A Bargain in Blood
-- This is an excerpt of my short story A Bargain in Blood, which can be found in the TL;DR Reddit Writers Anthology on Amazon. --
The aeldorman’s hall was a converted military stable. Isaac could still see the post-holes where separate pens had once lined the walls. Plank shared that trait with most old frontier villages - the crumbling ruins of a nation at war enveloped by the languid embrace of peace.
The aeldorman, wearing a layer of animal skins that added to his already-enormous profile, sat at attention on a raised dais. The man clenched the arms of his seat. Isaac could see the knuckles growing white. A throng of onlookers fidgeted in the wings.
“I do apologise for the mess,” Isaac said, “I didn’t have time to dry my boots.”
“Muddy reeds are nothing, compared to our troubles,” replied the aeldorman.“You have come too long a way to talk about boots and muck, lawman, so why not tell me why you’re here?”
“I would hope you know that already, sir. You wrote to the provincial authorities last month complaining about an incursion by a coven of vampires.”
An urgent mumbling rushed through the crowd. It was silenced by a sweep of the aeldorman’s sizable arm. He leant forward, the high-backed chair creaking.
“They are a scourge,” he rasped. “A plague. The sooner you rid us of these creatures the better, lawman. Please, let the next words from your mouth be that you’ve hired a band of killers to track down the beasts.”
Isaac smiled softly. He felt all eyes on him. “Aeldorman, surely a man as world-weary as yourself understands that things can never be truly solved with blood and violence. The vampire is a proud creature. He responds to reason. He responds to discourse and negotiation.”
“You admire these abominations?” sneered the headman.
“Admire would be the wrong term for it. A man doesn’t live long in this profession without understanding with what he’s dealing. A man cannot contend with a vampire in feats of strength, nor can he hope to match the keen intellect of a being that has lived for hundreds of years.”
“Then what can be done?”
“From what I’ve heard you have done quite enough already.” Isaac reached into a pocket, unrolling an aged parchment. “It was not just the villagers of Plank that wrote in complaint to Duke von Taff.” He forced himself to read the words, which had quite clearly been written in human blood.
“Some days ago we were most unfortunate to be tracked by a hunter from the Pine valleys. The man was quite the amateur. Before he died - and after we had our fun - he confessed he’d been contracted by the people of some village, named Planke? As you can expect, I anticipate swift justice as is befitting the crime.”
Isaac cleared his throat. “You are at an impasse. A disagreement between humans and vampires cannot be tolerated in the eastern marches. There are strict non-aggression treaties in place. That is why I am here.”
A robed figure softly pushed its way through the throng. It seemed to glide across the dusty reeds of the hall’s floor, each step measured and delicate. He was a handsome, middle-aged man, with a regal face and hair drawn back from his scalp. He wore a rhinestone-studded velvet doublet, matched with trousers sewn with silver thread.
The newcomer sank into a chair opposite Isaac, oblivious to the commotion that had arisen amongst the watching crowd.
“What is the meaning of this?” said the aeldorman, squinting down at the newcomer. “Who are you?”
The stranger smiled. A woman screamed.