THE TAO OF THE VIPER, A KATE POMEROY MYSTERY
EXCERPT FROM CHAPTER 15:
The old man smiled as he remembered the ancient enchanter who, at his mother’s biding, appeared one day at his bedside. Tall and impossibly thin, the man’s skin looked as fragile and fleeting as parchment. His face, like his body, was long and narrow, with a nose to match. His hair was white as snow and stood in contrast to his swarthy skin. His face was adorned with a long beard and Ian could see flecks of uneaten food hopelessly ensnarled in its strands.
The man wore robes made of something that looked like silk, but they were stained and dirty. All in all, he did not look like any highlander Ian had ever seen.
The enchanter sat beside Ian’s bed, eyes closed, as if waiting for something. Finally, he spoke.
“Do ye wish to live, laddie?”
Startled, Ian said nothing.
“Are ye a simpleton?” the enchanter yelled. “I asked ye a question and I expect an answer!”
Ian finally mustered the courage to speak. “Aye, sir. I do.”
“Ye do what?”
“I … I wish to live, sir.”
The enchanter nodded. “Good. Then ye must do exactly what I say when I say it. Do ye understand?”
Ian remembered nodding, too weak and frightened to reply.
The strange man smiled, displaying a set of teeth, brown and riddled with decay, yet sharp like those of a wolf. He reached out and grabbed Ian’s hand and the boy noted that the man’s fingers were much like his body, long and boney with nails yellowed and filled with some sort of foul matter. On his right hand, index finger, the nail was long and sharp – almost as long as the man’s nose. The boy noted that the nail on this finger was the only one that was clean.
“This will hurt for but a minute,” the enchanter warned.
He turned Ian’s hand over, laying bare his wrist. Then, without warning, drew his long, sharp fingernail across it, cutting the boy deeply.
“Crivvens!” cried young Ian, alarmed to see blood spurt from the wound.
Paying the child no mind, the enchanter moved his head down, over the gaping gash. Ian remembered how he’d tried to pull away, but the enchanter’s grip was too strong. Helpless, he watched as the man placed his lips over the wound and began to suck like a baby lamb at its mother’s teats.
Ian looked on in horror at the man who was taking his life’s blood. “Stop,” he’d whispered, but the enchanter paid him no mind.
As the man sucked, a sense of lassitude came over Ian’s body and he closed his eyes, sure he would soon be in God’s hands.
He was on the verge of passing out from loss of blood when the man abruptly stopped. He spat noisily on the wound and Ian watched in wonder as the gash on his wrist began to heal.
The man then took his fingernail weapon to his own wrist, opening a deep cut.
“Drink, laddie,” he said, pressing his wrist to young Ian’s mouth.
The old man remembered how he’d hesitated.
“Do ye wish to live?” the enchanter had yelled. “Drink or ye will surely perish!”
Terrified, Ian did as he was told. The blood ran freely into his mouth and he was surprised by the sweetness of it. He swallowed and it filled him with a strength he couldn’t remember ever having. Greedily, wanting more, he sucked at the wound.
Finally, the man grabbed him by his hair and pulled him away. “Enough! Do ye want to drain me dry?”
Ian, blood dripping down his chin, stammered an apology.
The enchanter laughed. “Got a taste for it, didn’t ye?”
Without waiting for an answer, the man leaned forward until his nose was almost touching Ian’s.
“Listen now, laddie, I am giving ye a gift. But it is not a gift without strings attached. No, there are tenets ye must agree to or, by the gods, I will smite ye dead right now!”
BOOK II IN THE AWARD-WINNING KATE POMEROY GOTHIC MYSTERY SERIES!