21. Taoist

Paris, Kingdom of France
July 12, 1789

The streets of Paris were nothing like what Carlisle remembered. Paris, to him, was a serene city, its stately buildings and its cathedrals making the landscape purposeful. Saint-Sulpice, Notre Dame—he felt like a disobedient child, going into these houses of Catholic worship, but they made him entranced with the city.

And unlike Volterra, Paris had always felt like home. Perhaps it was the Seine, twisting through the city as a tamer, less foul-smelling version of the Thames. Perhaps it was the libraries; the way he could find peddlers selling books for him to read. He made camp outside the city and prowled it mostly by night; like the creature he wished not to be. Yet even in the dark, even without people, something about the city was invigorating and irresistible. The air itself thrummed with possibility.

Carlisle remembered Paris for its beauty.

But it was not beautiful today.

As he and Garrett picked their way through the crammed streets, Carlisle couldn’t help but to feel crushed and out of place. Even with his height, he could barely see; the streets were so filled with people in protest. Everywhere he looked it seemed his eyes landed on scores of red, blue, and white rosettes.

“Is it not exciting?” Garrett asked, a wide grin on his face as they pressed their way through the crowds, the bodies so close that Carlisle could nearly feel the hearts beating against his own skin.

“How is it that you manage?” Carlisle asked, his voice low enough that only another of his kind might hear it.

“Manage what?”

“With the humans so close.”

Garrett laughed, the broad, booming laughter that Carlisle was just barely becoming used to. They did not laugh often in Volterra, and certainly not as heartily.

“Distraction,” he answered. “The same mechanism you employ, if I am not entirely mistaken?”

It had been distraction, he supposed, especially at first. Though now…the idea of killing a human had grown so utterly repugnant that he could scarcely fathom ever having had the urge. But he had been older than Garrett when he first went so freely among humans, and that Garrett was as resolute to pass among them was surprising.

“Not to mention that this place is too exciting,” Garrett added. “Look about you, Englishman. Have you ever seen something so glorious?”

“‘Glorious’ is not quite the word I was thinking of,” he muttered in answer.

In the intervening days since he and Garrett had met, the King had ordered the French army into the grounds near Versailles and into the streets of Paris. They stood here, now, soldiers resolute with their bayonets; their firepower and weaponry far too near the people. The people, however, seemed not even to recognize the threat—they jeered and yelled and pressed in toward the castle and toward the prison at the city’s heart, swarming in the streets. People looted, and thieved and burned—the sun was blotted by at least as many fires as clouds.

It was madness. There was vibrancy, yes, and the city seemed to tremble with energy, but this was not the Paris Carlisle knew.

“Necker dismissed! The people call for the arms at the Bastille!” shouted a young boy off to their right. “Read the demands of the National Assembly! Read about the ways the Estates General has refused to serve the people of France! Brotherhood! Equality! Liberty!”

Carlisle stopped and fished in his purse for a coin, bringing a wide smile to the boy’s face as he gave Carlisle one of each of the pamphlets he sold. He skimmed these quickly as they continued through the crowed.

A demand for a constitution. A poor transcription of the Bill of Rights written by the National Assembly in Versailles, what, three days ago? The firing of the finance minister yesterday; the King’s restructuring of the finance ministry. A statement of intent for the people to take over the monarchy.

He was still reading, fascinated, when over his right shoulder, a window shattered, spraying Carlisle and Garrett both with shards of glass.

Carlisle whirled, at once finding the culprit, a young man with dark curls, who stood mere few feet behind them, poised with a second rock in hand in case the first did not make its target.

For a split second, the boy appeared shocked at having been seen.

At once he ran—but not away. He ran instead toward the destroyed window—a bakery, Carlisle realized after a moment, though it looked as though it were abandoned. Then the young man was clambering through the broken window, the broken glass tearing at his breeches and shirt.

“Run!” Carlisle yelled to Garrett, realizing at once what would happen. “I will find you.”

But it was too late. The glass ripped through the breeches and into the young man’s thigh. The cut was small, and it seemed that the thief had planned for this, because he barely winced with the pain, instead pressing his way further into the shop as though nothing had happened.

Carlisle acted instinctively. He turned just in time to block his friend as Garrett lunged. Grabbing Garrett by the shoulders, Carlisle pulled him to the stone street, and the two of them rolled over each other, growling and snarling like a pair of wolves. They crashed into the wall of the building across the street, causing several stones to dislodge. Yet Carlisle managed the pin, immobilizing his friend as he snapped ineffectively.

“Run,” Carlisle repeated in English. “Distraction, Garrett. Run from here.”

Because there would be no mercy for them were they exposed. For all Carlisle knew, Aro’s guard were already following them; if Garrett attacked this boy in broad daylight, perhaps one of their kind would leap out of the shadows and tear off his head…

But the other man still lunged helplessly toward the boy. Carlisle shook him. At last, their eyes met.

Run, Friend,” Carlisle ordered. “You must.”

Garrett blinked, but then nodded, and Carlisle eased on his friend’s shoulders ever so minutely, until he could feel movement. Garrett was ready to spring—but this time, away from the bakery.

He released, and Garrett flew down the street, away from the throngs of people and the bleeding boy.

It had been what, perhaps a second? Two? Carlisle turned back to the bakery.

The thief had actually stopped. Pausing halfway through the shattered shop window, he gaped with wide, terrified eyes at where the two vampires had been.

“You must go,” Carlisle managed to scream. He repeated himself at once, just in case in his panic he had accidentally yelled in English. “Don’t steal the bread.”

The boy stared. He gazed longingly into the bakery, with its loaves set out on shelves.

“My family—” he murmured. “The bread. My younger sisters—”

Carlisle looked around anxiously. They seemed to be alone, but if Garrett hadn’t fully fled the scene…it could be disastrous for them all.

“It is not worth your life!”

Strangely, the boy seemed to understand. He nodded, his dark hair shaking up and down. He climbed out of the shop window, shrugged his satchel over his shoulder, and took off running down the narrow street toward the crowd. A moment later he had disappeared, his body obscured by shouting men.

It took Carlisle the better part of a half-hour to comb the streets for Garrett’s scent. He’d run several different directions, as though he’d doubled back and changed his mind multiple times. He at last found the other in at the mouth of an alley, near enough to the main crowds and yet effectively hidden in the shadows of twilight.

Garrett had recovered himself, and was dusting debris from the street from his own breeches. He glared at Carlisle, but if anything, the expression was also one of relief.

“I could not let you hunt him out here,” Carlisle offered. “We would be exposed.”

“You could not let me hunt him, simply put.” Garrett grimaced, looking askance at the street. His eyes darted from the darkness of the alley back out into the crowd, searching.

“I doubt we will be suspected,” Carlisle answered his unasked question. “It would be difficult to believe that your back nearly took down a wall.”

For a long moment, Garrett was silent.

“How is it that you are able to resist,” he muttered at last. “Fresh, Carlisle. He tore his own skin breaking that glass. And yet you calmly advise him to leave as though you are the town magistrate.”

Carlisle shrugged. How were people growing so desperate, he wondered. Word had spread even as far south as Volterra of the piteous state of the French people. But for them to reach a state where a shop would be looted in broad daylight—he shook his head in dismay.

Was it simply the people rejecting the rule of law, as they rejected their nobility? Or was it that in the face of others doing the same, even good, reasonable people saw no cause to continue being guided by their own understanding of right and wrong?

Garrett stood examining him.

“You astound me, English,” he said and gestured to the street. “Come. Let us walk.”

Leaving the alley behind them, the two friends made their way deeper into the city, delving further and further into chaos.

Men stood on makeshift barricades, aimed at stopping the King’s army from advancing on the people. In homes, curtains were drawn and candles extinguished as the Parisians blocked their city and its crime from their view. He and Garrett walked up one street, dark between the crowded houses and the overcast day.

“He was young,” Carlisle muttered.

“Who?”

“The boy. The bread thief.”

Garrett stopped walking. “And this bothers you?”

Of course it did, Carlisle thought. He remembered also the young boy peddling pamphlets. Was the money needed for food? Would he go home for a supper prepared by his mother, or was he one of Paris’s orphans, out in these unforgiving streets?

They passed three uniformed soldiers, their bayonets glistening even in the overcast day. The men regarded Garrett and Carlisle with a wary indifference.

The soldiers were everywhere. But Paris’s children were starving.

“They’re not prepared,” Carlisle muttered. “Garrett, if the army turns on them, they won’t live.”

His friend shook his head and pointed. Carlisle hadn’t noticed where they walked, he’d been content simply to walk with his friend and talk. They had made their way to the very center of Paris, and ahead of them loomed a huge structure, all stone, its thick walls appearing every bit impenetrable.

“That,” he said, gesturing grandly, “is why the people will win. And why I brought you to the midst of things.”

To the midst of things? “I beg your pardon?”

It was the prison, which Carlisle had seen on many of his previous visits to the city. Eight towers and thick walls, a short drawbridge leading to the shops and neighborhood nearby. Here everything was thicker-the crowd crushing in on all sides, the extent of the looting, the smoke.

“The Bastille?”

Garrett nodded, his eyes wide with a crazed excitement.

“We’re going to seize it.”

~||x||~

Volterra

The study seemed almost small with all three brothers inside it. The heels of Caius’s shoes clacked against the stone floor as he paced, echoing off the walls and making Aro feel hemmed in.

“We should clear his chambers,” Caius snarled. “At a minimum, Aro, if you are not willing to destroy him, then throw him out.”

Throw him out. That could be done easily enough. All they needed to do was to station the guard in such a way that the Englishman would encounter them on his way home. They would tell him he was unwelcome, divert his path from Volterra as though he were any other of their kind.

Aro leaned back in his chair, running a hand across the large book on his desk.

“But you would prefer I destroy him,” he said.

Caius snorted. “I think he is of no use to you, Brother, except perhaps as an oddity. But you can’t keep around every bauble which catches your eye. He shows himself to be unwilling to obey you, and unwilling to fully join our ranks. He cannot be trusted not to turn. It is best that he remain far from here.”

Instead of answering Caius, Aro turned to the book. The tome was large, and, in the Englishman’s absence, had slowly become covered in dust. Aro knocked this off with one hand as he opened it.

Aro’s study was situated off the library, where it could share resources freely and easily with the books the brothers had amassed over the centuries. The book he read now had come to them from the Orient; it exhibited the exquisite pictograms which had at first seemed so puzzling but which over time had revealed themselves to be a language, just like any of the others he spoke.

He’d begun to peruse it because it was drenched in Carlisle’s scent. Reading this had been one of the Englishman’s final pursuits before this odd outburst that had sent him into flight. Now that he thought on it, Aro recalled that he had even heard the other vampire talk about it; learning the language of the Orient and traveling there, walking around the great Mediterranean Sea and through the Ottoman Empire. The idea had been welcome at the time; to be rid of Carlisle for another short stretch of years would probably be good for them all. It would remind the young one that above all else, he prized companionship.

It would keep him bonded here.

But that hadn’t happened, and instead, the Englishman was gone.

Aro aimlessly turned several pages before addressing Marcus. “And you, Brother? You are the one who has schooled him.”

Marcus let out a long sigh. But instead of making a statement aloud, he stood from his chair and walked over to Aro, placing his hand against the other’s palm. His thoughts and memories flickered across Aro’s consciousness like tiny flames, bursting into fire in some places, fizzling to nothing in others. But among them, Aro found what he sought—Marcus’s peculiar gift. The pull between two individuals, as though there were some physical tie keeping them from going too far. His with Sulpicia, as strong as ever, neither able to pull away from the other for too long. His Brothers, less so than his mate, but still firm. Caius to Athenadora, Charmion to the brothers, Alrigo, Rafael, Renata, his servant—he flicked through them quickly, seeking the ones about which he was concerned.

The Englishman. There. First to Marcus, a strong, fraternal attraction. Memories of laughter and the rapid-fire Greek lessons, the unfolding of the Brothers’ personal history intermingled with a deepening of Carlisle’s understanding of the formation of the whole Western world.

Next, Caius. The faintest of connections, which was no surprise. The enmity there was palatable; if anything connected the two men, it was the intensity of their mutual dislike.

And then to Aro. Even more confusing. At times, Marcus’s thoughts revealed the strongest of attractions on the Englishman’s behalf. Admiration, even adoration.

And then, at times, sheer disgust.

When Aro nodded, Marcus sat back down. There was an awkward silence.

Will you destroy him, when he’s found?”

“Did I not just repeat this to Caius? Carlisle has broken no laws. For me to destroy him would be to admit that our enforcement of our laws is not what it seems.”

“And if you destroy him, you’ll have to admit the offer he turned down,” Caius muttered.

Aro growled.

“It’s true, Brother,” Caius answered, turning toward the desk. The clicking stopped at once. “That’s the true problem here. Had you not asked him to join us…” His lip curled. “And now you have no reason to destroy him because he has not broken our laws.”

“Caius—” Aro said sharply, but Caius made his way swiftly toward the door.

“You and Marcus created this problem,” he snapped. “And if you won’t take my advice to simply dispose of him, then it can be the two of you who find a solution.”

The door to the study slammed behind him with such force it caused Aro’s desk to rattle. For a long moment, neither he nor Marcus said anything.

“And if he did break our laws?” Marcus offered at last.

Aro hesitated. The idea was completely foreign.

“He will not break our laws,” he answered, which was true. “And while he abides by them, I wish to be fair.”

Marcus laughed. “Aro, you have done plenty of things which are not fair. Keeping Carlisle here, when he refuses to join the guard—that is not fair.”

Aro frowned. “I was under the impression that you liked Carlisle.”

“I do! I am not advocating that you destroy him, Brother. As you say, he has broken no law. And would that all of our kind were as inquisitive as he. Perhaps then we would achieve the superiority which you so long for.” He stood, walking toward the window. It was another sunny day, and scores of humans milled in the piazza below. Marcus watched them a long time.

“He may be of use,” he muttered finally.

Aro sat up straighter. “Of use?”

Marcus nodded. “His ability to slide among the humans. The only other of us who does that so easily is Heidi.”

“You’re not suggesting he hunt for us.”

Marcus laughed. “Of course not. He would never do that. And Brother, I believe it is his desire to leave. Our banishment of him will be meaningless. He arrived nearly forty years ago, and I don’t believe he intends to stay.”

The other had a point. But instead of replying, Aro paged absently through the book before him. He wondered what it was that the younger vampire saw in these pages of ancient poetry? Carlisle’s thirst for knowledge was utterly insatiable; he, Aro knew, would be one of the rare beings of their kind for whom eternity would present endless challenge and discovery instead of unending drudgery.

A hand stopped Aro’s page turns, leaving the book open to a page on which the other’s scent was strongest. Marcus’s eyes wandered over it, reading the text again.

“Allow him to go,” Marcus said, after he’d read the verse a few times. “Caius is right; I believe at this point, he must. You, for all the right reasons, try to hold him back, but he won’t be held. He is not meant to be one of us. We could contain him only for a short period, and that period has come to an end. Yet, Aro, I believe there is much to be learned from him. He will mingle with humans for the rest of time, in a way that no others of our kind have ever managed. Because he refuses to hunt them, his purity will guide him to know humans in a way we cannot. He will prove an asset to us, I am convinced of this.”

“And if he does not?”

Marcus moved closer, a thin smile on his lips, but again it was a long moment before he spoke. He re-read the verse again.

“You know, Brother,” he said thoughtfully, “I believe the problem with Carlisle is not that he threatens to expose our kind to the humanity around us.” He tapped the page. “The thing which so unsettles you is that he tends to expose our kind to the humanity within us.”

Aro said nothing. Marcus only grinned.

“Let him go, Brother. It is right. ”

And then the door opened and Marcus was gone, leaving Aro alone to stare at the page to which his brother-in-law had turned. He re-read its contents carefully, considering the implications that this was the page, it seemed, that the young vampire had read most.

Knowing others is intelligence; knowing thyself is true wisdom.

Mastering others is strength; mastering thyself is true power.

If thou realizes thou hast enough, thou art truly rich.

If thou stayest in the center, and embrace death with thine whole heart, thou will endure forever.

He stared.

No one else would be like this one. Somewhere, Aro had always known this, from the moment Carlisle had wandered into a city which reeked of others of his kind and presumed that they desired his company rather than his destruction. Others came near Volterra and ran; he walked to its center and demanded change.

Marcus was right. They couldn’t contain him. And Aro wasn’t sure he even wanted to. To hold Carlisle was to stifle him, and they’d done enough of that. But then-there was the pull that Marcus saw, the connection even Aro’s mate felt.

Things which were fascinating were things Aro had always been loathe to let go.

Allow Carlisle simply to vanish.

Was such a thing even possible?

Aro closed the book, pulling it into his lap as he thought.

§ 4 Responses to 21. Taoist"

  • Jfly says:

    These ancient leaders scramble helplessly when faced with real wisdom. You’ve given us a mindreader who is so uncertain of his own mind that his dependence upon knowing the thoughts and opinions of others is practically crippling.
    And is Carlisle’s relationship with Garrett straining? Turning south? Explosive town, explosive tempers? As much as Carlisle enjoys the companionship, traveling at ideological odds with someone can be exhausting.
    As always… Thank you.

    • giselle says:

      Yes! I’ve always thought that was something apparent in Edward–that he struggled with his own decisions because he was so used to knowing what was going on in others’ minds.

  • Sisterglitch says:

    I love the dimension you give Aro. I always wonder why Aro, of all of them, should be leader. Your Aro posesses a critical trait. He has boundless curiosity (which although narrower than C, is a similarity to C), and the flexibility to encompass change.
    Magnificent Volturi exchange. Thank you.

    • giselle says:

      Aro is such a fun character–just like Carlisle often gets the short shrift and just is painted as the good guy, Aro gets this wrap as just the bad guy. But I find him so much more multi-dimensional than that.

      Glad you enjoyed it. :)

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