Introduction – part the second
Honey hugged the torso tightly at the waist, taking up the weight. “Pity I don’t know the guy better, it might be more fun to have my face in his balls.”
“Quit with the humor, Honey, and hold him up.”
“I’m just trying not to think about what might happen if he wakes up and decides to have a snack.” She grunted as she shifted him higher so Bird could get more play in the branch.
Finally after much shuffling of positions and bracing of legs the vampire could be lowered to Horse’s waiting hands and before the two could slide down the side of the boulder in another cloud of chalky dust, Bird carefully wedged the stakes back into the crevices.
Now what? Both Horse and Bird looked to Honey for direction. Honey stared at the reassembled crucifix and slid her eyes to Bird. Smart.
Now we backtrack to that slip we saw earlier, the one that knocked over all those trees. Betcha we can find a secure spot to wait out the daylight. And it is right past that rill where we can get some of this dust off – even find out what our prize looks like. Hope we found a good one, I’m tired of looking.
It had been foretold. His uncle the priest had given him the vision-mead and he had been told to dream of his future, dream of his true name. He dreamt of death. He dreamt of the threefold death. His true name was death. Tod.
if high on a tree /
I see a hanged man swing /
So do I write and color the runes /
That forth he fares /
And to me talks. 1
This is how his life unfolded:
He had sinned against his Gods. The the advent of the Romans had pushed him into the priesthood before he was truly a man; as a warrior-priest he had battled against them. He had been reft from his clan when he had been branded a slave. He had sinned against his gods, particularly Eostre,2 when his master had used him like a woman. For that he deserved death. He had been defiled for three years. Until he was stolen by the draugr Semni.
Then he was death, but not death. He killed, but not in battle as a warrior-priest should. He killed to eat. As an unclean murderer of the defenseless, he deserved death.
Ancient ‘Tura, liked pretty boys and she liked diversity; wherefore Spurius Corbulo Valgus, plucked from the drift of procurators. A pretty boy to be sure but cruel in his perceived Roman superiority. He sneered at his singular name, albeit Death.
Horse trudged patiently, for he was by nature a patient man, while Bird counted off the mile markers and ruminated aloud on what ill fortune had befallen their prize. Why had his foot and fangs been taken, before he had been beaten and crucified? A runaway slave? Who could enslave a vampire? Had he fed on someone’s pet? What had he stolen? Had he drained another vampire’s pet? It was their privilege and responsibility to know about vampires, but it seemed as though they didn’t know enough. Were these signs that this was a dangerous rogue? Wouldn’t he have just been ended? Aaargh!
Reassuringly Honey patted his back, “We’ll just have to be cautious until we find out his temper. I don’t think he’s going anywhere soon. If he’s crazed enough to go after us, well, then we’ll have to start looking again.”
Honey, who was so called because of the color of her hair, not her temper, stared disconsolately at the dusty strands that kept falling in her eyes, begging for the opportunity to get the grit out of her bits – which was most uncomfortable – and out of her hair so she could spend some time untangling it. What joy! She sighed and shifted the bed rolls she was carrying while Bird rolled his shoulders under the packs of provisions. Horse had started breathing heavily as soon as they were moving back into the foothills, as the sky lightened they pushed even harder grateful that they could see a little more than the pale stones of the road.
“Here Bird, help me put this fella down. Shit! You didn’t have to dump him in the water.”
“Well it’s not like he’s gonna drown, I’m tired too Horse.”
Meanwhile Honey had shucked her clothes, shaken them out and flopped down in the water next to the body reaching up to unfasten her hair cloth. “We’ve got to call him something, it seems disrespectful.” She dunked her hair cloth in the stream and began to scrub the vampire. “He’s not healing, he’ll need a lot of blood. Another good reason to take it slow.”
“Oooooh, look how young he looks, what you think Horse? How old d’you think he was?”
“Seventeen, eighteen, maybe.” Horse crinkled his brow, thinking, “ He’s got all those tattoos, must mean something, priest maybe. Bird?”
“Yeah, maybe. Further south and east, for sure, Raetian? Caught up by the Romans alongside one of their pushes for the Limes. Nothing is settled over there, always skirmishes.”
“Move, I need to rinse off too.” Bird flapped his tunic to get rid of some of the dust.
Honey scrambled out of the water, having had enough of the chill and fearing the approach of dawn. She wrung her hair out, muttering that that was going to be a job and a half, and slicking the moisture off her flanks and arms. She figured she’d wash the clothes later. Right now she wanted to get It under cover. Unrolling one of the bedrolls she uncovered a length of linen and a roughly woven blanket. Figuring that the linen would dry soon enough she laid it on top of the blanket and motioned to the men to hurry. “C’mon, she demanded,” as she tied her sandals back on, “finish up. Lay him out on here and I’ll figure out where we can tuck him away.” She scrambled across the canted meadow into the trees, bare limbs glimmering in the new dawn.
Quickly she rejoined them to help roll It up into the blanket, scooped up the rest of the bed rolls and trotted back across the hill face and wiggled into the dead-falls.
Horse stood waiting while Bird investigated the resting place of the largest of the trees. It looked as though time had undercut the root mass of the mossy giant and when it had toppled it had taken much of the grove with it, like a ruler in defeat taking his people with him.
“Psst! Horse! Bring It this way! The old tree has a space down by the root ball, we can tuck It towards the back, he’ll be safe enough there. Maybe we should feed him before we sleep. He won’t be too frisky this close to dawn.”
The deadfall was more than one season old; there were gaps where wildlife had pushed through and bedded down in safety. Yet it was far enough from the road and habitation not to have been stripped for firewood. In short an ideal place to bury a body and hole up for a day.
As sunrise silvered the eastern sky over the old mountains Bird slipped back into the passage through the tangled branches; Horse, carrying what was left of the body, stooped to follow.
Honey brought up the rear carefully rearranging branches and sweeping behind them with aromatic herbs. She was trying to out-fox the wolves by shifting the greenery she used; first rosemary and artemesia on the hillside, thyme on the rock-face and finally cedar in the tangled deadfall. She begged three-natured Artemis that the camphorous southern-wood blew the hell out of their pursuer’s sinuses. If nothing else Honey could use the rosemary and thyme to flavor a meal and the southern-wood to keep the bugs off.
“Bird! You are such a weenie! Stop making those faces. I’ll go first, ‘sides I want Horse to hold on to him if anything happens. Help me get It arranged on Horse’s lap – you hold his head up. Bird!”
Honey wiggled closer to Horse until she could easily extend her wrist over It’s mouth -what there was left of it. Washing had revealed the profound damage that had been done to his face. One eye was almost certainly a loss, the cheek had been sliced open, there were gaps where once there had been fangs. Mother!
“Bird! Tip his head so the blood doesn’t go running out the other side. OK, that’ll do it.” Honey sucked air through her teeth as she used her bone handled knife to pierce her wrist and maneuvered it to drip into his mouth. “Bird! See if you can get him to swallow! C’mon, c’mon, guy. Swallow!”
Its remaining eyelid fluttered, there was a faint movement of his throat, a pause, a definite swallow, a tentative jaw motion. Honey raised her elbow to help the flow, caught Horse’s gaze and indicated that she was going to offer her wrist directly. Figuring she might as well while he was still weak, they’d have a fighting chance if he got rowdy.
Ready to retreat, Honey deepened the cut to nick the radial artery and tentatively lowered her her arm to the vampire’s mouth. Vampire rescue for beginners, SOP, an important lesson for those of her lineage.
It was good that she had been practicing first response with Horse and Bird ever since they were little. Each cadre practiced together since situations would call for a unified response and they would keep step with each other as they aged. Long suffering Bird was training as the skald, learning their clan’s history; patient Horse would eventually be a master craftsman and she would lead the healers and herbalists. If she ever got her temper under control. Soon, Mother willing, they would have completed their mission and return with a new vampire for the clan. They would have completed their quest and be counted as adults, with a full say in the affairs of the clan.
Bird and Honey flashed each other smiles as It latched on and started to draw blood. Even stolid Horse looked happy. Their timing was pretty good too. Their new vampire stopped sucking and looked apprehensively in the direction of the sunrise; they promptly shuffled deeper into the protection of the roots. Even the brightening day could not penetrate behind the torn up earth around the root ball. The three nodded to each other; Horse unburdened himself of the body, Honey untied her bedroll, and Bird helped her roll up their prize. All three wrestled the limp package into the recesses under the trunk, settling themselves in a protective barrier against the light. The smell of earth mould and dirt mixed with the fading scent of the herbs and hard pressed bodies.
“Gawds, we need a real bath.” came a voice from the darkness. “But first we sleep” answered the woman.”
Daylight brought birdsong, heat, bugs and grumbling stomachs to remind them that supper hadn’t happened. Knuckling their eyes and blowing in annoyance they crawled out of the hoorah’s nest that had sheltered them and made their ways to various points of relief.
Honey grumbled, as always, looking for the perfect slope, mossy by preference, where she could pee without splashing her shoes. Jealously she watched Horse scratch his belly pissing a great arc with no worry. Ha! He missed and he’d be cleaning his own boots
Honey was the first to dig through the supplies to locate the grain she had put to soak last night. Wet leather wasn’t anyone’s favorite flavor, but there it was. Besides she had a few herbs and a pinch of salt set aside that they could celebrate with. Soon they had rustled around, dug out their bowls and contentedly chewed porridge. It would’ve been nicer hot, but the herbs helped.
After a quick discussion Bird squatted to unslot his his rabbit sticks from his pack; with a jerk of his chin he signaled that he would be hunting and vanished into the brush seeking a few of his namesakes for day-meal. If they were to be feeding a vampire, they needed meat. Honey gathered up clothing (thanks be that they didn’t have to get dressed to do laundry or to hunt), left Horse sorting through his pack and scouted out part of the stream that would not be visible from the road. She’d just have to keep her ears open for the occasional traveler. There would be plenty of greens she could gather this time of year while the clothes soaked for a bit. Her hair would dry on the way back to their camp. Clean clothes, clean hair, what could be better.
Honey roughly replaited her hair as she wandered back towards the deadfall, stopping to murmur to Horse “Looked like there was wide spot in the stream where it changes course, it’ll be a good place to wash. Would you start a fire when you get back? I think I saw some elderberries on the other side, nettles and lamb’s quarters for sure. We’ll have enough to eat.” Forthwith Honey ducked back under the sheltering spruces to retrieve a basket that would do to carry the greens.
Horse rose and thoughtfully stared in the direction of the water “Maybe some river crabs further down. I’ll keep an eye out for travelers while I fish.”
Honey cocked her eye up at Horse, “ Bring one of those too, the old one is going to want feeding again.”
She waited in the shadows, her nose twitched taking in the scents of the rocky slope ahead of her while her eyes traced the nearby watercourse. There were birches down there where it deepened, but that was within eyeshot of the road. Later she would venture in that direction to get some birch twigs. She was almost out, everything tasted nasty when she didn’t have a chance to clean her teeth.
It took a moment to unpin her brooch and make sure it was safely tucked in her belt-purse; Horse’d kill her if she lost it. It was the first spring-pin he’d made, a gift for her first menses. She loved him dearly, but even then didn’t think she was destined for a warm husband and tumbling children. Leaving her stola (just like a stole – but a general all purpose garment for women) at the camp Honey started across the meadow to gain the greens and elderberries growing close to the water. The tangy scent of early strawberries stopped her … crouching, and following her nose, she discovered and ate drop after crimson drop.
Perfectly ripe! They hadn’t tasted fresh fruit since last fall. Wait till she told the guys that even though the elderberries weren’t ready, there were strawberries.
Horse ventured in the opposite direction, past the bend in the stream then where it tumbled over the footling rock ridge, swirling into deeper eddies before it elbowed out into a water meadow. A thick stand of alders hid the meadow from the road letting Horse feel safe enough to poke around a bit in the water. Belt, boots and tunic set to one side, he first investigated the calm water past the eddies. Just as he suspected there was a flurry of fins escaping his feet. “Later, my friends later.” and he lay back for a nice soak. The sun had slid over to the west by the time Horse roused, it shone directly in his eyes sparkling ferociously off the water. Honey would be maaad! He was supposed to start a fire for their night-meal. Horse took time to give himself a scrub and look for the right wood that would produce a smokeless fire.
“Haaaah, the best laid plans would be interrupted!” Apparently this half-way point between the guard towers attached to Castra Vetera on the Via Agrippa was a popular spot with the local ruffians. At least the sounds of a scuffle, the nasty reverberation of a thunk and the irate braying of a mule seemed to indicate that that was the case. After which there were a series of grunts, muffled curses, perdat … gravidus! And quite a splash on the other side of the alders. This commotion was followed by a flicker of motion near the road and the clatter of the fleeing mule.
Lying in the shallows just this side of the little bridge was a large wobbly looking man, mostly face up, that was a piece of luck…and the brigands had left his shorts on.
Horse slip-slid his way downstream over the slick rocks to see what he could salvage of the situation.
Very little, apparently. The man was wealthy, probably an official or a merchant, was in the sense that he no longer had the trappings of wealth, just the ridges and pale areas where armbands and rings once rode; now he neither officiated nor traded anything. His life had been soft, nothing about his arms or shoulders spoke of labor, his skin and hands looked meticulously buffed and scented. Now he gently rose and fell in the ripples, the water smoking crimson from his wounds.
He’d have to get the firewood later, right now he had to buggy-lug another body. He wondered why four footed horses put up with it.
While the rabbit baked with some wild garlic and thyme they sat about chatting and mending clothing. Something always needed to be mended. Horse worked at a boot strap, Bird cleaned the rabbit skin, and Honey was going through their clothing looking for something for It to wear. Slaves went naked to be sold and she didn’t want to send the wrong message. Woman’s tunics were too long and ‘sides she didn’t want to waste the fabric.
She kept cutting her eyes over to Bird’s pack, suspecting there might be an extra tunic in there. Bird caught her speculative gaze and groaned. “Why me Honey, why is it always me?”
“Alright, but you have to do the mending….and on my cloak too.”
Honey huffed exasperatedly, and why do I always get stuck doing the mending?
“’Cause you’re gooood at it!”
Leaves rustled, pine boughs sighed, the travelers bickered, the rabbit was unearthed in a cloud of savor, fingers were burnt as the day-meal was eaten. Horse got half since he was so big. Honey put more grain to soak and warm along side of the fire for the night-meal.
Finally the air dimmed with sunset. They had agreed that tonight they would try to tame the Vampire. Ha! More easily said than done, but so far fortune had favored them.
Below the fading sky and stark branches a miniscule fire presented the three in chiaroscuro, only the fading snore of the tax collector interrupting the crickets.
“ The draugr should rise with this new dark, Hel grant that the body stays fresh long enough.” Bird cocked his head listening to the wet breathing coming from the shadows.
“I think the light has dimmed enough. Let’s bring him out, I don’t fancy wresting with one of the pale ones, starving as he is. Since I’ve always been called Horse, I guess, as always, it’s my job to buggy lug!”
“Tch!, just leave him on the blanket and we can all slide him out.”
There was a tangle while extracting their prize. Confusion reigned, Honey spilled back onto her butt after an especially vigorous tug; Bird kicked duff into the fire, causing it to flare; Horse’s face got raked by a branch which started to bleed.
“Way to go, Horse! Cover that scratch!”
“Oh, Sirona* – here he comes!”
The bone white, horribly battered figure, lurched in the direction of the blood scent, but he was so crippled that his strike fell short. Honey whipped out one of her silver topped hair pins and held it to his face. He froze wide eyed, lip curled, teeth exposed, his attention fixed on the trickling blood.
Bird was the first to react, scuffling over towards the tax man.
“He needs to feed, now. Give us a hand then, Horse. Let’s see if we can get this one on a slope.”
Honey had pulled the silver bit away from the old one’s face, watching him heal slowly. She cautiously reached out to catch his attention, and he jerked in her direction but at least didn’t snap.
“What is your language Elder?”
His eyes, pupils totally dilated, had swerved back towards the scent of blood.
“Elder? We will feed you now.” A shift, and now an absolute focus on Honey’s throat.
“We were lucky, for your first feed, we were able to get a whole tax man. He is very fat, there is enough blood to restore your strength.”
The Elder swiveled in the direction of the body being positioned on the other side of the fire, pudgy feet pointing uphill, arms and knees flexed inward, breath rasping erratically. A convulsive lunge and a writhing belly crawl brought his teeth within reach of the body. Jaws fastened and began to tear at a fleshy upper arm.
Horse unsheathed the small blade he carried “We will help you, Elder. Let us make the first cut, it will be easier”
The vampire reflexively snarled and snapped as Honey shifted him crosswise the fading human while Horse reached across the neck to plunge the small blade next to the carotid. Another lunge and the dragur was vigorously drawing at the wound.
The three sat back watching the vampire heal. It was remarkable to see his skin fill out, lose its sepulchral pallor, his wounds close. Honey felt a soft purr vibrate through the Elder’s chest and glanced up to see if her companions had heard it. Bird grinned, and Horse’s eyes crinkled with pleasure.
“We’ll have to tell our tutors that all those drills in vampire rescue really worked. We’ve always been the best team.” They listened to the crickets, waiting.
Even though his stomach had been filled the draugr drew even more strongly, it was a new joy to be able to drink past satiation. His head lolled back, dozy like a babe at his mother’s teat. He was brought back to himself by a question from the female.
The former purr escalated into a growl as he realized how impotent he actually was. Fangless, half blind, amputee, with silver contaminated wounds. At their mercy. Bridled by a young female! Not powerful, perhaps, at this point, not even immortal, weak! Dependent!
“Elder? May we call you ‘Gamli’, our elder?”
Dependent on these humans! He nodded his assent. Gamli it was. For now. He could bide his time.
“Gamli? We need to move out, find another place for you to rest.” Bird thinks there will be a charcoal burner’s cottage higher up, on the other side of the meadow. There are a couple of old roads up past there and we’ll still be close enough to the Via Agrippa to take advantage of the traffic. We will feed you”
He thought Bird must be the slight male, the one who tipped his head while observing him.
The gallows from which he is suspended forms a Tau cross, while the figure—from the position of the legs—forms a fylfot cross. There is a nimbus about the head of the seeming martyr. It should be noted (1) that the tree of sacrifice is living wood, with leaves thereon; (2) that the face expresses deep entrancement, not suffering; (3) that the figure, as a whole, suggests life in suspension, but life and not death. […] It has been called falsely a card of martyrdom, a card a of prudence, a card of the Great Work, a card of duty […] I will say very simply on my own part that it expresses the relation, in one of its aspects, between the Divine and the Universe.
2Eostre is a fertility goddess, her season is spring, her symbols are eggs and rabbits. It is a sin against her not to procreate, but once that duty has been taken care of what you do on you own time for amusement is your affair.
In Celtic mythology, Sirona was a goddess worshipped predominantly in East Central Gaul and along the Danubian limes. A healing deity, she was associated with healing springs; her attributes were snakes and eggs. She was sometimes depicted with Apollo Grannus or Apollo Borvo. She was particularly worshipped by the Treveri in the Moselle Valley. wikipedia