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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:


21. A Sailor and a Queen

Rating 5/5   Word Count 3694   Review this Chapter

Three wise men of Gotham
Went to sea in a bowl
If the bowl had been stronger,
My song would have been longer.

I watched as sparse, valiant red streams stabbed through the encroaching inky darkness, struggling to stay afloat amidst a dark wave growing deeper. However, no matter their courage, the blackness won—if for a few hours.

I had spent more than five hundred years on Earth and something as simple as a sunset could still affect me profoundly. I suppose it is the eternal paradox: beauty in its brevity, swallowed by darkness to rise and be swallowed again.

Time seems to have driven beauty away from the spoken word—few languages now lend themselves to the poetry of my native tongues.

That day—that sole, fateful day, Anna silently glided toward where I stood on the balcony of my chambers, her eyes turning to face the dying sun. “Are you ready?”

“Yes,” I answered, not a moment’s hesitation, and took her palm in mine.

Will you kill him?

“Yes.” Again, I did not hesitate my response. I had been sure of this course of action—this final piece of my revenge—for a very long time. I kissed her knuckles gently, my eyes leaving the dying light of the sunset for a moment to gaze at the woman for whom I was willing to risk everything.

Anna remained silent and unmoving. Her gaze was penetrating and seemed to burn right to my very core.

I heard the rustle of Lidia’s gown before she floated into the room. In her arms, she held an odd bundle of clothes, which she dropped onto a lectus inside my chamber. “Aro, Marcus needs you.”

“I’ll be there,” I said. She smiled briefly and exited after a moment.

Anna’s hand slid from my grasp and she reached up to my chin, turning my face to her. “Return to me,” she whispered chillingly, “or don’t return at all.”

Before I could react, she turned away from me. She suddenly reminded me of a statue of Lethe, the dark blue of her gown flowing around her like water.

I could read her desire for solitude in the cold, hard lines of her body. I left her to see what Marcus wanted.

When I found Marcus on the terrace, he and Caius were deep in discussion with the Latin leaders, twin brothers named Romulus and Remus. Romulus was more battle inclined than his brother, but Remus was the more intelligent of the two. Their combined abilities had allowed them to keep control of a city that I had believed to be, well, uncontrollable.

“…and the Greeks?” Remus was asking when I walked in.

“The Spartans are at the head of their defense,” Caius explained, drawing lines in a plot of sand. “Nikomachos is leading the vampires there, Leonidas the humans. The Persians are arrogant; Xerxes’ father lost Greece once and his son now wishes to do what his father failed to do. Shahab has manipulated the son’s desires; he now uses Xerxes’ human army to seize the food source.”

“And thus seize control of the vampires,” Remus concluded, nodding understandingly.

“Exactly.”

“And you are certain these Greeks will stop the Persian lines?” Romulus scoffed.

“I have great respect for Sparta and Nikomachos,” said Caius. “Their children are trained from infancy in the way of battle. Their men and women are born to, raised in, live in and die for the art of war. I faced Nikomachos in battle once; his strategy is perfect. He can consider all possibilities, plans against anything that can occur. His ability is such it could be called a seeing ability. He cannot lose.”

I had to hide a smile. Caius sounded almost enamored with the notorious Greek warlord. Then, I had to stifle a snicker as I imagined what his face would look like if he learned that Nikomachos’ original name was Iason. And Iason was the first of Anna’s children.

Romulus still looked unconvinced, but then changed the subject. “Our own defenses?”

“We will focus on a strong attack. Belverde’s offense and defense relies heavily on Persian help. They would have waited, but Aro’s presumptuous actions,” Caius glared out of the corner of his eye at me, “precipitated their plans. Which, I suppose, is actually beneficial for us. With the Greeks guarding land and sea routes, they will not arrive until too late—if at all.”

Remus and Romulus turned to me. “So you’re the man that stole the witch?” Romulus grinned. “My respects.”

“Yes,” Caius sounded distinctly annoyed. “Anna will provide the leverage we need to secure the battle. Piero will not risk her safety.”

“When do we begin?” Remus asked.

“When the sun sets completely, under cover of darkness,” Marcus answered him. The brothers glanced out the tall windows at the very last moments of daylight. By that time, I had finally gotten close enough to the both of them that it was all too easy to reach out for a scroll that Adelina was holding and accidentally graze them.

Apparently, the Latin tradition of frequent leadership change remained in style. If Remus did not fall to Belverde, Romulus would kill him and make it seem like an accident. Romulus would stand no threat to his power, not even his own sibling.

I nodded briefly to Marcus, assuring him that the brothers would not betray us and excused myself aloud. “I do apologize, but I must return to watch over our newest guest.”

I quickly left the terrace and walked up the steps, my mind lost in battle plans. “Anna,” I called as I stepped into the room.

It was empty.

“Anna?” I caught a trace of her scent on the window and then…nothing. She had jumped and was masking her scent so that I could not follow.

Cursing, I wheeled around and sprinted from my chamber. I stumbled into Lidia downstairs, who was watching the Latins assembled within the city. She did not trust them not to attack the humans.

“Anna is gone,” I hissed, grabbing her upper arm.

“What?” Her burgundy eyes widened.

“We need to find her. Come with me.” I began pulling her with me. She wrenched free.

“We can’t,” she said.

“What do you mean we can’t?” I snarled.

“We can’t,” she repeated. I suddenly felt my body grow still. Furious, I was trapped and unable to do anything as she manipulated my body to walk alongside her. She called for Marcus.

“What is it, love?” Marcus questioned, appearing instantly.

“Anna has fled.”

“I expected it.” He sighed after a moment.

“You expected it?” I snapped, my gaze turning to him sharply.

“She loves you, Aro,” he said softly.

To understand the impact of the statement, you must know a little about our native tongues first.

The ancient Greeks, among other cultures, differentiated between the different kinds of love. The first was philia. It symbolized the love one felt for one’s community, for one’s family. Hence your filial love.

The second kind of love was eros. It evokes passion, sensual yearning, a deep desire. While not purely erotic, only the word eroticism can convey the ardor of this love.

Finally, there was agapē, a word that has survived to modern time. This was the word reserved for what you so loosely term as “love”: self-sacrifice to another, to hold him or her in higher regard than you and to give half of you with only the vain hope that he or she would give half of themselves to you.

It was this last word the one Marcus used, who favored Greek over Etruscan. It was this last word what made me grow stiller than Lidia’s bonds could ever hold me. Somehow, for some reason I could not comprehend, Anna’s feelings had evolved. The passion of her eros had not been lost, but the fires were driven by a different emotion, one that sought to save me even at her own cost.

And she didn’t even know it yet. It was why I didn’t realize it whenever I gleaned her Story. She was not aware of the change yet. I knew she looked upon me with a softened visage, a more empathetic self, but it was not love I saw because there was no thought of love in her mind.

However, it was not so for Marcus who could view the subtle change of emotions in the ties between people. When he held out his hand to me, I saw the dazzling white threads, impossibly fragile-looking, that shot through the slender cord tying Anna to me.

White. The color of mates.

I finally understood. She had run from me to keep me from harm.

“She’ll be heading to Piero. She could be in danger,” I said frantically. “We need to go after her.”

“We will proceed as planned,” Marcus responded.

“Anna—”

“Is capable of caring for herself,” Marcus concluded firmly. “After all, if she were docile or needy she would never have attracted you, would she?”

“What about the Latins?” Lidia asked softly. “The one reason they do not object now is because they believe we still have Anna.”

“That’s why we have you, isn’t it?” Marcus smiled at her mischievously, the glint of secret plans in his eyes.

Minutes later, we set out from Volterra. Lidia and I stood on either side of a hooded and cloaked figure. It was the same size and shape as Anna and moved as Anna. However, inside the clothing was nothing but air.

With us was half the Latin contingent, led by Remus. Romulus had been left behind with Caius and Adelina to protect our rear from Leo. Leo had insulted Adelina on more than one occasion and both she and Caius had yearned for the moment to “return the favor.” If I hadn’t been so overcome with rage at Piero, I might have pitied Leo.

Might.

We paused some distance away from Belverde in a wide plain with sparse shrubbery. The night was clear and the wind blew toward us, a favorable omen. We stood silently while I uncomfortably tugged at the soldier’s uniform I wore beneath my cloak.

We did not have to wait long.

Belverde’s newborn army was assembled on the crest before their city, spanning out across the plain in sparse numbers. At their head, Piero and Leo conferred quietly. Piero did not look like Anna had contacted him.

“Most of the newborns follow Amaranta.” Marcus observed the area. “We take out Leo and Amaranta and the army will flee. Then, we only have Piero’s guard to wary of.”

“How many?” Caius asked briskly.

“Eight.”

Romulus grinned. “My brother and I can handle some miserable guards.”

“Good. Because you will most certainly have to.” Caius’ eyes narrowed slightly. I recognized that look. It was the one that appeared every time he was about to slaughter me at chess. I cringed slightly. Even though it meant he was about to achieve certain victory, it still managed to make his face even less attractive. Which is no small feat, mind you.

Caius straightened and turned toward the horizon. “Pick your best fighters. Marcus, signal who the guard members are. Lidia and Adelina, you will target Amaranta. Aro—”

“Marcus, the ones loyal to Anna, where are they?”

Marcus appeared surprised at my question. “There are some in the back whose loyalty isn’t to any of the assembled.”

I stepped closer. Setting my hand on his shoulder, I heard his unvoiced question.

Who are they?

“Anna’s children. Where are their ties pointing?”

Belverde.

“I’ll take Anna and use her to turn them against Piero,” I announced.

“You can control her?” Remus’ eyes flickered from me to the cloaked and silent figure behind me.

“I have a special ability.” I smirked. “Lidia?”

I could almost visualize all the insults Caius was throwing at me from inside his mind. “Fine,” he spat. “Adelina, Amaranta. Marcus and I will target Leo. Romulus, two of your fighters against Sophia. Use some of your weakest as pawns to determine any special abilities the guard may have.”

As he spoke, Lidia danced toward me. “Anna” followed. As we passed Marcus, he grabbed my hand roughly.

Keep her safe or I’ll kill you.

I lowered my chin a fraction of a centimeter in the tiniest of nods.

As soon as we were out of earshot (and out of sight so that she no longer had to manipulate the cloak), Lidia looped her fingers around my hand.

Where are we going?

“Belverde. I know a secret entrance.”

And she’s there?

“Yes. She went back for her child.”

Lidia stopped so abruptly she almost jerked my hand out of its socket. “Her child?” Lidia looked flabbergasted.

I shushed her and continued forward, assuring her that answers would come later.

The city was empty of vampires, though the scent still lingered. I found the thread of Anna’s fragrance near the edge of the street and followed it. Silently entering the palazzo, we ran, our way unhindered. Lidia grabbed my hand again.

This is too easy.

I made a noncommittal grunt. The assessment worried me slightly.

Finally reaching Anna’s chamber inside the antiquated palazzo, I peered inside. Nothing. No, not quite nothing. A whimper issued from under the bed. Creeping toward, I found Anna’s child Renata curled in a tight ball, weeping quietly.

“Renata! Where’s Anna?”

The little girl shrieked when she saw me and tried to scramble away. I grabbed her arm and again I suffered a faint feeling of vertigo before Renata pulled free. But I already had her memories. And I knew the trap.

“Looking for something?”

I turned at the sound of the voice I hated more than any one on this earth. Piero’s grin was malicious. His hands were wrapped around Anna, restraining her to him, and four of his guards flanked him.

Lidia snarled and settled into a crouch, ready to spring. I grabbed her arm.

“Do not interfere.”

Lidia rolled her eyes, biting back her growl. “I know you want nothing more than to be a hero and I know it’s difficult for you to not be stupid, but recklessness is not becoming.”

“It’s not recklessness. I just don’t want your lover playing ball with my head later today.”

“It’s the least you deserve,” she muttered.

Piero and Anna stared at us as if we had grown second heads. Well, Piero did. The corners of Anna’s lips twitched despite her fearful look.

“Amusing.” Piero raised an eyebrow once we finished our little spat. “But I’m afraid, he’s right, my dear. This is between the two of us.”

Lidia rolled her eyes again. “Men,” she scoffed. “I suppose I’ll be tearing your guards’ heads off now, won’t I?”

Piero smirked. “You can try.”

A disk flew forward, neatly slicing the neck of the guard to Piero’s right. The head rolled to the ground. Immediately, a torch levitated out of the standard on the wall and dropped onto the body, the clothing immediately catching flame.

“You were saying?” Lidia cooed sweetly.

Piero seethed with shock and rage, his burgundy eyes almost bugging out of his head.

“Kill her!” Piero bellowed as Anna screamed, “Renata, get out!”

I immediately released Renata’s arm, and she scrambled away, fleeing through a side window as the three remaining guards jumped Lidia, or tried to. In a flurry of scarlet hair and black silk, Lidia twisted away from them and single handedly pulled the four-way fight into the adjacent room, leaving me to focus on Piero. He was lithe and fast and had a punch that could bring down a wall. I barely kept away, trying to grasp any patch of naked skin.

He had done something to Anna, I knew. She was acting strangely, even now. Her eyes flickered from Piero to me. She did not react—did not attempt even help. Instead, she hesitated at the edge of the fight. She was afraid. But of what?

I redoubled my attempts to touch Piero, desperate to know what he had done to her.

He was smirking at me, even as we battled. “Do you know what happened to your daughter?”

I tried to ignore his barb, but could not avoid a twinge of curiosity. What was he going to say? I allowed surprise to register on my face.

Piero grinned. “She died, Aro. Horrible, really. Screamed right until the end, calling for a father who had abandoned her. Pitying her, I finally fed from her so that she would no longer suffer.”

I froze—I was trapped in the horrible picture he had painted in my mind. Piero lunged forward. His hand brushed my face.

Images, so many images. Years upon years of thoughts. He was the sailor. He was the man who had grown obsessed with Anna’s sister. He was the one who turned Anna as a substitute for her long-dead sister.

And I knew why Anna was so afraid. She bore no memory because his special ability lay in suppressing memories. And thus she was afraid of him with no conscious reason why. She did not remember how he locked her in small, dark spaces he had designed to hold vampires, using her phobia of them against her.

“Anna, I know what he’s been doing to you!” I yelled triumphantly, clawing once at Piero’s ugly face before lunging away.

“What?!” Piero screamed, unsure as to how I had just acquired this information.

“He can repress memories! He’s been manipulating your memories to control you!”

“Don’t believe him, Anna!” Piero called out as he avoided my lunge. “He’s a lunatic!” His eyes betrayed his confidence, however. They were wide and fearful.

“And that’s not all. Remember that sailor you tricked when you were ten? He’s the one! He’s the one who turned you, Anna!”

Anna gaped at Piero and at me. Her eyes were narrowing, as if struggling to recover a memory long gone. Piero ran to her, the battle forgotten, and took her hands in his.

“Don’t listen to him, Anna! He’s trying to control you!”

“I remember,” she whispered. Her voice sounded torn before wonder at her recovered memory and hatred at its content. “I remember your face now. You killed my daughter.”

Piero shook his head slowly. “No, Anna, I did not.”

“Anna, don’t look into his eyes!” I yelled in warning too late. I knew what was happening—I just couldn’t stop it. Anna’s eyes grew momentarily unfocused and her beautiful face seemed to grow even paler.

“Wh-what’s happening? Piero?”

“That monster,” Piero pointed emphatically at me, “is obsessed with you and stole you away. When I came to rescue you, he suppressed your memories of him before I could stop him. You won’t remember much, but just know I’m here and I love you.”

“You filthy—” I strode forward, intent on ripping him to shreds.

“But that doesn’t make sense.” Anna’s brow furrowed. “If he can suppress memories, why would he only target memories of himself instead of memories of you so I wouldn’t return to you?”

Even missing half her memories, my Anna remained brilliant.

Piero’s look darkened. Growing desperate, he grabbed her head before she could react and locked his gaze with hers. Anna cried out at once.

By the time I lunged forward, a roar tearing my throat, Piero threw Anna at me. She collapsed at my feet, her eyes staring at nothing. I feinted and he drew back. Kneeling by Anna’s side, my hands ran over every centimeter of uncovered skin.

Her mind was blank.

I cupped her face, stroked her perfect cheeks, her shaped brow, her marble eyelids.

Not one thought. Not one thread of a memory.

I shook her carefully, then more forcefully. She continued staring ahead, her red eyes too wide on her pale skin.

“Anna,” I called. “Anna!”

No response. No movement. No recognition.

“I’d been considering this for a few years,” Piero related lazily behind me. “But you probably already know that.”

“What did you do to her?” My voice was extremely calm. I continued watching Anna’s form, hoping she’d turn around suddenly, laughing. Of course, I knew what he had done. But I wanted to hear him say it.

“You already know.” Piero stepped closer. “I erased every memory she has ever had. And with it, I have effectively wiped her mind clean. I will not lose her to you. My only link to Ariadne…she is mine. She had been getting too rebellious lately. I’ve had to wipe more and more memories to keep her with me. Finally, I erased them all. She can no longer help you and, if you take her, I will never return her memories to her. You’ll have a shell of a woman.”

“Anna?” I whispered. I was certain I had not imagined it. Anna’s eyes had ever so briefly turned toward me. A thought flitted through her mind in a language I did not understand, but I did grasp the tone: fear and confusion.

She then turned to Piero and a different taste flitted through the new thought: anger.

I did not know Anna’s native tongue, a language lost a thousand years before my birth. But images did not need to be translated. She knew Piero was the man who had turned her.

I stepped away.

“What are you—?” Piero began to ask, but fell silent when Anna caught his eye. Later, she translated for me what she had said.

You want me.” With the simply stated phrase, she unknowingly manipulated his desire for her—and for Ariadne. She intoned three simple words and managed to put Piero to a deathly standstill. Images of Ariadne, Anna’s hauntingly beautiful sister, swept through him. He was blindsided and distracted—unable to move, or even speak. It was only too easy to lunge at him, fasten my teeth around his shoulder and, with a strong clench, tear his arm off.

Piero screamed as he stumbled back. “You bastard!” His eyes were widening in fear. “You can’t kill me. If you kill me, her memories will never return. She doesn’t know you!”

“Then I’ll just narrate her Story to her,” I snarled and dove for his neck—this time, knowing it would be for the kill.