Not many people know how useful Witchwood is. In fact, not many people know about it at all as it’s not the most common wood in the world. Unlike other trees, Witchwood only grows when a wood witch dies in the forest under a full moon.
But it’s a great resource, especially when dealing with the Fain as it produces long thin vines, much like a willow tree’s, that the Fain cannot break. It’s what was holding the vampire to the chair now, and she was starting to come to. They are delicate and rare, but handy to have. You can restrain some Fain with iron shackles but it drives them crazy and you’ll never get anything from them.
I poked the vampire with my rowan staff, “Time to wake up.”
She shifted slightly in her seat, “where’d the tall pretty one go?”
“I’m right here.”
“Cute. But you know what I meant.”
“She and the others are checking the rest of the village to make sure you were the only visitor last night.”
“Oh don’t worry I work alone.”
“Forgive me if I don’t take your word.”
“Why?” she said demurely “don’t I look trustworthy?”
“After last night?”
“That was just playing my dear.”
“You tried to bite Morgan.”
“Morgan? I tike that. Such a pity. We could have ruled the realms together.”
“I don’t think she shares that sentiment.”
“Her loss. All I did was try to elevate her to a higher purpose. You have no idea how meager your existence is.”
“You wouldn’t have stopped me from biting her if you knew what she was missing. It’s like seeing color for the first time. You walk through this world and might as well be deaf and blind. I can hear the blood in your veins and I can smell your friends a street over. You’re slow and weak and dumb. You will live sixty years if you’re lucky. I’ve lived three times that.”
“I’d rather die than live centuries in the shadows.”
“Who lives in the shadows?”
“I do whatever I want warden.”
“I’m not a warden anymore.”
“Ha!” she said, “that’s not how it works. Nothing changes. A soldier will always be a soldier. A warden will always be a warden. A vampire will always.”
“Until someone takes you out.”
“Possibly. What’s the likelihood of that happening?”
“Present circumstances would beg to differ.”
“Oh, this?” she said straining against the witchwood, “this is just fun and games.”
“Doesn’t seem like a game.”
“To you maybe. Have you dealt with my kind much? You’re remarkably calm.”
“Half a dozen.”
“Really? I’ve dealt with your kind too you know.”
“No not humans. Wardens.”
“I told you I’m not a warden. They were disbanded.”
“You overestimate how much I care for details. Still, I met many of your friends along the way with your cloaks and weapons trying to keep the Fain at bay. Some were truly fearsome. Though not as fearsome as they thought,” she said licking her lips, “but they were delicious just the same.”
“Stop it vampire. Or I’ll end this,” I said slipping the large knife from my belt and placing it on the table.
“Do you really need to keep calling me vampire?” she asked, “it’s so impersonal.”
“What would you prefer?”
“Was that your name before?”
“Maybe. That’s really any of your business now is it?”
“I suppose not.”
She squirmed in her seat, “my nose itches. Care to untie me? Just for a moment?”
“You couldn’t possibly think that was going to work?”
“Oh, you’d be surprised.”
“Not that this hasn’t been lovely, but I assume there’s a reason I haven’t been…taken care of… yet.”
“Why were you here last night?”
“I was hungry.”
“Seems like there was an easier way to get a meal. Why sneak into the Inn?”
“Because I saw that charming friend of yours and I made a play for her.”
“Anna, I think it’s best if we stick to the truth.”
“Then why don’t you tell me what the truth is so I can parrot it back to you.”
“Were you here on the King’s orders?”
“No. I don’t take orders from the king.”
“Ah, so you already know about him.”
“So it was his order?”
“Why would you listen to Skein but not the King?”
She leaned as far forward as she could “because there are dark things brewing child. I am a creature of the night. I go where I want. I do what I want. But when Skein commands you obey. I fear nothing warden. But Skein scares me.”
‘You wouldn’t understand.”
“No. I’m telling you. You won’t understand. It’s Fain business. Things we don’t talk about with your kind.”
“Whose rules are those?”
“Not mine. Old laws, I doubt anyone knows.”
“What are his plans?”
“I don’t know.”
“You’re sure about that?”
“What do I have to lose at this point?”
“How can I trust what you’re saying?”
“How can you trust what anyone says? Have a little faith warden.”
“I’m not going to trust a vampire.”
“It’s Anna. I told you.”
“Fair enough. Anna. I’m Owen.”
“Forgive me if I don’t shake your hand.”
“Owen…Owen…such a plain name I figured the man who killed me would have a more exciting name.”
“I’m sorry to disappoint you. What were you thinking?”
“I don’t know something with the slayer in it? Maybe… did you know Jack Swift? He was a warden. He was a legend among my kind.”
“I did. He was head of the order for a while”
“Now that’s a name. So fitting too.”
“He was killed by a vamp-”
Anna didn’t say a word. She just winked, and I knew. She was the one who killed him.
“Anna. Why did Skein send you?”
“Let’s get something straight. He didn’t send me. I’m no errand boy. But he suggested that Avonsdale could use a visit before he got there. He thought maybe they needed a little fright. Fall in line that sort of thing.”
“So he’s coming here?”
“My, my. Perceptive aren’t we. Do you think you could attack his men and get away with it?”
“They aren’t his men. They’re the King’s.”
“Yes. Skein reigns supreme in these northern towns. Half the people have never been to Pembroke. Skein is all they know. It’s him burning their homes and taxing them into poverty.”
“And it’s Skein bringing the Fain.”
“Yes. you tend to be given a certain deference when you have monsters among your forces.”
“Does that make you a monster?”
“Depends on my mood.”
“You just called the other Fain monsters.”
“I’m not like them. I’m no beast charging through the woods.”
“You think you’re above the Fain?”
“I think I’m above everyone Owen.”
Just then Morgan walked through the door.
“Oh, there she is.”
“Quiet,” I said.
“How’s it going in here?” Morgan asked.
“Lovely,” Anna said, “Owen and I were just getting acquainted.”
“Is that so?”
“Indeed,” Anna said, “how’s the neck dear?”
“It’s been better,” Morgan.
“That’s enough,” I said to Anna.
“Did you get anything useful from her?” Morgan whispered to me as we walked to the other side of the room.
“No. She said Skein is coming. But we thought that would happen.”
“So she works for Skein?” she asked.
“It sounds like it was he suggested it, but that’s about it.”
“So she’s not bound to him?”
“It doesn’t look that way.”
“I was thinking,” she said, “what if we let her go?”
“That sounds like a marvelous idea,” Anna said, “ and yes before you ask I can hear both of you quite well. There’s no use whispering.”
“Are you crazy?” I asked not bothering to whisper anymore, “she tried to kill you last night.”
“Yes, but we let it happen. We need help, Owen. There’s four of us and for all, we know an army is on its way here.”
“I thought you said you liked those odds.”
“I’m not opposed to tilting them a little to our favor.”
“I have a bargain for you vampire,” Morgan said.
“I’m all ears.”
“How come it’s okay for her to call you vampire?” I asked.
“Because she’s much prettier than you. Go on,” Anna said.
“I will forget what you did last night but you do something for us.”
“I’m not working for you.”
“You’re not in a position to make demands,” I said.
“Hush,” Morgan said.
“Yes, listen to her,” Anna said.
“You’re not working for us,” Morgan said, “but all I ask is to make their lives difficult. The fewer men we have to deal with the better. Harass a few and then be on your way.”
“What about Skein?” Anna asked.
“Can you avoid him?”
“Then do it. And now the north woods are no longer guarded by the wardens. You can have it all to yourself.”
“This still doesn’t sound like a great deal to me.”
“I forgot to mention that I won’t kill you right here and now.”
“Huh, just got better.”
“And you have to leave everyone here alone. If I hear about even one attack on so much as a sheep I will hunt you down myself,” I added.
“And I spent the time you were out blessing as many people as possible so you don’t know who in this town is poisonous to you,” Morgan said.
“Oh you witch,” Anna said.
“Deal?” Morgan asked.
“Deal,” Anna said and she stood up breaking the witchwood vines holding her.
“Well that was fun,” Anna said massaging her wrists, “I need to be going.”
“How…how…did you?” I asked.
Anna confidently strode across the room and kissed me on the cheek, “Owen honey, you need to learn your plants better. That wasn’t Witchwood.”
The whole time I thought she was restrained she could have broken free any time she wanted.
Anna tucked a lock of hair behind Morgan’s ear, “I plan on seeing more of you.” She quickly disappeared through the door.
“I don’t think that’s the last we’ve seen her,” I said.
“I don’t think so either,” Morgan said.
“Do you think she’ll help?”
“Well she could have escaped anytime she wanted so I kind of believe her,” Morgan said.
“Can you really bless other people’s blood?” I asked.
“No,” Morgan said, “but hopefully she doesn’t know that.”