Home > Vittorio, The Vampire (New Tales of the Vampires #2)(8)

Vittorio, The Vampire (New Tales of the Vampires #2)(8)
Author: Anne Rice

It was she, the ashen-haired one I was cursing with every breath, who had stopped her hooded companion from killing me. It would have been a complete victory!

A calm came over me. Well, if I was going to die, there was no choice, really. I would get them first. I would somehow do it.

As soon as the sun was up, so was I, and walking around the town, my saddlebags over my shoulder casually, as if they didn't contain a fortune, I sized up quite a portion of Santa Maddalana, with its treeless, narrow-stoned streets, built centuries before, perhaps some of its buildings with their wild patternless mortared stones going back even to Roman times.

It was a marvelously peaceful and prosperous town.

The forges were already at work, and so were the cabinetmakers and also the saddlemakers; there were several shoemakers dealing in some fine slippers as well as the workaday boots, and quite a cluster of jewelers and men who worked in a great variety of precious metals, as well as the usual swordmakers, men who made keys and the like and those who dealt in hides and furs.

I passed more fancy shops than I could count. One could buy fancy fabrics here, right from Florence, I supposed, and lace from north and south it seemed, and Oriental spices. The butchers were having a time of it with the abundance of fresh meat. And there were many wine shops, and I passed at least a couple of busy notaries, letter writers and the like, and several doctors or, rather, apothecaries.

Carts were rolling through the front gates, and there was even a little crush in the streets now and then before the sun was even high enough to come fiercely down over the close-tiled roofs and hit the bare stones on which I plodded uphill.

The churches rang their bells for Mass, and I saw plenty of schoolchildren rushing past me, all rather clean and neatly dressed, and then two little crews being paraded by monks into the churches, both of which were quite antique and had no ornament on the front at all, save for statues deep in niches - saints who scarcely had any features left to them at all - the heavily patched stones of the facades obviously having weathered the frequent earthquakes of this region.

There were two rather ordinary bookshops that had almost nothing much, except the prayer books one would expect to find, and these at very high prices. Two merchants sold really fine wares from the East. And there was a cluster of carpet sellers, too, who dealt in an impressive variety of country-made goods and intricate carpets from Byzantium.

Lots of money was changing hands. There were well-dressed people showing off their fine clothes. It seemed a self-sufficient place, though there were travelers coming uphill with the clop of horses' hooves echoing on the barren walls. And I think I spied one neglected and very much fortified convent.

I passed at least two more inns, and as I crisscrossed through the barely passable alleyways here and there, I ascertained that there were actually three basic streets to the town, all running parallel up and down the hill.

At the far deep end were the gates by which I had entered, and the huge farmers' markets opened now in the piazza.

At the high end was the ruined fortress or castle where once the Lord had lived - a great cumbersome mass of old stones, of which only a part was visible from the street, and in the lower floors of this complex there were the town's governing offices. There were several small grottoes or piazzas, and old fountains almost crumbled away but still giving forth their gurgling water. Old women were busy, shuffling along with their market baskets and their shawls in spite of the warmth; and I saw beautiful young girls about giving me the eye, all of them very young. I didn't want any part of them.

As soon as Mass was over and school had begun, I went to the Dominican church - the largest and most impressive of the three I could readily see - and asked at the rectory for a priest. I had to go to Confession.

There came out a young priest, very handsome with well-formed limbs and a healthy look to his complexion and a truly devout manner to him, his black and white robes very clean-looking. He looked at my attire, and my sword, indeed he took me in very respectfully but quite comprehensively, and obviously presuming me to be a person of importance, invited me into a small room for the Confession.

He was gracious more than servile. He had no more than a crown of golden hair clipped very short around the top of his bald head, and large almost shy eyes.

He sat down, and I knelt close to him on the bare floor, and then out of me came the whole lurid tale.

With bowed head, I went on and on with it, rushing from one thing to another, from the first hideous happenings that had so stirred my curiosity and alarm, to my father's fragmented and mysterious words and at last to the raid itself and the dreadful assassination of everyone in our compound. By the time I came to the death of my brother and sister, I was gesticulating madly, and all but shaping my brother's head with my hands in the empty air, and gasping and unable to catch my breath.

Only when I was utterly finished with every last word did I look up and realize that the young priest was staring down at me in perfect distress and horror.

I didn't know what to make of his expression. You could have seen the very same face on a man startled by an insect or an approaching battalion of bloody murderers. What had I expected, for the love of God?

"Look, Father," I said. "All you have to do is send someone up that mountain and see for yourself!" I shrugged, and implored him with my open hands. "That's all! Send someone to look. Nothing's stolen, Father, nothing's taken, but what I took! Go look! I'll wager nothing has been disturbed except by ravens and buzzards if such are like to go up there."

He said nothing. The blood was palpitating in his young face, and his mouth was open and his eyes had a dazed, miserable look.

Oh, this was too marvelous. A silky boy of a priest, probably fresh out of the seminary used to hearing nuns tell of evil thoughts, and men once a year muttering resentfully about vices of the flesh because their wives had dragged them to their duty I became incensed.

"You are under the Seal of the Confessional," I said, trying to be patient with him, and not to play the Lord too much, because I could do that with priests if I wasn't careful; they made me so mad when they were stupid. "But I will give you permission, under the Seal, to send a messenger up that mountain to see with your own eyes..."

"But son, don't you see," he said, speaking with surprising resolve and firmness in his low voice. "The Medici themselves may have sent this band of assassins."

"No, no, no, Father," I pleaded, shaking my head. "I saw her hand fall. I cut off the creature's hand, I tell you. I saw her put it back. They were demons. Listen to me. These are witches, these are from Hell, these beings, and there's too many of them for me to fight alone. I need help. There's no time for disbelief. There's no time for rational reservations. I need the Dominicans!" He shook his head. He didn't even hesitate.

"You are losing your mind, son," he said. "Something dreadful has happened to you, there's no doubt of that, and you believe all this, but it didn't happen. You are imagining things. Look, there are old women around who claim they make charms..."

"I know all that," I said. "I know an ordinary alchemist or witch when I see one. This was no side-street magic, Father, no country bunch of curses. I'm telling you, these demons slaughtered everyone in the castle, in the villages. Don't you see?"

I went into the lurid particulars again. I told how she had come into the window of my room, but then when I was halfway through it, I realized how utterly worse I was making it by going on about Ursula.

Why, this man thought I'd woken in a hot dream, imagining a damned succubus. This was futile, this entire enterprise.

My heart was hurting me in my chest. I was sweating all over. This was a waste of time. "Give me absolution, then," I said.

"I want to ask something of you," he said. He touched my hand. He was trembling. He looked more dazed and perplexed than even before, and very concerned, for my state of mind, I assumed.

"What is that?" I said coldly. I wanted to get away. I had to find a monastery! Or a damned alchemist. There were alchemists in this town. I could find someone, someone who had read the old works, the works of Hermes Trismegistus or Lactantius or St. Augustine, somebody who knew about demons.

"Have you read St. Thomas Aquinas?" I asked, choosing the most obvious demonologist of whom I could think. "Father, he talks all about demons. Look, you think I would have believed all this myself last year at this time? I thought all sorcery was for backdoor swindlers. These were demons!" I could not be deterred. I went at him.

"Father, in the Summa Theologica, the first book, St. Thomas talks of the fallen angels, that some of them are allowed to be here on earth, so that all of these fallen angels don't just fall out of the natural scheme of things. They are here, allowed to be useful, to tempt men, and Father, they carry the fire of Hell about with them! It's in St. Thomas. They are here. They have... have... bodies we can't understand. The Summa says so. It says that angels have bodies which are beyond our understanding! That's what this woman possesses." I struggled to remember the actual argument. I struggled in Latin. "This is what she does, this being! It's a form, it's a limited form, but one that I can't understand, but she was there, and I know it on account of her actions." He put up his hand for my patience.

"Son, please," he said. "Allow me to confide what you have confessed to me to the Pastor," he asked me. "You understand, if I do this, he too will be bound by the same Seal of Confession as I am bound. But let me ask him to come in and let me tell him what you have said, and let me ask that he speak to you. You understand, I cannot do any of this without your solemn permission."

"Yes, I know all that," I said. "What good will this do? Let me see this Pastor."

Now I was being too haughty entirely, too impertinent. I was exhausted. I was doing the old Signore trick of treating a country priest like he was a servant. This was a man of God, and I had to get a grip on myself. Maybe the Pastor had read more, understood more. Oh, but who would understand who had not seen? There came back to me a fleeting yet vivid and searing memory of my father's anxious face on the night before the demons had struck. The pain was inexpressible.

"I'm sorry, Father," I said to the priest. I winced, trying to contain this memory, this awful drench of misery and hopelessness. I wondered why any of us were alive, ever, for any reason!

And then the words of my exquisite tormentor came back, her own tortured voice of the last night saying that she had been young too, and such a paragon. What had she meant, speaking of herself with such sorrow?

My study of Aquinas came back to haunt me. Were not demons supposed to remain absolutely confirmed in their hatred of us? In the pride which had made them sin?

That was not the sinuous luscious creature who had come to me. But this was folly. I was feeling for her, which is what she had wanted me to do. I had only so many hours of daylight to plan her destruction and must be on with it.

"Please, yes, Father, as you wish," I said. "But bless me first."

This drew him out of his troubled ruminations. He looked at me as if I'd startled him. At once he gave his blessing and his absolution.

"You can do what you wish with the Pastor," I said. "Yes, please, ask the Pastor if he will see me. And here, for the church." I gave him several ducats.

He stared at the money. But he didn't touch it. He stared at this gold as if it were hot coals.

"Father, take it. This is a tidy little fortune. Take it."

"No, you wait here - or I tell you what, you come out into the garden."

The garden was lovely, a little old grotto, from which you could see the town sneaking up on the right all the way to the castle, and then you could see over the walls far out over the mountains. There was an antique statue of St. Dominic there, a fountain and a bench, and some old words carved into the stone about a miracle.

I sat down on the bench. I looked up at the healthy blue sky and the virgin white clouds, and I tried to catch my breath inside of myself. Could I be mad? I wondered. That was ridiculous.

The Pastor startled me. He came plunging out of the low arched doorway of the rectory, an elderly man with almost no hair at all, and a small bulging nose and ferocious large eyes. The younger priest was running to keep up with him.

"Get out of here," the Pastor said to me in a whisper. "Get out of our town. Get clear away from it, and don't tell your stories to anybody in it, you hear me?"

"What?" I asked. "What sort of solace is this!" He was steaming. "I'm warning you."

"Warning me of what?" I demanded. I didn't bother to get up from the bench. He glowered over me. "You're under the Seal of Confession. What are you going to do if I don't leave?" I asked.

"I don't have to do anything, that's just it!" he said. "Go away and take your misery with you." He stopped, clearly at a loss, embarrassed perhaps, as if he'd said something he regretted. He ground his teeth and looked off and then back at me.

"For your own sake, leave," he said in a whisper. He looked at the other priest. "You go," he said, "and let me talk to him."

The young priest was in a total fright. He left immediately. I looked up at the Pastor.

"Leave," he said to me in his low, mean voice, his lower lip drawing back to reveal his lower teeth. "Get out of our town. Get out of Santa Maddalana."

I looked at him with cold contempt. "You know about them, don't you?" I said in a low voice.

"You're mad. Mad!" he said. "If you speak of demons to people here you'll end up burnt at the stake yourself for a sorcerer. You think it can't happen?" It was hatred in his eyes, shameless hatred.

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