Dragon-gods of Hantida

Last week, I emailed my newsletter subscribers a note about the Hantidan dragon-gods. Since I was about to announce the release of Sovereign Night, I thought a bit of intriguing trivia might be something fun for my subscribers’ in-boxes.

The thing is…you, my blog readers, might enjoy it also. So here it is for your perusal.

(To those of you who are both blog readers and newsletter subscribers, my apologies for the duplication.) 😉

The Hantidan gods are more truly shapeshifters than dragons. They can take any living shape—man, woman, child, or beast. But in Hantidan belief, the native essence of dragon is shapeshifter. Hantidans describe the dragon form as one in which the god assumes the physical nature of nine beasts all at once.

The dragon’s head resembles that of a stallion, the eyes those of a hawk, the ears a cow’s, the antlers a stag’s, the neck a snake’s, the belly that of a tortoise, the scales those of a carp, the claws an eagle’s, and the soles those of a tiger.

The Hantidan pantheon consists of nineteen dragon-gods, seven of them “greater” and twelve of them “subtle.” Each one possesses a characteristic color when in dragon form, and preferred forms when walking as a human or prowling as a beast.

For example, Enyakatho—the god of intelligence and the spirit of inquiry—bears green scales in dragon form, but might stalk the jungle as a lynx or visit an outlying village as a skinny and wizened old man.

Gael and Keir first attempt to scope out the Glorious Citadel by attending an offering ceremony held for Enyakatho in the public Court of Earthly Order.

Enyakatho is considered the patron god of Hantida’s royal family, as well as of scribes, poets, and philosophers.

Here’s a list of the “greater” dragons and their attributes:

Name—Attribute—Symbolic Hue—Preferred Beast—Human Appearance
Orunal—will and power—gold—lion—queenly old woman
Enyakatho—intelligence and inquiry—green—lynx—wizened old man
Okegiga—commitment—red—dog—young man
Eningizimu—inspiration—blue—eagle—woman of middle years
Imfanelo—life or vitality—bronze—bull—18-year-old youth
Bochabela—luck—silver—cat—5-year-old girl
Bophirimela—beauty—white—horse—2-year-old child

The Hantidan dragon-gods play no active role in Sovereign Night, but rather form a pervasive part of the physical and cultural landscape.

The ruler of the city is called the “Dragon Blessed.” And much of the art—paintings, sculptures, vases, scrolls, and architectural ornament—depicts dragons.

When one such artwork is damaged during events in Sovereign Night, the nobles of the royal court speculate that whoever did the deed should have targeted the bronze Imfanelo—patron of peasants—rather than the gold Orunal—patron of the Dragon Blessed himself.

For more about Sovereign Night, see:
Timekeeping in Hantida
The Baths of the Glorious Citadel
A Townhouse in Hantida
Hantidan Garb
Quarters in the Glorious Citadel
A Library in the Glorious Citadel
Following Gael & Keir: a Photo Tour

 

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Following Gael & Keir

I’ll be announcing the release of Sovereign Night very soon.

While we wait…I thought it might be fun to take a photo tour, following in Gael’s and Keir’s footsteps as the first few chapters of the story unfold.

*     *     *

Sovereign Night starts in the city streets of Hantida. They’re narrow, with a lot of foot traffic, some rickshaws and palanquins.

But soon enough Gael and Keir enter the formal northern court of the Glorious Citadel. Tourists are welcome there, as well as pilgrims to the temples located within its vast sweep of stone.

A ceremony sponsored by the priests of the green dragon-god—Enyakatho, patron of scribes, scholars, and the royal family—provides Gael and Keir their ostensible destination, but an accident intervenes before they can observe it.

The residential southern court of the Glorious Citadel is more intimate and welcoming in style. It features numerous courtyards and gardens.

Walkways rim the gardens, giving access to suites of rooms occupied by palace functionaries and pavilions inhabited by favored nobles.

Gael and Keir meet someone very important to their quest in a wilderness garden featuring a waterfall.

Following this fateful meeting, they are escorted to the guest quarters reserved for them.

I hope that whets your appetite for the novel! 😀

*     *     *

For more about Sovereign Night, see:
Timekeeping in Hantida
The Baths of the Glorious Citadel
A Townhouse in Hantida
Hantidan Garb
Quarters in the Glorious Citadel
A Library in the Glorious Citadel
Dragon-gods of Hantida

 

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Caught Between Two Armies

Before I embarked on writing “The Kite Climber,” I possessed only the haziest of ideas for the story I wanted to tell.

It involved kites and civil war.

That was all I had.

I knew very little about man-lifting kites. I knew they existed historically. I knew they’d been used in times of war for signaling and observation. I had this vision in my head of a gigantic diamond-shaped kite with a man lashed to its cross bracing. That’s actually not what man-lifting kites look like, but I didn’t know that then.

Nor did I go seeking such information.

I felt like I needed the emotional heart of my story more than I needed technical details.

I trawled through my memories of my backlist books in hope of finding inspiration, and find it I did in a passage from Troll-magic.

Lorelin . . . embarked on the story of Emoirie’s great grandmere, the remarkable lady who’d saved her village when it was caught between opposing battalions in the Wars of the Tree Wands; and then for an encore went on to boss around the most influential Giralliyan Paucitor of her times. All before the age of twenty years, when she returned by choice to her humble origins and lived happily to become matriarch over innumerable grandchildren.

I loved the possibility of telling the story of Emoirie’s great grandmother.

There was only one problem with that, but it was a serious one. Emoirie lives in the Steam Age of my North-lands. Her great grandmother would have lived in the Age of Sail.

The story I wanted to tell took place long before then, at the end of classical antiquity when much of Giralliya was war-torn and falling into the barbarism of the Dark Ages.

I teetered on the edge of dismissing my feeling of inspiration, and then decided I’d be bold and uphold my inner artist. Surely Emoirie’s great grandmother wasn’t the only woman who’d been faced with saving her home when it stood between opposing armies.

I would tell the story of a girl confronted with exactly that circumstance, but living in the violent period of history that I wished to chronicle.

I was so excited by my decision, that I dove right in!

No research, no hesitation, just a quick sweep for names (people and places), and then I began.

I’d imagined starting with the girl who’d been stolen to climb the kite tethers, carrying reports from the man aloft in the kite to the forces on the ground. Instead, I delved into the source of the armed conflict. Only after I’d recounted the story of the three hostile ducal brothers did I turn to Andraia, my heroine.

But it was going well, and I was loving it.

I never did check into the man-lifting kites—not until after I finished the story.

The fighting brothers were all mages—powerful troll-mages. They were more than capable of using magery to give their colossal diamond-shaped kites a boost, if the technical aspects really required more lift than a diamond-shaped kite could provide.

“The Kite Climber” is one story of six in Tales of Old Giralliya.

For more about the collection, see:
Rebirth of Four Fairy Tales
Two Giralliyan Folk Heroes
Tales in a New Bundle

 

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Timekeeping in Hantida

The Sovereign’s Labyrinth is an adventure mystery with a good bit of action and fighting.

It’s not a brain-bender mystery like the clever Five Red Herrings by Dorothy Sayers, in which the time tables of trains prove integral to solving the plot.

Nor is it a mystery of manners like Georgette Heyer’s witty Detection Unlimited, in which the behavior of clocks plays an important role.

Nonetheless, as I wrote The Sovereign’s Labyrinth, I found myself thinking about timekeeping and how the Hantidans did it.

Since the story takes place in the Bronze Age of my North-lands, the Hantidans would not be telling time with clocks or watches or digital phones. So how did they do it?

The earliest timekeeping devices in our own history were sundials. In sunny climes, they worked well…by day. But what about the night time? And what about places with cloud cover?

Hantida has a wet season and a dry season, but even in the dry season, a storm comes through on many days. Which meant that even if they used sundials, they probably used something else to supplement them.

Drawing again from history, I had sandglasses (hourglasses), candle clocks, incense clocks, and water clocks as options.

Some historians speculate that the ancient Greeks and ancient Romans used sandglasses. They certainly had the technology necessary to make them. But the historical record does not contain actual mention of them as it does of water clocks. No one seems to be sure when sandglasses were invented and first used, but it may have been as late as the Middle Ages.

I am not absolutely strict about anachronisms in my North-lands—I write fantasy, after all—but I like to use real history as a guide. So I decided against sandglasses for my Hantidans.

The earliest mention of candle clocks comes earlier than those of sandglasses, in a Chinese poem written in 520 AD. That’s slightly better than the Middle Ages, but candle clocks have other disadvantages, namely that it’s hard to get the wicks and wax uniform enough to prevent inaccuracy in their timekeeping. Drafts were also a problem with the even burning of the candles.

Besides…520 AD still remains a lot later than 1500 BC!

(In the west, the candle clock bore regular markings on the column of wax. In the east, weights were attached to threads embedded in the wax. As the candle burned down, the threads were released, and the weights dropped into a plate below with a clatter.)

Before my research into timekeeping, I’d never heard of incense clocks. When I did— Wow! Just, wow! I fell in love!

Evidently incense can be calibrated more accurately than candle wax, so incense clocks are more accurate than candle clocks. And differently fragranced incense can be used in rotation, so that different hours are associated with different scents.

I had only one problem with bestowing incense clocks on my Hantidans. I absolutely knew that the Daoine Meras, the people in the next Gael & Keir Adventure, use incense clocks.

I didn’t want to repeat myself!

So my Hantidans received water clocks.

Actually, water clocks are pretty cool. And they appeared in Babylon around the 16th century BC, perhaps earlier still in ancient China (4000 BC). Water clocks and humans have been together for a very long time!

The earliest water clocks were outflow clocks. That is, the water flowed out from a hole in the bowl. As the water level fell, it passed markings on the inner surface that indicated the time. Often the dripping water was not caught by another vessel, but allowed to absorb into the sand or earth below.

Later water clocks were inflow clocks, in which water from an upper vessel flowed through a calibrated channel into a lower bowl. The inner surface of the lower bowl was marked, and as the water level rose, it indicated the time.

The Persians used yet another style to ensure that the water from their underground irrigation channels was distributed evenly among the farms sharing a given aquifer. They placed a small bowl with a calibrated hole in a larger bowl filled with water. The water flowed through the hole to fill the smaller bowl. When it sank, the clock manager would place a pebble in a container to count that iteration, pour the water back into the larger bowl, and then start the small bowl filling again.

I suspect my Hantidans use the inflow model of water clock.

But how did the Hantidans get started with timekeeping?

There’s plenty of water in Hantida: the river, the monsoons, the near-daily rain in the dry season, and a generous water table below ground. They wouldn’t have needed to divide water so carefully as did the Persians.

Here, real world history came to my rescue once again.

Some of the ancient cities were very populous, counting a hundred thousand people within their walls along with great wealth. They built walls to protect themselves and manned those walls with sentries who stood guard through both day and night.

The sentries needed to know when their watch was up and when the next one started. Timekeeping was required!

That made sense for Hantida.

I could just see the Keeper of the Watch sounding the drum in his tower on the city walls when the Keeper of the Clepsydra announced the first beat of the evening watch. And then, all over the city, itinerant time keepers would ring their chimes in echo of the drum beat.

I decided to model the Hantidan schedule of watches after those used by sailors.

Each day possesses seven watches. Five of them are 4 hours long. Two of them are but 2 hours long. This ensures that the sentries rotate through the watches, rather than staying with the same one indefinitely.

Each long watch has eight beats or chimes, each short watch, only four.

Midwatch     midnight – 4 am
Morning Watch     4 am – 8 am
Forenoon Watch     8 am – noon
Afternoon Watch     noon – 4 pm
Aja-watch the First     4 pm – 6 pm
Aja-watch the Second     6 pm – 8 pm
Evening Watch     8 pm – midnight

So…did Hantidan timekeeping come into The Sovereign’s Labyrinth at all? Or was it one of those fun bits of research that never make it onto the page?

I’m not telling! 😉

For more about The Sovereign’s Labyrinth, see:
The Baths of the Glorious Citadel
A Townhouse in Hantida
Quarters in the Glorious Citadel
A Library in the Glorious Citadel
That Sudden Leap

 

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The Baths of the Glorious Citadel

“The Hantidans know how to draw a bath,” Gael agreed.

Although the real benefit of the palace baths might be that a quiet bather could overhear useful gossip.

I must side with Gael on this one. Hantidans do indeed know how to draw a bath. I envisioned the Hantidan bath as resembling those of the Japanese: very deep, very hot, and including a view through a sliding screen of a stylized garden.

If I could visit Hantida right now, their baths would definitely feature in my itinerary!

In the morning, Gael returned to his room from the baths pleasantly relaxed and smelling of herbal soap. Unusually for him, he’d kept thinking at bay during his soak, focusing instead on the physical sensations—the extreme heat of the water Hantidans favored, its depth—well over his shoulders—the scented steam, the beauty of the sunlight on the bamboos right outside the partially open screens.

In spite of their lure, however, I initially categorized the Hantidan baths as an appealing detail of the setting and little more.

But as I moved more deeply into The Sovereign’s Labyrinth, I realized they served as more than evocative window dressing.

“I heard two gentlemen talking in the baths, gossiping about last night’s accident. Interesting that they classified it as an accident, by the by,” he added.

In the baths, Gael and Keir would learn clues to the mystery they encountered in the Glorious Citadel. They would discover new suspects to question. And Gael would have an informative encounter there.

It was down around a corner of the tile passageway and bigger than the rest of the tubs Gael had seen in the palace, with room enough for four.

Zithilo lounged in one corner of the bath, lanky legs stretched out before him along the tub floor, gaze fixed on a close, engoldened slice of slope visible through the open screen—afternoon was giving way to evening—overgrown by ferns, mosses, and shrubs. He was tall, skinny, and muscular. He didn’t bother to look over his shoulder when Gael’s step sounded in the doorway.

“Get in!” he urged. “The water is fine!”

Gotta stop there to avoid spoilers!

So…what do the baths look like?

Well, the photo at the top of this post shows a bath similar to the one that Zithilo invites Gael to share. And the photo at right has the feeling of the corridor giving onto the individual baths.

The baths were arranged along a narrow side corridor of white tile, a tall and solid wall on Gael’s left, a shoulder-high wall punctuated by a dozen open doorways on his right. Each doorway connected to a small cubical with hooks and a wooden bench, and a farther doorway to a square, sunken tub with a view onto a moss garden.

Steam wreathed the air, along with the scent of herbal soap.

There are many bath houses within the Glorious Citadel, and the approach to each is the standard roofed walkway that runs along the edges of the courtyards and gardens and beside the walls of the pavilions that compose the palace.

The Sovereign’s Labyrinth has grown under revision. The first draft came in at 78,000 words. As I write this blog post, the novel stands at over 95,000 words. I’ve edited and revised the first 75,000 of those, so you can see that I am closing in on the end. I hope to send the manuscript out for its next beta read soon!

For more about the setting of The Sovereign’s Labyrinth, see:
A Townhouse in Hantida
Quarters in the Glorious Citadel
A Library in the Glorious Citadel
That Sudden Leap

 

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Claireau’s Retreat House

Disaster falls upon Lealle, the heroine of A Talisman Arcane, as she sits at the top of the steps to the retreat house.

She’s finished her lesson in magic and awaits her mother, who intends to shepherd Lealle home in the family brougham-landau. While Lealle waits, the bullies who tormented her in the opening scene of the book arrive and begin their taunts anew.

But it is what comes of this unpleasantness—not the interaction itself—that proves so horrible.

Lealle’s younger brother gets involved in the debacle, and the two kids eventually find themselves back in the waiting room of the retreat house, and then in an examining room.

A later scene features the courtyard garden and the colonnade that surrounds the herbs and flowers.

The floor plan below shows the layout of the retreat’s first floor. The second and third floors hold more examining rooms, as well as a library, study rooms, and personal quarters for a few of the teachers who live on the premises.

For more about the world of A Talisman Arcane, see:
Tour Nileau
The Historical Tour Nileau
The Living Tour Nileau
The Dreaming Tour Nileau
Justice in Lealle’s World
Ohtavie’s Home
Wing-clap of the Phoenix

 

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Unicorn’s Lullaby

While writing a scene in “The Hunt of the Unicorn,” I found myself engaged with a lullaby sung by the Holy Mother to a maiden in distress.

I went hunting for traditional lullabies for inspiration and discovered the lovely Ar Hyd y Nos (“All Through the Night”) composed circa 1784 by the harp player Edward Jones.

Amy Robbins-Wilson sings the the melody beautifully.

The original lyrics, in Welsh, were written by John Ceiriog Hughes.

Holl amrantau’r sêr ddywedant
Ar hyd y nos
“Dyma’r ffordd i fro gogoniant,”
Ar hyd y nos.
Golau arall yw tywyllwch
I arddangos gwir brydferthwch
Teulu’r nefoedd mewn tawelwch
Ar hyd y nos.

There are more verses, but I will not transcribe them here. Check this link, if you are curious!

Sir Harold Boulton wrote a popular English translation in 1884.

Sleep my child and peace attend thee,
All through the night
Guardian angels God will send thee,
All through the night
Soft the drowsy hours are creeping,
Hill and dale in slumber sleeping
I my loved ones’ watch am keeping,
All through the night.

I imagine my own lullaby being sung to the same tune.

Sleep, my heart, and love wrap round thee
Slumber gently dusk to dawn
Singing angels gather round thee
Chorus sweetly dusk to dawn
Slow the moon doth climb her ambit
Stars attend her, trailing bright
God in heaven guard thy cradle
Slumber gently dusk to dawn

For more about the Hunt of the Unicorn, see:
The Hunters Enter the Woods
The Unicorn Is Found
The Unicorn Is Attacked
The Unicorn Defends Itself
The Mystic Capture of the Unicorn
The Unicorn Is Killed
The Unicorn Lives

 

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Wing-clap of the Phoenix

The antiphoners of Pavelle—magic users—give flowery names to their art.

Basic techniques taught to beginners include things such as the Zephyr’s Gavotte or the Breath of the Pegasus.

Lealle, the heroine of A Talisman Arcane, is learning advanced techniques such as the Nest of the Phoenix and the Flight of the Phoenix.

All of the techniques involve the manipulation of an inner energy referred to as energea.

Aural practitioners hear the energea as music. Kinesthetic practitioners feel it as weight within the body. And visual practitioners see it as glowing, sparking light.

Lealle is a visual practitioner, and her reach within for the energea shapes the both the result (such as healing a bruise) and the pattern of the flow of light.

If you were to cut across one of these currents of light and draw the cross-section, you would see a delicate snowflake of a pattern.

I imagined the magic of my North-lands long before I ever tried to tried to draw it.

And when I first put pen to paper, I didn’t realize what I was drawing. I thought I was creating images that had lain within my imagination unrealized until the tools from Zentangle unlocked them. This was true, but incomplete.

It was only when I explored the idea of publishing my drawings as a coloring book that I realized they were renditions of energea, and that there was a story about energea and a young mage I needed to tell!

You can read about the first stirrings of my inspiration, and see two other patterns of energea in these blog posts:
Nest of the Phoenix (Story for My Coloring Book)
Flight of the Phoenix (Page for a Coloring Book)

For more about the world of A Talisman Arcane, see:
Tour Nileau
The Historical Tour Nileau
The Living Tour Nileau
The Dreaming Tour Nileau
Justice in Lealle’s World
Ohtavie’s Home
Claireau’s Retreat House

 

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The Unicorn Lives

In the seventh tapestry of the unicorn cycle, we see the unicorn resurrected and contentedly lying beneath a tree full of pomegranates.

The imagery has departed from the great hunt as medieval nobles knew it to become entirely allegorical.

The hunter is Love, the hunted game is the poet-lover, and the happy conclusion of the hunt is the union between the two.

Jehan Acart de Hesdin wrote a poem of 1900+ verses in 1332—La Prise Amoureuse—in which he speaks of the forest as Youth and the huntsman’s hounds as Beauty, Kindness, Intelligence, Courtesy, and so on.

Although the unicorn is both tethered and fenced, we know that he could easily break his leash and leap the low fence. He stays because he chooses to.

The plants in the tapestry symbolize different elements of loving commitment.

Ripe, seed-laden pomegranates were a medieval signifier for fertility and marriage. Wild orchid, bistort, and thistle possess similar symbolism.

The flowery meadow adorning so much of this tapestry is one of the things I love most.

It is a style known as millefleurs (“a thousand flowers”) that was used only in the late European Middle Ages, principally between 1480 and 1520. The plants are of many different varieties, and they fill the ground randomly, without pattern and without connecting or overlapping.

Later tapestries would feature repeats of a smaller number of different plants, usually placed as mirror images of one another.

When the millefleurs style was revived in the nineteenth century by William Morris and the Pre-Raphaelites, the plants often overlapped and appeared as part of the landscape rather than as an ornamental backdrop.

I was utterly charmed when I encountered a millefleurs-inspired garden in the book Theme Gardens by Barbara Damrosch. She describes a plesaunce—a lawn in which the grass has been replaced by low-growing flowering plants such as creeping thyme, catmint, primroses, pinks, violets, and more.

For a while I dreamed of planting just such a garden in my own yard. Then my twins were born, and gardening took a backseat to mothering my children.

But I did include that plesaunce in one scene near the end of my short story The Hunt of the Unicorn. The princess awaits her huntsmen in a walled garden with tall delphiniums and foxgloves along its edges and a flowery mead at the center.

Another scene near the beginning of my story was also inspired by art. The princess walks through the halls of an Escher-like palace with more stairs than makes sense, and more passageways than chambers. But the palace resembles the vibrant structures in two illustrations by Kay Nielsen, more than the terrifying spaces depicted by M.C. Escher.

I didn’t even remember the Nielsen paintings until after I wrote the scene, when I had the nagging sensation that my palace was strangely familiar.

I had to do quite a bit of searching to find them, but find them I did! One illustrated the fairy tale “Catskin” and the other, the fairy tale “Rosebud,” both from Hansel and Gretel and Other Stories by the Brothers Grimm.

For more about the Hunt of the Unicorn, see:
The Hunters Enter the Woods
The Unicorn Is Found
The Unicorn Is Attacked
The Unicorn Defends Itself
The Mystic Capture of the Unicorn
The Unicorn Is Killed
Unicorn’s Lullaby

 

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Ohtavie’s Home

Ohtavie de Bellay lives in a mansion that fronts onto a large square with a park.

The photo below of a gilded age home possesses exactly the right feeling for Ohtavie’s abode. I can imagine myself standing in the park and gazing at the opulence of the Maison de Bellay.

Because circumstance has forced Ohtavie to dismiss all of her servants, she doesn’t use most of the rooms in the mansion. The dining room was one of many swathed in holland covers to protect its furnishings.

Before the room was abandoned, it might have looked like this one in Marble House.

During the events that transpire in A Talisman Arcane, Ohtavie re-opens her father’s library and begins sitting there to read. I remember being glad, as I wrote, that she was re-discovering the solace of books!

When A Talisman Arcane opens, Ohtavie occupies the housekeeper’s parlor and bedroom. You can see them in the back right corner (next to the servants’ hall) of the floor plan below. (Click the floor plan for a larger image.)

For more about the world of A Talisman Arcane, see:
Tour Nileau
The Historical Tour Nileau
The Living Tour Nileau
The Dreaming Tour Nileau
Justice in Lealle’s (and Ohtavie’s) World
Wing-clap of the Phoenix
Claireau’s Retreat House

 

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