Vlad the Impaler
Staggering the Turks
Dracula was not insane; that is what the scholars tell us. He knew right and wrong, and the difference. A brilliant political leader for his time and a devious military commander, he practiced both heaven and hell, whatever mode fit to conquer a land and hold it.
He knew the fabricwork of people, and he knew how to dive and where to dive to cut quick into the core of their souls. He made it his business to understand the emotion in their eyes and could recognize others' deceits, simply by comparing them to his own. If not always right, he guessed correctly most of the time.
However, he had an offbeat psychosis. Looking at his personality in retrospect, a psychiatrist or psychologist today might diagnose Dracula's crimes as tragic, inherent products of an erratic childhood. What he saw around him and what happened to him in his formative years seems to have greatly shaped the man.
First, there was the religious dichotomy of his era. Taught virtue and love, he also learned that it was all right to maim and torture in the name of God. Well...not really...but that was how the politicians of the day shaped religiosity to defend their own zealous ambitions based on the principle of stepping before being stepped on. To a child, however, it must have made all the sense in the world.
Born into nobility, Dracula was protected from the outside realities by a feudal system that favored the noble born; in fact, it nearly canonized it. He had no other recourse to learning the world than by experience, and that experience came heavily in the combative arts and in the judicious bigotry that must have been predominant in the Dragon's household. As a child playing in his father's chambers during meetings, he interpreted what he heard as fact: Turks are bad. Even our own subjects need watching. You can't trust anyone. Be on guard — or die. The fact that violence had wrought the success of his own father speaks strongly about Dracula's views on justice: Strength is violence, violence is strength, so violence is right.
His parentage represented both poles of the devout and the shrewd. His mother was a religiously devout woman who believed in the literal Bible; his father, a soldier first, believed in state. And at the age when he might resolve who was right, and where the dividing line lay, he was swept off to a foreign culture where Western ideals existed, but were translated in a way so unlike the familiar European parables.
Imagine the boy's feeling of betrayal when the father he adored handed him over to the foreigners who were supposed to be the enemy? Abandoned in Adrianople, taken away from the sensibilities of his mother, the guidance of his father, he was dissident. Yet, under the rebelliousness that he showed the Turks, he was learning just the same. Never quite able to understand the culture of his foster home, Turkey, he probably created his own culture — a mix of European and Turkish bias. And the lessons of physical justice taught by both.
When it came time to return home, he chose the quickest way to reindoctrinate himself as a prince, to pick up where his murdered father had left off. And because his father had been murdered, Dracula had made him a martyr and all feelings of the abandonment he suffered dissipated.
Revenge became his inspiration.
As for the impalings, do they suggest pseudo-sexual frustrations that some scholars claim? Perhaps. After all, for a man to whom violence was essential, wasn't sex another contact sport? The only female he had been allowed to escort in his early life had been the genteel form of refinement, but he knew that there was more to the animal instinct he felt than courtly bows and courteous manners. He simply may not have understood how to deal with the stirrings.
Dracula was not insane, no, but he was very, very confused.
One may wonder why any woman in her right mind would marry Dracula, but marry him someone did. Perhaps it was an arranged marriage of state or, as some critics suggest, he simply saw her, wanted her and took her. Who she was is uncertain; there are theories — a member of Moldavian royalty, a Hungarian princess, a daughter of a Wallachian nobleman. The marriage would be tragic and brief, as we shall see in an upcoming chapter, and seemed not to produce any qualities of home-and-hearth in the prince. He rarely allowed her in his company, and retained his libertines at Castle Dracula.
But, the desires of his libido grew fainter as his reign reached what would be its mid-term. By 1458, after a decade-long period of relative peace between Europe and the Turks, the renewal of border skirmishes along the Serbian-Romanian line began to manifest the clouds of war. The Vatican, eyeing the incidences suspiciously from Rome, made overtures to Christian kings to begin uniting in the event the Muslims become contentious.
If the Pope hoped for peace, Dracula's actions weren't helping to soothe relations. In 1458, Sultan Mehmed II sent a couple of emissaries to remind the Wallachian that he was three years behind in paying the annual tribute of 10,000 gold ducats; Dracula expected such a visit eventually, as he had already made up his mind to discontinue the payments altogether. To avoid vexsome arguments, he decided to make fast work of the envoys.
When they came before his throne, he let them state their business. Once he realized where they were heading — that is, to the subject of payments in arrears — he snipped them short. "Excuse me, gentlemen, but speaking of payments due, I can't help taking note that you have not paid me due respect in removing your hats before my court. Don't you realize it is the customary and honored tradition to do so?"
The representatives startled. One of them, tapping his Phrygian cap, humbly replied, "We have not meant to insult your lord, but were it not a religious custom of ours not to remove them in public, we would have done thus immediately before your presence. I am sure, having been a resident in our country at one time, you understand." This man followed up with a reassuring smile.
"I see," Dracula glowered. "Then what you are saying is that you wish to never be seen in public without your...er, turbans?"
"That is correct, your lord."
"Then, let your wish be granted," their host chuckled. Clicking his finger at his sentries, he told them, "Our friends here love their hats so much that I think we should allow them the privilege they request. Remove them from my carpet and have their damn caps nailed to their skulls so that they never come off again!"
Pleading for mercy, the Turks were dragged from the throne room never to be seen alive again by the Wallachians. But, their screams resounded through the palace as, from the dungeon, the high executioner performed his...carpentry?
When Sultan Mehmed in Constantinople received the bodies of his two envoys, their caps nailed to their skulls with rusty spikes, he raged. He hatched a plot to destroy Dracula once and for all. Notifying the prince that he wished to meet on the Danube River at the city of Giurgiu for peace talks, he actually planned instead to send an army of assassins ahead of time to ambush Dracula and his escort en route through the mountains.
Dracula didn't believe the sultan's proposition. Nevertheless, he wrote back agreeing to such a conference. Days before the assigned date, he took a small army with him to enact a surprise of his own. Laying wait north of Giurgiu, above a narrow pass, Dracula's troops surveyed a Turkish vanguard of a thousand men riding pell-mell in the direction of Tirgoviste. Although the cavalry greatly outnumbered his own, he used the advantage of true mountain fighting, a skill he learned years before in Turkeyland. Strategically placed, a number of his musketeers from overhead cut down the party, rider at a time, while the remainder of his shooters, firing from positions in the enemy's rear, forced them into a gap where there was no retreat. When the foe attempted to surrender, Dracula's rifles shot them to pieces. (This ambush portrays an example of Dracula's military cunning. Historians credit him as one of the first European crusaders to use gunpowder in a deadly artistic way.)
Days later, when the sultan arrived on the Danube, expecting to meet his advanced guard with some good news, he was jolted to find something unexpected: Along the riverbank, for miles, his dispatched regiments hung nailed to spikes, twisted into inhuman poses, half-eaten by countless ravens that, even as Mehmed stared, drove their beaks into the cadaverous flesh. The sight was so repulsive that Mehmed abandoned all other maneuvers to return to Constantinople, where he would require months to rethink the situation.
Despite his heroics, Dracula knew he may have pushed the sultan a trifle too far. He had known Mehmed as a boy, knew his temperament and the temper of the Ottoman Turks, and he knew that Mehmed was probably looking for just such an excuse to start a full-scale war. Nervously, Dracula wrote to the Pope: "If (Romania) is subjugated, please understand they will not stay content with our land, but will immediately make war on you...So now is the time: by helping us, you really help yourself by stopping their army far from your own land and by not allowing them to destroy (us) and harm and oppress us."
The prince was relieved to hear, in response, that a Holy Crusade had been agreed upon in Mantua, Italy, and that all forces were poised to ride into Turkey. Dracula pledged his allegiance and began recruiting an army comprised of loyal Wallachians and troops assigned to him from other nations. The size of his force is estimated to have been about 30,000, comprised mainly of foot soldiers.
But, it dwarfed when compared to the gargantuan Turkish machine of 250,000 that crossed the Danube in May, 1462. Among them were the elite Janissaries; the Saiales suicide-squad; the Azabs (lancers); the Acings (archers); the Beshlis (riflemen) and the Sipahis (cavalry). Most of them headed straight for Tirgoviste.
Knowing he was humiliatingly outmanned, Dracula determined to make the road to Tirgoviste a calamitous one. He felled trees in the invaders' path, poisoned the wells, burned bridges and even villages that might shelter them, and he hit the marchers wherever he could along the way. His marksmen, posted in the bluffs overlooking the passes, did their best to reduce the volume of the enemy; snipers and archers caused havoc along wooded riverbanks. The most damage done to the Turkish march occurred outside the capital city when Dracula's main body of cavalry swooped out of the night forests to massacre a large contingency of foot soldiers.
But, all these had inflicted physical harm to the Ottomans. And since when had physical pain and suffering stopped the Turks? Dracula knew from experience that only one thing would cause them to stop in their tracks, to hesitate, to maybe abandon their mission. And that was to throw open the gates of Hell before their eyes in all its putrescence. To attack them where it stung most. In their imagination.
For years, the Wallachian had been capturing Turkish soldiers and spies, wisely keeping them on hold as a bartering mechanism. His dungeons at Tirgoviste, at his castle and at other outposts amid the Carpathians bulged with them, some 20,000 captives. Now, with the defeat of Wallachia a possibility, Dracula decided that he had nothing to lose, all to gain. He went for the tool that worked before, to cut deep into the psychological edge.
When the Turks arrived outside the walls of Tirgoviste, they paused. And they trembled. Some wept. Many vomited. Encircling the town were the bodies of their very own comrades, 20,000 of them, their long locks and robes fluttering in the breeze, their eyes staring vacantly down, their mouths emitting the sharpened point of a spike hammered up their backsides. There was no sound from inside the enemy's walls, no movement from within. But, the volley of silence was deafening.
The Turks buckled their steeds, reigned and bolted for the Danube. Cries of "Allah, protect us!" on their lips, they dashed from the devil whom they couldn't defeat.