The standard, I do not own Angelus, Darla, Drucilla, William, or for that matter any historical figures.
With some apologies to Dante, Shakespeare, and Pope Marcellus.
Chapter 3 | Index |
Far past the 3rd hour of the morning
Darla slipped like a sloop in full sail through the cracks in the surging crowd. Her wide skirts caught the slightest breeze of conversation.
The celebration had been going on for five days and the cardinals were rather the worse for wear. Red silk robes drooped. Wine splashed the velvet doublets of Counts. Duchesses leaned against the silk covered bones of their corsets for support.
The party forged on.
When the new pope had heard that he had been elected, he wept. He click, click, clicked the pearls of his new rosary. He kissed its pale gleaming cross. He held in his hands the gifts from enemies and the congratulations from allies. In the moment of his election, he stood in the Sistine Chapel. White smoke streamed out the window as the paper votes were burned in the Carpenter’s cup. The people in the plaza cheered as their new pope wept.
Now he stood next to a fresco of the flood and drank wine and celebrated with glassy eyes.
Cardinal Caraffa stood next to a tapestry of Diana at Acteon and scowled down his long nose at the revelry and wine and laughter.
Darla sailed wide of both men’s shores.
The epicures and the ascetics mixed with uneasy murmurs. As they had each night, they passed the Carpenter’s cup from hand to hand. Passed it from Count to Cardinal and from Bishop to Poetess. They exchanged careful kisses, held the cup in both hands, and sipped the bitter wine.
Darla swung round the cup’s conversational eddy and nodded to Count Ugolino. He was taking a goblet of wine from his vampire, who wore her demon face awkwardly, like a mask.
Ugolino said, “Must your friend Caraffa glare so? It’s apt to give a fellow indigestion.” He sipped his wine and watched Darla over the cup’s metal rim.
Darla snapped her fan closed, the tips of its steel spines gleamed. She said, “Caraffa is over eighty years old. He’d glare at the returned Jesus Christ for turning good water into wicked wine.”
“So, tell me,” the wattle on Ugolino’s neck swayed as he leaned forward, “now that the deed is done and the Emperor has his man in Peter’s chair, why were you bothering to curry favor with Carraffa’s nephew? Caraffa’s never done a favor for anyone. Certainly not to your kind.”
Darla let her eyes slide across the crowded room and twirled her lace fan in her left hand. She looked at Ugolino’s vampire and said, “Such a pretty new plaything. Is she even old enough to kill?”
Ugolino looked at his vampire, an undead statue in silk and lace and iron. He said, “The expense of keeping up with fashion.” He gripped the vampire’s face in one hand and turned it right and then left before pushing it aside. “Not everyone can afford a Darla.”
Darla tapped her fingers on the end of her fan, as she twisted her garnet ring downward. “Only too true.” She let her fan dangle from its ribbon, reached out and took Ugolino’s wine goblet. She nodded at his stiff faced vampire and smiled. Then Darla drifted away on the currents of conversation.
Cardinal Ruggieri called out to her. “Mistress Darla,” he said, “have you heard, the Turks have burned the knights of Malta’s fortress to the ground?” Darla swung to a stop.
Ruggieri’s close personal friend, Madame Franco, the poetess, said, “Isn’t it horribly delicious? The rumors cannot quite decide if the Turks used magic mirrors, Greek fire, or called on Satan himself to rain down brimstone.”
Darla glanced at the Carpenter’s cup making its slow kissing way across the room. Darla said, “Why not all three?” She flipped the compartment in her ring open with her thumb. Several grains of white powder fell into her cup. “Why be stingy?”
Madame Franco fanned herself gently with a peacock feather fan and said, “Oh, certainly.” The ends of the fan slowly brushed Madame Franco’s rounded white chest, compressed and rising from its corset cage. “Such a shame though. The loss of the harbor does make the Mediterranean a Turkish lake.”
Darla swirled the wine in her goblet and said, “Perhaps.”
“Bad if you’re a Hapsburg, but then I hear France has her own arrangements with the Turks.” The light gleamed on the stones in Madame Franco’s necklace.
Darla smiled, “Unlike fair Venice with her lagoons of most acclaimed and vaunted sweetness.” Darla took a sip of wine and swirled it a bit more in her cup.
“Hmmm,” said Madame Franco, “don’t forget those golden mansions of marble and carved stone, at whose feet the water humbly subsides, and by varied and torturous channels, flows through her countless paths.”
Cardinal Ruggieri said, “It’s a shame that the Holy Roman Emperor couldn’t find the time to stay through the end of the celebrations.”
“Mmmm…shameful,” said Darla, she looked up at Madame Franco through her darkened lashes.
Cardinal Ruggieri sighed. “I’m sure that he had places to go. He always does.” A stern faced Prioress tapped on Ruggieri’s shoulder. “What? Already?” The Prioress leaned forward and kissed one of Ruggieri’s lean cheeks and then the other, before quickly handing Ruggieri the cup. He sipped the bitter wine and, as he had each night, he turned to Madame Franco.
Darla looked on, as she sipped her wine, held the wine in her mouth, all the better to savor it, and curved wine wet lips.
Ruggieri kissed Madame Franco’s soft painted cheeks and handed her the cup. She sipped the bitter wine. Madame Franco turned to Darla and smiled.
Madame Franco’s breath was bitter from the wine and sweet with a hint of mint leaves. Her warm breath fanned across Darla’s cool cheeks. One kiss, like a butterfly landing and then another kiss, like a hummingbird’s flickering taste.
Madame Franco lingered over the left cheek, almost brushed Darla’s painted lips with her own wine and carmine painted ones before handing Darla the cup.
Darla lifted the Carpenter’s cup to her mouth, and very softly, she spat the wine that she’d held in her mouth into the Carpenter’s cup.
She turned to the table under which Henri lay sleeping, his red robes pooled around him.
“Henri,” she said, “it’s time to wake up.”
He blinked slowly and crawled out from beneath the table. Darla curtsied, the fabric of her dress rustling like a wave as she sank. She kissed Herni’s sleep tattooed cheeks. Then she handed him the cup. He took a quick sip, grimacing at the taste.
As it was the fifth night, Henri went to Cardinal Mendoza, the Emperor’s man. Waited for Cardinal Mendoza to bend to Henri’s childish height. Henri kissed one cheek, two cheeks and handed Mendoza the Carpenter’s cup filled with bitter wine and Darla’s venom.
As Mendoza did whenever he received the cup, he smiled coolly and drank the wine before turning to the Pope to continue the ritual.
The Pope Marcellus sipped and his old owl eyes blinked rapidly, as he struggled to inhale and then like a sail, whose mast has snapped before the wind, the Pope fell to the floor. His pearl rosary, Henri’s gift, snapped and scattered across the floor.
The room of celebrants froze. A young countess screamed. Madame Franco leaned closer to Cardinal Ruggieri for spiritual support.
Cardinal Mendoza knelt on the floor next to the newly elected Pope in the midst of his celebration. A parliament of starling physicians crowded forward. Black robes fluttered and clustered. The lead physician, Msr. Cavrillo, his face pale under a black velvet cap, said, “He’s dead. His Excellency is dead!”
Darla took Henri’s small warm hand in hers and began to slip towards the door.
“That was amazing,” said Henri, he turned to look back at the crowds clustering around the Pope.
“Yes, the combination of possibilities is an amazing thing.” said Darla as they walked out into the courtyard to enjoy the moonlight.
The Road from Milan to Rome
Early in the third hour of the afternoon
The heavy carriage rattled and the old man winced at every rut. Dust swirled in the shuttered window and he coughed deep in his chest, like a string on his spine hunching him over.
The carriage rattled down the road. Outriders clattering in front. Outriders clattering behind. The baggage wagon rackety cracked in its place. Carriages and servants and lords trained for the court on the road.
Charles, the fifth of his title, not holy, not Roman, but an Emperor, drank some wine from a leather sack to calm his chest. Dull the needle prick in his lungs. When he could breathe, he said, “Sometimes, I think my life is one long journey.”
His secretary asked, “Your Majesty? Should we stop the carriage?”
“No.” The old man, who was not actually so much old as traveled over, coughed. “We’ve far to go before sunset.”
“Your Majesty’s lands are vast,” said the boy in men’s clothes. He sat stiffly in his seat. His thin face tense under his downy fluff beard.
“Yes.” The old man rubbed his face. “Less so now that I’ve given half of it away, much good that it will do my son.” Charles leaned back in the leather seat. “Only a little farther to the coast. I’ll give my brother the more troublesome rest.” He smiled.
Hooves on the hard high road. The carriage and the outriders and the lords and the wagon began to slow.
The carriage stopped and the door opened. A courier stood at the door.
Charles coughed at the dust and sun, and when he could breath, he whispered, “What is it?”
The courier handed him a rolled up paper. “Your Majesty. Budapest has fallen. The Turk are marching on Vienna.”
Charles coughed. He said, “Turn the carriage around. We’ve far to go tonight.”
William leaned into the wind. The Dutch ship sliced through the waves. Bile green curls growled and churned under the sullen sky.
Somewhere in the hold, Sparkita placidly chewed on hay stalks.
Somewhere in the ship below, the Margrave was holding his head over a bowl and cursing the sea.
Somewhere in the crew quarters, the Margrave’s men were losing at dice to the ship’s cook.
Somewhere in the hold, the few trinkets that William had taken from the kobold cave lay stuffed into a wool sack. The Margrave had decided trinkets were better than nothing, when he was still capable of deciding. Before the toss and yawning yawl of the ship kept him to his bunk and over his bowl deep in the dark of the ship.
William laughed. He wanted to climb up the rigging with the sailors as they scrambled to secure the sails before the rushing, gushing wind.
But he wanted the washing curls more. So he stayed on the deck and watched the waves.
He leaned over the prow and let the waves splash up their cold white salt on his woolen trews and bare skin. Shook his head like a dog and then leaned out into the next wave.
The ship sped across the sea. Coursing fast over empty whale roads and desolated mer cities to the wind’s destination.
“You’re a mean old man and I don’t like you,” said the blond girl in her pig’s tails. “Oink,” she said. She popped her red sticky sweet into her pink purse mouth to give it a quick suck and hit him with a tiny fist. He flew up and back and forever fell. Down into the bright shining sea. Up into the limitless black sky where the twickerings waited. Snicker snack.
Vorple went the obsidian blade as it shattered in the gapping jade mouth. Snap goes the dragon flowers. Crackle and pop.
He was, he was, he was. The jeweled hummingbird, stabbing flowers with his obsidian beak. Stabbing the flowers and making them cry. They bled nectar and he flew away. He flit from flower to flower, his wings blurring a burning turquoise dew in the hot jungle sun.
A dark haired girl balanced on a tombstone, like an angel descending, like a crow offending, tilting her head as her dark hair drifted cross her eyes. “It’s like an egg,” she said, “empty and without life.”
He was the sun. Born from blood and into fire. He burned thirsty. Never satisfied. Drank a mountain of blood running down and he was hungry.
He said, “I love you,” and “I want you,” and “Kill me with a kiss.”
He flew and he fought.
Flew over the battlefield of flowers. Snap dragons with their breezy ways and dreaming poppies on their red couches. Shy carnivorous daisies and dandelions as gold as the sun. And the rose, the rose, the rose. Red and white and crisp linen in the summer sun. Smoke on the water drifting lazy skates and curled lashes as he flew.
Dart the fish that leapt and the claws that slashed. The dead lay curled like caterpillars, as their skin melted and burned, as they became butterflies, obsidian as the sun on its last burning day.
He burned. Smoke curled like dark ringlets from his swirl in the sky. He was a burning bright demon of the day.
He was her. She said, “We hate you,” and “We don’t want you,” and “We kill you with the kiss.”
She was the sacrifice to the mountain. The rose of all thorns. She grew from cuttings, not seeds and fruit. She was the spring girl spiraling down. Her buds did not flower, but what she pricked bloomed ashes.
He would not bloom. He was no tainted skulker of the night. He was a god. A god to a god. And to him, all were Swallows, jealous of the sky in which they flew. As long as Oc flies, the forest will thrive.
She cooled him with a curving blade of glass. They made love in the spaces of their dance. Stabbed with steps and glances and stones. Sticks.
She was the sweet slayer of the night. He was nothing night. Bright. Light. Burning boy. And she swung and missed, and he stabbed her with a kiss.
And she died and the world cracked in a blaze of fire and light.
A candle in the dark of his basement room.
“Sir! Sir!” There was a young timid voice shaking at the velvet curtains of his bed. It was young Matthew, one of newest Tower guards.
Angelus smiled in the dark. He said, “Matthew, how daring. Have you come to play?”
Matthew shifted from foot to foot. “Sir, somethin’s happened. They sent me to get you.”
“The sky must be falling.” Angelus slid out of bed, naked as a jay and rough from ale. He’d been drinking steadily with his pet conspirators the day before, but that wasn’t why he dressed slowly. He just liked making Matthew squirm. Pulling on woolen hose and linen smalls and silken shirt and slow. Angelus could see the tallow candle tremble as wax spattered to the floor. Angelus smiled. “It’s the little pleasures.”
“What, sir?” said Matthew.
Angelus gestured to the door, and Matthew sighed in relief.
Angelus followed Matthew’s candle up the stairs. Angelus climbed the last steps and out into the drizzling morning gray sky. “How amazing! It’s raining in England,” said Angelus.
“That’s naught it, sir.” Matthew pointed. There was a cluster of guards in their rain spattered armor, clutching bristling pikes.
Angelus strolled over. “No one’s guarding the gate, are they?”
“They’re dead,” said Thomas White, a hulking bear of a man, his face pale in a dark beard.
“The gate guards?” said Angelus, the air smelled depressingly of mud and grass. Not a hint of blood.
Thomas pointed. “The ravens.”
Angelus sighed. “You got me out of a soft dry bed because some birds are dead.”
“Sir, um…” Matthew stumbled forward. “They say that if the ravens ever leave the tower, England’ll fall.”
“I can’t tell you how much I don’t care,” said Angelus, and he walked away leaving the guards clutching their pikes around a pile of black feathers in the mud and rain.
Other bits of the North Sea
She crept forward slowly, wriggled and pounced. The rat squealed in her hand. Black and lousy with fleas.
She slit its throat with a finger. Casually drank its hot blood down. Gulp and it was gone. She held it in her hands and whispered, “Only a moment, pretty.” She stuffed the little cooling body into the bodice of her dress and began to climb the ladder to the upper deck. Up and up, to where the moon waited. Huge. Indigo blue in the black deepness sky.
Dr. Dee was standing by the mast muttering over the conch. Twisting it this way and that as the wind shifted. The man at the ship’s wheel slumped forward and the ropes that tied him groaned in the wind.
Drucilla skipped by the wheel bound man and said, “She’s blue tonight.” She pulled the rat from her bodice and crooned to it, “Blue moon, you saw me standing alone, with only a dream in my heart.” She turned to Dr. Dee. “She’s late. Or is she early?” Drucilla shook the rat at Dee and asked, “Is the moon late or early?”
“This isn’t that kind of blue moon,” said Dr. Dee. He ran a finger over the rat and then smeared its blood down the back of the conch.
Drucilla skipped back to the rail. “Penny costs and ashes. We all fall down.” Drucilla held the rat out over the black water. “Out you go,” she said. She tossed the rat over the side of the ship. It didn’t even splash as it fell into the sea.
The end of the eleventh hour
“I need to slay something,” said Elizabeth. She paced the roof of Howard House between a chimney topped with a gold weather vane and a cupola designed to store refreshing beverages.
From that roof, the whole world spread out like a rumpled cloth, as long as the world only contained an Abbey on the opposite hill, a harbor below, and a small town clustered at the end of a river valley.
The chimney shadows crawled into their own shapes as the sun climbed towards noon. Elizabeth tapped her fingers on a gargoyle spout. “Or maybe someone handsome to feed me sweets.”
Her ladies-in-waiting sat on a low bench at the far end of the roof. Kat continued to composedly embroider a Tudor rose on a cushion. Blanche smiled, shook her head and kept sewing.
“One handsome man to feed me grapes.” Elizabeth walked around a golden dome. “Two handsome men to feed me honeycombs.” Elizabeth grabbed a column and swung in a wide circle. “Three handsome men to feed me sugared… figs.” Elizabeth skipped between a classical chimney and a cockerel weather vane. She called out, “Good morning, Cousin. Good Morning, Sir Cecil.”
The roof ladder squeaked as Elizabeth’s cousin, Lord Howard, and Sir Cecil climbed over the roof ledge. Sir Cecil had a book stuffed into the front of his doublet.
Lord Howard beamishly grinned at Elizabeth and sketched a salute in the air. He said, “At your request my good cousinly Queen,” he gestured at the roof, “a private spot to discuss the world’s utter dissolution into chaos and bad language. I hope it has met with your approval.”
“This is a private enough spot, I’ll warrant,” said Elizabeth. “Certainly, no one shall sneak up on us while we’re at our whispering.” She turned to Cecil. “Now then, Cecil, either that is an excellent book or you have something to tell me.”
Cecil cheeks apple flushed over his beard, and he pulled the book from his doublet.
In the distance, the bass bell of the Abby church began to ring the twelfth hour. “Nu scylun hórgón hefaónricós uard…” Caedmon’s hymn drifted down the golden stone of the Abbey walls and into the narrow bustling harbor below. It mixed, not unpleasantly, with the sound of a cantor singing for the Tikkun leil Shavuot and the rhythmic thump of laborers throwing bales of wool onto a wooden dock.
Elizabeth could also hear the sound of her great uncle’s voice taking shape in the noon air. More’s the pity. Thomas Howard, former Jarl of Northumberland had been dead for several years and he had trouble focusing.
Lord Howard sighed, “Oh, father. Not again.”
Elizabeth held her right hand tightly in her left hand behind her back. Cecil clutched his book and sat down on a stone bench to wait. Blanche handed Kat some red embroidery floss.
This was not Northumberland’s first visit.
The light of the high sun gleamed through Northumberland, as he said, “There’s this well in, can’t quite recall the name,” his face faded a bit, “something with teat in it, or maybe it was arm, or prick, well, it was something with a body part in it and it’s gone down and then it went up again. Which is peculiar…” Northumberland paused and looked vaguely at Elizabeth.
Lord Howard said, “Father, is there a warning you want to make? Is there something you have to tell us about the disappearances?” Lord Howard did not reach out to touch his father.
This was not Northumberland’s first visit.
Northumberland continued to ghostly stare at Elizabeth, as if she were the only one there. After all, why should this visit be any different?
Elizabeth shook her head, “Or is this like last summer, when the Prior of Mount Grace fell into his own well and you told us about it after he’d been rescued? Plagued our noon hours for three days.”
“Grace, yes grace.” Northumberland stroked his beard, “Disappearances? Has someone disappeared?” Northumberland nodded his head, “I remember something like that happening when I was a boy. It was Pentecost and the moon was, was, was. I’d just married my first wife, your grandmother’s sister, God rest her soul, when…” he glanced down at Elizabeth’s fingers, “You’re still wearing your mother’s ring.” Northumberland beamed at her. “I remember when she had that painted.”
Elizabeth closed her eyes. This was the sometimes pattern of the progress to Howard House.
Lord Howard walked to the far end of the roof. This was the weave of his father’s afterlife. His string cut, some days Northumberland’s threads dangled.
Northumberland got out of his ghostly chair and began to drift about the roof. He said, “Holbein did it. Or was it Hibbons? It started with an H. Or was it an I? Anyway, I remember it as if it were yesterday.” He reached out to almost touch Elizabeth’s face. Her dark eyes flickered open. He said, “You have her eyes.” Northumberland blinked ghostly tears in his fading face and leaned towards Elizabeth. She did not move. He said, “She had such pretty eyes. I just wanted you to know that, that…you should have the ruling reversed.”
Elizabeth’s lips thinned and she said, “Were I Queen of England, I might.”
“Yes, well, yes.” The sun moved in the sky and the shadows grew once more from the cupolas and column chimneys as Northumberland faded away.
They all stood watching the spot where Northumberland had stood. Except for Lord Howard, who still faced the distant Abbey and the fading echo of song.
“I do so treasure great uncle’s little visits,” said Elizabeth. She looked at her cousin’s stiff back. She inhaled a deep breath and said, “Cousin?”
Lord Howard turned to look at her.
Elizabeth beckoned with one hand, “Will you join use before my Spirit explodes from the pressure of waiting?”
Lord Howard nodded once and walked back to the group.
Cecil said, “Ah, yes. Well, then, yes, um…thanks to your Majesty, we have our first tangible clue to this year’s apocalypse,” he bowed briefly to Elizabeth, “and I must apologize. I have been incredibly stupid. The problem was that I was looking in the wrong resources. I should have been looking to the west, not the east. Really quite inexcusable, but in my defense, this really isn’t the sort of…”
“Cecil!” said Elizabeth, “Brevity is the soul of wit. It has already been a long noon hour.”
Cecil opened the book and laid it face open on a small column. A butterfly with a cat’s head glared out in luminous primary colors. He said. “They’re from the New World. From what I’ve been able to translate, these creatures are called Micpapalptl. They were the servants of the goddess Itzpapalotl. She was a sort dragon with butterfly wings and a jaguar head and claws.” Cecil made a slashing gesture with his hands.
Elizabeth looked at the picture. “Ugly creature.”
Lord Howard said, “What is she the goddess of?”
“Agriculture, hard truths, demon stars, and err…women who die in childbirth,” said Cecil.
Elizabeth smiled. “Of course,” said Elizabeth, “and my ministers would think to have me marry and possibly fall under such a creature’s power.”
“Yes, well, then,” said Cecil. “The book doesn’t have many details, but Itzpapalotl is dead. My Lady, whatever we face, it must be a being powerful enough to kill a god. A god to a god.”
Kay and Blanche looked at one another and stopped sewing. Cecil leaned towards Elizabeth and nodded seriously. Elizabeth stared at Cecil.
She began to laugh. She slapped her stomach with one hand and said, “Spirit, I don’t believe you could have been more pretentious if you had tried.” She clasped her cross necklace on its chain and said, “I acknowledge no God other than my Lord Jesus Christ, however one wishes to approach him, and I have slain demons as ugly as this in my time. You may as well call me a god.” Elizabeth shrugged, “The real question is what are New World demon butterflies doing in Yorkshire. At the very least, they should stay south of the border with my dear brother, Phillip.”
Lord Howard asked, “Could Phillip have set these creatures upon us?”
Cecil said, “Unlikely, but…” He sighed. “The problem is that this is just an excerpt from a more detailed book, the Borgia Codex.”
“Borgias?” said Elizabeth.
“Different Borgias,” said Cecil. “The Abbey library is extensive, but it’s a fair book. I am hoping to find other references that will make a connection between the Micpapalptl, Itzpapalotl, and the disappearance of Ursus Major.”
“We cannot delay our progress any further. We would bankrupt our good cousin, which is not our intention. Set the Abbess to searching her own library. We shall head on to Lindsfarne Priory, where pilgrims pay for prayer with books. If there is any place in England to have your Codex of the other Borgias, it will be Lindsfarne.” She turned to Lord Howard, “Cousin, we thank you for your hospitality.” She put one hand on his arm. “Although, perhaps you should also look into well water in towns with the word arm or teat or prick in them and send us word on what you find.”
Lord Howard looked at the empty spot, the shadows now creeping, where his father had been sitting. He said, “That may be a good idea.”
Chapter 3 | Index |