Birth of Bathory #frankenstein200
Cjesthe Castle, February of 1610
Gregory pushed the doors open to the Countess’ rooms and stalked inside. “Are the accusations true?” he demanded.
Elizabeth sat at a table overflowing with fruit, presumably arranged by one of her many servants. She had a small plate placed in front of her, with a pomegranate placed in the middle. One of her pale, delicate hands held the pomegranate in place. Her other hand held a wicked-looking knife that she was using to score the pomegranate with upon its natural edges.
“Good morning, Gregory,” she responded. A smile played at the corner of her lips.
“Beth, please, tell me. Are the accusations true?”
“Do you think they’re true?” she asked.
Gregory turned away from her and began pacing the room. He wanted to laugh when he realized she didn’t even have to ask what accusations. Of course she knew about them. But did she know about them because she was well-informed, or was it more nefarious: were they grounded in truth? If only she took allegations of murder more seriously than that damned fruit.
He stopped his pacing and looked back at her. A window was on the east wall, it’s curtains pulled apart to let the rising sun show off all of its glory. The sun bathed the left side of her face in light, but some strange play of light and shadows had the right side of her face almost entirely obscured by darkness. His best friend’s widow was showing a perfect display of duplicity.
“Stop that,” he pointed accusingly at the pomegranate in her hands, which she was now deftly pulling apart. Her grace extended to fruit, apparently, for not a single seed was broken that he could see. She plucked one of the seeds and placed it in her mouth, finally looking up to meet his eyes.
“What am I going to find, Beth? Did you kill people?”
Irritation pulled her lips into a frown. “Of course I’ve killed people. The Long War ripped its way through the heart of my estates. I had to kill people.”
Gregory raked his fingers through his hair, wincing when a few strands caught in the signet ring on his right hand, a frivolous decoration announcing him as the Palatine of Hungary. It was a title he had been much more happy to receive prior to King Matthias II approaching him with the charge to find out if Beth, someone he found more appealing than most of his family, was a murderess.
“Damnit, Elizabeth, that’s not what I’m asking!”
Her previous look of irritation was replaced by one of boredom. Elizabeth turned her attention back to the fruit resting in her hand. She noticed that she had gripped the exposed fruit so hard during her interaction with her friend, that her nails had pierced several of the seeds, and juice was quickly staining her fingertips. She placed the ruined pomegranate on the plate and held her hand up to the light shining through the floor-length window. A bead of juice slowly dripped its way down along the length of her primary finger, approaching the natural curve of her hand that would lead to her thumb. She spoke while watching its descent.
“I’m perhaps one of the most educated people in our country, second to only you, which I do not admit lightly. I have proven myself to be a Lady of War, bringing both healing to our people and destruction to those who would threaten them. My pedigree is unrivaled — boasting a living Prince of Transylvania and a ruling King of Poland as close cousins and confidants. My own King was financially indebted to my husband, and with my beloved Ferenc’s passing, now me — a debt he lacks the ability to pay. And when I die… my children stand to inherit a fortune that will rival any throne.” With the light such as it was, Gregory thought the juice on her skin appeared very much like fresh-spilled blood. Elizabeth looked away from her hand, still poised in the air as though it rested upon some barrier he could not see, and locked eyes with her longtime friend. “Yes, Gregory, I suspect you will find quite a lot.”
And with that, she licked the false blood from her skin and dismissed him from her rooms.
40 Years Prior
Ecsed Castle, 1571
George IV Bathory arranged for his daughter to attend studies with her brother. It was unusual to invest much time to learning, especially for women, but George had a heart for war, and deep in his chest… he knew it was coming. More than forty years prior to Elizabeth’s birth, Hungary had been divided into three: the north and west territories formed Royal Hungary, the central plains were Ottoman Hungary, and all that remained came to be known as the Principality of Transylvania. The Bathory family had long been a house divided, the family seat remained in Transylvania, but Ecsed Castle was placed close to the heart of Royal Hungary. Protestantism, though not yet legally welcome, began to slowly replace any previous subscriptions of faith the nobility in Royal Hungary claimed. The political lines segregating the country accompanying religious dissent justified George’s predictions of war-to-come. Thus, he made arrangements for both of his children to have every weapon at their disposal; an arsenal of languages being one of them.
One of the mornings that Georgy and Elizabeth were scheduled to be tutored Greek, their tutor had fallen to an illness that stripped him of his voice. In this rare reprieve from learning, the two siblings wandered to a small hill that overlooked the Ecsed stables.
“Quand vais je quitte pour Sárvár?” asked Elizabeth, looking to her older brother. Georgy rolled his eyes before responding. He hated when she spoke french — she only did so because their tutors constantly told them her accent was so much better than his own.
“I don’t know when you’ll leave for castle Sárvár,” he replied. Georgy idly plucked a blade of grass, ripping it to smaller pieces. “You know Ferenc doesn’t speak french, Elizabeth. I wouldn’t make fun of him, if I were you.”
Ferenc Nadasdy was Elizabeth’s betrothed. Her governess had relayed the news to her a week prior. Ferenc’s and her own father had arranged for their union. His family lived in Sárvár and in alignment with her responsibilities as his future wife, she would be expected to live with his family to study and learn the expectations of the Nadasdy women. Elizabeth smiled. She was pleased that her father had included in the arrangements that she would maintain her own surname, shirking the title “Nadasdy.” After all, her own family, though they would benefit from the arrangement, had more power and economic holding than the Nadasdy family. It would be silly to depreciate her value by trading her own name for the other, lesser one.
Georgy sat up straighter and pointed at the scene unfolding in the stables below. “Look,” he demanded, even though her eyes were already focused on the sight in front of her. Their father had recently brought a new stallion to Ecsed. Elizabeth had often been allowed to visit with the palfreys, or the riding horses, but this was the first charger, or war horse, she could recall seeing. This particular one, Georgy told her, was a destrier. And he was beautiful.
“Let’s get closer,” Elizabeth suggested, just prior to standing and dusting her skirts off. She ran down the hill, uninterested in if her brother was following. She reached the fence and climbed onto the bottom panel, holding onto the top of it and leaning forward into the ring so that she could see the horse even better.
From the top of the hill he had appeared to be black, but this close, it was easier to tell that he was a beautiful dark brown. The horse bucked against the ropes and the men trying effortlessly to contain him. One boy was flung violently back against a wooden post. The horse reared and broke free of his would-be captors.
Elizabeth and Georgy looked at each other and laughed. This was much more exciting than conjugating Greek verbs. The horse had rushed off to the other side of the ring, with the men following behind in its wake, cursing and yelling all the while.
Elizabeth hopped down from her post on the fence and walked over to where the boy who appeared to be close in age to her had fallen. He was laying on his back in the ring, eyes closed. Georgy walked beside Elizabeth and climbed through the fence so he could stand in front of the other boy.
“Is he breathing?” Elizabeth asked.
“I can’t tell,” responded Georgy. Then, after a brief pause, he kicked the boy in his side.
“Shit!” the boy yelled, turning onto his side. He began coughing as he tried to shield his body from any future kicks. But Georgy just looked at him, getting increasingly bored with the exchange. Elizabeth crawled through the planks of the fence to stand beside her brother.
The boy finally looked up at them and turned pale white upon realizing he’d sworn in front of the heirs of Ecsed. Georgy glanced at his sister and smirked. The boy hurriedly stood up and bowed to both of the heirs. Elizabeth finally noticed a cut on his mouth, which was dripping spots onto the collar of his shirt. Her brother hadn’t kicked him in the face, so it must have been from the horse.
“You’re bleeding.” Georgy was always so quick to point out the obvious.
“I’m… sorry,” the boy muttered, lifting his hand to wipe the blood away.
“No — don’t!” ordered Elizabeth. And before she even knew what her intentions were, she had stepped forward and placed one hand upon the boy’s shoulder and leaned up on her toes as he was considerably taller than her. The only thing that made it work is he had looked down, confusion freezing him to the spot. Elizabeth placed her lips against his, the copper wetness spreading from his lips to her own.
“Beth?” asked Georgy. He didn’t know what to do. If the boy had kissed his sister, he would beat him, but she had initiated the contact. Elizabeth stepped back from the stable boy and looked between him and her brother, unsure which one was more shocked by her.
She laughed at both of their reactions, her lips still stained with blood.