Unemotionally the Elder, Tod, watched Horse and Bird dispose of the husk that had been the pickpocket. He had two solid belly-fulls of blood in as many days and could afford the luxury of questions. Apparently the Fates themselves quarreled over his wyrd, his destiny. The Gods that watched over these children wanted him for their own purposes. Perhaps for a while he could slip through the cracks in the world and lay there unnoticed while he gathered his wits.
He felt Honey watching him, she didn’t move or pull away when he ran what was left of his hand over her hair. Petting her soothed him. Finally, settled in his mind, he turned and roughly breathed “Why?” He could manage that word, it didn’t need much tongue.
“Why?” Honey repeated. “Why are we here or why are we helping you?” she shrugged, “both questions have the same answer.”
“Long and long ago our fore-bearers came upon a gravely wounded draugr. She thought to bargain with these odd humans who showed neither fear nor hate for her kind.” Honey took several breaths while she ordered the tale. “As fortune would have it they had common speech and soon found common ground. They (my people) had been driven from their ancestral grounds by the movement of the Germani from the East and pushed right into the arms of the Romans. Many of us were killed during these clashes and once our leaders learned the true might and ambition of Rome it was decided that our family’s weal would be better served elsewhere. Therefore when we had found a quiet valley, set back from a great river several month’ journey to the west, we settled there”
Elder raised his brow as if to inquire: and what does this have to do with the price of eggs?
“Eh, I’m getting to that.” Honey shifted, so that she was leaning more comfortably against the wall. “Our wanderers brought the dragur back to our settlement so she could safely heal. She found ways to repay our people for their care; we all grew to understand that each helped the other. If we were attacked she would fly to our defense and we would offer blood and shelter as she needed them. Unfortunately her nature would occasionally stir her to both restlessness and dissatisfaction with the quiet life we led; off she’d go looking for excitement, battles and new blood to taste.”
“Our Lady Elder would return each solstice. In high summer we provided a safe resting place during the long days, new babies for her to dandle and smell (she loved to sit of an evening with the newest on her lap, rubbing her face in their soft hair), we were full of the bright season and happy to share blood. It was also the season when the war bands liked to roam….and whoosh, zip, suuuooop no more war band. Very good for all of us.”
“During the Winter Solstice Lady Elder would stop in to recount stories of her adventures, of the cities she had hunted, the people she had tasted. It was all very exciting and we would gather to listen to her stories.”
Each pause, was punctuated by the crackling from the small meal fire. Tod listened in wonder, this must have been an old one playing a very long game.
“ Each solstice we made sure our Lady had a little blood from each of us, so we would be part of her and she would carry us with her. In turn we would each (even the babies) have a drop of her blood so that she was with us always and could call us if she needed us. We were her shield, she was our sword.”
Meanwhile Horse and Bird had returned from their errand, were crouched by the fire and raptly listening. They had heard the story innumerable times, but nonetheless it still stirred them.
Tod motioned with his arm and raised his brow again. A bond? A bond with a whole clan? Must have been a very old one for it not to have lit the flames of madness. A very old one with a new way of being in the world.
Honey looked to the other side of the fire “Bird is still working on the next bit, so he’d better tell it.”
“Aahummm.” and sagged backed onto his butt. “Not yet tongue-smooth, but I’ve got the bare bones. When Our Lady ventured out to glean (during the last of the war season but before the Winter’s celebration) a glutted troop of reavers happened upon her day-rest. The cavern was plundered of her treasure and she thrown out into the light of the day star.
Whilst whetting the weapons
staving off cold and hungerfor their Lady defender/defended.
A seethe of strangers
for mischief trespassed, harvested the harvester, sporting, shattered the sword, leaving the heart
and shield unweaponed, bereft.
Pbbblt, I don’t have it right yet, I’ll need a whole winter to get it to fit properly.
E’en milky mouthed babes mourned
the loss of the gracious Lady,
wailed the loss of the first suckled blood.
No succor for pained and ailing elders,
“We all felt her passing, three of our oldest died then and there of broken hearts. These were the folk who had rescued her so long ago and had been well kept by Elder’s blood. The rest fell to the ground, no matter where they stood, to mourn and weep the loss.
“We were over young to be sent on such a venture as this; routes needed to be plotted. Therefore it wasn’t the next summer but the one following that we were sent out.”
Tod’s eye swept their faces. His whole body twisted to catch Honey in his limited vision. He spread his arms wide, encompassing the group, and breathed “Why?”.
Horse, attuned to body language, raised his brows in turn, “Why us?”.
The pale features dipped in affirmation.
Succinctly Horse explained: “Our leaders were hale and firmly in place. We will not be needed to take over the reins of our clan for many years. There are also others, younger, who could take our places. It was also deemed proper that we should prove ourselves in the world; to complete a quest, to prove our worth. So we are here.
“It would also serve as my journeyman venture, wherever we stop I could practice my craft and learn new techniques.”
“There are different herbs and approaches to healing along our route.” was Honey’s comment “ways of growing things I can learn.”
“There is nothing like singing for coin to sharpen my talents! The stories I’ll bring back will keep me in material for the rest of my life!” preened Bird, scratching under his arm.
Horse shivered, Honey got to her feet. “It is late and we need to get clean, I will bring the soap.”
Horse knelt and gestured to the Elder to scramble up to his back and hang on. With his hands linked behind him he held Tod securely, Bird leading the way. Down to the water, where they stripped off into the water, and settled in, shifting until their butts found spots that were not too rocky.
Once Bird and Horse had palmed up some soap, Honey grabbed the jar, tipped out a generous puddle into her hand and stroked it into Tod’s hair. Ohhhh, Great Mother, he hadn’t felt anything like it in centuries. He’d washed and been washed but never with care. That’s the feeling, someone cared. Almost as if he belonged with these people. He hadn’t been part of anything or belonged anywhere since his last battle. His shoulders, his arms, his chest firmly massaged. Cherished, he felt cherished. No wonder the last dragur had bonded with them.
Elder let his head droop as he relaxed and Honey settled him back against her breasts, holding him in place by tucking her feet under his knees while she tended her own hair. He slipped into down-time until she asked him if he would like to lie out flat for a while. At his nod Honey guided his shoulders downwards until he was resting against the bottom and his hair waved in the current.
Bird and Horse were done splashing each other and floated quietly; Honey made sure their clothes were completely submerged and safely tethered before she lay back holding on to a protruding branch. Let the stream rinse her hair and evict any passengers she’d picked up. Soooo goood. They all thought as the water chuckled around them.
The moon light was fitful, dancing with the wandering clouds. Restless Bird was the first to move working his way upstream and nudging Horse. “C’mon, c’mon, I’m getting cold. Let’s get out, I bet our porridge is ready. Honey! C’mon.”
Honey helped Tod up to his knees, slicking the water off of him with the side of her hand. Still slippery, Horse took a firm grip on the Pale One and hoisted him up onto his back. All four dripped and dribbled their way up to the stream bank, Honey wrung out her hair but Bird merely shook himself before bending to peer at the clothes.
“They are going to have to stay there overnight, just to be sure. I loathe bugs. They bite and knock me off pitch at just the wrong time! It’s bad enough in the winter when you have to put up with them.”
“Foo, Bird” admonished Honey “ we’ll just pick up another set of critters next market day. Some things are just going to happen. Deal with it.”
Their pale bodies slid in and out of the shadows as they threaded their way back to their shelter. The porridge was indeed done and soon shared out. Bird was still restless, humming odd snatches of tunes. Honey combed the tangles out of her hair with a wide toothed wooden comb, and while it dried tended to Tod’s. He smelled nice. She wanted to rub her face on his shoulder.
“Ya, know Bird-brain, I think our friend here understands runes, you might try him on that set you carry.” As she stood Honey wrapped herself in her stola “I’m for bed, you’ll stay up, Bird?”
He nodded absently as he untied the ditty bag he used for the rune stones and spilled the shapes into the firelight. Soon he and the Elder had moved closer together and were sliding the rune stones back and forth in sketchy conversation.
Bird learned that his people had called him Tod, or Death; but wasn’t sure if it was because he was thought to be an incarnation of death or a priestly judge or both.
Tod indicated with a wave of his arm that he had come from the south and east, Raetian then, from the time they had been struggling against Roman incursions or grimly holding on to their profitable trade routes. When he gestured towards the upright arrow rune for the warrior t Bird knew he’d fought the Romans.
The next rune pushed into the light was e; Tod lifted his chin in the direction of the hut where Horse slept, Bird chuckled.
Frowning they stirred the runes, occasionally glancing towards the shadowed interior. Tod raised one eyebrow when Bird picked up the rune y meaning bountiful harvest. There was a moment’s pause while each waited for the other to react, almost simultaneously they roared with laughter.
By the time they had worked out that rough system of signs they were both tired and ready for a lie down. Bird banked the fire for Honey to stir to life in the morning and helped Tod into the darkest recesses of the shelter.
Horse and Honey were already sprawled out on the bench along the far wall, the Elder worked his way closer to the back, Bird found a slot for himself alongside Honey and Horse; by dawn Tod would have disappeared into the shadows. He sighed as he lay in the dark, tired, finally, wrapped in his cloak, tumbled into sleep.
These people were almost as clean as the Romans and they didn’t use that disgusting fish sauce. Altogether they smelled much better. Healthy but distinctly other. Now that he’d heard their story he was able to tease out the faint vampiric thread to each scent. Their vampire was gone, none would object if he were to claim them.
Bird had a light odor somehow grassy and a little musky at the same time; Horse was, well, Horse, clean sweat and hard driven metal, perhaps some of the camphor-ish southern wood he packed in his satchel; Honey, mmmm, Honey, woman smell, yes but herbs too, sage and lavender – Chamomile?
How strange, he craved these odors, to suck them in and absorb them almost as if they were part of his craving for blood.
He shifted himself closer to Honey and nuzzled into the hair at the nape of her neck. Then stealthily slipped his arm around her middle and pulled her close to his belly. She roused enough to reach across and flip her stole to cover both of them then snuggled her butt into the bend of his hips. The vampire was absolutely stunned! It had been years! Not one to pass up an opportunity, he went to his day death bathing in her warm scent.