This novel is limited to 100 free copies due to its part in Inkitt’s Novel Contest.
Tristan and Isolde, a Vampire Tale
By Marty Reeh
"Call me Ishmael".
No, not really. My name is Steven, but "Call me Steven" doesn't quite have the same effect. "Moby Dick" was, no is, Tristan's favorite book. He always said it was the best and worst book he ever read. He used to like to read the last part to us—the part where Moby Dick destroys the whaler, and even though the sailors know they are doomed, they allow Ahab to beckon them on in pursuit of the great white whale. In the end when the ship and all the boats are destroyed and the sailors killed, Ishmael survives thanks to Queequag's coffin.
Tristan is a survivor, just like Ishmael. That's why I don't believe he and Isolde are dead—Tristan would never give up on living and he'd never let Isolde die.
Chapter One: As I Lay Dying
The night I met Tristan and his lover Isolde was both the best and the worst night of my life. It was the last time I saw Julie, the girl I wanted to marry, if she'd have me. It had been one of those nights that you remember in a relationship. We'd gone to watch the Huskies play UCLA, and afterwards we took a slow, romantic walk back to my fraternity. Our walk was filled with kisses stolen in alleys, our hands all over each other. I was so hot for her at that night that I was ready to drag her into a darkened doorway and have her right there; but I decided I'd wait until we got back to my fraternity. I had it all planned: I'd propose and then we'd do all those things we'd been whispering in the other's ear.
Maybe that's what I should have done, but that is all in the past. We heard some people walking behind us, but paid them no mind. Our basketball team was having a really good year and each game practically sold out. There were people walking all over campus, you could hear them talking about the game, or debating where to go to celebrate. I wasn't worried about the footsteps behind us—not until it was too late. There was an air of celebration that everyone could feel. I expected that whoever was walking behind us would either stay behind or pass us, maybe saying something like, "Great game, man, huh?" That's the reason I wasn't panicking until the footsteps came too close.
Everything changed in an instant. There were four of them; two with guns, two with wicked-looking knives. Both Julie and I offered our wallets without a word; then the tallest one smiled, and aimed his "Glock" and gut shot me, a guarantee that I'd die if I didn't get help and soon. That's what I think he intended, to watch me slowly bleed to death as I lay helpless on the sidewalk. All I knew is that as I lay waiting to diethey surrounded Julie. I could not move or cry out for help as I listened to the sounds of tearing clothes and Julie screaming. Then, after a while, heard the sound of a gunshot and deathly silence.
The tall one with the lousy aim put one more bullet in me. I would have appreciated it if he had better aim and killed me. I wanted more than anything else to curl up next to Julie's body and die at her side. Instead I lay paralyzed and bleeding to death as our assailants took off down the alley and I saw the ruins of my Julie lying there. I began to weep like a child. I should be dead, like her, with her. They had not only taken her life, they had deprived me of being able to die next to her. Why was I still alive anyway?
"You are alive so you can avenge her death." A stranger appeared at my side, seemingly out of nowhere, and had matter of factly answered my thoughts. He had curly blond hair and even in the alley his complexion had a pale luminescence. He squatted down next to me and stroked my forehead. I couldn't tell if he was French or maybe French Canadian, but though he spoke excellent English, it was definitely with an accent.
Where I should have been frightened, fear had somehow disappeared. He seemed instead like an angel to my dying eyes, an angel who had come to rescue me.
"You're dying, mon ami, but I can help you if you're willing to pay the price." How had he read my mind? He was offering me a chance to salvage the life that was slowly fading out of me? I wanted to live and pay those bastards back more than anything in the world. But what did he mean by "pay the price"?
He ruffled his curls, "I can help you get vengeance, or better still, give you to the tools to get your vengeance. And you will have eternal life or eternal life as I know it. It will be both rewarding and a curse, but I think you would find it worth your while. You could even make those barbarians pay. But I need your consent: you must be ready to accept the consequences of your choice."
"Price?" "Choice?" What did he mean? All I knew for certain was that my life was bleeding out of me and I didn't want to die. I didn't know what he planned to do, but I nodded my consent. I think he knew all along that he'd have my consent, whatever he chose to do. I was half dead, and this beautiful angel in the half-lit alley was offering me my life, and what I wanted the most--a way to avenge Julie. I was all for that, if I could truly have it, I didn't even stop to consider what that price might be.
"I'll have to be careful, he's almost dead" he muttered to himself, and picked up my dying body like I was a child, and held me. Suddenly I felt something sharp sticking into my neck. Even if I'd known at the time that he was draining my blood, I was too far gone to care. I didn't have the strength to fight him. And I wouldn't have cared if he was the Devil himself. I was not about to let those scumbags get away with Julie's rape and murder if I could. I was dying and he was offering me a chance to live.
Suddenly he propped me up, and then bit his own wrist. "Drink," he urged and pushed his wrist to my mouth. What he asked seemed strange and I turned my head from him. He was insistent, telling me I had to drink or I'd die, so I gave in and began to suck the blood pouring from his wrist.
As his blood flowed into my body I felt my life force returning, and the bullets popped out as my wounds abruptly healed. My strength began to return as if by magic, and life coursed through me. I was overcome with a crazy urge to laugh for the joy of being alive and cry over the loss of my Julie all at once. Tears poured out of my eyes as he pulled his wrist away and bound it with a handkerchief.
I was alive! I felt a force rushing through me; the pain of Julie's death was still fresh in my mind, but I no longer felt the intensity of it. I could feel the grief, but it somehow had pushed itself to the back of my mind. I had not been able to save her, but somehow someone had saved me. Until you are at the brink of death, then suddenly jerked away, you have no idea how I felt at that moment.
Then the pains hit, pain so intense it felt like a knife was piercing my gut. He laughed gently at me as I curled up into a ball. He laid a cool hand on my forehead and told me to be patient, it would be over soon.
He took my hand and held it. "Your body is changing; it is like a baptism that every vampire goes through when he loses his mortal life. It will pass. We'll wait for your body to go through the change, and then I'll take you to my house." He held up his hand when I opened my mouth to protest. "No, you can't go back to your Fraternity. Sooner or later your roommates will know something is wrong. I'm going to take you home with me. If you choose to go back to school that will be your choice. There's much less risk attending classes than there is living with mortals."
How did he know about my fraternity, and Vampire? That's what he said? He'd seemed normal sitting at my side, waiting. I knew now he was some unnatural creature, but the word "vampire" was a shock to hear. I didn't believe in them or anything supernatural. Yet here I was, experiencing all of it. And my very existence now was proof that such things were, not a myth, and one of them had taken pity on me and given me back my life, a life that had changed forever.
Maybe someone might ask me what the transition was like. All I can tell you is I don't know. How do you describe being dead and then coming back to life? How did I accept this sudden transition? What was it like to suddenly find myself a vampire?
I was only 20. I had seen my girlfriend brutally murdered, I was dying from a gut shot wound in the belly. Then, out of nowhere, came a man with a face like an angel, who knew what I thought, what I was feeling. He could do nothing for Julie, but he succored and saved me. I didn't want to die and he had given me back my life. How would you feel?
He suddenly picked me up as easily as if he were lifting a child. He ran through the streets so fast that buildings flew by me in a blur. I closed my eyes so I wouldn't be sick, and when I finally opened them, we were standing on the porch of an old home in the Ravenna District, not far from Children's Hospital.
The door opened. "Tristan". A tall, slender woman, middle aged but very attractive, stood there as she were expecting us. She stepped aside to let us in. "Bring him inside and put him on the sofa," she said, "And get him some clean clothes. Yours ought to fit him well enough." She laid a warm hand, so different from the cold of the vampire's, on my forehead. "How are you feeling?" The expression on her face was both welcoming and concerned, like a mother's might be.
She had no French accent. The inflections in her voice made me think she was from Seattle, like me. And there was another thing—I don't know if it was the transformation or not--but I had a very strong feeling that this was no vampire I was looking at, but a mortal woman.
She smiled, pushing her short auburn hair back in a gesture that mirrored Tristan's. "You're right; I'm not like you. Tristan and I have lived together for many years. He keeps shying away from changing me. I keep telling him he's a coward to keep me mortal."
"Hush Isolde, you'll scare the boy. And don't read his mind, it's not nice." Tristan came into the room and laid slacks, a silk shirt, underwear, and socks on my lap. "You'll feel better when you change clothes. Go clean yourself up in our bathroom—it's at the top of the stairs in the only bedroom on the third floor."
As I headed up the stairs I heard Isolde say to him, "Has he fed yet? You know he needs to feed; you need to take him out. But take the car this time, Tristan. He's too weak to be out on the street just yet."
The bathroom was huge, littered carelessly with male and female toiletries. I took a shower in an old fashioned claw-foot tub that could easily have held me and Julie. I lathered my body with olive oil soap and used shampoo that smelled like fresh apples. The bottles all had labels printed in French. My high school French was just adequate enough to let me guess at the ingredients. I dried myself off with the softest, thickest towels I'd ever seen, and put on Tristan's clothes.
Everything about this house said "money". I was wearing pants that were made out of tensil fiber and a silk shirt. The t-shirt and shorts were of pima cotton, as well as the socks I slid on my feet were also made of the same cotton. I felt guilty when I put on my dirty Nike Airs over them, it seemed disrespectful somehow. I want back downstairs feeling like I should have gel in my damp hair so I could pose for GQ.
Isolde looked at me and gave me smile of approval that made me blush. I felt strange all over. Healthy, well, but strange. It was only thinking about Julie that brought my mood down and Isolde saw it.
"Later, child, later. Now is not the time to feel it." Normally I would bristle at being called "child", but there was something about the way Isolde looked when she said it that made me not mind.
Tristan kissed her. "I won't keep him out long. He can meet the rest when they return. And don't worry, I'll take the car." He put his hands behind her head and pulled her close. "Lock the door, cherie. The boys have keys."
I followed him downstairs to the garage. There was a silver Jaguar sedan, a black Porsche Boxter, and a red BMW. I would have given anything to own one of them. Tristan seemed not to notice. He opened the door of the Jag for me, then slid into the driver's seat. He pressed a button on the key ring and the garage door opened, then closed when we pulled out.
He seemed to drive aimlessly, but I noticed we were heading towards the University District. His keen blue eyes flicked back and forth, looking for something. He found a parking place on the "Ave", then parked and motioned me to follow him out of the car.
"Come," he commanded, and I got out of the car and followed him. "This is your first lesson," he explained, "You've become a killer, out of the many killers in this world. For me, the only way I justify doing what I need to survive is to try to never kill the innocent. You are not God, but you can do God's work, so to speak. Some day you may decide to give up hunting humans altogether. Some of us do. It's a noble way to live but not an easy one. For right now it will be best if you stay close to home and do your hunting here."
We walked along the "Ave", him elegant in his raincoat, silk pants and shirt. Compared to him I felt gauche and awkward. So uncaring did he seem that when he came upon a girl being robbed at knifepoint, the perpetrator didn't even seem to notice him until he grabbed his shoulder. His grip must have been powerful because the creep he had hold of was wincing and saying, "Ow, ow, let me go."
"Go," he said to the girl, pushing her away from him, "You do not want to see this." She looked with terrified eyes, then turned and fled, not looking back.
"Now watch," he told me and sank his fangs into the hood's neck just long enough to weaken him, then he beckoned me and directed me to pick up where he left off.
I was both horrified and fascinated. Something must have been changing in me that was affecting my mind as much as my body. I walked slowly over to the thug trapped in Tristan's arms and sank my teeth awkwardly into his neck as Tristan watched.
It wasn't the easiest thing I'd ever done, I didn't have a vampire's fangs yet, but I managed. Part of me felt aghast at what I no sooner, part of me felt exhilarated.
As I finished, then I felt his blood flow into my veins and his life force pour into me. I did not know what this was, but I did not want to quit. Tristan gently pushed me away and instructed me to stop when his heart stopped beating. I swore I could hear this guy's heart beating in my ears, the sound almost hypnotic, seeming even to continue even after he was dead.Tristan told me I could leave them almost dead if I chose, but it was best to learn to feed until the heart stopped.
Had I become a killer? Was that what I was now? I took one last look at the body lying on the sidewalk and wondered how it was me who could have done that. I had a feeling that my old self was slipping away from me. I was as distant from my old self as that body was from its life. Tristan looked at me, sympathy on his face.
We got back into the Jag, and he warned me that I may not feel very good by the time I got home. It was my first time, but after I made a few kills and got used to it, the nausea would go away. When we returned home, Isolde held my head while I got sick in their elegant bathroom, helped me onto the couch, and threw a soft afghan over me.
A fire was now burning merrily in the marble fireplace. She and Tristan sipped cognac in companionable silence and watched the flames flicker in the marble fireplace. When she finished her cognac, she stood up and kissed him good night.
That left the two of us alone. Tristan threw another log on the fire and sat back, stretching out his long legs.
"How do you feel?"
The question was unexpected. I didn't feel really bad now, except maybe my stomach felt simultaneously crampy and queasy, but no worse than having a mild stomach flu. I shrugged my shoulders. "Terrible, but maybe not so bad as all that. Tell me about Isolde, who is she?" I wanted to know about her. She was so warm and human amongst these vampires. She felt like my mother—I wanted to know more.
He was quiet for a long while, staring into the fire, then started talking.
"Isolde is my companion, my soul mate if you will. She's not young, but she's beautiful and incredibly sensitive and intuitive. When I found her, she was beaten so badly that she was near death. Someone obviously assumed that she'd die, because they left her for dead—in a dumpster. I hadn't fed in a while and here were ripe pickings, it would been so easy to take her, her pain would have been over.
"But her mind touched mine. 'I don't care, do what you will.' she said. Her eyes looked dead, she had endured so much that she had given up. But somehow, with that sentence, she touched me. Maybe if she'd begged and pleaded, or screamed, the outcome would have been different. But her plight touched something still human in me."
"I took her to this house and watched over her that night, because I knew it was likely she had a concussion. I gave her just the tiniest bit of my blood to strengthen hers. I broke into hospital pharmacies and stole painkillers for her. I bought her silk nightgowns and sheets so that only the softest and smoothest of fabrics would brush against her painfully bruised body. I bathed her in lavender water and rosemary soap, and laid her in my bed."
"Little by little, she grew stronger. She had no memories, save of me standing over her while I debated whether to kill her. Though the smell of human food nauseates me, I cooked for her, watched her gain weight. She confessed to me that she loved chocolate truffles, and one day I brought the truffles, but also had a florist fill the house with flowers."
"I could see her age, but it mattered only to her, not to me. I didn't know what I had planned to do when I first rescued her, but suddenly I found that I could not wait to get back to her at night after I'd hunted. I bought clothes for her that I wanted to see her wear. I hired the best cook I could find to prepare her meals until she was strong enough, or wished, to cook them for herself."
Every night I hold her while she sleeps. Every night I thank Providence for bringing her to me. She has made what was merely a place for me to sleep a home. I spoil her. I lavish gifts on her. I do this because I feel guilty because she can no longer work and take care of herself because of her lost memories. 'Isolde' is the name that I gave her; she does not even know who she was before."
"There are other young vampires living here, she looks after all of them. She calls herself their "Den Mother". They each know that if one hair of her head is harmed I will exact a vengeance on them that they could only imagine in their worst nightmares. "
"I cannot bear the thought of changing her yet. I treasure her mortality, her fragility. I am afraid to change her, fearing that she will change and perhaps no longer need or want me. That I could not bear. She is the light of my life and to be without her would not be life at all. Do you understand?"
"My name is Steven." I don't know why I said such an idiotic thing, it just came out. "And I understand about Isolde. If Julie were alive, I don't know if I could make her a vampire, I just know that I love her," as I said the word "love" the reality of her loss hit me—I would never see her again," the way you love Isolde."
"Good, then we understand one another." He got up and placed one more log on the fire. "When the others come in, tell me if they bother you. You have had enough trouble for one day. Isolde wakes early, she will see you in the morning. Until then, bon nuit."
Instead of sleeping, I lay awake, wrestling with what had happened. I was living something I didn't even believe in and I didn't want to think about it. I thrashed around, sleeping for a while, only to wake up, aware of my surroundings yet wondering if this were all a bad dream. I wanted to lose consciousness, and certainly the comfortable sofa, the warmth of the afghan, and the fire now burning low seemed to invite it, yet somehow sleep kept eluding me. I craved the release of sleep, but it flirted with me like a fickle lover. I wondered if this was part of what I had become.
So, instead of trying to sleep, I lay I just let myself lay on the sofa, neither asleep nor awake. Eventually I felt myself slowly losing awareness of where I was. I didn't know exactly when I did lost consciousness, but I wakened with a jolt when I heard the front door open and shut, and voices speaking softly in French.
I looked at the elegant grandfather clock--the hands said 3:30. Three guys about my age came into the living room and stopped and looked at me.
"Is this a present for us from Tristan?" The one who spoke was slightly smaller than the others, blond, and very Teutonic looking. Too much so--he gave me the creeps. If he had once been a Hitler Jungen I would not have been surprised. His French was heavily accented, and I guessed it was not his native language.
"Hush, Rainer," a voice spoke in English, "We probably woke him up. We evidently have a new brother. Can't you tell he was made tonight? I can." He came around the sofa, and sat on the edge of the coffee table, facing me. "I am Claude. I met Tristan during Napoleon's retreat from Moscow. He saved me, as he has evidently saved you. I have lived with him ever since."
"The rude one is Rainer Schmidt. We found him in Berlin at the end of World War II. He was alone, scared, starving, and sleeping in alleys and doorways, too frightened to hunt. There was much chaos in Germany in those days. The Russians had come in ahead of the Allies, and people were very afraid. We didn't know how long he'd been made, or by whom. Tristan took him with us back to Paris. For reasons known only to him, he chooses not to not to share his past with us: he keeps his memories of his life before coming to us secret." He cast a look of dislike at the diminutive blond vampire.
"They made my acquaintance in Rome." In contrast to Claude's plain looks—brown hair, long Gallic nose, brown eyes—this one could have stepped out of a Renaissance painting. I never noticed whether a guy was good looking, but he had one of those classic profiles, along with curly black hair, dark eyes, and golden skin. He was broad shouldered and slim hipped, and seemed almost too perfect to be real.
But his eyes and his smile were friendly. "I'm Fabian, I met Tristan and Claude in Rome," he explained. "I knew what they were the minute I saw them. It was at the end of World War II and my vampire family had been scattered or destroyed. They were some of the many Allies stationed in Rome. I was feeling very lonely when I met them and I felt I could trust them. I was not happy to leave Rome. I am a Roman at heart and Rome will always be my home. Still, when they decided to leave, I stayed with them."
I sat up, no longer feeling dizzy or sick. "How long have you, I mean how did you, I mean how has it happened that you're all here? This is so unreal to me. Last evening I was going to a basketball game with my girlfriend, and now I find myself in a house with a pack of vampires, one of whom has a mortal...oh never mind." Shit, I thought to myself. The more I tried to make sense of it, the less sense it made.
Claude and Fabian laughed, but more with than at me it seemed. Claude pulled out a bottle of red wine out of the cabinet and poured himself a glass. He took a pack of cigarettes out of his pocket and lit one, then settled in a chair.
"You might be a Frenchman, but you seem to forget that you're a vampire." Rainer's tone was scornful.
"I keep telling you, idiot, that wine strengthens our blood. Even Tristan takes an occasional glass or two. We just have to be careful not to drink too much, or be prepared to get very drunk." He smiled and winked at me.
The little German pointed at me. "You. You have a name?" It wasn't a question, the tone and emphasis was more like a command. He stood, waiting impatiently for me to answer.
"My name is Steven." I felt on the defensive with him. Maybe it was his arrogant attitude; maybe he just looked too Aryan with his blond hair, blue eyes, and fair skin. I dislike few people on first impression, but I found myself wishing fervently that he was not a part of Tristan's household. There was something about him that did not feel quite right. Not to mention the fact that he made me feel more than a little afraid.
We all sat silently, and for the first time in my life silence did not seem awkward. Normally, I would have jumped in and started talking just to ease my discomfort, but I felt no need to. I wondered if this was something, among other things, that would feel normal after my transformation. I purposely did not allow myself to think about the fact that I had become a killer. It was too early to think about that now.
At last Claude stood up. "We should leave the newcomer alone and let him rest. I'm for bed myself, we've had a later night than normal. Good night Steven." I watched them file silently up the stairs. I was alone again.
The grandfather clock chimed eight when I came out of my trance a second time. Isolde was coming down the stairs, hair wet from her shower, carrying a large thermos and two cups. She filled one for herself, and then asked if I liked coffee.
"Vampires can drink coffee?" I asked incredulously, and she laughed. I liked the sound of her laughter.
"Coffee is a fluid. Your body can tolerate certain fluids. And the warmth and caffeine helps circulate your blood. Tristan will tell you what is safe and what is not." She talked about it so easily, as if her life was nothing out of the ordinary. Then I remembered that life for Isolde had begun when Tristan found her. If she talked as if her life was normal, perhaps five years of being a vampire's companion made it that way.
"Caffeine helps your blood circulate, and the heat of the coffee helps warm you." She shook her head, smiling ruefully. "Sometimes I feel like I have been tutored in Vampire 101, 102, and 103. When I found out what Tristan was I asked so many questions. Later I realized I did not want to know all the things he told me." She pulled at a lock of her hair, looking thoughtful, "Sometimes I think he wanted to talk to someone, wanted to share all these things about what he was. I don't envy him, not at all." That last sentence was almost a whisper, a sigh.
I had so many questions I wanted to ask her. I wanted to know about her and Tristan. I wanted to know about the other vampires who lived with them. I wanted to know all I could about what I had become. But most importantly, I wanted to ask her about Rainer.
She stood and poured a few drops of cognac into her coffee, then sat back down. "Do you want to ask me questions while we are alone? The others are sleeping and Tristan has yet to get up." She lifted her brow quizzically, as if to say "I know what you want to ask me, so ask!"
"Rainer, what about Rainer? I don't like him and I don't even know him. Why should I be afraid of him when I don't mind Claude and Fabian?"
"Because Rainer is not just a vampire, he's a killer. You may think there's not much difference but there is, trust me." Isolde stated this matter-of-factly. "He doesn't kill for need, he kills for the thrill. He's made it plain he'd kill me if it weren't for Tristan. When I tell Tristan I want Rainer to go, he only says, 'Keep your friends close, but keep your enemies closer.' Fortunately, Tristan is probably the only thing Rainer fears."
"Never turn your back on him, never trust him. Never hunt with him; you have no guarantee that he wouldn't kill you just for fun. Hunt with Claude, hunt with Fabian, hunt with Tristan if he'll let you, but no matter how he tries to entice you, never hunt with Rainer." She refilled her cup from the thermos and added more cognac.
"Ah, bonjour cherie," Tristan came downstairs and kissed Isolde very tenderly. He took the other coffee cup and filled it.
"I was telling our boy here to be careful of Rainer. Do you have anything to add?"
"Isolde, I think you could tell him everything that I could and more." There was an edge to his voice that he was trying to cover. Had Rainer threatened Isolde? "Listen to her, she knows our boys well. I will teach you all I can to help you prevent a misstep, but you must learn to look out for yourself. Do you have anything you'd like to know?"
"Yeah, why am I awake during the daytime? Is it because the drapes are so heavy? I could see myself in the mirror, was I imagining things? Are there things that can hurt me?"
"Well," Tristan took a long drink of his coffee. "You have inherited something from me that only a few vampires possess. I am very old, Steven, one of the oldest vampires walking the earth. I am what is called a "sun walker" and since you have my blood, now you are, too. Yes, you can see yourself in the mirror. There are things that can hurt you. You can be killed by a stake through your heart--that is not a myth. The same if someone cuts off your head. You can be killed by fire. And contrary to the old legends, you won't be rendered powerless by a silver crucifix."
"You mean I can just live my life as if I weren't a vampire. There's no big giveaway to alert people to what I am?"
He reached over and poured cognac in his coffee. "No, not quite. You have to be careful around mortals. You haven't hunted alone yet, so you don't know the lure of the scent of blood. Once you do, you must learn to hold yourself and your urges back, no matter how strongly your nature dictates otherwise. That is how vampires have learned to live with humans over the centuries. There are those of us who choose to live in the light, while others go to ground. It becomes a matter of control. And remember to feed, always make sure you've fed."
"So I'm not going to be sleeping in a coffin and shunning the daylight, and no turning into a bat like Count Dracula."
"No, but part of the legend could have originated this way--it is safer for us to hunt at night than during the day. You can hide in the shadows and dispose of a body more easily when it is dark. Darkness provides protection.'
"We are efficient killing machines. Our fangs pierce the skin easily so we can consume our victim's blood. We are stronger than any human being that walks the earth. We are killers, plain and simple. I am sorry to have done this to you, but I did not want you to die. You are too young; you had experienced such a tragedy. I righted it the only way I knew how. You will have to find out for yourself if it was worth it."
"But don't forget, the most important thing is how you choose to live your life. You can live like Rainer and be nothing more than a killer, or you can emulate Claude and Fabian, kill only when you need to and try to live a worthwhile life."
"You are young and will need to hunt and feed more frequently. In time that will change. The older a vampire becomes, the less often he needs to hunt. I hunt less frequently than you children, but I still need to hunt."
Isolde stood up and stretched. "He needs his things, Tristan. In time his family may wonder what has happened to him. If he can maintain the illusion of living, then no one will be the wiser." She turned to me, "You can tell your housemates you have found a better place to stay. Take Claude and Fabi when your roommates will be gone and then get your belongings. "You could even keep going to school, if you like," she added, a wistful tone to her voice; "There's no reason to quit if you don't want to."
Tristan put his arms around her waist and pulled her down on his lap. "He doesn't need to finish school, Cherie. He can stay with us forever if he likes, and he'll want for nothing."
"Maybe," she replied, "but if it were me, I wouldn't quit school. I'd want to finish."
I realized then how painful it was for her. When Tristan rescued her she had lost her past. Whoever had attempted to kill her had not succeeded, but her memory had been wiped out. She was happy with Tristan, but she must have wanted things for herself than he could not offer. She seemed keenly intelligent. She could have had a college degree, but no way of finding out what it was—or who she was.
I wanted to change the tone of the conversation. I did not want to see the hurt in Isolde's eyes or the pain in Tristan's. So, I took a deep breath—it seemed strange that I still breathed as I had when I was alive. Then I gathered my courage and asked.
"Tristan is it true that you were with Napoleon's army? "
"Well, if you want to know, I joined the French army in 1795, under the command of a young lieutenant from Corsica who called himself 'Napoleon Bonaparte'. I could see that he was a rising star and attached myself to him. I rose in rank and became one of his aides. I was with him on several campaigns, including Italy and Egypt—and Russia." He stopped there as if he thought that ought to satisfy me.
"Claude said that you made him a vampire during the retreat from Moscow. Were you already a vampire when you joined the French army? Or did it happen afterwards?"
Tristan smiled cryptically. "As I said, I have been a vampire a long time. The fact that I could not be killed helped my career with Bonaparte considerably. But when he invaded Russia, and almost destroyed his own army, I parted ways with him. If you are asking if I was already a vampire when I joined Le Grande Armee, the answer is yes. And that's all I'll say for now. Someday you may find out the whole story. In the meantime what I've told you will have to satisfy you."
I wasn't even half satisfied. In a not so subtle way he'd dropped a hint that there was much more to him than what he'd told me. I hate secrets, and now my life was going to nothing but secrets. Secrets from my friends, secrets from my family, and what was going to happen if I met a girl?
I tried to act like this was nothing more than a casual conversation. "I hope all my questions didn't offend you."
"I'll answer that," said Isolde, "No, you didn't offend him. To find out anything from Tristan you have to ask because he is reluctant to reveal any information, especially when it comes to himself. Whether or not you receive an answer is another matter." She looked at him, a Mona Lisa half-smile on her face, and Tristan laughed.
"Oh god," I thought, "What have I gotten myself into? Well, welcome to your new life, Steven."
Isolde opened the drapes, letting the winter sun stream in. I did not trust what Tristan had said, I covered myself with an afghan. Instead of something catastrophic happening, as I'd feared, the feeble warmth of the winter sun felt good. It warmed my body—I didn't feel as cold as I had.
The sunlight illuminated the art that was on the wall that I had not paid attention to before. My mom was an art dealer, and I had learned more from her than I would from an Art Appreciation class. The walls here were covered with works by Dega, Mucha, Monet, Klimt, Picasso, Lautrec and watercolors by Maxfield Parrish. There were also vases and small pieces on shelves that were of museum quality. I swore that I saw an Egyptian statuette, Greek vases and busts, and there were even Anasazi pots of exquisite design.
Isolde must have left while I was absorbed in the sun and the artwork, for she had reappeared, with her hair dried, and dressed in trousers and a cashmere sweater. She smiled as she saw me look at pieces that would have easily fit into a museum's collection, or at least fetched a small fortune at Sotheby's or Christies.
"You know about art?" She gestured towards the treasures that filled the living room
"Yeah, my mom is a dealer. She taught me a lot. Where did you get all this stuff? Even if Tristan has been around for a long time, it's still not easy to collect antiquities. And that Egyptian statue—Egypt has been regulating the trade since the beginning of the twentieth century. And Anasazi pots are hard to come by legally—oh, sorry." I felt awkward, not having meant to say that.
"But they can be." Isolde threw some clothes at me—Tristan's again, I assumed. "I think I'll take you with me to the next auction. Take your shower; I'm going to wake the boys. Let's get you out of your fraternity. You'll be much safer living with us--there's plenty of room. The boys look your age, so they'll have no trouble blending in. You've all hunted, so you don't need to worry about the blood lust. Now go, and let me wake them. The sooner you do this the better."
I took a shower and dressed again in that luxurious bathroom. Tristan and Isolde seemed to be satisfied only with the best. My parents were well, comfortable, though not wealthy, so I didn't grow up with luxuries such as Egyptian cotton towels and expensive artwork on the walls of my house. My mother owned a few pieces, but that was it.
When I came downstairs to the living room, Fabi and Claude were drinking coffee and smoking the foul-smelling Gauloise cigarettes that Claude and Tristan favored. Rainer was nowhere to be seen.
Isolde's face wore a look of worry and fear. Tristan and Claude were talking to her in French, but she kept shaking her head. She looked as if she were about to cry and I wished that I could put my arms around her and hold her, tell her everything would be okay, and that if it was Rainer, I'd kill him before he had a chance to even get close to her.
Tristan squeezed her tightly, then poured a glass of cognac and handed it to her. She shook her head and pushed it away. He pressed it into her hand; so she took it and drank obediently. He looked at me over her head, holding her tightly.
"Rainer is gone, he must have left while we were sleeping. I am not surprised, but I will confess that I did not expect it. It worries me that I don't know where he is. He's told me in graphic detail what he'd like to do to Isolde, and I told him what would happen if he even touched her. I have kept an eye on him, but evidently not close enough. 'Keep your friends close, but keep your enemies closer'." This was what Isolde had said and it sent chills up my spine.
"I thought I kept him close enough to me to keep him from being a threat to Isolde, but she is paying the price for my carelessness. I am afraid he has gone to ground—but for how long I don't know. He has disappeared before, but until we know where he is, I am taking Isolde to Greece. He frightens her, and maybe I should never have let him stay." He kept stroking Isolde's hair as he spoke.
"We may not reach Greece directly, but I will tell you when we get there. Do not worry about anything, Steven, Fabi will take care of everything. After all these years we still do not know much about Rainer, but Fabi is older than you think, and a powerful vampire. Rainer may be anywhere, but he and Claude will find him. At the very least they can protect you."
"Don't hunt alone, Steven. Claude, Fabi, I am entrusting him into your care. Rainer won't try to challenge the three of you." Tristan pulled Isolde closer to him, then released her, watching her as she went upstairs to pack their suitcases. "We won't be gone much longer than a month, possibly less. I will contact you, I just cannot say when. I am sorry that I have to leave you so soon, Steven. You are not ready to be on your own, but Fabi and Claude will take care of you, don't worry."
Fabi pulled my arm. "Come on, Claude and I will help you." I was full of questions, but he shook his head "no" before I even opened my mouth. When the three of us reached the garage, he opened the door of the BMW. "It's easier for Tristan right now if you don't ask any questions. Isolde is frightened of Rainer, and we don't know where he is. Before he learned better, he used to do things to scare her. She used to tell Tristan that Rainer would attack her someday. Tristan finally made it clear to Rainer that if he continued to frighten Isolde, he would not live much longer. I think your coming to live with us made him angry. One more vampire to keep an eye on him, one more threat. He couldn't bear that."
As we drove from Ravenna to my frat house, my part in the conversation consisted solely of giving. When we arrived, Fabi got out of the car and looked around at the girls. "You gonna give all this up to live with us? You got some pretty women here, paisan." The looks he gave the girls were frank and obvious, and most of them could not resist smiling at the sight of the handsome Italian. He sighed, distributed boxes to us, and we went upstairs.
I climbed the stairs with my usual clatter, but Claude and Fabi moved with so silently you would have sworn they weren't there. At one point a member of the fraternity came in, and both froze, seeming almost to blend in to the walls, like statues or columns. They came to life again when we were alone, and I wondered if I could do that trick someday.
I was amazed at how little I actually owned. My notebooks, my books, my laptop, a boom box, clothes, my iPod, and my toothbrush, toothpaste and shampoo, all fit into a few boxes. When my stuff was packed, I had the eerie feeling that I never had existed. For the first time I thought of Julie and wondered what she would have thought of all this. Would she have wanted me to die with her, or did her soul call to Tristan to find me so he could save me? All useless questions that did me no good.
We left the fraternity as quickly as we could, Fabi looking regretfully at the girls. We put my things in the trunk and he started the car, gunning the engine for effect. Claude said something to him in French and they both laughed. I wished they would speak English. I could speak passable Spanish, and could communicate with people when I was in Mexico, but these European vampires made me feel like an alien in my own country. My high school French was good enough to understand a little, but not enough.
"So what's so funny?" I was feeling a little irritated, as well as anxious for Isolde. All I wanted to do now was go home and see if she that was all right.
"Claude just told me I look at the girls too much and if I wanted one so bad, I should just get one. I told him there were too many and I wouldn't be able to pick." Fabi looked at me and smiled, as if that should make things plain.
"I know enough French to know that's what you didn't say, and that sounded stupid anyway." He only smiled at me and shrugged his shoulders. My high school French only went so far, and I wished that I could understand that rapid fire French.
A thought was growing inside my head. Fabi was Italian, or was supposed to be, but the cadence of his words did not sound that way. There was something different about the way he spoke, like his accent was both Italian and not Italian. I realized that I hadn't really found out how long he, Rainer, and Tristan had been vampires. Claude had said Tristan had changed him on the march back from Russia, but he was the only one who had given me a time frame. Something felt very strange, like they were deliberately withholding information from me.
It was too much to think about, so I let it go for now. I didn't want to think about anything, I just wanted to get back to the house—it was too soon to call it home--and make sure Isolde was all right. I wished that Fabi would drive faster, even though it was a short drive from Greek Row to the Ravenna District.
Fabi put his hand on my leg, to reassure me. He roared up to the house and we took my boxes out of the car, throwing them in Rainer's old room.
"I have to talk to Tristan," Fabi said as he went upstairs to their room. It seemed odd that he should be disturbing them, but the bedroom door opened and he was admitted. It was a long time before he came out. For some reason that worried me.
"Come on; let's get your room ready. The little Hun has disappeared, so Tristan is giving you his room." Claude was trying to distract me and I both appreciated it though I wished he'd leave me alone. I went along with it because it was a way to distract myself.
I took sheets, pillows, and even the rug out of the room. Fortunately he'd had nothing on the walls. I didn't want any reminder of him. I feared the little German vampire, and I had visions of him turning up to drain my blood while I slept. I think I would have felt safer with him under Tristan's control.
Setting up my new room took maybe half an hour. Claude found a new rug to cover the hardwood floor, and I replaced the bedding. My books and boom box went on the shelves, making it feel like someday I could truly call this room my own. When we finished we went back to the living room, and I tried the rich tasting red wine Claude was so fond of. He kept looking towards Tristan's bedroom, waiting for Fabi. He put his arm briefly around my shoulder. "It's going to be all right, mon ami, both for you and Isolde. Tristan and Fabi are powerful vampires. They are our secret weapons in this war against the little Hun. It will be all right, I promise."
Fabi came down at last, turning down Claude's offer of a cigarette. "I think he's taking Isolde to Greece. Or maybe Rome or Santorini, I don't know. Just someplace where she can be safe and relax. Rainer may try to follow them, but Tristan will do all he can to keep him off the scent. If we see him, we're to kill him." His words sounded so matter of fact, it gave me a chill.
A thought was playing over and over in my head. Claude had said that Tristan and Fabi were powerful vampires. What made them so powerful? Was it longevity? I had seen Fabi enter Tristan and Isolde's room. Did he have a relationship with Tristan that set him apart from the others?
I'd only been a vampire for two days, but I wanted to know more about what I was and the ones who lived with me. I was a member of the family now, and I wanted to ask questions. Tristan intimidated me by virtue of the fact that he made me; he seemed like a father, not a brother. He was the head of our vampire family. Isolde might be in danger, and knowing these things felt very important.
Fabi seemed to be close to my age—or at least gave the appearance. He had an easy manner and was not as intense as Tristan. There were things I wanted to know, and he seemed the most approachable, so I decided to take a chance.
"Fabi," I started, but he cut me off.
"I know what you want to know. My story is tied with Tristan's, and if I tell you about me, I also tell you what I know about him. Maybe another time I wouldn't, but things have changed. I'll tell you what I know, and what Tristan told me. Claude knows some of this, but not all. We are a team now, comrades, and I don't want any secrets kept from you."
I sat quietly and waited for him to begin.
Fabi scratched his head, unsure of how to start. He lifted his hands, dropped them, and then sighed. "This is my story, such as it is. I am almost as old as Tristan, and my memories go back to when Britain was part of the Roman Empire." Claude and I sat back as he began to tell his tale.
"When you think of my life, you think in terms of millennia, not even centuries. When I lead my mortal life, Hadrian was building the wall in Britain because he could not keep the Scotti from raiding across their borders.
I was a Senator's son, and everything I was expected to be. I had a Greek body slave, a retired Gladiator that my father had purchased and freed to train me, and my tutor came all the way from Alexandria. I'd even been married at a very young age to a girl from a good family that would provide a powerful alliance.
I was expected to train hard and study hard. My father was determined that I should follow in his footsteps, never mind the fact that as a governing body the Senate was basically powerless. You never knew how things would turn in Rome, some still hoped the Republic would return, and the old powers would be given, or taken, back.
I should have been happy. I had a bright future ahead of me. My only worry was a jealous young brother who would gladly have killed me for the Senate seat I would inherit. What he didn't realize was that I would have given it to him if he asked.
I told my tutor, Apollodorus, what was on my mind. Normally this matter would have involved a trip to the Oracle at Delphi, but that was not possible. He advised me instead to go to the Pantheon and seek out the god that would give me guidance. I was not to seek out a particular god, I was to wait for the god to choose me.
"Listen," he told me, "Pay attention and you will receive your answer". I was skeptical, but I wanted out of my life. I felt stifled, and the life that lay before me seemed like a prison.
I went to the Pantheon with its open dome, and looked at the myriad of statues of gods that were worshipped all over the Roman Empire. Jupiter, Apollo, Juno, Athena, Mercury, Diana, all had altars in this great Roman temple. There were gods from the East as well as Isis from Egypt. There were also statues of emperors past that had been deified and as well as, a shrine to the Emperor Augustus, who was now the god Augustus. My father thought the worship of the emperors' indulgence, but we did our duty as Romans and worshipped these pseudo-gods.
It had been cloudy, misty even, when I set out, but the sky was clearing and the sun was starting to shine in through the hole in the roof of the Pantheon. I went to a priest and made an offering of a dove, then stood in the middle, under the bright circle of sky. I didn't expect anything to happen, I was a skeptic like my father, but Apollodorus was a religious man, so out of respect to my tutor I waited under the open dome.
I did as he instructed me and tried to create an image in my mind of what I wanted. I thought of what it would be like to be freed from my life, so I concentrated on that. I imagined never having to wear the robes of a senator and being away from my younger brother forever.
I was so caught up in my thoughts that at first I didn't notice that the air seemed to be changing. A humming sound started in my ears, then voices seemed to fill the air, voices whose words I could not understand. I looked around to see if anyone else noticed, but other worshippers were absorbed in performing their rituals. The sky started to darken, I became aware of a prickling sensation on my skin that I felt before a lightening storm. I backed away from the sky hole, looking around while the humming grew louder. Suddenly one of the statues seemed to start glowing in the darkness of the temple. I walked over for a closer look, only to be pushed violently back.
I found myself standing in front of a statue of Minerva, the daughter of Jupiter Maximus, dressed in her armor and helmet, with her sword in her hand. Her eyes burned like fire, boring into mine, and I dropped to my knees in terror and awe. Miraculously, the bronze statue seemed to turn to solid flesh, and before me stood a goddess of such beauty that I had to avert my eyes.
Here then was my answer. Minerva, who you probably know as Athena, had sought me out. She did not speak, so I knew I must speak to her. "Sacred daughter of Jupiter, tell me what I must do," my voice quavered as I spoke. "My father intends that I should be a Senator, but I want to serve in the Legions of Rome. To be a soldier is my dearest wish, I want to honor my father, but am not suited for the life he planned for me. Will you help me, oh most sacred goddess?"
"The Pantheon darkened around me. It was as if I had vanished from Rome and I was in a strange land, wearing Roman armor, my sword in hand. I was in the middle of a Roman fort, populated by men from all over the empire. I looked around for someone I might know, but one in particular, with curly blond hair and the bluest eyes I had ever seen, stood out. He stared at me, and motioned me to come to him."
"The vision vanished, the Pantheon was as it had been when I first entered. I knew I had seen my future, I had faith that I knew I would get what I wanted. Although Romans were more superstitious than pious, at that moment I knew that the gods were real, or at least real for me. My prayer had been answered.
As I stepped outside it started raining. I ran all the way home, thinking that the rain was a good omen because we had suffered a long dry spell. My father had just come in from the garden and saw on my face that I wanted to talk. My father knew these things. He was a very good Senator and would have been a very good emperor, but he preferred the life he had. Besides, the emperors we had at the time weren't so bad. Not so terribly good, but not so bad. To be an emperor in Rome meant that you might have a short life.
"You want to talk to me, son?" Yes, I wanted to talk to him. I wanted to tell him everything, but something held me back. It was like I needed to be discreet, and keep to myself the revelation from the gods.
He motioned for me to follow him and we went into his study. His servant poured wine for the two of us, then left the room. He loosened his toga, took a deep drink and then looked at me. "What is it you are so eager to tell me?
"Father, I do not wish to inherit our seat in the Senate. Posthumus wants it much more than me. I want to join the Legions, be a soldier like Uncle Titus. To be a senator would be noble, but it is not the life that would suit me. I can serve our Empire in the Legions as well as in the Senate, maybe better. Glaucus talks about how strong I am, how well I fight, drive a chariot and ride. I have been training all my life, and maybe there is a reason for it. Will you please give me permission? Will you please ask Uncle Titus if he can be of any help?"
I'd rushed all of this as I said it, but I had to get it out. I looked eagerly at his face, wanting to know his reaction, wanting very badly for him to say, "Yes".
He was silent for a long time. "It has always been my fondest wish that you would follow me into the Senate. Your brother is not half the man that you are, yet I know how badly he wishes to inherit our Senate seat." He sighed and drained his cup. "If your heart is set on being a soldier, you will not give your all as a Senator. You will spend your life wondering what would have happened if I had given you permission to do as you wish."
I started to speak, but he raised a hand to silence me. "I will speak to Titus. As you might have made a good Senator, so I think you will be a very good soldier. You are choosing a hard life, and I know you well enough that you would only do so if you were sincere."
A month later I was sitting in my Uncle's headquarters, listening to him and his aide-de-camp, a Gaul named Tristan, discuss my future. I was not sure of what they were saying, for they spoke in a mixture of Latin and the Gaul's native tongue. Whatever they were saying, the debate was a lively one.
They made an odd pair. Tristan was tall and had the palest skin I had ever seen, but with his deep blue eyes and gold curls it seemed to fit. My uncle, like me, was all Roman. Black curly hair, eyes so dark they were almost black, and olive skin. They laughed, slapped each other on the back, and my uncle treated him as a familiar. When he introduced me to Tristan, he described him as the man he trusted the most in his Legion. This struck me as odd, but Tristan seemed to have a way of drawing you in, and gaining your trust.
They reached a decision. I would live and train with the centurions, then become one of the six officers of my uncle's staff in six months. I wanted to be a centurion, but Tristan was in favor of making me a Tribune. That would emphasize my connection to my uncle, and assure that I had the respect of the Legion. The Roman army's strength lay in its legions, but the Calvary was a favored defensive weapon that had been employed by many empires. Besides, we were constantly fighting the Britons, who were some of the best horsemen in the world. If I earned the right, then my uncle would allow me to advance through the ranks. There would be no favoritism from my uncle. I would have to earn my way, but he had faith in me and I was determined not to disappoint him.
Tristan offered to show me around the camp. We rode side by side, he pointing out things I needed to know about or that I might find interesting. When he was satisfied that I wouldn't lose myself in the camp, we rode through the gates into the wilderness.
He pointed out where groves had stood that now provided timber for the fort.
"There are not so many trees as there once were, wooden forts require a large amount of timber and maintenance, but some of the old groves are left. I warn you now, stay away from the groves. They were evil places once and some say the evil still lingers. Men have entered the groves, only to be brought out as corpses. The treasures we gave them are long gone, but something still remains. Maybe it's the old gods taking their revenge for the loss of their offerings. Maybe they're offended because no one worships them anymore. But whatever you do, you must stay away. This is important to me, Fabian. I want you to promise me you will never enter them. Never."
He sounded commanding though he did not order me. So sincere and earnest did he seem that I promised him that I would do as he asked. I did not put much stock in his words, but I knew I would do well to avoid any chance encounter with any of the Galli that did not come from our own fort.
One day my uncle received orders from the Emperor himself to move the army to Britannia to reinforce the garrison that guarded Londoninium. Though the Iceni had been subdued, some of the tribes had become bold, initiating raids more frequently than before. Londoninium was still no more than an army camp, but it was growing, and settlers seeking to escape the raiding of the Cambri and Dumnoni, built homes outside the walls for safety. And where there was a legion, there were opportunities for the enterprising to make a profit.
Moving the Legion from Gaul to Brittania was no small task. A Legion was a small city, and we were literally sailing that small city across the channel. It was a hard thing for some of the soldiers, many had taken women of Gaul for substitute wives and had children. There were many sad goodbyes, and few of the families would ever be re-united. But soldiers were soldiers, and they knew their duty. They were Romans first and husbands second, though there were always a chance that a few would desert to remain with their families. The penalties for desertion were severe, and few risked it.
I was miserably seasick during the crossing. Tristan brought me some heated wine and some bread, and told me to not look at the horizon. That seemed to help and I spent the time it took us to cross on deck. The galley slaves smelled of sweat and unwashed flesh, causing my nausea started to return, but, we were almost to Brittania and I made up my mind up not to be sick. If I'd given in, though, I would have been in good company. Many men were sick from the moment we shoved off until we made landing in Brittania.
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 I faced. 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 that scared me. 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 in the 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 Londoninium. 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 the 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 really 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, and be counted on not to faint, 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—something that I had had no chance to do. 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, Brittannia 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 backwards 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 creature's. 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. Don't worry. I'll always be there. 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."
I asked a stupid question. "Was Tristan 'Tristan'?"
Fabi smiled, "Yes, he was. Over the years we'd lose touch with each other, but we've always managed to find one another. Tristan is close to my age, vampire-wise. I think he was made around the time that Rome invaded Gaul. The vampire who made him must have been very old, Tristan has been a sun walker the entire time I've known him. 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. Eventually you'll meet other vampires in this city. It's a good place for us, lots of rainy and cloudy days, short summers and early falls. I wouldn't tell anyone about your being able to tolerate daylight, some unscrupulous vampires traffic in sun walkers' blood.
"I don't understand Rainer, if he knows what Tristan will do to him. What makes him so foolish as to try to attack Isolde?" It was not long before Fabi gave me his answer.
"Revenge. Pure and simple revenge. Maybe for having been made a vampire, maybe just for being born. I don't know, 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 a German vampire who doesn't seem to know better."
"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."
I went back to my room and finished organizing my books, my computer, my movies. Things didn't feel right the way they had when Tristan and Isolde were here. It was like we were existing in a vacuum. Sure, I now possessed two older, self-appointed older brothers, but if that were the case I was missing my mother: Isolde.
I picked up a book that I was reading for my Roman history class, and turned to the chapter that I had left off. I started reading, and realized that I was reading the story of the German hero Arminius who had defeated the Romans in the Teutoborg Forest. I had read half of the chapter when something struck me, and I started feeling sick to my stomach.
Rainer. Rainer who seemed to hate Tristan as much as he'd allowed himself to become dependent upon him. Rainer who seemed to hate everyone, but what had Fabi said? Rainer was the way he was because he wanted revenge. If I was right—if--he could have become a vampire around the same time as Tristan. That meant that as a vampire he might be older than Fabi.
I did a cheat and looked up Arminius on Wikipedia. According to the article, Germanicus defeated the Germans twice. Tristan was a Gaul who fought with the Romans, Fabi was a Roman, so did Rainer torment Isolde because he hated Tristan and Fabi? Or all Romans in general? Had he seen Tristan during the battle? Oh God, had he recognized Tristan and Fabi when he met them? If what Rainer wanted the most was revenge, maybe it was revenge against Romans—or maybe Tristan and Fabi in particular.
"I don't want to believe this," I said to no one in particular. This was too crazy. Tristan and Fabi were intelligent, and what's more, they had lived through this era. I couldn't be thinking something they hadn't already considered. I wondered if it would do me any good to ask Fabi, or maybe it would be better to wait until Tristan returned and confront him. All I really knew was that I was being confronted with too much information, overwhelming information.
I had no idea that something horrendous was going to present itself and drive the mystery of who Rainer really was out of my mind.
Interlude—How I Imagine it is for Tristan and Isolde:
The bright winter sun shines down on Tristan and Isolde as they stroll along the beach on Santorini. The days seem endless as they wander around the island, exploring ruins and marveling at the freshness of the colors of the frescoes that had been preserved by the pyroclastic eruption that destroyed the little island of Thera. The plume of smoke that rises from the sea is a reminder that the volcano is not dead and could come once again to life.
Neither regret the absence of the warmth of the summer weather. It is as if they have the island to themselves, not having to share it with tourists. Isolde has lost the hunted look that she had when they left, and she has gained some weight. She no longer looks so fragile, as if the slightest touch would shatter her into a million tiny pieces.
Tristan is always watching for signs of the old ones who haunt these small islands. He sees shadows blending into the ruins, ducking into the deserted doorways and alleyways of the ruins they visit. He has no wish to encounter any of his own kind, he only wishes to protect Isolde. He sees them there, though, always watching. He is wise enough to know that he is still not the oldest of vampires—there are far older than he, hiding in old temples and crypts, coming out only at night.
It is easier to be here on Santorini where he never traveled in the old days. Going to Greece and Rome will be harder for there he has many memories. The old places of his memories are long gone, torn or scattered, or only the Forum, the Coliseum, and a few of the old temples and palaces are left. How many of his old acquaintances are there, he wonders. He would like to avoid Rome so he can avoid the memories, but Isolde loves Rome and Milan.
Tomorrow they will leave for Crete to visit the ruins at Knossos. From there they will make their way through Greece, ending their journey at the Great Lion Gates of Mycenae. After that they will travel to Milan and Rome, before making their way home at last.
"We can skip Rome if you want," Isolde interrupts his thoughts, "We can always fly from Athens to Paris, or London. I know how painful this is for you, how many memories it evokes, no matter how the world has changed."
He squeezes her, crushing her to him. "It is one and the same to me, my love. The world as I knew it is gone. I never came here, but Alexandria, Rome, Athens, Cairo, even Paris and London were once Roman cities. There is not much in Europe that Rome did not touch. It is hard to see how the world has changed."
Isolde, too, has seen the shadows, but she will not tell Tristan. Neither will she share her fear of Rainer with him, knowing it is likely that the boys could not find him. She will be safe now in the shelter of her house, and Tristan will keep his vigilance. Tristan will never know of the fears she keeps from him. Or that she knows how painful it is for him every time they travel to the Mediterranean, that he has to struggle to keep his memories at bay. For the moment they have each other and that must be enough. They turn and walk back towards there hotel, stopping only to visit the ruins buried by the volcano for one last time.
That, at least, is how I imagine it for them, the good and the bad. I am glad Tristan took Isolde away, she can't see that we have not been able to find Rainer, but neither has he come back to the house, which for now will have to do. It will be better when she comes home, we miss them and the house seems emptier without Isolde here.
I have gone back to school, as she wanted. It took a lot of explaining and maneuvering to get back to my classes after a week's absence, but I did it. I have to prove to my professors that I am serious about wanting to resume my studies. Strangely, being a vampire has helped that. I have developed powers of concentration I did not possess before, and when I focus on my studies it is with an intensity that is new to me. I had a half finished paper that was due, and to my surprise I finished it in a single night, earning a "B" instead of the "A" I would have received had I turned it on time. The mysteries of math have revealed themselves to me, and chemistry has become a fountain of new discoveries as opposed to the battleground it was before.
I am even thinking of changing my major to archaeology. I will never have to worry about money again, so why not study something I have always been interested in, instead of business administration, which I hate. I have already chosen classes for next quarter which reflect my new direction, and I will meet with an advisor so that I can change my major. I know this will delight Isolde, though she has never said anything to me. I feel like my life is starting to open up.
Fabi often sits with me while I do math. It amazes him how different, yet similar, it is from when he learned it as a young man. Once in a while he can help me solve a problem and it is a source of delight to both of us. Every day we boys learn something new from each other. I have been an only child all life and now I have two older brothers, and all the feelings and frustrations that comes from having siblings. This new life of mine suits me in a way I would not have imagined.
And it is almost bearable being a vampire.
I feed early this night. Fabi and Claude are out carousing by the airport, which means they are pimp hunting. Though I, too, have become a killer, it sometimes surprises me to see how bloodthirsty they are. They aren't like that when they take me hunting.
I can't hunt with them. When I do, it's like I'm watching my two best friends, no, my brothers, turn into monsters. They are lightening quick when they strike their prey, no snake could be so fast. They sink their canines into helpless victims, tossing them into alleys or dumpsters so no one will see them. I know they're hunting the worst of the worst. They have shown me big rolls of bills in their pockets, the packages of heroin. I've seen the girls these monsters exploit, but I still shudder to watch how quickly and carelessly my friends kill.
I have toyed with the idea of raiding hospitals and blood banks so that I can have a ready supply of blood without having to kill, but it is my nature is to stalk my prey and kill. I never considered this when I consented to let Tristan restore me to life as a vampire, I was only thinking of pay back for Julie. Now the full weight of my decision has come back to haunt me. I never envisioned myself as a killer, but this is what I have become.
A sound starts as a light tapping at the door, then grows to a more insistent knock. I ignore it to see if it goes away, then the knocking becomes almost a pounding. I close my new laptop a gift from Fabi, and look up at the clock. Ten o'clock, neither early nor late, but too late for someone to be knocking at a stranger's door. We encourage no acquaintances, but if we did, they would never be given knowledge of this house. We live as anonymously, as obscurely as we can to discourage curiosity.
The knocking won't stop. I get up from the table and go to the front door. I peer out the peephole to see who it is, but I do not recognize him. I wish that Claude and Fabi were home, they would know how better to deal with this. I wish the stranger would stop knocking, but no such luck.
I stand in front of the door for a few moments, thinking, "go away, go away," but to no avail, so I open the door just enough to address the visitor on the other side.
I don't like his eyes. His hard, blue gaze takes my measure, wondering who I am. I know in an instant he is not here by accident, and I don't know if I could make him leave as Tristan would. He, in turn, is looking up at me and dismissing me as only a kid, one who he could take with no trouble. He has the look of a hard, mean man, though his looks belie it, he is of medium height and well formed, and maybe in the old days I would be fooled by him into trusting him.
"My name is Mark King. Have you seen this woman?" He thrusts a picture into my face. He has no manners, he hasn't even waited for me to speak in my own home. "Someone said they saw a woman who could have been her, here, in this neighborhood. She's my wife, I've been looking for her for the past five years, even since she disappeared. Her name's Estella," he continued eagerly.
I school my features, hide my feelings, for the face in front of me is Isolde's. I must not give her away, I must do everything I can to keep her from this man. It is Isolde, but with longer, darker hair and no glasses. The photo is a face shot, you can see her smiling for the camera, but the smile is not meeting her eyes. I remember how Tristan told me he found her, how he gave her back her life as he gave me mine. Poor Isolde, did she have an inkling of her fate when she met this man?
Tristan will want to know of this. I do not want to give too much away and encourage this stranger, but if he is the one who tried to kill Isolde, I want him to pay. He is solving my problem and writing his name and number on the back of the picture. I wonder why. Does he suspect something? Does he know that Isolde is here? Does he think we know her whereabouts? What makes him think I would tell him anything?
"Here," he hands the picture to me, "If you see or hear anything, call me at this number. I haven't heard from my wife in five years and this is the first news I've had of her." He can see me looking at him, and there is nothing friendly or encouraging in my eyes, but he is choosing to ignore it. "Thank you." He says and foolishly turns his back on me.
I wait until he has left the yard, then quietly close the door. My canines are aching, they have never done this before. I want to run after him and seize him and drain him dry, but too many eyes are watching in this suburban neighborhood.
I pull out my IPhone and text Fabi and Claude. 'COME HOME NOW, IT'S IMPORTANT". Shoving my phone in my back pocket, I grab my jacket and head down to the garage. I do not know how long they will take to respond, but it will be half an hour or more before they get home. Just enough time for me to take the little Boxter out of the garage and drive to the U-District. I am going to grab the first kill that I can, no matter whether they deserve death or not. I am going to sink my fangs in their neck and drain them dry while I pretend they're the man on the porch. And if he comes back, I am going to suck him dry before he can harm my beloved Isolde.
Ben Gauger: Kudos to Bryan Laesch, author of Remnants of Chaos:Chaotic Omens for his use of the Gothic style of writing and in addition the footnotes and endnotes at the end of each chapter, a welcome accompaniment to be sure, though his use of grammar could use a little improving, but his use of punctuation...
Sarah_M_G: This story was truly gripping from start to finish. The way the author used Scottish dialect throughout the novel really helped to put you in he in the place where it was all happening. Every character was well described and thought out. How they all fitted together really worked and loved how t...
Tanya Daigle Rusheon: This book is a long and twisty tale full of sweet romance, adorable fluff, anxiousness, trust issues, mind games, things that don't make sense until suddenly they do, heartache and reconciliation just when you need it the most. If that all sounds a bit vague, it's because I really don't want to s...
MusketeerAdventure: Well - I really enjoyed this very much! The whole idea of a shared haunting really intrigues me. I thought you did a wonderful job; and I really liked the idea of hearing from the first ghost's point of view. It would be interesting to read more about these two - and the ghost-busters that inf...
Resting-Madness: I've been in love that strongly, that I could see myself in the same situation as Surgio. The slow crawl of desperation was well depicted, I could feel myself leaning close to the screen, like he and I were conspiring together on how to construct this Frankenstein of Adela. And that's written thr...
gunter1987: I just want to say here that this is my first review, but I really wanted to review this story. I apologize if I don't write English to well, I am French.Reading through the many science fiction stories posted here and other places in the world, I started to see a few linking themes: heavy-hande...
AJDay: Hello JaimePAvane,So, this is my first review on this site, and I am glad I found your story. I like where you are going with it and I am curious to see what future chapters look like. Firstly, your narrator; I love that she is describing not just her life but the world around her. Obviously a wo...
FreakyPoet: "you made me laugh, made me cry, both are hard to do. I spent most of the night reading your story, captivated. This is why you get full stars from me. Thanks for the great story!"
Sara Joy Bailey: "Full of depth and life. The plot was thrilling. The author's style flows naturally and the reader can easily slip into the pages of the story. Very well done."