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Saturday, 31 January 2015

More from Melinda de Ross - Vlad Dracul to the fore in 'Mirage Beyond Flames'

Melinda has written a book featuring heavily the legend of Vlad Dracul, or rather, Vlad Tepes, known as the Impaler, a national hero in Romania for his defence of the country against Hungary.  His habits of impaling criminals ensured his notoriety, but those who were pure in heart had, it was said, nothing to fear from him.  A story is told in which a merchant was robbed, and he took his woes to the Impaler, who recovered the man's money and secretly added more coins.  He asked the merchant to count them. 
"There is more here than I lost," said the merchant.
"Because you have told me that, you may keep it," said The Impaler.  "Had you not told me, I should have impaled you beside the robber."
A rather pointed lesson in avoiding fraud, but I suspect Romania was a very peaceful place under his reign.... Over to Melinda! 

 Gerard Leon and Linda Coriola fight for the same cause. The attractive, noble, dedicated French doctor and the beautiful, sensitive Italian sculptress both donate their time and money to Hope – a clinic for children’s cancer research and treatment.
From the moment they meet, even the air between them crackles with intense attraction. But her past makes it difficult for Gerard to understand her scars and battle with her demons.
In search of a cure for cancer and armed with an innovative treatment themselves, they leave for Transylvania, that enigmatic land hidden in the heart of the Carpathians.
There they get lost and have a bizarre  experience in the Hoia-Baciu forest, nicknamed The Romanian Bermuda Triangle due to all the inexplicable paranormal phenomena happening in its depths.
But no one believes them, because they don’t have any proof of said experience. Or do they?...
*Mirage Beyond Flames is the sister-story of Dante’s Amulet.

“You seem tired. Is there something wrong?” Linda asked, feeling her cheeks grow warm, afraid he could read her reactions to his presence.
Gerard sighed, dragging his fingers through his hair.
“I don’t know if you could put it quite like that, but we do have an unpredictable situation. Looks like I have to take some time off as soon as possible and leave for Romania.”
“Romania? Dracula’s land?” she exclaimed, shocked. “What the hell do you want to go there for?”
He laughed indulgently, indicating the mountain of papers spread on his desk.
“Well, I have a friend—actually he was a good friend of my father’s—who lives there now. He’s a doctor too. In the past years, he collaborated with another Romanian doctor and they devised a treatment made from a plant called hellebore. It seems to give good results in certain types of cancer. True, the results differ from case to case and the treatment is not effective on every patient, or in every form of the disease. Like the snake venom treatment, the best results are obtained in incipient stages, if the treatments can be applied locally. Especially in the beginnings of skin cancer.”
“And he wants you to go there to share the treatment formula with you?” she asked.
“Yes. In exchange, I prepared copies of all my notes, observations and research to share with him.”
Linda approached the desk, intrigued, and inspected the scattered papers.
“Chemical formulas, observations, reports…Here is all your work related to the serum made from snake venom?”
“Just about anything that could be put on paper.”
“And do you trust this person?”
She continued studying the notes on the desk, while he sat back in his chair, studying her.
She directed her gaze to him.
“You could make a fortune with this thing. Why give it for free to that guy?”
He gave her a long look, appearing offended by her implication.
“I’m not interested in money and fame, Linda. I became a doctor because the most important thing to me is healing, bringing comfort to my patients, not profiting from their tragedy,” he said, his expression intense and earnest. “Those who do that aren’t true descendants of Hippocrates, they’re just crooks. All my work is measured in the number of people I help, not in stacks of money.”
Something glowed warmly into her entire being. All at once, she felt her heart was lighter, ready to fly toward the nameless fulfillment that she longed for.
“You are a noble man,” she said truthfully, with a trace of admiration. “I respect that very much.”
“I’m a man like any other,” he replied, reclining in his chair. “I have flaws and qualities, nothing special compared to others. Still, I like to think I have a better sense of humor than most,” he added, smiling. “Please, sit down. I feel uncomfortable sitting while you stand. Do you want something to drink?”
“No, thanks.”
She sat in the chair facing his desk.
After a few moments of silence he asked, “Dracula’s land?”
She started laughing, and so did he. When their laughter subsided she said, “That’s all I’ve heard about Romania.”
“That’s about all the rest of the world has heard too. In fact, Jean-Paul tells me it’s a very beautiful country, with extraordinary landscapes and an admirable history. There are numerous predictions and speculations that there, in the heart of the Carpathians, is the physical projection of Shambala—the spiritual center of the Earth. You know, the more or less mythical land of the initiates who hold the balance of the world.”
“Really?” she asked, wide-eyed.
“Yes. I told you, it’s an interesting country, extremely controversial. It intrigued me ever since I listened to Jean’s stories. Speaking of history, do you know how all this Dracula story started?”
“I have no idea. You realize that an intelligent person doesn’t believe in vampires and other such nonsense. But I suppose in every legend there’s a grain of truth.”
Gerard smiled, linking his hands on his desk.
“Actually, there was once in Romania a ruler called Vlad Tepes—which means Vlad the Impaler. He was called so because he literally impaled all thieves, criminals and all those who broke the law, as well as his enemies. They say people were afraid of him to such an extent that, when he put a golden cup on the edge of a fountain, nobody dared to take it. When it was gone, they all knew he was no longer ruling.”
Linda shuddered.
“So much cruelty! I think that man was a monster!”
“Granted, those punishing methods weren’t too gentle, but we have to take into consideration that in those times, around fifteenth century, cruelty wasn’t unusual. Not only at royal courts, but worldwide. Besides, the most horribly punished were the Ottomans—a people who, from the beginnings of history, tried to subjugate the entirety of Europe and beyond, having a personal ambition to conquer Romania.”
“Hmm, what an odd thing. I didn’t know all of this, but it didn’t even occur to me to read about it,” she confessed meditatively. “So, all these atrocious torture methods have created the image of Bram Stocker’s vampire monster?”
“This, along with other bits and pieces of elements gathered from here and there, or invented. For example, Vlad’s father, called Vlad Dracul—which means The Devil—was part of the Dragon’s Order. Their symbol was a creature resembling a dragon from Oriental Mythology, with claws and fangs. This kind of distorted legends created false myths, which mystify history. In reality, Romanians consider Vlad Tepes one of their country’s best rulers and a character they can be proud of. If it weren’t for him and a few other Romanian rulers, all European states would be Turkish colonies now.”
“Talking with you is really fascinating! I always learn new things,” she remarked, impressed by all his knowledge.
He returned her smile and the fatigue shadows on his face seemed to dissipate slowly.
“I could tell you a lot more interesting things tonight, at dinner.”

And there's a link to the book HERE

Monday, 19 January 2015

The Illuminations to celebrate Napoleon’s surrender in 1814

 I have seen several bloggers and writers who have made the assumption that ‘illuminations’ referred to fireworks, but this is not actually the case.  The earliest reference to illuminations and fireworks that I could find was in 1717, in a letter from Fox, reported in the newspaper, viz:

Yesterday being the Prince’s Birth-Day, the Arch-Bishop of Canterbury, the Lord Chancellor, the Nobility and Gentry, with the Foreign Ambassadors in town, went to St James’s, to congratulate his Royal Highness; and in the Cities of Westminster and London, there was Bon-fires, Fireworks and Illuminations in an extraordinary manner in the Evening.

So what were Illuminations? As far as I can ascertain, it became custom some time probably in the late seventeenth century to celebrate nationally important events – and presumably local ones, in each town – by displaying a candle or lantern in as many windows of a house as might be afforded by the householder, showing it all lit up as a sign of approval.  As time went on, and probably in the same spirit in which one today might trace the competition in a suburban street by the increase in the level of decoration of lace curtains as one walks down the street, illuminations became in many cases more than just candles or lanterns in windows.  Houses ‘festooned’ must have had whole rows of lamps strung up outside, coloured glass doing its bit to add to the display, and by 1814 ‘transparencies’ are described, which appear to have been painted glass with wording or pictures thus painted, and lit from behind.  The Gas Company surpassed all other illuminations with their display, though it is worth noting that even gas lighting left pools of darkness, and the uncertain lighting in the shadows left by the illuminations give a sinister setting in my novel 'The Hasty Betrothal' for skulduggery to be planned. 

This is the opening of the four-column description of the illuminations of the 11th, 12th and 13th of April 1814:

And this is an excerpt from my book now probably to be titled ‘The Hasty Betrothal’, in which the heroine enjoys the illuminations.

As it happened, Edward was also taking Letty and Beth to see the illuminations; he chose to take them to Somerset House, where the decorations were quite sumptuous, and some took the part of lit inscriptions, with the Latin tag along the front,
Europa Instaurata, Auspice Britanniae;
Tyrannide subversa, Vindice Liberatis.
“I may have little Latin, but even I can puzzle that out,” said Beth.  “Europe restored, under the protection of Britain, tyranny overthrown, the vindication of liberty.”
“Near enough,” said Edward.  “Europe set up under the protection of Britain, Tyranny overthrown, the champion freed, as I make it.”
“I like the pictures better,” said Beth, pointing to another building that displayed an illuminated painted transparency caricature of Bonaparte, tumbling from the mount of Republicanism into the arms of a demon.  “Why does it say ‘To Hell-bay’?”
“No idea,” said Edward, “unless it’s a forced pun on the name of the island he is to be exiled to, Elba.”
“It’s not a good pun if so,” said Beth, disapprovingly. “But an amusing idea to have him tumble from hubris.”
They wandered the streets, exclaiming at the ingenuity of some of the illuminations, expressions of loyalty to the King and Regent, as well as praising Wellington, expressions of support to the House of Bourbon, and a myriad of coloured lamps as well as transparencies.
Edward was insistent that the ladies should repair with him to Fleet Street.
“The Knight’s Gas Company have a most ingenious display,” he told them.
Beth gasped as she saw what the gas company had managed, a tree made of laurel leaves and festooned with blossoms made with gas lights, and throwing all other illuminations into the shade with the unparalleled brightness of the burning gas.
“Magnificent!” breathed Beth.
“Thought you’d like that,” said Edward.  “One day, all London’s streets will be illumined with gas lighting, and it will be a much safer place to be.”
“Indeed, yes!” said Beth.  “Why, I am sometimes afraid at night of turning my foot betwixt door and carriage, without having to stop to consider the possibility of footpads taking advantage of the confusion as people seek their carriages outside a house where a ball has been held, for once outside the pool of the lights at the entrance, the darkness appears the more Stygian by contrast.  I cannot help wondering whether one of the reasons to continue a ball until dawn is to permit safer passage home for the guests, once the crepuscular gloom as the sun rises has given way to morning.”
“I wouldn’t say you were wrong at that,” said Edward.  “Worth braving the cold of the evening?”
“Eminently so,” said Beth…