I have seen six centuries and ninety odd years; I have roamed through nearly ten lifetimes, watched kingdoms, countries, leaders, even worlds, rise and fall. Through all of this I have not perished and perhaps never will. My body, forever young, has been frozen in the vast course of time, but my mind has not; the knowledge I have accumulated over the many years would eclipse even the smartest human. I possess more strength than the strongest man, more beauty than the most beautiful woman. I prey on the humans and live forever from their lives; their thoughts are my thoughts, their flesh is my flesh, and their blood is my blood. I am the protagonist and the antagonist, the most tangible and the most abstract. Juxtaposed like devil and angel, I am. I am the supernatural, the unremarkable. I am eternal.
AN END TO A BEGINNING, AND A BEGINNING TO AN END
However, I had a beginning, like all creatures, mortal or immortal, do. It was not, as some enthusiasts are inclined to believe, in the majestic, aesthetic city of Paris, nor in any lovely province of that country. Nor was it in New Orleans, or other such part of the sultry, passionate South. In fact, the New World, as it was earliest called, was very new in my mortal life. My beginning started in Elizabethan England. I was born in 1543, into a well bred, aristocratic family; I grew up in the royal court of Elizabeth I and eventually became a young courtier myself. As a child and adolescent I was remarkably quiet and deceivingly observant; I was intelligent and quick-witted, excelling at everything I did: Literature, history, art, music, sport, mathematics, and philosophy. I had been surrounded by a remarkable era, the era of Shakespeare, of the Renaissance and its intellectual pursuits, as well as political and social upheavals; it was the era of art and of science. I was engrossed in the works of the brilliant Leonardo da Vinci, and the sculptor, Michelangelo, and Peter Martyr d’Anghiera’s work De orbe novo, which described the mysterious and newfangled Americas.
Nonetheless, just as this century seemed monumental and unchallenged, so was its destitute and pauperized underbelly. The nobility and the royalty was simply a façade, and behind it was a heinous, repulsive swell of death and decay: The poverty-stricken cities swarmed with emaciated creatures, the streets flooded with garbage and human wastes; vermin overran the houses and alleyways, unperturbed. The people were lawless and unprincipled in their innate need to survive; vagrancy and death reigned supreme. The pestilence, or bubonic plague, would reoccur sporadically through the decades, claiming thousands each time. But for the most part, as I recall, the nobility remained largely untouched by all this: There were luxurious banquets and splendid costumes with the Royal Court, and extravagant entertainment. For a young man, such as myself, these lush and exuberant years were the best of his life; unhindered and unbridled with youth and the indestructibility of prime manhood; the gentlemen of my social class and myself seemed to be the center of this burgeoning era. It was all ours for the taking, it seemed. Unfortunately, I would soon find that this was not quite was so.
In 1563, London experienced one of the worst outbreaks of the plague; its death-grip had even shattered the beautiful royal courts and its dark tendrils had seeped into the most grand of England: Queen Elizabeth began to take measures to protect herself and her court from the inexorable pestilence. The Queen moved her court to Windsor Castle and erected gallows on which anyone coming from London was to be hanged. My family was quick to establish themselves amongst the patricians of Windsor Castle; they insisted on leaving immediately with the rest. However, the real danger of the plague had not yet laid hold of us, and, being the youngest male in my family, I placed upon myself the duty of keeping up our estate back in London. My two older brothers, who were, without a doubt, relieved the duty had not been placed upon them, were eager to leave in haste. My elderly mother and doltish father merely thought it noble of me to stay behind; little did they know that after their departure they would never see me again.
Our estate was a lavish one, and whereas some other nobleman would have prided lengthy grounds over grandeur, my father had one of the most lavish manors in London. My father was not a hunter, not even for sport, and that in itself was enough to affirm the vast extent of my family’s wealth. Nonetheless, all that wealth was not enough to save my family or myself: The plague had run rampant and so had the proletarians. By the time Queen Elisabeth and her court had occupied Windsor Castle a month, nearly three-fourths of the servants in my household had succumbed to the plague and I frequently received news of riotous commoners overthrowing and destroying noble estates and ransacking the wealthy; this news became more and more alarming with each week that passed by, until, finally, the monstrous ordeal reached its peak…
There were two maids and three manservants alive, not including the deceased butler’s only son, my own loyal valet and friend, Simon Prewitt. Keeping up the estate was not a priority now; I had silently acknowledged the inevitable: Five horses had already been stolen and the mansion unsuccessfully broken into, but nonetheless vandalized. It was a question of what to do and where to go now. I made it clear to the servants who remained that they were free to go, that I myself would have to leave to escape certain death. Seeing as some did not have places to retreat to they lingered, but with each passing day at least one would be missing, gone of their own volition or as another victim to the plague. Simon adamantly insisted that he would remain with me, and I much appreciated his loyalty. We planned to hold out as long as we possibly could before the proletariats ran us out, or worse.
I remember the last two days in my childhood home: Quiet, drear, and utterly empty. The mansion had become a solemn and foreboding dwelling; the gold-inlaid ornamentation, satin fabrics, ivory and marble trinkets, and elaborate furnishings sat in desolate silence, dust collecting on their surfaces; they lay in wait for grimy, blind hands to plunder them. I couldn’t stand to be in the house while it was in such a state, but Simon insisted that as long as the plebeians held off we were safest in the estate. On the third day, while the world was lying in the darkness of night, I woke to an unintelligible roar of commotion outside the manor. In an instant I knew the time had come to make some decision, that perhaps the time to make it had already slipped by me. In my nightclothes I rushed out onto the balustrade and found below me the dirty masses swelling against the barred front doors. The manor groaned and creaked with the pressure of their efforts. In a hurry, I dashed into the hall to find Simon who was waiting for me at the top of the spiraling staircase, a flickering lamp held up to his face. I perceived the pale horror upon his countenance and knew there was no time left.
“Some of them have already come into the house through the servant’s quarters,” He whispered hurriedly as I came closer. I grabbed the lamp from him and quickly snuffed out the light. We stood for a long moment in the twilight; I could hear the mob yelling obscenities from downstairs, their howling muffled by the giant heavy oak doors. I could also catch the distinct exclamations of triumph from somewhere deep in the house. I grabbed Simon’s arm and began to move in haste,
“Take heart, Simon, and hope that they do not want bloodshed. Let them take whatever else.” I murmured as we hastened down the stairs to the main floor. I was planning to find some means of escape in the opposite direction of the men already in the house, but as we moved to pass the front entrance the monstrous doors finally gave way and a sea of angry creatures crashed in. I seized Simon and we quickly turned and ran. As far as I knew, no one had yet seen us, but we were coming upon the other men already in the house. Simon and I exchanged no words as we pressed further into the darkness until we caught the flicker of fire in the rooms ahead and joyous, almost maniacal laughter.
“If we pass by, maybe they will pay no attention to us,” Simon’s words were hardly audible, and though I could hear them I made no answer.
We had to pass through the kitchen to escape successfully, but a group of three men had already staked claim and were gluttonously exploiting whatever delicacies were left there. I saw my mother’s favorite silver knives and forks gripped in their filthy hands and the satin embroidered napkins smeared with grease. I was disgusted and angered by their indecency, but the fact that there was a whole multitude of them quieted my ire. From our hidden position I could clearly see our escape across from us; Simon looked at me inquiringly, the fear in his dark eyes clear even in the half-light.
“We will run,” I decided. It was all we could do. I was about to indicate to Simon when we would make our getaway, but my plans were foiled when I was suddenly struck in the head from behind. All I remember next was hearing alarmed voices and Simon’s yelling as I collapsed to the floor. I vaguely remember seeing two men enter from the entrance in which we had been hiding. I was grasped firmly and abruptly hauled to my feet; I was coherent enough to see that Simon and I had gotten ourselves into quite a fix. However the whole predicament did not last long; the men were uncoordinated and wholly unprepared for our arrival. In a fury I lashed out at the man closest to me, seized him by the throat and smashed his head into the countertop. The others stared in horror as the man fell to the floor and then two of them fled; I myself stood in utter shock at what I had done. Blood began to seep out onto the ground from the still body. The attacker who held Simon seemed to have more of a head on him and quickly pulled a knife on my companion. I had put us right back into a dire situation; one I had been hoping to avoid. There was no time to think about a solution, so I made the mistake of charging the man. I successfully overwhelmed him, but not before he could plunge the knife into Simon’s side. As Simon let out a scream and doubled over I took the chance to get a clear aim at our assailant. I struck the man in the face with all the force I could muster and he fell back and tripped into the fireplace.
I had enough sense to take this opportunity to get Simon and escape the place while we still could. Simon was bleeding profusely and he could hardly stifle the screams of pain as I maneuvered the both of us into the dark sanctuary of the night outside. I set Simon down in the camouflage of thick lilac bushes and, with the cover of semidarkness, I ran to the stables to see if any horses had been spared from the pillaging. I found one mare and a foal left; the mare was old, but sturdy. Without saddle or rein I mounted the horse and rode swiftly back to Simon. He could hardly stand now and his face had paled unnaturally; he gripped his side and looked up at me with eyes that were losing their focus. At my friend’s worsening condition, fear and panic flared in me; I refused to accept that death might be near. However, what certainly was near was a group of violent drunks; they had either seen me or heard the horse. I jumped off the mare and roughly grabbed Simon up in my arms just as the approaching men realized who we were; a few began to yell and run. I managed to get the both of us on the horse, but not quite in time enough to escape a laceration to my arm by one of the attackers; the horse whinnied in alarm and bolted away… finally ensuring our escape…
© Copyright 2016 JanaNa. All rights reserved.
Book / Historical Fiction
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