Chapter 18: Arthos and the Boy Who Would Be King

When consciousness returned, I wasn't alone. An unfamiliar Nosferatu in black fatigues was leaning against the cell door, observing me and frowning. He seemed younger than the king and Boras, but his vampiric features made it difficult to gauge by how much. My eyes darted around searching for Keel, but he was gone. It was just me and this stranger.

The throbbing ache of my shoulder drew my attention away from the vampire and back to the fight I'd had with Keel.

Oh crap, oh crap, oh crap.

This Nosferatu had to know Keel had bitten me; at this distance there was no way he wouldn't. My heart broke into a gallop. I sat up, and attempted to brace myself for whatever was about to happen. Be brave. You're a sorceress, and a dangerous one at that.

"You need to heal yourself," the vampire said, finally, when I thought the silence hanging between us couldn't get any heavier or more filled with dread.

I stared at him blankly. Only Keel and I were supposed to know I'd discovered my powers.

"Don't play dumb," he told me. "Do you think the prince would have ever gotten anywhere near you without me?"

He didn't say it like a tough guy, but like it bored him to have to state that.

"Who are you?" I asked.

"Arthos," the Nosferatu said. "Your day guard."

Arthos' calmness threw me. Even Boras had trouble keeping his blood-hungry nature in check when I had an open wound, but if Arthos was enticed by my scent, it was impossible to tell. His stance was as even as demeanour. Almost relaxed.

"You're the one Keel pays off," I said, putting it all together. But that didn't mean we were off the hook.

"Not pays exactly, but yes, I am the one."

"Why? How?" Even if Keel had bought his allegiance, it didn't make sense that Arthos was still playing along, not when we were so close to being caught.

"Has the prince not explained anything to you?" I detected a trace of disappointment in his voice, which surprised me since I was pretty sure telling me those sorts of things was expressly forbidden.

"Bits and pieces," I allowed, unsure of how much I should say.

"Well, it's like this," Arthos began, with much more patience than I expected from one of them. "You want to make anything of yourself here, you either train for a career in the arena - fighting - or you ally yourself with a royal. I chose the latter. I just didn't choose the current royal."

"And that's why you want me to heal myself?"

"Yes, because if you don't... well, I think you know what would happen."

I definitely did. These days, that scenario figured into most of my nightmares, and few offered a fast death. But he wasn't worried about me, he was worried about Keel. Could the stakes be even higher than Keel had let on?

"And you think I can do that?" I asked carefully.

"I suspected, but what you did last night confirmed it." It wasn't an accusation, but it still felt like one. A familiar warmth crept across my cheeks. I was really turning out to be a crap sorceress. I should be proud of my powers, instead what I'd done embarrassed me. "I wasn't spying on you," he said, misreading me. "I came running when I heard the prince screaming. I didn't just swear allegiance to him. I swore to protect him."

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