The bundle in his arms shifted slightly, and he pushed away the blanket to make sure his charge slept on. There wasn’t much light to see by, no moon hanging above, just the distant stars and their subtle glow, but the telltale sign of long, dark lashes resting upon soft, pale cheeks let him know the girl was not awake, only dreaming. Of what, he wondered. She had been sleeping the whole trek, unmoved by his gait, unbothered by the world around them as they moved. It had been a little astonishing, really. And now her dreaming stirred her, though she settled back into his embrace quickly and easily, as if movement had never happened.
His task was straightforward, though by no means simple. Long ago, his family had become bound to one. To care for, to feed. Generations upon generations had come into being just for this, and each individual tasked with the business eventually went about the process with the utmost love and dedication. The family legend was filled to bursting with names of those who had stepped into the role of caretaker. Loyal servants who would, and sometimes did, die for the sake of their master. A tradition that had filled several journals, which were also passed down to help guide each new guard as they proceeded into their new lives.
As the years rolled by, it had gotten harder to accomplish what needed to be done. When it all began, the prey was in abundance, one could hardly throw a rock and not hit a perfect target. Now, it sometimes took weeks to find just the right one. Now and again, the journals had told him, somebody would try to feed the master blood from a different wellspring, but it always ended up with illness and a poor temper. A foul mood that would last until all the bad blood was cleared from the internal system, and often resulted in a lingering grudge harbored against other family members.
Those who had tried to skirt the rules did not last long after doing so.
He had taken over from his grandmother, given the position after her and his parents had all been killed during a scouting expedition. A freak accident, really. They couldn’t have planned to defend themselves from it. The plane had fallen from the sky during a bad storm. His mother the one being taught the way, his father under the impression that they were just going on a little vacation. He’d been just a teenager then, unsure of himself and his own ability to do what needed to be done. It wasn’t a question of belief, he’d seen the master for himself by then and knew the truth of it. But his lack of experience in even the normal world made him doubt that he had what it took to continue to keep the promise the family had made. But he’d found the journals and read the history, he’d seen why his family did what they did. And from then he’d known that he didn’t dare fail. The master was too important.
An old man now, he’d waited to begin training his own son in the tradition until the boy had gotten through high school. he’d known that if he began too soon, there would be a development of blind devotion. This was a task that had to be undertaken with complete willingness and full knowledge. He would not raise a zealot. but after reading the history, the boy had agreed readily, and now – after many years, the boy no longer really a boy at all – the succession was fully secured.
He looked to the girl in his arms again, they were almost to their destination. It had taken almost too long to find the one this time, he knew that the master would be very hungry. They were just so rare now, these royals. The world had no use for them any longer. Many of those that existed now were in title only, and it was their blood the master needed, not a piece of paper telling them they were a baroness. Only those who had come from actual royal bloodlines would do. Which was kind of funny, he thought, considering most royalty in history had been arbitrarily named as such to begin with.
The door opened with a gentle nudge of his foot and he stepped inside. There were no lights on, and he moved carefully toward the lamp, easing his way in and taking care not to trip or bump into furniture. He’d come so far without disturbing the girl in his arms, it would be a shame to spoil it at the last moment with stupid carelessness.
“Master.” He said into the darkness. “We are here.”
The sound of his voice pulled the sleeping girl out of her dream. She sat up in his arms and clung to him suddenly. Her arms tight around his neck, she half-whispered into his ear:
“Where are we?”
“A cabin. Out in the woods.” his answer was punctuated by the light coming on, and the one room structure was revealed fully. A quaint little place; clean, quiet, and out of the way. The girl looked around and pushed away from his grasp. He put her down gently, but kept a hand on her shoulder. She didn’t attempt to shrug him off, but he could tell by the tension in her muscles that she wasn’t entirely pleased he hadn’t given her full freedom.
He waited a moment before speaking again. He was careful to impart in his tone that he was merely making a suggestion, not attempting to command. “Master, perhaps we should try to keep this one around for a while. It took so long to find. I don’t know how soon it will be before another is uncovered.”
The girl looked up at him. A frown broke her smooth features. Her eyes hinted at betrayal, of unkindness. She stared at him for a very long minute before her gaze turned toward the bed, and the figure resting upon it. There was no movement from that direction, making it hard to tell if the figure was alive at all. She turned her attention back, the frown deeper now.
“Is he asleep?” her soft voice was a song, and held no trace of the concern her face displayed.
“Yes. He rests deeply.”
Curious, the girl broke away from his hand and moved across the room. Her footsteps were small, so faint that if she were in stocking feet, he wouldn’t have known she walked on the floor at all. He was sure that they wouldn’t have disturbed the slumber of any creature, no matter how shallow the sleep was. She peered at the figure as she got closer, leaning forward to see better. Anticipation filled him. He suddenly worried that perhaps the blood would not be pure enough. His research had been diligent, but there was always a chance that the history had been altered somewhere, that a key contributor to the genetic pool had been lied about or forgotten entirely.
He watched her as she watched the figure for a long moment, thinking on this. The master would not be angry with him if the mistake were an honest one, but he would beat himself up for years to come over it. Fierce trepidation began to grow in the center of him, making his heart beat faster and faster. They would only know the truth of it once the first drink was taken. The master would only realize the error when the sour blood spilled onto eager tongue. The girl did not spare him another glance as she climbed onto the bed. He almost reached out to stop her, but didn’t. Gently, gracefully, she moved around the figure, hardly even wrinkling the sheets. Her curiosity was amusing to watch.
She bent over the figure and looked closer at his unconscious form. A tender hand pushed black hair back from his face. The figure moved ever so slightly in response to her feather-light touch, but did not wake.
“He’s very pretty.” She mused.
“Yes. He is.” The agreement was followed by a smile.
“I’ll be gentle.” she murmured. She bent toward him again, her tiny mouth opening to reveal a pair of wicked teeth that hadn’t been there just moments ago. The caretaker knew the words were as close to an agreement toward his concern as he was going to get from the master. Ultimately, she would do as she pleased.