BY: LUCIA GOREA

Who was the real Count Dracula? A bloodthirsty vampire? A medieval prince? A ruthless tyrant? Or a famous voivode who skillfully defended his land?

In 1442, on a somber morning in Wallachia, Vlad and his younger brother, Radu, bid farewell to their weeping, heartbroken mother. Their father has given them to Sultan Murad II, ruler of the Ottoman Empire, to prove his loyalty to the Turks.

One of the boys will adapt well to captivity. The other won’t…

Dracula ~ Count of Darkness tells a gripping true story of passion, betrayal, resentment, and revenge—and an obsession to conquer and rule.

TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Dracula ~ Count of Darknessby Lucia Gorea, Vlad, the Prince of Wallachia (Romania), rules his country with an iron hand, punishing all who betray or oppose him, and anyone he even thinks has, by impaling them on stakes. The story is told in present tense, which isn’t my favorite tense, but the author’s descriptions are so vivid and her character’s so real, I quickly got past that.

Gorea really seems to know her history as her characters are so real, I almost felt like I knew them personally. The story has a ring of truth that is rare, especially for a new author.

REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Dracula ~ Count of Darkness by Lucia Gorea is first-rate historical fiction. I don’t know the author’s background, but she really knows her history. She takes us through the life of Vlad, the impaler, Prince of Wallachia /Romania, from his childhood through to the end of his reign. The story is graphic and definitely not for the faint of heart. I learned a great deal I never knew about Vlad, the basis of the Dracula legend. Gorea made the history come to life. I think it is the way history should be taught. Maybe if I had had history teachers like her in high school and college I wouldn’t have done so poorly at it.

Gorea really did her research, giving the story an authenticity that you don’t normally see. Her characters are so real and her descriptions so vivid, it makes you feel like you’re right there watching first hand. It takes a talented author to do that.

Chapter 1

Wallachia, in what is now present-day southern Romania, 1457:

The fierce screams cut into the dusk like an axe hitting the soft bark of a young tree not yet ready to fall under its weight. The air is filled with the fresh smell of blood that tickles his nostrils in such a delightful way. He grins and bites into a large chunk of meat. The whining and moaning become vivid chants that follow a certain pattern of a church chorus. Loud bestial moaning, deep guttural roaring, incoherent phrases that implore the Almighty to change what can no longer be changed.

These sounds that come to him through open windows increase his appetite and arouse his instincts. He gobbles large chunks of meat one after another and then impassibly throws half-eaten pieces on the floor, leaving enough meat on boar and geese bones to feed the hungriest dogs. His sturdy jeweled fingers grab jugs filled with delicious drinks that quench his thirst. The cold drink is dripping half down his throat and half down his chin and farther to his chest, damping his mantle and golden sequined robe. He then spits on the floor the rest of the meat stuck between his teeth and burps loudly to let his servants know that the meal is completed.

Hastily, two servants bring him a silver bowl of water and a piece of clean embroidered cloth. They invite the prince to wash and dry his hands after such a copious feast. With a slow but firm gesture, he dismisses the two servants.

He wants to savor this moment alone, so he walks briskly toward one of his castle’s windows. The heavy velvety drapes are pulled apart to allow him to view this spectacular scene entirely. From here, he glances at the tree-like stakes that populate his courtyard. How many? he asks himself. Hundreds? Thousands? He grins.

The grass that once was green is now red with noble blood that drips slowly and stubbornly, drop by drop, as if life wanted to hang on and not let go. He is watching as the night falls over the town.

His steady steps echo onto the copper marble as he passes through the dim hallways to reach the gardens that surround his castle.

“The torch!” he orders briefly.

“Yes, my lord,” says one of the servants while he backs up, bowing.

The field is still alive with voices. The inferno, one who is not accustomed to this scene, would say. He makes his way through the forest of stakes that are aligned like vineyards. Here, an eyeball, lying half-buried in a muddy puddle; there a pair of ears that belonged to a Turkish noble; farther, a hand with two fingers chopped with the precise movement of a sword; a male head with eyes still open, thrown not far from where his body rests; dozens of male and female arms, half or entirely chopped; mutilated faces without noses; tongues removed and cut into small pieces; heads with eye sockets, where crows nest at ease; then women’s breasts that once were round and plump have now lost their shape and look like ragged skin, old, too old to be even recognizable.

His eyes welcome the moonlight and move eagerly from one body to another, from one chopped leg to another, vividly assuring himself that the job has been done well and that no mistake has been made.

His step quickens as the moaning deepens. Loose hands of still breathing bodies hiked up on dull stakes try to grab his mantle as it brushes them on his way to the edge of the courtyard. Then, without blinking, he chops the hands that dared to ask for forgiveness or that attempted a last chance to live.

As he approaches the freshest mutilated bodies, the odor is unbearable. He gazes into nobles’ eyes, eyes that can speak more than their voices could, if tongues had not been removed or pierced with the sharp stake, sharpened especially for this punishment.

His walk is quick and precise. He knows his look is impenetrable, as his right hand rests on the hilt of the sword ready to act if needed. He stops to inspect the place with his lighted torch. Then he inhales the misty odor deep into his lungs and continues his stroll, carelessly stepping on legs, arms, eyeballs, and noses.

An hour has passed since his promenade in his courtyard, and now it is time to return to the castle for other guilty pleasures. The few drops of rain become intense in no time, blending with puddles of blood making his walk unsteady and slippery, a swish-slash of black boots that leave marks on the paths for a long, long time.

Two servants eagerly help the prince, one by opening the heavy door of the castle, and the other by holding the torch and guiding his master into his private chamber.

No words are uttered.

One of the servants unties his master’s mantle and slowly undresses the prince, removing layer after layer, revealing a stocky, well-built body that no one would guess could hide such a strong personality. Vlad is absent-minded. If it weren’t for the flickering of the torch or for the layers of clothing that fall softly on the floor, he wouldn’t even notice another presence in the chamber.

The servant shows him the way that leads to a bedchamber where a large wooden tub is placed in the middle of the room. The Prince of Wallachia slowly steps into the tub filled with steaming water and fragrant oils without even lifting his eyes to see which servant is performing the ritual. With a water jug, the servant pours hot, almost boiling water over the prince’s tense body, water that is falling in cascades, allowing him to loosen up and free himself from too many worries and thoughts. The steam forms thick, well-contoured circles, which dissipate nowhere, as if they had never existed. Vlad stays there for God knows how long and lets the water whip his body in such a pleasant way. While he soaks, he dreamingly sips red wine, savoring the fruity liquid that bursts with flavors of ripe juicy grapes. He then puts the cup back on the wooden board that is placed across the width of the tub to form a table.

Once the ritual is completed, the Prince of Wallachia steps out slowly, carefully, shoulders erect, and silently he heads toward the rather large and austere room, where a regal bed is placed nicely in the middle of the room.

On the bed, that is quite high, several blankets and handmade silk cushions are arranged neatly. He lets himself sink into the covers and sighs deeply, worried, too worried of what tomorrow may bring to his people. He glances at his reflection in the polished golden vase on the night table. His frowning forms a deep line between his arcade-shaped bushy eyebrows, halfway covering his heavy eyelids that stay open even at this hour of the night. The flame of the torch flickers nervously ready to go out, lighting the room too much at times, or diminishing its light until almost ceasing its quiver. He likes the dance of the flame that forms shadows on the bare walls. Impassibly, he watches the flickering movement on his naked hands, his strong arms, his hairy chest, forgetting, for an instant, that he is Prince Dracula.

He imagines that his eyes are glistening in the moonlight that peeks from a far corner of the grayish, blackish sky, and someone who would not notice, would take them for two pieces of black pearls that have just been polished to give brightness to the gloomy room. With his gaze fixed on the ceiling, he indulges in memories that haunt him again like so many times in the past. The shadows on the wall become real, and he finds himself back in time, just a little boy in a place where no blood needed to be shed, where innocence meant beauty, love, and compassion.

His mother’s soft, clear voice comes to him from the past, as if she were standing next to him. Her kindness and loving care almost make his eyes teary. Her affectionate words, ‘Vlad dear, it’s time for reading,’ or, ‘how was your history or mathematics lesson today?’ make him smile.

He recalls how he used to recite Greek and Latin quotes from Hippocrates, Julius Caesar, or Aristotle; a few are still vivid in his mind, Si vis pacem, para bellum, pro libertate eos occubuisse, Veni, vidi, vici, and Diaírei kaì basíleue.

Vlad grins. He cannot believe that all these scenes become real, too real in this chamber where he rests alone, just him and his thoughts. The light that still flickers makes concave shapes on the ceiling, but he is no longer observing the shapes but rather the shadows of the past that take shape right in front of his eyes, so bright that he can see colors. He can hear clear voices, ghostly whispers of the past…