The boy gazed out the arched window and listened as the call to prayer echoed off the walls and minarets in the haze of a fiery sunset. He hated the Muslims, but he found that haunting song strangely beautiful.
“Why aren’t you going to prayer, Yusef?” said the boy as he lay on his stomach, a servant dressing the lash marks on his back.
Yusef the man-servant shrugged. “I think Allah will forgive me this just once. Besides, your wounds need care, young master.”
The boy flinched as Yusef gently applied a healing ointment.
“My brother may not mind getting buggered by the sultan, but I will never willingly offer myself to his urges,” said the boy.
Yusef sighed. “And you will continue to be lashed.” The servant set the ointment jar on a table. “There, I am done. I think you will live.”
The boy pushed himself up into a sitting position as Yusef handed him a fresh tunic. “I am a prince,” the boy said as he dressed. “A prince does not succumb to the whims of a twisted old man.”
“But your brother has,” said Yusef. “And he is a prince.”
“Radu is no prince. More like a princess.”
The boy stared at him.
“Forgive me, young master,” said the servant as he placed his hand over his heart and gave a slight bow. “Oh, I almost forgot. I bought something for you today at the bazaar.” Yusef went to a leather bag hanging from a peg on the wall, reached in, and pulled out an item. “Here, I thought you might find it entertaining. It’s a puzzle-box.”
The boy took the box and studied it. It was metallic, with strange etchings upon it’s surface. This was an early example of a puzzle-box that would be perfected three centuries later by Philip Lemarchand, a French maker of mechanical birds. LeMarchand would construct more than 270 of his puzzle-boxes before vanishing off the face of the earth.
“How does it work?” said the boy.
Yusef shrugged. “I know not.”
The boy set the puzzle-box on his cot. “I will rest now,” he said. “Find your leave.”
Yusef bowed again. “Very good, young master.”
The boy was restless as he lay on his stomach, pillows propped up under his chin. He knew someday he would leave this heathen hell-hole and return home to his father. But until then, he had to survive.
He sat up, and lit an oil-lamp hanging beside the bed. He looked about for the puzzle-box among the blankets. Finding it, he again examined its craftsmanship. It was a thing of beauty. He scratched his head, then went to work on trying to figure out its “puzzle”.
The concept of time became lost to the boy as he spent hours obsessing over the box. Then, out of pure luck he heard a “click” and the top third of the puzzle-box began to automatically rotate counter-clockwise. And as it did, a tinkling of bells could be heard. When it stopped, the bottom third began to rotate clockwise. And what was originally light bells, now began to sound like the church bells of the boy’s homeland. But the sound did not come from the box, but from somewhere else, far away, yet very near.
“Who could have made such a thing?” whispered the boy.
Now, if he had gone to the bazaar and inquired as to the origins of the strange little device, he would have learned that it had been created by a heterodox sect of Muslims back in the 9th century. This small band of heretics revered the book called the Al Azif, written in the 8th century by the “Mad Arab” Abdul Alhazred. During that age the Azif gained considerable, though surreptitious, circulation among the practitioners of the arcane arts. Then, in 950, it was translated into Greek by Theodorus Philetas and given the title The Necronomicon.
He set the puzzle-box on the table and watched. The top of the box slowly opened, and the walls of his chamber began to grow faint, dissolving, and the flame from the oil lamp flared. But the boy paid little heed to these things. His eyes were fixed on the box.
The sound of bells tolled one last time, the oil lamp went out, and the chamber was cloaked in a blackness darker than that he could ever imagine. The darkness was stifling and he could feel a pressure, as though he were at the bottom of a deep lake.
There was a strange scent in the air, like sweet spices and a soft azure glow began to compete with the blackness. Then he heard heavy breathing.
He turned, and where the wall beside his bed should have been, was now an open void, and standing before him was a creature the likes of which his young eyes had never beheld. The boy jumped to his feet.
“I have come,” said the creature. Its thick black lips smiled.
The being before him was a man, or may have been at one time. How it could be speaking, or even breathing, was beyond the boy’s imagination. It had iron stakes, many, shoved through its leather-clad body, some going from the right hip up through the left shoulder, others through the rib-cage, the back, shoulders and even out the top of its bald, blue/white head.
“Do you know what you have done, boy?” said the being in a soft voice, speaking a language that was neither Turkish, nor his native Romanian, yet the boy somehow understood it. “You have called upon me, and I have come. Now we shall leave.”
“Where?” muttered the boy.
“Where? Where?” The creature laughed. “We go to a land of green fields, and open meadows with flowers as far as the eye can see!” The sound of its laughter boomed. It consumed the boy. He covered his ears.
“Be gone!” the boy yelled.
“I shall, but not without you.”
“I will not go with you!” the boy said, his voice cracking, is heart racing.
“Ah, but you must. It is how it is done.”
“What can I do to prevent my leaving?”
The being stared at the boy with eyes like two orbs of polished ebony. “Nothing,” it finally said.
“There must be something!”
“Souls,” said the being. “But you are in no position to grant my request.”
“Souls?” said the boy.
“Yes,” said the being. “Sacrifices to me.”
“I will do that,” said the boy.
The being laughed. “How? You are but a child.”
“But I am a prince. I have power.”
The being grinned. “The lashes on your back say otherwise.”
“But I will have power someday! And then you will have your souls!”
The being was silent for many long moments. “Very well.” It finally said. “I would like to see what you can do, for I detect a blackness at the core of your being.”
“I will do it,” said the boy.
“You have but twenty years, which is naught but a moment to me. If it is not done within that time period, then I shall return for you. And we shall get to know one another very well!”
- Sultan Mehmed II had raised a great army with the objective to conquer Wallachia, a principality in Romania, and annex it to his empire. He found justification for this because the Wallachian prince had refused to pay his taxes to the Ottoman Emipre.
Mehmed, with a force of 60,000 troops and 30,000 irregulars, headed toward war with Wallachia. But as he got within view of the capital city of Târgoviște, he noticed the sky was heavy with birds. Then he was greeted by the sight of a veritable forest of stakes on which the Wallachian prince had impaled 20,000 Turkish prisoners, the bodies rotting under the summer sun.
Horrified, the Sultan and his troops retreated.
Vlad Dracula had kept his promise.