Prologue: The Swan and Raven
Author: Elizabeth Darkheart
Characters: Princess Beta, Prince Pierce, Prince Choronzon (OC), Lady Anna (OC), Jab Ackerman
Ships: PB/P, OC/OC
Rating: PG - 13
Word count: 1876
Disclaimer: All Sangunity characters and locations belong to HGR inc. No copyright infringement is intended.
Prince Choronzon Erik Vladimir de Gravina belongs to the brilliant PrinceC, who kindly gave me permission to use him. (Yay!)
Lady Anna Honorata Kallay is my original character. Please ask if you want to use her!
Author's Note: The Fanfictionidol judges have permission to repost my entry and to quote from it as necessary for critiquing.
Prologue: The Swan and Raven
"Do you think we can make it home before sunset?" princess Beta asked. She was looking out at the sea through the carriage window, and for a moment a flash of lightning gave her face, pale with anxiety, a golden glow.
Anna, the princess’s lady-in-waiting, leaned towards the window. The sight was terrifying, although beautiful in a way. The horizon was hardly visible at all; the sea and the stormy clouds looked almost the same, steely grey in colour and moving furiously.
“I don’t think this storm will calm down soon, Your Highness,” Anna said.
“Neither do I,” said the princess, “but couldn’t we sail in spite of the storm?”
“There are no ships on the sea now,” Anna said mildly and looked at the other two passengers, Prince Pierce and Jab Ackerman, for support. She genuinely admired the princess’s courage, but she wasn’t so keen on braving the stormy sea herself.
“I’m afraid that would be almost impossible, Beta,” Prince Pierce said to the princess. “We could all die. I would strongly advise that we stay here until tomorrow and spend the night in an inn.”
The princess said with a hint of impatience in her voice: “But it isn’t impossible to sail during a storm, is it? I mean, people get caught in storms on the open sea and most of them survive!”
“That’s true, Beta,” the prince said in his deep, calm voice, “but it’s better to avoid danger if we can. There are underwater rocks around the harbour, and in a storm like this we could easily crash into them. These waters are actually more dangerous than the open sea.”
Anna was grateful the prince spoke about the matter with such confidence. She was sure princess Beta would trust his judgement and agree to stay on land. And indeed the princess said after a moment of silence
“You’re right, Pierce. We shall stay on land until tomorrow. But we are not safe here either, as you know very well.”
She didn’t have to use the word vampires, a word most people avoided saying out loud, for her companions to know what she meant.
“We should be all right if we find lodgings before sunset, Your Highness,” Jab Ackerman said.
Princess Beta nodded in agreement and Ackerman leaned out of the window and yelled out to the driver that they had changed their plans. Anna could hear him giving directions to an inn he knew, called The Swan and Raven. Listening to the loud rolls of thunder, she thought once again how glad she was they weren’t going to sail tonight.
It didn’t take the passengers very long to arrive at The Swan and Raven. Jab Ackerman had said it was the only inn he knew that would have rooms suitable for ladies, and indeed it looked pleasant: a large white house with a thatched roof and the symbol of the sun – the vampires’ greatest enemy -- carved above every door and window. The princess and her lady-in-waiting pulled the hoods of their cloaks over their heads to protect themselves from the heavy rain and followed the prince and his friend to the door. Before they entered the inn Anna caught a glimpse of the castle on top of the cliffs, once the home of Princess Beta’s family and now the source of terror to all people in the kingdom. The sight of the pointed spires outlined on the stormy sky gave her a strange sensation she wasn’t sure how to define.
They entered the inn and Jab Ackerman spoke to the landlord.
“These three noble travellers are looking for shelter,” he said, not wanting to reveal the identity of the princess, but as soon as the landlord’s eyes fell on her it was obvious that he had recognised her. He greeted her with a deep bow, his face shining with delight, and said that the lady and her companions would have his best rooms and that he didn’t want to accept any payment – he wanted them to be his personal guests. He refused to change his mind on this, and the princess finally gave in; Anna knew that she was planning to leave a generous reward for him anyway.
The inn was crowded and noisy, but the landlord showed his new guests to a private dining room upstairs. It was a simple, but comfortable and clean room with a large oak table. The window was protected with wrought iron bars, and the symbol of the sun was carved on the wall above.
“To keep us safe, my lady,” the innkeeper said when he saw Princess Beta looking at the window. “No one has ever been attacked in this house. But we’ll feel even safer now that you are with us. It is as if an angel has come to protect us.”
The princess said nothing, but there was a sad look in her eyes, as if she wanted to say, “I wish I really had the power to protect you, but I don’t.”
Supper went by in a relaxed, although not very cheerful mood. The windowpane was shaking with the wind and rain, but the food was good and a pleasant fire was burning in the fireplace.
Anna kept glancing at Princess Beta and Prince Pierce who were sitting on the opposite side of the table. They seemed so alike, with their pale skin, high foreheads and golden brown hair, and at the same time they complemented each other perfectly – the prince with his strong, broad shoulders and the princess with her graceful, swanlike neck. When they bent their heads towards each other to talk they looked almost unearthly, like a king and queen from one of the portraits or tapestries in the royal palace. Anna was sure that the prince and princess would eventually marry each other, although neither of them ever mentioned it.
She sighed. The harmony that was so visible between them made her feel painfully alone.
It was somewhat humiliating, having to sit far from them and beside Jab Ackerman. He was not a bad person, of course – the prince must have had his reasons for choosing him as a friend – but he wasn’t very interesting to talk to and his table manners weren’t exactly fit for royal company.
Thankfully, Ackerman didn’t try to make much conversation with her so she was left with her own thoughts. No matter what she was thinking of, one picture kept appearing before her mind’s eye: the dark silhouette of Lord De Gravina’s castle on the steel-coloured sky. Anna had the nagging feeling that there was something very strange about that picture.
What could have caused the feeling? The castle hadn’t looked any different than usual, but there was still something about the scene that troubled her.
Or perhaps, she suddenly realised, there was nothing unusual about the scene itself. There was something strange about the way she felt about it, but she couldn’t quite put it into words.
The princess was presented with the largest and most beautiful room available at The Swan and Raven. A door connected that room with a smaller one, in which a bed was prepared for Anna.
“Shall I leave the door open, Your Highness?” Anna asked before retiring.
“Yes, please do, Anna. We shall watch over each other,” the princess said.
Anna went over to the window and looked outside. The storm had calmed a little and it looked as if the sun had already set, although it was hard to tell with dark clouds covering the sky. There wasn't a living soul outside in the streets of the village – a strange calm had descended on it with nightfall.
Anna undressed for bed, feeling grateful that she was here and not out on the cold and dark sea. She put out the candle and quickly got under the cover and buried her head into the soft pillow. Being here felt so good, she thought, that it was hard to believe that they were actually in great danger.
And then, as she was drifting into sleep, she suddenly realised what had been troubling her about the moment she looked at Lord De Gravina’s castle before entering the inn.
She didn’t feel any fear while looking at their enemy’s stronghold. She only felt a strange kind of excitement, something she could almost call... desire.
The realisation made Anna feel uneasy. She could hear Princess Beta’s even breathing from the other room, but she herself wasn’t able to fall asleep for a long time.
Anna couldn’t tell how much time had passed, or whether she had been sleeping or not, when there was a commotion outside.
She could hear hurried footsteps on the corridor and downstairs, the sound of doors and windows being slammed shut both in The Swan and Raven and in other houses nearby, and something that sounded like a scream in the distance. But something else was even more unnerving than these noises: an unnatural, dead silence was enveloping them, as if something had killed the sounds of the wind, the waves and the birds.
Anna jumped out of bed, her heart beating strongly. She went to the open door that led to the princess’s room and called out in a hushed voice:
“Your highness? Are you awake?”
No answer was heard, only slow and even breathing that meant that Princess Beta was sleeping.
Anna approached the window and looked out. She could see candles being lit in nearby houses and wished she had some light herself. Just when she decided to put on some clothes and go out in the corridor to ask someone to light her candle, she suddenly froze on the spot.
Something was flying through the air. It was very dark outside, but moving shadows were still visible against the sky, shadows blacker than the night.
Anna stood there unable to move, watching the shadows with a mixture of fear and fascination. She didn’t move even when one of the shadows began to grow larger and larger, so large that it covered everything in sight.
Suddenly there was someone standing outside her window – only he couldn’t have been standing because the window was high above the ground.
If it hadn’t been for the glass windowpane and the iron bars, she would have been able to reach out with her hand and touch him. In the darkness she could make out long, dark hair falling on a pale face, dark eyes that seemed to be appraising her, and something behind his shoulders that looked like beating wings.
Anna remembered that she was undressed and quickly wrapped her arms around her body. The vampire – for he must have been a vampire – smiled a little, bowed his head politely as if he were greeting her, and suddenly flew away.
Anna remained at the window for a few moments, still unable to move. Then she walked unsteadily back to the bed, fell on it and almost instantly drifted into unconsciousness.