Will and Violet’s adventures lead them far afield as they travel across the ocean in search of answers. On the Continent they find themselves among new friends and old enemies as they track down a kidnapped vampire in the hopes that he can save their race from the plague.
The third part to the four-part Young Adult paranormal adventure Blood Guardians series. The third book is set on the European continent of the 1830s.
The old port city of Venice glistened by aid of the moon high overhead. The water which traversed through those many connected islands and created the intricate canal system glowed as the great light reflected those ways of travel. The city was circular in design with the Grand Canal meandering through the center of the islands. Bridges crossed over small and large canals, and even at so late an hour the streets and waterways were busy with people going to and fro.
On one of the docks situated on the southeast portion of the island city stood a newly arrived packet ship, just come from the United States. It was a private vessel of good make, with its named emblazoned over both sides of the bow in thick, dark letters. The Mercury.
Three passengers embarked with their luggage of two long boxes. They were Will, Violet and Professor Hester, lately of the New World and now relieved to find themselves on solid ground after a good month aboard ship.
The two men were quietly discussing the dangers that may await them in the island city.
“It’s well for us the customs are so lax,” Will commented while his sharp eyes glanced around the docks. “Otherwise our cargo would be inspected.”
The boat landing area was inset into the group of islands at the southeastern part of the city and were a small maze of long boardwalks. Two of the docking areas were square in shape and large enough to house many ships, while two others in the northwestern part were rectangular and much smaller than the first two. Each area was separated from the others by the planks where the ships would unload their cargo and passengers.
“Yes, but we must be very careful there,” Hester reminded him. “The Guild is bound to be watching such an important port, and they may soon find we have arrived and begin to inquire of our business.”
For her part Violet was greatly excited by this journey, even with the dangers they could face. During their long voyage across the ocean Will had tutored her on the Italian language, and she eagerly wished to put her learning to practice. The only regret she felt was at leaving her loyal feline, Hermes, behind with Caleb. The pet wouldn’t have appreciated the long sea journey required to reach the bustling port city of Venice. She turned to Will with her dazzling eyes.
“Can we see some of the sights after we have met with Abraham?” Violet asked her guardian.
“That depends on what information he can give us,” Will pointed out. He looked to their other companion to fulfill the lingering question in his mind. Hester was the only one who was intimately familiar with the address for Abraham’s abode. “Have you any bearing in this place?”
“Little has changed in this ancient town, and I believe I still know the way,” Professor Hester commented. He didn’t look kindly on the filth left by so many ships and people, and the smells of the city were not always pleasant. Hester much preferred the quiet of his study, and was very much looking forward to reaching Abraham’s home for the peace and quiet. “But I suggest we find accommodations first, and make our search later.”
“When were you last here?” Violet asked him.
“I can’t recall the exact date, but it was some years before the colonies in America won their independence. I was making a general tour of the continent before I crossed the great ocean to begin a new life in those united states,” the professor admitted.
“Have we time to see Abraham tonight?” Will asked their learned friend, and was disappointed when Hester shook his head.
“The city is not large, but I can’t guarantee the address I recall is the correct one. We may have to search for quite some time, and with the sun coming so soon it would be dangerous to be disoriented in an ancient, labyrinthine city such as this.”
“Then can we take a gondola ride, if only to reach our hotel?” Violet pleaded with Will. She longed to see the world-famous waterways and catch a glimpse of those ancient, majestic squares and buildings.
“The walk would be longer and much more difficult with our luggage, so we practically forced to take a gondola,” he replied, and was pleased when her face lit up with innocent glee. Hester, too, was amused by her simple pleasures.
“It’s indeed a treat to ride the gondolas, though I recommend we find ourselves one with a felze, which is a small compartment to hide ourselves,” he advised his companions. “It may block some view of the buildings, but the safety would be infinitely greater.”
“We shall have to defer the decision of gondolier and gondola to you, professor. It’s been many more years since I was last here, and I fear I’m completely at a loss on which vessel to choose,” Will admitted. The professor was very pleased to hear he would be the guide on this journey, and he took his new position very seriously. The companions walked away from the docks in a southwest direction, and soon arrived at the Canal della Giudecca.
Hester viewed a few vampires amongst the boats which ferried visitors to the interior of the city. Their pale skin and scent of blood stood out from the human pilots, but the professor opted for one of the more agreeable-looking young humans. He preferred to avoid their own kind to better harbor their secret mission, even if the undead wouldn’t have asked questions about their luggage. When they approached their chosen gondolier he bowed and gestured to his craft.
“Good evening,” he greeted them in English, though his accent was very thick. “Do you want a night view of our great city? I, Antonio Rossi, can help you with that.” The companions were amused by his straightforward manner in introducing himself.
“Are we so obviously English-speaking?” Hester asked their proposed guide.
“The sharp eye sees much more than clothing,” the man replied, and he tapped his temple. His careful eyes glanced over the faces in the group. “I see you won’t need my services during the day, unless you’re desperate to see the sights you would risk your own lives.”
“Then you know what we are?” Will wondered. His hand instinctively reached for the pistol at his side. The gondolier raised his own hands to show he meant them no harm, both physically or in revealing their secret as vampires.
“Your secret is with me, signors. I mean only to ferry you wherever you wish and provide you with what information you seek,” he promised them. “All of this to the best of my ability, of course.”
“I see nothing wrong with that,” the professor agreed. He put his hand on Will’s arm to settle his friend’s suspicions. “We accept your services.”
Before the group stepped into the gondola they secured a small barge to ferry their luggage to their hotel. Then they took their passenger craft out onto the canals. Unfortunately they found that the felze, a small, covered box with an open front, would only accommodate two people, and Violet eagerly volunteered herself to be the odd vampire out.
“It had best be me,” Will insisted. He didn’t wish for her to be the object of any Guild member’s attention
“I would much rather see all the view, and someone may recognize you two,” she wisely pointed out. Indeed the two gentlemen did fear that old acquaintances still frequented the continent, and their presence would be revealed. Thus Violet was allowed her way and put in the center of the boat. She would have much preferred the bow, but Will wouldn’t allow her any greater distance from him. He also didn’t want her to fall in, not because he feared she would drown but because he feared the attention of passer-byers.
The water-ways of the great city were indeed thronging with people of all classes and nationalities. Along the Canal della Giudecca they traveled north and entered the Canal Grande, and much was the splendor and amusement along that body water. In their drunken joy, revelers from parties hailed each and every boat that passed, and some threw flowers to the pretty Violet sitting in the gondola. She blushed at the compliments spoken by the Venetian natives regarding her beauty, and many requested she leave her boat and join them. Thankfully they brushed passed the invitations too quickly for the revelers to argue with the shake of her head she gave in response to their pleas.
The three companions also swiftly sailed by many ancient Christian churches with their pillared entrances and and the bell towers which rose from their tiled roofs. The many piazzas and squares, also called campos, were accessed by water inlets between the buildings or by docks which jutted out from the land. There were also offshoots of long, narrow canals situated between the islands. Their boat glided beneath arched bridges and passed beside tall houses with balconies aplenty. Many people dressed in rags and beautiful clothes alike wandered about the narrow, long sidewalks. Some wore masks for a ball and others looked disreputable, what with their shifting eyes and false smiles. Violet could hardly take in all the sights before each was replaced by a new view of a building or person as splendid or greater than the last.
However, Hester had his attention focused on the boat, and he looked over the small vessel with a scientific eye.
“I see they’ve begun to change the design,” he commented to their gondolier.
“Yes, signor,” the gondolier happily replied. Many of the drivers were very willing to talk, and for a fee they would tell you all the gossip that was to be had in the great city. “Tramontin the boat-builder now sells these boats, and I believe the higher prow aids in keeping the waves from my passengers.”
Indeed all three could tell to what he referred. There were so many boats of all sizes and uses along the canal that small and large waves alike rocked them to and fro. Their driver was evidently skilled, however, for he cut through the dizzying array of boats and onward toward their destination.
“Have you heard much of the Guild lately? We were hoping to speak with the representative of the city but couldn’t find the person on the docks,” Hester lied to their pilot. Where the Guild held power over the territory, any visiting vampires were expected to make themselves known to the local representative. The bureaucracy of the area didn’t run without their input. “Are they perhaps occupied at another of the city docks?”
“I’ve heard they were called down to Rome two months past. There was some question or another regarding one of your kind, something dispute or other,” their gondolier replied. The politics of the Guild mattered very little to him since he was human, and he ignored them so long as they did not interfere with his business. However, he made sure to keep in line with their demands in order to avoid an unwelcome disruption in his services, courtesy of the Guild thugs.
“I see, then I suppose we had best keep ourselves in line until they return,” the professor amicably commented. He wanted for them to appear as obliging as possible toward the Guild. Their pilot, however, merely scoffed at the idea.
“I would come and go as I please, if I had such freedom as you,” he suggested to them. “The Guild isn’t as powerful as they used to be and the farther one gets from Rome the better life is for everyone.” Hester glanced over to Will. This was news indeed, and good for them.
“Then the Guild’s power wanes? Excuse me for asking, but we’re from the New World,” the professor explained to their driver. The gondolier smiled and nodded his head.
“If you had waited for a decade or two, I believe you wouldn’t have had to worry at all about the Guild. So many vampires have fled and others openly disobey their laws that they’re mere puppies with a bullish temperament,” he pointed out.
Hester and Will glanced at one another, and both were pleased with each bit of information their gondolier gave to them. They had expected confrontation with the Guild almost immediately, and to find that the representative himself was gone from the city worked well for their plans.
Hester spoke no more to their gondolier for fear he would reveal information about them to their driver. For Will, he disliked the confines of the felze and went out to sit beside Violet. She smiled at her guardian as he took the seat beside her. At that moment they were passing by one of the Canal Grande’s more well-known sights, the Fondaco dei Tedeschi. The four-story tall, white building had a row of columns with corresponding arches on the bottom floor. Violet noticed there were several boats parked out along the arches.
“I’ve seen many buildings with those arches. Are they used daily?” she asked her guardian.
“Generally they are, as those types of buildings are called fondaco houses. They’re the warehouses for the city. The supplies are dropped off the boats and carried into a courtyard beyond. From there the cargo is taken to other parts of the city.”
“How very strange to have the cargo dropped off directly into the warehouse,” she mused.
“With such limited space, the Venetians must innovate or they can’t expand.” His words brought an interesting question to Violet’s thoughts.
“What about vampires? Do they innovate?” she wondered. She heard her guardian speak of the Guild as being several centuries old, and she had met a great many of the undead who were of extreme age. With so many years to weigh them down, vampire and organization alike, she wondered that they didn’t stifle and rot.
“Perhaps that best explains the current situation with the Guild,” Will pondered in a voice too low for their gondolier to overhear. “It’s lost its way and no longer knows its original purpose.”
Violet nodded and looked away from her companion. She pondered the significance of Caleb’s words to her during their brief first stay at the manor. He had told her that vampires needed fledglings to retain their humanity, otherwise they would become hardened, indifferent creatures. She wondered if the end result would be cruelty and madness.
As the pair of vampires basked in each other’s company, their gondola sailed on to their destination. Their hotel was located in one of the less conspicuous but still comfortable parts of the city off the Canal Grande. Like many buildings in the old capital, the hotel was several stories tall and made of sturdy piles with the foundations set upon those wooden frames. The front took up a city block and had a large walk out in front, while the rear of the building nearly abutted the structure behind it. Tall, rectangular windows punctuated each room on the floors above the first, and the ground floor of the building was home to the lobby and a small restaurant. When Violet alighted from the gondola, she wondered at the majesty of the building. If this was not fashionable, she doubted she could bear the finery which came from a much more expensive establishment. Will read her thoughts and managed a smile when he reached her side.
“Venice has still retained much of her wealth from the time when she was the leading merchant capital of the old world,” he whispered into her ear. “Many pieces of furniture in our room may very well be older than I, but considered mere decoration by the inhabitants.” Then Will turned to their driver. “We are in need of a driver tomorrow evening. Do you have one to recommend to us?” The gondolier swept off his hat and smiled at the group.
“I can guarantee you a safe journey along any of these canals,” the gondolier offered. “As a sign of good faith, I must warn you that many gondoliers have taught themselves to read the speech of lips.” Will flinched at the pointed warning, and knew the man referred to his concealed conversation with Violet. Their driver, however, shook his head. “No worries here. You can trust no one better than I, signor.”
“Then we’ll take your services while we stay in Venice,” Will agreed, and as a show of faith he deposited several gold pieces into the man’s hand. If anything, they would at least keep the gondolier close to them so a betrayal of confidence would be more apparent. “Be here tomorrow just after sunset.”
“I will happily obey.” With a final bow the gondolier pushed off from the shore and drifted away into the crowd of boats.
Will turned back to his charge and put one hand on her shoulder to lead her into the grand hotel. The professor, however, paused before entering the fine building, and there was a deep frown on his face. He glanced out into the wide, cobbled street, and his ancient eyes pierced the darkness and the crowds which thronged around them. He noted movement in the deep shadows between the buildings on the following block. The person appeared to be a young man, and when Hester’s eyes fell upon him the stranger noticed his presence had been found out. The young man then hurried out of the narrow alley and walked off with unnatural speed in the opposite direction. Hester’s eyes narrowed, and then he hurried after his companions.
The professor found his friends not far from the front doors. Violet was marveling at the grandeur of the lobby. The ceiling lay high above their heads and was lit with a giant, golden chandelier. The candles flickered and danced to the noise of the crowd milling about the room. Men dressed in fine clothing leaned against the large pillars which supported the roof and spoke with elegant ladies who blushed and fanned themselves. Some were seated on the gilded benches along the walls to their left and right, and others wandered in and out of the rooms on either side of the lobby. It appeared a small party was occurring for some joyous occasion, and there were many smiles and compliments paid to one another.
The front desk lay in the back of the room, and to this Will led the group. The reservations were made at the dock upon landing, and they soon found themselves the temporary residents of a pair of fine rooms. Their coffins were carried behind them up the grand staircases. The boxes served the dual purpose in carrying their clothing during the night, and allowing them a safe place to stay during the day.
The rooms, too, were as exquisite as Will had informed Violet. The intricately carved wooden furniture had edges gilded in gold and tops made of pure marble taken from Grecian quarries. The rugs were of the finest Persian origins and the tapestries on the walls were edged in ribbons of fine white gold inlaid with precious jewels. The tall bed held sheets of the softest silk imported from China and rose up to the ceiling in a curtain of the downy material. Violet wished she could lay atop that bed all day, but light would cascade through from the door leading out onto the balcony.
Hester was placed in the room beside their own, and when his coffin had been happily situated he came to their abode. Once the servants had left and he was sure there was no one who would overhear, Hester was quick to bring their attention to what he had seen.
“I fear our hopes for the Guild’s collapse are premature, and our arrival may have already been noticed,” he commented to his companions. Will turned to the professor with an air of disappointment, but not surprise. He still understood the Guild to be their greatest threat here in the Old World.
“What did you see?”
“It was just now, outside on the street. A shadow of an individual who didn’t appreciate when I glanced in their direction,” Hester explained to them. He nodded out one of the large doors which led out onto their balcony. “Unfortunately the moment I noted their presence they scurried off.” Will scowled and shook his head.
“It’s to be expected that the Guild’s reach extends this far, but from the gondolier’s words I had hoped we would have a few days alone to speak with Abraham,” Will regretfully informed his companions.
“This incident makes me fear for him greatly,” the professor mused. He pulled at his small beard and shook his head. “It’s not like the Guild to make themselves unknown to new vampires within their borders. Their approach is often more abrupt and open.”
“We can only hurry to him tomorrow and hope your fears are unfounded,” Will commented.
“Would you prefer I not go out onto the balcony?” Violet asked her guardian. She eyed the doors leading out onto the balcony with curiosity and some apprehension. She didn’t want to further assist those who followed them by allowing the strangers a good view of her profile.
“If we are indeed being followed, you can do no further harm by stepping out onto the balcony,” Will reassured her.
She smiled and eagerly went over to the doors. Violet opened the portals and stepped out onto the small platform. She went up to the lattice railing and looked out onto the canal and the street below. The glow of the lamps shimmered against the rustling waters of the canal. The sweet smell of water hit her nose and the voices of laughter and merriment teased her ears. Even fallen from her height of splendor, Venice was a grand old city still filled with life and joy. Violet had the distinct feeling, however, that beneath all the smiles of the citizens there lay some unspoken stress.
“Are the people here uneasy about something?” she asked the two gentleman who stood in the room. They had been discussing their memories of the city and the route to be taken to Abraham’s abode. Will was somewhat surprised by her question.
“Yes. There was an attempted coup to regain their independence from Austria not more than six years ago. The effort was a failure but I believe there are still those who hope to succeed.”
“They’re not planning one even now, are they?” Violet was concerned their ship would be trapped at the docks and they would be unable to escape the fighting in the narrow streets and canals. Will smiled and shook his head.
“I don’t think that will be our main concern on this visit. Perhaps in another decade or so they’ll achieve their goal of autonomy, but not now.” He glanced passed her and looked out onto the sky. The night was fast retreating. “But we had better rest. Tomorrow will be well occupied with our interview with Abraham.”