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william hill

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miércoles, 20 de julio de 2011

REMANENTE "THIS SECRET HAS TO BE KEPT"





17
"THIS SECRET HAS TO BE KEPT by you from anyone else," Mona said. Her voice was quaking. She had a
firm hold on Quinn's hand. "If you keep it from everybody else, then in time I can come to be with them.
I mean the rest of the family. I can know them for a little while. The way Quinn knows everybody at
Blackwood Farm. I can have some time for my leave-taking. What did you mean when you called me
Blood Child?"
Rowan looked at her across the round table. Then with sudden impersonal impatience, Rowan tore off the
thick purple robe and stepped out of it, as if from a broken shell, a tense figure in a sleeveless white
cotton nightgown.
"Let's go out there," she said, her soft deep voice more sure of itself, her head slightly bowed. "Let's go
where the other ones were buried. Stirling's out there. I've always loved that place. Let's talk in the
garden." She started walking, and only then did I notice she was barefoot. Her hem just skirted the floor.
Michael rose from the table and followed her. It seemed his eyes avoided ours. He caught up with Rowan
and put his arm around her.
Immediately Mona led the way after them.
We passed through a classic butler's pantry of high glass cabinets crammed full of vivid china, and then
on through a modern kitchen, out French doors and down painted wooden steps onto a sprawling
flagstone patio.
There ahead lay the huge octagonal swimming pool, shimmering with a wealth of submerged light and
beyond that, a tall dignified cabana.
Long limestone balustrades enclosed the garden patches, which were bursting with tropical plants, and
very suddenly the air was filled with the strong scent of the night jasmine.
Great arching branches of the rain tree poured over us from the left. And the cicadas sang loudly from the
many crowding trees. There were no traffic sounds from the world beyond. The very air itself was
blessed.
Mona gasped, and smiled and shook out her hair and turned for Quinn's reassuring embrace, murmuring
fast like a hummingbird beating its wings. "It's all the same, so lovely, more lovely even than I
remembered it. Nothing's changed."
Rowan stopped and looked up at the moving clouds as though allowing time for Mona to absorb it all.
For one second she glared at me. Blood Child. File folder of facts. Then at Mona. Then at the clouds
again. "Who would change such a place?" she asked gently in her low melodic voice, responding to
Mona.
"We're only the custodians," said Michael. "Someday other Mayfairs will live here, long after we're
gone."
We waited, clustered together. Quinn very anxious. Mona in bliss.
I scanned for the ghost of Julien. Nowhere around. Too risky with Michael able to see him.
From a black iron gateway to the left, Stirling came to meet us, ever the gentleman in crisp tailored linen,
and strangely silent, and Rowan walked on, fearless in her bare feet, and pointed toward the garden from
which Stirling had just come.
Stirling's eyes locked on Mona for one quick intake of information, and then he went after Rowan and
Michael back the way he had come.
We all followed into a different world, beyond the measurements of Italian balustrade and perfectly
square flagstone.
It was all rampant elephant ear and banana trees back here, and a broad lawn beneath a huge old oak, and
an iron table there and modern iron chairs, more comfortable I suspected than the relics of my courtyard.
A high brick wall bounded the place opposite the gateway and a row of yews concealed it from the
carport to the left, and an old two-story wooden servants' quarters shut it off from the world to the right,
the building itself mostly hidden from us by high thick ligustrum.
There was someone out there in the servants' quarters. Sleeping. Dreaming. An elderly soul. Forget about
it.
Wet earth, random flowers, mingling, rattling leaves in the wet summer air, all the night songs, scent of
the river only eight blocks from here over the the Irish Channel, where a train whistle cut the night,
leading the distant soft roar of box cars.
The cicadas died down suddenly, but the song of the tree frogs was strong, and there were the night birds,
which only a vampire could hear.
Low lights along the cement path provided a very feeble illumination. And there were other such beacons
scattered in the farthest reaches of the garden. Two floodlights fixed high in the oak spilled a soft
luminescence over the scene. As for the moon, it was full but veiled behind the pink panoply of clouds,
and so we were in a thin rosy and penetrable darkness, and all around us the garden was alive and balmy
and seeking to feed upon us with countless tiny mouths.
As I stepped on the lawn I caught the faint scent of the alien species, the scent that Quinn had caught
when he came here as a boy led by the ghost of Oncle Julien. I saw the scent hit Mona with her
heightened gifts. She drew herself up as though revolted, and then took a deep breath. Quinn dipped
down to kiss her.
Stirling played host with the gathering of the chairs about the table. He tried to disguise his amazement at
the vision of Mona. The miracle of Quinn as vampire he'd seen in frightening circumstances, and then
again, later, the night we went to tell him that Merrick Mayfair was no more. But Mona . . . he couldn't
quite keep it to himself.
Rowan's snow white gown dragged in the mud. She didn't care. She was murmuring or singing, I couldn't
tell which or catch any words or meaning to it. Michael stared at the oak as though talking to it. Then he
took off his wrinkled white jacket. He put it over the back of a chair. But he stood staring at the tree as
though finishing a soliloquy. He was a big chunk of a man, gorgeously made.
Stirling helped Mona to her chair, and bid Quinn to sit beside her. I waited for Rowan and Michael.
Suddenly Rowan turned and threw her arms around me. She fastened to me about as tight as a mortal
woman could do it, so much divine silk and softness to me, whispering feverish words I couldn't catch,
eyes racing over me, while I stood stark still, my heart beating frantically. And then she began to touch
me all over, open hands on my face, on my hair, then grabbing up my hands and slipping her fingers
through my fingers. At last she thrust my hand between her legs and then drew back shuddering, letting
me go and staring into my eyes.
I came quite close to losing my mind. Did anyone have a clue as to the crash and thunder inside me? I
locked the casket of my heart. I punished it. I endured.
All this while, Michael never looked at us. He had sat down at some point, his back to the oak, facing
Mona and Quinn, and he was talking to Mona, singing the fatherly chant again in a soothing voice as to
how sweet and pretty she was, and that she was his darling daughter. I could see all that out of the corner
of my eye, and then in sheer weakness, the lock inside me broke, and all was released. I gathered up
Rowan's supple limbs and I kissed her forehead, the hard sweet skin of her forehead, and then her soft
unresisting lips, and let her loose arms go, watching her slip into the chair beside Michael. Silent. Done.
I went to the other side of the table and sat beside Mona. I was bitterly full of desire. It was unspeakable
to need someone in this way. I closed my eyes and listened to the night. Ravenous, repulsive creatures
singing magnificently. And working the soft fertile earth, creatures of such loathsomeness I couldn't
dwell on it. And the clatter of the riverfront train unendingly. And then the absurd song of the calliope on
the riverboat that took the tourists up and down the waterway as they feasted and laughed and danced and
sang.
"The Savage Garden," I whispered. I turned away as if I hated them all.
"What did you say?" Rowan said. Her eyes broke from their feverish movement just for one moment.
Everyone went quiet, except the singing monsters. Monsters with wings and six or eight legs, or no legs
at all.
"It's just a phrase I used to use for the Earth," I said, "in the old times when I didn't believe in anything,
when I believed the only laws were aesthetic laws. But I was young then and new to the Blood and
stupid, expecting further miracles. Before I knew we knew more of nothing, and nothing more.
Sometimes I think of the phrase again when the night is like this, so accidentally beautiful."
"And now you do believe in something?" Michael asked.
"You surprise me," I said. "I thought you'd expect me to know everything. Mortals usually do."
He shook his head. "I suppose I have a sense," he said, "that you're figuring it all out step by step, like the
rest of us." He let his eyes wander over the banana trees behind me. He seemed preoccupied by the night,
and deeply hurt by things I couldn't hope to learn from him. He didn't mean to show it off, this hurt. It
simply became too great for him to conceal, and so his mind drifted, almost out of courtesy.
Mona was struggling not to cry. This place, this secret backyard, so well hidden from the world of the
Garden District streets with its crowded houses, was obviously sacred to her. She slipped her right hand
into my left. Her left hand was in Quinn's hand, and I knew she held him as tight as she held me, pressing
for reassurance over and over again.
As for my beloved Quinn, he was severely discomforted and unsure of everything. He studied Rowan and
Michael uneasily. Never had he been with this many mortals who knew what he was. In fact, he had
never been with more than one, and that was Stirling. He, too, sensed the presence of the old one in the
back house. He didn't like it.
And Stirling, who had correctly surmised that the disclosure had been made, that Rowan was now
subdued and deep in thought, seemed frightened in a dignified way also. He was to my far left, and his
eyes were on Rowan.
"What do you believe in now?" Mona asked me, her voice unsteady but insistent. "I mean, if the old
resignation of the Savage Garden was wrong, what has replaced it?"
"Belief in The Maker," I replied, "who put it all together with love and purpose. What else?"
"Amen," said Michael with a sigh, "someone better than us, has to be-somebody better than every
creature who walks the Earth, somebody who shows compassion. . . ."
"Will you show compassion to us?" Quinn asked. It was sharp. He looked directly at Michael. "I want my
secret kept as well as Mona's."
"Trouble with you is you think you're still human," Michael replied. "Your secret's utterly safe. It will be
exactly the way you want it. Wait a safe period of time. Then Mona can return to the family. It's not a
difficult thing at all."
"This seems amazingly easy for you," Quinn replied suspiciously. "Why is that so?"
Michael gave a short bitter laugh. "You have to understand what the Taltos was, and what they did to us."
Rowan said in a low voice, "And what I did to one of them too quickly, too foolishly." Her eyes moved
away into memory.
"I don't know or understand," said Quinn. "I think what Lestat had in mind was an exchange of secrets.
There are things Mona simply can't explain. They hurt her too much. They involve you. She becomes
caught up in a web of loyalty, and she can't be free. But one thing is clear. She wants to find her daughter,
Morrigan."
"I don't know if we can help," said Michael.
"I can look for Morrigan now myself," Mona protested. "I'm strong again." Her hand tightened on mine.
"But you have to tell me all you know. For two years I lay in that bed confused and crazy. I'm still mixedup.
I don't know why you haven't found my daughter."
"We'll take you all through it again," said Michael soothingly.
Rowan murmured under her breath, then came to the surface, eyes remote, uncertain, moving rapidly
again over the table as over nothing.
"I knew about you," she said. Her words were hushed and ran on smoothly, "I mean, what you are-Blood
Children, Blood Hunters, Vampires. I knew. It wasn't a simple matter. Michael knew. The knowledge
came in stages." She looked directly at me for the first time as she continued:
"I had seen one of your kind one time, walking, in the Quarter. It was a male with black hair, very
handsome, and set apart from everything around him. He appeared to be searching for someone. I'd felt a
paralytic conflict, an attraction to him, and a fear of him also. You know my powers. They're not
developed as they ought to be. I'm a witch who won't be a witch, a Mad Scientist who won't be Mad. I
wanted to know about him. I wanted to follow him. It was a long time ago. I never forgot about itknowing
he wasn't human, and that he wasn't a ghost. I don't think I told anyone about him.
"But then this woman disappeared from the Talamasca. Her name was Merrick Mayfair. I hadn't known
her, but I'd known of her-that she was a colored Mayfair, descended from a downtown branch of the
family. I can't remember. I think it was Lily Mayfair, yes, or was it Lauren-I despise Lauren, Lauren has
an evil mind-Lauren who told me there were lots of colored Mayfairs, but this Merrick wasn't very close
to any of them. This Merrick, she had tremendous psychic powers. She knew about us, the First Street
gang, but she really didn't want contact. She'd spent most of her life in the Talamasca and we'd never
even known of her. Mayfairs hate it when they don't know about Mayfairs.
"Lauren said that she'd come once, this Merrick Mayfair, when the house was opened for a Holiday Tour,
you know, a benefit for the Preservationists, after Michael had restored everything, after all the bad times
were over, and before Mona was really sick. This person, Merrick, she'd gone through First Street with
the tourists, imagine, just to see the nucleus. And we hadn't been here. We hadn't known."
A sword went through me at these words. I glanced at Stirling. He too was suffering. I flashed back on
Merrick climbing on the flaming altar, taking with her into the Light the spirit that had plagued Quinn all
of his life. Don't reveal. Don't revive. Can't help.
But Rowan was talking about a time long before the other night when Merrick disappeared forever.
Rowan was talking about Merrick's turning to us.
"Then she disappeared," Rowan said, "and the Talamasca was thrown into confusion. Merrick gone.
Whispers of evil. That's when Stirling Oliver came South." She looked at Stirling. He was watching her
fearfully but calmly.
She lowered her eyes again, her voice continuing soft and low, just above a threatening hysteria.
"Oh yes," she said to me, "I know. I thought I was losing my mind at times. I built Mayfair Medical not to
be the Mad Scientist. The Mad Scientist is capable of the unspeakable. Dr. Rowan Mayfair has to be
good. I created this immense Medical Center to commit Dr. Rowan Mayfair to good. Once this plan was
under way, I couldn't afford to go down into madness-dreaming of the Taltos and where they'd gone,
dreaming of strange creatures I'd seen and lost without a trace. Mona's daughter. We tried everything we
could to find her. But I couldn't live in a shadow world. I had to be there for all the ordinary people,
signing contracts, rolling out blueprints, calling doctors all over the country, flying to Switzerland and
Vienna to interview physicians who wanted to work in the ideal medical center, the medical center that
surpassed every other in its equipment, its laboratories, its staff, its comforts, its protocols and projects.
"It was to rivet me to the sane world, it was to push my own medical visions to the very limits-."
"Rowan, it's a magnificent thing that you did," Quinn said. "You speak as though you don't believe in it
when you're not there. Everyone else believes in it."
She went on in the same soft rush of words as though she hadn't heard him. "All kinds of people come to
it," she said, her words flowing as if she couldn't stop them, "people who have never given birth to Taltos,
people who have never seen ghosts, people who have never buried bodies in a Savage Garden, people
who have never seen Blood Children, people who have never even hoped for the extraordinary in any
form, it helps all manner of human beings, it embraces them, it's real to them, real, that's what was
important. I couldn't let it go, I couldn't ever retreat into nightmares or scribblings in my room, I couldn't
ever fail my interns and residents, my laboratory assistants, my research teams, and you know, with my
background, the neurosurgeon, the scientist at heart, I brought to every aspect of this giant organism a
personal approach; I couldn't run away, I couldn't fail, I can't fail now, I can't be absent, I can't. . . ."
She broke down, her eyes closed, her right hand forming a fist on the table.
Michael looked at her with quiet sadness.
"Go on, Rowan," I said. "I'm listening to you."
"You're making me angry," said Mona in a low sharp voice. "I think I hate you."
I was appalled.
"Oh, yes, you always did," Rowan said, raising her voice but not her wandering eyes. "Because I couldn't
make you well. And I couldn't find Morrigan."
"I don't believe you!" Mona said.
"She's not lying to you," said Quinn in a chastising voice. "Remember what you just said. For years
you've been sick, confused."
"Mona, honey, we don't know where Morrigan is," said Michael.
Mona leaned against Quinn and he put his arm around her shoulder.
"Tell us, Rowan, tell us what you have to say," I said. "I want to hear it."
"Oh, yeah, yeah," said Mona, "go on with the Saga of Rowan."
"Mona," I whispered, leaning to clasp her head and draw her to me, my lips at her ear: "these are mortals
and with mortals we have a certain eternal patience. Nothing is as it was. Curb your strength. Curb your
old mortal envy and spite. They have no place here. Don't you realize the power you have now to search
for Morrigan? What's at stake here is the rest of your family."
Reluctantly she nodded. She didn't understand. Her mortal sickness had divided her from these people. I
was only now realizing the extent of it. Though they'd come into her hospital room probably every day
and all day, she'd been drugged, full of pain, alone.
A soft rustling sound broke my concentration. The person in the servants' quarters had awakened, and
was rushing down the wooden steps. The screen door banged shut, and there came the skittering feet
through the rattling foliage.
It might have been a tiny gnome, this creature that emerged from the elephant ears and the ferns, but it
was simply a very old woman-a tiny bit of a thing with a small completely wrinkled face, black eyes and
white hair in two long neat braids tied at the ends with pink ribbon. She was dressed in a stiff flowered
robe, and clumsy padded fuzzy pink slippers.
Mona rushed to greet her, crying out: "Dolly Jean!" and picked up the bit of a creature in her arms and
spun around with her.
"Lord, God in Heaven," cried out Dolly Jean, "but it's true, it's Mona Mayfair. Child of Grace, you set me
down right now and tell me what's gotten into you. Look at those shoes. Rowan Mayfair, why didn't you
tell me this child was here, and you, Michael Curry, giving me that rum, you think your mother in
Heaven doesn't know the things you do, you thought you had me down for the count, I know, don't think I
don't, and look at Mona Mayfair, what did you pump into her?"
Mona had no awareness that with her vampiric strength she was holding the woman in the air, and how
perfectly abnormal it looked.
The spectators were speechless.
"Oh, Dolly Jean, it's been so long, so terribly long," Mona sobbed. "I can't even remember the last time I
saw you. I was all locked up and taped up and dreaming. And when they told me Mary Jane Mayfair had
run away again I think I just went into a stupor."
"I know, my baby," said Dolly Jean, "but they wouldn't let me in the room, they had their rules, but don't
you think for a moment I wasn't saying the rosary every day for you. And one of these bright days Mary
Jane'll run out of money and come home, or turn up dead in the morgue with a tag on her toe, we'll find
her."
By this time we had all risen, except for Rowan, who remained sunk in her thoughts as if none of this was
taking place, and Michael quickly took the apparently weightless Dolly Jean from Mona and set her in a
chair between himself and Rowan.
"Dolly Jean, Dolly Jean!" Mona sobbed as Quinn led her back to her place at the table.
Rowan had never once even looked at either Mona or Dolly Jean. She was murmuring, her narrative
moving along in her head, unbroken, and her eyes probing the dark for nothing.
"All right, settle down Dolly Jean, and you too Mona, and let Rowan talk," said Michael.
"Who in the world are you!" Dolly Jean demanded of me. "Holy Mother of God, where did you come
from?"
Rowan turned suddenly and stared at Dolly Jean with apparent wonder. Then she turned back into her
solitude and crowded reminiscence.
The old woman went quiet and still. Then muttered: "Oh me, poor Rowan, she's off again." Then, staring
at me again, she let out a huge gasp and cried: "I know who you are!"
I smiled at her. I couldn't help it.
"Please, Dolly Jean," said Michael, "there are issues we have to settle here."
"Jesus, Mary and Joseph!" cried Dolly Jean, staring this time at Mona, who was hastily wiping away her
latest tears. "My baby, Mona Mayfair, is a Blood Child!" Then her eyes discovered Quinn, and there
came another huge gasp, and she cried out, "It's the black-haired one!"
"No, it's not!" Rowan declared in a furious rasping whisper, turning to the old woman again. "It's Quinn
Blackwood. You know he's always loved Mona." She said it as if it was the answer to every question in
the universe.
Dolly Jean made a jerky little turn in her chair, and with two dips or bobs of her head made a thorough
examination of Rowan, who was looking at her with gleaming eyes as if she hadn't even seen her before.
"Oh, my girl, my poor girl," Dolly Jean said to Rowan. She put her tiny hands on Rowan and smoothed
her hair. "My darling girl, don't you be so sad, always so sad on account of everybody. That's my girl."
Rowan stared at her for a long moment as though she didn't understand a word Dolly Jean spoke, and
then she looked away again at nobody, half dreaming, half thinking.
"At four o'clock this very afternoon," Dolly Jean said, still stroking Rowan's hair, "this poor little soul
was digging her own grave in this very yard. I noticed how well you covered it up, Michael Curry, you
think you can cover everything up, and when I came down here to ask her what she was doing standing in
a hole of wet mud she asked me to pick up the shovel and bury her while she was still breathing."
"Be quiet, be still," whispered Rowan, looking far off as if at the night sounds. "It's time now for a larger
vision. The Initiates have multiplied, and this is the inner circle. Be worthy of it, Dolly Jean. Be quiet."
"All right, my girl," said Dolly Jean, "then you just talk on as you were, and you, my sparkling Mona, I'll
say my rosary all day long for you, and you too Quinn Blackwood. And you, the blond one, you gorgeous
creature! You think I don't know you, but I do!"
"Thank you, Madam," I said quietly.
Quinn spoke up: "So all of you will keep our secret? This grows more dangerous for us by the moment.
What can come of this?"
"The secret can be kept," said Stirling. "Let us talk this out. There's no going back now, anyway."
"Why, you think we're going to try to make the whole Mayfair clan believe in Blood Children!" Dolly
Jean laughed and slapped the table with both her hands. "That's just hilarious! We can't even get them to
believe in the Taltos! This brilliant doctor, here, she can't make them believe in the giant helix, she can't
get them to behave themselves on account of the risk of having another Walking Baby! And you think
they'd listen to us if we told them all about the Blood Children? Honey, they just take the phone off the
hook when we call."
For a moment, I thought that Rowan was going to start raving. She glared at Dolly Jean. She was
trembling violently. Her face had gone white, and her lips were moving but she was not forming words.
Then the strangest laugh came out of Rowan. A soft free laugh. Her face became girlish and full of
delight.
Dolly Jean went into ecstasy.
"Don't you know it," she cried to Rowan. "You can't get them to believe in pneumonia! You can't get
them to believe in the flu!"
Rowan nodded and the laugh slowly but sweetly died in a smile. I had never seen such expressions in
Rowan, obviously, and they were glorious to behold.
Mona was crying and trying to talk at the same time.
"Dolly Jean, please simmer down," said Mona. "We've got to get some things settled here."
"Then get me a drink of rum," said Dolly Jean, "for Heaven's sakes, go on your young legs, you know
where it is, no, tell you what, bring me the Amaretto, go get it with a shot glass. That'll make me real
happy."
Mona went off at once, darting across the lawn and towards the pool, high heels clicking when they hit
the flagstones, and off around the bend on her errand.
Michael sat there musing and shaking his head. "You drink that on top of all that rum and you're going be
sick," he murmured.
"I was born sick," said the old woman.
Stirling stared at Dolly Jean as though she was something perfectly horrible. I almost burst out laughing.
Rowan continued to smile at Dolly Jean. It was sweet and secretive and honest.
"I'm going to pour that bottle of Amaretto down your throat," Rowan said gently in her husky confidential
voice. "I'm going to drown you with it."
Dolly Jean bobbed up and down in the chair with squeals of laughter. She grabbed Rowan's face and held
her tight.
"Now, I made you laugh, I did, you're all right, my genius girl, my doctor, my boss lady, my mistress of
the house, I love you, girl, I'm the only one in the entire Mayfair clan that's not afraid of you." She kissed
Rowan on the mouth and then let her go. "You just keep on taking care of everybody, that's what God put
you here to do, you understand, you take care of everybody."
"And I fail and fail again," said Rowan.
"No, you don't, darlin'," said Dolly Jean. "Put another wing on that hospital. And don't you fret anything,
you sweet girl."
Rowan sank back in her chair. She looked dazed. Her eyes closed.
Across the lawn, Mona came flying, silver tray in hand, with several bottles of liqueurs and bright shiny
glasses. She set this down on the iron table.
"Now, let me see," she said. "We have three human beings." She put the glasses in front of Stirling,
Michael, Dolly Jean, and Rowan. "Oh, no, four human beings. Okay, now here you are, all human beings
have glasses."
I thought Quinn would perish from mortification on the spot. I merely cringed.
Michael picked up the bottle of Irish Mist and poured himself a small amount. Dolly Jean took the bottle
of Amaretto for herself and swallowed a good mouthful. Stirling poured a shiny nugget of cognac and
sipped it. Rowan ignored the proceedings.
A silence ensued in which Mona took her old place.
"Rowan," I said, "you were trying to explain how you knew about us. You were talking about Merrick
Mayfair, about when she disappeared from the Talamasca."
"Oh, that's a good one," said Dolly Jean. She drank more of the Amaretto. "I can't wait for this. Go on,
Rowan, if you've a mind to talk for once, I want to hear it. Carry on as if I wasn't here to cheer you
along."
"You have to understand what the Talamasca meant to us," Rowan said. She paused. Then went on in a
low voice, filling the quiet completely. "The Talamasca has known the Mayfair family through all its
thirteen generations. Mona understands. Quinn, I don't know that you ever understood, but we could tell
them anything. They knew all about the Taltos. They knew. It was like going to Confession to go to them.
They have the solidity and the eternal self-confidence of the Roman Church. And Stirling was so patient.
Mona loved him."
"Don't talk about us as if we're not here," said Mona.
"Patience, Mona," I said.
Rowan continued as if she hadn't even heard:
"Then it was Dolly Jean, our precious Dolly Jean Mayfair from Fontevrault Plantation, who said that
Merrick Mayfair had become a Blood Child: 'Sure enough! That's what happened to that one!' Dolly Jean
knew it. She'd called Tante Oscar. Tante Oscar had told her."
Rowan smiled at Dolly Jean, who nodded and took another huge mouthful of Amaretto. Rowan leaned
over and so did Dolly Jean and their foreheads touched, and then they kissed tenderly on the mouth. It
was as if these two women were lovers.
"You do right by me, now," Dolly Jean retorted. "Or I'll shout you down. Truth is I can't recollect what
happened."
"Hush up," said Rowan softly, with another tender smile.
Dolly Jean nodded and took another drink.
Rowan sat back and went on:
"Dolly Jean had Henri take her and me downtown in the big car to visit Tante Oscar. It was the French
Quarter, off the beaten path. Tante Oscar's an elderly colored Mayfair who lives up three flights of stairs
in a flat with a balcony from which you could see the River. Tante Oscar was over one hundred years old.
Still is."
Rowan's words were gaining speed.
"Tante Oscar was wearing at least three sets of clothes, dresses over dresses, and at least four fancy
worked scarves around her neck, and topped by a long maroon coat with golden fur along the collar, I
think it was foxes, little foxes with heads and tails, I don't know, and she had a ring on every bony finger,
and a long oval face, and jet black hair, and huge egg-shaped yellow eyes. And there was wall-to-wall
furniture in the flat, three buffets in a row, and three desks in a row, and dining room tables in three
rooms, and couches and chairs all over, and carpets laid on carpets, and little tables with doilies and
bisque figurines and photographs in frames, and sterling silver tea services everywhere you looked.
Armoires were bulging with clothes and all askew."
Dolly Jean began to cackle as she took another drink, and Mona laughed under her breath. Rowan
continued as if she didn't hear them.
"Gorgeous little twelve-year-old mulatto children were running everywhere, getting us coffee and cake,
and getting the mail, and running downstairs for the newspapers. There was a TV on in every room and
an overhead fan blowing. I've never seen such beautiful children as I've seen in New Orleans. The colors
of these children were simply indescribable.
"Tante Oscar went to the refrigerator, which she called the ice box though it was brand-new, and opened
it to show us that the telephone was in there because she never talked on it, and there was the telephone
all right, right there in the middle of the milk and the yogurts and the jars of jam, but when Dolly Jean
had called, Tante Oscar had heard the ring through the refrigerator door because it was Dolly Jean, and
she had answered.
"Tante Oscar told us that Blood Children had been living in the Quarter for two hundred years, feeding
off the blood of the riffraff, and Merrick Mayfair was now one of them. It was meant to be. Merrick
Mayfair's old Oncle Vervain had foreseen it, that his beloved little Merrick Mayfair would one day walk
with the Blood Children, and he had told Tante Oscar and no one else. Oncle Vervain had been a great
Voodoo doctor, and everyone respected him, but when he saw that in the future, it broke his heart. Tante
Oscar said that now Merrick Mayfair would live forever."
I winced. If only I had seen that Light. . . . But how many chances would God give me?
"Of course Oncle Julien had tried to prevent this catastrophe-I think Oncle Julien is paying for his sins by
wasting his time on earth-."
"I like that very much," I uttered before I could stop myself.
Her words flowed right on.
"-Tante Oscar explained to us. Oncle Julien had come in a dream to Merrick Mayfair's Great Nananne
when she was dying and told Great Nananne to give Merrick Mayfair to the Talamasca. But Tante Oscar
said it was the curse of Oncle Julien that his interference in the world of the living always failed."
"Did she really say such a thing?" I asked.
Michael smiled and shook his head. He looked at Mona and Mona was looking at him.
Rowan continued her tale:
"When I described the black-haired one, the one I'd seen walking, Tante Oscar knew him. She called him
Louis. She said the Sign of the Cross would drive him off, though it had no power over him. He merely
respected it. She said the one to fear was the blond-haired one who had a strange name and who, 'talked
like a gangster and looked like an angel.' I never forgot those words, I thought they were so strange."
She fixed me in her gaze. I was lost to her.
"And then years later and only days ago, you came into the double parlor at Blackwood Farm and
Jasmine called you 'Lestat' and you talked like a gangster and looked like an angel. I knew what you were
deep, deep down in my mind where I didn't want to know. I knew. I could remember the camphor-ball
smell of Tante Oscar's apartment and the way she said, 'the black-haired one will never drink if it means a
struggle, but the blond-haired one, he'll do terrible things to you. He's the one to fear.' "
"It's not true," I said softly. "Even the damned can learn. It isn't like it says in our prayer books. Even
vampires and angels can learn. God has to be an all-merciful God. Nobody is beyond redemption."
"Redemption!" she whispered. "How can I ever be redeemed?"
"Darling, don't say that," said Michael.
"You can never love this girl enough," said Dolly Jean. "Every morning she gets up, eats breakfast and
goes to Hell, I swear it."
Rowan smiled at me. In the pale light she looked girl-like, the lineaments of her face so refined and
smooth, her gray eyes resting for the moment before they began their feverish searching again.
Oh to know the kiss of your lips, for your love is better than blood.
A pause. Her lawfully wedded husband distracted, unaware, and Rowan's eyes fixed on mine.
Forgive me.
"But I'm skipping all around in time," she said. "This is not an orderly story, is it?" She looked around
herself, as if surprised to discover the garden and the dark, and the bottles glimmering in the light and the
pretty shine of the glasses.
"Go on, Rowan, please," I said.
"Yes. Let me go back," she said, "to when Merrick Mayfair disappeared, yes." She nodded. "But overall,
you see, I had heard and I had seen, and I told Michael these things, and Michael just listened as he
always does to terrible things, with that ominous yet charming Celtic gloom growing ever greater in him
year by year, but when I talked to Stirling I could see in his face that he understood everything. He
wanted to meet Tante Oscar. And he did. He would only say, however, that they missed Merrick Mayfair,
and nothing more than that.
"Then Lauren Mayfair, you know, the great lawyer of the firm of Mayfair and Mayfair, who knows all
things legal and therefore knows nothing, she took it into her arid little mind to find out about this strange
disappearance of a Mayfair who might just need her white family. Crap."
"Right on," said Dolly Jean. She took another slug from the bottle. "Lauren was just up in arms to find
out a Mayfair of any kind was in the Talamasca, that's what she didn't like."
"She knew the house where Merrick Mayfair had been born," Rowan said, "and she checked it out and
found that Merrick Mayfair still owned it. She went downtown. And whatever she saw frightened her.
She called me. She said, 'It's renovated like a palace down there in a dangerous neighborhood, and all the
neighbors are terrified to go near it. I want you to come with me.' And so I said I would. I was still
laughing from that strange encounter with Tante Oscar. I thought, why not go downtown? I only have a
hospital and research center to finish. Who am I to say that I'm too busy to do it?
"Dolly Jean said that we were fools to do such a thing-you just don't go near a Blood Child, specially if
you know what it is, but if we were determined to go then do it after nightfall. A Blood Child only
walked in the dark, and Dolly Jean said furthermore that we were to go by the front gate, very strictly,
and knock on the front door, and not to do an untoward thing that would give a Blood Child legitimate
cause to hurt us. (Dolly Jean was nodding and cackling all through this speech.) Then we rang up Tante
Oscar, who heard our ring through the refrigerator door, and said all the same things all over again.
Lauren Mayfair was fit to be tied, as they say here. She said she had had a bellyful of congenital insanity
in the Mayfair family before her twenty-first birthday. She said if one more person used the words 'Blood
Child' to her she would sue. So I said, naturally, 'Well, why don't we call them vampires?' "
Mona burst out laughing and so Dolly Jean laughed so hard she had to pound the table with her left fist.
She almost choked. Mona finally dissolved into giggles. Michael gestured to them to be quiet. Rowan
was obviously waiting.
Rowan went on, her eyes fixing on me, then moving away.
"We went down there. It was the most godforsaken slum I'd ever seen. The very slabs of the sidewalks
had floated away in the mud, buildings had collapsed into heaps of lumber, and the weeds were like fields
of wheat. And there stood this classic raised cottage with its fresh white paint and planted garden. It had a
high picket fence and gate, and a bell at the gate and we rang, and up on the porch, a tall woman opened
the door and stood there in her bare feet with the light of the hall behind her. It was Merrick Mayfair.
"She knew who we were. It was astonishing. She complimented me on the Medical Center, and she
thanked Lauren for coming to Great Nananne's wake years and years ago. She was very pleasant to us,
but she didn't ask us in. She was quite fine, she said. She hadn't really disappeared at all, just become a
hermit. I remember using every grain of second sight that I might possess when I looked at her, and a
deep spell overtook me. It was the timbre of her voice, and the way that she walked, which set her apart.
The center of gravity was not in her hips as it should have been in a human female. And her voice, it had
a rich musical dimension to it. As for the rest of her, she was a shadow up there.
"Of course, Lauren had satisfied her abysmal legal mind that all was well. The superficial idiot. And her
next attack was upon the Talamasca, which she proposed 'to run out of Louisiana,' but when she came up
against their endless list of London and New York law firms, and the fact that an entire contingent of the
family went up in arms against her, myself and Michael included, she settled very quickly for a schism in
the firm, and for telling me how 'insane' I was, and that she was going to 'put Tante Oscar in a home.' I
grabbed her and shook her. I didn't mean to do it. I've never done that to any person before. It was a
terrible thing to do. But when she said that about Tante Oscar, I lost my temper. I just did it. I told her if
she dared to attempt such a thing with any Mayfair, colored or white, anywhere, at any time, I would kill
her. I went sort of out of my mind. How could she think she had the power to do such a thing? I backed
away from her. I was afraid that-. I was afraid I would do something even more dreadful to her. And the
whole matter was dropped. And she doesn't come near me anymore.
"And I had so much to do with the Medical Center that I really didn't want to talk the night away with
Dolly Jean about Blood Children and what they did or didn't do. Though I couldn't resist going up to
Tante Oscar's apartment one more time with Dolly Jean, but when they started talking about the 'Walking
Babies' born out in the swamps, and I knew they meant actual Taltos babies, and the way the terrified
swamp Mayfairs hacked them to death, I thought I was going into trance mode, and I left.
"And now we come forward almost to the present, and suddenly Miss McQueen is dead, Quinn's beloved
aunt, whom everyone adored, and it's her funeral we're gathered for, and Mona's much too sick to even be
told, and the funeral's in grand New Orleans style, and there in the pew in St. Mary's Church before me I
see you-Quinn, Lestat-and this tall woman, with the scarf around her head, and I see Stirling come up to
her and he calls her Merrick, and I knew, I knew she was the same woman I'd seen before, and this time I
was certain she wasn't human. Only I couldn't concentrate on it.
"At one point she turned and lifted her sunglasses and looked directly into my eyes, and I thought, What
does it have to do with me? She smiled. And after that I felt sleepy and unable to concentrate on any
thought in particular, except that Aunt Queen was dead and everyone was the lesser for it.
"I wouldn't look at Quinn. I wouldn't think about the change in Quinn's voice on the phone-how over a
year ago, his voice and his entire audial demeanor had changed. That might be a mistaken notion after all.
What did it matter to know such things? And what if the blond-haired tan-skinned guy next to Quinn in
the pew looked like an angel? How was I to guess that when I met him in the double parlor at Blackwood
Manor only a day or two later he would have 'captured' Mona and he'd talk like a gangster?" She laughed
softly, just a little sweet private laugh.
"I had Mayfair Medical as my life, my mission in the real world. And this was a funeral Mass, I closed
my eyes and prayed, and then Quinn stood at the podium and said warm and lovely things about Aunt
Queen, and he had young Tommy Blackwood with him. Now would somebody who is not alive do that?
"And I had to get back to the Medical Center and find Mona in her bed of needles and bandages and the
tape tearing her skin, and somehow convince her that Quinn was hale and hearty and fine, and had grown
four inches since he'd gone to Europe so long ago, her beloved. . . ."
She stopped again, as though all the words had run out. She was staring at nothing in front of her.
"These matters are of no use to us," said Mona in a hard voice.
I was shocked.
Mona went on: "Why do you tell us all this? You're not the prima donna of what's happened here! All
right, so, you tried to help me not die for years! If it hadn't been you, it would have been some other
doctor. And you dug up the corpses of the Taltos out here, so what-."
"Stop, no!" Rowan whispered. "You're talking of my sins, you're talking of my daughter!"
"That's the whole point! I can't!" Mona cried. "That's why you have to do it. But you ramble on-."
"So you gave birth to one of them too," I said gently to Rowan. I reached across the table and covered her
hand with mine. Her hand was cold, but at once she clasped my fingers.
"Traitor!" Mona said to me.
"Poor darling girl," said Dolly Jean, who was now drunk and falling asleep, "having those Walking
Babies, and getting her womb torn out."
Rowan gasped at those words. She drew back her hand and her shoulders slumped as though she was
drawing into herself.
Michael was deeply alarmed and so was Stirling.
"Dolly Jean, put a lid on it," Michael said.
"Rowan, can you go on?" I pleaded. "I understand everything you've said. You've been telling us exactly
how and why you can keep our secrets."
"That's right," Quinn said. "Rowan's telling us how she can abide what we are."
The deep hurt flashed in Michael's eyes, private and almost lonely. "That's very true," he said under his
breath.
"I gave birth to two," Rowan said. "I let the evil in after twelve generations. That's what Mona wants to
hear. That's the secret we have to divulge in exchange for yours-."
"Oh yes!" cried Mona sarcastically, "more of the saga of Rowan! I want to know about my own child!
About the man who took her away."
"How many times must I tell you, I can't find them!" said Rowan. "I've searched and searched."
I became furious at Mona. I had to take a deep breath. I reached over and snatched her out of Quinn's
protective hold and turned her to face me.
"Now you listen to me," I said in a small voice. "Stop abusing your power. Stop forgetting that you have
it. Stop forgetting the inevitable limitations of your kindred here! If you want to search for your daughter
now, you have resources that Rowan and Michael can't even dream of! Quinn and I are here to find out
what the Taltos is because you won't tell us! (She stared at me wide-eyed and slightly in terror.) Every
time we ask you about it you dissolve into tears. In fact, you've wept more in the last thirty-six hours than
any fledgling I've ever encountered in all my years, and it's becoming an ontological, existential,
epistemological, and hermeneutical nuisance!"
"How dare you ridicule me!" she hissed. She took a deep cool breath. "You let me go this instant. You
think I'm going to obey you in thought, word and deed! You're dreaming. I'm not the Wander Slut you
make me out to be. I was the Designée of the Legacy of the entire Mayfair family. I know what it means
to have self-possession and power. You don't look like an angel to me, and you sure as Hell don't have
the charm of a bona fide gangster!"
I was stunned. I let her go. "I give up!" I said disgustedly. "You're a brash little infidel! Go your own
way."
Quinn whipped her around and looked down into her eyes.
"Be still, please," he said. "Let Rowan talk the way she wants to talk. If you're ever to be Mona Mayfair
again, that must be allowed to happen."
"Mona, this is very true," said Stirling. "Remember, this is an exposition of souls, a bartering of
extraordinary revelations."
"Oh, let me get it straight," said Mona. "I triumph over death, and we gather here to listen to the personal
memories of Rowan Mayfair?"
Dolly Jean, who had been dozing with the bottle, suddenly jumped into life, bouncing up and down and
leaning forward, crinkled little eyes staring hard at Mona.
"Mona Mayfair, you button your lip," she said. "You know perfectly well, no matter how sick you've
been, that Rowan almost never talks at all, and when she does talk she's got something to say, you and
your fancy friends are learning about the Mayfair family, now how's that supposed to hurt you, I'd like to
know, don't you want your handsome escorts to understand you? Shut up."
"Oh, you're just joining in with the chorus!" Mona said sharply to Dolly Jean. "Drink your Amaretto and
leave me alone!"
"Mona," said Quinn as amiably as he could. "There are things we do need to know for your sake. Does it
hurt so much to listen to Rowan?"
"Very well," Mona replied miserably, and she sat back in the chair. She wiped at her face with one of her
thousands of handkerchiefs. She glared at me.
I glanced at her, then back to Rowan.
Rowan was watching all this with a remote expression, her face more relaxed than it had been all
evening. Dolly Jean took another drink of Amaretto and sat back and closed her eyes. Michael was
studying the three of us. Stirling waited, but our cross words had fascinated him.
"Rowan," I said. "Can you tell us what the Taltos is? We lack that basic knowledge. Can you give it to
us?"
"Yes," she answered in a resigned voice. "I can tell you as much as anyone can."
18
HER EXPRESSION REMAINED PLACID, though she looked away, her inner focus gathering.
"A mammal," she said, "evolved totally apart from Homo sapiens, on a volcanic island in the North Sea
thousands of years before us. We share perhaps forty-five percent of our genes in common. The creatures
look like us except that they tend to be taller and more long of limb. Their bone structure is almost
entirely what we would call cartilage. When the pure creatures mate, the female ovulates on demand and
the fetus develops within a matter of minutes or hours, it isn't clear to me-but whatever the case, it puts
tremendous stress upon the mother. Birth is accompanied by severe pain, and the infant unfolds as a small
adult and begins to grow to maturity immediately."
Mona's entire demeanor changed at these words. She moved closer to Quinn, and he put his arm around
her once more, kissing her quietly.
"The Taltos craves its mother's milk in order to grow," said Rowan. "And without that milk it cannot
develop properly. In the hour right after birth it runs the risk of being stunted forever. With that milk, and
with its mother's full telepathic nurture, the baby reaches its full height within that hour. Six and a half
feet is the usual. The males can be seven feet. It will go on drinking its mother's milk as long as it can.
Weeks, months, years. But the toll on the mother is heavy."
Rowan stopped. She put her hand up to support her forehead. A deep sigh came out of her. "The milk . .
." she said. "The milk has curative properties. The milk can work a cure in humans." Her voice broke
apart. "Nobody really knows what that milk could do. . . ."
Deliberate flash of images. A bedroom with an elaborate half-tester bed and Rowan in the bed, sitting up,
taking milk from the breast of a young female. Shut out. Gunfire. Several shots. Flash of Rowan digging
in this very yard. Michael with her. Rowan wouldn't let go of the shovel. Body of the young female lying
limp in the moist earth. Heartbreak.
Rowan began again, voice strong, automatic:
"Nobody knows the lifespan of a pure Taltos. It could be thousands of years. Females clearly can become
infertile in time. I've seen one who was past her prime. She was a simpleton. She was found in rural India.
Males? I know of only one in existence-the one who took Morrigan. They may remain potent till they die.
Taltos tend in their natural state to be extremely naive and childlike. In ancient times, many died through
clumsiness and accidents." She paused for a moment and then went on:
"The Taltos is telepathic, curious by nature and hardwired with a tremendous amount of basic historical
and intellectual knowledge. It is born 'knowing,' as they say, all about the species itself, the island
continent from which they came, and the places in the British Isles to which they migrated after the island
was destroyed by the same volcano that created it. The glen of Donnelaith in Scotland was one of those
strongholds. Maybe one of the last.
"That's what the Taltos was . . . when it was pure, before it knew about humankind or had any mixture
with it. The population was culled by accidents, occasional pestilence, the females by overbreeding."
"What does this mean, hardwired?" I said. "I want to be sure I understand you."
"We're not hardwired," she said. "We don't come into this world knowing how to build a house or speak a
language. But a bird is hardwired to build its nest, to do a mating call, or a mating dance. A cat is
hardwired to hunt for food, care for its kittens-even to eat them if they are weak or deformed."
"Yes, I see," I said.
"The Taltos is a highly intelligent primate that is hardwired with a tremendous fund of knowledge," she
said. "That and its extraordinary reproductive advantage are what make it so dangerous. Its naivete, its
simplicity and lack of aggression are its vulnerabilities. It's also extremely sensitive to rhythm and music.
You can almost paralyze a Taltos when you utter a long rhyme or sing a rhythmic song."
"I understand," I replied. "How did they become mixed with humans?" I asked.
She seemed at a loss. "Medically," she said, "I don't know the answer. I only know that it happened."
"Humans inevitably came to the British Isles," said Michael. "And there is a long history of "the tall
people" and their fight with their more aggressive invaders. Interbreeding occurred. For human females
it's almost always fatal. The woman conceives and then miscarries and bleeds to death. You can imagine
the hatred and fear this inspired. As for the other way around, a human male would bring about an
insignificant hemorrhage in a female Taltos. Nothing important there, except that if it happens repeatedly
over years and years, it will use up the female's eggs." He paused, caught his breath and went on:
"Some successful breeding occurred and the offspring gave rise both to malformed 'little people' and
Taltos with human genes, and humans with the genes of the Taltos. And as the centuries passed, all this
became a matter of superstition and legend."
"Not so very neatly," said Rowan. Her voice was firmer than before, though her eyes still moved
feverishly. "There were terrible wars and massacres and unspeakable bloodshed. The Taltos, being far
less aggressive than humans by nature, lost out to the new species. The Taltos were scattered. And they
went into hiding. They pretended to be humans. They concealed their birthing rites. But as Michael said,
couplings with humans did happen. And unbeknownst to the early inhabitants of the British Isles, there
developed a kind of human who carried a giant helix of genes, twice the number of a normal human, and
capable at any time of giving birth to the Taltos or a malformed elfin child struggling to be one. When
two such humans happened to mate, a Taltos birth was even more likely."
Rowan paused. Michael hesitated, and then, as she put her face into her hands, he continued the story.
"The secret genes were passed on by the Earls of Donnelaith, Scotland, and their kith and kin, this we
know for certain, and superstitious legends grew up about any occasional Taltos child born to their
household.
"Meantime, a May Day orgy gave way to a misalliance between an Earl and a common woman of the
glen, which led in three generations to the foundation of the Mayfair family. The Taltos genes were
passed on in this way to what would later become a great colonial clan, first on the Caribbean island of
Saint-Domingue, and then here in Louisiana.
"But even before the Mayfair family had a name, the Talamasca had become intimately involved with its
origins-recording the story of a witch by the name of Suzanne, who had called up a spirit quite by
accident, a spirit who appeared to be a brown-eyed man who answered to the name Lasher-a spirit who
was to haunt the family right down to Rowan's generation. The ghost originated in the glen of Donnelaith,
as did the Mayfairs."
Rowan broke in:
"You see, we thought it was the ghost of a human being," she said, "or some astral being without a human
story. I believed this even as it courted me, and I tried to control it."
"And it was a Taltos ghost," I said.
"Yes," she said, "and it was biding its time, generation by generation, until a witch would come who
would bear a Taltos child, a witch with psychic powers enough to aid it to possess that unborn Taltos
fetus and be reborn within it."
Michael interrupted: "And I didn't know I had Mayfair genes in my blood. I never even dreamed. It was a
dalliance between Oncle Julien and a riverfront Irish girl, and the child went to an Irish Catholic
orphanage. And that was one of my ancestors."
"Oh, this Lasher was a clever ghost," said Rowan, shaking her head with a bitter smile. "Over the
generations he brought this family great wealth in any number of ways. Strong witches appeared in
various generations who really knew how to use him. And the men he despised and punished if they got
in his way. Except for Julien. Julien was the only Mayfair male strong enough to use Lasher to perfection.
And Julien regarded Lasher as an evil thing, but even Julien thought that Lasher had once been human."
"Lasher himself thought so," said Michael. "The ghost didn't fully understand who he was or what he
wanted, except to be reborn. He guided everything to that purpose: to come through, to be flesh and blood
again. I saw the ghost from the time I was a little kid, passing the fence outside. I'd see him standing in
the garden. I never dreamed that one day I'd live in this house. I never dreamed that one day-." He
stopped, clearly unable to continue.
"The Legacy was established very early on," said Mona. "You had to keep the name Mayfair, whether
you married out or not, if you were to be part of the family, if you were to be connected to the Legacy."
"And that way, the clan was kept close," said Rowan, "and there was much interbreeding."
"And there is one Heiress in each generation," said Mona, wiping her nose, "and that Heiress lives in this
house and must be able to bear children."
"It was a matriarchy in legal and moral fact," said Rowan softly. "And Michael and I . . . we fit the design
of Lasher perfectly. Of course my child was not pure Taltos. It was Taltos mixed with human. It was
perhaps five months in the womb. And on the night of its birth, there came Lasher with all his force down
into the infant manniken making it grow and cry out to me to use all my power. Rowan the Mad Scientist
knew the circuitry and the cells! Rowan the Mad Scientist knew how to guide the monstrous offspring."
She closed her eyes. She turned away, as though the remembrance was pressing against her.
Brilliant flash of the Man Baby, tall, slippery, face evincing wonder, gawky, pinkish limbs. Rowan
clothing it as the creature laughed delightedly. Flash of it clutching her breast, drinking. Rowan sinking
to the floor in unconsciousness. The creature drinking hungrily from the other breast as well. My
Darling, what secrets these are, indeed.
Silence.
A look of pure torment on the face of Michael. How well I understood his pain now, that he had fathered
these creatures, and apparently no others.
Stirling appeared fearful as before, yet shamelessly fascinated. Mona, her eyes closed, leaned against
Quinn as he watched Rowan. Sounds of the garden-soft, inevitable, indifferent, sweet.
"Walking Babies, horrible things," said Dolly Jean from her sleep. "If only I'd a known that ghost was a
Walking Baby, but the thought never entered my head. . . ."
"Not my girl," whispered Mona. "My girl wasn't a horrible thing. Her father was the demon, but not her."
Michael fighting with the creature called Lasher. Snow and ice. The creature tremendously slippery and
crafty and flexible and invulnerable to the blows. The creature laughing and mocking Michael. The
creature knocking Michael into the ice-cold swimming pool, Michael sinking down to the bottom. Sirens,
trucks, Rowan and the creature running towards the car . . .
"I left with it," Rowan whispered. "This Man Child thing with no name other than the name of a ghost. I
left Michael. I took it away. The Mad Scientist thought first and foremost to save it from those who might
have destroyed it, and it had possessed the body of Michael's child and sent that child's true soul
Heavenward, and I knew that Michael wouldn't stop until he'd killed it, and so I fled with it. It was a
dreadful error."
Silence.
Rowan remained turned to the side, as though away from all that she'd said, her eyes closed, her hands
limp on the table. I wanted to enfold her in my arms. I did nothing.
Michael remained still. Father of this monster. No. Sent that child's true soul Heavenward. Father of the
mysterious body only, the vehicle for the mystery.
"The Taltos," I said to Rowan, "it fathered a daughter in you? You bore two of these creatures?"
Rowan nodded. She opened her eyes and looked at me with a steady gaze. There might as well have been
no one else there.
"The male was an atrocity," she said. "A spiritual monster. It had two goals-to remember what it had
been, as Taltos memories inundated it-and to father a female with which to breed. I lost control of it
almost immediately. I miscarried again and again as it drank my breasts dry. Only in the very beginning
could I lure it into laboratories or hospitals, where, using my authority, I managed to accomplish some
tests and secretly forward the material on to a laboratory in San Francisco.
"As the Heiress of the Legacy, I could draw all the money we needed from our foreign accounts, as long
as I stayed one jump ahead of the family, which was searching for me. So the creature had the funds to
drag me on a world odyssey. In the glen of Donnelaith, a torrent of memories came back to it. But it was
soon desperate to get back to the States.
"I chose Houston as a city where we might settle and I could study it. Among hospitals and medical
centers, I thought I could order the equipment for a laboratory and not be discovered. Unbeknownst to me
this was perfect for the fiend. Having no luck with me, he was soon leaving me tied up, starved and near
insane. Only much later did I learn that he was making the short journey to New Orleans to mate with
random female Mayfairs. Of course his victims fatally miscarried, and were found dead in their own
blood.
"The family was in a panic.
"Mayfair women began dying one after another. And they couldn't trace Rowan who had abandoned
Michael for the fiend. And Rowan was now a prisoner. Soon Mayfair women everywhere were
surrounded by armed guards. The creature came to First Street and almost gained access to Mona.
"But Mona, in the time of my desertion, had made love with Michael and was already carrying a Taltos
child, though she didn't know it.
"At last, when I'd almost given up hope of life, I conceived another child of my own. And the child spoke
to me. It said the very word 'Taltos.' It told me its name: Emaleth. It spoke of times its father couldn't
remember. In the secret telepathic voice, I told it that when it was born it was to go to Michael in New
Orleans. I told it about the house on First Street. If I should die, it must reach Michael with word of my
death. We talked to each other in silence.
"Lasher was jubilant when he heard the child's voice! He would soon have his bride. It was then, as he
softened to me, that I managed to escape. With the filthy clothes on my back I made for the highway.
"I never made it home. They found me comatose in a roadside park, bleeding from an apparent
miscarriage. No one dreamed I'd given birth to Emaleth, and she, poor orphan, unable to rouse me or
draw more milk from me, had started her long trek to New Orleans on foot.
"I was rushed home. In the hospital they had to remove my organs to stop the hemorrhaging. It probably
saved me from the wasting sickness that later almost destroyed Mona. But my brain had been severely
damaged. I remained in a deep coma.
"I was unconscious upstairs when Lasher, dressed as a priest, slipped past the guards and into this house,
and appealed to the Talamasca and to Michael to let him live. After all, was he not a priceless specimen?
He counted on the Talamasca to save him. He poured out a tale of his former life. It's a fascinating study
of the innocence of the Taltos. But Lasher wasn't innocent. Lasher had brought death. Michael fought him
and killed him. And so his long rule of the Mayfair family came to an end. I was still comatose when
Emaleth came and bent to give me her healing milk.
"When I woke and saw the Taltos daughter I had birthed, and realized I was drinking from her breast, I
was horrified. This gangly creature with a baby face terrified me. It was a moment of dislocated lucidity.
And here I was nursing from the creature as if I were a helpless baby. I grabbed the bedside gun. I killed
her. I did that. I destroyed her. That quick and she was no more."
She shook her head. She looked away as we do when we sink into the past. Guilt, loss . . . her pain
seemed beyond these words.
"It didn't have to happen," she murmured. "What had she done but make her way to the house as I had
taught her? What had she done but brought me back to consciousness with her plentiful milk? One lone
female Taltos. How could she hurt me? It was the loathing of Lasher that warped my mind. It was the
revulsion at this alien species and my own atavistic behavior.
"And so she died, my girl. And there were two graves beneath this oak. And I, risen from the coma, a
monster now myself, buried her." She sighed. "My lost girl," she said. "I had betrayed her."
Quiet. Even the garden was hushed. The low roar of a passing car seemed as natural as a breeze stirring
the trees.
I was suspended in Rowan's sadness.
Stirling's eyes were moist and aglow in the shadows as he studied Rowan. Michael said not a word.
Then Mona spoke very gently.
"There was trouble in the Talamasca," she said. "It all had to do with the Taltos. Some members had tried
to get control of Lasher. They'd even done murder. Michael and Rowan took off for Europe to try to
investigate the corruption inside the Order. They felt a familial tie with the Talamasca. We all did. And
during that time, I realized I was pregnant. My child began to grow out of control. It began to speak to
me. It told me its name was Morrigan." Her voice broke. "I was enchanted, crazed."
"I went south to Fontevrault plantation house where Dolly Jean was living, and she and Mary Jane
Mayfair, my cousin, my friend who later ran away, she and Dolly Jean, they helped me to give birth to
Morrigan. It was really, really painful. And beyond scary. But Morrigan was tall and beautiful. No one
could look at Morrigan and not say she was beautiful. She was shining and fresh and magical."
Dolly Jean gave a little cackle in her half sleep. "She knew a whole jumble of human things," she said.
"Just a real beastie!"
"You loved her at the time," said Mona, "you know you did."
"I'm not saying I didn't," said Dolly Jean, squinting at Mona, "but what do you make of somebody who
tells you she's going to take over the whole family and make it a clan of Walking Babies? Was I supposed
to be tickled at that?"
"She was just born!" said Mona softly. "She didn't know what she meant. She had my ambition, my
dreams."
"I don't know where she is," said Rowan in her deep heartfelt voice. "I don't know whether she's alive or
dead."
Mona was deeply miserable, but I had so shamed her over her tears that she held them back painfully. I
tried to take her hand. She drew away.
"But you knew the Taltos who came and took her!" Mona said to Rowan. "You had met him in Europe.
He had heard the story of you and Lasher in your wanderings." She turned to me. "That's what happened.
He had found them. Yes, another one, an ancient survivor. He was their friend. Of course, they didn't tell
me and they didn't tell Morrigan. Oh no, we were children! They kept it to themselves! Imagine. An
ancient one. Hadn't I suffered enough to be told about him? And when he came here, they let him take my
daughter away."
"How could I have stopped them?" asked Rowan. "You were with us," she said to Mona. "Morrigan was
maddened by the scent of the male on our clothes, on the gifts we'd received from him. And why he
came, we'll never know. All we know is what you know. He was out in the garden. She went to the
window. She ran out to him. There was no stopping either of them. We never saw them again."
"Mona, we searched for him by every conceivable means," said Michael. "Surely you must believe us."
"I want the files," said Mona, "the paperwork. His name, the names of his companies in New York. He
was a rich man, a powerful man, this ancient wise one. You admitted that much."
"I'll be glad to give it to you," said Rowan, "but please understand, he liquidated everything. He
vanished."
"If only you'd searched right away," Mona said bitterly.
"Mona, you agreed with us at the time," said Rowan. "We would wait until they contacted us. We
respected their choice to be together. We didn't think they would simply disappear. We couldn't imagine
it."
"We were afraid of hearing from them," said Michael. "We had no idea how they could multiply or
survive in the modern world, how Ash could control them."
"Ash was the name of the man," I said.
"Yes," said Michael. His pain opened up as he spoke. "Ash Templeton. Ashwas ancient. He had been
alone for so long it was unimaginable. He'd seen his species become extinct. He was the one who told us
the history of the Taltos. He believed that the Taltos couldn't survive in the world of humans. After all,
he'd seen them wiped out. His was a tragic history. Of course, as we listened to his stories we had no idea
that Morrigan even existed. We left Ash in New York. We loved him. We pledged eternal friendship.
Then we got home and discovered Morrigan."
"Maybe it was some telepathic sense that guided him to Morrigan," I said.
"We don't know," said Rowan. "But he came here, he entered the side garden, he saw her through the
windows, and she picked up his scent and she ran to him."
"For years we were afraid," said Michael. "We combed the news services for any story that might involve
the Taltos. We were on the alert and so was the Talamasca. Mona, you must think back to the time before
you were so sick. You must remember. We were afraid because we knew that the species might do great
harm to human beings."
"Well put!" said Dolly Jean. "And Morrigan all fired up to rule the world, preaching that her vision came
from her human father and mother. When she wasn't looking back she was looking ahead, or dancing in
circles or sniffing at scents, she was a wild beastie."
"Oh hush up, Dolly Jean, please," whispered Mona, biting her lower lip, "you know you loved her. And
all of you-I wanted to look for them long before you did. For years you wouldn't tell me that name. Oh,
just leave it in your hands. Leave it in the hands of Mayfair and Mayfair. And now you say it as if it's
nothing. Ash Templeton. Ash Templeton." She started to cry.
"That's not true," said Michael. "I acknowledged this creature as my daughter. You know I did. We began
to search before we told you about it. We didn't know how sick you would get." His voice was raw, but
he swallowed and moistened his dried lips with his tongue, and then he continued: "We didn't know yet
how badly you would need the Taltos milk. We only learned that in time. But we tried to contact Ash,
and we discovered that he had sold all his holdings. He'd vanished from the banks, the stock exchanges,
the world markets."
"Whatever his feelings for us," Rowan said, "he chose to disappear. He chose to keep his future secret."
Mona was sobbing against Quinn. It broke Michael's heart to see it.
Stirling spoke up, his voice assuming a reverent authority:
"Mona," he said, "the Talamasca began to search for Ash and Morrigan almost immediately. We tried to
do it in an unobtrusive way. But we searched. We found some evidence that they had visited Donnelaith.
But after that, the trail went cold. And please believe me now when I tell you again: we've never found
the slightest trace of them anywhere."
"That's actually quite surprising," I said.
"I'm not speaking to you," cried Mona, glaring at me and then drawing close to Quinn as if she was afraid
of me.
"Some evidence of them should have turned up," I said, "no matter what happened to them."
"That's what I've always thought," said Michael. "For two, three years we lived in dread of their surfacing
in some catastrophic way. I can't tell you all my fears. I thought: what if the young ones bred out of
control? What if they rose up against Ash? What if they committed murders? And then when we stopped
living in fear and started to search, nothing."
Dolly Jean chuckled again, bringing up her shoulders and letting her head sink down and rocking back
and forth. "Walking Babies can kill humans easy as humans can kill Walking Babies. They could be
breeding somewhere, breeding like fire, spreading in all directions, hiding in the valleys and the hills, in
the mountains and on the plains, traveling over land and sea, and then comes the ringing of a loud bell,
and they all walk out all over the world at the same time and they shoot one human being apiece, bang,
and they take over the entire planet!"
"Save that for Tante Oscar," said Rowan under her breath with a cool lift of her eyebrows.
(I winked at Dolly Jean. She nodded and wagged her finger.)
Michael looked directly at Mona and leaned in towards her as he addressed her.
"I hope we've given you what you need," he said. "As for the files, I'll see that they're all copied and
delivered to you wherever you like. They'll prove our efforts to track down every lead. We'll give you
every scrap of paper we have on Ash Templeton."
"Of course," said Dolly Jean, "they could both be stone-cold dead in the grave like Romeo and Juliet!
Two Walking Babies all wrapped up in each other's arms, just rotting away somewhere to cartilage. Like
maybe he couldn't stand her ranting and raving and all her plans, and he tied a silk stocking around her
neck and-."
"Stop it, Dolly Jean!" cried Mona. "Don't you say another word or I'll scream!"
"You're screaming now, be still!" whispered Quinn.
In my heart of hearts I entered into a debate with myself, and then I spoke:
"I'll find them," I said quietly.
I startled everyone.
Mona turned to me resentfully. "Just what do you mean by that!" she demanded. Her handkerchief was
full of blood tears.
I looked at her as disdainfully as I could, considering how tender and pretty she was, and how wicked and
fiendish I was, and then I looked across the table at Rowan.
"I want to thank you all for sharing your secrets with us," I said. I looked at Michael. "You've trusted us,
and treated us as if we were sinless and kind, and I don't know that we are. But I know that we try to be."
A slow broad smile lit up Rowan's face, extraordinary to behold. "Sinless and kind," she repeated. "How
marvelous are those words. If only I could work them into a hymn and sing it under my breath day and
night, day and night. . . ."
We looked at each other.
"Give me a little time. If they still exist, if they've parented a colony, if they're anywhere in the wide
world, I know those who will know where they are-without question."
Rowan raised her eyebrows and looked off thoughtfully, and the smile came again-a lamp of loveliness.
She nodded.
Michael seemed vaguely stimulated by my words, and Stirling was curious and respectful.
"Sure enough," said Dolly Jean, without opening her eyes, "you didn't think he was the oldest Blood
Child in the world, did you? And you mark my words," she said to me, "you big old great thing, you sure
are pretty as an angel, and you've got plenty charm enough to be a gangster. I've seen every gangster
movie ever made three times and I know what I'm talking about. They put a little boot black on your hair,
you could play Bugsy Siegel."
"Thank you," I replied soberly. "It was always my ambition to play Sam Spade, actually. I was all alone
and forlorn when the Black Mask magazine first published The Maltese Falcon. I read the novel by the
light of the moon. Sam Spade captured my ambition."
"Well, no wonder you talk like a gangster," said Dolly Jean. "But Sam Spade's small time. Go for Bugsy
Siegel or Lucky Luciano."
"Stop this!" screamed Mona. "Don't you realize what he's just said?" She was painfully confused, trying
to crush her sobs, trying to crush her rage against me. "You can really do this?" she asked in a little
bewildered voice. "You can find Ash and Morrigan?"
I didn't answer. Let her suffer for a night.
I rose from the table. I bent to kiss Rowan on the cheek. My hand found hers and held it tight for a small,
heated moment.A precious garden closed against me, is my sister, my beloved bride. Her fingers caught
mine and held them with all her strength.
The gentlemen had risen to see me off. I murmured my superficial farewells, and only then did the secret
grip release me.
I walked slowly into the formal garden beyond the pool, and would have gone up into the roaring clouds,
to be as far away from the Earth as I could be. But Mona's piteous cry rang behind me.
"Lestat, don't leave me!"
Across the lawn she came running, her silk dress billowing.
"Oh, you miserable girl!" I said, deliberately gnashing my teeth. I received her in my embrace, sweet
bundle of panting limbs. "You intolerable witch. You wicked undisciplined Blood Child. You
contemptible pupil. You worsling, you rebellious and obstinate fledgling."
"I adore you with my whole soul, you're my creator, my mentor, my guardian, I love you," she cried.
"You have to forgive me!"
"No, I don't," I said. "But I will. Go take a proper leave of your family. I'll see you tomorrow night. I
must be alone now."
Off to the deepest pocket of the garden I went-
-and thence to the clouds, and the merciless unknowing stars, and as far from mortaldom as I could get.
"Maharet," I called out to the very most ancient one, "Maharet, I've made promises to those I love. Help
me to keep them. Lend your most powerful ear to those whom I love. Lend your most powerful ear to
me."
Where was she, the tower of ivory? The great ancestor. The one who now and then came to our aid. I had
no clue, because I had never bent my stiff neck to go in search of her. But I knew that in her centuries of
endurance she had acquired powers that surpassed all dreams and fears of mine, and that she could hear
me if she chose. Maharet, our guardian, our mother, listen to my plea.
I sang the song of the tall ones, the long-extinct ones, come again to form a colony, lost somewhere in the
modern world. Gentle beings, out of time, out of place, and maybe out of luck. And of such tragic import
to my fledgling and her human kindred. Don't make me say so much that other immortals might gather up
my intent and use it to bad ends. Hear me, Sweet Maharet, wherever you are. Surely you know this world
as no one else knows it. Have you spied these tall children? I don't dare to say their name.
And then I wrapped myself in comforting phantasms, roaming the winds for my own sake, dissolved now
and then in the poetry of love, and envisioning bowers of love, places of Divine safety foreordained
beyond Good and Evil, where I and the one I coveted could dwell. It was a doomed vision and I knew it,
but it was mine to enjoy.

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