The men of the village on which he had been preying used dogs to track the vampire to the cave where he had hidden. They rousted him out of his refuge shortly after the sun reached its height. He was sluggish in the day; but their trampling broke into his dreams of blood, waking him enough that he rolled from the first killing blow. A second spear took him in the shoulder; but he ran himself down its length to kill the man who held it, bore a slash from a sword that nearly took off his arm, and rose smoking into the air. Two dogs clung to his leg and side, teeth locked, till he tore them free and dropped them to their deaths. He fled west to the sea at all speed, flames flickering around him; and the men returned in triumph to the village. The priest buried their dead with the rites of the Church; but, three days later, the men dug up the bodies, cut off the heads, took out the hearts, and sprinkled the corpses with salt and garlic, to be sure.
The vampire flew in flames, barely aware in his agony, until his mind went dark. He plummeted below the waves, and fell into the shadow of the rocks. His flesh was burnt bone-deep; but blood still drained from the deepest wounds. His eyes were blind, and nose and ears were gone; but his fangs were still sharp.
The tide lifted him as it rose, and dragged him out to sea as it fell; and he drifted near the surface till the current took him north, where it left him on a shallow shingle beach on the south side of a small island, not far offshore. He was found there, shortly before dawn. The sky was pale, but the sun had not yet breached the horizon.
The hermit who found him thought at first that he was dead, and drew him up above the water line, thinking of Christian burial. But the vampire drew one of his slow, seldom breaths; and the hermit believed him a castaway still alive. By then, the wounds were closed, though the marks still showed; and the worst of the burns had almost healed, though the face was still marred.
The hermit hauled the castaway up over his shoulder, and carried him up the steep path. His burden was tall and well-built; and the weight made his steps slow. He laid him on his own bed in the small stone-built hut, and built up the fire and heated fresh water from the spring, and bathed him. Even as he did so, the nose filled out and the ears shaped themselves, the scars of the wounds faded, and the deepest burns smoothed to clear skin. Devout though he was, the hermit had his doubts that it was a miracle of the Lord. Still, he had brought the man from the sea, which was by way of making him his guest, which brought its obligations.
When the vampire finally awoke, it was day; but he was safe inside the hut. The hermit, devout but prudent, stayed outside in the sun. He knew his guest was starved from his healing, and would be desperate for blood. So he milked the goat, and took an egg from the hen, and picked seaweed from the rocks, and prayed for guidance.
Finally, the Lord spoke to him; and the hermit bled the goat into a shallow bowl, and brought the blood back to the hut, where he left it near the door, where his guest could smell it. A wary minute later, a hand stretched out to take it. When the bowl was replaced, the blood was drained; and the hermit knew his suspicions about his guest were true.
That night, he spoke to the vampire about the Lord and the Lord’s mercy. He saw the man’s eyes glint in the firelight.
The next day, he bled the goat again. That night, the vampire came out of the hut; and they talked together of God.
The hermit wondered aloud how long the undying might live; and his guest told him of the glory and grandeur of Rome, of cities whose buildings stretched to the sky, of an empire that spanned the world...of wars and famine and plague and death. He had seen much, this undying one, this vampire; but he had not seen Our Lord, who had been born and suffered the Cross.
The vampire left before dawn and flew across the narrow strait. On the mainland, presumably he hunted; but he returned that night, and they talked again—though never of the vampire’s prey, about which the hermit kept a courteous silence, for he preferred not to hear the answer.
Each night, as the stars swung low and the dawn neared, the vampire left. Each night, as the sunset faded into the dark, he returned. And they talked.
The days grew long, and the nights cold; and the season grew close to the birth of Our Lord. The vampire came with a woollen robe and a fur cloak. The hermit hesitated, but took the gift. It was kindly meant—so kindly, indeed, that he was inspired to tell his guest yet more about God’s forgiveness. To save mankind, Christ had borne the cross and died upon it. All sins, however grievous might yet be redeemed, in the end, if one truly repented.
On the day the hermit offered to baptize the sinner, the man who had once been known as Lucius Divius Lucianus spoke to him of everlasting life. The hermit returned his speech with words of eternity. “Lucianus,” he said, for he counted him as friend, “we live in the Lord forever.”
“We live in the world,” was the response, “or not at all.”
The pain in the hermit’s neck was sudden and sharp, and weakness bent his knees; but he was caught gently and laid on the softness of the fur cloak. Dark took him; but his eyes opened on a fair land, with grass and flowers. The sky overhead was blue as heaven, and the sun shone warm. He turned, and saw—some way off, yet strangely near—a gateway to nowhere, guarded by a maiden veiled with samite. As he drew near, she spoke. He smiled with joy at her words
In the world of the flesh, Divius Lucianus saw his friend smile. He called the hermit’s name; but the man did not respond.
When the hermit stepped through the door into eternity, the vampire knew. This was not the one who would accompany him through the centuries: this was his friend, whom he had brought to death.
He waited, hoping it were otherwise, until the body grew cold in his arms; and then he dug a grave. The mound, he marked with a cross for his friend’s sake, though it stung. Just before dawn, he flew across the water for the last time, taking the cross that he would bear for all to hear till eternity crumbled his dead flesh to dust.