Description: An epic war drama set in 15th century Hungary. A central theme is justice. Ends with the vision of "the king will ride out."
On a dusty provincial road, a herdsman blew into a duda: a bagpipe of the Carpathians. The sound resonated - seemed to reverberate - through the lands surrounding him: through the vast green fields of Pannonia, through the waters of the Danube, and through the mountains of Dacia. As he played, the song seemed to take on a greater life: as though the tale of this land was contained in the sound. It was a song that invoked feelings of conflict, heritage, and loss.
Above the man, a raven passed in the sky. The song seemed to follow the bird as it flew. Beneath the bird, on the plains below, were riders on horseback, traversing that dusty, provincial country.
The man continued to play, alone on that empty provincial road. Playing a song to no one - a song to God alone - of Hungary.
Through Bulgaria, they had traveled. Across the Dinaric Alps, they had traveled. From Constantine's City, the victorious armies of the Turks penetrated deep into Europe. With them, they carried the great gun - the Great Bombard of the Bosphorus - the largest siege gun in the world. Through the Balkans they advanced, set on campaigns of further conquest.
Before the great Turkish host - distinguishable by its banners and Islamic way of dress - were two riders - Christian scouts - spying the advance of the army. They watched discreetly, hidden from sight.
Before them, the commander of the Turkish force - the Ottoman sultan, Mehmed - appeared. Fresh from his conquest of the Greeks, he rode confidently on horseback at the side of the great gun.
The Turks advanced like an unstoppable force: the largest, most modernly equipped military in the world.
Seeing the advance of the army, the scouts reined their horses, turned, and fled.
Before the Turkish host, on the horizon, lied their target: Belgrade.
Belgrade was a small but densely populated late medieval city. High walls guarded its exterior. Small crosses were visible on its roofs. Behind the city, two rivers were visible: the mighty Danube, which flowed from the northwest to the southeast, and the smaller Sava, a tributary of the Danube, running from the southwest to the northeast.
Belgrade was a fortress: a poorly maintained one, but a fortress nonetheless. After Constantinople, the city was the next great urban center of the east. A possession of the Kingdom of Hungary, it was a gateway to the kingdom - as well as to Europe itself. The city was the last defensible site of Christendom before the great expanse of the Pannonian Basin.
On the streets of Belgrade, a friar was addressing its residents. It was Father John of Capistrano: an Italian priest who had ventured there from Naples to help defend the city.
"We are engaged in a conflict with a civilizational other," he said. A red flag fluttered behind him. "One set on war against us and iniquity; foreign to us in every way, destroyers of culture, bringers of violence and blood. Out armed and outmanned though we may be, do not lose confidence. Here, we will defend our civilization. We are the banner of Europe."
Behind Father John, Belgrade Castle loomed above.
In Belgrade Castle, the lords gathered in council. At the center of the room sat the Lord General: Janos Hunyadi. A middle-aged man, he combined the traits of strength and vulnerability. Though he had been hardened by decades of warfare, age and many defeats had discouraged him, and he yearned for peace.
Beside Janos was Blaise Magyar - his household guard - a huge titan of a man. Blaise stood beside his master silently.
To Janos' left sat his brother-in-law, the diplomat Michael Szilagyi; Peter Zrinyi, the Croatian baron; and Stephen Bathory, the largest landholder of Hungary. To Janos' right sat John Zapolya, the young and ambitious warrior from Transylvania, and the new head of his house; Viktor of St. George, an aging lord of the old guard; and Francis Paloczi, a veteran of the Long Campaign against the Ottomans.
Behind the lords, hanging augustly from the ceiling, were the banners of their houses. To the left were the black horse of House Szilagyi, the silver gauntlet of House Zrinyi, and the three horizontal white teeth of House Bathory. To the right were the white wolf of House Zapolya, the stalk of wheat of House St. George, and the scimitar beheading a Saracen of House Paloczi. At the center of the room was the standard of the Lord General: the raven of House Hunyadi.
Before the lords lied two maps. On the first was Hungary, with its neighbors - the Holy Roman Empire, Poland, and the Ottoman Empire - labeled. Across the Adriatic Sea, Italy was visible. Labeled on this map were the major cities of Buda, Vienna, and Belgrade.
The second map was of Belgrade and its local geography. This map showed the area's hills and rivers. Marked on this map were the locations of the Turks: the Ottoman vanguard, which was advancing north along the east side of the Sava; and the main Ottoman army, advancing west along the southern side of the Danube. Before the main Turkish army lied a small river, the Morva - a tributary of the Danube.
John Zapolya, who was like a young wolf, addressed the Lord General. As he spoke, he pointed to the locations he referred to on the map.
"The vanguard under the bey of Izmir has advanced north along the Sava," said John. "He will be at the city's gates by nightfall. Meanwhile, the main Turkish force under the vizier is here, at the mouth of the Morva. Given the rate he has been advancing, he will be at the walls of the city by tomorrow."
"Do we know their numbers?" asked Michael Szilagyi, the stress visible on the face.
John again pointed to the locations on the map. "Ten thousand for the vanguard," he said. "Twenty thousand for the main force."
"And what do we number now?" asked Francis Paloczi. "With the reinforcements that arrived with Lord Bathory?" Across the table, Stephen Bathory sat in a stately chair.
"Seven thousand in total," answered John. Some of the lords leaned back in their seats.
"If they intend to starve us out, they will need to control the Danube," said Michael Szilagyi encouragingly. "And we have seen no sign of a naval force."
"That is because they do not intend to starve us out," said Peter Zrinyi.
John looked at Janos as he spoke. "It will take time for the main army to cross the Morva," he said. "We could take all the armored riders and strike at their vanguard." He tapped his finger on the map. "The Turks are usually lightly armored, and if we're lucky they will all be fighters from the Balkans."
Janos Hunyadi, the generalissimo, reflected on all the information before him. As he did so, two scouts entered the war room, interrupting the proceedings.
"Lord General," said the first scout. "We have returned. By our estimates, the main Turkish force outnumbers us by at least two-to-one."
The numbers were confirmed, then.
"How many janissaries did you see?" asked Lord Michael.
"Six thousand, my lord," answered the second scout.
"Six thousand..." Stephen Bathory repeated. He looked across placidly to see the Lord General's reaction. Janissaries were the elite soldiers of the sultan. There were nearly as many of these soldiers approaching as numbered the entire Christian force at Belgrade.
"We also saw their commander," continued the first scout. He seemed stressed, hesitating before carrying on. "They are not being led by the vizier - they are being led by the sultan himself."
A quiet fell on the room.
"Mehmed himself is leading the attack on Belgrade," said John Zapolya quietly.
The second scout again addressed Lord Janos. "And that is not all, my lord," he said. "They are also bringing the great siege gun with them. The same gun they used to blast open the straits at the Bosphorus. Sixty oxen are hauling it up the Danube to here."
"It is like the whole Islamic world is advancing upon us," said John. Up till that point he had tried to encourage the others.
The Lord General gestured for the scouts to exit. "Thank you," he said.
Francis Paloczi looked at Janos intently. "There has been a friar, you know, going through the city. Trying to get the people to fight. He claims to have recruited 3,000 residents to fight for him."
Lord Michael, who had since stooped his head down at the news, looked up again.
Lord Stephen laughed. "They will flee at the first sight of danger," he said.
"I have to agree," said John Zapolya. "They will likely be slaughtered."
Francis ignored them. "It is 3,000 more bodies we would not have otherwise," he said to the Lord General.
"Whether they want to or not every resident of this city will be a part of this battle," said Peter Zrinyi. "If the Turks breach the walls, they will slaughter everyone." He turned to Lord Bathory. "We could put them under Lord Janos' command. If they can follow orders, they will be useful."
Lord Michael spoke. "What news from the council of magnates?" he asked. He looked across to Stephen Bathory. He referred to the kingdom's temporary government, which had been created after the death of the king.
"I have spoken to them," answered Lord Stephen. "But I regret I will be the only one here with you."
Everyone looked at Lord Janos – the lord protector of the kingdom.
"Do the other magnates expect Lord Janos to fight the war alone?" asked Peter Zrinyi.
No one answered.
"What about our allies?" asked Lord Paloczi. He looked across the room to Lord Michael, who again was hanging his head in dejection. Lord Michael was the palatine, or chief ambassador.
Michael looked up to answer him. "Poland is still reeling from Varna," he said. "Their assembly wishes us well, but made it clear it was dealing with its own interregnum. And as for the Empire..."
Lord Zrinyi completed his thought. "It is likely the emperor would like to see us break at Belgrade."
"Doesn't the emperor know that if Belgrade falls, Vienna will be the next target?" asked John.
The other lords looked on blankly, faced with the reality of European unity.
Viktor of St. George, a powerful lord and an elderly man - formerly silent through the whole conversation - spoke up and offered his opinion. He addressed Lord Janos directly.
"My lord, I must give my opinion of this battle," he said. "We are outnumbered perhaps three to one, fighting a janissary force as large as our garrison, and we are going to be bombarded by the largest siege gun in Europe. I say that we give them this city. We should withdraw inland, and burn everything behind us."
Some of the others murmured in agreement. "We could rally all of Europe to our cause," said Lord Francis.
Before Janos, the lords began to argue; soon, they were yelling over one another.
"If we give them this city it is only open ground before them!" exclaimed John Zapolya. "The country is an enormous plain!"
"The Turks would destroy everything in their path," agreed Peter Zrinyi.
"We did not all come to this city to die here!" said Viktor of St. George. "If we are killed there will be no one left to resist!"
Stephen Bathory looked across the table to Lord Janos, studying him. Finally, Janos raised his hands, ending the argument.
"Our best chance of victory lies here, at Belgrade," said the Lord General. "Lord Zapolya: I want you and Lord Blaise to take our strongest riders and lead an attack on the Turkish vanguard. Lord Paloczi, I want you to take my brother-in-law with you and try to find this friar you speak of. Try to arm these people with whatever you can. The rest of us will see to preparing this city's defenses. May God and Hungary go with you all."
John Zapolya and Blaise Magyar sat at the head of a group of heavily armored knights. Though the age of gunpowder had come, the value of these mighty riders remained. Some of the knights wore elegant Renaissance suits of plate mail. Most held large lances, and rode horses that were just as armored as they were. Large and imposing, the horses were bred to trample infantry.
A few of the knights held curved scimitars, showing the influence of the Near East on the kingdom. Others held more conventional western blades. At his side, Blaise Magyar had a sheathed Zweihander, an enormous two-handed sword popular in the Empire.
Before the riders was the Turkish vanguard, which had not yet been alerted to their presence. From appearances, it seemed the force consisted of mostly light infantry.
John Zapolya turned to Blaise. "They say you killed fourteen Turks at Hermannstadt," he said. "I hope you can repeat that same performance here."
Blaise Magyar hardly stirred under his armor. With his great visor down, his reaction was implacable. John looked perplexedly at him for a moment, then smiled at the strong warrior at his side.
"Well," said John. He pulled his own visor down over his face. "Let's see what these invaders have in them. For God and Hungary!"
The riders charged at the vanguard.
Before the walls of Belgrade, the Turkish army assembled. Its soldiers stood in formation. Among them were lightly armored Muslim fighters, fighters from the Balkans, and the elite warriors called the janissaries. The symbol of Islam, the crescent, was a recurring image among their banners.
At the center of the great host, dominating everything, was the Great Bombard. The sultan, Mehmed the Conqueror, sat on horseback before the cannon.
Behind the sultan, cannoneers set to work on the great gun, diligently preparing it to fire on the city.
Meanwhile, Janos Hunyadi stood in the streets of Belgrade. Assembled with him were his soldiers. He took some time to inspect them. The city's walls rose above them claustrophobically.
Before Janos were his professional soldiers - the armored men-at-arms. They stood in neat lines ready to resist any breach in the walls. Across from Janos were the peasants that John of Capistrano had recruited. Lords Francis and Michael had been successful at arming them, but they were still a fragile force. They stood beside the gatehouse of the city, the friar himself in command. From the gatehouse, they could peer anxiously out and see the Turks.
Suddenly, a cannoneer began to yell from the Turkish lines. A tremendous noise reverberated as the Great Bombard unloaded its first blast. The defenders watched as the cannonball hit the city, a cloud of debris rising from the walls.
The cannon fired several more times, with a long and agonizing delay between each blast. Finally, the cannon struck one last time. This time, it blew open a breach. The result was clear: though a cloud of smoke quickly rose to obscure the opening in the walls.
There was a pause and an eerie silence lingered for a long time. Francis Paloczi, standing with the men-at-arms, looked anxiously into the opening. As he gazed into the cloud of smoke, the silence was suddenly interrupted by the din of Turks pouring through the breach.
The Turks charged forward. The men-at-arms moved to combat them. A melee commenced.
The defenders were outnumbered, but the narrow breach was preventing the invaders from making the full use of their numbers. Peter Zrinyi, Stephen Bathory, and Francis Paloczi each joined their retainers in personal combat.
Meanwhile, on the city's walls, another struggle was taking place. A single Turkish soldier carrying a crescent banner had climbed the walls while the melee was unfolding below. Spying the Belgrade flag - a plain red banner with a white cross - he aimed to replace it.
As the Turk approached, one man-at-arms, Titus Dugovics, moved forward to stop him. The two brawled at length with no clear victor - until they both hurtled violently towards the ground.
Meanwhile, at the gatehouse, John of Capistrano stood with the armed peasants, who were not yet in combat. Through the gate, he watched as the Turks advanced into the city - in the process leaving the Bombard undefended. John could see the sultan standing alone with the engineers, ostensibly open to attack.
"Now is the time to strike!" he exclaimed. "Open the gate!" he yelled to the gatekeeper above. The portcullis opened to them, and the peasants began to roar and charge out of the city toward the cannon.
Janos watched from his location where the men-at-arms were to see the gate opening without his orders. What was happening? These peasants were charging outside to their doom!
"What are they doing?" yelled Janos. "Tell them to stop! Stop!"
Michael Szilagyi watched as his brother-in-law frantically tried to communicate his commands. He tried to exclaim also - at last finally getting the attention of the gatekeeper. But by this time, it was too late. The force was already out of the city.
The peasants poured out into the open field and charged at the Great Bombard. The sultan turned, and looked quizzically at the attackers.
Meanwhile, within the city Janos himself had become engaged in combat. Despite being middle-aged, he could hold his own in battle. The other lords of greater age - Michael Szilagyi and Viktor of St. George - also found themselves in the melee.
Janos defeated one adversary, then another. But his next opponent managed to score a blow on him, slicing open the Lord General's leg. Janos recoiled, falling back.
Meanwhile, the peasants had become engaged with the small Turkish force at the bombard. The light resistance there proved short-lived, however, as the sultan gesticulated and summoned a group of new fighters to defend the gun.
These warriors - the janissaries, the elite corps - advanced intimidatingly against the peasants. The city's residents held their own briefly against them: but, as time proceeded, it becomes obvious that these were the best soldiers of the Turks. Pushed back, the peasants looked to be on the verge of collapse.
Meanwhile, at the breach it was becoming obvious that the Turks had moved quite far into the city. A very large number of soldiers were now participating in the attack. Their advantage in numbers was beginning to make a difference. The men-at-arms were being defeated.
It seemed as though Belgrade faced annihilation: both for the peasants outside and for the soldiers within the city. From a skyward view of the battle, it seemed the day was won for the Turks.
Yet at that moment, on the southern ridge beyond the city, two riders emerged. They appeared over a small, grassy slope. It was John Zapolya and Blaise Magyar: returned victoriously from their sortie with the Turkish vanguard.
Zapolya strained his eyes for a moment, trying to make out the state of things. Seeing that the battle had already begun, he moved swiftly forward. Coming over the ridge behind him were several thousand armored knights, the fighters Janos had sent out earlier.
Before John of Capistrano, the situation was dire. Peasant after peasant was being butchered before him by the janissaries. He brandished a crucifix above him to rally his followers, but it seemed hopeless.
Then, the knights appeared. Columns of them crashed into the janissaries from the rear. These armored warriors were more than a match for the Turks, particularly once they had closed the distance with them. Blaise Magyar's horse trampled on one invader, then another. Fighting on two sides now, the Turkish position was under pressure.
The melee outside the gates went on for some time with no clear winner. Then, suddenly, there was a change: a single janissary stopped fighting. Looking to either side of him, and seeing the attackers on both sides, he decided to escape by the middle and flee. After he retreated, a few other soldiers – his friends – ran after him. The fleeing soldiers passed by the sultan on horseback.
"What are you doing? Stay and fight, cowards!" the sultan exclaimed. Mehmed attempted to rally his forces but was unable to do so. Deeply frustrated, he angrily rode in retreat with his fleeing soldiers.
The combined peasants and knights - the two classes of the kingdom working in unison - moved together to crush what remained of the Turks. Outside the city, a quiet began to dawn.
Before them, the Great Bombard stood abandoned. But they had little time to revel in their victory, as they realized the din of battle was still going on within Belgrade. They looked to the breach in the walls.
Within the city, Janos was standing with the men-at-arms, who were still fighting the main Turkish force. Beside Janos was the corpse of Peter Zrinyi, which the Lord General was trying to defend. Janos had lost sight of the others - Stephen Bathory, Michael Szilagyi, and Francis Paloczi - in the turmoil.
Despite the cacophonous din of battle around him, Janos could peer up to see the bright, open breach in the walls. The smoke had cleared by this point, revealing how the wall had been blasted completely open. As Janos looked at the breach, however, he noticed how the sun now shone through it. He saw that there were Turkish soldiers near the opening: but, oddly, no new fighters were pouring through. It was eerily silent.
After a delay, the reason for this became obvious. Christian forces from outside the city began to re-enter it. Some streamed in through the breach; while others re-entered through the gatehouse. From a skyward view of the city, it was obvious that the balance of power had shifted. The Turks were now surrounded. Retreat for those in the city was impossible.
The battle was won.
In the field just outside of Belgrade, the lords assembled. Among them were Janos Hunyadi, John Zapolya, Michael Szilagyi, Blaise Magyar, Stephen Bathory, and Viktor of St. George.
The battle was won. The walls of the city stood just behind them; while the aftermath of the conflict was on display all around them. Behind them was movement, as soldiers lumbered around, checking for survivors or remaining enemies, and started to repair the damage sustained.
Lord Janos looked at John Zapolya paternally. "Well done, my lord," said the Lord General. He placed his hand on John’s shoulder. He then turned to Blaise Magyar. "And you. Lord John tells me you killed 30 Turks in the vanguard alone. The 'Fist of Europe' we will have to call you from now on."
"Lord Zrinyi is dead," interrupted Lord Michael darkly. "He did not survive the battle. And Lord Paloczi is missing. We've had no sign of him."
Lord Viktor stood wearily. The eldest of the lords, he looked ready to lie down in his bed. "They gave their lives for Europe," he said.
"How many casualties did the Turks take?" asked Stephen Bathory.
"By initial counts, 10,000 light infantry, 5,000 janissaries, and another 5,000 fighters from the Balkans," answered John Zapolya.
Stephen Bathory looked at the Lord General. "Well done, my lord," he said.
"We have crushed them," said John Zapolya. "This is a defeat they will not be able to recover from for some time."
"And we have won the grandest prize," said Michael Szilagyi. "The Bombard."
Indeed, before the crusaders stood their glorious spoil of war. The enormous cannon of the Turks - the scourge of the Greeks - fallen into their hands. The cannon towered above them as they spoke.
"Word of this will spread through all of Europe," said John Zapolya. "With this victory we could rally all of Christendom to our cause."
"Oh, this will be my last war," said Viktor of St. George wearily. "After this, I will leave it to the younger men to fight."
Suddenly, the bells of the churches in Belgrade began ringing loudly. The lords turned to acknowledge the sound.
"Celebrating," said John Zapolya.
Stephen Bathory looked at the Lord General again. "Celebrating your victory, my lord," he said.
As the other lords left to attend their duties, Stephen Bathory remained standing next to Lord Janos, meaning to speak to him.
As the scene quieted, only the stark image of the captured Bombard remained.
The city of Buda, the capital of Hungary, lied on the Danube River. It was a small city: lightly populated and dominated by its castle. From the south, Janos Hunyadi rode on horseback toward the city. Blaise Magyar and Michael Szilagyi accompanied him, riding behind him.
Janos dismounted at the city's stable, and proceeded through its streets on foot, leaving his companions behind him. Janos was a strong, middle-aged man in armor, but his new injury gave him a distinct sense of vulnerability. He now walked with a limp, relying on a cane for support. As he proceeded, some of the people recognized him.
"It is good to see you, Lord Janos," said an elderly man as he walked by with his daughter. The young woman looked at the Lord General warmly.
Janos proceeded toward Buda Castle, which loomed above. Built in the Gothic style, it was one of the largest in Europe at the time, having been enlarged under the rule of King Sigismund.
Janos entered through the gatehouse. A guard and a servant idled there, playing cards. Janos looked to see they were using the Milanese cards of the Renaissance. The two looked up to acknowledge the Lord General as he entered.
As Janos proceeded through the courtyard, he passed by a large, stately chair. One of the guards must have brought it outside and left it there - apparently in the process of moving it. It looked like a chair fit for a king.
As Janos walked by it, a raven fluttered down quietly. The bird landed on the back of the chair, as though it was perched on a throne. The bird looked at Janos, meeting gazes with him, as he entered the keep.
As Janos proceeded inside, he made his way to the chamber of his son Matthias. As a relative of the Lord General, he had been granted his own quarters in the castle for the interregnum.
Janos' son, Matthias Hunyadi, was seated at a table. He looked lost in thought, his hand supporting his head as he sat in contemplation over something.
Around Matthias were piles of books. They were all secular classical texts - works of the Greeks and Romans. Throughout Europe, these books were becoming very popular. By the look of it, Matthias seemed to have an interest in Platonism, in history and politics, and in war. The titles of two works in particular were visible: Plato's Republic and Caesar's Commentaries.
Matthias turned to see his father. "It is good to see you back in one piece," he said.
Janos crossed the room. "Not unmaimed, I'm afraid," he said jokingly, gesturing down to his leg.
Janos reached the table where his son was. "The scholar," he said, looking at all the books. "It is good you do all this. You won't die in ignorance like your father."
"You are far from ignorant," Matthias answered. He went on. "Everyone has been celebrating your victory. They're calling you the 'Bear of Belgrade' now."
Janos walked over to a neighboring table where there was a corked bottle. He poured himself a cup of wine. He took a drink of it, sat down, and rested. "They are generous," he said.
"They say you've crushed the Turks for a generation."
Janos put his cup down and nodded. "It was decisive. Janissaries are trained from birth. They are not easy to replace. And the Balkan fighters they brought with them to Belgrade will not readily fight for Islam again." Janos paused. "I am glad you did not complain about me keeping you here. Your brother will be angry that I did not let him come with me to Belgrade."
"Well, you can't blame him," said Matthias. "He wants to be a warlord like his father. But I remember what you said. That there should never be more than two of us in the same place."
Janos nodded. "I did not expect to return from Belgrade," he said. "If ever I have sheltered you or your brother," he went on, apologizing, "it is only to ensure that you are safe."
Janos stood up and walked over to a pile of books on Matthias' table. He searched through the texts, looking for one in particular. Finally, he found what he was looking for - the Bible. It was located at the very bottom of the pile of Matthias' books. Matthias tried to look at what his father was doing, but he could only see his backside.
Janos opened the Bible and leafed through it. He turned back slightly to his son and spoke. "I have been reading this one, you know."
Matthias could see his father had opened to "The Book of Job." There was a small illustration of Job on the page. Job looked like a hardy, middle-aged man.
"You relate to him, do you?" asked Matthias.
"Too much, I'm afraid," joked Janos. Janos idled for a moment on the page before suddenly closing the book and walking back to his son. He sat back down again.
"So now that you are a war hero, what will you do with your newfound celebrity?"
Janos paused for a long time, sitting silently before answering the question.
"We have gone six years now without a king," he said. "The council of magnates has governed Hungary while I have protected it. I have borne the cost of our country's defense while they have... well."
"I have often wondered how an interregnum could last for so long."
"It is by design," said Janos. "We are like Poland now. They are too busy granting themselves new privileges to elect a king." He smirked, looking at his son. Then his face changed, and he suddenly became very serious. "I was able to stop the Turks now. But they will return. And if this country is still like it is now... it will fall."
"Well, you are the Lord General," said Matthias. "You could do something about it."
"Your uncle says that I should form a new government," answered Janos. "That I am so popular now they would have no choice but to concede."
"One with you in charge?"
"I could trust myself, at least, until we are ready to name a king."
"It sounds like you want to be king."
Janos suddenly got very serious. "I do not want to be a king. I don't have the temperament for it," he said. "I will give the power back to the lords - then they will decide the fate of Hungary."
"Well, just be careful," said Matthias. "Men accustomed to power do not like to give it up."
Janos looked at his son in agreement. "That is why I am going to need your support," he said. "I have been speaking to one of magnates - Lord Stephen Bathory. He is one of the three of them who I believe understands the present government has to come to an end." Janos looked at his son. "His support will be essential if it comes to war."
He continued. "That is why I need you to go to his estate in Bator County - and there serve as his steward. You will be his honored guest there for the next six months, and in return in the spring he will send me his young son to be my ward."
"So, we are exchanging family members," said Matthias.
"Yes," answered Janos. "Think of it as being an ambassador for us to another house."
Janos stood up, hobbling slightly on his cane. "If only I had had some daughters," he said, attempting a joke, "all these alliances would be so much easier." He continued. "But if he supports me, it should ensure a peaceful transfer of power."
It was evening in Buda. Matthias stepped into a carriage: one prepared to take him to Bator. The door closed and the carriage took Matthias out of the small castle-city and into the countryside.
The carriage was a clear a product of the upper class, yet at the same time it possessed many of the simple traits of a cart. It somehow portrayed both the status as well as the simplicity of the Hunyadis.
As the carriage advanced, night turned to day. Matthias awoke to look at the landscape around him. The countryside was picturesque. The cart passed through forests, hills, fields, and vineyards.
As the cart passed into Bator County, Matthias looked out the window to see serfs – tenant farmers – at work. Some had blistered faces, as though afflicted by disease; others were missing teeth; others were very dirty.
The carriage passed through a small hamlet where Matthias saw a serf locked in a stockade. At the center of the hamlet was a man-at-arms who was publicly flagellating another serf - a message to all not to be insubordinate.
As the carriage proceeded, some of the workers began looking at Matthias as he passed. Some looked at him with fear - as though threatened by the power of the lords. One laborer stared at the carriage with great anger.
Finally, the carriage arrived at Bator Castle, passing through a gatehouse where some men-at-arms were on guard. The carriage stopped at the keep - the residence of House Bathory - where Matthias was able to look up and see the tall spires that demonstrated the power of the family. Bator Castle loomed high above the village beneath it like an image of the lords' control.
Matthias stepped out of his carriage and went to retrieve his belongings. In his philosopher's simplicity, he had brought only a single bag. Matthias walked to the entrance of the keep. He did wear the garments of the upper class, but his clothes were very humble in appearance.
The door to the keep displayed the Bathory coat-of-arms: a red crest with three white teeth stretching across it horizontally. As Matthias approached the door, he caught sight of the large doorknocker that was on it. The doorknocker portrayed the stone face of a dragon. Matthias lifted it, then knocked three times.
Matthias stood stoically, waiting for an answer. The sheer sight of the castle before him could not fail to produce a sense of suspense. What kind of creature would welcome a visitor at such a door?
At last, an anticlimax: the door opened quietly as a very humble looking servant girl appeared. She was small. She looked malnourished. It was Amalia, a servant of Lady Bathory.
"I am Lord Hunyadi," said Matthias, introducing himself.
The girl before him was attractive and young, but seemed to have become extremely haggard-looking as a result of years of labor. She looked sheepishly and uncertainly at Matthias, then at last decided to open the door and let him in.
Matthias entered the keep. Amalia went off to notify the lady of the estate. As Matthias walked in, he was confronted by the vastness of the keep's interior. There were rooms upon rooms before him. In the neighboring chamber, he could see that there were servants on the floor, scrubbing and cleaning it. They looked just as overworked as Amalia.
With no one there to greet him, Matthias walked further into the hall. There was a large plaque before him. It was a dedication for the castle, showing the folklore of House Bathory.
Matthias read the inscription. Engraved in large letters was "BATOR THE BRAVE." Next to it was an engraving of a knight slaying a dragon. Under the dragon lied a vast hoard of treasure, which the beast was jealously guarding.
As Matthias looked at the plaque, Lady Julia Bathory descended the keep's staircase. She wore fine clothing, the latest fashion of the continent.
"Lord Matthias," she said. Matthias turned around. The two exchanged a welcome. "Your father told me to expect you," she said.
Amalia stood to the side of her mistress, as though waiting for orders. Lady Bathory gestured for her to return to her duties.
"My lady," said Matthias cordially. "My father has sent me here to be your steward. Is Lord Bathory here?"
"He is not here, he is in Buda," she replied, "but I will be sure to get you started on your duties." She turned to look at the engraving Matthias was inspecting. "I see you were looking at our family's folklore," she said. "They say my husband's ancestor came here from Swabia in the 1100s. That the people of this village lived in fear of a greedy dragon who lived on the mountain... He hoarded all the people's wealth and terrorized them. So, they say Bator went into the wilderness to kill him. He cut the dragon from torso to collarbone..." She made a motion with her hands as she spoke. "The stones of the mountain then fell on the beast and crushed him. The people were so grateful they made Bator their lord." She stopped for a moment, looking at the engraving. "Well... I will show you to your chambers."
Matthias followed Julia up the staircase. As Matthias climbed the stairs, he looked back at the servants. They were still hard at work.
Julia opened a door; before them was a large, well-furnished room. "This will be your chamber," she said. Relieved of his possessions, Matthias followed Julia further into the keep. She opened another door for him. "And this is the steward's chamber," she said. Julia walked into the room. Matthias followed politely. "These are the ledgers you will need to get started," she said, gesturing at a pile of texts.
Matthias walked over to the ledgers and took an initial look at them. Julia idled for a moment before speaking. "My husband used to say being a steward is like 'the parable of the talents.' Do you know that one?" Matthias shook his head.
"There was a master who had three servants," she went on. "One servant he gave five coins to, another two, and another one. Then the master went away for a number of years. When he returned, he made an accounting of what each servant had done with what he was given.
"The richest servant had invested his coins, and made five more. The master praised him, then took back his five originals. The middle servant had also invested his coins, but had only made two more from his smaller sum. The master praised him also, then took back his two originals." As Lady Bathory spoke, Matthias could see one of the servants working behind her.
"Then the master came at last to the final servant. The last servant had not done anything with what he was given. He had buried his coin in the ground. The master berated him. He took back the coin he gave him to start and left him with nothing. He gave the coin to the rich servant instead."
She looked at him. Matthias looked back, unsure of what to make of the story.
"Be pitiless," she said. "It's no one's fault if these lazybones were unproductive."
Matthias nodded appeasingly as Julia smiled at him. She stepped out, and Matthias began to work in the small, claustrophobic room, peering at the financial ledgers of the county.
Janos Hunyadi stood on a street in Buda. He was wearing his armor. He was followed by his supporters - among them were John Zapolya, Michael Szilagyi, and Blaise Magyar. Though Janos retained his limp, he proceeded purposefully and determinedly.
Janos walked past a preacher with his followers. The preacher was addressing a crowd on the street behind them. "…And thus did the Lord rebuke Eliphaz and say, 'Amen, I say to you, only my servant Job has spoken rightly of me.' For why do fortune and misfortune befall man? And why does the tempest between them change so quickly?"
At last, the chamber of lords - the stateliest structure of Buda Castle - loomed above Janos and his supporters. It was here where the three magnates presided, reigning over the country.
A guard acknowledged Lord Janos, granting free passage to him and his followers. John Zapolya turned to the Lord General before they stepped in. "You're free to turn around right now, you know," said John.
Janos looked at him seriously. "No man is free," replied Janos.
In the chamber of lords, ruling over the kingdom from three thrones of power, were the magnates - the arch-lords Nicholas Garai, Laurence Ilocki, and Stephen Bathory. On the death of the king at Varna, a temporary government had been established under their direction. They were to serve as governors while Janos would serve as the Lord General. Yet as the years passed, the three had amassed great power for themselves while failing to elect a king.
Nicholas Garai was the youngest of the three, a man in his 30s, lean and hungry, of insatiable ambition. Laurence Ilocki was elderly, rich like Crassus, and interested in maintaining the status quo. Stephen Bathory was middle-aged, and from a family deeply connected to politics.
At the back of the hall were the banners of the magnates. The banner of House Garai showed a serpent swallowing a Moor; the banner of House Ilocki showed three crowns; and the banner of House Bathory showed three horizontal teeth. The magnates each owned enormous swathes of territory, truly dwarfing those of the other nobles. Their lands had all become still larger under their rule.
A few minor lords sat in the chamber and watched the proceedings. Some petitioners stood in the hall. One of these figures stepped forward to hear the verdict of his plea.
As the petitioner looked up, he had to crane his neck to the high seats to see the magnates.
"My lords, I have tried to explain the issue I have been having with my landlord," said the petitioner meekly. "Have you come to a decision?"
Nicholas Garai answered matter-of-factly. "Yes," he said. "We find in his favor." He did not offer an explanation.
The petitioner looked distraught. He tried to formulate another argument – but struggled to form his words.
"Have him removed," said Nicholas Garai. A guard removed the petitioner. The hall’s doors were closed behind them.
"Abraham Farkas is requesting a title," said Laurence Ilocki, moving on to other affairs. "To the barony of Modor." He looked down at a parchment before him.
"He has been a great supporter of ours," said Nicholas Garai. "Very well. Grant it."
Suddenly, the doors of the hall burst open. Janos and his supporters entered. Though they emanated an aura of courage, they looked like but small figures faced up against such seats of power.
The chamber was silent as everyone stopped to see what would happen.
Leaving his partisans at the door, Janos walked forward alone. For several moments, the only noise was the sound of Janos' cane as it clanked with each step he took in the hall. Though he was injured, he projected a feeling of great strength and confidence.
At last, Janos came before the magnates. He looked up at them.
"My lords," he said, "by my power as the Lord General of the kingdom, I declare your office abolished. I declare the formation of a new government for Hungary."
In the chamber, some of the lesser nobles began clamoring.
"Lord Janos, you do not have that authority," said Nicholas Garai.
"I ask that you stand down peacefully," said Janos Hunyadi.
Throughout the hall, hands went to weapons. Janos looked up at Stephen Bathory, expecting him to speak.
The guards of the magnates drew their blades. Blaise Magyar drew his greatsword.
In Bator, a young servant girl was bent over in a pantry, doing laundry. In the next chamber, another servant, a young man, was at work in a larder, processing the fat of pigs in a small, dark room. Meanwhile in the kitchen, a middle-aged female servant was at work in the hot, small room, preparing meals for the lady and the young lord.
Through the castle ran the son of Stephen Bathory. The young nobleman was dressed in upper class clothes. He wielded a wooden practice sword. He was practicing his fencing, pretending to be the hero of his family's legend. "I am Bator the Brave!" he exclaimed.
Young Bathory struck at the walls and the furniture as he fenced. In his enthusiasm, he rushed at the young female servant who was doing his laundry. He struck at her like she was a practice dummy. Having been told many times not to correct her master, she smiled meekly.
Meanwhile, across the castle Matthias was busy at work. Seated in the steward's chamber, he was surrounded by the many ledgers of a tax collector. He had one of the books open in front of him.
Poll tax........................................ 4,200 florins
Estate duty...................................1,208 florins
Tax on gates.................................610 florins
Tax on ports................................ 105 florins
Charter fees...................................400 florins
Extraordinary duties....................310 florins
Total.............................................. 6,833 florins
Matthias turned the page.
Poll tax........................................ 4,820 florins
Estate duty...................................1,450 florins
Tax on gates.................................700 florins
Tax on ports................................ 205 florins
Charter fees...................................600 florins
Extraordinary duties....................590 florins
Total.............................................. 8,365 florins
Matthias looked at the total at the bottom of the ledger, then turned the page again.
Poll tax........................................ 5,000 florins
Estate duty...................................1,670 florins
Tax on gates.................................820 florins
Tax on ports................................ 300 florins
Charter fees...................................720 florins
Extraordinary duties....................800 florins
Total.............................................. 9,310 florins
The revenues of the county had increased every year.
Matthias turned the page. For the serfs in the county, they paid their taxes not in florins, but in harvest.
Matthias looked at the last name on the list: the poor peasant who had made the largest contribution, George Dozsa.
Matthias looked up.
A farmer, George Dozsa, sat on a stump with his daughter, Natalia, beside him. Dozsa was a hard man who had a severe and world-weary expression on his face. Behind this grimace was a handsome face: but one worn away by years of work and adversity.
Beside Dozsa, in stark contrast, was his daughter - a young girl perhaps the age of six. Because she was so small, her legs could not touch the ground like her father's. She playfully shook her legs up and down on the stump, her mind elsewhere - occupied like a young girl's. She seemed oblivious to her father's severity.
In Natalia's hands was a small wooden cup of milk, which she drank from while shaking her legs.
Dozsa stood and left to begin his daily work. He headed toward the fields.
Having reached the rows of tilled earth, Dozsa lowered himself to the ground to inspect the results of his labor. He was a man who labored in the dust, in the dirt - a humble, simple man of great industry.
In contrast to Dozsa's hard face, the healthy, green sprout of a plant was growing before him. Based on his expression, it was clear he took pride in it. Despite his troubles, he grew and nurtured what was entrusted to him.
As Dozsa stood up, it became clear he had indeed not grown just a singular plant, but many long columns of crops. All around him was greenery - the pride of a farmer - including many fertile rows of wheat and barley.
Yet above George Dozsa was another sight: the looming vision of Castle Bathory. The castle appeared as if it towered over the man, seeming to threaten everything he sought to grow.
As Dozsa bent down to continue his labors, the steward of the Bathorys, Matthias, appeared - standing precisely where the castle had just loomed before.
Matthias looked down. He tried to smile, but the sun shone unpleasantly in his face and caused him to contort his features.
"You are George Dozsa?" asked Matthias.
Dozsa continued what he was doing. After a long delay, he answered. "I am," he replied. He could see it was a lord.
"I am Matthias Hunyadi. Son of Janos Hunyadi."
"What do you want?" asked Dozsa.
"I am the new steward of Lord Bathory," said Matthias. "I have been going through the ledgers at the castle. I noticed you are taxed more than anyone else in the county. I wanted to inquire why."
"Must be something about me," Dozsa replied. A long silence followed. For Dozsa, the conversation was over.
"What are you growing?" asked Matthias. By this point, Dozsa had moved to another crop.
"Sage," said Dozsa.
"Ah," said Matthias. He was indifferent to the answer in the way only a philosopher could be. He tried to develop a rapport regardless. "You like growing things?"
George Dozsa said nothing.
Matthias walked over toward some of the crops the man had grown; they were tall and strong. A defensive expression came over George's face as he saw what Matthias was doing.
"These have grown strong," said Matthias. "You've tended them well."
There was a delay before Dozsa answered. "I like growing things."
Natalia suddenly appeared in the distance, having run within earshot of her father. "Papa!" she yelled. "Bodi got out of his pen! He is eating all the radishes!"
Dozsa muttered a profanity as he ran back toward his hovel. Matthias stood for a moment, uncertain of what to do, then walked after Dozsa.
Indeed, the pig Bodi had gotten through a part of a fence that was meant to pen him in. The pig had wandered over to an area where Dozsa had been growing root vegetables. He was sniffing, uprooting, and eating them gluttonously.
Dozsa, angry, tried to grab the pig and haul him back to his pen. "Greedy pig!" he yelled. "Think you can eat everything?"
Dozsa grabbed the pig by its tail and ear, but the pig was very large and hard to move. Natalia came forward with a radish in her hand and tried to use it as a lure to get the pig to follow her. Unfortunately, she failed to be of any help at all.
Matthias, having walked onto the scene, watched for a moment in confusion at what was going on. He then stepped forward to help George haul the pig back to his pen. Dozsa then put the uprooted fence post back into the ground to secure the pig.
There was a delay before Dozsa returned to his same level of hostility toward Matthias.
"I still don't know why you're here, my lord!" he yelled. "When lords come, they take things from me."
Natalia looked at her father, who was still furious after wrestling with the pig.
"Have I taken anything from you?" asked Matthias.
Dozsa finally relented. He looked at his daughter, who was looking more sympathetically at Matthias than at her father. Dozsa nodded at the hovel, inviting Matthias inside.
The interior of Dozsa's hovel was cramped. The ceiling was too low and everything was made by hand. The furnishings were extremely basic: a great contrast to Castle Bathory and its extravagance.
Dozsa offered Matthias a drink. Matthias took a seat at a wooden table.
"Your father is the general? The warlord?" asked Dozsa. Matthias nodded. "He won a great victory at Belgrade," Dozsa said. "Even here we have heard news of it." Dozsa was silent for a moment. "Perhaps he is a good lord," he said.
Matthias looked at him. Dozsa went on. "But I can say to you that the men around here will no longer fight for any lord. If the Turks come, no one will answer the call to stop them. They don't have a country worth fighting for."
Natalia walked through the hovel behind them. "She is your daughter?" asked Matthias.
Dozsa nodded. "The only one I have left now." Dozsa called out to her. "Natalia! Get a cup of stew for the lord."
"I am not as noble as you think," said Matthias. "My grandfather was born without a name, the same as you."
"It did not used to be like this," said George. "They at least used to leave us something before. But everything changed after the king died. Now they take whatever they want."
"Are there no royal justices you can appeal to?" asked Matthias. Natalia placed a bowl in front of him.
George Dozsa looked amused. "The lords are the justices," he replied.
"Papa, I am going to get water," said Natalia. She walked out of the hovel.
"Well... as steward, I will try to change this," said Matthias.
George Dozsa smiled. "I don't think you know who your master is," he said.
Stephen Bathory, in the company of the magnates, made a swift exit from the chamber of lords. He had not assisted Janos as he had agreed. On the contrary, he had taken up arms against him.
Visible in the hall was the outcome of the battle. Slain bodies were strewn about. By the number of deceased, Janos Hunyadi and his partisans had proved victorious. They had forced the magnates to flee.
But lying bleeding on the ground was Lord Janos. He had been mortally wounded in the melee. His followers were all around him, tending to their master rather than pursuing his attackers. Janos was being held up by Blaise Magyar while the others watched. The steely Blaise looked greatly distressed.
Janos' face looked strong and serene – but he was direly injured. Before his partisans, his eyes closed. The noble warrior had fallen.
They all stood around Janos for a time, no one speaking.
"We have lost our Caesar," said Blaise. It was the first time they had heard him say anything.
"What happens now?" asked John Zapolya.
"Even without him we must carry on," said Michael Szilagyi. "Make the call to arms; there will be civil war now."
Across the kingdom lied Hunyad County: the home of Janos and his two sons. Here, the walls of Hunyad Castle were built to embrace the town beneath it: it was a fortress made to protect the people, not dominate them.
Just outside of Hunyad, a tournament ground was filled with colorful flags and tents. There was much drinking, eating, and revelry as cheerful Renaissance music played. Among other events, an area had been set aside where knights could engage in mock battle with each other.
Madolyn Kovacs, a lady of the lesser nobility, looked on the tournament grounds. She was looking for someone. Not finding who she was looking for, she left to search elsewhere.
Meanwhile, back in Hunyad Castle, affairs of state were proceeding. The lord's chamber - which had a sterile and dull appearance, a stark contrast to the tournament grounds outside - held two figures at work.
Ladislaus Hunyadi, the younger son of Lord Janos, sat torpidly in the count's chair. He cared little for learning or administration; it was quests for valor and fame that brought him to life.
Across from Ladislaus sat the Hunyadis' steward, Father Janus Pannonius. He sat upright in his chair, his head down as he mulled over innumerable ledgers, tomes, and parchments. Father Pannonius had a gentle temperament, but was bookish, pedantic, and socially incapable. He was intelligent – but a terrible teacher.
"Moving on to the next item, my lord," said Father Pannonius in a monotone voice, "the burghers of Hunyad are requesting permission to build a mill."
"Very well," said Ladislaus disinterestedly. He was trying to look out the window toward what was going on outside. "Let them build it."
"There is an issue with this, however, my lord," said Father Pannonius. "These burghers want to build the mill on the Cserna River."
Ladislaus saw that someone had entered the hall. It was Madolyn Kovacs, who had silently opened the chamber door and slipped in. Father Pannonius had no idea she was there.
"And what makes that a problem?" asked Ladislaus.
Madolyn was very beautiful. She gazed across the chamber and finally found the one she was looking for. She smiled devilishly at Ladislaus. He grinned knowingly back.
"Well, the Cserna is owned by the bishopric," said Father Pannonius, "and up till now, the bishop has been a major supporter of your father. So, it would be unwise to anger him."
"Very well," said Ladislaus. "So, they will not build the mill."
Father Pannonius went on, continuing to look down at his ledgers. "Well, the issue, my lord, is the burghers have a point in making this request; allowing them to build the mill would bring a clear economic benefit to the county, and the bishop has allowed the area to remain idle for some time. This is a common matter for a lord - to have to navigate the politics of even a simple matter. Coming to the right decision here will help to prove your administrative capabilities to your father..."
Father Pannonius looked up. He saw that the room was empty. He was talking to no one. There was the sound of a door closing behind him.
Madolyn and Ladislaus proceeded through the keep. "They are doing a tournament in the village," said Madolyn. "Are you going to compete?"
"I am," said Ladislaus.
The two entered the castle armory. Ladislaus stood before his hanging plate armor. It was among the finest of the age.
"Just be careful," said Madolyn. "It is dangerous."
"Oh, not to worry," replied Ladislaus. "My father has kept me from the real danger."
Ladislaus stood before Madolyn in his "knight's underwear" for a moment. He bent over to tie his greaves - his leg armor - as she watched him. She then moved forward and helped him put on the rest of his equipment. She had to get very close to help him put on his breastplate. She then helped him with his vambraces and pauldrons, before finally handing him his helmet.
The tournament had been assembled to celebrate Lord Janos' victory against the Turks. Great banners lined the grounds, and lords and serfs alike feasted and drank and watched the entertainment - much of which consisted of trials by combat.
Ladislaus would fight in a mock battle. He was up against a lord from the north - Henry "the Bull" of Bohemia.
Both knights wore heavy plate and full helms. Ladislaus' armor was elegant and upper class - a contrast to the garments of his father and brother. His armor had the small sigil of a raven on it. Henry's armor was ornate but humbler than Ladislaus', and had the sigil of a black bull on it.
In the crowd, Madolyn Kovacs watched with a concerned expression on her face. She looked at the huge two-handed swords the two lords wielded.
"Isn't it dangerous that they do this?" she asked. Next to her were two drunken lords - veterans of the Battle of Belgrade.
"When they wear so much armor it is not so dangerous," the first lord replied.
As Ladislaus advanced into the arena, the drunken lord noticed him. Seeing it was Janos’ son, he began to goad him.
"Ah, Lord Ladislaus, I didn't see you at Belgrade!" he called out. Ladislaus looked up to see him.
"Careful, my lord!" exclaimed the drunken lord’s friend, himself getting involved in the mocking. “You are fighting against Henry of Podebrad. He's seen a few more battles than you!"
"Ah, this will almost be like a real battle for you, my lord!" yelled the first drunken lord again, laughing.
Ladislaus tried to ignore their insults. He wanted to be respected - like the medieval warriors of old. But his father had kept him from participating in any real battles. He pulled down his visor, concealing his face in the process.
Ladislaus entered the arena with the opposing lord. Henry - with his face now concealed as well - approached him. The combat began.
It was more of a brawl than a duel. The immense two-handed swords were unable to penetrate the plate armor, so the combat was conducted mostly through half-swording, punching, and pommeling.
Finally, Henry got the better of Ladislaus, bringing him to the ground. Madolyn looked on in distress.
"Ah, too bad, my lord!" called out the first drunken lord. "If only your fine armor could win your battles for you!" The two warriors laughed.
"Yes!" slurred the second goading lord. "It is better you were not with us when we were fighting the Turk."
Ladislaus returned to his feet and the duel continued. Filled with anger at their insults, Ladislaus was much more aggressive. Blow after blow he pommeled Henry, who drew back defensively. Backed into the corner, he fell to the ground. At last, he submitted.
The two combatants removed their helmets, revealing their faces to the crowd. They both looked physically exhausted. Ladislaus magnanimously helped his opponent to his feet. Henry then raised Ladislaus' arm, acknowledging him as the victor. The crowd cheered.
Despite this, the insults continued. "What a fine soldier you will be someday, my lord!" called out the first drunken lord.
Ladislaus glared as the two men. Despite his victory, they continued to taunt him. He angrily stormed out of the arena, lost in thought. Madolyn went after him.
By the time Ladislaus had returned to the keep, Madolyn had caught up with him. She convinced him to go with her into the countryside. Making their way to the Hunyad stables, they rode out of the village on horseback. Madolyn held onto her lover from behind. He didn’t say anything.
They rode out through an idyllic country. They passed plains and woods and rivers. They ventured far into the hinterlands.
After a time, Ladislaus slowed his horse. They had come into a beautiful, open field by the edge of a tree line. White-capped mountains were visible in the distance. The Carpathians. The sky was a cool, blue color.
The two dismounted and idled for a time, enjoying the peace of nature. Finally, they embraced, the two falling together among the lilies.
Several hours later – exhausted and with all their garments off – the two sat next to one another silently.
"Do you remember the first time we came here?" asked Madolyn, breaking the silence.
"I remember," replied Ladislaus.
There was a delay as Madolyn realized he was still anxious. "You're still upset at those lords?" she asked.
Ladislaus sat up. "Everyone who fought at Belgrade is a hero now," he said. "I am the son of a hero." He paused for a moment before going on. "I remember when I was 12 and I was sick, my father brought a team of minstrels with him to Hunyad. They spent three nights there singing the Song of Roland. I got out of bed every night to listen.
"It really inspired me, made me return to health again. After I recovered, I started practicing with a sword every day."
"You are good with a sword," answered Madolyn.
"But now my father wants me to stay here like a damn bookkeeper - like my brother."
"He wants you to live," said Madolyn. It was clear that that was her desire as well.
Ladislaus was unmoved.
To placate him, Madolyn stood up. Still completely naked, she walked over to where Ladislaus had put down his sword. Picking it up, she then walked over to her lover and stood before him like a sovereign.
Holding his immense two-handed sword, she took what she was doing in complete seriousness, standing over him like the Virgin Mary. Ladislaus took it as a joke.
"Take the knee," she said.
Ladislaus, amused, took the knee.
"Do you swear fealty to me as your lady?" she asked.
"I do," he replied.
Madolyn held the immense sword over Ladislaus as if she were knighting him.
"Then rise, Sir Ladislaus," she said.
Ladislaus stood and embraced his lover again. As he was doing so, however, a loud groan suddenly echoed out from the forest behind them. Still in the nude, the two were startled.
"What was that?" asked Madolyn.
"It sounded like a bear," said Ladislaus.
Madolyn handed the sword back to her lover. He raised the weapon to readiness.
Slowly, Ladislaus crept toward the area where the noise had come from. Visible before him was a strong but aging bear which looked injured. It was walking with a limp to one of its legs.
Ladislaus let his sword down. He walked back to Madolyn and began putting his clothes back on.
"What is it?" asked Madolyn.
"We should go back now," said Ladislaus.
In the lord’s chamber in Hunyad Castle, Father Pannonius and Michael Szilagyi sat silently opposite one another. Both looked extremely stressed. Based on the expressions on their faces, Lord Michael had just told the clergyman the news of Janos' death. Father Pannonius was distressed - he had served Lord Janos capably for many years.
Ladislaus, returned from his elopement, entered the chamber by himself.
"There he is," said Janus.
Startled, Ladislaus looked at the two men in the room before him. "Uncle..." he began to say.
His uncle stood up and approached him. "Your father is dead," said Lord Michael. There was a long delay while the news registered. "Your brother likely will be as well. Raise the banners. I will meet you at Thorenburg - on the Gold River."
Michael patted his nephew on the shoulder, then exited. Ladislaus looked anxiously at Father Pannonius, waiting for more information.
Matthias stood outside the house of a resident of Bator. Plainly dressed, he looked down at his steward's ledger, engrossed in his work. He efficiently went about his duties.
Two riders approached along the road. Matthias paid no attention to them as they came closer.
When Matthias looked up, however, he saw them. It was two lords. It was Lord Bathory and Lord Garai, both in plate mail, with their retainers behind them.
He was betrayed.
George Dozsa knelt down, tending to his crops. It seemed to him as if the whole world disappeared when he worked. Suddenly, however, he heard the sound of a man in chains, and of a company of armed fighters passing. He looked up to see Matthias - his former interlocutor - on foot, being led by his captors up to Bator Castle. Matthias' jailors rode on horseback before him.
Dozsa did not react: but he saw that this was the fate of the one lord who pledged to help him. He watched Matthias as he proceeded up the road with his captors.
As the magnates advanced, Dozsa could see that at the back of their party a carriage was being transported. In the carriage was a great, ornate chest. He could hardly make out what he was seeing, but he saw that within the chest was a crown. It was the royal crown of Hungary: taken by the magnates when they fled Buda.
In the dungeons of Bator Castle, two retainers dragged Matthias through a corridor. Matthias was distressed - but somehow also dispassionate in the way only a philosopher could be. He was not necessarily resisting his jailors, though he was also not quite complying either.
As the men dragged the steward, they passed a room with a large iron torture chair - a macabre sight. Below the chair, Matthias could see a place where a fire could be lit, searing any prisoner forced to sit on it.
One of the retainers goaded Matthias as they dragged him. "We have a special place for you, Lord Hunyadi - until you are ready to join your father."
The retainers dragged Matthias to the entrance of the oubliette. It was different from the other cells of the prison. It was more like a dark hole into which a prisoner could be dropped.
One of the retainers lifted the iron cage of the compartment. The two forced Matthias into it - down into the blackness.
Matthias sat on the floor of oubliette. The chamber was dark, with only the dim glow of a small torch for light.
Matthias looked at the prison wall before him. The torch created a shadow, like a specter on the wall. Matthias sat there in silence for a long time staring at it. He contemplated his fate. Was his father dead? Was their family betrayed? This was what his father had warned him of. But it had happened so quickly. Was it all over so soon?
Despite these thoughts going through his mind, Matthias sat like a philosopher, a stoic expression on his face.
Matthias idled in the emptiness of the cell. He was alone: utterly alone. At the same time, there was a simplicity to his state - a love of fate despite its hardships - that somehow allowed him to drink in the space around him.
Then, the quiet moment passed. Like a dark cloud coming over him, Matthias looked down at the floor in resignation. Matthias sat like this for some time.
Above Matthias, barely visible, was a small window. It was an opening that had been made to allow outside air to enter the oubliette. Since it was day, there was a small, almost imperceptible beam of light entering the cell.
Outside the castle, a bird fluttered down and found its way to the window. It perched on a stone just above it. It idled there for a moment placidly, then cawed.
The sound, though barely audible, stirred Matthias from his gloom. He stood.
Matthias crawled up the side of the chamber and made his way to the small window. It was nearly inaccessible to him. Despite the difficulty, Matthias put his face before the narrow opening, the small rays of light streaking across his countenance as he did so. At last, Matthias lifted himself up and peered out the window. Outside was the vast, glowing orb of the sun.
The magnates – the lords Nicholas Garai, Laurence Ilocki, and Stephen Bathory – sat in the same chamber where Matthias had worked as a steward. The chamber had been cleared out, opening up a great deal of space for them.
"What about Lord Viktor?" asked Nicholas Garai.
"He has not written," said Stephen Bathory, taking a breath before he went on. He looked down at the correspondences that he had in front of him. "It is no surprise with him: he will wait to see which is the winning side."
"Lord Perenyi?" asked Nicholas.
"He has turned on us," answered Stephen. "Sided with the Hunyadis."
"This is the trouble with conspiracies," said Lord Laurence. "Everyone claims they want to take part, then they all take the path of least resistance."
Nicholas Garai looked across the chamber at Stephen. "I told you he was dangerous. I told you how dangerous he was." He referred to the deceased Lord General.
Stephen Bathory did not react. "If it had not happened this way," Stephen answered, "it would have happened in some other way."
"I'm saying it was you that led him to this," said Nicholas. "We knew he was a problem. But you encouraged him to act. You thought you could control him: now see where all that has left us."
"We still have the son," said Lord Laurence. "And the crown."
Nicholas Garai responded angrily. "The whole country thinks that Janos Hunyadi is a martyr now. It was foolish to provoke him so soon after Belgrade. I told you that he had become too popular."
"Lord Alexander is still with us," said Stephen Bathory reassuringly. "And Lord Emmerich."
"And they are on the other side of the kingdom!" said Nicholas.
Stephen Bathory sat for a time, not saying anything. Finally, he spoke. "You know, he didn't tell me what he was planning. He didn't tell me what he was going to do."
"It is over now," answered Nicholas, suddenly reassuringly. They all said nothing for a long time. Then, Lord Nicholas suddenly broke the silence, suggesting a novel idea. "We must look elsewhere for support."
Stephen gazed at Lord Garai. "What are you proposing?" he asked.
"Janos said he wanted a king," answered Nicholas. "We will give them a king." Stephen Bathory looked at him.
"We have the crown," Nicholas went on. "We should take it to Vienna - give it to the emperor."
Laurence Ilocki looked incredulous. "Such a proposal," he said.
"If you have an alternative," said Nicholas, "I wait to hear it."
There was a long delay while they considered the idea. Lord Garai meant to name the emperor of Austria, Frederick, as the new king of Hungary.
Stephen Bathory finally responded in affirmation, although it was a difficult conclusion for him to come to. "I will ride out and gather my cousin, Lord Bolza," he said. "And Lord Andrew who owed a debt to my father. Then we must take what we have and go to Vienna."
Nicholas Garai looked at him affirmingly. "We must give him the crown."
It was dusk. A group of armed riders - supporters of the magnates - assembled outside Bator Castle. Stephen Bathory and Nicholas Garai faced one another on horseback. Riding up to them was Laurence Ilocki, ready to leave as well.
Matthias - greatly haggard-looking - was dragged from the castle's prison by a guard and brought outside in shackles. He blinked as his eyes adjusted to the light.
Before Matthias were many skilled fighters - retainers of Lord Bathory - as well as a regal looking cart. Matthias looked ahead of him to see for the first time what it contained. Within it was a chest - one transporting the royal crown of Hungary.
At last, the group disembarked for the west. Like before, the magnates traveled on horseback while Matthias was forced to walk on foot. The party advanced through the countryside.
The magnates proceeded through the countryside. They left behind the fields of Bator, and entered the hilly terrain of the uplands - Felvidek. The magnates, their retainers, Matthias, and the crown lumbered along towards Vienna.
The clothes Matthias wore were beginning to fray. He was barefoot, wearing sackcloth, with his hands in chains. He walked ahead of his guard, who wore the armor of the Renaissance.
At the front of the party, one Bathory retainer led the way. He was on foot, proceeding slightly ahead of the others.
Before him, a raven fluttered down and landed on the road. The bird pecked at the ground, indifferent to the man as he approached. As the soldier came closer, the bird blocked his way.
The man approached and tried to shoo the raven. The bird was bold however, and cawed at the man rather than escape. The man became irritated and tried to shoo the bird more aggressively. This time bird became even more defiant, cawing bolding at him, before at last relenting and flying away.
The party proceeded forward again in silence.
Suddenly, a sound was heard. The members of the company looked at one another with confused expressions. Realizing what was happening, Stephen Bathory called the men to arms.
As the retainers drew their weapons, there was a sudden crash as Hunyadi riders charged into the conspirators' company. Blaise Magyar, the huge titan of a man, appeared as if from nowhere, charging straight through a soldier with a large lance. Ladislaus charged into Nicholas Garai, throwing him from his horse with the same ferocity. The magnate's body shattered as it hit the earth.
A melee erupted between the two sides. Matthias – startled as much as a stoic philosopher could be – found himself caught in the middle. Still in chains and rags, the chaos proceeded around him. With little chance of escape, he took refuge behind a cart as well as he could.
Ladislaus, having been stripped of his horse, began to fight on foot. He fenced with a formidable foe - a captain of Stephen Bathory. While he fought, Ladislaus looked across to see the man he wanted to combat: Lord Stephen himself.
Lord Bathory was engaged in his own battle. On horseback, he fended off one Hunyadi rider, then another. Despite having reached middle age, he was a capable fighter.
As the combat proceeded, Lord Bathory moved slowly toward the carriage his company had been transporting. Reaching it, he grasped for the chest where the royal crown was contained. As there was so much violence around him, when he grasped the crown he did so forcefully, damaging it in the process. The cross at the top of the crown broke in his grasp: from an upright position, it became crooked.
As Stephen turned around, Ladislaus appeared before him, blocking his path. Yet Stephen reined his warhorse, and fled as the furor of battle proceeded.
Ladislaus watched Lord Bathory for a moment. He could take a horse and try to pursue him.
From Matthias' perspective, the carnage of the battle was unrelenting. It was not clear who was winning. There was slaughter on all sides as men of both parties fell.
After a long time, a quiet began to emerge from the bloodshed. Still taking refuge, Matthias looked up, reticent to see the outcome of the fight. Slain bodies were all around him. Looking about, Matthias was relieved to see it was mainly Hunyadi warriors who were still alive.
Suddenly, a warrior on the road caught sight of Matthias, and approached him. He wore the most elegant of Renaissance armors. Despite the raven sigil on the warrior's chest, in Matthias’ condition he failed to recognize who it was.
Matthias stood to greet the soldier. The warrior raised his visor and revealed himself. It was Ladislaus.
"Brother," said Matthias.
Ladislaus came closer. As he did so, all the Hunyadi soldiers suddenly turned as if by cue. They circled around the captive. Matthias looked on, unsure of what was happening.
Ladislaus knelt before his brother. "My king," he said.
All around Matthias, in a grand gesture of honor, the Hunyadi retainers began to take the knee. Suddenly, every soldier on the road was kneeling before the haggard man in sackcloth and chains. This man was their king.
In the Pannonian Basin, the Hunyadis set up camp. In a tent in the encampment, Matthias and his brother met.
Matthias was still dressed in his prisoners' clothes, though looked to be in a far better condition than he was in before. Ladislaus was wearing his armor.
"You made me king," said Matthias incredulously.
"I made you king," answered Ladislaus.
There was a pause for a moment, before Matthias went on. "How did this happen?" he asked.
"Well," answered Ladislaus, "after they killed father, only the lords who supported House Hunyadi remained. And, they were devoted to the family legacy."
"And you persuaded those lords to elect me?" asked Matthias.
Ladislaus nodded. "We held a parliament - at Thorenburg." He shrugged. "Father didn't want to be king. But with him dead and the magnates gone, it was time for a leader."
"And you chose me," said Matthias.
Matthias sat for a moment, divided. "I'm flattered," said Matthias, "but I'm not ready for this. You've taken a prisoner and given him a kingdom. This is a huge responsibility – to be in charge of all these lives. A king must be willing to do many things – many unsavory things – in the process of ruling."
"I don't think you should be concerned with that," said Ladislaus. "Certainly, the people you're replacing never gave those questions a thought." He continued. "No, you are a good man who has been given power. That is something that doesn't happen often. Don't let your philosopher's mind make you waste the opportunity."
Matthias smiled. "There may be a statesman in you yet," he said.
Michael Szilagyi, John Zapolya, and Blaise Magyar entered the tent. Michael walked up to Matthias with a warm expression on his face and embraced him. "Nephew," said Michael. "I'll have to get accustomed to calling you 'king' now."
"Uncle, you should address me in exactly the way you did before," answered Matthias.
John Zapolya walked up and embraced Matthias as well.
"I am glad you are well," Michael went on. "I thought you would suffer the same fate as your father." He turned and looked at Ladislaus. "And this one! The kingmaker." Michael was pleased his nephews had made it through the battle safely.
John Zapolya interrupted. "Word has come from the north," he said. "Lord Stephen has fled Hungary."
"And the crown?" asked Ladislaus.
John Zapolya nodded.
"He is taking it to the emperor - in Vienna," said Michael.
"It seems we will have a pretender," said John Zapolya, sighing. "We could pursue him, but we still have Lord Ilocki in open rebellion - and a whole southern border still at war with the Turks."
"It presents a problem, however," said Ladislaus. "We have a king but no crown."
The lords looked at Matthias.
"Crowns do not make kings," said Lord Michael. "We will have the coronation ceremony without one. It has happened before."
Matthias stood near the head of the church. His relatives were nearby. It was here, in the church of Szentendre, where the kings of Hungary were crowned.
Presiding over the ceremony was the bishop of Esztergom. To the side, a choir recited the Litany of the Saints. "Kyrie, eleison," sang the choir. "Christie, eleison. Christie audio nos..." They went on in the background.
Matthias, the philosopher, was respectful - though it was clear he looked disinterested in all the religious pomp.
At the head of the church, the bishop's throne had a Hunyadi cloth draped over it, showing the raven sigil. The raven would take the throne.
Michael Szilagyi, who was standing nearby, looked at his nephew. "You've spent your whole life reading books," he said. "Now that you're king, your very life will be a book."
Michael stood near the bishop. As the Lord Palatine, one of the high ministers of the kingdom, he would play a part in the ritual.
The Litany of the Saints went on. Ladislaus, the prodigal son, turned to Matthias. "I would never have imagined us here, brother," he said.
The Litany of the Saints at last came to an end. The congregation quieted. A few of the attendants who were still standing settled down and took their seats.
The bishop of Esztergom and Michael Szilagyi stepped forward and came to the center of the church. Holding up the royal regalia, the bishop handed it to Michael Szilagyi.
As there was no crown, Michael conducted the ceremony with the king’s vestments alone. He stepped before the church and lifted the regalia before him. "Do you accept Matthias Hunyadi as your king?" he asked.
"Yes," replied the congregation. Michael handed the regalia to the bishop. At last, Matthias stepped forward.
"Do you vow to protect the faith, the people, and the kingdom?" asked the bishop.
"I do," replied Matthias.
The bishop stepped behind Matthias and placed the royal garment on him. Then, with the aid of an assistant, he took holy oil and anointed Matthias. Then, he placed a sword and a scepter in the king's hands. Finally, the bishop recited a prayer.
"Almighty and everlasting God, creator of all things, commander of angels and king of kings, hear our prayer as we consecrate our king. Strengthen him and allow him to walk always in the way of justice, in the way of truth, in the way of righteousness. Amen."
As the bishop prayed, the people looked on Matthias' uncrowned head. He was king now in name: but he would never be legitimate until he was crowned.
The bells rang out to commemorate the rule of King Matthias.
It was evening in Vienna. The night sky was clear above, with no clouds obscuring the view. Among the stars, the constellation Gemini – the constellation of the twins – was visible.
The Emperor Frederick was seated in the imperial garden. Everything about the garden - its flora, its statues, its vistas - showed it was the demesne of a powerful aristocrat.
The emperor was thin and advanced in age, yet at the same time somehow had a great vitality to him. He had long blonde hair which was graying, wore elegant lordly clothes, and had a slightly somnolent disposition.
The emperor looked up at the sky. He inspected the stars above, taking careful note of them. He was superstitious, believing in prophecies and augurs. He interpreted to himself, saying, "what is happening in Hungary will be of great relevance to us here..."
Next to Frederick there was a small marble table, big enough to hold a large tray.
From the other side of the garden, a young girl approached. Wearing upper class clothes, she carried a chess board and pieces. It was Maria, the emperor's granddaughter. She wanted to challenge Frederick to play.
"You want to play, do you?" asked the emperor. Maria set up the board for the game. The emperor sat and watched as she did this.
The game began, and Maria moved her pieces boldly. She moved quickly, without thinking. Every time it was Frederick's turn however, he would always take an extremely long time before making his move. He irritated his granddaughter – he even took a long time to think over the movement of a pawn.
Maria moved her knight aggressively across the board. She seized one of her grandfather's pawns – then another. Then, the emperor mistakenly left an opening for his granddaughter. She moved in and seized one of his pieces.
"Hmm..." said the emperor. The emperor moved a piece in return, taking Maria's knight. Yet Maria moved again and captured her grandfather's castle. When she did so, she placed his king in check.
The emperor moved his king away. The game began to drag on and on.
"The game is over," said Maria.
"The game is not over," replied Emperor Frederick. "As long as the king is still there, it is not over."
As the emperor went to move again, someone approached them in the garden. It was a lord from Hungary - Stephen Bathory. He was followed by many German courtiers and retainers. He approached the seated Frederick. He bowed in obeisance.
"Ah, Lord Bathory," said Frederick. The emperor had a unique way of speaking that was somehow both crotchety and full of vitality at the same time.
"Apologies for interrupting," said Stephen.
"Not to worry, you're just interrupting me being beaten by my granddaughter," said Frederick. Maria got up and walked out of the garden.
Stephen looked somewhat surprised. "Oh... You let her play?"
"She is frustrated now," said the emperor, "but she will ask to play again tomorrow."
Lord Bathory nodded.
The emperor finally turned his full attention to him. "Well," said the emperor, "so good of you to come. I have been following what has been happening in your country with interest. But things have been developing too quickly."
"Much has happened in a short time," Lord Bathory explained. "Belgrade is won, Lord Janos is dead, and the council of magnates is no more." The emperor nodded. "Lord Nicholas was killed by Janos' younger son," Lord Bathory went on. "…And Lord Laurence is now a prisoner."
"I see," said the emperor.
"And that is not all," said Lord Bathory. "Hungary has a new king. The lords have elected the elder son of Lord Janos - Matthias Hunyadi - as their ruler."
A bird made a sound in the background.
The emperor ruminated for a moment. "I must admit, when I heard that the sultan was marching on Belgrade, I rather hoped he would succeed." Stephen Bathory looked at him with a face of complex emotion. "But fortune makes fools out of all our expectations," the emperor went on.
The emperor's granddaughter, Maria, re-emerged into the garden carrying a covered dinner plate. She placed it on the marble table, taking the chessboard away. Inside was a dish full of white meat – poultry.
The emperor took hold of Maria for a moment before she walked away. "This is my granddaughter, Maria," he said, introducing her. "She will be a queen someday; I keep telling her that."
The emperor turned to the dinner plate and dined ravenously on the poultry. "And my son as well," said Frederick while eating. "He will be an emperor - one of the leading figures of Europe, I am sure." Maria went back inside the palace.
"You're so confident about the future?" asked Lord Bathory.
The emperor stopped eating and looked up at the night sky for a moment. "I have had it all augured to me already," he said. "That 'it is given to my house to rule the entire world.' Everything is written for us beforehand; we only fulfill the roles given." As the emperor spoke, he gestured to the family symbol that was inscribed above him - a sigil that reflected what he said.
Finally, having finished his dish, the emperor wiped his hands and face. He recollected himself, giving Lord Bathory his full attention again. "They tell me you've brought me something," he said.
Stephen Bathory gestured at the servants behind him. They brought forward a huge chest. "Emperor Frederick," he said, "I present you with the Holy Crown of Hungary."
As the servants opened the chest, Lord Bathory realized that the cross which adorned the top of the crown had been damaged in his escape. "It did not make it here unmaimed, I'm afraid."
The emperor nodded expectantly. He seemed satisfied. What had been prophesied to him had come true.
The emperor gestured for Lord Bathory to take the knee. The servants closed the chest and took it inside.
"Well," said the emperor. "Do you accept me as your sovereign?"
"I do," said Stephen.
"Then rise, Lord Bathory," replied Frederick. "I name you a prince of the Empire. You will be my representative to your country. Now – who were the lords who declared for your side?"
In Buda Castle, Matthias presided. No longer a prisoner, he now wore the clothes of a ruler: though his clothing remained simple compared to the other aristocrats.
Matthias stood at the head of the castle hall. "Lord Szilagyi," he said. Out of the assembly before the king, Matthias' uncle stepped forward. "Lord Michael Szilagyi, I confirm you in your position as Lord Palatine, in charge of the foreign affairs of Hungary." Matthias placed a medallion around his uncle's neck, a symbol of his office.
"My king," said Lord Szilagyi, bowing in obeisance. "My king, with your permission, I would make my first embassy to the city of Vienna."
"Very good," said Matthias. Michael stepped back, rejoining the assembly. Matthias went on. "Lord Hunyadi," said the king. Ladislaus stepped forward toward his brother, wearing the finest armor of the age. "Lord Ladislaus Hunyadi," said the king, "I name you Royal Justice. May you serve the people nobly and well." Ladislaus approached and Matthias pinned the scales of justice on his brother. Ladislaus smiled at him.
As Ladislaus stepped back, an attractive young woman of the upper class watched him from the hall. Seeing her, Ladislaus looked back and smiled.
"Lord Zapolya," said Matthias. John Zapolya stepped forward. "Lord John Zapolya, I name you Lord General. May you ensure the common defense." Matthias handed John the baton that was a symbol of his office. John stepped back. There was a long delay. Finally, the last counselor was appointed.
"John Ernest," said Matthias. There was a great silence in the hall. Finally, amidst the crowd, a figure appeared. He stood separately from the others. Based on his hat and garb, he was a Jew. The man stepped forward, the crowd watching him. "John Ernest, I name you Lord Treasurer," said Matthias. Matthias leaned in closely and spoke to him directly. "I would like you to get straight to work on our finances." Matthias handed Ernest the ledger that was a symbol of his office. John stepped back, the whole hall still watching him.
Matthias made a gesture for his counselors to come and stand before him. Before the castle, they bowed. "With these wise advisors," said Matthias, "may the kingdom find prosperity."
The ceremony concluded. Having stood throughout the whole assembly, Matthias at last took a seat, finding his throne at the head of the hall. His counselors followed him, taking their seats in lordly chairs that had similarly been prepared for them.
"Affairs of state will begin immediately," said Matthias. A transition happened in the court as the ceremony came to an efficient end. Many in the chamber exited and business commenced.
The doors to the chamber opened and Blaise Magyar appeared. He led forward several men who were in chains – traitorous lords.
"My lord," said John Zapolya, "before you are three lords who committed treason against you. Each one denied your succession; each one took up arms in solidarity with the magnates. My king, we await your judgment."
Matthias inspected the lords. The court watched the king as he made his first significant choice as sovereign.
"I do not wish to begin my reign with the shedding of any more civil blood," said Matthias. "My lords, if you recant your deeds, and before God swear fealty to me, I will forgive you." There was a pause as the lords looked at the king. "What do you say?" asked Matthias.
The first lord spoke. "My king, I repent my actions before you and God."
"I pledge fealty to you from now on, my king," said the second lord.
Matthias inspected the third lord – it was Laurence of Ilok, one of the magnates. The emotion of the moment was palpable. Matthias had offered forgiveness to the traitor. The enemy of his father.
"And you, Lord Ilocki, do you forsake your former treason?" asked Matthias.
The old lord, the wealthiest man in Hungary, spoke. "I recant my actions, my king," he said.
Matthias gestured to have their chains removed. Blaise Magyar unlocked their fetters, freeing them. The three lords all knelt before Matthias, showing their submission to him.
The lords were led out by Blaise. As this happened, Ladislaus looked across to his brother.
"We have too many enemies to waste time fighting ourselves," said Matthias, anticipating what his brother was thinking.
"I only hope we will not regret later that you are so magnanimous," said Ladislaus.
The interior of the Church of Mary had been decorated. At the center of the room was Janos Hunyadi's body, which was lying in state, elevated on a dais. Matthias stood over the body in vigil, while his brother stood at the side of the chamber.
Matthias inspected the face of his father. His father was a sympathetic man – always strong but open. He died when he was only middle-aged, before he could secure his legacy.
Ladislaus interrupted the silence. "He used to read with me, you know," he said. "When I was a boy. I never took the liking to it that you did – so he forced me to learn. Every night he would stop what he was doing and read to me."
"What did you read?" asked Matthias.
"I can't remember," said Ladislaus. He thought for a moment, then corrected himself. "No... I remember one. The 'Tale of the Horse and the Lantern.'" Ladislaus tried to recall. "It was about a farmer... who owned horses. But one was wild and ran away. No one could find it. But one night the farmer went out with his lantern to look – and he found the horse. And when he found it, he brought it back."
Matthias nodded. "He always told me how ignorant he was," said the king. "'I am a simple man,' he would say. I think he was wiser than all of us."
Ladislaus nodded. There was a long delay as the two stood alone in silence.
At last, Ladislaus spoke. "They say it was Stephen Bathory who made the killing blow."
In Matthias' council chamber, the king met with his advisors. Ladislaus, John Zapolya, and Blaise Magyar were present. Before them was a map of the realm. It showed the landholdings of all the lords in comparison to the king's demesne.
Vast expanses of land in Hungary were controlled by the magnates - houses Bathory, Garai, and Ilocki - their territories colored on the map and marked by their sigils. The Hunyadi homeland consisted of a small area in Transylvania, marked by a raven. Houses Szilagyi and Zapolya had their own small territories in Transylvania, marked by the black horse and white wolf sigils, respectively.
The royal demesne was represented on the map as well. It was clear that it has been reduced to almost nothing. The king's lands consisted of two small counties in the center of the country.
"The lands of Felvidek, or Upper Hungary," said John Zapolya, "have been placed under royal tenancy – while Stephen Bathory is tried for treason in absentia. Meanwhile, the lands of House Garai in the Partium region have been seized outright."
Matthias nodded. With the civil war resolved, royal power had increased considerably. The magnates – who had amassed vast domains during the interregnum – had committed treason, thus by law their lands could be taken by the king if he wished.
"The royal demesne's come a long way," said Ladislaus. "What was it before - two counties?"
"Yes," replied John.
"There is still a long way to go," said Matthias.
The doors opened as a steward let Michael Szilagyi into the chamber. He had returned from his embassy to Vienna. The others looked at him with interest.
"He returns," said Ladislaus. "How was your visit with the emperor?"
"Unproductive," said Michael. He took a breath as he looked at them. "He will not hand over Lord Stephen."
Ladislaus suddenly looked very thoughtful.
"The crown?" asked John Zapolya.
"The emperor has yet to name himself king – which is something. He seemed willing to negotiate for its return. But he required a ransom."
Matthias looked at his uncle in anticipation.
"800,000 florins for its return," he said.
Matthias and his brother became incredulous.
"It's extortion," said Ladislaus.
"I don't want to begin legislating without the crown," said Matthias, who now looked as thoughtful as his brother. "But I don't want to begin my reign by bankrupting my subjects for its return."
"It is an unfortunate situation," said Michael.
"I think we should go to war with this emperor," said Ladislaus, a new anger coming over him. "He is no friend of ours."
Matthias looked at his brother.
"I have other news for you as well," said Michael. He withdrew a parchment from his garb and handed it to his nephew. Matthias began reading it as his uncle went on.
"A message has come from Constantinople. A Genoese lord there is writing you about the sultan." He watched as his nephew read. "The sultan has fallen ill," he explained to the others. "He contracted dysentery after Belgrade – and has not recovered. It's gotten worse by the day. No one expects him to survive."
"An opportunity," said John Zapolya.
Matthias reflected on the news.
"If the sultan passes away," asked Ladislaus, "who does he have to succeed him?"
Michael gestured at the letter as he spoke. "He writes that the succession is not clear. The sultan has four sons. But they are all harem boys: they have not been bred for politics."
Matthias put the letter down and looked up. "If it's anything like 1402, they will be at each other's throats," said the king. "New sultans have a bad habit of killing their brothers." Matthias turned to Ladislaus. "Glad we don't do that." He suddenly became very serious. "It will mean civil war among the Turks."
"We could lead an army into Bosnia," said John Zapolya. "The population there should welcome us."
Matthias turned his attention back to the map in the room.
"We could convene the lords," said Michael. "Ask the Pope to sanction a crusade."
Matthias stared fixedly at the map before him.
"Is it wise to begin your reign by starting a war?" Ladislaus asked his brother.
"No better way to unite a country than a war," said Matthias.
A parliament assembled in Buda Castle. The chamber of the magnates had been cleared out. The magnates’ chairs had been removed and prepared for a gathering of the lords.
Matthias stood in the chamber; around him sat his vassals.
Matthias stepped forward, toward the center of the room. His lords looked on. Though their king was the son of a national hero, he was unproven.
"My lords," said Matthias, "here is the ground where my father died. Died for you. Died for Europe." He paused. "In the east, a great opportunity has presented itself. The Turkish sultan has passed away... With no clear successor, the Ottoman Empire will be in disorder. My lords, let us build on the success at Belgrade and unite against the enemy who has for so long oppressed us. Let us free the Balkans from the crescent. What do you say?"
Matthias spoke strongly and excellently: but the parliament sat in silence. A bench in the hall creaked.
Matthias called for a vote of the lords. "Those in support of a campaign?" he asked.
One of the lords stood. "For King Matthias!" he said.
Another lord stood. "For the Bear of Belgrade!" he called out.
More lords began to stand. Suddenly, the entire hall was roaring in favor of their new king. There would be a crusade.
Matthias met in his chamber with his counselors.
"What word have we heard from our allies?" asked the king.
"I have sent embassies to all our neighbors," answered Michael Szilagyi. "The Poles send us their good will, but they write are still too occupied with their own interregnum. The doge of Venice seemed opened to conflict with Islam... but he writes he is currently in a truce with the Porte. The Czechs did offer to send us a few hundred volunteers... while the German princes I wrote to did not reply."
"What about the duke of Burgundy?" asked Ladislaus. They all looked at him. "They called his father 'the Fearless' for his charge at Nicopolis." It was a story the lover of knightly romances was familiar with.
"I'm afraid the French have put their crusading days behind them," answered Michael.
Matthias lamented at the lack of support. "Is it up to House Hunyadi alone to fight the invader?" he asked.
"Now you know the plight of your father," said Michael. "In his day, it seemed it was Transylvania alone that would fight the Turk." He shared the one bit of good news he did have. "The Pope has sanctioned the war as a crusade – though none of the neighboring powers have agreed to join us."
"Well, the campaign will go forward as planned," said Matthias.
"There is one thing you should know," said Michael. "As monarch, you will be expected to carry out the Holy Ceremony before you leave with the army."
Matthias looked at his uncle.
"It has been a tradition going back to the reign of King Andrew," Lord Szilagyi went on. "Since the Fifth Crusade. All the kings must take up the cross like Simon of Cyrene – and physically carry it to the Church of Mary before embarking on crusade."
On the streets of Buda, Matthias stood ready for the ceremony. A great wooden cross was carried forward. Attendants laid it on the king’s back. Matthias’ face strained under the stress of the heavy load. He could feel the edges of the hewn wood on his back, the splinters coming out of it.
The king proceeded slowly, carrying the cross through the city. Commoners, priests, and lords alike looked on, as the king went forward with the pious ceremony.
The king proceeded past the town's residences, through the marketplace, and past the blacksmith. Finally, the king reached the Church of Mary. The doors opened to him.
Matthias hauled the cross single-handedly through the building. His onlookers continued to watch him. He brought the cross up to the altar, where a place had been prepared for it. As he approached the receptacle, however – his long journey nearly completed – he stumbled.
Everyone looked at the king as he found himself on the ground. One attendant came forward to aid his sovereign, but Matthias gently gestured him away. Matthias lifted himself up, lifted the cross, then placed it at its font in the church.
In Bosnia, Matthias sat on horseback at the head of an army. Following behind the king were the lords of Hungary: among them John Zapolya, Blaise Magyar, and Ladislaus. Among the king’s vassals was Laurence Ilocki, the repentant magnate, himself at the head of a large force. The army advanced through the countryside.
That evening, the crusader army encamped. They rested after the day's march. Some of the soldiers sat around a campfire as a preacher – Father John of Capistrano, now a veteran of Belgrade – spoke to them.
"The sultan is dead!" said Father John. "Long live the new sultan! Or should I say sultans? So vain the Mohammedans are for power, that brother kills brother in pursuit of it – like Cain killing Abel. I am telling you now: it is the eldest son – Bayezid – who will come out the victor. But I warn you about him: he is not like his father. His father kept a harem, sure: but at least a harem of women. The harem of this new one will be different. They are already calling him a pederast in the Porte, and speaking of the young prince of Wallachia, Radu – kidnapped and brought back – sexual violence committed against him..."
As Father John spoke, Matthias approached the campfire. He listened to the preacher.
"Make no mistake my friends," Father John went on, "we are at war with the Antichrist. We are at war with a violent heretic who wishes only ill against us. There can be no negotiation with the enemy. No concessions. No quarter given."
The army assembled on a plain. The Hunyadi forces led by Matthias were at the center; to his flank were the forces under Laurence Ilocki.
The Turks formed on the other side of the field. It was a small force under the command of the bey of Izmir. Matthias gazed patiently across the terrain, leading from the rear.
"You're sure you are ready for active command?" asked John Zapolya.
"A king must lead the army, or he is no king at all," said Matthias.
John assessed the battlefield. "Looks like we outnumber them," he said.
"Looks like we do," said Matthias.
"Perhaps we should offer them terms," said Ladislaus.
Suddenly, a horse appeared out of the Turkish lines. On its back was a tied up Christian captive. The horse was led to the front of the Muslim army to where the bey was.
One of the Turks took the man off the horse and paraded him in front of their lines, humiliating him. Matthias and John watched silently as this happened. The Turk then pushed the man to the ground and unsheathed his scimitar. The Turk beheaded the man, then lifted the head up triumphantly to his comrades. The enemy cheered.
"So much for negotiation," said Matthias. "The Hunyadi force will attack the center," said the king. "Tell Lord Ilocki to advance with us along the flank."
Matthias rode forward. In a great gesture, he signaled to his bannermen to advance. Matthias rode to the side of the lines, advancing in parallel with his force.
John Zapolya gestured to Lord Ilocki to advance. He did so. As the crusaders proceeded, Ladislaus looked on with caution.
The Muslims steeled themselves as the Christians approached. The Hunyadi center was the first to enter battle. Among them was Blaise Magyar, who was wearing plate armor and wielding an immense sword. He cut devastatingly into his lightly armored opponents.
Lord Ilocki, dutifully following the command of his king, led his forces forward on the attack. Ladislaus gazed across the field to see his soldiers join the battle.
As the combat proceeded, the Turks began to rout. The bey called out, commanding his forces to retreat. The Turks began to flee, escaping toward the tree line at the edge of the plain.
"We've taken the field. Should we pursue them?" asked John Zapolya.
"Tell the men to hold," said Matthias. "Tell Lord Ilocki to hold his forces."
The Hunyadi force reorganized and maintained its position. Lord Ilocki and his soldiers, however, continued to harry the enemy. John Zapolya signaled for Lord Laurence to stay in position - but he either did not see or did not respond to the order.
Matthias watched as the flank moved further afield towards the tree line, taking a moment to realize that his orders were not being followed. John Zapolya signaled again for Lord Laurence to stop. This time it was clear. The king's command was being ignored.
Matthias watched as – sure enough – out of the trees appeared a larger Turkish force. It had been a feint.
On one side, a contingent of Turkish cavalry emerged. It moved quickly in an effort to envelop Lord Ilocki’s forces.
"We must relieve them," said Matthias.
The Hunyadi force advanced quickly to aid their comrades. The battle dissolved into a bloody melee. Blaise Magyar charged forward again dramatically, crushing his opponents in the process.
At last, the battle concluded. The crusaders were victorious: but many men were slain in the process. Matthias looked across the field to Lord Ilocki.
It was early evening. Matthias sat before a large campfire. Around him were his vassals.
Laurence Ilocki stood before Matthias. The king had just finished his interrogation of the lord.
"Put him in irons," said Matthias. Blaise Magyar stepped forward and put Lord Ilocki in chains. "You disobeyed a direct order," said Matthias, "and nearly cost us everything."
Blaise Magyar took Lord Ilocki away. The other lords looked on. As the two faded into the rear of the camp, the commanders gathered around the king and began their assessment of the battle.
"How many casualties did we suffer?" asked Matthias.
"Seven thousand," answered John Zapolya.
"And that leaves us with how many?" asked the king.
"Fourteen thousand in total," said John.
The king introverted himself at the news.
"I was surprised at the size of this force," said Ladislaus. "It means the sultan has enough resources to leave a garrison of this size in the Balkans."
"Can we continue the campaign?" asked Matthias.
John Zapolya went to answer the king, but before he could a soldier came charging through the camp. "A Turk! A Turk!" called the warrior.
The lords turned, readying their weapons. The soldier at last came before the king. The lords realized it was just a message. "A Turk has come to speak to you," he said to Matthias. "He has been sent by the sultan. He requests an audience."
Matthias met in his tent with the Turkish emissary. Outside stood Ladislaus and John.
"Some of the lords won't be happy if we turn back now," said John.
"We will not have a choice," said Ladislaus, "after the casualties we suffered."
"What do you think they're offering him?" asked John.
"A deal, perhaps."
Before the conversation could continue, the Turkish ambassador exited the tent. Not noticing the onlookers, he proceeded away, walking through the camp. As the men watched him, Matthias emerged. His counselors looked at him expectantly.
"He is an envoy of Bayezid," explained Matthias, "the eldest of the brothers. He spoke candidly about his master's situation. His brothers are rallying supporters against him – throughout Thrace and Anatolia."
"That bodes well," said Ladislaus.
"He offered me an arrangement," said Matthias. "Bosnia will be ceded to us, and the raids on Hungary will stop. Then, when Bayezid comes to power in the Porte, he has promised he will not resume his father's policies of conquest."
"He can't offer to end the raids," said John. "He doesn't even control the whole frontier with us. And he might tear up the deal once he comes to power."
"We will see," said Matthias. "I accepted the offer."
Matthias walked away to address the lords. The crusaders looked on their king with interest.
"My lords," said the king, "we have won a great victory today. This Christian land has been liberated by us. I have just accepted the surrender terms from the sultan. I praise all of you who performed so bravely and excellently in battle. Tomorrow we will make our return home."
Matthias stood alone in the royal chapel in Buda. He stood silently – pondering his next act as king.
Matthias was not a prayerful man. He would never pray to God for advice. But he valued the wise and he valued history, and he liked to learn from the acts of great men. He also enjoyed solitude: and the chapel was the perfect place for him to contemplate in peace.
Matthias walked through the building. As he did so, he looked up to inspect the walls. On them were four stained glass images.
The images told the tale of the nation's founding. They portrayed the father of the country, King Stephen, in various acts of leadership. There was the king being baptized; being crowned; fighting the rebellious lords; and legislating.
A priest – whose job it was to tend to the chapel – saw the king and walked up to him. "Beautiful, aren't they?" he asked, noticing Matthias was staring at the images.
The king did not respond.
The priest went on. "Let me show you something else." The two walked through the chapel, approaching a reliquary.
"This is the hand of our nation's founder," said the priest, "still incorruptible after four hundred years."
Matthias looked down into the reliquary. Within it was the Holy Dexter: the mummified hand of King Stephen. He wasn't sure at first, but as he looked more closely, he realized the hand was clenched into a fist.
As the priest walked away, Matthias pondered the image before him.
In Matthias' chamber, a council began. Blaise Magyar stood behind the king. Before Matthias were two functionaries he had invited: John Ernest and Janus Pannonius. They were dressed as Renaissance bureaucrats, carrying ledgers. John Ernest, a Jew, wore the distinctive garb of his religion, while Father Pannonius wore the garb of the Catholic clergy.
"I am glad to have you both here with me," said the king. "It is time to get men of merit back at work in government."
"Happy to be here, my lord," said Father Pannonius. "When I received your letter, I showed it to Master Andrew and we spoke about it and he told me that it would be a good idea that I came..."
Father Pannonius started to drone on – but Matthias smiled and politely spoke over him. "You have been able to get to started," said the king. "My first question is – what is the current status of the treasury?"
"It is not well, my lord," answered John Ernest. "The treasury is currently bringing in 62,000 florins a year in income."
Matthias sat back at the news. Behind the king, even the steely Blaise had an incredulous look on his face. It was an unbelievably small sum for a kingdom.
"As you may be aware," John Ernest went on, "under the magnates the old method of tax collection was eliminated. They implemented a system of 'tax farming' instead. Each lord was tasked with collection in his own lands – rather than have royal officials carry it out. Each lord then voluntarily donated his surpluses to the treasury."
"The amount of graft such a system creates is obvious," said Father Pannonius.
Matthias exhaled, exasperated in the way only a stoic philosopher could be. "We will have to remake the country's administration from the top down," said the king. "I assume you are equipped for the task."
"I am," said John Ernest, "although I have run into an impediment. Lord Nicholas Frankopan said he would not abandon tax farming. He said he 'would not submit to being ruled by a Jew.'"
Matthias looked at him. "Lord Blaise will go with you on your next visit to Croatia," said the king. "He will ensure Lord Frankopan's fidelity to the government."
Matthias thought for a moment, then spoke. "In regard to taxation, I was thinking of getting rid of the system of feudal dues, and introducing a head tax instead. It would simplify it, and allow us to keep track of people. One gold piece per household per year."
"It is an interesting idea, my lord," said Father Pannonius.
"If the peasants can pay with an equivalent in harvest," said John Ernest, "then it could work well. But we would need to conduct a census before we could implement it."
"When was the last time we had one?" asked the king.
"The last was in 1450, my lord."
"That does not surprise me," said the king, amused at the dysfunction of the government. "Well, it's time we had one again." He looked at Father Pannonius. "Are you up to this task?"
"I will get to work on it immediately," said the priest.
"Turning our attention to Upper Hungary," the king went on, "what is the status of the lands seized from Lord Bathory?"
"It is taking time, but they are being integrated into the royal administration," said John Ernest.
"I'm most interested in the mines he had active in the region," said the king. "How many mining towns did he have working at the time of the seizure?"
John Ernest went through his ledger for a moment. In one was a map of Upper Hungary, which he presented to the king. On it, the lands of House Bathory seized by the crown were marked. The map showed the sites of the mines.
"He had four mines active," said John Ernest, "Hankova, Kremnica, Levoca, and Gelnica."
"During the reign of Charles Robert we minted half the coins in Europe," said the king. "We can do that again. We have the resources now to exploit those mines more than Stephen Bathory ever could."
"Most wise, my lord," said John Ernest.
"There are excellent steps," said Matthias. The two bureaucrats before him stood up to leave.
"One more thing," said the king. "I want you to look into finding an engineer for us from Italy. We need new defenses all along our southern border. We have peace with the Turks for now – but we must prepare."
"It will be done, my lord," said Father Pannonius.
Throughout southern Hungary, along the green fields of Pannonia and the blue waters of the Danube, masons went to work. The Italian engineer, Vittorio Lombardi, had been brought from Italy to help supervise the construction of a range of new and inspiring Renaissance castles.
Father Pannonius and Matthias walked through one site to see its progress. As they proceeded, great scaffolds reached upward all around them. The two were impressed by the work that was being done.
In the countryside, laborers went to work to rebuild the roads – allowing greater traffic and commerce in the realm. Throughout the kingdom, King Matthias was becoming known as a great builder.
In Croatia, John Ernest directed the officials of Lord Nicholas Frankopan. Blaise Magyar stood beside him, ensuring the noble's submission to royal authority.
In the north, Janus Pannonius worked as an overseer to reopen the Bathory mines. Despite the onerous task, a miner emerged before him with a handful of yellow metal – the product of their labor.
Back in Buda – some time later – the results of all their labors were beginning to appear. The king's treasury was filling. Tax officials – servants of the king, not the lords – brought in revenues that had never been seen before. The government of the kingdom had been restored.
In Buda Castle, Matthias held court. Petitioners came forward to see him. They were having the king arbitrate their disputes.
A peasant farmer approached the king. He was exceedingly humble-looking in appearance. Beside him came his landlord – a member of the aristocracy. The landlord wore the garb of a wealthy gentleman.
"My king, I am a chicken farmer from Buda," said the peasant. "I have been having a dispute with my landlord, Lord Geza." The noble looked at the king. "We signed a contract two years ago that I would provide him with 30 chickens and 6,000 eggs a year. Now he wants to change the agreement. Please, my king, I am a simple farmer. I am not able to do as he says."
As Matthias listened to the farmer's plea, Ladislaus looked on with disinterest. His gaze wandered around the court. Before him, he spied the attractive lady of the nobility who he had met eyes with earlier. She looked back at him with interest. The two smiled at each other.
"What is the status of your farm?" Matthias asked the farmer. "How many birds did you begin with? Be honest, now."
"Eighty, my liege," replied the peasant.
"And how many do you have now?"
"I have 150 now, my lord."
"Well, then it sounds like you have prospered," said the king. "This lord has a household to provide for as well." Lord Geza smiled at the king. "No, I feel the lord is not unjust in this request. The time has come to renegotiate the terms of your contract. I rule in his favor."
The petitioners turned to leave. Matthias looked at his brother. "All this lawgiving does not interest you?" asked the king.
"I would prefer something greater than the woes of chicken farmers," said Ladislaus. He walked through the hall, searching for the attractive lady of the nobility.
Outside Buda Castle, a newcomer arrived. Madolyn Kovacs stood alone at the gate with an idling guard. She had come from Hunyad. She lowered her cloak from her head and dried herself off. It was raining; it had been a difficult trip. She refreshed herself before turning toward the great door of the keep.
The doors opened, and the silence she had been standing in gave way to the sound of cheerful Renaissance music. As Madolyn entered, she saw that a court was assembled. She walked past lords, ladies, merchants, churchmen, warriors, and children – all feasting and reveling. A banquet was taking place; the atmosphere was welcoming.
Madolyn walked past a knight who had had too much to drink; past a group of minstrels; and past a courtier trying to flirt with a young woman. Amongst the crowd, she searched. She was looking for someone.
As Madolyn proceeded, Matthias sat on his throne in the background. He was seated in a solitary, stately position – but still looked genial. A lady of the court came up to him with her young son. The boy carried a wooden sword. The lady introduced the boy to Matthias.
"Show me your muscles, young warrior," said the king. The boy lifted his sleeve, showing his thin arm to the king. Matthias acted impressed and, using the boy's wooden sword, proceeded to knight him. Madolyn approached Matthias just as the young boy and his mother walked away.
"Matthias – or, King Matthias," she greeted him, correcting herself. "I will have to get accustomed to calling you 'king' now."
"Madolyn. You are most welcome."
"I am wondering if you could help me find your brother. I wanted to surprise him."
"He should be here somewhere. You will have to go looking for him. He should be happy to see you."
Madolyn wandered through the hall, looking for Ladislaus. As she passed by the entrance, another newcomer made his way inside. By his dress and manner, he looked like a scholar. A German, under his arm he carried a text of the ancient Greek thinker Aristarchus.
The scholar came up to the king. "King Matthias," he said, bowing slightly. "I am Johannes Mueller. I am the astronomer."
"Ah, Master Johannes," said the king. "Word of you has come to us from Nuremburg. They say you've made a great name for yourself in the sciences."
"I've heard that I may find a new home here."
Matthias looked at the thinker warmly.
"I wanted to show you something," said the astronomer.
Mueller pulled out a giant piece of parchment; on it was sketched a diagram for an observatory to be used to study the starry world.
"Master Mueller, I think you will find this place most welcoming," said the king.
Meanwhile, Madolyn had made her way through the castle. Having failed to find her lover anywhere, she began roaming the side corridors, peeling away from the festivities.
As Madolyn looked down an empty hallway, before her she at last saw a man clad in elegant armor. He was turned away, so Madolyn could not see what the figure was doing. But by his handsome hair and body shape she was sure it was Ladislaus.
Madolyn stepped closer. It was unmistakable now. There was a brief moment of elation as Madolyn felt she would surprise him. But, as Madolyn approached, the realization dawned: there was a woman beneath him. He kissing her lasciviously. It was the same lady of the court who he had met eyes with before.
For a moment, Ladislaus continued, not even aware that Madolyn was beside him. Madolyn just gazed at them.
Ladislaus at last turned and noticed her.
"Do you remember when you swore I would be your lady?" she asked.
Ladislaus thought of the time she had knighted him in the wilderness. "It was only a game..." he began to say.
Madolyn, furious, turned away.
Matthias sat alone in his chamber. On the tables around him were piles of books, ledgers, and edicts. He was thinking: about his father, about his position as king.
Matthias picked up one of the books before him. It was a copy of On the Arts of War, a tome of Renaissance military inventions. The book contained designs for all the most ingenious siege engines of the era. In it were diagrams of siege towers, catapults, and battering rams. Recalling the designs of Leonardo da Vinci, the schematics showed how these machines were built.
The king leafed through the pages until he at last got to one design. It was an image of an immense cannon. It was a schematic for a gun as large as the Great Bombard. As Matthias inspected the design, a second image showed the harnesses for the animals needed to move the cannon, emphasizing its size.
Matthias put down the book. As he did so, he looked across the chamber to where there was a copy of the Holy Bible. He lingered for a moment before reaching for it, bringing himself to it and then tapping his fingers impatiently on the book's cover. He decided to give it a look.
Matthias opened the Bible and leafed through it. He passed over a number of pages until he reached the one he was looking for. It was the Book of Job. He looked at the small illumination of Job on the page before him. The man in the image looked like his father.
Matthias leafed further through the Bible. He reached another work by chance: the Song of Songs. As he did so, a figure entered the chamber, interrupting him. Matthias looked up. It was Madolyn Kovacs.
"Madolyn. I hope you are enjoying the capital." Matthias put the book down.
Madolyn looked distressed. "It is your brother," she said. "I need you to talk to him."
Matthias listened intently. "About what?"
Matthias reacted with stillness – and, perhaps, suppressed amusement. The king had a great knowledge of his brother’s nature. "Caught him philandering again, did you?"
Madolyn looked upset. The answer was obvious.
"I'm afraid getting my brother to stop is beyond even the powers of a king."
Matthias' good humor didn't comfort her. She came in feeling utterly betrayed. The king platonically took a hold of her hand.
"I thought he was my best friend," she said after a long time. "Now I don't know what to believe."
"He is a man," said Matthias calmly. "It is what men are."
The conflict in Madolyn seemed to rise for a moment, becoming great. Suddenly, she looked at the king. "You are a man," she said.
Who could not say what motivated her – frustration, envy, desire?
Matthias didn't react. He dispassionately let go of her hand. "I am not the same," he said.
Behind Matthias, visible on a lectern in the chamber, was an open book. Madolyn could see the title on the page – The Symposium.
The king spoke again, coolly and conclusively this time. "You will find your way."
Matthias politely gestured for Madolyn to leave. As she exited, Matthias turned again to one of his books of war.
A brief time elapsed – mere minutes – and a new visitor entered the chamber. He entered through the door opposite where Madolyn had left, unaware of who had just been inside. It was Ladislaus, wearing his ornate knight's armor. The king had apparently become a counselor to the two lovers.
"Madolyn just confronted me – " Ladislaus began to explain.
"Yes," said the king. "She was just here."
"She saw me with one of the ladies at court."
Matthias nodded in affirmation. "And how many has it been she has not seen?"
Ladislaus looked at his brother.
"You have to teach me how you do it," said Matthias.
"There's no excuse now that you're king," said Ladislaus, his mood lightened. Then, after a pause, he went on – his sympathy for Madolyn returning. "She came all this way to surprise me."
"Well, she is utterly devoted to you. And she feels you have betrayed her." Matthias paused, then went on. "You are in a position most men would envy. She is a beautiful girl."
"How do you do it?" asked Ladislaus. "You know – what you don't do – I suppose?"
Matthias looked at his brother. He could see that on a stand over his brother's shoulder, a knight’s helm was on display.
"Well," said the king, "you have to think if there's something more to life than what's between a woman's legs."
It was a new day in Buda. Ladislaus stood in the hall in his lordly armor, waiting anxiously. Across the chamber, he at last saw her. Madolyn had been invited to stay by the king. Ladislaus walked across the hall to speak to her. She saw him coming and glared at him.
As Ladislaus tried to reconcile with her, Michael Szilagyi entered the hall. He looked around, spying his nephew. Madolyn stormed away in anger as Michael approached.
"Your brother has a task for you," said Lord Michael. "He wants you to see him in his chamber."
Ladislaus went to see his brother. He entered one of the king's apartments, which had undergone a transformation. It had been reconfigured into a scriptorium – a place for making books – on one side, and into a library on the other.
Matthias was standing in the middle of the room, unaware that his brother had entered. He looked deeply engrossed, looking down and intently watching someone seated beside him.
Ladislaus walked over. He saw a copyist – a medieval bookmaker. He was copying a book by hand.
It was a painstaking process. The copyist carefully carved each letter in what was becoming an illuminated manuscript. There was a great colored illustration at the top of the page which was still wet and only beginning to dry.
"It takes him three months to do a whole book like this," said Matthias.
"Another visitor of yours?"
"From Italy. He's doing a Greek text – The History of Alexander."
"He makes it all by hand?"
"See what he writes on? It's vellum, the skin of a sheep. We're going to have to skin a lot of sheep. They say that in Tuscany, Lorenzo de Medici has 10,000 books; the Pope, 15,000."
"You want to outdo them?"
Matthias looked at his brother.
Ladislaus smirked. "Make a library for Hungary?" he asked. "But who will read them?"
"The scholars will read him."
"Hungary has no scholars. This is not a nation of thinkers."
Matthias smirked. He picked up one of the already completed books to show his brother.
"You see what he's made for the binding? The 'corvinae,' he's calling them. Everyone will know we are patrons of learning." Ladislaus looked at the distinctive raven sigil on the book's binding which marked the corvinae, or books of King Matthias.
The copyist interrupted. "One of the things I have learned," he said, his eyes getting wide as he spoke, "is leave the ink time to dry. Time for a drink!" The copyist acknowledged Ladislaus' presence, then walked off in search of wine, letting the page dry.
"Uncle said you had a task for me?" asked Ladislaus.
"Yes, I do," said the king. "It concerns Lord Bathory. Ever since his escape I have let his family continue to reside at their castle in Bator. But, given his treason, I don't think it's appropriate for them to remain there. I want you to go to Bator and bring them here. Their lands will be administered by the crown, and I will provide them with a new estate to live on."
"Her husband killed father and put you in an oubliette. You don't have to give them anything, you know."
Bathory Castle continued to stand as a domineering fortress – towering over the town of Bator. The small peasant hovels were dwarfed by the lord's estate, the same lord they all labored for the benefit of.
Inside the castle, Lady Bathory idled in a beautifully furnished bedroom, anxious over the fate of her husband.
A servant girl entered the bedroom, attending to her duties. Without being acknowledged, she reached under the bed and pulled out Lady Bathory's chamber pot. It had recently been used. The girl went about her task stoically, taking the pot and carrying it out of the room.
Outside, at the base of Bathory Castle, a group of commoners was gathered. There were farmers, laborers, and townspeople, speaking with one another and planning to voice their grievances.
The crowd was divided; some were intent on confrontation, while others wanted to grieve things civilly.
"We should bring him out – the lord," said an angry farmer, referring to their new young ruler.
"And the mother, too. She's the real issue here," said a midwife.
"We are just going to make them hear our grievances," said a tradesman, trying to cool the others.
"The lord is gone now," said another townsman in solidarity. "They will listen to reason."
The two civil townsmen continued trying to keep the rest of the crowd calm. Despite this, many of the peasants were angrily holding onto weapons.
On the balcony above, the absent-minded servant girl had emerged, still carrying Lady Bathory's chamber pot. Unaware of the townspeople below, she emptied the pot, sending its contents hurtling down. The contents of the pot fell right on top of the two townsmen who were trying to calm the others. The crowd looked up, only to see the servant girl retreating inside, unaware of what she had done.
Everything changed. With the contents of the pot emptied on their leaders, the crowd was enraged.
Meanwhile, inside the castle, another servant girl entered Lady Bathory's chamber to inform her of what was happening. "My lady," she said, "there is a crowd gathering outside. They are demanding you come out and speak to them."
"Bring him out! Bring out the lord!" Lady Bathory could hear one of the people screaming. "Bring out the little bastard, and his mother!"
Lady Bathory emerged out onto the balcony of the castle, seeing the angry mob below.
"Bring out the lord to hear our grievances!" yelled a peasant, who by this time had a clear idea of how his grievances would be heard.
An extremely hostile part of the crowd was taking control.
"We should skin him alive!" yelled one peasant.
"Roast him on the chair, like his father did to Jacob!" yelled a laborer.
Young Bathory emerged from the balcony door behind his mother. The formerly aggressive young boy, who Matthias had seen beating the servants before, now looked greatly distressed.
Lady Bathory tried to calm the crowd.
Ladislaus, serving as the king's justice, rode on horseback through the countryside. With him was a group of retainers. They proceeded lazily, their mission having no great urgency.
As Ladislaus proceeded past a hamlet, a farmer came forward sleepily and spoke to him.
"My lord, if you're headed to Bator you may want to make haste," he said. "Word is the people are planning an uprising against their lord there. They've heard that Stephen Bathory has gone into exile."
Ladislaus turned to his fellow riders. "Let us go to them," he said. They made haste to Bator.
Meanwhile in Bator, the mob had become radicalized. They were now ready to attack the castle. Lady Bathory gestured pacifically, trying to calm the people. A servant girl stood to the side of her lady, unsure of what to do. Some of the mob began scaling the walls, breaking glass, and finding ways to get inside.
Ladislaus and his retainers at last arrived at the edge of the crowd. They were fully armored and on horseback – an intimidating sight. The crowd opened to them.
"I am Lord Ladislaus, justice of the king," he announced. "I command this mob to stand down. Return to your homes."
George Dozsa – having joined the crowd assembled at the castle – watched Ladislaus with a steely gaze.
"With all due respect my lord, we will not stand down," a woman said to Ladislaus.
Within Castle Bathory, the first townspeople had made their way inside. They began pillaging, ransacking, and running aggressively through the interior.
A servant girl spied one angry townsman standing in a castle corridor. He was armed. Seeing her, he went to attack her. She fled, running through the castle, closing doors and barricading rooms behind her. The man reached one locked door and charged at it, trying to force it open.
Outside, Ladislaus continued to negotiate with the mob. Suddenly, a loud shriek burst from the castle.
"Make way! Get out of the way!" exclaimed Ladislaus, greatly alarmed. He tried to push his way through the crowd with his retainers.
The townspeople who had invaded the castle had at last made it to the balcony. Ladislaus looked up at them from below. They looked enraged. They moved on the lady and her son.
Ladislaus again tried to rush to the castle to aid those he had been sent for, then watched in horror as the pair were brutally cut down.
It took a moment for him to process what had occurred. Ladislaus looked frozen, watching in horror. Suddenly, he changed. With the nobles dead, he became furious. He and his retainers drew their greatswords.
The crowd, aware they were now faced off against a serious adversary, backed off and gave the knights room. Ladislaus looked at the crowd in a fury.
George Dozsa, standing in the midst of the crowd, looked intently at Ladislaus. As the standoff proceeded, he walked forward with silent determination – an apparent representative for the mob.
"Stand down, my lord," said Dozsa.
"I am the king's justice," said Ladislaus. "And you have just killed your lord."
The mob, now fully prepared to fight these warriors, encircled Ladislaus and his knights.
"If you think protecting this scum is justice," said George, "then you are no different from any other lord."
In Buda Castle, Matthias presided over his court. Business went about as usual.
Suddenly, the doors of the hall burst open and the royal justice, Ladislaus, appeared. He wore elegant armor of the Renaissance, though it now looked scuffed from battle.
Behind Ladislaus, chained and miserable, was George Dozsa. It was clear who had won the melee at Bator.
Ladislaus came before the throne with his prisoner in tow.
Matthias looked at his brother, then at the man in tow. He recognized George Dozsa.
"Lady Bathory?" asked the king.
"She is no longer with us," replied Ladislaus. "Nor is her son." He moved Dozsa before the king. "She was killed by this one and his friends. I was able to take him alive."
Matthias looked at the sight before him. Ladislaus and George Dozsa were now standing side by side.
"We await your judgment," said Ladislaus.
Matthias suddenly became aware that all eyes were watching him. Lords and commoners alike in the hall awaited his decision. There were two choices before him: the lord or the serf. He would have to make a decision.
"I know this man," said the king. Matthias spoke directly to the prisoner. "Master Dozsa. This is my brother."
For a moment, Ladislaus and George looked at one another in a new way.
Matthias gestured for Blaise Magyar to unlock the shackles on George Dozsa's wrists.
"You cannot just let him go," said Ladislaus.
"I am letting him go," said the king.
The lords in the hall looked at Ladislaus with interest. He looked at his brother in anger. He turned away, exiting the hall.
Matthias held a parliament in Buda. This one proceeded very differently from the first. While Matthias had previously stood at the center of the hall, appealing to his vassals when he first called them to crusade, now he sat at the head of the room, seated on a throne.
Matthias and his lords were already in the midst of deliberations.
"You cannot just act out of royal fiat," said one of the noblemen, addressing the king directly. "You must have the consent of the lords."
"A king does not rule without his lords," affirmed another nobleman.
"My lords," replied the king, "I am absolutely dedicated to your interests. And I intend to uphold them. But I am saying that if you will not compromise, you are leaving me with few options."
"The appointment of provincial justices, my king, is an act that goes against the rights of the nobility," said another lord, countering Matthias. "Every lord is the justice in his own lands. The king cannot take this power away."
"And yet this right did not exist only a decade ago," said Matthias.
"I am most concerned with the idea of a landholding tax," said another noble, changing the subject. "Since the foundation of Hungary such a thing has not existed. It is a right the nobility receives in exchange for its military service. You cannot change that."
Many of the lords murmured in agreement.
"What I am proposing is a new model," said the king, responding to him. "One based not on feudal levies, but on a true, standing army. You would have to contribute to the crown – but your obligations would change."
"Such a thing has never been done, my lord," said another nobleman.
"And why not?" asked Matthias. "It's time to build a modern country."
"I am most concerned about your changes for tenant farmers," said another nobleman. "If you give them freedom of movement, think of the place a landlord would be in if all his laborers were gone during a harvest. Whole yields could be lost."
"Yes," said another lord. "The farmers should not be allowed to leave the lands they are contracted to." Behind him, other lords murmured in agreement.
"Gentlemen," said the king, "here we are presiding over a country on the verge of social upheaval, and you will not concede on even the basest of reforms. I wonder how you would respond if it was my father, here, asking these same things of you." He looked around the chamber.
The king concluded. "Very well," he said. He stood. He gestured for a vote. "Those in favor?"
Matthias stood alone in the parliament. No one joined him. "I see."
Ladislaus stood in the hall of Buda Castle. He listened to a group of minstrels playing a song. As they did so, a group of performers was acting out a small play that went along with the music. Ladislaus recalled the interest he had had in such performances when he was a boy. In the play, an old man was arranging a competition between three archers. He challenged each archer to strike a target with an arrow. The first and second archer both missed, but the third made his mark.
Ladislaus' gaze wandered to the court. Across the hall he saw Madolyn, still in the capital, speaking with one of the ladies of Buda. He walked across the hall and approached her, trying to reconcile with her yet again. Again she just glared at him.
As Ladislaus tried to speak to her, three lords who had been in the parliament with Matthias spied him from across the chamber. They approached the royal justice excitably.
"My lord," said one of the nobles, trying to get Ladislaus' attention. Yet the royal justice did not acknowledge him. He was still trying to speak to Madolyn.
"I am busy now," said Ladislaus.
"My lord, we require your attention," said another of the lords, this time more insistently. As he spoke, Madolyn walked angrily away.
Ladislaus turned to the nobles. He was defeated regardless. "What do you need?" he asked.
"We must ask you to intervene for us."
"It is your brother. He wants to change the whole structure of government – levy new taxes – change the relationship between the classes."
"He is turning into a tyrant," said one of the lords.
"We need you to petition him for us – get him to change the path he's on."
"We know he acquitted that fugitive you brought to him." They thought he would understand.
Ladislaus looked at the men for a long time, an unclear expression on his face. True, he was angry over the acquittal of Dozsa – but as he thought seriously, he remembered something his father had said to him once about fidelity.
"You know," he said, "I don't think you lords see what my brother is doing for you. I was there for the rebellion against the Bathorys. It is not the first time something like that has happened in this country. That same thing will happen across this entire kingdom if you lords have your way."
Ladislaus looked across the chamber again, trying to find Madolyn.
"Excuse me," he said.
Ladislaus walked away. The lords looked incredulous.
"So that is our answer," one of them said.
"Well, we have no choice now. We will have to throw in our lot with the emperor."
In Buda, the people of the city gathered to hear a proclamation. Matthias stood to one side while his functionary, John Ernest, read the king's decrees. Ladislaus, Michael, and John stood beside the king. Commoners and nobles looked on.
"King Matthias, by royal decree, pronounces the following reforms," said John Ernest. On the page before the functionary were five neatly written proclamations. John Ernest read them. "(1) A tenant farmer shall not be required to submit more than half of his harvest to his landlord. (2) All tenant farmers are hereby granted freedom of movement on Sunday and the Holy Days. (3) Tenant farmers shall be allowed to hold titles to land. (4) Tenant farmers may bring their grievances to provincial courts, which will be presided over by justices of the king. (5) A tenant farmer, should he possess sufficient material wealth, may purchase his way out of his contract with his master."
The commoners looked on the new laws with interest. John Ernest went on, sharing two final laws. "King Matthias further decrees the abolition of torture. King Matthias also announces the introduction of a new tax on landowners – to be assessed in fair proportion to their holdings."
Matthias watched the crowd as John Ernest read the laws. He watched in particular the faces of the noblemen. Beside him, his brother, uncle, and captain-at-arms counseled him.
"Kings need lords to rule, you know," said John Zapolya cautiously.
"Your father kept unity in this country for sixteen years," said Michael. "And now you're unmaking it in three. If there's anything you should have learned from your father, it is this."
"This may bring a reckoning, brother," said Ladislaus.
Matthias looked at them. "I am learning from my father," he said.
In Buda Castle, Laurence Ilocki had been imprisoned. It was a low station for one once so powerful. His conditions were simple, but the cell contained a few small amenities and did not approach the squalor that Matthias had been confined to before.
Lord Ilocki looked around as he reclined in his cell. He peered out from his confines to see that the guards' chamber was empty. Curious.
Lord Ilocki turned around, attempting to get some rest, but soon stirred as a sound came from the stairway above the guards' chamber. There was the sound of a key turning a lock.
Lord Ilocki looked to spy the source of the sound. A stranger appeared at the head of the stairs. Lord Ilocki could not make out the figure at first, but realized it was Stephen Bathory, wearing a disguise, making his way down to him.
Stephen Bathory was at the door to his cell. "Janos' son won't be king for much longer," he said. He revealed a key and began to open the lock.
"You are here?" asked Lord Ilocki, incredulous.
"I am here." Stephen Bathory opened the cell and released his compatriot.
The two proceeded out of the dungeon. As they made their escape, Lord Bathory spoke. "The emperor has sent his son to take up arms with us," he said. "And, we have the banners of many Magyar nobles here. That is partly why I am here. But, we need you as well. You must go, raise your host, and assemble with us immediately."
Laurence Ilocki looked at him in affirmation. By this point, they had made their way into the colorfully furnished castle: a contrast to the gray prison. There, they met with another traitorous lord who had turned against the Hunyadis.
As Stephen and Laurence attempted to make their exit, someone in the corridor spied them. It was Ladislaus. It took him a moment, but then he realized what was happening. He walked after them – slowly at first, then quickly. "Hold on," he said.
The conspirators saw Ladislaus and attempted to escape, moving quickly through the castle as he harried them. They at last reached one of the windows. There, another treacherous lord looked up at them from below. He had prepared an escape route, making use of a small canal which emptied into the Danube.
Lord Bathory helped the older Ilocki to safety, then turned to Ladislaus, apparently ready to fight.
Ladislaus approached, enthused. He saw who was before him.
Lord Bathory drew his sword, apparently ready for battle. But, as Ladislaus got within feet of him, Bathory turned, swiftly exiting as the others before him had. As he did so, the ladder to the window was kicked away, preventing Ladislaus from following.
Ladislaus looked down below. He saw that Stephen and Laurence were making their escape using a small vessel in the canal.
Matthias looked at his brother. Ladislaus had just entered the king's chamber. Matthias had been reading a passage from the Republic when his brother interrupted him with the news.
"How is that possible?" asked Matthias, incredulous.
"It was him," said Ladislaus.
"But why would he come himself? Why not send someone we couldn't recognize?"
"I don't know. I was hoping he would accept my challenge. But he fled."
"Did he mention what happened to his family?"
"I didn't intend for that to happen, you know," said Matthias.
Matthias Szilagyi entered the chamber, interrupting the conversation. He said nothing. But, the look on his face made it clear that something was wrong.
An army assembled on the fields of Pannonia. Among it was a large host of Magyar nobles who had joined to protest against the king's new laws. With them were German knights: retainers of the Holy Roman Empire. Leading the army were Stephen Bathory and Prince Maximilian – the son of the emperor – now joined by Laurence Ilocki.
Laurence Ilocki gestured on a map as he spoke to his comrades.
"If we take Buda, it will all fall into place," he said. "Matthias remains uncrowned, and with the new laws he's passed he'll struggle to unite the lords behind him. He will be forced to assault the city, and with each failure he will lose power. Then, your father will be king." Laurence looked at Prince Maximilian.
"He will be both a king and an emperor," said Prince Maximilian. "And I assure you, my lords, your rights will be secure."
Matthias and Ladislaus walked through the streets of Buda. The enemy was coming.
"The garrison here is too small," said Ladislaus. "If they take the walls, we won't be able to hold."
The brothers ascended one of the walls of the city, standing behind its crenellations. Before them, they could see the beautiful vista of the Hungarian Plain. But they also watched as the pretender army approached – a force assembled to overthrow the king.
Sitting on horseback at the head of the army were Stephen Bathory, Laurence Ilocki, and Prince Maximilian. The lords who had earlier failed to persuade Ladislaus to their cause also sat among them.
One of the Magyar lords rode forward to parley with the king. He called up to the walls.
"I don't care if your father was a hero. No king acts in this way – not without his lords."
"We can no longer have you as our king," called out Lord Ilocki. "We were wrong to ever make you one."
"Turn yourself over to us," called out another of the Magyar lords, "and we may treat you gently."
Stephen Bathory looked up at the Hunyadis with a steely gaze.
Matthias looked down at them. He had apparently few bannermen to resist the attack.
The king said nothing; he only looked on. Suddenly, he turned his gaze from them – stretching instead to spy the horizon opposite them.
From there came a sound. The sound of a horn. The traitorous lords turned to see the source of it.
In the distance, climbing over a hill, appeared Blaise Magyar and John Zapolya. On horseback, John Zapolya blew into a medieval war horn again. As the two advanced, soldiers followed behind them. They were at the head of a large and well-organized force. It was the Black Army of Hungary.
The soldiers advanced like Roman legionnaires. The army approached in strict box formations. Each box consisted of strong shield bearers on the outside protecting ranged fighters – crossbowmen and arquebusiers – within. This was no feudal levy. The discipline and armaments of these warriors were impressive and of high quality.
"The idea first came to me when I was reading Caesar's Commentaries," said Matthias. "Not an army of feudal levies – but a real army. A permanent, standing army, loyal only to the king." He turned to his brother. "The issue was paying for it."
Ladislaus looked at Matthias.
"The treasury brought in 600,000 florins this year," said the king.
Below, Blaise Magyar advanced on the traitorous lords. The Black Army followed him.
The battle was over. The next day, Matthias sat in his chamber with Ladislaus.
"You may have crushed those lords for now," said Ladislaus, "but they will be back again. Old families don't like giving up power, you know."
"And you should hang those lords. Break their necks – instead of put them in prison cells. That is the rightful end for traitors."
As Ladislaus spoke, he walked over to the window of the room. Below, in the castle courtyard, the treasonous lords were lined up. They were bound in chains, with Blaise Magyar watching over them. Ladislaus could see Lord Laurence among the prisoners.
"And if they had won that is exactly what they would be saying about us," said Matthias. The king walked over to a map of Hungary as he spoke. "No, we've confiscated the lands of houses Garai, Ilocki, and Bathory... and add to that now houses Alvinczi, Czobor, Vasari, and Both... all legally taken."
Ladislaus looked at the image of the kingdom in the chamber.
"Taking these lands is of far greater value than breaking necks. The royal demesne is the largest in the kingdom now," said Matthias. "The king rules Hungary now. Not the lords."
In Vienna, the emperor sat in his study. It was the evening. His seat was a lordly chair. Above him was his sigil – the imperial monogram.
The emperor stooped over slightly in pain. He grasped at his side, groaning stubbornly.
The emperor's son, Prince Maximilian, entered the room. He was one of those who had escaped from the battle when the lords routed.
A child of the elite, the prince wore elegant clothes and shared the same blonde hair of his father. Like the emperor, the prince was clean shaven.
"Still dealing with the pain?" asked the prince.
"I may have found an enemy as stubborn as me," said the emperor, holding his side. "It is every night now, for three hours. And after meals." He went on. "I am glad you are well. It seems Lord Stephen has failed again."
"He is downstairs waiting for you," said the prince. "He is injured." For a moment it seemed like the emperor barely heard his son, occupied with his own discomfort. "He is among the few who survived the battle."
Maximilian looked at his father, who made no effort to stand to see Lord Stephen. An irritated look came over the prince's face. After some time, he spoke. "You know what they say about you? That you 'want to rule the world while remaining seated.' I don't see how you can have such grand designs for our family and yet be so idle."
The emperor took a deep breath of air. "When you are emperor, you will understand," he said, at the same time making one last complaining noise about his side. After a pause, he counseled his son. "Let me ask you something. Where does power come from?"
Maximilian looked at his father.
"I will tell you where power comes from," said the emperor. "Power comes from blood. Not from victory in battle, nor from gold. But blood. And blood is not something that can be gotten in a day... in a year... in a lifetime." The emperor paused for a long time, then continued. "Our family has ruled this land for four hundred years: that is the foundation of power. In the end, when it is all over, people will follow who they have always followed." The emperor groaned and grasped at his side again. "You must be patient. Patience is tolerance and stubbornness."
In Buda, Matthias sat in his chamber. His uncle stood before him. There was a long, humorous moment as Michael stared expectantly at his nephew. Matthias grimaced. He knew what was coming.
"Marriage," said Lord Michael in a word.
"Of course, I was in a prison not long ago, and now you want to put me back in one," joked the king.
Michael walked over and sat next to his nephew. "It is necessary," he said. "And as much as I love you and your father – we must admit that House Hunyadi does not have a long history. To secure your rule, you'll need to marry with an established family. Who you pick will be pleased – she'll become a queen and share in your incomes – but you will get something of value from her as well... legitimacy. And once you have sons with her – no one will be able to question your rule again."
"Who are the choices?"
Michael smiled. He had been hard at work already. Michael gestured, and a few attendants entered carrying the portraits of Europe's brides-to-be.
"The first," Lord Michael said, gesturing to it, "is Bianca Maria of House Sforza, the daughter of the duke of Milan."
Matthias inspected the portrait of the young woman.
"House Sforza is a young dynasty – like our own – but they have proved themselves to be very capable rulers... They are the rightful heirs to the Visconti, the former house of Milan. They govern one of the richest city-states in Italy, and they are patrons of the Renaissance – something I know you are enamored with."
Matthias seemed interested, but inspected the portrait carefully. The girl looked very young.
"How old is she?"
"Ah," said the king. He had lost all interest.
Michael gestured and the next portrait came forward.
"But I do like the idea of marrying ourselves to Italy," said the king as the Sforza portrait was taken away.
"I have someone else for you," said Lord Michael. "Elizabeth, the sister of Casimir, who has recently been crowned king of Poland."
Matthias looked at the new image. The woman in it was extremely overweight, and though the painter had done his best to conceal her facial features, it was clear she was very ugly.
"Poland is one of our closest neighbors: we share many cultural affinities, and a marriage with them would restore the alliance we had before the Battle of Varna."
Matthias was clearly disappointed in the woman's looks, but liked the political gain from the marriage. "How old is this one?" asked the king.
Matthias tried to be kind in his response, but knew that the age was a danger for securing an heir. "We will keep this one in mind," he said.
Michael gestured for the attendants to bring a final portrait forward. They presented an image of a pretty adolescent girl, dressed in Italian clothes.
"I have one more for you. The kingdom of Naples is across the Adriatic from us – but they have fought in many battles with the Turk. The daughter of the king there, Beatrice, has recently turned 19. They say she has a bright mind and a warm disposition."
Matthias looked at the portrait. This may be the one. "Beatrice..." he said.
"I think you should also know that her father is a patron of the humanists, who I know you are also so fascinated with."
"Beatrice," said the king again. "You know what the name means?" he asked softly. "'Making happy.' We could all use a little more happiness around here." After a delay, the conclusion was clear. The king had made his choice. "Very well," he said.
"I will prepare a delegation, then, for King Ferdinand of Naples."
Amidst a scene of great medieval fanfare and revelry, Matthias stood in a stately position outside Buda Castle. Ladislaus and Michael were at either side of him. Renaissance banners hanged in the streets; the sigil of the Hunyadi raven was ubiquitous. Minstrels played music for the public's entertainment.
A delegation of Italians arrived on horseback in the city. Neapolitan coats of arms showed their country of origin. The delegates wore extravagant clothes, showing the prosperity of Italy.
Some of the Italians had stoic faces. For them, this was not a satisfactory assignment – Hungary was a backwater and the people here were barbarians.
At the rear of the delegation was a carriage. It was here where Princess Beatrice was being transported.
The Italian ambassador, wearing elegant attire, at last reached the king.
"Your majesty," he said, "I come on behalf of my lord, King Ferdinand. We bring many gifts for you in honor of your marriage proposal. You should know that all of Italy speaks of the Hungarians. In Italy, they say your nation is one of great crusaders, shielding all of Europe from the crescent. You should know your father was greatly celebrated in Calabria and Napoli."
Matthias smiled. The ambassador went on.
"My king wanted to send his condolences for the death of your father. He wants you to know that your father was like a heroic Achilles for Europe. He wanted you to have this."
One of the attendants of the delegation came forward with an object covered in a cloth. He offered it to the king.
Matthias took the object and removed the cloth. Beneath the cloth was an engraving of an artist. It was a portrayal of Matthias' father, Janos, presented as a great warlord, aged but strong, standing proudly like Achilles.
"Tell your king thank you for his kind gift," said the king. He was clearly touched by the image. Matthias looked to the rest of the Italian delegation. "Please make yourselves at home."
Matthias presided over a great celebration in Buda. The Italians were being served a feast by the Hungarians. Princess Beatrice was seated next to her husband-to-be. She looked youthful and bashful.
"A toast to the brave men of Hungary," said one of the Italians, "and to the new friendship between our kingdoms." Everyone in the hall drank.
One of the Italians turned to Beatrice and spoke to her quietly. "You have outdone your big sister now. You are marrying a king."
The Italian ambassador stood. "King Matthias," he said, interrupting everyone. "I have been told you have a great love of ancient learning... of Greece and Rome. You should know that my master shares many of your same predilections." The ambassador gestured forward, toward a humble man who sat among the Italians.
"Maestro Constanzo, our court painter, was deeply impressed when he learned of you. When he heard we were coming here on a state visit, he asked to come with us – no one forced him to." The ambassador went on. "The maestro wanted me to give you this. While looking at you yesterday, he felt inspired to sketch you. I thought you should see what he drew."
Matthias was shown the artist's work. It was a sketch: the kind an artist might make to distract himself when idling. Despite that, the image was of exceptional quality. It portrayed Matthias' face accurately and nobly, and showed him crowned with a laurel bay – like the ancient Greek kings. The artist clearly had a great sympathy for Matthias and shared his interest in the classics.
"He has drawn me like Caesar," said Matthias. "Like a classical king." Matthias handed the image to his brother, who sat next to him.
Matthias looked across the room to Constanzo. He looked pleased. "Let us make more of these," he said. "On coins, prints, banners. This will be our new image." Matthias' mind teemed. He could gain legitimacy by being a patron of the Renaissance.
The king stood. "My lords, a toast to our visitors from Naples. May our two kingdoms be wed in friendship." Everyone drank. Beatrice beamed.
The celebrations proceeded and the guests feasted. Courtiers entered with beer, wine, and roast chicken. The company smiled and reveled together.
At the table, though, one of the more barbarous-looking Hungarians was making a mess. He was merry and jovial, but lacked any sense of table manners. The sauce from the roast chicken had gotten all over his face and hands. Drunk, he messily offered a mug to one of the Italian delegates who sat beside him. Clearly uncomfortable, the delegate grinned falsely.
The delegate turned to his compatriot, who looked as uptight as he did. "These Hungarians are savages, aren't they?" he said in Italian, assuming only his companion would understand.
"Well, I warned you about insulting Ferdinand," his friend replied in their native tongue. "I told you he'd send us to these barbarians as punishment."
The messy lord again jollily offered the emissaries a shank of lamb, still observing no table manners. The emissaries looked at him again with phony smiles.
The king, overhearing the two emissaries, interjected. "This barbarian was there at Belgrade," he said, gesturing at the ungenteel lord. "Titus Dugovic. He nearly gave his life for the Christian cause."
"Ah," said one of the emissaries, embarrassed. "You speak Italian?"
Matthias raised his hand in affirmation. "We savages are at the crossroads of many languages," he said.
The emissaries laughed, uncomfortable at being revealed.
Matthias interrupted the crowd to be his magnanimous self. "A toast again to the new friendship between our peoples." The revelers cheered and drank.
In Buda Church, a wedding ceremony took place. There were cheerful courtiers gathered all around. The Bishop of Esztergom presided over the bride and groom as lords and commoners alike watched the event.
Matthias and Beatrice were wed. They joined hands and turned to face the crowd, united in marriage.
Almost immediately, the two were physically brought from the ceremony to their bedchamber by the court. Within the king's room was a luxurious bed.
As the courtiers made their exit, the doors closed hopefully behind the royal couple. All were anxious – but optimistic.
It was evening. In the royal observatory – a huge tower in Buda Castle – Johannes Mueller was at work. Around him were the many tools of astronomy, including astrolabes, charts, and diagrams filled with mathematical figures.
Matthias, in a hopeful mood, entered the chamber. "Hard at work, I see," said the king.
"Come and look at this one," replied Mueller.
Matthias walked over to where Mueller was gazing. Far in the distance, a comet was streaking across the heavens.
"A comet," replied the astronomer. "I'm trying to measure its distance from the earth."
"Ah," said Matthias. "And how do you do that? How would you explain this to someone with a simple mind… like myself?"
"I observed this same comet in Danzig two years ago," he explained. "Now I am comparing the coordinates it was at then with the coordinates I have for it now. It is a long process, but by comparison I can make an estimate."
Johannes suddenly put down his notes and looked at the king directly. "Thank you for this place to work. This would not be possible without you."
"It is an exciting time," said Matthias. "It seems like anything is possible."
Time and again Matthias and Beatrice tried to conceive. The queen would appear at court, youthful and hopeful as ever, taking Matthias by hand to the bedchamber. As before, the door would close behind them. After a time, the door would re-open with Matthias exiting and Beatrice left sitting optimistically on her bed.
This same sequence would occur again and again: although each time as an heir failed to appear, the affect of the couple changed. Beatrice began with all the life and vitality of a young wife, but soon became dejected. Matthias began relatively interested – as much as a philosopher-king could be – but ended stoically, his face concealing his despair.
Finally, after yet another attempt, everything changed. This time, the door opened to the court: but Matthias did not leave the bedchamber. He stood at Beatrice's side. At long last, she was pregnant. The two sat in the chamber, the warm colors of morning penetrating the room. Attendants entered to help look after the queen.
Was it, at last, an heir? The months proceeded.
Finally, the time came. Attendants entered and helped the queen as she gave birth. But, it was a grim evening. She birthed the child in all its horrific glory. It was a stillbirth: the child was dead.
Matthias looked away from his wife, away from his child. His face was hollow. He looked visibly older. He walked out of the chamber, the queen left sitting devastated behind him.
In Buda Castle, Matthias sat on his throne while his courtiers feasted before him. The court was active and lively.
Matthias spoke warmly to one supplicant who had come up to speak to him. Once the visitor left him, however, the depression of the king fell back over his face like a curtain. Matthias felt disconnected from everyone.
A small table with a selection of food had been prepared and placed next to Matthias, but the food had not been touched had all. The king was unable to eat.
Meanwhile, Beatrice sat at the banquet table with the court. She reacted to the stress in a very different way. Although she remained young and thin, how she was behaving showed that she would not remain so for much longer. She was turning to food and drink for comfort.
Plate and after plate came before the queen. Not only that, but Beatrice berated one servant girl who approached the table, then another, demanding more of what she wanted. With a blank expression on his face, Matthias only watched as his wife did this.
In the hall of the castle, rows of beautiful engravings, paintings, and sculptures of the Renaissance – commissions of Matthias – were now on display.
Among these depictions was the fertile Venus – and of Mary with the newborn Jesus. Walking among these ironic images was the queen, Beatrice, whose personality had completely changed. She was no longer bringing joy with her to Buda. Her sterility had changed her: making her cruel to servants and subordinates, and increasingly imperious, alienating, and aloof.
Outside the castle, on the river Danube, Matthias stood alone by the shore. Stripped down, he dived into the dark blue water to swim. He swam to try to find some relief from the stress. He felt sterile, frustrated, powerless. By diving in the water, he was trying to get clean, get purged of it all as much as he could.
Matthias treaded water in the river for a quiet moment.
Matthias dried himself on the shore. He clothed himself again, putting on a simple garb. He then walked discreetly through the streets, heading back to the castle alone.
As Matthias passed one street, he spied a preacher who had gathered a crowd around him. He recognized him. It was John of Capistrano.
"At Belgrade, a great victory was won for our civilization," said John to the crowd. "I was there when we threw off the invader – when we defended our blood against Islam. But do not think that victory is the end of our conflict. As there are others who also seek to make war upon us: not from without, but from within. You know of whom I speak. Those who owe no true loyalty to any nation, but who are loyal only to themselves. Those who live among us but who choose to remain separate – profiting off the ill fortune of others."
Matthias looked on the preacher stoically.
John of Capistrano went on. "Know when the battle comes," he said, "they will be nowhere to be seen. Indeed, they will open the gates for the invader – to invite him in! When the enemy comes, they will become his servants. Until then, they will pretend to serve us – working as false counselors."
The crowd listening was getting agitated. "We shouldn't tolerate them in this city!" exclaimed someone.
"We should drive them out! Make this a Christian city!" yelled a townsman.
The crowd, now enraged, was growing bolder. Father John gesticulated, and started to lead them toward the ghetto.
The crowd slowly made its way to the outskirts of the Jewish quarter. The Star of David and other symbols of the faith were visible on the residents’ homes. The mob, now irate, was clearly ready to bring violence upon the inhabitants. Father John of Capistrano proudly stood at the front of the mob.
Entering the ghetto, one townsman threw a rock through a window. Another turned over the cart of a Jewish woman who had been selling vegetables. Another went to strike an old Jewish man. The old man shook as he tried to shamble away.
Suddenly, the sight of Blaise Magyar, clad in strong armor, appeared. He stood before the townsman who was going to hit the old Jewish man. There was no contest; the rioter could not stand against the great warrior who towered over him.
Blaise did not look irate; he did not look angry. He did not appear to have any particular love for the people of the ghetto. He was simply there, alone, following the orders of the king.
The mob formed into a shape and surrounded Blaise. The proud warrior was the only one there, standing against all of them.
Father John of Capistrano emerged out of the crowd, representing them. "Stand aside, my lord!" he said. "I was there at Belgrade! You cannot stop this crowd who wants only to clean this city!"
"I am here at the king's command," said Blaise. "The Jews of this city are under his protection. If you attack them, you are attacking his subjects."
The crowd murmured, considering its options. They retained the same fervor – but they were cooling.
"You are but one man, my lord," said John of Capistrano, "and we are many. Step aside."
There was a long pause as Blaise did not stir from the threat. The faces in the crowd began to change as they looked on this intimidating, immense warrior. They would defeat him, but many would be killed in the process.
The mob cooled.
"Return to your homes," said Blaise.
In the hall of Buda Castle, Matthias and Beatrice sat in state. Matthias finished speaking to a lord, having just received his petition.
The lord kneeled, his petition having been accepted. "My king," he said. The lord went to leave. He passed a guard at the entrance of the hall, who then allowed a new petitioner to enter.
"The good master, Joseph Black, of the village of Szentendre," announced the guard.
The man who entered was a disheveled serf - dirty and unkempt. He carried a small, scraggly black dog in his arms as he went before the king.
Beatrice saw the peasant approaching and reacted. "Oh, no, no, no!" she exclaimed. "This is a throne room, not a barn." She spoke to the guard. "Take the animal and throw him out! He does not belong here."
The guard began to follow the queen's command.
Matthias, concerned, interrupted. "Stop, stop, do not bother the man," said Matthias. He turned to Beatrice. "It is important that the king be accessible to his people."
The guard looked confused, unsure of what to do.
"I did not think I was leaving Italy for a country like this," said Beatrice. She stood up, frustrated, and left.
Beatrice stood in her chamber and looked at herself in a large mirror. She brooded over all that had happened to her in this place.
Suddenly, a servant girl entered the room. The girl approached the queen from behind. "My lady, a present has come for you. They say it is from your mother."
Beatrice turned around to see what had arrived. The servant girl handed her a letter from her mother, Isabella. Beatrice looked it over and read it.
"Daughter," Beatrice read, "I hope that this letter finds you well and prospering in your marriage. Though you are in a foreign land, I hope that this gift will remind you of home."
The servant revealed a gorgeous dress of the Italian Renaissance. Beatrice looked over at what her mother had sent her. As Beatrice looked at the dress, she felt despondent and ill. "Please... leave me," she said.
The servant girl put the dress on the bed and exited. Beatrice walked up to the dress and admired it. She then walked back to the mirror, looking at the reflection of herself again. She sobbed. She was far from home and her marriage was a failure.
Matthias appeared in the doorframe at the back of the room. He looked angry – upset over his wife's behavior earlier. On seeing his wife's condition, however, his countenance changed. His face softened.
Matthias approached his wife from behind. Though this was the age of the political marriage, it didn't mean he couldn't try to be a good husband. He stood next to her, trying to be a comforting presence. He placed his hand on her side.
"I know the marriage has not gone as you intended," he said. "And you miss your country." He rubbed his hands over her comfortingly. "But perhaps there is another way you can bring some happiness here." Matthias walked over to the bed and took hold of the beautiful dress he saw lying on it. He held it up, showing it to his wife. "Perhaps you can help give birth to a Renaissance here."
Matthias and Beatrice left Buda Castle as part of a state ceremony. Walking through the streets of Buda as part of a procession, they were quiet and withdrawn – still internalizing the grimness of their sterile marriage. Matthias felt a sense of claustrophobia as he walked the narrow streets with so many people around him. The king wished he could just flee rather than put himself before the people.
Suddenly, a young boy ran up to the stressed couple. "King Matthias! King Matthias!"
Matthias, retaining a sense of good humor, stirred from his gloom. Seeing the boy, he softened. He smiled at him.
The young boy held up an apple to the king as a gift. Matthias took the apple from the boy, who ran off. Matthias stared at the symbol in his hand perplexedly. Why was he given this? What does it mean?
Suddenly, the king's claustrophobia broke. He looked about him and saw it was far, far more than just the boy on the street acknowledging him. There were scores of people who had come out and who were celebrating the king's procession.
"Hail, King Matthias!" exclaimed one villager.
"There he is, Good King Matthias!" called a townswoman.
"I am glad to see you, my king!" said a commoner.
They were recognizing him just as they had his father.
Janus Pannonius, who had been walking behind the royal couple, interjected. "They have been calling you Matthias 'the Just,'" he said. "They say you wear a disguise and walk among them. Whatever fantasies they believe in, you have won the love of the people."
The grim mental state that had consumed Matthias left him.
Far to the north, in a land beyond Hungary, a group of villagers prayed in a square. They were the residents of a small Bohemian town. They were Hussites: followers of a Christian sect that disagreed with Rome.
Suddenly, fire began falling violently all around them. Their town was under attack, being bombarded by siege engines.
Outside the town, at the head of an army, was Prince Maximilian. His soldiers stood in formation, carrying banners that showed the imperial eagle. These dissenters – as they were called – were enemies of the Empire. They were dangerous subversives who needed to be crushed. Content with their bombardment, the prince’s soldiers advanced, captured, and sacked the town.
As this proceeded, scores of refugees fled. They took what belongings they had and moved south, in a great exodus toward Hungary.
On a road in Upper Hungary, the refugees traveled. They were peasants from Bohemia. They traveled with their children, carrying what possessions they had with them in their carts. They proceeded through the countryside, passing a farmhouse.
One of the refugees, spying the farmhouse in the distance, peeled away from the others. He was a young, strong man. He looked angry that he had been forced to flee his home. In his hands, discreetly, he held a dagger. He looked ready to take his destiny into his own hands.
The man entered the house, making sure no one could see him. Within was an old woman with her daughter. The old woman saw the intruder.
"Your money," the man said.
The old woman looked anxious. She slowly complied. She handed the man the silver candlestick she had, then the few coins that were in the house. As the old woman did this, the highwayman's gaze drifted and fixed on her daughter.
"Please," said the woman. "She has done nothing wrong. Please spare her!"
Matthias sat in his chamber in Buda Castle. John Ernest, Janus Pannonius, and Ladislaus were with him. There was a map of central Europe on the table before them. On the map was shown the territory of the Hussites in Bohemia. The Hussites were vassals to the emperor, but were rebelling against him.
"My lord," said John Ernest, "there are increasing numbers of refugees entering the country. The mayor of Pressburg alone reports at least 20,000 migrants. They are fleeing the war that has broken out to the north."
"The war in Bohemia?" asked Ladislaus.
"Yes," replied John Ernest.
"Well, if they are coming to us, then we should help them," said Matthias.
"The issue, my lord," said Janus Pannonius, "is they are turning to banditry and other unscrupulous acts to support themselves. Your bailiffs have already reported 16 murders and – in Felvidek – 120 robberies since the exodus began."
"Well, all the more reason to organize a response." Matthias turned to his brother. "Are you up to this task?"
Ladislaus nodded. "What is this war that has broken out?" asked the royal justice.
Janus put the map before Ladislaus to show him what was happening. "Well, the Hussites, my lord, have risen up in defiance of the emperor," said Janus. "His failed attack here seems to have emboldened them. The compact of '36 has broken down, so Prince Maximilian has entered the territory with an army to suppress them."
Ladislaus gazed at the map for a time, but was not familiar with the history.
"Do you know the Hussites?" Matthias asked his brother.
"Father fought them once, didn't he?" said Ladislaus. "He admired their fighting tactics – if I recall."
"The Wagenburg," said Matthias, nodding. "Father fought them in the Hussite Wars. They are dissenters against the church – named after Sir Jan Hus, who they burned at the stake for translating the Bible."
"Well, if they have taken up arms against the emperor, then they are friends of ours," said Ladislaus.
Matthias turned to John Ernest. "Send my uncle and see if he can make contact with these Hussites – if they name me as their lord protector, we will help them."
Madolyn was in the courtyard of Buda Castle. Ladislaus approached her.
"I am going north," he said. "I was going to invite you to come with me."
Madolyn looked away coldly.
"I was hoping you would be speaking with me by now."
As she continued to ignore him, Ladislaus turned and left her. Madolyn stood in the courtyard, alone.
With Ladislaus departed, Madolyn looked across the courtyard. In the distance, in the guards' house, she watched as a warrior struggled to put his armor on. Watching him struggle reminded her of the time she had helped Ladislaus with his.
Madolyn's expression changed. Everything ran through her mind all over again. At last, she was resolved. She had forgiven him.
Madolyn walked through the castle searching for her lover, but it was too late. As she climbed the ramparts, she spied him at last, but saw him only as he was leaving the castle on horseback.
Madolyn went down to the stables, putting on a cloak and taking a lantern with her.
The Black Army – set now on a peaceful enterprise – marched north through Upper Hungary. It was winter and the terrain was cold and icy. Ladislaus sat on horseback, followed by Blaise Magyar and John Zapolya. Passing by them on the road were peasant refugees. Some of them had wooden carts they were dragging with them, filled with their possessions.
Ladislaus approached a refugee. "You're fleeing the war?" he asked.
"Yes," replied the man.
"You want to go to Modor. Seek an audience with Master Ernest there. He is preparing lands for you to settle on."
They continued to pass more refugees. Ladislaus decided to ride ahead, and in doing so saw a confrontation taking place. A man was arguing with another man, and it was quickly escalating into a fight. One of the men accosted the other, who then attacked the other in turn.
Ladislaus rode forward just as the fight was escalating. His presence deterred the two men.
"If you seek sanctuary here, we will welcome you," said Ladislaus, "but you must follow our laws."
A Black Army soldier came to Ladislaus. Following the royal justice's instructions, he clamped the initial attacker's hands in irons. Ladislaus nodded as the man was led away.
Madolyn rode on horseback through Upper Hungary. She had been riding for some time, trying to find Ladislaus.
Down the road Madolyn was traveling on, Madolyn could spy a figure. It was a man: the same highwayman who had preyed on the women in the farmhouse. He looked up to see Madolyn approaching.
As Madolyn neared the man, he gestured for her to come and speak to him. Unaware of the danger, she came closer. But as she approached, she saw it was clear the man did not have good intentions.
Seeing that it was a woman traveling alone, he reached forward and to tried to grab ahold of the reins of the horse.
"What a fine mount we have here," he said. "I would like a ride, I think."
Madolyn fought back, trying to keep control of her horse. At last, she was able to get the horse running, but the highwayman continued to hold on to the reins – finding himself being dragged along the ground as she struggled.
Distressed, Madolyn rode faster. At last, she saw the friendly columns of the Black Army before her. But, she did not see that between her and them was a river: one that had frozen over and been covered with snow.
Meanwhile, Ladislaus stood with his retainers, trying to manage the refugees. He wore his usual long, distinctive cloak. He was unaware that anyone was approaching.
As Madolyn rode over the river she fiercely beat at the highwayman, who was still grasping onto the horse. At last, the man was finally knocked off, and for a moment Madolyn reveled, thinking she was free. But, there then was a crack, followed by a crash, as the ice broke beneath her. Madolyn and her horse plunged violently into the river.
One of the refugees on the shore called out. "There is a woman! She has fallen in the river!"
Ladislaus, hearing the call, rushed forward to rescue the woman. He bungled forward, trying to remove his heaviest pieces of armor as he approached the water.
Undeterred by the ice, Ladislaus plunged in, swimming forward until he reached the woman in the freezing water. He reached forward and grabbed hold of her – but he then struggled to return to the surface himself.
For a moment it seemed both Madolyn and Ladislaus were lost; until suddenly behind Ladislaus, John Zapolya and Blaise Magyar appeared. They reached in and pulled the pair to the surface, followed quickly by other refugees and soldiers of the Black Army, who brought the two to safety.
The freezing couple was brought to the shore.
"Get a fire going, before they freeze to death!" said John Zapolya. "Get those clothes off them!"
The two were succumbing to hypothermia.
Blaise Magyar appeared suddenly, throwing down a heap of wood he had seemingly gathered instantly. A soldier came forward dutifully with a flint to light a fire.
Black Army soldiers aggressively stripped the two, removing all their soaking clothes from them. As he was stripped, Ladislaus turned and for the first time saw the woman he had rescued.
An army assembled itself. It followed a set of tactics rarely seen in war. It was an army of Hussites – Czechs – preparing their famous Wagenburg. The fighters fortified themselves on a hill, protected on all sides by a fortress of large, fortified wagons. The wagons were bound together with huge iron chains.
A priest walked through the would-be fortress, blessing the Hussite fighters. At the center of the wagon-citadel was their commander – the nobleman Henry of Podebrad.
Henry inspected his position. He spied a group of refugees – those who had not fled south – taking sanctuary with his army.
Henry turned, and approached a soldier who was standing at watch by one of the immense wagons. "Is the prince still there?" he asked.
The guard nodded.
Across the field stood the Imperial Army. Prince Maximilian was in command. To his side was an advisor: the Hungarian lord, Stephen Bathory.
"We will not be able to use cavalry here," said Stephen. "All the German knights will be useless."
"And why is that?" asked Maximilian.
"The Wagenburg," Stephen went on. "It is one of the most formidable anti-cavalry tactics. I saw it firsthand in the Hussite War. I recommend we get the siege engines and bombard them. Crush them with stones."
The Prince nodded and the imperial engineers came forward with a number of bombards. They began to load them. As this was happening, however, a soldier approached the prince, riding up to advise him. "Someone is coming," he said.
Across the field, appearing just over the horizon, was the Black Army. Finished with its management of the refugee crisis, it had crossed the border into Bohemia. Ladislaus Hunyadi rode at the army's head, followed by John Zapolya and Blaise Magyar.
From the Wagenburg, Henry of Podebrad peered out from the defenses, noticing the newly approaching army as well.
"Is it the prince of Saxony?" asked one of the Czechs.
"No," said Henry. "It is the Hunyadis."
"Should we go out to join them?" asked the priest.
"No," said a guard. "We cannot break our formation."
Lord Henry thought it over. The Wagenburg was the ideal defensive formation. Breaking out of it was dangerous. At the same time, the Germans would be forced to hold against two armies.
As the Hussites looked on, to their surprise the Imperial Army began to move, slowly shifting its formations. As Henry watched, he saw as the army began to turn, withdrawing and marching back towards Austria.
"They are withdrawing," said Henry.
The Imperial Army began a slow retreat back toward Vienna, not wanting to be outflanked by two armies. The Hussites, seeing this enfold, became enthralled. A bloodless victory.
Ladislaus rode forward toward the Wagenburg, meeting Henry at the entrance. Surprised, they recognized one other from the duel.
"Ah, my old enemy," said Henry. "You got them to withdraw."
"Back to Austria, no doubt," said Ladislaus.
"I thank you," said Henry, "on behalf of all of us. This is not something we could have expected."
"We have also seen to your people," said Ladislaus, "giving them land to settle on."
"Will you go after them?" asked Henry, gazing at the Imperial Army as it fled.
"Well, my brother wishes me to remain here," said Ladislaus. "But, I feel it is time to bring Lord Bathory to justice."
In the Hunyadis' camp, Ladislaus entered the tent of Madolyn. She had been with him on campaign for some time. As she turned, she placed her hand on her stomach, revealing its swollen state to him.
"I want you to go back to Hungary," he said.
"But you asked me to come with you."
"When I was helping with the refugees, yes. But now this is war. And war is dangerous."
Ladislaus approached her and smiled. The two shared a tender moment. Ladislaus placed his hand on his lover's stomach, then turned and left the tent.
Matthias looked at a map in his chamber in Buda. It showed the countries of central Europe: Poland, Bohemia, Austria, and Hungary.
Starting in Hungary, the Black Army had marched north, liberating the Czech territories of Moravia and Silesia, which had accepted Matthias as their lord protector. From here, the army had progressed into eastern Austria, all the territories of which – save Vienna – had come under the Hunyadis' control.
Ladislaus had performed well. He continued to pursue the Imperial Army, which was in retreat, and occupied many new lands.
Behind Ladislaus were the vast green fields of Hungary. He had reached the western end of the Pannonian Basin at last. The Danube flowed just behind him, passing the small German hamlet of Hainburg. On the horizon before him were the Alps and Upper Austria.
Two armies were assembled: the Black Army and the Imperial Army.
Leading the Black Army were Ladislaus Hunyadi, John Zapolya, and Blaise Magyar. Leading the Imperial Army were Maximilian von Habsburg and Stephen Bathory.
At the center of the Hungarian formation was a force of heavy infantry, assembled in lines; to either side were two forces in box formations. Making up the defensive boxes were infantry wielding great shields that resembled Roman legionnaires. Inside the boxes were ranged fighters wielding crossbows and arquebuses.
From the Hungarian position, they could just make out the soldiers of the Imperial Army. Columns of infantry were visible in a defensive formation.
"Should we advance, my lord?" John Zapolya asked.
"Send everyone forward," said Ladislaus. "Take the field."
The Black Army advanced.
Ahead of them, they could see movement on the enemy flanks. Emerging from the hills beyond the field came a contingent of cavalry. The Imperial knights advanced swiftly and suddenly, striking at the left side of the Black Army. As they did so, however, the formidable shield bearers of the defensive box moved to stop them.
A cavalryman charged one of the soldiers in the box and was tossed from his horse by the shield he ran into. An arquebusier then opened fire on another charging horseman. The man was killed by the bullet and fell from his horse, the riderless animal left charging on without him.
Ladislaus inspected the state of battle. The cavalry charge was unsuccessful; it had been deflected by the discipline of his soldiers.
Ladislaus watched as his army proceeded. His center at last met with that of the Imperial Army, and the infantry of each side began to engage. The battle proper had begun. The entire field was soon consumed with carnage.
Ladislaus looked across the field to spy a decrepit country church. It stood just on the fringe of the battlefield.
Ladislaus fought from horseback. All around him, men were cleaving and slaying each other. A German knight charged at Ladislaus. With great violence Ladislaus' horse was impaled, forcing him to begin fighting on foot.
Ladislaus defeated a German man-at-arms in single combat; then, another, a mountless knight.
Ladislaus peered across the battlefield. He could clearly see Stephen Bathory, equipped in full plate armor, leading from the rear.
Ladislaus advanced toward Lord Bathory, defeating new enemies along the way. As he reached Lord Stephen, the Magyar noble withdrew, just as he had before.
The violence of the battle soon became overwhelming. A stray arquebusier's bullet hit Ladislaus and knocked him over from the shock. For a moment, Ladislaus was unsure of how grave the injury was. Realizing it was a superficial wound, however, he returned to his feet, and continued his pursuit.
Blaise Magyar – himself embroiled in the battle – turned briefly to catch a glimpse of Ladislaus, who had at last intercepted Stephen at the front of the decrepit church, which lied just on the outskirts of the battlefield. The two at last crossed blades, but Stephen fell back yet again into the building.
Ladislaus stood for a moment on the steps of the church. He paused for a second, contemplating. He looked down to be surprised to see that a bird was perched on the ground before him. Ladislaus inspected the animal. It was a raven. The bird turned and peered at Ladislaus, then flew away. As it did so, Ladislaus entered the church, his great red cape trailing behind him.
Ladislaus proceeded cautiously down the long, open corridor of the building. The church's roof had collapsed, exposing much of the building's interior to the outdoors. Ladislaus walked up the nave to the altar. The sky was gray above him, the battle still raging on furiously outside. Just above Ladislaus, a fading icon of the Virgin Mary was visible. Mary appeared as if he was peering down upon him.
Lord Bathory appeared again. The duel resumed.
Strike after strike the two failed to get the better of each other. Ladislaus lunged, and then felt he had gotten the better of his older adversary. Ladislaus managed to slice Lord Stephen in the chest – from torso to collarbone. But, Stephen recovered, and the combat continued.
Finally, Stephen took advantage of Ladislaus when, in a rage, his young foe tried to make a critical blow. Stephen dodged, then struck Ladislaus from behind. Seeing he had done real damage, the Magyar lord withdrew, letting his blow bring his enemy to his knees.
Ladislaus grimly tried to hold himself up for a moment, using all the strength he could. But, alone – emphatically alone – he collapsed onto the floor. He did not cry out; he did not scream. He fell, silently.
Ladislaus' body lied for a long time in the quiet in the church. There was no sight of Stephen Bathory. He did not stay to revel in the victory.
Finally, Blaise Magyar appeared at the entrance of the building: bloody, drenched, and filthy from the Battle of Hainburg. By the growing quiet outside, it seemed the Black Army had triumphed.
Blaise looked around, but couldn't see Stephen Bathory anywhere. He was unsure if this was where the two had entered. He walked slowly forward. At last, he spied the body of Ladislaus. It was collapsed on the ground before the altar, below the icon of the Virgin Mary. Blaise went to him.
Matthias sat in state in Buda Castle. His counselors sat with him. Before them, they inspected a map of Hungary. It had been amended to show the lands that Ladislaus had conquered.
"Your brother's campaign has gone better than any of us could have expected," said Janus Pannonius. "The Hussite parliament has accepted your suzerainty, and the Imperial Army is in withdrawal. Effectively all of Austria outside of the Alps is in your possession now. All that remains in defiance is Vienna... the fortress of the emperor."
Matthias ruminated for a moment, looking at Vienna on the map.
Suddenly, the doors of the hall opened. A group of attendants barged in. Blaise Magyar appeared, leading a procession of figures. Matthias looked up, unsure of what was happening.
As the procession entered, behind them appeared a funeral box. The dread purpose for the group’s intrusion became clear.
Madolyn Kovacs, spying the approach of the figures, entered the hall to see what was happening. When she saw the funeral box, her countenance changed.
As the coffin came before him, Matthias stood. As he did so, though, he stumbled, injuring himself on the floor. Paying no heed to the wound, however, he sped forward.
Standing before the funeral box, Matthias, though a dispassionate philosopher, felt a sense of horror come over him.
Madolyn Kovacs came up to inspect the box herself. As everyone at court saw her, they all tried at once to stop her and prevent her from looking within. She pushed past them and looked inside.
Everyone at court tried to take hold of her and comfort her.
Matthias stood by the banks of the Danube River alone. He wore simple clothes. The scene was quiet and still. It was supposed to be a restful place for him, but on this evening it was not.
The adversities of the world all made war on Matthias – all the tragedies he had been forced to bear.
The king's countenance looked weary; like every muscle in his face was contorted from chronic stress. Matthias looked out over the waters of the Danube, searching for calm.
Matthias thought to himself. Thought of his father, the proud Achilles. Thought of his brother, the knight. Thought of his failed, infertile marriage. Thought of all the unrelenting enemies that wanted to bring his kingdom to an end.
Faced with all this, Matthias, the stoic philosopher, wept.
After a time, the king recollected himself. He took in a long breath of air. Then, he thought it all over again. He looked at his emotions – scrutinized them.
The king's breathing changed. The muscles in his face changed. His eyes changed.
The king was transformed.
In Buda Castle, the pregnant Madolyn Kovacs brooded. She was trying to be courageous. But what would her fate be now that Ladislaus was gone?
From down the corridor, a figure appeared. Madolyn turned to see it was Matthias. He approached her with what appeared to be a book covered in a dark cloth. Madolyn acknowledged his approach placidly.
"I have something for you," he said gently.
Matthias handed Madolyn the gift. She drew the dark cloth covering it off, and saw that it was indeed a book. The book was a corvina: one of the books commissioned by the king. The book's outer binding showed the distinctive raven sigil of the Hunyadis.
"It is a tome of knightly chivalry," said Matthias. "Telling the tales of great knights of history and their exploits."
As Matthias spoke, Madolyn leafed through the book. It was a beautiful medieval tome, written and illuminated by hand.
She turned the page to "Roland." The name was written in large letters. There was an illumination portraying the knight.
She leafed through several more pages. Some of the other knights included "The Black Prince," "The Cid," and "Wallace."
Madolyn reached the back of the book. It was the final section. She looked down to see "Ladislaus," written just as the other sections were. On the accompanying page, she saw that there were several passages honoring the deeds of his life, each with a small illustration.
The following headings were visible:
LADISLAUS WINS THE TOURNAMENT
LADISLAUS SAVES THE KING
LADISLAUS RESCUES THE MAIDEN
LADISLAUS BRINGS JUSTICE TO THE PEOPLE
"Thank you," said Madolyn.
Matthias smiled, then excused himself.
As the king exited, his face changed. His countenance changed from one of kindness... to one of wrath.
Before Matthias lied the interior of the great foundry – a factory built beside Buda Castle to produce weapons of war. The Italian engineer, Vittorio Lombardi, worked diligently with his countrymen.
"You fool!" he called out in Italian. "This metal is not flexible enough! It will break if we dare shoot anything from it!"
All around the engineers, huge smelters melted bronze, iron, and steel and poured the metals into molds. Siege engines lined the back of the factory: there was a siege tower, a battering ram covered in plate armor, and a ballista. There was also a pile of petards – Renaissance era bombs.
As Matthias entered, he descended a huge flight of stairs to get to where the engineers were working. As he approached, the ultimate purpose of the workshop came into view: the Elephant Gun.
The mold of the cannon was staggeringly huge. Just like the great Turkish gun had required a team of oxen to move, so, too, would this one.
Strewn on the ground were many charts, schematics, and manuals of the engineers. A great deal of ingenuity had gone into the construction of the weapon.
Matthias looked as before him the foundry produced one of the massive pieces of ordinance which would be fired from the gun.
"Master Lombardi," said the king. "I hope your work goes well."
"Oh, it goes very well my lord!" replied the engineer. "Very, very, very well! Never before have I built on such a scale. I have made every effort to ensure the gun will not fissure. I have tempered the metal so it will not break no matter how large the ordinance we fire from it!"
Matthias walked before the cannon, his grand vision of it having become a reality.
"What fate do you think awaits the emperor?"
The Italian siege engineer beamed at the king's question.
In the captain's chamber of Buda Castle, Blaise Magyar sat on the side of a bed. Beside him was his daughter – a young girl.
Blaise was tall – much taller than an average person – and had very large hands. His daughter was small and petite. The contrast of this girl with this hard, silent man was stark.
One of Blaise's mighty hands was out beside him. His daughter reached out to him. She wrapped her whole hand around one of her father's large, calloused fingers. Blaise softened.
"Must you go to war again Papa?"
"Yes," he replied.
Blaise Magyar reached his hand out and gently held his daughter's head from behind.
The Black Army, arranged like a vast Roman legion, readied itself for war. This would be its last offensive – the assault on the emperor's stronghold.
The Elephant Gun was brought into service by the king's smiths. In a great reveal, the huge weapon was transported out of the siegeworks and to the front of the army. A huge number of oxen were employed in this task, set on the herculean task of transporting the gun to Vienna.
The army marched through Pannonia, its banners fluttering overhead. The army marched beside the Danube, proceeding along its southern shore.
The army advanced through the countryside and reached the boundary of Austria, where Ladislaus had made his stand. As the army crossed into the Empire, an inscription etched into the cannon was visible. In bold letters it read, "FIAT IUSTITIA ET PEREAT MUNDUS": let justice be done though the world perish.
Matthias sat on horseback, riding just to the side of the great gun.
Before the Black Army lied the walls of Vienna. Matthias turned to his soldiers, assembled in formation for the siege. There came a cacophony of voices as the army readied itself and the engineers worked to prepare the great gun.
Perched on the walls of Vienna, hardly visible, was a raven. The raven idled for a moment, finding its place on a stone, then flew away.
There was a delay. Then, an immense blast rang out as the Elephant Gun struck the location where the raven had sat, dealing immense damage to the wall.
The siege engineers worked feverishly to load and prepare the gun to fire again. Matthias sat on horseback, watching the city. The cannon viscerally fired several more times at its target.
It was eighteen hours later.
The residents of Vienna looked up and down their quiet streets. The city had surrendered. During the night, at the eleventh hour before the onslaught – before the Black Army stormed the city – its leading citizens had gone out to hand it over peacefully to Matthias.
Modest destruction was visible – the starkest being the huge breach that had been made in the walls by the Elephant Gun. A stream of morning light was flooding through this into the city.
Matthias sat on horseback as the city's deputies came forward to submit to him. Beside Matthias, columns of disciplined Black Army soldiers stood at arms. Some of the soldiers marched peacefully through the streets – an occupying force.
Day-to-day life was getting back to normal. Clearly, Matthias preferred to take the city intact. There had been destruction, but workers started to clear the rubble and residents began to resume their lives. A pair of Black Army soldiers played cards on a city step, sure they would not be needed for some time.
Michael Szilagyi approached his nephew, who was planning how to administer his new city.
"They think they found him," said Michael.
Matthias and his uncle approached an area of rubble where the city's walls used to be. Workers came forward and moved a number of huge, broken stones out of the away. Michael walked forward, showing Matthias a body amidst the debris.
Matthias looked down among the stones. There, lying beneath them, was the deceased Stephen Bathory: the lord behind so much misfortune for the Hunyadis.
Matthias felt no pleasure at the sight; but he felt it was a natural end for all this man's crimes. Matthias noticed as he inspected the body that Lord Bathory had also suffered a wound: from torso to collarbone. The injury Ladislaus had dealt to him.
Matthias walked back with his uncle, and looked up to see Vienna Castle above him. This would be his new seat of power.
As Matthias walked the streets of Vienna, he heard a preacher addressing some of the victorious soldiers, who were now standing down after their conquest.
"And then the Lord God said, 'Behold, I shall take away the cup of trembling from you, the cup that made you stagger; from this cup I will never make you drink again.'"
Matthias entered the castle: the imperial seat of power. His counselors, Michael Szilagyi, John Ernest, Janus Pannonius, and Blaise Magyar, followed him as he made his entrance to the great chamber.
The room was opulently furnished, but it had sustained damage during the battle. At the back of the room, knocked over, was Frederick's chessboard. Its pieces were strewn out on the floor. Yet one of the pieces – the king – still stood upright on the ground.
Before Matthias, the imperial throne stood empty. John Zapolya, his captain-at-arms, stood to the side of the throne. He was already present in the chamber, busy assessing it after the battle.
John came up to greet Matthias as he entered.
"Has there been no sign of the emperor?" asked Matthias.
"No," answered Lord Zapolya.
"An emperor on the lam," said John Ernest.
"There has been no sign of the crown either," said Lord Zapolya. "He's taken it with him – into the Alps."
Matthias thought for a moment. "Let him run," he said. "We control the capital of the Empire now. The war is over."
Matthias took his seat on the throne. Then he thought to himself. The emperor was quite old. Perhaps the electors would turn to him after Frederick. Perhaps he could create a dynasty. The Hunyadis, a family of such humble origins, he thought, rising to this station.
Matthias entered Vienna’s large, stately council chamber with his advisors. Matthias walked to the seat at the head of the table and sat.
"Our Caesar," said Janus Pannonius. At this, Matthias' advisors took their seats around him.
"This will be our new capital," said Matthias. "We should give it time for the reality to sink in: that we have become the new masters of central Europe."
"I can go to Bavaria, Saxony – make contact with the German princes," said Lord Szilagyi. "We control the imperial lands... perhaps they will name you an elector."
Lord Michael referred to the elective system of the Holy Roman Empire. There were seven princes who chose who became the emperor.
"Yes," said John Zapolya. "And from there, three votes to become the emperor."
"Achievable," said Janus Pannonius.
"Good," said Matthias. "We should also begin plans for renewed conflict with the Turks. Not this summer... but the next. We will have more resources now than ever before. It is time to expel them from the continent." The king paused, then continued. "But let us not get ahead of ourselves. For now, we'll focus on rebuilding this city." He stood up. "I will accept oaths of allegiance from the leading citizens tomorrow..."
Matthias suddenly stopped speaking and made a complaining noise. He looked down at his leg, lifting his clothing. The wound – the one he had received in the hall in Buda – was bothering him.
Matthias' counselors looked at him with concern.
"It is nothing," said Matthias. The king looked down. It looked like the injury was slightly inflamed.
The meeting adjourned. Matthias exited before the others, limping slightly. He had the same limp that his father had carried before.
At last, Beatrice arrived in Vienna. The city was safe now, and fully under her husband's control. She rode through the streets with her attendants, seeing daily life returned back to normal all around her. She made her way to the castle above.
Beatrice walked through the castle's gates, then proceeded through its entrance. She entered the main hall, finding its throne empty with only a lone guard standing nearby. She then passed from hall to hall, room to room, finding everything quiet and still.
She searched for her husband. Flanked by an attendant, she opened one door, then another, unable to discover him anywhere.
At last, she reached his bedchamber, expecting to find him inside. She walked in and, seeing him lying on the bed, asleep, she smiled. She approached her husband, who she had gained a new affection for.
As Beatrice approached, it became clear that something was wrong. She realized Matthias looked ill. She put her hand on his forehead. She saw his color was different. He was cold.
Beatrice pulled off the sheet, now suddenly greatly concerned. She was able to see him fully. There was something wrong with his leg. The wound on it looked wrong.
It was inflamed: it had become infected, swollen, and poisoned his blood.
He was dead.
In Vienna, Matthias' body lied in state, just as his father's had. His friends and allies gathered around him.
"Is this the way of the world?" asked John Zapolya. "That all friends die and everything good comes to an end?"
As John spoke, he looked across to a group of lords who were gathered at the funeral. These lords, newly released from confinement, were no friends of the king.
"What happens now?" asked John Ernest.
"What happens now is we return to Hungary," said Michael Szilagyi, "and elect a new king."
"After the death of King Matthias," said Madolyn Kovacs, "the new magnates went to work to unmake his legacy. At Matthias' funeral, the common people looked on in mourning. But the great lords of the land did not.
"A new king was elected, but a weak one who the lords knew they could control. The new monarch, named King Vladislaus 'Dobzse' – nicknamed 'King "OK"' for his meek acceptance of whatever the lords suggested – was enthroned. The lords brought decree to decree to him, which he dutifully signed. Under him the royal demesne diminished, with the selling off of its castles and titles. The king became a prisoner of the nobility again.
"The Black Army went unpaid. The border defenses went unmanned. Only an empty field remained where the Black Army once stood. Its banners and the remains of its equipment lied silently on the fallow ground. On the border with Islam, the castles stood in disrepair.
"With Matthias gone, the lords began a brutal class war on the people. Peasants were beaten by their lords and had their possessions taken from them. Others were hoisted into trees, hanged by their masters.
"In defiance, a man named George Dozsa led a peasant revolt in Transylvania. But, the uprising was brutally crushed. As punishment, the lords cooked Dozsa alive in an iron chair, and forced his followers to eat his flesh.
"Matthias' wife, Queen Beatrice, who had made few friends in her adopted home, was forced to return to Italy.
"Then, the Turks returned. Belgrade, the great fortress of Lord Janos, fell. The next year they took Buda... and burned Matthias' library and observatory to the ground. All the great intellectual achievements of the king were turned to ashes. When the Turks stole the books, they tore the gilded bindings off of them, destroying the texts in the process.
"Hungary was partitioned. Most was annexed by the Turks; while the northern part of the kingdom came under the rule of Emperor Frederick, returned from his exile in the Alps. Under his control, the gold mines of the north were sold off to rich banking families.
"House Hunyadi, for all its fury, seemed lost to time.
"Yet the people did not forget King Matthias – nor his father or brother. Their memories lived on. The people began to say that Matthias was one of the sleeping kings: one of the kings under the mountain. That he slept under the earth and would one day rise again and return when his country needed him.
"The people say that when the ravens stop circling... the king will ride out."
A mist shrouded and obscured a plain. The land was fallow and dark.
Beyond the plain, a mountain loomed. The sky above of it was empty and full of gloom: with only a single creature, a raven, circling overhead.
There was a delay – then the raven landed on the plain. In the silence, it idled. It opened its mouth twice as though it was about to caw, but made no sound either time. It idled for another moment, inspecting the fallow earth, then flew away.
The plain stood empty again – except for the mist. The darkness increased.
Suddenly, a sound was heard. From the dark, hardly visible, something emerged. It was a rider. A man on a horse. He came into full view. Fully illumined now, one could see it was Matthias Hunyadi, riding on horseback and crowned with a laurel bay.
But he was not the only rider. Others emerged behind him. There rode Ladislaus Hunyadi, Blaise Magyar, Michael Szilagyi, and John Zapolya. They charged forward in that mystic vision: the king will ride out.