There was music. Sarasate playing the violin like the devil himself.
But Sarasate could not be here. Where was I? I followed the sweet rhythm. A march, then a call, follow me, it said, follow my lead. In trance I followed, the notes like rainbow coloured threads in the air.
Was I dreaming? I saw Watson. He slept in a huge bed, the sheets wrapped tightly around himself. It was my bed. He was in distress. I stumbled over a root, I opened my eyes.
The forest, dark and frightening in front of me. I shivered. At the foot of an old oak, whose branches like gnarled hands sheltered a group of Roma. I stared at them. They looked like a bunch of gnomes. The Phuri Daj, Gyorgi sitting to her left, spoke to me:
“Jek beng žil pal dombeste. Vo corelel čhaj amaró. Aźutes amaró, voj fraij lel lesko giřa. Amen pomožinas...” (A devil lives behind the hill. He has kidnapped on of our daughters. Help us, to free her out of his claws. We can help you…) Gyorgi translated.
“Help? What help?” (Aźutimos? Sósko aźutimos?) They changed a quick glance.
“Pomožinas tu dumo.” (We can help you with your shoulder.)
“My shoulder…” I touched the wound. How could they know? But of course – they had seen me when they had helped me dressing that morning.
“Žum Panés basalel lautjá pale…” (You could play the violin again…)
“But how… the tissue is damaged… I will never again…” (Sar… mas phařado… ka aváv pale…)
“Aśav! Pomožinas tu, kana pomožines amé. Avés? Šaj tu arakhés murí chajorí?”
(Stop! We can help you, if you help us. So, will you? Are you willing
to find my daughter?)
Her eyes literally glowed in the dark, her deep voice made me shiver.
“What must I do?” (So trobúvar?)
“Žavés pa derjáv. Gonés pa droma an phuró limóra. Dičes znako. Žanav arniko čenes voj…”
(Go over the river. Follow the path to the old cemetery. You will find signs… I know, you will be able to read them…)
In the silence that followed I could hardly breathe. Again I heard the sweet voice of a violin singing. My hand searched for the flowers I had left behind on the cemetery almost three years ago…
If the master could hear it too? Was a violin such a powerful instrument? I felt the longing in my heart, but then: I had been a consulting detective once… long ago.
“I will. I will help you. Lead me to the place and I’ll do it.” Their dark eyes revealed their consent. They smiled and again I felt a shiver running up my spine. They were haunted creatures, like me.
O, what had become of me?
A snow covered path led to an ancient graveyard with a small chapel on it. No Rom would ever dare to enter this place. They feared the Moroii and Strigoii, the living dead. They believed that any living human soul could become a vampire.
Witches and warlocks who performed the dark arts were the most likely candidates. They were already seen as living vampires called the Moroii. They subsisted on blood, usually but not always from an animal, but not always. These beings were said to have sold their souls to the Evil One and when they died, they were denied paradise and made to wander the earth for all eternity.
The males are said to have pale faces and are completely hairless, whereas the female ones are graced with full ruby red lips. They are said to be shape-shifters, able to turn into a bird, moth or any animal.
They could be ‘killed’, but then they would turn into something even more sinister than before.
When I’d reached the chapel, half decayed, snow on every stone, the roof halfway down, pale moon throwing a cross-like shadow on the pavement, I examined the ground very thoroughly.
Although more snow had come down since the kidnapping there were a number of foot prints still visible, two people had fought, a big, heavy man and a smaller person. A woman.
Red threads of a velvet fabric stuck between the wall and the hinge of a half-bent iron gate. Black hair and blood on the walls, on the floor.
There was so much blood in black pools near the altar, looking still wet. The blood was frozen, three days old, maybe four.
I followed the half vanished foot prints to a crumbling stone wall built between the chapel and the forest. An owl screeched as it hunted mice.
Or was it a Strigoii?
That’s the term for male vampires in Romania, which comes from the Latin ‘strix’ - screech owl. Females are called Strigoica. These were quite literally walking corpses. Unlike the Moroii, they are dead.
There are a few reasons for one to become Strigoii upon death, which includes suicide, perjury, death by another vampire, being a seventh son, having been born with a caul, having a cat jump over one’s corpse, being stared at in the womb by a vampire…
…dying unmarried with an unrequited love...
I shivered in the cold breeze coming from the open field behind the chapel. The magic this spot emanated was almost tangible. Would I become a Moroii myself one day? Dying unmarried with an unrequited love in my heart?
‘Nonsense. There are no creatures like vampires in this world! Think rationally, use your brilliant brain. Gather data, find out the facts and don’t let these black thoughts overwhelm your observations!’ I scolded myself. ‘Go and find her! Go!’
Stretching myself to get rid of the tension I hurried into the forest. Fighting a devil to free a fair maiden was almost a desecration of the rationality of my former life. I had ever doubted God and all things spiritual, even after my long journey through Asia, India and the Orient.
I returned after fifty yards, looking up to the cloudless, star filled sky. It was too dark to follow any signs, and as long as no more snow fell it should be an easy task. Almost too easy.
Back at the fires the Roma stared at me as if I was already a ghost. They gave me food, something to drink and then, alone under the old oak tree, the Phuri Daj took my hands, pressing a small amulet into my palm.
It was a small stone with engravings on it, showing a barley corn with a snake winding around it; seven lines on top and one line underneath the snake in a silver frame. A leather band to wear it around the neck, black and smooth, attached with no visible knot.
“Wear this when you meet him. Wear it! It protects your soul.”
The small weight in my hand felt warm and familiar. I looked into her eyes, which were dark and full of malice. In hasty retreat I too several steps backward.
“Who are you?” I whispered.
“A mighty friend.” She said. “This stone belongs to you. As you belong to him…” She knew everything, had known everything, would know everything.
Her mind reading my thoughts felt like a hand touching my scalp. I could feel her power stripping me bare to my very bones. What was left to lose?
I could save neither myself or Watson. Wiping my tears away with clammy hands I gathered what strength I had left. Swaying, I turned my back on her, away from her, never to return again.