Bram Stoker’s Dracula by Fred Saberhagen & James V. Heart

The first days of November were bringing snow and bitter cold to the high Carpathians.

On the seventh of that month, a wagon loaded with a single box the size of a large coffin, driven and guarded by mounted Gypsies, was racing over a mountain road toward Dracula’s castle, now only a few miles away. Inside the box a single manlike form, garbed now in a rich robe as if for some important ceremony, rested upon a packing of earth. Dracula was almost comatose with daylight, inactivity, and the lack of recent feeding. His long hair was now white, his age-wrinkled face and hands almost the same color.

At the same hour, on a nearby road high in the Borgo Pass, Van Helsing was driving another wagon, with Mina as his passenger. Two horses had been enough for these travelers when they left Galatz; but later, after one of their several changes of horses at inns and rest stops, they made better time with, as Mina described the arrangement, “a rude four-in-hand.”

The professor was wrapped in furs against the wintry day, and he was very tired, struggling to stay awake as he held the reins.

Mina was on the seat beside the professor, her body slumped against his, as she continued her new habit of spending most of the daylight hours in slumber. She also was wearing furs, and in addition her protector had covered her with a thick lap robe or rug.

But suddenly without any apparent cause, the young woman was wide-awake. Her manner was animated, filled with an almost childlike excitement.

The professor made no comment about this abrupt awakening, but in a moment he thought he could see what he thought must be its cause: a towering stone structure that could only be Dracula’s castle had just come into view, on a high crag ahead.

Mina, looking around her now in every direction, murmured in an excited voice: “I know this place.”

The ancient crucifix of a roadside shrine looked down upon the turning in the road. The figure on the cross was much worn and splintered away by time and weather, the blasphemous ambiguity of its wolf’s-head image now difficult to see.

And indeed even Van Helsing failed to notice the peculiarity of this image.

“The end of the world,” he remarked. Certainly the scene, particularly the even higher country ahead of the travelers, looked gloomy, frozen, desolate.

“We must go on!” his passenger urged him. She was continuing in her state of quiet excitement.

The professor, troubled by this exuberant reaction, studied his young charge.

After a moment he shook his head. “It is late, child. Better I build a fire, and we rest here.”

“No, I must go! Please, let me go!” Such was Mina’s vehemence that it seemed only a physical struggle could hold her back.

Rather than attempting anything of the kind, the old man reluctantly drove on.

At last he pulled the horses to a stop in a small clearing on level ground no more than a couple of hundred yards below the castle. Having come this close, Mina was content to rest and wait; and here her guardian, moving quickly as night was coming on, established a kind of camp. With plenty of dead wood available here, he built up a roaring fire. And around this campfire Van Helsing, using crumbled holy wafers and holy water, traced a wide circle on the hard earth with its thin covering of snow.

Then, moving wearily, but still glad of the chance to keep moving in the cold, Van Helsing prepared some food; fortunately they had been able to obtain fresh supplies at several places on their journey.

Mina, meanwhile, seemed to become ever more awake and alert, obviously energized by the night. She sat on her haunches, in a pose he found disturbingly, ominously unladylike, watching Van Helsing with a look of bright anticipation. All traces of her long suffering, and of weariness, seemed to have dropped away.

When the contents of the pot resting by the fire were hot—it was leftover stew, carried frozen from the day before—Van Helsing ladled some into a bowl and brought it to Mina.

“You must eat something, child.”

“Why have you now begun to call me ‘child’?”

He did not answer.

She accepted the bowl from Van Helsing’s hands, but then, to his silent concern, only set it down beside the fire.

“I am not hungry.” The young woman’s voice sounded wide-awake but quite remote.

The old man was displeased at this reaction, but he was not at all surprised. Without comment he returned to his own place on the other side of the fire—still carefully within the circle. There he sat on a piece of wood, a little warmer than sitting in the snow, eating from his own bowl and watching his young charge uneasily.

At that moment, from somewhere not very far outside the circle of firelight, there came a sound that gave him the sensation of his hair standing up; as if someone had drawn an icy finger down his spine. What he heard was the soft, silken, tingling sound of feminine laughter, almost unbearable in its exquisite sweetness…

The old man was afraid to look around. It chilled him to see the expression on Mina’s face. It was a bright look, not at all fearful. Her eyes were interested—yes, even amused—as she gazed over Van Helsing’s shoulder, at something—or someone—she was evidently able to see quite plainly in the snowy darkness.

just back there over his shoulder—somewhere quite nearby in the snow, and in the night—three feminine voices ceased to laugh. Now they spoke, in a language Van Helsing could understand, though he had not heard it spoken for many years:

“You, sister by the fire—you take him first—but leave some sweets for us—”

“He is old, but stout. There will be kisses for us, too—”

“We will all feast, before the Master comes—”

The professor felt quite certain that Mina in her present state, though ordinarily she did not know the ancient tongue, was quite capable of understanding what was being said to her by these women, these vampires who claimed to be her sisters. Still she did not appear to be paying them any particular attention. It was almost as if she could not hear them at all, or—ominously—was pretending she could not.

Mina’s gaze, eerily cheerful but sympathetic, had come to remain fixed upon Van Helsing.

He tried to speak, but his mouth was dry, and for once he could not think of anything to say.

Now suddenly his companion bounced—there was no other word for such an animal movement—shirting her weight on the log where she was sitting. And with the movement, her fur robe opened as if by accident, and the upper part of her inner clothing parted as well. Suddenly one of her breasts had become completely revealed, but Mina seemed completely unaware that this had happened—or else she was utterly indifferent to the fact.

Her red lips parted in a smile, strongly suggested that she was not so indifferent after all. In the next moment she arose suddenly, a sinuous and graceful movement, and came around the fire to Van Helsing’s side.

He did not move, he thought he dared not speak. He seemed unable to tear his eyes from the young woman’s partially exposed body. With some remote portion of his mind the old professor was aware that this was very like what Jonathan Harker had experienced in the castle; this was what the vampire’s victims always felt.

Mina sat down very close to him. Her attitude was not so much flirtatious as friendly, conversational.

“You are so good to me, Professor. I want to do something for you in return… something that will give you joy.” After allowing him to consider that for a moment, she added: “Shall I tell you a secret?”

“What?” It required a tremendous effort to get out even a single word.

“It’s about Lucy.” Mina’s dark eyes twinkled with silent laughter. “She harbored secret desires for you. She told me so. And you must have secret thoughts, wishes, of your own… I, too, know what men desire. ”

At first Mina’s touch upon Van Helsing’s shoulder, his arm, his hair, was almost motherly. Gently she pulled his head down into a position where he might rest against her. How badly he needed rest! But then at once—why had he not understood, a moment ago, that this must happen?—her bare breast, the nipple erect, was pressed against his cheek, between his lips…

Perhaps it was only the mocking background laughter of the three demonic women that enabled him to break the spell. With a hoarse cry, exerting all his strength, Van Helsing managed to struggle free of Mina’s embrace. With shaking hands he rumbled into an inner pocket of his coat, extracted a tin box, and from it produced a holy wafer.

Now he was free to speak, to pour out words into the night. “Domine, Christos—Lord Christ, bless this child! Deliver her from evil—”

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Categories: Saberhagen, Fred