Gazing out at the snow-covered hills across the river, he reflected on the barren winter he’d endured so far in his isolated beach hut. It had been almost two months since he had moved into his new home; it had been two months since he had seen the Ice Maiden.
“Sit. We need to talk,” she had said.
Doing as instructed, he had taken a seat on the bench beside her. For several minutes she had studied him intently then, much to his surprise, she had bowed her head and wept. Her emotional reaction caught him off guard and, tentatively, he had reached out to put a comforting arm around her cloaked shoulders. Even through the thick blue velvet of her cloak, he could tell there were wings folded beneath it.
“Son of Perran,” she had begun, once her sobs subsided. “We have failed you. We should have prevented this from going so far. We should have stopped her. I am truly sorry.”
Somewhat confused, he had asked, “Who is this “we”? Who are you and how do you know me? How did you even know I was here?”
“You must have so many questions,” she had acknowledged as she dried her eyes with the soft edge of her cloak. “So many questions.”
“I do,” he had replied bluntly. “And I’m hoping for some answers.”
“My name is Trine,” she had introduced. “For nigh on a century I’ve been tracking her, trying to stop her, but she’s clever and she’s strong. I almost caught her about a quarter of a century ago. She was returning from Europe. She was weak. I almost had her, but I was summoned back.”
“Oh, there’s so much she hasn’t told you,” Trine had sighed as he felt her probing into his mind.
“Stop that! Get out of my head!”
“You sensed that?”
“Yes, I did, and I never gave you permission to go poking around in my memories,” he had retorted sharply. After taking a calming deep breath, he had suggested, “Now, how about you start at the beginning and answer some of my questions.”
Trine had nodded, “I have been sent by the Court of Elders. We are all, well they are almost all, pure blood vampires. I was tasked with tracking and capturing the dark angel who created you. Over the centuries, she has broken so many of the rules so many times. Like you, she should never have come into being. She’s been a rogue vampire for too many years. She’s out of control. Impulsive as she is, the Elders never suspected that she would be so selfish nor so foolish as to create another. The Court of Elders had no idea that you even existed. I stumbled across you by chance, Son of Perran, about five years ago. Just a fleeting glimpse but I recognised what I saw. I just didn’t know who I had seen.”
“You were running. You thought you were alone. It was late at night. You were running through the forest behind the village near here. It was the unnatural speed that caught my attention. No human could have run so swiftly nor so soundlessly nor so gracefully in the dark on a moonless night,” Trine had explained slowly. “I lost sight of you in the trees. I’ve been searching for you ever since. I spotted you earlier tonight as you passed the graveyard near the village church.”
He remembered the night Trine had just described vividly. It had been the night his wife had died. The pain of his grief had almost driven him insane and, needing to escape, he had waited until his children were asleep then gone for a run in the wee small hours. The trails had been pitch black but he had raced them sure-footedly at full pace, stopping when his emotions had overwhelmed him, dropping him to his knees in tears. He had knelt on the rough muddy path and wept until he thought his lungs would burst and his heart would break then he had collected himself and run home, arriving just as the sun rose over the horizon.
“Son of Perran,” Trine had begun, her voice soft and calming. “The Court of Elders want to meet with you. They need your help with an urgent matter.”
“Who are these Elders? Why should I help them?” His angered had been blooming and he remembered the fire of his Rabbia Sanguigna simmering.
Sensing it, Trine had said simply, “Rabbia Sanguigna.”
“That’s what she called it too. Gave me a potion to try to control it.”
“I had guessed as much. A potion that contained the blood of your mother.”
“How did you…….”
“Your mother is a member of the Court of Elders,” Trine had revealed, hoping that she hadn’t revealed too much too soon.
“My mother vanished years ago,” he had stated. “Are you telling me she’s still alive?”
“Yes. Very much alive.”
“Fuck!” he had roared into the darkness, hardly believing what he was hearing from the Ice Maiden.
“Son of Perran,” Trine had spoken in soothing tones. “You need time to adjust to this new phase of your life. I need to leave soon. I need to report back that I have found you, but I need you to make me a promise first.”
“Why should I?” he had spat angrily. “I am sick of this! I hate this life. I hate what she’s made me. Why should I promise you anything?”
“Fair question,” Trine had agreed. “I need you to promise to do something that only you can do. The Court of Elders will be eternally grateful.”
“I need you to…the Court of Elders needs you to kill your dark angel.”
“Kill her? And just how am I meant to do that, pray tell?”
“I have no idea,” she had sighed wearily. “I’m sorry. I’ve asked too much of you.”
He had simply stared back at her.
The Ice Maiden had left a few minutes later promising to return in two full moons for his answer. When she had risen to leave, the runner had been surprised by her height. He had gasped aloud as she had spread her pale blue wings and disappeared into the night.
Now, it was the day of the second full moon since Trine’s visit. He had used the intervening weeks to think, to reflect on everything the dark angel had ever done or explained. The breathing space had given him time to become accustomed to his winged state and to learn to fly.
Much to his surprise and, despite his initial hatred of his wings, he swiftly fell in love with flying. It had taken him a few days to figure it out. There had been more than a few bumpy landings but, once he had mastered it, he had savoured the freedom it gave him. Seeing the world from above, enjoying a bird’s eye view, was breathtaking.
As the weeks had passed, he grew more comfortable in his own skin and had grown in confidence.
Over the winter, he had fallen into the habit of sleeping for most of the day, rising in time to watch the sun set over the hills. There were improvements he wanted to make to his new home but most of those needed to wait until Spring. Time had passed easily though. There were logs to gather for his stove. He had to hunt regularly but pickings were slim during the first few weeks of the year. He’d enjoyed many long late-night flights over the area, exploring the hills on the north side of the river. He’d passed some of his time reading. He’d spent countless hours sitting on the bench beside his hut, gazing out across the river lost in thought.
He had Trine’s answer ready for her.
The last rays of light were stretching across the sky when he felt a subtle shift in the air behind him. He was standing down on the beach in front of his house watching the waves.
“Son of Perran.”
Turning at the sound of her voice, he smiled, genuinely glad to see her, “Hey.”
Returning his smile, she walked daintily across the rocks and pebbles to stand beside him. It didn’t escape his attention that the Ice Maiden stood taller than him.
“So peaceful,” she commented, her voice barely more than a whisper. “So quiet. If I lived here, I’d never leave.”
“It’s nice,” he agreed, tossing a pebble into the water.
“We need to talk,” began Trine, sounding a little anxious.
Silently, he nodded and gestured towards the hut.
“Let’s go indoors,” he suggested. “There are usually dog walkers about at this time of day. I’m guessing this isn’t a conversation you want to risk being overheard.”
“No, it’s not.”
The hut was warm and cosy, two antique oil lamps illuminating the small space. Picking up two logs, the runner added them to the wood burning stove, watching the spray of sparks.
“I’ve been sent to fetch you,” said Trine simply
Trine nodded, “The Court of Elders are demanding that I bring you back with me immediately.”
“And if I don’t want to go?”
“That’s simply not an option.”
“Didn’t think it would be,” he sighed.
“Have you considered your answer?”
“Yes, and I have an answer for you.”
“Don’t tell me,” interrupted Trine, her tone sharp. “Save that for the Elders.”
“Are you one of them?”
“Not exactly,” she revealed, her gaze landing on the framed family photograph that sat beside his bed. “My father sits on the council. I’ve not earned my place yet.”
“Ah, so I’m your way onto the council?” he surmised with a smile.
“Yes,” confessed the Ice Maiden. “That’s why I need your co-operation as much as the Court of Elders does.”
“If I agree to come and to help them, will they listen to a request from me?”
Noticing that she was still staring at the photograph, he reached over, lifted the picture and handed it to her. “My wife and kids. That was taken on our last holiday together.”
“They look so happy.”
“Good times,” he said wistfully, replacing the frame on the shelf. “But your dark angel friend has cost me all of that.”
A cold silence hung in the air.
“Thank you,” breather Trine, her relief obvious.
“How do we get there?”
“I’ll take you.”
“Where exactly are we going?”
“I can’t tell you that. It’s forbidden.”
“Why am I not surprised?”
“Sorry. The Court’s rules are strict. Very strict. Are you ready to leave?”
“How long will I be gone for?”
“As long as it takes.”
“Fine,” he muttered, knowing it was pointless to even attempt to continue the conversation.
As he felt her pale blue wings envelop him, he prayed that the Elders would agree to his terms.
The world around him went black.
When the world came back into focus, he was standing in an icy cold stone corridor. Flickering flaming sconces lit the passageway, their shadows dancing on the walls and vaulted ceiling. There was a large studded oak door at the end of the corridor. It was closed.
Suddenly, he was overcome by nerves but, taking several deep breaths, he followed Trine along the corridor without complaint.
She paused outside the door and turned to face him.
“Ready, Son of Perran?”
“As I’ll ever be.”
The door slowly swung open.