Chapter 21 - Hunters
They cut the barbs from her skin and removed the dead tissue. Alena wanted to sow the wounds shut, but Marcus suggested using a heated knife to seal them. It would destroy some of the poison and stop the bleeding.
Alena fed Rowan twice more, despite growing weaker with every session. It put her at risk if circumstances forced them to flee or fight, but she refused to stand by and watch Rowan die. At first, they were reluctant to give her Marcus’ blood, since they had no idea what effect it would have on a Damphir, but eventually, they had no choice.
For two days Rowan struggled on the precipice between life and death. In her delirium, she saw something more than the present and the past. Her memories inadvertently supplied them with more information than they needed and the rest seemed like garbled nonsense.
Rowan repeated the same strange words at intervals until she stopped convulsing, foaming at the mouth, shivering with cold, or burning with fever and said one clear thing that startled them both.
“From the house of sin,
the blood will flow,
from the pure one,
to the fallow born,
and return once more,” the words made sense for the first time, and afterward, Rowan slept the sleep of the innocent. It couldn’t be a coincidence, and the meaning was clear to them.
“We need to feed,” Marcus admitted with a weariness so intense his words almost slurred.
“We can’t both leave her, and one of us would be no match for the enemy,” Alena reasoned, barely able to keep her eyes from closing.
“We’re no match for them now,” Marcus countered. A loud crash startled them from their lethargy and got them to their feet. Striker whinnied in the larger chamber of the underground cave, and they hurried in that direction. The horse proved to be an excellent guard if you learned to interpret the sounds he made.
He broke his halter at some point and went outside, and at his feet lay a rather large boar, like an offering. He touched the thing with his nose and pushed it in their direction.
“I wondered how he fed,” Alena admitted just as the boar struggled to its feet and the horse used his massive hoof to knock it down. Striker seemed to grin at them and, his canines gleamed with blood. He seemed proud of himself.
“Well, I’d rather not go outside,” Alena admitted, and Marcus raised an amused brow.
“It’s not as if we’re often used to better,” Alena reminded with a grin.
“Well, I can say I’ve never fed on a giant boar caught by a horse,” Marcus joked, and when the boar stirred again, Striker didn’t need to daze it. It didn’t stand much of a chance with two hungry vampires, despite its razor-sharp teeth and foul temper.
They slaughtered it when they finished feeding, then dried and cured the meat. Vampires ate just like people, but food alone wasn’t enough to sustain them. It helped with managing their urges. Striker liked the cured meat, and he took great delight in pretending to steal it, while they pretended not to see him do it. He took the other horses outside before dawn each day to graze, but he also fetched them back after nightfall.
Marcus followed them the next time Striker led the other horses away, and although it wasn’t far from the cave, the secluded little valley had sufficient grass, a small stream, and a large tree. Marcus smiled as he filled the skins with water. Striker was much more than a horse. When he returned, the stallion walked with him, and the other horses stayed. It was a risk, but one they had to take.
They were almost at the cave when a rabbit bolted from its hole. Striker almost reacted, seemed to decide he wasn’t hungry and let it go. Marcus couldn’t believe that this dangerous creature exerted such control. More so than some vampires. He would have thought this horse would be a mindless killing machine, but it didn’t seem to enjoy killing unless it needed to feed. Striker respected the other horse and left humans alone. He was like his mistress, something special.
Rowan woke with a start, tried to jerk upright out of reflex before dizziness forced her to lay back down. For a moment she didn’t remember where she was, but most of it came back in flashes. She almost got herself killed, Rowan realized. It wasn’t the first time she woke, but the first time she was completely lucid.
“Finally,” Alena greeted, and Rowan let her eyes roam to where the vampire washed out a rag. Marcus wasn’t in the cave.
“Marcus and Striker are out hunting,” Alena provided, and Rowan glanced at her.
“Only wild boar and deer roam these parts,” Rowan’s voice sounded stronger than Alena expected and she had a wicked glimmer of laughter in her eyes as she mocked Alena. Alena shrugged, unwilling to admit to herself how grateful she was that Rowan recovered with no mental handicap.
“We don’t understand each other well; do we?” Alena asked with such seriousness that Rowan sobered.
“I rarely taste human blood, Rowan. Our father banned our kind from killing humans for sport, pleasure or food, a long time ago. You might find it hard to believe, but he valued human life. He respected our tenants, our servants, and our subjects,” Alena revealed, but she saw the way Rowan rejected the thought.
“Father killed Darwin for murdering your Moira. He made Darwin watch his three sons being decapitated by me... before he burned the man alive. I didn’t realize why Darwin died until you told me what he did. Although I think Father killed him for attacking you,” Alena speculated, and the thought shocked Rowan.
“Victor made you decapitate Darwin’s sons?” Rowan asked with disbelief and pity. With a sigh, Alena brought the water closer and held out the rag to Rowan. Rowan wasn’t ready to accept that Victor did anything for her good, but Alena could find no other explanation.
“Do you want to wash yourself or do you need help?” She asked, and Rowan took the rag.
“I served as Father’s second in command, and I dispensed judgment on his behalf. I’m much older than you, and by then I had fought at our father’s side in a war. They were not the first or the last of our subjects to fall under my blade in the pursuit of justice,” Alena corrected, and she saw Rowan didn’t know this about her.
Rowan got halfway with washing herself and had to accept help, but she was much stronger than Alena hoped. She didn’t like asking for help, but at least she did it with grace, something that surprised Alena. Rowan still had wounds, and she suffered pain, but she didn’t allow it to show. It hurt Alena to accept that if her Father had been less unbending in his attitude toward Rowan, he would have loved her spirit. If he hadn’t loved Rowan, why then did he murder Darwin in such a brutal fashion? Alena reasoned.
Rowan exceeded her expectations. Two of their soldier were pure-born vampires, and they hadn’t survived one or two of these barbs, while Rowan survived seven of them. In Alena’s opinion, Victor made an error in judgment when he shunned Rowan. If he were alive, Alena imagined she would confront him about Rowan, and damn the consequences.