Dracula: London Calling - Part 1/6

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Maria

Countryside near Dej, Transylvania

October 31, 1895

Love united Maria's family. Their little house on the edge of the sleepy village may not have overflowed with love, but when she looked for it, it was there.

There was the way that her often overbearing mother, undisputed head of the family, would take the time to massage her father's feet after a hard day's work on the farm. Or all the times that she had comforted Maria as a child, such as the time Maria had fallen from a horse and broken an arm. Or when Bogdan, a Bucovina shepherd that Maria had grown up with, had finally died when Maria was 11. Her mother had been there for her during the first death the child had ever experienced, and the soul-crushing grief that had come with it.

Her father loved his family too. There were the fresh flowers that her father plucked from the farm or forest or someone's garden in town and put on the table to make her mother happy. Or the way that he was always there for her, no matter what, whatever trials the family went through, a constant, quiet presence at her side, the rock her mother clung to to keep from being swept away by the turbulent waters of life's tragedies and trials.

But though there was love, this did not mean that the family was always happy and without problems, or that they never disagreed. In fact, sometimes she found her family endlessly frustrating.

The sun had almost set, only a bright orange arc remained visible over the pine forest to the west. All day it had felt like a giant, warm guardian had been watching over them, protecting them by revealing the truth of all with its light. But now it was leaving them behind, preparing to abandon them to a world of darkness that hid the unknown. That's why, at night, frail humans tended to cluster in stone and wood dwellings for protection instead, and lit fires to banish the dark. And their fears.

It was fall, deciduous trees hues of golds, oranges and reds that matched the late afternoon light. The air was chilled and free of most insects now. The dying sun cast the rustic old farmhouse and much of the recently harvested fields in cool shadow. Already, a crackling bonfire had been lit in a big, stone-lined pit between the house and the pen where the family kept their small flock of sheep. The blaze was part of an ritual, a beacon to ward off evil spirits on this night, All Hallow's Eve.

Maria, sitting at the kitchen table with a book of German poetry, didn't believe in All Hallow's Night. She was young and smart and didn't believe in any of the silly superstitious nonsense that the older generations did. Including her parents.

Maria's mother, setting the table for dinner, was dressed much the same as her daughter, and most women in the region. They both wore ie, known as the Carpathian shirt, which was loose and flowing, similar in style to that traditionally worn by many Slavic peoples. The shirts were embroidered in great detail with geometric patterns, symbols, flowers and leaves, often using bright red or blue thread, which stood out sharply on the pure white background. The symbols and colours used in such embroidery were unique to each region and could tell the history of any family. Two pieces of black woollen fabric, the zadie, wrapped around white underskirts in the front and back like a double apron. It was very richly ornamented. While Maria was bareheaded to signify her youth, her hair coiled up in braids and decorated with red ribbons, her mama wore a maramă, a white cloth head covering with simple white patterns stitched into it, as was commonly worn by married women in southern Transylvania, where her family hailed from.

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