It’s been a minute since we paid a visit to the trashpires. When last we left, Lestat had met his second (small, chubby, redheaded) stalker and turned his boyfriend into a vampire despite everyone everywhere agreeing that doing so would be a really really bad idea. It didn’t even take him a full second to regret it.
Lestat figures the least he can do is go into Paris to get Nicki’s violin, even if it means exposing himself to the cult and their potential remaining threat. Gabrielle suggests they might still have things to learn from Armand and the old woman, but Lestat’s way too bitter at his own mistake to consider that good sense. Instead, he goes into the city and spends some time pretending like nothing is wrong and he absolutely didn’t shoot himself in the foot.
Naturally, that makes it a perfect time for him to run into the coven vampires….or, the ones who’re left, anyway. It seems Armand didn’t take having his worldview shattered very well, and started lighting fires. No wonder he and Louis felt such a spark.
Gabrielle’s plan to have a Q&A with the Queen of the Vampires is out the window too.
“It was she who commenced it,” said the [gray-eyed] boy bitterly. “She threw herself into the fire. She said she would go to join Magnus. She was laughing. It was then that he drove the others into the flames as we fled.”
“You must help us,” said the dark-eyed woman. “You see, it’s his right as coven master to destroy those who are weak, those who can’t survive.”
So, not so good then. But knowing what we know about Armand’s future and what we’ll soon find out about his past, this is pretty unsurprising. It’s BAD, but it’s not surprising. This is someone (a child in many ways still, as Lestat reminds us) who’s been under the thumb of a keeper for his entire life. He follows, and he has no idea what to do on his own.
In this case, the oldest and wisest member of the coven tossed herself into the fire once the cult was disbanded? Okay, must be the thing to do. They won’t survive on their own, better to mercy kill them. “Slash and burn” is not a healthy coping mechanism – making it retroactively a big step that Armand simply left Louis rather than killing him, since violent death closed every chapter of his life up to that point.
Only four vampires managed to survive Armand’s murder spree: Laurent, the other shitty teen vampire who is woefully underused and then has a bridge unceremoniously dropped on him in the next book; Eleni, the woman Lestat was flirting with, who possesses more emotional intelligence than every other vampire in Paris combined; and then there’s Felix and Eugenie, the latter of whom I remember only because her becoming Eleni’s girlfriend was one of the few shining lights in the pitchest dark of reading Prince Lestat. Their pitch to Lestat is “you break it, you bought it,” and they want him to tell them how to live their lives like him.
To which he shrugs and says, “I ‘unno, get a job,” suggesting performance out of hand. Then he remembers that he still owns Renaud’s, and even though it feels like a second death of his happy mortal memories, he gives it over to the ragtag little group. Thus was the auspicious start of the Theatre de Vampires. Mind, none of these four founding vampires are still around by the time Louis gets there over a century later – hence the very different tone and the mockery of Armand’s stories of the “old days” in IWTV.
Ah, Armand. Everyone is scared to death of him for pretty good reason. Y’know, with the murder and all. But while they’re all worried about him stalking the streets, he’s actually holed up in Nicki’s apartment. Lestat gets there to find hundreds of candles burning and every light on, and while Armand knows he’s there the former coven master gives exactly zero fucks.
Candle wax dripped down the marble bust of Caesar, flowed over the brightly painted countries of the world globe. And the books, they lay in mountains on the carpet, save for those of the very last shelf in the corner when he stood, in his old rags still, hair full of dust, ignoring me when he ran his hand over page after page, his eyes intent on the words before him, his lips half open, his expression like that of an insect in its concentration as it hews through a leaf.
Perfectly horrible he looked, actually. He was sucking everything out of the books!
Oh my God, he’s READING! He’s READING EVERYTHING!
Turns out Armand isn’t doing so well either. It’s a funny thing: Lestat describes Armand as being dirty and clothed in rags, but the dust comment here is specific. You, uh, know what happens to vampires when you burn them?
Yeah, Armand’s been wandering around in a borderline fugue state for days while wearing the remains of his fellow coven members. He’s a figure of insatiable consumption throughout the book (carried over from IWTV), as a kind of foil to Lestat’s sensualist philosophy. They’re both desperately seeking connection and unable to function on their own (or think they can’t), but Lestat seeks other people while Armand finds comfort in rules and roles.
This is also a tick in favor of the “Armand reads as on the spectrum” theory, since this is the first instance of specialized interest he shows (briefly, and then much more in Queen of the Damned). Lestat told him to learn about the world and find his own path to follow. So Armand does, devouring every piece of knowledge he was denied for centuries in his search for meaning. Granted, it did involve wrecking Nicki’s place after also trashing Nicki’s psyche via kidnapping, so it makes sense that Lestat’s upset.
Armand does know Lestat’s there, by the way. He starts asking baiting questions, like why no one’s ever taught Lestat, and taunting him with the fact that he can’t hear his fledgling’s thoughts. Armand is largely nonverbal when he has his druthers, incidentally; even Lestat can sense it:
It was shattering something to speak. I was feeling more fear of him at this moment than ever during the earlier battles and arguments, and I hate those who make me feel fear, those who know things that I need to know, who have that power over me.
“I hate people who make me feel powerless,” said Lestat, the person whose control issues are only matched by his abandonment issues; who deliberately kept Louis in the dark partly so he would be dependent and unable to leave. The person who exercises power over others to make himself feel more in control. How IS that kettle.
In the midst of all this, Armand is hitting on Lestat as hard as he can, basically saying that since Lestat destroyed Armand’s world he needs to take responsibility. Armand’s never made a fledgling in his centuries of vampirehood, and is convinced that the psychic block created between a maker and their fledgling will inevitably drive the pair apart. He and Lestat, though, are clearly perfect for one another. And Lestat, driven partly by his own attraction and partly by Armand’s mesmerism, has to fight very hard to disagree.
“[…] You will find me easily enough when you want to come to me. After all, where can I go? What can I do? You have made me an orphan again.”
“I didn’t—“ I said.
“Yes, you did,” he said. “You did it. You brought it down.” Still there was no anger. “But I can wait for you to come, wait for you to ask the questions that only I can answer.”
This is infinitely sadder with the knowledge that what Armand is attempting clearly didn’t work, since Lestat ended up in New Orleans, and that Armand didn’t learn any other way to go about things, either. This is the exact same line he tries on Louis, and I think he believes it both times. Yet he’s different from Lestat once again: Lestat seeks power over people so that they’ll stay with him, while Armand withholds information so that he’s seen as worthwhile and will be kept. They’re deeply similar at heart, but just different and stubborn enough to continually clash and hurt one another.
Unable to find the violin, Lestat retreats to his tower, but Armand’s psychic powers are strong enough to follow him. For the rest of the night Lestat is besieged by visions of how happy he could be if only he’d accept Armand’s love and go to him, and he’s only able to break free when Armand tries to push him to leave Gabrielle and Nicki out in the sun. Armand’s yandere side had a long history of shooting him in the foot before he murdered Claudia.
He was so close to taking the maid approach instead
The next night, Lestat is upset enough that he wants to get out of Paris and never think about any of this again, because running to something new is easier than facing down the mess of consequences he’s created. Gabrielle won’t have it, though. She’s already far more interested in nature than people, but she still wants to learn from Armand and to follow through on Lestat’s last-ditch plan to reach Nicki. Which means it’s back to Paris again to visit Lestat’s lawyer (he tells us that old horror gem that humans will accept any seemingly reasonable explanation that allows them to ignore the supernatural).
While Lestat’s gone, the seemingly comatose Nicolas makes an escape, but it’s not hard to find him. According to Gabrielle, he’s only had two thoughts since turning: the pyre and the little cage he was kept in, and the stage. Sure enough, they find Nicki sitting in the orchestra pit, unseeing; and in his still-untouched dressing room (because Lestat can’t get away from reminders of his mortality, reminders that he is now monstrous and ruinous to those around him) Lestat finds Nicki’s Stradivarius. By bringing his undead family here, where his found family once stayed, Lestat makes the theatre his beginning and ending.
Beautiful this little place, our place. The portal to the world for us as mortal beings. And the portal finally to hell.
Lestat gives Nicolas the violin, Gabrielle looking on (“rested against the beam beside her in the easy manner of a strange long-haired man” Gabrielle has no time for your gender)…and it works.
And I knew, knew in some full and simultaneous fashion, that the violin was telling everything that had happened to Nicki. It was the darkness exploded, the darkness molten, and the beauty of it was like the glow of smoldering coals; just enough illumination to show how much darkness there really was.
The music calls the four surviving coven members into the theater and they begin to dance, faster and stranger and deliberately, dementedly inhuman. And when it’s done, Nicolas christens what they’ve done the Theater of the Vampires. But while the four are delighted, Nicki only has eyes for Lestat.
“Don’t you admire its splendor, its perfection? Won’t you endow the Theater of the Vampires with the coin of the realm which you possess in such great abundance? How was it now, ‘the new evil, the canker in the heart of the rose, death in the very midst of things’…”
From a mute he had passed into mania, and even when he broke off talking, the low senseless frenzied sounds still issued from his lips like water from a spring. […]
And behind him there came an almost innocent laughter from the others, except for Eleni, who watched over his shoulder, trying very hard to comprehend what was really happening between us.
As she did when Armand collapsed in the catacombs, Eleni is watching the emotional truth of what’s going on. Seriously, she’s the best. The only one who both knows what’s up and cares to intervene even a little.
Nicki declares what he’s done splendid, a mockery right in the middle of humanity, and Lestat withdraws from him. He sees no point in it – it might be clever to fool mortals, to put on death before their eyes; the performances might even be beautiful, but to him it serves no purpose but to eat time. It creates nothing, leaves no beautiful art to the ages, and so it appeals neither to Lestat’s humanism nor his aestheticism. But Nicki has been rocked by the change into re-embracing his Catholic upbringing; his bitterness at his mortal limitations becomes a way to mock everything sacred and good in the world, to mock God directly.
Nicolas de Lenfent, Unappreciated Artist
Nicki demands the deed to the theatre, and Lestat is ready to give it to him in order to be rid of the pain. Lestat only has one unspoken question: did Nicki love him at all, really? Did he believe in what they did? Whatever was actually true, all Nicki can remember is his bitterness.
“And when we decided to go to Paris, I thought we would starve in Paris, that we would go down and down and down. It was what I wanted, rather than what they wanted, that I, the favored son, should rise for them. I thought we would go down! We were supposed to go down.”
“Like a mindless beam of sunlight you routed the bats of the old coven!” he whispered. “And for what purpose? What does it mean, the murdering monster who is filled with light!”
Yeah, you’re reading that right. Lestat was the spite boyfriend times, like, twelve. He’s the son of disgraced nobility, an actor, and a SON. Nicki was disappointing his family and God all at once, engaging in that sinful sodomy and denying his parents children from their supposed beloved child – the one they dragged home from pursuing his dreams.
I tend to believe that Nicolas did love Lestat genuinely – he tried to “protect” Lestat from his depression, even if he was still reveling in Lestat being the illiterate bumpkin; and his self-loathing was exacerbated both by his resentment of Lestat’s optimism and his own inability to believe in it, however much he might’ve wanted to at points. Every time he looked at Lestat, he saw his own failings and his own corrosive effect on the one person he loved. As a dead man, all that love has fallen away, and Lestat can’t see it in the telling through his own regrets and (ironically) self-loathing for what he did to his first love.
IT’S A SADNESS PARTY AND EVERYONE’S INVITED.
Wounded by the verbal assault, Lestat smacks Nicki across the room – because vampires, so everything is big and impressive-looking – and Nicki says he hates Lestat and never wants to see him again, once he has the theater. Lestat agrees, leaves, and makes it a few blocks before having another panic attack.
We were not far from the lights of the boulevard when I stopped in my tracks. Without words a thousand horrors came to me—that Armand would come to destroy him, that his newfound brothers and sisters would tire of his frenzy and desert him, that morning would find him stumbling through the streets, unable to find a hiding place from the sun. I looked up at the sky. I couldn’t speak or breathe.
It takes exactly one night for things to start going bad: Nicki is terrorizing Roget, the former theater owner, and demanding the old troupe come back (presumably so he can turn them). Lestat flips right the fuck out at the notion of more of his old life being poisoned, and threatens to cut Nicki off if he ever bothers anyone from the old troupe or turns any actors in Paris, period. But he’s not the one Nicki listens to.
He laughed at me, he ridiculed me as he had before. But Eleni silenced him. She was horrified to learn of his impulsive designs. It was she who gave the promises, and exacted them from the others. It was she who intimidated him and confused him with jumbled language of the old way, and made him back down.
And it was to Eleni finally that I gave control of the Theater of the Vampires, and the income, to pass through Roget, which would allow her to do with it what she pleased.
Before I left her that night, I asked her what she knew of Armand. Gabrielle was with us. We were in the alleyway again, near the stage door.
“He watches,” Eleni answered “Sometimes he lets himself be seen.” Her face was very confusing to me. Sorrowful. “But God only knows what he will do,” she added fearfully, “when he discovers what is really going on here.”
I cannot emphasize enough how very The Best Eleni is. Not only does she see through Armand enough to pity him while also being pragmatic about the threat he poses, not only can she parse the fraught vampire melodrama going on at any given time, but she’s the only character to both survive the Children of Darkness and come out of it knowing the old beliefs are bullshit, while also being able to use that rhetoric as a means to an end.
I’m sure she wanted to spend immortality playing babysitter to a bunch of emotionally arrested improv actors
Lestat can’t engage with it on any level, Armand is shattered and needs something new to cling to, and Nicki believes it in some demented way. Eleni’s the only one who truly has a foot in both worlds and the firmest head on her shoulders. She kind of drops off the map halfway through the book, so I just want to savor this excellence while it’s around.
That’s the end of the section, but we’re going to go on a little longer. We are now entering the best section: the trash boy zone.
We open on a ball, because intrigue is happening and sure, why not. Lestat’s grasp of the French Revolution, in total, is thus:
The king and queen were there, dancing with the people. Talk in the shadows of intrigue. Who cares? Kingdoms rise and fall. Just don’t burn the paintings in the Louvre, that’s all.
Given that Lestat was alive in a very small town during one of the most turmoil-stricken periods in French history (or at least the most famously so), it makes a certain sense that he would be one of those “nothing to do with me,” sorts. After all, he had a title; he might not’ve had money, but the name would’ve granted a certain amount of privilege to move freely, and thus to pretend that politics had nothing to do with him.
When he died, the tendency was only exacerbated. Lestat balks at systems for existing, not often because he actually understands the intricacies of power and oppression; he sees difference from himself, and because he starts out as someone who is oppressed in the early going (a survivor of assault, abuse, a poor man and a queer one), it happens to work out (were we to entertain the idea that there are more than three novels, would go on to contribute to all manner of horrors as he becomes the system – as it is, it already did enough to ruin his marriage to Louis).
But I digress, as usual. There is a ball, and Lestat is there. He has another panic attack as he watches the attendees and thinks of how easily he could kill them, how much he wants to. And just as he can’t stand it anymore, Armand is there, dressed at last in modern clothes and looking like a dream. It’s a scene from a fairytale, as Lestat describes it. The crowds parting at the ball so that the prince lays eyes on Cinderella for the first time. He’s achingly in love, and one statement is most interesting of all: he claims that these images of desire and allure aren’t coming from Armand. I have a number of doubts, given how astronomically intense Armand’s thirst game is at this point, but my stance is the same as it was with Louis’ feelings: there has to be something genuine there under the glamour, or what’s the hook? Why bother investing if real feelings aren’t at stake, ones that Armand is potentially poisoning because he’s trying so hard to formulate this perfect mirage?
And I mean, Lestat has got it BAD.
And it was the most artistic, beautiful nosebleed ever described
Yet never had Nicolas, mortal or immortal, been so alluring. Never had Gabrielle held me so in thrall.
Dear God, this is love. This is desire. And all my past amours have been but the shadow of this.
And it seemed in a murmuring pulse of thought he gave me to know that I had been very foolish to think it would not be so.
Overcome, Lestat follows Armand to an empty room for a makeout session. It’s all heartrendingly hopeful for a half second. And then – sing along if you know the words – everything goes horribly wrong.
“You know it was the damnedest luck!” I whispered suddenly. “I am an unwilling devil. I cry like some vagrant child. I want to go home.”
Yes, yes, his lips tasted like blood, but it was not human blood. It was that elixir Magnus had given me, and I felt myself recoil. I could get away this time. I had another chance. The wheel had turned full round.
I was crying out that I wouldn’t drink; I wouldn’t, and then I felt the two hot shafts driven hard through my neck and down to my soul.
Please hold while I cry.
I have to play the book’s hand a little bit to properly discuss this, because it seems on the surface as though Armand is simply seducing Lestat in order to get the upper hand and kill him (indeed, Lestat assumes this in the scene). Lestat-as-narrator paints it as a terrible act of trickery, and that tends to be what people roll with (because you know who’s an entirely reliable narrator? Lestat. He’s the most reliable narrator there ever was). Really, though? In light of Armand’s history, this was probably a completely sincere attempted seduction.
We’ve discussed Armand’s dislike of fledglings in passing, and his belief that the strongest connections are between vampires, not vampires and mortals or a maker and their fledgling. But even within that (and here we get to what the book hasn’t told us yet, though it will in a minute), Armand has never been the active party. He was chosen by his maker from a young age and groomed so that he wouldn’t know any better, and that maker kept him calm by biting him and making use of the effects of the swoon.
That relationship shaped everything Armand knows about sex, romance, and interfacing with others. Now, though, he’s acting as the aggressor. What do? Well, better look to his only past experience, the one that worked on him. He tries to feed Lestat his blood, because that’s a marker of intimacy between old vampires, and then when Lestat is triggered and starts having flashbacks, Armand tries to calm him down by biting him. Why shouldn’t he? That’s what was done to him.
Lestat, meanwhile, is full-on reliving his trauma of being raped and murdered. Unfortunately for Armand, Lestat now has enough strength to fight back. The result is Armand becoming a smear on the ground, his face ground half off by Lestat’s PTSD outburst. Lestat is on the verge of killing him; believing Armand acted out of malice, Lestat waits for him to turn coward and beg for his life. Nothing comes, though. Armand just lays still, waiting for the outcome. In all likelihood part of him wanted to die in the fire with the rest of the coven, but was afraid to. He’s come to Lestat in a last ditch effort: either Lestat will take him in and teach him, or Lestat will kill him. Either way, it ends Armand’s uncertainty about what to make of himself in the wake of the cult’s disintegration.
In the aftermath of his anger, looking down at his tormentor and object of desire, Lestat has a moment of clarity.
He lay a broken child on the gravel path, only yards from the passing traffic, the ring of horses’ hooves, the rumble of the wooden wheels.
And in this broken child were centuries of evil and centuries of knowledge, and out of him there came no ignominious entreaty but merely the soft and bruised sense of what he was. Old, old evil, eyes that had seen dark ages of which I only dream.
All my pain with Nicolas came back to me and Gabrielle’s words and Nicolas’s denunciations. My anger was nothing to his misery, his despair.
And this perhaps was the reason that I reached down and gathered him up and maybe I did it because he was so exquisitely beautiful and so lost, and were after all of the same ilk.
Yes, you read that right. Lestat is very close to having empathy for another person, actually grasping what they’re going through and everything. Lestat and Armand’s relationship is a fantastic, agonizing thing. They would never be able to sustain anything longterm, particularly as long as eternity is, but they are, as he says, “of the same ilk.” They reflect one another, similar enough to be drawn together and different enough to wound each other. And yet they refuse to let go of the fascination and love that won’t die, even when they hate each other passionately. Eternity is a long time to grow familiar with someone, a fellow survivor and eyewitness especially.
Hard to believe, I know
As Lestat holds the injured Armand, he realizes that Gabrielle’s been waiting for him. Not just her, either – all the theater vampires were watching the fight, waiting to see what would happen. Waiting, probably, to see who would lead them next. If Lestat would defeat the boogeyman for them. And perhaps because Lestat’s fear of Armand is broken, knowing that he can overpower the redhead, Lestat takes him back to the tower.
NEXT TIME: Armand tells his tale.