The Second Life of Vlad Dracula: Part One
- The Second Life of Vlad Dracula: Part One -
Between the latter half of December in the year 1476, and early into January of 1477, I had been in a difficult battle that historical records all record I died in. But the truth is far more complicated than any that is presumed by so-called historians, who were not there for the events in question. My name, such as it was in those days, was Vlad Dracula. I shall not burden you, dear reader, with the tale of my life as it had been prior to the moment of my supposed death. It is enough to know that I was a warrior and a nobleman, and that I fought for what I believed to be a better world. History will tell you how cruel it is said that I could be, and how strict my rule over all of the ancient lands of Wallachia was. But back in the 1400's, those were cruel times... and had I showed weakness before my enemies, I would have fell to their blades all the sooner. The moment of my undoing came when a certain rather ambitious man by the name of Basarab Laiotă was acknowledged by the Turkish Sultan Mehmed II as the lawful ruler of Wallachia, of the land that it had been my very birthright to rule. My enemies had arrayed against me... and there was naught left for me but to meet them, and to see if it might be possible to prevail, though in truth I knew it was a lost cause by that point. I led my army of over two thousand soldiers to the fore, but by cunning we had been cornered near Snagov, and utterly destroyed by the allied forces which in their numbers were four thousand in all. I recall the moment of my demise, and how by my own sort of cunning ruse I managed to cheat death after all. It happened in my army's camp, while what remained of my forces at the time sought counsel from me. I knew that counsel was useless, that Wallachia was lost to us forever... and so I bade my advisors and bodyguards to depart from my presence, giving me some time to ponder what needed to be done. I called for a certain soldier whose name was Ioveanu, who had many said bore an uncanny resemblance to myself. It was indeed sometimes like looking into a mirror! He was my same height, my same build, and around the same age... more or less. I looked into his eyes on that day, knowing all was lost but not betraying this knowledge to anyone else, and said to the man: “Ioveanu, would you be willing to die for me?” and he said fearfully, knowing of my dark reputation but trying not to let his terror show: “My lord, it is the duty of every soldier to die for those they are in all ways sworn to serve! What would you have of me?” and I told him my plan, and his part in it. I had just come up with it on the spot, though for a long time the bare bones of it had lingered in my thoughts as a possible means of escape for me from this life of unending conflict and struggle that I had unfairly been cast into. It was arranged, and the man was agreeable, knowing there was no other way left to me. It was a soldier's duty to die for his lord, and sadly... it would soon be that soldier's moment to perish.
I shaved off my mustache and beard, as I packed my belongings swiftly. It was nearly nightfall, and I knew that soon the foe would come to claim my head. I needed to be gone from the camp and far from the battlefield long before that could come to pass. I pulled my long dark hair back into a ponytail using a ribbon I had on a nearby table. A blood red ribbon. How fitting, I thought! The canvas of the tent was swaying a bit as a strong cold breeze blew through the air outside, a howling wind soon picking up. It was long past autumn, and winter was come. The first snows had fallen, and it would be a difficult task to get where I needed to be without falling prey to the enemy soldiers, to wolves, or to the weather that was itself an enemy of sorts. I dressed in common clothes, although I kept my ancestral signet ring, as well as my family's ceremonial medallion, shaped like a serpent swallowing its' own tail with a sword cast downward through the serpent, forming a kind of cross. How like that serpent I had become... and this battle threatened to swallow me whole, though I had sought it at first! I packed some extra clothes, some food, water, and supplies for the journey, along with some wine, in case the water did not keep. I took with me a map of the territory, and committed as much of it as I could to memory before slinging my pack over my shoulder. I carried a dagger in a belt sheathe, no sword. I gave my sword to the man who was even now taking my place. I would pose as a merchant... and travel in disguise where I could.
Ioveanu, for his part, did me proud! He spoke to my advisors exactly as I would have, and claimed to have a plan of his own, one I had gone over with him in detail previously. He would disguise himself as a Turkish soldier and attempt to lead a contingent of soldiers in a sneak attack on the enemy camp, in a vain but valiant effort to surprise them whilst they slept. I decided not to be there when all of this went down, but much later on I would hear of what took place from people I met on the road. Some who had fled the battle, mostly lady campy followers and several of the cooks and servants for the men. This is how things played out... the advisors had several traitors among them, who decided that the best course of action was to profit form my death. Rather than tell the soldiers that Ioveanu was in disguise, they let the poor man dress himself quite convincingly as a Turkish soldier, and the moment he went out to the yard where the soldiers slumbered, in order to wait for the advisors to follow and explain the plan to the men... the all cried spy, and the men awoke at once with a start. Seeing what they took to be a Turkish agent in their camp, they put a sword through his back and dispatched him quickly. Once this was done the advisors informed the soldiers that they had killed me, or so they all believed. Ioveanu's body was at once taken to the enemy camp as a peace offering, and the Turkish warriors cut the body to pieces just to be certain that it was indeed slain. The head was sent to the Sultan himself back in Constantinople, and placed upon a high wooden stake for all to behold. What remained of poor Ioveanu's corpse after all of that, was disposed of in the marshes of Snagov, where the remains would be discovered by monks from the nearby monastery. What they did with them... I would never learn. I had sought the monastery myself after fleeing the camp... my own disguise was perfect, and they took me for a merchant who had come to trade with the soldiers at the camp and, seeing where things were headed, wisely thought to be upon my way. The head of the monks had been a friend of my family for generations, and there had of old been an arrangement to see to my burial at Snagov monastery when the time of my death did come. If he suspected who I actually was, he did not betray this to me as we spoke. I asked him for advice as to where I could go that would keep me as far as possible from the reach of any political enemies of the house of Dracula, and he said that my best bet would be to journey to Hungary, and to avoid any main roads, keeping to the back country as much as could be managed. But that route was a long one, and it had dangers of its' own. A merchant might make a tempting target for brigands, and even for peasants who had suffered much during these warlike times. And so, I was disguised in the robes of a monk and told to keep silent and speak as little as possible... except only when purchasing rooms for the night at inns along the way. I knew a certain family in Hungary that would take me in and provide me with a bit of shelter. I could confide in them, tell them who I truly was, and my signet ring and medallion would prove my claim. They would tell no one else, and I could start my life over in their company. This was a mad plan, I knew, but there was nothing for it now that I had committed myself to seeing this through.
I would live until the year 1486, and I would end up being fifty five years old when death actually did end up coming for me. Taking the head monk's advice, I journeyed along the ways he specified and in time made my way into Transylvania, seeking further passage to Hungary by way of that direction. The air was cold, the weather terrible, and many of the innkeepers less than hospitable. A couple of the inns were filled with soldiers fleeing the war, and it was difficult for me to keep myself hidden from prying eyes while in their midst. Yet even so, luck was with me! Transylvania... had been the birthplace of my first wife, whose suicide had driven me nigh unto madness for a very long time. I had put even her very name out of my head at that time, although it would return to me in later years. It was hard to see just how much the land had changed as a result of the conflict with the Turks. People were fearful, there had been visible tension in the air, and since my “death” crimes had increased. Under my reign as the Prince of Wallachia, criminals learned to fear breaking the law... for all my punishments of such were severe to say the least, although poetically just in many cases. Now all was dissolving as into a state of fell chaos!
It was to my rather good fortune, that I was able to meet up with a merchant caravan... with an escort that was comprised of very competent, armed mercenaries... that was bound for Hungary with all haste. Booking passage with them, I confided only that I was seeking to reach the town of Nyírbátor. That was in one of the easternmost parts of Hungary... and it would be not only the easiest community to reach by way of the caravan's route, but it was there that I would find the help that I was seeking. As the caravan rolled its' wagons out, drawn by seemingly reluctant horses that knew well how treacherous the winter could be, even if the rest of us were heedless of such difficulty, I began to relax a little. It was still hard, the road before us, but it felt to me as if the worst was over. No one questioned... why a monk would be seeking refuge in a town known for its' ecclesiastic ties. I kept my hood up, always, and no one saw my face, nor seemed to wish to. Even children averted their gaze from me during my travels, for they were often the most fearful of all, of strangers... in a time when tales of evil spirits roaming the land kept the little ones from straying too much from their parents' wishes. Eventually, the caravan stopped at a tiny settlement, a rather good distance away from the boundaries of Nyírbátor... the settlement was one of those stop-overs for caravans, where they would resupply before continuing on. I saw this as the best time to part ways with them, and so I paid the caravan master for having taken me on as a passenger... and began the long walk all the way to town. It was the coldest day of winter thus far, and I no longer knew just how much time had passed since I left the monastery at Snagov. Not that time mattered any longer for me! I could see the small houses, huts, and farms of the town in the distance. Smoke rose up from many chimneys in wispy tendrils, as the snow fell and the wind blew. I had seen very few clear days, that week... and I thought to myself how ill that luck was, which required me to travel in weather unfit for beasts even, let alone for men or women. I felt as one long dead, and weariness was upon me.
By 1479... my old ally Stephen Báthory would become the lawful governor, voivode, of Transylvania. He would bring a firm law to that land once again. I had not seen Stephen since he had withdrawn from Wallachia prior to that land being invaded by Basarab Laiotă and his Turkish allies... and it was only by chance that on my arrival at the estate in Nyírbátor that belonged to his family and kin... that he was not there to greet me as he would have liked to. He had only begun his rule over Transylvania, and had very little time to visit even family, let alone an old ally everyone believed to be dead. Instead, I was met by the custodian of the estate's house, and old man who asked me who I was and what I was doing there. At last I removed my hood, and showed him my medallion and my signet ring, telling him that I was in fact Vlad Dracula, formerly of Wallachia, and that I had survived the battle at Snagov through means of trickery. I insisted that I had no desire to return to my old lands ever again, and that I instead had a mind to start my life over in Hungary, if possible. The custodian informed me that should Stephen learn that I lived... he would in all likelihood seek to use me in order to extend his reach into Wallachia. A move as disastrous as could be imagined, given the state of things there! I agreed with his opinion, and inquired of him what he though that I should do instead of seeking Stephen's aid. The fire was warm in the old hearth of the Báthory family's house in Nyírbátor, and as a guest of the custodian I was happy to be out of the winter cold. I warmed myself, as the old man went to confer with the servants in regards to how they might best see to my more immediate needs. The wind was calmer that night, and the rafters of the large manor house creaked but little. I looked above the hearth and saw there the Báthory family's coat of arms. It was remarkable how much like my own it was! A serpent swallowing its' own tail. The tie that bound both of our families, was that the nobles of both houses were members of the Order of the Dragon, to which I had been initiated long ago by my father. A secret society of knights, on the surface sworn to defend certain Christian lands against all threats to the peoples' safety. But just beneath that... there were secrets so dark, so terrible, that had the common folk known all they would surely have in truth believed us to be devils incarnate. People already believed enough terrifying tales regarding me!
I remained only at the estate until that spring, after which I was introduced to a young noblewoman by the name of Carina. Her full name had been Carina Almásy, and I had not seen a more beautiful young maiden... since first I laid eyes upon my late first wife. She had long silky, straight blonde hair that gave her a strongly angelic appearance. Light blue eyes, a freckled face, somewhat pouting lips, and features that reminded me strongly of the woman I had once loved above all others. She wore a long red gown, a white pearl necklace, and in her hands she carried a golden box. The custodian explained to me: “She is at present seeking marriage, and since you are technically and legally dead to all the world, your current marriage to Ilona Justinia Szilágyi is considered dissolved. At least, so long as you use a new name and identity!” Carina then confided: “Vlad... it does not matter to me what the people say about you, for as I stand here and look into your eyes myself, I see the pain, the torture within you, of all you have endured in life. If you are the devil they claim you to be... then I would rather be lost to your darkness than made to stand in the light of men I know to be more cruel by far.” I agreed to her fair proposal, and chose for my new name the alias of Radómer Farkas, a name meaning “Happy Wolf”. For I saw this as a chance to actually be happy for once in my up to now all too tragic life. The lady was youthful enough to have been my daughter, but in those days such an age difference was common enough in marriages. Rarely, however, had arranged marriages actually ever worked out as desired! But this arrangement proved to be the best thing for both Carina and myself. She had distant relatives in France, and in order to avoid ever encountering Stephen again we decided to make the trip to her holdings there. Though that would be long, tiresome, and if we chose the wrong route to take, dangerous. She explained to me, however: “It is not too difficult, however, when you have the right connections... and my family had a very great many indeed, in several lands, kingdoms, and countries. We will keep to the places known to them, as would be thus safe to us, and with God's will and all speed we should reach France and be far from all the reach of any old enemies.” We were married that very day, had our honeymoon at the manor house and then immediately made plans to depart for France now that the weather permitted such a journey.
We departed by various armed caravans, that being still the safest means of travel in such dark times, across all the lands of Hungary until we reached the border of Bohemia. From there, we made our way through the lands of the Holy Roman Empire, until eventually we crossed into France at long last. We stayed out of the politics of each country, and no one questioned traveling nobility. Especially since we were technically making a trip to the lands owned by members of Carina's family. I kept myself wholly clean shaven, kept my hair tied back in a ponytail, and learned to speak French well enough that no one would have ever associated me with the person I once had been. A little known fact that is unknown to historians entirely, is that when the legate in service to Pope Pius II... a man named Niccolò Modrussa... came to meet with me once in Buda, in order to paint my portrait, I was utterly irritated by the thought that I might have to stand for the painting for I knew not how many hours. In order to avoid this, I had arranged for Ioveanu to meet him in my stead and for him to pretend to be me. Now, the only difference between our appearances, aside from very tiny ones that most never seemed to notice, was the fact that he had dark green eyes... whereas my own eyes, were actually a grayish blue in color. Most people who had seen that portrait, and then later on met the real me, simply assumed that the artist made a mistake. An unimportant one! When Ioveanu was slain, in my place... my various enemies went by that portrait when trying to determine whether or not they had actually managed to kill me. Thus... had they come to the mistaken conclusion that they had. Exactly as I had hoped! Of course... this did nothing at all to stop certain people who had actually known the real me, from coming forward in an attempt to question how it was possible that they remembered me as having had such a different eye color, than that given in the reports of my demise. Some even claimed to remember the resemblance between Ioveanu and I, and the question of whether or not the murdered man might have been him came up only to then be dismissed.
The painting I speak of ended up being totally destroyed under mysterious circumstances, and all that remained afterwards was Niccolò Modrussa's original description of me, drawn from his meeting with the man who had occasionally been my double. This is the reason why there are no existing paintings of me as Vlad Dracula that were made during the course of my lifetime, such as it was, back in those days. In the end... legends sprung up which claimed I had the power to change the color of my eyes due to me having made a pact with the Devil for supernatural abilities. Those stories grew with each telling, until I had been made out to be a vampire who could shape shift into almost any form that the teller of the tale needed in order to add that extra touch of terror, so that they might convey just how evil they thought I had been in life, and thus also in death. The rumors of my survival had not gone away... they merely at length had changed form... and so, it was said of me that after being slain in that fateful battle my spirit rose again in a mockery of life, to become a vampire that yet haunted the lands that once I ruled. This, is the image people have of me as the vampire Dracula to this very day! Knowing not, of its' true origin. I did not dwell on legends, however, as Carina led me after some time to her relatives' holdings in the region of France known as Tiffauges. At least one of her relatives had been associated with the family of a certain Gilles de Rais, who had once owned a great castle there. Following his death... the fortress was abandoned, and at present being maintained solely by Carina's distant kin. I asked her to tell me a bit about the castle's history, and something more of its' former owner. She merely looked at me rather oddly and said: “Honestly? There are something things better never to learn.” and I accepted that in all likelihood the matter was something of a dark one... and that indeed, it was wise not to pry too deeply.
Prior to our journey to France, and just before leaving Hungary to that end, Karin and I made a kind of dark pilgrimage to Transylvania, where it was whispered that a certain sect of necromancers lived in a hidden place in the Apuseni Mountains, the so-called “Mountains of the Sunset”, in a secret cavern. I was given the directions to get there by the custodian of the Báthory manor, and told that the group had ties to the Order of the Dragon and that their leader had expressed an urgent desire to assist me with a delicate matter he would not elaborate upon, not related to the old battles and wars I had become madly embroiled in, in the past. It was not an easy path we took, which led us to the forbidden place. Even in this warmer season, there was a bit of snow falling down the heights of the great mountains as we made our way to the entrance to the cave that we sought. It was chilly there in the months of early spring! We had dressed appropriately for the trip, bringing fur cloaks and warm leathers. Carina dressed herself in the attire of a male peasant, and I was similarly disguised, since in this way if there happened to be any thieves or outlaws in the high country we would not be assumed to be of the nobility. Such desperate sorts would often leave the peasant folk alone, preferring targets that might have upon them wealth. As you can imagine, nobles always made for tempting targets in those cases! This worked well for us, and before too long we had located the dark cavernous opening that would lead us to the necromancers' lair. The cold crags and rocks regarded us without any care, and I was reminded of how in the autumn there was a great deal of rugged beauty to be seen in wild places such as this. Beauty, that could blind those who came hither unwary, and who might fall prey to the perils that such places often held. The cavern entrance lay just behind a great waterfall, a place which in the local lore was said to roar with the sound of a mighty dragon. The water there roared down far from the sight of the heavens, and bore witness to our passage into darkness. Within the cavern, we discovered the dwelling place of the coven we sought and upon showing them my medallion and my ring, they bowed before me as if of a single mind. “We served your father of old, and we serve you now, Lord Dracula!” the leader of these men and women so proclaimed. He showed me their rites and their practices, their blood magic and their summoning arts. I had been to a similar place when I was little, in the company of my father. This was the side to the old Order of the Dragon that was hidden from public knowledge. I was quite very well acquainted with it!
At the end of the tour, for a tour of sorts it was, the grizzled looking middle aged man who so led the coven brought Carina and I to a chamber which lay, at the absolutely lowest part of the necromancers' domain. Within it I saw a series of six braziers, lit and burning wildly. Six skulls sat at the base of the braziers, and there were six necromancers attending them. They kissed those skulls after anointing them with blood, and chanted praises to gods far older than even those revered by ancient Rome, and those of old Greece as well. I was told by the coven leader that they could perform for me one service that I may find useful... they could bring back to life once again, my deceased first wife. Apparently, they had prior to her suicide been given a single lock of her hair, by a lady in waiting who had been secretly a member of this unspeakable order. By that means, they believed that they could conjure her spirit from out of the depths of Hell itself in order to bind it once more into a new body. The Church had deemed her suicide a sin, and so it was thought that this would condemn her to Hell for the “crime” of suicide. It was this attitude of the Church's that drove me to break from it and to turn my back on Christianity in order to embrace other, more forbidden spiritual paths. I agreed to this unholy bargain that the coven leader so offered me, and he told me to give him six days, in which time they would make this miracle happen. We stayed with them for those six days, during which time I shared with them the story of my beloved princess's death. The necromancers were sympathetic listeners, but I warned them that if they failed to deliver on this promise... I would kill them all myself, using the powers of Hell itself to do so if needed. They took this threat as a jest, but I was quite serious! Upon the second hour just after the midnight that saw the ending of the fifth day, Carina woke me from my slumber and together we could hear the very distinct sound of a woman crying, weeping with such grief that it seemed to be breaking her. It was the voice of my late princess, a voice I had not heard in seeming ages. It echoed forth from out the waterfall itself, I realized in horror, rising up from the depths by some power I dared not contemplate. The sound subsided, and after that there was the sound of goats bleating pathetically. We followed that sound deep into the ritual chamber with the braziers and the skulls. There, the necromancers were busy slitting the throats of six goats, collecting their blood and pouring it into each of the braziers. I was instructed by their leader to return to my slumber and to not look at what was transpiring within that chamber. That was all I and Carina had witnessed, and so we did as we had been instructed. My sleep was tormented on that night, and throughout the sixth day Carina and I paced about nervously. Uncertain as to what it was that was taking place in the forbidden chamber. It seemed interminably long before nightfall, and on the dawn of the seventh day of that hellish week, I was led back into the ritual chamber once more.
Waiting for me there was a little girl, of about eleven years of age. She was the spitting image of the woman I had once loved and lost to death, only two years younger than she had been when I first met her. History does not record the name of this woman, who first had perished in the year of 1462. But I remember her name well and now I shall reveal it. She and I even had a son together, and his name was Minhea the Bad (sometimes called the Evil), who would go on to become a future prince of Wallachia, the land over which I ruled as Prince in my own time. The circumstances of Maria's death were tragic in the extreme. Whilst I was away fighting against the Turks who had surrounded our lofty castle, Poenari, which overlooked the Arges river... my traitorous brother Radu, who was leading the enemy forces, sent word to the castle saying that I had been killed in the battle. Upon hearing this, Maria so decided to take her own life rather than allow herself to be captured and violated by the Turks. Thus, she threw herself from her tower and perished in the cold river below. She was recorded as having said: “I would rather have my body be eaten by the fish of the Arges, than to fall into the hands of the enemy.” But, I prefer oft to think of her as she was in life, rather than the circumstances of her death. She I were wed, after a fashion, during the time in which I was leading attacks into Transylvania, her homeland... in an effort to vanquish the hated Danesti princes. She was the daughter of a certain mighty nobleman named Stefan.
I had first encountered Stefan during my time when living in exile in Moldavia, many years before I was to meet his daughter for the first time. He had once promised to introduce me to her, but never got the chance to do so formally. As fate would have it, he had fled Transylvania during my war against the hated Danesti... leaving his daughter in the care of several retainers who posed as peasants, in order to attempt to keep Maria's true identity a secret. Yes, her name was Maria! Maria Elisabeta. One day, I was seeking to safeguard the peasants of that region, from enemy forces... and I thereafter spied Maria at a local farmhouse. Her bodyguards had all been killed to the last man, and only one or two of Stephen's retainers remained there in hiding. They told me their tale, and I remarked how utterly useless had been their efforts to keep the young noble girl safe. She smiled at me but was genuinely afraid, not knowing what was to become of her. I told them that I alone would safeguard Maria now... and I carried her back to Wallachia on my horse. We were married but days after that. I thought about our wedding day as I so looked upon her now, in the body of this child, her eyes regarding me with familiarity. “Maria?” I asked of her, unbelieving that this could possibly be true. “Vlad, my love!” she exclaimed, and as impossible as this was, it was real and all too true. I knelt before the little girl that Maria had become, and she sang a terribly sad song about how she had perished in the Arges river. I felt an old rage returning to me with the memory of her death, and in a fit of madness suddenly overtaking me I managed to... with Carina's assistance... horrifically slaughter every last member of that necromancers' coven, including the leader. We grabbed whatever weapons or implements that had been lying around, and with those we did this bloody deed. “Thank you!” Maria said, once all of this was over. “I am free of their influence now, and we can go from this place and be together at long last.” As we emerged from that cavernous place, the night was black and moonless. We had spent the entire day engaged in that act of murderous liberation.
Thus was it, that when we arrived at the great castle of Tiffauges, Maria was with Carina and I as we approached its' old wooden gates. The servants tended unto our every need, and I and my two beloved companions settled in, to begin our new life together. How should I describe, the young Maria? She had long light brown hair, with golden highlights and deeper shades here and there. Beautiful eyes that were as deep and dark a brown as is rich soil. She was slender, and seemed to favor wearing elegant dresses in various shades of green, forest green being her favorite. She was rather pale of skin, but not in a way that would seem unhealthy, and had a pretty, freckled face. She loved to smile so much! And this was a trait that had carried over from her previous body's life. The way she spoke, her mannerisms, even all of her memories, were those she had possessed before her suicide. I had been skeptical at first, but as the years went by... I came to realize she had come back to me after all. One strange day, in a late autumn season, two strangers appeared at the castle... the servants ushering them in, saying that they wished to have an audience with Carina and I. They were two women, one of whom I immediately recognized as my adopted sister Iohanna, a woman I had not seen since the earliest days of my childhood. After I had been sent, along with my brother Radu, to become hostages of the Turks... Iohanna had been sent off to a convent, and I had not seen her until that day at Tiffauges. She looked well! She was a little taller than I was, but not by much, and had a head of dark brown curly hair that was all about her shoulders. Her eyes were the same color as her hair, and she wore a long flowing white gown that complemented her curvy figure very nicely indeed. She called out to me by name, even as I met her with a warm hug and a tender kiss. Her face was round, and her smile was broad and beautiful to see. Accompanying her to the castle was an exceedingly tall woman who was deathly pale, and who moved rather stiffly. The woman was a head taller than myself, with eyes so dark they were almost black. Equally black was her hair, and that was so long that it was actually all the way down to her ankles. She wore a long black gown, with long, wide sleeves, and had rather predatory looking features, like unto some raptor. Yet she was very, very beautiful despite having a certain aura of dread menace about her. Her name, I was told, was Luna.
Iohanna told me their tale, as we sat together for dinner... whilst the servants brought in the food they had been busily preparing for Carina and I to enjoy. I told them to make some more for our new guests. Iohanna had, while at the convent, encountered Luna who had been living there herself for many years. This was about five years previous, as of the time of them showing up at my new home in France. Luna had told Iohanna that they needed to escape, because the convent lay in a part of Wallachia that was in the midst of becoming disputed, and it was feared that it could end up being targeted either by one side or the either in a bid to coerce their enemies into surrendering the region, by holding the convent and all who were within it hostage. Thus, the two women abandoned any vows they had sworn to God and to the convent, and decided to strike off on their own together. They had become more than friends, and in their hearts they knew the Church would condemn them for their love for each other. Thus, they fled to Hungary, where they happened to stop at the same town to which I made my way when I fled there after faking my death. Iohanna, like myself, had recalled there being allies to be found at the Báthory estate, and sure enough the custodian of the manor house told her, once she informed him of her noble identity, what had become of myself and my new bride Carina. Iohanna decided to follow our trail after that and following countless misadventures along the way... she and her new companion and lover, Luna, had so arrived at our doorstep. We welcomed them to our home, and there they stayed with us ever afterwards. Luna had become initiated in the dark arts at some point in her past, and although she never spoke too much of it... she was happy that I welcomed her with open arms despite her reputation as a dark witch. I asked Iohanna what she knew of Luna's past, but she also found it mysterious, speculating that perhaps there was more going on at the convent than had been apparent at first glance. In any case, I told Luna that she was free to practice whatever arts she favored while in my home. We would not judge her, nor persecute her for it, and for that she was quite grateful. Maria began to look at the two women, and at Carina, as mothers, and this feeling only grew stronger with time. Eventually, we decided to perform a sealing ritual in which I would be wed to Carina, Luna, and Iohanna... but not in a Christian marriage rite, rather instead an ancient pagan one that allowed for such a polygamous union. Luna conducted the old ritual herself, and we were all bound each to the other, as equal partners in our sacred union. Sacred to gods that the Church would have declared demons, and us heretics for following in the traditions of. Our wedding night was a veritable orgy, and Maria was a part of it as well. By then, she was plenty old enough at least by the laws of the land to know the love of a man. And so she came to know my deepest and most devoted love, as I was thus reconciled most passionately with my beloved, wholly resurrected princess. That... was how the legend began, of my three brides and I, and of the unholy arts that bound us all together. Our union was consummated early into the year of 1484, when I was beginning to show the outward signs of the years that were beginning to advance upon me. Maria was sixteen years old at the time, and saw herself as my true soulmate, which I regarded her as in turn. Though I shared my love with my three brides as well, so that there was no jealous between any of the women. For a time, we all were happy together too! But during the summer of that year... a tragedy struck that would devastate us.
Carina and I took Maria on a trip to a certain river that we often frequented for what basically would have been considered that time period's equivalent to picnics. We had done this many times before, and all went well! We always went home happy, and enjoyed our time outdoors together. But on this black day I speak of now, the girl had been dancing about rather childishly, her head filled with perhaps a bit too much wine. I had none on that occasion, so I was alert. So I watched in horror as Maria slipped by a bunch of wet rocks near the river's edge and struck her head very hard, falling in. I rushed forward... as did Carina... in a vain attempt to save the young woman's life. Yet, the current carried her off! We thus followed after her, following the current, and soon came to a place near a white birch tree. There, she was crawling out of the river, her face battered and bloody. I held her in my arms, telling her to breathe.
She sputtered, coughing and spitting out lungfuls of water, delirious with pain from hear head wound. We could not stop the bleeding though, and she lost consciousness. She died in my arms, breathing her last, her face covered in blood. This was the second time that water had claimed her life cruelly. I kept on holding her, whispering her name over and over again, inconsolable. “Come back! Come back to me my love!” I screamed, feeling the pain of her passing physically, my heart aching from the grief. But she was never coming back to life again after that. We took her back to the castle... and converted a storage room in the wine cellar, making it into an elegant crypt for the fallen princess. There were no windows in that room, and only one metal door. Before we locked that door, I walked over to the bed in the very center of the crypt room and there I kissed my beloved Maria one final time before bidding her a teary farewell. After that, we locked the door and I never laid my eyes upon her sweet face again. I never did fully recover from that loss. I ate less and less, and worried more and more for my remaining brides. I became pale, sickly, and introverted and withdrawn from the world. I often lost myself in dark rituals... and even darker moods... which only Luna seemed capable of assisting me with. The servants regarded me as a dead man, believing that if I kept on as I did, I would not live very long. Part of me was not at all sure if I even had the strength to go on. Yet, Carina always managed to so convince me that with her and the other two at my side, I had something to live for after all. In them, I found a kind of solace from the pain of losing Maria for the second time. Yet, her spirit haunted me... or so at the least, her memory.
The remainder of that year passed without any further incident, but the following year proved to be in the end the most tragic and horrendous of all that came before it. It was soon discovered, that Luna had that disorder which today is known as hemophilia. We found this out too late, when we discovered that she had bled to death after cutting herself in the kitchen, by accident, while helping the servants as they prepared that evening's meal. Carina, Iohanna, and I... had been out at the marketplace in a neighboring village when the incident took place. As we had done with Maria, we prepared a second crypt chamber to receive Luna's body, and the key to it was placed on a key ring, along with the one that had sealed the crypt that held Maria. I kept that key ring in my personal study chamber, in the small golden box that of old Carina had given to me on our wedding day. Many times, I went to the study, looked at the box and stroked it lovingly, remembering the two women who slumbered in death below. I would sip a bit of red wine, and try to forget that they had died at all... until grief overcame me and I cried myself into sleep in Carina's or Iohanna's arms. Sometimes both at once. Then came the accident in the stables that claimed Iohanna's life. She had been instructing the new stable boy in the proper care and feeding of her horse, when the boy did something that spooked the animal terribly. Iohanna rushed forward to help calm the animal down, but it kicked her hard in the head with one of its' hooves, and the blow caused Iohanna to fall and further strike her skull upon the ground, which caused her death. The boy had tried to save her, but was too fearful of the horse to do any good. I ordered the horse put to death, for having taken from me my beloved sister, who was so much more to me than any sister could have hoped to be. Once more we had to set up another crypt chamber, and another key was added to that ghastly key ring. The final blow to my sanity, however, came with the death of Carina. The last person in all the world that I could say that I loved with all my heart and soul. It was that winter, in the year 1485, when she took ill with a horrific fever and passed away in her sleep. I lay at her side for several days following her death. I had refused any and all food, and just wanted to be with her, staring into her dead eyes. I cried, wept, and at the last sang to her, singing lullabies... pretending that she was just asleep. One of the servants brought me back to my senses, and we decided not to prepare another crypt. This time, we simply shut the door to the bedchambers that had belonged to Carina, and locked it. We had bricked up the windows, and no one was ever again allowed near that part of the castle in which she lay. I went mad after that, and what occurred was like a nightmare I could not awaken from. This... was not yet the end of my life, however.