The Hollow Crown
More politics, a death, and some interesting revelations
Boston, 31 January 2001
It’s dusk; I wake. I roll over and see that I’m in Imaad’s arms, all memories of Donovan banished, although I now remember that I had met Mankiller at that event, I’d forgotten about that with everything that has happened in the last ten months, my research, Johannes and Imaad. He is clearly waking at the same time as me, his eyes are closed and a smile is playing around his lips. His fangs are extended though for some reason, as I then realise are mine, tension I guess. I draw him into my arms and kiss him deeply (though carefully); whatever may happen to us today, or tomorrow, at this precise moment I feel happy. His eyes open , and we prepare to face the day that awaits us, two Kindred, together.
I remember that happy start to the night as I try and drift off to sleep in Imaad’s arms as the night comes to an end. It was a night of politics, revelations, and ultimately an entirely preventable death, and sleep is a good while in coming despite that I am utterly exhausted. In some ways we achieved what we wanted to achieve out of the fundraiser, and I seem to have come out of it in a better position than I was before, my status in the eyes of the court increased, though not entirely by what I may have done but by the revelation of what my sire is. I’d guessed some time ago there was more to Johannes’ position in the city than was initially obvious but what happened at the end of the night still came as a shock.
Earlier that evening
It’s been a long time since I have had to dress for a formal black tie event, indeed the last fundraiser, the one I dreamed about, would have been the last time. At least this time the man I am with won’t object to me wearing black, I think as a smile plays around my lips. The dress, which he has in any event seen before, is fitted black velvet with elbow length sleeves and a v-neck which doesn’t dip low enough to be tarty although it does dip low enough for him to be able to appreciate the view. I finish the look with a matching silver and garnet pendant and earrings, and a pair of silver leather high-heeled shoes. Imaad is dressed in a much more Eastern way than I have seen him before, rather than a dinner jacket he is wearing a knee-length coat with a Nehru collar, in black. It looks good on him, although very different from his usual casual style.
A little later, Gwendolyn arrives, wearing the dress in the heathery shade of purple that I helped pick out for her, she looks young, fresh and extremely pretty. We’ve agreed that we will all arrive together and that although through the night we will no doubt want to talk to some people separately, there are others – for instance Hardcastle – who we will approach as a group; we need to continue what we started when we all sat down and talked. The bar will of course help, work is progressing well on that but it will be another couple of weeks before we are in a position to open.
We arrive at the museum and to start with there are relatively few of the Kindred there, most of the group are either Boston worthies or people that are in some way connected to the mosque. We circulate and it is an interesting experience to channel my former self, remembering how to work the room, making small talk and generally networking. Imaad talks to the Imam and his associates, of course, and I also make polite conversation, after all this is for their benefit but I do wonder what they think about our relationship (which I know Imaad has not tried to hide from them). Having said that, I would far rather they speculate about that than about why he is never at the mosque in the daytime, for instance. I presume he says that he is teaching or otherwise working.
It’s about an hour before the Kindred start to arrive, we circulate and make small talk with as many as possible, after all this is not merely a human event but has become our official entry onto the Boston Kindred scene. I am as charming as possible to those that I meet whether or not they have anything of interest to say; again I’m thankful for my experience at previous events of this type although the last one I had attended was not one I wish to remember overmuch. I smile to myself, at least I know that this time the evening will not end with bad sex. Silas then arrives with Alison Cartwright, and we all go over to talk to them, I notice that John Hook has also arrived and we will need to go and talk to him shortly, he had not been around during all the politicking we had to do to get this event off the ground but he has after all been assigned to us by the Prince and it would not be politic to ignore him. We thank Silas for his assistance in making this happen and how much we appreciate it and Gwendolyn gets into a deep conversation with both Cartwright and Tyrone, both of whom are going to help her with the book restoring project she is trying to get off the ground. I notice that Alison is wearing a dress that I would swear was vintage Dior as well as some seriously impressive jewellery, tonight is going to be an evening where we find a few things out it would appear; she and Silas are clearly close, it is more apparent tonight than perhaps it has been previously. Gwendolyn is less than amused to find out that Winthrop and the Prince are not going to be happy about the evening – and that Silas knew this and had told us, I can’t blame her really, it had completely skipped my mind that we hadn’t mentioned it which is unfortunate with hindsight.
Shortly after that Johannes arrives, along with Dyer, Kingston and Megan, who looks seriously uncomfortable in the red dress that she is wearing. Johannes is wearing a sharply styled black dinner suit which was obviously expensive and which by the cut I guess is Armani. He looks extremely good and I can see female heads – Kindred and otherwise – turn when he enters. Imaad and I go over to them and I thank him for everything he has done to help and particularly for the scroll, which is drawing a great deal of interest. He comments that he got it from a Sabbat haven so clearly he didn’t pay for it but it is a princely gift and I say so. He seems a little tense for some reason although why isn’t immediately obvious and I resolve to ask Dyer about it, as I intend to speak to her soon.
And then Johannes notices Hook and the train of events for the evening kicks off in earnest. He raises an eyebrow. ‘I see you haven’t managed to shake off your dog yet? I’d have tried to leave him somewhere in the woods myself.’ He smiles demonically and I remember that the last time they had met he had tied Hook to a chair in the bar using an Obtenebration power that I don’t yet have but want very badly. ‘Not yet, I’ll bear that in mind when I learn to do what you did in the bar, could tie him to a tree first.’ ‘You should have brought a ball or something to keep him occupied.’ He grins then reaches into the pocket of his dinner jacket and from somewhere produces a red stress ball; he drops it on the floor and slowly it rolls over to where Hook is, whereupon it proceeds to bounce around as though it had a mind of its own. It’s an insult to Hook of the highest order and I probably don’t help matters by starting to laugh. Hook – quite understandably – looks furious, and Imaad rushes over to him. After a few moments hesitation I decide to join them, I would frankly far rather continue talking to Johannes but can tell that it would not be politic to ignore Hook who looks as though he is barely managing to contain himself. All I can do is apologise for my sire’s sense of humour and it is quite clear that the mutual antipathy between them has ramped up a notch as Hook makes all sorts of not very veiled threats. I hope it doesn’t come to that but know that if it does, there is absolutely no contest as to whose side I will be on. It’s Imaad who eventually manages to calm him down, and he decides to go and introduce him to some of the people from the mosque; I decide to go and talk to Dyer.
The conversation with Dyer is useful; she is clearly irritated with Johannes to say the least and I observe that he has seemed tense recently, that I am somewhat worried about him. Her response is interesting. ‘Johannes never had a family during his lifetime; he is going through trying to grow up 200 years into this existence as a result of now having one. He has been somewhat nervous about tonight, he wanted this to go well for your sake and doesn’t usually like attending Kindred socials. And there is a lot he is trying to teach you.’ I nod. ‘He is and I’m very grateful for it, although his lessons are sometimes hard.’ She nods. ‘He will push you, but he is doing it because he thinks he needs to and given what the two of you are I am sure he is right.’ She pauses. ‘The Sabbat would be delighted if they managed to recruit you, not just you but your ’close friend’ Mr Al Qasim, you because of your clan and whose childe you are and him because of his particular abilities.’ ‘I have no intention of allowing that to happen.’ I reply and then ask her if at some point we could talk again, I feel as though there is much I can learn from her as did Johannes and that I am sure what she has taught him has been invaluable for his own battles. She agrees, and then I see Gwendolyn coming over, I remember she had asked me to introduce them as they haven’t yet met. I make the formal introduction ‘Gwendolyn Ashbridge – Mary Dyer.’
They start with small talk but before long the conversation switches to a topic which I should have known was coming but the results of which hit me like a sledgehammer. Gwendolyn asks her about India and how she met final death and apologises to her for having asked Johannes given the topic is raw to him – and she tells Gwendolyn never to ask him about it again but then proceeds to tell us quite a lot. The revelation that India had changed sides – had gone over to the Sabbat – doesn’t really come as that much of a surprise, that had already occurred to me as a possibility though I hadn’t wanted to say anything to Gwendolyn as it was pure speculation on my part, though I’m slightly amused by Dyer’s reference to the ‘Dark Side’ and that Johannes had dragged her to see Star Wars, of all things. It’s Dyer’s revelation that India and Johannes were a couple that is the thunderbolt and suddenly it is all too obvious why he is concerned about my relationship with Imaad, though clearly I can never mention it to Johannes and I don’t think I should mention it to Imaad either, at least not yet. It also explains the multiple gothettes and his apparent penchant for sleeping around, although from what I know of his mortal life that was a facet of his personality that had always been there.
It’s poignant, tragic and indeed heartbreaking – a love affair between a man who can no longer really remember what he looks like and a woman who as a Nosferatu had to hide what she looked like. Her defection to the Sabbat would have been the ultimate betrayal for Johannes, as a member of a Sabbat clan who had spent his entire existence fighting them, preserving what he was and preserving the city he loved and the people he cared about. She had died by beheading, at the hands of the city’s Scourge; from what I understand of Kindred politics the Scourge is responsible for ensuring that newcomers to the City are formally presented to the Prince – and as a result for ensuring that Sabbat infiltrators are identified and suitably dealt with. Clearly it also extends to executioner when required. Dyer also notes that Gwendolyn’s friend Blum wasn’t actually India’s sire and it is clear that he has been less than straight with Gwendolyn, I can only hope that this doesn’t create more problems for her but unfortunately it probably will. My head is churning from the revelations and it is all going to take some time to process, again I am grateful for the Van den Berg stiff upper lip as I fight to keep my emotions under control. We thank Dyer and move on, she has told us far more than we could have hoped for and certainly more than Johannes would have wanted her to. We regroup with Imaad and move over towards Hardcastle and his toadies, we can’t put talking to him off for much longer although I am aware that I am barely under control.
It starts off reasonably well; we start by thanking him for his assistance in making this work. He is clearly trying to impress his crowd of fawning acolytes and equally clearly succeeding, both with humans and Kindred and because of the boons we owe to him there is little we can do about it, with my emotions still roiling I try for a barbed comment noting that the scroll Johannes donated is garnering a lot of interest which indeed it is. That this was a mistake is instantly apparent as he notes loudly that it is a reproduction. I reply that of course it is, it is an 18th-century copy of a 14th century original, but the damage is done and a ripple goes around the room. Fighting to stay in control when all my instincts are screaming at me to launch myself at Hardcastle and try and rip his head off, I instead excuse myself and go over to Johannes who is clearly less than pleased with me, the fact that he and Geddes have just had a conversation doesn’t help. I welcome Geddes who stalks off and it is instantly clear that Johannes has found out that we have agreed to support Hardcastle in his primogen bid. Johannes looks at me very keenly and I tell him the truth, that we were basically left with no choice. ’You’re swimming with the sharks now, Eleanor.’ he comments. ’I’m trying to teach you what you need to stay in existence, but be very careful who you deal with.’ His tone is annoyance mixed with concern; I’ve become very aware recently of exactly how far into the deep end we have been thrown. I look at him very intently. ‘I just want to be the best that I can be, Johannes. So that if I need to not only I can stay alive but help make sure those I care about do as well.’ He smiles at me. ‘I just want you to be able to be you, Eleanor.’ And then the entire room is plunged into deathly silence as John Mankiller enters the room.
He strides up to the scroll and declares loudly as to its provenance, that it is a museum quality piece, a superb example of its type. The humans and even some of the Kindred seem to hang on his every word, and I can’t help but wonder if he is using some sort of power, the Garou have those as well as us. A devilish smile plays around Johannes’ lips and I cast a look over at Hardcastle, who looks absolutely furious. As Mankiller finishes, the conversation around the room becomes animated and it is clear his speech has had the desired effect as people start to talk even about buying the piece and donating it to the museum; strangely, some of the Kindred also seem to be looking at me with a new respect, I must have done something right over the course of the evening, maybe the Van den Berg family charm has actually worked. Mankiller strides over to us. ‘My debt to you is now paid.’ He nods at Johannes and then looks at me, a grin on his face. ‘Johannes, if you’d told me this was your daughter’s coming-out party I’d have brought the entire pack.’ Thank goodness for Gwendolyn’s sake that he didn’t, I think. I look at him. ‘A bit of a different evening from the last time we met at one of these things.’
And then I notice a few things; firstly that Fallon is in the room and secondly that Hook is leaving the room having broken off from a conversation with Imaad and some of the men from the mosque. I also notice that singing starts and then the evening really starts to go to hell in a handcart, at least from a Kindred perspective although the mortals thankfully don’t appear to notice, many of them are too wrapped up in the music and I note to Johannes again that something seems to me to be off, or not right, in respect of the singers and their conductor. Gwendolyn then disappears, I assume at first because of the appearance of Fallon but could it be the music, I recall the church where we were meant to meet the singers affected both her and Hook before although it was completely lost on me. And then Ames appears, speaks briefly to Johannes and they both leave the room in something of a hurry. The next thing I know Imaad and I have been bundled into a side room in which Gwendolyn is already sitting. Shortly after, a furious Prince Balin enters the room. ‘How dare you embarrass this court at your coming out event!’ I am both thrown and completely confused and can see no other course of action but to be completely honest. ‘What has happened?’. ‘Your associate Mr Hook has killed one of the Brujah, at an event which is Elysium. You will all need to answer for his crime. Court will be called once the mortals have gone.’
This is bad; no, this is very bad. It is also grossly unfair. Hook is not our associate by choice, indeed it was Balin himself who introduced him to us and made it clear he would in effect be our tail. There are several people we want to talk to, in my case I want to speak to Johannes very badly but he isn’t there, maybe Dyer can help us. We have a decision to make, whether indeed we do want to support Hook or throw him to the wolves – so to speak – but before we do that we need to get his side of the story, Gwendolyn in particular is keen to do this. Imaad is furious, I notice that his fangs are extended and in response so do my own although I move over to him and place my hand on his arm to try and calm him down. The door then bursts open and Johannes and Ames burst in with Hook between them, clearly they have been restraining him as he looks both wild and furious.
We manage to extract from him that he had disturbed a Brujah feeding and had got into a fight with him but had killed the Brujah; it sounds like self defence but killing another Kindred while in Elysium is such a clear breach of the Traditions that it is clear Balin has to do something drastic. He is then bundled out and we are left alone with our thoughts, at least until Dyer walks into the room. She is prepared to defend us, and makes the point that we had already thought, that Hook was introduced to us by Balin, that the incident has happened in Winthrop’s fief, not in Concord and that Hook is not himself one of the rulers of Concord. Unfortunately, Winthrop himself will be making the case for the prosecution; he has no reason to love any of us and would probably be delighted were some or all of us to meet final death. We tell Dyer that we have a few things we need to discuss and she leaves, again we are on our own for some time and then Johannes enters the room, I am as glad to see him as I ever have been in my unlife, perhaps more so even than after the Lucas incident. It’s me he wants to speak to rather than the three of us and he calls me aside; he firstly suggests that I may want to get the hell out of there (and again makes a comment about Gwendolyn’s mental state which I’m grateful she can’t hear) but I explain that isn’t possible and he then suggests that I should call for the full vassal court to be assembled. He then leaves me to convince the others which in the case of Gwendolyn takes some doing; I eventually manage to convince her that at least this way everyone will participate in the decision rather than just the people that Winthrop may have arranged to be there or rather not to be there. If there are nuances to the situation of which I am not aware then we will just have to deal with that but I trust Johannes implicitly on this; he will not let me down. Hook comes back in, calmer now and we let him know that we do intend to defend him, but that we expect his loyalty going forward to genuinely be to us, rather than to the Prince and whatever agenda they have between them although that has clearly been royally upset by the events of the evening.
And then it’s time. We return to the main room of the museum, no longer Elysium but a court, all the humans gone. Full vassal court, the eyes of the vassals all on us. There is dread in the pit of my stomach, Imaad’s eyes are still furious. I move over to him and quietly touch his arm. ‘It will be all right.’ I say in a quiet voice, hoping that I am right. I look at him, this man for whom I feel so much, at Gwendolyn who I hope is becoming a friend, and wait for proceedings to commence. Hook stands, and the Prince looks at him intently.
‘John Hook, you are to be tried for the killing of a Kindred whilst in Elysium. You may choose trial by the court, or trial by combat. What is your choice?’
There is a deadly silence and Hook looks directly back at Balin, what is between them we will now never know. ‘I choose trial by combat.’ He is a soldier, so I suppose this makes sense – but this was not what we had discussed, we had said that we would defend him and this feels like that has been thrown back in our faces. Balin looks at us and I don’t know if I am imagining his gaze lingering slightly longer on me than the others. ‘You will fight my Scourge.’ Johannes strides into the room, sword in hand, his expression unreadable but there is not even a hint of the usual devilish glint in it.
Once again I’m stunned as the final piece of the jigsaw falls into place, and I realise that what Dyer told me earlier was even more tragic, that Johannes had actually had to execute his lover when he found out she had betrayed him. As they square off against each other I move closer to Imaad; if my heart still beat it would be hammering in my chest, as it is I feel almost physically sick. I don’t want to show any weakness, I can’t touch Imaad – much as I want to – in front of the entire court but I need the closeness of the man I realise I have come to love, as my sire, who I feel just as much for although now in an entirely different way, launches into a fight to the death. I haven’t seen Hook fight, but can only hope that he isn’t good enough to hurt Johannes or worse kill him, I cannot bear to lose him. The fight is brief, and brutal, and my shock as Hook’s head flies from his shoulders and bounces across the room is mixed with a rush of sheer relief that Johannes is all right.
The Prince pronounces that justice has been done, and Johannes stalks from the room, Kingston and Megan following him and the enormity of what he has just done strikes me as I spot Hardcastle’s triumphant smile. I also notice that at least some of the Kindred are looking at me again, with what seems to be not just increased respect but also a touch of fear, as who – and exactly what – my sire is appears to sink in. But while I appear somehow to have benefited from the whole debacle, it has been at the expense of an utterly needless death, and the public unveiling of what Johannes truly is. As everything starts to break up and the Kindred depart, Dyer observes that the death was needless and I can’t help but agree with her although Imaad observes that at least he died with honour, which I suppose is true, my main feeling is still relief, that for us it is all at least now over and that it was Hook rather than Johannes that met final death. This may not be a very human reaction but it is clear to me now perhaps more than it has ever been that I am no longer entirely human; this is something I will have to deal with, as Johannes said I am now swimming with the sharks. Hardcastle in particular is someone that at some point will have to be dealt with, and I surprise myself with exactly how creative – and bloodthirsty – my imagination gets on this point.
Imaad and I drive home and he is tight-lipped and quiet, he still looks as though he is angry and I can’t help wondering if, like the last time I attended a fundraiser, I am heading home to an argument, I hope not as after everything that has happened and all I have learned tonight – perhaps particularly about Johannes and India – I need to feel and be close to him. We park the car and walk into the living room and I kick my high heels off. I turn to look at him, see that his fangs are extended and start trying to apologise. ‘Imaad, I’m sorry if I’ve -’ I don’t get the chance to finish as he grabs me and kisses me roughly, it’s passionate and fierce and perhaps a bit painful at the same time but I answer him with matching passion – and ferocity – of my own as we tumble onto the floor. It’s only an hour before dawn by the time we curl up together in bed, and sleep is a long time in coming; it will take some time to process what has happened tonight and its implications, and for me to work out how to capitalise on how I seem to have benefited from the evening before we do any more swimming with the sharks.
As we drift off to sleep the shadows in the bedroom seem to shift and coalesce, and I feel that I am on the cusp of growing stronger in my powers in that area though I will no doubt need some instruction from Johannes before I can put that into effect. I hope that is the case, when eventually the Sabbat or the Order of the Silver Branch come after me and those I love – Imaad, Johannes, Gwendolyn – I intend to be ready. No, one way or the other, I will be ready. I roll over and kiss Imaad again before drifting into sleep, determination written on my face.