Merrick (The Vampire Chronicles #7)

Chapter 22

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21

LOUIS WAS HOME when I reached the flat. I could sense his presence even as I came up the stairs. Only a few hours remained of the night for both of us, but I was so glad to see him that I went directly into the front parlor where he stood at the window, looking out over the Rue Royale below.

The room was full of lighted lamps, and the paintings of Matisse and Monet seemed to be singing on the walls.

He had taken off his bloodsoiled clothes, and wore now a simple turtleneck shirt of black cotton, and black pants. His shoes were old and tattered, but had once been very fine.

He turned as I entered the room, and I took him in my arms. With him, I could give vent to the affection I'd held so severely in check with Merrick. I held him to myself and kissed him as men might do with other men when they are alone. I kissed his dark black hair and kissed his eyes, and then I kissed his lips.

For the first time in our existence together, I felt a great outpouring of affection from him, a deep affinity, yet something else made him stiffen suddenly, against his will.

It was the pain in his chest from the wound.

"I should have come with you," I confessed. "I should never have let you go off, but I felt she needed me. And I remained with her. It was what I had to do."

"Of course, you did," he said, "and I wouldn't have allowed you to leave her. She needed you much more than I did. Never mind this wound; it's already healing. I've decades enough behind me on the Devil's Road that it will heal in a few nights."

"Not so, and you know it," I said. "Let me give you my blood, my blood's infinitely stronger. Don't turn away from me, man, listen to me. If you won't drink from me, then let me put my blood to the wound."

He was deeply distressed. He sat down in a chair and put his elbows on his knees. I couldn't see his face. I took the chair nearby and I waited.

"It will heal, I told you," he said softly.

I let the matter drop. What else could I do? Yet I could see that the wound was hurting him powerfully. I could tell it by his slightest gestures¡ªhow they began in utter fluidity, and were suddenly cut short.

"And the spirit, what did you make of it, yourself?" I asked. "Let me hear it from your lips before I tell you what Merrick felt, and what I saw."

"I know what you both think," he said. He looked up finally and sat back gingerly in the chair. For the first time I saw the darkness of the blood on his shirt. The wound was wretched. I didn't like it. I didn't like seeing blood on him any more than I liked seeing it on Merrick. It struck me hard how much I loved them both.

"You both think the spirit preyed upon my fears," he said calmly. "I knew it was what you'd say even before we ever began. But you see, I remember her too vividly. I know her French, I know her cadences, I know the very rhythm of her speech. And it was Claudia, and she had come out of darkness just as she confided, she had come from a terrible place where she's not at rest."

"You know my arguments," I said, shaking my head. "What will you do now? Whatever your plan, you can't go forward without telling me what it is."

"I know, mon ami, I'm aware of that," he answered. "And you must know now I won't be with you for very long."

"Louis, I beg you¡ª."

"David, I'm weary," he said, "and I would swap one pain for another. There was something she said, you see, which I can't forget. She asked if I would give up my comforts for her? Do you remember?"

"No, old man, you've got it wrong. She asked if you'd give up your comforts for death, but she never promised that she would be there! That's just the point. She won't be. Good Lord, how many years in the Talamasca did I study the history of apparitions and their messages, how many years did I pore over first person accounts of those who'd trafficked with ghosts and recorded their wisdom. You can choose what you will believe about the hereafter. It doesn't matter. But once you choose death, Louis, you can't choose life again. Belief ends. Don't make that choice, I implore you. Stay for me, if you won't for any other reason. Stay for me, because I need you, and stay for Lestat, because he needs you as well."

Of course my words didn't surprise him. He put his left hand to his chest and pressed on the wound lightly, and a grimace, for one moment, disfigured his face.

He shook his head.

"For you and Lestat, yes, I've thought of that. And what of her? What of our lovely Merrick? What does she need from me too?"

It seemed he had a great deal more to say, but suddenly he fell silent, and his brows were knitted, and he looked young and impossibly innocent as his head quickly turned to the side.

"David, do you hear it?" he asked with mounting excitement. "David, listen!"

I heard nothing but the noises of the city.

"What is it, man?" I asked.

"David, listen to it. It's all around us." He rose to his feet, his left hand still pressed to the pain he felt. "David, it's Claudia, it's the music, it's the harpsichord. I hear it all around us. David, she wants me to come. I know it."

I was on my feet in a second. I took hold of him.

"You're not going to do it, friend, you can't do it without a farewell to Merrick, without a farewell to Lestat, and there are not enough hours left in this night for that."

He was gazing off, mesmerized and comforted, and his eyes were glazed and his face was softened and unchallenging. "I know that sonata. I remember it. And yes, she loved it, she loved it because Mozart had written it when he was only a child. You can't hear, can you? But you did once, think back on it. It's so very lovely, and how fast she plays, my Claudia."

He made a dazed laugh. The tears thickened; his eyes were veiled in blood.

"I hear the birds singing. Listen. I hear them in their cage. The others¡ªall our kind who know of her¡ªthey think of her as heartless, but she wasn't heartless. She was only aware of things which I didn't learn till so many decades had passed. She knew secrets that only suffering can teach. . . ."

His voice trailed off. He pulled back gracefully from my grasp and he walked to the center of the room. He turned about as though the music were truly surrounding him.

"Don't you see what a kindness she's done?" he whispered. "It's going on and on, David, it's getting all the more rapid. Claudia, I'm listening to you." He broke off, and turned again, his eyes moving over everything yet seeing, nothing. "Claudia, I'll be with you very soon."

"Louis," I said, "it's almost morning. Come with me now."

He stood still with his head bowed. His hands had dropped to his sides. He seemed infinitely sad and infinitely defeated.

"Has it stopped?" I asked.

"Yes," he whispered. Slowly he looked up, lost for the moment, then getting his bearings. He looked at me. "Two nights won't matter, will it? And then I can thank Merrick. I can give her the picture. The Talamasca may want it." He gestured to the nearby table, the low oval table which stood before the couch.

I saw the daguerreotype open on the table. Claudia's image jarred me as I met its gaze. I wanted to close the little case, but never mind. I knew that I could never allow the picture to fall into the hands of the Talamasca. I could never allow such a contact, let alone the possession of such a potent object by seers as powerful as Merrick. I could never allow such evidence to remain for the Talamasca to investigate whatever we had all seen this night.

But I didn't say this thing.

As for him, he stood as before, elegant in his faded black, a man dreaming, the blood dried in his eyes and giving him a dreadful look, as he stared off again, distant from my heated compassion, cutting himself off from any solace I could bring.

"You'll meet me tomorrow," I said.

He nodded. "The birds are gone now," he whispered. "I can't even hum the music inside my head." He seemed unbearably distressed.

"All is stillness in the place she described," I said rather desperately. "Think on that, Louis. And meet me tomorrow night."

"Yes, my friend, I've already promised," he said in a dazed manner.

He frowned as if trying to remember something in particular. "I have to thank Merrick, and you of course, you, old friend, who did everything that I asked."

We went out of the town house together.

He went off to the place where he lies by day, the location of which I didn't know.

I had more time than he had. Like Lestat, my powerful maker, I was not hounded by the first hint of dawn to the grave. The sun would have to come over the horizon for me to feel the paralytic vampire sleep.

Indeed, I had an hour or more perhaps, though the morning birds were singing in the few trees of the Quarter, and when I reached uptown the sky had turned from a deep dark blue to a faint purple twilight color, which I lingered to enjoy before I went inside the dusty building and up the stairs.

Nothing stirred in the old convent. Even the rats were gone from it. Its thick brick walls were chilly, though it was spring. My footfalls echoed as always. I allowed that. It was respectful to Lestat to allow it, to mark my coming before I entered his vast and simple domain.

The great yawning courtyard was empty. The birds sang loudly in the lush trees of Napol¨¦on Avenue. I stopped to glance out from one of the upstairs windows. I wished I could sleep by day high in the branches of the nearby oak. What a mad thought, but perhaps somewhere, far away from all the pain we'd experienced here, there was some deep uninhabited forest where I could build a dark and thick cocoon for hiding among the branches, like an evil insect, dormant before it rises to bring death to its prey.

I thought of Merrick. I couldn't know what the coming day would be like for her. I feared for her. I despised myself. And I wanted Merrick terribly. I wanted Louis. I wanted them as my companions, and it was utterly selfish, and yet it seemed a creature could not live without the simple companionship which I had in mind.

At last I went in the great whitewalled chapel. All the stainedglass windows were still draped in black serge, as was required now, for Lestat could no longer easily be moved to shelter with the rising sun.

No candles burnt before these random and stately saints.

I found Lestat as he always was, on his left side, a man resting, his violet eyes open, the lovely piano music pouring out of the black machine which had been set to play the small disc recording over and over without end.

The usual dust had settled on Lestat's hair and shoulders. It horrified me to see the dust, even on his face. But would I disturb him if I sought to clean it away? I didn't know, and my sorrow was leaden and terrible.

I sat down beside him.

I sat where he might see me. And then boldly I turned off the music. And in a hurried voice, a voice more full of agitation than ever I imagined it would be, I poured out the tale.

I told him all of it¡ªof my love for Merrick and of her powers. I told him of Louis's request. I told him of the phantom that had come to us. I told him of Louis, listening to Claudia's music. I told him of Louis's resolve to leave us in a matter of nights.

"What can stop him now I don't know," I said. "He won't wait for you to wake, my dearest friend. He's going. And there's nothing I can do really to change his mind. I can plead that he must wait until you've recovered, but I don't think he wants to lose his nerve again. That's what it's all about, you see, his nerve. He has the nerve to end it. And that is what's been lacking for so long."

I went back over the details. I described Louis as he listened to the music that I couldn't hear. I described the seance once more. Perhaps I told things now which I'd left out before.

"Was it really Claudia?" I asked. "Who can tell us whether or not it was?"

And then I leant over and I kissed Lestat and I said to him:

"I need you so much now. I need you if only to say farewell to him."

I drew back and inspected the sleeping body. There was no change in awareness or posture that I could detect.

"You woke once," I declared. "You woke when Sybelle played her music for you, but then, taking the music back with you, you returned to your selfish sleep. That's what it is, Lestat, selfish, because you've left behind those you made¡ªLouis and me. You've left us, and it's not fair of you to do it. You must come out of it, my beloved Master, you must rouse yourself for Louis and for me."

No change in the expression on his smooth face. His large violet eyes were too open for those of a dead man. But the body gave no other sign of life.

I leant down. I pressed my ear to his cold cheek. Though I couldn't read his thoughts as a fledging, surely I could divine something of what went on in his soul.

But nothing came to me. I turned on the music once more.

I kissed him and left him there, and went to my lair, more ready for oblivion perhaps than I had ever been before.

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