THE OLD COUNTRY, 1731
Firelight thrown from a shallow pit clawed across the damp walls of the cave, the rough rock face bleeding shadows. Outside the earthen womb, a great snowstorm raged, howls of bitter wind echoing into the throat of the shelter, joining the screams of the female upon the birthing pallet.
“’Tis a male young,” she panted a’twix her contracting burden. “A male!”
O’er her recumbent, straining flesh, looming as a curse upon her, the Black Dagger Brother Hharm cared naught for her pain.
“We shall learn soon enough.”
“You will mate me. You promised—”
Her words choked off and her face squeezed into ugliness as her innards contorted to expel his progeny, and as he played witness, Hharm reflected how unattractive this aristocrat was in her laboring. She had not been thus when he had first met her and seduced her. Then, she had been proper and satin-clad, an appropriate vessel for his legacy with perfumed skin and shining, bouncy hair. Now? She was nothing but an animal, sweated and stringy—and whyever was this taking so long? He was so bored by the process, offended that he had to attend to her. This was the work for females, not a warrior such as himself.
But he was not mating her unless he had to.
If this was the son he had prayed for? Then yes, he would legitimize the young through a proper ceremony and give this female the status she was calling her due. If not? He would walk away and she would say nothing, because in the eyes of her class, she was be-fouled, her purity lost as her field had been plowed.
Indeed, Hharm had decided it was time for him to settle down. After centuries of debauchery and depravity, his age was setting upon him and he was considering for the first the legacy he would leave behind. At the current, bastards abounded, fruits of his loins that he knew not of, cared not for, associated never with—and for so long, that had been an acceptable by-product of him being accountable to naught and no one.
Now, though … he found himself wanting a proper family tree. And there was also the issue of a number of wagering debts, something this female’s father could readily discharge for him—although again, if this was not a son, he was not mating her. He wasnae crazed, nor willing to whore himself out for pence. Further, there were countless females from the glymera who coveted the status that came with mating a member of the Black Dagger Brotherhood.
Hharm would not commit until he had a male offspring to raise properly from night one.
“Oh, do compose yourself,” he snapped as she screamed again and his ears rang. “Be silent.”
As with all things, however, she defied him. “It’s coming …! Your son is arriving!”
The shift she had on was dragged up to the base of her distended breasts by her twisting, fisted hands, her stretched and rounded belly put on a shameless display, her thin and pale thighs spread wide. What transpired at her core was disgusting, that which should have been a delicate and lovely entry for to accept the arousal of a male leaking all manner of fluid and discharge, the flesh swollen and distorted.
No, he would ne’er penetrate that again. Son or naught, mating or not, the perversion upon his eyes the now was nothing he could unsee.
Fortunately, matings of convenience were commonplace among aristocrats—not that he would have cared if they were not. Her needs were hardly what was important.
“He is upon you!” she shouted as her head fell back and her fingers scratched at the earth beneath her. “Your son … he is upon you!”
Hharm frowned and then widened his stare and his stance. She was not misapprised. For truth, there was a thing emerging from her interior … it was …
An abomination. A terrible, misshapen—
A foot. ’Twas a foot?
“Take your son from my body,” she commanded between pants. “Pull him from me and hold him upon your beating heart, know he is flesh of your flesh!”
With his weapons and his battle gear latched upon his form, Hharm sank unto his knees as a second foot emerged.
“Pull him! Pull him!” Blood came forth and the female screamed again and the young did not vary its position. “Help me! He is affixed!”
Hharm stayed back from the straining mess and wondered how many of the females he had impregnated had gone through thus. Was it always so unpleasant, or was she just weak?
For truth, he should have let her do this on her own, but he did not trust her. The only way he could be certain that his young was male was to be at the birthing bed. Otherwise, he would nae have put it past her to swap out a far less desirable daughter for the coveted masculine offspring—of another’s loins.
This was, after all, a negotiated transaction, and he knew all too well how such things were readily tampered with.
The sound that next arose from the female’s open throat was of such volume and duration that it stopped his thoughts. Then came the grunting, the female’s dirty, bloodied hands gripping the insides of her thighs and pulling up and out, widening the gulch at her apex. And just when he thought for certain she was dying, when he debated whether he would have to bury them both—and he promptly decided not, as the creatures of the woods would consume the remains readily—the young popped forward some distance, clearing some internal obstacle.
And there it was.
Hharm lunged forth. “My son!”
Without another thought, he reached out his hands and grabbed hold of the slippery little ankles. It was alive, the young was kicking with force, struggling against the confinement of the birthing canal.
“Come to me, my son,” Hharm commanded as he pulled.
The female writhed in agony, but he gave no thought to her. Hands—tiny, perfectly formed hands—appeared next, along with the rounded belly and the chest that even in its nascent form promised great breadth.
“A warrior! ’Tis a warrior!” Hharm’s heart beat hard, his triumph thundering in his ears. “My son shall carry forth my name! He shall be known as Hharm as I was before he!”
The female lifted her head, the veins in her neck standing out like coarse ropes under her too-pale skin. “You shall mate me,” she rasped. “Swear to it … swear to it on your honor, or I shall hold him within me until he turns blue and enters the Fade.”
Hharm smiled coldly, baring his fangs. And then he unsheathed one of his black daggers from his chest. Angling the sharp point down, he placed it over her lower belly.
“I will gut you like a deer to free it quite readily, nalla.”
“And who would feed your precious son? Your seed shall not survive without me to succor him.”
Hharm thought about the raging storm outside. How far they were from vampire settlements. How little he knew of a young’s requirements.
“You will mate me as promised,” she groaned. “Swear it!”
Her eyes were bloodshot and crazed, her long hair sweated and tangled, her body naught that he could e’er a’rise again for. But her logic arrested him. To lose what he wanted in the face of precisely the arrangement he had been prepared to make, simply because she was presenting it as her will, was not a wise course.
“I swear it,” he muttered.
With that, she bore down anew, and yes, now he would aid her, tugging in rhythm to her pushes.
“He is coming … he is …”
The young arrived out of her in a rush, fluid bursting forth with him, and as Hharm caught his son in his palms, he knew an unexpected joy that was so resonant—
His eyes narrowed as he cast his vision upon the face. Thinking that there was membrane or the like masking the young, he cast his hand down the features that were a mixture of his and the female’s.
Alas … it changed naught.
“What curse is this?” he demanded. “What curse … is this!”
MOUNTAINS OF CALDWELL, NEW YORK, PRESENT DAY
The Black Dagger Brotherhood were keeping him alive, so that they could kill him.
Given the sum of Xcor’s earthly pursuits, which had been at their best violent, and at their worst downright depraved, it seemed an apt end for him.
He had been born upon a winter’s night, during a historic blizzard’s gale. Deep within a damp and dirty cave, as icy gusts had raked o’er the Old Country, the female who had carried him had screamed and bled to bring forth unto the Black Dagger Brother Hharm the son that had been demanded of her.