I woke next evening in the cell Prince Emrick had provided us. Pangs of hunger gnawed at me however, shortly after rising, a knock came to my door and a Brother Theo presented himself. I won’t belabour the point. The Prince had sent him as sustenance, as a good host should. It was a little unnerving that a human would willingly bare his throat to me. Normally my song is required to still their terror long enough to take what I need, the whole experience easily dismissed as a dream with the breaking day. The Old Man spoke of some vampires keeping what he called “Herds”, but that it was not something our blood practiced. More from practicality than humanity, I suspect. Hard to convince someone to willingly allow a monster to feed on them. Hard enough, I imagine, if they wear a pretty face. And the blood of Nosferatu guarantees ugliness to the point of monstrosity. I fed on Brother Theo, thanked him and allowed him to leave to find food and water to replenish himself. Ettori’s cell was adjacent and I needed to talk to him before the inevitable summons by the prince. I knocked on his door.
His cell was the same as mine. A wooden pallet with straw and a small basin to wash. “Evening. I wondered if you could help me with something.”
“What is it?”
“I’ve been thinking about Brother Chax. When we found him in the church. What was the name of the Priest?”
“That’s right, Father Alun. When we found Chax, and Father Alun attacked you, he was wielding some kind of power. I could feel it.”
“The power of the faithful is strong; you felt the fingers of the Lord upon you.”
Ettori does become a tad tedious sometimes, but I have discovered he is exceptionally well learned about matters of Theology, an area I confess little knowledge of, so his repetitive rhetoric is worth enduring if for no other reason I might learn useful things from him.
“I wondered if it was some kind of spell or witchery like that.” His glared communicated his disapproval of my language.
“What is your point?”
“Chax seemed genuinely terrified when we encountered him; when the hand of the Lord, as you put it, was upon us. Daeryn said, from our description, he was likely an Archangel or a Demon. An angel wouldn’t cower in the presence of God.”
Ettori nodded. “But a fallen one might. Ok, so what?”
“I am a simple hunter.” I held my bow aloft to reiterate that. “I have no experience of this kind of prey. But certain things hold true. You hunt a creature with the right weapons.”
“I suppose that makes sense…”
“If I was to equip an archer with broad-headed arrows, and the hunt was for a Stag. I would make sure the arrow blade was vertical.” He looked askance at me. “A vertical arrowhead slides through ribs of a beast more easily. If I was equipping a soldier, I would want the blade to be horizontal.”
Ettori looked blank for a second, then nodded. “Human ribs are horizontal. The arrow is designed for them.”
His look was one of understanding, or at least the early stages. “Indeed. So, if we suspect Chax is a demon, then there must be weapons or methods to fight it. Are there any spells in that book of yours? Or do you know of any such weapons?”
Ettori looked thoughtfully at his bible. “There are certainly relics and artefacts that might be able to do that. As for spells…you need to be more respectful in your tone. The word of God should not be equated to heathen witchcraft.”
“Apologies, it is beyond my frame of reference. I’m just a simple huntsman. I will endeavour to be more respectful.”
“See that you do!” His harshness fled from him a moment later. “There may be blessings or benedictions that could act as your weapon. I would need to research.”
“We do appear to be in the right place for it.”
Good. Ettori is now primed. Given the opportunity, he will go through the Prince’s library with expected zeal, hopefully finding us a weapon. With good fortune he will assume he came to the idea by himself.
There was another knock at the door. Ettori called for the visitor to enter. Dandrain waited at the threshold, garbed for travel. “Good, you are both here and awake. The Prince would like to speak to you both.”
Ettori indicated the door with a gesture. “Lead on.”
We were taken to the Prince’s private chamber again, and we were met by Prince Emrick, Daeryn and Menw. They were crowded round a book. A ledger.
“Good Evening,” said the Prince. “I hope you are well rested, as we have need of your services once more.”
When we didn’t speak out, he continued, “Agents of mine found some information during the day relating to your Brother Chax. Parish records, from outside Cardiff, indicate he served in two other Churches. In Llandowi, five years ago and Ellewyn ten years ago.”
“Interesting,” said Ettori, “So, he was at each place for fewer than five years? Most unusual.”
“Indeed,” said the Prince.
“Do the ledgers record any repairs? Or hiring of additional artisans.” When I received blank looks, I continued, “That might indicate a disaster on the same scale as Nefynn.”
“The ledgers only record the movements and assignments of clergy. And our records do not show of any disasters. But, they are outwith the parish of Cardiff, so we wouldn’t automatically have them. We would need to request them…from London.” The Prince’s statement was matter of fact. Until he spoke of London. There was disapproval, perhaps even scorn. Something worth checking in the future.
“You want us to visit these parishes, and unearth any information about Brother Chax?”
“Yes, Ethan, that is exactly what I want. As they are quite distant, I have had a horse prepared for you. Ettori, your horse is watered, fed and rested. You are both welcome to visit the armoury to take whatever equipment you deem necessary. Menw will accompany you as far as Llandowi, as he has business in the area. Then you must press on to Ellewyn by yourselves. Do you have any questions?”
Ettori did not. I did. “Majesty, I would like to speak to you privately, if I may?”
“Very well, walk with me.”
We left the others in the office, and ascended another staircase to what I presume to be the final floor of the library. The room was not fully furnished, with only a few shelves, and none of the splendour of below.
“Ok, Ethan. You have my attention.”
Guile, as with prodding Ettori, was not the right weapon for this particular hunt, so I opted for another.
“Majesty, last night you recognised my territory and treated me with respect. Thank you. You asked me to perform an errand, which I agreed to. I imagine, should I survive this next errand, you might summon me again to act as your agent in the future. Would that be a fair assumption?”
“Majesty, I willingly attended Nefynn and saw horror and destruction. And I now have the eyes of a being immeasurably powerful on me. In short, I am now endangered. I am therefore invested in the best possible outcome. But, I have become endangered because I agreed to your errand. I want something in return.”
The Prince was silent for a moment. Should he decide I was being impertinent, I might not make it out of the room alive. Such is the rage of his blood. Such is the caprice of elders. “You are quite bold. Make your request.”
“If I am to be your agent, your eyes, ears and hands, then I request you share with me your arts so that I may better protect myself. Those of your bloodline are known to be able to bend the emotions of those around you. My sire had access to these arts and told me of their, often underestimated and unexpected, powers.”
“Those of your blood are known to use their arts to conceal themselves, and their motives. Why would you wish access to abilities that draw attention to you?”
“Because if the attention of the room is on my face, they aren’t watching my hands. And, sometimes getting information is easier by conversation than by eavesdropping. I will better serve being able to make people more comfortable talking to me. And, as I said, my sire had access to these arts and they did save our lives.”
“When with my sire, my life was one of a pilgrim. We moved from village to village, to avoid detection, but also to gain experience. This necessitated many long walks through the wilds.” The widening of the Prince’s eyes told me of his surprise. Vampires avoid the wilderness as a rule, for good reason. “One evening a while ago, we were walking from one village to the next, we were set upon by a beast. A Werewolf. We were on the road, miles from help with no animals nearby that would stand with us. The creature was huge, and would surely have slaughtered us were it permitted. The Old Man revealed his fangs and snarled at it with such primal ferocity that the creature skulked away in terror. It allowed us to defer battle and to pick a battlefield of our choosing. That is desirable to me.”
“You ask much… but you have demonstrated competence and shrewdness. Continue to serve well, and this is acceptable.”
“Thank you, Majesty. I have one final request.”
He was momentarily taken aback. “By all means, do not stop now.”
His tone told me that I may well be approaching the end of his tolerance. “Thank you. As I noted, I appreciate your recognising my territory; the forest and village west of here. I ask you to formalise this. There are few people in my territory and multiple vampires feeding there would not be good for them. I request you recognise it formally, as my domain alone where no other of our kind may enter without my leave. Under your overlordship, of course.”
He nodded slightly. “I respect your request. As you will no doubt have noticed, there are few of our kind here. And they are all fiercely territorial which is why you have not encountered them before. However, inevitably, the population of our kind will increase as the city does.” He paused. “Very well, I will have it be known that the forest and village to the west are yours, and violation of that territory will be dealt with harshly and accordingly. Now, if you have no other requests, you have an errand to run.”
I think he likes me. “I serve at the pleasure of the Prince.”
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