Author’s Note: I wrote this as an entry for the Historical Fiction contest run by Area5 Bloody Pen Contest in May of 2015. I had not originally planned for it to be part of the Swimming storyline, but as I integrated the Fae into the storyline, I realized that the premise of Eric and Niall’s first meeting created a context that explained some of the currents in their relationship. Now, I claim this as part of the saga. The banner was created after the story was published in September of 2015 by Sephrenia. When I think of Niall, I think of Lee Pace as Thranduil in LOTR, and then as Jason Isaacs in his role as Lucius Malfoy in his Bon Temps years. You will see that reflected in the banners, so it’s not meant as cross-over but my interpretation of the look of the Niall Brigant.
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
(Banner by Sephrenia)
“I don’t understand, Niall. Why would you allow a strange vampire to join us this year?” Rogan turned his head slowly so that he could see his brother and fellow monarch. The dark-haired ruler and his retinue had only recently arrived at Niall’s court from their northern kingdom home below the sea. The travel had been harder this time; more barriers and unexpected roadblocks. Still, the Hunt was a tradition that was anticipated and celebrated by all their people; Water and Sky Fae alike. Now, seated in comfort in a high backed chair with cushions all around, Rogan found himself grateful for the comfort of kin and the familiar. It made accepting any unexpected thing, no matter how insignificant, difficult.
The shaft of light from the overhead window captured the gold of the circlet crown that held the other man’s long hair from his face. “It is payment for a debt, brother. I ran across Appius Livius Ocella in London. You remember him?”
Rogan smiled, malicious amusement pulling up his finely chiseled lips. “The Roman? Yes, I remember him well. He was a decent bedfellow as long as he remembered his place. Dark eyes. Squealed the first time I breached him. It was most amusing.”
Niall smirked. “I take it he thought that the constellation would be different.”
Rogan shrugged. “I asked if he wanted to fuck me. He never specified top or bottom. His mistake.”
Niall laughed openly and said, “Well, I fucked him too, though differently. He should know better than to gamble with the Fae.”
Rogan roared, his eyes streaming in merriment. “A slow learner then. But isn’t that the way with these creatures?” Rogan sipped his wine before his smile turned somewhat predatory. “And this vampire? What has he to do with that old reprobate?”
“His vampire progeny. Ocella offered me the use of him as payment for the Roman’s debt.” Niall twirled the stem of his glass, watching the way the deep red wine caught the torchlight. “Appius boasts that his child is undefeated with a blade. Good with his hands. Has a nice mouth and knows how to use it well.”
Rogan shrugged. “And what is that to us; skills of no use at great inconvenience? You will have to secure him food and make sure his maker’s command prevents him from trying to drain us.”
Niall cocked his head to one side, “I wouldn’t call the skills useless, brother. It occurred to me that an extra sword in an unexpected package might be useful at the Hunt.” When Rogan’s eyebrows lifted, Niall continued. “Everyone will be here this year.”
“Everyone,” Rogan stated. “Everyone including Conn and his Pack?”
Niall smiled thinly. “Yes, including Conn. After all, what would the Samhain Hunt be without hounds?” The tradition of riding across the country, hell bent for leather with horse and hound had started long before Niall and his people had been driven underground.
Niall thought back to happier days when he had first assumed rule over the Sky Fae. They had lived then in the light in airy houses under the spreading branches of the trees. They had reveled in glens filled with dappled sunshine and floating thistledown on lazy summer afternoons and danced under the wide skies full of stars by night. They had been largely solitary but there had been some who had sought them out to ask favors or to learn from them. In those days Niall’s people were renowned for their beauty and nature lore and love of music.
But then their enemies had come from the south armed with cold iron and Christian crosses. These Christians had called the Fae necromancers, demons, and fallen angels. They had feared them and hunted them and killed all they could find; man, woman and child. Now the Sky Fae lived in great fortresses underground, their halls guarded by enchanted doors. They danced still but instead of the bright sun, their dancing was done to the flicker of torch and the shafts of light from hidden windows that opened to the world above.
While his brother, Rogan faced similar challenges in the north, the Water Fae were more insulated. Their choice of living beneath the water’s surface had allowed them some anonymity. Humans were more likely to dismiss sightings of human-like creatures near the water as stories and legends. But tall, handsome people with golden hair who moved in an ethereal light through the forests? Those ‘devil spawn’ were all too believable. In less than one hundred years, a speck in his long life, Niall had watched his people dwindle; first by the sword and then to succumb to the poison of the iron the humans brought with them into his land. The stronghold in which he now sat was one of the last where many of his people lived. And even here in this place there were now rooms that had fallen silent; no High Fae left to grace the hallways with laughter and song.
From the beginning there were other supernaturals who had shared the light of forest with them. Chief among those were the Weres. These peoples owed a traditional fealty to the High Fae and were often employed as guards and servants in fae halls. Less lithe; more muscular, the Weres looked entirely human except when the moon sailed above full and bright. Then the Weres shifted to their other state; their animal selves and they ran through the night chasing rabbit and boar and deer.
Lovers of dance and sport, the Fae naturally reveled in hunting. When the world was young the peoples, Fae and Were, would join regularly racing across field and through forest, horses and hounds together. But once the humans made their presence and their god a part of the world, the hunts became less frequent. Now it was only safe at night and at times that were not predictable in their pattern. But twice a year; at Beltane and Samhain, when the wheel turned and the veils between all the worlds was thinnest; then they gathered still for the great Hunt. Sometimes the Hunt was hosted by Rogan on the northern shores; the streams of horsemen flowing along the strand between sea and land. But other years, like this year, the Hunt returned to Niall and the Sky Fae to run through forest and over hill across the west-facing lands.
“Do you still suspect him, brother?”
“Of trying to kill me?” Niall asked. “Of course. Conn wants dominion of these lands and this hold. He does not acknowledge his place in this world and he would see himself set higher.”
Rogan smirked. “As if any simple animal could set himself above any fae. What are they after all? Hairy and brutish: Not capable of any but the most menial of work. Have you ever seen one capable of handling a harp? And their dancing! They look like bears trying to hop on one foot. Laughable!”
Niall grinned, “Even their women are graceless. They are bred for protection like any dog. They are meant to serve.” Then the grin faltered, “But since they started sending their people to the human schools they have started getting ideas. They think that because some of them can now read they are meant for something better.”
“It has given them dangerous ideas,” Rogan acknowledged. “I have had some of these more ‘enlightened’ ones present themselves to me acting as if they have a right to negotiate passage over my waters. No tribute. No asking.” Rogan sniffed. “As if they have anything that I’d want from them except their servitude.”
“But they have learned how to handle iron, Rogan. That they have learned,” Niall said coldly. “If there weren’t so many of them I’d be tempted to kill them all. They would be banished, like the snakes.”
Rogan snorted, “You could blame it on some saint.”
Niall shook his head. “I suppose. Christians are more troubling. I am told that their priests have been whipping them up to hunt us out again. They tore out the stones at Clonfert and threw up another of their churches. “Niall’s beautiful face and green eyes looked across the shadows of his hall. “They grow more numerous while we diminish.”
Rogan’s face became more thoughtful. “The time may be coming when we find ourselves faced with a choice. There are other worlds, both on this plane and others.” The elder of the brothers likewise turned his gaze to the shadowy corners of the room. “I, for one will be reluctant to leave. This place has ever suited me. I found my mate here. My son was born within this world.”
There was a movement to the right. The brothers turned to see Branna, Niall’s mate gliding toward them. Her eyes met Niall’s and she bowed, her expression cool and detached. “My lord,” she said.
Niall inclined his head, “My lady.” The monarch rose and offered her his chair, but the tall woman moved on as if she hadn’t seen his gesture.
“How were your travels, brother?” she asked politely.
Rogan’s eyes flicked from Niall to his mate. He had heard that the rift between them was still unhealed.
“More adventurous than was desired, but we are here. Breandan was most anxious to see Dillon. I doubt we will see either of them much before the day of the Hunt.”
Branna ran her fingers over the carvings on the nearby table as she said, “I was with my son when Breandan arrived. It is good for cousins to be close. Allies are needed in these perilous times.” Then she looked up and smiled tightly. Rogan could feel her animosity then; it was like a second presence in the room.
‘So,’ Rogan thought. ‘Branna’s dislike has chilled to hate.’ He glanced away, his sadness for his brother passing over his face.
The Fae Queen saw the shadow on her brother-in-law’s brow and misinterpreted. “I was most sorry to hear that Breandan’s mother passed to the Summerlands.”
Rogan nodded, “Thank you, most gracious lady. Her passing has been a great sadness to us all.” Rogan did miss her most sorely. His Aelidh had been merry and giving. Theirs had been a love match that only improved as the years passed them by. The birth of their son, Breandan had been another source of the joy that ran deeply between them. Her death had been sudden and tragic. Rogan still found himself unable to speak of her; not even her name without wondering why he hadn’t chosen to follow her to the Summerlands. He knew that Breandan had suffered both from the loss of his mother and his father’s inability to cope with that loss. Rogan hoped that the rift that now existed between them never grew to the chasm he now saw between Niall and Branna.
There was a knock at the door and then a guard who bowed low. “Lord, there is a vampire at the gate. He says you are expecting him.”
Niall took a deep breath and then turned to Rogan. “Will you join me, brother?” When Rogan inclined his head in assent Niall turned back to the guard. “I will receive him at the gate. Position archers on the walls and in the trees above. Wood arrows are best. Make sure he sees them and make sure they have a clear shot.” The guard rose, his hand on his breast and left to follow his lord’s orders.
Niall turned back to his lady. “Branna? Do you wish to accompany us?”
It was impossible to miss the sneer that twisted her otherwise pure features. “Why would I wish to have anything to do with something so loathsome? I can’t believe you know me so little that you would suggest it.”
Niall’s smile froze on his face. He wondered who’s bed and arms had given her the courage to bite at him in front of company. “I merely thought you might be curious. This child of Ocella is said to be handsome and deadly. One that we might have stolen to live among us in another time.”
Branna sniffed and turned back to the table with the carvings. “Why would I wish to see handsome creatures when I am so happily joined with you, lord?” The way that she said the words made clear the depth of her unhappiness.
Eric the North Man did not know what to expect. When Appius had first turned him they had rarely been parted. But life with Appius Livius Ocella was never easy. In fact life with his maker was often brutal and terrifying. Eric had found that he longed for the time when he would not be every moment in his maker’s presence. And then that time had come.
Eric quickly realized that Appius found pleasure in loaning Eric or trading Eric. While the Viking was a strong fighter, the purpose for which Eric was given to others was rarely to be found with a blade.
Initially Eric had found himself primarily ordered to perform sexual acts. Sometimes he was given to one partner; sometimes to many. Rarely did his assignments involve women. His maker knew that Eric had a preference for female companionship and that he valued his freedom to choose. It was as though the older vampire sought out situations that would deny the Viking either. He would tell his progeny that the purpose was to teach the younger vampire his place in the world. Eric knew, even through the feelings of longing and duty that the bond created, that his maker was a sadist. The assignments were not for Eric’s benefit; they were to feed Appius’ ego.
When Eric stopped showing his frustration and pain the nature of the assignments changed. There were still times that Appius would demand that Eric perform as a whore, but more often he provided him as slave labor. Eric would be asked to build stone walls or help in clearing sites. He could be asked to destroy houses or cut down trees. The work was never easy and the timeframes could be difficult. Sometimes Eric would find that his maker had set a bet against the work being completed in a particular way or before some predetermined mark. Then Eric would need to exert himself or face punishment from Appius for failing.
Sometimes the work would be dangerous and Eric would find himself injured. One time he lost a foot. Rather than allow his progeny time to heal, Appius had berated and beat him and then had him chained in a brothel until he could be useful again. Appius had left him there for almost 6 months. The madam had fed him just enough blood to survive but nothing extra. During day hours she would throw a tarp over him. When Appius returned and freed him, Eric had been unable to restrain himself from draining two of the brothel clients. The punishment had been terrible. There were blank periods during those months of punishment that even all these years later Eric still didn’t remember.
Eric knew of the Fae. He did not see them often, but he remembered the night that Appius has stumbled across a Fae youth. Appius had used him until the boy was unconscious and then had drained him dry. Eric huddled in the corner and watched in wonder as the boy turned to dust before his eyes. The other thing Eric remembered well was the near insanity that overcame Appius after ingesting the youth’s blood. He had had Eric fetch him a human and within an hour had killed that boy as well. Then he had turned his attentions to Eric. There was some consolation in knowing that regardless of the damage done; regardless of the act demanded that Eric would heal. There would be pain; there was always pain with Appius. Once the Viking came to accept that the rest was just a matter of time and patience.
Eric had lifted his head from a job repairing castle walls in Wales to find his maker staring at him. He had been able to feel Appius’ approach. Sometimes his maker would mask himself and Eric would not be able to tell when he was near. But this time he had allowed Eric to feel him for days; feel him getting closer. Eric had hurried to finish. If Appius had a purpose and was kept waiting the Viking knew he would bear the brunt of the Roman’s frustration.
If was almost dawn when Eric had fallen to his knees before his maker. Appius had instructed Eric to dig a hole large enough for the both of them and he had instructed the younger man to bury them carefully. When they rose the next night Appius had told Eric that he would be placed in a box and transported to Ireland by boat. Once there he would fly himself to the woods near Galway and make his way to the stronghold of the Fairy King. “You will be able to find him by smelling the air,” Appius had said. “The scent of the Fae will hang heavy and you will be sorely tempted to sink your fangs deep. But I command you as your maker to restrain yourself. You will not set one tooth into any Fae person until I release you.” Eric had felt the weight of the command press upon him like rocks.
He lowered his head and asked in his most pleading voice, “And what would you have me do to please you, master?” Eric did not need to see Appius’ face to know it held that mix of pleasure and contempt that it always held when Eric acted subservient.
“You will do anything you are asked to do. You will be theirs until I return to collect you. Specifically you will consider yourself a vassal of Niall, the ruler of the Sky Fae.” When Appius said no more Eric dared to lift his head. When he made eye contact, Appius told him, “Serve the Fae well. They are tricky but it would be useful to have them owe me a favor.”
Eric had done as instructed but as he approached the land of the Fae he made a stop at a local stream. He stepped to the river’s edge and scooped up handfuls of green mud. He rubbed the mud into his clothes and his hair. He had heard that the Fae were a sensual people. Eric had not been ordered to make himself attractive and he had no intention of doing anything that might encourage amorous attention. When he was sure that he smelled like pond and damp he flew the short distance to the doors. Looking around he thought it would be difficult for most to see the doors the way they were hidden in shadow and rock, but the smell of Fae was like a chum trail pulling him like a shark to prey.
When he was within arrow range he stopped, turned fully around with his hands empty and held well out to his sides. He called out in a loud voice, “I am Eric the North Man! I am here as a gift to your lord, Niall, ruler of the Sky Fae!” There was no response but that was to be expected. The Viking fell to one knee and kept his hands open and at his sides, waiting for the coming of the Fae.
Niall and Rogen walked through the stone corridor that led to the doors of the kingdom. At a nod the door were laid open and Niall could not help but take a deep breath of the cool night air. There was a heaviness that lay in the moisture of the outside that reminded Niall of the season’s turning. It wasn’t the true smoky flavor that came when the leaves turned but the flavors of it were there. ‘Winter is coming,’ he thought. And just as quickly the thought was replaced by ‘He is so large.’ Niall drew his head back so that he was ramrod straight, his gaze directed down his long, straight nose at the kneeling man before him. Rogen stepped to a position at his brother’s side.
“So what is it you propose to do for us, child of Ocella?” Rogen asked coldly. Niall pulled his long robes around him more securely. If he had to flee from this creature he did not wish to be tripped by his rich clothing. He watched as the vampire looked up. The creature’s eyes looked shrewd and Niall found his own narrowing.
From his position Eric replied, “My master bids me to serve.”
Niall cocked his head to the side. There was something about this; the set of the shoulder or the inflection in the voice. “Rise, vampire. I would see this gift” The fairy could not entirely control the widening of his eyes as he watched the man expand to his full height. He was impressive. Tall with large shoulders. Arms that were tightly muscled. A lean build that spoke of strength and speed. And then the smell hit him. Niall’s mouth quirked a bit. “My brother is ruler of the Water Fae,” he drawled. “The smell of the pond is an aphrodisiac to him. You honor us by wearing such an alluring perfume.” Now it was the creature’s turn to look startled; a look followed quickly by despair and resignation. ‘So I guessed right,’ Niall thought. ‘It can be no easy thing to be bound to the Roman.’
“We jest, of course,” Niall continued with a wave of his hand. “Your maker tells me you are tireless in your work. It is that skill that I would ask of you.” Niall stepped closer and looked up into the eyes of this stranger. “So tell me, Eric the Northman, will your maker’s command prevent you from attacking my people?”
The vampire’s eyes followed him. “I can feel the pull against it, lord. Your smell is very alluring.” Niall nodded. Allowing this vampire access to his city would be foolhardy.
“It is late. My guards will light a way to a hut that lies beyond those trees,” and Niall pointed away from the doors. “You can stay there. The floor is dirt. You can dig a resting place for yourself. There are humans about and you may eat close to home as long as they survive and do not remember the experience.” The Fae ruler waited to see that the tall blond man agreed before continuing. “I will come to you tomorrow night and we can talk about your duties in service of my people.”
The vampire bowed and Niall stepped away, but as he walked back into the halls of his kingdom he said, “Oh, and do clean yourself. No one here would be foolish enough to seduce a vampire, even one as lovely as you.”
Eric had been up many hours when the Fae Lord arrived.
The hovel where he now sat was as the Fae had said. Fires that glowed blue had been lit to mark his way to find it. He had noticed that as he passed each light it extinguished with no scent of smoke or fire. Eric had cleaned himself before going to his rest and then he had fed. The Viking had taken the precaution of flying to not the first farm he encountered or the next. He had flown to another homestead more distant. He had carefully glamoured the woman and then taken care to heal the marks. He had no wish to have angry humans tracking down the monsters in the woods where he rested.
On rising tonight Eric had found new clothing waiting for him on a table. There was also a lantern and a chess board. Eric set the pieces and amused himself by playing both sides while he waited.
“I thought that you might have encountered the game,” Niall said to him. The vampire’s eyed widened. He had not heard the Fairy approach nor detected him in the room. It gave him a new appreciation for the fearsome reputation that these people enjoyed.
“How is it I didn’t smell you?” Eric asked. He made a point to sit back in the chair, relaxed and with his hands in full view.
“I have the ability to mask my scent. It is most useful.” Niall walked to the table and examined the board. From time to time he also glanced at the vampire. Eventually the vampire seemed to lose his wariness and turned his focus back to the board as well. Then Niall began to ask him questions about the positions of the pieces. They soon fell into a discussion as to why Eric had made the moves he had; the way he saw the strategy of play unfolding. Niall walked to the chair opposite and sat down. “Choose a side, vampire, and I will continue play of the other.”
Eric turned the board once and then looked up at Niall. “I have heard that the Fae are a secretive and manipulative race, lord. What advantage do you seek here?”
Niall smiled openly. “Why the advantage of playing against an opponent who may prove worthy of the game,” he said.
Their play moved well into the night. At times the moves were rapid but most times the space between the play stretched as each man watched not only the positions on the board but the face of their opponent. They talked of small things. Niall spoke of the threat that the new religion posed; not in terms of its belief but rather it’s need to find an enemy to fight. Eric spoke of the lands he had seen and the freedom of being homeless. As the night wore on there was a knock on the door. Niall caught Eric’s eye and held it as a tray with food and drink materialized on the table beside the board.
“Handy trick,” Eric said.
“One of many handy tricks,” Niall acknowledged. “But I have heard that vampires can likewise have gifts that are unique to the person and not general to the race. Is that true?”
Eric nodded. “Yes, there are those among us who have gifts different from others.” When he saw Niall waiting he continued, “I am able to fly. It is not unknown among us but neither is it a usual gift. My maker does not share the ability.”
Niall’s eyes widened and sparkled. “Fly? And when you fly do you move silently? Is it easy to detect you?”
Eric became wary, “I do move silently. Most never know that I have been observing.”
“And do you need to move or can you stay suspended in one place?”
Eric looked back at the board, studying the pieces. “I can hover but it requires more concentration than moving.”
Niall nodded. “And tell me, my dear Eric. Can you carry weight while you fly like a bird? Can you carry, say, a sword?”
Eric’s eyes raised to meet those of the Fae Lord. “Yes, Niall. I am like death from above. I take it you have decided the task that you wish of me.” Eric found himself smiling and he watched in interest as the Fairy across from him suddenly seemed to have a mouth full of shark teeth.
The day of the hunt arrived. Water Fae and Sky Fae wandered the great halls, filling rooms with laughter and song. They played and they fucked and they tested each other. There was a time when these gatherings led to marriages and children, but there were so few new among them. Who they saw was known and those that were interesting had been tested in past. The conversations had the feeling of family gathering including that slight air of boredom that accompanied stories often told.
The level of interest rose when it was announced that the Weres had arrived. It was decided that Conn and his Pack would be given quarters in the stronghold. They would be somewhat segregated but all would be joining in the great halls for feasting and singing.
There had been talk of dancing but Branna had coldly informed her husband that she would not be present if she was expected to touch any Were. Rather than risk insult to his guests Niall declared that entertainment would be stories and a performance by his own bard. It was just as well. Most would want to sleep and while away the day preparing kit and steed for the long night ahead. They would range far and not plan to return until the first rays of dawn were visible.
Conn was unchanged: Tall and hale and large in a way that made people feel that the room had become smaller. He smiled with large, square, white teeth and threw his head back to laugh. Most often he stood like something immovable, his feet planted and his fists on his hips. He stood in the courtyard as his people milled around him and called out, “Niall! It looks like fair weather to run under the stars!”
“Welcome Conn. The season’s turning looks to have been good to you,” Niall replied.
“Good for my Pack. Twenty new cubs and others come to join us. The gods favor us!” he boomed.
Niall smiled thinly. The insult in the Were’s words were less hidden than in past. Niall bowed and said, “I rejoice in your good fortune my friend.” But Niall did not rejoice. The Fae spies had reported that Conn’s people were attending the Christians’ churches and openly living among them. Niall wondered how long before were faces numbered among those that stalked the Fae in the woods.
That night the were leader ate heartily of all that was placed before him. He commented on the size of the halls and the beauty of the furnishings. “I thank you for giving my people such a generous welcome,” Conn had breathed closely to Niall’s face. “The beds are soft if somewhat less sweet with disuse.” Niall felt his breath catch. Surely the were didn’t mean to insult the hospitality of the Fae? “Of course it must be hard keeping up everything that is here with so few of you,” the burly man continued. The faces of Fae started to turn in the direction of the table, conversation falling away. “Guess you won’t be able to keep up with everything much longer; real defense and all. Must give you some real sleepless nights.” And Conn stretched back, running his eyes in a covetous way around the hall again.
Niall found it difficult to keep the ice from his voice. “I am sorry you find our welcome thin, my friend,” he said. “Perhaps there is something else we could furnish to make your stay more pleasurable?” As if he had been awaiting those words Conn straightened in his chair and leaned forward, his elbows finding the table.
“It should be obvious that our people need to consolidate for our mutual aid,” he said, all trace of humor gone. “You should offer me a daughter of your house and welcome me as a good son.”
Branna had gone stone cold next to him. Rogan, on the other side of her, leaned forward, his face dark with anger. Niall controlled himself but only with difficulty. “It is a pleasant jest you offer of course; that Fae and were would ever mate. We are different; too different to even consider such a thing! But of course you speak to add to our merriment.”
Now it was Conor’s turn to look angry. “Of course you would think that you were too good to mingle your blood with anything like us,” he hissed. But then he pulled his mouth into a smile and threw his head back and laughed loudly. “But of course I joke! Who would ever take seriously a blood tie between us?” He lifted his goblet and toasted Niall and drank it in one gulp. Niall saw death in the Were’s dark eyes.
That night the Rae ruler posted guards both within his gates and outside. He found the Viking practicing with his sword, moving through forms in a ballet as old as war. He stayed on the perimeter of the small yard and watched his traditional enemy move fluidly and efficiently, his muscles flexing and bunching. He could understand Ocella’s attraction. The North Man was beautiful. When the vampire slowed Niall stepped forward.
Eric dropped his sword to his side and inclined his head. “Majesty,” he said
Niall waved his hand, “Our titles amongst ourselves are different. Prince will do. Or Niall,” and he smiled at the tall killer. Eric kept his head bowed and waited. “We ride tomorrow,” Niall told the vampire. “The Great Hunt. Have you heard of it?”
Eric met his eyes. “Yes, even in my human days we knew of the hunt of the fairies. We knew to stay inside and away from the windows. We knew that on those nights the land belonged to you.”
Niall nodded. “It is the same everywhere. But tomorrow you will perform your service to me. You will destroy Conn who leads the great pack of this land. You will strike him down without any seeing. It would be best if it looked like an accident or a beast befell him. He will be in wolf form, but he will be man once the killing is done.”
Eric looked up in surprise. “And why would you wish me to kill an ally?”
“He is no ally,” Niall replied. “He is an enemy wrapped in a friend’s smile. He is a beast who insults my hospitality under my own roof.” Niall’s veneer of civility slipped and Eric saw a killer every bit as ruthless as himself shining from beneath the pale, unnatural skin.
Eric nodded. “To fulfill my maker’s debt I will do as you ask. How will I know him?”
Niall’s teeth were bared. “He will lead the others, stretching out to course before them. He is larger than the others and is a pure black with no markings. You will see the others defer; none will overtake him.”
Niall left then and the Viking settled himself on a rock outside the small hut, his stone in his hand. He spent many hours sharpening his blade and listening to the sounds of the night around him.
The horses’ harness jingled and their breath came as mist in the night air. The moon was perfectly round and it hung low and large in the night sky. Wisps of cloud flew across its face, echoing the blowing robes of the riders below. The Fae favored light colors for night hunts. It allowed them to distinguish friend from foe in the dark shadows under the forest eaves. The young princes were together and Niall watched Branna approach young Breandan and kiss him on the cheek. His nephew’s eyes glowed with pleasure and Niall wondered if this was his rival. He watched their son Dillon’s easy manner and thought that if Branna had decided to bed their son’s best friend she had at least had the courtesy to hide it from him. Sexual relations between close relatives was not unknown among the fae, but it could still be a source of bruised feelings and smoldering betrayal.
Conn stood apart exhorting his pack to run silent and kill swift. As they howled together and started their transformation Niall saw the tall Were’s eyes slide his way. As their eyes locked Niall knew with certainty that Conn intended to kill him this night. ‘Try if you will,’ Niall thought and he smiled and nodded at his enemy.
Stirrup cups were brought out of the hall and handed to riders. “A fine night, my brother!” Rogan called and saluted him. The silver horns were lifted and long, low notes were sounded. The mists rose in answer and the riders checked girth straps one last time. Horses whinnied, their nickering sounding distant and muffled as the mists thickened. The glow of the Fae reflected within the mist and they took on a ghost-like quality. Niall mounted his charger as a signal to take horse.
“Ride to stag, my friends! To hunt! To hunt!” Niall cried and raised his own cup in salute to his host. As one they drained cups and the horns sounded once more. The hounds howled and the Wild Hunt was away.
Above them the vampire floated watching as the softly glowing shapes of the Fae began moving away across the landscape. The dark shadows that were the hounds moved among them and then stretched out to create a vanguard. Soon the sound of game crashing through the forest carried to his ears. What was uncanny was the silence of the hunters themselves. Eric wondered if the suppression of noise was purposeful or if there was some magic involved. The lines of those hunting stretched thinner and thinner as stone walls and streams began to slow some. The glowing lights that were the Fae began to thin out. In some places they almost appeared as will ‘o the wisps bobbing steadily over a dark landscape.
Eric never lost sight of Niall’s glow. He and his brother seemed to be more golden in color than their companions. The Viking would descend as they headed under tree cover to keep better track of their progress, then rise higher when they broke into more open country. Finally they came to a place where the ground started to climb. Eric ascended then and moved forward to see the terrain that awaited the riders. And that’s when he saw the line of dark hunters awaiting the Fae.
The hounds had arrayed themselves on top of boulders. They would be out of sight until too late. Eric glanced toward the hill and realized that there would not be enough time to warn the Fae and so he did the only thing he could think of; he landed near the rock that hosted the hound he thought was Conn and drew his sword.
Almost immediately the dogs smelled him and even before he found his footing, Eric found himself being battered by the ravening creatures. He whirled his blade and caught one in mid-jump and he called out a battle cry that had not been heard on Irish shores since before the coming the Christ. Eric hoped that the sound would carry and it must have because when he looked up it was to see the Fae lords with shining swords drawn.
Eric kicked and punched; he stabbed and rolled. The hounds fell on him singly and in groups. Teeth tore and his own fangs engaged as he ripped the throat from one dog only to have the teeth of another sink into his side.
The battle raged back and forth. The pack members were able to arrive more swiftly and Eric soon found himself surrounded by the bodies of the dead and dying. Niall and Rogen were near him, their swords rising and falling and the terrible cry of the Sidhe falling from their lips. Finally a large brute of a dog struck Niall and he fell. Another animal covered him and Eric could hear the growling and snarling as they bit and snapped. Rogan and Eric fought to gain Niall’s side and then, somehow the tide of battle seemed to turn. The dogs retreated and Eric turned to see Conn’s bleeding body nearby. Eric raised his sword and delivered the death blow. And like mists, the dogs retreated.
Rogan was breathing heavily as he moved the corpses from his brother. “Niall?” he called.
Eric could see that the fairy prince had been grievously injured. He looked at Rogan. “I can use my blood to heal him, fairy.”
‘No!” Rogan yelled. “You will not have dominion over him, dead one. No blood!”
Eric held his hands out in supplication. “I need not feed him my blood. I can use blood to seal his injuries. It will slow the bleeding.” Niall’s eyes flickered open and he nodded. Eric bit his own wrist and held the flow over the worst of the wounds. There was a sizzling and edges began to look less ragged. When Niall started to shift and moan Rogan called, “Enough! It is enough.”
Eric stepped back again. Rogan knelt beside his brother. ‘Niall? Can you travel?” But even Rogan could see that he would not be able to keep his brother on a horse for any distance. So he turned to the vampire, “Can you lift him and take him through the air?”
“Yes,” Eric said. “But I will not be able to get him all the way back to your halls.”
“Perhaps there is another way we can find,” Rogan said but the vampire interrupted him.
“There is a farm near your halls. I can get him there. You can ride to the hall and fetch a means to move him.”
Rogan looked at him steadily. “If you betray him, I will tell your maker, vampire. I know him well.”
Eric nodded. “I will watch over Niall. I am my maker’s bond.” Rogan mounted then and rode for the hall. Eric leaned down and lifted the Fae lord.
“This is something I never thought to experience,” Eric heard the Fae mutter.
“And what would that be, Niall?” Eric asked.
“I never thought to be carried away by a vampire like a maiden to her bower,” the Fae chuckled.
Eric smiled back. “Well if you wish to be loved by me, Fairy, you might want to wait until you are more lively.” Niall chuckled and then remained quiet until they landed in a farmyard.
As Eric carried the fairy toward the door of the farmhouse it opened, spilling light into the darkness. A young woman looked out and when she saw the pair opened the door wide. “Please, come in,” she said. Eric sighed deeply and carried his burden into the house.
“Bring him here, to the bed,” she said. She turned to the fire then to retrieve a kettle. “What happened?”
“He was injured,” Eric told her, but she never met the Viking’s eyes. Instead as she turned and saw Niall’s face she stopped.
Niall’s eyes opened then. He looked up and asked, “Who are you?”
Stepping closer, the lovely woman leaned over as if drawn to the Fairy. “I’m Einin,” she said. “I live here now, Shining One.” And she smiled.
Eric made a noise and the young woman turned reluctantly to look up and then up again. Her eyes widened. “The lord’s brother will be here soon. Can you keep him until then?” the vampire asked.
The woman, Einin, nodded. “Yes. I will guard this one with my life,” she said and turned back to gaze on the fairy that lay on her bed. Eric nodded and walked back to the door. He could feel the pull of dawn and he flew quickly to the safe house that had been set aside for his use.
Eric was herding the woman into his office when he realized that he wasn’t alone. “I’ve changed my mind,” he said and shoved the fangbanger back out the door.
“I’m sorry if I interrupted something,” the cultured voice said. Eric walked toward the man who sat in the chair across from his desk. He didn’t need an introduction. He knew who had come to call.
“Niall, it has been many years.”
The fairy prince chuckled and waited for Eric to walk around to his own desk chair. When he sat down Eric allowed himself a minute to take in the prince’s appearance. He wore a suit and his hand was playing with a beautifully carved cane. His long light hair was pulled back and his green eyes were bright. “Do you still play chess?” he asked.
“Yes,” said Eric. “But it is difficult to find an opponent with your skills, Prince.”
“You are kind to say,” he replied. “But in fact I find that I need a favor of you; a favor that will be one to you in return.” When the Viking’s eyebrow crept up Niall laughed. “Don’t be so skeptical. In fact the favor I would ask is to help with something you started. You see, there is a family in a little town near here called Bon Temps….”