By: Rhiannon Mills
I first met her when she was in her last few years on earth, though I’m sure she didn’t know it at the time. Radiance and sexuality dripped from this woman’s every pore. Her eyes were dark, but alive with passion and life. Her milk-white skin was a beautiful contrast to the red velvet robe that she wore. Raven hair twisted in and out of an ornate dressing on top of her head caught my attention, but I tried not to stare at her. It just simply wasn’t something you would want to be caught doing, especially in the dank, dark, repugnant dungeon.
She demanded the attention of everyone in the room when she walked down the stairs and took her place next to Janos and Ilona. Her eyes, dark and demented, darted from me to the other girl that was with me in the dungeon, a young gypsy girl named Susanna.
“That one is a bit pale.” Erszebet frowned, pointing at Susanna. Then she added, “but, she’ll do after a quick meal, I think.”
Ilona nodded and quickly ran up the stairs. I had assumed that she was going after food for Susanna, but I wasn’t sure. It was rumored that to work in the castle for the Countess was a great pleasure years ago, but that lately it was a game of pins and needles--one wrong move and you were done for. I was suddenly worried for Susanna and myself.
I wasn’t sure where Susanna had been picked up from, but I was the daughter of one of the late Count’s confidants. Surely his widow would keep me safe, or I had at least hoped for as much.
Ilona Jo waddled back down the stairs with a bowl of fruit. Susanna gave me a worried look and pushed a few unruly locks of her curly dark hair out of her face, but she reluctantly took a pear from the bowl with Ilona’s taunting.
Janos Ujvary stood silently as the Countess whispered into his ear, but I couldn’t make out what she said to him. The two were intimate friends, I could tell. The way he moved her hair behind her ear when he whispered his response to whatever it was that she said and the way she smiled when he delivered his response was all I needed to know that the two were closer than the rest of us once thought--this was apparently no ordinary manservant, but if he was, you sure could have fooled me. I wondered if she were this intimate with the other manservants in the castle, but to inquire about it (even with other maids) could have dire consequences.
It wasn’t long before I found out for sure just exactly how intimate they were; all of them were intimate with each other, in one way or another. Ilona Jo was not shy at all about helping the Countess out of her robes and into the large tub in the middle of the room. It was customary for women and maids to help the heads of the household into a bath, but the way Ilona looked at her was unsettling and Erzsebet didn’t seem to mind it at all.
I was suddenly terrified. Janos didn’t fill the tub with water as I’d assumed he’d do and Erzsebet didn’t sit down in the tub. She stood in it, stark naked, and smiled at Ilona Jo, then at Janos.
“Let’s begin, shall we? I grow tired.” The Countess said with a yawn and then she looked at Janos, who had immediately darted to her side. “How many tonight? I need more.”
“Only four.” He said, smiling at her. “But, there will be more soon.”
I was confused.
Ilona quickly lit several candles around the tub and then, swiftly, grabbed Susanna’s elbow. Susanna dropped the pear core she’d had in her hands and shouted as a reflex to being grabbed.
“Quiet, girl.” Ilona smirked. The laugh lines and wrinkles around her eyes and mouth showed as she spoke. She whirled Susanna around the tub and pushed her into an iron cage full of spikes. Susanna screamed in protest, but it didn’t matter. No one would hear her from the dungeon.
Before anyone else made any other moves, Ilona had the cage shut tight and the two-inch long spikes that were spread all through the inside of the cage pushed into Susanna’s skin, piercing her body in a million places at once.
Had it not been for the adrenaline pumping through my body, I might have tried to run, but outrunning Janos would be impossible. He was faster than anyone I’d ever met. That man could outrun any animal, person, or cart. He was in charge of the horses from time to time and I’d seen him run after an unruly horse a few times. There was no way I’d make it out of that dungeon unless I kept my wits about me and stayed sharp minded. I would have to outsmart Ilona Jo, which wasn’t a big deal because she wasn’t so intelligent, but more than that, I would have to outsmart both the countess and Janos and that wouldn’t be easy.
Susanna’s screams faded, but her whimpers remained. The spikes were not pushed completely in her skin, but Ilona held a rope that hoisted the cage over the tub in the center of the room. My stomach sank when it dawned on me that she was planning on collecting the blood in the big tub.
After seeing the gypsy girl having her flesh pierced, I knew what had happened to all of the other maids who had disappeared or died recently--and there had been dozens, maybe even hundreds of them.Perhaps, I thought, Ilona may actually benefit from the beauty regime of our countess...
The countess stepped out of the tub and approached me, but spoke to Janos. “Where are the other two?” Her beauty quickly faded (in my eyes) into evil.
I could hear Janos from elsewhere in the room. I didn’t dare to look around to find him with Erzsebet closing in on me. My eyes were locked on hers. The fear was so thick around me that I’m sure she knew that she’d terrified me to pieces. I shook uncontrollably.
“Gone.” Janos said, but his voice was fading from elsewhere.
The countess looked at me and rested her hands on her bare hips. “She’s a good one, Janos. You do have an eye for what I’m looking for.”
“I thought she reminded me of you.” Janos answered her, but this time his voice was close. He was behind me.
A tear ran down the side of my face, but I quickly stiffened my posture and sucked it up a bit. No crying. No whining. Just take whatever they give me and act like it’s nothing...
I shuddered when Erzsebet reached her hand over my shoulder to touch Janos. She cocked her head to once side and smiled at him over my shoulder, then said, “Janos, you flatter me.”
I wondered what they were going to do to me. I looked up at Susanna and wondered what was going through her head as she was being hoisted to the ceiling in the blood caked contraption she stood in. Only God knew how many other girls’ blood were on those spikes or if they washed them before using them again. By the smell of the dungeon, I somehow doubted it.
“How old are you?” This time, the countess spoke directly to me.
“Nineteen.” I told her, my lip trembling just a little.
“You are young, but why are you not married already?” She asked me, her eyes narrowing.
I shook my head. She’d hit a nerve. “My intended has died, Countess.”
“Fighting the Turks?” She turned her head to the side.
“Yes.” I told her. I felt my feet slip a little beneath me. I was light headed, but strong arms held my hips enough so that I was somehow still standing. I could feel Janos behind me and it terrified me even more. His fingertips were burning into my flesh through the simple nightshift that I had on.
“Her betrothed fought along Ferenc’s side, Erzsebet.” Janos breathed over my shoulder. “He was a soldier.”
The countess bit her lip and then stared at me. “Then, it should be proof that she is still a virgin, yes? The soldiers do not mess with their intended brides. From my experience, they try to rape my maids instead!”
Something in her eyes changed for a moment as she looked me up and down. I felt isolated, trapped, and ultimately doomed, but I was determined. I would live through this, whatever this was.
“And what of you now, girl? What is your plan for your future?” She looked at me again.
“I have none.” I said.
She didn’t respond to this, but walked away from me, still completely comfortable being nude in front of her maid and manservant. She picked up a candle from a table against the far wall and brought it to me, then raised it to my face. “Her skin is flawless.”
Janos released me, but still stood behind me. I was sure then that it was only so I couldn’t escape. “I told you she reminded me of you.”
“You did well, Janos. Now, tell me what she’s done.”
“I’ve done nothing!” I snapped. I don’t know why I did it, but I couldn’t hold my tongue.
The countess stared at me harshly. “I wasn’t talking to you.”
Janos moved to stand next to me, shifting his weight and folding both of his large arms over his chest. “She has been accused of wanton behaviour unbecoming of a maid in your household.”
“What has she done, Janos?” The countess laughed.
Ilona Jo approached from the shadows, a few blood drips from Susanna’s cage had dropped onto her shoulders and face. “This one keeps flirting with your stable boys.”
My heart began to race. One of the boys in the stable was a lifelong friend. We did speak from time to time, but I would never consider it wanton behavior. I wouldn’t even let him hold my hand as we took our nightly walk through the stable to check on the horses. I wouldn’t even allow him to inquire of my lack of a husband!
“A loose woman, then? Ah--I should have known that a girl with such flawless skin, such a pretty face, could not be trusted.” The countess then turned to me. “As a woman, you have to present yourself in such a way that no one knows your secrets. You can’t just give them away, young woman.”
My heart was nearly breaking at that point. I wasn’t sure whether or not I should give up and resign myself to an iron cage--like Susanna had so willingly done--or if I should defend myself and my own honor and reputation. “I have a friend in the stables, but I promise that I have not misbehaved in any way. I would never blacken your name in that way, Countess!” I protested, but she only laughed at my attempts at redemption.
“If Janos says that you misbehaved in my household, I believe him. He has never lied to me before.”
Janos smirked. His face was childlike, but he had a contradictory body. He was built like a tree, strong and stout. I’d never thought before that there was anything evil about this man, though. I’d always assumed that he’d kept his place as manservant to the countess and her husband for so many years because of his strength and good character. I never would have guessed that she kept him in her employ because of her own dark deeds.
I didn’t have to wonder about the rumors anymore, though. Perhaps he was helping her destroy bodies and evidence of whatever dark deeds she was guilty of. Perhaps he really was one of the lovers she kept. None of us knew, but I could take a really good guess at that point.
I couldn’t figure out why Ilona Jo was kept, though. She was older, ugly, and didn’t have a very pleasant disposition. It was doubtful that she and the countess were actually lovers, as many others had speculated. Ilona had been in the employ of the countess since the countess was born.
“I promise you, Countess, I have done nothing wrong.”
“Did you have sexual intercourse with this stable boy? Perhaps we should ask him.” The countess laughed. “Which one is it? Ilona can fetch him if we need him here.”
My stomach sank. I couldn’t let that happen. My friend, the stable boy, had been sickly from birth. He was always so pale and if he were to bleed, he would cover the ground in his blood. To say that he was a free bleeder would have been an understatement. He wouldn’t last long in one of those cages.
As if on cue, I heard Susanna cry out as Ilona pulled a rope and the cage closed in on her body just another inch more. Blood spurted and fell into the tub below.
I realized that they didn’t ask about what Susanna had done wrong. What was the difference between she and I? The only thing I could think of was my birth and hers. She was just a gypsy girl, not born of the same high blood as I was.
“Please don’t!” I called out. “I did it. I seduced him. It was not his fault at all.”
“Out of the harlot’s mouth.” Erzsebet smirked. “The punishment must match the crime, Janos.”
He shrugged. “What do you say?”
Ilona Jo pulled the rope again and the contraption tightened in on Susanna. Her screams filled the dungeon for a moment, but she quieted into sobs and pleas for release soon after.
I choked a bit, but then pleaded with her. “Do whatever you must to me, but leave him alone. He did nothing wrong.”
“I’m not interested in him.” The countess laughed. “But, you--I must find a way to make you understand that you cannot conduct yourself in that way if you intend to stay in my castle.”
“Yes, of course.” I told her. My knees began to wobble just a bit, but I felt Janos grab my elbow and yank me back up.
“If you wish to make a display of yourself,” the countess started, “We can help you with that. If you wish to become a spectacle and for the men to see every single part of you, worry not. I will make a spectacle of you and you will not have to do it yourself.”
Janos cracked a smile and stared at the countess. “What did you have in mind?”
“Make her a spectacle, Janos.” The countess pointed to a stack of round wooden poles lying on the floor in the corner. “Push the pole into the ground where everyone can see it.”
“Right now?” He asked her.
“Yes, right now.” The countess snapped.
Janos shrugged, but obediently picked up the pole and carried it, with no trouble at all, up the stairs. As soon as she was confident that Janos was gone and that no one else could hear her, she grabbed the neckline of my shift and ripped the thin, white material completely down the front until it was open. With another short yank, she’d pulled it off and it fell in a pool at my feet.
I trembled as she traced my collarbone with her fingertips. “You are not a virgin, then? You seduced this stable boy?”
“I am a virgin.” I told her. “But, I did have an unsavory relationship with the stable boy.”
“You should have known better.” The countess told me.
I was hoping that Ilona Jo was looming somewhere near us, but she was busy with Susanna, draining the poor girl of whatever blood her body held. I wanted so badly for someone to intervene and demand that the countess stop with this. I wanted someone to say that the countess had gone too far and that the king would hear of this. Unfortunately, I was alone with the beautiful monster that she was.
I followed the countess with my eyes as her gaze fell over my body, one part at a time, as if she was assessing what I had. She stared from one breast to the other, then down my stomach and hips. She put her hands on my waist and turned me around. I couldn’t see what she was doing, but I felt her hot gaze on me. When she forced me to turn around again, I was crying.
What I felt at that point was a good mix of shame and fear. When she looked at me, her eyes serious and her mouth parted just a bit, I wanted to gag or vomit, but I couldn’t allow myself to do that.
I looked over the countess’s shoulder and saw that Susanna was no longer alive. Her body was limp in its cage and her eyes were void and lifeless. Blood continued to spurt into the tub below.
“It’s going to get cold.” Ilona mumbled to herself, aggravated with her job filling the tub.The countess pulled my arm and led me to a table. “Climb up.” She told me.
I did as she said and I pulled myself onto the table. The countess rested her hands over my knees and did a quick assessment of my legs.
“Are you going to kill me?”
Throwing her head back, the countess released a loud, hearty laugh. “Of course not. I’m just going to show you what you’ve done wrong.”
“How?” I asked.
“If you can’t keep your legs shut,” the countess flashed a sly smile, “then we’ll have to go straight to the source of the problem.”
I was confused.
“And that is?” I asked her. “Unruly girl! You should know. It’s the part of you that you can’t keep to yourself. Just as soon as Janos is back, he and Ilona and I will show you.”
A million things went through my head, but none so horrible as the thing that was actually to come to pass. It didn’t take Janos long to return to the dungeon, though when he did he was covered in wet mud and dirt from pushing the pole into the ground. When he saw me sitting on the table, he looked at me through squinted eyes. “Is she ready?”
Erzsebet shrugged. “I need you and Ilona to hold her down and I need my needle and thread.”
I was hoping that Ilona would suddenly forget where the needles were kept or that a flood would suddenly crash into the castle and we’d all be wiped away, but no such luck was to be mine that night. Instead, Ilona quickly materialized a perfect rusty needle and a spool of dark thread and handed them to the countess.
Before I knew it, Janos rested a hand on each one of my shoulders and pushed me backwards onto the hard wooden table as hard as he could until my head and back slammed into the planks behind me. The splitting headache was instant and I got a few very large splinters in my back.
“Ilona, hold her there.” Janos instructed the older woman. At first it made no sense to me why he’d have the elder of the three of them holding my shoulders. He was bigger and stronger. Shouldn’t he be holding the part of me that would undoubtedly be the hardest to hold down?
Then, I realized that I was right about one thing. He would be holding down the hardest part to hold, but it wasn’t going to be my shoulders. When the countess pushed my knees apart, exposing the most intimate part of my anatomy, I cried out with my shame and it all became clear.
Janos held my legs apart and the countess threaded her needle as she sat at the end of the table.
The first painful prick of the needle into the softer outer lips of my parts caught me a bit off guard. I had no idea that this was what she had meant to do to me. My screams were laughed at as the countess sewed me up. Ilona Jo occasionally told me to hush or pushed my forehead back down when I tried to raise up, but other than that, the three of them ignored me.
It was done in minutes, but it had felt like hours to me. I could feel and smell the blood that had spilled because of my new injuries, but I was too ashamed to ask for them to help me--it was a lost cause anyhow.
When the countess was done sewing, she ordered Ilona Jo to push me into a sitting position, which hurt almost as much as the sewing. My body throbbed and I wanted to die. What worth would I have now that I was permanently mutilated in the one part of me that a husband would surely inspect?
For a moment, I looked up and saw Janos staring at me through his green-gray eyes and I thought I saw a smidge of humanity in his gaze. It looked like sympathy to me, but there was really no way to be sure. Could it be that he was under the countess’s spell, too? Just like the others who fell at her feet at the bat of a damned eyelash.
His sympathy did not last, however, because it was he who wrapped me in his arms and carried my shaking, bleeding body up the stairs.
“If you scream, we’ll kill you now.” The countess told me.
She didn’t immediately follow Janos, which worried me a little bit, but as he quickly carried me to the front of the castle and stood me up, he whispered into my ear, “It will be over soon enough. Don’t fight it. It’ll be worse if you do.”
I didn’t say anything. That was enough for me to know what was really going on, the real story. Our countess was batshit crazy.
Janos stood me up in front of the pole he’d pushed into the ground earlier. We were to the front of the castle, but far enough into the trees that no one would find me or hear me. Half an hour later, when he saw that the countess and Ilona had come outside to make sure that he was doing everything the right way, he hardened his expression again and tied me to the dreaded thing so that my hands were bound behind me and my feet were bound together, which did not make my bleeding parts feel any better.
It began to sprinkle tiny droplets of rain at that point and I’d lost all the fight inside that I’d ever had. It was hopeless. I couldn’t escape her, the countess I’d once--very long ago--looked up to. I didn’t fight Janos as he tightened the ropes so that I couldn’t escape. I didn’t look at the countess as she covered me in honey from a jar that Ilona held. I didn’t look at Ilona as she pointed out all the little bits of my skin that the countess may have missed.
In my head, I was thinking of all the ways I could escape. I could scream, but it was unlikely that anyone would hear me. I could try to pull the pole from the ground, but seeing as Janos had put it there himself, it was unlikely that it would be a very easy thing to do, particularly for someone in my shape.
“You wished to be a spectacle, young girl, so now you are one. You can be a spectacle for all of the insects that fly around, looking for something sweet. You can be a spectacle for the wild animals looking for something to eat. The wolves, the bears...You can be a spectacle for everything in these Little Carpathian mountains. You can be a spectacle unto yourself.” With that, the countess smiled at me. “And when there is nothing left of life inside of your harlot’s body, we’ll come and get you while the blood is fresh. I’ll bathe away the sins that you’ve committed.”
Janos winced at the countess. “Should someone stay and keep watch?”
The countess laughed. “We’ll check on her every few hours, Janos. In the meantime, meet me at my tub."
Janos, Ilona, and the countess left me there in the Little Carpathians. A lone wolf’s howling in the distance startled me, and then I heard its pack answer. Mosquitos flocked to me and it took little over six hours for my body to become a cushion for the insects to penetrate however they liked.