Vertical Looms

Nanjing brocade loomMy fates in Fate’s Door are spirits of time and thus less anchored within time as is everyone else. Many of the materials they weave into their tapestry of the world come from sources in the future or the distant past. Their loom is itself from the future, a vast floor loom in the style used by weavers of Nanjing brocade.

But Fate’s Door is set in the 4th century BC, which means that the peoples of the Mediterranean world are using vertical looms.

Icelandic warp-weighted loomMy heroine, the sea nymph Nerine, is familiar with the ground loom – the earliest loom developed, dating from 6000 BC – because one of her land dwelling friends prefers the ground loom. But when Nerine visits the land palace on Lapadoússa, she sees only vertical looms in use.

Now the scenes of my story, when they include work at a loom, feature only Calla’s ground loom and the massive beast of a loom at which the three fates weave. The vertical loom remains merely an offstage presence. But I wanted to know more about it, because it would set Nerine’s expectations for what a loom is and what she would imagine the fate’s loom to be.

On a vertical loom, the long warp strands hang from a high bar which is supported by two sturdy posts. This frame can be upright and steadied by framed footings or leaned against a wall.

The warp threads themselves are kept taut by weights tied onto the end of each bundle of threads. Often extra thread might be wound around these weights. Since the cloth was woven from top to bottom, the weaver might wind the finished cloth around the top bar and then unwind more thread from each weight, allowing her to weave a cloth longer than the loom was high.

Saxon Loom Weights

A heddle bar at roughly waist height allows the weaver to pull every other warp thread forward and then pass the weft thread across, with half the warp on front of it and the other half behind if. Moving the heddle bar back allows the foremost warp threads to fall back, creating an alternate “shed” through which to pass the weft.

Heddle on a Vertical Loom

Using a vertical loom required more strength than weaving at a ground loom, because the weaver must stand, she must reach up to weave the first portion of her cloth (a tiring position), and she must walk back and forth, if her cloth is wide.

Ancient Greek vaseArtemidorus Daldianus, a Hellene diviner of the 2nd century AD, said that dreaming of a vertical loom meant an upcoming journey, while dreaming of a ground loom or a backstrap loom meant rest. No doubt because of all the walking that weavers did during their days.

In the video below, the weaver (in ancient Hellene garb) is weaving a coarse cloth with coarse thread, but the ancients were capable of spinning their flax and their wool very fine. And their cloth of these threads or of imported silk could be a very high quality, especially if it was destined for the use of a wealthy household.

For more about the world of Fate’s Door, see:
Warships of the Ancient Mediterranean
Calendar of the Ancient Mediterranean
Ground Looms
Lapadoússa, an isle of Pelagie
Merchant Ships of the Ancient Mediterranean
Garb of the Sea People
Measurement in Ancient Greece
Horse Sandals and the 4th Century BC



Names in Ancient Greece

The_Three Fates - Paul ThumannThe first stages of dreaming up a new story, for me, usually start with the question, “Where?”

When I wrote Troll-magic, the answer to that question was, “The enchanting place I see in the paintings by Kay Nielsen.” I had to invent that world, of course, and it became my North-lands.

Fate Door began a little more strangely. I was trying a writerly trick known to spark stories a little different from what a writer normally comes up with.

The trick?

Look around the room you are in. Pick an item that catches your attention. Use it to generate a story.

I’m not going to tell you the object that caught my eye. It would act as a spoiler, and I definitely don’t want to spoil my own story for you!

However, the object very quickly led me to my usual question, “Where?” The where was the cottage of the three fates. And the who was the sea nymph working as the fates’s handmaiden.

forest cottage

Once I got that far, I needed a name for my sea nymph. I decided to look amongst the names of sea nymphs mentioned in Greek mythology. There are hundreds of them! The nymphs in Poseidon’s harem. The nymphs in Tethys’ retinue. The nymphs who reared Hera as a child. And on and on. I made a list of the ones I liked best.

Most of them had meanings, many of the meanings quite similar. There was Romy ‘dew of the sea,’ Inara ‘ray of light,’ and Marilla ‘shining sea.’ But the one I chose was Nerine, meaning simply ‘sea nymph.’

Since the first scenes of my novel took place in the cottage of the fates, I needed names for the fates, a good idea of what the cottage looked like, and then I was ready to write.

Gregale_cliffs_lampedusaI wrote the events in the cottage, and I discovered that I needed to take Nerine back into her memories and write about her childhood in the Middle Sea (the Mediterranean). So long as she stayed within the bosom of her family, her first name alone was enough. But when she ventured further afield, I needed more.

Since the Greek gods and their attendant nymphs were creations of the Hellene culture, I decided that my people of the sea would follow Hellene naming conventions. Which meant I needed to know what they were. My research took some persistence. I didn’t immediately find what I needed. Finally, after much digging, when my frustration was rising, I found the information I sought.

It described the Athenian convention, and the Athenian way seemed good to me, even if other city-states might follow a different variation.

An ancient Athenian would have three names. The first was a personal given name, such as Hypatia, meaning ‘highest’ or ‘exceptional.’

The second name derived from the father’s name. Thus, ‘child of Amyntas.’ (Amyntas means ‘defender.) ‘Child of Amyntas’ would be rendered as Amyntiou.

The third name was the demotic name. That is, it indicated which deme or region of the land around Athens that the family belonged to. Thus, if the family was from Sounion, the demotic name would be Sounieus.

Which gives us Hypatia Amyntiou Sounieus.

Coral Reef

What does this mean for my heroine?

Her father’s name is Meren, and she lives in the region of Pelagie. Thus . . .

Nerine Merenou Pelagieus.

When Nerine meets Altairos’ restless older brother, Hilarion, he asks Nerine her name. She must answer in full. It would be improper not to. And my research – eventually – yielded up what she would say. 😀

For more about Nerine’s world, see:
Calendar of the Ancient Mediterranean
Ground Looms
Lapadoússa, an isle of Pelagie
Merchant Ships of the Ancient Mediterranean
Garb of the Sea People
Measurement in Ancient Greece
Horse Sandals and the 4th Century BC
Knossos, Model for Altairos’ Home

Photo credit for the woodland surrounding the cottage above: Forest by Ian Britton, used under a Creative Commons license from


Warships of the Ancient Mediterranean

Siege of TyreThe ancient Phoenicians were seafarers, and they created the first real maritime civilization in the Mediterranean Sea around 1550 BC.

The ancient Egyptians had mounted various sea expeditions earlier, but the Phoenicians established regular trade routes between their numerous city-states, from Tyre in the east to Tingis in the west on the Strait of Gibraltar, and everywhere in between.

Thus the Phoenicians were the first to develop truly sturdy, seaworthy ships and all the arts that go with shipbuilding and sailing. The later Mediterranean civilizations learned from the Phoenicians, and individual sea captains recognized the Phoenicians – even after their dominance faded – as masters of the sea.

The first warships – needed to protect the sea routes – were slim craft with a shallow draft and propelled by oarsmen, but possessing a sail to take advantage of favorable winds when possible. The ancient Greeks named these warcraft for the number of oars propelling the vessel.

Thus the early 30-oared warship (15 on each side) was the triaconter, from triakontoroi or “thirty-oars.”

And the later 50-oared warship (25 on each side) was the penteconter, from pentekontoroi or “fifty-oars.”


By the time of my novel Fate’s Door (352 BC – 329 BC), warship technology had advanced considerably. The early warships served more as fighting platforms for the warriors, who would seek to board an enemy ship and subdue its warriors in man-to-man combat. Later warships had catapults aboard for assaulting the enemy with missiles. Even more important, their prows possessed bronze-clad rams for ramming enemy ships and sinking them.

This meant that swift maneuvering was essential, as well as increased power and speed. The only way to get that was by adding more oars to the ship. And the best way to add oars was to add another bank of oars, one bank of rowers on a lower level and another bank of rowers on an upper level.

These double-banked warships were soon made obsolete by triple-banked warships. The ancient Romans called them triremes, and that is the name we modern folk use as well. But the ancient Greeks called them triereis or, in the singular, a trieres, literally meaning “three-rower.”

These were peerless warships, and the ancient Greek city-states built fleets of them, cementing the Hellene domination of the Mediterranean Sea.

Greek Galleys

As history unfolded, the desire for ever more powerful ships grew. Adding a fourth bank of oars was impractical, but adding another man to each oar was not. When the extra man sat on the top bench, the ship was known as a tetreres or “four-rower.”

When one extra man sat on the top bench and another extra man sat on the middle bench, the ship was a penteres or “five-rower.” At the time of Fate’s Door, the penteres was a new development. Most fleets had but one, and it was the flagship of the fleet.

Altairos boasts to Nerine (the protagonist of Fate’s Door) that each of his father’s warfleets has at least one penteres, reassuring her that he will not be in danger when he accompanies the fleets to challenge the pirates preying on their trade ships.

Oarsmen diagram

The diagram above shows the rowing arrangement for a trieres. One thranites sat on the top bench with his oar passing through a lock in the side of the projecting outrigger of the ship.

One zygites sat on a middle bench, recessed into the deck, with his oar passing through a lock in the floor of the outrigger.

And one thalamites sat on the lowest bench with his oar passing through a lock in the side of the ship.

In 1985, the reconstruction of an ancient trireme was started by a shipbuilder in Piraeus, using drawings by naval architect John F. Coates. Coates developed his drawings through long consultation with historian J.S. Morrison.


In 1987, the Olympias was launched and put to sea trials. In the most successful of these, the ship achieved a speed of 9 knots (10 mph or 17 km/h). It was able to execute 180-degree turns in less than 60 seconds and within an arc of two and a half ship-lengths.

Given that this maneuverability was achieved with an inexperienced crew of volunteers, there was reason for the enthusiasm of the ancients for the trireme. It was indeed the “Dreadnought of the Mediterranean.”

For more about the world of Fate’s Door, see:
Ground Looms
Lapadoússa, an isle of Pelagie
Merchant Ships of the Ancient Mediterranean
Garb of the Sea People
Measurement in Ancient Greece
Horse Sandals and the 4th Century BC
Knossos, Model for Altairos’ Home

For more about the Olympias, see:
The Olympias on Wikipedia
The Trireme Trust, dedicated to disseminating information about the Olympias
The Sea Trials of the Olympias on YouTube


Calendar of the Ancient Mediterranean

sundialThe people of the ancient Mediterranean world did not follow a common calendar.

For example, in Athens the year began just after mid-summer. But in Boeotia – a mere 50 miles (80 kilometers) away – the year began in mid-winter. Nor were their names for the months (or moons) the same.

Fortunately, as I wrote Fate’s Door, I found I did not need month names. The people of the ancient world were not nearly as tied to a written calendar or a strict accounting for the passage of time as we moderns are.

The season was a much more relevant concept. The land dwellers needed to know when to plant seed and when to harvest crops. The seafarers needed to know how the weather would behave. My sea numeni – living beneath the waves – were interested in the temperature of the water and the behavior of the currents.

Written calendars of the time tended to get out of sync with the seasons and then require an arbitrary jump to make them match. Paying attention to the natural world, rather than the man-made calendar, was much more useful to the folk who really needed to know what was upcoming.

Thus my characters in Fate’s Door tend to refer to the spring, the summer, the autumn, and the winter. Or the morning, the noontide, the afternoon, and the evening.

I didn’t need month names. Nor did I need precise measures for minutes or hours.

Full MoonBut I did need months and weeks. A journey might take three months. An event might be planned for next week.

The months were easy. The ancients definitely used the moon to plot the passage of time. Thus they might say that travelling overland from Thérma to the coast of Balder’s Sea (the Baltic Sea) would take three moons.

But the weeks were harder, because the ancients of the Hellenic world didn’t divide their moons into 4 weeks. In my story, I had started out as referring to weeks as sevendays. Halfway through the manuscript, it occurred to me to check my assumption.

Moon waxing, 100 pixelsIn my North-lands stories, the lowlanders have 7-day weeks, but the mountain dwelling Hammarleedings have 8-day weeks. Perhaps the ancients of our world used some number of days other than 7.

Oh, wow, did they ever! It was good I checked. The Athenians, at least, divided the moon (or month) into thirds!

This is how it worked. A moon was either 29 or 30 days long. The short ones were known as “hollow,” while the long ones were known as “full.”

The first day of the month was called noumenia or “new moon.” The next 9 days were called “2nd rising,” “3rd rising,” all the way up to “10th rising.” These first ten days were grouped as the “moon waxing.”

Moon full, 100 pixelsThe next 10 days were grouped as the “moon full.” In this group, the numbers of the days ran from 11 to 19, but they were usually called “first over ten” (for the 11th) and “second over ten” (the 12th) and so on, up to “ninth over ten” for the 19th. The 20th day was called “earlier 10th,” not “the 20th” or “tenth over ten.”

The last 10 days were grouped as the “moon waning.” And the numbering of these days is the most confusing to my modern sensibilities. It goes backwards!

The first day of this group was called the “later 10th.” Next came “9th waning” and “8th waning” all the way down to “2nd waning.” The very last day of the month was called hene kai nea, meaning “the old and the new.”

Moon waning variants, 211 pixelsIn months with only 29 days, “moon waning” counted down from “later tenth” to “3rd waning” and then went directly to “the old and the new.” A “hollow” moon simply did not have a “2nd waning.”

With this emphasis on tens – “10th rising,” “earlier 10th,” and “later tenth” – it seemed pretty clear to me that the unit of 10 days was the important one. And as I envisioned the communities featured in Fate’s Door as following the lead of dominant Athens, I chose that 10-day unit for my “week.” What general term did the Athenians use when they spoke of their “moon waxing” or their “moon full” or their “moon waning”?

Alas, I could find no mention of such a term. Perhaps a scholar of the classics might be able to enlighten me, but none of my circle of acquaintance – that I know of – has studied ancient Greek.

I thought about choosing tenday, just as I might use sevenday for a 7-day week. But I wanted something a little more evocative of my ancient Hellenic setting. I decided to borrow from the traditional Greek numerical prefixes.

Di- or duo- for 2. Tri for 3. Tetra for 4. And on up. Deka- is 10. So I coined the deka-day.

Then I went through my manuscript replacing every use of sevenday with deka-day! 😀

For more about the world of Fate’s Door, see:
Lapadoússa, an isle of Pelagie
Merchant Ships of the Ancient Mediterranean
Garb of the Sea People
Measurement in Ancient Greece
Horse Sandals and the 4th Century BC
Knossos, Model for Altairos’ Home


Ground Looms

Linen Handkerchief, 300 pixelsWhen I started writing Fate’s Door – a book in which the three fates who weave the destiny of the world play important roles – I expected that I would need to learn a lot about weaving. What I didn’t expect was that weaving would enter the story before my heroine got anywhere near the cottage of the fates.

But so it was.

Nerine is a young sea nymph. She makes friends with a boy who lives on land: Altairos. And Altairos naturally introduces her to his nurse, Calla. Calla begins teaching Nerine to weave. And there I was, needing to know more about the textile arts. 😀

The culture of the Mediterranean in the Hellenistic era used vertical looms, and I’ll be writing a blog post about them soon. But Calla prefers the more ancient style of loom: the ground loom.

Women at a loom. From a tomb at Beni-Hassan.There is archaeological evidence that Neolithic peoples as far back as 6000 BC used ground looms, but the ancient Egyptians used them as well, from 5000 BC until sometime after 1550 BC, when the vertical loom was developed.

Calla could have requested either type of loom for herself. She is greatly honored and loved by the royal family of Zakynthos, and they would have provided whatever she wanted. But the vertical loom requires greater strength from the weaver, as well as a lot of standing, and Calla is old. She wants to weave while sitting.

Calla’s loom is a much finer version of the ground loom than the original instrument used in 6000 BC.

The very first ground looms were simply four sticks plunged into the soil, one pair placed roughly 3 feet apart in front of the weaver and another pair – also 3 feet apart – placed 6 to 10 feet away from the weaver.

Narrow beams at each end were secured to the sticks, and the warp threads were tied to the beams. Two sticks (lease rods) were used to lift the long warp threads on these early looms, allowing the short weft threads to be passed across the warp.

Later on, the heddle was invented, providing a more convenient way to separate the warp strands.

Two Heddles

As looms became more sophisticated, so did heddle design. But the heddles for a ground loom were essentially two rods with loops of string attaching every other warp thread to one and the alternate every other warp thread to the other.

The weaver would lift one heddle into the heddle jacks – two Y-shaped sticks, one on either side of the warp threads – and pass the shuttle through. After beating the weft thread firmly against the previous weft thread, she would lift the first heddle down, lift the other heddle into the jacks, and pass the shuttle across again.

Nomadic people still use these simple ground looms, because they are so portable. You just pull the sticks out of the ground and pack the whole kit and caboodle up.

But Calla weaves in the comfort of her own home, and her loom is created by finely smoothed wooden cylinders set into a raised platform faced by tiles. Brackets along the sides of the platform allow her to move the heddle jacks as the fabric progresses. As the working edge of the fabric moves away from her, she can either sit at the side of the loom to continue weaving, or place a cushion below the fabric and sit directly on it.

The fabric in the video below is a very coarse one, woven loosely of coarse thread. But it is possible to weave very fine cloth on such a loom. The ancient Egyptians used flax threads so fine and smooth, and wove it so skillfully, that the resulting linen was fit for royalty. Indeed, it was in great demand for export to Arabia and India due to its high quality.

For more about the world of Fate’s Door, see:
Merchant Ships of the Ancient Mediterranean
Garb of the Sea People
Measurement in Ancient Greece
Horse Sandals and the 4th Century BC
Knossos, Model for Altairos’ Home

For more about ground looms and weaving on them, see:
Nomadic Looms
Flax and Linen in Pharaonic Egypt
Ancient Egyptian Linen
Types of Looms


Lapadoússa, an Isle of Pelagie

The first scenes of Fate’s Door take place in the cottage of the fates, in Scandia (Scandinavia). So I didn’t worry too much about the exact location of my sea nymph heroine’s home while I wrote those scenes.

Oh, I knew that she grew up in a reef palace offshore from a Mediterranean island. But precisely which island and where didn’t need to be determined. Not yet.

That changed the instant I finished Part 1 and wanted to begin Part 2.

“Where the heck is Nerine’s island?” I asked myself.


I knew it was not in the eastern reaches, the Levantine basin. Nor the western portion near the Pillars of Herakles (Strait of Gibraltar). Nor right off the coast of Greece itself.

No, it was centrally located and not too near the coast of either Europe or Africa.

I started searching maps and googling locations. And the island cluster I was looking for turned up pretty quickly.

Pelagie_Islands_mapThe Isles of Pelagie are located in the broad Strait of Sicily that separates the western basin of the Mediterranean from the eastern. To the north is Sicily, to the south, Tunisia. The waters of the strait are shallower, with a deep current that moves from east to west, and a surface one that moves from west to east.

Honestly, the moment I spotted the Isles of Pelagie in one of the three atlases we have in the house, they felt right. I crossed my fingers that when I checked the details, one of them would be right.

The first thing that caught my attention was the name. It has a French sound to my ear, but it actually derives from the Greek word pélagos, meaning ‘open sea.’ That seemed a promising sign. A name deriving from Greek, rather than French or Italian, might mean the ancient peoples were aware of these islands.

My next step was to look specifically at each island. There were three, and I needed one that could support a sizable population, because Nerine’s friend Altairos is a land-dwelling island prince.

I envisioned his setting as a city-state grown wealthy from trade. The Isles of Pelagie certainly had a great location for trade. The ancient sailors always stuck close to shore. As a narrower section of the Mediterranean, the Strait of Sicily would be a natural place to cross the sea, and the Isles would serve as a natural stepping stone for that crossing.

The island of Lampione (Lamptír to the ancient Greeks) was clearly much too small. Altairos’ city-state might trade for a lot of its food, but some would need to be produced locally. Lampione is a rocky islet with tall bluffs and no good harbor, measuring a mere 656 feet by 591 feet (200 meters by 180 meters). The palace alone would sprawl over the entire ten acres, with no room for either a city or farmland or pasturage.


Strike Lampione.

Linosa looked more promising. It’s considerably larger and, from the photo, looks to have a sheltering cove to serve as a harbor. Even better, Strabo (an ancient Greek philosopher and geographer) referred to it as Aethusa.

During the Punic Wars, the ancient Romans used it as a military base. The ruins from 150 water cisterns from this period still remain. 264 BC to 146 BC is somewhat later than my time period, 352 BC to 329 BC. But if the Romans could set up and run a permanent settlement, that would indicate that my fictional city-state might thrive there as well.


On the other hand, if the Romans took the island in 264 BC, it meant Altairos’ city-state fell to them in what might otherwise be Altairos’ happy old age. My book ends before such a gloomy happening, but why set my characters up for even unchronicled tragedy? I decided to pass on Linosa.

Lampedusa_2Lampedusa, the third island I considered (Lapadoússa to the ancients), turned out to be perfect. It is the largest of the three, with plenty of room for a modest city, a sprawling palace similar to that at Knossoss, and lots of land left over for orchards, vinyards, farming, and the grazing of livestock.

Apparently the ancient Greeks found it an excellent source for a particularly desired oyster. Historically, it hosted settlements of ancient Phoenicians, Greeks, and so on through the centuries.

My fictional city-state might not be so fictional after all. The Greeks started many colonies throughout the Mediterranean world, and there are many Greek ruins (along with ruins from other civilizations and times in history) on Lampedusa. Just because this particular settlement is not named in the surviving chronicles of the ancients does not mean it did not exist. Indeed, the ruins indicate otherwise.


The island has high cliffs on its western end, so I placed my city-state and its palace along the gentler southeastern shore, with Nerine’s reef palace in the sea farther west beside the southern coast.

This was an exciting moment. I had found the island where Altairos lived and the waters in which Nerine’s reef place was carved!

For more about the world of Fate’s Door, see:
Garb of the Sea People
Measurement in Ancient Greece
Horse Sandals and the 4th Century BC
Knossos, Model for Altairos’ Home


Merchant Ships of the Ancient Mediterranean

Kyrenia Ship from Naturally CyprusWhen Nerine – the heroine of Fate’s Door – went aboard the Lily of Aegyptus with her friend Altairos, I needed to know more about the trading vessels of the ancient Mediterranean.

Studying ships that sailed more than 2000 years ago is a difficult proposition. They were made of wood and usually ended their days on the bottom of the sea, where their timbers rotted.

Luckily for me – and interested scholars – in 1965, a sponge diver named Andreas Cariolou discovered the well-preserved wreck of an ancient trading vessel near Kyrenia, Cyprus.

More than 50 underwater archeoligists, students, and technicians cooperated to photograph the site and then retrieve the artifacts from the sea floor. Every piece of the ship itself and its contents has been extensively studied, with the result that we now know much more about sea trade in the Hellenistic era than we did before.

Kyrenia Postage StampThe Kyrenia ship was 48 feet long (14.7 meters) and 14.5 feet wide (4.4 meters), quite a bit shorter and somewhat narrower than a warship. (The ancient triremes were 121 feet long and 18 feet wide – 37 meters by 5.5 meters.)

The Kyrenia ship was propelled by one square sail, and only four mariners managed her: a captain and three crew. There were four oars aboard for maneuvering within harbors and other tight quarters, but she depended on the wind to travel from port to port. She possessed two steering oars at her stern, but usually only one of them was needed to guide her.

Stacked AmphoraeDecking at the stern provided a level surface on which to stand in addition to a smaller deck at the prow. But most of the ship was reserved for the cargo she carried. When she sank – probably scuttled after pirates captured her, took her crew to sell as slaves, and stole the captain’s store of coin – she was carrying 404 amphorae, containing wine, olive oil, almonds, and fruits.

Carbon dating tells us that the Kyrenia ship was built around 389 BC and probably operated by three generations of a merchant family. The almonds she was carrying when she sank were picked around 288 BC. Which means she was exactly the sort of trading vessel in use during the time of Fate’s Door, which takes place between 344 BC and 329 BC.

I modeled my Lily of Aegyptus after the Kyrenia ship.

There’s a fun sequel to the discovery of this ancient vessel. Experimental archaeologists have taken to reconstructing artifacts using the methods of the original creators to better understand how these old cultures functioned. The Kyrenia ship has generated three such reconstructions, one focused on the original construction methods (the Kyrenia II) and another focused on the ancient sailing methods (the Kyrenia Liberty).

The video below tells the story of the discovery of the Kyrenia ship and the construction of the Kyrenia II.

For more about the world of Fate’s Door, see:
Measurement in Ancient Greece
Horse Sandals and the 4th Century BC
Knossos, Model for Altairos’ Home

For more about the Kyrenia ship, see:
The Kyrenia Ship on Wikipedia
The Kyrenia Ship on HellenicaWorld
The Kyrenia II
Cyprus and the Sea
The Kyrenia Ship Project


Cover Reveal: Fate’s Door

Fate landing cov 350Secrets, like troubles, come in threes. When you possess one of either, two more arrive to keep it company. Nerine, a sea nymph of the ancient world, knows too much about both.

Each morning, in the chill before the sun’s rising, Nerine and the three Fates stand under the mighty branches of the World Tree, gazing into the depths of the root-girdled Well of Destiny, watching the dooms that must come to pass that day.

Nerine then chooses the threads that mirror the water’s visions for the Fates to weave their portents into history.

But when the dawn’s visions show Nerine’s lover, shipwrecked and drowning, all her renounced yearning for him rises anew. Surely – as handmaiden to the Fates themselves – she might tilt the odds to give her beloved a chance.

But how?

If she chooses illicitly for the Fates’ loom – green ribbands? a handkerchief? – will either save him?

Alas, her vision-laden intuition tells her no.

Ribband garlands merely drag her lover deep in entangling seaweed, while her handkerchief entombs him in the wreck’s sail. Each forbidden choice brings him closer to death.

Is betrayal of herself the only way to prevail?

Somehow – this day, this morning, this time – Nerine must subvert destiny or lose the companion of her heart forever.

Coming soon!

For the beginning of the story, see:
Fate’s Door: The Well of Destiny


Garb of the Sea People

The protagonist of Fate’s Door – Nerine – is a sea nymph. She would call herself a numen of the sea, a sea spirit.

She can breathe air, but her natural breath extracts oxygen from water, and her home is under the sea.

water texture

Fully half of Fate’s Door takes place in the Mediterranean. (Nerine would call it the Middle Sea, of course.) A lot of Nerine’s early adventures occur on land, on the island near her reef palace home. But the root to her problems lies with her family, in the sea, and many scenes transpire underwater.

Which meant I needed to devise what Nerine and her people wore in their watery realm.

It seemed obvious to me that sea people must wear close fitting garb that doesn’t get in the way as they swim about their business. Likely they would fashion clothing very much like our modern swimsuits. But I didn’t think they would call them swimsuits or bathing costumes or anything like that. Those terms belong to people who enter the water but occasionally. Only land dwellers would wear a garment that is a ‘costume’ or ‘for swimming.’

Sea people swim most of the time, and their garments would just be clothes. Yet they’d need specific terms for each garment. I decided to go with the ‘pectoral’ of the ancient Egyptians for the top. And the term ‘belt’ for the apparel covering the loins. A girdle might be more accurate, but in my mind a girdle calls up either medieval times or the 1950’s. I wanted something more basic. So, belt.

Pectoral_of_Senusret_II_by_John_CampanaOf course, the ancient Egyptian pectorals are also not quite what my sea people wear. For one thing, not all of the ancient Egyptian pectorals would cover enough of the chest. The pectoral of Senusret II (left) is not at all what I had in mind, although it is very beautiful.

We moderns tend to think of the Egyptian pectoral as elaborate jewelry, but its primary purpose was to make a statement about the pharaoh or noble wearing it. For example, the pectoral of Amenemhat III states: “Lord (of) Heaven, God-Good, Lord of the Two Lands, ‘Ny-Maat-Ra’, Lord (of all) Lands.”

Pectoral of Ptolemy VThe votive pectoral of Ptolemy V (right) is more what I had in mind, but it was never worn by the living pharaoh. Rather it was placed on his corpse, and its shape mimicked the shape of a beb-collar, that hung from the prow of a sacred boat, protecting both boat and the image of the god carried within.

Additionally, the Eyptian pectorals were held in place by gravity. One worn in the sea would move around too much, unless fastened around the torso as well as the neck.

By adjusting historical precedent to conform with the demands of practicality, I arrived at my ideal for a sea numen’s pectoral: a decorative panel, made of varying materials, secured behind the neck and around the ribs or waist.

The warriors would need garments of sturdier stuffs, perhaps links of bronze to form a mesh, or chitin harvested from the shells of giant crabs and reinforced by a coating of bronze.

I discovered a Dutch gorget (below left) from the 1600’s that matched quite well with the picture in my mind. Perhaps the sea warrior would need more room about the neck, but his arms would have plenty of freedom for swimming strokes as well as thrusting with a spear or trident.

Brass gorget and steel cuirass, 600 pixels

I envisioned Nerine’s father, the king, wearing something that covered a bit more of his person, something like this Indian cuirass from the 17th or 18th century (above right), but with more room for the arms.

swim trunks DHAnd just to be clear that a sea person’s ‘belt’ coveres rather more than one might initially expect, I decided I’d better find a photo – somewhere – giving an indication of what I meant.

I imagine something similar could be devised of crab chitin or bronze chainmail for the warriors. Although the sea people know the technology of nålbindning, single-needle knitting, which goes back to the earliest of times.

Indeed, most of the servants in the reef palace would wear pectorals and belts knitted from sea jute, thin strands of chitin or urchin spines, or even their own hair (which is not itchy the way a land-dweller’s hair is). The lighter materials delivered more comfort than the heavier ones required by the warriors.

bicycle shortsNerine’s Nurse wears a snuggly fitting top and hose of white nålbindning knitting. And Nerine’s first clothes – worn at a formal banquet with her parents, the king and queen, as well as some of their courtiers and ministers – is an aqua nålbindning top and belt. For the children of the sea people do swim bare, donning clothes when they reach the age of thirteen or so.

The royal children receive more ornate garments, usually adorned with jewels, and fashioned of a light bronze or gold mesh. Nerine’s favorite pectoral and belt were gold with green beryls that flashed gold in strong sunlight. They complimented her green-gold hair and hazel-green eyes nicely.

chainmail top by kerosaThe belts of the ladies, like those of the men, covered more than the term ‘belt’ might lead you to believe. Not all of them would resemble bikini bottoms, however. Nerine’s first ‘belt’ was merely a very long sash of aqua nålbindning that wrapped around her waist and passed between her legs, being secured in elaborate knots on the waistband.

bikini beltNearly every painting I’ve seen depicting water nymphs shows them naked, but I suspect that the real intent of the painter was the celebration of the beauty of the nude form. The nymphs are certainly lovely.

But all the statuary showing land dwellers in the nude doesn’t mean that they went about their lives unclothed. Supposing sea numeni were real (as my novel, Fate’s Door pretends), I doubt they would live always in the nude either.


For more about Nerine’s world, see:
Measurement in Ancient Greece
Horse Sandals and the 4th Century BC
Knossos, Model for Altairos’ Home


Measurement in Ancient Greece

When Nerine, the heroine of Fate’s Door, set off on a journey across Európi in 334 BC, I needed to know the units of measurement that her guides – the Poniró Peltastés of Hermes – would speak of.


Sure I could have them talking of miles and leagues. After all, any civilization in which people travel will have the equivalents of those distances. Why not just use terms that many readers will be familiar with?

I could have. Indeed, I would have to, if the ancient terms proved too difficult or obscure. But I dove into research first.

Along the way, I became sidetracked by smaller units of measurement used by the ancient Greeks and, indeed, the entire Hellenistic world.

The translations of the ancient Greek terms charmed me. There is something so practical and sensible in units such as a ‘finger’ or a ‘palm.’

Before I tell you about my decision regarding miles and leagues, I’m going to take you with me to look at the smaller units. Not all of them. There are too many for that. But a few of those that interested me most. 😀

The smallest is indeed the ‘finger’ or daktylos. In modern terms, that’s .76 inches or 19.3 millimeters. I suppose it was used as I might use an inch.

daktylos - index finger by michiel1972 at nl.wikipedia 

The palaiste or doron is four ‘fingers’ or a ‘palm.’ Which makes me think of the ‘hands’ used to indicate the size of a horse. In ordinary modern units, that’s 3.04 inches or 77.1 millimeters.


Then there’s the dichas or hemipodion, which is the ‘half foot’ – 6.07 inches or 154.1 millimeters – no doubt a handy unit. But the unit that absolutely beguiles me is the spithame, the ‘span of all fingers.’ I’d love to speak of a loaf of bread as long as a spithame! I might one day, even though it will get me strange looks.

The spithame is 9.1 inches or 231.2 millimeters.


The pous or ‘foot’ is 12.13 inches, quite close to the foot that I am used to. Or, with less immediate correspondence in metric: 308.2 millimeters.

The pygme or ‘forearm’ is amazingly close to the pous. Did the ancients really need both units? 13.65 inches or 346.8 millimeters for the pygme.

The last of the smaller units of length is the pechys or, as the ancient Romans would say, the cubit. Which approximates the length from the fingertips to the elbow. That is, 18.2 inches or 462.3 millimeters.


Of course, as fascinating as I found these ancient units, the shorter ones were not what I needed for my story.

The so-called ‘longer’ units start at the pous or ‘foot’ and go on up through various numbers of paces. But what I wanted were the units with which one might measure a journey. Something equivalent to miles or kilometers.

There were two sorts of ‘leagues’ that seemed promising. The parasanges was adopted from Persia and measured 3.447 miles (or 5.5 kilometers). Or I could choose the ‘league’ adopted from the Egyptians, the schoinos which was 4.596 miles (or 7.4 kilometers) long.

After all that research, I decided that both the parasanges and the schoinos were too difficult and obscure to use. I settled for the familiar league, and started writing Nerine’s journey north from the Aegean Sea to the Baltic Sea.

And guess what happened?

I mentioned the unit of a league once! Maybe twice. Because Nerine’s attention was not on how far she traveled. She was interested in the people she met, the strange cultures she encountered, and the startling things she was learning about herself.

I did require a unit of measurement when she gazed across the river Moirios (the Great Morava), near its mouth, and marveled that it must be a full stadion across. And again, when she worried about how they would cross the river Danouvios (the Danube), because it was more than four stadia wide.


But I’d already determined that the stadion was the unit I needed when a much-younger Nerine first looked at a map of Lapadoússa (the modern Lampedusa), the isle where her land-dwelling friend Altairos lived. (Nerine is a sea nymph and lives in a reef palace under the water.)

The young Altairos proudly told Nerine that Lapadoússa was 17 stadia wide and 70 stadia long. For us moderns, that’s: 2 miles wide (3.2 km) and 8 miles (12.9 km) long.

A stadion is 202.2 yards or 184.9 meters. 😀


For more about the world of Fate’s Door, see:
Horse Sandals and the 4th Century BC
Knossos, Model for Altairos’ Home