The fire destroyed everything above. Yet everything below – all those books, weapons, artifacts, and morbid trophies – remained untouched. Centuries of a family’s legacy preserved for future generations. So why must it be this difficult to find a single menorah? Trevor isn’t asking for much, nothing made out of pure silver or gold. If there are any left, where else would they be hiding besides down in the Belmont Hold?
He’s come across everything from smoke bombs, a talisman constructed out of reindeer bones, even the odd petrified head of a gorgon. Things that would make a simple Wallachian serf lose control over their bowels. But Trevor wants the other side of his family; the side that gave him comfort and pride during his loneliest, darkest moments.
Carrying on with his search, he rummages through more glass caskets, cursing to himself. “Come on… there has to be at least one down in this shit hole…” He doesn’t mean it, not really. It’s only his mounting frustration shining through. With little to no time left, they could always make do with the right amount of candles on their own, as Alucard suggested earlier today. Trevor refused then and still does. This is his first Festival of Lights in years where he won’t spend it alone or in some cold tavern corner with only a pint of ale to warm him. He’s determined to make it special for himself and his loved ones.
No luck – onto the next section of the archives. More of the same, old rusted trinkets and even older pages that could fall apart if handled carelessly. Until Trevor at long last spots a particular object tucked away behind a bookshelf. “There you are.” He murmurs, reaching as far back as his arm will stretch. He grabs hold of the brass menorah by its shaft and pulls back triumphantly. As expected, it’s covered in cobwebs with remnants of candle wax caked onto each holder. So much time has passed, the wax is now solidified. It’s certainly seen better days.
Perfect, Trevor thinks to himself. This will do just fine.
Sypha wipes her forehead, unconsciously smearing more flour onto her skin. Raising her arms above her head, she lets out a groan when a few kinks in her back are finally stretched out. She’s been standing over a table with a slight slouch for hours now (a decision she knows she’ll regret later on). That’s not taking into account the amount of times she’s bent over to place food in the large oven with a heat that rivals Hell’s own fire.
When Trevor said he was going down into the Belmont Hold to look for a crucial element to this grand family tradition, it peaked Sypha’s curiosity. But she expected him to be back by now. Even if she’s confident in finishing the task herself, they did start cooking together. It’s only common courtesy. He must have gotten distracted by an even gaudier whip than the Morningstar.
Despite her pessimistic thoughts, Sypha knows that Trevor isn’t being avoidant, especially on today of all days. Never on this day. She used to poke fun at his lack of passion over certain things. Perhaps it was because of apathy or simply because he was too tired to exert more energy. However, when Trevor explained Hanukkah including how the Belmonts celebrated it, she and Alucard had to physically calm him down.
Sypha always thrived off stories of hope, resilience, and miracles. It was for personal comfort – what every child deserves – and a vindicating sense of spite. Those who basked in ignorance constantly told her there was no place in the world for those stories. She already held a vague understanding regarding the importance of the small amount of oil that provided warmth and light for nights, but it felt different hearing that tale from Trevor. His enthusiasm was unexpected yet infectious.
Still, he could be around to lend a helping hand in preparing a few of these meals he adores so much.
Then the heavy door of the castle’s kitchen opens with a loud drawn out creak. “Sorry for taking so long.” Sypha turns and sees Trevor holding what he described as a menorah. “Trying to find a single thing down there would drive anyone mad.”
“It looks beautiful.”
Trevor’s expression softens. “As do you. I especially like how you use flour instead of blush.”
“What?” Before she can touch her cheek, Sypha notices each fingertip covered in light dust. “Oh.” She wipes her hands on her dark skirt, leaving behind white streak marks. “I managed to get a lot done… no thanks to your absence.”
“I did say I was sorry.” Trevor chuckles, safely placing the menorah off to the side. “But it does smell amazing in here.”
“The levivot and brisket should be ready soon. I’ve been wrestling with this dough for the suf… sufga…”
“Sufganiyot.” Trevor joins Sypha by her messy table.
“Right. I’m especially excited for these.”
“You’re going to love them. Not my favourite dessert, but they’re really good. Did you find any jam?”
“No… was I supposed to?”
“Well, they’re meant to be filled with some sort of raspberry or blackberry jam. Let’s take a look.”
He starts opening up various cabinets while Sypha does the same on the opposite side of the room. Dracula might have been undead, but Lisa was human the same as her son (well, half human son). Not to mention, when it comes to cuisine, the new occupant of the castle indulges in the human side of his heritage far more often than he does with his inhuman side. If they were able to find real food like potatoes and cow meat alongside all the untouched blood vials, there has to be something that resembles jam.
“Any luck?” Trevor asks after his search inside a small pantry proves unsuccessful.
“Yes!” Sypha exclaims. Her head and arms emerge from out of a cupboard before she reveals a dark jar in her hands.
“What kind is it?”
“I don’t know…” She sniffs the inside after briefly struggling with the lid. “It still smells sweet.”
“Let me try.”
“Wait, Trevor it could be poison-!” But Trevor has already dipped his finger into the cold jam and popped it inside his mouth. Sypha waits with nervous anticipation. She hopes it’ll be fine or that he’ll spit it out if it’s so terrible.
What happens instead is worse. Trevor swallows and after an uncertain pause, his face twists into a distraught expression. His arms cross over his stomach as he bends over, trying to steady himself.
“Trevor? What’s wrong? Trevor!” The only answer he can give is a series of pained gags that turn more and more guttural. He collapses onto the cold stone floor with Sypha kneeling over him.
“No! Please, no!” She cups his face in both hands. “Just hold on, Trevor! I’ll…” Her voice slowly trails off when she hears his retching turn into laughing. Trevor looks up, putting on as much of an innocent front as he can.
“It tastes like blackberry.”
Of course it was one of his terrible jokes. It doesn’t make Sypha any less furious. Reaching up onto the table, she grabs a handful of floury dough and throws it into his face. “You are horrible! Don’t ever do that again!”
Trevor’s snickering dies down, catching her off guard. “You’re right. I didn’t mean to scare you so much, I’m sorry.”
Sypha’s cheeks are still flushed bright red, so warm she almost mistakes it for a fever. Yet she’s not mad at him, not for very long. It’s all thanks to her own fondness and Trevor’s growing maturity. A trait Sypha says he should be proud of, remarking on it often while they traveled. It’s slow, as his most recent attempt at humour has thus proven, but growing nonetheless. She lets out a sigh, still straddling Trevor’s hips. “Alright, I forgive you…” Before he can pull her into an embrace, Sypha attacks him a second time with even more flour, turning his auburn hair white.
“But your jokes are still awful, Treffy Belmont.”
Trevor acts surprised until his eyes become devious. Wrapping his arms around her waist, his hands wreak havoc on Sypha’s most ticklish areas, causing her to erupt into uncontrollable laughter.
“Call me Treffy again, I dare you.”
“No!” She responds, her eyes welling up with tears of merriment. “I’ll never surrender!”
He doesn’t stop; neither of them does and neither wants to. They only cease their playfulness and rolling on the floor covered in flour when they both realize the latkes might be burning.
Too romantic for his tastes.
Alucard hovers in front of the shelf and flips through yet another book, trying to discern its contents from just a few pages. He chastises himself for not doing this earlier, but it’s not as though Trevor gave him much time to prepare in the first place. The announcement came before any of them had a chance to finish their breakfast. We’re celebrating one of my family’s oldest holidays. When? In a few days. The hunter holds many skills under his belt; time management is not one of them.
Despite his annoyance, Alucard wants to throw himself into this celebration just as Trevor and Sypha have. Which is why he’s spent the better part of today scouring the castle library for the right gift. Had he been the same man he was months ago, he wouldn’t have cared so much. One book picked off a shelf on a whim, barely a glance at the front cover, and that would have been good enough for him.
Now Alucard cares, and Trevor does deserve all this effort.
He puts back the book with a disappointed huff. It’s tempting to gift yet another weapon or instrument of vampiric death, but he’s determined to give Trevor something that doesn’t have a sharp pointed edge. He’ll have to keep looking, though finding a book from Dracula’s library that a Belmont will enjoy is a difficult task both in theory and practice. A detailed history of Celtic vampires? Unlikely. Manuscripts of ancient mathematics and geometry? Perhaps not. Alucard puts his faith in stories that span across space and time, hoping one might peak the hunter’s interest. Tales he himself used to read in the dimming glow of his bedside candle, too tired for his usual studies yet too enthralled to stop at one fantastical story.
His perseverance wins out. Hidden in the corner on a shelf occupied by much larger and heavier hardcovers, Alucard stumbles upon a book no bigger than his own hand. He opens it, noticing how thin the pages are – poetry, neither from this country or era. Admittedly not his first choice but as he reads on, his interest deepens. It’s romantic, yes, but also dark, sinister, with an unexpected sensual aura. Many entries would no doubt shock the Wallachian scholars of today. Alucard traces the title engraved on the cover with his fingernail – Poems Bewitched and Haunted.
He might like this.
Alucard lowers himself onto the floor, feeling rather accomplished. He exits the library and almost bumps into Trevor – at least he thinks it’s Trevor. If not him then a pale, ghost-like version of him. “I… trust things are alright in the kitchen.”
“We’re fine. Food’s almost ready.” Trevor stops himself when he sees Alucard’s hand. “What’s th-“
“Nothing.” In one swift movement, the book goes behind his back. “Nothing you would be interested in.”
“Really?” Trevor raises an eyebrow while Alucard decides to leave before the hunter gets nosy. However, there is one last thing he needs to do. A simple favour for his friend. Walking closer, Alucard uses his free hand to tousle Trevor’s hair, patting his chest and shoulders. Clouds of flour fly up into the air between the two men.
“Feel free to use any of the baths before we begin the festivities.”
Trevor searches for a witty retort in his mind. In the end, nothing comes out and Alucard is already gone.
Evening. Fresh snow blankets the grounds surrounding both houses as white flakes descend from the darkened skies. It’s strangely quiet, both inside and out. Plates filled to the brim with food line the dining table – potato and onion cakes called latkes, slabs of juicy brisket, a roast chicken, and bowls of small pastries called sufganiyot. Trevor lights the first candle of the menorah while Sypha and Alucard watch, their faces illuminated in the fire’s soft glow.
“Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu, melekh ha’olam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu l’hadlik ner shel Hanukkah.” There’s bittersweet nostalgia in Trevor’s voice as he recites the prayer. He no longer struggles with the words, having practiced them for years until he fell asleep in whatever alleyway he called home. Yet Trevor wishes he knew everything. All those lessons he took for granted as a child, skipping more often than he should have just so he could climb in his beloved tree or learn how to carry a sword double the size of his body. Thinking he would be given all the time in the world to learn a language held in such high regard by his family.
He sets down the piece of flint with an unsteady hand. Silence fills the dining hall. This is supposed to be a night of celebration. Now this sudden revelation has left Trevor with a sense of inadequacy. Disappointment. Less of a Belmont, in more ways than one.
Until Alucard interjects with a comment so genuine, so sincere, the hunter never thought he’d hear from anyone in his lifetime. Not directed towards him. “That was wonderful. Beautiful, even.”
Sypha agrees and turns to Trevor with bright eyes, eager for the festivities to continue. A smile edges along his lips. All the things he could and should have done to keep his heritage alive in the past will never leave him. Though for now, he keeps the flame of this tradition alight, and that is plenty.
The three of them eat, drink, laugh, and enjoy each other’s company – as all loved ones should on an evening like this. “Can we do this every night?” Sypha asks, sliding more brisket and vegetables onto her plate.
“I was about to ask the same thing,” Alucard adds.
“Actually, the way we did it, we only threw a dinner like this for the first night. For the rest, all we had to do was light another candle and say the same prayer.”
Sypha slouches back in her chair with an almost serious pout, but Alucard seems a bit more understanding. “Perhaps you can teach us so that you don’t feel as alone.”
As Trevor tops up his cup with more of the good wine he and Sypha bought from Black Sea traders, he strongly considers Alucard’s suggestion. You just had to go and word it like that, didn’t you… He wants to deflect, claim he’s not a good teacher. But as much as he talks himself down, a thought comes to Trevor, one that nearly slipped past him – he’s already been acting as their teacher. They both listened with keen attention while he taught them the customs, recipes, and history that revolve around this Feast of Dedication. This Festival of Lights. His thin smile grows.
The amount of food on the table begins to dwindle. While the snow continues to drape over quiet, peaceful Wallachia, Trevor reveals that it’s about time they open presents. Carrying their plates, they move from the dining hall into a comfortable study room. They gather around the already warm fireplace, surrounding themselves with cushions and blankets. Everyone is anxious to unveil which gifts they chose for one another, but the moment all three are seated, Sypha pulls out a parcel wrapped in brown paper.
“Sorry we couldn’t get any silk or lace,” Trevor quips.
Alucard resists the urge to roll his eyes off to the side. Hard to tell whether it’s another unfunny joke or if the two of them really did attempt such an elaborate and expensive feat all for him. He tries discerning what his present might be by prodding at it with his fingers. Cushy, thick, yet light as a feather. The dhampir tears through the wrapping and is presented a long scarf the colour of striking red amidst the crumpled parcel paper. He lays it on his crossed legs, running a hand over the wool; a cloud could very well be the only thing softer.
Though not entirely necessary, Sypha and Trevor appreciate his gentle gracefulness with the article of clothing. “We got that at a marketplace in Transylvania.”
“Do you like it?” Sypha asks. Alucard drapes the scarf over his shoulders and around his neck, savouring its cosiness.
“I adore it. Thank you both.”
Sypha is next. Trevor hands her a velvet box as Alucard looks on. She lifts the top and her eyes fly open. Inside is a necklace made from polished lapis lazuli gemstones, held together with gold encasings. “Trevor found the stones while I assisted with the construction.”
“You made this together?”
“Well, I only bought the lapis on the road while you weren’t looking since you told me they were your favourite. Alucard just made sure all the pieces fit together.”
“We wanted to make something unique and especially for your tastes.”
Sypha isn’t speechless, she knows what she wants to say. The question is what to say first. How to show her gratitude for their actions. “I’ve never had anything like this… thank you so much.”
“Want to put it on?”
“Yes, I do!” After adjusting the thick collar of her Speaker robes, Trevor moves closer, helping her clasp the necklace in place. It sits perfectly around her neck and upon her chest. Sypha wears it proudly, showing it off at every opportunity. “You like to make jewelry, Alucard?”
“I was shocked by that too. Care to tell us where that interest came from?”
“Everybody needs a hobby.” The hunter sits back; maybe one day he’ll manage to pry that story out of Alucard. “Don’t you want your present, Trevor?”
“Course I do.”
With a coy smile, Alucard gives him the small book. “It’s poetry about hauntings and ghosts.”
“And just so you are aware, it was originally my idea to give you a book.” Sypha adds.
“You both know I don’t mind all things supernatural but… that’s a bit dark for this time of year, don’t you think?”
“It was always a winter tradition in my household to tell ghost stories around the fireplace.”
“Why does that not surprise me.” Trevor runs his thumb over the title. He admires the gift, yet something is weighing itself down on his chest and the last thing he wants to do is offend. As they always say, “it’s the thought that counts”. Perhaps in this case, he likes the thought more than the final outcome.
“I appreciate this. Honestly, I do. But I won’t be able to read anything in this book on my own.” The words leave a shameful aftertaste in his mouth, despite them being the truth. He braces himself for his friends’ inevitable disappointment and downwards glances. They never come; Alucard and Sypha’s cheery expressions haven’t changed.
“We know. That’s why Alucard and I are going to teach you.”
“No one else is going to give you the lessons you so desperately need.” Even Alucard’s comment, hard to tell yet still said with the best intentions in mind, doesn’t bother Trevor. Not so much so that he feels the need to one up it. It might be all the wine, the food, or the warm, comforting energy of this intimate gathering, but something is making a lump form in his throat.
He swallows it down and gives his thanks.
The fire burns late into the night. Sypha lies curled up surrounded by empty wine goblets and plates covered in crumbs, having completely given herself over to sleep. Her back rises then falls at a slow pace, her breathing peaceful. Trevor drifts somewhere between consciousness and sleep while Alucard is quiet but wide awake. They share one blanket draped across their legs and watch as the flames dance with the cascade of snowflakes just outside the stained-glass window.
“Someone should clean that up,” Trevor mumbles.
“It’s the food you made and the drink you brought along.”
“But it’s your house.”
“Technically it’s yours as well.”
“Since you joined both our homes when you gave me the Belmont Hold.”
“Then that means you should clean up too.”
They could go on all night if either of them wanted to. However, Alucard decides to end this barely serious argument with a laugh and change of subject. “Your cheeks are very pink.”
“Hm? What was that?” Trevor slurs.
“I’m saying you look very drunk.”
Trevor leans his head back, letting out a snort. True, there was plenty to drink and he certainly took advantage of that. “You haven’t seen me really drunk.”
“I’d rather not.”
“Me neither. I’m done with that.”
Four short, simple words. Four words Alucard swore he misheard. “Are you really?”
Trevor nods. “Tonight was a special occasion. But while Sypha and I were traveling, weeks would go by without a single drop touching my lips. I still enjoy it and there are the occasional lapses, but… the need is nothing like it was before.”
Alucard reaches over and places his hand upon Trevor’s warm cheek. Now he regrets all those things he said concerning his control coupled with sobriety – or lack of both. “You should be proud of yourself. You should also sleep.”
“Yes, mother…” Trevor thinks for a moment, wondering what sort of reaction his next request will garner from Alucard. A strange look, a curiously raised eyebrow, or another witty remark. “Can you do… one thing for me?”
“Well, I expected you to at least wait until tomorrow to ask for your second gift.” A low laugh escapes the dhampir’s mouth. “What can I do for you?”
“Can you read a poem from my book? I’m curious about what’s written in it.”
“Is that all?” A simple request and an even easier wish to make true, but one that is uncharacteristic of Trevor. It could be the wine speaking for him. “Alright.”
Trevor hands over the book. While Alucard combs the pages for the right sonnet, the hunter’s upper body starts learning to the side until his head softly lands in the dhampir’s lap. Alucard raises his hands, then sighs. He had a feeling this would happen, especially now that Trevor’s eyes are closed.
“I’m not sleeping.” Trevor says, his voice slightly muffled. “Just shutting my eyes for a bit. I’m still listening.”
Another exasperated yet endearing sigh from Alucard. He finally settles on the right poem, suitably dark and eerie.
“It is midnight, my wedded;
Let us lie under the tempest bright undreaded,
In the warm thunder:
Tremble and weep not. What can you fear?
My heart’s best wish is thine…”
Alucard reads on, slowly and carefully with the open book in one hand, his other hand drifting above Trevor’s head. He strokes it, delicate fingers weaving in and out of his strands of hair. With every gentle movement, Trevor nestles his head further into the dhampir’s lap. Alucard wouldn’t be surprised if he began purring like a cat. He’d also never let him hear the end of it.
“Thou hast strangled me and slain me, lover,
Thou hast stabbed me, dear,
In the ghosts’ moonshine.
Is that the wind? No, no;
Only her goblin doth blow
Through the murderer’s ribs to and fro,
In its own moonshine.”
The book closes; Alucard waits for Trevor’s thoughts if he has any.
Trevor lifts his head away from the blanket in order to speak more clearly. “Ghosts don’t scare me. Never have but they are sad. Even the angry, spiteful ones. Especially when they’re bound to a single place, like a castle or old ruins, and can’t move on. What do you think?”
That’s the first profound statement Alucard has heard from Trevor in months. And it’s true. Of course he’s seen his fair share of ghosts – they both have. Lowering the book, Alucard thinks about his own encounters with spirits roaming the corridors. Those who come and go as they please, blurring all possible lines which divide life from death. They’ve made the empty castle their home, just as he has. Or are they actually memories? Is there really a difference?
“I think you may have a point.” Alucard blinks slowly, wary of the direction this conversation might take itself in. Although he might need to wait, for Trevor has already passed out. The dhampir shakes his shoulder. Nothing, just a sleepy groan in protest.
Alucard’s own tired gaze shifts between Sypha then down at Trevor. He could carry them both back to their bed… in due time. Until then, he watches over his two humans, keeping them close, and waits for the fire to fade into cinders.