THE BLOODLETTER'S WAR CAMP, OLD COUNTRY, 1644
He wished he had more time.
Although for truth, what would that change? Time mattered only if one did something with it, and he had already done what he could herein.
Darius, begotten son of Tehrror, forsaken son of Marklon sat on a dirt floor with his diary open on his knee and a beeswax candle in front of him. His illumination was naught but the small flame that swayed in a draft, and his room was the far corner of a cave. His clothing was made from rough, battle-ready leather, and his boots were of the same construction.
In his nose, the stench of male sweat and pungent earth mingled with the sweet death-decay of lessers' blood.
Each breath he took seemed to magnify the stink.
Flipping through the parchment pages, he went back in time, reversing the days one by one until he was no longer here at the war camp.
He longed for "home" with a physical ache, his sojourn in this camp an amputation, rather than a relocation.
He had been raised in a castle where elegance and grace had been the very fabric of life. Within the stout walls that had protected his family from humans and lessers alike, every night had been as warm and rose- scented as those of July, the months and years passing with ease and leisure. The fifty rooms through which he had oft wandered had been appointed with satins and silks, and furniture made of precious woods, and woven rugs, not rushes. With oil paintings that glowed in their gilt frames, and marble statuary affecting dignified poses, it was a platinum setting to anchor a diamond existence.
And so it would have been unfathomable then that he would ever find himself where he was now. There had been, however, a vital weakness in the foundation of that life of his.
The beating heart of his mother had given him his right to be under that roof and held within that cosseted hearth. And when that loving, vital organ had stopped within her breast, Darius had lost not only his birthed mahmen , but the only home he had ever known.
His stepfather had cast him out and relegated him herein, an enmity long hidden thus exposed and acted upon.
There had been no time to mourn his mother. No time to puzzle over the abrupt hatred of the male who had all but sired him. No time to pine for the identity he'd had as a male of good breeding within the glymera .
He had been dropped at the enterance of this cave like a human who had succumbed to the plague. And the battles had begun afore he ever saw a lesser or began training to fight the slayers. In his first night and day within the belly of this camp, he had been attacked by fellow trainees who viewed his fine clothing, the only set he'd been permitted to take with him, as evidence he was weak of arm.
He had surprised not only them, but himself during those dark hours.
It was then that he had learned, as did they, that although he had been reared by an aristocratic male, in Darius's blood were the components of a warrior. Indeed, not just a soldier. Nay, a Brother. Without being taught, his body had known what to do and had responded to physical aggression with chilling action. Even as his mind struggled with the brutality of his deeds, his hands and feet and fangs had known precisely what exertion was necessary.
There had been another side of him, unknown, unrecognized . . . that somehow seemed more "him" than the reflection he had so long regarded within leaded glass.
Over time, his fighting had grown even more proficient . . . and his horror at himself had lessened. For truth, there was no other path upon which to tread: The seed of his true father and his father's father and his grandfather's sire had determined his skin and bone and muscles, the pure warrior bloodline transforming him into a powerful force.
And a vicious, deadly opponent.
Indeed, he found it highly disturbing to have this other identity. It was as if he cast two shadows upon the ground o'er which he tread, as if wherever he stood there were two separate light sources that illuminated his body. And yet, although conducting oneself in such a loathsome, violent manner offended the sensibilities he'd been taught, he knew it was part of the higher pur pose he was destined to serve. And it had saved him time and time again . . . from those who sought to harm him inside the camp, and from the one who seemed to wish them all dead. Indeed, the Bloodletter was supposedly their whard , but he acted more like an enemy, even as he instructed them in the ways of war.
Or perhaps that was the point. War was ugly no matter the facet shown, whether it was preparation or participation.
The Bloodletter's teaching was brutal and his sadistic dictates demanded actions of which Darius would have no part. Verily, Darius was always the winner in conflict contests between trainees . . . but he did not partake of the raping that was punishment inflicted upon those bested. He was the only one whose refusal was honored. His denial had been challenged once by the Bloodletter, and when Darius had nearly beaten him, the male had never approached again.
Darius's losers, among which all in the camp were numbered, were punished by others, and it was during these times, when the rest of the camp was occupied by spectacle, that he most frequently took solace in his diary. Verily, at the now, he could not countenance even a glance in the direction of the main fire pit, for one of the sessions was taking place.
He hated that he had caused the events to transpire yet again . . . but he had no choice. He had to train, he had to fight, and he had to win. And the sum resulting from that equation was determined by the Bloodletter's law.
From over at the fire pit, grunting and cheers of lusty derision rose.
His heart ached so at the sounds and he closed his eyes. The one currently exacting the punishment in Darius's place was a vicious male, out of the mold of the Bloodletter. He frequently stepped up to fill the void as he enjoyed the dispensation of pain and humiliation as much as he did his mead.
But mayhap it would be no longer thus. At least for Darius.
This night would be his test in the field. After having been trained for a year, he was going out not just with warriors, but Brothers. It was a rare honor--and a sign that the war with the Lessening Society was, as always, dire. Darius's innate expertise had gained notice, and Wrath, the Fair King, had decreed that he was to be taken out of the camp and developed further by the best fighters the vampire race had.
The Black Dagger Brotherhood.
All could be for naught, however. If this night he proved to be capable solely of training and the sparring with others of his ilk, then he would be cast back unto this cave for more of the Bloodletter's brand of "teaching."
Never to be tried by the Brothers again, relegated to serve as a soldier.
One had a single chance with the Brotherhood, and the test this moonlit eve was not about fighting styles or weaponry. It was a test of heart. Could he look into the pale eyes of the enemy and smell their sweet odor and keep his head calm whilst his body did act upon those slayers--
Darius's eyes lifted up from the words he had put upon parchment a lifetime ago. In the cave's innermost entryway, a band of four stood tall and thick shouldered and heavily weaponed.
Members of the Brotherhood.
He knew this quartet by name: Ahgony, Throe, Murhder, Tohrture.
Darius closed his diary, slid it into a fissure of rock, and licked the slice in his wrist that he had made to create "ink." His quill made from a pheasant's tail feather was failing fast, and he wasn't sure whether he would ever be back here again to use it, but he tucked it away.
As he picked up the candle and lifted it to his mouth, he was struck by the buttery quality of the light. He'd spent so many hours writing by such kind, soft illumination . . . in fact, that seemed the only tie he had between his life of the past and his current existence.
He blew out the small flame with a single breath.
Getting to his feet, he gathered his weapons: a steel dagger that he had been given off the cooling body of a dead trainee, and a sword that was from the communal training weapons stall. Neither hilt had been fitted for his palm, but his wielding hand cared not.
As the Brothers looked his way and offered neither greeting nor dismissal, he wished that among them was his real father. How different this would all feel if he had at his side one who cared what his outcome would be: He looked not for quarter given, and sought no special dispensation, but he was ever alone now, set apart from those around him, separated by a divide he could see across but never cover.
To be without family was a strange, unseeable prison, the bars of loneliness and rootlessness enclosing ever more tightly as years and experience accumulated, isolating a male such that he touched naught and naught touched him.
Darius did not look back at the camp as he walked toward the four who had come for him. The Bloodletter knew that he was going out into the field and didn't care whether or not he returned herein. And the other trainees were likewise.
On the approach, he wished he had more time to ready himself for this test of will and strength and courage. But it was now and here.
Verily, time moved forward even if you wanted it to slow to a crawl.
Stopping afore the Brothers, he yearned for a bracing word or a well wish or a pledge of faith from someone. As there was none coming, he offered up a brief prayer to the sacred mother of the race:
Dearest Virgin Scribe, please let me not fail in this.