Italy, during the thirteenth century, embodied all that was wonderful and horrible about the Middle Ages. The Catholic Church was the supreme power. Monarchs came and went. Kings and queens fought and died. But the Roman Pope wielded the true power over life and death.
Art was the gift of the Church to the people in those days. This was above and beyond the gift of their strict theology, which did nothing for the poor masses except keep them confused until the day they died. I say that with well-deserved bitterness. It would have been impossible to live in those days and not become angry at the Church. Today, however, I think the Church does much that is good, and much that is questionable. No religion is perfect, not after man gets through with it.
I lived in Florence from 1212 till 1245 and spent many months touring the churches where the finest paintings and sculptures were displayed. The Renais?sance was, of course, a long way off, and Michelangelo and Da Vinci had yet to be born. Still, these earlier days were remarkable for their creativity. I remember well Bonaventura Berlinghieri's radiant St. Franca and Niccola Pisano's hypnotic sculpture Annuncia?tion to the Shepherds.
The Inquisition was another gift of the Church. The boon of the devil in the minds of most people in those days. Two informants, whose identities could remain unknown to the victim, were all that was necessary to charge someone with being a heretic. The informants could be heretics themselves, or witches--not pleas?ant titles to earn in old Italy. A confession was necessary to convict anyone of being a heretic. A little stretching of the limbs, or burning with live coals, or torturing the victim on the strappado--the dreaded vertical rack--was usually enough to get an innocent person to confess. I remember going to the central city courtyard to watch the victims being burned alive at the stake. I used to think back over the barbarism of the Emperors of the Roman Empire, the Mongolian hordes, the Japanese shoguns--and yet their forms of torture all paled compared to the pain caused by the Church because the people who lit the pyres wore crosses. They chanted prayers while their victims screamed and died.
I observed only a few executions before I lost the stomach for them. Yet I thwarted the Inquisition in my own way, by secretly killing many of the inquisi?tors. I usually left their bodies in compromised places ---houses of prostitution and the like--to discourage thorough investigations. As I drained the inquisitors' blood, sucking their large neck veins and arteries, I whispered in their ears that I was an angel of mercy. None of them died easily.
Yet the Church was bigger than a single vampire, the Inquisition an infection that spread and multi?plied through its own mysterious madness. It could not be easily stopped. It cast a gloom over my stay in Florence, over my joy in the resurgence of mankind's creativity. I have hunted humans throughout time, and yet I am proud of them as well, when they do something bold, something unexpected. The best art always comes unbidden.
Arturo Evola was not known as an alchemist or else he would not have lasted a day in medieval Florence. He was a twenty-one-year-old Franciscan priest, and a devout one at that. He had entered the priesthood at the age of sixteen, which was not unusual at that time, because the easiest way to obtain the finest education was to become a priest. He was a brilliant man, undoubtedly the most inspired intellect of the thir?teenth century. Yet history does not know him. Only I do, and my memories of him are filled with sorrow.
I met him after Mass one day. I despised the Church, but enjoyed the actual service. All the chant?ing, the choirs, and I loved to hear the early organs played. Often I would go to communion, after attend?ing confession. It was difficult for me to keep a straight face while I told of my sins. Once, for fun, I told a priest the whole truth of what I had done in my life. But he was drunk and just said to do five Hail Marys and to behave myself. I didn't have to kill him.
I received the Holy Eucharist from Arturo and met him after the service. I could tell he was attracted to me. In those days many priests had mistresses. I had gone out of my way to see Arturo because a gypsy healer had told me about him. He was an alchemist, she said, who could turn stone into gold, sunlight into ideas, moonlight into lust. The gypsy had a high opinion of Arturo. She warned me to approach him cautiously because his real work had to be kept from the Church. I understood.
Commonly, an alchemist is known as an esoteric chemist who attempts to convert base metals into gold. This is a crude understanding. Alchemy is a comprehensive physical and metaphysical system em?bracing cosmology as much as anthropology. Every?thing natural and supernatural can be found in it The goal of alchemy is to experience the totality of the organism. It is a path of enlightenment. The gypsy said Arturo was a born alchemist. Knowledge came to him from inside. No one had to teach him his art. "The only trouble with him is he's a Catholic," she said. "A fanatic."
"How does he merge the two disciplines?" I asked.
The gypsy blessed herself. She was superstitious of the Church as well. "God only knows," she said.
Arturo did not strike me as a fanatic when we first met. His demeanor was soft, like his lovely eyes. He had a special ability to listen totally to a person, a rare gift. His large hands were exceptionally fine; when he brushed my arm with his fingers I felt he was capable of touching my heart. And he was so young! That first afternoon we talked about astronomy--a midway subject, in my mind, to alchemy. He was delighted with my knowledge of the heavens. He invited me to share a meal and afterward we went for a walk around the city. When we said goodbye that night, I knew he was in love with me.
Why did I pursue him? For the same reason I have done many things in my life--I was curious. But that was only my initial reason. Soon I, too, was in love with him. I must say, the feeling was present before I began to probe his knowledge of alchemy. Before going that deep into his secret world, I knew he was unlike other priests of his day. He was a virgin, and his vow of celibacy was important to him.
I did not just spring the questions on him one day. Can you turn copper into gold? Can you heal lepers? Can you live forever? I showed him a glimpse of my knowledge first, to inspire him to share his. My understanding of the medical properties of herbs is extensive. An old friar in Arturo's church became ill with a lung infection, and it seemed as if he'd die. I brought Arturo an herb concoction of echinacea and goldenseal and told him to give it to his superior. The friar recovered within twenty-four hours and
Arturo wanted to know who had taught me how to make tea.
I laughed and told him about my Greek friend, Cleo, failing to mention how many centuries ago he had died. Arturo was impressed. It was only then he began to talk about his crystals and magnets and copper sheets--the secret elements of alchemy that have now passed from human understanding. That very day Arturo confessed his mission in life to me. To discover the elixirs of holiness and immortality--as if searching for the secret to one of these conditions was not enough. Arturo always thought big. He was deter?mined to re-create nothing less than the blood of Jesus Christ.
"What makes you think you can do it?" I asked, shocked.
His eyes shone as he explained. Not with a mad light, but with a brilliance I had never seen before or since in a mortal man.
"Because I have found the spirit of man," he said. "I have proven that it exists. I can show you how to experience it, how to remove the veil of darkness that covers it."
Sounded interesting to me. Arturo took me to a secret chamber beneath the church where he lived. Apparently the elderly friar whose life I had saved knew of Arturo's hobby and looked the other way. He was the only one who knew of the master alchemist, besides the gypsy. I asked Arturo about her. Apparent?ly she had nursed him back to health when he had fallen from a horse while riding in the countryside.
They had shared many intimate conversations over late-night fires. Arturo was surprised, and a bit angry, that she had told me about him.
"Don't blame her," I said. "I can be most persua?sive." It was true that I had used the power of my eyes on her, when I saw she was hiding something impor?tant.
Arturo took me down into his secret room and lit many candles. He asked me to lie on a huge copper sheet, as thin as modern paper. On adjacent shelves, I noted his collection of quartz crystals, amethysts, and precious stones--rubies, diamonds, and sapphires. He also had several powerful magnets, each cut into the shape of a cross. I had never seen a magnetic cross before.
"What are you going to do?" I asked as I lay down on the copper.
""You have heard of the human aura?" he asked.
"Yes. It is the energy field that surrounds the body."
"Very good. It is spoken of in ancient mythology and is present in art. We see the halos in paintings above the heads of members of the holy family, and in drawings of saints. Still, most people don't believe in the aura because they don't experience it. They are only conscious of their physical bodies. What I am going to do to you now is draw out your aura, allow your consciousness to expand into it, so that your spiritual body becomes the focus of your attention, and not the physical body."
"Do you not like my physical body?" I asked. I often flirted with him.
He paused and stared down at me. "It's very lovely," he whispered.
He told me to close my eyes. He didn't want me to see how he set up the crystals and magnets. I peeked, of course, and saw that crystals were placed above my head and magnets below my body, at angles. He was creating a grid of some kind, one that transmitted unseen energies. He prayed as he worked, Hail Marys and Our Fathers. I have always enjoyed those prayers. But for me, of course, they reminded me of Radha and Krishna.
When Arturo was done, he told me to keep my eyes closed and breathe naturally through my nose. The breath was important, he said. It was one of the secrets of experiencing the soul.
For the first few minutes not much happened. But then, slowly, I felt an energy rise from my body, from the base of my spine to the top of my head. Simultane?ously, I felt my mind expand. I became as big as the secret chamber. A curious floating sensation envel?oped me, a warm peacefulness. My breath went in and out, sometimes fast, sometimes slow. I had no control over it and wanted none. Time passed. I wasn't entirely awake, but I wasn't asleep either. It was a mystical experience.
When Arturo spoke next, he sounded many miles away. He wanted me to sit up, to come out of the state. I resisted--I liked where I was. But he took my arm and forced me to sit up, breaking the spell. I opened my eyes and gazed at him. "Why did you stop it?" I asked.
He was perspiring. "You can get too much energy at once." He stared at me; he seemed out of breath. "You have an amazing aura."
I smiled. "What is special about it?"
He shook his head. "It is so powerful."
The experiment in consciousness raising was inter?esting, but I failed to see how his technique would allow him to transform human blood into Christ's blood. I quizzed him about it at length but he would divulge no more secrets. The power of my aura continued to puzzle him. As we said good night, I saw fear in his eyes, and deep fascination. He knew I was no ordinary woman. That was all right, I thought. No harm done. He would learn no more about my special qualities.
But that was not to be.
He was to learn everything about me.
Perhaps even more than I knew myself.
There was an altar boy, Ralphe, who lived with the priests. Twelve years old and possessed of an excep?tional wit, he was a favorite of Arturo's. Often the two would go for long hikes in the hills outside Florence. I was fond of Ralphe myself. The three of us had picnics in the woods and I would teach Ralphe the flute, for which he had a talent. The instrument had been a favorite of mine since the day I met Krishna. Arturo used to love to watch us play together. But sometimes I would get carried away and weave a melody of love, of romantic enchantment and lost dreams, which would always leave Arturo quiet and shaken. How long we could go on like this, chaste and virtuous, I didn't know. My alchemist stirred ancient longings inside me. I wondered about the energies his crystals invoked.
One day while I was helping Ralphe repair a hole in the church roof, the boy decided to amuse me by doing a silly dance on the edge of the stone tiles. I told him to be careful but he never listened. He was having too much fun. That is the mysterious thing about tragedy--it often strikes at the happiest moment.
Ralphe slipped and fell. It was over a hundred feet to the ground. He fell on the base of his spine, crushing it. When I reached him, he was writhing in agony. I was shaken to the core, I who had seen so much pain in my life. But centuries of time have not made me insensitive. One moment he had been a vibrant young man, and now he would be crippled for the rest of his days, and those would not be long.
I loved Ralphe very much. He was like a son to me.
I suppose that's why I did what I did.
I did not need to make him a vampire to help him.
I opened the veins on my right wrist and let the blood splash where his shattered spinal column had pierced his skin. The wound closed quickly, the bones mended. It seemed he would make a complete recov?ery. Best of all, he appeared unaware of why he had recovered so quickly. He thought he'd just been lucky.
But there is good luck and bad luck.
Arturo saw what I did for Ralphe. He saw every?thing.
He wanted to know who I was. What I was.
I find it hard to lie to those I love.
I told him everything. Even what Krishna had told me. The tale took an entire night. Arturo understood when I was through why I preferred to tell the story in the dark. But he didn't recoil in horror as I spoke. He was an enlightened priest, an alchemist who sought the answer to why God had created us in the first place. Indeed, he thought he knew the answer to that profound question. We were here to become like God. To live like his blessed son. We just needed a few pints of Christ's blood to do it
Arturo believed Krishna had let me live for a purpose.
So that my blood could save mankind from itself.
From the start, I worried about him mixing Christ and vampires.
"But I will make no more vampires," I protested.
He eagerly took my hands and stared into my eyes. A fever burned in his brain; I could feel the heat of it. on his fingertips, in his breath. Whose soul did I experience then? Mine or his? It seemed in that moment as if the two of us had merged. For that reason, his next words sounded inevitable to me.
"We will make no more vampires," he said. "I understand why Krishna made you take such a vow. What we will create with your blood is a new man. A hybrid of a human and a vampire. A being who can live forever, in the glory of light instead of the shadow of darkness." His eyes strayed to the wooden crucifix hung above his bed. "An immortal being."
He spoke with such power. And he was not insane.
I had to listen. To consider his words.
"Is it possible?" I whispered.
"Yes." He hugged me, "There is a secret I haven't told you. It is extraordinary. It is the secret to perma?nent transformation. If I have the right materials-- your blood, for example--I can transform anything. If you wish, you can become such a hybrid. I can even make you human again." He paused, perhaps think?ing of my ancient grief over the loss of Lalita, my daughter. He knew my sterile condition was the curse of my unending life. He must have known, since he added, "You could have a child, Sita."
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