Vampire Prince of Italy
@copyright 2005 Jean G. Hontz
Isabella was my first female lover. Darius was right but he was wrong too. Yes, love-making still involved finding the right spots on a body and pleasuring your partner, but the bodies were quite different. I liked the softness of Isabella’s. It smelled wonderful too. And her hair. I would run my fingers through her hair until she would slap my hand away impatiently and demand I pay attention to other things. Not that I minded.
I don’t know that I ever loved her, but I respected her, and I liked her. She had a wicked sense of humour and understood society far better than I did. She tutored me on such things. What to wear, how to walk, when to speak and when to hold one’s tongue. She tested me on the correct forms of address, and explained when to take liberties. I learned where to go, who was important, and how to get invitations to the fanciest places.
No, I never told her who I was. I suppose that shows I did not trust her as I ought, but really, it didn’t seem important. And when it finally did matter, it was too late.
She was a lovely creature. Well, she had to be, since her clientele was the absolute cream of Florence. Ah, now you see why I was so happy to get to know her so well. Unsuspecting, she would joke and gossip and tell me secrets about her clients. And, eventually, one of those clients was a Medici. Of course. I’d known there would be one.
I was in no hurry. I was afraid I would ruin things for her, so I wanted to find a way to kill him which would not reflect suspicion back onto her. I understood how quickly society could turn on someone like us..
What I failed to consider was Santos.
The jealousy certainly wasn’t because he loved me. Darius loved me. Isabella loved me. Santos felt he owned me.
It all came to a head at a private party. I was there with Santos, Isabella was there with one of the Bardi boys. Everyone there knew I was Santos’ lover. This was not the sort of crowd that would be offended by that. In fact, orgies were a staple for this crowd and mixing of couples and sex with one’s own gender seen as part of the scene.
And that was what was going on, in fact, when things got out of hand.
I was making love to a man and Isabella was nearby with another man. The man I was with reached for Isabella’s partner so it was natural that I reached for Isabella. I admit we forgot ourselves. I suppose real caring between us must have been evident. Whatever it was, something made me note my surroundings only to discover Isabella and I were surrounded and Santos was standing there, his hands making fists and his face telling how furious he was. He reached down and grabbed me by the hair and slung me to my feet.
He’d beaten me up often enough to believe he could do whatever he liked to me. Sadly, I was angry because he slapped Isabella so hard she bled. I, forgive the expression, saw red.
When they pulled me off of Santos, he was a bloody pulp.
The man who owned the villa panicked and started throwing everyone out. Everyone scrambled for clothing and we all hit the door at the same time. I was not quite certain what to do. I was emotionally drained. I knew I was in deep trouble. One does not beat the shit out of, or possibly even kill, the son of a Florentine prince, even a dissipated one, and live to tell the tale.
I decided I had best get the money I’d been saving and make myself scarce for awhile. I headed to my rooms to do that, thinking I would talk Isabella into fleeing with me.
When I reached my rooms they were waiting for me. There were five of them. They had knives. I fought like a wild man. I took down two of them before one stuck a stiletto into my guts. They left me in a dark, smelly alley to die.
He didn’t ask me. He just did it. Well, perhaps he did ask and I was so close to death I never heard him. I never asked him afterwards. It hardly mattered then.
I don’t remember very much of what happened after that. My most compelling memory of the change was that I was suddenly sick beyond words. Retching up things… parts of me, I swore. It felt as if my stomach was coming out of my mouth. Someone spoke to me, in soothing tones, I think, but I was so disoriented and ill I did not, could not, understand a word. Nor respond, nor really reply coherently.
How long the change went on I’ve no recollection of my own. I seem to remember .. Well, it was hard to tell reality from dreams/nightmares. The Angel who had thrown me out of the Charterhouse figured in them. Once again rejected, cursed, beyond God forever. It was appropriate the angel who’d first rejected me would appear again.
Then one night I awoke from the death sleep to look around me and actually have a mind capable of enough thought to consider my situation.
I was not dead. Well, not in the way I’d expected to be. My stomach was not spilling intestines out on the ground (I thought I had memories of a stomach once again whole, not even with a scar but I could not trust anything at that point). I did not smell of innards and feces and blood. I undid my shirt and pulled open my pants and looked. I was whole. I may have whispered a prayer.
But my attention on my physical circumstances quickly changed to worry regarding my my current state.
Firstly, where was I? There were no windows. Was this a prison? I saw no bars. Might I be locked in a villa’s strong room perhaps? A vault? There wasn’t even a cot. I’d been lying on a straw mat that smelled of long-dried urine.
Was I entombed? No, there was one door, a wooden one of ancient vintage.
As I examined my surroundings it began to dawn on me that my perceptions were vastly different from what they had been. I now saw differently. It was dark, yet I could see the room quite clearly, even if the colour was drained from everything. Shades of grey in the soft black darkness. The light coming from a single lantern turned well down.
I smelled things, things I’d never have noticed before. The smell of the oil burning in that lantern. The stone had its own unique scent; the dank, closed-up smell of the place indicated the room was close to air tight. There was no movement of that air around the room either. And there was a hint of a smell I could not place. I considered that smell… It was not my clothing. I was well dressed in upper class clothing I did not recognize. What I did recognize was the smell of dye, the smell of lye, the heavy scent of leather from sandals on my feet. The smell that caught my attention was something else entirely. Something beyond my ken.
I next noticed I heard odd sounds. A distant drip of water on stone. A slight ringing, and what? A tread? A step? Was something, or someone, moving just beyond the walls of my room? Or above my head perhaps?
I got to my feet, thinking I might have to fight. I was a bit shaky I realized. A lot shaky really. Not to mention my body felt differently. My balance was different. I moved differently: more easily, smoother, faster. More silently. It was… odd.
I walked – no glided really – over to that ancient door and tested it to see if it would open. The iron bolt squealed so loudly I winced, although I am not at all certain it was very loud. It was just that every noise seemed somehow magnified out of all proportion.
The door glided open at my slightest touch, swinging easily outward.
I stepped out of that room into a long corridor. There were no lanterns lit along it, yet I could see to move easily down it. There were other doors along its length and a set of damp stone steps at the end of that corridor. I climbed them.
At the top of the stairs I pushed open a door and entered into a large well-furnished room. It was airy and the shutters were open to the night. Moonlight spilled across the flagstone floor, and a figure stood outlined in that moonlight. He was tall, and broad-shouldered and I’d have recognized that stance anywhere. I scented someone else had been there. Someone who smelled of blood.
The figure standing there in the moonlight? It was Darius, of course.
Later I learned he’d come back to Florence looking for me. He’d easily found me and then had been watching me. He’d been unsure if he should approach me; uncertain if I would welcome him back as a friend. He’d learned about me and Santos, and had even heard rumours of me and Isabella. He was still hesitating about approaching me that fateful night.
He’d been in the area when they’d attacked me. He’d found me dying in the alleyway. He’d killed those who’d killed me.
Our greeting was… bittersweet. Emotional. Welcomed. I was confused, however, unsettled about all the things I did not yet understand, all the changes I was struggling with.
He talked to me, quietly explaining things to me. Reminding me of things he’d told me of himself and trying to make me understand all of that now applied to me. That I was his fledgling and he my master. That I had to learn to survive all over again.
I confess I heard nearly nothing of all of this. Too many sensations assaulted my heightened senses. Too many emotions shook my body. I just let him hold me too overwhelmed to think.
Then, before dawn came to claim him – and now me, he announced he was taking me back to Switzerland with him. I was too deep within myself to think of objecting. It was all the same to me.
It is a process, the change into vampire.
First comes horror. I felt broken by what had happened to me. Odd. I had never felt Darius was horrifying, yet now that it was me… I suppose it was a hold-over from my religious days. God’s design, the deep-seated fear that magical creatures were of Satan, the real fear humans had of us. Yes, I had been all about murder and sexual excess. But that hadn’t been me, really. It was the blood duty toward my family that drove me to it. For myself I’d have chosen… Who was I kidding. I’d enjoyed the sex, and the killing. I’d left God behind long ago.
Next comes despair. I became suicidal. The journey to Switzerland was made so much more difficult by my idiocy. Darius had to watch me constantly. Stop me from hurting myself by any means I thought might work. He was devastated that I was taking it so badly.
Next comes anger and fear, a potent mix. Darius had done what he thought was right, and I, wretched, hated him for it. Well, I didn’t really, but I took out my fear and anger and confusion on him. I now know, of course, that this can be a fairly common reaction in new fledgings. Then, of course, it was all new to me. I had no idea. Darius was the only vampire I’d ever known. In fact, the only one I’d ever seen. I’d half believed he was the only one at all.
I’d reached resignation by the time we got to Switzerland. I was silent and resentful and moody. Darius, to his great credit, let me feel all these things. He never said I had no right to feel this way or that way. He just held me and said he loved me when I despaired.
And, of course, we had to deal with the practical part of being vampire. He helped me learn to feed. He was patient beyond what I possibly deserved which made me yet more resentful and spiteful. Ai. But learn I did. How to hunt, who to hunt, how to conceal my activities from human society, how to cloud my prey’s mind. When to stop feeding, when to kill.
In Switzerland, in a quiet little place called Basel, our journey ended. I was there to learn the ropes, as they say.
It was in Basel I first met other vampires. Here I first was introduced to vampire society. These men and women formed a quiet, complex community. Odd, I thought, for vampires. But then I knew nothing, and luckily had sense enough to realize that my judgments were based on ignorance and prejudice.
The group to which Darius was attached, and it was clear to me he was very attached to them, both emotionally and intellectually, consisted of individuals of great minds - philosophers, artists, writers. They were a tightly knit community all of their own. There were ten of them, well, eleven now including me. They - we- lived in a huge old stone house owned by one of the vampires. It was near enough to Basel to be considered a part of the village, but far enough away that we had privacy.
It was odd. I’d never thought of Darius as an intellectual, even if he did tote volumes of impossibly expensive books around with him wherever he went. He’d seemed to me to be all warrior. All action, not intellect, all reaction not thought a-forehand. This was humbling, to see him through the eyes of the others. I’d made far too many assumptions about him, who he was, how he thought, what he believed. Now I was learning things I’d never before seen, nor valued.
It was only years later that I discovered how odd this collection of vampires really was, and how very very lucky I was to be a part of it for the formative years of my unlife. Although there was a down side too: it was many years later before I began to understand why vampires were hated and feared. These beings treated their situation as an inconvenient circumstance but one that had certain benefits, primarily long life. The need to exist on blood was considered an inconvenience, and not a central tenet of life. They craved blood no more than the average tavern-goer craved dinner.
Had I gone with Darius to Switzerland all those years ago… so much would have been different…
There were a few humans among us. One grizzled old fellow, an alchemist, wouldn’t have been out of place sitting in for the modern version of Santa - if he’d actually bothered to get the snarls out of his beard. Another, a female who was the lover of one of the vampire artists, and his model. And a middle aged man who tried to befriend me.
Darius and I became lovers again. He held me when I sobbed (yes, vampires can cry), and he shadowed me when I went out to feed, pulling me off my prey before I hurt them too badly. He taught me the art of self-discipline, taught me not to hate myself (or at least to hide the fact), taught me that even a vampire can make a life for himself. He taught me everything, really, with patience and love.
Darius was the only muscle amongst them. By this I mean that none of the others were trained in combat, or had ever killed other than when they’d first been turned and killed prey until they learned better. Of course I was considered muscle now too. I did not have the muscle mass Darius had, or his large frame, but I had skills with a sword and knife that none of the others had. I was fast and sneaky.
Darius was a different man here than he’d been when I’d known him in Italy. He was happier here. I slowly realized how much he’d given up to be with me, and that shocked me, yet gladdened me too. He did love me, if he had given this up to chase around behind a head-strong, angry young man who really hadn’t known much about life or love at all.
I stayed there for four years. It was an idyllic existence. Really quite reminiscent of my time at the Charterhouse. I could almost talk myself into believing that I was not a creature of Satan. I felt loved, a member of a supportive community, even a contributor to it.
We were self-regulating. We were careful. Mostly we fed on the rougher element of Basel and its environs. Robbers and murderers were standard fare, and sometimes the worst of the moneylenders. Less notice in the dark side of town when the disruption of feeding occurs. Not to mention we occasionally killed our prey, mostly by accident, but sometimes by design. But no one cared enough about these creatures we preyed upon, especially as when we did kill we disappeared the bodies. Mostly the town was relieved to be rid of them.
But then one day a plague came to our small world. It was spreading all over Europe. Our feeding grounds were expanded. We fed on the dying. We could not save them. We gave them surcease. Is that self-justification? Probably.
But then another kind of plague arrived. A plague of vampires.