Long had Navarre dwelt in darkness, yearning to end his cursed solitude. A vampire doomed to eternal night, he had searched through the ages for a woman brave enough to desire him, a lover bold enough to embrace him. And when Navarre at last found her, he swore that together they would savor the joys of undying ecstasy and surrender the dawn.
The Isle of Mikos
He had spent his whole life in a cage. As a child, he hadn't questioned it, it was simply the way things were, the way they had always been.
He had learned to crawl, then walk, then run, on the hard cold stones.
In truth, it wasn't a cage at all, but a large square room made entirely of rough-hewn gray stone except for the door, which was built of wood reinforced with thick iron straps. There were two beds, two chairs, a table, a shelf filled with scrolls that contained the learning of the Kenn - scrolls that were changed each year. A single, iron-barred window was set high in the east wall.
The days passed slowly. His mother, Isobele, read to him for hours at a time. She was the center of his world, his life. He had no contact with any one else save the guards who brought them food and water. The guards never spoke to Navarre, never made eye contact with him. Only on rare occasions did they speak to his mother.
As Navarre grew older, Isobele taught him to read and write and cipher.
Once, he heard her mutter something under her breath, something about it being a waste of time to teach him to read and learn his numbers.
"Why, mother?" he had asked. "Why is it a waste of time to teach me these things?"
She had knelt down to face him, her expression filled with kindness. "What do you mean, Navarre?"
"I heard what you said. Why is it a waste of time for me to learn to read, to write?"
"I didn't say that."
"You did!" He had stared at her, wondering why she was lying to him. She had never lied to him before.
"No, Navarre," she had insisted, not meeting his eyes, "you must have misunderstood me."
He hadn't argued with her, but later that night, when she thought he was asleep, he had seen her standing at the window, the moonlight casting silver highlights in her long blond hair. The sound of her muffled sobs had brought tears to his eyes.
Sometimes she held him up to the window so he could look out. As a child, he had spent hours imagining what it would be like to run through the tall grass, climb the trees, play in the clear blue river. Far in the distance, like a castle in a fairy tale, stood a gold-domed building made of sparkling white stone known an Stone Hall Keep.
Sometimes men clothed in long gray robes came to the window to stare in at Navarre, their pale blue eyes filled with curiosity and a strange kind of awe that bordered on fear.
"Why do they look at me like that?" he asked one day.
"They stare at you because you're such a handsome boy," Isobele replied. She turned her head, but not before he saw that there were tears in her eyes again.
"Oh, yes," Isobele said. "You look just like your father."
"Father?" Navarre knew what a father was, of course, from the scrolls he had read. But he had never realized he had one.
Isobele nodded. "He was a very handsome man, your father. He had blue-black hair, just like yours. And his eyes were the same shade of smoky gray. You'll be tall, just as he was," she said.
"Where is my father? What was his name?"
"Your father is dead," Isobele said. She took a deep breath. "You are named after him."
She nodded, a faraway look in her eyes.
"How did my father die?"
Isobele felt the color drain from her face. She had always known she would have to answer his question one day, but, even so, she was not prepared. How did one tell a child that his father had been sacrificed to a heathen god? How could she tell her son that he was destined to meet the same cruel fate?
"Mother?" He looked at her through eyes far older than his years as he waited for her answer.
"Do we have to speak of it now?" Isobele asked. She glanced out the window. "Look, the vixen is outside, playing with her babes."
"How did my father die?"
"He was sacrificed to the goddess Shaylyn."
Navarre frowned. "Sacrificed? I don't understand."
"Please, Navarre," she pleaded. "Let us not speak of it now."
"When you're older."
"When you have seen thirteen summers."
Another year, he thought. Certainly he could wait another year.
In the meantime, there were other questions crowding his mind, questions he had never considered before. It was as if his first query had unleased an avalanche.
"Why do we live in this place? Why can't I go outside?" Suddenly restless, he began to pace the room. "Where do those other people live, the ones who come to stare at me?" He glanced down at his hands. "Why is their skin so light when ours is dark? How long will we have to stay here?"
He looked at his mother, eager for answers, only to find her staring at him, her face drained of color, her dark blue eyes filled with sorrow that seemed to have no end and no beginning.
"I'm sorry, Navarre," she murmured, her voice thick. "So sorry. I didn't want this for you. I tried to kill myself, but they stopped me. Your father..." She took a deep breath. "He tried not to touch me, but they drugged him..."
"What are you saying?"
Isobele fell to her knees before her son. Her hands shook as she clasped his. "Forgive me, Navarre, please forgive me."
"I don't understand."
He was looking down at her, looking at her through eyes exactly like his father's. How could she explain? How could she make him understand?
"We're kept in this place because we're prisoners, Navarre. Your father was born here, just as his father before him, and his father before that."
"Were you born here, too?"
"No." She released Navarre's hands and sank back on her heels, her thoughts turned inward. "I was kidnapped by the Kenn when I was sixteen. We were imprisoned until the day of your birth, and then your father was taken to the Temple of Shaylyn and sacrificed to the goddess."
Isobele closed her eyes, the memories she had sought to keep at bay flooding her mind as she related the story to her son. It was the way of the Kenn, to sacrifice a living male to the goddess Shaylyn every five and twenty years in the belief that such a sacrifice would insure the goddess' continued benevolence, but the sacrifice must be a man who had proven his virility by siring a male child.
Since time out of mind, the Kenn had raised men who were destined to be sacrificed. Men who were pure in heart and mind and body because they were never exposed to evil.
For a year, she had been locked in a cage across from Navarre's father. They had been able to see each other, to speak to each other, but never allowed to touch, until the year he was four and twenty.
Aware of what the future held for him and any child he sired, Navarre had refused to bed Isobele, but the priests of Shaylyn had drugged him with a powerful aphrodisiac. She had been horrified when they brought him to her. His deep gray eyes had been glazed with lust, his body ready. She had been frightened of him then. That night, he had not been the gentle man she had grown to love, but a stranger, a man who had no regard for her virginity, no thought at all save to appease his drug-induced lust.
Her protests had fallen on deaf ears, and he had possessed her over and over again, every night for the next fortnight, until his seed had taken root, and then she had been taken away, never to see him again.
He had been sacrificed to the goddess the morning after their son was born.
And now his son was destined to meet the same fate. When Navarre became of age, he would be mated to a virgin and then, when his son was safely born, Navarre would be sacrificed to the goddess Shaylyn.
Isobele opened her eyes to find her son staring down at her, a look of horrified disbelief on his face.
"They are going to sacrifice me, too, aren't they?"
She couldn't say the words, but he read the truth in her eyes.
"How?" he asked. "What manner of sacrifice is it?"
Isobele shook her head. "I know not, Navarre. All I know is that they took me away and I never saw him again."
Navarre thought of what his mother had told him all night long, more and more questions crowding his mind. But he had no chance to ask them.
The next morning, when he woke, his mother was gone, and he was alone in the cage.