The Shepherd’s wife gave birth on the first day of the lambing, just as the witch said she would; and, like the witch foretold she gave birth to twins. The first had fair skin and striking green eyes the second was dark and its eyes were as cold and clear as ice. They knew at once the curse was real.
Without regret or hesitation the Sheppard took it outside and before it could utter its first cry saw to it that it would never harm the tribe.
It was only later, when the Shepherdess brought the child to her breast to feed did they realise their mistake. The choked off scream as its fangs pierced her skin was almost more than the Shepherd could bare. The witch had won after all.
“It’ll never work, he’s a creature o’the dark magics. We ‘ave t’kill it before it can spread its wickedness.”
“I’ve killed one son already t’day, I ain’t killin’ another. We’ll make this right, or die tryin’. Maybe we deserve death right enough for what we did, but I ain’t gonna just roll over an’ take it, I can tell you tha’ right now.
“His name’ll be Cóir and he’s gonna do what I never could. He’ll bring Justice to this land, and we’ll all, every one o’us, teach him how.
“If the child is evil then it should know its own kind. We’ll make sure it can see every evil within man an’ we’ll teach it our laws, every las’ one o’them. We’ll teach it how t’seek out the wicked an’ it’ll pass judgement upon them. An’ you’ll help me with this or by the Gods the next curse that’ll be cast ‘ere will be upon ye. You all had a hand in the witch’s death an’ so everyone o’you is as much responsible for the evil within my lad as I am. We’ll put it right. Now, cast the circle an’ cast it well, this magic cannot fail.”
The man was shaking before him. He’d pissed himself already and now tears were freely flowing down his cheeks. Cóir looked to his father for confirmation. He had been told that he wasn’t to speak until his father said he could. This was the place where the law was upheld and there were rules. In all of Cóir’s six years of life there had been nothing but rules. He didn’t resent them, he understood why he had to follow the rules. He was made out of evil magic and so in order to be good he had to follow the rules.
The man in front of him hadn’t. He had stolen from the tribe and so he had to be punished. Cóir could see his crime as clearly as if it was happening in front of him right now. He could see everyone’s crimes. That was what he was for. He was Justice and the people of his tribe needed him to follow the rules. Without rules there would be no Justice, his father had told him. Without rules Cóir would not exist.
The man was starting to talk. He was explaining that he had taken the food from the storage barn to feed his family. Without hesitation Cóir cut him off.
“Liar, y’ave no family. Y’took the food fer y’self. That’s theft. Fer the crime o’theft ye must pay with blood. This is the rule and the rules cannot be broken.” Cóir watched dispassionately as the man was taken away, still begging, to face his fate.
The sky had cleared over the hills around his home and Cóir was sat, one knee up against his chest, atop the highest of them, when an unfamiliar scent caught his attention. The night air was crisp and he knew by morning there would be frost on the ground. The landscape, so clear to his eyes on a normal night, was fully illuminated by the heavens. He could make out the waves in the grass as it was moved by the breeze and heard the rustle and beating hearts of the small animals hiding amongst the nearby foliage. This was his place and his Lord’s land. He had fought to defend it once before and would do so again, should he be called into battle. Whatever was out there would not get passed him.
He stood slowly, stretching his six foot frame to its full height and scanned the horizon. What he saw stopped him in his tracks. Striding towards him as if she had no care in the world was a woman. She was unescorted and wearing garments that were so light they moved with the wind. The colours were as bright as the most beautiful flowers and she had a strange metal chain attached from her nose to her ear. Her skin was a dark brown and her hair was the same black as the sky. She smiled up at him as she made her way, with easy strides, up the hill. This was not right. No woman should walk unescorted and certainly they should not dress like this one. Her skin was all wrong and her hair was not tied back into the braids of any of the surrounding tribes. Where had she come from? He scented the air again, the woman was not human. Was she another creature, like him? Had she too been summoned by Dark Magic? He squared his shoulders and grasped the hilt of his sword more firmly.
Taking in a deep breath he allowed the magic that had been gifted to him seventeen years ago, full reign over his body. What he beheld made his stomach churn. Wherever she walked death followed. Bodies spread like seeping tar across the land. Men, women and children, all drained of blood and with terror in their eyes, gazed back at him from their prone positions on the ground. He tried to turn away, but everywhere he looked the dead followed, littering the once beautiful land. Facing her, he watched as a ghostly vision of her took the clothing she now wore off of a young woman. They were in a far off land. There was no grass wherever she had died and the dirt was an odd pale yellow, nothing like the rich brown soil of his village. He blinked and again he saw her ghost lifting large yellow coins from a dying man’s pockets as he choked out his last breaths. The woman sneered down at him and idly turned to face his cowering children. He watched as, just like his, fangs descended to replace her canines. The children screamed.
He couldn’t watch any more, screwing his eyes tight he reigned in his magic and held his sword ready to attack. He had been right, the thing was raised from Dark Magic and he would not allow it anywhere near his tribe.
“Put your sword down child, it will do nothing against me.”
“I won’ let ya feed on my people.”
“Your people? Do you lead your little tribe? And at such a young age too. Good for you young one. The wolves should never serve the sheep. Don’t worry little warrior, I’m not here for them.” She tilted her head to the side, considering the young man in front of her. “I caught your scent as I was passing through and was curious. There aren’t many of our kind in these lands, your people have a tendency to kill us. From what I’ve been able to gather they seem to think that we are cursed, or summoned from some form of ritual. Honestly, the superstitions of your lands amuse me so. As if any magic could give rise to an entire species.” The woman paused when she saw Cóir’s reaction. “Oh dear child, did you think you were the only one? Did they tell you that you were cursed or born from some sort of evil spell?”
“I’m nothing like you! I can see ya crimes an’ the blood on ya hands is all the proof I need tha’ ya’ the spawn o’Dark Magic. You set one foot in my village an’ I’ll see to it that ya go back to wherever ya were conjured from.” The woman’s steady gaze seemed more amused than scared but Cóir didn’t lower his weapon.
“I mean it!”
“I have no doubt you do child, but it doesn’t work like that. I can see now why the Gods sent me here. You need to learn what you are my boy and clearly I’ve been chosen to show you. We are Vampire, not creatures of evil magic. Why, I bet you don’t even understand that magic cannot be evil; rather like that sword in your hand, magic is merely a tool to use. It’s the one that wields it in which the corruption resides.
“Child, come with me, let me show you what you are. The humans have fed you lies for too long. Let me show you the truth.” Involuntarily Cóir took a step backwards, away from the hand that was now being outstretched towards him.
“My name is Sadia, let me help you.”
He’d said no, he’d threatened her some more and he’d sworn vengeance to the Gods should she lay a hand on any of his tribe but the creature – Vampire – had not wavered in her new found conviction. She had repeated her offer every time he had tried to get her to go and then, as if it were an afterthought, asked for his name. In the end he had told her simply to get her to leave. The sun was starting to rise and he had to speak with his father. He didn’t give any headspace to the thought that what she was saying and offering was in any way true. He knew how powerful the Dark Magic was and he knew the effects it could have upon the world. He had seen his tribe’s chief Shaman call down lightning upon an entire army when they had gone to war. Trapping an evil spirit inside an unborn child was nothing compared to the power that was needed to control the elements.
He waited until he was sure she had left the hillside and then ran flat-out back to his home. It had grown considerably since he was a child. His own particular skills had earned the family a place of honour within the tribe. They had risen from Sheppard’s to Lawmen within 17 years and now occupied an entire Longhouse to themselves.
His heart was racing and he could feel the fear and panic he’d suppressed whilst talking with the woman threatening to take over now that he was back on safe and solid ground. His hands were shaking and his first two attempts to work his key into the lock were unsuccessful. He forced himself to take in a deep breath and focus. His father was inside, along with his strong and dependable mother. His family was safe and this would all be over soon. If his father didn’t know how to fix it then he would speak with the Shaman. If the Shaman didn’t know then he would speak with the Chieftain and they would put together a hunting party and send the Vampire back to the Darkness it came from. On the third attempt the door opened soundlessly. The well maintained hinges, that Cóir himself had created, worked perfectly and Cóir forced himself not to rush to his parent’s bedside. He was a man now and they were getting old. He couldn’t help sniffing the air though – the scent of burning charcoal and wood from the fire, the leftovers from last night’s meal, dirt, grass, leather and the unmistakable human scent that was his family, were amongst the myriad of smells that all added up to home. What there wasn’t was any sign of Sadia. Cóir let out a breath he hadn’t known he was holding and headed over to his chair. He had to think about this. That’s what his father had always taught him. He had said, over and over again, that you should never act without first thinking through the consequences of what you were about to do. If you acted without thinking then you would end up doing something you could never take back and that you would regret for the rest of your life. Cóir had never told his father that he understood all too well the regrets that haunted the man. Every time he had let his magical guard down around his father Cóir saw how he had killed the witch woman and how he had snapped his baby brother’s neck before he could have even taken a breath. He had watched as the ghostly image of his father had buried the baby in the frozen earth behind their hut. As a child he hadn’t understood why his Dad had never let the dogs go around there but sitting back in his wooden chair now Cóir understood all too well what doing that had cost the man.
“A man that spills the blood of the innocent, shall in turn have his blood spilled.”
It was the first law his father had ever taught him and it was the only law that Cóir had allowed to stay broken. Every day his father looked at him with guilt in his eyes and every day Cóir nodded and smiled back at him. The silent agreement between the two men ensuring the continued survival of both.