As the sun sets on 2018, and we look optimistically to what the next twelve months hold, I thought I’d share a special New Year’s Eve set chapter from Heavy Lies The Crown, out in 2019. It introduces a new character, Taragh, and brings us back to my native Dublin and to a New Year’s Eve party like no other.
Happy New Year to you all and thanks for reading. May 2019 be the stuff of which dreams are made.
(This excerpt contains no spoilers from Our Destiny Is Blood)
New Year’s Eve 1847, Dublin, Ireland
The Black City was hers. As surely as anyone ever owned anything, Dublin belonged to Taragh. No-one else could lay claim to it, for she’d been there for centuries. Bested by none, she’d fought for it, over and over, until challengers stopped coming and left her to it. There were other vampires of course but she encouraged their transience. Time was endless, as was the world; so much to see. Encouraging, while all the time she never left the island. Not once. Perhaps she was afraid if she did, someone would take it, or was it that she had no desire to leave when she had all she needed right here? A queen in her own land.
And Christchurch Cathedral suited her well. In the darkness of its subterranean chambers, she could hear the daylight hymns of the humans above, especially on a Sunday. They loved their worship and when night fell, she would rise above ground to hunt them down. She fed according to her mood but she never touched any of the clergy. They were keen housekeepers and preservers of her magnificent home. But lately, more and more people flocked to the city. The population had swelled, not helped by the famine forcing so many into its streets.
With more people, came more vampires and now as she stood against the park railings in Merrion Square, she considered those in the Georgian townhouse opposite. The party was in full swing. Music swelled from its sash windows, jaunty piano and violins and with it the thump on the floorboards as they danced. She could hear the clink of raised glasses, even the tiniest of giggles as the nights gossip was shared. She could hear it all. They possessed neither the stealth nor cunning needed to be a vampire in a human world. And they were so in love with their own existence that they didn’t care. Those ones rarely made it past the first few hedonistic years. Tonight they welcomed as many human guests as they could lure with the promise of free liquor. It was only the latest in a string of parties, one of which saw the disappearance of their esteemed neighbour Wilbur Fairfax. They were bringing unwanted attention and it couldn’t continue.
It was almost midnight. Did any vampire hate New Year’s Eve more than she did? She’d celebrated when 1799 rolled into 1800, but the years since meant nothing to her. They were the endless ticking of the clock face. And Dublin had changed more in those forty eight years than the two hundred before that. Another year, meant more change. She longed for the muddy streets before the cobbles and the endless building. Pretty this, ornate that. Dublin didn’t need it. She was so beautiful already. Sitting a mile inland from the Irish sea, a city cut in half by the River Liffey, it’s muddy dark green waters, the only thing time did not seek to change.
Thirteen Merrion Square was intended as a starter house for fledglings to learn how to exist in the human world. It’s owner, Thomas Warwick, resident in London, set it up with that purpose but when they overstepped the mark, he’d asked Taragh to intervene. It was in her interests too, he’d said. She could neither have her city overrun with vampires (for they were turning humans on a bare whim) or have their nocturnal species brought into the spotlight. The night was theirs, yes, but the world wasn’t.
She had an odd relationship with Warwick. A distant one that suited her for now but she knew he bided his time. He would ask something of her one day that required more than a few sacrificial lambs. She’d met him only once in the flesh, when he’d purchased it, an invitation to visit left at night in the cathedral, addressing her by name. Curious, she had gone, refusing the goblet of blood he’d handed her with a smile. He wasn’t a vampire but he did possess sorcery skills and she couldn’t determine whether he was human or simply projecting a human guise. He was English but so many holders of Irish property were. He had a foothold in her city and while she didn’t like it, she preferred at least that he should take her counsel than ignore her altogether. The latter rarely worked out for people who did.
Her white hair, inherited from her father’s Norse bloodline, hung loose, long strands running down her back. A piece of twisted leather, circled her crown. Heavy fur lined her shoulders over a dark green dress, and hidden inside her hooped skirts lay her sword, it’s hilt kept in check by a band of red silk. She would need it tonight. She waited for a passing carriage to go by and crossed the road. She estimated twelve or so vampires inside and almost twice that in humans. It was a tall order by herself but then she’d faced multiple threats before.
Her foot touched the stoop just as a window on the third floor exploded outward, shards of glass falling around her. She looked up to see a man follow suit though he did not fall. Instead he flung his body back towards the granite sill, catching it with one hand. Laughter as he kicked his legs off the brick and somersaulted back in through the broken pane. She clutched the hilt of her sword and withdrew it, before pushing the front door open.
Set back from the hallway was a wide staircase and on it, three young vampires sat. They were young in blood years though their ages varied. One, a boy was no more than sixteen when turned, the others two women, sisters perhaps for they looked alike, mops of long red hair twisted messily on their heads, closer to herself at thirty. The boy drew away from their chatter to look at her. He didn’t recognise her, but the women did, uncertainty flashing in their eyes. Should they fight? Warn the others? They were deprived of their heads before they could decide, for Taragh leapt forward and decapitated them with one swoop of her mighty blade. She swung it back and ran it through the boy’s chest.
As quick as she was, decapitation meant delay not annihilation. She’d learned long ago that if left, a vampire’s body will gravitate to its lost appendage, the cells knitting back together; a broken thing, mended. She had to move fast. She entered the room to her left. It was dimly lit, the candles burned almost to the wick and it was quiet, perhaps the only room left in the house with no-one in it. Just battered old sofas and a chaise longue, the back of which faced her, the fabric ripped by long nails. Double doors led to a back parlour and the remains of two girls, used and discarded early in the night. A noise, a breath reached her ears and she thought for a moment it came from the chaise, when she heard footsteps on the stairs and a shriek that rang throughout the house. There was no more stealth to be had. The music stopped and in a distant room, a fiddle crashed to the floorboards.
In the hall, a woman fumbled over the bodies. In trying to escape a horror upstairs, she’d encountered far worse here with no choice but to clamber over the slain, her bare feet slick with their blood. Taragh threw her sword spear-like, sidestepping the carnage to run up the wall to her right. When she landed, the woman was already dead, the sword buried to its hilt in throat and stair. The scent of human blood rose to her, but this was no time to feast. She bobbed left as a white knuckled fist hurtled towards her. It hit her shoulder, knocking her back into the wall, the force sending cracks through the plaster. A vampire’s strong arms tried to hold her. He was seething with anger. Good. He should be angry. She pushed him back, his strength no match for hers. Retrieving her blade she brought it through him, severing his mid-section. His body fell on the heap at the bottom of the stairs.
By now, a number of vampires had gathered on the first landing, their youth evident in so many confused eyes. They didn’t understand what was going on. Had they not been schooled by their maker? Or was he or she among them, themselves none the wiser? They didn’t even know who she was. As their friend’s body fell, panic set in and they scarpered back upstairs. Taragh ran at them, rotating the blade high above her head, barely visible, a trick of light and speed.
Many had run into the first floor room above, humans and vampires alike, in the hope of escaping through the windows onto the Square. But her sword was fast and she cast it into the air, the blade spinning around the room, cutting them down. A blood mist descended, and she spread it to each and every room until they were all destroyed. All except for the two hiding in the attic rooms. She could hear a woman’s worried gasps at the sound of her footsteps as they approached and a man’s attempts to hush her. Did he hope she would see the broken window and assume they’d fled? How much did he regret not taking flight when he had the chance? The attic was one large open space, the staircase at its centre. To the back, trunks and boxes lay stacked while in front lay a bed and the remains of a person wrapped in blood soaked sheets. She couldn’t determine if it was male or female but this couple had had their fun. This was for sport, not survival.
When she found them huddled together, she understood the horror reflected in their eyes. Strands of her hair had broken loose and they cascaded around her. She was crimson from head to toe, a red being intent on slaughter. The man who’d earlier swung from the window ledge, shielded the other, though he must know it was futile.
‘Warwick will hear of this,’ he hissed.
‘Who do you think asked me to clean up this mess?’ she said. ‘Are you in charge here?’
He didn’t answer her.
‘Then this is your fault. You brought this on them all. I should hang your head on a spike across the street, as a warning to others.’
She wouldn’t. He was to be destroyed. They all were. But the threat was enough to bring tears to his eyes. She almost felt sorry for him. How naive to trust Warwick. She made it quick, the sword piercing his heart and that of the female vampire behind him.
The girls would arrive soon. Her loyal girls, humans, to whom she gave food and shelter in an old house on Pearse Street nearby. It helped to have those who could move in daylight. To keep an eye on things when she couldn’t. They would set a fire and burn them all. Warwick had no problem redecorating. Starting afresh. She had done her job. And done it well. Or had she? There it was again. The faint breath of another, coming from the room downstairs.
‘Come on out,’ she said as she descended the stairs into the hallway.
Silence. She came into the room, and a head rose from behind the chaise, a dishevelled mop of brown hair, large green eyes stricken with fear.
‘Aren’t you going to beg for your life?’ she said.
‘No,’ he said, his voice meek.
‘Why not?’ She was almost disappointed.
‘You are Taragh. What would be the point? You will slay me as you did the rest.’
At last, someone who knew who she was.
‘What do you know of me?’
‘Only that you are the most powerful of our kind in Ireland. I knew their antics wouldn’t go unnoticed.’
‘And yet you came.’
‘I was lonely. I don’t really know any other vampires. I keep to myself usually.’
‘Where are you from?’
Ah yes, that accent. He almost sounded like a Norseman and it tugged at memories buried deep inside her. He slowly withdrew from the couch, his eyes catching the light gleaming from the weapon poised in her hand.
‘How long have you been here?’
‘Almost two years, ma’am. I stay by the coast. There is a cottage, derelict, but it’s my home with a safe place to sleep by day. I didn’t want to be alone New Year’s Eve and so I made the exception of coming to the city to feed.’
He was tall and thin, and his suit though tattered was elegant once, tailored as it was to his shape, the sleeves of his jacket finishing perfectly at the end of his long arms. One of them reached into his suit pocket and in an instant, a dagger flew towards her. She leaned sideways to avoid it and heard the thud as it met the vampire behind her. The one she’d vivisected with her sword, newly repaired and seeking retribution. The knife caught him right in the heart and he fell backwards. He would stay down now. Taragh looked from his body to the Estonian. He could have let that vampire have its moment. Perhaps he doubted his abilities to win but at the very least it may have given him a chance to flee. But then he could have easily done that already. He walked towards her.
‘My name is Randolph,’ he said. He gave a curt bow and clicked his heels together.
She couldn’t help but smile.
‘Do you know anything else about me, Randolph?’
‘Only the whispers from those that leave for new shores that you are a clairvoyant. You see things.’
That was true. Her visions were sporadic at best but when they did come they played with such clarity in her head, and they always came true. She looked again at the body in the doorway.
‘It seems I don’t see everything, so you see, I don’t have an ending to your story.’
‘Then let me live.’
He said it in such a matter-of-fact manner, reaching past her to retrieve his weapon. He smelled like the ocean, of salt and seaweed and she imagined him living out there by the waters edge, bracing against the winds, perched on the rocks looking out to sea. He stepped back from her and put the dagger back in its concealed pocket. She in turn concealed her own blade, its hilt an elaborate ornament on her side.
‘Soon a girl will come,’ she said. ‘She’s coming home.’
‘She’s one of us?’
‘Yes but so much more.’
Distant bells rang out for midnight.
‘Come, lets feed. My girls will clean this up.’
She would kill this Randolph when he grew tiresome. How long would that be, she couldn’t tell. 1848 had only just begun.
Want to start at the very beginning? Grab book one, Our Destiny Is Blood here.