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Authors: Katherine Kurtz,Scott MacMillan

At Sword's Point

BOOK: At Sword's Point
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At Sword's Point

 

Knights of the Blood

Book II

 

Katherine Kurtz
&
Scott MacMillan

Synopsis

A series of gruesome murders has left European police baffled — the victims have been found drained of all their blood.

John Drummond knows who is behind the killings, but he also knows no one will believe that out of the holiest wars of the Crusades and the deadliest battles of World War II, a generation of vampires has evolved — bent on world dominion.

Prologue

The hissing camp lantern made the dome-shaped tent in the small clearing glow with an amber incandescence. The young couple inside were locked in the heaving passions of their embrace, unaware of the erotic shadows their entwined bodies cast on the wall of the tent.

Outside, a light mist softened the shadows and stood like beads of perspiration on Wilhelm Kluge's well-muscled shoulders, forming small rivulets as they ran down his back and across his buttocks. The moonlight glinted on a small silver quaich that hung from a golden chain around his neck. Naked, his hands resting on the pommel of his sword, Kluge didn't feel the damp chill of the late summer rain as he waited patiently for his victims to finish their last earthly pleasures.

Finally, the shadows stopped thrusting on the inside of the tent and the sounds of heavy breathing were lost in the hiss of the lantern. Slowly the young man pushed himself away from the girl, rising first to his knees and then to his feet. As he threw back the flap of the tent, a slice of yellow light fell across the clearing.

The rain had stopped, and the mossy ground felt damp through the soles of his thick wool hiking socks as he stepped outside, drawn now by another, more pressing call of nature. Still naked, shivering, he cupped his hands and blew on them to keep them warm as he moved into the pale chill of the moonlight, away from the tent, to relieve himself.

Kluge stepped silently from the shadows and made his way around the tent, avoiding the pale sliver of lantern-light that spilled from the open flap. Stopping just behind the oblivious victim, his sword at the ready, Kluge paused for a single moment. Steam was rising from the moss-covered rocks at the young man's feet; and over the sounds of the spattering urine and hissing camp lantern Kluge could hear the pumping surge of the red tide that rose with each beat of the young man's heart. For a moment Kluge savored the sound, as other men savor a lover's caress.

Then Kluge's sword flashed through the moonlight, the flat arc of its bright blue blade severing the head, sending it bouncing into the darkness. The steaming trickle of urine was lost in a frothing geyser of blood as the headless body crumpled silently forward onto its knees before finally sprawling chest down on the ground.

Turning, Kluge walked slowly over to the tent. He could see her shadow on the tent wall, the lantern showing him where the sacrifice waited. Standing quietly outside, he raised his sword and, with a downward thrust, slit open the thin wall of the tent.

The girl was helpless in Kluge's grasp, paralyzed with fear. Yanking her up by the hair, he dragged her out into the chill moonlit night and, before she could cry out, drew the titanium blade of his sword across the side of her throat.

Her body arched as searing pain exploded through her, but Kluge's viselike grip on her throat prevented any sound escaping into the night. Using his free hand, he drove his sword deep into the soft loam of the clearing.

Then, bending down as if to caress his victim, he pressed his mouth over the wound he had opened in the girl's neck.

He drank deeply, the hot, foaming blood gushing into his mouth as he relaxed his grip slightly on her throat. When he felt the reserves of his powers replenished, he lifted his head and drew a triumphant breath. Then, still holding her by the throat, he pulled his sword from the red-soaked earth and held it high above his head, its sharpened tip pointed toward the North Star.

From the edge of the clearing a hunting horn sounded, followed by others deeper in the woods. As the horns winded their eerie
cour de chasse
, other shadowy figures stepped into the clearing, nearly a dozen of them naked in the moonlight, their swords held before them, blades pointed skyward. As they solemnly made their way to where Kluge stood, he earthed his sword again.

The vampires drew near in a semi-circle before their Master, also plunging their swords into the mossy ground. At his gesture, they approached him one by one, the first of them distinguished by a black eye-patch. As the one-eyed man dropped to his knees at his Master's feet, Kluge took the quaich from around his neck and filled it with the girl's blood, then passed the silver vessel into upraised hands. When the man had drained its contents and returned the quaich, he rose and backed off to be replaced by another suppliant. All drank deeply of the cup, blood running from the corners of their mouths and down their chins, matting in the hair on their bare chests.

Finally, when all had been served and the last notes of the horns died away in the chill air of the forest, Kluge threw the girl's body back into the tent. Pulling his sword from the ground he pointed it once again at the Northern Star and cried, "
Sieg Heil
!"

Together the vampires echoed their Master's salute, raising their blades to the darkened heavens.

"Sieg Heil!"

The forest muffled the cry of the vampires, but deep within, the primordial gods listened, and accepted the sacrifice.

Chapter 1

The gash on the side of Drummond's head was healing nicely, due as much to the twelve tiny sutures Father Freise had provided as to de Beq's thick poultice. It had been nearly a week since Drummond was wounded, and until today, he had been kept flat on his back. Father Freise and one of the serving brothers kept regular tabs on his condition and, despite his protests, refused to let him get up.

So he had spent his days resting and, in large measure, deciding what to do. There was much to digest; much that, until a few weeks ago, he would have dismissed as utter nonsense. LAPD homicide captains did not go charging off to Austria, simply on the word of a batty old priest, to chase down vampires.

But Drummond had done just that. And however unlikely his own actions might have appeared since then to an outsider, John Drummond was certain of one thing: the so-called "Vampire Slayings" he now knew to have been committed in Los Angeles by Father Francis Freise more than two decades ago would go "unsolved" as far as Drummond was concerned. In the light of what he had experienced in the past week or two,
Freise's
killings took on the look of justifiable homicide—eliminating a very real evil from modern society.

As to the vampires—both those who now acted as his hosts at Schloss Marbourg and those who had escaped into the woods—Drummond was unsure how to proceed. That first day, after Kluge, his Nazi vampires, and their punker cohorts had stormed Schloss Marbourg, he had been utterly convinced, along with Freise, of the need to hunt down and destroy Kluge, De Beq and his men had been less convinced at first—bow could medieval knights, isolated from history for nearly seven hundred years, hope to cope with a world they had long since ceased to know? Yet the knights, indirectly, had been responsible for Kluge becoming a vampire; they were the logical ones to help stop him now. So strongly had Drummond become convinced of that, and of the absolute necessity to see Kluge destroyed, he had even agreed to become one of them—to become a Knight of the Sword.

Even now, Drummond was uncertain just how full a commitment he had made to the knights. It had been six days since Father Freise served him the Communion of the Knights, and yet, unlike the others, he had not yet developed the blood hunger of the vampires.

Perhaps it took longer to develop than de Beq remembered, he thought. De Beq had been vaguely certain that the transformation would take only a day or two at the most. But nearly a week had passed and while Drummond's appetite had returned, it was a tuna-melt and iced tea that he craved the most.

Having had to satisfy tonight's hunger with ill-cooked mutton and potatoes and brown bread, Drummond pushed back his wooden trencher and turned to Father Freise. They were in the great hall of the knights' castle, seated at one end of a long trestle table near the large fireplace. At the other end of the table, several of the knights were clustered around their Master, Henri de Beq, glancing occasionally in Drummond's direction as they talked in low voices. Drummond had agonized over his decision, but he knew he had no other real choice.

"Frank," he said, "I've been thinking."

"Careful," Freise said lightly. "You've got a head wound."

"No, really. I've given this a lot of thought in the last few days, and I've decided I'm going back to L.A."

Father Freise looked up from his dinner and stared at Drummond for a few seconds before answering. He did not look like a man in his mid-seventies, but his appearance of youthfulness came from an altogether different source than that of the men at the other end of the hall.

"I can't say that I'm surprised, John," he said quietly, "though I did hope you'd stay and help us with the fight against Kluge."

"Oh, I'll help," Drummond said. "It's just that there are a lot of loose ends I have to tie up first." He picked up his mug of ale and took a deep drink before continuing. "Besides, we need a lot more information before we go charging off after Kluge. We already know that his business connections extend to several major cities in the United States and Canada. With his cover blown here in Europe, he may switch his base of operations. In any case, the best way to round up solid information is for me to return to the LAPD and utilize their extensive and very efficient intelligence network."

Freise made a face. "You really think his cover is blown here? That's only true if we can get someone to believe us. I mean, 'Nazi vampires'—really!"

"Yeah, I know," Drummond replied. "I've been telling myself the same thing. Which makes it ail the more imperative that we utilize every resource at our disposal to get a plan of action organized and track him down. We can't do that without more sophisticated information than I can gather sitting here in a medieval castle in Luxembourg."

"I suppose you're right," Freise conceded.

"We'll also need considerable financial backing—some of which I can provide, but I can't set the wheels in motion from here," Drummond went on. "If I'm going to give this operation the support it requires, I have to go back to L.A., catch my breath, and set up the support structure. But I promise I'll be back. After all—" he gave a wry grin and glanced at de Beq and his knights "—I made a promise to him, too."

At his words, the eyes of both men turned toward the other end of the hall, to the white-robed Master of the Order of the Sword and his knights. Henri de Beq looked to be only in his late forties to early fifties, tall and lean, with a short-clipped salt-and-pepper beard and pale eyes that missed little; but he and his men had fought in the Holy Land when Acre fell—in 1291. Drummond still did not understand everything that had caused his path to cross with that of the knights, seven hundred years later, but something deep inside him knew that de Beq and his men were as different from Kluge and his minions as day from night.

Recalling himself with a shake of his head, Drummond glanced back at Father Freise. The old priest looked wistful as he pushed his plate back from the edge of the table.

"Well, I suppose it's necessary," he said quietly. "Have you told him?"

"No. I hoped you'd do that for me," Drummond replied. "I—don't know that I could cope with my pidgin French and his medieval English to make him understand. Would you do it, Frank?"

Freise swallowed uncomfortably, then nodded. "Yeah, I'll tell him."

Standing up, the priest turned his back on Drummond and walked over to the fireplace, staring for a long time at the glowing embers of the dying fire. After a moment, Drummond joined him.

"So, when do you plan to go?" Friese asked.

"If I leave in the morning, I can still make my original flight back to L.A. I don't suppose you'd care to come with me?"

Freise turned to face Drummond. His eyes were red-rimmed and moist, as if he had been leaning too close to the smoke from the smouldering embers on the hearth.

"No, not this time, John. The last time I left this castle, it was to run away from Kluge. The next time I go—well, it'll either be to finish him once and for all, or feet-first in a pine box." The priest smiled. "But you might as well catch your flight. No sense wasting the ticket. Just don't be gone too long. I'm an old man, and I'll miss you. And they—"

He glanced again at the knights at the other end of the room, then shook his head and returned his gaze to the dying embers.

"Why don't you turn in, John? I'll see you in the morning before you leave. And I'll—speak with de Beq."

* * * *

The next morning, after Father Freise had celebrated Mass for them, de Beq and half a dozen of his men turned out to escort Drummond to the small clearing in the woods where Father Freise had parked Drummond's rented Mercedes after the battle with Kluge. Four of the six were knights, now wearing the formal red surcoats of the Order of the Sword under their white mantles, chain mail showing from under sleeves, swords belted at their waists. The two men-at-arms carried crossbows and kept a wary eye out as they brought up the rear of the little procession. The escort seemed small to Drummond, but in fact it represented about a third of the castles remaining force. He had thought there were more when he first arrived at the castle, but some had fallen to Kluge and his men, and he assumed that the rest of de Beq's men were too busy with other tasks to see him off.

The walk through the woods to the car was particularly silent, with neither de Beq nor Father Freise really having anything to say. Even William of Etton, whom Drummond had found to be the most talkative of all the knights, was silent as they made their way across the meadow and through the forest. Finally they arrived at the white Mercedes, and as Drummond tossed his bag in the trunk, de Beq stepped forward.

"Sir John," he said without preamble, "I know not if you are truly one of us, but this I do know. You are a knight, made so at your desire and by my hand before this company and before God Almighty."

Drummond felt a chill creep up his spine at de Beq's words.

"Further," de Beq continued, "you are now about to leave us, and we know not if ever you will return." He signaled William of Etton, who came forward with something long and narrow, wrapped in a white cloth.

"So, to protect yourself until you can rejoin your brother knights—" he stared Drummond square in the eye" —I give you this—my sword." From under the cloth, William produced a beautifully wrought sword in a dark red scabbard set with gilded mounts, which de Beq took almost reverently from him and held out across both his palms. "I give you this sword, as one knight to another, and I charge you to return it within a year, or die in the attempt."

He stepped forward and laid the sword across Drummond's hands. Its touch seemed to send an electric shock tingling through Drummond's body, a connection across seven centuries of tradition maintained by the owner of the sword. Never had anything moved Drummond the way de Beq's simple speech moved him. Even more profoundly than at the moment of his knighting, itself so mystical, he now realized that he was bound to the Order of the Sword—that he was one of them, spiritually, if not physically.

Maybe this is how the transformation begins
, he thought.

Spontaneously he brought the cross-hilt of the sword to his lips in salute, both to de Beq and to the chivalric tradition chat bound them in brotherhood, then solemnly grasped de Beq by the right wrist.

"I promise I'll be back, Henri. With your sword."

Then, without another word, he carefully laid the sword in the trunk of the car next to his bag, closed the lid, and walked around to the front of the car to slide in behind the wheel, not daring to look at de Beq again. He turned the key; and the car started instantly. When he glanced in the rearview mirror, the knights had vanished from sight.

Father Freise opened the passenger door and stuck his head in.

"Going my way?"

"Sure, hop in."

He waited for Freise to get settled in the passenger seat, then eased out the clutch and pointed the stubby snout of the car toward the road. "Where to?"

"Just as far as the village. Oh, and—uh—I hope you can loan me some cash." Father Freise sounded vaguely embarrassed to be asking for money.

"Sure. How much?"

"Not much. Just enough for a bicycle and a few odds and ends, that's all." Father Freise's voice became a little brighter, rather like a kid whose big brother has just given him money to go see a movie. "I've managed to get our knights somewhat organized while you were recovering, but it's still pretty primitive at the castle."

The village was only a few miles down the road. At Freise's direction, Drummond parked in the center of the square, across from what the priest indicated was the local general store.

"I'll be in there, getting a few things," he said, then pointed to another shopfront a few doors down. "By the way, in the last few days I've discovered that's the local infirmary. You might want to have them take a look at that cut of yours before you head out. It's been a while since I did any suturing—about fifty years, in fact—and in those days, I was working with something a bit more sterile than linen sewing thread." Before Drummond could answer, the priest turned and headed into the general store.

Drummond had all but forgotten his head wound, especially in the intensity of getting ready to leave this morning. It had stopped hurting days ago and still hadn't started itching;—a good sign that everything was on the mend—but it probably was a good idea to have a proper doctor look at it before he went charging back to America. Glancing at the sign on the door Freise had indicated, Drummond headed into the infirmary.

The waiting room was empty, and Drummond pressed a button on the counter. From somewhere in the back of the building he heard a muffled buzz, followed by an indistinct burst of French. Resigned to waiting, he took a seat next to the door. A few moments later, a young man in steel-rimmed glasses stuck his head around the partition.

"Oui?"

Drummond pointed to the bandage on his head and, in awkward French, started out with, "
Je ne parlez Français
…"

"English?" The young man emerged from behind the partition, his hands thrust deep into the pockets of his lab coat.

"No, American."

"Okay, no problem." The young man smiled. "What happened to your head?"

Drummond thought fast. "Fell hiking last week and gashed it open."

"Uh-huh," said the doctor, carefully removing the bandage and peering at Drummond's scalp. "Who stitched you up?"

"Oh, a priest in the base camp. Said he learned how to do it when he was a missionary. Why?"

"Well, because he has done an excellent job—even if he did use linen thread." The doctor stepped back from Drummond and looked him over professionally. "Okay, my friend, come on back and I'll clean you up a bit more."

Drummond got up and followed the doctor back into his surgery. The doctor indicated that Drummond should sit on the examining table, then focused a bright light on the side of his head. The antiseptic he used to start cleaning around the sutures stung a little.

"Yes, indeed, your friend did a very nice job," the doctor said, prodding around the wound. "When did you say this happened?"

BOOK: At Sword's Point
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