Home > Vittorio, The Vampire (New Tales of the Vampires #2)(17)

Vittorio, The Vampire (New Tales of the Vampires #2)(17)
Author: Anne Rice

The two angels were arguing. The two angels, with their wings moving ever so slightly in time with their words and their gestures, were arguing with each other where they stood, right before the shop.

They stood oblivious to all humans who passed them and couldn't see them, and they argued one with another, both angels blond, both angels I knew, I knew these angels, I knew them from the paintings of Fra Filippo, and I could hear their voices.

I knew the rolled curls of the one, whose head was crowned with a wreath of small perfectly matched flowerlets, his loose mantle crimson, his undergarment a bright clear sky blue trimmed in gold.

And the other, I knew him as well, knew his bare head and soft shorter hair, and his golden collar, and the insignia on his mantle, and the thick bands of ornament on his wrists.

But above all I knew their faces, their innocent pink-tinged faces, their serene full yet narrow eyes.

The light melted down, somber and stormy still, though the sun was burning up there behind the gray sky. My eyes began to water. "Look at their wings," I whispered. The men couldn't see.

"I know the wings. I know them both, look, the angel with the blond hair, the ringlets in rows coming down his head, it's from the Annunciation, and the wings, his wings are made like the peacock, brilliantly blue, and the other, his feathers are tipped in the purest dust of gold."

The angel with the crown of flowers gestured excitedly to the other; from a mortal man, the gestures, the posture, would have evinced anger, but it was nothing so heated as that. The angel was only seeking to be understood.

I moved slowly, pulling loose of my helpful companions, who couldn't see what I saw!

What did they think I stared at? The gaping shop, the apprentices in the deep shadows within, the meager half-tinted flashes of canvases and panels, the yawning mouth beyond which the work was carried out.

The other angel shook his head somberly. "I don't go along with it," he said in the most serene and lilting voice. "We can't go that far. Do you think this doesn't make me weep?"

"What?" I cried out. "What makes you weep?"

Both angels turned. They stared at me. In unison, they collected their dark, multicolored and spectacled wings close to themselves, as though they meant to shrink thereby into invisibility, but they were no less visible to me, shining, both so fair, so recognizable. Their eyes were full of wonder as they gazed at me. Wonder at the sight of me?

"Gabriel!" I cried out. I pointed, "I know you, I know you from the Annunciation. You are both Gabriel, I know the paintings, I have seen you, Gabriel and Gabriel, how can it be?"

"He can see us," said the angel who had been gesturing so pointedly His voice was subdued but seemed to reach my ears effortlessly and gently. "He can hear us," he said, and the wonder in his face increased, and he looked above all innocent and patient, and ever so gently concerned.

"What in the name of God are you saying, boy?" asked the old man beside me. "Now, collect your wits. You're carrying a fortune in your bags. Your hands are covered in rings. Now speak sensibly. I'll take you to your family, if you'll only tell me who they are."

I smiled. I nodded, but I kept my eyes fixed on the two startled and amazed angels. Their clothes appeared light, near translucent, as though the fabric were not of a natural weave any more than their incandescent skin was natural. All of their makeup was more rarefied, and fine-woven with light.

Beings of air, of purpose, made up of presence and of what they do - were these the words of Aquinas coming back to me, the Summa Theologica on which I had learnt my Latin?

Oh, how miraculously beautiful they were, and so safely apart from all around them, standing transfixed in the street in their quiet wide-eyed simplicity, pondering as they gazed with compassion and interest at me.

One of them, the one crowned with flowers, the one who wore the sky-blue sleeves, the one who had so caught my heart when I had seen him in the Annunciation with my father, the one with whom I had fallen in love, moved towards me.

He became larger as he drew closer, taller, slightly larger all over than an ordinary being, and so full of love in the soundless shuffle of his loose and gracefully spilling clothes that he seemed more immaterial and monumentally solid, more perhaps the very expression of God's creation, than anything of flesh and blood might be.

He shook his head and smiled. "No, for you are yourself the very finest of God's creation," he said in a low voice that stole its way through the chatter that surrounded me.

He walked as if he were a mortal being, with clean na**d feet over the wet dirty stones of the Florentine street, oblivious to the men who could not see him as he stood now so close to me, letting his wings spread out and then folding them again tight, so that I only saw the high feathered bones of them above his shoulders, which were sloped like those of a young boy

His face was brilliantly clean and flushed with all the radiant color Fra Filippo had painted. When he smiled, I felt my entire body tremble violently with unadulterated joy

"Is this my madness, Archangel?" I asked. "Is this their curse come true, that I shall see this as I gibber and incur the scorn of learned men?" I laughed out loud.

I startled the gentlemen who had been trying so much to help me. They were thoroughly flustered. "What? Speak again?"

But in a shimmering instant, a memory descended upon me, illuminating my heart and soul and mind all in one stroke, as though the sun itself had flooded a dark and hopeless cell.

"It was you I saw in the meadow, you I saw when she drank my blood."

Into my eyes he looked, this cool collected angel, with the rows and rows of immaculate blond curls and the smooth placid cheeks.

"Gabriel, the Archangel," I said in reverence. The tears flooded to my eyes, and it felt like singing to cry.

"My boy, my poor wretched boy," said the old merchant. "There is no angel standing in front of you. Pay attention, now, please."

"They can't see us," said the angel to me simply. Again came his smooth easy smile. His eyes caught the light falling from the brightening sky as he peered into me, as if he would see deeper with every moment of his study.

"I know," I answered. "They don't know!"

"But I am not Gabriel, you must not call me that," he said very courteously and soothingly. "My young one, I am very far from being the Archangel Gabriel. I am Setheus, and I'm a guardian angel only." He was so patient with me, so patient with my crying and with the collection of blind and concerned mortals around us.

He stood close enough for me to touch, but I didn't dare. "My guardian angel?" I asked. "Is it true?"

"No," said the angel. "I am not your guardian angel. Those you must somehow find for yourself. You've seen the guardian angels of another, though why and how I don't know."

"Don't pray now," said the old man crankily. "Tell us who you are, boy. You said a name before, your father, tell us."

The other angel, who stood as if too shocked to move, suddenly broke his reserve and he too came forward in the same silent barefooted style, as though the roughened stones and the wet and dirt could not mar him or harm him.

"Can this be good, Setheus?" he asked. But his pale iridescent eyes were focused on me with the same loving attention, the same rapt and forgiving interest.

"And you, you are in the other painting, I know you too, I love you with my whole heart," I said.

"Son, to whom are you speaking?" demanded the younger man. "Whom do you love with your whole heart?"

"Ah, you can hear me?" I turned to the man. "You can understand me."

"Yes, now tell me your name."

"Vittorio di Raniari," I said, "friend and ally of the Medici, son of Lorenzo di Raniari, Castello Raniari in the north of Tuscany, and my father is dead, and all my kinsmen. But -"

The two angels stood right before me, together, one head inclined towards the other as they regarded me, and it seemed that the mortals, for all their blindness, could not block the path of the angels' vision or come between me and them. If only I had the courage. I so wanted to touch them.

The wings of the one who'd spoken first were rising, and it seemed a soft shimmer of gold dust fell from the awakening feathers, the quivering, sparkling feathers, but nothing rivaled the angel's meditative and wondering face.

"Let them take you to San Marco," said this angel, the one named Setheus, "let them take you. These men mean well, and you will be put in a cell and cared for by the monks. You cannot be in a finer place, for this is a house under Cosimo's patronage, and you know that Fra Giovanni has decorated the very cell in which you'll stay."

"Setheus, he knows these things," said the other angel.

"Yes, but I am reassuring him," said the first angel with the simplest shrug, looking wonderingly at his companion. Nothing characterized their faces so much as subdued wonder.

"But you," I said, "Setheus, may I call you by name, you'll let them take me away from you? You can't. Please don't leave me. I beg you. Don't leave me."

"We have to leave you," said the other angel. "We are not your guardians. Why can't you see your own angels?"

"Wait, I know your name. I can hear it."

"No," said this more disapproving angel, waving his finger at me as if correcting a child.

But I would not be stopped. "I know your name. I heard it when you were arguing, and I hear it now when I look at your face. Ramiel, that's your name. And both of you are Fra Filippo's guardians."

"This is a disaster," whispered Ramiel, with the most touching look of distress. "How did this occur?"

Setheus merely shook his head, and smiled again generously. "It has to be for the good, it must be. We have to go with him. Of course we do."

"Now? Leave now?" demanded Ramiel, and again, for all the urgency, there was no anger. It was as though the thoughts were purified of all lower emotions, and of course it was so, it was perfectly so.

Setheus leaned close to the old man, who couldn't of course either see him or hear him, and he said in the old man's ear: "Take the boy to San Marco; have him put in a goodly cell, for which he has plenty of money, and have him nursed to health." Then he looked at me. "We'll go with you."

"We can't do that," said Ramiel. "We can't leave our charge; how can we do such a thing without permission?"

"It's meant to be. This is permission. I know that it is," said Setheus. "Don't you see what's happened? He's seen us and he's heard us and he's caught your name, and he would have caught mine if I hadn't revealed it. Poor Vittorio, we are with you."

I nodded, almost ready to weep at the sound of myself addressed. The whole street had gone drab and hushed and indistinct around their large, quiet and flushed figures, the finespun light of their garments stirring about them as if the celestial fabric were subject to the invisible currents of the air which men cannot feel.

"Those are not our real names!" said Ramiel scoldingly to me, but gently, as one would scold an infant.

Setheus smiled. "They are good enough names by which to call us, Vittorio," he said.

"Yes, take him to San Marco," said the man beside me. "Let's go. Let the monks handle all this."

The men rushed me towards the mouth of the street.

"You'll be very well cared for at San Marco," said Ramiel, as though he were bidding me farewell, but the two angels were moving beside us, and only falling a little behind.

"Don't you leave me, either of you, you can't!" I said to the angels.

They seemed perplexed, their lovely folded gossamer robes unstained by rain, the hems clean and shining as if they had not touched the street, and their bare feet looking so exquisitely tender as they followed at our pace.

"All right," said Setheus. "Don't worry so, Vittorio. We're coming."

"We can't simply leave our charge like this for another man, we can't do it," Ramiel continued to protest. "It's God's will; how can it be otherwise?"

"And Mastema? We don't have to ask Mastema?" asked Ramiel.

"Why should we ask Mastema? Why bring care to Mastema? Mastema must know."

And there they were, arguing again, behind us, as I was hurried through the street.

The steel sky gleamed, then grew pale and gave way above to blue as we came to an open piazza. The sun shocked me, and made me sicken, yet how I wanted it, how I longed for it, and yet it rebuked me and seemed to scourge me as if it were a whip.

We were only a little ways from San Marco. My legs would soon give out. I kept looking over my shoulder.

The two lustrous, gilded figures came on, silently, with Setheus gesturing for me to go along. "We're here, we're with you," said Setheus.

"I don't know about this, I don't know!" said Ramiel. "Filippo has never been in such trouble, he has never been subjected to such temptation, such indignity -"

"Which is why we have been drawn off now, so that we do not interfere with what must take place with Filippo. We know we were on the very verge of getting into trouble on account of Filippo and what Filippo has done now. Oh, Filippo, I see this, I see the grand design."

"What are they talking about?" I demanded of the men. "They're saying something about Fra Filippo."

"And who would that be, who is talking, may I ask?" said the old man, shaking his head as he escorted me along, the young madman in his charge with the clanking sword.

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