A/N: Quick note on the geography of the old kingdoms mentioned in this chapter.
Dál Riata = western Scotland and northeastern Ireland.
Northumbria = northern UK, bit of S. Scotland.
Amleth and I were fooling around in bed. The household had left for the evening and we were still lounging about pleasuring each other. I’d tried to make an advance on Godrik at sundown but he just pointed to Amleth’s sleeping berth and walked off. Sating my unusually high sex drive was really a problem – even more so now with the effects of being in a nest. If I could have had my way, I’d have wasted Godrik’s entire nights pursuing carnal delights, so greatly did I crave him. Secretly I think he was slightly glad to have a trustworthy blood drinker to help relieve him of my constant pestering.
As we lay there, a thunderous rage suddenly tore through the bond with my maker and Amleth froze too, having felt it in the thin bond he shared with Godrik. I thought I knew how terrifying his temper was. I had never felt this before.
“Get off me. Move!” I shoved Amleth aside, jumped into my leggings, and flew up the stairs. He followed right behind me.
Tarquin and his girls were standing in the den with two humans. “Oh holy gods,” Amla swore and grabbed me and threw me behind him to protect me. He crowded us both backwards towards the basement doorway. I did not understand precisely the scene we found before us, but it was clear there was about to be a deadly brawl between two elders. Amleth understood the problem and was ready to bolt. Sibyl was pressed against the far wall and kept looking at Amleth and me, considering running to hide with us.
Godrik had his head lowered and let out a knee-quaking growl of fury. His immense power unfurled so ferociously into the air that everyone flinched. “You dare. You dare violate the sanctity and security of my resting ground. You dare cross me.”
Tarquin rolled his eyes. “Godrik, calm down. We’ll have a little fun with them. No one saw us enter.” In a flash so fast I couldn’t even track it, my maker snapped both the humans’ necks and they dropped to the ground.
“What the fuck!? That was our dinner!” Thea said.
Godrik turned slowly towards her. “No one will be eating tonight except for me. You’re going to be my meal.” He fell on her and instantly overpowered her, then savagely bit into her neck. He began glutting down her blood in huge gulps.
“Godrik! My child!” Tarquin cried. Godrik held up a single finger to keep him from trying to intervene and Tarquin actually stepped back in fear of what he might do next.
Godrik drained Thea within an inch of her life and threw her down. Standing over her with balled fists, he spat, “That is the only warning you will ever get from me, Thea Tarquinii. Question me so disrespectfully again and it will be the last thing you ever say.”
“I tried to remind Master of your rule,” Sibyl said meekly, shaking in terror.
“Gods above, Godrik!” Tarquin shouted. “She’ll take months to fully heal!”
“Silence, you fool. You be grateful you’re both not dead. You will never put my children at risk again.”
“Children? Have you turned another already?” he asked, baffled.
Godrik sneered and sucked at his fangs. “I was going to give you the courtesy of asking nicely, but since you’ve chosen to compromise my presence in this territory by playing with your food inside my lair against my express orders, I will simply tell you what is going to happen. You are going to pack up and leave my area before sunrise. Do your job and resolve the impending crisis in the south so I don’t have to go down there and fix your utter incompetency. I had zero interest in winning another supe war for you before tonight and I certainly have far less desire to do so now. Amleth will not be returning with you. I have claimed him and he is now mine. He wishes to stay with me.”
Tarquin ran a hand over his mouth in shock. “Do you…do you wish to be released, child? Is that it?” he asked Amleth.
Amla shook his head. “No Master. But I am honored to be both a Tarquinii and a Godrikson. I always have been, in truth. I shall stay with them for a time.”
“You will not summon him south with a maker’s call until I permit it. Do not even think of testing me, Lucius Tarquinius. You do not want to find me on your doorstep for having defied me. I have allowed you too many liberties and you forget that I am very much your elder. In the meantime, educate your other children. You are going to get more of them killed if you do not smarten up and hold to the principles I have taught you.” Thea was still writhing around on the ground. “That one?” Godrik gestured at her. “You need to reign her in and keep her on a much shorter leash.”
“I apologize, old friend. This is not how I wish to part.”
“I could care less what you want right now.”
They stared at each other for a tense moment until Tarquin bowed his head and went to gather up his things and say goodbye to Amleth. With the situation slightly diffused, I let out a breath I didn’t know I was holding.
As our guests went to leave, Tarquin turned back to Godrik, who was still standing his ground in the middle of the den. “I know we have had our disagreements…”
“This is not a disagreement. This is you being simply wrong in your actions. I will send word to you soon and see if you finally see the truth.”
“Fare thee well, old friend. Goodbye Eirikr.”
“And leave the cart and horse. You can walk back to Constantinople.”
They left and I put a tentative hand on my maker’s shoulder. He looked up at me and just shook his head. “Do you understand why what they just did is completely, entirely unacceptable?”
I had a vague idea. Only once had Godrik ever brought humans to our resting ground – the night I rose a blood drinker and had to be immediately fed.
“You do not ever draw attention to the place where you die for the day. It is why we take our meals where we find them or take them somewhere else. We will have to leave now.”
“Leave our tower?” I cried.
“We will lock it up and bring what we can.”
“If a village or town suddenly becomes suspicious of us,” Amleth added, “they might gather a mob and capture us during the day and burn us at the stake. The daytime is obviously our greatest weakness and humans are superstitious.”
Godrik nodded. “There is no land I have ever journeyed to that does not have some sort of myth about our kind, however ridiculous. It doesn’t help that we know there are a few rogue blood drinkers in the area now too. There could easily be other creatures capable of cloaking themselves we haven’t detected. Humans may not have noticed that idiot bringing clumsy, slow moving blood bags here, but another supernatural might have seen.”
“So we’ll move back up into the hills?”
“No. I’m taking us elsewhere. In 20 or 30 years most of the people in the surrounding towns will be dead and no one will remember. We can come back.”
“Can we go back to Svealand?” I asked, nursing a spark of hope that we might return to my homelands.
“It was hard enough with just the two of us and those interminable summer days and everyone starving in the winter. Go get whatever chests you want and load them onto the cart down in the ravine.”
Amleth started helping me. After the eighth chest we brought up to the landing, he stopped and chewed his cheek. “Godrik?” he called downstairs.
“There’s no way a single horse can take this baggage and the three of us. The books and clothing are fine but all these chests of treasure are going to be too heavy.”
He came up to look. “Indeed. Eirikr, pick which gold and gems you want to bring and sink two of these down in the aqueduct. It’s pitch black and no one will find them.”
We lashed everything together and covered it with a tarpaulin. Taking one last look around our first home, I ran a hand over the swirls Godrik etched into the lintel and sighed. I supposed we’d be back to sleeping the ground.
Godrik directed us north and we started back up the winding road we had traveled together five years before. Amleth drove at a fairly clipped pace and we moved through the night quickly.
I put a hand on my maker’s leg. “Are you okay?” He grunted. I could tell he was still deeply disturbed. “Has it ever been that bad between you too?” Amleth looked over his shoulder back at us. I was clear from his face that the answer was a decided no.
Godrik was quiet for a long time. “I very nearly killed him. My oldest friend. I would have regretted it.”
“But you didn’t. You’ll work it out with him eventually.” He grumbled something under his breath.
We bounced along in silence for hours.
“I’ve decided where we are going,” he announced.
“Hopefully not back to Denmark. I don’t think they’d be too welcoming.” Amleth laughed at his own joke.
“Once we get to the end of the Germanic Limes roads, we’ll head west. We’re going to my island.”
“You have an island?!” I said incredulous.
“Of sorts. We’re going to the Kingdom of Dál Riata. You’ve often asked about where I came from.”
“You’re going to show me your homelands?”
He nodded. “I have not been there in ages. The Gaelic is not even remotely close to what I speak, but no one speaks that now except for me. We’ll pass through Amleth’s country as well on our way. The mainland highlands of Dál Riata are about as far away from Constantinople as you can get and no weres or fae live on the islands. We’ll be safe if war comes.”
“Who is the blood drinker lord there?”
He gave a secretive smile. “On the island which I claimed long ago? Me. No one lives on Gòmastra, or what you would call in Norse, Goðrmaðrey Island.”
My jaw dropped. “The warrior priest’s island?”
“It’s close enough to other islands and the mainland that we can easily get meals, but no one is going to know we’re there. Amla? Do you happen to know who’s running the mainland now?”
“Erm, I believe it’s a Pict named Maelchon.”
“Ah, yes. I know him. This is very good indeed. He’s known to be fair but he’s much younger than me. We can take care of him easily if he becomes a problem.”
“Do you just wipe out every court you encounter?” I asked teasing him.
“Oh brother Eric, this is Godrik being mild-mannered and tame. You should hear the stories people tell of the Boy Death. He used to lay waste to whole swaths of the world.”
Godrik just shrugged and I started laughing uncontrollably.
Over the following months, we wended into Gaul and crossed the sea into the land of the Angles, working our way up to Northumbria. Amleth found it hilariously amusing to be back in the place of his birth.
“When were you last here?” I asked.
“Not since I was human.”
We wandered around in circles as Amleth tried to relocate his hometown. We came across a number of ruins and sometimes unnatural fields which had clearly once been inhabited. “Huh,” he finally said one night. “I think it’s disappeared. Oh well. Probably for the best. That place was a dump. Shall we move on?”
Godrik chose to keep us there briefly wanting to expose me to the language of the Angles and to give me a crash course in Gaelic. Amleth helped me practice as we made our evening rounds for a bite to eat. I found I liked the sound of English (and of course, most especially the sound of my name in it) and the Gaelic wasn’t very difficult. The area was a good place to pause in our journey. In a number of towns, human tribes of Angles and invading Saxons were fighting each other and the battlefields made for very easy feeding.
Soon we were on the move again. Reaching the highlands, the terrain became quite dramatic and beautiful – impressive, shapely mountains and plunging valleys threaded with ribbon-like streams. Godrik grew increasingly frisky, fascinated to see how his homelands had transformed.
We were nearing the stronghold of the blood drinker king Maelcon one evening when Godrik stopped dead in his tracks. “There are others here.”
How the devil his senses were so keen I do not know. I did not pick up their scent for another ten minutes and we did not encounter them for another twenty. It was a pair of blood drinkers. At a great distance one hailed us and called out in Gaelic. “We mean you no harm, friends.”
“That’s what they all say right before they try to slit your throat,” I quipped and Amleth snorted. They approached and one of the strangers started bumping the other with his elbow to get his attention. “My gods. Look. It is the Boy Death!” Godrik’s tunic was open wide at the throat and they had seen his unmistakable markings. They bowed humbly, afraid to hold Godrik’s gaze.
“We are honored, sir.” They quickly introduced themselves. “Shall you reside in this territory long? King Maelcon would undoubtedly be pleased to host one so powerful and feared as you in his court.”
“No. I have my own territory in the isles of the Inner Hebrides.”
“Ah, I see. If you wish, please join us at our blood brothel. We have many delicious options, all well glamoured, and can we water and feed your horse while you partake.”
Godrik considered the invitation. Amleth and I looked at him hopefully, but I was surprised when he actually accepted. “I do believe I am feeling ravenous,” he said. “I must warn you, however, that whichever of your stock I select, they will not survive. What is your restitution fee?”
“We will happily waive it for you.”
“How generous. Lead the way then.”
In the stone building, Godrik surveilled the common area. I knew he was tabulating exactly who else of our kind was inside. Judging no one there to be a threat he could not handle, he pointed out four of the nude humans lounging about. “Where is my room?” he asked.
“Right this way, sir.”
“Come.” He snapped at the three women and young man he had picked. His eyes had gone black with hunger and glittered strangely.
“I didn’t think you indulged in this sort of thing,” I whispered in Norse.
He looked up at me. “I haven’t in over a century because…well, you’ll see why.”
Amleth and I made our own selections and departed to each of our assigned quarters.
My feed was decent enough and the woman plenty talented, but I was distracted the entire time by wild twisting sensations coming from Godrik’s end of the bond. His thoughts were snarly and indecipherable. I couldn’t fathom why he had taken four humans or what his intent was in doing so. He never had sex with his victims. Amleth rapped on my door and I gave my whore a light smack on the bum and sent her off.
“All done?” he asked.
“Yeah, how was yours?”
“Fine. He certainly seemed to enjoy it.”
We knocked on Godrik’s door. When he bade us enter, I pushed the door wide and stood there in shock. Bodies lay crumpled on the floor, throats viciously torn out. There was blood painted over the sheets and walls – even sprayed up on the ceiling. The room reeked of sex and death. Godrik sat on the edge of the bed quietly.
“Uh…maker?” The ancient man who still looked like an innocent boy looked up at me, hands folded in his lap. “What happened?”
He belched he was so full. “I feasted.”
“You can say that again. I didn’t know you had sex with humans.” Something feral had come unchained in him, a beast usually kept caged. Was this what the Boy Death looked like? I had seen him kill to protect me. I knew he could be extraordinarily dangerous. I’d watched him rip a man into red ribbons for being vile. But this? He had never fed like this.
As we walked to find resting places, Godrik glamoured a passerby to guard our cart for the day and threatened him with death if he or anyone else robbed us. Digging out my earthen den, I kept thinking about the violent tableau my maker had left in his brothel room. It appealed to every primal instinct our kind possessed: to feed, to fornicate, to kill, to wield our immense powers. Giving in to those desires gave great pleasure. But Godrik usually only drained his meals when they were undernourished, albeit efficiently and without trauma. Tonight he had been out of control. Considering further who he typically ate, I stopped mid-shovel. There was a pattern that had been right in front of me and I’d been blind. I’d never seen him look slightly rosy or so pink-lipped. Odin’s beard! He hadn’t been joking when he said he was ravenous.
I got in his face. “God dammit, Godrik! Have you been starving yourself?” He stared at me impassively. “Have you been taking less so that I can have more? Eating the weak so that I get the healthiest? Perhaps not eating at all when you say you’re going to hunt alone?”
“I wondered when you would notice.”
“What? WHY would you do that?!”
“Why do you think?”
I bit my tongue so as to not let out a litany of curse words at him. “I do not want to hear your riddles. Answer me!”
He took a menacing step forward and dropped fang. “To make you strong. To keep our presence hidden when all we had were tiny hamlets and villages to feed in. To protect my nest when our numbers suddenly tripled and you were plotting to kill a king who could have decimated us all.”
I shook my head. “It’s just as important that you stay strong. You sacrifice too much. Don’t do that anymore.”
“I won’t have to. There are more places here like the one we visited tonight. But Eirikr?”
“I always kill human pets. You cannot trust another’s glamour for your safety, especially with humans that are allowed around our kind. They might remember a random detail – just enough to realize that you are not human. Or not remembering a large chunk of their lives can make them suspicious. The penalty for revealing your nature to a human is the true death.”
“Well you didn’t kill -”
“The ones you and Amleth saw tonight? I did.”
I had no clue how he managed that without me seeing. “But not the one in -”
“Mainz? She was dead before you got back to the forest. And in Roskilde?”
“Same?” I guessed.
“No. I killed them all.”
I ran a hand through my hair, maddened yet again by the fact that he refused to be straightforward about anything.