Fiction Friday: Tales of the Dark Eras

Tales from the Dark Eras contains stories from many of the eras covered in Chronicles of Darkness: Dark Eras. This week we look at Dry Spell, a story by Renee Ritchie set in Vampire: The Requiem’s late 16th century.

“For crimes against the state and the pacts of our safety and contaminating the masses upon whom we feed, Abbot Nathaniel Pendleton is hereby condemned to Final Death, to be carried out immediately. Court is adjourned.”

While not the most ideal words to hear upon returning to court, that utterance confrmed that I was, indeed, home, if nearly an hour late. The Ieldra’s voice flled the court chamber as only hers could: placid, but brimming with power, even when bored. The rustle of her heavy velvet skirts along the floor struck my ears more deeply than the Abbot’s shouted protests and the resulting scuffle.

Harald elbowed me brusquely, returning my attention to my more immediate surroundings instead of the presence of the Ieldra. The Haunt grinned at me, his teeth crisscrossing each other in a fght for dominance in his own mouth. “Oi, some fancy tricks she’s learned there, eh?”

“Trick. Yes. Serpents,” I mumbled. My gaze wandered back to the high table where the Ieldra, seated at the center of the table, greeted a few richly dressed courtiers. Caedmon sat to her left, fretting with the long robes of offce and glaring sidelong as Richard Bithewaye introduced those courtiers to the Ieldra personally. One of Caedmon’s arms protectively encircled an earthenware vessel with a bit of ash smeared on its lip and handle.

“If that answer pleases you, sir,” Harald replied, his voice a little louder and more pointed than it needed to be. “Good to have you home, lad, but I’m afraid this conversation is more business than pleasure, so your full attention is requested.” Harald reinforced his message by gripping my arm with surprising power and flashing those wayward teeth once more.

“The Ieldra would like to see you, sir. Says it’s important.”

The old woman I’d killed on the way into the city flashed before my memory, and the gnawing sensation in the pit of my stomach, a quiet but persistent presence throughout the proceedings, made its presence known once more.

I followed Harald obediently rather than resisting, and his vicious grip loosened as we approached the high table. The Ieldra politely nodded along to whatever honeyed words spilled forth from Bithewaye’s companion, but her eyes moved to me, and I felt the cold of winter in my spine once more. Her conversation partner’s gaze shifted as well, narrowing to scrutinize my mean-looking garb and unremarkable face. I dipped my head in the deference the nobility prefers, and the delicate flower held a handkerchief to his face.

“Leave us,” the Ieldra said. I felt Harald back away behind me in quick steps. Caedmon and Richard both looked at me askance, but did as the lady bid. Caedmon collected the urn that surely carried the remains of his wayward abbot, and Richard escorted his fellows toward the center of the room, speaking to them in stilted French.

“Sit,” the Ieldra requested, gesturing to the empty chair to her right. I nodded once more and took the offered seat. My tongue darted out unbidden to lick my burning lips, and my gaze drifted to the cup before her on the table that I was certain was not there before. Her lips curled into a catlike smile.

“I hear you had a bit of a feast on your way in, Mister Starling,” she began, raising the cup to her lips, and the vitae within stained them red. It was all I could do to not stare at them, but her eyes remained on mine. “Would that explain your tardiness? Normally, you are so punctual.”

I swallowed hard, then nodded once more. “Yes, my lady,” I murmured. “It was a bit of clumsiness on my part, and I am truly sorry for any inconvenience–”

“And you still hunger.” Her tone grew sharper than the blade on my hip, and the ice in my spine melted, turning to water in my bowels. Were I still mortal, the reek of shit would have given me away.

“Worry not,” she continued with a resigned sigh. “I know this hunger is not your own. Your plight is by no means common, thought it has happened before. Normally, it does not even come to my attention, and if the poor afflicted soul survives the night, the condition may fade over time, but more frequently, it takes root so deeply that his ravenous hunger forces a more final solution.”

I am not a man to pray, but as the Ieldra explained, my mind concocted supplications to the Almighty, the God of the Jews, and all spirits the Weihan Cynn revered to spare me. “Am I entirely lost, m’lady?” I managed to reply.

“Not in the least.” She rolled her eyes. “You are lucky. Some of my allies were looking for that same woman to levy the same fate on her that you did by accident. They can alleviate it. Your payment to me for this is to deliver a small gift, which you will fetch from Cicely Rowe. Bring it to the Lodenstane, intact, before you kill again from your hunger. The recipient will be waiting there for you. One of my daughters will accompany you to ensure the proper forms are followed, but you must be the one to deliver it. Return to me before dawn with whatever they give you. You have my word that nothing in your delivery includes a command or request for its recipient to kill you upon delivery.”

I nodded, and I could feel my body relax and uncoil as she spoke the words required by the Post’s rules to allow me to accept the task. “Of course, my lady. As is right and proper.”

The Ieldra raised her hand, palm up, and then Gwendolyn approached, as if waiting in the wings at the Globe. Her milk-white skin and golden hair were the stuff of sonnets, even in life. When I left London, she still breathed and reveled in the sun warming her face. Now, the warmth that livened her bosom, a warmth I relished in moments of quiet between travels, was gone. She clasped the Ieldra’s extended hand, but when her eyes alighted on me, her sweet lips, once ruddy with kisses but now pale, parted in a startled gasp. “You! You’re…” she began, and a hint of girlish trembling made her clutch the box tighter.

The Ieldra’s smile spread, and she brought Gwendolyn’s hand to her lips, kissing the girl’s fingers gently to soothe her. Still, Gwendolyn stared at me in horror.

“I know she was a favorite of yours,” the Ieldra explained to me. “And for good reason. But she was mine long before she was ever yours. Remember that. She will go with you. You’ve taken good care of her before. I expect nothing less from you now.” With a gentle push to the small of her back, the Ieldra guided Gwendolyn to me, and I could not help but open my arms to her. My fangs pierced my tongue as I recalled the taste of her from many a visit to her bed. My Beast roared in fury in my chest, especially as Gwendolyn recoiled from the offered embrace.

“Go, both of you,” the Ieldra commanded. “Time is precious. To fail is to commit treason. But I would advise getting a proper meal beforehand.” The knowing smile on her lips as she turned away set my teeth to gnashing behind tightly closed lips. I snatched Gwendolyn’s hand and practically dragged her behind me as I left the hall.

Find out what Gwendolyn and Mister Starling are going to do about Starling’s “condition” in Tales of the Dark Eras, available now in ebook and print from DriveThruFiction!

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