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Dead Ice (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 24) Laurell K. Hamilton 2022/8/5 17:00:49

"My apologies, Melchior, but her desire to be seduced is very strong. It pushes at my determination to behave myself." I always pronounced his name like Mel-Core, but when Irene said it, it sounded like Mill-Key-Or, and much more exotic. Jean-Claude's pronunciation was closer to hers than my middle American blandness.

"A good king shows restraint."

"A good master does not leave his servant wanting."

"I do not have your inclinations, my lord. My love is for our shared art, not the art of flesh."

"How sad for your servant," Jean-Claude said.

"Perhaps, but more sorrow if her art had been destroyed for pursuit of fleshly pleasures."

"It's not one or the other," I said. "There's middle ground."

"Irene is free to find a lover, if it does not interfere with our work."

"What would you do if her lover did interfere with the work?" I asked, watching the stranger make Irene's face look thoughtful. He stroked a hand along a beard she didn't have.

"Nothing is allowed to interfere with our art."

"Would you kill him after she had fallen in love?"

Irene's face looked at Jean-Claude. "You do allow your servant to speak out of turn, my lord. We old ones puzzle over that."

"Don't look at him when I'm the one talking to you, Melchior." I would have pulled away from Jean-Claude's hand, but he tightened his grip on my hand and I didn't fight him. I wouldn't do anything else to make him appear weak to the ancient vampire who was staring at us from Irene's face.

"This is why we do not marry our servants, Jean-Claude; it gives them ideas above their station."

"You arrogant son of a bitch."

"And she curses like a stevedore," he said, folding Irene's thin arms across her chest in a way that was again more like a man would do it than a woman; he controlled Irene's body, but he couldn't feel everything the way she did. She'd have moved her arms slightly over her breasts, not the way he had them. Interesting; he could move the body, but how much could he feel?

"Insulting my bride-to-be is arrogant, though I cannot speak of the status of your parents."

I glanced back to see if Jean-Claude was joking, but his face was empty of expression, like a beautiful statue that just happened to move. It meant he was hiding very hard, which meant this was more serious than I understood. I hated dealing with the really old vampires; they were usually arrogant, and some of them were just . . . alien, as if the huge gap of centuries made them more other. Was it time, or were those long-ago cultures more alien than history understood?

"If I insulted you indirectly, my deepest apologies, my lord." He made a bow with Irene's body that just looked like it needed a taller, beefier body to go with it. It was like a bad puppeteer. I'd seen the Traveller, one of the ex-vampire council members, take over bodies, but he was better at it, smoother, more complete. This one seemed reluctant to move Irene's feet much, as if he wasn't certain of everything around her body, or couldn't feel her feet.

I squeezed Jean-Claude's hand and then let go of it slowly, wondering if touching each other was helping us "combat" the other vampire's mind games. I could feel the power rolling off Irene more, but other than sensing the power more, it wasn't bad.

"There are other jewelers, Jean-Claude. I don't want to wear a ring made by someone who sees me as less than a person." I moved slowly toward Irene.

"As you wish, ma petite," Jean-Claude said, making a sweeping gesture at the sparkling treasures on their velvet cloth. "Pack these up, Melchior, and take them away."

I moved closer to Irene, but she didn't even look at me. All her attention was on Jean-Claude, as his face showed that this was unexpected. "My lord king, we are close to finishing the design for the rings."

"We will begin again with another jeweler. They may not be the great artists that you and Irene are, but I'm sure they will be able to help us create something of lasting beauty. Though finding a living jeweler who has a true flair for crowns and diadems will be difficult. It's almost a lost art among the living, don't you think, Melchior?"

Irene's face looked pained, and her hand pressed to her chest. "Crowns, diadems, this is the first you mentioned such things."

"We had been discussing having something to hold Anita's veil in place. I know your work of old, Melchior; you would have done a masterful job of it, but we will make do with someone else. Perhaps Carlo will be interested in having a chance to create the first crown for vampirekind in centuries."

"That charlatan! No, my lord, my king, Jean-Claude, please do not turn to Carlo. He has no eye, no feel for the metal."

"You are a master of metalwork, Melchior, that is true, but it has been said that Carlo has a better eye for jewels. I prefer the jewels to the metalwork, so perhaps it's just as well."

"My lord, you must be teasing me."

I was right up next to Irene now. Her feet were at odd angles. The vampire ignored me as if I weren't standing right next to his servant's body. He discounted me completely. I wasn't sure if it was my being human, being female, or both, but either way I'd had enough. I moved a little behind Irene's body and foot-swept her legs out from under her. She fell so suddenly that if I hadn't been more than human-fast I couldn't have caught her in time. I held her in my arms and stared into her eyes and could finally see that they weren't as black as her hair, but a deep, rich brown. I smiled into those startled brown eyes and said, "You can't feel her feet. If I hadn't caught her she could have been hurt."

"What is your servant doing?" He turned Irene's face to look at Jean-Claude again, rather than me, though my face was inches from his.

"If you can't feel her body perfectly, it makes me wonder how tight your bond is with your human servant. It makes me wonder how hard it would be to give Irene a choice." I whispered that last against her cheek, their cheek.

Either he felt my breath or the whisper had gotten his attention, because he turned her face to lo

ok at me. "What are you talking about, woman?"

I smiled, and knew it was my unpleasant smile, the one that said I could do really awful things and never stop smiling. It wasn't voluntary, and it always unnerved people for some reason. "Look into my eyes, Melchior."

He gave a little chuckle. "That's our line, surely."

I felt my necromancy open like a fist too long closed. The power marched across my skin in a wave of goose bumps and hit Irene's skin where we touched.

"What is that?" He looked again at Jean-Claude. "Is that you, my lord?"

Jean-Claude shook his head and smiled.

Those brown eyes turned back to me. I was still holding Irene's body in my arms as if she weighed nothing, and she couldn't have been much over a hundred pounds. Her body was fragile, as if too many of her bones were too close to the surface, and again I thought she'd spent too much of her human life near starvation. It left its mark on you, and that thought wasn't mine, nor were the memories that went with it. Jean-Claude had been born poor, and he had memories of going to bed hungry, of listening to his sister's cry from lack of food.

"It is you, my lord, I see your eyes in her face," and the voice was happy again, satisfied.

I closed my eyes and called my power, chasing back Jean-Claude's memories. When I opened my eyes again, Irene was afraid of whatever she saw there. "Your eyes . . . they are cognac diamonds in the sun, so bright . . ." I knew it was my eyes as if I'd been my own vampire. I'd seen it happen before by accident, but lately I'd been able to do it when I wanted to do it.

"Go away, Melchior; leave Irene free to answer a question for me."

"What question?" He still sounded arrogant, even with fear in the edges of her eyes.

"I will ask her if she wishes to be free of you. Free to find a lover that you won't kill if he interferes with her work. Free to have a life outside your workrooms."