Florence, Italy 1503
"I am a vampire, Leonardo."
"I am well aware of that fact, Nikolai, but you have the soul of an artist."
"I repeat: I am a vampire. And make no mistake—I have no soul."
As a course for survival, Nikolai lost his soul centuries ago, but there was no reason in belaboring the point. Leonardo da Vinci was entitled to his belief.
Nikolai stood in the middle of the cavernous room and looked around him. Flickering candles cast shadows on the walls. A massive wooden desk was shoved against bare brick, one end piled with old rags coated in deep and rich colors. Leonardo's palette lay on the floor recklessly abandoned, and paint splashes had spilled onto the wooden floor, filling the wide cracks between the boards. A stale oil smell permeated the room; used candles were everywhere, surrounded by mounds of spent wax. Books were stacked up on the floor against another wall, one on top of the other. An old wooden chair pushed against a corner, stained with crimson paint; the cushion looked like a splash of blood. A tapestry covered the wall where a makeshift straw bed lay on the floor.
"I repeat: You, my dear friend, have the soul of an artist. Vampire or not."
"I collect art, hence our deep and abiding friendship—all due to your masterful accomplishments. I have no other such talents. At least, other than being eternal, ageless and my uncanny ability to amass a fortune at every opportunity. Typical vampire standards: anything I want, when I want, and how I want. Staying alive for eons does allow one to become complacent. Despite the danger, eternal existence does permit certain pleasures. And for me, the building of a sizable art collection is most gratifying, and a venture which I intend to continue through the ages." The brusque, low voice was mesmerizing in its intensity, and hid any emotion, any visible trace of anguish. He simply stated these facts as if they were nothing.
Nikolai Volkov watched as Leonardo picked up burned out candles and stray brushes he had left everywhere.
"Nikolai, you support artists that are being ignored, ridiculed. You redeem us. You recognize ageless talent. I am egotistical enough to say that in the coming centuries I will survive through my art."
"Of that I have no doubt. Again, that is why I collect your paintings; your drawings alone are incomparable. I know you will survive. And you will increase my wealth substantially." Nikolai turned and looked at the various paintings leaning against one of the stone walls. In the corner canvases were stacked in no particular order, and next to them wooden planks.
Leonardo's studio was plain, utilitarian, and filled with finished and unfinished works of art, all of which Nikolai coveted and wanted to own. Possess.
"Yes, I am sure I will survive, but only through my art. You have and will continue to survive through other means. Ones I do not wish to think about."
"I have paid dearly for my survival." Nikolai touched his cheek, feeling the ridge of the deep scar on his face. That attack had been particularly brutal. The cut went all the way to the bone, and not allowed to heal. Lucrezia Borgia told him it would mar his stunning beauty and further bind him to her, both physically and emotionally. She was wrong on both counts. He considered the scar his badge of courage and tenacity.
His surreal beauty, as she had once described it, now marred by that one scar. A reminder of torture. A memory not to be forgotten. Vampires do not scar, yet that one single scar on his body remained, as if an omen of things yet to come. Centuries of memories all held within that singular ridged cut on his face that slashed down to his very soul. The one he claimed not to have.
He was tall, over six-foot-three, with hair black as night. His eyes were as blue as sapphires and frigid as the Arctic ice. Nikolai was built hard, like Michelangelo's David, and just as cold.
The lethal combination fostered first and foremost fear from man and demon alike. And admiration, from women. All women. He never lacked for company. Yet, they all left him unsatisfied, and yearning for something he didn’t understand.
"Leonardo, will you paint a portrait for me?" Nikolai spoke quietly, staring at a painting stacked against a wall, his back to Leonardo.
"No. Not me." Nikolai replied, his bleak smile was more of a grimace that did not reach his eyes. "This will be from memory. My memory."
"Does she mean something to you? I assume you are speaking of a woman."
"Yes, I was. And yes, she meant something to me." He ran his finger along the jagged scar.
"Ah, I see. I gather she was not a pleasant memory.''
"You gather correctly."
"I will do it for you. Tell me everything you know about her. Every single memory. Every movement. Everything you remember. Give me a perfect description of the mysterious woman. It will be my gift to you."
"I do not wish to keep the painting." Nikolai visibly shuddered at the thought. "You may do with it what you will. Burn it in hell for all I care." His reply was savage.
"I see." Leonardo replied thoughtfully, rubbing his chin. "Why do you want me to paint it?"
"To exorcise a demon. One among many."
"Do you wish to discuss it, my friend?"
"No. Just paint the damn thing. You will be well paid."
"No," Leonardo replied vehemently, shaking his hand in the air. "There will be no money changing hands. I will paint it. I will not burn it; I will sell it. I do have a payment to demand of you. Once I am done, I expect to hear why I painted it. That is my demand. Do you agree?"
"Yes, damn you. I will agree to your terms. Your absurd demand."
"Why absurd? She obviously damaged you. I would have to be an idiot not to recognize the symptoms. And I am not an idiot."
"Yes, I am fully aware that you are not an idiot. You should be terrified of me. Yet you are not. You reason things out. You think. A vampire, even in your century, should horrify you. Yet, I do not."
"You terrify me, all right. Your power. Your strength. Your ability to kill without thought. Your survival through the centuries. Your knowledge of the past. Yes, you alarm me, my friend."
"Alarm…that is a milksop statement. Leonardo, look at your own drawings. You see what is to come. What does that say about you? Your work foreshadows the future. It is right there in your drawings." Nikolai pointed to a canvas leaning against a wall. "You are more than an artist; our long discussions have proven that. You are a genius. A man of re-birth. You, here and now, could be considered demonic. That is how some would interpret your work."
"I will ignore that. It is safer not to discuss people and their survival methods—it might be misunderstood. Fortunately for me, my work is not well understood. Most everyone sees a painting or a drawing, nothing more. Perhaps they even think I am mad. A simple man cannot interpret what I imagine simply by looking at my canvas. That is indeed very good for me." Leonardo sighed. "Now, let us get back to your description of the woman."
"Have I touched a sensitive spot?" the vampire asked. Sarcasm dripped from every word.
"Yes." Leonardo hissed between his teeth. "Now, give me the damn description."
"Paint her as you would a beloved portrait. Make her mysterious. Enigmatic. Serene. Perfectly poised to attract attention. Paint her as the central and pivotal person in the scene. In fact blur everything else. Nothing should matter much save her face and hands. Long, beautiful fingers, elegant hands with perfect skin, relaxed. Incapable of hard work. Make her look innocent. Wistful." Nikolai stopped speaking, and again touched his face along the line of the scar.
"Make the damn demon, the savage beast…saintly. That will be the joke for centuries to come. Paint it dark, yet give her light. A shimmer, so that she almost glows. Make her irresistible. Give her eyes that damn the soul. Eyes that see beyond the present. Is that enough for you?"
"Yes. Do I have leave to choose the color of her hair and eyes?" Leonardo asked quietly, captivated by Nikolai’s mesmerizing voice and the tortured memories he was reliving.
"I do not care what color you choose. Dark is what I desire."
"It shall be done. You want her to look enigmatic, a mystery through the ages. How is that for conceit? She will survive centuries, whereas I will die."
"You, my friend, will be reborn every time someone looks at your work. But you already know that. Your art will speak for you for eternity."
"Let us continue as we have in the past, Nikolai." Leonardo preferred to ignore rather than acknowledge the reality of his existence. "Your life is eternal. You do not age. Let us leave it at that. Be careful not be recognized, it might endanger you."
"I am four hundred years old. Through the centuries of battles, corruption, and betrayal, no one pays any attention to whether or not I age. Everyone is consumed with their own survival. I expect that in the future, I shall need to take better care."
"Take better care, but live. Even if you cannot be killed, live as you have done in the past." Leonardo spoke softly, as if afraid of being overheard.
"I aim to live better, and I can be killed; one just has to know how. I certainly do not discuss that aspect of my survival. I am alone, removed from my clan. Solitary, my lair and art my only comfort. It has been this way for centuries and, make no mistake, Leonardo—it is a lonely existence. You, my friend are a true master and you bring me a great deal of pleasure. Someday your work will be priceless. Look at your drawings. See the things I see in your work. You behold the future in front of you."
"Indeed." Leonardo dismissed Nikolai's predictions with a wave of his hand. "I may need you again, after I begin the portrait, of course." Leonardo spoke absentmindedly, stretching his fingers, already thinking about the unusual commission.
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
A Hotel in Venice