Book 1 of the Dantonville Legacy
by Tima Maria Lacoba
An excerpt from
I always believed I’d die in battle. It certainly would have been preferable to the way my life did end. One day, a soldier in the service of Rome, the next a creature from my worst nightmares.
Demon. Bloodsucker. Vampire.
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It was meant to have been just a routine patrol. A search, destroy and retrieve mission - search out the Pictish raiders who were attacking Roman settlements south of the Wall, destroy them and retrieve any captives they may have taken.
Straightforward. Instead, it turned into the day from hell.
We were attacked and one of my men wounded. Nepos. I sent him back to the fort with another of my men, Melander, to make sure he got back safely. Then the rest of us got back on our horses and tracked the raiders to a small village deep in Pictish territory, north of the Wall.
We rode in, cornered and killed them. Search and destroy accomplished. But as we searched for the Roman captives, the native women emerged, dragging their bound prisoners after them – terrified women and children - and slit their throats.
‘They were sacrifices to our great goddess,’ one of them screeched, a large, flame-haired woman with the beauty of a goddess.
I heard the quick indrawn breaths of my men. In other circumstances I’d let them toss for her, but all I wanted was to slit her own lily-white throat! Those captives had been Romans.
I dismounted, pulled out my sword and strode over to her. ‘I would have spared the lot of you. Not now.’
‘Kill me Roman, and you’ll incur the wrath of the goddess, Melusine.’
As she spoke, people streamed out of the huts - mostly the old and infirm, and children. They stood behind her. Silent. Waiting.
‘Don’t make the mistake of thinking I fear your gods. I don’t. You should fear me, woman, for sending your warriors into Roman territory and taking our people for your disgusting, savage rites.’
‘Your people and mine aren’t so different,’ she said. ‘We sacrifice to honour our gods, but you kill in your arenas for entertainment. Which one of us is the real savage?’
I was in no mood for a debate and raised my arm to give my men the signal. One good turn deserved another, I figured.
‘Would you slaughter the innocent?’ the woman cried.
‘Innocent!’ I pointed to the murdered Romans. ‘They were innocent. Take a look! See the blood?’
‘We sent them to the gods!’
‘And you’re about to follow!’ I lowered my arm and my men slowly started forward.
The children screamed and hid behind the women’s skirts.
‘Then hear me first, Romans.’ She raised her arms upward and looked at each one of us in turn. ‘You dishonoured our gods this day and took the blood due them, so their curse is now on you. Human blood will be your food. And as beasts that kill only in the night, so you too will walk in darkness. Sunlight will be your enemy. And you’ – she pointed to me – ‘will pass this on to your children and they to theirs for as long as the moon circles the earth.’
The bitch cursed us!
My men hesitated and looked to me. Even though I didn’t believe her gods to be any where near as powerful as our Roman ones, we were in their territory and her words made the hairs on my arms stand up. My wife, Gallia, was several months pregnant. What if…? I felt a sudden rush of fear.
I raised my sword and pressed it to her throat. ‘Retract it, woman and I’ll spare your lives.’
‘Only to sell us as slaves in your market places? It’s better to die free! As I am Eithne of the Prythyn, servant of the great goddess, all I’ve said will surely come to pass.’ She spat in my face.
Without hesitation I plunged my sword into her throat. My men finished off the rest. That’s when the Curse began to take effect. Our skin started to blister and our eyes – which had turned the colour of Phoenician purple – watered even in that weak northern sun.
The horses shied and bolted. We had to make our way back to the fort at Vindobala on foot. Within two days, our incisors had lengthened. We couldn’t keep food down. Instead we developed an insatiable craving for blood.
As the days passed, or rather nights – since we couldn’t travel by day any more – we made our way back drawn by the smell of human blood. It was strange how we could pick up the scent of humans from several miles away.
Then we made another discovery, this one almost as if in compensation for all our afflictions – we could run at incredible speed. We actually caught up with our horses, drank them dry, and I found I could crush their bones in my hands as if they were straw.
We had the strength of the gods – powerful – and ravenously hungry to the point of madness. I saw through a haze of red.
Finally we arrived back at the fort. The sentries on the walls didn’t stand a chance. Nobody did. Trained men were no match for us. We attacked and sucked them dry, leaving their empty carcasses on the ground in our hunt for more.
That night we killed twenty-seven men.
Just as the sun came up, we ran and hid from its deadly rays in the nearby woods. I hated what we had done and hated the witch who did this to us. Yet, there was nothing we could do about it. The Thirst was uncontrollable and the next night we returned to do more of the same. At this rate we quickly decimated the fort of all its soldiers; men who were our friends and brother-soldiers.
Worst of all, Nepos and Melander were among those we killed. We had become demons, like the evil lamia; the bloodsuckers of legend.
My men raged at the gods. Calixtus, Sempronius and Appius tried killing themselves, but no matter how deadly, the wounds they inflicted on themselves simply healed again.
We weren’t even allowed to die.
For the next few days we hid, doing our best to avoid human settlements. I was desperate to control this thing inside me. We decided to feed from the wild animals in the forest, rest in the daylight hours and rise at night to find a priest of Mithras, our god of the Legions, who could lift this wretched curse.
Eventually we found one, who didn’t run off in terror. The bag of gold we offered readily overcame any fear he may have felt at our approach.
He sprinkled us with holy water, sacrificed a bull and called on the god.
We waited but felt no change. Either Mithras wasn’t listening, or – as Calixtus suggested - we’d offended him in some way.
In desperation we sought out a soothsayer. ‘Only the one who uttered the curse can lift it,’ he said. ‘Smear her ashes onto your eyes, ears and lips then offer some of your blood and call upon her spirit. Speak nicely to her!’ he added for good measure. ‘A spirit will not respond to anger.’
Be nice! I wanted to go down to Hades and kill her all over again!
But, since we had no choice, we did as he said.
We sped through the night, back to the Pictish village, found her body where she had fallen, rotting and putrid along with the others whom we slew.
My men gathered the bodies and burnt them, scattering their ashes to the wind, but her body we placed on a separate pyre and as the flames rose, cut open our wrists and let our blood drip onto her corpse.
I prostrated myself and called on her spirit.
She appeared. ‘Why summon me, Roman?’ she asked.
‘To beg for mercy.’ I clenched my jaw.
‘As you had mercy on me and my people?’ she retorted.
‘We don’t deserve to be punished this way. Your people killed mine. Isn’t that the truth?’
‘My people did so to survive, as you Romans took more and more of our land, stole our cattle and sold our people into slavery or to fight in your arenas.’
‘We brought you civilization!’
‘At the cost of our freedom!’
‘Then take your hatred out on me and not on my men,’ I offered.
‘Your men are not innocent. They knew what they were doing.’
‘Then spare the children who will be born to me,’ I cried in desperation as I thought of Gallia.
‘As you spared mine?’ she cried.
‘But they’re innocent!’ I pleaded.
‘As was the child in my womb! For that deed alone I damn you!’
Until that moment I still harboured a faint hope for a chance of reprieve. Now? Not a snowflake’s chance in Hades!
Behind me, my men groaned.
Then she spoke again. ‘What has been done, cannot be undone. But this one thing I can grant. As one of my children escaped your sword, while hunting in the woods, so will I spare one of yours. Your wife will give birth to twins: Children of Light and Dark. The boy shall be as you, a drinker of blood, when he comes of age. But, the girl will not. She will walk in the light.
‘Unnatural length of life and youthfulness will be granted her and her descendants. They shall be known as Children of Light and their blood shall sustain the Child of Darkness.
‘And you, Roman, shall live all through the long ages ahead till one born of your house – a child of light and dark – willingly bears a child to one of Prythin blood, a descendant of my house, and born on this spot.
‘Only then the curse will be lifted, for the child shall bear the mingled blood of Roman and Prythin – one race, one blood. At that time you will be given a choice – to remain as you are or become human again. But know this, the longer you remain in this form, the faster will you age should you choose the latter. All your long years will come at once and death will be your release.
‘This is my mercy.’
From the Private Journals of Marcus Antonius Pulcher, Praefecus Equituum of the First Cohort of Frisians, Vindobala
One day, I surrendered to the itch of writing. After many years reading and correcting my students' creative writing tasks and essays, I decided it was time to write my own. I couldn't hold it in any longer.
Bloodgifted is the result.