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Legend

Teaser


ITALY, 1279: CASA DA RIMINI, NEAR LAKE COMO

They stood at the top of the staircase, almost nose to nose. He was perhaps in his twenties, not very old, nor very wise, as he shrieked at his wife, dragging up grievances between her family and his from a century back. Any minute now, he was quite certain, she was going to bring the Crusades up again, and he would hit her. Just because his grandfather had been the only child, and a relation of the local bishop, and thus dispensed from going, she would drag up her ancestor, who in his forties had fought at Constantinople. Now of course her distant cousin, one of the southern Orsini's, was Pope, and she never let him forget it. She was almost silent though. Her hair was falling out of the net she had gathered it into, little dark wisps of it getting into her eyes in the way he had always laughed at, and she shook.

Vittoria watched her husband, her dark eyes wide with fear. Now seventeen she had been married some four years to the man before her, and had counted herself extremely fortunate that her husband loved her, and she him. Now she wondered though. His face was twisted by fury, and she didn't know why. He had stalked in some ten minutes ago - he had been off to ride around the estates, but had instead returned, still dressed in the black and brown riding leathers, to start yelling at her. First that she was expensive and useless, a burden to him and his family, then that she was lazy, wasteful. She couldn't understand it. So she stood silently, her dress trailing behind her, blue velvet trimmed with gold thread worked into a marvel of flowers and patterns, waiting for him to explain. With every step he took forward she took another step back, the long train hampering her feet.

"What bloody good are you?" he went on, prodding her angrily. One hand went up to rub her shoulder. "You don't behave like an Ursini even, never mind a da Rimini. You don't listen to a word I say. It's always 'Toni I want this' 'Toni I want that' 'Toni, why don't you do it this way?' My way is better, you hear me? My family have always lived and worked this land. It's not your business how I deal with it. You don't even look like an Ursini." He tugged cruelly on her long dark hair, changing tack abruptly. "Look at you. Brown, brown, brown. Perhaps your mother betrayed your father, and that's why they palmed you off on me. Maybe there's truth in those old stories after all. You don't look like them, you certainly don't breed like them - tell me Vittoria, what bloody good are you to me?"

Her face flushed at the insult to her parentage, and she opened her mouth in indignation. He slapped her hard across the mouth, the blow echoing in the unusual silence. The whole household had frozen in shock, waiting for the storm to be over, not daring to interrupt. She rocked back with the blow, retreating another step, and her hand stole upwards to cover the marks his fingers had left on her face.

"I'm sorry, Toni," she whispered, tears sliding unnoticed down her face. Blood trickled slowly from her split lower lip. "I didn't mean to upset you. What did I do wrong? Tonino, please!" She held her other hand out, her whole face showing her incomprehension.

Her bewilderment seemed to enrage the young man further. "You're making me a laughing stock! Four years, Vittoria, it's been four years and you still haven't given me a son. They whisper that it's my fault you know. That the Ursini blood is strong, after all, your father had fifteen children, all your sisters have children, so where are our sons? They whisper that it's me that can't." He took a deep breath, "Do you know what that's like Vittoria? To be sniggered about in my own stables? By my own servants?" He took a hasty step towards her, and grabbed her shoulders.

"You are barren, damn you. Cursed and barren, you hear me, and you are bringing humiliation on both our families. I shall apply to the bishop my cousin. He can speak for me to my lord Cardinal to put you aside." He shook her violently, her head jerking with each move of his hands, white knuckled on her shoulders. At the bottom of the stairs a young blond man, perhaps in his thirties, and of teutonic appearance took a couple of steps towards the fighting couple.

"Da Rimini! For shame!" he called, frowning, one hand at the hilt of his sword. "To lay hands on a lady."

Toni snatched his hands away from Vittoria as if she burned him, letting go so abruptly that she stumbled, and before she could grab the banister, fell.

He reached out to catch her, but even as his hand brushed her arm, she flinched away, eyes terrified, and sealed her own fate.

"Toni!" she wailed, tumbling down the stairs like a rag doll. She fetched up on the cool tiles of the hall, at the other man's feet. He had tried to reach her, and now he dropped to his knees beside her, laying two fingers against her throat. His eyes closed briefly, then he carefully moved her body, straightening limbs, but there was no real point. His hand on her neck had already told him that. One hand passed over her wide brown eyes, closed them into death.

"Vittoria! No! I'm sorry, I, I didn't mean it!" Toni da Rimini was running headlong down the stairs, headless of his own safety. He lifted her gently, the crooked angle of her neck telling them both all that needed to be said. He cradled her, bestowing desperate kisses on the cooling lips and eyes. "Georg, she can't be," he sobbed.

But his friend shook his head, "Oh Toni. What have you done? What have you done?"

"No," the young widower moaned, stroking the hair he had abused only moments before. "Vittoria..."


Thud.

Thud, thud.

It started softly, perhaps no louder than rain. Certainly it was too soft to hear over the drone of the priest's voice, unless one had a reason to be listening for it. The Requiem mass was almost at an end, and Georg von Witt was almost dancing with anxiety. Only he seemed to hear the faint pounding emanating from the crypt below the chancel, just as only he heard the faint susurrus, warning of an Immortal's near presence.

The monks sang slowly, antiphon, verse. Decani replied to Cantor. Another psalm.

"Pax vobiscum"

"Et cum spiritu tuo."

"In nomine patri et filii et Spiritu Sancto"

"Amen"

{Finally.} Georg let a careful sigh out. The pounding was audible, but the friends and family were leaving, paying their respects to the dead girl and to the priest. The monks retreated back to their monastic loneliness. As each person passed him the priest inclined his head, discreetly keeping an eye on the donations for Masses for the deceased, his face nicely conveying satisfaction at the largesse, combined with a solemnity fitting to the mournful occasion.

In the general movement von Witt slipped into a gap behind a statue. The ancient saint's image, name tablet obliterated by a thousand devotional feet, was recessed deep into a niche, but there was just enough room for him to hide, pressed close between the wall and the white plaster of the statue. The priest pushed the doors shut, cutting out the heat and the hazy sunlight. The few flies that had been trapped inside batted fussily against the glass.

The priest muttered and waddled his way back to the monastery door in the choir. He paused by the crypt gate and sighed, pulling it to with a sketched cross.

"Sleep well, child," the middle aged man shook his head sadly. "I daresay he'll wed again, and bury again. Bad blood there - you're safer where you are, believe me little one. Angels guard you, ave Maria." Georg tuned out as the priest began telling the rosary.

{Leave damn you!} he thought at him. But it was another twenty minutes before the man finished pottering in the church, and finally left.

{That poor girl. I only hope she's suffocated} He shuddered at the thought of being trapped in a cold stone tomb, dark and alone. He squeezed from his hiding place, hurried to the crypt and ran down the steps three at a time.


It was dark and damp in the crypt, with an unpleasantly penetrating smell. Candles glowed before the tombs and the narrow ledges where older corpses rested. A profusion of lights around one plain grey tomb clearly indicated where Vittoria Ursini da Rimini had been laid to rest.

Georg put his shoulder to the heavy stone lid and shoved, hard. It grated across the tomb and teetered, dangerously close to falling into the chest and crushing the woman who even now was sitting up, hands bleeding, weeping hysterically "let me out! Let me out!"

"Can you climb out?" he puffed, holding the lid away from falling in only with an effort. She had been tightly wrapped in a shroud, but her struggles had unwound much of it. She scrambled out of the tomb, tugging the inadequate strips of cloth around her. He politely averted his eyes and pushed the lid back into place. He paused, leaning against the cold granite, and breathing heavily.

"Here," he handed her a robe from under his cloak. "Put this on."

"My head," she moaned.

"It'll pass. Look at me." She did so and then looked away. "It's not hurting now?" She shook her head, sniffing and gulping back her tears. "Well then, get dressed child."

"I'm not a child," she said angrily, swiping at the tears on her face.

"And by that you merely demonstrate your extreme youth," he murmured sardonically. "Dress, or I will do it for you."

"Signor Von Witt, please. It's not proper."

He glanced at her incredulously. {Trust a woman to pick the least important detail.}

"Donna Vittoria. Tori. You are in a crypt. You were in a tomb. Your family buried you. You were dead," he cut across her protest, "And yes, now you are alive. Please Vittoria, it is not a miracle, there is an explanation, but this is not the time or place."

Her jaw was dropped, whether to speak or in disbelief he didn't know, or for that matter, care. "We must get you out of here, and find you somewhere to stay."

"I can go back to my family, they will take care of me," she said hopefully.

"No." Her face fell. "It is not safe. For you or for them. Listen to me. What would you do to a corpse that walked?"

"Kill it," she whispered palely.

"So you'll understand that your modesty is the last thing on my mind." He looked her up and down, and a small unpleasant smile lit his face, "Yes. Definitely the last thing."

"Why are you doing this?" she asked, obediently pulling on the robes he had handed her.

"Because I'm like you, and I have a responsibility. Come." He held out a hand. "It won't be all bad, I promise."


THE SAME PLACE, DECEMBER 1997

"Ms Ursini?" The dark haired man hovered nervously at the door, hand raised to knock again.

"What?" Vittoria Ursini, Immortal and assassin, snapped irritably, not even bothering to turn her eyes from the screen before her.

"I have some more data on your private project? That person you wanted us to find." He held a brown folder out to her, and she bounced up out of her leather chair to take it with a smile.

"Thank you, Jack," she said genuinely, leafing hastily through it. She paused and flipped back a couple of pages to read something in more detail as a frown gathered on her face.

He waited to one side, there watching her surreptitiously. He wondered, not for the first time just how she had managed to acquire such poise and power and yet seem so young and innocent. Despite the chic clothing, the expensive jewellery, the stylish hair cut, she still only looked to be in her teens in some lights. 'Good skin', she always said.

{She's beautiful,} he sighed, averting his eyes to stare at the picture of some ancestress who could have been her sister they were so alike. She glanced at him and her frown deepened.

"Well, Jack?"

"I was wondering what you wanted us to do next. It looks like this one has come to a dead end," he said.

"Literally," she replied with a twist of her lips, tapping her long nails on the folder. She lapsed into silence and he took the chance to go on.

"Mr Theoskalmios wishes to discuss the arrangements with you; we have a new proposal from the Taiwanese group again, not much different to the last one, but you may want to deal with it yourself."

"They don't respond well to refusal do they?" she murmured distractedly. "According to this he's dead." She tapped the papers again.

Jack wrenched his mind back to the Methos question. "Yes."

"Are you sure it was him?"

"He was going by that name. It's all in the file." He waited a beat. "Do you want us to pursue it? I assumed it was closed with his death."

"How did he die?"

"Decapitation." He'd read the file before giving it to her, and knew how displeased she would be at this outcome.

"You're sure?"

"Quite sure." The photos had been quite clear. Unnecessarily so.

She handed the file back. "I want everything you have on the other two mentioned in this."

"One of them's dead too, same method. The other has an apartment in Seacouver."

"Richard Ryan."

"That's the one. We believe he faked his death in Paris some years ago, but he still goes there from time to time. As far as we know his permanent home's in the States though."

Vittoria smiled happily and lifted her eyebrows at her second in command. "You're in charge Jack. I do believe I would like a trip to Seacouver."


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