I didn't believe in being thankful though, or accepting this as it was. Over the years we lost people from our village to many things and each time the elders buried him or her saying that we should be thankful it was only one, or that we should accept this as how life progressed. This was my brother though. He was the only family I had left. Our parents had died; first our mother than our father, years ago and now it was just us to tend the sheep of our lord's manor. I would not be left alone here.
"I'm not going to sit quietly by," I told my brother that morning, laying a hand on his brow. It was hot with fever. "One of the elders is going to watch over you while I'm gone. I'll come back with a cure."
He didn't say anything. The others had told me that there was no cure for blood rain and that I was wasting my time. My brother would not dissuade me though. He knew and I knew that I could not sit by and watch this happen.
"Be careful, Lydia," was all he said.
I gained permission from my lord to leave the manor. He was a difficult man, rude and prone to fits of anger, but I had long ago learned how to handle him.
"The sheep cannot go untended. You're wasting your time." He scowled down at me but I did not flinch.
"Jeoffries is having his son take care of the flock while I'm gone. It shall only be a matter of days."
"There's no cure for blood rain. You're wasting your time."
"Yes, but thankfully it is my own time I am wasting, neh? I am going."
"I didn't give permission."
"Yet. I am going."
And so forth. He caved in, of course, as stubbornness was not one of his faults, and if the violent temper of his failed to cause someone to back down within the first few minutes, the fight was pretty much lost for him.
So with a pack of supplies, a walking stick, and my sturdiest traveling gown, I set out. My destination was a sage's tower three days from our village. It was a difficult place to find as he disliked visitors but with enough patience one would arrive at the front door. As children, my brother and I had wandered off, gotten lost in the forest, and then spent the next two days trying to find our way home. Turns out what we thought north was actually east. The sage found us eventually, took us to his tower for some food, and then delivered us to our village safely. I'd never quite forgotten the way to get to his home.
The key to finding his tower was to not actively look for it. Search for a herb. Examine a clump of flowers. Anything but look for his tower. I kept my eye on a squirrel and followed it through the trees until they cleared out into an open expanse of grass, dominated by a stone structure. Grinning, I tromped through the high weeds to the dirt path leading to his door. Knocked on the wood. There was no answer but again, this was no surprise. I simply took off my backpack and sat down to wait.
Around sunset I heard a voice from behind the wooden door.
"Go away, you're ruining the scenery."
"Oh, come off it," I replied, "Your door can't possibly be more attractive than a young lady."
"I don't like people."
"I don't like sages so I suppose we're even. May I come in at least? It's close to dark."
There was the sound of a latch and I stood, picking up my backpack. The sage was an elderly man, tanned by the sun with white hair pulled back in a ponytail. There were few wrinkles but his skin had that stretched quality that betrayed his age. He stood aside and ushered me in. The interior of the bottom floor was crowded with a fireplace, a table, and a quantity of unwashed dishes in the corner near a sink. Stairs led up to the other floors on the opposite side of the room.
"What do you want?" he asked as I surveyed his tower.
"I'm searching for a cure for a disease."
"I have those. Depends on the disease though."
He sucked in a breath and gestured for me to sit at the table. I did so and he walked to the opposite side of the room, near the stairs, and shook his head.
"Young lady," he said, "you are not the first person to ask me that. I've had many people make the journey here and I've had to turn them all away empty-handed. I'm sorry. I simply don't have that cure in my library and I'm not even sure a cure exists."
He paused and looked back at me.
"May I at least ask who it is that is afflicted? A lover, perhaps?"
"Ah, even worse. I am sorry, my dear."
Everything seemed very calm. Still and quiet, like time had ceased. It was a strange feeling.
"Do you at least know someone else that might know? Another sage?"
He paused. Thought for a moment.
"I'll check my lists. I keep everyone of worth documented and I just might have something. Don't expect much, my dear. Do you have an animal?"
"I belong to a lord and he would not lend me a horse."
"If I find someone, I'll work up a spell to transport you there as well."
He started up the stairs. I tilted my head at him.
"I thought you said you didn't like people."
"But a young lady is far more attractive than my door. Besides, you're going to do something for me in return."
"Yes. The dishes. Hop to it."
I cooked dinner as well as did dishes, and then raided his bedroom and patched up any clothing I found that needed mending. By the time he emerged from his study it was very late and the moon was high.
"Food is on the table," I told him, "It's cold though."
"No matter. Come along, I'll tell you what I found."
He settled himself and I did the same.
"The other sages I have contact with have long since shared their knowledge with me," he said, "It's the way we are. Anything we learn is quickly spread among the others. There are a couple beings that do not do this and among them I have selected the most likely candidate for help. He's also the only one that might not kill you outright."
He stopped eating and looked up at me severely.
"Young lady, knowledge can have a price. The beings I refer to are very dangerous creatures and while their wisdom is incredibly valuable they are also less fond of being disturbed than I am. Each and every scrap of information I gained from them came at a price and frankly; you don't have much to offer. Most would kill you for your arrogance."
"Ah. But one wouldn't?"
He shrugged. "I think."
I pondered this for a moment. Would my brother approve of the risk I was about to take on his account? Of course not.
"Tell me about this person."
"Do you know what vampires are?"
I had. He launched into an explanation anyways, a more detailed one than any I had ever heard, and by the time he had finished the room felt darker and less secure than it had before.
"I have gone to him on several occasions myself," the sage said and I took his dishes to the sink to rinse them off, "Each time he demanded something in return – a costly artifact, an irreplaceable text. Things that those in your station could never obtain."
"But he will at least hear me out."
"I believe so. While inhuman, he is not sadistic like others are."
"Than I want to try. Where is his home?"
"He governs land two days out from the city of Yuvulle. You know it?"
I did. It two weeks from my village.
"Sir, I must ask, how long does blood rain take to…" My voice quivered and I couldn't finish the sentence.
"More than a month, at the least. I will take you to the very outskirts of his land tomorrow morning though. There is a couch on the third floor you can sleep on. I'll prepare the spell."
The next morning I was given breakfast and some last tidbits of advice. Being an immortal he still had leftover customs from an earlier era. I would have to be extremely polite. His name was Lord Vascard and I would have to take care to never call him anything but lord or master. Like most immortals he was also extremely arrogant. The spell would place me on the road leading directly to his keep. It was considered rude to transport someone directly inside his territory and besides; it would be dark by the time I arrived that way.
"Take care, my dear," he said. Then he pressed his palms together, the runic circle around me lit up with white fire, and I felt like I'd just fallen out of a dream and into another.
It took some moments to recover from the shock. Then I looked around me, found the path, a signpost, and started walking in the indicated direction. Like the sage had predicted, it took the entire day to reach his keep. I stopped once for lunch and once just to catch my breath. Dusk fell when the keep had appeared on the hills rolling ahead, and the moon was up by the time I reached its gates. I could see lights in the distance and I assumed that they were of his village. Further away than most were from their lord, but then again, with a vampire as master who could blame them?
I wondered if they even knew he was a vampire. Surely they did.
I crossed through the gate, shutting it behind me, and made my way across the courtyard. It was well kept and I wondered if he had servants in the keep. It appeared that way. The door was inlaid with carvings and I hesitated for a few moments before seizing the great iron ring and knocking. It seemed to echo around me and I stood there shivering for many long moments before someone opened the door. It was a young man, around my age, and he peered at me quizzically. His skin was pale from lack of sun.
"And you are?" he asked.
"Lydia. I've come begging an audience with your master."
The man let me in. I caught him stealing glances at me, curious ones that obviously said he thought I was mad for making such a request. But after instructing me to remain in the entryway he left to convey my message and I was left alone. The hallway was opulent, fitted with marble and black and white tiles, heavy curtains along the walls. Surprisingly, the place was well lit, which seemed odd for what I knew about his kind. After a long wait, the servant reappeared and asked for me to follow him. He took my backpack outside of a door and told me to enter.
It was a library. There were shelves upon shelves of books and near the center of the room was an array of tables and sofas. A man was sitting in one of those and as I approached he set aside the book he had been reading. He was very pale in the light, almost white, and his hair was brown and drawn back in a ponytail at the base of his neck. He was very richly dressed. I stopped a respectful distance away and curtsied deeply. The vampire never moved. It was like addressing a statue.
"I have been told-" it was at that point I realized I had never learned the name of the sage. So I improvised. "-of your knowledge by one of the sages of the world. He sent me to you in hopes that you would know the answer I seek."
It was the worst speech ever. I was far too quiet, my voice was unsteady, and I had trouble focusing my thoughts so long as he kept staring at me.
"Let me guess," Vascard said smoothly and I heard an accent I had never heard before. Possibly one from that earlier era the sage had spoken of, "You are a peasant girl. From the south. You tend sheep and little of what you own is genuinely yours, for you belong to a lord."
I could only nod, astounded. He smiled in such a way that I saw the canines, fangs like a wolf.
"Don't look so surprised. Your accent betrays you and my senses are far more acute than yours. Even with a washing I can smell the sheep on your skin. Did the sage also tell you that nothing I give comes without a price?"
"He did and, I'm afraid, I … I have little to offer."
"You have nothing to offer." His voice was sharp and I flinched. "But tell me what you want."
"There was a blood rain recently." Vascard nodded. "My brother was afflicted with the illness it brings. I am seeking a cure."
He leaned back in the couch, seeming to relax. His gaze slipped off of me and I tried not to fidget.
"Your brother. Do you have other family?"
"None, my lord."
Abruptly, he rose. I stepped back a pace.
"I do have the cure you seek. There was a blood rain here – before you were born – and one of my own servants fell ill. I could not find the cure in time to save his life but I have kept it in my possession since."
I was too afraid to ask.
"What is your name girl?"
"Lydia. My lord."
He shrugged, lazily. "I'll make the potion for you. It several doses over the course of the illness. It does not so much as cure it as lessen the effects – staving off the eventual death – at least, that's what I gleaned. I have yet to try it, which is one of the reasons I am actually agreeing to this. Personal curiosity, that and you have little to give. I demand much from sages because they have much to give. I cannot demand the same from a peasant girl."
The vampire walked to one of the bookshelves. He reminded me of a cat, easy elegance but every move betrayed the predator within. I started to thank him, not even sure of how I could, but he stopped me with a word. I stood there in silence after that as he searched among the titles of the books. Finally he pulled one out, flipped to a bookmarked page and returned to the couch.
I did as I was bid. He glanced up from the book to me and then down at the pages again.
"I will take some sort of payment after all. The potion requires human blood and it is noted that like most of these cures, the blood of kin is most effective. That would mean yours. I would like to take some more for my own personal use as well."
It took a moment for me to comprehend what that meant. I felt a bit faint at that and wavered a bit. He indicated that I should sit in the sofa opposite him.
"I would not kill you." The vampire sounded very amused. "In case you were worrying. My kind does not have to kill to be sustained, although many prefer to."
"Certainly," I whispered, "I… I agree to that."
"Excellent. I will send a rider to fetch your brother then – it will be easiest to keep him at my keep until the disease is past. Obviously, I don't like to travel, as it means I may be caught out in the sunlight."
"I would like to go myself."
"You won't be able to. Ever lost blood?"
He stood and tucked the book under his arm. Started for the door and I followed. The servant was outside and he bowed deeply as his lord passed him. Stared at me as I passed. I scowled at him.
"Boy!" Vascard barked and the young man jumped nearly a foot and then bolted. "My servant is still of the notion that I'm going to kill each and every person that passes through my gates. I apologize for his rudeness."
"Do you? I mean, is there reason for him thinking that?"
And Vascard merely laughed and didn't answer my question. He led me through his keep to another room stocked with shelves of neatly lined bottles. There were tables of equipment I recognized from the sage's tower but still did not know the purpose of. The vampire laid the book on a table and took a glass flask from one of the shelves. Empty. He set that down near me and added a small box near it.
"Now – just hold still. And please, don't try and fight back. It's so irritating."
I swallowed hard and let him put one hand around my neck. The other went to the small of my back and I went rigid. Reminded myself that he was going to save my brother and that hitting him would not be appropriate right now.
Thankfully, he didn't give me a chance to try, or even to fully process what was happening. Just sank his fangs into my neck and I gasped, nearly fell except for him holding me up. Felt his mouth close over the wound and I heard my heartbeat in my ears. I made a small sound in the back of my throat, grabbed his arm for support, and after a moment my vision went dark in the peripheral and he set me down, my back against the table leg. Licked the current well of blood off my neck and drew away. A couple seconds later he bent over me again and then set aside the small glass vial, half-filled with scarlet. I tried to say something but by that time I was cold and sweating at the same time and lacked the presence of mind to find words. I believe I passed out shortly after.
I didn't wake until late into the following day. Mid-afternoon. I was in a bed, dressed in a nightgown far nicer than anything I currently owned, and there was a pitcher of water set on the bedside table. I rolled over and poured myself a glass, as I was desperately thirsty. Then I slept again and woke when someone shook me. It was a servant, a different one this time. A lady, approximately as old as my mother would be were she still alive.
"I brought food," she said, "It's a few hours past sundown. Lord Vascard has sent a rider to fetch your brother and has requested that you remain in the keep until he returns."
She set a tray on my lap after I sat up. I started eating and she stayed by the bedside.
"I also need to change the binding about your neck," she said.
"Does he do this often?" I asked softly.
"Take blood, you mean? Every week or so, I think. Sometimes more, sometimes less. Sometimes he leaves the keep and sometimes he brings people here. I really can't keep track of how he feeds. I just take care of those he doesn't drain completely, like yourself."
"Why do you serve him?"
"Because he's my lord. Your own lord has faults, doesn't he?"
"What lord doesn't?"
"There you have it. That's why."
"Does he take care of his people?"
I finished eating and asked few other questions. She left and I slept some more. Was woken by Lord Vascard himself later.
"The potion is almost finished," he said, "Tell me, do you know what the blood rain disease is?"
I shook my head. All I knew is that it killed people.
"Apparently no one really does. Supposedly it's an affliction of the blood and that by improving the health of the blood will cause it to run its course without killing the victim. Of course, that's all they know and its causes are still a mystery."
"The blood rain causes it," I said automatically. He tossed his head in derision.
"The worst a rain at sundown can cause is pneumonia. Wives tales." There was a moment of silence from him and then he pulled a chair over and sat down. "Lydia, was it? Tell me about your village."
"What?" I had forgotten my manners completely. "Uh, but why? It's not very interesting…"
"To you, perhaps. But I've lived for far too long to not be interested by everything about me. You reach a point where you know all the large things and the mundane become interesting again. Besides, it's so rare that I have a visitor that isn't a vampire hunter or someone wanting to be a vampire themselves. Now tell me about your village."
"You're nothing what I was told vampires are like."
"Yes, but everyone who ever told you about them haven't really sat down and met one of us, now have they? And we've already established that I treat the sages differently because they have something I can gain from them."
He gestured that I should talk and I did so. Told him about my village, about my lord's temper and how to win every argument with him, and about my childhood and how we got lost and the floods that came several years ago and how much I disliked our elders. He grinned at that and I saw his fangs again. Eventually I grew tired and he left me to sleep.
It was thirteen days before my brother arrived. The rider had brought him on horseback, along with a third animal carrying what appeared to be full saddlebags. Those were taken by a servant and carried off, while two more servants carried my brother into the keep. I tried to get close, but Vascard appeared and shooed me off. So I stayed outside the room and sat in the hallway waiting.
Eventually the vampire exited and let me go see my brother. He was very pale and the red veins of the disease had almost reached his eyes. There was sweat on his brow but when I felt his cheek it wasn't as hot as I had expected.
"That was a vampire," my brother said weakly, "Lydia, what on earth have you been up to?"
"Mostly laying around the keep and sleeping," I replied with a soft smile, "and talking with Lord Vascard. He likes to hear himself talk and likes to hear others talk as well. Kind of like the batty old miller's wife."
"Yes, but how did you get here to begin with?"
"Oh, I had some help from the sage. It isn't nearly as exciting a story as you think. But how are you feeling?"
"Better, strangely enough. The vampire said that the potion would help me survive this. I can hardly believe it."
"As can I. How is the village?"
"Our lord is furious."
"He knew I was going to be gone for a while."
Then my brother looked confused.
"Lydia, he's furious that we're not coming back, not that you've been gone."
At that moment I wondered if he was suffering from fever delusions.
"The rider had a letter from Lord Vascard… he's bought us for his own lands. Paid very little too, judging by how much our lord ranted, but who says no to a vampire?"
I stood up and excused myself at that point. My brother needed to rest anyways.
Found Lord Vascard in the library. Reading again. I didn't even bother with the illusion of manners this time.
"You bought us?!"
"Paid very little for you as well. But who says no to a vampire?" He smirked.
"But – I –"
"-didn't like that village anyways? Don't be silly, I know the land you used to live on, it's a miserable little place. Hot in the summer and wet in the winter. My manor is much nicer."
"Because I could. I do that a lot. One of the perks of being immortal is being able to follow through with your whims. Now off with you, I'm sure you know who is in charge of the servants by now. I'm sure he will have some tasks to assign."
I floundered for words for a moment. Didn't come up with much.
"Thank you," I said, "for saving my brother. I'm not sure about this whole being bought part."
"You are welcome. For both. Now go on, and next time, remember how to address your lord."
I curtsied, poorly, and left. At least my brother would be better. And maybe being a servant here would be better than tending to a herd of sheep. I had no idea. Would just have to find out, I supposed.