Justice in Lealle’s World

Lealle is the 14-year-old protagonist of my new release, A Talisman Arcane, and her father is the High Justice of Claireau, the town in which they live.

At the time of my novel, there’s an important and controversial trial going forward, over which Lealle’s father presides. Some of the people angry about the trial cause problems for my heroine.

Therefore, when I wrote Lealle’s story, I devoted a lot of thought to the justice system in Pavelle, the small country that the Giralliyan Empire annexed twenty years before, which forms the larger setting for the town of Claireau.

As High Justice, Lealle’s father sits in judgement over one of the higher courts in the land, the Court of Audire. Serious crimes are tried there: murder, assault, arson, larceny, kidnapping, forgery, extortion, blackmail, and such.

There are lower courts for lesser offenses.

The Bailliage hears cases of pilferage, unruly conduct, public drunkenness, trespassing, vandalism, reckless coachmanship, and such.

The Prévot’s Court handles petty offenses such as littering, loitering, fishing in a neighbor’s pond without sanction, failure to control livestock, and so on.

There are also higher courts.

The Court of Appeal hears cases from the Bailliage and the Court of Audire, when someone charged in the lower court believes a miscarriage of justice has occurred.

The Abrogate Court functions a little differently than all the lower courts.

Generally the lower courts refer matters up the chain. That is, the Prévot’s Court may decide that the unsanctioned fisherman was doing more than casting his hook in his neighbor’s pond—he was stealing fish—and thus would be judged in the Bailliage.

Or the young man racing his curricle on the public highway was not merely driving in a reckless manor, but had run down and injured a pedestrian and thus must be tried in the Court of Audire.

But these referrals upward stop at the Court of Appeal.

The court above it—the Abrogate Court—reaches down at its own initiative, issuing writs of summons to the lower courts when any of three conditions pertains: 1) when it learns that a matter of law may have been misdecided; 2) when one county in Pavelle has a complaint against another county; or 3) when a case involves or affects a high official within Pavelle’s governing bodies.

To summarize all of the above, I give you the diagram at right.

Charges of treason leave Pavelle’s jurisdiction altogether, to be heard by the courts in Bazinthiad, the capital of the Giralliyan Empire, of which Pavelle is a part.

Civil cases, in which one individual accuses another of malignant conduct toward them, don’t go into the criminal courts I’ve described, but through an entirely different channel.

The Tribunal of the Ordeal hears most such cases, although really important disputes go to the Tribunal of the Grand Ordeal. A Tribunal of Commerce judges matters of commercial law.

One other thing I had to consider while writing A Talisman Arcane was the law keeping force in Pavelle. Who watched the streets and brought criminals in for justice to be done?

Those were the armigers, and quite a few of them pass through the pages of my book.

The armigers are supervised by escuyers.

Baillies provide security within the courts while cases are going forward. They also conduct prisoners between the court and the jail.

Before Pavelle was annexed by Giralliya, its governance was shared between church and state. That is, all jurisdictions owed obedience and loyalty to the Prince, who was the country’s sovereign, but some regions were governed by the Prince’s vassals, while others were under church authority.

Counts ruled counties, and seigneurs ruled fees.

But archbishops ruled sees, and bishops ruled cathedras. These large areas were further divided into parisses administered by vicars.

I bring this up, because the religious sees and cathedras possessed a court system different from that of the secular counties and fees, until Giralliya annexed Pavelle and forcibly switched the judicial system in the religious jurisdictions to match that in the secular ones.

The change was one of many such changes that still serve as a source of tension in annexed Pavelle.

For more about the world of A Talisman Arcane, see:
Tour Nileau
The Historical Tour Nileau
The Living Tour Nileau
The Dreaming Tour Nileau



The Mystic Capture of the Unicorn

The legendary unicorn is too fierce to suffer defeat from mere huntsmen and hounds.

When they find him, he runs at a speed hard to match. When they bring him to bay, he fights and prevails.

Only the magic of a maiden can subdue him.

But how does this mystic capture transpire? Does the beast grow docile in the presence of a maiden and lay its head in her lap or upon her breast as the medieval bestiaries assert?

The tapestry in the unicorn cycle that depicted this mystic moment was damaged, and only two fragments remain.

In the fragment with the maiden, we also see a hound lunging for the unicorn’s back, or perhaps for its flank, where blood is visible. The unicorn may be docile, but its capture seems likely to be violent.

My own story, The Hunt of the Unicorn, diverges from the medieval legend at several points, but it does have one supremely peaceful vignette. My unicorn remembers his first moments of life after his birth.

He is ever so weak and wobbly when he tries to stand. But before he makes that effort, he knows contentment and security in the warm presence of his mother.

I imagine unicorns as possessing many of the attributes of horses. One of the equine characteristics I remember reading about is the difference between how humans relate to touch and how horses relate to it.

We humans are very cuddly, by and large. We hug, we pat each other, we hold one another, we stroke the head, and so on.

Horses aren’t cuddly. As herd animals, they take great comfort in the presence of their herd mates. (A lone horse is a horse vulnerable to predators.) They also literally throw their weight around to communicate. The nudge their foals. They hip check or shoulder check one another to assert dominance.

So when my unicorn was born, his mother nuzzled him and nudged him. But it was her quiet presence that he found most comforting.

I discovered a video of a newborn foal and its mother that captured perfectly the interval after my unicorn’s birth.

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 Unicorn Defends Itself

The huntsmen in the medieval tapestries depicting the unicorn hunt are clearly hunting par force or by coursing. Meaning that they use sighthounds, not only scent hounds, to pursue the prey.

In the fourth tapestry of the unicorn cycle, the dogs and the huntsman have caught up with the unicorn, but to little avail. The beast is fierce and fights off its attackers successfully. Its horn pierces one hound’s breast, likely killing it. Who knows what further wounds the unicorn inflicts before it charges away through the forest?

In order to write my short story, The Hunt of the Unicorn, I needed to learn more about coursing as it was done in medieval times.

Fortunately, there are several books from the time period detailing exactly how the hunt proceeded. And I found a modern-day enthusiast who devotes a website to the topic.

The “Great Hunt” of the Middle Ages was an elaborate affair with distinct and multiple stages.

The Preparation

The day before the hunt, the huntmaster sallies forth to talk with foresters and woodsmen.

From them he learns what game is available and where each beast lay overnight. He hears accounts of what the foresters know regarding the probable size of the animal. The noblemen participating in the hunt want a large, strong adversary.

The Gathering

The whole of the hunting party sets out the next day: noblemen, huntmaster, huntsmen, dog handlers (berners), mews boys, etc.

While the noblemen enjoy an al fresco meal, the huntmaster sends his huntsmen out to the lays he learned of the day before. There each huntsman records the size of the animal’s hoofprint by breaking a small stick and collects the fumes (droppings).

The huntsmen bring their sticks and fumes back to the huntmaster, who evaluates them to determine the potential prey, one that is large and ‘in fat.’

The huntmaster chooses which beast they will hunt, and that focuses their attention. They will not break off from pursuit of that animal to chase another.

Placing the Sighthounds

Once the prey is chosen, three relays of three sighthounds, each relay accompanied by a berner, are placed along the probable route that the pursuit will take.

Then a special tracking dog called a lymer is set to work. (He is a scent hound, not a sighthound.) It is his job to find and move the prey animal. He works on a leash or ‘line’ held by his keeper.

Once the prey has been located and moved to the start of the planned route, the hunt proper begins.

Loose the Raches

Twelve or twenty-four scent hounds called raches are loosed to chase the prey, exhausting it both through the length of its running flight and through the fear induced by the baying of the dogs.

The noblemen follow on horseback, at times wounding the prey animal with their swords or spears. Bows and arrows are not used.

If the raches lose the scent, the lymer is brought forward again to locate and move the prey.

Loose the Sighthounds

As the hunt draws past the first relay of sighthounds, these dogs are released. They are very fast, very strong, and fierce fighters. They sprint to bring the prey animal down.

But, often, the prey is equally fast, equally strong, and equally fierce. It escapes. Or it fights successfully and then escapes.

(This is the moment depicted in the fourth tapestry shown at the beginning of this post.)

So the hunt goes onward in pursuit. And when they pass the next relay of sighthounds, this second relay is loosed.

The End of the Hunt

In the medieval myth about the unicorn, the huntsmen and their hounds cannot succeed. The unicorn is too fierce for them. It is only by the involvement of a maiden that the fabulous beast can be subdued.

But most hunts of hares, deer, or even boar could succeed. If the first relay of sighthounds did not pull the prey down, then the second or third would.

The dogs were not allowed to kill the animal. They were pulled off, and one of the noblemen would slay the beast with his sword, dagger, or spear.

The animal would be skinned and disemboweled, the dogs given their share, and the remainder sent to the castle kitchens to be made into dishes for feasting.

Modern-day Ethics

All of the above likely seems brutal to our modern sensibilities. We can imagine rather vividly what it might be like to be the prey animal suffering a chase to its death.

But the medieval hunters were the culmination of a long history of hunting and coursing—millennia—to provide for the table. Without hunting, there was not enough food for them or their families. And like humans will in every time and place when a job has to be done, they made it serve as entertainment as well.

Many nations in our modern world have outlawed coursing, deeming it cruel and inhumane.

Lure coursing, in which a mechanically operated artificial lure is ‘hunted,’ keeps alive some of the pageantry and tradition of the medieval hunt, and the specially bred skills of the magnificent sighthounds, without putting an innocent prey animal through torture.

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



A Library in the Glorious Citadel

Just this week (as I wrote The Sovereign’s Labyrinth), Gael and Keir decided on a late-night excursion through the Glorious Citadel and found themselves scrounging around its library. Which meant that I needed to know how my Hantidans make books.

I tend to borrow very freely from real world history as I build my North-lands, and I already knew that I wanted to borrow from ancient China for my Hantidans’ books. But I didn’t know a lot about bookbinding in the ancient east, so I had to read up.

I learned that the earliest writings in significant numbers were found on oracle bones used in divination.

The diviner would submit a question to a deity by carving the inquiry into an ox scapula or a turtle plastron. Then intense heat would be applied via a metal rod, until the bone (or plastron) cracked. The pattern of cracks would be interpreted by the diviner, and his interpretation would be engraved beside the carved question.

A millennium later, the Chinese were writing on bamboo slips which were tied together with silken cords or leather thongs when the text was long and required more space than a single slip could provide. These early books were essentially bundles.

The next innovation was the use of silk made into near-paper for writing. The silk was formed into scrolls, and the writing implement changed from a bamboo stylus to a hair brush.

The transition from bamboo bundles to silk scrolls was not instantaneous, and for a long time both formats remained in use.

Because silk paper was expensive, when a paper made from tree bark, hemp, rags, and fishing nets was invented, it became very popular. It, too, was formatted into scrolls.

The transition from scrolls to codices began when the long paper of a scroll was folded in wide accordion pleats. Eventually these pleats were cut into separate pages and bound together in a style called butterfly binding. Again, the two forms (scrolls and codices) coexisted for quite some time.

I decided that my Hantidans were in the midst of their own transition from scroll to codex. Scrolls are by far more numerous, but the new codex form is catching on fast!

But what was the nature of their inks and brushes? Not the traditional quill and ink pot that comes to mind from medieval Europe!

The brushes are ornate and possess caps to protect the bristles during storage.

The inks are made from soot—lacquer soot, pine soot, or oil soot—mixed with glue and aromatic spices, then pressed into shape and allowed to dry to become an inkstck.

When the scribe wishes to write, he grinds the inkstick against an inkstone, pouring water over the ground ink and mixing the two together in the reservoir of the inkstone. The scribe dips his brush into the liquid and then draws on his paper.

Other tools involved in the process of writing are brush holders, brush hangers, paper weights, a rinsing pot, a seal, and seal paste.

This was far more than I needed to know for Gael’s and Keir’s secret visit to the library, but I found it fascinating. Gael and Keir do pass by a desk set with writing implements, but the main action of the scene occurs when another pair of surreptitious night visitors also come to the library!

I won’t say more, lest I stray into spoiler territory. 😉

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



The Dreaming Tour Nileau

I wouldn’t want to live in the Chateau de Montbrun (or its analog in my North-lands, the Tour Nileau). But I’d love to visit for a week!

Imagine waking up in a four-poster and getting out of bed to watch the sun rising through the window in the massively thick stone wall of the castle. Climbing a spiral stair to the battlements to get some fresh morning air. Looking out over the beauty of the countryside from that vantage.

This bed (right) in the fifteenth-century country house of Kingston Lacy has the feel of the one I imagine my heroine Lealle sleeping in.

Although the walls of Lealle’s room would be the whitewashed stones of the castle, not tidily papered plaster!

An early scene in A Talisman Arcane transpires in Lealle’s room. She wipes the mud from her little brother’s shoes, so that their mother won’t know that he’s been playing in the park with a friend despite strict parental prohibition.

Here’s a floor plan showing the castle’s bedchambers.

For more about the world of A Talisman Arcane, see:
Tour Nileau
The Historical Tour Nileau
The Living Tour Nileau
Justice in Lealle’s World



Tour Nileau

Lealle Meridar, the teenage heroine of A Talisman Arcane, is the daughter of a High Justice of Pavelle. Her father presides over the most difficult matters of law arising in the river town of Claireau. As High Justice, he lives and works in a medieval castle made available to he who holds that office.

I modeled the Tour Nileau after a real castle in France: Montbrun.

Montbrun has been modernized, so that a family of our twenty-first century could live there in comfort. In my story, I’ve taken liberties with many details, so as to make the building fit the nineteenth century milieu of A Talisman Arcane, and possess the working spaces needed by Lealle’s father.

We first see the Tour Nileau through Lealle’s eyes, when she pauses on a bridge upriver from her home.

Our next view is of its central court, when she passes under the raised portcullis. I wasn’t able to find a photo of the courtyard that I could feature on my blog, but if you are curious, check this link.

Here is a plan of the ground floor.

Lealle goes straight up to her bedchamber via the main spiral stair when she first arrives home. But near the end of my story, she has a very important discussion with her father in his chancery.

I’ll be posting more about the Tour Nileau, so watch this space! 😀

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



From Navarys to Imsterfeldt

When I conceived of this post, I envisioned it as a tour of Imsterfeldt, the great port city where Liliyah and Mago make landfall after their journey by airship across the great ocean.

But when I went seeking images for the post, I discovered a sequence so perfect for the air voyage itself that I could not resist. I went with it!

The train station in Antwerp looks and feels a lot like the aerodrome from which Liliyah and Mago set sail in the airship Subindo.

Of course, the Subindo is much more colorful—royal blue and gold—and its cabin is snugged up tight to the balloon envelope, not suspended on scaffolding below it, but the overall shape and size of the airship depicted above is right.

The countryside as Liliyah and Mago approach Imsterfeldt is very flat.

And then Imsterfeldt itself comes into view, a city interwoven with a webwork of canals. The photo above (of Amsterdam) has just the feeling of the scene when the residents of Imsterfeldt applaud the safe arrival of the Subindo.

Imagine this tower of Rhodes Castle as taller and festooned with a gridiron platform ring around the top, and you have the mooring tower at Imsterfeldt where the Subindo made anchor.

For many years. Imsterfeldt owned four such towers, but as one airship and then another was decommissioned, so too were the mooring towers.

Liliyah’s father purchased the first tower to be decommissioned, and it became their family home. Liliyah’s sanctum is located near the top of the structure.

When Liliyah and Mago walk (or boat) through their new home city, these are the scenes that meet their eyes.

Excursions out into the countryside encounter more canals, farmland, and windmills.

The meadows on the outskirts of Imsterfeldt, spreading out around the mooring towers, are usually dry. But the land is very flat, and the winter rains do bring flooding at times.

For more about the world of Skies of Navarys, see:
A Tour of Navarys




So, what is a lodestone?

In the real world, it’s a magnet. But in my North-lands, it’s a magical artifact that intensifies the magical powers of a mage.

Different cultures in different time periods and different locations of my North-lands possess different names for mages.

In the Steam Age, the people of Silmaren call them keyholders, the denizens of Fiorish use the term seer, while the citizens of Auberon say patternmaster or enigmologist. There are more variations, but I’m not going to list them all here. 😉

The five lodestones rattling around the “modern”-day North-lands came out of ancient Navarys. So for the duration of this post, I’ll use the term favored by the ancient Navareans: fabrimancer.

The Navareans called their magic energea and their magical focus stones were energea-stones, not lodestones. The lodestones were created at the end of Navarean history, not its beginning, and I’ll get there soon. Promise. But first I must talk about energea-stones.

Energea-stones were crafted from the remains of a meteor fragment lodged in the mountainside of the isle of Navarys. To the ordinary eye, they look like small black pebbles—about the size your thumb-tip—with a shiny finish. (A few were made at larger sizes, but the vast majority were small.)

Energea-stones have been around for almost as long as the Navareans themselves (from pre-history and the age of reed huts). The Navareans learned about fabrimancy (magery) from the energea-stones, rather than fashioning the stones after they developed fabrimancy.

To a fabrimancer’s eye (if he or she is a visual practitioner, not an aural one or a kinesthetic one), the stones hold spiraling patterns of silvery light. This light is the visual manifestation of energea, of magic.

But more important than what energea-stones look like is what they do and how they do it.

In Navarys, an energea-stone would be shaped by a specialist to do a specific task, such as spinning a spinning wheel or a grain mill, tossing a shuttle across a weaver’s loom, or winding the rope of well bucket around a spool. Or the stone might be formed to simply magnify a fabrimancer’s power.

Different stones performed different tasks, but the Navareans especially liked to use them for semi-automating the tasks of craftsmanship. And they wished the stones could be fashioned to permit full automation. It was a sort of holy grail with them.

Energea-stones required the presence of a fabrimancer channeling his or her energea through the stone, almost as though the fabrimancer were a sort of living battery funneling electricity through an engine.

The lodestones were the breakthrough Navareans had been hoping for.

A lodestone looks a lot like an ordinary energea-stone—a small black pebble—except its surface finish is a velvet matte, not shiny. Like energea-stones they can be fashioned in different sizes for different purposes.

But a lodestone draws energea from its surroundings at large, not just from the fabrimancer wielding it. And thus a lodestone permits true automation. It must be forged so as to direct the energea flowing through it to perform the task desired. But once the fabrimancer sets it going, the lodestone does its work until the fabrimancer halts it. The fabrimancer can actually walk away from the work in progress.

Unfortunately, the lodestones embody one serious danger not possessed by ordinary energea-stones.

When an energea-stone is used by a fabrimancer to magnify and concentrate his magical powers, the stone also acts as a sort of overflow valve. If the fabrimancer loses control and summons too much energea—a potentially destructive amount—the excess is channeled away through the stone without doing damage to the fabrimancer.

Lodestones don’t possess this safety feature. Instead, they always carry exactly half of the energea summoned by the fabrimancer. Which means that if the fabrimancer summons a damaging amount, it does damage. Specifically, it tears the energetic structures that underlie the fabrimancer’s physical being.

That damage manifests as the troll-disease that appears in so many of my North-lands stories.

Only six lodestones were originally created. One of them—the largest—sank to the bottom of the great ocean. The other five are loose in the world, creating trouble when they are found.

Skies of Navarys tells the story of the creation of the lodestones, through the eyes of a pair of teenagers.

The Tally Master follows one of the lodestones into the hands of a troll warlord, where an honorable accountant and his assistant determine the outcome of the encounter.

Resonant Bronze shows how a lodestone might turn the tables on the troll horde.

Rainbow’s Lodestone and Star-drake recount the fate of a lodestone used to commit an evil deed.

And To Thread the Labyrinth, due out in March 2019, sees a lodestone returned to a place of proper oversight, although the larger story focuses on a troll-witch hiding her troll-disease.

For more about ancient Navarys, see:
A Tour of Navarys
From Navarys to Imsterfeldt

For more about the magic of the North-lands, see:
Magic in the North-lands
Magic in Silmaren
Radices and Arcs



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



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