Home > Vittorio, The Vampire (New Tales of the Vampires #2)(13)

Vittorio, The Vampire (New Tales of the Vampires #2)(13)
Author: Anne Rice

"Oh," I said, "and for that I can't wait, my Lord, for I am so in love with you all, and your style of slaughtering, and there is of course the matter of what your corruption has done to the town below and how you've stolen the souls of the very priests themselves."

"Hush, you work yourself into a mortal fever," he said. "Your scent fills my nostrils as if the pot is boiling over. I might devour you, child, cut you up and give your pulsing parts up and down the table to be suckled while the blood is still very hot, and your eyes blink -"

On those words I thought I would go mad. I thought of my dead sister and brother. I thought of the hideous and hopeless tender expressions of their severed heads. I couldn't bear this. I shut my eyes tight. I sought for any image to banish these horrors. I raised from memory the spectacle of Fra Filippo Lippi's Angel Gabriel on his knees before the Virgin, yes, angels, angels, fold your wings about me, now, oh, God, send me your angels!

"I curse your damned Court, you sweet-tongued devil!" I cried out. "How did you get your foot into this land! How did it happen?" I opened my eyes, but I saw only Fra Filippo's angels in a great tumbling, falling spectacle of remembered works, radiant beings filled with the warm carnal breath of earth mingled with Heaven. "Did he go to Hell?" I cried out louder. "The one who's head I cut off? Is he burning?"

If silence can swell and fall back upon itself, then so did the silence of this great hall or solar, and I heard nothing but my own anxious breath. But still the Lord remained unperturbed. "Ursula," he said. "This can be considered."

"No!" I cried out. "Never! Join you? Become one of you?"

The Elder's hand held me powerless with clamped fingers on my neck. I would only make myself foolish if I struggled. Were he to tighten his grip, I would be dead. And maybe that was best. Only I had more to say:

"I will never, I won't. What? How dare you think my soul so cheap you can have it for the asking!"

"Your soul?" asked the Lord. "What is your soul that it does not want to travel centuries under the inscrutable stars, rather than a few short years? What is your soul that it will not seek for truth forever, rather than for one paltry common lifetime?"

Very slowly, with the muted rustle of garments, he rose to his feet, displaying for the first time a long full mantle of red which fell down, making a great patch of blood-colored shadow behind him. He bent his head ever so slightly, and lamps gave his hair a rich gilded look, and his blue eyes softened.

"We were here before you and your kindred," he said. His voice never broke decorum. He remained civil, elegant. "We were here centuries before you came to your mountain. We were here when all these mountains round were ours. It is you who are the invader." He paused and drew himself up. "It is your species that draws ever closer with farm and village and fortress and castle, and encroaches upon us, upon the forests which are ours, so that we must be cunning where we would be swift, and visible where we would be as the Gospel 'thief in the night'."

"Why did you kill my father and my family!" I demanded. I could keep silent no longer, I didn't care how beguiling his eloquence, his soft purring words, his charmed face.

"Your father and his father," he said, "and the Lord before him - they cut down the trees that crowded your castle. And so I must keep back the forest of humans from mine. And now and then I must range wide with my ax, and so I have, and so it was done. Your father could have given tribute and remained as he was. Your father could have sworn a secret oath that required all but nothing of him."

"You can't believe he would have surrendered to you our babes, for what, do you drink their blood or sacrifice them to Satan on some altar?"

"You shall see by and by," he said, "for I think you must be sacrificed."

"No, Florian," Ursula gasped. "I beg you."

"Let me put a question to you, gracious Lord," I said, "since justice and history weigh so heavily with you. If this is a Court, a true Court, why have I no benefit of human defense? Or human peers? Or any humans to defend me?"

He seemed troubled by the question. Then he spoke.

"We are the Court, my son," he said. "You are nothing, and you know it. We would have let your father live, as we let the stag live in the forest so that it may breed with the doe. It's no more than that."

"Are there any humans here?"

"None that can help you," he said simply.

"No human guards by day?" I asked.

"No guards by day," he said, and for the first time he smiled a little proudly. "You think we require them? You think our small pigeon coop is not content by day? You think we need human guards here?"

"I certainly do. And you're a fool if you think I'd ever join your Court! No human guards, when right below is an entire village which knows what you are and who you are and that you come by night and cannot by day?"

He smiled patiently. "They are vermin," he said quietly "You waste my time with those who are beneath contempt."

"Hmm, you do yourself wrong with such a harsh judgment. I think you have more love of them, in some way or another, my Lord, than that!"

The Elder laughed. "Of their blood perhaps," he said under his breath.

There was a bit of uneasy laughter from somewhere else in the hall, but it fell away, like a fragment of something broken. The Lord spoke again: "Ursula, I will consider but I do not -"

"No, for I will not!" I said. "Even if I were damned, I wouldn't join you."

"Hold your tongue," cautioned the Lord calmly.

"You are fools if you do not think the townspeople below will rise up and take this citadel by the light of the day and open your hiding places!"

There was a rustling and noise throughout the great hall, but no words, none at least that I could hear, but it was as if these pale-faced monsters were communing with each other by thought or merely exchanging glances which made their ponderous and beautiful garments shift and move.

"You are numb with stupidity!" I declared. "You make yourselves known to the whole daylight world, and you think this Court of the Ruby Grail can endure forever?"

"You insult me," said the Lord. A bit of rosy color came divinely and beautifully into his cheeks. "I ask you with courtesy to be quiet."

"Do I insult you? My Lord, allow me to advise you. You are helpless by day; I know you are. You strike by night and only by night. All signs and words point to it. I remember your hordes fleeing my father's house. I remember the warning, 'Look at the sky'. My Lord, you have lived too long in your country forest. You should have followed my father's example and sent off a few pupils to the philosophers and priests of the city of Florence."

"Don't mock me anymore," he said imploringly with the same well-bred restraint. "You are causing anger in me, Vittorio, and I have no room for it."

"Your time is short, old Demon," I said. "So make merry in your antiquated castle while you can."

Ursula cried out under her breath, but I wouldn't be stopped.

"You may have bought off the old generation of idiots who run the town right now," I said, "but if you don't think the worlds of Florence and Venice and Milan are not moving in on you more fiercely than you can ever prevent, you are dreaming. It's not men such as my father who are a threat to you, my Lord. It's the scholar with his books; it's the university astrologers and alchemists who'll move in on you; it's the modern age of which you know nothing, and they will hunt you down, like some old beast of legend, and drag you out of this lair in the heat of the sun and cut off your heads, all of you -"

"Kill him!" There came a female voice from those who watched. "Destroy him now," said a man. "He isn't fit for the coop!" screamed another.

"He's unworthy to be kept in the coop for a moment, or even to be sacrificed."

Then a whole chorus let loose with demands for my death.

"No," cried Ursula, throwing out her arms to the Lord. "Florian, I beg you!"

"Torture, torture, torture," they began to chant, first two and three and then four.

"My Lord," said the Elder, but I could scarce hear his voice, "he's only a boy. Let us put him in the coop with the rest of the flock. In a night or two he won't remember his name. He'll be as tame and plump as the others."

"Kill him now," screamed one voice over all. And: "Be done with him," cried others, their demands rising ever louder in volume. There came a piercing shout seconded at once: "Tear him limb from limb. Now. Do it."

"Yes, yes, yes!" It was like the beat of battle drums.

Chapter Seven

THE COOP

GODRIC, the Elder, shouted loudly for silence, right at the moment that numerous rather glacial hands had I tightened on my arms.

Now, once in Florence I had seen a man torn apart by a mob. I'd been far too close for my own desire to the spectacle, and had been nearly trampled in the efforts of those who, like me, wanted to get away.

So it was no fantasy to me that such could happen. I was as resigned to it as I was to any other form of death, believing, I think, as powerfully in my anger and my rectitude as I did in death.

But Godric ordered the blood drinkers back, and the entire pallid-faced company withdrew with a courtly grace that bordered upon the coy and the cloying, heads bowed or turned to one side, as if a moment before they had not been party to a rabble.

I kept my eyes fixed on the Lord, whose face now showed such a heat that it appeared near human, the blood pulsating in his thin cheeks, and his mouth as dark as a dried blood scar, for all its pleasing shape. His dark golden hair seemed almost brown, and his blue eyes were filled with pondering and concern.

"I say that he be put in with the others," said Godric, the bald Elder.

At once, Ursula's sobs broke forth, as though she could not restrain herself any longer. I looked over to see her, her head bowed, her hands struggling to completely shield her face, and, through the creases of her long fingers, droplets of blood falling as though her tears were made of it.

"Don't cry," I said, not even thinking about the wisdom of it. "Ursula, you have done all you can. I am impossible."

Godric turned and looked at me with one thickly creased raised eyebrow. This time I was close enough to see that his bald white head did have such hairs to it, scant eyebrows of gray as thick and ugly as old splinters.

Ursula brought up a rose-colored napkin from the fold of her long high-waisted French gown, a pale pink tissue of a thing stitched on the edges with green leaves and pink flowers, and on this she wiped her lovely red tears and looked at me, as if she were crushed with longing.

"My predicament is impossible," I said to her. "You've done all you can to save me. If I could, I would put my arms around you to protect you from this pain. But this beast here is holding me hostage." There were outraged gasps and murmurs from the still dark-garbed company, and in a blur I allowed myself to see the thin, gaunt, bone-white faces that lined the long board on either side of the Lord, to glance at some of the Ladies who were so Frenchified in their old headdresses and wimples of rose red that they had not a single hair visible. There seemed both a Prankish absurdity and delicacy to them, and of course they were all demons. The bald Elder, Godric, only chuckled. "Demons," I said, "such a collection."

"The coop, my Lord," said Godric, the bald one. "With the others, and then I may make my suggestions to you in private, and with Ursula we shall talk. She grieves unduly."

"I do!" she cried. "Please, Florian, if only because I have never asked anything of this sort, and you know it."

"Yes, Ursula," said the Lord, in the softest voice which had issued from his lips yet. "I know that, my loveliest flower. But this boy is recalcitrant, and his family, when from time to time they had the advantage over those of us who wandered from here to hunt, destroyed those unfortunate members of our tribe. It happened more than once."

"Marvelous!" I cried out. "How brave, how wondrous, what a gift you give me." The Lord was astonished and annoyed.

But Ursula hurried forward, in a flurry of dark shadowy velvet skirts, and leaned over the polished table to be close to him. I could see only her hair in its long thick braids, twined exquisitely with red velvet ribbons, and the shape of her gorgeous arms, so perfectly narrow and plump at the same time, enchanted me against my own will.

"To the coop, please, my Lord," she begged, "and let me have him at least for so many nights as I need to reconcile my heart to this. Let him be admitted tonight for the Midnight Mass, and let him wonder."

I made no answer to this. I merely memorized it.

Two of the company, clean-shaven men in court dress, suddenly appeared at my side, to assist Godric, it seemed, in having me taken off.

Before I knew what was to befall me, a soft binding of cloth was put over my eyes. I was sightless. "No, let me see!" I cried out.

"The coop then, it is, very well," came the Lord's voice, and I felt myself being taken away from the room, fast, as if the feet of those who escorted me scarcely needed to touch the floor.

The music rose again, in an eerie throb, but I was mercifully being escorted away from it. Only Ursula's voice accompanied me as I was carried up staircases, my feet now and then bruised coarsely on the steps, and the fingers that held me carelessly hurting me.

"Be quiet, please, Vittorio, don't struggle, be my brave one now in silence."

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