The Bane of Rendsberg Part I

XII

Hans was severely wounded, with many broken bones and some internal injuries. It greatly irked Lucifer to leave the child when he was in this condition, and he worried about the wounds leaking away his life again once he left. He stroked the child's face, but he was no use to the little one captured or destroyed by the Masters of the Dead. He even doubted that his powers would work once the sun rose. So, once he had situated the child as comfortably as he could, and setting the supplies within easy reach of him, he left with much worry for his punishment.

The next night, after many and various accusations from Hans, the vampire wordlessly bundled him up and carried him out of the caves. Having no knowledge of healing, he took his ward to the human settlement. They were not the best noted healers, but they knew more about the art than he did. The young one was not happy about this situation either, but no words would sway Lucifer from his path. He chose a family, who had been kind to him upon his initial visit to the city, to provide the child shelter and care. In exchange, he did many and various deeds for them and brought home his kill for them to help pay for their lodgings and help feed both the family and his young ward. He had to remember what kinds of animals humans ate. They did not feel the same way about rats as they did. Hans was none too happy with the set up, and the elder was only able to check up on him briefly during the beginning of the night, and then he stayed with him for the last hour before sunrise.

Not only did Hans not like where he was staying, but he wished to return to his own home or move onward. He no longer had any fear of the horrors that lurked there. Lucifer would not hear of it. He was safer right where he was at. Although the nights were getting steadily shorter with the approach of summer, the vampire insisted upon staying until his companion was fully healed. In a way, he felt rather guilty about staying in the Schönberg's home when he denied it to the actual heir, but he felt better about the child staying with the more normal people and away from where the creature of darkness once lurked. It also gave him a chance to investigate further about the presence of the creature. He learned nothing else, and it was truly gone, he felt. He drew in a heavy breath. Was he at fault for all the horrible things that had happened here? Was the darkness and evil drawn to him like a magnet? The man he had initially served had thought he would be a harbinger of ill fated things. Was this the reason why he was damned? He shook his head fiercely. He couldn't be thinking like this. Nothing truly bad happened there over the eighty years that he served them.

The warmth of May came and threatened to pass the Kobolds by before Hans was finally declared fit to travel again. The two fairy folk bowed graciously to their host and offered their fullest gratitude. Although it irked him to admit it, the youth had actually grown accustomed to the humans. The mistress gave them gifts and travel food on the evening they chose to depart. The master of the house offered them a ride for some distance to their destination. Lucifer was overwhelmed with the offer and accepted the help with much gratitude. The elder was always glad to get a quicker way that did not entail the use of his inefficient sense of direction. Although strong enough and fully healed, Hans was glad to take the quicker route and maybe avoid more of his guardian's cooking along the way.

Fortunately, Preetz was a mere ten miles from Schönberg, and the man was willing to take the two into town. Although not the type to be very travel happy by nature, the two Kobolds seemed to enjoy this ride better than the ride into Schönberg. This man was more than happy with their presence and kindly invited them to sit up in the front seat with him. He lifted the two of them up to the seat instead of Lucifer showing off his lack of grace. The three of them shared songs and stories and laughed on the hour long trip. Hans' smile grew wider with the ride, and he began to doubt some more of his father's teachings. Not all humans were bad and needed to be avoided. He still had no desire to be in servitude with them.

Preetz was a pleasant enough place, and there was much business going on in the city. Lucifer made a graceful bow to the man for all his help and kindness to them. The man smiled and patted each of them on the head. The elder looked up to him and thought about the family he had served again. The idea that he may return to this family again and pledge himself to them came to him. With a sigh, he reminded himself of their painfully short lives. He really did not want to suffer that loss again.

The humans of Preetz paid the two members of the Faerie realm little to no attention as if such things were a normal everyday occurrence. The two visitors soon found out why. Two Kobold females appeared from a store not more than ten feet in front of the two of them. The elder opened his mouth and muttered several things in the way of amazement, and his eyes opened wide. The females took notice of them and giggled. One of them had long brown hair pulled back in a pony tail. Her bright round black eyes shone out of a rather angular face with a sharp chin that was more common to the elven races than the Kobolds. She wore pink and white flowers in her hair and a long plain brown canvas dress with a white apron. She carried a basket of goods that looked to be grains and herbs. The other Kobold was smaller, with the same color of hair that hung loose about her waist. Her cheek bones were a bit sharper than the other's and her eyes were a bit smaller with a mild angle to them. She wore a high neck, white shirt with tight sleeves with a brown vest and skirt. She carried a package that appeared to be materials for sewing. Lucifer could tell that the two were sisters, and his cheeks burned with the realization that he found them both attractive. He stepped forward of his companion, who gave him a disgusted glare, and he made a bow that lacked much in the way of grace, and he ended up landing on his face in front of them. All three Kobolds snickered. The elder pulled himself up with a fair bit of chagrin.

In an effort to regain his composure, he cleared his throat. "My friend, here, and I have traveled some distance in search of the Kobolds of Preetz," he announced.

The Kobold with the basket and flowers in her hair smiled widely. "You have found two of many," she laughed. "I am Patricia Preetz, and this is my younger sister Marian."

The other girl made a curtsy to him. "A pleasure to meet you, sir," she announced in a manner of respect.

Lucifer looked over the two of them, and somehow he knew he was every bit twice their age. It was not that Kobolds actually grew old after so long, but there were certain trademarks of age, a certain wisdom to the stance and twinkle in the eye.

"And who might you be and what business might you have with my family?" Patricia asked in a straight forward manner.

The tone of her voice startled him at first. His back froze as he suddenly remembered the condemnation by his people for the color of his hair, and he took up the defensive. He would not have them attack him or Hans because of association. Drawing in a deep breath, he prepared his answer. He would not have her attack his family for what he was either. "We came here in search of my family actually. I am Lucifer, and this is Hans," he spoke. The elder female raised her eyebrows at his name, and the vampire pulled back. He knew the name was something bad to the humans, but his own people should care nothing for it.

She smiled and shook her head. "I listen too much to my brother's ramblings," she remarked.

Marian snickered, and the vampire furrowed his brow at her reaction. "My mother," she clarified, "she has taken in many orphans over the years. I wouldn't doubt that there is a relation to any given Kobold family in the entire world."

Lucifer let out a heavy sigh of relief. "And as for your black hair," Patricia told him, "My family doesn't follow the Customs that closely. We've seen worse, and we have given shelter to them."

The elder female motioned for the two wayward Kobolds to follow them. Lucifer nodded, and Hans happily joined the two of them. He offered to carry their shopping. They refused him politely. He proceeded to tell them all about their adventures and how brave his guardian was. Lucifer cast down his eyes, and his face turned a deep red despite the pallor of his nature. He wished with a fervor that he had not given up on wearing a hat, so that he could hide in its shadow now.

It turned out that Preetz was a mining family as well. Lucifer was grateful for this on many levels. This meant that where his sister and brother grew up was something a bit more normal and acceptable than his own upbringing. They would be the type of Kobolds that he would understand better and would less likely bring insult upon. He had heard tales from his mistress that House Kobolds could be seized with fits of rage if insulted, and such insults could be easily made. He had learned much of the proper conduct of mine Kobolds from his young friend as well. Lastly, Hans would have no aversion at staying with a nice normal mine Kobold family (regardless of how well they did not adhere to the Customs). He had to laugh at the thought. His three companions turned on him with questioning looks. He cleared his throat and composed himself. He was certain his young cohort wouldn't care if they roomed with trolls as long someone had better cooking skills than the elder did. He smirked. That didn't take much.

Although the Preetz family seemed friendly and outgoing in town, Lucifer sensed the barrier that was erected when they approached the hole that the Preetz family called home. He was further surprised to hear that Mrs. Preetz did not stray far from home nor did she go into town. When they approached the residence, he spied an older female Kobold in a dark brown dress with a stained apron. Her brown hair was pulled back in a messy bun. Her face was rounded, and although her eyes were narrowed as she playful scolded three small young Kobolds, he could tell that they were normally quite rounded like Patricia's eyes. Although she had many differences than their guide, he could tell that she was indeed their mother. She looked up at the approaching party and shooed the children onward. As they made eye contact, Lucifer saw vast wisdom in those dark eyes, and he knew that this Kobold had to be an age similar to that of his own mother, if she had still lived.

She moved forward and greeted the two of them with a curtsy. "Who have you brought home with you, Patricia?" she asked the elder sister.

She smiled and nodded. "These are Lucifer and his companion Hans," she answered.

The matron furrowed her brow but shook it off. "I am Madelyne Preetz, and this is my home," she announced as she spread her hands wide, "I bid you welcome," she added as she ushered them in.

She happily talked to them and told them all about the Preetz home and family. She was 250 years old with ten children of her own. There were 16 others out there or in the home that she had taken in over the years. Lucifer was impressed on several levels. Not only were Kobolds solitary creatures, and they did not often take in their own, as Hans had informed him, but a normal Kobold family usually only had three children. None of the Preetz young ones had found mates as of yet no matter how many Festival of Meetings they went to, but she was all right with this, because she hadn't found Friedrich until she was 156. She continued on until neither one of them heard her anymore.

She moved her conversation from about herself and her many children to about them as she led them through the labyrinth of the mine. She made quite a fuss over Hans. The youth beamed at the notice of the matron. She ruffled his hair, then turned to the black haired one and placed her hands on her hips. She looked him over with a critical eye and cocked her eyebrow. The other took a step backwards at her glare. Being the clumsy sort that he was, he tripped over a rock and fell backwards onto his behind.

Madelyne pulled back and laughed heartily. "Am I really that frightening?" she remarked.

"I . . . uh . . ." he responded, as he looked up at the hand offered him. He looked up into her dark eyes. There was no fear or hatred there. He calmed himself with a deep breath. Ignoring her offer of help, he pushed himself back up to his feet. Remembering Hans' terrified reaction to his icy cold hands, he dared not allow the matron to touch him.

She pulled back her hand and crossed her arms. She narrowed her eyes into a scowl at the black haired one. Regardless of the fact that he was an undead atrocity and having recently faced a monster of the Darkness Realm, Lucifer felt the familiar ache in his back, and his knees shook as he backed away from her. "You are in my home now. There is no need of fear. I don't put much credit in the words of the Customs since they nearly killed my brother's son. Your black hair means nothing to me or my family. Other Kobolds may have given you a hard time, but you will find that my family and myself are an exceptional lot."

The strength of his spine returned, and the vampire let a soft laugh escape his lips. He ran his fingers through his ebony hair. Being with Hans over the last year had made him forget the reaction to the black hair. "I really haven't had much trouble from our own people. Outside of your family, Hans is the only other Kobold I have met. He's been pleasant enough with me, and he's been trying to teach me about the Customs."

"Hmpf!" she snorted, "The Customs are a load of hogwash! We are far too concerned with finding evil in our own kind and killing off each other. I judge you on your own actions and not your physical flaws." A twinkle appeared in her eyes, and a wide smile crossed her lips. "Black hair suits you well, and I would call it a compliment and not a flaw."

Lucifer looked down and turned a soft shade of pink. He remembered his human mistress making over his dark hair when he was little. He never thought he would hear such words from another Kobold. His siblings had certainly found a wonderful place to grow up, and he really did not feel as bad about the fate of their lives.

She turned her attention to Hans, who backed away from her intense scrutiny. She placed a hand under his chin and made him look up at her. She gave him an encouraging smile. "You both need a bit of fattening," she remarked. She looked back to the vampire. "Especially you." Lucifer's cheeks burned a deeper pink. "I will never understand those of you, who skip the meals right in front of you. Josef is bad for that . . ." she ranted on for a long time afterwards about the different family members and their bad eating habits. Lucifer didn't hear half of it, but he was greatly comforted by her voice. She awoke long dormant memories of his mother making over his brother and sister. A smile twitched, and he remembered meals being put before him as well. In some way, he wished this matron would make over him as if he was a child again. He laughed at the thought. He was far too old for such things.

She finally brought them to the kitchen of the establishment, where she had to chase away several Kobolds raiding the simmering meal. Most of them scattered like rats to their separate tunnels, but an older male, who was rather scraggily looking with scattered uneven hair refused to be moved so easily. The dark haired Kobold recognized the sharp angular features found in the Preetz girls in his face. Taking an armful of breads, he moved to leave the place, then he stopped with a threatening glare to the newcomers.

"More interlopers!" he complained.

"Out, Friedrich," she commented, as she pushed him out. "There is plenty for your bottomless stomach. Out!"

He left without further remark. She turned to her guests and offered them seats at the large table that took up most of the room in the chamber. Lucifer accepted the seat without argument, but Hans was insistent that he would help with the kitchen chores. Madelyne was inclined to shoo him off, but somehow she couldn't bring herself to do it. With a smile, she patted him on the head and showed him what needed to be done.

Lucifer just sat at the table with his hands peacefully folded on his lap. With a distant thoughtful smile, he watched them. His companion seemed more alive than anywhere else they had been or even his own home. Although she had argued at first, Madelyne did not act overly displeased with his actions or work. Laughing, the youth put together a plate of food at the matron's instructions, then he placed it before his guardian with a mug of tea. He placed a similar plate full at the place, where he intended to dine. It took the child no time at all to dig into the food there.

Lucifer took the warm mug of tea and looked into it. The twinkling reflection of the twinkling blue light held his attention. The smell of the herbs played about his sinuses. He smiled with the pleasant sensation, and a feeling of peace came over him. Madelyne took her seat at the end of the table, where she mixed some dough for more bread. Lucifer looked up at her. As pleasant as the place may be, he had business to attend to, and he did not wish to offend her. He placed his mug back on the table and pushed the plate of food towards his ravenous companion. He had no need of real food.

"I thank you for your hospitality, but I have already dined my full for the evening," he confessed.

"You little scrawny pieces are all the same! It is a wonder you keep alive at all," she complained.

Hans swallowed down a chunk of his bread, then he turned to the mistress. "This is much like my mother's bread. It is sweet with grains and seeds in it," he told her.

She paused in her mixing and furrowed her brow. Wiping her hands on her apron, she cocked her head to get a proper look at the child. "I was told that not too long ago by a young guest of my nephew's. Funny thing, that." She remarked, as she reached out to him and brushed his hair aside from his face. "I have had many outsiders here with the adoptive children and all, but he was the first to say that. You even look a little bit like him. I would be inclined to say you two could be brothers, but he has no family left, and he was an only child."

The young one looked down shyly. "I likewise have no one left," he spoke. He gave a glance to Lucifer, and the morose thoughts fell away. "That's why I have a guardian. He takes care of me and looks out for me."

The vampire shrugged, as Madelyne's eyes fell upon him. She blinked then shook her head. "You looked kind of familiar as well, but this all may be just the mood I'm in," she remarked with a dismissive wave of her hand.

Lucifer blushed again and looked down. "I hope not," he exclaimed, "I have come here looking for my brother and sister. I believe they may have come here after our separation. I am looking for Johann and Hannah Rendsberg."

She crossed her arms and gave him a scolding scowl. "If you had introduced yourself properly, then my girls would have given you the news that you sought." He looked down and his cheeks burned red. Her expression softened and turned into a smile as the light of recognition came into her eyes. Warmth flooded through the younger Rendsberg's body, and his heart ached. His quest may have finally come to an end, and he would soon be reunited with his family. He couldn't believe he actually may have done something right. "Hannah and Johann were staying here until recently. They left with my nephews and nieces a couple of weeks ago, but they are both alive and well as far as I know. I believe they said that they were going to Cuxhaven, where their mutual friend's family is from. I took care of your sister when she was young. She has become a fine Kobold lady, and I think one of my nephews fancies her. My brother ended up with Johann. When Justin and his wife died, he came to stay here with my brother's sons and daughters. He more than fancies my niece. He married her."

Lucifer's eyes widened at the news. He was indeed on the right track. He had known his siblings had survived the disaster. He could feel it in the pit of his soul. He stood up from the table and took hold of the matron's hands with all disregard for his icy touch. He didn't even feel her pull away from him. He kissed the palms of her hands and collapsed to his knees before her. He gathered her hands to his heart and looked into her wide startled eyes.

"I don't know what I could possibly do to repay you for this wonderful information. You have saved this lost Kobold from the forever limbo," he announced.

She pulled her hands free of his grasp and cocked her eyebrows. His frigid hands and his slow heart beat (or so it seemed) made her anxiety rise. She looked to his dark eyes, and they seemed more dilated than they should be for one of their kind. The flames from the lanterns flickered oddly about them. With a firm kick to her common sense, he shook off her misgivings. She had listened to her son's research into the supernatural far too much, and she was now daydreaming about such things. Her other senses told her that he was a good person, and despite Johann's mischievous nature, she found the Rendsbergs a pleasant little family. She would hate to mistreat one of her dear Hannah's siblings. She gave a brief laugh. This fellow seemed to be rather a lost child, like so many that came through her home. She would stay with that instinct. It had not steered her wrong yet. She gave a brief glance to Hans and smiled.

"You could stay here for a while. I am certain that your companion could use the rest among his own kind, and my younger ones would like the company of a fourth to play with. Heinrich is five, Angela is six, and Lillian is eight going on nine. They have always wanted a boy, who was a little older to play with and to look to as an older brother. Hans is about eight or nine himself, is he not?" she remarked.

"I'll be nine next month," he announced proudly through a mouthful of food from Lucifer's dish.

"And the both of you seem to have been through a lot lately. You both could use a safe haven, and Hannah and Johann won't be going anywhere soon," she told them.

Lucifer took in a deep breath. "I could leave Hans here in your care. He's a good boy, and I'm certain that he could be most helpful about the place."

Hans choked on his food and spat it out. "You're not leaving me behind! Not . . . not after all that has happened!" he complained.

The vampire pulled back at the young one's reaction. "You're not going to be all alone out in the woods. There are all kinds of Kobolds running about here, and you won't have to put up with humans anymore."

"I'm here for the endurance. I have to meet your brother and sister, and you took me on. I'm staying! You are now like my dad," he insisted.

Lucifer sighed and looked fondly upon his ward. It would be so much safer to leave him here, especially with the short nights and the long days. There was no terrible mark about him. He would be accepted as a normal Kobold and live a normal life without him. He would not be the victim of some marauding monster, who wanted to face down the vampire. Lucifer doubted if he would win such a fight again. Then there was the righteous, who want to rid the world of the darkness. Would they take out their justice upon the innocent as well? The wide black eyes, staring accusingly at him, made him drop his shoulders.

"He won't leave you yet," Madelyne spoke, "Don't force it."

"I guess I do owe it to you to meet my brother and sister," Lucifer gave into his companion, "but if the Preetzes approve, I am willing to stay here for awhile. It couldn't hurt for me to learn to be a proper mine Kobold." This would give him the excuse to wait out for the lengthening nights to continue his journey.

Hans' worries instantly disappeared. "That's because you're one of those silly house Kobolds!" the youth snickered.

The black haired one turned on him with narrow eyes. Madelyne laughed as she looked him over as if inspecting him. "I can firmly attest he is not a house Kobold," she defended him. "Hannah and Johann are mine Kobolds, and, besides, I've met some house Kobolds. He doesn't carry himself in the proper way. Yet, he doesn't know much in the ways of a mine Kobold either."

"Thank you . . . I think," Lucifer remarked.

Making Lucifer promise and swear upon a blood oath that he would not leave him, Hans hurried off to meet the younger Kobolds of the family. The vampire got up and tried to help Madelyne do her chores. She pushed him off. Now that they were alone, she turned upon him with a question that had been burning her since their introduction.

"How did a Kobold such as yourself come upon receiving the name of the human's devil? The Rendsbergs knew nothing of such things."

He pulled back and stuttered something. "I . . . uh . . . mom and dad didn't name me. I was called that by some humans, and I thought it a normal name." It was his turn to furrow his brow. "And how is it you know the name?"

"My son knows too much, and he is happy to relate most things to anyone, who is willing to listen."

The two of them chatted for a long time about the Rendsberg siblings and the life they had in this place. Through her tales, the vampire felt that he was with them, and it made him feel whole again. His heart grew eager to see them again. He hoped that they would remember him and still love him after all this time. He never spoke his misgivings to the lady of the house. It irked him greatly when the night grew old, and he had to leave his new friend to attend to his needs. Yet, there would be a new night.

Lucifer situated his resting place some distance away from the Preetz establishment. He feared there were too many Kobolds about there and the eldest son sounded like a rather inquisitive fellow to start with, and although he was not home at this time, there was no telling when he would return. The risk of discovery was too high. Yet, every night, he appeared back among their residents, where he was firmly hugged and reprimanded by his young ward for leaving him. Friedrich was inclined to complain quite verbally about two more mouths to feed, but he was appeased by Lucifer bringing home his kill each night. Again Madelyne found the offering quite odd just due to the lack of blood in the carcasses, and it seemed that her guest came later each night well after everyone was up and about. Then there was the fact that she never saw him dine. It was true that it was hard to get everyone together for one big meal, but she often checked on everyone to make sure that they were fed at least once a night. She shrugged it off as her over active imagination.

Although eager for the quest's end, they stayed with the Preetz family the whole of the summer and a couple of weeks into the autumn. Hans grew strong, and all signs of his previous trauma had faded. It was as if he had always been part of the Preetz family. On the night they planned to leave, Madelyne was there to see them off. She gave each of them a hearty hug and loaded them down with supplies that delighted Hans to no end.

"You two take care of yourselves and keep each other out of trouble. I fear you have your work cut out for you, Hans," she told the little one with a wink.

Hans giggled, and Lucifer gave a huff. The matron put her hands firmly on the dark haired one's shoulders. "You watch out for Johann and his tricks, and don't be so worried. Both your brother and sister are good people, and things will work out. You'll see."

"I hope you're right. I haven't seen him for 85 years, and I was so little then. I hope he can remember me," he replied.

"My family and I will always remember you though. I haven't catered to such a hunter as you before. I fear the rat population may get out of hand again, and if my boys do catch a few, they will have quite a bit more juice to them," she added with a wink. The vampire opened his mouth to protest, but she hushed him. "You and your young friend will always be welcomed here no matter your curse or how oddly you eat. I will always see you for the person that you are."

He stuttered some words, but he looked into her eyes and saw hope there. With a sigh, he finally nodded. "Thank you."

With that, he gathered Hans, who made his goodbyes and promises to return to the younger ones, and set off for the last leg of his journey.