Short fiction

Issue #10


The isolated village of Isaneid lay in the east of the province, in the shadow of the mountains, and near to the sprawling forest. A long time ago, on a cold December night, a man named Oscar Richter arrived in Isaneid’s tavern. He was travelling to the capital, to be made a Knight, in a manner of speaking, and had stopped in the village until morning. Oscar was a man of average height and average weight. He was enamoured with glamour and danger, and when he was bored, he drank. In the decidedly unglamorous tavern was where Oscar learnt of the once proud, once honourable Nipoven family.

‘Another round of beer,’ Oscar shouted to the serving girl.

She hurried about behind the bar, and the three men nearby contemplated him in silence. Oscar, sitting with his servant, Muller, invited the villagers over from their corner of the stifling tavern. One was a farmer, one was a woodcutter, and one was a blacksmith. After stating their occupations, and remarking that a storm was on its way, they had said nothing. The log fire spluttered. Oscar’s buttons and belt-buckle glinted in the smoky glare. The girl carried over a tray of five beers.

‘Thank you,’ the farmer said, ‘for the beer, sir.’

‘My pleasure. And call me Oscar. Tell me, why are you three so quiet? And why are the other patrons looking at me so warily?’

‘Sir – Oscar … it is just respect.’

‘Not fear?’ Oscar asked. ‘I daresay you know what I do? It is a dangerous pursuit, but that does not make me a dangerous man to know. You know I hunt blutsauger?’

Oscar spoke their Slavic tongue well enough, but he did not know their word for bloodsucker. The woodcutter adjusted his collar but no one said anything. Oscar removed the large Cross he wore and placed it on the table.

‘You have nothing to fear,’ he said with a smile, ‘I have been hunting on the northern fringes of the forest. But I am travelling back to the capital to be awarded a high honour, that is why I have stopped for the night in your village.’

‘You must forgive us,’ the woodcutter said. ‘Our tavern it not used to men of your rank, or stature. The only people of status near Isaneid are the Nipoven family.’

‘I have never heard of them,’ Oscar said.

‘Then,’ the woodcutter said, ‘you must not have been in the province long.’

‘Who are they?’ Oscar asked. ‘Local aristocrats?’

‘They are,’ the woodcutter nodded. ‘But they do not visit the village any longer.’

‘My brother,’ the farmer said, ‘thinks that Count Nipoven did a deal with the devil, and that is why he is so rich.’

‘No,’ the woodcutter chided, ‘your brother speaks in metaphor. The Count’s wife, the Countess, is the daughter of a rich merchant. The dowry was enormous and the merchant contacts of the father-in-law helped restore the fortunes of the family. The merchants the Count worked with on the coast were little better than criminals. Corrupt. They fled the country long ago.’

‘I see,’ Oscar said.

‘My brother said that the Count’s great-grandfather was cursed by a gypsy. He was forced to marry the gypsy’s daughter.’

The woodcutter and the blacksmith laughed, but Oscar did not. He sipped his beer.

‘You are gullible,’ the blacksmith told the farmer. ‘The Count’s great-grandfather did marry a gypsy, but it was because she was beautiful.’

‘The great-grandfather?’ Oscar said, leaning forwards.

‘Yes,’ the blacksmith said, ‘my own grandfather used to work at the Nipoven manor house. He knew the Count’s great-grandfather and his wife.’

‘Well, my brother used to work at the manor house too,’ the farmer said, ‘until they dismissed him.’

‘I wonder why,’ Oscar said, ‘with all these rumours of gypsy curses, and Faustian pacts.’

The woodcutter and the blacksmith laughed with Oscar.

‘They dismissed all of the servants,’ the farmer replied.

‘So, what tales do the rest of the servants tell?’ Oscar asked, and winked at the blacksmith and the woodcutter.

‘Some of them say they used to hear noises in the night,’ the farmer said, ‘some won’t say anything about the Nipoven family at all. Some have moved away.’

Oscar smiled at the other two villagers, but they looked pensive.

‘Lots of their servants spoke of noises in the night,’ the blacksmith admitted, looking into his mug of beer.

‘What do the current servants say?’ Oscar asked.  ‘I suppose they are a bit more complimentary?’

‘They have no servants now,’ the farmer said.

‘Although some say the Countess is mad,’ the blacksmith said. ‘It may be her they heard wandering around in the night.’

 ‘He married beneath him,’ the woodcutter said to the blacksmith, ‘the Count should have found another blue blood.’

‘They have no servants now?’ Oscar repeated.

‘No,’ the famer said, ‘they didn’t replace any of their servants.’

‘Ah,’ the blacksmith said to the woodcutter, ‘but he married her because of her money-’

‘Quiet!’ Oscar said to the blacksmith. ‘There are no servants at the house at all?’

‘No sir,’ the farmer replied.

Oscar glanced at Muller, and then stood. The three villagers looked up at him, and the murmur of the village folk in the rest of the tavern died. The fire hissed. Muller picked up Oscar’s leather coat from the peg near the door.

‘Where is the Nipoven house?’ Oscar asked.

‘A few leagues down the valley path,’ the woodcutter said.

‘You are going at this time of night?’ the farmer asked.

‘You said there were strange noises in the night?’ Oscar replied.

‘Well, my brother said –’

‘Then what would be the point,’ Oscar said, picking up his Cross, ‘of visiting during the day?’


Oscar rapped on the oaken door of the colossal manor house. Muller’s torch chased shadows across the weathered stone walls. Black clouds hid the moon and a thick mist veiled the grounds behind them. Oscar, hearing muffled movements within, made a hammer of his fist and struck the door three times. After a few moments bolts ground backwards, and the hinges of the door screeched. A pallid, middle-aged woman wearing a diamond necklace appeared in the doorway.

‘Countess Nipoven? My name is Oscar Richter.’

‘How may I help you?’ The Countess asked.

‘I am on my way to the capital, Countess. I have been working near the northern fringes of the forest. When I get to the capital I am to be made part of the Knight –’

‘Working?’ she interrupted. ‘You mean, hunting?’

‘Yes,’ Oscar replied with a smile, ‘they are the same thing. I am tired of travelling and would ask for a bed for the night, as long as it is not an imposition.’

‘There is a tavern in the village,’ the Countess said, glancing down at Oscar’s mud-stained boots. She covered her neck with one hand, as if Oscar might snatch the diamonds at any moment; her other hand lingered on the door handle. The frost of sweat on her brow and the diamonds on her neck shone in the spilt light of the open door.

‘All the beds are taken,’ Oscar replied. ‘So the villagers said that you had rooms to spare, and as godly, righteous people would welcome me for the night.’

‘Unfortunately we are currently bereft of domestic staff. Times are hard. One must save, where one is able to save. We could not accommodate you properly.’

‘So I have heard. This must be very uncomfortable for you. Living without domestic staff. But Muller here is my servant, and he will gladly serve us as we dine. You are dressed for dinner, no?’

‘I am.’

‘Who cooked it, if there are no servants?’

‘My daughter.’

‘What a dutiful daughter! It is unacceptable that the daughter of a Count should serve dinner, as well as cook it. Muller will serve us. It would be a great favour if you would allow me to stay. I would mention you explicitly when I arrive in the capital. Unless it is an imposition? I would not like to stay if I made you uncomfortable?’

‘Of course not,’ the Countess said slowly. ‘It would be an honour to have you.’

‘Wonderful. I promise you my table manners are good. I have been to many a house like this before.’

‘You have?’

‘Yes, for pleasure, not work, of course. Many a ball at many a mansion. Do not worry, Countess. You have nothing to be afraid of, I don’t bite.’


Oscar was seated at the foot of the long, mahogany table. The daughter of the Count and Countess, Krista, sat to Oscar’s right. Krista was a beautiful young woman, and her black hair and midnight-blue dress seemed to soak up the soft light of the chandelier. She looked up at him, and attempted a smile, as nervous as a debutante whose escort to the ball has arrived an hour early. Oscar smiled back at her. The Count was sitting at the head of the table, eating little but drinking a lot. The Countess had excused herself from dinner, as she was feeling unwell.

‘The steak is very good,’ Oscar said to Krista.

‘The steak is adequate,’ said the Count.

‘Do you prefer it bloodier, Count Nipoven? Perhaps you prefer venison? There is quite an array of stags on the walls.’

The Count grunted.

‘Hunter to hunter,’ Oscar said, pausing to sip his wine. ‘Do you have any tips?’

‘Hunter to hunter?’ The Count repeated. ‘Ah, I see. No. Shouldn’t I be asking you for tips? You hunt a craftier game than me.’

‘A tad more dangerous too,’ Oscar said. ‘I was almost bitten last week.’

The Count frowned. Oscar paused for effect, and glanced around the room at the mounted animal heads. The glassy eyes of the beasts seemed to stare at him. The portraits of ancient Nipoven family members seemed to stare at him too.

‘We had him cornered,’ Oscar continued, ‘I and a few men. We chased him into a barn. My men restrained him, he was very desperate. Tried to bite me. Obviously I had to…well, what I had to do is not fit to talk about in civilised company.’

‘No,’ the Count said, swilling his wine. ‘Not for civilised company.’

‘Disgusting creatures though, don’t you think?’ Oscar asked.

‘Disgusting is the exact word I would use,’ the Count replied. ‘Tell me, Oscar. What is the word you use for them, blutsauger?’

‘Yes, there is not an exact translation in your language.’ Oscar paused and removed a piece of fat from his teeth with his fingers. ‘The closest would be sucker of blood. Vampire. Parasite. They have as many names and they have many shapes.’

Krista glanced at a large, ostentatious cross upon the mahogany panelled wall. Next to the cross was a suit of armour, and the sword in its hand looked whetted. The metal of both ornaments gleamed.

‘Have some more wine, Oscar,’ the Count suggested. ‘A hero like you deserves it. It’s the best that money can buy.’

‘Why thank you, Count,’ Oscar summoned Muller from the corner to pour another glass. ‘It is good that although times are too hard to employ servants, you still keep the finest vintages.’

‘Excuse me?’

‘Your wife. She implied you did not have the money to employ servants.’

‘Ah, yes,’ the Count said, his cheeks red. ‘Well, times are indeed hard. One must save, where one can save. Only a fool would think otherwise. But only a barbarian would drink cheap wine.’

Oscar raised his glass, and Krista concentrated on cutting her steak. The Count drank the rest of his wine, and then speared a piece of beef with his knife. He hewed the beef and grimaced, pointing his knife at Oscar.

‘I was thinking Oscar, that tomorrow morning you and I might go hunting? If it is not too much of a delay to your schedule?’

‘Of course not. I would be honoured, Count Nipoven.’

‘Excellent. I hope you can hunt deer as well as you do other things.’

‘Do not worry, Count Nipoven. I have the nose of a bloodhound. I can sniff anything out.’


Oscar stalked up the dank, ill-lit passage. It was past midnight. His hand shook, the torch flitted, and shadows reared around him. He steadied the torch with his other hand, and took a step forwards. The door to the ancestral crypts of the Nipoven family was before him. It could only be the crypt, with the inscription above it: facilis descensus averni. It was the only room in the expansive house, apart from the bedrooms, that Oscar had not searched.

An aristocratic family like the Nipovens would sell all of their wine, their diamond necklaces, their Persian rugs, their suits of armour, and every other decadent luxury before they dismissed their servants and had their daughter cook and clean. Oscar took another step forward and put his hand on the door handle. The metal was cold. He heard a noise behind him. Oscar spun and raised the torch. Muller stood before him and blinked.

‘Damn you, Muller. I told you to wait outside the Count’s bedroom. What if he wakes?’

‘Sir, we need to go.’

‘What, why?’

Muller glanced at the door to the crypt, and grabbed Oscar by the arm. Oscar allowed himself to be dragged to the other end of the passage, near to the stairs to the entrance hall.

‘The Count and Countess were awake, but they stayed in their room,’ Muller whispered. ‘They were talking about you. The Count wanted to kill you! When you went hunting tomorrow morning. Then he was going to come back and kill me.’

Was? What changed his mind?’

‘The Countess, she said that if you were killed, when you are expected in the capital, and the villagers knew you came to the house, that the family’s crimes would be discovered and they would be hung. She said they should let you go. The Count said the Countess should never have let you into the house at all. She said to refuse would have raised suspicion-’

‘So she talked him out of it?’

‘Yes, but…’

‘But what?’

‘She said once you were gone,’ Muller glanced at the door to the crypt again, and lowered his voice further. ‘That all twenty of those they had hidden here, would have to leave the house. That it was not safe to keep them here anymore. Twenty.’

Oscar looked back at the crypt door, and took a step backwards. He felt a rush, light-headedness, and a tingling in the soles of his feet, as though he had leaned over the edge of a tall building. He felt as he had when he leaned over the ramparts at Ingolstadt castle as a boy. It was a compulsive rush, as exhilarating as when he had first smoked tobacco, but he would never tire of it. It brought with it a clarity, a cold, focused rationality.

He glanced at the door to the crypt, and wondered if the twenty were hidden in there. A nest as large as that could not be hidden anywhere else. Muller was tugging at his sleeve, terrified. Doubtless he thought Oscar was about to charge into the crypt, but even he was not that brave. He would be torn to tatters. Had he walked into the crypt before Muller stopped him, he would have been ripped apart. Perhaps he could have killed one or two. Anger deepened the cold, rational clarity.

‘We have to go,’ Oscar said.

‘To the capital,’ Muller whispered, relieved. ‘The twenty will have escaped by the time we return, The Nipovens will stay though.’

     ‘Do not be foolish, Muller. We need proof. I will not let the twenty escape. We are not going to the capital. We are going to the village.’


Two bolts of lightning split the swollen black sky. The only sounds were the rain tapping, and the ragged breathing of the Count, until the thunder rolled down the valley and across the grounds. Oscar had marched to the village and raised a mob. He had told the village folk it was their duty to root out the abominations hidden in the Nipoven manor house. They had grabbed their hatchets, and pitchforks, and torches, and followed him back to the house.

‘It will go easier on you if you tell me now,’ Oscar repeated to the Count.

The Count spat blood at Oscar’s feet, and Oscar had no choice but to hit him in the mouth again. Krista sobbed and looked away, clinging to her mother. When he had arrived at the house with the village mob, Oscar had ordered them to drag the family from their beds and bring them before him. They were all standing on the steps in front of the house. Curtains of rain swirled around them. The Count, the Countess, and Krista were guarded by six villagers, while the rest of the mob searched the house.  

‘Where are they hidden?’ Oscar asked again.

‘There is nobody else in the house,’ said the Count.

Oscar struck him again with his stinging knuckles. Two of the Count’s teeth bounced down the steps like dice. Krista screamed, and the sound echoed around the grounds. One of the villagers who held the Count looked nauseous, yet he had been eager enough to follow Oscar’s orders to charge up to the house. The falling rain washed the viscous gobs of blood from the Count’s face. He looked up at Oscar, smiled, and then spat through the gap in his teeth.

‘I will ask you one more time,’ Oscar said, ‘and then I will shoot you. Where?’

The Count sighed but said nothing. Oscar put his gun against the Count’s neck. Krista began to retch. The Count looked at her and took a deep breath.

‘I’m sorry Krista,’ the Count said, ‘I am sorry for all of this. You wish to find a blutsauger, Oscar? Why not look in the mirror in the hall?’

Oscar strode up the steps, and into the house with Muller close behind him. He stood in front of the mirror. Oscar’s face was waxy with fatigue, but his eyes were wide and sharp. In his uniform, with his leather jacket, gloves, and boots, his silver buttons and belt-buckle, he looked splendid. The Iron Cross on his breast pocket looked lonely, but soon he would have another award. Oscar pointed his gun at the mirror and shot. The glass collapsed to the floor, but there was no secret door behind it. Oscar felt his face burn and his scalp prickle. He strode back outside to the Count.

‘You said there was a door behind the mirror,’ Oscar bellowed.

‘I said go to the mirror. When you looked in it, you saw a blutsauger. You say the Jews, the gypsies, that they suck the blood from your Reich? But you Nazis are the vampires. You are bloodthirsty, not them. And it is you Nazis, Oscar, who make copies of themselves everywhere they go.’

Oscar shot the Count in the head. The tatters of hair and flesh, the fragments of skull, curled back to reveal a deep pocket of blood and brain. Krista screamed, and screamed.

Someone shouted from inside the house. Oscar peered into the entrance hall. The woodcutter marched out of the house, leading a line of villagers dragging, bloody, beaten captives. They were held in front of Oscar for his inspection. Of the twenty, five were women, and seven were children. They were meek enough. The other eight of them were men. Six of them were alive, but two, he was told, had died in the struggle. Oscar looked at them in disgust.

The eighteen fugitives were escorted back to the village, along with the Countess and Krista. Oscar telephoned to his regiment, on the northern fringes of the forest, and it took them two days to arrive. Oscar and his regiment escorted their prisoners to the capital. Nine of the bloodsuckers were Jews, six were gypsies, and three were members of the Czech resistance. The eighteen, along with the Countess and Krista, were sent to the camp at Dachau.

Before his adventures in Isaneid, Oscar had been travelling from the province to the capital to receive the Knight’s Cross, the only Nazi decoration higher than the Iron Cross. Because of his good work in Isaneid, Oscar received the Knight’s Cross with Oak Leaves, the first Gestapo commander to do so. He saw to it that the villagers received the Order of the German Cross for their efforts in aiding him. Together they had brought down the once-proud, once-honourable Nipoven family, whose crime had been trying to help those who should not be saved.

Michael Clegg

© 2014