15. The Fourth Brother

Volterra
June 1789

“You could be a prince if you wished to be, Dottore.”

Martina laughed as she leaned over her cart. “This whole land would come together under you. I don’t doubt it. That smile—it is the kind of smile that gathers others.”

Carlisle looked away. “I would be a poor ruler,” he answered shyly. “I possess no ability to force others to do my will.”

“Except maybe this one,” Martina’s sister piped up, patting her belly. “When you give him things to make him quiet, he is quiet. And he doesn’t hurt me so much any longer. Well, aside from the fact that he’s strong.” She laughed.

The baby was close to being born, Carlisle knew, even though he’d had little experience with the phenomenon. But in the past several weeks Martina’s sister’s body had changed dramatically as her belly grew more and more taut. He’d kept up with the growing child, creating more and more of the willow bark tea, and preparations for poultices to ease the pains of her stretching skin. The others in the castle thought he was crazy—even Marcus—but it felt good to have someone he knew he was helping.

“You should feel this strong boy,” Martina said, and before he’d had a chance to step backward, Carlisle found his hand yanked forward by the wrist, his palm placed on the growing belly. He was rewarded with a firm kick-muted, yes, but still firm, a fascinating, tickling pressure across his palm.

He couldn’t help his smile.

“See?” Martina’s sister’s grin was even bigger. “He likes you. He is happy for what you do for us.”

“It is nothing,” Carlisle answered. “I am learning, just as much as you are.” And thank goodness this was her third child, as it meant that Carlisle had a far easier time learning from her.

She smiled, wagging a finger at him. “Well, please learn quickly, because he’ll come soon.”

Both women laughed.

Carlisle gulped.

He’d been researching childbirth for months now of course, even though all the while he prayed for an uneventful birth to which he would not be summoned. Was he ready? It was one thing to spend time up in his chambers at the castle, preparing salves and teas. It would be another to throw himself into childbirth, with its blood and birthing fluid and the demands of knowledge he did not yet possess.

And it was nearing the summer solstice—what if the child decided to make his appearance on a sunny day?

“I am certain this will be a healthy birth which will not require my intervention,” he said.

Martina’s sister shook her head. “Perhaps we’d wish you there, anyway, Dottore.”

He winced. “I am not a doctor, you know. I’ve not apprenticed.”

This time it was Martina who shook her head, and she came from behind her cart to lay a hand on Carlisle’s arm.

“You are better than a doctor,” she answered, smiling. “Doctors don’t laugh. And none of them are shy, or admit they might not be correct.”

Her sister nodded. “And that’s not you. You, Dottore, are human.”

Human?

His breath caught, even as he realized that of course she meant the term figuratively. “Thank you,” he said quietly.

“And as a human, you can’t have so much time for us,” Martina added. “I’m sure you have other things to take care of. Not the least of which being my sister’s further health.”

He nodded. “Be certain you rest,” he said. “The child won’t be born for some time yet, and it’s important that you be strong and rested for the birth.”

“Rest?” Martina’s sister grinned. “I have two other children. How I am supposed to rest?”

Men,” Martina answered, rolling her eyes, and they both laughed.

Carlisle chuckled. “Perhaps we do have it too easy,” he added. “Nevertheless…”

“Rest,” came the answer from both of them. “I’ll do what I can.”

“I bid you a good afternoon.”

The women continued to laugh as he began to make his way back to the compound.

Human, he thought as he walked. Perhaps she was right. It was true that within the compound, laughter was scarce, at least, it was for him. Even Marcus seemed to grow increasingly aloof—their study sessions had grown shorter, the jovial nature all but disappeared. What laughter there was within the Volturi headquarters was mostly at Carlisle’s expense.

He gazed up at the walls as he walked, one thumb absently tracing the spot on his other palm where he’d felt the baby’s kick. There had been so much to take in, that first time he’d approached this place so many decades ago. The refinement, the civility; how so many of his kind could live here peacefully, without moving from place to place like a pack of wolves. He remembered stepping into the library the first time—he’d been in only a handful himself. That here, they had amassed a collection of volumes so extensive that it would rival any library in Europe…Carlisle’s excitement had been nearly uncontainable.

Yet it was Martina, her sister, the open market where people knew him, that made this place his home. It was the freedom to walk around on the overcast days, the ways in which he at last had learned to interact without fear.

And be called human

It seemed only a few short minutes before he reached the compound’s alleyway doors and pressed them to admit himself into the dark underground tunnels which would lead him back to his own chambers. The compound was a labyrinth of staircases, rooms, hallways and tunnels, broken up only by the occasional courtyard. A winding set of stairs took him from the tunnel to the hallway nearest his own door. It was customary for him to go to the great chamber, to greet Aro and offer his palm, but today, he craved a moment alone with his own thoughts before they became the purview of someone else.

It wasn’t to be.

He’d barely managed to lay his bag on his desktop before a light breeze tickled the hairs on the back of his neck.

Aro was the tallest of the three brothers; part of what gave him such a commanding presence. His dark hair hung to his shoulders, billowing curtains of night framing an otherwise gaunt face. Little daylight made its way into Carlisle’s chambers, but the tiny sliver that did bounce through the window set Aro’s ruby eyes aflame.

Had Aro ever even been in his chambers alone before?

“Yes, Aro?” he managed.

“Alrigo informed me you had returned from your” —he gestured helplessly toward the table and the herbs— “errand.”

The word had an odd tone to it.

Carlisle nodded. “I have, indeed.”

“And how is the market this day?”

Did he wish to make small talk? Carlisle turned to face him fully.

“What is it you want of me?” He held out his left hand. Not the one where the baby had kicked, but the other. Aro took it, and for a moment, bowed his head as he evaluated all that had changed since the last time Carlisle had done this.

“Fascinating,” he murmured, making Carlisle wonder what it was he was seeing. The baby’s kick? The way Martina had called him human?

The other hand slid away after only a moment.

“These women,” Aro said. “They are your friends?”

Friends? Could he count them as such? His mind flashed instantly back several weeks, to the conversation with the sandy-haired colonist up in the Alpi.

Friend,” Garrett called Carlisle.

“Clients,” he answered carefully. “They are clients.”

“The one with child is your patient, I feel. Or at least, she considers herself so.”

That much was true. But he didn’t have patients. He was no physician. Untrained. What skill he had was entirely based on trial and error. And it always would be—how would he ever learn alongside a human doctor? To resist the blood here, in the controlled confines of the castle, that was one thing.

He shrugged. “She allows me to experiment. Nothing more.”

Aro gave him a skeptical look. “Still. You treat her.”

“I suppose.”

Aro paced the length of the room, his dark robe swishing at his ankles. This was odd, Carlisle realized. The brothers only wore the robes when they needed to display command. The last time he’d seen Aro in it had to have been a few years ago or more.

What was going on?

“I confess I didn’t think you to be serious,” Aro began quietly after a moment. “So many years ago, when you said that you wished to work alongside the humans, and even to treat them, to become a physician. I did not know you, then. I’m afraid I underestimated you.”

Carlisle shrugged. “It has happened before.”

“I imagine it would, with you.” Aro began to pace again. “You are entirely different. The things which drive others do not drive you. I confess I find you unpredictable in that regard.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be! It makes you fascinating. And I enjoy fascination. There is so little of it, after so long. One day, you’ll understand this, Young One.” A hand reached out, and a thumb caressed Carlisle’s cheek.

He fought not to pull away.

Aro frowned as he read Carlisle’s thoughts. “You are confused.”

“Why are you here?”

The long hand pulled away from Carlisle’s cheek and disappeared into the recesses of its owner’s cloak, appearing again clutching a wad of black. For a brief moment, Carlisle could barely discern what it held, as it was utterly identical to the clothing of the man who held it. It wasn’t until Aro held up the second item and shook it, allowing the yards of inky fabric to spill to the floor, that Carlisle understood what it was.

His eyes flitted across the room to the hook on the far wall. His own robe hung there, the dark charcoal gray worn by the inner guard. He was no guard, and he felt no obligation to wear it, though he did on occasion for no other reason than simply to keep from drawing attention to himself.

Aro didn’t miss his shift in gaze.

“That one would no longer be yours, Young One.” He held out the dark robe, gesturing for Carlisle to take it. An odd feeling shot down Carlisle’s spine as his fingers closed around the black fabric.

Aro’s face broke into a triumphant smile. “We haven’t added to our number in several millenia.”

Carlisle turned the robe over in his arms.

“The others?” he said finally. Marcus thought him a friend, certainly, but Caius hated him—and would any of them accept him as he was?

“The others do what I say, in the end,” Aro offered. “Democracy ultimately results in chaos; it is why our great Roma fell.”

Carlisle frowned.

“And my habits?”

This time it was Aro’s face which fell. “By which you mean your feedings. Or lack thereof.”

“I feed on that which keeps me human. That upon which humans also feed.”

Aro shuffled away to the other side of the room. For a long moment, Aro said nothing, and when he did, it was the wall he addressed rather than Carlisle himself.

“You haven’t seen what we’ve seen, cucciolo,” he muttered. “The ways humans destroy themselves. They fight needless wars; they starve one another; they murder one another for no reason but sport.”

The hairs on the back of Carlisle’s neck rose. He and Aro had engaged in this exact argument before…but it had been years.

“And so that justifies our killing them, despite that we are men of reason?”

“I did not say that.”

“You as much did.” Carlisle laid the robe carefully over the end of his couch. “I don’t believe as you do, Aro. You know this.”

The other man chuckled. “I do, of course. Your optimism is fascinating to me. Inspiring, even.”

“But you think it won’t last.”

Another chuckle. “You are just barely a century old, Sweet One. You have only just outlived the humans who lived with you. Of course it is easy to feel compassion when those upon whom you feed might have been your contemporaries.”

“This is not a phase I will simply grow out of,” Carlisle answered darkly.

“Oh, I’m not suggesting that you will, of course! I’m only suggesting that perhaps your conviction is born of circumstance more than conscience.” He gestured to the robe, which now lay puddled on the cushions. “Join us. To balance us, Brother. Three can vote without problem. Four must reason with one another to avoid a tie.”

“I thought democracy ultimately results in chaos?”

Aro smiled. “See? And you learn quickly.” He turned on his heel. “I will leave you, Brother. But know this offer is not given lightly.”

“And if I do not take it up?”

The other man’s face pulled into a tight frown. “There would be consequences to such a decision of course.” He looked into Carlisle’s eyes, the ruby burning in the fading daylight.

“Were I you,” he added, “I would be certain to make the correct one.”

Then he vanished, leaving Carlisle standing alone.

At once, he sank into the chair at his desk, dropping his head into his hands. It was a habit left over from his decades as a human; he had no need of rest now, and even emotional fatigue required nothing of his body. He had no need to slouch; but to do so felt oddly restful.

He would be the fourth brother. The only one brought into the fold after they had formed. Would it mean power? Freedom?

Freedom.

It was the word Garrett had used, in speaking about the new World, and the uprising in France. Worth fighting for, he’d said—had it really been only a week ago when they’d sat together on the mountain? When Carlisle couldn’t be certain if he was in Italy, France, or some other place altogether?

The other man’s voice came swirling back. “I suspect you lie, Carlisle. Not to me. That is of little consequence. We have only just met. But I suspect you lie to yourself.”

Was he right?

He remembered the savage beast who attacked him in London, and the others he’d met since. Nomads. Placeless killers. Men and sometimes women who might never open a book, much less keep a roomful of them. Others who would not tutor his Greek, give him a home base from which to begin to do the work which, if he admitted it, he felt supremely called to do.

Brother. They’d never been used the word for Carlisle; he was always The Young One, or The Pup, or The Englishman. He was very rarely even “Carlisle.”

He stood and walked across the room, picking up the cloak and turning it over in his hands. The fabric draped over the back of his wrists, heavy, as though it were sopping wet.

Brother, Aro had called him.

But Garret had called him friend.

The robe fell back to the couch in a puddle of inky black. And by the time the fabric settled, Carlisle had already disappeared.

~||x||~

It was a rare overcast day, and so the contingent of guard in the Great Hall was light when Aro returned from Carlisle’s chambers. They grew restless, his brethren, when the sun shone so relentlessly. And in the Tuscan country, this near the summer solstice, “relentless” was the only way to describe the sun.

He made his way back to his seat slowly, turning over the encounter he’d just had with the Englishman. Would the fiery blond join them? He would provide balance, Aro knew that much. He had been completely truthful in saying that four meant the brothers would be forced to reason, where three meant a vote always won. Just as the vote had been handily won the previous evening, when Aro announced that he would invite Carlisle to join them.

Caius fought, as always. He insisted that they could never be joined by someone whose loyalties lay so surely with humans. What if he attempted to block their feeding? What if he caused an insurrection?

He would not do those things, Aro insisted, and Marcus agreed. Imagining the mild-mannered Englishman planning a coup against them…most of the guard didn’t even like him enough to take his side.

Most of the guard didn’t much like Caius either, but Aro decided not to point this out.

They would insist on total fidelity, Aro told the other two. Down to his feeding habits…which would change over time even if they didn’t force things, he thought.

Marcus agreed.

Keeping Carlisle around would be a mess, Caius insisted. He was better disposed of now, before he became too big a threat.

The memory made Aro cringe.

“Brother? You are all right?”

The words came not in Italian, but in Etruscan, the language the brothers shared and the one language Marcus had refused to teach the Englishman. They used it to speak without being overheard, even in the Great Hall.

Aro drew himself upright in the chair before looking over at his dark-haired brother. Marcus’s face wore clear concern.

“The discussion?” he inquired. “Carlisle? His answer?”

“I told him to consider it carefully and to choose correctly.”

A sigh. “With joining us being the correct choice.”

Aro’s eyes narrowed. “He will be best served here. How long will this physician nonsense last? Until the day he grows bored with humanity and their inane pursuits and gives in to the lifestyle he was born to lead. He knows this. Or at least, he fears it. Otherwise, why has he stayed for four decades?”

“To learn, perhaps?” A smile played on Marcus’s lips. “He is thirsty like a dry sponge for all he can imbibe from us.”

Aro did not answer. He stared out at the handful of guard scattered around the room. Some were engaged in conversation, others playing an elaborate game of stones. Still others stood, bored expressions on their faces.

It was true that Carlisle didn’t fit here. His curiosity; his intellectual pursuits—they made him exceptional even among others of an exceptional race.

“Or keep him,” Marcus said. “Use Charmion to strengthen his bond to you.”

Aro shook his head. “He must choose. The Young One is useless to me if his will is broken.”

“And if he chooses otherwise?”

“Then he will leave us and never return.”

Marcus’s eyes widened.

“There is no other way.”

The other vampire shifted in his seat as though he were somehow uncomfortable. He stared wistfully toward the floor, to the spot where the blond sat whenever the two of them had their teacher-pupil sessions. For a moment, Aro knew that Marcus was imagining as he was, the young vampire moving from his place at their feet to a fourth chair beside them.

But if he rebuffed the offer…

“I cannot allow him the option to stay. I will appear weak.”

“If strength is what you wish to display, why not simply destroy him?”

An odd strangled noise choked from Aro’s throat.

The thought of destroying Carlisle was repulsive. Aro had told the man that he found him fascinating, but it was more than that. He thought back to that first day here, as Carlisle stood before them. Unflinching. Unafraid. At the time, Aro had chalked his brashness up to the naivete of inexperience, but he knew better now. The blond knew what he wanted. He knew who he was, and what he was called to do.

“I would rather see if he succeeds in this…unorthodox path he’s chosen.”

“Or which perhaps you will force him to give up.”

Aro nodded. “Loneliness is a powerful motivator.”

Especially for someone like the Young One.

“A powerful motivator for whom?” piped up a gentle voice, and Aro found a pair of soft hands make their way to his shoulders from behind.

“For the Englishman,” Aro answered his mate. “You were across the compound, I thought?”

“I was near enough to hear this conversation. I thought you were merely tracking Carlisle. Now you’re setting traps?”

Aro bristled. “I am not setting traps.”

“It sounds as though you are.”

“I offered him a place with us.”

“And gave him an ultimatum, from what you said to Marcus.”

He growled, loudly enough that it startled several of the guard, and several heads swiveled their way.

“I will not allow him to make me look like a weakling,” Aro hissed in a whisper.

Sulpicia raised an eyebrow. “Perhaps his caving in would make you look more like a weakling than not? Arruns, the man who is so insecure in his own seat that he must bully someone who poses no threat?”

The echoing smack of the back of his hand against Sulpicia’s cheek reached Aro’s ears before he realized he’d made the decision to strike. His mate’s delicate hand rose to her face, fingers feeling gently as though feeling to make certain all the pieces were there. Her guards were upon her in an instant, cooing and taking her arms, even as they nodded in deference to Aro.

“I will not tolerate this kind of disagreement,” he snarled.

Sulpicia backed away, her eyes narrowed. Shrugging off the attention of Corin and her other guards, Sulpicia drew herself to her full height—impressively towering, and one of the reasons he’d mated her in the first place. For a long moment, she stood there silently, staring at Aro.

“You fear him, Arnza,” she said. “And you fear someone from whom there is nothing to fear.”

Then she turned and was gone, nearly crashing into Alrigo and Raphael who came barreling in the other direction. They both looked hurried, but stopped short at the expression on Aro’s face.

“Master?”

Aro raised his eyebrows, extending his hand to Alrigo. At once the images flooded Aro’s mind—hunting, a human dead in the forest, one in the square, Alrigo’s childhood, a fight with Raphael, an argument with another of the guard, commands from Aro, obeyed, obeyed, obeyed. All the pieces of Alrigo’s mind swirled in Aro’s until he found the new piece, this latest bit of memory that was the one his guard had intended to convey.

The Englishman’s chambers, reeking of odd herbs, but with his own scent still recent enough on the air. The door, ajar, the chair, hastily pushed back. The bag, gone.

And the robe, the black robe which invited him into the Brotherhood, puddled unceremoniously on the stone floor.

Aro jerked his hand from Alrigo’s as though the other’s was on fire.

“He’s gone?”

“Ten minutes, at best. Through the tunnels.”

Ten minutes in a place unseen by humans could put the Englishman anywhere. In the forests north of the compound, in the city to the south—just as the guard enjoyed the overcast day, so would Carlisle take shelter in it.

Where would he run?

“Master?”

“Find him,” Aro growled, but no one moved. Even Alrigo looked nervously from Marcus to Aro, as though he were waiting for further instruction.

“Find him!” Aro bellowed. “All of you! The Englishman. Find him and bring him back to me! Go!”

The Great Hall emptied at once, a drain with its plug just pulled, its inhabitants swirling out the doors murmuring to one another. Within seconds, the hall was empty, save Marcus, who sat more upright in his chair.

For a long moment, he said nothing. It wasn’t until Caius appeared in the doorway, a perplexed look on his face, that Marcus addressed Aro, who stood, his hands balled into fists at his side.

Marcus arched a single eyebrow.

“Loneliness is a powerful motivator,” was all he said.

 

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§ 4 Responses to 15. The Fourth Brother"

  • jfly says:

    Loneliness is a powerful motivator, indeed. Why would a youngster, barely a century old, want to condemn himself to a lifetime with these crchety old codgers in the land where nothing changes… especially when there’s at least one vampire outside of Volterra who calls Carlisle a friend?
    The absolute correct decision was made, but Aro is getting bent out of shape like a sore loser and gracelessly turning it into a THING when it was never meant ti be a THING.
    How very nice. It’s good to watch Carlisle grow up, experience the world, hit that wall of realization that kicks up those break-out instincts.
    So much more lies in wait for him outside those city walls. Bless him.

    <3 bless giselle-lx

    • giselle says:

      It’s funny…I like that you say “grow up” here, because you’re right. I think until this moment, he is in a kind of extended adolescence. Perhaps in the kind of adolescence most people experience in college–on their own, and certainly capable adults, but not really having come into themselves. And now, Carlisle is figuring out what he really wants. Growing up, exactly.

  • Sisterglitch says:

    I could absolutely HEAR Marcus intonation as he said those words!
    Well done!

    “The blond knew what he wanted. He knew who he was, and what he was called to do.”

    And how powerful a motivator is THAT? Aro and his “brothers” live with few aim, few goals, and all of them utterly selfish. That is the most distinct difference between them and Carlisle. C lives to serve others, not himself.

    I love the irony that Carlisle feels he is damned by God, yet he lives as the most model Christian — performing works of love and charity.

    .

    • giselle says:

      Yes! It’s this selflessness that really mindboggles Aro. He has no frame of reference for it (after all, he predates Christ by a few thousand years, so even Carlisle’s religion probably seems a bit insane).

      Of course, the selflessness ends up getting Carlisle in trouble, I think, but not until way down the line. Well, I suppose it could be argued that it gets him into trouble when it comes to having not created a companion for himself…

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