The trail looked different in the afternoon light than it had two weeks earlier when Mierna had come at night. The shadows that had made her heart beat so fast seemed playful now that sunlight rather than the moon filtered through the branches, and the calls of a few birds held none of the cold of the wind howling in the night. Like then, though, she had a weapon in hand, this time the sword Elden had given her rather than a spear. And just like that night, she had no idea what to expect once she reached the end of the trail.
“Hello, Elden! Remember me?”
She winced at her own words. Too joyful. She wanted him to take her seriously. Somehow, she doubted that smiles and a sweet voice would be enough. If anything, they would reinforce his idea that she was a child.
“Hello. I wanted to thank you again for the sword. I will honor Deborah’s memory—” she cut herself mid sentence and frowned. “No. If I say her name, he might become sad again.”
Frustrated, she slashed the sword in the air in front of her. It made a now familiar swooshing sound, but she would have given a lot to trade it for the sound of metal on metal. In the two weeks since the Fighters had grudgingly accepted her as a trainee, no one had found the time to show her how to use a sword, and they wouldn’t let her join their nightly patrols until she could best one of them. She had come to realize Carrel had used his influence amongst the Fighters to make sure no one would train her. That was why she was returning to the lair. Seeking the company or help of a vampire went against every warning children were given as they grew up, and so she had needed some time to make up her mind. Still, she didn’t see what other choice she had if she wanted to become a full-fledged Fighter. She had to ask him. She just wasn’t sure how she would convince Elden to help her again.
She stopped mid stride, struck by a sudden thought. Vampires were supposed to hide from sunlight during the day and spend their nights out. Would he be awake, when she arrived there? Disrupting his rest might not be the best way to start that encounter. Maybe she would wait outside for a few hours, and knock only at nighttime.
Lost in her thoughts, she started walking again, more slowly now. After a little while, she dismissed the idea. She would not stay on his doorstep, only feet away from the graves.
“Hello, Elden. I am sorry for bothering you. Sorry for throwing that spear at you. Sorry for coming to your lair to steal from you. Sorry for thinking about you every day and every night since I met you.”
She grimaced as the words left her tongue. They were true, every single one of them, but that didn’t mean she wanted to share them with Elden. What would he think of her, if she told him she could remember every word he had said, and the feel of his hand on hers when he had made her pick the sword? He wouldn’t take her seriously. She wasn’t even taking herself seriously. He was a vampire, and much older than she was. Taking a fancy to him was only one more way to avoid thinking of the two men courting her. Her parents were not pushing her into making a choice yet, but the time would come, she was sure, when they would ask her to put her ideas about fighting away and accept a marriage proposal. If she could only show them, all of them, that she was a good Fighter before it came to that…
“Hello Elden. Could you teach me to use a sword?”
There. Straight, and to the point. If he refused or if he wanted an explanation, she could tell him more. Otherwise, there was no need to volunteer more information than he needed to know. He had seemed like a man of few words.
A few more minutes of following the trail and she finally reached the clearing in the woods. She avoided looking at the row of tombs and went straight to the door, heart thundering in her chest and throat suddenly dry. She shook off her hesitation and knocked on the heavy wood four times, wondering even as she did whether the sound would be loud enough. She had only seen two rooms inside, and neither had looked like a place where he might rest. Surely, there were other rooms, and maybe heavy doors between him and—
The door opened, and there he was. He stayed back, his body half concealed by the door. Mierna noticed how his eyes tightened as though he were blinded by the sun and for a second she was afraid she was letting sunlight inside his lair. A quick look down however reassured her; judging by the shadows, the door opened to the north, safe from the sun.
“Mierna.” His voice was tight with wariness. “Why did you come back?”
She barely heard his question. As she looked back up, she had just noticed, in the same instant, that he wasn’t wearing a shirt and that he held a heavy axe in his left hand, only half of it visible from behind the door. The memories that had danced through her mind for the past week resurfaced, skin rippling over a muscled chest, these same muscles strong against her back. Flustered, she forced her eyes back to his face, forgetting her carefully prepared words now that he was in front of her.
“I need…I mean, I’d like…if you don’t mind…”
Her voice vanished when she saw his eyes narrow and his jaw twitch. Had she ruined it all, already? Had her babbling upset him in some way?
“I won’t give you more weapons.”
“That’s not why I’m here.”
He seemed to ponder her statement, as though not quite believing it. “Why, then?”
Needing to break free of his eyes, she looked at her sword even as she pointed it up, hoping her movement wouldn’t seem hostile.
“It’s a beautiful sword,” she said, the words rushing past her lips, “and I am honored that you gave it to me. But I do not know how to use it properly, and no one is willing to teach me. I was wondering if you would. I will…I will give you my blood in exchange if you—”
She had looked up again toward his face as she spoke, needing to judge from his expression whether he would accept or dismiss her, and the ice she saw in his eyes froze her to the bone. He was going to slam the door in her face, she was sure of it, and then—
The door creaked as it opened just a little wider, leaving Mierna to hold her breath and hope.
“Well?” Elden’s voice snapped like a whip. “Are you coming in or not?”