A Tour of Navarys

A few weeks ago, I took a virtual tour of the castle that features so largely in my novel Caught in Amber. Finding images that fit the mood of the many and varied wings of that vast pile was so much fun that I decided to embark on another such tour, this time to the isle of Navarys.

Navarys is the setting for my novella, Skies of Navarys. It lies far out in the great ocean to the east of the continent hosting the Empire of Giralliya. I think of Navarys as the Atlantis of my North-lands, because the story transpires during ancient times.

The island of Navarys possesses a central mountain, and it’s about the same size as the Greek island Lefkada located in the Ionian Sea south of Corfu. (Lefkada measures 22 miles north-south, and 9 miles east-west.)

This painting by John Glover of Mount Wellington in Australia has the right look and the right feeling, although… If it did depict Navarys, the flat lands in the foreground would need to be ocean waves.

Liliyah, when she sees Navarys from an airship, is amazed by the view.

The ocean surged vast and blue-gray from horizon to horizon. The island of Navarys, stretching away under the noon sun, showed so many textures of green: dark of pine, bright of meadow, and cool of orchard.

The majority of the people living on Navarys dwell in its capital city, located above a harbor on the slopes of the central mountain.

And the city tumbled down the western slopes of Mount Sohlon like an infant’s set of playing blocks: pierced cubes of colored marble and stucco roofed by verdigris copper or olive tile.

Some of the city clings to a very steep slope, as depicted above, but a slim crescent of flatter terrain curls around the the harbor area. Nor does the mountainside climb to its peak in one fell swoop. The king’s royal palace occupies the crest of a foothill.

The beacons at the harbor’s outlet, brilliant like evening stars against the green and orange of the horizon, brought it all back.

One of the modern caravels, powered by energea stones, not sails and wind, passed between the beacons, headed out to sea.

Liliyah’s own home is located well up the mountain slope, but is by no means neighboring to the royal palace. Her friend, Mago, lives nearby.

“I’m up,” Liliyah announced, slithering out from under the net canopy that sheltered her bed.

The gauze of the window curtains tinted her room golden. It must be well past breakfast, if the sun had moved around the corner of the house that typically shaded her windows. She started scrambling out of her nightdress, rifling through the gowns on the wall pegs for something casual and comfortable.

Liliyah and Mago both do a considerable bit of running through the city allées over the course of the story. Mago in particular ventures high on the slope, although not all the way to the royal palace.

Mago paused, panting and puffing, feeling droplets of sweat trickling along his temples. He leaned against the stucco of the lemon house.

Must. Keep. On.

No one paid him any heed. Three couriers dashed by him, undeterred by the hill, headed for the palace. They met and sidestepped a gang of wild-looking young men tramping down. One thrust out a foot to trip the rearmost courier, who simply bounded over it.

The allée depicted in the photo below features very golden hues, but the stone and stucco of the city’s buildings is varied. Some allées share these golden tones, where others boast sparkling white or even pastel colors.

Mago climbed two flights of stairs, feeling the pull in his thighs from their tall risers, to a little-travelled lane cutting across the slope of the mountain. Ranks of flowering almond trees generated a speckled shade, pleasantly aromatic, but the usual quietude was missing. Pageboys carrying messages, porters transporting luggage, families locking their front gates and departing, a bachelor delaying to help an elderly relative make sure the curling tongs really were packed at the bottom of a valise: the scene was busy. Although not panicked, or even hectic, Mago noted.

The view from the front of the palace would take in the whole of the city, stretching down the mountainside and curling around the harbor. Because the palace occupies the crest of a foothill, it also possesses vistas displaying more rural stretches of coastline.

The breeze gusted strongly for an instant. Spray from the fountain misted his face, evaporating and cooling, then drying as the warmth of the sun prevailed.

Mago stared at the horizon where sea met sky. Their house, just like its neighbors, fronted on a sloping allée punctuated by steps at the steepest stretches. But the walled courtyard behind the domicile occupied a slight bluff, giving him a more expansive view of the shore cliffs, rows of palms, and the tumble of mansions climbing this reach of Mount Sohlon.

The interior of the island is largely wild. Vineyards, olive groves, farm fields, and a few hamlets, as well as country estates for the wealthy remain within close reach of the city or the coast.

For more virtual tours of my book worlds, see:
Landscapes of Auberon
A Castle That Might be Amber
Bazinthiad, a Quick Tour

For more about Navarys, see:
Lodestones
From Navarys to Imsterfeldt

 

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Arriving at the Finish

If you’ve been watching the progress indicator in the side bar, you’ll have noticed it creeping upward over the last few weeks. 500 words here, 800 there, and during the last seven days, frequent spurts up into 1,700+ territory.

The novel I’ve been working on is tentatively titled To Thread the Labyrinth, and I’ve been fully immersed in its setting, the characters, and the story.

Indeed, some part of me feels as though I should be able to go to Gate Nine-and-Three-Quarters at the airport and catch a plane to the small “French” country of Pavelle. Once there, I’d hire a carriage to take me from its capital city out into the countryside, where I would find the charming town of Claireau. That’s how real it all seems. 😉

When I first started developing the concept for To Thread the Labyrinth, I’d imagined that it might be a short story that would accompany my coloring book. There would be mention of magic, perhaps a young protagonist learning antiphony, and the intricate designs I’d been drawing for the coloring book would represent the complex patterns required for the antiphonic energy that powers magic in my North-lands.

Naturally, my story grew considerably from there, acquiring an older protagonist in addition to the young one, as well as an annoying little brother, a crowd of bullies, civil disorder, a troll executioner (sort of), and more. By the time I was done brainstorming, I retained no illusions about the supposed shortness of my story. Not only would it not be short, it wouldn’t even squeeze into a novella. This was a full-fledged novel!

Today was my longest sprint of writing in a long time. I wrote fully 3,500 words at my top speed. The scenes were flowing out of mind and through my fingertips on the keyboard as though I were a stream in flood. And when I finally stopped, I’d reached the finish of my story.

I was so excited, I wanted to run to the top of a mountain, yelling, “I did it! I did it!” I suspect that the long hiatus that occurred in the middle of this novel (from October through December I wrote nothing; and from January through May I wrote Blood Silver) made completing To Thread the Labyrinth extra special.

So…how long is the story? I’d estimated it would be 60,000 words. But as I approached the end, I kept having to add a few thousand more to my estimate. 62,000. No, 65,000. No, 70,000. The final count was 77,697.

What happens next?

I clean up a few little odds and ends (like making up a name for that armiger—a policeman—who needs one, but that I skipped over because I was too intent on the scene to stop for him). Then I send the manuscript off to my first reader for her discerning feedback.

You must understand…my revisions usually add words to my stories, because I am far more likely to leave-things-out-that need-to-go-in than I am to put-things-in-that-shouldn’t-be-there. That’s just how I roll. But given that my readers usually say, “Oh! I wish it were longer!” when they finish one of my books, I suspect how I roll is fine.

Did I say I that I’m excited about To Thread the Labyrinth?

I’m excited! 😉

 

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Brother Kings

Fairy tales have always been amongst my favorite stories to read and to think about and to dream up sequels or alternate endings for. Immersed in them from an early age as I was, to me they seem an essential part of my foundations. So much so that I sometimes don’t recognize when I am drawing on the heritage of these archetypal narratives.

For example, take the following scene, an early flashback from The Tally Master. I’m pretty sure the reconciliation scene from “The Widow’s Son” in East of the Sun and West of the Moon must have come to mind when I wrote it, but I’d forgotten that connection completely until a few days ago when I stumbled upon an illustration by Kay Nielsen.

Blood dripping down one temple, Erastys wilted against the tree, his brother’s sword at his throat.

“Do you yield?” growled Heiroc, his sword arm tense.

Erastys paled, but shook his head. “No,” he whispered.

Heiroc’s sword arm tightened, and they hung there an instant: the dark brother pinned to the tree, garbed in silver and red, wet with blood; the light brother clothed in bronze and aqua, drenched in river water.

Gael’s vision pulsed in and out as he lay stunned, watching.

Heiroc’s voice an edged hiss, the king commanded, “You shall yield!”

Erastys grew more pale yet, but his eyes narrowed.

“You must yield!” Was Heiroc begging?

Gael suspected his hearing was as injured as his sight and the rest of him. What had happened, there at the end, when something ripped inside him? He feared the answer.

Heiroc cast his sword to the ground, where it clattered against the tree’s roots. “I cannot kill you.”

Swift triumph gleamed in Erastys’ eyes, and Gael would have cried out, had he been able. My king! My king! No!

As Heiroc turned away, Erastys shed his drooping stance—suddenly powerful—and seized his brother by the neck, thrusting him against the bloody bark where, a moment ago, Erastys had languished.

Erastys lifted his sword.

“Do you yield? Brother?” he exulted.

“No,” breathed Heiroc.

“You shall,” gloated Erastys.

“Never.”

“But, yes, my brother. Oh, yes!” Erastys’ teeth gleamed.

“You trade upon my mercy,” snarled Heiroc.

Erastys’ nostrils flared. “I had not surrendered.”

“No. You had not. Nonetheless.” Heiroc’s spurt of temper calmed.

“I shall not be so weak as you. I can kill,” Erastys said.

“I do not doubt it. Brother. Nonetheless. You trade upon my strength, not my weakness.” Heiroc’s tone was stern, and yet something lay under that sternness. What was it, thusly concealed?

“Does that mean you trade upon my weakness, since I trade upon your strength?” mocked Erastys.

Heiroc laughed. Gaelan’s tears!

Erastys tensed his sword arm; and then cast his sword after his brother’s—to the ground—and fell upon Heiroc’s neck in a weeping embrace. Heiroc’s arms went hesitantly around his brother’s shoulders and then snugged him in tight.

It had been love, Gael realized, love beneath Heiroc’s sternness. Even after a year of war, a year of bloodshed, a year of battle after battle. Dastard’s hells!

I must admit that this scene between the brother kings Heiroc and Erastys is one that pleases me greatly.

But now compare it to the excerpt below from “The Widow’s Son.” The provenance seems pretty clear to me. What do you think? Is there a connection?

…but when he went down to the stable where his horse was on the day the wedding was to be, there it stood so dull and heavy, and hung its ears down, and wouldn’t eat its corn. So when the young King—for he was now a king, and had got half the kingdom—spoke to him, and asked what ailed him, the Horse said:

“Now I have helped you on, and now I won’t live any longer. So just take the sword , and cut my head off.”

“No, I’ll do nothing of the kind,” said the young King; “but you shall have all you want, and rest all your life.”

“Well,” said the Horse, “if you won’t do as I tell you, see if I don’t take your life somehow.”

“So the King had to do what he asked; but when he swung the sword and was to cut his head off, he was so sorry he turned away his face, for he would not see the stroke fall. But as soon as ever he had cut off the head, there stood the loveliest Prince on the spot where the horse had stood.

“Why, where in all the world did you come from?” asked the King.

“It was I who was the horse,” said the Prince; “for I was the king of that land whose king you slew yesterday. He it was who threw this Troll’s shape over me, and sold me to the Troll. But now he is slain I get my own again, and you and I will be neighbor kings, but war we will never make on one another.”

And they didn’t either; for they were friends as long as they lived, and each paid the other very many visits.

Of course, the young King and his Horse were never enemies as were Heiroc and Erastys. Nor does the earlier portion of the tale “The Widow’s Son” resemble the story told in The Tally Master. But my scene seems to hold echoes from the end of the fairy tale, don’t you think?

For more about the world of The Tally Master, see:
Gael’s Tally Chamber in Belzetarn
Mapping Ancient Rome onto Belzetarn
What Does the Tally Master Tally?
Map of the North-lands in the Bronze Age
The Fortress of Belzetarn
The Dark Tower
Belzetarn’s Smithies and Cellars
Belzetarn’s Formidable Entrance Gate
Belzetarn’s Treasures
Belzetarn’s Great Halls
Bronze Age Swords

 

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A Castle That Might Be Amber

No, I’m not talking about Roger Zelazny’s Nine Princes n Amber. Although maybe I should be! If ever there were an archetype for castle, Zelazny’s Amber would surely be it: occupying a mountain peak, crowned with ranbows, so vast that it’s a city in castle form. Yes.

But I’m talking about the castle in my own Caught in Amber.

It, too, is vast. It’s part castle, part palace. It was built through the ages, so one wing is medieval, another renaissance, one classical, and yet another eighteenth century romantic.

When I went looking for images that captured the place, I found many that seemed to represent elements of the massive pile that Fae explores, but there was nothing close to the whole.

Instead of giving up in despair, I decided to share a handful of the images along with either my commentary or excerpts from the novel.

The first painting I found, “Two Owls” by Thomas Moran, could easily be a portion of the medieval wing. In Fae’s thoughts:

Windows were smaller with round arches at their tops. The thick walls were half-timbered – heavy beams filled in with wattle and daub – or else formed of huge rough gray stones. Massive piers supported the ceilings of large spaces such as the great hall and the place of arms where the knights would have assembled.

Almost, she wished she could see them, in their bright polished armor with their vivid plumes on the helmets. They’d be magnificent.

The central portion of the castle consists of tall white towers with pointed red roofs, the quintessential fairy tale castle. The castle in Disney World is the right shape, but it’s not nearly big enough. However, Křivoklát Castle (photographed here by Svobodat) in the Czech Republic has the red roofs!

…she noticed a painting on their immediate left, a landscape showing a many-towered castle with pointed red roofs and flapping blue-and-gold pennants. Pleasure gardens, lawns, and an orchard surrounded it. A carriage drawn by four horses approached along the splendid esplanade before the castle’s entrance.

I suspect Fae’s bed chamber might be located in a wing resembling Ardencaple Castle (Scotland) as rendered by James Whitelaw Hamilton. Certainly the gardens have the right feeling.

…the doorway of a gazebo with honeysuckle twining up its pillars and massing on its roof. The tan pea gravel stretched away to a low hedge at the courtyard’s border. Beyond the hedge, hollyhocks reached for the sky, their flower-dotted spires waving gently in the still air.

The plume of a fountain splashed in another direction, and two topiary elephants gamboled in another. These were the gardens…

Here’s another view of Ardencaple Castle with a different mood, one more in keeping with the shooting gallery that Fae discovers.

Instead of the white stone typical of so many of the castle’s passageways, this one featured walnut panelling and a parquet floor, combining in its geometric design the dark brown of walnut with red mahogany and blond beech.

Substantial walnut doors studded the walls at regular intervals. Light from the window at the far end of the hall didn’t penetrate far, but the lamp globes – supported on walnut falcon wings – were lit.

Fae could feel the heft of the first door as she opened it. The hinges were solid and well-oiled; it swung easily.

Of course, the complex is as much palace as it is castle. Windsor, as depicted by Alfred Vickers, has a little bit of that palace feel.

She found the great chamber where the lady of the castle would have slept. Her canopied bed, with massive dark pillars at the corners, was curtained in a rich red brocade, the pattern showing a unicorn cavorting in a flowery mead.

Such a stately private space.

But the Palace of Coudenberg embodies more of the magnificence that I have in mind.

All the spaces beyond the concealed door were very grand: vast in size with tall coffered ceilings and impressive colonnades, connected by broad halls and impressive stairways. These rooms were for show, not use. Receptions for heads of state, audiences for ambassadors, award ceremonies to honor heroes.

The capitals of the columns, far overhead, dripped with crystal and gold ornament. Enormous fresco murals depicted…

Yet most palaces and castles are, in the end, simply palaces and castles. You can walk from one end to other in five minutes. The castle in Caught in Amber is more like a small city in size, something like the fortified French city of Carcassone. Imagine that Carcassonne’s center has as many towers as its guarding walls, and you’re getting close.

I can see the castle Fae explores so clearly in my mind’s eye. Perhaps one day I’ll commission a modern painter to translate my vision onto canvas.

In the meantime, I hope you’ve enjoyed this virtual tour of my Amber’s castle. 😀

For more about Caught in Amber, see:
Amber’s Suns
Amber’s Inspiration
Character Interview: Fae

 

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Amber’s Inspiration

The fairy tale in which a curious lassie opens forbidden doors has always been one of my favorites.

I remember wanting to write a novel inspired by it back in 1997 or 1998. I got so far as an outline, realized that my outline did not really match the story I wanted to tell, and then didn’t know how to proceed.

So I was delighted when the beginning for Caught in Amber burst into my imagination one evening in 2014, when I was trying to go to sleep for the night.

I got up out of my bed, grabbed my journal, and went into the living room to start scribbling. The scene came pouring out.

Even once I went back to bed, I didn’t get much sleep. I was too excited about my story to drift off into slumber. 😀

So, what was the fairy tale that started it all? It’s called “The Lassie and Her Godmother,” and it is one of fifteen Norse folk tales collected in East of the Sun and West of the Moon.

Because the book was published in 1914, its stories and illustrations are in the public domain, which means I am free to share them with you. I thought it would be fun give you the portion of the fairy tale that inspired Caught in Amber. So, read on!

The Lassie and Her Godmother

Once upon a time a poor couple lived far, far away in a great wood. The wife was brought to bed, and had a pretty girl, but they were so poor they did not know how to get the babe christened, for they had no money to pay the parson’s fees. So one day the father went out to see if he could find any one who was willing to stand for the child and pay the fees; but though he walked about the whole day from one house to another, and though all said they were willing enough to stand, no one thought himself bound to pay the fees. Now, when he was going home again, a lovely lady, dressed so fine, and she looked so thoroughly good and kind; she offered to get the babe christened, but after that, she said, she must keep it for her own. The husband answered, he must first ask his wife what she wished to do; but when he got home and told his story, the wife said, right out, “No!”

Next day, the man went out again, but no one would stand if they had to pay the fees; and though he begged and prayed, he could get no help. And again as he went home, towards evening the same lovely lady met him, who looked so sweet and good, and she made him the same offer. So he told his wife again how he had fared, and this time she said, if he couldn’t get any one to stand for his babe next day, they must just let the lady have her way, since she seemed so kind and good.

The third day, the man went about, but he couldn’t get any one to stand; and so when, towards evening, he met the kind lady again, he gave his word that she should have the babe if she would only get it christened at the font. So next morning she came to the place where the man lived, followed by two men to stand godfathers, took the babe and carried it to church, and there it was christened. After that she took it to her own house, and there the little girl lived with her for several years, and her Foster-mother was always kind and friendly to her.

Now, when the Lassie had grown big enough to know right and wrong, her Foster-mother got ready to go on a journey.

“You have my leave,” she said, “to go all over the house, except those rooms which I shew you;” and when she had said that, away she went.

But the Lassie could not forebear just to open one of the doors a little bit, when—Pop! out flew a Star.

When her Foster-mother came back, she was very vexed to find that the star had flown out, and she got very angry with her Foster-daughter, and threatened to send her away; but the child cried and begged so hard that she got leave to stay.

Now, after a while, the Foster-mother had to go on another journey; and, before she went, she forbade the Lassie to go into those two rooms into which she had never been. She promised to beware; but when she was left alone, she began to think and to wonder what there could be in the second room, and at last she could not help setting the door a little ajar, just to peep in, when—Pop! out flew the Moon.

When her Foster-mother came home and found the moon let out, she was very downcast, and said to the Lassie she must go away, she could not stay with her any longer. But the Lassie wept so bitterly, and prayed so heartily for forgiveness, that this time, too, she got leave to stay.

Some time after, the Foster-mother had to go away again, and she charged the Lassie, who was by this time half grown up, most earnestly that she mustn’t try to go into, or peep into, the third room. But when her Foster-mother had been gone some time, and the Lassie was weary of walking about alone, all at once she thought, “Dear me, what fun it would be just to peep a little into that third room.” Then she thought she mustn’t do it for her Foster-mother’s sake; but when the bad thought came a second time she could hold out no longer; come what might, she must and would look into the room; so she just opened the door a tiny bit, when—POP! out flew the Sun.

But when her Foster-mother came back and saw that the sun had flown away, she was cut to the heart, and said, “Now, there was no help for it, the Lassie must and should go away; she couldn’t hear of her staying any longer.” Now the Lassie cried her eyes out, and begged and prayed so prettily; but it was all no good.

“Nay! but I must punish you!” said her Foster-mother…”and away from me you must go.”

*   *   *

The fairy tale then goes in an entirely different direction from Caught in Amber.

Caught in Amber explores the bond between the lassie and her godmother, whereas the fairy tale follows the lassie as she reaches full maturity and learns that her choices have real consequences.

I must say that as I typed, “and away from me you must go,” I found myself bursting with commentary. I could barely bring myself to remark that my story and the fairy tale diverge radically from that point. I wanted to burst into impassioned speech without pause.

How could these parents, no matter how poor, give away their child? In our modern day and age, pastors don’t charge a fee for baptism. And, furthermore, if no pastor is available anyone can baptize a child (or an adult) in an emergency.

But, of course, the lassie’s christening is meant to symbolize something so precious and essential that no child should have to do without it. Perhaps something so urgently important that no child could thrive without it. What then might a parent do? What if your beloved child required an expensive medical procedure in order to be able to breath? What if you didn’t have either the money or the insurance for it? Then, indeed, you might do what this couple did.

But if the adoptive mother was so good and kind, how could she banish the lassie from her presence? Wouldn’t she have done better to impose a consequence the first time the lassie disobeyed, rather than just scolding and threatening?

But there are my modern sensibilities rising up again.

Modern child rearing techniques were entirely absent two hundred and three hundred (or more) years ago when this fairy tale evolved. Punishments were severe. Criminals had a hand cut off, were stoned or hanged. Children were deprived of food, were given solitary confinement for days, or were beaten. The concept that much smaller consequences can be very effective in teaching a child was entirely unthought of.

If the lassie had been my daughter, I might have required that she thoroughly clean the chamber from which the star had flown. And I would have blamed myself for assessing her maturity level so incorrectly when I left her alone at home. I certainly would not have made the same mistake a second time!

Consider, however, what the lassie did! The sun, the moon, and the stars…more symbols for things infinitely precious. It is understandable that her mother was upset! But mom needed to manage a bit better.

But let’s say mom had managed better, and still the lassie had been recalcitrant. It does happen that way sometimes. What then? Should mom have sent daughter away?

The thing that occurs to me is that in medieval times, children often were sent elsewhere at roughly age thirteen. Nobly born boys went to another castle to serve as a page there, and then to become squire to one of the knights. Nobly born girls went to serve as maid-in-waiting to the lady of the castle.

Children born to artisans went to be apprenticed to another artisan. Or went to live with an aunt and uncle to help out in the house and on the farm.

There was a recognized societal mechanism whereby someone other than mom and dad handled the child during those challenging teen years. The child received some of the independence they were craving, but still had the safety net of adult supervision.

Perhaps the lassie really did need to get away from mom in order to grow and thrive.

But the old fairy tales are certainly blunt! They don’t soften the darker aspects of human nature.

As for my own story…well, it was inspired by the fairy tale, but at heart it is very different, because I am exploring love and hope and courage far more than anger or vengeance. And, honestly, I remain to this day as fascinated by those forbidden doors as ever the lassie was. Really, how could she refuse to explore them when confronted by their closed panels day after day!

At least, that’s my view on the matter. 😀 What do you think?

For more about Caught in Amber, see:
Amber’s Suns
A Castle That Might be Amber
Character Interview: Fae

 

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Amber’s Suns

At the start of Caught in Amber, young Fae awakens without any memory of who she is or where she comes from.

The glad sun streamed in through four point-arched windows, filling her bedchamber with light.

She stretched and blinked and rejoiced. Then fell back against her banked pillows, grinning and studying the rollicking cornice molding that stretched around her room where the walls met the ceiling. Small carved suns with curling rays and merry faces somersaulted along the frieze as though they couldn’t keep still. That was the way they should be: energy-filled, laughing, and replete.

Of course, underneath Fae’s happy mood is a sense that something awful has been done to her. (Which it has.) Nor does she stay joyful long. The evil spirit haunting the castle where she finds herself attacks her in the very first chapter.

I’ve always loved imagery featuring the sun, the moon, and the stars. The castle, as Fae explores it, features these heavenly bodies both in the architectural detail of significant structures and in its underlying essence.

The illustration below reminds me of what I see in my mind’s eye when I imagine the cornice in Fae’s bed chamber.

For more about Caught in Amber, see:
A Castle That Might be Amber
Amber’s Inspiration
Character Interview: Fae

 

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How Many Writers Make a Conference?

A few days before I was due to meet my writer friend Laura Montgomery in Culpeper (for a lunch of Chinese stir fry), she announced that she was christening our meal the Midway Writer’s Conference.

We both chuckled. Can a gathering of two really be considered a conference? Despite our laughter, we gave the question serious thought.

We’re old college friends who lost touch over the years and then reconnected in the comments of the wonderful blog run by Passive Guy, aka David Vandagriff.

We were astonished and delighted to learn that our lives had acquired some curious parallels. She’s the mother of twins; I’m the mother of twins. She’d launched herself into indie publishing writing science fiction. I’d done the same writing fantasy.

How cool was that!

After a bunch of cordial emails and some beta reading for one another, we decided to meet up for a cup of tea. After the briefest of pleasantries—“You look just as I remember you!—we talked writer shop for 2 hours straight. At the next meeting we talked for 4 hours, this time mixing publishing shop in with the writer shop talk.

Our latest meeting was 6 hours, with a focus on the marketing angle of indie publishing.

Yes, these really were conferences. Although this time we actually did manage to talk about our kids. Who knows? Maybe next time we’ll even chat about our spouses. 😉

One of the topics we discussed in Culpeper was the nature of genre and whether or not I wrote epic fantasy. Laura blogged about the question (and our conference), so I’m going to quote her. She said:

We tried to figure out if…The Tally Master was epic fantasy or not. 

I was arguing it was. The troll wars rage across the Northlands. Weapons are forged. Our cursed main characters live in a troll tower of monumental proportions. It all seems pretty epic to me.

Jessica demurred.

The hero is a bronze-age accountant. She was telling a small tale. It was a mystery about missing tin, a matter of seemingly little moment.

But, said I, it has large consequences, it’s part of a grand, epic sweep. A light bulb went off in my own mind…

And now I think I’d better send you off to Laura’s blog to read the rest. It’s really not fair for me to steal her audience.

So click HERE and go read. She’s witty in an understated way that I love, so it’s worth the click. I’ll wait while you visit her. Promise. 😉

Did you go?

I’m going to pretend you said, “Yes.” You did, right!

(The Sky Suspended features the patent fight she mentioned. Mercenary Calling presents the mutiny charge in a suspenseful story that also kept me in a ripple of internal chuckles the whole way through. I do love Laura’s dry humor.)

What did you think about her light bulb?

I thought she was clever—and correct—in her assertion that we both like focusing up-close-and-personal on a hero caught in the sweep of epic events.

But does that truly make my books epic fantasy? I know I’ve asked this question before, but I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to decide the answer for certain.

I’d love to know what you think. 😀

 

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A Boatload of Covers

My participation in more than half a dozen story bundles brought a lot of cover design my way.

The More than Human bundle in August 2017 kicked off my journey, which wended through seven bundles (and counting) and on to a few covers for individual stories, some within bundles and some entirely independent of them.

I thought it would be fun to see the round dozen all in one place, so I’ve collected them into a sort of bulletin board below. Check it out!

Kinda cool, don’t ya think? 😀

Remembering Warriors I Immortals I Spring Surprise
Here Be Dragons I The Kitchen Imps I The Warrior’s Curse
Early Spaceports I Of Blood and Scales I Tales of Erana

 

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Bronze Age Swords

Nearly a year ago, I wrote a guest post about bronze swords:
• how the metals were extracted from the earth
• how the weapons were smithed
• and why they were more effective than the early efforts from the Iron Age.

The blog on which my post appeared is an active one, hosted by a talented and prolific sister author. She generates fresh material for her site every day, and my post has long been buried under 365 days of impressive creativity!

Given my latest streak of posts about steel swords, now seems a grand time to revive my research on bronze swords and present it on my own blog. 😀

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Tracking down knowledge is my drug of choice. Each new fact is just so interesting! Even better is the moment when an entire constellation of facts coalesces, and I see how it all fits together and what it all means. That’s a total thrill!

But my insatiable curiosity (and I seem to be able to be curious about everything and anything) was not why I researched bronze metallurgy in ancient times. I was writing a novel set in the Bronze Age of my North-lands, and my protagonist was essentially the treasurer for a warlord. The wealth of the citadel lay in its metals and – especially – its weapons. So I needed to know all about how the metals were extracted from the earth, how they were purified and poured into ingots, and what forging techniques were used. My protag knew all that stuff, so I needed to know about it also.

For those of you who share my curious bent, here’s what I discovered.

Gritty Details

Too many of the sources I found were overly theoretical. The author might explain why ancient cultures developed metallurgy as they did or how they traded for their tin. But I needed nitty gritty details.

How were their smelting furnaces set up? How long did it take for the metal to become molten? How exactly did the ancients fashion bronze scale mail? How did they make their bronze swords?

Historical re-enactors and experimental archeologists proved to be my most fruitful sources. I found actual patterns for re-creating bronze helmets and bronze armor, along with photos of the finished results. I found videos showing Bronze Age combat techniques.

Smiths Were Mages

The website of Neil Burridge, a smith who creates Bronze Age artifacts using authentic materials and methods, had the details I was truly seeking. Videos of him in action allowed me to see a real smith moving within the forging environment, garbed in the protective gear of heavy apron and gauntlets, using the tongs and crucibles, exercising prudence with the liquid fire that is molten metal.

He also explained vividly the awe with which the ancient smiths were probably regarded. Metallurgy was not a theoretical science for them. It was a practical discipline, absolutely necessary for their tools and weapons, but with techniques developed over hundreds of years and handed down from one smith to another.

They didn’t know why these techniques worked. And they weren’t infallible. Sometimes a pour would turn out a perfect result. Other times it would fail, and the smith wouldn’t know for sure what had caused the failure. Certainly ordinary people, with no access to a smith’s secrets, would have regarded the whole business as magical.

Why Would a Skilled Smith Waste His Time?

Although the people in my novel were using Bronze Age technologies, I envisioned them as possessing military organization more like the armies of ancient Rome. Thus my smiths would not spend days setting up for the pouring of one sword that might – or might not – deliver success. They would pour many blades in one day, and then hand the blades off to others for the steps that transformed the plain metal blank into a weapon.

Anvilfire.com, a website “dedicated to advancing modern blacksmithing while retaining traditional standards of craftsmanship,” supplied me with information about this finishing process. The bladesmith created the blade. A separate shop did the grinding and polishing. Yet a third made the hilt and secured the blade to it. And a fourth made the scabbard.

Making a sword was resource intensive, both because of the valuable metals required and because of the labor from many skilled individuals that went into it.

Firesetting at the Copper Mine

So what about those materials? Bronze is made by mixing a small part of tin with a larger portion of copper. The ancients didn’t have modern strip mines or deep underground mines. Nor did they have sophisticated machinery run by diesel engines. How did they get copper and tin out of the ground?

Copper mines bore some resemblance to my expectations. The copper deposits needed to be relatively near the surface, but the ancients actually did tunnel down to a vein of ore. There, at the working face, they built a fire to heat the ore-containing rock. Once the rock reached a high enough temperature, they doused it with cold water. This process increased the brittleness of the rock and induced a preliminary degree of cracking. Blows from a hammer or pick could then break it into rubble, which could be heated in a smelting furnace to extract the copper.

Streamworks

Tin was another matter, one entirely new to me.

Tin was found in alluvial deposits in stream beds, usually as a very pure tin gravel well stirred with gravels of quartz, mica, and feldspar (gangue). So the trick was to separate out the tin gravel from the others.

The method of the ancients, as far back as 2,000 BC, was this:
• Dig a trench at the lowest end of the deposit.
• Dig a channel from the nearest water source to pour water over that part of the deposit
• Allow the stream of water to wash the lighter gangue into the trench
• Pick up the heavier tin gravel that remained
• When the lower portion of the deposit had yielded all its tin, dig another trench a bit higher and redirect the water channel, to allow the next section of the deposit to be harvested

The tin gravel thus obtained would be roughly smelted on site, simply roasting the gravel in a fire. The pebbles resulting from this rough smelt would then be transported to a dedicated furnace for a second smelting that yielded the purer tin needed by bladesmiths.

What About the Ingots?

Modern ingots are rectangular blocks, but those of the ancients took several different forms. The earliest were so-called “biscuit” ingots, round on the bottom like a muffin, gently concave on the top. They took the shape of the earthen pit into which the molten metal dripped from the smelting furnace.

But metal is heavy, and the biscuit shape awkward to carry. Around our own Mediterranean, an “oxhide” form was developed. It weighed about 80 pounds and possessed four “legs,” one at each corner, that allowed it to be tied between pack animals or gripped and carried by men.

I became fascinated with an ingot form used much later by the Chinese in the Malay Penninsula. These were hat shaped, much smaller (weighing only a pound), and actually used as currency.

A Peculiarity of Forging in Bronze

Bronze has one very peculiar property in the smithy.

Most metals, such as iron or even copper, when heated and cooled slowly to room temperature, become more ductile and more workable. They are less prone to internal stresses.

Bronze does not behave like this. When slow cooled, it becomes brittle and difficult to work. Thus it must be heated to cherry-red and then quenched in water. This quick cooling makes it so soft that it can then be hammered. The hammering condenses the metal, giving it more rigidity.

A bladesmith will hammer near the edge of a blade to harden it and help it keep its sharpness, while allowing the center rib to retain more of its resilience.

Were These Swords Any Good?

If you compare a bronze sword to a steel sword, the steel is always going to win. But when the Bronze Age gave way to the Iron Age, bronze metallurgy was at its peak. Several thousand years had gone into the development of the most superb techniques. Iron metallurgy was in its infancy, and getting the iron swords to be rigid enough was a problem. The iron swords just weren’t as good as the bronze ones, which were light, strong, just rigid enough, and held an edge well.

But there’s no need to take my word on this. A YouTuber with a passion for swords, Skallagrim from Canada, discourses quite knowledgeably about the pros and cons of bronze. More amusingly, he tests one of Neil Burridge’s bronze swords “to destruction” in the video below.

(There’s a brief reprise snippet of Mr. Burridge before Skallagrim gets going with his destruction. Go to the 3:30 mark, if you want to skip that snippet.)

Even after all my research, I cannot call myself more than a mere smatterer. I learned enough to write The Tally Master, and not much more. But I hope you found these tidbits entertaining, and I’ll be happy to answer questions in the comments below. Or to speculate with you, when I don’t know the answer. 😉

For more about The Tally Master, see:
Gael’s Tally Chamber in Belzetarn
Mapping Ancient Rome onto Belzetarn
What Does the Tally Master Tally?
Map of the North-lands in the Bronze Age
The Fortress of Belzetarn
The Dark Tower
Belzetarn’s Smithies and Cellars
Belzetarn’s Formidable Entrance Gate
Belzetarn’s Treasures
Belzetarn’s Great Halls
Brother Kings

 

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Plate Armor, How It Works

I have a confession to make about me and research.

Very little of what I delve for ever makes it directly onto the pages of my stories.

Blood Silver is a perfect case in point.

This is my 12th post about Blood Silver. Of those 12 posts, 8 concern swords, armor, and fighting techniques. Given the proportion of posts devoted to the paraphernalia of battle versus those on other topics, you might easily assume that Blood Silver is a war story, with scene after scene transpiring on the field of battle.

But it’s not.

It takes place during a time of war, yes. And the war plays a central role in the challenges my protagonist faces. But out of the 39,300 words that comprise the novella, 3,900 narrate the battle scenes. Roughly 10 percent.

So why do I do all this research? (And why do I write so many blog posts on it?!)

This is why. I become my character while I write his or her story. And I couldn’t thoroughly become Tahaern, a knight, unless I had an equally thorough understanding of the conditions of his life.

Sometimes the research I do for one novel will prove useful for another one that I write later. For example, I did a bunch of research into medicinal herbs when I wrote Troll-magic. And I remembered enough of it that I didn’t need to research it all over again in order to handle Tahaern’s healing skills.

But for his knightly skills, I didn’t know enough. Thus, research!

Now, as to why I blogged about all my research?

Well, I research because I need the knowledge, but I also enjoy learning about new-to-me topics. I generally find the lore I discover to be fascinating, and that was exactly the case with the knightly gear and the knightly fighting skills. Of course I wanted to share all that cool stuff with you!

So, what about plate armor?

I’d found re-enactors, living history buffs, and experimental archeologists to be such great sources for swords and sword fighting that I turned to them again regarding plate armor.

The first video I found prompted more questions than it answered. But having the right questions is very helpful, indeed. Plus the knight portrayed has such cool armor (and the music accompanying his arming video is so dramatic and majestic).

I’m going to share that video with you as an excellent (and short) intro.

Couldn’t you just imagine living in that castle yourself? Don’t you wish you had armor like that? I do, almost.

One of the things the video makes clear is just how many straps plate armor possesses. Each piece is firmly fastened to the appropriate body part, and thus the weight is distributed over the whole body. It does not all hang from the shoulders or rest upon the feet. That’s why those knights had good mobility, even when encased in all that steel.

Which raises the question: how exactly is each piece fastened to the knight’s body? It looked like there was more to it than just buckles.

Historian Mark Griffin reveals the mysteries of “points” or laces.

I loved his arming jacket with its multitude of laces. And I found his remarks about the English knights riding to battle and then dismounting to fight to be most curious. I’m longing to know why the continental knights, who fought from horseback, had such a different style from their English counterparts.

The fact that the knights wore a different style of visor for jousting tournaments than for battle makes so much sense. That’s exactly the sort of thing I love discovering in my research.

Matthew Fields, a member of the Plantagenet Medieval Society, spoke most enlighteningly near the end of the video about his experiences in tournaments. He says that when’s he’s in combat, he does not notice the weight of the armor at all.

Mark Griffn and Matthew Fields answered many of the questions I’d developed, but they also prompted yet more questions. How exactly did all those separate pieces of armor fit together? In what order did a knight put them on?

Fortunately I found a presentation by The Metropolitan Museum of Art that featured a gentleman who is both a re-enactor and an armorer. Now I was really getting down to it. This video delivered the full scoop!

Wasn’t it cool how Jeffrey Wasson had full mobility in his arms? And could scramble up from the prone position? It was helpful hearing all the clanking and rattling produced as he threw mock punches at the air and stepped quickly. So that is what Tahaern and his squires sounded like!

But I still had one more important question.

Both Jeffrey Wasson and Mark Griffin said that a knight donned his armor starting with the feet. But every single example I’d seen showed the knight in question starting with the greave that protected the shin and calf. And they did not put on the sabaton that covered the foot at all. What did that mean?

I understood that the sabaton was often not worn for foot combat. It was really needed when the knight was ahorse, making his feet especially vulnerable to infantry.

But when a knight did put on his sabatons, did he put them on before he put on his greaves? Or after?

Knyght Errant showed me the answer when he decided to time himself getting armed. Just how long does it take a knight to get his plate armor on properly?

And there we have it: another myth dispelled and my question answered!

For more about Blood Silver, see:
Cross Strike, Squinting Strike, and Scalp Strike
The Book Title
The Crooked Strike
The Joust
Which Cover to Choose?
The Strike of Wrath
Rope Climbing and a Cliff
What If the Sword is Wrong?
A Song of Peace
Wielding a Long Sword
Origin of the Story (The State of This Writer)

 

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