She burned on the pyre.
LaCroix watched, with his son at his side, while flames enveloped the shroud in which he had wrapped her. It was not the well-structured pyre of ancient Rome; and, even though she had tried to kill him, he grieved for that. She should have had a proper funeral. She had been Roman, after all, as had he—as he was still, in many ways; but centuries of life had shaped him since the fall of the Imperium, while she had survived somehow in her tomb, unaware of the true passage of time.
When the flames died out before the fires of dawn, he collected the ashes without a word. Nicholas offered to help; but he shook him off and continued the duty alone. Then he realized there was no urn, and knelt helplessly beside the small grey pile, lifted it in his cupped hands, and saw it spill over his fingers back to the ground. His son brought him an empty can—he saw it was the very can that had held the gasoline with which he had lit the pyre—and he slowly tipped the ashes, bit by bit, down the hole.
He flew over the lake as the sky began slowly to lighten towards dawn, and scattered—as far and as wide as he could—all the ash that he could shake from the can. Then he landed on the shore of Toronto Island, well away from the houses, and rinsed the last of Divia into the water. Thrice killed, he thought: a ritual death: stabbed, and burned, and drowned. She would never return. She could never return. And for that, he grieved and was glad.
Afterwards, he returned to the Raven and brooded alone. By his own choice: Nicholas, had he come with him, would have been obliged to stay the day; and so he sent him away. Things nowadays were in too delicate a balance between them: he might say something he would regret. (Nicholas certainly would.) It were better that he grieve alone. His memories of Divia were ancient; and he had told his son only the sketch of their story. There was too much for him to think upon; and he had no wish to answer questions.
What had turned his darling daughter into the girl she became? LaCroix had often wondered that in the centuries since. He had adopted her and given her his name, for all that she was no more than the daughter of a prostitute. If he had not made her “Divia” she would have surely been a whore as Seline had been; but she had been raised to wealth and privilege. Perhaps he should not have left her with her mother when he went to command the armies in Gaul. By then, though, Seline had been fairly respectable, keeper of the finest house in Pompeii. He knew—from Divia herself he knew—that the girl had been sequestered from her mother’s business.
LaCroix rose from the couch and opened the wine cabinet holding his private stock. So few hours had passed since he’d last done this! (And so much had happened.) He had, he recalled, selected two bottles. He looked around. What had he done with them? Urs and Vachon had been in here; but they had left through the club before he came out … ah, yes! … to head to the bar for a glass. He found the pair of bottles still sitting on the counter behind the bar. The door of the beer fridge was open—no doubt the forensic specialists had left it so—and empty, since the headless corpse had been removed. Nicholas had said that it had, in life, been a tomb robber; presumably the one that had released Divia from the sarcophagus in the Tomb of Aya-Hotep. Damn the man, thought LaCroix: he deserved his fate! The bottles, on the other hand, deserved theirs.
He unhooked a glass from the hanging rack above the bar; and, scissoring his fingers round the necks, carried everything back to his office. There he uncorked one of the bottles and poured out a half glass of its contents. Gently, he cupped the bowl in his hand to warm the blood, lifted it, and savoured the aroma.
He sat down and sipped slowly, and remembered. Ah, she had been such a sweet child, his little Divia. If she had changed at all when he returned from Gaul, he hadn’t noticed it….
He sat up sharply. No, he had. There was no point in lying to himself: he had. She had been quiet and withdrawn; and he had taken it for the well-bred reserve of a patrician maiden. But he had greeted her with joy; and she had not responded. Even Flavius had noticed that Divia had changed. He had said as much; but LaCroix—the great General Lucius Divius Lucianus!—had ignored the warning (as he never would have ignored a scout’s news of the enemy), and turned instead to flattering the son of Vespasian. His conquests made “in the name of the Emperor and in your name, too, of course”, indeed! Ah, well, LaCroix thought, in the Imperium, it had always been wise to “suck up” (as they say today) to those who had power; and, indeed, his old friend had become Emperor himself in time. At Seline’s celebration, though, it had distracted him from Divia—Divia, who was his flesh and blood. (The thought shamed him now, as it would not have in the days of his glory.)
LaCroix leaned back on the leather couch and took a deep gulp from his glass. Perhaps he could wipe away his own memories with those that were borne in the blood.
Or not. How, after all, could the brief life of a mortal overwhelm centuries? It had been almost two thousand years since he had been brought across, and cheated death.
He remembered Pompeii as it once had been, busy and prosperous in the shadow of Vesuvius, the fertile mountain that betrayed its cities. As the earth shook and the sky darkened, he had been trapped in the ruins of Seline’s house. There, his daughter had come to him claiming immortality, bared her fangs to prove her tale, and offered him life. (He should have fled when the earthquakes started; but he would not show fear before others—not he!) Naturally, in the face of death, he took her offer: at the time, he knew only that it meant survival. Today, of course, he knew that vampirism had consequences that would taunt him for centuries; but Divia had not mentioned anything of that (and, in all fairness, she might well have been too recently brought over herself to understand). It would be years before he truly knew what he had become. “Those who sup with the devil must use a long spoon,” so they say; but he had sucked Divia’s blood straight from her wrist with no spoon at all, long-handled or short.
He sighed. In retrospect, those few short decades with Divia were overshadowed by the tomb. But hindsight was unjust. He had returned to Rome, to his house and his fortune and his family name. The city was large, and provided excellent hunting, if one were careful. For a time, life had been good. Divia, of course, believed herself untouchable, as children do when they have been raised in comfort and security. So she took chances—foolish chances—asserting, when he tried to rein her in, that they were free to do as they chose, whatever they chose, to whomever they chose, whenever and wherever they chose. None dared say her nay, she asserted. But he was her father; and he loved her and she obeyed him, more or less, barring the natural naughtiness of children.
LaCroix brushed away a blood-red tear as he remembered. He had taken it for childish ego; but it presaged so much.
The two of them did not age. For a time, he could conceal this in himself, brushing chalk into his hair; but Divia’s continued youth was striking. After less than a decade, therefore, he decided that it would be prudent for them to leave Rome; and he decided on a long journey to Ephesus. Back to Rome then came news of a sudden fever that had taken both of them. His will, which was scribed and witnessed and sealed, left all his property to be inherited by a cousin—a fictitious cousin—by the name of Marcus Divius Lucianus, resident of Antiochia. (That “Marcus” bore a curious resemblance to “Lucius” could not, of course, be discerned by anyone the other end of the Mediterranean.) As a further precaution, once the estate was settled, he converted it all to gold and moved to Tyrus. So, over the next few years, they journeyed from city to city around the provinces: Corinthus, Carthago, Toletum, Massilia. In each they stayed a short while before moving on. It was always he who urged departure: Divia lacked his soldier’s sense of danger.
LaCroix sipped his glass to the dregs, refilled it, drank again, and finally drained the bottle. (It had been a good vintage; but it was not good enough to drown Divia. It took a lake of sorrows to do that.)
When was it he had realized she was not satisfied to be daughter alone? He sighed. The signs had, no doubt, been there from the start; but he had been blind. Where Divia was concerned, he was father, not soldier; and there it was he who lacked a sense of danger.
Had it been in Toletum, where she flew into the night while their household goods were packed, refusing to leave her new home? He’d fetched her back with promise of slaughter; and they’d drained the slaves before they left. The strength of that blood had sustained the pair of them all the way to Gaul.
No. It must have been earlier. Corinth, perhaps. She had had a friend there, a mortal girl named Eumelia, with whom she had played and in whom she confided. He had warned her repeatedly about the danger of revealing too much; but Divia had laughed. Then came the cry of vampire, raised by Eumelia’s bereaved father. The General saw the need for swift retreat; Divia had not. She had her eye on taking the younger sister as well, which would have been utter folly.
But no. No, it was even earlier than that. It had been in Pompeii. LaCroix cast his mind back to his first day in his undeath. He had urged her to go, begged her, ordered her—and she had laughed! Showing her sharp little fangs to his face, she had laughed! And danced away, teasing him to follow. With the skies dark, the ground heaving, rock and ash falling from the heavens, she had hunted around the house and along the streets, tracking her prey through the stench of the eruption. He had been puzzled as to what she sought. Then, finally, she came upon Seline in her scarlet toga of imported silk, running for her life, yet still carrying her wrought gold box full of jewels. At first, he had thought that Divia sought her mother to save her, as she had saved him. He thought this, even as she grabbed Seline by the shoulder, swung her round, and sank in her teeth. He heard Seline’s heart falter while Divia continued to drain her; and only then had he realized. To his credit (even today, he saw it so), he had pried her off. Seline had tried to run, stumbling with weakness; and Divia had turned on him and snarled.
Ah, well, LaCroix thought, and opened the second bottle. Seline had, after all, tarried too long in Pompeii (as had he) and would not have had the slightest chance of escape. Still, it had not been mercy he had seen in his daughter’s eyes.
In the end, there had been no mercy in his own, either.
Nearly twenty years after the eruption of Vesuvius, he had moved their household once again, this time from Massilia to Egypt. They settled first in Memphis, where the port brought traders from far lands whose blood tasted of spice and gold. Divia seemed oddly disturbed; but he ignored it. Some nights she did not come with him, but hunted alone; and that annoyed him. He spoke to her; and she defied him.
“Paterfamilias sum,” said the General sternly. Divius Lucianus he was, whatever name he assumed; and the head of the family.
“Ego sum domina tua,” she replied, her head haughty. And in her eyes that was greater: she had brought him across: she was his master.
“Non sum servus,” he snarled, all his patrician pride rising at the suggestion that he, like a slave, could have a master.
“Non servus,” she protested. “Tu es pater meus … pater carissimus.” She smiled sweetly; but he could see the tiny sharp points of her fangs. “Sed ego sum domina,” she added, in a hard cold tone.
LaCroix winced as he recalled the exchange. He reached forward and filled his glass. He needed a drink to wash away that memory: it echoed, centuries later, and was answered by his own words to Nicholas—so many years ago, now; yet so much more recent than that day in Memphis. “Tu es mon protégé.” “Je suis votre esclave.” He could hear it now.
No, Nicholas was not—had never been—his slave. Nor had he been Divia’s. And yet she was his master, as he was master to Nicholas. Semantics, he thought. It all comes down to semantics, doesn’t it? Those fine, significant shades of meaning that break hearts and start wars. He was father; and Divia owed him obedience. Paterfamilias to the core, he saw no alternative interpretation of their relationship. Yet to her he was son, and owed obedience back.
LaCroix sighed. He drained the glass in his hand, and filled it again. At least with Nicholas there was no blood relationship to cause confusion. Still, did that mean that he, who demanded submission from his son, should have given equal obedience to Divia? It was unthinkable.
Again Divia tried to assert her authority. General Lucius Divius did not so much defy her as deny her: under Roman law, the rule was his. She claimed mastery, dominance—but those were vampire things he did not acknowledge. To do so would have made him less; and he had never bowed his head, except before the gods and the Emperor.
Divia chose not to press the issue. She smiled and cajoled and charmed him; once again, she seemed his darling daughter. She teased him to go south, though she did not give a reason. As she did not try to lay orders on him (which he would not have brooked), he decided to humour her whim. They would soon have needed to leave Memphis anyway. Nile barges efficiently transported them, bag and baggage, upstream to Thebes; and life resumed. As did death, of course; but that followed them wherever they went.
LaCroix poured himself another glass; but he did not raise it to his lips. He knew now why she had wanted to go to Thebes. She had wanted to take him to the Valley of the Kings, to the Tomb of Aya-Hotep where she had encoffined her master—her own master, Qa’ra—when he had tried to mould her to his will. LaCroix raised the glass, and contemplated the depths of red. Yes. An object lesson, that was it. He took a deep draught of blood, and nodded. She had meant to lesson him—him, General Divius!—on the fate of those who thought themselves above her. She would bring him to obey her. It was to that end that she had smiled and coaxed; and, and not seeing her aim, he had done what she wished. Powerful men do when charming children smile at them—or charming women wile at them, of course, but he’d never thought of her that way.
Yet by Roman custom she was of marriageable age.
As that thought occurred to him, LaCroix put the glass down, and leaned back. Yes, he thought, staring at the ceiling. That, perhaps, is the nub of the matter. She wiled me as a woman; and I took her for a child. When she took me to her master’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings, she called me Lucius.
(Odd. He had never considered the implications of that before.)
“Daughter, mother, lover. Why can't I be all three? You need someone to love, Lucius, and I need you.” He knew what came next—the outraged snatch at the sickle among the grave goods, the soldier’s strike against his enemy, the rolling head….
He gagged. His hand flew to his mouth; but, swallowing hard, he managed to quell the nausea. I was paterfamilias, he thought. It was my duty: the righteous sanction of a child who brought dishonour to our name.
He laid his hand across his eyes and wept.
Sunset came. He became aware of sounds. People were moving round inside the nightclub; and he realized the staff were preparing to open for business. He went out and told them to leave: the Raven would be closed that night. Then he went back to his office.
Some time later, he heard the slight sound of a vampire alighting on the roof. Then footsteps. He came alert as he recognized the step (as how could he not after so many years).
“Hello, Nicholas,” he said, as his son opened the door.
“Sitting in the dark?” He could almost hear the smile. Faint air currents told him that Nick’s arm was moving, just a split second before he heard the click of the switch.
“So,” said Nicholas, crossing the room to sit on the far arm of the couch, “you’ve closed the club for the night. You’ve—” He gauged the bottles and half-full glass. “—spent the whole day drinking yourself blind, or would’ve if you were human—” He reached across unexpectedly to lay a sympathetic hand on his father’s shoulder. “—and I doubt you’re grieving for Urs or Vachon, though she killed them, too, you know. And she tried to kill both of us!”
“I know,” said LaCroix softly. “I felt the sharp shard against my throat. She meant my death.”
“And yet you grieve.”
Nicholas gave LaCroix’s shoulder a pat, and then got up. He left the door open as he went; and LaCroix wondered for a moment whether he’d gone for good, in disgust, probably. Then he heard footsteps cross the club floor to the bar, the faint chinkle of glass, and the return. Nicholas came in, with a strangely broad smile on his face, opened the wine cabinet and took out a bottle at random, sat down, opened it, and poured.
He reached the bottle over to hover it above LaCroix’s glass. “Shall I mix? Or would you prefer the uncut drink you have?”
LaCroix covered the glass with his hand. “No, I’m all right.”
Nicholas corked the bottle, set it down, and raised his glass high. Startled, LaCroix realized that he was about to propose a toast.
“To family,” said Nicholas, “for good or ill.”
“To family,” said LaCroix, fascinated. They chinked glasses, and took a ritual sip.
“So,” said Nicholas. “Do you want to talk?”
“Not really.” But LaCroix did not say it in a haughty dismissive tone; so Nicholas did not withdraw, as he half expected, but sat looking at him quizzically. “I’ve done nothing but think about it all day,” LaCroix went on, “and you’ve heard the gist of it, anyway.”
“Well, I’m here if you change your mind,” said Nicholas. “I’ve called the station and taken a personal day.”
“You didn’t need to do that!”
“Well, what’s family for, after all?” Impishly, Nicholas added, “Not that you’d do the same for me, of course.”
LaCroix gave him a level look.
“Though I seem to recall,” said Nicholas, losing none of his good humour, “your spending an entire day when I was shot in the head, filling me in on ancient history.”
“Oh, not so ancient,” said LaCroix, amused. “You’re a mere sprog, Nicholas. Not even a millennium old. You’ll need a few centuries more before your history qualifies as ancient, believe me!”
Nicholas suddenly sobered. “And your ancient history—that is what died last night, isn’t it? Divia, you said? Her name was Divia?” LaCroix nodded. “Well, she was your history, as you are mine. She’s the one who brought you across.”
“Yes,” said LaCroix. “That’s right. Last night I lost my master. And you killed her.”
“Last night I killed your master,” agreed Nicholas softly. “And you didn’t stop me.”
“True,” said LaCroix, with a chilly calm. “One could say, therefore, I suppose, that I killed my master.”
“Oh, been there, done that!” said Nicholas, a grin spreading wide across his face. “As you know, LaCroix, as you know.”
He looked at his son, startled; and then a smile broke upon his own face. He put up a hand quickly, but could not stifle what sounded, more than anything, like a silly giggle. “Oh, we’re two of a kind, Nicholas, aren’t we?”
And they toasted to that.