Bran Castle’s Unique Door Knocker and a Crocus Legend

Bran Castle's Unique Door Knocker and a Crocus Legend

There is a natural progression from the medieval Bran Castle with its unique brass door knocker in the shape of a queen’s head and the crocus legend.

Bran Castle’s Unique Door Knocker

The Bran Pass was long time one of the most important trade routs in Medieval times, between Asia, Moldavia, Wallachia, and further towards the Hungarian Kingdom and the West powers of Europe, and especially after the fall of Constantinople, after which the Ottoman Empire had full control over the Bosphorus strait, thus strangling in its unfaithful hand the sea trading of Venice and Genoa…

Bran Castle, a Unique Door Knocker, and crocus legend in Spring

Thus, the intent and the need arose for a fortress to be build, as the reinforcement of this geographic location was a necessity, military and economic. Military because the Bran Pass had the potential to also become an invasion route for the Turks, if ever they were to advance northward through the Carpathian Mountains…

As they did.

A deed was issued on 19 November 1377 by Louis the Great (or Louis the Hungarian, from the house of Anjou), and this deed gave the population of Brasov (then Corona) the rights to build a stone fortress at Bran: “of their own endeavors, and at their own expense.’ A rather important note, as it reinforces the local’s rights over their fortress.

The Anjou family was involved in the initial building of Corvin Castle, Transylvania.

Bran Castle's Unique Door Knocker and a Crocus Legend, Thursday Doors

A little over half a millennium later, on 1st December 1920, the people of Brasov donate the Bran Citadel to Queen Mary of Romania:

“We, the Town Council of Brasov… hereby unanimously decide in today’s festive meeting to bequeath to Her Majesty Queen Mary of Greater Romania the ancient castle of Bran, so laden with memories of our history.”

Queen Marie of Romania, also known as Marie of Edinburgh, was the daughter of Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh and Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna of Russia. Thus, she was granddaughter of Queen Victoria and of Tsar Alexander II of Russia. Marie married Crown Prince Ferdinand of Romania, thus giving up her place in line at the Crown of Great Britain. She was ‘lovely, with sparkling blue eyes’, he was ‘shy but amiable’.

Build on a rocky cliff, Bran Castle is, and crocuses will naturally bloom nearby.

A Crocus Legend for Spring

(This is an edited extract from my second WIP, 36 806 words in today, and a great progress during the past weeks).

‘Once upon a time,’ he says, ‘one upon a time there lived two sisters. And they were kind as they were spirited, and beautiful as they were hard-working.’
All I can do is stare at his hand, at the Autumn Crocus in his hand. It blooms a smile… By its pale mauve petals with their white center I recognize the Violet Queen.
‘Were they two princesses?’ I say.
He sucks his breath. ‘Could be, but I think they were just two girls.’
‘Like me,’ I say.
‘Like you,’ his eyes say. ‘But their mother had died, and soon enough their father remarried. And the stepmother did not like the two sisters, not one bit. So,’ he added quickly, knowing that I will open my mouth and add to his story, ‘so, he sent the one of them away. Chased her away. In autumn. It wasn’t enough for the wicked step mother and,’ he added quickly again, ‘soon enough, the following spring, she chased the other sister away. Alas, the two girls never saw each other again, and missed one another so much. No matter how far they searched, how many people they asked, couldn’t find each other. After their timely death God turned His face towards them and transformed them both into flowers, crocuses. That bloom often in the same space, yet one in autumn,’ and his right hand slides forward, offering me the Autumn Crocus, and one in spring.’ His left hand surfaces. It holds a piece of parchment he must have taken from the printing press where he helps at night. It is folded and his gesture beckons me to open it. I do so gently, as one would unswaddle a baby. And I find a perfect Spring Crocus, its pale violet still intact, but translucent, preserved in its papery cloak. It appears to be sleeping. I dare not touch its petals, so thin they are.
‘So they can finally be together,’ he ends his story, ‘in death.’

Copyright © Patricia Furstenberg. All Rights Reserved.

thursday doors, 100 words story

Thursday Doors is a blog feature everyone can take part in, hosted by Dan Antion over at No Facilities – where you can discover more doors from around the world.

As always, discover my books on Amazon.

Bear And Travelers, A Killer Fable On Bare Friendship

Bear And Travelers, A Killer Fable On Bare Friendship

If you ever plan on going in a journey, make sure you do so with true friends, warns us ‘The Bear and the Travelers’, a timeless fable here retold for its killer advice on always considering the bare bones of a friendship.

The Bear and the Travelers, a fable

Once upon a time, when wild animals roamed the forests in peace and people mostly kept to their villages and, when forced to travel, they did so only by horse, donkey or cart… once upon a time two lads, still wet behind their ears but eager to see the world, decided to travel together. They were good friends, they could swear by it, so they started their journey relying on one another – for fun, for encouragement, and for safety.

The path ahead appeared clear, bordered by grass and flowers, winding only near streams and shady trees. It felt soft to step on it.

The two young men were merry, their journey easy. Chatting and laughing, not noticing when the path had turned narrow, stony, and that in places only one traveler at a time could step ahead. Yet they joked still, laughed, and took turns to go first. Here and there now stood a lone tree with little shade, but mostly shrubs by now.

And the path had turned hard and felt stony underfoot. Didn’t matter, for they were two at it, two friends.

Soon enough they entered the forest; dark, cool, and quiet. So quiet, that even the lads – although happy for its shade – had stopped laughing, and they had stopped chatting too. They just looked around, listened to tiny noises. What was that? A branch snapping underneath their foot? Or something else… What? Where? And they kept near one another.

They had only taken a few steps inside the shady wood when, all of a sudden, a huge bear fell on them. Jumping out of nowhere, crashing branches with his strong arms, scratching off the tree bark with his sharp, long claws. Roaring that it echoed to the end of the forest, and back again.

Bear And Travelers, A Killer Fable On Bare Friendship

‘Grrrr!’

And louder.

‘Grrrrrr!!’

The lads froze. At first. Then one of the boys, thinking first and foremost of his own safety, climbed the nearest tree. And before he knew it, before the bear could even spot him, he was up, as agile as a monkey.

And just as shameful. He did not look for his friend, left on the ground.

The second boy, not as good at climbing trees for this is not part of the human nature, found himself standing alone to face the fierce black, furry giant. For this is how the bear appeared to him, waving his forearms, shaking his head, and growling, ‘grrrr,’ spit landing everywhere. Even on the boy’s cheek. Yet he dare not wipe it off. He dare not move a muscle.

If he could have stopped his heart from beating, he would have gladly done so.

For what else could he do? When he suddenly remembered his grandfather’s advice: not to look the beast into the eyes, but to fall to the ground and lay still. As if dead. ‘For bears,’ he could still hear his grandfather’s low voice, and he could still see his eyes sparkling from behind bushy, grey eyebrows, ‘for bears are not clever beasts, although they might look fierce. And they are might strong. But clever, they are not, and can easily be tricked.’

So the second boy let himself drop to the ground where tried his best to lie very still. As if dead.

‘For bears are not scavengers. They do not feast on dead animals,’ his grandfather had said next.

Once again, his grandfather’s words proved golden for the bear ceased growling, fell on all four legs, and looked at the hip of a boy on the ground. He turned his head left, then right, then took a step forward – making sure he’s not too close either (big animals are not as brave as they seem, you know?) – and from a safe distance sniffed at the boy. Then the bear took another step – the boy could hear all this, although his eyes were closed tight – sniffed again and, appearing convinced that a dead body indeed lay in front of him, turned away slowly, for he was a heavy bear who took his time, and walked away.

The forest closed behind the bear, and soon all was silent. None of the boys dare speak and they stood like that, one up in the tree, the other flat on the ground, until they heard the first bird song. And knew all was safe.

The first boy, the one that had climbed the tree, was the first to jump to the ground.

He looked around, listening, his heart hammering in his ears, ready to climb back up should the bear return.

Finally, he turned to his friend who was just brushing the leaves off his clothes. He did not ask him how he was, nor did he explained his rushed and coward gesture. Instead, he laughed, yet not staring his friend in the eyes.

‘Say, that was some bear! Chatty too. It looked as if he whispered something in your ear. What was it?’

The second boy had just finished patting himself all over and was now adjusting his travel bag. Only when he was done did he caught his friend’s shifty stare and smiled.

‘The bear said that it was most ill-advised of me to travel with someone who is a friend just by name, but not by his deeds, for, look, he had deserted me at the first moment of danger.’

Moral of the story:

Mishap is the test of true friendship.

The BLT, the Bear, the Lion and the Tiger

The BLT, the Bear, the Lion and the Tiger is a picture book inspired by true life events, the real friendship between a BEAR, a LION and a TIGER.

Read more fables and animal stories on my blog here.

The Time Merchant, Fiction in A Flash Challenge 2021, week 42

time merchant fiction flash

The Time Merchant follows the story-line of Ferris Wheel (1), Two of a Kind (2), and A Ride in the Hot Air Balloon (3), my contribution to fiction in a flash challenge week 42 based on the image prompt provided by Author Suzanne Burke.

The Time Merchant (4)

Dangling above the abyss, at the end of a rope, the man felt thankful that it was not tied around his neck. He would have been dead by now. And angered, for he was tied up like a cocoon and could do nothing about it, except talk.

When the picture slid down the cord and slapped his face – why everything slapped him lately? – his first reaction was to protect his eyes so he twisted his head till it cracked. Due to the human skin’s elasticity, the neck should be twisted 360 degrees twice before it comes off completely, his mind offered. But that still won’t free me.

‘Remember her?’ words rolled over his head.

‘I can’t see the picture. It’s too close to my eyes. Can’t focus!’ He dangled himself, throwing his head further back, sweat building around his receding hairline, the cord sneaking tense overhead, creaking like the voice of death in his childhood’s fairy-tales… Yet the picture, secured by a carabiner, remained glued to his face.

Despite the freezing air a trickle of sweat rolled down his temple and itched. Scratch and die.

Not his nature. He angled his head the opposite way and used the photograph to scratch his itch. It envenomed it.

Lead negotiations with a clear mind. Fresh air all around, teased his brain.

The man dangling from the rope suspended from a hot air balloon by a woman wearing a caviar-beige Channel gown and perfume, a woman with whom he shared a passion for bird-watching, that man decided to take control over his situation.

He parted his lips and made a whooshing sound expelling the little air left in his lungs. Sealing his lips he inhaled slowly counting to four, held his breath, and exhaled taking double the time. Repeated twice will have to suffice loosen his anger, allowing him further decisions with a clear mind. Time was of the essence.

‘I want to remember her, but I must see her face. And I can’t, not tied up like this,’ he spoke up.

Only the wind whooshed around, slapping the picture against his cheek, slap-slap-slap. He made no attempt to protect himself. Was his voice strong enough to carry his words? His self-assurance?

The rope groaned overhead.

He lowered his tone to the pitch of a mellow cello, ‘I want to offer you answers. You deserve them. She deserves them. For the sake of the time we shared bird-watching -‘

‘Leave that out!’

He angled his approach.

‘How long ago have you lost her?’

‘Too long to count.’

‘Was she related to you?’

‘She was my baby sister and you took her away from me! Why her?’

So many reasons that didn’t make sense anymore…

‘Let’s work out a plan so I can see her face and offer you the answers you long for. You still want to know, don’t you?’

‘NO. I’ll give you her name.’

Too many names… complained his mind, but he kept that to himself.

‘Blanche-Rose,’ she said in an agonising whisper.

Had he heard it or his mind had groped for the rolling consonants? He remembered that name, and he remembered the sweet face framed by ringlets, and the earnest, hopeful look in her eyes when she had asked him for more time. Just a little bit more time.

Now it was his turn to ask for time.

time merchant, fiction flash
Clock image by Marka Merka, Unsplash

‘It is a lengthy story. We need to sit for you to understand what happened,’ he called.

The sun was shining in his eyes by now and he began to feel like a pig on a spit. Above his head, the rope cried and cracked. How much longer will it support his weight? All that aged whiskey gone to waste…

‘There is nothing more for you to tell me! I was lost when she disappeared, confused and hopeless as if a part of myself had been torn… I blamed myself for not trying harder, I was angry at the world, I lost friends, I lost a life, my life, as I had lost hers… I prayed, and I vouched that I will not stop till I find the one, the one responsible for her disappearance. For her… death.

‘She is NOT dead! I don’t kill, I sell time. Time people need to fulfill that ONE dream. Time for THAT illicit love affair. Time to do with as THEY please. I am the Time Merchant. Now, do you know how to land this thing?’

‘What? NO, I don’t!’

Copyright © Patricia Furstenberg. All Rights Reserved.

Hello everyone and welcome to the “Fiction in A Flash Challenge!” Each week Author Suzanne Burke will feature an image and invites everyone to write a Flash Fiction or Non-Fiction piece inspired by that image in any format and genre of your choosing.  Maximum word count: 750 words. Suzanne runs a great blog as well as authoring many exciting books. WECOME TO THE WORLD OF SUZANNE BURKE

Who Are the Hounds of Kruger National Park

who are the hounds of Kruger National Park

If you ask yourself who are the hounds of Kruger National Park – where rhinos and hippos, wild dogs, impalas and zebras, crying cheetahs, slithering snakes, and other African animals live – know that these dogs are an ultra special K9 unit trained to protect the wildlife of Kruger National Park especially the rhinos, against poachers.

Once upon a time, as late as the last Ice Age, the woolly rhino roamed as far as Europe. At the beginning of the 20th century only 500 000 rhinos were left in Africa and Asia. Today, only 27 000 rhinos are left in the wild, says WWF.
Out of the 20 000 white rhinos and 5 000 critically endangered black rhinos still living on the African continent, approximately 80 percent are found in South Africa.

But the situation is dire as here, in sunny South Africa, between 2008 and 2018 over 8 000 rhinos were poached in nature reserves such as Kruger National Park – that conveniently borders Zimbabwe and Mozambique making it easy for the illegal huntsmen to escape law.

Whenever a rhino is poached its horn will reach the smugglers in Asia in the blink of an eye, all the middle men taking their hefty profit… while its carcass is left to rot under the African sun where it first saw the light of day.

That’s why the free-running hounds of Kruger National Park entered the wildlife scene. But who are these dogs?

Who Are the Hounds of Kruger National Park?

They are beagles, short-haired pointers, bloodhounds, spaniels, German Shepherds, and Malinois (the same Malinois who make great military working dogs), and other breeds of hounds, but what they all have in common is their passion for following the trail, their love for chase, the stamina, and their deadly… olfactory abilities.
For these free-running hounds catching the scent (meaning following it till they seize it – and apprehend the poacher) is a way of life. Is what’s on their mind when they get up in the morning, and what they dream of while they nap.

In their spacious, open-air pens – where they are kept for protection against the African beasts as well as to restrict them from going on a wild chase on their own, out of too much excitement – you almost never see them laying down to rest. They are either standing, alert as soon as their handlers approach, springs of pent-up canine energy with focused eyes, pointy ears and quivering noses, or sleeping in blissful exhaustion after a day of training or poacher-hunting.

They say if you love them, let them go… Let them catch the scent. Let them run.

amazing dogs from history, dogs who changed it - Who Are the free-running dogs of Kruger National Park

These pack dogs are like this, chasing together over any kind of tricky landscape at 40km per hour, while each one longs to be the first to reach the target. And if they don’t, when another hound is first to lounge at the petrified, cornered insurgent, baying and barking in a spray of foamy drool, they still feel the same thrill and celebrate the group effort and the shared victory with a song of yipping and howling, and a storm of wagging tails. A chorus of shared joy for a job well done, the capture, and not in the least to celebrate a planned slaughter… For these free-running hounds the chase is what fills their heart, and what their hearts beat for.

They bolt from their shelters after a feint scent, even a couple of hours old, race across the golden African plains, often under an unforgiving sun, speed past herds of undisturbed impala and fierce wildebeest, dart through thickets, dodge thorny Acacias, and jump over fiery termite mounds. On and on they run, their eyes focused through a tunnel-like field of scent that only their noses can pick up. The scent of the poacher, and it pulls them like a magnet. The stronger it gets, the faster the hounds chase and the louder they cry – even after a 15 kilometers chase – as if they are one with it until they get their fill, and the target is apprehended. Before it reached the border, and made it for freedom.

The triumph is always shared, as are the yips and barks, the signals they send to one another during the chase, the cries indicating that they’re on the right track and they are making good time, as the scent gets stronger. Shared are their meals too, the lengthy walks meant to relax and keep in shape, and the sleeping quarters.
But mostly, these free tracking dogs share the mind-set to bring it all together. Each time.
Affectionate towards their human handlers, fearsome when following a poacher’s scent.
They are like a platoon of Marines fighting not rebels but poachers (in Kruger National Park) or escaped prison inmates (in Texas, USA, where they were first introduced.)

the ultra special k( unit of Kruger National Park who protects the rhinos

In the Kruger National Park these dogs form a K-9 unit fitted with GPS collars that tracks the poachers and scares them to death into a tree, where the field rangers make the arrest, while all the time being supervised by aerial pilots (to drive off dangerous predators or shoot before a poacher starts a gun fight.)

Why free-running hounds? Because no human can keep up with a hound dog chasing a scent on a leash, both exhausting themselves too soon – the human from sheer racing exertion, the dog from tracing a scent while dragging a clumsy human on a leash.

Before the first free-running hounds were introduced in the Kruger National Park (from ‘Texas Canine Tracking and Recovery’ USA), an average of 3 to 5 percent of poachers were caught. The rate increased to 54 percent with the aid of the K-9 unit.

With a bit of luck and a lot of hard work our grandchildren might get the chance to see rhinos in their natural habitat. I do ask myself, though, if it is fair towards these free-running dogs. But dogs are happy being with their humans, happy when chasing a laugh and the wind together… Dogs stood by our right side, right side of our hearts, from immemorable times. To take care of us.

“Early in the morning as the sun comes up
And heat and war engulfs the land,
A man and his dog walk side by side
And know that none is all alone.”

Patricia Furstenberg, The Soldier and his Dog

South Africa is not the only country in Africa to fight rhino poachers. Kenya does too and part of their dogs forming the elite K9 unit are trained in Suffolk, UK. The Kenyan Ol Pejeta Conservancy is home to 144 rhinos. Ol Pejeta prides itself that none of its animals have been poached since 2018. The hard work of the free-running dogs pays off.

Some book links!

Books by Patricia Furstenberg on Amazon

Discover The Cheetah and the Dog on Amazon.
Die Jagluiperd en die Hond (Afrikaans Edition) on Amazon.
Der Gepard und der Hund (German Edition) on Amazon.

Table Mountain and the Legend of the Querulous Giant who Blasted the Cape Sea Route Free

Table Mountain Cape Sea Route

For nearly four centuries the Giant of Table Mountain watched over the only Cape Sea Route connecting the Mediterranean Sea, past Cape Town, South Africa, with the Indian Ocean.

Table Mountain and the Legend of the Querulous Giant Adamastor

Ancient Greece was not only a time where culture and philosophy flourished but a time of great tales too. Such were the Greek Myths, stories about gods, goddesses, and their daily rituals. According to the ancient Greeks, Uranus, meaning sky or heaven, was their greatest god, and his wife was Gaea, or Gaia, meaning land, or earth. Uranus and Gaia had many children, some being the twelve Titans who ruled the earth. One of the Titans was Cronus, who later fathered Zeus…

Zeus, eventually, with the aid of two of his brothers, Poseidon and Hades, won the war against the Titans – which were rather tyrannical uncles – and banished them to three places around the world. One such place was the dark and gloomy underworld of Tartarus. The second place was a British Island in the far west, probably the Outer Hebrides, or the Island of Strangers, or even Western Isles, in Scotland. The third place, where poor, old Adamastor was imprisoned, was situated at the southern end of the world,  at Table Mountain.

Although… Adamastor appears to be a mythological character created much later, and by the Portuguese poet Luís Vaz de Camões who lived in the 16th century and is, to this day, considered the Portuguese language’s greatest poet. Still, let’s hear his account as it explains superbly how the Cape of Storms, or Cape of Good Hope, near the southern tip of the Cape Peninsula (located in today’s Western Cape province of South Africa), received its name.

So, back to Adamastor, restricted under Table Mountain…

After a few hundred years of being locked away Adamastor was feelings rather bored. There he was, a strong giant once leading a busy life, now confined to a small stony place covered with shrubs and fynbos… not even mighty trees! So Adamastor, to give some purpose to his days, decided to take action and do something good: protect! Yet guard not only the area where he’s been locked up but the entire continent of Africa.

Table Mountain Cape Sea Route, Departure of fleet from Lisbon harbor by Theodor de Bry, 1592
Departure of fleet from Lisbon harbor by Theodor de Bry, 1592

This was around the time when the Portuguese navigators first sailed along the west coast of Africa all the way down… and Adamastor saw them arriving, out of the corner of his eye. He grunted but said nothing, did nothing, just kept an eye on them as one would with naughty children. Waiting for the navigators to do something wrong, and knowing well that they will. The Portuguese sailed on; busy on their route that took them for the first time through these foreign seas, further south they floated, approaching the southernmost tip of Africa. Adamastor said nothing, again, but grunted, rumbled and crossed his arms, I am watching you, and a strong wind swelled the Atlantic Ocean. Still, the navigators kept sailing on, their sails swelling with the gale, their ships angled. When they eventually attempted to approach the land, for fresh water, fresh fruits and maybe some eggs too, Adamastor had had it. He coughed and he puffed so much, that the waters of the Atlantic AND the Indian Ocean swelled, especially along the line where they meet, by the southernmost tip of Africa.

So Bartolomeu Dias, the first Portuguese sailor to attempt sailing down the west coast of Africa, around its tip and up its east coast, towards India – to buy the precious spices (ginger, black pepper, nutmeg, clover – the great Bartolomeu Dias dared not sail further, but turned back his ships and set his compass to home.

It was but a few years later when another Portuguese navigator, Vasco da Gama, showed no fear. He had seen the storm approaching, so he thought, really hard, what he can do next. He weighed his options. Run for cover, or head out to open water for some sea room? If he ran for cover, the preferred choice, the danger lied in being caught in the storm closer to shore, with no room to maneuver or runoff. Smashed against the rocky shored he could end. But if he sailed away, towards the open ocean, he could very well sail towards the middle of the storm.

So when Adamastor raised the winds, Vasco da Gama lowered his sails. When Adamastor swelled the waves, da Gama kept speeding on, aiming for flat spots of sea between the giant breakers, all the time making sure he kept the land to his left, staying on his initial course of rounding the Cape.

Da Gama did a great battle with Adamastor. Storm after storm Adamastor threw at the Portuguese ships, terrifying the sailors who were already scared for they had reached the dreaded Cape of Storms and were nearing the place where Dias had given up. And although his sailors were ready to cut a deal bargain with Adamastor, Da Gama wanted to prove that he was not Dias, and he was not superstitious either.

Table Mountain Cape Sea Route, Cape Point, southernmost tip of Africa
Cape Point, southernmost tip of Africa, photo by Clayton Cardinalli, Unsplash

But Da Gama was clever, not only brave and stubborn. He promised Adamastor a better name for his southernmost rocky spot, one that will bring more visitors over, thus increasing Adamastor’s kingdom. He shall name it the Cape of Good Hope.

Finally, a deal was struck and Da Gama sailed past and reached India, thus establishing the first sailing route there from Europe, the Cape Sea Route. And Adamastor got his large kingdom, to protect.

The Cape Sea Route below Table Mountain after the Suez Canal opened

The Cape Sea Route was in high demand until 1869 when the opening of the Suez Canal provided a much shorter route from the Mediterranean Sea to the Indian Ocean, thus rendering the long trip around Africa inefficient… Until the Ever Given cargo ship, a 400 meters long Megaship, got stuck in the Suez Canal due to strong winds (perhaps it was Adamastor?) and a sandstorm and blocked the Suez Canal in Egypt, when it ran aground diagonally on March 23rd 2021.

Etymology: The name Adamastor is an adaptation in Portuguese of the Greek word for “Untamed” or “Untameable” (Adamastos) (which the Portuguese did tame eventually).

Fynbos, a small belt of natural shrub-land or heath-land vegetation located in the Western Cape and Eastern Cape provinces of South Africa.

I hope you enjoyed my tale about Table Mountain and the Legend of the Querulous Giant who Blasted the Cape Sea Route Free.

Discover more legends and read about Cape Town and about a beloved Great Dane, the first dog to be enlisted in the Royal Navy during World War Two, in my book Joyful Trouble (available as an eBook, paperback, large print and hardcover).

Joyful Trouble, military dog WW2 novel