Mina Murray Harker is inescapably reminded of the pain of her past and of the perilous future of her family in the undying person of Alucard, who has a dark agenda of his own. Amid the bombed ruins of Coventry, she looks for hope in a failing heart.
A sequel to "The Fruit of Her Womb". This story takes place between the original "Dracula" and the Hellsing manga. Caution for some adult material. Quotations from "Dracula", "Richard III" and "Hamlet" as well as Sonnets 18 and 73. The German translation of "Hamlet" is that of Wieland (1765).
My thanks to Sir Hellsing/Thess, whose observations were both corrective and stimulating!
The Burning Cross
by Madame Manga
He says that he cannot let me die. I care nothing for his solicitousness, for I see no more in it than desire long frustrated, and damnation. I know what they had to do to poor Lucy's body after she was dead. Headless, heartless: she who was all heart. Every time I close my eyes these nights, I see her lying mutilated in her coffin, though she has been dust for more than forty years. My dearest friend, beautiful Lucy Westenra, who had three men propose marriage to her in one day. I was not as beautiful as she, but I was never jealous. I had Jonathan, and perhaps I had a little foresight: that beauty and sexuality alone, without the means to defend and wield it, is not power but a woman's greatest weakness.
There was always something vulnerable about Lucy. Just as the delicacy of her skin could not resist any impress, her cast of mind changed with every wind. She wished, perhaps without a thought of true sin but certainly with frail disposition, that she could marry every man who asked her, just so she would not distress any of them. She married none of them; her bridegroom was Death.
"Madam Mina? Are you awake?"
I close my eyes and settle the counterpane a little higher over my breasts. Dry and flat as they are, I do not wish to display them under this thin nightdress. He does not see me as I am, as an old woman whose heart and body have almost failed her. He sees an innocent girl, newly married but still virgin, lying beside her ailing husband in the dead of night. He sees himself approach her, touch her, stroke her hair from her face. He kneels on the bed, smiles, weaves a spell over her. With hands and lips, parted clothing and soft gasps, his body cool and hard, the terrible stroke piercing like a sword to her inmost being. Forty years ago and more. I suppose his memory of that night must be more vivid even than mine.
"Mina, I know you're awake. I'm coming in."
The light slashes into the room from the bright corridor outside, and dies traceless when the door closes again. The blackout curtains block the radiance from the full moon; he must enjoy walking the gloomy streets whilst the marshals ensure no house is showing a light. Alucard crosses the room to my bedside, his tread as quiet as a night-dwelling animal's.
"Are you in much pain tonight?" He bends over me, his hair falling forward. It's shorter now than when I saw him last; he's wearing a well-cut suit and modern overcoat, as if he had been mixing with humans and meaning to remain inconspicuous. I cannot see his face well, not in this dark room and with my eyes half-veiled, but I can see the glow of his irises, the glint of his white teeth when he parts his lips. "Mina, my darling. Won't you speak to me?"
"No," I reply, and give him a faint ironic smile.
"Ah, that's my Mina." Without asking, he pulls up a chair and sits. "Would you like to hear the news? I've just returned from the Continent." I sigh and turn away, and he tells me anyway. War again: it's always war. I no longer care for the world and its pain. I am a prisoner in my own. Alucard concludes his account, drapes his overcoat on a chair and looks in my dresser for a candle and matches, as familiar with my possessions as if he were my husband. Striking a match, he cups the flame in his long pale hand to preserve it from a draft. The light penetrates his flesh with an eerie red glow, somewhat resembling his eyes.
He has grown more beautiful with each passing year, as if my sight has habituated to him, or as if he learns with time what will tempt me to think him good-looking. His shape and surface are a constant reflection of his moods, not entirely of physical reality. Once he was proud and harsh of feature, so much so that the first time I saw him I thought him fierce, even nasty. But the hard arch of aquiline nose has tempered, the sharp cheekbones have smoothed into elegance. Even his coarse hands have become subtle, though his tall, slim figure is not changed. I would never mistake him for anyone other than who he is, nor for human; the hell-fire in his eyes would ensure that if nothing else did. But in some lights, such as the small warm glow he sets on my bedside table, he is now the most handsome man I have ever known.
In the candlelight, I fix my gaze on the photograph of Jonathan beside my bed, his prematurely white hair and drawn face a sepia memory. Another photograph sits next to it, taken soon after we returned married to England. Jonathan is seated, emaciated and weak but smiling; I look plump and anxious by contrast with my hand on his shoulder. Such thick hair I had then, all gathered and pinned; I used to complain perhaps with coy intention that the weight pained my neck. Unconsciously my hand goes to my temple, where the few thin wisps that remain slip under my fingers.
I am the last of us. Long ago, we pledged to work together to fight the Vampyr, to risk our lives and happiness to defeat him and his long purposes. The others gave their lives; I gave all else I had.
"I remember," says Alucard, watching me. "My lovely Mina, I remember."
"I know you do," I reply. "But all my life will soon be nothing more than memory. Leave me alone, vampire. I do not want your histories."
He sits on the bed and touches my face. I flinch and brush away his hand. "No history, Mina, but the present. Why must you consign yourself to the past?"
"Because it is all past. My life, my hopes and my youth. Why remind me of them? Do you wish to cause me more pain than I already suffer?"
"I want to take your pain away." He leans down and quickly kisses my forehead. "No more pain, my darling. Only life…eternal life at my side, and youth. Your beauty is not dead. It lives in me."
If I were vulnerable, if I feared inflicting disappointment, I might wish that I could accept the proposal. I am dying. If nothing is done, and nothing can be done, I will linger in pain for months yet before I pass from this earth.
"I will be gentle, so gentle, my Mina." The cool breath of his words brushes my face. "You will feel nothing but the ecstasy of the change…"
"Why?" I ask. "In all the years with us, you have never made a Midian. How could you make me like yourself, since I am not virgin?"
"I was the author of that, my darling. As your youth and beauty reside in me, so does your purity. I can recall it to you, if I wish. And make you mine forever…"
I cannot remember what it was to be pure. Since that first night, I have been unclean; as long as Alucard exists, I cannot be made clean again. That was the great price Van Helsing exacted of me; since the vampire could be forged into a peerless weapon against all other undead, I must live unpure. I have paid so much towards the Hellsing's holy battle: my husband, my lost babes, perhaps my soul itself…
"Why?" I ask again. "Do not claim that you wish it for love of me."
"Then I will not." I see the glint of his white teeth again. "Think of it as recompense. An eternal reward for all that is departed."
Probably he is reading my thoughts again; it is difficult to hide them now that I am so weak. "Eternal, yes. But eternal cruelty and avarice, not joy. I look only to Heaven now."
"Heaven, Mina? For such as you? The mark may have disappeared from your forehead—" he touches the place where it once was— "but my mark is still within you. My blood still circulates through your heart, my seed still occupies your womb. Will the gates open for you, stained as you are?" Alucard smiles, his eyes glowing, his hands gentle.
"So for the sake of a stain, I should bathe myself in sin up to the neck? Your reasoning is never less than self-serving, Alucard." I shake my head and manage a smile, which he returns.
"Even so ill, you see to the heart of me, do you not? Your mind is not weakened in the least."
"The greatest of flatterers, Mina. I had a good teacher."
I know who taught him; I close my eyes and turn away. "I want to go back to sleep now, Alucard. Leave me be."
"You won't sleep long; the night will not be a quiet one. I have news."
"I have heard your news. Europe is of no concern to me."
"No, this is closer to home." Something in his voice makes me look at him again. He raises his head as if listening; in the distance I seem to hear the drone of aircraft. Hundreds of them...
"An air raid?" I do not hear the sirens yet, but Alucard always knows when the Heinkel bombers are on their way, and where they will strike. Tonight is a full moon that gives light to the enemy, but they have arrived nearly every night for a month nevertheless. "Tell everyone to go to the shelter. Hurry!"
"The target is not London, not tonight. Coventry is burning. The great cathedral church of St. Michael is in flames." Red flames flicker in his eyes.
"The cathedral?" A hand seems to close about my throat. "No!"
"They have labored for hours to fight the incendiaries, but at last the struggle has proved too much. The water runs out, the strength of the volunteers fails. Fire reaches through the tracery of the windows and returns the coloured glass to molten slag; they salvage chalices and Bibles, whatever they can carry. The stout oaken beams hewn by their forefathers are turning to charcoal, and they rain burning embers on the carven pews. The roof that has sheltered the faithful for so many centuries will collapse into the choir when its support has become too weak to hold its weight. It will not hold much longer…no."
The flame of his eyes burns bright; he sees much from afar, especially that which has to do with death and destruction. "The cathedral has fallen."
He bows his head, his hair hiding his eyes, but I see his smile.
I struggle to sit upright in bed; he slips an arm under my shoulderblades to aid me. "Do not touch me, Alucard! I will not accept your support. You rejoice in the destruction of an English church!"
"Rejoice?" He touches his breast as if stricken. "I, who love ancient stones, who have happily dwelt in the crypts of an English abbey? That building predates even me, Mina. It was already old when I came into the world—it deserves respect in its demise."
"The Germans have destroyed it. The godless fiends of National Socialism! They would worship such as you, and burn the house of God!" I put my feet to the floor, fighting the dizziness that swirls in my brain. "I want to rise and dress. Send my maid to me. She must have returned by now. Susan!"
"Susan is unavoidably delayed coming from the chemist's shop—the blackout makes it difficult to travel the streets in safety, of course. She has no doubt taken refuge in her favorite pub." Alucard rises and offers his hand to me. "If you wish to make your toilette, I will be your valet, madam. As I once was for your husband, lacking all other servants in my house."
"You will not dress me, of course." I master my faintness and give him a sharp look. "You may lay out my clothes. Then you will go to guide Susan home, if she is unable to return by herself."
He smirks. "I think she fears me more than she does darkness or purse-thieves. But I shall do your bidding, madam." Alucard selects a blouse and tweed suit from my wardrobe, neatly folds the garments on my counterpane and carefully drapes winter stockings and woolens over them. Whilst placing my shoes beside the bed, he looks up with lambent eyes. "It is no disgrace to serve you, but a pleasure. I can say that of few women who ever lived."
"Can you not?"
"It is a foolish man who believes that a strong woman will weaken him. Most men are very foolish, Mina, but not I."
"I am no longer strong, Alucard. I am dying."
"Easily remedied." He straightens and leans over me.
"You know my answer. Leave me." I ward him off with a gesture and begin to unbutton my nightdress. The chain of my silver cross shifts against the wrinkled creases of my throat.
"But you have never said no. Oh, my darling, I cannot see you depart from me!" Hands on my shoulders, he lays me on the bed again and lies beside me, embracing me. "Let me show you, please."
He does not wait for an answer. What does he show me? The shape of his thoughts, as he knows so well the shape of mine. Once more I am the woman he remembers, young and round and brown-haired and rosy-cheeked. An English rose lying virginal in her bed. But Jonathan is not there. Only he, as he is now, also young and handsome: molded by my dreams for forty years. The suddenness of the waking dream shocks me, and I cling to him for support in a whirling world. His clothing slips and crawls from him, leaving him naked. His cool body weighs heavily on mine.
"Do you remember it, Mina? I can give it back to you." Does he mean my youth and purity, or the hard weapon he wields? Between his slim thighs his manhood surges, pressing against my flesh through the thin nightdress. His face descends to mine, his path wavering from throat to lips as if he cannot decide which to take first; he chooses, and kisses me.
The scent of burnt decay is sweet and strange. I have smelt it when the bombed houses have not yet been unburdened of their unfortunate inhabitants. Death and fire lie in my arms now. Alucard takes my lips with passion, his cool tongue entering my mouth. For a moment suspended in dream-time I respond, opening to him, returning his kisses. My breath comes thick and fast, my heart pounding until it feels as if it will break in two. Is this real, or only a fantasy? If his body enters me now, will it be only his mind invading mine or an actual possession? I remember so well how he took me forty years ago, pinning my hands above my head, laughing with soft, evil triumph as he penetrated my virginity. Then the fierce, rapid surging of his loins, heating and burning me by friction alone as he mastered my tender body with his. I tried to struggle, to protest: the strange sweet pleasure overwhelmed the pain. But the pain and the pleasure of the ravishment was nothing, nothing to how he pierced me at last.
His ivory fangs at my throat whilst his hard white body still commanded mine. I writhed as if nailed to a burning cross. If he had not silenced me with his languorous spell, I would have cried aloud in ecstatic agony. I was frail; I could not resist his sinful compulsions; I welcomed my own violation. Rejoicing in damnation, I fell into blackness…
He kisses my throat at the place his fangs once tore, avoiding the cross I wear. He caresses my ear with his serpent tongue and whispers to me. "I am sorry. I was rough with thee that first night. But was I not gentle afterwards, when thou wept on my breast? Didst thou not love me then, sweet Mina?"
"Love...you?" I struggle out of the dream and open my eyes. I am an old woman again, no longer young and lovely, and despair settles on me. But Alucard kisses me again with unchanged ardor.
"Yes, love me! When I desired thee so much I took thee again and again regardless of thy husband's presence? When I heard the blundering intruders coming to the bedchamber on our third night, realized I was discovered and pretended that I had taken thee by force, so they would not blame thee, the fools." He heaves a great sigh in my ear. "Didst thou not love me then, even a little?"
"To love a fiend is not love, and no Christian woman could love such as you. Your nature is not changed by your slavery; in a moment you would kill us all if you were free."
"I, harm thee?"
"You killed dear Lucy, who never hurt a soul! You killed my husband as surely as if you had torn out his heart with your own hands. Your foul infection poisoned my unborn children within me!" I am weeping now, my hands striking his chest and face. "Murderer! Inhuman fiend!"
Alucard takes my wrists, though gently, and holds them. "Your beauty was the cause of that effect."
"Your beauty: which did haunt me in my sleep; to undertake the death of all the world, so I might live one hour in your sweet bosom." He lifts a well-cut lip in a smile; he is quoting a play. My rage swells at his theatrical artifice, mocking me with emotions he cannot feel. My hatred weighs on me, burns within me, and I spit in his face.
Alucard flinches, releases me and sits up. He is clothed again, as if in defence, and wipes his cheek with his sleeve. "Why dost thou spit at me?"
"Would it were mortal poison, for thy sake!"
"Never came poison from so sweet a place."
"Never hung poison on a fouler toad!"
"Ah, you've a memory for dramatics as good as mine." He holds up one hand as if conceding defeat. "But for all your manly erudition, you pitied me once, darling Mina. Your woman's kind heart, your tender faith allowed you that grace."
"I was a fool once. Time has taught me better!"
"No pity? No forgiveness?" A strange expression crosses his face; it is neither distress nor pleading. When could those fair hard features ever beg? His eyes are veiled, or they might leap into flame. "Not somewhere in the depths of your Christian heart?"
"Never. There can be no forgiveness for such as you. Not even from God. You are banished from his sight forever. I will not follow you into the pit, no matter how you entice me." My hand goes to my breast; I clasp the cross that lies there. "Leave me now, vampire. Bring my maid to me."
"I hear and obey, my lady." He rises, bows and departs.
"But my lady, you aren't well." Susan helps me to a seat in an unoccupied first-class compartment and settles my fur stole around my shoulders. "It'll be bitter cold in Coventry, no doubt, so far north, and they say the city's still chock-a-block with the injured and barely one stone left standing on another. Can't you wait a while before you go, my lady? I couldn't buy but a quarter of what the doctor prescribed you, the chemists' shelves are near bare, and travelling without your medicines can't be safe. You're not well, you know."
"I know I am not well. Therefore I must go now. It's been two days and I cannot delay further." I pull myself up straight and hand her my cane to put in the overhead rack. "I already had this argument with my grandsons this morning, so stop fussing, girl. Go find the vendor and buy some tea and sweets." I open my purse and hand her my ration book and a few sovereigns. She sighs, clucks and goes out, carefully shutting the door of the compartment behind her.
"Ah, she's gone at last. Tedious, isn't she?" Alucard materializes beside me with a yawn. "I had to listen to her chatter all the way down Piccadilly the other night; I think she becomes even more talkative when she's nervous. Such as when a vampire escorts her home in the dark. I felt like turning into a flight of bats and tangling in her hair just to make her shriek."
"Be quiet, Alucard. I want to look at the view."
He reaches across and pulls up the blinds; the train is just leaving the station, and sunlight strikes through the glass from a break in the clouds. Quickly he withdraws his hand and settles into the corner farthest from the window. "So what is the purpose of this journey, madam? Why impair the war effort by making a pleasure jaunt?"
"It isn't for pleasure, as you are well aware." I look out at the passing buildings, impatient already to arrive. "I believe there must be a reason the Huns aimed their bombs at the cathedral. My grandsons insist that it was incidental; Coventry is an industrial centre, and the raid was meant to destroy factories, not churches. They won't send a team from the Hellsing Organization, nor will they go themselves. But I fear otherwise, and I cannot rest until I know the answer. I must see the ruins. I must!"
"They'll be picturesque, no doubt." He yawns again. "Bare ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds sang."
"And do not quote Shakespeare to me, play-actor. You've been to see Olivier, I suppose, and fancy yourself his equal."
"I accept the compliment." He bows. "Why should I not go to the theatre? A vampire may look at a king, even a player king. But I first read my Shakespeare in German, my dear. More than a century before Olivier was born."
"Ah, the Germans revere your divine English Bard. They place him beside Goethe and Schiller—they consider him quite their own. Soll ich dich einem Sommertag vergleichen?" He laughs, his sharp teeth showing. "Not that I would compare a summer's day to anything I enjoy."
"Don't speak that language in my hearing! The Germans have killed thousands of British citizens in their beds during these raids. Any reverence they might have didn't hold them back from murder and destruction!"
"No forgiveness for them either?" He cocks his head on one side, still smiling.
"How could there be? We are in the middle of a war. London is bombed every night. Our fighters fall every day!"
"The Hellsing Organization is always at war. How is this an altered state of affairs?" He turns up his gloved palms and shrugs.
"Yes, always at war. From the moment we decided to preserve you rather than destroy you—it has been war. My descendants were born to fight unceasingly against the forces of darkness."
"And so they have, taking their granddam's example. Each generation more fierce than the last." I see a strange glint in his eyes from the shadows of the compartment. "But your life draws to its close in pain and weakness. You can no longer be a warrior…unless you were such a warrior as I am."
I stiffen, a shock going through me. He means as a Midian…
"Think of it, Madam Mina. Your hatred still burns within you like a flame. What better way to keep on fighting, feed that hatred forever? If you will not do it for desire, then do it for wrath." Alucard leans over me, his hands seizing my shoulders. My stole slips to the seat and the cold air strikes my skin. His voice roughens to a martial trumpet blare. "I feel it pulsing in your limbs and veins, fragile as they have become. I feel your warrior's heart!"
My blood starts and heats in my withered veins; my heart leaps.
His lips open and peel back from his fangs. "Imagine yourself fighting this war, young and strong and filled with power like mine. What could you do to the marauding Hun as well as to demonkind? What revenge you could wreak on the destroyers! Where ends the war without such a brain and heart to conduct it? You would be invincible!"
Dear God, I am tempted. Far more than by his seductions of the night, I am tempted. I see myself in shining armor, holding high a sword: defender of my beloved Church, King and Country. Like the valiant Maid of Orleans, I would lead men into battle…
"Yes! Yes, you will! Come and fight at my side, and we will glory in battle until the ending of the world." His head descends, his face fitting into the crook of my bared neck. I hear his tongue lash his scarlet lips, making them shine with moisture. His breath brushes my neck; the skin of my throat begins to tingle. I can feel the soft, shivering touch of the lips, and the hard dents of two sharp teeth, just touching and pausing there. I am on the brink—I am almost lost.
I put my hand to my breast, to the open collar of my coat, and the small cross falls between my fingers. They close on it with a painful grip, digging the sharp edges into my skin. "And if I become like you? What then of your service to my family? Would you not then become my Master in turn, and steal from all the coming generations of Hellsing their lawful rule over you?"
His head rears back and he snarls in surprised anger, high nostrils arching, the lines of his deathly pale face like drawn wires. For a moment I see him as he ever was, the cruel, ancient fiend with monomaniacal cunning in war, but blinkered like a child by his selfish, sensual nature. I want to flee, to scream: this is the monster that scarred my womanhood and turned my young husband's hair to an old man's white in one night.
"That has been your true intention all along, has it not? To take advantage of my age and illness, and persuade me in a weak moment to destroy all that our family has accomplished? Did you truly believe I would not see through your subterfuge, you dog?"
Alucard does not answer; his being darkens and writhes into another shape, and when Susan returns with a bag of toffee and a teapot on a tray, a lean black form hunches under the opposite seat with his head pillowed on his paws. He opens one red eye when she enters at full babble, whines as if he's been whipped, lays his ears back and closes the eye again.
The wreckage of St. Michael's still smokes faintly under a quiet drizzle. Most of the town center is in the same state, with unsupported facades of buildings standing like windowed gravestones. The tram tracks are torn from the ground or bridged into the air, so we must walk from the station. Soldiers are clearing bricks and rubble from the roads and occasionally covering bodies with blankets as they are discovered. Ministry of Information loudspeaker vans trundle through the passable streets, politely requesting the populace to boil all drinking water and telling the homeless where to find food and shelter. Onlookers have congregated near the cathedral, many with blackened faces from the ubiquitous soot that floats in the air.
Coventry has not had good fortune with its cathedrals. The first was razed by Henry VIII, and this second by five hundred Heinkel IIIs. But a surprising amount of the structure remains. The lower walls of the nave and the ambulatory still stand, and to my great amazement, so does the towering steeple spire, like an arm raised in defiance towards the steel-gray sky. The roof and the clerestory are gone along with the piers that supported them, and their stones lie in broken blocks on the pavement along with the blackened remnants of the roof timbers. The stonemason of the cathedral is just descending the stairs from the top of the steeple as our little party approaches, and the still-working clock in the tower strikes the hour.
He looks haggard, and small wonder; he was one of only a few men fighting the fire here. All others were spread out in the town, desperately doing the same for eleven hours of unrelenting bombardment. Field Marshal Göring has a new verb in his vocabulary today: to 'coventrate'. Never before in history has an aerial force attempted to remove an entire city from the map. I have a foreboding that this is far from the last time.
Two priests meet the stonemason among the rubble at the base of the steeple. They also seem exhausted from grief and fruitless labor, but they follow him when he points to a place in the middle of the ruined nave. He stops at a pair of charred beams that lie one atop the other at a right angle, and kneels. What is he doing? I cannot tell until we approach a little closer, picking our way over the blackened chunks of carven sandstone. Alucard takes my elbow to assist me on one side, and Susan the other. With the aid of my cane, I can make headway.
The stonemason cuts a length of wire and binds the beams together, just as they lie, and as we come up to them, the three men raise the new-made cross. Alucard hangs back, and only Susan and I follow as they carry the cross forward towards the apse and set it there to lean on a pile of rubble. Alucard is left alone amid the heaps of destruction, tall and lean in his broad-brimmed hat and wine-red overcoat. A breath of cold wind lifts and billows the coat behind him like a cape.
"We will build it again," says one of the priests, "to the glory of Jesus Christ."
"Amen," reply the others, and I echo, "Amen."
A knot of people gathers at the new-made altar, some praying, but others with set faces of anger, muttering among themselves. "Bloody Jerrys," I hear. "We'll show 'em, we'll bomb 'em out of house and home themselves. Me sister burnt in 'er own house, she did, and all 'er kiddies with 'er. And just you look at what's left of this old place. We'll show 'em, the bloody bastards. Burn their cities like they done to us. Won't leave one stone standing on another." At my feet lie scattered drifts of huge medieval iron nails from the burned roof. They ring under my shoes as I turn and walk towards the tower. Alucard joins me there; Susan is talking and commiserating with the people near the makeshift altar.
"I want to go up." I gesture to Alucard. "Accompany me."
"Are you sure? It's a stiff climb, madam." He tilts his head back to look at the topmost spires.
"Nevertheless, I will go up. I want to survey the view from the top."
He's right; it's a great effort to reach the pinnacle, and I must pause and rest every tenth step or so. Then every fifth, then every other. My heart pounds with the exertion and I lean on my cane. It's like carrying the weight of the Cross; the pain increases with the height until I am nearly fainting.
"Mina?" Alucard's arm goes around me, and this time I do not reject his support. "Mina, you're pale as snow. Sit down."
"First look!" I sweep my hand over the scene below us as we emerge on the top. "Look, there is an unburned swath here, and there lie the factories. The Luftwaffe targeted the cathedral deliberately! The moon was full—they could see everything plain as day, and after the anti-aircraft batteries ran out of ammunition, the bombers had free reign. This was their goal! The Huns meant this to happen!"
"Göring is a philistine, certainly. The great organ that Handel played upon is no more." He looks into the ruins of the nave and shakes his head. "But I fail to see what advantage—"
"I have read secret memorandums from the Ministry of War and Downing Street. They have broken the German codes, and they had warning of this attack. Because the preservation of the secret may be more important than saving one city, there was no general alert that would tell the Germans their radio messages are being read. This is war, and such decisions must sometimes be taken. The Ministry relied on our radio-jamming devices to destroy the ability of the bombers to coordinate with headquarters and each other. That should have mitigated the severity of the attack."
"And it did not?"
"Because the devices were tuned to the wrong frequency two nights ago! They did nothing!"
"What? How could such an oversight—"
"Exactly. It is being dismissed as accidental. A miscommunication somewhere in the chain of command. My grandsons agree, and will do nothing. You must investigate!"
"For traitors!" I seize his coat lapel and shake it in my vehemence. "Someone who was bribed! This was done with complete Germanic efficiency, so do not look low, but high."
"Bribed? In high places?" He is beginning to realize what I am driving at; the fires of his eyes kindle.
"If an English holy place is destroyed, who benefits but the sworn enemies of the Protestant Church? Might the Nazis' occult experiments have advanced far enough to make use of them in war?"
His brow creases; a rapid train of thought is running its course. "You're right; they may be thinking of using occult means in their planned invasion. If they could wipe out the country's great cathedrals before they land…"
"You offered me eternal life, Alucard. You offered me power beyond my dreams, the ability to destroy my enemies. You offered me invincibility! Who would gladly accept such a gift—even seek it out in order to win a war? To win all wars! If not the Nazis, the human embodiment of vileness and corruption, who?"
He looks at me, his eyes blazing, his face pale.
"This is why I had to come here. To stand on this pinnacle, to see as far as possible. Do you not see?"
"I do." His jaw sets. "No, your mind is not weakened in the least. You see far indeed." His eyes move towards the East. "Midians on the field of war? What an opponent this will be. What a battle! Worthy of the son of Dracul."
"But you must cut off this growth at the base before it can take root. We will call the council, and you will give them your observations and mine. Hellsing will get to the bottom of this as soon as may be!"
Alucard smiles down at me. "You are all on fire, madam. What has become of the sickly recluse who cared no more for the world?"
"I will spend my last days in the service of my country, and of the Hellsings. There has been no greater cause in my lifetime—in any lifetime."
"Then all the sacrifices you have made…?"
"So many have lost so much more than I have!" I gesture to the ruins beneath a veil of smoke. "This city lies stricken. Her agony shall not be in vain!"
"Ah…that's my Mina." He helps me to a seat when I totter, but does not remonstrate with me. He only stands beside me whilst the damp winds of the heights stir his hair over his face; he looks towards the East.
When my breath has been regained, we go down the stairs again. I must sit and rest again at the bottom, and Susan fusses and tries to brush off the soot stains on my coat and skirt, but there is no help for it. The priests have brought bread and wine and a white cloth, and are preparing the Lord's Supper among the ruins. Susan and I approach to join the growing congregation. The blackened arms of the cross of roofbeams reach out over the head of the priest who reads the holy words.
There is no music, no glorious colours of stained glass and embroidered vestments: only the hoarse voices of the people in their responses and their soot-stained hands raised to Heaven. But in this desolated place I feel the presence of God more strongly than I have done in months. God knows our sorrow; God knows our pain, and He shares the sufferings of humanity. Humanity, not vampirekind—Alucard has vanished whilst the sacred rites are conducted.
The bread and wine are sweet on my tongue, and I remain on my knees a while after the priest has passed to the other communicants. After the service is over, the stonemason brings a bag of tools and puts it down in front of the wall of the apse. He is busy with a plumb bob and a chalk line; I cannot tell why, for Susan is begging me to return to the train station and home.
"I'm tired, my dear. Let me rest a while longer." I close my eyes and settle myself on my damp seat of stone. "It won't be easy to walk back through those blasted streets, and I need to gather my strength. Where is Alucard?"
"I don't know, my lady. I haven't seen him since he came down with you. He's gone and flitted off on his own, I make no doubt."
"Perhaps. I have given him a charge to carry out in London. But I don't believe he will have departed yet." I can hardly catch my breath, even seated and quiet; it comes in labored gasps and my chest pains me. "You have my pills?"
"Only the wee white ones, my lady. They hadn't any of the big yellow tablets. And I haven't any water to wash them down…" Susan fumbles with the little jar that she takes from her bag.
"Never mind, I have a flask." The brandy and the medicine ease the tightness of my lungs a little after a few minutes, and I look around me. The stonemason is kneeling by the wall now, under the great apse window, and there is the sound of a chisel grating on stone. Curious, I rise and go to observe.
The slow mallet strikes the chisel over and over, cutting through the smoke-blackened surface to the fresh red sandstone underneath. What is he inscribing on the ruined wall? I peer at the lines he has laid out, and at the grim faces of the other spectators. Two words only.
"T' provost of t' cathedral ordered it writ here behind the altar," says the stonemason. "So I'm a-writing it, then. By his order." The mallet keeps tapping, carving out the words.
Forgive whom? The Huns? There is no forgiveness for such as them. Father, forgive us? How have we trespassed, to be punished so? I feel faint again, and cling gladly to Susan's arm. "Where is the provost?"
"By the tomb over there, ma'am." He nods over his shoulder. A man in clerical dress is standing with head bowed, hat in hand. His face is sad and thoughtful.
"Father, may I speak with you?"
"By all means, Sister."
"What is the meaning of this inscription you have ordered?"
He closes his eyes for a moment. "Its meaning is there for everyone to read, is it not? Sister, you do not approve?"
"The cathedral is still smoking. Not all the victims have even been recovered from the ruins of the city. This war has barely begun!" I speak more vehemently than I intend, but my emotions run high and my blood is warmed with the brandy. I see assent in the faces of the listeners; they all feel as I do, and wonder at this timid priest. "You cannot know what depths the enemy may sink to in his efforts at victory. How can forgiveness defend against ultimate evil? Is it not foolhardy to pass by the terrible harms that have been done upon us?"
He looks at me with sad eyes, and over his shoulder, Alucard appears. He has been listening, apparently, and is smiling.
"We must rebuild, Sister. This war will end, and this house of God will rise again."
"Yes, in defiance of the enemy we must pledge to rebuild. He cannot destroy us with bombs alone!"
"Aye," someone replies. "We'll show Jerry what for! We'll show him what it's like!" There is a ragged thread of cheers that grows and swells. Alucard throws his head back and joins the cheering with a laugh.
"Not in defiance, but in hope and trust for the future of the world. It is with faith alone we will rise above the ruins." The priest straightens and speaks for the people around me. "Brethren, we have a great licence here in this seeming void to do work in the cause of peace."
"Peace? We're at war!" A woman points to the ragged skyline. "How can we look for peace before we've paid them back for this?"
"Yours seems to be a controversial view, Father," I say. There are nods of assent on all sides.
"If it is controversial, it is also powerful. Faith and forgiveness have far greater power than bitterness and hatred." The priest raises his hands, almost in supplication. "We cannot become what we most abhor in order to prevail over it. The victory will not be ours in the end. True victory must come from God alone."
The crowd is silent; so am I. But one young boy calls out, a thin urchin with black hair. "I'll fight 'em 'till I die, Father! I've got nothing left anyhow—me mum and dad both got killed. What more have I got to live for than killing the damned Jerrys?"
"Child, I weep for your loss. But I ask you to consider life, not death. God our Father is life and love, not vengeance. Healing comes only from love. Brethren, do you understand?"
They do not understand; the hurt is too new and too deep. But there is no further reply. The ring of people melts. The priest falls back to his meditations, and I turn away, my head whirling. We cannot become what we most abhor…
Alucard stands before me with an air of dismissive contempt. "Humph. A milk-and-water philosophy, eh? You and I…we know how much love is worth in this world." He smirks.
What have I seen where I thought I saw so much? Only war, only death. I can hardly bear to look at him, because I see myself reflected in his eyes. Alucard frowns and starts to speak, but I turn my back on him, close to tears.
If I could only have seen him destroyed. If Van Helsing had not given the order to the men to stay their hands after the stake had weakened the Count sufficiently for him to work his occult science. I have longed for that so many years. The look of peace he might have had in his face before it crumbled into dust…is it possible he has longed for his final peace as well?
I force myself to look at him again, to try to read his thoughts as he can read mine. But his expression is ambiguous now, smooth and veiled. I know a monster's mind lies behind those handsome features; it is too easy to let his face speak for him and forget the corruption of his soul. No doubt his skill at subtle concealments will only increase further with the years.
Would the monster's peace have truly healed me? Can peace be the salve of war, or only its prey?
Alucard peers at me, a hard line forming again between his elegant brows, as if my thoughts have become as impenetrable as his. "Madam Mina?"
"That little lad over there, the one who called out. See that he has somewhere to go. We will take him in, if there is no one else."
Alucard's brows go up. "Are we a nursery now?"
"No, that is not our mission. But that child is filled with anger; if he goes to a charity orphanage, he will come out a criminal in training. Perhaps we can give him another vocation..." I look for the boy among the stones. He has a long switch of wire in his hand and lashes it back and forth in the air with a sound as sharp as a knife. "Domestic service, perhaps. The butler needs a boy to run errands and empty the ashcans."
Something is going on below, at the base of the low hill where the cathedral stands. A crowd moves and surges, following something. "The King's come to Coventry today, he has," says a bystander. "He's driven up from the palace to visit us, God bless 'im." The men take off their hats in spite of the drizzle. "We've had the 'Ome Secretary already, but give me a King any day." The crowds cheer and part; I see a group of police and officials approach on foot.
At their fore, a slender, bare-headed man, looking about at the devastation with an expression of deep sympathy on his face. My heart beats more strongly; it is our holy sovereign. His trousers are spattered with mud from the hard tramp through Coventry's ruined streets, but his gracious and fatherly manner fills me with joy and pride. I do not push through the crowds to greet him as an intimate, but I curtsey as he passes, Alucard at my elbow.
"Three cheers for His Majesty!" someone calls out, and the crowd joins in a hearty "Hip, hip, hurrah!" The monarch bows in acknowledgement.
"We have had it bad in London, but I have not seen anything worse than here in Coventry," I hear the King say to the Lord Mayor who accompanies him.
There is a young girl with the King as well, fourteen years of age, with great blue eyes and shining curls under a beret. This is the heiress presumptive to the throne. She is not fully in public life, though she has made a radio broadcast to the children of the nation; I have spoken with her on a few occasions, but she knows little of the Hellsing Organization as yet. Time enough for that when she comes of age, this innocent still in the glory of her childish purity. She has never seen Alucard.
Until this moment. Her gaze swings his way, and she stops, transfixed. Alucard gives her a slow, silky smile, the fires of his eyes banked low. She is not frightened, but she knows with all the instinct of her royal blood that here is a being of another sort than the great majority of her future subjects. His cast of face has slightly changed under her scrutiny; he looks boyish, almost sweet, and his long hair frames his cheeks. She is fascinated; her lips open for a moment, but then they firmly close again and she raises her chin in an unmistakably regal manner.
Wise for her years to be so guarded. I am proud of her. Alucard bows to the Princess and to her father, who gives him a brief nod, and there is a warm smile of recognition for me from the King before he moves on. But the blue-eyed girl who follows him turns her head to watch the tall vampire who stands beside me until the crowd closes in and cuts her off from our sight.
"They're all Germans, you know," says an amused voice in my ear. "Talking of bloodlines, the Windsors are the royal house of Saxe-Coburg und Gotha, and Wittelsbachs to the bone…well, I'll concede that young lady's Scottish mother."
I turn and glare at Alucard, and he arches a brow. "And of course the Queen Mother is a scion of my house, albeit on the distaff side, so that pretty Princess is a many-times-great-grandniece of mine. What a fine little filly; she'll make a feisty Queen."
"Speak more circumspectly of your sovereign, vampire. The King is not old, and will live many years yet."
"Not old, not in years. Do you remember how he looked before the war?"
I am silent, because I do remember. My beloved King, that kind, conscientious man, has aged twenty years in two. As if the hurts of the nation struck him at his heart, being the nation's strength and stay. The Princess must learn much in a short time.
"She will learn well. War will school her, as it has you." He guides me away from the throngs and we stand under the shelter of the tower, quite alone.
"May she brave the dangers to come with a courageous heart." I touch the cross at my throat. "And from temptation and evil, preserve her." I look at him of whom I speak.
"Yes, you refuse me, Mina…but will all the Hellsings answer so? Will every descendant of yours stay on guard against what I can offer?" He leans closer, the ancient fiend displaying his colours again. "I see another girl-heiress, a princess of your house, with a warrior spirit none can rival."
"You see her?"
"As if she stood before me now—I know her so well already from her foremother. And she will know me, though not as an old foe. She will have your fierceness, Mina, but focused like a glass before the sun, so bright that it scorches the eye and mind. She burns white-hot; she may consume herself before all is done. Will she refuse me at the last, when everything is at stake and power lies within her grasp? There is no forgiveness in her for the enemies she faces. That is her greatest strength…and her greatest weakness."
"A spirit so fierce cannot help but make use of all means to achieve her goals. It is not just the vulnerable, but those who are peerlessly armored, who cannot guard against temptation." He takes me by the shoulders. "You will not forgive, gentle Mina, you who once urged pity for me when all others burned with hatred. This heiress of yours will be brought up in your image, but sharpened, forged to the finest of edges. What a woman she will be! A maid in armor, with beauty like brittle diamonds instead of the yielding rose." His hand strokes my cheek. "All your strengths of mind and intuition, untempered by the smallest measure of mercy. With her dark knight at her side, whose unending courage in her behalf may one day bring her to view things as he does." He smiles and touches his breast. "I wish you could know her…as she will be."
"In…in my image?"
"You have formed her, not I. You and the Hellsings! Blood will tell. You will reap exactly what you have sown!" He grins in triumph, his joy like a glimpse into the pits of Hell.
"No!" Fear seizes me; my child may be condemned to Hell by his seductions, or her own nature? Better that she should die in the womb than live to see such a fate. "You will not touch her! Monster!" I raise my hands to ward him off, and he seizes them in his.
"Then defend her, who is as yet unborn. You have sacrificed so much to the cause; what is one more small thing? Give her the only gift you can at this remove."
"What do you mean?"
"Lay down the sword for her. Let her not be called to the Hellsing headship, and she will live out her life as a human. Ensure for yourself that I will keep that promise! You know how to lift that burden from your family." He plants his hands against the stone wall, mine still prisoned in them, and pulls them above my head. "One kiss, and it is done..."
My lips open and close; I am mute.
I want to deny him his terrible victory; I want to flee so I can breathe clean air untouched by this monstrous cunning, but suddenly I feel a great weight on my chest and I cannot breathe at all. Alucard's face changes, something almost like alarm crossing his features. He releases me and speaks; he seems to move through water, and his voice is muffled. Someone cries out in a piercing shriek. Consciousness recedes. Alucard's strong arms sweep me up as I fall, and for a little while I know no more.
When I wake, I am on a hospital pallet, covered with Alucard's coat for a blanket. Around me lie the injured from the bombings, burned and maimed. I feel ashamed and foolish—why am I here, making an additional burden on this already burdened city? As soon as I can rise, I will go home and retire to my own bed. Susan is fussing and arranging the skirts of the coat over my feet. On one side of me sits a priest, reading from a prayer book, and with him is the black-haired boy, his manner sullen and perplexed. On the other side crouches Alucard, his head bowed.
"Father, please do not trouble with me," I say to the priest. "Go to the other patients—they need your comfort more than this silly old woman. I overexerted myself climbing the tower, that's all."
He looks gravely at me. "Sister, you must prepare yourself. God calls you home."
"Of course I'm going home to London. In a few minutes, when I feel better. Susan, I do hope you haven't lost the return tickets?"
Susan bursts into tears and collapses on her knees at the foot of the pallet. I cannot sense anything below my breast, so I feel strangely disembodied. Alucard raises his head at the sound of my voice. I have never seen such an expression on his face before; he seems almost lost, groping his way through an impenetrable thicket that imprisons him.
"Mina," he groans. "Oh, Mina."
It is the look in his eyes that convinces me at last; I will not see my earthly home again. I must lay down the cross I bear...
"You will never belong to me now…my darling."
"Yes…thank God." I smile at him. "God in His mercy has delivered me from temptation. Amen."
"Amen," says the priest. The boy scuffs his feet and stares at me, dandling his bit of bent wire. He is about ten, half-starved like so many of the children of this war, but his eyes are bright and hard.
"What is your name, child?" I ask him. He mumbles something and I strain to hear.
"What'll I do?" wails Susan. "My lady, what'll I do?"
"Alucard will escort you and the boy home, of course. With the greatest of care." My breath is coming short; there is little time. "Alucard."
His hand trembles, as do his lips, and he can hardly look at me. This is not feigned emotion, but a vain attempt to conceal it. What is this emotion that fills my own heart? I place my hand lightly on his hair, then cup his chin to raise his face. "Serve and atone, and carry thy burden forward. Thine is the heaviest load of all, for it is never-ending." Pity for the imprisoned soul of the monster floods through me, a cleansing peace. "Alucard, I forgive thee."
I feel a cool drop fall to my palm; I look, and see that it is a tear of blood. Like the blood of my purity that he stole so long ago, freely returned again into my hands.
"Nun bricht ein edles Herz," he whispers to me. Now cracks a noble heart. "Gute Nacht, liebster Prinz."
Good night, sweet Prince. My arm falls to my side again, and for the last time, I close my eyes and smile.
"Und Engels-Schwingen mögen dich zu deiner Ruhe tragen..." And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest…
The vampire buries his face in the pillow beside me, and weeps.
Coventry was bombed by the Luftwaffe during the night of November 14-15, 1940, killing about 500 people and devastating most of the city, including the Cathedral Church of St. Michael. It was the only English cathedral to be destroyed in the war.