The Wartburg Castle in Eisenach, Germany

„Wart', Berg, du sollst mir eine Burg tragen!“

As legend would have it, the Wartburg Castle in Thüringen, Germany was founded in 1067 by Ludwig der Springer, also known as Count Ludwig von Schauenburg. Ludwig was a member of the German dynastic family of Ludowinger. Little is certain about the man, but he lives on in his legends and in his castle.

His nickname comes from a bold leap into the Saale River. After he’d attempted to take hold of the area west of the Saale River, called Saale-Unstrut, and stabbed the Count Palatine Fredrick III to death, he was imprisoned in the castle Giebichenstein. Ludwig was held captive for three years and faced execution. He took advantage of his stay in the castle tower and jumped into the Saale River. A servant awaited him with a boat and his favorite snow-white horse, Swan. As punishment for his murder, he built the church of St. Ulrich in Sangerhausen and later founded the monastery Reinhardsbrunn, which became the family monastery of Ludowinger.

In 1067, as legend has it, Ludwig der Springer discovered the future site of the Wartburg Castle while out hunting. He looked up to the mountain and said, "Wait, mountain, thou shalt bear a castle." The mountain was not part of his territories, so he had his men carry soil from the land he did own up the mountain top, to the place he planned to build his castle. The Emperor approved after twelve of Ludwig's most loyal knights drew their swords, stuck them into the soil and swore on Ludwig’s honor that the land rightfully belonged to him.

The Wartburg Castle was also the setting of Martin Luther’s secret detention by Friedrich der Weise. After being declared an outlaw, Vogelfrei or ‘free as a bird,’ as mercenary soldiers might call it, which simply put meant any one could kill him if they wanted to, Friedrich’s soldiers abducted Martin Luther and brought him to safety, in disguise, to the Wartburg where he, in the winter of 1521-1522, translated the New Testament into German in eleven weeks.

Vogelfrei: "…his body should be free and accessible to all people and beasts, to the birds in the air and the fish in water so that none can be made liable for any crimes committed against him…"

'It Is Time'--Flash Fiction #MondayBlogs

It Is Time

Stomping boots echo off the stone floors. Torch light rounds the corner and the guards’ silhouettes march in step with their shadows. Silke slowly raises her head. The smell of leather and horse mingles with the moldy straw of her cell. Keys jangle and rattle the iron lock. She wants to scratch the numerous dried cuts on her scalp--they were brutal when they shaved her head looking for witch’s markings--but her hands are chained behind her back. Pain pounds no longer in her thumbs broken by those screws, but she cannot move them.
“It is time,” Hannes the Executioner says. He uncorks a tiny ceramic flask and raises it to Silke’s lips. “Drink this. Then it will all seem like a dream.”

He gently helps her to her feet. His potion was potent and her knees give way. The scratchy grey frock sticks to the wounds between her legs. They had shaved her there, too. Hannes the Executioner catches her before she swoons.

“You must walk by yourself,” he says.

The city fathers wait by the gates of the jail. As Silke approaches, they begin the march towards the gallows. Silke follows, head bent but eyes on the crowd. Her friends. Her neighbors. Her betrayers. An apple of grassy-green horse shit hits her in the face, the cool juice dripping down her neck.

“Burn the witch!”

They stop at the base of the pyre. What a waste of firewood. This wood would have kept her warm for a month. Now it will keep her warm for eternity. 

Hannes the Executioner lays an arm across her shoulder. “Silke, I’m sorry. It will go quickly, I promise. Have another drink.” 

He offers her the ceramic flask again and she drinks. He leads her up the makeshift steps to the top of the pyre and secures her chained hands to the stake with a rope. She looks at the sky. One lone hawk soars on the current, circling upwards like a soul towards heaven. She steals one last look at the mob, dirty faces twisted in rage, the sound of their anger mingling into one incoherent din.

The guards ram their torches into the dried woodpile and the flames spring to life. The soles of her feet singe. Smoke and the smell of burning flesh fill her lungs. She splutters and coughs and tries to take one deep breath. Just one. She closes her eyes and tilts her head to the sky, feels a burning warmth on her face, the lone hawk cries out, a breeze rustles through the trees, a gentle hand touches her face…

“Come out of the sun,” a man’s voice says. “You’re burning up.”

Silke stretches her legs and blades of grass tickle her toes. She opens her eyes. A lone hawk soars overhead. Alexander strokes her cheek with his finger and smiles. He stands and helps her to her feet. He kisses her cheek and leads her to the shade underneath an ancient oak tree. He lays her down. Acorns prick her shoulders and she cringes as she imagines the inflamed welts on her back, but no pain comes.

“This is the work of the devil,” Silke says. “What have you done?”

“The devil has enough work with those men and their incessant witch trials,” Alexander says. “And I have saved your life.”

“I remember this day.”

“This is the day I asked you to run away with me.”

“But I couldn’t then. I can’t now. My father needs me.”

“We can’t stay here,” he says. “They find us out. They hurt you. They’ll find me. I’m giving us a second chance.”

Silke runs her fingers through her curly red hair. “We cannot tamper with what is. What is to come. This trick of yours is damned.”

“Anything done for love surely cannot be damned, dear.”

Friday #FlashFiction: The Borderlands Expire

The Borderlands Expire

The house was dark, the hallway lit only with a weak blue night light. James pulled his key from the lock and closed the door with a quiet click.
“Sandy?” he whispered.

James hung his keys on the hook by the door, kicking glass shards that lay on the white-tiled floor in a puddle, red wine judging by the smell. Oh God, what had Sandy done this time? 

He was later than he had hoped, hadn’t called to tell her so. He’d driven the three hours in one shot at a speed he hadn’t wanted to, just to get back. She wouldn’t understand this. He paused to listen for any sign of life.

He walked into the kitchen and turned on the light. Empty wine bottles, two, stood on the kitchen counter. In the living room a disheveled blanket, Sandy’s phone, sheet music and one violin, smashed, were strewn about on the sofa. He hated this smell of stale smoke and spilled wine.

James had finally gotten a big break. Sandy’s brother-in-law, their agent, told him that someone he knew wanted to turn James' spy novels into a TV mini series. That someone, brother-in-law-slash-agent called him a producer, wanted to meet James at the Two Sheds, a nasty bar on the outskirts of Philadelphia. Brother-in-law told him to go for it, it could pan out. James' instincts told him that the business would never work like this but he went anyway. And since his story included an orchestra scene, he thought he could get Sandy a part. She was a great violinist but her personality kept her from getting a job. Ok, the music industry was a tad competitive but if she never left the house except to buy wine and cigarettes how was she ever going to get work? Any creative business was competitive.

He climbed the steps, primed now for how he would find her, always the same; in bed, under the covers, in the fetal position. He heard no snoring so she must be awake, waiting for him. She would pounce and scratch and kick and bite. He was used to it by now. Then they would make love. She would collapse afterwards, roll herself in a cocoon of blankets and wake in the morning having forgotten the whole scene. Or so she said.

The producer had made James an offer. The dread of meeting Sandy in the state he expected to find her in suppressed any joy or suspicion he had regarding the meeting this evening. He could ony think of how he used to find his mom when he came home from school. She took his dad’s death really hard. She said if she didn’t drink what else would she have? Funny, Sandy said the same thing.

The bed was empty. James hadn’t prepared for this.

His writer’s mind created a frantic set of scenarios and flashed her death a thousand times over in a split second. He flicked the bedroom light on and physically touched the bed, sheets still made up, like she was there and he just couldn’t see her. He ran through the upper floor of the house from room to room, snapping on the lights, finding one room as empty as the next. He doubled back and checked each room more carefully: bathroom, empty, no blood; spare bed room, empty, nobody under the bed; music room, empty, computer on. 


Sandy had been working on music based on his spy novels. His stories took place in a historically-fantastical feudal world. The hero of the story found that the key to break the borderlands of the feudal lord was by pummeling a stone wall with the sound of a hundred violins. Sandy had composed a haunting piece that was the fuel for his story. She’d played the melody in a five-part harmony and multiplied it to 100 voices that filled him with a feeling he as a writer couldn’t describe. Couldn’t describe in a few words but in a thousand, yes.

The cabinet where she hung her violins was ajar. He opened it and saw that her most treasured instrument, a Sergio Peresson from the 1980’s, and gold-trimmed bow were missing. 

They’d been robbed! She’d been kidnapped and was hanging head down from a washline, stretched 1920’s tenement style from a fifth floor window. The perpetrators had left a cryptic message, if he could only find it. She screamed for him. He had no choice but to summon a super hero. He was sure he had the power to do it. Didn’t these powers come to light in moments like this? 

Realization of just how alone he was dripped down his spine in a cold sweat. He flung open the window, looked up into the night sky, gathered all his energy and concentrated on one star, a pinpoint in the infinite mind-blowing eternity. Violin song rose and fell in the distance, gaining momentum, filling this moment with awe and appreciation.

Headlights in the driveway preceded the crunch of tires on gravel. He slowly reentered reality and watched Sandy’s car park next to his. She cut the motor and the violin song stopped. He stared dumbly as she got out, locked the door and walked towards the house.

“Oh my God, Sandy, it’s you!” James said.

“Of course it’s me,” she said. “What did you think happened this time? Kidnapping?”

Der Meistertrunk

Georg Braun; Frans Hogenberg: Civitates Orbis Terrarum, Band 1, 1572 
The Master Draught

The Thirty Years War was a many-faceted conflict fought in Central Europe, neatly fitted into a nutshell starting with what they call the Defenestration in Prague in 1618 and ending with a series of treaties called the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. Many factors figure into this weary, bloody, long-lasting era of human destruction. The most popular reason for the war was, of course, religion: the subject itself is heated, arguers are passionate about their beliefs so it’s easy to wave a spark into a flame. The Holy Roman Empire was Catholic. The emperor was intolerant of those that embraced the teachings of Luther and other forms of the Protestant religion. And the Protestants wanted to be free to practice as they liked.
Add a few princes who are promised territory and power and then some people who have lost their homes and are hungry and have little choice except to follow the regiments, plundering and pillaging if they want anything to eat. What you get is terror that spreads across the countryside like wildfire. Historians will also cite what they call the Little Iceage and the scientific data that backs up the theory. Temperatures were, on the average, colder during this span in the early modern period. That meant crops were failing and the people were that much worse off than they had been. Food was scarce, prices were high. 
Franconia took a beating during this time. By the end of the war, large tracts of land were completely devastated and depopulated. Those who were left died in the years after of disease or starvation. They say the population of the German territories was reduced by about a third but many people also fled. Exact numbers are impossible to quantify.
In Franconia today, remembrances of this time period are still evident. Many cities and villages have streets called something like Schwedenschanze, in English, Swedish Entrenchment. And streets named after the Generals Tilly or Mansfeld, and after the Swedish king, Gustav Adolf. And there are towns who honor their local famous legends, like Rothenburg ob der Tauber, the historical festival weekend including a play called The Master Draught, written by Adam Hörber, celebrated every year since 1881 over the Whitsun weekend.
The setting is Rothenburg in October 1631. General Tilly, leading an Imperial army of 60,000 men, lays siege to the Protestant independent city-state Rothenburg, threatens to burn it to the ground and execute the city council. But there is one way for them to save themselves. Their Mayor Georg Nusch is asked to down a mug of wine measuring 3.75 liters in one go. Then the troops will leave them alone. He somehow manages that and saves the city.

The four-day Whitsun weekend is full of reenaction, colorful period dress, horses, troop encampment, food, beer, and regular performances of the play The Master Draught that premiered in 1881 and has been put on every year since then. For more information, please visit: 

The Master Draught:

Historical Images of Franconia, Germany

Sichartshof, eine verschwundene Ortschaft

At the base of the low mountain range Steigerwald, in a fertile little hollow called the Edelgraben, there once stood a sheep farm. The first inkling of this farm appears in the Dachsbach registry in 1450 as ‘Sigartzhoffe’ belonging to a man named Peter Sighart. The good man paid a chicken and some grain to settle his taxes.  

Over the years, thorough searches in the archives have produced a few registry entries, a sentence here, a mere crumb of information there, regarding this mysterious farm: Sigartshoff, Sycharczhoff, Sichartshof. According to an undated entry in the Dachsbach registry that is believed to be before the Thirty Years War, around the year 1600, the little farm had grown into an accumulation of acreage of farmed fields, grasslands, and ponds for farming fish.

A patrician from Nuremberg named Sebald Tucher is then documented as having owned Sichartshof in 1629. He bought the farm from the widow Margarethe Hansen and had acquired more land to work. By this time, Sichartshof lay unprotected in the Aisch River Valley, the valley a well-travelled route for mercenary troops involved in the Thirty Years War.

Why would Sebald Tucher leave Nuremberg, a city protected behind massive, impenetrable walls, and move out to a country manor amid this time of agitation? Did he want to hunt? Did he want to drink? Did he need the products that the farm could yield for his family in Nuremberg? How did he live? Who lived there with him?

This forgotten hamlet is the inspiration for the farm named Sichardtshof in the historical novel series Heaven's Pond. For the answer to these questions and more, watch for the new release of the historical novel The Master and the Maid. The forgotten hamlet comes alive again, its story just waiting to be told!

(Historical pictures taken at the beautiful Franconian Freiland Museum in Bad Windsheim. The collection of historical buildings, farm houses and villages is open to the public. Check out their web site: