Chapter 37 - Origins
“Striker belonged to Ardy. When a vampire bit Striker and fed from him, he bit the vampire back and turned. Ardy wouldn’t put him down, and he kept him in a special stall. He fed him, and somehow Striker never tried to harm him, just like he didn’t harm your horses. He has more control than half the Rogue vampires I’ve killed,” Rowan stuttered when she realized what she just admitted to doing.
“Killed a few of those in my time,” Marcus revealed with an absolute lack of regret. The term Rogue referred to vampires that couldn’t resist their base desires or committed crimes that resulted in their banishment from vampire society. Their lives revolved around feeding, torture, killing, and sex. They lacked self-control, along with discipline, and thought themselves invincible. It wasn’t a good combination which resulted in them being hunted by other vampires, and humans alike.
“So have I,” Alena added, as she turned to pick up her things.
Marcus cleared his throat, and Rowan handed him a skin bag. He smiled to himself, Ardy had definitely lied. He knew before it even touched his lips that Ardy just slaughtered this cow, and he did it for Rowan. It was the only way Ardy could take care of the girl he loved like a daughter.
None of them could resist taking a long drink. It settled the burn but did not take it away. Only human blood could do that, and they were part of the vampire kingdom. There were rules for feeding off humans, and the secrecy of their mission wasn’t conducive to those rules.
“Ardy likes you,” Alena commented, intrigued. There was so much to Rowan that they would probably never learn.
“I helped him once,” Rowan made light of it, and they supposed she must have helped more than a little. Her unwillingness to share piqued their curiosity.
“With what?” Alena encouraged with that tone that suggested that she wasn’t about to let the subject go, not easily and not without a fight.
“Ardy’s son, Eric, tried to kill him after Eric already killed his wife and his three children,” Rowan explained with great sadness in her voice as they moved on, but her grief was for Ardy and no one else.
“Was he one of us?” Marcus prodded when she seemed to get lost in her thoughts.
“No, he lost his farm in the drought. His ten-year-old son got crushed by a tree, and something went wrong in his head. In his mad despair, he killed his wife, his two daughters, his newborn and then he tried to kill his parents. He was always emotionally unstable, but they never understood how much, until it was too late,” Rowan explained, and silence followed in the wake of her words. Poor Ardy. They understood him so much better now. He lost so much and found something to replace that loss. His love and respect for a Damphir allowed two troubled souls to console each other.
"So how did you meet Ardy?" Alena asked, sensing that this was the real heart of the story.
"I was about sixteen. I just escaped from a group of humans that held me captive and wanted to execute me because they thought I killed one of their children. Hunger made me weak, so I stole bread, some cheese and a chicken from a band of travelers. They chased me into the forest, and they would have never caught me, but I stepped into a trap, and they found me hanging upside down," her manner betrayed many things as her thoughts wandered to the past.
"They pelted me with rocks from a nearby burial mound. Ardy stepped from the trees, and he ordered them to stop as if he were the master of a castle. His steely gaze and his manner brought them up short. He walked up to me and stared at my bleeding body for a moment. Then he asked them if they made a habit of stoning children. The leader of the travelers said I didn't look like a child, and Ardy pulled my lips apart to show them that my incisors were still small, with no fear that I would bite him, or try to scratch at him," her admiration for the man was obvious.
"Back then he was still in his prime, and he was magnificently intimidating as he asked them what I stood accused of. They told him, and he frowned at them as if they were insects. Ardy cut me down and told them to follow him to his house, and he would replace what I stole; if they didn't have the charity in their hearts to feed a hungry child. He had an ax in his hand from cutting wood in the forest, and they didn't follow him," she smirked at the memory.
"He took me to his house. Told me his wife wasn't home. Ardy walked up to a tree where a goat stood tethered to a stake and told me to feed. He handed me a knife and told me to cut the throat cleanly when I finished, and to meet him inside. He said I needed a bath, and clean clothes, I stank to high heaven," Rowan frowned, but the smile didn't fade.
"I didn't know what to think, but I recognized the same kindness in him that Moira once possessed. I did as he told me, and when I entered the kitchen, I found he'd filled a tub with warm water. He handed me clean clothes, and soap, told me to scrub myself, he'd be busy in the barn. It took a while to get clean because I hadn't had a bath in some time, and I'd almost forgotten what it felt like. The clothes belonged to Eric's wife, but they fit me. I searched for Ardy and found him in a dark corner of the barn with Striker. We took one look at each other, and our souls clicked," she shook her head.
"Ardy said I could stay. He'd slaughtered the goat while I bathed, and hung it in his cellar. His wife returned two days later from visiting her sister, and she wasn't happy, but she loved him enough to allow his kindness. I had to save her from a Bobcat in the forest, which I killed with my bare hands for her reserve to fall away. It scratched me good and deep across my belly for my trouble. I lived with them for two years before Martin entered my life, and I thought I'd found love," the bitterness in her tone said it all.
"It broke Ardy and Emma's hearts when Martin took me away from them. Ardy saw right through him, but emotion blinded me. I crawled back to them when Martin left me broken, destroyed, and they just took me in as if I never left. I healed, but I'd changed too much. They realized I would leave before I did," Rowan admitted, and sighed.