The Old Man and I returned to my home finding little of significance had changed. The Lord in his keep remained powerful, supported by the tyranny of the petty Priest. And the villagers remained powerless in the face of doctrine and arms. The Old Man forced me to visit my home and I found the croft abandoned and in a state of disrepair. I had been gone for twenty years or more; it still stood, but no one had lived there for a long time.
The Old Man was not a kindly sort. Stern, and benevolent. Huh. “How will the Pup approach his enemy? From whom will you draw inspiration?”
My anger, long repressed, had not gone and rose to the surface at seeing the ruins of my former life. “I want to destroy them.”
I spoke of the Lord and the Priest. Both were at my mercy now, and were no match for me. I could slip into the keep and church and slit their throats with ease.
The Old Man simply said, “Pup should invoke a name. Whose will guide you?”
He meant of all the stories I had heard and read, which character would define my method. I suspect he assumed Ares, the God of War. I had different ideas though, invoking the goddess who sprang from her father’s head clad in full armour. “Athena. I will be guided by wisdom.”
The Old Man approved, and loaned me use of his arts. I snuck into the Holdfast unseen, the sounds of my footfalls masked from any alert guards. Wisdom was the right approach, because it allowed me to learn two important details that may have remained hidden until too late were I to invoke Ares instead. The Lord, who is undeserving of name, had a master that I was previously unaware. A Vampire, of the Ventrue clan. His name is also irrelevant; I will take his name from as I take his unlife. He will be forgotten..
I do not know his reason for establishing himself as overlord in such a small holding; from what I know of his blood, it is unlike them. Perhaps he was an exile eking out what meagre existence permitted him by others more powerful than he?
The second thing I learned from my spying was that Gwyn was still alive, taken as a concubine by the Lord. And there was a boy, her son. My son. My son, that called him ‘father’. That hurt more than the transformation brought by the Old Man’s blood. That hurt more than the beating by the guards all those years ago. That hurt.
I would like to say that I remained true to my course, however, anger replaced my pain and I could feel anger becoming rage. The boy, my son, a final betrayal caused the monster in me to surface. It is a caged beast, this thing inside me. I feel it every night, pacing within me. Testing the limits of its prison; my will. Its talons clawed at my skull and it reminded me that I need to feed. That I like to feed. That it likes to kill.
The Old Man was with me and spoke words in my ear that were like water to a flame. The words were unimportant. No mere words can satisfy the monster, but our blood carry a gift; a song that can soothe the beast, and the Old Man used his song on me, sending the beast into a deep slumber. He whispered in my ear, “Learn. Use my gifts.”
So, I learned. I spent many nights prowling the halls of the Holdfast, feeding on the serving staff and gathering information. The Ventrue was feeding his blood to the Lord, increasing his health and longevity. The Lord had no son, other than his bastards on the common folk. I found a document naming one of them his heir. I learned to write with scribes in churches and in courts across the land. And this document presented an opportunity. But before I reveal the opportunity to you, I must also tell you of one of my other nightly activities.
I visited Gwyn. Using the Old Man’s gifts, I was able to appear to her as the image of her dead husband, rather than the monster I had become. I stood above her bed in the chamber provided her, the chamber of the first concubine. And I accused her of betrayal. If I could weep now, my ink would run with salty tears. She was terrified, of course. She begged for Dafydd’s forgiveness, something that everything in me wanted at once to grant and withhold. To grant because she was a glimmer; a reminder of what was good in me, of what had died. To withhold, because Dafydd was no more. Learn, the Old Man had said. So I learned.
“Why did you denounce me? You should have stood with me!” It was selfish of me to say it, but I didn’t care; it felt true.
“Our son lives! Your son. Cai. If I had joined you, I would be dead! And he would never have lived!”
The beast within my kind fuels our emotions, encourages us to evil. It stirred and purred in my ear again telling me to kill her, to slaughter everything in the keep, slaughter the Ventrue, his lackeys and even my ungrateful wretch of a son. Fortunately, the song of the Old Man was equally powerful and its notes still resonated in my ears. The beast howled in frustration, but the music drowned its anger sending it into a slumber once again allowing mortal emotion and reason to govern me. Unsatisfied, the Beast reminded me of every pain I suffered as a result of her denouncement. It wanted me to blame her for the embrace, for making me a monster. The Beast is primal and powerful, engaging our worst emotions. Given time it is a blight on the soul that causes even the most moral man to sway. It has an ally in every dark thought you think. Only supreme will can hold it at bay. And our song.
I looked deep into her eyes. They were pleading with me, willing me to see into her soul. Willing me to understand her regret, for not standing with Dafydd. Willing me to understand she would do it again to protect her son. Our son. Willing me to understand.
Unable to bear it any longer, I closed my eyes. “I forgive you.”
Using the Old Man’s arts I was able to fade from her senses and memory. She should not have to suffer for me. She has already suffered enough for our Son, our Cai. Her memory of my visit faded, however subconsciously she knew she had closure. Her stride was lighter the next time I saw her, her posture straighter. I wished I could go to Cai and explain everything. But I didn’t want him to see me, not as I am. I prefer he think me dead, than a monster. That life is over.
I focused my attention on the Ventrue. Remove the overlord, and I could easily dispatch his lackeys. Tracking a predator is easy. You start with the prey; in his case serving girls. I imagine it was some form of power game. Whatever the reason, his patterns were easy to follow. I concocted a plan, whereby I replaced one of his vessels using a glamour provided by the Old Man. When the Ventrue awoke and came looking for a vessel, he found me in disguise. His fangs sinking into my throat felt pleasurable, a rushing sensation, it was almost as good as feeding itself. He took a lot, more than I anticipated. It left me hungry, it woke my beast, but I retained my control. When the Ventrue left, The Old Man brought the girl I had replaced and allowed me to feed on her to replenish myself, then left her unconscious where he had abandoned me. We repeated this trick several times, until the Ventrue had consumed enough of my blood to be completely under its spell. I then used this to lure him from his fortress, such as it was, to my croft. There, he declared his undying love as I drove a spear through his heart.
With the Ventrue neutralised, the Lordling and the Priest succumbed to my arts. I appeared before both of them, allowing my song to pour into them and soothe them into a blissful state. A state that made them easy to bind and gag for transport to my old home.
With my three enemies disabled and in my croft, I burned it to the ground killing them.
The Old Man appeared to me at that point, withdrawing his loaned powers; a reminder to me that I am my own man, and must stand alone.
“The Old Man can teach you no more.” He had not spoken this way to me in many years. “You are now released. You must choose a name that the world will know. And you must choose a name that only you can know.”
I knew this was coming and I was prepared. “Mortals will come to know me over time as the Old Man of the Woods.”
I sensed a change in him, perhaps curiosity? Perhaps anger? I continued. “It is not your name, and never was. It is a badge you wear, and a story you tell. Your sire was the same, was he not?”
“Very good, Pup, very good. You may carry that name as I do, but it is not yours as it is not mine. By what name will our kind know you?”
“I invoked Athena as my guide. In her honour, our kind will know me as Ethan. My true name, I will keep to myself. As you said, names have power.”
The Old Man nodded. “You have grown wise, as well as smart. However, you will now tell me your true name, in payment for all I have given you.”
I nodded to the burning croft. “They took everything from me but that croft. I returned here and used it as their final punishment. It is the one thing that links past, present and future. My name is Mycroft.”
The Old Man gave an approving grunt. “All debts are now paid, Mycroft. These lands are yours now.”
And then, he vanished.
The Mycroft Journals is a serialised fiction, written in response to a roleplaying game I play in. It serves multiple purposes. It acts as a permanent reminder of what happened in the story (so, it helps us players), it acts as an advert for the game, and I think our Games Master has provided us with a compelling story, which other people should get to experience.
Featured artwork is by Barry Martin. Check out his page