CONSTANTINOPLE had fallen into the hands of the Turks, and disorder reigned in the Roumanian Principalities, mainly occasioned by the pretenders to the thrones.
In Moldavia, Stephen, who was afterwards surnamed the Great, made war against Aron, the murderer of his father, Bogdan, and putting to flight Berendei, who disputed his power, remained sole master of the crown, which he was destined to wear so gloriously for more than 40 years.
In Wallachia, Vlad the 5th, son of Vlad the Devil, cut his way to the throne, sabre in hand, and maintained it by the greatest terrorism and tyranny.
He formed a numerous army, cut off the heads of more than 500 Boyards, who would not join his party, caused to be massacred on one pretext or another, more than 20,000 men; and burned alive, in a barn, 400 Hungarians, whom he ordered to be shut up there, and who were living in his country.
These exploits accomplished, he crossed the Carpathians, and went into Transylvania, set fire to the four corners of the town of Brasov (Cronstadt), and seizing a number of the inhabitants, caused them to be empaled in front of the St. Jacob Church.
He then returned to his Principality, feared even more than death itself by the people, and having acquired the stigma to his name--Vlad the Empaler!
Had this tyrant contented himself with empaling Hamzi, the Pasha of Widdin, in the midst of the Turks, whom with Hamzi he had made prisoners; if his brutal rage, and his thirst for blood, had been exercised against the enemies of his country, that might have passed; there would have been some excuse--some extenuation for his senseless cruelty.
Vlad the Empaler, was an exception--monstrous, even in those barbaric times, which God in his malediction, does sometimes send as a curse to his people.
Vlad was created for the part he played; he hated foreigners! he bated the Boyards! he hated the people! He massacred, empaled, killed, without distinction for his own pleasure and security.
Vlad waged a war of extermination against the Turks augmented his army, and raised many fortresses his coffers were empty, and he laid heavy
taxes upon his people. Poor and rich alike Must all contribute to give him money. But the people revolted, all--great and small--refused the heavy impositions which he wished to force upon them. Vlad drew back an instant, full of rage, and swearing to himself to be terribly revenged, when the suitable moment presented itself.
It was not long in coming!
In Tergoviste, all is joy! It is 1470, and Easter Day! Every one is out in holiday attire, wending their way towards the church, or walking about the streets; the bells are ringing, and everything seems joyous under this bright blue sky. Vlad, alone, is sombre and silent. He has not forgotten that once he was obliged to bend to the will of his subjects, and dreams continually of vengeance.
All at once he rises, and calls around him his Captains, and gives his instructions to them in a low voice.
Soon, armed soldiers are assembled in the Castle Court; they leave by detachments, in silence, spread themselves along the streets of Tergoviste, close in the public places, and surround the churches. All
who were outside, laughing, or inside, at the foot of the altar,--those who smiled, and those who prayed, all found themselves in a circle of iron, seized, thrown pell mell into the enclosure of the palace. Men, women, children, without distinction of age, sex, or condition were there-mute and terror-stricken, awaiting some great and inevitable calamity. Vlad regarded them with a mocking laugh; his eye, as it glanced over them, was that of a wild beast which has its prey in its power, and rejoicing at the nameless horror which he saw depicted on all their faces; he decided to make them acquainted with his will.
The Empaler had been one day hunting along the banks of the river Argis, and had remarked on Mount Albina, a position which he considered admirable. It was an immense rock, on the top of which was a capacious platform, but so high that it seemed to touch the clouds.
Vultures, and birds of prey, alone, inhabited it, and the tumultuous waves of the Argis, beat continually at its base.
Vlad conceived the design, there to build a fortress, which would be impregnable; but for that, he
needed money, and his people had refused it to him! Then he came to another resolution, and with this he now made his prisoners acquainted.
"You would not give me the money I needed," he said, "well, keep it! I will not have you killed to chastise you for your revolt, but I condemn you all, just as you are, to build with your own hands a Fortress on the top of Mount Albina. I wish it to be the largest, the best built, and the most impregnable of all which I possess. You will not leave the mountain until all is finished. My soldiers, have the right of life and death over you, to force you to carry out my instructions."
No sooner said than done, and these unfortunate creatures, young and old, huddled together in gala dress, without saying good-bye to those who were happy enough to have remained at home, were conducted, like criminals, to the bank of the river, at the foot of the mountain. Then, after making footpaths, almost perpendicular in the mountain, they gained the platform, and were surrounded by their stern guardians, exposed to every change in the atmosphere, and to nameless tortures.
Masons, stonecutters, carpenters, blacksmiths, all those who knew any trade, set to work. Those who hitherto had been brought up in luxury, mixed mortar, women chipped stones, young girls carried water, and even children were set to work suitable for their age. One might see at the top and the sides of the mountain, a human ant-hill, always in motion, occupied in this atrocious labour.
Sun, rain, and wind, blackened their faces; their clothes hung in shreds; their features haggard and careworn, some eyes burning with rage, others with the submission of despair. These are no longer human beings, but machines, stupified by sorrow, and no longer able oven to implore God above, to send down his maledictions on the tyrant. Still their work progressed, and soon this citta dolente, was completed.
Vlad arrives, and after looking at it with the minutest attention, seeing that it equalled his expectations, in his clemency, sent back to their dwellings all that remained of these miserable workpeople.
On the banks of the Argis, not far from Stoieneste, may still be seen the ruins of what is called in the country, the cursed ruins of the Fortress of Poinarii.