The 16th century turned. I lived with my father, a nobleman without acumen who had lent money he lacked means to collect or re-earn, and his sickly wife, for whom he had left my mother. I had three siblings, brothers—all dead: by illness, murder, suicide. Given my father’s circumstance, he hungered to marry me to a wealthy suitor, and likely would have done so if not for the letter, which arrived on a particularly cold October night, and which my father read with such rapt attention it bordered on candlelit glee, before instructing me, having communicated no details, that I would forthwith be dispatched to the Castle of Csejte in Upper Hungary to live with my cousin Elizabeth.
The trip was dismal, but I shall never forget my first impression of the castle, a magnificent hill-top silhouette boldly opaque against the crimson of a setting sun.
I met Elizabeth the following morning, and it was as if she were a magic mirror, for we were of identical height, build and pale complexion. We became natural friends and she shared everything with me: food, garments, jewelry. In exchange, my duties consisted of one: to dress finely and visit the nearby towns in search of women to enlist in Elizabeth’s employ and entourage. “Young and unblemished,” she said.
I lived in a dream.
It was not until months later, after I had procured many women for Elizabeth, that my suspicions began. Despite my memory for faces, I would often fail to meet those I had previously engaged. They came to Castle of Csejte—and vanished…
My conscience gnawed at my dreams.
One evening, I decided to follow one of the new women to satisfy my curiosity and return peace to my soul. Yet what I discovered was the very crux of dread. Deep within the castle grounds there existed a tangle of hallways leading to five uneven chambers, and within one of these: waxen female bodies hanging by chains fastened around ankles, throats opened over faces painted in dry blood, some still slowly dripping into a long trough, through which their virgin blood flowed into an adjacent room, in which, amidst the persistent buzzing of flies:
A solitary metal tub filled with scarlet, stillness and tranquility…
Its surface broken—
By the emergence of Elizabeth’s face!
Through twisted hallways out under the anvillike night, through the grounds to the gate and beyond, over soft mounds through which despite my screams I heard the buried victims crying for impossible salvation.
Thunder in the back of my pulsing head.
I regained consciousness surrounded by warmth. But my comfort soured, for I realized I was in the blood tub! Held there by the arms of servants who smiled and called me by her villainous name!
The investigators arrived. The description fit, as did the clothes, and the eye-witnesses agreed I was the one who had come for their daughters.
In defence, I had but truth:
A lifetime imprisonment of truth.