And you are with us and one of us, and we are the people of the moon and the stars.
Yes, you are right, those of us who are known to everyone today are romantics. We are. We are poets. But we are individuals, with an immense faith in the individual and a love of the individual.
It was easier after all to invite into our miracle those whose human lives were already ruined.
She said once, as I believe I told you, that all institutions which depended upon secrecy are now threatened. She said that no system based on arcana or esoteric knowledge would survive this age. No new revealed religion could take hold in it. And no group that depended upon occult purpose could endure. She predicted that there would be changes in the Talamasca. ‘Human beings won’t fundamentally change,’ she said. ‘They’ll adapt. And as they adapt they’ll explore all mysteries relentlessly until they have found the fundamentals behind each and every one.’ ”
It was sometime just before her eighteenth birthday that Rose turned to the internet to research the ghastly Amazing Grace Home for Girls where she’d been imprisoned. She had never told anyone she knew about what actually happened to her there.
The news reports confirmed everything Louis had told her long ago. The judge who’d sent Rose there had gone to prison. And two lawyers had gone with him.
On Rose’s last night there, apparently, a boiler had exploded, setting fire to the entire establishment. Two other explosions had destroyed outbuildings and stables. Rose had never known there were stables. Local firefighters and police had converged on the school to find girls wandering the grounds dazed and incoherent from the shock of the blast, and many had had visible welts and bruises from being beaten. One or two had shaved heads; and two had been taken to local emergency rooms due to malnutrition and dehydration. Some girls had the words SLUT and ADDICT written on them with felt-tip pen. Newspaper stories reflected contempt and outrage. They railed against the school as a racket, part of the unregulated religious Troubled Teen Industry in which parents were bilked out of thousands of dollars to pay for “reformation” of teen girls they feared were in danger of becoming druggies or dropouts or suicides.
Everybody connected with the place had been indicted for something, it seemed; but charges eventually were dropped. There was no law requiring regulation of religious schools in Florida, and the owners and “faculty” of the place dropped out of the record.
But it was easy to trace Dr. Hays and Mrs. Hays. They had both died within months in a fiery home invasion. One of the other more notorious teachers had drowned off Miami Beach. And yet another had been killed in a car wreck.
Rose hated to admit it but this gave her a great deal of satisfaction. At the same time, something about it bothered Rose. A terrible feeling crept over her. Had someone punished these people for what they’d done, done to Rose and to others? But that was absurd. Who would do such a thing? Who could do such a thing?
Never in all these centuries had he encountered poetic souls among the Undead such as Louis de Pointe du Lac and Lestat de Lioncourt, or even Marius whose own memoir reeked of the same profound romanticism and melancholy as their works. Patrician Roman he might have been, Gregory mused, but he was certainly the embodiment of the Romantic Man of Sensibility now finding solace in his inner strength and attachment to his own values.
What had really given birth to the Romantic Movement in the history of human ideas was affluence—an increase in the number of people who had plenty enough to eat, enough education to read and write, and time to ruminate on their own personal emotions.
“I know you remember the words you spoke to me,” he said. “You were so very brave. You didn’t flee from something you couldn’t understand. You didn’t turn away in disgust from something unnatural even to you. You stood your ground and you spoke to me.” She nodded. She repeated the words she’d said to him that night. “ ‘If you would have fleshly life, human life, hard life which can move through time and space, then fight for it. If you would have human philosophy, then struggle and make yourself wise, so that nothing can hurt you ever. Wisdom is strength. Collect yourself, whatever you are, into something with a purpose.’ ”
“I have followed your counsel,” he said. Now he knew the tears were streaming from his eyes, though they never had before. “I’ve followed it always. And I built the Talamasca for you, Pandora, and for all of your kind and for all humankind and I patterned it as best I could on the monks and scholars of that beautiful old monastery, Vivarium, of which not a stone remains. I built it in memoriam to that brave Cassiodorus who studied and dipped his pen to write to the very end, with such strength and devotion, even as the world went dark around him.”
Something quickened in Marius, something he had not felt in a very long time. There was some certainty of goodness, perhaps, that overcame him, some certainty of happiness, of the true possibility of life containing moments of exultation and joy. He’d never really felt that certainty for very long at any one time, and he hadn’t expected to feel it now. Yet he was overcome with the purest goodwill, suddenly, that such a thing could be possible, that this one, known to him in a fatal intimacy at the very beginning of his dark journey, could in fact be here with him now.
“And then I saw your life,” said Teskhamen, “your life, blazing in the images you yielded to me. I saw your glorious house in Rome, the magnificent temples before which you’d worshipped, with all those pure and lofty columns, and brightly painted marble gods and goddesses so splendidly realized, and those colored rooms in which you’d lived and studied and dreamed and laughed and sang and loved. It wasn’t the wealth, surely you understand me. Not the gold. Not the glittering mosaics. I saw your libraries, I saw and heard your quick-witted and curious companions, I saw the full blooming power of your experience, the life of a cultured Roman, the life that had made you what you were. I saw the beauty of Italy. I saw the beauty of fleshly love. I saw the beauty of ideas. I saw the beauty of the sea.”
What we had here was solitude and quiet—blessed quiet. Quiet such as only the rural world can provide.
Benedict had fallen asleep on the bed. Barefoot in freshly laundered jeans and a white dress shirt open at collar and cuffs, he lay there dreaming.
There was something about the sight of him sleeping so trustingly that touched Rhoshamandes. Of all the blood drinkers Rhosh had ever made or known, this one’s body and face were a true reflection of his soul no matter how much time passed. This one knew how to love. No wonder it had been Benedict who brought the memoirs of the Vampire Chronicles to Rhosh and insisted he read them.
No wonder Benedict had so cherished Louis de Pointe du Lac’s suffering and Lestat’s wild rebellion. “They understand,” he’d told Rhosh. “We cannot live without love. Doesn’t matter how old, how strong, we are, what we possess. We cannot exist without love. It’s absolutely impossible. And they know it, young as they are, they know.”
He sighed. There was a sadness about him even in his brightest moments when he’d been talking of Lestat and Lestat’s ebullience and refusal to accept defeat. He’d smiled then and it had been rare sunshine, that smile. But his charm was obviously wrapped up in melancholy and unshakable gloom.
Deep in my mind a thought did flash for a moment that one who commands must of necessity be wildly imperfect, boldly pragmatic, capable of compromises impossible for the truly wise and the truly good.
For what he’d been, the being he’d been, required no confessions to those he knew and loved, but only that he love them and affirm their purpose with his transformed soul. And if he had once been the soul of an age as Armand had long ago told him he was, well, so be it, because he saw that dark and lustrous age with its decayed beliefs and doomed rebellions as only a beginning—a vast and fertile kindergarten in which the terms of his struggle had not been without value but were now most certainly the phantoms of a past from which he had, in spite of himself, exorably emerged.
He had not perished. That might be his only significant accomplishment. He had survived. Yes, he’d been defeated, more than once. But fortune had refused to release him. And he was here now, whole, and quietly accepting of the fact though he honestly did not know why.
But what loomed ahead of him now were challenges more wondrous and splendid than he’d ever foreseen. And he wanted this, this future, this time in which “Hell would have no dominion” and in which the Devil’s Road had become the Road of the People of Darkness, who were essentially children no more.
This was beyond happiness and beyond contentment. This was nothing other than peace.