A/N Ola! I'm back from a nice holiday on my uncle's farm and full of ideas. It's amazing how things come to you when it's just you and your horse alone on a mountain.

This is a shoutout to Jimmy Barnes - thanx so much for the msg. I'm absolutely delighted you enjoyed it!

Chapter 2: Bride and Gloom

Gabriel cast his eyes up at the looming towers of Vaseria Cathedral and felt his heart flip. The day of his wedding to Anna had finally come and he was as nervous as he was excited. He and Carl were on their was to the church to check that everything was ready before the townspeople began to fill up the pews. Once the church was filled, Gabriel knew it would only be a matter of moments before Anna arrived and the wedding began. His stomach was churning with anticipation of that moment and he forced himself to concentrate on the present moment.

The Cathedral was simply decorated with bunches of crimson and white roses tied with long ribbons. Gabriel smiled at the sight of them. They reminded him of Anna: uncomplicated but beautiful. He cast his eyes over the rest of the still church. Everything appeared ready and so, he allowed his mind to wonder to the previous evening. He remembered the small bag he'd been keeping with him and pulled it out of his pocket as he went over to where Carl had stationed himself on the altar.

"Carl," he said, "There's something I need to talk to you about."

"Don't worry, nerves are natural, old friend," Carl said dismissively as he flipped through a bible.

"It's not that. It's about last night-"

"Heavens yes!" Carl said, shutting the book and looking up, "What were you two doing? All that screaming? I hope you didn't-"

"No Carl. I couldn't sleep so I left Anna asleep and went to make a cup of tea. When I got back to the room, I found these all over her." He handed Carl the bag.

"What are they?" the friar asked tentatively.

"Spiders."

Carl snorted and tried to hold back laughter. "You mean to tell me that Anna, who has fought all sorts of nightmarish creatures was scared of a few spiders?"

"They're not your normal spiders Carl."

Carl raised a sceptical eyebrow at Van Helsing and shrugged.

"Are they dead?"

"Very."

Carl sat down on one of the pews and pulled the bag open, spilling the spiders onto the seat beside him. He gave a shriek and jumped away from them.

"What's wrong?" Gabriel said, hiding a smile, "Afraid?"

"N-no!" Carl said, slowly stepping towards the dead creatures. "I – I just didn't…think they were quite so big."

Gabriel chuckled smugly, fully aware of Carl's lie. "So can you tell me anything about them?"

Carl scrutinised the spiders for a few moments before tentatively flipping one over onto its back.

"Interesting….very," he mumbled to himself.

"Carl, what?"

Carl looked up. "This is a very rare species of spider. Highly poisonous. One bite from one of these could bring down a wildebeest. They're generally only found in the mountainous regions of the Drakensberg in Africa. It's a wonder how they got here; could only have been brought in by someone."

"So how did that someone get them onto Anna. I found the bag on the balcony of our bedroom but that's two stories up. Not exactly something a sane person would climb while holding a bag of poisonous spiders."

"Gabriel, does Anna have any enemies you know of?" Carl asked tentatively.

"No! She's loved by the villagers and she certainly hasn't been to Africa to make any enemies there! The only enemy she's ever had is Dracula and we know he's dead."

"Perhaps the whole thing was an exceptional accident?" Carl suggested, "I'll certainly take a look into it though." He cast a glance at the church doors as people began to fill the church. "For now, lets concentrate on getting you married, shall we?" he smiled reassuringly and Gabriel nodded.

"Yes. Thank you Carl," he said.

"No, thank you. I am most grateful to have the honour of marrying you."

"I'd have it no other way."

xxx

Gabriel tugged nervously at his jacket as the traditional Romanian Wedding March began to play. His eyes scanned over the townspeople as they sat, watching him and he felt his heart begin to race. Transylvanian weddings were heaped in tradition and, with the nerves he was feeling, it felt as if he was slowly forgetting all Anna had told him about them. He shook off the anxiety and cast his eyes to the doors.

His breath caught in his throat. Gasps of awe flowed from the villagers. Anna stood alone at the entrance. She wore a white wedding gown with a wide skirt and scoop-neck top that had sleeves just past her elbows, covered with a white corset. Her hair was pulled up in a similar fashion to how it was at Dracula's ball. A gleaming silver tiara with inset rubies rested on her head, holding a long white veil in place. A silver crown was unique to Transylvania, as the villagers believed it would keep their ruler safe from werewolves and the many other creatures that hunted them. The tiara Anna was now wearing had been specially made for her when the news of her engagement to Gabriel was announced.

Gabriel felt his jaw drop and quickly pulled it up, not moving his eyes from Anna as she slowly walked towards him. She stopped just in front of him, eyes shining, and smiled up at him as he removed the veil covering her face. His hand found hers and together, they turned to face Carl.

Gabriel frowned. Carl was standing, gaping most obviously at Anna. He cleared his throat, effectively snapping the friar out of his reverie. Carl blushed and began hastily flipping through the bible in his hands. Gabriel heard Anna stifle a giggle beside him and cast a mischievous glance in her direction. Warmth flushed his body. This was exactly how it was supposed to be. He and Anna, together and happy, and Carl, there to help and amuse. His romance with Anna had been whirlwind and lately, he'd questioned whether what they'd done hadn't been hasty. He now realised that it had all been right. It was supposed to happen that way. And as he stood there in front of the altar, he knew that he was more than ready to speak the words that would knit his soul to Anna's.

"Meus pectus pectoris est vestri. I do."

xxx

The celebration was to be held in the ballroom of Valerious Manor. As was custom in Vaseria, the bride and groom rode to it on a black stallion - traditionally a gift from the bride's father but this time simply a horse given by the best breeder in Transylvania.

Anna took Gabriel's hand as he pulled her into the back of the horse.

"Okay?" he asked as she put her arms around his waist.

She rested her head on his shoulder. "Yes."

He turned and smiled at her. All around them, the people were forming a path for them to follow to the Manor, waiting expectantly to see them ride past.

"I love you, Mrs Van Helsing," he said.

Anna gave him a squeeze. "I love you too."

Their lips met in a soft kiss and the villagers standing around them began to cheer. Anna broke away and giggled, blushing.

"Shall we?" Gabriel said with a smile. Anna grinned and nodded. Gabriel gave the horse a kick and they set off at a canter through the tunnel the villagers had created. Anna giggled happily behind him, smiling and waving at the small children as they passed them. Some threw roses while others called out tidings of good luck and long life. Gabriel smiled to himself. This was definitely a tradition he liked. The whole scene seemed to be just right. It was like something out of a story book: the beautiful princess and her hero riding to a celebration on a black horse, her skirt draped over the back of the horse like a train and the villagers around them, cheering. It was almost too good to be true.

Carl stood on the steps of the Manor with Theresa, watching as the couple rode up, their cheeks flushed from the wind and eyes shining with exhilaration. Gabriel brought the horse to a stop and got off to help Anna down. The smiles never left their faces as they led the way to the ballroom to begin the celebration, followed by the villagers.

Gabriel and Anna were seated at a large table overlooking the others. The sun was slowly setting, casting a warm glow through the windows of the ballroom, and servants hired for the wedding were hurrying to light the torches and candles in the room.

Anna sighed happily and leaned sideways to rest her head on her husband's shoulder. He responded by wrapping an arm around her. They shared a glance for a few moments and he winked at her before turning his eyes back to the guests as they settled into their seats.

For a moment, Anna's mind wondered to the nightmare she'd had the night they killed Dracula. It had taken place in this very ballroom, at sunset. A shiver ran down her spine at the thought. It had been terrifying: all the villagers were vampires and Dracula had killed Van Helsing. Anna shook her head, drowning the memory with the happiness she'd been feeling throughout the day. It was nothing but a nightmare. It would never come true.

The evening passed pleasantly with indulgent feasting and much festivity on everyone's part. The spiders of the previous evening were soon forgotten. Near midnight and the end of the celebration, the time for a toast came and the servants brought forth glasses of the finest wine from the kitchen, distributing them amongst the guests.

Anna sat, twirling her glass in her fingers as she waited for all the guests to receive one. Her glass and Gabriel's had been brought first as they were different from the others, being those of the bride and groom. Transylvania tradition stated that they had to be silver chalices to present the couple with protection and providence. Anna didn't much care for the rule; it was still the same wine and she didn't see why they should have anything superior to the villagers. Her eyes fell on Theresa, standing nearby, closely watching the servants but without a glass.

Anna smiled at the old woman and got up, holding out her glass. "Here Theresa. Take mine," she said with a smile.

The old woman was shocked. "But Princess… its tradition."

"And I'm breaking it. You put so much work into planning this evening for me, Theresa. You deserve it." Anna said firmly.

Theresa blushed and nodded sincerely, taking the cup, "It is an honour."

Anna turned and took an ordinary glass from a passing servant before returning to her seat beside Gabriel.

Carl stood and held up his glass.

"I am not a speaker, but on this occasion I take it upon myself to raise a toast to a most star-crossed pair. A brave hunter and passionate princess, destined to be together, who are now to rule this fair land together. They have struggled, through many challenges and conquered each. I look upon them now as the most devoted friends I have ever known and two truly great individuals. Gabriel, you have shown me courage and daring that will always keep my life moving. Anna, from you I've learnt that fortitude, faith and devotion can endure even when a person is completely alone. I pray you will both be very happy." He turned to the villagers, "I ask you two join me in toasting our great leaders." He raised his glass. "To Gabriel and Anna Valerious Van Helsing!"

"Gabriel and Anna Valerious Van Helsing!" the crowd echoed him.

As one, they raised their glasses.

Gabriel's heart flushed at Carl's words. He had not been expecting such a heartfelt speech – let alone something so serious- and it had touched him. He smiled and raised his glass to Carl to thank him before sipping the wine.

Anna followed suit and revelled in the fruity taste of the wine. Red and velvety: her favourite. She leaned over to whisper in Gabriel's ear but stopped dead at a choking sound beside her. She spun around and her eyes fell on Theresa. The old woman collapsed to the floor, gripping her throat. The chalice of wine in her hand hit the ground, spilling what remained of its contents. Gabriel shuddered: the 'wine' was pitch black. The entire room fell silent as all eyes went to the small frame now writing on the floor.

"Theresa!" Anna's scream echoed shrilly in the room as she ran from her seat and fell to her knees beside the woman.

"Anna!" Gabriel immediately followed her, kneeling beside Theresa. He turned to a nearby servant. "Bring water! Hurry!"

Theresa's choking intensified and her eyes grew large as she looked up at the princess. Anna shuddered in horror and frantically cast her eyes at Gabriel, her face pale and pleading for a solution. The guests began to crowd in a circle around them and Gabriel pointed at the puddle of wine.

"Stay away from it!" he yelled as the servant arrived with a jug of cold water. Some of the servants tried to move the villagers back to allow them some space as Carl hurried over.

Anna had pulled the woman's head into her lap and helped Gabriel tip it back so that she could drink some water. "What's happening to her?" she asked anxiously. The water seemed to help the choking but the old woman continued to shake violently.

"I don't know," Gabriel said honestly as Carl kneeled down opposite Anna.

"Looks like some sort of organic poison," Carl said softly as he put a hand on her forehead.

"We have to do something!" Anna cried, "That was my glass. It was meant for me!"

A cold realisation suddenly crashed down on Gabriel. A chalice of poisoned wine. The rare spiders' mysterious appearance. Somebody really did want to kill Anna!

His eyes flew around the room, searching for any sign of a threat – who might have been responsible; who might still be a threat. He turned to the servant who had brought the water.

"Fetch some men! We need to move her to another room. This is no place for Carl to cure her."

The servant nodded and ran off. Gabriel turned his attention to his wife. Anna was still crouched over the old woman, desperately trying to help her. He put an arm around her shoulder and tugged.

"Anna! We have to get you out of here!"

"No!" Anna cried, pulling against his grip, "I have to stay here. I have to help her!"

At that moment, two servants arrived. Gabriel managed to pull Anna away so they could lift the old woman. They followed Carl out of the room, presumably heading for a bedroom elsewhere in the Manor.

Anna turned to Gabriel with tears in her eyes. "This wasn't supposed to happen, Gabriel. That poison was meant for me." She said softly.

Gabriel nodded solemnly. He was eternally grateful for Anna's rebelliously generous nature. Without it, she would have been the one on the edge of life. He wrapped a comforting arm around her and she buried her face in his chest. He sighed. The evening had been going so well, almost perfectly. He cast his eyes up at the ceiling and mentally screamed at God. What had they done to deserve something like this on what should have been the happiest day of their lives?

A/N yes, I know. Very few large spiders are that poisonous but where's the scare in a little one?

Besides, this is largely fantasy, right?

NB: "Meus pectus pectoris est vestri" apparently means 'my heart is yours' but it's probably meant in medical terms or something so if any of the readers speak Latin, please let me know what it should say to mean that! Otherwise it might be like that episode of friends where Joey writes a recommendation letter for Monica and Chandler. Classic.