The queen of the damned, p.24

The Queen Of The Damned, page 24

 part  #3 of  The Vampire Chronicles Series

 

The Queen Of The Damned
 



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Chapter 21

 

  PART III

  AS IT WAS IN THE BEGINNING, IS NOW, AND EVER SHALL BE. . .

  Hide me from me. Fill these holes with eyes for mine are not mine. Hide me head & need for I am no good so dead in life so much time. Be wing, and shade my me from my desire to be hooked fish. That worm wine looks sweet and makes my me blind. And, too, my heart hide for I shall at this rate it also eat in time.

  STAN RICE - "Cannibal" Some Lamb (1975)

  LESTAT :

  IN THE ARMS OF THE GODDESS

  I CAN'T SAY WHEN I AWOKE, WHEN I FIRST CAME to my senses.

  I remember knowing that she and I had been together for a long time, that I'd been feasting on her blood with an animal abandon, that Enkil was destroyed and she alone held the primeval power; and that she was causing me to see things and understand things that made me cry like a child.

  Two hundred years ago, when I'd drunk from her in the shrine, the blood had been silent, eerily and magnificently silent. Now it was an utter transport of images-ravishing the brain just as the blood itself ravished the body; I was learning everything that had happened; I was there as the others died one by one in that horrible way.

  And then there were the voices: the voices that rose and fell, seemingly without purpose, like a whispering choir in a cave.

  It seemed there was a lucid moment in which I connected everything-the rock concert, the house in Carmel Valley, her radiant face before me. And the knowledge that I was here now with her, in this dark snowy place. I'd waked her. Or rather I had given her the reason to rise as she had said it. The reason to turn and stare back at the throne on which she'd sat and take those first faltering steps away from it.

  Do you know what it meant to lift my hand and see it move in the light? Do you know what it meant to hear the sudden sound of my own voice echoing in that marble chamber?

  Surely we had danced together in the dark snow-covered wood, or was it only that we had embraced over and over again?

  Terrible things had happened. Over the whole world, terrible things. The execution of those who should never have been born. Evil spawn. The massacre at the concert had been only the finish.

  Yet I was in her arms in this chilling darkness, in the familiar scent of winter, and her blood was mine again, and it was enslaving me- When she drew away, I felt agony. I had to clear my thoughts, had to know whether or not Marius was alive, whether or not Louis and Gabrielle, and Armand, had been spared. I had to find myself again, somehow.

  But the voices, the rising tide of voices! Mortals near and far. Distance made no difference. Intensity was the measure. It was a million times my old hearing, when I could pause on a city street and hear the tenants of some dark building, each in his own chamber, talking, thinking, praying, for as long and as closely as I liked.

  Sudden silence when she spoke:

  "Gabrielle and Louis are safe. I've told you this. Do you think I would hurt those you love? Look into my eyes now and listen only to what I say. I have spared many more than are required. And this I did for you as well as for myself, that I may see myself reflected in immortal eyes, and hear the voices of my children speaking to me. But I chose the ones you love, the ones you would see again. I could not take that comfort from you. But now you are with me, and you must see and know what is being revealed to you. You must have courage to match mine. "

  I couldn't endure it, the visions she was giving me-that horrid little Baby Jenks in those last moments; had it been a desperate dream the moment of her death, a string of images flickering within her dying brain? I couldn't bear it. And Laurent, my old companion Laurent, drying up in the flames on the pavement; and on the other side of the world, Felix, whom I had known also at the Theater of the Vampires, driven, burning, through the alleyways of Naples, and finally into the sea. And the others, so many others, the world over; I wept for them; I wept for all of it. Suffering without meaning. "A life like that," I said of Baby Jenks, crying. "That's why I showed you all of it," she answered. "That's why it is finished. The Children of Darkness are no more. And we shall have only angels now. "

  "But the others," I asked. "What has happened to Armand?" And the voices were starting again, the low humming that could mount to a deafening roar.

  "Come now, my prince," she whispered. Silence again. She reached up and held my face in her hands. Her black eyes grew larger, the white face suddenly supple and almost soft. "If you must see it, I'll show you those who still live, those whose names will become legend along with yours and mine. "

  Legend?

  She turned her head ever so slightly; it seemed a miracle when she closed her eyes; because then the visible life went out of her altogether. A dead and perfect thing, fine black eyelashes curling exquisitely. I looked down at her throat; at the pale blue of the artery beneath the flesh, suddenly visible as if she meant for me to see it. The lust I felt was unsupportable. The goddess, mine! I took her roughly with a strength that would have hurt a mortal woman. The icy skin seemed absolutely impenetrable and then my teeth broke through it and the hot fount was roaring into me again.

  The voices came, yet they died back at my command. And there was nothing then but the low rush of the blood and her heart beating slowly next to my own.

  Darkness. A brick cellar. A coffin made of oak and polished to a fine luster. Locks of gold. The magic moment; the locks opened as if sprung by an invisible key. The lid rose, revealing the satin lining. There was a faint scent of Eastern perfume. I saw Armand lying on the white satin pillow, a seraph with long full auburn hair; head to one side, eyes blank, as if to wake was unfailingly startling. 1 watched him rise from the coffin, with slow, elegant gestures; our gestures, for we are the only beings who routinely rise from coffins. I saw him close the lid. Across the damp brick floor, he walked to yet another coffin. And this one he opened reverently, as if it were a casket containing a rare prize. Inside, a young man lay sleeping; lifeless, yet dreaming. Dreaming of a jungle where a red-haired woman walked, a woman I could not clearly see. And then the most bizarre scene, something I'd glimpsed before, but where? Two women kneeling beside an altar. That is, I thought it was an altar. . . .

  A tensing in her; a tightening. She shifted against me like a statue of the Virgin ready to crush me. I swooned; I thought I heard her speak a name. But the blood came in another gush and my body was throbbing again with the pleasure; no earth; no gravity.

  The brick cellar once more. A shadow had fallen over the young man's body. Another had come into the cellar and placed a hand on Armand's shoulder. Armand knew him. Mael was his name. Come.

  But where is he taking them?

  Purple evening in the redwood forest. Gabrielle was walking in that careless, straight-backed, unstoppable way of hers, her eyes like two chips of glass, giving back nothing to what she saw around her, and there was Louis beside her, struggling gracefulK to keep up. Louis looked so touchingly civilized in the wilderness; so hopelessly out of place. The vampire guise of last night had been discarded; yet he seemed even more the gentleman in his worn old clothing, merely a little down on his luck. Out of his league with her, and does she know it? Will she take care of him? Bui they're both afraid, afraid for me!

  The tiny sky above was turning to polished porcelain; the trees seemed to bring the light down their massive trunks almost to the roots. I could hear a creek rushing in the shadows. Then I saw it. Gabrielle walked right into the water in her brown boots. But where are they going? And who was the third one with them, who came into view only as Gabrielle turned back to look at him?- my God, such a face, and so placid. Ancient, powerful, yet letting the two young ones walk before him. Through the trees I could see a clearing, a house. On a high stone veranda stood a red-haired woman; the woman whom I'd seen in the jungle? Ancient expressionless mask of a face like the face of the male in the forest who was looking up at her; face like the face of my Queen.

  Let them come together. I sighed as the blood poured into me. II will
make it all the simpler. But who were they, these ancient ones, these creatures with countenances washed as clean as her own?

  The vision shifted. This time the voices were a soft wreath around us, whispering, crying. And for one moment I wanted to listen, to try to detach from the monstrous chorus one fleeting mortal song. Imagine it, voices from all over, from the mountains of India, from the streets of Alexandria, from the tiny hamlets near and far.

  But another vision was coming.

  Marius. Marius was climbing up out of a bloodstained pit of broken ice with Pandora and Santino to aid him. They had just managed to reach the jagged shelf of a basement floor. The dried blood was a crust covering half of Marius's face; he looked angry, bitter, eyes dull, his long yellow hair matted with blood. With a limp he went up a spiraling iron stairs, Pandora and Santino in his wake. It was like a pipe through which they ascended. When Pandora tried to help him he brushed her aside roughly.

  Wind. Bitter cold. Marius's house lay open to the elements as if an earthquake had broken it apart. Sheets of glass were shattered into dangerous fragments; rare and beautiful tropical fish were frozen on the sand floor of a great ruined tank. Snow blanketed the furnishings and lay heaped against the bookshelves, against the statues, against the racks of records and tapes. The birds were dead in their cages. The green plants were dripping with icicles. Marius stared at the dead fish in the murky margin of ice in the bottom of the tank. He stared at the great dead stalks of seaweed that lay among the shards of gleaming glass.

  Even as I watched, I saw him healing; the bruises seemed to melt from his face; I saw fhe face itself regain its natural shape. His leg was mending. He could stand almost straight. In rage he stared at the tiny blue and silver fish. He looked up at the sky, at the white wind that obliterated the stars completely. He brushed the flakes of dried blood from his face and hair.

  Thousands of pages had been scattered about by the wind- pages of parchment, old crumbling paper. The swirling snow came down now lightly into the ruined parlor. There Marius took up the brass poker for a walking stick, and stared out through the ruptured wall at the starving wolves howling in their pen. No food for them since he, their master, had been buried. Ah, the sound of the wolves howling. I heard Santino speak to Marius, try to tell him that they must go, they were expected, that a woman waited for them in the redwood forest, a woman as old as the Mother, and the meeting could not begin until they had come. A chord of alarm went through me, What was this meeting? Marius understood but he didn't answer. He was listening to the wolves. To the wolves. . . .

  The snow and the wolves. I dreamed of wolves. I felt myself drift away, back into my own mind, into my own dreams and memories. I saw a pack of fleet wolves racing over the newly fallen snow.

  I saw myself as a young man fighting them-a pack of wolves that had come in deep winter to prey upon my father's village two hundred years ago. I saw myself, the mortal man, so close to death that I could smell it. But I had cut down the wolves one by one. Ah, such coarse youthful vigor, the pure luxury of thoughtless irresistible life! Or so it seemed. At the time it had been misery, hadn't it? The frozen valley, my horse and dogs slain. But now all I could do was remember, and ah, to see the snow covering the mountains, my mountains, my father's land.

  I opened my eyes. She had let me go and forced me back a pace. For the first time I understood where we really were. Not in some abstract night, but in a real place and a place that had once, for all purposes, been mine. "Yes," she whispered. "Look around you. " I knew it by the air, by the smell of winter, and as my vision cleared again, I saw the broken battlements high above, and the tower.

  "This is my father's house!" I whispered. "This is the castle in which I was born. "

  Stillness. The snow shining white over the old floor. This had been the great hall, where we now stood. God, to see it in ruins; to know that it had been desolate for so long. Soft as earth the old stones seemed; and here had been the table, the great long table fashioned in the time of the Crusades; and there had been the gaping hearth, and there the front door.

  The snow was not falling now. I looked up and I saw the stars. The tower had its round shape still, soaring hundreds of feet above the broken roof, though all the rest was as a fractured shell. My father's house. . . .

  Lightly she stepped away from me, across the shimmering whiteness of the floor, turning slowly in a circle, her head back, as if she were dancing.

  To move, to touch solid things, to pass from the realm of dreams into the real world, of all these joys she'd spoken earlier. It took my breath away, watching her. Her garments were timeless, a black silk cloak, a gown of silken folds that swirled gently about her narrow form. Since the dawn of history women have worn such garments, and they wear them now into the ballrooms of the world. I wanted to hold her again, but she forbade it with a soft sudden gesture. What had she said? Can you imagine it? When I realized that he could no longer keep me there? That f was standing before the throne, and he had not stirred. ' That not the faintest response came from him?

  She turned; she smiled; the pale light of the sky struck the lovely angles of her face, the high cheekbones, the gentle slope of her chin. Alive she looked, utterly alive.

  Then she vanished!

  "Akasha!"

  "Come to me," she said.

  But where was she? Then I saw her far, far away from me at the very end of the hall. A tiny figure at the entrance to the tower. I could scarce make out the features of her face now, yet I could see behind her the black rectangle of the open door.

  I started to walk towards her.

  "No," she said. "Time to use the strength I've given you. Merely come!"

  I didn't move. My mind was clear. My vision was clear. And I knew what she meant. But I was afraid. I'd always been the sprinter, the leaper, the player of tricks. Preternatural speed that baffled mortals, that was not new to me. But she asked for a different accomplishment. I was to leave the spot where I stood and locate myself suddenly beside her, with a speed which I myself could not track. It required a surrender, to try such a thing.

  "Yes, surrender," she said gently. "Come. "

  For a tense moment I merely looked at her, her white hand gleaming on the edge of the broken door. Then I made the decision to be standing at her side. It was as if a hurricane touched me, full of noise and random force. Then I was there! I felt myself shudder all over. The flesh of my face hurt a little, but what did that matter! I looked down into her eyes and I smiled.

  Beautiful she was, so beautiful. The goddess with her long black plaited hair. Impulsively I took her in my arms and kissed her; kissed her cold lips and felt them yield to me just a little.

  Then the blasphemy of it struck me. It was like the time I'd kissed her in the shrine. I wanted to say something in apology, but I was staring at her throat again, hungry for the blood. It tantalized me that I could drink it and yet she was who she was; she could have destroyed me in a second with no more than the wish to see me die. That's what she had done to the others. The danger thrilled me, darkly. I closed my fingers round her arms, felt the flesh give ever so slightly. I kissed her again, and again. I could taste blood in it.

  She drew back and placed her finger on my lips. Then she took my hand and led me through the tower door. Starlight fell through the broken roof hundreds of feet above us, through a gaping hole in the floor of the highest room.

  "Do you see?" she said. "The room at the very top is still there? The stairs are gone. The room is unreachable. Except for you and me, my prince. "

  Slowly she started to rise. Never taking her eyes off me she traveled upwards, the sheer silk of her gown billowing only slightly. I watched in astonishment as she rose higher and higher, her cloak ruffled as if by a faint breeze. She passed through the opening and then stood on the very edge.

  Hundreds of feet! Not possible for me to do this. - - .

  "Come to me, my prince," she said, her soft voice carrying in the emptiness. "Do
as you have already done. Do it quickly, and as mortals so often say, don't look down. " Whispered laughter.

  Suppose I got a fifth of the way up-a good leap, the height, say, of a four-story building, which was rather easy for me but also the limit of- Dizziness. Not possible. Disorientation. How had we come to be here? It was all spinning again. I saw her but it was dreamlike, and the voices were intruding. I didn't want to lose this moment. I wanted to remain connected with time in a series of linked moments, to understand this on my terms.

  "Lestat!" she whispered. "Now. " Such a tender thing, her small gesture to me to be quick.

  I did what I had done before; I looked at her and decided that I should instantly be at her side.

  The hurricane again, the air bruising me; I threw up my arms and fought the resistance. I think I saw the hole in the broken boards as I passed through it. Then I was standing there, shaken, terrified I would fall.

  It sounded as if I were laughing; but I think I was just going mad a little. Crying actually. "But how?" I said. "I have to know how I did it. "

  "You know the answer," she said. "The intangible thing which animates you has much more strength now than it did before. It moved you as it has always moved you. Whether you take a step or take flight, it is simply a matter of degree. "

  "I want to try it again," I said.

  She laughed very softly, but spontaneously, "Look about this room," she said. "Do you remember it?"

  I nodded. "When I was a young man, I came here all the time," I said. I moved away from her. I saw piles of ruined furniture- the heavy benches and stools that had once filled our castle, medieval work so crude and strong it was damn near indestructible, like the trees that fall in the forest and remain for centuries, the bridges over streams, their trunks covered with moss. So these things had not rotted away. Even old caskets remained, and armor. Oh, yes, the old armor, ghosts of past glory. And in the dust I saw a faint bit of color. Tapestries, but they were utterly destroyed.

  In the revolution, these things must have been brought here for safekeeping and then the stairs had fallen away.

  I went to one of the tiny narrow windows and I looked out on the land. Far below, nestled in the mountainside, were the electric lights of a little city, sparse, yet there. A car made its way down the narrow road. Ah, the modern world so close yet far away. The castle was the ghost of itself.

  "Why did you bring me here?" I asked her. "It's so painful to see this, as painful as everything else. "

  "Look there, at the suits of armor," she said. "At what lies at their feet. You remember the weapons you took with you the day you went out to kill the wolves?"

  "Yes. I remember them. "

  "Look at them again. I will give you new weapons, infinitely more powerful weapons with which you will kill for me now. "

  "Kill?"

  I glanced down at the cache of arms. Rusted, ruined it seemed; save for the old broadsword, the fine one, which had been my father's and given to him by his father, who had got it from his father, and so forth and so on, back to the time of St. Louis. The lord's broadsword, which I, the seventh son, had used on that long ago morning when I'd gone out like a medieval prince to kill the wolves.

  "But whom will I kill?" I asked.

  She drew closer. How utterly sweet her face was, how brimming with innocence. Her brows came together; there was that tiny vertical fold of flesh in her forehead, just for an instant. Then all went smooth again.

  "I would have you obey me without question," she said gently. "And then understanding would follow. But this is not your way. " "No," I confessed. "I've never been able to obey anyone, not for very long. "

  "So fearless," she said, smiling.

  She opened her right hand gracefully; and quite suddenly she was holding the sword. It seemed I'd felt the thing moving towards her, a tiny change of atmosphere, no more. I stared at it, at the jeweled scabbard and the great bronze hilt that was of course a cross. The belt still hung from it, the belt I'd bought for it, during some long ago summer, of toughened leather and plaited steel.

  It was a monster of a weapon, as much for battering as for slashing or piercing. I remembered the weight of it, the way it had made my arm ache when I had slashed again and again at the attacking wolves. Knights in battle had often held such weapons with two hands.

  But then what did I know of such battles? I'd been no knight. I'd skewered an animal with this weapon. My only moment of mortal glory, and what had it got me? The admiration of an accursed bloodsucker who chose to make me his heir. She placed the sword in my hands.

  "It's not heavy now, my prince," she said. "You are immortal. Truly immortal. My blood is in you. And you will use your new weapons for me as you once used this sword. "

  A violent shudder went through me as I touched the sword; it was as if the thing held some latent memory of what it had witnessed; I saw the wolves again; I saw myself standing in the blackened frozen forest ready to kill.

  And I saw myself a year later in Paris, dead, immortal; a monster, and on account of those wolves. "Wolfkiller," the vampire had called me. He had picked me from the common herd because I had slain those cursed wolves! And worn their fur so proudly through the winter streets of Paris.

  How could I feel such bitterness even now? Did I want to be dead and buried down below in the village graveyard? I looked out of the window again at the snow-covered hillside. Wasn't the same thing happening now? Loved for what I'd been in those early thoughtless mortal years. Again I asked, "But whom or what will I kill?" No answer.

  I thought of Baby Jenks again, that pitiful little thing, and all the blood drinkers who were now dead. And I had wanted a war with them, a little war. And they were all dead. All who had responded to the battle call-dead. I saw the coven house in Istanbul burning; I saw an old one she had caught and burned so slowly; one who had fought her and cursed her. I was crying again.

  "Yes, I took your audience from you," she said- "I burnt away the arena in which you sought to shine. I stole the battle! But don't you see? I offer you finer things than you have ever reached for. I offer you the world, my prince. "

  "How so?"

  "Stop the tears you shed for Baby Jenks, and for yourself. Think on the mortals you should weep for. Envision those who have suffered through the long dreary centuries-the victims of famine and deprivation and ceaseless violence. Victims of endless injustice and endless battling. How then can you weep for a race of monsters, who without guidance or purpose played the devil's gambit on every mortal they chanced to meet!"

  "I know. I understand-"

  "Do you? Or do you merely retreat from such things to play your symbolic games? Symbol of evil in your rock music. That is nothing, my prince, nothing at all. "

  "Why didn't you kill me along with the rest of them?" I asked, belligerently, miserably. I grasped the hilt of the sword in my right hand. I fancied I could see the dried blood of the wolf still on it. I pulled the blade free of the leather scabbard. Yes, the blood of the wolf. "I'm no better than they are, am I?" I said. "Why spare any of us?"

  Fear stopped me suddenly. Terrible fear for Gabrielle and Louis and Armand. For Marius. Even for Pandora and Mael. Fear for myself. There isn't a thing made that doesn't fight for life, even when there is no real justification. I wanted to live; I always had.

  "I would have you love me," she whispered tenderly. Such a voice. In a way, it was like Armand's voice; a voice that could caress you when it spoke to you. Draw you into itself. "And so I take time with you," she continued. She put her hands on my arms, and looked up into my eyes. "I want you to understand. You are my instrument! And so the others shall be if they are wise. Don't you see? There has been a design to all of it-your coming, my waking. For now the hopes of the millennia can be realized at last. Look on the little town below, and on this ruined castle. This could be Bethlehem, my prince, my savior. And together we shall realize all the world's most enduring dreams. "

  "But how could that possib
ly be?" I asked. Did she know how afraid I was? That her words moved me from simple fear into terror? Surely she did.

  "Ah, you are so strong, princeling," she said. "But you were destined for me, surely. Nothing defeats you. You fear and you don't fear. For a century I watched you suffer, watched you grow weak and finally go down in the earth to sleep, and I then saw you rise, the very image of my own resurrection. "

  She bowed her head now as if she were listening to sounds from far away. The voices rising. I heard them too, perhaps because she did. I heard the ringing din. And then, annoyed, I pushed them away

  "So strong," she said. "They cannot drag you down into them, the voices, but do not ignore this power; it's as important as any other you possess. They are praying to you just as they have always prayed to me. "

  I understood her meaning. But I didn't want to hear their prayers; what could I do for them? What had prayers to do with the thing thai I was?

  "For centuries they were my only comfort," she continued. "By the hour, by the week, by the year I listened; it seemed in early times that the voices I heard had woven a shroud to make of me a dead and buried thing, Then I learned to listen more carefully. I learned to select one voice from the many as if picking a thread from the whole. To that voice alone I would listen and through it I knew the triumph and ruin of a single soul. "

  I watched her in silence.
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