Chapter no 14

The Queen of the Damned

THE CARIBBEAN. Haiti. The Garden of God.

I stood on the hilltop in the moonlight and I tried not to see this paradise. I tried to picture those I loved. Were they

gathered still together in that fairy-tale wood of monster trees, where I had seen my mother walking? If only I could see their faces or hear their voices. Marius, do not be the angry father. Help me! Help us all! I do not give in, but I am losing. I am losing my soul and my mind. My heart is already gone. It belongs to her.

But they were beyond my reach; the great sweep of miles closed us off; I had not the power to overarch that distance.

I looked instead on these verdant green hills, now patched with tiny farms, a picture book world with flowers blooming in profusion, the red poinsettia as tall as trees. And the clouds, ever changing, borne like the tall sailing ships on brisk winds. What had the first Europeans thought when they looked upon this fecund land surrounded by the sparkling sea? That this was the Garden of God?

And to think, they had brought such death to it, the natives gone within a few short years, destroyed by slavery, disease, and endless cruelty. Not a single blood descendant remains of those peaceful beings who had breathed this balmy air, and plucked the fruit from the trees which ripened all year round, and thought their visitors gods perhaps, who could not but return their kindness.

Now, below in the streets of Port-au-Prince, riots and death, and not of our making. Merely the unchanging history of this bloody place, where violence has flourished for four hundred years as flowers flourish; though the vision of the hills rising into the mist could break the heart.

But we had done our work all right, she because she did it, and I because I did nothing to stop it—in the small towns strewn along the winding road that led to this wooded summit. Towns of tiny pastel houses, and banana trees growing wild, and the people so poor, so hungry. Even now the women sang their hymns and, by the

light of candles and the burning church, buried the dead.

We were alone. Far beyond the end of the narrow road; where the forest grew again, hiding the ruins of this old house that had once overlooked the valley like a citadel. Centuries since the planters had left here; centuries since they danced and sang and drank their wine within these shattered rooms while the slaves wept.

Over the brick walls, the bougainvillea climbed, fluorescent in the light of the moon. And out of the flagstone floor a great tree had risen, hung with moon blossoms, pushing back with its gnarled limbs the last remnants of the old timbers that had once held the roof.

Ah, to be here forever, and with her. And for the rest to be forgotten. No death, no killing.

She sighed; she said: “This is the Kingdom of Heaven.”

In the tiny hamlet below, the women had run barefoot after the men with clubs in hand. And the voodoo priest had screamed his ancient curses as they caught him in the graveyard. I had left the scene of the carnage; I’d climbed the mountain alone. Fleeing, angry, unable any longer to bear witness.

And she had come after, finding me in this ruin, clinging to something that I could understand. The old iron gate, the rusted bell; the brick pillars swathed in vines; things, fashioned by hands, which had endured. Oh, how she had mocked me.

The bell that had called the slaves, she said; this was the dwelling place of those who’d drenched this earth in blood; why was I hurt and driven here by the hymns of simple souls who had been exalted? Would that every such house had fallen to ruin. We had fought. Really fought, as lovers fight.

“Is that what you want?” she had said. “Not ever to taste blood again?”

“I was a simple thing, dangerous yes, but simple. I did what I did to stay alive.”

“Oh, you sadden me. Such lies. Such lies. What must I do to make you see? Are you so blind, so selfish!”

I’d glimpsed it again, the pain in her face, the sudden flash of hurt that humanized her utterly. I’d reached out for her.

And for hours we had been in each other’s arms, or so it seemed.

And now the peace and the stillness; I walked back from the edge of the cliff, and I held her again. I heard her say as she looked up at the great towering clouds through which the moon poured forth its eerie light: “This is the Kingdom of Heaven.”

It did not matter anymore such simple things as lying down together, or sitting on a stone bench. Standing, my arms wound around her, this was pure happiness. And I’d drunk the nectar again, her nectar, even though I’d been weeping, and thinking ah, well, you are being dissolved as a pearl in wine. You’re gone, you little devil—you’re gone, you know—into her. You stood and watched them die; you stood and watched.

“There is no life without death,” she whispered. “I am the way now, the way to the only hope of life without strife that there may ever be.” I felt her lips on my mouth. I wondered, would she ever do what she had done in the shrine? Would we lock together like that, taking the heated blood from each other?

“Listen to the singing in the villages, you can hear it.” “Yes.”

“And then listen hard for the sounds of the city far below. Do you know how much death is in that city tonight? How many have been massacred? Do you know how many more will die at the hands of men, if we do not change the destiny of this place? If we do not sweep it up into a new vision? Do you know how long this battle has gone on?”

Centuries ago, in my time, this had been the richest colony of the French crown. Rich in tobacco, indigo, coffee. Fortunes had been made here in one season. And now the people picked at the earth; barefoot they walked through the dirt streets of their towns; machine guns barked in the city of Port-au-Prince; the dead in colored cotton shirts lay in heaps on the cobblestones. Children gathered water in cans from the gutters. Slaves had risen; slaves had won; slaves had lost everything.

But it is their destiny; their world; they who are human.

She laughed softly. “And what are we? Are we useless? How do we justify what we are! How do we stand back and watch what we are unwilling to alter?”

“And suppose it is wrong,” I said, “and the world is worse for it, and it is all horror finally—unrealizable, unexecutable, what then? And all those men in their graves, the whole earth a graveyard, a funeral pyre. And nothing is better. And it’s wrong, wrong.”

“Who’s to tell you it is wrong?” I didn’t answer.

“Marius?” How scornfully she laughed. “Don’t you realize there are no fathers now? Angry or no?”

“There are brothers. And there are sisters,” I said. “And in each other we find our fathers and mothers, isn’t that so?”

Again she laughed, but it was gentle.

“Brothers and sisters,” she said. “Would you like to see your real brothers and sisters?”

I lifted my head from her shoulder. I kissed her cheek. “Yes. I want to see them.” My heart was racing again. “Please,” I said, even as I kissed her throat, and her cheekbones and her closed eyes. “Please.”

“Drink again,” she whispered. I felt her bosom swell against me. I pressed my teeth against her throat and the little miracle happened again, the sudden breaking of the crust, and the nectar poured into my mouth.

A great hot wave consumed me. No gravity; no specific time or place. Akasha.

Then I saw the redwood trees; the house with the lights burning in it, and in the high mountaintop room, the table and all of them around it, their faces reflected in the walls of dark glass, and the fire dancing. Marius, Gabrielle, Louis, Armand. They’re together and they’re safe! Am I dreaming this? They’re listening to a red-haired woman. And I know this woman! I’ve seen this woman.

She was in the dream of the red-haired twins.

But I want to see this—these immortals gathered at the table. The young red-haired one, the one at the woman’s side, I’ve seen her too. But she’d been alive then. At the rock concert, in the frenzy, I’d put my arm around her and looked into her crazed eyes. I’d kissed her and said her name; and it was as if a pit had opened under me, and I was falling down into those dreams of the twins that I could never really recall. Painted walls; temples.

It all faded suddenly. Gabrielle. Mother. Too late. I was reaching out; I was spinning through the darkness.

You have all of my powers now. You need only time to perfect them. You can bring death, you can move matter, you can make fire. You are ready now to go to them. But we will let them finish their reverie; their stupid schemes and discussion. We will show them a little more of our power—

No, please, Akasha, please, let’s go to them. She drew away from me; she struck me.

I reeled from the shock. Shuddering, cold, I felt the pain spread out through the bones of my face, as if her fingers were still splayed and pressed there. In anger I bit down, letting the pain swell and then recede. In anger I clenched my fists and did nothing.

She walked across the old flags with crisp steps, her hair swaying as it hung down her back. And then she stopped at the fallen gate, her shoulders rising slightly, her back curved as if she were folding into herself.

The voices rose; they reached a pitch before I could stop them.

And then they lapsed back, like water receding after a great flood.

I saw the mountains again around me; I saw the ruined house.

The pain in my face was gone; but I was shaking.

She turned and looked at me, tensely, her face sharpened, and her eyes slightly narrowed. “They mean so much to you, don’t they? What do you think they will do, or say? You think Marius will turn me from my course? I know Marius as you could never know him. I know every pathway of his reason. He is greedy as you are greedy. What do you think I am that I am so easily swayed? I was born a Queen. I have always ruled; even from the shrine I ruled.” Her eyes were glazed suddenly. I heard the voices, a dull hum rising. “I ruled if only in legend; if only in the minds of those who came to me and paid me tribute. Princes who played music for me; who brought me offerings and prayers. What do you want of me now? That for you, I renounce my throne, my destiny!”

What answer could I make?

“You can read my heart,” I said. “You know what I want, that you go to them, that you give them a chance to speak on these things as you’ve given me the chance. They have words I don’t have. They

know things I don’t know.”

“Oh, but Lestat, I do not love them. I do not love them as I love you. So what does it matter to me what they say? I have no patience for them!”

“But you need them. You said that you did. How can you begin without them? I mean really begin, not with these backward villages, I mean in the cities where the people will fight. Your angels, that’s what you called them.”

She shook her head sadly. “I need no one,” she said, “except . . . Except . . . ” She hesitated, and then her face went blank with pure surprise.

I made some little soft sound before I could stop myself; some little expression of helpless grief. I thought I saw her eyes dim; and it seemed the voices were rising again, not in my ears but in hers; and that she stared at me, but that she didn’t see me.

“But I will destroy you all if I have to,” she said, vaguely, eyes searching for me, but not finding me. “Believe me when I say it. For this time I will not be vanquished; I will not lapse back. I will see my dreams realized.”

I looked away from her, through the ruined gateway, over the broken edge of the cliff, and down over the valley. What would I have given to be released from this nightmare? Would I be willing to die by my own hand? My eyes were filled with tears, looking over the dark fields. It was cowardice to think of it; this was my doing! There was no escape now for me.

Stark still she stood, listening; and then she blinked slowly; her shoulders moved as if she carried a great weight inside her. “Why can you not believe in me?” she said.

“Abandon it!” I answered. “Turn away from all such visions.” I went to her and took hold of her arms. Almost groggily she looked up. “This is a timeless place we stand in—and those poor villages we’ve conquered, they are the same as they’ve been for thousands of years. Let me show you my world, Akasha; let me show you the tiniest part of it! Come with me, like a spy into the cities; not to destroy, but to see!”

Her eyes were brightening again; the lassitude was breaking. She embraced me; and suddenly I wanted the blood again. It was all I

could think of, even though I was resisting it; even though I was weeping at the pure weakness of my will. I wanted it. I wanted her and I couldn’t fight it; yet my old fantasies came back to me, those long ago visions in which I imagined myself waking her, and taking her with me through the opera houses, and the museums and the symphony halls, through the great capitals and their storehouses of all things beautiful and imperishable that men and women had made over the centuries, artifacts that transcended all evil, all wrongs, all fallibility of the individual soul.

“But what have I to do with such paltry things, my love?” she whispered. “And you would teach me of your world? Ah, such vanity. I am beyond time as I have always been.”

But she was gazing at me now with the most heartbroken expression. Sorrow, that’s what I saw in her.

“I need you!” she whispered. And for the first time her eyes filled with tears.

I couldn’t bear it. I felt the chills rise, as they always do, at moments of surprising pain. But she put her fingers to my lips to silence me.

“Very well, my love,” she said. “We’ll go to your brothers and sisters, if you wish it. We’ll go to Marius. But first, let me hold you one more time, close to my heart. You see, I cannot be other than what I would be. This is what you waked with your singing; this is what I am!”

I wanted to protest, to deny it; I wanted again to begin the argument that would divide us and hurt her. But I couldn’t find the words as I looked into her eyes. And suddenly I realized what had happened.

I had found the way to stop her; I had found the key; it had been there before me all the time. It was not her love for me; it was her need of me; the need of one ally in all the great realm; one kindred soul made of the same stuff that she was made of. And she had believed she could make me like herself, and now she knew she could not.

“Ah, but you are wrong,” she said, her tears shimmering. “You are only young and afraid.” She smiled. “You belong to me. And if it has to be, my prince, I’ll destroy you.”

I didn’t speak. I couldn’t. I knew what I had seen; I knew even as she couldn’t accept it. Not in all the long centuries of stillness had she ever been alone; had she ever suffered the ultimate isolation. Oh, it was not such a simple thing as Enkil by her side, or Marius come to lay before her his offerings; it was something deeper, infinitely more important than that; she had never all alone waged a war of reason with those around her!

The tears were flowing down her cheeks. Two violent streaks of red. Her mouth was slack; her eyebrows knit in a dark frown, though her face would never be anything but radiant.

“No, Lestat,” she said again. “You are wrong. But we must see this through now to the finish; if they must die—all of them—so that you cleave to me, so be it.” She opened her arms.

I wanted to move away; I wanted to rail against her again, against her threats; but I didn’t move as she came closer.

Here; the warm Caribbean breeze; her hands moving up my back; her fingers slipping through my hair. The nectar flowing into me again, flooding my heart. And her lips on my throat finally; the sudden stab of her teeth through my flesh. Yes! As it had been in the shrine, so long ago, yes! Her blood and my blood. And the deafening thunder of her heart, yes! And it was ecstasy and yet I couldn’t yield; I couldn’t do it; and she knew it.

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