In the depths of Csetje Castle there was very little sunlight. As if that were not enough, her cell faced not eat nor west so any slivers of light in the gaps of stone would not reach her. Still, in the darkest hole where she was sentenced to spend her remaining days – how ever many days that may be – she sat hunched in the furthest corner, her pale hand placed against the wall beside her. The silks of her skirts faded with grime and time fanned out behind her gracefully – even in her grim demise.
Whether priests or caretakers I would be the only other person given permission to visit her. In the near distance I heard the tiny scurrying of rats and wondered absently if she had grown accustomed to the diseased creatures or was simply choosing to ignore them. Either way, I knew they must bother the Countess. I smiled.
Her voice, harmonic and commanding, still spoke with authority. “You have much to gain from my demise,” she said. With her back to me I had no idea how she knew who stood here.
She sniffed. “Your Grace,” she repeated. “The day I entered this world with my first breath was the day my last had become inevitable.”
“You believe this was your destiny?”
“As long as men who hunger for position and power exist.”
“You have no remorse for your actions?”
“Remorse for my actions? I have done nothing!” her voice boomed, echoing off the stone walls.
“Those girls –“
“Those girls were nothing,” she said. “They were nothing. Isn’t that what I was taught? Isn’t that what I had grown to understand? I’m being punished for a position I was put into.”
I knew that was as much of a confession I would ever get from her. She slowly stood, bracing herself against the wall. At first, I thought she had leaned against the wall because she had nothing else to do. Now I knew it was more. As she took slow and deliberate steps toward me shadows and light from the lit torches danced across her hallow and pale features. What used to be the image of a beautiful woman was now one of skin and bones. Four years of imprisoned solitary confinement was not kind to her.
“You are in the last months of your life. You do not deserve to breathe the air on the earth or see the light of the Lord. You shall disappear from this world and shall never reappear in it again. As the shadows envelop you, may you find time to repent your bestial life,” I said.
Even in her weakened state her eyes pierced through me. We could shackle her and cage her, remove her rank and title, but her nobility flowed through her veins and she conjured power even in the depths of a dungeon – a dungeon of her own castle.
“When I was a child,” she said. “Only two years before I were to marry. I watched my father, who was my mother’s cousin as well as her husband, torture a man. He tied his weakest horse to the fence then bound the legs so it couldn’t run. He had his man knock the horse down on its side and cut the belly open.
He then dragged the gypsy thief to the horse and tied him inside of the horse. My father sewed the horses belly back with the man inside. Both screamed through the night and I listened to their cries. I listened until it faded. The horse passed first, of course. The thief had the joy of slowly passing in rotting flesh. The odor offended me.”
She pressed her hand against the small slot in the stone wall where I could see the bones of her fingers curl against the dirt. She was only inches from me. The only gap in the wall to give her some air and food felt too large as she recounted the story. I had heard the story myself from her husband many years ago so it was no surprise. And I had known her father and uncle were dark in their ways.
“I imagine that was hard to listen to as a little girl,” I said.
She laughed but there was no humor to it. “I greatly enjoyed it,” she said. “Just as I’m sure my father had. The odor offended me,” she repeated. “It was the only thing that offended me.” She waved her hands in the air. “I don’t even remember what the thief stole but I remember the ache in his eyes. It was –“ she paused and at first I didn’t think she would continue. “It was empowering to be a young child witnessing the final moments of his life. I was the last thing he saw in life.”
I didn’t react to her words, as I’m sure she wanted me to. There were no more reactions to be had. I had witnessed enough of her to know otherwise. “Now you can have what you want,” she said. I would never learn the meaning of those words for she would be dead by morning. She tucked her hands together and turned her head away from me. “My hands are cold,” she said to no one in particular.
I stepped back away from her cell and the guard nodded at me. He spoke into her cell. “It’s nothing, Mistress. Just go lie down.”