An hour before sunrise, Micah sat at the edge of the courtyard, growing drowsy. He had been up for nearly an entire day and night. He wasn't cursed to the darkness like his parents were. Someday he would be, but for now, he could play in the sun without harm, and knowing that a day would come when the sun would no longer be his friend, he spent as much time as he could in daylight.
He blinked, almost unable to re-open his eyes. Only the knowledge that Katarina — Kat — was still helping clean up forced him to remain awake. He rarely got to see her, being that she had made the change into adulthood a long time ago, and Micah normally slept at night when she was up.
She had danced with him tonight. Through several songs. What a thrill. That alone had been enough to keep his eyes open for the better part of the night.
At first, Micah had been scared to approach her, especially with the flowers, and then he had remembered what his father had told him about holding his head up high and walking with confidence. If he acted confident, others would see him as such. So, he had pulled up his boot straps, built up every bit of courage he had, and taken her the flowers. And then they had danced.
Micah had impressed her. He had seen it in her face and heard it in her voice.
Another heavy blink and Micah's head fell forward. He quickly bounced it back up, forcing his eyes open, only for them to fall closed once more.
When they opened again, he was bobbing lazily, his skinny arms draped over the large broad shoulders of his father, his long hair hanging over his face. They were no longer in the courtyard. In fact, they were almost home.
His magical night with the ethereal Katarina was over. When would he see her again? Hopefully soon. After all, he had to teach her how to shoot with a bow and arrow.
Drifting in and out of slumber, Micah’s thoughts danced between reality and dream as his father climbed the steps leading to the entrance of their home. By the time he was settled onto his simple mattress with its small down pillow, Micah was fast asleep.
Micah awoke to afternoon sunlight spilling on his face through the small, nearby window. Blinking against the brightness, he rolled to his side and pushed himself up. He still wore the clothes he’d worn last night.
Sylvia was peeling potatoes at the table across the room.
“Well, good morning, little Micah.” Sylvia smiled brightly. “Are you hungry, little man?”
She always referred to him in human terminology, but then, she was human, so that made sense.
He nodded, which set Sylvia to bustling about, her long kirtle dusting over the floor. Micah noted the hem was soiled and worn. Most of the humans in the village were considered peasants in their world, but here the vampires took care of all their needs and provided them with food, shelter, and a place to live.
“Why don’t you change out of that suit, little man, and I’ll take out the legs on those trousers for you.” Sylvia scooped porridge out of a pot hanging over the glowing embers in the fireplace, ladling it into a small wooden bowl.
Micah glanced down at his too-short trousers then immediately stood and stripped.
“I danced with Kat last night,” he said proudly.
“Oh, you did?” Sylvia set the bowl on the table with a wooden spoon.
“Yes.” Micah pulled on dirty, brown trousers and a tunic then ran across the wooden floor toward the table.
Grabbing the chair, he yanked it back so it dragged loudly across the floor.
Sylvia jumped. “No, Micah. Ssshh. Your parents.” She motioned toward the floor.
Micah wasn’t used to being inside during the day while his parents were sleeping in the cavern they had constructed under the house.
“Sorry.” Micah quietly scooted the chair back and sat down, digging into his bowl of porridge.
“So, Kat danced with you last night, did she?” Sylvia returned to peeling potatoes and gave him a conspiratorial wink. “Was she a good dancer?”
Micah’s face heated, so he knew he was blushing.
“She was, wasn’t she?”
He nodded, looking down into his bowl.
Sylvia giggled. “To have seen that,” she said. “Just wait until you get older, Micah. You’ll be quite the catch if I do say.” Her face grew animated as she pointed her knife at him.
Micah snickered self-consciously. “Nah, not me.”
With a hoot of disagreement, Sylvia wagged her finger at him. “Have you seen your father, little man? I daresay he’s the handsomest man in these parts, yes he is. And you’re the spittin’ image of him, you are. You’ll be breaking hearts across the land, you will.”
Micah was always being compared to his father, which was fine by him. But Micah wasn’t as confident as Sylvia about his future heart breaking ways, because all he could see was a future with Kat. And he would never break her heart. If he was lucky enough to win her over someday, he would be ever-faithful and never look upon another. Even at twelve years old, he knew she was his future.
After finishing his porridge, Sylvia excused him, and he grabbed his bow and arrow and darted out the door.
Sunlight warmed him as he ran through the cobbled lanes of the village, past the courtyard, and into the woods he considered his home away from home. As he trekked through the underbrush, he collected berries and seeds, stowing them in the pocket of his tunic. Once he was deep into the thick of the forest, he shimmied up his favorite tree, settled on a thick branch so high up he could see forever in all directions, and took out a handful of berries and began to eat.
The wind was cool and strong this high up, and he had to take out a length of twine and tie back his hair so it wouldn’t blow over his face.
Popping another berry into his mouth, Micah leaned his head back against the trunk and closed his eyes so he could listen to the silence. Well, not silence, but to him it was. No chatter reached him from the villagers. None of the other young bothered him here. No adults oversaw him. He was completely alone with the wind, the birds, and the trees. He liked it. Only here did he feel totally free and safe to fantasize about the future.
As if on cue, his thoughts skittered to Kat and the way she had looked in her blue dress last night. The bodice had pushed her full breasts up into soft mounds of pale flesh that had been hard for Micah to avoid looking at. But now, in the privacy of his secret place, he let his mind settle on the memory of how they had looked pressed up and together to form a crease of cleavage that beckoned to be touched.
His little body warmed pleasantly, a sensation he was feeling more often, especially since he had started growing so rapidly.
His thoughts drifted further, taking actual events into the realm of make believe. In his mind, he was a grown man dancing with Katarina, and she was enthralled with him. She found him to be the handsomest man in the land – even more handsome than his father – and begged him to touch her breasts as they danced. When he did, she sighed and reached up to unlace the bodice of her dress so he could push his hand inside and feel her more fully.
Micah opened his eyes, his breath coming in heavy draws. His whole body tingled from the images of his fantasy, and he felt delightfully warm between his legs. Absently, he looked down, only to jump and nearly fall off the branch in shock.
What was wrong with him? His trousers stood out where his penis was. Scurrying to look inside his pants, he found that his penis had swelled and was standing straight up. What had he done?
Panic set in. Had he somehow infected his penis? Had he eaten a bad berry? Was he being punished for having impure thoughts about Katarina?
Clapping his hands together, he laced his fingers and bowed his head against his joined hands in prayer.
God, I promise never to think about Kat like that again if you just make me better. Please God. I’m so sorry for thinking about her like that. It will never happen again. I swear. Please just make my penis better. Please don’t let it fall off.
He had heard tales of men whose penises had fallen off for a variety of reasons, but he had thought they were just stories to scare little boys like him from doing or thinking bad things. Now he wondered if they had been true. Or what if he had been infected with leprosy. He knew of the sicknesses that infected humans: leprosy, plague, and a variety of other deadly infections. Could he have somehow picked up the germs and grown ill?
Opening his eyes after praying for several more minutes, he saw that his penis was still hard and swollen. Prayers weren’t working. God wasn’t going to heal him.
Manic thoughts raced through his mind about what could happen to him.
Jumping to his feet, he was about to hurry down the tree so he could rush back to the village so Sylvia could take him to one of the healers when his eye caught movement in the distance.
Stopping, he looked again, squinting against the sun.
Three men wearing armor and riding on horseback were heading toward his village in front of a closed carriage that looked more like a box on wheels.
His infected penis forgotten for the moment, he hurried down the tree and sprinted for home. If he were an adult, he could just think himself home and he would disappear in a mist of fog and reappear back in the village a moment later.
“Messengers are coming!” He announced as he got closer to home. “Messengers from the king are coming!”
Humans and young vampires who had yet to go through the change to adulthood rose to attention or wandered out from their homes. It would still be a couple of hours before the sun set to allow the mature vampires to venture outdoors.
Micah ran through the lanes of the village, shouting the announcement of the coming visitors.
When he reached his house, Sylvia darted outside, wiping her hands on her apron before brushing a strand of hair back off her forehead.
Suddenly he remembered his infected penis. He practically burst into tears as he stopped dead in his tracks and looked at Sylvia.
“Help me!” He ran toward her, letting his tears flow.
Concern ripped across her features as she opened her arms and hugged him close after he slammed into her.
“What’s wrong, little Micah? Are you okay?”
He clutched the back of her kirtle inside his fists and cried against her shoulder. He was so embarrassed to admit that he had been thinking such lewd thoughts about Katarina, but Sylvia had to know what he had done if she was going to help him.
“I did something bad, Sylvia. And now….” He sniffled then broke into a fresh round of crying.
“Ssshhh, little man. It’s okay. What happened? Tell me what happened so I can help?”
Tears gushed down his face, and he pulled back, hiccupping through his sobs. “I was thinking about Kat. I know it was wrong. I shouldn’t have thought of her like that, and I never will again, but I did and now my penis is going to fall off. It’s swollen. See?” He stepped back and looked down, but his penis was no longer sticking out from his body.
His prayers had worked. He was cured.
When he looked back up at Sylvia, she was obviously fighting back a smile.
“I swear, Sylvia! It was infected just a little while ago.” No way would he allow her to think he was lying. Micah didn’t lie.
Sylvia broke into a fit of giggles. “No, no. That’s not why I was smiling.”
Micah frowned, and his face fell with embarrassment. “What’s so funny?”
She shook her head and ushered him toward the house. “What you experienced…when your…um, penis…swelled like that? Well, how do I explain…?” She bit her lip, trying not to giggle. “Maybe you should talk to your father about this, little man.”
“No.” Micah scowled. “Tell me. Please. I don’t want it to happen again.”
At that, Sylvia broke out in tinkling laughter. “Oh, little Micah, if you only knew.”
Well, if she would tell him what she knew, he would know. What was the big deal? If what she could tell him would keep his penis from falling off, he wanted her to tell him, not make him talk to his father.
“Please, Sylvia.” He was about to break down into tears again.
She took one look at his face and her expression sobered. “Oh, you poor little thing.” She hugged him again. “Okay, but don’t you tell your parents I told you.”
He shook his head eagerly, willing to do anything to know what had happened to him. If that meant entering into a secret pact with her, he would.
She looked over her shoulder toward the door then back to him as she knelt. Lowering her voice, she said, “When a little boy reaches a certain age, his body starts to change so he can grow up. Do you understand?”
Micah nodded, but he wasn’t sure where this was going.
“Okay,” she said, then paused as if she was choosing her words before continuing. “A boy who hits that age can expect a lot of things to happen. His voice changes and deepens.” She eyed him dramatically and ticked the items off on her fingers. “He starts to grow facial hair. He gets taller. Hair sprouts under his arm and…elsewhere.” She hesitated, her face blanching. “And he experiences occasional, uh…umm…well, his penis can grow and harden.”
“Why?” Micah wasn’t sure he wanted to grow up if he would have to go through all that.
Sylvia grew flustered and waved her hands. “That’s all I know, little Micah. Just that it’s normal and nothing to worry about.” She rose to her feet and straightened her apron. “Now, what’s this you were saying about messengers coming from the king?”
In other words, she wanted to change the subject. He didn’t understand why she was so uncomfortable talking about what had happened to his penis. It wasn’t like it was her penis. He wondered if she would be so eager to dismiss the subject if it was her penis and it was going to fall off. But then she did say that whatever had caused his penis to enlarge like that was normal, so maybe he shouldn’t worry. If it happened again, he would talk to his father. Until then there was little he could do. At least he was out of danger for the moment.
“I saw messengers from the king approaching on the road into the village,” he said, pointing.
“Well, perhaps we should head to the courtyard to greet them on behalf of your father, you and I.”
By now, word had spread from home to home about the coming visitors, and the villagers — minus the adult vampires — were heading toward the courtyard. Sylvia took his hand and together they joined the others to hear the message the king had sent them.
The delegates were just arriving as Micah and Sylvia reached the courtyard.
One of the knights pulled out a scroll of parchment, read for a moment, then looked up. “I am seeking Yaris Black on behalf of King Bain.”
Everyone turned and looked at Micah.
“He’s my father," Micah said.
The knight looked down from his large black and brown horse. “I assume he still sleeps.” As a knight of the vampire king Bain, the knight knew full well that the adult vampires would not rise until the sun had fully set.
Micah nodded. “Yes, Sir.”
“Our orders are to speak only to him, as the lord of this village, so we shall take leave in your home until he awakens.”
Sylvia’s hand tightened around Micah’s as she spoke. “Of course. The king’s men are always welcome in our home.”
Micah eyed the boxy carriage and knew a vampire was inside. A traveling coffin, that’s what the carriage was.
“Show us the way,” the lead knight said, dismounting.
The other two knights followed suit, the crowd murmuring and restless over why they were here. King Bain only sent messengers when a major announcement needed to be made, and usually such announcements were bad news.
The fourth knight stayed behind the reins of the horses pulling the carriage, flicking them forward so they followed slowly behind as Sylvia and Micah led them to their home.
When the knights got a look at the cottage Micah’s family lived in, they seemed shocked.
“For a lord, Yaris lives modestly, does he not?”
Sylvia quickly came to his father’s defense. “Yaris wanted to live among the people, not over them. He prefers being part of the community.”
The knights shook their heads. “This will not do. Not now. Not with what has happened.”
“What do you mean?” Sylvia’s voice held a hint of worry. Micah knew her well enough to know she was shaken by their arrival.
“We will speak to Yaris before we address anyone else,” the lead knight said.
The carriage pulled to a stop in the lane in front of Micah’s home and the human driver stepped down.
Once they were all inside, Micah watched curiously from his bed in the corner. Something wasn’t right about these knights. They were too serious and too tense. They made Micah uncomfortable.
One of them looked at Micah.
He’ll make a fine soldier.
“What did you say?” Micah hadn’t seen the man’s lips move, but he had clearly heard him speak.
The knight frowned at him. “I didn’t speak, little one.”
“Yes, I heard you. You said, ‘He’ll make a fine soldier.’ Were you talking about me?”
With his brow deeply furrowed, the knight tilted his head to the side and spoke slowly, as if he couldn’t believe what had just happened. “I never spoke, son. You must have heard what I was thinking.”
Micah surely hadn’t heard him right. “Huh? You’re joking.”
The knights exchanged glances and the one who had been looking at him said, “No, son. I was thinking that, but I never spoke. You heard my thoughts.”
“Gregos will be pleased,” one of the other knights said.
“Yes, this one is strong,” said another.
Sylvia hovered silently in the background, eyeing the knights suspiciously.
I don’t like this.
This time, Micah heard Sylvia’s voice clear as a whistle, but he saw with his own eyes that she hadn’t spoken. His gaze met hers as she looked up at him.
Micah’s too young for this.
“What are you talking about?” Micah jumped off his bed and glared at everyone in the room then looked back at Sylvia. “What do you mean that I’m too young for this? What’s going on? What’s happening?!”
Sylvia’s mouth gaped open. “You can hear my thoughts?” She stilled, looking startled. "Since when did you start reading minds, little man?"
The knights exchanged pleased smiles.
“I can’t read minds. I’m not crazy like that!” First his penis inflated and now he was hearing things — unspoken thoughts. What was happening to him?
Sylvia rushed forward. “Ssshhh, little man. It’s okay. You just surprised me, you did. You’ve never been able to hear my thoughts before.”
Micah tried to pull away, but Sylvia grabbed his hands. He's growing up too fast.
“I don’t want to be a freak. I don’t!”
“Little Micah. Quiet now. Sshh. You’re not a freak.” Sylvia took hold of his face and tried to steady him.
“Well, what’s wrong with me then?” He was having a monumental meltdown in front of the king’s knights, who were laughing at him, but he didn’t care. Micah just wanted to be normal again. In the past twenty-four hours he had begun to feel like anything but.
“Nothing’s wrong with you, little man.” Sylvia turned back toward the knights. “Pardon, but he’s had a rough day.” She turned back to him once more, her blue eyes boring into his. “Nothing’s wrong,” she repeated. “You’re growing up is all. This is what happens when a vampire young grows up.”
“I don’t want to grow up!” Micah didn’t like all these changes coming over him. Not one bit.
"Don't worry, little one. Gregos will make a man out of you," said one of the knights.
Sylvia shot him a coarse look. No!
Before Micah could give much thought to what the knight had said and Sylvia's reaction, a section of the floor pushed up, and his father rose out from the tunnel below the house.
"What's this?" he said, looking around.
The four knights grew serious and stood just as a knock came at the door.
Sylvia hurried and opened it as Micah's mother joined his father and glanced around at the strange faces in their home.
"What's going on, Yaris?" his mother asked.
His father frowned. "I think we're about to find out."
Sylvia opened the door, and an elegantly dressed male vampire with almost magically tawny eyes smiled. "May I?" He gestured questioningly toward the inside of the room.
With a wave of her hand, Sylvia invited him in.
"Gregos? What are you doing here?" his father said.
"I bring word from the king, Yaris."
Micah had never seen the male before, but it was clear his father knew him. It was also clear his father was upset by Gregos's presence.
"What's wrong?" His father hazarded a glance toward Micah as if he had already glimpsed what was to come.
Gregos bowed his head. "I can see there will be no preliminaries with you, as always. You've always been one to get straight to the point."
"You know me well, old friend."
Gregos offered a weak smile, then said bluntly, "Peace time has ended, Yaris."
Deafening silence followed, and Micah could feel the dread fall upon the room.
Clearing his throat, Gregos broke the silence. "We're at war. You know what this means."
His father met Micah's gaze again, and this time Micah saw the sadness. When his mother's composure broke and she sobbed as she turned away, Micah knew the worst was yet to come.
With a wave toward the door, Micah's father said, "Let us speak privately, Gregos, and then we can make the announcement to the rest of the village."
Micah watched them go then looked around the room. Sylvia consoled his mother in quiet whispers, and the four knights all met his gaze in turn. They knew. Whatever was about to happen, they all knew but him.
He had a feeling his life was about to change forever.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: As always, remember that this is a work in progress and a first draft only. I have invited my fans to be a part of the writing process by posting the unedited draft as I write it. This prequel to my AKM novels is for those who want to see more of Micah Black's beginnings and how he ended up where he was at the beginning of my novel, Rise of the Fallen. One day this manuscript will go through the editing process and be published, but for now you can read the draft here chapter by chapter.