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They had been talking up there for hours. If Derek lay very still he could hear them perfectly. At this hour, the Andrássy Út was noisy above him, with its cafés and bookstores, but this damp hidden mansion of cellar chambers was quiet. And what else did Derek have to do but listen?
Derek was a tall male with dark brown skin and large dark eyes that made him look forever young and vulnerable. His black wavy hair was parted in the middle and it had grown down just below his shoulders. An unmistakable broad blond streak grew from the center part on the left side, more golden than yellow. He wore a thin old shirt, filthy with dust, and the black dress pants he’d had on ten years ago when he’d been captured. He sat on his cot, in the corner of his prison dungeon cell, his back to the wall, his head bowed, and his arms folded as he listened.
Roland, the evil master of the house and its prison dungeons, talked and talked.
Roland’s guest was an ancient one named Rhoshamandes. And this Rhoshamandes spoke vehemently of one called “the Prince,” whom he wanted to destroy. How many of these blood drinkers were there? Others came through this house from time to time, but they never remained. Others had talked of this Prince too. Derek listened, but without hope.
Rhoshamandes was a powerful one, Derek could hear this in his voice, and in the beating of the blood drinker’s heart. Older than Roland most likely, much older, but he and Roland were friends.
This Rhoshamandes excited Roland. It was some sort of privilege for Roland that the fabled Rhoshamandes now sought his counsel.
Roland was the blood drinker who had taken Derek prisoner, luring him away from the opera house years ago, and locking him in this dungeon cell, beneath the city of Budapest. Roland was the one who came down the stairs at least once a week to drink Derek’s blood and taunt him and laugh at him.
Roland was rawboned, tall, painfully gaunt, with long straight white hair bound with a bronze clip at the base of his neck to leave a white streak down his back. He had the most cruel eyes Derek had ever beheld, and he smiled when he spoke, which made his most casual unpleasant remarks completely sinister.
Derek had had years to study Roland, Roland who appeared to live in fashionable evening dress of fine-cut dark-tinted velvet dinner jackets with satin lapels, waistcoats of bright patterned silk, and boiled shirts with cuffs and collars as stiff as cardboard. His black patent-leather boots appeared as simple evening shoes beneath the cuffs of his pleated trousers, and a great evening scarf with fringed edges was forever wrapped around his neck. He drained the blood of Derek without ever spilling a drop. He wore kid gloves so sleek they showed the bony knots in his fingers, and his cadaverous face with its large gray eyes was the picture of sarcastic disdain.
Then there was Arion of the shining black skin, the wounded one, burnt and miserable, who had seen his home on the coast of Italy destroyed. He was much younger “in the Blood” than Roland, and for months he’d drunk from Derek nightly, and now he came several times a week. Arion had come to Roland in rags, and Roland had comforted him and restored him, and nursed his soul back to health as they spoke in the ancient Greek language of olden times when Rome had ruled the world and everything, it seems, had been better. Of course. Better. You could forgive human beings for such nonsense, but how forgive immortals who had lived then?
There was a gentleness to Arion, and a pity in his heart for Derek. Derek could sense this when Arion was drinking from him. Also Arion brought Derek gifts of fruit now and then and good wine. Derek could see the history and the pain of Arion in flashes—a great seaside villa burned, young blood drinkers immolated, a red-haired female blood drinker burnt to death, her red hair kindling and disappearing in flames. Only Arion had survived this rape of his home and massacre of his oldest companions. Arion sought shelter with Roland, and Roland sought to give Arion courage to “go on.”
Arion’s skin was quite truly as black as coal, and he had grave thoughtful eyes, eyes of a very pale green that appeared almost yellow. His hair was a cap of close-cropped silky black curls, and his face reminded Derek of a cherub. His skin had been blotched with white and pink scars when he had first come, and his neck and chest so badly burned that he could scarcely speak, but he was rapidly healing. And it seemed to Derek that Arion’s skin was darkening though he did not understand why.
Earlier this evening, this powerful Rhoshamandes had given Arion his own ancient and healing blood. That was the way with these creatures, to offer their own blood to the host or his wounded guest, to exchange blood when they lodged under one another’s roofs for some time, to offer blood as in the olden days humans had offered other humans food and drink and shelter as hospitality.
When they drank they opened their minds whether they wanted to or not.
But then so did Derek when they drank from him, and so they knew what they knew about him, though he sought desperately to hold back.
What would it do for them to have his innermost secrets? Derek didn’t know but he concealed everything from them and always would.
“You won’t be here forever,” he thought to himself quietly. “Someday when these night monsters are slumbering and helpless, you’ll get out of here and you’ll find the others. If you are alive, they must be alive.” He closed his eyes and he looked at their faces as he remembered them. For most of the twentieth century, Derek had been searching for them. It was his third “life” wandering the earth, looking for the slightest trace of them. But this was a time like no other time and Derek had entered the twenty-first century with even-greater hope of finding the others, only to be snared by this blood-drinking monster.
He was weeping again now. No good. He couldn’t hear what they were saying above.
He took a deep easy breath. And once again he listened.
“The Prince,” whom Rhoshamandes hated, was a young undeserving maverick blood drinker named Lestat. Lestat had done an “unspeakable” thing to Rhoshamandes, cutting off his left hand and then his arm. They had been reattached, these limbs, as with blood drinkers that was possible, but Rhoshamandes could never forgive the injury, nor “the pardon.” For in spite of the pardon, everywhere he went now he bore the mark of Cain.
Derek knew what that was, the mark of Cain. When he had come awake in this time, it had been a poor priest in Peru who had educated him and taught him the ways of the world—in a farming village not unlike the one Derek had abandoned thousands of years before for the frozen caves of the mountain peaks. Derek had learned the man’s religion inside and out, and read the biblical scriptures in Spanish many a time. Derek had not gone down into the cities of South America until the very middle of the century, and it had taken him decades to learn the great literature of the current period in Spanish, Portuguese, and in English. English had proved the most useful language as Derek traveled through North America and Europe.
Roland had brought books down into this prison—books that Derek had read over and over again. Die Bibel nach Martin Luther; the Encyclopaedia Britannica; a German-English copy of Faust by Goethe; the works of Shakespeare in many small ragged volumes, some in German, some in English, some in other tongues; novels by Tolstoy in Russian; a French novel entitled Madame Bovary; and English “spy” stories in modern times.
Books on opera. Roland loved opera. That’s why he had made this refuge for himself blocks from the opera house. Books of opera stories, yes, he heaped them on the floor for Derek. But the music of these operas was all but forgotten by Derek, who had heard and seen only a handful of vivid and beautiful performances before Roland had lured him into this trap. Opera for Derek had been a late discovery, and one of the most exciting discoveries he had ever made.
Derek could learn any language within minutes, so he knew German and French better than ever from the books, but it bothered him that he did not know how Russian sounded. Roland for the most part spoke English even when not speaking to Derek, who had spoken English when he was captured. Arion’s preferred tongue was English too. And so it was with this Rhoshamandes, who lived in England in a great house, apparently very much like this one, though in some lonely seaside place. English, the flexible language of the world.
It was plain that Rhoshamandes was despised amongst blood drinkers. He had slain an ancient one. He blamed this on Amel.
There it was again, the name, Amel!
The first time the name had come to the surface of Roland’s mind, Derek had scarcely believed it. Amel. Was this a reason for this captivity? Or was the mention of the name only a coincidence?
Derek’s mind veered back, way back to the very beginning—to the Parents instructing him before he had ever come to this planet—“Now you have a mammalian mind and you will find yourself seeking for meaning where there is no meaning, for patterns where there are no patterns. This is what mammals do. This is only one of the many reasons we are sending you. . . .”
He closed his eyes. Stop this. Concentrate on what they are saying! Forget the Parents. You may never see the Parents . . . or any of the others, your beloved others, again.
Rhoshamandes was working himself into a rage. “New York, Paris, London, wherever I go, they are there judging me, cursing me. They spit at me, young and old. They don’t dare try to harm me, but they taunt me knowing I won’t dare to harm them!”
“Why don’t you punish them?” asked Roland. “Why don’t you teach a few of them a lesson? The word will go round and—.”
“And I’ll be visited by the great ones again, won’t I? The great Gregory Duff Collingsworth and the Great Sevraine! I could easily vanquish any one of them, but not two or three of them. And what, would I be dragged again before the Prince? As long as he has Amel inside of him, he is untouchable. And I don’t want war with them anymore. I want to be as I was before. I want to be left alone!”
The creature’s voice broke when he said “alone.” And now in that soft, slightly slurred broken voice he confessed to Roland that his longtime companion Benedict had left him, blamed him for everything, and disappeared.
“I think he’s with them. I think he’s with them at this court of theirs in France, or living in Paris—.” He broke off. “I know he is at the Court,” he confessed. “It is agony to say it. He is living with them.”
“Well, I’m not your enemy, I told you before,” said Roland. “You’re welcome in my domain anytime. You are welcome here as long as you care to stay.” Roland paused for a minute and then continued. “I don’t want any problems with this new regime, this Prince and his ministers. I want things to remain as they were.”
“That’s what I want too,” said Rhoshamandes. “But I cannot go on as things are! I must have it out with them! They must exonerate me fully and completely so that I’m not hounded and harassed wherever I go.”
“Is that really what you want?”
“I’m no warrior, Roland. I never was. If Amel hadn’t seduced me, I’d never have struck down the great Maharet. I had no quarrel with her! I had no quarrel with her thousands of years ago when I was made a holy warrior of the Queen. I didn’t care what we fought for. I broke loose as soon as I could. Amel seduced me, Roland. He convinced me we were all in danger, and then it all fell to pieces, what I attempted, and now the Prince sits in judgment on me, and Benedict has left me. And everywhere I go I am despised. There is no land of Nod for me, Roland.”
“Go to them, and talk to them,” said Roland. “If they wanted to destroy you, they would have done it already.”
“I’ve been ordered to stay away,” said Rhoshamandes. “My fledglings for the most part are loyal to me. Allesandra is under my roof now. You never knew Allesandra. She’s brought me their unequivocal warnings. Stay away! The others come and go and with the same warnings.”
“They have to be uneasy about you, Rhosh,” said Roland.
“Why? What can I do to them!”
“They fear you.”
“They have no cause.”
Another pause fell between them.
“I hate the Prince,” said Rhoshamandes in a dark voice. “I hate him! I would destroy him if I could wrest Amel from him! I’d burn him until—.”
“That’s why they fear you,” said Roland. “You’re an enemy who cannot forgive them for winning. And they know this. So what do you really want?”
“I told you. A hearing. Complete exoneration. I want the pack, the rabble, and the trash ordered not to dog my steps and curse at me! I want an end to the fear that some rogue ancient one will blast me with fire for what I did!”
Dim distant voices from the boulevard above. Derek could picture it, as he had a thousand times, the big brightly lighted cafés filled with crowded tables, the cars streaming by.
“Tonight, when I came into the opera house, I knew you would be there,” said Rhoshamandes. “I’ve never once come to the opera here in Budapest that you were not somewhere near at hand. And Roland, I feared you!”
“No need,” said Roland. “I don’t bend the knee to this Prince. Why would I? You think I’m the only one who has never acknowledged any of these events? There are others like me all over the world. We don’t despise him. We don’t love him. We want to be left alone.”
“Oh, I know that now, but do you realize what it is like to fear that at any turn you might meet some blood drinker who will not honor the Prince’s order of restraint and it will be a battle? I detest battle, Roland! I detest it. I tell you, the great Maharet was ready to die. If she hadn’t been, I would never have been able to strike her down. I don’t have it in me to slay other blood drinkers. I never did! And without Benedict . . . without Benedict . . .”