Dragon’s Empire — 3

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Countess and Dragon

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The countess was not too worried after the owner of the mysterious castle tactfully and kindly in the midst of the night pointed her a door. So it seemed to me when I looked into the castle’s window and saw her in a circle of fans. Elegant and beautiful, she flirted at once with everyone and did not even suspect that the Golden Shadow is watching her from the darkness of non-existence. And maybe she suspected. In any case, for one long moment her eyes rushed to the window. She did not see anything other than a snowfall behind the illuminated glass. Did she notice a golden, winged snake that had clung with all its slippery body to the stone wall?

The countess with a crash folded the fan and hit them on the knuckles of their fingers, so the skin turned red. She could not have to pinch herself to check if her sudden imagination was true. She miraculously managed to feel that there is a golden something firmly connected with the restless soul of her dark idol behind the window. If it were not for a noisy company, and not questions that flew on her from all sides, Francesca would undoubtedly rushed to the window to test their assumptions or again to let the spirit into the house. That is how she first called me — a light touch to the picture on canvas. Now she tried to establish a mental contact with me, but inexperienced in witchcraft, she did not know how to fasten the subtle binding threads of strangers.

«Did you cut yourself?» said excitedly someone from the guests, turning towards her.

Francesca really squeezed the fan too strong, the ostrich feathers were broken, and the revealed needles scratched her on the nameless finger. She did not even feel pain, but I breathe in air even at such a distance the aroma of her blood. So you inhale the smell of expensive wine before you enjoy a thin bouquet of taste. This feeling made me look again through the glass to determine whether it was on the finger of Francesca that amethyst ring, which Rothbert tried to intimidate me. It was not an amethyst. The most attractive magnet was in the fortress — the picture. I needed only this magnificent canvas, but since Francesca felt my presence this evening, I had to fly away.

The estate met me with the usual panorama of the majestic launch. The snow was spinning over the frontons, covered the balconies. Snow flakes melted, touching marble caryatid. The rooms of the palace, intense and cold, did not welcome the owner. Only in one fireplace in the ash, dry branches were preserved, as if someone recently was here. There was neither the time nor the desire to bypass with the ward all the premises from the attic to the basements to discover the tramp who could look for the shelter from the snowfall. Even if someone snuck through the window, it will soon be afraid of the arrival of legal owners and will run away.

Having visited the mill to the next morning, I even found there two shy peasants: a miller and his assistant, who swore, that they used to worked here and asked me as a new owner, allow them to take up former duties again. I decided to allow them to grind the grain of neighboring farmers, because it’s not to stand without a mill, but put forward one prerequisite. Having finished their day work, in the evening they should leave the mill to their home and not to return to the dawn itself. Of course, such a whim could seem strange, but such a contract guaranteed security to people. With the onset of darkness, my subjects could frighten them too much. Taking advantage of the fact that two men are in the evening alone on the lands of their sovereign the evil spirits could attack them, pushed, and pester until the unfortunate drown in the nearest mill pond.

The imperative tone, which was put forward by the condition, became a guarantee of its observance. I myself examined the mill. There was nothing unusual to the room, not a single hint that this place belongs to evil. Of course, two mercenaries could dissolve rumors about the oddities of their new owner, but I didn’t care. I wanted the mill to earn again to rotate the wheel of the wind in former times. Maybe then something unusual will happen here.

I secretly watched the Countess when she ordered to collect a road chest and prepare the carriage. It seemed to me that in the capital she would not only entail the desire to acquire new books, because she could send someone from servants. The first impression could not deceive me. Francesca was too nervous when she sat down in the carriage. The entire way Francesca could not calm down. I corrected the warm raincoat with a white fox. At the entrance to the lively wide road, she put on the face a dark half mask, as if she did not want that her friends could know her by chance met in the way.

On the streets of the capital I had to abide by the double caution and slide behind the crew as an invisible shadow. On too narrow stone streets, each passerby was well noticeable. Of course, the old king invited me to go to the palace at any suitable time, but after a frank conversation in a hunting house, I did not decrease to put a visit to him again.

The crew went along the stone bridge, drove on one of the main streets and stopped in front of the facade of a well-known home. It was there, on the second floor behind a draped window, I with Vincent recently played cards. Here I first felt the hand of the countess, touching the portrait.

Francesca slipped out of the crew. Francesca reached the door hammer, made in the form of an eagle head. The door almost immediately opened. On the threshold rose an servant.

«Conduct me to the baronet and prepare the card,» said Francesca with a clear pure voice. Under the lace, the veil descended from the half mask was impossible to consider even how her lips move, pronouncing words. The forehead, cheekbones and nose were completely closed, only her eyes sparkled from the slots. The servant objected.

«The one you are looking for, does not live here anymore. The house is recently sold.»

«Where can I find the former owner? Speak, do not be shy, I’m not an enemy.»

«Sorry, milady, but I don’t know anything.»

Francesca shuddered a little when the door slammed before her.

«Unpleasant, of course, my darling, but you are not the first who paid him forward,» shouted after Francesca, a man, who appeared for a long time under the windows of the same house. «It seems that our omniscient predictor is not going to return debts to anyone.»

Francesca did not even pay attention to the insolence, and the one, tapping some melody with his cane on the pavement, also continued to look at the unlit windows of the facade. The darkness over the streets thickened. The countess returned to the carriage and order to the coachman to go through hers favorite route, that is, to the bookshops. I followed her when she moved books in leather bindings behind glass shop windows and for a long time asked the seller. She was satisfied with books standing on the shelves. Then the old merchant with wrinkled hands and face, as if he remembered something, took a lantern and went in search in a storage room, returned and handed her the book in the dark as a fragment of the night, binding. The lady eagerly grabbed it, immediately paid, while not taking off the mask nor gloves.

Approaching the showcase, I could hear the fragments of the conversation.

«Go to the tavern» Crown and Eagle», he happens every evening there,» said the merchant, wiping about the apron, the hands smeared with glue and wax. The light of a single lamp laid in orange shine on a closely pressed bookshelves and a ladder, leaning towards the highest cabinet.

«Are you sure that he is not madman?» Francesca masked with an arrogant tone her interest.

«In the days of his youth, he was a robber in Roshen. I knew him well, milady and tried to return him on the right path. But the person who set foot on the vice path can return to honest life only by surviving a real chilling blood horror.»

«Briefly speaking! Do not say as the novelist! I only need facts,» Francesca demanded, adding a coin to pay.

«Then ask him about everything, he will advise you.»

«Is it really?»

«He is ready to talk about it with everyone, but rarely who believes.»

«And what is the connection between the book and the stories of this… unhappy man?» asked Francesca.

«Many books are based on the truth,» the merchant mysteriously answered, «but sometimes only one story, moreover, written so long ago, cannot end the existence of his heroes,» he again crossed his grilling apron and added in a completely different tone. «In the „Crown and Eagle“ you will find at the same time good rooms for overnight.»

«Thanks!» Francesca nodded coldly and went out into the street. When the carriage again was on the road, I stubbornly continued my surveillance.

This time the crew stopped at the building with an elegant sign. While I stayed on the street, the countess boldly went in the institution, ordered the rooms for the night and looked around. At the table with a mug of beer was sitting an elderly man like the most ordinary appearance and physique, but in his unreleased look, something testifies of the memories who can deprive the mind of even the hardening criminal. I have never seen this person before, but, appreciating the muscles in his arms, I could say that he was not bad with a knife and often used it not for the most noble goals, he could strangle someone in the darkness. Of course, I was struck by the fact that the sophisticated Francesca fearlessly headed for such a subject and started the conversation, whose echoes were reaching me.

«What did that stranger looked like who killed your comrades? I want to know!» She demanded.

«So you believe me?» The man looked at her. His hand holding a mug of beer froze a halfway from his mouth.

«Suppose I have reasons to believe,» she nodded.

«You asked how he looked,» her companion whispered. «Yes, since then many years have passed, but I still remember. Such a beautiful arrogant face, I saw him only in the profile, but I could not forget. It was expensive clothes, a velvet raincoat, and something like silhouettes of the dragon embroidered on the camisole. I then thought that he himself was the devil, because there was no wonder that if an evil spirit tempts someone, it becomes very handsome. He so coolly killed my partners… Imagine, Madam, he revealed both the throat with such ease, as if he had to do this not for the first time. After that night I went gray. Not every time you have to see how your friends are separated, as if meat carcasses.»

«Would you be able to find out this young man if you saw him again?» In the voice of Frances, insidious notes sounded.

«God forbid,» the tavern’s frequenter slightly crossed himself, but he was afraid to show himself a coward in the eyes of such proud and undoubtedly noble lady. «His image and so still stands before your eyes. It is only worth covering eyelids, as he is here again in front of me, deadly pale, beautiful, gold-haired and the same young as many years ago. So now it seemed to me that he flashed in the window. Do you believe me?»

Francesca turned to the window but, of course, did not notice anyone.

«So he was very beautiful, pale and gold-haired. Is that all you remember?» She calmly asked. He looked at her as the drowning on his savior and continued feverishly to recall.

«It was dark. In Roshen’s slums there were no lanterns, but his skin was glowed by itself and the hair was also shone like the sun. And he also had a golden claw instead of one hand. You see, such a paw with long sharp claws. She finished off my friends. Did an erased hand not evidence that he is a devil?»

«In fact,» Francesca nodded and throwing a coin on the table offered. «Order something strong to drink. It is not necessary to talk so often about the gold-haired devil, and he really can hear you and return.»

With these words, she turned around and called the owner of the tavern, so that he spent her upstairs, in apartments. The long raincoat have retired on a narrow wooden staircase like a train.

He could also take the lady in the road raincoat and mask for the devil, if it were not for a ringing coin, after her left-handed on the table.

Now I also remembered this person. That night, when robbers attacked me, he was hiding around the corner, waiting for the injury of prey. Then, I didn’t even turn, but I felt behind the presence of a third gangster with a knife, pressed against the wall behind my back. It turns out he managed to consider me and remember. And here, even if I looked at him now I could not know him, because so many years passed. The face that was old, the forehead cut the wrinkles, and under the eyes climbed dark circles. Even if he drank less, no one would believe in such a crazy story about the gold-haired demon, who boldly walks on the backyards of Roshen and manages a bloody trial over the robber. I could enter the warm, weakly lit by the lamps tavern, and make a random witness silence forever, but did not want. After all, he was not a dangerous accusatory in front of me, but only the unfortunate, who, once saw a supernatural being, is now trying to convince unbelievers in his right and slowly, but correctly acquires a reputation of madman.

I flew up to the window. Behind a small glazed window was clearly visible, a newly recently cleaned bedroom. The book seller was right, such clean rooms are far from all the innovations. Francesca rubbed with a towel a mirror on the dressing table and combed her long bright curls. They covered her shoulders and her back, and were too naughty, to make the countess herself without the help of the maid managed to lay them into the hairstyle. She managed to change the road outfit for the long lace shirt. Mask, dress, raincoat, as well as many hairpins were scattered on the couch. Her lordship is not used to do without servants. Only the most valuable acquisition — a black binding book was neatly put on the bed over a quilted blanket.

What is such an extraordinary concluded in the printed text on the stitched sheets? Why did Francesca search, almost demand that the seller found exactly this book? Maybe in all its unhealthy hobbies of mysticism lies something more than simple interest. I watched Francesca put the ridge on the table, and the contents of a small lady’s handbag were poured nearby. Jewels, bottles with spirits and jars with lipstick scattered on the table top. Francesca took out the folded sheet of paper with torn edges. She turned it out and read. I decided that it was a page taken from some old book. Paper is already yellow, and the text itself almost faded. The countess revealed the book in the stored place and compared its content with her leaflet. So uncertain and timidly you usually collect pieces of puzzle. Francesca took a deep breath, as if she did not find what she was looking for. She reached out to blew a candle and here she saw me in the window. In her eyes expanded from horror, like two lakes, reflected a flexible gold silhouette of a winged snake.

«How is it possible?» Only she was able to whisper, but the winged something had already disappeared. Francesca ran up to the windowsill, but it was already empty there.

So simply, the countess could not retreat, she saw the whole golden guest, looked at the snake, but heard a charm, human voice, who wished only «good night, countess, because calm can not last very long.» After all the sounds dropped in a night emptiness, Francesca seemed to hear them so far. Switching out of the bedroom, she found the side narrow ladder and went into the attic, and from there rose to the roof. Tile slid under the barefoot feet, but Francesca did not want to go back to the heat and peace. She was waiting for that — that’s somewhere at the level of dark sloping roofs again flashed flexible, golden silhouette, but it did not appear. Only the gray sea of urban homes stretched around, and the wind walked over it and cleaned lonely stars on the blue sky.

Francesca wanted to call someone, say someone’s name, but never decided. She turned back, almost stumbled on the ladder, forgotten by a chimney-sweep. The low roof’s slope hung over the windows of the upper floors, and it would be easy to hide not only a flexible flying creature, but even a child. Francesca, of course, did not calculate it. She last turned on the sleeping city and went down to the room, not even worrying that someone from the waking guests could see her without a mask.

Then I opened the window of not busy room and slept there until the morning. Nobody even paid attention to the draught, escaping from the slots of the locked door. The owner never came to disturb my dream, although I honestly was going to pay, if I was forced in the tavern. Even before awakening, I realized that Francesca had long gathered to go and her carriage had already left the city. I could easily follow her. I already knew the route by which they will return, besides, on the roads, deep furrows from the wheels were well noticeable.

The weather spoiled. The wet snow alternated with raindrops, and find the tracks of the crew on the risky road was increasingly harder. Overcoming another turn of the way, I heard the snoring of horses and the orders of the coachman. Due to the subtle trunks of the trees, it was possible to see the crew, accidentally went from the road and fell into a swamp, on which the ice was melted. The wheels of the carriage were stuck in the mud. The groom and the coachman tried to force their horses to pull the crew from the mud but they didn’t manage it. Francesca stood a little bit away from the roadway. Sometimes she looked back, hoping to see another carriage. Nobody was in a hurry to help her.

Without thinking, I took my initial and most familiar appearance, and came out of the trees. Francesca almost screamed from surprise when I suddenly turned out to be right at her back, because a minute ago the road was empty. I did not even move my hand, but she felt the persistent touching io her shoulder. Too amazed to greet me, Francesca was silent.

«Maybe your ladyship will allow me to provide a help?» I asked. It sounded as if I was going to raise a scarf, and not to correct the traffic accident. Francesca just shrugged and said:

«I would only bless your efforts, but how can you manage it one… without servants?» She hinted at the fact that I would have to explain how I was here alone without a horse and the carriage. I did not satisfy her curiosity, but only strictly ordered the groom and the coachman:

«Get out!»

They exchanged glances incredulously, fearing, as if they did not hear correctly, but under a shrill, ice-looking stranger left their work. With a quiet whisper, the meaning of which no one did not understand, I calmed down the horses, and then I presented as the rims of the wheels, bypassing the dirt, climb over the mud and roll on solid soil. The crew slightly straightened. When, I was a man, my mental efforts would hardly have enough for such hard work, but now everything went out, as in a dream. Observing the order, the horses themselves pulled forward a carriage, which thanks to my invisible support became much easier, and soon the crew was already on the road.

«Witchcraft!» Quietly murmured the coachman, raised his hand to cross, but then looked at me right away, scared to make some pious gesture in my presence. After all, an extraordinary acquaintance of his hostess can be angry. And what will his anger lead?

Francesca through the power thanked me and allowed to help her climb into the carriage. In her glance flashed all the same spark of suspicion and recognition, but I did not pay attention to it.

I said goodbye, closing the door, but she looked out in the window and suggested.

«Do not want us to bring you to your estate?»

«Oh,» I extended and carelessly dismissed. «To travel, I do not need a carriage.»

She nodded, as if she understood something that we were both afraid to speak out loud, although in fact it was incomprehensible to her.

Returning to my still not renovated abandoned estate, I found the porch of uninvited visitors. Most likely, Mr. and two servants who spent all their strength to keep the excited horses on the spot. All animals almost went mad when they found themselves within my newly acquired possessions. In Mr. I immediately recognized Selvin. He was already took for the door ring, it hit at the metal door with a buzz. The door, of course, remained locked. Despite the insistence of Selvin, no one hurried to let him into the house.

«Probably the owner is not at home,» timidly suggested one of the servants. «Maybe we will return, and then send a servant with the message.»

He was already frozen under the snowfall. Selvin himself also hung up in a fur coat, but did not go away.

«Let’s wait,» he said calmly, but in the intonation of the voice, the order was felt.

«Good afternoon and welcome!» I said, suddenly appearing behind his back.

Selvin, of course, was surprised that he did not hear my steps, but from politeness did not openly show his amazement.

«Come in!» I invited, and the door, which before that did not succumb to a persistent knock, nor a strong push suddenly opened itself. We entered the hall. It was no less cold here than in the open sky and Selvin, forgetting about the manners, began to blow on the frozen palms. He looked around the staircase and the floor, littered with dry leaves and garbage and in his glance flashed disgust.

«The house, of course, is good, but would you not like to put it in order,» he said, as soon as we went upstairs, leaving his servants near the cold fireplace at the bottom.

«Why?» I responded carelessly.

«It is impossible to live in ruins,» he began to chat, only in order not to remain in the grave, frightening silence, with the hidden strength of which he already knew.

«And where did you get that I live here?»

«Well, you bought the estate, and I decided…»

«How did you know that I bought it exactly, you do not know who I am or why did I come to your country?»

«Well, such news is spread quickly,» he began to speak, as if justifying the excessive interest in my personal affairs. «In addition to the fact that His Majesty became interested in you… You have an unusual appearance, only this helped the king to find your trail. Those who meet you admire and… a little scared.»

«You said that the house needs to be put in order,» I interrupted his coming speech. «Are you trying to teach me how to live?»

«In no way,» Selvin immediately passed in front of my strictness and tried hastily to justify himself. «I just fulfill the royal order.»

«Yes, this is the duty of the courtiers, to serve the king and fulfill all his orders.»

If Selvin was embarrassed such straightforwardness, he did not manifest it.

«The messenger with the letter, was sent here and did not find you at home, so I came myself, took on such courage,» after the pause he spoke again. «I generally thought that it was useless to send messengers. But his majesty is worried about you.»

«He takes almost parental care and it is flattering,» I nodded condescendingly.

Selvin shuddered at the mention of parental concerns.

«You see, a rumor reached the king that you are experiencing some financial problems,» he admitted.

«That’s how? And I did not know?» And I thought about myself that it was a complete hypocrisy — to have the treasury full with gold and jewels and at the same time acquire a reputation of the beggar. The favorable king decided that the poor, pretty, rural nobleman needs his help. It was ridiculous, but, restraining laughter, I got a fire in the fireplace. Selvin watched the movement of my hands, but it was not possible to notice from where I took the stream of fire, when I didn’t have a steel, nor trunk, nor even candles. There were cold spilled ashes and fragments of dry branches in the old fireplace, but it began to reproduce the saving heat and the visitor did not have to rub his reddish palms. He sighed lightweight, feeling a stream of heat from the fire, and even wanted to sit down in a chair, but it turned out to be too dusty and the nobleman had to continue the conversation on the feet.

«It is a pity that you were not when the letter came, otherwise the reception would be arranged in the palace… the first one for many years. You probably already know that His Majesty has long been in the mourning, and with him, of course, the whole court. The royal will is law for everyone. If the monarch fell into melancholy, then it is imposed on the other in a natural order. So, at least, it was up to that hunt when we met with you and, honestly, I really wanted to see you again.

Selvin cut his monologue and waited with hope for an answer, but I kept silence. The fire quietly cracked, absorbing the remains of the twigs, but only flared up stronger, although food capable of supporting the burning was almost over.

«After all, I didn’t come with empty hands,» Selvin took out some scroll and handed me, as if trying to prove it that his visit was not so useless. There are documents on the village to the north of your possessions. It and several farms that can be rented will give a good income.»

And whose were these lands before me?» I didn’t even unfold a scroll, although I already realized that such document is a great mercy from the side of the monarch, only here he provided the service not to the one who was in need of it, but to a stranger.

«These lands belonged to the crown,» Selvin replied. «They are pretty fertile, such an area will not give a bad income to the host, and the repair of the estate, too, if you do not mind, write down at the expense of the treasury.»

«What a care is it,» I admired, but Selvin did not notice sarcasm in my voice.

«The king is waiting for your appearance every day and… every night,» he said, clearly remembering our collision in a hunting house. «It is inconvenient to me to talk, but he is fascinated by you, and the court is jealous, so you must be careful when you appear among them. From jealousy, they are capable of everything, even of crimes. Many have never seen you, but they already dismiss unpleasant and terrible rumors. I am also your debtor and will be alert to provide you with safety at the court.»

«Selvin!» I turned to him by name, without titles and other rules of courtesy. «You must understand that I am not going to come to the court, nor today, neither tomorrow, no in a month.»

«But the king…»

«Listen!» I took him by my arms and led closer to the fireplace, so that in the reflections of the fire he could well consider my traits. He did not take away his hot live hands, although he felt the ice cold of my skin and, probably, he realized that this was a handshake of death.

«You are far from stupid and quite capable of understanding that I am not a common man,» I continued quietly. «Take care of your suzerain. Say to him that the most terrible danger, which only can be is coming from me. Communication with me has the worst consequences. It is dangerous. You are afraid that they can kill me but how? I will not be harmed with a spear, a knife, a sword, or even with a poisoned arrow. But if I wish or in the whims of fate, I can destroy many. Your king sees the deceased son in me. So let him send his father’s guard to someone from living, and not on whose fate are darkness and loneliness. If I need your service, I myself am not ashamed to come, but it is necessary to fear in advance that someone like me is going to let me your doors.»

«You say that you are… Cursed? «Selvin could not find a word for a long time and the phrase itself flew away from his tongue. «But this is not the case?» He immediately asked me with a hope.

«Who knows,» I replied indefinitely, and immediately turned away to send my energy to fire, which had almost no food left, at the expense of which it could burn.

The awkward pause was delayed. Selvin, having exhausted the stock of his eloquence, urgently tried to reveal the reason to extend his visit. He looked around a poor living room, heavy, dusty curtains, soft furniture set with faded upholstery, vases with dried bouquets. Dry flowers with the lightest touch could crumble in small curvy. Selvin’s gaze ran through a darkened portrait and pictures, which got me together with the house, and lingered on a small old tapestry with a hunting scene.

«Still, you have shown yourself as a hero that day,» Selvin remembered the predators who arranged the hunters the trap and an unexpected salvation. «Those who you saved, now and call you — the lord of the wolves. The rest, who heard the story, gave you this nickname in absentia, without requiring any confirmation of such power.»

Selvin spoke simply and with admiration. No tricks about why wolves scared me or how I managed to keep their fierce attack with the whole pair of words. He was not going to get out someone else’s secret and took the uniqueness of his savior as proper.

Young Viscount learned to perceive my secrecy, as an integral. Therefore, he was still alive, healthy and not scared, but only a little confused. Already in his behavior, it was possible to understand that received as a present possessions and other grace is just one way to lure me to the court. Does the king lack his own concerns? Why does he call in a fragile maze of urban mansions the fire-breathing snake?

«I see, it is useless to warn,» I stated with a sad smile. «Well, perhaps, one day I will appear before your jealous courtiers, and God forbid that I come to them in such a kind, as now, and not in another.

«What do you have in mind?» Selvin was amazed.

The holy simplicity, I grinned about myself, how he is it far from the suspicious Francesca.

«Very often, the evil fate pursues those to whom I feel sympathy,» I remembered with the sadness the gnomes, especially Dominic, even more painful there was a reminder of the prudent Claude and the naive, but uniquely charming Florian. All of them were destroyed because of me.

«Do you want to extend our acquaintance?» I asked the confused Selvin. «Well, I do not mind.»

«Excellent, you will not regret,» he was delighted. «Today we will have to bring bricklayers, painters, carpenters. We must bring the house to the appropriate look.»

He wanted to add that if I would be a little bit more agreeable, and I would be waiting for the future of the royal heir. I did not fit to be the landowner in debts. He got used to the court luxury and was confident that anyone who was forced to live in the house with the flowing roof, without servants, undoubtedly is a debtor. If only he did not stand in advance with the royal treasurer pay for these non-existent debts.

Selvin has already escaped to give orders to his escort, and I choking a deaf hysterical laughter. Yes, I could enrich any of the rulers of nearby countries. From the very tiny, not even faceted stone from my treasury would not be abandoned any of the richest and powerful kings. Selwin’s ignorance excused his naivety.

I considered Selvin unobtrusive only until the work was boiled in the estate. The workers imported a new, fashionable furnishings. The walls were re-crossed by expensive wood. The dressmakers filmed the measurements for the curtains. I was tired of the incessant crash of driving around, the knocking of hammers and disputes about what will be more beautiful to stand, I moved to the mill. It was warm and nice there.

Left alone, I thought about Vincent. Where is this poor fellow now? Probably, he is in some wretched hut, because his house is sold, and the debts are not paid. Only in the evening he can get out of his shelter to go to visit those who have enough stupidity to invite him. A poor Vincent! He would dance from happiness, if any childless king suddenly thought to adopt him. Again it outdated so that all the honors got to the one who did not appreciate them at all, and not the one who was dreaming about them.

Not that I am very sorry for Vincent. He brought himself all the time in trouble and did it quite skillfully without any assistance. Clear fraud is not a mean with which you can succeed. Now I remembered Vincent, because I felt his presence nearby. I just could not understand what he was doing in the village.

From the roof of the mill, an excellent panorama opened, but someone removed a ladder. Unlike people, I did not need a ladder to climb the attic. Probably, the miller noticed it. My hearing was very sensitive, I heard the hammer strikes in the forge, snoring the horses, crying baby in the cradle and warlike screams. Everything that happens in the village was almost tangible to me. I strained and listened. What happens there? Someone takes out a weapon from the forge. The village is preparing the uprising. The rumors and suspicions have done their job. What is the honor to kill the dragon while he is in human guise. Whether I am a man, I would be offended. After all, this village belongs to me according to papers from the king, I am a friend of the king himself, and these stupid people want to kill me with pitchforks and knives. Well, if they wish to see the dragon, they will see it, although I swore not to turn without special need.

From above, it was possible to observe the crowd, which moved to the mill.

Only pride prevented me to return to the gloomy, immense world, where I will be taken as equal. Pride and suddenly broken rage. How can these people be so arrogant and believe that they will overcome the stronger magic creature. Threatening to me, they just repeated the mistake of past generations.

Vincent, obviously, has managed to be returned before the crowd moved to the mill. Undoubtedly, he already learned about the fact that the king favors me, and got angry to such an extent that he rushed headlong into another dangerous enterprise. The result of it I could now watch with a better place.

The crowd was poorly armed and poorly organized. When they approached the pond, I was sitting on the roof in the same unchanged position, as an idol frozen in front of the pagan altar and an empty not expressing look at the armed crowd. Let them know that it is easier to move a whole fortress from the spot than to make me move at least a finger. It was worth to whisper only one word, and the arrow turned back. A sharp steel tip unmistakably found the heart of a unlucky shot.

A similar witchcraft maneuver even more exited the crowd. If earlier they had nothing but their own conclusions, now they have received proof that the sorcerer next to them really exists, and is not a fruit of someone well-developed imagination. I myself provided them with this testimony of my secret power and was not long waiting for their reaction. Hostile cries have become even louder. Vincent was worth only to throw a spark near the powder cord, and it wakes himself. The main thing against me was that for the sake of such an event you can throw all the work for a couple of days and plunder the rich possession of the feudal. In addition, in the opinion of many, the murder would be easy, because it does not manage to see the dragon every day, to catch him at the moment of weakness. As soon as they set fire to the mill, I’ll fly, leaving them alone with a conscience and a wall of fire.

In a moment, I saw everything on miles around, knew how many knives were hidden under rude capes. I wonder what amazement will distort their features when the real, golden dragon appears?

I slightly covered eyelids and the face distorted by rage merged into a solid range of white spots, but suddenly in the thick of the crowd flashed a family face of Francesca. So after all, the countess came to look at the massacre, because they were rarely far from the city, or opposite she tried to stop them. Even if she tried, it is unlikely that they will stop, not often the fate itself is found the pretext to kill the owner of the village, besides, if he also turns out to be a real dragon.

The door of the mill could not even knock out with the help of a rudely homemade battering ram, because I ran a protective spell on it. The spell to stop the fire flew out of the head, and the walls of the mill were flamed too quickly. I darted with one throw from the roof, the raincoat was shot at my back, like a sail and in just a moment I managed to take the kind that would manage to scare anyone. The first moment brought an amazement. The peasants did not assume that they would see someday something similar. As it could happen, because of the moment back, they saw just a favorite of the king, a silent aristocrat, who is unlikely to be able to confront to many alone, and suddenly he disappeared, and in front of them over a burning mill, a sparkling dragon was flying. Francesca also raised her eyes to the sky, no doubt, she learned me alone. She could not be misleading the dragon, who got down the fire on the crowd.

Already flying out, I knocked Francesca down with the edge of my wing. Golden steel scratched her easily vulnerable human flesh and broke clothes. She lied on the ground for a long time in a torn dress with disheveled gold curls and repeated something in a whisper, just one word as if it was a spell.

It was worth listening to distinguish her incessant whisper, more like a desperate cry.

«Edwin! Edwin!» came to me before all the sounds were dissolved in the heavenly melody.

«How could they?» Selvin was already in renovated living room and never ceased to be outraged by such betrayal. «If I just knew before? I would manage to support discipline, set guards.

He stopped near the fireplace and helplessly lowered firmly compressed fists.

«Forgive me, Edwin. If I knew that the village was full of madmen, I would have done everything to erect the barrier between them and you.»

«I warned you that the misfortunes pursue me,» I quite reasonably noticed. «Not so long ago, a former servant was trying to arrange a plot against me, before that there were other unpleasant cases. It is better to stay away from such a friend as I.

«Yes, it looks like a conspiracy,» Selvin’s eyebrows met on the nose, he thought about something feverishly, and then he smiled lightweight and happily. «I know a great solution. Do not think that I am superstitious, but in Viniena there is a beautiful cathedral. It is worth only to go there and nothing will remain from the evil eye or evil conspiracy.»

«No,» I objected so hastily, which scared him. «In no case. Now I can not go to the capital, I risk to face there with old enemies,» I began to compose on the move, so that the lies cover the cruel truth. I could not push him that with one sound of church bells, I will have bleeding ears. A rumor enjoying the music of fairies is too susceptible to the monotonous ringing of the metal and the chorus of chants.

«What are you afraid if His Majesty will send his people with you? «Selvin decided to encourage me and if I need to settle all problems for me. How to refuse him?

«I’m not afraid of anything,» I tried to object, as mildly as possible. «I just don’t want to put in an awkward position myself and others. Let’s go back to the question of the village. You said that those of her inhabitants who wanted to attack me for some reason decided that I was on the mill while I had already managed to leave there.»

It is necessary to hide so much and not blush. Selvin, taking such an explanation for a clean coin, nodded.

«They were convinced that they saw you on the roof, so the mill was set on fire, but their own clothes were burned too. Many burned alive, others got strong burns.»

«And with them there was a woman? The countess from the neighboring estate, I do not remember exactly what her name is? — I started carefully to interrogate.

«Yes,» Selvin answered. «It seems that she tried to stop them and but suffered herself.

«You will learn about everything so quickly.»

«I used to get acquainted with all the news, but these will try to save in secret. We don’t need a noise around your estate.»

I barely kept myself from telling him «Thank you» for the foresight. I allowed him to be located like at home, in the mansion, which was returned a luxurious look in so a short time, and I myself headed to bring the next night visit my charming neighbor.

As usual I did not knock at the gate. The habit of sneaking in the window and secretly observed the events was for me unchanged. Easy to calculate, in which hall there is a countess, I discovered there and one guest. It was Vincent. Despite the cold evening, he refused a hot tea, but willingly drank a glass of wine and began to spread about the latest news.

«This event is a real event,» he almost joyfully said, pretending that he did not notice the fatigue of the countess. «For the first time, I managed to learn something intriguing. The rebels accused the rich feudal in witchcraft, they drove him to the roof of the mill and threatened with fire, and suddenly he turned into a dragon. So the accusations are not so unfounded.

Vincent finished his monologue in the tone of the investigator and did not even notice that his only listener was silent and didn’t even nod to him.

«This story is worthy of getting to the pages of one of your books,» Vincent nodded towards the bookcases.

«No, you can hardly convey all the horror that eyewitnesses experienced,» she objected. Today you caught me scared and depressed, but this fright will not last long. Tomorrow you will return here, preferably in the late afternoon and take your cards with you. I need to ask you many things.»

«How do you order, Milady,» Vincent agreed. He drank, looking at the dark corners, where the candelabra’s light fell. It seemed to him that someone watches him, but he could not understand: the truth was it or an unpleasant feeling.

«See you tomorrow, dear countess,» he said softly and with a grin, crossing the threshold, but Francesca no longer heard him.

I did not want to show me at servants and maids, which, noticing such an invasion, could raise a cry. Penetrating into the bedroom, I began to wait until the countess remain alone. Soon, holding a candlestick in her hand, she crossed the threshold, closed the door. The peaceful radiance of one candle was illuminated the room. Francesca pulled the latch, turned around and noticing me was frozen without movements like an ice statue. How she was pale! It seemed that the scarlet dress with the waves of black lace, was on the mannequin, and not on a living woman.

I also sat down in a deep chair and stared in her eyes. Must be, Francesca thought that I was a ghost haunting her.

She backed up, but the back came across the door, which he just locked. A painful meeting with a wooden barrier led her to feelings.

«You didn’t have the right to appear here,» she finally spoke quickly and desperately. «You could not cross the threshold without invitation! You are an evil spirit!»

«So read the prayer to expel me!» I proposed indifferently, but the steel was ranked in the voice. It means that she herself invited me once, believed that no evil spirit had the right to enter the house without an invitation of the owner. An old one, having nothing with the reality of superstition, but the blonde countess believed everything that she read in the books. She knew the words of prayers and began to pronounce them, quickly, uncertain, expecting that I was about to disappear, but I did not turn into a smoke, did not fly out as a black cloud through the window and Francesca was silent. She did not want to show her cowardice, she approached me. I stand up to meet her, the etiquette did not allow to sit in the presence of the lady. A hand with a candle rose to my face. A tiny light almost rushed my cheeks, giving Francesca an opportunity to consider and remember every line.

As if observing some kind of gloomy ritual, the countess touched with her fingertips first to my cold skin, and then to the velvet binding of the book lying on the table. Feeling the ice fatal touch, she breathed quietly:

«Not alive!» Francesca dropped the candle and repeated again. «You’re not like all the living people, you had to die many years ago, but something happened and thanks to this you live, moving, breathing, charming naive people.

«You are far from naive!» I pointed to the book, where she had read about me me. The book, lying on the table, revealed the lines of the ancient, forgotten language. «Do you know some letters or the whole alphabet and can you read it?»

Francesca did not answer, but only pressed the palm to the neck, then to the heart. It beat often and strongly, like a bird in a cage.

«You are still alive,» she said. «When I read about you for the first time, you wandered somewhere nearby. But it is impossible, such simply can not be.»

She was amazed of acquired knowledge.

«Yes, I live, you yourself touched me to make sure that my heart, Francesca, it doesn’t beat, the first flight turned it into a stone.»

I waved the cloak. The wind rose from the light wave pulled out the pages from the book and they rushed to the floor with the rustle.

«From the very beginning I understood that you exposed me.»

— This predictor of fate, asking for a visit, is for sure your spy, otherwise you could…

I immediately understood who she had in mind, and hastily objected:

«Vincent is not my hound. He is an enemy and he is very dangerous, remember it. If it were not for his dexterity, he would also have been an ash for a long time.

«And who would you be now, if the sorcerer did not pull you out of the burning castle to make his student?»

«An ash!» I calmly and honestly replied, and from this answer she frown. «In the same rush, what sooner or later you will become, my beautiful countess, while in front of me is an eternity.»

«Eternity without joy, without a friend, without a companion. Eternity in the darkness,» Francesca tried to blame, but the voice fell into tears.

«What’s so bad in this,» I objected. «Your fortress will rot, your books will turn into dust, and my people will exist in teasing proximity to your dilapidated world, subject to disease and old age. Recently, you sought forbidden: feasts, treasures and secrets of my possessions. Is not it?»

I was silent, the wind picked up the torn pages, circled them under the ceiling and removed in the opened window. They disappeared forever together with the confession of the prince’s prisoner. Disappeared a distorted story about my atrocities. Francesca did not know what to answer how to call for help all her braveness to continue to throw charges. She wanted to raise the candle from the floor and again to light it, but did not dare.

«Clear pretense!» Francesca whispered, with despair, but so quiet that it was almost impossible to hear it, but I heard and unexpectedly felt irritation.

«And what did you expected, that even the devil will like your sophisticated manners, right, but false speech and the talent of the ingenious tracker?» The question was malicious and painfully cut a hearing. «No, Francesca. In fact, everything is much more prosaic. I came here to pick up my property. That is, almost mine,» I immediately corrected. «Anyway, a picture, according to a pure chance, that fell into your collection is written by one of the masters of my world, and therefore should return in the empire. The sooner, the better,» and if you can immediately, I added to myself, remembering that I was too late. You can never postpone tomorrow, otherwise you will never fulfill the conceived. I just wanted to play a day or two in a cat and a mouse with titled lady, and this couple of days dragged on more than a week.

«The painter!» Finally, exclaimed Francesca, as if this word was the key to all existing secrets. «He was the same as you.»

«Well, not quite like that,» I noticed with the knowledge of the case. «There are even in our world lords and servants. Camille was a conventional servant, even worse, almost a slave of his insidious Mr.»

«Yes, he accidentally mentioned that freedom was now very valuable for him,» Francesca nodded thoughtfully.

«Camille does nothing by chance, and he gave the picture exactly you, for sure, with a special intent.»

«He managed to run away from you. Well, I am glad for him,» Francesca has found strength to smile. «Now it’s clear to me why he wanted to destroy the picture.» Why do you need to keep an image of the owner, who probably very brutally addressed him. But he loved you very much, it feels in every stroke laid on canvas. Otherwise he could not draw with such inspiration.»

«This is a pretty ill manifestation of love — to create an eternal reminder about experienced sufferings,» I said and thought that this was really the most sophisticated torture — to capture the moment when several months have separated me from the carefree past, and the long road to the future was dark and thorny. How did Camille attracted the prince on the verge of dishonor? Why was it possible to transfer all mysticism with such an impression of reality, as on this, undoubtedly the best of his canvases? Cleanliness and innocence, the memories of which are still preserved in the picture, was already unattainable, and the dark satellite behind my back was just revealed his black wings.

«How did I not immediately guess who he was,» Francesca laughed at her naivety. «It was suspicious from the very beginning, well, he looked like a boy, and painted as a recognized talent. Then someone noticed his sharp ears, which sometimes peeking out from under the beret, the fiery shine in the eyes, the ability to move the items without touching them. And then these six ladies came, and Camille realized that it was time to run.

«Also and the spinners,» I said, thinking that for the count’s castle, the most worthy company was treated. Francesca, which naturally did not understand about the spinners, stared at me in amazement.

«All this does not have any relationship to you personally. They will no longer appear,» I comforted Francesca, although I myself was not sure about it. If the spinners will want to force their way somewhere in secret, then nobody will stop them. If one of them wants to kill this frightened amateur adventure, it is unlikely that the guards of the fortress can save her.

«Go away from here and do not appear here more!» Francesca shouted in the rage. «Take your picture and fly back to hell, where you came from. Surely, all these ballroom halls and statues were just an illusion. And in fact there is no castle, there is only a hell and there is the place for you, the fallen angel.»

I calmly waited when Francesca will keep silence. When the rage of the countess became dangerous, I slightly removed her, but she swayed with this light touch and almost fell.

«I’ll pick a portrait so that you could no longer touch it and thus call me out of my… hell,» before the last word, an expressive pause was made only because I didn’t dare to call my delicious castle as a hell. Then I boldly moved to the tower where the picture was kept, throwing on the move. «Perhaps I will return to pay.»

Absolutely innocent offer Francesca interpreted in her own way. On the same night, she began to collect her things and told to prepare the crew, but I never bothered to check where she was going to go.

Reaching my own castle, I did not decide to destroy the picture, but I didn’t want it to hang on the wall. Only after reliably hid it in the basement, and locked the door with the key, I unwittingly thought about Francesca. Was it worth to let her go. She knew now a strange unforgettable secret? And how long will her silence last?

Hypocritical Francesca

Hearing the noise in the estate, I decided that Selvin had a discussion with a lazy master. The first assumption did not justify itself. Near the ladder to the attic stood a viscount and a mant dressed in black. They argued about something. I managed to find out the excited voice of Vincent. He retained the hardly catchy emphasis — a reminder of that speech I heard on the streets of the native capital. No one, besides me, could not understand that clear dictations and some outdated words are just a tribute to the past.

«I tell you, Edwin is my friend. He himself invited me to spend the night here, «Vincent urged, while his eyes were furious. A little more and he would clutch the interlocutor in the face.

I watched him and barely kept laughter. Vincent always knew how to lie shamelessly, but this time he surpassed himself.

«Ask him if you don’t believe, and I’ll wait here. Would I climb into the house against the will of my best friend? Did he not have the right to invite his friends?» shouted Vincent.

And I was able to manage a fragile thoughtful contact with Vincent and uttered only one praise «Bravo!».

He heard it and was amazed. He turned to me. Only I noticed that his hands nervously trembled.

«All right, Selvin,» I said, after a long pause, for which I well managed to enjoy the confusion of Vincent. «It is indeed my old and very educated friend. We even learned the same science. I did not warn you about his presence because I was hoping that he was about to leave, but the visit suddenly pulled out, obviously, because of the fact that my „best friend“ again remained homeless.»

«Oh, everything is clear,» Selvin extended disappointed, although in fact he did not understand anything. Vincent tried proudly straighten the shoulders, but immediately stuck under my gaze.

«By the way, it is necessary to somehow justify what the homeless friend will live here,» as if by the way I put in and turned to Selvin, hoping that he would not consider me very cruel. «You could not help me find an inexpensive lackey livery for him so that he does not continue to confuse guests with his humble robe.»

Vincent cheeks became almost purple. Selvin was clearly stunned, and I, cheerfully grinning, announced:

«Sorry, Vincent, it was just a joke. I did not know that you do not like when I make fun on your own manner.»

«You would follow him,» Selvin whispered when we stayed alone. «I found him when he slept on a couch in front of the attic window and muttered something in a dream, and there were some unclear silhouettes around him, but as soon as I lit a lantern, they all disappeared somewhere. I hope he is not a necromancer.

«No, what are you?» I assured. «He just loves to pretend it, and he himself would even be afraid to touch the black books.»

From where can Vincent achieve such stage of perfection, as experience and practice, he likes to do everything as soon as possible and makes mistakes.

Vincent preferred to hide in his attic. He shook my hand as a sign of gratitude and whispered:

«From the northern port, tomorrow morning swims off the ship called the „Song of the Wind“. The countess sails with the first passing wind. And then you will decide.»

Why did he say that and immediately disappeared in the darkness of the attic staircase, as if fearing further inquiries. The flight of Francesca was not a surprise for me. There were series of warnings and threats, she was afraid of them. That’s just, I decided that she wanted to go to Viniena again, visit the bookshops, could even achieve an audience with the king and complaint him on the neighbor, who turned out to be a robber and a killer. I did not expect that she would decide to sail in the sea, maybe even cross the ocean and all this is just to be as far as possible from me. A lovely lady did not understand that if I wish, I can overcome any space lighter than the high speed ship.

Just one phrase of Vincent was able to awaken a long-awaited beast in me. Now I have already regretted that I allowed the countess to leave. Surely, my all-knowing subjects also silently condemned this act, simply from respect and fear they did not mind. If Francesca was one of the students of the School of Witchcraft, for her it was advantageous to comply with the vows of silence and do not disclose the secrets of her fellows, then the road for her would be open. But she was not the owner of a dangerous, witchcraft gift. She was strange for sorcerers, and tried to become more informed than they. I myself did not notice that I had already dragged the cord of the raincoat and went out in a cold night, in search of some empty, where I can turn into a dragon and fly ton a ship, which will be sail at dawn. I didn’t even know what I was going to do, and how I would explain to Selvin my next long absence. He was so amazed by the fact that I found time for such long absences and I didn’t want to spend only half a day on the road to the royal residence. Dawn found me on the road. From the ground it was almost impossible to notice the one who rapidly flies across the sky. There were many ships, barks, boats, frigates and flagship galleys in the port. It was a whole forest from wooden masts.

First of all, I was interested in high-speed sailing ships. Francesca most likely neglected trading ships. They were to slow. She needed a light and rapid ship to leave her native shores as soon as possible. I managed to notice the name of the ships, but I didn’t find the ship «The Song of the Wind». I had to fly further and overlook the marine space, an immense water surface, where it was difficult to find one small moving point. I overcame some more airspace and sank just below. The port has long remained behind and now I could watch the big, but changing caravel, which is easy and smoothly slid along the water. The nose of the vessel cut the ripple on the sea surface. The desired letters proudly glow on board. What an excellent target can be this fearless ship for the dragon flying over the sea. In the last second, I felt sorry to turn such a wonderful ship into wreckage. Because of one Francesca, its whole team did not deserve death. I turned out into a flexible sparkling snake, easily slid for the sail and dropped on a main deck already in my human appearance. The team engaged in their everyday work did not notice the new passenger, even when his boots were blindly hit on the deck board. An unpleasant impetus is the consequence of the jump, but I still stood on my feet. Francesca must be located in one of the best cabins and believed that now she is in complete safety.

I covered eyelids and mentally imagined the whole ship. The screams of the sea-gulls dropped away in the distance, the birds did not want to be flown to the ship, on which the predator was present. In this case, the birds were more susceptible than people, they did not believe in legends, they just knew that it was not worth flying there, where was a stronger predator.

It was necessary to look into the captain’s cabin. From there was a ringing of dishes, a knock of plates and glasses about a wooden table. There, most likely, the most honored passengers gathered to the late breakfast. They were unlikely to be on board. The search for Francesca will not be long. It was possible to hear the cry of a parrot in a cage, swinging under the cabin ceiling, to catch the vibration of furniture, weakly screwed to the floor, the clinking of spoons and cups, and one single phrase spoken by a clean female voice:

«You don’t think that we float too slowly, captain?»

An awkward pause has come, during which the captain thought about how to explain the lady that everything depends on what direction the wind blows. He wanted to say that all the sails are raised and there can be no more speed, but then he remembered that he had already spoke about it a couple of times before breakfast.

«I apologize, milady, but I can only manage the ship and the team, and not the weather. I don’t order the wind,» he finally said.

«And if you could manage the weather?»

«What did you say?» He asked with bewilderment.

«You see for me all this is new and interesting. I don’t know anything about the ships, but I want to know,» Francesca immediately understand that it was necessary to be more careful. «For example, what will happen if the wind is stronger? Does this bring some favor to our movements? Does it somehow accelerate our swimming?»

«In the event that the wind is not so strong to break the sails.»

«Excellent,» the lady muttered with a gloomy humor, «it means that it is equally bad for me a calm and a hurricane. Well, I pray that in the open sea it will not find a storm, «she added louder.

«Yes, the storm is always better to meet into the port,» confirmed the captain, taken for the next portion of the food. «We have to swim many days before entering some kind of harbor or bay. It will be fine, if this time things will turn out all right, because from one continent it is not near to another. And the oncoming vessels will be a bit.»

«And of course it will be good if these oncoming vessels are not pirates,» said the lady.

«Well, on board there are enough guns and muskets, but it would be better not to risk,» the captain answered. Already from the conversations I could conclude that he is just a nobleman, protected of someone from the courtiers, but not a sea wolf. Yes, the usual captain could not get the ship, equipped and decorated with such screaming luxury.

«The path of the Lord is unknown,» the lady said sadly. «Someone is afraid of robbers, but an attractive, young gold-haired aristocrat may be more cruel than all pirates together.

«Do you mean any events at the court?» the captain lowered the voice to one — two octaves.

Quiet rustling of curls and a ringing of diamond earrings — it means the lady has shook her head negatively.

«I meant that there is a danger much worse than an attack of pirates,» she patiently explained. «Someone sells a soul for other people’s treasures, someone for only a friendly look. In any case, at the court of the king, everything can happen,» the lady said.

«There are many strange things at the court now. It is better not to talk about it. Dark silhouettes, unusual rustles and music in the locked rooms are not dangerous. The most important news is that the king has already chosen a heir who has not seen anyone, except one viscount and several courtiers. They swear that this heir is the most real sorcerer, but nevertheless young, handsome and gold-haired.

The captain tried to hint that even in the open sea should not insult the ruling monarch, speaking of gold-haired criminals, because such a statement can be regarded as an insult. With the last words, the lady shuddered, the spoon fell out of her hand.

«Indeed, it is interesting news,» she said and as if for herself added. «But still, a strong passing wind would not prevent us.

I was in the shade when Francesca came out of the captain’s cabin, rustling chiffon skirts and covering the shoulders with black, silk scarf. She hid something in a tightly compressed fist, but that was not able to consider. Light breeze played with the curls of blond hair. Going to the board, the countess pulled a white handkerchief out of the scarf. Already on a tiny monogram, embroidered in its corner it was clear that the handkerchief belonged not to her. These were Vincent’s initials. So the dark time of their union has not yet ended. Francesca began to untie the first small knot with her fingers. It was difficult. It seems I remembered the elementary initial magic, which she tried to call for help. The first knot is the wind, the second is a hurricane, the third is a strong storm, and after this, in inept hands, witchcraft can cause an elevation anger.

It was necessary to stop her until she did the trouble. The first signs of thunderstorm already appeared in the sky. I tried to direct the wind stream so that it would pull out the handkerchief from the hands of Francesca. It slipped out of her fingers and smoothly fell into water.

How quickly the color of the sea water managed to change from the gentle-blue to dull — blue. Foam waves rhythmically beat about the board of the ship. Salted wet droplets beaded flew on clothes, cheeks, forehead and slightly cooled the unnatural hot heat of my skin. It’s time to grab the victim and fly away. In the sky, the first broken zipper flashed. Sailors engaged in riding surviving sails, do not even notice anyone’s disappearance. During the storm, many die, the vessel itself can spread in wreckage. Everyone will think that the countess fell abroad, and the wind drove the shouts. The highest waves occasionally took a wooden barrier and washed deck.

Francesca looked into muddy water, as if not noticing the whirlwind of flying splashes, only in the very last moment she felt that someone’s shiny claws stretch to her waist, and shuddered with all the body. I felt this trembling, because I had already had time to grab her and tear off the ride and unreliable deck under my feet.

Squeezing tightly my victim, I rushed away. I felt fear and despair of the countess. Francesca did not even try to escape, she was simply numb, as if was just a lamb on the sacrifice, as if she did not suspect, that the flirting with a stranger was dangerous. I wanted to lose her in a muddy green water, so that she did not tell any secrets to anyone, but then I decided that it would be more humanely to commit a sacrifice on land, in one of the secluded corners located at the borders of my and county possessions. Francesca hung in dragon claws, her dress was wet, lush frills absorbed water and doubled the weight of the fragile woman. Her multilateral inquisitive mind rushed to a dangerous path. She had to dye.

The presence of my predecessor was felt in the cave, signs of long-standing life were noticeable — a chest with opals, emeralds and malachite fragments in a niche, a small brazier, a pillar for the victim and shackles. In the depths of the cave glittered precious ore. I laid an insensible Francesca on the floor and chained one of her wrist towards a high post. The inhabitant of the cave, whoever he was, when he wakes up, will take care of the modest offer of his owner. Without feeling the slightest conscience, because Francesca was intensified into this dark matter herself, I returned to the estate with solid intentions to put Vincent beyond the door. I’m already tired of his dirty tricks. Any patience has a limit.

The house was warm and cozy. Soft carpets covering the floor, drove steps. Embroidered blankets and pads decorated furniture, recently woven tapestries were blocked on the walls. There are many crystal on the tables. The most amazing was that my «best friend», which I was going to drive away, didn’t steal anything. For him, such a long manifestation of honesty was a real wonder.

Vincent slept, curling out straight on the rug at the burning fireplace, and his appearance was absolutely innocent, as if it was not he, who helped Francesca in her whims. I did not decide to approach and wake him up. He resembled a homeless child, who was suddenly put to warm up by the fire, and it caused pity. Let him then take the attic if he likes it so much.

«But one more prank and you will find out on the street, my friend,» I added out loud.

Vincent sleepy asked:


«Nothing, sleep further,» I have already gathered to leave, but he called me.


«Yes,» I turned around.

«Thanks!» said Vincent. «You turned out to be more hospitable as the countess, she never even invited me to spend the night. If you already help her to return to the castle, then tomorrow we can put a visit to her, have a heart-to-hear talk with her. What would you do not decide, I will accept your side… so, from a sense of duty.»

«The countess!» I repeated tiredly, I threw the curls from the forehead, they were still wet from rain and snow. What did I do with the countess? I left her in some cave, alone with those who settled there before me.

«Edwin, are you not well?» In the voice of Vincent, for the first time, flashed a concern. «But it is impossible? Truth? You are the same as me, eternal and inviolable for death and ailments?»

«Sit here, I’ll come back soon,» I said strictly.

«Where are you going?» Vincent muttered displeased and suspiciously.

«Search misfortunes to my head,» I recalled with a gloomy humor. It was impossible to answer that I was heading to the cave, check whether the countess was still alive or no longer. Already at the very entrance to the cave, I ordered its inhabitant to behave quietly and calmly stepped in the darkness, which was illuminated by radiance of precious stones. Francesca has already woke up and tried in vain to free up her wrist. In vain attempts have not led to anything, except that the countess accidentally noticed the bronze scales of who settled here before me, and was afraid of him.

«You can never wake a sleeping predator, otherwise, when you awaken, his anger will certainly fall on you,» I said. The sounds of my voice hit the walls of the cave, but the echo did not follow them, only the oppressive dead silence.

Francesca turned out so abruptly that the chained wrist jumped involuntarily, and the shackle cut the skin to the blood.

«It is you again!» She just exhaled, either with hatred, or with a contempt, and maybe just with reproach.» I tried to turn away not to see the pale face of Francesca. From the smell of her blood began to torment me. The nails on the hand came up and stretched out, and I hid the hand behind my back. There is no need once again to watch the glitter of gold claws, it is too dazzling even for my own eyes. The flakes on golden claw caused inconvenience, this armor appeared on the wrist only in the case when I don’t avoid killing, but there was no one in the cave except for the countess and a huge reptile. For some incomprehensible reason, I didn’t want longer to kill Francesca, because she was still so young and beautiful.

«If I let you go, do you promise to forget about my existence?»

«Forget?» Francesca stumbled as if the phosphoric light came from my skin blinded her eyes.

«Yes, forget,» I immediately picked up the initiative. «Do not remember more about the picture, about the trip to the castle and even about the estate of Caryatid, I still will not be there soon. I will disappear from someone’s life, as I did it more than once and no longer appear.»

«Of course, you will no longer appear there,» she nodded with an unscrupulous arrogance. «With my silence, you are guaranteed the empty place of the king’s hear.»

It was worth me a lot of work to restrain and not hit her. Francesca sadly laughed.

«Why do you need to sit in the province, near the villages? You would be able to become a pet even by a more powerful king.

«Keep silence!» I ordered strictly.

«Why have I to keep silence? Nobody hears us. There are no royal spies here. And even if there would be someone and conveyed the king about you? It is no use. The monarch wanted to see in you his son and his friend. It would be better if he chose someone from his courtiers to this role, and not a killer and arsonist.»

Without restraining, I threw my hand from behind my back and cut with the claws the shoulder of France. The look of deformed hand shook her before she managed to scream from pain. The necklace was broken, the pearls rolled along the bottom of the cave, the laces were broken, and long red scars from claws stretched on the shoulder. Previously, the executioners branded only fallen women, and I myself, not wanting, stamped the countess. Now these scars will always remind her of what the strength she awakened, touching the portrait.

I cut the chain. Francesca, did not hold on her legs and fell. She tried to push off her palms from the bottom of the cave and climb, but confused in long skirts. The hair fell on her forehead and when she took them into her hand, she saw that I brought a claw for another blow, but this hit did not come over her. The countess screamed and tried to crawl from the a huge ugly snake with fragile dragon wings and a poisonous saliva, fluttered along with blood of dissected throat. Her ankle stuck between the broken and sharp growths of stalagmites, so it could not be released. I had to throw off the shoe and it probably remained forever to lie among the flickering stones and minerals. I did not doubt that now the countess will be go out from the cave and will find the road herself, but still on the way back, knocking at her fortress, I ordered the servants to take the crew and go to meet the countess. Nobody dreamed me to object, my statement was too convinced that her lordship had changed her mind to sail over the see.

Returning home, I found Vincent there. It was clear that he had already found out everything and believed that I behaved me mean, even worse than he himself.

«Go drink something and don’t look at me as if I am a complete villain,» I warned. «You also did not always follow the conscience.»

«Do you mean a granted village?» He immediately became red, quite, as a schoolboy who was guilty. Only he was not ashamed at all, and just afraid of punishment and regretted that he was so quickly caught.

«Was it noble?»

«At least you had the opportunity to fly,» he grunted softly, but I appreciated the justice of comments. If I myself had now decided to attack, then Vincent could not fly or hide or even defend.

«Immediately it is clear that the angry crowd did not attack you.»

«You’re wrong,» Vincent objected, but it was useless to ask him about the troubles of the past, he would still not tell anything. Even now he fell into the sullen, almost partisan silence, fearing unwanted questions.

«Well, if you were the same, it means that we are comrade in misfortune. You can go, console your countess. She now needs only the presence of a poet or a confessor. For whom do you give yourself this time? Maybe even she will confess your doubts to you. And then you will tell me what it is to confess noble ladies,» I pulled my hands to warm them up above the fireplace. I was glad that the hand became beautiful and smooth again. There were no reminders of the scandal and murder that happened in the cave. I violated the law of secret society for the second time, but did not feel guilt. After all, this slippery snake almost attacked me myself, not to mention the frightened Francesca. In addition, I knew that the Camille would not decide again to invade the residence of fairies and to demand justice in all his voice.

«Okay, I will visit all our neighbors to recognize the news?» said Vincent. «By the way, do you not allow me to borrow one of those beautiful hats that are folded in the dressing room. You still got used to walking with a uncoated head, and I don’t like cold.»

«Soon you will begin to claim my castle,» I said as a joke.

«In no case. I hate winter and frost. There is an eternal winter around the castle, it is better to enjoy such a luxury for yourself,» Vincent seriously objected and at the end of the gloomy tirade received the long-awaited permission to choose in the dressing room what he likes.

Before leaving, he was delayed to report:

«All the same, this beauty is too stupid and unbalanced, even if she tried to enlighten someone about our problems, then her statement would be accepted for a book story which she herself had invented.

He marked simply all experienced by us with an expression «problems» — only Vincent was capable of such optimism. He corrected in front of a mirror a hat with magnificent feathers, playfully spent his fingers on plume of the hat and bowed politely, just as after our first conversation in the tower, from which there was no stone for a long time. It was necessary to be more careful, and not to let such an intriguer, like Vincent even on the threshold, but I could not do anything with me. He reminded me of the past, was the only living being on Earth, which I remembered me as I was before my fatal transformation, even before the day, when I first woke up in the dungeon, which became the workshop of the sorcerer.

Of course, I did not want to take a boarder, I have Percy, who was arbitrarily volunteered to help me in all matters. I could not entrust Vincent a single order. So, he simply settled on me with the rights of a poor relative or a classmate. I didn’t know how he wanted to introduce himself to others.

Having decided not to let him down for a long time, I also picked up the first hat, the cloak and went on feet to the castle of the countess. It was necessary to look after Vincent so that he did not make new troubles. After long flights and lightning overcoming spaces, it was pleasant to feel the solid soil under my feet. Probably, just as nice and unusually you went on feet after a long sailing.

Francesca did not have to go far, the coach picked her up almost at the entrance of the cave. Of course, I did not wait for gratitude for my foresight. Most likely, if I decided to visit her openly again, I would run into new reproaches, charges and curses. Fortunately, I did not need directly declare my visit. For a long time, walking on the wide range of cities, I discovered the opportunity quietly to fly to the highest windows and without the knowledge of the owners to follow what they were doing at leisure. This way to apply courtesy visits I really liked. Lightning and silent movements and almost silent breathing did not give out my presence, but I could learn a lot of interesting things, while observing incognito. Only Vincent once managed to calculate that I was followed him, and then thanks to the lost hat, and not his own foresight.

At the foot of the hill at which the count’s fortress rose, I stopped. This dark monolith with a multitude of towers appeared unshakably calm, but inside the warm halls, furnished in the last fashion, reigned real turmoil. The interested servants and maids whispered in the corridors, the last gossip turned out to have all new and very incredible details. The cooks were busy in the kitchen, hoping that the tired, sick mistress at the insistence of the doctor will try at least a broth — this decoction, similar to the soup now prescribed by doctors from all diseases. But the countess refused to eat and drink. Her strange disease could be reduced to the grave and a more stronger man, but Francesca was still full of power. What helped her stay on the feet, melancholy, thirst for revenge or impending madness?

It was unlikely that she could lose the mind from such a smallness as her little adventure in the stormy sea. Looking at the window, I saw that Francesca in a black mourning dress sat in a chair and sorted by fingers an agate rosary. Her face was frozen and impenetrable as a very elegant plaster mask. There were doctors and a priest near her chair. Vincent was in the room too and sometimes inserted his witty replicas into the conversation. Light in the room was very small, and all bright things, even the tapestries are replaced with a more gloomy, an iron binding is inserted into the window: whether to dull the flow of light, or so that no one uninvited to penetrate the fortress through the window. It must be, after seeing the gold scales on the skins of the dragon, even the weakest light hurt the eyes of Francesca. She painfully pushed, looking at the candle. Their in the room was only a few, one in the candlestick on the table and three more in the wall brake. Doctors had to strain all their eyesight to get the necessary bottles of ointments from their aid kits. It was quite difficult to do, without disassembled the labels, such a number of herbs and minerals, crushed into powder, pill, balms and various tinctures were not even by the court doctor, to whom I was somehow advised to contact Florian.

The priest proposed the countess a spiritual assistance and a prayer in blue velvet binding, but she pulled firmly a thick book with the tips of the fingers, as if she was afraid of burning. It is unlikely that someone noticed that she painfully frowned, only I caught the vibration of pain, which the countess felt. Only an hour spent in my castle did their job. Francesca could not force herself to pray. She was afraid of the deserved punishment. My castle was for her exactly a ghost world, where she was allowed only once.

«Rest and decoctions of the doctors will certainly return your health,» Vincent said, he ignored all those present, referring to the countess alone, but she seemed to not notice him and other people who were around her.

Vincent was right. She was very pale, even her bright scarlet lips became pale pink almost white.

«We are so glad that you escaped from the devil, child?» inserted his word the priest. «The very devil who attacked…» He eloquently pointed with his hand in the one way, where the ashes of the burned village were left behind the deaf walls of the castle.

Francesca did not even respond. She looked at one point and did not want to talk to anyone.

«You need to be glad that the Savior appeared on time,» said Vincent, but no one caught a note of irony in his voice. «By the way, you are very lucky that he managed to save you.»

«You say it was an angel?» The priest inquired.

«Oh, yes, it was an angel in the appearance of a gold-haired stranger, but he could not cope with the monster. It hid only for a while,» Francesca squeezed the rosary with such a force that it almost broke out. The mourning fit her. The black strong dress with a high deaf collar, was fastened on pearl buttons. It is interesting, will she show someone scratches from the dragon’s claws on her shoulder or will try to heal them herself, and until the end of life will cover the scars with a shawl.

«Could you describe the cave in more detail?» asked Vincent.

«I remember bad the road,» Francesca left a direct answer. «Although, I am sure that the evil must be eradicated. The demon does not have the right calmly to pace among us. We must organize the campaign in his possession, to catch him at a time when he is vulnerable. And you will go with us by taking all the necessary attributes for his expulsion,» she turned to the priest.

«And I will go with you,» resolutely and barely holding back a laughter said Vincent. «And we need the doctors too, and then suddenly this demon will wound someone who will then treat the fighters for justice.»

The doctors didn’t like such a prospect. Ready to nominate the hundreds of predictions not to go, they still did not decide to argue under the burning look of the countess.

«You can always count on me, milady,» Vincent bowed.:With you I’ll go even in a personal crusade, only… Could you try to remember the road to the cave. Suddenly I find there something useful for our purposes.»

He took the glass with heated drug and put it in white, strongly thinned fingers of countess.

«Do you feel better?» An elderly healer asked.

Francesca flinched, as if she was reminded of something extremely unpleasant, but hurried to answer:

«Yes. Your drugs helped me,» she looked at the window as if she saw me through the wall and white veil of snow. I hurriedly flew away, so that she did not notice me. Vincent continued to play the role of a friend.

Only after some time, Vincent came out of the castle almost in an embrace with a disgruntled doctor.

«I assure you, it’s all melancholy and shyness,» said Vincent, drowning objections. «Soon she will be healthy.»

«You take too much on yourself, a young man,» the Doctor. tried to throw off the trained hand of Vincent. An attempt failed.

«You are mistaken!» Vincent’s kindly objected to the doctor and went with him as far as possible from the fortress. «I, on the contrary, did not accept the part of the responsibility that I have right now.»

«You?» followed the skeptical question.

«Yes. I will soon marry her ladyship,» the joking application made the effect of thunder strike. The doctor immediately became kinder and responsive.


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