Katrina, The Beginning
A Royal Blood Chronicle | Book 1
very still, staring straight ahead just as I was told. Being asked to sit for a
portrait to be displayed in the Sanctuary’s grand library was a great honor. My
name is Katrina Von Dracek, and I can’t believe how long it’s been—almost one
hundred thirty years. Now I’ve been asked to chronicle my journey from the
I sat very still, staring straight ahead just as I was told. Being asked to sit for a portrait to be displayed in the Sanctuary’s grand library was a great honor. My name is Katrina Von Dracek, and I can’t believe how long it’s been—almost one hundred thirty years. Now I’ve been asked to chronicle my journey from the beginning.
From this vantage point atop the castle’s west wall I could see the entire valley. The breeze was cool, but no longer held any threat of winter.
What would the rest of my life be like, I wondered? All young girls, I supposed, want love, but I also wanted adventure, to travel the world, to make a difference in some way. It would be a long life, I knew, for vampires live a very long time.
I appraised my surroundings. The night was breathtaking. With my vampire gift of acute hearing, I heard a stag in the woods nearby. There was no moon tonight but my enhanced vision made the darkness as clear as the day.
I remembered from my history lessons that back in time, the earliest known vampires could not tolerate the sun or control their lust for blood, but just as all creatures have evolved through the centuries to survive, so have we, although some of the clans prefer, as they call it, to stay true to their heritage. Vampires are mostly born now, not made. Blood lust has been tamed by the hunting of animals and the use of crimson, blood from our human watchers mixed with an ancient elixir which vastly multiplies a small amount of blood and enables it to stay fresh indefinitely.
Just as I turned to leave I saw a shadow, too fast to be human, streaking across the field toward the front gate. I had been up on the wall for hours, and although vampires can easily move very quietly, I had neither seen or heard anyone leave the castle.
“I have to find Quinn,” I said to myself.
Quinn is my Watcher and my friend, one of the seven Voss brothers who watch over us. The Watchers are the personal human gaurd of the vampires, men who have dedicated their lives to the well being of their vampire families, none more loyal than the Voss.
I turned and rushed toward the stairway leading to the entrance courtyard just as Quinn was coming toward me.
“Oh, there you are Quinn. What has happened?”
“A courier has just arrived. The whole council is to meet in Salzburg, and to bring along young royal representatives from each family. You will be joining your father. Come with me now, for we must prepare to leave. The journey is long and the Council is to meet in just fourteen days.”
Quinn, always wanting what is best for the family. He and I had become so close that my father sought to warn me. “Katrina,” he said, “Quinn is your Watcher and must stay just that.”
I told my father in no uncertain terms that Quinn was also my friend, just my friend, but I found myself wondering if that was still the truth. Had I started to feel something more? No, he was my friend, and of course I cared for him, yes even loved him, but as a friend, only a friend. Right? I guessed that I would need to sort this out, but that would have to wait, for tomorrow we must travel north and east, a journey full of danger. The unknown is always both the most frightening, and the most exciting part.
With the clans being represented by their royal families’ most worthy young members, the royals going to Council would number in the hundreds, all traveling with their Watchers, servants, and numerous wagons for provisions and gifts for the leaders, especially the High Regent.
“Katrina, you look weak. When was the last time you fed? Did you drink anything today at all?”
Quinn was right; with everything that was going on I hadn’t had crimson or been out to hunt for days. I realized I could have gone dormant in my sleep, a kind of hibernation if you will, which saves us when we have to hide, heal, or survive when food either is not available or is tainted. This dormant state can last hours, days, weeks, or even years. I had no time for that, but now that Quinn brought it up, I felt too weak to hunt. Why hadn’t I paid more attention? Suddenly my vision started to fade, and the last thing I remembered was leaning against the wall to steady myself from the feeling of dizziness. When I awoke, Quinn was wrapping a cloth around his wrist.
“You must be more responsible.” he chided me. “I can’t be in charge of your feedings too!”
He was angry, so angry his face was turning red, and though I had never bitten a human, the vein bulging on his neck was making me feel something I had never felt before, blood lust. It didn’t help that he was so handsome, and as he kept ranting about how I was ignoring my training, my studies, and everything else, I couldn’t help admiring the ruggedness of his jaw and the way his dark brown hair flopped onto his face, his beautiful face.
“Katrina, Katrina! Are you even listening to me at all?”
Snapping out of my trance was almost painful; I would have liked to remain in that reverie just a little longer.
“Katrina,” he said as he walked toward me.
It took all the strength I had to stop myself from throwing my arms around his neck, his very inviting neck, and kissing him passionately.
“What is wrong with you Katrina? We have no time for this!”
I had to turn away just so I could gather myself, and then suddenly, out of nowhere, tears filled my eyes.What was wrong with me? Quinn placed his hands on my shoulders and turned me towards him. When he saw the tears in my eyes, he froze for a moment; then his face softened and I thought I saw something new there, but then he hardened again and said, “You must be more careful.”
He turned and strode away, leaving me feeling empty and alone.
I walked to my room in a daze, suddenly tired again.
Pulling the door open even seemed difficult. Once inside, I was so pleased to see the bed turned down and sweet bread, butter, and a glass of wine on the table. Thank goodness for Sarah, my handmaiden and confidant.
I ate the bread quickly and savored the wine. Then, too exhausted to put on the dressing gown left out for me, I lay down on the bed and the last thing I remember was picturing the look in Quinn’s eyes and wondering what it meant. Though it had been fleeting, it had been there, hadn’t it? And with that thought I slept.
My mind was racing and my heart was pounding so loud I was sure everyone in my compound could hear it.
What had just happened? I had seen something different in the way she looked at me. I was sure it wasn’t just because I had yelled at her. I had never had to hand-feed her before; was that it? Was it the fact that I had cut myself and let her feed directly from my wrist? But she hadn’t woken up until afterwards, so she didn’t know I had given her blood from my arm or that she had actively engaged in direct feeding.
I knew of course that it was strictly forbidden for a Watcher to give blood directly, but when she fainted it was clear that she was about to go into a dormant state. So I acted, thinking only of getting fresh blood into her to revive her quickly. As my knife opened the vein on my wrist, the scent made her nostrils flare and the same instincts that had kept vampires alive for centuries kicked in. She grabbed my arm and began to feed like a newborn baby at her mother’s breast The movement was so swift and powerful I wasn’t sure I could have stopped her even if I’d wanted to.
The feeling I’d had while she was feeding was pure euphoria and only the sound of my brother coming up the stairs made me break the bond. Then I carried her to a side room to recover. “Break the bond.” Why had I thought of it that way? Was that it? Had that short feeding changed everything?
Entering the courtyard of the Watcher compound, I found three of my brothers, Thomas, Simon, and Avery, seated around the roaring fire. The smell of venison and red cedar firewood made my mouth water. Only then did I realize I hadn’t eaten since yesterday. I needed to take my own advice, especially when I and my brothers were also giving and storing blood for our charges. Baron Von Dracek would surely also hunt along the way, but there might not be game in the high country, and added strength would definitely be needed. Extra blood to mix must be stored; nothing gives strength to vampires like human blood.
As I sat by the fire to eat, I heard my oldest brother, Gunter, approaching.
“We missed you at training today,” Gunter told me. “Don’t let it become a habit. None of us can be the weak link.”
I was the youngest of seven brothers, something the other six never let me forget. It was exciting to think I would now have a chance to prove myself on this journey. I was bound to protect Katrina no matter what might happen, even if that meant giving my life for hers, as many of my family had done for generations.
“Quinn,” said Gunter, “we have decided that four of us must accompany the Baron and Katrina on this trip, and we feel you may be too young and untried in battle to be one of the four.”
I jumped to my feet, pulled my sword, and with anger I didn’t know I possessed, looked Gunter straight in the eye and said through clenched teeth, “I dare any of you to try to keep me from my duty. Nothing is going to stop me, including you, Gunter. If you have any doubts, let us settle them here and now.”
Gunter gave a surprised look to Thomas and slowly rose from the seat he had just taken by the fire. Looking around at the others seated, he shrugged and said, “All right, little brother, let’s see what you’ve learned.”
As I backed into the open part of the courtyard, Gunter drew his sword. The fire reflecting off the blades made them seem alive. We circled first right and then left. Gunter lunged, his sword held high. Though moments before I had felt tired and weak, I was now invigorated by anger and the thought that my brothers would try to leave me behind.
I countered Gunter’s move, our swords clanking in the night. Out of the corner of my eye I could see servants and the other brothers gathering. Guards were yelling encouragement from above.
“That’s it, lad, don’t let Gunter push you about!”
Gunter was strong, but my speed easily made up for his extra years of training. I had always been a fast learner. Although Gunter had trained all of us brothers, I could see surprise in his eyes, for there was something in me he hadn’t seen before: pure rage. With the rage, I felt stronger, quicker, and more alert. When Gunter made a mistake, I seized my chance. As he lunged, I easily jumped aside. As my brother went by me, I whacked him on the back of his head with the hilt of my sword.
Gunter turned and swung for my head, but I ducked and hit him in the gut with my fist, using all the power I could muster. He bent over in pain and shock, and as I backed away the crowded courtyard erupted in cheers and laughter.
“I guess your little brother showed you a thing or two, Gunter,” a guard said from above.
Gunter raised his head, his hands still on his knees, and yelled, “Don’t you all have work to do? Be gone, for tomorrow comes quickly!”
Still breathing hard, I remained in an attacking stance, ready to continue if I must and capable of taking on all of my brothers, if need be. I would not be denied. This was my destiny, now more than ever.
Gunter slowly stood and put his sword back in his scabbard.
“Well, little brother, you’ve learned well and I have obviously misjudged your skill. You have just earned the right to join us. So it will be the two of us plus Thomas and Simon. Be ready, we leave before dawn.”
I rose with a start, not even sure what day it was. My head throbbed, and just as I was about to ring for Sarah, into the room she rushed, a full breakfast tray in her hands.
She dragged me out of bed, peeled me out of my rumpled dress, and helped me wash, all the while bemoaning the state of my beautiful hair. While I ate, Sarah told me about a fight the night before between Quinn and Gunter. What started it she didn’t know, only that Quinn had seemed to win and that everyone had survived intact.
By the time I had finished my huge breakfast, surprisingly eating every last crumb, plus a large goblet of very fresh crimson, Sarah had finished braiding my hair back away from my face.
I rose and dressed myself in a simple but tasteful traveling outfit of the softest lambskin leggings, riding boots, and a beautifully embroidered emerald green over tunic. Sarah then pushed me in front the mirror, a gift from my father on my seventeenth birthday. Had it been so long since I looked at myself? I hardly recognized the girl in the mirror. The tall young woman looking back at me looked surprised too!
I had to admit, as Sarah often told me, I was pretty. My golden brown hair shone in the candlelight, and my green eyes full of wonder complemented my outfit perfectly. I felt strong and ready for whatever I would face.
Because of the changes in our lifestyle over the past centuries, starting in our seventeenth year we begin to age very slowly. For the next hundred or so years only subtle changes would take place, leaving me looking more mature but essentially the same, unless of course I kept forgetting to feed properly. I would have to apologize to Quinn. I also wanted to ask him about the fight. Maybe I should let him bring it up, I decided.
It was May in Germany, and the mornings were still cool, but the wind was sweet with hints of jasmine in the soft mountain breeze. The birds were already awake, singing and going about their business. The beginnings of sunrise made the eastern sky glow with soft bands of pink and orange.
I closed my eyes and took in a deep breath. In my mind I could still hear my father’s voice asking, “What do you ‘see’ daughter?” When I was small I didn’t understand what he meant, but soon it became so clear. With my sense of smell I found I could “see” almost everything—humans, vampires, and animals alike—and was able to discern their numbers.
Later I could identify individuals, as each being has a unique scent (not always pleasant). I could tell if there were horses, dogs, sheep, goats, and the like. When outside the grounds, I could add my acute hearing to my sensing, to tell not only the kinds of animals or people, human or vampire, but also how far away and in what direction. If I was patient and practiced, Father said, “it would become a very useful gift.” I quickly learned that once I “find” and identify a scent I will never forget it.
“Katrina,” I now heard my father call as he walked towards me. Tall and regal, he looked handsome in his all-black attire, which included a hat and a cape. His slightly greying hair fell to his shoulders.
“Yes Father?” I replied as I hastened to meet him.
“Are you ready? Did you have gifts packed for everyone?”
It was customary to give gifts of friendship to his Lordship the High Regent and his wife the Lady Margarite. But I had also ordered Sarah to pack extra trinkets and sundries in case we needed them along the way.
“Yes Father, everything is in order.”
It must have taken all night to complete all the preparations, I thought.
“Then let us be on our way. The journey is long and we know not what awaits us. Why his Lordship chooses such secrecy I don’t know, and I’m anxious to arrive early and have some time to seek council with others before everyone else arrives.”
“Yes, Father.” I felt as if I were rushing behind him like a young puppy, but I couldn’t keep up with his long stride.
Then I spotted Quinn and my heart started to pound. He was standing by the horses, my beautiful bay mare and his dark grey gelding, their manes fluttering in the early morning breeze. He was talking to Thomas and hadn’t noticed me yet. Why was I reacting to him this way? He’d been my Watcher for a year now, and after all, we had grown up together. It was just Quinn, my Quinn. My Quinn? Where had that come from? He’d always been just Quinn. I was drawing closer now and just as I stepped within a few feet of him, Thomas stopped talking and looked over. Quinn then turned and our eyes met for a moment before he looked away.
“My Lady,” they both said at the same time, and made a slight bow of their heads. My Lady? Not, “Good morning, Katrina,” or “Why are you late?” This was all too strange and I was determined to get to the bottom of it soon, but just as I was about to remark on their new attitude the castle guard yelled out.
Count Philepe Bistodeau, his son Gerhardt, and their entourage cantered through the west gate.
“Oh, good, Fredrik. I was afraid you would already be gone,” said the Count.
“We were just about to depart, Philepe,” Father said.
“Excellent, we can travel together. There’s safety in numbers, and we can talk along the way.”
Then Philepe turned his eyes to me.
“Ah, is this Katrina? How beautiful you have become. You remember my son Gerhardt don’t you?”
I did. A pompous, spoiled, self-absorbed peacock, as I remembered; but I said, “Yes, of course. How are you, Gerhardt?”
“I’m getting better all the time. I look forward to a long journey together.”
Oh how marvelous. The thought of listening to him for days on end talk about how great he was made me nauseous.
Quinn brought over my horse, Nulla, and helped me mount. After I was safely in place he gazed up at me and said in a low voice so only I could hear, “Don’t worry Kat; I’ll always be here to save you.”
Then he winked at me and went over to his horse.
I smiled and turned Nulla toward the east gate, Quinn on one side and Simon on the other, so Gerhardt had to ride with someone else.
I turned to Quinn to say thanks, but he was looking straight ahead, a wry smile on his face, I wished I could hear his thoughts.
I was relieved when finally Gerhardt rode by us and joined our fathers. I had endured hours of his trying to engage me in conversation. It was a small victory but a very satisfying one.
For the next three days there was no privacy and no chance to speak with Quinn alone. We would arrive in Salzburg the day after tomorrow, about which I felt both excited and fearful. To have all the young royal vampires together had never happened before. We had met only briefly with the other European clans to discuss rogue vampire killings or other clan business. Most of the other clans I’d never seen. Of course Father had visited all of them, helping whenever help was needed, and knew well those members who had been sent to Council. Along the way I had heard my father speaking to Philepe about how on edge all the clans have been. The council is keeping the peace for now, but rivals are arguing amongst themselves over a new territory across the sea in the New World. Such things I cared nothing about usually, but the thought of younger vampires from several of our clans starting a new coven in this New World, was exciting. I knew I wanted to go. Now all I had to do was convince my father.
Where will all this lead, I wondered. Was it true they intended to send us off to that New World they talked about? The Viking vampires had been going there for hundreds of years and had sent an expedition two years ago. I hoped they would be telling us all about what they saw.
Finally, we were in sight of Salzburg, which was stunning. I had no idea a place could be so grand, so beautiful. We were headed through the city to the Regent’s palace, not too far outside the city gates. We had no time to linger now, but passing the shops, seeing the lovely outfits adorning the women and the couples having lunch, made me wish I had time to stroll the streets and explore all the wonders that abounded there.
Quinn’s voice jerked me back to reality.
“Yes, and I wish.…” Then I realized these were the first words he had said to me for days, and I wondered where Thomas and Simon were.
He said, as if reading my mind, “Thomas and Simon are consulting with Gunter about how best to guard you and his Lordship while in the Palace. What were you about to say?”
I paused. “Nothing.”
My heart sank. I hadn’t been alone with him all this time, and now that I did have a chance, I couldn’t think of anything to say. What a fool I was!
Quinn turned to me, and the look on his face showed me that he couldn’t think of anything either.
“You’d be coming with me? That is, if they really are sending us to start a New World coven, I mean.”
“Nothing is sure, Katrina. What we’ve all been hearing is just speculation. The High Regent may have called the Council together to tell us something completely different. He may even forbid anyone to go to this ‘New World’ as you put it. But I will say this: whereever you are, that’s where I’ll be until I am no longer.”
Then he looked ahead, as did I, to see that Thomas was returning.
He did love me. I was sure of it now.