Chapter 3: On the Run
Disclaimer: S. Meyer owns Twilight Banner by Lady of Spain
Maria’s newborn army had vanquished the opposition in the only remaining southern district of Texas. She had now taken over all the grazing rights in the state. Jasper was invincible. If he had been given the chance as a human, the south might have won the War Between the States. He was that good; revered by all the soldiers.
The vamps in the Moreno territory admired him for his fearlessness, his audacity and expertise. They all thought of him as their general, in charge of the infantry. In truth, Maria held the strings; Jasper was a mere puppet.
Of his duties, training his troops was a job which he relished. After the one year mark however, the newborns were of no use to Maria. They lost their edge, as their superior strength waned. It was up to Jasper to dispatch them on their way to hell. It was a job he did not relish.
This was not the life he pictured when he was seventeen, and he had to admit, that even with Maria at his side, he was lonely. There was a couple in the ranks that he had become particularly fond of, and their newborn status was nearing an end. The man’s name was Peter, the girl, Charlotte. They were in love, something that Jasper dreamed about, but could never quite find for himself, not that Maria would ever let him get close to any of the woman there. He sensed her jealousy from a mile off.
Sometimes, Peter would stop after a hard day battling the enemy, and talk to Jasper as they sat on the ground floor of the stable. “How many years you been doin’ this, Jasper?” They were on a first name basis.
“I reckon I may’ve lost count. I think it’s been fifteen years, not countin’ the last days of the Civil War.”
“Don’t you sometimes wish you could just chuck it all, and leave it behind you?”
Jasper sucked in a breath, even though it wasn’t necessary. “It’s all I’ve ever known—war, and blood and revenge.” He laughed humorlessly. “I’d be plum wore out, if I was still human.” He dropped his eyes to the hay-strewn floor where he sat. “Sometimes I wish I had died beside my brother.”
Peter lay back against a bale of hay, chewing on a bit of straw. He was unusually somber this day. He was known for his easy nature and humorous stories.
“I heartily agree. This life is hell, but Charlotte gets me through the rough spots. I love her you know.”
Yes, he did know. Every time they were together, he could feel their happiness. It pained him to think that it would soon be over. If only he could omit that couple of executions, but he’d already tried to shirk his duty a time or two, and Maria cut him off from her favors for over a month. It sickened him to realize how bound he was to her. A couple’s lives doomed to be cut short because he was too selfish to curtail his own carnal pleasures! How his life had changed—Jasper could no longer say he was an honorable man.
That evening he was out walking in the fields near the tree line when he heard voices. The emotions between the two people speaking was unmistakable. It was Peter and Charlotte. He turned to walk in the opposite direction to afford them some privacy, but he couldn’t help overhearing their plans to escape. All at once, he felt their fear seep into the air surrounding him. It was obvious that they had seen him, or noted his scent.
Peter rushed to Jasper’s side and begged in desperation. “Please ... you’re not fixin’ ta stop us, are you? We want another type of life. You don’t need us; and it’s no secret that Maria plans to have us executed soon. We are not that stupid. People disappear mysteriously around these parts. We’ve seen the purple smoke in the sky on numerous occasions. Can’t you let us go?”
“Then come with us. We can start afresh. Think about it, Jasper—a new life with no more warfare.”
“No, I can’t leave the troops to her mercy. It’d be unconscionable. I tell you what—I
will turn a blind eye for now. You and Charlotte leave tonight. I will not stop you. Good luck to you both.”
“What about Ria?”
“Don’t y’all worry none, I’ll handle her. Now you go on ahead!”
“Much obliged to ya.”
Charlotte walked up beside her sweetheart, and stopping, peered at Jasper. “Thank you. As long as I live, I will never forget this.”
She took a step forward and kissed Jasper on the cheek, her light brown hair tickling his neck. Peter tugged on her hand impatiently and in the blink of an eye, they were a blur racing toward the horizon.
Three days transpired before Maria noticed that two of her soldiers were missing. When no one could find them, she became enraged, and turned on Jasper while in the privacy of their bedroom. Her crimson eyes darkened in anger as her arms flailed about, above her head. “How could you let this happen? These are your troops—trained by you. I will not have deserters in my army. I want you to find them pronto and punish them. Comprende?”
Creeping up behind her, he let his nose slide along the back of her neck. “Darlin’, if they are no longer here, then I reckon they’re long gone. It would be a rough row to hoe for us to hunt them down after all this time has elapsed.”
Jasper used his power to influence her emotions, a sea of calm enveloping her. As she started to feel her anger subsiding, she turned to him, complaining, “Oh, mi amor, no, no, no—I know what you are doing. I am upset; I refuse to be a party to your powers. Leave me my anger.”
Drawing her to his chest, he swept back her hair, rubbing the strands between his fingers. His cheek pressed alongside hers, and finally he tasted her lips. Then he whispered, “Ria, let’s not argue about this unfortunate occurrence, wouldn’t you rather make love with me tonight, instead of frettin’ your lil’ head over somethin’ that we have no control over?”
Maria melted in his arms. He didn’t need his magic to make her want him. The battle was won by the major, as she surrendered, tumbling with him onto the mattress.
His ruse worked; Peter and Charlotte were free of them, but others were not so lucky ...
“It must be done, querido,” Maria murmured in his ear. We cannot let sentiment stand in the way of victory. Do not waste time. Make it quick. I will send Juanita to dispose of the body. I am aware that chore is distasteful to you, no?
One of the female troops, Virginia, was a favorite of his. Maybe Maria was a little jealous and wanted her out of the way. She was nineteen in human years with auburn hair, a slim figure and an easy smile especially for him. Jasper never did entertain any ideas of being with her; it was more of a brotherly love. He knew her secret however, sensing the strong emotions emanating from her—she was in love with him.
“Miss Virginia,” he called to her that afternoon. “May I have the honor of seein’ you in the stable this evening? I need to discuss a particular issue with you. It is of great secrecy, so I would be much obliged if you would not disclose our lil’ meetin’ to anyone outside of ourselves.”
The night was beautiful; a crescent moon hanging like a giant lantern in the sky. Crickets chirped their never-ending symphony, and owls hooted high in the surrounding trees. A cool breeze whispered against his face as he sauntered to the stable. Juanita and Mercedes were stationed behind the building, waiting to carry out their gruesome duties after Jasper completed the execution.
The young major was acutely aware of her naked emotions as she stood before him. The girl was exuding waves of love. He knew it, and that fact made him feel worse than a monster, knowing what he was commanded to do. Virginia had done nothing wrong—nothing to deserve this anyway. She had only feelings of affection toward her military leader. And her adored leader would repay her with a twist of her neck and consequently removing her head from her shoulders. What a waste of a beautiful head, and a beautiful woman.
Jasper hesitated, gazing at her sorrowfully. The full import of his expression washed over her, and uneasiness replaced her prior feelings.
He stretched out his power to calm her, but not before her fear hit him full force and the guilt ate at him. Hating this job as the troop executioner, he could feel all the emotions of his victims, but destroying such a guiltless young girl like Virginia, crystallized his decision to move on. He couldn’t in good conscience do this anymore. It was heinous, even for a vampire.
He quickly concluded the gory task, and moved away from her limp body, in an impossible attempt to erase the memory of her frightened eyes. If he could sleep or dream, that sight would intrude on his subconscious for quite awhile.
Waiting until Maria was away negotiating with a rival coven, Jasper took off, with just the clothes on his back and his precious guitar. He could see no other alternative and so he ran until ultimately he found himself in Arizona.
He had to feed, but the thought of taking the life of an innocent preyed on his conscience. Luckily for him, there was a lot of lawlessness in Tombstone, so when someone was gunned down, he would speedily remove the remaining blood in the poor cowboy while it was still warm. This solution worked for many years until the Wild West was tamed.
Jasper wandered clear up to New York, where it seemed like there was still plenty of gunplay, and there in the shadows of a seedy part of Watertown, he coincidentally met up with Peter and Charlotte.
He dangled one arm at Jasper’s shoulder, the other around Charlotte’s waist.
The couple lived in a comfortable bungalow on the outskirts of town, next to the funeral home they ran.
Joking, Peter commented, “This was one business where I wouldn’t be all-fired tempted to sample my clients.”
Charlotte sat on the arm of the settee beside Peter and patting his sleeve, commented, “Peter embalms them, and I make them look prettier than when they were alive. It’s worked out real good.”
“And the pay keeps us in clothes and this house. The joke’s on the town though. The undead are buryin’ the truly dead. Ain’t that a knee slapper?”
Jasper was glad to laugh about something. He almost had forgotten what it felt like. But then Peter always saw the bright side of everything.
Leaning an elbow on one knee, Peter rested his chin on his fist. “Are you stayin’ in Watertown long?”
“I hadn’t thought on it much. What I’d really like to do, is go back to Texas someday. I miss my home.”
“What’s stoppin’ ya?”
“Isn’t it obvious? Maria ... I can’t step foot back in the state. She always did scare the beejesus out of the recruits with her hissy fits, and I’m damn sure she never has forgivin’ me for up and leavin’ like I did.”
Peter stood from the couch and stared at Jasper. “Then you haven’t heard tell? I’m real sorry, Major, but Maria is dead.”
Jasper was stunned. His mouth dropped open. “Sure nuff?”
“Nomads come through here every now and then. I got to talkin’ to one of them, and he said the wars down South are no more. Some group of foreigners came from Italy, I do believe. They put a stop to the warrin’ and kilt almost the whole lot of Maria’s troops. A few of them were allowed to live so they could let the other covens know that the Italians would visit all the factions unless they stayed peaceable. I guess we know now that even our kind has some type of rules and regulations.”
Jasper must’ve looked really distressed. “Are you okay?”
“I reckon so. It was a shock, is all.”
Hesitating, Jasper rubbed his cheek in contemplation. “I didn’t have what ya’ll have. I never loved Maria; I stayed with her, because it was all I knew. I was nothin’ but a servant to her, doin’ her bidden’ as she saw fit. But it got so that I couldn’t rightly close my eyes to the executions any longer. I finally threw in the calf rope on that one. I couldn’t do it no more, so I lit out on my own, and kept a-runnin’ and here I am.”
“Would you like to stay a while then? You’re welcome to bunk with us ’til you get a place of your own. We can always use another hand around here. And with your talent for calmin’ people down ... well let’s just say—that there’s a talent that any undertaker would kill for.”
Jasper smiled and shook Peter’s hand. “Much obliged, friend.”
Peter pulled on Jasper’s arm, lifting him from the couch. “Well, all right then. Let’s mosey on out to the funeral parlor, so’s I can show you around.”