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Friday, January 28, 2022
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In his 62 years Jack had traveled rather widely: sight-seeing trips to Europe, adventurous treks through the Yukon, the Alps, and the Rhone Valley, family expeditions across the US Continental Divide and sunny drives down the Pacific Coast Highway. He’d seen strange places and even stranger people in his time. But nothing really compared to the unusual encounter that took Jack by surprise two years ago on an outbound flight to Israel. On that startling occasion Jack came face to face with a fellow passenger who happened to be both an honest-to-goodness Jewish-American princess (Archduchess to be exact) and an heiress of the infamous Romanian, Vlad the Impaler (that’s Dracula to you).

As outlandish and unbelievable as this may seem, everything that happened to Jack in this story is true; he swears to it and I never question Jack.

On this particular occasion, Jack boarded a United Airlines direct flight from Newark to Tel Aviv by himself. He was traveling solo because his dearly beloved had to stay home to prepare for their son’s wedding later in the month. He had lost the debate and, so, if he wanted to go it would be by himself or not at all! He had picked a seat on the right side of the center seating area in the business first-class cabin. He was quite prepared for the 10-hour-long flight, the noisy humming of the engines, and, quite particularly, the comfortable bed his cushioned, convertible chair would transform itself into. Upon boarding the aircraft, he had located his seat, 6D, easily, lifted his hand luggage into the open bin above his head and quickly sat down on his pillow and blanket to permit later arrivals to attend to their needs. There was only one thing he still needed to do and so he politely asked the nearest cabin attendant to bring him some water so he could take an overdue dose of medicine. The requested water arrived in a moment and was placed on the raised armrests between Jack’s seat and the adjoining seat.

At the same moment, a tall woman with very pale skin and dark, straight hair that framed her face stopped at seat 6E to claim her place on the flight. She caught Jack’s attention by her efficient movements, her rapid actions in preparing for takeoff, arranging her hand luggage overhead and below in record time. Just as she prepared to sit down, however, Jack moved his left arm to reach for the cup of water and knocked it over. The contents spilled out in the direction of the woman who was able to avoid getting drenched by her quick reactions. Jack rose to wipe off the spill, aided by a towel that was provided him; he apologized to the woman twice for his clumsiness and in a moment or two everything was under control. The incident allowed Jack to introduce himself to his neighbor, strike up a conversation (during which he apologized a third time for nearly spilling water on the woman) and to inquire about the object of her trip to Israel.

“I was born in Israel; I’m going to visit my mother in Holon. My sister lives near my mother; I try to visit her every year…My mother is nearly 90 years old and has slowed down a bit…I’ve lived in America for many years.”

The woman also told Jack that her husband was an architect and her daughter a young lawyer who worked in the entertainment industry. Jack recounted his “life story,” a rehearsed tale that took several minutes to complete. The woman seemed interested in what Jack was saying, but he felt she was holding something back.

After another moment or two, Jack and the woman turned from their conversation toward their own affairs: Jack arranging his dinner tray and the woman turning off her electronic devices.

A half hour passed as a light dinner was served. Jack ate his kosher meal while the woman ordered from the regular menu. After the attendants deftly cleared away the last dishes, utensils, and packaging materials in which his meal had been wrapped, Jack raised his serving tray and sat back to relax. The woman suddenly addressed him.

“You know I am a princess,” she said.

Jack was taken aback for a moment.

“Really? That’s very interesting. Exactly what do you mean?” he countered.

“My husband, Roderic, is an heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Our family name is Lothringen-Habsburg. I am his second wife.”

Jack was a student of history and he knew much about the former empire that had collapsed after World War I. He had also studied at university the detailed honor codes of that empire and the duty to defend one’s honor by dueling if challenged. All he could think of as the princess spoke to him was that he had nearly spilled a cup of water on a royal Habsburg princess in circumstances that would have required him to fight a duel had any Austro-Hungarian soldier witnessed the event.

The princess continued:

“There are many heirs to the imperial throne last held by Franz Joseph. My husband is actually 40th in line to the throne. Also, since I am a commoner, our children don’t count in the succession and my titles won’t be inherited by the children.”

The princess spoke for another ten minutes, describing in detail what life was like when the “royal family” got together on annual occasions. She then spoke of her mother-in-law for the first time:

“Roderic’s mother was a royal princess of Romania, actually heiress to the throne of that kingdom. When the Communists took the country over in 1947 they confiscated all the royal property and the family went into exile. In 2006, the new Romanian government welcomed my husband and me back to the country and restored most of our holdings.”

At this point, Jack felt somewhat honored that the princess was comfortable in telling him her story in such detail, but his eyes were getting heavy and the time had come to get some rest.

“All of this is fascinating,” he finally said to end their conversation.

Before he could fall asleep, Jack decided to confirm the princess’s story through an Internet search. His iPad came in very useful for this purpose. Rapidly, he found Roderic Lothringen among the heirs to the Austro-Hungarian throne, but he was also the ousted heir of the Kingdom of Lombardy in northwest Italy, as well as the heir, through his mother, to the throne of the Kingdom of Romania. “Quite a celebrity!” Jack thought. One particular item, however, caught Jack’s eye. Bran Castle, that family property overlooking Brasov that had been returned to Roderic and his princess bride in 2006, had a famous previous owner, none other than Count Dracula of Transylvania. Apparently, Bran Castle was one of three castles ruled by Dracula while he ran roughshod over the population in medieval times. Jack soon found online pictures of the Archduke and his wife–Jack’s neighbor–at the 2006 ceremony at the castle. Jack concluded that the occupant of seat 6E was indeed a princess, as she had claimed, a Jewish princess!

Jack drifted off to sleep without shutting off his ipad. Soon he began to dream misty dreams of a verdant countryside, a valley filled with glistening vines, wooly sheep, and friendly, smiling farmers. Looming darkly above the valley stood a castle, sandstone in color with red-roofed eaves atop its turrets and towers. Jack found himself moving inexorably toward the castle and suddenly found himself inside a somewhat narrow, dimly lit corridor decorated with ancient wall paintings. He heard the shuffling of feet and before him appeared a caped figure, face shrouded in darkness. Jack ran away from the figure who followed quickly behind him. Jack ran faster still, but the caped figure continued to gain on him. Around one last turn, Jack found himself at a large, oaken door. There was no escape. The figure edged towards him, bent forward, and Jack let out a shriek and all was dark.

Jack awoke to the gentle shaking of the steward.

“Are you all right sir? You let out a scream so I ran over to see if you were all right. You were probably having a nightmare.”

“I think I’m okay,” Jack offered. He sighed. “Wow, everything was so real.”

Jack looked around the cabin and noticed that the crew had been offering light beverages to the passengers. He must have been sleeping for a while since they had already passed his seat. Something made Jack glance to his left. He turned to see the princess sipping what he believed to be tomato juice. Jack turned away hurriedly. He couldn’t even glance at the princess for the rest of the trip. At the end of the flight Jack and the princess exchanged the briefest of farewells, after which Jack rushed off the aircraft without looking back.

© 2014 Redmont Tales

By Joseph Rotenberg

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