The Vampire Hunter’s Lament
I’ve killed seventy-four vampires in my life. I believe that is a record. People have boasted higher numbers between gulps of mead and ale, but I can always tell the sound of a lie as soon as it drips its way into my ear.
Vampires are all liars. Full of charms and smiles and wicked intention. If you don’t know the tune of their lies, the music will put you in the ground before you can unsheathe your sword.
Most men like me—vampire hunters, that is—take up the quest for one of two reasons: vengeance or wickedness.
The ones after retribution are easy to understand. Somewhere back down the line a sister or a lover or maybe an entire family was ravaged and ruined by a bloodsucker. A lot of them have stories that would make your eyes water and your manhood shrivel.
I understand the desire for retribution, even though it is not the fuel that drives me.
The wicked ones are harder to comprehend, mostly because they parade around under the guise of righteousness and piety. Members of the Silver Hand, most of them. I have ridden with these types, some of them for years. For all their talk of holiness and purification, they are just as black and twisted beneath their skin as the creatures they hunt.
It is a part of nature, I have realized, that the spurned and the detested hunt one another in an effort to conceal themselves within a world which they do not belong.
Why do I hunt vampires, then? I do not subscribe to either of these clichéd motivations. That I can say with honesty.
No, my purpose is far less dubious or interesting. I hunt vampires because I made a promise to a wood elf who saved my life when I was still half a boy. I swore I would harm no more creatures of the forest. Fell no more beasts of the natural order with my arrows or my blade.
A steep price for a hunter to pay. But a life is generally an expensive thing to purchase back from the pocket of death, I have found.
The elf didn’t say anything about vampires though, and hunting is all I’ve ever known. So there it is. My path was set out before me because I was attacked by a wild boar one afternoon, and a naturalist saved me.
Not very romantic, I know. But it is the truth.
At first the boochies were just prey like any other. More cunning than any beast, and stronger than a frost troll by half, but I learned the shape of their track soon enough.
I felt no more satisfaction from a den of slain vampires as I imagine a blacksmith feels at the sight of a well made dagger.
No guilt, either.
But the years will wear on a man in one way or another. Slip their claws beneath his skin whether he feels them sinking in or not. Change the way his bones feel inside of him.
Two years ago, I killed a vampire outside Falkreath who was living in some mill. There was talk the Brotherhood was after him, but I got their first and put a silver arrow in the back of his knee when he tried to run. Then another through his heart.
There was a woman living with him—she had been cutting wood when I came to kill her lover.
She came screaming when she saw what I’d done. The death I’d brought with me. I didn’t smell any of that darkness on her, and so had no plans to take her life unless she forced me to.
I notched another arrow, if that was to be the case.
She knelt over his corpse and made a wailing noise of grief I had not thought possible—it was the sound I think a god might make after he realized the world he created had turned to rot and ruin somehow while he had his back turned.
Then she came crawling towards me. Eyes full of a grief I could not understand and was not capable of feeling myself. There is nothing in the world I valued as much as the thing I had just taken from her.
“Kill me….kill me, too,” she said. Her voice was frail, like pieces of bark tossed up in the wind.
“I didn’t come for your life,” I replied.
“But you’ve taken it anyway. The only part of it that mattered. Now take the rest, finish what you started.”
I let the string on my bow go slack and removed the arrow. Returned it to my quiver.
“Coward,” the woman spat.
I turned to go, there was nothing more I could do for this woman. I was not even capable of feeling sorry for her.
You cannot empathize with a thing you do not understand.
“At least tell me your name.” Her voice was different now. “So I’ll know who to curse on my dying breath.”
I turned back to face her. The mystery was gone, replaced by something I knew all too well.
“Corvan,” I said.
“Well, Corvan,” she said, standing up slowly. There were patches of mud on her knees. “I’ll see you again, in whatever wretched afterlife the gods dump our souls into.”
“Yes,” I said. “I imagine you will.”
I left the woman there, but I have not been able to shake the scent of that day. For years I woke up to the sound of her screams. And I have not been able to bring myself within a day’s ride of that farmhouse since, even though I have thought often of returning.
I’ve killed seventeen vampires since then. Each time, I’ve wondered if I would see something like that again.
I have thought that if I could see it one more time, maybe I would be able to learn the name for what happened that day. Start to understand it. But it has not returned. I am starting to think that a thing like that does not exist anymore. I killed the last piece of it with two arrows dipped in silver.
Then, two days ago, I got cornered in a den south of Dawnstar. More boochies than I thought there’d be.
I made it out, but just barely did, and one of them raked me deep across my left arm. Took most of the skin off my hand as he died.
I’m in a dark room at the Windpeak Inn now, writing this by candlelight and drinking my weight in mead.
Praying to a nameless god against the truth of what has happened.
I smell the same darkness on me that I have been hunting all these years. It is leaking out of my pores like mist rises off a lake at dawn.
I have decided not to go to a temple for a cure. I am going to wait here and let this dark tide turn its course inside of me.
I suppose if I had been doing this for vengeance there would be some poetic irony in my decision. A moral lesson that gets read in books and sung by bards.
Nobody will sing my song. I will not allow it.
But that woman I met outside of Falkreath will have to wait a while longer before we meet again.