Occasionally, Eoin would meet one of his true brothers when he was called to battle. Their blood was scattered throughout the north, and it sometimes happened that one clan would rise against another clan in support of opposing causes. Their existence was secret from all but a few of their human relations, so it was inevitable that every now and again they would face each other across a battlefield.
It didn’t matter. They were each pledged to their villages as protectors, according to the old pact. They fought for blood and promises, and nothing else. But they would not fight each other, nor touch the keepers they were pledged to protect. The keepers, as soon as they realized the truth, that there was another blood-drinker on the opposing side, almost always found a way to turn the battle or end it. There was family, and then there was family, and the second went across all village or clan lines.
Eoin sat with his brother on an outcropping overlooking a misty lake. Dawn was just breaking, and their armies had spent the night camped in valleys on either side of the mountain. “Will you stay for the fight?” he asked, turning his head so that he could better view his brother. The other blood-drinker was older, although he only looked it by a few years, and had the same brown eyes and curly brown hair as Eoin.
He grinned. “Sure I will. You?”
Eoin nodded. They were both covered in blood already from the afternoon’s battle. “Blood was offered.”
The other blood-drinker glanced at Eoin out of the corner of his eyes. “You know who to avoid.” He looked away, satisfied, when Eoin nodded again, then spoke quietly. “I have a son in the village.”
“What?” Eoin slowly sat up straight.
“He has our blood, but he is human still. I haven’t tried to give him the blood offering yet. Soon, though. His mother, she won’t understand. I may have to take him away.”
“Does Father know? Can you give him the blood offering yourself?”
Eoin didn’t know. When Young Jack had asked to be turned, his father had done it, although he allowed Eoin to share blood with Young Jack in between the equinoxes, to strengthen their bond. Could Eoin have done it himself? He truly did not know. “What if you’re wrong?” he asked softly.
His brother closed his eyes briefly. “I can’t be wrong,” he murmured. “He’s my son.”
“What’s his name?”
“Ewen.” The brothers smiled at each other at the similarities in the names.
Just then the pipes started to skirl and Eoin caught movement on the slopes below. “It’s starting,” he said, getting to his feet. He clasped his brother’s arm and they embraced briefly, before flying down their respective side of the mountain to join their troops. It would be a quick battle, and not as bloody as either brother would have liked, but it couldn’t be helped. There was too much family blood on both sides this time. Still, there was enough to compensate for the bite of the sun, which Eoin could already feel as the early morning mist started to dissipate. He grinned a savage grin, full of sharp teeth and anticipation.
-- - - - - - - - -
“Mom, can Ellie and I walk up to the cottage?”
Lisa looked up from her conversation with Uncle Robert. They were at the beach, having just walked around the entire lake at his request. The weather had been mild for late March, and the lake was unfrozen at last. Uncle Robert seemed to enjoy the scenery. It probably was a nice change from being in the city. Since January, Uncle Robert had spent nearly every weekend in Lockwood, getting to know the place and his cousins again. He said he wanted to do it so that he could take a more active role in monitoring the family, but Lisa suspected it was because he wanted to learn more about Kenny’s encounter—and hers—with the vampire. It was a two-way street. Kenny was learning a lot about vampire hunting from Uncle Robert, too. She wished Kenny was here with them today. He had had to go in to work. Lisa felt uncomfortable being alone with Uncle Robert, not that he wasn’t nice, but just because he invariably turned the conversation around to what she remembered about her ‘babysitter.’ He wouldn’t ask her in front of Crystal, however, which is why she had taken Crystal and her best friend Ellie on this little excursion. Still, it wasn’t fair to the girls to make them have to wait for the slower moving grown-ups.
“Fine, go on ahead,” Lisa replied. “Just stay in the front. I don’t want your shoes to get all muddy in the backyard.” The cottage was still locked up tight. It was too early to even think of turning on the water. Even though these last few days had hinted at spring, Lisa knew winter had not yet let go completely. “The car is unlocked if you want to sit down.”
The girls happily took off up the dirt road from the beach. Lisa watched them until they were out of sight. “We should head back too,” she said to Uncle Robert, who was still staring across the lake.
“Did John Price ever come down to this beach?” Uncle Robert asked.
Inwardly, Lisa groaned. As soon as the girls left, he started in on his questions. “Um, I don’t really remember,” Lisa fibbed. If she said Johnny had been here in the daylight, would she be giving something away? She didn’t know how much Uncle Robert really knew about Johnny’s capabilities. Kenny hadn’t known. She didn’t think his father had, either. “Usually, he came over to babysit when I was going out, or to have supper with us or watch TV,” she said. “You must keep in mind, I didn’t know Johnny was a vampire until much later, after he had left. I didn’t find out for a long time that Kenny had . . . killed him.” She had a hard time saying the words.
“You said ‘us.’ Who else met this Johnny?”
“Well, you already know about Betty, and Cara. Cara doesn’t know about vampires,” she added hastily. Uncle Robert had met Betty on his second visit to Lockwood, and was filled in on the activities of the so-called ‘historical society,’ which had been a front for the vampire killers. The group had since been disbanded after the vampire threat had been removed. “And my parents met Johnny at a barbecue once. So did my brother and his wife, and their kids. And my husband—my ex-husband.”
Uncle Robert’s eyes grew wider and wider as the list of people who had met the vampire grew longer and longer. “And none of them are—injured?”
He meant killed. Lisa shuddered, remembering her sister-in-law and her three kids who had been victimized by Johnny in the early days. But he hadn’t killed them, or permanently harmed them. That wasn’t an excuse. There was no excuse for what Johnny had done to them. He had done it to get to her, and it had worked. She had sent them away, and in retrospect, she realized it had been what he’d wanted her to do all along—send them away so he wouldn’t inadvertently hurt them any worse. She shook her head, dispelling the memories as well as answering Uncle Robert. “No, everybody’s fine,” she said. “Uncle Robert, I understand where you’re coming from. It took me a long time to believe Kenny about the family and why he had to do what he did to Johnny. But nothing happened to me or Crystal. We’re both fine, too.”
It was the biggest lie she had told yet. She and Crystal had known what Johnny was since the first day they had met him. He had told them he was a vampire. Not even Kenny knew what had happened between her and Johnny that first summer. As much as she loved Kenny, that was a part of her life she was unwilling to share. It belonged to her and Johnny and Crystal.
Uncle Robert’s eyes softened. “Let’s head back,” he said. “It’s getting chilly now that the sun is going down.”
Lisa glanced at the horizon. The warm day had fooled her. It was still early enough in the year that it started to get dark in the late afternoon. In another hour it would be completely dark. She nodded, and the two began walking up the hill.
Crystal and Ellie had their heads together, talking about different people at school, as they came up to the cottage. In front of the small porch a lone daffodil bent its head in the slight breeze. Crystal looked up, and caught her breath. Ellie, beside her, smiled in delight. “A daffodil!” she said.
“It’s too soon,” Crystal murmured, bending down to cup the fragile bloom in her hand. She sniffed it before she let it go. “It’s only March.”
“Technically, it’s the first day of spring,” Ellie said, and Crystal looked up at her in alarm. Her drawings had shown daffodils, plural, and the cottage windows opened wide. This was too soon. Maybe it was only a coincidence? Ellie spoke again. “Hello,” she said.
Crystal turned around to see who Ellie was talking to, although she already knew who it would be. “Johnny,” she breathed. He stood at the corner of the cottage, dressed in clothes she knew from her vision that he had stored inside the cottage, which was still tightly locked. He was smiling slightly, arms crossed, as he watched the two girls. “You’re awake,” she said.
Ellie shot a quizzical glance at her friend at the odd statement. “This is Johnny?” she whispered. “He’s cute.”
Johnny walked over to the two girls and his smile slowly faded. “There’s a reason,” he said quietly. “I’ll go back to sleep, but we need to do the exchange now, today.”
“Right now?” Crystal cast a worried look at Ellie.
“She’s family,” Johnny assured her, and Crystal relaxed.
Ellie glanced from one to the other in confusion. What were they talking about? Johnny winked at her, and she was about to say something, when she suddenly felt a bump, then nothing at all.
Johnny closed the car door gently. Ellie would sleep for just a few minutes, but it would be enough time for what he had to do. He hadn’t taken much blood at all—just enough to make her sleep. It was necessary, even Crystal saw that. The other alternative would have been to take Ellie into their confidence, and he was unwilling to do that because, if she broke that confidence, the results would be devastating.
“You still look the same,” Johnny said with a slight grin, and although his tone was light, he was relieved that Crystal had suffered no ill effects from their prolonged separation.
“I do not!” Crystal protested. “I’m at least half an inch taller!”
Johnny laughed then, joyfully. He wasn’t too late.
He knelt on the damp grass in front of Crystal as she sat on the porch stoop. They had no knife to make the cut, so he used his sharp teeth to pierce her hand as well as his own. “Drink,” he ordered her, keeping one eye on the afternoon sun. The moment was exactly right, in between day and night at the cusp of darkness. He raised her palm to his own lips then and drank at the same time, letting the perfection of her blood seep into his veins and fill them with her life. The taste he had had from Ellie had been merely an appetizer for this. He didn’t want to stop.
He felt it the moment the time changed, as if a blanket had clapped down on top of them. Reluctantly he raised his head. He met Crystal’s steady gaze. “Your drawing wasn’t wrong,” he assured her. “I will be back when it’s time to open the cottage.”
Impulsively, Crystal threw her arms around him and hugged him. “I’m glad you came,” she whispered in his ear.
“Soon,” Johnny whispered. “I’ll be back soon. Ellie’s waking up.” He gently stepped back from Crystal’s embrace and was gone.
Crystal opened the other car door and slipped in beside Ellie.
“Where’s Johnny?” Ellie asked, yawning.
“Gone,” Crystal said mournfully. “Ellie? Can we not say anything to my mom about Johnny? I don’t want her to get mad.”
“I won’t,” Ellie promised, a twinkle in her eyes. She yawned again. “Are your mom and your uncle coming yet? I want to go. I’m thirsty.”