Thanks to the fiction writing of Bram Stoker, almost everyone is familiar with Dracula. The blood-curdling sound of that name conjures to mind an evil, immortal creature who feeds on the blood of the innocent, who cannot go into the sunlight, and has special powers to hypnotize and shape-shift. Although science and history pay no credence to the existence of vampires, Stoker did base his character on an actual person, Vlad Tepes, Prince Dracula of Walachia, who lived in the 15th century. In this case, fact proves to be more horrifying than fiction, for the vampire count appears as harmless as a puppy compared to the real Vlad Dracula of history.
People have always been fascinated by both the most pure and holy and the most grotesque and evil. Vlad Dracula was not the first blood-thirsty warlord tyrant, nor would he be the last, but his rule came at a period of significant changes in Europe, including the rise of the Renaissance and a power struggle between Islamic Turks and Christian Eastern Europe. With the invention of the printing press in the mid-1400s, the Bible and other religious writings immediately became the best-selling books in the western world; tales of Vlad Tepes sold the second most copies. Even in his own lifetime, stories of Vlad’s cruel tortures and insatiable lust for blood mesmerized readers throughout the Holy Roman Empire (Germany), France, Russia, and the rest of Europe. Other texts were more pro-Dracula in their sentiments, casting him as conqueror of the Turks and a hero of Christendom. These publications often influenced those who read them. Machiavelli’s Prince could easily have been patterned after Prince Dracula. Czar Ivan the Terrible of Russia heard the tales as a boy and made a conscious decision to immolate the Impaler’s model of tyrannical leadership, at which he unquestionably succeeded.
Tribute in Blood combines recorded facts with fictional characters who set about to secure his destruction. There is much we know about Vlad and much we do not. Vlad III, son of Vlad Dracul, began his reign by purging Walachia of its noble class and appointing a new nobility; Vlad Tepes killed or murdered an estimated 100,000 people, about one fifth of his country’s population; Vlad enforced the death penalty for all offenses, even failing to remove one’s hat; Vlad the Impaler defeated the Ottoman Turks, preventing an invasion of Europe; Prince Vlad was assassinated in December 1476 by an unknown assailant, believed by most to have been one of his boyars or a Turkish spy. It has been well documented that he enjoyed torturing his victims, even taking his meals as he watched them die.
In the novel Tribute in Blood, I have mixed carefully researched historical accounts with the fictional characters of Nicolae, Maria, and the townspeople. All the information pertaining to Vlad Dracula, King Matthias, Stephen the Great of Moldavia, Prince Basarab, and Sultan Mehmed II is historically accurate. The dates and place names given along with reports of battles and their outcomes are all recorded in various chronicles. There is much more material than what is included; I omitted some for brevity’s sake and the rest because the tales were too shocking and gruesome for the general reader.
Vlad’s first reign as prince was brief and absent from mention in my book. Tribute in Blood opens on Easter Sunday, 1457, at the beginning of his second and longest rule of six years; that was the occasion where he had his entire noble class impaled and their children sent on a fifty-mile trek to rebuild his favorite castle. The storyline then skips the fourteen years he spent in exile in Hungary, picking back up after he re-seized power in the fall of 1476. I created the protagonists Nicolae and Maria with ample reasons to want Vlad out of power permanently and then arranged for them to meet. The attraction between them is immediate, but the romance is a slow-burner as they both have revenge uppermost in their minds. While some of Vlad’s grisly deeds are depicted in the action, most are relayed in tales told by the townspeople. I introduced other fictional characters including some who support and idealize Vlad, some who fear him, and a couple who work for him but wish they didn’t.
Each chapter opens with a quote from a primary source relevant to that chapter, tying known facts to my storytelling. In true thriller style, almost every chapter ends with a cliffhanger, hopefully enticing the reader to turn the page.
Vlad’s final reign was brief. He seized power between September and early October 1476, and was killed in a war with the Turks somewhere near Bucharest in mid to late December. Accounts differ on exactly how he died. One version says that he went up a small hill to watch the battle and was shot with arrows by his own men. Another tells of a Turkish spy who masqueraded as one of his aides and then stabbed him while the combat was in full force. All that history records for certain is that Vlad was slain by an unknown attacker during the battle, but not in the battle itself, and that Mehmed carried his head back to Constantinople on a pike; his body was then laid to rest in the Snagov Monastery. Although my novel’s adaptation of his assassination is fictional, it fits neatly into the available historical information surrounding his death.
The reader should remember that Vlad Dracula was not a simple one-dimensional villain, but a very complex character. We should also not forget that his type of tyranny has been repeated by leaders throughout the ages, from Ivan the Terrible to Adolph Hitler. Even in more modern times Romania suffered under a cruel dictator, Ceausescu, who was executed for his crimes. Although I sought to pen an exciting tale, I would hope none of us ignores the history lesson that Dracula taught—we must never allow an evil man the power to rule.
The primary books I used in researching the life of Prince Vlad were Vlad III Dracula; The Life and Times of the Historical Dracula, by Kurt W. Treptow and Dracula, Prince of Many Faces, by Radu R. Florescu and Raymond T. McNally. I would recommend these to anyone seeking more detailed information on Vlad Tepes and Romanian history.