We were led into one of the Prince’s sanctums. We were joined by Dandrain, the bald man with the staff whom I later learned was called Daeryn, and Menw. Menw was waiting in the room for us. Neither Ettori nor I noticed him at first, garbed in dark armour stitched by his own hand. He is of my blood, the Nosferatu, which explains why I didn’t notice him. Ettori…Ettori has demonstrated that his skills lie in other areas that are not perception.
The Prince was straight to the point. “You both live in territory I claim as mine. I understand you both lay claim to certain parts of it.”
Yes I do. Take the forest if you dare. I wonder what Ettori calls home? A church or some noble’s castle, no doubt.
The Prince continued, “I will not dispute your claims, so long as they are not in opposition to mine, or Cardiff. Agreed?”
Ettori and I both nodded our assent.
“If you have any intentions within your territory that might disrupt the expansion of Cardiff, it must be agreed by the court. Understood?”
Ettori agreed. I responded, “I came here with no intention of disrupting my neighbour.”
The Prince grunted. “Very well. It is customary for the youngest in my court to prove themselves worthy of my protection.”
And now we get to it. Service for protection. He thinks he is recruiting a vassal. Admittedly I need an ally. I wonder how the relationship will pan out?
“Cardiff routinely receives a tithe from the congregation at Nefyn, 15 miles to the north. That Tithe has been missed several times. Two of my initiates were dispatched to investigate. Neither has returned. That was when I sent my agent, Menw, to seek more information.”
Lurking in the shadows, Menw addressed us in a gravelly voice, “The congregation at Nefyn have increased in size of late. And they run much later in the day.”
“Is there heresy?” asked Ettori.
“They removed all crosses and holy symbols. Yes, there is heresy.”
Menw then deferred to Prince Emrick. “You are to visit this church, find the source of any heresy and bring Nefyn back into the fold.”
“I presume you would like to find information on the whereabouts of your initiates too?” I said. The Prince nodded. “Could you provide a description and their names please so I might learn this for you?”
The Prince seemed genuinely surprised at my apparent concern. It is no fakery. His initiates probably started in the same social standing as me. Their lives are worthy. The Prince gave me their descriptions and their names, Aelyn and Dafydd.
“You must leave tonight. I can provide horses if needs be as it is a long walk.”
“I already have a horse, Majesty,” said Ettori.
“I must borrow one, Majesty.” I have never ridden a horse before. This will be interesting. I then addressed Menw, “It will take some hours to get there. If we cannot complete our task tonight, we will need shelter from the sun. Where would we find such?”
“The area is wooded and hilly. There are caves. Use them.”
I thanked him, and we were dismissed. Ettori and I left the audience chamber returning to a now empty hall. Menw followed.
“We need to speak,” he said to me, and then to Ettori, “He will catch you up.”
I waited a moment for Ettori to leave. “May we speak freely?”
“We can. There are few Kindred in these parts.” Kindred is the word vampires use for themselves. “There are even fewer of our blood. I am the Elder, and I am a member of this court.”
“I assumed. I was hoping to find you. I assume the dog with the scroll was sent by you?”
He grunted. I am not sure if it was a laugh or derision. “That was a pet.”
“A pet that was in this room earlier?”
He made a noise that I took for agreement but didn’t say anything.
“Tell me about Nefyn. What do the beasts say?”
“You already know that. I did not personally spy on Nefyn, my beasts did.” There was definite disdain there. I suppose once you achieve great age, and you have armies of animal spies and contacts to tell you things you might consider dealing with such tasks personally as beneath you. I see the potential for hubris, and sloth in that approach. I must be wary of it.
“I imagine we will talk in coming nights and months.”
“I look forward to it,” I said, “How will I find you?”
“Leave the boundaries of the territory you claim as your own. Speak to any of the birds of prey. They will find me.”
“Thank you, Elder. I have only recently begun establishing a network myself. I will seek you out when it is ready, in order that you may reach me the same way. When looking for me, look for Owls.”
He vanished before my eyes, which was disconcerting. No matter how many times the Old Man did the same, I never quite got used to it.
I found Ettori waiting outside already mounted with a horse waiting for me. The beast was calm at my approach, and I was able to soothe it long enough to climb onto its back.
The journey was dull. I like dull when moving in unfamiliar territory. Ettori warbled for three hours some prayers or something. I kept my silence, until we were close to Nefyn. Then, I let out a loud hoot. That got Ettori’s attention. I hooted more.
“You, Sir, are strange.” Judgement from the shadow bender. Hmmm.
Within minutes three owls responded. I caught their attention and used my arts to speak to them.
“Hello Friends. I need your help. My neighbour and I are going to Nefyn. We hear there are strange things going on. We need eyes and ears. Will you be our brave eyes and ears? In return for health and strength?”
The Owls gave their assent and I allowed them each a taste of my blood. My blood in an animal breeds health, strength and loyalty. These owls are far from my home, but it doesn’t hurt to be on good terms with the local wildlife. They flew ahead to scout for me.
“Very strange.” Mutters the shadow bender who casts no reflection.
“We have allies now. Be glad of it, neighbour.”
The owls returned and told me the village was quiet, but the church was lit. I relayed this to Ettori and suggested we hide our mounts in the nearby woods. If they were to be needed quickly, I would be able to summon them. Ettori informed me he would summon his mount, not I. I suspect he may be guilty of conceit, if not arrogance. Perhaps failure will be a useful teacher?
The village was a single street of wooden houses with the church at one end. I didn’t see anything, such as the stone house of a blacksmith that might indicate why anyone would build a village here. Probably farming, I suppose. The street itself was a muddy quagmire, with puddles forming in every footprint. Yes, farming. Animals travelling through on their way to Cardiff market would probably do this.
Approaching the church, I chose stealth given my monstrous appearance and the nature of our errand. Ettori was more direct, walking with no apparent care or fear. I sincerely hope he doesn’t start anything that I cannot finish. My owls raised no alarm, and I detected nothing untoward. I hurried to keep up with him, my arts masking the squelching of our feet as we approached. This allowed him to enter the church undetected, whereby he was able to confront the priest and a brother.
I remained hidden listening to Ettori ask for shelter, invoking guest rights for a fellow man of the cloth. Whilst he distracted the occupants of the church, I decided to search the grounds. It was a simple enough wooden structure. My hands have helped build several similar to it on my travels. There was nothing unremarkable in its design, at least not that I could see. I looked for the graveyard and it was well that I did. In amongst rows of wooden crosses with the names of dead farmers carved into them, I found two unmarked graves, recently dug.
I am not a pious person for obvious reasons; I am a curious person. The graves were shallow and it took mere moments with only my hands to unearth the bodies of two recently deceased guards wearing the livery of Cardiff Cathedral. In my haste to return to my comrade, I neglected to inspect for wounds. Perhaps if I had been more careful, I might have a gleaned a clue as to what was just about to happen.
I was hit by a wave of power. It came from the church, it came from the priest (I later learned) and it came from the ground. Holy Ground. Holy power.
I readied my bow and hurried to aid Ettori, finding him with mace readied for battle, advancing on the priest; the brother cowering in the corner. And then, the wind started to pick up.
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