<br><h3> Chapter One </h3> "Your highness would be safer below. It's getting dark. Vampires are very unpredictable." <p> "Thank you, Colonel. I believe I'll stay on deck a bit yet. It's quite warm. That should keep the beasties quiet. Yes?" <p> Princess Adele noticed a slight smile on the dark, chiseled face of Colonel Mehmet Anhalt, who stood close to her, as was his habit. Under her gaze, the short but powerfully built Gurkha officer covered his bemusement by clearing his throat and offering his brass telescope. "In that case, Your Highness, would you care to have a look?" <p> "Yes, I should. Thank you, Colonel Anhalt." Adele crossed the quarterdeck of HMS <i>Ptolemy</i> and leapt with girlish pleasure down three steps to the ship's waist. A crowd of redjackets from her household guard parted to make a path to the port rail. A stiff breeze rolled the heavy skirt around her calves and whipped the ends of the scarf that struggled to restrain her long auburn curls. <p> Adele snapped open the telescope and steadied her booted feet expertly against the airship's sway. The distant clouds were turning brilliant orange and bruise purple in the darkening eastern sky. Five miles off the port beam Adele spotted two figures floating silhouetted in midair. <p> Vampires. <p> The young princess felt a delicious thrill spread through her. Vampire cadavers were displayed occasionally in the streets of her home, Alexandria, and she had even viewed the purported preserved head of the clan chief of Vienna, but she had seen only a few living specimens in her days. These two lay spread-eagle on the air, vibrating in the drafts that buffeted their nearly weightless frames. <p> Adele felt a tingle of horror when one turned its head and, she thought, stared at her, looking in her eye with its cold glare. She closed the glass with a sharp breath, going pale. Frustration swept through her that the creature should startle her so. It was not as if the beast had truly been looking at her. It merely had looked toward the ship. Struggling to regain her composure in front of her guardsmen, she resumed strolling the quarterdeck. <p> A young boy suddenly exploded up out of the main hatch. His face was red from the exertion of racing up the companionways, as indeed he raced everywhere he went. He was barely twelve years old and still round-faced as a baby, with darker hair than Adele's, cropped short. A flowing striped cotton Bedouin robe over breeches and sandals made him look like a ragamuffin from the alleys of Cairo. <p> He scampered to Adele's side, shouting, "I heard there are two of them out there!" <p> Princess Adele cut a very different figure from her wild younger brother, Simon. She was the heir, the future empress, and her very proper traveling garb was chosen for reasons of state. Today she wore a heavy cotton shirt, a leather jacket with a Persian sash, and a long velveteen skirt covering high leather boots. In the sash, she had her prized weapon, a jewel-hilted khukri, a broad-bladed dagger that had been a gift from her mother. More, it was a Fahrenheit blade, with chemical additives in the scabbard that gave the steel an intense chemical heat when exposed to air, making it more destructive than a normal blade. <p> The blade was not all Adele had received from her Persian mother. A light veil wrapped her head and shoulders to protect her against the sun and wind. Unlike her brother's red-cheeked visage that he got from their father, Emperor Constantine II, Adele had olive skin and the distinctive nose of the late empress. Her appearance was a subject of murmured derision among the northern-featured courtiers who dominated the imperial court in Alexandria. <p> "They're very far away, Simon." Adele put an arm around her brother's shoulders. While two lone vampires posed little threat to a heavily armed <i>Ptolemy</i>, she still would have preferred her brother locked safely below. <p> Prince Simon looked disappointed. "Can I look at the vampires, Colonel Anhalt?" <p> "<i>May</i> I look at the vampires," Princess Adele corrected with a light cuff to the boy's shoulder. <p> Anhalt was perspiring in his tightly buttoned uniform. "Unfortunately it's grown too dark for observation, Prince Simon. And <i>Khartoum</i> has blocked our view." He bowed stiffly to the eager prince, indicating a thirty-two-gun frigate maneuvering through the gathering clouds four miles off the port quarter. HMS <i>Cape Town, Mandalay</i>, and <i>Giza</i> were putting on or taking off sail, struggling to answer the signals to form the nightly cordon around the flagship. <p> "And you've seen vampires before," Adele argued to Simon. <p> "So?" The boy craned his neck, straining to peer into the east through the billowing sails of <i>Khartoum</i>. "It's probably the most interesting thing that will happen on this trip." <p> Adele noticed a stony glare on Colonel Anhalt's face as he looked in the direction of the vampires. It was unusually harsh and uncharacteristic of the man. <p> "Something, Colonel?" she asked, handing the spyglass back to him. <p> The Gurkha blinked in surprise, then flushed with embarrassment. He studied his polished boots. "No, Highness. Nothing." <p> "Your expression said otherwise." She stepped closer to him. "Feel free. Have I done something wrong?" <p> The colonel looked up suddenly, mouth agape. "No! I would never—never—" <p> "Easy, Colonel." Adele smiled warmly and laid a hand on his forearm. "You merely looked angry. Is there something wrong?" <p> He wrestled with his thoughts for a moment, and then said, "Forgive my bluntness, Your Highness, but I think it unwise to send you so far north on tour." <p> Adele nodded in consideration. <p> Anhalt continued. "And to send both heirs. I don't know what the court was thinking. It's irrational." <p> "Politics aren't always a matter of the most rational path. I am happy to be here, forging goodwill." Adele, in fact, was thrilled to be away from Alexandria, on board this tossing ship. The alternative was to be at home, immersed in court tedium. When Lord Kelvin, the prime minister, had suggested the tour, Adele had leapt at the opportunity. But she couldn't just make the argument that she enjoyed the adventure. There was a purpose, and it was one that was important to her aside from escape. "It's imperative that the independent city-states on the frontier, such as Marseille, see the future empress of Equatoria. The connections I can make on this tour could be very helpful. There is a war coming." <p> This was a fact both Adele and Colonel Anhalt knew well. Within a year, conflict would begin that would reshape the world in blood. Adele was no warmonger, but she knew the fight was necessary. <p> It had been 150 years since the vampires rose. The monsters had lurked quietly among humanity from the beginning of time, but one dark winter night in 1870 they came en masse intent on subjugating human society. It was not known why they chose that moment to attack. Perhaps a great leader had inspired them. Perhaps they sensed a particular weakness in human culture as it teetered between faith and science. And clearly, humans were not prepared; they were taken totally by surprise. Most people had even given up their beliefs in the existence of such creatures as vampires. <p> The vampires struck at the hearts of the Great Powers of Europe, America, and Asia. They decapitated governments and armies, and destroyed communication and transportation. Order was replaced by horror, panic, and collapse. Within two years, the great industrial societies of the north were cadavers and the vampire clans divided the old world between themselves. <p> At that time, no one had understood the true nature of the vampires. Few enough did, even today. Adele, however, had the benefit of the dons of the Imperial Academy of Sciences in Alexandria to teach her what was known, or thought was known, of the biology and culture of humanity's greatest enemy. Myths about these creatures had grown up over the centuries— myths that were based on truths, but not the truth. Vampires were far more dangerous than the old legends could have imagined. <p> Most respected men of science stated with certainty that vampires were not the resurrected corpses of humans. The creatures were now classed as a parasitic species that thrived on human blood, and they had been categorized <i>Homo nosferatii</i>. Vampires and humans had disturbingly similar anatomies and physiologies, except that vampires had sharper teeth, retractable clawlike fingernails, and eyes acutely adapted to nocturnal hunting. Four of their five senses were magnificent; sight, smell, hearing, and taste were well beyond the level of a dog or cat. However, vampires had a stunted sense of touch, making it difficult for them to manipulate objects or use simple tools. Anatomy lessons conducted in the gaslit chambers beneath the Imperial Academy of Sciences in Alexandria had demonstrated that vampires seemed to feel no pain and rapidly healed from even the most horrific wounds. <p> It had never been demonstrated convincingly that vampires created new vampires by infecting humans. Scholars debated with great vigor how, or even if, vampires propagated. There were many theories, but the current dominant belief among the learned was that the creatures lived forever and that there were as many now as there had ever been or would ever be. <p> Vampires had never been seen to transform into bats or wolves, but they could travel on the wind by amazing control over their density, which was not yet fully understood. Specimens rarely lived long enough in captivity for satisfying experimentation. Sunlight did not turn them to dust, but they were pathologically susceptible to heat, which made them weak and lethargic. Hence, their tendency to come out at night and haunt northern climes. <p> Certainly none of this latest scientific knowledge had been available to the terrified victims of the Great Killing in 1870. After those attacks, hundreds of thousands of humans had fled south toward the equator, where they sought refuge in colonial possessions and fought savagely for land in a great frenzy of cultural collapse and coalition. Eventually the shell-shocked remnants of northern humanity blended with local people and set about trying to re-create new versions of their beloved societies based on steam and iron in the wilting tropical heat where vampires rarely trod. <p> Prince Simon scrambled to the rail again. "I think I see them!" He looked back at Colonel Anhalt with a pleading gaze. <p> The Gurkha offered the young prince his spyglass before turning his attention back to the princess, his hand resting on the hilt of his Fahrenheit saber, an officer's weapon. "I still think it's foolish to waste your time currying favor with the border states. There are only two sides to this war: human and vampire. What's the purpose of diplomacy with those who will need us once the fighting starts?" <p> Adele sighed cheerfully. "You're just argumentative. You know it isn't that simple. We will need the independent states on the frontier as much as they need us. We will want their ports and facilities to move our armies into Europe. Isn't it better to have an understanding beforehand? No one expects a human state to side with the vampires, but the border states have self-interests too. And there will be opportunities for the Empire to expand as we roll back the vampires. Our world is about to change forever." <p> Adele's world was very different from the one her great-grandfather would've known, and which she had read about in history books. There were new Great Powers that were like the resurrected corpses of the world powers at the time of the Great Killing. Her own Equatorian Empire was built on the ruins of the British Empire. It stretched from India to South Africa, with its great capital set amid the dusty mosques of Alexandria. The American Republic was a republic in name only. It was ruled by an oligarchy of wealthy families from its center in the torrid quietude of Panama with firm control over most of Central America and the West Indies, and growing hegemony over the southern region of the old United States. When the vampires attacked Japan, that emperor removed himself to Singapore and spread his power over the green temples of Malaya and much of Southeast Asia. The world over, a dizzying array of semi-independent city-states struggled along the vampire frontiers, where warm summers made it difficult for the monsters to extend their power on a permanent basis. <p> Those who traced their heritage to the north remained galled by the vampire clans' continuing domination of the old lands. They always talked of returning "home" and driving the vampires back into the darkness. <p> Now that moment was at hand. <p> The human states believed they were sufficiently reorganized to strike and had the proper technology to counter the swift, savage hordes of the vampire clans. A brutal War of Reconquest would begin with the coming of spring in the north. <p> And Princess Adele, standing windswept on the deck of <i>Ptolemy</i>, was a linchpin in the strategy. It was her birthright to be part of the bloody struggle for the future of the world. She was the matrimonial prize that would unite the two greatest human states into an allied war machine. <p> Adele regarded the imposing figure of Colonel Anhalt and laughed at his worried scowl. "Thank you for your concern, but surely nothing will happen. We are far south of clan territory. Marseilles hasn't been attacked in—what—fifteen years?" <p> "Seven, Highness." <p> "Seven then. And the weather is quite warm. As our meteorologists predicted." <p> Anhalt grunted in tepid acceptance of her logic. <p> "And I have my White Guard around me." Adele smiled at the furrowed brow on the dark face before her. "You'll keep me safe, won't you, Colonel Anhalt?" <p> There was a sudden and surprising glisten of moisture in Anhalt's hard eyes. "With my life, Your Highness." <p> Adele replied, "Dear Anhalt. Where would I be without you?" <p> "I pray you never have to find out." <p> "I as well." <p> A nervous young naval officer stopped and bowed. "The admiral's compliments, Your Highness. He says we will have chemical lights momentarily, and perhaps you should consider moving belowdecks." <p> The princess replied with proper formality, "Thank you, Lieutenant Sayid." And she noticed his surprise and pride that the imperial heir recalled his name. "I think that two vampires would hardly dare attack an imperial capital ship of one hundred guns." <p> "One hundred and fifteen guns, Your Highness," the boy responded stiffly. <p> "Indeed?" Adele smiled. "Impressive. But in any case, since vampiric vision is reputed to exceed a cat's, surely they could easily perceive the better part of a regiment on deck." <p> Lieutenant Sayid raised a knuckle to his brow in salute and immediately turned to pass orders to the bosun's mates with a less nervous voice. Then he pulled appropriate signal flags and stuffed them into hardened gutta-percha cylinders. The foot-long cylinders went into shining copper pneumatic tubes and were shot to the platforms high in the ship's rigging. <p> Princess Adele watched as gangs of sailors clambered up the shrouds and ratlines toward the gigantic, gas-filled dirigible overhead. The dirigible was encased in a tightly crosshatched metal eggshell designed to protect it from enemy cannon fire. A row of three wooden masts extended laterally from each side and also along the top spine of the steel frame. Sails were set in concert with filling and evacuating parts of the multichambered dirigible, to propel and steer the massive airship. It was an intricate ballet, a wonder to watch. <p> Simon glanced at his big sister. "You want to be up there with them, don't you?" <p> A startled Adele began, "Don't be silly...." Then she stopped and responded honestly, "Yes. And so do you." <p> The boy laughed and nodded his head vigorously, craning his neck to get a glimpse of the fearless sailors. Adele dropped her arm around her brother's shoulders and followed his gaze upward, feeling a powerful desire to climb the quivering lines alongside the sailors and scale the dizzying main topmast swaying high above the airship to feel the clouds on her face. She envied those simple men who shouted, laughed, and even sang in the wind-ripped tops with only the sureness of their grip separating them from a long but certain death. <p> On the blustery quarterdeck, Lieutenant Sayid interrupted her thoughts by touching the brim of his cap politely. "Your Highness, if you would please step to this spot between the carronades. I would be loath for you or the prince to be struck by an inconsiderate falling airman." <p> <i>(Continues...)</i> <p> <p> <!-- copyright notice --> <br></pre> <blockquote><hr noshade size='1'><font size='-2'> Excerpted from <b>THE GREYFRIAR</b> by <b>CLAY GRIFFITH SUSAN GRIFFTH</b> Copyright © 2010 by Clay Griffith and Susan Griffith. Excerpted by permission of Prometheus Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.<br>Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.