Check it: someone was feeling a little bruised and emo after a spat with their significant other and decided to channel all the angst into a oneshot. 'Tis better than consuming all the chocolate and red wine in the house and sitting up all night listening to The Cure in the dark, no? Anyway, unlike my other oneshot and my chapters, I wrote this very quickly. This is…well, it feels very stark compared to my other stuff. I don't think you will find many buried references or literary allusions, just the in-the-moment heartbreak of Dracula's oldest bride. I know Verona isn't everyone's favorite (to put it kindly), but she's always had a special place in my heart and, I think, in Dracula's as well.
Just (sort of) in time for Valentine's Day…yeah, here you go. In the immortal words of Maggie Estep, love is a dog from Hell (wow, look at those puns...groan):
"So walk on barefoot for me, suffer some misery if you want my love…"
"So you will replace Marishka?" I murmur. My husband lounges lazily on the bed that he and I alone were meant to share. Over the centuries, he has welcomed dozens of others into it, and I have always indulged him without protest. I repress a sigh. I learned long ago not to resent these little whims. He does not do these things to be hurtful, I know; he does them because he knows nothing else. It should be an intimate moment, the mutual dressing of husband and wife after making love. Aleera has just left us and we are at last alone.
"You do not approve?" he asks without interest as he idly replaces his cufflinks. I shake my head as I search in vain for the right words.
"Master…" He winces.
"Verona," he reproaches me for my formality, "Verona, my most precious one, please. Why do you address me as the others do? What offence have I committed to earn this detachment?" He looks at me mournfully and I understand at once. I come to him without a word and hold him gently as he lays his head in my lap. I had hoped one day to hold my child in this manner, but my arms do not fit around the sacs that surround my sons and daughters in as they sleep in the belly of the castle below, so I content myself with my husband. He clutches my knees as I stroke his hair and I wonder if their hair is black like his. I will try again.
"Vladislaus," I whisper, and he sighs contentedly and reaches for my hand to kiss it. "I do not ask you to deprive yourself of a mate, I do not ask you to cast off Aleera, I do not ask you to pledge yourself only to me."
"I know." My master looks suddenly small in my arms and I remember that he is grieving as well, in his own way. "But you wish it."
"Let me finish," I say impatiently. He is right, I do wish it, although I would never dare to admit it aloud, nor do I ever allow myself even to think it for fear I might cry. It is better this way. When Aleera joined our family, I put every reminder of the life Vladislaus and I had lived alone together away in a box stowed securely in the back of my wardrobe. And when Marishka arrived tucked under his arm, newly born and frightened, I did not utter a single word in objection. In time I even grew to love her, so that her absence now is a wound rather than a relief. "Vladislaus, I would not deny you this thing," I continue with more caution, "but Marishka has not been dead a day. Did she mean so little to you that you would replace her when her bed is still warm?"
At these words, he sits up, genuinely surprised by my reprimand. He cups my cheek like a young suitor as he gazes searchingly into my eyes. "You defend her?" he asks. "You do not resent her? You are not jealous?" I shake my head. "Of course you do not," he says, collapsing against me once more. "Forgive me, my love, I'm tired. I should know better than to think so ill of you."
But that too was a lie; for all that I loved her, I always resented Marishka and her yellow hair that I used to brush. I would have liked to rage, sulk, and paw at him like Aleera, but instead I sit quietly and allow him to need me. I allow him to need me like he never needed the others. This thought makes me smile. He will need me again when Aleera is gone, and when the next one and the next one leave us. He will always need me, so I will always stay with him.
"It is of no matter," I say softly. When he wraps his great arms around my legs again, it is all I can do to keep from folding my body over his and covering his face with kisses. But I know that such affection would be mortifying for him, even though we are alone. He does not like to be reminded of his handicap.
"Dearest, you know I did not love her," his head is still buried in my lap so his voice is muffled. He absently strokes the fabric of my dressing gown that covers my knee. "You know I could not, even if I wished to. It is impossible." I have heard these words a thousand times, but still they sting like my father's belt across my shoulders. Does he know me so incompletely, to think that these words would comfort me? He reaches for my hand and I stiffen. "I never lied to you, Verona." Is there regret in his voice? I do not know.
Not once in nearly four hundred years has he said he loved me. He has spared me that insult. He tells Aleera nearly every day when she pouts and throws herself into chairs, whining that he doesn't care for her, watching him coquettishly from under her eyelashes as he sighs and chucks her chin—"be quiet, you silly girl," he will say to her, "of course I love you." He used to tell Marishka too, but never me; he knows I would see right through him. But I wonder sometimes if I would not prefer the lie...
Vladislaus married me not for love but for the dream of love. When I first knew him in Naples he said to me in my own language "Verona mia bellissima, tu sei il mio cuore"—"you are my heart." And he wonders why it pains me when he claims not to have one. We stood at midnight by the hanging gardens in the new palace overlooking the sea. I was barely twenty, a lady-in-waiting to Isabella, the new wife of our aging king. The man who would become my husband had come to court in all of his glittering finery to spend long hours locked away with Frederick and his privy council. The French were anxious to make war, they said, so the king had sent for his brother-in-law's old vassal, the Impaler, to ask his advice. Even in death he was voivode. It was the feast of St. George and, after a long night of dancing, he had taken my hand and asked me to walk with him.
"Are you so afraid of the dark, my lord, that you require my company?" I teased him. The look he gave me was so grave that I feared I had done wrong and insulted him. I began, profusely, to apologize but before I could utter more than a few words he seized my face in his hands and pressed his lips to my brow.
"I am always in the dark," he whispered, "and I do not wish to be alone." I did not understand, but I knew at that moment that I loved him.
Remembering this now makes me suddenly angry. I always believed, foolishly, that the more I humbled myself on his account, the more gratitude I would win from him. Does he not see what he has done to me? Everything he has asked for I have given him without prejudice; every order he has given I have carried out without complaint. I have no will to oppose him in anything, but I would find strength in his command even to destroy myself. All of this I have done, and I have asked for nothing in return but to be close to him.
That night under the stars, I gladly gave him everything I possessed. He laid me down beneath the green pear tree and I tilted my head back; I love you, I said, I love you, I love you, I love you. I have looked for his answer in every kiss, in every caress, in every wordless glance. But always this unbearable silence…
I stand up quickly and walk over to the fireplace. I half-heartedly consider throwing myself in—would he save me? "You can love!" I say before I can stop myself. His head snaps up and he gives me a sharp look, but I continue recklessly to retch up all the pain that has been festering under my heart for centuries. "You can love…perhaps for a year, a month, a day, even for an hour. And in that hour…in that hour I believe that you love as well and deeply as any living man. But after that hour, you love not. You love another, and another, and another. Your love is most generous where it is most hurtful."
As I have been speaking he has risen as well and crossed the floor to where I stand. He is looking at me with a mixture of shock and anguish.
"Corvina," he begins. His little raven… When he reaches to touch my cheek, I turn my face away.
"Don't play the fool, Vladislaus," I cut him off. "It doesn't become you."
At these words his eyes frost over and his face hardens until I do not recognize it. Without warning, his hand flies up. I watch it all happen slowly, unbelieving; he has never struck me before. For the first time, I fear my husband. My eyes clench shut as I brace myself for a blow that never comes. When I open them again his hand is still hanging inches from my face, balled tightly into a fist. It wavers indecisively as he struggles to catch his breath; all the veins in his neck and forehead protrude like angry welts. At last, with a groan, he drops it.
I stare at him as he leans, panting, on the mantelpiece. He cannot look at me. Somewhere below us I hear the distant hum of machinery and the growls of squabbling Dwergi. After an interminable silence, he lets his breath out in a long hiss.
"You are lonely," he sighs. "You need a sister." The bile rises in my throat.
"No, I need a child," I counter.
He throws his hands up, irritated, and begins to walk back towards the bed. "A child then…someone young for you to dress and coddle." Is he truly so unfeeling? I follow after him.
"What about my child?"
To this he has no answer.
"Dearest," he ventures finally. "Have you truly been so very unhappy all these years? Have I been such a terrible husband to you?" I feel my heart start to break all over again.
"No, Vladislaus," I assure him. I hope that I sound earnest. We sit back down and he strokes my hair as I rest my head familiarly on his shoulder. He will never say he is sorry so I do not expect it. His hands have finally stopped shaking and one of them curls absently around my own. "Come back," I whisper, "come back."
"I remember when I found her in Constantinople," he says suddenly. "She was sitting by a fountain in the Topkapi gardens like an odalisque, escaped from the seraglio…"
I only smile sadly. Vladislaus found Marishka on a farm outside of Singhişoara, not ten miles from where he was born. "Vladislaus," I say gently, "Marishka was Transylvanian, you know that."
But he does not hear me; his eyes have that far-away look that they sometimes have when he plays his music. "The Sultan must have loved her hair…" he whispers. When I kiss his forehead he does not respond, and shameful tears gather in my eyes. This is what it is to love a dreamer. He is always going away from you; inside his head there is always something more beautiful.
"You will find another," I hear myself say. I am disgusted that I should say such a thing. If I could pray to God, I would ask Him to hide the others far away, that Vladislaus might never find them. I would ask Him to forgive me for clawing their lovely faces and rending their lovely limbs; I would ask Him to forgive me for feasting on their lovely bones and for draining their lovely blood and keeping it all for myself. I would fill the great porcelain tub with gallons of it and soak and soak until he thought me young and beautiful once more.
"Yes…" he looks soothed. "Another…with golden hair…" At this I breathe in sharply and my lip curls. He used to prize my hair for its dusky smoothness. He'd said it was more beautiful than the night sky he loved so dearly. Now all he can think about is Marishka and her doll-like curls. I wonder if he will eulogize Aleera in this manner when she too is gone, if he will mourn like this for me.
We lie there side by side in silence for hours, or perhaps only seconds, each daring nothing, each intending everything. At last, he sits up. He tugs one boot on and then the other. Now all that remains is his frock coat, which he retrieves from the floor and throws decorously around his shoulders. Resting my chin in my hand, I watch him button it slowly, meticulously, from my perch on the edge of the bed. I have watched him dress himself thus countless times over the years—always everything in order. He takes them off, he puts them on, always the same. He never stays long. I pull my dressing gown more snugly around my shoulders. When he is gone I will take it off again and go back to bed, wrap myself in our sheets, and pretend…
And indeed, within minutes he has risen and begun to move towards the door. But then he turns back, as if reconsidering, and abruptly walks back to collapse on his knees before me. He seizes my hands in his and fervently kisses each in turn as I gape at him in astonishment.
"You will never leave me?" he whispers almost desperately. I hardly know what to say. "Promise me," he continues, still clutching my hands, "promise me you will never leave me."
I feel an unexpected pang of pity. Breathlessly I nod my head; "I will never leave you," I vow and he looks up at me hopefully. It would have been so easy to leave it at that. "But," I continue, I force my mouth to form these awful next words, "if I must leave you, you will find another. You will replace me just like her."
"I could never replace you!" he denies it fiercely.
"Oh, Vladislaus," I sigh, "please, no more lies. We are alone, there is no one else to hear you."
He only stares at the floor. At last, he lifts his head; his eyes are glassy, a lone, foreign tear slips covertly down his cheek. "Yes, my love," he whispers heavily, "I would replace even you."
"I know," I say. And there it is.
He retreats out the door and down the corridor without another word or a backwards glance and I am alone.
We will never speak of this again.
So that's my emo-fit. Now, you know what to do...
Review please! If feedback/interest is sufficient, I might consider doing this with the other brides as well…and maybe one day The Man himself. So review! Review!
Did anyone catch that Tudors line? Piracy is fun, arrrrh!
Other shizz that inspired me: Heloise's letters to Abelard, Eurydice (Sarah Ruhl), Atonement (Ian McEwan), "Three Libras" (A Perfect Circle), "Judas" (Depeche Mode), "Hallelujah" (Leonard Cohen). The title comes from another Depeche Mode song of the same name.
Historical note for fellow nerds: the idea of Naples as Verona's home just kind of came to me, but when I went to look up who was king at the turn of the 16th century, I found out that Frederick IV's sister, Beatrice, was married to Matthias Corvinus, King of Hungary, who held Vlad Tepes hostage at one point and counted him as a vassal after his release. Matthias was dead before the action of the story takes place (he died in 1490, I see this taking place around 1500), but I thought that was a cool coincidence.