blood oranges

in the court of the crimson orange.

Five years earlier – just prior to the birth of his second son and eventual heir – Vlad II, in concert with a select number of princes and vassals, had been summoned to the city of Nuremberg. Sigismund\’s primary motivation was self-protection; by eliciting a statutory oath of allegiance to the Cross, the royal house sought strategic defense against potential invasion by the Turks. Vlad Dracul\’s position was to impose control on those outlying mountain passes between Transylvania and Wallachia.

In return, Sigismund pledged to support Vlad\’s blood claim to the throne. An ambition fully realized by 1436. \”The original Order comprised twenty-four members of the nobility, including such notable figures as King Alfonso of Aragon and Naples, and Stefan Lazarevic of Serbia.\” The insignia of the Order, appropriately, was a a coiled dragon with the red cross of Saint George seared into its back. The blood of the Cross sealed in the blood of battle: blood begetting blood.

Dracul, then – derived from the Latin \’draco\’ – and the Order of the Dragon was adopted as the family crest. Coins were struck under Vlad II\’s reign bearing the emblem of a winged dragon. By the end of his heir\’s reign, however – that of Vlad III, or Vlad Ţepeş (the Impaler) – the name \’Dracul\’ was synonymous with barbarity and the devil.

Dracul-a – son of the dragon – ascended the throne stained by a thirst to avenge the Order and restore the House of Basarab from which he was descended. A mere six years into his reign, Dracul was deposed by factions in league with Hungary and was compelled to turn to the Ottoman court for assistance. Reneging on his oath to the Order of the Dragon, Vlad II paid tribute to the Sultan in return for military support and went so far as to send his two younger sons into exile as a token of his loyalty. While his brother, Radu forged a lasting alliance with the Sultan\’s heir, Mehmed, and flourished in this distant corner, Vlad III felt only disgrace at his father\’s betrayal and defied all efforts to groom him as a devoted subject.

Imprisoned much of the time and roundly chastised, the young prince brooded and plotted. in 1447, at the age of sixteen, Vlad learned of his father\’s death at the hands of boyars in league with the Hungarian regent, John Hunyadi, the self-proclaimed \’White Knight\’. His elder brother, the heir apparent, was blinded with hot irons and buried alive in Târgovişte, on the right bank of the Ialomiţa in what is presently southern Romania.

What ensued from there directly as an attempt to expand Ottoman influence by imposing Vlad III on the Wallachian throne is well documented. Dracula was impervious to all efforts to manipulate him from afar.

His contempt for the Sultan ran so deep that he gladly entered into an alliance with his father\’s assassin to reinstate the old Order. By 1456, Wallachia lay all but ravaged by decades of constant war. Agriculture was ailing, his subjects on the brink of starvation, and crime was endemic. Even as the Ottomans advanced through Constantinople into mainland Europe, Vlad Dracula declared war on the Boyars and refused tribute to the despised Sultan, Mehmed. Desperate to impose stability on the riven economy he inherited, the methods employed were at once necessarily cruel and a product of an all consuming wrath. Thousands were impaled. Entire forests laid bare as his kingdom burned in a crucible of his own forging. Once clear skies roiled with smoke.

Blood oranges from Italy. A small, tart fruit of crimson flesh; withered on the vine.

Were it not for more recent events in Kosovo and Belgrade, Serbia and Bosnia, it might simply read as some dark elusive fairytale. Personal crusades and genocide.

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