Čachtice, Slovakia – July 2014
Wildflowers line the road leading up to Čachtice Castle, which was the favorite residence of Elizabeth Bathory, the Blood Countess. This is most likely the same path used back in her day. The path that the girls would have taken. What was on their minds as they drew closer to the castle’s shadow, their meager possessions wrapped in a cloth? Was it pride at being chosen to work in the powerful woman’s service? And later, after the stories seeped into villages near and far, did dread fill their souls?
A group of locals passes by, heading back to the village. They sport Čachtice t-shirts and proud smiles. The castle has just reopened after some renovation. In the village square, a rough wooden sculpture of the Countess and a wailing servant girl greets visitors. It’s only a matter of time before there are Bathory day tours from Bratislava. Much needed revenue will come to this lonely village. It’s also an ironic sort of vengeance.
Further along, a middle-aged man wielding a hose stands at the end of his driveway. His gut balloons out of a t-shirt many sizes too small. He barks at a couple who have just stepped out of their car. Don’t park on the grass across from his house! They must park in the castle parking lot, which costs more than the entrance fee to the castle itself. Before I reach the top of the hill, I pause by a large patch of wildflowers. I reach out to pluck some that are in full bloom, but then stop myself. Instead, I choose one, just one, that is withering on the stem.
The castle is a large ruin perched on the side of a mountain. Brand new wooden ramps allow visitors to get closer to the structure. Storm clouds approach, but for now the sunlight illuminates even the darkest corners. Couples pose for selfies. A group of young Slovaks strolls through the compound blowing bubbles. Families picnic on the hillside. Little girls skip down the paths and giggle, oblivious to the macabre history.
According to legend, Countess Bathory tortured over six hundred young girls to death. She bathed in their blood, because she thought it would preserve her beauty. This story, like that of Vlad Dracula, is the product of imagination and time. Blood coagulates too quickly for one to bathe in it, and, even though the alleged murders took place over a thirty-year period of time and in several of the Countess’s many estates, six hundred is an unreal number of young girls to go missing. Especially during this era of constant war and plague and low life expectancy.
Does it matter whether it was six or six hundred? She did torture servant girls, sometimes to death. In those days, cruelty to servants was expected. Peasants were considered as property, not human beings. But she went way beyond what was acceptable, even back then. She was born into one of the most powerful families in Hungary. She was more highly educated than most nobles. She married one of the most illustrious soldiers of the time, Ferenc Nadasdy. He was known for his great courage and extreme cruelty to the Ottoman prisoners. It is said that he schooled her on unique ways of torturing the servant girls. For example, one girl was stripped naked, covered in honey, and left outside to be stung by wasps.
While her husband was away at battle, which was most of the time, the Countess efficiently managed their vast estates and doted over their children. She also continued to practice her hobby. Girls would be stripped naked, taken outside in the bitter cold of winter, and doused with water until they froze to death. She had three accomplices: a burly washerwoman of great physical strength, a deformed dwarf, and a woman who was rumored to be a witch. After her husband died, the tortures escalated. The descriptions are too sickening for me to ponder. There is too much blood.
Early on, the local Lutheran minister voiced his concern, more than once, to the Hungarian King. Given her absolute power, this was a very courageous thing for him to do. For years, nothing was done. The King owed her huge sums of money. Besides, the girls were just Slovak peasants. However, when girls from the lesser Hungarian nobility started to disappear, something had to be done. Her accomplices were executed, and her property was confiscated. In order to spare the nobility and her family name the shame, she wasn’t put on trial. She was bricked up in her bedchamber until she died a few years later. It was forbidden to speak her name in polite society for one hundred years.
In recent years, there has been talk of a conspiracy. Church records show that an unusually high number of young girls died while she was at Čachtice, as well as her other properties. The revisionists claim that she was actually trying to help the girls by performing abortions. Right. With so many deaths, a truly benevolent person would have realized that she didn’t have what it takes to be an effective abortionist, and, therefore, would have given up the practice and just allowed the girls to live with the shame. Of course noblemen swooped in on her wealth. Never let a good crisis go to waste. This attitude still exists in the modern political realm.
But, enough about her.
There is nothing fascinating about a psychopath. Empty subhuman creatures. The only reason to devote any contemplation to them is to learn how to spot them, avoid them, deflect them. For they are among our trusted leaders and admired celebrities. Presenting a polished smile to the crowds and cameras, but revealing the monster behind closed doors. They are among us.
Even the cheerful sunshine can’t dispel the chill in my blood. The profound sadness at the unfair reality of life.
I lay the wilted wildflower down. For the girls.