The queen of the damned, p.44

The Queen Of The Damned, page 44

 part  #3 of  The Vampire Chronicles Series

 

The Queen Of The Damned
 



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Chapter 41

 

  So clean it all was; with the new flagstones, and the chains on the gates, imagine, so the derelicts couldn't sleep on the grass in the square the way they'd done for two hundred years. And the tourists crowding the Cafe du Monde where the riverfront taverns had been; those lovely nasty places where the hunting was irresistible and the women were as tough as the men.

  But I loved it now; always would love it. The colors were somehow the same. And even in this blasted cold of January, it had the old tropical feel to it; something to do with the flatness of the pavements; the low buildings; the sky that was always in motion; and the slanting roofs that were gleaming now with a bit of icy rain.

  I walked slowly away from the river, letting the memories rise as if from the pavements; hearing the hard, brassy music of the Rue Bourbon, and then turning into the quiet wet darkness of the Rue Royale.

  How many times had I taken this route in the old days, coming back from the riverfront or the opera house, or the theater, and stopping here on this very spot to put my key in the carriage gate?

  Ah, the house in which I'd lived the span of a human lifetime, the house in which I'd almost died twice.

  Someone up there in the old flat. Someone who walks softly yet makes the boards creak.

  The little downstairs shop was neat and dark behind its barred windows; porcelain knickknacks, dolls, lace fans. I looked up at the balcony with its wrought-iron railings; I could picture Claudia there, on tiptoe, looking down at me, little fingers knotted on the rail. Golden hair spilling down over her shoulders, long streak of violet ribbon. My little immortal six-year-old beauty; Lestat, where have you been?

  And that's what he was doing, wasn't he? Picturing things like that.

  It was dead quiet; that is, if you didn't hear the televisions chattering behind the green shutters and the old vine-covered walls; and the raucous noise from Bourbon; a man and a woman fighting deep within a house on the other side of the street.

  But no one about; only the shining pavements; and the shut-up shops; and the big clumsy cars parked over the curb, the rain falling soundlessly on their curved roofs.

  No one to see me as I walked away and then turned and made the quick feline leap, in the old manner, to the balcony and came down silently on the boards. I peered through the dirty glass of the French doors.

  Empty; scarred walls; the way Jesse had left them. A board nailed up here, as though someone had tried once to break in and had been found out; smell of burnt timbers in there after ail these years.

  I pulled down the board silently; but now there was the lock on the other side. Could I use the new power? Could I make it open? Why did it hurt so much to do it-to think of her, to think that, in that last flickering moment, I could have helped her; I could have helped head and body to come together again; even though she had meant to destroy me; even though she had not called my name.

  I looked at the little lock. Turn, open. And with tears rising, I heard the metal creak, and saw the latch move. Little spasm in the brain as I kept my eye on it; and then the old door popped from its warped frame, hinges groaning, as if a draft inside had pushed it out.

  He was in the hallway, looking through Claudia's door.

  The coat was perhaps a little shorter, a little less full than those old frock coats had been; but he looked so very nearly like himself in the old century that it made the ache in me deepen unbearably. For a moment I couldn't move. He might as well have been a ghost there: his black hair full and disheveled as it had always been in the old days, and his green eyes full of melancholy wonder, and his arms rather limp at his sides.

  Surely he hadn't contrived to fit so perfectly into the old context. Yet he was a ghost in this Rat, where Jesse had been so frightened; where she'd caught in chilling glimpses the old atmosphere I'd never forget.

  Sixty years here, the unholy family. Sixty years Louis, Claudia, Lestat.

  Could I hear the harpsichord if I tried?-Claudia playing her Haydn; and the birds singing because the sound always excited them; and the collected music vibrating in the crystal baubles that hung from the painted glass shades of the oil lamps, and in the wind chimes even that hung in the rear doorway before the curving iron stairs.

  Claudia. A face for a locket; or a small oval portrait done on porcelain and kept with a curl of her golden hair in a drawer. But how she would have hated such an image, such an unkind image.

  Claudia who sank her knife into my heart and twisted it, and watched as the blood poured down my shirt. Die, Father. I'll put you in your coffin forever.

  I will kill you first, my prince.

  I saw the little mortal child, lying there in the soiled covers; smell of sickness. I saw the black-eyed Queen, motionless on her throne. And I had kissed them both, the Sleeping Beauties! Claudia, Claudia, come round now, Claudia . . . That's it, dear, you must drink it to get well.

  Akasha!

  Someone was shaking me. "Lestat," he said.

  Confusion.

  "Ah, Louis, forgive me. " The dark neglected hallway. I shuddered. "I came here because I was so concerned . . . about you. "

  "No need," he said considerately. "It was just a little pilgrimage I had to make. "

  I touched his face with my fingers; so warm from the kill.

  "She's not here, Louis," I said. "It was something Jesse imagined. "

  "Yes, so it seems," he said.

  "We live forever; but they don't come back. "

  He studied me for a long moment; then he nodded. "Come on," he said.

  We walked down the long hallway together; no, I did not like it; I did not want to be here. It was haunted; but real hauntings have nothing to do with ghosts finally; they have to do with the menace of memory; that had been my room in there; my room.

  He was struggling with the back door, trying to make the old weathered frame behave. I gestured for him to go out on the porch and then I gave it the shove it needed. Locked up tight.

  So sad to see the overgrown courtyard; the fountain ruined; the old brick kitchen crumbling, and the bricks becoming earth again.

  "I'll fix it all for you if you want," I told him. "You know, make it like it was before. "

  "Not important now," he said. "Will you come with me, walk with me a little?"

  We went down the covered carriageway together, water rushing through the little gutter. I glanced back once. Saw her standing there in her white dress with the blue sash. Only she wasn't looking at me. I was dead, she thought, wrapped in the sheet that Louis thrust into the carriage; she was taking my remains away to bury me; yet there she stood, and our eyes met.

  I felt him tugging on me. "No good to stay here any longer," he said.

  I watched him close the gate up properly; and then his eyes moved sluggishly over the windows again, the balconies, and the high dormers above. Was he saying farewell, finally? Maybe not.

  We went together up to the Rue Ste. Anne, and away from the river, not speaking, just walking, the way we'd done so many times back then. The cold was biting at him a little, biting at his hands. He didn't like to put his hands in his pockets the way men did today. He didn't think it a graceful thing to do.

  The rain had softened into a mist.

  Finally, he said: "You gave me a little fright; I didn't think you were real when I first saw you in the hallway; you didn't answer when I said your name. "

  "And where are we going now?" I asked. I buttoned up my denim jacket. Not because I suffered from cold anymore; but because being warm felt good.

  "Just one last place, and then wherever you wish. Back to the coven house, I should think. We don't have much time. Or maybe you can leave me to my meanderings, and I'll be back in a couple of nights. "

  "Can't we meander together?"

  "Yes," he said eagerly.

  What in God's name did I want? We walked beneath the old porches, past the old solid green shutters; past the walls of peeling plaster and naked brick, and thr
ough the garish light of the Rue Bourbon and then I saw the St. Louis Cemetery up ahead, with its thick whitewashed walls.

  What did I want? Why was my soul aching still when all the rest of them had struck some balance? Even Louis had struck a balance, and we had each other, as Marius had said.

  I was happy to be with him, happy to be walking these old streets; but why wasn't it enough?

  Another gate now to be opened; I watched him break the lock with his fingers. And then we went into the little city of white graves with their peaked roofs and urns and doorways of marble, and the high grass crunching under our boots. The rain made every surface luminous; the lights of the city gave a pearl gleam to the clouds traveling silently over our heads.

  I tried to find the stars. But I couldn't. When I looked down again, I saw Claudia; I felt her hand touch mine.

  Then I looked at Louis again, and saw his eyes catch the dim and distant light and I winced. I touched his face again, the cheekbones, the arch beneath the black eyebrow. What a finely made thing he was.

  "Blessed darkness!" I said suddenly. "Blessed darkness has come again. "

  "Yes," he said sadly, "and we rule in it as we have always done. "

  Wasn't that enough?

  He took my hand-what did it feel like now?-and led me down the narrow corridor between the oldest, the most venerable tombs; tombs that went back to the oldest time of the colony, when he and I had roamed the swamps together, the swamps that threatened to swallow everything, and I had fed on the blood of roustabouts and cutthroat thieves.

  His tomb. I realized I was looking at his name engraved on the marble in a great slanting old-fashioned script.

  Louis de Pointe du Lac 1766-1794

  He rested against the tomb behind him, another one of those little temples, like his own, with a peristyle roof.

  "I only wanted to see it again," he said. He reached out and touched the writing with his finger.

  It had faded only slightly from the weather wearing at the surface of the stone. The dust and grime had made it all the clearer, darkening each letter and numeral. Was he thinking of what the world had been in those years?

  I thought of her dreams, her garden of peace on earth, with flowers springing from the blood-soaked soil.

  "Now we can go home," he said.

  Home. I smiled. I reached out and touched the graves on either side of me; I looked up again at the soft glow of the city lights against the ruffled clouds.

  "You're not going to leave us, are you?" he asked suddenly, voice sharpened with distress.

  "No," I said. I wished I could speak of it, all the things that were in the book. "You know, we were lovers, she and I, as surely as a mortal man and woman ever were. "

  "Of course, I know," he said.

  I smiled. I kissed him suddenly, thrilled by the warmth of him, the soft pliant feel of his near human skin. God, how I hated the whiteness of my fingers touching him, fingers that could have crushed him now effortlessly. I wondered if he even guessed.

  There was so much I wanted to say to him, to ask him. Yet I couldn't find the words really, or a way to begin. He had always had so many questions; and now he had his answers, more answers perhaps than he could ever have wanted; and what had this done to his soul? Stupidly I stared at him. How perfect he seemed to me as he stood there waiting with such kindness and such patience. And then, like a fool, I came out with it.

  "Do you love me now?" I asked.

  He smiled; oh, it was excruciating to see his face soften and brighten simultaneously when he smiled. "Yes," he said.

  "Want to go on a little adventure?" My heart was thudding suddenly. It would be so grand if- "Want to break the new rules?"

  "What in the world do you mean?" he whispered.

  I started laughing, in a low feverish fashion; it felt so good. Laughing and watching the subtle little changes in his face. I really had him worried now. And the truth was, I didn't know if I could do it. Without her. What if I plunged like Icarus-?

  "Oh, come now, Louis," I said. "Just a little adventure. I promise, I have no designs this time on Western civilization, or even on the attentions of two million rock music fans. I was thinking of something small, really. Something, well, a little mischievous. And rather elegant. I mean, I've been awfully good for the last two months, don't you think?"

  "What on earth are you talking about?"

  "Are you with me or not?"

  He gave another little shake of his head again. But it wasn't a No. He was pondering. He ran his fingers back through his hair. Such fine black hair. The first thing I'd ever noticed about him-well, after his green eyes, that is-was his black hair. No, all that's a lie. It was his expression; the passion and the innocence and the delicacy of conscience. I just loved it!

  "When does this little adventure begin?"

  "Now," I said. "You have four seconds to make up your mind. "

  "Lestat, it's almost dawn. "

  "It's almost dawn here," I answered.

  "What do you mean?"

  "Louis, put yourself in my hands. Look, if I can't pull it off, you won't really be hurt. Well, not that much. Game? Make up your mind. I want to be off now. "

  He didn't say anything. He was looking at me, and so affectionately that I could hardly stand it.

  "Yes or no. "

  "I'm probably going to regret this, but. . . . "

  "Agreed then. " I reached out and placed my hands firmly on his arms and I lifted him high off his feet. He was flabbergasted, looking down at me. It was as if he weighed nothing. I set him down.

  "Mon Dieu," he whispered.

  Well, what was I waiting for? If I didn't try it, I'd never find out. There came a dark, dull moment of pain again; of remembering her; of us rising together. I let it slowly slip away.

  I swung my arm around his waist. Upwards now. I lifted my right hand, but that wasn't even necessary. We were climbing on the wind that fast.

  The cemetery was spinning down there, a tiny sprawling toy of itself with little bits of white scattered all over under the dark trees.

  I could hear his astonished gasp in my ear.

  "Lestat!"

  "Put your arm around my neck," I said. "Hold on tight. We're going west, of course, and then north, and we're going a very long distance, and maybe we'll drift for a while. The sun won't set where we're going for some time. "

  The wind was ice cold. I should have thought of that, that he'd suffer from it; but he gave no sign. He was merely gazing upwards as we pierced the great snowy mist of the clouds.

  When he saw the stars, I felt him tense against me; his face was perfectly smooth and serene; and if he was weeping the wind was carrying it away. Whatever fear he'd felt was gone now, utterly; he was lost as he looked upward; as the dome of heaven came down around us, and the moon shone full on the endless thickening plain of whiteness below.

  No need to tell him what to observe, or what to remember. He always knew such things. Years ago, when I'd done the dark magic on him, I hadn't had to tell him anything; he had savored the smallest aspects of it all on his own. And later he'd said I'd failed to guide him. Didn't he know how unnecessary that had always been?

  But I was drifting now, mentally and physically; feeling him a snug yet weightless thing against me; just the pure presence of Louis, Louis belonging to me, and with me. And no burden at all.

  I was plotting the course firmly with one tiny part of my mind, the way she'd taught me to do it; and I was also remembering so many things; the first time, for example, that I'd ever seen him in a tavern in New Orleans. He'd been drunk, quarreling; and I'd followed him out into the night. And he had said in that last moment before I'd let him slip through my hands, his eyes closing:

  "But who are you!"

  I'd known I'd come back for him at sunset, that I'd find him if I had to search the whole city for him, though I was leaving him then half dead in the cobblestone street. I had to have him, had to. Just the way I had to have
everything I wanted; or had to do everything I'd ever wanted to do.

  That was the problem, and nothing she'd given me-not suffering, or power, or terror finally-had changed it one bit.

  Four miles from London.

  One hour after sunset. We lay in the grass together, in the cold darkness under the oak. There was a little light coming from the huge manor house in the middle of the park, but not much. The small deep-cut leaded windows seemed made to keep it all inside. Cozy in there, inviting, with all the book-lined walls, and the flicker of flames from those many fireplaces; and the smoke belching up from the chimneys into the foggy dark.

  Now and then a car moved on the winding road beyond the front gates; and the beams would sweep the regal face of the old building, revealing the gargoyles, and the heavy arches over the windows, and the gleaming knockers on the massive front doors.

  I have always loved these old European dwellings, big as landscapes; no wonder they invite the spirits of the dead to come back.

  Louis sat up suddenly, looking about himself, and then hastily brushed the grass from his coat. He had slept for hours, inevitably, on the breast of the wind, you might say, and in the places where I'd rested for a little while, waiting for the world to turn. "Where are we?" he whispered, with a vague touch of alarm.

  "Talamasca Motherhouse, outside London," I said. I was lying there with my hands cradling my head. Lights on in the attic. Lights on in the main rooms of the first floor. I was thinking, what way would be the most fun?

  "What are we doing here?"

  "Adventure, I told you. "

  "But wait a minute. You don't mean to go in there. "

  "Don't I? They have Claudia's diary in there, in their cellar, along with Marius's painting. You know all that, don't you? Jesse told you those things. "

  "Well, what do you mean to do? Break in and rummage through the cellar till you find what you want?"

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