12. Friend

Volterra, Italy
June, 1789

Garrett was unlike any vampire Carlisle had ever met.

He was young, which accounted for some of it, but there was a maturity to his youth. Like Carlisle, he was forever inquisitive. He wanted to know everything he could about his new life and his old.

The first night on the mountain, the two of them talked for hours. Garrett asked how Carlisle came to be in Italy, and Carlisle explained, beginning with the dark street in Aldgate where he’d awoken to his new life and finishing in the Volturi Hall that morning as he informed Aro of the safety the Age of Reason had given them. Then, of course, Carlisle asked Garrett how he came to be here also. The other told of stowing away on a diplomatic journey, with the American Secretary of State aboard.

They traveled to spread their ideals, he said. To teach others a better way.

“The revolution, my friend,” Garrett told him. “America is free, and so shall be France.”

Carlisle frowned. “Is it right for our kind to meddle in the affairs of humans?”

Garrett laughed a booming laugh that seemed to rock the ground beneath them. “Is it right for our kind not to?” he asked. “Think of it this way. We have gifts beyond what humans have. Far beyond, as near as I can tell, though with my memory rotting as it is I find it more difficult to compare. As I am, I have the ability to pass on to the people of this country what I know from my country across the sea. Think of this, Carlisle. We amass knowledge as humans never can. They record history; we simply recall it. There is unlimited potential for us.”

Strange warmth welled up inside Carlisle. Hadn’t he had these same thoughts once?. Aro, Caius and Marcus sought to beat this kind of thinking out of him, that much he knew. To be a physician, to walk among humans—for them, these were things that were beyond unattainable. Carlisle had always assumed he’d managed to resist the brothers’ pessimism. But sitting with Garrett on the side of the mountain, the wind whipping in his ears, Carlisle realized he’d internalized far more of it than he’d thought.

Garrett leaned back on his elbows. “It simply seems to me that we have a larger obligation, Friend.”

Friend.

Despite the presence of another, even one who had, after only three hours’ acquaintance, dared call him “Friend,” Carlisle suddenly felt a deep loneliness wash over him. He’d lived this life for a hundred twenty-two years. Yes, he’d learned a great deal—languages, cultures, history, music. And medicine, of course. But what did he have to show for it? Three men who might just as soon destroy him as abet him, and a fear of becoming too close to any human.

“How…how do you reconcile who you are with what you do?” he blurted at last, and at once felt embarrassed. But Garrett only smiled.

“Who I am?” A pause. “You mean as a vampire.”

Carlisle nodded.

Garrett laughed. “That’s a good question. I’ve wondered that myself. Of course, I had no idea there were other options—you are quite the trailblazer. And far more disciplined than I.” He flashed Carlisle a grin, his teeth shining in the moonlight.

The compliment made Carlisle uncomfortable. He was no saint. Only a thinker. “It was simply an abhorrent idea to me. But…I try not to judge others lest I be judged myself.”

Garrett laughed again. “Spoken as only the son of a minister could speak. I’m certain the Almighty would be more than a bit impressed with you, whether you judge me or not.” He shifted his weight. “And I believe you’re right. Perhaps like you, I seek my penance. I have little choice but to feed from humans—your methods aside, of course—but perhaps I can repay them by making them free. It seems fair.”

Leaning back into the frozen grass, Carlisle stared up at the night sky. Perhaps Garrett was right. Maybe their skill did pull them to a higher calling. It was, he thought with a laugh, exactly what his father’s worldview might have been, if he’d been able to accept that his son had been turned into a demonic beast.

“And in France you are able to do this?”

“Oh, in France!” Garrett’s contented sigh was almost girlish. “It’s like the colonies with even more fervor. The monarchy is present here. They suppress the people to their faces, not merely with taxes from across the sea. And even taxes were suppression enough—I fought in the Virginia militia. What amazing days those were…and yet, France is even the more intense!”

“You also perceive it better.”

Carlisle had seen wars as a vampire and a human; the memories from his human years being among the few which had stayed with him after his change. He remembered starving women and men; people begging for bread in the streets. Looting and fire. And he had been away from the actual fighting…

Even now, his stomach clenched. He didn’t want to see that again, with his eyes and ears now attuned to every small detail. The very thought made him sick.

Another booming laugh. “I perceive it better. To be certain. You are so very serious, Carlisle.”

For a long time neither said anything, and Carlisle simply stared at the stars. For him and for Garrett, with their enhanced vision, each star burned individually, some blue, some red, and dozens of shades in between. The stars would look the same in the New World, Carlisle thought. He had the vaguest memories of his father mentioning the country, and he knew from the diaries and the histories that it was men like his father who’d populated the New World. How different would his life have been, he wondered, had he been born there instead of in London?

Startled, he realized that he would not have lived to see the Revolution. He was twice as old as a human might live to be.

And more alone than any human would ever be.

“There is a need for more of us.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“There is a need for more of us. In France. The people could use the help of another immortal. Particularly one who is resigned not to dine upon them after.”

That same toothy grin.

It was something to think on. He had, after all, just been contemplating that he needed to be away from the brothers, if not forever, than certainly for a spell. France would give him the opportunity to move away. His French was good, and he even understood the dialect here at the border, the mash of slowed-down Italian and choppy, sped-up French that so characterized the small populace of the mountain.

“I had been thinking of leaving them,” he muttered.

“Them—the ones who claim to be Rulers.”

He nodded, and Garrett propped himself up on his elbows, peering at him.

“It is, I confess, something I don’t understand,” the other man said after a moment. “I saw very little of them. I was in the city briefly—I had heard that they ruled from that seat. But it was too obvious that their numbers were too many, and I did not wish to be tracked.”

This Carlisle could understand. “They may be tracking you anyway. They are likely tracking me.” He thought back to how he’d at first assumed Garrett to be Alrigo or Rafael following him into the Alpi.

A shrug. “Truly, they are welcome to have whatever issue with me they like. Frankly, I was far more interested in you, my friend.”

“In me?”

“I saw you with the women there in the square. Selling herbs? What were you doing?”

Carlisle looked away shyly. He hadn’t seen Martina in several days, in fact. The weather had been beautiful, which locked all of them in the castle except at night.

“She gives me supplies, and I make medicines, if I can.”

Garrett didn’t answer right away. The wind howled in their ears, but the short, cold-weather grass barely yielded beneath them.

“You truly are unique, Carlisle,” he said finally. “You ought to come join me in France. You would be of great use there.”

It would be fascinating to be in France. He would have the opportunity to practice medicine in a way he wasn’t afforded in Volterra. The thought intrigued him. Could he withstand human blood thoroughly enough to trust himself to be safe?

But what he said instead was, “They’ll expect me back in Volterra.”

The booming laugh rolled over him again. “Certainly, Friend. It is better for us both if they don’t suspect you of treason.”

Treason. An image swirled in Carlisle’s mind; nearly fifteen years ago now. The vampire who’d knelt, tearlessly weeping before the four brothers, his arms stretched by the guard. The sickening whine of ripping metal as head separated from shoulders, the purple smoke as limbs burned on a pyre. The way everyone reported his viewpoint after, touching Aro’s hand…

“Aro will see this conversation,” he blurted.

“I beg your pardon?”

“He sees memories. Everything you’ve ever thought, in detail, or at least, so I suppose—I’ve obviously never seen his. It is his gift.”

A low whistle. “So this is why he’s appointed himself the king.”

Carlisle hadn’t actually thought about it in so many words before, but he supposed Garrett was right. “I don’t mind it,” he said, but even as the words left his lips, he realized this wasn’t the case. He did want to have a private conversation, or at least, one which would be his alone for more than a day or two. Aro always told Carlisle that his heart and mind were among the purest he’d ever encountered in his centuries of life, but Carlisle knew that somewhere, he was tempering his thoughts, being careful not to even think things that would cause friction, and ruin his ability to stay in Volterra.

And for what reason, exactly? Did he even want to stay?

“You don’t mind?” Garrett turned toward him now, the edges of his lips curling. “I suspect you lie, Carlisle. Not to me. That’s of little consequence. We have only just met. But I suspect you lie to yourself, and that is more troubling.”

Was that true? He stared out over the mountains. It was nearly impossible to see, and a human eye likely would never be able to, but the faintest band of pale purple hovered in the east. He stared at this for a long while, realizing he didn’t want the sun to rise. Not today. He wanted another twenty-four hours of this same, inky black, the thin mountain air revealing the brilliance of the stars.

Another twenty-four hours of having someone to talk to.

So he decided to ignore the sun.

“Tell me of America. What is it like there?”

Garrett’s face alighted, and his speech tumbled from him at once. He told of the colonists and the simple, but excellent ways they lived. The land-so much of it. Corn—a staple food for Americans that Carlisle had rarely seen. The native people, whom Garrett had been raised to regard as savages but whom he had seen differently since having been changed. And the government, created by the people; the leaders elected, not born. The first ruler—president, he was called—a war general but also a farmer, who believed the country would be borne on the backs of other men of the land.

“It is our country,” he said at last, with finality and a smile.

Our country. Was it possible for Carlisle to ever feel that way? He’d never thought of ownership of a place. Sure, he called himself a Londoner, which surprised others of his kind. But to call a place “our country”—that was a different proposition altogether.

By now, the sun was unmistakable, its faint rays making their skin glisten. Dawn and dusk were the safest times for them—away from the night prowling of others of their kind, and yet with the sun still so low that they still did not look otherworldly.

Garrett noticed it also. “We should part. If all you say about Aro is true”—Carlisle nodded vigorously—”then it is paramount that you ease his concern.” He got to his feet, brushing bits of the stiff mountain grass off his breeches. “You ought come find me,” he said. “I am in the southern region most, although I travel to Paris at times.”

Carlisle nodded. “I may.” He would, he thought. Standing also, Carlisle offered his hand. But instead of shaking it, Garrett gripped it and squeezed it firmly.

“It is quite an honor to meet you, Carlisle. I suspect you are one with whom I shall wish to keep contact.”

Startled, Carlisle mumbled, “Likewise.”

They started their different ways, but Garrett turned after only a few dozen paces.

“Freedom, Carlisle,” he said. “It’s worth fighting for.”

And then he was gone.

~||x||~

As usual, it was Caius who grew the most anxious when Carlisle did not return.

“He seeks to undermine us, Aro,” he hissed, pacing back and forth before the massive desk that took up most of the room in the study. They stood in Aro’s private chambers, the study adjacent to the opulent room in which Aro entertained his mate.

Marcus stood with his back against the wall, watching Caius with a bemused expression.

Aro turned to him. “My brother Marcus,” he said, “certainly you know Carlisle’s heart. Does he desire to defect?”

The younger man shook his head. “His ties to you are no weaker than they ever have been, Aro,” he offered. Then, as if thinking better of his comment, he added, “Though they were never particularly strong to begin with, as you know.”

It had been one of the risks of allowing Carlisle to join them. He did not feel loyalty in the same ways as Aro’s brothers and his guard. Marcus had assessed Carlisle’s ties to Aro and to Caius—he was always able to suspect the tiniest hint of infidelity and treason. Carlisle disliked Caius, Aro knew. He didn’t find him trustworthy. But between Carlisle and Aro there was friendship and respect, and even more so between Carlisle and Marcus.

“Do you see? He becomes even more disloyal.” Caius’s scowled even more. “Aro, he is not one of us. He is not here to guard us, he is not here to serve us, and he is not here to feed us.”

“Nor is he our prisoner,” Aro added thoughtfully. “He stays by our invitation, and he lives by our rules. But he is free to go if he wishes, so long as he does not cause an insurrection.”

Which was about the last thing anyone could expect from Carlisle.

Marcus chuckled as if to agree.

Caius crossed his arms over his chest, walking from one side of the room to the other, before sitting unnecessarily on one of the chairs. Aro prided himself on the furniture collection in his chamber and study-the works were some of the best each era had to offer, and the small bench on which Caius now sat had been constructed by one of the finest furniture-makers in the Ottoman empire.

“Brother, in fairness,” Marcus piped up, and both Caius and Aro turned to him. He was the youngest of the three of them in both human years and immortal ones, and sometimes, like now, it was impossible not to smile at Marcus’s reprimand. Were they human, Marcus and Caius would be separated by enough decades to be father and son—perhaps even with a generation between them. Caius’s appearance was wizened, his hair more than streaked with gray. Marcus, who had not reached even twenty years as a human, radiated the confidence of a young man assured of remaining strong in body and mind.

That he now held up a hand as though to pacify the older man was, even after nearly three millennia, quite comical.

Marcus was by far the quietest of the three of them. Caius could be more than hot-headed, and Aro was known for constantly articulating his own positions to the other two. But Marcus—Marcus almost never spoke. So when he did, he commanded the room.

“Yes?” Aro said.

“We ought to wait for Carlisle to return. At this point, he and he alone knows why he’s left. We have no way of knowing if he intends to defect or if he simply wished to be outside the compound awhile.”

Caius snorted. “You give him too much credit.”

But Aro didn’t agree. The Young One, he knew, craved companionship above everything. He’d wandered alone for a century and a half—not a terribly long period, by anyone’s count, but it had hurt the young blond. Carlisle stood in utter confidence and conviction in nearly everything he did; yet in the reaches of his mind was a yawning void. He despised what he was. He would spend the rest of eternity trying to atone for his very existence, were he allowed to.

And he would cling to those who supported him, even as meagerly as did the brothers.

Aro paced the room, feeling his brothers’ eyes on him. This was frequently how they decided things. Aro would draw input from his brothers, but in the end, it was he who made the final choice.

As though he knew exactly where Aro’s mind had wandered, Caius added, “He insulted you, Brother. He has no intention of honoring your request.”

The image swirled in his mind at once. The shimmering arms. The impassioned speech. The scowling face. The deep voice, mocking him for the first time in decades, calling Aro Master.

Would Carlisle honor his orders? There had never seemed to be reason to ask this question before, but now it was nearly impossible not to.

The chamber remained utterly still as he thought.

“I will summon him when he returns,” Aro muttered, more to himself than to his brothers.

“You ought to destroy him when he returns.”

A pained look slid across Marcus’s face, and Aro wondered if his own held a similar expression. It must have, for Caius immediately continued.

“You see? Both of you. You treat him as though he is one of us, and he is not. Aro, if any other being had dared speak to you as he does, Alrigo would have taken his head long before now. There would be no question of him leaving the compound.”

“Carlisle is unique,” Aro muttered.

Caius snorted. “No. Carlisle is a fool.”

Aro looked over at Marcus. Of the three of them, Marcus was the closest to the young blond, on account of the schooling which took place most days. The two of them would disappear at times, strains of Greek and Latin and laughter floating from wherever they were. Keeping Carlisle around meant Aro had less worry that his brother-in-law would leave, and his valuable gift would disappear.

Of course, if Carlisle wanted to leave also…

“Aro, your history of dealing with those who wish to defect is quite firm,” Caius reminded him.

Aro nodded. His fist clenched, remembering on its own the feel of the steely skin beneath it as he tore limbs from torso on that cold night so many centuries ago. It was the guards who did this, customarily; Aro gave the orders and they executed them. But that night he’d needed to be alone.

He’d asked his younger sister to come on an excursion with him. To find new places to acquire prey, he’d said. Didyme was a wonderful conversationalist; even without her gift, she was lovely to be around. She was speaking of the world, of the places she and her adoring husband would travel, now that she had her brother’s blessing, when Aro leaned in and sank his teeth into her collarbone. Bone splintered, blood spurted—from them both, to be sure, as Didyme turned out to be a surprisingly good fighter. In the end, however, he merely ended up with his robes torn to rags and covered with venom, and it was his sister who went up in a cloud of hazy purple smoke.

It was as he’d lit the pyre that a twig had snapped behind him, and he’d turned to see Caius, a wretched, wicked grin on his face.

Aro swore the other to secrecy, and he was pledged eternal fidelity—but this didn’t change the fundamental fact: Caius knew.

And his reminder now was sharp.

Get rid of Carlisle, he seemed to be saying. Before he becomes trouble.

Footsteps came in the hall, a good distance away, and all three of them caught Sulpicia’s scent. A tick of a clock later, she was in the room with them.

“Aro.”

“My Sulpicia.”

“Athena wishes to see you. As soon as you’re able.”

He sighed. As though to add to this problem…

“We are finished here,” he said.

Caius frowned. “Athena?”

“Your mate works on a project for me,” he explained, and did not voice the understood message: And it is not your business. “I shall go.” He immediately began to move for the door.

“And of the Englishman?”

“We will wait. He will return. When he does, I will question him.”

Sulpicia frowned. “Carlisle? He’s in his chambers. He returned an hour ago.”

Caius scowled; Aro raised his eyebrows as if to say, You see? Marcus only smiled.

When they were somewhat clear of the other two, Sulpicia turned to him, her eyebrows raised. “You’re questioning Carlisle?”

Aro sighed. “Caius is suspicious of how he’s spent his time.”

“Caius is suspicious of how everyone spends his time.” She smiled. “I wouldn’t worry. Carlisle seemed perfectly content when he returned.”

This gave him pause. Perhaps he was right then, in thinking that Carlisle would not leave them. Someone as indomitable of spirit as Carlisle surely needed time to think after receiving an order such as the one Aro had issued.

It took a full quarter-minute to go to Athenadora’s chambers, which were on the other side of the compound. When they reached her, Athena sat before a large table, on which lay piled a great deal of inky black fabric.

She smiled when she saw him. “Master. I hope it is to your liking.” She stood, holding the top of the garment, and letting the black fabric cascade to the floor. Athena was not tall enough to display it all, and the bottom hem and maybe a palm of fabric remained pooled on the stone. But he could still see the finery of the top closures, the hood, the way the shoulders would move. He could imagine how it would appear on its wearer, how regal it would make him appear.

Taking the fabric into his arms and winding it carefully back and forth, he thanked Athena.

Sulpicia reached a hand out to stroke the fabric, nodding appreciatively.

“For Carlisle?” she said.

Aro turned the garment over in his hands, remembering everything of which he and Marcus and Caius had just spoken. Impertinence. Defection. Desertion.

“Maybe,” he muttered. “Maybe.”

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Chapter Notes

§ 4 Responses to 12. Friend"

  • sisterglitch says:

    Chilling!

    The “brothers” argue his life or death, his inclusion or rejection in their exclusive company, yet Carlisle has no desire to be one of them. Caius seeks to destroy him for not caring. Aro seeks to seduce him with powerful intimacy. They glorify their own importance but Carlisle’s honesty and relative innocence negate it effortlessly.

    Beautiful!

    • giselle says:

      Yes! I have to admit, I adore the reviews where someone comes in and tells me what it is I just wrote. But yes. That’s exactly it. The beauty of Carlisle and the Volturi is that there is actually no conflict. Carlisle isn’t going head-to-head with them, because he just doesn’t care about head-to-head. This is all about something completely different for him, and that’s why there’s friction–it’s hard to fight against someone you don’t understand.

      I haven’t written my chapter note yet. Expect to see this idea engaged with. Thank you!

  • Tina says:

    I’m left with a deep sadness for Marcus. He enjoyed Carlisle’s company. It helped to relieve his loneliness. Yet, Carlisle will leave him, too.

    Aro doesn’t want to destroy Carlisle, but has no idea how much Carlisle will impact his future. He’s a jealous man – Edward, Alice and Jasper have gifts he would love to acquire – imagine if he could know what was to come for Carlisle!

    And Caius…hotheaded and arrogant soul that he is. Jealous of Carlisle’s relationship with his ‘brothers’. He’d do anything to get rid of him.

    I love your description of the Volturi.

    And I really love that fact that you’ve introduced us to Garrett, and have given us the story of how me became Carlisle’s friend.

  • soonermom says:

    I’m all caught up now and will wait anxiously for the next update! I can’t wait to see how the Volturi resolve their differences with Carlisle! Should be interesting. Thanks for sharing!

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