"The vampires wish to make a deal with us."
Arthur almost choked on his evening wine. While it was common for his father to discuss maters of the court at dinner a treaty with the vampires was not even on the list of possible topics in Arthur's mind.
Relations with the vampires had been cut off years ago, Camelot's relationship with those fanged monsters had been strained even before the great purge. Once Uther's war on magic had begun the vampires seemed to of dropped off the map so to speak. Being very powerful magical beings the king had given up trying to wipe them out some years ago, simply insisting they stay out of his kingdom.
Arthur knew very little about them, only that they resided in a very large castle on an isle by the edge of the kingdom and that they fed on blood. Human blood.
"Well we're not going to accept it, right?" Arthur coughed clearing his throat, "They'll drain half the kingdom if we give them the chance."
"This is a unique opportunity, they have extended an invitation to their isle." Uther continued, "We know very little about their lifestyle, this presents us with the chance to study them and find their weaknesses and the venerable points of their castle."
That made sense, if they learnt a little more about them, wiping the scum out would be simple.
"So it's decided," Uther beamed, "You and your knights will set out for the castle tomorrow."
"Wait, I'm the one going?" Arthur gaped, "You're sending me to a castle full of vampires?"
Arthur couldn't believe this. He actually could not believe this!
"Oh cheer up princess." Gwaine grinned, "We even got silver coatings on our swords, we'll be fine!"
Arthur rolled his eyes and continued to brood, as usual Gwaine carried on regardless. Despite his annoyance the prince was happy for Gwaine's relaxed attitude, he was the least knight like knight he had. He actually seemed excited about the mission, unlike his other comrades Leon, Percival and Elyan were just as serious as he was.
He glanced over the piece of parchment clenched in his hand once more as he rode.
If you choose to accept our offer of peace please meet one of our thralls at the northern edge of the Darkling Wood in three days time at sundown. He will escort you to the Isle of the Blessed where the vampire council will meet with you at moonrise.
Balinor, Vampire Lord.
They were almost to the edge of the woods now and Arthur saw nobody on the path ahead. He placed the note in his pocket and used his free hand to hold his sword, just in case of a trap.
The small group halted their horses and glanced at one another as if to say 'what now?'.
"Maybe they're just late?" Gwaine offered, "This, thrall or whatever it is they are sending might be slow."
"What is a thrall in the first place?" Arthur scoffed, "Some sort of vampire sub-class?"
"It's a human servant." Percival answered with a shrug, "You didn't know?"
"How do you know?" Arthur gaped.
"I have seen a lot in my travels." Percival grinned, "Thralls are humans who serve vampires like your servants serve you."
"I don't drain my servants blood." Arthur replied hotly, "Why would anybody willingly serve a vampire? They must use magic."
"Actually, they treat us very well." Came a smooth voice, "No magic needed."
The voice came from a man sitting on a large boulder a few feet from them, Arthur had to admit his appearance shocked him. Not because it was so unusual, but because it was so ordinary. When Percival had described a thrall he'd imagined a sickly, pale person dressed in rags with multiple scars over their body in the shape of fangs. The man in front of him looked healthy and fit and his clothes looked like something Arthur himself would wear on a casual day. But most importantly, no fang marks.
"You must be Prince Arthur of Camelot." The man smiled, "I'm Lancelot, the Lord sent me here to be your escort. Sorry I was late, somebody misplaced my horse and I had to run here."
"Right, well, let's go then." Arthur announced feeling nervousness creep up on him. He had no idea what vampires were like, his imagination ran while with various images of fanged, clawed monsters with blood dripping from their mouthes.
The silence was thick as the walked forwards on their horses, even Lancelot looked uncomfortable. Thankfully Gwaine broke the silence.
"Who's that?" He asked pointing to the horse and rider making their way towards them.
Lancelot groaned with frustration as the figured neared, Arthur had never seen such a rider. They were covered head to toe in a very long cloak that was buttoned together at the front. The face was completely hidden behind a hood and veil as well.
The fire got off the horse carefully and handed the reins to Lancelot who glared at them with a mixture of concern and anger.
"What sort of idiot are you?" He hissed to the figure quietly, "The sun is still out for Gods sake! Do you have an idea how dangerous this is?"
So vampire then.
"You forgot your horse." The figure said quietly, but even Arthur could tell it was a male voice.
"No, you took my horse so you would have an excuse to follow me out here and meet the party from Camelot." Lancelot scolded but he was smiling at the same time, "Go back to the castle, please?"
The veil turned and studied the group and Arthur felt himself shiver, he couldn't see through the veil but he could almost see the outline of a pale face behind it. With a sigh the figure disappeared into the shady trees by the side of the path and Lancelot breathed a sigh of relief as he mounted his horse.
"Balinor's son." He explained, "I'm his thrall you see and he worries when I go out on my own. Always thinks I'm going to be attacked by bandits or eaten by a bear or something. He's probably taking the more sheltered way back to the castle."
"That's a tad, creepy." Elyan admitted, "Does he follow you everywhere?"
"Only if he thinks I could get hurt, he may be my master but he's also my friend you know." Lancelot smiled, "Ah here we are!"
The prince looked up in awe at the white stone castle towering toward the sky in the middle of the lake. The water was clear and shimmering in the setting sun giving the entire area a golden glow, it was certainly something to behold.
"How do we get across?" Leon asked.
"The boat." Lancelot indicated to the small dock where the hooded figure was waiting for them.
The boat was quite long with several rows of seats and oars, were they going to have to row to the isle?
"Gwèâř." The hooded boy whispered and the boat began to move all on it's own.
Without even thinking Arthur unsheathed his sword.
"Apologies." The boy muttered somewhat bitterly behind his veil, "I forgot your kind do not take kindly to magic."
The boat ride lapsed by in silence, by the time they reached the stone dock outside the castle the sun had just disappeared behind the horizon leaving the sky light pink. As soon as the yellow orb of light was completely gone from the sky a pale hand appeared at the top button of the cloak and began undoing the buttons. Evidently as long as the sun itself was set the light didn't hurt him.
After unhooking the buttons he fiddled with the sides of the veil and finally pushed it back along with the hood with a sigh of relief.
"You have no idea how stuffy those things are." The boy grinned.
Once again Arthur was shocked by how normal he looked, different enough that you could tell he wasn't human, but still not the frightening monster the prince had expected.
The boy looked younger than him, with smooth white skin and dark black hair. His canines were sharper than a normal persons but did not protrude as he expected them to and his eyes were the most unusual colour. Like bright blue gems that had been sprinkled with a small amount of gold dust making them shimmer slightly.
"You shouldn't be taking that off yet, sire."
"Relax, the sun is down I'm fine."
The boy then turned to Arthur casually as if they'd known one another for years.
"I'm Merlin, you're Arthur, yes?"
"Yes, Prince Arthur of Camelot." Arthur nodded trying his best to be diplomatic.
"What is your home like?" Merlin asked, "I'm curious. I'm not supposed to leave the isle."
Arthur did his best not to look suspicious, was this vampire doing exactly what his father wanted him to do? Trying to find weaknesses? Instead of describing the castle or layout of the city Arthur talked about the markets and different foods and herbs for sale, something of no strategic value at all. Yet the young vampire seemed rapt with attention, nodding for him to continue every time he stopped.
They spoke until they reached the gates where two human guards stood, Merlin grinned at them and they opened the door leading them into a green courtyard with trees and various kinds of flowers.
Several other thralls came out to greet them with quick bows.
"They will show you to your guest quarters." Lancelot smiled.
"The vampire council will be awakening soon and will meet with you in the next hour once the moon has started to rise." Merlin added happily.
It occurred to Arthur that this meeting would be taking place at the equivalent to the crack of dawn for vampires. Merlin must of woken very early for one of his kind in order to ride to and meet them.
"Come with us please sirs." One of the thralls bowed leading them through the garden to a wooden door.
Curiously Arthur glanced back over his shoulder and watched as the vampire prince disappeared into the other side of the castle with his thrall.
I've had this idea for a long time but I wasn't sure if people would take to it.