Chapter Twenty-Seven: Stregone Benefico
Paris, Kingdom of France
July 14, 1789
The Bastille was in flames, and Carlisle was exhausted.
An impossibility, he knew; his kind required no sleep and could stay in motion for weeks without feeling a single twinge of fatigue. Yet he felt as though he ought to curl up into a ball and wait for rest to bring him back to life.
But instead of rest, he got Garrett.
"We did it, English," he said, a wide grin spreading across his face as he approached. "We forced De Launay out of power. We've stolen the munitions. The people will have their way. Government by the people, for the people."
"By the people?"
"An American saying. The principle upon which we were founded. And now France shall have her democracy, too."
It would be a long time before that happened, Carlisle thought. He peered across the yard, which was strewn with debris and carnage. Every now and then, a wailing cry would go up as some family member or friend discovered the body of a loved one lying in the grass.
Carlisle had saved the lives of dozens, it seemed. But it was nothing against the tide of the attack., and dozens more were dead despite his efforts.
He stared in silence.
"What think you, English?"
He looked up. Garrett seemed to be ready to run off any moment. His posture was erect; his eyes bright.
And the dark burgundy of one who had recently fed.
"I think there were a great many sacrifices here today," Carlisle answered evenly.
Garrett, clearly understanding this comment, hung his head.
"It was impossible to resist," he muttered.
"Not impossible," Carlisle answered. "But, I accede, it is perhaps a great deal to ask of you." He got to his feet and began to walk away from the prison. When Garrett didn't follow at once, he beckoned to the other man.
"I do understand," he offered kindly.
Men sat drinking outside their taverns and at the foot of barricades. Many more shops had been looted, their broken windows glinting in the fading daylight, and several buildings still smoldered.
Had Garrett's country looked like this, Carlisle wondered? Was this revolution—dead bodies, burning buildings, wailing loved ones?
It would be a long time before France was at peace.
Carlisle continued to wander. Garrett followed him a few paces behind.
"You walk toward Italy," the other commented after a while.
Did he? It hadn't been his intention to particularly walk in any direction other than away. But Garrett was right; his feet had pointed him automatically toward the place from where he'd come.
He stopped short.
"Are you planning to return to Volterra, English?"
They were not yet so far from the prison that they could not still hear the shouts—some of joy, others of mourning. He allowed himself to conjure the images he'd already tried to block from his mind: the bleeding humans, the limp bodies lying in the courtyard outside the drawbridge to the prison. The bloodstained earth beneath the injured and the dying.
But humans die, he told himself at once. And they choose to do foolish things, such as attack for munitions.
Garrett cocked his head as he looked at Carlisle.
"A penny for your thoughts?"
Carlisle pursed his lips. "I am thinking of all those who died today. My knowledge was not enough to save them."
"No one's knowledge would have been enough to save them. And that you did save so many, when they rushed headlong into danger—and when your very instinct is the same as my own—" He shook his head, and placed a hand on Carlisle's shoulder. "I don't know how you did it, English. When I found you, you were literally up to your chest in human blood."
Carlisle shrugged, but began to walk again.
"I confess I don't know either," he said quietly. "It was the moment, I suppose. Were I thrust into a group of bleeding humans, I would've had difficulty, even after all my practice in Volterra. But there was purpose to my actions. I could no more stand there idly than I could carve myself to pieces. And each time I saved someone—it made me drive harder."
Garrett turned so that one shoulder faced the Bastille. A violent snapping sound issued from the site, and the sky glowed a pulsing orange from the flames.
"Perhaps this is what you were meant for, English," Garrett answered, gesturing toward the site. " Heavens knows that there are none like you, who can so freely ignore that which fuels us. Perhaps that constitution was given to you so that you could atone for the rest of us."
Carlisle frowned, and studied the stones beneath his feet as he walked at a pace that would have been slow even for a human. This life gave him great gifts, he knew. When he thought he could get away with it, he had darted from Frenchmen to Frenchmen at his full speed; appearing before one in the same instant he left another. His eyesight allowed him to see others in distress; his ears allowed him to hear a cry for help from across a thunderous battlefield.
"I haven't the knowledge to truly be a physician," he muttered, but this only caused Garrett to laugh.
"Lack you the time to acquire it, my friend?" He clapped Carlisle on the shoulder. "There are medical colleges now, you know. You could study."
How freeing that would be, Carlisle thought. Not to take his information piecemeal, as he was able to find it, nor to experiment on some humans willing to make him trades, but to sit and learn the way human physicians did. So much of what he had done had just been instinct; based only in the loosest way on his knowledge.
What if he had known more? Would more have been saved?
A grin spread across Garrett's face as he saw Carlisle considering the idea.
"I suppose there is even medical study to be done in Italy," he prodded. "That is, if you still wish to go there."
Carlisle frowned. "I'm not certain I'd wish to stay in France."
Garrett laughed. "It is not my intention to stay, either—an American diplomatic tour is unlikely to decide to try to survive another country's unrest. And trading ships move often between the continent and the Americas."
"Are you suggesting I return with you?"
"I cannot imagine that those who seem to consider themselves our...royalty"—he blanched at this word—"would exactly welcome you home with open arms after you declined the honor of their invitation."
Garrett had a point, and Carlisle's insides twisted. He'd been trying to pretend differently, but the facts were that he'd run. To the best of his knowledge had not been followed, but there was no reason to believe that he would be welcome to return as he once had been, the quiet student, sitting with Marcus and learning Greek.
Aro was no fool.
But as soon as this thought came to him, it was followed by a swirling memory of just a few short weeks before. Of Martina teasing him, calling him human, of all things, utterly unaware that she was bestowing a quality upon him which he did not possess. Of her sister, standing with her hands folded over her growing belly.
Of the tiny, strange flutter against his palm as she held his hand over where the child grew.
"You disappear often, English."
"I'm sorry." Carlisle took a few more steps. "I was thinking of my—" he trailed off. Did he dare call them his patients? "Of a woman I trade herbs with. She gives me new things to work with, I distill them into medicines. Or at least, I try. The art is somewhat subtler than I wish it were."
Garrett only shook his head. "And you say you haven't knowledge."
"So these women—you wish to return to Volterra for them?" Garrett winked.
"I do not wish to be with either of them, if that is what you insinuate."
Garrett guffawed. "Certainly, English." "
"The one—the sister—is with child. I've made preparations for her to handle the pains of carrying the baby, but I still worry for the birth."
"I wouldn't have taken you for a midwife."
"I don't mean to be one. But perhaps childbirth isn't so much the work for women."
"You would risk your life for her? Because that is what you'd do. "
A memory flashed vividly in his mind. His day in London, only some twenty years before, standing before the tombstone which marked his parents' graves. His finger, tracing the tip of the letter "A" on the dilapidated sandstone.
A half an "A." All he had left of the woman who'd borne him. Her first initial? Perhaps she'd been an Anne, or an Alice? Or perhaps it was somewhere in between, in which case her name could have been anything...
What would it have been, he wondered idly, if someone more schooled had attended his birth?
I wouldn't be standing here.
The thought felt like a physical blow.
Had his mother not died, he might have lived a different life. With siblings. With a father who was not so hardened. He would have died, what, eighty, a hundred years ago?
Died as a human.
Garrett stared at him curiously, and Carlisle realized he'd gone silent.
"My mother died in childbirth," was all he said.
July 15, 1789
Garrett's Tuscan was awful, but Carlisle's was impeccable, and the human guards at the city gate let them in almost without question. They claimed to be cousins, come to visit Carlisle's sister, who was with child. The guard examined their similar build and hair colors and, after a moment, swung the gates open to allow them through.
They had stopped in several towns along their way, and discovered a ship was to sail from Naples toward Portugal in three days. From Portugal, they would bill themselves as colonists; Garrett was convinced he could pass his way onto a ship with his English. He would sail straight for Virginia, leaving Europe behind.
But first, they would stop in Volterra.
"This place reeks, Carlisle " Garrett muttered as they skulked through the streets. Humans could not perceive it, but the city was drenched with the scent of their kind. "How many are there?"
"Three," he answered absently. "Aro, Marcus, and Caius."
"Not the brothers. The guard."
He didn't know, to be honest. The outer guard were prone to fighting amongst themselves, and their number changed regularly. Shrugging, he answered, "Dozens."
"Dozens," Garrett repeated, and then, more quietly, added, "Wonderful."
The streets of Volterra were less streets than alleyways that snaked between buildings, self-directed tributaries of a stream that all flowed into the city center. It was no wonder the brothers had landed here so many millennia ago; the city itself kept its own secrets tucked away in the nooks and crannies of its twisting roads.
He didn't know where Martina lived, much less her sister.
How many market days had he missed? He'd been in the Kingdom of France the better part of a month; he'd left before the solstice, and it was a good ways after it, now. Martina was used to him not appearing for many days in a row; his need to wait for overcast days often kept him inside. But he imagined she wondered now if he had utterly disappeared.
He was so lost in his own thoughts that he almost missed picking up the scent—lavender, willow, thyme.
"Do you find something?"
The scent was still a long ways off, but at least he could follow it—it wafted down the twisting road from some home. He started to run. It was a ways after midnight, and only in a handful of houses was there any light at all; a single candle burning its way out, or embers glowing merrily as the last remains of a dinner fire reduced the logs to ash.
Garrett moved alongside him.
"If she is in childbirth," Carlisle said, "there will be bleeding. A great deal of it."
"A great deal of bleeding," the other repeated.
"You'll need to leave."
His companion's s eyes had grown steadily darker as they traveled. Carlisle suspected that Garrett felt sheepish about hunting his normal prey in Carlisle's presence—which, as far as Carlisle was concerned, was not a bad thing.
Garrett frowned. "Yet you are willing to take the risk?"
"I've proved myself."
"You've proved yourself in the heat of battle. But in a moment where you have time to think on how the blood calls to you..."
The scent was strong. And it grew weaker by the tiniest amount, it seemed, when Carlisle stepped away from the spot where he stood. The home was modest, two stories tall, and narrow—a single window revealed a candle burned almost to its stub.
Then from the second floor came a shriek.
He pressed on the door and found it unlocked.
"Martina?" he called out softly, as Garrett slipped away.
There was an odd flurry of sound, and then a woman came shooting down the stairs. Her whole face was pulled taut, but as she laid eyes upon Carlisle, her mouth and brow relaxed.
"Dottore," she breathed. "How did you know?"
"We thought for certain you had left Volterra." She has labored for this whole day."
"I did," Carlisle answered, turning himself toward the stairs. Now he could hear it, a tiny, quiet whimper below what Martina could hear. A heartbeat, fluttering quickly, as though it belonged to a sprinter. And a second heartbeat, almost unhearable even to him, as fast as a candle flicker.
"Is there no midwife?"
"I am the midwife, She came here when her pains began. I prepared more of what you made for her, but it is nothing against the birth of a child..."
Carlisle nodded, filing that fact away in his memory. He gestured toward the stairs. "May I?"
"I imagine she would welcome you."
They made their way up the stairs together. In a room just at the top, Annetta sat on the bed, her legs folded in front of her so that her knees made a diamond. Her face shone with sweat in the candlelight.
"Dottore," she whispered, but it came out as a fatigued squeak.
"Carlisle," he corrected. "Please, call me Carlisle." He leaned in, reaching a hand to her belly. "May I?"
As soon as his hand made contact with her shirt, there came the discernible flutter, still strong against his palm. Instinctively, he closed his fist, as though to capture the feeling of the baby's kick.
Both sisters looked up at him anxiously.
"He still moves," Carlisle said quietly. "But you know that."
Annetta nodded, and then clutched her middle and let out another wailing groan.
At once, he began to rack his mind. Childbirth was the purview of women, and so the male scholars did not often bother to write about it. But he had read a few treatments by the midwives themselves, that women could walk to coax the baby down, that they could kneel beside the bed.
"Have you walked?" he asked.
"She has walked all she is able," Martina said. "But her waters broke hours ago..."
The waters. He didn't know much about birthing children, but he knew that much. When the waters broke, the child appeared shortly thereafter.
Unless there was a problem.
Annetta suddenly shrieked and grabbed for her sister's hand. Even in the dim light, Carlisle could see the ripple of the muscle under her shirt.
How foolish was he, thinking that simply dragging bodies away from the Bastille, running around making sure that the near-dead did not complete the process, qualified him to handle this?
The bed shook, and Annetta screamed.
Martina was quick. She nearly shoved her sister into a supine position on the bed, rucking up the bedclothes beneath her and yanking her shaking legs so that her feet were flat against the straw mattress. Her legs fell open as she gasped in pain.
Carlisle looked away.
Garrett had been right, He was out of his depth.
Martina fixated to where her sister would give birth, and Carlisle moved to the head of the bed and offered his hand. That much, he thought, he could do. She could squeeze his hand for hours and he would feel nothing.
Another rippling in her belly; another yell. This one was shriller. Pain, certainly, but more than that.
Annetta's eyes were wide as she panted.
"I do not see the baby's head," Martina answered evenly, frowning. "We should see him now." She put a palm against Annetta's belly and pushed back; her sister groaned, but nothing changed.
Annetta's heart raced now, and the tiny flutter Carlisle had heard before seemed to slow.
"He has—to be—born!"
Another scream. This one nearly rattled the walls.
The flutter slowed even more.
An odd knot formed in Carlisle's throat. He didn't have the knowledge to intervene here. He would put himself at risk, have his "death wish" as Garrett put it, and mother and child would lose their lives anyway.
"Do—something," Annetta panted.
I want to, Carlisle nearly said aloud. But he didn't know what that could be.
"Dottore." Martina beckoned. "Can you see?"
He actually took a step backward. Even as a vampire, among others who utterly did not share his standards of modesty, he'd never had occasion to glimpse...well, this. But if he could help…
He stepped in closer.
It didn't resemble anything he'd read about, nor any of the vulgar drawings he'd come across in his century of life. He'd seen newborn babies, marveled at how impossibly large they seemed in comparison with a woman's passage; but in this moment he understood. The human body was meant for this.
At once, the scientist replaced the modest Englishman. Carlisle stood, fascinated, before a shrill cry rent the air yet again.
"I should be able to see his head," Martina said, her voice shaking.
There was flesh there, Carlisle realized. But not hair—were babies even born with hair? He thought he had seen some. The bulge was oddly small, disproportionate for what should have been the largest part of the child.
It took him a few precious seconds to realize he was seeing the child's shoulder.
Carlisle didn't have much knowledge of the birthing process but he knew enough. Babies were born with their heads first, to make it easy for them to fit through. Sometimes a foot would come out first, and those mothers often died.
Headfirst, mostly, feet first, sometimes...but babies could not be born sideways.
But a shoulder meant a neck, and a neck meant a head wasn't far...
He realized he'd gone silent.
"Annetta," he said gently, "I need to move the baby."
Her eyes flew even wider as another of the pains ripped through her body.
"Yes." And he would have to do it quickly, for with every one of her pains, the heartbeat inside her grew slower.
Another pain. Another shriek. Her hands scrabbled at the sheet, bunching it between her fingers. Tears of pain rolled down her cheeks.
He would have to use his hand...
"May I?" he asked, but she just yelled.
"Anything," Martina said quickly, clutching her sister's hand. "Anything! If you know what to do."
His fingers found the shoulder—so impossibly tiny!—and he gently pressed it backward.
The fluttering heartbeat slowed.
He kept his fingers moving. He could feel bone beneath his fingertips, and then a large, round mass. And then his hand was somehow beneath the shoulder, and then the round part was in his palm...
Annetta screamed continuously now, the sheets bunched beneath her hands. But the mass in Carlisle's palm followed his hand as he drew his arm back toward himself—a head, and shoulders, arms, a short body, and stumpy, kicking legs. He put out his other hand to catch it.
The next cry that cut the air was not Annetta's, but came from the slime-covered creature in Carlisle's hands.
A bark of laughter bubbled up from within him, and a wide grin spread across his face.
"Annetta," he whispered, handing over the writhing body, "you have a baby girl."
Annetta reached out, looking down at the baby with awe.
An odd warmth flooded through Carlisle as he sat back on his heels. This was not the rush of the Bastille; the shouting of injured people crying out for his help. This was a mother, laughing, an aunt, beaming, a new baby, crying.
"And I thought she would be a boy," Annetta said quietly. "So strong!"
"Perhaps she will be every bit as strong as a boy," Martina said, smiling.
When Annetta quickly took out her breast to nurse, Carlisle averted his eyes and stood.
"I should be on my way," he muttered, but Annetta shook her head, jiggling the baby a little bit so that she quieted.
"How do I ever thank you, Dottore?"
He shook his head. "Take care of the child," he answered. "That will be more than thanks enough."
Did he tell them he was leaving for good, he wondered? He hadn't mentioned to anyone when he'd departed for France. But Martina and Annetta would miss him; would need an explanation for why he wouldn't be here to see the girl grow. He had no sooner opened his mouth than a loud bang issued from downstairs.
At once, the smell of lavender and willow and embers on the fire disappeared, replaced with the sickly sweet perfume of his kind.
"What—" Martina barely managed, and then a tall figure appeared in the doorway.
It was Rafael.
And Carlisle was still covered in birthing fluid and blood.
He didn't even think about springing. His mind registered the presence of the other vampire, and the next thing Carlisle knew, the floorboards were splintering beneath Rafael's shoulders and then Carlisle was tumbling head over feet down the stairs.
Rafael's breath came hot and wet against Carlisle's neck as he snarled.
"Unhand him!" another voice cried.
Garrett's voice had possibly never been so welcome a sound.
Of course, Carlisle thought. It was nighttime; the guard were out prowling, or at least some would be...had his friend given up his position, or had they insisted Garrett bring them here?
Another voice, this time, Martina's.
The humans. The humans who were upstairs.
And the baby was there, too, still covered in its mother's blood...
Rafael's head jerked upward
The other vampire was stronger, there was no doubt about that. He'd been a slightly older man as a human, and was taller and better proportioned than Carlisle. But he was still new to the life. For all his strength, he did not know how to fight.
Pulling his legs up sharply beneath him, Carlisle kneed the other in the groin with enough force that he saw Rafael's eyes roll. The momentary lapse gave him just enough time to spring to his feet.
He had never attacked another of his own kind. But he'd seen it enough; the ways the others used momentum to their advantage. Force, leverage; all these things the great physicists talked about. Book knowledge, for Carlisle, until this moment.
His hands were on Rafael's head in an instant, one palm at the forehead, another at the chin. And then he thrust outward with both elbows at once, torqueing the neck in opposite directions. A sickening crack, then the head went skittering and bouncing across the floor.
Garrett descended on the body before Carlisle had even changed his posture, and in a fraction of a second, had twisted off one of the arms. In the blink of an eye, the two reduced the body to only a torso.
It was only when the other was in pieces that Carlisle stood. He faced the woman on the stairs. In the firelight, he could see Garrett's eyes flickering, the dark ruby every bit as shocking to Carlisle as he was sure it did to Martina.
"Martina," he mumbled.
But she was already sobbing.
Garrett nudged him, cocking his head from the body to the fireplace.
The fireplace. Of course.
The head went first, followed by the arms; the venom which ran through the others body igniting like lamp oil and sending an odd, purple smoke into the chimney. He watched it, mesmerized, as Garrett made quick work of the rest of the body; ripping it into pieces small enough to fit.
It wasn't until the last body part crackled on the fire that Carlisle turned again to Martina.
"Martina," he said quietly. "I'm sorry..."
But she simply stared, wide-eyed.
Carlisle's heart seemed to leap into his throat as he realized the severity of what he'd done. Destroyed a guard. Killed another of his kind. And exposed himself.
He began to back away from her. "Please," he said quietly. "Please do not tell anyone what happened here. You are safe, but I must go. I won't be back."
She shook her head furiously, and he winced, waiting for the damning words. For her to take up a cross and chase him from the house as the demon he was.
But when her trembling lips parted, she mumbled, "Benefico."
Benefico? He blinked. He had just murdered a being in front of her, not merely murdered, but dismembered and torched him, and she called him good?
Carlisle gaped, but Martina was nodding. "Stregone benefico," she repeated.
The knot in his throat dissolved. A demon, yes. She saw him for who he was. But she also saw him for what he'd done...and why.
He nodded. "Take care of the baby," he said. "Take care of your sister. And if anyone asks—"
"I attended my sister alone," she whispered.
Garrett shifted nervously from foot to foot near the door, in a posture as though ready to run at any moment.
Carlisle looked out the window. The street was still dark, but that didn't mean that more of Rafael's comrades weren't on their way to find them. "We have to leave. Please, Martina—"
She lifted a finger to her lips. "No words."
Carlisle nodded, backing toward Garrett. The two of them had already turned toward the door when she spoke again.
"May God go with you."
It was not at all what he expected. He, who had just sullied himself, even if in service to another, and who was now needing to run to the other side of the earth—and she was wishing God to be in his midst?
"Thank you," he choked. "Goodbye."
Then he and Garrett rushed into the night.
July 18, 1789
Naples reminded Carlisle of what little he could remember of the East End of London. , Sailors' rowdy behavior as they flowed into the city's taverns. The clanging of ship bells, the rhythmic slap of sea at high tide against the sides of the ships.
"Are you ready, English?" Garrett asked, cocking his head toward the docks. The two had sat in shade the better part of the afternoon, waiting for the sun to disappear on the horizon. Now its rays were gone, leaving only its ephemeral glow in the sky.
It was time.
He and Garrett had fled Volterra in a single sprint that took them all the way to the south of the country. They ran as much of their path as they could in rivers and streams, in hopes that the water would wash away their scent, and when they reached the coast, they even dove into the sea and swam for several hours. .
It had worked. They'd waited here two days for their ship, their fares negotiated under a ruse: Garrett, the wealthy American landowner, would bring the Englishman back as his indentured servant. In the time they'd been here, they'd seen not another of their kind.
Whatever had been sent after them in Volterra, it had not followed them here.
Together they made their way across the busy street to the dock below.
When Garrett gave their names to the shipmaster, however, the man looked surprised.
"Cullen?" he said, eyeing Carlisle suspiciously.
Carlisle gulped, but managed to squeak, "I am he. Is something the matter?
The shipmaster shook his head. "Simply that you have a trunk there. Sent for you."
A trunk? Carlisle looked where he gestured. Sure enough, a hulking trunk sat next to a pile of freshly-caught fish; on its side was hastily painted the name "Cullen."
"It's been here a day," the shipmaster answered his unasked question.
It had been a long time since Carlisle had been on the water, and the way the floor rolled beneath his feet, even with the ship safely in port, made him uneasy. But he and Garrett made his way over to the trunk. He swung open the lid, and together, they peered inside.
There were only a few items inside. Several sets of shirts and pants and a pair of sturdy shoes. A hulking wooden cross, the edges an intricate twisted pattern, burnished smooth from the century-plus that it had hung in the parsonage in London's East End. A mortar and pestle, tucked into the bottom corner where they would not jostle around the rest of the trunk. Tiny pouches of herbs, gathered into a large sack which had come open at the top so that some spilled over the lip.
And a large, rectangular item, wrapped in cloth. Carlisle reached for this, unfolding one corner so as to expose the contents of the package. A single slip of paper fell out.
Garrett peered over Carlisle's shoulder, craning to find the identity of the sender. But Carlisle had no need to read the signature, or even truly the note. He held it up anyway.
A few things for your continued journey, Young One
He handed the note to Garrett as he unfolded the larger package. Beneath the cloth sat the painting; the Italian painter's vision of him as god, gazing without compassion on those below. Carlisle's eyes, half-closed as though he derived some sort of pleasure from the chaos of humanity beneath him.
An expression, he thought, he would never take on.
Garrett folded the paper carefully, and thrust it back. Carlisle didn't take it, however, and Garrett slid the paper into his own pocket, instead.
"He is wishing you well?" he asked.
Carlisle shook his head.
"He is reminding me that he can find me at will," he answered.
And yet, Carlisle thought, he was also saying something. He could have sent an ambush. One of the guard who supported Rafael; who would want to see Carlisle destroyed for what he'd done. And he had not done that. He had sent along Carlisle's things, and a gift.
"It makes you fascinating," Aro had said of Carlisle's work. "And I enjoy fascination."
He was valuable. Perhaps only in that he was willing to defy them, but Aro was strange that way. Sycophantic adoration was not what he most desired from his followers. Carlisle had presented him a challenge, and this trunk seemed to be Aro's way of saying, "I accept."
When would they meet again, Carlisle wondered? Decades from now? Centuries? And who would he be, then?
The sky was beginning to darken, inky black overtaking the greyish tint of twilight. A handful of stars had begun to appear.
"I won't return to Volterra," Carlisle muttered.
"As you shouldn't," Garrett answered, nodding. "My country awaits, English."
"I'll be an American." Carlisle said, finally.
Garrett laughed. "You'll be Carlisle, Friend. And I think that's definition enough."
They stood on deck until the sky went dark. Then, under the moonlight, they hauled the trunk to their berths and prepared to set sail.