The Keep: The Beginning
It is based on the book by F. Paul Wilson: 'The Keep'. It tells the story of how Molasar became trapped in the earth by the Glaeken Trismegistus. How he acquired his strength and power and the madness that drove him to serve the beast that dwells in all men and how the Glaeken was forced to trap him, because he could not kill him, for fear of losing his own life.
I saw the movie and enjoyed it immensely, mainly because of the haunting music by Tangerine Dream, but thought the book was the same old, same old vampire re-hashing. I have given it a different slant and it has nothing to do with vampires or the 'undead'. I must add that doing the research for the book threw up some strange facts about the Romanian culture and forced me to appraise many of my preconceptions about the Eastern European country and its rarely explored archaeological and historical anomalies that contradict the modern accepted beliefs about the birth and age of written language. I touch upon the Romanian people's rightful historical place in the annals of current anthropological thinking and hopefully redress a little of the injustice laid upon this ancient and underestimated civilisation. I have weaved into this tale of fiction a little of their history and hope that you will find it as revealing and as enlightening as I did.
1. The Keep: The Beginning
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It was the year 1431 and Vlad III was born. He was of the house of ‘Draculesti’, a branch of the house of ‘Basarab’. Early on in his reign he was hailed as a great and just ruler but later, as strange forces victimised and twisted him into a vehicle of hate and vengeance, he found his real name, a most fitting one and the one we know him as today; ‘Vlad the Impaler’. The first part of the family name ‘Drac’ means devil in modern Rumanian. It may be that the word was adopted because of his terrible example. He roasted babies and made their mothers eat them, cut off the breasts of women and fed them to their husbands. All manner of hellish torture was visited on his enemies as he feasted and ate amongst the stench and corpses of his dead and dying victims. ‘Draco’ is also the name for dragon in Latin. It gives me food for thought as to the influence of a name. What had changed him from benevolent and just ruler to monster of unspeakable horrors? This is the tale I am going to share with you here.
I won’t go into too much historical detail but give a brief outline so that we can relate to his position in the historical Romanian political hierarchy. He was three times ‘Voivode’ of Wallachia, a duke or prince of the domain. A short time in 1448, but then a longer period from 1456-1462. His vicious and terrifying reputation was gained from this last period where he impaled more than a 100,000 men, women and children before he was disposed of by his younger brother Radu III, the ‘handsome’.
Radu III was born in 1435 and was Vovoide of Wallachia from 1462-1473, ousted, or retired, for a short while and then returned to the post and remained until 1475. He converted to Islam even though his family were a part of the ‘Order of the Dragon’, which was founded to protect Christianity in Eastern Europe. There were two more half-brothers, Mircea III and Vlad Calugarul, but they have no part in this tale.
In 1444 Vlad and Radu were sent to the Ottoman Court of Turkey as hostages and stayed and learnt logic, the Quran and the Turkish language. It was here that the brothers began the quest for the ‘Staff of Life’, an object of great power hidden in the hills of Greece. One of their teachers introduced them to obscure and little known manuscripts and revealed a map to them. A cryptic map that would have to be deciphered and this was not easily done. It took them years to unravel the code hidden in the weave of the text and use it on a map with no markers. It wasn’t until the year 1455, when the brothers finally pierced the veil of secrecy protecting the hidden formula to find the ‘Staff’ that they could go and find it. All those years they studied the arcane and mysterious language of a secret, long dead order. Even though they both tried to lay claim for the solving of the riddle, it was an endeavour of equal measure. They broke the code of ancient Titans through years of labour and a desire to possess the great sceptre of power and ‘... to be king of all you surveyed, to wield limitless power and have the world kneel at your feet...’ This was the claim of the great ‘Order of Sumer’, the last remnants of the Sumerian people that had vanished thousands of years ago from this earth. It was a great and influential civilisation and traces of their greatness are scattered far and wide throughout history. The first ever real city in the history of the Earth ‘Eridu’, located on the shores of the Persian Gulf, reminds us of their industry and a community spirited people. It was one of the first major social collectives in humanity’s march out of the dark ages of pre-history.
The Sumerian language had long been dead, even in Vlad and Radu’s time, and it was the learning of the subtlety of its symbols that had taken so long before they could interpret the arcane message. Now they could read the map they were ready to leave but they had to be discrete. They had protected the secret of the manuscripts from all. No-one else could read them. Only they knew of the promises made therein of the finding of this great power and they never spoke openly of it in front of, or to, anyone else. In this they were brothers. This is the year that Vlad left the Voivode of Wallachia. Only he and Radu would go. Disguised as merchants they would go to Greece and search for the ‘Cave of the Monument’, also known as the ‘Cave of the Moon’, the cave of their destiny, in more ways than they could imagine.
The Order of ‘Sumer’ was so-called because this was the last remaining spiritual institution of the Sumerians before their demise as a civilisation. They had tried to remain true to the ethic of their people, keep alive the principles and solidarity that their own mighty monuments and buildings once stood for but, in truth, the time for that great race was over. It is said that the Sumerians knew how to harness the energy of crystals to help carve and shape their architecture. This cannot be proven as time and circumstance has dissolved almost all of the last vestiges of the once great and mighty empire into sand and dust.
The manuscripts that had been given to the brothers spoke of the last of the crystals that had helped them shape the great, unified and conscientious people in times that were dark for the minds of men. Before other civilisations were being formed the Sumerians had leatherwork, metal work, masonry, pottery and had established viable industries. While we in the modern western world were busy bashing rabbits with wooden sticks and eating fruits and berries the Sumerian people had trade and commerce, fine clothes and wine, art and culture. They sang of glorious days and heavenly joys while we were freezing in our huts still hunting fire, eating whatever beast, creature, insect or bug that passed by to shore up our hard won diet. Songs of heavenly joys were far from the purview and expectations of such desperate stone-age survivors. We would have to wait thousands of years before we could enjoin in such ease of living.
The energy of the last of their ‘sublime’ crystals was infused into the Staff of Power which gave it the ability to create another empire. Whoever possessed it ‘...would bring light to a dark world and justice where there is desperate hope...’ When its energy was released back into the world of men, it would be as a beacon that all men must follow. It carried the weight and substance of a divine intermediary pledged to free the hearts of all men. In the lyrical texts of the ancient Sumerians: ‘…he who holds the Staff of Life commands all earthly treasures and more, much more, the hearts of men…’
This is a claim hard to resist for two simple princes of a small territory in the heart of a much larger continent. To be king of the world is what all men seek and the brothers were no different. The tragic consequences that befell them will serve as a solemn lesson to us all. They reached for a power that they believed would have made them a true king; both just and right. They had studied rich philosophies in their silk lined Turkish prison and the noble virtues of true kingship were made known to them and neither dreamt of being a tyrant or a despot toying with his subjects. It is only with this purity of heart and mind that anyone even get near the Staff.
The Staff was described as being just over a metre in length with a pair of ‘wings’ at one end, each 10 centimetres long, jutting out perpendicular to the body, which was 6 centimetres in diameter and at the end with the wings was a slightly raised glass dome. The power of the Crystal was stored in the body of the Staff and light radiated from the dome. It was almost like the shape of the Christian cross but without the top limb. The purity and tenor of the energy stored within was such that only those with ‘selfless’ motives could even approach the Staff. Dark, greedy and malicious hearts were rejected by its innate tendencies as an unearthly, unifying force for the good. Both Vlad and Radu had the purity of spirit to be able to ‘touch’ the Staff of Life and only through this and their long-term commitment did they unravel the mystery of the message of the ancient puzzle. Only the queerest of fates could have brought about the circumstances that brought this great power back into the world, only to have it spent in folly, vengeance and destruction. Truly the whims of the lesser gods were in a flippant and mocking mood when the brothers found the Staff.
Only one person could take the power of the Staff, it could not be shared, and the brothers had agreed that whoever found it first shall be the one to possess and wield it. They both wanted peace for their people but with the power of the Ottoman Empire holding sway over the continent and beyond, they could not do this with their own resources alone. They needed something to combat its armies, vast wealth and resources. Compared to the Sultan they were as gnats to an elephant, impotent and ineffective. Their own domain had seen a constant shift in power and policy over the years and infighting amongst the various discordant factions in the nobility. They had both witnessed the destructive influences that their peers manifested throughout the various fiefdoms and territories in their petty squabbles over the years and had resolved to bring order. A unified European people would have the edge on the Turkish Sultan and allow them to establish a balancing nation to counter his hold on the greater part of Eastern Europe and bring him to heel. The Ottoman Empire was just beginning the main expansion of its borders. Osman I had conquered Constantinople and was named Mehmed II as Sultan of the empire.
The capture of Constantinople saw the end, after 1500 years, of the Roman Empire. This also dealt a great blow to Christendom as Islam became the dominant religion and spreading the message of Mohammed was the driving force for the colonisation of bordering states and countries. Radu had already converted to Islam during their internment in Turkey. This was decided by both brothers and displayed a forward thinking attitude that was a mark of their understanding of the political and religious ethos prevalent at that time. They would have a foot in both camps. Islam was the only other main religion and if they could not regain Wallachia for the family then an Islamic puppet ruler would be chosen by the Sultan. If not Vlad, then Radu would rule again in their homeland and would be able to stem the excesses of the Ottoman’s ambitions and dictates.
As the Christian armies diminished so did the cohesive resistance to the mighty armies of the Ottoman Empire vanish. They spread the canopy of the Turkish civilisation across the great tract of Eastern Europe. It was more of moving into countries and consolidating their armies into the ranks of the empire than wholesale war. With such weight of resources behind them there was little anyone could do to resist them. It became an internal political struggle as those who ruled in the occupied countries would do anything they could to keep their hold on power and have a say in the policies and laws imposed on their countrymen. To lose a little prestige was far more preferable than to lose it all.
The Ottoman Empire reached its peak under Suleiman the Magnificent, spreading from the Persian Gulf in the East to Hungary in the North-West and from Egypt to the Caucasus in the North. The battle of Vienna took place in 1683 and saw the defeat of the Turks and the decline of the once mighty empire. It was eventually dismantled in 1918 by the allies after the First World War.
Vlad and Radu prepared themselves in secret. They had concocted an elaborate tale to cover their true intentions. They were princes of the noble and ruling house of the Draculesti’s and could not just leave without justifying their actions. They told the court that they had received information about the provisioning of a vast army in Greece which might come against them and they wanted to see first hand the veracity or falsehood of this claim. It was far too an important issue to trust to their vassals, who were mostly uneducated thugs, to communicate the size and potential threat to their country by this army, if it existed, which was still uncertain.
They weaved a convincing ruse for their counsellors and advisors of the necessity for both of them to journey together in their secret foray into these far away lands. It must be both of them because if one of them was to fall victim to any of the vagaries of the road at that time then the other would be able to convey whatever information they had gathered. They lived in dark and uncertain times and the life of an individual was a cheap commodity and travelling on the road was more akin to running a precarious gauntlet.
Their advisors urged them to take a small armed contingent to ensure their protection but they were having none of it. Two merchants travelling alone would attract a lot less attention than a small detail of men, they argued. In spite of much resistance to their plan they had the final say and started on their fateful journey.