Chapter 11, end of San Leandro section
“No other movement to the south,” Luis finished the nightly report with his usual efficiency.
They were in the parlor of the old alcalde’s house. Rafael had moved into it when he’d accepted the job, since it was located in San Leandro’s center. He’d brought with him his previous home’s furnishings to replace what the French had destroyed. The result was an odd contrast between pieces too heavy to be readily broken – like this massive armchair – and the exquisitely carved and inlaid game table, which now supported his wine decanters.
Rafael nodded comprehension, scanning the other’s face to see how well he was healing. Luis was compañero only, of course – not concubino compañero – and was rapidly learning to be an excellent siniscal. He knew every inch of the surrounding terrain and all of the local villagers, and organized all of them very well. His only weakness was a tendency to work himself into exhaustion, no doubt trying to avoid his nightmares from last month’s horror.
It also made him ignore his own wounds. Heroic perhaps in some eyes – but not to his patrón, who would be deprived of his services – and a good friend – should he weaken.
“Is there anything else, Don Rafael?”
“Our guests?” Rafael queried, considering the other’s health. Luis looked tired but not with the white-grooved lines of pain. He was already off his crutches but did he need to receive more of Rafael’s blood?
“They are upstairs as you instructed. There are no signs that they were followed, by the French or anyone else.”
Rafael grunted approval. Donal O’Malley and a lady of quality had arrived that afternoon, following warnings from Rafael’s sentries but no advance notice from their guests. Given the lady’s injuries and exhaustion, Rafael had simply shown them upstairs to the spare guestroom. Jean-Marie’s bedroom was locked, of course, so they couldn’t interrupt him.
Rafael was certain Donal would provide an explanation for their appearance whenever he reappeared.
“Excellente. Donal is an old fox and it’s unlikely that the French can catch his trail. Even so, set extra watchers on the smugglers’ trail they used.”
“It is already done, Don Rafael.”
“You are a prince among siniscals, Luis.”
Hot color warmed Luis’s olive skin.
“Now eat and get some sleep. We will drill again tomorrow with the muskets.”
Luis opened his mouth.
Rafael arched an eyebrow.
“I was thinking that perhaps I should check. . .”
“Sí?” Rafael tilted his head quizzically. Sleep, telepathically enforced if necessary, was the best medicine for his friend now. He didn’t need any blood tonight.
“It is nothing.” Luis shrugged, refusing to continue the subject. Wise man. “Until tomorrow, Don Rafael.”
“Goodnight, Luis. Leave the door open when you go.”
The scent Rafael had been expecting announced his next visitor. “You may come in now, Donal. Would you care for a drink? I can offer you wine, cognac, Irish whisky?”
“Now where would you be finding the nectar of the gods, Rafael?” Donal uncoiled his long body from the doorway and strolled in.
“We’re at the end of the smugglers’ road, as you’re undoubtedly well aware, amigo.” Rafael filled a large tumbler and handed it over. “I’m glad to see you alive,” he added softly, pouring sherry into his own glass.
“And I you.” Crystal chimed softly, celebrating their salutes to each other, and they drank.
Rafael waved Donal to the only other big armchair before taking his.
“How is your compañera?” he asked politely, careful not to call her a concubina compañera. He could understand why a lady might have accepted Donal’s blood to heal from injuries – but not his intimate companionship? When was the last time Donal had been denied by a lover? “I hope the journey did not leave her too exhausted.”
“My very English daughter of a duke?”
Donal, the Irish patriot who loathed anything and everyone English – had a compañera who was a high-born English aristocrat?
Rafael raised an eyebrow.
“Aye, she truly is a duke’s daughter and an earl’s widow who I rescued from some French soldiers’ unwelcome attentions.” The Irishman chuckled with little amusement and stretched out his legs, considering his badly scuffed boots in the firelight. “She sends her regards and thanks you for your hospitality. She also apologizes for being unable to pay her respects tonight in person.”
“Beautiful ladies should take their time recovering from long journeys. If there is anything else she wishes, she has but to ask and our local ladies will provide, so long as it can be found.”
Donal waved his hand, acknowledging the polite nonsense they were spinning, and drained his glass. “Pity we canna get drunk. I’ve always thought that was the worst part about being vampiros – that we can’t drown our sorrows and tell our stories in our cups.”
“We can remember our stories though, which we couldn’t if we were drunk.” Rafael poured more whisky. “You’re welcome to stay as long as you like, of course.”
“Nay, we’re only here to talk strategy with you. My lady and I plan to gather the guerrillas together against the French, those oath-breaking bastards.”
“And then?” Donal, the arms dealer who never involved himself in a conflict, now planned to fight?
“They didn’t help my people in Ireland but they’re vulnerable here in Spain. So we’ll clean out the cities and towns, starting in the mountains.”
“I plan to keep San Leandro and these lands safe,” Rafael said directly. “I will not seek trouble.”
“War will find you. You can’t sit on your hands, Rafael.”
“But I need not hunt trouble, either – especially now, with no English army to stand toe to toe against Napoleon’s finest.”
“If you don’t have them, who are your warriors?” Rafael pushed harder.
Donal was silent, his eyes stormy.
“Remember – to accomplish anything, you must teach farmers and smugglers how to fight like soldiers. They must learn to fight with great discipline, which is not the guerrilla way.”
“But you have already done so much with them!”
“They are defending their own homes and taking revenge for their dead.” Rafael’s mouth tightened for a moment, that night’s bitter memories washing over him yet again. “Later, when Jean-Marie is stronger, he will teach them the same skills von Steuben taught Washington’s troops at Valley Forge. Learning that takes time.”
“They will need officers,” Donal reminded him, recovered enough to start pushing again.
“They will have leaders,” Rafael assured him, barely refraining from showing his fangs.
“Then they can fight elsewhere,” Donal enthused, obviously seeing visions. What dreams had his English aristocrat inspired in him?
“Not beyond Galicia,” Rafael said flatly, eager to close that door. “My people fight for their own homes, no further.”
“The national Junta in Cadiz can develop an army for the greater good.” Rafael shrugged.
“You’ll need more vampiros.”
“No, just Jean-Marie. I will only have vampiros that I completely trust. Since he was my compañero for so long, I know his heart.”
Donal’s eyes met his.
“An interesting point,” the Irishman mused. “In essence, he was a novice vampiro while he was your compañero. Since compañeros are as strong as cachorros but far smarter than newly risen ones, you could be considered better off with compañeros.”
“A heretical notion to all those vampiros who mistrust compañeros,” Rafael commented mildly. His friend was only voicing what he’d personally pondered more than once.
“But only because they’re so rare,” the other countered. “If you were a patrón with an army of both vampiros and compañeros, you could fight in both sunlight and moonlight – making you a very deadly foe indeed.”
“Such a patrón could also frequently test the loyalty of future vampiros, while they were yet compañeros,” Rafael added. “It’s difficult to discipline an hijo who shows no signs of disloyalty until he openly turns on you.”
“Unless you’re the type of truly vicious creador who creates hijos for a tasty meal, since even young cachorros taste better than any prosaico,” Donal added pragmatically.
Rafael flung up a hand, conceding the point. While he’d seen it happen more than once, he still hated even the mention of his kind’s cannibalism.
“You could also obtain officers that way for prosaico troops,” Donal suggested. “Compañeros as sergeants, vampiros as lieutenants and captains.”
Rafael elevated a suspicious eyebrow at his guest above his fresh glass of sherry. “Are you trying another tactic for obtaining my little army, amigo?”
“Now would I be doing that to an old friend like yourself?” Donal smiled at him, all sparkling innocence.
“You would indeed, amigo.” Rafael snorted and knocked back his sherry before setting it down. “But this much I promise you: If you ask me to assist you and an English army on a battlefield, I will bring my men immediately.”
An English army? Donal’s lips silently formed the hated phrase. He grimaced but nodded agreement.
Excerpt from Bond of Fire by Diane Whiteside
Copyright © 2008 by Diane Whiteside
All rights reserved