"It does not matter, for she is dead."
I touched his face. "What happened?" I asked.
He looked at me, but his face held that distance that the old ones have when they don't want you to know what they're thinking. "Belle Morte killed her."
"Why do I feel like I should say I'm sorry for asking?"
He gave me the smallest of smiles. "Because you are not insensitive."
That one comment let me know that Ligeia's death meant a lot more to him than just another cruel death. She'd meant something to him, and it was none of my business.
"The customers are getting restless," Graham called back to us. He was standing a little ahead of us with my bag in his hands. He'd given us privacy like a good bodyguard.
I looked past him and saw one of the lawyers waving at us. Restless indeed.
"Even if I was willing, I don't think they'd wait while we went back to the car to feed the ardeur."
He gave me a real smile this time, with enough humor to drive out the blankness in his eyes. "I fear you are right."
"Then we muscle through this, and you guys can drive me back to the club."
"Where your pomme de sang waits," he said.
"Yeah." I wondered if I was going to get back in time to see any of Nathaniel's dance. I suddenly saw Nathaniel in front of a mirror. He was putting eyeliner around his lavender eyes. He stopped in the middle of it and said, "Anita?"--a question like he wasn't sure.
Requiem had both my arms now. I'd have gone to my knees, if he hadn't caught me. "Anita, what happened?"
"I thought about my pomme de sang, and I could see him. He's getting ready to go on." I was dizzy, and when Requiem cradled me against him, I didn't complain. "I've had mind-to-mind communication with Richard and Jean-Claude. It's never been this draining."
Requiem picked me up, and again I was wishing I'd worn a longer skirt. God knew what he was flashing the graveside with. But I couldn't stand, the world was swimming. "Jean-Claude is the master of your triumvirate with the Ulfric, but you are the master of Nathaniel and Damian. It is your power that makes this partnership move, and that, too, uses energy."
"Does everyone know what happened between the three of us?"
"No, he told only Asher and myself, among his vampires. Perhaps his own pomme de sang, Jason. He keeps little from him."
I frowned at him, as the world stopped spinning. "Why you?"
"I am his third, after Asher."
News to me, though of the vamps I'd met, I couldn't think of anyone I'd have preferred for the job. The night was solid again. "I think I can walk."
He looked doubtful.
"Let me try," I said.
He lowered me to the ground, but kept an arm around me like he expected me to collapse at any minute. I guess I couldn't blame him, but it bugged me anyway. I didn't collapse. Great. In fact, I felt pretty good, considering. I kept a hand through his arm, so it looked like he was escorting me the last little bit of the way. Only he and I, and maybe Graham, knew just how shaky I was feeling.
Edwin Alonzo Herman was regaling his audience with a story of how he'd tricked someone into signing away a small fortune. In these modern times it would have been considered swindling, but not back in the late 1800s or even early 1900s. Many of the laws on the books about money and how you can legally acquire it stem from the old robber baron days when almost anything was fair game. Most of the ways that the first millionaires in this country won their fortunes would be illegal today. But Herman had them laughing. He looked positively rosy-cheeked, and very much the center of attention of the group of lawyers and descendants. Everyone was willing to be happy, they'd won, and the man telling the story had helped them win. If someone had saved me millions of dollars, I'd like them, too, I guess.
He finished his story to laughter, and shining faces. "I'm ready to complete the contract gentleman, and ladies," I said.
Some of them had to shake my hand.
"Splendid job, Ms. Blake, splendid job."
"Wow, I mean, like wow."
"Honestly, I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen you do it."
Apparently, I was included in the good feelings. Most people get a little uncomfortable when it's time to put the zombie back, if he looks alive enough.
Requiem stopped the compliments. "Ms. Blake has had a difficult night, gentlemen, if you could allow her to finish her work, then she can rest."
"Oh, terribly sorry... We didn't know. Thank you... worth every penny." And they began to drift away.
Edwin Alonzo Herman looked down at me, and it wasn't a friendly look. "I understand that I am supposed to be dead and only your magic gave me life again."
I shrugged and asked Graham to please get the machete and the salt from the bag.
"I've also been told that vampires have rights and are considered citizens. Am I not merely another kind of vampire? If I were declared alive, I would be a very, very wealthy man. I would be willing to share that wealth, Miss Blake."
I clung to Requiem's arm and looked up at the zombie, so self-assured. "You know, Mr. Herman, you're one of the few old ones that I've ever raised that have grasped the possibilities so quickly. You must have been something special in your day."
"Thank you for the compliment, and may I return one? This must be a unique gift that you have. Together we could turn it into an empire."
I smiled. "I have a business manager, but thanks anyway." I let go of Requiem and found I could stand without falling. Good to know. I was actually feeling a little better just standing on the grave by the zombie, because no matter how good he looked, that's what he was. I took the jar of salt from Graham's hand.
"Miss Blake, if I am only another type of walking dead, then is it fair to deny me the same chance that this vampire has gotten?"
"You're not a vampire," I said.
"And how great could the difference be between what I am, and what he is?"
I did something that Marianne had tried to teach me, and I just had been too stubborn to try before. I wasn't sure I had enough energy left to walk the circle, so I just pictured it in my mind, like a glowing circle around the grave, around the great stone angel, around all of us. It closed with the same neck-ruffling power rush that it did when I walked it with steel and blood. Good, very good.
"You want a difference, try and walk away from the grave."
He frowned at me. "I don't understand."
"Just walk to the road, where you answered their questions."
"I don't see what it will prove."
"It will prove the difference between what you are and what he is."
Herman frowned at me, then took a deep settling breath and strode off of his grave, toward the road. He hesitated, then slowed, then stopped. "I seem unable to move forward. I don't know why. I just simply don't seem able to go farther." He turned back to me. "Why? Why can I not go where I just stood?"
"Requiem, walk outside the circle."
He looked at me, then he walked past the man. He hesitated for a moment, and I worried that I'd done too good a job on the circle, but it should have only kept in the zombie, and out other things. The vampire shouldn't have been affected by it. Requiem pushed through, and the circle flared. It did recognize him as a type of undead, but not the one tied to this grave. I realized that with a little tweaking I might be able to throw up a circle that bound a vampire to its grave, or coffin, or a room. It couldn't be kept up forever, but for awhile. I filed it away. It would be a sort of desperation measure, but I'd been desperate before.
Herman pushed against the circle, or rather pushed against his own unwillingness to cross it. Requiem glided back through it, and out again, and in again.
"Enough," I said, "I think we've made the point."
"Why can I not cross this point, and he can?"
"Because this is your grave, Mr. Herman, your body knows this ground, and it knows you. It holds you to it, now that I've made it do so. Now come back and stand on the grave like a nice zombie."
"I am not a zombie."
"I said, stand on the grave."
He took a step toward me, before he stopped, and fought me. He fought his body, as he'd fought to cross the circle, now he fought not to come to me. I'd never had one that could fight me when I gave it a direct order, especially not one that had tasted my blood. I watched that well-made body, that so-alive person, struggle not to move closer.