It took me a week to make up my mind I would seek out Nicolas de Lenfent.
I put on the red velvet fur-lined cloak and fur lined suede boots, and I went down the winding main street of the village towards the inn.
The shop owned by Nicolas's father was right across from the inn, but I didn't see or hear Nicolas.
I had no more than enough for one glass of wine and I wasn't sure just how to proceed when the innkeeper came out, bowed to me, and set a bottle of his best vintage before me.
Of course these people had always treated me like the son of the lord. But I could see that things had changed on account of the wolves, and strangely enough, this made me feel even more alone than I usually felt.
But as soon as I poured the first glass, Nicolas appeared, a great blaze of color in the open doorway.
He was not so finely dressed as before, thank heaven, yet everything about him exuded wealth. Silk and velvet and brand-new leather.
But he was flushed as if he'd been running and his hair was windblown and messy, and his eyes full of excitement. He bowed to me, waited for me to invite him to sit down, and then he asked me:
"What was it like, Monsieur, killing the wolves?" And folding his arms on the table, he stared at me.
"Why don't you tell me what's it like in Paris, Monsieur?" I said, and I realized right away that it sounded mocking and rude. "I'm sorry," I said immediately. "I would really like to know. Did you go to the university? Did you really study with Mozart? What do people in Paris do? What do they talk about? What do they think?"
He laughed softly at the barrage of questions. I had to laugh myself. I signaled for another glass and pushed the bottle towards him.
"Tell me," I said, "did you go to the theaters in Paris? Did you see the Comedie-Francaise?"
"Many times," he answered a little dismissively. "But listen, the diligence will be coming in any minute. There'll be too much noise. Allow me the honor of providing your supper in a private room upstairs. I should so like to do it -- "
And before I could make a gentlemanly protest, he was ordering everything. We were shown up to a crude but comfortable little chamber.
I was almost never in small wooden rooms, and I loved it immediately. The table was laid for the meal that would come later on, the fire was truly warming the place, unlike the roaring blazes in our castle, and the thick glass of the window was clean enough to see the blue winter sky over the snow-covered mountains.
"Now, I shall tell you everything you want to know about Paris," he said agreeably, waiting for me to sit first. "Yes, I did go to the university. " He made a little sneer as if it had all been contemptible. "And I did study with Mozart, who would have told me I was hopeless if he hadn't needed pupils. Now where do you want me to begin? The stench of the city, or the infernal noise of it? The hungry crowds that surround you everywhere? The thieves in every alley ready to cut your throat?"
I waved all that away. His smile was very different from his tone, his manner open and appealing.
"A really big Paris theater. . . " I said. "Describe it to me . . . what is it like?"
I think we stayed in that room for four solid hours and all we did was drink and talk.
He drew plans of the theaters on the tabletop with a wet finger, described the plays he had seen, the famous actors, the little houses of the boulevards. Soon he was describing all of Paris and he'd forgotten to be cynical, my curiosity firing him as he talked of the Ile de la Cite, and the Latin Quarter, the Sorbonne, the Louvre.
We went on to more abstract things, how the newspapers reported events, how his student cronies gathered in cafes to argue. He told me men were restless and out of love with the monarchy. That they wanted a change in government and wouldn't sit still for very long. He told me about the philosophers, Diderot, Voltaire, Rousseau.
I couldn't understand everything he said. But in rapid, sometimes sarcastic speech he gave me a marvelously complete picture of what was going on.
Of course, it didn't surprise me to hear that educated people didn't believe in God, that they were infinitely more interested in science, that the aristocracy was much in ill favor, and so was the Church. These were times of reason, not superstition, and the more he talked the more I understood.
Soon he was outlining the Encyclopedie, the great compilation of knowledge supervised by Diderot. And then it was the salons he'd gone to, the drinking bouts, his evenings with actresses. He described the public balls at the Palms Royal, where Marie Antoinette appeared right along with the common people.
"I'll tell you," he said finally, "it all sounds a hell of a lot better in this room than it really is. "
"I don't believe you," I said gently. I didn't want him to stop talking. I wanted it to go on and on.
"It's a secular age, Monsieur," he said, filling our glasses from the new bottle of wine. "Very dangerous. "
"Why dangerous?" I whispered. "An end to superstition? What could be better than that?"
"Spoken like a true eighteenth-century man, Monsieur," he said with a faint melancholy to his smile. "But no one values anything anymore. Fashion is everything. Even atheism is a fashion. "
I had always had a secular mind, but not for any philosophical reason. No one in my family much believed in God or ever had. Of course they said they did, and we went to mass. But this was duty. Real religion had long ago died out in our family, as it had perhaps in the families of thousands of aristocrats. Even at the monastery I had not believed in God. I had believed in the monks around me.
I tried to explain this in simple language that would not give offense to Nicolas, because for his family it was different.
Even his miserable money-grubbing father (whom I secretly admired) was fervently religious.
"But can men live without these beliefs?" Nicolas asked almost sadly. "Can children face the world without them?"
I was beginning to understand why he was so sarcastic and cynical. He had only recently lost that old faith. He was bitter about it.
But no matter how deadening was this sarcasm of his, a great energy poured out of him, an irrepressible passion. And this drew me to him. I think I loved him. Another two glasses of wine and I might say something absolutely ridiculous like that.
"I've always lived without beliefs," I said.
"Yes. I know," he answered. "Do you remember the story of the witches? The time you cried at the witches' place?"
"Cried over the witches?" I looked at him blankly for a moment. But it stirred something painful, something humiliating. Too many of my memories had that quality. And now I had to remember crying over witches. "I don't remember," I said.
"We were little boys. And the priest was teaching us our prayers. And the priest took us out to see the place where they burnt the witches in the old days, the old stakes and the blackened ground. "
"Ah, that place. " I shuddered. "That horrid, horrid place. "
"You began to scream and to cry. They sent someone for the Marquise herself because your nurse couldn't quiet you. "
"I was a dreadful child," I said, trying to shrug it off. Of course I did remember now -- screaming, being carried home, nightmares about the fires. Someone bathing my forehead and saying, "Lestat, wake up. "
But I hadn't thought of that little scene in years. It was the place itself I thought about whenever I drew near it -- the thicket of blackened stakes, the images of men and women and children burnt alive.
Nicolas was studying me. "When your mother came to get you, she said it was all ignorance and cruelty. She was so angry with the priest for telling us the old tales. "
The final horror to hear they had all died for nothing, those long-forgotten people of our own village, that they had been innocent. "Victims of superstition," she had said. "There were no real witches. " No wonder I had screamed and screamed.
y mother," Nicolas said, "told a different story, that the witches had been in league with the devil, that they'd blighted the crops, and in the guise of wolves killed the sheep and the children -- "
"And won't the world be better if no one is ever again burnt in the name of God?" I asked. "If there is no more faith in God to make men do that to each other? What is the danger in a secular world where horrors like that don't happen?"
He leaned forward with a mischievous little frown.
"The wolves didn't wound you on the mountain, did they?" he asked playfully. "You haven't become a werewolf, have you, Monsieur, unbeknownst to the rest of us?" He stroked the furred edge of the velvet cloak I still had over my shoulders. "Remember what the good father said, that they had burnt a good number of werewolves in those times. They were a regular menace. "
"If I turn into a wolf," I answered, "I can tell you this much. I won't hang around here to kill the children. I'll get away from this miserable little hellhole of a village where they still terrify little boys with tales of burning witches. I'll get on the road to Paris and never stop till I see her ramparts. "
"And you'll find Paris is a miserable hellhole," he said. "Where they break the bones of thieves on the wheel for the vulgar crowds in the place de Greve. "
"No," I said. "I'll see a splendid city where great ideas are born in the minds of the populace, ideas that go forth to illuminate the darkened comers of this world. "
"Ah, you are a dreamer!" he said, but he was delighted. He was beyond handsome when he smiled.
"And I'll know people like you," I went on, "people who have thoughts in their heads and quick tongues with which to voice them, and we'll sit in cafes and we'll drink together and we'll clash with each other violently in words, and we'll talk for the rest of our lives in divine excitement. "
He reached out and put his arm around my neck and kissed me. We almost upset the table we were so blissfully drunk.
When the third bottle of wine came, I began to talk of my life, as I'd never done before -- of what it was like each day to ride out into the mountains, to go so far I couldn't see the towers of my father's house anymore, to ride above the tilled land to the place where the forest seemed almost haunted.
The words began to pour out of me as they had out of him, and soon we were talking about a thousand things we had felt in our hearts, varieties of secret loneliness, and the words seemed to be essential words the way they did on those rare occasions with my mother. And as we came to describe our longings and dissatisfactions, we were saying things to each other with great exuberance, like "Yes, yes," and "Exactly," and "I know completely what you mean," and "And yes, of course, you felt that you could not bear it," etc.
Another bottle, and a new fire. And I begged Nicolas to play his violin for me. He rushed home immediately to get it.
It was now late afternoon. The sun was slanting through the window and the fire was very hot. We were very drunk. We had never ordered supper. And I think I was happier than I had ever been in my life. I lay on the lumpy straw mattress of the little bed with my hands under my head watching him as he took out the instrument.
He put the violin to his shoulder and began to pluck at it and twist the pegs.
Then he raised the bow and drew it down hard over the strings to bring out the first note.
I sat up and pushed myself back against the paneled wall and stared at him because I couldn't believe the sound I was hearing.
He ripped into the song. He tore the notes out of the violin and each note was translucent and throbbing. His eyes were closed, his mouth a little distorted, his lower lip sliding to the side, and what struck my heart almost as much as the song itself was the way that he seemed with his whole body to lean into the music, to press his soul like an ear to the instrument.
I had never known music like it, the rawness of it, the intensity, the rapid glittering torrents of notes that came out of the strings as he sawed away. It was Mozart that he was playing, and it had all the gaiety, the velocity, and the sheer loveliness of everything Mozart wrote.
When he'd finished, I was staring at him and I realized I was gripping the sides of my head.
"Monsieur, what's the matter!" he said, almost helplessly, and I stood up and threw my arms around him and kissed him on both cheeks and kissed the violin.
"Stop calling me Monsieur," I said. "Call me by my name. " I lay back down on the bed and buried my face on my arm and started to cry, and once I'd started I couldn't stop it.
He sat next to me, hugging me and asking me why I was crying, and though I couldn't tell him, I could see that he was overwhelmed that his music had produced this effect. There was no sarcasm or bitterness in him now.
I think he carried me home that night.
And the next morning I was standing in the crooked stone street in front of his father's shop, tossing pebbles up at his window.
When he stuck his head out, I said:
"Do you want to come down and go on with our conversation?"