Lasher (Lives of the Mayfair Witches #2)

by Anne Rice

One

IN THE beginning was the voice of Father.

"Emaleth!" whispering close to her mother's belly while her mother slept. And then singing to her, the long songs of the past. Songs of the Glen of Donnelaith and of the castle, and of where they would sometime come together, and how she would be born knowing all that Father knew. It is our way, he said to her in the fast language, which others could not understand.

To others it sounded like humming, or whistling. It was their secret tongue, for they could hear syllables which ran too fast for the others to grasp. They could sing out to each other. Emaleth could almost do it, almost speak "Emaleth, my darling, Emaleth, my daughter, Emaleth, my mate." Father was waiting for her. She had to grow fast and grow strong for Father. When the time came, Mother had to help her. She had to drink Mother's milk.

Mother slept. Mother cried. Mother dreamed. Mother was sick.  And when Father and Mother quarreled, the world trembled. Emaleth knew dread.

But Father always came after, singing to her, reminding her that the words of his song were too rapid for Mother to comprehend. The melody made Emaleth feel as if the tiny round world in which she lived had expanded and she was floating in a place without limits, pushed hither and thither by Father's song.

Father said poetry which was beautiful, especially words that rhyme. Rhymes made a thrill pass through Emaleth. She stretched her legs and her arms, and turned her head this way and that, it felt so good, the rhymes.

Mother didn't talk to Emaleth. Mother wasn't supposed to know that Emaleth was there. Emaleth was tiny, said Father, but perfectly formed. Emaleth already had her long hair.

But when Mother talked, Emaleth understood her; when Mother wrote, Emaleth saw the words. Emaleth heard Mother's frequent whisper. She knew that Mother was afraid. Sometimes she saw Mother's dreams. She saw the face of Michael. She saw fighting. She saw Father's face as Mother saw it and it made Mother sad.

Father loved Mother, but Mother made him fiercely angry, and when he struck Mother, Mother suffered, even falling, and Emaleth screamed, or tried to scream. But Father always came after, while Mother slept, and said Emaleth must not fear. That they would come together in the circle of stones at Donnelaith, and then he told stories to her of the old days, when all the beautiful ones had lived on an island, and it was Paradise, before the others and the little people had come.

Sad and sorrowful the weakness of humans and the tragedy of the little people, and is it not better that all be driven from the Earth?

"I tell you the things I know now. And things that were told to me," he said. And Emaleth saw the circle of stones, and the tall figure of Father as he was now, strumming the strings of the harp. Everyone was dancing. She saw the little people hiding in the shadows, spiteful and angry. She did not like them, she did not want them to steal down into the town. They loathe us instinctively, said Father, of the little people.

How can they not? But they do not matter now. They are only a lingering from dreams which failed to come true.

Now is the hour. The hour for Emaleth and Father.

She saw Father in the old days, with his arms outstretched. This was Christmas and the glen was filled with snow. The Scots pines were close. Hymns rose from the people. Emaleth loved the rise and fall of the voices. There was so much she must see and learn later on.

"If we are separated, my beloved, come to the glen at Donnelaith.  You can find it. You can do this. People are searching for Mother, people who would divide us. But remember, you will be born into this world knowing all you need to know. Now can you answer me?"

Emaleth tried but she could not.

"Taltos," he said, and kissed Mother's belly, "I hear you, darling, I love you." And while Mother slept Emaleth was happy, because when Mother woke, Mother would cry.

"You think I wouldn't kill him in an instant?" Father said to Mother. They were fighting about Michael. "I would kill him just like that. You leave me, and what makes you think that won't happen?"

Emaleth saw this person, Michael, whom Mother loved and Father did not. Michael lived in New Orleans in a great house. Father wanted to go back to the great house. He wanted to possess it, it was his house, and it made him deeply angry that Michael was there. But he knew he must bide his time. Emaleth had to come to him, tall and strong. There had to be the Beginning. He wanted them to come together in the Glen of Donnelaith. Beginning was everything. There was nothing if there was no beginning.

Prosper, my daughter.

Taltos.

No one lived in Donnelaith anymore. But they would live there - Father and Emaleth and their children. Hundreds of children. It would become the shrine of the Beginning. "Our Bethlehem," he whispered to her. And that would be the beginning of all time.

It was dark. Mother cried against the pillow, Michael, Michael, Michael.

Emaleth knew when the sun rose.

The color of everything brightened, and she saw Mother's hand high above her, dark and thin and immense, covering the whole world.

Two

THE HOUSE was all dark now. The cars were gone, and only one light burned in Michael Curry's window, in the old room where Cousin Deirdre had died. Mona understood exactly what had happened tonight and had to admit she was glad. She had almost planned it, almost...

She'd told her father she would go back to Metairie with Uncle Ryan and Cousin Jenn and Clancy, but then she hadn't told Uncle Ryan. And Uncle Ryan was long gone, assuming as everyone would that Mona had gone home to Amelia Street with her father, which of course she had not.

She'd been in the cemetery losing her bet that David wouldn't do it with her, right there on Mardi Gras Night in front of the Mayfair tomb. David had done it. Not so very great, actually, but for a fifteen year old not bad. And Mona had loved it sneaking away with him, his fear and her excitement, their climbing the whitewashed wall of the cemetery together and creeping through the alleyways of high marble tombs. To lie right down on the gravel path in the dampness and cold, that had been no small part of the dare, but she'd done it, smoothing her skirt under her, so that she could pull down her panties without getting dirty. "Now do it!" she'd said to David, who hadn't needed any more encouragement, or direct orders, by that time at all. She'd stared past him at the cold cloudy sky, at a single visible star, and then let her eyes move up the wall of little rectangular tombstones to the name:

Deirdre Mayfair.

Then David had finished. Just like that.

"You're not afraid of anything," he had said after.  "Like I'm supposed to be afraid of you?" She'd sat up, cheated, having not even pretended to enjoy it, overheated and really not much liking her cousin David, but still satisfied that it had been done.

Mission accomplished, she would write in her computer later, in the secret directory \ WS\ MONA \ AGENDA, where she deposited all her confessions of the triumphs she could not share with anyone in the world. No one could crack her computer system, not even Uncle Ryan or Cousin Pierce, each of whom she had caught, at various times, firing up her system, and searching through various directories - "Some setup, Mona." All it was, was the fastest 386 IBM clone on the market, with max memory and max hard drive. Ah, what people didn't know about computers. It always amazed Mona. She herself learned more about them every day.

Yes, this was a moment that only the computer would witness.  Maybe they would start to be a regular occurrence now that her father and mother were truly drinking themselves to death. And there were so many Mayfairs to be conquered. In fact, her agenda did not even include non-Mayfairs at this point, except, of course, for Michael Curry, but he was a Mayfair now, most definitely. The whole family had him in its grip.

Michael Curry in that house alone. Take stock. It was Mardi Gras Night, ten p.m., three hours after Comus, and Mona Mayfair was on her own, and on the corner of First and Chestnut, light as a ghost, looking at the house, with the whole soft dark night to do as she pleased.

Her father was surely passed out by now; in fact somebody had probably driven him home. If he'd walked the thirteen blocks up to Amelia and St. Charles, that was a miracle. He'd been so drunk before Comus even passed that he'd sat right down on the neutral ground on St. Charles, knees up, hands on a naked bottle of Southern Comfort, drinking right in front of Uncle Ryan and Aunt Bea and whoever else cared to look at him, and telling Mona in no uncertain terms to leave him alone.

Fine with Mona. Michael Curry had picked her up just like she weighed nothing and put her on his shoulders for the entire parade.  How good it had felt to be riding that strong man, with one hand in his soft curly black hair. She'd loved the feeling of his face against her thighs, and she'd hugged him just a little, much as she dared, and let her left hand rest against his cheek.

Some man, Michael Curry. And her father much too drunk to notice anything that she did.

As for Mona's mother, she'd passed out Mardi Gras afternoon. If she ever woke up to see Comus pass St. Charles and Amelia, that was a miracle too. Ancient Evelyn was there of course, her usual silent self, but she was awake. She knew what went on. If Alicia set the bed on fire, Ancient Evelyn could call for help. And you really couldn't leave Alicia alone anymore.

The point was, everything was covered. Even Michael's Aunt

Vivian was not at home at First Street. She'd gone uptown for the night with Aunt Cecilia. Mona had seen them leave right after the parade.  And Aaron Lightner, that mysterious scholar, he'd taken off with Aunt Bea. Mona had heard them planning it. Her car? His? It made Mona happy to think of Beatrice Mayfair and Aaron Lightner together.  Aaron Lightner sloughed off ten years when he was around Beatrice, and she was that kind of gray-haired woman who can make men look at her anywhere and everywhere she goes. If she went into Walgreen's, the men came out of the stock room to help her. Or some gentleman asked her opinion on a good dandruff shampoo. It was almost a joke, the way Aunt Bea attracted men, but Aaron Lightner was a man she wanted, and that was new.

If that old maid, Eugenia, was there, that was OK because she was tucked away in the farthest back bedroom and they said, once she drank her nightly glass of port, nothing could wake her up.

Nobody in that house practically speaking but her man. And now that Mona knew the history of the Mayfair Witches - now that she had finally got her hands on Aaron Lightner's long document - there was no keeping her out of First Street any longer. Of course she had her questions about what she'd read; thirteen witches descended from a Scottish village called Donnelaith where the first, a poor cunning woman, had been burnt at the stake in 1659. It was just the kind of juicy history you dreamed about having. Well, she did anyway.

But there had been things in that long family tale that had special meaning for her, and the long account of Oncle Julien's life had been the most intriguing part of all.

Even Mona's very own Aunt Gifford was far away from New Orleans tonight, in her house in Destin, Florida, hiding from everyone and everything, and worrying about the entire clan. Gifford had begged the family not to go up to the house for Mardi Gras. Poor Aunt Gifford. She had banned the Talamasca History of the Mayfair Witches From her house and from her consciousness. "I don't believe those things!"

Aunt Gifford lived and breathed fear. She shut her ears to the tales оf the old days. Poor Aunt Gifford could be around her grandmother, Ancient Evelyn, only now because Ancient Evelyn said almost nothing anymore. Aunt Gifford didn't even like to say that she was Julien's granddaughter.

Sometimes Mona felt so deeply and hopelessly sad for Aunt Gifford, he almost burst into tears. Aunt Gifford seemed to suffer for the whole family, and no one was more distraught over Rowan Mayfair's disappearance than Gifford. Not even Ryan. Aunt Gifford was at heart a tender and loving soul, and there was no one better when you needed to talk the practical things of life-clothes for a school dance; whether or not to shave one's legs yet; which perfume was best for a girl of thirteen? (Laura Ashley No.1) And these were the dumb things Mona actually did not know, half the time.

Well, what was Mona going to do now that she was out on Mardi Gras Night, free, and nobody knew it, or might ever know it? Of course she knew. She was ready. First Street was hers! It was as if the great dark house with its white columns were whispering to her, saying, Mona, Mona, Come in. This is where Oncle Julien lived and died. This is the house of the witches, and you are a witch, Mona, as surely as any of them! You belong here.

Maybe it was Oncle Julien himself speaking to her. No, just a fancy.  With an imagination like Mona's you could make yourself see and hear whatever you liked.

But who knew? Once she got inside, maybe she'd actually see the ghost of Oncle Julien! Ah, that would be absolutely wonderful. Especially if it was the same debonair and playful Oncle Julien about whom she incessantly dreamed.

She walked across the intersection under the heavy dark roof of the oak branches, and quickly climbed the old wrought-iron fence. She came down heavily in the thick shrubbery and elephant ears, feeling the cold and the wet foliage against her face and not liking it. Pushing her pink skirt down, she tiptoed out of the dampish earth and onto the flagstone path.

Lamps burned dim on either side of the big keyhole doorway. The porch lay in darkness, its rocking chairs barely visible, painted black as they were to match the shutters. The garden seemed to gather round and press in.

The house itself looked to her as it always had, beautiful, mysterious, and inviting, though she had to admit in her heart of hearts she had liked it better when it was a spidery ruin, before Michael came with his hammer and nails. She had liked it when Aunt Deirdre sat forever on the side porch in a rocker, and the vines threatened to swallow the whole place.

Of course Michael saved it, but oh, if only she'd gotten into it once while it was still ruined. She'd known all about that body they found in the attic. She'd heard her mother and Aunt Gifford arguing about it for years and years. Mona's mother had been only thirteen when Mona was born, and Gifford had been there from the time of Mona's earliest memories.