Dracula has returned to the mountaintop ruin that was the citadel from which his wife jumped four hundred years earlier to avoid capture and torture by the Sultan’s army. Hassan has told him that he must go there and make peace with her spirit, for he had not forgiven her.
The blackness below was absolute. There was no river, no ravine, no opposite cliff — only the stars, close enough to touch, and the silver crescent of moon that lay its pale light on the stones and the vines and the gloveless white hands of Dracula, who was leaning over the wall.
For Mournier, no night sounds penetrated the ominous and ghostly beating of the hearts that had died on the mountainside. Among the chorus of drums that pounded the song of the enslaved boyars, one high, plaintive strain of violin could be heard over and over, beginning where the tower had once stood and disappearing into the invisible chasm.
A breeze kissed her cheek and gently blew Vlad’s hair across his face. He did not move a hand, but only gazed into the darkness. After a moment, Mournier reached toward his profile and tucked a curl behind his ear then laid her hand on his shoulder. He did not move away, so she stood by his side and said, “It’s so distinct that I almost expect you to hear it too.”
“What do you hear?” he asked, as softly as though someone slept nearby.
“Drums. There were a hundred, all pounding different rhythms. But they’ve begun to go silent, one by one.”
For a second he didn’t respond, then he half-smiled to himself and turned to her. “Heartbeats,” he said. “Yes, there were hundreds. I was hearing something entirely different, but now I hear the heartbeats too.”
Quickly, before she could change her mind, Mournier said, “When my teacher and I came here before, we threw flowers for your lady. And we prayed. We thought at the time that the two of you were together. Dracula . . . I don’t know what you believe — but I am sure a suicide is redeemable. You may suppose I believe that because I have to, because I can’t accept that the Squire suffers in perdition, but no, that’s not it. I believe with all my soul in the intercession of Mary; and if the Blessed Virgin is with us in the hour of our death, she can surely whisper in our ear as we fall. Perhaps the moment before his head hit the rocks my father repented and was saved. When I looked down at his body his soul may have been in paradise. So may your lady.”
Vlad hesitated, then said kindly, “Thank you Mournier. Were you there, then, when your father’s body was found?”
“I saw him jump, my lord.” Her voice caught, for it was something she had not said aloud in many years.
Side by side they stood and listened to the last heartbeats fade into the sounds of a Romanian winter’s night. Mournier waited for the last two to be silenced, then realized they were her own and the prince’s. She listened for Hassan’s and finally found it beating in time to Vlad’s. Her own was out of sync, but somewhere below she heard the last echoes of the violin fading with the distant waters of the Arges.
She asked Vlad’s profile, “What are you thinking?”
He took her hand and turned to her with parted lips and hair lifted by the wind. In his expression she saw all the ancient knowledge of war and loss and sacrifice, all the destruction of innocence by paternal betrayal, all the desperate nights of love snatched from the fangs of death; she heard the holy chanting and the screams of the impaled; she smelled incense, wax, gunpowder, sweat, perfume; and she tasted a wine that had mellowed for centuries, to be shared with few. She savored the drops she drank from his emerald goblet and realized as it touched her tongue that all her pretensions to spiritual comfort, all the wisdom of her ruminations, were as the canvas of a student rolled out before the Master’s critique; that Dracula had already pondered these things, read about them, worn them as an accustomed garment; that if he felt a chill at all, it was the chill of four hundred years, and that he would not find the warmth she had found in the shabby patchwork of myth and catechism she had stitched together for her own comfort.
His eyes, however, did not judge her but reflected tenderness as familiar to her as the words and gestures he had begun to use — green beneath the dark December stars, they nevertheless shed Hassan’s golden light as Vlad answered her.
“I am thinking that you are young . . . so very, very young. And that I would give anything to protect you. But I cannot.”
He let go of the hand.