Freda Warrington's A Taste of Blood Wine is a new vampire novel that will be released on October 8th and we've been provided with an excerpt for Daily Dead readers to check out.
"1918. A First World War battlefield becomes the cosmic battleground for two vampires, as Karl von Wultendorf struggles to free himself from his domineering maker, Kristian.
1923. Charlotte Neville watches as her father, a Cambridge professor, fills Parkland Hall with guests for her sister Madeleine's 18th birthday party. Among them is his handsome new research assistant Karl - the man Madeleine has instantly decided will be her husband. Charlotte, shy and retiring, is happy to devote her life to her father and her dull fiance Henry - until she sees Karl ...
For Charlotte, it is the beginning of a deadly obsession that sunders her from her sisters, her father and even her dearest friend. As their feverish passion grows, Karl faces the dilemma he fears the most. Only by deserting Charlotte can his passion for her blood be conquered. Only by betraying her can he protect her from the terrifying attentions of Kristian - for Kristian has decided to teach Karl a lesson in power, by devouring Charlotte."
Chapter Two: Coils of Ice
The beauty of Kristian’s castle, Schloss Holdenstein, gave nothing away. A mass of brown turrets, dark-tiled roofs, arched windows and balconies thick with ivy, it seemed a natural outgrowth of the sheer wooded gorge on which it stood, framed against the sky. The river Rhine was a cloudy mirror far below.
Always alive, this river. Kristian leaned on a wooden rail and looked into the broken reflection of the gorge, discerning subtle hues and detail that no human eye could perceive. The Rhine endured forever. Its moods changed, but in the end it was always the same, always there.
“Like me,” he said to himself. “Like us.”
When Kristian spoke of “us” and “we”, he meant himself and God.
Inside the castle lay a web of corridors, cells and chapels through which his vampire flock moved as softly as monks. Only a few dozen. There had been more in the past, but Kristian had destroyed many who were imperfect. Those who remained were obedient. They went away to feed, but always returned to their master, carrying on them a dark aura that, over centuries, had seeped into the stone walls. Delicious, blood-dark power.
Ilona was in the castle. Kristian sensed her presence the moment she arrived. She was like quicksilver, elusive. Humans were furnaces, scattering their auras wastefully around them. Vampires, however, were as cool as diamond; some, like Ilona, so transparent as to be invisible. Nevertheless, she couldn’t hide.
Kristian did not go to meet her. She must find him. As he waited, he brooded on Karl.
It was five years since he’d confronted Karl in the infernal landscape of the War. A painful decision, to let Karl follow his own misguided path, but for the best. Let him learn by his mistakes.
“My children all come back to me in the end,” Kristian said aloud. Five years… so little time in the fiery arc of eternity across which he sailed like an ever-rising sun. “My patience is boundless.” Kristian looked up at the clouds. “Our patience, Lord, endures forever.”
Yet the thought of Karl was a stitch in his heart. Each pull filled him with rage. And when anger rolled away, the emptiness of Karl’s absence was still there.
Kristian gripped the rail, wood fibres fraying under his fingers.
“You presume too much on my mercy, Karl,” he whispered to the air. “If I’m forced to harm my angel Ilona, you are to blame. You have driven me to it. You were warned.”
“Grüss Gott, Kristian,” said a crisp female voice.
He looked round to see Ilona in the balcony doorway, gypsy-brilliant against the castle interior. She’d adopted a Bohemian style with embroidered silks and a tasselled shawl, and she had dyed her hair again – no natural shade, but bright scarlet.
Her appearance displeased him. She grinned, all rebellion and bravado.
“Kristian?” she said. “Are you going to stare at me all day?”
“What have you done to your hair?”
“Don’t you like it?” She stepped into the light, daring him to be angry.
“This is vanity, Ilona. It’s a mortal weakness, to paint and colour yourself. We should be above such folly.”
“It’s not vanity, it’s camouflage,” she retorted. Her rose-red lips thinned. She shook the offending hair free to flow over her shawl like arterial blood. Whatever her guise, her face remained perfect. A milk-white oval: the features of a statue with dark un-human eyes, all the more shocking when the marble expression came to life. Like Kristian’s own face. Like Karl’s. “How do you expect me to move among humans without blending in?”
“I don’t believe there is a fashion for scarlet hair.”
His scorn made her defensive.
“Since the War, Kristian, anything goes, the more outrageous the better. If you weren’t a recluse you would know that. Do you expect me to dress like a nun?” She laughed, revealing small neat teeth; no visible fangs. “Actually, why don’t I? It would be perfect.”
“You think your irreverence shocks me, but the trappings of religion are a mortal delusion. They imagine that layers of cloth bring them nearer to God, when in truth they can’t hope to know Him. They use clothing to disguise their spiritual emptiness. Your attempt to goad me means nothing, my beloved. It is shallow.”
Her smile vanished. Her eyes turned glass-sharp.
“Don’t call me shallow, Vater. Don’t ever call me that.”
He let his mouth relax into a smile. He could afford to be indulgent. Ilona always tested him, but his power over her was complete. She couldn’t help but adore him.
“Then be your courageous self,” he said.
He moved towards her. She folded her arms.
“You don’t frighten me,” she said. “Nothing does. Why should it, when you’re always reminding us that we’re immortal?”
Ignoring the barrier of her forearms, he locked his arms around her. She resisted him stiffly for a moment. Then she sighed with a mix of resentment and pleasure, and freed her hands to return the embrace.
Kristian rested his lips lightly on her neck, felt her shiver as he whispered, “You will need your courage.” He opened his mouth, pressed his teeth into flesh, felt the canines lengthen and pierce the sweet cool skin. Vampire flesh healed swiftly, so he had to keep his fangs in the wounds, sucking until the slow blood turned liquid.
Kristian never drank from humans. Everything about them disgusted him – their heavy, hot blood, laced with smoky mortal odours. Vampire blood alone was pure, the divine exhalation of rubies.
Only a taste, like champagne in his mouth. Just a reminder, a gesture of affection.
Ilona tensed, making the faintest sound in her throat.
Retracting the stabbing teeth into their sockets, he held her at arm’s length.
“What kept you away for so long, my lamb?”
“Only some foolish young man who was in love with me.” Her brown eyes had softened and her voice was lazy. “Are you jealous? Oh, I forgot, human emotions are beneath you.”
He nodded, but her mockery grated. “Where is he now?”
She shrugged. “Dead. I grew bored. That’s the trouble, they all bore me in the end.”
“All except me,” said Kristian. “Did you miss me?”
“With all my heart.” She drew her fingertips across her throat and held them up, smeared with blood. The marks of his fangs had already vanished. “As much as I would miss this.”
Sucking her fingers clean, Ilona sat on the balcony rail, leaning against a pillar. This looked dangerous: the stone was crumbling and the wood rotten, but if she fell she would simply land like a cat, or glide into the Crystal Ring. Cupping her elbows, she stared at the river curving far below.
She asked, “Why did you send for me?”
“I need you.”
“I’m flattered, but if you’re lonely it’s your own fault. You choose to spend your time here, waiting for the world to come to you.”
He leaned on the edge beside her.
“But they do come, don’t they?”
She looked at him with a touch of haughtiness, almost a sneer.
“To the Court of King Kristian. Oh yes.”
He smiled, taking her jibe as a compliment.
“Not the Court, but the Temple. The unseen Church. I ordered you home for a purpose.”
He saw tension flicker through her. He hadn’t expected her to guess his meaning, and her hair-trigger reaction irritated him. His tone hardened.
“I last saw Karl during the Great War.”
“Really,” she said flatly.
“He was beyond the reach of reason. I decided to let him come to his senses in his own time.”
“A good decision. And final?”
“No, not final.”
Her sweet face became pinched. “I knew that was too much to ask.”
“He’s had his freedom. I want him back now.”
“He won’t come.”
“Oh, this time he will. Do you know where he is?”
Ilona tilted her head at his urgent tone. “No.”
“Then you will help me to lure him here, Ilona.”
She leapt up, her hair and clothes a swirl of coloured flame.
“Oh, no I won’t. Do your own dirty work! Every vampire in this damned world is subject to you. Can’t you bear to let even a single one go?” She released her breath. “No. Of course you can’t. That’s the point, isn’t it? Not a single one.”
Kristian’s own rage was a steady cold wind.
“Now that is blasphemy, beloved. Karl wronged me. He cannot escape vengeance. And you hate him. So why are you fighting me?”
Ilona looked away. Her eyes narrowed.
“Because I don’t want him back with you. I never want to see him again. Never, ever. How you can ask this of me?”
Kristian felt the coil of ice tightening.
“You’ll help me… because you love me, and hate him.”
Ilona turned on him. “I hate you too at this moment, my lord. If he returns, I shall leave. You think you control everyone, but you cannot have us both.”
Kristian’s large hand encircled her slender upper arm, an iron shackle. The more she protested, the less he cared. His heart was a swollen thundercloud.
“It will be as I command. You’ll lure him back.”
“What am I now, bait?” She drew back her lips in scorn. “You don’t imagine my presence could snare him? My God, such optimism.”
“You are slow, my beloved.” Kristian released her so suddenly that she almost went over the balcony. “It’s what will happen to you that will sway him.”
“Blackmail!” She laughed, hard and angry. “Kristian, how can you live so long and still not understand? Karl loathes me in return. Your threats will mean nothing. He’ll laugh.”
“Ah, there you are wrong. There you misjudge him completely. He still loves you, Ilona. He adores you with all his soul.”
Her expression froze. “With what are you threatening me?” she whispered, staring at him. Knowing.
“Karl is stubborn. The only way to reach him is to carry out the deed. If he wants to save you, he had better come to heel.”
“No. You wouldn’t.”
Her fury and fear were enticing. Kristian felt dark excitement thread through him. She was fire and blood. He reached for her.
Ilona reacted swiftly, almost too fast for him. The instant she realised the danger, she arched backwards over the balcony rail and vanished.
Kristian was after her in a split-second. He caught her as she flashed into the Crystal Ring. Together they fell through the unseen dimension.
She fought violently, but their altered, rarified bodies tangled like lace on barbed wire. No escape. The world below turned flat and dark, while the sky became a tiered landscape of light. A soft golden ridge arrested their fall. Kristian clutched Ilona and began to climb relentlessly.
The warm lower layers of air condensed into a chain of hills, gleaming bronze, rising and falling in slow waves. The cloud-hills sailed on air, their substance honey-thick: dense enough to bear weight, but treacherous. They flowed as far as Kristian could see, in constant motion like ocean tides.
Against the dappled slopes, the two vampires were delicate ink sketches: bird-like, demonic. Dragonflies spun from black crystal.
Ilona’s struggles hindered Kristian, but she couldn’t stop him. He carried her to a ridge from which a vapour-wisp formed a pathway towards the higher levels. Contour-lines of light curved through everything, guiding him; a magnetic field made visible, some claimed.
Kristian scorned science.
Karl, an unbeliever, said it was impossible to explain the Crystal Ring. Why should immortals be privileged to enter another dimension, weird beyond human dreams? Its geography corresponded to that of Earth, enabling them to travel unseen from place to place. Like the sky, it enveloped the world. Its beauty was ineffable. Half-swimming, half-flying through its atmosphere was a dizzying rapture. Yet the Crystal Ring was far more. Unable to sleep on Earth, vampires must come here to rest. And although the Crystal Ring held dangers, it was essential to their existence. Science should explain this, but can’t, argued Karl. Yet.
Kristian, however, knew precisely what the Crystal Ring was. The mind of God. And God naturally allowed only His chosen dark messengers to enter His mind; this savage heaven.
He rose to a colder, wilder region where vast mountains soared like purple-black thunderheads. A rich fiery glow spilled down their flanks. Kristian ascended a floorless canyon, light flowing violet and amber around him. The climb was hard. The Crystal Ring’s substance was viscous, now holding him like a fly in treacle, now dissolving so that he slid back.
Ilona beat his shoulders and cursed him all the way.
At last he gained a mountain peak, dizzied by the depthless void all around him. The atmosphere was dense and cold, heaving like a sea. Even as he paused, the peak began to roll over on itself, threatening to plunge him down again. The next layer, a sapphire plain, seemed miles above. He swam upwards through the semi-fluid air, guided by glowing lines of magnetism.
“Damn you. Take me back,” Ilona cried. Her voice was faint. She’d stopped fighting and clung to him.
Kristian began to shiver. The Crystal Ring exacted a toll from those who climbed too high. Even Kristian was not immune.
He needed warmth. Although their bodies were different here, he could still feel the swell of Ilona’s veins. Reaching the sapphire plain, he slid his fangs into her throat and sucked until the sluggish fluid became a stream of fire on his tongue.
The strength he gained was short-lived but fierce, intoxicating. He drank to strengthen himself and to weaken her.
When he lifted his head, her gaze fixed on his in disbelief, full of pain and betrayal.
“Let me go.” Desperation stole her voice. “Don’t do this to me.”
Kristian felt a pang of pity. “It’s only for a while, my lamb, I promise. Just until Karl comes back.”
“You know he won’t come back!”
“You bastard. You will be sorry.”
“I think not, my love.” He stroked her head. “I said you would need your courage.”
She fell silent, weak from blood-loss, as he rose through haloes of indigo light. The Crystal Ring was soundless, a sweeping realm of unbearable beauty. As Kristian neared its upper limits he felt warm again. Euphoric. Still it took all his strength to go on.
The light paled. A silver-blue sea rippled above him, mysterious and delicate. As he broke through its surface, sudden iciness bit into his bones.
Ice crystals formed a swirling staircase by which he ascended to his destination: a vast plateau forty miles above the Earth’s surface, lonelier than the heights of Mount Everest, hurtling endlessly through nothingness. The Weisskalt.
Bitter cold sang through him. The Weisskalt’s beauty was sharp as a knife-edge, lit by thin raw sunlight, dazzling white. He saw the rich blue curve of the Earth and the blackness of space, scattered with stars and galaxies like tiny whorls of fire. Still Earth, and yet… another realm entirely. The very mind of the Creator.
How could Karl not believe in God?
Ilona’s blood would sustain him long enough for his purpose. He only had to hold her a little while, until she fell asleep.
Kristian drank again. She moaned faintly and he stroked her hair. God, how she loved him, this one. He would make amends to her.
She became still in his arms and he thought she was gone, until he saw a faint scintillation in her eyes.
Her lips parted stiffly and she said, “Ask Pierre.”
He leaned close to hear her. “Ask him what?”
Her expression was etched clearly on her shadow-face: the sour pleasure of a small triumph in defeat.
“Ask Pierre where Karl is. He’s known all this time.” She gave a painful laugh, then the smile froze on her face.
“No, that’s impossible. He would have told me. Ilona!”
He shook her. No response. She’d waited until the very last moment to deliver this tormenting information. Now nothing would drag further answers from her.
“Why did you not tell me?” he roared.
He cursed, but there was nothing he could do. If he took her back to Earth and reawakened her, then she wouldn’t serve as a lure to trap Karl… As a minor act of revenge, it was effective.
Clutching her weightless form, Kristian walked on until he reached rows of folded black shapes against the whiteness. He kept them all together, so that he would never lose anyone. They were like cocoons, or mummified creatures. Pitiful. Yet he remembered each one by name, and their individual beauty. Here were Katerina and Andreas, whom he’d punished for showing deeper loyalty to Karl than to Kristian, their master.
He stared at Katerina’s frost-pearled face. Her body was like a fold of black parchment, paper-delicate yet frozen hard, a fossil. He trawled his fingernails down the length of her form, lost in a well of memory. How she’d hurt him. How they all did.
This was the paradox of the Crystal Ring. It gave vampires life and freedom, but any who lingered risked being overcome by cold and exhaustion. If they lost the strength to escape, they sank into hibernation.
Immortals could be killed with difficulty, but Kristian believed that death was God’s choice alone. Placing deviants into an icy coma was far preferable. This way, Kristian held the power of life or oblivion over his flock forever.
Some had lain in the Weisskalt for centuries, others only a few years. They were the ones who’d disappointed or betrayed him, or broken his heart. Some he might wake one day, when he felt they’d learned their lesson; others must sleep for eternity.
Tenderly, he laid Ilona alongside them.
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