Usually, it goes something like this. Whenever I first arrive at a hotel, I spend about an hour sneaking around the reception desk to get a better understanding of the housing situation. I stand behind the receptionist’s back, sneaking glimpses in the reservation system to see which rooms are available or fully booked – so I know just who I’m sneaking up on.
But today things were a little different. We arrived at this sprawling estate only to find it locked. Good thing I had Natalia with me, otherwise I’d have broken into the hotel through the back door like a common criminal. Not that I hadn’t tried this before 🙂
The locked door was quite unexpected, but we’d soon find out why the estate had been closed to visitors. The hotel receptionist answered the doorbell and let us in, directed the journalist to her room, and gave her a rundown on the manor house’s main attractions. She explained that the estate was closed only for weddings. This exceptional estate in Turiec, away from the hustle and bustle of the city – and from your neighbor’s prying eyes – offers all the amenities needed to host a spectacular wedding. If you haven’t guessed, our unexpected road trip had brought us to the Mošovce Manor House.
Natalia had received a “scoop” about one of the upcoming weddings, and I had received another clue.
You remember that strange little envelope, right?
That envelope had brought me here. To an estate once owned and maintained by the powerful Révay family. The pompousness of this noble family still lives on today. A monument to their grandeur, the estate was known for its 16-acre English park. It seemed to me that the park had been an exemplary standard at the time, especially with a maze included inside the gates. After we had finally settled in, I was aching to start my usual habit of wandering the halls.
I had come in search of the Baroness.
I already told you that I was supposed to be meeting her, right?
In the small envelope was a clue, instructing me to find the place where a love triangle had once embroiled a Slovak national hero. You know…the whole world knows about Robin Hood, but Slovakia’s got its very own Jánošik. He took from the rich and gave to the poor. Not much is known about his real life – especially his personal life. But here, in Turiec, he’s a source of national pride and has a bit of reputation as a Romeo. Apparently because he was in love with a beauty who was engaged to another man.
Sooo, don’t you get the sense that his story is vaguely familiar? The clue seemed to be directing me to a path that matched my tracks. And so here we were. Looking for the Baroness Révay.
The manor has 3 floors, so I meandered the halls for a while. The halls were quite small in width, but were very tall. And oh, those stairs. Sometimes I cheat and take my lazy literary butt up and down in the elevator. But you know what – no one can see me to judge me!
The estate also has a loft, with several rooms and suites. I hoped to come across the Baroness in this part of the manor. She didn’t know I was here, so logically she wasn’t expecting me. I peeked inside each of those wonderfully decorated salons, already prepared for tomorrow’s wedding. I couldn’t resist and walked inside to admire one of the rooms.
The Baroness wasn’t there, but I was overcome with my own intense feelings of nostalgia. I had never had my own lavish wedding, which may have been why I was so overcome by the sight in front of me. To eat with beautiful silver cutlery, to be entertained by the graceful tones of a piano and strings, to spin around in a circle to the cheers and shouts of our guests under sparkling crystal chandeliers, to slowly dance in his embrace…to rest my head on his shoulder and be gently embraced by his powerful arms. To be able to touch his lips in front of everyone… we wouldn’t even have to hide any more. I could finally love him with an open heart. And after 400 years of waiting… Could you even imagine?
I sighed and came back to reality. If I didn’t find the Baroness Révay and pull as much information out of her as I could about her fate, none of this would ever happen. She may be the key – finding her was a much more important task than losing myself in a daydream in this ornate Rococo wedding hall. I started my way back down and found myself on the ground floor. Guests were steadily flowing through the reception hall, gradually making their way to their rooms and mingling out on the yard. But I had to take a little detour towards the restaurant and into the kitchen. The kitchen was my domain, so I forgave myself this little excursion. The chef, who looked more like a professional athlete, was dressing a lamb for display. Hmmm, I wondered if there would be any leftovers for me after dinner had finished? I didn’t want to rush, so I decided to kill some time and carry on with my informal tour.
There was a rush of activity behind the bar, while a young waiter circulated around the long, empty restaurant with a tray in hand. The Manor House had a wine cellar I’d yet to explore. But in the back of the restaurant was a small lounge, where I saw a woman sitting by herself. It was the Baroness Révay.
“Hm, hmm,” I cleared my throat.
The Baroness was startled. She clearly wasn’t used to getting visitors. Even those stuck with her in this in-between world. She looked me over with her eyes as she searched for the right words to say. She was truly stunning. She had soft, girlish features and was wearing a huge antique dress. Her slender neck was adorned with pearls. Her hair was tied in an intricate knot and her eyes contained a sort-of pained expression. I was interrupting her reading.
“Who are you?” she asked me.
“I’m Julia Capulet,” I replied. I smiled gently to break the ice.
The Baroness smiled back. She recognized me. Obviously she wasn’t used to meeting other literary figures, but it was impossible not to know about me. Not that I was clamoring for celebrity status – all credit was due to Shakespeare.
“What brings you here, Julia?” asked the young noblewoman.
I guess it didn’t occur to her to ask why I wasn’t dead. And I really didn’t want to explain it for the 1000th time, so I got straight to the point.
“I need to know more about your story. Someone sent me here, to you, to help me find my long-lost love.” I nodded my head yes, Romeo, in response to her unspoken question.
The Baroness looked quite puzzled. Nonetheless, I carried on. But I couldn’t continue without getting bogged down in rehashing the details of my 400-year-old story. “Listen, Shakespeare’s tragedy didn’t quite end in tragedy. We didn’t die, but we were cursed and now we’re still looking for each other. I can’t remember what he looks like, and he doesn’t know what I look like. And somebody’s sending me clues to help me find him. They’re giving me hints that help push me in the right direction, and the latest clue sent me here to you. I was hoping you’d tell me your own personal love story to find out more.”
For about 2 milliseconds, her faced turned sour as she stared back at me, but she quickly composed herself and returned to a normal facial expression. She beckoned me over with a wave as I sat down opposite her on an antique chair crafted during her era. She took a breath and began. “So you want to know about me, the Baron and Juraj?”
A love triangle. I should have guessed.
“Uh, yes,” I replied. I dind’t know much about Juraj Jánošik, actually, or about the Baroness herself, so she had to start from scratch.
“I was so young. And when father said that I must be given to someone, that’s the way it is. Whether I liked it or not.” She paused for a moment. Paris immediately came to mind, her father conjuring up memories of a figure from my past. She took a breath and continued. “In my case, it was the Baron Révay. He was so old and ugly. But even worse, he was a menace. I know, who wouldn’t want to be a Baroness, to have it all, the whole castle… but was it worth such a price? Believe me, it wasn’t.” Her voice still shook with these words, so many years after her death. It seems that some injustices can never be resolved, even after death. The Baroness shifted on her chair, and after a moment of silence continued her tale. “The Baron did not love me, I was only an ornament for him. A confirmation of his social status. The beautiful young wife. And from my point of view, love was out of the question. I suffered so much here. I spent entire days out in the park – it was my only escape from his presence. I was only permitted to venture between the manor and the park, nowhere else. And I got to know every corner of the park by heart, nothing could surprise me there. But one day, something did surprise me. Actually… someone,” she said as her eyes finally came back to life. A sweet, shy smile creased her lips.
“Juraj,” I interjected.
She nodded. I noticed that she was clutching a frayed, yellow piece of paper by her chest.
“He suddenly appeared there one day, on the run from the magistrate. He was hiding in the thickets when the magistrate ran over in my direction. He asked if I had seen a criminal on the run, but I sent them in the opposite direction. I had probably just saved this man’s life.” Her eyes sparkled when she spoke about him. She continued with even more enthusiasm. “One time, when I was walking together with my chaperone, I saw him peeking out from behind one of the trees. He was watching me quietly, and when I saw him he brought his finger to his mouth so I wouldn’t shout. I wanted to call out to him, but I couldn’t. What would the chaperone say?”
I tried to stifle a laugh. The social norms from a just a few centuries ago had so little in common with modern times. Today you could spy on someone with just an Instagram account.
But I didn’t want to disturb the Baroness, so I did my best to suppress these thoughts and dove back in to her story.
“Suddenly a thought occurred to me – I decided to fake a fainting spell. As I lay helpless on the ground, the chaperone ran inside to get help. We were more than 3 kilometers from the manor, so I knew I had at least half an hour to meet with this outlaw before a carriage arrived to bring me back to the house. Juraj scrambled out from behind the tree and bounded over, asking if I was okay. I started to laugh as he joined me. We started talking and it seemed like we would never stop. You know, he…” suddenly she stopped, as she started to blush.
I understood what she wanted to say, that he was so thoughtful and nice. She was conditioned by life in such a completely different era that she was compelled to keep these thoughts to herself. Confessing these things seemed… immoral.
After a while, she got back to her story and also revealed that she continued secretly meeting Juraj Jánošik for months in the park, walking together and getting lost in discussion. Sometimes, he even dared to kiss her on the hand, and occasionally even on the cheek. The Baroness spoke about him as if he were a god.
“And then…” she began, pointing to the sheet of paper that she still clutched in her hands, “we started writing to each other. Juraj could write to me much more often than he could meet me for our walks. Wonderful letters, tugging at my heart that I cherished secretly and hid from the Baron. I spent countless hours here, in my writing room. Just look up,” she said, pointing at the ceiling. Four hearts stood out from all of the other decorations.
“I had them carve these hearts in honor of him, so that I would always remember him. If you speak to the director of the manor today, he’ll tell you that these hearts symbolize the legend of the love between the Baroness Révay and Juraj Jánošik. He can’t say whether this story is true or not, but these hearts, here in this room, supposedly offer some proof.”
I had chuckle. This legend wasn’t actually legend, but real!
“And then what happened?” I asked the young noblewoman. I knew something was coming.
“I loved Juraj, but I was still a married woman. And the old Baron had begun to suspect that something was going on. He found Juraj’s letters on the very same day that Juraj had planned to visit me. He beat me terribly – so badly that I thought I wasn’t going to survive. Juraj arrived at the last possible moment to stop him, but Révay called the magistrates over. I was afraid they’d kill him! But he fought them all off, and Révay decided that he’d rather lose me then venture into combat with this common criminal. Juraj picked me up in his arms and carried me further into the middle of park, to a small island in the middle of a pond. There, he tended to my wounds and cared for me. He saved my life.”
I was sitting at the edge of my seat in anticipation, but the Baroness paused her story. “And then?” I asked her eagerly.
“What else?” the young noblewoman crossed her arms and wrapped them around herself. “Then, there was nothing. I healed, Juraj continued his struggle, the Baron continued to be my lawful husband. Under the threat of death from Jánošik, he never touched me again, but he was still so repulsive to me – even more than before. My life was even lonelier than ever, and I missed Juraj terribly. His letters came less and less, and then…”
The story was too sad to even continue. It later came out that Juraj was hanged for his crimes. The Baroness’s love had no happy ending.
If this was the clue I had been searching for her, I wanted to cry. The only hope I had was that Romeo couldn’t die. Shakespeare was already dead, and he was the only one who could affect our destiny. So he’s got to be out there, lost somewhere in this huge, modern world, and I still had no idea where to start looking for him. The thought of my Romeo made me grow sad, so sad that the Baroness stood to comfort me.
“Don’t worry Julia, things will turn out alright,” she said. She put her letter down and took my hand. But then an interesting idea popped into her head, and she turned excitedly to ask: “have you tried writing him?”
I looked up at her, curious. “Write him?”
“Yes, write him,” the Baroness said it simply, as if it were a no big deal.
I was still looking back at her, uncertainty showing in my eyes. “But I don’t have his email or phone number. And I have no idea where he lives, or what his address is,” I countered.
“My dear…” smiled the Baroness, “I see that you’ve thoroughly adapted to modern times. What do you think, how did Juraj and I manage to write to each other? Do you think I knew where to send my letters?” Apparently I must have had a confused look on my face, so she continued. “Of course, I had no idea. And my messenger had no idea either. He was only tasked with finding Juraj.”
Aha. A messenger. Find him. Hmmm…
“So you just sent your letters out into the world?” I asked her. The Baroness nodded. I admit, it hadn’t occurred to me. I hadn’t known where to find Romeo for centuries, but what if a messenger could find him? What if a letter reached him faster than I ever could? A sheet of paper could still physically travel with a messenger, or at least a messenger could physically ask around for answers. Maybe someone, somewhere knows. Maybe somebody’s spotted him. This was a glimmer of hope. The Baroness was delighted, watching my spirits change right before her eyes, and stood up to pull out a piece of parchment, pen, and inkwell from a nearby table. Then, with no words, she left me alone in her writing room with a bright smile on her face.
Before I knew it, it was already late in the evening. I had written a lengthy letter to Romeo. I told him everything. Everything that I had wanted to say to him over the years, and I still wasn’t able to fit the whole story on the paper. But more importantly, I planned a place and time for us to meet. I know you’re curious. And no, I can’t tell you yet – it has to remain a secret for us, so that no one can interfere. Especially that stupid curse. When I had finally finished, I got up and started making my way back to Natalia. It was 11 o’clock and she was already asleep. I was so tired myself that I lay down and fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.
The following morning arrived quickly. I didn’t have anything planned, so I joined the Baroness for a walk around the park. She showed me the island where she had been with Juraj, and all of the trails where they had once crossed paths.
I gave her the letter for Romeo and she promised me she’d think of the right messenger to give it to. When I returned for dinner in the manor, Natalia was walking through the garden with the Director of the Manor House and helping decorate the wedding tent.
I stood behind her for a moment, but then I went down to the cellar to check out the wedding cakes and flowers. Oh those flowers! So beautiful…
I was standing with a mouthful of cake and one stolen rose. It was violet, of course. But give me a break, how could I resist? The bride would never notice, not with the treasure trove of food that was waiting for her and her guests. As I walked upstairs from the cellar, I nearly collided with a group of busy waiters. They were barreling down the stairs like the Orient Express, shuttling trays of cakes and baked goods up the stairs. Preparations were in full swing as the ceremony was soon to begin – the feast was to follow. If you’ve never seen a modern wedding behind-the-scenes, you’ve got to check it out! You’ll understand what a well-oiled machine looks like. The Director of the Manor House himself was running back and forth with a radio in one hand, going over the day’s script to make sure everything was going according to plan. Workers were radioing directions to each other from all over the estate as they moved items from the kitchen’s lift to the hall. Is the ice ready? Labels are set? Has the DJ arrived? Do the guests have something to drink? Are the candles lit? Has the photographer taken photos of the rooms and the decorations? The checklist was endless, but the results sure kept the guests smiling and unaware. They didn’t have to worry about anything – just come and join in this memorable celebration. While they were relaxing, the Manor House staff was hard at work. But trust me, I could see how much they were enjoying their work as they shuffled around, constantly laughing and smiling at each other. A great energy had seized the entire estate, and I was helpless but to enjoy it along with them. It was fantastic, this brief distraction from my endless search.
After the ceremony had finished and the guests had eaten their dinner in the beautifully decorated hall, I finally had a moment to breath and find my new human friend. We sat down together on the steps in the twilight, festive pinkish lights extending from the celebration. We discussed everything that had been a part of this hectic day – the estate, the Baroness, and the letter. We were happy to be in back each other’s company. We both finally had the chance to vent about the crazy day we had just had, our trials bring us closer together.
We were right in the middle of an important debate about something really unimportant when the heavy wooden doors below us creaked open and the stairs began to reverberate with footsteps. Ascending the spiral staircase was an unexpected visitor, someone we hadn’t seen before. However, when he appeared around the corner, the smile on his face made me freeze up instantaneously.
On the contrary, his smile spread wider across his face in all its complexity and nearly split his face in two.
“So here you are,” he said.
I took a deep breath and exhaled sharply in anger. Natalia looked at him, and then back to me.
“How did you find me?” I asked, my voice seething with anger.
The tall, thin man in a perfectly fitting suit pretended to be insulted and shook his head. “I suppose you’re not glad to see me, dear Juliet?”
“Exactly,” I let out through clenched teeth, “what do you want from me now?! Can’t you leave me in peace?!”
Natalia looked at me with a blank stare, until she could no longer hold back. “Who is this?” she blurted out.
The man looked over at the journalist in wonder. “She can see me??”
I guess Natalia had gotten used to the shock of discovering 400-year-old literary characters, and she coolly replied, “clearly.”
I didn’t pay her much attention and turned back to him. “So what do you want?!” I barked at him.
“Actually nothing, I was just stopping by to deliver this to you,” he smugly replied, still uncomfortable with the journalist’s special ability to see him as he handed me a small yellow envelope. I knew immediately what it was.
I turned back to my human friend and decided to relieve her curiosity.
“Natalia, let me introduce you to our unwanted guest. This is Paris.”