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Submission Synopsis

Ladies of the Dragon


by Annette Ranald


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Length: 244,440


Genre: Gothic, Historical, Women's, Romance


Sentence: The "real" story of Prince Vlad Dracula, the man and the legend, told by the woman who knew and loved him best--his wife.


Blurb: At long last! The ultimate "true story" of Prince Vlad Dracula, the Impaler, told by his wife, the Lady of the Dragon.  Did he really sell his soul to evil to become an undead monster?  The Lady tells how her man followed an even more infamous path through history, and how over time his legend has become darker yet.


Synopsis: As the daughter of a crusader and sister of Hungary"s greatest king, Countess Ilona Bathory-Szilaghy is a unique, but unknown, witness to some of the most epic and violent events in history.  Having lost her mother and sisters in a Turkish raid, Ilona pledges her life to avenging their murders, the defense of her Hungarian homeland and the crusade against Christendom"s enemies.


In time, Ilona will meet and come to love a man whose life symbolizes her quest, Prince Vlad of Wallachia, known to history as Vlad the Impaler.  A bitter enemy of the Turks who cast such terrible shadows over his own childhood, Vlad will settle for nothing less than the reconquest of his birthright, Wallachia, and the right to call himself a Knight of the Dragon-and ultimately Champion of Christ.


Together, Vlad and Ilona, he one of history"s most evil and misunderstood men, she the child of one of Eastern Europe"s most infamous families, unite and risk their lives, their fortunes and even their souls to carry out their mutual quest.  Vlad will die in battle in 1476 and will emerge from the mists of time only centuries later as the infamous vampire, Dracula.


But, was he a vampire?  Did he sell his soul?  And, who was the woman who claimed his heart and shared his darkest secrets?  The Dragon"s Lady now tells her story, in her own words. 



Budapest Hungary, 1488
I found the pamphlet lying on the table in my brother"s library where I usually sat to spread the heavy manuscripts and maps I used for my language studies. I have been fascinated with languages and writing since I was a child and have had plenty of opportunity to indulge my interest throughout my life. My brother, actually my half-brother although we have never made that distinction, is Matthias Corvinus, King of Hungary. He has a library second only to that of the Pope in Rome, stocked with books in French, German, Czech, Polish, Latin, Greek, Slavonic, Cyrillic and Arabic. Most of them are hand-written manuscripts, richly illuminated, but since Guttenberg"s printing of the Bible in 1452, of which my father, Hunyadi Janos, had one of the first complete editions to come off the press, printed books are also part of the collection.

Pamphlets are an offshoot of the printing trade. Meant for mass consumption by people who are not educated enough to wade their way through a book, a pamphlet generally contains a nutshell version of a sermon, a political diatribe, a narrative of a battle, or whatever else an author wishes to vent to the merchants, shopkeepers, guildsmen and the like who are themselves barely literate but who have been sending their sons to the grammar schools my father created, and who have the means to have these "little flying writings” as the Germans call them, read to them in whatever language they choose.

And pamphlets can fly. Any person who cannot afford to pay a printer to publish an entire book can put their thoughts in a few brief pages. A press can churn out several hundred of these pamphlets within days, and distributed hand to hand, the small books cross streets, towns, mountains, rivers, and the Mare Nostra or Mediterranean itself. My father and later my brother collected an entire cabinet full of them in a few short years. Because I prefer books, I rarely look through the pamphlet files, but I just knew that the particular one I had seen was deliberately placed at my usual seat, at the big round oaken table in the center of the main room of the library, near the end where my brother"s globes are situated in front of the map of his empire, taking in such diverse areas as Poland, Hungary, Transylvania and Bohemia. Trying to tell myself that someone must have simply left the pamphlet lying, I picked it up to put it back in the cabinet where it belonged, when I saw the picture on its cover.

At first glance, it looked like a forest of trees. Only these trees were sharpened stakes, with humans impaled on them and writhing about in the grotesque attitudes of agonized death. One poor man was spitted through his body and writhed face-down, his arms and legs dangling uselessly under him. Pamphlets are often illustrated either on the front cover or throughout the text with woodcuts and initial letters made to simulate illuminated manuscripts. These details catch the eye and add to the overall tone of the writer"s argument. However, this pamphlet contained only the one illustration. Flipping through the pages, I noticed that the pamphlet was printed in West Saxon, a form of German which I can read, write and understand fluently and, as I scanned the lines of text, I could not deny that this pamphlet had been put in my path by someone who knew it would interest me and that I would understand it and likely be quite upset by it, as well.

The little book detailed the exploits of someone it called "Vlad the Impaler", known in Romanian as "Vlad Tepes," and by the Turks as "Kazikli Bey" the "Impaler Prince." Only this account of his exploits was unlike anything I had ever heard or read before. The first sentence of the text set the tone for the rest. It began "in the year of our Lord 1456, Prince Vlad did many terrible things.”  I had heard the name and had met the man. It is in part due to his victories against the Turks that I am here, in my brother"s free city of Buda, a Christian and a noblewoman with a comfortable life and home, instead of either being dead or languishing in some sultan"s harem as a slave-girl and a forcefully converted Mohammedan. I know the facts, unlike the author of the pamphlet, who painted Vlad as someone who mercilessly tortured his own people along with his Turkish prisoners and who enjoyed drinking their blood, inventing new and more grotesque forms of torture, and who also had an obsession with baiting foreign visitors to his domains, so that he could impale and torture them as well.

Tossing the pamphlet down on the table as the bile rose in my throat, I paced back and forth behind the chair where I would normally have settled in comfortably on the cushion that was already there and wrapped myself in the shawl I had flipped over its arm. But, now I could not. I know far too much and it is time that someone scotched these stories before they had time to sprout and grow root. I had already heard tale that Vlad, so it was said, had made a pact with the Devil to sacrifice his immortal soul so that he could continue to fight his enemies after death. According to rumor, he had become a pricolic, in Romanian, a vrykolakas, in Greek, or as the Germans said it, a Wimpier. Such is absolute rubbish and so I will proclaim to the world. Other women have been putting their stories to the public in print. Mara Brankovic, the wife of Sultan Mehmed II and a Serbian princess herself, has penned her memoirs and Christine de Pisan"s writings are well-known even in our part of the world. If I have my way, I will now add my voice to the chorus.

I found paper, pen and ink, swept the pamphlet out of my sight, and sat down as the obscene little screed caught a draft of air and sailed down the length of the table. Dipping the pen in the ink, I put the nib to the paper and wrote the name of the pamphlet and then, in bold letters beside it, "this is all of it untrue." Then, I looked at the sheet and took a deep breath, forcing my beating heart to slow and my head to clear. I have no wish to write a diatribe myself. No, I am better than that, and a much more capable writer and scholar, if I do say so myself. I am, even if illegitimate in birth, a nobleman"s daughter. I had been married to a prince, I am the mother of a future prince, and my brother is a king. I was born of a noble family so old even they do not know where they came from. So I can, and I will write with authority about the man I knew, loved and married, to whom I bore three children, and whom I followed on crusade against both his enemies and mine in 1475.

I am Bathory-Szilaghy Ilona. In Hungary, we put the family name before the Christian name to emphasize the importance of family and blood-ties, kinship and lineage. My mother was Bathory Anna, daughter of Prince Stefan of Transylvania and aunt of another Bathory Istvan, who is also famed for his crusades against the Turks. The Bathory family originated in the northeastern Transylvanian town of Ecsed, high in the Carpathian mountains. They were granted arms by the King of Hungary in 1325, but had been noble long before that time. In my mother"s family, almost every man is named Stefan or Christopher or Gabriel, and almost every woman is Anna or Catherine or Elisabeth, Erszebet in Hungarian. I escaped all those names because I was born on August 18, 1440. I was named after St. Helena, the mother of the Emperor Constantine who brought the holy relics of Christ"s life from Jerusalem to Constantinople. Actually, there have been several royal and noble Helenas in Hungarian history, some of whom have been made saints by the Church. I hope to do them all proud.

I was thirteen years old when Tsargrad, the City of the Caesars, the fourth of five of Christendom"s holiest cities, finally fell to the forces of Sultan Mehmed II. The first city ever to fall had been Alexandria, seat of the Patriarchate of Alexandria, in the seventh century, then Antioch, where St. Paul preached and the Christians were first so named, and then, in 1071, Jerusalem, Queen City of Christ. For centuries, Constantinople had held its own as the last vestige of the Christian east and the Roman Empire. It had served as a staging area for crusades, and it had been mauled over by crusading armies itself several times in the process, although it had remained unconquered. But, then it, too, fell in 1453, and its demise left the little Christian kingdoms on the fringes of Eastern Europe open for the Turks to pick at their pleasure like summer plums. But for men like my father, Hunyadi Janos, Regent of Hungary in his day, my other grandfather, uncles and numerous Bathory cousins, my brother, Matthias Corvinus, my stepfather, Szilaghy Gabor, and my husband, Vlad of Walachia, Hungary and then Austria, then Germany and Central Europe would all have fallen to the Turks like wooden blocks in a child"s game.

I saw the battle of Vaslui in 1475 with my own two eyes, but even before that, I had seen and known the cruelty of the Turks and what they would do to every Christian man, woman, and child, when they got the chance. As I sit pondering how I will write about my husband"s contribution to the geographical integrity of Christendom, I can spread my right palm and see the cross I had carved there myself, with my father"s pen-knife, on my eleventh birthday, when my entire world blew up around me like one of those new-fangled powder kegs, and I realized that women were not considered worth avenging. I realized then that if I wanted anything done about what the Turks were doing to women and children, I would have to do something about it myself and my gift to St. Helena on her day was my own blood, taken in a crusader"s vow. Eleanor of Aquitaine had taken the cross, why not me?

I had my chance to avenge the deaths of my mother, stepfather, and half-siblings a hundred times over and I took that chance every time it was offered. For that, I thank my father, brother and cousin, but most of all I must thank my husband, at whose side I was in 1475, when he returned to Walachia to claim his birthright and he told me that he would have at least one loyal soldier to follow him, if he had no one else. I saw his body taken to be buried and I can assure anyone who asks me that he sleeps on the Isle of Snagov, under the church floor there, although his exact location is not known even by me. Yes, all of us have performed deeds of unspeakable, unchristian, unconscionable and barbarous cruelty. I have killed men with my own hands, and stood by while others were run through with stakes and left to die and I wanted it to happen. But that was war, it is still war. Even now, my brother and sons and cousins are on some battlefield far away from Budapest, still fighting the Turks. And, I am with them in spirit though no longer in flesh.

War is fighting and fighting means killing. And, if it means that one less woman or child falls into the hands of those monsters, then so be it. There will be time to repent later. When all five of our treasured cities are in Christian hands, when every last Christian slave is freed, when every last Turkish boot is off Christian soil, not just in Eastern Europe, but in Spain, too, where I hear such wonderful things about Isabel of Castile that I have written to her and sent her my earnest prayers for her triumph in Granada. Meantime, as I sit with my blank sheet of paper and glare at the pamphlet resting somewhere beyond the middle of the table and realize that "Christians" in Germany dare to smirch the name of someone to whom they owe so much, I know that I have been remiss in fulfilling my vow and one more task remains. I will tell the complete truth of my life and my husbands" exploits as best I know it. I inked the quill again and for the first time in many years used my married name.

I am Draculya Ilona.

Bio: Annette Ranald is a practing attorney living in Chandler, Arizona.  She has previously written one other historial novel, entitled Roslin.

Film: To date, few if any movies have featured the historical character of Vlad of Wallachia, focusing instead on the vampire myth.  Ladies of the Dragon strips the Dracula legend of its supernatural veneer and tells the story of the man and his legend, which are every bit as chilling as any tale of the undead can be. Ladies of the Dragon features a strong female lead character who is in a unique position to tell Vlad"s story.  Daughter and sister of Hungarian national heroes, descendant of one of Eastern Europe"s most bloodthirsty families and wife of the Impaler Prince of Romania, this is the ultimate "source lost to history" the original, albeit the second, bride of Dracula.

NOTE: All material is copyright protected.  No portion of this material may be copied or reproduced, either electronically,  mechanically, or by any other means, for resale or distribution without the written consent of the author.  All copy has been dated and registered with the American Society of Authors and Writers.  Copyright 2009 by The Swetky Agency