Author: Lorien Urbani PM
Anna is the Count's captive in Budapest. Before the masked ball, Anna has an important conversation with the Count, a conversation that might bring forward a shade of doubt in her.Rated: Fiction T - English - Angst/Drama - Anna Valerious & Dracula - Words: 5,768 - Reviews: 6 - Favs: 13 - Follows: 3 - Published: 09-21-08 - Status: Complete - id: 4550227
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Anna was dreaming about falling. She was high in the sky, floating above the white clouds, looking over the deep green forests with happy eyes. There were no monsters in her dream, nothing to follow her in the shadows, no one to haunt her restlessly; it was only her, and the limitless sky, and the smell of pine trees. With a wave of her hand, she pierced the sky like a shooting star, heading towards the sea. But suddenly, a cold wind began to blow, tossing her to the right and to the left with no mercy. She lost her balance, she lost her strength, and she began to fall, through the crowns of trees, towards a cold, grey abyss. Her heart was beating wildly, hammering against her chest until her ribs began to ache. She knew she was going to die and she was not yet ready to die. There was so much to be done. And the truth was, Anna simply wanted to live. Not exist, but live. She would fall, any moment now, any second, any second, now –
Her dream shattered and she opened her eyes wide, her orbs darting to and fro in an uneven rhythm. With her hands, she reached to her face and cupped her hot cheeks. She thanked God for ending her sleep at last, but she could still hear her unreal screams echoing in her head. The feeling of falling was so fresh, throbbing in her veins, pumping a hint of fear through them. She swallowed hard, ready to chide herself for allowing a simple dream torment her so, frighten her so, but for the first time in many years, Anna did not feel strong enough to cope with a problem. With a frustrated sigh, she threw her feet over the edge of her bed briskly. And then, she gasped.
She did not stand up from her bed. It was someone else's bed. Quickly, Anna realised that she was caught off guard by Aleera, who was surely the one who brought her to that strange, unknown place. She did not remember a thing between the time when Aleera punched her in the face and the moment she finally awoke. If her mind was correct, she was surely in a vampire den, most probably in a palace owned by her arch nemesis.
''This cannot be happening!'' Anna exclaimed aloud, making the words echo in the vast room and bounce from the walls like unearthly whispers.
Anna winced, for her jaw was in pain because of Aleera's unfriendly touch. Oh, she would pay for that, Anna thought, the warrior princess in her taking over the situation, but not entirely. At last, Anna noticed the room she was in and she entirely forgot about her plan to do something about her predicament. She even parted her lips in wonder, which surprised her and almost disgusted her, but she put her inner battle aside for a moment. She could not tear her gaze from the beauty that surrounded her. The white marble floor was covered with several carpets of rich colours, red, golden and green pervading visibly. The patterns on the carpets were amazing, woven from images Anna had never before seen in her life, and where the marble floor was bare, it was decorated with roseate patterns of black marble. Her eyes followed a black Corinthian column with golden tendrils chiseled in it all the way to the ceiling, only to begin to marvel at the carved mahogany ceiling. There was so much to behold. Anna was truly confused what to touch first. She wanted to touch all that.
She had lived in a castle all her life and her ancestral home had certain beauties to offer, but no one had ever had the time to take care of them, to wipe the dust away more often and make the furniture shine. They had all been too preoccupied with fighting beasts, she as well, and she hardly, if ever, found the time to stop and observe what she now knew that she liked. She saw a tapestry depicting an ancient Greek or Roman battle and she walked to it very slowly, not using her typical brisk and fast strides that always emanated determination in her soul, her greatest determination being to vanquish all evil from Tirgoviste and the surrounding forests. She touched the tapestry and smiled to herself. She never knew that something could be so soft and charming. It was softer than her practical attire. She bit her lips nervously, pondering on the decision she was going to make. In the end, she followed her heart's desire and she freed her feet of her boots. She stepped on a carpet and walked over it, relishing in the feeling of softness that depressed beneath her toes. It was an almost lascivious feeling and that made her put her boots on immediately. If that was the Count's way to manipulate her and laugh at her for obeying, she would not comply with his dirty scheme.
''You will not subdue Anna Valerious, Count!'' she spat, the walls sending her voice in all possible directions.
She turned around on her heels briskly, determined to get to the gilded lush door of the room and pound on them until someone heard her and came, but instead, she stopped in her tracks and gasped slightly. There was an old woman standing before the closed door, a tray with food on her trembling hands. Anna was surprised. She did not even hear her come in, which meant that the room was clouding her reason and allowing Dracula's secret scheme, whatever it was , to work its way against her. In normal circumstances, Anna was sure she would have heard the old lady come in. She was truly disappointed in herself now. She almost forgot herself because of the room. She reminded herself that it was a damned room, for it belonged to a damned creature without a soul.
Yet right now, her concentration was on the old lady. She took a good look of the woman. The woman's face was incredibly wrinkled, her skin unnaturally pale and her pale blue eyes watery from old age. Her white hair were arranged in a simple bun. She reminded Anna of a ghost, of a decaying human being. Anna was not even certain whether the woman was a human being or not. When she saw a ghost of a pulse on her neck, she felt more comfortable.
''Dinner for you, prinţesă Anna," the woman finally spoke after several moments of simply staring at Anna. Her voice resembled croaking. The woman put the tray on a small table before a window. Anna noticed that all three windows in the room were barred. She was not surprised this time. Her guest room was an ornate prison cell.
"Where am I?" Anna asked formally.
"Budapest. Count's summer residence," the old lady replied.
"Budapest?" Anna repeated with a whisper. She had always wanted to travel. She composed herself. She did not want to travel like this. She huffed to herself, crossing her arms over her chest. She wanted to ask the strange old woman another thing, but she had disappeared. Anna only heard the sound of a key turning in the lock. She heaved a sigh. Unfortunately, she found herself craving food as she was truly hungry. Her stomach made a terrible noise and she decided
to swallow her pride. She had to eat to keep her strength, so that she would be able to run away from the Count's palace once she found a good way to do it and an appropriate opportunity.
In a matter of mere moments, Anna was full, even too full. She was given a treat of Romanian food. A plate of ciorbă de pui for soup, musaca for the main course, along with egg-plant stuffed with forcemeat, a very excellent dish, which they called impletata, and a slice of baklava for dessert.
How thoughtful of the Count, she thought with bitter sarcasm. But she ate the pastry anyway. She had not eaten so well in years. She tried to convince herself that she ate only to remain strong and ready to fight Dracula, his brides and their servants, but she could not erase the truth that she truly enjoyed her meal. She felt guilty and angry with herself. For that, she did not touch the glass with red wine; she chose to drink the glass of water instead.
I shall not be tempted again.
While she was sipping water from the glass, she was trying to understand why she was brought to Budapest and why the Count treated her with such…respect. Perhaps it was not respect, but he did treat her nicely, or at least, he made sure that was so. She felt that she should not trust him and she did not. She knew he was up to something again and she had to be ready. Downing the last drops of water, she put the glass on the table and walked to one of the windows, perching herself in the cushioned seat in the window alcove. She watched the river Danube flow lazily past the solitary palace. The river was so wide that Anna could pretend it was the Black Sea towards which the river was winding. She smiled to herself briefly. The sun was setting and it colored the river in red with its dying rays. The atmosphere made Anna feel melancholy. She never had to think about her life, but now, all alone as she was, there was nothing else to do. She sighed in frustration. She was inventing ways to escape the Count's palace. How she longed for freedom! To put her fervent mind at ease, she began to invent new battle strategies in her mind. Yet, she was too tired to think anymore, too tired to remain wary and await a visit from the Count. Before she knew it, she was asleep in the window alcove, enjoying a dreamless sleep.
She awoke abruptly to the sound of water splashing nearby. She looked through the window immediately, noticing that the black veil of night had fallen long ago. Then, she jumped to her feet, ready to attack anyone who had unholy plans and was in the room. But again, it was just herself and the old woman from before, the one who seemed to have been appointed to pose as her servant. To Anna's immense surprise and confusion, the old woman was filling a wooden tub with hot water. Anna blinked and removed a stray curl from her face.
"Excuse me, what is the meaning of this?" Anna asked as kindly as she could.
The old woman looked at her and smiled with a peculiar tenderness. "A bath for you, prinţesă Anna. I mean no disrespect, but you are tired and…dirty from the journey from Transylvania to Budapest. I shall help you get cleaned and go to bed. And tomorrow evening, you shall meet the Count."
The old woman bowed, a now empty bowl in her hands. Anna huffed.
"Why do you work for him?"
The old woman did not seem disturbed by Anna's question in the least. She tilted her head as if to submit the young woman before her to another scrutiny; then, she spoke,
"The reason is simple. The Count pays me well. I was a very poor woman before I met him, on the verge of death. Then, one year ago, he came back to Tirgoviste, in search of servants. I went to Castle Frankenstein; he had some business there."
"Business!" Anna exclaimed and laughed sarcastically. The old woman continued, unperturbed by Anna's comment.
"I am old, sick and unattractive. I make for a good servant. I am not in danger of being bitten by one of the vampires, and I do my work well, for which I am paid well."
Anne eyed the woman with what resembled contempt. It did not matter to her whether the Count paid his servants well or not. He was a monster and his mortal servants sold their pride and souls to him for coins. It was a disgrace. She eyed the tub all prepared for her, the water scented and inviting. This came as an order from him and she detested him.
"And if I do not wish you to obey the Count this time?" she retorted. "I do not wish to be cleaned by you. I wish to go straight to bed. I shall not be made pretty for him!"
The old woman shrugged her shoulders. "I shall be rebuked severely, prinţesă Anna. I shall not be paid for this month. But I shall bear it. I am old."
Anna was angry with herself. She did not believe the old woman, but in her core, she did and compassion stirred in her heart. She chased and killed monsters; she did not chase humans who were blinded by monsters and enthralled by them so wickedly. She cursed Dracula in her mind a thousand times, him, his brides and all of his kind. With disdain, she began to undress herself, trying to ignore a smile of satisfaction on the old woman's face and her nakedness offered to her old eyes. Briskly, Anna stepped in the tub and allowed the old woman to scrub her skin with soap and scent it with rose water. She almost enjoyed herself; she had never been pampered thus. But she managed not to enjoy the bathing. She hated everyone in the palace, those she knew and those she did not know. It was a place for the damned, it belonged to the damned.
Before she lay down in the softness of the luxurious canopy bed, an image on the ceiling on the canopy made her tremble. It was an image of a dragon, red and evil in the mild light of the candles. It was the sign of the Count. Even in sleep, she could not be free of him. She closed her eyes angrily and waited for the old woman to leave the room and lock the door of her gilded prison. When that finally happened, Anna jumped from the bed, taking with her the quilt and a cushion. She nestled by the warm fire and fell asleep on the floor, far away from the dragon, far away from the Count. Her sleep was light and uncertain. She was to expect the Count's visit next evening, but she expected his arrival at any moment. He was a great deceiver and she did not trust him. In the palace, she did not even trust herself.
Anna's day began with another display of luxury that confused her. It did not attract her so much any longer; it made her doubt herself; it made her mind whirl and run towards the endless abyss of perplexity. Again, the old woman came, prepared her a bath, washed her body and hair, scented her skin and locks. Anna endured it all, for the same reason she endured it the previous day in the evening. After the bath, breakfast was brought to her, as delicious as yesterday's dinner. She ate less, although she wished to eat everything on the tray. Surely, she needed to keep her strength, but she realized how important it was that she keep her wits about her as well, at all times. After breakfast, the old woman helped her get dressed. The corset that was laced tighter on her back than she had ever had it laced before reminded her of the danger she was in and of the fact that she was a prisoner of an immortal monster. The gown she was to wear for the day was made of soft lavender taffeta, the material caressing her skin gently, but to Anna it felt like it was teasing her. She sighed in frustration several times, praying to God to bring Van Helsing and Carl to Budapest and have them save her somehow. Hunters were always vulnerable on their own, but together they could make it. Together, they might stand a chance against a mighty group of vampires she was certain currently dwelled in the Count's opulent Budapest home.
The remainder of the day, she spent sitting in the same window alcove as the night before, staring through the window, waiting, thinking. She had nothing to do. She was dressed beautifully, her hair arranged in a fashionable chignon (as the old woman assured her), but she felt trapped. It seemed as if the dress had drowned the warrior in her. Angrily, she destroyed the hair-do, suddenly feeling freer and herself again. She walked to the only mirror in the room, a cheval glass, set her arms akimbo and said to her reflection,
"You cannot tame Anna Valerious, Count! If such is your devious plan, you have already failed!"
Finally satisfied, she smiled to herself when something caught her attention. She saw it in the mirror, behind her, on the bed. It was not there before. It was a pile of books.
"How-?" she whispered to herself and walked to the bed, the skirts of her gown swooshing between her long, brisk strides, her ribs aching as they chafed against the bones of the corset. On top of the pile was a note. She snatched it from the top book and read the wavy handwriting.
To pass your day with more ease. Your humble servant, Count Dracula.
"Ugh!" she screamed in anger and swiftly threw the note into the fire. She was seething, truly seething. The insolence of him! She took the four books on the bed in her hands, ready to throw them into the fire as well, to keep company to the ashes of the Count's insolence. But as she involuntarily read the title of the top book, she stopped and examined the covers of all the books, thinking to herself, When was the last time that I read a book?
Dimitrie Cantemir: Chronicle of the Durability of Romans-Moldavians-Wallachians. In Romanian. Good. She always loved to hear about the history of her country.
Dimitrie Cantemir: The Divan or The Wise Man's Parley with the World or The Judgement of the Soul with the Body. Still in Romanian. Good. This time, she was quite intrigued by the fact that a beast should keep such a book under his roof. Then her frustration began.
Charles Baudelaire's Fleurs du Mal and Catullus's poems were written in two languages she did not understand and had never learned them. She hardly knew the respective author's names! There had never been enough time, never enough time…Their covers were alluring. One was inviting, with red and yellow tendrils flowing across the cover; the other smelled ancient, of wisdom. She opened the book by Catullus expectantly, gazing over her shoulder as she did so. She did not wish to be caught showing her interest. The words danced before her, the letters she knew. She tried to read them aloud, but they did not make sense. Was it Latin? She thought it was. She knew it was, but she did not understand it. She tossed Catullus away and opened Fleurs du Mal. The title of a poem said Le Vampire.
"Ha!" she exclaimed. "I understand this, Count!"
She began to read, her tongue rolling carefully, trying to accomplish the feat. "Toi q-qui, ca-comme un coup…coup de coo-couteau…"
She could not go on. She could not go on. And, she did not understand.
Her father's voice floated to her ears. She saw herself reading a book and she saw her father and he spoke, "Anna, dear, reading again? No time for reading today, no time for learning today. A vampire killed three innocents. We must go."
And she heard that every day, since she was ten years of age. Never enough time.
Suddenly, she realized what the Count's plan had been and how well he had accomplished it. He humiliated her. She was humiliated, by herself, by her own ignorance, by him as he pointed it out for her. She wanted to feel angry; she wished to seethe and rage and destroy the Count's room and his books, but she could not. She could not move. She felt…stupid. For the first time in many years, the wall around her heart crumbled and she began to weep, silently, without moving at all.
"I hate you…" she moaned. "Monster…"
"Do not cry, Anna," a voice said from behind her and she gasped, scrambling to her feet, both Fleurs du Mal and Catullus in her hands, two objects she intended to throw into the uninvited visitor. Her gaze caught a pair of cold blue eyes.
"Count," she spat. She threw a glance at the windows, noticing with disbelief that it was almost night outside. How long had she wailed? It did not matter. He came. It was time.
Elegantly, slowly and very deliberately, the vampire sauntered towards her and she took a step back. He only smiled, his eyes never leaving hers, and took one of the books from her hands. Anna held her breath as he flipped the pages gently with his long, white fingers, finally stopping at one point. She began to search for an object that would help her fight him. Maybe, she could break the cheval glass and-
"Catullus, hmm?" he interrupted her thoughts. "Let me translate," he spoke smoothly.
Anna's lips wrinkled in fury. "I do not wish to hear it! I hold no interest in your books," she spat again.
As if he had completely ignored her, he began to recite, "Just as it is that a flower, unknown to the livestock, is born secluded within gardens enclosed, by no plow uprooted, a flower which the breezes caress, the sun strengthens, the rain nurtures." He took a step forward, boring into her eyes with the intensity of his gaze. Anna took another step back. "Many boys and many girls have desired it. So it is that a young woman, as long as she remains untouched, so long she is dear to her people. But," he paused, wrinkling his lips into the faintest of smiles, "when she has lost her chaste flower, her body besmirched, she remains neither pleasant for boys…nor dear to girls."
He was too close, Anna thought, too close. She was sure she would be able to feel his breath on her brow had he possessed breath. He leaned towards her face and she curled her trembling fingers into fists, ready to strike him, although it would be to no avail. But he did not come any closer. He closed the book and thrust it into her hands, his cold, undead fingers touching hers, making her skin shiver. He turned his back on her and Anna exhaled silently, relieved that she did not have to see his face, his eyes, anymore; relieved that the words that spoke of unchaste matters were over. She knew he was teasing her. She hated him for that even more.
"Why were you crying, Anna?" he asked politely, collecting the rest of the books from the floor, tossing them on the bed with a nonchalant gesture. He found her eyes once more and she recoiled as if a snake had hissed to bite her.
He let out a guttural chuckle, smoothing the non-existing wrinkles on the sleeves of his jacket. "I do not remember such reluctance to respond from you, Anna. You always seem so….ready for everything."
"You are a beast, Count, inside out," Anna responded.
He sighed with mock regret. "Did you expect anything else? I am sorry to disappoint you, then, Anna."
She huffed impatiently, chagrin boiling in her veins. She refused to look at him any longer. She dropped the book that she was still holding on the floor, turning on her heels. She walked to "her" window alcove and fixed her gaze on the river. Soon, she felt a cold breeze caress her neck and she knew he was behind her, lurking in the shadows that she wished to escape very much at the moment. For a second, she flinched. She always wanted to see her foes; it was very discomforting to know she did not see him, allowing him to bite her neck at any moment. Still, she did not turn around. She looked straight ahead.
"Why am I here?" she asked angrily. "Besides, of course, for the sake of your pleasure in tormenting me by exposing my…lack of certain knowledge," she added bitterly.
He came to stand beside her, his left shoulder only an inch away from her right shoulder.
"I want you to release me!" she demanded and risked a look at him. "It is unfair, keeping me imprisoned like this, with no means to defend myself."
He lifted his eyebrows, still gazing through the window. "Always the feisty one, Anna Valerious."
She moved away from him. She was afraid her voice would tremble. "You will kill me," she stated. "I am the last of the Valerious family and you will kill me, take wicked pleasure in doing so."
He looked at her, almost softly. "No, you will not die tonight, Anna, nor shall you die by my hand or by the hand of my only bride that is left." He smiled. "I can only promise you that you shall die one day, during one of your battles, and it will be one of the monsters that you like to kill that will take your life."
She ignored his short speech, although it shook her. "Then why am I here?"
He came closer again, so close that he could touch her. And he did. He traced his finger down her jaw. Anna remained still, wary. She observed him intensely, trying to predict his next move, his words, failing miserably. She could only remain wary. She followed his eyes until they found hers. She shivered as he planted a cold kiss on her brow. She wanted to claw his eyes out, but she remained rooted to her spot. Her chest was heaving wildly. Perhaps he was lying. Perhaps he would kill her, after all. But she was still alive and, as relieved as she was, she did not know why.
"Beautiful Anna, you do not have to die."
She flinched. Her senses slowly returned. "What?" she breathed.
He smiled his demonic smile, his eyes glistening with pleasure that was his own. "I am looking for a new bride. This is one reason why you are my guest. Do you like what you see, what you have been offered, how you have been pampered and spoiled?"
Anna ran from him to the other side of the room, disgusted with him, disgusted with herself. "Never!" she exclaimed passionately. "Never!"
She looked at the gown she was wearing with contempt; she touched her scented skin with hatred. "I am the last Valerious, but I shall find a way to kill you before I die! I shall kill you!"
She heard his laughter echo and bounce from the walls, lashing her mercilessly. She lost sight of him, but at the next moment, he was leaning against the wall just beside her. "Try," he purred invitingly. He peeled himself from the wall and began to circle her like a predator.
"I could manipulate your mind, but I want you to be quite yourself for this," he added in a velvety tone, brushing her neck with his fingers. She turned around to hit him, but he caught her hand in an iron grasp, making her yelp in pain. He tightened the grip, making her kneel helplessly. He almost felt sorry to see Anna Valerious looking so defeated, but there was a good amount of pleasure to experience from this situation.
"You see, Anna," he continued softly, kneeling beside her panting form, releasing her hand, "immortality does not hurt. Not one bit. There is no guilt, there is no torment, no consequences. It is pure. Immortality is so very pure."
Anna kneaded her sore wrist, eyeing her greatest foe with venom in her orbs. "How can you call centuries of murder and torture of innocent men, women and children pure?" she retorted. "It is monstrous, not pure! You want me as your bride to defeat my family in the most sordid way possible, but you will not have me. I will not be a part of your purity, Vlad Tepes," she snarled.
He stood up, unmoved, settling on the bed. "I see history is not a stranger to you, Anna," he spoke simply.
Anna was still on the floor, waiting for his next move. She felt like a puppet on his strings, an unwilling puppet, but a puppet still.
"You feel like a puppet on my strings?" he chuckled, making her gasp with disbelief. "How intriguing! Tell me, how does this feel to be my puppet?"
He was reading her mind…
"How dare you?" she responded. "You truly have no soul, nosferatu."
"I am impressed by all the sobriquets you give me. But hold your tongue for just a little while. Allow me to explain," he addressed her softly, like a child. "When you become a vampire, the demon takes your body, but it does not take your soul. Your soul is long gone and it is a marvelous feeling. No conscience, no remorse…It is such an easy way to live." She huffed
indignantly, but he continued, unperturbed. "You can have everything. Not only power and immortality, Anna. You can have all the knowledge you need, all the knowledge you want. You can own time."
He walked to her and helped her on her feet before she knew what happened. For a moment, she was enthralled. His cold skin felt pleasant against her hot arms. She was in turmoil, in true turmoil.
"How can you not regret?" she whispered. She had her regrets. So many regrets. One of them was Velkan. She could not save Velkan. Oh, Velkan…
He smiled. He seemed to smile a lot, Anna mused. Yet, he did not seem honest. She saw no honesty in his eyes. He spoke, tempting her with his voice. "You have no idea what it is like to have done things I have done…and to care. That is why immortality is pure, Anna. I know how you feel. I know your regrets. Do you wish to forget? You can gain so much. You could not save Velkan, but you can save yourself."
She allowed a tear to crawl down her cheek. "You are responsible for his death!" she accused him.
"Whatever makes you feel better, dear Anna. But look around you. Remember how soft the carpets felt under you feet. You can finally have everything you have always dreamt of having, but there was, alas, never enough time."
She eyed him with disbelief. "Stop reading my mind," she demanded. "And aside from triumph that would ensue if I accepted your offer, why do you want to turn me into a monster? Why do you not simply kill me?"
He snared her gaze with his own, willing her to look, to see. His hands descended on her shoulders, making her shiver with cold. "As hard as you may find it to believe this, Anna, I see a part of myself in you. That part that has been lost for a long time. You and I, prinţesă, are not so different. You have oft felt like an outcast, have you not?" He cupped her cheeks. "With me, you would belong."
She gaped at him wildly, bemused by his words. She was not like him, she refused to be like him! How dared he compare them, how dared he see himself in her? How dared he…tempt her?
He closed her eyes with his fingers and rested his thumbs on her eyelids, his other fingers cooling her face. He gave her a vision, a vision of what she could have. It was such a powerful thing that her knees buckled and she began to fall. A pair of strong arms intercepted her fall. The vampire lifted her in his arms, cradling her like a child. He took her to the bed, laying her unconscious form on the soft cover with gentle, almost caring moves. He called her name and she fluttered her eyes open, slowly, uncertainly. She looked at him with fear flickering in her brown orbs.
"Tonight is my annual masked ball," he began, his voice so inviting, so promising to her ears. "I know that your two friends shall attend. As for you, dear Anna, tonight I shall ask you to join me and you shall choose. Eternal life…or mortal captivity."
She shook her head. "I can choose now. I know what I want and it is-''
He pressed a finger on her lips, silencing her. "No, Anna. Tonight. Think well. Remember, the end is only the beginning. Or do you prefer to watch the world devoured in its pain?"
He disappeared before she could utter a reply. Tonight. He would try to make her his. She knew she would refused. She would refuse. She knew he manipulated her with the enticing vision that he bestowed upon her. Was it false, was it real? Damned or divine, or both? Yes, she would refuse.
Tonight was yet to happen.