The Prince – Sylvain Reynard

A lone figure lurked in the shadows outside the Prince’s villa, which overlooked the city of Florence. From the villa’s windows, one could enjoy an incredible view of the skyline—even at night. Not that the figure was able to enjoy that prospect. The Prince used strange magic to repel others of his kind, or so the figure averred. Half a block from the villa, which was more like a fortress, he felt nauseated and uneasy, his muscles twitching. No wonder the Prince had ruled the city for so long. No one was able to set foot inside his gates, let alone challenge him physically. Tonight, however, the Prince would be challenged. And some of his most precious possessions would be taken. In the distance, a key scraped in a lock and a heavy iron gate swung open. The figure’s spine straightened, his senses alert. A middle-aged man clutching a leather bag began walking toward him. The figure left the sanctuary of the shadows and crossed to meet him, moving swiftly and silently. “Gianni?” he called to the man. Gianni increased his pace.

“Master,” he murmured in Italian. He bowed deferentially. The Master took the bag and opened it. His pale hands eagerly shuffled through the stack of priceless illustrations, counting them under his breath. His gaze lifted to peer over at Gianni. “Is this all of them?” “Yes, Master. One hundred in total.” Gianni’s eyes were wide, unblinking, as if he were in a trance. (And so he was.) “Did anyone see you?” “No, Master.

The servants are asleep and the Prince is not at home.” “Excellent.” He grasped Gianni by the shoulder, forcing him to make eye contact. “You will return to the villa and retire to your room. In one hour you will awake and remember nothing that has passed between us.” “Yes, Master.” “Go. Be sure no one sees you.” With another bow, Gianni returned to the fortress. The Master watched as he closed and locked the gate, before entering the impressive building through one of the side doors.

The Master muttered a Renaissance curse, spitting on the ground. The principality of Florence should be his. For years he’d stood aside, watching, waiting for the day when he could seize control of the city. My city. On this evening, it seemed his patience had been rewarded. He’d undermined the Prince’s confidence in the security of his fortress and stolen his most precious possession. Surely he could wait a little longer to uncover the Prince’s secrets so he could destroy him. His eyes alighted on one of the illustrations—a pen and ink drawing of Dante and Beatrice— before closing the bag and breaking into a run. In an instant, he leapt from the Piazzale to the road below and disappeared into the night. Chapter 1 August 2011 Florence, Italy The Prince of Florence stood on the first floor of the Uffizi Gallery, contemplating murder.

A crowd of the city’s human elite swirled around him—men in tuxedos, women in floor-length gowns—as the arrogant, insufferable Professor Gabriel Emerson filled the Renaissance structure with his insipidity. The Prince had killed before. He was discriminate in his choice of victims and only on rare occasions did he take pleasure in it. This was going to be one of those occasions. He was fleet of foot and cunning in the extreme, his supernatural strength compounded by his intelligence. No doubt he could reach the American professor and break his neck before anyone noticed something amiss. The Prince fantasized about sprinting across the floor, executing the professor, and fleeing through a window before any of the one hundred guests paused in sipping their sparkling wine. Human beings were easily deluded. Probably they would credit the professor’s death to a sudden, spontaneous stroke, having no idea what stood in their midst. The Prince’s body tensed at the tantalizing thought, the muscles in his forearms contracting beneath the sleeves of his expensive black suit.

A swift death was not in keeping with the magnitude of the professor’s crime, which included considerable insult in addition to personal injury. The Prince prided himself in his commitment to justice (as he defined it), so he discarded the possibility of a quick execution. The professor must be made to suffer and that meant his beautiful wife must suffer, also. She was standing near her husband and wearing a red dress, the color of the garment acting like a flag before a bull. Certainly, she’d captured his attention. He stared intensely, taking in every aspect of her figure. As if she felt his eyes, her gaze moved to his. She looked away quickly. Mrs. Julianne Emerson was younger than her husband, petite, and in the Prince’s view, much too thin.

Her eyes, which by all accounts were very pretty, were large and dark. Her face put him in mind of Renaissance paintings—elegant of neck and cheek. The Prince indulged himself in admiring the professor’s wife as the fool droned on and on in Italian about how she’d persuaded him to share his copies of the original Botticelli illustrations. His ignorant remarks only fanned the flames of the Prince’s anger. They were his illustrations, not the professor’s, and they were original, completed by Sandro Botticelli himself. Clearly, the professor, in addition to being a thief, was a Philistine who couldn’t tell the difference between an original and a copy. The Prince began constructing new and elaborate methods of torture, combined with a primer in art history, while ignoring the professor’s wordy praise for his wife’s philanthropic work with orphans and the homeless. Too many human beings hoped their deeds would cover their sins and save them. The Prince knew too well the futility of good works. The Emersons trafficked in stolen property.

They had acquired artwork the Prince had tried to recover for over a century. In addition, they had the temerity to march into the Prince’s city, offer his illustrations to the Uffizi, (while claiming them to be copies), and make a spectacle of themselves. It was as if they had constructed the most detailed and elaborate way of inciting his ire. Now their lives were forfeit. The Prince continued to stare in the direction of Mrs. Emerson, his gray eyes unseeing. Then, something caught his attention. For no apparent reason, the young woman blushed, gazing with longing and love at her husband. In that instant the Prince was reminded of someone else—a woman who had looked at him with the sweet blush of youth and a heart filled with longing. The old memory twisted inside him, like a snake.

“My challenge to you this evening is to enjoy the beauty of the illustrations of Dante’s Divine Comedy, and then to find it in your hearts to celebrate beauty, charity, and compassion in the city Dante loved, Firenze. Thank you.” The professor bowed as he concluded his remarks. He walked over to his wife and embraced her, to the sound of loud applause. The Prince didn’t applaud. In fact, he scowled, muttering a curse about Dante. He appeared alone in his contempt, the only member of the crowd of Florentine elite who did not clap. Certainly, he was the only one in the room who’d actually engaged Dante in direct conversation and informed the Poet he was an ass. The Prince took no pleasure in the recollection. He disliked Dante then and now, and he hated the world Dante constructed in his magnum opus.

(The Prince did not consider the incompatibility between his love for Botticelli’s illustrations and his hatred for the text they figured.) He adjusted the cuff links of his black dress shirt, which featured the symbol of Florence. He would follow the Emersons, and when they were out of sight of witnesses, he’d attack. He simply needed to be patient. Patience was a virtue he possessed in abundance. As the guests mingled and refreshments were served, the Prince kept to himself, eschewing conversation and refusing the food and drink on offer. Human beings usually had one of two reactions to him. They either sensed he was dangerous and gave him a wide berth, or they stared, sometimes approaching him even before they realized they were moving in his direction. He was handsome. One might even say he was beautiful, with blond hair, gray eyes, and a youthful appearance.

His body, although less than six feet tall, was lean and muscular beneath his black suit. Given the power he wielded, his posture and movements were strong and purposeful. He was the predator, not the prey, and so he had little to fear. In this room, for example, he had nothing to fear except exposure. He nodded briefly at Dottor Vitali, the director of the Gallery, but avoided speaking with him. Indeed, the Prince’s anger also extended to the director, for he, too, had trafficked in stolen goods. The Prince of Florence hadn’t maintained his rule of the city by practicing mercy. In his principality, justice was served swiftly, encompassing any and all wrongdoers. When it was Dottor Vitali’s turn, he would be punished. The Prince approached the doors of the exhibition hall, noting that its interior walls had been painted a bright blue, all the better to display the pen-and-ink illustrations of Dante’s Divine Comedy.

He was relieved to discover his precious artwork had been mounted in glass cases, which would protect them. He surveyed the room from wall to wall and from floor to ceiling, taking note of any and all security measures. Executing the Emersons was only part of his plan. He’d have to retrieve his illustrations, as well. He watched as the professor and his wife stood in front of one of the finer examples of Botticelli’s work, an image of Dante and Beatrice in the sphere of Mercury. Beatrice wore flowing robes and pointed upward, while Dante followed her gesture with his eyes. With purposeful steps, the Prince approached. Mrs. Emerson’s eyes flickered to his and for a moment, the Prince toyed with the idea of exerting mind control over her. When he was within touching distance of the glass case, the Emersons shuffled to the side, giving way to him.

Inexplicably, the professor placed his wife behind him, blocking her from the Prince’s view. The two males locked eyes. The Prince had to restrain himself from smiling. The professor had no idea of the extent of his adversary’s power. Or his rage. “Good evening.” The Prince addressed them in English, bowing formally. “Evening,” Gabriel clipped, his palm sliding down his wife’s wrist in order to grasp her hand. The Prince watched the path of Gabriel’s hand and indulged himself in a small smile. “A remarkable evening.

” He gestured magnanimously to the room. “Quite,” said Gabriel, gripping Julia’s hand a little too tightly. “It’s generous of you to share your illustrations.” The Prince spoke ironically. “How fortunate for you that you acquired them in secret and not on the open market.” He waited for the professor’s reaction, inhaling surreptitiously for the purpose of analyzing the Emersons’ scents. The professor’s scent was unremarkable. From it, the Prince divined that the man was healthy and more than a little arrogant, the virtues in his life not yet fully formed. It was clear he had a protective streak. Both the sharpness of his blood and his body language indicated that he would give his life for the young woman standing behind him.

The mere idea was provocative. Having read the professor’s character through the aromas of his body and blood, the Prince turned his attention to the charitable Mrs. Emerson. Initially, she smelled of virtue—of compassion and generosity. The Prince found the perfume of her goodness surprising and most pleasing. As if it were a reflex, his eyes moved to the drawing of Beatrice displayed nearby. “Yes, I count myself lucky. Enjoy your evening.” With a stiff nod, Gabriel moved away, still gripping his wife’s hand. The Prince remained where he was and closed his eyes, inhaling deeply once again.

As Mrs. Emerson moved away, something unpleasant and downright wretched teased his nostrils. The Prince opened his eyes at the stark realization that Mrs. Emerson was ill. Her kindness and charity almost masked the unpleasant undertone to her scent, but there it was, lurking in the background like a serpent. The Prince and his kind were adept at detecting various defects and diseases in human beings. Perhaps it was innate or a product of adaptation. But whatever the reason, the ability enabled his species to choose between desirable and distasteful food sources. Through his skill, he could determine that Mrs. Emerson’s blood lacked iron.

That much was certain. But there was something seriously wrong with her; something he’d not scented before, which made her repugnant to him. However, her virtues were real enough. He was surprised to discover she was not the pampered society wife he’d thought she was. The Prince’s gaze followed the Emersons to the opposite end of the hall where they huddled together, whispering furiously. With one last conflicted look at Mrs. Emerson’s pretty face, he turned on his heel and walked away

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