Finally, check back tomorrow for a snippet from Tom Easton’s novel, The Great Flying Saucer Conspiracy, which will be published later in the week.
Kate Paulk is today’s guest blogger. Born in Blood, the prequel to Impaler, was published last November. Impaler will be published by NRP in March.
In this post, I’m going to cover some of the reasons Vlad Dracula intrigues me. Most of the information here comes from my conclusions drawn from a relatively sparse historical record. Where I could, I read translations of primary sources (all hail Google). The rest is from the standard Dracula references, interpreted with an eye to why Dracula acted as he did.
First up, it helps to remember this was a brutal era by anyone’s standard. Even Vlad’s favored method of execution – impalement – was pretty normal in the Ottoman Empire. For instance, Ottoman policy was that any ships trying to evade the Ottoman tax assessors (who were based at the forts known colloquially as the “throat-cutters”) be sunk, and the survivors impaled. I gather it was an effective way of discouraging tax evasion.
Another point of perspective is that every one of Vlad’s European contemporaries was at some point in their youth held captive or hostage, with a real chance that they’d be killed by their captors. That kind of thing doesn’t make for nice, well-balanced individuals.
Then there’s the situation in Wallachia. We’d call it a failed state. The noble class (boyars) were choosing princes and then betraying them at a phenomenal rate (at one point the average reign was less than six months), there was no effective law, and the old free commoner class was being forced into serfdom by the boyars. Vlad was smart enough to see that he’d lose everything unless he could restore order – but to do that he’d need to take drastic measures. Those measures became the “meat” of the Dracula horror stories.
When you look at the assorted Dracula horror stories, his executions tend to fall into three groups:
Interestingly, there’s also evidence that Vlad was well aware of his faults. He was well known for seeking isolation to pray, often for hours, and made many generous bequests to the churches of his area.
This entire mess would have been problematic in the best of circumstances, and Wallachia wasn’t anything like the best situation around. It was a buffer state between the Hungarian Empire and the Ottoman Empire, with effective control wavering between the two depending on who was paying more or had better hooks into the Wallachian Prince. Betrayal happened on every level imaginable.
Then you’ve got Vlad’s personal history: he was twelve or thirteen when he and his eight-year-old brother Radu were handed to the Ottoman Sultan Murad II as hostages – in circumstances where Vlad’s father Vlad Dracul wouldn’t have left alive if he didn’t hand his sons over. The details of the next five or so years aren’t clear, but some of the things that are known aren’t exactly comforting.
Once he was free of Ottoman lands, Vlad’s father Dracul played a hugely risky double-game, taking no direct action against the Ottomans, but discharging his obligations as a Hungarian vassal by sending his oldest son Mircea with troops to support John Hunyadi’s campaigns – a tactic that placed his younger sons in serious danger of torture and mutilation at best. There are letters that have survived where Dracul is practically begging Hunyadi to release him from his obligations so he can fetch his younger sons back to safety.
Evidence of the conditions of Vlad and Radu’s imprisonment varies: some sources suggest that they were kept in the kind of conditions I described at the start of Born in Blood, where others suggest the two princes had relative freedom and were educated in part by the same tutors teaching Murad’s heir Mehmed (later Mehmed II Conquerer). In addition, Mehmed was well known to be a thoroughly unpleasant specimen, vindictive, cruel, and with a taste for attractive boys (as Sultan, he was well known to keep a boy harem). There’s evidence that he raped the hostages – and aspects of Vlad’s actions support the possibility of his having been sexually abused in Ottoman custody.
That he was physically abused is without doubt – there’s casual mention in the Ottoman records that he was sullen, bad-tempered, and regularly beaten for “insubordination”. His brother, on the other hand, was a favorite of the tutors and ultimately became well known as Mehmed’s catamite.
I chose the sequence of events in Born in Blood as the most likely, given the information available. Vlad’s less-than-perfect memory of that part of his life shows up as short flashbacks in Impaler at times when he’s stressed and something reminds him of what has to have been the worst part of his life.
From Vlad’s perspective, everyone he should have been able to trust is either taken from him in some way, or betrays him. His response appears to have been to withdraw into himself, and later, to constantly, almost obsessively test the loyalty of those he doubted – which was almost everyone.
The list of betrayals Vlad suffered in his life is impressive:
Curiously enough, a lot of the Vlad horror stories were written by Hungarians…
A few of the other knowns were that Vlad hated Mehmed II with an unholy passion – and was the only man ever to terrify the sultan into retreating from a war. The various accounts of Mehmed’s reaction to the Forest of the Impaled all end with him and his hardened soldiers retreating – some versions have them fleeing, leaving… deposits… as they ran. What I think is likely is that Mehmed realized the ranks of impaled men (most of them dead – Vlad’s armies had been gathering every corpse from every battle for weeks) were a pointed message for him personally: this was his fate if Vlad ever got hold of him.
It’s the only time Mehmed II retreated, and he never set foot in Wallachia again. All subsequent Ottoman action in that part of the world was done through proxies. I think it’s reasonable to draw the conclusion that Vlad terrified Mehmed – and that Mehmed knew if Vlad ever regained power, he would be fortunate to die in battle.
In those circumstances, Vlad was quite possibly the only kind of person who could survive and turn things to his advantage. He needed to be brutal simply to survive, but he needed to be intelligent and quick-witted to actually win more than a temporary throne. It’s the tension between the two needs and Vlad’s desire to spare his children the life he endured that drives much of Impaler.
In tomorrow’s post at my site I’ll explore the Vlad of Impaler, the man behind the monster stories.
It’s taken a bit more than a week, but I think I’m mostly over whatever bug had hold of me. It’s been a long time since I’ve been knocked as flat by a cold/flu/whatever as I was this time. So apologies for the sparsity and possibly incomprehensibility of what posts I did manage to get up.
I’d like to take a couple of moments to talk about Knights in Tarnished Armor by Kate Paulk that will be coming out over the weekend. Some of you may know Kate from Baen’s Bar or any of the other discussion boards she takes part in. To say Kate has an interesting sense of humor is to put it mildly. She manages to take the ordinary, twist it in a mixture of Aussie irreverence and American cynicism and come out with something unexpected. That’s exactly what she’s done with KITA.
When I was trying to describe it briefly yesterday, my first thought was it’s a comedy of errors. In many ways, that’s exactly what it is. But it is also a comedy of LETTERS, because the action is all revealed through a series of letters between our not so shining knights and their all too willing and frustrated maidens. Throw in disapproving parents, a dragon and all too many schemes and, well, you have Knights in Tarnished Armor.
If you’d like to see more of Kate’s work, check out Born in Blood and Hell of a Job. Born in Blood is a novella that basically sets the stage for her novel, Impaler, that will be coming out next year. If you are interested in a new take on the history and mythology surrounding Vlad Dracul, check out both of these titles.
In the short story Hell of a Job, Kate gives us a refreshing look at what might happen if a scheming woman who really doesn’t approve of the decor in the underworld becomes a Dark Lord and sets her cap on higher office.
Both Born in Blood and Hell of a Job are available at our webstore, simply follow the links above, or at Amazon or Barnes & Noble. You can also find them at Smashwords. Most of all, anything you buy from Naked Reader Press is DRM-free.
To celebrate Halloween, we will be posting new short stories from some of our authors. At least one new story a day will be posted to our homepage. For the day of the release, the story will be free to read. After that, it will be offered for sale — our authors still have candy to buy and costumes to make before Saturday. As always, we’ll offer the stories in a number of different formats for easy download to your computers or e-book readers. You’ll be able to purchase the stories either through our site or on Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble and other sites.
Today’s short story is from Dave Freer. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Dave, he is an Ichthyologist turned author because he’d heard that the spelling requirements were simpler. He recently moved to Flinders Island, Tasmania, Australia, with his wife and chief proof-reader, Barbara. They are owned by a number of dogs and cats — and their two sons (Paddy and James). Dave does his best to blame his extraordinary spelling on an Old English Sheepdog nose, or the cat on his lap. It has nothing to do with falling out of pear trees onto his head or spending too long underwater freediving for spiny lobster.
We’ll also have stories from Sarah A. Hoyt, Ellie Ferguson, Charles Quinn and Robert A. Hoyt later this week.
On Halloween, we’ll be publishing Kate Paulk’s novella, Born in Blood — The Legend Begins. It is a prequel of sorts to Impaler, her historical fantasy novel, with more than a trace of alternate history, about Vlad Tepes, better known as Dracula. NRP will be bringing Impaler out after the first of the year.
Enjoy and check back daily for our new offerings!