Join the Thorstruck Press Anthology blog hop! If you follow the link from my blog to Jillian’s tomorrow, and from her to Paul’s the following day, you’ll get to read an entire novel for free!
The Secrets of Castle Drakon is a magnificent collection of 11 stories in the Thortstruck Press Anthology. With our publisher’s blessing we’re holding a blog-hop whereby if you follow my blog and go to the next blog due tomorrow, you will find the next short story. Only readers who follow every link will get to read the full novel for free.
Grab your coffee, put your feet up, and enjoy my story My Sweet Matryoshka.
MY SWEET MATRYOSHKA
The altercation outside the door piques my curiosity.
“Zelda! Have you been letting Ivan fuck you again?”
“N-no madam, of course not –” retorts in mumbled shame.
“Don’t lie to me girl, your back is covered in flour. If you’re going to let my husband bang you in the kitchens at least have the intelligence not to wear black, it shows everything, including the hand prints. I’d know those hands anywhere.”
“I’m sorry madam –”
“Don’t be. Someone has to do it. Now scoot, make sure our guest has tea. Where’s Darko?” says the velvet voice of the ice queen.
“In the parlour. He’s preparing the jackets for tonight’s induction.”
“Where do I find our visitor? Zelda really, why must I do everything for Ivan? You should know better than to let him jump you so early in the day, now he’s going to be useless.” A door slams and she mutters as her voice grows nearer, “He’ll continue depleting our stock of rare whisky and wallow in his absinthe and opium for the rest of the day. No doubt he’ll be too high to be of any use at the meeting tonigh –”
Long legs in white silk stop short. The heels tapped on the pristine tiles to stop inside the room I was left in, and I can’t help but stare at the slit up the skirt exposing legs like butter. Created for spreading and sinfully creamy. Bolting into a stand, I bow slightly, showing respect, “Greetings your majest–”
“Shut it! My name is Evanda, not your majesty. Trust me, the only thing majestic about me is the title attached to my name. And you are?” She purrs her question, sashaying closer extending her hand, which I clasp and raise to my lips, watching the eyes trained on me; scattered by this woman.
Her hair is as white as the winter solstice and yet she seems youthful. The contrast to her eyes is vivid; turquoise, bright aqua. Azure, isn’t it called azure?
Crimson lips purse and she swans into a seat, crossing her legs to primly clasp her hands in her lap, except now all I can think about is how the glimpse she gave me exposes that her underwear perfectly matches her lipstick. Do all royalty walk around their homes dressed like grand madams of elite brothels? If Marilyn Monroe was made immortal, this is what she’d look like now.
“Sit down, please,” she says.
I sit opposite her on the damask King Louis chair, relieved because my trousers have suddenly become too tight for comfort.
She smiles, as if knowing. “Have you been offered tea? A vodka perhaps?”
“No your m– , Evanda.”
“Are you usually this reticent? Introduce yourself,” she orders, and yet the tone employed does nothing to dampen my growing interest.
“Oh yes, of course. Well, Darko should show you to your room shortly. It was of course lovely to make your acquaintance Zalar, but I fear I must leave you to our butler to show you to your room. I have to find Ivan and make sure he’s presentable for this evening’s activities.”
I stand, grateful I’m wearing a jacket, it hides the evidence. Bowing again slightly, I mutter, “It’s wonderful to make your acquaintance Evanda. Until this evening …”
She proffers her hand and I take it, stepping closer, inhaling the perfume on her wrist, gazing straight down her cleavage from this angle while brushing lips across nubile skin. I’ve known Ivan all his life and know how he landed Evanda. That partnership is about to end.
I am here for my revenge.
She smiles at me while her nipples sculpt flimsy silk into stark highlight. She doesn’t recognise me. It’s an auspicious portent for my success. I release the hand I kissed.
Listening as she walks away, her voice carries when she speaks again. “Darko! Where’s Ivan?”
“Masturbation room, madam. Shall I fetch him?”
“Good grief no. Tell me Darko, how did I end up with such a depraved husband? Do all drugs make men sex addicts?”
“I do not know madam, the only drug I’ve sampled is …”
He coughs and they share a laugh. So Evanda is as horny as her husband. It’s good to know some things don’t change. I’ll never forget that night as long as I live.
The elusive Darko appears in the doorway, a hairy buffoon with dark eyes and wavy cocoa hair. Her opposite, in station and appearance. Oh Evanda, how could you bed a domovoi when you are the finest angel?
“Sorry for my tardiness, my lord. I will show you to your suite,” says the butler.
Of course you will. I wonder if Zelda is available for a quick romp, this boner is becoming an inconvenience.
I’ve just finished unpacking when there’s a tentative knock on the door. Crossing the expansive and ostentatious suite, I stop myself from answering it, facepalming that I’ve reverted to being the peasant instead of the master.
Quickly slumping in a lazy splay on the couch, I call, “In!”
A maid stands in my doorway, holding a gown and a medical bag, “I’m sorry to disturb you, master. I have brought your gown and slippers, and must take your blood for testing.”
“Are you a nurse?” I ask the top heavy waif, sitting straighter and surveying the ladder in her stockings. I wonder who climbed it last?
“No master, but I am trained for this. I will not even leave a bruise, you have my word.”
“I do,” I smirk, watching her timidly come closer.
“You do …?” she whispers, confusion flitting through her expression.
“Leave bruises,” I mutter, tempted to laugh.
She blushes so deeply I wonder if it’s healthy to get that hot. Accommodating the poor lass I roll up my shirt sleeve, “Come girl, get on with it.”
She puts her medical bag down next to me on the couch, opening it and extracting a syringe and vial. Withdrawing the rubber tourniquet, she straddles my knee because I’m being deliberately difficult, struggling to get her reach to beneath my bicep.
Hooking my fingers in her belt, feeling the looseness of it, her dress hiding an anorexic body, I hold her still, “What’s your name?”
“Where’s Zelda?” I ask her.
“With the Lord.”
“Which lord would that be? The horned one or the saintly one?”
Amelia looks down at me through tattered black lashes, “The drunk one.” It angers her because she attaches the tourniquet and tightens it to such a degree that I surmise the lass will leave bruises after all.
Tracing the ladder in the black stocking leaning against my thigh, lingering my touch under her hem, I ask, “How old are you, Amelia?”
“Twenty and one fourth.”
She doesn’t lose her focus, sinking the needle into my vein and withdrawing the blood that marks me as heir. I slide my hand higher up her inner thigh, swallowing my laugh when it causes her to clamp my knee between her legs. “Nice grip, you show promise.”
“Promise isn’t a word I ever use, master.”
“But you use master, which makes you my servant. Yes?”
Pink lips compress, thinning, her anxiety clear, “Yes … master.”
“Take my blood and get out. Tell Zelda I want to see her.”
She palms the vial of my blood, releasing the tourniquet and putting it back into her bag. “Will there be anything else, master?”
I slide my hand all the way up her leg, smiling at the nervous maid when I discover her secret. Whose benefit is that for? Hers or the ‘lord’s’?
I missed this place, I missed the dark debauchery the sumptuous veneer conceals. She reaches the door, her hand clasping the gold plated handle when I call after her, “The next time you enter my suite wear underwear, or I will consider it an invitation.”
She drops her hand from the handle, slowly turning to look back at me, limp brown hair framing ashen cheeks, “I may not, master. It is against the rules.”
“Then suffer the consequences,” I state, flicking my fingers to indicate she should leave. This castle takes me back to my youth and I don’t trust myself to behave.
What few folks know is that Ivan is Drakon, and yet he cannot even name ‘his’ ancestors. He’s surrounded himself with a harem, and I have to wonder why Evanda permits it.
In the realm of Darkness
Lucifer is King
Zelda appears on the threshold with such promptness that she catches me staring at the puncture in my arm. Nodding my head at it, I ask the lass, “Don’t your staff even put a plaster on the damage they inflict?”
The Russki beauty strolls in, tsking at me, “You’re a strong boy, I’m sure you’ll get over it.”
Glaring at her, I state, “But my white shirt won’t.”
“It’s just a bit of blood, master. The laundry girls are adept at removing those stains.”
“And why is that?” I interrogate, interested now.
She shrugs, sauntering closer over the polished floor tiles of deep blue lapis lazuli. The pervading ultramarine décor in this castle is enough to make a sane person think they’ve evanesced into a lucid dream. I recall my father telling me that the floor tiles in this abode were mined near Lake Baikal. If this house is one thing, it is patriotic to Russia.
Evanda was wearing the most precious jeremjevite jewels once given to my babushka, (grandmother). The ice-blue gems with that kind of clarity are now a paltry €1700 a carat. The ouroboros necklace and earrings her majesty was wearing could purchase a small country today. But her ring was alexandrite, mined in the Ural Mountains; named for the Tsar, Alexander the second.
In natural light they look a mesmerising shade of green, but at night, in false lighting or candlelight, they appear a redder shade of pink. Her ring, of exceptional clarity and fluorescence, would now be valued at over €57 000. How cunning that the lady of the lair wears an engagement ring which reflects her changeable nature. Reptilian, some would call it.
A touch on my arm breaks my introspection and I stare up at Zelda, her fingers warm, her gaze inspecting the pearls of blood still wicking the crook in my elbow. Moving with instinctive speed I snare her wrist, inflicting a harsh grip into the tender flesh, “You didn’t answer my question, servant.”
She holds my gaze without flinching, “Which question would that be, master?”
“Blood, shirts, laundry girls …?”
Tears blossom in her eyes, my punishing hold finally getting a reaction, but she leaves them shimmering behind kohled lashes, saying, “We are accustomed to bloodstains.”
She’s slowly lowering to alleviate the pressure exerted on her arm, bringing her Baltic amber earring to my eye level, giving me a glimpse of the bruises across her cleavage now exposed behind a bland white cotton bra. Their dresses are so loose that whenever they bend it gifts a vantage of everything a dress is designed to conceal. There is no mystery here, it’s all debased, reduced to crass and plebian.
Giving the dainty wrist a jerk I pull her onto the couch, turning on her and yanking open her faded black frock, scattering plastic buttons. Standing, scrutinising the servant who could easily have been a Russian male order bride or an ex Miss Universe, I’m outraged by the state of her.
“Who did this to you?” She averts her gaze, lowering her chin to stare at the floor. “I asked you a question, Zelda.”
Hell, I know I have a reputation for leaving bruises, but mine aren’t draconian. This … this is inexcusable.
She shrugs again, full lips thinning to bitter.
“Silence won’t save you, girl. I know Ivan has been using you, did he do this?”
She shrugs again, petulant, but the withheld tears finally find release, trickling gossamer threads down wan cheeks.
Annoyed with this whole state of affairs I stalk off to the en-suite, yanking open the medicine cabinet, extracting the plasters and a fresh box of tissues. On my way back I grab the vodka from the drinks fridge and return to her with two shot glasses precariously nipped in fingers.
Sitting on the coffee table, facing her, I place down my bounty and offer her the tissues first. She wrests a miserable mouth into a rendition of a smile. While she dabs eyes and trumpets into a tissue, I open a plaster and slap it over the offensive puncture. I don’t care how wealthy my original family are, I don’t believe in wasting and ruining perfectly functional clothing for the sake of it. To these people everything is expendable, including human life.
Now that the priorities are sorted, I open the vodka and pour us each a drink. Forcing one into her hand I clink my glass to hers, muttering, “Budem,” and slug it back. She follows my example, sitting on my couch with an open dress, all legs and frayed bra, downing the cool numb of Nordic vodka.
I must admit I’m disappointed in the choice of vodka in this house. Do the lord and lady Muscovy think they’re Varangians? Just because Rurik ruled Kievan Rus until the 17th century, doesn’t mean we should drink his fucking vodka. This is blasphemy.
I refill our glasses until we’ve had three each. I’m a firm believer in the power of three. Case in question, I need only repeat something three times to commit it to memory.
Satisfied she’s been injected with the lactation of the mother land, I lean on my knees and face my victim. “Tell me what’s going on, Zelda. Unlike your masters, I won’t beat it out of you.”
Her hands are shaking now, the duress of being put on the spot clearly unnerving her. To hide the fact she places the glass down next to her, folding her arms across white cotton faded to grey. I don’t see the point in wearing a bra if you’re going to not wear panties. It’s an imbalanced image sitting on my velvet couch, one that seeps destitution and desperation into the opulent domain.
Chocolate, women always need chocolate. Right?
I hold up a finger to stall her and get up, retracing my steps, yanking open the bar fridge again and extracting a To’ak box for the damsel. Coming back to my spot, I offer it to her, “Here, have some, it’ll settle your nerves.”
Her eyes widen and she shakes her head, “I cannot. It’s for the honoured guests, as is the vodka.”
“Because of the cost?” I demand.
She nods, her tongue still solidly glued to her palate, hoping she won’t spill the beans on the monsters running around my castle and thinking they’re special because they know how to be manipulative and dishonest.
I look at the vodka and chocolate, adding them up. A bottle of this vodka is €3.1 million, the chocolate merely €212. This is extravagance on a sacrilegious level. And the value of the vodka isn’t the liquor, it’s the ridiculously gauche bottle it comes in. It’s covered in diamonds, because billionaires feel the need to develop an institution of elitism which continues to rape the planet, this castle is the perfect ‘exhibit A’ example of it. The flooring alone has desecrated rocks for luxury’s sake, helping to destabilise the land we build on.
People complain about fracking, but we’ve been plundering the Earth’s reserves for far longer than our ancestors would care to admit, destabilising Mother Russia, and then wondering why we get sink holes, earthquakes, tremors. Impatient I open the elm box, remove one of the unique triangles, and lean forward, shoving it between her lips, “Eat!”
She removes the morsel, looking scandalised, “You’re not supposed to touch it, that’s what the tweezers are for.”
“I’m not a pretentious poser, Zelda. I eat with my hands whenever I like. In fact I prefer it. Several knives and forks for one meal is my idea of excessive.”
“But they only made 574 boxes of that chocolate!”
“Then you’d better stop arguing and enjoy it before it melts,” I counter.
Irritated, I pour myself another shot of vodka, drinking it while watching her close her eyes, savouring the piece of chocolate that probably costs more than her threadbare uniform.
What I’m seeing here is a vast imbalance between lord and subject. He’s keeping them dirt poor, literally dirt poor. It’s a common tactic of any slave trade. Never allow them to accumulate enough money to leave, force them to live below the bread line, eking out survival while existing close to starvation.
That way when the master wants to take liberties, he’s afforded them in the hopes of reward or favouritism. Every day they are reminded of what they’ll never have, which adds insult to injury. This is abuse on every level. The women here are undernourished and close to emaciated. Ivan, you’re a despicable megalomaniac.
“Zelda, I won’t ask you again woman. Who accosted you?”
Baby blue eyes open to survey me, her platinum blonde eyebrows shift up as she debates internally how much to say. “Only the maids have not,” she mutters.
Processing that statement, I take it to mean that everyone here, from Ivan to Darko, have abused the staff. Only her own station haven’t because they suffer the same fate. Treated like whores who also have to clean the residence and prepare the food.
My heart is leaden at the realisation that this is the worst kind of domestic violence. There’s no helpline for these ladies, no one to save them, they just keep living through it while their spirits are disfigured a little more each day.
Ivan is draconian indeed. His lady truly reptilian. What they fail to comprehend is that Drakon Castle belongs to the Zilantovics. My birth name is Zalar Perun Zilantovic.
My birthmark is the ouroborus, the hereditary mark of the lindi drakon. This world would die without drakon’s fire, without the sun warming the heavens, without the volcanoes balancing the atmosphere, without the liquid lava running under our feet at the Earth’s core. Without fire we die.
Yes fire burns, but it thaws, it is used to cook and feed billions, and it is the light on the darkest night. It preserves life, it doesn’t seek to annihilate it or reduce it to servitude. We are not the darkness, we are the light!
Ivan and Evanda are an abomination to the house of Drakon, and The (original) Draconian Order begun fifteen thousand years ago in the levant basin.
Looking at the defeated Zelda, I take pity on the woman and pull my shirt out of my trousers, unbuttoning it and shrugging it off, offering it to her. “I’ll pay to replace your uniform. I apologise, sometimes my anger acts before my compassion.”
She takes it, standing briefly to remove the mutilated dress to don my shirt. It reaches to her knees, giving her the look of a woodland Vila because she seems too frail and insubstantial in my shirt. She fingers the luxurious silk and Egyptian cotton blend, envy and appreciation staining her flawless visage with remorse.
What a contradiction. Clearly the men around here don’t whip or punch faces for the sake of appearances, but looking at her body it’s hard to find a patch of flesh without abusive discolouration.
Guilt claws my soul and I reach into my back pocket, extracting my wallet, giving her sufficient euros to balm her wounded dignity and to cover the replacement fee of her thin and worn uniform.
Big eyes widen even more at the tidy sum, but she accepts it without argument, tucking it into the pocket on what should be the left breast of the shirt, but instead it sits at her waist. The charade finally broken between ‘master’ and servant, I refill our glasses, toasting with her again, “Budem zdorovy,” (Let’s be healthy).
She downs it and eyes the chocolate once more, so I wave my hand at it, “Take it. Or eat it here so they think I’m a chocaholic. You won’t be reprimanded by me. It’s sinful for them to place temptation in your path in a bid to exact discipline should anyone taste the forbidden fruit of the exorbitantly affluent. They’ll soon discover I will no longer stand idly by while they perpetuate constant disparity. In this room you are not a servant, you are an equal. Sentience has no hierarchy. Eat your fill. You will answer to no one for this.”
Eyes as blue as Russian jeremejevite survey me, and for the first time since arriving I find the scrutiny making me self-conscious. Standing to go to my wardrobe, I stalk away, opening the closet and withdrawing another shirt.
A soft palm pressing on my shoulder makes me jump, and I twist, the shirt half on – half off, to find the young lady staring at the pale birthmark on my shoulder, tracing it reverently. Most birthmarks are red, but mine is so white it looks like Zarya, (the morning star).
Zelda sinks to her knees, taking my hand and kissing it, resting her forehead against my knuckles and closing her eyes as if praying. The veneration makes me uncomfortable and I try to draw her up, but the stupid woman resists, reaching for my belt, already unbuckling it. “Zelda, stop. I forbid it.”
Finally reason and logic are back in control. I will not treat these women the way my mortal enemy has. Ivan the Volos, and me, Zalar the Perun. Forever at odds, forever at war.
“Get up, do not subjugate yourself to me. I prefer my women to walk around clothed and with dignity.” When she halts, staring up at me in what seems to be bewilderment, I snap, “That’s an order. This isn’t a debate.”
Stepping back, I shrug my shirt on, tuck it in, and secure my belt again while giving her a reprimanding glare.
She touches her lips as if preserving the taste of my skin, as if I am a saviour to her hell. I am, but worship and adoration are not what I seek. I simply seek justice.
In the land of the dead, the resurrected is king.
Zelda stands, finally cupping her long straight pale hair and pulling it out from beneath the shirt’s collar. The motion makes me step forward, tilting her head, pulling aside hair as soft as spider silk, staring at the hand bruise on the back of her neck.
This time I will brook no resistance. “Who gave you that mark?”
I note she doesn’t use the lady’s title, she refers to her in a tone of loathing and disrespect. Glancing at my wristwatch, I gauge that I have three hours before the decreed meeting, before the Order of the Drakon convenes. It’s time I went to find Evanda.
The lights go out, the two of us left standing in a chamber permeated with vodka and complete stygian oblivion. Obsidian shadow veils the realm and a small hand worms into mine, squeezing it with her fear.
In the land of the blind, I am king.
“It’s just a power failure,” I assure her. This castle is well equipped to operate without electrical lighting, the original torches still lining every corridor.
Calling on the inner drakon of my blood, I see with the eyes of the illuminated, walking confidently to the table, releasing her hand to pick up the book of matches, striking one and lighting the candles in the silver candelabra; which adorn every free table. We’re just fortunate it is the summer solstice and the night is warm. I stride to the walls, lighting the torches either side of every doorway, returning visibility and ambiance to the archaic abode built by my ancestral supernal drakonians.
“How could you see in the dark?” asks Zelda, now looking ethereal in the flickering candlelight.
Her hair is so radiant it looks like lustrous moonlight, a beacon, a faraway home where the goddess leaves her ribbons in the window like satin prayer flags for the pariah to obtain absolution.
To answer her question, I shrug, giving her one of my rascal smiles, “In the land of the dark, Lucifer is king.”
“Lucifer?” she hisses, shrinking visibly.
“It means light bearer. Don’t let propaganda lead you astray, wench.”
“A serving girl, taken with promiscuous impiety. That’s what they’ve reduced you to. You surrender your dignity at your own peril.”
I have no time, I must make haste, I have much to do before the meeting of the blue jackets. Striding to her I raise her hand, kissing the back of it, saying, “Hold your head high, your station will be reinstated Zelda.”
And with that I’m gone, with the matches in my pocket, into a long corridor as draughty as it is forsaken. I sense the barabashka (poltergeist) breath on me, blowing fetid breath into my cheeks, stroking the hairs in my nape until they stand on end. What have they done to my home that it is so inhabited with deleterious energy.
A Seedling in a Holocaust
Twilight has come and gone, teasing the sky with unfulfilled promises. Every night is the same, darkness encroaches whispering empty placations that it will not become fully dark, it won’t completely blot out the light, but it lies.
It is a compulsive liar and yet each eventide the sky blushes with the tender touch of darkness, so naïve and trusting it doesn’t recognise that each tickle and retreating giggle locks the darling light inside the cage of obliterating night. A soft gentle approach can be just as dangerous as the sudden blow, but darkness coaxes, it teases, it seduces to get its way. Like the mistress of Castle Drakon.
The gathering takes place at midnight and I am snooping, sneaking about, looking for the lady of sin. It is at the top of the western turret that I finally see the silhouette of the damsel.
Slumped against the pillar, perched on the low stone wall gifting a panoramic view of the crepuscular landscape, she draws on a cigarette. The harsh ember illuminates her face with the softest of glimpses, exposing wet trails slicking two achromatic cheeks.
Tears make no sound when they fall; they are the most silent of screams.
“Evanda?” I ask, stepping into the chamber beneath the tower bell.
Startled, she crosses her arms across cold nipples, sniffing and biting her lip, too emotional to speak. Her focus is all the acknowledgement I need.
“What’s the matter?” I whisper, as if the descending mist hides seekers of misfortune.
“I am afflicted with so much sadness … too much sadness. I’ve run out of pockets to hide it all, sometimes it leaks out, staining me a superficial hypocrite.”
“When the mask slips, that’s when you are naked milaya,” I say.
The hand clutching the cigarette trembles, she looks at me with glistening eyes wide with confusion and alarm. Will the endearment ring the chime of melancholy? Will it be enough for her to recognise me? Back when we were idealistic and stupid it was my pet name for her; milaya moya – my sweet.
“Milaya?” she murmurs, sniffing without grace, her elegance sliding away in slippery treason.
Pushing lady luck back behind her moth eaten shroud, I tease with another endearment, “Would you prefer I say golubushka (little dove)? You are, but your wings are clipped now milaya moya.”
“You quote Pushkin?” she half smiles.
It’s a destitute smile, when the cup is empty but the aroma and stains linger, reminiscent of what it once held. She smears exorbitant perfume on a peasant girl dressed in silk.
I don’t ‘quote’ Pushkin, I quote myself.
Stepping closer, staring down on the plump lips and gouged soul, I tease the harlot, “You think of yourself as an elderly nanny?”
When Pushkin wrote of his old nanny, calling her golubushka, he was quoting the biblical poet Solomon. Evanda is so far removed from biblical as to be the Jezebel so warned of. Bel loved his Jez, and she loved his jizz. We all know that. Yes, perhaps it’s apt after all.
She has stopped crying, staring like a rheumy drunk into the dark mist, “I feel like a nanny. What use is a husband if he has no desire for me?”
Odd how this landscape does that, mist hanging low and yet above it you can see the night sky peppered with rhinestones of hope.
“Did he ever?” I challenge. I know this story, yet she assumes I am ignorant. I am the wild card in the deck and the hour has come for my trickery to be employed.
“No, I suppose not,” she whispers, a fresh slew of tears wicking off dense eyelashes.
“Do not cry for him lyubimaya (darling), cry for yourself, but not him.”
She wipes her cheek with an immaculate hand, looking sharply at me, “You disrespect your grande drakon already?”
This time I flirt with fire, dropping to my haunches to look up into her starlit face, the illumination so faint as to be macabre, saying, “He’s drunk and high, I doubt he will mind. Do you?”
“How do you know–”
“I know he can still get it up even if he’s drunk and high, but the thought of you leaves him wilting like a seedling in a holocaust.”
Cold fingers connect with my cheek and I stand, hiding my hands in my pockets to saunter away, looking east instead. This really is a spectacular view. She doesn’t remember me, and she still thinks she’s above the rest of us. The pretentious never did like hearing the truth. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Taunting the ice queen I say softly, keeping my focus on the mountain range behind the castle, “If you wish your secrets to remain sacred then it is time for you to sew closed the mouths of those who serve you, and put chastity belts on the wenches to hide the stench of his lordship’s indiscretions.”
“Why did he invite you here if you hold him in such contempt?” demands a serrated voice, her apprehension obvious, her tone now so husky it’s hushed angels from strumming their harps.
Turning to look down on the elegant and faux sophisticate, I shrug, “If he hasn’t disclosed to you why I am here, then it’s not my place to ruin the surprise.”
“Surprise?” she hisses, the serpent uncoiling to creep closer to lick her forked tongue into my soul, dowsing for truth in nuances and tones.
Oh yes, if Satan was ever human this is the form he would adopt, this is the body and this is the woman. Devious and sly.
I return her shrewd smile, feigning nonchalance, “I am beyond manipulation Evanda, if you want answers I suggest you interrogate your husband instead.”
Turning away while her mind ticks over and twists her springs tight enough for attack, she looks up, saying in her sultry tone, “The moon finally arrives. She’s late tonight.”
Sitting down and opening her emerald encrusted cigarette case, withdrawing another to light it, to pollute her lungs and the planet the same way she polluted mine, she mutters in lamentation, “I am like her. Alone, pale, adored by far but isolated. Hated as much as loved, admired as much as shunned. It’s a solitary prison which siphons out a sad soul, leeching the love from my bones until they’re brittle.”
I’m about to rebuke her for being melodramatic when I turn and see the lachrymose deluge, the facade stripped, the regal veneer forgotten in her grief.
She made the bed and she doesn’t even sleep in it. Evanda is like a matryoshka doll. Inside her there is always another Evanda waiting to be discovered.
Did I ever really know you? Which doll are you? Which one am I witnessing now? Which one is the essence of Evanda?
The westerners call them Russian nesting dolls, but maybe they are just a representation of humanity. So many masks that only the brave would strip them down to the tiny vulnerable one in the centre. And then what? What if the nucleus doll within them all is empty? What if it has no soul and it cries because it knows there is no treasure despite the glossy enamel painting the outside to be attractive?
Oh my sweet dove, my Evanda, I think I’ve finally found an endearment for you that fits. You are my sweet matryoshka. And from what I recall the doll I kissed was the one containing venom.
Pretty and poisonous – but I loved you anyway.
Fingering the key in my pocket I am reminded of my mission, and the rapid deterioration of the little time I have at my disposal.
Turning to the lady whom I once would have given my last drop of blood to, to save her sweet smile from grief, I mutter, “I bid you a good evening, Lady. I shall witness your glorious visage once again, at the meeting of the fates.”
“Don’t leave me,” she whispers, her face askance, hiding her expression from me. It is subterfuge, a pretence to win my sympathy, but a woman who bruises her underlings doesn’t warrant such a charitable gift, even if I did once love her more than Ra loved Sol.
The mighty shall fall when the pedestal is kicked from under their slippered feet.
“I already have,” I choke in reply, turning to descend the staircase once more.
The breeze licks my ear with even softer words whispered from the aristocrat, “Everyone worthy of my love, leaves me. Will my heart always be the echo for another’s beat?”
I pause, glancing back from the shadows of the spiral staircase, darkness concealing my presence.
She looks skyward, turning her face up to the moon as a sun worshipper does after months of gloomy winter, saying, “You are no different Zalar. Once a Zalar, always a Zalar.”
What does that mean? Does she know who I am?
The inveigler of my youth speaks to the draconian moon, knowing it’s north and south nodes are named, Caput Draconis and Caude Draconis. At least she knows the light in the dark is to be acknowledged.
“Alpha Draconis, I look to the heavens every night, searching for your star, but in your stead I find a black night peppered with twinkles cheaper than plastic sequins.”
Her voice is so soft it’s like eavesdropping on a dream, on a memory, on a night when the world stopped rotating and I was mad with the ambrosia of her kisses, euphoric from the slide of her skin over mine, obsessed with the pinnacle of passion’s first sting. So captured was I in her spell that I would have gladly peeled my skin off, using it as a shield to prevent my lover’s perfect feet from standing in filth. Such high esteem has plummeted deeper than the abyss. Young love, it’s fool’s gold.
When she stabbed her icicle through my heart it stung so severely I thought I’d never recover. I mourned her for three solid years, becoming skeletal and depressed with the loss of the only reason I had for breathing. When she left me every breath punctured my lungs, my spirit bleeding out in endless anguish.
Alpha Draconis? The head of the dragon, the north star of my ancestors, my ritual name – Thuban. Does she mourn me? Why then did she drop me like anthrax and marry my third cousin and oust me from my rightful inheritance? Why did they convince the Lumenista I was an impostor and Ivan was the rightful heir of my fortune and my only home?
I lost everything. Everything!
The old rage simmers in my veins and I’m tempted to walk back to her, grab her, shake the bitchiness from her mouth and remind her that I am the lord here. But what good would it do. It is the scorpion’s nature to sting, it’s the viper’s nature to strike, it’s Evanda’s nature to swallow her prey whole.
My legs become weak with word association and I rest heavily against the historical stones of my sire’s castle, the stone my only strength as I recall how she swallowed me whole, and it was heaven. It was glorious and salacious, sublime and ecstatic. I’ve never loved another … I don’t know how.
Evanda, you left me utterly bereft. Your aftertaste was soured sorrow.
Leaving the serpent’s spire I miss her final declaration.
“Saskia would have adored you, but I couldn’t find you, I couldn’t even summon your ghost. Who banished you from the heavenly spheres? Why did they rob the sky of the sun and leave me alone in this black tundra of merciless misery?”
The hallways seem unaffected by the blackout. Lit with rustic torches in rusted brackets, the flames flicker, giving off a rancid black smoke, sizzling when they incinerate errant moths and clumps of dust falling from the vibration overhead. It’s that disturbance that I’m off to investigate.
My knock on the heavy wooden door up on the third level gets no response. This close the bass and beat is imposing seizures into my ribs. Shoving the door open with agitation I step into the vast empty chamber.
She’s painted the walls dark red, almost black, like dried blood stained with dolour. A female with long dark hair striated with neon green streaks dances with her back to me, waving her hands over her head as if worshipping the gods of classic rock blaring from her MacGyver setup.
It’s such an unexpected sight that I’m standing here just taking it all in. She has a car radio connected to an old battery, the wires running off the mantelpiece to the gaudy block housing her power source. The battery is clad in a hot pink plastic container as bright as the neon in her hair. Skinny black jeans, bare feet, toes adorned with rings, bony shoulders exposed in a t-back vest, the vest sloppy, almost a mini dress, black hair thrashing to the anthem belonging to the fictional Dean Winchester.
Carry on my wayward son.
Her vest is a faded shade of charcoal, her focus rapturous with eyes closed to the strains of tortured guitar strings. Flicking her hair, swaying hips; I see the mark. What? What the bloody hell!
Careless, reckless, I step closer, my gaze fixated on the pale shoulder disfigured with the birthmark. My hereditary birthmark. I have a daughter? Evanda, you have some explaining to do woman!
Carry on my wayward son – not. Carry on my wayward daughter, more like. This could fuck up all my plans. This skinny adolescent dancing to Kansas is the rightful heir.
Well, at least, that’s what the pigmentation on her skin signifies. I doubt it’s a tattoo, but then I wouldn’t put it past Evanda to go this far to fuck over Ivan. If she knew the rules and what is forecast, then yes, I can see that mark as a very artful tattoo imbedded in uncharted skin for the express purpose of ruining Ivan’s influence and hold on the family fortune.
Only one man is that skilled in the art of tattooing, Fabio Giovannoni. He is the Da Vinci of the skin trade, your flesh his canvas, and when you leave his cloistered parlour and its artistic privacy, you leave as a masterpiece. Yes, that is a masterpiece, and I’m trying to figure out when Evanda got a photo of it? We were drunk enough, or at least, I was. That bitch!
Watching the young girl, wondering if she has my eyes or that of her mother, I know this much; until she reaches the age of twenty she cannot challenge my authority as the rightful Lumen in the Drakon crown. But if she is that old, all my plotting will be shot to shit. Now I’m counting the years from that fortuitous night. I was sixteen, Evanda fifteen. She married Ivan at the tender age of sixteen, giving me the shaft of the century. Evanda always had such pale hair it looked like the diadem of the golden years. Now the age in her hair gives the ensemble highlights of quicksilver.
Calculating, I look at the chit, that would make this waif sixteen if she’s mine. I’m thirty-six going on immortal. I am so weary I feel that ancient, but in training for this preordained evening I have worked my body like a seasoned athlete.
Looking at the room, at the lit torches sending Ajdaha dragon’s heat and light to scorch the vaulted ceiling, I deduce she is not my daughter. She would require no external light when plunged into the dark, her spirit would light her way, her vision as clear as the sightless when cataracts are removed. No, this one is a fraud, a ploy by the cunning *unt running Castle Drakon.
Evanda has sunk so low that there are no levels left in hell for her to plunder.
Taking one last look around my supposed daughter’s domain, I find her love of the Gothic, the morbid, the dark; offensive. But the lyrics to the tune she’s blasting afford me a moment of insight. If she is mine then this castle is her Hades. She is suffering spiritually, which is why she sings loudest to the section pertaining to heaven waiting for her when her suffering is done. She craves the peace. She craves the light.
Everyone in the dark does, even if they’re in denial.
Turning my back on what is possibly a history and life Evanda has deprived me of, I return to the realm of deepest shadow, haunting the halls like the restless souls of my forebears.
We will not rest until the rightful heir is reinstated and justice is served to the charlatans. This charade will be garrotted, beheaded, because only the true *Zilant has three heads. Our coat of arms has the *Zmey Gorynych on it. Unlike the Kazan coat of arms, which has just the one. It was an abomination when Russia adopted the coat of arms of the Byzantine empire instead of staying true to our original ancestry.
Moscow really stick it in with their coat of arms, that of St George slaying the dragon. They think they overthrew our lineage, our reign, and our influence on the mother land. They put out the light and engulfed the mother with the choking veils of communism. Enslaving the free.
But I’m still here, and once I have what’s behind the mystery door, this suffering will be no more. If she is my daughter, peace will be hers.
*Zilant – flying dragon
*Zmey Gorynych – three headed dragon native to Russia
Perun’s Skeleton Key
Descending to the catacombs in Zilantaw mountain, I enter the realm of dank cold rock, weeping with the mineral-rich tears of my ancestors.
Originally our home was on Zilantaw Hill, a high island surrounded by Zmienoye Lake, (Snake lake). That changed when the river was diverted in a successful act of sabotage, by the Voloskovics. They bled our lake dry, leaving Zmienoye lake parched and cracked, the original reptilian inhabitants left to their own devices in order to survive. *Lesovik would not approve.
Then we relocated, telling no one where we went, taking our people and our territory further from Moscow, to a new Zilantaw hill – a mountain. It took many generations to build this fortification, the castle extending fathoms deep into the mountain catacombs, where we found the skeleton key. God’s skeleton key.
I am on my search now, for the door it opens. Perun was god, I am his descendant, and the power he concealed in this lair should be a revelation, a better one than a fake daughter with rebellion seeping out of her pores.
My ancestors hid it in here, somewhere, but I know from the ancient Zilant Codex that they established an underground city in this mountain, *35 çaqrım deep. I found in the notes scribbled next to the Perun Key that the doorway I seek is hidden at 1 *Färsäx, which means I’d better test my fitness level to find it and get back in time for the inevitable showdown at the witching hour.
Stripping off my shirt and tying it around my waist, I begin the gruelling sprint, setting my runner’s watch to measure the distance. I’ve been training for this like a Spartan and can now cover that distance in thirty minutes. It’s quite a bit slower than the world records for the 10 km run, but hardly tardy. That will afford me almost two hours to find the sepulture of my quest.
Grateful I can see in complete darkness, I race down the slanted channels carved into the stone. The environment changes from the impression of storage and wine cellars, through the hidden doorway behind vault 33, and into the corridor of the antiquated.
The royal blue of Castle Drakon is forsaken for Sin-Kamen rock, dark grey, and the very same rock our Russian sacred stones were quarried from. When wet the dark grey turns blue, hence the colour of our royal abode. This is sacred ground and the corridors widen, the descent easier, and oddly the air is fresh whereas I expected it to be claustrophobic. I expected this run to punish my lungs and deliberately ran at high altitude in my training for this scenario.
Glancing at my watch as I run through a great chamber housing dolmens and a statue of Perun, I wish I could stop to appreciate it but I have just 2 km’s left to cover. Pushing now, forcing my pumping muscles into the sprint of my life, I keep following east, knowing the hallowed door is within reach.
The air becomes suddenly warm, my descent levelling off as I dash down a wide arched passage, ignoring every doorway, left and right, all the treasures and ancient history of my kind hiding from war and enemies deep in the underground, in their kingdom of sacred stone; my watch beeps, announcing I’ve arrived.
The new religion tells its followers to build their houses on rock. We went one step better, we built ours in it. The lack of activity and plundering also informs me that the ignoramus Ivan and his witchy lady have not discovered the true lineage’s secret. This is our kingdom and it still houses the wealth and heirlooms of my ancestors. It is untouched by grabbing hands, by unworthy fingers.
Bending over, hands on knees, I catch my breath, gasping, sweating. My heart is hammering like a smithy at the anvil, but I’m sure this is from anticipation more than my nocturnal excursion into the bowels of Castle Drakon.
Standing erect I unpocket the key, looking around at the three vast doors before me. All three are plated with gold, the intricate artwork magnificently skilled. I have a hunch, a big one. The only way to open this door is not with the key but with my birthmark. Examining each door I search for the sigil of the ouroboros.
It is the one on the right, perfectly in line with my height. Apprehensive I turn my back on the king’s door and press my hot skin against the chilling kiss of metal.
A whine ensues, a deep groan, and a hatch springs inward, revealing a keyhole. I like that my forebears were this paranoid. Not only must you have the ancestral mark, but you must also have the pedigree to be the owner of the hereditary key, passed from mother to the firstborn child, over the generations.
Swallowing thickly against a dry mouth, I slip the key into the hollow, turning it left, then right, then upside down in one revolution. Oh yes, I read the Drakon Codex every night the way others read their bibles. I know ever sequence and secret off by heart.
My hands tremble as I press them against the door, in the clandestine mark for them. Hands are for touch, for survival, they create and they destroy, which is why I must place my palms over the sigils for birth and death, the babe and the corpse.
The door releases, echoing a hollow moan into the chamber beyond. The three rites completed I take a deep breath and exert pressure and my weight against the mammoth door. It swings inward, bright light bleeding out, surprising me. I didn’t know what I’d discover, but this wasn’t it.
In a crystal oval placed in the centre of the vast room hovers the naggred. It is a holy egg, belonging to the Zilant family, us Zilantovics. Knowing what to do I walk thirteen paces to the right, reaching into the narthex and finding the sceptre of Perun. To touch the egg I must be holding the rod of our originator.
Taking the thirteen steps left I now stand behind the egg. Stepping thrice to the pedestal beneath it, I simply rest my forehead against its casting, waiting for the moment of transfer.
Counting, the bolt splices my inner vision at thirty-three beats of my heart. Blasted back, flung to the far wall, I slump, floating on the ether of nebo. It has incensed my inner spirit and I feel as if I am levitating on the effluvium of God.
Closing my eyes I wallow in the sensation, absorbing it, assimilating.
When I reopen my eyes, gravity slowly seeping back into my reality, I discover my sight is enhanced. Now the night seems like day and I stare up at the intricate ceiling encrusted with the jewels of constellations, a map lined out between them, with a code in the epicentre.
So it’s true. My fathers, the gods. They came, they conquered, and they left our bloodline here to exact justice on evil. It’s time to meet Ivan. It’s time for the scales to rebalance.
I check the time and am grateful I can run as fast as I can. I have fifty-five minutes left before the greatest revelation these walls have ever witnessed.
Retracing my steps I replace the sceptre, then back to the door, pausing on the threshold to whisper my gratitude, then I leave, halting to watch the door close of its own accord. I insert the key again, locking it, and repocketing the key. The hatch closes and it’s as if I was never here.
As it should be.
Turning to my path, I run the gauntlet back to the world above, to the jesters pretending to be royalty, pretending they’re entitled to own the spirit of Russia.
We’ll see how that’s working out for you once we’ve had our little conclave, you despicable wyrm.
*35 çaqrım is 37.338 km
*çaqrım – ancient Russian unit of measure, before the (modern) Soviet Union introduced the metric system.
*Färsäx – 6.4 kilometres
*Lesovik – a male woodland spirit
*Sin-Kamen – pagan sacred stone
*nebo – heaven
*wyrm – old name for snake / worm
The Blue Jackets
Hurrying through the cellars and up the steps to the kitchen, I stop to wipe my face, calm my breath, and put my shirt back on.
Doing my best to look like a curious visitor I saunter into the kitchen, hands in pockets, my ruse – the bottle of wine tucked conveniently under my arm.
Instead I walk into a room where the maids sit around the scrubbed table, Zelda telling the others about her encounter with me, and they’re all slicing slithers of sweet potato and sucking on it.
What madness is this? Shouldn’t they cook it first?
She looks at me, embarrassment at caught gossiping burning her cheeks rouge. I frown, tilting my head in silent query.
She leaves the table, quickly coming to me to stand on tiptoes, whispering into my ear, “It prevents … er, the female cycle from completion. We may not bleed, we must always be available for the lord. And if we’re caught wearing underwear we’ll lose our job, so we suck the sweet potato so it won’t come. We can’t afford contraception with the tablets. If you skip the red tablets you can skip that phase in the cycle, but we have no money for that.”
She drops back to her level, looking away as if this confession shames her. If anyone should be ashamed it should be that little prick wearing my crown!
I survey the table of some thirty odd maids and ask, “How long has this been going on? How long have you been sucking on potato for his grace’s fucking convenience?”
They won’t meet my gaze, all of them staring at the table. So I look at Evanda, giving her my dominant expression, the one that warns not to fuck with me when I mean business. Now is not the time to hold her tongue.
She gives me her customary shrug, muttering, “Years. For me, it’s six years now.”
Looking at the women, I state, “And I suppose if you’re pregnant he’ll give you the boot too? As a growing child would mean he can’t work you to the bone?”
An older woman nods, finally lifting her chin to meet my stare.
“Did it never occur to the little weasel that he should wear a fucking condom?”
She smiles at me, shaking her head and returning her gaze to that of servitude, downcast.
That does it. I’m ready to annihilate that usurper once and for all. How dare he? How dare he! Our familial name is passed down maternally. He insults the very bloodline he claims is his.
The two genders are puzzle pieces. Humanity cannot continue without the female, without her gift of life, and yet he exploits it as if it was created for his entertainment, for his pleasure, for his fucking convenience.
The man is the strength, the rock, the foundation – why – because he is the parapet to protect all future life, he is the dais to elevate the life giver. She passes on the divine, like the womb of creation and the first light called into the heavens with the first word. That is why women give us such joy, and such severe heartache. We cannot imagine a life without them, always looking for the one who causes a smile every time our eyes behold her. That’s the gift of spirit. Only the blind do not recognise it.
Ivan, you have made my world very dark indeed, because you’re an ignorant shit!
Tonight you will burn. You will BURN!
Enraged, my anger evident by the worried glances cast my way, I tell the gathered servants, “This too will change. It is the way of this world that all things shall pass away. But the person who does the will of God remains forever.”
Most of my land are now orthodox catholics, they will know these words. What they will not remember is that Perun was God, and I am the last remaining man on this planet who can trace my lineage back to him. I do the will of God and he just gifted me his fire. I have been baptised with fire and now the unrighteous shall be judged.
I give them an affirmative nod and stomp my way back to my chamber, ready for the final battle of wills. Ivan’s will, and God’s.
Entering my suite I discover the vodka depleted and the chocolate consumed. Now I know, if you want to loosen the tongue of the chamber maid, ply her with vodka.
Checking the time, I just have enough to have a quick shower and dress for the grand ceremony of initiates into the Order of the Dragon.
Ten minutes later I’m as regal as the rest of them, going down the great staircase to the foyer, past the many statues and suits of armour, and the portraits of my kin who still gaze from the canvas, emanating disdain for the desecration of their legacy.
Darko inclines his head, never lowering his eyes, giving me the vibe of being a condescending bastard who thinks he is my superior because he screwed the same chick I did. Been there, done that, burned the t-shirt. His haughty demeanour irks me and I look forward to evicting him from these sacrosanct walls.
“My lord,” he sneers.
He offers me the jacket of the initiate, our sizes given in advance. Refusing to turn my back on him lest he stick a dagger in it, I take the offered item and hold it until I’m beyond him and in the gathering of eleven men in red velvet smoking jackets, the coat of arms of my ancestors emblazoned on the breast pocket.
Evanda is dressed to the nines, flittering between the gentlemen with flirtatious exuberance, enjoying being the lady of the manor, the only female present.
Such desperation is unattractive. Ivan shouldn’t starve his wife of attention, her resultant behaviour is distasteful.
I look for him, but he’s not here. I suppose they’re trying to sober him up somewhere behind one of these tapestries. I know from my childhood that they hide many a secret passage.
She spies me, sauntering her way over in such high heels that she looks like a toddler learning to walk. She gives me a scarlet-lipped smile, holding out the hand with the ring of changeability. It’s red, the torch-light exposing its nocturnal hue.
Looking at the ring as I take the hand to kiss it, it strikes me that the shade of deep pink this ring is, matches her nipples. I recall them vividly. Killing my smile I brush a kiss across pampered skin, releasing her hand because it brings back too many painful memories.
That hand has mapped every inch of my body; I surrendered to it. It was the only time in my life that I was vulnerable. I opened my soul, letting her read every orison in my heart, and it gave me nothing but betrayal.
Standing straight I ignore her, moving to my left, shaking hands with the other initiates, starting with a man named Aljaz Romanov. No doubt he’s a relation of the Tzar, but it won’t cut it tonight. Not this time buddy.
Keeping a peripheral eye on Evanda, I watch her recover quickly, drawing courage from the smile smuggled across Darko’s face. His gaze is greedy, looking at her like a thief when he spies the royal jewels left out on the dresser. Disgusting. No discretion whatsoever.
I do the dutiful introductions and when Ivan still doesn’t appear we’re led to the Indigo Basilica. It is the inner sanctuary of Castle Drakon; its heart. The architecture in this room is intricate, the ceilings high, vaulted, the support pillars gilded with gold, the drakon’s star in the very centre showing a view to the heavens, a golden dragon across it, marking the way to Thuban.
Thuban, the north star, the guiding light followed by three magi to the one this world calls saviour. Why does Thuban get no credit? Because it is the head of the heavenly drakon, Draco. Draco circles the centre of the galaxy, the navel of creation, his body the umbilical cord to me and mine.
I know this history, I know this story, and tonight I write its ending.
The floor too holds many polished drakons, their gloss so high, showing the way to the door, beyond which is a light, a cosmos, a room which I would while many hours away in as a child. It is the holiest room in this house, heavenly even, and in there I found peace unlike any other. Why has my daughter not been given its blessing? Does Ivan keep her out of what is rightfully hers? Does he treat her like a bastard he had to adopt?
Whoa! What the fuck? You’re assuming a little too much there buddy, don’t walk down that path until you’ve had a DNA test. Evanda ruined you once, only a fool would let her do it twice.
Without Ivan, Evanda conducts the proceedings, inducting us into the order, each of us reciting the oath of loyalty to the Order of the Dragon, swearing devotion to the bloodline of Drakon. I’m tempted to laugh, I just swore to honour myself.
Now that we’ve ‘arrived’, the buffoon does his rounds again, taking our red jackets and replacing them with ones of indigo blue, dyed with the prestigious tyrian purple reserved for royalty, Zmey Gorynych dutifully emblazoned in gold thread on the pocket. These are of superior quality to the red jackets, their luxury to the touch something to appreciate, a source of pride to all who don it. So few velvet jackets these days are crafted the ancient way, with the finest cotton, most are disappointingly synthetic. Finally the impostors in the House of Drakon show some pedigree.
The colour is of my bloodline. Blue. The original kings, the original royals. No one knows why royals are named ‘blue blooded’. It is because my family’s dragon has blue blood, like Lesovik too. We of the blue blood, once, when Perun walked this earth.
Evanda breaks out the champagne, the maids circling with flutes, popping the corks off Goût de Diamants’, a limited edition Grand Cru champagne, the bottle’s design accounting for the exorbitant price per unit. A cool €1.5 million.
I am sure my ancestors are turning in their graves at the way this couple are abusing the family’s fortune. That kind of money could change this world, feed millions, but instead they squander it on tasteless shows of extravagance. Money can win you friends they say, but when you have none they’ll see through the illusion of grandeur and find the pair wanting.
We toast to our health and newfound calling, in service to the House of Drakon, and I drink mine, winking at Zelda as she stands nearby, flashing me a glimpse of panties.
Sidling over to her, I whisper in her ear, “You little rebel.”
I’m flashed a winsome smile in return, and for a second I’m fully aware of how fetching this woman is. She also smells like she’s helped herself to Evanda’s perfume collection.
Laughing, I turn at the disturbance blustering its way into our dignified gathering.
Placing my flute on Zelda’s tray, I face my nemesis, shouldering my way through the crowd to the ‘happy’ couple. I take a moment behind Aljaz to remove the family ring from my pocket, slipping it onto my right hand’s forefinger, then step forward and offer Ivan my hand to shake.
“Greetings, Ivan Muscovy. How irresponsible of you to leave your wife to do your duty.”
He stops gloating at his illustrious station amongst the new acolytes to give me a glare, the diminutive man clasping my hand, and I clamp my hand around his, crushing the drug-brittle bones.
I forgot just how short this little shit is.
Looming closer, pulling him to me with my grip on his frail hand, I stare down to hiss, “Tell me ‘lord’, how is it you reign over the Castle Drakon but have the name Muscovy instead of Zilantovic?”
His washed out grey eyes stare up into mine, fear visiting his visage. “And you are?”
He tries to be haughty but falls far short, like his legs.
“You do not recognise me? If I take off my shirt and expose you to be the charlatan that you are, will you remember me then?”
The room has hushed, every maid and guest now staring in shocked silence. No one confronts Ivan in his kingdom, his temper and quick hand with the whip is renown.
Evanda steps back, wobbling precariously, her inhalation audible for all to witness her moment of ghastly realisation.
Ivan tries to squirm out of my brutal grip, but I am the Titan here, he is the ant. “Don’t be outrageous. If this is some kind of joke –”
“Do I look like I’m joking?” I challenge.
Zoran steps forward, mediating, “Come now, this is a time of celebration. Leave the lord be.”
I ignore the interruption, glaring at my third cousin. Instead I address the room, demanding, “Who here has the result of the blood tests? Come forward and read mine. The only men allowed in this Order must share the bloodline of this so called ‘lord’ Drakon. Who goes so far as to call himself the grande Drakon. Speak the truth for all to hear!”
I have come prepared, independently having my genome sampled and printed out, matched to a genealogy of DNA, proving I alone am the rightful heir to this House, the House of Drakon. Should there be subterfuge at play I will take it from my back pocket and expose this fraud before all his adorers.
An old man, stern and decrepit, enters from behind the only tapestry in the basilica, holding an old tome of records.
With his spectacles balanced on the tip of his nose he dumps the valuable book onto the podium and flips it open, clearing his throat and giving me a look of disapproval, “I cannot read it out if I don’t have your name, son.”
“The name I gave you is Zalar Vikhrov.”
He grumbles under his breath, running his finger down the page to find my name. Once there he stops, removing his spectacles to gape at me. “But … but this can’t be right.”
“Au contraire Lumenista, it is right. You are addressing the rightful heir of Castle Drakon, the very one you exiled twenty years ago, when I was just sixteen! Have they kept you in lavish indulgences to hold your silence on their dirty secret?”
Now Ivan is really struggling in my grip and I return my attention to him, speaking loud enough for all to hear, “I, Zalar Perun Zilantovic, have gone through the rite of my ancestors, I have the power of Perun in my spirit, in this body; you stand in the presence of Lucifer! I bring light back to this den of darkness, of depravity, of abuse. And I judge Ivan Muscovy unworthy!”
Releasing Ivan’s hand, with more witnesses than I ever hoped for, I call on the power of the naddred. “Tonight I have placed my hands on both life and death in the True Lord’s chamber, and was not struck down. I was found worthy, true, the real heir with the skeleton key, with the knowledge, and I received the light! I have his fire!”
Surrendering to the power in my veins I become the ether of Perun, flying up above the crowd as Zilant, bellowing like thunder from above, “Ivan Muscovy has walked these halls proclaiming to be the Zilandt, but what he forgot to remember is that the House of Drakon has not one head, but three! He couldn’t ruin me even if he tried! Chop off one head and you still have two more to contend with, we are a trinity, working in unison, and we will never sanction the cruelty he has exacted in this house!”
And then I release my rage, lightning pouring from my soul directly to the impostor who stole the love of my life, who stole my life to walk in my shoes, and could not fill them. He stole everything I held dear, what kind of a man would do that? Where is his compassion, his respect for the people he shares this planet with, the blatant disregard for the spiritual sentience housed in each of us? His utter abuse to the life giver?
In an instant the room is filled with ozone, the loud crack of earthing fire deafening, and the ‘lord’ is rendered a pillar of ash from the lightning strike. They forget that the dragon is a flying dragon who breathes fire. I am the storm they’ve been hiding from inside these buttressed walls, afraid of retribution. Too late for penitence now. The flying fire dragon is the lightning from every cloud, exacting our justice in ethereal form.
I look at Evanda and consider it, but instead I think I shall make her Zelda’s maid, giving her the gift of humility. Being humble will make her bitter, but then, she already is.
With my justice out of my system, with the balance corrected, I find myself once again standing before the ash that was the harbinger of my doom; as a man.
The Lumenista clears his throat, looking at the stunned audience. “It’s true I’m afraid, he is the rightful heir. What can I say? I was a poor man offered riches, the temptation corrupted me. I fell for a counterfeit and robbed you all of knowing the Perun lineage. I confess. Let your hearts be my jury.”
I nod to him, grateful that he swallowed his pride. “Choose a new Lumenista, and be gone from my father’s home once he is trained. Betrayal is not something I can respect.”
“Yes, you made that painfully evident in your little display there. Feeling better for it no doubt.”
“Indeed,” I smile, turning my attention back to Evanda. She cowers behind Darko. Glaring at the bastard I point my finger at him, muttering, “Your sins are grave, did you really think no one would ever hold you accountable for them?”
“You looked down your nose at the son of god and deemed yourself his superior. Did you not know he once walked these streets a beggar, a common man, in rags and shoes with holes worn through the soles? Did you not know that he was forced into that position by an impostor, a liar, a thief?! Your soul was laid bare Darko, and in it there is no love or compassion. You rape, abuse, and desecrate. I’m cleaning house, starting with you!”
The surge leaves me breathless and I’m shocked to witness the electrical fire purging out of my finger, incinerating the man who hurt the women in his care. A shepherd is not meant to eat his flock and roast their flesh, he is meant to be their guardian. Since when is he the wolf consuming his wards?
Blinking at Evanda, I cannot hurt her. She is female, a life giver, and for that I believe she has the possibility of redemption. I heard her in the spire, her soul called to mine, our bond simmering beyond the years apart. She was beautiful once. Pure, within, where it matters. Maybe she will be again, once she is purged of the gowns and jewels, when she’s reminded that fashion and gems cannot make the ugly beautiful. When you have only your skin, your wealth is in your heart.
Instead I rebuke her verbally, “If you ever lay a hand on another person in this house, I will destroy that hand. Hands were made for loving, for giving, for soothing. Abuse their purpose and I shall alleviate you of the offending appendage. As a prophet once said, if your eye causes you to sin, cut it out. Are we clear?”
She nods, her entire body shaking, her eyes holding the expression of awe, love, coveting what she cannot have. Not again. She was given the choice, and she chose Ivan.
“Is that teenage girl my daughter?” I ask.
She nods, looking flabbergasted. “How did you know?”
“What is her name?”
I nod, “A worthy name for my daughter. The protector of men. Bring her to me.”
Evanda flees, as if she is afraid I will strip her of her hair and make her walk shamed and naked. I look to the Lumenista, “Have you tested her?”
“Yes my lord, she is your daughter. Finally that conundrum is given clarity. I couldn’t match her DNA to Ivan, she had none of the right genetic markers.”
“She has my ouroboros mark you old fool, are you blind as well as treacherous?”
“Touché. Now if you’ll excuse me, I think it’s time to restart my pacemaker. Another display like that and I’m afraid it’ll give up the ghost completely.”
“Wait!” I demand, turning to eventually face the witnesses. I expected to see fear on their faces, but instead I see respect, adoration even.
Isn’t it odd how easy it is to exalt Perun once you stand in the aura of his power. The world denies it, but face to face no one is unaffected. Many have pretended to have our power, but all are counterfeits, shallow renditions of the real thing. If you want men to respect you, first you have to give them something to respect.
Looking at the audience, I choose Aljaz. “Aljaz Romanov, would you do me the honour of becoming the next Lumenista?”
He was the only man here who greeted me fairly, as if he could see what was hidden within me, the holiness I reclaimed from my ancestors now that I’m of age. Ivan deprived me of it, kicking me out of my familial home at sixteen, when I had to be twenty to claim it.
He smiles, stepping forward, bowing slightly and clasping my hand, “I would be delighted!”
“Excellent,” I smile, turning at the entrance of a stroppy teenager giving me the glare of death.
I wasn’t prepared for this eventuality, I didn’t know I had a daughter, but she clearly resents me for being missing for the duration of her existence.
Aljaz interrupts the first meeting of father and daughter by asking, “What will become of Darko and Ivan?”
Turning back to the congenial man, I say, “They get another turn on the wheel. Everyone gets another chance, everyone.”
He nods, understanding. Some would call it reincarnation, but we call it resurrection. Nothing can die, but everything can be born again. However those whom embrace love, truth, spiritual enlightenment, who walk the path of the gentle soul, walking softly on this earth, they are done on this plane, they never have to be resurrected for their walk in this realm of suffering is complete, they endured despite the odds and hardships, and their empathy prevailed.
Turning back to Saskia, I offer her my hand, “You are angry, I acknowledge that, but I need to show you something.”
She ignores my hand, and it saddens me. If she’d taken it I could have transferred the power within me to her, but she thinks she doesn’t need my help, she’s fine on her own. Hopefully one day, when she’s ready, she will turn to me for support, for my power. It is hers, I’d give it freely, but she has to accept it of her own volition, I cannot force it on her.
Addressing the room, I tell the men and women gathered, “Please feast and party as you intended, and this time I ask that no-one treat a lady present as a servant. We each have a role in this life, none is greater or lesser than another’s, all are required for prosperity.”
And it’s as if a switch is flipped. The Lumenista even joins his new protégé, someone somewhere hitting play on the music, the sanctum filled with the vibes of celestial harmonies.
I search for Zelda, finding her at the back, sipping her majesty’s exorbitant champagne, grinning at me with teary pride. “Are you coming or what?” I grin back.
She abandons her champers, gracefully covering the expansive floor to slip her arm through mine. Leaning down I kiss her cheek, whispering in her ear, “When I make a promise, I keep it.”
Candid vulnerable eyes look up into mine, and she says, “So do I.”
Placing my arm around Saskia, I lead my ladies to the room, so they can know the peace found behind that door. All they ever had to do was open it, and enter.
Right now I reign at Castle Drakon. And I will enjoy it, until my daughter strips me of it. I have four years, best I teach her well while I can.
I have the power, all of it, until my daughter takes it from me. Maybe it’s time for her, maybe this world is ready to learn the arcana about the Trinity. But first, first I must learn to be a father.
Opening the door, exposing the truth lurking behind it, I lift both their hands and kiss each of them, welcoming them home, to the best kept secret. This is the room without a door. You don’t know it until you enter it.
You open it with the first God key.
If you enter this as a matryoshka, you will leave whole, all your separate aspects joined into one. Evanda clearly never entered this room either.
Then it occurs to me, if the heart opens the door, maybe that is why so many couldn’t enter. Looking at my companions, I know I am blessed. Today I become a possible husband, and a father. I think I will treasure being called father.
For the first time in my life I experience tears of joy, witnessing their rapturous expressions in this sacred place, the heart of the home.