And so now the time
has come that I may sit down and send my memory back again. I have come
to enjoy this simple exercise, the rhythmic tapping of these keys in cadence
of my existence. When I ended my last tale, I was off to Lima, Peru,
to advise the Museum des La Paz regarding the strange condition of one
of their mummies. The curator had noticed it beginning to move
slightly, from the typical "boxer position" as it is called, with the arms
flexed tightly across the chest, into a more relaxed stance. Naturally,
they were very worried that such a well preserved pre-Columbian mummy not
begin the slide into decay that affects so many of the older bodies in
museums. A quick examination revealed to me that, unfortunately,
it was merely the affects of gaseous emissions caused by sunlight shining
through the Plexiglas display case, and not the imminent rise from torpor
of another "sleeper".
I left my story at my rise from the sleep of death. There is good reason for that, for to tell all is to risk my secrets falling into another's hands. But now I find that the risk be worth the reward, so onward I press. You must, however, forgive my lapses in memory at some points. In the accounting of nearly a millennium, certain small details may be lost or colored by memory. And it is only a fool who tells the whole truth when the story be lessened by it.
the crashing return of light and sound to my senses, and I realized that,
while my sight had been good before, it was now preternaturally sharp.
All the nuances of color, the soft weave of my sire's cloak as it fell
across the breastplate he wore, the leather musculare of a Roman centurion,
the subtle traces of darkness on his face, his hands, as he lifted me from
the casket, all these things were as if sketched in fire.
He smiled at me then, and if ever I had believed in the black robed priests' devil, I would have thought him one. Not that he was unbearably ugly, but so breathtakingly beautiful, that I knew him to be as alien to the flesh as I now was. He studied me calmly for a long moment, then slid me gracefully to the floor of the charnel house.
"Ah, little pet, I see the confusion on your face. But of course, did you think you would be welcomed into death by your loved ones, your family?" He spoke with a strange accent. I thought it was Roman, for I knew from legend the strange armor and helm he wore.
I did not know him to be vampire. I thought him a ghost, perhaps, or.... I did not know.
But I knew there was a fire in my veins, and a roaring in my head like the bellow of a wounded bull.
"Yes, my little one. You hunger. You thirst. Come, let us break our fast together, and then I shall show you such sights." And with a wave of his hand he bade me follow him.
As we stepped out into the night, I realized we had been inside a large castle. I had never seen anything like the massive stonework before, and knew I was no longer anywhere near Caern Weig. I stopped and turned to look back at it.
On each corner of the building, spires shot to the very sky itself, as it stood, gloating blackly, surrounded by a ditch filled to overflowing with the most stagnant, brackish water I had ever seen. There were few torches lit, the few that were sputtered impotently against the gloom. We stood just outside a gatehouse, by a large arched opening with a heavy wooden door hanging at half-open. To my back, as I turned, was a wooden walkway - I now understood that it was a drawbridge across the moat. The outer walls shot up from the sheer stone at least forty feet, and the corner towers stood another twenty or thirty feet higher.
I drew in a sharp breath of surprise. My "host", for I knew neither what to call him nor what he was, turned to face me.
"Ah, yes, beautiful, is it not? To build to the sky - much like the hanging gardens in storied Enoch itself."
I turned to him, wide-eyed with confusion. He laughed softly, and I noticed that even though the night was briskly cold, no smoke issued forth from his lips.
"What ... has.. happened?" I finally was able to whisper.
His mood became solemn now, and he looked at me as though weighing my soul.
"What do you remember of the events leading up to this night, little milk-maiden?"
I looked down at my ruined fingers, still bearing the traces of the coffin-wood under the nails. Surprisingly enough, they did not hurt. Or, if they did, the pain registered itself as a different sensation. I closed my eyes, and a wave of thoughts and images washed over me.
My mother and father, now dead of the plague and in their graves.
And finally Connaer.
My bonnie Connaer, throat swollen, skin sallow and sweating, shaking as the fever ravaged his body.
And then, finally, as though I were afraid of the memory, I saw my own face.
My face as I held up my little silver hand mirror - a wedding gift from Connaer - on the last morning I had lived.
The last day of my life.
I sat down, hard, on the wooden drawbridge then. I felt as though all my strength, all my sanity, had been taken from me.
Because I knew myself to be dead.
I was not breathing.
The familiar thump of my heart - the heart that I truly loved Connaer with - was no longer in my ears, my throat.
I touched my skin and found it cold and wax-like.
I had opened my mouth to scream, but before the sound summoned itself, my host had clamped his hand over my mouth and put one hand on my shoulder.
"No, no, little one, do not scream. Many of us here have very acute hearing, and a scream of such magnitude might deafen us. You are confused, yes, that is understandable, and frightened, which is also understandable, but you have not taken leave of your senses yet, nor have you become mad enough to frenzy. That bespeaks the wisdom in my choice of you. You are strong, and intelligent, and you can adapt. You lived within the charnel house of your village for two weeks - I know it seems not that long - and kept the wolves at bay, by yourself." He looked deeply into my eyes, and slowly released his grip on my arm.
"Now, if I am to remove my hand, you will not scream, no?"
I shook my head. I needed to hear this man out, to know what had happened. Two weeks, he had said. I had memories of one week, then nothingness. I could not believe I had survived the plague for nearly two weeks.
He let go his grip on my face. I stared at his hand as he drew it back. It was a well-manicured, soft hand, almost that of a woman. It was certainly not the hand of a soldier.
He followed my gaze, then quickly let his cloak fall over the arm.
"My life I will tell you of another time. Now, it is necessary to tell you of your life, and death." He glanced up at the sky. Then he called back into the doorway we had just walked through.
A young man, as pale and unbreathing as my host, quickly came out. They conferred for a moment, in a language I did not understand. Then the younger one turned and ran across the drawbridge and out into the dark, leaving my host and I alone once again.
"Septimus will bring us food, little one. And you will come with me, to more hospitable surroundings where we can speak." He held his arm out to me, and I grasped it tightly, knowing true fear for the first time in my ... well, no, not my life, but...
What was said to me, on my first night as a childer of Caine, is between myself and he who made me. He lives now, only in my memory. But I will tell you that it was enough to convince me that what he said was true, that I was no longer alive nor was I strictly dead.
And then he led me to his library.
It filled an entire wing of the manse, rising up into the darkness beyond the feeble light of mere candles. The shelves lining the walls nearly groaned under the weight of all the books contained there. He made a sweeping gesture with his hand, indicating the stacks, and said, in a hushed voice, "This, little one, this is indeed true power. Not fame, nor fortune, or gold. This is the stuff which crowns kings... and topples them. These volumes are worth the very world itself."
He smiled, noticing the look of confusion on my face.
My head spun as I tried to look up at the very top shelves, towering a good thirty feet above us. I gaped openly at his treasure.
In all my life before, I had seen one book.
It was the book that the black robed priests had brought with them when they built their fine church in my village. They called it a bible. I had never had much use for any of it, or any of them for that matter. And now I was near to being buried by the weight of all these tomes. It seemed they pressed in at me from all sides. I turned and ran towards the door.
Before I could reach the bolt, he was there.
"Stop!" he said roughly into my face, and I could do none other. I felt sapped of my will.
"What do you fear, childe?" he asked, more softly, but no less compelling.
"From these things come the words of the priests. I have seen one of these. It did no good against the plague, though they thought it would. It is only good for making what was not theirs become theirs."
I had never seen such a look on anyone's face, and I suddenly feared for my existence. Then, he let go of my arms, backed away from me, and put his head down. His head began to shake rhythmically.
And I realized he was laughing.
He laughed until big, red tears slid down his face. Then he dabbed at them with a cloth he pulled from his vestment.
"Only one book!? Do you truly believe that all there is, is but one book?" He was nearly shouting, and I cringed. He seemed not to notice, and pulled me along, into the room, gesturing to the shelves with his free hand.
"You see before you the collection of fifteen hundred years of knowledge. Some of these," he casually plucked a slim volume from a table and waved it in my face. It was bound in red leather with flowing Arabic script, which appeared to me like letters of fire. "Some of these were written before the Romans came down from the hills. Some before the great library at Alexandria was a dream in the mind of Ptolemy. Some were scribed so long ago that none of the race of men has looked upon the writer. And you think that there is only one book! Indeed!"
I knew not if I had insulted him or amused him. Both, I would think now. But he seemed not overly hostile, so I accepted his offer of one of these tomes, a thick volume bound in black. It looked like the priest's book, yet when I opened it, I knew it was not.
There were pictures, crude woodcut images, of imps and devils, of naked women riding beasts, of goat headed monstrosities. All manner of terrible thing was represented in that book. He must have been watching my face as I slowly turned the pages. I looked at him in askance.
"That is considered to be the nature of evil," he said calmly.
"But, it is not. That is a lie," I said, aware that some sort of test was happening, and not knowing what I should say. So I chose the truth as I knew it.
He raised his brows, but said nothing and motioned for me to continue.
"If evil were so easy to see with the naked eye, there would be no need for black-robed priests and their god," I said quietly.
"They're called christians, my pet," he corrected.
I pointed to a picture, that of a large snake hovering over a babe, preparing to devour it.
"And truly a people who sacrifice their children would never prosper. They would have no helping hands come the harvest."
He laughed again, this time in a softer tone, and put a hand on my shoulder.
"Ah, you see things in such a unique way, my little milk-maiden. Let us hope that you do not learn to see things through a glass, darkly. Ah, Septimus has returned. There will be food, little pet, if you can stomach it."
I was aware of the younger man's presence at the door; he had heard him long before I had. He stepped into the room and gently set a large bag down, then turned on his heel and left.
My senses were overwhelmed with the scent of blood, coming from the bag. Marcus looked from me to the sack, which was twisting with feeble motions.
The proper thing to do would be to lie here, to say that it was an animal from the forests beyond the castle. But, in a way, it was.
It was a child, of about eight winters, smeared with dirt and covered in mud. A beggar, or a budding thief. I cannot remember to this night if it were male or female, not that it truly mattered.
I was hungry. I was the damned, the vampir. I fed.
And so I learned
the truth of what I was, what I had become. A part of me, the part
that loved the sunlight, that laughed and danced and picked flowers, and
loved Connear, that part of me had died. And I found other things,
other parts of me, lying in the dark corners of my soul, that were more
fitting, more suited to that which I had become.
Time meant nothing in my sire's household. Marcus had been alive to see the great convergence of the Cappadocians, the choosing of the worthy and the punishment of the unworthy, and he had been old then... He spoke of things that happened before the pyramids were built, before Greece was just a port and nothing more, even before the great standing stones were erected on Salisbury Plain. And when he spoke of these things, I listened, and remembered.
He taught me to read the books in his library, those in English, and Latin, and other, far away languages.
"Someday, little pet, you too will travel, as I have. You will stand in the shadow the moon throws from the great tombs of the god-kings in Ghiza, and you will know how small we really are. Even those of us, "and here he looked around the table, to his other childer, "Even we who are larger than the kine who live but one lifetime, we too are truly small. Never forget that."
I came to almost worship him, through the years. I certainly respected him, and knew him to be breathtakingly intelligent. And I knew that there was much to be learned, and I had all the time to do that.
But he never treated me as more than favored pet. His equal I was not, and I knew it. The three whom he had created as his childer, we were exalted servants, but no more.
My "brothers" as they would be vulgarly called now, were a silent lot, speaking only when spoken to or, more rarely, asking a question of our sire. They stayed to their art of warfare and riding, and I stayed to the books and lessons inside the keep.
I asked Marcus once, in the beginning of my second century, if they resented me, or looked down upon me for my sex. The question brought laughter, and an indulgent stroke of my hair.
"No, my pet, though they seem cold and unfriendly, I am sure they would fight to defend you. They are male, and they are made for war, and that is what they study, and think of. They have not the time for books and ideas. That is why I summoned you. There were no females in this household for over five hundred years before you came to us. I believe they became, how is it said...set in their ways....
"But I needed someone to speak with, to discuss philosophy and art and music. And so, you came to be with us. And I am ever so much happier now."
And my skin grew pale from long nights spent in airless chambers, reading by the light of a single candle, or by the moon. And I grew thin, and my eyes became darker, and my nails were sharp and long. I saw these things in the mirror, but the change took place so gradually I did not realize how different I had become. Where I had once been a plump housewife, I was now a wild thing, more like a gypsy with my looks and thoughts. And my sire cautioned me on this as well.
"Someday, little one, you will go out into the world. You will be amongst the kine again. Do not be too surprised when they treat you as if you have the mind of a child, because you are a woman. And do not be surprised if they accuse you of ill-doings, for you have great beauty, and that arouses passion. Better to be as the sheep, as the christians say, when you go amongst the wolves."
"But even wolves fear the fire that burns them," I pointed out, "And the beasts that they cannot see, that dog their steps in the forests, them also they fear."
I thought I had spoken wise and true. Yet with a slap of his hand my sire threw my perceptions into the midden. My cheek stung with the outline of his hand, soft no longer.
"Never, not ever..." he hissed, leaning so closely to me that I felt myself drawn into his gaze and swallowed whole, "dream yourself smarter, or cleverer, for that which you have become. There are whole races of us, of Caine's childer, who believed themselves Gods. And they were thrown down, destroyed utterly. Our own line, sired by the mighty Cappadocius, produced many of these fools. And they were buried alive, imprisoned beneath the burning sands for all eternity. Never leaving, never resting, never free."
He gestured toward his great towers of books with an impatient air. My eyes fell on the tome of the snake-worshippers, written in hoary old Egyptian, before it was Egyptian.
"Yessssssssss, my pet," he nodded, his soft voice mocking the snake god, whether consciously or not I do not know. "They thought to make gods of themselves. And what do they do now? Why, they corrupt. They destroy. They make all that they touch unclean and blasphemous. And the others! The fiends, ridden by hideous twisted things! The infernalists, dabbling with daemons and infested with vermin! The monstrosities, twisted in form and feature! All these are our brothers and sisters, our family as it were; that we may never forget that the road to loathsomeness is slick and beguiling. Never forget that there will be those to whom you, feral little predator that you may be, are as small and insignificant as that spider."
He got up quickly and strode to a dark corner of the room, lightly reached out and fingered a spider web hanging from a high bookshelf. He plucked it once with his finger, making it quiver in the high reaches where it joined the ceiling.
I saw the spider crawl quickly downward to where my sire stood, hand outstretched. It scuttled along the shining strand, unseeing what was trapped in its web. I grew uneasy, though I knew not why. A spider ten times it's size could not hurt my sire, but it lead me to think of things trapped in an immense web.
And then my sire reached out and captured the spider.
His hand flew out and up, and plucked it cleanly from the web, not even breaking the slender thread. He brought his hand down, in front of his face as if contemplating the struggling creature (though I could not see it, I could somehow sense it's terror), and then calmly squeezed his hand shut.
I made some sort of noise, cried out for its life. Why I did this I do not know, only that it seemed wrong somehow. He turned to look at me, with a mixture of sadness and pity in his eyes.
"Understand me well, my pet, that no one would cry out for you, if you were in the place of this creature."
He opened his hand then, and cast the remains of the spider from the window, down a hundred feet into the dank moat below.
"Monsters we are, lest monsters we become," he said cryptically, and quickly left the room. I looked down at my hands, which were gripping the chair so tightly the knuckles were drawn and white, and slowly released my grasp.
I thought much on that night, in the years since. I know now what he meant, what he tried to tell me.
I only wish I had understood it then.
Ah, perhaps is such a sorrowful word. All that might have been is wrapped within it, and all that comes from it is tinged with loss. Best to not use it at all, and never know that bittersweet pain.
Sometime in my third century,
I became aware of messages coming and going from my Lord’s study.
Now, when I say they were frequent, the thought that will spring to mind
would be once or twice a fortnight. Nay, I mean that they came one
or two a season, but that was frequent in the scheme of things. My
Lord fretted afterward, but never said what was in these communications,
nor whom they were from. I never dreamt of asking him, as it was
not my place. After some years of this, I awoke one twilight
to find that mortal servants were now populating the keep.
My surprise must have been etched wide upon my face when I greeted him in his hall that night. He answered my look with a pat on the wrist, like the stroke of a favored pet’s fur, and nothing more.
“My childe,” he said quietly to me when they had left, “We expect company this night. Please be so kind as to dress your part.”
I bowed my head low to him, begged my leave, and made my way to my bedchamber, unused and unoccupied save for my wardrobe for three centuries. There was a new gown on the bedstead, and a rich fur cloak. I slipped the gown on, not wishing the aid of the chambermaid, and threw the cloak about my shoulders. It reached the floor and trailed behind me, a very sumptuous look.
There was also a wrap, which I took up and swathed about my neck, thereby covering the worst of the ravages of the disease, for the marks have never truly left my skin, and then turned to look at myself in the dark mirror over my toilet.
My skin had grown still paler and thinner, and it stretched like parchment over my cheekbones. I had no color to my face at all, just my eyes, which burned like green fire in the darkness of my chamber. Indeed, I looked as though I were drawn in the air with a charcoal stick; I was so pale and gray.
I heard the low murmur of conversation in the library as I approached the hall. My sire had not instructed me to join him, only to be dressed decently, so I took my accustomed seat near the great fireplace and began to strum lazily on my harp.
I was, therefore, surprised, to find that I was not alone in the hall. A young man, barely out of his youth, stepped quietly from his spot beside the hearth, his outspread hands showing me he held no weapon, and was no threat.
I made a small noise, but kept on with my playing, then nodded in his direction and said,
“Hail and well met, traveler. Are ye of the party that visits my Lord?”
“Yes, my Lady. I am Augustus, eldest son of House Giovanni. My sire has traveled to see your Lord on a matter of grave importance.” His eyes traveled about the room like a weasel. I found I did not like him. He gave off an odor of some sort, like a graveyard or a sepulcher. I knew instantly he was a vampyr, and that he was not a cultured one, either, to speak of matters of importance in his House to a girl he had just met in the drawing room, and not knowing whom she might be. I, for my part, merely lowered my head and continued playing.
He did not attempt to engage me in conversation again, nor was I very much disappointed in that. He clasped his hands behind his back and wandered about the room, occasionally touching things and then glancing at me to see if I would protest. I pretended not to notice and he soon bored of the game, if game it were, and threw himself with a great sigh down on one of the soft chairs that lined the room. I played until I heard the turning of the catch on the library door, then rose and assumed a bowing position as my sire entered the room. With him was another man, of the same years as he, with white hair and sharp features.
“Just remember what I have said, Marcus,” the other addressed my sire, and then motioned the young man and took his leave. I turned to watch them as they exited the high doors, and found myself wondering what had gone on in the library.
My sire stared after them for a long time, only coming to himself when I touched his arm and asked of his health. He blinked as a man seeing the sun for the first time in years, then shook his head.
“My pet, these are strange days…” was all he would say, before he turned on his heel and left me to ponder the meaning of this night.
But my sire did not speak of it again, and as the days turned into seasons, and the seasons to years, I found myself analyzing the things I had heard.
And, most importantly, the things I had not heard. Like my Lord’s title, when his friend had taken leave of him.
Many years, almost
another century, passed before the seeds planted during that winter night
bore their bitter fruit. I was first to see the dusty cloud coming up the
pass, and went searching for Lord Marcus to tell him of it. I found
him deep in study, in the library.
"Yes, my little one? What is it?" he said absently.
"Several carriages, or many horsemen, ride up the pass. I have seen the dust on the horizon. Do we expect visitors, Sire?"
He raised his head from the book with an air of concern.
"Nay, too early in the year for pleasant company, and too late in the season for those barbarians," he referred to the strange, large men who had come several years ago, sailing from far away on their dragon boats. They had come up the pass early in the night, directly after dusk, and attempted to storm the keep. Lord Marcus' words with their leader were enough to convince them it was best to go elsewhere.
He rose and went to the large window overlooking the guardhouse. He could see nothing from here, yet his fingers gripped the sill just the same. Then the banners hove into view, over the ridge, and I could just make out in the full moon’s light the ornate letter “G” surrounded by leaves and vines on their devices.
For reasons I do not know, I drew close to my sire, pressed against his side, and whispered,
“What comes? Who are these people?”
He looked at me sadly, and for a moment I saw the same look in his eyes that had been in Connear’s, at the end. He sighed deeply, then turned from the window.
“Giovanni,” was all he would say, and he said the name like a curse. He trod from the room, and I heard him calling the guards and my “brethren” to arms then.
I turned back to the window, where I could now see the long lines of horsemen with torches marching along the path. Beyond them was the quay, and from there the sea. They had obviously come in the dragon ships, for who else would brave the cold dark waters or the barely submerged reefs that lay beneath?
And by the moonlight glinting off their armor, they had obviously come for war. This was no diplomatic party, no honored guests visiting.
Straining my eyes still further, I could see the figure at the front of the column. He was a slight man, dark of skin and hair, and with his cowl pulled back I could see that it was our erstwhile guest of so long ago, the one who had called himself Augustus, and spoken to me in the hall.
I pulled myself back into the window then, flattening myself against the wall and shaking all over. If I could see him, then it followed that he could see me, and the thought of that filled me with fear and loathing.
And somewhere, off in the distance, came the crash of thunder and the smell of incoming rain. A brief flash of lightening lit the chamber, and then I could hear the portcullis, not closed in a thousand years, come swinging down with a thud, to mix with the thunder so far away.
I wished then that I had listened better to the words of the priests when they spoke of the prayers to their angry war god. I had no prayers, only fear. I knew the world was going to change for me, and I did not want it to.
And then I rose from the floor, terribly conscious now that my sire could return at any moment and find me cringing like an animal, and forced myself to walk to the wall about the great fireplace. There were battle-axes, swords and shields hung on it, along with other implements of war. I pulled down a targ and a short sword, and began to make my way down the staircase to the courtyard below.
I would die on my feet, shouting, not on my knees begging. I owed my Sire at least that much.