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Summary:
AKA The Greatest Story Ever Told, by the Greatest Historian of the World. Aro's lived, figuratively speaking, for three thousand years. Ever wonder what he's seen and done?


Notes:


12. Ante Bellum Part 2

Rating 5/5   Word Count 2659   Review this Chapter

Curly-locks, Curly-locks, wilt thou be mine
Curly-locks, Curly-locks, wilt thou be mine?
Thou shalt not wash dishes, nor yet feed the swine;
But sit on a cushion, and sew a fine seam,
And feed upon strawberries, sugar, and cream.

I shall never forget my first glance of Anna. She didn’t even look at me. It was a crushing blow to my ego.

But then that’s Anna. A keen eye for detail and great talent for observation, yet she could be infuriatingly oblivious. I remember one day I decided to forego my usual dress code and wear clothing according the age’s fashion. I ordered the latest designs from Rome, powdered my hair, even put on make-up as it was the style at the times for men to do so. When I presented myself before Anna expecting praise, she looked around me.

“Aro, move aside. You’re blocking the light.”

I was devastated.

That day, back in Belverde, Anna was looking to Piero, a small, mysterious smile playing at her lips. Even as I watched, one firm, smooth hand with long, delicate fingers reached out to grasp Piero by the elbow. He turned slightly to her and one hand wrapped itself around hers. He smiled at her and whispered something that made her laugh.

Piero then turned to the assembled covens, which had fallen silent. “Welcome.” He smiled. His voice was strong, the type that controlled a crowd easily. “Welcome to Belverde. My name is Piero and I speak for my coven and myself when I thank you for coming here tonight.”

His words grated on my ears. I felt an uncontrollable quiver suffuse my hands. They clenched shut, imagining they were wrapping around his neck. My upper lip curled upward, wanting to become a snarl.

Marcus watched me carefully; his scarlet eyes narrowed. Piero continued speaking and, when he finished, applause greeted him.

Piero, Livius and Anna walked down the stairs to join the throng circling them. The young vampiress began singing again. Laughter and light-hearted chatter permeated the air.

I quietly planned from which direction it would be most propitious to attack.

Marcus grasped my elbow. “I don’t know what happened, but killing him right now will lead to nothing.”

“That Piero was the vampire who turned me.” Hatred lined my words like a blade. “He killed my father and my son.”

Marcus’ eyes were suddenly sympathetic. “I understand your anger,” he whispered. “I do. But you cannot do anything now. It’ll be suicide, for you and for the rest of us. Before you argue with me, let me finish. I promised you I would help you and I will. But use that blessed intelligence you have and consider what the consequences of your actions will be if you do anything now.”

I glared at Marcus. Finally, I took a deep breath, closing my eyes briefly. I nodded and Marcus smiled, his manner comforting.

“Come then.” He motioned to Lidia, Caius and Adelina. “We’re leaving now.”

Lidia floated to my side, one hand reaching out to take mine. What’s wrong, Aro? “What is it?” she asked audibly.

“No, it’s me,” Marcus lied smoothly. “There is something I don’t like here. An odd feeling.” Caius frowned slightly at Marcus’ explanation, but did not oppose it.

I glanced at Adelina. She knew who Piero was and must have known what I was planning. She watched me closely and, though her features were closed, I could read sympathy in the lines of her body. She floated towards me.

“Ten seconds,” she said. “All you have to do is defend me.”

A dark smile crossed my face at her words.

“As tempting as that sounds, I want to destroy him myself,” I whispered.

“The offer remains,” she answered. Then, she turned away from me, discarding me, and hugged close to Caius.

We walked calmly towards the doors. Marcus and Lidia glided alongside me. A brush against Marcus’ elbow revealed his need to remain near me to keep me from doing something drastic. At any other time, it would have irritated me, but it was strangely endearing. A voice floated toward us.

“What a surprise. Aro? Or is it Deofilion, now?”

My coven and I turned as one. His arms crossed before him, Livius glowered at me, a hateful smile transforming his face.

“Livius, always a pleasure to see you.” I bowed mockingly. Lidia subtly stepped on my foot in response/ reproach. Livius began shaking with anger.

“Did you see?” Livius asked, motioning to Piero and Anna, who were conversing with Leo. “I found your friend. Not even a year after you left. It seems like your luck truly is fatal.”

At his words, a violent case of déjà vu overtook me.

Already distraught, I couldn’t control myself. “That’s odd. It seems to me that I wasn’t the one with the fatal enough luck to lose a mate.”

Livius’ smile disappeared. His face turned forbidding. “That’s because you killed her,” he snarled.

Lidia gasped.

“I did no such thing,” I answered him, but directed my response to Lidia. “You really should learn to lay blame correctly.” While I did not mean it that way, my tone made it sound as if I blamed him for Fortunata’s death.

Livius swore and his knees bent slightly to dive at me. He froze in place. A glance to my left revealed a tensed Lidia, frowning at him.

“Livius, what is happening here?”

Marcus groaned quietly. Piero and Anna had joined us. Piero glanced fleetingly over us, but shot a suspicious glance at me. Lidia had let go of Livius abruptly and it was only Piero’s presence that kept Livius from attacking us. Livius glared at me and something in his hesitance made me guess he believed me to be responsible for his immobility. He leaned away from me when he turned to Piero.

“He’s just an old friend. In fact, he knew you once. Does he look familiar to you?” Livius’ tone was deeply antagonistic.

“...Aro Visconti,” Piero replied after a pause. “The one all of Ticinum called ‘Deofilion’. You survived.”

“Splendidly, as you can well see.” I strove to remain calm.

Anna’s eyes finally settled on me. Her gaze was piercing and I could see myself clearly reflected in her scarlet eyes, the color seeming liquid. Her eyes narrowed slightly as she examined me. Her look spoke of a great intelligence and I had the impression that she could see more than others could.

“A friend?” she asked Piero. Her voice was rich and musical.

“Simply an old acquaintance,” he responded, wrapping an arm around her waist. My heart clenched. They were mates.

Anna tensed, her eyes narrowing in warning at him for the briefest second. Her body tilted ever so slightly away from him. They weren’t mates. Piero acted like a mated man, but Anna did not respond to him as a mate would. This realization was what gave me the gall to respond, “Acquaintance? Surely, I’m something greater. You’re practically a father! After all, you turned me.”

Livius started in surprise.

“Did he?” Anna’s tone was more interested. “And what—?”

“Anna, there’s no need to speak to him.”

Anna’s look turned furious.

“That’s hardly a way to speak to a lady, particularly one that looks like a goddess in mortal form.” I winked at Anna, whose eyes widened in surprise before she relaxed into a coquettish grin. My coven started at my words. Livius stared at me in shock and Piero looked downright furious.

“Ignore him. Come, Anna,” Piero continued, “we’ll—”

“I’m thirsty,” she interrupted, her smile fading. She sauntered towards the door, a faint, angry tremble shaking her slender frame.

“Your mate loves you,” I observed mockingly.

“You’re lucky I do not kill you now,” Piero snarled. “Get out before you lose that luck.”

He stormed away, Livius following and throwing nasty glances over his shoulder.

“Give me ten seconds,” Adelina repeated, speaking up suddenly. “All you have to do is protect me. I’ll have him muttering utter gibberish.”

Caius hid a smile at Adelina’s words. “As pleasing as that sounds, it’ll be best to heed his words for tonight and leave.”

“I didn’t know you liked Aro that much.” Lidia teased Adelina.

“I don’t,” Adelina replied bluntly. “I simply didn’t like Piero’s tone.” Lidia laughed at Adelina’s self-righteous look.

Quietly, we exited the room, walking out into the cool fall night. Adelina meandered toward me, falling into step beside me. She opened her mouth numerous times to speak, but always fell silent.

We crossed different scent trails as we traveled to the city gates. We were nearing the outer wall when I came upon a very sweet smell that I immediately recognized. Anna. I paused. As I was the last, none noticed but for Adelina who also stopped. I knew I had to win her over to my side or she’d stop me.

“Adelina, please,” I begged quietly. My voice was raw.

Adelina looked insulted. “You want me to enter their minds and endure their horrors just to create the illusion of you running alongside us? You are insane. Not to mention that they’ll immediately know when they look up.”

“Then keep them from looking up. You’re intelligent. And you’re indebted to me.”

She groaned quietly. “Five minutes,” she snapped, turning to look at the others running ahead. Without looking back, I ran after the scent.

It led to the gardens to the south of the citadel. As I approached, the scent of spilled blood assaulted me. I was hard pressed to remain in control, particularly after I saw the blood begin to drip down the steps leading into the garden. I could hear a heart beating so fast it was almost a gallop. Even as I listened, there was a rustling sound, a moan and the heart slowed and stopped. Carefully, I climbed the stairs, avoiding the rivulet and taking pains to avoid breathing.

Anna held a human man, her arms wrapped around him tenderly. Her head was bent over his neck. Even as I watched, she slowly raised her head, the last of the man’s blood coloring her lips a dark red. A pale tongue flicked out, fanning over her lips and gathering the last drops of blood before disappearing into the dark recesses of her mouth. Her lips sealed in a dark smile. In the sanguine, jeweled tones of her eyes, I could see myself clearly reflected.

“It’s rude to stare while someone is feeding.” Anna finally broke the silence.

“I do apologize, but it’s highly hypocritical to criticize my manners when you’ve left a carcass bleeding before me,” I responded. I don’t know what seized me at that moment. I rarely insult anyone unless I know them well or want to anger them, neither of which applied to Anna. She, however, didn’t appear insulted. Instead, she looked over me, humor sparking in her fair face.

“Few indeed dare speak to me in such a manner.” There was barely repressed laughter in her voice. “You’re quite bold. Or foolish. Which is it?”

“The answer to that depends on who you question, my lady.”

“And why would that be?”

“Let us say I’ve lived through some interesting circumstances.”

Anna smiled. “Come; help me with this, son of god. Then you can regale me with tales of your…‘circumstances’.”

I simpered in response.

As I walked behind her, holding the second body in my arms, I considered how easy it would be to kill her and avenge myself on Piero. Anna wasn’t statuesque like Adelina or willowy like Lidia. From her facial traits, I guessed her to have come from Crete, people of an average stature and slim, athletic bodies. She barely reached my shoulder. She had thin, delicate limbs and a slender, oval face. In fact, all of her was lean, but for her wide hips and softly rounded stomach. It should have been much too easy to kill her. When I was about to attack her, she turned around and she smiled at me. Her smile undid me.

“We’ll put them under there.” She motioned to a large tree, its branches waving softly.

“Let me pull it up,” I volunteered politely.

I set the body down and tread softly toward the tree. Wrapping my arms around the thick trunk, I jerked it up sharply. The tree groaned as the roots were forced from their usual place in the dirt. Anna skipped forward and tossed the bodies into the depression the roots had left. Then, I replaced the tree in its place. Anna tamped down the earth. She inspected the tree then glanced at me, a humored smile spreading across her face.

“The son of god deigned to help a lady,” she began teasingly. “Now, why would he do something like that?”

“Perhaps he’d never met someone like said lady before,” I played along, “and wanted to know more about her.”

“Oh? And what would the son of god ask of the lady?”

“For a single moment to touch her.”

Anna’s eyes darkened, smoldering under her long, dark lashes. She stepped toward me until she stood before me. My hands rose automatically to clasp her arms and I cursed the thin fabric coating them. I froze when she leaned forward, so close her words fell from her lips directly onto mine. “Does he?” she whispered and her voice was a caress. I could feel her very breath against my mouth. I inhaled deeply, reveling in the alluring fragrance.

And she tugged that damned sign out from under my sash. She laughed softly. “If that’s what he wants,” she breathed, her lips mere centimeters away, “I’m afraid he’ll have to win it. And it will be expensive.”

She was suddenly gone from my grasp, leaving me to hold onto air alone. She moved in the direction of her coven’s palazzo, her movements sinuous and measured as a panther. She turned, walking backwards for a brief moment.

“You’ll have to leave now. Piero’s not too happy and he’s not the forgiving type.”

“Wait! You never specified how I could get what I want.”

She laughed. “It’s too bad you’re a hypocritical idiot,” she said with a nod at the sign around my neck. “If not, you would have known. It was a pleasure meeting you…Aro.” She spoke my name slowly, as if savoring it. Then, she whirled, all wild locks of hair and mischievously glinting eyes, and disappeared into the shadows of the citadel.

I wavered between following her and leaving, but the latter finally won. I caught up with my coven nearing the border of our territory. I had long surpassed my time limit and I could feel Adelina’s glare boring a hole into my back. She let go of the illusion and none started with the sole exception of Marcus. He turned back to look at me, half questioning, half angry. Adelina couldn’t create the illusion of the ties of our relationships as she neither knew how they worked or what the colors meant. The moment the ties disappeared, Marcus must have known Adelina had pulled him into a vision.

I ignored them both as we finally reached Volterra. Without bothering to bid farewell, I quitted their company and escaped into my room. I collapsed onto the lectus, two images warring within me.

Chiara was pure light: transparent and bright. Anna was darkness: mysterious and seductive. I had loved Chiara as best one could love a spouse chosen for them. Anna, in a matter of seconds, had awoken desires within me I’d long ignored.

For those of you thinking it was love at first sight, you’re sadly mistaken. I did not love Anna. I was attracted to her, yes. She was beautiful, charismatic and alluring with a strong presence that demanded everyone’s attention and seized it. Who could not be attracted to her?

But, as I lay there on that lectus, my thoughts centered on how I hated her.

I hated her beauty and her charisma; I hated her grace and her cleverness. I hated the power she had over me without even trying, hated how to Piero she was his mate while my wife lay dead. I hated her. Most of all, I hated how I did not truly hate her, not at all. No, instead, I despised how much I wanted her because she was something I could not have.

I wrested with these thoughts the night through. At daybreak, she remained an enigma to me, but I’d come to a conclusion.

I had to see her again.