Betrothed, p.13
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       Betrothed, p.13

         Part #6 of The Vampire Journals series by Morgan Rice

  Sam flew in the morning sky, Polly beside him, heading towards Warwick Castle. Polly kept her distance from him, and he kept his. He was surprised she had decided to join him; she had made it clear that she was only accompanying him for professional reasons, to even out the teams, two and two, in the search for the shield. She reasoned that Caitlin didn't need backup, already having Caleb with her, and that Sam just might.

  Sam resented that. He didn't need backup. He felt fine on his own. But he did like having Polly's company, even though she talked too much at times, and he was glad she had chosen to accompany him. He smiled inwardly, realizing that it must have killed her to admit that she wanted to go with him, since she had been trying so hard, all along, to make such a point of keeping a distance from him.

  But since then, all through the flight, for hours, she had kept a far distance from him, and hadn't said a word. He was actually now beginning to wonder if she even liked him after all.

  It upset him having to part ways with Caitlin. He had been so happy to have found her again, and was becoming comfortable in Windsor Castle - especially after that feast, and those incredible rooms. The last thing he wanted to do was leave Caitlin's side, especially after all the trouble he'd had in finding her, and to have to leave Windsor Castle. But it was clear from his dad's letter that that was what was needed - that they split up, and each search for him in a different direction.

  He wondered why. Did they each have a different destiny? Would they ever be put together again, searching on the same track? And if his destiny was different, how was it different than Caitlin's? On the other hand, he liked having his own clue, a clue meant just for him, and him alone.

  He was excited to see where his clue lead him, to see what Warwick had in store, and to find out, finally, what his side of the search entailed.

  They rounded a hilltop, and there, on the horizon, sat an enormous castle, the only structure in view for hundreds of miles. Clearly, this was the fabled Warwick Castle. The early morning sun lit it a shade of orange, and even from this distance, Sam could see it looked ancient. It was sprawling, and reminded him in some ways of Windsor Castle, with its high walls, parapets, open-air inner courtyard. This castle wasn't quite as big as Windsor, but it had some things which Windsor didn't, like a huge tower soaring hundreds of feet high, built upon a hill, with parapets. And it had several smaller towers, too.

  Warwick Castle, he could see, was also built right on the bank of a river, and was thus protected entirely by water on one side. Like Windsor, it was completely surrounded by nature, by farmland, as far as the eye could see. And it was the only structure for hundreds of miles, lending an even more imposing presence in the otherwise rural landscape. The dirt road that approached it stretched forever, gradually sloping up the hill, making it even more imposing.

  From Sam's bird's-eye perspective, though, it wasn't quite as imposing. In fact, from up here, it was beautiful, especially in the morning light.

  Polly surprised him, suddenly dipping down low, diving in for a closer look, without even giving him any warning. Typical. He followed on her heels, swooping down, getting a closer look.

  The parapets were manned with soldiers in every direction, and as they approached, Sam sensed something, and he could tell that Polly did, too. These were no ordinary soldiers. They were vampire soldiers.

  Sam didn't sense any danger, though. On the contrary, he sensed kinship. A thrill ran through him, as he realized they'd found the place they were supposed to be, the place that his father had intended for him. Could it be that his father was behind those gates?

  As they circled the castle, Sam debated where to land. Should they land on the road, and walk up and knock on the gate? Or should they just dive right into the inner courtyard?

  He was about to ask Polly what she thought, when suddenly he heard something behind him, and turned.

  There, to his surprise, were dozens of vampires, behind them, flying straight up into the air, like a flock of bats, and heading right for them. It looked like an entire army of vampires, and from this distance, Sam couldn't tell if they were coming in for an attack.

  "Polly!" he yelled sharply.

  She spun, and saw it, too.

  Sam instinctively flew in front of her, protecting her, in case they should attack. He geared himself up for battle, ready to grapple with whatever came at him, though he could already tell, by their numbers, that the odds were not in their favor.

  The vampires flew right for them, then suddenly stopped, just a feet away. Sam and Polly stopped, too, hovering in mid-air, facing them. Just feet away, the lead vampire glared at them.

  "Aiden has sent us to bring you in," he said.

  He didn't look exactly like family, but he didn't appear to be hostile either.

  Polly moved forward, brushing Sam aside. "Aiden?" she asked, hopeful.

  The vampire nodded back.

  Suddenly, Polly's eyes lit up. "Tyler? Is that you?" she asked.

  The facial features on the vampire softened, as he suddenly seemed to recognize her. "Polly?" he asked.

  The two suddenly came in and embraced in mid-air.

  Despite himself, Sam felt a surge of jealousy, felt his face reddening.

  "Aiden lives here? You all live here?" Polly asked, her eyes open wide with hope.

  Tyler nodded back. "We've been here for centuries," he said.

  Tyler turned and looked at Sam, inquisitive.

  "This is Sam," Polly said finally. But she had waited too long, Sam thought, annoyed.

  Tyler looked him over, also looking jealous, and simply nodded coldly back.

  "Well, what are we all waiting for?" Polly asked in delight "I can't wait to see Aiden!" She was about to dive down, but Tyler reached out a hand, stopping her.

  "I'm sorry, Polly," he said. "He only wants to see Sam for now. " Polly turned and looked at Sam, shocked. Sam was shocked, too.

  "But by all means, come down and join us. You can join our sparring in the courtyard while those two talk. "

  Polly scanned the crowd of vampires, and saw faces she recognized, and moved forward and embraced several of them in mid-air.

  They all dove down together, heading towards the ground, one big happy flock.

  Tyler remained behind, however, staring coldly at Sam.

  "Follow me," he said, diving down, in the opposite direction, towards a lone tower at a far corner of the castle.

  Sam hovered there for a moment, watching Polly go the other way.

  Grudgingly, resentfully, he turned and followed Tyler.


  Sam followed Tyler sullenly through the courtyard of the castle. A part of him was in awe at the architecture all around him, the ancient limestone. It reminded him of Windsor castle, but smaller, older.

  "William the Conqueror built this place in 1066," Tyler said, as he walked. "It's been around far longer than we have. "

  Sam only half-listened as they walked, trailing several feet behind. They weaved in and out of trails, through medieval archways and passages, down stone corridors, as he followed Tyler. He assumed that he was being lead to Aiden. But he was only half interested.

  Dominating his mind, to his surprise, were thoughts of Polly. Did she love Tyler? Did she truly not care about Sam? And why should he even care? He hadn't thought that he'd really liked her. But now, he guessed, he was starting to realize, that maybe he felt more for her than he'd thought.

  He was mad at himself. He promised himself he wouldn't fall for another girl, especially anytime soon. But now, he found himself getting distracted by thoughts of her. He realized it was probably nothing, that he was probably just caught off guard. He tried to force it out of his mind, to focus on what Tyler was saying.

  "Did you hear what I said?" Tyler asked.

  They stopped before a huge, arched open door, with an enormous brass lion head knocker on it.

; Sam looked at him, and realized he hadn't been listening.

  "I love her," Tyler said. "Polly. "

  Sam's heart pounded. So, it was true.

  "But not like that. I love her like a sister. I'm already married," Tyler said.

  He placed a hand on Sam's shoulder. "It's obvious that she loves you. Take care of her," he said.

  With that, he turned and strode off, away from the courtyard. Sam turned and watched him go, baffled.

  Sam was shocked. Polly? Loved him? What made Tyler think that? Sam hadn't realized that at all. How was it obvious? It wasn't obvious to him.

  "What about Aiden?" Sam yelled out, as Tyler kept walking away.

  Tyler turned and looked back, a smile on his face. "I told you. Through that door. I'm afraid it is a walk you must take alone. "

  Sam turned and walked through the door, and found a narrow, circular stone stairwell before him. He entered and climbed the steps, circling again and again. As he did, he passed small, narrow windows in the stone, more like slits, through which he caught glimpses of the countryside, especially as he climbed higher.

  After hundreds of steps, Sam was beginning to feel winded, when finally, he reached the top. He stepped out, and found himself on top of a white, round tower, encircled by parapets.

  There, standing with his back to him, was a man in a long white robe, long silver hair and beard to match, holding a staff.

  As Sam reached the top, he couldn't help but be awestruck by the view: he could see the entire countryside spreading out for miles and miles on this crystal-clear morning. He felt nervous as he stood there, Aiden with his back to him, and started to wonder why he had been summoned. What was it that Aiden had to say to him? And why was it that his father's clue had led him here, to this place?

  Whatever it was, Sam, defiant as always, resented being summoned here, resented having to stand there, like a chided schoolboy, and wait for Aiden.

  "Yes," came Aiden's slow voice, his back still to Sam, "you do resent me. You resent everything.

  I can feel your resentment coursing through your veins. "

  Sam was shocked at how crisply his thoughts had been read. He felt embarrassed. But also, he felt understood for the first time.

  Aiden slowly turned. His large eyes were vivid, shining blue. "And that is precisely why you have not evolved in your quest," Aiden added.

  As he stared at Sam, with his vivid blue eyes, Sam found it hard to concentrate. He felt his thoughts being read, even as he thought them, and felt almost hypnotized by Aiden's presence. He hardly knew what to say, or how to respond.

  Several moments of silence followed, and Aiden finally sighed.

  "Your problem, Samuel, is that you let yourself be run by your emotions. Your love, your lust - for Samantha, for Kendra, for Polly. Your anger. Your resentment. Your revenge. You are caught in a whirlwind of primal emotions. You have not learned to evolve above them. To control them. Like your sister has. "

  Aiden slowly paced, looking out over the horizon.

  "When she first came to me, she was much like you. Controlled by anger, by fury, by hatred. The product of your difficult upbringing. For you both. "

  He stopped and turned.

  "But she learned how to control it. To control herself. She learned how to become bigger than her emotions. You, though, have not. You are still reckless. You have traveled back for hundreds of years, but you are still young. Still a teenager. "

  Sam felt himself reddening, felt himself on the defensive, ready to argue back, to snap back at Aiden, to storm out, to do all the things he might normally do. And at that moment, he realized, for the first time, that that was exactly what Aiden was talking about. He realized that Aiden was right, that he had summed him up perfectly. That he was not in control of his emotions, or himself.

  And for the first time, Sam felt determined to take control of them. To not let himself be run by them. To not be reactive. To not yell back, or storm out. Instead, to his own amazement, he stood there and listened.

  Aiden must have sensed the shift in the air, because he turned and stared at Sam.

  "Yes, very good," he said, slowly. "I see that you do have the potential. Of course you do: you are of the same lineage as Caitlin. But with you, it's more complicated. She was turned by Caleb. But you were turned by Samantha. A strand of darkness runs deep in your turner, and so it must in you.

  Caitlin requested to be turned; you did not. And Samantha was filled with blackness. " Aiden paced.

  "So, unlike Caitlin, you have both in you. The light and the darkness. Good and evil. So far, you have overcome the darkness. But you must be strong to never give in to it. It gives you great benefit - it gives you more physical power than Caitlin will ever have. Than nearly any vampire could ever have. But it also gives you great potential for danger, for downfall. And it gives you a vastly different mission. "

  "What is my mission?" Sam asked, getting out words for the first time, his throat dry. "My dad's letter sent me here. Where's the next clue?"

  Aiden shook his head, as if disappointed.

  "So impatient," he said. "You are interested only in what benefits you. In grabbing the next clue and moving on. But you never stop to consider that perhaps, I am the clue. " Sam stared back, dumbfounded. Aiden? The clue?

  "You were, in fact, not sent here for a physical thing. You were sent here to see me. By your father. You were sent here for training. Finding your father is not your destiny. That is Caitlin's.

  Your destiny is to guard over Caitlin on her quest. You are not the chosen one. She is. " Sam felt devastated to hear those words. On the one hand, he would be thrilled to watch over Caitlin, to protect his sister. On the other hand, he also wanted to feel chosen, to feel special. And hearing those words crushed him. Deep down, he had always sensed that he wasn't as special as her.

  And now, it was confirmed.

  "You are special," Aiden corrected, reading his thoughts, "just in a different way. You were sent to me by your father to become all that you were meant to be. To harness your emotions. To learn how to summon your true, inner power. And to learn how to properly watch over Caitlin, until she fulfills her mission. You will meet your father too, one day, but the mission is hers to fulfill. " Sam felt anger well up within him. "What if I don't want to train with you? What if I don't want to stay here? What if I don't want to watch over Caitlin? Are you saying that I don't count?" Aiden shook his head slowly. "Life is how you perceive it to be," he answered cryptically.

  And that was all he said.

  Sam stood there, fuming with emotion, feeling like bursting out of there, not knowing what to do.

  Aiden took a step forward and fixed his eyes on him. "You are free to leave, of course. No one holds you here. You can go, but you will never be free. Because until you learn to master your skills, your biggest enemy is yourself. "

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