I visited the armoury. There were pikes, swords and clubs of various descriptions. Useful for the militia but of no interest to me. I filled my quiver, grabbed a dirk for close quarters and a hatchet as it might come in useful in the wilderness. I then found Ettori and Menw waiting on horseback.
“Quickly, Ethan,” said Menw. He was clothed entirely in his dark armour, with a hood and cloth covering much of his face, leaving only his eyes. “It is a night and a half of riding to Landowi.”
I climbed aboard the horse, feeling vaguely more comfortable than the last time, and we were off. Ettori was now carrying a dagger of some description, a sword, and wore a leather cap. The armoury had leather armour I could have taken but it was too rigid for my liking, and would restrict my ability to shoot. We left Cardiff, riding north, without further incident.
Along the way, I decided it was time to learn of the court. “Menw, tell me of the others of our kind.”
Ettori perked up at hearing the question. Menw glanced towards me. “What do you want to know?”
“The Prince. I would like to know who I am working for.”
“Prudent,” he nodded his approval, “Well, I believe he is very old. Older than me. Which should give you pause.”
“How old do you mean?” I could only suppose at Menw’s age. I measured it in hundreds of years. “Are you meaning Rome? Or older?”
“I don’t actually know exactly. I do not believe he hails from these parts. I believe he may be from Egypt. I do not believe Emrick is his real name.”
This I understood all too well. “What about Daeryn? What is he?”
“I don’t know.”
This caused me to pull up my horse. My kind are known for unearthing secrets, and I do not believe Menw would not investigate one who stands so close to the Prince. For him to be ignorant of such a detail is alarming.
“What purpose does he serve?” asked Ettori.
“He serves as the Prince’s right hand for all things not relating to religion.”
“But he is one of our kind?” he said. “Surely the Prince wouldn’t have an outsider working so close to him?”
“You are not particularly observant, Ettori.”
“I don’t understand.”
I thought I did. “He is saying there are those close to the Prince who are not vampires. And we should have noticed.”
“Very good, Ethan. Keep talking.”
I cast my mind back on those at court. I pictured the attendees. The two cosmopolitan types enamoured of each other. I had judged them to be Ventrue or Toreador. There was the tall man that wore the purple scholar’s robe and cap, with a slightly elongated head and a strange look. Him, I judged to be a fiend; a Tzimisce. There was the boy that was sweeping…and there was her.
“You said the Prince’s pet brought my summons. You are implying they were present at court. I surmise a shapeshifter. The woman that guarded the throne. She is to whom you refer?”
“Well done, Ethan. Yes, she is the Prince’s mutt.”
There was disdain but no fear in Menw when he spoke of her. She held herself in the court as a guard. And she had carried a message for me. So, an enforcer or agent. I wonder why she works for him.
“How much does she know about my territory? About where I sleep?”
“Did you find her in your territory, or near it?”
“At the border.”
“That should tell you all you need to know.”
Actually, it didn’t, but I chose not to press the point. “Tell me about the man in purple robes. What is his story?”
“You mean the fiend?” Yes I did. His elongated head indicated bodycrafting and that is the purview of the fiends.
“He is a strange one. His name is Myrddin Emrys, and he is not your typical fiend. He loans his services to the Prince.”
That was a loaded statement. “You mean he is a torturer?”
“No.” I was surprised at that statement. “He has strange abilities. Abilities that defy classification. There are no equivalents.”
Very curious. “I should like to learn more about that.”
Menw was quiet for a moment. “As would I.”
“What about the other two, the cosmopolitan individuals.”
A noise escaped Menw, and it was not flattering. “Those two. Of course. What did you make of them?”
“I was unsure. I assume they were Toreadors, or Ventrue or one of each.”
Toreadors appreciate beauty and art, they immortalise it. Which I understand can be just as terrifying as being under the ministrations of a typical fiend. The Ventrue see themselves as nobles and royalty, the leaders of our kind.
“Guinieve, she is a Ventrue. Launce is a Toreador. They are the leaders of their respective clans in Cardiff.”
“Are they leaders by virtue of being the only members of their respective clans in Cardiff?”
“Just so. And before you ask, I have found nothing worthwhile about either one of them. Now, tell me, what of your story, Ethan. From whence do you hail?”
I am not over keen on revealing my history, not even to another Nosferatu. But outright lying is to be avoided if at all possible.
“My home was near Cardiff. I was a simple man that fell victim to a petty priest and a corrupt lord.” I shrugged. “I was falsely accused of heresy, beaten and left for dead. My sire found me, and offered an opportunity to never be powerless again.”
“I see. And how did you receive his offer?”
“I accepted, of course, what dying man wouldn’t? I was, however, unprepared for the pain of the change. “
“Be specific, Ethan. Perhaps Ettori would like to hear of our curse.”
The Lasombra priest looked mildly interested. “I am sure it will be quite fascinating. Do tell.”
“I am pleased my pain interests you.”
“Come now,” he said in that tone that I was starting to recognise, “It is all part of God’s plan. Perhaps you suffered pain to teach you humility.”
“Given my low station in life, I am unclear as to why God would think I need to be taught how to be humble. There were plenty enough people willing to remind me. Many of them looked like you.”
He didn’t like my answer, and I could see anger was building in him, my beast could sense it, and was eager to reciprocate. The fury of our damned selves would gleefully slaughter one another just for a taste of the other’s blood, and if our human selves were goading it on we would doom ourselves utterly. I was more than prepared to teach the conceited swine a lesson. However, I never got the chance. His anger was driven from him, a supreme effort of will on his part and he simply continued, “Forgive me, perhaps I misspoke about God’s plan. Perhaps, in his infinite wisdom, he sent you pain to forge you into something stronger.”
I summoned my strength, to remind the beast that I was master, not it. I imagined powerful shackles woven of will around its body, dragging it to the dark parts of my soul, keeping it there until I slip up again, and it comes out to play.
“When the Old Man’s blood invaded my system, it was like being stung by bees all over. I could feel every vein that it touched, and then every inch of my flesh as it flowed through my body. Where it stung, flesh turned grey and hair fell out. Where hair fell out…it was like some burning thread or needle was drawn through my flesh, leaving grey blisters.”
I stopped my description there. He got the idea. When he pressed, I could only say, “The pain was excruciating. But given the choice again, I would make the same one.”
Menw had kept silent through the entire description, his hood making his expression all but unreadable. “Who was your sire?”
“He never told me his name. I only knew him as the Old Man.”
“Why wouldn’t he tell you his name?” said Ettori.
“Names have power, Ettori.” I considered for a moment. “He only ever referred to me as Pup. Well, until we parted ways.”
“And this was near Cardiff?”
“Yes, Menw,” I said. I confess, his questions were making me a little nervous.
“I lost track of the years I was with him. Perhaps twenty or thirty years ago?”
“Strange. Your Sire did not follow protocol. He should have presented himself, at least to me as his elder. This is…concerning.”
I shrugged. “I can’t answer for that. I believe he too was an elder, though I never determined his age. When I returned to the Cardiff Area, he told me that forest and village were mine to tend to now, and that all debts were settled. I don’t expect to see him again.”
Menw was silent for a time. “He referred to himself as the Old Man?”
I nodded. There was something in his voice. “Do you know him?”
“No. But the name…the name is familiar.” Abruptly, he turned his horse off the road down a dirt path towards foothills. “We will talk more about this another time. We have work to do.”
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