Updated: Sep 17, 2019
Medieval Britain needs a champion with fire in her veins and her fangs bared…
Wales, 650 A.D. Maria thirsts for blood but longs for peace. When her latest meal accidentally bites the dust, the imperial Roman vampire draws the attention of a ruthless witch hunt. Cornered and outnumbered, a Celtic goddess intervenes… but Maria is destined to become Britain’s new champion.
Nursed to health by an alluring druidess, Maria’s strength increases, along with an unfamiliar desire for the beautiful caretaker. But with Witch Hunters hot on her trail, roving shifters terrifying the countryside, and Welsh lords warring over their fractured nation, the vampire has no choice but to act. As her short recovery time ends, her dangerous fight has only just begun…
After centuries of hiding in the shadows, can Maria stand in the light and battle to protect Britain?
A Cup of Blood is the first book in a dark post-Arthurian #urbanfantasy series.
Welcome to Ink & Magick. I’m your friendly neighborhood witch. What kind of spell can I get for you today?
Maria: Oh, no spells needed.
May I offer you refreshment? Potion of choice?
Maria: Oh, a simple cup of blood would be wonderful.
Cup of blood coming right up… Wait, isn’t that the…
Maria: Yes, the title of the book series my human is writing about my adventures fourteen centuries ago.
You have a human? A pet?
Maria: (Laughs) Not a pet. A business associate. I’m fond of business. That’s what took me to Britain back in what you would call the seventh century. (Takes cup of blood and raises it.) Diloch o Galon!
Was that a toast?
Maria: Actually, just the current Welsh version of thank you very much.
Welsh? I thought you went to Britain.
Maria: Perhaps there is a difference in the minds of some folks. But the Cymry—or Welsh in today’s world—know that they are British more than any others. Except perhaps our highland cousins in the north.
You’re not actually Welsh though? I mean, you’re how old? Oh, I do apologize. One should never ask a lady her age. At least, not in polite company.
Maria: That is quite all right. I had already seen six centuries when I traveled to Britain. I was born shortly after the time Gaias Julius Caesar tried to conquer the Celts of Europe. I died when his nephew, the one you know as Augustus wore the purple.
So, twenty-ish centuries old. That must mean you survive the books your human is writing.
Maria: I’m not sure “survive” is the correct word.
What do you mean?
Maria: You’ll have to wait until he writes the final book in this series to find out.
Of course. But, back to Britain. In the middle of the seventh century, you traveled from?
Maria: The area you’d know as France. The Merovingians were ruling, to use the term lightly. They were selling access and power. I was of the mind to purchase some and expand my investments, but I needed a husband. Women were rarely allowed to own property.
Surely you could proxy something after all those years?
Maria: Of course. I had enough business interests in other names, but found an elderly merchant looking to expand his dealings outside of northern Europe. I had the contacts he needed in Rome. It was a perfect match. We merely married to create the business partnership we needed.
So, a marriage of convenience… Did you ever…?
Maria: With him, no. He made his desire to remain celibate clear. He had wanted to take vows and retire to monastic life, but his sons needed to mature more before taking the reins of his empire. Even with my help to grow the business, his sons weren’t overly fond of my presence.
So the sons forced you out?
Maria: Not as such. Oh, they were happy enough to see me go. What made me flee to Britain was the guild. The Loyal Order of the Witch Hunters, and their ties to the Roman Church.
You had problems with the church?
Maria: Not until the Guild was formed. Somewhere toward the end of the fourth century, they started to pursue all they deemed unnatural: shifters, Children of the Night?
Children of the Night?
Maria: My kind. The undead who drink blood and avoid the sunlight. The guild was also after the witches and the fae. Unfortunately, Caesar and his legions, including my father, did too good a job stamping out the Druids. But, that showed the fae and the other spell casters they needed to remove themselves from our world. The shifters and we Children were already in the shadows, hiding our natures. The others learned from us and faded from public view.
We call your kind vampires now. Interesting that you have a name for your kind. These Witch Hunters must be a scary lot?
Maria: There was a resurgence of the guild centuries later, from the country you call Spain. The Inquisition, I believe. They learned many of their tactics and techniques from the Witch Hunters of the Dark Ages.
Was that time really dark?
Maria: From your laugh, you know the answer. Not dark at all. Though Britain was, and still is wet. That island gets substantial rain. Those years are called the dark ages because many of the written records are lost to time. There weren’t many such records. Only the monks and a few nobles wrote any, if at all during that time. The age is dark because you humans know so little about it.
Let’s get back to Britain. You went there from France, pursued by the Witch Hunters. What did you find in Britain?
Maria: First, the Witch Hunters found me. That was a hairy time. There was death and a lot of blood. Then, after I died again, I found love.
You’re undead, you died again with the Witch Hunters, then rose and found love?
Maria: Not quite. The goddess of Britannia, an ancient Celtic goddess, needed my help. She sent her disciple. Lady Gwenhwyfar to aid me. Gwen shared her blood with me. A lot of blood. I suspect the goddess wasn’t letting me die the true death, holding my spirit in my body until Gwen arrived. When I take that much blood from one person, I can’t help but to love them. Gwen and I, well…
Wait! The way you pronounced her name, that sounds like Queen Guinevere, wife of Arthur, King of the Britons.
Maria: Why, yes. Her name, and her deceased husband’s name do sound just like those.
You’re smiling with some unspoken jest. So you also met Lancelot?
Maria: Oh, no. He was a later invention. Artur… or Arthur as the human writing my books calls him, was Cymry —
Maria: Welsh. The original Britons. Or as close to original as one can get with the various migrations that happened to the island.
You seem fond of these Cymry.
Maria: Fond of? After all that happened, yes, I am. I don’t want to give too much away, but Britain has been my home, my land since the goddess called me to serve her.
You agreed to be like Gwen? What did you call her? A disciple?
Maria: Yes, and things in religion usually come in threes. There were three of us, sisters in service to The Lady of Britannia.
Lady? Like the Lady in the Lake?
Maria: Well, I never saw her rise from the lake, nor fling a sword at anyone. (Maria laughs, a light musical note in the incense filled shop we sit in…) Gwen and I have a special lake. It was there we first… well. We spent many nights there, under the stars, staring at nothing. Just enjoying being there with each other. But you asked about the Goddess. More superstitions turned into stories. The goddess who called me was the deity of the land. The Goddess of Sovereignty. The Cyrmy called her “Modron,” which means mother. Lakes are sacred to such a goddess.
A mother goddess, of course. What was her portfolio? How did she interact with the Cymry?
Maria: She rewarded the leaders of the people who protect their people and the land they serve. She bestowed sovereignty on the rulers who did just that.
You mean, like Arthur?
Maria: Exactly. Gwen would often say that Arthur’s ambition led to his downfall. Conquering people and the land took more and more of his attention. He stopped caring for those he was to shepherd. So The Lady let the mantle fall from his shoulders. He was no longer champion, and he fell in battle.
We’ve got a good notion of the land and the people. Why did the goddess call you?
Maria: Evidently because I love the dance.
You were to entertain a goddess? Seems rather quaint for a calling of a disciple.
(Maria laughs and reaches down to the floor. She lays a sword I hadn’t noticed before on the table between us. A sword unlike any I’d ever seen.) Maria: I dance with this. Arthur’s sword, though I have another, one my brothers gave me. It’s just as special as this one, but only to me.
Wait! That is Exc–?
Maria: Again, that name is a later invention. The goddess of Britannia holds the hollows of Britain. The special magical items. A sword, a cauldron, a spear, a cloak… there are a dozen or so. Gwen keeps track of them. The sword, however, is my specialty. I was the champion of the goddess, so she sent me the sword, whenever I needed it. That turned out to be often.
Champion? Wasn’t that Arthur?
Maria: Well, he did a century before I showed up. The office was vacant, not that I really wanted to take the title. Gwen asked me nicely, though. I can’t say no to Gwen.
Do all vampires… I mean Children of the Night play with swords?
Maria: Swords are not playthings. (She smiled to lessen the scolding.) In the hands of a warrior, it’s a danger to all around her. A tool of destruction.
And in your hands?
Maria: After my brother Aemi, Aemelianus, also of Rome, though older than I… After Aemi spent centuries learning the dance of the blades then taught me, we became the two best masters on all the Earth.
I hear that often from those with similar weapons. Some of them have the scars to prove their time in battle.
Maria: Due to my nature, I no longer scar. If I didn’t have a scar when I died and became undead, then I won’t have a scar now. No matter how bad the wound.
So, it’s not bragging if you can do it?
(Maria grinned. A thin little grin of knowing.) Maria: Back to your question. Just like a master bard can take a single instrument and fill a great hall with an entire orchestra of sound, Aemi and I can fill a field of battle with our blades. In our hands, the blades are poems, songs, and we turn them into symphonies.
I don’t mean disrespect, but how can we be sure of that?
Maria: Read the books. I’ve patiently tried to explain the techniques and the dances to my human. He’s rather clumsy though. I’ll only let him hold a blunted practice weapon. Had he shown up at one of Aemi’s training halls, seeking lessons, Aemi would have sent him home after a day—with a smile and caution to always wear armor to protect himself. Poor fellow.
So, this goddess whom you serve, needed you for your weapons skills. You must have killed an army of her enemies? How many books has your human written, and what’s the death count up to?
Maria: He’s working on the sixth. And yes, Emlyn and I, with some help took out two armies, and then some. Once the evil undead, those that served the enemies of our goddess appeared, we weren’t worried about the count any longer, only about protecting our people and stopping the enemies of our goddess.
Maria: Penteulu, or war leader of the Cantref of Penllyn. Think of it as duchy in Wales of that time. Technically, Penllyn answered to the King of Powys, one of the nations of Wales. But the political dynamics were such that Lord Penllyn maintained independence.
Lord Penllyn was independent? So, a king?
Maria: No, he was content being Lord Penllyn. The Lords and people of Penllyn were practical, and good people. That’s why we all ended up there.
There was more than one champion?
Maria: Well… I had the office, but there were helpers. I needed their assistance. Especially, Emlyn’s. He trained with Aemi too. Until I met him, I never dreamed a mere human could dance the blades the way Aemi and I could. Of course, Emlyn could only move at human speed and strength. But he was beyond skilled. A true natural with the blades.
Our time is closing. Is the blood to your liking? (I waved at her cup, which she had been sipping as we talked.)
Maria: Most definitely. Your own?
Of course! I would offer a guest nothing less. Back to your story. You’re serving the goddess of Britain, who is facing a challenge. Because of your skill with the blades, she calls you to take up Arthur’s sword.
Maria: It’s actually called the Sword of Light.
Yes, of course. The Sword of Light. And we may assume you defeat the enemies of the goddess, And you and Gwen live happily ever after in Penllyn, with all those people you mention.
Maria: My human, the writer, tells me this the story could be called a #DarkFantasy.
Many people die?
Maria: My human says I may not share that information.
You do what he says?
Maria: Only because I agree with him. One should read the story from the beginning and experience it completely.
When will we get to read the end of your story?
Maria: End? Stories never end. But the storytellers find a place to stop, that leaves their audience satisfied. He says they may not be happy though. The story takes several dark turns.
More teasing! When can we read the final chapters?
Maria: Perhaps this winter. I’ve told him all that happened. Up to the point in the tale where he said it will satisfy his audience to end the tale.
What happens after that?
Maria: (Smiles and raises her cup of blood.) I don’t want to kiss and tell. But I will say that I danced with my blades.
Troy A. Hill is the author of the Medieval Urban Fantasy series: A Cup of Blood, as well as The Penllyn Chronicles. The latter series relates the stories of Bleddyn, Emlyn, and Ruadh, along with others who answer the call of the goddess.
Though he was not fortunate enough to be born to Welsh parents, Troy does, however, have a strong mix of Anglo and Saxon in him. When he is not spending time in Medieval Britannia, he enjoys playing miniature table top war-games or giving historical walking tours at the Santa Monica Pier.
He and his wife live in Los Angeles, California. Most the the books he’s written have been created out on the balcony of their apartment, so his “Fuzzy Editor,” their black house cat, Loko-Kitty, can watch the birds and squirrels that roam West Los Angeles.
You can get your copy of Cup of Blood on Amazon.