Go Like a Raven*

One thing I am very aware of is that I am a young vampire. I may have been sired by a powerful senior vampire, but I know little of my abilities, my powers, and the effects they have on others. I am thus cautious about deploying them, especially unaware. I know that I have greater strength, and can move fast when needed.  I also seem to have some strange sort of charisma or presence, something that seems to allow me to be able to inspire awe, or something. I don’t know what it is; only that, so far, it has stopped a warrior insect, a rampaging vampire and a pesky demon. I like to think, however, that my abilities, as well as my urges, are under control, and as far as I know, haven’t inconvenienced anybody else with them. I had to learn control very quickly. When you are the only vampire on board a ship with 270 passengers and crew, control is vital, otherwise it is a one-way trip to Davy Jones’ Locker.

I wish the same could be said of our baby demon, Rachel. I don’t know how long she was a vampire for, but I do know she has only been a demon for a short time.  I warned her about using her powers on people I cared about, after she ended up putting Cristof into frenzy, but she does not seem to have listened.  I came into the tavern to find her once again trying to goad Gwyn into exacting revenge upon the Raven Captain. I reminded her of my warning, a bit more forcibly than I intended, but she had annoyed me. I accused her of trying to put my friend into a dangerous situation. I was getting angrier by the minute. Then damned if the girl didn’t start accusing me of disloyalty to Gwyn for not wanting to exact revenge on her behalf.  I knew what she was doing, but something went off in my head. My anger against her, and the accusation of disloyalty set something off, and before I knew it, I was offering to go help make a kebab out of the aforementioned Raven.

We made it down to the bridge without incident. Poor Gwyn was scared out of her wits, not really wanting to be there. Neither did I, but any fear was overwhelmed by anger, mostly at Rachel for getting us into this situation.  I had my sword in my hand, for all the good I could do with it, but I wasn’t sure if it was for my protection or to actually stick it in said Raven if he appeared.

Rachel reached the bridge first. Normally, I would be the last to let a woman go first, but she started this, she was the one most keen on this confrontation, and besides, by her own admission, she couldn’t die permanently.   She waved her sword in the air, challenging the raven, calling him grand master fuckbeak or something like that.  Gwyn meanwhile was standing there, terrified and wishing she could turn into a tree. I told her that I would have my friend, Aerodine, teach her that trick, hoping the joke would reassure her.  Suddenly, I don’t quite know what possessed me, but I then kissed her on the mouth, saying “Just in case this turns out to be a bad idea”.  I suppose my logic was that she had complained about not being kissed and decided she didn’t want to die without having been kissed. She looked a little surprised, but I think she was too scared of the thought of the raven to really notice.  Said raven duly appeared, hovering over the bridge.  He told Gwyn that she was protected and then asked the rest of us if we were under the protection of, or under oath to Valene. Rachel was not impressed, claiming her service to Padishar, if that meant anything to him, and continued the insults. Gwyn meanwhile was too terrified to even move, telling Rachel that she couldn’t do this. I swallowed my fear as best I could and stepped forward to answer him.

“We have not met,” I said, “but I am in the service of Her Cait Majesty.” I was not quite sure why I put it like that; I guess I figured it sounded better than just being a friend of Val’s.  Besides, I was sort of in her service, in so far as reporting goings on in the castle to her.  “My friend Gwyn here is also under her protection,” I told him, pointing to Gwyn, and then I took a leap of faith, hoping my one-eyed guard was round somewhere. “And this is Royce of the Cait.  I seek redress for the hurt you did my friend.” I hardly dared glance down, but to my eternal gratitude, Royce had indeed emerged from the undergrowth, with his usual “Now what?” expression. Just to add to the fun, I caught a flicker of movement across the bridge and realised Vedis was standing there. Since I had no idea of her allegiance, if any, I didn’t call for help from her. Rachel was continuing with her insults, goading and taunting the raven. Given that the raven had said that he would not attack those of us under Valene’s protection, unless we attacked first, this seemed a somewhat suicidal tactic, unless, it occurred to me, she wanted him to strike first. My suspicion was confirmed when the raven called up some kind of mini-tornado of rocks and sticks and possibly some kind of blades, it was hard to tell.  Rachel stood and took the blows, smiling almost, spitting insults.

“Good, you struck me first,” she said. “I can do as I please now. So land, land and face us, the fact that your wings still flap and your talons do not touch the ground is evidence of your cowardly nature. You are not brave enough to face us on even ground, merely staying out of our reach to ensure we can’t fight back. Dirty, cowardly tactics.” Gywn tried to calm the situation, telling Rachel that maybe she was a coward, a doormat after all and we should plan something else.  She tried to address the raven, greeting him by name and saying that her friends were loyal, but ran out of steam and stood there cursing to herself. I moved over to reassure her, noting that Nualla had also appeared out of the undergrowth. She didn’t look very happy, but then, she never does.  I told Gwyn that she should not put herself in danger; that she should run, let Nualla guide her to safety. I then addressed the raven myself.

“Captain, I seek redress, as I said. I would crave audience with your queen to present my grievance,” I said, hoping this might delay any attack. I lowered my sword, albeit reluctantly, so as to appear less threatening. He asked for a name, saying he would pass the message on and she would send for me. He then turned his attention to Rachel, sneering at her, telling her that she was the only one not under the protection of the Cait and that he would hang her guts up in the Underhills. He summoned something like a set of spears from the wind and sent them towards her. Finally, she seemed to see some sense and dived for the river. With her attention distracted, her influence seemed to wane. Gwyn stepped back asking what the fuck we were doing here.  I hugged her again and sheathed my sword. “My name is Nathaniel. If your queen needs credentials, then say that Valene Silverpard knows me well and will speak for me,” I told the raven, figuring that giving my full name might be a bad idea. I told Gwyn that now would probably be a good time to leave and asked Royce to show us the road out of here. He understood me immediately and with one of his claws, cut a hole in… well, I don’t know, in reality and led us through it. Behind us, I could hear the wind and the sound of rocks clattering and Vedis shouting at somebody to run if they didn’t want to die. Perhaps she meant Rachel, I don’t know, after all, they are both demon-kind. As for Gwyn and me, we were already leaving.

Our trip on the Roads was very brief. I barely had time to register the strangeness of them before we found ourselves in Valene’s den. Whatever hole it was we had come through was gone. The result was much like the portals that were sometimes used in London, but the experience in between was very different. I made sure Gwyn was safe and apologised for having not been able to resist the demon’s influence.

“What the fuck just happened?” She asked. “Is she dead? Why would she do that?”  She collapsed to the floor sobbing. I knelt and gathered her into my arms. I too, was close to collapsing, feeling my usual post-stress panic coming on, but I had to suppress it for her sake. I tried to explain as best I could, that Rachel was a demon, but was cursed by Padishar, so could not die permanently. I told her that I thought that she had used demon powers to influence us to anger or revenge, but that it was over now, that we were safe here in Val’s den.  Gwyn was not overly happy with my news, asking through her sobs if Rachel was coming back and complaining that she thought they were becoming friends. I tried to explain that demons have very different motivations, and that maybe she got pleasure or sustenance from her actions. I also suggested that maybe she was trying to get Padishar to lose patience and execute her permanently.

Valene appeared with one of her, for want of a better word, kittens.  She asked what had befallen that Royce should have chosen to bring us here. I tried my best to explain over the sound of Gwyn crying.

“I want to go home.I want my mum, and not that fae bitch who dumped me with her. I want to teach Blake to bright little bitches and creative writing to hopeless suburban mums. I want a pizza. I want Ben and Jerry’s. I want a cheese toastie and a cup of tea and my stupid housemate hanging her knickers on my iMac,” she cried, through the sobs. I had no idea what any of that meant, other than the reference to Blake. Valene joined me in comforting Gwyn, petting her and asking her if she would come back to those who loved her, were she able to leave.  To me, she told me that Nualla had briefed her on the various encounters, and then asked why I had claimed to be am ambassador, and did that mean I had accepted her service.

“Did I say ambassador?” I asked “I do not remember using that word. I may have done. I know I told the captain I was in your service, which seemed the easiest way to explain it.”  I was still stroking Gwyn’s hair gently “You asked that I keep you advised, and so I shall. What other service do you ask?”  She whispered something into Gwyn’s ears about the Roads going anywhere she chose. She told us we were welcome to stay in her den for the present and we agreed to meet again later to discuss my service to her. I told her that as a man of peace, I would do what I could.  This set Gywn off giggling while Valene disappeared once again into the shadows.

“Peaceful vampires,” she giggled, “batshit demons, humans in love with trees, fairies with no discernable lineage…  We’re a fucked up little island.”  For a moment, I thought she was talking about Aerodine and me, then I realised she meant Aoibheann and Ardan.  I laughed with her and said she had a way with words adding that maybe we could un-fuck some of it if we tried.

“Do they have light-bulbs in your time?” she asked.  I told her I had seen one demonstrated at an exhibition, but it was a poor thing compared to the ones I had known in Jasper Cove. She told me that there was a joke her father, or at least, the person she knew as father used to tell.

“What’s the difference between a pregnant woman and a light-bulb?  You can unscrew a light-bulb.” I laughed even though it was a corny joke and told her that this was not a problem with vampires. Some can’t even get it up, I told her, let alone get anybody pregnant.  I have no idea why I told her that. It made her blush and then she yawned, asking where she was supposed to sleep.  I indicated the pallets that Valene had provided.  They were right next to each other, so I asked if that was ok with her.  She told me she wasn’t afraid, although she said she had never slept with a boy before, and then apologised if she snored or drooled. I told her that didn’t matter and then thought I should warn her of what she might find if she woke before me, reminding her that I could sleep very deeply, and that I would certainly not be breathing.  That didn’t seem to be a problem for her, so we retired to the pallets and were soon asleep.

-oOo-

Morning found us much as night had left us, asleep side by side in Valene’s den. I think I woke first, but not by much. I still had an arm around Gywn and she did not seem displeased by this. I lifted a lock of hair out of her eyes and teased her about not being able to say she had never slept with a boy before and asked “was it good for her?”  She took it in good part and joked back. Neither of us seemed particularly inclined to get up or leave. We just lay there, talking and touching gently, just affectionate touches.  I massaged her neck and spine as best I could with the arm that was under her, or playing with her ear and hair. She responded in kind, though her touch was very tentative, uncertain, shy even, reminding me again that she lacked experience. I had no real intent other than to make her feel safe, cared for etc, but it was nice to be there, touching and being touched.  We spoke of many things; of being bullied at school, how I got bullied for being a bookworm and having ginger hair and how she got bullied for not being sexually promiscuous like so many of her contemporaries.  We spoke of modes of speech and she finally admitted that the foul-mouthed common girl was a façade. I contended that we were much alike, in that we both wore façades.  We spoke of the shape of ears and the niceness of necks. We spoke of class differences and my disdain for the class structure. For the most part, we avoided the topic of the previous evening, save for a moment where we talked about Rachel calling me a baby vampire and me calling her a baby demon. I pointed out that I had been a vampire for eight years, whereas Rachel had only been a demon a short while.  I also pointed out that while I was still new to many of my powers, I was very conscious of not using them on people unless I had to. I explained my abhorrence of the use of undue means of influencing people, whether it be by drugs, alcohol or magic, but saved my reasons – the incident with Tory and the laudanum and the enchanted bunches of flowers in London – for a later date.  I felt that was a necessary thing to tell her because we were lying there, being quite intimate with each other, and I wanted her to be assured that I wasn’t using any influence, other than my magic hands.  This last was a joke because she had complimented them while I was massaging. It was so relaxing to be there, just enjoying each other’s company and the closeness. We more or less admitted this to each other, saying that we both tended to wear armour when dealing with others, but didn’t feel the need to right then.

Our pleasant meanderings were interrupted by a growl from her stomach, reminding us that we were probably late for breakfast. I had no such audible reminders, but was aware that I needed to feed, and I was sure that Gwyn was not ready to experience that. Our faces were very close at this time, our noses bumped and she joked about Eskimo kisses. I opined that I preferred the normal variety and then, we kissed. I’m not sure why, but it seemed appropriate for the moment. She didn’t object and kissed back, again her inexperience showing, letting me take the lead until she started giggling, possibly out of embarrassment. She apologised but I told her there was no need. Conscious of the age and experience difference between us, I suggested we returned to the castle before we got carried away.  I reassured her that this was not because I didn’t want to, but because I thought we should take it slowly. She was a little confused for a moment, but admitted she was probably over-thinking things. I reassured her she had nothing to worry about.  With much lighter hearts than we had left with the night before, we headed back to the castle.

I guess the question of whether or not Gwyn had been flirting with me is now resolved. The question remains of how I should proceed. I genuinely like her, but I am so aware of her inexperience. I shall have to be careful that I do not rush her into anything before she is ready. There also remains the question of my other friendships or relationships. How can I explain that without hurting anyone? That is a much harder question.

 

* I Go Like the Raven – a Tracey Grammer song

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