The second of the Kristina Trilogy...
Escaping the rigors of the NY trauma clinic Ned takes leave to trek from the Adriatic to the Black Sea. Crossing into the fabled lands of Transylvania, he makes camp at the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains. That evening a mysterious mist covers the lands shrouding his campsite and Ned awakens five hundred years back in time. Having been warned to leave, then being told he was never meant to. His destiny entangled with the Divine and a Witch’s unspoken prophecy, lest it changes events. Trapped in a twilight realm, a young girl must leave to meet a man that would save the world. A Mother Superior longing for a death that would never come. A King longing for a sleep that will never arrive. A son longing for the crown that will never be and a woman he cannot have. Ottoman ride the land seeking a peace, only to find war. Can Ned escape the cursed land? A curse where beasts roam at the blood moon. A curse that can only be lifted if the Heart finds an innocent home, free from sin. Father Michael watches on impassively, his hands bound by the covenant between God and Vlad Tepes. Dracula. And a small boy screams…
The dilapidated train pulled into an ancient station wheezing its relief with a release of steam over the platform. Startling those standing too close. Rattling metal lungs coughed thick black diesel phlegm into the air before making a grumbling sound as if it were talking back to itself. Brakes screeched, jolting a sleeping passenger from a bizarre dream, as it completed the passage from Budapest. Over the Hungarian Steppe and deep into the heart of Transylvania.
Dazed, Ned sits upright and regains his senses. Squinting into bright exterior of the new day. His mind taking in the rambling scene out his cartage window. Running his fingers through unkempt hair and combing it from sleepy eyes. Scratching an irritation of a two week old beard. He had grown accustomed to the unclipped growth that had sprouted on his jaw. Wondering if he should keep when he returned to civilization. It had been weeks since he had last seen a mirror. Detaching himself from the outside world, from the hectic pace of New York. The bloody demands of the trauma clinic which he headed. He had left behind gunshot wounds and sleep deprivation for the mountain vistas and star lit evenings.
Ned groaned as his body protested its abrupt resurrection. At least Christ had three days to rest. He had had only ten hours. Eyes strained into the early sunlight and peered out the window of the old train. Acquainting himself to the new surroundings, Sighisoara. Nestled in the cradle of the Carpathian Mountains to the south and east. Renowned birthplace of the original Dracula, Vlad III of Wallachia. Now immortalized by visiting tourists. Lurked by the legend and myth of a fictional story written four hundred years after his death.
Such fables were of no interest to Ned. Preferring to leave Stoker’s dark fairytale between the pages of the book from where it had germinated. Fearing there were darker creatures lurking the streets of New York than the idyllic Slavic countryside of Romania in which he now found himself. His goal, to trek from the Adriatic to the Black Sea. Ending at the Danube delta. And he had allowed himself six months to complete the expedition.
The spring sun hung low on the horizon piercing the train’s large rectangular window. Finding a shadow he checks his watch. And reaches for a folded map. His mind gauging the distance travelled so far, and what he had to go. His immediate destination the Bucegi Mountains to the south within two weeks walk. Brows pinch together as though to confirm the schedule. Refolding the map returned it to a tight pouch in his pack. Finding his dusty boots beneath the bench seat that had served as a bed. Secures them and stamps on the floor to regain feeling in his feet that had grown numb by calluses and blisters.
Taking a deep breath prepares to stand and stretch his limbs. Feeling a stiffness of the past few weeks had caught up with him overnight. The hardness of the bench was no better than the terrain he had pitched his tent. Like the old train on which he had arrived, his body resisted any further movement. The mind was willing but his body had its doubts.
Jerking a pack onto his shoulders like a Romanian weight lifter and feels its familiar weight. Before shuffling it into place. With weary steps he exists the train onto the platform. Strange faces greet him. None wished to speak to the foreigner passing through their lands. He had generally found locals friendly enough when engaged otherwise each would kept to themselves. He dismisses the benign faces just as they dismissed him.
Standing atop of the steps outside the station he looks up and down the street to get his bearings. The rising sun on his left was the first indication. South would directly ahead of him. The direction he would be heading, but first he needed a few supplies. Inhaling the fresh morning air, he could almost smell the snow on the distant mountains in the crisp spring breeze. A puff of exhaust of a noisy passing motorcycle drew his attention back to the street. Shuffling the pack on his shoulders about again he heads in the general direction of the traffic. Like a large white finger pointing skywards he spies a church steeple, suggesting a town center.
Regaining a rhythm in his step makes his way into a large town square. Small shops punctuate facades of ancient stone buildings. Cobbled pavement smoothed by centuries of feet and wheels. History to the conquerors that had passed over these lands, the Huns, Mongols, Ottomans and Moldavians. Each claiming Transylvania as their own. Each being repelled. Forging brief fragile alliances before fracturing and another suitor laying claim to the throne. Ned recalled the history of how Vlad Tepes use to implement the enemies as a determent. Doing only to them what they would have done to him. Times were hard. And in time he too would succumb to an early death. Not by a wooden stake through the heart, but on the battle field, one cold winters day.