Home > Vittorio, The Vampire (New Tales of the Vampires #2)(15)

Vittorio, The Vampire (New Tales of the Vampires #2)(15)
Author: Anne Rice

"Oh, and who wants me for what?" I asked. I looked up. The torches were alight. All was twinkling and glowing, and there came the soft rustle of green leaves overhead - the sharp sweet smell of the orange trees. The world was woven of dancing flames above and the entrancing patterns of the black leaves. The world was hunger and thirst.

The brew simmered, and that scent blotted out all else. I opened my mouth for it, though there was none of it near me.

"I'll give it to you," said the demon voice. "But sit up. I must clean you up. You must look good for tonight."

"For what?" I said. "All of them are dead."

"Who?"

"My family."

"There is no family here. This is the Court of the Ruby Grail. You are the property of the Lord of the Court. Now, come, I have to prepare you."

"For what do you prepare me?"

"For the Mass, you're to go, get up," said the demon, who stood wearily over me, leaning on his broom, his shining hair an elfin mess around his face. "Get up, boy. They'll want you. It's almost midnight."

"No, no, not almost midnight, no!" I cried out. "No!"

"Don't be afraid," he said, coldly, wearily. "It's useless."

"But you don't understand, it's the loss of time, the loss of reason, the loss of hours during which my heart beat and my brain slept! I'm not afraid, you miserable demon!" He held me flat to the hay. He washed my face.

"There, there, you are a handsome fine one. They always sacrifice those such as you right away. You're too strong, too fine of limb and face. Look at you, and the Lady Ursula dreaming of you and weeping for you. They took her away."

"Ah, but I was dreaming too..." I said. Was I talking to this monstrous attendant as though he and I were friends? Where was the great magnificent web of my dreams, the immense and luminous majesty?

"You can talk to me, why not?" he said. "You will die in rapture, my pretty young Lord," he said. "And you'll see the church all alight, and the Mass; you'll be the sacrifice."

"No, I dreamed of the meadow," I said. "I saw something in the meadow. No, it wasn't Ursula." I was talking to myself, to my own sick bedeviled mind, talking to my wits to make them listen. "I saw someone in the meadow, someone so... I can't..."

"You make things so painful for yourself," said the demon soothingly. "Here, I have all your buttons and buckles right. What a fine Lord you must have been."

Must have been, must have been, must have been... "You hear that?" he asked.

"I hear nothing."

"It's the clock, striking the third quarter of the hour. It's almost time for the Mass. Don't pay attention to the noise. It's the others who'll be sacrificed. Don't let it unnerve you. Just so much common weeping."

Chapter Eight

REQUIEM, OR THE HOLY SACRIFICE OF THE MASS AS I HAD NEVER SEEN IT

HAD ever a chapel been more beautiful? Had ever white marble been used to such an advantage, and from which a fount of eternal gold had come these glorious curlicues and serpentine adornments, these high-pointed windows, illuminated from without by fierce fires that brought into the perfection of jewels their tiny thick facets of tinted glass to form their solemn narrow and seemingly sacred pictures? But they were not sacred pictures.

I stood in the choir loft, high above the vestibule, looking down over the great nave and at the altar at the far end. Once again I was flanked by ominous and regal Lords, who seemed now to be absolutely fervent in their duty as they held me firm and standing by the arms.

My mind had cleared, but only somewhat. The wet cloth was once again pressed to my eyes and forehead. The water was as if from a mountain stream of flowing melted snow. In my sickness, in my fever, I saw everything.

I saw the demons fashioned in the glittering windows, as artfully put together of red and gold and blue glass as any angels or saints. I saw their leering faces as they peered down, these monsters with their webbed wings and clawlike hands, upon the congregation.

Below, allowing a broad central aisle, was gathered in its ruby dark finery the great Court on either side, standing to face the long heavily carved and broad Communion Rail and the high altar behind it.

Paintings covered the cove behind the altar. Demons dancing in Hell, graceful among the flames as though they bathed in a welcome radiance, and strung above them on loose and unfurling banners the golden letters from St. Augustine's words, so familiar to my study, that these flames were not the flames of real fire but only the absence from God, but the word "absence" had been replaced by the Latin word for "freedom."

"Freedom" was the word in Latin worked into the high white marble walls, in a frieze that ran beneath the balconies on either side of the church, on the same level as this, my place, in which more of the Court beheld the spectacle.

Light rose to flood the high-groined arches of the roof. And what was this spectacle?

The high altar was draped in crimson trimmed in gilt fringe, its abundant cloths short enough to reveal the tableau in white carving of figures prancing in Hell, though from this great distance my eyes might have deceived me as to their levity.

What I did see with perfection were the thick candlesticks before not a crucifix but a huge carved stone replica of Lucifer, the fallen angel, long locks aflame, and garments too a torrent of rising fire, frozen in marble, and in his upraised hands the symbols of death - in the right the scythe of the grim reaper - and in the other the sword of the executioner.

I gasped when I beheld the image! Monstrous, it was positioned precisely where I wanted so to see my Crucified Christ, and yet in a moment of delirium and agitation, I felt my lips curl in a smile, and I heard my own mind tell me cunningly that there was nothing less grotesque about the Crucified God if He Himself had been there. My guards held me firm. Had I tottered?

From the assemblage around me and behind me, from those whom I had not even regarded, there came suddenly the muted roll of drums, ominous and slow, mournful and beautiful in their own muffled simplicity.

At once there followed a deep-throated chorus of horns, in lovely weaving song and effortless sweet intermingling, playing not the repetitious chord music of the night before, but a strong plaintive and imploring polyphony of melodies so sad that they flooded my heart with sadness, stroked my heart and made the tears nearly spring to my eyes. Oh, what is this? What is this blended and rich 155 music, surrounding me and pouring forth into the nave to echo off the satiny marble and rebound gently and with perfect modulation to the place where I stood, staring, rapt at the distant figure of Lucifer?

At his feet, all flowers laid out in vessels of silver and gold were red, the red of roses and carnations, the red of the iris, the red of wildflowers I could not name, an altar alive and decked and crawling with all those things which were high color, his glorious tint, the one color left to him that might rise from his inevitable and unredeemable darkness.

I heard the dusty, sonorous songs of the reed shawm, the small oboe and the reed dulcian, and other small reed organs played by mouth, and then the more ringing tone of the brass sackbut horn, and perhaps even the light singing of the hammers striking the taut strings of the dulcimer.

This music alone might have engaged me, filled my soul, its threads of melody interweaving, overlapping, harmonizing and then drifting apart. It left me no breath to speak or eyes for other things. Yet I beheld the statues of the demons who ran from right to left - so like the Lords and Ladies of the Courtly table of last night - from the imposing figure of their Devil.

Were they blood drinkers all, these terrible gaunt saints of Hell, carved from hardwood with its own reddish mahogany glint, in their stark stylized garments, cleaving to thin bodies, their eyes half-lidded, their mouths open, and against each lower lip two white fangs, as if made from tiny bits of snow-white ivory to mark the purpose of each individual monster.

Oh, Cathedral of horrors. I tried to turn my head, to close my eyes, and yet the monstrosity of it enthralled me. Pathetic unformed thoughts never reached my lips.

The horns died around me, and the reedy woodland instruments died away. Oh, don't go, sweet music. Don't leave me here.

But what came was a chorus of the sweetest softest tenor voices; they called out the Latin words that I could not follow, an anthem for the dead, an anthem on the mutability of all things, and at once came a full lustrous harmonizing chorus of sopranos male and female, of basses and baritones, singing heartily in splendid polyphony in answer to these lone tenors:

"I go now to the Lord, for He has allowed these Creatures of Darkness to answer my supplications..." What nightmarish words were these?

Once again there came the rich thick chorus of many voices to underscore the tenors:

"The instruments of death await me in their warm and devout kiss, and into their bodies, by the will of God, they shall take my life's blood, my rapture, my soul's ascent through their own, so as better to know both Heaven and Hell in their Dark Service." The reed organ played its solemn song. Into the Sanctuary of the church, there proceeded now, to the fullest most lustrous strength of the polyphony yet, a stream of priestly figures.

I saw the Lord Florian in a rich red chasuble as if he were the bishop of Florence himself, only this garment bore the Cross of Christ impudently upside down in honor of the Damned One, and on his untonsured head of dark blond hair he wore a gilded jeweled crown as if he were both Prankish monarch and servant of the Dark Lord.

The strong piercing notes of the horns dominated the song. A march had begun. The drums rumbled beneath, hushed and steady.

Florian had taken his place before the altar with his face to the congregation, and on one side of him stood the fragile Ursula, her hair full and loose and down on her shoulders, though shrouded like a Mary Magdalene in a scarlet veil which hung to the very edge of the hem of her tapering gown.

Her upturned face was directed to me, and I could see even from this great airy span that her hands, shaped as a steeple, with fingers pressed together, trembled.

On the other side of this high priest Florian stood his bald Elder, in his own chasuble and thick embroidered lace sleeves, another priestly assistant.

Acolytes came from either side, tallish young demons with faces of the usual chiseled ivory, and the simple surplices of those who attend the Mass. They took their positions ranked down the long marble Communion Rail.

Once again, there rose the magnificent chorus of voices around me, falsettos mingling with true sopranos and the throbbing basses of the males, as redolent of the woodlands as the wooden horns, and beneath it all the heavy driving brass declaration.

What did they mean to do? What was this hymn which now the tenors sang, and what was the answer that came from all the voices so close to me, the words in Latin unstrung and only incoherently enveloping me:

"Lord, I am come into the Valley of Death; Lord, I am come to the end of my Sorrow; Lord, in thy deliverance I give life to those who would be idle in Hell were it not for thy divine plan."

My soul rebelled. I loathed it, and yet I could not look away from the spectacle below. My eyes swept the church. I saw for the first time the gaunt, demonic fanged demons on their pedestals rising between the narrow windows, and everywhere the glint of racks upon racks of tiny candles.

The music broke again for the solemn declaration of the tenors:

"Let the fount be brought forward, that those who are our sacrifices should be washed clean." And it was done.

Ranks of young demons in their guise as Altar Boys came forward, carrying with them in their preternaturally strong hands a magnificent baptismal fount of deep-pink Carrara marble. This they set some ten feet before the Communion Rail.

"Oh, abominations, to make it so beautiful," I whispered. "Quiet now, my young one," said the regal guard beside me. "Watch, for what you see here you will never see between Heaven and Earth again, and as you will go unconfessed to God, you will burn in darkness forever." He sounded as if he believed it.

"You have no power to damn my soul," I whispered, trying in vain to clear my eyes, not to so love the weakness that still caused me to depend upon their clamping hands.

"Ursula, farewell," I whispered, making of my lips a kiss.

But in this miraculous and private little moment, seemingly unnoticed by the whole congregation, I saw her head shake in a small secretive negation.

No one saw because all eyes were now on another spectacle, far more tragic than any of the controlled and modulated ritual we had beheld.

Up the aisle, driven by acolyte demons in tunics of red and lace sleeves trimmed in red and gold, there came a poor wretched sampling of the lost ones of the coop, shuffling old women, drunken men and little boys, mere children, clinging to the very demons who escorted them to their deaths, like piteous victims of some horrid old trial where the offspring of the condemned are led to execution with their parents. Horror.

"I curse you all. I damn you. God, bring down your justice on this," I whispered. "God, bring down your tears. Weep for us, Christ, that this is happening." My eyes turned up in my head. It seemed I dreamed, and once again came the bright green limitless meadow to my eyes, and once again, as Ursula ran from me, as her spirited young form rushed across the high breaking field of grass and lilies, there rose another figure, another familiar figure.

"Yes, I see you!" I cried out to this vision in my half-rescued dream.

But no sooner had I recognized it, locked to it, than it vanished; it was gone, and with it was gone all comprehension of it, all memory of its exquisite face and form and its meaning, its pure and powerful meaning. Words fled from me.

From below I saw the Lord Florian look up, angered, silent. The hands beside me dug into my flesh.

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