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I was a Robert E. Howard fan for about a year when I first came across Stephen Fabian’s work in one of the first hardcover collection of Howard’s stories I ever purchased. That book was The Vultures, published in 1973 by Fictioneer Press. I was totally blown away by Fabian’s art and immediately was on the lookout for more of his stuff. I soon found it in Cross Plains, REH: Lone Star Fictioneer, Fantasy Crossroads and The Howard Review, to name but a few. I can honestly say I’ve never seen a bad Fabian illustration. As far as I’m concerned, his unique style and quality are unsurpassed.

imageStephen Emil Fabian, Sr. was born in Garfield, New Jersey on January 3, 1930. He grew up in Passaic, New Jersey, graduating High School in 1949. At that time there was a mandatory draft going on in preparation for the anticipated Korean war and since Fabian did not want to go into the Army, he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force, signing up for 4 years. After basic training in Texas, Fabian attended the Radio and Radar Schools at Scott Air Force Base, Belleville, Illinois, completing both the general and the advanced radio and radar courses, he stayed on as an instructor.

In the early 1950s Fabian was 21 years old and teaching electronics courses in the U.S. Air Force. At that time he began buying and reading Amazing Stories, Galaxy and other science fiction magazines, being attracted to them by the beautiful Virgil Finlay covers and the wonderful story illustrations of Edd Cartier and others. He was also a huge fan of Hannes Bok. Fabian recalls thinking at the time, “I wish I could do that.”

Returning to civilian life in 1953, Fabian went to work for Dumont Television in East Paterson, New Jersey. In 1955 he got married and shortly thereafter, two sons, Andy and Stephen, Jr., were born. Soon Fabian established a lifelong friendship with Gerry de La Ree, fantasy bookseller and publisher:

Gerry de La Ree was the first person I met who was an insider in the science fiction and fantasy field. That was back in 1955 when he lived in River Edge, New Jersey and had a mail-order book and used magazine business and my first visit to his home was to buy some back issues of Fantastic Novels and Famous Fantastic Mysteries. Those issues featured the artwork of Virgil Finlay, Lawrence Sterne Stevens, and Hannes Bok, and I just had to have them; I was just starting to collect SF books and magazines. When I entered his home that first time it was like going from black and white to color and stepping into the Magical Land of Oz. All those beautiful paintings and all those wonderful books, all over the house, and all science fiction and fantasy! My sense of wonder was overflowing, and I could tell that Gerry could see it in my face, by the smile he had on his face. At that time I had just gotten married and was working as an electronic technician at the Dumont Television Lab in East Paterson, New Jersey, and if you told me then that one day I would become a munchkin in that Land of Oz, I would have laughed and said, “I wish!” Well, would you believe it, 20 years later, I actually did become a munchkin, turning out illustrations and cover paintings for science fiction books; magazines, fanzines, and I’ve been doing it for many years, in the Magical Land of Oz!

In 1958 Fabian went to work for the Curtiss Wright Electronics Division, also in East Paterson, which lasted for 5 years and in 1963 he was hired by Simmonds Precision Products, working in their Research and Development department. Most of the work at Simmonds involved military and aerospace contracts. When they moved to Vermont in 1965, Fabian and his family went with them. In 1974 things got so bad in those industries that his department was eliminated and Fabian lost his job. Not long after, Simmonds Precision was gone.

imageIn the mid-1960s when he had dreams of becoming a professional science fiction illustrator, Fabian was teaching himself to draw and paint. He purchased 5 art instruction books by the great illustrator, Andrew Loomis: Fun With a Pencil, Drawing the Head and Hands, Figure Drawing For All It’s Worth, 3-Dimensional Drawing and Creative Illustration. As practice, Fabian copied Loomis’ “Mermaid” painting from Creative Illustration and made lots of changes in order to be a little “creative” about it.

Steve’s first published artwork appeared in 1967 in the fanzine Twilight Zine, published by the MIT Science Fiction Society in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The editors placed an ad in a SF magazine that Fabian read soliciting artwork for their fanzine. He quickly worked up the courage to create a drawing and mail it to them. Fabian soon received a copy in the mail of Twilight Zine No.24, saw his drawing on the cover and was overjoyed. It was his first small step toward fulfilling his wish to become a professional SF illustrator.

Fabian kept refining his craft until his artwork gained widespread attention in the publishing world:

In 1974, I became free of the burden of having to “work for a living,” From the very first day that I lost my job at Simmonds Precision Products and came home to find two letters in the mail from professional magazines asking me to contribute artwork, I have never had to go out and solicit assignments from anyone. Every week, for years and years, I received phone calls or letters from paying fan magazine editors or professional publishers offering me work. I don’t know why this “miracle” happened to me, but it did.

On discovering Robert E. Howard, Fabian comments:

As I continued to work at my new career and art fans began to contact me wanting to buy my original artwork I soon learned that certain subjects were sure sellers; any drawing or painting I did that featured a well-endowed female or a unicorn, were sure sellers. There came a time when I thought, “Gee, why don’t I just draw and paint women and horses with horns, I can make a living just doing that!” And then along came the discovery of Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories and he also became a “sure-seller” for me. Dozens of fanzine publishers asked me to do Conan drawings for them. I have enjoyed reading Howard’s “original” stories, and for giving me that enjoyment, I forgive him for hating Lincoln.

Around this time Fabian did a lot of work for a California publisher named George Hamilton. First his art was featured in Hamilton’s Howard fanzine Cross Plains, followed by artwork done for a number of REH chapbooks, including Blades for France, Isle of Pirate’s Doom, Shadow of the Hun, among others.

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Fabian does not have one favorite Howard piece, but believes he did some of his best Howard artwork on the “Queen of the Black Coast” portfolio published by Bortner & Kruse in 1976. I have to agree; the portfolio is stunning and true to the story.

In 1977 when Zebra Books was ready to publish a collection of Howard’s Dark Agnes de Chastillon yarns titled The Sword Woman, Fabian was commissioned to do the cover and a number of interior illustrations:

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When I received the manuscript for this job I was asked by the editor to do some preliminary sketches and bring them to their New York office. A few days later, when I got there, the editor introduced me to her very young assistant who led me to a small room and directed me to a table. On the table were paperback covers that had been removed from their books and laid out neatly in rows; there must have been about 30 or more of them, from various publishers other than Zebra. He pointed to them and said, “I don’t want anything that looks like this junk, I want you to do me artwork that will make a browser’s eyes in a bookstore pop out when he sees your cover and reach out and grab it!” I leaned over to get a closer look at the artwork on some of the covers and I recognized a couple of Jeff Jones covers, another by Frazetta, one by Kelly Freas, and it occurred to me that this table was filled with paperback covers painted by the best artists in the field! Before I responded, I reminded myself that I was in the Land of Oz now, I was not back in Vermont at my old job in the Research and Development department at Simmonds Precision Products trying to convince my boss that resistors R25 and R28 in the Torque Indicator square-wave circuit need to be .5% wire-wound precision resistors in order to make the indicator meet specs. Like many of the characters I read about in science fiction stories over the years, I had taken a step…into another world.

When I returned and showed my preliminary sketches to the assistant editor, he was shocked to see the “sword woman” wearing a wide-brimmed feathered hat, dressed in pantaloons and swinging an épée. “No, No, No” he uttered, “We want her in a steel helmet, wearing armor, and swinging a broadsword, like Conan the Conqueror! This is Robert E. Howard here, not the Three Musketeers!” “But,” I answered, “This is Howard’s version of the Musketeers, all the characters in the story use fencing swords and wear clothes like them. It is the time and place of the Musketeers.” He ran out of the room and came back a few minutes later. “We don’t care,” he said, “we want all the characters looking like barbarians; we want the book to attract the Conan readers.” So that’s what I did, and there you are, anyone who reads this book no doubt thinks that I did not, since my drawings are all wrong in the details! In a way though, I did try to put a hint of the Musketeer look into the pictures.

Also, the editor was not concerned with the cover artwork being faithful to the story, she wanted the book to attract “Conan readers,” and insisted I make my artwork reflect Howard’s barbarian age stories, and suggested the scene that appears on the cover. When I brought the finished painting to the office, the editor thought the sword woman’s breasts were a bit too small so I took it home and made them larger. This time they were a bit too large. I got them “perfect” the third time around. As I rode back home on the bus watching the city streets go by, my thoughts turned to Vermont, my old job, and how much I missed all those “problems” I had to deal with in the lab, the drafting department, the assembly department, the machine shop. Geez, I was thinking of them as “the good old days!”

Fabian would eventually find a use for those preliminary “Sword Woman” sketches. Years later he finished the drawings and sold them to art collectors whenever they phoned to ask if him if he had some Howard artwork for sale.

Fabian also did a great deal of artwork for Cryptic Publications. Most of their chapbooks featured Howard stories:

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Editor and publisher Robert Price had a lot of fun coming up with titles for his fan publications. During the 1980s he probably produced nearly 100 titles before he stopped doing them. They were priced from $3.00 to $4.50. each with print runs of perhaps 500 copies. Now, they show up on eBay occasionally, with starting prices at $175 and higher. And to think that Bob not only paid me for the cover art, he gave me 5 complimentary copies of each title, which I gladly turned around and handed out to my friends with my compliments. So let’s see…if I had held onto those free copies I would have over 100 of them, and if I put them on eBay…. Oh well, when I was a kid I also gave away my copies of the first issue of Action Comics, Batman, Superman, I had them all! What I did not have was the smarts to know that someday they would be worth thousands of dollars, each! I know, you’re going to tell me that after all the intervening years I’m still smart-less, giving away all those Robert Price fanzines.

Some more recent work done by Fabian was for the covers of Wildside’s ten volume collection, The Weird Works of Robert E. Howard, which brought his artwork into the computer age, as he explains:

The computer allows me to do something unique now with my artwork; I can take a part of one picture, combine it with another, change the colors, the sizes, play with the composition and create a whole new painting. Sometimes I use a painting that I did just as a palate to start a new painting, the former painting gets completely obliterated after a while as the new painting begins to take shape. The computer monitor is now my art palette, my old paintings are my tubes of paint, and the mouse is my stock of brushes.

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Fabian is well respected in his field and has fans all over the world. In 2006 he was a recipient of the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement. Fabian was also twice nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Fan Artist (1970 and 1971), and is a seven-time nominee for the Hugo Award for Best Professional Artist (1975-1981).

He is still going strong at age 85, creating new masterworks of fantasy illustration, making new fans and awing a new generation with his immense talent.

Visit Stephen Fabian’s website for hundreds of examples of his art and the story behind each illustration. You can also purchase a number of signed portfolios of his art directly from him at reasonable prices.

 Artwork appearing on this page is © Copyright by Stephen Fabian. All rights reserved.

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“Red Sonya from Rogatino – that’s all we know. Marches and fights like a man – God knows why. Swears she’s sister to Roxelana, the Soldan’s favorite. If the Tatars who grabbed Roxelana that night had got Sonya, by Saint Piotr!  Suleyman would have had a handful!  Let her alone, sir brother; she’s a wildcat. Come and have a tankard of ale.”

– Robert E. Howard, “The Shadow of the Vulture”

While Gottfried von Kalmbach engaged in adventures (and misadventures) from Hungary to Italy, the woman he was to meet at the siege of Vienna had been characteristically active herself. Red Sonya was born in Rogatino, or Rohatyn, a town in the western Ukraine. (It may derive from the Slavic word “rogatyna,” a heavy, broad-headed spear.)

The region was then known as Ruthenia and lay under the influence of Poland-Lithuania. If indeed she was a sister of the Sultan’s favorite Roxelana, she must have been born in the early sixteenth century. Estimates of Roxelana’s birth date vary from 1502 to 1506. I assume Sonya told the truth, and whether older or younger than her sister, was born in 1504 – the same year as that other red-haired sword woman of REH’s, Agnes de Chastillon of La Fere in Normandy.

hamilton-bladesforfranceRuthenia was plagued by slave raids carried out by the Crimean Tatars. Their khanate was an Ottoman vassal state, and one of its greatest slave trading depots. They raided constantly, on a huge scale, into Ruthenia and Russia. The descent upon Rogatino that saw Sonya’s sister captured was merely one case. I estimate that it took place in 1521, when Sonya was seventeen. If correct, that would mean that both Sonya in the east and Agnes de la Fere in Normandy experienced a violent turning point in their lives at the same age – Agnes when she rebelled against a forced marriage, killed her detestable bridegroom and fled, Sonya when her sister was captured and her town burned.

(Gottfried von Kalmbach was twenty-three at the time, by my estimate. He had been a Knight of St. John since his teens, and become a seasoned fighting man on land and sea. The siege of Rhodes was one year away.)

Sonya and Roxelana’s father was apparently an orthodox priest, though little is known of the childhood of either. The red-haired sister must have been wild and aggressive from an early age, to judge by her later career. Possibly she learned to ride, and use a saber and lance, from a servant in her father’s house who had once been a soldier. He may even have been an aged and retired Cossack. In a region so subject to raiding by Tatars – not to mention Cossacks – the skills were all too likely to be needed.

Sonya’s dislike of her sister, which she was to express vehemently on the walls of Vienna, probably dated from those days also. It doesn’t seem likely that she would want to blow Roxelana to Hades with a cannon merely because she had risen to become the Sultan’s favorite. She, like Sonya, may have shown her essential qualities young, and in later life, as Haseki Sultan, she caused Suleiman to believe his son Mustafa wanted to usurp his throne, resulting in Mustafa’s execution, because she wanted her own son to succeed. She also caused the Sultan’s trusted vizier Ibrahim, whom he loved as a brother, to be executed on false charges, even though Suleiman had sworn to Ibrahim he would never award him a bowstring. Roxelana’s name for ruthless treachery is not mere mythic vilification. She covered those traits with charm and vivacity; her Turkish name was Khurrem, the Laughing One or the Joyous. Perhaps, as a girl, she was never more joyous than when causing painful trouble for Sonya.

maxresdefaultFollowing the Tatar attack on Rogatino, I feel sure that Sonya turned wilder than ever and rode with the Zaporozhian Cossacks. They had emerged in the fifteenth century as bandits, runaway serfs, deserting soldiers and other outlaws formed their own communities in the wild places. They became known by the Polish word kozaki – free men. Details can be found in my series, “If Wishes Were Horses” Parts 5(A) and 5(B), “Scalplock and Sabre” and “The Wolf-Brothers.” REH was fascinated by the Cossacks; it seems hardly thinkable that Sonya never made one of their fellowship. Such a brawling macho bunch would have required very tough tests of a woman, even if she had been recommended by the (hypothetical) old Cossack who taught her to ride and wield a sword in the first place. Sonya must have passed them, however.

The Zaporozhian Sech, on the lower Dneiper, lay in a debatable region between Poland-Lithuania and Muscovy. The free and violent life appealed to Sonya; so did the Cossacks’ frequent battles with the Crimean Tatars, whom they plundered as the Tatars plundered others. Sonya had a debt to collect from them. She pursued it, riding as hard and cutting as deep as any of the male Cossacks. As a landsknecht said to Gottfried years later, “Cut – slash – death to you, dog-soul!  There’s her way.”

The Polish-Lithuanian state (then a Grand Duchy) saw possibilities in these fierce horsemen, who had formed a disciplined, united community in spite of their anarchic beginnings. A state council of 1524 gave official consideration to the idea of recruiting Cossack companies for border service. Nothing came of it because the nobles and magnates were unwilling to vote the funds for putting it into effect. Red Sonya, then, had been with the Cossacks three years, and this blogger believes she had become the adopted daughter of a hetman. When he was killed fighting, some who disapproved of a woman riding and fighting among them talked louder, and one bawcock who considered himself quite a lad tried to ravage her. Outweighed by a good three stone, Sonya still killed him, and perhaps, like Valeria in “Red Nails,” hurled his severed head out of sight. The Cossack chiefs still banished her from the Sech. Alternately weeping and grinding her teeth, Sonya rode for the horizon. She took the amazing stunt horsemanship and endurance of the Cossack life with her.

cms pcf 1171109It would be interesting to know when and how she learned that her abducted sister had been selected for the Sultan’s harem and become his favorite. “Roxelana” means simply “the Russian girl” and was probably not her original name, any more than “Khurrem” – The Laughing One. I’ve read that she had been Alexandra Anastasia Lisowska before the Tatars seized her. Perhaps Sonya learned that somehow. One also wonders if Roxelana ever knew that her sister was the warrior girl Red Sonya, the woman who along with Gottfried von Kalmbach sent her husband defiance and Mikhal Oglu’s head.

The year 1524 saw Gottfried riding east into Lithuania, and later into Russia. Oddly enough, Sonya chose the same time to travel west. She wanted to see Italy, and did; the 1521-26 phase of the Italian Wars was in full swing, and Sonya, typically, soon plunged into the action. Essentially it was France against the German Empire and Spain (ruled by the same monarch), with the soil of Italy as their battlefield. The French lost Milan in 1521 and were beaten again at Bicocca in 1522. Not being French, German or Spanish, Sonya felt free to fight on any side she pleased, and went to Milan, which – now that the French had been kicked out – was ruled again by Duke Francesco Sforza. Sonya drew the attention of Milan’s court with dramatic demonstrations of Cossack horsemanship and fighting tricks. She hoped to become the Duke’s cavalry leader, with her experience against the Tatars, if she could overcome the taken-for-granted bias against female captains of war. An uphill struggle, but Sonya was never daunted by an uphill struggle.

Then the unexpected impinged on Sonya’s fate. Charles Duke of Bourbon, former Constable of France, had broken with King Francis the year before and gone over to the Imperial side. He had been swindled out of his inheritance and titles; King Francis I’s mother, Louise of Savoy, who hated Charles, had tried to have him murdered. (REH’s story “Blades for France,” featuring Dark Agnes, gives an account of the events.)  Her tool had been the king’s mistress, Frances de Foix. Frances had been wholly unwilling, but dared not defy Louise. Now she gained knowledge of a new plan on the vindictive Louise’s part to have Charles of Bourbon killed. This time there was no need for complex, hidden machinations like working through bands of bravos and pirate crews. Charles was considered a traitor to France. It could be argued with some validity that Louise and his ungrateful king had driven him to it, but Charles nevertheless had no standing in France any longer, and Louise could send assassins after him without fear of political consequences.

She did.

1747_La_Feuille_Map_of_Provence,_France_-_Geographicus_-_Provence-ratelband-1747They could not reach Charles at once. He had invaded Provence at the head of an Imperial army, but was driven back towards Italy, and King Francis pursued him, personally leading a French host. His mistress de Foix, as she had in 1521, decided to take action to prevent Charles’s murder, for Charles loved her and she had a distinctly soft spot for him; she was the king’s mistress by secret order of Louise. She needed to conceal her actions from her dreaded puppet master, but Louise was too concerned just then for her son’s fate to watch Frances closely. Louise knew that Germans allied with the English were advancing against Francis from the north, and begged him to return, writing, “Our good angel has abandoned us. Your horoscope foretells disaster!”

Charles of Bourbon arrived in Milan in 1525. So, unknown to him but well known to Frances de Foix, had Louise’s paid assassins, ranking high in their homicidal trade. So did Frances herself, under an assumed name, pretending to be a rich young abbess on pilgrimage. Meanwhile, Red Sonya had caused a stir in the city by fighting a duel with a young noble who had decided to put her in her place, and soundly beaten him. Frances naturally assumed this was Agnes de Chastillon; how many red-haired mistresses of the blade could there be in Western Europe?  And Agnes had been bound for Italy with Etienne Villiers when Frances met them.

She discovered her mistake, but prevailed on Sonya to aid her, for a price, and Sonya struck the bargain. Complex skullduggery and crossed blades in the night ensued, but in the end, Sonya finished the assassins. The landsknecht who told Gottfried, “Cut – slash – death to you, dog-soul!  There’s her way,” did not misinform him. As for Frances, she said in a daze, handing over Sonya’s fee, “Mon Dieu, I did not think there could be another like Agnes,” to which Sonya shot back, “By the blessed saints, I had not thought there could be another like me!”

I don’t think they ever did actually meet. It was probably as well. Two of a kind might not have agreed.

King Francis met the disaster his stars had foretold. Defeated and wounded at the Battle of Pavia, he was held prisoner in Spain until January 1526, the conditions for his release amounting to the dismemberment of his kingdom. He signed the Treaty of Madrid at last, but repudiated it once free. He had, however, contracted both syphilis and a head abscess. Neither his health nor his personality, or his mental acuteness, were the same afterwards.

Hans_Bocksberger_(I)_-_Emperor_Ferdinand_I_-_WGA02326Sonya decided she had had enough of Italy. She realized she would never be anything but a curiosity at the Milanese court, like a dwarf or a Brazilian dancer, and belike at any other Italian court also. Then, Italy was extremely Catholic, and Sonya was Russian Orthodox so far as she had strong religious leanings. She preferred not to risk interrogation for heresy. She decamped to the north – first Switzerland, then France, then England, which she had to leave in haste, though the part of her legend which avers she attracted the lustful notice of Henry VIII and did not want to become his mistress is doubtless just that, legend. It’s much more likely that she killed someone. She escaped from England by way of York, on a Dutch trading ship bound for the Baltic, and went ashore in Gdansk. After that she travelled south through Poland-Lithuania. Probably she was involved in the private fights of feuding nobles and other upheavals along the way. She was neither at the Battle of Mohacs nor the sack of Rome, but she knew as well as anybody that the Grand Turk would not stop with Mohacs and that Vienna would be next. Sonya gathered about her a heterogeneous force of Poles, Moravians, Bohemians and Styrians, hardened fighters and expert horsemen all, half a thousand strong, and offered her services to the Archduke of Austria.

Perhaps it was then she discovered that the Sultan’s new favorite was none other than her sister.

Ferdinand also knew what was coming. He accepted her irregular band. Until the Ottomans actually marched against Vienna, their main work was scouting and reconnaissance far into conquered Hungary. They performed it well. Then, as the dreaded Akinji outriders came ahead of the main Turkish host, Sonya and her rogues took their places behind the walls of Vienna to await the onslaught.

Gottfried von Kalmbach appeared not long after, with Mikhal Oglu the Vulture hot on his trail, hunting his head for the Turkish Sultan.

Inshallah . . .

Images by Stephen Fabian, Donato Giancola and Others.

Read Part One, Part TwoPart Three, Part Four, Part Five

This entry filed under Howard's Fiction.

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In a letter to H.P. Lovecraft, ca. June 1934, Howard describes a close call his friend and fellow Weird Tales writer E. Hoffmann Price had while traveling through Texas. Price was the only one of Howard’s contemporaries that he met in person.

By the way, Price was stopped at the Red River crossing by men with guns in their hands, looking for the famous outlaw Clyde Barrow, who was working in those parts at that time. As I told him, it was fortunate that his car was loaded with objects that evidenced his innocence, for Barrow was about his size, and was, like him accompanied by a blond young lady: Bonnie Parker. As you might have read in the paper, Bonnie was with Clyde when he met his finish at the hands of the ex-Rangers, in Louisiana. Bullets from machine rifles, ripping through him, riddled her, plastered the interior of the car with blood, brains and bits of Barrow’s skull. 167 slugs were poured into the automobile of the outlaws.

Howard didn’t have a very high opinion of the deadly pair as he did other outlaws who plied their trade in Texas, notably “Machine Gun” Kelly and Harvey Bailey. Howard admired the pair for living by an “outlaw code.” In his eyes Bonnie and Clyde had so such code and were little more than ruthless killers.

In a letter to  August Derleth, dated September 4, 1933, he says this about the Barrow brothers.

I note that the Barrows boys have been raising some hell up in Iowa, and one of them managed to get himself bumped off. They’re local products; were raised over in Coleman County, which adjoins Callahan County on the west. They were never considered big-time bandits at all.

There was some confusion were Bonnie Parker was from. She never lived in either Coleman or Callahan Counties as was reported in newspapers of the day. She actually was born in Rowena and her family moved to Cement City, a suburb of Dallas, when she was four years old after the death of her father.

Clyde Barrow and his brother Buck were born in Telico, on their father’s tenant farm. In 1921, the Barrows moved to West Dallas where the family opened a gasoline station.

Of course, Buck is the Barrow Howard is referring to as being killed. On July 19, 1933, Buck suffered a mortal head wound in a gunfight with lawmen at a tourist court in Platte City, Missouri and was captured in another shoot-out in Dexter, Iowa on July 24, 1933 where he sustained several more wounds. His wife, Blanche, a reluctant and wounded gang member was also captured. Buck died in a hospital in Perry, Iowa on July 29, 1933.

Both Bonnie and Clyde were young adults at the beginning of The Great Depression, had hardscrabble upbringings and made poor life choices early on.

Bonnie-Parker-with-her-first-husband-Roy-ThorntonBonnie married small time criminal Roy Thornton when she was just 16 years old. Roy was always away from home, planning or doing his next crime. Bonnie tired of being left alone and the marriage fell apart. However they never got a divorce. She still wore her wedding ring until the day she died. Thornton was killed in a failed prison escape in 1937.

During Clyde’s teenage years West Dallas was a very rough neighborhood, but Clyde had no trouble fitting right in. Clyde and older brother Buck managed to stay in constant trouble with the law. This was the beginning of Clyde’s extreme hatred of lawmen. The pair was usually arrested for small time crimes such as stealing turkeys and cars. As they grew older and bolder, the seriousness of their crimes escalated.

Clyde met Bonnie in 1930, shortly before he was jailed for burglary in Waco. With the aid of Bonnie, who slipped a handgun to him out of the guard’s view, Clyde escaped, but was captured a week later in Ohio. He was returned to Texas and sentenced to fourteen years hard labor in a Texas State penitentiary. Barrow’s mother pleaded with the warden to let Clyde go and he was paroled in February 1932, six days after he had a fellow prisoner cut off two of his toes to get out of the work detail. For the rest of his short life, he walked with a limp and had to drive in his socks to maintain control of the vehicle.

While Bonnie, Clyde and their bank robbing “gang” were celebrated as folk heroes by many who had lost their businesses, farms and homes to banks during The Great Depression, their darker side caused the general public to eventually turn against them. They robbed more mom and pop grocery stores and gasoline stations than they did banks and killed people indiscriminately–13 in all, mostly lawmen.

untitledmaIt was a well-known fact in law enforcement circles that Bonnie and Clyde would frequently arrange clandestine meetings with their families. So the lawmen constantly harassed Clyde and Bonnie’s relatives and sought to get indictments on any family member who aided and abetted the pair. Texas state officials, frustrated by a lack of progress apprehending the duo, appealed to Texas Governor Miriam “Ma” Ferguson who gave permission for them to hire a special agent to track the pair down once and for all. That special agent chosen was legendary retired Texas Ranger Frank Hamer.

So on February 10, 1934 Hamer was hired and paid a salary of $150 a month and immediately took up the task of tracking down Clyde and his cohorts. He used a Ford V8, which he knew Clyde was partial to. Hamer was soon on their trail, getting news they were spotted in Texarkana, but despite his best efforts he always seemed to be a day late catching up to the elusive pair. Regrettably, while chasing them, Clyde killed three more policemen. Living out of his car, he tracked them for 102 days before finally finding them.

Once he had located them in northwest Louisiana, he knew he had to work fast to avoid letting them to slip away again. So Hamer assembled a contingent of five law enforcement officers from Texas and Louisiana to make up a posse to kill the outlaw pair. He first recruited his old friend B.M. “Maney” Gault, along with Bob Alcorn, Ted Hinton, Henderson Jordan and Paul Oakley. Hamer knew capture was not a possibility. It was a well-known fact that Clyde swore he rather die than return to prison and would take as many lawmen as he could with him.

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The Posse: Left to right, standing: Ted Hinton, Prentiss Oakley & B.M. “Maney” Gault. Sitting: Bob Alcorn, Henderson Jordan and Frank Hamer.

Frank Hamer knew Barrow gang member Henry Methvin was in a jam – seems he escaped from a Texas prison and was on the run. Ivy Methvin, Henry’s father, had in the past let Bonnie and Clyde use his place in Louisiana to hide. Now fearing for his son’s life, he made a deal with Hamer for a full pardon for his son in Texas in exchange for information on the Barrow gang.

On the evening of May 22nd, knowing that Bonnie and Clyde used a specific route, the posse snatched Ivy Methvin who was traveling in his old farm truck on a narrow road known as Highway 154 between Mt. Lebanon and Sailes, Louisiana. Even though Methvin knew Hamer and his men were going to take down Bonnie and Clyde, he did not know the details. Hamer planned it that way so Clyde wouldn’t be tipped off and for Methvin’s protection as well. They hustled him into the woods and handcuffed him to a tree. The posse removed one of the old truck’s wheels to make it look like it had broken down at that spot. Knowing that Clyde knew what Methvin’s truck looked like, they expected him to slow down or stop to be of assistance to Henry’s father.

They lawmen stood vigil in the woods for nearly seven hours until they heard an automobile approaching at a high rate of speed at about 9:10 a.m on May 23, 1934. Clyde, with Bonnie at his side, was going 85 mph in a stolen Ford–a four-door 1934 Deluxe with a V-8 engine. Just as planned, Clyde slowed down when he saw Methvin’s disabled truck on the highway.

ambushmap3It is unknown whether it was Hamer or Alcorn stepped into the road to order them to stop. When the car came to a halt, they were told to give up. The outlaw pair reached for their guns but never fired a shot. Hamer and his men let loose,  firing with steel jacketed, high velocity bullets into the car from seemingly every angle. The shoeless Clyde worked the pedals and shifted the transmission, causing the car to lurch forward. Under that hail of bullets, the car came to a dead stop in a ditch beside the road. The relentless firing continued even after the car stopped moving.

Despite the fact they had just fired 167 rounds into the car, the posse approached the bullet-riddled Ford with care. Having escaped so many ambushes and scrapes with the law, their survival of these deadly confrontations seemed to make them imperious to death. But their luck and time had run out. The couple was shot to pieces and could not have been any deader than they were.

Upon inspecting the car Hamer and his men found the following items: one saxophone, three .30 caliber Browning automatic rifles, one 10 gauge Winchester lever action “sawed-off” shotgun, one 20-gauge “sawed-off” shotgun, one .32 Colt caliber automatic, one .380 Colt automatic pistol, one Colt .45 caliber “double action” revolver, seven .45 Colt automatic pistols, 100 rounds of machine gun clips and approximately 3,000 rounds of ammunition. They also discovered license plates from Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Texas, Indiana, Kansas, Ohio and Louisiana.

A contemporary of Bonnie and Clyde, John Dillinger (who was himself gunned down two months after the outlaw couple met their end), said upon learning of their deaths, “Bonnie and Clyde gave bank robbing a bad name.”

Both Bonnie and Clyde knew their days were numbered. Just two weeks before their violent  deaths, Bonnie wrote this prophetic poem:

The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde

by Bonnie Parker

You’ve read the story of Jesse James
Of how he lived and died;
If you’re still in need
Of something to read,
Here’s the story of Bonnie and Clyde.

Now Bonnie and Clyde are the Barrow gang,
I’m sure you all have read
How they rob and steal
And those who squeal
Are usually found dying or dead.

There’s lots of untruths to these write-ups;
They’re not so ruthless as that;
Their nature is raw;
They hate all the law
The stool pigeons, spotters, and rats.

They call them cold-blooded killers;
They say they are heartless and mean;
But I say this with pride,
That I once knew Clyde
When he was honest and upright and clean.

But the laws fooled around,
Kept taking him down
And locking him up in a cell,
Till he said to me,
“I’ll never be free,
So I’ll meet a few of them in hell.”

The road was so dimly lighted;
There were no highway signs to guide;
But they made up their minds
If all roads were blind,
They wouldn’t give up till they died.

The road gets dimmer and dimmer;
Sometimes you can hardly see;
But it’s fight, man to man,
And do all you can,
For they know they can never be free.

From heart-break some people have suffered;
From weariness some people have died;
But take it all in all,
Our troubles are small
Till we get like Bonnie and Clyde.

If a policeman is killed in Dallas,
And they have no clue or guide;
If they can’t find a fiend,
They just wipe their slate clean
And hand it on Bonnie and Clyde.

There’s two crimes committed in America
Not accredited to the Barrow mob;
They had no hand
In the kidnap demand,
Nor the Kansas City depot job.

A newsboy once said to his buddy;
“I wish old Clyde would get jumped;
In these awful hard times
We’d make a few dimes
If five or six cops would get bumped.”

The police haven’t got the report yet,
But Clyde called me up today;
He said, “Don’t start any fights
We aren’t working nights
We’re joining the NRA.”

From Irving to West Dallas viaduct
Is known as the Great Divide,
Where the women are kin,
And the men are men,
And they won’t “stool” on Bonnie and Clyde.

If they try to act like citizens
And rent them a nice little flat,
About the third night
They’re invited to fight
By a sub-gun’s rat-tat-tat.

They don’t think they’re too tough or desperate,
They know that the law always wins;
They’ve been shot at before,
But they do not ignore
That death is the wages of sin.

Some day they’ll go down together;
And they’ll bury them side by side;
To few it’ll be grief
To the law a relief
But it’s death for Bonnie and Clyde.

Here is a short video of the aftermath of the ambush (Warning: Graphic Content):

Frazetta-destroyer

Know, O Prince, that between the years when the oceans drank Atlantis and the gleaming cities, and the rise of the Sons of Aryas, there was an Age undreamed of, when shining kingdoms lay spread across the world like blue mantles beneath the stars – Nemedia, Ophir, Brythunia, Hyperborea, Zamora with its dark-haired women and towers of spider-haunted mystery, Zingara with its chivalry, Koth that bordered the pastoral lands of Shem, Stygia with its shadow-guarded tombs, Hyrkania whose riders wore steel and silk and gold.  But the proudest kingdom of the world was Aquilonia, reigning supreme in the dreaming west.  Hither came Conan, the Cimmerian, black-haired, sullen-eyed, sword in hand, a thief, a reaver, a slayer, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the earth under his sandaled feet.

– Robert E. Howard, “The Nemedian Chronicles”

All Robert E. Howard fans recognize that paragraph. It first appeared at the beginning of “The Phoenix on the Sword” and has been reprinted countless times since. Before going further it’s probably a sound idea to caution all readers – as Howard did himself — that his “Nemedian Chronicles,” like his prehistoric “Age undreamed of” were plot devices for fiction, and he was not advancing any theories in contradiction of accepted history. It’s easy to make that error. Even Howard, knowing the tricks of the trade, briefly entertained the notion that Lovecraft’s Necronomicon existed, and was mildly surprised to learn otherwise from the horse’s mouth.

Since REH invented both the “Nemedian Chronicles” and Friedrich von Junzt’s Nameless Cults, aka Von Unausspreclichen Kulten or “The Black Book,” it seemed possible there was a link. (A fragment of REH’s will be cited later to show this is more than a possibility.) It’s often supposed, on insufficient grounds, that the “Nemedian Chronicles” were written in Conan’s time, or during the centuries that followed his reign, before a cataclysm destroyed the Hyborian Age world. The author is assumed to have been a scholar or sage in the kingdom of Nemedia. Deuce Richardson questions this on the grounds that the famous passage from the “Chronicles” clearly harks back to a vanished prehistoric age from its writer’s own point of view. “ … between the years when the oceans drank Atlantis and the rise of the Sons of Aryas … an Age undreamed of …”

Who, as Deuce cogently asks, refers to his own time as one that remotely was – as “an Age undreamed of?” Why would a native of the kingdom of Nemedia write in fulsome terms of Aquilonia, Nemedia’s traditional rival, and the barbarian king who trounced Nemedia? Further, the “Sons of Aryas,” that is, the “Aryans”/proto-Indo-Europeans, arose in the history we know, not before the cataclysm which cast down the Hyborian Age kingdoms. (The notion that “Aryan” was a racial type instead of a language group was popular in Howard’s day.)

For these reasons it seems that the “Nemedian Chronicles” would have been penned after the cataclysm; in all likelihood, long after, when new civilizations, now known to history, had risen and the Hyborian Age had been forgotten except in rags and scraps of legend.

A1PictsI recommend Deuce’s posts, “Know, oh prince… ”: The “Nemedian” Chronicles?” (25th February 2009) and “Of Celts and Nameless Cults: The (Irish) Nemedian Chronicles” (11th March 2009) on that noble weblog The Cimmerian, to anybody who wants the full and closely-reasoned lowdown.

If that argument holds water – and I think it does – who were those “Nemedians” who gave their name to the Chronicles?

Robert E. Howard makes this pretty clear in the latter part of his essay, “The Hyborian Age.” He says that centuries after Conan’s time, the Picts, having wrecked a corrupt, arrogant, imperial (but still mighty) Aquilonia, founded a barbaric empire of their own. Other barbarians also took their share. Two different tribes of Aesir (primordial, golden-haired Nordics) conquered Brythunia and Nemedia. Each adopted the name of the kingdom they had overrun. Then, after the cataclysm, these “Brythons” and “Nemedians” fell back into Neolithic savagery and survived under their borrowed names in the general area of Scythia – the modern Ukraine.

A4

They drifted and wandered across the world until some of them came to the British Isles. The Brythunians (fair-haired Nordics, basically) or Brythons, became the ancestors of the Brythonic Celts. A tribe of Nemedians reached Ireland, and like their successors in a series of invasions, fought against the grotesque Fomors. They were subjugated, and later rebelled with partial success against their harsh bondage, which included demands for two-thirds of their children as tribute. The majority fled from Ireland. Later they returned, and their fortunes are recorded in the Lebor Gabala Erenn, or the Book of Invasions of Ireland. Howard writes of them in his pseudo-historical essay.

They came into these countries as Aryans. But there were variations among these primitive Aryans, some of which are still recognized today, others which have long been forgotten. The blond Achaians [sic], Gauls and Britons, for instance, were descendants of pure-blooded Aesir. The Nemedians of Irish legendry were the Nemedian Aesir. The Danes were descendants of pure-blooded Vanir; the Goths – ancestors of the other Scandinavian and Germanic tribes, including the Anglo-Saxons—were descendants of a mixed race whose elements contained Vanir, Aesir and Cimmerian strains. The Gaels, ancestors of the Irish and Highland Scotch, descended from pure-blooded Cimmerian clans. The Cymric tribes of Britain were a mixed Nordic-Cimmerian race which preceded the purely Nordic Britons into the isles, and thus gave rise to a legend of Gaelic priority.

– “The Hyborian Age”

In the history we know, when were the “Nemedian Chronicles” written, by whom, where, and how did the “chronicler” know so much about a vanished, forgotten time?

It’s fair to assume the chronicler was Irish, probably of Nemedian descent himself. Other ancestors of his would have included Cimmerians, described by REH as direct forebears of the Gaels, and of the historical Cimmerians who also inhabited the Ukraine, between 1500 and 800 BCE. (Those dates are approximate and sweeping, of course.) He, the chronicles’ author, must have been literate, which suggests he was a monk.

Scholarly Irish missionaries founded monasteries across Europe in the Dark Ages. They did an immense amount, not only to keep learning alive in a bloody, ignorant time, but to spread it. Some of their greatest foundations graced the German lands – at Cologne, Mainz, Strasbourg, Reichenau, Regensburg and Salzburg.

In Cologne, for example, a group of Irish monks led by Minnborinus arrived in the late 10th century. Warin, the Archbishop of Cologne, made Minnborinus Abbot of St. Martin’s in the city, a position he held until he died. He was succeeded as abbot by one of his companions, Kilian. Besides the Irish abbey of St. Martin’s, there were many shrines dedicated to Irish saints around Cologne; a dozen bearing St. Brigid’s name, for example. There was even a German term for the Gaelic monasteries, so significant was their presence — Schottenkloster.

Friedrich Wilhelm von Junzt’s birthplace and home was Dusseldorf on the Lower Rhine, not far north of Cologne.

Okay. The author of Howard’s “Nemedian Chronicles” may well have been an Irish monk somewhere in Germany, a man whose remote ancestors had prehistoric Cimmerians and Nemedian Aesir among them. Being Irish, he likely knew the legends of his homeland.

A8GonarWe know from Howard’s own Underwood that the gist of such legends could be passed down for over a thousand centuries. In “Men of the Shadows,Gonar retold the (garbled, but recognizable) history of the Picts. That history began long before the fall of Atlantis (in fact, back to the origins of Homo Sapiens itself) and extended right up to the defiant Pictish struggle against the imperialism of Septimius Severus.

The saga of the Nemedians and their forebears spanned far less than half such a chasm of history. That said, we are still looking at millennia, not centuries. How were the very specific data provided by the Chronicles passed down?

As noted above, the Nemedians were early settlers of Erin, apparently returning later as Firbolgs (according to Gaelic legend). Those same Gaelic legends all point to a period sometime before 1000 BCE (some accounts place it specifically at 1145 BCE). The Firbolgs returned after a sojourn in “Greece”. If that is in any way accurate in regard to Robert E. Howard’s own pseudo-history (and why not?), then we are looking at the end of the Homeric/Mycenaean Age.

The Mycenaeans were literate.  Guess what? So were the druids of Ireland. The Yellow Book of Lecan records that one hundred and eighty druidical books were burned during the time of Patrick. Perhaps just one unburnt tome  was preserved by a Firbolg clan, recounting tales chanted down the centuries by Nemedian bards from Hyborian Age times.

Of course, there is possibly a more esoteric source (or supplement) for the Chronicles. The son of Senchan Torpeist, Murgen, is said to have received the whole of the Tain Bo Cuailnge from a ghost. Why not something similar for the Chronicles? For that matter, there are the tarb feis and taghairm rituals known from Gaelic Erin and Alba, respectively. Rites of divination, but also it seems, of communication with the dead. Robert E. Howard certainly didn’t see native Gaelic beliefs being extirpated by 500 CE. Turlogh Dubh‘s ship (circa 1015) was named “Crom’s Hate.”

The “Nemedian Chronicles” could have been the result of such rites and ancient accounts, written down at any time between the eighth and thirteenth centuries CE. The “prince” to whom they were addressed would then have been a prince of the medieval German Empire, miscalled the “Holy Roman Empire,” when, as the cliched crack goes, it was neither holy, Roman, nor imperial. He might even have been Otto I, who was crowned and anointed Emperor by Pope John XII in 962 CE. Whomever he was, it is almost a surety that the nameless Irish monk instructed said “prince” that Nemedians once held sway (ages before) over the very land now ruled by their present (somewhat lateral) descendants. In addition, the monk could point out that all Germanic peoples had a bit of ancient Cimmerian blood in their veins, and thus a visceral link with Conan himself. 

VonJunzt1Returning to Friedrich Wilhelm von Junzt — he was German. He lived between 1795 and 1840. He was, this blogger believes, a baron of Dusseldorf (part of the Kingdom of Prussia from 1816 on) with the rank and prestige to investigate secret archives in monasteries dating to the Middle Ages. Howard writes in “The Thing on the Roof” that “he spent the full forty-five years of his life prying into strange places and discovering secret and abysmal things.” In “The Black Stone” we are informed that von Junzt read “countless little-known and esoteric books and manuscripts in the original.”

There could hardly be a more likely candidate for the discoverer of the “Nemedian Chronicles” in a centuries-old German monastery founded by Irish monks. The chronicles were written in Latin, and von Junzt certainly found them of interest. He discovered them, in fact, late in 1815, when he had just turned twenty. Their extraordinary content, and the vistas of a previously unknown age of history they opened to him, impelled Friedrich to continue his world-wide travels and studies from then onward. Von Junzt struggled for years against the academic world’s dismissal of them as the wild fancies of a medieval Irish monk, or even the hoax of an imaginative student.

Von Junzt gave an entire chapter of his infamous “Black Book” to the “Chronicles” and their implication. Von Unausspreclichen Kulten is almost wholly devoted to obscure, sinister cults of the German’s own day, but he discovered that many dark beliefs and practices of the Hyborian Age had survived into the post-cataclysmic world, even down to the nineteenth century – especially those described in the Necronomicon. For this reason, and also because of his constant efforts to have the legitimacy of the “Chronicles” recognized, Friedrich allowed them conspicuous space in the pages of his magnum opus.

A10UK

All this is speculative so far, with respect to Robert E. Howard’s views of any link between Junzt and the “Nemedian Chronicles.” Possible, maybe plausible, but nowhere definite. However, there is a passage in REH’s own written words that clinches it. Untitled, but known as the “Unaussprechlichen Kulten Fragment,” it has two typical Howard adventurers, Brill and Allison, talking about a tomb they are about to plunder. The relevant bit follows:

“And before them, who was in Egypt?”
“I reckon we’ll know after we’ve looted this tomb,” answered Allison, with a certain grimness in his manner.
Brill laughed.

“You mean to tell me you think there was a race here before the Egyptians, civilized enough to build a tomb such as this? I suppose you think they built the pyramids!”

“They did,” was the imperturbable reply.

Brill laughed. “Now you’re trying to pull my leg.”

Allison looked at him curiously. “Did you ever read the ‘Unaussprechlichen Kulten’?”
“What’s that?”
“A book called ‘Nameless Cults’ by a crazy German named von Junzt – at least they said he was crazy. Among other things he wrote of an age he swore he had discovered – a sort of historical blind spot. He called it the Hyborian Age. We have guessed what came before, and we know what came after, but that age itself has been a blank space – – no legends, no chronicles, just a few scattered names that came to be applied in other senses.

“It’s our lack of knowledge about this age that upsets our calculations and makes us put down Atlantis as myth. This is what von Junzt says: That when Atlantis, Lemuria and other nations of that age … “

After that, Allison essentially tells his companion what we’ve all read in REH’s essay, “The Hyborian Age.” The man who created it directly connects it with Nameless Cults, and writes that Friedrich von Junzt had knowledge of that lost time. It’s difficult to see how the German baron could have known about such “an Age undreamed of” unless he had made some such discovery as the one postulated here.

Images by Frank Frazetta, Michael Kaluta, Michael L. Peters, Bryan “Zarono” Reagan and Others.

Read Part One, Part Two

10322473_10152357759044334_3383124788384978387_n

The 15th annual Windy City is just two months away, running from April 15th through April 17th. In addition to celebrating their 15th anniversary, Windy City will be marking the 125th anniversary of the birth of H.P. Lovecraft.

Here are the details.

Memberships: Memberships are only $35 for all three days, $25 for Friday only, $25 for Saturday only, and $10 for Sunday only. Windy City is also offering Early Bird Admission for non-dealers for $60, which is a three day membership which allows entry to the dealer room on Friday at 10 a.m. (which is one hour after dealer setup begins and two hours before the con generally opens to the public). Ages 13 and under are free. Please note Windy City can now accept payments online through PayPal.

2015-windycityProgram Book:

All attendees will receive a program book, containing pulp articles and reprints. To advertise in the program book, rates are: full page ads $70 (4 1/8″ x 6.75″), half page $40 (4 1/8″ x 3 3/8″), business card size $25 (3.25″ x 2″). The deadline for submitting and paying for ads is March 5, 2015. Please contact Tom Roberts for ad and other program book matters (other than payment).

Art Show:

Windy City will once again be hosting an art show displaying original pulp and paperback art, sponsored by Dan Zimmer and the fine folks at Illustration Magazine. If you have any art you’d like to make available for display in the art show, please contact the organizers. The art show hours will be posted to the website when they are set.

Auctions:

There will be two auctions, Friday (from the estate of Jerry Weist) and Saturday nights.

Pulp Film Fest:

The Pulp Film Fest shows old movies based on pulp stories. More info, including the schedule, will be posted on the website closer to the con. The Pulp Film Fest is organized by Ed Hulse and sponsored by Blood ‘N’ Thunder magazine.

Con Suite:

The con suite will operate from Thursday night (so that you can pick up your badges and program materials) until late Saturday night/early Sunday morning — stop by and grab a drink, some munchies and meet other attendees.

westin-lombard-yorktown-centerHotel:

For the eighth year in a row Windy City is at the Westin Lombard, in the Western suburbs of Chicago. The Westin is located about 20 minutes Southwest of O’Hare Airport and about a half hour West of Midway Airport. Room rates are $113 per night (to get the con rate, you must book by 5:00 p.m. Central time on March 26, 2015). Parking is free. The hotel is in the midst of a shopping and restaurant corridor — it’s adjacent (within walking distance) to Yorktown Mall and about a mile from Oak Brook Shopping Center. For those with families, it’s also only 7 miles from the Brookfield Zoo, one of the nation’s top zoos. Movie theaters are also a short walk away. And if you like to gamble, the Aurora River Boat is about 10 miles away. If you are flying in and not renting a car, you can contact the hotel for details on various cab companies and shuttle services that offer fixed price transportation to and from the hotel. Please mention the con when booking rooms.

For more details and updates visit Windy City’s website and Facebook page. It is always a great convention and there is always a good sized contingent of Howard fans who attend each year.

Battle_of_Mohacs

“. . . but the world is ours! I think there are brave times ahead of us, adventures and wars and plunder! Then hey for Italy, and all brave adventurers!”

– Robert E. Howard, “Sword Woman”

The Battle of Mohacs in August 1526 left Hungary effectively split in three by the Turkish victory. The center was now ruled by the Ottomans, the east and Transylvania by the Sultan’s puppet, John Zapolya, who had held his forces back from the battle instead of coming to the aid of Hungary’s young King Louis. With Louis now dead – he had drowned in the Danube as he retreated after the fighting – the Hungarians of the western third of the country recognized Ferdinand, Archduke of Austria, as their ruler. They had no other available, unless Zapolya, and him they cursed as a traitor to rank with Judas.

Gottfried von Kalmbach held the same view. He had charged at Mohacs with Marczali and thirty others in a dedicated attempt to slay Sultan Suleiman, reached the Sultan and wounded him – the only one of the thirty-two left – and then, miraculously, survived the battle amid the confusion. He recovered from his wounds at Vienna. War having broken out between Archduke Ferdinand and Zapolya, the big German fought for a time on the Austrian side. However, since Zapolya was backed by the Ottoman Empire and Ferdinand by his older brother, the Emperor Charles, Gottfried foresaw a frustrating stalemate, at least for the present. Besides, he had come to think Ferdinand little better than Zapolya.

Anjou_1570louvreThus Gottfried drifted west as far as Innsbruck and halted there for a time, brooding on his failure at Mohacs and the deaths of his thirty-one comrades. He became a merchant’s bodyguard and conducted a large mule train of goods through the Brenner Pass, along the Imperial Road to Verona. The Italian wars were flaring into a blaze again; the King of France, captured by the Imperial forces at the Battle of Pavia in 1525, had been held captive in Madrid until he signed the treaty named for that city, in January 1526. Pressure from Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent had been another factor contributing to Francis of Valois’ release. He was being, let us say, co-operative with the Sultan. The Emperor Charles V was a bitter enemy to both of them.

King Francis soon repudiated the Treaty of Madrid and began trying to conquer Italy again. Emperor Charles had ambitions in the same direction. The Pope, Clement VII, decided he feared Charles more than Francis, and formed an alliance of the Papal States with Venice, France, Florence and Milan. He desired Henry VIII of England to join, also, and Henry was willing, but balked when the other members refused to sign the undertaking in England. They proceeded without him to create what became known as the League of Cognac against the Empire.

So matters stood when Gottfried von Kalmbach came to Verona. There he discovered that Georg von Frundsberg, veteran leader of landsknechte, hero of Bicocca, “Highest Field Captain”, and the man who had captured the King of France at Pavia, was among the League’s commanders. Von Frundsberg was one of the few men Gottfried respected without reserve. He abandoned the mule train and the merchant’s service to ride for Piacenza, where the landsknechte were said to have joined the Duc de Bourbon. Bourbon had been Constable of France, but he threw in with the League after a little too much shabby treatment from the French king and a great deal too much vindictive enmity from the king’s mother, Louise of Savoy. (REH’s Dark Agnes story, “Blades for France”, gives interesting sidelights on that feud.)

romeMapGottfried found that the news was a little out of date and faulty. The League’s forces, led by Bourbon and von Frundsberg, had run into trouble when the soldiers’ pay fell too far in arrears. They – von Frundsberg’s fourteen thousand landsknechte, six thousand Spaniards under the Duc de Bourbon, and fourteen thousand Italian infantry and cavalry, had mutinied and compelled their leaders to march on Rome. Gottfried rode like the devil, caught them before they reached the Eternal City, and joined them, knowing this was the sort of chance for plunder that comes once in a lifetime.

They reached Rome in May. As they attacked the walls, the Duc de Bourbon, conspicuous in his white cloak, was shot and killed, which destroyed the last restraint and discipline in the Imperial forces. (Benvenuto Cellini claimed to have been the man who killed Bourbon, but he was notoriously a hot-headed braggart, so he may have lied, or at least deceived himself.) The Imperials took the walls and carried out a fierce onslaught on St. Peter’s basilica. The Swiss Guard made a brave stand on the steps, but were massacred there, by Gottfried among others. The Pope escaped down a covered stone passage to Castel Sant’Angelo on the Tiber, once the tomb of Hadrian, long since converted into a fortress. Days of murder, pillage and arson followed, despite the efforts of the new commander, Philibert de Chalon, to halt the outrages. Gottfried did nothing particularly vicious, as sacks in Renaissance warfare went, but he extorted a huge sum from a wealthy cardinal to prevent the destruction of the man’s property in Rome, camping in his palace with a company of soldiers on whom he had imposed his strong-arm discipline for lack of any other, and going forth at intervals to loot other palaces and churches. For that brief time he was the richest he had been in all his life.

agnes1This blogger thinks it likely that two other REH characters of note, Dark Agnes de la Fere, or Agnes de Chastillon, and her companion Etienne Villiers, were in Rome with the Imperial forces. Certainly they were French, which should have placed them with the League of Cognac, but they strongly sympathized with the Duc de Bourbon. They had actually rescued him from his enemies one eventful night before they departed for Italy. “A blow to France if he should fall,” Etienne had said, and fall he had, now.

I believe Hildred Taferal of Devon and Solomon Kane’s grandfather Reuben were present in the city as well. Hildred is mentioned – then an aged man – by Solomon in “The Moon of Skulls.” He suffers from gout and blasphemes freely, the readers are told. He and Reuben were young at the sack of Rome, mercenaries who had served on the continent for some time. They doubtless felt free to sign a contract with the Imperial army, since the English king had not joined the League of Cognac. (He did, shortly afterwards, making loud noises of horror over the sack, his breach with the Pope over the matter of his divorce still in the future.)

It may even be that all five were drinking in the same tavern – or courtyard, or looted monastery – at one point. If Gottfried had encountered Agnes, though, a fierce red-haired sword woman, he would surely have commented on her startling likeness to Red Sonya of Rogatino when he met the latter, and he didn’t. Of course, he may have seen Agnes only briefly, and been too drunk to recall it later. The historical references in “Sword Woman,” “Blades for France” and “The Shadow of the Vulture” do establish firmly that Agnes, Etienne, Gottfried and Sonya were contemporaries.

frundsberg1The affair of Rome did the old commander von Frundsberg no good. The worthy soldier had gone into debt and even sold his table silver to finance his part of the Italian campaign. The mutiny of his forces and the sack of Rome had so shaken and dishonored him that he suffered a stroke. He spent some time in Italian hospitals as an invalid, and von Kalmbach – who hardly had the temperament of a nurse, but nevertheless had received hospital training among the Knights of St. John – stayed by his side, making sure he was well treated. He also escorted him home to Germany once the old man was strong enough to travel. Von Kalmbach carried his plunder with them in a pack train, planning to settle von Frundsberg’s debts out of it when they arrived, but in the Tyrol a robber count attacked them and collared Gottfried’s ill-gotten gains. Von Kalmbach chose to abandon the loot and get the commander to safety, which ought to be mentioned and set against the record of a generally misspent, dissolute career which contains a great deal to Gottfried’s discredit.

He could not prevent the death of one of von Frundsberg’s sons or the loss of his estate. Plagued by troubles and grief, the old soldier died a year later. It was the frequent fate of brave, honorable men in an age when being alive and prosperous was often a reflection on one’s character.

Images by Mor Than, Mark Schultz and Others.

Read Part One, Part TwoPart Three, Part Four, Part Six

This entry filed under Howard's Fiction.

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Big news from TGR contributor Jeff Shanks:

Modiphius Entertainment announces the definitive sword & sorcery roleplaying game, planned for launch August 2015

KNOW, oh prince, that between the years when the oceans drank Atlantis and the gleaming cities, and the years of the rise of the Sons of Aryas, there was an Age undreamed of….

Modiphius is proud to announce a licensing deal with Conan Properties to publish Robert E. Howard’s CONAN Adventures In An Age Undreamed Of. This is CONAN roleplaying as Robert E. Howard wrote it – savage pulp adventure battling ancient horrors in the Hyborian Age! We plan to bring the game right back to its roots, focusing on the original stories by Robert E. Howard.

Modiphius has scored a leading team of Hyborian Age scribes to chronicle these adventures including Timothy Brown (designer of the Dark Sun setting for Dungeons & Dragons), award-winning Robert E. Howard scholar and essayist Jeffrey Shanks (Conan Meets the Academy, REH: Two-Gun Raconteur, Critical Insights: Pulp Fiction, The Dark Man: The Journal of REH Studies, Zombies from the Pulps!), Mark Finn (Blood and Thunder: The Life and Art of Robert E. Howard, The Barbaric Triumph, The Dark Man: The Journal of REH Studies and REH: Two-Gun Raconteur), Jason Durall (Basic Roleplaying, Serenity, The Laundry), Chris Lites (Paizo, Savage Worlds, Omni, Slate), and many more to be announced.

Players and GM’s alike will feel the might of the 2d20 game system, the cinematic roleplaying rules devised by Jay Little (Star Wars: Edge of the Empire) for Mutant Chronicles, and sharpened up for intense sword and sorcery action. The 2d20 system lets players experience the true pulp adventure of the CONAN stories.

Howard expert Jeffrey Shanks will approve all content, ensuring it remains true to the spirit of the source material and brings the Hyborian Age to life. World-famous CONAN artist Sanjulian (Conan Ace Paperbacks, Vampirella, Eerie, Creepy) has been commissioned, as well as Carl Critchlow (Batman/Judge Dredd, Anderson: Psi Division). Joining them are other CONAN greats such as Mark Schultz (The Coming of Conan, Xenozoic Tales, Prince Valiant), Tim Truman (Dark Horse Conan, Grimjack, Jonah Hex), Phroilan Gardner (Age of Conan, World of Warcraft), Alex Horley (Blizzard, Heavy Metal, Magic: The Gathering) and many more.

Modiphius is working with other Conan Properties licensing partners including Monolith Board Games, creator of the hit CONAN boardgame which has surpassed $2 million on Kickstarter, and Funcom, creator of the long-running, free-to-play, MMO Age of Conan. Modiphius plans some select supplements including missions designed for the Monolith boardgame, as well as floorplan tile sets allowing you to use Conan miniatures in your roleplaying adventures!

Modiphius is already working on the roleplaying corebook for Robert E. Howard’s CONAN Adventures In An Age Undreamed Of to be released this Fall. A Kickstarter is planned for the summer to fund a larger range of roleplaying supplements, campaigns, and accessories to follow the core book.

Ho, Dog Brothers! (and Sisters) Don your mail, hone your blade, and pray to whatever fickle gods might listen. Harken to the sound of clanging steel, cries of battle, and death curses spat from bloody, frothing lips! Tread the jeweled thrones of the earth at www.modiphius.com/conan or die in towers of spider-haunted mystery. Crom cares not!

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Pathsdead

“Long ago,” answered Bran somberly, “you told me that nothing in the universe was separated from the stream of Life – a saying the truth of which I have often seen evident. No race, no form of life but is close-knit somehow, by some manner, to the rest of Life and the world. Somewhere there is a thin link connecting those I seek to the world I know. Somewhere there is a Door. And somewhere among the bleak fens of the west I will find it.”

– Robert E. Howard, “Worms of the Earth

Perhaps the young Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Junzt had sought, in his brief collaboration with Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm, relief from darker subjects. He still yearned, all evidence to the contrary, to prove his early researches false.

Von Junzt sailed to Corsica, Sardinia and Malta (with Ladeau along as a guide and interpreter), where he visited numerous megalithic sites in 1818-20. Friedrich was particularly impressed with the mazzeri (or “dream hunters”) of Corsica, whom he felt carried on “witch-cult” traditions dating back to the Stone Age.  He was left in awe by the dolmens still extant on the island.

Friedrich became convinced that the gigantic monuments of the central Mediterranean had been built by ancient peoples at the behest of beings other than human, and had served – the temples in particular – as gateways to extra-mundane realms which could be opened when the stars were suitably aligned. Junzt concluded that myths of the Titans and the Cyclopes who built such structures referred in a distorted way to these beings.

AzThroughout his travels in the Mediterranean (as well as his previous researches in France and Germany), wherever von Junzt discovered a “witch-cult”, he also heard tales of a “Black Man” or “The One Black Master.” At that point, he began to piece together, in his own mind, the concept that behind all of the veils of superstition loomed Nyarlathotep. According to Ladeau’s diary, Junzt, over time, came to view Nyarlathotep as “an infinitude; a manifold splintering of Chaos, whose name is Legion, in whom all is One and one is All. And all leads to Ultimate Chaos, which is Azathoth.”

As he traveled compulsively from place to place, now, von Junzt correlated the geography of the world he knew with that described in “The Nemedian Chronicles.” Sicily and Malta had once been upland plateaus within the northern Stygian Dominion later cast down by the Hyborians. Algiers, too, had lain within ancient Shemitish and Stygian territory. In fact, certain obscure references within “The Nemedian Chronicles” led Friedrich to speculate that the ruins of Kheshatta, the shadow-haunted “wizard city” of Stygia, lay south of al-Jaza’ir itself.

tunisian-private-toursThis, along with his discovery of the original, uncorrupted reference in Solinus regarding the “Sixtystone” of the North African troglodytes, convinced von Junzt that a journey to Algiers would be worthwhile.

(The relevant passage from Gaius Julius Solinus exists in an obscure translation by the 16th-century printer and classical scholar, Henri Estienne. He is frequently known by his Latinized sobriquet, Henricus Stephanus. Estienne’s version of Solinus is to be found in the “Stephani Quarto,” a rare work now almost unknown, but familiar to Ladeau, who brought it to the attention of his friend. Friedrich von Junzt and the nineteenth-century ethnologist, Professor William Gregg, both seem to have read the “Stephani Quarto” and paid close attention to the passage from Solinus it contains. Both men eventually met inexplicable fates. That of Gregg was the more mysterious, and may even have been the more dreadful. His story is recounted in “The Novel of the Black Seal,” one of the interlocking tales in Arthur Machen’s The Three Imposters.)

Von Junzt and Ladeau were aware of the perils awaiting them in North Africa. Pirates of Algiers still took European captives for ransom or slavery, though not on the huge scale they had previously. Only four years earlier (1816) a British expedition, led by Exmouth and supported by the Dutch, had bombarded Algiers to force the Dey, Omar Agha, to cease such practices. He had yielded, freed about three thousand slaves and signed a treaty, so Junzt and Ladeau felt they should be fairly safe. However, Friedrich hid the fact that he was a wealthy baron. He saw no point in tempting people with such a long tradition of piracy and, instead, represented himself as a Belgian scholar.

imagesWVAVY1N3While taking care to avoid trouble in Algiers, the pair made the acquaintance of a drunken, disreputable Tuareg marabout, or wandering holy man and religious teacher. This particular one, known as Amalu, also had a vast repertoire of desert legends and traditions older than Islam. Some of his living came from recounting these, some from selling talismans he made, some from telling the future, and some from presiding at significant events like weddings, births and funerals.

Amalu spoke understandable French. Ladeau and Junzt treated him with respect, listened to his tales, gave him presents and money, and plied him with the finest liquor he had ever poured down his bearded throat. In return he told them Tuareg folk tales, such as the tradition – which Amalu swore was no mere legend – of the repulsive folk his folk called the Kel Essuf, or “People of the Night.” He spoke of an ancient kingdom ruled by evil wizards in which serpents were worshiped. Amalu also whispered of the prophecy, known throughout North Africa since before the Romans had ruled it, of a “Son of the Ocean” who knew neither age nor death and would come to lead the Berber tribes to greatness, forging a new empire.

Amalu knew the legend of Atlantis in detail. He averred that the “Son of the Ocean” would be Atlantean, and described a ruined city hidden deep in the Hoggar region that had been an outpost of Atlantis. He promised that he could guide the two Europeans there, gain them the protection of a Tuareg band on the journey, and guarantee them immunity from having their throats cut by the grim “People of the Blue Veil.”

Ladeau and Junzt, despite being sorely tempted by Amalu’s offer, decided not to push their luck. The fickle hospitality of the Lords of the Sahara was well-known and the two Europeans had collected a treasure-trove of lore already. As von Junzt said at the time (according to Ladeau’s diary), “Wolves are a grand sight. From a distance.”

451Bidding farewell to Amalu with a jug of Bordeaux, Friedrich and his friend took ship to Marseilles by way of the Balearic Islands. From Marseilles, the two men traveled north to Paris, where Alexis stayed to get his affairs back in order.  Junzt journeyed on to Brittany, a region rich in megalithic monuments. He was particularly awed by the Great Broken Menhir of Er Grah and the Carnac Stones.

Sailing from Brest, von Junzt crossed the Channel to Britain, an island he had long yearned to explore. There, he examined Stonehenge and Avebury. The huge stone monuments caused Friedrich to wonder – as he had before, on Corsica, Sardinia and Malta – whether the megaliths were of “Pictish” or “Turanian” provenance, recalling the ancient wars which ended the Hyborian Age. He even considered the possibility that they had been reared by wholly pre-human hands.

The Hyborian Age

In England, Junzt followed his established practice of asking the local country people their view. Most of them said that they were the temples of ancient Druid sorcerers. Although von Junzt did not dispute them, he was certain the monuments had been raised long before the first Druids walked British soil.

He does not describe in his “Black Book” what led him to do so, but, from Avebury, Friedrich headed west. He came to the “desolate valley” where the abandoned castle known as Exham Priory stood. It had been deserted for two centuries when von Junzt saw it, and even after so long a time the locals were unwilling to discuss it, so deep was their horror of the place and the de la Poer barons who had formerly lived there. All of von Junzt’s talents for penetrating secret matters and gaining the confidence of strangers were tested to gain knowledge of the local legends in Anchester. (H.P. Lovecraft, “The Rats in the Walls”)

SFurther west, Friedrich journeyed into the Severn Valley, which he found to have a haunted reputation as well. He first passed through Goatswood (the notorious Witchfinder General, Matthew Hopkins, saw fit to leave his usual area of operations in eastern England solely to find and destroy a coven that worshipped in Goatswood) and then Brichester. Of his stay in Severnford, Junzt stated laconically in Von Unausspreclichen Kulten, “The island beyond Severnford is avoided by those who value their lives and sanity.”

Passing north to Scotland, Friedrich noted the occurrence of “Dagon” as an element in several obscure place-names. He theorized that such were perhaps remnants of Phoenician visitations, but did not rule out (as always) the possibility of “primordial Turanian influence.” Junzt also recalled that there were Dagon cults only a few hundred miles to the south, on the Biscayan coast.

BEntering Scotland and investigating by his now established methods, von Junzt found the cult and the image of Bran Mak Morn, the Dark Man, a contemporary fact in the wild hills of Galloway. Descendants of the ancient Picts cherished the belief that Bran Mak Morn would return to establish the Pictish Empire again. Friedrich became certain there were close links between the Basque race and the prehistoric Picts; his earlier discovery of the “Nemedian Chronicles” had initiated that belief, and now he viewed it as established fact. Recent genetic studies seem to bear out von Junzt’s conjectures to a startling degree.

Von Junzt heard the hideous legends of the Worms of the Earth, their sacred Black Stone, and the fateful Bell of Morni which hangs “in a hidden cave under the heathered hills.” He had no success in penetrating that particular cult; it was even more secretive than most, and accessible only to folk of Pictish blood. But Friedrich established its reality. The folk-tales concerning the “Worms” reminded him strongly of the Tuareg legend of the “People of the Night” and their “Ikshakshar” stone, of which Amalu had told him in North Africa, confirming the ancient testimony of Solinus.

It appeared to Junzt that Bran Mak Morn’s bargain with the “People of the Dark” must have led the remnants of the Pictish people, harder pressed than ever after their great king’s death, to follow his example and make pacts with those beings and the horrors they worshiped. Friedrich learned of ancient monuments, mazes and jewels being “keys” to open “doors.” In his writings thereafter, the theme of “keys” and “doors” to strange places beyond the world recurred many times.

Traveling back by way of Britain’s eastern coast, von Junzt arrived in London in time to view Giovanni Belzoni’s exhibition of Egyptian antiquities in Piccadilly (1821). Greatly interested, he formed the intention of going to Egypt someday, though that interest was not altogether healthy; it held the sprouting seeds of obsession.

imagesT6EWFBXC“The Nemedian Chronicles”, with their accounts of prehistoric Stygia and its “shadow-guarded tombs” had gripped his imagination. Von Junzt had also read in the Necronomicon of the accursed Pharaoh Nephren-Ka, who built a subterranean labyrinth holding foul secrets and driven a pact with Nyarlathotep, soul and messenger of the mindless Outer Gods, Lord of Chaos and Ancient Night. Friedrich partly craved to investigate the legend, and partly hoped to prove it was false, just an ancient invention. Within himself he knew it was a forlorn hope.

His romantic idealism lay in ruins. As Kipling was later to write, he “knew the worst too young” – or believed then it was the worst. Far from a higher, nobler reality existing behind the sordid appearances of the world, as Kant had taught, there existed alien dimensions and beings to make the most dreary scientific materialism seem like the prattle of optimists.

He was twenty-five, and had only begun his exploration of awful truths.

Images by Rafael Kayanan, Bryan “Zarono” Reagan and Others.

Read Part One

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In a few months, the fourth and final volume of Fists of Iron: The Collected Boxing Fiction of Robert E. Howard will be published. The project is the most ambitious effort from The Robert E. Howard Press, known for tackling big projects (The Collected Letters, The Collected Poetry).

Nearly two years ago I interviewed the three man creative team behind this multi-volume collection and they confirmed what a huge, time consuming effort the project was. But judging from their answers, it was clearly a labor of love for the trio.

Each of the four volumes sports a fine cover painting by award winning artist Tom Gianni, who visually captures the essence of what Howard conveyed with his words, detailing the adventures of Sailor Steve Costigan and his other pugilistic characters.

Here is the fight card for the final round of The Collected Boxing Fiction of Robert E. Howard:

Introduction by Mark Finn

Kid Allison:

“The Man with the Mystery Mitts”
“Kid Galahad”
“College Socks”
“The Wild Cat and the Star”
“Fighting Nerves” (Kid Allison version)

Mike Dorgan and Bill McGlory:

“The House of Peril”
“One Shanghai Night”
“The Tomb of the Dragon”

Other Tales:

“The Sign of the Snake”
“The Fighting Fury”
“Fighting Nerves” (Jim O’Donnel version)
“Fists of the Desert”
“Fists of the Revolution”

Miscellanea:

“The Jinx”
“Fistic Psychology”
“The Drawing Card”
Untitled fragment (“Huh,” I was so . . .)
“A Tough Nut to Crack” (Allison version)
“A Tough Nut to Crack” (Clarney version)
“One Shanghai Night” – synopsis
Untitled notes (Knute Hansen)

“The Lord of the Ring, Part 4” by Patrice Louinet

Before you know it, a call for pre-orders will go out, so stay tuned to the REHF website, this blog, the TGR Facebook page and TGR Twitter feed for the announcement. It is sure to be a knockout of a book.

02/20/2015 Update: Pre-orders now being accepted for Round 4 of Fists of Iron.

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“By Allah, they rode like men riding to a wedding, their great horses and long lances overthrowing all who opposed them, and their plate-armor turned the finest steel. Yet they fell as the firelocks spoke until only three were left in the saddle – the knight Marczali and two companions. These paladins cut down my Solaks like ripe grain, but Marczali and one of his companions fell – almost at my feet.

“Yet one knight remained …”

– Robert E. Howard, “The Shadow of the Vulture”

The politics of eastern Europe, in the first quarter of the sixteenth century, were complicated as always. As Gottfried von Kalmbach rode back from Russia, in the spring of 1526, he entered a mess of treachery, incompetence and cruel rivalries to equal anything he had seen before. And Gottfried had seen much for a man not yet thirty.

There had been no strong and intelligent king of Hungary since Matthias Corvinus died in 1490. Soldier, superb administrator, and patron of the arts, he had instituted a number of significant reforms and created a standing army. That had involved reducing the powers of his nobles and magnates, however, and they wanted that power back, even at the expense of the land’s safety.

They placed the notoriously weak King of Bohemia on Hungary’s throne, preferring him precisely because he was weak. They disbanded the standing army, and allowed the frontier fortresses to decay through lack of inclination to stand the cost. They were never enthusiastic for the nation’s defense, unless they could get their rivals to do the paying, so nothing was done. They cancelled Corvinus’s reforms and crushed the peasants back into the dirt.

Dózsa_György_megkoronázásaIn consequence, the peasants rose en masse in 1514, led by a soldier named György Dózsa. Their revolt was crushed without mercy. Villages were destroyed, infants killed, rebels by the thousand impaled, torn apart between horses, and burned alive. Dózsa died chained to a red-hot iron throne. The leading part in these atrocities was taken by John Zapolya, voivode of Transylvania. From what this blogger can discover, even as tyrants of that region went, he was a charmer – a worthy successor to Dracula, or Vlad the Impaler, who had perished in 1476.

Zapolya’s treatment of the rebel peasants won him the nobles’ and gentry’s liking, however. He was appointed guardian of Hungary’s boy king, Louis II, who succeeded the weak Bohemian, but Zapolya’s rival, Stephen Báthory, was made the land’s Imperial Governor, or Palatine, a much bigger plum. (Báthory, by the way, belonged to the same family as Elizabeth, the notorious “Blood Countess”, although she lived and indulged her sadistic whims later.)

Zapolya and Báthory hated each other. Their inability to act together was a gift to the energetic young Turkish Sultan Suleiman, who had just ascended the throne of the Ottoman Empire. Suleiman sent a demand for tribute to King Louis, which Louis rejected. Suleiman immediately marched on the crucial stronghold of Belgrade, and took it, a laughably easy project. Belgrade had a garrison of only 700 men, and received no reinforcements. Words fail.

Suleiman might have proceeded against Hungary at once. Instead, he chose to attack and reduce the great fortress of the Knights of St. John at Rhodes, in 1522. The Order had plundered the Turks for centuries, and Suleiman was determined to end its depredations. Gottfried von Kalmbach, one of the Knights, fought like a tiger through the siege, though he was expelled later for a drunken, undisciplined brawler and whoremonger. Suleiman succeeded in taking Rhodes and dispossessing the Knights, but it cost him 60,000 soldiers’ lives. He was unable to carry out his intentions towards Hungary for years.

suleiman_magnificent.jpgBy 1526 he was ready.

It was obvious that the Sultan was coming. Gottfried, no subtle politician, became aware of it while still in Russia. Zapolya, voivode of Transylvania, craved to be Hungary’s king, but there was another, stronger claimant in the person of Ferdinand, Archduke of Austria. His elder brother Charles was Holy Roman (in fact German) Emperor, and Ferdinand had married Anna Jagiellonica, the daughter of a former king of Bohemia and Hungary. Zapolya very possibly struck a treacherous bargain with Suleiman before the Turkish army set out, to counter Ferdinand.

Zapolya wasn’t the only double-dealer mouthing Christian piety while playing the Turkish game. There was also, conspicuously, the Valois King of France, Francis I. From 1520 he fought a series of wars with the German (miscalled Holy Roman) Empire, and courted Suleiman the Magnificent as an ally to get an advantage over his Christian rival. He continued kissing up to Turkey like a showgirl to a billionaire, even after Suleiman broke the defense of Rhodes and dispossessed the Order of St. John.

Gottfried considered that he had a score to settle with the Turks over that business. Besides, he was German. Beyond Hungary and Austria lay the German lands, among them his native Bavaria. If Suleiman took Hungary, he was unlikely to stop there. King Louis (who was only twenty) had numerous German mercenaries in his service. Gottfried swiftly joined them. To his utter disgust, when Louis called the country to arms, the nobles were slow to answer, even in that plain emergency. The southern border was undefended, except by Pál Tomori, Archbishop of Kalocsa, with a few thousand men.

Before going to meet the Turkish army, Gottfried made friends with some Magyar knights, particularly the valiant Albert Marczali, last of his family. The Marczalis had held the castle of Szentgyörgyvár in Zala county until the middle of the fifteenth century. Perhaps they had somehow displeased King Matthias, because he bestowed the castle, lands and villages on the Báthorys in 1479. Most sources I’ve seen aver that the Marczalis had died out by then, but to this blogger it looks as though they remained extant. Albert’s presence at Mohacz shows that.

He knew how desperate Hungary’s situation was, and that no help would come from other Christian states. Any Hungarian with his eyes open knew. Marczali began picking a group of knights to ride with him, if the chance came, in an all-or-nothing charge aimed at killing the Sultan himself on the field of battle. Suleiman had already proved his determination and energy; if he was slain, there was always the hope that his successor would be a weakling or voluptuary, more interested in opium and odalisques than war. But first he had to be slain.

Gottfried was among the knights who joined Marczali’s band and committed to his purpose. Altogether there were thirty-two. They knew the established Ottoman procedure; how the Sultan attended the fighting behind entrenchments and gun-wagons, protected by his personal guard of Solaks. Janissaries armed with long flintlocks flanked them. It would be a suicide charge, and they knew that too; they might succeed in their purpose, but it was foolish even to dream that any of the thirty-two would return.

Gottfried, rakehell that he was, had spent some of his initial time in Hungary with a girl on each arm, and then found a mistress in the spectacular person of a Magyar noble’s wife. Her name was Aranka, and conceivably she was an ancestor of the Gabor sisters. Currently wed to her third husband and still young, the first two having died in battle, she wasn’t averse to a lover on the side. Like Rhett Butler, she never held fidelity to be a virtue.

gottfried von kalmbach armsKnowing his death was near, Gottfried had an attack of Teutonic sentimentality. He thought of his ancient lineage and the proud von Kalmbach arms. As a Knight Hospitaller he had worn the Order’s mantle and eight-pointed cross. Since his dismissal, roaming as the whim took him, he had worn any armor that came to hand, with a plain garment. Now he resumed the blazon of his breed – per pale argent and purple, a chief and bear passant counterchanged. On his helmet he mounted the von Kalmbach crest, a gauntleted hand gripping a broken sword. If he perished, he meant to do so with shield, surcoat and horse-caparison flaunting the device of his ancient house.

King Louis had sent the war-summons to his magnates and nobles, to Croatia in the west and Transylvania on the south-east. They had answered with firm promises. The Croatian prince was to come to the battle, and the voivode Zapolya was to hold the Transylvanian passes unless it became clear that the Ottomans would not take that route. If that happened he was to come and support the main Hungarian army – with all possible speed.

The Turkish host, about 100,000 strong, made an arduous two-month march through the Balkans. The Hungarian host gathered slowly and piecemeal; the Croatian contingent, for instance, arrived slowly, though it did come, under its Count Christoph Frankopan, about five thousand strong. The main army under Louis did not wait for the Croatians, but picked the battlefield near Mohacs, in many ways a puzzling choice since while it lay on open plains, the ground was uneven and contained swampy areas, an impediment to the cavalry that was Hungary’s greatest strength in war.

The Transylvanians under Zapolya, 10 or 12 thousand of them, did not arrive at all.

King Louis’ army numbered about 28,000 in full; the Croatians and Arbishop Tomori on the right wing, and on the left wing, a smaller cavalry force under Peter Perenyi, Bailiff of Temes. Ten thousand infantry and the Hungarian cannon occupied the front lines of the center – and among the infantry were mercenary German landsknechte with harquebuses and long pikes, the toughest foot soldiers anywhere, the match even of janissaries and the Swiss. In fact, at Bicocca and Pavia, landsknechte had crushed the Swiss pikemen who opposed them.

Behind them, the Hungarian heavy cavalry and a few thousand Polish knights waited for the onset. Albert Marczali, with Gottfried and thirty others, looked calmly upon what he expected to be the field of his last battle. Barring a miracle, so it would be. All thirty-two had the same consuming thought, to await their chance, charge against all odds, and kill Sultan Suleiman.

OttomanraidThe Turkish host arrived in the early afternoon. 20,000 Rumelian cavalry formed the right wing, and the center consisted of the relentless janissaries, slave soldiers of the sultan taken as children from Christian lands, reared with no calling but war and no master but the Sultan, forbidden to marry, dedicated to battle, convinced that death in the Ottoman cause meant eternity in the Seventh Heaven of Light. In the forefront were three hundred of the superb cannon that were Suleiman’s pride. For Turkish artillery was unmatched. Gottfried remembered the Ottoman gunners’ skill from Rhodes.

The Rumelian cavalry charged, roaring, the hooves of their horses shaking the earth of Mohacs. Archbishop Tomori and Count Christoph led their own horsemen to meet them. Tomori and his riders particularly had gall in their hearts and grim scores to settle. They cut down the Rumelians, rode over them, routed them completely, and left the corpse-littered earth soaked in blood. The Ottoman command promptly deployed regular troops from the reserves, and they proved a different matter from the Rumelian irregulars, yet the Hungarian right still forced a way through them, coming so close to Suleiman that their arrows endangered him, one sticking in his breastplate.

“Now!” Marczali cried in exultation. “Now is our chance, brothers!  Ride!”

They rode, and how they rode. The words REH puts into Suleiman’s mouth in “Shadow of the Vulture” are probably not one whit more than the truth. Close together, on big powerful horses, in the finest plate suits the sixteenth century armorers could make, they galloped for Suleiman’s position, Magyars, Poles, Austrians, perhaps a few Transylvanian knights who could not stomach their voivode’s treachery, and at least one German.

SolaksIn front of them the cannon boomed and bellowed, leaping from the ground in their gun-limbers with each shot. Past the sharpened stakes set in the ground to protect the gun-crews the thirty-two raced, some of them going down, shot by Turkish musketeers, some hurled from their mounts as the stakes ripped out the war-horses’ bellies. Their long lances drove through gunners’ and janissaries’ bodies alike before they broke. Then they employed their huge swords and maces. Marczali and von Kalmbach remained in the lead, side by side, reaping Turkish soldiers like grain as they galloped past the cannon entrenchments. The firelocks of the Sultan’s personal guard continued to speak, and more knights fell in the suicide charge. Janissaries sprang behind the war-horses and hacked at their hind legs, crippling them, heedless of the hoofs that kicked out their brains or the swords that clove them to the breast-bone. Their scimitars and firearms killed the knights who found themselves afoot, plate suits or none. Now a dozen of Marczali’s picked band were left, in among the Sultan’s own Solaks, slaying them fiercely even as musket balls and arrows pierced them.

The survivors were close enough to see Suleiman himself, now, see his eyes and moustaches. Gottfried laughed hoarsely. A janissary’s dreadful scimitar-cut ripped the remnant of his helmet from his head. His sweat-drenched tawny hair exposed to the sun, his berserk blue eyes glaring, he spurred his horse onward beside Marczali and one other knight whose name has not survived. They died, almost close enough to Suleiman to touch him, so that only Gottfried was left, blood spilling through the joints of his armor. He swung his two-handed sword and brought Suleiman to the ground, the Sultan’s own blood pouring through a rent in his mail. Janissaries stood over him to protect him, while others crippled Gottfried’s horse and closed in to finish him. Gottfried went down, bleeding and trampled, sure that this was death, nor did he regain consciousness until the battle was over. He remembered nothing that had happened after he struck down the Sultan, but the horseman who bore him out of the tumult told him that he had struggled upright and was fighting like a titan, even though half conscious. If he had remained down all would have supposed him dead. As it was, his savior got him across his saddle somehow and got him back to the Hungarian lines.

Tomori_pálGottfried heard more, none of it comforting.  Out-flanked by the Turks, the Hungarians had failed to hold their positions, and those who did not run were killed or captured. Trying to rally and counter-attack, they walked into the deadly harquebus fire of the Turkish infantry, and those who survived that fell before scimitars and spears. The heroic Pál Tomori died on the field. King Louis, fleeing at twilight, fell and drowned in the Danube, dragged down by his armor. Report had it that Suleiman, pale with blood loss from the wound Gottfried had given him – the huge Bavarian cursed sulphurously to learn that Suleiman lived – had looked sadly on the youthful monarch’s body.  “May Allah be merciful to him, and punish those who misled his inexperience,” he reportedly said of Louis. “It was not my wish that he should thus be cut off, while he had scarcely tasted the sweets of life and royalty.”

That tender sentiment did not prevent a massacre of two thousand prisoners after the battle. The Sultan retreated from Buda for a time, because he could not believe that the little army he met at Mohacs was the entire Hungarian opposition. Once he realized that it was actually so – within a fortnight – he had Buda and Pesth sacked, while his dreaded Akinji ranged far and wide through Hungary under their merciless leader, Mikhal Oglu. When the Grand Turk returned to Istanbul he took some 100,000 captives with him into slavery.

Gottfried von Kalmbach survived, as he had survived Rhodes. He stayed drunk throughout his convalescence, which he asserted did him more good than the doctors. The husband of his mistress, Aranka, had died at Mohacs with many others, and she married for a fourth time in Vienna before the year 1526 ended. Gottfried cheerfully attended her wedding, tumbled a girl whose name he could not remember afterwards, while the church bells were pealing, and went his way.

Read Part One, Part TwoPart Three, Part Five, Part Six

This entry filed under Howard's Fiction.