Jaxon Kell was born the year before Chaucer wrote The Canterbury Tales, on a farm near the village of Catterick, which had been built on top of a Roman fortification named Cataractonium. His family escaped the horrors of the Black Death that had killed half the population. In fact, the natural immunities that contributed to the family’s survival may have also been the critical factor that saved Jax from the usual fate of those infected with the vampire virus.
One early fall morning his father gave him a pouch with enough coins to buy a new bull. The previous bull had been grazing too close to the edge of the forest and had been bitten on the soft part of his nose by an adder. It wasn’t much of a loss for the farm because the bull was old and probably wouldn’t have survived more than two more winters anyway.
Jaxon had just turned twenty when he discovered the dead bull. The animal was hardly a pet and yet he felt sad, maybe because the bull had been a farm fixture for the entirety of his young life. It wasn’t that Jaxon had never been exposed to death. He’d learned to crack a chicken’s neck for his mother by the time he was five.
He had no explanation as to why the bull’s death struck him as different, but seeing the former symbol of virility lying on his side with legs stiff as a board, Jaxon became very certain of one thing; death should be avoided for as long as possible.
The last thing Jaxon’s father said to him, after giving instructions to buy a short-horned bull with a spotted hide and a straight back, one that had seen no fewer than eight seasons and less than sixteen, was, “And come home with a wife while ye’re at it. Ye’re overdue.”
Jaxon turned away with a scowl, trying to hide his displeasure because he was an agreeable person, not inclined to argue for argument’s sake.
So he set out walking southeast on the old Roman road that ran the length of the Danelaw, some thirty miles to York. With his youth and long legs, he knew he could easily do it in a day and hire a bed to sleep at one of several inns before nightfall.
He hadn’t given much thought to getting a wife until he was ordered to do so. Probably because he wasn’t sure that was what he wanted. But it was what people did. Farm work required lots of hands, the more the better, the younger the better. So as he started south toward York, he was thinking about what sort of girl he’d choose.
His father was descended from the Northmen who had settled Jorvik, or York as it became known in modern times, but his mother was descended from Picts. She was fine-boned with black eyes and a look that caused the more superstitious locals to think she practiced magical mischief.
Jaxon expressed both heritages in his looks. He was tall and blonde like his father, but his build was leaner and tighter, his musculature more finely cut. He had replicas of his mother’s black eyes that were other-worldly and hypnotic. Her piercing look could transfix a person and cause them to instantly forget what they’d been thinking a moment before. She had a reputation for being able to freeze a person’s tongue in the middle of speech, but that was a rumor started by the ignorant descendants of Scandinavians who simply didn’t care for the pixie-like look of the woman.
He wasn’t so unsophisticated as to not be aware of his appeal to the opposite sex. Catterick was a village, not a town, but there were enough women around for him to glean that he got more than his share of longing looks. Perhaps it was the way his fair hair fell over his brow, giving him a boyish look of innocence. Perhaps it was the contrast between that look of guilelessness and the gleam in his black warlock eyes. Perhaps it was his smile that seemed shy.
Whatever the reason, he’d been receiving impromptu offers of tumbles from maids and wives alike since he’d turned fourteen and he’d taken advantage of his share.
He thought about it until mid-morning. He broke off part of the half loaf of bread his mother had sent with him and ate as he walked. It was a nice day with no rain and soon he forgot all about what kind of qualities he might look for in a wife. Instead his thoughts turned to seeking out bawdy taverns where he might learn limericks and how to distinguish a decent ale from brine.
It was mid-afternoon when Jaxon stepped onto the cobblestone streets of York. He stopped to marvel at York Minster. Construction was still in progress, but it was a sight he wouldn’t forget. He continued until he came to the Goose and Acre Inn. He paid for a room and asked the way to the stockyards, planning to set out first thing the next morning in search of a bull and a bride. Which came first depended entirely on the order fate chose to present.
Two days later, Jaxon Kell had bought a bull, searched for a bride, and become a vampire.