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I.

Eric believes that you could ask any vampire, and they would all agree that their human lives and the first few years after being turned tend to have a certain immediate quality. It is probably comparable to humans reminiscing about their childhood: everything in those first years seemed intense because one's experience was so limited.

--

When Eric opened his eyes to his new life for the first time, all he saw was darkness. The world was quiet. He felt no pain. He had dreamt of dying many times before a battle, and this felt the same. Except it was too quiet. It took him a moment to realize why: the constant sounds of breathing, of blood rushing through his body - the sounds and movements of a living body that had been with him from the moment he'd been born - were gone. He took a deep, startled breath, but he didn't need to. His chest didn't crave air the way it used to. Instead, he was aware of some new churning sensation working through his body, a fine irritation crawling over his skin.

Slowly, the world came into focus. He turned his head weakly to one side. He was in an enclosed, lightless place. He could see heavy boulders making up the walls, urns placed alongside them, gold and bronze tributes. He gazed down along his own body. In the far corner there was an oak coffin, and balancing on top of it, crouching like a great bird of prey, that boy.

The boy was smiling.

”Are you Loke?”

The boy shook his head, seemingly amused.

“Are you the... devil?” Eric asked, grasping for words from the new religion.

Eric did not see him move, but suddenly the boy was leaning over him. His eyes were black and dull in the darkness. Eric could smell the animal fat in his hair. Dirt, skin, leather, and underneath it, like a promise, a faint scent of blood. The fine irritation he'd been feeling flared into a sharp sense of need.

The boy shifted impatiently above him. “Can you move?” he said. “Try to sit.” His language sounded rough and old fashioned, interspersed with unfamiliar words.

Eric obeyed. His whole body felt alien to him. It was stronger, it moved with less resistance. The boy nodded, satisfied.

When the boy's smile widened, Eric saw those predator teeth again. He shivered involuntarily from the memory. His hand moved to his throat, but the wounds were gone. Almost as an afterthought, he reached to touch his own mouth, and there they were - cold and sharp against the pad of his probing finger. They were tender to the touch. The sensation made his heart start beating again, like a horse startled into gallop.

“How do you feel?”

He swallowed. His throat was dry.

“I am thirsty.”

--

They were ligslugere, svartalfer for hundreds of years before they ever became vampires.

In those first years they fed on thralls brought to the bogs as tribute, wanderers who became lost in the forest, wounded warriors on the battlegrounds, infants left out to die in the winter. They crawled into the moist, dark dirt in the sacred bogs to rest undisturbed during the day. At night they climbed mountains and glaciers glittering with blue ice, and they swam in the warm forest lakes in the summer nights. Sometimes, for sport, they would run down deer, dig a brown bear out of its hibernation, or dive deep into the ocean to catch a graceful, slippery seal.

As a mortal, Eric had never desired another man, but in the first many years of death, he burned for Godric. In his life he had never experienced such a single-minded devotion. It made an argr of him, and it should have been shameful, except nothing he did with Godric could ever shame him.

Back then Godric still believed that he was a death spirit, and he was still at peace. He had lived many human lifetimes alone in this belief. As a mortal, Eric learned, he had been a thrall - raised for the sole purpose of dying to appease the gods. Recognized for his beauty, he had been fed well, cared for, adorned with brands and tattoos to make him even more pleasing to the eye. He hadn't had a real human life, and the values and codes that Eric had been taught were foreign to him.

“But who was your maker?” Eric asked one day.

“I do not remember,” Godric answered, closing his eyes briefly, “I only remember pain, and then waking up to this life alone.”

There was a slow change coming over the lands that they traveled. Cult grounds were left to decay; the nightly sacrifices at the bogs dwindled in generosity and frequency. The horse hides were left to decompose on the wooden stakes, and the sculptures and altars were slowly covered with weeds. Tall, wooden buildings, kirker, appeared near the cities, replacing the cult houses, and Godric grew more distant every year.

“I was told that everything is married,” Godric explained, one night, “sky and earth, day and night, man and woman, life and the only end of life.” He bent down, drawing in the dirt the crude rendering of a man and a woman, joined together. Eric recognized the image from moss-covered stone etchings he had passed across the country when he had been a traveling warrior. In his life they had been remains from ancient cultures.

“This is the holy coupling. For the sun to rise there has to be a night, for there to be life we have to bring death.” He raised his head, looking intently at Eric. "Do you believe in this?”

Eric had never been a godly man. Like any warrior, he had had charms and incantations to keep him safe in battle. He had bolstered his courage with mead and the promise of feasts and women in Valhalla. He'd even had a vague fascination with the missionaries that had come to the land with their foreign coins and promises of powerful allegiances. He'd been entertained, at least, by their stories of burning fires below the ground and winged creatures in the sky. He did not much care, now, as long as he could drink fresh blood every night, sleep with Godric beside him during the day.

But when he realized that Godric was waiting for affirmation, he dutifully answered that, yes, he believed this - because the wholly unfamiliar hint of insecurity he could sense in Godric scared him. It was the only time he ever lied to his maker.

It did not stop Godric from growing more and more remote.

In his absence, Eric became desperate for distraction. He wandered into villages, and found out that he could pass for human most of the time. He let women take him to bed, let men challenge him to battle. Sometimes he came back to their nest, flushed with blood and sex, to find Godric lying as he had when they'd awoken at dusk.

Deep down he knew what must be coming, but he could not prepare for it.

He was not ready when he opened his eyes one night, still confused from sleep, and saw Godric standing above him, dressed for traveling in his bear-skin cloak, a wandering staff in his hand.

”No.”

”You are strong, now, my child.”

Snälla, Godric. Don't leave.”

Eric wiped a hand across his eyes, struggling to fully wake, and was surprised when it came away red with blood.

”We will meet again.” Godric moved to go.

It was the first and only time that Eric tried to strike Godric. He was on the ground, ears ringing from the impact, before he could even lay a hand on his maker. Godric was straddling him, looking down on him with kind eyes.

“I will forgive you for this,” he said, with no trace of anger, and then he let himself sink down on Eric's body. Eric was not even aware that his teeth had broken skin, but he found himself lapping at Godric's neck, tasting that strong, sweet blood for the first time since his making. He was not even really feeding, just clinging to Godric with all that he had. Godric allowed it, indulging him.

When Eric woke the night after, he was gone.

 

II.

 

Eric figured that no one can exist for two thousand years without going crazy at least once. During the Middle Ages, there were decades - Eric has lost track of how many exactly - that he likes to refer to as the Bad Years. The medieval cities were rotten and diseased, the countryside wrought with superstitious paranoia, and in the middle of it all, Godric was going mad.

Eric has since read texts on the plague in Europe, and he has seen paintings. But what that media fails to convey was the god-awful smell.

The 12th century in Europe stank of death.

The population had grown in the prosperous years before the disease, and where there was prey, there would be predators. The continent was thick with their kind. The chaos and corruption that followed the Black Death made life easy for them in the cities, but Eric had shied away from it. The stench was unbearable.

It was rumors that had brought him to the Saxon Circle of the Holy Roman Empire, back into the heart of the plague. According to rumors, the devil himself was in Bremen.

Eric walked down the narrow, muddy streets covering his nose and mouth with a strip of cloth. A procession of flagellants passed by him and brought to the air the scent of fresh blood, but it mingled with the sickly smell of the incense that beak-masked doctors were waving over the dead bodies, and the always present smell of human waste. From every church tower, the bells were ringing incessantly to drive away the plague demons. The noise was overpowering.

Eric found Godric in the Schnoor Quarter. He followed a tenuous, indefinable awareness of Godric's presence up the narrow stairs of a town house in the affluent neighborhood.

Godric was standing in the middle of the main room. He was circled by chairs and couches occupied by silent forms. The room showed signs of a struggle: in one corner a table was pushed over, the drapes pulled from the curtain rod.

When he saw Eric, he smiled. But there was something deeply unsettling about the expression on his face, the sick burning of his eyes in the light of the candelabras placed around the room. He was dressed in clothes of the bourgeoisie which were obviously not fitted for him. They hung loose on his small frame. His hair was tousled and uncombed. He looked famished.

When Eric stepped closer to the seated humans, he could see and smell that they were all freshly dead. After their deaths, they had been arranged like an audience at the theatre.

“Come,” Godric said mildly. His eyes flickered briefly over Eric, but his attention was elsewhere. They had not seen each other for near on fifty years, but he didn't seem to realize it.

Godric beckoned him closer, and Eric reluctantly stepped into the circle that Godric had created.

“Look at this family.” Godric gestured at the corpses. “They were healthy, God-fearing people.They might have lived... Now they're dead.”

Godric hadn't fed from any of them. Their necks were broken, but there was no blood. There were grandparents, young maids, children. A man in expensive clothing, the patriarch maybe, hung limply to one side in a high-backed chair, his dead eyes open.

They prayed. They went to mass every day. If they had survived, they would have ascribed it to their god's mercy. Now that they are dead, people will say that they were punished for their sins.” Godric shrugged. “It has no consequence. One hundred years from now who will remember?”

He walked over and sat down next to the body of a young girl. He grasped her hand, stroking it gently. For a long time he was focused only on the motion, then he finally raised his head to look Eric in the eye. There was pain there, beneath the mad shine in his eyes.

“For more than a thousand years, I believed that everything we did had a purpose. The sun rose because the gods were pleased with our tributes, the cult dances made the seasons turn, we inhabited the night to bring death to the deserving... But it isn't so, is it?”

The question sounded like a plea. In that moment, it was clear to Eric that Godric was grieving, and that revelation pushed him out of his shocked stupor.

He crouched down in front of his maker. ”Godric, please, let us leave. I have a home near Trondheim. The plague hasn't reached it. We can stay there, get you out of this hell-hole.” He dared to put a hand on Godric's cheek, turning his face to catch his eye.

Godric tolerated Eric's hand on his cheek for a moment. Then he removed it, kissing the knuckles before letting go.

”You are the dearest, most beautiful thing in this world to me.” He turned his head away again, and Eric looked on helplessly while he returned his attention to stroking the limp hand of the dead girl beside him.

”Now go. You cannot help me.”

Eric left Bremen the same night, defeated.

 

III.

 

Eric was acting as chieftain in one of the westernmost vassal states of the Golden Horde when he was summoned by the king of Firenze.

Ever since the plague had wiped out much of the human population, the continent had been overcrowded with vampires. The new religion named them as devils and answered with stakes and pyres. As a result, the world of vampires had been changing, sorting itself into clans and kingdoms, passing rules to regulate their conduct. It was the rise of organized vampire politics. Eric found that he enjoyed it. The constant power struggles and conspiracies kept him entertained, and most of the European vampires were young and weak. Power was easy to come by, and with power came all the luxuries of privilege.

He left for Firenze soon after the command arrived, leaving his lieutenants Batu and Jochi in control of his territory. He traveled by foot and flight, trying to pass unnoticed as he crossed through other clans' territories. Back then, borders were guarded ferociously and many conflicts were solved with murder.

He was greeted at the city gates by vampires, who welcomed him with obvious reverence. They ushered him into a closed carriage and drove him through the city to the Santo Croce.

Eric has been to Firenze since, but he can never see it again like he did that first time, through the open window of a carriage. The high Roman domes and tall bell towers were not only impressive: they seemed structurally impossible, the astonishing evidence of some far advanced technology. The wealth and the scope of new ideas present in the city state was immediately apparent in everything that he saw - from the cut of people's clothes to the church murals, the buildings, the music playing from piazzas and open windows.

They finally arrived at a large white stone villa looking down on the city center. The heavy window shutters and the spiked iron fence, the guards with their short wooden lances, were all tell-tale signs that this was a vampire nest, but Eric was surprised to see it situated in between other houses, official buildings and churches. He grinned to himself, impressed with the audacity of it.

It was a very young vampire who answered the door, a man with curious green eyes, who must have died before he turned twenty. He bowed deeply. “Signore, your arrival has been much anticipated. Let me take you to our patrono.”

The villa itself was large and spacious, a labyrinth of patios, roman pillars and arched hallways, and inside the house was alive with human presence. They passed several humans in the halls - all of them un-glamored, but seemingly unafraid. Eric couldn't help but turn his head to look at them as they walked by.

There was a smell of food from the kitchens somewhere, the sound of people playing music, and guests at a party talking animatedly in a nearby room. A servant girl smiled deferentially and curtsied as he passed, and as she bent her head, he could see a constellation of tiny pin-prick scars on her throat.

They climbed the stairs to the second floor, which seemed to be the private chambers, and the young vampire stopped at a large mahogany door, knocking and respectfully waiting for permission before opening it slightly.

Maestro, the Northerner has arrived.”

“Thank you, Alim.”

Even though his sight was obscured, Eric instantly knew who the king was. Everything that he could sense - the voice, the smell of him, the sound of his movements - was intimately familiar. He had hoped for it all along, but he hadn't dared to believe it.

He did not wait for Alim to let him in, pushing past him with impatience.

The room was lit by a row of large lanterns. The windows were open, letting in the cool night breeze. Books were stacked in tall towers on the floor; paintings covered the walls. In the middle of it all, Godric was sitting on a low bench, his body turned towards the door, with a heavy parchment-covered desk behind him. His open hands were stained with ink, and in his informal white shirt and breeches, he looked much more like a young scholar than the ruler of a kingdom.

Eric hardly registered the sound of the door closing behind them. He was kneeling in front of Godric with his head bowed, staring blindly at the black specks on the white fabric of his trousers.

“Godric.” His tongue was thick in his mouth.

Warm hands reached into his hair, and then Godric leaned down, aligning their faces - his breath a whisper against Eric's ear.

Eirik, ” he said softly, pronouncing the name in their own tongue.

This close, the smell of blood on him was intense and exquisite, mixed with his own scent and the clean smell of new paper. Eric was instantly brought back to the day of his making, to the yearning desire he had felt for Godric then.

They parted slightly to look at one another. Godric was rosy cheeked and looked somehow deceptively alive. He must have the blood of at least three people running through his veins. Eric had never seen him so sated. He could suddenly see the echo of the very young man that Godric had never been in their shared lifetime. On impulse, he reached up and touched Godric's lips, to see the blood beneath the skin disappear and then return at the slight press of his fingers.

Godric flushed at the touch. “Do you like it?” he asked. “It makes it easier to pass when I go into the city. People become frightened if they realize what I am.”

Eric didn't answer; he was dumb with want. Godric regarded him for a moment, and then he smiled, probably recognizing the desire in Eric's face. He finally pulled Eric in, allowing him to kiss his warm lips, touch his flushing skin.

Later, in the half-dark of the few lanterns still burning, Eric opened his eyes to Godric seated at the foot of the bed, regarding him. Eric stretched, taking pleasure in being appraised like that. Any marks made on his skin had healed instantaneously, but there were still smears of ink from Godric's fingers striping his chest.

“How do you like my home?” Godric asked quietly.

Eric hesitated. “Don't you fear repercussions? The laws clearly state that no human should be made aware of our existence.”

Godric shrugged. “Most of those rules were made by lesser vampires than you and I.”

It was not boasting. Godric was simply stating a fact. In that, Eric recognized the powerful creature that he had not been able to see in Bremen.

Godric ran an unselfconscious hand over his naked body before gesturing at the large charcoal drawing hanging above the bed. “Look at this. It is a sketch from Verrocchio's workshop. The artist is the bastard son of some notary from Vinci. I have met him. That boy has ideas that are going to change the world.”

“These humans are fascinating, Eric. I have spoken with many of them, and I doubt there has been such a wealth of talent in one place in centuries.”

He laughed, but it was a wry and scornful sound, “All of those yearling vampires, killing without thought and putting themselves up on pedestals... We were never their gods, we're merely the scavengers of their society.”

Godric's anger disappeared as quickly as it had surfaced. “Well, I want to be a part of it. This was never meant to be a kingdom, but now that it is, I need a segretario. It may seem peaceful, but it is a vicious world. The Medicis are losing power. Both humans and vampires have been assassinated. I need someone here who I can trust, someone as charming and ruthless as you are.”

Eric moved to sit, but Godric reached out to wrap his hand around his ankle, stilling him.

“Will you stay with me? I do not command you, but I wish it very much.”

Back in Smolensk, Eric was the chieftain of nearly fifty vampires who all feared him too much to rebel. He was rich from war spoils, and the blood they drank was strong and plentiful.

Still, he nodded his head without hesitation. “Yes. I will stay.”

Godric reigned over Firenze for nearly a century. These were good years.

 

IV.

 

In 1874, Godric was a beautiful, pale boy sitting in Eric's lap. He was dressed in the suit of a rent boy, made to look like somebody's property. He was admired by the clientele of the establishment - the hidden back room of a high-class brothel. Every once in a while a man would walk up to them, complimenting Eric on his acquisition, or discreetly inquiring about certain services and their cost. Eric held Godric possessively through the many propositions, waiting for the light touch of his fingers on the back of his neck that signaled that this was the customer that Godric wanted.

His body - that Eric knew down to the crush of his bones - was not delicate and frail and ready for the taking. Beneath his inhumanly smooth skin, the muscle was like an armor. But he made a wonderful illusion. The other boys and their daddies regarded them with sour expressions and thinly veiled hostility, annoyed with the competition.

Godric was the vampire king of Northern England. Eric was his sheriff. When they got bored with the politics and the inanities of court, they stole out into the city of York to entertain themselves with these kinds of games.

There was one man in the room who hadn't approached them yet. He had kept to himself, eager to be left unnoticed, but he'd been watching them covertly ever since he entered. Eric could smell his sweat and arousal from across the room.

In the end, he made his way towards them. Nervous sweat was dewing on his upper lip.

“Your boy is very pretty.” His eyes shifted nervously to both sides before he leaned in close, crowding into Eric's personal space. His voice was so low that a human might not have been able to hear. “How much do I pay to do anything to him?”

His breath was tainted with brandy and expensive cigars. Eric could tell that the man was slurring his words on purpose, carefully trying to conceal an aristocratic accent. He had probably traveled far to be sure to go unrecognized.

“A hundred pounds,” Eric answered calmly. It was a staggering amount, the kind of money a customer paid to get away with killing.

The man nodded fervently, bypassing the usual haggling - already reaching into his pocket with shaking fingers. This man did not just want a grope in the back of an alley - the wave of fear and excitement rolling off him at the prospect of procurement convinced Eric that this man was a murderer. He wasn't surprised when he felt Godric's finger trace down the nape of his neck.

Godric, han är äcklig,” Eric protested under his breath.

Hysch,” Godric admonished.

They retreated to a discreet corner to finish the transaction, and then Eric watched Godric leave under the arm of his victim.

Godric returned to their home shortly before dawn. He shrugged out of his jacket the moment he entered their room.

Eric stood to greet him. “Was he nice?”

Instead of an answer, Godric pulled him into a kiss. The taste of blood was still in his mouth, laced with traces of alcohol and tobacco, the sharp musk of male arousal.

Eric licked his lips. “All these criminals taste the same. You should try one of those young dancers down at the theater, some day... Delicious. ” He leered suggestively.

Godric smiled slightly, head bowed. He was unbuttoning his shirt, pulling the shirt-tails out of his trousers. There was a smear of dry blood crusting on his skin underneath the starched fabric.

“Do you remember that time in Bremen?” he asked. “Do you remember that family I killed?”

Eric could not recall any of their faces, although he did remember the way Godric had looked, standing lost and hurt among them.

“I said that no one would remember, but I was wrong.” Godric tapped his own temple with two fingers, then smiled weakly. He remembered. “It is, of course, completely illusory, but I feel that killing murderers and rapists is at least a little more justifiable.”

He was fumbling with the small buttons on the cuffs of the shirt. Eric stepped in to help him, and Godric obediently held up his arms so Eric was able to reach.

“If you would only try one of those dancers, Godric, you wouldn't need justification.”

Godric laughed at that, surprising him. “You are such a libertine, always sucking the marrow out of life... Det är vackert.

Once the buttons were undone, he turned away, shrugging out of his shirt to reveal the tattoo snaking down his spine. “Of course you are correct – in reality, there is no right or wrong. Only survival or death.”

Godric turned around, and his eyes were unreadable. “Do you know that, after a thousand years, you were the first thing that I ever wanted for myself?” He turned again, walking to the basin of hot water that had been put out for him in advance by servants who made it a virtue to know his habits. “But you aren't mine... I know you've been wanting to go to the new continent. I think you should. And I think you should make a new vampire.”

Eric stepped closer. The water turned pink in the porcelain bowl as Godric washed his hair and face.

This was the iteration of conversations that they had had many times before, but something had changed.

“When are you leaving?” he asked.

Godric soaked a towel in the pink water. He used it to swipe down his torso. “Soon.”

“What will you do?”

“I will go away for a time. I'm bored with politics, and with all of these factories and coal mines and machines.” Godric threw the towel into the basin. “Siberia should still be large enough that I can get out of earshot of civilization.”

“America has plenty of room for you to run wild, if that's what you want. We can still -”

“No,” Godric interrupted, with force, and then softer, “No. It is your time to be a maker.”

He moved to walk past, but Eric grabbed him. He pulled him in, leaning into the comfort of the body that he had touched a thousand times. After a beat, Godric's arms closed around him.

“We will meet again,” he said against Eric's chest.“Who knows, maybe one day we will rule the new world together.”

 

V.

 

Eric thinks that Godric knew, even then, that that would never happen. Looking back, he doesn't know why he couldn't see that bone-deep weariness which was already then beginning to take hold of his maker.

It is this weariness that makes Godric walk into the sun. When Godric burns, the only constant there has been in Eric's immortal life is gone. He can't comprehend that his maker has simply ceased to exist.

Maybe that is why, in the years after Godric's death, Eric starts seeing him. He has never heard of anything supernatural that would explain it – flesh and bone seem to come in all forms, but he has never seen or heard of any evidence of spirits. Eric figures that no one lives as long as he has and doesn't go a little crazy at least once.

After a while, he finds that he doesn't mind it at all.