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, but sucking the blood from a furry rat wasn’t what I had wanted the last month at sea. If any of the sailors had noticed me sink my fangs into the neck of one of the rodents, that would have caused quite the uproar. The ship was too small for me to feed from any of the humans on board. Better that I pretend to be too ill to eat, and only appear to consume a bit of broth or ale each day. Even if that meant I had to wait to sate my thirst when I finally stepped foot off the small ship.

I was running away from problems again, and after a month at sea, my thirst was more than ready to be fed. The warm blood of a human was what I craved. Far better than the blood of a rodent. Fortunately, we were at the port in the South Saxon kingdom. The fog in the early night air rose from the waters as we wandered from the dock, to look 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. The copper coins I had paid him jingled in his bandaged hand as he waited by the closed door. His eyes had already drifted toward the seedier end of the wharf’s business district.

His eyes had drifted over me each morning when I came to take his small cabin from him as the sun rose. I had paid passage that included use of his cabin, but I had only needed the small room during the day. I let him sleep there each evening while I spent the night out on the deck, where his men slept or manned the sails. His offers to bed down with him had grown bolder as the land receded. One time he stood in the doorway and demanded just a kiss. I left him in the cabin, his hands clutched his groin, as he writhed in pain. The next night he tried again. I only broke two of his fingers and left other body parts bruised. But, I had also threatened to cut off the parts my knee had found the night before if he tried a third time. He left me be after that. Evidently, the sounds of our scuffles had drawn the attention of their crew. That and the swollen black eye he wore the next day. They kept their distance from me as well.

Unlike the normal human women, I wasn’t worried about my safety if I were found out alone here on land. Stares of disapproval from the pious were the least I could expect. I could well protect myself from those out for a bit of entertainment with my flesh. But, the attention I’d get was more than I wanted. Better to pay the captain to walk with me. He could earn a few coins he’d probably spend on one of the girls down by the wharf. I wouldn’t have to harm or kill an overly ambitious admirer. This way, I could avoid the attention that commotion would raise.

“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. The captain had tried to steer me into several seedy dives along the way. But I wanted a guest house with fewer sailors and more merchants. Behavior tended to be less rowdy the farther away from the harbor we moved. But, if we moved too far into town, I’d be the only traveler in the alehouse.

I spied one I wanted to try, based on the looks of the two men I saw enter, and the lack of boisterous singing from within. The captain smiled invitingly at me one last time.

“Don’t forget my trunk,” I said flatly and turned to enter the guest house. I didn’t bother to check to see if he went back to his ship, or off to one of the alehouses where the women had watched from the windows.

Should the captain or his crew forget their way with my trunk, I wouldn’t miss the clothing within. 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 had led me to stood two stories tall. Even at this late hour, ox carts rolled along the cobblestone road from the harbor toward warehouses. Long ago, I had witnessed legionnaires direct the construction of such roads in many old Roman provinces across Europe. Now, more than a century since the last Roman soldiers had walked this road, the stones were worn smooth. An odd patch or two showed in the dim evening night, where the locals had replaced cracked stones.

The captain had suggested Canterbury. He wanted me off as soon as possible, but I had paid enough for him to transport me farther around the coast. Technically, I owned an interest in his ship. But the business was in the name of my late husband and his two sons.

The captain only knew I was one of the owner’s family members. He didn’t know that I fled from the Witch Hunter’s Guild. Europe was infested with their insidious agents and guild members. Canterbury was one of the outposts of the Roman church on this island. I hoped it was still untouched by the zealots that wormed their way through the parishes on the continent. There was no place left on the continent that was safe for my kind.

Too many of my fellow Children of the Night – “Blood Witches” they called us – had already died the true death at the hands of the guilders. I and one of my undead brothers had tried to save one of our siblings from their grasp. Unfortunately, when we freed him, we revealed ourselves to them. They knew we existed now.

I watched the captain amble down the old Roman road for several blocks before I pulled the latch on the guest house door. 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.

Inside the guest house, several men were already seated at tables. A serving girl passed 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 spare seat in the corner. An old crone, in ragged clothing, sat there by herself. I stepped toward her.

“May I join you?”

Her fork dipped into the bowl and shoveled stew into her mouth. She didn’t look up but 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, after a month at sea with no company other than leering sailors, I was glad for female company.

After a few minutes, the 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 merchants near the hearth, I looked too. They gave us no attention. Usually, I caught at least a glance or two from men. I quickly touched my hair and looked down at my dress and cloak. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Except that only the serving girl and the old crone had paid me any mind. Strange.

When I looked back at the table, the bowl in front of me was empty. The hag’s was full again. She winked at me as she started to eat from the bowl she had just switched.

“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.

“I know what you are,” she said between bites. “Your desire, what you thirst for 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 paid 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 my centuries. Something was odd here. What about the old woman? She knew too much about me. But how?

“And you are?”

“Old.” Another piece of meat from my nearly empty 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.”

“And they don’t seem the least bit interested in us. Is that your doing?”

The old woman just smiled a devious little grin and jabbed her knife into another hunk of meat in my former bowl.

“What do you want with me?” I asked. The hairs on the back of my neck had been on end for several minutes now. I wished I had a real blade on me, not just the belt knife that the captain had told me was allowed to women by this Anglo society.

“I just wanted to meet you. See what you were made of.” The bowl was finally empty. She looked at the men again, I glanced their way, too. Still no reaction from them. It’s as if they didn’t realize I was there. When I looked back I realized she had taken advantage of my distraction and 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 and looked 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 thinning grey hair was tied back under her headscarf.

She stared hard at me for a few seconds, 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 wanted to know what you are like.”

Her blue eyes bored 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.”…

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Note: Artwork on this page is a work in progress by my talented friend Jess (Kahahuna). She’s creating the cover artwork for the first two books in the Cup of Blood series. You can find more of her artwork at her Etsy Shop here, subscribe to her Patreon Page, or follow her on Twitter here.