Blogophilia 17.10: Cyprus Part 3
It’s time again for Blogophilia, the cool blog group where Martien gives participants prompts to use in their blog. We get points for those (and for guessing who suggested them), and though I am not in the number one slot, I’m beating Jonathan, so I’m good with that!
This week’s prompts are:
And now for our story. Cyprus and Sadihra work together in Munich – she’s the German equivalent of an Executioner and he’s a guard, who accompanies Executioners on missions. Did I mention he’s in love with her?
This is the conclusion, by the way, as it ties in from here into the novel Heart of the Raven where you find out how things went in Italy. I was originally going to write it, but since it’s in the books it seemed superfluous to the series.
Sadihra swung out of the vehicle and glanced at Cyprus. “Meet me for a drink,” she murmured, and then marched away as if she’d never spoken.
Lance arched an eyebrow. “Did I just hear what I think I heard?”
Cyprus closed the car up. “That depends what you thought you heard.”
“I thought I heard her invite you for a drink?”
Cyprus shrugged and tried to hide his smile. Perhaps it was working. Perhaps tonight she’d finally give in. It could be the moment that he looked back on later and said “It was the best night of my life.”
Or the worst. She might tell you to go to hell.
Anything was possible.
Never say Never, he told himself.
With a quick nod to Lance, he left the parking garage for the building. He tried not to walk too fast, but by the time he was past the guards’ room he was in the corridor he was moving at a good clip. No matter how many times he tried to quash his rising excitement, it would bubble up again.
Calm down, he told himself. It’s not like we haven’t had dinner together before. For that matter they’d gone to movies before, and done other friendly social activities. That’s how he’d fallen in love with her. He still remembered the moment he realized it. They were in The Garden, a café-style gathering place stuffed with plants. They were seated at a corner table. Sadihra had shone against the backdrop of curly green vines and delicate pink flowers. She’d been laughing at something, her blue eyes shining like sapphires, and it had suddenly hit him like falling tree; I love her. Just like that, he knew he’d do anything to make her eyes shine like that again, to see her smile, to make her laugh.
And that’s when I blew it.
Energized by the realization, he’d blurted it out like a child. Her sparkling eyes went wide. All the joy died, leaving pale shock. A nervous smile returned, but it looked fake. “I love you, too Cyprus. You remind me of Etherin.”
Etherin. Her older brother who’d run away when she was a child.
His smile had turned as fake as hers. They’d finished their glasses of blood, and Sadihra had suddenly remembered some paperwork she needed to do. Cyprus knew it was a lie, but he hadn’t argued, just smiled that false smile and headed back to his room, berating himself the whole way. That morning, as he closed his eyes, he’d promised himself to let the infatuation go, to just stay away from her.
He’d broken that promise by the end of the week.
It was an assignment. He and four other guards accompanied Sadihra and Hethin to Spain’s version of the Sodalitas. More social function than official business, within two days he’d found himself alone with her on a balcony overlooking a grotto. Artificial lights glinted off a small waterfall and shiny stones. He’d stuffed his hands in his pockets and stared at that water as though memorizing it; the way it flowed from small tier to small tier, to finally fall gurgling in a pool floating with lily pads.
It was Sadihra who’d broke the silence. “It’s lovely.”
Not as lovely as you. He shrugged. “It’s relaxing.”
“It is. The stronghold is too medieval to have such things. They prefer heavy gilt and imposing columns, to make themselves seem more terrifying, I suppose.”
“As the self-imposed leaders of all vampires they need to instill terror.”
She turned to him. “Do you really think fear is the best way to rule?”
“It’s the easiest.”
“But doesn’t love garner more loyalty?”
Love. The word left him looking away again, a reminder of their conversation in The Garden. “It’s harder to maintain. You can kill love, but fear…it’s harder to destroy that.”
“I suppose.” He chanced a peek to see her gazing at the grotto. “Can you really kill love, though? True love, I mean, not infatuation. That comes and goes like the wind, but real love…doesn’t that become a part of yourself? To kill it, wouldn’t a part of you need to die?”
He swallowed hard and closed his eyes, wishing the conversation away. “Real love is hard to find.”
“That’s true.” She leaned against the patinated railing. An uncomfortable moment passed, and she finally said, “About the other day…”
“There’s nothing to say.”
“No, there is. Cyprus, we’re friends, aren’t we? Good friends?” He made a noncommittal noise and she went on. “That means…that means we feel a mutual affection. I think…I think you’ve confused that affection for something more.”
His jaw tightened. “I’m not confused, Sadihra. I know how I feel. It doesn’t matter.”
He turned to go, but she caught his shoulder. “It does matter. I do care for you…like, like a brother. To have you fall out of my life, like this…I don’t want that.”
“But you don’t want me,” he snapped, hiding his discomfort behind his anger.
“I love Wolfe.”
What was he supposed to say to that? “Yeah, I know. If you’ll excuse me?”
He’d hurried away before her liquid eyes could pull him back, and swore that he’d avoid her for the rest of the assignment.
Of course that was impossible. They spent three days wrapped in treaty negotiations – negotiations the Sodalitas humored because the Kugsankal, the council that ruled all of vampiredom, had remained mute on the topic. At the conclusion of the third and final day, they were invited to a fancy fete. Cyprus and the other guards had worn their uniforms, but Hethin and Sadihra had gone in formal wear. The royal blue dress set off her eyes and complimented the flush in her creamy cheeks. More than once his eyes had strayed to the curve of her cleavage, and his thoughts had gone to dark blood scented places.
Still, he’d tried to avoid her.
When the gala was its height, she found him hiding in a corner. Strands of hair had fallen from her updo, and her face was creased with annoyance. “Will you accompany me?”
He tried to look everywhere but her. “Accompany you where?”
“Away from here. And from him.” She nodded to a vampire who was already coming towards them. “I’ve told him to get lost a dozen times already.”
Cyprus’ eyes narrowed and his jaw twitched. “Do you want me to kill him?”
“No, no,” she said quickly. “I could do that myself, but I’m pretty sure it would ruin our relationship with the Spaniards.”
“I doubt the Sodalitas is too worried about our relationship. If Spain won’t capitulate we’ll send in an army.”
“True enough, but it’s more hassle than it’s worth for one jack ass.” She grabbed Cyprus’ arm and dragged him towards the exit.
He didn’t argue, didn’t try to stop her, only glared behind her at the vampire shadowing her footsteps. The man drew to a stop, and at Cyprus’ warning snarl finally turned to melt back into the crowd.
Sadihra continued to pull Cyprus out the door and then down the corridor. It wasn’t until they reached a grand staircase that she stopped, still clutching his arm. “I’m sorry. You can go back to the party now. I don’t want to ruin it for you.”
“It’s not very interesting,” he murmured, eyes on the faraway door as if expecting the vampire to still follow.
“I think he got the message. It’s ridiculous that it takes a fellow man to get the point across. A woman’s ‘No,’ should be enough.”
“They assume you don’t mean it, that it’s a tease,” he muttered. “Too many women do that, or have done it. Not that it’s a good excuse. They should take the no, then, if it is a tease, the woman will pursue it herself.”
“It would be easier if women were allowed to do all the pursuing and men were demure. Then no one would be confused.”
“Of course they would. Romance is confusing.” He met her eyes and his chest tightened. The warmth of her fingers seeped through his uniform sleeve. He imagined her hand moving up his arm, trailing over his shoulder, moving down-
He pulled away. He should go back to the boring party, go back to his corner, or better yet find a willing vampiress to distract him. He should, but… “Do you want me to walk you to your room, in case he follows?”
Sadihra bit her lip delicately, and he imagined tasting it. “Yes. Perhaps that’s a good idea. I could handle him if I needed to, but…”
“But war,” he finished.
He’d avoided taking her arm again, but followed her up the stairs. They took plush elevators to their floor, and wound down corridor past potted plants and other vampires, until they reached her door. She stood uncertainly in front of it, nervous hands working against one another. “Well, thank you.”
“Of course. What are friends for?” The final sentence sounded sarcastic. He opened his mouth to soften it, then left it.
She sighed. “Cyprus, I…” She took his hand in hers, enveloping his fingers in her smooth, soft warmth. “You are my friend. There have been times where you and Jilsenna have been the only ones who understand me. I-I don’t want to lose that.” She looked into his face and her gaze softened. Though he wasn’t a mind reader, he felt the pull of her hesitation, that moment standing on a precipice.
The decision flashed across her face a moment before she leaned up and pressed a kiss to his cheek. She pulled away and let go to say only, “Good night,” before she hurried into her room.
He’d stood in the hallway, fingertips brushing where her lips had been. What did that mean? In one breath she said no, and then…
Except she’d never said no. She’d said, “I love Wolfe,” not “I don’t love you.”
He floated back to his room, his mind churning. It was there that he’d thrown himself in the shower, leaned back and closed his eyes, concentrating all of his demon eye ability on Sadihra and himself, as he’d done before. There were some familiar clips, things he knew would likely come to pass because he saw them so often, but then, there was something new. Her naked shoulder, her back, painted by low light and shadows the wrapped around to fill the valley between her naked breasts. Her soft lips opened in a moan, a name.
And he knew. If he just hung on, if he just waited, he would win in the end. “I love Wolfe” only meant so much. So long as she never told him no.
And she still hadn’t.
He pulled back to the present. In his room, he stripped his uniform and changed his clothes. He ripped the unfinished poem from the notebook and scribbled:
I wait only your word, a single yes to fall from lips
As perfect as the petals of a rose, and twice as soft
Sweet angel shine your light into this lonely darkness,
Return to me my freedom, the soul that I have lost.
It wasn’t the best he’d ever written, but it would do. He folded it up and stuck it in his pocket, then checked his reflection in the mirror. Coppery red hair was long around his shoulders, and brown eyes held the hope that this would be the night, the fulfillment of the vision he’d seen so many times.
The night she finally makes up her mind.
He calmed his pounding heart and strode from the room and to the elevators. The Garden had closed two years ago, but a small place with checkered tablecloths and violin music had taken its place. It wasn’t as picturesque, but it was still more intimate than the main restaurant with its large open rooms.
When he reached the doorway to the café he stopped. His hand dove in his pocket to touch the folded offering. The texture of the paper soothed him, and he straightened his shoulders and lifted his chin, marching inside like John Wayne.
He found her seated in the back, looking over a list of additives. She smiled over the menu, but it didn’t seem as warm as usual. Had something happened?
He took his seat, but before he could ask her a waiter appeared. They placed their order, and when they were finally alone he tugged the paper out and held it out. “It’s not finished.”
She looked at it, looked at him, and the dropped her eyes. “Cyprus. I…”
His heart hammered and he closed his eyes, blocking out the now for visions of the future. No. It was still there. Her naked skin, the brush of her breath, the soft call of his name. It would still happen.
Or could still happen. The future was always in flux, as his master had warned him again and again.
He came back to the now to find her looking at him expectantly. When he didn’t respond she made an aggravated noise. “Were you listening to me?” his guilt was on his face and she repeated, “Cyprus, you need to stop this, for your own good.”
“For my good?” he asked, the poem still held out to her.
With a soft sound of irritation she took it, though she didn’t open it. “Yes. People are laughing at you behind your back. Soon it will be to your face. Wolfe-”
“Thinks it’s a joke,” he finished for her. “Let him. Let all of them. I’m not as worried about others’ opinions as you are.”
“I’m not worried about their opinions,” she snapped. “Just…”
“Just their approval. You feel you need it, because deep down you don’t think you’re good enough. But you are.” He caught her hand and she though she gave a half tug it wasn’t a quarter of the resistance she could have offered. Still, he relaxed, giving her a chance to pull away. As he’d hoped, she didn’t.
“You’re perfect just the way you are, Sadihra. You’re strong and beautiful and smart. You don’t need Wolfe’s approval, or Hethin’s approval, or even your sister’s. It’s your life. Live it the way you want.”
She tugged loose to drop her hands in her lap, her gaze following. “What if I don’t know what I want?”
And there it was. That ever widening crack in her thin façade of resistance. He lowered his voice and leaned closer, elbows on the checkered tablecloth. “Then take your time and decide.”
He watched her, trying to penetrate through her skull to her swirling thoughts. What he wouldn’t give to be a mind reader right then, to know what she was thinking, feeling.
No. Better to be a demon eye, to know the surety of the future. To know that she would be his. Without that, he’d have never pursued her, never tried.
She gave a shaking breath and looked up. “There’s talk of something in Italy; something bad. They may have to send Executioners. Wolfe’s requested we go.”
“You and him?”
She nodded. “I have a bad feeling about it, Cyprus. If you could…If you could see if you sense anything?”
He closed his eyes and let the café slip away, picturing her face, Italy, an assignment. He saw her and her sister. Saw dark shadows, smelled deep earth, and then she lay naked on the floor, her body painted in shadows, her hand reaching for him.
It would happen in Italy.
“It looks fine,” he said, suppressing his raging thoughts. “I don’t see anything bad. Everything will be fine.”
She nodded, biting her lip uncertainly, but Cyprus barely noticed. His mind was already churning, making plans; plans that hinged on one place, one event.
I just have to make sure I go to Italy. Even if I have to bribe someone.
Which incidentally he DOES bribe someone. Oh, and Wolfe doesn’t go. Just saying.
And now for guesses:
Bonus: Stormy & Diana
- Love. 2. two hearts. 3. intertwined. 4. in the sky. 5. what do you see? 6. it’s written in the clouds. 7. summer love 8. it’s all blue skies. 9. romance 10. together. 11. strong against the storm. 12. entangled 13. two hearts as one 14. cloudy relationship 15. together despite the clouds 16. on the breeze. 17. breezy love 18. soon to be blown apart 19. drifting 20. fleeting love.