Read the opening pages of Silent Heroes by Patricia Furstenberg

The simplest way to enjoy coffee? Pair it with an interesting book.

‘Although this is a work of fiction there are truths to it that will tug at your heart. For anyone who has not read one of Patricia’s books then I would recommend this one. ‘ Mandie Griffiths, Book Reviewer

‘Wisdom is threaded throughout Silent Heroes. This novel is an intense, evocative and heart-wrenching narrative of destruction and hope. There is a philosophical exploration of the fragility of human life and the consequences of power struggles.’ Amazon Reader

‘I recommend that if you are unfamiliar with why and how the young men and women of our armies are involved in this conflict, that you read Silent Heroes.’ Sally Cronin, Author, Goodreads Review

Silent Heroes, When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting For, is the new novel by Patricia Furstenberg, the author of Amazon Bestseller Joyful Trouble.

How far would you go to save strangers in need? Military Dogs risk their life for their humans in a heartbeat, but can soldiers do the same when personal struggles and global affairs defy humanity?
When Taliban raids an Afghan village and discovers that girls can read, a woman accepts the blame to save the community. Her teenage daughter witnesses the sacrifice swearing revenge, her own life and that of her brother becoming intertwined with those of the Marines serving at a nearby military base.
Led by Captain Marcos who conceals, under a cool appearance, a lifelong disability, the solid team of soldiers is faced with the trauma of losing platoon-mates, both human and canine, with PTSD and with becoming estranged from families left behind.
When the Marines are instructed to accept a mysterious young Afghan as their guide the humanity of local population they come in contact with raises questions about the necessity of war. It is a race against time, fending off the Taliban lurking at the ancient Qala-e-Bost fortress and defending Bost Airport, a vital strategic point for the allies, while saving the kidnapped civilians at the same time.

Silent Heroes, When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting For – read the opening lines

“‘They’re coming!’ were the words synonym with death for the few wretched souls still calling Nauzad Village home.

In the far distance war cry, still a rumble clouded in dust, swept along the eastern snowy slope of the Hindu Kush Mountains in an avalanche of hoofs. As it neared the hamlet it expanded and conquered its deserted streets, amplified by dark, bearded men waving Kalashnikovs above their heads, thirsty for blood.

Those who have heard it before knew it brought terror and death. Those who have met them before remembered the reek of slaughter that seeped through their long robes, the wild beards that swelled from underneath their flat hats, pakols, revealing gap-toothed jaws. Even those too young to comprehend, the tots born after the last grown men of our village left for war, shrank from their sight.

They were the Taliban soldiers who dwelled in our mountains.

Their sulphur stench yanked us, women and children, from behind the fake safety of mud walls. It was execution time again.

A young woman stood in the door frame of a modest hut, holding herself tall in an attempt to shield her young brother who, transfixed, watched as a cloud of menacing smoke tumbled along the mountain slope, thundering and calling ‘Allāhu akbar’, ‘Allah is great.’ The same praise women sang, with tear-stained eyes, whenever a healthy new-born arrived into the world.

Her mother still called her ‘girl’, although she had already passed the threshold to womanhood. But a girl would still fit in her mother’s arms where she would be protected. A girl would not be expected to obey and cover herself with a burqa and a girl would not be forced to cease her learning because she is over a certain age.

A second woman, with eagle eyes and a guarded attitude, materialized behind her. Adjusting her hijab over her head, she kept to the shadows, yanking the young one inside. Only her hooded, dark brown eyes spoke. There was distress in them and a prophecy, words to be whispered, but words no one else was allowed to hear.

Between their skirts, a skinny boy of eight moved along. The girl, Emma Dil, meaning ‘Dil ki khawahish’, ‘Heart’s Wish’, was thus named to illustrate her father’s pride in having a girl as their firstborn, instead of a boy. His heart’s wish. The same honour had glinted in their mother’s eyes the night their father joined the fight against the Afghan insurgents in the never-ending war versus the Taliban; knowing it might cost them his life.

‘Come inside, my heart. It must be done. We must hurry, hurry,’ the second woman said, her voice in check, yet Emma Dil’s strung nerves picked the rise in pitch, its agony and anguish. The mother pulled Emma indoors and bolted the door, sealing out most of the light. A gleam of steel in the mother’s right hand caught the last rays of the sun. Hugging her daughter one last time the mother pulled the little boy between them, her free hand soft and warm on Emma’s wet cheek. The girl filled her lungs with the familiar scent of faded rose petals she had associated with love and safety all her life, knowing it was the last time she would. The three of them lingered in their embrace, the girl holding her breath, willing time to stop. Yet, three heartbeats later, the mother pulled away.

‘Rafik, my clever boy, my pride, take your flying legs and run like the wind to the neighbouring village. Warn them.’ Her eyes urged him. ‘They’ve come again,’ she added. Her work-worn hand lingered on his face, cupping his childish cheek one more time. His eyes gleamed, his body wired up, ready to please. However his mother’s hand stayed on his face, drawing him closer for one more kiss. The woman pulled him near her chest while urging him to g0. ‘Run, child, run!’

Once he was out through the back door, the woman turned towards the girl with dead eyes and scissors at the ready. ‘Swear, my girl. No one must ever find out.’

~~~

As a culmination of each one of their raids, the Taliban troops would round us all in the dusty centre of the village. My brother and I would always try to obstruct our mother’s presence. But today it was only me so I tried to square my shoulders.

My aunt and her three daughters nestled themselves against us, eyes cast down, and the young ones shaking like leaves, counting their heartbeats. ‘One – alive. Two – alive. Three – alive.’ The small one wet herself.

I never understood why we were held at gunpoint by men speaking the same language, only crazed for power, thirsty to kill in the name of Islam. Throwing menacing looks their black eyes, creased, glare from behind filthy headdresses they yanked over their faces as soon as they stormed into a village.

Mother said such questions were not to be uttered, but maybe – just maybe – raised in the back of my mind when I was alone in our bedchamber.

Then their leader would arrive, dressed in black pants and a black, long shirt, the traditional shalwar kameez. Wickedness personified.

‘Allah is great!’ They’d all yell. ‘May Allah give Davron a long life!’ They’d welcome him. It was a call for joy. It was also a call to sentence us – innocent or not.

This time, they found enough proof to kill another one of us, all in the name of Islam. A child or a woman had broken a law. Their bloodlust and fanaticism in reinforcing their dominance over us knew no limits. To them, self-imposed soldiers of the religious police, the Islam law stood above human life.

In the middle of the dirt and in front of us all, landed a tattered book. A small cloud of dust rose as the book touched the ground. Its pages opened by themselves to the part most enjoyed – a line drawing of a world map. In its middle, someone had penned, in blue ink, a little star. It marks Afghanistan’s place on the map. The small star on a two-page chart showed how big it is, this world we are all a part of. Such a promising world, a world I often dreamed of. A world that knows nothing of us.

The man dressed in black, the one they call Commander Davron, had a scar along his left cheek.

Once I asked mom if she thinks he was chosen as their leader because he is the ugliest man on earth. She watched me, amazed, and then laughed so hard as I’ve never seen her laugh before. When she was done she wiped her eyes, hugged me, and asked me to never say those words again. But that she thinks I was right and that I had a brilliant intellect, and I must never forget that.

Their leader kicked the book with the tip of his stained shoe then tramped past us all, hands behind his back, his eyes boring into our souls even as we stare at our feet. The stench surrounding him like an aura of death turned my stomach. I swallowed hard.

From the corner of my eye I watched the book flying like a wounded bird, and crash-landing face down, a few feet away. A page was bent and my book-lover self winced.

He strode back, his black robe swaying with every step like a death flag, his beard nodding disapprovingly like it’s got a mind of its own. Halting near us he smacked his lips and bent, twisting his head sideways, listening, and making a show out of it.

A trickle of water echoed nearby. To the right, my little niece has wetted herself again. Commander Davron’s mouth twisted in a smile, yet his eyes remained menacing. He bent forward, his beard almost touching her rosy cheek, hot and wet with tears, lined with dust. Her small hands were pressed against her mouth in a desperate attempt to keep any noise inside. I froze. There was an ink stain on her index finger. The bearded leader pretended not to notice, but as he turned towards the rest of us his hand, as sharp as an eagle’s beak, fastened on the girl’s fragile wrist yanking it forward. She collapsed near the book, her knees scraping the dust, her shoulder nearly dislocated. Only a sharp scream escaped her, his grip steady,crushing her wrist.

‘Proof! Again!’ He bellowed. ‘Islam’s sacred law had been broken! AGAIN! Girls, that read AND write?’

Should his shouts be visible, they would be a whip reaching each one of us, extracting any hope out of our hearts.

I grabbed my mother’s hand, willing her to stand behind. Too late. She would never witness one of the girls tortured. I felt my heart ripped from my chest as my mother threw herself in the dirt, at the feet of Commander Davron, her arm embracing the broken girl.

‘Please!’ She sobbed through her burqa. ‘Let her go. In the name of Allah, it is my fault, only mine.’

His tongue slithered over his bottom lip like a snake pushing out of his hideout and he dropped the girl’s wrist turning towards my mother, greed swimming in his eyes.

‘Take off your burqa,’ he ordered her.

All the women gasped. The law of Islam ordered women to stay covered in front of any men outside their immediate family.

‘I wish to know who broke Islam’s holy law.’

If she shows her face, she will break a law; a different law, by Taliban’s standards.

My ears rang and tears burned my eyes, yet I dug my nails into my wrists, behind my back. I promised mother not to tell.

Not to tell a soul.

My knees shook underneath my father’s dark robe and a trickle of sweat rolled down my neck, escaping my short hair and my manly headdress, also my father’s. The tiny hairs that stuck to my neck after mom’s hasty haircut itched, but not as much as my tongue. I craved to yell the truth, but I promised.

The dark Commander’s index, lined with grime, singled me out.

‘You have a boy, I see. Almost a man. He doesn’t need his mother anymore. Take off your burqa.’

A guttural wail escaped my mother as she removed her headdress and face covers in front of Commander Davron and his army.

She had just sentenced herself.

They cheered in the name of Allah, crazed at the thought of another kill.

‘This woman broke two of His sacred laws!’ Davron bellowed. ‘No girl over the age of eight is to learn to read or write, yet this woman taught reading and writing. And she has removed her face cover in the absence of her husband and in front of strange men! If you want lessons to learn, I’ll teach you lessons.’

His army cheered and they emptied their guns towards the Heavens.

By the time he was done speaking our brave mother laid dead in the dirt, a bullet through her brain. Her open eyes were fixed on the book, yet she couldn’t see it anymore. Her life sacrificed because she’d been willing to pay the ultimate price. To save us.

Her face was as beautiful as ever and I felt a sudden surge to kneel and cradle her, but I could not, I was a boy now and I promised not to tell.

Perched on a nearby eave, a purple sunbird watched us and my heart warmed to her. Its lapis lazuli plumage was my mother’s favourite colour. I remembered mother telling us an old Egyptian belief. Whenever a person died, a bird was sent from the Heavens to escort its spirit home.” (Silent Heroes by Patricia Furstenberg)

Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for

Buy Silent Heroes from Amazon, available in Kindle format, paperback and large print.

Silent Heroes

Buy Silent Heroes in Large Print too: Amazon UK , Amazon US , Amazon Canada

Silent Heroes, Large Print Edition
Silent Heroes, Large Print Edition

The Sunshine Blogger Award – Nominated by Author Sally Cronin

the Sunshine Blogger Award

My heartfelt thanks go to lovely author & blogger Sally Cronin for nominating me for the Sunshine Blogger Award. The Sunshine Blogger Award is given out by members of the blogging community in recognition of inspiring, creative, and motivational blogs. YAY!

I am honored to be nominated alongside some really wonderful bloggers I do admire and follow. This is my very first nomination, so I am feeling quite smug 🙂 Having your blogging work appreciated is always a motivation to push for better content, but also to support fellow bloggers. For we are but lonely stars on a dark sky without each other.

During the past year I discovered such a wide range of amazing bloggers. I will use this opportunity to nominate those whom I admire for their kindness and generosity and whose blog posts motivate me.

I know how busy life and blogging can get, so if I nominated you and you don’t have the time to respond with a post, that’s okay 🙂 But I do hope you will take the nomination as a mark of my admiration.

If you choose to accept the Sunshine Blogger Award nomination, there are a few rules:

• Thank the blogger(s) who nominated you and link back to their blog.

• Answer the 11 questions the blogger asked you.

• List the rules and display the Sunshine Blogger Award in your blog post.

• Nominate 11 new bloggers & their blogs. Do leave a comment on their blog to let them know they received the award and ask your nominees 11 new questions.

Here are the 11 questions set by Sally for her nominees, with my answers:

1.What is the most daring thing you have done?

I moved half way round the world to be with the man I love, my husband.

2.Name one item still on your bucket list.

I don’t have a bucket list, but one thing I’ve been wishing I could do and never been able to (although I’ve been invited once!) is visit Greenway, Agatha Christie’s home.

3.If you had a time machine, would you choose to live in the past or the future?

Definitely in the past. I am such a history fan. And I love research. I love planning too. Am I allowed to research the era before jumping into the time machine? J

4.What is your favorite movie of all time?

I think each decade of my life can be defined by a movie. ‘Gone With the Wind’, ‘The Way We Were’, ‘Love, Actually’. I think this decade it’s ‘A Night at the Museum’. Gosh, the titles speak volumes J

5.What is one piece of advice you would give to your younger self?

Start. Writing. Now.
And do no stop.

6.What is one of your guilty pleasures?

I have only one guilty pleasure, and that is Coffee with a capital C. Coffee is my morning joy, my strengths in the wee, lonely hours, my inspiration and my fuel. I love the rhythmic, musically-drum sound of coffee beans as they sing in their container. I adore the smell of freshly ground coffee. I cherish the taste of a good cup of café latte. I relish at the sight of a frothy cappuccino and can appreciate the velvety, creamy taste of an espresso.  

7.Do you have any pets?

99% of my books include at least a dog 🙂 We have two.

8.Tell us about one thing that really gets your goat.

People who cut in line.

9.Who would you invite to a celebrity dinner. List 5, dead or alive?

Agatha Christie. Kathy Reichs. Ingrid Bergman. Margaret Atwood. My daughter 🙂 – she is my hero for handling her life as a teenager during the 21st century as well as she does.

10.What is your most annoying bad habit?

I can think of two. While awake, I tend to speak softly. While asleep, as I transition to and from REM sleep, I tend to act out my dreams and speak out loud. I am told that no one can reason with me during those seconds.

11.Name your current favorite song playing on your playlist right now.

‘Where Do You Go’ by No Mercy has been (almost) the only song on my playlist during the last six months J

Here are my 11 questions for my nominees:

  1. Share one thing about yourself that would surprise your followers.
  2. Which do you prefer, mountain or sea?
  3. What is the highest / furthest point you traveled to?
  4. You stand on a 1m high brick wall. Would you jump off or climb slowly?
  5. If you would only start your writing career now, where would you begin?
  6. Which animals you feel it represents you best?
  7. Are you an early riser or night owl?
  8. Was writing your first choice as a career? If not, what was it?
  9. What is your comfort food?
  10. Best way to relax and recharge? (either than writing J)
  11. What is your favorite word?

And here are my 11 nominees for the Sunshine Blogger Award

Jessie Cahalin (Books in Handbag)
Jo (Tea and Cake for the Soul)
James Cudney IV (This Is My Truth Now)
Brian Langeose (Bonnywood Manor)
Bette A. Stevens (Writers and Readers)
Caz (Invisibility Me)
Katie Kay (Writer, Blogger & Pilot)
Barbara Auzou (Lire, Dite Elle)
Annika Perry (Annika Perry)
Mike (M. C. Tuggle)
Pete and Ollie 🙂 (Bettley Pete)

If you are reading this and would like to participate, please do! Answer those questions, nominate the bloggers you admire. And do link back to me; I will make sure to share your post.
Thank you, Pat.

Songs that Remind me of the Marines, my Silent Heroes

Songs Remind me of Silent Heroes

Music evokes vibrant images and these three tunes are only a few of the songs that remind me of the fighting Marines, the main characters from my book Silent Heroes.
I mostly do my writing in a quiet space, listening to the words playing in my mind, but every so often I turn to music for inspiration, for its regular or progressive rhythm if I must describe a battle scene, or for the emotions it stirs when I am faced with a life-and-death situation.

Five Finger Death Punch – ‘Wrong Side Of Heaven’

This is a heart-wrenching musical video about the futility of war, its real, hideous face and the reality we choose not to acknowledge: that wars change – for the worst – the lives of all those involved in them, soldiers too. It was also one of the songs that also inspired me to write Silent Heroes.

‘Arms wide open
I stand alone
I’m no hero and I’m not made of stone
Right or wrong
I can hardly tell
I’m on the wrong side of heaven and the righteous side of hell
The wrong side of heaven and the righteous side,
The righteous side of hell ‘

Songwriters: Ivan Moody / Jeremy Spencer / Kevin Churko / Thomas Jason Grinstead / Zoltan Bathory
Wrong Side of Heaven lyrics © Sony/ATV. Find the lyrics here.

The White Stripes – ‘Seven Nation Army’

Although this song is about how shallow gossip is, I like the feeling of loneliness it evokes, the solitude of those caught under the spotlight. I think that soldiers, through the nature of their occupation, are under the spotlight, permanently in the news, yet very few spectators grasp the real meaning of their sacrifice.

‘And I’m talking to myself at night
Because I can’t forget
Back and forth through my mind
Behind a cigarette
And the message coming from my eyes
Says leave it alone.’

Seven Nation Army by The White Stripes, lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group. Find lyrics here.

Another one of the songs that inspired me when writing about the Marines in Silent Heroes is:

Prokofiev – ‘Dance of the Knights’

I listened to this song often when working on my battle scenes, although it is part of his Romeo and Juliet ballet. I found it strongly related to death. The loud, rhythmic beginning is very war-like in a dignifying way. The second, pianissimo part, speaks of the Angel of Death, but of the soldiers’ loneliness on the battlefield as well.

‘Dunn turned his head to respond. That’s when his whole body disappeared into a deafening blast of rocks, leaves, smoke, and blood.
That day it rained with dirt.
Conde felt his body thrown to the ground and he landed on his back, dirt in his mouth, dust all over his face. The wave had gone right through him.
Behind him, everyone threw themselves around looking for cover, weapons at the ready.
The dust was still settling on the road ahead when Conde jumped to his feet, yelling Dunn’s name.
“Medic, over here!”
He could taste blood and it smelled like charred flesh.
Was he talking? He couldn’t hear himself, just a constant ring in his ears.
“Medic, over here!” he yelled, again and again, wiping dust and water from his eyes and looking all over the ground for Dunn. The acrid air made him choke. It smelled of burned tyres and ammonia.
Focus, Conde. Focus!
Just ahead of him Dunn was laying on his back, legs sprawled, not moving. Conde felt his body freeze in panic. Was Dunn dead? Please, no! He forced himself to move ahead, his mind racing in circles, remembering what had to be done in a first aid combat situation. That’s when he heard Dunn moaning.
Blood was sipping through his left leg. Dunn was trying to feel it, but his left hand was missing its fingers. Tourniquet! It flashed through Conde’s mind and his body snapped in motion, the Marine having tightened the first tourniquet around Dunn’s left leg before their medic arrived on the scene.
“Easy, buddy, stay with me,” said Conde trying to see if Dunn’s eyes were open or closed but the blood and dust caking the fallen Marine’s face made things difficult. Conde felt like he was in a dream, the one where he would try to open his eyes as large as he could, still no image would form. Eventually, the white of Dunn’s eyes shone through.
“We got you, buddy. We got you,” said the medic, feverishly wrapping combat gauze over the Marine’s hands. The white bandage looked like show balls against the bloody background. But not for long.
“Don’t give up. I’ll beat you up if you dare giving up, Sarge! You hear me?!” Conde’s voice came out croaky.
“Easy, Conde,” someone said nearby and Kent kneeled, helping hold Dunn’s hands upright.
“Nice and easy.”
“We got you, Dunn.”
“Someone call MEDEVAC!” Conde yelled.
“Easy, buddy. Already done. They’re on their way.”
“Where’s a landing strip over here?”
Conde wiped dust and water from his eyes again, leaving strikes of blood behind.
“Damn rain!
“Where are they going to land, Sarge? There is no freaking landing area here, only freaking trees! Damn trees!” the Marine panicked.
“It’s okay, man. They’ll drop a cord for us, said Kent” ‘

Silent Heroes by Patricia Furstenberg
Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for. Songs-Remind-Marines-Silent-Heroes
Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for – New Contemporary Fiction by Patricia Furstenberg

You can BUY Silent Heroes from Amazon UK, Amazon US, Amazon Australia, Amazon Canada, or Amazon Worldwide: link here to your preferred Amazon website.

These are the songs that remind me of the Marines depicted in Silent Heroes. Next time I’ll tell you about the songs I listened to to stir emotions rooted in the lives of the Afghan people.

The #MusicMonday meme was created by Drew @ The Tattooed Book Geek. You can pick a song that you really like and share it on Monday. I thoroughly enjoyed this blog feature on Mischenko’s lovely blog, ReadRantRockandroll .

Which songs inspire you? Which songs you find yourself returning to?

Snowy Night, a Winter’s Dream

I love the snow for what it is –
Of dreams and stars that spark,
Of clouds and tears.
Some say it’s angels in the dark.

I love the snow for what it stands,
My childhood memories asleep
And holidays with frozen hands.
Snowmen were built of snow knee-deep.

I love the snow for what it might,
The hopes it brings, the smiles it carves
Each winter, a brand new sight
To welcome with open arms.

I love the snow, I hope you too –
This thread that links all that is true.

Snowy Night Winter Dream
Christmas decorations in Cismigiu Park, Bucharest
snow at night
blizzard in the middle of the night
white flakes against a Christian Orthodox church
Snowy Night Winter Dream
winter wonderland
Snowy Night Winter Dream

I hope you enjoyed my sonnet on snowy night, a winter’s dream.
You might also enjoy reading about:
Snow’s Thousand Faces and Meanings
A Train Journey through Snow, in Romania
A Journey through the Medieval City of Sighisoara
or
Amazing Roles dogs Played During WW1: Sled Dogs, Pulling Dogs

What is it that you enjoy about snow?

snowy night winter’s dream

You can find all my books on Amazon, here.

Vlad the Impaler’s Medieval Feast. Wine or Blood?

Vlad Impaler medieval feast wine or blood

Started as a rumor, the story that Vlad the Impaler, Vlad Tepes or Dracula, a Romanian medieval prince, loved to feast on blood and not wine, snowballed along the centuries to such an extent that it is accepted as truthful today.

Before we dress up and attend Vlad’s medieval feast to find out the truth by ourselves, what’s in his cup, wine or blood, we owe it to the historical facts to acknowledge his bravery in battle.

When my children were young, as a loving mother I was the one in charge of pouring their drinks; at least most of the time. But if we would have been a royal family living during medieval times, we would have had a personal cup-bearer. Not too bad, isn’t it? Not to mention drink wine with most meals, as the water was too unclean to be consumed. Oh, not so sure about this…

The first documentation of such a job, cup-bearer or paharnic in Romanian (from pahar meaning cup) dates back to 8 January 1392. The paharnic was also responsible for the royal cellar. From the same time dates the first documented stolnic job, or the King’s seneschal, responsible with his food and meals. And making sure there was plenty of! In Romania’s former principalities, Wallachia, Transylvania, and Moldovia, these jobs were filled by boyar aristocrats. Always a source of conspiracies, double cheats and overturn.

Vlad the Impaler and the boyars. Paharnic. vlad medieval feast blood

It was this piece of information tht reminded me of some stories about Vlad the Impaler and his medieval feast on blood… As a Romanian born, I do know this is not true, but how many of you know the real story?

Read on.

Vlad the Impaler and his medieval feast. Blood or wine?

Vlad the Impaler, born in Sighisoara, ruled Wallachia over three terms during his life. Considered one of Romania’s national heroes, Vlad is the hero of plenty of terrifying accounts. Some true, some lost in translation. Let’s see the known resources of the time.

History is true as long as it is based on credible, unbiased resources.

German stories about Vlad the Impaler

During the Autumn of 1462, a Saxon chronicler from Brasov compiled a collection of over thirty horror stories about Vlad the Impaler and his most uncommon endeavors, Geschichte Drakole waideThe History of Prince Dracula (Istoria lui Drăculea vodă). According to this, Vlad ordered the impaling of approximately three hundred Saxon merchants from Transylvania and had others burned alive.

woodcut of Vlad the Impaler on the title page of a German pamphlet  published in Nuremberg in 1488 - wikimedia
A woodcut depicting Vlad on the title page of a German pamphlet about him published in Nuremberg in 1488

There are no other known written accounts of the same genre left by the Saxon writers from Brasov to better understand the style of the time, only the ones about Vlad.

Why they did it?

Killing and torture were pretty common during Medieval Times, still, Vlad’s endeavors seemed to stand above the rest and to have the right frightening impact on the peasants. The fascination with death, under all its aspects, is certainly deeply rooted in human nature. From here was but a short distance to Vlad and his medieval feast on blood.

It is worth considering that, at the time when this collection of horror stories was compiled, Matei Corvin (Matthias Corvinus, or Iancu de Hunedoara) was King of Hungary.
Matei Corvin and Vlad the Impaler had a secret agreement to become allies and start an anti-Ottoman crusade and free Constantinople, as well as block the spread of the Ottoman Empire westward. Even Pope Pius II supported them by giving Matei 40 000 gold coins for soldiers and warships.
But Matei Corvin needed the Pope’s moral and financial support for his own political struggles, to rally to his cause the nobility of his country, even under the banner of the Crusade. In fact, he pursued his main goal relentlessly: to be recognized king of Hungary by the emperor.
Matei Corvin changed his mind at the last moment (after receiving the Pope’s financial contribution) mainly due to extreme political changes in the Holy Roman Empire and Corvin’s wish to keep the Holy Crown of Hungary at all cost. Thus he used the Pope’s money to pay for it, fulfilling his own pland and did not joined Vlad the Impaler in the anti-Ottoman crusade.

This entire game of Matei Corvin led to Vlad the Impaler facing the army of Mohamed II alone in the famous Night Attack at Târgoviște on Thursday, June 17, 1462. Here, Mehmed came with an army ‘in which in numbers and armaments must have been equal to that which he had employed on the siege of Constantinople.’ The Sultan wrote of 150 000, chroniclers of the time mention 400 000. Vlad the Impaler, while still awaiting Matei Corvinu’s support that never arrived, mustered an army of 30 000 (22,000 and 30,900 chroniclers say) men, women, and children over the age of twelve. It was in this battle that Vlad ordered that 23,844 Turks be impaled.

The Night Attack of Vlad the Impaler as painted by Romanian artists Theodor Aman.
The Night Attack of Vlad the Impaler as painted by Romanian artists Theodor Aman.

Vlad the Impaler, between a rock and a hard place

After the retreat of the Turks, the situation did not improve for Vlad.
His younger brother, Radu the Handsome, Radu cel Frumos, had the Turk’s protection (situation going back twenty years to the time when both Vlad and Radu were held hostages there to secure their father’s loyalty).
The Saxons of Transylvania, instead of supporting Vlad, conflicted him because Vlad had limited their economic freedom in Wallachia in his attempt to support the local merchants.
So the Saxons of Transylvania compile an account of Vlad’s acts and complain to Matei Corvin who sees this as the best opportunity to please them as well as solve his own problems, thus turning Vlad the Impaler into a scapegoat.

Matei Corvin ordered that Vlad the Impaler be captured and imprisoned by the end of 1462. And then Matei Corvin sent ambassadors to Venice and to the Pope to explain his acts and his financial spending. The ambassadors brought along texts containing evidence of treason and “inhuman cruelty” of Dracula. The texts were compiled by the Saxons of Transylvania, Die Geschichte Dracole waide (The Story of Prince Dracula).

You can see how Matei Corvin, having all these horror stories about bloody Vlad the Impaler, so un-Christian like, could explain his last-minute abandon of a Christian Crusade.

Danuve Principalities - Moldavia, Wallachia. Transylvania, part of the Kingdom of Hungary
Danuve Principalities – Moldavia, Wallachia. Transylvania as part of the Kingdom of Hungary

At the same time, Gutenberg’s press, although still brand new, was very much in operation. Before 1500 there were already over fourteen editions (surely each one revised and improved) of Vlad’s horror stories circulating Germany. By the end of the 16th century, thirty such editions were in print.

The Story of Prince Dracula, as written by the Saxon merchants

The accounts included here refer to Vlad the Impaler’s main reign from 1456 to 1462. The text was recorded almost at the same time by three witnesses. Thomas Ebendorfer, professor at the University of Vienna, wrote Latin chronicle, Cronica Regum Romanorum (Kaiserchronik) and he considers the events as taking place between May and August 1463. Pope Pius II mentioned it in his Commentaries and considers that the stories took place between April and July 1463. Lastly, the accounts of the German minstrel Michel Beheim who composed his 1070 verses long poem. Beheim used the Saxon tales and new information provided to him by a monk, Jacques de Gorrion (Gornji Grad).

The sequence of events in the three sources is identical, proving the existence of a common source, the Saxon stories, brought by the Hungarian delegation and put in circulation June-August 1463 in Vienna. A renowned printer of that time was Ulrich Han who worked in Mainz with Gutenberg and had already published an Almanach, Almanack in Vienna during 1462

Further printings only began in 1488 and lasted until 1559-1568 in Nuremberg, Lübeck, Bamberg, Leipzig, Augsburg, Strasbourg, and Hamburg. Yet, there are great differences between the first edition from 1463 and the 1488 texts, with regards to the order and the content of the events described.

The Story of Vlad the Impaler, 1488 - vlad medieval feast blood
Front page of Die Geschicht Dracole Wayda Nuremberg Marx Ayrer, 14. October 1488

Some tales said Vlad ordered his victims to be chopped like the cabbage. Others depicted Vlad boiling his victims alive, in huge cauldrons, only their heads sticking out. Others were so horrible and unbelievable, I won’t even mention them. But some are worth sharing.

After the old governor ordered that old Dracul be killed, Draculea (Vlad the Impaler) and his brothers gave up their Islamic believes and promised to protect the Christian faith.

The same year, Vlad was made governor of Wallachia. Immediately he orders the murder of Vladislav Voda, the previous ruler.

Vlad ordered that Saxon villages and fortresses near Sibiu, in Transylvania, be burned to the ground. The Transylvanian villages of Klosterholtz, Nuwdorff, Holtznetya were turned to soot.

It is worth mentioning here that although I don’t approve of Vlad’s crimes, some of the places Vlad set alight – if not all – harbored boyars who wished to take Vlad’s place as ruler of Wallachia.

Dracula ordered that all the thrives of his kingdom be caught and he had them all impaled

Vlad the Impaler depicted here as feasting among the impaled. A colorized rendering of the woodcut by Ambrosius Huber of Nuremberg (1499). NOTICE the blond beard - colours added much later.
Vlad the Impaler depicted here as feasting among the impaled. A colorized rendering of the woodcut by Ambrosius Huber of Nuremberg (1499). NOTICE the blond beard – colours added much later.

When the Turk ambassadors arrived at his court and, according to their tradition, did not remove their headdresses, the turbans, Vlad ordered that they are nailed to the ambassadors’ heads. As a lesson.

One of the first things Vlad did was to order that all the boyards who cheated his father and contributed to his death be caught and impaled.

Once a priest came by, preaching that sins can never be forgiven. Vlad invited him to his place, to share his meal. So Dracula breaks bread and starts eating, all the time beckoning the priest to take a bite, knowing that it was before sundown the priest should fast. And the priest ate. Enraged, Vlad asked him how he can preach about sins when he sins himself?

Another story speaks of a great feast Vlad organized for all the lazy, old, sick or generally non-working people of his kingdom. He first ordered that a great hall be built, then he had a banquet table set inside, filled with mouth-watering food and drinks. And invited them all to the feast. When they were enjoying themselves the most, he ordered the doors shut and the whole place set on fire. To teach everyone a lesson about the value of work.

Vlad the Impaler - capturing boyars. Painting by Theodor Aman. 
vlad medieval feast blood
Vlad the Impaler’s envoys capturing the boyars during a feast (April 1457), in an 1860s painting by Theodor Aman. Source

Once, a foreign merchant complained to Vlad that, while he spent the night at an inn, 160 ducats have been stolen from his cart. Vlad ordered a hunt of the thief who was later impaled. Then he repaid the merchant but ordered that 161 ducats be returned. When the merchant came to Vlad to thank him for his help, he also returned the extra coin. Vlad appreciated the man’s honesty and admitted to his plans of impaling the merchant, should he had not come clean.

At a major crossroads, where there was a well for thirsty travelers, Vlad ordered that a golden cup be placed, for everyone’s usage. The cup stood there as long as Vlad was the ruler of Wallachia, as a testimony of Vlad’s love for honesty and order.

Vlad’s life included in the Cosmography by Sebastian Münster

The stories of Vlad the Impaler are also included in the 1544 Cosmography by Sebastian Münster, the earliest German-language description of the world.

Europe As A Queen - depicted by Sebastian Munster in 1570
Europe As A Queen – depicted by Sebastian Munster in 1570

What exactly did Vlad the Impaler dip in the blood?

Michael Beheim’s song about Vlad the Impaler

In a time when reading was not an option for everyone, these stories were further spread by troubadours or minstrels, Minnesänger. One such troubadour was Michael Beheim who compiled ‘Story of a Violent Madman Called Voïvode Dracula of Wallachia’ or Ainem wutrich der heis Trakle waida von der Walachei, a 1070 verse long song. Beheim first sang his poem at the court of the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick III during a long winter in 1463. Here is a tiny small extract:

 Michael Beheim - Dracula Song, 15th Century (source) vlad medieval feast blood
Michael Beheim – Dracula Song, 15th Century (source)
Translating to:
'It was his pleasure and gave him courage
To see human blood flow
And it was his custom
To wash his hands in it
As it was brought to the table
While he was taking his meal.'

(Translated by German scholars Clemens Ruthner and John Buffinga)

Well, hands, not bread dipped in blood.

I try to imagine the people listening to this song, perhaps having already heard of Vlad the Impaler, Dracula, imagining how Vlad would enjoy a (medieval) feast on blood.

I wanted to mention this detail of hands / bread, as there was an entire dispute between two Boston Professors, McNally and Florescu, and the Canadian Professor Emerita Elizabeth Miller, leading expert on Bram’s Stoker’s Dracula – over what exactly did Vlad the Impaler dip in the blood, bread or his hand?
Bottom line is:

  • Bram Stoker, when he wrote Dracula (1895 – 1897), might have been familiar with Beheim’s poem about Vlad Tepes.
  • 1972, McNally and Florescu used a liberal translation of Beheim’s poem to tie Bram Stoker’s Dracula to the real Vlad the Impaler, Dracula III. This translation stated that Vlad dipped his bread in the blood.
  • Elizabeth Miller states that Stoker only borrowed the name and bit of historical information and that there was no mention of Vlad the Impaler, Dracula III in Stoker’s notes.
French Xylography from 1499 depicting Vlad the Impaler
French Xylography from 1499 depicting Vlad the Impaler

More bloody stories about Vlad the Impaler

Russian stories about Vlad the Impaler

in 1490 the monk Eufrosin translated into Russian a collection of 19 such horror tales of Hungarian origin: Stories about Prince Vlad. We know the origin of the author because he mentions ‘King Mátyás, using Matthias Corvinus Hungarian name. We also know that their writer was a Christian believer. These stories do depict Vlad’s bravery against the Ottomans. But do they mention of Vlad enjoying a medieval feast on blood?

This collection was less spread in the East since here Gutenberg’s print was not used yet. Thus, mostly the monarchs, the monks, and the clerics had the chance to read it. But it reached the hands of Ivan the Terrible who, they say, was inspired by Vlad the Impaler. We are familiar with the Tsarist autocracy of byzantine inspiration, and how the Russian people stayed loyal to their Church, thus revering their Byzantine heritage. Remember, this happened shortly after the fall of Constantinople in 1453, an event considered by many as a sign the End time was near. Also, a time when the idea Moscow as a Third Rome was of great appeal.

These stories read today as historical fictional accounts, making Vlad the Impaler a mythical character.

One such story depicts Dracula enjoying his lunch beneath a forest of impaled bodies. A servant was seated opposite Vlad, invited to share in the King’s meal. When the henchman could not stand enveloping reek of death anymore and covered his nose, Vlad was seized by murderous rage and ordered that the servant be impaled. ‘On the height of the stake the air is clean and so no stench will reach your nose’, he is supposed to have said.

Another time, an emissary of King Matei Corvin arrived to see Vlad the Impaler. It was an important delegate, a high Polish nobleman. He, too, was invited by Vlad to share his feast among the impaled bodies. Nearby, a brand new, gold spike stood. Vlad asked the emissary how he finds the spike. Whose was it? What would you answer? The Polish nobleman said that perhaps a boyar upset Prince Vlad and he, as a good Prince that he is, wants to show his respect for the man’s position at his court, impaling him into a stellar spike. Vlad liked the emissary’s answer but explained that the spike had been custom made for the Polish nobleman. The man accepted his fate, coming from such a fair and expert judge, admitting that he, alone, is to be blamed for his death and not Prince Vlad. Dracula liked the man’s answer, stating that he is a true emissary who knows how to speak to a sovereign and even granted his clemency.

Other stories also mention Vlad’s dislike for emissaries, Kings or any Sovereign who came to see him but were not dressed according to their rank or could not answer his riddles. He would simply order their death by impaling, stating that it wasn’t his fault, but their own, or their King’s, for not educating them before coming to speak to him.

The portrait of Vlad the Impaler found in Ambras Castle portrait and painted in 1560, a copy of an original made during his lifetime
The portrait of Vlad the Impaler found in Ambras Castle portrait and painted in 1560, a copy of an original made during his lifetime

Vlad’s black and white vision of the world

One of the stories translated into Russian speaks of Vlad the Impaler after he was released from Matei Corvin’s imprisonment (1462 – 1475), depicting his righteousness and character. Vlad was given a house in Pesta to live in, before his return to Wallachia. One day, a thief, running from local guards, sought refuge in Vlad’s yard. After him, the Hungarian guards rushed in. Vlad arrived in the yard at the moment a Hungarian sentry took hold of the thief. In one motion, Vlad cut the sentry’s head. The Hungarian King, Matei Corvin, later asked Vlad why he killed the guard. At which Vlad replied that it had been the guard’s fault entierly since he entered the house of a great ruler and inflicted pain one a human being. If the sentry would have asked to speak with Vlad first and presented him with the facts instead of taking the law into his hands – he would have still been alive and Vlad would have ceased the thief himself.

Along the centuries, some kings feasted from gold plates, drinking from silver goblets adorned with jewels, while sitting on thrones nailed in silver, covered in expensive brocade sewn with gold thread, on silk pillows. Others had banquets with countless courses of food, barrels of wine and beer that everyone was expected to drink, eating hundreds of animals cooked just for that one meal. Perhaps this is another reasonas to why Vlad , living at the end of the ruthless medieval era, was imagined to feast on blood.

Vlad's signature
Vlad’s 1470s signature, Wladislaw Drakulya

Throughout his life, Vlad the Impaler had one thought on his mind, to protect his country from Ottoman invaders, to assure its autonomy, to build its economic strength, to be recognised as a Great King. Judged harshly by his contemporaries, Vlad was often stood alone in his confrontation of the biggest political power of his time, the Ottoman Empire.

It was this struggle that allowed him to cast one of the biggest shadows throughout history, perhaps as big as the fame he wished to have during life.

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vlad medieval feast blood vlad medieval feast blood

Rafik’s Journey in Silent Heroes. An Afghan Village

Welcome to Rafik’s journey. The youngest character in Silent Heroes, Rafik travels from his Afghan village of Nauzad all around Afghanistan. It isn’t a journey made by choice, but out of necessity and bravery.

A critical political hot-spot for the past two millennia, Afghanistan is a country often mentioned in news headlines, yet one that few people choose to think of, and even fewer are aware of its natural beauty.

Life for Afghan children, the true Silent Heroes of any Afghan village

How was your life when you were a child of eight years old? When I was Rafik’s age, I wouldn’t even dream of going around the town on my own. My grandmother or my parents would still walk me to school. Yet Rafik and his friends venture daily outside their village.

boy and girl. Silent Heroes Afghan village
An Afghan boy a little younger than Rafik

They start their walk early, right after sunrise. It is a 10 kilometers march to the nearby stream to collect water for drinking, washing and cooking. Then they tread back, bent under the unforgiving Afghan sun and the liquid weight of their buckets and yellow plastic containers, for another 10 kilometers, home.

The water sings while their small feet dance on the hot sand. Sometimes a few drops would spill and the youngest children would laugh to see them roll away over land so dry that not even water can penetrate it. The older ones would scold them. Water is precious and they don’t want to take this journey again, later in the day. The sun is unforgiving and so are the landmines that litter the ground between their village and the stream, like weeds sprouting after rain, but planted by Taliban. So the youngest ones would burst into tears. That one word, Taliban, has this effect on them, as it has on their older sisters and their mothers.

Here, in Afghanistan, one does not need folk tales with monsters to tell their young. To scare them. Here, in Afghanistan, the monsters are real and they walk between the people.

Once a well-known bazaar, today Nauzad village, where Rafik lives with his mother and older sister, is no more than a ghost town, a dusty landmark lost in the shrub-lined valley of the Nauzad river. The only majestic landmark that still stands is that of the Hindu Kush Mountains, profiling in the horizon. With all their men gone to war, life has become a way of simply surviving from one day to the next, the hot climate being just as unforgiving as the Taliban insurgent group operating in the mountainous area rising in the north.

In the beginning of Silent Heroes Rafik is entrusted with a life-and-death mission…

‘Between their skirts, a skinny boy of eight moved along.’

‘Rafik wiped the salty drops invading his eyes with the dusty sleeve of his shirt, yellow-tinged by time and wear. His head was ablaze and sweat trickled down his neck, soaking the back of his pants. His feet bounced on the already hot sand. The boy was sure they looked like the naan his mom used to cook in the tandoor. Back when flour was still available. He would crawl behind her and grab fresh bread out of the basket to share with his friend. She would laugh and playfully snap at him. But not anymore. For the last year there had been no one for him to share his naan with.
One morning, his friend had left to fetch water and never returned. They found him on the field, halved by an IED.
Rafik felt his chest ready to explode with the pain of memories and wiped his eyes again, although no tears came. The rough sleeve against his face helped relieve the agony in his chest.’

Silent Heroes by Patricia Furstenberg
Afghan sunset over Hindu Kush mountains
an Afghan sunset

Placing an entire country on Google maps

I invite you to open Google maps and search for Afghanistan. Now zoom in. How many places can you actually visit? Why do you think it is still impossible to zoom into Afghan locations?

Did you know that the Afghan maps you do see today on Google Maps were not visible before October 2011? Most of Afghanistan was pretty much off the map.
A man named Hasen Poreya and his friends, the Afghan Map Makers, all volunteers, walked around Herat with pen and pencil in hand and filled in all the missing details from Google maps.

Herat is Afghanistan’s third largest city and it was a major historical landmark along the silk road. The Afghan Map Makers have put streets, parks and even the Herat University on the map – so that people from all over the world can discover their town all over again. They, too, are the Silent Heroes of any Afghan village.

Afghanistan before and after the Map Makers have added details on Google Maps
Afghanistan, before and after the Map Makers have added details on Google Maps (source, Google Maps blog)

Where will Rafik travel next?
Come back in a few days to find out – or subscribe to my blog posts.

Until then, you might like to read:
5 Remarkable Places You Will Want to Visit After Reading Silent Heroes, When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting

You can BUY Silent Heroes from Amazon UK, Amazon US, Amazon Australia, Amazon Canada, or Amazon Worldwide: link here to your preferred Amazon website.