Valentine's Resolve Online - Vampire Earth 6 - E. E. Knight

E. E. Knight

Valentine’s Resolve

Vampire Earth

Book Six

There are some remedies worse than the disease.

—Publilius Syrus, Maxim 301

CHAPTER ONE

Weathercut Manse, Iowa, November, the fifty-second year of the Kurian Order: A Hawkeye from the first quarter of the twenty-first century would hardly recognize his state in the snow-dusted fall of that year. The corn and soybeans, yes, the birches and willows claiming soggy land rimming the streams and lakes, and the majestic oaks, elms, and cotton-woods, the slopes and crests of the low rolling hills around the river basins, certainly.

The beef cattle in the fields give some hint that times have changed. They are undersized compared with the big steers of better times. A few cough; others have the strained look

°fan animal who has picked up a bit of wire or a piece of a can.

It’s the architecture that’s changed most, the roads and bridges and little towns in between.

A well-traveled or imaginative Iowan might think himself in some quiet stretch of French or English countryside.

Instead of four-lane towns surrounded by farms with frame homes, barns, and silos rising nearby, or sometimes the newer Wal-Mart blisters girdled by paring lots and fast food stops and sprawling exurb, the new centers of public life are the Great Homes.

Like the French villas and English manses of old, the Kurian Order Great Homes are built to impress. Some are vaguely Alpine, with high-peaked roofs, elaborate woodwork on the overhangs, and two or three stories of glass window broken only by balconies; others mimic the heavy beams and plasters of Tudor dignity; a few seem to be almost brick-by-brick re-creations out of a Jane Austen movie. But the most popular style might be called French modern.

Weathercut Manse is an example of the last style. A big, bold front of limestone and picture windows, shielded from the elements by a tall slate roof, grows a stablelike garage looking out over the gravel turnaround to the right, and a turret like a miniature castle keep to the left.

The off-balance arrangement is pleasing in the daylight, when the sun lights the flower bed in the center of the turnaround, so that the manse seems to be reaching out to embrace visitors and present a bouquet in the day. However, at night the lanes resemble the arms of a boxer dropping into a defensive stance.

Around behind is a smallish patio, reached by French doors, flanked by the glassy refuge of the marbled indoor spa, and topped by a private balcony outside the master’s bedroom, and the aviary-greenhouse locally famous for its lemons and year-round supply of plum tomatoes.

Gardens, wilder woods, and a nine-hole golf course surround the house. It is only once you get beyond the thick hedge to the east, the three rails of white fencing to the west, or the stone wall with iron gate running the road to the south that you reach the working part of the estate, a seventy-acre horse farm. There’s housing on the grounds for the pigs and chickens, and a New Universal Church parsonage. A thick wood separates the Kurian churchman from a little square of prefabricated trailer homes, a repair garage, and a gas pump.

The Mansion is the pleasant face of the estate, the parsonage its conscience, and the barns and tenant homes its muscle. But next to the gate, built into that dignified wall, are a small stone house and garage that are the lizard brain of the estate, the security center. The workers cheeky in here each day and pick up a radiolocator watch that can be fixed to a beltloop; all traffic into or out of the estate must first pass through security, a sodium-vapor-lit double-basketball-court-sized stretch of pavement surrounded by chain-link fencing, where vehicles can be parked while their contents are searched and inspected.

The guards walk with a bit of a swagger in their camouflage and winter fur hats (in the summer they wear blacky pith helmets), carbines with telescopic sights and bayonets mounted as if to warn visitors that they are ready to deal with trouble, either at a distance or up close and personal.

They defer only to the master with his brass ring, and the parson with his white clerical collar, as they patrol the grounds on ATVs or, for the romantically minded security chief an ox-eyed Arab gelding and a silver-tipped riding crop that he uses as a pointer.

Not that there’s much trouble in this quiet corner of northeastern Iowa,. far from the troublesome Grogs of the Missouri valley or the noisome guerrilla band that has