As an exclusive for Atlasphere readers, below is the first of several excerpts from Marianne Grossman’s new historical novel, In Defense of Dracula (2004, Taggart Press, 414 pages).
Author’s Note: Yes, there was a real-life Dracula. This is his story, the product of years of intensive research and every attempt at historical accuracy. Where the facts have been scant or missing, I have supplied my own fictional narrative, always in accordance with the spirit and dignity of an extraordinary man.
The land of Tara Romaneasca, over which Vlad ruled — not as Count but as reigning Lord — was also called Wallachia, which I have written as Vallachia, to indicate the correct pronunciation. The designation Turks, denoting the people of the Ottoman Empire, did not exist in the Middle Ages. It appears herein for the sake of simplicity.
I hope and trust that the truth of Dracula, the Impaler Lord, who brought a new justice to his people and freed them from the yoke of the invader, will be as fascinating as any legend, and perhaps, far more inspiring.
In Defense of Dracula: Prologue
There are those who condemn my best loved son.
They alter events and make myths, these merchants of Brasov and Sibiu. They call him Vampire. They say he is undead, a drinker of the blood pumped by living arteries into the throats of young women.
They say he reigns over the creatures of the night; he is an evil monster; he is the Lord of Darkness.
They manipulate facts, these defilers of bravery and valour. The say he murdered his wife, and that he tortured and impaled with an indiscriminate madness forty thousand of his people, relishing their screams.
They say many things...
I, Maria, Princess of Tara Romaneasca — Mother of the Liege Lord Dracula — have lived through all this, witnessing the most fateful moments of a besieged land. In bitter silence, I retreated to this island monastery upon the lake of Snagov. Here, the frozen breath of Winter has isolated me from everything save memories and grief.
I have had much time to reflect. Why was Vlad so defamed? I have sung many hymns to the glory of God. I have prayed endlessly, trying to understand.
Why do not all men recognize the greatness of my son?
One sleepless night while I remained on my knees in front of the altar of Christ, I had a vision. A mountain rose in a faraway enchantment, much like the tallest of the sacred peaks of our land.
The mountain began to grow. Closer and closer it loomed, filling the horizon. There was no longer room for any other reality. I was blinded by the savageness of its splendors. I was overwhelmed, transfixed by terror. I felt only the roughness of the rocks, the mercilessness of the precipices, the deadly solitude of the approaching summits which seemed about to hurl their vastness down upon me.
I knew then who was the mountain.
He is too huge to be judged by small and nearsighted men.
He is made to be contemplated by a race of giants...
The Young Prince
But in the well-kept, unassuming house at the corner of a narrow lane leading to the fortress, no one noticed more than a vague shudder. The storm within had transcended the natural elements on this tempestuous night in late March, as the agonized screams of the Lady Maria bringing forth her new child echoed shrilly from the upper chambers.
Overwhelming the wind, the clatter of shutters, the lashing cascades of rain, these shrieks rose one upon the other in a furious crescendo. They deafened the three priests below, who kept to their monotonous chant. They unnerved the women, scurrying up and down the wooden stairs. To the remainder of the servants of this royal family in exile, closeted in the kitchen, the fierce cries were like an orchestration of the furies.
At last — quite suddenly — there came peace, followed by the lusty wail of an infant. Outside, the cobblestone streets glistened beneath a ghostly moon still shrouded by tattered remnants of clouds. The storm had passed.
Thus came into the world the Prince known as Dracula, the second son of a mighty Lord.
Now the household slumbered fitfully in the hallowed silence which is the aftermath of all storms. Only Petru was fully awake.
A bear-like man whose bulk often toppled the more fragile items of furniture, Petru overflowed the wooden bench beside the hearth fire. A sheen of perspiration stood out on a brow prematurely bald. Sunken above an overlarge nose, the eyes appeared solemn, joyless. Absently, the muscles and fingers of the right hand flexed and relaxed.
In his youth, Petru had wished to become a soldier; this had been taken from him. Because his father's peasant ancestors had somehow maneuvered themselves into the minor nobility of Moldavia, upon his father's death he had been thrust into an inherited cloak, that of Chief Steward. With an authority second only to the great Lord, he ruled the servants and followers of this royal family.
He domineered; he commanded; he cajoled. When these methods failed, he beat with a remorseless vengeance bordering on madness. He had no patience with malingerers and malcontents. He would not tolerate incompetence. He demanded respect and received it.
In an age of cruelty and unreason, Petru was a frightening thing. He was a man who believed in justice.
Aside from the salvation of souls — mercifully left to the unending vigilance of the three priests — Petru had the total responsibility of the welfare of the household. This included the Lady and the new infant, for the Lord was far from his Land.
Petru had dispatched the messengers to Nuremberg in Germany. His Lord had been summoned there by the Holy Roman Emperor — Sigismund — to be invested with the insignia of the Order of the Dragon, a formal oath and dedication to fight the Turks.
Petru spat into the fire. He did not care about the Serbians, the Bulgarians, the Germans, the Hungarians; but he hated the Turks. Not because they were infidels; he had not the profound contempt held by the priests who had educated him. This was a more primeval instinct — that of unrelenting enmity among the beasts of the forest in their striving for domain.
The Ottoman Empire — land of the Turks — was poised for the conquest of Europe. Should Constantinople fall, the Turks would plunge forward, sweeping Western civilisation aside. Geography alone dictated that the three principalities of what was in future generations to become Romania — Tara Romaneasca, Transylvania, and Moldavia — lay directly in their path.
The Lord Vlad now owned the title of the Order of the Dragon,which would be passed to his heirs. He was sworn to battle the Turks.
But first, Petru knew, the Lord would be forced to fight his half-brother, Alecsandru Aldea, the present ruler, for the throne of Tara Romaneasca. The Holy Roman Emperor had conferred an occupied title, that of Prince, on the initiate. Then he had bade the new Dracul secure his own territory.
Petru wondered briefly which of the boyars, the nobles of Tara Romaneasca, would support his Lord in the hazardous task.
His day had lasted well into the night. He leaned against the hard bricks of the hearth wall and closed his eyes. A mournful wind sighed through the shutters. From the far forests came a long, melancholy wail, mingling with the steady crackle of the fire. Petru drowsed.
A female voice roused him. “You will please to come with me.”
A thin-lipped, shrewish woman stood before him in the first light of dawn. The most arrogant of the entourage which served his Lady, she had the misfortune to remind Petru of his late wife.
Concealing his annoyance, he rose and followed the woman whose name he had never bothered to learn. Petru despised women, when he bothered to think of them. He damned that within him which needed their company. The wife that his father had chosen for him had died three years ago in the last formidable outbreak of the Plague. Secretly, he had felt relieved: her constant prattling had been as barren as her womb.
As he mounted the wooden stairs, the boards protesting under his weight, Petru felt his weariness vanish. At once, he was eager for the sight of the Lady Maria. No ordinary woman had summoned him; and though he loved the Lord, he worshiped the Lady.
Everything that was extraordinary in Petru flowered in the presence of this lovely, raven-haired woman. A vast intelligence descended upon him. Subtle perceptions, keen insights issued forth at the sight of her.
Ah, but she was so delicate!
The terrible screams during the night had brought much suffering to Petru.
Over the years since the Lady’s arrival from the royal house of Moldavia to be the bride of his Lord, Petru had dared neither inspect nor unravel the mysteries of his heart. His very being had been uplifted with a singular intensity, as if drawn upon the wings of angels. He was unwilling to fathom why. Both were Moldavians, true, but that did not really matter to Petru. He knew only that housed in those huge brown eyes was a harbor beckoning his soul.
He entered the chamber. Candles flickered and sputtered, casting eerie landscapes on the tapestries of purple and gold. Pale wisps of an incandescent dawn peeked through the wooden slats of shutters still drawn against the night. In the far corner, encircled by serving women, was the vast royal bed. Petru’s heart lurched as he caught sight of the slender figure, propped like a puppet upon many high pillows. He hurried over.
The Lady Maria’s voice was barely more than a whisper. The elegant white hands darted like birds. She signaled dismissal to her women, and motioned Petru to a stool beside the bed.
“Do not mock me, Petru.” She sighed deeply. “The wife of Alecsandru Aldea is Princess of Tara Romaneasca.”
Petru knelt down beside the bed. He felt nothing and saw nothing save the flush of fever upon the cheeks before him. He heard a roaring in his head, but did not know it was the beating of his heart.
“Brother against brother,” murmured the Lady Maria. “Surely, God in heaven will strike down those who divide family into friend and foe.” Her hair spread a black fan upon the white lace of the pillow as she tossed her head from side to side. Through glazed eyes she looked out at Petru. “I have had dreams, Petru,” she continued. “Terrible dreams. I have spoken with Despina...”
“Despina!” Petru was incredulous.
This old woman had appeared mysteriously several months ago. As one of the priests was entering the doorway, she had emerged from the evening shadows, her clothes hanging in tatters on a skeleton frame. She had thrown herself at the priest’s feet, begging some crumbs of food, and in a rare gesture, he had urged that she be taken into the household.
He soon discovered his mistake. Despina muttered spells and incantations. She brewed potions which invoked strange visions of the future. She upset the servants with malevolent prophecies. No one ever found out where Despina had originated. She was either a gypsy or a witch — certainly no Christian. Had this been a Catholic country, the priest could have denounced her to the Inquisition. As it was, he raged incessantly but to no avail. Somehow Despina had insinuated herself into the protection of the Lady Maria.
To Petru, the matter was simple. Despina pleased his Lady; this was enough for him. He overlooked the whispers of the household. Now he suddenly realised it was Despina who had uncovered that dark side of the Lady Maria, the side which denied joy and brought only anguish. He listened silently, his alarm increasing.
“There have also been omens, signs of the future,” whispered the Lady Maria.
“What omens? What can you possibly have seen, my Lady?” he answered too loudly, half in fright, half in annoyance.
Slowly she moved her head from side to side upon the pillows. After a while, she leaned forward, raising a despairing face to his.
“A red dragon,” she said, in a voice so low he had to strain to hear her. “The dragon is upside down on a field of green.”
“You are overwrought! You have endured much pain, much loss of blood!”
“No, Petru,” she insisted. “It is clear to me. The dragon, who is my husband, will bring back to us all not the simple blessings of Almighty God, but the commands and the endeavors of a Devil. It will destroy him first. And then —”
“— My Lady,” he interrupted fearfully, noticing her gaze suddenly hysterical, resting upon the small jeweled dagger on the bedside table.
Petru’s agony mounted unbearably. He saw the dagger snatched into wild, darting hands. He heard words, swirling into his soul like a cyclone upon a dry desert.
“Swear with me, Petru! Promise you will protect the life of my new son. I fear for this child. This child who will, in truth, be Lord!”
The Lady’s voice had not risen. The dagger had.
Horrified, Petru watched the stain of crimson spread below her slight wrist. The next instant the dagger shot forward. He, too, felt its bite.
Clutching his hand, the Lady Maria pressed their two wrists together. The blood of royalty mingled with that of peasants, dripping upon the intricate embroideries of the magnificent bedclothes brought from Moldavia.
“Promise me, Petru. Promise you will never leave the side of my new son. He will need you. Swear you will watch over him always.”
Petru stared at the blood of his Lady mixing with his own.
Something had changed forever. What had just happened could not have happened. It was monstrous to think it could. He could not speak.
He could not move. The world, as he had known it, had been wiped clean in this cataclysmal upheaval.
“I swear it,” he said finally.
Now there was only the grave face before him, and the pounding of his heart.
“You shall see my new son.” The Lady Maria leaned back into the pillows. A fragile hand disengaging from Petru’s, reached for the summons bell.
A servant appeared, but Petru did not notice. His eyes were rooted upon the blood-smeared wound on his wrist.
Dimly, he heard the Lady Maria issuing instructions. A small bundle, heavily wrapped, was brought into the room and placed carefully on the bed beside her. He looked up fitfully, hearing her breath labour with the effort to lift the babe upon her breast.
A vivid recollection of the birth of Mircea — the eldest son — rose upon his consciousness. At that time there had been scant suffering and much rejoicing. He did not know why now all was somber, why everything seemed different. The grim visage of the women who had just attended this difficult delivery thrust through his heart with an almost unendurable pain. One part of him desperately wished for the forceful presence of the Lord of the house; the other dreaded it.
Silently, he shook his head. He dared not think of the husband — the father of the babe — enduring the ordeal of the past night. Such human sentiments, the property of simple yet loving minds, could never be allowed to interfere with the grandeur of the ambitions which held sway over the Lord Vlad.
His Lord was now the Dragon. Only such a fierce and awesome creature could effect the defeat of the Ottoman Empire.
As if in answer to these unspoken thoughts, the Lady Maria suddenly looked at him. Then, bending over the babe, she voiced the new heritage of the Order of the Dragon, which was permitted to be bestowed from father to son.
“Little Dragon,” she murmured.
She peered intently into the white wrappings, at the infant’s face. From the shuttered windows of the chamber, shafts of sunlight cast a soft radiance upon mother and son.
Petru watched, profoundly moved.
“Come,” she urged, noticing his stare. With a resolute movement, she thrust her child into his awkward arms. “Look upon the son of the Dragon.”
He gazed down, and at once the immediacy of the living bundle within his arms overshadowed his inner turmoil.
Gingerly, he loosened the layers of the tightly-wrapped swaddling clothes and peeled them back, exposing the pink, glowing skin. He inspected the sex. He marveled over the symmetry of the tiny, fully formed features. He looked thoughtfully into the slightly elongated face crowned by a shock of jet black hair.
The infant, suddenly finding himself free from confinement, kicked his feet in the air. His eyes opened wide. He seemed to be regarding Petru, calmly. A miniscule hand shot out and wrapped itself around one large finger. It tugged, faintly at first, then with surprising strength.
In that moment Petru was transformed. He was released from confusion. All that he felt for the mother transferred itself onto the infant. A deep bond was forged; a fierce protectiveness asserted itself; a spiritual and emotional fatherhood bound him. He loved this infant with every tenderness at once. He rose, pressing the babe, who did not fuss or fret, against his chest.
The Lady Maria watched. The ghost of a smile passed upon her haggard face. “Give him our ideals, our convictions, our conscience,” she intoned. “He is the Lord, but you will be the Teacher. Make of my son a man. I pray to Almighty God that he will be a great one.”
Thus Petru was taken from his position as head of the servants to become tutor to the second son of the Lord Vlad, the Knight of the Dragon, fiercely sworn against the Turks, the newly created Prince of Tara Romaneasca.
Marianne Grossman was born in New York City, and published her first short story at the age of nine. She studied the philosophy of Ayn Rand at the Nathaniel Branden Institute, and was the Director of Research and Development for International Pen Friends. She now lives in Scottsdale, Arizona. The passage above is an excerpt from her new historical novel In Defense of Dracula.