Author’s Notes: Before the Fortress Falls

Sometimes my books start with a character. Sometimes they start with a plot. This one started with the history and a goal to bring the story of the Siege of Vienna to life for a wide audience. Sometimes that involved trade-offs. I’ve tried to be true to the history, but I sometimes stretched facts to make sure one of my characters could be present to experience more of the events. For example, nearly everything Xavier experienced—each sortie, each enemy mine blast, each attempt to stop a Turkish assault—really happened, but they might not have all happened to the same regiment.

In my research, I sometimes ran into conflicting information, such as discrepancies on the dates of various events in different sources. Different numbers also cropped up. Several sources listed the number of Ottoman troops (and their allies) as 100,000. Several others listed 300,000. I’m a novelist, so I picked the higher, more dramatic number. While 300,000 may very well be an exaggeration, it would have been what was going through the minds of those battling the army at the time, so to me, it made sense for that to be the number my characters used. There were also multiple numbers for the strength of the Vienna garrison (from 11,000 to 16,000) and the relief army (65,000 or 85,000).

I was unable to find extensive information about the countermining efforts of the defenders during the siege. The paucity of experienced miners and the story of how Captain Hafner came to be in charge of countermining is from the sources, but much of the details are filled in from general techniques and strategies of the time rather than from information specific to the Siege of Vienna. I did, however, find sources for dates of countermine explosions and of subterranean scuffles, other than Toby’s collapsed tunnel and the final underground battle, which exist more for storytelling purposes than because of evidence that either event happened. But both are certainly things that could have happened.

Captain Heisterman was a real historical figure. His role in the August 16 sally, including his duel with and beheading of the Turkish soldier (and the mounting of the head) are based in fact. He was also responsible for the final defense of the ravelin. His inclusion in earlier actions is based on speculation and the desire to have a consistent character throughout the novel rather than on verified accounts.

I took a few liberties with Wilhelm’s journey to Wilanów Palace. The Marquis de Vitry did indeed try to prevent an alliance between Poland and Austria, and he and the Bishop of Beauvais (later a cardinal) were caught in a plot to overthrow King Sobieski and were, therefore, asked to leave Poland, but I condensed the events into two chapters for the purposes of the story. Also, Count Thurn, a real historic figure, would have arrived in Warsaw the day before Wilhelm did.

The other events Wilhelm participated in—including sleeping in the woods the first night after fleeing Vienna, meeting up with other portions of the relieving army at Tulln, the raid with Prince Eugene, and the Battle of Kahlenberg are as close to the truth as I could write them, given the sometimes conflicting nature of the surviving sources.

Most of King Sobieski’s dialogue is fictional, but some lines are quotations from his letters or accounts written by contemporaries, including his admonition to consider the general rather than the multitude he commanded and his declaration, “We came, we saw, God conquered.” Readers may find it interesting to note that George of Hanover, who joined the relief army with 600 men, went on to become King George I of Great Britain.

Several sources claimed that the Ottomans executed all their prisoners before the Battle of Kahlenberg. Several other sources claimed the Polish hussars were able to prevent most of the deaths. For this story, I chose to portray something more confusing and drawn out, and that very well may be the way it really happened. Victims of the Ottoman Army on that last day of the siege included not just war prisoners but also some of the camp followers and family members of the soldiers, as portrayed in this book.

The hymn Katja plays, with the English title “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty,” would have been played to the tune “Lobe den Herren” found in the hymnbook Stralsund Gesangbuch. The tune and lyrics would have been available in German at the time of this story. The English translation didn’t come until later, but since this novel is in English, I took the liberty of using the translation that English readers would be most familiar with.

The firing of rockets from the spire of St. Stephen’s was the agreed upon signal that the city was desperate. The long-awaited response from the relieving force was indeed rockets, but different sources give different days of the answering signal—either September 6 or September 8. I chose to go with September 8 for the simple reason that it kept my characters in suspense longer.

Gamekeepers (including those who worked for Count Kielmansegg) proved to be some of the best snipers of the Vienna garrison. The shot from 450 paces away is mentioned in the sources, but the date is not, so I included it in the story where it best fit.

According to most sources, the Ottoman system of devshirme, which took Christian boys from their homes and turned them into janissaries, was abandoned in the mid-1600s, making Ahmed and his contemporaries one of the last generations to experience it.

The various gates and bastions of the city all had names, and some of them have more than one English translation. For consistency, I’ve used the Burg Bastion and the Löbl Bastion, but readers doing their own research might run across the Burg Bastion referred to as the Palace or Court Bastion and the Löbl Bastion spelled Löbel, Löwel, Loebel, or Lebel. The Rothenthurm Gate also has several variations in spelling.

Some readers may find it odd to read about bayonets being placed into the ends of rifles rather than around the ends of rifles. In the early days of bayonets, they fitted into the rifle barrel much like a plug. Soldiers, therefore, couldn’t fire while their bayonet was in place.

Many of the key characters in this story are fictional: the Schor family and all their servants, Tobias Vischer, Balthasar Laymann and his father, Herr Pauldauf, Ferdinand Heller, Moser, Captain Augustin, Ahmed, the men in Ahmed’s orta, the men Xavier commanded, and the sisters, volunteers, and patients at the Ursulinenkirche (though the church is real).

Most of the other characters who wander onto the pages of this book really existed, including Emperor Leopold, King Sobieski and his family, the Duke of Lorraine, Count von Starhemberg, George Rimpler the military engineer, Marco d’Aviano the monk, Bishop Kollonitsch, Phillip Thurn the diplomat to Poland, Burgomaster Liebenberg, Count von Sereni, Count von Scherfenberg, Jakob Heider, Baron von Kuniz, Prince Eugene of Savoy, Emre Thököly, and Kara Mustafa.

Readers should also be aware that there were many real historical figures who I wasn’t able to incorporate into the scope of this novel. Nor was I able to cover every event or include every interesting detail in a way that the characters in this story would notice. I feel this novel gives an accurate picture of the siege, but like any book of reasonable length about a big event, it doesn’t show everything.

On a personal note, the Siege of Vienna and Battle of Kahlenberg mark a significant moment in centuries of struggle between the West and the East. I feel it is an event worth remembering, but it is not my intention to stir up old animosities. I firmly believe that people of all religious persuasions (and those without religious persuasions) can work together in meaningful ways to create and share happy, peaceful communities.

* * *

Thank you to Tina Peacock, Kathi Oram Peterson, Charissa Stastny, Jaime Theler, and Bev Walkling for test reading the book for me and offering wonderful advice. Also, thank you to the team at Covenant, especially Samantha Millburn and Amy Parker.

* * *

If you enjoyed this book, I would be very grateful for your review on websites like Amazon and Goodreads. Reviews, even if short and simple, are a key component to any book’s success. They help readers determine if a book is a good fit for them, promote sales, and open the door to future marketing opportunities. They also give the writer encouragement—and like most writers, I have days when I am extremely grateful for the boost a good review can provide.