; which is to say, she had the power of precognition. Eventually my curiosity was piqued and I determined to see her. She was not of my own band of Gypsies, and so I must wait for her to venture into those mountainous regions within my control.

Meanwhile, I sent out messengers to direct her wanderings aright, describing how when she and her band came within my spheres they would be offered every hospitality, treated with utmost respect, and paid in gold for whichever services they might render unto me. And in the interim, while I waited on the advent of this alleged oracle, I determined to practise what small talent I possessed in casting a few weirds of my own.

I mixed certain herbs and burned them, fell asleep breathing their incense, and sought by oneiromancy to divine the way it would be between myself and this doubtless fraudulent witch, this 'Marilena' (for such was her name). Aye, for in those days I had good reason to be interested in talented folk, and to seek them out whenever the opportunity arose. My son Thibor had been abroad for several human lifetimes now, and might have spawned all manner of curiosities in the land!

And so I sought out all such anomalies, and in so doing prided myself with the discovery of charlatans. But... if I should come across a genuine talent (and if Wamphyri blood should course in the veins of such a one) then he or she was a goner! For while to a creature such as I the blood is - or was - the life, the sweetest nectar of all may only be sipped from the undead font of another vampire! A font, aye, for such a sip is surely holy - to one such as I am, at least.

But... only picture my astonishment when finally my oneiromancy produced results, and I dreamed of this dark angel where I had thought to discover a hag!

What? She was a child! I saw her in my dreams: a lovely child, aye, and innocent I thought (but wrongly, for she was knowing as a whore!). She came to me naked - all curves, creamy and brown, unblemished; dark in her eyes and in her shining hair; the lips of her face red as cherries, and those of her oyster when I opened it the hue of freshly slaughtered meat - to stand before me unashamed. Two centuries gone by, since Thibor destroyed my castle in the Khorvaty, and raped my vampire women and put them down; between then and now I had tasted my share of soft Szgany flesh, spilling myself into such Gypsy odalisques as pleased me. Nothing of 'love' in it, mind you; that word was only applicable to others, never to myself. But now... ?

It was the human side of me, of course, which from time to time held sway in my dreams. I gazed upon this sweet, sensuous Princess of the Travelling Folk through eyes fogged by human weakness. The shuddering of my loins was the love (call it that if you will) of a man, but never the raging lust of the Wamphyri. And to my shame my dreams were wet, and I came in my blankets like a trembling lad stroking the teats of his first girl!

But ... the trouble with oneiromancy was always this: had it been a true and accurate prediction of the future, or was it just a dream? Thereafter, in order to reinforce my findings (and perhaps for other reasons, for plainly I was besotted), night after night would find me burning my herbs and willing myself into divinatory dreams. And always they were the same, except that the better we got to know each other, Marilena and I, the more pleasurable our loveplay became and myself ever more enamoured; until I knew that instead of a mere dream I must have the real thing or go mad!

Which was when she came to me, as it were, in the flesh.

She was of the camp of Grigor Zirra, called 'King' Zirra; indeed, Marilena was Grigor's daughter. And so I had been right: she was a 'princess' of the Travelling Folk.

It was winter when they came, the end of January, and never so biting cold in all the years of my memory. My own Szgany stationed their caravans and carts in clusters close to my walls, banked them in with huge bricks of snow smoothed to ice, pitched their tents within the clusters and tethered their beasts inside with them, for their warmth. Ah, they had known it would be a hard winter, these wise ones! In the caves all around they had worked long and hard, storing fodder for their animals. Even so, men and beasts alike would be hard put to see it through that winter without they relied on the patronage of the Boyar in his castle.

I kept all my doors unbarred to them, and my halls warm with fires everywhere. My good grogs and coarse red wines were made available for the asking, likewise grain to make their bread; it cost me nothing; these things belonged to the Szgany anyway, for in better seasons they'd given them all to me, who had no need of them!

One mid-morning a man came to me. He had been hunting in the mountains, which were my mountains. I did not deny the Gypsies this privilege; if they shot three pigs or woodcocks one was mine, and so on. And he told me of the Szgany Zirra: that they were caught in a pass close by, where an avalanche had carried their caravans away! Only a handful survived, he said, scattered in the tumbled drifts.

I knew his report was true. Last night I had dreamed again my herbal dreams, but this time devoid of carnal delights and filled instead with blizzards and the screams of those swept away and dying. And because I had not dreamed of my Marilena, I wondered... was she one of them?

Then I called for my Szgany chief and told him: "There is a girl trapped in the snows. This man knows where she is. She and her people are Szgany. Go, find them, dig them out and bring them here. And hurry, for if you are too late and she is dead ... the house of the Ferenczy may feel that its hospitality is wasted on such as you and yours. Is this understood?'

It was, and he went in all haste.

In the afternoon my chief and his men returned. He made report: of the Szgany Zirra, which had numbered as many as fifty, he had found only Grigor Zirra himself and a dozen of his band alive. Three of the survivors were broken but would mend, two more were old women and might not, and of the rest... one was Grigor's daughter, called Marilena, an observer of times!

I commanded him: 'Have your women tend them, feed them, give them whatsoever they need. Spare nothing to make them welcome, comfortable, at ease in this place. I take it they have nothing? Nothing of extra clothing, no carts or coverings? So, without me they are destitute. Very well, quarter them within the castle's walls. Find them warm rooms within easy reach of my own, where they may stay apart.' And seeing a puzzled look in his eyes: 'Well?'

'Your own people might think it strange, master,' he said, 'that you treat the strangers so well. That we make way for them, who owe you no allegiance.'

'You are forthright and I like you for it,' I told him. 'I too shall be forthright. I have heard it said of the woman Marilena Zirra that she is comely. If this is true it may be that I shall want her, for you Gipsies are not the only ones who feel the cold of a night! Wherefore treat her people with respect, especially her father and family, if such as these survived. I do not wish that they should find me a cold and cruel man.'

'What? You, master?' he said, with no trace of emotion in his voice, his face utterly blank. 'Cold? Cruel? Who would ever believe it!?'

I regarded him a while, finally saying: 'Forthright is one thing, and forward another entirely. Do you seek to be familiar with me? I tell you honestly, I cannot believe you would enjoy such... familiarity. Wherefore, when you say certain things to me, and in such a way, it should always please you to smile...' I stared at him and rumbled a little deep in my throat, until he grew uncomfortable.

'Master,' he said, beginning to tremble, 'I meant no - '

'Hush!' I quieted him. 'You are safe, my mood is a good one! Now heed me well. Later, when the Zirras are recovered, return and take me among them where they are quartered. Until then, begone.'

But when I went among them, I was not pleased. It wasn't that my instructions had not been followed; they had, to the letter. It was simply that the ordeal of these people had been such that they were mazed and vacant. It would take a little time in the healing. Meanwhile, they sat in their rags and trembled, and spoke only when they were spoken to.

As for the supposed 'princess' of my dreams: where was she? One filthy bundle huddled to the fire looked much like the next to me. It annoyed me that my dreams had lied to me; I felt that I had failed in my oneiromancy; I hated failure, especially in myself.

So I stood and gloomed over these dregs a while, and finally asked, 'Which one of you is Grigor Zirra?'

He stood up: a nothing, a wisp, pale from the snow and his suffering, the loss of his people. He was not old, but neither did he look young. There had been strength in his leanness once, but now it looked washed out of him. Unlike myself, he was entirely human, and he had lost much.

'I am the Ferenczy,' I told him. "This is my castle. The people about are my people, Szgany like yourself. For the time being it pleases me to give you shelter. But I have heard there is an observer of times among you, and it also pleases me to contemplate such mysteries. Where is this witch - or wizard?'

'Your hospitality is vast as your legend,' he answered. 'Alas that in my sorrow I cannot more fully declare my appreciation. For something of me died this day. She was my wife, swept from the cliff. Now I have only a daughter, a child, who reads the future in the stars, in the palm of your hand, and in her dreams. She is no witch, lord, but a true observer of times, my Marilena, of whom you have heard.'

'And where is she?'

He looked at me and there was fear in his eyes. But I felt a tug at the sleeve of my robe, and started that someone dared touch me. None of my own had laid finger on me unbidden since the day I rose up from my sickbed! I looked and saw one of the rag bundles risen to its feet to stand beside me ... its eyes were huge, dark beneath a fur hood ... its hair was all black ringlets, spilling about a heart-shaped face ... its lips were the colour of cherries, bright as blood. And upon my arm her tiny hand, whose fingers numbered only three, as I had seen them in my dreams!

'I am Marilena, lord,' she said. 'Forgive my father, for he loves and fears for me; there are some in the land distrustful of mysteries they cannot fathom, and unkind to certain women whom they term "witches".'

My heart felt staggered! She could be none other! I knew the voice! I saw through all her clothes to the very princess of my dreams, knowing that what was in there was a wonder. And: 'I ... know you,' I said, my voice choked.

'And I you, lord. I have seen you in my future. Often. You are in no wise a stranger!'

I had no words. Or if I had they were stuck in my throat. But... I was the Ferenczy! Should I dance, laugh out loud, pick her up and whirl her all about? Oh, I wanted to, but I could not reveal my emotions. I stood there thunderstruck, like a great fool, frozen, until she came to my rescue:

'If you would have me read for you, lord, then take me aside from here. Here my concentration suffers, for there is much sadness - aye, and various comings and goings, and likewise much fuss and to-do - oh, and many small matters to interfere with my scrying. A private place would be to some advantage.'

Oh? Indeed it would! 'Come with me,' I said.

'Lord!' her father stopped us. 'She is innocent!' The last word was spoken on a rising note - of pleading, perhaps? My nature was not unknown among the Szgany.

But... didn't he know his own daughter? It was in my mind to say to him: 'Lying Gypsy dog! What, this one, innocent? Man, she has licked my entire body clean as if bathed! I have fired my fluids into her throat every night for a month from the coaxing of her tongue and tiny, three-fingered hands! Innocent? If she is innocent then so am I!' Ah, but how could I say these things? For the fact of it was that I had only ever dreamed my love affair with Marilena.

Again she rescued me:

'Father!' she rebuked him before I could more than pierce him with my eyes. 'I have seen what will be. For me the future is, father, and I have read no harm in it. Not at the hands of the Ferenczy.'

He had seen my look, however, and knew how far he strained my hospitality. 'Forgive me, lord,' he said, lowering his head. 'Instead of speaking as a man sorely in your debt, I spoke only as a father. My daughter is only seventeen and we are fallen among strangers. The Zirras have lost enough this day. Ah! Ah! I meant nothing by that! But do you see? I trip over my own tongue even now! It is the grief. My mind is stricken. I meant nothing. It is the grief!' And sobbing he collapsed.

I stooped a little and put my hand on his head. 'Be at your ease. He who harms you or yours in the house of the Ferenczy answers to me.' And then I led her to my quarters...

Once there, alone, where none dared disturb, I lifted off her coat of furs until she stood in a peasant dress. Now she looked even more like the princess I knew, but not enough. My eyes burned on her, burned for the sight of her. And she knew it.

'How can this be?' she said, full of wonder. 'I truly know you! Never were my dreams more potent!'

'You are right,' I said. 'We are not... strangers. We have shared the same dreams.'

'You have great scars,' she said, 'here on your arm, and here in your side.' And even I, the Ferenczy, trembled where she touched me.

'And you,' I told her, 'have a tiny red mole, like a single tear of blood, in the centre of your back...'

Beside my fire, which roared into a great chimney, there stood a stone trough for bathing. Over the fire, a mighty cauldron of water added steam to the smoke. She went to the tripod and turned the gear, pouring water into the trough. She knew how to do it from her dreams. 'I am unclean from the journey,' she explained, 'and rough from the snows.'

She stripped and I bathed her, and then she bathed me. 'And how is this for a private reading?' I chuckled. But as I opened her and went to slip inside:

'Ah!' she gasped. 'But our mutual dreams took no account of my inexperience. My father told the truth, lord. The future is closing fast, be sure, but I am still a virgin!'

Ah!' I answered her, moan for moan, the while gentling my way inside. 'But weren't we all, once upon a time?'

How my vampire raged within me then, but I held him back and loved her only as a man. Else the first time were surely her last...

Now let me make it plain. What had happened was this:

As much out of idle curiosity as for any other reason, in my oneiromantic dreams I had sought Marilena out, become enamoured of her and seduced her. Or we had seduced each other.

But (you will ask), how could she, a child, inexperienced, seduce me? And I will answer: because dreams are safe! Whatever happens in one's dreams, nothing is changed upon awakening. She could indulge all her sexual fantasies without reaping the reward of such indulgence. And (you will also ask), how could I, Faethor Ferenczy, even asleep and dreaming, be anything less than Wamphyri? Ah, but I was a dreamer long before I became a vampire! Indeed, I was once a mere man! The things which had troubled me in my youth still occasionally troubled me in my sleep: the old fears, the old emotions and passions.

I am sure my meaning is not lost: all of us know that long after an experience has waned to insignificance in the waking world, we may still review it afresh in our dreams, with as much apprehension - or excitement - as we did when it was new. In my dreams, for example, I was still wont to remember the time of my own conversion, when I had received my father's egg and so been made a vampire. Aye, and such dreams as those still horrified me! But in the cold light of day that horror was quickly forgotten, lost in the grey mist of time where it belonged, and I was no stripling lad but the Ferenczy again.

The meeting of Marilena's dreams with mine had been more than mere chance, however: I had sought her out, and found her. And once insinuated into her dreams, I had dreamed (as any man might) of knowing her carnally. And again I say, these were not simple dreams! I had Wamphyri powers and she was a prognosticator. These were talents akin to telepathy. We had in fact shared each other's dreams, and through them known each other's bodies.

All of our fumbling and fondling, and later our more energetic, far more diverse lovemaking, had been done in another world - of the mind - where there had been no obligation to spare anything; so that when we came together at last it was very much as lovers of long standing. Except that in reality Marilena was innocent and her flesh untried by any man... for a while, anyway. Now, I understood these things but she did not. She thought that her talent alone had shown her the future, her future, without outside interference. She did not know that I had guided her in those dreams with a vampire's magnetism and beguilement and ... oh, with all those arts so long instinct in me. She thought we were natural lovers! Who can say, perhaps we would have been anyway. But I was not so foolish as to tell her and take a chance on her disillusionment.

Now, it might also cross your mind to wonder how she, a gorgeous young girl, round and firm as an apple, fresh-minded and -bodied, could find any sort of waking satisfaction in a scarred and ancient undead thing like me, savage and cruel and filled with horror? I would be surprised if it did not! But then you would doubtless recollect what you know of a vampire's powers of hypnotism, and perhaps believe that you had fathomed the mystery. You would say: 'She was his plaything, not of her own free will.' Well, I'll make no bones of it, before Marilena this had always been the way of it. But it was not the way of it with her.

To begin with, I was not so grotesque as you might imagine. Wamphyri, my many hundreds of years didn't show, except perhaps occasionally in my eyes, or when I wanted it to show. Indeed with a small effort I could appear as old or as young as it pleased me to appear, which in Marilena's case was always young, no more than forty. Even without my vampire I would be tall and strong, and I had all those centuries of charm, wit and wisdom - and folly - in me, to draw on at will. Scarred? Oh, I was, and badly! But I had retained these gouges out of vanity (it pleased me to wear the dents of old battles) and to remind me of the one who had put most of them there. I could have let the vampire in me repair such disfigurements entirely, but so long as Thibor lived I would not do so. No, I wore those scars like spurs against my own flanks, to goad me if ever I should find my hatred flagging.

But if you doubt that I was so handsome, only think on how Ladislau Giresci described me the night he took my head. Ah, and you see? Ancient as I was, still I was quite the man, eh? There, you must excuse me; it is my vanity; the Wamphyri were ever vain.

Also, I beg your indulgence that I have dwelled so long upon Marilena but ... it pleased me so to do. For who else is there with whom I might share such memories? None but a Necroscope can ever know them...'

You know, of course, that I am Janos's father; by now you have probably guessed it, too, that Marilena was his mother. He was my bloodson, born of the love and the lust between a man and a woman, of blood in its fiery fusion, and in the passing of a single germ of life from the one to the other, to pierce her egg and bring life to the chick within. My bloodson, aye, my 'natural' son, with nothing of the vampire in him. That was the way it was to have been. I did not know if it could be done but would try it anyway: to bring life into the world independent of Wamphyri influence. I would do it for Marilena, so that she could be a natural mother.

And if I should fail and the child grow to be a vampire?

Well, anyway, he would still be my son. And I would teach him the ways of the Wamphyri, so that when I went out into the world he would stay behind and keep my castle and my mountains safe from all enemies.

Oh?... Oh?... Hah! You will remember that in an earlier time I held just such high expectations of that ingrate Wallach Thibor! Ah well; it is the nature of all great men, I suppose, to try and try again, and never count the cost in their striving for perfection. Except, and as I have stated, I was never the one to suffer failure lightly.

Janos, when he was born, seemed natural. He was born out of wedlock, which dismayed Grigor his grandfather somewhat but meant nothing at all to me. His hands were three-fingered, as were Grigor's and Marilena's before him; but this was a mere freakishness, a trait passed down to him, with nothing sinister in it.

As he grew, however, it became clear that I had failed. My sperm, which I had tried by force of will to keep free of crimson influences, had been tainted, however lightly. It had been a foolish experiment at best: can an eagle beget a sparrow, or the grey wolf a squealing pink piglet? How much harder then for a vampire, whose very touch is a taint, to beget an innocent child? No, Janos was not a true vampire, but he had the bad blood of a vampire. Aye, and all my vices twofold; but with little of my flexibility and nothing of my caution. Still, I'd been headstrong myself when I was young; I was his father and it fell to me to show him the way of things. I did show him, and if and when a heavy hand was required to stop him dead in his tracks or simply steer him aright, I was not slow to apply that, too.

But... still he grew up wrong-headed, prideful, obstinate, and cruel beyond his needs. His one good point, in which he kept faithfully to my teachings, was the way he held sway over the Gypsies. Not only the Szgany Zirra, his mother's people, who were on the increase again, but also my own Szgany Ferengi. I thought that they loved him even better than they loved me, all of them! And perhaps it soured me and I was a little jealous of him because of it. And it could be that I was harder on him, too, for the same reason.

Anyway, I will say one more thing in his favour and then no more: he loved his mother. A point to stand any child in good stead while he is still a child, aye... but not necessarily when he becomes a man. For there's love and there's love. You will understand my meaning...

Meanwhile, other troubles had brewed up, boiled over and were still scalding in the world. All of ten years ago, Saladin had crushed the Prankish Crusader kingdoms; the sinister mercenary Thibor was now fighting on the far borders of Wallachia, a Voevod for the gold of puppet princelings; in Turkeyland beyond the Greek Sea, the Mongols were rising up like a forest fire with the wind at its back; wars raged close to the Hungarian borders; and another 'Innocent', the third, had recently been elected Pope. Aieee! The storm lightnings flashed red from the many clouds boiling up over all the world's horizons!

... And where, pray, was Faethor Ferenczy in the great scheme of things? In his dotage, some must have thought, tending his castle in the mountains. Teaching manners to his bastard son, while his once-true Szgany guards drank too much and slept late abed, and chuckled behind his back.

More time passed, unremarkably enough for me. But then one morning I woke up, shook my head and looked all about. I felt dazed, mazed, astonished! Twenty years in all gone by, almost in a flash, without my noticing. But now I realized it well enough. It had been a sort of lethargy, a malaise, some weird spell I'd been under: a thing which commoner men call 'love'. Aye, and it had reduced me accordingly. For where was my mystery now? What? I was no more than a miserable Boyar: obscure baron over a wasteland no one else wanted, master of a piddling stone house in the crags!

I went to Marilena and she read my future for me. I was to embark upon a great and bloody crusade, she said, and she would not stand in my way. I could make neither head nor tail of it. Not stand in my way? Why, she couldn't bear to be apart from me! What crusade was she speaking of? But she only shook her head. She'd seen no more but that I would fight in some terrible holy war; and after that ... all her augury, palmistry and astrology had seemingly forsaken her. Ah! How could I know that she'd read her own future, too - only to discover she did not have one?!

But ... a great and bloody crusade, she'd said. I thought about it and decided she could well be right. News travelled slowly in those days, and sometimes reached me not at all. I began to feel penned in, with all my old frustrations returning upon me with a vengeance.

Enough of that! It was time I was up and about!

Well, Janos was almost twenty; he was a man now; I charged him with the keeping of my house and went down incognito into Szeged to see what I would see and make whichever plans were appropriate. It was a timely move.

The city was abustle with news: Zara, so recently taken by Hungary, would soon be under siege from Prankish Crusaders! A great fleet of Franks and Venetians was under sail even now, and riders had been sent out at the king's command to all the Boyars around (myself included, I supposed) with orders that they gather their men to them and take up arms. Marilena had read my future aright.

There were men of mine in the countryside around. Szgany, I found them easily enough during my return to the mountainous borders. 'Meet me,' I told them, 'when I come down again from my castle. I gather a small army of the very best. We go to Zara, aye, and far beyond Zara! You who have been poor shall be rich. Fight under my banner and I'll make all of you Boyars to a man! Or fail me and I'm done with you, and in one hundred years I shall still be here and mighty, and you shall be dust and your names forgotten.'

And so I returned home. But travelling in the manner of the Wamphyri - at least by night - I had made good time, and I had lingered not at all in Szeged. Being apart these few days from Marilena, all of my instincts had sharpened, and my wits were made keen in anticipation of the 'holy' blood-feast which was my future. In the mountains my Szgany retainers had grown fat and lazy, but I knew ways to wake them up again. They would not be expecting me back so soon, but they would know when they saw me that I was the Ferenczy as of old.

In that last night, soaring home on wings of thick membrane, I reached out in the dark with my vampire's mind and called to all the young bloods of the Szgany Ferengi wherever they were scattered, and told them to meet me in the approaches to Zara. And I knew that they heard me in their dreams, and that they would be there.

And having shaken off twenty years of sloth, so I floated on an updraught between the moon and the mountains, setting all the wolves to howling in the silvered peaks, before finally gentling to the battlements of my house where I shrank back into a man. Then ... I sought out my woman and my son. Aye, and I found them -together!

But there, I have gone too fast; let me pause and retrace my steps a while.

I have said that nothing of the Wamphyri was in Janos. Well, so I thought. But oh, how I was wrong. It was in him. Not in his body but in his mind! He had the mind of a true vampire, inherited from me. And he had inherited something of his parents' powers, too. Something of them? He was a power!

Telepathy? How often through the years had I tried to read his mind, and failed? Still, nothing very remarkable in that: there are men, a handful, who are naturally resistant. Their minds are closed, guarded from talents such as mine. And fascination, or hypnotism? On occasion, when he was obstinate, I had tried to hypnotize him to my will. Wasted efforts all, for my eyes could not see into his, couldn't penetrate behind them. So that in the end I no longer tried.

But in fact the reason for my failure in these endeavours was not that Janos was unresponsive, but that his strength was such as to defy all such would-be intrusions and close him off from me. I had likened it to a tug-o'-war, where my opponent's rope was wedged in a tree root, immovable. But no, it was not so complicated as that; he was simply stronger. What's more, he had also inherited his mother's skill at foretokening. He could see the future, or something of it, anyway. Except that in this last our talents were more evenly balanced, else I should never have caught him. For the futures he saw were faint and far-distant, like the memories of some history which time has made obscure.

But now let me return to that night.

I have said my instincts were sharper than at any time in the previous twenty years. They were, and as I passed through the castle so I sensed that things were not as they should be. I formed a bat's convoluted snout to sniff the air of the place; no enemy was here and there seemed nothing of physical danger to me, but something was strange. I went with more caution, moved silent as a shadow, and willed it that I should be unseen, unheard. But no need for that; Janos was too... engrossed - the dog! - and his mother too mazed to even know what he was about, except when he made some command of her.

Again I go ahead of myself.

I did not know that it was him, not at first. Indeed I thought the man must be Szgany, and was astonished! What, a Gypsy? One of my own, and in my woman's bedroom at dead of night? A fearless man indeed; I must make known to him how much I admired his bravery, while choking him with his own entrails!

These were my thoughts when, as I came to Marilena's rooms, my Wamphyri senses told me that she was not alone. Following which it took my every effort to stop the teeth in my jaws from forming scythes and shearing my gums to pulp. Indeed I felt the nails of my fingers involuntarily elongating into chitin knives, and this too was a reaction I could scarce control.

The room had an exterior door, a small antechamber and a second door to the bedroom proper. Gently, soundlessly, I tried the outer door and found it barred. Never since she came to me had this door been barred. My worst suspicions were now fully aroused, also my hot blood. Oh, I could break the door down, certainly, except ... to come upon them that way would be to alert them too soon. And I wanted to see with my own eyes. No amount of screeched or gasped or blood-tinged, frothed denial may eradicate a scene seared upon the very skin of one's eyeballs.

I went out onto a balcony, formed my hands and forearms into webbed discs like the suckers of some grotesque octopus, and made my way to Marilena's window. The window was large, arched, and cut through a wall six feet thick. Inside, across the opening in the inner wall, curtains had been drawn. I climbed in and inched to the curtains, which I drew fractionally apart to form a crack. Inside the room, a floating wick in a bowl of oil gave light enough to see. Not that I had need of it, for I saw in the dark as surely as other men see in full daylight, and even better.

And what I saw was this:

Marilena, naked as a whore, flat on her back across a wooden table; her legs were wrapped around a man who stood upright, straining between her thighs until his buttocks were clenched like fists, driving into her as if he were hammering home a wedge. And indeed he was, a fat wedge of flesh, and in a moment more I would drive that same wedge down his throat!

But then, through the pounding of my blood and the mad thundering of my brain, and through all the roaring of my outraged emotions, I heard her voice gasping: 'Ah, Faethor - more, more! Fill me, my vampire love, as only you can!'

But... let me pause... the memory enrages me even now, when all I am is a voice from beyond the grave... let me pause a moment and make explanation.

It strikes me I've made little mention of myself during the twenty years of Marilena and her bastard son. I shall do so now, but quickly.

The fact that I had taken a woman for my own had not made me any less the vampire. I had had women before, be sure. It is the vampire's nature to have women, just as it is the nature of the female of the species to have men. But I had never before been so fond of any one creature. (Enough of the word 'love'; I have used it too often, and anyway do not believe in it. It is just such a lie as 'honesty' or 'truth' in its definition of rules which all men break from time to time.)

So, for all that I had not deliberately enthralled or vampirized Marilena, I was nonetheless Wamphyri in all my thoughts, moods and activities. But having determined not to partake of her blood, and likewise that as little of my flesh as possible should be allowed to enter her (carnal intercourse excepted, of course), it had fallen upon me to find my sustenance elsewhere. I did not have to drink blood; so long as I could control the craving, commoner fare would suffice. But blood is as much true life to the vampire as opium is sure death to the addict, and they are both hard habits to break. In the case of the Wamphyri, the creature within ensures that the habit will not be broken.

I could go for long periods, then, without taking myself apart from Marilena. But occasionally the craving would overpower me, and then in the night I would rise up, change my shape and glide from my castle's walls to find my pleasure. My lady, of course, was no dimwit; she had long since divined the true nature of her lover; it was in any case common knowledge among the Gypsies that the Szgany Ferengi served a vampire master. And she was jealous of them with whom I visited from time to time.

Waking up as I left our bed, she would cry: 'Faethor! Are you deserting me in the night? Do you fly to some lover? Why do you treat me so badly? Is my body not enough for you? Take it and use it as you will, but do not leave me here alone and weeping!'

And I would say: 'I seek me a man for his blood! What? And do you say I'm unfaithful? All through the seasons, night upon night I lie with you abed, and you have what you will of me. And have I ever flagged in my duties? But the blood is the life, Marilena ... or would you have me shrivel to a mummy in my sheets, so that when you wake with the morning and reach out for me, I crumble into dust beneath your touch?'

And then she would shriek: 'You ... go ... with... women! What? You seek a man for his blood? No, you seek a woman for her round backside, pointy breasts and hot, steaming core! And am I a simpleton? Shrivel to a mummy, indeed! Why, you've the strength of ten men -and their stamina! Are you so full of a man's seed, Faethor, that you must spill it or burst? Then give it to me. Come, let me suck it out of you, and all your flightiness evaporate.'

How does one deal with it? One may not argue with a woman in such a mood. I had only ever struck her the once, and then was so filled with remorse that I could never strike her again. I was so ... fond of her!

And so, when she would catch me that way, then I would make love to her - to prove to her that no other had attracted me. Aye, and she'd keep me at it all through the night, just to be sure I'd stay abed. Which only served to increase my fondness.

But there were times when I must be up and about, and then I would employ a certain draught which, taken with wine, would serve to keep her still. Or I might stroke her and hypnotize her into a deep sleep, so that I could be off into the night.

And of course Marilena was right; I lied to her; I had only rarely sought out men for their life-force. Oh, blood is blood, be it the blood of bird or beast, or even the nectar of another vampire, when one such may be had. But other than that sweet rarity, man-blood is superior. Or rather, the blood of women.

Once Thibor had said to me: 'You can do more to a girl than just eat her.' Ah, and the Wallach was right! But ... it was not so much that I myself would be unfaithful to Marilena, rather that the vampire within me demanded it. Or so I beg to excuse myself.

I did not go to Szgany women. Even before Marilena I had only ever gone to them for... comfort, never because I was hungry. No, for they were my own and I would not break their trust. But I did have a liking for the ladies of certain foppish Boyars. There were a good many castles and rich houses in those days, and often as not the 'men' of such estates would be away on king's business; there were wars in the world, as I have said.

I remember one such lady of mine was a personage with royal connections, a Bathory called Elspa. Aye, and my evil was made manifest in the Bathorys down all the centuries. There was one born in 1560 called Elisabeth, who was married as a child to the Count Nadasdy. As coincidence would have it, his first name was Ferencz!

Oh? Ha-ha! I know what you are thinking! Well, and why not? Incest is also the way of the vampire: incest of the body, and of the spirit, and of the blood. But if you are right... what a delight, eh? To be wedded to my own ten-times-great-granddaughter!

Ah, the Bathorys. And Elisabeth, the 'blood countess' herself. At least she is a legend, even if I myself am nothing.

And so I am brought back to Janos, by incest. And by the vile incest with which he first betrayed me. Where was I... ? Ah, yes:

There he was, in her to the hilt, moaning like a bull and dripping sweat and semen; and the bedroom all a shambles, with clothing and bedclothes tossed here and there, and other signs that their fornication had not been confined to a tabletop; and her soft breasts red from his furious fondling while her thighs squeezed him further in. This was what I saw from behind those curtains. But more than what I saw, what I heard: my Marilena calling her own son by my name, Faethor!

In that moment I might have torn down the curtains, started forward and struck them both dead; oh I wanted to, be sure! But... why had she called him Faethor? Then, as he lifted her up from the table and staggered to and fro with her clinging to him still, and jerking herself up and down upon his pole, I saw her face: how vacant it was despite the apparently animal lust. Her eyes, round as saucers, set in the paleness of flesh which should at least be flushed from her efforts.

And I knew at once that she was mazed, hypnotized, deeply!

Then, for the first time, I knew how treacherous he was, and how utterly he had fooled me. I understood why my Wamphyri powers had not worked on him: because he had powers of his own, which all this time he'd kept hidden from me. I understood too Marilena's reluctance to let me go on those nights when I must fuel myself, things she had said to me, which made no sense at the time. How she dreamed bad things when I was apart from her, and could never remember what they were; and how she bruised herself alone in her bed, and woke up aching and worn out as from strenuous work.

Aye, strenuous, all right - for he had worked and used her on those occasions, the while causing her to believe that I was her lusty lover! He imitated me to perpetrate his mother's rape! And the thought that drove me most mad: how often had he done it?

Bursting into the room, I took the curtains with me in a tangle upon my shoulders. Crossed swords were fixed upon a wall; I tore them down and sprang upon Janos with one of them raised high. I went to split him down the middle, but he saw me and turned his mother into the blow. Her skull was split in two, with the brains leaking out even as she slumped in his embrace!

My fury evaporated in a moment, and as Janos grimaced and tossed my Marilena from him, I caught her up and cradled her in my arms. He ran gibbering from the room, leaving me alone with her grotesque corpse...

How long I sat there and rocked her who was no more I cannot say. Many mad schemes crossed my mind. I would put something of my vampire into her - enough to grow strong in her and heal her wound. She was dead now but need not stay dead... she could be undead! Except that then she would be changed, my Marilena no more but a wispy thrall to come ghosting whenever I called - a vampire. No, I could not bear the thought of her like that, when she would have no will but my will. Or I could open her up and perform an act of necromancy, and learn all about my bastard son's infamy. For even though she had been mazed to forget his handling of her, her spirit would know of it, her flesh would remember. But I could not, for I knew that even the dead feel the agony of the necromancer's touch, and I would cause her no more pain. Ah, if only I had been a Necroscope, eh? But at that time even the concept was unknown to me.

And so I sat there long and long, until her blood and brains had dried upon me and she was grown stiff in my arms; and as my despair waned a little so I commenced to think again, and likewise my fury to wax. I would kill Janos, of course, inch by agonizing inch. But before I could kill him I must first find him.

I composed myself, called in unto me Grigor Zirra and others of my Szgany chiefs. Some of them slept in the lower quarters of my castle, where in softer times I had let them take up an almost permanent residence. An end of that, however, for harder times were coming - starting now!

I showed Marilena's corpse to Grigor and said, 'Your grandson did this, whose Zirra blood was impure. Henceforward the Szgany Zirra are accursed! You are no longer welcome in the house of Ferenczy. Take yourself and all of them who are yours and get you gone from here. And from this time forward, never let me find you in all the lands around.'

When he had gone I turned to that chief of mine who upon a time had been forward with me, familiar and loose-tongued. And: 'How could things have come so far?' I demanded of him. 'In my absence, did you not keep guard over what was mine?'

'But, my lord,' he answered, 'it was your son you ordered to keep watch over your house and estates.' And he shrugged, indifferently I thought. 'I have not known your confidence, or favours, for many a year.'

'Are you not Szgany?' I grunted, as Wamphyri teeth sprouted in my skull and my talons grew into knives. 'And am I not the Ferenczy? Since when must I make request of that which is my birthright, or make command of that which was ever your duty?' In my manner of speaking I was very quiet; all of them in the room with me backed off a little, except the one I questioned, whom I had taken hold of by the shoulder.

Then ... he pulled out a knife, and made as if to stab me! But I only smiled at him in my grim fashion and held him with my eyes. And trembling, he let the knife fall, saying, 'I ... I have betrayed your trust! Banish me also, lord, and let me go with the Zirras.'

I showed him my teeth in torn and bleeding gums, and yawned to let him see the gape of my jaws. He knew that I could close those jaws on his face and tear it off! But I merely drew him towards the high window. 'Banish you?' I repeated him. 'And is there a place of your liking?'

'Anywhere!' he gasped. 'Anywhere at all, lord, out there.'

'Out there?' I said, glancing out the window. 'So be it!' And before he could speak again I gathered him up and hurled him out and down. He screamed once before his bones were broken on the rocks, and then no more.

By then the lesser chiefs might have flown but I cautioned them against it. 'Only flee and I shall seek you out one by one, and eat your hearts.' And when they were still: 'Go now, and find my son. Find him and take me to him, where I may deal with him. And after that gather to me, for I would speak with you of important things. We shall make a great crusade, you and I together. Faethor Ferenczy will rise up and be a power in the world again, and all of you shall earn your fortunes. Aye, but it will be man's work and you shall earn them... !'


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