Hera’s Handmaidens

Hera Borrowing the Girdle of Aphrodite by Guy HeadIn Greek mythology, Hera was the queen of the gods and the wife of Zeus, the king of the gods. She championed the well-being of women and the sacred essence of marriage.

Her own daughters – Eileithyia (goddess of childbirth) and Hebe (goddess of youth) – are listed as members of her retinue. Iris (the goddess of the rainbow), the nymphs of the clouds, and the nymphs of the seasons also attended her.

In my novel, Fate’s Door, I envisioned her entourage as a less static group, drawn from the offspring of royalty among the myriad nature spirits associated with all the features of the world, and changing over time.

Nymphe by Gaston Bussière_Thus does Eilidh, eldest sister of my heroine Nerine, join Hera’s cortege.

When Nerine visits her sister on Mount Olympus, Eilidh greets her warmly, entertains her during her stay, and gives a party on the eve of Nerine’s departure. I suspect that Hera herself would not have approved of the course that farewell celebration took, had she been present, but the nymphs of ancient Greece did have a reputation for wildness. 😀

The scene with the party was cut from the final version of Fate’s Door, but I share it here for those of us who wish we could visit the Mount Olympus of mythology.

20 ~ Eilidh’s Farewell

That evening Nerine saw a part of Olympus new to her, when Eilidh and the handmaidens gave a party in honor of Nerine’s departure.

The festivity took place in and around an oval pool of clear water emerging from a grotto in the mountainside. Unlike Agnippe’s sacred spring or the many streams of the area, this body of water had not been left in its natural state. The pool itself was scooped from grooved white granite and surrounded by a broad terrace of the same material, even within the grotto. Fluted white columns and a balustrade edged the outside terrace, but within the grotto a wall of rose marble had been carved, depicting a scene of merfolk celebrating.

Only the handmaidens attended, none of the greater gods, which was a relief.

Eilidh donned the pectoral and belt in which she’d left home, platinum with clear yellow topazes. She was as beautiful now at twenty-three as she’d been at eighteen, maybe more so, because her pride had mellowed into confidence. Nerine chose to swim bare, since the handmaidens did so. If you could call it swimming. Mostly they splashed and shrieked and laughed.

Nerine raced Eilidh to the grotto end of the pool and back, discovering that she was quite a bit faster than her sister.

The handmaidens laid bets on the race, with the losers drinking goblets of mead, while the winners quaffed nectar.

Then the winners decided this wasn’t quite fair and begged Eilidh and Nerine to race again, so that the winners would receive the mead. The party grew far from decorous after that.

Nerine gave several races away, not wanting to make her sister feel bad.

But Eilidh didn’t seem to mind when she lost, joining the handmaidens in drinking mead whenever the round called for the losers to drink.

Nerine stayed away from the mead altogether. It was too sweet for her taste. And when she saw the drunkenness it induced in the handmaidens, she was doubly glad for her choice. Five of them sat on the steps down into the water and sang off key, while another group retired to the grotto to – apparently – hold an orgy.

Eilidh, hiccuping, dragged Nerine over to the balustrade and began sobbing, saying that she had never appreciated her sister properly and now it was too late, because Nerine was going away.

“Oh, oh, oh!” wailed Eilidh. “Shay you forgive me, do!” she slurred.

Nerine couldn’t help laughing. It was all so ridiculous.

She reassured her sister, and then put her to bed in the shrine with all the divans.

As she checked her pouch of toiletries and the satchel with her writing supplies, Galena entered. She had not attended the party, and was garbed for her repose, although not in the usual sleeping gown. Instead she wore garments similar to Nerine’s travel costume, tunic and trews, but woven of a linen so fine it was translucent.

“I am come to offer you more restful quarters for the night, as I must suppose this location will be quite insupportable when the handmaidens eventually arrive.” A smile was strongly present in the tone of Galena’s voice. Nerine was beginning to love that smile sound already for the way it lifted her spirits.

She accepted Galena’s offer gratefully. She did not indeed want to remain to witness the handmaidens’ drunken return, whenever that might be.

The more restful quarters turned out to be a tapestry pavilion or tent – Nerine wasn’t quite sure what to call it – with blankets and sheets laid upon fleeces on the tapestry floor. She found them more comfortable than her divan and fell asleep quickly, despite her excitement about the morrow.

*     *     *

Galena awoke Nerine at dawn.

They visited the shrine of the fountain to perform their morning ablutions and then dressed in their travelling clothes.

The weight of the garments felt unfamiliar and strangely sumptuous, as though they meant she were to participate in a mysterious rite. Perhaps she was. The journey across Európi would require nearly ninety days. She would be travelling so many stadia that the distance was measured in leagues – three hundred and seventy some leagues. She would see lands and peoples utterly strange to her, and she would not rest more than a night or two in any one place. If that were not a rite of passage, what was?

*     *     *

To purchase and read Fate’s Door: Amazon

For more extra chapters from Fate’s Door, see:
Update on Fate’s Door (Eilidh and Mount Olympus)
Nerine’s Youngest Sister (Agnippe and Mount Helicon)
The Nine Muses of Antiquity (Agnippe and the Muses)

 

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The Nine Muses of Antiquity

Roman sarcophagus depicting the nine musesThe Muses of the ancient Greeks were goddesses of the knowledge embodied in poetry, song, and story. They served as sources of inspiration for science and the arts. Their number varied throughout history, but I chose the classical nine to appear in my novel blending Greek mythology with ancient history, Fate’s Door.

The Muses Clio, Euterpe, and Thalia by Eustache Le SueurCalliopethe muse of epic poetry and eloquence, with her symbols of stylus, writing tablet, and lyre. Epic poems were long, recited narratives on serious subjects, describing heroic deeds and events significant to a culture or city-state. Epic poetry possessed greater status than other types of poetry.

Cliothe muse of history, with her symbols of scroll and tablet.

Euterpethe muse of music, song, and elegiac poetry, with the aulos (similar to a flute) as her symbol. In ancient times, elegy was always sung and accompanied by the music of the aulos. It required a specific rhythm and form, but was not limited to lament in content, as it is today. Elegiac poetry was always sung and accompanied by flute music.

Polyhymnia by Giuseppe FagnaniEratomuse of lyric poetry, with the cithara (similar to the lyre) as her symbol. Lyric poetry expressed personal emotions and was in the first person, I. Lyric poetry was always sung and accompanied by strummed music.

Melpomenethe muse of tragedy, with her symbols of tragic mask, sword, club, and boots.

Polyhymniathe muse of sacred poetry, sacred hymn, sacred dance, meditation, and geometry, with her symbols of veil and grapes.

Terpsichorethe muse of dance, with her symbols of the lyre and plectrum, played for dancing.

The Muses Melpomene, Thalia, and Polyhymnia by Eustache Le SueurThaliathe muse of comedy and idyllic poetry, with her symbols of comic mask, bugle, trumpet, shepherd’s crook, and ivy wreath. Idyllic poems were short descriptions of the small, intimate world of personal experience.

Uraniathe muse of astronomy, with her symbols of globe and rod.

One of the scenes I cut from Fate’s Door features the continuous “party of the arts” which is life with the muses on Mount Helicon. Anippe, the youngest sister of my protagonist Nerine, tends the spring of inspiration patronized by the muses, and thus serves as an inspiration to inspiration. 😀

The Muses Urania and Calliope by Simon Vouet

19 ~ Agnippe and the Muses

Later in the day, when Nerine met the muses, she discovered they were just as impressive as the gods of Olympus, but in a very different way.

She’d donned her long green silk gown again – dry from hanging on a rose bush in the sunlight – and Agnippe had changed from her belt and pectoral to a knee-length gown of rose silk. She carried a tray bearing a ewer of spring water and nine chalices of varying design.

The muses were gathered on the stage of an intimate amphitheater, with stone seating cut into the mountain, and a simple colonnade as a backdrop. Euterpe, the Muse of Song, stood on a pedestal singing. She wore a long, draping gown of marigold yellow, and her honey-hued hair was elaborately braided and pinned.

But Nerine, entering the stage from one side with Agnippe, barely noticed the charming picture before her. Euterpe’s voice soared, golden and mellow in its lower notes, silver and sweet in the higher ones.

Nerine felt the world turn within her, deep in her heart, while the sky shivered into rainbow streamers, as though the whole of creation sang.

She returned to herself only when Euterpe ceased her song.

The gathered muses – some leaning against the pillars of the colonnade, a few seated on the stage flagstones, others clustered around Euterpe – signified their approval in differing ways according to their natures.

Only one clapped her hands together and laughed: a blonde garbed in a rose slightly lighter than that Agnippe wore. Might she be Thalia, the Muse of Comedy?

An aqua-gowned muse wiped tears of joy from her cheeks. A lilac muse gazed raptly at the sky. The Muse of Astronomy? And a peach muse circled Euterpe in graceful dance steps.

All of them exuded the glory that imbued their arts – a nimbus of exaltation and brightness that quickened the pulse and flushed the cheek. Nerine felt more overborne by it than she had by the potency cloaking the greater gods. If Hera were a spring tide – massive and inexorable – then the muses were a fountain bursting from the earth in joy and abandon.

Euterpe, the golden singer, caught sight of Agnippe and Nerine first. She leaped lightly down from her pedestal, exclaiming. “Sisters! The bearer of our inspiration approaches!”

Her quick steps toward them were graceful enough to be a dance, and her sister muses streamed after her, all of them clustering around Agnippe and speaking at once.

“What draught have you now for us?”

“Is this the Nerine you have spoken of?”

“Hidden in the daybreak by Helios, the great Karkinos ascends, blessing all who travel north!”

“Nerine” – the peach muse grabbed Nerine’s hand – “you look born to perform the pidiktos, the leaping dance! May I teach you?”

“Introduce us!” chimed a muse in pale green.

Agnippe laughed and passed through the throng, drawing Nerine and the peach muse with her, to the pedestal abandoned by the singer Euterpe. She set down her tray there and began pouring from the ewer into the various chalices, using a different grip on the ewer’s handles for each to produce different shapes in the stream of water.

“The silent wisdom of the Karkinos for you, Urania.” A silver chalice set with amethysts went to the lilac-gowned muse.

“A new melody for you, Euterpe!” In a golden chalice adorned by topazes.

“A variant rhythm for you, Terpsichore.” The peach-garbed muse holding Nerine’s hand received a copper chalice, shaped to resemble an opening bud.

The blended voices of the muses sounded like the ripple of a musical brook, but their speech quieted as each received her cup from Agnippe and sipped.

Into the growing silence Agnippe presented Nerine. “Please welcome Nerine Merenou Pelagieus, my sister and my friend. She has traveled from the heart of the Middle Sea and has yet farther to go.”

Each of the muses paused in her sipping to raise her chalice in her own characteristic way – overhead, subtly tilted, to eye level, and so on – and spoke a blessing.

“Be at home, here and in yourself.”

“May you seek inspiration each morning and find delight as the sun sets.”

“Remember to laugh!”

“It is well to journey north under the ascendance of the Karkinos.” That was the lilac-gowned muse again. Her preoccupation with the zodiac must mean she was the Muse of Astronomy, guessed Nerine.

As the afternoon blended into the golden light of a summer evening, Nerine decided that the muses threw a much better party than the gods. Not that this was truly a party. It seemed to be the natural order of life on Mount Helicon.

Formality was entirely absent, one activity flowing into another without plan or pomp, according to chance and what caught the muses’ fancy.

They sang roundels under golden Euterpe’s guidance and then engaged in impromptu comedic drama with rosy Thalia. Nerine found herself singing in parts with neither worry nor trouble, and then devising a sequence of slapstick humor.

Terpsichore – the peach one – led them to the meadow beyond the topmost tier of the amphitheater to dance, and Nerine found herself performing the leaping pidiktos, as promised, with only one stumble when she forgot – in mid-air – that she was not suspended in water. Then Polyhymnia called for an interval of meditation before a hymn.

As the sky deepened from rich turquoise to a deep cobalt which seemed to reach beyond the edge of the earthly sphere, a light breeze sprang up. Nerine found herself walking through a birch forest – its leaves arustle with the moving airs – beside Clio, the Muse of History, and chatting with her as though to a lifelong friend.

“You’ll have such opportunities as you travel north,” said Clio seriously. “The customs of the Keltoi and the Gutones are very strange, quite different from those of the Hellenes. Request papyrus and ink from Lord Hermes that you may record the marvels you see!”

A pang of grief and loss shot through Nerine’s breast. Just so had Altairos promised to record all the experiences of his travels, but she had curtailed his chance to share them with her. Should she now compile a similar history that she would never share with him? Perhaps the symmetry of it would balance . . . something.

When she emerged from the birch grove, the stars shone in the deepening sky, and Urania had arranged a cluster of spyglasses that the muses and their guest might view the planet Hesperus at the peak of its splendor, gleaming like a teardrop kindled by fire.

As Nerine withdrew her eye from her spyglass, the shepherd youths who had greeted her upon her descent from the pegasus were present again, spreading tapestries over the meadow grasses, and serving supper.

The scent of crushed grass mingled with the savory aromas of roast lamb and the lighter fragrances of berries.

More vignettes of culture – an epic poem, a tragic drama – followed the meal. Nerine participated as before, comfortable and welcomed, but she found a sliver of her attention pursuing her sister. Agnippe was radiant, partaking of everything, but also consulted by the muses. Might this arpeggio be better if extended another beat? Would that rhyme be more effective if moved to the middle of the line rather than falling at the end?

Agnippe filled her post on Helicon just as surely, just as joyously, as Eilidh occupied hers on Olympus.

Nerine gave herself over to happiness for a time. Enjoying the rapture of the night, and enjoying the awareness that two of her sisters were happy. Life could bring gifts to those who were open to them. Good fortune might yet bless her too. But she wouldn’t think about herself tonight. She would be here and now, beguiled by the moment and rejoicing for Eilidh and Agnippe.

Despite her focus on her sisters, she’d gotten herself back, she realized. The sense of self she’d lost on Olympus had returned here on Helicon.

She was wholly Nerine again, inside and out. The Nerine who loved her youngest sister. The Nerine who loved new things and new places and meeting new people.

That Nerine was back and it felt as glorious as Euterpe’s song, as Terpsichore’s dance, as Urania’s star gazing.

It was wonderful to be herself again.

But had she lost something else in the reclaiming of herself?

What had she lost? For she had lost something.

A softening – like a mist – rose up behind her, obscuring all that was neither Olympus nor Helicon. Her past seemed as far away in time as the reef palace was in distance. Had she really dwelt all her life in the Middle Sea? Traveled only so far as Duke Thiago’s palace in the Gulf of Gallicus? Gone ashore only on the isle of Lapadoússa?

It seemed a dream, not a history, and it had happened to someone other than her.

Had she really met and fallen in love with a prince of Zakynthos and then renounced him? A stab of pain through her heart assured her that she had.

But the sense of detachment piling up around her memories draped a veil over them, lessening their immediacy. For now, she was not Nerine of the Middle Sea, but Nerine of Helicon. And being Nerine of Helicon was delightful.

Later in the night, she found herself with Agnippe, curled on a pile of softest fleece under an arching trellis covered with blooming honeysuckle. The sweet, sweet scent of the vines drenched her, and the darkness wrapped her round as gently as water from a warm spring.

“Is it always like this?” Nerine murmured.

Agnippe chuckled. “Nearly always. Some days the work is more like work. When Calliope cannot settle on the right meter for her epic nor Melpomene devise the right dramatic beat for her tragedy. But work more usually masquerades as play, and the play is the work.”

“I wish I could stay here,” said Nerine. Except she didn’t. Not truly. “I wish I could be you. Or one of them.” That she did wish, but knew – in spite of the wish – that she would be less than herself, if her wish could become reality.

Agnippe shifted on her portion of the fleece cushioning. “No, you don’t.”

“This afternoon and this evening have been . . . magical.” Nerine felt drowsy and hyper aware at the same time. Did the arts always produce an altered state? Perhaps only when the muses performed.

Agnippe found Nerine’s hand and clasped it loosely in hers. “The magic of the muses is extraordinary, but you have your own magic, Nerine. And you won’t develop it here. I think you are right to go to the norns. I think . . . you will be surprised by what awaits you there.”

Unease threaded Nerine’s contentment. “Do you know something I do not?” she asked.

“I know nothing,” said Agnippe, “but I have an intuition that it will all be different than what you expect, and that the difference is exactly what you need. Even though I don’t know what you need, and you don’t know what you need – just like Xianthe – it will come to you.” Agnippe’s voice was a mere breath, soft and low. “Or you are going to it.

The late moon, very full, rose above the shadowy treeline edging the glade around the trellis. Dapples of moonlight peeped through the honeysuckle, speckling Nerine, her sister, and the fleeces beneath them. A breeze moved the leaves and the pattern of moonshine. The heavy fragrance of the flowers – almost too sweet – lightened.

“Still no word from Xianthe?” asked Agnippe.

Nerine refused to be worried in this haven of peace. Eilidh and Agnippe had come home to themselves. The promise of the same – or something even more astonishing – awaited Nerine. Surely Xianthe would find her way too.

“No word,” said Nerine. “But the fates spin her thread as surely as they spin ours.”

Agnippe laughed, soft and clear. “And you go to the fates. Perhaps you will spin Xianthe’s homecoming.”

Perhaps she would.

*     *     *

Bidding Agnippe farewell the next morning was both harder and easier than Nerine expected.

She’d loved her brief stay on Helicon. Loved it! The muses were delightful, and their idea of fun was actually fun. But she sensed that the arts were not really the home her spirit sought. She might be distracted by bliss, if she were to live here, but she would not find the deeper anchoring that meant more to her.

She could leave Mount Helicon quite calmly.

But Agnippe! Oh!

Her sister had resumed belt and pectoral – this set fashioned of linked plates of swirling green malachite – because she would be tending the sacred spring after Nerine’s departure. She was a slim sylph of a girl, with the modest curves of the almost-fifteen that she was, but with strength in her carriage.

Her face showed a curious mix of emotion – lips trembling in her sadness at parting from Nerine, green eyes serene with her confidence in Nerine’s future and lit with the excitement that working in her spring brought.

Nerine hugged her convulsively. She would not see Agnippe for years. Five years? Ten years? Agnippe would be all grown up when Nerine visited her next. Would they still know one another?

“We’ll always be sisters,” Agnippe whispered, “always friends. You will know me, and I, you.”

Nerine relinquished her hold on her sister enough to see her eyes. How was it that Agnippe often seemed to read her mind? Nerine studied Agnippe’s face. Agnippe knew how to trust both herself and her future.

Agnippe’s trust would have to be enough for Nerine too, because Nerine . . . had no trust in herself at this moment.

“I love you,” Nerine said.

Agnippe smiled. “I love you too.”

And then Nerine was following the shepherd boys down the mountain to the meadow where she would mount the pegasus.

She looked back once.

Agnippe stood in the distance at the top of the slope, very straight, the sun turning her long green-blond hair to gold. She raised her arm in farewell. Nerine returned the gesture and turned away, rounding a bend in the path that removed Agnippe from sight.

Nerine drew in a shaky breath.

*     *     *

To purchase and read Fate’s Door: Amazon

For more extra chapters from Fate’s Door, see:
Update on Fate’s Door (Eilidh and Mount Olympus)
Nerine’s Youngest Sister (Agnippe and Mount Helicon)

 

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Lugh and the Lunasad

Mercury by Hendrick Goltzius, 300 pixelsLugh or Lú was a Celtic god with a long pedigree. He was part of Irish mythology in pre-Christian Ireland, that is, the centuries before 400 AD.

But the Celts arrived in Ireland around 275 BC, bringing their culture and their religious beliefs with them, including Lugh.

The god’s name gives some indication of his journey through time.

The Celts in Gaul and Iberia called him Lugus. The syllable “lo” in Apollo may indicate some connection between Lugh and Apollo, especially because the Indo-European root word of leuk means “flashing light,” and Lugh is believed to derive from leuk.

Yet the meaning “flashing light” seems more likely to refer to lightning than the sun. Indeed, the Breton luc’h and the Cornish lughes both mean “lightning-flash.” (Lugh may have been a predecessor to the Norse god Thor.)

Of even more interest to me was the well-established fact that the Gaulish Lugus was considered by the ancient Romans to be the Gauls’ version of Mercury. Mercury was the patron god of commerce, contracts, eloquence, messages, travelers, and trade.

While the Gaulish Lugus was a master of all arts and oversaw journeys and business transactions.

Vercingetorix  throws down his arms at the feet of Julius Caesar

These mentions of Lugus and Mercury occurred during the time of Julius Caesar in the 1st century BC, roughly 280 years after the events in Fate’s Door. The thing is, while the ancient Greeks of the 4th century BC make mention of the Keltoi, they do not describe the Keltic religious beliefs. I was going to have to do some extrapolating.

My first decision: Lugh’s name. The western Celts in later periods seemed to move toward the ending sound of “g” as is given or “ch” as in chosen. How might the pronunciation of earlier Keltoi who moved east to settle have changed? Did they stay with the “k” sound from from leuk?

Lugus altar stoneSince I really had no true indication – I’d have to guess – I decided to stick with the name used in pre-Christian Ireland, Lugh, rhyming with Hugh. Perhaps we moderns might have spelled the name of my 4th century BC Keltic god as Leu. But I decided to keep it simple. So, Lugh.

There are many stories about Lugh in Irish mythology, but the one that caught my attention concerned Lugh and his foster mother Tailtiu. Tailtiu was the goddess who cleared the plains of Ireland for agriculture.

What if this were a very old story that traveled with the Celts as they left central Europe and was modified to relate to their new surroundings? I could imagine the myth as originating in the lands along the Danube river, where Lugh’s foster mother cleared the plains of what is now Hungary and Romania for agriculture.

Like the Hellenes who created lesser gods associated with local springs and valleys (in addition to their supreme Olympians), so did the Keltoi revere local features. And the most dominant nature goddess would have been Danu, the spirit of the mighty Danube river.

Therefore I mapped the story of the Irish Lugh onto the territories of the Keltoi.

In the 4th century BC of Fate’s Door, Lugh was fostered by Danu. Like the Irish Tailtiu, Danu was exhausted by her labor and unable to fight off the demons of blight and famine. Her son Lugh fought in her stead to preserve his mother’s legacy, but he was overcome and imprisoned. Yet just as the stalk of grain is cut down and springs renewed from the earth after its seed is planted, so does Lugh prevail. He rises to new strength after his capture, defeating the demons, and then presiding as sovereign over the agricultural cycle of fertility.

The Irish Celts celebrated Lugh in a festival that marked the beginning of the harvest season, around the beginning of August. This was the Lunasad, which included visits to nearby holy sites, athletic contests, dance, feasting, trading, and a ritual play enacting Lugh’s fight against the demons of blight and famine.

Hermes LogiosI decided that my Keltoi would celebrate a similar festival. As it happened that Nerine – the heroine of Fate’s Door – would arrive at the stronghold of the Keltic High King in early August, she would naturally participate in that festival. The dancing, the feasting, and the High King’s courtesy to her would delight Nerine, but one of the religious rites would disturb her deeply and propel her further along her inner journey.

Early in my research on the Keltoi, I learned of the connection between Lugus and Mercury and decided that a similar connection existed between Lugh and Hermes. Hermes, as the patron of orators, poets, athletes, invention, travellers and trade, would possess a similar affinity to Lugh. It also worked beautifully with my choice for Nerine to travel across Europe under the protection of an elite cohort of Hermes’ warriors.

For more about Nerine’s world, see:
The Keltoi of Európi
Vertical Looms
Names in Ancient Greece
Warships of the Ancient Mediterranean
Calendar of the Ancient Mediterranean
Ground Looms
Lapadoússa, an isle of Pelagie
Merchant Ships of the Ancient Mediterranean

 

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Horse Sandals and the 4th Century BC

I started writing Fate’s Door at the beginning of January, thinking that it would be a novella, maybe 25,000 words long.

Fate’s Door tells the story of a sea nymph from the Middle Sea (the Mediterranean) who has taken a post as handmaiden to the three fates in the farthest north of Scandia (Scandinavia).

hipposandal 0

I envisioned my story telling of the heartbreaking dilemma she faces while fulfilling the duties of her post.

It’s her job to set out the materials the fates need for each day’s weaving. But on the terrible day that begins my story, she must set out the threads that will kill someone she loves very much, when the fates weave the threads into their tapestry fabric.

Must she do it? Or is there some way to subvert fate?

It turned out there was more to my story than I’d envisioned. A lot more! I’m closing toward the finish now, in July, but my word count is 115,000 words. Many more than the 25,000 I first thought would be enough. I expect to write another 30,000 words and complete the manuscript in early August.

My heroine has just finished crossing Európi (Europe) on horseback. In order to write about her journey, I did a lot of research about horses and, especially, horse gear.

In the 4th century BC, riders didn’t have the benefit of saddles or stirrups, but they did have the cushioning of a thick, felted blanket that was wrapped around the horse and secured snugly under its barrel.

Horseshoes were not invented until 500 AD, more than 800 years after my tale. But charioteers, cavalrymen, and traders were well aware that their horses needed hoof protection on paved roads and rough rocky ground. The hoof of a horse is made of keratin, the same stuff that composes hair and toenails. It wears down quickly on rough ground, and a horse without protection will quickly go lame.

So what did the ancients do?

hipposandal 3

They devised the hipposandal. The earliest soles were made of plaited straw or broom and strapped onto the horse’s hooves. They could only be used once, and for a short time, before they wore out. The ancient Romans later termed them Soleae Sparteae, but my tale takes place when the ancient Greeks were the dominant culture in the Mediterranean, so I do not use the Roman term.

hipposandal 1

The horse “sandal” was improved to become a thick leather sole, studded with bronze cleats. The bronze cleats would protect the leather from wearing down so quickly and could be replaced when the bronze wore thin. The cleats presumably also gave better traction.

This is the form of horse sandal protecting the hooves of my heroine’s horse.

One source I read compared them to the jungle boots worn by US soldiers in World war II in places such as New Guinea, the Philipines, and Burma. I could not find any illustrations or diagrams of these leather and bronze horse sandals, but I did locate a photograph of the sole of a bronze-studded jungle boot, which I used to make a drawing of same. The horse sandal would, of course be shaped to fit a horse hoof, not a human foot, but I think you get the idea.

hipposandal 2

The ancient Romans made more improvements, creating the official hipposandal or Soleae Ferreae made of forged iron, but still attached to the hoof with straps wrapped around the horse’s hoof and pastern. But evidence for this improvement does not appear until the 1st century AD, long after the events in Fate’s Door.

hipposandal 4The actual horseshoe, nailed to the horse’s hooves, does not appear until the 5th century AD amongst the Gauls.

Although Fate’s Door is fantasy – with sea nymphs and fates as characters – my conceit is that it occurs in the 4th century BC of our world, but our world as it might have been if the ancient gods and goddesses of Greek and Norse mythology were real. So I want the historical aspects to be as close as I can make them to accurate. Which means a lot of research into things like harbor building techniques, the “Amber Road” used by traders to bring amber from the Baltic Sea to the Aegean, and hipposandals.

I find it all fascinating and hope to share more of my findings with you. 😀

For the opening to Fate’s Door, see:
Fate’s Door: The Well of Destiny

For more about Nerine’s world, see:
Knossos, Center of Minoan Culture
Measurement in Ancient Greece
Garb of the Sea People

 

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Knossos, Center of Minoan Culture

Fresco from the palace of Knossos, ladies of the courtI’m currently writing a story about a sea nymph of ancient times who becomes handmaiden to the three fates.

The story keeps growing on me. When I first wrote the opening for it in 2013, I thought it would be a short story. When I decided to go beyond the opening and complete the work, I thought it was more likely a novella, perhaps 20,000 words.

After I started writing it this January, I realized it would be a longish novella, perhaps 35,000 words.

Floorplan of KnossosAnd once I was well into the project, and had expanded the outline, I knew it would be a novel. Anywhere between 50,000 and 80,000 words. Yikes!

But I want to tell this story right, which means I can’t skip those middle scenes that hadn’t seemed necessary when the idea for it first sprang. One of the advantages of the indie world is that the writer can allow the story to go to the length it needs.

So I’ve been writing Fate’s Door for 5 weeks now, and I’ve discovered another element that makes this a challenging project. It’s the most research-intense book I’ve written yet.

Scale Model of KnossosWhen the scope of the narrative was confined to the northern cottage of the three fates, I had to research looms and spinning and other details about textiles. But that was all.

Now that I’m including events from my protagonist’s life before she came north, I’m needing to research much, much more. Coral reefs, fossilized coral reefs, marine life, islands in the Mediterranean, history of the ancient world, and so on.

I find it all fascinating. (You knew I would!) But wow! Every time I start a new scene I realize I need to know some additional tidbit in order to write it properly.

My latest foray into research concerned Knossos, the palace on Crete built in 1950 BCE. My heroine grew up in a fringe reef off the coast of a Mediterranean island near Tunisia. She soon goes ashore and encounters the land folk who live there. Which meant I needed to know more about them.

I had already decided that even though the time frame of my story is more eternal than chronological – because it’s about the numina of the ancient world, gods and goddesses of the waters and the archetypes – it still takes place within the framework of history, during the time of Alexander the Great.

But the island where my heroine goes ashore is far from the battles of Alexander’s great conquest.

I decided to model my Zakynthians after the Minoans of Crete. Perhaps they were a remnant of Minoan civilization that had survived the downfall of Knossos on Crete. Like the earlier Minoans, they were seafarers and a power on the water. They built fleets of warships to protect their realm. They built another fleet of trading vessels. And they grew rich.

Artist's Rendering of Knossos

Their palace would be modeled on ancient Knossos, one of the most magnificent buildings of the older world.

So I researched Knossos. It was, indeed, impressive.

The palace took up 6 acres, with many corridors and small inner courts all arranged around one great central court. An aqueduct from springs on a mountaintop 6 miles away supplied it with water and actually ran fountains with the water pressure. Pipes from the aqueduct brought running water right into the palace.

Reconstructed Facade of Knossos

The palace was constructed of limestone using a post-and-lintel system. Tree trunks formed decorative pillars. Squared off wooden beams created decorative elements within the stone walls, as well as outlining doors and some windows. Light shafts brought light and ventilation to interior rooms.

A red wash colored the stone floors, and frescoes adorned the interior walls. The queen’s chambers included a toilet that was flushed by pouring a pitcher of water which cleared the basin and ran out into a separate sewer system. The Minoans of Knossos had advanced water handling skills!

Dolphin Room at Knossos

The palace was much more than a royal residence. It did house the royal family, but it also served as the seat of government for the adjacent city, the center of commerce, and the hub of religious life. The complex included a theater.

Extensive food storage and processing workrooms made up a large portion of Knossos. There were grain mills, olive oil presses, and wine presses on the premises. And a multitude of storage “magazines” held massive urns (or pithoi) in pits, so that the opening was at floor level. Olives, olive oil, dried figs and dates, honey, grain, wine, and dried beans are some of the staples stored in these urns. When they were full, they weighed tons.

Pithoi of Knossos

I sometimes wish I could visit the past to experience places like Knossos. No doubt that’s part of the charm of time travel novels for me. 😀

If you could visit a time and place out of history, what time and what place would it be?

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

 

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Justice in Auberon

Balance ScalesPerilous Chance will soon release in paperback! I’m excited about it and have all-things-perilous-and-chancy on my mind, so I’m going to share a series of blog posts relating to my story. The first is this one about the justice system used in Auberon, where Perilous Chance takes place.

For those of you who haven’t read Perilous Chance, Clary – an 11-year-old girl – is its protagonist, and she encounters the legal system in the course of her adventure.

* * *

Clary’s uncle, Arteme ni Calcinides, serves as Justicar of the Peace for his lething. (A lething is a subdivision of a worthing. A worthing is similar to a county. Auberon possesses eighteen worthing.)

Being Justicar means Arteme presides over his Court Justicarate when issues such as petty theft, disorderly conduct, or trespass arise. And dispenses summary justice, without formality, for smaller offenses: wearing inappropriate bathing costume, grazing your cow on your neighbor’s land, moving a road sign, and the like.

Arteme passes no judgment on more serious crimes. Burglary, arson, and assault and battery all get referred to the next higher court, the Quintary Sessions, held five times a year and presided over by three Lord Justicars.

The worst breaches go higher still.

Murder and kidnapping must be tried at the Courts of Assidere, convened as necessary.

And treason goes all the way to the Morofane’s Bench.

The structure of Auberon’s judicial courts looks like this:

The Rofanes’ Council
(highest court in Auberon)
I
The Morofane’s Bench
(royal decrees may be challenged, treason tried)
I
Court of Appeals
(hears appeals from lower courts)
I
Courts of Assidere
(hears cases referred by the Quintary Sessions)
I
Quintary Sessions
(tries felonies and hears civil cases)
I
Courts Justicarate
(tries misdemeanors and infractions, refers felonies)
(Areteme’s court is a Court Justicarate)

A Chancery Court – apart from the criminal justice establishment –
handles mercantile law, land law, and trusts.

Thus, when Clary and her family arrive at Arteme’s manor house, reporting their witnessing of a violent death, the Rofane must go investigate.

If the events prove to be death by misadventure, the case need go no further. But if murder is suspected, Arteme must refer the case to the Quintary Sessions along with a suspect and all the evidence pointing to that suspect. The Rofane has quite a job cut out for him!

Luckily, he has help.

In the distant past, his help would have consisted of the knights under his rule and their squires. But in these “modern” times, the Royal Judiciary appoints and funds a secretary – to handle records – as well as twenty stave-men – to make arrests – and five warders – to supervise the stave-men and handle especially challenging criminal situations.

However, these twenty-five men on active duty must secure the entire lething. As Arteme departs to investigate the scene of the death, he has only four of them at hand.

* * *

For more about Perilous Chance:
Clary’s Cottage
Not Monday, But Lundy
Notes on Chance
Cover Creation: Perilous Chance

 

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The Simiae

bull, crab, sea goat, ram depicted as art nouveau line drawings

Modern western culture recognizes 88 constellations. I don’t have that list memorized.

But when I reached a particular point in writing Devouring Light, I grew certain that among those 88 patterns must be a great ape. How could there not be?

I could see Mercurio (my protagonist) conversing with a wise and ancient primate while perched on the massive bough of a rainforest tree in a starry jungle of the eighth sphere. I could hear them speaking.

And there’re tons of animals included in the constellations. The familiar ram, bull, and great bear (Aries, Taurus, and Ursa Major). Plus a boatload of more obscure ones, such as the hunting dogs, the goldfish, and the peacock.A goddess of ancient times under a volcanic sun

There must be an ape. Or, better yet, apes in the plural.

So I went looking. Eagle, swan, and wolf. No ape.

Centaur, pegasus, and unicorn. No ape.

Even microscope, table, and furnace! But no ape.

What about other cultures?

Traditional Chinese star groupings have the three enclosures – Purple Forbidden, Supreme Palace, and Heavenly Market – and the 28 mansions within them. Among those, the winnowing basket, the turtle beak, the ghost, and the chariot sound pretty cool. But no ape!

black and white photo of 2 Japanese women using winnowing baskets

Dash it! I’d been sure I’d find a reference to a wise great ape somewhere in oriental star lore. But I hadn’t. And I knew Mercurio met with the chieftain of “elder cousins” manifesting the form of apes.

Luckily…I’m a fiction writer! If I couldn’t find an existing mythology involving apes, I’d create one!

I felt drawn toward language for inspiration, so that’s where I looked next.

The Latin for monkey is simius (male), simia (female), and simiae (plural). My constellation would be the Simiae – the Apes.

What about the English word? What are the origins for the word monkey?

Obscure! It might derive from a character named Moneke in a German version of a fable entitled Reynard and the Fox, published around 1580. Hmm. No juice there. At least, not for me.

black brush strokes on white backgroundI eventually wound up on a Wikipedia page about the Chinese pictograph for monkey.

I went looking for that page as I wrote this blog post. And could not find it. I almost wonder if I imagined it – except I didn’t.

This time (while attempting to retrace my steps) I arrived at an article with the title “Monkeys in Chinese Culture,” which informs me that, “Monkeys, particularly macaques and gibbons, have played significant roles in Chinese culture for over two thousand years.”

And, further, that Chinese deities were said to appear at times in the guise of monkeys, while many Chinese mythological creatures resembled monkeys or apes.

Now that would have been very useful when I approached writing the monkey scene in Devouring Light.

However, the notes on the pictograph proved fertile ground. I read of the various pronunciations for the word in Cantonese, Mandarin, Korean, and so on.

From them, I derived the names of my Simiae.

Old Jyutping, the chieftain, wise and earthy (despite his celestial nature) and indigo-furred.

Saru, who is nimble, beautiful, and clever – with fuschia fur.

Pinyin Hou enjoys riddles and sports a pelt of lime green.

Ko indulges in practical jokes, as well as the polar opposite: meditation. His fur is bright cyan.

All four are superb gymnasts and acrobats.

I wrote my scene. It remains one of my favorites! 😀

The Simiae

For more about Devouring Light:
Draco the Dragon
Mercury the Planet
Roman Dining

 

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Why Did the Three Goats Cross the River?

When I started writing Crossing the Naiad, I knew that Kimmer’s goats weren’t as healthy as they ought to be. The rural people of Silmaren wouldn’t have access to the vitamin and mineral supplements that modern day herders do or even that wealthier farmers in my North-lands possess.

Curious GoatsI also knew that sometimes the plants growing in pasture aren’t the right ones to ensure the animals grazing there receive all the nutrients they need.

Thus Kimmer would need to take the family goats to better pasturage to improve their health.

Once away from the familiar environs of home, she encounters a perilous remnant from the ancient past and the story unfolds.

So far, so good.

But, while some writers could take the narrative from there, I’m not one of them! I needed to know what the missing nutrient was, what symptoms it might cause, and what plant could remedy the problem.

So I started digging.

And came up with a promising candidate right away: copper.

Craigieburn Valley, Canterbury, New ZealandAnemia, weak bones (particularly in the young), poor wound healing, and frequent infections are all symptoms of copper deficiency. That sounded plenty “dowly” enough – as Kimmer calls it – to me.

There are several circumstances that can cause lack of copper in pasturage.

Peaty and acid soils are deficient in copper, especially moorland soils. If you’ve got heather, wild bilberries, birch, rowan and pine growing on your land, then it is moorland and the soil simply hasn’t got much copper in it. Thus the plants lack it as well.

Silmaren doesn’t have much heather, but all the other plants on that list are common. Bingo!

Interestingly, lime soils also cause copper deficiency, but not because the soil lacks the mineral. Lime soils increase the bio-availabilty of molybdenum several fold. And high levels of molybdenum interfere with the utilization of copper in the body. I doubt this is the issue in Silmaren, however.

Acid rainfall could be the culprit. Silmaren has newly entered the age of steam, and produces steam largely by the burning of coal. The city of Andamn is a major mining center, and Kimmer’s hamlet – while rural – lies close enough to feel the effects of pollution. Acid rain possesses a heavy sulphur content. High sulphur levels in herbage suppress the uptake of copper from the soil. Voila! Copper-poor plants.

Finally, the mix of plants in the pasture may simply be one that doesn’t feature copper. Most wild grasses are poor in copper. And that is what Kimmer and, indeed all of her neighbors, must contend with. They depend largely on the bounty of nature. What grows is what they have.

Cocksfoot, a wild grassRed clover and yarrow are rich in copper, but the meadows of their hamlet lack these plants. Wild grasses and more wild grasses were nature’s gift.

Luckily the wild grass named cocksfoot does have copper. It’s been overgrazed in the pastures close to home, but thrives in more distant grasslands. That is what Kimmer seeks.

Once I’d researched that much I felt confidant enough to proceed with my story.

As is usual for many writers, most of my research never appears directly on the page.

In Crossing the Naiad, all of the above generated:

Mama said the goats were dowly because they needed copper salts. A spell of cropping the cocksfoot in the foothills beyond the river would put them right.

And it seemed she was correct.

web imageIf every three sentences in my stories demanded this kind of research, I’d not be happy. But that’s not the case. The preparations for Naiad required that I know a little bit about goat nutrition and that I devise the the history of the naiad whose will Kimmer crosses. That sufficed for generating the confidence I need for storytelling.

I always do some research. And I always do some pre-planning. After that, the story takes over.

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Draco the Dragon

Several constellations receive mention in my novella, Devouring Light. Cygnus the Swan soars across the eighth sphere. The Great Bear lumbers along its vast curve. And, embracing the freedom of fiction, I created a few constellations unknown to Earth’s history: the Simiae and the Winged Bulls.

But one constellation alone features prominently in my story: Draco.

Blue Dragon Tattoo

Older by far than the planetary spirits, Draco is a wily, jaded creature who’s forgotten the pleasures of living in his neck of the universe. His capricious response to his boredom pushes first Mercurio, and then Haden, toward action that summons catastrophe.

Of course, many an ancient legend about the dragon preceded my own Devouring Light.

According to the ancient Greeks, a dragon named Ladon guarded the garden of Hera, queen of the gods. Within Hera’s garden grew a grove of trees with golden apples that bestowed immortality upon their eater. Nymphs – the Hesperides – tended the garden and occasionally stole the apples. Ladon was given the task of preventing such theft, whether by the nymphs or by other intruders.

The Garden of the Hesperides by Frederic LeightonDespite Ladon’s watchful ferocity, two renowned trespassers managed to steal apples. Eris, the goddess of discord, inscribed her stolen fruit with the phrase “to the most beautiful.” When she rolled the apple into a wedding (from which she had been excluded), she started the Trojan Wars.

Hercules was the other interloper. Of the twelve labors given him, the eleventh was the theft from Hera’s grove. He didn’t attempt the feat himself. Instead he offered Atlas a break from holding up the world, if Atlas were do the deed. Atlas possessed the advantage of being the father of the Hesperides, and he liked the idea of a rest for his shoulders. In fact, he liked it so much that he refused to exchange the stolen apples for the world. He didn’t want it back.

Hercules agreed to take Atlas’ place permanently, so long as he could first rearrange his cloak. Naturally, once Atlas again bore the world on his own shoulders, Hercules did not keep his promise. Not much honor amongst those Greek gods and heroes!

In one version of the myth, Ladon is rewarded for his long vigil by being enthroned in the sky as a constellation. Certainly, the two constellations – Draco and Hercules – are near one another in the heavens.

The ancient Romans told a different tale about the dragon. Draco was one of the Titans, monsters who fought the Olympian gods for dominion over the earth. The war was grievous and long. In the final battle, when the Olympians prevailed, the goddess Minerva confronted Draco. She won and tossed the defeated dragon into the sky. Frozen by the cold northern Celestial Pole, he stayed there for eternity.

In addition to its mythological importance, Draco also possesses elements of interest to astronomy.

The star Thuban – head of the serpent – shines within Draco. It’s a blue-white giant and occupied the position of pole star from 3942 BC to 1793 BC. The ancient Egyptians noted this and built their pyramids with one side facing north and an entrance there that permitted Thuban to be seen within. Because the Earth wobbles on its axis – a cycle that takes 26,000 years – Thuban will become the pole star again in 21,000 AD.

Cat's Eye NebulaThe Cat’s Eye Nebula is located in Draco. It possesses one of the most complex shapes ever seen through the Hubble Space Telescope. Created 1,000 years ago by an exploding star, the nebula features knots, jets, bubbles, and arc-like structures.

The quasar Q1634+706 also inhabits Draco. 12.9 billion light years away, it’s so bright that it’s the most distant object that can yet be seen through an amateur telescope.

And, finally, Draco hosts the meteor shower known as the February Eta Draconids.

On the cultural side of things, I am not the only artist inspired by Draco.

The film Dragonheart presents the constellation as a heaven to which the spirit of any dragon ascends after death, if it has upheld an ancient dragonish oath to guard mankind. The Russian chess master master Fyodo Dus-Chotimirsky named the chess opening of the Sicilian Defense the Dragon Variation, after the constellation. And J.K. Rowling named her antagonist, Draco Malfoy, in the Harry Potter series after the starry Draco.

For more fun trivia behind Devouring Light, see:
What Do Celestials Wear?
The Oort Cloud
The Graces

 

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Mercury the Planet

Mercurio, the protagonist of Devouring Light, tends the planet closest to our sun.

I envisioned Mercury as a heat-scorched ball of rock, but I hoped to report on some of its interesting quirks as I told my story. “Does it possess any?” I wondered. Somewhat dubiously, I must admit.

MercuryI needn’t have worried. The universe is a quirky place, and Mercury is no exception. It abounds with quirks.

One of the coolest things is its huge, liquid iron core. For a long time astronmers assumed Mercury was a solid ball of rock, like our moon. Nope. Mercury’s core is not only molten, but large compared to the size of the planet.

Why is it so large?

While the sun was forming out of a giant whirling cloud of dust and gas, the planets were forming, too. But the dust cloud traveled around the sun a little more slowly than the coalescing planets. The cloud, particularly dense near the proto-sun, dragged away many of the lighter elements in Mercury’s orbit, leaving it with lots of heavy iron.

Why is it still liquid?

Tides caused by the sun!

Just as Earth’s moon causes a bulge of water to travel around the globe, the sun causes a bulge of magma to travel around Mercury’s core. But the sun’s tides on Mercury are 17 times stronger than the moon’s on Earth. Not only do they pull the molten core, they also flex the crust, causing it to bulge.

Four terrestrial planets

Additionally, Mercury’s eccentric orbit is very eccentric. At perihelion, the planet’s closest approach, the sun is 29,000,000 miles away. At aphelion, the sun’s 43,000,000 miles away. The eccentric orbit makes the tides particularly vigorous. It’s almost like Mercury’s core is being stirred by a giant egg beater!

Its core has cooled a little bit over the billions of years that have passed since the planet’s birth, however. How do we know? Mercury’s surface is striped by numerous narrow ridges called rupes. They were created when the core cooled just enough to shrink a little. The crust – already solid – wrinkled.

Okay, three more cool things about Mercury.

Mercury has magnetic tornadoes!

It’s that molten core combined with the close proximity to the sun that again creates an unusual phenomenon.

Tornado

(Yes, the photo above shows a tornado of wind, not magnetism, but you get the idea!)

The large, liquid iron at the core – spinning as it does – means that Mercury possesses a strong magnetic field. Strong enough to protect the surface from the solar wind, just as Earth’s magnetosphere protects us.

But! Mercury’s magnetic field is so strong that it actually captures pieces of the low-temperature plasma that is the solar wind. And those plasma tendrils possess their own magnetic field. The plasma’s magnetic field clashes with Mercury’s magnetic field to produce magnetic vortexes – “tornadoes” – up to 500 miles wide!

At the center of the tornado is a window open to the full force of the sun’s blast.

Apparently Earth has these magnetic tornadoes as well, but those on Mercury are bigger and happen ten times more often.

Okay, second cool fact.

Mercury has ice at its poles!

With surface temperatures between 530º F and 800º F, how is this possible? And, if it has polar caps, why don’t we see them?

Ice at Mercury's poles

Well, first of all, not all of Mercury is hot.

The planet doesn’t have the axial tilt that Earth does. It spins nearly straight up and down. (At a tilt of .027 degrees, it has the least tilt of every planet in the solar system. Uranus, with a tilt of 98 degrees, has the most.) The angle of the sun is steep at the poles. And there is no atmosphere to spread the heat around.

So the poles are cold at -135º F. It’s even colder at the bottom of the craters at the poles: -276º F. And that’s where the ice is. Not a lot of ice. About enough to cover a square that’s 8 miles per side with 2 or 3 miles of ice. But ice nonetheless! And it’s shiny. Reflecting light that’s visible from space, when you use a big enough telescope.

Mercury's north pole

Now for that third cool fact.

Mercury has hot spots!

But they’re not volcanic. In fact, Mercury’s volcanic days are long gone, a billion years in the past. So how does it have hot spots?

Mercury’s slow rotation on its axis combines with its quick journey around the sun to produce them. Here’s how.

Mercury spins 3 times on its axis for every 2 times that it travels around the sun. It’s got one heck of a long day! And at perihelion – when it’s closest to the sun – high noon lasts 16 Earth days.

At perihelion, Mercury is traveling so fast around the sun (faster than at the most distant point in its orbit, aphelion) that its own spin can’t keep up. The sun burns down on one spot – high noon – for more than 2 Earth weeks! That makes a hot spot. And one Mercury year later, the opposite side of the planet receives that 16-day high noon. Another hot spot!

The solar system

I still have trouble wrapping my brain around that one, but wow!

Merucury features yet more cool quirks. Its exosphere. The Assyrian and Babylonian astronomers who first observed it. Why modern astronomers before 1965 thought Mercury spun once on its axis for every one circuit around the sun.

I wish I could have crammed them all into Devouring Light! But story comes first when I’m writing fiction. The hot spots made it in. The magnetic tornadoes and the polar ice did not. Nor any of the other fun facts. But I’m sure glad the story prompted me to learn more about our inmost planet. I’d no idea it was such a fascinating place.

For more about Mercury, see these articles at Wikipedia:
Mercury
Mercury’s Exosphere
Exploration of Mercury

For more about the lore behind Devouring Light, see these posts on my blog:
The Heliosphere
Roman Dining
The Celestial Spheres of Sol

 

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