The Soldier's Return #BookTrailer #HistoricalFiction

The year is 1626. The place: Franconia, a territory in South Germany dominated by the imperial city of Nuremberg. Animosity between Catholics and Protestants has caused men in power to take up arms. Their mercenary armies and their followers are kept alive by anything the soldiers can take from the villages they pass through. Villages that are already suffering from crop failure and overpopulation. 
The mercenary armies bring terror but they also bring disease. More soldiers are dying from dysentry, consumption and typhus than from the battles they are fighting.
And so begins The Soldier’s Return, the second book in the Heaven’s Pond Trilogy. 
Katarina and Herr Tucher have worked the farm called Sichardtshof, a hamlet nestled in a Franconian hollow, for the last ten years. During this last decade, the farm has been in the path of the marching armies. Katarina, along with her adopted daughter, Isabeau, and the other souls at the farm, have weathered visits from mercenaries in the past. But the summer of 1626 brings a more brutal and desperate type. Katarina and Isabeau are forced to flee. But other dangers lurk outside their protective hamlet.
The church offers no comfort. Church fathers are rounding up scapegoats, so called heretics and witches, to blame for the ills inflicted on Franconia. At alarming rates, men, women and children must undergo brutal tortures and executions. 
Where can Katarina turn for help and refuge?

The Soldier’s Return. A story of sacrifice and survival in Germany during the Thirty Years War.  

St. Stephen's Cathedral in Passau #Germany

Situated in Lower Bavaria where the river Ilz and the river Inn join the Danube lays the city of Passau. Built on the highest point in the old town is the St Stephen’s Cathedral. 
St. Stephan’s as we see it today was built in 1668 after a devastating town fire destroyed the late gothic cathedral that stood here before. St. Stephen’s is well known for the impressive pipe organ, built in 1733 by Joseph Matthias Götz. It was considered the world’s largest organ until the organ in the First Congregational Church in Los Angeles took over that honor in 1990. 
St. Stephen’s is a bishop’s cathedral and  was founded in the 8th century. Since then it has always stood on this very spot. This is the fifth cathedral to stand here, the other four having been destroyed, rebuilt, destroyed and rebuilt.
The plans for this cathedral were made by Italian baroque master Carlo Lurago. The interior stucco works and the frescos were also done by Italian baroque masters.
The two towers of St Stephen’s shape the cityscape of Passau. 

Passau, die Dreiflüssestadt or the City of Three Rivers.

The Wartburg Castle in Eisenach, Germany

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

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

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

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

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

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

Der Meistertrunk

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

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

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

The Master Draught:

Historical Images of Franconia, Germany

Sichartshof, eine verschwundene Ortschaft

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

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

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

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

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

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