Countess Yana Ivanov
Updated: Oct 25, 2019
Nightingale & Sparrow, an online magazine, was looking for Gothic type stories. There were a few restrictions on content but nothing I couldn't work around. That being said I wasn't sure how heavy handed to be since this was my first interaction with this publication. I sent in a quick story and while I knew it had some Gothic elements to it, I was pretty sure I had missed the mark. No biggie, I enjoyed the process and you never know. I received the "Thanks but no thanks" letter yesterday and can now share the story here for anyone interested in reading it.
"Will the sun ever shine," I asked my companion as our carriage traveled slowly up the mountain.
"I'm sure it is shining right now," she replied, letting the curtain fall back into place.
I nodded, knowing better than to contradict her. We still had about an hour left in our journey, and I rather preferred to finish in fellowship than stony silence. She offered me a smile, aware of my ploy most likely and reached over squeezing my knee. I stared at her hand for a moment and glanced up, offering a smile in return.
Times like this reminded me why we married in such a rush. My heart swelled with delight as I studied my bride. Her long chestnut hair, pulled up in an elaborate chignon bun, still sported the deep red roses as on our wedding day. I wondered how long flowers lasted out of water as I gazed at her during our ceremony, but here they were still healthy and striving. My eyes moved down, drinking in her beauty. A beauty that made my heart skip a beat when our eyes locked. Her gaze was a force unto itself, pulling one into her realm. Her dark eyes, closely resembling her hair, drank in the light and studied every person with an intensity that I found unsettling at times.
I reached down and took her hand. I found her touch so delicate, goose bumps popped up on my arms and I shivered uncontrollably. Her skin, so pale, reminded me of a porcelain doll and only added to the striking nature of her hair and eyes. Although I learned early on she frowned on the use of makeup, her lips, the color of ripe cherries, made me question her disapproval. How I longed to revisit those lips, but my bride requested my patience after our vows, and so I wait. Sensing my frustration, my bride released my hand and leaned closer.
"My heart," she said, her eastern European accent slightly slurring her English. "I know this has been difficult, and I promise once we are home I will make it up to you."
That promise had spurred me on for a week now, and its shine was dulling. Of course, my bride didn't know at first our marriage was much more important to me than mere pleasures of the flesh. I needed this marriage to bounce back from a growing list of creditors. My love of the horses, and more importantly the cards, wiped clear all my accounts. I was down to my last shilling when I bumped into the enchantress before me now. Although I was disheveled from the harsh treatment of the owner of the final establishment to allow me credit, I quickly smoothed back my hair and offered my arm in hopes of captivating this lovely creature. Against all odds, it worked.
Shaking my head slightly, I glanced out the window once again and frowned. I would have guessed the time no later than four o'clock and already the cloudy sky had darkened to a level that made me question if the sun ever existed at all. Of course, this will all be worth it once I got back on my feet. On top of that, I would no longer be the third child of a lesser Duke but the husband of a powerful land owner...even if that land was in the middle of nowhere.
"How much farther?" I wondered aloud. Although better than walking, the carriage seemed to find every lose rock and hole on this cursed road.
"We will be there very soon," she said as her eyes closed.
I wondered what thoughts danced through her head. She had been quiet about her home when we courted and I expected to learn more once we married. However, a week later, and my knowledge had increased by two details. Her name, Countess Yana Ivanov, and that she lived in a castle in the northern part of Latvia. Her first husband had died, under mysterious circumstances, if rumors were true. All deaths in these heathen counties were mysterious if you asked me. Honestly, what did all that matter? We had a lifetime to discover each other's back story and balance each other's truths and lies. I frowned at this last thought. I would be most upset if I unearthed some dark truth about my new bride.
Soft snores filled the air, mostly drowned out by the constant jarring of the carriage. How can she sleep? I shook my head. Between the assault of my person by the horrid road, and the excitement of seeing my new residence, I could not fathom resting my eyes let alone falling asleep. Soon I would be the head of a castle, a Count with more power than either of my brothers. I ran my hands over my trousers. First things first, my wardrobe would be updated. I've spent the last week switching between my only two good suits and although Yana never mentioned my situation, she wasn't blind.
I provided the illusion of wealth, of fine worldly possessions but it was a farce. No... I am a farce. My debts wiped out any and all that I inherited from my family, as little as I was granted. As the third son, I was lucky to receive anything when Father died. Oh well, at least his name earned me some credit...at first. So I borrowed one last large sum from an unsuspecting acquaintance and wooed this beautiful creature before me.
At first, she appeared uninterested, but that only fueled my enthusiasm. I took her to the finest restaurants, the most popular shows, and introduced her to a select group of persons, people who would sing my praises and fill her ears with tales of my generosity and good will. That cost a pretty penny, but all in all worth every one. I witnessed the Countess warming to my advances and after only a few days, I made my intentions clear. To my shock, the Countess echoed them.
The rest of my funds threw together our wedding, very small but tasteful. I purchased the second suit I now wore, and luckily she had a dress already prepared. The thought of her in that dress made me smile every time. Never had a bride been as beautiful as when my dear Yana walked down the aisle. I recall with no shame, her beauty brought tears to my eyes. I know I had never been happier than when I slipped the ring on her finger and I pray that once we are home, I experience that happiness each day. I may have begun the courtship under false pretenses but I want nothing but to bring my lovely bride bliss and contentment until I draw my last breath.
Peaking out the window again, my heart fluttered as a grand structure came into view. The growing darkness made it near impossible to make out any details but the shape of the castle. The clouds finally broke and I stared stunned as the full moon shone down. Yana's explanation of her home did the place no justice. Mesmerized I watched my new home grow larger as the carriage rushed up the mountain road. A snort from my bride grabbed my attention and I turned to playfully chastise her about our dwelling.
The carriage hit a large bump and I flew forward. A loud piercing howl filled the air and I quickly attempted to cover my ears. The pain was unbearable. To make matters worse, I was in this awkward position when a solid object struck across my face, knocking me senseless. The carriage door burst open and I tumbled from the slowing coach. I stared at the night sky, the clouds moving over the full moon and I wondered if my dear Yana was secure or if she too fell out. I struggled to rise, hoping to find her well but if not to offer my aid. A force struck me in the chest and drove me back to the ground, the air forced from my lungs. As my vision faded, a long hairy face leaned close to mine and pulled back its lips to show terrifyingly large teeth. Blackness took me as the creature tore into my neck and shoulder.
I awoke some time later in a stone cell. I sat up, trying to remember anything. The last memory I had was of searing pain. My hand fluttered up to my wounds and I gasped. Although the skin was tender to the touch, there was no damage. No tears, rents, or gashes to prove what I knew to be true. And though I was in what appeared to be a cell, I was not chained. I moved to the thick oak door, which I tried to open. The door held as I pushed and pulled, locked by my mysterious jailer. I spun in a slow circle, studying my place of confinement. I had a bed of hay, a bucket, and a desk with a wooded chair. Weak light filtered in through the bars of a window just high enough I could not reach. I stepped to the desk for a closer look and discovered one drawer and a large area for writing. On the top I found paper, quill and ink, and a thick candle lit to provide me with more light.
I turned back to the door as a loud swish seized my attention. Someone had opened a sliding window to observe me. I offered a broad smile and stepped forward.
"There's been some mistake," I said struggling to keep my voice level and calm. "You see I am the new master of this cas..."
I stopped speaking, my words suddenly lost. My beautiful Yana stared at me through the open window. She glowed, her face flush and her breaths long and deep. She studied me for a moment in silence and smiled.
"I am the master of this castle," she replied. "It is best you understand that before we continue."
"Of course," I said stammering like a frightened school boy. "I meant no disrespect my dear, sweet Yana. I'm just overjoyed to see you well. I could have sworn a beast attacked us on the road."
We continued to stare at each other in silence. Finally, I asked quietly, "Is the driver all right?"
Honestly I didn't even know his name but I hoped by showing concern for the man I would appeal to her gentle nature. She nodded, her expression radiating pleasure at my question.
"He is fine. I would never hurt Boris."
It was my turn to nod as I stumbled back and slumped into the chair. My heart beat against my chest as her words sunk in.
"You," I said so quietly I wondered if she could even hear me.
"Yes, he has been in my family's service for hundreds of years. Any harm to him would be irresponsible. Now you need to understand, I am offering you a gift and a curse. Depending on your actions in the next few minutes you will discover which."
I nodded, numb to her words and my situation. A dagger slipped through the window and clanged on the stone floor. I glanced at the weapon, wondering why the blade shone so brightly in the dimly lit space. The next thing to appear was a cup. Her motion caused the red liquid to slosh over her hand a bit and I moved quickly to her. I reached out for the cup, pausing for a moment to test if I was facing a trap. Yana continued to offer the cup, so I grabbed it. The wine was perfect and I swallowed the drink all down in huge gulps. Another cup appeared and I drank it as well. The effects of the wine kicked in and I stumbled back to the chair. I gazed at her through the small window. She smiled and my heart exploded with affection. So be it, if this is how I end my life I was happy at this moment.
"I have given you a way out," Yana said, voice thick with emotion. "I hope that will not be your choice. But I will understand either way."
I glanced down at the dagger, realizing this was the way out she referenced. An unacceptable choice in my eyes but I had not heard the alternative, so I moved forward and gripped the blade.
"You were bitten three days ago. As you can see, you are healed. In twenty-seven days the moon will rise again, as full a moon as the one was when we got here. Before that day you can choose, to die a man or become a monster." Yana slid the window closed and I listened to her footsteps move away.
And, so I sit at this desk with only one day left before my final choice. I have been visited twice more by my lovely bride, each time when my courage waned. Her beauty and encouragement filled my heart with hope and I put the dagger back in the drawer. My stomach growls in hunger and to distract myself I put this tale on the pages provided. Hopefully when tomorrow comes I will meet my bride face to face, and we will see if this is truly a blessing or a curse.
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