Lured to the night (the brotherhood series book 4) (page 5)

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Leo took his wife’s hand and squeezed it. “There are others like us too, other friends who have taken the elixir to cleanse their blood. Using the notes detailing the process, I have managed to replicate the cure.”

“And you have brought this elixir, this cure with you?” Isla held her breath as she waited for confirmation. There were still many questions she wanted to ask. The most prominent in her mind being how they knew where to find her.

Leo jerked his head towards the door. “Yes. We have the cure. We brought it with us from Bavaria. It is in our carriage, nestled safely inside a mahogany box. All you need to do is drink it, and you will walk in the sun again.”



Chapter 8




Lachlan sat back in the chair and followed the conversation regarding the cure with some trepidation. Only a few hours ago, he had stood in the Great Hall trying to quell the wealth of emotion that surfaced upon seeing Isla again. He could cope with her jibes and taunts. Guilt often made people react in such a way as to see blame cast on another. Anger was nothing more than a mask. Given a few more years, he could learn to live with all he had lost. But the evening had brought one shocking revelation after another, and he was not sure where to begin when it came to analysing his feelings.

He sucked in a breath and pondered what it was that disturbed him the most. Surprisingly, her deformed features: pointed fangs and eyes bulging with ugly red veins, did not affect him. Many people suffered from debilitating illnesses. Of course, her condition was somewhat feral and unconventional. But her wild, spirited character is what he loved about her.

No. What he struggled to accept was that Nikolai had compelled her into submission. And he had done nothing to assist her. Resentment had festered, forcing him to ignore his instincts, forcing him to leave her at the mercy of a hound.

He silently cursed.

“So how did you come to know of the cure?” Isla’s sweet voice disturbed his reverie.

Lachlan straightened, keen to hear the answer to her question. If Isla insisted on taking the cure, he wanted to know everything about it, every intricate detail no matter how small or irrelevant.

Leo cleared his throat. “Nikolai worked with a great scholar, a man with a vast knowledge of plants and herbs, a skilled alchemist and geologist. Years of research and experiments finally led him to discover a potion that worked to cleanse the blood. We must assume that Nikolai compelled him to find a cure for the affliction.”

Douglas sat forward and rubbed his hands together in front of the fire. “I’ve met the scholar ye speak of, but I doubt Nikolai had the ability to overpower him.”

Leo inhaled loudly. “You’ve met him? You’ve met Talliano? How can that be?”

“Talliano? I cannae recall his name. He came here with Nikolai some fifteen years ago, said they were interested in the history of the area, and we had nae reason to be suspicious of their motives.”

Leo shuffled to the edge of his seat, a heavy frown marring his brow. “What makes you think Nikolai lacked the skill necessary to compel his friend? You have witnessed the way he manipulated Isla. He used his mind magic to force her to marry him.”

Douglas gave a frustrated wave. “Aye, but ye need to be infected in order to have the ability to play with people’s heads. Nikolai was nae suffering with it when he came here the first time.”

Ivana’s head shot up in surprise. “But you must be mistaken. The most vital ingredient in the elixir is haematite. That is surely the reason they came here. According to Talliano’s notebook, your mine is rich in iron. Why would they need to find a cure if Nikolai was not suffering from the affliction?”

Lachlan glanced at Isla whose mouth hung open as she followed the exchange. Neither of them had any memory of these visitors from beyond their shore.

Douglas appeared somewhat confused. “At the time we didnae think anything of it, just thought all those from foreign lands had strange habits. But now, after all that’s happened to Isla, I know the scholar was the one suffering from the affliction.”

Both Leo and Ivana jumped to their feet.

“Talliano was a creature of—” Leo gulped as he struggled to contain his surprise. “Talliano was a creature of the night?” He dragged his hand down his face. “You are certain of this?”

Douglas craned his neck to look up at the marquess. “Aye, I remember the man hid in the shadows mostly. He only came out of his room at night. Nikolai was his student, or so he’d had us believe.”

The guests stared at each other with an odd look of wonder and confusion before dropping into their seats. Lachlan suspected that the apprentice, Nikolai, must have contracted the disease from his tutor.

“Isla mentioned they took fragments of rock from the mine.” Lachlan addressed the group, although it was Isla who captured his attention. She appeared a little agitated, struggled to sit still in the chair. After all that had occurred this evening, he could hardly blame her for feeling disturbed. “They took water from the well near the cairn, which one would assume was to be another ingredient in the healing potion.”

“The Picts are an ancient people who lived on these lands over a thousand years ago. They often placed their burial grounds next to springs … or wells.” Isla clutched her stomach as she spoke. The small grimace playing at the corners of her mouth suggested she was in pain. “The wells are said to … to have been blessed. The flow of holy water worked to heal the spirit, to cleanse the soul.”

While the marquess appeared interested in Isla’s explanation, his wife seemed more concerned with Isla’s restlessness. “When did you last quench your thirst?” Ivana’s brows were drawn together, almost meeting in the middle. “You are not well.”

Lachlan focused on Isla’s mouth, noted how long it took her to form a word. “I … I need to take sustenance. That is all.” She patted at the beads of perspiration forming on her brow.

Douglas stood. “I’ll go and find Malmuirie. Do ye want to take it in yer chamber?”

“You may drink in front of us,” Ivana said. “We understand the need to sate the craving.”

Isla bit down on her bottom lip, glanced at him briefly beneath hooded lids. “I … I shall find somewhere quiet—”

“You do not need to hide away from me, Isla.” Lachlan was not sure what to expect when she drank blood. Perhaps it was naive of him to assume she drank it like wine: the odd soothing sip from an elegant glass. Either way, he sought the truth. Either way, he wanted to show his support for her plight. “Drink here with us if you would prefer.”

Isla’s wary gaze drifted over him before settling on Douglas. “Perhaps we should all have some refreshment.”

Douglas raised his chin. “Aye, I cannae speak for everyone but I’m in need of more than a dram of whisky,” he said as he marched off without offering the guests a choice of beverage.

Whilst they waited for Douglas to return, Lachlan decided to address the numerous questions plaguing his thoughts. From the look of concentration on Isla’s face, he suspected the need to satisfy her thirst must be overwhelming. And perhaps listening to their conversation might work to distract her mind.

“So if Talliano had success with his research, I assume he took the cure.”

Ivana’s expression darkened. “Nikolai killed Talliano.” Upon hearing Lachlan’s gasp, she added, “Nikolai took the cure. I used my infected blood to turn him again at his behest.”

Lachlan shook his head. “Why would he want you to do that?”

“For the skills we spoke about,” Leo said. “We believe his motivation for coming back here stems from a need to replicate the cure. Nikolai was a man who liked to prepare for every eventuality. He wished to have the freedom to walk in the sunlight. Yet he knew that having the power to manipulate minds was equally as important.”

Ivana gave a weak smile. “We will never fully know or understand his intentions. Indeed, his life was and still is somewhat of a mystery.”

“His daily habits are of no consequence to me.” He could hear the trace of bitterness in his tone. “Does the cure pose any risk to one’s health when consumed?”

Not all potions and medicines brought the required results. He had seen many advertisements offering herbal remedies and ointments for all sorts of ailments. Most of them consisted of at least one unusual ingredient: red coral marine plant, ground goat’s horn, a crab’s blackened claw. A cure to cleanse the blood made of iron ore and holy water sounded just as ludicrous.

“Nothing is free of risk.” Leo’s stark warning woke him from his musings. The marquess focused his attention on Isla. “I must caution you. You will experience pain, an agonising discomfort that could last for hours, perhaps even days. There is nothing we can do to help ease your torment.”

A heavy silence pressed down upon them. No doubt the visitors were recalling the horrendous suffering they had experienced during their cleansing. If Lachlan could take the dratted potion on Isla’s behalf, he would. Isla stared into her lap, toyed absently with her fingers, and he wished he had her ability to read minds.

“Would it be such a hardship to remain as you are?” he asked, a sudden sense of loss clawing away at him when he considered all the things that could go wrong. “Is this life not more preferable than no life at all?”

A dull thud against the door captured their attention and Douglas backed into the room, his arms laden with refreshments. Carrying a silver tray supporting a decanter and glasses, the old man took slow, measured steps towards them in a bid to prevent the rattling vessel from tipping off onto the floor.

“Here, allow me to help you.” Leo rushed over before Lachlan had a chance to offer.

Douglas conveyed his thanks. “These hands were once steady enough to bring down a stag with a single shot.” He sighed and shook his head. “I’ve asked Malmuirie to make tea for those who would rather nae partake in the good stuff.”

Leo placed the tray on the side table near the fire. He raised an empty glass and shook it. “Ivana. Will you take tea or whisky?”

The lady screwed up her nose. “I can’t recall ever drinking the spirit. I’ve heard it can be quite potent.”

“I suggest we all have a dram. On a cold night like this, it’s best nae to get a chill on yer chest.” Douglas put his fist to his mouth and coughed as though already anticipating the fiery fluid scorching his throat. “I’ve known Malmuirie to add a drop to her tea, or a drop of tea to her whisky when her nerves are in tatters.”

While the guests discussed whether the combination of such distinctive tastes ruined good tea or good whisky, Lachlan stared at the tray. The china teacup, with its delicate flower pattern and gilt edging, contained blood. The burgundy pool was just visible beneath the rim. His stomach recoiled at the thought of drinking it down. He assumed it had come from an animal, imagined a complicated daily ritual, a shelf in the larder lined with full flagons.

He did not need to glance to his left to know Isla was watching him. Her penetrative gaze bore into him like the tips of hot pokers piercing his skin. He knew why. Gauging his reaction to the sight of her blood tea would reveal his true feelings. To show disgust would only serve to place a barrier between them.

Reaching for the dainty cup and saucer he passed it to her, conscious that he had no excuse to explain the reason for the slight tremble in his fingers.

She struggled to meet his gaze as she accepted the drink. “Thank you.” Her words were only fractionally louder than a whisper. The cup rattled on the saucer as she held it in her lap.

“I find it fascinating to see how those like us take their daily sustenance,” Ivana said, choosing words that roused a sense of fellowship. “Our friend and brother used to drink from a wine glass, his blood stored in a crystal decanter. I struggled to find any pleasure in the process and so chose to approach it as one would a medicinal tonic.” The lady smiled affectionately when Isla raised her chin. “There is something quite refined about drinking from a teacup.”

Isla gave a snort of contempt. “There is nothing refined about drinking blood.”

“Perhaps not.” Ivana inclined her head graciously. “But when one deals with adversity with an air of elegance and poise, it conveys great strength of character.”

“Now get this dazzling beauty down yer necks,” Douglas said. In his eagerness to boast as to the quality of the beverage, he sounded more like a pirate from the high seas. The old man beamed as he distributed the glasses of whisky. “There’s nothing as fine this side of the border.”

Lachlan swirled the amber liquid around in the glass before taking a nip. The heat instantly warmed his cheeks, and he sucked in a short, sharp breath. “I hope this is less potent that Boyd’s latest concoction.”

“Ah, yer man Boyd has a lot to learn about whisky,” Douglas said as he relaxed back in the chair. “And ye should know better than to drink something distilled away from prying eyes by a bunch of slovenly fools.”

Leo gave a satisfied hum as he swallowed down what some referred to as the water of life. “There is a certain smokiness to it that is quite irresistible.”

Ivana’s sudden splutter and cough captured their attention and revealed her lack of experience when it came to drinking spirits. With a grimace, she thrust the glass at her husband. “As you seem so enamoured with it, you are more than welcome to drink mine.”

“It will warm yer bones on a night such as this, my lady.”