Hey everyone! Well this chapter was a long time coming, for the simple reason that it was the hardest one to write yet. First-person Dracula is difficult, so I hope I've managed to do him justice here and in the next chapter. Which brings me to my next point. Once again, I have had to cut a chapter in half. I am already looking at about 15 pages for the "complete" chapter 13, so rather than make you read something that long, I decided to find a stopping point and make it into two chapters. The next chapter picks up right where this one left off--no time breaks, or anything like that. I just really felt that the entire story of Vladdypants Dracula couldn't be condensed/confined to a single chapter. What can I say, the dude talks a lot.
Speaking of talking a lot, I should probably shut up now and let you read the chapter. Over and out!
Chapter 13: In the Beginning
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was a vast waste, darkness covered the deep, and the spirit of God hovered over the surface of the water. God said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light; and God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from darkness.
In the beginning was the word.
"What truth?" I gaped dumbly at him. I suddenly could not feel my feet; my ears began to hum.
"You don't know?" This was not a question—I found that he often asked questions to which he already had the answer and made requests to which he would suffer no refusal. It was strange, but it seemed as if all the authority and weight with which he had carried himself since bringing me to Vilkova suddenly vanished, as if the mask of arrogant youth and vigor suddenly fell away to reveal the tired, old man beneath it. When I did not answer, he continued with bitterness in his voice: "Surely they spoke of me, what convenient tales did they tell you?"
I had heard the stories, of course I had. I had heard the stories ever since I had been old enough to understand the words they contained. I heard the stories when sitting on my father's knee; I heard the stories when he first put a sword in my hand; I heard the stories when I was denied permission to go to the celebrations on St. Nicholas's Day with Jakob Ivanescu; I heard the stories at my mother's funeral. I thought I had heard them all.
"Vlad Drakula," my father always began, "was Voivode—Prince—of Wallachia, a place one hundred miles to the south." Here, he would get up and take me by the hand over to the large map that adorned the north wall of his study. "See?" he would point to the little dot marked 'Vaseria,' "here we are, and all this is our province of Transylvania. And here is Sighişoara, where Drakula was born, and down here, across the Carpathian mountains, is Wallachia." I would nod enthusiastically as if I were hearing it all for the first time and he would take me back to his big chair. "In those days, Transylvania was part of Hungary, as it is now, and in time the king of Hungary made Drakula Voivode there too, and our family advised him, as we had counseled his father before him."
"Truly, Papa?" I would gasp in astonishment. And he would nod sagely.
"In those days—do you know how long ago that was? That's right, the fifteenth century. And do you know what century we are in now, Anca? Yes, the nineteenth century, that's very good, four hundred years later, so that was a very long time ago. Now, in those days, we were at war with the Ottomans, the same Ottomans who live in Turkey now. All of Christendom was at war with their Sultan, because they did not believe in God or Jesus. They wanted to take our lands from us, and then little girls like you would not be allowed to go to church.
"At first, Drakula was very brave and fought zealously to protect us from the invaders. And they feared him, they called him "türke-katil," which means "Turk killer," and scattered at his approach. He once crossed the Danube at night and raided the camp of the Sultan himself, killing thousands of infidel soldiers. Another time,"—his voice would drop and my eyes would grow large with fright, knowing what came next—"when the Sultan dared cross the river to enter Drakula's deserted capital at Tirgoviste, he found no living army, but rather a legion of staked dead, thousands upon thousands of people impaled on great wooden stakes, with his favorite general, Hamza, at their head, and he turned and fled.
"But then he began to lust for more blood and soon we could not control him. He was no longer content with Turkish corpses, and so to even his own countrymen he did many terrible things. He lured the country's poor to a banquet where he burned them alive. When he was appointed Voivode he had all the young boys who had come from other lands to learn his language burned, even those no bigger than you, Anca. Men, women, and children, all were suspected of crimes, of sedition, of plotting, and do you know what would happen to all those people?" I would nod my head, afraid, and he would go to a chest in the corner and take out a broken piece of wood, smooth and round, and pointed at the tip—too large for my childish hands to span—and place it upright in my lap. "That's right," he would say approvingly, "up, up, taller than the tree-tops! And he would sit among them and feast and make merry, and listen to their dying screams as if they were beautiful music."
"But how did you stop him, Papa?" I would ask, and I looked up half-expecting to see him in front of me now and to find myself back in his study at home with the dogs and a roaring fire. But I was far away from home, and the man standing before me, looking at me expectantly, was not my father.
"You were a monster," I forced myself to look straight into the Count's clear, blue eyes as I poured out centuries' of hate; I thought I saw him flinch. "You slaughtered your own people, they had no choice but to take you down. You broke our family's heart." At this mention of my ancestors he looked nauseated. And then he laughed.
"Their heart…they presume to talk of hearts… And this is the reason they give to their children? My, this is most informative, an entire war for a few mortal indiscretions?" He looked at me incredulously. But then, seeing something in my expression, his eyes narrowed. "Oh, but there is more…"
"They said you were a traitor," I whispered. The Unspeakable Act, my father had called it. I never knew what it was.
"Indeed?" His eyes gleamed dangerously but his voice remained soft. "I am a traitor now, am I? Forgive me, my dear, but I must say I find their choice of words a bit…odd. And do you believe these stories, little one?" I noticed then that he was gripping the edge of the spindly table at his side tightly enough to blanch his unnaturally white knuckles and rattle the crystal decanter on its top. And while his words were easy, calm, and measured and cool like soft velvet, I saw that his jaw was clenched ever so slightly with unmistakable tension.
"I—," I faltered, unsure of how to answer.
The Count smiled indulgently, his brow relaxed. "Never mind that. Pray, continue," he purred; it was plainly obvious that he was only toying with me now. But what could I do but comply?
"They tried to reason with you…"
"Lies!" he spat. His face flushed and his eyes paled, but he stopped himself and motioned again for me to go on.
"But you would not…they had no choice." I spoke barely above a whisper now, frightened of what I was about to say, trying not to believe it, even while he stood right before me, hard, white, and motionless. "You were executed, but God would not have your soul. So you gave it to the Devil instead and you became the cursed undead, and now he is your god and you serve at his right hand."
"This is what they told you?" His eyes bored into my own so powerfully that I had to look away.
"But the tyrant would not die," my father would continue the story. "As he lay dying, Drakula made a covenant—a very special promise—with the Devil, who gave him new life, and he became undead. In exchange for his soul, the Devil gave Drakula many of his own powers—great strength, speed, cunning, and ruthlessness. So long as he consumed the blood of the living he would never die. And his skin became as ice and his heart as stone; his teeth became great fangs and claws grew from his fingers. But he will never appear thus to you, Anca, and you must remember this. Always he will appear beautiful and kind and he will whisper sweetly in your ear. That is his witchcraft, so you must promise me, Anca, never look to into his eyes and never to let him speak, or else you will be lost forever."
"Y-yes," I replied breathlessly. "You are nosferatu, contemptible and unclean, and everywhere you go there is death. You should not exist!"
All this time while I had been speaking I had remained standing with my back to the open door fidgeting fretfully. I pulled my fingers and wrung my hands; occasionally I took a small step forward and then another one back; I moved my feet from side to side, unable to chose a direction. "For heaven's sake, madam," the Count suddenly barked at me, "will you stop that infernal twitching! You are doing my head in!"
I froze, but his words continued to rain down on me like a volley of arrows. Little flecks of spit flew from his mouth as his eyes flashed and the vein in his forehead throbbed angrily. In that moment he looked every bit the monster my father had so often described, and I cringed in spite of myself. My hands began to shake.
"You say I broke your family's heart, highness? Well, to that I say that they had no hearts to break, that the heart that was broken was mine, and that they did it most willingly, without care or scruple! You say I am a traitor? I say that they are the traitors! Villainous, greedy, power-hungry traitors! I am a patriot, highness; I have always been a patriot! I poured out my blood and my sweat to protect my country and they thanked me upon the edge of a sword!"
"But—" I protested. He was lying; he had to be. My eyes felt moist and my mouth ran dry. Somewhere close by I heard the sound of ragged breathing. I realized, with a shock, that it came from me.
"They cut me down like a dog!" he roared and I fell silent. "Their treachery runs deeper than you could ever imagine!"
He broke off, gasping for breath. His hair had come loose from its clasp and fell wildly around his face, which was unnaturally ruddy and twisted into a grimace so severe that it looked as if it might break. His white teeth were bared and his hands were balled into tight fists. I wanted desperately to look away and block up my ears, but I found I could not move a muscle. Petrified, I could only gape at him with my mouth hanging open.
"I stopped you ungraciously just now," he said at last in a strained voice. He was now standing very still; his face softened for a moment. "Do forgive my outburst, it was most imprudent of me," he continued more smoothly. "Please, my dear,...sit, you look as if you've seen a ghost."
I noticed then that my knees were shaking and I sank gratefully into the chair and wrapped my arms around my chest to hold it still. The Count whirled and began pacing again, scowling.
"So this is your opinion of me…" he spat from across the room. I was now focusing intently on the swirling patterns in the rug at my feet and the little chip that was missing from the chair's gilded armrest, but his next words caught my attention.
"And your Roman pig of a lover," he sneered, "what light did he shed?" This was the first time that I allowed myself to think of Van Helsing in three days.
"Why do you hate him so?" I blurted out before I could stop myself.
There was a long silence. Dracula raised a long hand to his brow, wincing as if he were in pain. After a time, he turned back towards me, glaring at me venomously, and I shrank back in my chair as he slowly advanced. And then he sighed; he dropped his hands in resignation; he lifted his face, now deeply lined with grief, to mine.
"He killed my wife," he whispered hoarsely.
"No," he growled, and then his voice broke: "my true wife. My mortal wife. He murdered my wife and he slaughtered my child. And when I…when I objected, he turned his knife on me."
"But why?" I gasped, aghast. I felt suddenly sick.
His expression went blank; his voice was flat: "Because she was a Turk."
"That is impossible," I stated bluntly. "Van Helsing is a only young man, not ten years older than my brother! Surely you don't expect me to believe he was alive hundreds of years ago, only a fool would swallow such a tale!"
"Only a man?" He raised his brows and I detected a glimmer of amusement in his voice. "Oh, my dear, he is so much more…"
"I don't believe you," I whispered, shaking my head vigorously, "I don't believe a single word you say." It was not difficult to believe Van Helsing to be a murderer, but it was hard to imagine my father to be a liar. The tingling in my fingers returned.
"I do not ask you to believe," he said tersely. "I ask you to listen, nothing more."
"And why should I listen to your lies?" I snapped, although I could not deny that I was more than a little intrigued.
"You will do me the courtesy of hearing me," he answered, resuming his seat on the divan, "because I have thus far allowed you the privilege of a heartbeat." He paused, the left corner of his mouth twisted upwards ever so slightly. "It would be a pity, would it not, if I were to change my mind."
I glared at him but did not utter a word in reply. He leaned back in his seat and his ghostly smirk became more substantial. "It appears we understand each other," he said; my glare darkened, "yes, it appears we understand each other quite well. Now, where to begin…
"Shall we begin like our friend master Shakespeare? 'Two households both alike in dignity?' Or shall I tell you all from the very beginning? That's really where we ought to start, don't you think? More than four hundred years…very well." He sighed with great ceremony.
"In the beginning we were Transylvanian, like you, and my father was a boyar, like your father's fathers. You see? We are not so very different, you and I. We lived in a fine house in Sighişoara, my father, my brothers, my mother, and myself. Yes!" he laughed bitterly, "the fiend had a mother! But do not ask me about her, for I remember only a very little. I was a boy when I went away, and when I came back she was gone. I suppose she was beautiful in the way that all children's mothers are beautiful; she had soft, cool hands and a tiny waist; she had black hair so smooth it looked polished and black eyes that shone when she laughed. In 1436, when I was five years old, my father was appointed voivode of Wallachia and we all went with him to the court at Tirgoviste, and she didn't laugh anymore.
"Now, Tirgoviste—" seeing, perhaps, something in my expression, he broke off. "I suppose you are wishing me to tell you about history, no?" he asked dryly. "You desire to know what it was like in the great city at the dawn of the Rinascimento, as the Italians call it; you desire to know about the Dark Ages… What shall I tell you, then, hmm? Shall I tell you that the castles were damp and drafty, that people walked the city's winding streets through piles of excrement, that my father's fat mistress had stinking breath and rotting teeth, that the plague-ridden poor lay in heaps just outside the castle gate?" He paused but I said nothing.
"Or perhaps it is of the balls you wish to hear and the great feasts, the ladies in silks and the men in furs, the musicians in hose playing for their supper. All the bejeweled courtiers twirling and spinning like tops. And then the paintings…the great choir screens with painted reliefs gleaming with gold in the dark churches: Christ scourged with whips, Christ hanging from the Holy Cross with the leering Jews at His feet while His Blessed Mother swooned… Well, you are wasting your time," he spat, "I remember none of those things."
I shifted uneasily in my chair, realizing, to my chagrin, that I had been on the edge of my seat with my eyes wide and my jaw slack. There was something magical in the way he spoke, something dangerous and unnatural. I knew that every syllable he uttered had to be a lie, and yet I desired nothing more desperately than for him to continue. It was, I thought with a start, just as it had been when I sat hidden away in my room—no, I corrected myself, my cell—with the Count's picture book of Palestine. I had known that those photographs had to be impossible, but I could not tear my eyes away, I could not stop myself from reaching out to touch them with my fingers. I felt my cheeks redden; my father had been truthful at least when warning me of Dracula's sorcery. As the Count eyed me with distaste, I resumed my scowl of disinterested resentment.
"Perhaps," he sighed, "that is a conversation for another time. You wish to know the truth, and the truth is what I shall tell you. I shall tell you all." By now the rain had lessened somewhat and only a few occasional drops rushing into the windowpane punctuated his words. A lighter patch in the thick, black clouds told me that the moon had already begun to sink in the sky. As his tale wore on, it would steadily shed its gauzy shroud until, somewhere towards the end, it would emerge to hang, ghostly pale and swollen, just over the black humps of houses and shame the few candles that flickered persistently in their windows, before disappearing utterly behind them.
"At Tirgoviste I became a courtier. I had a tutor who taught me to read and write and another who taught me history. I had a fencing master who taught me to fight and a horse master who taught me to joust, a music master, a dancing master, and a confessor to whom I told all my secrets. It was in Tirgoviste that I first laid eyes on Emilian Valerious."
I started at this mention of my kinsman. This was the man my father had always called "Your Elder." "Valerious the Elder." So the boy who would be Dracula had known him too.
"I remember him vividly, for while my father and his cabinet, and my brothers and myself wore clothes of many colors, Emilian Valerious dressed only in black. He wore black hose and a black velvet doublet, and always a great gold chain around his neck—a host of curling serpents, each devouring the tail of the next." Perhaps he noticed me eyeing his own somber garb, his coal black breeches, his mourner's coat, because he laughed softly. "Yes, I dare say that he taught me not a few things.
"Always he was pacing the halls of the castle at odd hours, always he was locked away with my father in his study. He was his Secretary, after all, and later Logofǎt—High Chancellor—he was never far from my father's shadow. I did not see him much, of course. I held little interest for him, of course; I was, after all, the second son. I would enter the army, or perhaps, had times been peaceful, the church, but there was little use for me at court. My elder brother, Mircea, was often in his company to be groomed to succeed my father, should the boyars elect him. I would have been jealous, but I knew it was I who had my father's name; I thought that it was I, also, who had his love.
"There were two occasions upon which I saw Valerious during those years in Tirgoviste that fixed themselves more firmly than the others in my memory. The first was my induction, at the age of five, into the Emperor's chivalric company, the Order of the Dragon, to which my father already belonged."
"The Holy Order?" I asked. Was this the same brotherhood that had sent Van Helsing to us? It would not surprise me to hear that it had existed so many centuries ago. The Count looked suddenly furious.
"No indeed," he barked, "and do not, if you value your life, highness, mistake the two! The Order of the Dragon was one of the most powerful societies in Europe, created by Emperor Sigismund of Hungary himself for his protection and that of Christendom. The 'Holy Order,' as they call themselves, is a sham! They kill and destroy and say it is in the name of their God…but it is no such thing. It is all in the name of politics. Their vanity, their superstitions, their greed, and their politics. My father never did anything so ill as to invite them into our lands.
"I remember the day it happened, my father was so proud. He had been inducted into the Order himself the year that I was born, and to show his gratitude he took the name Dracul. He put it on all official documents and had it inscribed on all official seals. He had dragons carved into every statue and every court building, and he wore the dragon always on his person." The Count reached deep inside his shirt and drew out a large gold pendant on a golden chain. It was a dragon, rendered in exquisite detail, with a cross on its back. The dragon was curled in a circle with its on tail clenched in its jaws. Just like the serpents on my Elder's chain, I thought to myself, similar, but different. Inscribed on its side was a phrase in Latin: O quam miserecors est Deus, justus et paciens—O, how merciful is God, how just and how patient! When I reached to touch it with my finger he snatched it back and stuffed it hastily back under his clothes.
"It was Valerious who first put it to my father that I should be inducted into the Order of the Dragon. And I had thought it was his own idea, born of his affection for his son. But it matters little now. I remember the fortnight's journey to the Emperor's court at Buda, the jostling of the litter, and the smell of the forest and mountains. The morning after our arrival my nurse dressed me in velvet and brocade and put a fur hat on my head. My father himself took my hand and led me up hundreds of stairs to the Emperor's audience chamber. He watched with all of the Hungarian court as I swore fealty to Sigismund and to defend our Christian lands. And Valerious watched too.
"From thence I took his name and became Dracula, so that everyone would know that I was his son and that we were both beloved of the Emperor, and my child's mind thought that now it would be different, that I had earned his love. But my father's affairs had begun to sour. The Turks were gaining power and amassing armies. The Sultan wanted a stepping stone to launch his great jihad and his eyes were fixed on Wallachia. Legions were dispatched by the Emperor and the other princes of Europe to fight them. Understand, Princess, I had always believed my father to be a hero, brave, strong and honorable, but when the Sultan threatened him with invasion, I learned that my father was a coward.
"Valerious was there when my father agreed to send me and my youngest brother, little Radu, as hostages to the sultan's court in Adrianople. Valerious, I learned later, had brokered the entire treaty. A treaty of mutual non-aggression, guaranteeing Turkish support of my father's rule and security of his lands in exchange for the breaking of his vow to the Order of the Dragon and his swearing a new vow of fealty to the Ottomans…Valerious knew that the Hungarians were weak. Sigismund had died and Valerious had to protect his precious ambition—my father's precious ambition. He stood behind my father as he told me that my brother and I were to pack our things and go to a new house in Turkey, that we should be good boys and do honor to him there. He did not tell us when we would return. The next morning the sultan's ambassador came and took us away across the sea."
"How old were you?" I heard myself ask. To my surprise, he answered.
"I was eleven years old; Radu was seven. When I returned, I was seventeen and a man."
"And Turkey?" Even I was startled by my newfound boldness. "What happened there?"
I immediately wished that I had not spoken. His face grew very still; it was as if all the lights in the room had gone out. "Everything," he whispered. "We arrived in Turkey and it was dark for six years."
"But I thought" I began foolishly, "the Levant was bright and full of sun, like the pictures in your book."
"Oh, it is, highness, it is!" he said angrily, "Turkey is hot and dry, and full of sunshine! I say it was dark because they kept me in the dark. Little Radu cried pitifully and they were pleased, so they took him away to the palace and made a pet of him. But I would not let them see me cry, and so I stayed in the dark. Did Valerious know, I wonder, what would happen to us at Egregoz and Adrianople? I say that he did, he knew that we would be beaten and abused, that we would be frightened, that we would see things no child should see and he did not care! They whipped me when I was insolent, so I learned to bear pain, and when they starved me for my stubbornness I learned to bear hunger. They wished to make a Janissery of me, you see, to make me a member of the sultan's guard—a soldier of Allah. They liked what they had seen, they said. They liked my spirit and my fortitude. They put a sword in my hand and told me that I was beautiful.
"Have you ever seen a man die, Anna my pet? I have seen hundreds. A beheaded body will twitch for almost a minute after it ceases to live, did you know that? I learned how to break a man without leaving a single mark on his body by beating the soles of his feet. The human body, my love, will do the most extraordinary things under torture… For my education they took me to executions, interrogations, and so at Adrianople I came to know death intimately. There, enough, I will speak no more of it."
I was stunned. My eyes inexplicably filled with tears; I was imagining him as no one else had ever imagined him: as a child. I pictured him alone, small and frightened in a dark, strange place. It was his valet, Joszi, that I saw, and at last I understood.
The Count sat stiller and more silent than the grave. After a time, he sighed and covered his face with his great hands. When he drew them away again, his face was once more clear and smooth and free of sorrow. Then he continued.
Ok u can has updatez. Now I can has REVIEWZ?? ;p (Seriously a huge thank you to all those who review, each and every one of your reviews has made my day. You guys make it all worth it.)
Like I said above, this chapter is split into two parts due to length. The continuation picks up literally right where this one leaves off. I'm still finishing up part two, but I hope to have it posted in a week or so. Until then, some thoughts…
Is it just me, or is Boris Valerious über-creepy? I'm telling you, dudes in eye-patches are usually up to no good.
I have vastly simplified the history of Transylvania in this chapter (and the next one too). Vlad III was never voivode of Transylvania, although he frequently invaded that territory in hopes of securing a power base there (and was indeed born there). His kingdom remained Wallachia, but since Stoker and all those following him have relocated Dracula to Transylvania, I've tried to give him as much of a connection as possible to the "land beyond the woods." Good old Wikipedia will give you a better idea of the power dynamics in the Romanian principalities during that time.
Logofǎt is a real word, I swear. It was the title given to the Chancellor in medieval Romania.
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I'll do proper thank yous next time, you all rock my socks!