CHAPTER ONE: No Joy In Blood
Monsters—that’s what outsiders call us. Human or otherwise, they never come to our lands; they only murmur in dim-lit taverns, telling horror stories over glasses of ale. They turn my race, the Druen, into bloodsucking murderers, and their skills at fabrication know no limit. But despite this, I like to think my heart, though it does not beat, is far from dead.
I grew up in a fishing village on the coast. Drastheon is small, but I’ve always been proud of my town. We do not practice the dark rites of the capital, where the soldiers sacrifice every firstborn child as a bloodmeal to the rich.
Of course, if we did practice that rite, my family would benefit. As a member of the House Rabaam, I resided in the largest home in Drastheon. Our home, simply called “The Manor,” was sprawling and huge, composed of stone, with a red tile roof. It lay toward the outskirts of town. The out-of-town royals and bards often remarked favorably about Manor’s innards. We had only the finest furnishings: glass cups, painted porcelain dishes, varnished teak furniture, and ornamental eggs. Despite this, we tried to withhold our pretensions; some of the less fortunate in Drastheon despised us for our luck. But it really wasn’t luck, you see.
My grandfather was responsible for it all. My parents named me after him: Dralynthi. Nocturne. He was a well-known entrepreneur. His business consisted of the purchase and sale of slaves—mostly Elven slaves, but sometimes humans picked from the far reaches. They would cook, or clean, or sleep with their masters, but their lives always ended as a blood meals, when they grew old or ineffectual. This had been the fate of all our family slaves—Men and Elves, girls and boys.
I was twenty years old, one unseasonably cold day in what should have been late spring. A deep layer of snow covered the roofs of the houses and huts.
A cluster of ramshackle buildings surrounded the village square. In the center was a stand where I could always find the fishmonger. He sold haddock, fresh blue haddock, every day. He sold his produce every day, without fail, except for feast-days. He’d been in the trade since before I was born.
Right beside him, just a few yards away, I noticed something different: a wooden cage. It was composed of varnished pinewood bars. Yet the thing inside was the most interesting part. A human stood there. She was about my age. She looked young, and her skin was smooth and un-blistered by work. Her hair, a dark brown, hung to her hips in a long ponytail. Her thin, dark brows complemented her deep blue eyes perfectly. And yet her demeanor struck me, most of all.
Most slaves shook and cried and begged for freedom, when they came to Druen lands. They never earned our sympathy.
Yet this girl was not afraid. She had a look that seemed to say, “Try me.”
As my gaze upon her lingered, my reaction surprised me. A deep desire overcame me. She was the most beautiful creature I’d ever seen. I knew very little of her, truly, but I imagined everything else: strong and un-submissive, but with a good heart behind the iron shell.
Humans were off limits as wives. Having any meaningful relationship with her would brand me as a traitor to my pure
Elvish race. This aversion to human relations was common among all the Elf Tribes—but with the Druen, doing so carried the penalty of death. Yet looking at this girl—this slave—did more things to me than any person I had ever met in Drastheon or elsewhere.
“Nocturne!” shouted a voice I knew very well. The voice of my neighbor, Dreddani. The salutation was accompanied, as I expected, by a pungent wave of body odor.
I suppressed a groan. “Dreddani,” I said.
“Cold day, eh?”
“Strange weather for this late in the year, eh?”
“Snow’s sure pilin’ up, eh?”
I said nothing. Neither did he, for a while. I thanked every god and spirit whenever Dreddani’s mouth was shut. Such rare occasions were a divine gift. I say this only as a matter of speech; I do not believe in the gods, or that anything should be called a god.
Dreddani spoke again; proof for my disbelief. “Pretty good lookin’ slave they got there. She’d make a good maid. O’ course, she might very well do more than cleanin’, eh? Eh?”
“I got three crowns saved up. I might buy her, maybe, if no one wants her.”
“You’re too poor to outbid me,” I said.
“You want her?” Dreddani put one of his meaty hands on my shoulder.
I flinched. “Not necessarily.”
“Well, then I might buy her. I might bed her and then drink ‘er dry.”
I shook his hand off my shoulder and snarled. “That is an incredible waste, Dreddani! A complete waste of a healthy slave. Three crowns for one night of fun, and a good dinner—doesn’t that sound impulsive? And incredibly idiotic?”
“Well, I don’t know.”
I struck him hard with my hand and he yelped. I headed back home. And completely forgot about dinner.
My mother, Drassané, threw a fit when she saw my empty hands. “Nocturne Gangimmi Emorthi Drethuli Rabaam!”
I had long learned to block out her shrill voice. She was old and old-fashioned, in her late 160s. She wore a necklace of pearls and paid excessive attention to her graying hair.
My father was similarly old and old-fashioned, in his early 200s, and had a very antiquated view on life: Marry only a Druen from your home village; lie with one woman, your wife; do not drink the blood of your fellow Druen. Control your bloodlust and only drink when you must, and when it is appropriate and civil.
“You must march right back and get us our dinner,” Mother said, and sighed. “Oh, Nocturne, you’re so scatterbrained.”
I nodded. “Yes, mother.” I turned and opened the door a crack.
“I love you, Nocturne.”
“I love you too, Mother.”
The fishmonger’s produce was crusted over by ice. Only eight fish remained. The slave girl stood a few yards away, her hands grasping the bars.
I approached the fishmonger briskly. “I’ll have some haddock.”
Scars covered every inch of the fisherman’s face. He always had the appearance of biting into a sour grape. “Four for two silver,” he said. “By the way, this girl’s three crowns. Nice deal, if I do say so myself.”
“You’re selling her?” I asked.
“Yeh. Came by this morning,” said the fishmonger. “Three crowns, that’s it.”
I trudged up to the girl. I was a little nervous. “What’s your name?” I said.
Her eyes narrowed. She frowned. “My name is ‘Shut-Your-Fangs.’”
I smiled faintly. She had boundless energy, something good for a wife. But this marriage would have to be secret.
“What’s your name, really?” I asked.
“Go away,” she said.
I walked over and tossed two silver coins onto the fishmonger’s table. Then I walked back to the cage and said, “I’m Nocturne.” I reached through the cage bars and forced her to look at me. I said, “You are pretty.”
“Don’t make me hit you,” she said, eyeing my groin.
I ran my fingers along her cheek. “You are so tense,” I said.
She jerked away. “I’ll scream, if you touch me again.”
“What good would that do?”
The fishmonger called out, “Nocturne! You gonna take your haddock, or you gonna sit there ‘n flirt? Come on!”
He successfully redirected my attention. I grabbed a handful of the frozen haddock. Hopefully, Mother would make a good dinner tonight.
Mother served the pan-fried haddock on silver plates. It was delicious. But my thoughts drifted constantly, back to the slave and how cheaply I could free her. And how no one had ever drawn me in so strongly. What did I have to lose? I had everything to gain.
She was rude, but perhaps if she got to know me, she would like me more. By the time I had placed the last bit of haddock in my mouth, and drank the last drop of mead from my cup, I had made my decision.
I would march straight back to the village square and purchase her for the three crowns she was going for.
Yet when I returned, she was gone. The fishmonger was packing up his wooden table, apparently ready to go home.
“What happened to the girl?” I asked. I clutched the three gold coins in my fingers, feeling like a fool.
“Oh, her?” he asked. “Eh, Dreddani bought ‘er. You’re too late.”
“Dreddani!” The fat bastard would probably do what he said he would—lie with her and drink her dry. She deserved more than that fat pig, even if she was human. She deserved an upstanding Druen from a good family, someone who thought more of her than as a bloodmeal. She deserved me.
I dashed down the road, as fast as I could. Snowflakes drifted from the sky with blinding number, and a freezing wind blasted out of the sea. I ran down the road, knowing that I had very little time. It took only a minute or so to fully drink a human’s blood. I sprinted as hard as I could, but my legs just wouldn’t carry me any faster.
I passed by the Manor, where my mother and father were doubtlessly reclining, unaware of the slave-girl’s plight.
Dreddani’s house was a short run from there. I continued my sprint, knowing I’d soon collapse in exhaustion; I wasn’t used to running. Finally, I arrived.
Someone screamed from inside Dreddani’s shack. I dashed at the door, blood boiling in my veins. My fangs contracted of their own accord. I dashed to his doorstep and gave it a powerful kick, but it wouldn’t budge. I kicked it again and again. With each kick the door splintered; the hinges shuddered and weakened.
Dreddani’s voice called out from within. “Who the hell is it?”
“Help me!” screamed the slave-girl.
I kicked harder than ever and the door gave way, splitting open with a loud crack. Dreddani had his fangs sunk into the girl’s neck, drinking her down fast. My mind burned, my hands shook, with anger.
I charged at him, and ripped him away. Two puncture-holes pocked the slave-girl’s neck.
I sank my fangs into his neck. Felt his blood rush up through my gums. The high was indescribable. The arousing blood took my mind soaring to unthinkable heights. I drank deeply, as Dreddani struggled against me. For a second, I thought I could understand the passion of the Morthen, who dedicated their life to pursuing the Druen’s greatest pleasure.
I continued until Dreddani weakened. He was fat and out of shape, and soon his legs gave out. And yet, once I had drunk the last drop of blood, I questioned the immense pleasure. The unfulfilling sensation seemed so pointless. Regret overcame me and I realized there is no joy in blood.
The girl was ashen-faced. She had fallen onto the floor, her body gone limp. I would rescue her. I would take care of her. I grabbed her and lifted her into my arms, letting her head recline on my shoulder.
I staggered outside into the blinding snow. It seemed like the darkest depths of winter had come once again, with its endless nights and penetrating cold. Down the road, I saw a village boy running towards town screaming about my betrayal. Soon, the whole village be roused. I was a traitor; I had murdered a Druen for the sake of a slave.
I dashed through the doors of the Manor with the slave in my arms. I frantically told my mother what happened, as I held the slave’s unconscious body.
The tears started pouring. “Oh, Nocturne, you fool! You damnable fool! They’ll kill you, you know. You damned foolish boy.” She sobbed. “Oh, they’ll kill you now. Why in the world would you do this? Run, Nocturne. And don’t forget me.”
“I could never forget you, Mother.”
I set her down briefly and ran for the closet. I grabbed a large bearskin coat and wrapped the slave-girl within it.
Humans, unlike Druen, can die from cold weather. I went to the kitchen, and grabbed a satchel full of dried meats.
Then, I left.
The town sounded the alarm. They grabbed daggers and knives and fishing-spears; whatever they could kill me with.
They ran out of their homes to look for me, but I slipped into the taiga. I ran into the forest eaves with Katrina in my arms.
I had betrayed my race for a human girl. As I dashed into the icy pine forest, I knew what I had done. I had sacrificed my life on a whim. I had ruined any chance of living in Drastheon.
I had made the right decision.