"Did you really fly from Crete to Sicily, Daedalus?" Daniel cranes his head so he can look at me from where he's cradled in my arms. "With wings made from wax and feathers?"
He's been asking me questions like this since he learned that, yes, I really am that Daedalus. It's a new experience for me. Among Kindred, it's considered bad taste at best and cause for lasting enmity at worst to be curious about someone's Breathing Days. So, no one so far has asked me if I really had a son named Icarus.
It's also a new experience for Daniel. "I've never talked to a legend before," he confessed when he learned of my true identity. "I don't think anyone ever has. Do you know what this means to a historian? Do you mind if I ask you something?"
I said that, no, I didn't mind. And so I've patiently endured a barrage of questions from the little scholar, and so far he shows no sign of slowing down.
"What do you think?" I reply to his latest question. "It's a legend, Daniel. Legends begin as fact, then they turn into story, then tale, and then into legend. Everyone who tells it adds or changes something to make it more interesting." I smile at the avid interest in the child's face. "That's human nature. Even if something is written down, it gets changed when it's copied or translated into another language. So, child, what are the facts behind this legend?"
He chews his lower lip as he thinks. "The wings couldn't have been made from feathers and wax. They wouldn't have held you up. You're really big!"
"Very good." I refrain from mentioning that, compared to what I looked like before my embrace, I'm a veritable skeleton now. "So, where does that leave us?"
"You didn't make bird's wings."
"Daniel. Think. Why would this legend tell of me flying, no matter what wings I might have used?"
He doesn't even have to think about it. "You were a prisoner of King Minos. You fled from Crete." He raises excited eyes. "You fled. You didn't fly. You escaped."
"So you never flew?"
"But why does the legend tell of you flying? And Icarus flying too close to the sun?"
I harden my heart against the pang I feel at thinking about my son, even after all this time when I can hardly remember his face. "What do you think?" I ask him again.
"Facts from legend," he mumbles, "legend from facts. Hmmm. You escaped, and no one knew how? So they made something up to explain how you could get away from an island without using a ship? And Icarus didn't make it?"
I smile sadly. "Very good, child, but still not quite the truth."
His intensely blue eyes look into mine as if he wants to extract the facts from my mind by sheer force of will, and seemingly without noticing, he grabs one of my hands and begins to play with my talons.
Not for the first time, I wonder at myself. The little transcender will find the whole, painful truth, of that I'm certain. So why am I subjecting myself to this? Why am I volunteering information about myself that others would pay a high price to obtain?
Maybe because I can be certain that this child would not abuse the knowledge. And because it's time I finally faced those memories.
"They couldn't find you," Daniel thinks out loud, tapping his small fingers against the tip of one of my talons. "You could move about on Crete, but you couldn't leave, because all ships were searched. You hid on the island." He freezes, staring down at the monstrous hand he is holding, apparently really seeing it for the first time. "You were... turned into..."
"... a vampire..."
He stares at me. "And Icarus?" he asks very softly.
I draw a breath. "After the change was complete, I sought him out to talk to him, to say good-bye. He didn't recognize me. He fled in terror, and didn't see the cliff edge behind him."
He looks at me with such pain that I feel the need to comfort him. "It was a very long time ago, child."
"But it still hurts you to think of it."
"Some memories will always hurt. Memories of loved ones, of things lost. It's inevitable."
Suddenly, he reaches out a hand and strokes my cheek. "I'm sorry. Here, I'll make it better."
I hug him. "It's much better already, child."
He nestles into my arms. "So Icarus really did fall into the sea."
"Yes. That part of the legend is true."
He falls silent, his restless fingers again playing with my hand. "You don't look that scary," he finally says softly. "I wouldn't have run away."
"I looked different then." I refrain from mentioning how much time, pain and effort that has cost me.
He nods, accepting it without further questions. "So how did you get off Crete?"
I smile. "I flew."
He pokes me. "No, really."
"Really. I turned into a bird and flew to the mainland, island by island. That was almost two centuries later, but that's how I got off Crete."
"Did you really build a labyrinth for King Minos?"
"I built... something for Minos, but that's a story for another night." I begin to disentangle the child from me.
"Did you really make sculptures that had to be chained because they would have walked off otherwise?" He's making a game of clinging to me like a limpet.
"Another night, child."
"Please, Daedalus, you don't have to go. Callum was here earlier, you don't have to make your round tonight." He locks arms and legs around my body and giggles when I get up with him clinging to me.
"It's time for you to sleep."
"I'm not tired."
"All children say that. And I didn't say you were tired. I only said it was time to sleep."
"But I'm not tired."
I sit down on his bed with him still wrapped around me.
"I'll make a deal with you, Daedalus. You tell me one more story, and I'll go to sleep after."
I shake my head. "You go to sleep now, child, and I'll tell you another story tomorrow. That's the deal."
"No deal," he says stubbornly.
"You don't want to hear another story tomorrow?"
"Not if I have to go to sleep now."
I can tell this child spent a lot of time on bazaars. "I'll tell you the true story of the minotaur tomorrow, but only if you go to sleep now."
"The minotaur?" He has to think about it. "Another half hour?"
Abruptly, he abandons his pleading expression as well as his resistance. "Boy, you're a tough cookie."
"Yes. Good night."
"Night, Daedalus." Defeated, he snuggles into his bedding. "But it had better be a good story."
"As if getting involved with those strange creatures you don’t want to tell me about isn’t enough. No, you also have to get between them! Oh, Callum!" Sean’s tone of voice is soft, yet I can clearly make out his disapproval, "And you haven’t called at Chao-dai’s even once. I must say I am somewhat disappointed."
I feel my heart sink. "Sean, I’m sorry. I really am. But it’s just that it all happened at once, I didn’t have much time to think. I didn’t have any time to get used to being immortal. In fact, I didn’t even have enough time for the children."
For a long moment, he is silent. Then, fortunately, I hear his voice again, soothing and kind as usual, "I know, Callum. I am not angry with you, not any more. And yet, there is time to do it now, and you have to take those steps. You need a teacher. What is more, there’s still this problem with those two men."
"But I…" I try to interject, knowing what’s coming up next. He won’t let me, though.
"Don’t deny it," he interrupts, "You do know perfectly well what you’re doing. You seduced, as it seems from what you’ve told me, a shy man who has never known love before. But as if that wasn’t enough, you also got involved with his closest friend. What exactly are you up to, Callum McKay?"
"I don’t know." I sigh. I certainly don’t. Not really. "And it is not as easy as that. It all has to do with those things I told you I can’t tell you. Not even you. I promised. And maybe I already found a teacher." I tell him about Marcos.
Sean is not amused. "An ancient immortal, and what is more, your patient? Callum, how can you trust him?"
"But, Sean, wasn’t it you who always told me to trust my instincts? My instincts tell me that he is okay. Well, he will be."
I hear him chuckle. "You have this ability to beat me with my own words. Yes, it’s true. I told you to trust your instincts. But your instincts can fail you, maybe, concerning immortals. I know what I am talking about. They certainly failed me, some time ago, when an immortal I trusted with my life went through what we should call a difficult phase of his life and almost killed me."
Now, it is my turn to remain silent for a heartbeat or two. "Almost killed you." And he never told me. "What can I say? Sean, please?"
"I take it you’ve got yourself involved already, so there is no much use in telling you off, is it? But you should be cautious in any case, Callum. Mind my words."
"I will, Sean. And – thank you for everything."
After the exchange of another couple of polite remarks, I put down the receiver while giving way to another sigh. What a life. I am an immortal and have to learn how to fight with a sword, I am in love with a Nosferatu, and, even worse, also with his Ventrue Prince, and I’ve just talked to my best friend and teacher who happens to be immortal, too. Suddenly, the whole situation seems to hit home in one heavy, mean stroke. It weighs me down. I can’t stand sitting in this room anymore, I hate looking at those hospital walls all the time. I have to get out.
Immortal prey or not, I start walking the streets despite the consequences. Once my feet have started walking, I feel the burden ease, my thoughts running free, my mind calming down. It is a nice warm evening, not too warm, the streets are still a bit damp from the afternoon drizzle that announced the first harbingers of autumn. I inhale the air deeply, it smells of wet leaves and earth. It almost feels like home. For a moment, I imagine my Nosferatu friend following me somewhere, maybe even under ground. But there is no sewer to be seen, and my feet have carried me to a quarter I haven’t noticed before.
These streets are different from the broad ones that lead to the hospital. There are trees growing here and there, little patches of garden, houses that remind me of some place far away. As I look up, I see that I am standing in front of a "for sale" sign. It is attached to an old iron gate, still quite in good shape, if but a bit rusty like the rest of the fence. Behind it, there is a narrow path, barely visible amongst the wild shrubbery that has turned the once probably nice garden into a nature reserve. The house is ancient, otherwise unspectacular, apart from the fact that you couldn’t live in it the way it is. The holes in the roof would be most distracting.
Maybe with a bit of work… It is a house, after all. I am tempted, and before my thoughts, that is, my instincts catch up with my emotions, I take out my cell phone and call the number. Although it is late in the evening, a friendly female voice answers the phone. The price she tells me is less than I expected. The house has been deserted for years, obviously, and she makes no secret of it, nor of the fact that it once belonged to the average Old Woman Who Remained. We arrange a meeting for tomorrow.
All other problems postponed, I walk home with the strange feeling that this house will be my destiny.
Leaving Daniel's room, I head for the part of the ward that now harbors a new visitor - or should that be patient? - and I wonder if there is at this moment just one hospital anywhere in the world with quite the same combination of unusual creatures living more or less together: a child prodigy (possibly touched by the hand of fate if I'm interpreting the vision I had correctly), two immortals, one very old, one very young, and a Nosferatu who should certainly know better than to spend so much time in the presence of any of the three.
I tell myself firmly that our shared past is not the reason for my desire to speak to Agaros – no, Marcos – again. I merely want to make sure that he really means no harm to my Callum. I'm almost convinced of Marcos' benevolence, but as I never cease to tell my clanmates, the difference between almost and totally could cost you your unlife, and I'm not about to take another gamble with Callum's life after what I already did to him.
I'll never stop blaming myself for tearing Callum's life apart.
And then, there's Daniel. If my hunch pays off, Marcos, more than any of us the embodiment of living history, may be the ideal new father for the child.
Obfuscated (for the sake of the hospital staff), I reach the door the Marcos' room and enter unseen before it occurs to me that I should have knocked. I shrug. Too late now. I leave the shadows more or less directly in front of Marcos who is sitting on his bed. "May I come in?"
He merely raises his head to look at me. "You may," he says, unfazed by my sudden appearance or the sight of me.
The change in him is remarkable. Gone is the despondency, the anger, the almost fatalistic acceptance I saw three days ago when I found him. He now looks so much like the Agaros I knew all those centuries ago that I have to make a conscious effort not to call him by his old name again. "I hear you are going by the name of Marcos now," I say by way of greeting.
"I am. I know you." Before I have time to wonder if maybe his memory has been affected by the curious energy charge that lanced into him after the conclusion of the duel, he smiles and continues, "I can remember."
"Yes," I say softly, encouragingly.
"Everything. We have an extremely good memory; a curse as well as a boon."
So he's speaking of the past. "It was a long time ago," I say dismissively. "I came to talk to you about something else."
"Daidalos," he says my old name softly, obviously not wanting to let it drop. "Yes, a long time… You were so pretty."
I can hear myself growl as he blatantly ignores the "no trespassing" signals I gave him. This is not something I wish to be reminded of!
Marcos, meanwhile, blithely goes on raking claws over open wounds. "And in love with… what was his name? Yes, it was…"
"It doesn’t matter," I interrupt him sharply, feeling my eyes beginning to change color. I will not think of the past, or of Memnos, or of what happened after.
"Not any more, I know." Growing serious, he rises, and, apparently unaware of the fight I'm waging with my self-control, he puts his arms around me. "Daidalos, my friend." He slaps my back, laughing suddenly. "How good to see you!"
My complete and utter astonishment at this exuberance drains my budding anger more effectively than any self-control techniques I could have employed. Helpless once more within an immortal's embrace, I wonder if this tendency to ignore my monstrous looks and to touch me without restraint is a trait unique to immortals. If so, I'll stay away from groups larger than, say, three immortals. I may be undead, but who's to say that an unbeating heart can't suffer a heart attack?
And when will I finally get used to this?
But Marcos is not finished with shattering my composure. Putting his arm around my shoulder, he leads me to the bed.
"Come on, sit down with me," Marcos says.
Of course. I realize somewhat belatedly that the bed is the only place to sit down in this tiny room.
"Thank you," I manage, ashamed of the direction my thoughts have taken. Maybe Julian is right. Maybe Callum is a bad influence.
"You know, I didn’t even stay with him," he says after a moment.
"It doesn’t matter," I repeat firmly, wanting to be done with this. Doesn't he realize that it is too painful for me to speak of this?
"Not any more." Marcos, too, is repeating himself.
"I'm grateful for what you did for Callum," I change the subject. "He came into his new condition suddenly."
"He told me about it," Marcos interrupts me before I can further go into my own involvement in Callum's situation, and I remain silent, grateful for this respite. "But it is I who must be grateful. Without his help – without your help – I would still be out and about slaughtering others of my kind."
I nod. "The impulse is familiar to us as well." With one difference: Those of us who give in to it never return from their descent into the realm of the Beast. Obviously, we are similar in our immortality, but by no means the same. "Will you stay longer? Will you teach him?"
He turns his head to one side in a Greek head nod. "Maybe."
"Depending on what?"
"Look, I am one of the oldest of my kind. It wouldn’t be wise to… There are better teachers."
"It would appear to me that you would have more to teach Callum than someone younger. I assume that age equals wisdom with your kind as well."
At that, he laughs heartily. "You should know that I’ve been a hunter for the last couple of years."
I assume I'm meant to infer from that that a hunter is not a wise thing to be for an immortal. And, a hunter? Hunting what? I don't think he's part of that infernal Leopold Society of Kindred hunters (or he'd have parted me from my head as soon as he laid eyes on me), so what does he mean?
No matter. "I’ve seen you fight," I remind him. "That at least is something you could teach him." Besides, if what Callum said is true, then knowing how to fight might be the only thing that's really important.
Marcos smiles. "Yes, impressive, eh?" He stretches like a cat basking in the sun. "If he survives long enough for me to teach him."
"Why shouldn’t he?"
"Because they hunt me now."
Of course. The hunter became the hunted. "I see."
"Which isn’t bad," he adds with the air of someone whose glory increases with the number of his enemies. "But could be bad for the boy."
"He is under my protection," I pronounce.
He looks at me. "You know you’re not allowed to interfere."
I return his look impassively.
"As if that would keep you," he realizes, grinning.
"I wish you had been that courageous when you courted Memnos…" he once again starts his reminiscing.
"We are finished with this topic, Marcos." Gods, he's beginning to try my patience.
"We are now. There is a much better teacher in town, and Callum is supposed to go there. He knows that."
"I see." All my half-hatched schemes about giving Daniel into Marcos' custody are for naught should he not stay. "So, what are your plans?"
"I might go back to Greece, see my family…"
"Your family." I suppress a sigh. Of course, Marcos is still basically human. He can have a wife, a family. He can raise children, protect them, teach them his values and perpetuate himself in this way. At this moment, it is hard for me not to be envious.
"If my wife remembers me, that is." He gives a self-deprecating little laugh.
"Do you have children?" It is clearly none of my business, but maybe here is an opening for me to introduce the topic of Daniel. If Marcos has children, he may not be averse to having one more, one that is not his own.
"Yes, I do. I told Callum everything about them. Ask him."
Referring me to your underling, Agaros? You are still the high-and-mighty warrior you were. But I'm not the shy inventor any longer. "You are sitting right before me. I believe in going to the source."
He smiles, acknowledging the hit. "Some things never change."
I have no idea what he means. Back in Cnossos, I might have been called many things, but assertive was not one of them.
The best thing to do would probably be to introduce him to Daniel and let the child's intelligence and charm work its own magic. How could this hardened fighter resist Daniel if even I, someone who to all intents and purposes is hardly more than a monster, have succumbed to him?
"I miss them," Marcos' quiet voice interrupts my thoughts.
I decide to plunge ahead. "Forgive the question. Are they your own children?"
"Gods, no. We can’t have children."
Another thing we have in common, then. "So they are adopted."
"Let us say, they have at least three different fathers. I chose my wife wisely."
"A rare skill in any man," I say dryly. Finding the right woman even for a conventional family nowadays seems to be a near impossibility for mortal men, if their rate of divorce is anything to go by. Fortunately, this is one problem the Embrace has rid me of.
"Usually I prefer one partner, who can also be father to my children," Marcos goes on.
So he's still entrenched in the old ways of the Greek and Spartans; having a male partner, and a wife. In this day and age, it must be hard to find man who accepts this; men have always been more, shall be say, rigid about the morality of sharing a wife. I can only imagine how Marcos may go about choosing his partners; ascertaining their willingness to go along with such an arrangement is hardly something one can bring up in casual conversation.
And it appears I stumbled upon yet another similarity between Marcos and me. I, too, know that there lies a deep satisfaction in finding a man for a woman, then to see her happy with him and to know who was instrumental in that happiness, even if the couple has no idea. I must have been an invisible matchmaker for hundreds of women by now. After all, if I can't have the woman I love (for obvious reasons), the least I can do is to make her happy indirectly. I expect that this will be the only way I can ever be a part of a family.
I drag myself back to the present. "Is eight children your limit?"
"You’re not the first to ask me that question."
"Really." Could it be that my beautiful Callum had the same idea? "What did Callum tell you?"
"He told me nothing in particular. He just mentioned this boy…"
Oh Callum, beautiful, clever Callum. "Then I won’t have to. What are your thoughts?"
"I will have to talk to him."
"Of course. I will have to talk to the child first." I would hate to finalize this arrangement without Daniel even knowing about it.
"What a shame," Marcos says softy, looking me over. "You’re still quite pretty."
I wonder if he's deliberately trying to provoke me. "We both know that I am not," I say through clenched teeth. "So can we please drop it?" I spread my hands where he can see them, their monstrous talons, the deathly white skin that used to be dark with the sun.
He takes one of my hands in his. His other hand on my shoulder, pressing down firmly, draws me back from my beginning rage. "No, I won’t," he says firmly. "Your kind might hold unknown terror for mortals, but I still remember you, Daidalos, from the days before you… disappeared."
"I'm not that man any longer…"
"Shush," he interrupts me, "don’t speak. I remember not only your face, but also your gentle nature. You never noticed, but I did see you, then. I was intrigued. You were kind at heart, and you still are. I thought you left because of what I did. And now I meet you again." He swallows down some deep emotion, squeezing my hand once more before releasing it, and I realize that all his words have been genuine.
Why is it so hard to accept affection? We spend our nights seeking redemption, some sign that, despite the Embrace, we're still worthy of being loved. And here, presented with evidence that I am, to Marcos at least, more than a mere beast, I see insult and provocation where none was intended.
Maybe that's a sign that we're both correct. Someone who really is kind and gentle, as Marcos just called me, would be able to gracefully accept the sentiment. I smile sadly. "We have both changed since then. You have become a hunter, and I – a beast."
He shakes his head. "I had changed a long time before we met, dear Daidalos. A long time. About the hunter, well, I was just a bit angry. But Callum could mend that."
"Yes, he does have this effect." My beautiful, clever Callum.
"You should like what you are. It helps."
You have no idea what you're talking about, Agaros, whose name means "magnificent". "I have come to terms with it." I can't resist adding a slight barb. "It only becomes difficult if I am reminded of the time before."
"I see. I am sorry."
He sounds genuine. Immediately, I feel like a complete bastard for this cheap hit. "Think nothing of it," I murmur, ashamed.
I go along with the change of subject gratefully. "He was made an orphan by the death of his parents only a few months ago. He is used to traveling and he is very intelligent. He needs someone who can challenge him and guide him."
"I will talk to him. And then, we will see."
That is as much as I've hoped. "We will, indeed." I rise to leave.
"Let us share a goblet some time later," Marcos calls after me.
I hesitate before seeking the shadows. "With pleasure." I'm already hidden from sight by the time the smile reaches my face.
To be continued...<