For someone who’s held in such high regard in the vampire world when one first meets Anna King there is a moment of disconnect where you try to match the reputation with her physical looks. She’s about five foot five, of slim build and looks to be in her mid twenties although she was reputedly turned when she was only nineteen years old. When I first laid eyes on her at the Hilton Grosvenor in Glasgow’s West End she was sitting in her hotel room with a Bluetooth headset on her head. A smartphone and tablet lay on the coffee table in front of her and she was flicking through images while she spoke a language I’d never heard before although it sounded somewhat like Welsh with a touch of Gaelic.
“It’s Icenian,” Cat whispers in my ear, “her native tongue.”
She looks up at that moment and I’m frozen to the spot as I take in the cream silk blouse tucked into charcoal grey trousers. She flicks a lock of her long brown hair to one side and offers up a cheesy grin before going back to her call. I hear a string of words I’ve never heard before, punctuated by ‘computer’ and ‘flight number,’ and then she hangs up and takes the headset off.
“Hello there you,” she speaks in a broad Glaswegian accent, “so you’re the intrepid reporter Cat’s been telling us all about,” she gets to her feet and takes a few steps closer, “Anna King, impossibly young and gorgeous vampire, at your service.”
She holds out her hand and I take it somewhat gingerly and feel the strength in her grip. It’s subtle but evident all the same. She releases my hand and turning to Cat, throws her arms around her and kisses her neck.
“Catriona, so good to see you again,” the accent has changed to American, “you shouldn’t have come along with him, I could have met you at your house tomorrow you risk too much,” she steps back and glances at me.
“He is an attractive man all the same but is he a man of honour?”
When Cat assures her that I am indeed a man of honour she seems satisfied and nods at the coffee table by the window.
“Make yourself at home while I go to the wee girl’s room.”
While we carry over a third seat and make ourselves comfortable, Cat explains that Anna is a natural mimic who can imitate an impressive range of accents with such accuracy that you would think she had been born it. She’s also known as a practical joker with a well developed sense of humour that can put a smile on the face of the most straight-faced vampire. As such she is often the life and soul of vampire Gatherings and parties.
“Part of her appeal is down to her childlike looks and even though most vamps know her true age, they seem to forget it the moment she walks into the room.”
However behind the youthful innocence is a mind that’s as sharp as a razor, honed by nearly two millennia of experience. She can gauge the shifting atmosphere with pinpoint accuracy.
“It’s why Elizabeth wanted her as her Personal Assistant,” Cat props on her palm. “Elizabeth is more than capable of organising herself and she does have other Personal Assistants who do a lot of the actual work. But having Anna at her side gives her a walking, talking barometer who can judge fairly quickly whether someone is talking shite or not. If something’s not quite right Anna will be onto it as quick as a flash.”
She stops as Anna enters the room carrying a tray laden down with coffee, tea and biscuits. It takes a minute or two to rearrange the items on the table and in that time I’ve learned she’s a creature of extraordinary grace and charm. I’ve gone from feeling like an interloper to the subtle illusion that we’re just old pals catching up with each other.
“I read your portfolio on the website,” her face brightens, “you’ve written quite a lot of stuff, I emailed the links to Elizabeth and she’ll look over them later.”
She looks right at me as she says it and I’m almost convinced that she’s telling me the truth or is this just part of the illusion? She doesn’t illuminate further but launches out with a question of her own.
“So, what do you want to know? My vital statistics? I was born in the year thirty eight, five years before Caligula’s legions invaded Britain and fucked everything up in one fell swoop. One moment I was stalking otters with my bow and the next I was stalking Romans,” she grins.
“Otters are harder to kill and much braver than Romans. The typical Roman soldier left on his own was just a drivelling, shivering pile of jelly, not that we had jelly back then. Don’t believe the stupid Hollywood hype about brave legionaries, I’ve seen them standing with piss running down their legs and praying to their gods many a time. The only time they showed any kind of bravery was when they were all together but even then they were only marching forward because if they didn’t they’d be flogged or put to death,” she sips her coffee and smiles.
“I killed my first Roman when I was ten. I killed him with my sling and my father sent me to live with his cousin, who was Boudica’s father. I found out a little later that she and I were half sisters, so my daddy was shagging his cousin’s wife,” she pulls a wry grimace. “It was an Iron Age version of Deliverance country, all except for the banjo player.”
She stops and stares at me for a moment.
“Am I going too fast for you? Would you like me to slow down?”
I want to know how she became a vampire and she’s quite happy to tell me more.
“I was wounded at the Battle of Watling Street, even though it wasn’t actually on the Watling Street, more like off to the left… I was mortally wounded, I twisted left instead of right and wound up with a gash in my side that opened me up. Boudica saw me fall and stopped half a dozen Romans from spearing me with their swords. She carried me away from the battlefield and at the point of a sword, forced the druids to take me to the Morganna’s cave. They wouldn’t go into the cave because she’d put heads in front of it but Boudica carried me past them and into the cave. Morganna only agreed to turn me if my sister would become a child of the Raven as well, and that was the start of a glorious career,” she stretches.
“It was the first and only time a person of such high rank was turned and she was criticised for it by the elders of the other clans, but Morganna has always steered her own path. She saw that Boudica had the ability to unite warring tribes and that quality was valuable because she was one of the ones who convinced the clan leaders to unite under a single banner in nineteen twenty.”
She stops to take a mouthful of tea and cracks a grin.
“As you can guess I’m a real motor mouth, just can’t stop me talking unless there’s food or alcohol in front of me.”
She breaks a biscuit in half.
“Tasting is not all it’s cracked up to be, granted now that I have actually tasted chocolate I do miss the sweetness but we’re eternally hopeful that a cure can be found,” she pops the biscuit into her mouth and winks at Cat.
I’d not thought to raise that question before but in her presence I feel almost bound to ask it and she grins as she reaches for her cup.
“The source of our temporary cure is a secret but let’s just say that if we don’t manage to replicate it sometime in the next few decades then we’ll have to go back to dipping biscuits in blood. For obvious reasons I can’t tell you any more about the source,” she raises an eyebrow, “after all, you are a reporter,” she chuckles at her own joke.
“But seriously, you get used to not tasting after a while and considering some of the shit we had to eat over the years it’s a damn good thing we couldn’t taste it. Remember the porridge we used to wolf down in the seventeen thirties?” She looks at Cat who shudders.
“We had this galleon at the time doing milk runs between the East Indies and Europe. There was this vampire from the White Ravens who came aboard in seventeen thirty two called Grigor, we took him on board at Matara on the southern coast of Ceylon when we offloaded gold for spices. He needed shelter and so Morganna and Bjorn took him on board and he was so grateful he volunteered to be our head cook,” she pauses to eat another biscuit and I’m conscious that Cat is trying to hold back her laughter.
“They say that no poison can kill a vampire and up until then I believed it, but Grigor nearly managed to kill us all with his ghastly potions. We’d bought pepper from Batavia and nutmeg, spices from India and he just threw the lot in with porridge and stale bread. We had mortals sailing with us who were leaning over the sides doing technicolour yawns, my guts were heaving and I’m like what the fuck is happening? Morganna and Bjorn eventually threatened to keelhaul him if he set foot in the galley again. It took our human crew members days to get over the breakfast he served that day, some of them never touched porridge again,” she smirks. “He didn’t mean to do it, poor Grigor meant well but he couldn’t cook to save his life. Every time I see him at Gatherings or parties I always give him the sign for evil, but he’s got a good sense of humour.”
Humour is not something I associate with the vampire nation but Cat assures me that it’s alive and well, and after some prompting Anna relates the story of Bela the Bat and he wasn’t a real bat.
“No bats were harmed at all,” she tells me, “he was a rubber bat that Boudica picked up from a props department at one of the London theatres. It seems there was this Guild Master called Louis, nineteenth century vintage, old enough to know better, but he had this thing for Bela Lugosi, the actor?” She raises an eyebrow and I nod.
“He wrote to Bela’s agent claiming to be a real vampire and wanting to arrange a meeting. Fortunately for Louis, the agent must have thought he was just cracked and ignored it, but Louis made the mistake of telling my sister who was staying at the Guild. We have no secrets and when she called me on the phone to confirm my flight into London I sat down and penned a letter to Louis and suggested perhaps we could meet at a certain church in London on a certain date.”
She takes another biscuit before going on, “I signed it as Bela Lugosi, I had a friend who was a master forger. A few weeks later flew from Los Angeles to London and just for a laugh we bought a birdcage and left it at the church where Bela was supposed to meet Louis. We also left a picture of this rubber bat and a note that said. ‘I waited and waited but still you did not come and so I have turned into the bat. I will meet you in gay Paree, your admirer, Bela.”
Anna takes another sip as I choke on my tea.
“That bat went everywhere with us. We’d decided to go on a round the world tour with this eight millimetre camera and miles of film, this was gonna be our Vampire Beat movie. Andraste and Boudica around the world in eighty days. It took three and a half years because wherever we stopped off we took pictures of Bela in front of famous monuments and sent them back to Louis with a note. ‘I am all ears at the Van Gogh museum, wish you were here, and Berlin at the wall, ‘I will fly over the wall and shit on the dirty Communists.”
Her faces twitches ever so slightly as she takes another sip of coffee.
“We nearly lost him Moscow when we took pictures of him in Red Square and had to run for our lives. We climbed straight up a building and Bela dropped out of my pocket and fell to the ground. We had to stop and wait for the soldiers to go past. They were going so fast they missed Bela completely and I got him back,” she purses her lips.
“It all came to an end when Bela Lugosi died. We were in Rio, partying with Clyde and a bunch of vamps when we heard and so we took a final picture of Bela in front of the statue of Christ with a stake through his heart and wrote a final note to Louis. Alas I am pierced through, my dear Louis, I bid you a fond farewell,”
She leans back and stretches her legs out and cocks her head to one side, “so we do have a sense of humour.”
She finds the whole vampire mythology wearying though. “A lot of what I read is bullshit. You have the image of the vampire as some dark monster, the alter ego of man, undead, cursed and ridden with guilt for what I’m never quite sure. It came out of an age when the church had lost much of its political power but was still a respected institution. The stories I could tell you about priests and ministers would curl your curls,” she smirks. “Paedophilia and child abuse aside, they were a particularly obnoxious breed, obsessed with sex and the lust for power they were directly responsible for millions of deaths. I remember when Cholet preached his Aragonese crusade and sent armies into southern France to find heretics. I drank a goblet of blood on his grave one night many years later and then urinated on it,” she sets her cup down.
“People are fixated with the image of a monstrous vampire or the immortal, forbidden lover and try to write their own version and there are legions of writers lining up behind them to do the same thing. So it’s true I get tired of the vampire tropes, but I suppose while people are fixated on those kinds of vamps we real vampires can get on with the business of living.”
And it’s living she wants to talk about. A life that has seen her bear witness to an extraordinary grand parade of human innovation and experience. “I saw the great ships of the Chinese navy before Marco Polo, I’ve seen the coming of Genghis Khan and the fall of the Roman empire, the Viking invasions. I really did like the Norse, they told it like it was and while we fought them, we also traded with them. I remember Galileo, Newton, Darwin, all very interesting men who asked questions and tried to understand the world around them instead of taking the view of the church hierarchy. I hear the same echoes of the church in the mainstream media today, they’re all trying hard to convince us that all is well, there’s no need to ask difficult questions about, why did we lie about the reasons for invading Iraq, just carry on and pretend the world is peaceful and democracy will triumph somehow, eventually, perhaps,” she chuckles.
“Boudica and me were the first vamps to take a ride in a balloon, it was the most amazing feeling in the world to be drifting through the air. We were the first ones in an airship, the first to get our pilot’s licence, illegally of course. I had to dress as a man to get through the course. We were the first ones to get a telephone and the first person I called was Elizabeth’s grandfather,” she grins, “we were the first vamps to get the Internet connected to our home. I hope one day to be the first vampire in space, so who knows? Maybe one day you’ll read about a female astronaut who looks a lot like me,” she leans back and stares at the window.
“Eternity is a long long time and if you don’t learn to adapt and change with the times then you’ll wind up sinking into depression and despair. I was born in an age when the gods were thought to be real beings, now I live in an age when that is thought to be superstition and science has become the new god. When I first came to this place,” she rises and steps across to the window. “There were trees right up to the river, this was the land of the Dumnonii and to the north of the river were the Vennicones and to the west we had the Epidii. Nothing remains of the tribes, only old artefacts and my memory. I’ve seen the Roman wall at the Hunterian and I can tell you of the men who built the wall, I remember some of their names. The Dumnonii raiders would pick off the sentries right along the wall. It was a rite of passage to kill a Roman. When the Romans retreated back to Hadrian’s wall the Vennicones joined with their old enemies to raid that wall.”
She props against the windowsill and there is a moment of silence while she returns to the present day and her eyes drop to the phone on the table and she pulls a wry grin.
“My biggest concern was protecting the villagers from Roman raids, now I’m looking at the beeping phone and thinking I need to check my messages. I’ve probably got about a dozen or more just waiting for me.”
She leans down and picks up the phone.
“I survived the last two thousand years because I believed in the blood oaths sworn and the friendships that developed. We lasted as a clan because we were family, first and foremost. Love is the only thing that can truly change the world, well love and a healthy sense of humour. I’ve learned to love Romans as much as Celts, Christians and pagans. All had something to bring to our world as we travelled from place to place,” she taps the phone.
“And now I have to get back to work,” she swipes the screen, “but thank you for coming to see me, it’s nice to finally meet you,” she taps the screen. “We’ll meet again soon I hope.”
And with that the interview is over and as Cat escorts me out of the hotel she offers up the defining quote. “Anna flies in the face of the moody, self obsessed vampire. She was like a big sister to me when I was mortal, she has an ancient wisdom but give her half a chance and she’ll have you in stitches. The world would be a much greyer place if not for Anna, she puts a spring back in my step when I do get down in the mouth.”
When my stepmom’s plane went down a part of me died, Cat was my world. In her place she left us to her friends, the Grey Ravens. Over the years I slowly came to realise her death was a mere facade. When we were reunited I learned the truth about Clan Grey Raven and her remarkable history. Some people will always love. Some people never lose hope. Some people never die…SmashwordsAmazon.comAmazon UK