Chapter Ninety Eight
She cackled again, sensing my hesitancy but not understanding that I was mostly afraid of hurting her or killing her. I had already concluded that I would take the title of Pythoness if it meant my weakling blood would be overcome with her strength.
Besides, I knew I would be a fair and impartial judge without a political agenda. I didn't know who her second choice might be, and truth be told, I wasn't willing to find out.
The wrong person could completely screw up the equilibrium in the dynamics of roiling ambition in the hearts of powerful rulers. We had just voted against vampire world domination, I didn't want someone in favor of it to get all this power. The Pythoness might be on her way out of this world, we who remain were going to have to live in it.
"This is not so onerous a title as you might fear. You will have helpers and you will only be Pythoness until your replacement comes," she coaxed. "Come now, drink and end this torture for me. I have waited too long already to rest. I hope you never get as weary as I am." She released her breath in a sigh.
Then I thought of a problem that might disqualify me. This was the time for full disclosure.
"I have children and soon will have a grandson. Anyone that wanted to change my verdict could threaten to harm them. I would do anything to keep them safe. I could not put them in that danger."
She nodded slowly and shifted her position. I could almost hear her old bones creak. "Good point. And that is why all your friends and family will be under the protection of the Founders. No one, vampire, human or other will be able to harm them. They will be safer than they are now. My promise to you is this - pass judgements to the best of your ability and not one hair of their heads will be harmed."
"I won't pass a death sentence on anyone," I said. "I just couldn't have that on my conscience. If I made a mistake it couldn't be rectified." I hoped this wouldn't disqualify me but she should know everything.
"Do as you wish, rule as you see fit. The position offers the greatest latitude for your discretion," she said with a shrug.
She had promised me my family and friends would be safe. I believed her. If she tricked me I could simply refuse to sit on the bench and then chaos would destroy the vampire world, maybe the whole world. I knew I would do my darnedest to be fair.
If I agreed Eric would be released from his sleep and I could get back to my life. Maybe I would never need to rule on anything. Sometimes just the knowledge that a court could impose a dire penalty was enough to keep people in line
Nobody had to know who the new Pythoness was, only that there was one and she was ready to rule. I might well remain an anonymous figurehead, a symbol in name only. With computers I might be able to simply post my verdicts. This was a new age, light years beyond anything this worn out oracle might have imagined.
That just left the feeding from this ancient woman. She sure sounded ready to go on. She was suffering as she was. If the situation was reversed I would want someone to help me out, to put my mind at rest that justice would go on.
"I will do it, Ancient Pythoness. I am humbled that you chose me. I hope I can live up to your expectations."
She gave a groan of relief. "Thank you."
She looked at me then and for just a second the milky cast cleared and her eyes glowed lavender, then they reverted to their white blindness, almost lost among the folds and wrinkles of extreme old age. That brief second cost her almost everything she had left. I saw her sag almost double.
I tenderly took her arm and kissed the inside of her wrist before very gently and carefully inserting my fangs. She smelled like violets and baby powder and cinnamon and vanilla and old books. I drank a few drops and stopped, healing the powdery skin with my own blood.
I could feel the strange blood coursing through me, changing me. It was like I was being rearranged on a molecular level to be something I had never been before. I thought of Alice in Wonderland drinking from a bottle that made her as tall as the trees. Would I be the same, just not a weakling anymore?
She stood, teetering, and whispered in a voice like the wind over the ocean, almost too faint for even my vampire ears, "Thank you, child. Bless you."
Then she simply collapsed like a balloon with a slow leak into a limp pile of her purple gown and boneless skin. I looked at the remains of the Pythoness and said a prayer that she might be at peace.
The pile of clothes and skin moved, a tiny movement. I stared at it and it moved again.
There was something alive inside the mound of remains.
I bent and cautiously opened the robes. The skin underneath, now dry and thin as tissue paper had split. Inside the husk of the Pythoness a tiny pink arm raised up towards me and thrashed.
It was a baby!
I scooped up the naked baby and she started to wail, kicking her little plump arms and legs. She was probably cold.
I took off my silk suit jacket and wrapped her in it. She quieted down, then made sucking noises and whimpered, looking up at me with large tear filled violet eyes. She needed milk. She needed a mother.
I ran up flight after flight of stone steps with the baby pressed to my breast until I came to the back of the armoire. I pushed it open. Anna Hita was waiting for me with a warm baby bottle, soft flannel blankets and a middle aged human woman dressed in white uniform and starched white cap like nurse from the 1950's.
"Nurse Henderson will take the child," Anna Hita said.
I handed the tiny girl to the woman who immediately diapered and dressed her on a special padded mat right on the fancy marble coffee table, all while Eric lay slumped unconscious on the nearby sofa. I went to him and held his hand, hoping what I had been told was true, that he would come awake and be good as new.
"Eric, can you hear me?" I kissed him full on the lips and his eyes opened. He immediately rose to his feet, muscles tense, ready to fight.
"What has happened here?" he asked, taking in the human woman who was now sitting in the brocade side chair, giving the dressed and swaddled baby a bottle, me, and Anna Hita. He frowned, trying to make sense of it.
"Is the baby ours?" he asked, going over to look down at the pretty little face. The baby sucked contentedly, eyes closed.
He didn't know if he had been unconscious ten minutes or ten months if he thought I had time to give birth to a baby while he was out.
"No, I don't think so," I said, coming to stand beside him.
"The baby is going to Queen Trinity," Anna Hita told us.
"But she's already expecting a baby from a surrogate," I said, recalling how Trinity had arranged for a donor egg from a family member.
"Yes, she will raise the girls as sisters. You have done the right thing tonight, my generous daughter," she said, smiling at me.
In a more formal voice she said, "I honor you, Great Pythoness." She did a little curtsey to me.
Eric stepped back and looked at me in shock. "You? You are the new Pythoness?" His eyes glowed bright blue. Was he angry?
"Yes, I agreed to take the job temporarily until I could be replaced?" I was unsure how this news was going over so it sounded more like a question than a statement.
He stared at me for a moment longer then bent his knee to me and kissed my hand. "My Pythoness, I honor you."
Then he hugged me and kissed the top of my head. I sagged against him with relief.
The nurse quietly and sternly cautioned us. "Shhhhh, the baby's asleep."
more to come ..... (Wonderful Wednesday everyone! It was lovely hearing from you and having you here. See you Saturday. Hope you are happy and healthy.)