Okay — I have a book coming out any day. Sword And Blood by Sarah Marques (what advantage one has when one born in a family with many, many surnames.)
I’m posting the beginning below, unedited, of course. It’s not exactly G — perhaps PG? — and it is vampires. If you don’t object to those two, read on:
In another world, history changes
But heros remain heros
His Duty Formed Him; Like God the World
Paris, Wednesday, April 9th, 1625
His captors dragged and pulled him past the ruined marble archway, the ropes on his wrists too tight, the ropes on his ankles loosened only enough to allow him the small steps which he had to take to avoid falling. They’d stolen his sword. His blond hair was matted with blood. He didn’t know whose or even if it was his.
Three of them held him on either side, their supernatural strength making it impossible for him to escape.
He still struggled. His fevered mind knew only that he must escape the hands like vise grips on his arms. He must defeat the bone-bruising grasp of fingers on his waist.
Pulled into the shadows of the defiled church – its cross broken, as most crosses in Paris were, its holy statues scribbled with obscenities, painted with leers and fangs — he twisted, suddenly. He was so inflexibly held that the effort cost him a wrenching pain on his side. But none of it mattered, as he managed to sink his teeth into one of the hands holding his arm.
He tasted the metallic tang of blood and expected a scream of outrage. Instead, the one he was biting – a coarse haired man who must, in life, have been a peasant – pulled his hand free and grinned wide, displaying long fangs that sparkled in the light of the guttering candles surrounding the blood-stained altar.
“Oh, you’ll do so well,” he said, speaking as though Athos were a puppy or a kitten. Then, looking up, he said, in quite a different voice, “We’ve brought him, milady.”
Athos turned. And his mind stopped.
She stood by the altar, as she had stood by quite a different altar, fifteen years ago, when she’d given him her hand in marriage. There were still no words to describe her. You could say she was tall and beautiful and slim and blond – but that much omitted everything she truly was. The first time he’d seen her, in the humble cottage which the priest of Athos’ parish was given as a prerogative of his office, he’d thought her an angel descended from heaven.
Whatever had happened to her in between then and now had not changed her countenance, nor her figure. She retained the perfect oval face, with the too-large violet blue eyes. And her hair was still that shade of blond on the edge of silver, and still straight and glimmering, falling in a cascade down to her waist.
She still wore simple clothing though much more expensive than it had been when he met her – a white dress or overdress made of velvet, with a collar outlined all in ermine shining like ice around her neck. A silver belt delineated a waist that could still fit in his two hands.
She descended from the altar platform, down the marble steps, between the candles, her steps graceful and so lovely that Athos – unable to breathe — could only think that he was seeing her ghost – that she had come down from heaven to redeem him. To forgive his horrible crime against her.
The last time he’d seen her, he’d left her hanging by the neck, from the branch of a young tree. He looked anxiously at her neck, for signs of the ordeal, but in the light of the candles it looked white and perfect, and he wondered if this was a dream. Or if the other had been. An evil nightmare, conjured by a demon. Perhaps this whole world they lived in was a nightmare. Perhaps none of it was true. Perhaps no vampires occupied half the world and more. Perhaps France wasn’t at war in all but name. Perhaps he and this exquisite beauty were still married and their lives whole back in Athos’ domain of la Fere.
He felt his suddenly dry lips move, and heard himself rasp out, “Charlotte!”
She spoke in the voice he remembered, the musical tones that fell on the ears like the caress of soft fingers upon the skin. “Did you miss me, Raphael?”
Looking like she was dancing in air, she drew close, until she was standing just by him, her scent enveloping him. So close that were he not still held immobile, he could have reached down. He could have kissed her. “Yes,” he told her, struggling to move closer to her. “Oh, yes.”
And then the fact that she was here and that he had been brought to her by Richelieu’s guards penetrated his mind, and he felt his eyebrows knit. “Did they…” He was about to ask if they’d captured her, too, then he remembered one of those holding him had talked as if she’d ordered it. They had called her milady. They held her in respect. He looked at her, in horror. “Charlotte!”
She grinned, displaying the sharp fangs he had never seen. They glimmered brightly, on either side of her mouth. “What else, Raphael?” she said. “How else do you think I could have survived that noose?” She stared up at him, her eyes glimmering. Then looking away, she told the men holding him, “Strip him.”
Athos twisted, pivoted, trying to avoid it, but a hand reached out and ripped his doublet, then his shirt, and finally his breeches and underwear, leaving him shivering in the spring night, in his stockings and boots. Those too were torn from him as she said “The altar.”
Two of the vampires lifted him and took him to the altar. They tied him down, arms and legs twisted and bent to the columnaded supports.
He and his friends had found corpses, tied like this and dead. Blood masses they called these rituals, though Aramis had said no mass was celebrated, nothing. Just… a group of vampires, all feeding on the human victim, till he was dead. A communion, perhaps, but not holy.
The cold, hard altar leeched the heat from his skin, thought from his mind. He was immobilized, hand and foot. They wound a rough rope around his middle, biting into his flesh. This was his last hour. He would die here, with marble beneath him, and bound so he could not move. He would die here, and his friends would find him, dead and pale and defiled.
He licked his lips and managed to summon voice to his dry mouth, “Listen, Charlotte, I don’t… I don’t blame you for wanting your revenge.”
She checked the knots at his hands, her light fingers just touching his skin as she adjusted the rope. “Oh, good,” she said. “I would hate to think you withheld your forgiveness from me.”
One of the watching male vampires laughed, but stopped abruptly as Charlotte glanced down at him.
Athos shook his head. Before he died, he must explain to her. He must make her understand. “It isn’t that,” he said. “I just… I realized afterwards I judged you too quickly. Just because you … just because you were branded with the fleur de lis, it didn’t mean you were a Judasgoat or that you served the vampires. I should never… I should have asked you first. Before… executing you. Trying to execute you.”
She smiled at him and didn’t say anything. Her fingers moved idly from his wrists, as if their own accord tracing the contour of muscles on his arm, sculpted and defined by his sword play day after day for fifteen years. “I think you’ve grown more muscular Raphael,” she said smiling a little. “You were not filled in enough when we married.” Her fingers, at his chest now, moved slowly down, cool and velvety soft, tracing his flat belly.
“And I see I can still make you react,” she said, as her hand traced the edges of his burning erection.
He shivered. She was a vampire. Other vampires watched them. And yet all he could do was to bite his lips together to keep from begging her to touch him, to forget it all, to be his wife again.
But no matter how much his heart still loved her – through horror and fear and remorse – and no mater how much his body still craved her, the Comte de la Fere could not beg.
And yet his bound body lifted fractionally off the marble, attempting to arch upward, towards her touch.
She looked up at his face, and smiled, slowly, knowingly, as though she guessed his thoughts precisely. Then she pulled her hand away and leaned in, so close to his face that he could smell the familiar rose scent she wore. “You are right, you know?” she said, confidentially. “I wasn’t a Judasgoat.”
“No?” he said, relieved and crushed at once, because that meant he had tried to hang an innocent woman, a woman he’d adored with his whole heart, a woman who had survived only to become this. If only he hadn’t been so quick to judge. If he hadn’t been so proud. If he–
“No,” she said, and smiled wide, her soft, sensuous lips glistening, moist and inviting. “I was already a vampire.”
And with that she withdrew and struck, her fangs biting deep into his neck and propelling a scream out of him. Pain burned into his muscles and propagated like fire along his nerves, descending, tortuously, down his spine, and he screamed till he could scream no more, till – tired, wrung out – he lay, in a puddle of his own sweat, and looked up at Charlotte’s eyes which danced with amusement.
He tried to speak, but he could find no strength to, and then the feeling changed and instead of pain, bliss radiated from her mouth on his neck, sucking his life away. A tingle of pleasure like nothing he’d ever felt – an over-all caress, skin-enveloping, nerve shattering – took in all of him and soothed him. Transported on its wings, he felt his body react again, excitement gathering, coursing along his veins, pounding, demanding release.
And then she bit deeper and his mind fogged and he plunged into the darkness of death.
Ruins and Fallen Angels
His grief had carried D’Artagnan to Paris, like a tidal wave, swelling from shock to anger.
As it receded, it left him sitting on an ornate chair, in the private office of Monsieur de Treville, Captain of the Musketeers.
“I don’t know what you heard, in the provinces,” the Captain said. He was a small man, a Gascon, like D’Artagnan. Even though silver threads mingled with his straight, dark hair, he didn’t look old. No wrinkles marred his mobile olive-skinned face. And he stood, instead of sitting in the great armchair facing D’Artagnan’s.
As he spoke, he walked behind the chair and his long thin fingers clasped the frame tightly, dark against the white-painted wood and the threadbare blue-grey velvet of the cushions. “But France is not England. We are not at war with the vampires. Our king and the Cardinal have achieved a truce between them. His Eminence might have been turned, but he still wants what’s best for France. Neither the king, nor the Cardinal – nor I, myself – want to experience here the slaughter and mayhem that engulfs the other side of the canal.”
All energy drained from D’Artagnan’s body, leaving his arms listless and his legs feeling as though they lacked the strength to support his body. He’d run to Paris to fight the vampires. To stand for king and queen. To support the forces of the light. To avenge his parents, unwillingly turned and dead by their own choice before they ever fed as vampires.
“My father said,” he heard his own voice echo back to him, aged and flat-sounding. “That I should come and offer my sword to you. That whoever else had surrendered to the vampires, you never would. That you knew evil when you saw it.”
“Your father.” For just a moment, there was a flash of something in Monsieur de Treville’s eyes. What it was, D’Artagnan couldn’t tell. It was just a glimmer, appearing and then vanishing. In a changed voice, the captain said, “Your father and I fought side by side twenty five years ago, when the first vampires came into France from Spain.” He sighed deeply. “Other times, my boy, other times. Now there’s a treaty in place, and daylighters are not to hunt vampires and vampires are not supposed to turn the unwilling. And those turned register promptly and become subjects of the Cardinal, subject to his laws. Only undeclared vampires, the ones in hiding, could be a danger, and we don’t have those.” He opened his hands. “Other times demand– ”
Behind D’Artagnan the door opened, slowly, and a voice said, “I’m sorry to interrupt you captain, but… You said you wanted to know when the inseparables came in?”
Turning, D’Artagnan saw a thin man, in threadbare livery that seemed too big for him. Just like the rest of Parisians he looked starved, ill-dressed and not so much nervous as jumpy. Ready to run at a sound. Like a hare at a convocation of wolves. D’Artagnan realized that no one living in Paris could take the truce or the treaty seriously. And Monsieur de Treville didn’t look stupid.
In fact he didn’t look stupid at all, as his fingers released their death grip on the back of the chair, and his eyes filled with an eager curiosity, tinged by hope and fear. His voice trembling with what appeared to be maniacal relief, he said, “All three? Athos, Porthos, Aramis?”
The servant shook his head, and looked away as he spoke, as if afraid of seeing the reaction to his words. “Porthos and Aramis, only, sire. Should I send them away?”
Monsieur de Treville’s expression tightened, the skin taut on the frame of his cranium – as though he’d aged a hundred years in that moment and only will power kept him alive. His tongue came out, nervously, to touch his lips. “The two?” Then his expression closed, his eyes becoming unreadable. He drew his lips into a single, straight line and he crossed his arms at his chest. “Send them in, Gervase.”
But the gentlemen had apparently been waiting just outside the door, because as Gervase opened it, they came in.
They were splendid. There was no other word for them. D’Artagnan, who had waited in the captain’s antechamber, had seen the rest of the musketeers as something very akin to immortal gods. He’d listened to them jest about how many vampires they had killed, and taunt each other with the latest court gossip. He’d heard them — fearless and unabashed – calling evil by its name and its name was vampire. Yet, admirable though they were, they admired others. They too had idols they looked up to.
All through their chatter, like a touch-stone, a prayer, he’d heard the names of the inseparables: Athos, Porthos, Aramis.
They were, according to their own comrades, the best and the bravest. It was said that in one night the three of them had killed a hundred vampires, single handed. It was whispered that if France still had a human king, if the throne of France still belonged to the living, it was to the credit of none but three noblemen who hid under the appellations of Porthos, Athos and Aramis.
D’Artagnan, a Gascon and therefore inclined by nature to discount half of what he heard as exaggeration and the other half as social talk, now felt his mouth drop open in wonder, and thought that, if anything, the rumors had been an understatement.
To begin with, though their clothes looked as worn, and their bodies as thin as those of others in Paris, the two inseparables were so muscular and broad shouldered, and stood with such pride that they lent their humble tunics and worn cloaks an air of distinction. They behaved with pride one would have thought departed from amid mortals since the vampires had arrived and taken control.
The smaller one of the two – just taller than D’Artagnan, had dark-golden hair and the flexible build of a dancer – or an expert sword fighter. His features were so exactingly drawn that they could have graced a not-ill-favored woman. However old his clothes might be, they looked well matched and better fitted, with no mended patches visible. The ringlets of his hair fell over his shoulders, disposed in the most graceful of ways, a longer love-lock caught up on the side of his head by a small but perfect diamond pin. Other than that pin, he wore no jewelry save for a plain, flat silver cross on a silver chain around his neck, and an antique-looking signet ring on his left hand.
The taller of the two stood at least a head taller than any man D’Artagnan had ever seen. His chestnut brown hair was shoulder long, his beard and moustaches luxuriant, and the bare patches on his tunic had been sewn with an expert hand and covered in what looked like gold thread embroidery. D’Artagnan only noticed they were rents and skillfully covered up, because there was no other explanation for the haphazard nature of the embroidery, which meandered over his well muscled torso with the abandon of a gypsy caravan. He wore a ring on the finger of each hand – most of them ornamented with stones too large to be anything but paste or glass – a thick gold chain, and a cross composed all of rubies and garnets – or their counterfeits – in dazzling splendor.
This would be Porthos, D’Artagnan surmised as he had heard the man was a giant. And indeed, he had arms like tree trunks, legs like logs, and the most terrified grey eyes that D’Artagnan had ever seen.
His gaze darted around the room, in skittish anxiety and, alighting on D’Artagnan, caused D’Artagnan to wish to make his excuses and leave. Except that the musketeers were blocking the path to the door. And Porthos’ gaze moved on, immediately, to stare in abject fear at his captain, whom he outweighed by at least half again as much.
Though looking at Monsieur de Treville, D’Artagnan could understand at least part of the fear. The captain’s face had hardened, and his gaze looked as though it would bore holes in the two of them, if it could. It turned to Porthos, then seemed to dismiss him, focusing instead on Aramis, who bowed correctly.
“Aramis,” Monsieur de Treville said. “Where is Athos?”
Aramis smiled, as if he’d expected this question all along. “He’s indisposed, sire. It’s nothing serious.”
“Nothing serious,” the Captain said. He turned his back on them and stared out of his window, through which one could just glimpse the broken cross atop the Cathedral. “Nothing serious,” he said again, his voice heavy, like the closing of a tomb. “The Cardinal bragged at his card game with the king, last night. He said that Athos had been turned. That Athos was now one of them. The rumor is all over Paris.”
“It is… not so serious,” Aramis said, but he hesitated before the word, and the look he gave Porthos betrayed fear.
“Not so serious,” the captain turned around. “So he is only half turned? You men and your careless ways. How many times have I told you not to wander the streets at night, after your guard shift? Never to go into dark alleys lightly? And if you must go into them, to guard yourselves carefully? Do you have any idea what can result of Athos as a vampire? Do you know your own friend well enough to know what a disaster this is?” His voice boomed and echoed, and doubtless every word he said was being eagerly drank by the ears of those in the antechamber.
The musketeers bit their lips, shifted their feet and looked down, and let their hands stray to their sword pommels. It was obvious that had anyone but their captain given them such a sermon, he would have paid for it dearly.
Porthos, who had been squirming like a child in need of the privy, blurted out, “It’s just… that… sire! He has the chicken pox!”
“The chicken pox?” The Captain asked, with withering sarcasm, even as Aramis gave his friend a baneful, reproachful glance and a minimal headshake. “The chicken pox, has Athos, who is over thirty years of age? Do you take me for a child, Porthos?” His voice made even D’Artagnan, over whom he had, as yet, no power, back away and attempt to disappear against a wall-hung tapestry which represented the coronation of Henri IV. “I’ve given the three of you too much freedom because I thought you’d at least defend each other. How can you have allowed Athos to be taken? From now on, I am making sure that none of my musketeers goes anywhere, except in a group. Not after dark. And if I hear of any of you starting a fight with a vamp–”
He stopped mid word, as steps were heard, rushing, outside, followed by a man’s voice, calling out, “I’m here.”
A blond man burst through the door. He was taller than Aramis, almost as tall as Porthos, though of a different build. He looked solid-boned, as if nature had designed him to be almost as massive as his larger friend, but as if flesh had never sufficiently covered the sudden growth of adolescence. Though D’Artagnan imagined this was Athos and that he was therefore over thirty, he looked like a young man who’s just finished growing and put on some muscle, but whose hands, feet and every place where the bone showed — from cheek to knees – seemed to have been grafted from a larger, more solid person.
Like most of the other musketeers, he was casual about wearing a uniform. Instead, he wore the fashion of at least ten years before – a black doublet with ballooning sleeves and laced tightly, in the Spanish fashion, and black knee breeches, beneath which a sliver of carefully mended stockings showed, disappearing into the top of his old but carefully polished riding books.
However, it was his face that attracted and arrested one’s gaze, as he threw back his head and the golden curtain of his hair with it and said. “I heard you were asking for me, Captain, and I came, as you see, in answer to your call.”
He looked like the angel at the entrance to a ruined Cathedral, beautiful, noble and hopeless. The mass of hair tumbled down his back might as well have been spun out of gold and his flesh resembled the marble out of which such a statue’s features might be chiseled: The noble brow, the heavy-lidded eyes, the high, straight nose, the pronounced cheekbones and square chin, and the lips — full and sensuous, as if hinting at forbidden earthly desires. All of it was too exquisite, too exact, the perfection that no human, born of woman is entitled to.
He also looked cold, unreachable and lost — and except for still standing on his feet and moving — as if he’d died waiting for a miracle that had never come.
Monsieur de Treville’s mouth had remained open. He now closed it, with an audible snap, and advanced on the musketeer, hands extended. “Athos! You should not have come. You look pale. Are you wounded?”
Athos shook his head. Then shrugged. “A scratch only, Captain,” he said. “And you’ll be proud to know we laid ten of them down forever. D’Alene among them.”
“D’Alene? The terror of Pont Neuf?” Monsieur de Treville asked, suddenly gratified.
Athos bowed slightly, and in bowing, flinched a little, and his eyes, which had looked black at first sight, caught the light from the window as he turned his head and revealed themselves for a deep, dark jade green.
The captain squeezed the musketeer’s hands hard, and Athos bit his lips, looking as if the touch pained him, but not a sound of complaint escaped him. “As you see,” he said. “We do what we can to defend the people of Paris.”
“Indeed. Indeed. I was just telling your friends how much I prize men like you, and how brave you are to risk your lives every night, in defense of the people, and how…”
Athos, who looked pale and wan as if he were indeed wounded, and, in fact, as if he only remained standing through sheer will power, didn’t seem able to withstand the barrage of words, or perhaps the additional pain of what must be the captain’s iron grip on his hands – so tight that Monsieur de Treville’s knuckles shone white. He made a sound like a sigh, and his legs gave out under him, as he sank to the floor, his body lifeless.
His friends managed to catch him and ease him onto the carpet.
In doing it, they blocked the path to the door and D’Artagnan could see no way of getting out of there, around them. Besides, he must make sure of something first. It seemed to him that, as Athos fell — awkwardly caught by Aramis around the chest and Porthos by the shoulders to ease what would otherwise have been a floor-shaking collapse — and as his hair moved out of the way, D’Artagnan glimpsed two deep, dark puncture marks on his neck.
Athos would not be the first one to be bitten by a vampire and live to tell the tale. There was a time, D’Artagnan’s father had told him, that this was the basic requirement to become a musketeer – to have felt the bite of the vampire, and his allure, and to have survived it. But the bite mark and his pallor seemed to indicate the vampire might have gone too far. Far enough, in fact, that the human thus bitten turned within twenty four hours, and would be prowling the streets for living blood by the next evening.
D’Artagnan moved closer. He was barely breathing, his breath caught in his throat, as he strived to see the musketeer’s neck. Surely, if he’d been turned, his friends wouldn’t hide it. They are musketeers. Surely–
The two musketeers knelt, one on either side of their comrade, while the captain stood nervously at his feet, and Aramis was purposely unlacing Athos’ doublet, which was sensible if he was indeed wounded and needed air. Aramis had also, in the movement, seemingly by accident, pulled Athos’ hair to hide what might be punctures on his neck. Perhaps it had indeed been accidental. But D’Artagnan found it hard to trust anyone.
“Sangre Dieu,” Porthos thundered, looking up and noticing that a crowd had come from the antechamber, to watch the excitement. “Back all of you. Can’t you see the man needs to breathe?”
At that moment Aramis lifted a reddened hand that he had just dipped beneath his friend’s doublet. “He’s all over blood,” he said. “He was badly cut in the fight last night.” As he spoke, he undid Athos’ doublet altogether, and showed the red-tinted, soaked shirt beneath. There was a sound of relief from bystanders. They released long-held breath like a sigh.
Clearly all of them had thought at the same time that if the musketeer could bleed still and in such quantity, when he couldn’t have fed as a vampire yet, the rumor of a turning would be just that. D’Artagnan was not so sure. Such things could be faked.
Aramis pulled back the gory shirt to reveal a cut on the pale, muscular chest beneath – a cut smeared in blood, some of it dried.
“My surgeon,” Monsieur de Treville said.
“Bad idea, sire,” Aramis said. “Athos wouldn’t even let us bandage him last night. You know how private he is and how proud. He wouldn’t like it if it was known he suffered such a wound.” He looked around, and up at the crowd, with worried eyes. “I hope no one speaks of this.”
The mass of musketeers backed a step, then two under that gaze and his steely voice.
Porthos stood, then bent, to pick up his unconscious friend. “I’ll take him to his lodgings, sire, and we and his servant will bandage him up. His servant has been with his family since Athos was a baby. Athos cannot resent him. Grimaud will look after him.”
“Yes,” Monsieur de Treville said, his gaze heavy on the bloodied shirt. “Yes. Do. Take care of Athos.”
“We will, sire,” Aramis said, bowing a little.
But D’Artagnan’s benumbed brain had managed to work out two things. First, the appearance of Athos’ chest and the blood on it was all wrong. If he had bled that much, most of the blood would have crusted around the wound. Instead, it was smeared around the pale skin in irregular streaks, looking like it had gone from the shirt to the wound, and not the other way around.
And second, Athos wore no cross. While there was no requirement that musketeers – or indeed anyone – wore a cross, almost everyone wore one. A cross or the chosen symbol of their faith. Something that not only stood between them and the vampires, but which showed to the world that they were, indeed, still free men.
Had a vampire managed to get into the ranks of the musketeers? And were his friends hiding him?
When the three inseparables left the room, D’Artagnan, himself, slipped out and followed them.
Sword and Blood by Sarah Marques can be pre-ordered on Amazon.
And I’ll be back tomorrow with probably the last post of the Writers Workshop on Hooking Your Reader