Lestat had been gone three weeks by the time I received his letter at our home in New Orleans. The envelope had no return address, of course, but his vivid descriptions of the icy landscape confirmed what I had already determined through other sources; Thorne and Mael had taken him to the Arctic.
I had to get to him. I needed to know that he was safe.
As I slowly made my way through drifts of snow higher than my waist, I understood completely why Maharet had chosen to make her home here. This place was utterly uninhabitable and devoid of all life. The nearest mortal village was hundreds of miles away and even the wild creatures of the tundra did not occupy the land this far north. There were vast fields of ice and snow as far as the eye could see, occasionally broken up by the cold gray edges of protruding rock. Not even trees could survive in such a harsh climate.
I had dressed for what I knew would be an unpredictable journey, but even the heaviest coat and fur-lined boots did very little to shield me from the elements. In temperatures such as these, human skin would be frostbitten within minutes.
I walked on and on with only the sound of the whistling wind to keep me company. The compass in my pocket told me that I was headed in the right direction, but I couldn’t be certain of how long it might take me to get there. At this particular time of year, in this part of the world, the sun never rises, but there are still brief periods of twilight during which small amount of light can be seen on the horizon. I couldn’t know what this light might do to me, but I didn’t care. I had to see him.
The cold doesn’t hurt me as it would a mortal man, but I do feel it. After what must have been hours of trudging through the deepening snow, I could tell that the skin of my face was frozen and it seemed as if my joints were stiffening as well. Every step I took required a little more effort than the last. It was as though this immortal body of mine was waging a war against my will to carry on.
Must keep moving.
Would she even allow me admittance to her compound? Ever since my refusal of her ancient blood so many years ago, she has barely spoken more than a word to me. I am nothing to her now. Perhaps this entire expedition would be in vain.
One foot in front of the other. Don’t stop.
I don’t know when I lost the battle against the impossible terrain, but at some point, my legs gave out and I crumpled to the ground. I lay on a bed of ice cursing my own weakness, watching helplessly as blowing snow began to cover my mouth, nose and eyes. I wondered if this what Marius felt when he had been entombed in the thick ice beneath his own home at the time of the old Queen’s awakening. My thoughts drifted.
Strong hands grasped my shoulders and pulled me from my icy grave. Before I could even realize what was happening, I had been flung over the shoulder of a vampire of great age and strength. I attempted to open my eyes, but found the lids frozen shut. I tried to speak, but the wind caught in my throat. I wanted to move my arms or legs, but knew that this too would be futile. I could do nothing but listen as powerful legs moved us effortlessly through the snow.
When my eyes finally opened again, I found myself stripped of the frozen outer layers of winter clothing and covered in a thick wool blanket. I was in some sort of reclining chair only a few feet away from a roaring fire. My hair was still damp and the skin of my face tingled as if it were slowly coming back to life.
“That was foolish, Louis,” came a feminine voice from my left.
Maharet sat, as unmoving as a portrait in a high-backed chair on the other side of the hearth. She wore a loose-fitting, simple dress of deep green and long crimson curls hung loosely over her shoulders. She looked at me with eyes that were both gentle and authoritative, despite the fact that they were not her own.
“Where is Lestat?” I questioned, my voice was hoarse and I could taste blood on the cracked skin of my lips. “Is he unharmed?”
“He is here and he is safe.”
I felt as if a fog was lifting from my mind. I knew that someone had brought me here, but the memories were unclear. It didn’t matter. I came for one reason alone.
“You must understand that he meant no harm,” I began. “He never does. He acts without thinking. You know this as well as I do.”
“And you know all too well how serious the repercussions of his actions can be.” She was gazing into the fire. I could see the flames reflected in her eyes.
“How long do you intend to keep him locked away this time?” It was a rhetorical question. Time meant nothing to one who had walked the earth well before the pyramids of Giza were built. “Solitude will eventually drive him mad. At least allow me to stay here with him for the duration of his punishment. That is all that I ask of you.”
“It is his fate alone,” her voice was utterly devoid of emotion. “You cannot share it with him.”
I fell silent. What could she possibly mean by his fate? Was there more to this punishment than keeping him here in this desolate place like some caged animal? I thought of the recent months that Lestat and I had spent in New Orleans. Had we ever been so content? There had been an honesty and openness between us unlike any that we had ever shared before. We were, for once, after centuries of turmoil and conflict, truly happy and while I fully understood and even shared many of Maharet’s concerns, I hated her for taking that away from me.
She could read my thoughts, of course, and she fell quiet, for a time, as well.
It was I who broke the silence.
“I want to see him now.” I had no intention of leaving until I did.
She rose from her chair and moved toward me with one arm outstretched and a small object in her hand. I reached out and she placed a silver key into my palm then gestured toward a long, dark corridor near the back of the room.
“Go to him.” Was that kindness I heard in her tone?
I got to my feet, wrapping the blanket around my shoulders and tucking the key into the pocket of my sweater. As I turned my back to her she spoke again, stopping me in mid step.
“Know one thing, Louis. This is his final chance. One more act of defiance, intentional or not, and I will be left with no other choice but to destroy him.”
There was nothing I could say to this. She was correct, of course, as she has always been and her rules were very clear. Endangering our kind and our secrets in any way will not be tolerated. I knew that if she felt that she needed to make an example of Lestat, she would not hesitate to do so. If his destruction meant that we would never again be in danger of discovery, she would burn him to ash at her feet in an instant. There was no protest to be made, so instead of struggling to form some sort of desperate response I simply nodded in understanding and made my way to his room.