Before I get to my latest choice for the “creatures of the night” page, I’d like to explain a little about the location I’ve chosen for my follow-up novel to Willow the Vampire’s first adventure (Willow the Vampire and the Sacred Grove).
In book number two, Willow the Vampire and the Würzburg Ghosts, my multi-stranded story will move between rural Stinkforthshire in the UK (a fictional place, please don’t hassle your travel agent for details) and historic Würzburg in Germany.
The ancient city of Würzburg is entirely surrounded by beautiful forests and vineyards, virtually straddling the Main River. Officially, Germany’s famous “Romantic Road” starts here and the city is a favourite with tourists exploring Germany for the first time.
Although around 90% of the old city centre was destroyed during WWII, my intrepid countrymen have lovingly recreated, restored and rebuilt what was once one of Germany’s most beautiful cities. Würzburg was once a Franconian duchy, but things got complicated when three Irish missionary monsters arrived in 686.
With the usual hypocrisy of churchmen the three chaps, Totnan, Kolonat and Kilian, began to pester Duke Gosbert to convert to Christianity and naturally, all the inhabitants of the Duchy should follow suit.
In the process he was to get rid off his wife Gailana, who was his former sister-in-law, his brother’s widow. In pre-Christian medieval times it was still a natural thing for people to marry their widowed brother or sister-in-law, but with the typical perversity of a Church that is happily abusing children, the Catholic monk-boys objected to two consenting adults being married in a perfectly legal match.
A woman after my own heart, Gailana didn’t wait around until she got ditched – no, she hired a hit man or gang of thugs and had the three irritating hypocrites bumped off in 689.
The murders weren’t discovered until several decades later and naturally, Rome had the three divorce-advocating missionaries declared saints. Würzburg became a city of pilgrimage in the process – always very lucrative, those saints’ days coincide with market days, don’t you know – and finally, the city became a bishopric in 742.
Most infamous for the witch hunt and subsequent burnings of nearly 1,000 people a few centuries later, the city was ruled with an iron fist by the resident prince-bishops from their hill-top perch on the Marienberg, where they had built a fortress in the early 13th century, possibly as early as 1201. The prince-monk-monsters must have been pretty fit – I give them that – it takes around 20 minutes to walk up the steep hill, which is covered in vineyards. From there our princely monks enjoyed stunning views over the city and their duchy.
With so much duplicity and double standards displayed by the clergy, the city makes for a perfect vampire lair, as Willow’s ancestors – in line with Joss Whedon’s blood-sucking character Angel – liked to feast on nuns and monks. Moving with the times, Willow’s family are now targeting bankers, lawyers and estate agents as their preferred source of blood; partly because there are far fewer nunneries and monasteries around – and partly because swallowing so much hypocricy gives you wind, even when your stomach’s meant to be undead and eternal.
The Marienberg fortress eventually lost in importance and in 1720 a new palace was designed right in the heart of the city. The Residenz Palast is not only one of Germany’s finest examples of a Baroque pleasure dome, it is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, along with many other monuments and buildings along the Romantic Road.
The palace is built largely in a horseshoe design and stands gleaming in gold and white at the eastern edge of the city. It’s home to the world’s largest fresco, painted by none other than Master Tiepolo and the Hall of Mirrors as well as the Imperial Hall are rather spectacular.
My choice for the next creature of the night is a mixed blessing – partly, because Stinkforthshire is nowhere near the sea, but close to a river (Stinkforthshire-upon-Avon) and partly, because the “mermaid” is a mythical beastie that, according to the US National Ocean Service has never existed anywhere other than in seafarers’ fevered imagination.
Even Christopher Columbus couldn’t resist the temptation of dreaming about mermaids and reported sightings while cruising the Caribbean – if there were any mermaids the infamous Hollywood pirate Captain Jack Sparrow would undoubtedly get entangled with them!
The closest we have to a nocturnal siren is the African manatee, which can live in coastal seas and rivers. It is partly nocturnal, but very poorly studied. The family it belongs to is called the Sirenia and consists of dugong and manatees.
Their family name harks back to ancient Greek mythology, which mentioned sirens or mermaids quite frequently.
I’m determined to write a mermaid into Willow’s adventures in the future, albeit not in the WIP I’m currently sweating over. Hans Christian Andersen’s story The Little Mermaid was one of my favourite stories as a child; as a teenager I became fascinated by the story of Lorelei, the siren that reputedly sat on a rock overlooking the Rhine River, where she lured sailors and fishermen to their doom…more of that and manatees in my next post.
(source of animation: heathersanimations.com; source of photographs Wikipedia)