The Living Days

During the 15th century, there lived a man named Vladimir Tepes. Upon his birth in the year 1431, in the fortress of Sighisoara, there was the very idea, conceived by the priests, that considering the circumstances of his birth Vlad could indeed be a messiah that would one day lead Wallachia (present-day Romania) to prosperity. His father, Vlad Dracul, was a member of the Order of the Dragon, and, near the time of his son's birth, Dracul had been appointed the military governor of Transylvania. He ruled as such for six years. Vladimir Tepes served under this regime until he and his younger brother, Radu, were seized by Sultan Murad II and held captive in Turkey until released in 1448, at which point they were notified that their father had been assassinated, buried alive by Vladislav II and a group of his followers--this for his religious stance, which decreed that members of the Order of the Dragon must at all times preserve Catholicism and crusade against the Muslim Turks. As reader Wolfgang Brewmeister reports: "Vlad Dracul was indeed a Wallachian 'voivode' (a noble for life) who was a member of the Order of the Dragon, a collection of European princes and barons, both Catholic and Orthodox, throughout East-Central Europe who collectively sought to resist the encroaching power of the Ottoman Turks."

Upon his father's death, Vladimir (or "Vlad" for short), alone and embittered, was unable to inherit his father's position of power as rightful ruler of Wallachia. Backed by a Turkish cavalry, Vlad was only able to temporarily take control of Wallachia until he was forced to surrender the position; he was eventually driven out of power by a Danesti claimant. His brother, Radu, became ruler of Wallachia thereafter but only as an acting figurehead for an Ottoman sultan. Despite his passiveness, Radu was eventually killed by order of the sultan; he was rendered blind when pressed into his eyes were red-hot pokers, and he was then buried alive. After Radu's death, Basarab the Old, a member of the very same Danesti clan, was appointed the new ruler. (If the name looks familiar, it's because the Danesti clan serves as inspiration for Dracula's Curse's own Grant Danasty.)

Realizing that he'd be unable to gain possession of the throne through legal means, Vlad earned Hungarian support and again took control of Wallachia for another six-year period by dethroning Basarab and eliminating the interim nobility that had claimed the power as their own. The vacillating situation of Wallachia and its people saw him retake this power without much in the way of politics. One of his first acts was the arrest of the boyar families, who he blamed for his father's death; he gathered them together under the guise of a "celebration" and then made clear his intentions: He ordered them to march fifty miles to the town of Poenari, where they were forced to labor to build what would become known as Castle Dracul. He then completed the revenge act by impaling every single one of them, man and woman alike. Now again at a position of power, Vlad was cold and ruthless in the name of justice toward all those who supported the previous nobility and those who stood in the way of Wallachia's growth. Vlad, who had become a true tyrant through paranoia, and his army terrorized and pillaged villages, towns and any obstacles that stood in the way of his monotheistic rages. He became fond of not only conquering new land in the name of God and causing misery to his foes but of torture. He would regularly order that lawbreakers be skinned, boiled, decapitated, blinded, strangled, hanged and, horribly, much more. But his most favorite torture was impalement, as the eldest boyar family members learned. He subsequently became known to his enemies as "Vlad the Impaler."

The people of Wallachia, consternated by his method of rule, praised him like a hero--this, a man who was said to have eaten bread dipped in the blood of his victims. He had given them their freedom and hope in the name of fear. His reputation truly proceeded him, as word of his methods of instilling fear in aggressors reached far across the land. His devious acts, even as a knight of the church, earned him the name "Dracula," which translated into "son of the dragon" (as in his father, who was a member of the Order of the Dragon) or "son of the devil." Despite any character flaws, he managed to stay in good favor with the Pope, who didn't approve of his methods but accepted that Vlad's reign was key in holding back the Muslim Turks' expansion. Thereby, Vlad ruled for a six-year period, his enemies unable to vanquish him. Thousands of enemies and innocents died by his hands in what he truly believed was justice. (To be exact, most of Vlad's adventurism was considered to be a part of the continuing Christian Crusades, which had gone unnumbered by the fifteenth century.)

In 1462, Vlad's Poienari Castle was invaded by Turkish forces under the rule of Sultan Medmen II, whence he was finally driven out of power. During the war, his first wife, whose name is unknown, committed suicide by throwing herself from a castle tower and into the surrounding Arges River. The combination of his rule coming to an end plus the death of his wife drove Vlad to a fit of madness, during which he burned his own villages to the ground and poisoned the wells so that the land would be uninhabitable under any successive regime. He then fled to Hungary where he was imprisoned by the new Hungarian king, Matthias Corvinus (Lament's Mathias Cronqvist inspiration), for some time until falling back into favor. It's said that this is where Vlad met his wife, Ilona Szilágyi, and thus converted to Catholicism at her behest; more of a factor in his conversion was a deal with Matthius, who was under pressure from the Pope and the other Catholic leaders who realized Vlad's importance as a leader; under this condition, he was released from his imprisonment. When Vlad was finally freed, a small army of loyal Wallachians; Moldavians (their services afforded to him by his cousin Stephen the Great); and some Translyvanians under the order of their prince, Stephen V Báthory, helped him to again force his way into total power of Wallachia.

Following a devastating counterattack by the Turks, things began to deteriorate for Vlad. His spirits began to wane, negatively impacting his phsycial health. He met his end during the winter months of 1476 when he was assassinated, but it remains unclear whom was responsible for his death. Some say the Boyard families got their revenge, and others believe that it was the Turks who finally got their man.

Vlad was buried somewhere near the Snagov Monastery, as per his request, but even in death there was a price on his head. His enemies offered rewards to any of those who could bring to them the body of Vlad (perhaps to behead his corpse and hold it as a symbol) and thus prove his death to be anything but another rumor. It was in actuality the Turks who decapitated Vlad's corpse and sent his head to Constantinople, where the sultan displayed it as proof of the tyrant's death. Strangely, thereafter, the body could not be found, as no one could locate the precise point of burial.

Finally, around three years after his death, the very coffin that once housed the corpse of Vlad Tepes was found. It was empty, not a trace of his decapitated body ever having been there. Because of the eerie similarity to that of the disappearance of Jesus Christ after his crucifixion, the Catholic Church believed that Vlad somehow escaped death. Months before his demise, as mentioned, Vlad perpetrated a vengeful assault on the Turks, which was an emotional response to the loss of his wife. When it seemed that his illness finally got the best of him, his company thought him to be deceased. When he mysteriously awakened days later, members of his army were actually convinced that their ruler had somehow "risen from the dead." This knowledge led to further speculation that he had done it again in the case of his Snagov burial in Bucharest. Whether or not they were correct, his undiagnosed condition could very well have played a crucial hand in his unholy rebirth. (As a side note: In the 1930's, when an excavation was led to find Vlad's remains, the tomb was empty and only animal bones were found in its place, which adds fuel to the lore of his re-rising. Thanks to the following sources for some of this information: Ray Porter [The Dragon] and Wolfgang Brewmeister.)

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