Excerpt

Blood Communion

Anne Rice

The following is an exclusive excerpt from Blood Communion, by internationally bestselling horror author Anne Rice, who cemented the place of the supernatural in modern literature. In the following passage, a vampire returns to New Orleans after a long time abroad, and remembers how he first became a vampire.

The slaughter of the band of rebel mavericks in Louisiana was inevitable. They’d been warned to stay away from New Orleans, where they’d been known to bully other blood drinkers and wreak enough havoc to make the local news. And this time, not only had they fractured the peace to attack the estate of an older immortal appealing for help, but they’d broken into my townhouse in the Rue Royale, stolen clothes from my closets and chests there, and stupidly slashed to pieces a minor but beautiful Impressionist painting which was dear to Louis.

Now, you probably know full well who Louis is and what he means to me. But for the newer fledglings, I’ll say a few words here on that subject.

Louis de Pointe du Lac was a landowner in French colonial Louisiana when I gave him the Dark Blood sometime before the close of the eighteenth century. A little while after that, largely to bind him to me, as I loved him very much, I brought a child vampire into our family, and the three of us lived together in relative peace for sixty years in the old French part of New Orleans.

All of this was described in full by Louis in the very first of the Vampire Chronicles, published over forty years ago. Louis told the story of his life in that book, and also the story of his quest to find something that would give his painful existence as a vampire some meaning. It was a tragic story with a tragic ending. And it was Louis’s outrageous lies about me, intentional and unintentional (some people should not be granted a poetic license), that prompted me to write my own autobiography and tell the secrets of Marius to the whole world.

Article continues after advertisement

Well, Louis and I have been reunited a number of times, and this time around, at the Court in France, our reunion is enduring. He left that Impressionist painting behind at my request in our old flat in the Rue Royale, and now these miserable miscreants had senselessly destroyed it.

But it was the appeal of the older vampire which compelled me to make the trip across the Atlantic to settle the score. An immortal totally unknown to me, by the name of Dmitri Fontayne, had written to me on parchment with India ink in a gorgeous old hand to recount how this band of rebels had tried to burn down his house in the bayou country, stolen his horses, and ruthlessly murdered his two mortal servants.

This could not go unpunished.

So off to Louisiana I went, along with my two bodyguards, Thorne and Cyril, of whom I have become increasingly fond, and it’s a good thing, because they go with me everywhere.

Now, there used to be a vital reason for this, as there was a time when I carried the Sacred Core within me, the intelligence named Amel, to whom every vampire on the planet was connected. Had I been destroyed during the time, all the blood drinkers of the world would have perished with me.

But I no longer carry within me the Sacred Core. Indeed, no one does. Amel has been liberated, and his intellect now resides in a new flesh-and-blood body, provided for him by our fellow immortals, the Children of Atlantis.

Once this was accomplished, I had expected to lose Thorne and Cyril. I fully expected them to announce that there was no reason anymore for them to protect me. But quite to my surprise they both demanded to remain with me. And the Council of Elders formally asked them to remain, explaining that I was still the Prince, and the continuing vitality of the Court depended on me.

This was a little bit of a shock, and not an unpleasant one. It marked a deepening of my awareness of how very much my presence was required at the Château, and I couldn’t bring myself to complain about being needed, respected, and wanted.

So off we went, the three of us, to find the miscreants on the prowl in New Orleans.

So off we went, the three of us, to find the miscreants on the prowl in New Orleans.

I will not recount how we annihilated them. I took no pleasure in it. I ascertained in each case that the rebel had indeed been warned, was determined to make mischief, believed we old ones to be bragging about powers we didn’t possess, and then I destroyed them. I used the Fire Gift—or the telepathic ability to set them ablaze—and coupled with it a strong telekinetic blast that smashed their heads to pieces before they went up in smoke. I did not want to make them suffer. I wanted them gone. They’d had their chance to travel the Devil’s Road and they’d gratuitously hurt another blood drinker for no good reason and murdered humans dear to him.

But it bothered me, all this. The leader of the pack, the last to die, had asked me by what authority I was to take his life, and I didn’t really have a good answer for him. After all, I’d been the Brat Prince for decades, had I not? The question burned. Of course I could have rattled off a litany of reasons, but I didn’t.

And when it was done, and nothing remained of these unwise fledglings except pools of dark grease on the rooftops on which they’d fallen, I felt faintly disgusted, and desperately thirsty.

Thorne, Cyril, and I spent an hour hunting. My craving for innocent blood was as usual damn near unbearable, so I settled for the infernal torment of the Little Drink from any number of tender, fetching young victims in a darkened nightclub, packed before the stage on which a folk singer sang tender laments with a southern drawl that made her sound faintly British.

After that I walked. Just walked. Walked on New Orleans pavements which are like no other pavements in the world, some of flagstone, some of herringbone brick, some of fractured and fragmented cement, many dangerously ruptured by the roots of trees, and some overgrown with tall grass, and others slimy with velvet-green moss, and some even set with old street names in blue letters.

New Orleans, my New Orleans.

I finally went back to my flat, and inspected the ruined painting. I left a note for my local attorney to have it restored, commended him on doing what he could to clean up the flat, and then sat in my favorite gilded armchair in the front parlor, in the dark, watching the headlamps on Royale float across the wallpapered ceiling. I love the sounds of the French Quarter on mild nights . . . laughter, chatter, gaiety, Dixieland jazz drifting out of open doors, rock music pounding somewhere—an eternal carouse.

The following night, we went into the bayou country to find the residence of Dmitri Fontayne, the blood drinker with the elegant handwriting.

I was in love with the being the moment I glimpsed the house and the great black iron picket fence surrounding it. Such high fences these days are often made of aluminum, and they just don’t look the same as iron. But this fence was indeed crafted from true iron and very high, with gilded pickets like the great fences and gates of Paris, and I loved that mark of care, including the heaviness of the arched gate as I opened it.

Down a relatively short drive lined with majestic oaks stood the house itself, with high front steps of marble and galleries upstairs and down running across its broad façade. Graceful two-story Corinthian columns punctuated these galleries, giving the place a Graeco-Roman grandeur that suggested a temple.

I figured the place had been built in the flush years right before the Civil War when rich Americans threw up such immense houses in desperate competition with one another, using the native cypress wood and stucco to produce an edifice that appeared to be all of marble when it was not.

I caught the scent of the oil lamps before I marked their soft mellow light behind the heavily figured lace curtains, and I stood for a moment on the bottom step looking up at the fanlight above the broad front door. All the scents of Louisiana, so familiar, so enticing, descended on me: the raw fragrance of the magnolias blooming in abundance on the nearby trees, and the deep perfume of the roses in the garden patches along the galleries, and jasmine, night jasmine of such a sweetness that one could drift off into endless dreaming just breathing it in, and remembering long-ago nights, and life moving confidently at a slower pace.

Steps in the hall beyond, and then a figure in the doorway, imperially slim, as the poet says, and with hair like my own, long, so blond it was almost white, gathered back in the fashion Marius and I had popularized at Court. And a hand raised with the flash of a ruby ring beckoning for me to enter.

I hurried to accept the welcome while Thorne and Cyril drifted off to make an inspection of the property, as they so often did.

As soon as I clasped his hand, I liked this blood drinker. His eyes were not large, but they were radiantly blue and his smile animated his entire face.

“Come in, Prince, do come in,” he said in very precise English, sharpened by an accent I couldn’t place.

He was my height and indeed quite thin, wearing a narrow-waisted modern coat and an old-fashioned lace-trimmed shirt over flannel trousers, and wingtipped shoes polished to a mirror luster, with string ties.

He drew me into a broad central hallway, paved in black-and-white marble, and then into a great spacious double parlor, so common in old plantation houses, which had become a library lined with books of all ages. A center table stood in the second parlor, and there we sat down to talk.

By then I’d glimpsed a dining room across the hallway, with a long oval table and English Chippendale chairs. That room too was lined with bookshelves.

Quaint glass oil lamps scattered here and there on the periphery of these rooms provided warm light. The highly polished heart-pine floors were lustrous. Those old floors had never meant to be bare, but rather an under flooring for carpets or parquet. But the polymer lacquer had rendered them hard and beautiful and they gave an amber glow to the room.

“Please call me Mitka,” he said, “and your bodyguards are most welcome to come in. My name is Dmitri Fontayne. I’m part Russian, part French. I was made a blood drinker in the time of Great Catherine in Russia.”

This delighted me. Vampires in the main don’t volunteer their age or their history this readily, and he seemed entirely trusting when he came so easily to the point.

His mind was entirely in accord with his words, and these words particularly fascinated me. I don’t think I’d ever encountered a blood drinker with quite this background. And there was a great deal I wanted to tell him about Louis suddenly, Louis who was immersed in the novels of Tolstoy, and had myriad questions about them which no one cared to answer, and how much Louis would love him right off.

But I came back to the moment.

“Mitka, my pleasure,” I said. “And you know who I am. Lestat will do, though it seems the world likes to address me as ‘the Prince.’ Don’t worry about Thorne or Cyril. They know I want to talk to you alone.”

“As you wish,” he said. “But they mustn’t go far. You have enemies.”

“If you’re speaking of Rhoshamandes, I know all about him and his latest activities. . . .”

“Ah, but there are others, Prince,” he said. “Please tell them to remain near at hand.”

I did as he wished, sending a silent message to the others, who were prowling around the stables now, having a good time with the horses, which were apparently splendid, and which they wanted to ride.

“Which enemy is this? You do know the band of mavericks in New Orleans has been annihilated?”

“Yes, I do,” he said. A shadow passed over his face, and he looked down for a moment as if he were murmuring a prayer for the dead, but I caught nothing, and then he surprised me by quickly making the Russian Sign of the Cross. Like the Greeks, the Russians touch the right shoulder before the left.

I love the sounds of the French Quarter on mild nights . . . laughter, chatter, gaiety, Dixieland jazz drifting out of open doors, rock music pounding somewhere—an eternal carouse.

As he looked up, his face brightened beautifully and I felt a kind of elation that was all too common of late, simply being here with him in this ornate parlor surrounded by hundreds of enticing volumes, and feeling the night air through the long open windows to the south. Roses again, the scent of roses in Louisiana is perhaps stronger than anywhere else, and then there came on the breeze a great drift of green fragrances from the nearby swamp, all so redolent of life.

I had to get myself in hand. Fits of laughter, I’d always struggled with at odd moments, and fits of rage occasionally, but now it was spells of elation, as if the common comforts of the world were miracles.

A passage came to me suddenly from Tolstoy, something that Louis had read to me, something that Prince Andrei Bolkonsky was thinking as he lay close to death. Something about love, love making everything possible, and then Louis’s strange comment that Tolstoy’s first two great novels were studies of happiness.

“Ah yes,” said the blood drinker opposite me with irresistible enthusiasm. “ ‘Happy families are all alike,’ ” he said quoting the famous first line from Anna Karenina. Then he caught himself. “Forgive me. I make it a matter of courtesy not to ransack the minds of those I’ve only just met. But I couldn’t help it.”

“No need to be concerned at all,” I said. I looked about the room. Too many topics of conversation pressed in on me and I tried to find some order. What had we been talking about? Enemies. I didn’t want to talk about enemies. I started to talk about all that I saw before me, the inevitable Philadelphia wing chairs flanking the marble fireplace, and a tall secretaire punctuating the bookshelves, a lovely piece with inlaid designs and mirrored doors above the flap of the desk.

He was at once brightly happy over this. And something mad occurred to me, that every single time I ever encountered another blood drinker in friendship, it was as if I were meeting and entering an entire world. Seems I’d read somewhere, or heard it in a film, that the Jews believe each life is a universe, and if you take a life, well, then you are destroying a universe. And I thought, Yes, this is true of us, this is why we must love one another, because we are each an entire world. And with blood drinkers there were centuries of stories to tell, millennia of experiences to be related and understood.

Yes, I know what you’re thinking as you read this. All this is obvious. When people suddenly understand love they can sound like perfect idiots, true.

“This enemy is a creature named Baudwin.” Mitka’s voice startled me. “An unsavory creature but a powerful creature, ancient, as ancient perhaps as Marius or Pandora, though I couldn’t myself tell. He was on the prowl in New York at the time that you came there, and made an enemy of Rhoshamandes, and were proclaimed the Prince. I haven’t seen him, however, in over a year.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” I said. “I’ll meet this Baudwin when the time comes. Let’s not waste these moments on him, though I appreciate the warning.”

There was no need for us to discuss the obvious, that if this Baudwin was of the same age as Marius or Pandora, he would destroy me in a moment with the Fire Gift just as I’d destroyed the mavericks in New Orleans. It was sobering to realize that there might be any number of such creatures whom I hadn’t come to know yet, who knew of me. I liked to believe that I met all of the Children of the Millennia and had a fair idea of who hated me and who did not. But I’d never heard of Baudwin.

“I love your house and all you’ve achieved here,” I said, pushing the darker thoughts from my mind. It was enough to know that Cyril and Thorne were paying heed to every word we said.

“I’m so happy you approve,” he responded. “I wouldn’t call it a restoration, since I have used some modern materials and made some distinctly modern choices, but I’ve done my best to use only superior materials throughout.” He too seemed to forget the darker thoughts and his face was fired with enthusiasm now, and as so often happens, the human warmth and the human lines came back to it, and I could see what sort of man he might have been. Likely thirty years of age, no more than that, and I noted how very delicate were his hands with which he gestured easily, and all of the rings he wore—even his ruby ring—were made with pearls.

“It’s taken me years to acquire the furnishings,” he said. “I remember in the beginning when I first came here in the 1930s, it seemed easier to find the very high-quality survivals from the eighteenth century—paintings, chairs, that sort of thing.”

He talked on easily of the bones of the house being excellent, and the old plaster falling away to leave bare-brick chain walls. Chain walls are walls that went all the way down to the ground rather than a foundation, and I had not heard that term in many years.

“The house was a total ruin when I first happened upon it. You understand I had no idea you were in New Orleans in those times. I knew there were blood drinkers about, but I knew nothing of them until many decades later when I read all of your stories, and I was riding on the old road to Napoleonville when I saw the house on the night of a bright moon, and I swore it spoke to me. It beckoned me to brave the wreckage and come inside, and once I did I knew I must bring it all back to its former glory, so that some night when I finally left it, it would be infinitely better than I’d found it, and I’d left my stamp upon it with pride.”

I smiled, loving the way his voice flowed with such easy sincerity and excitement.

“Ah, you know these old heart-pine floors were never meant to be bare, but we finish them with polymer now and they are hard and have an amber sheen.”

“Well, now there are no vandals to torment you,” I said. “And I’ll see to it that none dare in future. I think what happened last night in New Orleans will be known far and wide. I didn’t leave anyone alive to tell the tale, but such happenings are always known.”

“Yes, they are,” he said. “I knew when they died.” And that shadow came across his face. “I mean no harm to other blood drinkers. If I’d known when I came to Louisiana that you were here and you needed help, I would have come to you. I had been in Lima, Peru, for many years, well, almost since I’d made the crossing centuries ago, and America was so new to me, so startlingly new.”

“I can well understand that you’d never want to leave this house,” I said. “But why don’t you come to Court? I wish that you’d come.”

“Ah, but you see, I have an enemy there, quite an implacable enemy, and I’d be arranging my own demise if I came.”

He said this last with seriousness but not with fear.

“In fact, I must confess I welcome the opportunity to put the matter before you so that perhaps you can prevail upon this enemy to allow me to come to Court and leave me alone.”

“I’ll do more than that,” I said. “I’ll settle the matter. Tell me who this is.”

I liked him. I liked him very much. I liked his lean face and his well-shaped animated lips and his soft blue eyes. His hair, though blond, had a pearl-white look to it; and his eyes had a pearly look as well. His jacket was light blue, and he had chosen pearl buttons for it, and of course there were those rings on his right hand. Why, I wondered, only on the right hand? If a man wears three rings on his right hand, then usually he wears two or three on his left.

I couldn’t read his mind as he looked at me, but I knew he was pondering this enemy, and I admired the way that he could keep his thoughts veiled. His expression was attentive, and pleasant. Finally he spoke.

“Arjun,” he said in a soft voice.

“Well, of course, I know him.”

“Yes . . . I’ve read . . . in the two books. And he is there at Court, isn’t he? He’s with the Countess De Malvrier.”

Countess De Malvrier was an old name for Pandora, a name that belonged to an earlier existence and a name she never used now. And yes, Arjun was at Court with her and, to the best of my estimation, making her life rather miserable.

Arjun had been roused from the earth by “the Voice,” who happened to be the spirit, Amel, inside of us, coming to consciousness and desperate to destroy some of those vampires connected to him. But all this was history now. And Arjun, unprepared for and uninterested in the modern age, lodged at Court rather like a patient in a madhouse, gazing about him with menacing eyes and clinging always to Pandora.

There had been times when he seemed restored, pleasant, ready to begin to embrace a new existence, but these periods had become infrequent, and Arjun frightened many of the other vampires who lacked his age and power.

“I’ve read the latest books over twice,” Fontayne said. “And I have the hope that Arjun has softened towards me, but I wouldn’t want to put this unexpectedly to a test.”

“Why is Arjun a threat to you?” I asked. “Explain the whole thing. Give me as much as you can so that I can talk to him and really obtain a resolution.”

A sudden memory surprised me—of that maverick in New Orleans demanding of me in a rage, “By what authority do you do this to me?”

I felt a shiver and tried to shake it off. “I want to be of help,” I said.

“You have the authority of the Council of Elders behind you,” he said now with great sympathy. He reached out for my hand. “That is the source of your authority and also the needs of the entire Court.”

I liked him so much. I saw no reason to conceal it. His generous expression, his easy speech, all this was pleasant, as was his house with its books gleaming on the shelves in the gentle light.

“I have my doubts,” I said. “But I behave as if I had none, and I’ll behave that way with Arjun, if you’ll put the case before me.”

“Of course. I assure you I’m innocent of any wrongdoing,” he said. “I have never done anything intentional to displease Arjun.”

“So let me know what happened.”

“I was in Saint Petersburg in the 1700s,” he said. “Great Catherine was enchanted with European society then, and my father had been a Parisian, and my mother a Russian countess. Both were dead, however, when I sought a position serving Catherine’s court. I spoke Russian and French naturally, and also English as well as I speak it now. I gained a position almost immediately as a translator and later working as a French tutor to a noble household, and from there I answered the advertisement of the Countess Malvrier. Hers was one of the most lovely houses in Petersburg then, on the English Embankment, entirely new and lavishly furnished, but she was reclusive and seldom appeared in society and never invited anyone into her home.

“My first meeting with her was shocking. She had me come up to her bedchamber. She was wearing a simple nightgown of white gauze and in her bare feet, standing by the fireplace, and she asked me to brush her hair.

“I was stunned. There were female servants all over the house, and plenty of male servants too. But I hadn’t the slightest intention of refusing her. I took the hairbrush and I brushed her hair.”

I saw it as he spoke. I saw Pandora etched by the light of the fire. I saw that she was trembling, and her face was drawn and her eyes were large with hunger and pain.

“Within seconds, the door of my room opened and the Countess was there. She examined my wound and then she very simply told me to trust her in what she did next and I would have the power to live until the end of time.”

“She wanted me to be her librarian, she said, and to go through boxes and boxes of books. Seems she’d collected these books over many years and from all over the world. Now I know of course that she’d been collecting them for centuries. She asked me to put these books in order, to fill the shelves of her drawing rooms with them.” He stopped and gestured to his own library. “This is so small by comparison, but then those Russian houses were so very grand. There was unimaginable wealth in Russia then, and such a great appetite for European art.”

“I can imagine it,” I said. And again I saw Pandora looking straight at me as through his gaze. I saw Mitka standing behind her with the brush in his hand. Her hair was long, brown, rippling with waves, falling over her shoulders as if she were an illustration in a Pre-Raphaelite painting. I could smell a heady incense in the room, something Eastern and exotic and intoxicating. The only illumination came from the flames of the fire.

“Yes,” he went on, “and finally she said that even more important was that I read to her in French, that I read the works of Diderot and Rousseau. She wanted me to read scientific works to her in English—and to know about all things European but most especially the Enlightenment, le Siècle des Lumières. She abruptly stopped talking of this and asked me to explain John Locke to her, and what was the appeal of David Hume? She wanted to know all about Voltaire.

“Of course none of this in itself was out of the ordinary really in that the Empress Catherine was in love with all of these very same European writers and thinkers, and all the Court was cultivating an interest to follow the Empress, whether they cared about such things or not.

“Seemed for months on end I read to her, aloud, nightly, sometimes from sunset to the early hours of the morning. Of course I never saw her in the day and I wasn’t surprised. I usually worked on ordering the library until noon. Then I’d sleep, and sometimes especially in winter she woke me well before I was supposed to be called.

“I didn’t care. I adored her. I fell in love with her. She told me that she did not want for this to happen, and that her lover was demanding and cruel, and might appear at any time. I won’t dwell on this, but I did have fantasies of killing him. But I assure you, I never sought really to harm him. All this was, well, poetic.”

I laughed. “I understand,” I said. He smiled gratefully and continued:

“When he finally did appear, I hated him immediately. He was Arjun; he dressed then entirely as a Russian, and the first time I saw him he was piled in furs and wearing leather gloves and had just come in from a storm. It was close to midnight and I was talking softly to the Countess about a possible trip to Paris, assuring her that she would love such a thing, and she kept saying what she always said to any of my suggestions, that it was absolutely impossible, and that I must make Paris real to her, and I was doing my best to describe it when in came Arjun.

“He told me to get out of his sight immediately, and thereafter for the next year, I saw the Countess only in the library and when she was appropriately dressed, and then only for about three hours of an evening before she and Arjun went out.

“I was fiercely jealous but kept it to myself. After all, I had no title, didn’t come from a great family, and had only a small income that was less than half of what I was being paid for my work.

“I did everything I could to stay out of the way of the master when he was home, to appear busy regardless of the hour, and to keep to my room whenever I could. But this wasn’t enough. Often when the master appeared I was told to go out.

“Alas, we still encountered one another, once at the ballet, another time at the opera, and then again at a ball. Then it became all too clear that I was going to run into Arjun wherever I happened to go in Petersburg, and finally one night when I came home unexpectedly and caught the master and the mistress in the middle of a huge argument, Arjun turned to me, and in a fit of snarling rage, drew his saber and ran me through with it. I couldn’t move or speak. The blood was pouring out of me. He was laughing. He had the servants lock me in my room.

“I was dying, there was little doubt of that, and I was in a rage that no physician had been sent for, but within a few minutes I was too weak even to get off the bed. I thought this was the end, and as I was thirty-four years of age, I was bitter and disconsolate and in a lot of pain.

“Suddenly I heard loud voices on the floor below and then the sound of the great front door of the house being slammed, and I knew that the murderer had gone out. Perhaps now, I thought, someone will help me.

“Within seconds, the door of my room opened and the Countess was there. She examined my wound and then she very simply told me to trust her in what she did next and I would have the power to live until the end of time.

“I almost laughed. I remember I said, ‘Countess, I will settle right now for living through this night.’

“I couldn’t even form a sensible question to all this, when she lifted me in her arms and began to draw the blood out of my wound and into her own mouth. I fainted or went into a swoon.

“I don’t recall seeing anything, or knowing anything, or having any veil lifted on the mysteries of life, only a kind of warm ecstasy and then a drowsiness in which my death seemed inevitable and a fairly simple step. I tried to make some sense of what she had done to me, and I decided she was trying to make it easy for me to die, and she certainly had. I no longer cared. Then she lifted me up again and this time she tore open her left wrist with her teeth and forced my mouth against the gash.

“You know what this was like, the taste of her blood. And the sudden ravenous thirst triggered in me by this. I drank the blood; I drank it as if it were wine going down my throat; and I heard her voice speaking to me, low and steady, without stop. She told a simple story of her life. I don’t recall expression in her voice, or even a cadence. It was like a golden ribbon unfurling, to listen to her, and feel this blood coursing into me, as she went on about the great blood drinker who had made her, Marius, and how deeply she loved him and how they’d been lost to one another, and how she had traveled the world. She spoke of powerful blood drinkers like herself. And some of those names I’ve found since in your books. Sevraine was the name that I most distinctly remember. She spoke of seeking refuge in the halls of the Great Sevraine. At some point, she spoke of India, of temples and jungles in India and of encountering the Prince Arjun and of bringing him over, and of how he had become the cruelest of lovers, giving her the worst torment she’d ever known.

“There came a moment when I was no longer drinking blood. I was seated on the side of the bed looking at her as she hastily put me in a long fur-lined coat to hide my bloodstained garments and then we went out into the night.

“The predicable things happened. I took my first victim. A poor beggar all but dead from the cold. I died the death, as she put it, the vile fluids streaming out of me, and then it was home again in haste to my rooms, where I bathed and dressed in fresh garments, and then she took me into the closed-off east wing of the house, and found a hiding place for me and told me not to stir from that spot until it was safe. She had explained to me about the paralysis that would come over me when the first light shone in the sky. And I slept that strange unearthly sleep we know in which I dreamed of her, and of embracing her, and of a passion that had no real meaning for her, wanting her desperately and vowing to take her away from Arjun.

“Arjun went into a rage when he learned what she had done. I could hear him easily when I finally opened my eyes. It seemed he was destroying the entire house.

“I couldn’t listen to this and do nothing, though she’d told me of his immense strength and the powers he had to destroy with his mind, though she’d warned me that he and she both possessed the power to burn objects and persons at will.

“I came out of my hiding place and rushed towards the central portion of the house, determined to fight him to the death.

“But he was gone. She met me, and led me back into her bedroom. There was no time, she said, to provide for me as she had wanted to do. But I must listen to what she said. She undid the strings from one of her pillowcases and into this she poured all the jewels that were on her dressing table, emeralds and pearls and rubies and bracelets of gold. And to this she added all the coin she had in her rooms. And then she gave me the name of the bank through which she would provide an income for me, and told me what code words I was to use to claim it.

“The predicable things happened. I took my first victim. A poor beggar all but dead from the cold.”

“She was just finishing these instructions, and I had the pillowcase sack in my hands, when in came Arjun, quiet and as huge as a tiger, I would imagine, but then I’ve never been surprised by an actual tiger, and there he was, flashing with menace. He terrified me.”

I saw Arjun as Fontayne had seen him.

Arjun was a big man, dark of skin, with remarkable black eyes that made me think of opals. He had ink-black hair that was mostly a knotted and tangled mass these days and he roamed about the Château in a long ornamented gown called a kurta with silken pajamas under it, his feet bare.

In Fontayne’s story, Arjun was splendidly dressed as an eighteenth-century gentleman in shimmering gold brocade and lace with breeches and white stockings and shoes with bejeweled buckles, his hair hidden by a crimson turban. His face was hideous, deformed by rage and hatred.

“ ‘I’ll let you live,’ Arjun said, ‘for one good reason, that she will make my existence Hell if I do to you what I want. But if I ever lay eyes on you again, Mitka, I will burn you alive.’

“And having said this in his soft dark voice, he turned this power of his, this evil power to immolate living creatures with his mind, he turned this power on a great painting on the wall and I saw it turn black and wither, and then burst into tiny flames as it fell in smoking fragments to the floor. ‘You will die like that,’ he said to me, ‘and slowly, and you will be crying for me to end it before I do. Now go, get out of here.’

“The Countess nodded to me, and told me firmly not even to look at her, but to do what Arjun told me.

“And this is why I cannot come to Court, Lestat, because if he is there, he will do what he promised to do on that night.”

I reflected on this for a long moment. I was about to respond when he spoke again.

“I swear to you,” he said. “I have never done anything to offend him. Yes, I did love her, and I did covet her, but I swear to you that I did nothing to invite his enmity. He was offended at my very existence and simply maddened to learn that she had given me the Blood.”

“I understand,” I said. Again I reflected, and then after a long time I said this:

“He is at Court and he is difficult and cantankerous. He is a thorn in the side of Marius. I will go to the council and tell them this story and then I will ask for him to come in and tell us if he has any objections to your coming to Court. I will let him make the choice, either to accept your coming, or to insist that you don’t. And if he does insist that you cannot come, that he will destroy you if he sees you, well, I will demand to know why. If you’ve told me the truth, he will have no good reason. And it was for disputes like this that my authority, whatever its source, was made. I’ll do my best for you. I will insist that he agree to forgive whatever injured him in the past.”

I could see that he was anxious and filled with misgiving. In a low voice he began to say that perhaps this was too much to ask of me.

“No,” I said. “This is why I am the Prince, so that all disputes of this kind can be settled, and so that all can come to Court and in peace. You let me do what I must do. And I am confident that I’ll be sending for you very soon.”

He shuddered all over as if he were about to cry and then he rose to his feet, came towards me, and lifted my right hand and kissed it.

I stood and we walked out of the parlor together. I suppose I had some vague idea of going back to New Orleans now, but really I didn’t want to leave Fontayne.

It was far too late of course to return tonight to France.

“But you trust in me,” I told him.

“There is one thing more,” he said in a whisper.

“What is it?”

“I’ve never . . . I don’t know how . . . I cannot make the crossing of the sea as you do.”

“Oh, yes, you can,” I said. “Don’t worry about this. I’ll come back for you and I’ll show you how to do it. You’re older than I am. You’ll learn quite fast.”

I did not want to go. He sensed it.

An absurd thought came to me, that being here with him, being in his house, simply sitting at a table in his parlor and talking to him, it had all felt natural and good, as if in spite of the topic of our conversation we were simply human beings and all the dark world didn’t exist. I was ashamed of this. Why did we have to be “like human beings”? I demanded of myself. Why could we not simply be blood drinkers together? And there came over me again the realization of how new it was to me to love others of the tribe and accept them as beings that had a right to be alive as I was alive.

I looked at him, at his shining eyes, and his congenial smile, and he took my hand and said he wanted to show the house to me.

We remained together for several hours after that, during which we walked through many rooms and I admired not only the endless book collection that flowed from room to room, but many of his paintings, including a few Russian painters of the nineteenth century I’d never heard of before. Fontayne told me that his most valuable paintings were not here in this house, that after the attack of the mavericks, he’d put them in a vault in a New Orleans bank, but that he might bring them to Court if I would accept them. I was delighted.

For me, this was a lovely time. I was overflowing with affection for him, called him Mitka easily, and finally did ask the inevitable simpleton questions, “Did you really know Catherine the Great herself?” and “Did you in fact speak to her?”

“Yes” was the answer to both, and the questions sparked a long reverie about what it had been like in Saint Petersburg in those times, and how much he’d enjoyed the balls at Court, and the passion of the Russians for all things French. Of course the Revolution in France had had a mighty impact, yet life in Russia had remained stable and it had been unthinkable that revolution would occur there.

We might have continued that conversation for a year.

We walked about outside the house, through the gardens which were crowded with flowers and vines that blossom at night, and I saw Fontayne’s stables, including the wreckage of the one which had been burned, and only towards the end of the night did he confide to me that the mavericks had destroyed a young woman whom he wanted to bring into the Blood.

I felt this like a sword to my heart. I was furious.

“And why they did this I have no idea,” he said. “Why come after me? Why trouble me? I never hunt in New Orleans. Why destroy those mortals who were attached to my house?”

I wished the little beasts could have been brought back to life so that I might kill them all over again. I told him so.

“And I was only waiting for your approval to bring her into the Blood,” he added. “You know, I wanted to meet you, to get your permission.”

This silenced me, but it was not the first time a blood drinker had volunteered this complete acceptance of the Court and my position as the sovereign.

“Surely you will be making rules as to who might be brought into the Blood,” he said as we kept walking. “Surely you will set some standards.”

I didn’t answer. I knew that the council was considering this very thing. Yet all of us agreed that the right to make another blood drinker, to transform another human with our own blood, was such an intensely personal and intimate and emotional act that we did not know how to go about imposing a law on it. I tried to say something to that effect.

“It’s rather like telling humans that they cannot have children.”

I could see that he was now in such deep pain he couldn’t talk. We continued down a long garden path and made a round of a large pond filled with monstrous goldfish, flashing under the light of many Japanese lanterns along the shore. Finally he said, “Well, what’s the use of speaking of it now? They destroyed her. There was nothing left of her when they had done their work. I cannot, I will not, dwell on it, wondering what were her last moments.”

I wanted to ask if the girl had known what he had planned, but why cause him more misery? I thought of my own architect back in the village on the mountain below the Château, and my own plan to bring him over, and I thought I should act on that immediately.

Since time immemorial, immortals had tormented other immortals by destroying human beings under their protection.

Since time immemorial, immortals had tormented other immortals by destroying human beings under their protection.

Finally, I asked him about this Baudwin, whom he’d characterized as my enemy. I asked if Baudwin had had any connection to the mavericks whom I’d just wiped out.

“No,” he said. “Baudwin is ancient, and I don’t know him. He came to me with one purpose. He had heard about the books you’ve written and the Court and wanted to know what I thought of all this. When I didn’t respond to his outrage at the idea of a monarchy or a Court, he appeared to lose interest in me. I didn’t have an easy moment in his presence. He was too old, too powerful.” He paused, looking at me, and then he said, “It’s hard for me to believe that young and old can congregate at the Court.”

“Well, they do,” I said. “The lion and the lamb lie down together there.” I shrugged. “This is the spirit of the Court. The old rule of hospitality prevails: all blood drinkers are welcome. All immortals are welcome.”

He nodded.

“Someone has to break that peace to be cast out,” I said. “And if Arjun cannot accept your coming, then he will have to leave.”

“I’ve encountered so few blood drinkers over the years,” said Fontayne, “and always with discomfort and suspicion. My existence has been lonely almost beyond endurance. But this Baudwin troubled me. There was something childish and foolish about him. He claimed descent from a legend. Perhaps he left because I didn’t find him all that interesting myself and he sensed it.”

Descent from a legend?

But it was time, finally, to return to New Orleans. Cyril and Thorne suddenly appeared at a polite remove, and I knew of course by the lightening sky and the song of the morning birds.

I kissed Fontayne on both sides of his face, and promised him I’d resolve the issue with Arjun as soon as I could.

It wasn’t until I was alone with Cyril that he confided to me in a whisper that Arjun was no more and that was all he knew about it.

When we reached the flat in New Orleans, there was a voice message for me on my landline phone. It was from Eleni in New York.

“Lestat, you’re needed now at Court. Armand has already gone ahead. Seems Arjun has been destroyed by Marius.”

__________________________________

Excerpted from BLOOD COMMUNION by Anne Rice. Copyright © 2018 by Anne O’Brien Rice. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.




More Story
CrimeReads Brief: Week of October 14, 2018  “A few years before he'd been a doctoral student with a lingering boyhood affection for baseball. Now it was time...