Earth to Earth - Part 8
By - firstname.lastname@example.org
published April 20, 2020
Arrival in the New World
Castle Blutbad, Landgraviate of Blutbad, Holy Roman Empire, 1554
“Poxy damned hose…” Vlad Dracul muttered, twisting his cod-piece around in a vain attempt to get it to more comfortably house his enormous genitals. “These ridiculous modern fashions are not designed to fit real men…”
Behind him, Igor inwardly sighed. The Transylvanian might have been his eternal Master for the past seventy-odd years, but he still behaved like the uncouth provincial savage he ultimately was. He only hoped that no one else at the court would notice him fiddling with his privates…
Ranked with other state ministers behind the throne, they were attending the Landgrave’s daily morning audience, during which the elderly ruler heard petitions from a selected number of his subjects. The old man was presently listening to an interminable speech from a local mayor regarding some kind of dispute over road tolls. As a member of the Landgrave’s Council, Vlad Dracul was obliged to be present on these occasions, to add lustre to the dignity of his liege lord and his expert advice whenever necessary or appropriate.
Back in Italy, before deciding where they should go next, Dracul had used the funds secured from the last monastery they had robbed, to have he and his slave fitted with clothes more appropriate to the current age. While the warrior vampire detested these latest fashions, Igor rather liked the way their widened shoulders, puffed sleeves, tailored narrow waists, rounded doublets and clinging hose accentuated their already muscular bodies and male features. Igor’s own outfit was clerical black and, of course, very simple compared to Vlad’s bejewelled costumes of bright emerald green or orange slashed with gold, but he much preferred it to the monastic habits they had customarily worn for the past few decades. Now possessed of extraordinary wealth, thanks to the trail of butchered monks and despoiled abbeys they had left behind them, Dracul decided to reassume his royal status and cross the Alps to German-speaking lands as the exiled King of Wallachia. With his new clothes, his drooping moustache augmented by a more modern bushy pointed beard, his neck surrounded by a delicate lace ruff and a priceless pearl suspended from a ring through his left earlobe, he certainly looked like a high-ranking aristocrat of the present age…
“Blutbad… Bloodbath… How interesting…” Dracul remarked in a Swiss inn when he first heard of the tiny state just over the border to the north. “The name seems to call out to me, don’t you think, worm?”
Igor bowed his head, keeping his face completely expressionless, which non-committal response he had perfected after many long years of cruel beatings.
Dracul chuckled. “There should be plenty for me to drink in a place called ‘Bloodbath’, eh?”
“The name apparently derives from a local lake,” Igor said. “Its waters appear slightly red due to the presence of a large amount of iron and copper ore in the surrounding rocks.”
Dracul grimaced and swallowed the last of his flagon of red wine. “You have no fucking soul, do you know that, worm? You always spoil every damned fantasy I have with your cold logic…”
Much as he openly feared and secretly despised his Master, Igor had to admire the way he so very rapidly inveigled his way into the Landgrave’s court. Posing as a pious Christian King who had lost his lands to the Muslim invasion of the Balkans, Vlad Dracul mixed truths and half-truths with downright falsehoods in the way consummate liars always did. The evil vampire almost believed most of what he told the old Landgrave, about being his own great-grandson, for example, which also greatly helped his cause.
It had been just over a hundred years since the great city of Constantinople had fallen to the forces of the Ottoman Sultan. Turkish armies threatened the Hapsburg Empire on land and the entire Eastern Mediterranean swarmed with hostile Muslim navies. It was said to be only a matter of time before Italy and the Holy See of Rome were threatened and talk of another great Catholic crusade was on everyone’s lips. The Landgrave was involved in fevered correspondence with both the Holy Roman Emperor and the Pope about the possibility of leading forces to stem the Islamic tide and, to this end, the old man had given ‘King Vlad’ accommodation at his court and even a place on his council as an expert advisor on Eastern affairs. If a crusade was called, the Landgrave knew he would need to rely heavily on the Wallachian monarch’s valuable experience in dealing with the Muslim hordes they all hoped to defeat.
To the relief of both Vlad Dracul and Igor, that morning’s public audience finally concluded and they were able to follow the Landgrave into his council chamber for their usual daily meeting. Standing behind his Master’s chair, ready to fetch and carry for him when required, Igor watched as the Landgrave took his seat at the head of the long table. The old man then signalled that his council members might sit down too.
“The first item on today’s agenda is the betrothal of my daughter Isolde,” the Landgrave announced. “As you all know, the untimely death of poor Prince Jürgen from smallpox last week leaves her without a future husband.” He shook his head. “Given that she is now twenty-one and quickly moving towards being past marriageable age, a suitable replacement match needs to be found as soon as possible…”
Klaus, the Landgrave’s only son and heir and twin to Isolde, had been lounging in his chair reading poetry up to this point. When the Landgrave finished speaking, he put down his book of sonnets and sat upright. “I hope, Father, that my sister will have some element of choice in this important matter. After all, her future happiness depends on it. I know she was betrothed to Jürgen at the age of five, but she never really wanted to marry him, you know; he was so ugly, stupid and sickly.”
The Landgrave impatiently smacked the table with the palm of his hand. “We have discussed this before, ad nauseam, Klaus. Princes must marry according to the political needs of the state. Isolde is not some peasant girl mooning in the stable over a handsome farmhand! She is my daughter and she will marry who I see fit.” He smiled unpleasantly at his son. “As will you,” he added, darkly.
Klaus sighed and picked up his volume of poetry. “Very well… Perhaps you will kindly inform me when this discussion becomes both rational and humane…”
The ancient Chancellor loudly cleared his throat to draw attention away from this embarrassing outburst and passed a rolled-up parchment to the Landgrave. “This is the list of currently eligible candidates, Your Excellency…”
The Landgrave perused the names of various German princes. “Hmm… He’s too old… He’s too heretical… He’s too poor… He’s too insignificant…” Frowning, he threw the scroll onto the table in front of him. “Are these really all the noble bachelors the Empire presently has to offer?”
“If I may interrupt, Your Excellency…”
The heads of all those sitting around the table turned towards Vlad Dracul. The Wallachian’s amber eyes gleamed.
“Without wishing to sound immodest,” Dracul began, smiling, “I consider my own status to be superior to that of all those on your list, Excellency. As you know, I am, as yet, unmarried, and by right, King of Wallachia.”
“So you say…” Klaus interjected, his voice cold with contempt. “We all know the story you span when you first arrived here, but the truth is that, for all we know, you might be the son of a cook. Besides, at best, you are the heir to a kingdom which no longer actually exists…”
“Klaus!” The Landgrave hammered the table with his fist this time. “That is quite enough! I will not tolerate such crass insolence and disrespect towards an honoured friend and a member of my council. You will leave this chamber immediately!”
Scowling at the assembled company, Klaus strode angrily to the door and slammed it shut behind him.
The Landgrave turned to Vlad Dracul, his tone once more controlled and polite. “Please accept my apologies for my son’s lamentably rude behaviour. I will speak with him later…” He smiled warmly at his royal guest. “Now, Your Highness; am I to take it that you are seriously proposing marriage to my daughter?”
Vlad Dracul smiled. “Not only would your beautiful child be a most exquisite adornment to my ancient house, Excellency, I would be honoured to forge a blood tie between our two illustrious families…”
“You cannot possibly agree to this marriage, Sister…”
Isolde shrugged. “I have already agreed to it, Klaus,” she said, her voice low with sadness. “You know as well as I do; I have no choice.”
They were in what they called their ‘secret garden’, an isolated and cloistered outdoor space in a half ruined wing of the castle to which even the servants rarely ventured. Discovered when they were both young children, it had quickly become their private place of safety where they could talk without being overheard. Here, together, they had played, grieved over their mother’s death and shared their innermost secrets. Years before, Klaus had used some lengths of rope and a few planks to construct two crude swings, which hung side by side from the stout horizontal limb of the old oak tree which stood in the centre of the garden. Sitting in these, as they had so many times before, the twins gently swung themselves back and forth as they talked. The gnarled rose trees and abandoned herb bushes surrounding them lent a musky sweetness to the warm summer air.
“The man is a monster,” Klaus said. “I have watched Vlad Dracul ever since Father allowed him to join our court. Sometimes, when he thinks no one is watching, I see his eyes glittering with a kind of greedy malevolence.” Although the heat from the sun was strong, he shivered. “He has the look of a hungry predator…”
Isolde sighed. “It is no use talking like that, Klaus. He is going to be my husband. Father has made up his mind and nothing will sway him from this course. Dwelling upon negatives and painting Vlad as some kind of beast is not going to help.” Alighting from her swing, she stretched out her hand, plucked a red rose from a nearby bush and held the bloom against her nose. “He is handsome, intelligent and, although he has lost his lands, he is obviously extremely wealthy…”
“He has an air of total ruthlessness about him…”
Isolde tightened her fist around the rose and then threw it to the ground. Some of the crushed petals clung to her robe as she began pacing around the ruined garden. “Which prince does not? Please, Brother! Do not be so naïve…”
“He is a barbarian,” Klaus said. “The only saving grace is that you will remain here at home with me. Dracul has no lands of his own to which he can take you, so at least I shall be able to protect you…”
Isolde let out a short, but bitter laugh. “Protect a wife against her husband? I do not think anyone in Christendom has the power to do that…”
Klaus leapt up from his own swing and grabbed hold of his sister’s trembling hands. “One day, I shall be Landgrave, and I swear, Isolde, that no harm will ever befall you so long as you remain here in Bludbad…”
The marriage of Vlad Dracul, King of Wallachia and Isolde, only daughter of the Landgraf of Blutbad, took place in the castle church and was solemnised by the local bishop. Three days of feasting began and the couple took up residence in a luxurious suite of rooms which had been allocated for them in the main tower.
Two nights later, in the isolated house he rented on the outskirts of town, Dracul made his way down to the cellar to feed. Capturing and killing victims in the castle was far too risky, so, as soon as he became a member of the court, he had used this place to carry out his grisly business in secret. As instructed, his slave Igor had suspended the old tramp’s naked body upside down from an iron hook driven into the cellar ceiling.
“Where did you get this one, worm?”
Feeling both pity and revulsion, Igor watched the bound and inverted figure’s vain struggles. “He’s a poor peasant from a village a few miles away, Master. I found him sleeping rough in an alley and promised him a meal…”
“Sadly for him, he will instead be feeding me,” Dracul observed, grinning with pleasure as he slashed the old man’s throat and watched the crimson flood pump into the waiting tub below.
Igor closed his eyes and shuddered. Whereas Lord Tadese, his old Master, had been careful to always spare the lives of his ‘donors’, Vlad Dracul delighted in butchering his. Incapable of anything but slavish obedience, he had lost count of how many people the evil vampire had slaughtered over the past few months in this God-forsaken little house. Lone visitors to the city, vagrants and beggars were the usual victims, as their disappearance was less likely to cause alarm in the community.
Vlad Dracul scooped up a mug of blood from the tub and greedily drank it down. “Marriage agrees with me, worm,” he remarked, helping himself to seconds. “Her pussy is a thousand times sweeter than your smelly old arse…”
Igor merely bowed in answer to this assertion. He was more than pleased that his Master had a new outlet for his lusts; sparing him from the appalling sexual abuse he had suffered for the past few decades…
“Soon, my Lady Isolde will feed with me,” Dracul continued. “Once I dispose of the Landgraf, she will sit beside me for eternity on the throne of this little fiefdom, pathetically inferior to my homeland as it is…”
While his Master continued feeding, Igor gently unhooked the body and reverently carried it over to the hole he had dug in the earthen floor of the cellar where it would rest with all of the others. Dracul’s last words had surprised him somewhat. Not about murdering the Landgraf; that had always been his plan. No; it was his decision to turn Isolde into a vampire. Could it possibly be that his Master was in love?
Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada: 1848
To the great satisfaction of Captain Faversham and his entire crew, the SS Europa gained its Blue Riband award, having made the transatlantic crossing in a record nine days and eleven hours. As soon as they docked in Halifax early one fine September evening, a welcoming committee led by Joseph Howe, Provincial Secretary and de facto Premier of the British colony, boarded the ship to officially congratulate Faversham on his record-breaking achievement. The Captain, his senior officers and most of the first class passengers stood on deck listening politely to the Canadian leader’s long and rather boring speech.
The Landgrave of Bludbad, standing towards the back of the crowd, amused himself during this tedious diatribe by thumbing through a collection of poems by William Wordsworth which he had bought when they passed through London almost two weeks before. Having finally reached the New World, Klaus felt an enormous sense of relief for four main reasons: first, that they had not been shipwrecked; second, that they had docked in the early evening, obviating the need for him to avoid the sun’s pernicious rays; third, that no embarrassing scene between his party and the Reverend Hinks had occurred; and fourth, that Otto had somehow managed to complete the voyage without being thrown ignominiously into the brig for fucking young sailors…
Finally, the speech having come to a very welcome end, Joseph Howe presented Captain Faversham with a silver-plated key which conferred upon him the freedom of the City of Halifax. Glasses of champagne were then handed around and animated polite conversation ensued.
Pushing his way through the ship’s elite personages, Reverend Archibald Hinks made straight for the Provincial Secretary and warmly shook him by the hand. “Mr Howe… How good to make your acquaintance again…”
Joseph Howe, a rather plump middle-aged man with a cloud of fluffy brown hair surrounding an otherwise bald head, reciprocated with a broad smile. “Reverend Hinks; what a welcome surprise! You always honour our fair city with your scholarly presence, Sir.”
Klaus, with his sharp hearing, could hear every word the two men said, despite the fact that he was standing some twenty yards away behind a large crowd of chattering champagne drinkers.
“Knowing of your previous experience as chief collector of excise duty here, Mr Howe, there is a serious security matter which I need to bring to your immediate attention…”
The Secretary raised his bushy eyebrows. “Indeed? And what, exactly, might that be, your reverence?”
Hinks smiled nastily. “It concerns one of the passengers on board this vessel; a so-called aristocrat from Germany…”
“From Germany? Tell me more, my old friend…”
Without waiting to hear any further slander, Klaus slipped quietly down to his quarters to confer with Igor. He found his two servants busy packing his personal effects into several large trunks and cases. “That ghastly old goat Hinks is making trouble for us with the colonial authorities,” he told them. “What on earth are we going to do?”
“Beat the fuck outta him,” Otto suggested, grinning.
Klaus raised his eyes to the ceiling. “I was hoping for a slightly more subtle course of action…”
Igor finished securing a pair of stout leather straps to one of the portmanteaus before he straightened up and answered. “I’m not rightly sure what we should do, Master,” he said. “Exactly what kind of trouble is he causing?”
Klaus pouted. “I’m not totally certain,” he admitted. “I did not wait around to find out, but I’m sure it will be various defamatory accusations…”
The cabin door suddenly burst open to reveal a very worried-looking Harold Dalton. “Klaus! Uncle Archie has told the city authorities that you’re a vampire! The Provincial Secretary is a friend of his and is coming down directly to arrest you!”
Klaus sighed and shook his head. “I sincerely hope that these idiots do not provoke me too far,” he said quietly. “I have no desire to cause harm to anyone, but if my survival is threatened in any way…”
Igor swallowed hard. Alone among those present, he knew exactly what an angry or cornered vampire could do…
A moment later, two burly, tough-looking sailors entered the cabin, followed by Captain Faversham, Joseph Howe and Reverend Hinks.
Faversham looked both miserable and embarrassed. “I apologise for the intrusion, Your Excellency, but this gentleman would like to have a serious word with you…”
Joseph Howe stepped forward and nodded his head curtly at Klaus by way of salutation. His facial expression was extremely stern. “Landgrave Von Bludbad; as Her Majesty’s Provincial Secretary for Nova Scotia, it is my duty to inform you that, pending an inquiry into certain serious allegations that have been made against you, I must ask you to immediately accompany me to the Halifax City Jail.”
Klaus’ eyes widened. “Serious indeed… Am I permitted to know the exact nature of these allegations?”
A hint of colour flushed the Provincial Secretary’s cheeks. “It is alleged, Sir, that your presence here represents a most pernicious and deadly threat to the inhabitants of Nova Scotia.” He cleared his throat. “I do not wish to say any more than that, at the present juncture…”
“Very well,” Klaus said, bowing graciously to the assembled company. He turned to Igor. “It would seem that accommodation arrangements for my first night in this fair colony have already kindly been arranged, so it will no longer be necessary for you to book that hotel suite on our behalf…”
“I am so sorry, Your Excellency…” Faversham began. He looked utterly distraught. “I wish you to know that my crew and the entire Cunard Company completely disassociate ourselves from this precipitative action on the part of the local authorities…”
“Hardly precipitative, Captain,” Hinks said crossly. “I warned you that you had a vampire on board several days ago…”
“This is ridiculous!” Harold exclaimed angrily. “Uncle Archie; you should be ashamed of yourself!”
Reverend Hinks grinned, baring his horribly yellow teeth. “Be quiet, nephew…”
“Please do not trouble yourself, Captain Faversham,” Klaus said. He patted Harold’s shoulder. “Or you, my boy. I’m sure this misunderstanding will soon be satisfactorily resolved…” He picked up his edition of Wordsworth’s poetry and lovingly stroked its cover. “At least I shall have something edifying to while away the time I must spend in a cell…”
Joseph Howe stared at the book, his expression instantly a great deal less stony than it had been before. “I have my own copy of that,” he said, enthusiastically. “Masterly… I so admire his wonderful depictions of nature…”
“Wordsworth is almost without peer,” Klaus said, nodding in agreement. “In fact, the Queen’s Poet Laureate once wrote something quite apt for this present situation: ‘In modern business it is not the crook who is to be feared most,’ he quoted, looking pointedly at Reverend Hinks before turning his attention back to the Provincial Secretary. “…it is the honest man who doesn’t know what he is doing…”
Howe bowed in acceptance of this wisdom from his hero and looked over Klaus’ shoulder toward the small cabin book shelf which still housed several volumes of contemporary poetry. “I write a little verse myself,” he said shyly. “Like Wordsworth, I like to extoll the virtues of my native land…”
“I would love to read your work, Mr Howe… Have you published anything?”
“Yes, a couple of volumes…” Howe blushed modestly. “I mainly write about this magnificent country,” he added. “I’m mighty proud of it…”
“Ahh… Majestic Canada…” Klaus murmured. “How I am looking forward to seeing its natural grandeur…” He sighed. “Alas, it seems that the four grey walls of a prison cell are to be my first taste of its unique beauty…”
Howe shook his head, cleared his throat and turned to face Archibald Hinks. “Upon serious reflection, I think you are somewhat mistaken in your accusations, my old friend,” he said, quite calmly and kindly. “The Landgrave here is obviously a man of culture, taste and discernment. I do not believe that, on the rather flimsy evidence that you have so far provided, I can, in all conscience, detain him any further.”
“He’s a vampire!” Hinks cried. “Can’t you see? He’s using his evil mind powers to befuddle your judgement!”
“With the greatest respect, Reverend,” Captain Faversham said, “I think you are talking out of your fundament…”
Hinks, looking as though he was about to have an apoplexy, stamped his foot with rage. “Secretary! Surely you don’t believe this filthy creature’s lies?”
Joseph Howe stiffened. “I think that, as a man of the cloth, you perhaps need to meditate more on the meaning of the word ‘charity’, Mr Hinks,” he said sternly, walking towards the cabin door. “I can only apologise for having taken up so much of your valuable time, Excellency,” he added, looking back at Klaus. “I hope that you will do my wife and me the honour of dining with us before you leave Halifax.”
Klaus bowed graciously. “The honour will be entirely mine, Sir…”
A few moments later, the cabin had emptied of everyone except Klaus, Igor, Otto and Harold.
“That is a something of a relief,” Klaus remarked, generously pouring out four glasses of his special reserve brandy for them all to taste. “I really thought for a few moments back then that I was going to end up in prison tonight…”
Igor accepted his glass and drained it in one gulp. “It would not be the first time, Master,” he said, “for either of us…”
“You’ve been in jail?” Harold’s eyebrows had lifted in surprise.
Klaus took a sip of brandy. “Yes, indeed I have…”
“What on earth for?” Harold asked.
Klaus merely shrugged by way of reply.
Igor leaned over to Harold and whispered in his ear. “The Master does not like to talk about his incarceration; it brings back too many painful memories…” Klaus, hearing this, sighed. “It also happened a very long time ago…”
Otto produced an extremely grubby pack of playing cards from his back pocket and fanned them out in his large peasant hands. “Who would like to play a game of ‘Fuck Poker’?”
“Fuck Poker?” Harold asked.
“Yeah,” Otto said, enthusiastically. “One of the stoker boys taught it to me. It’s like Strip Poker, but the first person to lose all their clothes gets fucked…”
Klaus shook his head. “After this evening’s dramatic events, I think I would prefer something slightly less strenuous…”
Otto nodded his agreement. “Yeah… Let’s forget the cards and just fuck!”