The Complete Vampire Chronicles 12-Book Bundle
The Complete Vampire Chronicles 12-Book Bundle
Anne Rice [Rice, Anne]
An international bestseller and beloved cultural touchstone, Anne Rice’s classic novel Interview with the Vampire starts “where Bram Stoker and the Hollywood versions leave off and penetrates directly to the true fascination of the myth” (Chicago Tribune). But that’s only the beginning. Over the course of twelve interwoven novels, Rice crafts a richly imagined, magnificently transporting epic around her chilling, charismatic antihero, Lestat. An aristocrat in the heady days of pre-revolutionary France who lives to become a rock star in the demonic, shimmering 1980s, Lestat rushes through the centuries in search of others like him, seeking answers to the mystery of his eternal, terrifying existence. Now, with the publication of the complete series in one convenient eBook bundle, there has never been a better time to devour the entirety of The Vampire Chronicles. Gathered here are the ten books that comprise the original saga: INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE THE VAMPIRE LESTAT QUEEN OF THE DAMNED THE TALE OF THE BODY THIEF MEMNOCH THE DEVIL THE VAMPIRE ARMAND MERRICK BLOOD AND GOLD BLACKWOOD FARM BLOOD CANTICLE . . . as well as the two books of the New Tales of the Vampires: PANDORA VITTORIO, THE VAMPIRE Praise for the novels of Anne Rice “Brilliant . . . [Rice’s] undead characters are utterly alive.”—The New York Times Book Review “If you surrender and go with her . . . you have surrendered to enchantment, as in a voluptuous dream.”—The Boston Globe “Frightening, sensual . . . Anne Rice will live on through the ages of literature. . . . To read her is to become giddy as if spinning through the mind of time, to become lightheaded as if our blood is slowly being drained away.”—San Francisco Chronicle “Unrelentingly erotic . . . sometimes beautiful, and always unforgettable.”—The Washington Post “Rice has created universes within universes, traveling back in time as far as ancient, pre-pyramidic Egypt and journeying from the frozen mountain peaks of Nepal to the crowded, sweating streets of southern Florida.”—Los Angeles Times “Fiercely ambitious, nothing less than a complete unnatural history of vampires.”—The Village Voice
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Pandora, Vittorio, The Vampire, Interview with the Vampire, The Vampire Lestat, Queen of the Damned, The Tale of the Body Thief, Memnoch the Devil, The Vampire Armand, Merrick, Blood and Gold, Blackwood Farm , and Blood Canticle are works of fiction. Names, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
A Ballantine eBook Edition
Pandora copyright © 1998 by Anne O’Brien Rice
Vittorio, The Vampire copyright © 1999 by Anne O’Brien Rice
Interview with the Vampire copyright © 1976 by Anne O’Brien Rice
The Vampire Lestat copyright © 1985 by Anne O’Brien Rice
Queen of the Damned copyright © 1988 by Anne O’Brien Rice
The Tale of the Body Thief copyright © 1992 by Anne O’Brien Rice
Memnoch the Devil copyright © 1995 by Anne O’Brien Rice
The Vampire Armand copyright © 1998 by Anne O’Brien Rice
Merrick copyright © 2000 by Anne O’Brien Rice
Blood and Gold copyright © 2001 by Anne O’Brien Rice
Blackwood Farm copyright © 2002 by Anne O’Brien Rice
Blood Canticle copyright © 2003 by Anne O’Brien Rice
All Rights Reserved.
Published in the United States by Ballantine Books, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
Ballantine and colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.
Pandora, Vittorio, The Vampire, Interview with the Vampire, The Vampire Lestat, Queen of the Damned, The Tale of the Body Thief, Memnoch the Devil, The Vampire Armand, Merrick, Blood and Gold, Blackwood Farm , and Blood Canticle were each published separately by Ballantine Books, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., in 1998, 1999, 1976, 1985, 1988, 1992, 1995, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2002, and 2003.
Vittorio, The Vampire
Interview with the Vampire
The Vampire Lestat
Queen of the Damned
The Tale of the Body Thief
Memnoch the Devil
The Vampire Armand
Blood and Gold
A Ballantine Book
Published by The Random House Publishing Group
Copyright © 1998 by Anne O’Brien Rice
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Ballantine Books, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc.
BALLANTINE and colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.
This edition published by arrangement with Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc.
Master Table of Contents
Of Mrs. Moore and the echo
in the Marabar Caves:
… but the echo began in some indescribable way to undermine her hold on life. Coming at a moment when she chanced to be fatigued, it had managed to murmur “Pathos, piety, courage—they exist, but are identical, and so is filth. Everything exists, nothing has value.”
E. M. FORSTER
A Passage to India
Thou believest that there is
one God; thou doest well: the devils
also believe, and tremble.
The General Epistle of James
How ridiculous and what a stranger he is who is
surprised at anything which happens in life.
Another part of our same belief is that many creatures will be damned; for example the angels who fell from heaven through pride, and are now fiends; and those men on earth who die apart from the Faith of Holy Church, namely, the heathen; and those, too, who are christened but live unchristian lives, and so die out of love—all these shall be condemned to hell everlastingly, as Holy Church teaches me to believe. This being so I thought it quite impossible that everything should turn out well, as our Lord was now showing me. But I had no answer to this revelation save this: “What is impossible to you is not impossible to me. I shall honour my word in every respect, and I will make everything turn out for the best.” Thus was I taught by God’s grace.…
JULIAN OF NORWICH
Revelations of Divine Love
Not twenty minutes has passed since you left me here in the café, since I said No to your request, that I would never write out for you the story of my mortal life, how I became a vampire—how I came upon Marius only years after he had lost his human life.
Now here I am with your notebook open, using one of the sharp pointed eternal ink pens you left me, delighted at the sensuous press of the black ink into the expensive and flawless white paper.
Naturally, David, you would leave me something elegant, an inviting page. This notebook bound in dark varnished leather, is it not, tooled with a design of rich roses, thornless, yet leafy, a design that means only Design in the final analysis but bespeaks an authority. What is written beneath this heavy and handsome book cover will count, sayeth this cover.
The thick pages are ruled in light blue—you are practical, so thoughtful, and you probably know I almost never put pen to paper to write anything at all.
Even the sound of the pen has its allure, the sharp scratch rather like the finest quills in ancient Rome when I would put them to parchment to write my letters to my Father, when I would write in a diary my own laments … ah, that sound. The only thing missing here is the smell of ink, but we have the fine plastic pen which will not run out for volumes, making as fine and deep a black mark as I choose to make.
I am thinking about your request in writing. You see you will get something from me. I find myself yielding to it, almost as one of our human victims yields to us, discovering perhaps as the rain continues to fall outside, as the café continues with its noisy chatter, to think that this might not be the agony I presumed—reaching back over the two thousand years—but almost a pleasure, like the act of drinking blood itself.
I reach now for a victim who is not easy for me to overcome: my own past. Perhaps this victim will flee from me with a speed that equals my own. Whatever, I seek now a victim that I have never faced. And there is the thrill of the hunt in it, what the modern world calls investigation.
Why else would I see those times so vividly now? You had no magic potion to give me to loosen my thoughts. There is but one potion for us and it is blood.
You said at one point as we walked towards the café, “You will remember everything.”
You, who are so young amongst us yet were so old as a mortal, and such a scholar as a mortal. Perhaps it is natural that you so boldly attempt to collect our stories.
But why seek to explain here such curiosity as yours, such bravery in face of blood-drenched truth?
How could you have kindled in me this longing to go back, two thousand years, almost exactly—to tell of my mortal days on Earth in Rome, and how I joined Marius, and what little chance he had against Fate.
How could origins so deeply buried and so long denied suddenly beckon to me. A door snaps open. A light shines. Come in.
I sit back now in the café.
I write, but I pause and look around me at the people of this Paris café. I see the drab unisex fabrics of this age, the fresh American girl in her olive green military clothes, all of her possessions slung over her shoulder in a backpack; I see the old Frenchman who has come here for decades merely to look at the bare legs and arms of the young, to feed on the gestures as if he were a vampire, to wait for some exotic jewel of a moment when a woman sits back laughing, cigarette in hand, and the cloth of her synthetic blouse becomes tight over her breasts and there the nipples are visible.
Ah, old man. He is gray-haired and wears an expensive coat. He is no menace to anyone. He lives entirely in vision. Tonight he will go back to a modest but elegant apartment which he has maintained since the last Great World War, and he will watch films of the young beauty Brigitte Bardot. He lives in his eyes. He has not touched a woman in ten years.
I don’t drift, David. I drop anchor here. For I will not have my story pour forth as from a drunken oracle.
I see these mortals in a more attentive light. They are so fresh, so exotic and yet so luscious to me, these mortals; they look like tropical birds must have looked when I was a child; so full of fluttering, rebellious life, I wanted to clutch them to have it, to make their wings flap in my hands, to capture flight and own it and partake of it. Ah, that terrible moment in childhood when one accidentally crushes the life from a bright-red bird.
Yet they are sinister in their darker vestments, some of these mortals: the inevitable cocaine dealer—and they are everywhere, our finest prey—who waits for his contact in the far corner, his long leather coat styled by a noted Italian designer, his hair shaved close on the side and left bushy on the top to make him look distinctive, which it does, though there is no need when one considers his huge black eyes, and the hardness of what nature intended to be a generous mouth. He makes those quick impatient gestures with his cigarette lighter on the small marble table, the mark of the addicted; he twists, he turns, he cannot be comfortable. He doesn’t know that he will never be comfortable in life again. He wants to leave to snort the cocaine for which he burns and yet he must wait for the contact. His shoes are too shiny, and his long thin hands will never grow old.
I think he will die tonight, this man. I feel a slow gathering desire to kill him myself. He has fed so much poison to so many. Tracking him, wrapping him in my arms, I would not even have to wreathe him with visions. I would let him know that death has come in the form of a woman too white to be human, too smoothed by the centuries to be anything but a statue come to life. But those for whom he waits plot to kill him. And why should I intervene?
What do I look like to these people? A woman with long wavy clean brown hair that covers me much like a nun’s mantle, a face so white it appears cosmetically created, and eyes, abnormally brilliant, even from behind golden glasses.
Ah, we have a lot to be grateful for in the many styles of eyeglasses in this age—for if I were to take these off, I should have to keep my head bowed, not to startle people with the mere play of yellow and brown and gold in my eyes, that have grown ever more jewel-like over the centuries, so that I seem a blind woman set with topaz for her pupils, or rather carefully formed orbs of topaz, sapphire, even aquamarine.
Look, I have filled so many pages, and all I am saying is Yes, I will tell you how it began for me.
Yes, I will tell you the story of my mortal life in ancient Rome, how I came to love Marius and how we came to be together and then to part.
What a transformation in me, this resolution.
How powerful I feel as I hold this pen, and how eager to put us in sharp and clear perspective before I begin fulfilling your request.
This is Paris, in a time of peace. There is rain. High regal gray buildings with their double windows and iron balconies line this boulevard. Loud, tiny, dangerous automobiles race in the streets. Cafés, such as this, are overflowing with international tourists. Ancient churches are crowded here by tenements, palaces turned to museums, in whose rooms I linger for hours gazing at objects from Egypt or Sumer which are even older than me. Roman architecture is everywhere, absolute replicas of Temples of my time now serve as banks. The words of my native Latin suffuse the English language. Ovid, my beloved Ovid, the poet who predicted his poetry would outlast the Roman Empire, has been proved true.
Walk into any bookstore and you find him in neat, small paperbacks, designed to appeal to students.
Roman influence seeds itself, sprouting mighty oaks right through the modern forest of computers, digital disks, microviruses and space satellites.
It is easy here—as always—to find an embraceable evil, a despair worth tender fulfillment.
And with me there must always be some love of the victim, some mercy, some self-delusion that the death I bring does not mar the great shroud of inevitability, woven of trees and earth and stars, and human events, which hovers forever around us ready to close on all that is created, all that we know.
Last night, when you found me, how did it seem to you? I was alone on the bridge over the Seine, walking in the last dangerous darkness before dawn.
You saw me before I knew you were there. My hood was down and I let my eyes in the dim light of the bridge have their little moment of glory. My victim stood at the railing, no more than a child, but bruised and robbed by a hundred men. She wanted to die in the water. I don’t know if the Seine is deep enough for one to drown there. So near the Ile St.-Louis. So near Notre Dame. Perhaps it is, if one can resist a last struggle for life.
But I felt this victim’s soul like ashes, as though her spirit had been cremated and only the body remained, a worn, disease-ridden shell. I put my arm around her, and when I saw the fear in her small black eyes, when I saw the question coming, I wreathed her with images. The soot that covered my skin was not enough to keep me from looking like the Virgin Mary, and she sank into hymns and devotion, she even saw my veils in the colors she had known in churches of childhood, as she yielded to me, and I—knowing that I needn’t drink, but thirsting for her, thirsting for the anguish she could give forth in her final moment, thirsting for the tasty red blood that would fill my mouth and make me feel human for one instant in my very monstrosity—I gave in to her visions, bent her neck, ran my fingers over her sore tender skin, and then it was, when I sank my teeth into her, when I drank from her—it was then that I knew you were there. You watched.
I knew it, and I felt it, and I saw the image of us in your eye, distractingly, as the pleasure nevertheless flushed through me, making me believe I was alive, somehow connected to fields of clover or trees with roots deeper in the earth than the branches they raise to the welkin above.
At first I hated you. You saw me as I feasted. You saw me as I gave in. You knew nothing of my months of starvation, restraint, wandering. You saw only the sudden release of my unclean desire to suck her very soul from her, to make her heart rise in the flesh inside her, to drag from her veins every precious particle of her that still wanted to survive.
And she did want to survive. Wrapped in saints, and dreaming suddenly of the breasts that nursed her, her young body fought, pumping and pumping against me, she so soft, and my own form hard as a statue, my milkless nipples enshrined in marble, no comfort. Let her see her mother, dead, gone and now waiting. Let me glimpse through her dying eyes the light through which she sped towards this certain salvation.
Then I forgot about you. I would not be robbed. I slowed the drinking, I let her sigh, I let her lungs fill with the cold river air, her mother drawing closer and closer so that death now was as safe for her as the womb. I took every drop from her that she could give.
She hung dead against me, as one I’d rescued, one I would help from the bridge, some weakened, sickened, drunken girl. I slid my hand into her body, breaking the flesh so easily even with these delicate fingers, and I closed my fingers around her heart and brought it to my lips and sucked it, my head tucked down by her face, sucked the heart like fruit, until no blood was left in any fiber or chamber, and then slowly—perhaps for your benefit—I lifted her and let her fall down into the water she had so desired.
Now there would be no struggle as her lungs filled with the river. Now there would be no last desperate thrashing. I fed from the heart one last time, to take even the color of blood out of it, and then sent it after her—crushed grapes—poor child, child of a hundred men.
Then I faced you, let you know that I knew you watched from the quay. I think I tried to frighten you. In rage I let you know how weak you were, that all the blood given to you by Lestat would make you no match should I choose to dismember you, pitch a fatal heat into you and immolate you, or only punish you with penetrating scar—simply for having spied upon me.
Actually I have never done such a thing to a younger one. I feel sorry for them when they see us, the ancient ones, and quake in terror. But I should, by all the knowledge of myself I possess, have retreated so quickly that you could not follow me in the night.
Something in your demeanor charmed me, the manner in which you approached me on the bridge, your young Anglo-Indian brown-skinned body gifted by your true mortal age with such seductive grace. Your very posture seemed to ask of me, without humiliation:
“Pandora, may we speak?”
My mind wandered. Perhaps you knew it. I don’t remember whether I shut you out of my thoughts, and I know that your telepathic abilities are not really very strong. My mind wandered suddenly, perhaps of itself, perhaps at your prodding. I thought of all the things I could tell you, which were so different from the tales of Lestat, and those of Marius through Lestat, and I wanted to warn you, warn you of the ancient vampires of the Far East who would kill you if you went into their territory, simply because you were there.
I wanted to make certain you understood what we all had to accept—the Fount of our immortal vampiric hunger did reside in two beings—Mekare and Maharet—so ancient they are now both horrible to look upon, more than beautiful. And if they destroy themselves we will all die with them.
I wanted to tell you of others who have never known us as a tribe or known our history, who survived the terrible fire brought down on her children by our Mother Akasha. I wanted to tell you that there were things walking the Earth that look like us but are not of our breed any more than they are human. And I wanted suddenly to take you under my wing.
It must have been your prodding. You stood there, the English gentleman, wearing your decorum more lightly and naturally than any man I’d ever seen. I marveled at your fine clothes, that you’d indulged yourself in a light black cloak of worsted wool, that you had even given yourself the luxury of a gleaming red silk scarf—so unlike you when you were newly made.
Understand, I was not aware the night that Lestat transformed you into a vampire. I didn’t feel that moment.
All the preternatural world shimmered weeks earlier, however, with the knowledge that a mortal had jumped into the body of another mortal; we know these things, as if the stars tell us. One preternatural mind picks up the ripples of this sharp cut in the fabric of the ordinary, then another mind receives the image, and on and on it goes.
David Talbot, the name we all knew from the venerable order of psychic detectives, the Talamasca, had managed to move his entire soul and etheric body—into that of another man. That body itself was in the possession of a body thief whom you forced from it. And once anchored in the young body, you, with all your scruples and values, all your knowledge of seventy-four years, remained anchored in the young cells.
And so it was David the Reborn, David with the high-gloss India beauty, and raw well-nourished strength of British lineage, that Lestat had made into a vampire, bringing over both body and soul, compounding miracle with the Dark Trick, achieving once more a sin that should stun his contemporaries and his elders.
And this, this was done to you by your best friend!
Welcome to the darkness, David. Welcome to the domain of Shakespeare’s “inconstant moon.”
Bravely you came up the bridge towards me.
“Forgive me, Pandora,” you said so quietly. Flawless British upper-class accent, and the usual beguiling British rhythm that is so seductive it seems to say that “we will all save the world.”
You kept a polite distance between us, as if I were a virgin girl of the last century, and you didn’t want to alarm me and my tender sensibilities. I smiled.
I indulged myself then. I took your full measure, this fledgling that Lestat—against Marius’s injunction—had dared to make. I saw the components of you as a man: an immense human soul, fearless, yet half in love with despair, and a body which Lestat had almost injured himself to render powerful. He had given you more blood than he could easily give in your transformation. He had tried to give you his courage, his cleverness, his cunning; he had tried to transport an armory for you through the blood.
He had done well. Your strength was complex and obvious. Our Queen Mother Akasha’s blood was mixed with that of Lestat. Marius, my ancient lover, had given him blood as well. Lestat, ah, now what do they say, they say that he may even have drunk the blood of the Christ.
It was this first issue I took up with you, my curiosity overwhelming me, for to scan the world for knowledge is often to rake in such tragedy that I abhor it.
“Tell me the truth of it,” I said. “This story Memnoch the Devil . Lestat claimed he went to Heaven and to Hell. He brought back a veil from St. Veronica. The face of Christ was on it! It converted thousands to Christianity, it cured alienation and succored bitterness. It drove other Children of Darkness to throw up their arms to the deadly morning light, as if the sun were in fact the fire of God.”
“Yes, it’s all happened, as I described it,” you said, lowering your head with a polite but unexaggerated modesty. “And you know a few … of us perished in this fervor, whilst newspapers and scientists collected our ashes for examination.”
I marveled at your calm attitude. A Twentieth-Century sensibility. A mind dominated by an incalculable wealth of information, and quick of tongue with an intellect devoted to swiftness, synthesis, probabilities, and all this against the backdrop of horrid experiences, wars, massacres, the worst perhaps the world has ever seen.
“It all happened,” you said. “And I did meet with Mekare and Maharet, the ancient ones, and you needn’t fear for me that I don’t know how fragile is the root It was kind of you to think so protectively of me.”
I was quietly charmed.
“What did you think of this Holy Veil yourself?” I asked.
“Our Lady of Fatima,” you said softly. “The Shroud of Turin, a cripple rising from the Miraculous Waters of Lourdes! What a consolation it must be to accept such a thing so easily.”
“And you did not?”
You shook your head. “And neither did Lestat, really. It was the mortal girl, Dora, snatching the Veil from him, who took it out into the world. But it was a most singular and meticulously made thing, I’ll tell you that, more worthy of the word ‘relic’ perhaps than any other I’ve ever seen.”
You sounded dejected suddenly.
“Some immense intent went into its making,” you said.
“And the vampire Armand, the delicate boylike Armand, he believed it?” I asked. “Armand looked at it and saw the face of Christ,” I said, seeking your confirmation.
“Enough to die for it,” you said solemnly. “Enough to open his arms to the morning sun.”
You looked away, and you closed your eyes. This was a simple unadorned plea to me not to make you speak of Armand and how he had gone into the morning fire.
I gave a sigh—surprised and gently fascinated to find you so articulate, skeptical, yet so sharply and frankly connected to the others.
You said in a shaken voice, “Armand.” And still looking away from me. “What a Requiem. And does he know now if Memnoch was real, if God Incarnate who tempted Lestat was in fact the Son of the God Almighty? Does anyone?”
I was taken with your earnestness, your passion. You were not jaded or cynical. There was an immediacy to your feelings for these happenings, these creatures, these questions you posed.
“They locked up the Veil, you know,” you said. “It’s in the Vatican. There were two weeks of frenzy on Fifth Avenue in St Patrick’s Cathedral in which people came to look into the eyes of The Lord, and then they had it, gone, taken to their vaults. I doubt there is a nation on the Earth with the power to gain even a glimpse of it now.”
“And Lestat,” I said. “Where is he now?”
“Paralyzed, silent,” you said. “Lestat lies on the floor of a chapel in New Orleans. He doesn’t move. He says nothing. His Mother has come to him. You knew her, Gabrielle, he made a vampire of her.”
“Yes, I remember her.”
“Even she draws no response from him. Whatever he saw, in his journey to Heaven and Hell, he doesn’t know the truth of it one way or the other—he tried to tell this to Dora! And eventually, after I’d written down the whole story for him, he passed within a few nights into this state.
“His eyes are fixed and his body pliant. They made a curious Pietà, he and Gabrielle, in this abandoned convent and its chapel. His mind is closed, or worse—it’s empty.”
I found I liked very much your manner of speaking. In fact, I was taken off guard.
“I left Lestat because he was beyond my help and my reach,” you said. “And I must know if there are old ones who want to put an end to me; I must make my pilgrimages and my progresses to know the dangers of this world to which I’ve been admitted.”
“You’re so forthright. You have no cunning.”
“On the contrary. I conceal my keenest assets from you.” You gave me a slow, polite smile. “Your beauty rather confuses me. Are you used to this?”
“Quite,” I said. “And weary of it. Come beyond it. Let me just warn, there are old ones, ones no one knows or can explain. It’s rumored you’ve been with Maharet and Mekare, who are now the Eldest and the Fount from which we all spring. Obviously they’ve drawn back from us, from all the world, into some secret place, and have no taste for authority.”
“You’re so very correct,” you said, “and my audience with them was beautiful but brief. They don’t want to rule over anyone, nor will Maharet, as long as the history of the world and her own physical descendants are in it—her own thousands of human descendants from a time so ancient there is no date for it—Maharet will never destroy herself and her sister, thereby destroying all of us.”
“Yes,” I said, “in that she believes, the Great Family, the generations she has traced for thousands of years. I saw her when we all gathered. She doesn’t see us as evil—you, or me, or Lestat—she thinks that we’re natural, rather like volcanoes or fires that rage through forests, or bolts of lightning that strike a man dead.”
“Precisely,” you said. “There is no Queen of the Damned now. I fear only one other immortal, and that’s your lover, Marius. Because it was Marius who laid down the strict rule before he left the others that no more blood drinkers could be made. I’m base-born in the mind of Marius. That is, were he an Englishman, those would be his words.”
I shook my head. “I can’t believe he would harm you. Hasn’t he come to Lestat? Did he not come to see the Veil with his own eyes?”
You said No to both questions.
“Heed this advice: whenever you sense his presence, talk to him. Talk to him as you have to me. Begin a conversation which he won’t have the confidence to bring to a close.”
You smiled again. “That’s such a clever way of putting it,” you said.
“But I don’t think you have to fear him. If he wanted you gone off the Earth, you’d be gone. What we have to fear is the same things humans fear—that there are others of our same species, of varying power and belief, and we are never entirely sure where they are or what they do. That’s my advice to you.”
“You are so kind to take your time with me,” you said.
I could have wept. “On the contrary. You don’t know the silence and solitude in which I wander, and pray you never know it, and here you’ve given me heat without death, you’ve given me nourishment without blood. I’m glad you’ve come.”
I saw you look up at the sky, the habit of the young ones.
“I know, we have to part now.”
You turned to me suddenly. “Meet me tomorrow night,” you said imploringly. “Let this exchange continue! I’ll come to you in the Café where you sit every night musing. I’ll find you. Let us talk to each other.”
“So you’ve seen me there.”
“Oh, often,” you said. “Yes.” You looked away again. I saw it was to conceal feeling. Then your dark eyes turned back to me.
“Pandora, we have the world, don’t we?” you whispered.
“I don’t know, David. But I’ll meet you tomorrow night. Why haven’t you come to me there? Where it was warm and lighted?”
“It seemed a far more outrageous intrusion, to move in on you in the sanctified privacy of a crowded café. People go to such places to be alone, don’t they? This seemed somehow more proper. And I did not mean to be the voyeur. Like many fledglings, I have to feed every night. It was an accident that we saw each other at that moment.”
“That is charming, David,” I said. “It is a long time since anyone has charmed me. I’ll meet you there … tomorrow night.”
And then a wickedness possessed me. I came towards you and embraced you, knowing that the hardness and coldness of my ancient body would strike the deepest chord of terror in you, newborn as you were, passing so easily for mortal.
But you didn’t draw back. And when I kissed your cheek, you kissed mine.
I wonder now, as I sit here in the café, writing … trying to give you more with these words perhaps than you ask for … what I would have done had you not kissed me, had you shrunk back with the fear that is so common in the young.
David, you are indeed a puzzle.
You see that I have begun to chronicle not my life here, but what has passed these two nights between you and me.
Allow this, David. Allow that I speak of you and me, and then perhaps I can retrieve my lost life.
When you came into the café tonight, I thought nothing much about the notebooks. You had two. They were thick.
The leather of the notebooks smelled good and old, and when you set them down on the table, only then did I detect a glimmer from your disciplined and restrained mind that they had to do with me.
I had chosen this table in the crowded center of the room, as though I wanted to be in the middle of the whirlpool of mortal scent and activity. You seemed pleased, unafraid, utterly at home.
You wore another stunning suit of modern cut with a full cape of worsted wool, very tasteful, yet Old World, and with your golden skin and radiant eyes, you turned the head of every woman in the place and you turned the heads of some of the men.
You smiled. I must have seemed a snail to you beneath my cloak and hood, gold glasses covering well over half my face, and a trace of commercial lipstick on my lips, a soft purple pink that had made me think of bruises. It had seemed very enticing in the mirror at the store, and I liked that my mouth was something I didn’t have to hide. My lips are now almost colorless. With this lipstick I could smile.
I wore these gloves of mine, black lace, with their sheared-off tips so that my fingers can feel, and I had sooted my nails so they would not sparkle like crystal in the Café. And I reached out my hand to you and you kissed it.
There was your same boldness and decorum. And then the warmest smile from you, a smile in which I think your former physiology must have dominated because you looked far too wise for one so young and strong of build. I marveled at the perfect picture you had made of yourself.
“You don’t know what a joy it is to me,” you said, “that you’ve come, that you’ve let me join you here at this table.”
“You have made me want this,” I said, raising my hands, and seeing that your eyes were dazzled by my crystalline fingernails, in spite of the soot.
I reached towards you, expecting you to pull back, but you entrusted to my cold white fingers your warm dark hand.
“You find in me a living being?” I asked you.
“Oh, yes, most definitely, most radiantly and perfectly a living being.”
We ordered our coffee, as mortals expect us to do, deriving more pleasure from the heat and aroma than they could ever imagine, even stirring our little cups with our spoons. I had before me a red dessert. The dessert is still here of course. I ordered it simply because it was red—strawberries covered in syrup—with a strong sweet smell that bees would like.
I smiled at your blandishments. I liked them.
Playfully, I mocked them. I let my hood slip down and I shook out my hair so that its fullness and dark brown color could shimmer in the light.
Of course it’s no signal to mortals, as is Marius’s blond hair or that of Lestat. But I love my own hair, I love the veil of it when it is down over my shoulders, and I loved what I saw in your eyes.
“Somewhere deep inside me there is a woman,” I said.
To write it now—in this notebook as I sit here alone—it gives architecture to a trivial moment, and seems so dire a confession.
David, the more I write, the more the concept of narrative excites me, the more I believe in the weight of a coherence which is possible on the page though not in life.
But again, I didn’t know I meant to pick up this pen of yours at all. We were talking:
“Pandora, if anyone does not know you’re a woman, then he is a fool,” you said.
“How angry Marius would be with me for being pleased by that,” I said. “Oh, no. Rather he would seize it as a strong point in favor of his position. I left him, left him without a word, the last time we were together—that was before Lestat went on his little escapade of running around in a human body, and long before he encountered Memnoch the Devil—I left Marius, and suddenly I wish I could reach him! I wish I could talk with him as you and I are talking now.”
You looked so troubled for me, and with reason. On some level, you must have known that I had not evinced this much enthusiasm over anything in many a dreary year.
“Would you write your story for me, Pandora?” you asked suddenly.
I was totally surprised.
“Write it in these notebooks?” you pressed. “Write about the time when you were alive, the time when you and Marius came together, write what you will of Marius. But it’s your story that I most want.”
I was stunned.
“Why in the world would you want this of me?” You didn’t answer.
“David, surely you’ve not returned to that order of human beings, the Talamasca, they know too much—”
You put up your hand.
“No, and I will never; and if there was ever any doubt of it, I learnt it once and for all in the archives kept by Maharet.”
“She allowed you to see her archives, the books she’s saved over the course of time?”
“Yes, it was remarkable, you know … a storehouse of tablets, scrolls, parchments—books and poems from cultures of which the world knows nothing, I think. Books lost from time. Of course she forbade me to reveal anything I found or speak in detail of our meeting. She said it was too rash tampering with things, and she confirmed your fear that I might go to the Talamasca—my old mortal psychic friends. I have not. I will not. But it is a very easy vow to keep.”
“Pandora, when I saw all those old writings—I knew I was no longer human. I knew that the history lying there to be collected was no longer mine! I am not one of these!” Your eyes swept the room. “Of course you must have heard this a thousand times from fledgling vampires! But you see, I had a fervent faith that philosophy and reason would make a bridge for me by which I could go and come in both worlds. Well, there is no bridge. It’s gone.”
Your sadness shimmered about you, flashing in your young eyes and in the softness of your new flesh.
“So you know that,” I said. I didn’t plan the words. But out they came. “You know.” I gave a soft bitter laugh.
“Indeed I do. I knew when I held documents from your time, so many from your time, Imperial Rome, and other crumbling bits of inscribed rock I couldn’t even hope to place. I knew. I didn’t care about them, Pandora! I care about what we are, what we are now.”
“How remarkable,” I said. “You don’t know how much I admire you, or how attractive is your disposition to me.”
“I am happy to hear this,” you said. Then you leaned forward towards me: “I don’t say we do not carry our human souls with us, our history; of course we do.
“I remember once a long time ago, Armand told me that he asked Lestat, ‘How will I ever understand the human race?’ Lestat said, ‘Read or see all the plays of Shakespeare and you will know all you ever need to know about the human race.’ Armand did it. He devoured the poems, he sat through the plays, he watched the brilliant new films with Laurence Fishburne and Kenneth Branagh and Leonardo DiCaprio. And when Armand and I last spoke together, this is what he said of his education:
“ ‘Lestat was right. He gave me not books but a passage into understanding. This man Shakespeare writes,’—and I quote both Armand and Shakespeare now as Armand spoke it, as I will to you—as if it came from my heart:
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow ,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day ,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out brief candle .
Life’s but a walking shadow; a poor player ,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage ,
And then is heard no more; it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury ,
Signifying nothing .
“ ‘This man writes this,’ said Armand to me, ‘and we all know that it is absolutely the truth and every revelation has sooner or later fallen before it, and yet we want to love the way he has said it, we want to hear it again! We want to remember it! We want to never forget a single word.’ ”
We were both silent for a moment. You looked down, you rested your chin on your knuckles. I knew the whole weight of Armand’s going into the sun was on you, and I had so loved your recitation of the words, and the words themselves.
Finally, I said, “And this gives me pleasure. Think of it, pleasure. That you recite these words to me now.”
“I want to know now what we can learn,” you said. “I want to know what we can see! So I come to you, a Child of the Millennia, a vampire who drank from the Queen Akasha herself, one who has survived two thousand years. And I ask you, Pandora, please will you write for me, write your story, write what you will.”
For a long moment I gave you no answer.
Then I said sharply that I could not. But something had stirred in me. I saw and heard arguments and tirades of centuries ago, I saw the poet’s lifted light shine on eras I had known intimately out of love. Other eras I had never known, wandering, ignorant, a wraith.
Yes, there was a tale to be written. There was. But at the moment I could not admit it.
You were in misery, having thought of Armand, having remembered his walking into the morning sun. You mourned for Armand.
“Was there any bond between you?” you asked. “Forgive me my boldness, but I mean was there any bond between you and Armand when you met, because Marius had given you both the Dark Gift? I know no jealousy exists, that I can feel. I wouldn’t bring up the very name Armand if I detected a hurt in you, but all else is an absence, a silence. Was there no bond?”
“The bond is only grief. He went into the sun. And grief is absolutely the easiest and safest of bonds.”
You laughed under your breath.
“What can I do to make you consider my request? Have pity on me, Gracious Lady, entrust to me your song.”
I smiled indulgently, but it was impossible, I thought.
“It’s far too dissonant, my dear,” I said. “It’s far too—”
I shut my eyes.
I had wanted to say that my song was far too painful to sing.
Suddenly your eyes moved upwards. Your expression changed. It was almost as if you were deliberately trying to appear to enter a trance. Slowly you turned your head. You pointed, with your hand close to the table, then let your hand go lax.
“What is it, David?” I said. “What are you seeing?”
“Spirits, Pandora, ghosts.”
You shuddered as if to clear your head.
“But that’s unheard of,” I said. Yet I knew that he was telling the truth. “The Dark Gift takes away that power. Even the ancient witches, Maharet and Mekare, told us this, that once Akasha’s blood entered them, and they became vampires, they never heard or saw the spirits again. You’ve recently been with them. Did you tell them of this power?”
He nodded. Obviously some loyalty bound him not to say that they did not have it. But I knew they did not. I saw it in his mind, and I had known it myself when I had encountered the ancient twins, the twins who had struck down the Queen of the Damned.
“I can see spirits, Pandora,” you said with the most troubled expression. “I can see them anywhere if I try, and in some very specific places when they choose. Lestat saw the ghost of Roger, his victim in Memnoch the Devil.”
“But that was an exception, a surge of love in the man’s soul that somehow defied death, or delayed the soul’s termination-something we can’t understand.”
“I see spirits, but I haven’t come to burden you with this or frighten you.”
“You must tell me more about this,” I said. “What did you see right now?”
“A weak spirit. It couldn’t harm anyone. It’s one of those sad sad humans who does not know he’s dead. They are an atmosphere around the planet. The ‘earthbound’ is the name for them. But Pandora, I have more than that in myself to explore.” You continued:
“Apparently each century yields a new kind of vampire, or let us say that our course of growth was not set in the beginning any more than the course of human beings. Some night perhaps I will tell you everything I see—these spirits who were never clear to me when I was mortal—I’ll tell you about something Armand confided to me, about the colors he saw when he took life, how the soul left body in waves of radiating color!”
“I’ve never heard of such a thing!”
“I too see this,” you said.
I could see it hurt you almost too much to speak of Armand.
“But whatever possessed Armand to believe in the Veil?” I asked, suddenly amazed at my own passion. “Why did he go into the sun? How could such a thing kill Lestat’s reason and will? Veronica. Did they know the very name means Vera Ikon , that there was never any such person, that she could not be found by one drawn back to ancient Jerusalem on the day Christ carried his cross; she was a concoction of Priests. Didn’t they know?”
I think I had taken the two notebooks in hand, for I looked down and I saw that I did indeed hold them. In fact, I clutched both of them to my breast and examined one of the pens.
“Reason,” I whispered. “Oh, precious reason! And consciousness within a void.” I shook my head, smiling kindly at you. “And vampires who speak now with spirits! Humans who can travel from body to body.”
I went on with a wholly unfamiliar energy.
“A lively fashionable modern cult of angels, devotion thriving everywhere. And people rising from operating tables to speak of life after death, a tunnel, an embracing love! Oh, you have been created perhaps in an auspicious time! I don’t know what to make of it.”
You were obviously quite impressed by these words, or rather the way that my perspective had been drawn from me. So was I.
“I’ve only started,” you said, “and will keep company alike with brilliant Children of the Millennia and street-corner fortune tellers who deal out the cards of the Tarot. I’m eager to gaze into crystal balls and darkened mirrors. I’ll search now among those whom others dismiss as mad, or among us— among those like you, who have looked on something that they do not believe they should share! That’s it, isn’t it? But I ask you to share it. I’m finished with the ordinary human soul. I am finished with science and psychology, with microscopes and perhaps even with the telescopes aimed at the stars.”
I was quite enthralled. How strongly you meant it. I could feel my face so warm with feeling for you as I looked at you. I think my mouth was slack with wonder.
“I am a miracle unto myself,” you said. “I am immortal, and I want to learn about us! You have a tale to tell, you are ancient, and deeply broken. I feel love for you and cherish that it is what it is and nothing more.”
“What a strange thing to say!”
“Love.” You shrugged your shoulders. You looked up and then back at me for emphasis. “And it rained and it rained for millions of years, and the volcanoes boiled and the oceans cooled, and then there was love?” You shrugged to make a mock of the absurdity.
I couldn’t help but laugh at your little gest. Too perfect, I thought. But I was suddenly so torn.
“This is very unexpected,” I said. “Because if I do have a story, a very small story—”
“Well, my story—if I have one—is very much to the point. It’s linked to the very points you’ve made.”
Suddenly something came over me. I laughed again softly.
“I understand you!” I said. “Oh, not that you can see spirits, for that is a great subject unto itself.
“But I see now the source of your strength. You have lived an entire human life. Unlike Marius, unlike me, you weren’t taken in your prime. You were taken near the moment of your natural death, and you will not settle for the adventures and faults of the earthbound! You are determined to forge ahead with the courage of one who has died of old age and then finds himself risen from the grave. You’ve kicked aside the funeral wreaths. You are ready for Mount Olympus, aren’t you?”
“Or for Osiris in the depths of the darkness,” you said. “Or for the shades in Hades. Certainly I am ready for the spirits, for the vampires, for those who see the future and claim to know past lives, for you who have a stunning intellect encased beautifully, to endure for so many years, an intellect which has perhaps all but destroyed your heart.”
“Forgive me. That was not proper of me,” you said.
“No, explain your meaning.”
“You always take the hearts from the victims, isn’t it so? You want the heart.”
“Perhaps. Don’t expect wisdom from me as it might come from Marius, or the ancient twins.”
“You draw me to you,” you said.
“Because you do have a story inside you; it lies articulate and waiting to be written—behind your silence and your suffering.”
“You are too romantic, friend,” I said.
You waited patiently. I think you could feel the tumult in me, the shivering of my soul in the face of so much new emotion.
“It’s such a small story,” I said. I saw images, memories, moments, the stuff that can incite souls to action and creation. I saw the very faintest possibility of faith.
I think you already knew the answer.
You knew what I would do when I did not.
You smiled discreetly, but you were eager and waiting.
I looked at you and thought of trying to write it, write it all out …
“You want me to leave now, don’t you?” you said. You rose, collected your rain-spattered coat and bent over gracefully to kiss my hand.
My hands were clutching the notebooks.
“No,” I said, “I can’t do it.”
You made no immediate judgment.
“Come back in two nights,” I said. “I promise you I will have your two notebooks for you, even if they are completely empty or only contain a better explanation of why I can’t retrieve my lost life. I won’t disappoint you. But expect nothing, except that I will come and I will put these books in your hands.”
“Two nights,” you said, “and we meet here again.”
In silence I watched you leave the Café.
And now you see it has begun, David.
And now you see, David, I have made our meeting the introduction to the story you asked me to tell.
I was born in Rome, during the reign of Augustus Caesar, in the year that you now reckon to have been 15 B.C., or fifteen years “before Christ.” All the Roman history and Roman names I give here are accurate; I have not falsified them or made up stories or created false political events. Everything bears upon my ultimate fate and the fate of Marius. Nothing is included for love of the past.
I have omitted my family name. I did this because my family has a history, and I cannot bring myself to connect their ancient reputations, deeds, epitaphs to this tale. Also Marius, when he confided in Lestat, did not give the full name of his Roman family. And I respect this and that also is not revealed.
Augustus had been Emperor for over ten years, and it was a marvelous time to be an educated woman in Rome, women had immense freedom, and I had a rich Senator for a father, five prosperous brothers, and grew up Motherless but cherished by teams of Greek tutors and nurses who gave me everything I wanted.
Now, if I really wanted to make this difficult for you, David, I’d write it in classical Latin. But I won’t. And I must tell you that, unlike you, I came by my education in English haphazardly, and certainly I never learnt it from Shakespeare’s plays.
Indeed I have passed through many stages of the English language in my wanderings and in my reading, but the great majority of my true acquaintance with it has been in this century, and I am writing for you in colloquial English.
There’s another reason for this, which I’m sure you’ll understand if you’ve read the modern translation of Petronius’s Satyricon or Juvenal’s satires. Very modern English is a really true equivalent to the Latin of my time.
The formal letters of Imperial Rome won’t tell you this. But the graffiti scratched on the walls of Pompeii will make it obvious. We had a sophisticated tongue, countless clever verbal shortcuts and common expressions.
I’m going to write, therefore, in the English which feels equivalent and natural to me.
Let me say here quickly—while the action is at a halt—that I was never, as Marius said, a Greek Courtesan. I was living with such a pretense when Marius gave me the Dark Gift, and perhaps out of consideration for old mortal secrets he so described me. Or maybe it was contemptuous of him to style me this way. I don’t know.
But Marius knew all about my Roman family, that it was a Senatorial family, as purely aristocratic and privileged as his own mortal family, and that my people dated back to the time of Romulus and Remus, the same as Marius’s mortal line. Marius did not succumb to me because I had “beautiful arms,” as he indicated to Lestat. This trivialization was perhaps provocative.
I don’t hold anything against either of them, Marius or Lestat. I don’t know who got what wrong.
My feeling for my Father is so great to this very night, as I sit in the café, writing for you, David, that I am astonished at the power of writing—of putting words to paper and bringing back so vividly to myself my Father’s loving face.
My Father was to meet a terrible end. He did not deserve what happened to him. But some of our kinsmen survived and re-established our family in later times.
My Father was rich, one of the true millionaires of that age, and his capital was invested widely. He was a soldier more often than required of him, a Senator, a thoughtful and quiet man by disposition. And after the terrors of the Civil War, he was a great supporter of Caesar Augustus and very much in the Emperor’s good graces.
Of course he dreamed that the Roman Republic would come back; we all did But Augustus had brought unity and peace to the Empire.
I met Augustus many times in my youth, and it was always at some crowded social function and of no consequence. He looked like his portraits; a lean man with a long thin nose, short hair, average face; he was rather rational and pragmatic by nature and not invested with any abnormal cruelty. He had no personal vanity.
The poor man was really blessed that he couldn’t see into the future—that he had no inkling of all the horrors and madness that would begin with Tiberius, his successor, and go on for so long under other members of his family.
Only in later times did I understand the full singularity and accomplishment of Augustus’s long reign. Was it forty-four years of peace throughout the cities of the Empire?
Alas, to be born during this time was to be born during a time of creativity and prosperity, when Rome was caput mundi , or capital of the world. And when I look back on it, I realize what a powerful combination it was to have both tradition and vast sums of money; to have old values and new power.
Our family life was conservative, strict, even a little dusty. And yet we had every luxury. My Father grew more quiet and conservative over the years. He enjoyed his grandchildren, who were born while he was still vigorous and active.
Though he had fought principally in the Northern campaigns along the Rhine, he had been stationed in Syria for a while. He had studied in Athens. He had served so much and so well that he was being allowed an early retirement in the years during which I grew up, an early withdrawal from the social life that whirled around the Imperial Palace, though I did not realize this at me time.
My five brothers came before me. So there was no “ritual Roman mourning” when I was born, as you hear tell of in Roman families when a girl comes into the world. Far from it.
Five times my Father had stood in the atrium—the main enclosed courtyard, or peristyle, of our house with its pillars and stairs and grand marblework—five times he had stood there before the assembled family and held in his hands a newborn son, inspected it and then pronounced it perfect and fit to be reared as his own, as was his prerogative. Now, you know he had the power of life and death over his sons from that moment on.
If my Father hadn’t wanted these boys for any reason, he would have “exposed” them to die of starvation. It was against the law to steal such a child and make it a slave.
Having five boys already, my Father was expected by some to get rid of me immediately. Who needs a girl? But my Father never exposed or rejected any of my Mother’s children.
And by the time I arrived, I’m told, he cried for joy.
“Thank the gods! A little darling.” I heard the story ad nauseam from my brothers, who, every time I acted up—did something unseemly frisky and wild—said sneeringly, “Thank the gods, a little darling!” It became charming goad.
My Mother died when I was two, and all I recall of her are gentleness and sweetness. She’d lost as many children as she had birthed, and early death was typical enough. Her Epitaph was beautifully written by my Father, and her memory honored throughout my life. My Father never took another woman into the house. He slept with a few of the female slaves, but this was nothing unusual. My brothers did the same thing. This was common in a Roman household. My Father brought no new woman from another family to rule over me.
There is no grief in me for my Mother because I was simply too young for it, and if I cried when my Mother did not come back, I don’t remember it.
What I remember is having the run of a big old rectangular palatial Roman house, with many rectangular rooms built onto the main rectangle, one off another, the whole nestled in a huge garden high on the Palatine Hill. It was a house of marble floors and richly painted walls, the garden meandering and surrounding every room of it.
I was the true jewel of my Father’s eye, and I remember having a marvelous time watching my brothers practice outside with their short broadswords, or listening as their tutors instructed them, and then having fine teachers of my own who taught me how to read the entire Aeneid of Virgil before I was five years old.
I loved words. I love to sing them and speak them and even now, I must admit, I have fallen into the joy of writing them. I couldn’t have told you that nights ago, David. You’ve brought back something to me and I must make the admission. And I must not write too fast in this mortal café, lest human beings notice!
Ah, so we continue.
My Father thought it was hysterical that I could recite verses from Virgil at so young an age and he liked nothing better than to show me off at banquets at which he entertained his conservative and somewhat old-fashioned Senatorial friends, and sometimes Caesar Augustus himself. Caesar Augustus was an agreeable man. I don’t think my Father ever really wanted him at our house, however. But now and then, I suppose, the Emperor had to be wined and dined.
I’d rush in with my nurse, give a rousing recital and then be whisked away to where I could not see the proud Senators of Rome glutting themselves on peacock brains and garum —surely you know what garum is. It’s the horrible sauce the Romans put on everything, rather like today’s ketchup. Definitely it defeated the purpose of having eels and squids on your plate, or ostrich brains or unborn lamb or whatever other absurd delicacies were being brought by the platterful.
The point is, as you know, the Romans seemed to have a special place in their hearts for genuine gluttony, and the banquets inevitably became a disgrace. The guests would go off to the vomitorium of the house to heave up the first five courses of the meal so that they could then swallow the others. And I would lie upstairs, giggling in my bed, listening to all this laughter and vomiting.
Then the rape of the entire catering staff of slaves would follow, whether they were boys or girls or a mixture of both.
Family meals were an entirely different affair. Then we were old Romans. Everyone sat at the table; my Father was undisputed Master of his house, and would tolerate no criticism of Caesar Augustus, who, as you know, was Julius Caesar’s nephew, and did not really rule as Emperor by law.
“When the time is right, he will step down,” said my Father. “He knows he can’t do it now. He is more weary and wise than ever he was ambitious. Who wants another Civil War?”
The times were actually too prosperous for men of stature to make a revolt.
Augustus kept the peace. He had profound respect for the Roman Senate. He rebuilt old Temples because he thought people needed the piety they had known under the Republic.
He gave free corn from Egypt to the poor. Nobody starved in Rome. He maintained a dizzying amount of old festivals, games and spectacles—enough to sicken one actually. But often as patriotic Romans we had to be there.
Of course there was great cruelty in the arena. There were cruel executions. There was the ever present cruelty of slavery.
But what is not understood by those today is that there coexisted with all this a sense of individual freedom on the part of even the poorest man.
The courts took time over their decisions. They consulted the past laws. They followed logic and code. People could speak their minds fairly openly.
I note this because it is key to this story: that Marius and I both were born in a time when Roman law was, as Marius would say, based on reason, as opposed to divine revelation.
We are totally unlike those blood drinkers brought to Darkness in lands of Magic and Mystery.
Not only did we trust Augustus when we were alive, we also believed in the tangible power of the Roman Senate. We believed in public virtue and character; we held to a way of life which did not involve rituals, prayers, magic, except superficially. Virtue was embedded in character. That was the inheritance of the Roman Republic, which Marius and I shared.
Of course, our house was overcrowded with slaves. There were brilliant Greeks and grunting laborers and a fleet of women to rush about polishing busts and vases, and the city itself was choked with manumitted slaves—freedmen—some of whom were very rich.
They were all our people, our slaves.
My Father and I sat up all night when my old Greek teacher was dying. We held his hands until the body was cold. Nobody was flogged on our estate in Rome unless my Father himself gave the order. Our country slaves loafed under the fruit trees. Our stewards were rich, and showed off their wealth in their clothes.
I remember a time when there were so many old Greek slaves in the garden that I could sit day after day and listen to them argue. They had nothing else to do. I learned much from this.
I grew up more than happy. If you think I exaggerate the extent of my education, consult the letters of Pliny or other actual memoirs and correspondence of the times. Highborn young girls were well educated; modern Roman women went about unhampered for the most part by male interference. We partook of life as did men.
For example, I was scarcely eight years old when I was first taken to the arena with several of my brothers’ wives, to have the dubious pleasure of seeing exotic creatures, such as giraffes, tear madly around before being shot to death with arrows, this display then followed by a small group of gladiators who would hack other gladiators to death, and then after that came the flock of criminals to be fed to the hungry lions.
David, I can hear the sound of those lions as if it were now. There’s nothing between me and the moment that I sat in the wooden benches, perhaps two rows up—the premium seats—and I watched these beasts devour living beings, as I was supposed to do, with a pleasure meant to demonstrate a strength of heart, a fearlessness in the face of death, rather than simple and utter monstrousness.
The audience screamed and laughed as men and women ran from the beasts. Some victims would give the crowd no such satisfaction. They merely stood there as the hungry lion attacked; those who were being devoured alive almost invariably lay in a stupor as though their souls had already taken flight, though the lion had not reached the throat.
I remember the smell of it. But more than anything, I remember the noise of the crowd.
I passed the test of character, I could look at all of it I could watch the champion gladiator finally meet his end, lying there bloody in the sand, as the sword went through his chest.
But I can certainly remember my Father declaring under his breath that the whole affair was disgusting. In fact, everybody I knew thought it was all disgusting. My Father believed, as did others, that the common man needed all this blood. We, the highborn, had to preside over it for the common man. It had a religious quality to it, all this spectacular viciousness.
The making of these appalling spectacles was considered something of a social responsibility.
Also Roman life was a life of being outdoors, involved in things, attending ceremonies and spectacles, being seen, taking an interest, coming together with others.
You came together with all the other highborn and lowborn of the city and you joined in one mass to witness a triumphant procession, a great offering at the altar of Augustus, an ancient ceremony, a game, a chariot race.
Now in the Twentieth Century, when I watch the endless intrigue and slaughter in motion pictures and on television throughout our Western world, I wonder if people do not need it, do not need to see murder, slaughter, death in all forms. Television at times seems an unbroken series of gladiatorial fights or massacres. And look at the traffic now in video recordings of actual war.
Records of war have become art and entertainment.
The narrator speaks softly as the camera passes over the heap of bodies, or the skeletal children sobbing with their starving mothers. But it is gripping. One can wallow, shaking one’s head, in all this death. Nights of television are devoted to old footage of men dying with guns in their hands.
I think we look because we are afraid. But in Rome, you had to look so that you would be hard, and that applied to women as well as men.
But the overall point is—I was not closeted away as a Greek woman might have been in some old Hellenistic household. I did not suffer under the earlier customs of the Roman Republic.
I vividly remember the absolute beauty of that time, and my Father’s heartfelt avowal that Augustus was a god, and that Rome had never been more pleasing to her deities.
Now I want to give you one very important recollection. Let me set the scene. First, let’s take up the question of Virgil, and the poem he wrote, the Aeneid , greatly amplifying and glorifying the adventures of the hero Aeneas, a Trojan fleeing the horrors of defeat by the Greeks who came out of the famous Trojan horse to massacre Helen’s city of Troy.
It’s a charming story. I always loved it. Aeneas leaves dying Troy, valiantly journeys all the way to beautiful Italy and there founds our nation.
But the point is that Augustus loved and supported Virgil all of Virgil’s life, and Virgil was a respected poet, a poet fine and decent to quote, an approved and patriotic poet. It was perfectly fine to like Virgil.
Virgil died before I was born. But by ten I’d read everything he’d written, and had read Horace as well, and Lucretius, much of Cicero, and all the Greek manuscripts we possessed, and there were plenty.
My Father didn’t erect his library for show. It was a place where members of the family spent hours. It was also where he sat to write his letters—which he seemed endlessly to be doing—letters on behalf of the Senate, the Emperor, the courts, his friends, etc.
Back to Virgil. I had also read another Roman poet, who was alive still, and deeply and dangerously out of favor with Augustus, the god. This was the poet Ovid, the author of the Metamorphoses , and dozens of other earthy, hilarious and bawdy works.
Now, when I was too young to remember, Augustus turned on Ovid, whom Augustus had also loved, and Augustus banished Ovid to some horrible place on the Black Sea. Maybe it wasn’t so horrible. But it was the sort of place cultured city Romans expect to be horrible—very far away from the capital and full, of barbarians.
Ovid lived there a long time, and his books were banned all over Rome. You couldn’t find them in the bookshops or the public libraries. Or at the book stands all over the marketplace.
You know this was a hot time for popular reading; books were everywhere—both in scroll form and in codex, that is, with bound pages—and many booksellers had teams of Greek slaves spending all day copying books for public consumption.
To continue, Ovid had fallen out of favor with Augustus, and he had been banned, but men like my Father were not about to burn their copies of the Metamorphoses , or any other of Ovid’s work, and the only reason they didn’t plead for Ovid’s pardon was fear.
The whole scandal had something to do with Augustus’s daughter, Julia, who was a notorious slut by anyone’s standards. How Ovid became involved in Julia’s love affairs I don’t know. Perhaps his sensuous early poetry, the Amores , was considered to be a bad influence. There was also a lot of “reform” in the air during the reign of Augustus, a lot of talk of old values.
I don’t think anyone knows what really happened between Caesar Augustus and Ovid, but Ovid was banished for the rest of his life from Imperial Rome.
But I had read the Amores and the Metamorphoses in well-worn copies by the time of this incident which I want to recount. And many of my Father’s friends were always worried about Ovid.
Now to the specific recollection. I was ten years old, I came in from playing covered with dust from head to foot, my hair loose, my dress torn, and breezed into my Father’s large receiving room—and I plopped down at the foot of his couch to listen to what was being said, as he lounged there with all appropriate Roman dignity, chatting with several other lounging men who had come to visit.
I knew all of the men but one, and this one was fair-haired and blue-eyed, and very tall, and he turned, during the conversation—which was all whispers and nods—and winked at me.
This was Marius, with skin slightly tanned from his travels and a flashing beauty in his eyes. He had three names like everyone else. But again, I will not disclose the name of his family. But I knew it. I knew he was sort of the “bad boy” in an intellectual way, the “poet” and the “loafer.” What nobody had told me was that he was beautiful.
Now, on this day, this was Marius when he was alive, about fifteen years before he was to be made a vampire. I can calculate that he was only twenty-five. But I’m not certain.
To continue, the men paid no attention to me, and it became plain to my ever curious little mind that they were giving my Father news of Ovid, that the tall blond one with the remarkable blue eyes, the one called Marius, had just returned from the Baltic Coast, and he had given my Father several presents, which were in fact good copies of Ovid’s work, both past and current.
The men assured my Father that it was still far too dangerous to go crying to Caesar Augustus over Ovid, and my Father accepted this. But if I’m not mistaken, he entrusted some money for Ovid to Marius, the blond one.
When the gentlemen were all leaving, I saw Marius in the atrium, got a measure of his full height, which was quite unusual for a Roman, and let out a girlish gasp and then a streak of laughter. He winked at me again.
Marius had his hair short then, clipped military-Roman-style with a few modest curls on his forehead; his hair was long when he was later made a vampire, and he wears it long now, but then it was the typical boring Roman military cut. But it was blond and full of sunlight in the atrium, and he seemed the brightest and most impressive man I’d ever laid eyes upon. He was full of kindness when he looked at me.
“Why are you so tall?” I asked him. My Father thought this was amusing, of course, and he did not care what anyone else thought of his dusty little daughter, hanging onto his arms and speaking to his honored company.
“My precious one,” Marius said, “I’m tall because I’m a barbarian!” He laughed and was flirtatious when he laughed, with a deference to me as a little lady, which was rather rare.
Suddenly he made his hands into claws and ran at me like a bear.
I loved him instantly!
“No, truly!” I said. “You can’t be a barbarian. I know your Father and all your sisters; they live just down the hill. The family is always talking about you at the table, saying only nice things, of course.”
“Of that I’m sure,” he said, breaking into laughter.
I knew my Father was getting anxious.
What I didn’t know was that a ten-year-old girl could be betrothed.
Marius drew himself up and said in his gentle very fine voice, trained for public rhetoric as well as words of love, “I am descended through my mother from the Keltoi, little beauty, little muse. I come from the tall blond people of the North, the people of Gaul. My mother was a princess there, or so I am told. Do you know who they are?”
I said of course I knew and began to recite verbatim from Julius Caesar’s account of conquering Gaul, or the land of the Keltoi: “All Gaul is made up of three parts …”
Marius was quite genuinely impressed. So was everybody. So I went on and on, “The Keltoi are separated from the Aquitani by the river Garonne, and the tribe of the Belgae by the rivers Marne and Seine—”
My Father, being slightly embarrassed by this time, with his daughter glorying in attention, spoke up to gently assure everyone that I was his precious joy, and I was let to run wild, and please make nothing of it.
And I said, being bold, and a born troublemaker, “Give my love to the great Ovid! Because I too wish he would come home to Rome.”
I then rattled off several steamy lines of the Amores:
She laughed and gave her best, whole hearted kisses ,
They’d shake the three pronged bolt from Jove’s hand .
Torture to think that fellow got such good ones!
I wish they hadn’t been of the same brand!
All laughed, except my Father, and Marius went wild with delight, clapping his hands. That was all the encouragement I needed to rush at him now like a bear, as he had rushed at me, and to continue singing out Ovid’s hot words:
What’s more these kisses were better than I’d taught her ,
She seemed possessed of knowledge that was new .
They pleased too well—bad sign! Her tongue was in them ,
And my tongue was kissing too .
My Father grabbed me by the small of my upper arm, and said, “That’s it, Lydia, wrap it up!” And the men laughed all the harder, commiserating with him, and embracing him, and then laughing again.
But I had to have one final victory over this team of adults.
“Pray, Father,” I said, “let me finish with some wise and patriotic words which Ovid said:
“ ‘I congratulate myself on not having arrived into the world until the present time. This age suits my taste.’ ”
This seemed to astonish Marius more than to amuse him. But my Father gathered me close and said very clearly:
“Lydia, Ovid wouldn’t say that now, and now you, for being such a … a scholar and philosopher in one, should assure your Father’s dearest friends that you know full well Ovid was banished from Rome by Augustus for good reason and that he can never return home.”
In other words, he was saying “Shut up about Ovid.”
But Marius, undeterred, dropped on his knees before me, lean and handsome with mesmeric blue eyes, and he took my hand and kissed it and said, “I will give Ovid your love, little Lydia. But your Father is right. We must all agree with the Emperor’s censure. After all, we are Romans.” He then did the very strange thing of speaking to me purely as if I were an adult. “Augustus Caesar has given far more to Rome, I think, than anyone ever hoped. And he too is a poet. He wrote a poem called ‘Ajax’ and burnt it up himself because he said it wasn’t good.”
I was having the time of my life. I would have run off with Marius then and there!
But all I could do was dance around him as he went out of the vestibule and out the gate.
I waved to him.
He lingered. “Goodbye, little Lydia,” he said. He then spoke under his breath to my Father, and I heard my Father say:
“You are out of your mind!”
My Father turned his back on Marius, who gave me a sad smile and disappeared.
“What did he mean? What happened?” I asked my Father. “What’s the matter?”
“Listen, Lydia,” said my Father. “Have you in all your readings come across the word ‘betrothed’?”
“Yes, Father, of course.”
“Well, that sort of wanderer and dreamer likes nothing better than to betroth himself to a young girl of ten because it means she is not old enough to marry and he has years of freedom, without the censure of the Emperor. They do it all the time.”
“No, no, Father,” I said. “I shall never forget him.”
I think I forgot him the next day.
I didn’t see Marius again for five years.
I remember because I was fifteen, and should have been married and didn’t want to be married at all. I had wriggled out of it year after year, feigning illness, madness, total uncontrollable fits. But time was running out on me. In fact I’d been eligible for marriage since I was twelve.
At this time, we were all standing together at the foot of the Palatine Hill, watching a most sacrosanct ceremony—the Lupercalia—just one of so many festivals that were integral in Roman life.
Now the Lupercalia was very important to us, though there’s no way to relate its significance to a Christian’s concept of religion. It was pious to enjoy such a festival, to participate as a citizen and as a virtuous Roman.
And besides it was a great pleasure.
So I was there, not so far from the cave of the Lupercal, watching with other young women, as the two chosen men of that year were smeared with blood from a sacrifice of goats and then draped in the bleeding skins of the sacrificed animals. I couldn’t see all of this very well, but I had seen it many times, and when years before two of my brothers had run in this festival, I had pushed to the front to get a good look at it.
On this occasion, I did have a fairly good view when each of the two young men took his own company and began his run around the base of the Palatine Hill. I moved forward because I was supposed to do it. The young men were hitting lightly on the arm of every young woman with a strip of goatskin, which was supposed to purify us. Render us fertile.
I stepped forward and received the ceremonial blow, and then stepped back again, wishing I was a man and could run around the hill with the other men, not an unusual thought for me at any time in my mortal life.
I had some sarcastic inner thoughts about “being purified,” but by this age I behaved in public and would not on any account have humiliated my Father or my brothers.
These strips of goatskin, as you know, David, are called Februa , and February comes from that word. So much for language and all the magic it unwittingly carries with it. Surely the Lupercalia had something to do with Romulus and Remus; perhaps it even echoed some ancient human sacrifice. After all, the young men’s heads were smeared with goat blood. It gives me shivers, because in Etruscan times, long before I was born, this might have been a far more cruel ceremony.
Perhaps this was the occasion that Marius saw my arms. Because I was exposing them to this ceremonial lash, and was already, as you can see, much of a show-off in general, laughing with the others as the company of men continued their run.
In the crowd, I saw Marius. He looked at me, then back to his book. So strange. I saw him standing against a tree trunk and writing. No one did this—stand against a tree, hold a book in one hand and write with the other. The slave stood beside him with a bottle of ink.
Marius’s hair was long and most beautiful. Quite wild.
I said to my Father, “Look, there’s our barbarian friend Marius, the tall one, and he’s writing.”
My Father smiled and said, “Marius is always writing. Marius is good for writing, if for nothing else. Turn around, Lydia. Be still.”
“But he looked at me, Father. I want to talk to him.”
“You will not, Lydia! You will not grace him with one small smile!”
On the way home, I asked my Father, “If you’re going to marry me to someone—if there’s no way short of suicide that I can avoid this disgusting development—why don’t you marry me to Marius? I don’t understand it. I’m rich. He’s rich. I know his Mother was a wild Keltoi princess, but his Father has adopted him.”
My Father said witheringly, “Where have you learned all this?” He stopped in his tracks, always an ominous sign. The crowd broke and streamed around.
“I don’t know; it’s common knowledge.” I turned. There was Marius hovering about, glancing at me. “Father,” I said, “please let me speak to him!”
My Father knelt down. Most of the crowd had gone on. “Lydia, I know this is dreadful for you. I have caved to every objection you have raised to your suitors. But believe you me, the Emperor himself would not approve of you marrying such a mad wandering historian as Marius! He has never served in the military, he cannot enter the Senate, it is quite impossible. When you marry, you will marry well.”
As we walked away, I turned again, thinking only to pick Marius out from the others, but to my surprise he was stark still, looking at me. With his flowing hair, he much resembled the Vampire Lestat. He is taller than Lestat, but he has the same lithe build, the same very blue eyes and a muscular strength to him, and a squareness of face which is almost pretty.
I pulled away from my Father and ran up to him.
“Well, I wanted to marry you,” I said, “but my Father has said no.”
I’ll never forget the expression on his face. But before he could speak, my Father had gathered me up and gone into obliterating respectable conversation:
“How now, Marius, how goes it with your brother in the Army. And how is it with your history. I hear you have written thirteen volumes.”
My Father backed up, virtually carrying me away.
Marius did not move or answer. Soon we were with others hurrying up the hill.
All the course of our lives was changed at that moment. But there was no conceivable way Marius or I could have known it.
Twenty years would pass before we would meet again.
I was thirty-five, then. I can say that we met in a realm of darkness in more respects than one.
For now, let me fill up the gap.
I was married twice, due to pressure from the Imperial House. Augustus wanted us all to have children. I had none. My husbands seeded plenty, however, with slave girls. So I was legally divorced and freed twice over, and determined then to retire from social life, just so the Emperor Tiberius, who had come to the Imperial throne at the age of fifty, would not meddle with me, for he was more a public puritan and domestic dictator than Augustus. If I kept to the house, if I didn’t go abroad to banquets and parties and hang around with the Empress Livia, Augustus’s wife and mother of Tiberius, perhaps I wouldn’t be pushed into becoming a stepmother! I’d stay home. I had to care for my Father. He deserved it. Even though he was perfectly healthy, he was still old!
With all due respect for the husbands I have mentioned, whose names are more than footnotes in common Roman histories, I was a wretched wife.
I had plenty of my own money from my Father, I listened to nothing, and yielded to the act of love only on my own terms, which I always obtained, being gifted with enough beauty to make men really suffer.
I became a member of the Cult of Isis just to spite these husbands and get away from them, so that I could hang around at the Temple of Isis, where I spent an enormous amount of time with other interesting women, some far more adventurous and unconventional than I dared to be. I was attracted to whores. I saw the brilliant, loose women as having conquered a barrier which I, the loving daughter of my Father, would never conquer.
I became a regular at the Temple. I was initiated at last in a secret ceremony, and I walked in every procession of Isis in Rome.
My husbands loathed this. Maybe that’s why after I came home to my Father I gave up the worship. Whatever, it was a good thing perhaps that I had. But fortune could not be so easily shaped by any decision of mine.
Now Isis was an imported goddess, from Egypt, of course, and the old Romans were as suspicious of her as they were of the terrible Cybele, the Great Mother from the Far East, who led her male devotees to castrate themselves. The whole city was filled with these “Eastern cults,” and the conservative population thought them dreadful.
These cults weren’t rational; they were ecstatic or euphoric. They offered a complete rebirth through understanding.
The typical conservative Roman was far too practical for that. If you didn’t know by age five that the gods were made-up creatures and the myths invented stories, then you were a fool.
But Isis had a curious distinction—something that set her far apart from the cruel Cybele. Isis was a loving mother and goddess. Isis forgave her worshipers anything. Isis had come before all Creation. Isis was patient and wise.
That’s why the most degraded woman could pray at the Temple. That’s why none were ever turned away.
Like the Blessed Virgin Mary, who is so well known today throughout the East and West, the Queen Isis had conceived her divine child by divine means. From the dead and castrated Osiris, she had drawn the living seed by her own power. And many a time she was pictured or sculpted holding her divine son, Horus, on her knee. Her breast was bare in all innocence to feed the young god.
And Osiris ruled in the land of the dead, his phallus lost forever in the waters of the Nile, where an endless semen flowed from it, fertilizing the remarkable fields of Egypt every year when the River overflowed its banks.
The music of our Temple was divine. We used the sistrum, a small rigid metal lyre of sorts, and flutes and timbrels. We danced, and we sang together. The poetry of Isis’s litanies was fine and rapturous.
Isis was the Queen of Navigation, much like the Blessed Virgin Mary would be called later, “Our Lady Star of the Sea.”
When her statue was carried to the shore each year, the procession was so splendid that all Rome turned out to see the Egyptian gods with their animal heads, the huge abundance of flowers and the statue of the Queen Mother herself. The air rang with hymns. Her Priests and Priestesses walked in white linen robes. She herself, made of marble, and carried high, holding her sacred sistrum, dressed regally in a Grecian gown with Grecian hair.
That was my Isis. I fell away from her after my last divorce. My Father didn’t like the worship, and I myself had enjoyed it long enough. As a free woman, I wasn’t infatuated with prostitutes. I had it infinitely better. I kept my Father’s house and he was just old enough, in spite of his black hair and his remarkably sharp vision, that the Emperor left me alone.
I can’t say I remembered or thought of Marius. No one had mentioned Marius for years. He had disappeared out of my mind after the Lupercalia. There was no force on Earth that could come between me and my Father.
My brothers all had good luck. They married well, had children and came home from the hard wars in which they fought, keeping the boundaries of the Empire.
My youngest brother, Lucius, I did not like much, but he was always a little anxious and given to drinking and apparently also to gambling, which very much annoyed his wife.
She I loved, as I did all my sisters-in-law and my nieces and nephews. I loved it when they descended upon the house, these flocks of children, squealing and running rampant with “Aunt Lydia’s blessing,” as they were never allowed to do at home.
The eldest of my brothers, Antony, was in potential a great man. Fate robbed him of greatness. But he had been most ready for it, well schooled, trained and most wise.
The only foolish thing I ever knew Antony to do was say to me very distinctly once that Livia, Augustus’s wife, had poisoned him so that her son, Tiberius, would rise. My Father, the only other occupant of the room, told him sternly:
“Antony, never speak of that again! Not here, not anywhere!” My Father stood up, and without planning it, put in perspective the style of life which he and I lived. “Stay away from the Imperial Palace, stay away from the Imperial families, be in the front ranks of the games and always in the Senate, but don’t get into their quarrels and their intrigues!”
Antony was very angry, but the anger had nothing to do with my Father. “I said it only to those two to whom I can say it, you and Lydia. I detest eating dinner with a woman who poisoned her husband! Augustus should have re-established the Republic. He knew when death was coming.”
“Yes, and he knew that he could not restore the Republic. It was simply impossible. The Empire had grown to Britannia in the North, beyond Parthia in the East; it covers Northern Africa. If you want to be a good Roman, Antony, then stand up and speak your conscience in the Senate. Tiberius invites this.”
“Oh, Father, you are much deceived,” said Antony.
My Father put an end to this argument.
But he and I did live exactly the life he had described.
Tiberius was immediately unpopular with the noisy Roman crowds. He was too old, too dry, too humorless, too puritanical and tyrannical at the same time.
But he had one saving grace. Other than his extensive love and knowledge of philosophy, he had been a very good soldier. And that was the most important characteristic the Emperor had to possess.
The troops honored him.
He strengthened the Praetorian Guard around the Palace, hired a man named Sejanus to run things for him. But he didn’t bring legions into Rome, and he spoke a damned good line about personal rights and freedom, that is, if you could stay awake to listen. I thought him a brooder.
The Senate went mad with impatience when he refused to make decisions. They didn’t want to make the decisions! But all this seemed relatively safe.
Then a horrible incident occurred which made me positively detest the Emperor wholeheartedly and lose all my faith in the man and his ability to govern.
This incident involved the Temple of Isis. Some clever evil man, claiming to be the Egyptian god Anubis, had enticed a highborn devotee of Isis to the Temple and gone to bed with her, fooling her completely, though how on Earth he did it I can’t imagine.
I remember her to this day as the stupidest woman in Rome. But there’s probably more to it.
Anyway, it had all happened at the Temple.
And then this man, this fake Anubis, went before the highborn virtuous woman and told her in the plainest terms that he had had her! She went screaming to her husband. It was a scandal of extraordinary flair.
It had been years since I had been at the Temple, and I was glad of it.
But what followed from the Emperor was more dreadful than I ever dreamed.
The entire Temple was razed to the very ground. All the worshipers were banished from Rome, and some of them executed. And our Priests and Priestesses were crucified, their bodies hung on the tree, as the old Roman expression goes, to die slowly, and to rot, for all to see.
My Father came into my bedroom. He went to the small shrine of Isis. He took the statue and smashed it on the marble floor. Then he picked up the larger pieces and smashed each of them. He made dust of her.
I expected him to condemn me for my old habits. I was overcome with sadness and shock at what had happened. Other Eastern cults were being persecuted. The Emperor was moving to take away the right of Sanctuary from various Temples throughout the Empire.
“The man doesn’t want to be Emperor of Rome,” said my Father. “He’s been bent by cruelty and losses. He’s stiff, boring and completely in terror for his life! A man who would not be Emperor cannot be Emperor. Not now.”
“Maybe he’ll step down,” I said sadly. “He has adopted the young General Germanicus Julius Caesar. This means Germanicus is to be his heir, does it not?”
“What good did it do to the earlier heirs of Augustus when they were adopted?” my Father asked.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Use your head,” said my Father. “We cannot continue pretending we are a Republic. We must define the office of this Emperor and the limits of his power! We must outline a form of succession other than murder!”
I tried to calm him.
“Father, let’s leave Rome. Let’s go to our house in Tuscany. It’s always beautiful there, Father.”
“That’s just it, we can’t, Lydia,” he said. “I have to remain here. I have to be loyal to my Emperor. I must do so for all my family. I must stand in the Senate.”
Within months, Tiberius sent off his young and handsome nephew Germanicus Julius Caesar to the East, just to get him away from the adulation of the Roman public. As I said, people spoke their minds.
Germanicus was supposed to be Tiberius’s heir! But Tiberius was too jealous to listen to the crowds screaming praise of Germanicus for his victories in battle. He wanted the man far from Rome.
And so this rather charming and seductive young general went to the East, to Syria; he vanished from the loving eyes of the Roman people, from the core of the Empire where a city crowd could determine the fate of the world.
Sooner or later there would be another campaign in the North, we all figured. Germanicus had hit hard at the German tribes in his last campaign.
My brothers vividly described it to me over the dinner table.
They told how they had gone back to avenge the hideous massacre of General Varus and his troops in the Teutoburg Forest. They could finish the job, if called up again, and my brothers would go. They were exactly the kind of old-fashioned patricians who would go!
Meantime there were rumors that the Delatores , the notorious spies of the Praetorian Guard, pocketed one-third of the estate of those against whom they informed. I found it horrible. My Father shook his head, and said, “That started under Augustus.”
“Yes, Father,” I said, “but then treason was considered a matter of what one did, not what one said.”
“Which is all the more reason to say nothing.” He sat back wearily. “Lydia, sing to me. Get your lyre. Make up one of your comic epics. It’s been a long time.”
“I’m too old for that,” I said, thinking of the silly, bawdy satires on Homer which I used to make up so quickly and freely that everyone marveled. But I jumped at that idea. I remember that night so palpably that I cannot tear myself loose now from the writing of this story, even though I know what pain I must confess and explore.
What does it mean to write? David, you’ll see this question repeated, because with each page I understand more and more—I see the patterns that have before eluded me, and driven me to dream rather than live.
That night I did make a very funny epic. My Father laughed. He fell asleep on his couch. And then, as if from a trance state, he spoke, “Lydia, don’t live out your life alone on account of me. Marry for love! You must not give up!”
By the time I turned around, he was breathing deeply again.
Two weeks later, or maybe it was a month, our life came abruptly to an end.
I came home one day, found the house completely empty except for two terrified old slave men—men who actually belonged to the household of my brother Antony—who let me in and bolted the door ferociously.
I walked through the huge vestibule and then into the peristyle and into the dining room. I beheld an amazing sight.
My Father was in full battle dress, armed with sword and dagger, lacking only his shield. He even wore his red cloak. His breastplate was polished and gleaming.
He stared at the floor and with reason. It had been dug up. The old Hearth from generations ago had been dug up. This had been the first room of this house in the very ancient days of Rome, and it was around this Hearth that the family gathered, worshiped, dined.
I had never even seen it. We had our household Shrines, but this, this giant circle of burnt stones! There were actually ashes there, uncovered. How ominous and sacred it appeared.
“What in the name of the gods is going on?” I asked. “Where is everybody?”
“They are gone,” he said. “I have freed the slaves, sent them packing. I’ve been waiting for you. You have to leave here now!”
“Not without you!”
“You will not disobey me, Lydia!” I had never seen such an imploring yet dignified expression in his face. “There’s a wagon out back, ready to take you to the coast, and a Jewish merchant who is my most trusted friend who will take you by ship out of Italy! I want you to go! Your money’s been loaded on board the ship. Your clothing. Everything. These are men I trust. Nevertheless take this dagger.”
He picked up a dagger from the nearby table and gave it to me. “You’ve watched your brothers enough to know how to use it,” he said, “and this.” He reached for a sack. “This is gold, the currency that all the world accepts. Take it and go.”
I always carried a dagger, and it was in the sling on my forearm but I could not shock him with this just now, so I put the dagger in my girdle and took the purse.
“Father, I’m not afraid to stand by you! Who’s turned on us? Father, you are Senator of Rome. Accused of any crime, you are entitled to a trial before the Senate.”
“Oh, my precious quick-witted daughter! You think that evil Sejanus and his Delatores bring charges out in the open? His Speculatores have already surprised your brothers and their wives and children. These are Antony’s slaves. He sent them to warn me as he fought, as he died. He saw his son dashed against the wall. Lydia, go.”
Of course I knew this was a Roman custom—to murder the entire family, to wipe out the spouse and offspring of the condemned. It was even the law. And in matters such as this, when word got out that the Emperor had turned his back on a man, any of his enemies could precede the assassins.
“You come with me,” I said. “Why do you stay here?”
“I will die a Roman in my house,” he said. “Now go if you love me, my poet, my singer, my thinker. My Lydia. Go! I will not be disobeyed. I have spent the last hour of my life arranging for your salvation! Kiss me and obey me.”
I ran to him, kissed him on the lips and at once the slaves led me through the garden.
I knew my Father. I could not revolt against him in this final wish. I knew that, in old-fashioned Roman style, he would probably take his life before the Speculatores broke down the front door.
When I reached the gate, when I saw the Hebrew merchants and their wagon, I couldn’t go.
This is what I saw.
My Father had cut both his wrists and was walking around the household hearth in a circle, letting the blood flow right down onto the floor. He had really given his wrists the slash. He was turning white as he walked. In his eyes there was an expression I would only come to understand later.
There came a loud crash. The front door was being bashed in. My Father stopped quite still. And two of the Praetorian Guard came at him, one making sneering remarks, “Why don’t you finish yourself off, Maximus, and save us the trouble. Go on.”
“Are you proud of yourselves!” my Father said. “Cowards. You like killing whole families? How much money do you get? Did you ever fight in a true battle. Come on, die with me!”
Turning his back on them, he whipped around with sword and dagger, and brought down both of them, as they came at him, with unanticipated thrusts. He stabbed them repeatedly.
My Father wobbled as if he would faint. He was white. The blood flowed and flowed from his wrists. His eyes rolled up into his head.
Mad schemes came to me. We must get him into the wagon. But a Roman like my Father would never have cooperated.
Suddenly the Hebrews, one young and one elderly, had me by the arms and were carrying me out of the house.
“I vowed I would save you,” said the old man. “And you will not make a liar of me to my old friend.”
“Let go of me!” I whispered. “I will see him through it!”
Throwing them off in their polite timidity I turned and saw from a great distance my Father’s body by the hearth. He had finished himself with his own dagger.
I was thrown into the wagon, my eyes closed, my hands over my mouth. I fell among soft pillows, bolts of fabric, tumbling as the wagon began to roll very slowly down the winding road of the Palatine Hill.
Soldiers shouted at us to get the hell out of the way.
The elderly Hebrew said, “I am nearly deaf, sir, what did you say?”
It worked perfectly. They rode past us.
The Hebrew knew exactly what he was doing. As crowds rushed past us he kept to his slow pace.
The one young one came into the back of the wagon. “My name is Jacob,” he said. “Here, put on all these white mantles. You look now like an Eastern woman. If questioned at the gate, hold up your veil and pretend you do not understand.”
We went through the Gates of Rome with amazing ease. It was “Hail David and Jacob, has it been a good trip?”
I was helped aboard a large merchant vessel, with galley slaves and sails, nothing unusual at all, and then into a small barren wooden room.
“This is all we have for you,” said Jacob. “But we are sailing now.” He had long wavy brown hair and a beard. He wore striped robes to the ground.
“In the dark?” I asked. “Sailing in the dark?”
This was not usual.
But as we moved out, as the oars began to dip, and the ship found its proper distance and began to move South, I saw what we were doing.
All the beautiful Southwestern coast of Italy was well lighted by her hundreds and hundreds of palatial villas. Lighthouses stood on the rocks.
“We will never see the Republic again,” said Jacob wearily, as though he were a Roman citizen, which I think in fact he was. “But your Father’s last wish is fulfilled. We are safe now.”
The old man stepped up to me. He told me that his name was David.
The old man apologized profusely that there were no female attendants for me. I was the only woman on board.
“Oh, please, banish any such thoughts from your mind! Why have you taken these risks?”
“For years we have done business with your Father,” said David. “Years ago, when pirates sank our ships, your Father carried the debt. He trusted us again, and we repaid him fivefold. He has laid up riches for you. They are all stowed, among cargo we carried, as if they were nothing.”
I went into the cabin and collapsed on the small bed. The old man, averting his eyes, brought a cover for me.
Slowly I realized something. I had fully expected them to betray me.
I had no words. I had no gestures or sentiments inside me. I turned my head to the wall. “Sleep, lady,” he said.
A nightmare came to me, a dream such as I have never had in my life. I was near a river. I wanted to drink blood. I waited in high grass to catch one of the villagers, and when I had this poor man, I took him by his shoulders, and I sank two fang teeth into his neck. My mouth filled with delicious blood. It was too sweet and too potent to be described, and even in the dream I knew it. But I had to move on. The man was nearly dead. I let him fall. Others who were more dangerous were after me. And there was another terrible threat to my life.
I came to the ruins of a Temple, far from the marsh. Here it was desert—just with the snap of the fingers, from wetland to sand. I was afraid. Morning was coming. I had to hide. Besides, I was also being hunted. I digested this delicious blood, and I entered the Temple. No place to hide! I lay my whole body on the cold walls! They were graven with pictures. But there was no small room, no hiding place for me.
I had to make it to the hills before sunrise, but that wasn’t possible. I was moving right towards the sun!
Suddenly, there came above the hills a great fatal light. My eyes hurt unbearably. They were on fire. “My eyes,” I cried and reached to cover them. Fire covered me. I screamed. “Amon Ra, I curse you!” I cried another name. I knew it meant Isis, but it was not that name, it was another title for her that flew from my lips.
I woke up. I sat bolt upright, shivering.
The dream had been as sharply defined as a vision. It had a deep resonance in me of memory. Had I lived before?
I went out on the deck of the ship. All was well enough. We could see the coastline clearly still, and the lighthouses, and the ship moved on. I stared at the sea, and I wanted blood.
“This is not possible. This is some evil omen, some twisted grief,” I said