Tellis stopped about eighteen inches too close.
Her father once explained to her that since vampires were aggressive and violent by nature, their interactions had to be strictly regimented. All of the rules and ceremony ensured that nobody would be casually offended. A vampire would have to actively ignore customs to cause offense, and when they did so, it was always deliberate.
An appropriate distance between two potential enemies was about five feet, far enough for both to draw weapons if necessary. Allies stood a little closer, three and a half feet, just out of arm’s length. Friends stood within touching distance, and family members often allowed for only a few inches of personal space.
Tellis had come close enough to brush against the table, which put him within three and a half feet of Ilemina and Otubar but only two feet away from Maud. He could reach out and touch her, and he was smiling. When vampires bared their teeth like that, it was done for one reason only: to impress. It was the grin of an apex predator demonstrating how awesome he was.
It was also an obvious insult whichever way you spun it. Either he didn’t consider her belonging to Clan Krahr and, therefore, not worthy of basic courtesies, or he was deliberately overly familiar with another’s fiancé. A human equivalent would be to put his arm around a woman celebrating her engagement to another man and smirk while doing it. Tellis couldn’t have been more obvious about it if he’d had leered and asked her if she was free tonight.
Out of the corner of her eye, Maud could see Arland’s face. His expression was thoroughly relaxed. In fact, she had never seen him so seemingly tranquil. He looked a hair away from a dreamy smile.
“Excellent game,” Tellis said, “Our deepest compliments.”
Lord Otubar smiled. It was enough to give human children nightmares. “Interesting tactics.”
“Yes,” Lady Ilemina said. “We quite enjoyed this revealing glimpse into the minds of House Kozor and House Serak. Truly, the cooperation between your two houses is praiseworthy. Don’t you think so, Arland?”
“An example to us all,” Arland said.
Tellis’ eyebrows rose slightly. He wasn’t an idiot, and he had realized that they had overplayed their hand, revealing more than they intended. He had two options now: he could beat a graceful retreat, or he could barrel on ahead. Given that he was a male vampire knight, he valiantly chose the second and threw himself into assault with all the subtlety of a battering ram.
“Speaking of examples, we were all in awe of Lord Arland’s escapades on Karhari.”
Maud drank her wine, killing a wince before it started. Once she had paid the blood debt for her husband’s murder, she had started looking for ways to escape Karhari. In a desperate gamble, she had sent a message to Dina with a random courier, never expecting it to arrive. She’d included coordinates of a Road Lodge. Karhari lodges were rough. They served as waypoints for mercenaries, bandits, caravan raiders, and whatever other refuse floated in on the winds of the wastes. It was a dangerous place, but she had to try for Helen’s sake and her own.
Then Dina arrived, bringing her werewolf and Arland with her. The moment Arland, in his top of the line armor, stepped into the lodge, Maud had known there would be a fight. And she was right. Arland had recorded himself during the brawl and the recording had gone viral throughout the Holy Anocracy.
Tellis was still smiling. “How many attackers did you take on? Was it four or five, I can’t remember?”
“I was a little busy and I didn’t have time to make them count off. In a real battle, things get a little hectic.” Arland was still floating in his own private cloud of Zen.
“Would you care to give us a private demonstration, Lord Marshal? I’m afraid that the game hadn’t quite lasted as long as we would’ve liked. We still need a bit of exercise. If you don’t mind, that is.”
He did not just say that. Apparently, House Krahr was so weak that Tellis hadn’t broken a sweat.
Arland looked bored. “I haven’t finished my wine. If I take the time to engage in a demonstration, it will be warm by the time I return.”
Tellis blinked. Maud hid a smile. Yes, he did just tell you that his wine getting warm was more important than you. Tellis would have abandon all pretense of propriety to goad Arland into action.
“Of course, if the Lord Marshal is too fatigued from chasing his unwilling human bride to redeem the honor of his House, I understand completely. We have all enjoyed your noble pursuit, however, I do believe the lady finds you wanting.” Tellis looked at Maud and smiled.
Yes, that would do it.
Arland sighed and rose to his feet, looking put upon as if someone had asked him to take out the trash in the middle of a good movie.
“I’ll have your wine refreshed, dear,” Ilemina said. “Go and have some fun.”
Arland turned to Tellis. “If you insist. Full armor, primed weapons, first down?”
Tellis’ grin didn’t die all the way but definitely faltered. Under normal circumstances, vampire weapons had the same limitations as Earth weapons. They were made of an advanced alloy that provided greater durability, and the vampire metalsmiths had developed weapon making into an art, but if one tried to chop a large tree down with a vampire sword, the sword would break before the tree did. Priming a weapon flooded it with Rathan Rhun, the Shining Blood. Nobody, not even her father, knew exactly what Rathan Rhun was. It was red and glowing, and it flowed through the weapon emitting a telltale whine, spreading through the metal just like its name suggested it would. Once you heard a blood weapon being primed, you never forgot it. A blood mace wielded by a strong vampire knight would knock down a telephone pole.
Blood weapons were not used for practice. Arland had just suggested a fight under battle conditions, to the point where combatants were out when they were unable to continue.
“Primed weapons?’ Tellis asked.
“You are the one who wanted exercise.” Arland looked at Tellis. “Was my lord under the impression that the fight at the Road Lodge was an exhibition bout? You asked for an accurate demonstration. I have honored your request.”
Arland raised his head and bellowed, “Bring our guests their blood weapons! Gather to honor their bravery for they are about to do battle. And someone alert the medic. We shall require full use of his talents today.”