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

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

But he didn't bother with us or we him. It was a remote political matter.

Our walls were thirty feet high, immensely thick, older than the castle and keeps, old indeed beyond anyone's most romantic tales and constantly being thickened and repaired, and inside the compound there existed three little villages busy with good vineyards that yielded marvelous red wine; prosperous beehives; blackberries; and wheat and the like; with plenty of chickens and cows; and enormous stables for our horses.

I never knew how many people labored in our little world. The house was full of clerks who took care of such things, and very seldom did my father sit in judgment on any sort of case himself or was there cause to go to the courts of Florence.

Our church was the designated church for all the country round, so that those few who lived in less protected little hamlets down the mountain - and there were plenty - came to us for their baptisms, and marriages, and such, and we had for long periods of time within our walls a Dominican priest who said Mass for us every morning.

In olden times, the forest had been severely cut down on our mountain so that no invading enemy could make his way up the slopes, but by my time no such protection was necessary.

The woods had grown back full and sweet in some gullies and over old paths, even as wild as it is now, and almost up to the walls. One could make out clearly from our towers a dozen or so small towns descending to the valleys, with their little quilts of tilled fields, orchards of olive trees and vineyards. They were all under our governance and loyal to us. If there had been any war they would have come running to our gates as their ancestors had done, and rightly so.

There were market days, village festivals, saints' days, and a little alchemy now and then, and occasionally even a local miracle. It was a good land, ours.

Visiting clerics always stayed a long time. It wasn't uncommon to have two or three priests in various towers of the castle or in the lower, newer, more modern stone buildings. I had been taken to Florence to be educated when I was very small, living in deluxe and invigorating style in the palazzo of my mother's uncle, who died before I was thirteen, and it was then - when the house was closed - that I was brought home, with two elderly aunts, and after that only visited Florence on occasion.

My father was still at heart an old-fashioned man, instinctively an indomitable Lord, though he was content to keep his distance from the power struggles of the capital, to have huge accounts in the Medici banks and to live an old-style courtly life in his own domain, visiting Cosimo de' Medici himself when he did journey into Florence on business.

But when it came to his son, my father wanted that I should be reared as a prince, a padrone, a knight, and I had to learn all the skills and values of a knight, and at thirteen, I could ride in full battle dress, my helmeted head bowed, at full speed with my spear thrust towards the straw-filled target. I had no difficulty with it. It was as much fun as hunting, or swimming in mountain streams, or having horse races with the village boys. I took to it without rebellion.

I was, however, a divided being. The mental part of me had been nourished in Florence by excellent teachers of Latin, Greek, philosophy and theology, and I had been deep into the boys' pageants and plays of the city, often taking the leading parts in the dramas presented by my own Confraternity in my uncle's house, and I knew how to solemnly portray the Biblical Isaac about to be sacrificed by the obedient Abraham, as well as the charming Angel Gabriel discovered by a suspicious St. Joseph with his Virgin Mary.

I pined for all that now and then, the books, the lectures in the Cathedrals to which I'd listened with precocious interest, and the lovely nights in my uncle's Florentine house when I'd fallen asleep to the sounds of spectacular opera extravaganzas, my mind brim full of the dazzle of miraculous figures swooping down on wires, lutes and drums playing wildly, dancers frolicking almost like acrobats and voices soaring beautifully in unison.

It had been an easy childhood. And in the boys' Confraternity to which I belonged, I'd met the poorer children of Florence, the sons of the merchants, orphans and boys from the monasteries and schools, because that is the way it was in my time for a landed Lord. You had to mix with the people.

I think I crept out of the house a lot as a small child, easily as much as I slipped out of the castle later. I remember too much of the festivals and saints' days and processions of Florence for a disciplined child to have seen. I was too often slipping in and out of the crowd, looking at the spectacularly decorated floats in honor of the saints, and marveling at the solemnity of those in silent ranks who carried candles and walked very slowly as if they were in a trance of devotion.

Yes, I must have been a scamp. I know I was. I went out by the kitchen. I bribed the servants. I had too many friends who were out-and-out routies or beasties. I got into mayhem and then ran home. We played ball games and had battles in the piazzas, and the priests ran us off with switches and threats. I was good and bad, but not ever really wicked.

When I died to this world, at the age of sixteen, I never looked on a daylighted street again, not in Florence or anywhere. Well, I saw the best of it, that I can say. I can envisage with no difficulty the spectacle of the Feast of St. John, when every single solitary shop in Florence had to put out front all of its costly wares, and monks and friars sang the sweetest hymns on their way to the Cathedral to give thanks to God for the blessed prosperity of the city.

I could go on. There is no end to the praise one can heap upon the Florence of those times, for she was a city of men who worked at trades and business yet made the greatest art, of sharp politicians and true raving saints, of deep-souled poets and the most audacious scoundrels. I think Florence knew many things by that time that would only much later be learnt in France and England, and which are not known in some countries to this day. Two things were true. Cosimo was the most powerful man in all the world. And the people, and only the people, ruled Florence then and forever.

But back to the castle. I kept up my reading and studies at home, switching from knight to scholar in a twinkling. If there was any shadow on my life, it was that at sixteen I was old enough to go to a real university, and I knew it, and I sort of wanted to do it, but then again, I was raising new hawks, training them myself and hunting with them, and the country round was irresistible.

By this age of sixteen, I was considered bookish by the clan of elder kinsmen who gathered at the table every night, my parents' uncles mostly, and all very much of a former time when "bankers had not run the world," who had marvelous tales to tell of the Crusades, to which they had gone when they were young, and of what they had seen at the fierce battle of Acre, or fighting on the island of Cyprus or Rhodes, and what life had been like at sea, and in many exotic ports where they had been the terror of the taverns and the women.

My mother was spirited and beautiful, with brown hair and very green eyes, and she adored country life, but she'd never known Florence except from the inside of a convent. She thought there was something seriously wrong with me that I wanted to read Dante's poetry and write so much of my own.

She lived for nothing but receiving guests in gracious style, seeing to it that the floors were strewn with lavender and sweet-smelling herbs, and that the wine was properly spiced, and she led the dance herself with a great-uncle who was very good at it, because my father would have nothing to do with dancing.

All this to me, after Florence, was rather tame and slow. Bring on the war stories.

She must have been very young when she was married off to my father, because she was with child on the night she died. And the child died with her. I'll come to that quickly. Well, as quickly as I can. I'm not so good at being quick.

My brother, Matteo, was four years younger than me, and an excellent student, though he had not been sent off anywhere as yet (would that he had), and my sister, Bartola, was born less than a year after me, so close in fact that I think my father was rather ashamed of it.

I thought them both - Matteo and Bartola - the most lovely and interesting people in the world. We had country fun and country freedom, running in the woods, picking blackberries, sitting at the feet of gypsy storytellers before they got caught and sent away. We loved one another. Matteo worshipped me too much because I could outtalk our father. He didn't see our father's quiet strength, or well-fashioned old manners. I was Matteo's real teacher in all things, I suppose. As for Bartola, she was far too wild for my mother, who was in an eternal state of shock over the state of Bartola's long hair, the hair being all full of twigs and petals and leaves and dirt from the woods where we'd been running.

Bartola was forced into plenty of embroidering, however; she knew her songs, her poetry and prayers. She was too exquisite and too rich to be rushed into anything she didn't want. My father adored her, and more than once in very few words assured himself that I kept constant watch over her in all our woodland wanderings. I did. I would have killed anyone who touched her!

Ah. This is too much for me! I didn't know how hard this was going to be! Bartola. Kill anyone who touched her! And now nightmares descend, as if they were winged spirits themselves, and threaten to shut out the tiny silent and ever drifting lights of Heaven. Let me return to my train of thought.

My mother I never really understood, and probably misjudged, because everything seemed a matter of style and manners with her, and my father I found to be hysterically self-satirical and always funny.

He was, beneath all his jokes and snide stories, actually rather cynical, but at the same time kind; he saw through the pomp of others, and even his own pretensions. He looked upon the human situation as hopeless. War was comic to him, devoid of heroes and full of buffoons, and he would burst out laughing in the middle of his uncles' harangues, or even in the middle of my poems when I went on too long, and I don't think he ever deliberately spoke a civil word to my mother.

He was a big man, clean shaven and longhaired, and he had beautiful long tapering fingers, very unusual for his size, because all his elders had thicker hands. I have the same hands myself. All the beautiful rings he wore had belonged to his mother.

He dressed more sumptuously than he would have dared to do in Florence, in regal velvet stitched with pearls, and wore massive cloaks lined in ermine. His gloves were true gauntlets trimmed in fox, and he had large grave eyes, more deep-set than mine, and full of mockery, disbelief and sarcasm. He was never mean, however, to anyone.

His only modern affectation was that he liked to drink from fine goblets of glass, rather than old cups of hardwood or gold or silver. And we had plenty of sparkling glass always on our long supper table.

My mother always smiled when she said such things to him as "My Lord, please get your feet off the table," or "I'll thank you not to touch me until you¡¯ve washed your greasy hands," or "Are you really coming into the house like that?" But beneath her charming exterior, I think she hated him.

The one time I ever heard her raise her voice in anger, it was to declare in no uncertain terms that half the children in our villages round had been sired by him, and that she herself had buried some eight tiny infants who had never lived to see the light, because he couldn't restrain himself any better than a rampant stallion.

He was so amazed at this outburst - it was behind closed doors - that he emerged from the bedchamber looking pale and shocked, and said to me, "You know, Vittorio, your mother is nothing as stupid as I always thought. No, not at all. As a matter of fact, she's just boring."

He would never under normal circumstances have said anything so unkind about her. He was trembling.

As for her, when I tried to go in to her, she threw a silver pitcher at me. I said, "But Mother, it's Vittorio!" and she threw herself into my arms. She cried bitterly for fifteen minutes.

We said nothing during this time. We sat together in her small stone bedroom, rather high up in the oldest tower of our house, with many pieces of gilded furniture, both ancient and new, and then she wiped her eyes and said, "He takes care of everyone, you know. He takes care of my aunts and my uncles, you know. And where would they be if it weren't for him? And he's never denied me anything."

She went rambling on in her smooth convent-modulated voice. "Look at this house. It's filled with elders whose wisdom has been so good for you children, and all this on account of your father, who is rich enough to have gone anywhere, I suppose, but he is too kind. Only, Vittorio! Vittorio, don't... I mean ... with the girls in the village."

I almost said, in a spasm of desire to comfort her, that I had only fathered one bastard to my knowledge, and he was just fine, when I realized this would have been a perfect disaster. I said nothing.

That might have been the only conversation I ever had with my mother. But it's not really a conversation because I didn't say anything.

She was right, however. Three of her aunts and two of her uncles lived with us in our great high-walled compound, and these old people lived well, always sumptuously dressed in the latest fabrics from the city, and enjoying the purest courtly life imaginable. I couldn't help but benefit from listening to them all the time, which I did, and they knew plenty of all the world.

It was the same with my father's uncles, but of course it was their land, this, their family's, and so they felt more entitled, I assume, as they had done most of the heroic fighting in the Holy Land, or so it seemed, and they quarreled with my father over anything and everything, from the taste of the meat tarts served at supper to the distractingly modern style of the painters he hired from Florence to decorate our little chapel.

That was another sort of modern thing he did, the matter of the painters, maybe the only modern thing other than liking things made of glass.

Our little chapel had for centuries been bare. It was, like the four towers of our castle and all the walls around, built of a blond stone which is common in Northern Tuscany. This is not the dark stone you see so much in Florence, which is gray and looks perpetually unclean. This northern stone is almost the color of the palest pink roses.

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