Home > Vittorio, The Vampire (New Tales of the Vampires #2)(14)

Vittorio, The Vampire (New Tales of the Vampires #2)(14)
Author: Anne Rice

"And why, my love?" I asked. "Why set your heart on me? Can you kiss me without your stinging teeth?"

"Yes, and yes, and yes," she said in my ear.

I was being dragged along a passage. I could hear a loud mingled chorus of voices, common ordinary speech, and the wind of the outdoors and a wholly different kind of music. "What is this? Where do we go?" I asked.

Behind me, I heard doors shut, and then the blindfold was ripped from my eyes.

"This is the coop, Vittorio," she said, pressing her arm against mine and trying to whisper in my ear. "This is where victims are kept until needed."

We stood on a high barren stone landing, the stairs leading down and at a curve into the huge courtyard, which contained so much activity and of such bizarre sorts that I could not possibly comprehend all of it immediately.

We were high within the walls of the castle, that I knew. And the courtyard itself was enclosed on all four sides, and I could see as I looked up that the walls were faced in white marble and there were everywhere the narrow pointed twin-arched windows of the French style. And above, the heavens had a bright pulsing glow, fed no doubt by countless fluttering torches on the roofs and abutments of the castle.

This was all nothing much to my eyes, except that it meant escape was impossible, for the nearest windows were far too high, and the marble too smooth to be scaled in any physical way.

There were many tiny balconies overhanging above, and they too were impossibly high. I saw the pale red-clothed demons on those balconies looking down at me, as though my introduction were a spectacle. There were some very large porches, and these too had their idle gloating and merciless occupants. Damn them all, I thought.

What stunned me and fascinated me was the great jumble of human beings and dwellings which I saw crowding the courtyard before me.

First of all, it was far more fiercely illuminated than the ghastly Court, where I had just stood trial, if it could be called such, and it was an entire world unto itself - a rectangular court planted with dozens of olive trees and other flowering trees, orange trees, lemon trees, and all of these strung with lanterns.

It was an entire little world full of what seemed to be drunken and confused persons. Bodies, some half-naked, others fully and even richly clothed, shuffled, stumbled or lay about with no purpose. Everyone was filthy, disheveled, degraded.

There were hovels all over, like old-fashioned peasant huts of mere straw, and open wooden shacks, and little stone enclaves, and trellised gardens and countless circuitous pathways.

It was a drunken labyrinth of a garden gone wild under the na**d night.

The fruit trees grew thick in clusters and then broke open to reveal grassy places where people merely lay staring at the stars, as if they were dozing, though their eyes were open.

Myriad flowering vines covered wire enclosures that seemed to have no purpose but to create some alcove of privacy, and there were giant cages full of fat birds, aye, birds, and cooking fires scattered about - and big kettles simmering on beds of coals, from which a deeply spiced fragrance arose. Kettles! Yes, full of broth.

I saw that a foursome of demons roamed about - there may have been more - scrawny-limbed and bleached as their Lords, and forced to the same blood-red dress, only they were in shapeless garments no better than rags - peasant garb.

Two tended a pot of the simmering broth or soup or whatever it was, whilst another swept with a big old broom, and yet another carried on his hip indifferently a small mewling human toddler, whose head rolled painfully on his weak neck.

It was more grotesque and disturbing than the hideous Court below, with its stately cadaverous mock aristocrats.

"It's stinging my eyes," I said. "I can feel the smoke rising from the kettles." It was a pungent delicious mingling of fragrances. I could identify many of the rich cooking spices, and the smell of mutton and beef, but there were other more exotic flavors intermingled with it.

Everywhere human beings were in this hopeless daze. Children, old women, the famed cripples who never appeared in the town below, hunchbacks, and little twisted bodies which had never grown to full size, and big hulking men as well, bearded and swart, and boys my age or older - all of them shuffling about or lying about, but dazed, and crazy, and looking up at us, and blinking and pausing as though our presence should mean something though they could not make out what.

I swayed on the landing, and Ursula held my arm. I felt ravenous as the heavy fumes filled my nostrils. Hunger, hunger such as I'd never known. No, it was a pure thirst for the soup, as though there were no food that was not liquid.

Suddenly the two gaunt and aloof men who had not left us - they who had blindfolded me and dragged me here - turned and went down the steps, letting their heels make a sharp marching sound on the stones.

A few eager cries came up from the great mottled and scattered assemblage. Heads turned. Sluggish bodies tried to rouse themselves from the vaporous torpor.

The two Lords, with their long trailing sleeves and stiff backs, marched together as if they were kinsmen as they approached the first of the visible cauldrons.

I watched as drunken mortals gathered themselves up and stumbled towards the red-clad Lords. As for the red-clad Lords, they seemed to glory in mystifying all.

"What are they doing? What will they do?" I was sick. I was going to fall. Yet how sweet this soup smelled, and how much I wanted it. "Ursula," I said. But I didn't know what words to make to follow this prayer of her name.

"I'm holding you, my love, this is the coop. Look, do you see?" Through a haze, I saw the Lords pass beneath the jagged thorny branches of the blooming orange trees, where fruit hung still, as though none of these swollen, lethargic souls needed such a fresh and bright thing as an orange.

The Lords took up a stance on either side of this first kettle, and each, extending a right hand, slashed his right wrist with a knife which he held in his left hand, and let the blood flow copiously into the brew.

A weak happy cry rose from those humans gathering meekly around them.

"Oh, damnable, it's the blood, of course," I whispered. I would have fallen if Ursula had not taken hold of me. "The brew is spiced with blood."

One of the Lords turned away, as though the smoke and the fumes disgusted him, yet he allowed himself to bleed into the mix. Then turning swiftly, almost crossly, he reached out to snatch by the arm one of the thin, weak-looking white demons in peasant garb.

He caught the poor fellow and dragged him to the kettle. The thin paltry demon begged and whined to be allowed to be free, but his wrists were both slashed, and now, though he turned his bony face away, he was bled furiously into the soup.

"Ah, you are better than Dante with your circles of Hell, aren't you?" I said. But it hurt me that I had taken such a tone with her. She supported me utterly.

"They are peasants, yes, they dream of being Lords, and if they obey, they might." I recalled now that the demon soldiers who had brought me back to the castle had been rude huntsmen. How well it was all thought out, but this, my narrow-shouldered love, with her soft yielding arms and her shining tear-stained face, was a pure Lady, was she not? "Vittorio, I want so badly for you not to die."

"Do you, dearest?" I said. I had my arms around her. I could no longer stand without this support. My vision was fading.

Yet with my head against her shoulder, my eyes directed to the crowd below, I could see the human beings surrounding the kettles and dipping their cups into the brew, dipping their cups right where the blood had fallen, and then blowing on the hot liquid to cool it before they drank.

A soft, horrid laughter echoed up the walls. I think it came from those spectators above on the balconies.

There was a sudden swirl of red color, as if a giant unfurling flag had fallen.

But it was a Lady dropping down from the remote heights above, to land amid the worshipful hordes of the coop.

They bowed and saluted her, and backed away from her, and gave forth loud gasps of awe as she too approached the kettle and, with a loud rebellious laugh, cut her wrist and fed her blood into it.

"Yes, my darlings, my little chicks," she declared. She looked up at us.

"Come down, Ursula, have pity on our hungry little world; be generous tonight. So it is not your night to give; give in honor of our new acquisition."

Ursula seemed shamed by all of this, and held me gently with her long fingers. I looked into her eyes. "I'm drunk, drunk merely from the fragrance."

"My blood is only for you now," she whispered.

"Give it to me then, I hunger for it, I'm weak to dying," I said. "Oh, God, you've brought me to this. No, no, I did it myself."

"Sshhh, my lover, my sweet," she said.

Her arm coiled about my waist, and there came just under my ear her tender lips sucking on the flesh, as if she meant to make a pucker there on my neck, warm it with her tongue, and then the prick of her teeth.

I felt ravaged, and with both hands in a fantasy I reached out for her figure as we ran together through the meadow which belonged only to us and to which these others could never be admitted.

"Oh, innocent love," she said even as she drank from me, "oh, innocent innocent love."

Then a sudden icy hot fire entered the wound in my neck, and I felt it as if it were a delicate parasite of long tendrils that once inside my body could find the most remote reaches of me.

The meadow spread out around us, vast and cool, and utterly given over to the blowing lilies. Was she with me? Beside me? It seemed in one radiant instant I stood alone and heard her cry out as if she were behind me. I meant, within this ecstatic dream, this fluttering cooling dream of blue skies and tender breaking stems, to turn and go to her. But out of the corner of my eyes, I beheld something of such splendor and magnificence that my soul leapt. "Look, yes, you see!"

My head fell back. The dream was gone. The high white marble walls of the prison castle rose above my hurting gaze. She held me and stared down at me, bewildered, her lips bloody.

She hoisted me in her arms. I was as helpless as a child. She carried me down the stairs, and there was nothing I could do to rouse my limbs.

It seemed all the world above was tiny figures ranging on balconies and battlements and laughing and pointing with their tiny outstretched hands, so dark against the torches all around them. Blood red, smell it.

"But what was it; did you see it in the field?" I asked her. "No!" she cried. She looked so frightened.

I lay on a heap of hay, a makeshift bed, and the poor underfed demon peasant boys stared stupidly down at me with bloodshot eyes, and she, she wept, her hands again to her face. "I cannot leave him here," she said.

She was far, far away. I heard people crying. Was there a revolt among the drugged and the damned? I heard people weeping.

"But you will, and come to the kettle first and give your blood." Who spoke those words? I didn't know. "... time for the Mass."

"You won't take him tonight."

"Why are they crying?" I asked. "Listen, Ursula, they've all started crying."

One of the scrawny boys stared right into my eyes. He had a hand on the back of my neck and a warm cup of brew to my mouth. I didn't want it to slop down my chin. I drank and drank. It filled my mouth.

"Not tonight," came Ursula's voice. Kisses on my forehead, on my neck. Someone snatched her away. I felt her hand hold tight to mine, then I felt her pulled away. "Come now, Ursula, leave him."

"Sleep, my darling," she cried in my ear. I felt her skirts brushing me. "Vittorio, sleep."

The cup was thrown aside. Stupidly, in utter intoxication I watched the contents spill and sink darkly into the mounded hay. She knelt before me, her mouth open and tender and luscious and red.

She took my face in her cool hands. The blood poured out of her mouth and into mine.

"Oh, love," I said. I wanted to see the field. It didn't come. "Let me see the field! Let me see it!"

But there was no meadow, only the shocking sight of her face again, and then a dimming light, a gathering embrace of darkness and sound. I could no longer fight. I could no longer speak. I could no longer remember... But someone had said that very thing.

And the crying. It was so sad. Such crying, such doleful, helpless weeping.

When next I opened my eyes, it was morning. The sun hurt me, and my head ached unbearably.

A man was on top of me, trying to get my clothes off me. Drunken fool. I turned over, dizzy and sick, sick to vomiting, and threw him off, and with a sound blow knocked him senseless.

I tried to get up but I couldn't. The nausea was intolerable. All around me others slept. The sun hurt my eyes. It scalded my skin. I snuggled into the hay. The heat beat down on my head, and when I ran my own fingers through my hair, my hair felt hot. The pain in my head throbbed in my ears.

"Come into the shelter," a voice said. It was an old crone, and she beckoned to me from beneath a thatched roof. "Come in, where it's cool."

"Curse you all," I said. I slept. I drifted.

Sometime during the late afternoon I came to my senses.

I found myself on my knees near one of the kettles. I was drinking in a slovenly wretched manner from a bowl of brew. The old woman had given it to me.

"The demons," I said. "They are asleep. We can... we can..." but then the futility of it overcame me. I wanted to throw away the cup, but I drank the hot brew.

"It's not just blood, it's wine, it's good wine," said the old woman. "Drink it, my boy, and feel no pain. They'll kill you soon enough. It's not so terrible." When it was dark again, I knew it. I rolled over.

I could fully open my eyes, and they did not hurt as they had in the day

I knew that I had lost the whole arc of the sun in this drugged and stupid and disastrous languor. I had fallen into their plans. I had been helpless when I should have been trying to rouse these useless ones around me to mutiny. Good God, how could I have let it happen! Oh, the sadness, the dim distant sadness... And the sweetness of slumber. "Wake, boy." A demon voice. "They want you tonight."

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