Well, they'd better get used to it. Lyssa didn't look at him, but he felt the warmth in the declaration, her answer to the unasked question. It eased the coil of tension in his gut.
Lord Brian cleared his throat. “My lady, this seems an excel ent time to offer the preliminary findings I discussed with you earlier. If you agree.”
“I do.” When Kane wriggled, wanting down, she let him toddle around to his next target, the somber Uthe. The Council member's eyes lit with a smile as he let Kane examine his cufflink, then clamber onto his knee to examine the Templar pendant he always wore. Mariela made a face at the child when Kane peered over his broad shoulder. Kane's eyes got wide, then his mouth creased in a smile.
Fearless. Jacob hoped he would always be. Do you want me to ask Lord Daegan to take him to bed, my lady?
No. We'll wait until after Lord Brian's discussion, as long as he doesn't get overly fussy. I think it could serve a strategic purpose, having him here for this.
Brian rose, nodding to the assembled. “It's a good night to have this discussion, since we have had a . .. perspective shift today. With respect”—he bowed toward Lord Belizar—“I think that shift will be necessary to comprehend the significance of this report, and embrace what it suggests.” Translation—before the coup earlier in the day, Jacob suspected Brian had prepared a report with much more careful wording. It was evident in the easier set of his shoulders, the eagerness in his eyes, now unhampered by concerns about sharp repercussions.
“As you know, one of the most important areas of my research is the low reproduction rate for born vampires. In the past couple centuries, it has dwindled to an alarming rate. At times, this led to various decisions to permit more made vampires, who come with their own problems. With no prejudices intended toward the made vampires who have proven themselves able to overcome these issues, born vampires are more stable, stronger physical stock for our race, and so their continued existence and births are essential for the overal future of our species.”
His gaze strayed briefly to Kane as the child appeared at his knee, now trying that high wattage smile on the scientist. Lord Brian gave him a tender look, brushing his hair back from his forehead. When Jacob made a quiet noise that brought the boy back to him, he picked him up, settled him on his hip again.
As he did, he noted Gideon had moved a step closer to Anwyn's chair. Daegan had his arm stretched across the back of it, casual enough, but an obvious reinforcement. Anwyn's expression was fixed and polite, but of course she was the only made vampire present—the other one having been kil ed by Lyssa earlier in the day. The fact Anwyn stil wrestled with unstable blood from her sire made the words more applicable than comfortable.
Fortunately, the scientist moved away from the delicate topic.
“Cultures with strong magical versus scientific paradigms, such as the Druids, believed that spiritualism was intimately tied to the practical way life was lived. The outcomes of crop production, fertility, et cetera, were all affected by magical forces or the relationship with the gods. These days, some might cal it karma. Whatever name or cause we give it, there does seem to be a correlation between the way we live our lives, and the consequences of those choices, with the expected exceptions. It is even possible that, since we are a very smal race, the spiritual forces in our lives are that much stronger to help us survive as a people, to shove us in the right direction, so to speak.
“This is a very odd way to present scientific findings, Lord Brian,” Helga noted. “Particularly for you.”
He nodded. “If you'l bear with me, my lady, my point will be made clear shortly. So many times, bad outcomes with respect to crops and harsh winters were pinned on individuals, usual y community outsiders easy to blame. It is far easier to do that than to consider such difficulties as the result of the way our lives are being lived. Or even considering it a test of Fate, building our strength, helping our adaptability as time goes on.”
He nodded toward Helga. “I am perhaps unique from others in my field in that I consider an amalgamation of esoteric factors along with the concrete ones, when the concrete ones reach their limit. When that occurs, testing variables becomes more chal enging, but I test all that are available and review experiential data. Let me give you an example.”
He looked toward Lyssa. “With your permission, my lady, I would like Jacob to remove his shirt and show us your servant's mark.”
At Lyssa's nod, Jacob handed Kane to her. He slipped the buttons of his shirt, turned and let it fal off his shoulders, displaying the fossil-like serpent shape. There were mirrors along the wal s of the dining area, a curious decorating choice for vampires, unless one realized how they liked to see their servants at all angles during entertainments. No place to hide facial expressions, but he kept his steady as he watched the Council members' attention turn to his back.
“Every ful servant bears a spontaneous impression like this when they receive the third marking. We can't explain why the shapes appear as they do, but they are always symbolic of the unique relationship between the vampire and servant. In this case, Lady Lyssa is the oldest among us.”
There was a pause as the Council members exchanged glances. Uthe chuckled. “Best explain quickly, lad. She's close enough to tear off your sensitive appendages.”
Light laughter rippled through their ranks. Brian, mired in his science, pul ed out of the deep end enough to realize the faux pas. Lyssa arched a brow at him, her jade eyes cool, though Jacob felt her indulgent amusement with Brian's sudden discomfiture. He pressed on hastily.
“I am not comparing you to the fossil, my lady. Not technical y. A fossil is an enduring impression of ancient times, of our history, of what has led us to this moment. I think it could be argued that Lady Lyssa does represent that to us. This serpent shape”—he moved closer, fol owed the track of the mark up Jacob's back with a finger—“has three distinct curve points. Lady Lyssa has made it clear she believes Jacob was a part of her life at three different points, in three different bodies.
“These are just interpretations, obviously, and this symbol is more open to them than others. However, many of you know about Lord Mason's tiger mark on his back, a brand and inked tattoo he put there himself many years ago. When he took Jessica as his fully marked servant earlier this year . . .” Turning toward Mason, Brian had the good sense to clear his throat, ask delicately. “Er, my lord, if you don't mind?”
Jessica waited, her gaze on her Master's profile.
Mason gave her a nearly imperceptible nod.
Stepping forward, she slid her skirt up almost to the juncture of her thighs, barely covering what was between. Graceful y, she pivoted her toe to reveal her inner thigh, the tiger mark there.
“Thank you, my lady, my lord.” He nodded to Lyssa and Mason. Jessica smoothed her skirt back in place. However, before Jacob could shrug back into his shirt, Lyssa extended her free hand out over the side of her chair. While she didn't spare him a glance, he understood the message well enough.
Jacob placed the shirt in her hand, and she gave it to Kane to crumple in his fists, bury his face in his father's familiar scent.
“Thank you, my lady,” Carola said, a sparkle in her eye as she ran an appreciative glance over Jacob's upper body. Giving her a slight bow and a curve of lips, Jacob took up his place on the wal again.
Brian resumed, the sense of expectation in his voice indicating he was about to reach his point of import. “Just like the marks that appear on our servants that we can't explain, but which seem appropriately suited to our relationships, I have found a correlation between those of our kind who are successful y getting pregnant and bearing children now. A significant one.”
That stil ed movement at the table further, for few things concerned the Council as much as the dwindling population of the vampire species.
“Ten of our nearly five thousand known vampires have children on the way. Eight are born vampires, two are made. Seven others are raising children they have had in the past five years.” He nodded toward Kane, dozing off in Lyssa's arms. “I won't bore the Council with the painstaking details of years of data col ection on this subject, trusting that you have confidence in my research skil s, though of course I always maintain the data for your personal review . .. particularly in this case.”
As he paused on those last four words, their attention sharpened. “When biological factors proved no pattern, I chose nonbiological factors. The one common factor every couple had was something I waited to voice until I was reasonably sure of it.
What I have found is this: there is an undeniable connection between fertility and those vampires and servants who have a closer relationship than is considered acceptable in our world.”
A murmur ran through the assembled Council.
Some gazes darted toward Lyssa to see her reaction, but her attention remained on Brian, her expression unchanging. “You may say my research is speculative,” Brian noted, “since those vampires and servants who have such a relationship are not likely to reveal it. However, I applied a set of constant factors, and all ten relationships demonstrated them.
A higher level of intimacy and trust, some level of positive dependence between the couple. Positive, in that the vampire stil clearly held the dominant role in the relationship, but he or she valued the servant in a manner that strongly suggests a deep emotional bond there. One that could be defined as deep, romantic love.”
At the uncomfortable shifting around the table, the frowns that appeared on more than one face, he lifted a shoulder. “Whenever a scientist dips a foot into such a realm, he is already beyond measurable standards, but I use the term as we define it visual y, by intuition and feeling, in our interactions with others.
“I admit I struggled with whether or not to bring this information to the Council, because for as long as we can remember, the relationship between vampire and servant has been strictly dictated. Any sense of a vampire having stronger feelings for their servant than is perceived as appropriate has been dealt with harshly by this Council, as well as Region Masters and overlords. But this is such an important topic for our survival, I think I must trust Council with it.” Though he didn't say it, his glance toward Lyssa suggested the change of governance had aided his decision. Belizar's mouth tightened, but if he thought to accuse Brian of delaying the release of his findings, he apparently swal owed the urge.