Chapter 56 - Uneasy
The rowboat took them to the beach where they landed just after sunset. The fading light back-lit the half-ruined castle that stood on top of the cliffs. The contrast hid some of the damage and indicated what it looked like in its glory days.
Some walls on the bluff side of the castle still stood, but they were crumbling and open to the sea. On the inland side of the castle, a few of the fortifying walls had withstood the test of time. The small group made their way inland.
Marcus used to live in a small town like the one they could see at a distance. His heart ached with the memory of his family. People like these held onto the past as if it happened yesterday, he recalled. Someone might tell them what happened, but he doubted anyone would extend their hospitality to strangers in the night.
“I think our best bet is the church. The seminary seems attached to the building. Someone should be there, the priest or one of his helpers,” Rowan suggested.
They knocked on the doors of the seminary and hoped the priest would receive visitors after dark. A woman in her sixties opened the door after the first knock, and she seemed hesitant when she recognized them as strangers.
“Good evening mam, we’re sorry to disturb you at this late hour, but my Master is a scholar in the history of small towns. We were passing through when he spotted the crumbling castle on the hill and asked your village priest if he would add to our anthology,” Rowan addressed the woman with respect, charm and the sound of sincerity in her voice.
Alena observed her sister with surprise. Rowan possessed of a powerful but subtle persuasion. The elderly lady’s pupils dilated, she reacted to Rowan’s friendly tone and instantly trusted the stranger who approached her at this time of night. Victor had this same ability but rarely bothered to use it. People were either too afraid or in awe of him to deny him anything he wanted.
Marcus himself could charm people into trusting him, and Alena often envied him this, but it wasn’t a vampire skill on his part. People just naturally trusted him, which was rare for a vampire. Alena had to earn people’s trust.
“I’ll be right back,” she said and had sense enough to close the door and bolt it, but soon returned with the priest. A middle-aged man with forgettable features, hair somewhere between flax and brown, but saved from being ordinary by curious blue eyes that reflected an inner calm, a powerful personality, and some indefinable quality as if he saw into you.
“Martha, please go make our guests some tea,” he suggested without inviting them in or taking his eyes off them. He waited until Martha opened the kitchen door before he spoke.
“I know what you are, what is your purpose here?” He asked with authority and without a trace of fear. His words took them off guard, but Marcus quickly recovered.
“As we said, we’re interested in the castle's history, and what happened there, but no, we’re not anthologists. The reason for our search is personal,” Marcus reiterated.
“Are you interested in the castle, or the thing that lived there, and almost decimated our population? And if I let you in, and you hear our story, what guaranteed do I have that you do not intend to kill us?” He asked, and they glanced at each other. They sensed that the priest knew something of value.
“It killed our people, it slaughtered our human tenants, and it destroyed Rowan’s human friends with its army. We need to find it before it’s too late,” Marcus answered in all honesty. “We intend you no harm, and we have nothing to give but our word.”
“Master, Master, my father says you forgot your coin purse,” someone came running from the darkness and skidded to a halt at their side. They took a moment to recognize Byron’s daughter, Sera.
She was out of breath, and with the unaccustomed pigtails, she looked far younger than she was. They’d never seen her in a dress. She was Byron’s shadow, and usually wore pants, as did all the female crew. The men respected the women because Byron could be merciless, and the females fought like banshees. Sera possessed her father’s respect, but also his lack of fear.
“Why would I need my purse?” Marcus asked with amused tolerance; seeing right through Byron’s ploy and silently thanking the man for his foresight.
“A donation for the church, Master,” Sera suggested, and Marcus laughed.
“A fine thought little one. I hope you are not alone out here?” Marcus asked, and she pointed at the darkness where another awaited her.
“Good girl, now run along and thank Byron,” Marcus said as he took the purse and slid it into his pocket.
Alena saw the priest take in Marcus’s interaction with the human girl. He noted her lack of fear. He saw the way Marcus handled her, and his eyes lingered briefly on the purse. Even in the dark, Alena acknowledged that the beautiful old building had seen better days.
Over time some of the windows cracked, the roof tiles weren’t straight anymore, and probably leaked when it rained. In this part of the country, it rained often, and for days on end. Alena glanced at Rowan, and they didn’t have to speak, they noted the same things.
“Father, you may trust us,” Rowan said looking into his eyes, but this time she didn’t use her ability. He looked at her long and hard before he stepped aside.
He directed them to a small, cozy study where four chairs stood around a desk covered in documents. A cheery fire burned in the hearth, it wasn’t cold outside, but the thick walls caused a chill in the air.
He followed them and didn’t lead the way because he didn’t want to turn his back on them, Alena surmised. It was a prudent but futile precaution. If they had ill intent, he could do nothing about it because he already invited them in.