18. Englishman

Volterra
Late June 1789

Aro’s hand slid free of Alrigo’s as the other man backed away. His shoulders slumped, and he refused to meet Aro’s eyes as he walked backward from the thrones into the main chambers.

“My apologies, Master,” the other vampire muttered. “The Englishman’s timing was perfect.”

Aro nodded, but his jaw locked. Alrigo was the last of the guard to return. The Volterran vampires had fanned out over the whole of the area, from the Kingdom of France all the way to Rome. But the clouds which kept Carlisle from being noticed by humans also hid him as he ran; a torrential downpour washed his scent so thoroughly that even Aro’s best trackers had difficulty.

And so one by one, they returned in failure.

Aro clenched his hand, remembering the other’s memories. A bit of Carlisle’s scent, perhaps going northward, but then washed away. No evidence in the road of a vampire; though this didn’t surprise anyone. Carlisle was equally as likely to travel as a human as he was to seem like one of their kind.

“Nothing, Brother?” Caius’s voice piped up from the other throne.

“Nothing.”

A soft crack ushered from the area of Aro’s right arm; it took him a part of a second to realize that he’d broken off the clawed edge of the arm of his seat.

This didn’t escape the other two.

“Peace,” Marcus said quietly, getting to his feet. “Nothing is more important to Carlisle than companionship. I don’t doubt our friend will return.”

“Friend,” huffed Caius. “Subject.”

“Friend,” Marcus repeated more firmly. “He deserves our courtesy. And Aro, you failed to tell him he was not free to leave.”

Aro’s fist slammed to the chair arm again. “That should have been obvious.”

Marcus grinned. “Yes, of course. Because as you’re aware, all of us are intimately familiar with every thought which you have…”

Caius snorted.

Aro scowled. “He should know better, regardless.”

Anyone would have known better. Aro scanned the handful of guard members who milled about in the chamber. Every few months, it seemed, one of them tore another to shreds. For superiority. For power. Those who wore the robes of light gray fought for the darker colors, to be recognized as being so useful to the Brothers that they were given higher station.

No one would turn down an invitation to the highest post. To join the brotherhood? To be not only more than a servant, but to be made an equal?

“He is an abomination,” Aro muttered in the language he shared with his brothers.

“Carlisle?” Marcus smiled. “Brother, I know as well as you do that it is precisely the fact that he never does what you expect which fascinates you so.”

Before Aro could rejoinder, Caius cut him off. “Aro is right. The Englishman is heady with youth, and a fool. He is a threat to us. We should order him destroyed.”

Shifting in his seat, Aro stared out at the small knot of guards.

“I do not make it a habit of destroying my subjects without cause,” he said finally.

“He is not your subject, Brother,” Caius answered. “He is your pet. And at times, a sickly pet must be taken to slaughter.”

Aro made a strangled noise.

“What of the other?” Marcus piped up, causing the other two to stare.

“The other?” Aro asked.

“The other of our kind. The one Alrigo found the last time the Englishman disappeared.”

Aro sat back in his chair. He hadn’t connected the two—he’d had other things on his mind—but now it made all too much sense. Carlisle’s most recent disappearance had been right after that other vampire had made his appearance in Volterra. And now…

“Do we know where the other ran?”

Caius shook his head. “You called Alrigo off him, remember? Asked him to follow the Young One instead.” His face made clear his opinion on this decision.

“As I recall, the idea to trail Carlisle instead of the intruder was yours, Brother.”

This stopped Caius short. His lip curled.

“This was a consequence which I did not foresee,” he answered darkly.

“We are all alike in that,” Aro said.

Marcus moved back to his own seat, and the ancient wooden throne creaked as he settled. It took him a long time to speak.

“The intruder went north, correct?” he said at last.

Aro nodded.

“The Kingdom of France is at war with itself,” Marcus answered coolly. “The fighting spills into the southern countryside. It is an ideal place for one of our kind. The other can hide amidst the war and go unseen. So send part of our guard into the French country and keep part of it here. Whatever Carlisle is doing, he’s not running away. He doesn’t run away. He runs toward.”

“And?”

Marcus shrugged. “Cut off his access to what he runs toward,” he said simply. “Send our guard into the French country, and let them wait out the Englishman. He’ll show himself eventually. And then you can—”

“Order him destroyed,” Caius interjected.

“—deal with him as you see fit,” Marcus finished, frowning.

Caius rose and began to pace, the heels of his shoes clicking against the stone floor. “This never should have happened, Aro. This was your idea and Marcus agreed, and so you outvoted me.”

Aro sat back in his chair. Several of the guard stared at the three; although no one but they and their mates understood their language, it was no doubt obvious that the brothers were quarreling.

He rose. “Leave us.”

For a moment, no one moved at the sudden request. But then a few of the higher guard began ushering others toward the door. Confused whispers rose, as though the Brothers could not hear every word. The room emptied slowly, until Alrigo who left last, let the door slam behind him with a quiet thud.

Marcus sat back in his chair, his eyebrows raised. “Was there something you wished to share privately, Brother?”

Aro gestured to Caius. “I wished to give our Brother a chance to express himself freely.”

Caius grunted. “I’ve said all I need to. You are the one who made the mistake.” He gestured wildly to the closed door. “Any of them… any of them would be beside themselves to be given the honor of joining our ranks. And instead you offer to someone who is little more than a disobedient dog. It is an affront to us all.”

That much was true. Was that not what he himself had thought, just moments ago? Carlisle should have known better than to run.

He should have known better than to turn them down.

“Perhaps you are right,” Aro muttered, gesturing to Caius and then the door. “Go to the guard. Send at least four into the French country.”

“Do you expect to find him this time?”

Aro’s eyes narrowed. To cut off what Carlisle ran toward…

“Tell them to kill with little discrimination. That ought to draw out our doctor friend rather quickly. ”

A grin spread across Caius’s face. “Certainly, Brother.” He vanished at once, leaving the other two sitting still in the chamber.

Marcus only stared.

“Brother?”

For a long moment, his brother-in-law did not answer. “Is this wise?” he asked at last.

“It will dispense with both Carlisle and the intruder,” Aro answered. “And perhaps we will find reason to apprehend the other, also.”

The other seat creaked a bit as Marcus got to his feet. He, however, said nothing.

“Do you disagree?” Aro asked.

It appeared momentarily that Marcus was going to say something, but then he only sighed and started toward the door.

“Marcus.”

He turned.

“What is your quarrel?”

“None, Brother. It’s simply…” He trailed off.

“Simply what?”

Turning to face Aro, Marcus crossed his arms over his chest. “I ought to know better, Aro,” he answered. “After all, you and I are closer to true brothers than either of us to Caius.”

Aro frowned. “What do you mean, ‘Know better?'”

“Even after two thousand years, you remain this insulted by the idea that someone might not want to share your post. After all, it is not as though Carlisle is the first not to want this life. To desire peace instead of power is not a killable offense, Brother.”

Then he placed his hand on the doorknob and vanished, leaving the chamber empty and silent.

Marcus might as well have slapped him, Aro thought, so stung his words. But at once, Aro’s mind reeled through memories—his and Marcus’s. His sister, with her infectious laughter and warm smile, the way Marcus slid his arm into hers. The vivid thoughts in both their minds of their happiness together, apart from the castle and away from him.

And the feel of her hair, slick and yet rough under his fingers as he twisted her neck…

“Not a killable offense,” he muttered to the empty room as he stood.

“We will see about that.”

~||x||~

Versailles, Kingdom of France
Late June, 1789

Versailles burst at the seams with people. Commoners, supporting the National Assembly, handing out bills and talking of liberty. The crowds pressed in on Carlisle in the square, making him glad for his practiced self-control as he wove through them.

France was on the verge of chaos, as near as Carlisle could tell from the conversations he’d been able to have on his journey. Their three-part assembly had split; the commoners demanding rights akin to those demanded by the Americans in the new world. The people were as exuberant as they were frantic; the royalty and the clergy were grasping at any means of control they still had.

And Versailles was the seat of it all.

Garrett’s scent was faint in the square, trampled into the dirt. But Carlisle managed to follow it to a door on a side wall of the palace. Where was his friend, he wondered? If he could even call Garrett that.

He sank onto an upturned bucket outside the door. Propping his elbows on his knees, he dropped his face into his hands.

Aro would want to know why he’d run, and Carlisle didn’t have a good answer for that. The moment he saw that black robe in the other man’s hands, such conflicting emotions arose that Carlisle didn’t know what to do. First was pride; that these others whom he’d once considered the height of refinement wanted him to be part of their inner circle. The fourth brother. That even though he did not share their ancient roots, or their long tenure in Tuscany, he might be accepted for his knowledge and curiosity.

But pride had been usurped by fear faster than Carlisle could think his own name. He would lose his freedom; there was no doubt about that. Aro, Caius, and Marcus rarely left the compound, and when they did, it was with an entourage of guards. No longer would he be able to slip into the square at the slightest hint of rain, walking among the humans and interacting with them. They would expect him to feed as they did—this wouldn’t be possible, of course. He would never take a human life if he could help it; and he’d helped it for over a century and a half.

Though…

At first, he’d associated feeding on humans with the savage nature of the beasts he’d met first in London, then in France. The half-crazed looks in their eyes; the way every moment was calculated around keeping the secret and fending off humans who might discover the grisly, bloodthirsty murders. Then he’d met the Brothers, and although the feedings were every bit as grisly, the brothers lived with a distinct refinement. A library. Musical instruments. Languages. Travel. Civility. And most importantly, company.

And Garrett also killed, and he, too, was nothing close to a savage…

Carlisle sighed.

“Are you all right, mister?”

It was a young boy, probably just over breeching age. He had a sweet, innocent look about him; his blue eyes were wide as he stared at Carlisle.

Carlisle nodded. “I’m just fine, Child. I’m awaiting my friend.” The French felt strange after so long; in Tuscany, he used either English or Florentine, or occasionally Greek if he was studying with Marcus. But he’d spoken French growing up, and to slip back into it felt strangely comforting.

It felt like the tiniest return to being human.

Which was, of course, impossible.

The child pointed to the door. “Your friend is in the palace?”

“I believe so, yes.” Carlisle turned and scrutinized the door at his back. It was a plain, wooden door, and the bucket on which he sat smelled of animal manure.

The child also examined the door. “He is a servant?”

Carlisle shrugged. “I believe so.” Garrett hadn’t told him anything of why he was in France; just that he knew Carlisle was running. Did it mean Garrett was, also? And if he was a servant, then why was he so bemused by Carlisle passing so easily among the humans?

The boy plopped himself down next to Carlisle in the dirt.

“You’ll dirty your breeches,” Carlisle said and stood, gesturing to the bucket. “Sit here. Where is your mother?”

The boy sat. “My mother is dead,” he said matter-of-factly. “And my nurse is busy minding my sister.”

“And you ran away?”

“I grew bored. The palace is more interesting than the square. Sometimes, I can see the nobles or the priests. Or the commoners, but they aren’t as interesting.”

“They come from the side doors?”

“At times. Especially now. The noblemen do not wish to be seen.”

That was true enough. In a crowd of people who were willing to call for the head of the King, a nobleman took a large risk.

Carlisle crouched next to the boy. “What do you see, when you see them? What do they talk about?”

The boy shrugged. “Laws. And commoners. And the king. Whether or not the King will agree to the demands of the people. ”

“And what do they think?”

“They fear us, I think.” The boy grinned.

“What do you mean, they fear us?’

They believe that we will ultimately take over, perhaps. That would be exciting. I have heard that people took cannons in Paris. And guns.”

Cannons and guns would of course be exciting to one so young. Carlisle smiled.

“You are not a nobleman?” The boy looked at him wide-eyed, clearly concerned at having suddenly made this guess.

Carlisle chuckled. “No. I am not even French. I am an Englishman.”

The eyes grew even wider. “English! You sound French.”

“I was taught French when I was very young, like you.” He smiled at the boy. “And that was a very long time ago.”

An understatement, to be certain.

At that moment, a harried-looking woman found her way around the corner.

“Bernard!” she called. “Bernard! I’ve searched everywhere for you. You will make me die of worry!”

The little boy blushed.

“You should go,” Carlisle said gently.

“It was nice to talk to you, Mister.”

He nodded. “You also.”

When the boy left, Carlisle resumed his seat. He was interrupted after a short moment, however, when the servant door opened. Expecting a human to exit, Carlisle did not rise.

“Something told me that you would take my invitation,” a deep voice said.

The other man stood over Carlisle, his arms crossed over his chest and a smirk playing on his lips.

“Garrett.” Carlisle smiled.

“Hello, Friend.” A wide grin broke out on Garrett’s face. “Your scent pervades the palace. At first I feared it to be another, but then realized it was you. How did you find me?”

“If mine pervades the palace,” Carlisle said carefully, “then yours pervades the entire countryside. It was not exactly a difficult matter.”

Garrett guffawed.

“But I thought you were in Paris?”

At this, Garrett’s face alighted. “You should see what goes on here, Englishman! You who have never experienced revolution. The commoners here are outvoted by the nobility two to one. They take up arms in Paris even as we speak. It is the most glorious kind of uprising. Liberty and brotherhood, they say.”

“And you are in the palace proper?”

Another grin. “The ship on which I stowed my way here was the American minister’s. A great man, and also a Virginian. He is here having an audience with the King. Discussing the ideas of the great Declaration he helped write, when America freed herself from England’s tyranny.”

Carlisle must have frowned, because Garrett quickly added, “Of course, this was long after your turning, Friend. And one might consider you Tuscan by this time in any event.”

“Perhaps not,” Carlisle muttered, staring into the crowd.

“Oh?” A smirk appeared on Garrett’s face. “Tell me.”

And so Carlisle did. The entire story began spilling out of him—his work with the herbs, his desire to become a physician, the way all of his learning in Volterra was slowly agitating the Brothers, especially Caius. And then, the presentation of the robe; the invitation to join the inner circle.

“So you ran.”

Garrett made this sound as though it were the most logical thing in the world.

Carlisle nodded.

Much to his surprise, Garrett began to laugh.

“This is humorous to you?”

Garrett clapped him on the shoulder. “Don’t you see? You wish for the same things as do le peuple français. Freedom. Self-governance. Choice.” Grabbing Carlisle by the elbow, he jerked him to his feet. “Come. Let us go to away from this place, and I will tell you of all that has happened here.”

He began to walk down the lane away from the palace and the crowds. The dirt was well-worn, trampled with human shoe prints and hoof prints alike. Garrett led him through a gate and up a small hill, where they came upon a run-down farmhouse. It had once been carefully built of stone, but now angry black scars marred the windowsills and half the roof was caved in.

Garrett shrugged as he gestured to the door. “My residence, at least for now,” he said, and as Carlisle ducked through the small door, added, “I’m sure it’s nothing like as lavish as what you are accustomed to.”

The building still reeked of cinder and dirt, but Garrett’s scent was unmistakable.

“How long have you been here?” Carlisle asked.

“A fortnight.” He gestured to the table beside him, next to which stood two chairs. Carlisle sat at once, and Garrett dropped into the other.

“I’ve followed the American minister through his travels,” he said. “He is a great man. When I am recently fed, I go in with his other footmen; he believes me to be a shy ensign with whom he is simply not as familiar.”

Carlisle’s eyes widened. Was that even possible, for another to be as close to humans? The Brothers refused to go near them; as far as they were concerned, there was no value to humanity whatsoever. Humans amounted to little more than cattle.

“You look shocked, Friend.”

Carlisle shook his head. “Not shocked; simply surprised that another moves as easily among humans.”

It had taken him a century to perfect his own control.

The toothy grin appeared again. “That was why I said, ‘When I am recently fed.’ Today, for instance. I was out hunting just last night, and it seems and doubly to my benefit, as it seems that drew you here.”

Carlisle winced at the thought of the other vampire and his prey, but he had a point. The trail had been easy to follow; even for such an inexperienced tracker as he.

“And I hold my breath and speak little.” He grinned and added, “This is probably why I am well-liked.”

Carlisle smirked. “If only they knew you.”

Garrett let out a booming laugh and clapped Carlisle on the shoulder. “Indeed, Friend. If only they knew! It is worth it, however. I learn so much from the humans about this situation, and even more from the minister’s counsel.”

“And this minister? Who is he?”

Garrett’s eyes alighted at once. “A great man. A true intellectual, first, but one of the men on our continental congress who first wrote our Declaration to King George. His name is Jefferson. He speaks of such things as protecting the people’s rights, and of educating the common man. I believe it is his wish to found a great University to educate America’s common students. He is a man with great vision.”

“You admire him.”

“There is much to admire.” Garrett leaned back in his chair so that the front two feet lifted themselves from the ground. “And you, Carlisle. He would like you a great deal. He would admire your passion, if only he could truly know it.” He grinned. “A vampire physician.”

“A vampire who wishes to become a physician,” Carlisle corrected.

Garrett shrugged. “It seems to me that you have your own patients in Volterra. I would think you’ve earned the title by now.” He smiled, and leaned in across the table, his chair giving a soft thunk as it landed again on the singed floorboards.

“So. Do you plan to stay in France?”

That was the question. Would he stay in France? Had he run from Volterra in order to think, or was this a more permanent solution? And if it were the latter, would he even be allowed to?

“Aro…doesn’t appreciate defection,” he said carefully, and Garrett guffawed again.

“An understatement, to be sure.” He grinned. “Nevertheless; you are free of them now. I also suspect he likes the illusion of free will, does he not? He strikes me as one who would.”

“The illusion, yes.” Carlisle thought back to the order to watch the others feed; that had been scarcely two months ago. It seemed like so much longer. He stared into the room. It was dark, due to the partial roof and the utter lack of lamplight. Vampires didn’t need it, and so of course Garrett had not bothered, but lamps fascinated Carlisle and so he had several in his chambers in Volterra.

Was this to be his life if he ran? Hiding in burned shells of houses, without lamps, without books, without company?

His stomach gave an odd jerk.

“Carlisle? What are you thinking about?”

“This place,” he answered. “If this will be my life should I leave Volterra. Hiding. Running.”

Garrett looked around the room, his gaze alighting on the sparse furniture, the bare floor, the collapsed fireplace and the huge black char in the northeastern corner.

“As I said,” he murmured, “It is not what you are accustomed to.”

He rubbed his chin a moment, seeming to think.

“How long have you been in Volterra?” he asked at last.

“With this year as 1789? Forty-two years.”

The word sounded larger than the stay had seemed.

Garrett nodded. “And before you lived in Volterra, you lived like this, yes?”

Or worse. The beasts in London whom he’d known inhabited London’s alleyways and the ruins of the Roman sewers. He had done the same for years, fearing contact with humans would break his resolve.

He nodded.

“I’ve seen you with the humans. You don’t frighten them at all. At first, I thought that meant you were a weakling, but now I understand it as the source of your strength. And your eyes—they make it so much easier for you to walk among them.” He gestured toward the door—toward the hill and toward Versailles. “You, my friend, could live among the people now. Who would suspect the true nature of the handsome bachelor who lives in the house next door? The one who so easily intermingles with them, who even treats them as their physician? It would be easy for you, Carlisle.”

Would it be?

He stared.

It was something he hadn’t truly allowed himself to consider. He assumed that if he left Volterra, he would leave again for the nomadic life he’d lived before; ducking into lectures and concerts when he could, but living in abandoned homes, always transitory, never able to have a home as he did now. But as he thought back to even that afternoon, with the little boy taking a seat so easily at his side, Carlisle realized Garrett was right. His tolerance let him slide through human bodies which pressed in on him from all sides in the palace square; it let him stand resolute in the Great Hall in Volterra even as the Brothers and their guard slaughtered humans by the dozens.

He could live among them. He could vanish—not literally, not because he had to move from place to place, but because they would not know him for what he was. They would know him as Carlisle Cullen. Not the vampire, but the man.

“See?” Garrett’s voice was hardly more than a whisper. “You are smiling, friend. It could work. It is only up to you.”

“It could work,” Carlisle repeated quietly, and Garrett grinned. He took one of Carlisle’s hands in his own on the table and squeezed it.

“Perhaps this revolution is meant not for France, but for you. Will you accompany me back to Paris? There is no doubt in my mind that what happens here will reverberate there. The people are hungry for change.”

Hungry for change. It was an interesting way to describe it, and yet, it made sense.

Carlisle was hungry, too.

He nodded.

“We’ll go.”

Chapter Notes

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§ 4 Responses to 18. Englishman"

  • jfly says:

    Jefferson! Garret has a well deserved hard-on for him.
    Marcus! Not a killable offense indeed, sir.
    Aro! Whatta douche.
    Caius! GTF over it, buddy.
    Carlisle! Yes you can! Yes you can! Yes you can!

    My favorite line is: Marcus might as well have slapped him, Aro thought, so stung his words.

    • giselle says:

      “Jefferson! Garret has a well deserved hard-on for him.”

      Doesn’t he, though? I love thinking about with whom all these vampires might have interacted that influenced their ideas.

  • NixHaw says:

    What jfly said. Every word ;)

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