When I first watched BH the battlefield recruitment of John Mitchell interested me. What deal was struck and how between Mitchell and Herrick? Then series 3 and the revelation that Mitchell ran away from Herrick and went back to his regiment for four weeks - that Arthur was his first kill - made me wonder even more what the chain of events were.
The trench rotation in WW1 appears to have been a week or so in the front line, a week or so in the reserves and then a couple of days rest, so this four week period is roughly two rotations, assuming Mitchell had been at the front for a few days before his recruitment.
None of the characters are mine, sadly. They all belong to Toby Whithouse and the BBC - and fabulous they are too.
Rated for occasional language.
This fic has given me serious grief and I'm not sure what I think of it, so please leave a review if you like it. :)
There was good hunting to be had that June. Food was plentiful – a glut of the dying littering the ground like windfall apples in the autumn. No need to be careful; no-one would ask questions about two small puncture wounds when a man's life had clearly ebbed away through a bullet hole in his chest or been blown away with the better part of his leg.
The battlefields of France in 1917 were a good place to be a vampire. They spent much of their time sated, blood drunk and sure of their supremacy. Let the humans blow themselves to pieces, stepping out their dance of death fighting over a few yards of mud and craters. The vampires had been around before this war and they would be there long after. They believed themselves the next step up the evolutionary ladder: the supreme predator.
William Herrick watched as Seth feasted, taking as much pleasure on this occasion from observing the spectacle as from participating. He kept only a casual watch – the patrol and subsequent skirmish that had put paid to this soldier's life had taken place a little away from the main forces and they expected to feed undisturbed. So Herrick was surprised when Seth looked up and past him at a lone soldier stumbling out of the mist, hands tight on the stock of his rifle. The soldier's eyes widened as he took in the butchery, struggling to comprehend what was happening in front of him, but the sudden intake of breath and increase in his heart rate at the sight of Seth's fangs, jet-black eyes and blood-smeared face told Herrick that he had become a danger to them. The man had witnessed vampires feeding on the dying; he could not be allowed to leave the scene alive.
Herrick's face contorted in a ghastly echo of a smile: eyes black as night and teeth bared to show the fangs descending. He hissed his warning at the young man, his features revealing the monster within, and took a few menacing steps forward.
The soldier's hands tightened convulsively on his rifle. "Don't come any closer! I'll shoot!" His gaze flickered to the body on the ground by Seth, horror shadowing his face as he registered the uniform, the regimental badges. "Jesus! What are you doing to him? Leave him alone." He barely choked the words out through a throat constricted with fear.
Seth's face creased into a grisly leer, blood rimming his mouth. "One of your friends, was he?" He ran his tongue slowly round his teeth, smiling cruelly at the soldier. "He was very tasty."
"What the hell are you? I'll kill you, I swear I will." The man's voice, heavy with Irish accent, was thick with fear. He levelled the rifle to point at Herrick's chest, squaring his shoulders in an attempt to look braver than he felt. Herrick could almost taste the terror – could feel the blood pounding around the young man's veins, smell the adrenaline flooding through him – the hormones screaming at him to run! Run for his life. Ah, the temptation Herrick felt to let go: instincts begging him to rip and tear and pierce fragile skin with his fangs.
But no, that could come later. Herrick forced his features to return to normal; he would toy with this one a while before killing him – a grotesque game of cat and mouse. "Kill me? With what,soldier? A bullet or the bayonet? Go on, give that oversized toothpick of yours a try. Stomach or chest, you're told, aren't you? Go on, if you've got the guts for it. You've killed at a distance, I dare say – can you look into a man's eyes and kill him?"
Behind Herrick, Seth grinned at the soldier, a nasty, sneering smile that taunted and derided. "Don't play with your food, Herrick. If you're not going to eat him then let me have him; I've acquired quite a taste for Irish blood. This one here was very flavoursome."
"Stay back I say." The soldier cast a furtive look at Seth and the other vampire as they began to circle round behind him, cutting off his retreat. He brandished his gun again, his finger curling possessively round the trigger. Herrick was the leader; he kept the gun pointing steadily at his chest.
Herrick made a show of counting the vampires. "One, two, three of us against one of you. I don't fancy your odds, old son."
"I'm not alone. I lost my men in the mist. They'll be here to support me in a minute." The soldier gave a fleeting look over his shoulder, looking more anxious as he realised he had been outflanked.
Herrick chuckled. "Do you hear that, lads? He's just the appetiser. The main course is coming." The others laughed – a dark, bitter laugh that made the soldier pale and lick his lips nervously.
"I've got a gun."
"So you have. You're not putting it to much use, though. I thought you were going to turn me into a pin cushion. What's stopping you?" The soldier gripped his rifle stock tighter. "Not got the guts? I'm disappointed in you. Go on, right here." Herrick opened the front of his greatcoat and pointed at his stomach encouragingly. The soldier stood his ground. Herrick sighed and rolled his eyes. "I can see I'm going to have to give you an incentive." His eyes scorched black and his fangs bared once more as he strode forwards.
The soldier thrust wildly with his bayonet, stabbing at the khaki-clad stomach of the vampire. He managed to make contact, twisting the blade before tugging it out and taking a few hasty steps backwards, to find his arms held firmly by two vampires, his rifle swiftly removed from hands made feeble by terror. Herrick grunted and clutched at his stomach, doubling over to protect the wound, blood already seeping from between his fingers. He raised his shirt and probed the gash, his fingertips coming away red with blood. The blood streamed steadily for a few brief seconds but slowed and quickly stopped. Herrick spoke through gritted teeth. "For the record, that bloody hurt. That twist was brutal; straight in and out would have sufficed. Not deep, though – did you bottle it at the last minute?"
Herrick winced a little, fingering the wound which was already showing signs of closing. "Nice clean wound and not too much blood lost." The vampire calmly replaced his shirt and buttoned his coat, the only clue that he had suffered an injury the bloody hole in his shirt front and a hissed intake of breath from the vampire as he straightened up. "Good, so you do have the balls for a fight, then; I thought I saw it in you. As well for you, too – I'd have killed you where you stood if you hadn't fought back. But now you see the flaw in your plan. Trying to kill someone who is to all intents and purposes already dead is at best futile and at worst...just plain stupid. I could do with a top up now and I think Seth has about emptied your pal over there. Didn't you say your men were right behind you? Maybe one of them would oblige..."
"No! Not them!" Herrick was startled by the vehemence of the man's tone. Behind him, in the murkiness of the wood, the soldier could hear noises: muffled calls in the swirling mist. The atmosphere grew tense as they listened to the voices growing closer. The vampires turned towards them, seeming to sniff the air as their prey approached. The soldier cast a despairing glance over his shoulder and when he looked back his eyes were at last full of the fear that Herrick had been sensing.
The soldier's voice was tinged with hysteria. "Take me. Take me instead of them. Let them go."
"You'd come of your own free will? A willing sacrifice?"
The soldier nodded mutely, his face tight and anxious. "Most of them have wives – families. God knows if they will make it to the end of the war, but at least they'd have a chance. And I'm dead already, it seems to me."
Herrick met the soldier, gaze for gaze; this man interested him. There was something about him that drew Herrick to him – he had guts, that was for sure, but there was something else. Loyalty, maybe? A sharpness that Herrick found sadly lacking in Seth. Herrick was picky about who he picked to recruit to the ranks of the vampires, but this man was ticking all of his boxes. Maybe death wasn't on the cards for him yet: at least not in the way he was expecting. "What's your name, son?"
"Mitchell. John Mitchell."
"Well, John Mitchell, you're right; I'm going to kill you. I'm going to suck your life away. The question is whether I give you new life for old."
"Do you want to be immortal, John?" Herrick smirked at the glimmer of interest in the young man's face. Of course, he was young – why wouldn't he crave immortality, especially in the face of imminent death? "How long have you been out here? How many of your comrades have you seen die? You've lived in the mud and the blood and the stench and been scared to the pit of your stomach, am I right? Yes, I can see in your eyes that I'm right. What if I was to tell you that you need never fear that again? Join us, John."
"I'd never die?"
"Well, certain exceptions apply; it's all in the small print. But essentially no, you'd never die. Not only that but you'd never age either. You'd stop at – what are you now – twenty three? Twenty four? Perfect. Sometimes I wish that I'd been turned a little earlier, but then the extra few years lend me a certain gravitas, I suppose – an air of authority."
The soldier hesitated. The offer seemed appealing, but...
"I need an answer, John. They are nearly here and if they see us we'll kill them, promise or no promise."
His eyes hardened. "Yes, do it."
"Of your own free will?"
"Yes, willingly, just do it." He looked over his shoulder again. The sounds were getting louder – his men were proceeding cautiously, wary of ambush or snipers, but they were definitely closer. "Jesus! They're coming! Just do it!"
"Close your eyes." Herrick's one act of mercy: to allow his prey to block out approaching death. The man gave a slight shake of the head. So he was determined to meet death with his eyes open, then: all the better. "Bare your neck, John."
"Mitchell," the words came out as a harsh rasp, "everyone calls me Mitchell."