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Posted:|| January 16, 2021 Views: 242|
Warning: The author has noted that this contains the highest level of violence.
Prologue of the book Revisit The Sins of the Grandfather
"The Insatiable Countess Dracula"
by Jay Squires
Thirteen-year-old Emika was stricken speechless in the fading hours of daylight, on that last day of December, of 1609. She sat opposite the coldly expressionless Anna Darvolya in the covered carriage and leaned her thin shoulders forward to see the image of her Mama sliding back through the carriage window.
Just two weeks earlier, Emika clung onto her Mama’s hand on the evening of her sister’s coming-of-age ball, and with large, unblinking eyes, surveyed the ballroom. In three years, perhaps sooner, her mother reckoned, Emika too would be attending her own coming-of-age ball. That was providing she applied herself diligently to her studies and paid particular attention to the etiquette that Countess Bathory would soon be teaching her.
Now, drawing herself within her shawl, Emika used her crossed, spindly arms to press whatever warmth she could conserve to her chest. A small part of her mind was aware of the monotonous sound of ice and pebbles crunching under metal wheels. However, something else gathered her attention as the carriage swayed and rocked through the countryside in its ascent to the castle Csejthe. This stone-faced woman, who promised miracles to her Mama, whose knees pressed against her own, was now humming a melody-less tune, and stopped it only to intone through lips that seemed not to move, “Soon, my dove, soon.”
# # #
History would tell us that recruiting the daughters of the Nobility was a critical mistake that Erzsebet Bathory committed. Had she continued on using the inexhaustible supply of peasant maidens to feed her blood-hunger, her career might have lasted a quarter-century longer.
In her own words, though, Erzsebet — or the anglicized Elizabeth — told her cousin on the night he arrested her, “Remember, our family is of royal blood. We have the right to do whatever we wish with those who are beneath us.”
# # #
As the stately robed Anna Darvolya led her young charge down the dark staircase to the lower level of the Csejthe Castle, little Emika’s only thoughts were of sinking into her bed in her sleeping chamber at the bottom of the stairs. Mama had told her to learn her lessons well. For that, she needed sleep. The journey had tired her.
Descending step-by-step, her thoughts of sleep were interrupted by noises. Rustling. Did this mean she had to share her sleeping chamber with other etiquette students? She shuddered and half-turned to cast a troubling glance up at her unblinking, unsmiling guide, whose fingernails — as though in response — dug into Emika’s shoulder blades.
At the bottom of the stairs, Emika had a sudden and urgent thought. Just as the woman released her grip and was taking the final step to the landing, Emika realized her opportunity, slim though it was, to dart past the older, slower matron and race up the stairs to … to … where? They had passed down so many halls on their way to the stairs, past gawking servants going in and out of rooms and emerging from dark passageways. Any of them could grab her and bring her back.
The heavy key turned three times in the lock and the woman rammed the door with her shoulder. Simultaneously, from the pocket of her black robe, she withdrew a handkerchief, covering her mouth and nose; while Emika watched in rigid horror, the woman’s other hand clamped onto her arm and threw her through the opening.
Emika skidded on her belly onto wet sawdust. In her dizzying fall, something in her mind registered white mounds or lumps. Somewhere behind her she was dimly aware of the door slamming. The stench of urine and feces overpowered her. She gagged and instinctively covered her nose and mouth with both of her now sticky, sawdust-covered hands.
Unbidden, the image came rushing in of the killing cages, where she had watched in awe as Papa’s peasants lopped the heads off chickens who then flopped about comically spewing scarlet fountains from where their heads had been. Blood! Sawdust soaked blood! She vigorously wiped the sawdust away from her lips and nose, but merely smeared it around. Scrabbling to her knees she vomited and continued retching until her ribs ached.
All the while she had never taken her eyes off the floor. Her child’s intuition warned her she could be safe as long as she didn’t raise her eyes. But, still reeling from her ordeal, acid rising to her throat, she looked up anyway.
Some things are beyond the adolescent mind’s ability to process. The white mounds she had registered were of flesh — bleached white flesh slung one atop another. Legs straddling arms. It was a horrific assault to her modesty, for she had never seen another’s nakedness. Also, except for the chickens, in her thirteen years, she had never experienced death. What young Emika witnessed that night, shackled to the wall under the flickering shadows cast by the torches, was too much for thirteen years of inexperience to bear.
Consciousness blessedly slipped away from her.
# # #
In the late hours of New Year’s Eve, 1609, Count Gyorgy Thurzo, Palantine under the Hungarian crown, stood outside the entranceway to the Csejthe Castle. He was following a directive from King Matthias. His soldiers secreted themselves some distance away, waiting to be called, if needed.
The Governor of the province, two local gendarmes, the village priest, and an alert and studious-looking scribe stood near Count Thurzo.
“Well, cousin,” he muttered, “let’s see how you are bringing in the New Year.”
Once they gained entrance to the palace, Count Thurzo was disappointed not to have caught Erzsebet, who truly was his cousin, engaging in highly inappropriate activities, perhaps one of those orgies that rumor had assigned her to.
Catching the eye of one of the servants, he demanded, “Where is your Mistress?”
Terrified, but soon cowed into submissiveness by the gendarmes’ glare and the bearded Count’s powerful demeanor, she stammered for them to follow her. Thurzo and his entourage accompanied her down the castle’s main hallway, down stairways, and through passages.
When the servant stopped at the first door and stepped aside to let one of the gendarmes open it, Count Thurzo steeled himself for what he thought would be his cousin, Erzsebet Bathory, engaging in one of those bizarre sexual escapades so rumored in the villages surrounding the castle.
Erzsebet was absent. However, what blasted the Count and his attendants like a furnace, enough to buckle the knees of the most stalwart of them, was the assault of rotting flesh that stung the eyes and produced a gag-reflex. There, against the far wall, sagged forward in their shackles by their own bodyweight, eyes blindly staring, mouths gaping and twisted in the moment of their final agony were — the Count had the task of counting them — seven naked girls ranging, he estimated, between fourteen and twenty years old. The scribe paused his quill to retch, wiped his mouth with his sleeve, and he struggled to keep up.
Bodies littered the floor, naked or partially clothed, and everywhere, everywhere, plump cats feasted. These were the “enchanted cats” so-called by the villagers, but unlike their fictionalized accounts, these cats didn’t arch their backs or leap with claws extended at the priest.
Other doors opened to offer the same macabre experience. Count Thurzo, who, in his younger days, had nobly led his men into battle against the soldiers of the Ottoman Empire, had seen death in all its varieties, but nothing so ghastly as this.
At the bottom of one stairway, the door opened to the same grisly scene that — God forgive him — he was beginning to get used to. There was the same smell of rotting flesh, but it was soon overtaken by the sweet, coppery smell of freshly-let blood. There were one, two, three, four, five maidens, slung forward from the walls by their shackles, puncture marks, he alerted the scribe to note, in the area of the neck, the breast, and the stomach. His eyes roamed the sprawl of naked bodies on the sawdust-covered floor. In some, he thought he detected movement, but after checking it out, he discounted it as the slow crawl of rigor mortis. There were no cats here. Neither was there any recent sign of Erzsebet.
As they turned to leave the room, he heard a whimper. He spun around. Could it be Erzsebet? “Yes! Where are you? Show yourself.”
“Please,” he heard the thin voice pleading.
He had to step over bodies to be able to peer into the farthest, darkest corner of the room, where an extinguished torch smoked in its sconce.
“Oh, my God,” he said as he worked his way to the young girl, who trembled against the wall, crossing her shawl in front of her chest. He looked down on her. She was a mere child. Strands of hair were plastered to her forehead. Her otherwise pretty little face was smeared with something. It looked like dried blood. “What is your name, child?”
“Em — Emika,” she stammered and immediately began sobbing. “I want to go home now.”
# # #
Emika was escorted to her home the following morning by one of the gendarmes who explained the little girl’s ordeal to her bewildered Mama and Papa. The gendarme was also able to assure them that Erzsebet had indeed been captured on the same night their daughter was discovered. Captured also, were her accomplices, including Anna Darvolya, the one who had taken Emika to the castle.
# # #
The Trial of Erzsebet Bathory
Erzsebet Báthory went on trial for her crimes early in 1610. The presiding judge listened to over 300 witness statements. They included Count Thurzo’s chilling personally witnessed account of the effects of her crazed brutality.
Some statements must have been hard for the judge to listen to. One accusation had Erzsebet pouring cold water over the naked maidens, then tying them outdoors to freeze to death. In another, she poured honey onto the maidens and waited in glee for animals to tear them apart.
“She was known to mutilate [the girls] genitals with hot pokers and knives, pull their mouths apart with her bare hands and even bite chunks of their flesh off or force girls to do so to each other.” — History of Royal Women
Count Thurzo was indeed a staunch prosecutor. But the reader must remember this was 1610. Erzsebet didn’t have the advantages of a 20th-century defense attorney to build her case. If she had, her council would have attempted a solid defense of insanity.
For that, they would have dug deeply into her troubled upbringing. The evidence was surely there. Erzsebet was born into a privileged family, with a king for an uncle, and cardinals, knights, and judges blossoming elsewhere on her family tree. She had a fine education, being fluent in several languages.
Here the defense attorney would pause, look penetratingly into the face of the judge as he also disclosed one of Erzsebet’s uncles who felt his urgent calling was to educate her in Satanism. At about that time, an aunt pulled her aside to instruct her in the useful art of sadomasochism. “Now I ask you, your honor, what’s a girl, in the flush of adolescence and vulnerability to do?”
Some portions of the next phase in his client’s life, the defense attorney knew it would be wise to waltz around. He certainly wanted to disclose that she was married at fifteen to Count Nádasdy. He was the love of her life, after all, and for a time they lived blissfully in the Csejthe Castle. Yet, he was a soldier and was off to war against the Ottoman Empire.
Here, the defense attorney would have stolen a sideward glance at Count Thurzo to see if his expression indicated he’d set his trap and was waiting. Council for the Defense wanted to skip forward to the cataclysmic event of Count Nádasdy’s death — for that signal event, he pressed, was what caused something in Erzsebet to snap and the killing spree to begin.
However, in the silence following his close (during which he had rhapsodized over Erzsebet’s unfortunate activities as being no more than a frantic attempt at silencing her grief), out of the corner of his eye, he saw Count Thurzo shuffling through papers on his desk.
Then it happened …
“Letters, your honor.” Count Thurzo stood fanning a sheaf of papers in each hand. They could have been anything. But he announced them as, “Letters, your honor, from Countess Erzsebet to her husband, Count Nádasdy,” (shaking the contents of his left hand) “imploring her husband to send her detailed descriptions of his sadistic torturing of prisoners. And here,” (shaking his right hand) “letters from Count Nádasdy, describing needles driven under his prisoners’ nails, glowing-hot pokers inserted in orifices, that, well, your honor, don’t require explication here.”
A long, long pause and several swallows later… “All letters. Recovered from Count Nádasdy’s effects after his death. Letters. Kept in ribbon bound stacks in Countess Erzsebet’s personal chamber. Letters. Love letters if you will. Letters that revealed the wear of someone who pored over them regularly.” He replaced the contents from both hands on his desk.
“We have, your honor, sworn testimony by one of her servers at the castle, that Count Nádasdy, in one of his sojourns home from the war, constructed a torture chamber, complete to his lovely wife’s specifications. Ah, love!”
In our time, this last part would have been stricken from the proceedings. But this was 1610 (Some accounts set the trial at 1609, one in January 1611). The evidence against her was incontestable. There was no insanity plea.
How many homicides did the Countess Erzsebet Bathory actually commit? According to a letter King Matthias sent to Count Thurzo, the monarch referred to:
“three hundred girls and women . . . put to death in an inhuman and cruel manner. The Countess cut their flesh and made them grill it; later she would make them eat bits of their own bodies.”
Our century’s own Guinness Book of World Records (celebrated for their strict methods of authentication) sets the number at 600, and titles her as being:
“The most prolific female murderer and the most prolific murderer of the western world.” — Guinness Book of World Records
(What proud mama wouldn’t want that affixed to her refrigerator door?)
The Conviction and Aftermath
Back in either 1609, 1610, or 1611, at Erzsabet’s trial, the death-toll for which she was accused was eighty souls. For that crime, she was found guilty. The judge was quoted as saying that, “the lady has committed terrible crimes against the female blood.”
For the same reasons that investigations of her crimes “against the female blood” had gone unchecked since roughly 1602, the judge did not order the death penalty for Erzsebet. She was a Countess, after all. She was part of a bloodline with high ranking relatives. Instead, she was imprisoned in one room in her own castle. The only source of light or fresh air was a horizontal slot through which food and water were passed.
Erzsebet died alone, imprisoned in her room, on August 21, 1614.
Her cohorts were not so lucky. Her staff of recruiters, Dorothy Szentes, Helena Jo, and John Ujvary, were sentenced to death. The women, professed witches, “had their fingers pulled off with hot pincers before being burned alive, and John was beheaded.” Missing from the accounts I read was any mention of the fate of Anna Darvolya.
# # #
I have taken no liberty, that I’m aware of anyway, with the facts surrounding the bizarre and troubling life of Erzsebet Bathory. That said, I did fictionalize the character of young Emika Svoboda, and I plucked a typical twentieth-century defense attorney you might find on Dateline, to add color and emotion to aspects of the drama. For any effect the fictionalizing might have had in discoloring or altering the weight, positive or negative, to the historical accounts, I apologize.
The alert reader may notice there is no mention of Erzsebet Bathory’s nefariously famous baths in the blood of virgins. According to one of the more balanced sources I’ve researched, this is because “there is no evidence for this happening
[. . .] and the idea first appeared a century after Elizabeth’s death.” (Emphasis mine.)
Crimes and Punishment, (a pictorial encyclopedia of aberrant behavior). Vol. 4, pp. 133–4: https://tinyurl.com/yybl5zsg
Elizabeth Báthory — Countess Dracula, History of Royal Women: https://tinyurl.com/y2cmhehg
Guinness Book of World’s Records: https://tinyurl.com/y3f69qsd
Horror Writing Contest contest entry
The image rendering of Erzsebet Bathory, Source:Csok Istvan modellifotoja Wikimedia Commons.
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