An Embarrassment of Riches: A Novel of the Count Saint-Germain

An Embarrassment of Riches: A Novel of the Count Saint-Germain

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by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro
     
 

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An historical horror novel featuring one of the most compelling and alluring vampires of the modern era, the Count Saint-Germain.

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Overview

An historical horror novel featuring one of the most compelling and alluring vampires of the modern era, the Count Saint-Germain.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Yarbro's long-running series featuring the millennia-old vampire Saint-Germain continues to mix rich historical detail and erudite eroticism, though the horror element has become nearly invisible. Known now as Rakoczy Ferancsi, Comes of Santu-Germaniu, Saint-Germain has been exiled from his ancient lands and now resides at the court of the melancholy Queen Kunigunde of Bohemia in 13th-century Prague. He is regarded with suspicion by the local church hierarchy and with intense personal interest by three ladies of the court: the scheming Rozsa of Borsod, the passionate teenager Imbolya of Heves (a particularly unlikely match for 3,200-year-old Saint-Germain), and the determined Iliska of Szousa. Though the intensity of the storytelling has lessened substantially over the course of the series, Yarbro's compelling prose and meticulously researched setting still combine effectively for a vivid historical tale that will please series fans. (Mar.)
From the Publisher
“Meticulous attention to historic detail and vivid writing bring an ancient era to life.  Unlike most generic vampire novels that can be quaffed in a quick if entertaining gulp, this book should be savored like fine wine.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review on Roman Dusk

“Quinn Yarbro is one of our finest writers and craftpersons, incapable of a slack paragraph, or a fuzzy thought.  Everything is perfectly focused, everything is expertly accomplished.  The Count remains a vibrantly original character, one of the greatest contributions to the horror genre."—Peter Straub

“A heady, intoxicating blend of historical fiction and subtle horror.  The love scenes display the same lush sensuality for which Anne Rice’s vampire fiction is known.”—VOYA on Communion Blood

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781429918893
Publisher:
Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date:
03/01/2011
Series:
St. Germain , #24
Sold by:
Macmillan
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
384
Sales rank:
605,343
File size:
0 MB

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Read an Excerpt

An Embarrassment of Riches

A Novel of the Count Saint-Germain


By Chelsea Quinn Yarbro

Tom Doherty Associates

Copyright © 2011 Chelsea Quinn Yarbro
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-1889-3



CHAPTER 1

Rakoczy Ferancsi looked around the entry hall of his manse, his only expression a flicker of disappointment in his dark eyes. "Well, we have seen worse; at least they disposed of the rushes; we will have to do something about the rats," he remarked in Imperial Latin to Hruther, who was three steps behind him, carrying a red-lacquer chest strapped to his shoulders, its legs removed and bound to the body of the chest. The two went through the arched door and into the main hall; at the far end of it was a large fireplace badly in need of sweeping; two benches lay upside down in front of it. "We will need a staff of fifteen at least to manage this place, inside and out." He swung his black-and-white badger-pelt mantel off his shoulders and draped it over the nearest plank bench, revealing a black bleihaut with Hungarian-style sleeves and long, black-embroidered riding panels in the front of the garment. His Roman braccae were heavy black cotton; his high boots were thick-soled and made of tooled red leather from Aleppo. He wore no jewelry or indication of rank so as not to tempt robbers to stalk him during his travels; his head was bare, revealing dark wavy hair, cut shorter than the current fashion, with a touch of gray at the temples, and just now, his attractive, irregular features were severe. His simplicity of clothing would change when he went to the Konige's Court to present himself along with the rest of those subjects Konig Bela had sent to his granddaughter, when grandeur would be expected of him on account of his title; richness and variety in dress were required for members of the Konige's Court, and failure to present a splendid appearance would be regarded as a slight to the Konige.

"More like twenty, and more for the bake-house, the bath-house, and the stable," said Hruther, setting the chest down and sniffing the chilly air. "It's musty."

"True enough."

"The air is stale."

"It has been empty for more than a year," Rakoczy said, a suggestion of doubt about this in his observation. "According to Counselor Smiricti."

The building was less than fifty years old, made of wood and stone, two stories high, with ten rooms and a kitchen in this central manse. It stood on a shoulder of a hill not far from the Vaclav Castle, surrounded by a tall stone wall; this manse was on the highest part of the mansion-grounds. The main hall reached up to the roof, heavily beamed and shadowy above the rows of shuttered windows that ran along the gallery on three sides of the hall providing what little light filtered into the room. Large as it was, the main hall was sparsely furnished with rough-hewn benches and two standing chests, both of which were open, showing all contents were gone; there was an overturned table in the far corner of the hall. To the left of the fireplace, a narrow, steep stairway led to the gallery above.

"The private rooms — six of them — are upstairs, but for the withdrawing rooms, on the other side of the main hall," said Hruther as he carefully put down the bundled legs of the chest. "According to the information we were given."

"There are two of those, are there not? withdrawing rooms?" Rakoczy asked.

Hruther pointed to the right. "You can see the doors; one is supposed to have three tall windows."

"I'll decide which one of them will serve as my study; we can turn one of the upstairs rooms into my workroom, with space for my books; we will have to determine how accurate the description we were provided actually is," Rakoczy decided aloud. "The work already paid for is still not done."

"It isn't quite what we expected," Hruther said. "This will need a lot of work."

Rakoczy nodded his agreement. "Fortunately we have four men from our escort with us for another ten days before they return to Santu-Germaniu. We can get some work done here until we have hired the servants we need."

"Escorts and a groom," said Hruther of the four men who had accompanied them to Praha. He crossed the room to the maw of the fireplace. "The chimney will need cleaning before a fire can be safely lit. At least the Bohemians have chimneys — not like the English. By the smell of it, there are rats in the flue." He glanced at the floor. "By the droppings, there are rats everywhere."

Although it was April, the day was overcast, threatening rain, so the house was chilly and damp. Hruther stretched to ease his shoulders. "The eight wagons with your furnishings should be here in a few days. It was wise to dispatch them separately; I think now you were right about that. Konig Bela would have been suspicious of you taking so many of our own goods with the Dux of Oradea's escort. Bela would like your exile to be as limited as possible, but since he needs Santu-Germaniu to help keep his heir in check in Transylvania, he cannot deny you at least a few of your things. Bela has good reason to contain Istvan, and without Santu-Germaniu he won't be able to." He looked at the nearest of the open chests, shaking his head. "We can manage for four days on our own. You have enough gold to hire help before the rest of your goods arrive."

"And you dare to speak the heir's name aloud?" Rakoczy asked, his tone gently mocking.

"Who but you can hear me, my master?" Hruther countered. "I will say nothing that could create more suspicions than have already accumulated around us."

"We may yet need my gold for bribes, though Bohemia is rich in gold."

Hruther gave a wintery smile. "Jewels will be most welcome, in any event. The Konige will want them."

"I wish I had been allowed more of my servants to come with me," Rakoczy said, taking a turn about the main hall, feeling increasingly desolate as he took stock of all the work to be done. "There is so much to be restored."

"True enough," Hruther agreed.

"As you say, we can probably manage well enough until the household goods arrive. This is hardly the Silk Road, nor is it Leosan Fortress, or Cyprus, thank all the forgotten gods." Memories of those three places rose in his thoughts; he looked toward the maw of the fireplace as the images faded.

Hruther pinched the bridge of his nose, then rubbed his eyes, doing his best to banish the fatigue that was taking hold of him now that they had reached the end of their journey. "The Dux set a hard pace for us," he said as if offering an explanation for his weariness. "Doubtless Konig Bela required it of him."

"So he did," Rakoczy said.

"Still, we should make some effort to settle in as soon as your goods arrive," Hruther declared, making himself stand straight. "It's expected. The Konige's Court will expect it of you." He stretched his arms, laced his fingers, and pushed his hands out ahead of him.

"We should probably fetch food from the market before that; as you say, it is expected and the men are hungry," Rakoczy said, and then added, "Or I could give them money for a meal and entertainment. What do you think, old friend?"

"They'd probably prefer the latter, and it will postpone our first visit to the market until tomorrow; I can wait until then to purchase a lamb or a brace of ducks for my own needs," said Hruther. "It's been a long trek from your native earth. The men have earned their respite — no doubt they'll be glad of a night of revelry and soft beds."

"Then they shall have such a night, and as many of them as we may need to provide," Rakoczy nodded, and continued his stroll around the room. "We should purchase a proper table from the local wood-workers, with chairs, not benches, to go with it. The servants' quarters are behind the kitchen opposite the stable, as I recall from the Counselor's description."

"I'll go and look, if you like," Hruther offered.

Rakoczy laughed once. "You have the right of it; neither of us has been here before, and we are both seeing it for the first time. That plan the Counselors sent has its limits in —" He paused, pondering for a moment. "I suppose I should send a gift to the Counselors of Praha for selecting this place for us."

"They probably expect something for their help," Hruther agreed. "There'll be time enough tomorrow to present yourself to them, when you can report your plans for this place." He pointed to the empty sconces on the wall. "We'll need some torches by nightfall. We don't want to fumble about in the dark."

Rakoczy nodded. "And not fumbling about would lead to awkward questions," he said; he saw nearly as well in the dark as he did in daylight. "I'll put incense in the sap on the torches, to take the disused odor out of the air."

Hruther moved to the center of the main hall, taking stock of the place. "It's a bit drafty."

"We will have to find where the drafts are worst and hang tapestries there until proper caulking can be done." Rakoczy sighed. "Do you suppose we should send a messenger to the Konige's Court to announce our arrival? Or is that the Counselors' duty?" He stopped. "You have no more notion than I do. I am speaking to the walls as much as to you, for which I ask your pardon."

"You needn't," said Hruther; his faded-blue eyes showed a trace of amusement. "There are busy days ahead of us."

"Truly," said Rakoczy. He strode to the staircase next to the fireplace. "I trust the Counselors will advise us on where we might find dependable servants. In any case, we'll need their permission to engage the staff."

"I'll find out tomorrow," said Hruther.

"I will consult the Guildmaster to engage masons to build an athanor for me," Rakoczy said, his eyes fixed in the middle distance, his lips pressed together as he weighed his decision. "Better to have it done by a Bohemian than by me, and by a Guild member."

"There may still be raised eyebrows," Hruther warned. "Athanors are not the usual work of masons."

"So long as I am considered to be in the service of Konige Kunigunde, however marginally, having local masons build the athanor will provide a measure of protection against rumors." Rakoczy lapsed into thought again. "We will need more furnishings than what is coming. I'll find the Carpenters' Guild as well as the Masons'."

"Except for those rumors the masons start, you can contain the worst of them, so long as the Konige is willing to support you," said Hruther.

Rakoczy sighed. "You have the right of it: there will be rumors — since I am twice-exiled from my native earth." He nodded once. "Still, it was prudent to leave Santu-Germaniu before Konig Bela decided to attack once more and claim it as his own, not only to keep his son in check, but as an excuse to seize my wealth." He shook his head slowly. "I am well-aware of what Konig Bela wants, and my fief is the least of it. By accepting his terms of exile and coming here, we avoid any more difficulties with him, and his son, for that matter — Istvan is still eager to rule beyond Transylvania — and spare the peasants on my land further raids and losses." He paused. "But now we are here, we must take care not to be overheard when we speak of this."

"Of course." Hruther pressed his lips together. "For the sake of Santu-Germaniu and your vassals."

"Among other things," Rakoczy said. "It is a relief to talk about it while we are private. It is a relief not to have spies all around us."

"But you disliked leaving," Hruther pointed out.

There was an ironic note in Rakoczy's response. "It is my native earth, and I am bound to it. Though I have left it many times, leaving of my own will and leaving in exile are not the same thing. Konig Bela wants me out of Hungary, but not so far that I might make mischief for him. Praha serves his purpose admirably."

"I don't think you could have negotiated with him, not to any advantage for you," Hruther remarked.

"Nor do I. What assurance could we have that our terms would be honored?" He went quiet. "It was best to leave, but —"

"You would rather not be required to go," said Hruther; he had been aware of Rakoczy's sorrow since they had gone from Santu-Germaniu.

"It was how I went to my death, the first time — as an exile and captive. I am less a captive now than I was thirty-three centuries ago, but just as much an exile." He felt the impact of that time, so long ago, when he had been captured by the enemies of his father and his country, made a slave destined with men from his father's army to take the brunt for his new masters' army in battle, and was disemboweled for his victory when his captors had expected his defeat; they had feared that he and all the captive slaves he led might rebel ... To keep from dwelling on his breathing life, he slapped his hands together, saying, "What did you make of the bodies?"

Hruther showed no emotion. "You mean the four hanging in chains outside the main gate?" He saw Rakoczy nod. "Otakar doesn't suffer treachery, or flouting of the Konig's Law."

"So I thought," Rakoczy concurred.

"And the Counselors of Praha will not deny him his justice, such as it is, unless they want to join the bodies hanging outside the gate," Hruther added in a carefully neutral voice, rubbing his clean-shaven cheek.

"As they are certainly aware. Those corpses —" He had felt the odor of the bodies like a blow, and it struck him again in recollection. "I wonder how long he leaves them hanging?" It was more a question to himself, so he was a bit startled when Hruther answered.

"Until they come apart," Hruther said. "That's the way of most rulers in this region of the world, or so I heard one of our escort explain to the scribe."

"It would appear to be true," said Rakoczy, making a fastidious gesture as if to banish the vision of the men hanging by the gate.

"There is a bath-house — yes?" Hruther asked into the silence that had fallen between them.

"So I was told; behind the bake-house," Rakoczy answered, his manner mildly distracted, as if the recollections of his breathing days were lingering. "And you have the right of it: bathing is needed."

"If the furnace is clean enough to use safely, then I believe I should start it warming." Hruther folded his arms. "You will not want to call upon the Counselors still grimy from the road, and in clothing less than worthy of your rank. You know what sticklers these municipal Councils can be."

"None better," Rakoczy agreed as he fingered his neat, close-trimmed beard, relieved to have such a mundane matter to consider. "I will want the Hungarian bleihaut in dark-red silk, and the black-silk gambeson trimmed in ermine. The Hungarian braccae and the Persian boots, I think. I will present myself to the Counselors tomorrow after Mass, and to the Konige in the afternoon."

"With jewels," said Hruther, glancing over at the overturned table as a mouse ran out from its protection and skittered toward the corridor leading to the kitchen.

"Certainly," said Rakoczy. "Konig Bela would demand it, if only to prove my deserts of position to his granddaughter. The black-sapphire-in-silver eclipse pectoral on the ruby-studded chain, and rings for every finger." He began to pull off his Spanish gloves. "And my coronet, too, I suppose. They will expect the full display."

"What gift will you offer the Counselors?" Hruther inquired.

"I have to think about it; perhaps silver buckles?"

"There is plenty of silver in Bohemia," Hruther pointed out. "Some of the Counselors might consider such a gift insulting."

"Then a selection of ivory boxes should be welcome; there are no elephants in Bohemia," said Rakoczy, his expression remote. "There should be a dozen of them in the banded trunk. You'll have no difficulty in locating them."

"We can search for them later," Hruther said, aware of Rakoczy's discomfort. "But for now, the bath-house, don't you think?"

"I do," said Rakoczy, and dropped his gloves on top of his mantel, preparing to follow Hruther.

The kitchen, tacked onto the east wall of the manse, proved cavernous, with two huge fireplaces, one equipped with spits for turning meat, the other with an assortment of hooks for hanging cauldrons. The room smelled of stale oil and burnt flesh. An oven with an iron door was set in the wall between the two fireplaces, and another small fireplace in the center of the room was topped with a thick iron sheet that was in need of cleaning and oiling. The windows were high in the wall, the thick, greenish glass filling them in diamond patterns of heavy leading, giving the kitchen a quality of fretted light that made the room seem as if it were under water.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from An Embarrassment of Riches by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro. Copyright © 2011 Chelsea Quinn Yarbro. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
“Meticulous attention to historic detail and vivid writing bring an ancient era to life.  Unlike most generic vampire novels that can be quaffed in a quick if entertaining gulp, this book should be savored like fine wine.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review on Roman Dusk

“Quinn Yarbro is one of our finest writers and craftpersons, incapable of a slack paragraph, or a fuzzy thought.  Everything is perfectly focused, everything is expertly accomplished.  The Count remains a vibrantly original character, one of the greatest contributions to the horror genre."—Peter Straub

“A heady, intoxicating blend of historical fiction and subtle horror.  The love scenes display the same lush sensuality for which Anne Rice’s vampire fiction is known.”—VOYA on Communion Blood

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