As the sun rises earlier and sets later during these three months, it is the perfect time to traverse the normally hectic forest that separates Bos Stad from the outside world. The local inn is practically overrun with business which it normally can not find even on the coldest night of winter.
As the people pass through the doors to the tavern, they are unaware of the pair of eyes watching them from above. Perched precariously atop the rooftop of the building is a young boy, age twelve. He has been eavesdropping on all of the people coming and going from the pub for the past hour or so. It is his way of passing the time when he succumbs to boredom.
He is a local boy who goes by the name of Seamus, with thick black hair and stark white skin. He is known well enough by the people of Bos Stad, along with his mother whom works as a housekeeper for those too prestigious to do their own chores. It is his habit to pop in and out of places children should not be and to antagonize people whenever he sees fit. It amuses him and serves to curb his boredom.
The local watch would have dealt with him long ago were he not so light on his feet. They have witnessed him scale the sides of buildings quicker than a cat, and swing from tree branches like a monkey. Although he enjoys antagonizing people, he is not a criminal. He does not steal from the villagers despite how easily he could. He knows the repercussions against his mother would be severe.
In fact, some of the villagers see him as more of a mascot than a nuisance. Whenever a passing tourist catches a glimpse of him scaling a nearby fence or building the locals tend to make up stories about a pale skinned ghost who haunts the streets and old structures. It is a source of great humor.
Seamus is just getting bored of his perch atop the roof of the tavern when the barkeep steps out back with a sack full of spoiled food. He turns it upside down into a wooden trough meant for feeding stray animals. Seamus leans closer to watch and almost slips, making a loud clattering sound. “Oy, is that you up there, boy?” the barkeep calls to him.
“Aye, sir.” Seamus peeks his head over the roof. “No cause for alarm. I'm merely taking in the sights.”
“Sights of what? Me taking out trash? Come down from there and ‘ave yerself a drink, milad.”
“As parched as I am, Mum would never stand for it.” Seamus shakes his head.
“Then some bread and cheese,” the barkeep changes his offer. “I couldn’t stand to see you get hurt falling from me own roof.”
“I’ve never fallen once,” Seamus laughs pompously. “Just watch.” He leaps from the roof, landing on a thick branch of a nearby tree. He then promptly runs vertically down the trunk, tumbling when he reaches the base and coming up on his feet directly in front of the barkeep, who claps in praise.
“I’ve always wondered how you get around, boy. Try not to scare me customers though. Summer’s the busiest time of the year.”
“Will do.” Seamus nods before trotting off down the alley. He is tired of watching strangers pass through the tavern doors. There are plenty of other places he can go if he wants to watch people interacting with each other. For starters, there is bound to be an equally large crowd forming at the inn, which will be booked solid by sundown.
The barkeep watches as Seamus grabs the top of the wooden fence that separates the tavern alley from the houses behind it. He swings himself up onto the slender wood and begins to tiptoe along it, making sure to keep his balance. Once again the barkeep is impressed enough to clap for him before he has disappeared from sight.
The longer Seamus is walking along the fence, the more confident he becomes. He begins to pick up speed, almost running along the slender wooden line. Every time the fence twists in a new direction, he turns to follow it, losing himself in the endless back alleys of Bas Stad.
Eventually he comes to a desolate part of town with less people, making it noticeably quieter. He slows down until he is able to come to a complete stop perched atop the fence, crouching to keep his balance. The houses he can see on either side of the wooden barrier are dark and rickety, giving him an eerie feeling.
He almost leaps from his perch in shock when the shrill voice of a woman startles him. Looking back at one of the other houses he notices two ladies fully clad in evening wear, preparing to leave the building together. One of them is retelling a rather loud story to the other. “It’s the strangest thing; it’s like she’s never even held a blacksmith’s hammer before.”
“I didn’t think women were capable of metalwork,” the other lady responds pompously. Seamus is immediately aware of their conversation topic. It is no secret that a replacement blacksmith has been living in the formerly abandoned shop since winter. It was the subject of much gossip in the town at one time.
Seamus himself has not had an excuse to visit the shop and see how the supposed blacksmith is doing. From the sound of these two women’s conversation, she might actually be struggling. Of course being the son of a housekeeper gives Seamus little reason to ever visit a blacksmith shop.
As Seamus continues to ponder to himself, one of his feet slips off the fence, causing him to yelp. “Oh dear!” the women shout when they notice him. “What are you doing up there? Are you spying on us? Shame on you.” One of them begins to scoop up random rocks and pebbles from the ground to pelt him with.
Seamus loses his balance quickly as he tries to shield his face with his arms. Eventually his other foot slips as well. He topples over the side of the fence and braces himself for the impact of the ground. It is not a far distance to fall but his still sprains his leg in the process. “Um, are you alright, boy?” the women are concerned.
“I am, no thanks to either of you.” He glares at them while trying to stand up.
“Well you shouldn’t have been eavesdropping then, should you?” they are unapologetic. Seamus does not feel like explaining his hobbies to the two strangers and instead simply nods while hobbling off in the direction of his own neighborhood in the lower part of the town. “Honestly, some children are just so rude,” they continue to complain even after he is out of earshot.
By the time Seamus has made it all the way down to his own house, his knee has swollen terribly. His mother is outside in the front yard, hanging wet sheets belonging to one of her customers on her clothesline. She cocks her head to the side in confusion as he limps past her, trying to hide his injury. “God damn it Seamus, what have you been up to again?”
“Nothin' honest, Mum,” he lies. “I wasn’t doin’ nothin' and these two old bats started throwin’ stones at me.”
“And one of them socked you in the knee?” She glances down at his swollen joint.
“Well no; I sort of fell on it.” He averts his eyes guiltily.
“Were you climbing in them trees again or was it someone’s roof this time?” She places her hands on her hips.
“It was only a fence,” he admits without looking her in the eyes. “I wasn’t hurtin’ no one.”
“I don’t care. You know better than to sneak around people’s houses like that, Seamus,” she scolds him. “Now let me get a look at that.” He winces in pain as she pushes against his knee, trying to assess the damage. “Looks pretty bad.” She clicks her tongue in thought.
“How bad?” he is suddenly worried. As he is only twelve his imagination is wild enough to believe he might have to have his leg amputated simply for spraining it.
“Not that bad,” his mother assures him. “It’ll take a good while to heal though. You’ll need a brace if you plan to walk anywhere in the meantime. And absolutely no climbing, is that understood?” She points at him sternly.
“Where am I to get a brace?” he asks miserably.
“The old blacksmith could have whipped you up one in no time.” She tilts her head as she thinks about it. “I guess you’ll have to see if this new lady is any good.”
Seamus’s eyes widen as he recalls the conversation he overhead at the top of the hill. The two noisy women had made it painfully clear they believed the new blacksmith to be completely incompetent. The idea of having her bending hot metal around his swollen leg does not sit well with him. “Um, I think I'll be fine.” He starts to limp toward the house again.
“Seriously now.” His mother rolls her eyes. “I swear to god you’re a greater coward than your father.”
“What was my father like?” Seamus sees the chance to bring up a conversion his mother has been avoiding.
“I just told you, he was a coward,” she avoids answering him.
“I'm serious, Mum,” Seamus whines.
“And I'm serious too,” she snaps back. “You better get to the blacksmith shop and have her make you a brace or I'll bend you over my knee. I don’t want to be paying the healer in a few weeks because your leg didn’t sit right while you recovered.”
“Yes Mum,” Seamus chooses not to argue further. He slowly limps in a circle as he changes direction, heading back toward the town square where the majority of the local businesses are conglomerated. His mother continues to shake her head at him as she watches him disappear in the distance before returning to her laundry.
The sun has already started to set by the time he reaches the blacksmith shop, which is almost directly across from the tavern with a cobblestone plaza in-between. Strangely the lamps in its windows have not been lit yet, causing Seamus to wonder if anyone is actually minding the store.
The front door is not locked, allowing him to push it open slightly and peek inside. From the roaring fire burning beneath the forge he can assume that the new blacksmith is indeed at home. She must have merely stepped out for a moment before the sky became dark enough to require lamp light. At the very least she is not anywhere in sight from where Seamus is standing.
Slowly curiosity overtakes the young boy as he starts to wonder what the inside of a blacksmith shop actually looks like. It can't hurt to simply take a peek inside, can it? He is desperate to learn if her skill at metalwork is as bad as the two noisy women seemed to believe. Ever so carefully he steps past the heavy oak door, cautiously craning his neck to make sure the blacksmith is not hiding in some corner, waiting to jump out and scare him.
The most obvious object in the room is definitely the bright burning forge. The light shining from the glowing mass dances off of several glittering items hanging from the walls. There is everything from steel weapons to iron wagon wheels. None of them appear to be in disarray. If they were indeed all made by the new blacksmith then the two noisy women were definitely mistaken about her skill.
Seamus paces around the forge as he takes in the room in its entirety. Like everything else in this town it is simply another interesting location of which he can use to curb his boredom. He has practically forgotten his original reason for coming to the blacksmith shop. He is just about to leave when a whisper draws his attention to a separate doorway from the entrance.
There are voices traveling from the next room as two people share a rather heated conversation. “Ouch, that really hurts,” he can hear one of them clearly already.
“Sorry,” the second person’s voice is lower, causing him to creep closer just to listen.
“Can't you be more gentle?”
“I don’t know what you expect. I'm basically biting you. There’s no way to make it hurt less.”
“Biting?” Seamus repeats the word to himself in a whisper as he peeks through the doorway. What he sees almost shocks him into screaming. A woman of at least twenty, whom he can only assume is the new blacksmith, is lying on a rag mattress with her head in a young girl’s lap, presumably her daughter. The girl’s front teeth are clearly visible entering the blacksmith’s neck, puncturing the flesh and drawing blood.
Seamus covers his mouth to prevent himself from squealing. Unfortunately the young bloodsucker’s hearing is excessively acute, making even the slightest sound audible to her. “Who’s there?” she hisses as her left ear twitches. “I can hear you breathing. Come out and show yourself?”
Seamus gulps nervously as he backs away from the doorway. His swollen knee makes it impossible to run though. “Get him!” the bloodsucker orders the blacksmith.
Before Seamus can even attempt to flee, the former knight has leapt from her mattress and tumbled through the doorway, coming to a stop in front of him, holding a shiny steel sword. “Who goes there?” she demands as Seamus falls backwards on the floor in utter shock.
“I, I, I,” he starts to stutter immediately. “I'm looking for the new blacksmith,” he recalls his original reason for even coming to the shop.
“Well you’ve found me.” Champaign lowers her sword slowly. “Tell me, how much did you see?”
“Uh, nothing; I saw nothing,” Seamus lies. His eyes continue to dart from her blade to her bleeding neck though.
“Oh great,” Champaign groans. “I don’t suppose you would believe that this is simply an intimate act performed by mother and child in the village I hail from?” Seamus shakes his head slowly as his mouth remains agape. “Then we have a problem.” She grips the hilt of her sword tightly.
“Wait, you’re not really going to kill me, are you?” he gulps again. “I'm human, just like you. Why are you protecting that thing?”
“Thing?” Row steps through the doorway silently. She even moves with the grace of a deadly creature.
“Yes, thing,” Seamus repeats. He has no room to be bashful as he is arguing for his life. “You are a vile creature; the festering sickness that plagues humanity.”
“I’d watch my tongue if I were you, boy,” Champaign warns him.
“What curse does she hold over you?” Seamus jerks his head at her dramatically. “Why is one as strong as you acting as both mother and meal to this wretched abomination?”
“That’s enough!” Champaign clangs her sword on the ground angrily.
“No, I want to know the answer to that as well,” Row interrupts. “Why are you still my faithful servant, Champaign. It would serve you well to simply behead me and go about the rest of your life in peace.”
“Stop talking like that. Look what you’ve done to her.” Champaign glares at Seamus. “You’ve made her upset. It’s alright, Row, you don’t need to concern yourself with this boy’s words. He can't possibly understand anything about honor or loyalty.”
“How about loyalty to your own race?” Seamus spits. “Watch as this creature you so lovingly coddle grows to devour everyone in Bos Stad. One day when we’re all dead because of you, will you be sorry?”
“We’re not here to harm anyone,” Champaign snaps at him.
“It sure seemed like you were about to harm me,” he reminds her. “All in the name of defending a bloodsucker.”
“I like this boy,” Row mutters ominously. “He’s smarter than he looks. Of course my good servant Champaign means to end those who would do me harm. She has already killed the companion of a demigod in the name of defending me and she’ll do it again, I assure you. If you value your life, I suggest you start begging for it.”
Seamus is shaking in his boots but he is not about to give in. At this moment he is the soul witness to a terrible secret which could end the entire town of Bos Stad. He must figure out how to alarm his fellow villagers, even at the cost of his life. “Well, are you going to beg?” Row takes a menacing step towards him, letting her mouth fall open just enough for him to see her deadly fangs.
On instinct he decides to do what he does best, climb. Before she has reached him he has darted to the side of the room and scampered up the wall until he is able to grab hold of one of the pieces of armor hanging on display. “Don’t let him escape!” Champaign shouts as Row quickly gives chase. Like him she is an exceptional climber.
Seamus leaps from the display hook up toward the ceiling of the shop. He manages to latch onto a low hanging rafter and pull himself up with difficulty. His knee is still bothering him too much for a more elegant form of escape.
Row is not far behind him though, darting up the wall like a squirrel. Relying on the energy she has just siphoned from Champaign she is able to cling to the wall with ease. She scampers along the diagonally slanting ceiling until she is directly above Seamus before dropping down next to him on the rafter. He lets go with the intention of falling to the shop floor again, but she snatches his hand out of the air and pulls him back up. “Too slow,” she hisses as she sinks her teeth into his wrist.
Seamus yelps in pain at the sensation of two sharp points entering his flesh. They feel like hot knives trying to sear him from the inside. “What are you doing to me?” he demands as the boiling pain spreads throughout his body.
“Interesting,” Champaign snickers as she notices the swelling in the boy’s leg subsiding. It seems her bloodsucker charge has elected to heal his injury rather than to drain him of life.
“You… why would you…?” Seamus’s eyes are wide with disbelief. Row drops him from the rafters into Champaign’s waiting arms below before leaping down to the floor on her own, landing in a crouching position. She seems rather dizzy as she stands back up, perhaps from how much energy she lost healing Seamus.
“You’re lucky.” Champaign sets him down so he can test out his leg. “It seems my mistress has taken a liking to you.”
“Your mistress?” Seamus repeats slowly while flexing his knee. The pain has been replaced by a warm fuzzy feeling and his wrist is barely bleeding. In fact, the two punctures wounds have already begun to heal over.
“I am a knight, formerly in the service of Lord Ironglave.” Champaign salutes. “Lady Rowleen is his direct descendent.”
“Why are you telling me this?” Seamus is still suspicious.
“Because you belong to her now,” Champaign answers eerily. “If you disagree with that statement then I can still end you where you stand.” She grips her sword hilt again.
Seamus’s mind overflows with thoughts of his original plan to escape and warn the villagers of the bloodsucker living amongst them. Of course that plan hinges heavily on his ability to outrun Row which seems impossible even now that he has been healed. His only two remaining options appear to be to accept his servitude or let them kill him, which would serve no purpose. It is not cowardly to acknowledge one’s limitations.
For the moment he will have to accept their gracious offer. “I, I will serve your mistress.” He bows towards Row with a defiant look. He does not like the idea of serving a bloodsucker in the slightest.
“Really? Oh yay!” Row’s ominous appearance melts away immediately. The red glow in her eyes dissipates and a smile spreads across her face as she dances around the forge in the center of the room. Seamus is not entirely surprised as she does hold the appearance of a ten year old girl.
“So, what now?” he directs this question at Champaign. “What does serving a bloodsucker entail?”
“For now, nothing.” She shrugs. “Simply keep our secret and if necessary let her feed off of you. If a time arises where laying down your life for her is unavoidable then so be it.”
“What did you say?” Seamus’s face has gone white.
“I said laying down your life…”
“No, before that.”
“Oh, you mean about the feeding. Bloodsuckers survive by feeding off the life force of other living creatures,” she explains. “It’s actually really strange that they are called bloodsuckers at all. Perhaps it has something to do with the blood dripping off their fangs after they are done.” She gestures to Row who has only just begun to wipe her face on a handkerchief.
Seamus feels sick to his stomach as he realizes the pretty girl before him is actually wiping off his own blood. “I'm not letting that thing feed on me,” he announces adamantly.
“It’s not a matter of choice,” Champaign informs him. “If I am not around to satisfy her then you will need to act as my substitute. I realize the heavy burden I am placing on a child but we can not risk her feeding on an unwilling victim of the town.”
“I'm an unwilling victim,” Seamus argues.
“As of now your rights as a human have been revoked,” Champaign responds sternly. “Your mistress is a bloodsucker after all; what did you expect?”
Row can tell that Seamus is having a hard time adapting to his new life as the servant of a soul devouring creature. “Don’t worry.” She pats him on the shoulder. “I won't feed on you unless it is absolutely necessary. You don’t have to be afraid of me.”
Seamus would accept her words more genuinely if he weren’t staring at the tips of her fangs peeking out of her mouth as she speaks. Now that he has seen them it will be impossible to ignore them ever again. He wonders if people simply do not pay enough attention to the young girl when talking to her. He can't imagine them not knowing what she is. It seems so obvious to him now.
“What are you looking at?” Row blushes while covering her mouth to hide her fangs.
Seamus’s cheeks turn red as well when he realizes how intently he was eyeing her. It must have seemed as if he were taken with her soft pink lips, which he has only just noticed now that he is thinking about it. In the entire town of Bos Stad, he has never seen a girl quite as pretty as the creature before him now. Bloodsuckers are indeed fearful creatures with the power to enchant their servants endlessly. Perhaps being controlled by something so beautiful will not be without its own rewards.Seamus jerks his head as he realizes what he is thinking. He is succumbing to an illusion that simply isn’t true. He has been entrapped by a demon, not seduced by a beautiful fairy. He must at least try to keep his wits about him. Perhaps an opening to escape her clutches will present itself one day. Until then he will be waiting for the chance to take back his freedom.