Below is our final excerpt from Marianne Grossman’s new historical novel, In Defense of Dracula (2004, Taggart Press, 414 pages). In the first excerpt, we learned of the circumstances of the Prince’s birth. In the second, the Prince wages a valiant attack on the Sultan’s very life. In this excerpt, the Lord of Tara Romaneasca takes dramatic measures to rid his dominion of unscrupulous thieves.
The Lord Vlad, with the assistance of loyal men both known and new, had completed the reorganisation of the army. It was time to depart.
Petru mounted his horse beside the remainder of the group. Dimly, as from afar, he heard his Lord investing the man Cazan with command of this important regiment. He forced himself to listen.
The Lord Vlad next commended the diligent work of Stoica, creating a new post to honour him — Provost Marshal of Tara Romaneasca, upholder of the Prince’s justice.
Petru sighed with a great longing for the serenity of his quarters in the Royal Palace of Tirgoviste. Gratefully, he watched the powerful figure sweep up into the saddle of the Arabian stallion.
The Lord of Tara Romaneasca led his loyal band from the camp of the army. They sped like the wind through the autumn hills to the shimmering lakes and galloped onwards.
With the Royal Palace in sight, Vlad ordered a deviation from the expected path — a visit to the market square of the city. He wanted to supervise the purchase of gifts for the Princess Anca — gifts to pave the way for further reconciliation, and to help her forget his disappearance on the day she had first returned.
He halted the column some distance before the market square. A rush of inspiration flowed over him. He swept off his cloak, his hat, his jewels, his regal trappings, shoving them each in turn into the hands of the tutor.
“You shall return these to the palace, Petru,” he declared. With a grave concern, he added, “Then, I order that you shall rest.”
“Yes, my Lord,” Petru replied as if in a trance, making no move to leave.
“The others may go, too,” Vlad announced. There was no need of armed men in the marketplace of his city. Without royal fittings and entourage, he would not be recognised; he could stroll through the square as an ordinary citizen. The idea appealed to him strongly.
“Lord!” cried Neculai, alarmed. “I beg leave to accompany you.” The Lord of Tara Romaneasca smiled, his strong white teeth reflecting the sunlight.
“Mind you,” he explained, with a fond mimicry of Neculai’s speech, “you shall have to walk very fast, for my stride is twice yours!” His dark green eyes radiated delight. “Mind you, your mathematics is twice mine.
A fact for which, Neculai, I shall have the utmost gratitude during the tallying of purchases.”
Petru’s eyes suddenly opened wide. He glanced at the regal appointments, surmounted by the Royal Mace, which were piled on his lap. Where had he been? He cursed himself bitterly. His overpowering involvement with memories had allowed his Lord into a present peril. Who knew what ugliness, what treachery waited in the market square? This frantic, crowded place had always acted as a magnet for the worst elements in the land.
Petru hissed to his comrades to remain where they were, as the Lord of Tara Romaneasca — in keeping with his newly adopted role of ordinary citizen — placed one arm nonchalantly upon Neculai’s shoulders and strolled off to the marketplace.
“I hope you have brought funds,” Vlad teased Neculai, “at least half my treasury!”
Neculai remained silent and uneasy, his eyes carefully searching the throng, one hand close to the hilt of his sword.
The market square was a fresco of the produce and imports of the land. Vegetables littered many of the stalls in a colourful profusion. The autumn harvest of cereal crops had begun, and the golden grains spilled forth from hastily constructed wooden bins. The fruits of the orchards filled the air with a heady fragrance.
Here was abundance: thick pelts, caressing to the touch; fresh fish from the teeming rivers and lakes, iridescent in sunlight display; sticky, syrupy jugs of honey; tangy red wines of the south, and the sweet, clear whites from the legendary vineyards said to be favoured by the great Alexander; and the heavy homemade brew of the surrounding countryside.
Vendors hawked luxuries brought from the cities of Transylvania, their shrill summonses ringing amidst the clank and clatter of the armourers. The crowd was immense, for the day was mild and lovely.
With Neculai close to his side, Vlad ambled among the stalls in the deafening din. He was greatly pleased with the profusion of goods, and the purposeful activity of his people. He stopped to inspect an intricately wrought golden box, which was sold by its weight. He fingered the etched cover. The box would be perfect to present to Anca. The stall-keeper placed it upon his scales, and adjusted the lead weights.
Neculai’s eyes narrowed.
“Lord,” he whispered to Vlad, “those weights are false!”
He turned from the stall, motioning Neculai to his side. “You are certain?” he asked.
The spell of the simple afternoon was broken. Vlad became silent, reflective. The noonday sun loomed over him like a great eye, watching, measuring his actions. Wordlessly, the Lord of Tara Romaneasca walked to another stall, picked up several weights from a scale, and handed them to Neculai.
“Hollow,” murmured Neculai. “Mind you, not as bad as the other.”
Vlad turned to examine another stall, then another. Not all the weights were false; but too many were. He paused to observe the counting of change by the merchants. Not all the exchanges were blatant theft; but too many were.
Then he noticed the sly glances of men weaving through the crowd, their fingers ready to grasp the unattended purse. He saw the beggars, the idlers, the men of evil purpose, lurching from one unwary passerby to another. Suddenly the promise of the bright red tomatoes, spilling in gay profusion from their wooden bins, appeared like an open wound
upon the land.
He turned and strode from the market square.
Breathless, Neculai kept up with a determined stride.
Vlad did not comment when he saw his entire band of followers still assembled and waiting, in contradiction to his direct orders. Grimly silent, he reached for the regal trappings he had left with Petru. He clothed himself slowly and meticulously. He lifted the Royal Mace aloft in his right hand. He mounted the stallion of deepest ebony.
At his signal, the others climbed upon their horses.
The Lord of Tara Romaneasca motioned Stoica to his side.
The band of horsemen thundered into the crowded market square with a terrible vengeance. Swiftly, the Lord with granite face and dark green eyes drove his horse into the stalls of the dishonest merchants, inexorably, one after another, upturning the tables, strewing their merchandise upon the ground.
The ordinary citizens ran this way and that in a panicked attempt to escape this madness which had descended upon them from nowhere.
They fled from the market square of Tirgoviste. But they heard the word, the word they would never forget.
“Tzapa!” barked the Lord of Tara Romaneasca.
A female voice penetrated Vlad’s consciousness. Startled, he turned from the sight of the wreckage in the market square, the long line of impaling poles. He looked into the face of a black-shrouded figure, calmly stirring the contents of a large iron pot. It was Despina.
What was Despina doing in the midst of this desolation, when everyone else had fled?
“The soup is very good today,” she remarked, as if continuing a conversation left off only moments ago. Her black eyes glittered with delight. Clearly, she was more than pleased to see him. With an artful gesture, she reached up to smooth the small black hood mounted incongruously upon her head. Then she lifted the ladle from the pot and poured fragrant, thick liquid into a bowl on the table before him.
“Unlike others here who use wilted greens and no meat, I have only the finest of ingredients.”
Vlad stared down at the soup, then back at Despina — older, worn, her black hair now but shanks of white — a miraculous echo of his lost youth.
He remembered well the forest clearing, the welcome fire, the shower of sparks in a golden haze, the tiny figure which was Oana.
“What are you doing here?” he asked.
Despina looked at him intently. She grinned, her eyes warm with amusement, and gestured toward the soup. “Earning a living, my Prince.”
Vlad glanced about, suddenly uncomfortable. The force of gravity had already wreaked its vengeance upon those skewered bodies on the other side of the square.
“You must leave here at once,” he said gravely. “You shall come with me back to the Palace.”
“Ah, she answered, “forgive me, Lord, but I do not think I belong at your Palace.”
She waved one gnarled hand toward the row of impaling poles. “The evil within your Palace is more blatant, yet less recognisable than that of these luckless thieves, who but a short time ago were my neighbors.” She bent down to pick up a wooden spoon. “Perhaps you will shortly discover this for yourself, my Lord.”
Slowly, she stirred the contents of the iron pot, intent upon the bits of meat that floated to the surface. “It just may be that nothing you can do, not even a murderous rampage against the most petty of the dishonest, can change the cruel nature of the swine who call themselves men.”
Vlad regarded the sticks where the unscrupulous merchants of the marketplace of Tirgoviste had screamed and died. For too long there had been naught but pondering, philosophy, pessimism, while all manner of wrong went unpunished. Even the Church explicitly preached the acceptance of what had come to be labeled the Will of God.
He looked at Despina. His expression was prideful now, lordly. Nothing mattered save his justice — his own will and his own strength. “Do you say that I should do nothing?”
Despina shrugged. “I say that all you do, all your efforts, will be as nothing!”
The Lord of Tara Romaneasca smiled, drawn aloft by the inspiration of an unforgettable vision. “You are wrong, Despina. I shall bring hope to men,” he declared, “and when they gain confidence in this, then all things shall be possible.”
Despina’s black eyes watered in the harsh sunlight. She reached beneath the wooden table and drew forth an ancient flask, wrenched out the stopper, and carefully measured the liquid into two goblets.
“Hope is a word for children,” she said, placing one of the goblets in his hand. She raised the other high in the air. “To your good health, my Lord!” she declaimed, and drained its contents. “May your reign be a long and glorious one!”
Her face was bitter, yet shrewd, as she looked up at him. “Your father — ah, there was the Devil!” She laughed loudly. “One can tell that you are his son!”
Yes, yes, Vlad told himself, this I shall always remember. I am the son of Dracul. I am Dracula...
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.
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