THE AUSTRO-HUNGARIAN CONNECTION – snippet 28:
Eventually, Noelle gave up. Even Eddie seemed dubious of her arguments.
She avoided looking at Drugeth for the rest of the evening, she was so exasperated.
But she found that she couldn’t stop thinking about him, even after she rolled into her blankets, and that was even more exasperating.
The problem, she finally admitted to herself, was that while she absolutely did not—Did. Not.—believe in vampires, she also had to admit something else.
She doted on vampire stories. She owned every one of Anne Rice’s books that had come out before the Ring of Fire, and had read none of them less than twice. Her copy of Bram Stoker’s original novel was dog-eared.
She’d even once, in college, gotten into a ferocious all-night-long argument with three other female students over the subject of which actor’s Dracula had been the best. Stupid mindless twits had been all ga-ga and gushing over effete fops like Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee.
Even at that age, Noelle knew the truth. A real vampire—which didn’t exist, of course—would be like the Dracula portrayed by Jack Palance. Medieval rulers, commanders of armies, swordsmen, guys with muscles as well as fangs. Not layabouts loafing in a castle somewhere.
Interesting guys. Exciting guys.
And just how deep, anyway, was she going to wallow in this idiotic fantasy?
She was a sane, sensible, rational modern woman. An official of the SoTF government. And he was an enemy soldier.
“Boy, do you look bedraggled,” was Denise’s greeting the next morning.
“I didn’t sleep well,” Noelle said grumpily.
Denise grinned at her. “You gotta admit, the guy’s fascinating as all hell. If he weren’t too old for me, I’d be checking him out myself.”
That evening they reached a village in one of the many little valleys in the Fichtelgebirge. It was a Catholic village, with a small church.
The village was too small for a tavern, so they camped just outside it. After the camp was made, Janos went to the church.
Noelle followed him, after waiting a few minutes. Not because she was following him, but simply because she felt the need herself.
When she entered, he was in one of the pews, praying. She was quite certain he was praying for the souls of the two men he’d slain, a few days earlier. For his own, too, of course. But mostly theirs. There was still much about Janos Drugeth that was a mystery to her, but not everything. One of the prayers she’d be making here, as she had so many times since it happened, would be a prayer for the soul of the torturer she’d killed in Franconia last year. And for her own, for having done it.
So much for the idiots and their crap about vampires.
Even as quietly as Noelle was moving, he heard her come in. Being honest, the man really did seem to have preternatural senses. He turned his head and gazed at her for a while, his face as expressionless as it usually was.
Noelle did her best to ignore the scrutiny. She dipped her fingers in the basin, made the sign of the cross, and went to a pew some distance away from Drugeth. As far distant as she could get, in fact, allowing for the tiny size of the church.
She concentrated on her own prayers, and was pleased that she managed that pretty well. At least until the end, when she found herself fumbling because she was waiting for Drugeth to leave. There was no way she was going to leave with him.
Finally, he left. She waited perhaps five minutes before leaving herself.
Not that it did her any good. She discovered him waiting for her outside.
It would be silly to avoid him. So, she came up and nodded a greeting.
“I am told you are a devout Catholic,” he said. “Have even contemplated taking holy vows.”
“Ah…” She looked away, caught off balance by the unexpected question. “Yes, sort of. It’s something I’ve thought about for years, off and on. Even though everybody who knows me says I’d make a lousy nun. Well, not that, exactly. They think I’d wind up very unhappy with the choice.”
He said nothing. She was pretty sure that was because he didn’t want to seem as if he were crowding her.
“What do you think?” she asked suddenly. And then found herself caught even more off balance by her own question—what are you doing, you ninny?—than she had been by his.
“I think that decision, unlike many others, is one that only the person involved can make. We are all—those of us who are Catholic, for a certainty—obliged to follow the teachings of the church involving matters of conscience. But not even the church presumes to tell a man or a woman if they should take holy vows.”
He smiled, in that gentle, half-melancholy and half-irenic way he had. “I grant you, for noble families and royal ones more so, that decision is often tightly circumscribed, even sometimes forced outright. Still, I will hold to the principle.”
“You have no opinion?”
“I would not put in that way. Let us say I do not presume to advise. That is not quite the same thing as having no opinion.”
He seemed on the verge of adding something. His lips even started to part open. But, then, he closed them firmly and just shook his head.
“I should speak no further on the matter. May I escort you back to the camp?”
Silly to refuse that offer, as well, so she nodded.
They said nothing on the way. By the time they reached the camp, though, Noelle was in a quiet fury.
Not at him, but herself. A decision she hadn’t been able to make for years had somehow gotten made in that short walk of no more than two hundred yards. She knew it as surely as she knew anything.
Damn her impudent soul, Denise was waiting for her with that same aggravating grin.
“Yeah, right. Enemy of the state. Is he as cute in church as everywhere else?”
“Vampire, remember?” Noelle half-snarled at her. “As if a vampire would enter holy ground!”
Denise’s grin didn’t so much as flicker. “You’re dodging the question. Nice try.”
“What he is, is the most exasperating man I’ve ever met.”
“Wow.” Denise shook her head, the grin vanishing completely. “You’ve got it bad, girl.”