6. Shy

Volterra, Italy
May, 1789

“This one is excellent, dottore. The pain? Like this.” Martina whipped her hand across the air. “This is what she tells me.”

Carlisle smiled shyly, even as he swelled with pride. At times, his work felt more like chasing legend than applying science. He spent more time trying to understand the concoctions which wives made from their gardens to treat their families than looking at any book to guide him.

But his research had led him recently back to a source in England, strangely, another pastor in the English church by the name of Stone. Finding the bark of the willow tree to be bitter, the man had assumed it to be similar to the properties of the cinchona, and he’d dried it and given it to patients. He had written about this in a letter to the Royal Society more than twenty years ago; Carlisle had unearthed a copy of it in a library in Rome.

It had taken him a while to find a tree. He’d needed to journey northward to the mountains and almost back into France, and once he’d found the thing, he ripped down an entire trunk and come back with as much as he was able to carry without attracting notice. He had dried and pulverized the bark according to Stone’s instructions, and although he’d been fully prepared to run a second experiment, it had turned out there was no need. Martina had sold the concoction to a woman who had been suffering a debilitating pain in her back due to carrying a baby. Today she had confirmed its value.

“You have the most brilliant smile,” Martina commented, returning his with one of her own. “Like a gleeful boy’s.”

Embarrassed, Carlisle dropped his eyes from her gaze. “I am only pleased that your patient felt this was a success.”

The woman laughed. “My sister,” she corrected. “And she is as much your patient as mine. She will want to thank you. We have another sister, too, you know. Unmarried.” She put emphasis on this last word, and Carlisle’s smile faded. Martina took a bit too much interest in his love life, or more accurately, the lack thereof. He tried to deflect her comments by insisting that no Italian woman would want to marry a stodgy Englishman, but she insisted that with his good looks and smarts he would have no trouble. It was a friendly tension, but the conversations made Carlisle more uncomfortable than he let on.

“Your sister won’t have any use for me, I’m afraid,” he said with an uneasy chuckle. “I’m rather set in my ways.”

“I suspect you like to pretend that you are more of a hardened bachelor than you are, Dottore.” She came out from behind her cart, and out of habit, he flinched backwards, afraid of her touching his unyielding skin.

“See?” he answered. “Skittish. I would make no one a good husband.”

Even as he said it, though, a pang shot through him. Was that actually true? His kind often mated quickly; a mated pair had advantages over a lone vampire when it came to hunting and defending territory. It usually took more than one vampire to kill another; a vampire and his mate would have the upper hand in a fight. If for no reason other than this instinct, the others often chose partners early. A mate made one more stable, less likely to wander, and he knew for this reason, the others here expected and hoped that Carlisle would take a partner. That Carlisle hadn’t done so bothered Aro, he knew, but then again Aro, who could read Carlisle’s every thought, also knew how much this lack of a mate bothered him.

He pulled himself from his thoughts to discover Martina staring at him. At once her face lit up, a wide smile spreading across it. The change was so sudden that it took Carlisle a moment to realize that she was smiling not at him, but at the person approaching from behind. He looked over his shoulder.

The woman who approached walked with some difficulty, which Carlisle realized at once was due to her pregnancy. She held a hand to the small of her back as she walked toward them. He breathed an inward sigh of relief; it was an excuse to get away from this discussion of his marital status and his own brooding on the matter.

“I should let you attend to your patient,” Carlisle mumbled, backing away, but Martina frowned at him, shaking her head furiously.

“Annetta!” called Martina. “I have someone you should meet.” She beckoned the other woman over.

“This is Dottore Cullen,” she answered, and Carlisle’s eyes dropped at once. He wondered sometimes if he had blushed often as a human, as he could imagine that if his body were filled with blood, it would be rushing to his cheeks now. He carefully avoided the women’s eyes, tracing a little side-to-side pattern in the dirt with his foot.

“He is the one who has provided the relief you sought.”

The other woman’s eyes lit at once. “Oh, Dottore, I cannot thank you enough,” she exclaimed. “This one is my third, and he must be the son we’ve wanted. My daughters did not cause me this kind of pain.” She smiled a little at her own joke. “But this that you’ve made…with the bark of the willow?”

He nodded. “The properties were discovered by a rector in my home country. I am hardly a doctor, despite what Martina hopes.”

Shaking her head in amazement, she said, “Doctor or not, you are a worker of miracles. I only hope you have enough to keep me until he is born!” She laughed.

He could make that happen easily enough. The trail from his home to the willows where he had acquired the bark was straightforward; given his memory, it would require little effort to retrace his steps.

Ma certo,” he answered. “It won’t be a problem. Martina has more for you right now.”

“Bless you!” His hand was grabbed, lifted, and kissed. He jerked away at once, and both women laughed.

“I tried to suggest our sister to him,” Martina said, raising her eyebrows suggestively. “But he pretends to be nervous.”

“My sister searches for an upstanding man,” Annetta said, giving Carlisle a gentle smile. “Martina has told me much about you.”

“Alas,” he said, returning the smile. “I haven’t time to court anyone at the present. But I do wish your sister every happiness. And I will continue work on this remedy.” He patted one of the packages he had just traded Martina—he had delivered several pouches of a strengthened willow bark substance in exchange for several different herbs that Martina had managed to procure from a trader from the East. They were substances with which he’d never worked, and he was anxious to explore them. “It is a pleasure to meet you, Signora Annetta.”

The other woman gazed at him confusedly, but she smiled. “It is my pleasure, Dottore.

As he walked away from the stand, he heard the two women begin to discuss him. He tried as best he could not to pay attention to their speech; he felt it was only polite to the humans, who did assumed him to be one of them and thus did not realize they were not out of earshot. But Martina leaned over the counter and sent a single descriptor in his direction: “Timido.

The word flew and connected with something. Most of his human memories were long gone; they disappeared like wisps of smoke on a slow-blowing wind. But every now and then he would grasp a tiny fragment of something that he was sure he had heard before; they came to him like dreams, and he often wondered if he might have fabricated the idea himself rather than truly remembered anything.

He repeated the stories to himself from time to time, in an effort to hold what he remembered. That he was an only child. That his mother died giving birth to him. That his father was a pastor. Details and facts that he had been able to verify by returning to London and checking against the church registers. He had followed his memories of his first waking days back to the narrow alleyway where he had met the beast that had changed him. The roads had led him back to the ruins of the church; it had burned not long after his turning, and a new one had been erected in its place. The house had still been there, and he’d slipped into it when the current pastor had been away. But to his dismay, nothing had ignited his memory as he walked through the rooms. He found a single, worn cross hanging on one of the walls with the name William Cullen carved into its back; this he had stolen.

In the churchyard adjacent to the house he had wandered among the graves; weathered soapstone markers which barely showed the names of those who rested beneath them. His fingers remembered the feel of the letters as he’d run his hands across one. The words had been obliterated by time, but there had been enough to know it for what it was. CULLEN, engraved deep, and beneath it the name William, the newest, and the least affected by age. Beneath that had been a name worn away completely; he recognized only the tip of a letter “A.” His mother, he supposed; her name lost to the ages, and to him. And beneath that, his own name, or what was left of it, really—”S-L-E.”

Unconsciously, he traced the three letters in the air with his forefinger as he repeated Martina’s words to himself. The observation had been made of him before. “You are so shy.” He remembered it said with laughter; the commenter had been delighted by the observation. He remembered his surprise, his instinct to protest the characterization; his fascination that he had never thought of himself this way.

He did not, however, remember the speaker.

There were two of him, he thought. The man who talked to Martina; who made progress with willow bark, who remembered only fragments of a life before this one. Then there was the other man, the one who had lived in the strange little house in London, who had maybe known the woman’s name carved into that gravestone and now washed away by time and rain.

His finger finished tracing the imaginary “E” for the umpteenth time, and he closed his fist, forcing himself to forget the feel of the rough stone under the pad of that finger. He had been that young man that everyone thought was laid to rest in that yard. And now he was someone else.

But he was still shy.

That was something, at least.

Shoving his hand back into his pocket, he closed his fingers around one of the small packages of herbs and turned back toward the castle.

~||x||~

“Arruns.”

Sulpicia seemed to purr as she stretched languidly across Aro’s chest. He hadn’t chosen Sulpicia for her body, but it was exquisite nonetheless. They matched each other in their own strange way—tall, lanky bodies, long hair, skin the clear white color of the fired clay traders brought from the Orient. She was fair where he was dark, soft where he was hard.

Their mating was fluid, perfected after so many years, aided by his gift. In Sulpicia’s thoughts he could pick out what, to her, felt the most exquisite. She had in turn learned his rhythms, and together they were flawless. For this reason he preferred her. Although as the accepted ruler of his race he could have nearly anyone he pleased (and at times had), for a vampire, coupling with one’s mate had no equal.

She called him by his old name, the name he’d been known by in a life now lost to him. Even most of the guard had become one of the Chosen as much a millennium or more after he had; it was only Marcus, Caius, Sulpicia and Athenadora who had been in this life long enough to know the others’ former names.

It was an intimacy that was at once reassuring and uncomfortable.

“You seem farther away than usual,” his mate whispered, her lips so close to him that her breath tickled his ear. “My husband, always lost in his thirst to dominate the world.”

Aro chuckled. His mate saw him accurately enough. But Sulpicia and Athenadora spent enough time alone with their handmaidens and separated from the men that they developed their own views of their husbands’ exploits.

World domination, indeed.

“I seek not to dominate our world,” he answered her absently. “I merely intend to keep its peace. If others see fit to defer to me because I bring order…”

This time it was Sulpicia who laughed, her fingers working their way into Aro’s hair as she kissed him playfully. “Keeping the peace is what you call it, Arnza? This terror you wreak on the rest of our kind.”

He looked away. His chambers were the most plush of the three brothers’, consisting of several couches including this widest one on which he and Sulpicia lay. Many of the most expensive treasures in the castle were kept here: paintings, gold, jewelry. Ostensibly, the three brothers were equal in rank. Most often when decisions had to be made, it was put to a vote among the three of them. They had been raised with expectations of democracy, and Aro preferred to conduct his own affairs this way. But it was true that when a vote was called it was he who called it; he was often responsible for deciding who joined their ranks and who was exiled from them. There could be no denying that Aro was the leader, and the lavishness of his private quarters served to underscore this point.

But this was because their kind needed leaders. They needed laws. They were spread too far throughout the world; in tiny groups. It was for the greater good that the brothers held his place—they meted out judgment because their entire race did not deserve to suffer for the misdeeds of a few.

“It is hardly terror,” he muttered, still staring across the room, and Sulpicia laughed again, moving so that her breasts grazed his skin. He let out a little appreciative sigh. There was a harmony in this; a reason for him to keep a mate. Male and female created a balance; complemented each other.

And, mated vampires were also easier to control.

His eyes flickered to the far wall, where hung a large painting by one of Italy’s many master painters. The scene it depicted was an untruth; mayhem erupting in the piazza below their castle, the brothers looking on calmly from a balcony. They prized themselves on the lawfulness of Volterra; they often sent the most beautiful and powerful of their guard to cajole the peacekeepers of the city into doing their work. The unruliness depicted was certainly imagined. But what made the painting the least truthful was the golden-haired one pictured with them on the tower, looking down with the same unperturbed expression as the other three.

Aro could not imagine a moment when humans were creating danger for themselves and Carlisle would stand idly by and watch.

Sulpicia didn’t miss his shift in gaze, and her eyes followed his. Studying the painting with the same intensity, she finally offered, “At times I feel as though Carlisle is in this bed with us.”

The thought was shocking. In over a century, the blond hadn’t mated anyone, nor had he ever shown interest—were it not for his gift, and that Carlisle was far too young for the practice, Aro might have assumed the man was a eunuch.

“I beg your pardon?”

“You spend so much time thinking about him,” she whispered. “He consumes you.”

Was that true? Aro did think of the other man often, but that was only because he spent so much time skulking in and out of the castle. Aro didn’t want to be placed in a position where he might have to destroy him. As frustrating as Carlisle was, he was also supremely interesting, and to eliminate him would be a loss.

“Athenadora tells me that Caius is jealous,” Sulpicia added. “He doesn’t like him.”

Aro snorted. “Caius likes nothing that disrupts his world.” And if nothing else, Carlisle certainly did that. He challenged the things which made up the very core of their existence; the very necessity for their clandestine life. To Aro, this was fascinating; he’d never known one of their kind who had so thoroughly chosen a different path. But to Caius, anything which upset the norm was something to be feared.

His wife went on. “He also suspects you wish to include Carlisle in the brotherhood.”

“I know this.” Lately, Caius’s thoughts and worries were directed more and more toward the young blond. Carlisle was not expected to perform the duties of the guard, except for remaining loyal to the brothers. But still, Carlisle dressed in the robes of the inner guard, at least, when he was willing to wear them, which was not often. But lately Aro had taken to imagining the dark charcoal changed to jet black, a fourth chair added to the main chamber. He didn’t think Carlisle would be amicable, of course, in part because he didn’t imagine his brothers could abide the young vampire retaining his absurd feeding habits. But if Carlisle were to feed from humans, then Marcus might agree. He liked the Englishman as much as Aro did; they both found his antics more amusing than threatening.

It would come down to a vote. And if Carlisle were willing, Caius would lose.

“He’s not wrong; I’ve thought about it,” Aro answered finally. “But I don’t see any way to bring him to us unless he changes his manner of feeding. To have someone ascend even truly into the guard with his…abnormality…isn’t tenable.”

Sulpicia sighed.

“This upsets you?”

Rolling off him, she stood, gathering to her chest the sheet which had covered them both. She stared for a long moment at the far wall, at the painting that depicted Carlisle as one of the brothers.

“I like him,” she said finally. “He’s good for you. He challenges you, and he’s smart. That’s why you want to include him.”

This time it was Aro who sighed. She wasn’t wrong. He was readying his own answer when a voice called from the hall, “Master?”

It was custom to give a few seconds’ warning, as this was all any of them needed. Aro and Sulpicia were both fully dressed when the knock at the door followed immediately.

“Enter.”

Alrigo came through the door, followed by Caius. The white-haired vampire was glowering; the guard looked hurried. From Alrigo’s uncomfortable shuffle, Aro suspected that Caius had physically moved him toward Aro’s bedroom. The two stood silent, Alrigo appearing embarrassed by why he had obviously interrupted.

“Tell him,” Caius snapped, giving the guard a little shove forward that caused the other man to stumble.

Aro’s eyebrows raised.

“There is one of our kind in the city, Master,” Alrigo said hurriedly. “We encountered his trail this afternoon while we were following the Englishman in the piazza.

From behind him there was a little noise as his mate sucked in her breath.

Unheard of. Others of their kind did not enter Volterra without seeking a fight. “Did you learn his identity?” Aro snapped.

Alrigo shook his head. “I chose to continue to follow Carlisle. But the newcomer seems to be foreign, and maybe wandered here by accident?”

“It is not possible to arrive here by mistake.”

The guard numbered twenty-two, plus the five mates; others of their kind could smell the presence of such an immense coven from a ways away. Even those that were too new to this existence to be aware of the law in Volterra nevertheless knew they were well in over their heads before they arrived to the castle. Subsequently, they stayed away.

“Agreed,” Alrigo answered. “With your permission, Master, Rafael and I will find the intruder and bring him to you.”

Nodding, Aro waved a hand to dismiss them, and Alrigo turned at once and moved for the door. But Caius was still staring, his eyes narrowed, a sneer not quite erased from his lips. Aro glanced back at his mate, remembering the conversation they had just had. How much had Caius overheard, if he and Alrigo had already been on their way to Aro’s chambers? He would know soon enough, but perhaps a small gesture would be prudent…

“Alrigo.”

The other vampire turned, his eyebrows raised.

“Carlisle. Does he know of the intruder?”

Alrigo shook his head. “Not that it appears, Master. He went about his usual business.”

Aro shot a look backward at his mate, and found her scowling at him also. He remembered what she had just said about liking the blond man and hesitated for just a moment before issuing his order.

“Please see that he doesn’t find out. And if he does…I expect to be told at once.”

The guard nodded. “Of course, Master.” He left the room.

Caius looked slightly placated, but his brow remained furrowed. He said nothing, however.

“Do you take issue, brother?”

“No,” he said quietly, “but—”

“But?”

He sighed. “Wouldn’t it be more..useful…simply to see what the Englishman does?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“If there is an intruder, and if Carlisle is truly loyal to us, he will behave as we would. Otherwise…” he shrugged, trailing off. “It would give you a great deal of important information about how he might act, were he to be considered more than just…on our periphery.”

Caius’s suggestion was intriguing. The last one vampire to have entered Volterra unannounced had been Carlisle himself. As such, the man was completely untested when it came to this important type of encounter.

This idea of Caius’s was not so terrible.

Aro found himself nodding, and Caius’s expression softened even before he spoke. “Ask Alrigo to observe the newcomer. But Carlisle is not to be kept from him.” He glanced over his shoulder back at the painting, at the imaginary Carlisle who looked with identical disinterest on the humans below.

“Yes,” he murmured, to no one in particular, “let us see what the Englishman does.”

At this, Caius’s expression broke into a smile, small though it was. “It will be done.” He nodded and excused himself to the hallway.

A little noise reminded Aro that Sulpicia was still standing behind him, and he turned to find her standing still, her lips pressed together in a thin line and her arms crossed over her bosom.

“Did I do something to displease you?” he asked

She shook her head, and moved toward the door. “I will retreat to my own chambers. I’m sure Renata waits impatiently for us both.” As she placed her hand on the knob, she muttered, “Having him followed.”

So that was her problem. He bristled at once. “It is my right to do so.”

His mate rolled her eyes. “Of course it is. All of us in this place defer to you. Including Carlisle.”

“Including Carlisle?”

“He will surprise you, if you let him. I am convinced of this. Have patience.” For a moment it looked as though she might not continue, but then she faced him, meeting his eyes. “You know,” she offered thoughtfully, “in other worlds, husbands and wives mate for reasons other than exchanging intelligence.”

Aro scowled. “You take as much information as you give.”

“Yes, Arnza.” She let out an exasperated sigh. “That’s exactly what I meant.”

Then she glided through the door and was gone.

§ 5 Responses to 6. Shy"

  • foufymaus says:

    wow… just… yes i am thoroughly intrigued by the beautifully complex world you’ve just created in my head. LOL Honestly I could see Carlisle as being shy, timid hesitant. It’s cute how the ladies flirt with him, and how he still reacts in a similar manner as he does in the modern age.

    I like how Aro’s wife challenges her husband it works for them.

    Thanks for the update! Brilliant as always.

    • giselle says:

      aww, thank you. :) You know, I write slowly enough and across enough times in this fic that I’ve forgotten that C gets flirted with an awful lot. He’s terrible at accepting it. :)

      I’m tickled you liked Sulpicia. She was so much fun.

  • twitina says:

    Carlisle is unchanging, the same throughout time. He goes to such great measures to help humans – almost like a penance for being a dark creature, and yet he doesn’t treat it that way. He is quiet and unassuming, but I wonder just how shy he would really be if he could touch humans.

    You know I adore Aro and Sulpicia. You’ve written them in such an interesting way. More to think about with his mind-reading abilities. And Caius…he’s not as devious as Aro, but he’s still fun to play with.

    Great way to spend my morning.

    • giselle says:

      I definitely think he becomes less shy as he gains Edward and his family. It allows him to reach out to people in a way that he can’t when he himself is so wounded.

      And yes, it’s fun to share fully in your love of the Volturi. They really are a treat. :)

  • jenny says:

    ugh. sucks to live in volterra…
    srsly the polemica della vita quotidiana would drive me friggin nuts. it’ll be a breath of fresh air to carlisle once he leaves i think, even though he’ll end up on the bloody battlefields of france.

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