Read The Golden Online

Authors: Lucius Shepard

Tags: #Fiction, #Science Fiction, #General

The Golden (9 page)

BOOK: The Golden
5.36Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Mikolas was a
short, burly man, apparently in his middle twenties, with
blacksmith’s arms and a brutish, heavy-jawed face; thick
stubble shadowed his cheeks. His black hair, which was cut like a
monk’s, was for the moment hidden beneath a studded metal cap,
and he wore a padded tunic and leggings. Each time he swung his
sword, he emitted a piggish grunt. Sweat poured down his reddened
face. As he circled the dummy it seemed he must have spotted Beheim
and Alexandra standing in the doorway, but his concentration was so
fierce as to admit no other sight apart from his mindless opponent,
for he did not notice them until Alexandra, growing impatient, called
out his name. He looked toward them, startled, then ducked away from
the dummy’s slash, receiving a glancing blow on the side of his
metal cap that sent him reeling. He leaped to the pole, pressed the
top button, and the dummy came all disjointed and hung limply.

“Trying to
kill me, Alexandra?” Mikolas laughed and walked a few
swaggering paces toward them; he removed his helmet, sailed it across
the room in the general direction of the three children, none of whom
stirred or in any way reacted to the noise. “You’ll have
to do better than that.”

She gave no
reply.

“Who’s
that with you?” Mikolas asked, peering at Beheim; he began
unbuttoning his padded tunic.

“My name
is Beheim. I’ve been sent—”

“Oh,
right! I’ve got no time for this shit!” Mikolas shrugged
out of the tunic, revealing a massive chest as thickly furred as a
bear’s; he started to unsnap his leggings. “I didn’t
do it, all right? Not that I wouldn’t have enjoyed a drink or
two from the blond bitch. But I never had the chance. Maybe next
time.” He shucked off the leggings and stood naked before them,
grinning apishly at Alexandra. “What do you think, cousin? A
Hell of a man, aren’t I? Come on home with me, and I’ll
give you a fuck you won’t forget.”

Alexandra
regarded him with unalloyed malice. “You’d best put your
toy away,” she said. “It appears all that exercise has
made it shrivel.”

“Oh-ho!”
Mikolas shook his head as if in an excess of mirth. “Damn if I
don’t I wish things were different between Felipe and Buka! I’d
be knocking on Felipe’s door, trying to arrange a marriage.”
He winked at Beheim. “She’s got a pretty pair of tits,
doesn’t she?”

“I’m
afraid I have to ask you some questions,” Beheim said.

Mikolas scowled
at him; then, in mocking imitation, said, “ ‘I’m
afraid I have to ask you some questions.’ ” He
snorted in amusement. “I’ll just bet you’re afraid.
Maybe if you stopped hiding behind the Giraffe’s skirts, you’d
learn to act like a man.”

Beheim
restrained himself, examined his notes. “You claim to have gone
hunting with your brother the night of the murder. Exactly where did
you hunt?”

Mikolas’s
scowl deepened; but after a moment he made a petulant noise and said,
“Hell, I’ll answer your questions. I’ve got nothing
to hide. Come on.” He led the way toward the chair and the
seated children, his hairy buttocks jiggling. “We went hunting
in the depths of the castle. That’s where I picked up these
three.” He gestured at the children with his sword. “Make
a nice set, don’t they?” He propped his sword against the
wall and began toweling himself dry. “I like them so much, I’ve
given them names. This one”—he indicated the smaller of
the boys, who looked to be asleep—“is Breakfast. This one
here”—he tapped the second boy on the top of the head,
causing it to loll to the side—“is Lunch. And this
one”—he lifted the girl’s chin; she gazed at him
dully—“is my favorite.” He smacked his lips in a
parody of appetite. “Supper.”

They were,
despite their slackness of expression, pretty children; their necks
all bore dried bloodstains. Beheim’s revulsion was
overwhelming, but he forced himself to disregard the children and
kept his eyes on Mikolas. The man’s face was the image of
unhealthy excess. His skin was blotchy. A red line was indented on
his brow from the pressure of the metal cap. Mad black eyes tucked
into fleshy folds. The thick, cruel lips of a sensualist. A web of
broken capillaries spread across his boxer’s broad, flattened
nose, and the lobe of his left ear was ragged and discolored; it
appeared to have been bitten off.

“Is there
anyone else who can testify to your whereabouts?” Beheim asked.

“Certainly.”
Again Mikolas pointed to the children. “Question them if you
wish.”

“I
scarcely think they will make credible witnesses.”

“Well, you
can ask anyone if these three were with me before that night. And
then you can ask the children what happened and how long we took in
having our fun. We had a wonderful time.” Mikolas pulled on his
trousers and leaned close to Beheim, enveloping him in an aura of
acidic sweat. “Ever taste a virgin’s blood? Quite a
treat. I’d offer you some now, but sad to say, she’s no
longer a virgin. Active little bitch, she was. Flipped about like a
fish out of water.”

“You
incredible pig!” said Alexandra.

“Now look
what I’ve done! I’ve made the Giraffe jealous.”
Mikolas slipped into a red wool shirt, beaming at them.

“You
know,” Beheim said to Alexandra, his control faltering, “I’ve
just had a splendid idea. There’s no point in continuing the
investigation. We’ll probably never be able to unmask the
actual culprit, but we don’t have to. We have the perfect
candidate right here.”

Mikolas said,
“What in Hell’s name do you mean by that?”

“You’ve
no real proof of your whereabouts,” said Beheim. “There’s
not a soul who wouldn’t believe you capable of such an obscene
act. All I have to do is dredge up one or two of your enemies who’d
be willing to testify against you. Manufacture a few pieces of
evidence. I believe the Patriarch would be delighted to have all this
resolved so tidily.”

Mikolas’s
expression was a cipher; he finished buttoning his shirt. “Bear
with me a moment,” he said. Then with one hand he lifted the
taller of the two boys, pushed his head to the side, and drank from
the vein in his neck. The boy’s eyes showed in crescents of
white beneath his drooping lids. His left hand trembled. Breath
whistled in his throat. As Mikolas gulped down the blood he stared at
Beheim and Alexandra through a fringe of the boy’s hair.

Beheim felt
Alexandra’s hand on his arm, but he needed no restraint. The
children were dead already, and whatever compassion he had felt for
them had been overborne by his loathing for de Czege. And perhaps, he
thought, he had never felt any compassion. Perhaps all he had felt
had been regret for feeling nothing.

“There
now,” said Mikolas, depositing the boy roughly on the floor.
“Much better.” He wiped a smear of blood from his mouth
and gave a sigh of satisfaction. “I think I’ll tell you a
story. A de Czege story.”

“Spare
us,” said Alexandra.

“No,
really! You must hear this.” He settled his pants about his
hips, rotated his head to ease some stiffness. “There once was
a man, a man very much like myself, as a matter of fact. A rough
bastard who took what he wanted and dared the world to spit in his
eye. Now, he was no admirable character”—Alexandra
laughed at this; Mikolas paid her no mind—“but he’d
never aspired to be an admirable character, so that didn’t
bother him. The only thing he’d ever wanted to be was as brave
a man as his brother. And that was uncommonly brave, for his brother
was counted among the bravest men in the country. Well”—he
picked up his sword and laid the blade flat against his palm—“one
day his brother told him that he’d been bitten by a vampire.
He’d managed to escape, but he was sick, afraid that the
vampire would be able to control him. This was a very long time ago,
back in the days when vampires were taken as a matter of course, so
the man had no qualms about believing his brother.”

Mikolas went
half-a-dozen paces out into the center of the room. “Do you
know what the hero of my story did? He decided to kill the vampire.”
He glanced back at them over his shoulder. “Don’t you
think that was brave of him?” he asked mildly. “Knowing
what a vampire was and still having the courage to confront it. You
see, he realized he would never be able to find where the vampire
slept, at least not before he could pose a further danger to his
brother. He would have to visit the vampire’s dwelling place
that night and kill him while he was awake. He was afraid. Oh, he was
terrified! But fear was a goad to him, and so without delay, he went
to the vampire’s house and hid in a closet, and when the
vampire appeared, accompanied by two sickly ladies, he stepped out
from his hiding place. He had a sword in his hand. Like this one. A
saber. The vampire laughed and laughed. He knew a sword could do him
no permanent harm. But instead of attacking, the man drew the edge of
the sword across the palm of his own hand, making a deep cut. Like
this.”

As he had
described, Mikolas laid open the palm of his hand. Blood trickled
down his wrist.

“Now, this
was an extremely stupid vampire,” he went on. “Extremely
vain. He believed his overpowering charm was responsible for the
man’s act of courage. And so he did not weaken the man with his
eyes before taking blood. He lapped at the man’s hand, almost
playfully, and then he struck into the man’s neck. The man was
dizzy with the rapture, but he maintained his resolve, and he pulled
out an oak stake that he had secreted in his belt and pierced the
vampire’s heart while he was feeding. The women attacked him,
but they were weak, disoriented by their master’s death, and he
was able to elude them.” He wiped his bloody hand on his
trousers, examined it. “A happy ending, you might think. But
there’s an irony involved. The man rode home to tell his
brother, only to find that his brother had died, and that in dying he
had gained life immortal. Before he could give him the news, his
brother judged him. And thus it was that the de Czege branch was
born.”

Mikolas stared
at them, his face tightening. “Do you really believe that I
could fear you?” he said, his voice thick with rage. “That
I could fear anything?” He swung his sword in a windy arc. “If
it’s threats you want to play at, here’s one for you. I’m
going to cut you into goddamn pieces and see how long it takes for
you to grow whole again.”

He closed on
them in a series of quick steps and slashed at Beheim’s head.
Beheim darted away, pushing Alexandra ahead of him. He evaded another
charge by Mikolas, lunging to the right, then sprinting off past the
windows, fetching up against a sidewall where several dozen weapons
hung from pegs. As he turned he saw Alexandra knocked to the floor by
a blow from Mikolas’s fist. She lay without moving. Beheim
snatched down a sword with an ornate guard and unsheathed it.

Mikolas’s
laugh was exultant. “Ah! A contest!” he said. “I
wondered if you were a man, and now it appears you are. Not much of
one, perhaps. But enough for the business at hand, eh?” He
bowed, made a flourish with his saber. “I accept your
challenge.”

He stepped
forward a pace, wary now, but before he could advance farther, Beheim
launched a desperate attack, driving him back into the center of the
room, close to the black pole and the fencing dummy. For more than a
minute they fought in a fury, exchanging dozens of blows, the ring of
steel on steel making a bright counterpoint to their grunts and
exclamations. Beheim grew in confidence. The sophistication of his
attack was offsetting Mikolas’s superior strength. But his
confidence soon eroded as Mikolas began to fight defensively, forcing
Beheim to spend his energies, seeking to wear him down. Sweat
trickled into the corners of his eyes. His breath came shallowly.
Through the weave of their swords he saw Mikolas’s smirking.
The light of the false sun was affecting his vision, flashing on the
blades, dazzling him.

“I’m
going to cut off your bastard head,” Mikolas said, and parried.
“I’m going to”—another parry, a probing
attack—“put it in a hatbox. I’ll feed it rats.”
He lunged, thrust, slashed, then retreated. “I wonder what will
happen. Will it grow a new body? Will the body grow a new head? What
do you think?” His shoulder brushed against the fencing dummy,
and he shoved the thing aside, sending it into a jittering dance.
Beheim was struck by an idea. He was not at all certain it would
work, but he was absolutely certain of what would happen were some
new element not added to the equation.

He spent the
next minute or so convincing Mikolas that he had grown more fatigued
than in actuality he had, until at the end of that time he was in
full retreat, leading Mikolas a chase throughout the room, passing
closer and closer to the pole. At one point he was almost too
convincing in his portrayal of weakness, and the tip of Mikolas’s
saber drew a hot stripe of pain across his upper thigh; but he could
feel the wound beginning to heal almost immediately, and it did not
cause him even momentary inconvenience. Mikolas continued to taunt,
to threaten, and by this gauge, Beheim was able to measure the
increase of his arrogance. Finally, with Beheim’s weariness
becoming a real liability, he threw himself toward the pole, hoping
that he had chosen the correct angle of approach. Mikolas followed
him, having to shoulder past the dummy once again, and Beheim punched
the top button on the pole.

With an uncanny
series of movements, the dummy seemed to reassemble itself, took on
human posture and lurched into motion; reacting to the push Mikolas
had given it, it slashed him across the back, then aimed a second
slash at his neck, which Mikolas, in turning, just managed to parry.
Beheim seized the opportunity to thrust his sword into Mikolas’
side just below the ribs; he ripped the blade sideways as Mikolas
howled and twisted, dropping his saber. An instant later the dummy
pierced him through the belly, thus effectively skewering him from
two directions. Mikolas swayed, his eyes rolled back, he vomited
blood. Then both the dummy and Beheim yanked their weapons free, and
he collapsed onto the floor, blood diapering his trousers and soaking
his red shirt. Beheim started toward Alexandra, who was sitting up,
holding a hand to her temple. The dummy came after him, its saber at
the ready and wires singing in their tracks, its clever feet clacking
on the boards.

BOOK: The Golden
5.36Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Red Alert by Margaret Thomson Davis
Israel by Fred Lawrence Feldman
Tempestuous Miracles by Anya Byrne
His Best Mistake by Kristi Gold
I'll Get By by Janet Woods