Dominion is on sale starting 0800 UTC on the 14th and lasting for three days. Get your copy and meet the de Cernay identical twin vampire brothers!
Dominion at Amazon.com
As a bit of a treat, here is a sneak preview of the prequel to Dominion, which I hope to write in the next year.
KINGDOM OF THE DAMNED
PART ONE: METAMORPHOSIS
Battlefield outside of Carcassonne, France, A.D. 1224
THE VAMPIRE NAMED MARGUERITE glanced around the battlefield as night fell. The crusades had been hard on her kind and now she was reduced to scavenging the dying to in order to stay alive. This battlefield was once covered in forests, but a year of fighting turned it into a desolate section of land – nothing more than a vast field of tree stumps, crumbled buildings, muck, and corpses. Thatched-roof buildings smoldered, and the scent of burning pitch stung her nose. As if to hide the horror, a thin blanket of fresh snow had fallen, covering everything in sight, but now and then, poking through the snow, she saw a broken limb or bloody head.
A red moon rose, stained from fires in the village square where five heretics had been burned at the stake. It cast a bloody light over the scene but as a hunter with night vision, she could see as well as if it were day. The great evergreen forests stretched on either side of the old stone city. To the south stood the Pyrenees mountains that bordered the lands of the Languedoc south of France.
She urged her mount across the terrain, the horse picking its way through bodies and broken war machinery, catapults and breakwalls. Posing as a healer, one of the holy women who tended to the fallen, she approached a medic at the crest of a small hill waving a white signal flag. Once she arrived, the medic took the horse’s reins and pointed to a fallen soldier crawling through the muck.
“That one,” the medic said.
Marguerite examined the soldier. He’d been fighting for the local lord, Raymond II, the Comte de Tolouse, against the Crusaders come to rid the land of the heresy of Catharism. The crest emblazoned on the back of his cloak, yellow stripes with the symbol of ermine, identified him as a knight fighting for that ruling family.
Marguerite nodded. “What’s the story?”
“Poor bastard refuses to give up, but for the life of me, I can’t see how he can hang on given all his wounds.”
She rode over and glanced down at the soldier who wouldn’t die. He crawled in the mud at the horse’s feet. It had been several days since she’d fed and the scent of fresh blood exacerbated her hunger, but she didn’t want to feed here. As hungry as she was, she was still a Lady born.
The knight reached out with one bloodied arm, elbow digging into mud, and pulled his body forward. Then, with the other arm, he repeated the gesture. Accompanying each effort was a groan of pain.
“I found him still alive but looking as if he hadn’t long to live,” the medic said. “That’s what you wanted, my Lady? The ones not yet dead, but who will not survive?”
“Yes,” she said. “Only those. The ones who are dead are already with the Lord. The ones who will survive do not need me.”
The medic shrugged. “I don’t know why you want them, but I’m happy to oblige.”
“I relieve them of their pain as they lie dying,” she said. “It is the oath of my holy order.”
He nodded and made the sign of the cross.
Marguerite slid off her mount and crouched next to the fallen soldier. She gingerly rolled him over onto his back and when she did, he grimaced in pain and struggled for breath. His wounds were lethal, but it would take perhaps hours to die. A deep cut ran from cheek to brow where a sword had sliced him. A smear of blood stained his face. Black hair, clotted with blood from a scalp wound, hung to his shoulders.
But it was his bluest of blue eyes that told her in an instant who he was. A vassal of the Trencavel family – one of a set of identical twins, bastard sons of the Guillaume de Cernay, Vicomte de Albi, who he took in and raised as his own.
Both priests, one remained loyal to the Church, joining the crusade and the other one left the priesthood and took up the sword to protect his father’s lands from the Church’s attack.
Julien de Cernay. Even as a boy, this one had been a promising fighter with tremendous sword skills – better than all the others of his age. He had the same square jaw, the same black hair, the same blue eyes as his brother Michel, the priest. One of the twins chaste, a man of God, the other left the priesthood soon after being ordained when the Pope turned against the de Cernay family, demanding their lands for the King of France in punishment for harboring heretics. Instead of the cross, he took up the sword and became a man of war.
It was as if God had taken one man and split him into two.
“This is one of the Comte’s loyal vassals,” she said. “Bring him to my tent.”
“Shouldn’t he be taken to the city?” the medic asked, wiping his hands on his tunic.
Marguerite shook her head. “Take him to my tent.”
“But if he’s one of the Comte’s ….”
“Please,” she said, stepping closer, taking the medic’s face in her hand, using her powers to compel his obedience. “Take him to my tent.” The medic stared open-mouthed at her, mesmerized by her powers.
“I’ll take him to your tent,” he said, sotto voce.
“I must administer to him, so hurry,” she said, glancing at the medic’s assistants. “If you delay and he dies before I can provide my services, his Excellency Bishop Foullard will be very displeased. He will deal with you and you know his ways.”
The inquisitor’s ‘ways’ were well known among the population who lived in the lands bordering France. The way of the burning tong, the water, the stretch, the crush. One mention was all that was necessary to ensure cooperation. An empty threat, she used it to ensure the men’s cooperation.
She turned away, re-mounting her horse
“I’ll pay you handsomely.” She took out her purse and threw it to the medic, who grabbed it before it struck the ground. He opened and grubbed inside, counting the coins, then smiled and motioned to the two assistants.
“You heard her Ladyship. Get a pallet and carry him back to camp.” The assistants stood unmoving. “Come on now! Look smart!”
The two ragged young men startled as if woken from a dream and set to work. They unrolled a pallet and struggled to lift the fallen soldier onto it.
She rode off towards the encampment, wondering what she’d find when he was washed and his wounds inspected.
Once he was laid out on her table, the scent of wet earth and old blood assaulted even her experienced nose so she knew how much pain Julien must be in. Bloody muck from the battle caked his hair and what remained of his tattered clothes and armor. Shudders wracked his body and his teeth chattered. He’d lost far too much blood and was in intense pain — more pain that a normal mortal could tolerate but he was very strong, both of body and will. He finally opened his eyes.
“Why aren’t you dead, beautiful Sir Knight?” she whispered, amazed that he could withstand such injuries and remain conscious. “Your wounds would kill any man.”
“Don’t know,” he said, hissing in pain as she pried back the breastplate.
“I remember you,” she said as she wet a cloth to clean off his face. He blinked but said nothing. “Yes, I think you remember me as well,” she said, unable to hide the amusement in her voice for he’d flirted with her at a dance one night at the Comte’s residence, long before the siege of his father’s lands had begun.
He groaned through gritted teeth as she pulled the chainmail hauberk away to inspect his wounds and determine how much blood he had left, and whether she should turn him or kill him. Finally, she laid her hand over his brow, using her powers to relieve his pain. In a moment, his body was still, his breathing no longer labored.
Now that he was unconscious, she did her work, removing his armor and clothing so she could wash his body. As she did, through her touch, she began to sense in Julien a desire to suffer, a need for pain, and she had to fight back emotion.
His skin now cleaned of blood and muck, the wounds covered in bandages, she saw his incredible masculine beauty. His black hair was long and fell below his chin. Despite his wounds, his body was strong and well-muscled from fighting. Marguerite’s assistant, a young girl from Carcassonne, sighed as she regarded him.
“He’s so beautiful. It’s sad that he will die.”
“He’s in pain and wants to die,” Marguerite replied. “But the pain is not from his wounds. He’s oblivious to those.” She laid a hand on his brow and tried to wake him. He blinked into consciousness and groaned. “Beautiful Julien,” she whispered as she regarded him. “Should I heal you and take you for my own?”
It would be such an affront to God to take him, make him a vampire. Then a thought came to her. She could claim them both – the knight who left the priesthood in defiance of God and the priest who remained loyal to the Church in defiance of his father. How perfectly sacrilegious that would be!
She grabbed a few coins from a pocket in her gown and went to the girl who still stood gape mouthed at the beautiful young knight stretched out on the table, only the merest scrap of cloth covering his manhood.
“Take this and leave me,” she said, handing the girl the money. Then she took the girl’s face in her hand. “Tell no one about me or what I have done tonight, do you understand?”
The girl’s eyes rolled back momentarily from the effect of Marguerite’s powers.
“I understand,” she whispered, her voice flat.
“Good,” Marguerite said. “Now go. Forget you ever knew me.”
Once the girl was gone, Marguerite turned to the dying knight. His rapid pulse thrummed in his neck – she could hear his heart struggle from across the room. She could drink him dry now and he’d be dead in seconds, his pain over. He’d already lost a great deal of blood so she wouldn’t be completely sated, but it would keep her until the next dying soldier.
But he was so beautiful, and had fought so bravely, she wanted to preserve such a one as him. She bit her own wrist, drawing blood, and placed the wound over his mouth.
“Drink,” she said, holding it against his lips, pinching his nose, forcing him to swallow or suffocate. He struggled, not able to understand what was happening. “Drink and receive eternal life.”
He swallowed finally, and she watched him react to the taste of her blood, his eyes widening, one hand clamping down over her wrist to stop her from removing it. Vampire blood, infected with the curse that would turn him into one of the damned, was so very sweet none could resist.
She’d been ordered to turn him for Soren, her Sire, but not the brother. She wagered that she could convince him to her way of thinking once she turned the priest. Turning the pair would be an affront to God a descendent of the Grigori couldn’t help but approve.