Arthur just acts as if he knows (or remembers) everything . . . (Lelia has given him some clues, and expressed concern about what they might be facing.)
Heavy rain cascaded down the windshield as he drove to the home farm that night. The windshield wipers kept up, but no more than that. He drove with care, alert for deer as well as for drivers. Lady be merciful, please, may there not be a Hunt this night. At least it was warm and wet, not sleet or freezing rain. He would Hunt when called, but perhaps the beasts would stay quiet this night. He did not envy the Hunters in the Old Land, not at all. He turned onto the track leading to the farm, stopping at the appointed place. The watchers recognized him, and he continued on.
Ladislu met him on the porch of the house.
The younger Hunter hesitated, looking out into the rain-curtained night. “Not this night, sir, not yet, but the owl approached Dumitra, then departed.”
“Ah.” That . . . “I came to study a lore book.”
Ladislu bowed and opened the door for him. “We track another dark sorcerer, perhaps. Shadow is warned.”
“Good.” Arthur continued into the house. He saluted the Great God, the Son, and the Lady’s shrine, then continued on past the Hunters’ hearth, still cold as it had been for decades, since the last guardian died. He turned left, and passed a short distance until he reached the chamber housing the most important books and accounts of the Hunts. He stopped at the doorway, waiting until the spell parted for him. Once he had rushed in. The ghost of that headache still haunted him. He had not repeated the test. A faint almost-sound brushed his ears, and he stepped through the doorway.
Here he did not need his reading glasses. His own language’s script came far more easily to his eyes than did Latin letters. Warm, soft light filled the small room, barely large enough for three chairs and the books and records. He considered the volumes, then crouched and pulled a dark-green book out of the bottom shelf, half-hidden behind one of the chairs. He slid a piece of paper into the gap. After a moment’s thought, he sat and opened the plump, leather-covered book to the index, then turned to the section on graves, holy ground, and the undead. Many years had passed since he’d encountered a grave not on consecrated ground.
“Ah.” The age of the consecration did not matter, so long as the priest or clergy had been properly ordained and the consecration completed. Arthur re-read the signs of consecration and blessing. Land separated from other land, fenced or marked in some way, and the land would recall the blessing, even after tens or hundreds of years. But for how long here, in this land, when people moved so very often? He read no dates or limits on time. Certain blessings required renewal, but not those setting aside land for graves. The blessing must be positively revoked and the ground formally deconsecrated. Only then was the land once more unhallowed. The nosferitau, should it be one caused by unnatural death or suicide, came from a grave on unhallowed ground. Provided those burying the dead still followed that law, he reminded himself. Such things had changed over time and place, but not always.
However, consecrated or unhallowed mattered not to other nosferitau, nor to moiroi or strigoi. He allowed his eyes to half-close and looked back into his memories of the nosferitau that he and Skender had dealt with. They ought to have tracked it back, that night. They had not. He could not undo their inaction. Too long had passed, five years. Had that nosferitau shifted form? They had seen no trace but they had not interviewed the creature, either. He bared his teeth in a humorless smile.
He stood and returned the book to its place. Gliding steps and the faintest musical clink, almost chime, of beads warned him. He turned and bowed to the clan’s priestess. “Ah. Please rise.” He straightened. She entered the room, stepping to the right with flowing grace. The doorway remained clear. No Hunter cared to remain in a room with an obstructed exit. Ageless dark blue eyes met his, eyes the color of a clear night sky in the moment before the first stars appeared. The small silver beads on her darker blue scarf gleamed in the soft light of the chamber like a crown of stars around her oval face. “You found what you sought?”
“Yes, ma’am. I did not recall the signs of hallowed ground long neglected.”
One curved, dark-brown eyebrow rose, then descended. “The undead one.”
She extended her left hand. “Your silver, Hunter-born.”
Without thought he removed his blessed medallion from around his neck, slid the signet from his finger, and drew the knife from its sheath. He touched his thumb to the blade, drew blood. He placed all three on the extended hand, then knelt, hiding the pain.
She covered her left hand with her right. “Great God, maker of all, guide your children. Lady of Night, guide Your Hunter; Defender angel, captain of the hosts of heaven, protect this Hunter and his child. Lady of Stars, hear our prayer. Great God who commands both day and night, hear our prayer.”
“Selah, amen,” he murmured, eyes downcast.
“Hunter-born.” He raised his eyes. She extended her right hand. Knife and ring returned to their proper places. The medallion? She stepped closer, inclined toward him, and hung it around his neck once more. “Rise, hand of the Defender.” She extended her left hand. He took it without demur and stood. The priestess turned and departed. Arthur considered the night and followed suit.
Ladislu nodded, acknowledging Arthur’s departure, but kept his attention turned outward, into the wet darkness. Arthur returned the courtesy and listened to the night. Only water moved. He descended the steps and picked his way with care to where the car waited. The biggest of the puddles and holes never moved, but other low places relocated with gleeful malice. Perhaps, when she came into her full strength, the little one could explain why it was so, if not stop the holes from shifting. He detested cleaning farm mud off of his boots and shoes. He drove with equal care for holes and deep mud.
As he had hoped, none of the youngsters had yet begun work at the warehouse. He let himself in via the currently-unmonitored door, then logged into his computer. Nothing important awaited him. He logged out and slipped into his concealed sleeping quarters, locking both doors behind him. Once somewhat safe, he drew the blue and silver chaplet from his hidden interior jacket pocket. He removed the blanket from the bed and made a pad on the floor, then knelt. “Sancte Michael Archangele, defende nos in proelio contra nequitiam et insidias diaboli . . .” He recited the sequence of prayers and invocations, then meditated on the night.
Why had the priestess been called to him? He had not sought a blessing since the last vigil night. Should he have done so? What did they face? Lady of Night, Bride of the Most High God, what should Your servant know? What do You call Your servant and defender to do? He repeated the beads, then prepared for sleep. His mind continued to circle around, looking into the misty future. Please, great Lady, may my sufliit fica not be right about another Great Hunt, if it is Your will.
Like the child, he feared such a thing. Now he considered his fear, acknowledged it, and set it aside. He could do nothing about what had yet to exist. Sleep brought clarity, and he’d be triply a fool not to rest now, while he could. Someday, one of the younger Hunters would find his hidden chamber. Were he fortunate, they would only leave a warning token. He doubted such fortune. He would die, as all men died. Only the Great God knew the time and manner of a man’s death. Since he, Arthur, could do nothing to change it, he did not concern himself overmuch about such things. Instead he allowed awareness to fade away into rest.
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