Chapter 2: The Novice
Madalina lay awake that night, lying upon a bed in a room she shared with three other young novices. The four beds used by these four novices were the only furniture in the small, bare-walled room they shared.
The other girls had relegated Madalina to the bed considered to be the least desirable of the four in the room: the firmest, smallest and closest to the door. She was a homely, dark-haired girl with bulging eyes and an overlarge nose.
While her roommates slept, Madalina waited and listened. The sounds she listened for were those of her roommates and those of the hall outside her room. After she determined that her three roommates were asleep and that none of the sisters were passing through the halls outside her door, Madalina quietly sat up from her bed, put on her shoes, and wrapped herself in a riding cloak.
She stepped down from her bed onto the stone ground and walked over to the door. The door was locked, but Madalina had figured out how to push open the lock with a small twig that she fitted between the door and the jamb. There was a slight clicking sound of metal hitting metal, but she kept it as quiet as she could and checked on the other girls to make sure they were still asleep. She then slowly stepped through the creaking door out into the hall.
This hallway led out into the courtyard, towards which Madalina proceeded. She opened the door out of the novitiate equally as slowly. The courtyard was surrounded on three sides by the three main buildings of the convent: the novitiate, where she came from, the nun’s quarters and the church. On the fourth side was the wall, where the gateway leading out of the monastery stood. From the door of the novitiate, Madalina spied upwards to check the wall walk atop the wall where two armed sentries perambulated throughout the night. When they both walked out of sight, Madalina ran in the direction of the gate.
Getting out through the main gates was the most difficult part of her egress, since the monastery was secured by several effective fortifications. These fortifications were necessitated not by the armies—which, though a very real threat, had been lately engaging in most of their campaigns at a great distance from Vallaya—but by the vampires, which used to clamber regularly to enter the confines of the monastery whenever thirsty.
A thick wall secured the front of the monastery, with the exit a single large gateway. The gateway consisted of two layers, first a heavy iron portcullis, which had been added to the gateway at a later date, and a large wooden double-door. The portcullis could only be raised and lowered with significant noise by pulling a lever, which set in motion the large gears and lowered a counter-weight that raised the gate. Fortunately, there was a gap in the bottom corner of the portcullis just large enough for a tiny child of Madalina’s size to squeeze through. Once through that gap, she stood wedged between portcullis and outer door. The outer double-door was braced by two heavy beams, which Madalina pushed aside. The two beams retracted into recesses on either side of the door.
Just as she started to pull open the door, she heard a sound. Madalina froze and looked back towards the courtyard. A dark figure crossed the courtyard, clearly identifiable in the moonlight as Sister Oana. Sister Oana would sometimes wake for an extra evening prayer and pass through the halls of the novitiate to check on the girls. Madalina froze in the hope that Sister Oana wouldn’t look in her direction.
Fortunately, Sister Oana continued right on into the door of the novitiate, and Madalina recommenced her escape. She slowly pulled the large door open, which creaked with age and weight, until she could just squeeze herself through. The door opened inward, and with the portcullis closed, could only be partially opened, but it was enough for Madalina to pass through.
She closed the doors, so that no possible invader would realize they were unlocked, and she waited. She was listening to the sound of the sentries’ footsteps. When they grew distant after another circuit, she ran in the direction of the forest. With her small size and rapid movements, Madalina seemed like a small rodent darting through the forest, and she quickly scurried into the shadows.
Outside the monastery was a road, which inclined downward and curved in the direction of Vallaya. Madalina didn’t want to go to Vallaya, she wanted to head into the woods, the dark and dangerous woods, which only the vampires and the vampire hunters entered at night. This would in fact be the eleventh time in the past few weeks that she had snuck out into the woods, and she was eager that tonight would be the night she’d find what she was looking for.
Madalina was looking for a vampire. Unfortunately, she did not know where to find one. They did not have, to her knowledge, any gathering place where she could find them. They apparently lived in a hidden cave somewhere, but they had to occasionally emerge from this cave, presumably for the purposes of feeding. Her plan was thus to chance upon one of them when they were looking for food and talk with it. Her hope was, undoubtedly, that the vampire wouldn’t decide to feed on her and would give her an opportunity to speak. Though she had never met a vampire and didn’t know what they were like, she presumed that this level of decency would be common to all persons, vampire or otherwise.
After briskly walking further and further away from her monastery for what seemed like an hour, Madalina decided to give up for the night and head back. She couldn’t stay out too long lest someone in the monastery might notice her absence.
As she turned around, though, she saw, in a flash, a blur of movement moving towards her from above. She reacted instantly, ducking and moving away from it. A heavy object struck her arm and bruised it, but she continued to sprint away from whatever it was that threatened her.
She permitted herself a quick glance behind her and saw a large net settling onto the ground where she had just been standing. The object that had struck her was a round weight, one of four on the corners of the net that were used to drop it from above.
She saw, falling like a raindrop from above, a person, a vampire no doubt, landing gently on the ground next to the net. She slowed down somewhat and turned her head to see it more clearly: it was a male vampire in a black coat. It was the first vampire she’d ever seen, but it was unmistakable what he was. His pale skin, his youthful appearance, his mirthless demeanor and his harsh beauty all identified him as a vampire.
The vampire raised one hand and began to swing some sort of rope around in the air above his head. Seeing this Madalina increased her speed. When the vampire threw this object in her direction, she darted to the side and put a tree between herself and the vampire. The object, a bolas, abortively struck the tree behind her. She turned, taking cover behind another tree and stopped. She had never seen a bolas, which consisted of three weighted balls connected by a rope, but presumed it was meant to knock her down or trip her.
The vampire raised a second bolas in his hand and began swinging it.
Madalina screamed out, “Stop this! I have come to talk with you.”
The vampire stopped swinging the bolas, dropped his arm and looked in her direction, where he could just see her face peaking out from behind a tree. “But I have not come to talk with you,” he said in a coarse, grating voice that carried through the night air.
“At least listen to me,” she shouted forcefully.
As he didn’t move or say anything, she presumed that she had his ear for at least a minute or so. Madalina had a way of imposing her will on others and pushing them to submit. Her voice was commanding, and she spoke with an authority that demanded to be heard, if not obeyed.
“I’ve been looking for you!” she boldly declared, “I’m from the convent. I want to become a vampire.”
There was a moment of silence before the vampire burst out in a haughty laugh. “People do not ask to become vampires,” he said in a mocking, derisive tone, “This is not like your church. We do not baptize into our coven all comers.”
Madalina stood up and stepped forward from behind the tree. “To whom do you permit membership, then?” Madalina asked.
“You don’t understand (witless toddler), because you are a fool who can’t see beyond her trivial life,” the vampire said with disdain, “I didn’t ask to become a vampire. I was infected when I was a boy. Vampires attacked my family. I retaliated. A vampire infected me when I scratched him. Because he infected me, he had to take care of me. If I infected you, I’d have to take care of you too. I don’t want to take care of a daft urchin like you.”
“What do you want?” Madalina asked, unfazed.
“Bodies,” he said, “Living, breathing bodies. Young bodies. Like you. That’s why I’m out here. Is it not obvious what this net is for? Even you can’t be that idiotic? I will take you, and you will be food.”
“But you’re not going to take me,” Madalina shouted, “At least, not alive and un-infected. If you capture me, I’ll make sure you infect me. I’ll scratch your arm and lick your skin and do whatever it takes. Why not make it easier? You’re much better off letting me into your coven. I’ll help you.”
“Will you help by letting me into your walled convent?” he asked, “There are many bodies in there.”
“I can’t do that,” Madalina objected, “That would be too much.”
“Then what interest do I have in you?” he asked.
“If you let me become a vampire, I will be the best vampire you’ve ever had,” she replied, “I swear to it. I am determined and unrelenting. I will be an asset to your coven.”
The vampire looked like he was about to say “no,” but he didn’t. He stopped himself, uncertain, his body swaying back and forth as if he both wanted to accept and reject the proposal.
“Ask the members of your coven,” Madalina continued, “We’ll meet again somewhere near the monastery where I live tomorrow night, and you can tell me what they say.”
“I do not take orders from an upstart cretin little girl,” the vampire hissed derisively.
“Alright. Then you decide where and when we’ll meet.”
He seethed, his chest rising and falling with rage and his teeth clenched as he said, “I will speak with my superiors. Give me two days. Meet me directly east of your monastery the night after next. You’ll have your reply. And if the answer is ‘no,’ I’ll be dragging you to my coven in this net while you beg for mercy, and in a way that you’ll not be infected.”
He picked up the net with the four weights. “And if you don’t show up, I won’t give you a second chance,” he added, packing the net in a bag.
He walked to the tree near where Madalina was, to pick up the other bolas, watching her the whole time, making sure she didn’t move. Once done, he disappeared into the night.
After watching the vampire leave, Madalina started to hurry back. She had been away from the monastery talking to the vampire for longer than she could afford.
As she approached the imposing exterior walls and the great gateway, she again waited for the sentries to be out of sight. She approached the door, pulled it slowly open, squeezed through, and closed it. She put the door beams back in place and squeezed through the hole into the courtyard.
As soon as she entered the courtyard, she looked in the direction of the church, and for the first time that night felt a sinking feeling of dread. Candlelight shone through the doors of the church, indicating that it was already time for Midnight Office, the convent’s earliest morning service. Had she been gone so long? Everyone would be in the church and her absence must assuredly have been noticed. She ran to her room to throw her cloak off and put it under her sheets. She put her shapeless, black cassock over her pajamas and covered her head in a long, black apostolnik. Dressed for service, she sped down the hall towards the church but ran into Sister Oana blocking her path. It was so sudden that she yelped loudly.
“Madalina why were you not in your room?” Sister Oana scolded.
“I was just out,” Madalina said meekly and innocently, “wandering the grounds, Sister Oana.”
“No, you were not just wandering the grounds,” Sister Oana shouted, grabbing Madalina by the wrist and pulling her towards the church, “I went around looking for you. I searched everywhere. This convent is far from expansive. Where were you?”
“I was hiding in the kitchen. I went there because I was hungry and&helips;”
“I looked in the kitchen,” Sister Oana cut her off before she could continue, “You weren’t there. Don’t lie to me.”
“I hid from you, of course, when I heard you coming,” Madalina said.
“Really, my dear? You want to continue in this lie? Just tell me where exactly you could hide that I wouldn’t see you,” Sister Oana demanded.
Madalina had seen the inside of the kitchen many times when she had to bring food to and from it for the sisters, but since it wasn’t a room she was intimately familiar with, her mind struggled to recall all of its details. She hastily tried to picture a place to hide. After a bit too much hesitation she ventured a guess and said, “Behind the potato sack.” She bit her lip as she said this, not certain whether it was possible for her to successfully hide behind the potato sack or even if there currently was a potato sack in the kitchen.
Reaching the large wooden double doors of the church, Sister Oana opened them and said, “You missed the service, but at least you can take a moment to pray, and then we are going to find out whether you are being honest or not.” Sister Oana pushed Madalina into the church.
Madalina walked down the church’s center aisle between the rows of pews. The nuns, on the one side, sat together as a group, while on the other side the young novices clumped into small cliques, none of which Madalina was permitted to join. These included a clique of older girls in their twenties and up, who disliked intermingling with the younger novices. Then there were the youngest three girls, all aged around ten, who stuck together to protect themselves against the cruelties of the older girls. And there were Madalina’s three roommates: Dorina, Nicoleta and Mirela. They weren’t quite old enough to be included with the older girls, but old enough to look down upon Madalina, who was only fourteen.
The three of them were on their knees between the pews with hands clasped in front of their bowed heads. They were finishing off the service with a few moments of silent prayer. Their lips moved silently as they mouthed the syllables of the memorized formulae they spoke in their minds. When they heard Madalina approaching, they all turned their heads and looked up at her with triumph. She’d been out of her room, and they’d told Sister Oana about it. In fact, all the novices were looking at Madalina, an unpopular girl who they didn’t mind seeing punished.
Madalina tried to kneel down next to her roommates, but they shuffled to the side to prevent her. The three novices were seldom willing to permit her into their company if they could prevent it, though, due to the rigid lifestyle of the convent, they usually had no choice. These novices had been forced to share a room with Madalina and were always willing to unload their displeasure at this circumstance upon her.
Madalina knelt down by herself and began to pray. At first her thoughts fell upon her immediate concerns, and she prayed that her lie wouldn’t be discovered and she would be permitted to leave this monastery and join the vampires. Then her thoughts strayed to her parents, and she earnestly prayed, “God, please protect my father and mother, if they are still alive. And if they are not alive, I pray that you shall let them join you in heaven.”
Her prayers were abruptly cut short, though, when everyone stood up and started leaving. She followed them and left with the crowd. But as she came to the door, Sister Oana snatched her and said, “Now to the kitchen. We’re going to see if you were lying.”
Holding a candle in one hand and Madalina’s wrist in the other, Sister Oana led the way. When they peered inside, there appeared in the dim light a large-sized room, amply stocked for feeding the many dozens of people that ate in the monastery. There was a large fireplace with a hook for hanging pots for cooking the stew and porridge that were the main part of their diet, as well as a smaller hearth beside it for bread-making. Bricked into the walls were a number of storage shelves filled with dishware and cookware, with counters on top for food prep and above them pots and pans hanging on hooks on the wall. In the center of the room was a wooden table, also used for food prep, with sacks of food stored beneath it.
Madalina looked through the room for the potato sack, which she hoped was there. The room was a poor place to hide, as she now realized. About the only good hiding place she could see was behind a barrel of ale, which she chastised herself for not thinking of. And she especially chastised herself when she found the potato sack in the corner. Their potato stock was running low and there only remained about twenty potatoes in the sack. It was certainly not big enough to hide behind.
An almost full onion sack was near it, and Madalina crawled behind it, mostly concealing herself. “I hid like this,” Madalina said, biting her lips, hoping that Sister Oana wouldn’t notice that it wasn’t the potato sack.
Sister Oana though looked at her incredulously, “So, now it’s the onion sack you hid behind? So you expect me to forget that you said the potato sack earlier? And you expect me not to notice that the potato sack is almost empty? You are a liar!”
“I simply misspoke, Sister Oana,” Madalina said meekly.
Sister Oana was not swayed by Madalina’s contrite posture and benign-sounding voice. She grabbed Madalina forcefully by the wrist, pulling her towards her, and smacked her repeatedly on the behind with her hand. Madalina screamed with pain.
“You out to be thankful that I do not have my paddle at hand you lying little brat!” Sister Oana yelled. Then she noticed a large serving spoon hanging on the wall and figured that it would do. She proceeded to start whacking Madalina’s behind with the spoon until Madalina’s bottom was raw with pain.
“Are you going to tell me where you were?” Sister Oana yelled, repeating it several times while Madalina cried uncontrollably.
Sister Oana finally stopped and dragged Madalina out of the room, asking her, “Do you know what we do with lying little troublemakers like you?” Madalina wasn’t able to say anything between her sobs. Sister Oana said, “We take them to the crypt and leave them there until they repent.”
Sister Oana dragged Madalina into the church to a door on the sidewall. After unlocking the door, they walked down the spiraling stairs until they reached the large crypt, their steps echoing on the walls. It was a single room partitioned by an array of columns connected by archways. In the center, several of the most prominent tombs were inset into the floor. Off to the side, several recesses were filled with tombs dug into the walls, all engraved with the names and dates of their occupants. Everyone who lived and worked on the grounds of the monastery had been buried here. There was no room for any cemetery within the walls of the monastery, and no one wanted to be buried outside the walls and risk being desecrated by the vampires.
Sister Oana, crossing the room, threw Madalina into one of the recesses. This recess had an iron gate that’s spiky top nearly touched the archway at the top. Oana closed and secured the gate with a lock, interning Madalina inside. She was clearly not the first occupant of this ad hoc dungeon, since there were numerous separate pieces of graffiti scratched onto the wall.
“You’ll be let out when you start telling us the truth,” Sister Oana shouted to Madalina, “And no sooner! I’ll give you until morning to reflect upon your sins.”
Sister Oana walked out of the crypt with candle in hand, climbing the stairs to the door. As she moved further away, the light retreated and faded until Madalina was left in absolute dark.