Reds and oranges streaked the skies in front of the beach hut as the last light of day began to disappear. Sitting on the beach, the ice maiden and the runner kept a close eye on the path, watching for dog walkers and stray cyclists. Being outdoors before darkness had fallen always came with a risk.
Inside the hut, the dark angel still lay clinging to life. For eight days, they had kept watch over her, changing her dressings and keeping her comfortable; for eight days, the dark angel had remained unconscious, her wound oozing black stinking poison. It was the lingering stench of that dark pus that had driven them outdoors before nightfall, their desire to breathe fresh air mutual.
“We need to send for a healer,” said Trine softly. “That knife wound is beyond my skills and your modern medicines are too big a risk.”
“And where do you propose we find a healer?” quizzed the runner, running his hand through his dark tousled hair.
“I may have a way,” she whispered, keeping her gazed fixed on the river in front of them.
“What are you trying to suggest here?”
“Before we left the castle, my father gave me a crystal ball to use to communicate with him in an emergency,” revealed the ice maiden. “It’s paired with one he has. I could reach out and ask him to let me speak privately with the healer I have in mind.”
“A crystal? And you never thought to tell me about this?”
Bowing her head, Trine whispered, “I’m sorry.”
With a sigh, he reached out and took her hand, “It’s fine. Do you think you can get help from a healer by using it?”
Trine nodded, “But we need to be careful what my father hears. If he thinks I need help for our guest, he’ll refuse on the spot and most likely turn up here to kill her himself. You are meant to be killing her, not healing her, after all.”
“There is that” conceded the runner. “I assume you have a plan?”
“I can feign a womanly issue to put my father off the scent. It’s my only hope of getting a private audience with the healer.”
“That could work, I guess,” he admitted. “Who is this healer? Can they be trusted? How can you be sure that they won’t tell your father the truth?”
“I trust her,” replied Trine without hesitation. Turning to face him, she said, “It’s Meryn.”
“She’s our best hope,” stated Trine quietly. “We know she doesn’t want you to die so she might be prepared to help here to keep you alive.”
“Is there no one else?”
Trine shook her head.
“Fine. Do it,” he growled, getting to his feet. “I’m going for a run. I need to…”
“I get it,” said Trine, putting her hand on his arm. “Be careful. I’ll try to reach my father.”
Under the cover of darkness, he pounded the familiar forest trails. With his wings drawn tight, he increased the pace, keen to put some distance between himself and the beach hut. How had his life become so complicated and tangled in the lives of two vampiresses? As he ran, he allowed his mind to drift back over his first meetings with the dark angel. In a twisted way, he realised in those early days he’d drawn some kind of pleasure from knowing that she was watching him. He’d felt flattered, he guessed. Then there was Trine… His feelings for her ran deep…ok, he admitted to himself, he was in love with her but how did that work in this vampire world? How could their relationship have any future when he’d already requested of her father that he end his life once the dark angel was dead? Did he really want his life to end? Deep in thought, he continued to pound out the miles, hoping to find some answers in his heart.
Carefully, Trine opened the drawer and reached into its depths for the suede pouch containing the crystal ball. Slipping it out onto her trembling palm, it felt heavy, just like her heart. She knew how hard it had been for the runner to hear that she needed his mother’s help. Over the months they had spent together, he had confided in her about some of the complexities of their broken relationship. A wave of guilt washed through her. What she had omitted to tell him was that she’d need to invite Meryn to the beach hut in order to heal the dark angel.
The crystal in her hand filled with a smoky blue light then, as the mists cleared, it showed her father sitting by the fire in his study. Her heart swelled at the familiar scene, and it struck her that she missed her evenings by the fire in that room with him. He looked worried and that concerned her.
“Father,” she spoke softly so as not to startle him, “Father, turn around.”
“Trine!” gasped Stefan. “A pleasant surprise. Is everything alright? Have you found her yet? Is she dead?”
“So many questions,” replied Trine, trying to keep her tone light. “Yes, no and no to answer them. I do need your help though. Is Meryn with you?”
“She’s resting in her chambers. She only returned from Spain a few hours ago.”
“Court business. Restless nights in Barcelona. Carelessness by some fledglings,” he muttered. “Nothing for you to concern yourself with. What do you want with Meryn?”
Bowing her head to avoid eye contact, Trine said, “I need to talk to her woman to woman, father. It’s a delicate personal matter. I need her herbal guidance.”
Even through the glass, Trine could tell her father’s cheeks had flushed slightly in embarrassment. He had always shied away from such things and his reaction sent a little surge of hope through the ice maiden.
“Can it wait till tomorrow?” he asked.
“If it has to,” replied Trine, feeding some disappointment into her voice. “I’d hoped to talk to Meryn tonight but, if she’s retired for the night, it can wait a few more hours.”
“I’ll go to her,” stated Stefan. “Reach out to me in half an hour, child.”
“Thank you,” said Trine but the crystal was filled with only blue mist once more.
Slipping the ball into her pocket, she went to check on the dark angel. As she pulled the curtain aside to enter the runner’s bedroom, the stench of the wound hit her. The angel lay face down on the soft mattress, with her back exposed. Gently, Trine peeled back the white dressing to check on the knife wound. Underneath, the cotton pad was saturated in black pus. Fighting back a wave of nausea, Trine bathed the wound with salt water then applied a fresh dressing. She scooped up the soiled pads, took them through to the living room and threw them into the wood-burning stove. The flames flared a bright green as they engulfed the soiled material.
In her pocket, she sensed more than felt a change in the crystal. Her hands were still wet from the salt water, causing her to take extra care not to drop the ball as she withdrew it. The blue light shimmered then cleared to show Meryn’s chamber rather than her father’s study.
“Trine, darling,” greeted Meryn warmly. “Your father said this was urgent. Are you ill?”
Shaking her head, Trine asked, “Are you alone?”
“Yes. Stefan has gone back to his tower. Talking about women’s issues unsettles him,” replied Meryn with a mischievous smile.
“I need you to promise to keep what I am about to ask a secret.”
“A secret?” echoed the runner’s mother, her curiosity piqued. “You can trust me, Trine. Is this to do with my son?”
“Not exactly. We need your help to heal a wound,” replied Trine.
“Is my son injured?”
“No. He’s fine,” Trine paused. “It’s a long, complicated tale. I need you to come here. I’ll explain all when you get here.”
“Darling, I’m exhausted,” began Meryn hesitantly. “I’ll need to hunt before I can make that journey.”
“Hunt on the way,” suggested the ice maiden swiftly.
“A possibility,” acknowledged the senior vampiress. “Tell me what you can about this wound.”
“It’s a knife wound. It’s a deep one but beyond my skills. I’ve been treating it as you showed me but eight days on, it’s still black and the pus smells vile. When I throw the soiled cloths on the fire, they burn green.”
“Not a good sign,” nodded Meryn. “Do you know which poison the blade was tainted with?”
Trine shook her head.
“Is it a mortal you are treating?” quizzed Meryn, choosing her words carefully for fear of being overheard.
Again, Trine shook her head.
“I’ll come,” said Meryn calmly. “I’ll be with you before sunrise.”
“Thank you,” sighed Trine, her relief evident. “What will you tell my father?”
“That you have a woman’s monthly sickness that needs my hands on healing. That will buy us a few days at least. Maybe even a week.”
With his soul somewhat soothed and his anger quashed, the runner returned to the beach hut an hour or so before dawn. He had paused to hunt briefly on his return journey, dispersing his threatening Rabbia Sanguina with fresh blood. He snatched two deer near the edge of the forest, drank his fill from the first then filled two leather flasks with the blood from the second before draining it dry too. Opening the beach hut door, he sniffed the air. It reeked of poison.
“Trine?” he called out quietly as he stepped inside.
“Through here,” she called back from his bedroom.
Joining her in the room beside the dark angel, he asked, “Any change?”
Trine shook her head, “Meryn will be here before dawn.”
“What did you tell her?”
“Just that there was a poisoned knife wound that I needed help with. I was careful not to mention our guest, just in case my father was listening in.”
“Good girl,” he nodded, passing her one of the flasks. “For you.”
“Thank you,” said Trine, accepting it from him. “Thoughtful of you, Son of Perran.”
“I’ll mix the other flask with some wine.”
The ice maiden nodded, “Have some ready for Meryn, please. She’s going to be tired when she gets here.”
Without a word, he nodded and left the room.
As the first light of dawn began to streak across the sky, they heard a soft noise out in the courtyard. With a glance at Trine, the runner got to his feet and crossed the room to open the door.
“Mother,” he said coolly, stepping aside to allow the small dark-haired woman to enter.
“Meryn!” cried Trine, rushing towards her before embracing her tightly. “You made it! Were you followed?”
Shaking her head, Meryn said, “No. I made sure to fully cloak myself before I left my rooms.” She paused to look round the hut, “Cosy. Very homely.”
“Thanks,” said the runner, forcing himself to smile. “Take a seat. Wine?”
“Please, son,” answered Meryn before turning to Trine. “Now, tell me the truth, child. What’s the true story of this poisoned knife wound? I can see its neither of you, but I can smell it.”
“Let me show you,” began Trine, looking suddenly nervous. “Then we’ll talk.”
She led Meryn towards the heavy curtain, drew it aside and beckoned to her to follow her into the bedroom. When she saw who was lying prone on the bed, Meryn gasped.
“What have you two done?” she demanded sharply, “Jem, explain this.”
“Jem?” echoed Trine, hearing the runner’s given name spoken for the first time.
Rolling his eyes, he confessed, “Jeremiah but don’t even think about it!”
“Enough!” snapped his mother as she moved to examine the dark angel. “Which one of you did this?”
“It was me,” admitted Trine. “But I acted in self-defence. She slashed and stabbed me first.”
“You appear entirely healed though?”
“She caught me with a different knife. It was also several moons ago. She lay injured for three moons before we brought her here,” Trine explained. “Can you help her?”
“Let me examine her,” stated Meryn. “Then I want the full truth from each of you. Give me space to work here.”
Taking that as their cue to leave, Trine and the runner retreated to the living room.
Half an hour passed before Meryn pushed the curtain aside and re-joined them in the living room. She lifted her glass of wine from the table and swallowed it down. As she poured herself a second glass of the blood-infused wine, she let out a long sigh, “I can help heal that wound but I need some specific herbs, stones and moss. This is going to take time. As for her wing, I doubt I can save it. Time will tell.”
“Tell us what you need, and we’ll fetch it,” replied Jem without hesitation.
“For someone tasked with killing our friend, you seem very keen to save her life,” observed his mother calmly. “And there’s the simple observation here around how you knew where to find her.”
“Killing her and letting her die like this are two different things, mother.”
“How did you find her?”
Keeping his eyes down, he confessed, “I knew where her lair was.”
“And you kept that information from Stefan when you made your bargain with the court of the elders?”
He shrugged his shoulders, keeping his eyes cast down to avoid her angry gaze.
“And you, young lady,” she continued turning to face Trine. “Did you know he knew where she was?”
“No,” replied Trine honestly. “But we weren’t in a hurry to find her.”
“I bet you weren’t!” spat Meryn. “Too busy playing happy families in here!”
“Mother, its not like that,” protested the runner sharply. “Trine has been teaching me how to use my wings, how to hone my skills.”
Meryn stared intently at Trine, opened her mouth to say something but changed her mind.
“What am I going to do with you both?” she muttered before taking a mouthful of her wine. “You truly don’t understand what you have done here but its too late now. It’s done. I need rest. I need those herbs and mosses. The stones may be more of a challenge. While I rest, you two need to work out where to source those from.”
“We can’t fetch anything while the sun’s up,” commented Trine quietly.
“True,” she conceded wearily. “Fine. We wait till dusk then seek out what we need. Now, where can I rest?”
“Have my bed,” offered Trine readily. “It’s through here.”
As she headed through to the ice maiden’s bedroom, Meryn said, “Now, you two better have your story straight by tonight. I want honest answers here and not this bullshit you’ve been telling me.”
With the sun sinking behind the hills across the river, the runner and the ice maiden again sat on the beach in front of the hut. Neither of them felt rested; both of them felt like naughty teenagers who were about to be grounded. In unison, they looked up as they heard the hut door opening behind them then listened to the crunch of the stones as Meryn picked her way gingerly towards them. Without a word, she sat on a nearby rock, drinking in the spectacular view.
“I can understand why you chose to settle here,” she commented softly. “I can understand why you’re in no hurry to leave here either. It’s beautiful.”
“We didn’t mean to deceive anyone,” began Trine, holding onto Jem’s hand. “Meryn, you know how claustrophobic my life was. Being here. Being free… I just wanted to enjoy that for a while.”
“I understand, child,” nodded the older woman. “He still sees you as his little girl. A little girl needing her father to protect her.”
Trine nodded, tears stinging her pale blue eyes.
“No tears,” said Meryn warmly. “I’ll do what I can to preserve your freedom and your new life here. I can see that it suits you both. Plus, my son still has a lot to learn.”
“Thank you,” whispered Trine with a small smile.
“More pressing is what to do to help your friend indoors,” began the senior vampiress. “I’m unfamiliar with the plant life in this area. To treat that wound, I need to treat poison with poison. What I don’t know is what she used to poison the blade in the first place though. I need to choose carefully here, or we could end up using the same poison and that would kill her.”
“Would it help if I took you to her mausoleum?” offered Jem calmly. “When she transformed me, she used bottles of stuff kept in her storage boxes. She also gave me three gemstones to carry always. She may have more.”
“That would be a wise place to start,” acknowledged his mother. “Trine, I need you to remember your lessons. I need you to find me some hemlock, not cow-parsley but hemlock. Young strong stalks in full bloom. They look similar but the hemlock will grow near water. I need at least six large stems. I also need digitalis. Choose the ones with the deepest shade of flowers and the brightest speckles in the mouth of the flowers. I need six stems of those too.”
“There’s moss that I need. I’m not sure if it will grow this far north. It’s long and stringy. It’s a silvery strand.”
“I know the stuff,” interrupted Jem. “She gave me some to heal the holes in my back before my wings sprouted. It doesn’t grow here. It was dried moss she gave me. She may have kept some though.”
Meryn nodded, “Its easily found in Spain and Portugal but not any further north than the south coast of England. Let’s hope she still has some. We need its healing properties.”
“Feverfew. As much as you can gather.”
“What’s it for?” quizzed Trine curiously.
“I’ll dry it and leave it with you to use as tea, child. It’s to put your father off the scent. If he asks what you gathered for me, that’s what you say I used,” stated the older woman with a wink. “Now, to work. We’ll meet back here at midnight. Jem, where’s this mausoleum?”
“I’ll transport us. It’s not far.”
Unfurling his majestic wings, the runner took a step back, allowing his mother to become accustomed to the dim forest light. In front of them stood the dark angel’s mausoleum. He felt his mother shiver beside him.
“This way,” he said simply, setting out towards the dark stone tomb.
The door was stiff to open and as it swung aside the stench of decay hit them both.
“This place needs smudged,” muttered Meryn. “We need some young pine branches.”
“I’ll fetch some in a bit,” he promised. Using his cigarette lighter, Jem lit the sconces, praying that they would stay lit. Shadows danced on the stone walls as his mother surveyed their surroundings.
“Not much to show for over two hundred immortal years,” she commented almost sadly. “Do you know where she stores her belongings?”
Silently, he nodded then reached down to one of the stone benches and slid a section of the stone aside. “There are several sections, but I think she keeps most of her stuff in this one.”
Snapping her fingers and murmuring an incantation, Meryn plucked a ball of light out of the air, balancing it above the palm of her hand. She bent over the open storage space, allowing the ball of light to illuminate its contents. Inside there was a carved wooden box and several leather pouches of various sizes.
“Lift those out,” she instructed bluntly. “Then open the next bin.”
Within a few minutes all six storage spaces had been searched. Two contained clothing but the remainder were home to various treasures.
“It feels wrong going through her stuff,” commented the runner as he closed over the last stone lid.
“Its necessary,” replied his mother, taking a seat and lifting the carved wooden box onto her lap. “I never thought I’d see this again.”
“Pardon? You know her?”
His mother shook her head, “Not exactly.” She paused then said, “My brother created her. This box was originally my mother’s and her mother’s before that.”
“That explains something.”
“And what’s that?”
“My blood is toxic to her,” he revealed then, bowing his head, added, “That was my plan for killing her. I thought I could trick her into drinking it in some wine.”
“But you never intended to kill her, did you?” she asked softly.
“I’m not sure,” he admitted. “I’ve thought about it many times over the years. She stole my life, my real life, from me and I’ve struggled to forgive her for that. She tricked me into this life. I never asked for it.”
“It’s the last life I wanted for you,” said Meryn sadly. “But what’s done is done.”
“What happened to your brother?”
With tears in her eyes, Meryn said, “That was the first golden rule she broke. She murdered him in cold blood. She drugged him then burned him alive. Lowen was my twin. I felt his pain as he died.”
“I’m sorry, mum,” he said reaching out to put a hand on her shoulder. “I know how it felt when I lost my wife. It tears your heart apart.”
Wiping away her tears, Meryn nodded. “Let’s take this stuff back to your house. First though, fetch some branches till I purge the smell of death from this place.”
When they arrived back at the beach hut, Trine was already back from her foraging. She had filled the log basket with the various plants she’d collected, and her efforts met with Meryn’s approval.
“Alcohol,” stated the older woman. “Clear alcohol. Vodka or gin.”
“There’s some vodka in the cupboard.”
“Fetch it,” she instructed. “Trine, boil some water in a pot that you are prepared to discard when we are through here. When its boiling, add the hemlock and digitalis. Feed them into the water like spaghetti into the pot. Don’t breathe in the fumes.”
Muttering under her breath, Meryn sorted through the items they’d brought from the dark angel’s mausoleum. Every now and then, she added a few items to the pot on the stove before finally adding some powdered tiger’s eye, rose quartz and black tourmaline.
“Where’s that vodka?”
Jem passed her the half empty bottle.
“We’ll need more,” she stated bluntly. “At least two more bottles.”
“I’ll fetch them,” he volunteered before stepping outside to transport himself to the nearest supermarket.
“Trine, fetch me some of those dressings you use,” said the elder vampiress. “Lay them out on a plate till I drip some of this onto them. Three should be enough for now. We need to apply this while it is still scalding hot.”
Taking care not to drip the poisonous liquid onto the bedcovers, Meryn laid the swabs over the suppurating wound. There was a hiss as the swabs touched the black pus. Carefully, she covered it them with a large dry dressing then stepped back.
“Now, we wait,” she stated calmly. “That dressing needs to stay in place for twenty-four hours then we bathe that wound twice a day with the cool alcohol infusion.”
“Thank you,” whispered Trine with a smile. “Do you think this will work?”
“We’ll know in three days.”