Ice flows tumbled down into the pit like the pale sentries of a war that would never end. That would make sense then, he supposed, because this struggle would never cease as long as he existed. When all that is left in the end is yourself and that was the one thing you never wanted to own; was it hell, or was it war?
Or was it both? For what is hell, if not an endless struggle for redemption that would never come?
There was no time in his life where that did not hold true for him. There was no righteousness that had not resulted in his downfall and all his good intentions led him to the darkest caverns in the universe. In darkness that had become its own sight, he slithered among foulness that saturated him until he was nothing but a reflection of a pervasive sickness that was defined by eternity.
No, this war would not end until his existence did. He couldn’t even say, ‘while I am alive,’ for he was the furthest thing from it. There was no one and nothing that could rectify what he’d become, indeed what he’d chosen to become. Gabriel Belmont could argue all he wished about the deception of his path and the twisted truth that shrouded his entire quest to free the world from the Lords of Shadow, but the result was simple.
When the child Laura turned to him and told him it was the only way, he’d accepted it as inevitable and justified. Perhaps what was shadowed within him had already reached out to the darkness, and this was merely a means to argue righteous intent.
Whatever the reason, Dracula could not decieve himself. A choice had been made. It was that choice that led him here, falling into the bowels of his castle, past the ice waterfalls, stone bridges, blood pools, lava pits and falling into the darkness in a crimson cloud that screamed with a dragon’s fury.
Perhaps there was a place, somewhere yet unknown, where he might hide. Truly alone for once. There was no place that his demonic twin did not follow, where the voice of the God he had forsaken didn’t whisper, and where the memory of his loss did not weep on his shoulder. There was no place that he could go that would allow him to forget what he had done to his family and all the families that came after him.
Maybe it was the intangible form. Maybe it was falling into the magic of the castle and its firm hold on the space between reality and madness. It might have been his yearning for rest and peace, but whatever the reason, when Dracula fell beyond consciousness, he found the unconscious.
It was gradual at first, little scraps of scent and taste plummeting beside him: roasting apples with cinnamon, unwashed bodies doused in fear, the snap of cold inside your lungs and there! The sound of a child’s laughter to his right, a flash of blue wool and red hair on his left. A deep sense of knowing filled him.
“Alucard?” he asked, speaking the name into the shadowy world.
Suddenly a deep, bewildering fear slammed into him staggering and overwhelming. Dracula’s body shrank until it felt weightless and all his power pressed against flesh that suddenly seemed paper thin. Shivering uncontrollably, he wailed helplessly.
There was darkness and cold. He could feel a thin blanket with his feet but the shift he was in was not enough. He was lying in wet chilliness and was so hungry that his belly ached in sharp, stabbing pulses. He was not crying and was so thirsty that he couldn’t form tears. His face itched from where the first ones had dried.
No, Dracula thought, horrified. Please God, no.
Tiny cries, thin, helpless and defeated, reached out into an empty room. He couldn’t form words or sit up; he couldn’t even define in his own mind that he needed help, only that this was profoundly, horribly wrong. He cried on, tiny hands grasping at nothing, looking for the warm comfort of his mother’s breast, a soothing voice, a sign that there was someone there. But there was nothing.
Reeling from it, Dracula choked on the unbearable loneliness, the vulnerability, the certainty of death. He was too young to know otherwise and the hunger was so sharply painful. Worse than that was the prickling itch of wrongness. There was something broken about him that no one would help, that no one was there to feed and hold him.
I cannot bear this, the Prince of Darkness thought and tried to pull out of it. But this was not his mind and he could not control the flow of memory here. He felt hot, bloody tears roll down his face. A door slammed. He heard a low, angry voice that was so harsh it was like a blow to his face, hard and brusque. “Shut up!”
It snapped Dracula’s head back. His eyes flared open and he was looking straight up at a midday sun; hot, punishing orb in the middle of a sky that was so cleanly blue it seemed to pulse.
“Come on you little bastard, just tell me where you put it and save yourself,” Dracula brought his head down. He was a little woozy and terror was an ache in his belly, beside hate so thick and strong it could have been mashed potatoes stuck in his windpipe. A squat, barrel-chested youth with the barest hint of blonde facial hair over the curl of his sneered lip stood menacingly over him, fist still extended. Behind him, like two pale shadows, stood his accomplices.
Dracula tried to raise his hand, but this was not his memory and that was not what Trevor Belmont had done. Instead, he shook his head, afraid to even speak lest he cry. I won’t cry, he thought, the vampire lord’s voice threaded in a small boy’s whisper. I won’t give Daniel anything, not even my fear.
“Why do you even want it, Belmont? It’s not like it’s worth anything and besides, you never wear it!” Daniel barked it at him and the two boys behind him snickered.
I don’t wear it because you would take it, Trevor thought, Dracula’s mind a half-syllable behind. It’s all I have of them and someday, it might tell me who I am. In his mind’s eye, a small shard of mirror framed in beaten brass and threaded through twine appeared.
The mirror of fate, Dracula thought with shock, I never knew he had that! How did he get it, where did it come from, what…?
Why do you want it Daniel? If it’s not worth anything? The little boy’s question resounded in their twinned mind, an unhappy echo. He lacked the experience to know but the vampire lord did. Daniel wanted it because it would hurt Trevor to lose it. He wanted the power and he wanted to wound.
“Do you think that your mother gave it to you?” Daniel’s laugh was cruel and ugly. Every protective fiber in the vampire lord rose up in answering viciousness. “You don’t have a mother and you don’t have a father; you are nothing. Nobody wanted to be your family.”
No! Dracula roared out inside the small, fragile frame but nothing would drown out the tiny sigh of his son’s acceptance.
I know, Trevor thought, but someday I will have my own family and I will never leave them. I will be someone.
The rage inside of Dracula was shaking the edges of the memory and it was collapsing in on itself, fragments plummeting into the space between the boys. The vampire lord tried to reach back into the mind of his son to scratch his love over that hideous thought but it was too late. Daniel’s fist descended again and the world winked out.
The sunlight set fire to her hair, a dancing beacon of joy that looked like the edges of sunlight through a poppy petal. It’s the color of dried blood, Dracula thought dully, dazed by the shift in the memories.
The warmth in the girl’s hair matched her easy laugh and expressive face. Trevor could only watch her, spellbound, as she moved through the market. Something about the generosity of her gestures and the pride in her spine grasped his chin and compelled him to watch her.
She knows who she is, Dracula supplied, but of course Trevor couldn’t hear him. The wonder inside of his son was a cooling balm on the pain of the memories he’d witnessed thus far. The Prince of Darkness welcomed the beauty of this moment.
Their eyes followed her as she bought bread, eggs and then stopped to admire the wares at the needlework and ribbon booth. She fingered a blue stripe the color of a robin’s egg and smiled wistfully. “I take it you’ve seen our Sypha,” Isaiah murmured at his elbow and Trevor jerked. Dracula braced himself for a cruel follow-up, but it never came.
The youth shifted the saddle to the other arm. He’d forgotten what he was about and of course, Isaiah noticed. The leatherworker was quiet but he had watchful eyes and a keen mind. Of all the Brothers, Isaiah was the one that Trevor respected the most.
All the trainees were assigned duties outside of training and Belmont’s was to assist with leatherwork. Most avoided the task as the smell of the tanning could be atrocious but Isaiah would never allow him to help with that. He told Trevor once that once the scent got on you, you never escaped it and he wouldn’t be responsible for making him a pariah.
Dracula’s heart swelled with gratitude. My son deserves your kindness , he thought as Trevor forced his eyes toward the older man. “Who is Sypha?” he asked quietly and Isaiah laughed kindly.
“Nice try, lad but your jaw was on the floor. She’s too young, obviously, but a looker that one will be. Her father is the new blacksmith now that William has gone to the Lord, may he rest in peace.”
That’s why I have never seen her before, the boy thought.
Isaiah gave him a look, “All your cohorts have already taken notice, you are late to the henhouse. She’s been here a fortnight already.” Dracula smiled with joy. This was his son’s wife! He could see her now and could see where Simon’s hair and eyes came from.
In his chest, he felt Trevor’s heart sink. It’s over before it's begun, his boy reflected, even as Dracula tried to deny that thought. I am clever with a weapon and can speak my verses in Latin but that is the extent of what I offer, Belmont thought.
Even his friends would say he was too serious and too intent to be much fun. If anyone had a chance with her, it was probably Godwin or Robert. Belmont heaved a sigh and brought the saddle back over to Isaiah. As he held it in place for the man, he found his eyes drifting back to Sypha as she laughed in the afternoon sun…
“Not a chance, Trevor Belmont,” the girl laughed. “All you trainees are the same.” I promise I am not, his son thought alongside Dracula and they both looked at her with admiration.
Up close and a few years older, she was coming into womanhood now, beautiful and assured. Strong, direct gaze with intelligence and humor met his and she cocked a brow. “Don’t give me the puppy eyes, boy-o, it’ll get you nowhere.”
“Please Sypha, it’s not a long walk and I just want to show you something,” Trevor asked quietly. In his mind, Dracula could see the field of wildflowers, the exact same shade as this girl’s eyes, stretching out over the mountainside in an endless wave of stunning color.
“Aye, I imagine you do,” she retorted smartly and Trevor clued in with a stab of shock. God’s knees, she thinks I would try to— it immediately merged into an ugly fury that someone would dare try to treat her so shamefully.
Inside the youth, Dracula smiled. This was love and the boy didn’t even know it.
“By the saints, no! I would never, that is to say, I wouldn’t! I could never disrespect you that way!” he stammered out through his hard blush and awkwardly backed away. “Never mind, I am sorry to have… I—I need to go.”
He missed the surprise and the considering look on her face. “Trevor, wait!” she called after him, but the boy was already running toward the wood.
Deep inside the forest, he will find a place to beat something until it breaks. He will pretend it was whomever would consider trying to touch Sypha without her permission. Tomorrow, when Isaiah sees his knuckles and binds them properly, they will talk about desire, sex and the rituals of courtship.
Dracula’s gratitude had him making a mental note to ensure that Isaiah’s soul is not within his domain or to provide for him if he is. The King of Hell feels sick regret that his mistakes meant that the most precious being in the world was so unbearably alone.
As the scene fades, a fragrance seeps into the space; soft, feminine, sweet and floral. It starts out as a whisper and builds until he’s drowning in it, can taste it on his tongue and feel it against his skin. This is Sypha, and Trevor would know it anywhere. Now Dracula would too.
He felt cool rain drip down the collar of his shirt, an ache in his fist and an icy sense of satisfaction. “Don’t you ever, ever say that about her again. In fact, you don’t speak of her. You don’t think of her and if you see her, you cross the path, you leave the room. If you touch her, I’ll kill you,” the young man said with deadly calm. Ah, there’s that Belmont temper, the vampire lord thought, smugly amused and proud of the fiery rage spitting inside of his son.
“What the hell, Belmont! That’s insane! Have you lost your mind?!” Samuel spit out blood from his split lip and sat up. “Don’t you think she’ll wonder what is going on when I suddenly avoid her like the plague?”
“You better hope she doesn’t,” Trevor retorted. “If she ever found out you called her that, she’d never speak to you again and she’d be right not to. It’s an ugly thing and just because she refused to walk with you? Sypha has class and you’d resent her for knowing better than to trust you.”
“She doesn’t even know you exist, you pathetic sack of refuse! But you’d defend her honor like she was your sister? What is—” Samuel’s eyes went wide and he scrambled back. With prickling self-awareness, Trevor watched him pick himself up out of the mud and flee. Belmont turned slowly, apprehension keeping his fists at the ready.
Sarah Belnades, Sypha’s mother, was standing in the rain, green cloak sheened with droplets and a basket of potatoes. Her face betrayed nothing. “Greetings young Belmont,” Sarah said with an incline of her head.
Oh no, Trevor thought with despair, even as Dracula cheered with joy. Trevor bowed low in return. “Madame Belnades,” he responded with deference.
Everyone knew that Sarah didn’t care for the attention the young trainees gave her daughter. She thought them all crass and brutish. Not that she was wrong about most of us, Belmont thought with unhappiness.
But not you, Dracula murmured with great satisfaction. Trevor couldn’t hear him of course.
Sarah continued forward and as she approached him, she said, “Are you busy at the moment?”
Just dying inside and wishing I was anywhere else, but otherwise; no? he thought and said, “Nothing of import, how may I assist?”
“I have been carrying this basket for some time. Would you be willing to carry it a spell, so that I might rest my arms?” she asked him and Trevor stepped forward. As his hands closed over the basket, Sarah’s intense blue gaze met his. You have her eyes , he thought with a stumbling heart. “Thank you, Trevor Belmont. Your assistance is most impressive.”
Trevor had the feeling they weren’t talking about his willingness to carry the basket. He didn’t know what to say except, “Thank you. ‘Tis nothing.”
“You’d be wrong about that. Your willingness to do good has not gone unnoticed,” Sarah said calmly.
You’ve been seen, Trevor, Dracula chuckled and felt his heart swell with pride. It was a pleasure to watch this woman finesse Trevor into following her home, offering him a mug of warm tea and drying his cloak out by the fire. By the time Sypha arrived home, Trevor had chopped firewood, consumed two meat pies, ran a message out to Ezra Belnades in the forge and was in the process of feeding the horses.
Sypha’s jaw drop was just as endearing as the heat of Trevor’s blush when he saw her.
The sun had come out and the humidity was high from the rain. Everything glittered with drying droplets. He’d stripped out of his tunic as he hauled the straw into the lean to and spread it for the horses.
Sypha came around the edge of the house, swinging a basket and singing a ballad. She stopped in her tracks when confronted by the tall frame and broad shoulders rippling in the sun. Trevor turned to her and flushed when his eyes met hers. It was a heartbeat before he cast his eyes down to look intently at the basket she carried.
Look at her face! Dracula urged but Trevor did not.
“Greetings Sypha. I am just feeding the horses for your mother. How are you?” Brilliant Trevor, utterly captivating discourse, he thought to himself with annoyance.
“Eggs,” the young woman said, holding out the basket. “I’m on shoulders for eggs.”
Dracula cackled with anticipation; she’s just as smitten as he is! This is the best memory yet!
I’m sorry, what? Trevor thought, confused. Sypha had a funny look on her face and was staring. Maybe I got something on my shoulders? he wondered and looked down, abdomen flexing with his movements. Sypha hissed sharply and he looked back at her.
When her eyes met his, she blushed and Belmont thought: It’s not possible. Is it?
It is, it is and you should-- Dracula crowed before Sypha interrupted him.
“I beg your pardon,” Sypha took a deep breath. “I must collect the eggs, but thank you, for helping,” she skirted around him, leaving a cloud of scent that made him close his eyes and breath deeply.
I must have been mistaken, he thought, missing the backwards glance she gave him as she rounded the corner of the lean to.
Come on! Dracula pouted, go after her and—
Face it, Belmont, Trevor thought with acceptance, she will never be for you. You are nothing. The helpless longing and grief that accompanied that thought ached inside the Prince of Darkness as he started to fall away from the sunny day.
You’re wrong Trevor, on all accounts, his father thought and closed his eyes.
The buzz of a marketplace and the clang of metal. The scent of bread, leather, wood and manure. There was a bite of cold in the air. Trevor’s embarrassment was a sharp, digging spike in his throat. “Miriam, please. I’ve told you, I don’t—”
“Oh, come on Belmont, there’s no need to play coy with me. It’s a tumble, that’s all. I’m not asking you to marry me,” the woman said, leaning toward him. Trevor kept the sled of firewood neatly between them. She might have him backed into the wood shed, but it was a solid barrier between them. Dracula’s alarm rose sharply.
“I’m flattered, truly, but I couldn’t possibly consider it. Brothers take a vow. Furthermore, the Lord Almighty says that—” Trevor said, the words coming out a dull, harsh croak. Dracula wanted to roll his eyes but could feel the deep belief within the soul of his son. It was hard to be irritated in the face of such faith.
The truth is I have never been with anyone, Trevor thought. Dracula felt a pang of surprise and then, as Trevor stared at Miriam, dread. The only person I have wanted was Sypha. Miriam had never even crossed his mind and the Prince of Darkness could tell. There was no desire here, only deep unease.
Miriam laughed, “You’re darling. Attractive, sweet, innocent and—” she licked her lips, “built like a barn. God says love thy neighbor, Trevor. I’m suggesting that we love each other, just as our Father intended. None of the other Brothers had your confusion.”
Do not touch my son, Dracula thought with smoldering fury. He was not sure he could bear another painful memory.
Trevor frowned, “That’s a convolution of the Word, that’s not really what that means. And what do you mean, none of the other Brothers—”
“Trevor, you’re a man now. Don’t you think it’s time you enjoy everything that implies?” Miriam stepped forward and the young man felt his alarm spike. Inside the memory, Dracula roared his warning to a woman who’d been dead for centuries.
“No, thank you. I am content to maintain my vow for as long as appropriate,” the young warrior said, edging back.
Run, his father thought and knew that if it would have helped at all, he would have prayed.
“It’s been long enough, don’t you think?” Miriam swung the door closed and Trevor gritted his teeth. Clambering over the wood pile would hardly be dignified but he didn’t care. Dracula applauded the tension of his son’s body and the resolution to make a break for it.
Spending any time in here with Miriam would besmirch both their names and God forbid she get with child from someone else. He did not want his name remotely considered for the role of father. What if she claimed the child was mine? What would Sypha think? Trevor thought with real fear and dashed around the edge of the sled.
The woman laughed, “Is it a chase then?!” Trevor hit the door with a sense of relief and anger, feeling the pulse of air as Miriam closed in. He swung it open and bolted out. “I’ll catch up with you soon!” she called after him and Trevor shuddered.
He headed up the path at a dead run and took refuge in the edge of the woods. Belmont collapsed against the trunk of the nearest tree and found he was shivering uncontrollably.
Thank God, Dracula thought with sick relief, only to hear the crunch of leaves. No, the vampire lord thought and the memory rippled from his fury.
“Everything alright?” came the soft voice behind him and Trevor tensed. Dracula exhaled with gratitude. That voice was now familiar to him. He heard her skirts rustle and she came around the tree trunk. His son tried to compose his face but he couldn’t stop shaking.
“Trevor!” Sypha said with alarm and put her load down. She knelt and touched his hand, warm, soft, concerned. “What happened? Who did this to you?”
She is gorgeous, Dracula thought, taking in the creamy skin, rosy blush, brilliantly blue eyes and deeply crimson and auburn mane that tumbled over her shoulders. And not a child anymore. No wonder Trevor had fallen so hard. Her face was clear and her gaze direct. She practically vibrated with energy.
Shame was a huge beast sitting on Trevor’s chest. “‘Tis nothing, truly; I was just startled.”
Don’t lie to her; you are terrible at it, his father thought.
Sypha grimaced and sat down opposite him, “You’re a terrible liar, Trevor. Try again.”
Despite himself, Belmont grinned. Dracula grinned right beside him. Sypha always spoke her mind plainly. It was one of the things he adored about her. “I lie to protect you from a subject not fit for polite company,” the men said together.
“So, sex then?” Sypha asked him with a blush. Her eyes never wavered though, despite his jerk of surprise.
Oh I like you. Dracula thought, Don’t let him off the hook.
“Good Lord Sypha, that’s extremely forward,” he managed, shifting forward to hide the inevitable result of having her this close and discussing this topic.
She blushed harder. “It’s a natural, normal thing, Trevor. ‘Tis no shame in it.” Her gaze sharpened, “Unless someone was being inappropriately forward with you?” There was an edge to her voice and the hand on his flexed rigidly.
Someone’s trespassed into her territory, Dracula thought with approval, and she won’t accept it.
Trevor remembered his impression that someone had done just that to her when he’d tried to talk her into going to see the wildflowers and had to swallow anger. “I—um, the matter is settled,” he said, a little breathless at her intense stare.
“Settled how?” Sypha asked him, the edge still present and if anything, a little sharper. If Trevor didn’t know better, he would think that she was angry at him. Shame ate at him.
“I’ll be avoiding the wood shed for the foreseeable—” Sypha’s eyes flashed and she stood abruptly. She put out her hand.
“Let’s go,” she said in a voice that brooked no argument. “And on the way, you can tell me who would dare.”
He stared at her hand for a moment and then took it. She didn’t let go, the whole walk back. Dracula’s heart danced in time with the sway of their joined hands. So did Trevor’s.
Their voices faded out and two men started talking. The youthful figures faded and swam out of focus. Warmth, sweat, the unbelievably foul smell of tanning.
“Sypha told him no, of course,” Ezra Belnades chuckled to Isaiah. “My girl knows who she wants. We all know who she wants. Well, almost all.” Trevor tried his very best not to listen and not to eavesdrop, but it was hardly private in the open stall.
His heart bled. He knew that Robert had offered for Sypha, had felt sick panic over it, argued with himself incessantly and went to confession for absolution from the ugly relief he’d felt when he heard she’d said no. It was a sin to covet, but by God he did. He had since the moment he saw her and even now, he still did.
Things had changed, of course. He was friends with her now, a fact that tormented and thrilled him constantly. Her parents were pleasant and respectful to him and seemed content with their friendship. It bewildered and pleased him how frequently he was welcomed into the Belnades household. It’d become customary for him to break bread with the family at least once a week.
Dracula would have scoffed at how utterly oblivious his son was if he couldn’t feel the deeply humbled awe Trevor felt that anyone would ask him to their table. It hurt, to know that his son’s sense of worth was so meager.
Sypha was gorgeous, talented and intelligent. Suitors had come out of the woodwork last year when she came of age. Two offers had come almost immediately, but Trevor had only heard about them after the rejection had already been given. This was the first one he’d known was coming and he didn’t care for the agony it’d put him through.
For the thousandth time, his heart told him to ask her. Not for marriage right away of course, that would be a denial for certain. All he wanted was the chance, the opportunity just to court her; to be considered.
For the thousandth and one time, he told himself that it was impossible, not to ruin the gift of her friendship, that he was nothing and she knew that. There is no point, he told himself, she already knows who she wants, Ezra just said so.
“Some people are good souls, but are completely, painfully oblivious,” Ezra continued and Isaiah snorted.
“Some people need it spelled out for them before they’ll believe it,” the leatherworker responded, not unkindly. “They are best when backed into a corner.”
“Hmmm,” Ezra said thoughtfully. “I’ll take that under advisement.” He was quiet for a moment and Trevor brought the chisel he’d been sanding back to Isaiah. He felt Ezra’s gaze on him and resisted meeting it.
He was always careful around Belnades. The man was massive, intelligent and sharp as a blade. The young man was very aware that Sypha’s father might suspect Trevor’s interest but had thus far been too polite to comment on it. Probably because he knows it’s ridiculous and impossible, Belmont told himself.
Or he is waiting for you to ask him for his daughter’s hand, Dracula retorted with gentle admonishment.
“Trevor,” Ezra boomed out and Belmont jumped just a fraction. Dracula smiled. He recognized a meddling father when he saw one.
“Yes sir?” the young Brotherhood knight looked up.
“Our stocks of comfrey are very low. Sypha needs to collect some this evening after her chores. I have other things to attend to. Would you be able to accompany her? The best crops would be found at the riverbanks to the west.”
“Yes of course, it would be my pleasure,” Trevor said, pulse skipping. Alone with Sypha in the twilight? That was an utter dream and a huge sign of trust. He would not fail the elder Belnades.
“You know Robert, don’t you, Belmont?” Instantly wary, Trevor nodded. “I trust your opinion, would he suit Sypha?” No, absolutely not, Trevor thought immediately. He’s semi-literate at best, prone to drink and believes baths are the temptation of the Devil.
Belnades continued, “I think Sypha needs to move on from her pining and I am considering insisting on Robert. He seems a reasonable enough fellow.” Trevor was so focused on Ezra that he failed to hear Isaiah’s tiny snicker, but Dracula heard it. He grinned, even as he felt for his son.
“Sir, with respect, I thought you intended to allow Sypha to choose her husband.” The young man didn’t know it but he’d straightened his spine and his jaw was distinctly unfriendly.
Dracula caught the twinkle of approval in Belnades eye and laughed. This was wonderful and made him happier than he’d been in centuries. Meanwhile, Trevor was furious and miserable all at once.
Ezra gave an exaggerated shrug. “I also didn’t think she’d turn down five suitors in favor of one who doesn’t seem to know what he’s about.”
“What an utter fool that man must be,” Trevor muttered before he caught himself.
Ezra’s laugh was genuine and amused. “Sometimes I think that a man just has to decide what he can’t live without. In the case of this man, he just hasn’t reached that point.” Belnades picked up his sack and shifted it over his shoulder. “A fool he is not, but restraint is doing him no favors.” Belmont nodded tersely and turned back to his work with a clenched jaw. After a moment he closed his eyes.
You must do something, he thought as his father gleefully nodded alongside him.
The dragonflies hummed in his ears and the wind blew over the rushes. He could smell the water, hear it bubbling in the riverbed. Dracula opened his eyes. The sun was low through the trees and crowned her head in firelight. Sypha laughed. “I suspect my father just wanted me out of the house but I don’t mind! I can’t remember the last time I’ve been on a picnic and it’s wonderful that he thought to invite you. I hope you are in the mood for Mother’s meat pies because she must have packed eight of them.”
All day Ezra’s words had haunted him until Trevor felt as high strung as a buck in rutting season. The idea that Robert might… Sypha could be… he couldn’t stand it. If Ezra ordered it, there would be no turning back and nothing to be done.
I cannot let her go without even trying, he’d told himself. Surely I would be a marginally preferable choice to Robert. Now it was just a matter of finding the words, of convincing her that this wasn’t just an absurdly impossible notion.
I would be good to you, he thought, looking at the long line of her figure and the way her hands passed over the tops of the flowers. I would never leave you, never be unfaithful. I would love you with everything I have.
You already do, Dracula murmured, touched by the unshakeable emotion in his son.
“I figured we could eat first and then start the hunt for the comfrey. Mother mentioned that we would have luck to the west,” Sypha said, turning back to him. Trevor just looked at her.
Silhouetted against the sun; Sypha was young, vibrant and lovely. He felt his heart stumble and his courage falter. “Sounds good,” he managed and she turned back again with a soft smile.
God’s bones, Belmont groaned inwardly, this would be a disaster. She skipped around the bend in the path.
“Trevor,” Sypha said with such a distressed and terrified whimper that everything in Belmont merged into one goal: to protect her. In less than a second, his weapon was drawn, he was in front of her and had one hand behind him, cupping her elbow. Robert stood in the path, sword drawn and sneering.
“So it’s you,” his fellow Brother said. “You are the reason she said no. Who would have guessed.”
“No,” Trevor said steadily, careful to keep his eyes on Robert, even as Sypha jerked against him. “I am not. I don’t know why Sypha said no, but she had every right to.”
“I love her, Belmont. You can’t stand between us,” Robert said.
The hell I can’t, Belmont thought alongside Dracula.
Trevor didn’t take his eyes off the warrior when he calmly asked in measured tones, “Sypha, do you love Robert?”
“No!” came the vehement reply. “I have told him this. He does not love me; he loves the idea of who he wants me to be.” She peered around Belmont and met Robert’s gaze. “I have told you; I would drive you mad. I like to read, I like my freedom, I speak my mind and I will not tolerate drinking under my roof.”
“Women should know their place!” Robert hissed. Dracula growled before realizing his son had too; a low, deep, feral warning that went unheeded. “She needs a firm hand. Being her father’s only child has made him too indulgent.” Robert’s smile was chilling anticipation. “I could whip her into shape.”
“My father loves me for who I am.” Sypha glowered at him. “He doesn’t need to resort to violence to be heard in our house. He would never allow me to be treated in such a disgusting manner,” Sypha retorted and Robert narrowed his eyes at her.
And Trevor wouldn’t either, Dracula thought with certainty.
“Nor would I,” Trevor said forcefully. “As you see, there is no question that you would not suit each other. I suggest you accept that and move on.”
“I was told that Sypha had another proposal she was going to accept. Tell me Belmont, do you approve of that one?” Shock exploded inside Trevor and Dracula felt a twinge of uncertainty.
Well obviously, it didn’t happen, the Prince of Darkness thought, this is my son’s wife…
Trevor found his voice, “I accept whomever Sypha chooses . The choice is hers and always has been. What I feel is irrelevant. What matters is her happiness.” The words were pure lead in his heart but he knew it was true. It always had been. He just wanted her to be happy, even if it wasn’t with him.
Belmont continued, “But she has not chosen you, and wishes to be left alone. On behalf of her soon-to-be-betrothed, I would defend her. Is this a fight you truly wish? Knowing that the outcome would not change any prospective alliance with her?”
Robert’s smile was ugly. “You can’t be with her all the time.” It took Trevor only a moment to grasp what the man was saying. The change in his resolve was extraordinary. Dracula felt it and understood it, even as Trevor was staggered by it. His son was willing to kill Robert in that moment if it meant that Sypha would be safe. Robert’s eyes widened as he saw Trevor’s determination, and he took a step back even as Belmont stepped forward.
“You will never, ever, consider that possibility.” Belmont uttered each word as the vow it was. “Your very survival depends on it. Not today, not tomorrow, not 50 years from now. If you even utter it ever again, I will hunt you down and eviscerate you. There would be nowhere you could hide from me, no hole you could crawl into. I would find you. Believe it.”
Robert opened his mouth and then closed it again. The tattered edges of pride and receding anger made him bring his chin up. “Your ‘friendship’ has always seemed suspect to me and I am not the only one, Belmont. Perhaps you will find yourself answering to her betrothed for it.”
That was the second insult to Sypha and the young man would not brook another. Trevor narrowed his eyes and his whip cracked out before he even had a chance to reconsider. Sypha gasped behind him and Robert shouted as a deep gash appeared across his hand, thumb half-severed from the hilt of his sword.
Robert’s weapon fell to the ground as he bellowed. “You whore’s son! Rejected nothing child of a demon—”
You dare! Dracula roared inside his son, claws extended.
“You shut up, Robert!” Sypha pushed past Trevor and screamed at him, even as Belmont grasped her sleeve and pulled her back. “Trevor has more nobility and honor in him than you could ever dream! You could only wish to be a sliver of the man he is! I would never marry you but I would —” she seemed to catch herself at the last minute and broke off. She was trembling when her hand settled on his arm and she allowed him to draw her back.
Everything in Trevor needed to know what Sypha would. He struggled to maintain his attention on the threat that Robert represented and with the discipline of training, put the stabbing insistence to know aside. The other man kept his eyes on Trevor but inched toward his sword. “Leave it,” Belmont said sharply. “I will bring it to the barracks tomorrow, but you shall not have it tonight.”
Robert’s eyes flashed but he backed away several paces before turning and crashing through the underbrush. The pair stood on the path and listened to the sounds fade. Sypha knelt to pick up the basket she’d dropped and sighed. “What a horrid man,” she said mournfully. “I pity the woman that finds herself tethered to him.”
You can’t be with her all the time. Trevor’s stomach heaved as he re-wound his whip and secured it to his belt. He knelt beside her and put his hand on hers. A flush, a tingle, a humming like a beehive of energy just under his skin. It was always like this when he touched her. “Sypha, Robert is dangerous. You must watch for him and tell your father. This is not over.”
“I know Trevor. I will not be foolish.” She looked up at him, a half-smile playing on her lips. “He would rue ever trying, believe me.”
She is entirely too brave , Belmont thought with concern, she doesn’t understand. “If I might be so bold, he is stronger and a trained warrior. Sypha, he could—” She shook her head.
“Anything is possible of course, but that is also why I carry this,” she stood and he looked up at her. She slipped her hand into a fold of her dress and withdrew a small, wickedly sharp blade. Trevor stared at it like she’d just produced a unicorn from her pocket. “He could try but he’d lose something vital in the process.” She carefully placed it back in her pocket.
What? Why? How? His brain asked rapid-fire as Dracula laughed low and appreciatively.
Oh, I think I love this woman , his father thought with deep respect. She is no fool. Marie had carried something similar on her person, although tucked in her sleeve. It had been his gift to her when she turned fourteen and he’d shown her how to use it.
“And where did that come from?” Trevor managed, finally able to speak. Sypha’s grin was huge and she hiked her skirt up. Oh my God, Trevor thought, warring emotions of desire and mortification jumping higher with every exposed inch of skin. Her legs were endless, shapely and a pale, soft cream. Two inches above her knee there was a leather belt and the tip of a knife sheath. The hem stopped.
“I cannot show you further as I am already crossing the boundaries of propriety, but it belts again at the crux of my thigh and nestles against my hip. My father made it and taught me to use it. I also know how to use a sword.”
“Doesn’t it chafe?” Trevor managed, wondering how such soft skin survived the tough leather. That’s not what you’re really wondering, Dracula smirked and started to explore exactly what it was Trevor was thinking about. He stopped immediately. Alucard would not thank him for invading his most private thoughts. These memories were one thing, his fantasies another entirely.
Sypha’s voice was slightly breathless, “Father lined it in rabbit fur. Just slip your finger along the inside of the band and you can feel it.”
Trevor swallowed hard and felt a flush rising. You’re a grown man, Trevor Belmont, he lectured himself as he hesitantly reached out. It’s just a knee. It’s just rabbit fur. He touched skin as soft as it looked. It’s just skin. It’s just… he thought. Sypha. She shivered. His eyes jerked up to hers. Lips parted, eyes soft, red hair tumbling over her shoulders, she just looked at him.
“My hands are rough; I apologize,” he whispered, withdrawing his fingertips from her knee. His hand felt cold and empty as it fell back to his knee, fingertips still tingling.
She swallowed and let her hem drop; the sun a rosy halo around her body. “No, don’t be, I— ‘tis nothing.” Her laugh was not quite steady.
You could only wish to be a sliver of the man he is… “Did you mean it?” Trevor asked suddenly. “What you told Robert?”
Sypha’s eyes grew huge and disgusted. “Yes! I would never marry him! Could you even imagine?! I’d rather enter the nun—”
“No, I apologize, I mean what you said about me?” Belmont held his breath and looked at her. Have you somehow overlooked the meager circumstances of my birth? Of who I am? The nothingness that I am?
Dracula hissed unhappily. You are not nothing, my son. You are a prince in hiding. A pearl among swine. She will tell you then and I will tell you now. He resolved to as soon as he left this memory cocoon.
“Trevor,” Sypha exclaimed. Her face was horrified wonder as she cupped his face and bent toward him. “Please tell me you are joking! I think you are the finest man I’ve ever met! If you somehow don’t know the level of regard I have for you—”
“Would you—could you ever somehow consider allowing me to court you?” Trevor asked in a rush, riding the crush of hope and deep astonishment.
This is my favorite fairy tale, Dracula thought, joy rising up in him as he clasped his hands together. This is utterly divine.
Hopeful adoration blazed across her face and finally, finally Trevor could see it. “Could we say we’ve been courting for years now? It certainly feels like it.” she asked with a whimper. She is asking me to… she wants… Trevor thought. Dracula held his breath.
“Sypha,” Trevor drew her hand from his face to his heart and looked into her eyes. “As long as I have breath to give, strength to hold and prayers to offer, I would embrace you first and true. In front of God today and from the moment I beheld you, I have loved you. There is no other for me, now or ever. Please. Honor me with your hand and be my wife.”
“Yours is the proposal I have waited for Trevor Belmont. Yours is the hand I wish to hold forever,” she murmured as she knelt down in front of him. “Kiss me, please, and know that you are my constant in the path of life.”
Softly, gently, like a bird flitting down to rest, Trevor’s lips found Sypha’s. Welcome home, they seemed to say to him, as her hands twined around his neck. She sighed into him, soft scent and yearning surrender and held him as though they’d found each other after crossing the world. And Trevor knew what it was to belong.
You belong, and you always have, Dracula thought, as his contented sigh rumbled through the darkness and into the foundations of his castle. It was terribly romantic and—
“Gabriel, what do you think you are doing?” Marie’s softly chiding voice came out of the crimson gloom to his right. With a jerk of surprise, Dracula turned to see his wife gliding forward from the shadows, lovely as ever and a beacon of light in the dark.
“Marie! Love! What are you doing here?” he cried, arms open to embrace her.
“Bonjour mon amour, la question est ce que tu fais?*” Marie greeted him again. She touched his cheek as his arms closed around her. As in life, she was calm, lithe and supple in his arms. The warm scent of her, somehow downy like rabbit fur, enveloped him. It was the scent of home and adoration.
“Je tombe. Où je ne peux pas dire.*” He told her and nuzzled her cheek. He never knew when he would see her and sometimes it was terribly bittersweet. This time though, the tenderness of watching his son fall in love and find that love returned, had filled him with peace and happiness.
“I was going to tell you that this was inappropriate but you are so happy.” Marie said, a smile playing in her voice. “Seeing you this happy is a joy, mon amour.*” She smoothed over his stubble and her eyes were filled with amusement.
“He deserves her, Marie,” Dracula sighed contentedly, running his hand over her hair and bringing a tress to his lips. “He’s been through so much and I think—”
It struck him, a silver dagger of grief between the eyes. His hands tightened on her reflexively. “No. I forgot; how could I forget! I take him from her! I destroy this, just as I destroy—!”
Marie’s arms tightened on him and a gentle, soft hand covered his mouth. “Non, my love. Don’t do that. Give yourself this. Give him this. Let his history be something of a balm to you instead of only pain. Yes, there is sorrow there.” Her eyes were poignant and glistening. “Not all of it was bad. If the choices we both had made were different, he would not have had her.”
She moved her hand to stroke his cheek and sighed, “She was important to him and he would not trade that. There is comfort in that, my dearest.”
Dracula rested his forehead against hers and sighed. “I left his son fatherless, Marie. Just as I left him. I know what it is to not have your father—”
Marie tilted his head up and met his burning scarlet eyes with her wise hazel ones. “Let me give you what else I’ve seen.” Dracula shuddered against her. Like a rolling cloud it descended and he braced against the memories as her mind unfurled to him.
The Prince of Darkness gasped as his body narrowed and constricted into a compact frame with limbs that seemed endlessly filled with energy. I don’t know this body and I don’t know this mind! He thought with panic. What had Marie…
I am so small, he thought with dread, remembering Trevor’s helplessness. But wait, I feel…safe. There was such love in this body. It felt small but it didn’t feel weak or defenseless. Instead, it felt invincible, cherished and secure.
Broad, solid muscles rippled under his hands and thighs and there was an easy roll and sway as he was carried forward quickly enough that the hair blew back from his face. He giggled; a small, boyish sound that carried a note of joy that neither Gabriel or Trevor felt at this age.
Who am I? the King of Hell wondered. When am I?
These shoulders could carry the world on them. Everything was so far below and made of strange shapes from up here. When he was up here there was nothing above him but the brilliance of the sky or the ashy thatched roof of his home. Trees that towered before, now nodded as peers and dogs were the size of the spinning tops his father carved for him.
Even his mother became a small child, reaching up, up, up to touch him or offer a meat pie. Broad, strong and warm, these shoulders carried him separate, safe and exalted, like a king above the crowds, the other children, and even the dust of the roads.
Up here, Simon Belmont could see everything and be touched by no one.
Trevor’s son, Dracula thought with a sharp inhale, remembering the furious, barrel-chested redhead who’d challenged him alongside Alucard.
Dracula could feel that tiny orb of experience that encompassed a child’s world. Through the eyes of his grandson, he could see that there was no one taller, no one greater and no one more invincible than his father. Trevor had bent down to hoist his son up and Simon dangled in the mid-air between the solid ground and the firm, assured safety of his father’s shoulders. The small boy had held his breath not out of fear or concern, but from excitement.
There was the sensation of suspension and then solid stability as he was slung carefully around a wing of black hair that had been brushed out of the way to make room for him. Hair thick and plentiful like the mane of the mare that his mother rode. Unlike the horse though, this hair was soft and slipped over his hand in warm waves. Simon giggled again as it stroked his palms, and the low rumble of his father’s answering chuckle tickled his chest.
When the child took that first deep breath from his perch above everything, he could smell the warm, smoky leather of his father’s armor and the sharp tang of the forest in his dark hair. There was something else under it; musky, happy and pure home.
Simon never could say exactly what that smell was, but it was his father and he would know it anywhere. Dracula felt a deep twist of emotion. Alucard still smelled like the forest and leather but that musk was darker now, sharper. Still, some things are eternal, aren’t they? the King of Hell thought.
Big, competent hands with calloused palms draped over his knees and half his calf as the boy settled into Trevor’s shoulders. Simon was always careful not to squirm too much, lest his father think the boy was trying to escape and wanted down. Sometimes, the man would leave his hands on Simon’s knees until there was a film of sweat between their skin. Simon never said anything because he wanted to be held forever, suspended between heaven and earth and carried by the strongest ship the world had ever seen.
Once, he’d tried to explain to his friends what it was like to ride on his father’s shoulders. He could only compare it to the time the Brotherhood had let the boys sit on a warhorse. The mount had been high strung, vibrating with barely contained fury and he had felt so small, and so fragile. Simon had been afraid. On his father’s shoulders though, Simon Belmont felt untouchable.
You know he would die for you, Dracula thought with unbearable grief. He would do anything. Does Trevor know that about me? I would give everything in a heartbeat.
The boy smiled as his father took his mother’s hand and left his other on the small calf of his son. Simon Belmont would swear that the sun shone a little brighter, the air was a little sweeter and the sky was an endless carpet of possibility in front of them. The warmth of the rays on his little back and the sweet joy of knowing that the world was good stayed with Dracula, even as his vision dimmed.
I want to stay, the Prince of Darkness thought. I want this to never end! “Wait, please, let me hold this for a moment longer,” he begged and he felt the cool, soft hand of his wife stroke his cheek.
“I cannot stay,” she told him tenderly, “but this is inside of your heart now. You can stay as long as you need to.” Warm lips pressed to his and Dracula let go of the memory to return the sweetness back to her. What I would give to hold you forever, he thought.
“Je t'aime ma bien-aimée,*” he murmured to her. “I miss you, always.”
“I am inside of your heart Gabriel. We are never apart.” Her smile was so gentle, the kiss like clouds on the wings of birds reaching for heaven. “I am with you and our son at every moment. You love him so much. Let him love you back.”
“I do, Marie, with everything I am. I will return to him.” He brushed his hand over the warmth of her skin and remembered a time where life was simple. “I will go find him and I will never let him be alone again.”
“And I will be there with you. The love we all share is eternal and has survived everything. There is nothing that can keep us apart.” She started to fade under his hands and Dracula had to physically restrain himself from trying to exert his power to hold her there. It would hurt her and put a serious strain on her ephemeral soul. Still, he ached to keep, to hold and to wake beside her once more.
“Remember mon amour*, I am with you always. Be with us. Always.” She smiled once more and the curve of her lips faded into the darkness.
I am not all that is left in the end, the Prince of Darkness thought as he looked down into the endless void of his kingdoms. I may not want this struggle but I do want this love. I do want the chance to know Trevor, to show him that this immortal life can be the chance we both always wanted.
By the happenstance of fate and the unexpected circumstance of a choice that I have regretted for so long; I have the chance to love the most precious gift the universe has ever given me. Emotion swelled inside him and for a moment, a brief, stunning breath, the endless rage of Gabriel Belmont subsided. In its place, a fragile stroke of acceptance stained the page of his fate.
No, this war would not end until his existence did. There was no redemption and no rectifying the choices he had made. But maybe, Dracula thought as he pulled on his chaos power and reversed his fall, there was a chance that for the first time in centuries, I might be able to say I am alive. That my son could be the reason that I remain. It’s not an endless night but a chance to watch the shining stars. To love the brightest one in the sky.
As he sped back up into the depths of his home, Dracula heard Trevor’s thoughts again and smiled. I will be good to you. I will never leave you. I will love you with everything I have.
Amen, he thought and burst back into the life he was choosing again.
Alone in a crowded room
The one string that's out of tune
Trust me, I feel like that too
Let me love the lonely out of you
Let me love the pain you're going through
I think I've saved myself by saving you
Let me love the lonely out of you
-“Let Me Love the Lonely,” James Arthur