Benedictus ~ Before Salem, a Prologue
Previously: Dramatis Personae
800 A.D., City of Aachen
Holy Roman Empire
Caleb drifted in and out of consciousness as the monks carried him into their sanctuary. He didn't know why they even bothered. He was dying and that was all there was to it.
This was to be his reward for spending all those as a mercenary in Pepin's army; now that his son Charlemagne sat on the throne, it seemed fitting that Caleb would die and finally have done with this miserable life.
After all, there wasn't much to live for. His family - what was left of it - was back in Mercia, probably still working the old farm. In the unlikely event that he actually made it back there, he'd be of no use. He was pretty sure his left leg would have to go to stop the spread of infection, but it didn't matter. This hellish fever was likely to take him first. He burned, mind and body. It was like a searing taste of the damnation to come.
The monks were speaking the tongue of the Rhineland, which Caleb understood only a little, and they were moving in a quite a hurry, their shoes scuffing against the floor, their coarse woolen robes brushing against his skin.
At least I shall die in a house of God, Caleb mused sleepily, a faint smile forming on his lips. It was ironic, seeing as he'd never actually believed in God before until now, at the hour of his death.
He was laid down in a small room with no windows and a tiny hearth. The were was a woman working at a nearby table; she appeared to be some sort of herbalist. Robed in blue like some sacred virgin, the monks seemed to both fear and revere her. As Caleb's vision slowly blurred again, he saw her approach, fleetingly noting her rich dark skin and black hair tumbling down in large ringlets.
Darkness took his sight, but he could still hear. The monks were frantically speaking to the woman, who calmly responded in their tongue. Caleb dimly felt surprised; he'd expected her to speak Arabic for some reason.
He blacked out finally, giving into death. It felt sweet and soothing, as though falling into a deep sleep after a long day.
***1194 A.D., City of Rennes
Kingdom of France
"Then what happened?" Zahir asked, eyes dark and curious as he watched Athena Bennett work her magic. The ring he'd chosen was gold, of course, but she'd insisted that the stone be lapis lazuli.
She was kneeling on a fur rug before the fire place, the ring placed on a handkerchief of white silk. When she closed her eyes and waved her hands, it began to float.
"Isn't it obvious?" she murmured, as though in a trance. "Caleb woke several hours later, his fever broken, his pain gone, and his leg completely healed. He then fell madly in love with my ancestor Maven, married her, and returned with her to Mercia."
"Athena, what was your ancestor doing in a German convent?"
"She was born out of wedlock," the witch replied. "When her mother died in childbirth, her father, a German lord, left her in the care of nuns."
Zahir snorted, stretching his long legs as he lounged back onto his chaise. The dark-skinned vampire raised his goblet of blood for a leisurely sip before asking, "But if you're descended from a German lord, why do you need me?"
"My ancestors have lived as commoners ever since Maven and Caleb returned to Mercia. Since the monks believed Maven was some sort of saint, the newlyweds told everyone they were the 'Benedicts'. Over time, we became the 'Bennetts', and I assure you that name carries no weight with anyone of note. Now, I have my eye on a certain count in Paris. He's young, gullible, and his family is filthily rich."
"So you want me to compel a lord to draft you papers of nobility, " Zahir mused, his Moorish accent apparent in his French. Athena paused in her spell to look at him. His skin shone like obsidian in the firelight. It looked even more beautiful in his soft, muted purple robes. She could see why so many women flocked to him, even before he was turned.
"It would help with my disguise." Unlike Zahir, Athena's accent was perfect. She sounded exactly as though she'd been born and raised in the province of Brittany.
"I assume you'll need gold to fund this little fiction of yours as well."
"That would be most appreciated, Zahir," she replied honestly, turning back to her spell.
Zahir was deeply amused. "And what could you possibly offer me to compensate for such...generosity?"
Athena plucked the ring from the air like fruit from a vine and coolly turned to offer it to him. "With this, you'll be able to walk in the daylight, like a normal human being." She cocked her head to the side and blinked. "Would that not be most helpful, considering your current predicament?"