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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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. 😀

*      *      *

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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The Cross Strike, Squinting Strike, and Scalp Strike

Learning martial skills from the past is popular these days.

Re-enactors enjoy it as a hobby. Living history enthusiasts include it as essential to understanding the daily lives of the people of the past, from the times of the ancients through the medieval period and on to the more recent past.

Experimental archeologists understand that there is nothing like re-creating the technologies of the past and using the implements produced by them to generate a thorough understanding of history and the cultures of history.

So there are a lot of people studying the European martial arts (among other things).

The foundations of such study are manuals from the time, such as Flos Duellatorum in Armis by Fiore dei Liberi (an Italian manual) and Fechtbuch by Hans Talhoffer (a German manual).

Naturally the Italian manuals use Italian terms for the various guards and strikes, while the German manuals use German.

Neither language is appropriate for the fantasy world of Blood Silver, so I created my own French-influenced names.

In Blood Silver, the five ‘master’ sword strikes are:
Coup de Colere (Strike of Wrath or Zornhau)
Coup Tordu (Crooked Strike or Krumphau)
Coup Croisé (Cross Strike or Zwerchau)
Coup Étroit (Squinting Strike or Schielhau)
Coup de Couronne (Scalp Strike or Scheitelhau)

I’ve described the coup de colere and the coup tordu in earlier posts. In this post, I’ll zip through the remaining three: the coup croisé, the coup étroit, and the coup de couronne.

The Coup Croisé or Cross Strike

The cross strike is a horizontal blow, often aimed at one’s opponent’s head. It offsets an incoming strike from your foe at the same time as delivering a strike of your own.

The video immediately below from Laurel City Historical Fencing is short and sweet (just over a minute) and shows it perfectly.

I liked how the instructor started slow and sped up closer to fighting speed. The strike itself moves from an ox guard to another ox guard on the other side, and it can be chained together in a series of cross strikes just as this swordsman demonstrates.

The Coup Étroit or Squinting Strike

The squinting strike collects an incoming strike from your enemy, sets it aside, and then strikes your foe. It is similar to the cross strike, but vertical rather than horizontal.

Here’s another short, sweet video (from Dreynschlag) showing the strike.

And now I know the correct pronunciation for the German term for the plow guard. Pflug. 😀

The Coup de Couronne or Scalp Strike

For the scalp strike, one raises the sword hilt high while levering the point downward to threaten one’s opponent’s face. In the video below, Aaron Harmon demonstrates succinctly that the strike avoids over committing.

The sound is a little uneven at the very start of the video (another short one), but evens out rapidly.

While I was seeking out videos for each of the three strikes presented here, I stumbled across a sword duel acted out with great panache by the Akademia Szermierzy. I bet they had fun making it.

It includes vignettes from an Italian manual with the Italian terms. (Only fair to give the Italian some air time after all the German.) 😉

The fighting is dramatic and the music is wonderful, so I’ll share it as the close of my sequence of long sword fighting posts.

For more about Blood Silver, see:
Plate Armor, How It Works
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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The Crooked Strike

As I mentioned while describing the strike of wrath, I researched long sword fencing in order to have some idea of what my protagonist Tahaern would be doing on the battlefield in my novella Blood Silver,

Just to refresh our memories, here’s a list of the “master strikes” that every longswordsman would have learned and practiced:
Strike of Wrath (Zornhau)
Crooked Strike (Krumphau)
Cross Strike (Zwerchau)
Squinting Strike (Schielhau)
Scalp Strike (Scheitelhau)

I’ve created diagrams of the strikes to include in the appendices of my book when it releases, so that readers of the story who want to know more can easily learn a little about the strikes.

But two-dimensional representations of motions that occur in three dimensions are very limited in how well they can convey the reality.

The crooked strike seems particularly complex to render, since the version that starts from an upper guard, like the roof guard, comes down initially, but then arcs around sideways.

It makes a lot more sense in video, so I turn once again to Meyer Class Hammaborg for an excellent demonstration of the strike. The video includes many variations on how the crooked strike can be used, both defensively and on the attack, as well as starting from different guards.

There must be a playground or a park near the grounds of the school for swordsmanship, since I could hear kids calling happily in the background. It made for an interesting contrast to the deadly techniques being shown!

I created French-influenced names for the sword strikes as they are used in my story. Thus the crooked strike becomes the coup tordu in Blood Silver.

For more about Blood Silver, see:
Plate Armor, How It Works
Cross Strike, Squinting Strike, and Scalp Strike
The Book Title
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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Blood Silver: The Joust

Tahaern, the protagonist of Blood Silver, is skilled in combat, both on foot and ahorse.

A number of the battles in my novella transpire on foot, because the terrain is so pocked with holes and knotty tree roots that a horse would fair poorly. In one battle, Tahaern is unhorsed!

I researched long sword fencing (which I found fascinating), but I also needed to know how a knight fought when on horseback.

The first video I found was a great deal of fun. It features Sir Henry Sewell, and wow, does he have an attitude! The re-enactor must have an amusing time roleplaying the pride and arrogance of his character.

I’m not sure how much I learned about the niceties of wielding a lance while charging one’s enemies, but I did gain a better understanding of just how important were the spirit and skill of one’s mount. The horses were indeed beautiful, and the jousting was spectacular.

For those reasons alone I’m gong to share the video from English Heritage with you.

So, did his “theater of the joust” take your breath away? I must confess I watched the video several times over just for the enjoyment of it. 😉

Then I went seeking more information about how one actually fights on horseback. And I found a much more specific video by Schola Gladiatoria. It, too, is entertaining (combining the gruesome with the scholarly), but gave me a lot more of what I needed to know.

Matt Easton demonstrates the techniques with a cavalry sword, but also explains exactly how they apply to lances and why.

Did his description of “the extraction” give you a gruesome shiver? It did to me!

But the information was precisely what I needed in order to understand how Tahaern and his fellow knights would have managed on horseback in battle.

For more about Blood Silver, see:
Plate Armor, How It Works
Cross Strike, Squinting Strike, and Scalp Strike
The Book Title
The Crooked Strike
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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The Strike of Wrath

While reading up on long sword fencing, I learned that there are five “master strikes.” They are named master strikes for two reasons.

First, they have a simplicity that makes them accessible to beginners, but they also possess complexity and subtlety for the advanced swordsman.

Second, they combine a strong defense with a strong offense and excellent options for follow-up actions.

An expert swordsman will know many more strikes in addition to the five master strikes, but the five will form the heart of his repertoire.

The five master strikes are:
• Strike of Wrath (Zornhau)
• Crooked Strike (Krumphau)
• Cross Strike (Zwerchau)
• Squinting Strike (Schielhau)
• Scalp Strike (Scheitelhau)

In this blog post, I’m featuring the strike of wrath.

It’s a powerful cut, performed with strength and conviction. It moves from the high reaching roof guard, down in a sweeping diagonal cut, to end in the plow guard.

Those names don’t mean much without more description. Since a picture is worth the proverbial thousand words, I’m sharing some diagrams that I drew, as well as doing some describing.

There are two variations of the roof guard.

One features the sword hilt held slightly above the head and centered, with the blade slightly tilted back.

The other version of the roof guard has the sword hilt held at shoulder height and to one side. Either side will work, depending on the handedness of the swordsman and what he intends to do from that guard.

The plow guard, in which the hilt is held at roughly hip height with the blade angled up, can also be assumed on either side, depending on which foot is back and which is forward.

So the strike of wrath goes from the roof guard to the plow guard, and the momentum generated by the blow requires a powerful step forward while performing it.

Two-dimensional pictures are less than ideal for showing the three-dimensional reality of a sword cut. They can give a general idea of what is involved, but videos of the movement are much better.

The first one I’ll share is an instructional sequence. This was perfect for me, a complete layperson regarding long sword fencing. I needed to see the individual segments in order to understand what was going on.

So that was a nice controlled strike of wrath, but not at all how it might look in a real fight.

For a sample of the power and ferocity of the strike, we have another video.

This version of the strike of wrath started from something called a wrath guard and seemed to end in a guard similar to the near guard. The swordsman certainly covered a lot of ground, and he generated a lot of power with his forward motion.

I suspect different schools may teach slightly different versions of each technique.

(Keep in mind that if this post creates a longing within you to learn swordsmanship, you should definitely seek out an instructor. A short text description and a couple of videos might be enough convey a conceptual understanding sufficient for the reader, but are nowhere near enough for learning how to do this stuff.) 😀

Most of the schools of swordsmanship seem to use the German terms for the guards and strikes. No doubt this is because the surviving manuals on swordsmanship from the 1400s and 1500s were written in either German or Italian.

Neither of those languages seemed quite right fro my story Blood Silver, which takes place in a fantasy milieu resembling ancient Ireland. But I didn’t want to use merely the English translations. I wanted something with a little linguistic color. So I created French-influenced terms.

In Blood Silver, the strike of wrath is the coup de colere. 😀

For more about Blood Silver, see:
Plate Armor, How It Works
Cross Strike, Squinting Strike, and Scalp Strike
The Book Title
The Crooked Strike
The Joust
Which Cover to Choose?
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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Rope Climbing and a Cliff

Near the beginning of Blood Silver, Tahaern finds himself at the top of a precipice. He absolutely must find a way to descend it safely. But he has no rock climbing experience. And even if he did, he’s not had a chance to study this rock face and plan a safe and workable route down it.

As a writer, I needed to figure how I was going to get my protagonist down this cliff—although I did not have as great an interest in the safety of the descent as Tahaern himself would possess! 😉

But I also wanted to really feel in my own gut what it was like to confront a considerable height. When I am out hiking in the Blue Ridge Mountains, I stand well back from the edges of any clifftops. What must it be like to stand at the very brink?

YouTube came to my rescue with a video record of one Laso Schaller jumping from the top of a 59-metter cliff into a deep pool of water. It gave me a very clear experience of what standing above a big drop is like. I can tell you that I absolutely never want to do anything of the kind!

I’m going to share the video, but a few cautions first.

Number one: do not try this at home! Seriously, this was a crazy thing to do. I’m sure people must have been killed trying similar things. So, do not try to copy this guy. Do not.

Secondly: I recommend you turn off the sound while you watch, because the video includes annoying music, clearly added afterward. There’s nothing else on the sound track, so there is no need to listen to the jarring music.

Thirdly: if you have any fear of heights, you might want to just skip it. I do possess a fear of heights, and I found that even video exposure to a height like this was scary!

That said, for those of you who want to give it a go, here is the video:

So…did you watch it? Did your heart pick up its beat every time the video cam approached the edge? Mine sure did. That pool looked way too small.

The things a writer will do to make sure she gets an event in her novella right!

But I certainly felt I had a better appreciation for what Tahaern would experience. And I was grateful I could get it vicariously.

My next step was to generate the means by which Tahaern would make his descent. Could he weave a rope out of vines?

I located some videos showing how to braid an adequate rope for climbing and quickly decided this was not a feasible option for Tahaern. Oh, he could make such a rope. But it would take him all day. And he didn’t have all day.

What if he found a vine so sturdy that it could bear his weight? Would that work?

I went searching for rope climbing videos. There were a lot of them. And it looked like standard rope climbing would work for Tahaern. He’s very strong, with excellent upper body strength, plus he has all of the physical training for knighthood behind him. This was something he could do.

I studied the videos carefully, since I am not a rope climber.

My only exposure to rope climbing came in the third grade in phys ed class. I was one of the kids who never got beyond the knot at the bottom of the rope. There were many of us in my class, especially since the teacher didn’t actually teach us how to do it. We were supposed to simply hop onto the rope and go up. I believe one child did just that. In fact, he did it twice—at the teacher’s behest—to show us how it was done. He slapped the beam at the 15-foot-plus ceiling from which the rope was hung. Some of the other kids got part of the way up. Good for them!

The video below is one of the clearest that I reviewed.

It was good to see the details for proper positioning of the legs and feet.

It meant I knew how to have Tahaern succeed. And it meant that I also knew how to have him fail!

For more about Blood Silver, see:
Plate Armor, How It Works
Cross Strike, Squinting Strike, and Scalp Strike
The Book Title
The Crooked Strike
The Joust
Which Cover to Choose?
The Strike of Wrath
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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