The Elvis Avenger was in town, and I heard he was going to play a gig at Stubbs. I saw the original Elvis in concert, and went gaga over him like every other kid in that era. He really rocked the Ed Sullivan show, but seeing him in person was a life highlight. I heard that the Elvis Avenger wasn't so much an Elvis impersonator as a sort of tribute artist, and a superhero, although I'm not sure what sort of powers he has. He's one of the west coast Protectors part time adjuncts.
Since I owed Vlad a date, and I really wanted to see this modern Elvis, I called Vlad up, and told him he was taking me out. I really like the modern woman's option to be the dater, rather than just the datee.
Vlad took me out to a nice dinner before the concert, a fancy seafood place I could never afford on my salary. They had crab legs as long as my arm. We got sampler plates with ten different kinds of shrimp, crab, and shellfish cooked in a variety of ways. I've never eaten so well in my life.
It was pretty awkward at first. Vlad turns me on, and I'm dying with curiosity about a whole lot of his life, but he and I don't quite speak the same language. He showed up at my door with a single red rose, dressed in a full on tuxedo, with tails even. My purple dress, salvaged thanks to Ma's skills with a sewing machine, just didn't seem nearly so nice with him dressed to the nines, but he said I looked lovely.
Vlad took me to the fancy restaurant in a limo, opened doors for me, pulled out my chair, and was generally a perfect gentleman. Probably why I felt so odd. I'm from nowhere, Texas, raised on a farm where putting on shoes was what you did before you went into town. Vlad had the manners of an old world prince, and apparently the bank account to go with it.
He was so formal and stiff and proper and ... kind of ... boring. I was beginning to think this date was going to be the worst in the history of dating when the waiter came over and offered us a wine list. In that campy accent of his, Vlad looked at the waiter solemnly and said, "I don't drink ... wine."
I almost snorted iced tea out of my nose.
Vlad looked at me, face perfectly straight, and winked.
“You did that on purpose.” He’d even exaggerated the accent for the full effect.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.” But I caught on to the tiny dimple that appeared on one cheek when he was hiding a smile. It made him seem a lot less remote, and broke the ice.
“It must be weird to be so famous, but have all the ‘facts’ be so far off the truth.”
Vlad shrugged. “I give very few people my true name. To most, I am Vladimir Tchovsky, from the former Yugoslavia. These days, people expect vampires to hide from the sun so they don’t sparkle, in any case, so I no longer match the iconic literature of the times.”
“It could be worse. You could be famous for impaling people.” I said, as a joke, then realized how very unfunny that was. Open mouth, insert weird-shaped, scaly foot, with extra opposable toe.
His face lost its shadow of a smile. “Vlad Tepes was my father. He was a hero to my people, like the Protectors are now. In my homeland, a woman alone or an unarmed man carrying great wealth could travel the roads without fear. All knew that a dragon ruled, and he would not tolerate banditry or rape. The sons of Dracul had been guardians for generations, defenders of the land.”
“That’s not how history remembers you.”
“History is written by the victors, and enemies are not kind to the conquered,” He took a sip of water and his eyes flickered red. “Many hated my father for defending his home so effectively, until George came, a Roman general under orders to conquer our land. He turned the followers of Christ against us, said we were demonic. Our own priests betrayed us.”
“George, as in the original Saint George?”
Vlad nodded. “He and his men killed my father with spears and arrows tipped with dragon’s claws from the fledglings they had slaughtered.”
“St. George slew the dragon,” I said softly. Vlad’s father was killed by the original Georgian. The dragon being slain in every painting or stained glass window depiction of St. George was Vlad’s father, Vlad Tepes, Vlad the Impaler. Hard to see him as a hero, but history does tend to get a lot of details wrong. I couldn’t imagine how Vlad had to feel every time he saw one of those paintings or windows. His father was being killed again and again in images all over the world, even on White Knight’s shield. And I thought I had a reason to despise that guy.
“George demonized all dragons to the Christian world, made us out to be evil sorcerers and monsters where before we had been wizards, heroes and rulers. When he was executed by the last ruler of Rome who had dragon blood, it just made him a martyr, and spread the Georgian fanaticism further.”
Fafnir had filled me with bright stories of my ancestors, the dragons of old, before the Georgians. Vlad knew the dark side of those stories, how the dragons were systematically hunted down and slaughtered. He’d seen the beginning, and his family had been among the first to suffer losses in the long war that claimed my father’s life as well. “I’m sorry.”
He shrugged, and smiled. “It was a long time ago. I do not wish to dwell on the dark days of the past.”
“You seem to be doing pretty well in the present.” I knew a polite request for a change of subject when I was hit over the head with it. “I could never afford this place on my salary. What do you do for a living?”
Vlad gave me a solemn face, but I caught the little dimple this time. “I’m a stock broker.”
I saw it coming this time and still nearly choked on my scallops. “Dracula, son of Vlad the Impaler, the origin of all modern vampire tales, is a stock broker?”
His lips twitched sideways. “I thought you would find that amusing.” He shrugged. “I seem to have an instinct for it. I invested most of my own fortune in Apple stock in the early eighties, sold it early in 99 for a fortune, then bought it back in 2001 after the dot com crash for a pittance. On paper, I’m worth nearly a billion dollars.”
I coughed a little. ‘That’s a lot of paper.”
He shrugged. “It could all vanish in a decade. Stocks are volatile. I keep my true fortune in gold, well-hidden and secure.”
“You sound like Fafnir.”
Vlad nodded and raised his glass as if in thanks. “I consider that a high compliment.”
“What brings you to Austin? I thought stock brokering was more of a New York City thing, or at least a bigger city thing.”
“I have had an office in Houston for many years. I came to Austin because Fafnir told me that there was both a Georgian and a fledgling female dragon here” He pushed the food around his plate a little with his fork, looking embarrassed. “My intention was to kill the Georgian before he discovered what you were, and killed you.”
“You came to Austin to protect me?”
Vlad nodded slightly, eyes still on his plate.
“But you’d never even met me.”
“In truth, I came to slay the Georgian before he took the life of another of our kind. It would not have mattered if you were unattractive, or a male, or even, as you are, of a clan that were traditionally enemies of the Black. Such old grudges became meaningless in the face of the threat to all dragonkind. I have hunted the Georgians for centuries, with your father at my side for much of it. We thought we had ended them, and it was safe for Robert to marry and settle down.”
“You knew my father. You were his friend?”
“We were allies. His clan and mine have an ugly history that made it difficult for us to trust enough to be called friends. But he risked his life more than once to save mine, and I would have gladly done the same.” He held my hand and looked into my eyes. His own had a deep red fire in them like black coals at the bottom of a campfire. “I am so sorry, Damson. I thought that we had ended the Georgian threat forever.”
He took a long drink, closed his eyes and took a deep breath, obviously fighting for calm.
“It wasn’t your fault, Vlad. Dad thought the Georgians were all dead, too. He teased me that if I were bad, the Georgians would get me, and I know he only did that because he believed there weren’t any anymore.”
“When I heard that Sir Robert had been killed, I hunted down his murderers, what I thought, again, was the last group of Georgians left. And, now, there is another. I did not know that Sir Robert had a child, but if I had known that you were alive, and living in the very shadow of a Georgian, I would have come sooner.”
I shrugged. “I’ve lived my whole life hiding from the Georgians, not knowing who might be one, or where they might find me. Having White Knight right there in front of me, obviously human and not some invincible, invisible all-knowing force, it’s helped make me less afraid.”
“Georgians are all too human. The problem has always been that there are so many of them, and so few of us. They blend with the teeming crowds of humanity, and we stand out like hawks among pigeons the moment we show our true natures.”
“Hawks among pigeons.” I chuckled, imagining how the people in the restaurant would react if Vlad and I stood up and spread our wings, or Fafnir poked his horse-sized head in the door in full dragon mode. It was a good analogy.
I’ll write more tomorrow about the rest of the date. Things got pretty wild later.