Brittania seemed cold and damp and there were forests all around. As a Roman, this all seemed very primitive to me. Even southern Gaul had seemed more civilized than this. I wrapped myself in woolen cloaks and leggings to stay warm. My uncle laughed at me, but he had been through the same thing himself. I was his little nephew from the city who had not yet learned to tolerate the adverse conditions. Even his comrades and some of the soldiers made fun of me. I knew if I was going to be a soldier, I was going to have to learn to put up with adverse conditions, and being laughed at.
One day there was great excitement at the fort. A group of druids had been found performing a human sacrifice. We pursued them without mercy; they were a major threat to stability amongst the population. When unrest and discontent stirred among the Britons, you could find a druid at the heart of it. They were our avowed enemies and were determined to see us driven out. They would sacrifice captured Roman soldiers that had the misfortune to fall into their hands and would leave the body as a warning.
I saw Tristan looking at them. I did not know what I expected, but he had a look of hatred on his face. He guided me away from the wall, saying, “This is a sight you need not see. These are evil men, and they might see your resemblance to your uncle. Sometimes walls do not hold them back, they have allies among the men. Do not be too comfortable and think that we are secure here, because we are not. I don’t want to find you lying on an altar with your throat slit.”
I turned and looked anyway. The old druid was looking around, hatred in his eyes for the Roman soldiers who lead him by a rope looped around his neck, his acolytes following in a chain. He looked up and spied Tristan and began shouting at him, fighting the soldiers who held him in an attempt to free himself. The rope tightened as he struggled, and his shoulders slumped as he gave up the fight.
Then he saw me and started shouting words at me I did not understand. The look on his face had the same madness Tristan had aroused in him. I did not know what this meant, but I became very afraid of the old man.
“What was that?” I asked. The old druid had targeted Tristan and me, but no one else. It was like he knew him, knew something about him, but what? This was my uncle’s dearest friend and aide-de-camp, a Gaul loyal to Rome and the Legions. I could see no reason for the old man’s rantings. Maybe he hated him because he had renounced his Gallic roots and now served the Romans.
Tristan all but dragged me down to my mess and told me I was to go nowhere unless I was with him or my uncle. He repeated this to my company’s commander before he left, and I found myself confined to my barracks.
The next morning, the old druid had been found dead in his cell, his body drained of blood. His throat had been slit, but there was no blood on the cell floor. My uncle puzzled over what happened, but Tristan said, “We are well rid of him. He would have caused nothing but trouble. Bury his body deep in the woods and forget about him. Without him, his acolytes will be leaderless and will cause us less grief. We can hang them, and then forget them.” My uncle seemed to agree with this, and the matter was forgotten.
My uncle and Tristan had perhaps made the mistake of being too complacent. They had not taken into account that something, perhaps, was being planned. Fortunately, a member of the Dumnoni demanded entrance to the fort one day and was brought to my uncle. He was far from his home and his people and bore little love for the tribes that lived around Londinium. His father was a Roman soldier, but he’d never known him.
He had heard rumors that the fort was to be attacked in revenge for seizing the Druids. Exactly when, he did not know, but it would take place shortly after the full moon. He pleaded with my uncle to keep watch and send out spies. The man we had taken had been important, and the forest dwellers sought revenge for the loss of their high priest.
The man remained in the fort. It was his desire to join the Legion and my uncle was willing to accommodate him. The Britons who came over to us with their knowledge of the countryside and native languages were valuable assets.
Another acolyte died that night. When he was found, his skin was bone white. My uncle decided to leave his body in the cell for a few days so that his comrades would not know another of their own had died.
An attack came first thing in the morning. The Britons fought nearly naked and limed their hair back in clumps, and their bodies were covered in blue tattoos. Their cries and howls were designed to intimidate their enemies. But they had not reckoned with the well-disciplined Roman army and we fought back wave after wave of attacks until they tired of losing their men. Just as they were about to turn and retreat, Tristan appeared, carrying the body of the acolyte. He threw it over the fortress wall, right into the midst of our attackers. We cheered at their reaction of shock and dismay.
Just as I turned to try to find my uncle, a stone hit my helmet with a force that knocked me off my feet. Whoever had thrown it was skilled with the sling, and luck and my helmet had kept it from my forehead or temple. But whoever had thrown the stone had a strong arm. I found myself starting to fade, and the last thing I saw was Tristan leaning over me.
I woke in the infirmary with our other wounded soldiers. Tristan was keeping watch over me. “You were very lucky,” he said, “Never turn away from your attackers. You might have avoided that stone.”
“What happened?” My head ached fearfully, but I wanted to know how we had fared.
“We had more than enough arrows to take care of a small band of Britons, in spite of their efforts. We buried their bodies in a pit. We lost only a few men, but the losses were dear. As for you, you have earned yourself a furlough that you do not deserve, but we want you healthy when you return to duty. Listen to the doctor and do not leave your bed until he says you are ready. I will go back to your uncle and tell him that his foolish nephew will live. I imagine he will give a small feast in thanks when you have recovered.” He grinned and left me.
Though my head was aching, something was bothering me. Tristan looked different. He was still pale, but there was more color to his skin than before, and his lips seemed to have more color. If the difference had not seemed so striking, I would not have noticed it.
It was not my imagination, or the bump on the back of my head. Tristan had effected a transformation and looked more like the other Galli of the Legion. The difference seemed sinister, but, mysteriously, he did not. He was a loyal soldier, a kind man, and a good friend to my uncle.
This was not the first time, I realized with horror. He had had the same change in looks when the Druid was found dead and bloodless. Tristan’s color had changed then, too, only I had paid no notice. This was too much of an enigma for me. I just wanted to be a soldier, I did not want to deal with mysteries and things I did not understand.
In the meantime, I took shameless advantage of my position. It was several days before I was steady on my feet, and my head ached; but I was eager to be out of bed. As soon as I could walk, I was released to my barracks. If I took longer to return to duty than another soldier might, it was understood. I was not allowed much as regards the leeway of privilege, but I was the nephew of the Legatus. It was taken for granted that special consideration was due me.
One day I took off on my horse to explore. I rode at a gentle gait through meadowlands, then giving in to curiosity, I entered the woods.
This was not a wise decision, I could be attacked at any moment, but the old oaks, older than any could say, were beautiful. Compared to Rome, Britannia and Gaul were lush and green. We had no such trees in Rome. I rode through the forest, caught up in its spell, unwilling to leave.
I wasn’t paying attention when a mist started to obscure my path, and soon also my sight. It couldn’t be that late in the day, but when I tried to turn my horse to head back the other way, he refused. No matter how many times I turned his head, or kicked his sides, he would go neither backward nor forwards.
I dismounted, with the intention of turning him when I felt something strike me. Something had hold of me, pulling my head to the side, and I felt something like sharp sinking into my neck, while whoever or whatever it was kept an iron grip on me.
I swore that I could feel my blood leave my body and enter this creatures. I began to grow weak and my sight began to fade and I said a prayer to say goodbye to all whom I loved. I collapsed to my knees and gave myself over to the gods when I heard a thumping sound I thought was the beating of my heart.
Then something ripped the creature off my neck. I heard a voice saying, “Drink” and a wrist was held to my mouth. I held on and began to drink, and as I did, I felt my strength return to me.
I looked up to see who my savior was, and saw Tristan standing over me. “You little fool, I told you to stay away from the groves. I’ll have to take care of you now, there’s a lot you have to learn if you wish to continue to fool your uncle.”
“What do you mean?” I asked. My head felt fuzzy, nothing about this felt real. I didn’t truly understand what had happened to me.
“Fabi, you’ve become what I am, I had to do it to save you. I tried to stop you from going out today, but I wasn’t in time. It wasn’t so many years ago that the same thing happened to me. Just remember, when times seem dark, you are still the man you were and always will be. We were both victims of forces beyond our control. Just for now, remember your uncle must never know what has happened.”
Fabian sank back into the cushions of the sofa. He closed his eyes, as if far away from Claude and me, then opened them. “There is something about Tristan that I never found out. He never revealed to me how he became a vampire. Whenever I ask, he puts me off. He is an enigma: he kills humans, but he also protects them. If anyone tried to kill Isolde, it would release a fury in him that would make even me afraid. He saved all of us and brought us together, and that makes me think there’s a humanity in him that’s missing in a lot of humans.”
“So you’ve known him...? That’s over,” I took a breath, “Two thousand years.”
“I think he was made around the time that Rome invaded Gaul. The vampire who made him must have been very old, Tristan is a sun walker that’s rare among vampires. How he was able to pass that on to me, I don’t know. I’m just glad it happened, I don’t have to hide in the night. If you run into any other vampire, I don’t recommend tell them about your being able to tolerate daylight, some unscrupulous vampires traffic in sun walkers’ blood.”
“What about Rainer, did Tristan make him too? What makes him want to hurt Isolde?”
“Tristan didn’t make him, and to answer your question about Isolde: revenge, pure and simple,” he answered, “Maybe for having been made a vampire, maybe just for being born. We have never known much about Rainer. Right now I’d like to find out where he is, but it will have to wait until we can get you settled. Tristan told me he wants you back in school tomorrow. Tomorrow night when we hunt, we will hunt for the German vampire.”
“Come, Steven,” Claude dragged me away, “Plenty of time to find out more than you want to know. Let Fabi wallow in his past for the moment. Plenty of time to ask him questions, though he might be no better than Tristan when it comes to answering them.”