The Hollow Crown
An evening by the sea
An Eleanor and Imaad Joint Post
Eleanor Van den Berg, March 2001
Eleanor: It takes an extremely long, hot shower for me to get going the following day and I feel barely rested, my mind still full of Johannes’ warning and the cynical laughter of my alternate. It doesn’t help that I can still feel the shadows flickering at the back of my mind; they are there now, a part of me, but one that I must not allow to take me over. I need to be strong, to make sure that I don’t let Johannes down, or for that matter myself. I go cold as I recall what Johannes had to do to his lover when he found she had betrayed him to the Sabbat; I have no intention of doing the same, and I know that if I did he would have no hesitation in taking the same action. Indeed, he had done so in that alternate reality which I now know is a warning from my subconscious, although in that reality, he wasn’t my, her, sire. I will ask him soon to help me work on some of my other abilities, so I have other strengths to draw on than the shadows, but for a few days at least I need to give myself time to think, give him some time for the anger to fade.
I exit the shower and Imaad is waiting for me outside the bathroom. I don’t know what my expression is like, can’t see it, but it must be troubled as he enfolds me gently in his arms. Does he see the darkness in my soul? He’s seen me draw on the shadows a few times now, knows exactly what I am. And I know what he is now too, that he committed diablerie, counted a sin by most vampires but not by Imaad’s clan. I correct myself, most Kindred, and then it occurs to me I don’t think of myself as Kindred, I think of myself as a vampire. It is what I am, but not what the Camarilla refers to us as. Of course, vampire is the term Johannes used himself when he first Embraced me and it occurs to me that he seems to manage to walk the path well, accepting what he is with little dissembling but whilst managing to fight against that which is truly evil among our kind, the Sabbat.
‘Eleanor, what is the matter?’ Imaad asks and it is a few moments before I can speak. I walk into the living room and sit on the sofa, I am wrapped in a black bathrobe and he in a white one, it is almost as though we are mirror images of each other, me with my white skin and him with his dark. I look up at him. ‘Imaad, this might be a stupid question but have you ever seen the film Star Wars?’
‘Hasn’t everyone? Even Dyer mentioned it at the fundraiser’
I nod. ’Indeed she did. Then you know about the dark side of the Force. It’s a crude analogy, Imaad, but there is a dark side to what we are and I think we may have both felt it.’ I pause, unsure as to how I’m going to tell him what I need to, it’s hard to find the right words. ‘Johannes is angry with me, Imaad, but I think at least in part out of concern. He thinks I am in danger from the dark side, to use the analogy. He says,’ I pause, gathering my strength. ‘He says I glory in the shadows, in what I can do with them. And I hate admitting it, even to myself, but he’s right. I have a talent for them, I’ve learned the skills very fast given how little time it is since I became what I am. I wanted that power ever since I saw Johannes use it on Hook, and Normand use it on Gwendolyn and now I’ve got it I seem to want to use it every chance I get. It’s my strongest power, and it’s bloody effective, but it screams Sabbat to anyone who sees it. You’re used to it, you’ve seen me use it before and it doesn’t faze you, but that’s not how everyone reacts. I saw a look of horror pass over Malcolm’s face momentarily when he saw me invoke the shadows, he didn’t react otherwise but it was there and I didn’t care.’
‘Yes, it draws on a very primitive fear, fear of dark; it would bother anyone not used to it; I suspect anyone seeing me take someone down by spitting poisoned blood at them might also be repelled’
‘I see your point.’ I pause. ‘I’m not saying I need to give up using that power, it’s too useful for a start but I need to find some balance. Johannes warned me that the whole clan looks into the abyss that we call the shadows from, and there may be no telling what is looking in, or what is looking back out – which is why we need to be careful.’ I pause. ‘I’m going to ask him to work on my fighting skills instead for a while, I think. I have no intention of turning to the dark side, but I don’t want to let him down, or you, or myself.’
‘Indeed, if these powers provide you with a link to the rest of your clan then I’m not surprised that overusing them can pull your soul towards the darkness. Have you thought of firearms training? Even Malcolm who doesn’t exactly look like a warrior was able to take down the Sabbat Lasombra, though that may have been beginners luck. I’ve never seen Johannes fight except against Hook but his Uzis seem to be weapon of choice whereas you turn to the shadows first.’ I nod at him. ’That’s pretty much exactly what I was thinking of. As to the shadows, it’s complicated, there’s the issue of the rest of the clan, although Johannes dealt with the immediate threat from Normand. But the shadows speak to me, sometimes, and I think they sometimes speak to him, too. The darkness is somehow tangible, and I need to make sure I can use it, rather than risk it using me.’
I pause and look up at him tiredly. ‘Imaad, if you don’t have a class tonight, can we go and do something? I don’t need to be at the bar tonight and I think it would be nice to get out of Boston tonight, get some fresh air.’ I smile wistfully. ‘There’s a beach up the coast I often used to go to when I was mortal, it’s a short walk along the coast path. I used to go there when I wanted to feel the wind in my hair and the salt spray on my face. At night, we’d get it to ourselves. We could take a rug and sit on the beach and watch the waves.’ I pause. ‘I’d suggest a picnic but obviously not really an option anymore.’
Imaad smiles; ‘Ok, that sounds fun, I haven’t been to the beach since I left San Fran, sometimes we’d go midnight surfing; you may have a point with the picnic though!’
I go into the bedroom and dress carefully as ever, I haven’t been for a walk on the beach since I became what I am, and maybe it is simple pleasures that will keep me human. I might not be able to feel the sun on my face, but I can see the moon, and watch the waves. I can see that it is a clear night, and the stars and the moon, which is nearly full, will also give us some light to see by. In the end, I settle on a pair of faded grey jeans with a black top, black leather jacket and sneakers and go back into the living room, giving Imaad a wan smile. ‘Ready when you are.’
Imaad: I laugh. ‘I’m glad to see the shadows haven’t infected your wardrobe!’ I’m wearing ripped blue jeans, a long sleeved Rolling Stones T Shirt, sneakers and over it my long woollen coat, proof against the March chill, not that I need it of course, the whole thing topped off with a homberg style hat which I take off and place on Eleanor’s head, ‘girls in hats look cute’ I say.
Eleanor: I laugh back. ‘I think the shadows got into my wardrobe when I was embraced, although to be fair I always liked wearing black, just didn’t do it as often as I wanted to. Nice hat.’ I make a concerted attempt to smile, to try and shake off my mood. It will be nice to see the sea again, my family have always been drawn to it in some ways and I liked reading stories of the sea when I was a child.
Imaad: I decided we’re taking my car as it’s more of a beach car than Eleanor’s big BMV, luckily I had left it at Eleanor’s after returning from seeing Gwendolyn. Eleanor jumps in the passenger seat and we set off, ‘there’s some tapes in the glove box’ I say and Eleanor opens it causing a bunch of them to fall in her lap, ‘oops sorry, probably should have warned you!’
Eleanor: We drive off and I rummage through the tapes trying to find one that fits my mood, most of the music is blues or hippy type stuff, somehow going to the beach at night needs something chilled but not overly summertime, particularly as it is March and likely to be cold. Not that we will feel it anyway but it does rather rule out a midnight swim, although we wouldn’t feel the cold from the water it would be a risk if anyone noticed. Eventually I end up putting on the Rolling Stones and have to laugh when ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ comes on. I direct him up the coast and we park about a mile from where I intend us to go. We get out of the car and slowly walk up the coast path until the beach is laid out before us.
It’s a beautiful night. The moon is just past full, and the stars are out. It’s a small beach, with a curve of white sand which glimmers silver in the light of the moon, there are rocks to sit on or scramble across and the waves wash up against the shore. Tonight the sea is calm and the tide is out; there is a slight breeze and it catches my hair and I remember with a pang the last time I came here. I’d not long split up with Donovan and came here seeking solace; spring was turning into summer and I watched the sun set as I wondered how my life was turning. My research, my proper research and the family legend I’d just started to look into, the one that eventually led me to becoming what I am, had got on top of me and I felt the need for solitude and to feel the power of the waves and the freshness of the wind. I watched the sun set, and then a storm blew in, which seemed in some ways to mirror my feelings; as the rain started to beat down and the waves crash in I made a hasty retreat to my car. No rain tonight, all is calm and small wavelets lap the shore, catching the pale moonlight. Even at night, it’s beautiful and elemental and it strikes me that in some ways we are like the sea, changeable, immortal, sometimes calm, sometimes violent, a force of nature.
I take Imaad’s hand and just feel the wind on my face for a few minutes, letting the peace wash over me and listening to the sound of the sea.
Imaad: Eleanor takes my hand as we walk slowly along the beach, this actually feels strange although we have been a lot more intimate we don’t really hold hands, I can imagine what Winthrop’s reaction would be if we were seen strolling hand in hand through Central Boston!
The beach is much smaller than the one in San Francisco Bay and deserted, in San Fran the beach would have been busy even in the evenings, though of course the large temperature difference between southern California and the North East coast may have a lot to do with that.
The quietness of the beach is matched by Eleanor’s mood but she seems happy enough so I let her be, eventually she stops and stares out into the waves, I release her hand and start laying out the rug that I had in the trunk of the car. After a few minutes she comes and joins me on the rug, she smiles and asks me if I went to the beach as a child? I laugh and say ‘no, Northern India is mountainous and a long way from the sea’, ‘Why don’t you tell me about it?’, ‘what Northern India?’, ‘well more growing up really. You’ve told me about your time with your sire, and about the war, but not so much about growing up’.
‘Ok, well there isn’t a lot to tell, I was born in 1920 when India was part of the British Empire, I was an only child which was most unusual, my Father worked for the British government in India and I was expected to follow in his footsteps, as he was fond of telling me my family had been advisers to the government for generations, this always made me laugh, adviser to government, he was a civil servant, albeit a fairly senior one. I was never particularly academic I preferred the cricket pitch to the classroom and when I left school my father, who by then had realised I probably wouldn’t pass the Civil Service entrance exam not that I ever had any intention of taking it, decided that I needed a career and used his contacts to get me a commission in the Indian regiment of the British Army. That was quite good fun, until war broke out of course. To make matters worse while I was away fighting my Mother died in a Cholera epidemic that hit our town and my father died shortly after, it was said of a broken heart for he loved my mother deeply and wasn’t bothered that she only gave him one child even though many Muslim men would have been. After the war I returned to India, fairly directionless until I received Uncle Mohammed’s letter. The rest you know of course.’
Eleanor: I put my hand on his arm. ‘I’m sorry to hear about your parents. That must have been very hard.’
Imaad: Thank you but in some ways it was the best time for it to happen, I was already numbed to death by the war so what were two more? I was tired of it all, that’s why I grasped at the chance to visit Uncle Mohammed, it’s funny now thinking about it but at the time it never occurred to me that I had never heard from him before or that my parents had never mentioned him’, ‘so he’s not really your Uncle?’, ‘I assume not directly but Gwendolyn said that older Kindred sometimes keep an eye on their mortal family so maybe he’s my ten times Great Uncle or something, either way he saved my life as it were, gave me a direction, though maybe not one my father would have wished. Actually it’s you I feel sorry for, you will see your parents, your brother and even your brother’s children grow old and pass on, and that is much harder than what I went through. That is why it’s difficult for us to have mortal relationships, when I first came to America I had mortal girlfriends, beautiful young girls, now they are what 60 or more? Still beautiful of course, but if one lived to be 100 and I went to see her on her hundredth birthday I would look to her then like I did on her twentieth.’
Eleanor: ‘I think you might be right about Kindred keeping track of their mortal families, I guess Johannes must have done at least up to a point otherwise how would he have known I was looking into the family legend, and he’s my four times great grand uncle according to the family tree.’ I pause. ‘I think I see what you mean about mortal relationships, though. I’m not that close to my family, but it will still be hard, and it must be very hard to see a lover grow old.’ I remember the picture I saw when I went to his flat, the picture of Mia Farrow and wonder if he is referring to that or to something else, either way it interjects a note of the fleetingness of mortal youth. He doesn’t seem particularly sad though, more wistful, thinking of days gone by when he was young in the ways of the Kindred himself.
I continue. ‘Speaking of youth – I sometimes think that becoming what we are, is sort of like having to grow up all over again. You learn one set of rules as to how life works, what you should or shouldn’t do and how you fit in with the people you know and meet, and then in a few hours your whole world changes. You have a whole new set of rules that you have to learn, some of which seem to make no sense, you have little time to learn them before you’re expected to know how to apply them properly, and all of a sudden you have a completely different family as well, in my case a rather complicated one – and a whole new set of people to get to know, some of who may be friends or lovers and some of whom hate your guts simply because of who you are or who your friends or family are.’
Imaad: ‘Indeed, It feels as though I’ve had three lives, from birth until I met Uncle Mohammed, My time with Uncle Mohammed and a third life since I came here in the 60s. Gwendolyn was surprised that I had been embraced 50 years, although she was polite enough not to say it she obviously thinks I don’t act like it’, I laugh, ‘as you say it’s like growing up again, well in my first and second lives I was forced to grow up so perhaps in this one I have chosen not to!’
Eleanor: I laugh. ‘That’s Gwendolyn for you, always polite!’ I pause. ‘I’m sorry about what I said about new rules, didn’t mean that to sound like a moan. You and Gwendolyn had a long period of apprenticeship with your sires and from what I understand, that’s normal. There was no way Johannes could give me that given the circumstances, and what we are, and I understand why his lessons are sometimes hard. But it does sometimes feel like having to go from age 18 to age 30 in the space of months.’ I pause and look out to sea. ‘It’s nice to just take some time out and just feel calm, and watch the waves. I’ve always liked the sea.’
Imaad: I smile, don’t worry I knew what you meant, perhaps when you feel drawn to the darkness you should try and imagine the waves pushing the darkness back? You would have loved San Francisco in the 60s, beach parties, surfing…’
Eleanor: ‘That’s not a bad idea about the waves. My family have always had a thing about the sea; I think it goes back to coming over in the 17th century on a boat from the old country and after that they were merchants, although in the last 100 years or so most of the money has come from finance. I’ve never tried surfing actually, not sure why not; I’ve certainly been to beach parties though. There was the odd one when I was a student that got quite riotous, not something my parents would have approved of had they known!’ I pause. ‘I even liked reading books about the sea, stories about pirates and things, in fact when I was young Moby Dick was my favourite book. Johannes said he got the author drunk once, wouldn’t put it past him.’
Imaad: I laugh, ‘nor would I and I’m not surprised by your liking for Moby Dick, well Ok I am by the Moby part..’
Eleanor: I make a pretty poor attempt at looking shocked and then burst out laughing. ‘Imaad! I was a very respectable young woman once, you know. And then I meet you and seem to have become all improper.’ On impulse I reach for him and kiss him deeply, then break off the embrace, much as I want to at this moment it wouldn’t do to get too carried away, although I now feel relaxed and there is nobody obviously about, outside our havens we can never be totally sure someone isn’t watching us. I look at him and the restlessness in my mind seems to have eased at least for now, the shadows fading as the waves lap at the shore.
Imaad: I laugh, ‘so’, I say, reaching into a bag, ’does Eleanor Van Den Berg, Harvard Scholar and very respectable young woman play Frisbee? I found this one in the trunk of the car when I was getting the rug’
Eleanor: I raise an eyebrow as he produces a round thing from a bag. ‘Been a long time since I saw one of those. Last time I was probably about ten.’ I stand up; I’m slightly bemused but I see what he is trying to do, get me to do something a little bit silly and take my mind off questions such as shadows and Sabbat although the combination of the beach and his presence had been doing that anyway. ‘Come on then, show me what you’ve got.’ I arch an eyebrow at him.
Imaad: I run off a distance down the beach and crouch down, ‘what are you doing?’ Eleanor calls, ’aiming’, ‘what at?, ’you’ll see!‘, I throw the Frisbee from low above the ground and as it flies toward Eleanor it sweeps up and knocks off the hat she is still wearing, ’Yes!’ I shout pumping my fist.
‘Ha!’ Says Eleanor retrieving both the Frisbee and the hat, ’I’ll get you for that!, she throws the Frisbee with such force that I end up deflecting rather than catching it, ‘Super strength, great for mincing Sabbat not so good for Frisbee! You might want to moderate your throws’, she laughs, ‘Sorry, I’ll be more careful’ although there is a devilish glint in her eye. We throw the Frisbee around for about half an hour before we both collapse laughing back onto the rug, ‘we should have brought Lestrade he would have enjoyed that!’ ‘He probably would, not sure Gwendolyn would approve though.’ She leans in and kisses me gently.
We lie back together on the rug and stare at the sky which is beautifully clear, ‘so, being from a family of seafarers you must know a bit about the stars?’ ‘I think most of the seafaring was before about a hundred years ago â€“ unless you count my father and brother messing about on yachts. I do know a bit though, I know you can navigate by them using the Pole Star’ she points out Polaris in the sky above us, I smile; ‘yes indeed, we call it Al Kiblah, which translates as the direction of Mecca because you can use to determine the correct direction for prayers’, a sad look passes across my face which Eleanor immediately picks up upon. ‘Imaad, what’s the matter?’ ‘Sorry, talking about Mecca reminded me of Imam Faisal and his refusal to talk to me, I was so sure destroying that monster was the right thing to do but perhaps…’,
Eleanor: I give him a sympathetic look, I must admit I’m still troubled by what he did, his clan do not consider it a sin in the same way as most do and he has told me it was in self-defence but given what the Imam is doing it is obviously bothering him to at least some degree, and I am worried that others in the court will look at him differently now; given my own issues though I am in no position to criticise. I place my hand gently on his arm. ‘As you said it was him or you, I’m sure you will find a way to deal with it and to remove whatever the Imam sees.’ ‘I hope so, the Hajj removes all sin but that is no longer an option for me, afternoon prayers on Mount Arafat would take away more than my sins..’ I look into his eyes. ‘Talk to your sire, I’m sure he can advise you what you need to do.’ I look at my watch, we have been here longer than I thought and it isn’t many hours until dawn will be upon us. ‘I think we’d better go home, we can worry about that another day. It’s been a nice night.’ I grin at him. ‘I can’t see Kindred Frisbee catching on though, can you? Super speed versus super strength, it could go on for hours!’
Imaad: I give her a half smile, ‘no I can’t see it replacing the vassal court as a decision maker anytime soon’; I pack the Frisbee and the rug into the bag and take her hand, ‘come on then let’s get you tucked up in bed’