Granny has left Old Oak Mansion in a hurry. Her granddaughter is in a coma, and getting weaker for each hour passing. If they are to be able to ever wake her up, they will need her father’s blood – fast. But Granny doesn’t know in what condition she will find Magnus Darkling. She has heard the rumors; the Council has finally got to him and she can only hope that he’s still alive.
The only place to keep him prisoner would be where he was born, so she set out for what was left of Erik the Red’s settlement close to Aurora Skies on Iceland.
The journey across the Atlantic seemed to last forever. She had to keep out of sight, which meant staying away from the coast. For once she was happy about the harsh weather which kept her almost invisible. There was no way to spot her – except maybe on a radar.
Fiercely holding on to her broom, she focused on her goal – the island where she knew Taïga’s father, the compelling vampire Magnus Darkling, had grown up. For each passing mile, her fear grew. After all, he had once sworn to kill her…
But upon arrival, he was nowhere to be found.
She had visited Eiríksstaðir first, but was surprised to find that the ruins had become a museum dedicated to the discoverer of America -Erik the Red’s son Leif Erikson- and exhibiting some interesting cultural artifacts found on the nearby dig site. The place seemed deserted, so she decided it was safe to land just behind the mound-like building. She half expected the door to be closed, but it wasn’t.
Taking off her hat, she entered a dimly lit hall. A lone figure sat on one of the long benches, reading. The man quickly put away his book, and came to greet her. He was dressed as a Viking but she recognized the mausoleum keeper from her visit a few years ago. He didn’t recognize her though, and had never heard of Magnus Darkling. He was very helpful, he even called his wife, employee at the Town Hall, but no one seemed to know the whereabouts of Taïga’s handsome father. It was as if he had vanished from Earth without a trace.
After asking around some more in the small town, she was relieved to see that Björn’s Café now also served lunch. A healthy part of tuna pie later, she retraced her steps back to the churchyard. She had hidden her broom behind a large tomb stone which she now saw was covered in intricate runes. Gloomily she brushed snow away, glancing distractedly at the old inscription in elder futhark.
Haraldr konungr bað gǫrva kumbl þausi aft Jom… ngaur- ‘What!?! Runes about the Jomsvikings?’ Hadn’t Magnus’s maker been one of the feared berserk warriors?
Curious she traces the lines with her finger, ‘King Haraldr ordered this monument made in memory of the Jomsviking, that Harald who won for himself all of Denmark and Norway…’ Yeah, the usual blabla.
But being Granny, aka excessively concerned with minor details and thus feeling compelled to finish what she had started, she continued reading.
She brushed away the rest of the snow from the base of the stone, mumbling to herself as her eyes strained to follow the faded lines.
‘… and Varinn colored them, in memory of-’
Varinn… She was sure she had heard that name somewhere. And in memory of who? The unexpectedly interesting scripture seemed to continue into the frozen earth, and desperately she looked for something she could use to dig.
‘This is a cemetery, for God’s sake. There should be shovels somewhere…’
Five minutes later, she was on her knees, scratching with a small gardening hand spade.
‘… in memory of his dead son… Ygg… the bold-‘ she hacked frantically away at the hard soil, dislodging another chunk of black dirt, ‘… chief of sea warriors who left for the great west never to come back…’
It can’t be a coincidence – I’m sure I’ve heard about the Jomsvikings associated with Magnus’s maker. Yggve, son of Varinn, child of the dark… She tried to recall the little she knew about the fierce vampire, apart the fact that following the blood feud between witches and vampires that started in the Middle Ages, her own ancestors had taken out Yggve Darkling. His remains were secured in an underground cave, dug out under his birthplace, and Magnus had sworn not to rest before the Grey witches” bloodline was totally annihilated. Or at least making the Grey witches’ lives a misery, sleeping with them all! She clenched her fists so hard her nails cut into the palms of her hands, drawing blood. She had to get a grip on herself. Getting all worked up wouldn’t help her granddaughter.
What had Magnus said, again? She was sure he had mentioned Yggve and the Jomsvikings when they first met, long before she even knew about him being a vampire…
The memories from their time in Paris had been chased from her mind for so long, it hurt to recall them. She didn’t want to go there, but she had to, for her granddaughter’s sake. Taking a deep breath, she closed her eyes and concentrated.
Slowly the whining wind seemed to fade, giving place to joyful chirping and the soft rustling of leaves. A warm wind caresses her cheek. Or is it Magnus’s soft fingers? It’s a sunny afternoon in the north of France. Magnus has taken both sisters on a picnic in Normandy and they have settled in the shade of a huge oak. Missy is happily chatting about Norman history with Magnus, and after William the Conqueror they’ve switched over to Vikings in general. But Granny doesn’t listen, she can’t help but wish they could have left the boisterous teen at the hotel. She’s enjoying the warmth of the sun and Magnus’s long fingers stroking her hair. They have shared a bottle of wine and Granny is contentedly dozing off, her head on Magnus’s lap, his low warm voice adding to the feeling of drowsy happiness…
‘… but Viking raiders returned in 980, plundering their way along the Anglo-Saxon coast, in spite of the relative peace that had reigned in Danelaw for over a hundred years… King Æthelred the Unready-’
‘-was terrified and tried to pay them off. He offered them 10,000 pounds, but the Vikings just took the money and laughed him in the face. Or killed the messenger. Whatever… The King was kind of smart though, he offered the Viking crews more gold and silver if they switched sides and fought for him instead-‘
‘Like mercenaries?’ Missy interrupts.
‘I would have switched sides too! I mean, how many warriors were there to share 10,000 pounds? Peanuts. Better go for more looting!’ Missy snorts with contempt.
Magnus laughs. ‘You have no idea, do you? That would be around 75 million $ today…’
Missy gasps, ‘Oh… That’s a lot of money… Did they switch sides?’
‘Sure did. These guys were called the Jomsvikings, they were one of the most feared bands of Viking berserkers, professional warriors who would fight anyone for money. They lived by a strict code of loyalty and didn’t fear death, preferring to look it in the eye on the battlefield, than to die as old men in bed…’ Magnus’s long artist fingers absentmindedly play with Granny’s dark locks.
She sighs, ‘All this talk about axe-wielding barbarians raping their way across the country is boring. Please, tell us something romantic.’
Magnus hesitates, ‘There was a young warrior, not much more than a boy really – only fifteen years old, who-’
‘Just like me!’ Missy peeps.
‘C’mon, you’ve just turned fourteen!’
‘Close enough, I feel like fifteen.’
Granny raises her head from Magnus’s lap, shading her eyes, ‘Stop bickering, you two, and continue your story, Magnus.’
Missy looks glumly at her sister, envying her position in the handsome artist’s arms. She plucks at the grass, drawing the stems up with the roots.
‘Well, his name was Vagn, and even though you weren’t admitted into The Jomsviking’s order before the age of eighteen, he was an exception.’
‘Why?’ Missy can’t help herself.
‘Because he had bravely fought someone in single combat at only twelve. And apparently he had defeated his adversary – a grown man. Anyway, for three years he had lived and fought among these men. He was an orphan, and Yggve Varinnson, who was ten years older than him, had taken the young boy under his protection, teaching him all about battle and combat. They lived as brothers, fighting back to back, sharing everything. Until they looted Ipswich, that is.’
‘To make a long story short – as usual they attacked, won and pillaged. But this time Yggve took a prisoner. A beautiful fair-haired Saxon maiden named Gytha, which means gift. However, Yggve called her Gisa – hostage. There weren’t usually any prisoners brought back, you see. The men took what they wanted, then sold off the survivors and split the winnings. But Gytha was special…’ his voice trails off. ‘And so they fell in love.’
‘Yggve and Gytha? Isn’t that called the Stockholm syndrome?’
‘No. Vagn… He loved the fair-haired girl to the moon and back, and he became quite obsessed with her. But Jomsviking rules were strict. They stated that he was bound to his brother in arms, and thus, the punishment for taking his brother’s woman was immediate expulsion from the order. Taking into consideration Yggve’s capacity to go berserk, the Jomsvikings decided to exile the young man to avoid a blood feud. The thing is, he didn’t leave alone. He more or less kidnapped Gytha, who was with child, and left for Hornstrandir… Iceland.’ He specifies, seeing the questioning look on Missy’s face.
‘And they lived happily ever after,’ Granny interrupts, sitting up. ‘Who wants some more wine?’
Magnus holds out his empty glass, continuing, ‘There were no happy ending. Yggve followed them over the sea, but somehow they were warned, and when Yggve and his men arrived at Eiríksstaðir they only found women and children. Vagn and Gytha had already left Iceland on a ship with Erik the Red, who by the way, had been banned from Iceland too, because he-’
‘I know about him! His son Leif discovered America!’ Missy squeals.
‘Very exciting…’ Granny mumbles, leaning back in Magnus’s arms, sipping her wine.
‘Yeah… very. Their son was born in Eystribyggð, not far from where the capital, Nuuk, is now. But Yggve was not the kind of man to let go. He finally caught up with them, slaughtered the unfaithful couple and for some reason took the child with him back to Iceland where he raised him as his own son…’ He downs his glass of wine, ‘We better get going, if we’re to get back before nightfall…’
The lush greenery gives way to the whirling snowflakes again. With a shiver of cold, Granny blinks a little dazed. She can almost hear the pieces of the puzzle fall into place.
Of course! As the only place to keep Magnus Darkling prisoner is where he was born, I took it for granted it was Eiríksstaðir, where he grew up. How come I had forgotten…?
Huffing, she gets back up onto her feet. At least she now knows where to search…
She does some hasty research at the library, finding Brattahlíð at the end of Eiriksfjord (now called Tunulliarfik fjord) on a map over the first Viking settlements. Oblivious to the weather, she immediately sets off. The overcast skies does nothing to ease the sight, and she has to fly relatively high to avoid the numerous icebergs scattered over the Denmark Strait. Suddenly a dark shape is looming out of the general greyness. Greenland.
Rounding Cape Farewell, she follows the jagged coastline. As she approaches her goal, her mind wanders. She anticipates what she will say, trying to make abstraction of the fact that Magnus Darkling is not only an old and extremely dangerous vampire, but also the only man she has ever loved. Her grip on the broom tightens when she recalls her sister’s revelations*, making her lose her balance as the broom suddenly veers into the mouth of Tunulliarfik fjord.
Get a grip on yourself! You got away unscathed from your last encounter** and you’re definitely not the inexperienced witch you were in Paris anymore. Realizing she doesn’t have any powers left if push comes to shove, her mouth goes dry. You’re doing this for your grandchild…
She concentrates on her memories of Magnus, and what he told her in Paris about his Viking ancestors. Of course she didn’t know he was talking about himself at the time. If only she had known then what she knows now…
The broom veers a sharp right and keeps to the shoreline, heading towards an alignment of faint lights.
Eystribyggð – The Eastern Settlement… It’s more Southern than Eastern, but it doesn’t matter anyway. Now let’s find the farm where Gytha gave birth…
Protected from sight by the dark and the snowfall, she flies past the small village of Saaqartoq, looking for the farmstead of Brattahlíð. She doesn’t know what she expected, but surely not this. More ruins. The outline of what seems to have once been a building stares up at her like an open mouth, making her hopes sink.
There’s not even a roof… He can’t be here…
Soaked in sleet, she carefully lands in the middle of the ruins. Leaving her broom in the bushes, she takes in the surroundings.
Nothing. Just a jumble of stones and the chilling wind whistling through the gaps in what’s left of the walls. A slightly lighter stone draws her attention, and hugging herself for warmth she approaches.
Marble? There’s no marble on Greenland, so what is this chunk doing in the wall? It must have been added… by the Council?
She can distinguish faint lines in the gloom and her hope rises. But even though she gets really close, the lines don’t make any sense.
‘Meaningless scratches,’ she mumbles to herself. ‘Is this my punishment for breaking my promise to Magnus?’
After she got bitten by a zombie*, she had gotten weaker for each time she used magic. So when she decided not to include Magnus in the cloaking spell anymore, it hadn’t been such a hard decision to make. Her grandchild was more important than her vampire father who was capable of taking care of himself. He had been for over a thousand years… She wrings her hands. Maybe she shouldn’t have been so careless?
Her eyes fill with tears of despair and angry at herself for losing such valuable time, she loses her self-control and starts hammering at the offending slab of marble. Exhausted, and with the palms of her hands burning, she leans her forehead against the cool stone. Sniveling, she can taste the salt of her tears.
‘It’s all my fault… Why didn’t I keep track of him even after Shasta died? How could I have been so stupid? Why didn’t I-’
Her head suddenly seems to sink through the smooth stone and startled she takes a step back. There’s definitely something on the stone now, an outline of a pentagram which is already starting to fade.
‘What the…?’ She almost throws herself forward, putting both her hands in a perfect angle to the star while she still can see it. Covering as much of the surface as possible with her warm hands, she tries to activate the heat sensitive pentacle.
First there’s nothing, but then the outlines of her hands start to glow. A cold blue light slips through her fingers, tracing the contours of the pentagram, getting so bright she has to close her eyes. A deep rumble from behind makes the earth shake beneath her feet.
Suddenly the blinding light disappears, replaced by a soothing darkness. Granny opens her eyes, turning slowly around. She’s on the verge of a staircase leading straight down into darkness.
Well. I’m here, so it would be stupid not doing this. Who knows, maybe Magnus has a secret bunker installed underground… But then again, it wouldn’t have been sealed by magic, would it? No, this is the Council’s doing. It confirms the rumors about him being “neutralized”. Let’s just hope he’s still alive down there…
There’s an old hurricane lamp hanging on the wall a bit further down. Before she changes her mind, she takes a step, then another.
An old lamp, and a box of matches. Good. It means they anticipated someone coming…
Holding the lamp up high and keeping a steadying hand on the wall to keep her balance, she half expects to hear the frightening rumble from behind her back at any moment, announcing the closure of the entrance way. But the only sound, apart from the howling of the wind, is from small stones dislodged and occasionally falling down as she progresses further into the darkness.
She stops at the bottom of the long staircase in front of a door, padlocked with a heavy chain. Whoever cast the spell to hide the stairs didn’t want anyone in. Or out.
‘So you better have a plan to get us out of here if your plan goes south,’ she whispers to herself, inspecting the lock. It seems to be ordinary, no magic involved – just a code. ‘Four numbers… Let’s see… Err… 0000… 0001… 0002… … 6432… 6431, no, 6433… 6434…’
Granny straightens, a hand on her aching lower back. ‘Well. Can’t say that was fast…’
Tentatively, she pushes the door, but it doesn’t budge. She tries with both her hands. Nothing. She backs away, grimacing. Why use a simple lock if the door was sealed by magic? That means it probably wasn’t…
She hesitates, should she use her wand? Sprinkler had specified she should keep whatever magic he had succeeded in transferring for absolute emergencies only. So is this an emergency? No. Not yet.
‘I haven’t come this far, just to let a stuck old door keep me out. Your better open before I destroy you with my wand! AAAAH!’
Screaming, she throws herself on the door, shoulder first, pushing as hard as she can. And finally it opens.
She stumbles through the doorway, only to back out again to pick up her lamp.
Suddenly she freezes. A faint sound like growling thunder comes from somewhere above. A low rumbling that rapidly increases, surrounding her until the whole roof seems to come tumbling down, making the floor shake. Terrified, she shelters her head with her arms, but as the dust settles, she realizes the major part of the stones must have fallen further down the hall.
So, the place is trapped! I should have expected something like this from the Council’s twisted minds…
She fumbles around for the old lamp and very cautiously, she treads over the threshold again.
She holds the old hurricane lamp up high, trying to get as much light as possible. There’s rubble everywhere, and the faint light makes it hard to judge the size of the room. It seems more to be a hall, or a gallery, than a room anyway. Treading carefully, one step at a time, she slowly progresses into the long gallery, searching the overgrown floor for signs of booby traps. The flickering light of the lamp cast shadows on the monastery like archways decorating the wall.
The Middle Ages… Built quite a while after the house, probably even after it was reduced to ruins. But why? To serve as a dungeon? Or to hide something precious maybe?
Something catches the dancing light, gleaming faintly in the darkness, and as she advances she can see that it’s yet another padlocked door. A huge mound of stones is blocking the rest of the gallery, making any further progress impossible.
Slowly turning on herself, she lets the lamp shine upward. She scrutinizes the ceiling but it seems intact.
Hmm… Where did the stones come from? Whatever happened, it wasn’t meant to kill an intruder. So why did the stones fall so far from the first door? It was probably meant to force you to open that one…
Her foot hits something and in her attempt at not letting go of the lamp, she loses her balance, heavily sitting down.
She groans. Her butt hurts, but it feels good to rest her aching legs a while. I’ll just sit here a few minutes… I hope the code on this padlock is faster to solve than-
She puts the lamp on the floor and freezes. Slowly she looks down at what she’s sitting on.
She pushes away from the coffin, dislodging the heavy, padded lid in her effort to get away. She quickly retreats, stopping as it slams to the floor behind her. Judging the coffin a safe distance away, she studies the dusty object. It seems out of place – it’s decidedly too new to date back to the Viking Era. And after what she heard, they usually burned their dead anyway.
Could it be who she was looking for? But why is that door padlocked if he’s not kept in there?
She tries to see what’s inside the casket, but she’s too far away to make anything out, except the fact that it isn’t empty. The lamp is still next to it, and she needs it to find out who’s in there.
Keeping a vigilant eye on the content of the coffin, she sidesteps towards the lamp, drawing her wand. Just in case.
Continuing her careful approach, she gasps at the sight of the corpse in the coffin. The man is deathly pale, the skin drawn so tight over the cheekbones it looks like a skull. Staring down at his badly bruised face, she draws sharply for breath. He’s almost unrecognizable.
The wand falls from her numb fingers, silently bouncing on Magnus Darkling’s chest before disappearing into the confines of the casket.
‘Magnus?’ Her voice is barely a whisper, echoing of the walls.
What on earth have they done to him?
Falling to her knees, she reaches into the coffin feeling around for her wand. She tries to pull him up, but his lifeless body is inconcievably heavy, and she has to let him fall back into the silk padded coffin again.
Whatever happened to him, there’s no sign of rigor mortis. But he’s incredibly cold…
A black bracelet wrapped around Magnus’s right hand draws her attention, ‘What is this? A rosary?’
Carefully she lifts his clutched hand to have a closer look, but when she touches the black wooden pearls of the catholic symbol, the fragile thread holding them together disintegrates, scattering the pearls onto the floor.
‘Crap!’ Surprised, she lets go of his inanimate arm but she immediately pinches the hem of his leather jacket to replace his arm more comfortably.
‘I’m sorry, Magnus. I would never have thought you’d found faith… I’ll just put the pearls back with you,’ she stammers, scooping up the tiny black beads around her.
‘I hope you won’t mind me taking a little of your blood – if there’s any left in you so to say- it’s to save Taïga. I’m sure you would understand that – if you could hear me. Oh, my God. I’m talking to a corpse!’
Blinded by tears she looks down at him, grasping the pearls in her hand. Magnus looks like he’s only sleeping, lying on his side. She decides to leave him like that, he’s too heavy anyway and she’s not comfortable handling him like a… a corpse.
Sniveling, she reaches out to put the pearls back.
There’s only one thing left to do now. Getting that blood sample and get the Hell out of here…
The pale body suddenly comes to life, making poor Granny scramble backwards with a strangled yelp, pearls scattering around her.
Magnus’s breathing is a labored wheeze and he sways, having apparent difficulty to raise his head. Granny cautiously continues easing backwards.
What if he’s a zombie now? Oh, please, please don’t…
Ever since she got bitten, her worst nightmare is to become a zombie again… She fumbles for her wand, but realizes it’s still in the casket.
How far could she get without light? Without falling on the jumble of stones? Will the staircase still be open? She breaks out in a cold sweat when he turns his head and fixes her.
‘You…’ His voice is barely audible.
A zombie doesn’t talk. Or does it?
No. It growls a lot, but it definitely doesn’t speak.
Magnus hand fumbles with something around his neck. Cautiously Granny eases forward, staying out of reach.
His eyes are staring unblinkingly at her. Or through her. Whatever, their over glazed dullness is frightening.
‘… help… me…’
She swallows as he succeeds in pulling a leather thread with a tiny vial out from under his T-shirt.
Trembling she reaches out, ready to withdraw her hand at the first sign of menace.
For a tenth of a second, her eyes leave his face and she glances at the vial.
What was that? Suddenly he had seemed conscious, for a fleeting moment even triumphant. She pulls her hand back, easing out of reach again.
Magnus’s eyes glaze over and he slumps heavily backwards with a groan.
Without thinking, she rushes forward, fumbling to unscrew the cap of the tiny vial. With trembling fingers, she pours the content into his open mouth…
Her head is pounding, or is it her pulse? A regular swishing sound in her ears, resounding in her head.
What happened? Where am I?
She groans, trying to move, but her arms are stuck. Is she tied up? OhmyGod. She draws in her breath, trying to calm down. The air smells of cave. Dust mixed with humidity… and earth. She’s lying on the cold, hard ground, with stones and rocks in front of her blocking her view. She tries to focus. To concentrate. Slowly the haze shifts away and she remembers where she is.
‘You’re awake.’ The familiar voice sends a shiver down her spine.
She turns her head towards the sound of his voice, ‘Magnus.’
The handsome vampire seems to have fully recovered, sitting on the heap of stones like it was some kind of throne. Nonchalantly he licks a bloodied finger, and automatically she lifts her bound hands to her neck, feeling for the sore bump, the evidence of him feeding on her.
‘I just took what I needed to get back on my feet so to say. I should probably thank you for getting rid of the rosary, the damn thing would have kept me passed out until I had totally dried up…’
As if hypnotized, Granny can’t take her eyes away from his perfect features. He’s still a little pale, but seems to have recovered perfectly. She, on the other hand, is feeling lightheaded. She wonders how much of her precious life fluids “taking what he needed” means.
‘… and I hope you’ll forgive me for leaving you on the ground like this, but I thought that the casket would have been a tad… traumatizing…’
He looks at something behind her back and automatically she follows his gaze, taking in the open coffin.
‘… especially at your age,’ he adds, staring thoughtfully at her.
With difficulty she gets onto her knees, her hands tied in front of her.
This is not good… But he could have tied them behind my back, and that would have been worse…
‘Don’t expect me to thank you,’ she whispers in a hoarse voice. God, she’s thirsty. She adventures a quick glance towards the coffin again. Is the wand still in there?
‘Are you wondering about this?’ He looks mockingly at her with Taïga’s eyes, fiddling with an old twig.
She tries not to show the alarm that fills her, keeping her eyes fixedly staring back at him.
‘So nobody missed me, huh? Where did you think I was? On a spa-get away? Seriously… We had an agreement.’
Granny doesn’t answer, assessing the situation. What does he want? Why is she tied up like this? Why is she still alive?
‘Sorry about that.’ He nods towards her bound hands. ‘Couldn’t risk having you waving your hands around doing any of those annoying spells. It’s a sure nuisance…’
He looks thoughtfully at her, but when she doesn’t say anything, he continues, ‘Point is, the violence surrounding my birth over a thousand years ago, marked this ground for all time, and for the first time in ages, I’m quite vulnerable. Weak, even. Being kept imprisoned, entombed, is a terrible fate for one who cannot die.’
What does he want from me? Sympathy?
The handsome vampire leans back, fiddling with the vial around his neck. ‘But enough about that, I don’t need your sympathy. I just couldn’t risk you leaving while I picked up some food.’
He glances to his left, and Granny suddenly realizes that they’re not alone. She gasps at the sight of the carelessly thrown, bloodied heap, which once was a man.
‘You’re nothing but a… a…’
‘Sorry if I’ve offended you, but you know what I am. I kill, I feed, I do all the dreadful things a vampire does.’
‘… a beast-’ ‘
And I have a tendency to play with my food,’ he says, provoking her.
‘-and a degenerate!’
Magnus raises an eyebrow, ‘He was trying to rape a young girl, FYI.’
Granny shuts her mouth. ‘Oh…’ She raises her chin, ‘I admit he merited a punishment, but you should have let justice handle that!’
‘Hm. It was never an option, really. A hamburger wouldn’t have done it for me in the state I was in. I’m a vampire, Tara. Would you prefer me to go vegetarian and eat animals? Kittens and puppies?’
‘Well. I don’t.’ He looks slyly at her, ‘And Taïga? What does she eat? Has she got any “cravings” yet?’
‘Don’t you dare drag my grandchild into this disgusting conversation!’
‘MY daughter. And I know you’re here because of her, so let’s cut the crap.’
Granny’s mouth falls open. ‘I forbid you to read my mind.’
Magnus raises an eyebrow, then he scowls. ‘I don’t need to, Tara. You’re like an open book to me. And you actually asked me if I didn’t mind. Getting a sample of blood – for Taïga,’ he specifies.
‘Which brings us to the real question here…’ Magnus seems to look right through her with those piercing green eyes. ‘Why does she need my blood?’
Granny takes a deep breath. ‘It was the night of the blood moon yesterday.’
‘So I suppose my daughter is now a full blooded witch?’
Magnus nods imperceptibly, encouraging her to continue.
‘There was an accident and…’ she hesitates, meeting Magnus blank stare. His jaw clenches, the only sign of how upset he is.
‘Err… I guess I have to fill you in with the details concerning the… err… accident…’
‘I suggest you do, yes.’
The vampire listens without interrupting, waiting for Granny to finish her tale.
‘… according to Sprinkler. But we have to try everything.’
Magnus sighs. Raising slowly to his feet, he takes her bound wrists and lifts them to his mouth.
Granny trembles violently. He didn’t believe her. He’s going to feed on her again. Or kill her. Nononono.
But Magnus just slices through the thick rope with his teeth. Turning his back on her, he sits down again, distractedly playing with her wand.
‘So I’m your only hope then? Seems rather convenient. But I guess you are speaking the truth after all. Or you wouldn’t have come here… alone…’
‘… stripped of your powers.’ The wand breaks with a sharp crack.
Granny quickly turns her back to him before he can see the expression of pure despair washing over her.
But the cruel vampire only chuckles, ‘See? That’s exactly why we got to keep you out of harm’s way. Now, here’s the deal. I will give you whatever you need as long as it is to save my daughter…’
Granny’s heart is beating like a sledgehammer. Not trusting her voice, she nods.
Of course there’s a hitch.
‘… once they figure out what you’ve done, they’re gonna come after you. The Council will always do what’s best for the Council. We have to be ready for them. Play along, meet their price.’
‘… and should the Council return with the intent to harm Taïga, I will strike them all down myself. They trapped me once. It will never happen again. Which brings us to-’
‘Unfortunately, we have another threat to contend with.’ Granny whispers.
Magnus smile vanishes from his face, ‘What has that old crone to do with my daughter?’
‘Taïga is supposed to wed the Jadwiga King.’
Magnus’s face falls. ‘You can’t be serious? There’s no way no daughter of mine will marry that rogue bastard!’
Seeing Magnus loose his cool would have been pure joy – if the situation hadn’t been so grave.
‘It takes one to know one,’ she mumbles.
Magnus frowns, ‘Shasta went against the Council’s breeding program and it went down well. OK, she kind of put the Council before a “fait accompli”… Hmm… I guess they won’t let Taïga get away as easily as her mother did. No, we have to get her out of reach of the Council somehow… Hide her… But where? And I can’t understand why they choose a descendant of Baba Yaga’s?’
‘They didn’t. Baba Yaga had the Council’s man killed.’
‘That’s more like her. So what does that Russian creep of a witch gain?’
‘She wants the baby.’
‘Well. She won’t get it.’
‘There might be a slight problem concerning that. Taïga signed a contract…’
Magnus clenches his jaw. As did I, she continues to herself, too scared to say it aloud, as Magnus now looks as if he’s ready to kill someone.
‘I can’t believe you’ve let yourself get into this kind of trouble…’ He passes his hand through his unruly mass of bond hair, grimacing. ‘What about the werewolf?’ he ask suddenly, changing the subject.
How can he know about Derek Vargas? ‘The Vargas boy?’ she says cautiously. ‘His plane went down over Central Africa last June.’
‘Reported missing. But after the look of the plane, there were no survivors.’
‘Good… Something less to worry about.’ He squints at her with those amazing green eyes, ‘OK. I’ll take care of it. But you have to uphold your part of the deal this time.’
‘I’m so relieved you will help me,’ she says in a quivering voice.
‘Who said I would help you?’
Granny recoils as if he had hit her, ‘You just said-’
‘I said I would help her.’
Granny wisely shuts her mouth.
‘This farce of a wedding can’t happen. Going after the Russian witch is too dangerous, she’s too powerful. No, we have to strike where it hurts… She expects us to neutralize Ivan, so we won’t do that. No, we’ll play along and get her to trust us…’
Granny agrees, ‘Baba Yaga is probably prepared for all eventualities. She’s not supposed to claim Taïga before she’s eighteen, but I don’t trust her.’
‘Neither do I. But can I trust you?’
‘What do you want me to do?’
Thoughtfully he taps his teeth, ‘First we have to get hold of the contract, make sure there are no copies-’
‘There aren’t, we signed in blood.’
‘-then I’ll kill Ivan and that ugly bitch of a witch before- You signed it too!?!’
Granny nods, feeling the little blood she has left rush to her feet.
With a roar Magnus rises, towering over her. She tries to meet his gaze, but fails miserably. Shutting her eyes hard, she waits for him to strike. But he doesn’t. When she dares open her eyes again, he’s sitting on the pile of rubble, studying his nails.
‘Consider yourself lucky. I need you to do something for me.’
‘Anything,’ Granny murmurs.
‘It seems the Council must have cast a spell so I can’t leave the confines of the ruins.’ He looks at her condescendingly, ‘Luckily I still had my solar powered cellphone – talk about ordering take away…’
‘But you said he was a criminal.’
‘I lied. I haven’t crawled back from the grave only to end up living out in the ass-end of nowhere! You have to undo the spell that keeps me trapped – I’m not meant to be here.’
‘I don’t know how I could help. You’ve already noticed I’m stripped of my powers. And you broke my wand.’
‘Your wand was useless without your powers. You’ll find a way to get me out, with or without your witchcraft. If you fail to uphold your end of the deal…’ Magnus pauses dramatically, ‘… I’m coming after your family. I might even use your precious sister as bait to get at Baba Yaga. Anyway, the consequences will be devastating.’
She stares at him, trying to judge his words, but he meets her gaze devoid of emotion.
‘I might still be trapped here, but I have connections – you won’t be safe anywhere.
I’ll ask Haeju for help. She’ll cloak us from…’
‘You should know better. A cloaking spell can’t hide you from a vampire. You must surely have known I’ve been keeping you –Taïga- watched. After making sure she really was my daughter, of course. I left her a moonstone to protect her from wolf bites…’*
He looks Granny over. Satisfied to see her pallor, he adds, ‘We aren’t the ultimate predators for nothing…’
With a sharp tug, he pulls the vial from his neck. His long delicate fingers swiftly unscrew the cap and holding her gaze, he bites through his fingertip, filling the ornate vial with his blood.
Holding it out to her, he says gruffly, ‘Now leave. Before I change my mind.’
*Part I – Chapter 53
Trying not to show Magnus her weakness by crying with relief, Granny turns on her heels and rushes blindly away, trying to put as much distance between herself and her vicious lover from so many years ago. She negotiates the rubble and the stairs without falling, only to stumble out into a blinding blizzard. It takes her a minute or two to get her bearings in the whirlwind of snow.
She falls on her knees and with freezing fingers uncovers her broom from its hiding place under some bushes. The enchanted object comes to life at the touch of her hand, the wood warming up like a living thing, and she knows it will soon transmit the blessed heat through her hands to her whole body. But she has to hurry before Magnus changes his mind and comes after her.
It’s already dark, but the faint halo of light from the capital, Nuuk, shows her which direction to take. The broom shudders, ready to go, and slowly she negotiates the narrow opening in the decrepit wall.
With a last glance towards the ruins of Magnus home, she sets off through the grey haze of the falling snow towards the flickering lights of the nearby town of Saaquartoq…
Magnus watches Granny disappear in the night. With a sigh he brushes away some snow from a stone and sits down in front of the slate grey sea.
A new day is coming, whether you like it or not…
He has lived on top of the world for so long, he has almost forgotten the sensation overcoming him. Frustration? Impatience? He’s not used to helplessly stand by, watching…
Slowly Granny circles the village in search for a safe place to stay the night. The storm has abided, but the snow is still falling – large silent flakes efficiently hiding her from view.
She lands in front of the old village church which lays abandoned at this hour of the night. After hiding her broom behind a gravestone, she trudges up the path through the fresh layer of snow. Blowing on her cold hands, she hopes the door will be unlocked, as she would hate to break a window to gain access to the religious building.
Grateful for the open door policy, she enters the dimly lit church. She’s prepared to answer eventual questions, even though she doesn’t really expect someone to be here at this hour.
After making sure the place is empty, she curls up on one of the hard wooden benches. Ignoring her hunger and soaked clothes, she immediately falls asleep, overtaken by sheer exhaustion and anemia.
The large wet flakes continue falling, thickening the white coat covering the little village and effectively absorbing all noise. And while Granny sleeps dreamlessly…
… Magnus sits immobile, waiting for the snowfall to cease. He stares at the waning gibbous of the huge blood moon, wondering if Granny will make it home in time to save his precious daughter. Better set his plan B in motion…
Fumbling for his cell, he pushes in a familiar number, ‘I’m calling in a favor…’
A deer ventures through the deserted streets as a rosy light on the horizon announces dawn, coloring the snow in different shades of pink.
The old church is eerie silent, the only sounds coming from Granny, who is peacefully snoring, and the walls randomly creaking as the change of temperature makes the wood work.
Granny stirs, her old body aching after sleeping on a hard bench. She stretches, rearranging her corset.
Now, where is my hat? With a groan she bends forward, checking under the bench. Ah, there it is.
She brushes off some dust before putting it back on her head. Time to leave. Her stomach grumbles, but there’s no time and she doesn’t have anything to eat anyway. She can’t even conjure up an apple.
Limping slightly, she hurries through the backdoor at the sound of a car parking outside. It’s probably just the reverend who has come to heat up the church before mass, but she can’t afford anyone to ask questions.
The lights in the church are switched on, casting yellow squares on the snow and providing her with enough light to find the ancient gravestone where she left her broom last night.
She quietly takes off, worriedly scanning the surroundings for people, but the rest of the village is still sleepily quiet.
She heads straight south-west through Tunulliarfik fjord. The steep mountains stand silent guard, watching her hushed departure. She flies low, zigzagging between smaller icebergs clustering the fjord. The scenario is spectacular, the rising sun painting the snow and ice a warm rosy glow in straight contrast to the cold.
The snow fall ceases completely before she has exited the fjord, making her an easy target as she steers higher. But she doesn’t have to worry, she’s already too far away to be seen by any prying eyes.
The Labrador Sea is spreading out in front of her, separating her from Canada. She decides it would be safer to go straight for the continent, she can’t afford the broom running out of magic over a mass of ice cold water. She knows it might soon happen, she just hopes it will come gradually, giving her a chance to land safely…
After a last glance backwards, she ducks lower on her broom. Grabbing it fiercely with both hands she anticipates the surge of speed that will come after whispering ‘Home…’
Part II – End of Chapter 41
This chapter wasn’t possible without Nilxis wonderful world:
“Saaqartoq is a quiet town located on Greenland’s southwestern coast. It’s a fishing town surrouded by fjords, icebergs, tundra landscape and glaciers. It’s the perfect destination if you don’t mind the cold temperatures but you want to enjoy a quiet life in one of the most untouched places in the world.”
If you wonder where the “non sim” pictures come from, just click on them and they will take you to the source!