For this week’s Sample Sunday, I’m presenting a character biography, rather than a sample of fiction. Doing so, has meant I’ve had some interesting reflections upon the difference between such a biography – which is, of course, essentially a work of fiction – and a sample of narrative writing. I think the main difference between the two pieces, is that of show, not tell. Show, not tell, is a rubric of good writing. Whereby you describe a scene, a character, a section of narrative development, and allow the reader to piece together elements in their own mind. You don’t tell them a character is in love, you allow them to see it for themselves, through the world you construct with words. ‘Tell’ is usually sloppy writing, or used sparingly as a technique. A biography, which is seen only by the writer, and is part of their concordance, does not need to be ‘show’. It can be ‘tell’. You are fleshing out character for yourself, and no need to dress it into hard won ‘show’.
I therefore present a ‘tell’ piece – the biography of The Lord of the Rivers, a central character for books two and three of the trilogy. He appears for one glimpse, un-named, in Changeling. He is my most adored male vampire. Whilst I do not have a crush on him, as it goes against his personality, I would, if I could. I do have a slight crush on his current partner, whom you will meet in book 2. But that’s another tale, for another telling.
The biography below is not a full one. There are other elements of his story, contained in the biographies of other vampires. Where he touches the lives of others, he is more fully formed in their stories, in the meeting place. I’ll be posting a second biography of another vampire, next Sunday, and The Lord of the Rivers has a starring role in that one. But for a concordance, there is no need to stitch all elements together, as in a linear narrative. So you’re only getting his beginning life here, as later elements belong in the biographies of others. But I thought it would be interesting for you to see two separate ones, and how they dovetail. Usually, when a ‘name’ is mentioned in the list of alter egos a vampire has had, it’s a sign there is a story there, with another vampire, or main character.
It’s a reckless thing I may be doing here, letting cats out of bags of book 2, before book 1 is released. But I hope I’ve chosen wisely, and I’m merely enhancing both understanding of the writing process, and enticing you, the reader, in a little deeper. The point of a biography, after all, is to furnish characters with personal history, and therefore psychological motivation, and therefore... life. Life in the eyes of the reader, well formed, fully rounded, and three dimensional. A person, not a stereotype, or cardboard cut out. Someone you will have an emotional reaction to, and perhaps an emotional relationship with.
It’s also not complete, and ends suddenly, as I have two versions as to how he loses his first love. I probably won’t choose which of those two endings, until I’ve written in a bit more detail on book two. So all you, and I, know at this point, is his ending with his Master came suddenly and in an untimely fashion. As all beloved deaths are. The Turning that made the Lord of the Rivers, is a good counterpoint to Joanne’s story.
I simply copied and pasted what is in my concordance. You are seeing what I wrote, as an aide memoire for myself, nothing more, and nothing less. Enjoy.... he is a delight, even if I say so myself... but I know so much more of him, than the bare bones here...
The Lord of the Rivers
Antonio Paulo ‘Angelo’
Antonio Paulo was the eldest son of a stone mason, born in a tiny village on the Po, a few miles from the Venice lagoon, in 1326. He was the middle of 5 children, and had two older sisters and a younger brother and sister. His mother raised them mostly on her own. Their father was a Master stone carver who journeyed up and down the river, and into the Venetian islands, to work on new buildings. Antonio was apprenticed to stone carving, and travelled with his father, learning the trade, from the age of about 10 years old. Antonio was a boy with startling looks – deep blue eyes, like the Adriatic Sea on a sunny day, and smooth long black hair that gleamed in the sun. He was a slight, but strong lad, who had worked hard digging fetching and carrying on the small holding of land the family worked, before joining his father to carry, lift and work stone.
Tonio had an amazing voice, and he sang as an altar boy in his local village church. When he joined his father in work, he would often sing hymns as he worked by his father’s side, clearing away chips and dust and keeping his father’s tools sharp. Given his physical beauty, and his voice, he was nicknamed Angelo by his father’s co-workers.
Tonio and his father, travelled in to Venice in the summer of 1339, in order to work on the building of a new church on the site of an older one, Saints John and Paul. Santi Giovanni e Paolo The choirmaster came across the young Angelo, and on hearing him sing, offered him a place in the official choir of the Cathedral. It was a great honour for a young village lad, and the choirmaster secured funding from a local merchant guild to pay for it. However, Tonio’s father hesitated. The choirmaster, on recognising the issue of being first born male, promised Francisco, that no attempt would be made to push Tonio into the priesthood, and he would be not be seen as a candidate for falsetti. He would be given an education until his voice broke naturally. Then he could return to his family, with enough skills to earn a living, and not a living that broke his back or clogged his lungs. Francisco agreed, and the young Tonio was bought out of his apprenticeship and settled in a foster home with several other young boys being trained in music and singing, for the various guilds of the city. Venice had a rich history of keeping young boys off the crowded canals and Squares in such a manner. He saw his father often through the next few years, and his mother travelled into Venice to see hear him sing every year at the Easter mass. Like all young boys, he was allowed home for a few short weeks, at harvest time, but otherwise spent all his time in his studies.
Tonio was popular, and willing to learn. He caught up on book and language learning very quickly, and the rough edges of rural life were smoothed from him quickly. He was in great demand in the choir, given the purity of his voice, and his looks.
When his voice began to mature, he was forbidden to sing at all for at least 3 years by the choirmaster, and released back to his family, at 17 years old. His younger brother Rizo, had taken up the apprenticeship he had bypassed, and was working with his father. One sister was married and one betrothed. His mother was eager that the learning of her eldest son not be wasted, and with the Abbot’s help, Angelo, as he was known to all, was enrolled as a clerk to a Venetian law firm who worked for the merchant guild that had paid for his chorister training. He moved his few clothes from the Cathedral, to the offices of the law firm, sleeping in the garrets with the other young males of the firm.
Angelo enjoyed his time of freedom, as he came to think of it, and dallied with the other young clerks in the coffee houses, where he learned more of life than the Cathedral had allowed. In his second year of working there, he was assigned as clerk to a wealthy merchant, who liked to live his life in secrecy and shadows. In his role of taking documents from ship to guild to merchant, and back, Angelo came to spend a great deal of time with the somewhat recluse, who traded in silk and spices from China. A middle aged and powerful man, who lived his life at night on the canals and thoroughfares, and slept through the daylight hours. The older man would often engage him in conversation, seeming to be genuinely interested in him. Angelo became a catamite to Venerio lo Grato, and revelled in both his lover, and the enormous freedoms to be bought him by wealth. Venerio and he would often spend the nights in drunken parties and excess, returning to Venerio’s palazzo to sleep off the rigours of the nights, and then to waken up in tangled limbs of pleasure mid way through the afternoon. Enjoying each other in the chiaroscuro shadows peeping round the shutters, before going out to feast on alcohol and fine food, once again. Angelo was intelligent, and knew there were some very odd things about his benefactor. He never ate, or drank, in front of anyone, even he. He was contemptuous of attending Church, and had no relatives that Angelo could fathom. Content to enjoy the company of the older man, and to be learning so much that he had never thought he could ever have access to, Angelo was happy to leave well alone, and not stray out of his bounds as sometime employee and enthusiastic lover. He formally left the offices of the law firm, to be secretary to Venerio. His family were very happy, for him to have found such prestigious private employment. Venerio was content, and Angelo drunk with happiness.
Into this idyll, the Black Death entered.
All around them, people started to fester, and to die. Venerio was unaffected by it all, saying he had seen many die before, but to the young Angelo, it was like the vengeance of God had been let loose in Venice. Sin and greed were being punished by poison and death. Venerio explained to his young lover that the contagion was a natural occurrence, with rules and pathways that could be plotted. This was not God’s will but evidence of human failings. Angelo had difficulty in believing him. God was all things, surely? Venerio bade him stay in their palazzo whilst he laid plans to take them both out to the country estates he had, to protect them from the disease. Angelo was happy to agree, until a message came for him, that his mother had taken ill. He stated he must go, and with a heavy heart, Venerio allowed him to, but insisted that he take a healing draught from him first. After drinking it, Angelo left immediately for the family home, unprepared for what greeted him. His mother and father were already dead; their bodies had been dragged to a plague pit dug in the fields. Rizo was dying, a horrible vision of pox, pus and pain. His younger sister, Sofia, was attending him, and she too was starting to look ill. His two older sisters were in their own homes, in the hills, too afraid to come and tend their siblings, as one had two children and the other was heavily pregnant.
Antonio did what he could, and cared for his brother and sister as plague ate their flesh and minds. He witnessed their screams and tears, and their desperate prayers to God to lift their suffering. He stayed fast to them, and then accompanied the cart that took first his brother, and then his sister, to the plague pit. Looking down on the sea of rotting flesh, an oiled cloth over his mouth and nose to block the stench, he prayed as his sister’s body was lobbed as a rag doll onto the putrefaction that stained the sunlight. Prayer didn’t seem to do very much.
On returning to Venerio, he burned his clothing and bathed in alcohol, as Venerio had asked him to do. The stench could not be eradicated from his nostrils, or the sight from his eyes.
Around them, Venice died slowly, hundreds upon hundreds dying each day. Bodies floated on the canals, poisoning everything. They travelled out to Venerio’s estates, leaving behind the greasy clouds of misery.
Settled high in the cleaner, colder air of the Alps, Venerio waited for the melancholy that had hit his young lover, to lift. The Death followed them everywhere however, and even Venerio was beggared by the extent of the plague. When news came that both his remaining sisters, and their children, had also succumbed, Antonio tore his clothes and retired to the dark. He brooded, on all things on life, on death, and of God.
Venerio sat by him, and held him silently.
Antonio questioned everything. He had never thought very much about God, but his presence had been in every waking second of his life. His mother was never without her rosary beads, his father carved the altar stones, and he himself had sung the Lord’s praises with his every breath. He could not understand how he had been spared, when all around him that he loved, had been cruelly taken. He had never troubled himself over much with his desires for Venerio, and had known many of the priests of the Abbey to both lay with each other, with women, and to drink and eat to excess. Sin had been a reality that he thought little of, just as he thought little of God. It was just how the world was. That was the point of confession, after all, to confess and do penance, for sins were the way of man? But surely, he should not have been spared, above his mother, his father, his siblings? Their sin was small, his was large, including that of ego and hubris. How could God do such a thing, as kill innocents, and let him live, unscathed? He would die now, if it would bring even one of them back.
Venerio was very patient, and understanding, and wise. He allowed Antonio time to question everything at his own pace. Eventually, the young man, and he was so very young, turned to the older, for guidance. Slowly, gently, Venerio introduced Antonio to the concept that there was no such thing as God, that man needed to invent him, and that fate was neither set, nor used as whip to guide humans to a better understanding. Humans had humans, good and bad, as their examples on life. God did not exist. There were just the miracles of nature and science, and that man was the centre of all industry on the planet. Man built the merchant ships that sailed the seas and brought wealth to them all. Man built churches, by bare hands, from stone, not God.
Antonio was not exactly persuaded by Venerio’s arguments. But his mind opened up at the concept, and he marvelled that such thoughts were possible. He liked that he did not have a divine destiny that determined if he should pass into heaven one day, or not. He liked that he might be in charge of his own destiny, and that God was no more than a child’s fairy tale. He was not exactly sure that the might of the Church, was not the ruling power on all earth because God was on the side of Rome. That sounded too far fetched... but he could see there may be other ways to view life.
One other way, of course, was the strange life that Venerio had, where he never strayed into the sun, never ate, never drank, and with whom sex was a glorious addiction. Even in the darkest moments of his melancholia, Tonio sought comfort in the body of Venerio.
The plague passed, and both Antonio and Venerio had survived. Antonio puzzled on this, and on Venerio’s strange lifestyle, and began to ask questions: where had Venerio come from?
With a deep sigh, Venerio took Antonio aside and slowly introduced the concept of the vampire, and their history and culture, to his young charge. It was sorrowful day for Venerio, as all those under masters, will change, when they understand the rules. There was a good chance Antonio would run screaming for the hills, or try and denounce him as a demon. However, he felt he owed his young man the truth. He hoped the young man would accept it, and become his, truly. He had had a lonely life, the past few generations, and he’d found life and love again, in Angelo’s sparkling eyes and youthful limbs.
Antonio was dumbstruck, and could see now why Venerio did not believe in God. For if there was a God, then he, Venerio, was a devil. This thought alone, is what most troubled Antonio. The love, comfort and wisdom he had found in Venerio, could never be of the devil, or of evil.
He was greatly troubled, however, on the matter of the plague, and his survival of it. Venerio had explained that he, Venerio, was immune to infection and aging. Antonio saw very quickly, the implications of his own survival, and came straight out and asked him about the healing draught he’d drunk, before going to see what had happened to his family. Venerio confirmed that he’d given Antonio some of his own blood, to protect him against the plague. Antonio raged at him how could he have not given the same to others, to his own brother and sister? Offered to send some for Antonio’s mother?
Venerio asked if he, Antonio, would have seen his brother and sister locked out of life, forever? If his blood had saved them, they’d have needed far more than the protection Antonio had had, as he had been well on receiving it. To save either Rizo or Sofia, they would have had to be Turned, fully. And even then they might have died. But had they lived... would he have wanted Sofia to live her life in the shadows, with no husband or children? Could she have carried the weight of a life without a baby to call her own? And what of Rizo, there would be no finished apprenticeship for him, no Mastery of a trade, no wife and children of his own. Would he really do that to his own blood?
Antonio was no fool, and he saw the worth in Venerio’s words. But he was very angry, and headstrong, and he railed at the older man, moodily, for many months. Venerio bided his time. Antonio did not leave, and when Venerio announced they must return to Venice to carry on his trade, Antonio returned with him. Like everyone, Venerio had lost a vast fortune to the plague, but he still had ships, and captains to sail them, and the two men set about slowly rebuilding their fortunes.
Five years passed, and still Antonio adored the life he had in the shadows of Venice, with Venerio. He asked, begged that Venerio give him the Dark Gift. Venerio, who had waited for so many years to be asked by a partner to make them immortal together, agreed, but refused the gift until Antonio looked older. He would not press immortality into flesh that looked so young, and immature. A little ageing was required, for the future’s sake.
In 1356, as Antonoio turned 30 years of age, a gray hair appeared in the depth of the blackness in his hair. Venerio Turned him, and they moved onto their new life of immortality, as happy as newlyweds.
The happiness lasted for over 20 years, and then was cut tragically short.