Pamela’s intuition about clothing and presentation was undoubtedly one of her dark powers. Its utility was not to be dismissed, Rosalyn would learn. It would not, however, be an easy lesson for her.
Pamela kept insisting that dress honored others. It was not about vanity, she swore. It showed respect for one’s own position – for the sacrifices people made in its name. From Pam’s perfectly lipsticked mouth, the idea that appearances were not all superficial was pretty hard to swallow. It took more than a little convincing for Rosalyn to acquiesce to Pamela’s views. She would not truly understand Pam’s point until much later.
Somehow, Pam had discovered Rosalyn’s fondness for a certain Meiji-era kimono she had recently worn. Perhaps Eric had liked her in it and mentioned it to Pam. There was something magical about that blue kimono, Rosalyn thought. It preserved the artistry of many hands long gone. Each patient stitch and gold wire told a story, and not just with the symbolism of its elegant, swooping cranes and unbowed pines. The fabric itself held a history. The royal overcoat Eric had dressed her in when she was sick was far too small. Rosalyn had torn its red silk lining with her broad shoulders and stained it even darker red with her blood. It would forever reek of her illness – and her salvation. The lapels were spattered with Eric’s blood too. Each time she saw it hanging in the closet, she saw a trial met and overcome through Eric’s sheer determination. Having it cleaned and restored was unthinkable. Pamela, through some witchcraft, had anticipated this.
Pamela led Rosalyn into the unoccupied guest suite abutting her own. Rosalyn was taken aback by the shopping Pamela had done on her behalf. Pam had filled the entire spare bedroom. Over a freakishly short period, she had managed to source racks of antique silks and modern, airy Japanese clothing for her. The contemporary styles were elegant and functional, with simple lines and minimal patterns. It was clothing fit for a woman who valued pockets over lace. Eva had apparently contributed some unworn things from her own closet too, as well as helped scour galleries and auction houses for the older items. Rosalyn and Eva were, Pam declared, perfect ‘fashion buddies.’
Rosalyn was left reeling at the collection of vintage textiles Pamela and Eva had amassed for her. Pam admitted to having gone ‘a little overboard’. That was certainly one way of putting it. She pulled out box after box, each containing stunning kimonos, obi belts, and jackets. There were shining jacquard cottons, rinzus tinted with colored paint, and gleaming shu silks of the finest caliber. Some of the pieces were decades old. Others had weathered more than a century. Each one was an artwork – hand-woven, hand-dyed, and hand-sewn.
Rosalyn was happy to accept the new clothes. She struggled with the antiques. Pamela insisted that Rosalyn find something among these particular boxes – that they were ‘right’ for her meeting with Amleth.
“I can’t wear these, Pam. I’m not Japanese.”
Pam shrugged. “No, you’re vampire.” She did not see the problem.
“These aren’t my traditions.”
“And these weren’t my Bulgari gems until we gave them a new life. These babies were rotting in a safety deposit box. Look at them now.” Pamela could not stop touching her new necklace.
“It isn’t right to appropriate others’ culture.”
“‘Culture isn’t an accessory’ and all that jazz, right?” Pam said.
“Exactly – “
“You don’t feel guilty about using cars or clocks, do you?”
“Well, no, but -“
“Human ideas spread. Fashion technology is no different. No one owns culture. Culture is living practice.”
“But taking peoples’ ideas out of context and using them inappropriately -“
“Under no circumstance will you wear these inappropriately. You are not putting on one of these just to look fabulous. But oh – do try that red one for me. You will slay in that. Do you even know how hard it was to find things in your giant modern size? You’re harder to dress in vintage than Eric.” She held up a violet kimono with flowers and set it aside. “No, Ros. If and when you wear these, it will be to honor the garment and to honor those who see you in it.”
“So you’re honoring the slaves who died digging up your Bulgari rocks?”
Pamela cocked her head and set her hands on her hips. “Can you tell me about the pearl diver who found that enormous pearl in your ring? The jeweler who set it? I know you’ve got the touchy power thing like Eric.”
“It doesn’t work yet,” Rosalyn said in a small voice.
Pamela gave a little huff in triumph. “Cupcake, for the undead, making an appropriate fashion statement takes on a whole new meaning.”
“We shouldn’t enjoy things that we know are the product of slavery or theft or -“
“So you want to take responsibility for every injustice done by someone else? You think you can make terrible things in the past better by being a whiney snot to anyone who will listen in the present? With no regard for who you are speaking to?” Pamela took a step forward. “Your self-righteous principles alone don’t make you look good in others’ eyes. Falling on your sword as if you were actually the one who has suffered, Ros? It makes you look like an attention whore gunning to be martyred.”
Rosalyn was outraged. “It’s about being aware of others’ plight, Pam! Not participating in it! Not blindly gobbling up all the pretty sparkly bullshit being shoveled in our faces by greedy capitalist pigs!”
Pam’s fangs dropped. “Don’t you fucking lecture me about smashing the system, you ridiculous, wet-eared newborn. You’re barely out of the ground! I’ve been crushing empire and killing fascist, patriarchal pigs since before your great great grand pappy took his first shit.”
Rosalyn swore. “I forgot…”
“That I was alive for the second French Revolution? Yeah. So suck it.”
“Not like it worked,” Rosalyn muttered.
Pam narrowed her eyes. “No. The Revolution failed. Funny. I’ve had lots of time to think about why – and to come up with better strategies. What do you think we’re doing right now?” Rosalyn tried to answer, but Pamela was not having any of it. “Mother of God, Rosalyn. You’re exhausting. Do you know that? There’s freaking injustice everywhere, in everything, and it’s been around since the world started turning. It doesn’t excuse it, but if you’re so bloody hellbent on seeing it in everything, then let it be a reminder for you to pull on your best big-girl pants and keep working.”
Rosalyn had not meant to start another showdown with Pamela over what she was going to wear. She sucked at her cheek and stared awkwardly at the rug.
“Pick your battles, girl. Being a b-face to me because you can’t chill the fuck out about your principles enough to have level-headed conversation about them is…a problem. I don’t like it when I have problems.”
“I’m not trying to make one for you,” she said.
“Then get off your high horse and listen to me. I swear on Eric’s perfect ass I will bite your throat out and happily do coffin time if I catch you treating one of these like pajamas. These are, without exception, made for nobility of the highest rank. We will discuss how each can be worn. You piss off the Edo Emperor and the Shogunate and its all of our asses.” Pamela tossed the box with the fire red dress at her.
“Japan is imperial?”
Pam snorted. “You didn’t think everyone ran as a constitutional monarchy did you? We’re just as diverse as humans. Stop worrying so much about being disrespectful to human history and start learning about how to avoid mangling ours.”
“I…I’m trying…to do both.”
“I know.” Pamela sniffed and flipped her curls back. “Your speech was nice, by the way. For a second I thought I was in trouble.” Pam gestured at the sea of boxes. “Love them, honor them, honor those who see you in them. Got it?”
“Got it,” Rosalyn said, not remotely convinced. Whose idea of honor, she wanted to know, and respected according to whose rules?
Pamela was not finished. “As much as it might look like it, this life isn’t all Disney princes and tiaras. It’s a knives-out, blood opera kind of gig too. You’re Lady of this House. Fill the shoes and make sure they look fang-freaking-tastic. You may not like or want the job privately, but in public, you don’t get to disrespect and insult those who rely upon you to set an example and keep order. Appearances are at least half of our politics.”
Rosalyn thumbed the edge of the dress box nervously. It was an annoying human tick and she could not help it.
“Did you not stop and think about the fact that you were romancing one of the most infamous vampires in existence? Godric is legend. Eric is a celebrity in his own right.”
“I don’t care about fame.”
“Neither do they, buttercup, but you don’t get to not care about it either. It’s how they get things done in our world. It’s how you’ll be able to accomplish all your goody two-shoes things too. And here, try these.” Pamela handed her a pair of red platforms.
“Being high-profile is what got me targeted in the first place.”
Pamela quirked an eyebrow. “Exactly. You stuck your neck out without knowing what you were doing. Comprende?”
She understood that much. “Not a Disney movie.” Rosalyn’s nostrils flared in sudden amusement. “I dunno, Pam. You’re kinda my fairy godmother. Look at all this stuff.”
“Fuck fairies – and eat them.” Pam reconsidered. “Maybe not in that order. But if you’re trying to thank me, then you’re welcome.”
“The kimonos are beautiful. Truly. A lost art form.”
“Lost? Hardly. There are still artisans who remain. How do you think Amleth learned?”
“What?” Rosalyn perked up.
“Amleth was a weaver. Is a weaver. Whatever. He’s obsessed with rare textiles, especially from East Asia. He and Eric spent a lot of time in Japan helping develop Tru Blood. You didn’t know that?”
Of course Rosalyn had not known, though suddenly, Eric’s fluency in Japanese made a lot more sense. “I didn’t know, but…I’m catching up,” she said.
“About time,” Pam said and shuffled through the boxes.
Rosalyn still did not agree with Pamela. She had no intention of reveling in things whose human history spoke of inequality and misery. She was not about to run out and drape herself in blood diamonds and sweatshop factory clothing if she could help it. Pam was right, however, that objects could be recycled and repurposed. Vampires lived many lives and so could belongings. It still felt like a bit of a cop-out on her principles, but Rosalyn embraced the idea that re-using something in the present, like a necklace or a dress, could be a correction to its past. Eric had already warned her: idealism could get you killed. If her apparel was meaningful and pleasing to Amleth, then she could live with compromising her ideals for the better good of their relationship.
In the piles of boxes, Rosalyn picked out a black kimono with a white hand-painted panel around the waist. She paired it with a black silk overcoat sparely trimmed in gold embroidery. The black and gold in the dresses called to mind the color scheme Amleth and Eric had adopted for their House. Until Pam’s tutelage, Rosalyn had not appreciated why the boys dressed as they did. It was not just because they looked smashing as smoldering gothic heroes. (They did, and they knew they did). It was, Pam told her, so that even when Eric was running his backwater Sheriffdom wearing racer-tees and flip flops, no one who saw that flash of gold against black would forget his status. He did not need a flashy Sheriff’s estate. He was Prince and heir to one of the most ancient and exclusive Houses of their kind. Rosalyn had a new respect for the Adidas track pants she had ‘explored’ earlier in the heady heat of bloodlust.
The dress coat she chose was far less ornate than some of the other uchikake Pamela had shown her. “You don’t want to show up looking like the bride of Satan,” she had said, approving her understated selection. More to the point, Rosalyn did not want to emphasize the bridal aspect of the uchikake kimono at all. The garment was subdued and yet still extremely formal, signaling her newfound nobility and her intent towards Amleth. The gold embroidered water scene at the bottom edge of the dress was beautiful – and perfect. It mirrored the encounter Rosalyn had in mind.
Amleth’s suite door stood ajar. A warm, dancing light poured out into the hallway. A true elder, he preferred to work by candle or firelight. He had lit both tonight. Rosalyn peaked in.
He sat crouched over his desk, a circle of books patterned around his notepad. His pen moved quickly, in light, melodic scratches. He had changed into sparring clothes. A white tunic hugged his torso, while a pair of black hakama pants fell in a pleated cascade over his legs to the floor.
“Amleth?” Rosalyn said softly.
He set his pen down slowly, drinking her in. He took a long moment before speaking. When he finally did, it was in the dulcet, marveled tones of a church-goer. “I had thought, when you summoned me, that you wanted to practice this evening.” He scraped his chair away and bowed deeply. He held out an upturned hand. Rosalyn thought he would kiss her knuckles. He put his lips to her ring instead – the kiss of a supplicant. His eyes flickered up over her ring and met her gaze. There was no deception in their smoky green, nor hint of spellbind. “I see, most noble lady, you have other plans,” he said.
“Up for a turn in the garden?” she said.
His lips quivered. “It would be my pleasure.” He whisked a black jacket from the back of the chair and tied it around his waist. He looked every inch her martial arts master. She inclined her head in the slightest of curtsies rather than a bow. They would not be on the sparring mat tonight. He offered Rosalyn his arm.
The east garden of Godric’s estate was far more developed than the colorless western block by the empty human quarters. Here the landscape architect had laid out enormous, tiered walkways and filled them with layers of sub-tropical plants and exotic night-blooming flowers. The garden was dominated by a glassy swimming pool for guests, complete with a grotto hidden behind a waterfall. Fountains and neo-classical statuary sprouted, nymph-like, from shrubs and marble ponds. Like the rest of the estate, it was all grossly overdone and incongruous with the fact that this was Texas.
Amleth meandered through the gardens with Rosalyn on his arm. More than a few times, she caught him casting a sideways glance at her rustling dress. He moved differently than Godric and Eric. He did not strut. He glided, not taking steps to hide the fact that he was a deadly predator. His body felt strange under her hand, like a foreign comet disrupting her orbit. With Amleth beside her, there was no question as to why vampires were wary of touch. Everything about his touch or attempted touch screamed of power – who had the right to touch whom, who could overpower whom. It was freaking tedious and constant, Rosalyn decided. But crucial. It structured every aspect of their lives. Amleth was a monolith of opal and shadow at her side. His mind was a silent tomb. Their bond had disintegrated completely.
Were he not Amleth, no force short of a maker’s command could have compelled her to stroll so close to an ancient. She motioned to a stone bench. Amleth waited for her to sit before he joined her. She kept his hand between hers in her lap – a little act of domination he allowed. “These months have flown by. I’ve hardly had a second to catch my breath. It’s been one incredible thing after another.”
“Oh, to be young again,” Amleth mused. “…and need breath.”
“We haven’t had a moment’s peace, you and I.”
“There rarely is in a life worth living.”
“Or in a life worth sharing,” she said. Amleth smiled. “We’re overdue for a moment to ourselves.” Rosalyn reached up and stroked the line of his shoulder, down over the sleeve of his jacket. She toyed with the cuff. “Even before you were my dojo master, or my brother, I thought of you like this.”
“How’s that?” he said, fascinated.
“Exacting. Watchful. A raven king.”
Amleth scoffed, embarrassed. “A king? No. Huginn and Muninn perhaps.”
Rosalyn raised an eyebrow. She knew something of Eric’s old tales. Huginn and Muninn were Thought and Memory – Odin’s winged spies. “You do serve a god. Or at least the closest thing to one I know.” Silence filled the air as thoughts of Godric welled up between them.
Amleth said something in another tongue. She shrugged, not understanding. “You are Godric’s ‘sweet potato’,” he translated.
“A sweet potato!”
He quirked his mouth in amusement. “In Sanskrit, the word for ‘sweet potato’ is also the word for the wife of a god.” She tried and failed miserably to pronounce it and they burst into laughter.
“My brother taught me Sanskrit,” he said soberly, once their laughter had subsided. His nostalgia quickly brought him someplace sad.
“Arun,” she said, almost inaudibly.
Amleth looked away. He did not like to utter the names of the dead. “I’ll teach you too.”
“Amleth?” She took his hand again. “I was too new to understand what you gave to me on my Awakening. I’m still too new to have even the slightest concept of all that you have been and can be. Learning all that history will take time.”
“It will become our history.” Amleth traced a thumb over her wrist. He pulled it to his mouth and kissed it gently where he had fed from her. “You’re the Lady of my House, Ros. You have my undying allegiance.”
“You are my elder, Amla, in every way. I admire you and I look up to you. I haven’t always shown it. I certainly wasn’t acting like the lady of anything when I treated you poorly. My ignorance is no excuse. I apologize, from the bottom of my heart.”
“There is nothing to forgive.”
“Yes, there is. I swept in like a hurricane and turned everything upside down. Forgive me for acting ungrateful toward you and minimizing your importance. I had no idea that raising a newborn vampire was such a major community effort. Everyone is scrambling to teach me what I need to know – you especially.”
“We desperately needed a good shake-up.” He fell silent for a long moment. “You and Godric are identically different, you know? You jump in where he fears to tread. You are a dreamer. He’s lived so long he forgot how. You bring balance to each other. The night is young again with you in it – for all of us.”
Rosalyn nodded, blinking back tears. She spread the collar of her dress. A gold chain hung around her neck. Nestled there in the mounds of her breasts was Tarquin’s coin. Amleth gasped. “… I didn’t realize…the gold on your dress…I couldn’t smell…” He blinked several times. Collecting himself, he examined the pendant. “Godric set it for you?”
“How did you know?”
“I can always recognize his work. He’s a gifted smith. He learned from Eric.”
“I hope you don’t mind. He promised the setting wouldn’t damage the coin.”
“It’s lovely…especially in that very generous décolletage,” he said confidentially and winked.
Rosalyn chuckled. “You put an unbelievable amount of trust in me when you gave this to me, Amleth. Wearing it reminds me of how serious my responsibilities are to you and to a legacy I’m only just starting to understand.”
Amleth bit his lips into a thin line and blinked in acknowledgement. “I’ll tell you all about it.” About all of them, he seemed to say. The names in the air did not feel as sad suddenly. “I accept your apology. Would you accept a bond with me?”
“There is always a place for you at my side and in my home, Amleth of Cumbria,” she said, lifting her chin. He smiled hearing her pronounce her first decree. “If you’re willing to put up with me, of course,” she added.
Amleth leaned forward, cautiously, and placed a chaste kiss at the corner of Rosalyn’s mouth. “Thank you, darling.”
A door creaked open in the side yard. Amleth straightened Rosalyn’s collar, safely tucking away her necklace. His hand hovered over her heart. He smoothed the fabric over the hidden coin, then gestured at the shadow filling the passageway.
Constantine appeared at his maker’s side. He cast a dubious look at Rosalyn with his pure black eyes, then handed a packet to Amleth. “That’s everything?” Amleth said.
“Good.” Amleth tucked the packet in the folds of his tunic. “And Costas?” The younger vampire halted mid-step and leaned down to his maker for orders. Amleth’s open palm moved imperceptibly fast. The sound of a ‘paff’ echoed off the garden walls and a greenish-plum hand print bloomed across his child’s cheek. “That is your one and only warning. Stop frightening Rosalyn.”
Constantine bowed further. “My deepest apologies, madame.”
Amleth dismissed him with a wave. “He’s a jealous brat. Gorgeous and loyal, but a brat all the same.”
Rosalyn suppressed a smile. She knew better than to question a maker’s reprimand. She was also more than a little on board with this particular smack. “He’s yours, that’s what matters.”
Amleth sighed in agreement. He looked around and slapped his thighs, having made a decision. “You were right about this garden. I can hardly hear myself think with all the surveillance cameras and guards.”
“Amleth, I hate this house.”
“I know, poppet. You and me both.”
At the top of the high wall enclosing the estate, two weres paced the perimeter. One of them kept tapping his finger on the trigger of his weapon. “That is extremely annoying,” Amleth said.
“Is that Hendrix he’s drumming?” Rosalyn hummed along. “Watchtower, right?”
“Gods.” Amleth rolled his eyes. “Let’s get out of here.”
“I’ve someplace I’d like to show you.”
“You mean leave the estate?” The idea of going anywhere without her maker made her hair stand on end. “Let’s check with Godric first, okay?”
“I wouldn’t dream of doing otherwise.” Amleth glanced up at the moon and then at the brighter lamps along the pathway, calculating the light. He pulled out a cellphone. “May I?” He draped the edge of Rosalyn’s overcoat over the folds of his pants and fussed with the two fabrics until they formed a V.
“What are you doing?” she said as he took a picture. Amleth grinned, tapped at his phone, then showed her the result. “Did you just post that online?” she said, scandalized.
“I’m a lifestyle influencer,” he replied, looking mischievous. Rosalyn snatched the phone and scrolled through his account. The images were all similarly styled – sumptuous objects and places that were photographed abstractly and very obviously after sundown.
“‘Shadow_of_Knight’?” she said skeptically upon seeing his social media handle. “You’d better not have these geotagged. Godric will skin you alive.”
Amleth harrumphed. “No doubt. It’s all a bit of anonymous fun. No worries.”
“Is Eric on here?”
He shook his head. “No, but there are a thousand fan accounts. Don’t tell him. His head would explode.”
“Your secret is safe with me.”
Amleth stood and gestured for her to proceed. It was not lost on Rosalyn that he lingered behind. Amleth soaked in the details of her overcoat as it spread out along the path. A river of time flowed across the hem and sprawling golden cherry trees drank at the water’s edge. Cherries bloomed heavy and full with renewed life, while two cranes sailed endlessly overhead. The message for Amleth was clear: May our bond be blessed and eternal.
Rosalyn heard Amleth’s phone snap and cycle, registering another photo. She looked over her shoulder at him. He stole another shot.
“Those are for me,” he said coyly. She smiled, then made her way up to the house.