Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Vlad the Impaler

A Brother's Treason

When the skittish Turks turned tail and fled from Tirgoviste that day, there was one man among them who had tried to rally them back in place, but to no avail. He knew and understood the mind games of men like Dracula; he remembered his own father, the Dragon, telling him that a good general can cause an enemy more discombobulation by using his brain over his blade. This man was none other than Radu, Dracula's younger brother.

Having remained in Turkey all these years, Radu had become fully indoctrinated into the Ottoman culture and its army, and now served as an officer in the Janissary Corps. Forced to ride back to the Danube with his retreating company, Radu was angry and disenchanted that one bugaboo trick caused by his murderous sibling had literally stymied the advance of his proud (but superstitious) adopted countrymen.

Radu was the son of the Dragon, too, considering himself every bit as wily as Dracula, and he was determined not to crawl back to Turkeyland empty-handed. Had Tirgoviste fallen, he was to have been its commander; with Dracula dead, he was to have been the Prince of Wallachia, That would have made him the Ottoman Empire's first crowned power in Romania. The honor it would have meant! But...he wasn't through yet.

When the sultan and his forces returned below the Danube, Radu remained behind, ready to play a mind game of his own. With the help of ambassadors already planted among the elite d'corps of Wallachia, Radu wiggled his way into the circle of the discontented boyar class who had been wanting for years to, but had no army, oust Dracula. Radu offered them a deal that seemed to accommodate everyone: Support him for the throne of Wallachia, and he would promise them 1) a truce with the Turks so that no more bloodshed would be spilled on Wallachian soil; 2) the return of their gentry-class power that his brother had taken away from them; and 3) his brother's exile. To the exuberant boyars, this also meant an end to the fearsome impalings, the wretched nights wondering if and when they and their families would be hauled out to die like dogs. They threw their entire support to Radu.

Dracula learned that his brother was in the vicinity, and since there was no love lost between the bothers, suspected him of intrigue. He knew that he had allied himself with the Turks, but since his scouts had not reported a Turkish force anywhere near Trigoviste, Dracula made a mistake: He let his guard down. Perhaps he had convinced himself that one son of the Dragon could not bare-face betray another. He failed, then, to heed obvious signs until the revolt began. The boyars, assisted with a brigade of Turks who materialized seemingly out of air, attacked the Prince's Palace.

But, Dracula, his wife and a tiny group of his most faithful followers happened to be vacationing in his castle north of the city at the time. When Radu discovered this, he hastened his forces to Poenari, across the Arges River from the castle, and commenced a cannonade. Dracula's few gunners were no match for Radu's polished artillery and the walls of the castle began to chip away. After three days of incessant drilling, a courier brought Dracula a message from Radu warning that unless he surrender immediately, he and all the inhabitants within the walls would be impaled upon capture. Dracula's wife, frightened, threw herself off the tower, choosing suicide to the bleak alternative.

His reign over, his wife gone, the beaten prince scrambled for the salle-port, which led to the banks of the Arges. Under the cover of flora and darkness, he sidestepped a rush of Turks fording the river for a frontal assault.

Before the siege had begun, Dracula had been planning to visit Hungary's latest monarch, Matthias Corvinus, to establish relations for another crusade against the Turks. The king was wont to spend his leisure in the Carpathian Mountains, in Brasov, where Dracula knew he was at the moment. With the situation changed in Wallachia, the fugitive hoped that Matthias, who was the son of his late ally, White Knight Jonas Hunyadi, would give him political refuge.

Keeping ahead of his traitor-brother's pursuit, Dracula headed northwest towards Brasov. Crossing the wild Transylvanian Alps, he found shelter in an abandoned castle near Dobrins. (It is interesting to note that this sanctuary was not far south of the famed Borgo Pass, where Bram Stoker placed his vampire's castle.) Fed and clothed by loyal peasants who knew and respected the "Turk slayer," he eventually moved on, succored by sheepherders, until he reached Brasov.

But, the greeting he received by Matthias was not the one he had hoped for. The king had him arrested and imprisoned.

The reason for Matthias' action was, as most dealings in Romania were at the time, political. Radu's strong aristocratic backing in Wallachia had helped him ingratiate himself with old European bloodlines who preferred his reform government to his brother's dictatorship. As King of Hungary, Matthias felt compelled to play a level field and avoid being the dissident — that is, supporting an unwanted, dethroned prince.

For months, political prisoner Dracula's new home was the medieval Solomon's Tower, a penal fortress in the Visegrad Palace, located in the south of Hungary. Though forsaken, Dracula could look out at the beautiful landscape surrounding his place of confinement. Columnist Caroline Wren, who toured the site for Central Europe Online, describes the scenery: "The view afforded by the climb up to the citadel is superb. Its position, spectacularly resting on a crag and overlooking Nagymaros and the Borzsony Mountains on the east bank of the Danube Bend, makes it well worth the climb."

Confined to his cell, the former prince practiced a strange habit of impaling spiders, roaches and mice that he would trap. According to prison guards, he would skewer them with slivers of wood pried from the floorboards of his cell and display them, trophies, on his windowsill. He'd sink into a reverie after stabbing them, gazing in awe at their tiny twitches until they finally lay still. (In Dracula, the novel, a psychotic character called Renfield, confined to an asylum, captures and devours insects; some he displays before consuming them. Coincidence?)

After Radu was safely on the throne in Wallachia and the furor of Dracula's overthrow died down, the terms of the Impaler's "imprisonment" faded along with it. While legally remaining in custody of the king over the next decade, Dracula was free to come and go in Transylvania, providing he keep en communicado with King Matthias or his administrators. Quickly removed from the dreary convict's ward and given an apartment in the palace, Dracula's image blossomed from state prisoner to more of a royal confidante. His presence at balls, social dinners and, after a time, even chamber meetings became apparent.

Early in his "incarceration," he was introduced to the lovely, statuesque Countess Ilona Szilagy, cousin of King Mathias. The king obviously sanctioned the romance, for the couple quickly became engaged. The betrothal, without a doubt, skyrocketed Dracula's influence in the nobility had caused his detractors to muzzle their opinions. It also seems likely that Dracula must have been on his best behavior — no fits of angst or anger, no impalings — for the marriage, one of noblesse oblige, seems to have worked very well. The couple lived in quarters in Badu, Transylvania, given to them by the king, and within three years Ilona gave her husband two strapping sons, one named Vlad, the other whose name remains uncertain.

But Dracula, husband and father aside, yearned for the war-like times. And they were coming again — fast. Radu had turned out to be a disappointment, conceding more to the Turks and less to the boyars to whom he had promised a slow disenfranchisement from Turkey. Many currently in high powers, from King Matthias to the prince of Moldavia, Stephen the Great, had taken personal affront with Radu's treachery against his native Romania and against everything the great Dragon had stood for. But no one was more opposed to Radu than his own insulted brother, Dracula. These three men conceived his downfall.


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