Note 1: Chapter 1 takes place 100 years before the fall of Constantinople (Istanbul) to the armies of the Ottoman Empire, under the command of Mehmed II, nicknamed the Conqueror (Fatih). This chapter deals with an ancient prophecy predicting the arrival of Dracula in the following century. Chapter 2 (not previewed here) resumes action in 1441, when Dracula appears as a young prince at the court of his father, King Dracul of Wallachia.
Note 2: Paragraph formatting on this page is imposed by the limitations of WordPress. “Block Paragraph” formatting, where the first line of a paragraph is NOT indented and a blank line is inserted between paragraphs, is not the preferred format for this author. It will not be used in the published version of the book.
CHAPTER 1: God’s Messenger
Theodore knew King Alexander’s men would come for him as soon as the worst of Wallachia’s winter was over. In March, even though the ground was still frozen, the angel told him to be ready. He knew the moment had arrived when one morning he saw the sun break through the clouds for the first time in weeks. He began immediately to rummage the family’s wooden coffer for some footwear. His parents, accustomed by now to Theodore’s quirky behavior, watched silent and troubled. He took out a pair of opinch still new and smelling of bark. Father had made them for Theodore’s upcoming twelfth name day.
“The time hasn’t yet come to wear them, Theodore,” his father said, angry. He was an old man with few teeth, and a beard not trimmed since the onset of winter. “Great Lent is still a ways off.”
“I mustn’t go poorly shod in front of the king,” Theodore said. He held the opinch up to the opening that served as the cottage’s window. In the pale light through the stretched pig’s bladder covering the hole, the birch-tree bark that made the opinch soles and uppers shone creamy white.
“I won’t let them take you away, Theo,” his mother said, voice aquiver. “Not in this cold.” Yet she proceeded to help Theodore get ready for the king. Taking a pair of leg wrappers from the coffer, she kneeled in front of him and tugged at his shirt to make him sit on a stool.
“The angel said I won’t be back for Lent,” he said. His mother began to weep. “But don’t worry about me, Mother. He also said everything that will happen is the will of God.”
“Nothing would be happening if your mother didn’t blabber around the village about you and your stupid visions,” his father said, giving his mother a venomous look. “And anyway, why couldn’t God choose another messenger? Why not one of the miller’s boys? He’s got five of them, when I’ve got only one.”
“Don’t say such things, husband,” Theo’s mother said, crossing herself. “You know it’s a sin to question God’s plans.”
Theodore leaned over and kissed her on top of her head. “Mother’s right, Father.” She was only twelve years older than Theodore and he felt as protective of her as if she were his sister.
“Maybe the king’s men won’t come.” His father spit onto the dirt floor. “Better yet, maybe the wolves will kill them on the way here.”
“The angel said to be ready today, Father. No wolves can go against the will of God.”
“For not having any schooling, Son, you sound more like a priest than Father Ignatius in his sober days. Why, before you know it you’ll be reading and writing like a—”
“Leave the boy alone, husband,” his mother said. “He’s been chosen by God because he’s a good boy and—”
The back of the old man’s bony hand landed with a whack on her nape. She tumbled to the floor and whimpered.
“I need the boy here for spring weeding,” his father shouted. To make his point clear he kicked her. “I don’t need him loafing about the king’s court like the son of some rich man with gold to waste.”
Terrified by his father’s outburst, Theodore waited for him to calm down before he helped his mother rise. She gave Theodore a grateful look, and then swathed his feet and calves with the leg wrappers. Next she laced the opinch, winding the leather thongs around his legs up to his knees.
“There,” she said, with a sigh that clenched at Theodore’s heart. “If you don’t get them wet, you’ll be fine until you come home….”
“The angel said I’ll never again work in the field with you, Father.”
“What nonsense is that, Son?” His father stood, fists clenched. “You think the king’s going to keep you as his pet, seeing as you’re on speaking terms with the Almighty?”
“You blaspheme again, husband.” As she said this, Theodore’s mother cowered and raised her hand in defense. But the blow she anticipated didn’t come. As the old man lifted his hand at her, the tip of a lance tore through the pig’s bladder in the window with the crack of a bullwhip, and a shaft of bright sunlight shot through the hut.
“Is the child Theodore in there?” a deep voice thundered from outside, while horses snorted and pranced about in front of the hut, breaking dry twigs under the snow with loud pops.
“Here Theodore,” his mother whispered, frantic, “wrap yourself in this sheepskin and don’t lose it, or your father— ”
“What do you want with my son?” his father shouted through the window, bellicose. “And who’s going to pay for a new pig’s bladder?”
“Come out here, vermin, and I’ll pay you on the spot,” the same voice said. Other riders laughed.
“I’m whom you seek,” Theodore said, stepping out into the yard. He squinted in the harsh light at the four riders, whose mounts blew clouds of steam through distended nostrils. “You must leave my father alone, or the king will punish you when I tell him of your behavior.”
The man who seemed to be the leader said, with a chortle, “Listen to the seer, boys. The little shit’s on good terms with both God and the king. Get hold of him, Ilie, and don’t lose him in the snow, or we’ll have to replace him with a bear turd just as big.”
As Theodore was carried away, he threw a glance back over his shoulder. The angel had said he wouldn’t see his home or his parents again. The image of his mother, standing in the doorway, fists pressed to her lips, imprinted itself forever in his mind. But not that of his father. The old man had withdrawn into the darkness of the hut.
“When was the first time you heard voices, Theodore?” the fat priest asked, threatening. He leaned over the table to glare at Theodore, and his tall hat appeared ready to topple. Theodore stopped chewing the piece of bread he had just stuffed into his mouth. He glanced around the room the men called the Council Chamber, and saw servants with mocking faces lined along the walls. He noted none of them wore the opinch of the simple folk, but had winter felt boots. Overcome by shyness, he glanced at the blond-haired man whose servant had brought him the food, and who seemed friendlier than the priest.
“Let the poor child eat, Father,” the friendly man said, patting Theodore on the head. “I’m Ghenadios Alba, His Majesty’s Lord Treasurer. You’ll be in my care, child, and you’ll tell me everything when you’re good and ready. Won’t you?”
Theodore resumed chewing; he had never tasted anything this good. The porridge his mother made from the mill-house floor sweepings was sour-tasting. This bread was like what the angel must be eating.
“You know the king has no patience left, Ghenadios,” Father Macarios said, straightening up. “The countryside’s been abuzz for months with rumors about the voices this child’s heard, and His Grace feels he’s the last to know what’s going on. Why, the boy’s predicting the king will have a second grandson and—”
“All in good time, Father,” Alba said and pushed a mug of milk in front of Theodore. “I don’t see the arrival of a grandson being of such importance the king should work himself into a lather over it.”
“True enough, Ghenadios. But as you’re the guardian of the only grandson the king has at the present, it’s you who should perhaps be worrying. This boy’s been heard to say the second grandson will be king one day! And that one of his descendants will accomplish great things in the name of the Lord.”
“I don’t see why that should concern me,” Alba said, indifferent. But Theodore noticed the treasurer clenched and unclenched his fists.
The priest’s eyes narrowed. “The new child will get his own guardian, and that leaves you and your ward on the outside, doesn’t it?”
Alba turned to Theodore, and the boy saw the kindness had left the treasurer’s face. But the impression was fleeting. “Eat, drink,” he said and smiled, encouraging.
“I was nine years old when I heard the voice for the first time,” Theodore said against his will, and knew it was the angel who bade him speak. “That was three years ago.” Hearing his own voice intimidated him. He wished he were home in his hut.
Father Macarios pulled a chair and sat across the table from him, expectant. Alba rested his hands on the table and leaned forward, he too gripped by curiosity. “If you tell us everything you heard, you’ll have all the bread you want.” Alba motioned to a servant who approached with mincing steps. “Bring the boy another piece of bread and some cheese.”
“Where were you when you heard the angel’s voice, child?” Macarios asked.
“Who cares where he was, Father?” Alba turned to Theodore. “Did you see something, or only heard voices—?”
“I want to know everything,” Macarios said with an impatient glance at Alba. “When, what, how … everything. The king’s charged me with determining if this child is lying, or if there is something to his claim. I want all he says written down, so we can tell if he changes his story from day to day.”
“I’ll put my secretary at your disposal, Father,” Alba said, and beckoned to someone standing behind Theodore. “Get me Philip and tell him to bring his desk and writing materials.”
Theodore heard quick steps departing. Soon there was commotion behind him and the sound of furniture being dragged across the floor. When quiet resumed, he reached for the bread. Then he saw the priest’s eyes fastened on him, severe, and he tucked his hands under the table.
“So, you saw a light?” Macarios said, pursing his lips. Theodore heard the scratching of quill on parchment. “What color was it? How bright?”
The answers came to Theodore with no effort. He remembered everything from his encounters with the angel, as if they happened a moment ago: the smell of the flowers, the song of the birds, the sky above him that opened up like willow branches parting in the wind.
“Who was there with you? Did the angel speak in Romanian? What clothes did he wear? Were you scared?”
The fat priest appeared taken by frenzy as question after question shot from his mouth. Scared? Quite the opposite. But how could Theodore explain the feeling you have when the light from above washes over you?
When Macarios tired of questioning, he ordered Theodore locked in a cell with a straw mat for bedding and a bucket for his needs.
Next day the priest and the treasurer were joined by other people in the Council Chamber, men equally well dressed, equally curious. The questions were the same, but they came at Theodore in a different order. He had the feeling the men were trying to trick him into changing his answers, but that was impossible. The answers were on his tongue before the questions left the men’s mouths, and they were always the same. If he had wanted to he couldn’t have changed them. A force he didn’t understand moved his lips, while his mind wandered off to the pastures and the glades where the angel spoke to him.
Three more days passed in the same manner. The men showed an obsession with the description of Theodore’s encounters with the angel. At first they seemed to have no interest in what the angel told him. “Did he have wings?” they wanted to know. “Eyes? Nose? Mouth?” Theodore heard them say to each other things about the angel he hadn’t told them, and wondered why they were inventing them. The men argued among themselves for hours about what angels should look like; they quoted descriptions other seers had given over the centuries. At length, they concluded Theodore must have seen a higher celestial being than an ordinary angel, perhaps a cherubim or an archangel; his description didn’t match any on record.
Then the men turned to the message.
“Child, can you repeat word for word what the angel said?” Father Macarios said. “Do not change an iota, or the king will be very angry with you—”
“Skip the small talk and tell us the part about the lion and the dragon.” This came from a man the others called Chancellor Novak. “That’s what everyone in the country’s been talking about for months,” he added, looking around him for approval. The others murmured their assent.
“My lords,” Alba said, raising a hand to silence them. “Don’t you think it would be best to let my secretary write down the ramblings of this child, while we go about our business? Once a record is made we can reconvene and try to make sense of it for our king.”
Theodore didn’t know what “small talk” meant. He repeated to the scribe every word the angel said over the three years he visited him. The only thing Theodore didn’t relate was the part that concerned him alone. “Men will make you suffer for the things you tell them,” the angel had said. “If you take my words to the king and his men, you’ll never see your parents again. You’ll never again graze sheep, work in the fields, or chase rabbits and squirrels. You’ll be without friends in the world for the rest of your life. Do you still want to do it?”
The warning didn’t frighten Theodore. “But you’ll come back to me, won’t you?” he’d asked. Though he spoke without opening his mouth, Theodore’s voice rang clear through the air.
“I’ll never abandon you, Theodore. You might not always know it, but I’ll be with you every moment you have left on this earth.’
The happiness pouring down on the boy that moment was overwhelming. If it felt this way being close to a mere angel how much greater happiness could there be in the presence of God?
Next day the men returned to the Council Chamber to find a stack of parchments filled with script. Macarios leafed through the sheets, discarding them one after another with an impatient frown.
“Who’d have thought the angel would talk about the crop, the weather, and …” He glanced at the scribe, reproachful, as if the secretary were guilty of the superfluous details. “Aha, here we go,” he exclaimed, holding up a sheet. “This is what the king will be interested in.” He turned the parchment to the candelabrum on the table and read in a tone that started casual but soon became aggravated.
And the voice said onto me:
Child, remember the things which thou hast seen, and know the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter. And I saw the great city, the mother of harlots and abominations, wherein were made rich all that had ships in the sea. The waters which I see, where the whore sits, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues. And I saw her come in remembrance before God to give unto her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of his wrath, by reason of her sinfulness. For God hath turned his face from her and agreed to give her kingdom unto the beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled. And the dwellers of the city cast dust on their heads, and cry, wailing, saying, alas, alas, for in one day she is made desolate at the teeth of the lion.
Then I looked upon this land and behold, I saw a woman of emerald eyes. And the king of the land was smitten with her beauty. And she carrying the king’s seed cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered. And behold, she brought forth a man child who was a dragon having a crown upon his head. And when the beast from the Euphrates saw the dragon was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman which brought forth the man child. He stood before the woman to devour her child and make him its own. But the angel of God sent the child into hiding and the woman into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there twelve thousand days.
Then I looked again upon this land and behold, I saw a woman of golden eyes like a wolf. And she, carrying the seed of the dragon cried, travailing one week in birth, and pained to be delivered. Then I saw the temple of God open up in heaven, and there was in his temple the ark of his testament: and there were lightnings, and voices, and thunderings. And the angel of God thrust in his sickle into the earth, and gathered the vine of the earth, and cast it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. And behold, the woman died and brought forth a man child with eyes of emerald in the day and gold in the night, who was the seed of the dragon, having a crown upon his head. He was to wrest his nation from evildoers and rule it with a rod of iron. And this child was caught up unto God, and to his throne. And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, for the numbers ruling the Son of the Dragon are 9 and 1, as are also 1 and 9. He shall have the power to tread on serpents and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy; he shall trample the lion unto death underfoot to save from him the City of God. Nothing shall hurt him until the words of God be fulfilled. As a covenant of God’s promise he shall have a token of a fallen star. And behold, a great star fell to the earth shaking it to its foundations.
But if the Son of the Dragon take away from the words of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the holy city, and blot his name from the book of life.
The men listened with open mouths, none daring to interrupt. When Macarios finished reading, they broke into a heated discussion. They agreed the City of God must be Rome. But they couldn’t agree on the city called the mother of harlots and abominations. Theodore heard the men pronounce names he’d never heard before, like Babylon, and Damascus, and Constantinople. It was the last name they finally settled on, when someone pointed out that ‘waters which I see, where the whore sits’pointed to a city by the sea.
“True, Constantinople is the only large city on water,” Macarios said. “But are we to believe God would deliver the cradle of the Orthodox Church to her enemies and make her ‘desolate at the teeth of the lion?’”
“The debauchery of the Greeks does speak of Constantinople as the mother of harlots and abominations,” one small man with a potbelly said, winking with meaning at his companions.
“So, the angel told you a prince from the House of Basarab is ‘the seed of the dragon who will trample the lion?’” Alba asked Theodore. “You’re sure you heard that?”
No, Theodore hadn’t heard any names; there was no mention of the House of Basarab. “The angel said only the king of the land will have a son who will be a dragon. And the dragon’s seed will—”
“But that could be any land, any king,” Chancellor Novak said. “For what we know, the angel might have been speaking about the king of France.”
“And what lion?” Macarios said, puzzled. “There are no lions in Wallachia.”
Implacable, Theodore said, “The king of the land the angel spoke of will be born this year and in this town on the Feast of Saint George.”
“Born here? This year? On Saint George’s feast day?” Macarios asked, and Theodore nodded.
There was complete silence for a moment, then Macarios began to laugh, louder and louder, until a fit of coughing almost choked him. “With the Feast of Saint George only a month away,” he said between gasps for air, “Princess Raluca would have to be already eight months pregnant to give King Alexander a second grandson. I think we’d know it if that were the case.” All the other men joined the priest in laughter. Except Alba.
“Unless that new king be not from the House of Basarab,” he said. “Other noble women are apt to be expecting babies in April.”
“This is treasonous talk, Ghenadios,” Novak said with an ominous frown. “A Wallachian king from outside the House of Basarab? Pray to your Maker that none of the Alba Clan fillies give birth to a son on Saint George’s day.”
Theodore saw all the other men distance themselves from Alba, and glance at each other with knitted eyebrows.
“I meant it as a laughing matter, Chancellor,” Alba said, raising his palms to the ceiling and showing his yellowed teeth in a mirthless grin. “Isn’t it obvious that we all have been duped by this little urchin and his accomplices? Can you doubt he’s been put up to it by people who are seeking some gain from all this talk about angels, and lions, and dragons?”
“The boy uses the language of the Bible, yet he cannot read,” Macarios said. “I recognized passages from a dozen different places in the Good Book, all mangled and mixed up. Evidently someone with a bit of Bible learning is behind this farce.”
“The child had us going,” Alba said. “Priests, monks, royal councilors: all grown men. Well, if we wanted to escape the ridicule of our own servants, as well as the anger of the king, we’d do well to destroy the records of these interrogations and deny they ever took place.”
Macarios waved his hand in Theodore’s direction. “What do we do with this child who’s had his fun fooling a bunch of gullible men?”
“I charge myself with teaching him a lesson,” Alba said, mussing the boy’s hair in a paternal manner. “Then I’ll send him back to his parents, a much-chastened young man.”
At Alba’s mansion, Theodore was locked in a shed at the back of the courtyard, next to the pigpen. The enclosure was barely tall enough for him to stand upright; when he lay down he had to curl up his legs to fit. The only light came into the shed through cracks in the plank walls. Straw and a threadbare blanket served him as bedding. A servant brought him millet gruel and water every morning. His slop bucket was changed weekly.
Theodore couldn’t tell how many weeks had passed before the angel visited him in the shed. But when he came, the boy’s cold, fear, hunger, and loneliness vanished and were replaced with that happiness he’d come to crave. “Not long now,” the voice said, “and I’ll be with you all the time.”
Next day, Alba’s secretary took Theodore into the mansion. The hall where he was made to wait was heated by a fireplace and lit by sunshine pouring in through stained glass windows.
“You could’ve sluiced this creature down before bringing him in here, Philip.” The young man who said this held his nose as he entered the hall. Alba and another youth followed him. The youngsters appeared to be brothers, since they both resembled the treasurer closely: lanky-built, faded blond hair, thin lips.
Theodore looked into Alba’s face, hoping for that friendly smile the treasurer showed him the first day at the castle. But the treasurer avoided his gaze.
“Why would anybody care a jot about what some lowly worm like this says, Father?” the older of the brothers asked. “How can you give any credence to—?”
“Be quiet, Martin,” Alba snapped. “When someone predicts the unpredictable, wise men take heed.”
“So, he predicted the king will have another grandson, and now it turns out Princess Raluca is indeed with child. Is that really such a big thing?” Martin looked at his brother for support. “Don’t you agree Luca?”
“Yes, Father,” Luca said, holding a kerchief to his nose to ward off Theodore’s stench, “wasn’t that just a coincidence?”
“More a lucky guess,” Martin said. “Besides, the little liar got it wrong when he said the king’s grandson would be born on Saint George’s feast day.”
“Therein lies the problem,” Alba said, and turned to face Theodore. “It was we who got the date wrong, not he. Right boy?”
Theodore watched the three men and marveled at the way the left eye of each one of them had the same squint, as if they were looking into a bright light.
Alba cleared his throat. “You didn’t mean the Great Feast of Saint George in April, commemorating his martyrdom, did you?”
Theodore shook his head.
“I knew it,” Alba said, triumphant and venomous at the same time. “You meant the Small Feast of Saint George’s Reburial in the Holy Land, which comes in November.”
“What difference does it make, Father?” Martin asked.
“All the difference in the world, cretin,” Alba shouted. “If Princess Raluca just found out she’s pregnant, the child might arrive in November. Imagine she births him on Saint George’s feast, like this boy predicted.”
“I still don’t get it, Father,” Luca said.
Alba swiveled on his heels and slapped Luca across the face with the back of his hand.
“Ouch!” Luca cried. “You cut me with your ring—”
“You’ll have to start doing your own thinking, boys. I won’t be around forever to do it for you.”
Martin backed away from his father, cautious, before speaking. “What Father means is if the seer got the birthdate right, people will take the part about the Seed of the Dragon for gospel.”
Alba rewarded Martin with a smile.
Luca crept to the other side of the table, beyond the reach of his father’s arm. “Why should things happening three generations from now matter to us?” he said, dabbing the cut on his face with a handkerchief. “We’ll all be dead by then.”
“True,” Alba said, exasperated. “But they matter to our clan. If the Wallachians believe the Basarabs have been chosen by God to save His Holy City from some danger yet to come, our house will never be able to topple theirs.” He breathed a deep sigh and raised his arms in a gesture of reconciliation. Martin and Luca rushed to him with relieved looks. “Don’t you want one of your sons or grandsons to be King of Wallachia one day?” he whispered, grabbing the pair by the scruff of their necks.
“Of course we do,” Martin said, and Luca nodded in agreement. “But what can we do about it, Father?”
“I’ve got the transcript of Theodore’s interrogation locked up in my safe. Without it, everyone will soon forget what this matter was all about. People’s memories are short, except for things owed to them. All you’ve got to do is…” He pointed his chin at Theodore.
Luca and Martin gave Theodore a surprised look, as if they’d forgotten he was there.
“He’s a good boy who’s been manipulated by others. Make sure he can’t have visions anymore, then send him home.” Alba winked at his sons, then slammed their heads together, but not hard. “You don’t need me to show you how it’s done,” he said, and left the hall without looking back.
“We’ll do it here,” Martin said, walking over to the fireplace. “Philip, tell the servants we don’t want to be disturbed, then come back and lock the doors from the inside.”
“Can’t I just go back to my chamber, Lord Martin?” Philip said. “I’ve got a lot of work to do for your father.”
“You’re part of this, Philip,” Luca said with a snicker. “You and I will hold him, while Martin does what needs to be done.”
Theodore realized they were talking about him and his knees started to shake. I’m not afraid, he said to himself, and called on the angel to give him strength. When no response came, he began to feel nauseous.
“Help me lift him onto the table,” Luca said to Philip, when the scribe returned. “I’m loath to touch him. He’s so dirty.”
Theodore saw terror in his eyes as Philip reached to get hold of him. He felt sorry for the man. Luca grabbed Theodore’s feet in a hard grip and the boy heard the bark of his opinch crack. Father will be upset to see them damaged.
“Pin him down,” Martin ordered, and Philip threw his body over Theodore’s, turning his face away from him. He was shaking with sobs.
“Perhaps you’d like to trade places with the seer?” Luca said, and the two brothers giggled.
Martin bent over Theodore, a red-hot poker in his hand. The boy squeezed his eyelids shut, but Martin’s claw-like fingers forced them open. In seconds the searing heat of the iron boiled his tears away and pricked Theodore’s eyes with a thousand needles. That moment his bowels discharged.
“Disgusting,” Luca said.
The hall became quiet, bathed in the light of Theodore’s visions. From somewhere far above, the voice he knew so well filled the space. “From this moment on I’ll always be with you, Theodore.”