By Willow Taylor
It was years ago. Before you were born. Before I was born. There are elements in this story that will be familiar. Devices that have been used over and over again. They will continue to be seen until the end of the narrative traditions. There are no new stories, merely different views of the same ones.
The sword came up again, and bounced off of stony skin.
"Give up, mortal! Your mere blade can't break my skin, you don't have the strength to force it."
"Talk talk talk," muttered Brandon under his breath, wisps of hair escaping from the leather thong he bound his hair with at the base of his neck, and sticking to his sweaty face. "You all say the same thing. And yet I am still here, and you - " A vicious slash tore away a large hunk of his opponent's clothing, "keep dying."
"I'm not dead yet."
"And yet you are, silly man. That is the point you know. And you are running out of time and power."
"You're not getting through me!" swore the vampire and rushed the auburn haired hunter before him. Brandon threw his half cloak into the rushing man's face and followed it up with a sharp blow from the hand-guard. The distraction was sufficient to make the vampire's power wall break, and blood blossomed.
"I'm afraid I am. It was the deal I made with Redbridge. You have gone too far."
"And you complained about me talking!" A vicious downward slash ripped through the leather armor on Brandon's arm. The flesh below was unharmed but he didn't spare a glance to check. Instead he pressed forward, running his opponent into a wall, and cracking the plain brown locks into the stone there.
"No!" cried the vampire.
"I am sorry," Brandon said and pushed through the vampire's defenses one last time. There was a brief scream, as his smooth, but fairly ordinary features withered to that of a long-dead corpse, dried and desiccated, skin paper thin over bones, and already cracking.
Brandon pulled back, mouth set into a line, and brought his sword up, striking the corpse's head from its body. This caused a chain reaction, making the vampire's body dissolve into barest dust.
Shaking it off of him, Brandon stood, pushing the tendrils of hair back behind his ears.
"I am sorry," he repeated to the dust. And turned in shock as he head a rising wail.
The cry of a baby.
Brandon Emeris Wyne was not a Guilded hunter. He was however, effective, and good at what he did. He wore armor, fought dirty, came at vampires in the daytime in a period when that was out of fashion, and remembered to tie his hair out of his eyes. He was quiet, well spoken, even though he had an accent that always seemed out of place, and never stayed in one place long. He went where he was needed, and reminded everyone of long ago heroes.
Physically, he was tall and slim, both shoulders and hips narrow. He had calm brown eyes, and long, wavy auburn hair surrounding an impassive face. But there was one more thing. Brandon had a secret.
He walked back into Redbridge with a bundle over his shoulder, and one arm tucked under his cloak.
"Hunter!" called the head man. "What happened? Is the monster dead?"
"The vampire is no more," he replied.
"And the woman he captured?"
"You did not give me all the information," Brandon said without answering, brown eyes cold on the bearded face before him.
"What do you mean?"
"She is dead." He shifted the bundle off his shoulder and gave it to the head man, as the rest of the village gathered. "It is not surprising. It takes a strong woman to survive the birth of a vhamper."
"You didn't save her!" accused the headman, as whispers of shock and horror went around the square.
"I couldn't. If I had been here months ago I might have been able to. You said she was just taken."
"Then you are all fools," he said, frowning slightly. "I killed the vampire, and that is what you wanted, was it not?"
"Then I am still in need of payment." A baby's wail started from beneath his cape. "And this is what it is." He moved his caplet back to show a small baby wrapped in a blanket, pale yellow, cheerily printed with pink and blue bats.
"This is her child. Take care of it."
"It's a monster! Vhampers are abominations that should be exposed at birth."
"You would still have a vampire haunting your town if they were," growled Brandon, eyes narrow. "And you owe me payment. I have named it. You will raise this girl child. Or I will be most annoyed." He turned to the headman's wife. "Here. She needs feeding. And a name." The woman almost recoiled, but her arms curled of their own accord around the baby's form. "Since you do not seem to be reasonable people, I will be back to see that my payment is being carried out." With a final glare over his shoulder, he disappeared into the rising sun.
A year later, he reappeared. The child lived, but was ignored as much as possible. She was cared for, but not loved. She still had no name. Brandon took the yearling child into his arms, and brought her to the river, just above the structure that gave this town its name. There he gently anointed her head and named her. After the town, so they would remember. She was the baby of Redbridge, and she would be cared for.
From then on, he would reappear from time to time. If all was going well with Redbridge then he would do something for the town. Once he was traveling with a clock maker, and stayed in town long enough for the clockmaker to repair the town's long broken town hall clock. Another time, he brought meat in a time of famine. And always, he sat with Redbridge for long hours, on the dam overlooking the town. By the time she was three it was obvious she would be a quiet child. By the time she was six, it seemed she never spoke at all.
But that didn't stop Brandon, and they would sit there. She speaking with eloquent eyes, and he with words just as carefully chosen as her gestures. He would tell her of the things he'd done, before she was born and since he had last been there.
Time continued to fly by in a reckless flurry of seasons. Redbridge was never harmed, and hardly even had had a harsh word said to her. But deep within dark red eyes, the girl knew that no one in the town cared for her. She wasn't pretty as such. She had a doll-like quality about her, with dainty wrists and ankles. She had her father's eyes, and soft brown hair, and her mother's sweet features. Though they never raised hand or voice to her, Redbridge hated the town. Not in any sort of destructive way, but rather in the way a petulant child hates another for slighting them. It was her greatest wish to leave, and to follow Brandon on great adventures.
She was ten when he came back again, and she appeared before him with a little roll of blankets on her back, the tattered edge of a yellow blanket creeping out one end. Brandon smiled down at her, and raised her to his hip. The little girl smiled brightly, thinking that now she would go with him. The town held its breath, thinking that maybe it was free of the burden. But Brandon took the girl no further then the dam above the town, where he sat beneath a tree with her.
"You wish you leave?" he asked.
She nodded, and pointed to her pack, indicating she was ready to go.
"Why?" he asked.
She fidgeted, and pouted. Redbridge was not happy there.
"Have they ever harmed you?"
Slowly, she shook her head.
The little girl snuggled into his leather armor, as happily as if it was her own blanket.
"Redbridge, you have to stay here."
She looked up at him, upset, as if he had deeply betrayed her.
"Listen to me. It is important that you stay here." She hopped off his lap, and turned away, upset, back stiff. He put a hand on her shoulder and she brushed it off. "I do not expect you to understand, Redbridge child." He leaned over her shoulder, and smiled softly. "But someday you will. You must stay in this town, if only to prove to these people that you are not evil."
She looked at him, confused. He smiled again.
"Ah, Redbridge, do you even know why they shun you?"
She shook her head.
"Let me try to explain." And so he did, as the sun sunk down the horizon, and the stars brightened and the two moons rose to dance across the sky. All night, Brandon talked, trying to explain to a child why the world wouldn't readily welcome her.
When the dawn came, he brought her back to the home that kept her, and tucked her into bed. Then, without saying goodbye, as he never did, he left.
When Redbridge was sixteen, she looked at herself in the mirror, then out the window at the other girls. She still wore children's garb, while they had pretty dresses like flowers. She couldn't see a difference between herself, and the other girls, and yet, everyone else seemed to. Was this what Brandon had meant? When he'd spoken all night to reassure a child? Redbridge pulled on a strand of her hair, and wished he was there. She smiled to herself, looking at a lad, bowing over his lady's hand, and really wished the tall hunter was there.
It was the midsummer festival when the hunter did arrive, blown on a warm petal laden breeze. The town, as a whole, did not notice his arrival in the general merriment. Which is just was well, because his eyes were red and watery due to the mass of flowers that were draped about the town. He was blowing his nose, when Redbridge caught sight of him and ran towards him. Then she leapt up and planted a kiss on his reddened nose. Before he could figure out what this was about she had pulled him towards the revelers of the town.
"Redbridge," he said, and stood firm as she tugged at his hand. "No." She looked up at him in confusion, and he blew his nose again.
"Come with me." He led her outside the town to the top of the dam where they could see the bright festival.
Redbridge smoothed her dress, disappointed somewhat that Brandon hadn't mentioned it. She had worked long and hard, first to get the fabric, then to sew it to fit herself without help. She waited as he blew his nose again, to explain why he had taken her away from the mid-summer festival. It was almost time to start building the wicker man. They were going to let her help, since she was as strong as any man, and the women's part always came together slower. Then she paused and looked again at Brandon, comparing what she saw now with the first memory she had of him. He hadn't aged. She was distracted from this observation when he spoke.
"Redbridge, why do you think I didn't want to attend?"
She pointed at his nose, and the white hankie in his hand.
"Yes, that is part of it." Brandon admitted. "But I am not of those people. It is not my way."
She blinked at him curiously. He smiled, and held up a hand.
"I will explain." He told her of his god, and what the god required of him. Redbridge sat through all of it, then made it plan she thought it was rather silly.
"Do you now?"
She nodded firmly.
"And what do you worship?"
She raised a finger then paused. Redbridge actually thought that what the villagers did was rather silly too. She'd never really given much thought to worship. It was just something that happened. Brandon looked at her calmly, blowing his nose from time to time. Finally she turned away unable to face his eyes. This was not how she wanted this meeting to be. She jumped when he put a hand on her shoulder. "I'm sorry. I just came at a bad time, didn't I?"
Redbridge shook her head, eyes wide. Anytime that he came was good. After all, Brandon was the only one that seemed to care. She crawled into his lap, and hung her arms around his neck, like she had when she was younger.
"You're getting a bit big for this, Redbridge," he said, smiling. She laughed at the idea of being too big for anything. They watched the village build a man of twigs and straw. It would stand until the harvest home festival. Then at the figure's feet, the villagers drank until they were too inebriated to stand.
Redbridge looked up at her companion's face, and raised an eyebrow. It looked even sillier from a distance then it did when she was watching just outside the circle of townsfolk.
They watched over the drunken villagers long into the night. Redbridge wanted to know why they didn't just leave, and do something more interesting.
"You and I are different from them, Redbridge," Brandon explained. "And there are two ways that this could go. We could live uneventful lives, as you do, and live and die as those people there. Or you could live a life full of..." He paused and frowned, re-thinking what he was going to say. "Well, just full."
Redbridge gave him a skeptical look, and Brandon smiled at her before blowing his nose. The pollen was settling in the still of the night, so he felt better.
"You have noticed that I don't age like the men in the village? That you are stronger than other maids."
"You remember what I told you?"
She nodded, unsure of what that had to do with this.
"I protect people with what my father gave me. Others try and be as their parents, either mortal or vampire. You are living as a mortal."
She poked him in the chest, as if to ask how he was living his life. After a moment of thought he took off his over shirt, chest armor and undershirt. There he showed her a collection of pale scars across his skin. "I am living as myself, Redbridge. Not many vhamper can manage that." Redbridge looked thoughtful, obviously wondering who she was. "Now, I will admit that many think I am an idiot. I am traveling across the globe of this world, a world which has many gods, relying on but one god and my own skill to protect me, while I fight vampires, and other unpleasant creatures."
Redbridge leaned back against him, and sighed. He sighed too, and leaned back against the tree.
"But you see, those who are different from their surroundings will either leave, protect, or become a danger that others must protect against."
She sighed again.
"You don't share my sense of responsibility then?"
Redbridge shook her head.
"It is alright, Redbridge. Not many people do. That is why the Guild was formed."
The young woman twined her fingers in his hair, quietly listening.
"The Guild is what convinces people that have no such instincts to protect others anyway." Redbridge studied his face as he spoke. "I am not sure how they do it, but the thrill of the Guild has killed many people who should have not tried to be protectors."
Redbridge looked up at him, then bit her lip.
"I hope that you can know what you are meant for..." Redbridge cut him off, by the simple effort of kissing him. There was a long moment of shock, a half second of acceptance, then he pushed her off.
"Lord above and his Son that loves us," Brandon said, shocked. "Why?"
Redbridge looked up at him in shocked hurt. He'd pushed her away.
"No, child, don't look at me like that." The auburn haired hunter slipped his shirt back on.
Her lower lip trembled, and her eyes narrowed.
"Redbridge, I do not think you meant that."
Her fists clenched in her skirt, which was flung about her carelessly. Her small fanged teeth clenched and the whites of her eyes glowed.
Tears dripped down her face, as she stood and ran across the dam, spreading flecks of moisture across the earth.
"Damn," said Brandon, still sitting beneath the tree.
design ©2001 by Cindy Rosenthal
Redbridge © 2002 by Willow Taylor
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