I open my eyes to the familiar darkness. I am still wearing the ruin of the maid outfit and the congealed blood sticks to my skin in a most unpleasant way. The smell is not much better.
Outside I can hear two heartbeats.
I slide the sarcophagus open to the canopy of Loth’s large tent. Just like six months ago, it is basked in soothing blue light.
“Good evening lass, quick, take this!”
He hands me a silver chalice with a cover. The hint of fresh blood immediately wakes the Thirst. I take off the top and drink.
It tastes so much sweeter than my usual fare. It is, without a doubt, human, with a hint of something special. A strange power fleets through its exquisite vitality, taunting and tricksy, but not malicious. It is the best human blood I have ever sampled since the first.
“Yes, he volunteered. He said he wanted to contribute to the potion that will alleviate the curse. It seems that it mattered to him quite a bit,” says Loth, as he finishes draining his blood in a second chalice.
“Ye were hurt by my fault, so I will give ye my blood in good faith tonight. Take it as a day off. A night off. Whatever.”
I stand up and take stock while he finishes. I am healed, yet still weak. It would be best if I do not have to fight anyone tonight.
“I believe I will take you up on that offer. Thank you, Loth.”
I drink the second chalice, a full cup of steel, mountain, and power. Although nowhere close to yesterday’s blood, it is still extremely potent.
“Thank you Loth! That was delicious!”
“Naturally. Now lass, we need to address your first follower.”
“My Vassal, Dalton.”
“Aye. The boy and I came ta an agreement. I need someone to clean around the garden, run some errands and spot me when I calibrate rifles. He’ll do. I also expect him ta make yer hunting easier. Smooth things out, as it were.”
I turn to Dalton.
“It’s a very good offer Mistress, I could never hope for such a good position anywhere else.”
“Good, so it’s settled then?”
“Aye, all that’s left is that you, ah, seal the deal so to speak...”
“…By drinking his blood.”
“Of course! Haha, yes, naturally.”
Loth gives me a knowing smile and leaves the tent.
“So…” says Dalton.
Why does he have to make it so awkward? It’s just… Hum, part of the deal! We just have to be intimate even though we met a week ago…
Is this how arranged marriage feels like?
Bah, I don’t want to think about this any longer. I approach Dalton who obediently tilts his head and embrace him.
He smells like soap, sunshine, and liquor. Not a bad mix. His pulse quickens… I lick the jugular and he swallows. The movement is so enticing. Slowly, I bite.
It reminds me of that time with Aintza… The same arousal… Oh no! Hum! Let me lick this close with all haste and let him go. God, young men are so enthusiastic! Gah, this is embarrassing, but kind of fun. How I wish Jimena liked men. Then we could talk together and she could tell me more. We could even have many Vassals! Bring them together and have them walk around with nothing on their butts! We could stare at their butts! Even touch them!
“Nothing! Now, I really need to take a bath. Is there water?”
“There is a river a few hundred yards away. I could draw enough for a bath and warm it for you?”
“Silly Vassal! That would take aaaaaaaaages! Let me just go there. I don’t need warm water. Cold water will help me wake up! It forges the character!”
I step outside and immediately come across Loth, waiting for something.
“I’m going to take a bath!”
“We do have other things to discuss…”
“After the bath! Now, where is the river?”
“You… Want to bath in the river?”
“Of course not! Do you take me for a savage? Wait… OOoooooooh of course, thank you Loth!”
Silly me, to go out like that. I come back inside and pile my favorite jasmine soap of all time and clean clothes in the copper tub then drag it outside.
“Alright, I’m gone!”
“… The river is the other way.”
“Oooooh thanks, see you later Loth!”
I manage to drag the tub with me through the undergrowth and only fall twice and impact a single tree. I don’t know who planted that pine like that in the middle of the way, it’s so stupid! If I catch the rogue! Ugh.
The river is quite shallow and I only have to drag the tub to the edge, realize my stuff is still in it, take my stuff out, fill it with water and settle it in a nice secluded grove and ta da! It’s done. I jump in and start peeling the ruined uniform and flaking red stuff. Aaaaah but it is so good to be there. I can enjoy the light of the moon, the water, bubbly soap and the caress of the wind on my skin. Stars illuminate the sky while the relaxing light of the Silent Watcher stands as proof to its eternal vigil. The riot of colors and sounds form together a chaotic symphony both complex and so very alive. The night is beautiful, and it is mine.
I savor the moment and think back on yesterday.
Loth is right, we have much to discuss. I will have to tell him about the vision. He is my friend and needs to know what I saw.
Having a penis was a strange experience. I know how it feels now. Teehee. Oh my, I know how it feels to be inside of a woman! Truly remarkable. I am willing to bet some women would pay solid gold to feel what I experienced!
And what an experience it was. The slow and steady moves, the feeling of a warm body against my own, the moans of pleasure... This is so much more than I expected. It was amazing...
I stop and realize I am no longer applying soap. My left hand is cupping my breast and the other rests at the edge of my pubis.
I lower myself in the tub and raise my hips. Yes, Agna had raised hers, just so. They had rolled with a hypnotic motion…
I lower my right hand until it parts the blond hair, and then I stop again. I let it lie there, quiescent.
I always thought I knew all there is to know about sex. I saw animals go at it so I had a general idea about the process. I learned from the people around me that married couples do it to have children. I was told that men want it all the time and women give it. I understood that it could be painful or somewhat pleasant for us. Hussies are those who let many men have what they want from them and use it for their own benefits.
This is what I was led to believe. It is also a lie. Yesterday, Loth showed me what could be. He showed me that sex could be a source of incredible bliss for both partners, a felicity that transcends the physical into the quasi mystic.
When Agna climaxed, the sensation was so strong that she looked like she was dying. They shared this together. It was intense and beautiful. It was sacred.
I remember what Master did. It does not have to be that way. I do not have to surrender this to him, not to anyone. It can be mine. I could even share it with someone else, one day.
I lower my hand. My sex is flushed and wet, not with water but something much softer. It makes my fingers drift smoothly over my folds and that little nub of flesh that… Aaaaaaah.
My body spasms once around my core in a wave that expands throughout my entire body. I arc my back away from the water.
I move two fingers in slow and large circular motions. I take my time and enjoy the feeling building inside of me. My finger brushes the little nub, again and again, slow and steady. I remember yesterday, Loth’s lips on her nipple. I use my other hand to touch and tease my own until the pink tips become hard and sensitive. I move progressively faster. I moan loudly and I don’t care.
After a while, I stop once more. I want to try things. I move my fingers horizontally or vertically, with more or less pressure. Sometimes my movements are slow, sometimes a little bit faster.
I remember when Agna impaled herself on Loth. The look on her face…
I move my hand lower and slide a finger in. So wet! Yes, she was moving just so, pushing him in. I move my hips as well and do not forget the little nub. I find a rhythm I like, slow but purposeful and I lose myself in it.
Time abandons its meaning, there are only the sensual dance and the pleasure that scours me. Eventually, the urge to reach something becomes too great. I play the nub again, faster, with a bit more strength. Something warm builds up inside. I want to know. I want to feel. I keep going on and on until I’m on the verge of something great. I keep going, almost there.
And then I climax.
Oh. My. GOD!
For ten seconds my mind blanks as successive waves of ecstasy ravage body and mind. My body shivers and quakes around its center. Aaaaa soooo good!
I splash back into the tub and just stay there for a moment, unable to move. I haven’t recovered when an aftershock sends me into another shake that makes me curl my toes.
This is great! Better than great! Aaaaa! For a while there, I could think of nothing! Why did I not hear of this earlier?! Who keeps this secret?! I swear that half of human conflicts would be solved on the spot if people experienced this daily! Hiding this is a disgrace, a vile conspiracy!!! So this is why vampires are rumored to enjoy lovemaking. It is a bloodless, victimless alternative to our usual fare, and without risks of disease and unknown pregnancy to boot! Aaaah this explains so much!
I should try to get another one, for science’s purposes. It is only true if it is repeatable, is it not?
Thirty minutes later I finish dressing and start walking back to the camp, with a towel around my hair and the tub in tow.
Well, this was enlightening and relaxing. Much of the tension of these past few days has been lifted from my shoulders.
That said, perhaps I should not share my newfound knowledge with the men. I do believe it does not concern them. Hum, yes, this seems wiser.
I wouldn’t want them to get jealous! The poor things.
Rather soon I find my way back to the carriage. I only fall once, and someone else planted another damned pine in the middle of the way! Who would even do such a thing?
Three people wait in the small clearing, although I can see other campfires around and hear noises in the distance. I wave at them and promptly fall on my face.
Bah, the ground of the forest is so uneven! Unbelievable!
“What’s wrong with her?” I hear someone whisper.
“She’s drunk off her arse.” replies my friend.
“Loth of Skoragg! Je ne vous permets pas!”
“In English my dear.”
“Then let it be known that I find your grrrrrrroundless accusations... Scandalous!“
“My apologies, now we need to reach an agreement with the latest addition to our merry band.”
“Me!!!” Replies the newcomer, red with anger.
I get closer. This is a person of the male persuasion. Yes.
Ariane, of the astute observations!
It does not help me tremendously though.
I turn to Dalton who taps his nose. Wait, is something wrong with the smell?
Delicious! What a wonderful fragrance! Ah, I remember now!
I scrunch my face with effort.
The others seem at a loss. Oh, just you wait.
“MMMMM AH! SYNOAD!”
“It’s Sinead! Sinead, you disrespectful wench!”
Dalton and Loth take a collective step back from the newcomer.
“I beg your pardon?” I say as I smile. Surely I misheard? I have been nothing but patient and respectful since we met.
“Do you have an issue with how you’ve been treated so far?”
Looking left and right, the Likaean realizes that the others are unwilling to help him with his current predicament.
“I believe I spoke too hastily.”
“It’s alright Senerad, it was wrong of me to mispronounce your name. I will endeavor not to do so again.”
Sinied glowers but says nothing. What a prickly fellow.
“I believe we were going to discuss his fate.”
“Oh yes! Enough distractions. So, hum. What should we do? I want to feed on him at some point”
“Well. I was hoping that you would not.”
I tap my index against my chin. Well. It does sound like a sensible request. He is no danger to me and I feel quite full. Ah, but he is both magical and delicious... what to do?
“Unless you name him as your friend, I can drink from him but not kill him. We rescued that man, I believe that there is a debt. Besides, I would be stupid not to get some power from him. I can get much. “
“That’s the thing lass, I had a talk with Sinead and I believe that should you bite, you will drain him dry and we will not be able to pry you away.”
“Is that so?”
“Yes,” says the man himself, “I arrived in this land twenty years ago to look for my lost brethren. Alas, I failed to hide my nature at first and rumors of my happening drew the hated Nightwalkers of clan Roland to me! I was powerless before their strength, and they abducted me, dragged me to a hideout deep in the forests of Ardennes. There, I met others of my kind. I learned that we are mercilessly hunted and that our blood drives you mad the moment you taste it. A feeding is almost always fatal, therefore the red liquid is carefully harvested and used in potions that grant limitless power for a night. A vampire under the effect of our blood is nigh unstoppable. As I mentioned, we need to be kept alive for this to happen and our essence will not regenerate while the potion remains intact. Each captive thus yields a limited, but precious resource. We are under heavy guard, constantly.
Fortunately, I managed to fool the humans at dawn by using a mighty illusion. My deception was not detected until far too late. To my deep regret, I was unable to free the others and had to escape alone...”
Sinaiad’s expression is one of utter guilt. He left his people behind! Well, I am in no position to judge.
“I stowed on a ship headed for the New World, thinking it would be a haven where I could plan a daring rescue. I was mistaken. Human mages successfully detected my presence and abducted me. I was soon sold to the man your party slew yesterday. The rest, you know.”
The Likaean licks his lips nervously.
“While I was in the custody of this clan, I learned much and I would be willing to tell you, in exchange for safe passage.”
“Then are you a supplicant?”
“Mustemiqu? Ah, a supplicant. Yes.”
The man turns red with fury.
I do not understand the rage I see in him now. Supplicants kneel. It is the way of things. It is what should be. We stand and listen, the Supplicants speak and kneel, and if an agreement is reached, we grant a favor.
Why the hatred?
I turn to Loth with a raised eyebrow.
“His kind is enslaved by your kind. He is their leader by default. Kneeling to you is... a humiliation.”
“How does that concern the matter at hand? Is he not the Supplicant? Do I not listen?”
“I see... in this case, I would ask that you forgive the lack of decorum as a favor to me. Just this once.”
I don’t know. I find the very proposal distasteful. If proper forms are not respected, then what does that mean for the proceedings? Are we honorless beasts, to discard traditions so easily?
“Is your skin so thin that you need the worship, vampire?” Asks Sinead, irate.
The haze I was in until now drops like water to be replaced by cold instinct and the death of empathy.
I move. I move faster than ever before despite my weakened state. My hand closes around his neck.
“Ari! Please wait!”
“Perhaps forms are important to us for another reason? Perhaps we need it to balance our humanity and that part of us that calls you food?”
“Ari, please. Please!”
I drop my victim and turn around before I TAKE A TOE OR TWO. AND HIS TONGUE AS WELL.
“Safe passage in exchange for information was it?”
Loth is fraught with worry. The alien insulted the protocol. That puts him dangerously close to the oath-breaker category as far as I am concerned. I would drink him dry, but he clearly made a deal with Loth and it means I cannot drink from him? Confusing. Perhaps I should just kill him and be done with it...
No, I cannot do this to Loth. Not after what happened last night.
“I want this and blood. Your objections make little sense to me. You admitted that a potion can be drawn from his blood and that means there is a safe way to harvest it. I am not letting him go without a taste. You will find a way to provide it safely or I will take my chances.”
"No! I bled and almost died for this, and refrained from feeding until we could reach a proper agreement. I have been more than reasonable! Blood, to be consumed on the spot, is to be part of this."
"I do not know how to properly harvest blood. The task was done by human alchemists in the employ of the Roland."
"Then Loth can help you draw it and preserve it in the chalice until I wake. If you are not around when I consume it, it should be safe."
Everyone is silent. I will not back down on this. The blood will be mine one way or the other.
"Very well Nightwalker. This is humiliating but you leave me with little choice. I agree to your terms. Blood and information in exchange for safe passage."
The annoying man leaves with a huff. I track his movement then return my attention to Loth.
“We need to talk.”
He points to the tent and we get in. I stand up and pace while he sits priestly on the only cot. I don’t know how to start. How do you admit something this big to a friend?
“Why are you trying to save Sinead anyway? You’re not exactly a bleeding heart.”
“Oh? Ye think me too generous in rescuing my fellow supernatural beings? Should I have been harsher?” He asks pointedly.
I stop in my tracks.
“I’m sorry Loth, I guess I deserved that one.”
To my surprise, he chuckles.
“Ye’re forgiven, but please say what ye want to say.”
“Aaaah how should I put it...”
I explain how I saw visions and describe the first one, the battlefield.
“Aye I remember, I remember well. ‘Twas my first real battle, it was. That’s where my old uncle Strum got the nickname of ball-crusher after he accidentally fell on an anvil.”
I ignore the juicy anecdote and tell him about the banquet. I describe the grey-bearded man in great detail.
“Aye, my father. Yes. He was so proud. Was there also a blond woman?”
“Hum, yes. She, huh, kept reaching for...”
“My cock, aye” I wince at the vulgarity, “that was Gerda, good old Gerda! We called her the virgin hunter. Half of my generation blew their first load in her hairy...”
“Alright, alright. Ye win. Next.”
I hesitate and lick my lips. I do owe him the truth. I don’t want to hide this. Those memories belong to him.
“You saw Agna for the first time. She threw manure at Skeggi’s face.”
Loth studies me.
“How did you know it was Skeggi?”
“I felt what you felt, learned what you thought. You were not thinking of that Gerda woman in the short interval I perceived.”
“I see.” He deliberately marks a pause. He knows what follows is the reason I feel embarrassed.
“I was you when you made love to Agna.”
The revelation is received a stunned silence. It takes a long time before Loth speaks again, long enough for the campfire outside to weaken. Long enough for Dalton to fall asleep in the tent next to mine.
“I don’t exactly remember her face. I tried to engrave it, but it never looked quite right. Metal is a poor medium to create the portrait of a loved one, I find. I never managed to form what I wanted. It always felt dead, a farcical attempt at capturing that which cannot be held. Like sand flowing between my fingers, ya know?”
Loth barely raises his head and looks at me. There is something there that I saw in Master, but also in Moor and even to an extent, Jimena. Agelessness. Before me stands an ancient being whose life has extended longer than some dynasties lasted.
“I destroyed every last one of them, and now I regret it. Memories grow hazy after a few centuries. Even a shadow of what she was would have helped me remember.”
So the mind lost its grip, but the blood remembers.
Loth sighs deeply. I give him some time as I realize that if he wanted an input he would ask for it. Entities of his age probably cherish moments of strong emotion as proof that they still live.
Loth doesn’t comment when I tell him about the rest. His only reaction is a bitter smile at the mention of his brother and wife’s betrayal.
“And that is all.”
“I see. Well. Thank ye for sharing, I appreciate that. It was bittersweet ta say the least. “
I hesitate for a while before asking the question that has been nagging me for a few minutes now. Loth is always straightforward. If he thinks it inappropriate, he will let me know.
“Just ask yer question lass.”
“How did you know!?”
“When you are thinking too hard you forget to breathe. Humans may not notice but I do.”
“Aaaah no, this is a good way to get caught.”
“Hahaha give it some time, and stop stalling!”
“Fine. Why did you never return?”
Loth freezes like a cat caught with its paw in the bowl of cream.
“... I’m scared of boats. Long travel distance between here and home, ya know?”
“Also, many projects here, can’t decently just stop everything...”
“I’m scared! There, ye got it. I did not leave on good terms and I was an important warrior for my family. Many bad things could have happened.”
“How about a letter?!”
“Damn good idea lass, I’ll just address it ta a clan of long-lived dwarves in the Kebnekaise mountain range somewhere in Sweden. The postmen could sure use a good laugh.”
I do not reply, instead, I reflect in silence. This does not sound like the Loth I have come to know, and yet do I really understand him? I have never seen him face something he could not immediately handle. I have never known true love either. My friend lost his soul mate and could not overcome his grief, not even in a century. Is he constantly escaping reality? Should I say something?
“Don’t be too disappointed in this old man, lass. The truth is that I care about my clan back home, and I miss them a lot. That doesn’t change the fact that I was used by them, manipulated and then betrayed by those who believed they could do better. I have given much, and should I return, I will be asked to give even more.”
I still say nothing. Loth made a few very good points and it does not matter. He is not doing anything because he is scared, that is the crux of the matter. I want to point it out. I also want to respect the boundaries he is currently setting.
“Damn it lass, you are doing that vampire thing again. Fine, fine. I… I admit that I am still running away. I won’t visit them but perhaps a letter will do. For starter.”
How is being silent so efficient?! Is it because I do not breathe nor move?
“It would bring you closure, my friend, if only that.”
“Right. Yea. I was considering it, ya know?”
Men are so good at self-deception, it is almost unreal. Well, time to change the topic. I shall verify later that he is indeed working on a proper means of correspondence.
“I want to ask, what happened after I fell into torpor?”
“We rested for an hour then moved everyone down. Bingle and I got rid of the handful of guards remaining. When we got outside there was a, well, a purge. The prisoners and freed servants picked seven among them and slaughtered them in the street. It was sudden and extremely violent. Bingle’s voice was drowned by the vengeful mob. It was not pretty.
After that, we all crashed down. In the morning, we gathered in a council to decide what to do. Bingle managed to steer the discussion effectively and it only took an hour to finish. Some decided to stay and take care of the cattle and fields. Those that left were allowed to take valuables and sundries to start over somewhere else, they are with us now. I’d estimate around fifteen people. Rose is here as well. She and Bingle have grown quite close.”
Rose is both grounded and painfully honest. They could be a good match.
I want to ask about our plans but I can see that Loth is tired. Even though I just woke up, I feel exhausted as well so we both decide to call it a night.