Origins (Page 26)

"Y And I’m taking Cordelia as well. She has

es. a good knowledge of herbs and demons. The meeting is at Jonathan Gilbert’s house." Father nodded, as if the subject was closed.

I nodded as well, even though I was surprised. Jonathan Gilbert was a university teacher and sometimes inventor who Father not so privately called a crackpot. But now Father said his name with reverence. For the thousandth time that day, I realized this truly was a different world.

"Alfred is hitching up the carriage, but I will drive it. Do not tell anyone where we’re going. I’ve already sworn Cordelia to secrecy," Father said as he strode out of the room. After a second, I followed him, but not before I slipped Demonios into my back pocket.

I sat next to Father in the front seat of the carriage, while Cordelia sat in the back, hidden from sight lest she arouse suspicion. It was strange to be out in the morning, especially without a footman to drive us, and I caught the curious stares of Mr. Vickery as we passed by the Blue Ridge Estate next door. I waved, until I felt Father’s hand on my arm, a subtle warning not to attract attention to ourselves.

Father began talking once we entered the barren stretch of dirt road that separated the plantation road from town. "I don’t understand your brother. Do you? What man doesn’t respect his father? If I didn’t know better, I’d think he was consorting with one of them," Father said, spitting on the dirt road.

"Why would you think that?" I asked uncomfortably, a trickle of sweat running down my spine. I ran my finger beneath my collar, recoiling when I felt the gauze bandage of my neck. It was damp, but from sweat or blood I could not tell.

My thoughts were a tangle. Was I betraying Katherine by attending this meeting? Was I betraying Father by keeping Katherine’s secret? Who was evil or good? Nothing seemed clear.

"I think that because they have that kind of power," Father said, using the whip on Blaze as if to prove the point. Blaze whinnied before shifting into a fast trot.

I looked back at Cordelia, but she was impassively staring straight ahead.

"They can take over a mind before a man realizes anything is amiss. They compel them to submit fully to their charms and whims. Just a glance can make a man do whatever a vampire desires. And by the time a man does know he’s being controlled, it’s too late."

"Really?" I asked skeptically. I thought back to last night. Had Katherine done that to me? But no. Even when I was frightened, I’d been myself. And all my feelings had been mine. Maybe vampires could do that, but Katherine certainly hadn’t done it to me.

Father chuckled. "Well, not all the time. One hopes that a man is strong enough to withstand that type of influence. And I certainly have raised my sons to be strong. Still, I wonder what could possibly have gotten into Damon’s head."

"I’m sure he’s fine," I said, suddenly very nervous at the idea that Damon might have figured out Katherine’s secret. "I think he’s simply not sure what he wants."

"I don’t care what he wants," Father said. "What he needs to remember is that he’s my son and I will not be disobeyed. These are dangerous times, much more so than Damon realizes. And he needs to understand that if he is not with us, people might construe that his sympathies lie elsewhere."

"I think he just doesn’t believe in vampires," I said, a sick feeling forming in the pit of my stomach.

"Shhh!" Father whispered, waving his hand toward me to quiet me down. The horses were clip-clopping into town, just past the saloon, where Jeremiah Black was already nearly passed out by the door, a half bottle of whiskey at his feet.

Somehow, I didn’t think Jeremiah Black was listening or even seeing what was going on, but I nodded, pleased that the silence gave me a chance to sort through my thoughts.

I glanced over to my right, where Pearl and her daughter were sitting on the iron bench outside the apothecary, fanning themselves. I waved to them, but, seeing Father’s warning glance, thought better about calling out to say hello.

I closed my mouth and sat silently until we reached the other end of town, where Jonathan Gilbert lived in an ill-kept mansion that had once belonged to his father. Father often made fun of the fact that the house was falling apart, but today he said nothing as Alfred opened the door of the carriage.

"Cordelia," Father called tersely, allowing her to walk up the rickety steps of the Gilbert mansion first as we followed suit.

Before we could ring the bell, Jonathan himself opened the door. "Good to see you, Giuseppe, Stefan. And you must be Cordelia. I’ve heard much about your knowledge of native herbs," he said, offering his hand to her.

Jonathan led us through the labyrinthine hallways and toward a tiny door next to the grand staircase. Jonathan opened it and gestured for us to head inside. We took turns ducking down to enter a tunnel that was about ten feet long, with a flimsy ladder at the other end. Wordlessly we climbed the ladder and emerged into a tiny, windowless space that immediately made me feel claustrophobic. Two candles burned in tarnished candleholders on a water-stained table, and as my eyes adjusted to the dim light, I could make out Honoria Fells sitting gingerly on a rocker in the corner. Mayor Lockwood and Sheriff Forbes shared an old wooden bench.

"Gentlemen," Honoria said, standing up and welcoming us as if we were just stopping in for tea. "And I’m afraid I haven’t made your acquaintance, Mrs…." Honoria glanced suspiciously at Cordelia.

"Cordelia," Cordelia murmured, glancing from one face to another, as if this was the last place she wanted to be.

My father coughed uncomfortably. "She treated Stefan during his spells after his …"