The queen of the damned, p.43

The Queen Of The Damned, page 43

 part  #3 of  The Vampire Chronicles Series

 

The Queen Of The Damned
 



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Chapter 40

 

  Gone for a week; here again tonight-downstairs-trying to draw Khayman into conversation; Khayman, who fascinated everybody, First Brood. All that power. And to think, he had walked the streets of Troy.

  The sight of him was continuously startling, if that is not a contradiction in terms.

  He went to great lengths to appear human. In a warm place like this, where heavy garments are conspicuous, it isn't an easy thing. Sometimes he covered himself with a darkening pigment-burnt sienna mixed with a little scented oil. It seemed a crime to do so, to mar the beauty; but how else could he slice through the human crowd like a greased knife?

  Now and then he knocked on my door. "Are you ever coming out?" he would ask. He'd look at the stack of pages beside the computer; the black letters: The The Queen Of The Damned. He'd stand there, letting me search his mind for all the little fragments, half-remembered moments; he didn't care. I seemed to puzzle him, but why I couldn't imagine. What did he want from me? Then he'd smile that shocking saintly smile.

  Sometimes he took the boat out-Armand's black racer-and he let it drift in the Gulf as he lay under the stars. Once Gabrielle went with him, and I was tempted to listen to them, over all that distance, their voices so private and intimate. But I hadn't done it. Just didn't seem fair.

  Sometimes he said he feared the memory loss; that it would come suddenly, and he wouldn't be able to find his way home to us. But then it had come in the past on account of pain, and he was so happy. He wanted us to know it; so happy to be with us all.

  It seemed they'd reached some kind of agreement down there-that no matter where they went, they would always come back. This would be the coven house, the sanctuary; never would it be as it had been before.

  They were settling a lot of things. Nobody was to make any others, and nobody was to write any more books, though of course they knew that was exactly what I was doing, gleaning from them silently everything that I could; and that I didn't intend to obey any rules imposed on me by anybody, and that I never had.

  They were relieved that the Vampire Lestat had died in the pages of the newspapers; that the debacle of the concert had been forgotten. No provable fatalities, no true injuries; everybody bought off handsomely; the band, receiving my share of everything, was touring again under its old name.

  And the riots-the brief era of miracles-they too had been forgotten, though they might never be satisfactorily explained.

  No, no more revelations, disruptions, interventions; that was their collective vow; and please cover up the kill.

  They kept impressing that upon the delirious Daniel, that even in a great festering urban wilderness tike Miami, one could not be too careful with the remnants of the meal.

  Ah, Miami. I could hear it again, the low roar of so many desperate humans; the churning of all those machines both great and small. Earlier I had let its voices sweep over me, as I'd lain stock-stili on the divan. It was not impossible for me to direct this power; to sift and focus, and amplify an entire chorus of different sounds. Yet I drew back from it, unable yet to really use it with conviction, just as I couldn't use my new strength.

  Ah, but I loved being near to this city. Loved its sleaze and glamour; the old ramshackle hotels and spangled high rises; its sultry winds; its flagrant decay. I listened now to that never ending urban music, a low throbbing hum.

  "Why don't you go there, then?"

  Marius.

  I looked up from the computer. Slowly, just to needle him a little, though he was the most patient of immortal men.

  He stood against the frame of the terrace door, with his arms folded, one ankle crossed over the other. The lights out there behind him. In the ancient world had there been anything like it? The spectacle of an electrified city, dense with towers glowing like narrow grids in an old gas fire?

  He'd clipped his hair short; he wore plain yet elegant twentieth-century clothes: gray silk blazer and pants, and the red this time, for there was always red, was the dark turtleneck shirt.

  "I want you to put the book aside and come join us," he said. "You've been locked in here for over a month. "

  "I go out now and then," I said. I liked looking at him, at the neon blue of his eyes.

  "This book," he said. "What's the purpose of it? Would you tell me that much?"

  I didn't answer. He pushed a little harder, tactful though the tone was.

  "Wasn't it enough, the songs and the autobiography?"

  I tried to decide what made him look so amiable really. Maybe it was the tiny lines that still came to life around his eyes, the little crinkling of flesh that came and went as he spoke.

  Big wide eyes like Khayman's had a stunning effect.

  I looked back at the computer screen. Electronic image of language. Almost finished. And they all knew about it; they'd known all along. That's why they volunteered so much information: knocking, coming in, talking, then going away.

  "So why talk about it?" I asked. "I want to make the record of what happened. You knew that when you told me what it had been like for you. "

  "Yes, but for whom is this record being made?"

  I thought of all the fans again in the auditorium; the visibility; and then those ghastly moments, at her side, in the villages, when I'd been a god without a name. I was cold suddenly in spite of the caressing warmth, the breeze that came in from the water. Had she been right when she called us selfish, greedy? When she'd said it was self-serving of us to want the world to remain the same?

  "You know the answer to that question," he said. He drew a little closer. He put his hand on the back of my chair.

  "It was a foolish dream, wasn't it?" I asked. It hurt to say it. "It could never have been realized, not even if we had proclaimed her the goddess and obeyed her every command. "

  "It was madness," he answered. "They would have stopped her; destroyed her; more quickly than she ever dreamed. "

  Silence.

  "The world would not have wanted her," he added. "That's what she could never comprehend. "

  "I think in the end she knew it; no place for her; no way for her to have value and be the thing that she was. She knew it when she looked into our eyes and saw the wall there which she could never breach. She'd been so careful with her visitations, choosing places as primitive and changeless as she was herself. "

  He nodded. "As I said, you know the answers to your questions. So why do you continue to ask them? Why do you lock yourself here with your grief?"

  I didn't say anything. I saw her eyes again. Why can't you believe in me!

  "Have you forgiven me for all of it?" I asked suddenly.

  "You weren't to blame," he said. "She was waiting, listening. Sooner or later something would have stirred the will in her. The danger was always there. It was as much an accident as the beginning, really, that she woke when she did. " He sighed. He sounded bitter again, the way he'd been in the first nights after, when he had grieved too. "I always knew the danger," he murmured. "Maybe I wanted to believe she was a goddess; until she woke. Until she spoke to me. Until she smiled. "

  He was off again, thinking of the moment before the ice had fallen and pinned him helplessly for so long.

  He moved away, slowly, indecisively, and then went out onto the terrace and looked down at the beach. Such a casual way of moving. Had the ancient ones rested their elbows like that on stone railings?

  I got up and went after him. I looked across the great divide of black water. At the shimmering reflection of the skyline. I looked at him.

  "Do you know what it's like, not to carry that burden?" he whispered. "To know now for the first time that I am free?"

  I didn't answer. But I could most certainly feel it. Yet I was afraid for him, afraid perhaps that it had been the anchor, as the Great Family was the anchor for Maharet.

  "No," he said quickly, shaking his head. "It's as if a curse has been removed. I wake; I think I must go down to the shrine; I must burn the incense; b
ring the flowers; I must stand before them and speak to them; and try to comfort them if they are suffering inside. Then I realize that they're gone. It's over, finished. I'm free to go wherever I would go and do whatever I would like. " He paused, reflecting, looking at the lights again. Then, "What about you? Why aren't you free too? I wish I understood you. "

  "You do. You always have," I said. I shrugged.

  "You're burning with dissatisfaction. And we can't comfort you, can we? It's their love you want. " He made a little gesture towards the city.

  "You comfort me," I answered. "AH of you. I couldn't think of leaving you, not for very long, anyway. But you know, when I was on that stage in San Francisco . . . " I didn't finish. What was the use of saying it, if he didn't know. It had been everything I'd ever wanted it to be until the great whirlwind had descended and carried me away.

  "Even though they never believed you?" he asked. "They thought you were merely a clever performer? An author with a hook, as they say?"

  "They knew my name!" I answered. "It was my voice they heard. They saw me up there above the footlights. "

  He nodded. "And so the book, The The Queen Of The Damned," he said.

  No answer.

  "Come down with us. Let us try to keep you company. Talk to us about what took place. "

  "You saw what took place. "

  I felt a little confusion suddenly; a curiosity in him that he was reluctant to reveal. He was still looking at me.

  I thought of Gabrielle, the way she would start to ask me questions and stop. Then I realized. Why, I'd been a fool not to see it before. They wanted to know what powers she'd given me; they wanted to know how much her blood had affected me; and all this time I'd kept those secrets locked inside. I kept them locked there now. Along with the image of those dead bodies strewn throughout Azim's temple; along with the memory of the ecstasy I'd felt when I'd slain every man in my path. And along with yet another awful and unforgettable moment: her death, when I had failed to use the gifts to help her!

  And now it started again, the obsession with the end. Had she seen me lying there so close to her? Had she known of my refusal to aid her? Or had her soul risen when the first blow was struck?

  Marius looked out over the water, at the tiny boats speeding towards the harbor to the south. He was thinking of how many centuries it had taken him to acquire the powers he now possessed. Infusions of her blood alone had not done it. Only after a thousand years had he been able to rise towards the clouds as if he were one of them, unfettered, unafraid. He was thinking of how such things vary from one immortal to another; how no one knows what power is locked inside another; no one knows perhaps what power is locked within oneself.

  All very polite; but I could not confide in him or anyone just yet.

  "Look," I said. "Let me mourn just a little while more. Let me create my dark images here, and have the written words for friends. Then later I'll come to you; I'll join you all. Maybe I'll obey the rules. Some of them, anyway, who knows? What are you going to do if I don't, by the way, and haven't I asked you this before?"

  He was clearly startled.

  "You are the damnedest creature!" he whispered. "You make me think of the old story about Alexander the Great. He wept when there were no more worlds to conquer. Will you weep when there are no more rules to break?"

  "Ah, but there are always rules to break. "

  He laughed under his breath. "Burn the book. "

  "No. "

  We looked at each other for a moment; then I embraced him, tightly and warmly, and I smiled. I didn't even know why I'd done it, except that he was so patient and so earnest, and there had been some profound change in him as there had been in all of us, but with him it was dark and hurtful as it had been with me.

  It had to do with the whole struggle of good and evil which he understood exactly the way I did, because he was the one who had taught me to understand it years ago. He was the one who had told me how we must wrestle forever with those questions, how the simple solution was not what we wanted, but what we must always fear.

  I'd embraced him also because I loved him and wanted to be near to him, and I didn't want him to leave just now, angry or disappointed in me.

  "You will obey the rules, won't you?" he asked suddenly. Mixture of menace and sarcasm. And maybe a little affection, too.

  "Of course!" Again I shrugged. "What are they, by the way?

  I've forgotten. Oh, we don't make any new vampires; we do not wander off without a trace; we cover up the kill. "

  "You are an imp, Lestat, you know it? A brat. "

  "Let me ask you a question," I said. I made my hand into a fist and touched him lightly on the arm. "That painting of yours, The Temptation of Amadeo, the one in the Talamasca crypt . . . "

  "Yes?"

  "Wouldn't you like to have it back?"

  "Ye gods, no. It's a dreary thing, really. My black period, you might say. But I do wish they'd take it out of the damned cellar. You know, hang it in the front hall? Some decent place. "

  I laughed.

  Suddenly he became serious. Suspicious.

  "Lestat!" he said sharply.

  "Yes, Marius. "

  "You leave the Talamasca alone!"

  "Of course!" Another shrug. Another smile. Why not?

  "I mean it, Lestat. I'm quite serious. Do not meddle with the Talamasca. Do we understand each other, you and I?"

  "Marius, you are remarkably easy to understand. Did you hear that? The clock's striking midnight. I always take my little walk around the Night Island now. Do you want to come?"

  I didn't wait for him to answer. I heard him give one of those lovely forbearing sighs of his as I went out the door.

  Midnight. The Night Island sang. I walked through the crowded galleria. Denim jacket, white T-shirt, face half covered by giant dark glasses; hands shoved into the pockets of my jeans. I watched the hungry shoppers dipping into the open doorways, perusing stacks of shining luggage, silk shirts in plastic, a sleek black manikin swathed in mink.

  Beside the shimmering fountain, with its dancing plumes of myriad droplets, an old woman sat curled on a bench, paper cup of steaming coffee in her trembling hand. Hard for her to raise it to her lips; when I smiled as I passed she said in a quavering voice: "When you're old you don't need sleep anymore. "

  A soft whoozy music gushed out of the cocktail lounge. The young toughs prowled the video emporium; blood lust! The raucous zip and flash of the arcade died as I turned my head away. Through the door of the French restaurant I caught the swift beguiling, movement of a woman lifting a glass of champagne; muted laughter. The theater was full of black and white giants speaking French.

  A young woman passed me; dark skin, voluptuous hips, little pout of a mouth. The blood lust crested. I walked on, forcing it back into its cage. Do not need the blood. Strong now as the old ones. But I could taste it; I glanced back at her, saw her seated on the stone bench, naked knees jutting from her tight little skirt; eyes fixed on me.

  Oh, Marius was right about it; right about everything. I was burning with dissatisfaction; burning with loneliness. I want to pull her up off that bench: Do you know what I am! No, don't settle for the other; don't lure her out of here, don't do it; don't take her down on the white sands, far beyond the lights of the galleria, where the rocks are dangerous and the waves are breaking violently in the little cove.

  I thought of what she had said to us, about our selfishness, our greed! Taste of blood on my tongue. Someone's going to die if I linger here. . . .

  End of the corridor. I put my key into the steel door between the shop that sold Chinese rugs made by little girls and the tobacconist who slept now among the Dutch pipes, his magazine over his face.

  Silent hallway into the bowels of the villa.

  One of them was playing the piano. I listened for a long moment. Pandora, and the music as always had a dark sweet luster, but it was more than ever like an endless beginning-a theme ever building t
o a climax which would never come.

  I went up the stairs and into the living room. Ah, you can tell this is a vampire house; who else could live by starlight and the glow of a few scattered candles? Luster of marble and velvet. Shock of Miami out there where the lights never go out.

  Armand still playing chess with Khayman and losing. Daniel lay under the earphones listening to Bach, now and then glancing to the black and white board to see if a piece had been moved.

  On the terrace, looking out over the water, her thumbs hooked in her back pockets, Gabrielle stood. Alone. I went out to her, kissed her cheek, and looked into her eyes; and when 1 finally won the begrudging little smile I needed, then I turned and wandered back into the house.

  Marius in the black leather chair reading the newspaper, folding it as a gentleman might in a private club.

  "Louis is gone," he said, without looking up from the paper.

  "What do you mean, gone?"

  "To New Orleans," Armand said without looking up from the chessboard. "To that fiat you had there. The one where Jesse saw Claudia. "

  "The plane's waiting," Marius said, eyes still on the paper.

  "My man can drive you down to the landing strip," Armand said with his eyes still on the game.

  "What is this? Why are you two being so helpful? Why should I go get Louis?"

  "I think you should bring him back," Marius said. "It's no good his being in that old flat in New Orleans. "

  "I think you should get out and do something," Armand said. "You've been holed up here too long. "

  "Ah, I can see what this coven is going to be like, advice from all sides, and everyone watching everyone else out of the corner of an eye. Why did you ever let Louis go off to New Orleans anyway? Couldn't you have stopped him?"

  I landed in New Orleans at two o'clock. Left the limousine at Jackson Square.
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