A villain always has a motive. The Marquis’ is that men had raped and killed his lover in the past. He’s sworn an epic revenge, in which he uses the main perpetrator’s daughter, Saphira. The young woman struggles to discover his secrets and find a way to bring him down – because the Marquis is no ordinary man, but a killer with too much power. In this episode much is revealed, and mysteries unlocked.
Jeremy’s big hands wind around my arms, keeping me steady on my feet. I can’t contain myself any longer. Tears well in my eyes, and I spill the truth.
“He’s using me. He’s making me do things, Jeremy.”
I decide to start with the beginning so he can understand.
“I saw the Marquis kill a man at the Royale, months ago. He followed me to the banquet room, got acquainted with Dad, later bought this manor from him to impress with his wealth, and then later asked for my hand in marriage. He killed Vladimir Pukov before my eyes, turning into . . . into . . .” I choke on my words.
“Yes?” He invites gently. I look straight into his face. He knows, I see the recognition in his eyes. My chin trembles in a last attempt to keep back the tears and the words, an attempt that fails.
“The night we announced the engagement at my house, after we left, he brought me here and he –” I hesitate, but I’ve come too far with the confession, I can’t stop now. “He took me, and filmed it. Then he had me tempt a man he wanted revenge on in a pub. He had me dress like a –” I find myself unable to describe, and I swallow my words.
“Before the bastard actually got to touch me, the Marquis killed him just inches away from me. The blood sprayed out if his jugular right onto my face –” I tremble at the memory, my fingers washing imaginary blood off my cheeks with nervous swipes. “The Marquis threatened to have the recording of us make the rounds all over Northville and beyond if I refused the engagement or cooperation.”
Jeremy is furious, it shows red and bustling in his face. He yet manages to control his voice, his hands tightening their grip on my arms to steady me and make me stop the compulsive wiping of my face.
“Why use you of all people? What reason did he give you?”
I realize what the truth means for a number of important men in Northville, especially my father, but I decide to go all the way. I tell him the entire story. Jeremy’s eyes narrow.
“The Marquis’ lover raped and killed, your father the worst perpetrator, while the Marquis got turned over to his makers. Now he wants revenge, and he’s using the main bad guy’s daughter to get it,” he summarizes the story in a tone that leaves no doubt – he’s heard it before. “That’s Basarb’s version too.”
Jeremy’s jaw tightens as he looks to the ground for the first time since we started this conversation. He’s searching for the simplest way to put it, I gather.
“Basarab is a Slayer, he can destroy engineered serpent-men like the Marquis. He can free you of him, he can free entire Northville of him, but it’ll take a while.”
Free me of him . . . “Why will it take a while?”
“The Marquis is much stronger than others of his kind, so Basarab keeps in the shadow. None of the serpent men except the ones he killed ever saw his face, and the Slayer uses that to advantage. He cooperates with us at the Investigation Brigade in London, but keeps anonymous – sending us recorded material, always wearing a mask. Says we stand better chance of taking down the Marquis if we work together. London sent me here for him, Saphira, that’s why I returned.”
My head spins. “A Slayer . . . Take down the Marquis . . .”
Jeremy pulls me closer to him, using the moment to grow our intimacy. “But I discovered Basarab wants more from the Marquis than just to eliminate him, because there is more to the Marquis than his murders, motives or his serpent skin.” He stops and looks away, hesitant.
I search his eyes, but he keeps averting his gaze. “More?”
He takes a deep breath. “It’s hard to explain without some backstory.”
“I need to hear it.”
“We don’t have time, but here’s the essentials. When the man you now know as the Marquis met Miss Catherine Lancaster he was an orphan working as a stable boy at the girl’s family manor.”
“Stable boy? But that’s –”
“Hear me out,” Jeremy interrupts. “He was a good looking lad, Miss Catherine was bold and hormone-driven, so they soon lived a love story. Vladimir Pukov had an interest in Catherine, but she refused him and all other suitors because of her secret love with the man you now know as the Marquis – by his real name Kieran Slate.”
Something stirs inside me at the sound of the name. Finally, his name.
“Kieran . . .” I whisper, just to feel it on my lips. By the tone Jeremy takes for the rest of the backstory I can tell he doesn’t like the sound of it, or the emotion I display. I’m aware I sounded like a crack whore in love with her dealer.
“Well, you know what happened, so I won’t go into details,” he continues grumpily. “The Marquis proved to be his makers’ best creation. He became rich and powerful by killing the right people. He committed crimes that I had to investigate, but he has power and money that are impossible to fight. But, as I said, soon Basarab offered help. His true reason – he needs an answer he can only attain by trapping and dissecting the Marquis, which he can’t do by himself because the Marquis is too strong and powerful.”
I shudder hard. “Dissecting as in -”
“In the most literal sense.”
“Jeremy, that’s terrible! What can possibly justify such a thing?”
“You see, the experiment that has been done on Kieran Slate had side-results, Saphira. It is these side-results that Basarab wants.”
By the way his eyes fix me I can tell this is the point he’s been wanting to make all along.
“You observed correctly, Saphira. ‘Stable-boy.’ The last family that had a stable boy in Northville were those Lancasters, thirty years ago.”
Ice seems to run through my limbs, and blood drains from my face as I make the connection.
“They lived in this very house,” I whisper. “Lord Lancaster got drunk and burned down half of it after his daughter ran away with – Oh. My. God. The stable boy!”
Jeremy nods, holding my gaze. “Lord Lancaster discovered what had happened to his daughter in truth, but never let it become public. He preferred to let people think she’d dishonored him, but finally led a happy life. Probably he tried to believe that fantasy too, tried to drink himself into madness. A good thing for the mother she’d died at birth, and was spared the tragedy.”
“But this happened so long ago. How could – Oh,” I gasp, my eyes popping out as I understand.
“Yes. Your father was about thirty, and Vladimir Pukov twenty at the time. Same age as Kieran Slate – the Marquis.”
“But that’s impossible!” I blurt. “The Marquis barely looks twenty now.”
“And that is the side-result Basarab is after. He tried discovering this secret by opening up other serpents, his victims, but in vain. The Marquis, being the strongest of all, is said to be special, and the Slayer is sure to get what he wants if he manages to get him.”
Moments pass with me blinking and opening my mouth several times to speak. I clear my voice and finally manage, “Do you think –” that he’s immortal would’ve been my question, but steps whoosh on the stairs, making me stop.
Jeremy glances above my head in their direction, then looks at me focused and tense. “He’s coming. Meet me tomorrow, any time after noon, at Billy the Notary’s. Tell the Marquis you need to see to the formalities for when you become his Mrs. de Vandenesse.”
He turns and disappears in the darker depths of the catacombs. Draught blows in the now seemingly empty dungeons, but soon I feel his presence. Chilling, slithery and compelling. Kieran.
Enjoyed this? Check out episodes of the prequel, Saphira, here, or the whole prequel in the Christmas Story Book for Adults, available here. Stay tuned for a further episode on Thursday and, until then, enjoy all the quizzes, stories and goodies available here especially for you.
NEXT EPISODE – The Villain’s Mistress – Ep. 4 of The Marquis
PREQUEL – Saphira in the Christmas Story Book for Adults