A Lost Tomb Makes Magical Writing Inspiration
Welcome to another writing inspiration post. I hope you enjoyed last week’s inspiration and story. That may have been the hardest story I’ve ever written. And I’ll be honest, there are still things about it I would like to change. This is why I started this blog, to make sure that I keep deadlines and get the work done. Then do more work! I’ll get better with practice. Maybe I’ll get inspired to make another horror-ish story at some point, but probably not too soon. In any case, I am excited about the writing inspiration and story for this week. I got some fun ideas while reading and can’t wait to share them with you.
This week the article, by Sarah Toth Stub, is called, “Searching for the Sultan’s Tomb.” It can be found on Archaeology.org. I love going to that site. I need to renew my subscription to their magazine. They cover such a wide range of topics and give interesting insights into all of the finds they cover. But I digress. The article starts with the hint of discovery, then gives the historical background, and finishes with the details of the find.
The Ottoman Empire expanded into Hungary beginning in 1526 and they remained for nearly 150 years. One of the most important locations was Szigetvar. This hilltop castle was a major roadblock between Suleiman I and Vienna. They founded a settlement nearby called Turbek during the seige. While the Ottomans did eventually conquer Szigetvar in 1566, the Hungarians put up such a fight that no attempt was made on Vienna for another 130 years.
Throughout the Ottomans occupation of Hungary, very little cultural exchange took place. The dichotomy between Islam and Christianity prevented citizens of each empire from adopting elements of the other. The Christian Hungarians saw the Muslim invaders as “savages, pagans, and natural enemies, as persecutors of the country and of the Christian faith, and, later, as archenemies.”
During the battle to seize Szigetvar, Suleiman died from natural causes. Then the settlement of Turbek flourished. Stories developed saying that, breaking from Islamic tradition, Suleiman’s organs were removed and he was embalmed before being sent back to Istanbul. It is unlikely, but that did not stop the myths of Suleiman’s buried heart from spreading. Regardless of the truth or myth, the site did become very important. A tomb and whole complex, including a mosque, monastery, barracks and more, were constructed on the site. Pilgrims came, ascetic Sufism developed, and it became “an important center of Islamic mysticism in the region.”
When the Hapsburgs gained enough power to expel the Ottomans from the land, they razed Turbek. All that can be found today are 15 inch high foundations buried under the ground. The Hungarians wanted no trace of the flourishing center left behind.
Archaeologists have been looking for the tomb for decades. A church near Szigetvar claims to be built on the site of Suleiman’s buried heart. In 1994, the Hungarian-Turkish Friendship Park was built on a supposed location near the Almas Stream. Norbert Pap from the University of Pecs found the real location based on historical data collection and old maps and sketches rather than on folklore.
He ended up in the vineyard of Gyula Kereszuri. The winemaker has a red sandstone block that he uses as a doorstop and table which came from the tomb complex. The locals had seen the stones around, and knew they were Ottoman ruins, but didn’t know their exact significance.
The excavations began in 2016 and the team is sure they have the correct location. They are even certain they have found the tomb and the monastery. They are still working there uncovering the other buildings and seeing what other tidbits they can glean from the artefact’s they discover.
There were so many things about this article that I found interesting and so many different directions to take my story. This time, though, I went into the reading with the idea that I wanted to write a more fantastical fantasy story. I love world building and the last two stories I wrote didn’t have all that much of it. I wanted to write something with magic and exotic cultures. This article delivered just what I needed.
Mysticism and pilgrimage. A guarded tomb and monastery. The fact that the Ottomans usually just moved into the conquered city but this time felt it necessary to build their own. All of these things fueled my imagination and got my mind spinning in a magical direction. Then these two passages sealed it.
“Turbek was reduced to a memory, and ultimately a legend—although through the centuries there have been stories of locals digging in search of Suleiman’s organs, which they had heard were buried in a golden bowl.”
“The Habsburgs did their best to destroy the site to the bones.”
So far I have a story about an invading force that somehow and for some reason sets up a magical/religious site, and which then gets destroyed.
Despite knowing the genre I wanted to use, the first line of the article still tugged at me.
“A red sandstone block props open the door to Gyula Kereszturi’s wine cellar in a small village in southern Hungary. Kereszturi, who ekes out a living selling homemade wine and plum brandy in one of this country’s poorest regions, found the block more than two decades ago when he expanded the cellar. Over the years, it has made a good doorstop, or sometimes a makeshift table.”
At the end of the article, when they are nonchalantly discussing excavating, I realized they dug up his vineyards. I wanted to write something about the past supplanting the needs of the present and what his life must be like now. But that didn’t have magic, so I kept looking.
Back to my original idea. Using the war and occupation as the backdrop, I have a few choices. First, do I use the POV of the defenders or invaders? A defender afraid of the magic and determined to eradicate it. Or a defender, hearing about the magic and attempting to steal it. There’s also the invader, devising ways to win over the entrenched enemy. Or the invader, whose leader just died and inspired a sudden religious fervor and mystical occurrences. The invader, being routed, who wants to cover up the magic so the enemy won’t be able to use it against them on the retreat.
I got so many ideas I didn’t know where to start. So, I did something I like to do when I need inspiration. I tried visualizing it. I am a very image-oriented person and when I need writing inspiration I often turn to art, architecture, photographs of landscapes and all manner of things. This time, I just closed my eyes and tried to imagine the crucial scenes from these different characters’ stories.
I liked the idea of making the magic-people colorful and rich. Before winning the siege, the Ottomans lived in a tented settlement. I latched onto this and made them lavish, decadent structures. When I thought about the Hapsburgs, in their cold, drafty castle, I got more cool-toned and somber images.
The colorful one sounds more fun to write, especially since my last two stories have been rather devoid of that sort of thing. But then I realized that using them both would make for a dynamic contrast. A bleak view from the beleaguered defenders and a celebratory, vibrant view from the conquerors. Then they can switch at then end when the tides turn.
I thought it would be a good contrast to the single POV stories I’ve written so far and it’s not something I do a lot, so I could use the practice.
But I still need to decide what kind of character to use. A soldier, a religious leader, a villager, a king? I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this but I like to go with my initial ideas, a trait that often gets me into writing trouble. I got some ideas when I was first reading through and letting the random thoughts and images come to me organically, before I started deliberately thinking about story elements. The first was of a magic person, wizard etc, hurriedly dismantling their workshop. I like that idea a lot. Another was of a soldier in the castle, worriedly looking out at the flourishing settlement next door. I think using the contrast between magic and soldier fits my color scheme nicely so I will go with these two.
I want this story to be about the magic first. The war and battles are important, but I want the individuals to be primarily concerned with the magic. If I go with a “whoever controls the magic, controls the war” concept, I can narrow the scope to a single mission or something else that is well suited to a short story.
I’m still having some issues with the timeline though. I need to figure out how long the siege has been going on. If the tented city is still tents or something more permanent, if the defenders are still in the castle or if they have retreated and are preparing to retake the place. If I want to use the dreary castle as the contrast to the colorful magic settlement, then it would make sense the invaders haven’t won yet and haven’t built any structures. But if I want the defenders to destroy them “to the bones,” then they will have to have been there long enough to establish themselves.
A view behind the curtain into one writer’s brain. Hope it didn’t scare you off.
I think I have a good basis here to start working on my story. A dual POV with a magic user and non-user in an flamboyantly fantasy setting where the two forces are locked in a battle for a castle. It sounds like something I would want to read at least. Hopefully I do it justice.
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Let me know in the comments if you would have chosen different characters to represent the different sides of the battle.