Byrn – Blogophilia 44.8
It’s time again for Blogophilia! What is Blogophilia? It’s the fun group where Marvin gives participants prompts to use in their weekly posting. This week’s prompts are:
- Blogophilia 44.8 topic – “Going The Distance”
- Bonus Points: (Hard, 2 pts): Name two (2) movies that begin with the letter “Q”
- (Easy, 1 pt): Include “a bad dye job”
I wrote this as a Christmas “gift” to email subscribers – who will get an edited and formatted version in their inbox in a day or two. (If you’re interested in joining the list you can find it at http://www.joleenenaylor.com/books/newsletter.php AND not only will you get the cool short story below, but you’ll get an exclusive PDF version of my Amaranthine Handbook, the fully illustrated character Encyclopedia. Fun, fun.)
And now, The Explanation:
The Executioners are the vampire’s equivalent of special police. They go on “assignments” that The Guild (the vampire government) sends them on, and they don’t have a reputation for being very nice. It’s a reputation that is often well deserved.
Byrn was an Executioner from 1730 to 1798, when he is replaced by Senya. This story takes place in December of 1755 in New York.
This story contains violence.
Byrn stopped before the heavy wooden door and unconsciously reached into his pocket. His fingers found the missive; official correspondence from The Guild, dispatched by messenger to bring him hence. The master only summoned one for work or punishment, and as he had done nothing to earn the latter he could only assume there was something for him to do.
He pushed inside, nodded to the guard, and swept down the stairs. His long black riding cloak billowed behind him like a cape, and his boots left a trail of mud that petered out as he drew towards the bottom.
The room below was large. Carved from the living earth and lined in rocks, it had taken months to complete, or so he’d heard. The Guild had been established twenty years before he had ever heard of it, and he had only the word of others.
Though below the ground, the room was not bare, and held no resemblance to a root cellar. Tall candelabras stood in random places to throw flickering light on drapes and carved furnishings. Embroidered hangings covered the walls and a pair of doorways in the back led to Malick’s lavishly decorated living quarters and a few rooms for guards and other staff.
Malick. The head of The Guild, the master of the vampires, answerable only to those who hid across the sea, too set in their ways to make the journey to new colonies. Like the subject from a royal portrait, the ancient vampire sat on a throne in the center of the room. His long silver beard fell past his chin, and heavy embroidered robes spoke of days as old as he was. Jewel like eyes watched as Byrn approached and knelt.
“Rise, Executioner.” Malick’s voice echoed in the heavy space, deep and friendly, with a rumble of power beneath the words.
Byrn did as he was told, and Malick continued. “We have had a complaint – a massacre of Acadians to the north.”
“Acadians?” Byrn echoed with a frown. “Pardon me, Master, but these are a people I am unfamiliar with. Is this a settlement?”
“They are a people deported from even farther north, accused of aiding the French in the mortal’s newest war. I care not for their politics, nor even their lives, but we cannot have a rogue draining them to dry husks at a whim and leaving the bodies scattered along the road. How long before the mortals, already drunk with the bloodlust of war, hunt down the monster and discover his nature?” His smooth forehead creased. “We cannot allow such things to happen.”
Byrn nodded his understanding and bowed his head. “Of course, master. I will go the distance, find him, and dispatch him quickly.”
“Good, good. It is as I like to hear. If your haste is great, you will be back in time to spend Christmas with your wife. She is well?”
“Yes, master. Halin sends her greetings.”
A slow smile spread over Malick’s lips. “Does she? How comforting. I had suspected it would be a curse that flew from her lips upon receiving word of our need. It is indeed gratifying to know you have chosen a mate who understands the sacrifices of your appointment.”
Malick motioned him towards the stairs. “The guard above will give you details that you need. Safe travels, Executioner. May you hasten to your task and execute your duty with impartiality.”
Byrn touched two fingers to the silver medallion that hung around his neck, bowed his head, and then turned and stalked back up the stairs. He could hear Malick’s chuckles following him. Halin’s angry words had no doubt been plucked from his thoughts by the mind reading master.
“’tis almost Christmastime, and you are needed? Is there no one else who could attend? Jorick or Ark or Jamie? One who has no wife?”
“Ark has a wife, the same as I.”
Halin had huffed an angry puff of air. “Jorick has none, unless you count the dark harlot who works at his side. Let them go together and be glad of it.”
“They are elsewhere, tangled in other intricacies. I will go, and return before twelfth night.”
And he would. As Malick said, with haste he could be home by Christmas. That should please her.
Upstairs, the guard explained the situation and handed him a map with the rogue’s location marked. Byrn looked it over, then stashed the parchment in his pocket.
“Shall I accompany you?”
Byrn gave the guard a once over. Two traveling together would be slower, and the faster he was there and back, the better. “Nay. There is only one rogue reported. I am sufficient to such a task.”
“Aye, sir. As you say.” Though the guard’s expression was neutral, thanks to his own mental abilities, Byrn could hear the scatter of the vampire’s silent worry, and sense his fear. Malick had ordered him to go, and if he disobeyed…
“Tell Malick the decision was mine, and he may punish me if he likes.”
The guard nodded, but his uncertainty left a bitter taste in Byrn’s thoughts. To be sure, Malick’s will was finicky, and one never knew if disobeying would garner punishment or pleasure. As an Executioner, a pet of the master, it was doubtful he would feel either. The guard might not be so lucky.
He pushed the thoughts away and headed to the stable where his horse waited under the care of a young mortal. The boy’s blood smelled appealing but Byrn had already fed. Scars on the lad’s neck and hand showed that others had not been so restrained in the past.
Byrn steered his horse outside and climbed on the back. He brushed a few rebellious strands of red hair from his face and adjusted his wide brimmed hat. Though he couldn’t feel the cold anymore, he sensed it; from the plumes of his horse’s breath to the fat snowflakes that fell from the night sky. He could also sense the sunrise, a few hours away, or maybe longer under cover of heavy winter clouds.
“On, Rayold. While the night is still with us.”
The horse’s whinny seemed to echo Halin’s displeasure.
Byrn sheltered in a farmer’s barn beneath a heap of hay for the day. When the night returned he threw aside the straw and helped himself to the livestock. Sated, he cleaned himself at a water barrel, then reclaimed his horse from the hollow where he had tied him to a tree. Rayold’s large eyes held rebuke, but it was the best he could find under the circumstances. Haste had necessitated haphazard arrangements.
They reclaimed the road. He checked the map, then spurred his horse on. The night passed in the quiet of winter, and fellow travelers were nearly nonexistent. Those he did see hurried by, eyes on the ground and cloaks pulled tight, their horses driven at a clip, as if the very hounds of hell were following behind.
By the moon Byrn guessed that it was after midnight when he reached the crossroads. Snow covered corpses were heaped in the middle, and bodies were scattered across the frozen ground on all sides. Byrn reigned in his horse and climbed down to examine them. As Malick had said, they looked bloodless, some with throats torn out, and others with evil wounds in varying places. Frozen blood glittered on the ground and on their skin, and made their clothes and hair stiff.
With a grunt of annoyance he surveyed the carnage. The bodies were too frozen to burn, yet they needed disposed of. Burial seemed the only option, though it would take the rest of the night. He wished now that he had brought the guard.
He pulled a shovel from his pack and began the grim work. With his vampire strength he was able to break the frozen ground quickly. When he finished a hole, he chiseled a body from the heap, buried it, and repeated the process. Near daybreak he was streaked with dirt and short on temper. Several bodies remained, but the driving urgency of the sun said they would have to wait.
He led Rayold into the nearby village and paid a sleepy inn keeper for a stable and a room. The latter was tiny and the window even smaller. He covered it with the bedclothes, washed with cold water in the basin, and barricaded the door before he dropped into the oblivion of sleep.
He woke the next evening to pounding on the door. The landlady looked furious. When he met her eyes, the hostility was replaced with a pleasant smile and the offer of dinner. The invitation was one he couldn’t refuse. When he ducked down the narrow stairs he left her leaning against the wall, eyes closed and a wound on her hand, but breath still in her lungs.
The stable attendant rounded off his breakfast and from his thoughts Byrn plucked the information he needed. No one knew who had killed the newcomers, but there was someone acting strange; another new resident known only as John who was rarely seen.
No doubt that was his vampire.
Byrn followed the stable hand’s directions away from the village. John’s cabin sat in a small clearing surrounded by the black trunked ranks of a forest. No outbuildings existed, and the cabin’s chimney was cold. Inside there were only a few personal items and a large wooden box. The thick smell of vampire proved Byrnes suspicions, though now he needed to find the man.
He stepped outside and moved towards his horse when he felt the presence of someone else. Someone immortal. With his hand to the dagger in his coat, he turned slowly. “John, is it?” he called conversationally. “Why don’t you come out so we can talk?”
The reply came from the trees. “Who are ye, and what do ye want?”
Byrn focused on the sound, and his eyes picked through clumps of naked branches. “My name is Byrn and I’ve been sent by The Guild.” He held up his medallion with one hand.
“As if that means anything. I belong to no guild.”
“Aye, but you do in a sense, once you drink the blood of your master. The Guild rules our kind.” Byrn continued to look for him, eyes tracing branches and clinging leaves. Where was he?
John grumbled, and then called, “That may be so, though I’ve not heard of it. Be quick and tell me what ye want.”
With those words, Byrn found him. John was high in a tall tree, wearing dark clothes and clinging to the tree trunk like a lizard to a rock. Messy gray hair fell around his shoulders, and bushy brows shadowed angry eyes. “
You’ve been busy killing mortals,” Byrn called.
“Aye. Traitors and spies the lot. They helped the French in Canada, but are they killed like they ought to be? No, they’re sent here where they can interfere some more.”
Byrn had no idea what he was talking about, but suspected it might have something to do with the mortal’s war. “Why did you butcher them?”
“For Queen and Country!”
“I can only assume you mean the mortals’ queen, but there is a king now, and he holds no power over you. You have stepped from the borders of their rule, and into ours. Their laws are not ours, nor are their wars and petty prejudices. Britain, France, neither concern you now.”
The vampire chortled. “Have you so easily abandoned all that once mattered to you?”
“If you mean those things that mattered when I was mortal, then yes. As should you. Now come down and make this easier.”
John hesitated. Then, with a cry, dropped from the tree, snapping branches as he fell. Byrn waited, muscles tense, as John picked his way out of the brush and shook loose the bits of branch and plant. The vampire met his eyes; golden crashing with his own dark brown. Byrn sensed the hostility a moment before the vampire launched himself at him. He dodged, but he wasn’t fast enough, and they tumbled to the snow in a heap. John’s fangs flashed in his face. He felt a scrape against his cheek that drew blood. He closed his hand around the dagger in his coat, but John pinned his arm in place so he couldn’t pull it free.
John snarled and snapped again, missing Byrn’s face by a hairsbreadth. With a snarl, the Executioner kicked his legs. He managed to wrap one around John’s knee. With a cry he pulled, as though trying to flip the vampire off of him. Though he didn’t free himself completely, the sudden motion broke John’s hold and he pulled the dagger free. The blade pierced the vampire’s throat and hot blood poured out from the wound to rain on Byrn’s face and chest.
John fell back, a hand to his throat, gurgling and cursing. Byrn followed and knocked him to the ground. With a single swift motion he rammed the blade between his ribs. John’s eyes went wide in shock and then he fell lifeless.
Byrn pulled the dagger free. He stumbled back to lean against a tree and gather his wits. He wiped blood from his face and blinked it from his eyelashes. John lay sprawled in the churned snow, dark crimson spreading under the moonlight.
Byrn cleaned his dagger and stashed it away. Rayold whinnied, but came to the call. With a sigh Byrn unlashed his shovel.
Another corpse to bury.
When his grim work was completed he turned his attention to the contents of the cabin. He dragged the box into the clearing and prepared to burn it. The less evidence that remained, the better. Of the personal belongings there were clothes too shabby to give to anyone, a crumbling cake of soap, a broken pocket watch, a pocket bible printed in another language and missing half of the pages, and a ruffled shirt that someone had tried to color red. A bad dye job had left it streaked in pink, though perhaps it was only a question of taste and John had liked it that way.
Byrn tossed the items in the box. As he readied them to burn, he found a worn velvet pouch tucked away in the corner. Silk cords untied to reveal the contents: a pearl necklace and a faded silk flower, still scented with the hint of perfume. Byrn turned them over in his hand and wondered who they had belonged to. A former lover? A mother? A sister? Where had she gone? Was she dead, or had she left him when he became immortal – or had he left her?
Byrn would never know the answer, but that didn’t mean the pearls should go to waste. A gift was sweet balm to the sore soul of a woman, and when he handed his present to Halin she might forgive his absence and the state of his clothes – a bloodstained mess she would have to slave over to clean.
He tossed the flower, but pocketed the bag and the necklace, then torched the pile. The flames snapped into the night, and shimmered the air. He waited to be sure the destruction would be complete before he mounted Rayold and headed back to the crossroads to finish his burial tasks.
Malick took Byrn’s report without comment, and the Executioner rode away from The Guild as quickly as he could, lest the master think of another assignment. It was a snowy Christmas night when he reached home. The windows glowed with light, a welcome beacon that reminded him of winter nights long ago, when he was a child. He thought briefly on his parents, on his mother’s heavy Irish accent and his father’s British clip. She was full of lullabies and stories of magic and mystery set in deep green forests and peppered with fairies, while his father’s heart was with the sea. Morning walks to the harbor where he stood, hands on hips, created imagined stories about the crews, passengers, and cargo. Where had they come from? Where were they going? Why?
Byrn thought of the pearls in his pocket and wondered again about their former owner. Had she been young? Old? Beautiful? Plain? Were they a gift, given to soothe her anger, or to draw a smile from sad lips?
He shook the fancies away and stabled Rayold. As he came out into the night Halin hurried forward, her blonde hair bound in the popular fashion and her dress damp with snowflakes. He caught her in his surprised arms, and waited until she drew back to smile down at her. “I am home in time for Christmas.”
“And so you are. How went it?”
“Fast. A vampire was misbehaving, but he was quickly set to right. How went things here?”
“The same as ever. Though I have hung the juniper and boxwood in your absence. Come and see.”
She led him to the house where he noted that a branch of greenery hung on the door. Inside she had tied branches around, leaving the room heavy with the scent of sap. “It’s as pretty as the church used to be.”
Halin smiled. “That was the intent. I miss the service sometimes, never more than on Christmas.”
He cringed as he said, “There is no proof that we would be struck dead by God upon the threshold. We could-”
“No. That God would allow such as us to enter his holy place is unheard of. I would not risk our lives in such a way – your life. I worry enough when you leave to do their bidding.”
Her eyes narrowed, and he sensed a tirade coming. “I brought you a gift.”
Her unspoken words died on her lips as surprise lit her eyes. “A gift?”
He pulled the pouch from his pocket and handed it to her. She turned it over, as if testing the weight, and at his urging opened the end and dumped the contents into her palm. He smiled as her eyes went wide and a gasp escaped her lips.
“Byrn, it is beautiful!”
“When I saw it I thought of you. I hoped that this would make up for my absence.”
“Nothing can replace you, but this does make a good effort,” she teased. “Come, my love, and fasten it.”
He hung the necklace around her neck and stepped back to study the effect. She fingered the pearls and beamed down at them. “Mary will be covetous when she sees these.”
“Aye, and so I thought when I saw them. ‘How beautiful these will look on my Halin, and how they will drive her sister-in-blood mad with desire for her own, as making another woman jealous is the only reason any lady bothers to possess finery’.”
Halin tsked at him, and shook her head in exasperation. “’tis not the only reason, but a pleasant bonus. Come now, you must allow a woman her small vanities.”
“I would deny you nothing, my dove.” He pressed a kiss to her cheek. “Now, mayhap we should discuss my laundry.”
She cocked an eyebrow. “What have you done this time?” She pulled the bag from his hands and rifled through to produce the stained shirt. “Did you bathe in blood?” she cried. Her sharp eyes snapped to his face. “This is not yours?”
“No, no. Just a messy eater.” He gave her a fanged grin that left her shaking her head.
“You make the mess, then ask of me to clean behind you. Next time, the washing will be yours to do.”
“And a very fine job I shall do, though I will not look nearly as fetching in the doing as you, nor will I be so accessorized.” He flicked her necklace and she drew away, her hand to it.
“A lady does not do washing up while wearing pearls!” She gathered up his cloak and clothing. “Get yourself settled and prepare your pipes, for when I return ‘tis time for caroling. We may not have the meal, but I refuse to give up the music.”
She disappeared and he dropped into a chair before the fire with a silent groan. The pearls may have saved him from her wrath, but it seemed nothing would save him from Christmas.
You can read other Executioner stories on my blog or get them free from various retailers.
Have a good one!