The vampire queen reached out to a small side table. Alexia was certain she heard the dress creak. The queen gestured Alexia to come closer, using a small scroll of parchment she had resting there.
“Someone wishes to meet the abomination.”
“What was that? I’m afraid I didn’t quite catch it. Wishes to meet who, did you say?” Alexia looked pointedly out a nearby window.
Countess Nadasdy showed fang. “Matakara wishes to meet your child.”
“Mata-who? Well, many people wish to meet Prudence. Why should this particular person signify to any—”
The countess interrupted her with a sharp gesture. “No. You misunderstand. Matakara, queen of the Alexandria Hive.”
“Oh, how can you be intimate with so many immortals, yet be so ignorant of our world?” The countess’s beautiful round face became pinched in annoyance. “Queen Matakara is the oldest living vampire, possibly the oldest living creature. Some claim over three thousand years. Of course, no one knows the actual number with any certainty.”
Alexia tried to fathom such a vast age. “Oh.”
“She has shown a particular interest in your progeny. Generally speaking, Queen Matakara hasn’t shown an interest in anything at all for five hundred years. It is a great honor. When one is summoned to visit her, one does not delay.”
“Let me get this perfectly clear. She requires me to travel, to Egypt, with my daughter, on her whim?” Lady Maccon was, perhaps, less impressed than she ought to be by the interest of such an august body.
“Yes, but she would prefer if the reason for your journey were not publicly known.”
“She wants me to travel to Egypt with my daughter under subterfuge? You have heard of my daughter’s antics, have you not?”
Alexia huffed out a breath in exasperation. “Not asking very much, is she?”
“Here.” The countess passed her the missive.
The sum of the request, or more properly the order, written in a slightly stilted manner that suggested the writer’s first language was not English, was indeed as had been discussed.
Alexia looked up from it, annoyed. “Why?”
“Because she desires it, of course.” Clearly Queen Matakara had the same kind of superior social power over the countess as the Queen of England did the Duchess of Devonshire.
“No, I mean to ask, why should I inconvenience myself with a trip?”
“Ah, yes, preternaturals, so very practical. I understand Egypt is lovely this time of year, and I believe there is something more that you have overlooked.”
Alexia read the letter again and then flipped it over. There was a postscript on the reverse side. “I believe your husband is missing a werewolf. And you are missing a father. I can help you with both.”
Alexia folded the parchment carefully and tucked it into her reticule, next to Ethel. “I’ll prepare to leave at once.”
“My dear Lady Maccon, I surmised that might be the case.” The countess looked sublimely pleased with herself.
Alexia sneered. Nothing was more annoying than a self-satisfied vampire, which, given that seemed to be their natural state, was saying something about vampires.
A great hullabaloo out in the corridor heralded some kind of emergency. There was a good deal of yelling and then a banging at the door to the Blue Room.
“I left orders not to be disturbed!” yelled the queen, moved to irritated vocalization, if not actually moved to, well, move.
Said orders, however, were clearly to be disregarded, for the door burst open and in stumbled Dr. Caedes, Major Channing, and Madame Lefoux. They were carrying between them an exquisite young woman with dark hair, whose eyes were closed and body ominously floppy. Her perfection was marred by a great gash at the back of her head that bled copiously.
“Oh, really! I just had this room made over,” said Countess Nadasdy.
Several Unexpected Occurrences and Tea
It’s Asphodel, My Queen. Riding accident.”
The vampire queen made a beckoning motion with two fingers. “Bring her to me.”
The three carried the drone over to her mistress. The girl’s breathing was shallow, and she did not move.
“Dead drones are so inconvenient. Not to mention the hassle in finding an adequately fit, able, and attractive replacement.”
“I think you should try for the bite, My Queen.”
Countess Nadasdy looked at her vampire companion skeptically. “You do, do you, Doctor? I suppose it has been a while since I took the gamble.”
The door crashed open once more and Mabel Dair appeared in the aperture, resplendent in a bronze riding gown with red trim. The actress swept into the room. “How is she?”
Miss Dair sashayed across the thick carpet and cast herself forward to kneel on the floor next to Countess Nadasdy and the injured drone. “Oh, poor Asphodel!”
Alexia had to give the actress credit for a moving performance.
Madame Lefoux stepped forward and bent to press Miss Dair’s shoulders soothingly. “Come away, chérie. There’s nothing we can do for her now.”
Mabel allowed herself to be gentled into a standing position and away from the hive queen. “Oh, you will try, please, won’t you, mistress? Asphodel is such a sweet girl.”
The queen wrinkled her nose and looked back down. “I suppose she is quite pretty. Very well, bring me my sippy goblet.”
Dr. Caedes sprang into action. “At once, My Queen!” He vanished from the room.