Cup of Blood Prelude
Excerpt from “A Cup of Blood” Book 1 of the Cup of Blood series by Troy A. Hill ©2017 by Troy A. Hill
Tentative release of Vol 1: July 2017
An Inn in Sussex, seventh century CE
I was hungry, and draining the blood from a furry rat wasn’t what I wanted. I was running away from problems again, and after a month at sea my thirst was more than ready to be fed. A warm human sounded much better that the furry rodents that lived in the belly of the ship. Fortunately, we were at the port in the South Saxon kingdom, where I wanted to land. The fog in the early night air was rising from the waters as we wandered from the dock, looking for a guest house. Someplace to feed my hunger, and get information.
“This is the place, milady,” the gruff voice of the captain sounded in the damp night air. He came with me only because I had paid him. Unescorted women were not tolerated in most of Europe, and that tradition held true even here on the largest of the British Isles.
“Your men will bring my trunk?”
“Aye,” he said after I had passed him a small purse with the rest of the coins I had promised. He bounced it in his hand to get the weight.
“You’ll have it once the rest of the cargo is unloaded,” he looked down the road, back toward the harbor where the sailors typical went to drink and spend their pay. We had passed several ale houses before I agreed on the type of guest house for me to rent a room in. I let him move off, back toward his ship.
I’d miss my trunk if his sailors “forgot their way.” But, everything I had of value was on my person. Much of it in a sling bag, a satchel, I wore with the cloth strap across my body under my woolen cloak. My coins, my letters of reference, even my late husband’s seal and wax for documents were there. And the most cherished of my possessions, a wooden cup, as old or older than I was. The cup of my master, dead six centuries now.
The building the captain led me to stood two stories tall on the main road through the coastal town. Even at this late hour, ox carts rolled along the cobblestone road from the harbor toward warehouses in the town. The road was probably built by the Romans several centuries before.
I pulled the latch and entered the wood and stone structure before me. The large common room on the main floor smelled of smoke and ale. There was a fire laid in its hearth, which brought me warmth I hadn’t felt for almost a month.
The captain had suggested Canterbury, but I said to press on around the coast. I was running again. Running from the Witch Hunter’s Guild. They were all over Europe. Canterbury was the stronghold of the Roman church on this island.
Avoid the guild. That was my plan. Too many of my fellow Children of the Night, or “Blood Witches” as they called us, had already died the final death at the hands of the guilders. I wanted to be as far away from them as possible.
When I learned that they were again asking questions about someone matching my description, and using my true name, I sought out passage to a new land. I had the wealth and could travel as a widow, seeking to travel to where my former, dead husband had business contacts. The letters were easy enough to forge. I had written his correspondence for him for several years.
Inside the guest house, several men were already seated at tables. A serving girl, probably the owner’s daughter, was bringing mugs of ale and bowls of some sort of stew around to the men. She saw me and motioned that I should head toward a corner. An old crone, in ragged clothing, sat in the corner by herself. I stepped over toward her.
“May I join you?”
She was already shoveling the stew into her mouth, spearing meat and vegetables with a small metal knife. She dipped her hunk of bread in the bowl to soak up the juice. She pointed with her knife at a stool next to her at the small square table. As I sat, I saw she looked older than I had originally thought. The men at the tables would have called her a hag. Still, I was glad for the company.
After a few minutes the serving girl brought me a bowl, a hunk of bread and some ale. I passed her a small coin and thanked her. Once the girl had left, the old woman next to me cast a sly glance at the men, I looked too. They were giving us no attention. Usually, I caught at least a glance or two from men.
When I looked back, the bowl in front of me was empty. The hag’s was full again. She winked at me as she continued to eat the food the girl had brought for me.
“You were not of a mind to eat this type of food, were you?” She asked, then added quietly, “They will pay us no mind. Speak freely here.” Her knife and spoon worked to quickly finish my small bowl of food.
“I know what you are,” she said between bites. “Your food is over there. It runs red through their bodies.” She jabbed her knife at the men at the table. Then she pointed at the mug of grog between us. “Be sure to wet your lips, maybe spill a little so they think you’re as drunk as they are before you go select one.”
She was correct. The men were paying us no attention. As though we weren’t there. I should have drawn some attention. I was thin and attractive. My skin was paler than normal, but I had the brown eyes and dark wavy hair of a girl from the Italian peninsula. I was forever frozen as a woman in her early twenties, even after all of my centuries.
She really did know my routine. Something was odd about the old woman… something was odd about the entire situation. I raised an eyebrow at her.
“And you are?”
“Old.” Another piece of meat from my quickly emptying bowl made it into her mouth.
“Some might have called me a lady once or twice. Those lot over there, have no concept. No idea of what the land gives them. They only care about their money, and their ale, and their women.”
“You are interesting. Other than the food I paid for, can I aid you in any way?”
“Not tonight dear, I just wanted to meet you. See what you were made of.” The bowl was finally empty. She looked at the men again, no one was paying us any attention. She had dumped most of my mug into hers.
“I left you enough for your charade,” she said between swallows.
“Why are you interested in me?”
She paused, looking at me with her old eyes. The wrinkles and lines in her face were deep, a face dotted with warts and brown moles. Her nose was large and crooked where it protruded from her face, a loathly face. Her grey hair thinning and tied back under her head scarf added little to her appearance.
She stared hard at me for a few second, then took another drink.
“You’re the first of your kind on this land that wasn’t here for evil purposes,” she said. “You’re different than the others. I wondered what you are like. Wanted to see what you are made of.”
Her blue eyes were boring into my soul for a few seconds. I felt almost naked before her. I caught myself before I got my hand up to draw my cloak tighter around me. Instead, I laid my hand back down and returned her stare. What was different? Something was odd about her.
She blinked, just once.
“Good. You are made of tough metal.” She tipped the mug back and took another drink. “You’re going to meet your demons on this trip, girl.”
“You’re going to be challenged, and rewarded. If you make the right decisions. Tonight, though, you have a choice. Find a boat and head back east, and you will not be tested on this land.”
I shook my head.
“I came west to avoid danger, I will see what this land brings.”
“Your choice, girl.” She held my eyes, unblinking. “The dangers here will test your very metal, all the way down to your soul. Are you ready for such?”
I chuckled at her prophecy of doom.
“I don’t suppose you’ll be willing to explain yourself? What kind of test?”
“More than you can imagine.”
“I can imagine some very bad things,” I replied somberly, my voice barely above a whisper. “What kind of reward is worth that?”
“Love, family, a home.” She replied. Her smile was soft this time. I saw some of her past beauty leaking through that smile.
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