Traveling With The Dead Chapter Twenty Two


The army came soon after. Shock had set in, and as Lydia supported him down the stairs with all the grim expertise of one used to maneuvering dead bodies, Asher felt himself drifting in and out of consciousness, pain coming and going in alternation with eerie, frightening dreams. He half expected to find the charred remains of Ysidro's body at the foot of the steps, but didn't-or the reality in which he did was quite clearly a dream. Only Karolyi's body was there, lying in a pool of blood with a hole in his forehead and an expression of astonishment in his eyes.

’’I was terrified he was going to talk you out of shooting him, Jamie,’’ she said, helping him to sit on the bottom-most step and sinking beside him in a rustle of skirts. White-lipped and shaken, she propped her eyeglasses with a forefinger and blinked around her. ’’I mean, he tried to kidnap me this afternoon-yesterday afternoon-and if we'd gone with him, we'd never have gotten out of here alive.’’

Trust Lydia, he thought, and wondered who had warned her about Karolyi.

The house around them was utterly silent. The Bey had evidently been right about the rioters leaving before first light. It was almost impossible to reflect that he hadn't seen this woman in three weeks, and that the last time they'd spoken it had been on the railway platform in Oxford. He leaned his back against the wall of the stairwell and asked, in what he considered a reasonable voice, ’’What are you doing in Constantinople?’’ and lost consciousness again before she replied.

When he came to, the court was occupied by two squads of the Turkish army, who clustered around Karolyi's body, muttering and whispering. Their captain was an Anatolian highlander who seemed to pride himself on his imperfect command of both French and Greek.

Turkish not being an easy language to speak under the best of circumstances, Asher could only repeat, ’’Bilmiyorum... bilmiyorum,’’ and shake his head, while the captain and his men gazed at Lydia's unveiled face, bare shoulders, and uncovered hair with puritan disapproval.

Since Asher was, however, clearly injured, a shutter was brought from the half- burned ruins of the Byzantine house, and two of them carried him on it through the twisting streets to the prefecture of police opposite Aya Sofia as the muezzins began to cry the rising of the sun. Lydia, by holding up her wedding ring and refusing to let go of his hand, managed to convince them that she was his wife and, once at the station, persuaded the sergeant in charge to allow her to telephone the British Embassy. In the wake of the rioting, the telephone exchange was inoperative.

They were relegated, not to a cell, but to a stuffy room on an upper floor, while a messenger was sought who could take a note across to Pera. A Turkish doctor came in around noon, rebandaged Asher's torn right arm and reset his shoulder, strapped up his ribs with sticking plaster, dusted everything in sight with basilicum powder and gave him veronal and novocaine, muttering all the while. On his way out he paused, studied Lydia's face intently, and opened his bag again to mix her a mild sedative as well. She accepted gratefully, knowing that the odd sense of separateness she felt from the events of the night was only the result of shock.

I've done it, she thought, looking down at the face of the man who slept beside her- unshaven, bruised, his neck mottled with sticking plaster and dried blood, his flesh horribly white under the beard stubble.

I saved him. Well, more or less.

I found him. He's not dead.

She realized she hadn't really expected to succeed, to be able to do anything right, especially not that which was most important to her happiness. Not when it involved something as unpredictable as living people.

The happiness filling her had a soap-bubble quality, as if it could be taken from her at an unwary breath, but he was here with her... breathing. She checked the gashes on his neck. So deeply asleep was he, on the thin mattress on the floor, that he didn't wake. Like the older, red scars, they seemed like the marks of claws, but lacked the mangled puffiness of a wound from which a vampire would have drawn blood.

Relieved, she touched his hair, the white streaks in his mustache, then leaned back against the wall and, for no reason she could discern, burst into tears.

From this she passed very quickly into sleep.

An hour or so later one of the army corporals brought them bread, honey, white goat cheese, and tea. He brought a set of Turkish army fatigues for Asher, who was still deeply asleep-the pile of his clothing in the corner was torn and bloodied and stank even to Lydia's dissecting-room-toughened sensibilities-and a lady's trousers, tunic, vest, yashmak, veils, and slippers.

’’Wife's,’’ he explained, with a shy grin. ’’Wife she say-’’ He gestured to Lydia's torn and blood-crusted gown. ’’-not good. Better.’’ He held up the veils, grinned quickly again-he didn't look old enough to have a wife, thought Lydia-and took a hasty departure.

She hung one of the veils over the judas in the door and another over the window, and changed clothes, glad to be out of the gown with its dried blood and the smell of charred flesh caught in its folds. The horror she had experienced made her want never to see the green gown again, but she knew that feeling would pass and she'd be glad of the copious samples of vampire blood. She wondered, as she settled back in the corner by Asher's head-the room was innocent of furniture other than one chair and the mattress on the floor-whether there was any way she could talk the authorities into letting her see the remains of the burned bodies.

Probably not, she thought. She felt better for having slept and eaten, and despite the nightmare of her memories-blue fire, charred flesh, screams like nothing human-she found herself wishing she'd had a notebook with her, and a watch.

Ysidro...

Cold tightened in her chest. Had he gotten to safety? The rioters had been gone by dawn, but he'd been unable to stand. And where in the city could he go? Golge Kurt's words returned to her, about the taste of death bringing healing.

In the riot-torn streets a victim wouldn't have been far to seek. She closed her eyes, not wanting to admit to herself how close she stood to condoning an innocent person's murder.

Looking back-remembering how Ysidro had torn like a mad wolf into Golge Kurt on the stairway-she felt a vast astonishment that he had refrained from hunting at all, upon her bare word.

Their compact was done.

Ernchester was dead. Karolyi had taken the secret of the vampires with him to the Constantinople morgue.

Jamie was alive.

Like an echo, she heard the whisper of a voice in her mind: There's a brightness dwells not in the veins...

Had he really been drawn to her, as to a flame of warmth? Or had that only been a literary conceit to compare the red warmth of fire and blood to the auburn of her hair?

She didn't know. She didn't know if she wanted to know. There was a strange hurt inside when she thought of him, a dark wanting that she didn't know what to do with. It felt nothing like the love, the need, that had made it impossible for her to contemplate a life that did not include James'arms around her when she woke up in the night.

When Ysidro had carried her inside after Golge Kurt's attack on her...

She did not finish the thought. She curled up close to her husband, and taking his hand as for protection, let herself drift into sleep.

At sunset Asher woke to the cries of the muezzins of Aya Sofia, calling the Faithful to prayer. His startle of panic woke Lydia;for a moment his grip closed hard enough around her fingers to bruise the bones.

’’I never thought I'd find you.’’

’’Find me?’’ Asher said. His voice was raw and hoarse. ’’If I'd known you were looking, I'd have white hair by now!’’

Lydia laughed a little shakily, and touched the silver glints in the brown. ’’I'm sorry.’’ She pushed aside her own heavy red coils, groped for her spectacles as if to satisfy herself that they lay on the floor beside her, but did not put them on. ’’I was afraid I wasn't doing it right, but I was as careful as I could be. I always wore silver and carried a gun and made sure someone knew where I was- well, mostly. Not that that would have done me much good some of the time. But I did try.’’

’’You did well.’’ He cupped the side of her face in his good hand. ’’But then I never thought it would be otherwise, in anything you set out to do.’’

Lydia started to protest, and he covered her mouth with his own.

Someone knocked at the door, and a man called out in bad French, ’’Monsieur Ash? Madame? Here we have of the British Embassy Sir Burnwell Clapham, and a lady, for to fetch you away.’’

The house on Rue Abydos was absolutely dark when the embassy carriage left Asher and Lydia at its door. ’’I expect poor Miss Potton's still out looking for you,’’ Lady Clapham said as Lydia unlocked the gate. ’’We didn't get back ourselves until nearly dawn, what with looking for you and making a detour and our carriage being attacked by rioters. We sent a man over at about nine, and he said the house was locked up and silent, so we knew she must be doing what we proceeded to do: check all the hospitals in the city. It was only toward evening we started checking police stations.’’

’’Then you didn't get the message?’’ Lydia asked. In her all-encompassing black garments, with her red hair piled on her head again and the mud washed from her face, she felt like a schoolgirl playing dress-up;Asher, beside her in his khaki uniform, with his arm in a sling, appeared some casualty of a war.

’’Heavens, did you send one?’’ The attache's wife shook her head. ’’We haven't been back to the villa all day, child. We'll probably find it under the door-if those villains at the prefecture bothered to send one at all.’’

The carriage rattled off into the dark. Lydia shivered. The house had a cold, unused feeling. She thought at first that Madame Potoneros and her daughter had departed that morning as soon as Margaret would let them, but found the kitchen fires unlit. They must have left sometime the night before. Lydia wondered uneasily, as she fished a match from the drawer in the hall to kindle the lamp on the little table, whether the housekeeper lived in Pera or across the Horn in Stamboul. The riot had spread to Galata, where the army had killed almost a dozen Armenians. Soldiers had been posted on the street corners as they'd come up the hill.

The back entry to the kitchen was unlatched. They could have fled that way as soon as the sounds of strife were heard at the foot of the hill.

’’I hope Margaret hasn't come to grief herself.’’ Lydia raised the lamp as she returned to the front hall. ’’She's really not very bright, and completely out of her depth here. I shouldn't like to think of her trying to negotiate with a Turkish cabdriver, or...’’

Asher straightened up from examining something heaped on the hall table-a wreath of garlic bulbs and hawthorn. ’’There are four or five of them here,’’ he said.

’’And none on the windows.’’

’’Madame Potoneros may have taken them down,’’ said Lydia, though she felt a qualm of cold within.

’’Maybe.’’ They looked at each other, then turned as one to hasten up the stairs.

Lydia froze in the doorway of the bedroom, lamp lifted so that the light fell through to show the unshuttered windows, the protective wreaths heaped in the corner, the still figure lying on the bed.

Asher disengaged his arm from her shoulder at once, crossed to the bed. Lydia set down the lamp, a little numbly, on the vanity, and with a taper kindled the two smaller lights there. The added glow warmed the colors of the room but did little to dispel the dark in the corners.

The woman on the bed was Margaret. But then, she hadn't really had any doubts. Asher touched the woman's neck. There was a little dried blood around the mangled puncture marks, but of that, also, Lydia had never really had any doubts.

The waxiness of the skin, the blue color of the lips, the fingers, the bare toes visible under the white flannel nightgown, were very clear. Lydia set the lamp down again on the bedside table next to Margaret's eyeglasses, reached down-as Asher had already done-to touch the mangled neck, the short, unpretty jaw. They were still rock-hard. If Margaret had died at the beginning of last night's darkness, rather than at the extreme end, almost at dawn, the rigor would be wearing off now.

’’She took the herbs from the windows herself,’’ she said softly. ’’Ysidro said... a vampire could get a mortal to do that, if once he met her eyes.’’

Something made Lydia look around. A noise from the doorway, she thought later, though she could not have said what it was.

Gold- stained by the lamplight against the dark of the hall, Ysidro had returned to something of his old appearance, the death-head mask filled out a little, the black rings of pain and fatigue around the eyes less staring, though a great bloodless cut ran from his scalp down forehead, cheekbone, chin, from Golge Kurt's claws, and two others crossed the fine-grained flesh of his neck. They were like the slashes a sculptor might make in a wax that he had suddenly come to hate: horrible, clean, without puckering. Ysidro seemed collected into himself again, perfect as an ivory angel, as if he had never dropped anything in his life or held strengthless to a doorpost, or written a poem admitting to dreams of warmth that did not come from stolen lives. As if he had never been anything but perfect, and the master of himself.

Lydia thought, He has fed. All her body seemed to be one giant pain. He had no further need of her, save for that.

Rage exploded in her, all the stored horror at Anthea's death, all her sickened bitterness at Ysidro's arrogance, at those pathetic, melodramatic dreams he had sent to Margaret, kindling love in her like the flames kindling from the vampire flesh, and she fell on him, striking with her open hands at his face, with her fists at his chest and shoulders, hating him with a rending hatred that seemed to rip something deep in her soul.

After a moment he took her wrists and held her from him. Under the bloodless cut his yellow eyes were aloof, looking without expression into hers.

’’You cannot expect us to be other than we are, mistress,’’ he said, in a voice she knew was pitched for her alone. ’’Neither the living nor the dead.’’

Then he was gone, and James was beside her, holding her in the circle of his good arm. Lydia clung to him, weeping, from exhaustion and shock and blinding, bitter grief at what she had lost.

I will find you, Ysidro had said to him once. For those of us who hunt the nights, that will be no great task.

Above the looped chains, the cobwebbed mazes of counterweights, the hanging lamps of silver, gold, and ostrich eggs, darkness soared like the exultation of ancient spirits, nearly two hundred feet upward to the shabby painted plaster of Aya Sofia's dome. Below, Asher's footsteps ran whispering to all corners of the mosque, as if they had some mouse-sized secret to tell. Only a few of the lamps burned. By them he could see his breath.

He had walked here from Pera, down the steep steps of the Yusek Kalderim, across the New Bridge. Through narrow streets under the eyes of the Sultana's Mosque and the raw gray granite buildings of the new administration, up the gentle hill to this most ancient place.

A Roman emperor had built it, or a man who thought of himself as a Roman emperor- he and his beautiful, scandalous, red-haired wife. After everything that had passed around it, Asher still heard their names in the silent music of the columns, the unheard bass rhythm of the domes. As he had walked in the cemeteries and the cisterns under the eyes of Olumsiz Bey's fledglings, bait for the trap, so he walked now.

If Ysidro would find him, he thought, he would find him here.

Charles Farren, Earl of Ernchester, would have walked here. A living man, two and a half centuries ago-periwigged, ruffled, and court-suited-dreaming of the woman who waited for him in England. All I ever wanted... and all I ever had. I wish you could have known us as we were.

He closed his eyes, knowing that he should not feel about her what he did.

When he opened them again, it was to see the ghost-flicker of movement in the darkness among the line of columns in the apse, the touch of pallid lamplight on a colorless web of hair.

Asher remained where he was. The vampire's footfalls made no sound on the dusty carpeted acres of the floor.

’’I wasn't sure this was an appropriate place to find you.’’ The echoes of Asher's voice were solitary drips of water in the immensity of an underground cave. ’’But in the streets I felt unsafe, and there was a chance that the others-the fledglings-wouldn't enter a place considered holy to them.’’

’’There is no reason why they should not.’’ He moved carefully, in obvious pain, though his face showed no expression;Asher knew that Ysidro was a little tougher than younger vampires with regard to silver but guessed Karolyi's bullet had left an agonizing track of burns and blisters within.

He wondered who had dressed Ysidro's wounds.

’’Unless one has put up garlic or silver, or some other thing inimical to us around the entrances, there is no limitation upon what building we may go in. Neither crosses, nor crescents, nor horseshoes nailed with cold iron above the door forbid us any more than they forbid a living man, nor must we wait to be invited to cross a threshold we have not crossed before.’’

Ysidro gestured, the black kid of his glove spiderlike against the white shirtsleeve.

’’Though we do tend to avoid holy places. Not because God is there-for presumably God is everywhere, something men seem to forget in their battlefields, bedchambers, and boardrooms-but because man is there, and woman, without the defenses they erect to protect their minds from one another. The yielding up of their innermost dreams-love, and hatred for those different than they-charity and violence all mingled-makes a music which remains in such places even in their emptiness. Dreams lie thick here, like the smoke of incense;the smell of the blood that has been shed here seeps still from its stones. Many of us barely notice, but I find it-unpleasant.’’

The silence returned, like the cloak of vampire powers: the turning aside of attention, the blinding of living eyes. All the things that someone like Ignace Karolyi- someone like Golge Kurt-would have sold to living men preparing to fight a war.

And might still, thought Asher wearily. And might still.

But that was something about which he could do no more. He should have known that, he reflected bitterly, before he got on the Paris train. He had known about it this time, stopped it this time... Plucked up a single weed, knowing already that the seeds were everywhere in the air, looking only for fertile soil.

’’Thank you for looking after her.’’

Ysidro turned his face away. ’’You have married a very foolish woman, James,’’ he said softly. ’’I would have looked after her better had I broken both her legs, to teach her to stay out of vampire nests, and sent her back to Oxford under care of a nurse. I did ill and stupidly, for we all go back home nursing our hurts, hers maybe the worst of all. And nothing here will change.’’

’’Which is as well,’’ Asher said, ’’considering what changes might have come had Golge Kurt become Master of Constantinople. We did win this time, you know.’’

The colorless eyes touched him, rested on him, giving away nothing of their thoughts, then moved away. ’’This is not my affair. The dead are the dead.’’

’’You will miss her,’’ Asher said, ’’won't you? Anthea.’’

Ysidro looked aside without replying.

’’I don't think,’’ Asher said, ’’that she was sorry.’’

He did not think the vampire would answer him, and for a long time he did not. Then he said, ’’She was. But I do not think she would have lasted long after he was gone.’’

He had known her, thought Asher, for all of that two hundred and fifty years. Worlds were hidden in the stillness of the alabaster face, the pale, champagne-colored eyes. Questions forever unanswered.

’’You didn't kill the Potton girl, did you?’’

Ysidro said nothing.

’’It's not something I'll speak of to Lydia. There were other vampires in the city, maybe others besides those I saw in the House of Oleanders. I don't know. If the laborers and mechanics and beggars put together Lydia's inquiries with the house of Olumsiz Bey, there must have been vampires who became aware of you. Who waited for the servants to flee the sound of the riot. Who had, perhaps, met her eyes somewhere, sometime, and could command her in dreams to open the windows for them.’’

’’The girl was a fool,’’ Ysidro said. He glanced sidelong at Asher. ’’You may tell Mistress Asher I said that.’’

’’Many years ago,’’ Asher said, ’’when I was in Vienna, I loved a woman there, and she me. She was clever and had great integrity. I was a fool to speak to her after the second time, because I should have known where it would lead. But after the second time I met her, it was too late. When she began to guess that I was a spy sent to find military secrets that would hurt her country, probably kill her friends and family who were in the army, I... betrayed her. I stole her money and left town in ostentatious stealth with the most brainless and beautiful member of the demimonde I could convince to accompany me-knowing that Francoise would take her own rage, her own hurt, into account, and more than into account, and not look further into anything else that had to do with me. She was that kind of person. I did this not only to protect myself and my contacts, but so that she would cut from me cleanly, never regretting or thinking that what had been between us could ever be repaired.’’

Ysidro was silent for a long time, cold crystal eyes fixed on some middle distance, as if, through the walls, he could see out into the night, back to the London that had been his haunt and his home from his twenty-fifth-and last-year of human life.

’’There was nothing ever between us, you know.’’

’’I know.’’ She hadn't told him about the sonnets, but he had found them-including the torn one-in Miss Potton's crochet basket. Asher's own passion returned to him, yearning and illogical, for Anthea, and for the moonlight girl in the Vienna Woods who had later helped to empty Fairport's veins. He remembered Lydia's voice when she said, Simon... and recalled, too, the disillusioned agony of her tears.

She would recover, he knew. But the hurt ran deep.

The vampire shook his head. ’’Life is for the living, James. Death is for the dead. As for her attraction to me, it is our lure to be attractive. It is how we hunt. It means nothing.’’

Asher thought about Anthea again, and knew that Ysidro lied.

Ysidro considered the matter in silence for a moment more, then went on, ’’As for Miss Potton, I cannot say that I wouldn't have killed her, in the end, as Lydia expected me to. In truth I don't think she would have minded. But I think it was a woman named Zenaida, a concubine who haunts the deserted areas of the old seraglio, abandoned now even by the palace servants. Zenaida saw her there-I think she may even have summoned her, using the illusion that I might wish her to follow me. Afterward I thought I saw her once or twice around the house on Rue Abydos, but by then my perceptions were not acute enough to be sure. Another reason I would keep Mistress Asher in ignorance of how this came about. She would take it as her own doing. I trust you have not left her alone.’’

Asher shook his head. ’’She's with Lady Clapham and Prince Razumovsky. I asked them to stay with her till I returned. I told them she has nightmares-not that Lydia has ever had a nightmare in her life.’’

The defaced ivory mask relaxed, momentarily, into a smile.

’’Will you be all right, returning home?’’

’’The Dead always find ways,’’ Ysidro said, ’’to get the living to serve them. Some, like the Deathless Lord, buy that service, or use hate, like Golge Kurt, or love. Sometimes the living don't even know why they serve.’’

Asher studied the narrow, enigmatic features, the rucked ruin of fresh and bloodless scars. Like Anthea, like Ernchester, Ysidro was a killer and would have been as deserving as they had the sunlight trapped and consumed him in that upper room. The fact that Ysidro had risked his curiously friable immortality to help him- to save Lydia-should have no bearing on that deserving. The fact that Ysidro had not killed Margaret Potton did not change the fact that he had killed someone else-possibly several others, if he had been as long fasting as Lydia had said- that same night.

’’Sometimes they do.’’ He held out his hand to the vampire. ’’They know... but damned if they understand.’’

Ysidro regarded his hand for a moment with an air of slightly startled offense, as if at a familiarity;then smiled, like a man remembering his own follies, and very quickly, with two cold fingers, returned the touch. ’’In that they are not unique,’’ he said.

And he was gone, in a slight, quick blanking of attention that covered a soundless retreat. Asher found himself alone in the immense darkness of the ancient holy place, without so much as a flicker of motion among the dark pillars to show that any soul, living or dead, had passed that way.

Weary of dark, I asked to see the day,

And Jesus, jesting, to a mountain's height

Upbore me, and spread before my sight

The Kingdoms of earth in morning's bright array.

I saw a man betray two dames who wept;

Saw a mother cripple her child with love;

Saw priests flay Jews, their piety to prove,

And brother sell his brother while he slept.

A man gave up his dreams, a child to save.

A woman bound a beggar's bleeding sores.

A youth pursued war's summons to his grave

While th'king for whom he died gave gold to whores.

And all died frightened, weeping and in pain.

I left the mount, and sought the dark again.

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