I wrenched up, gasping, desperate for air I didn’t yet realize I no longer needed. The most noxious stench assaulted my senses. Godrik knelt before me, clapping my back. He had a ferocious grin on his face and his eyes dazzled in amazement, taking me in.
“Arise, my child…” he said, his voice full of wonder.
“The smell!” I gagged. He laughed and pulled me to my feet.
“Come.” We went outside into the night air.
A barrage of thoughts assaulted me instantly, zipping through my head so rapidly it was impossible to meditate on any single one of them. As I inhaled deeply, scents of a thousand things sprang to mind. Sounds of creatures rang in my ears from every direction – breathing, stalking things; crawling, gnawing things; chirping, squeaking things. The light of the moon was bright and I could see…everything. Well over an acre to the right, I spotted a deer lifting its head to look my way. Beetles crawled over the bark of a dead log many lengths to my left. I could count every one of them if I wished. The leaves in the trees shimmied wildly in the breeze and I smelled…
“People! There is blood over the hills, Godrik!!” As though my body had its own agenda, I wanted to run that way. Godrik snatched my hand in an iron grip, refusing to release me.
“You are covered in your death fluids. You will strip and bathe now.”
“Eirikr! As your maker, I command it. You will go nowhere and do nothing other than what I say tonight. Understand?”
The order knocked me in the chest and I gasped. It was like the gods themselves had told me I’d failed them. Every instinct in my soul wished to please him.
“I understand!” I cried, hurriedly grabbing the bucket and soap from him. I set to work, gagging at the human filth on me. Godrik flung the soiled bedding and loincloth far down over the hillside and took a seat on a nearby rock. He looked remarkably better, though still very unwell.
“Aren’t you glad I didn’t let you eat your fucking fish sticks now?” he laughed.
I scrubbed like a madman, desperate to remove the overpowering smells.
“You had a very good point,” I laughed in agreement. “My head is spinning. Everything is moving and alive and in sparkling rainbow colors. It’s wondrous!”
“These are your new senses. Learn them well. You will have other gifts too, which will reveal themselves in time.”
“Hard to say just now. Each of us is unique. Let’s work on what’s obvious for the moment. Go back inside and dress, there should be something in the clothing I brought that will fit you. You will wait there for me, do you understand? I will return with a meal.”
My mind was suddenly gripped with a single thought. “Blood!” I growled, then jumped in shock at the animal noise that had issued from my own throat.
Godrik put a firm hand on my shoulder. “If you wait inside, then your maker will reward you. Eirikr? I command it.” He shifted his weight nervously, as though he was unsure whether he should leave me.
“Yes, maker. Please. I’m waiting.” Too overcome with thirst to be ashamed at sounding like a child, I jogged lightly back to our home base. The cold air on my nude body felt as pleasant as a summer’s breeze, but the thought of blood made my skin itch and I felt jumpy, consumed with need. The dry scratching thirst in my throat was torturous.
Inside the cave, I built up the fire as I knew Godrik liked it: bright and blazing. Within moments I realized why. The licking flames dazzled me and danced hypnotically, sending the dancing shadows pulsing around me. It was pure magic – to be dead and never feel more alive.
In the pile of things he’d brought back days ago, I found an especially well-made tunic of black linen with delicate embroidery around the neckline. A pair of leggings were long enough to tuck into my boots and a dark blue wool cape with silver fox fur struck me as appropriate. I found the pile of my old dirty clothes in a corner and went to pull my cloak pin off, but when I touched it a searing pain scorched through my hand, melting the flesh. I screamed in shock, falling flat on my ass, then watched in complete fascination as the skin knitted slowly back together.
“Silver harms us,” I wondered aloud. The former wound tingled and my arm felt as though it had fallen asleep up to the shoulder. Realizing that my regenerated body was perfectly fit and healthy, I could not help but inspect myself in awe. Only days ago I was a stinking, oozing, half-dead thing. Now I was a force to be reckoned with!
The crunch of gravel outside alerted me to someone’s presence, and I snatched up my sword and took cover in a shadowy corner of the cave.
It was only Godrik and he’d brought a man and a woman. They appeared to be in some type of thrall and stared about stupidly with glazed-over eyes.
Godrik sniffed the air and a wry curl of a smile formed at the edge of his mouth. “Already getting yourself in trouble, I see. Come. Feed.”
The throbbing pulse of living human blood filled the close confines of the cavern and I crept toward the man. I heard and felt a snick in my gums. I had fangs, just as the demon boy. I touched them in fascination, and shivered at how sensitive they were.
“Who are they?” I asked suddenly.
“They are your food. Now, eat. Bite anywhere I showed you.”
“But who are they, Godrik? Will they be missed?”
A dark look passed over my maker and he bit down on the man’s neck in a single, savage movement. He pulled away, sending streams of blood gushing down his neck.
My thirst took hold of me and before I could protest at my own body’s reaction, I crushed my mouth over the wound, sucking the throbbing life force out of him. I sucked and sucked at the delicious blood, feeling more and more sated and somehow aroused at the same time. I wanted to swallow every ounce of him, to literally consume his life entirely.
“Eirikr.” My maker touched my shoulder. “Eirikr, he is dead.” He didn’t seem at all fazed by this fact.
I managed to pull away, only to be horrified at what I’d done. The man’s arms were crushed at unnatural angles and his throat entirely torn out.
“You did what is in your nature to do. But you do not know your strength. Now feed from her. Try not to mangle that one.”
“No! I do not wish to kill her!”
“Eirikr, it must be so in the beginning. Control your strength first, then I will show you how to master your hunger. Now, eat,” he ordered harshly.
I closed my eyes and listened to the woman’s soft gurgling heart. Waalump. Waalump. I found myself caressing her neck. I bit as gently as I could, focusing on the throbbing sound like a metronome. I didn’t dare embrace her lest I desecrate her body as horrifically as I had her friend’s. She sunk down and I followed her to the ground. Waa—-lump. Waa—-lump. Her heartbeat slowed, then stilled. I licked at the wound, cleaning it like a pleased cat, then turned on one knee to see Godrik’s response.
His beautiful sea-colored eyes were wide and glittering in awe. He stared, caressing my hair and running a hand over my new raiment, before finally whispering, “You are, without a doubt, the most magnificent blood-drinker ever made. So beautiful. So new, yet so very strong. And all mine.”
I felt his pride and excitement as though it were my own. We were bonded somehow, and though I knew not the first thing about the wild demon boy, he lived inside me. I could feel his consciousness tickling the back of my mind. His pearly skin shone brighter than the moon and I felt as though the world revolved around him and him alone. I longed to reach out and touch him or perhaps fall prostrate at his feet.
“My maker,” I gasped, hoping he could understand the flush of complex emotions swirling within me.
He nodded. His fingers wandered impulsively to the place on my neck where he’d ended me. “Did it hurt?”
I thought back over those long sessions. Being drained was tortuous, true, but without fail he always returned with a gift no one else could or would ever offer me. I didn’t even know him and yet he was as certain and reliable a truth to me as the constancy of the sun or the tides. His insistence and relentless determination to make me, fill me, to keep me – regardless of the heavy toll on him…It inspired nothing short of pure hero worship in my eyes. I did not care if he claimed he was no god. He was my god. The memory of of being filled by his essence over and over again sent shivers through my limbs. There would never be a greater intimacy as the one I’d felt as he tethered me to his very being.
“You saved me,” I whispered.
“Aye. You were worthy, my child.”
The burning in my throat distracted me, and I stole an envious glance at the bloodless corpses.
“You are still thirsty.”
“Terribly. Will it ever be sated?”
“Yes and no. The hunger will lessen over the centuries, but the pleasure the blood brings you will never end. You will always want it, even if you do not need it. Now, we must be rid of these bodies. Here. For your cloak. It’s started snowing.” He dug in his pocket and handed an intricately carved gold pennanular brooch to me.
I stared at it momentarily before realizing he’d kept it from me so that I would seek out my own. “You did that on purpose!” I barked accusingly.
“Yes. And what did you learn?”
“Silver burns us. Weakens us.”
His passive aggressiveness infuriated me. “You could have simply told me!”
“Yes, but would your fear and respect of the metal’s power over us be the same?”
I gave no answer, knowing he was right.
“Exactly. Now, discard the bodies over the cliff.”
I recoiled in horror. “No! They deserve a proper burial.”
“The wolves and other beasts will take care of them.”
“They sacrificed themselves for this… need!”
Godrik hissed. “Get. Them. Out. NOW!”
Every fiber of my being quivered at the hatefulness in his voice. I could only obey and it sickened me as I saw their pale forms clattering down the sheer cliff side. Their shredded and battered bodies lay like disgusting, broken bugs in the ravine below and the fact that I could see and smell their death even at these heights revolted me. I vomited a crimson sheet of fluid at my feet.
Godrik was at my side immediately. “No, that won’t do. You need every drop.” The fiend stroked my back and I shrugged off his attempt to comfort me. After all, this was his doing. I gave him a hard shove and he stumbled back several steps. I had the distinct feeling he let me push him.
Angrily, I stomped back to the cave and sat on the hard ground in front of the fire, furious. He joined me silently, wrapping his arms around his knees. The graceful architecture of his face made him look so young, yet his knowing eyes betrayed his youthfulness. His beauty was distracting and it only angered me further.
“I thought you did not want a slave, yet you order me about forcing me to do wicked things.”
His head jerked sharply at my angry words and he stared at me in an as though my words had cut him to the core.
“What? You don’t like that I speak to you honestly?! I am an honest man, a good man. I may have slain many, but never innocents. It is for this that I’ve forsaken Valhalla?!”
“Enough!” his voice silenced me. “Eirikr, there is only survival or death. All things die, even we can die. What I order you to do is for your protection. Do not test me with your insolence, child. I will happily punish you for it if that is what it takes to keep you safe. But I promise you…” he took my hand, pressing it against his bare chest and looked at me forcefully, “I will teach you all that I know. I promise that I will never abuse my maker’s power over you. Father, brother, son. You have my word.”
His sincerity burnt deep within me and I looked away in shame. I did not understand this creature, at once so passionate and so cruel.
“I have never made another and I have been alone for quite some time. Forgive me if you find me a poor excuse for a companion.”
I considered this. He had chosen me. Only me, above all others. “How old are you?”
“I do not know, truly. Well over a thousand years old. Probably close to 1500 by now. Maybe older.”
I was aghast at his confession. “And how old were you when your maker turned you?” I asked incredulously.
“I believe I had lived a score.”
“You were only twenty?!”
“Where do your people come from?”
“You are my people now.”
“But your family, where did they come from?”
“Eirikr, you are my family now. You are mine as I am yours.”
“But…You’re infuriating! Where the hell were you born?”
Godrik sighed deeply and tossed bits of stray wood into the licking flames.
“My people are long dead. They were the ancestors of the Keltoi, far west of here.”
“I have heard of them, yes. Not many of the Norsemen venture that way, but we have heard tales of you. But…tell me, you must have seen much of the world!”
“Have you been in the north country long?”
“Only about 75 years. I’ve never ventured so far north.” Godrik stretched out his legs and gave his thighs a resigned slap. “But alas, this is one of the few places still untouched by those filthy Roman bastards.”
I raised an eyebrow at the sudden heatedness of his words. “They possess great armies do they not? My cousins do good trade across the sea with the German clans. The Romans are great enemies of theirs, no?”
“Eirikr, they are great enemies of mine. You cannot know what a scourge they have been to the peoples of this world. They seek only to dominate and bend others to their use.”
“Have you been to their cities?”
“Yes,” he smiled meanly, like a child taking vicious delight in plucking the wings off a dragonfly. “I like to watch them burn. They live to make war, so I like to make sure they get it.”
“You are a warrior too, then?”
“I have been a great many things, my child.”
“Did they attack your people?”
“Eventually, yes, many centuries after I was turned. But that is not why I despise them.”
Godrik stared into the popping coals of the fire and gave no response. I could feel the turmoil my question caused in him.
“A story for another night, then,” I said quietly after a drawn out silence. “Are there many others of our kind? Do we owe fealty to anyone?”
“Intelligent questions. There are very few of us this far north – the long winters and scattered settlements make it difficult to hide. You’ll learn this soon enough. We must never, ever be exposed for what we are. But it is ideal for a wanderer like me. I am the only authority here. My age alone demands it.”
“Elsewhere our society can be very complicated. There are rules and formalities in nests, and these you find in the great cities and larger towns. I left Constantinople almost a century ago because the politics – human and blood drinker alike – were getting entirely out of hand. The cult of the dead god they call Christ is spreading like wildfire.”
I had not heard of this Christ, but it seemed bizarre that anyone would pray to a dead god. “We will not go there then,” I said, not hiding my disappointment. “Where will we go next? What will we do?”
“We will stay here in these north lands while you learn our ways, though far from your people. You must forget them, Eirikr. You are not one of them any longer. You are a draug,” he explained, using my people’s word for the walking dead.
I held back the choking pain in my throat at the thought of my wife and children, but I was already lost to them as my body lay dying. I told him as much.
“Then you do not regret your decision to join me?”
“No. To die would be a great adventure, but to live forever sounds just as fine.”
Godrik rocked over in a peel of laughter.
“Besides, you said we can still die, so I may yet make that journey too.”
“But not for many, many ages, my dear child, if ever.” The impish boy roughly tousled my hair. His touch made me feel forgiven for my previous defiance. I relished every drop of his attention and above all, basked in the feeling that I pleased him, even though his labile temper and feral nature struck fear into me.
A thought occurred to me. “Silver harms us. What else?”
“The sun will burn us and turn us to dust. Silver or wood to the heart will end us, as will decapitation…usually. We are very susceptible to fire, though impervious to heat and cold. There are other, stranger things, too, that I will teach you to recognize when we come across them – the blood of some unusual creatures can poison us and very rarely humans can carry a sickness in their blood that weakens us temporarily with a sort of fever.”
“You said blood from another blood drinker cannot sustain us, but is this true of all things – what of elk’s blood or sheep’s blood, or the like?”
“Animals?!” Godrik sneered. “That is disgusting! Perhaps it will temporarily slake the most desperate of thirsts, but it would be like a human eating a tree’s bark to live. It cannot fulfill your needs.”
“I don’t know. I’m so hungry still I might just try biting a badger,” I said, not entirely joking.
“I wouldn’t. It would probably make you sick. You must be careful not to get nauseous again. It’s like breathing or blinking – you don’t need these useless human reflexes and you will soon outgrow them. But you’re a tall man and you’ll need a lot of blood in these early days. I should have realized. I’m thinking you’ll need more like three or four people a night.” Godrik fell silent again, lost in some memory. “Fairy blood is intoxicating though exceedingly hard to come by, but nothing will ever satisfy you like your maker’s blood.”
Before I could react to his assertion that fairies were actually skipping about the world and that they were apparently fucking delicious, he bit into his wrist and offered it to me. My fangs slammed down instinctively, cutting my bottom lip. The scent of his dripping wrist enveloped and overpowered me, yet I felt deeply apprehensive, as though I was doing something exceptionally wrong. I was quickly realizing my new nature possessed a primal drive to protect him from all things.
“I may?” I asked, already nuzzling his arm in cradled hands.
I didn’t need to be told twice. The thick liquid hit my tongue and I was instantly blinded with pleasure. I pulled at the wound as hard as I could, knowing it would quickly close and heard my own thunderous roars of bliss echo alongside Godrik’s sensual moans. I’d never known such ecstasy. I wasn’t even conscious of my own actions. I’d pulled myself out of my leggings and was stroking myself and slurping his arm in a bloodlusted haze. Before I knew it the wound closed and I’d splattered a thick jet of release all over the place.
I cannot be sure how long I sat there, slumped back on my heels, staring wide-eyed at the youthful man before me. There weren’t words to express how I felt in that moment. He tasted of divinity – like time and god. I had never even thought such pleasure existed. Everything in my cosmos was reordered and he shone like a dark angel in the midst of it. Godrik simply watched me in curiosity. Impulsively, I moved to kiss him, but he turned his face and placed a firm hand on my shoulder. I pierced my tongue on a fang and offered it to him, imploring him, only to have him give a shake of his head and rise, leaving me where I sat.
“You don’t want me?” I asked pathetically.
He shifted uncomfortably on his feet. I felt tentatively for his emotions in our bond but he was dampening his end. “It’s a normal urge. For most of us feeding and sex go hand and hand.”
“And what, for you they do not?”
“They do. But I am your maker.” A shadow of fear crossed his face, but I didn’t recognize it then as such.
“So what? It doesn’t feel wrong.”
“So give it some time. You may feel differently. You’re not even a night old, Eirikr.”
“I’ve had men before. Many offer themselves to me!”
“No doubt. But this isn’t some long military campaign away from our women. We will be companions for eternity.”
“What’s the point of eternity without eternal fucking? If you expect me to be celibate you picked the wrong man!”
Godrik couldn’t help but laugh at me. “It won’t be long before you’ll be able to control yourself enough around humans. Just give it some time,” he said dismissively.
Clearly he had declared the topic dead, but I wasn’t about to let the matter drop. I was Eirikr! I was a Viking for Odin’s sake!