Mina sat on a chair reading soon after sunset in the library of the castle. Vlad had gone out to attend to some business very early that night and she hadn't known when he would return, so she, of course, went to the library. She didn't even look up when she heard footsteps behind her. There was only one person it could be.
He came to stand behind her chair and she heard him laughed slightly. "I knew I'd find you here."
She looked up at him, smiling. "Well, there's nowhere else you could find me. That didn't take very long."
"Yes, and I am glad for it. What are you reading?"
She held her book up for him to see. "Richard III. Do you know it?"
This time he really did laugh. "You underestimate me, Mina. Of course I know all of Shakespeare's works. And, after all, you did find it in my library."
She laughed in return, an open laugh. "True." In the past – how long had it been? Months? Years? She didn't know any longer – an easy contentment had grown up between them. There were still things that neither of them liked to discuss, people whose names were rarely mentioned, but they were happy how they were. She tilted her head up and he kissed her gently. When they had broken the kiss he said, "What do you think of the scene between Richard and Anne?"
This was so unexpected that she was thrown off guard. "What?"
He gestured toward her book. "The scene when Richard seduces Lady Anne. What do you think of it?"
She remembered that scene very vividly. It was one of her favorites. "Actually – and I know this is a very odd opinion – I thought their relationship was rather sweet."
An odd glint was in his eyes. "Even though he caused her to never see her husband again?"
He was confusing her now – not that that was uncommon. "Yes, I know that it's not a relationship that would conventionally be –"
There was that glint again. "Even though she wanted him to be dead, and unable to harm those she cared about any longer, before he seduced her?"
The parallels hit her full force and she laughed, delighted. She stood and kissed him, and when she next spoke, she was whispering. "Yes, yes, I love it despite all that." She smiled. "And, you're right, their interactions do sound like something that would go on between us."
Again, his words surprised her. "Would you like to read the scene with me then?"
She hesitated slightly, but she did like the idea. "We do only have one copy of the script, and you can't read it properly with only one copy…"
"I know most of Richard's lines already." He smiled. "I have liked this scene for quite a time."
With that settled she picked up the book and began looking for the correct page. "Where shall we start from?"
"Anne's first monologue, or so I would assume."
Having found the page, she began looking over the monologue quickly when a question hit her mind. Her voice was quiet, almost inaudible. "Who is Edward Lancaster?"
He met her eyes, and his were a vivid green, instead of red, as they were sometimes. His voice was as quiet as hers was, but firm. "Jonathan, my dear."
She swallowed and nodded. They hadn't talked about Jonathan at all, but his memory had always hovered, unspoken, between them. He went to stand at the entrance to the room as she began, her voice slightly shaky, to speak. "Set down, set down your honorable load – if honor may be shrouded in a hearse – whilst I awhile obsequiously lament the untimely fall of virtuous Lancaster." She paused, moistening her lips and steeling herself to go on. Jonathan, this is Jonathan I'm talking about, and Lucy. "Poor key-cold figure of a holy King, pale ashes of the house of Lancaster, though bloodless remnant of that royal blood, be it lawful that I invocate your ghost to hear the lamentations of poor Anne, wife to thy Edward, to thy slaught'red son stabbed by the selfsame hand that made these wounds!
She thought for an instant that she could see Jonathan's body, and that of Lucy, and poor Mrs. Westerna, all before her. For all I know, Jonathan could be dead, and by his hand. She certainly had, in the past, had suspicion enough of that. And, beyond all doubt he was the cause of both Lucy and her mother's deaths!
"Lo, in these windows that let forth thy life I pour the helpless balm of my poor eyes." Her voice faltered, and she was truly weeping now. Lucy's golden hair, Jonathan's kind eyes…the images passed through her mind and then were quickly gone. There truly was anger in her next words, the anger that had gotten her through that dreadful month after she had been forced to drink Vlad's blood. She had lost that anger for a time, while she lived with him in peace, but now it was fully returned. "O, cursed by the hand that made these holes! Cursed the heart that had the heart to do it! Cursed the blood that let this blood from hence!"
She could see the marks on Lucy's neck, the ones that had caused her death, though she had not known that until far too late. She continued to speak, her voice not failing till she came to those words that, in the play, were deliciously ironic, but now only served to chill her soul. "If ever he…if ever he have wife, let her be made more miserable by the death of him…than I am made by my young lord and thee…"
Her voice trailed off there. What was she even doing here, in the home of the man of whose death she had sworn to cause? A thousand times she had asked herself that question, and she had thought that she had settled it in her mind forever.
But before she could dwell on that awful question much longer, Vlad spoke, his voice cold and yet reassuring. "Mina, you have not finished your line." And she lifted the book again and continued, her voice shaky but yet strong enough to say that last few sentences.
Then it was Richard's entrance. Vlad walked toward her, his footsteps ringing on the stone, and when he spoke his voice was commanding. "Stay, you that bear the corpse, and set it down."
It did not take much acting for her to walk a few steps back away from him as though instinctively; a few months ago it would have been natural. "What black magician conjures up this fiend to stop devoted charitable deeds?" It's Lucy's corpse there. I can't let him have it.
But then his voice was angry, and his eyes had a red tinge to them, and she was frightened of him, even though she knew that he must be acting. "Villains, set down the corpse, or, by Saint Paul," there he gave a wry smile "I'll make a corpse of any who disobeys."
He won't make Lucy into one of his demons.
The next line was for another character, but she said it instead. "My lord, stand back and let the coffin pass."
His fangs were bared then, oh, oh God, she couldn't stand against him any longer – but this was all acting, for once. "Unmannered dog! Stand thou, when I command!" You have indeed commanded me so. Of course, she would never actually say those words. He continued to say the line. "Advance thy halberd higher than my breast, or, by Saint Paul, I'll –" Here he stopped, and he seemed no longer angry. "Mina, what's the next line?"
After the intensity of the exchange just before, this came as a great relief. She gave him the line, and he finished it. Then it came to her line again, and she somehow found the strength to say it with the anger and self-righteousness that she would have had were she saying this before him a long time ago. "What, do you tremble? Are you all afraid? Alas, I blame you not, for you are mortal, and mortal eyes cannot endure the Devil." Oh, God, how well this line fit them! Vlad was right in how like Richard and Anne were to he and her. "Avaunt, though dreadful minister of Hell! Though hadst but power over his mortal body; his soul thou canst not have, therefore, be gone."
And there was the voice that had drawn her to him when she had left all to be at his side, even when had hurt her so. If Richard had a voice like that, surely it was no wonder that he had seduced Anne so easily. "Sweet saint, for charity, be not so curst."
It took an effort to say the next line, but not for the same reason that it had taken an effort earlier. For it was no longer her natural inclination to reply to him, when he spoke in that tone of voice, with anger. But she summoned up the images of Lucy and Jonathan and continued. "Foul devil, for God's sake hence, and trouble us not! For thou hast made the happy earth thy Hell, filled it with cursing cries and deep exclaims." All of that was true.
She continued the monologue, but when she came to a certain point in it, an idea seized her, and bit her wrist with her fangs, letting the blood drip onto the stone floor. "O God, which this blood madest, revenge his death! Oh earth, which this blood drinkest, revenge his death!"
His eyes became nearly completely red, and his fangs lengthened. She smiled. She too, had power over him. His voice then held a note of annoyance that she guessed he had not intended. "Lady, you know no rules of charity, which renders good for bad, blessings for curses."
Perhaps because of the power she had exerted, she was able to make her voice angry more easily. "Villain, thou knowst no law of God nor man: no beast so fierce but knows some touch of pity."
He smiled, and was in control again, stepping forward and wrapping an arm around her waist. "But I know none and therefore am no beast."
That was so perfectly him that that the bitter laughter before the next line came easily to her. He knew no pity when he killed Lucy, nor when he forced her head down on his chest, forcing her to swallow his blood! "O, wonderful, when demons tell the truth!"
He, too, laughed, but his laughter was the laughter of one who knows he has complete control over everything around him. "More wonderful, when angels are so angry." He let go of her then, and continued the line with his hands – long fingered and pale – open in a gesture of innocent. "Vouchsafe, divine perfection of a woman, of these supposed crimes, to give me leave by circumstances but to acquit myself."
She retaliated immediately, almost naturally. "Vouchsafe, diffused infection of a man, by these known evils, but to give me leave by circumstances t'accuse thy cursed self."
His tone was bored and annoyed, as though he had grown tired already of this conversation. "Fairer than tongue can name thee, let me have some patient leisure to excuse myself."
In that instant, she hated him again. "Fouler than heart can think thee, thou canst make no excuse current but to hang thyself."
They continued with the lines for a time, her remaining angry and him answering only with slight annoyance. His temper was odd, and always had been, provoked by small things and not troubled by greater ones often, she knew that. But the words did not give her leisure to muse on such things. She was drawn back to the scene as Vlad said the next line. "The better for the King of Heaven that hath him."
She practically spat out the next word. "He is in Heaven, where thou shalt never come." And neither shall I go there, not after choosing to be with you.
He laughed, his fangs showing. "Let him thank me, that help to send him hither, for he was fitter for that place than any place than earth."
She knew the line that was to come soon, but she pretended that she didn't, trying to make her voice as angry as it had been earlier. "And thou unfit for any place but Hell."
She could hear his footsteps as he walked slowly closer to her. God, he was good at this! "Yes, one place else, if you will hear me name it."
Her heart beat quickly as he stepped towards her. He felt so close. As close as he did during the days when she lay in the coffin with her body pressed against his. And this time it was different because it didn't feel as though she had spent all those days with him. "Some dungeon."
And he pulled her to face him, kissing her deeply, his hands on her shoulders, breaking the kiss for only the two words of the next line. "Your bedchamber."
She pulled away from his grip then, half because she wanted to and half because the lines dictated that she do so. "Ill rest betide the chamber where thou liest!"
The next lines continued much as the others had, only that it was more of an effort for her to reply angrily now, and he was flattering her rather than being in any way annoyed. At one line he began running his hands over her neck, and she didn't think she could pull away this time. "These eyes could not endure that beauty's wrack; you should not blemish it, if I stood by: as all the world is cheered by the sun, so I by that. It is my day, my life."
Did he think that way about her? When he said these lines was he speaking truly from his heart, or was she just another one of his brides, to be discarded when another came alone. She didn't pull away from him even as she said the next line, however. "Black night o'ershade thy day, and death thy life!"
Before saying the next line, he mentally spoke to her. Not much point in cursing me that way, my dear, as it's already true… She had difficulty not laughing then, but he said the next line and she managed to stop herself from doing so. "Curse not thyself, fair creature, thou art both."
"I would I were, to be revenged on thee." She did feel that way once…but no longer.
He whispered in her ear, and again he felt so close. "It is a quarrel most unnatural, to be revenged on him that loveth thee."
She did pull away then. "It is a quarrel just and reasonable to be revenged on him that killed my husband."
And yet again he laughed. "He that bereft thee, lady, of thy husband, did it to help thee to a better husband." Was it just her imagination, or did he put some special emphasis on those words?
She lifted her head with an arrogance that was pure acting at that moment. "His better doth not breath upon the earth."
Again Vlad mentally spoke to her, nearly making her laugh. No, but he doesn't need to breathe. And then his voice was wonderfully gentle. "He lives that loves thee better than he could."
Her voice shook. "Name him."
She laughed nervously. "Why, that was he."
He laughed too, but for different reasons. "The selfsame name, but one of a better nature."
She had to steel herself to say the next words. "Where is he?"
Vlad's next action was quick. "Here." He said, his voice quiet, and then he sunk his fangs into her neck without any sort of warning. She gasped at the mingled pleasure and pain, even though she was used to this by now. She should probably have expected that he would do something like this at some point, but she hadn't. He pulled away quickly though, before she was too weakened, though she had already dropped the book and didn't feel like picking it up again, so she said the first line that came to mind, hoping it was the right one. "Umm…arise, dissembler: though I wish thy death, I will not be thy executioner."
He raised an eyebrow and she blushed, knowing that she must have gotten it terribly wrong. "Let's just go from near the ending of Richard's monologue, dear." She nodded and picked the book up, trying find the page. Before she had even done so, however, he began speaking. "Teach not thy lip such scorn, for it was made for kissing, lady, not for such contempt. If thy revengeful heart cannot forgive, lo, here I lend thee this sharp pointed sword, which if thou please to hide in this true breast, and let the soul forth that adoreth thee, I lay it naked to the deadly stroke and humbly beg for death on my knee." He handed her his dagger, and knelt, pulling open his shirt.
She didn't know what possessed her to do so, but she drew the dagger over his exposed chest, and blood began to well up, reminding her so much of…
The memory of that awful night, October Second, came back to her mind and she collapsed onto her knees, finally sobbing, with the marks on her neck and the bloody knife in her hands. Vlad took the knife from her gently and enfolded her in his arms. That, too, reminded her of that night, especially with the way he stroked her hair, so gently, just as he had done then, and the cut on his chest was healing quickly, but, oh, God, the blood was still there…
But her tears stopped eventually, and she calmed down, and he opened the book again. "Come, my dear, we'll go from near the end." And she nodded, and began speaking from the place he pointed to. "That shalt thou know hereafter."
His voice was still gentle, even as he spoke the lines again. "But I shall live in hope?"
She laughed slightly. "All men, I hope, live so."
"Vouchsafe to wear this ring."
And he lifted her hand as though to place a ring upon it as she said the next line. "To take is not to give."
Then he was placing a ring upon her finger, the finger where she used to wear her engagement ring from Jonathan. As she looked at him in astonishment and confusion he smiled.
"Mina, my love, would you be married to me?"