Although Grandmother continued to keep her eyes closed, I could feel the sense of eyes gentling and a warm patient smile in her mind’s voice. And perhaps amusement at my alarm.
My plaything will recover the portion you are taking as she sleeps. It is no more than what she might lose in a day of particularly taxing labor. Mortals are meant to lose this much and recover it naturally by morning. It is simply part of the nature of being mortal.
“But why am I taking it?” It’s the mana I need, not the pneuma.
You take it to live, Innanmi. Just like a naiad eats fish from her water, you are a predator that lives on other living beings. You have always done it. It’s true, you only stole that bit of pneuma from this girl because it was bound to the stable mana you needed. It would normally go to waste as you take the mana into your being. But now that you are condensing it, you can build up a reserve supply of mana bound to pneuma that will enable magics beyond what you can do by mere innate skill. You have just taken the first step in building a blood magic foundation. And if you collect that blood responsibly, you can do so safely, with no harm to mortals such as my dear plaything, because they can grow it back.
She opened her eyes and smiled. “You will have to accept that you and I are a menace to these mortals, my lovely Tia Nà. By our very nature, fairies and monsters are a hazard to mortal kind. But if we wish them well, we can be a mild enough hazard to coexist with them. It only requires a little caution on both sides. Being both their danger and their aid is the purpose of our existence.”
It was like listening to Mother when she is being especially baffling in a fairy sort of way, but I think I understood what she was telling me.
“With this new skill, if you become blood-starved, you can pluck off a bit of what you just condensed to sustain yourself until you can find a supply. Once you do so, the pneuma bound to that bit will be lost, but while you are keeping it, the pneuma will be useful for blood magic. And now that you’ve condensed what you already took, you should be able to feed again. I believe that your acquaintance from Caria Elatium has been doing this in Copen.”
She smiled. “Also, now you have mastered something that few fairies or vampires know how to do. You are now able to see pneuma.”
“What?” That was supposed to be impossible. But yeah, I guess I really was just seeing it, wasn’t I?
“You need physical contact to see someone’s pneuma, but you’re certainly in contact with them when you drink, yes? If you pay attention when you drink, you should be able to tell when to stop.”
She put her hand on the dozing girl laying on the grass. Grandmother’s ‘plaything’ woke and stretched– which was downright erotic in her undressed state– and sat up. She was still bewitched. Otherwise, with the tiny nap she’d had, there was no way she should be this energetic after feeding me.
“Would you like to play a bit more with my granddaughter?” Grandmother asked her.
The girl brightened and moved right in on me. I had to work quickly to keep her from taking it the wrong direction. But, as Grandmother predicted, I soon regrew my fangs. With the previous meal ‘condensed’, I could feed as if I hadn’t fed at all.
# # #
Grandmother sent me back up to the perch where we had dinner, insisting that she would watch the girl for me. I think she planned to ‘play’ some more, although the girl should have been too exhausted. I had fed a very long time, and was concerned for her, but Grandmother reassured me the girl was safe.
On my way up, I saw that the couples had returned to the tents, and were now asleep. Had they not noticed that their companion was missing?
I got my answer to that question when I woke in the morning to the sound of them calling frantically for her. They really hadn’t noticed, when they went to bed. From that, I learned that her name was Becca. While they searched, I watched Grandmother rise from the water and walk straight past them, unseen, on her way up to my spot.
By the time she joined me, they had discovered their friend safely slumbering nude in the place where I had last seen her, and learned that she had met the Lady of the Lake and ‘danced’ with her.
“Danced?” I asked Grandmother as she took a seat next to me. She was in a very light, wispy raiment that showed all quite clearly in the morning sunlight, like what I had last seen Mother wearing. Perhaps it was her compromise between my involuntary nudity and her usual appearance?
“That’s what we have our playthings tell people,” she said. “You’ve heard stories before about women meeting fairies in the woods and dancing with them, haven’t you?”
“That’s what they mean?” I asked, a little baffled, and she laughed. I mean, all this time, I had thought they really meant dancing, you know?
I felt pangs of guilt while thinking about what I had done with the girl. Yes, my misgivings about accepting a girl my grandmother had bewitched, but I also thought about my duty to Rod.
“What’s troubling you, Innanmi?”
I thought about it, and admitted, “Last night, I wanted to do more than feed on her. I had the urge to… ‘play with her’, to use your words.”
“What’s wrong with that?” she asked.
Yeah, to a fairy, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, right? Mother thinks it would be normal for me to have had all kinds of sex by now. It’s my vampire side and my human upbringing, all that moral guidance from the palace ladies and Uncle Owen, that was keeping me chaste, apparently.
“My fiancé is a human, you know? I have to care about what he cares about! Humans have things like chastity, faithfulness, monogamy…”
“Orestanian nobles and royals aren’t monogamous, Innanmi.”
“Well, I know that, but when they’re young, they are! They don’t cheat on their betrothed!”
“I suspect that’s more an ideal than a reality. And you successfully maintained your chastity, so I’m quite certain this is not what is really bothering you. Aren’t you worried that he doesn’t care about you anymore?”
Rod had gone from passionately on my side to completely absent in one night. I never heard from him or Amelia after our ad-hoc engagement ceremony. I’d expected her to come and squeal congratulations at me, with Erin and Clara in tow. I’d expected him to come defend me when the provincials came. But despite my disappointment, somehow I still believed he would be hurt if I cheated on him, and that I should remain loyal for his sake.
Was I just being stupid about it? But on the other hand…
“I can’t assume what I don’t know, Grandmother. I don’t know why he wasn’t there. I have to give him a chance to tell me.”
“You still trust him.” It was an observation, the way she said it, not a question.
I drew a deep breath as I thought. Was that what I was doing? My feelings were still sisterly toward him, I still couldn’t imagine marriage to him, and I still was committing to this marriage out of noblesse oblige and loyalty to my two parental figures, Mother and Uncle Owen.
Not just Rod, but Ged and Amelia too, had been my stalwart companions in childhood. The only kids I could depend upon, frankly. They had got mad at maids and palace ladies who treated me with fear or distrust, they never shunned me, they became my family. Was I just unable to conceive of Rod turning on me, or did I simply have that deep of a trust in him?
Deep inside, I knew I could still trust him to get enraged for my sake and charge in, swinging both fists. I trusted him for that much. That was Rod in an nutshell.
That’s what it was. I believed in him.
“So you wish to remain loyal to him,” Grandmother judged. “That’s an understandable reaction. But last night, you did not betray him, Innanmi. She plainly offered herself to you for more than feeding, yet you gently and kindly rejected her. So what is it that troubles you?”
I twisted my lips while putting my thoughts in order.
“My urges last night. I have no doubt that I desired her. Maybe… well… Grandmother, what will happen if I’m much more easily attracted to the young women I feed on that I am to my fiancé? I’ve been attracted to some men, but he isn’t one of them. I have to feed, and I’m going to keep wanting to sleep with the girls who feed me! Even if I was faithful last night, what if it’s impossible for me to keep doing it?”
In my mind, I was replaying the scene with Eleanora apologizing to me for accepting a promise from me that she knew I couldn’t keep. Wasn’t I making a promise to Rod that I couldn’t keep?
Having now thought it through, I finally understood what troubled me. I knew I couldn’t stay faithful to him in the long run. I really was going to give in to Ceria or Dana or some other woman someday. Not only did Robert desire them, I now believed that Tiana was only bothered by the impropriety of premarital sex. She’d been lying to herself, when she told herself that she was only attracted to them as a vampire.
“Can’t you just be a good wife to him in all the other things wives do?” Grandmother asked. “A marriage is about far more than sex, I think. A prince can take concubines to fill that need, can’t he?”
I blinked. I mean, that answer was straight out of left field. A straight-up fairy-think solution to the problem. Probably seemed obvious to her, since royal princes have often had a concubine or two.
“Are you saying to be his wife in every other way, but tell him to have sex with someone else?”
I couldn’t even imagine starting the conversation to propose that solution, much less actually proposing it.
“You certainly wouldn’t be the first woman to solve the problem that way. That’s what your mother-in-law did.”
“…I’m sorry, what?”
By my mother-in-law, she meant Queen Sylphana, right? Rod, Ged and Amelia’s mother?
“Your mother loves chattering about her human lovers, so I know the whole story. Your mother-in-law was distressed about her impending marriage, so your mother fixed the problem for her.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I’m talking about how your mother helped her lover work around her inability to desire a man. That girl was Deharè’s before she became Owen’s, Innanmi.”
Since I was back to just gaping at her, she continued. “Sylphana couldn’t sleep with her new husband, so your mother became her surrogate. And she helped them conceive their children. Owen’s and Deharè’s relationship was born in their mutual love for Sylphana.”
A very large percentage of my mind was screaming, Too much information!!!!!!
I mean, just imagine learning something like that about your own mother.
She patted my dumbfounded face on the cheek and said, “Besides, fairy women and vampire women normally desire both sexes, so you should be fine. But if you still have a problem, you should just share a girlfriend with him like Sylphana did.”
Yes, indeedy. A very fairy solution. Of course, that fact supported her story about my mother and the queen.
“But there is a far more basic step you must take first, in order to solve your problems, Innanmi.”
“What is that?” I asked, a little wary. The last ‘solution’ was bad enough, after all.
She raised her chin and then tipped her head. “Since it will become his problem as well, you must tell him about your problem. Perhaps you should also talk to his father and your mother, considering their own experience. But your fiancé above all others must have a part in this discussion.”