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?

*     *     *

For the first three 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)

To purchase and read Fate’s Door: Amazon I B&N I iTunes I Kobo I Smashwords
 

 

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Brocade and Drawlooms

Brocade sampleBefore I learned about yunjin brocade, I’d assumed that my norns in Fate’s Door would weave upon a floor loom, something like the weaver I saw working in historic Williamsburg.

I hadn’t really thought through the process of weaving and the type of weaving necessary to the norns, creating the destiny of the world on their loom.

Floor looms can create beautiful cloth with some wonderful patterns. But the pattern has a limit to its complexity, and that pattern is repeated over and over again.

floor loom diagramThat would never work for the norns. While a larger theme or pattern might repeat through an era of history – the age of classical Greece or the time of republic Rome – the detail within that pattern would vary considerably. And when the world moved on, from ancient times to the Middle Ages, for example, the old pattern would vanish entirely, with a new one springing up.

A floor loom might have an array of heddles (which control the pattern of the weave), but once those heddles were threaded, the pattern for the fabric is unvarying.

My norns would need something more complex than a floor loom.

I read about dobby looms and jacquard looms and even modern power looms, but none of them possessed the kind of flexibility required.

Then I encountered yunjin brocade, woven in Nanjing, China for over 2,000 years. As I studied the textile samples, I saw that the patterns produced were more complex than anything I’d seen thus far.

Dragon robe of the Chinese emperor QianlongMore interesting still were examples of emperor’s robes woven by the piece on the yunjin looms and then assembled from those pieces. They were not cut from the woven silk. Rather each piece was woven to the correct shape and size, ready to be sewn to the other pieces after each came off the loom.

Even more important, the patterns in these pieces changed throughout each piece. The hem of the sleeve might have one pattern, the length of the sleeve another, and the shoulder yet another.

Essentially, an ever-changing tapestry could be created by this ancient and intricate method of weaving.

I had found the loom my norns would weave at.

But, wow, was that loom a monster!

It measured 18 feet long, 4.5 feet wide, 13 feet tall (5.6 meters long, 1.4 meters wide, and 4 meters tall). It takes at least two people to use it. The weaver sits before the loom on a bench, passing the weft threads through the long warp threads. The picker sits aloft, picking different patterns of draw strings to create the openings in the warp threads (called “sheds”) for the weaver to pass the weft threads through.

Yunjin brocade loom

Because the norns must weave a wider cloth – they have the whole world to include – a third person is needed: someone to throw the shuttle when a thread must pass the whole width of the cloth. The weaver’s arms are not long enough to both toss the shuttle at one side and catch it at the other.

But the need for three was perfect for my story. The fates – whether they be the Greek moirai or the Roman parcae or the Norse norns – are always three.

I would have my weaver, my patterner (the picker), and my shuttle-catcher.

And it was appropriate that the loom of fate – the loom that wove the births and deaths and deeds of all alive – should be a “monster.” Any device with so much power should have something monstrous about it.

The video below shows a yunjin drawloom in action, as well as explaining some of the other intricacies of the ancient craft of yunjin brocade.

I found it fascinating! (But you probably already knew that I would. 😀 )

For more about the world of Fate’s Door, see:
Cottage of the Norns
The Norns of Fate’s Door
The Baltic Sea
The Ancient Goths
Lugh and the Lunasad
Crossing the Danube
The Keltoi of Európi
Vertical Looms
Names in Ancient Greece

For more about brocade and looms, see:
About Looms
About Brocade
About Yunjin
Saving Yunjin

 

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Cottage of the Norns

Sketch of the cottage of the norns

My first experience of the cottage where my norns in Fate’s Door live was through the eyes of Nerine, their handmaiden.

It’s the the end of winter, when the trees are leafless and the long grasses matted and dead. The stone cottage looks bleak without the flowering vines that adorn it in spring and summer and turn flaming red in autumn.

From the outside, the cottage seems a simple two-room affair. But when you go in . . . ah!

The front space isn’t two small rooms, but one large one, made bright with quilted orange window coverings and a rag rug of blues and greens. It’s sparsely furnished. Just a round table and chairs, a corner cabinet, pegs for cloaks, and a generous armoire for storage.

Hearth fireThe fire in the hearth on the left is usually banked, because the norns spend more time weaving than relaxing.

But where was the loom? The great loom on which fate was woven?

I followed Nerine as she passed through a door in the back wall. There was the loom!

It was huge and possessed a monstrous presence. Even Nerine – accustomed to it at this point in the story – could not ignore the loom’s power as she went about gathering threads and other supplies for the day’s weaving.

wool on shelfShe rooted amongst the shelves and cabinets along the walls, always aware of the loom.

I didn’t see the rest of the cottage until later – after an uncomfortable confrontation with the norns themselves.

Shaken, Nerine walked down a hallway leading from the back wall of the weaving chamber to her room. And then I knew that her room, as well as the chambers of the norns, all lay off that hallway.

At that point, I drew a quick sketch of the floorplan to keep the arrangement of the cottage straight in my mind.

I’d always imagined that I worked out the designs of the houses and palaces in my stories before I wrote the scenes that take place in them. After all, I drew a colossal plan for the cavern palace – the Lainkath – in Troll-magic before I wrote the scenes that took place there. Or so I remembered it.

But my memory was playing me false.

Lorelin entered the the great hall of that palace first, was served a meal in its luncheon parlor, played the spinet in its music room, and was shown her bedchamber, before I realized I needed to draw a map to keep it all straight.

So my experience of the cottage of the norns is, in fact, typical.

I see the places in my stories through my characters’ eyes first. And then – when necessary – I draw maps and floorplans to make sure the rooms stay in the right places as I write subsequent scenes. 😀

I drew a tidier floorplan to show the layout of the norns’ cottage to you (below), as well as a sketch of the cottage as it appears to Nerine in the second scene of the book Fate’s Door (above).

Floorplan of the norns' cottage

For more about Nerine’s world, see:
The Norns of Fate’s Door
The Baltic Sea
The Ancient Goths
Lugh and the Lunasad
Crossing the Danube
The Keltoi of Európi
Vertical Looms
Names in Ancient Greece
Warships of the Ancient Mediterranean

 

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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.

*     *     *

For the next extra chapter from Fate’s Door, see:
Hera’s Handmaidens (Eilidh’s Farewell)

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

To purchase and read Fate’s Door: Amazon I B&N I iTunes I Kobo I Smashwords
 

 

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The Norns of Fate’s Door

The Three Moirai by Johann Gottfried Schadow

The three Fates appeared in many of the mythologies of ancient Europe. They were often envisioned as goddesses weaving on a loom, the tapestry thus created shaping the destinies of both mortals and gods.

The Spinner by William-Adolphe BouguereauThe ancient Greeks had the three Moirai. The word moira meant portion or share or lot of booty or treasure, and over time came to refer to one’s portion or lot in life, one’s fate.

Clotho, the spinner, spun the thread of life, the animating energy that gifted mortal and immortal with awareness and existence. She was also said to be a singer, singing of the things that are, the present.

Lachesis was the allotter or the drawer of lots, and she measured the thread of life meted out to each individual with her measuring rod. The beginning mark signified birth, while the ending mark was death. When she joined her sisters in song, she sang of the things that were, the past.

Atropos was “the unturning one,” also called inexorable or inevitable. She chose the nature of each person’s death, and when that dread moment arrived, cut the thread of life with her knife. She sang of the things that would be, the future.

The ancient Romans had their own version of the Fates: the Parcae, the goddesses of destiny.

The Parcae by Alfred AgacheNona, named after the ninth month of pregnancy, spun the thread of life. Decima, also revered as the goddess of childbirth, measured the thread of life with her rod. And Morta, the “Dead One,” chose the manner of each indiviual’s death and cut the thread of life.

It’s worth noting the slightly different connotations connected to “destiny” versus “fate.” Fate implies that the events of an individual’s life are ordered, inevitable, and unavoidable. While destiny refers to the finality of events as they have worked themselves out through the passage of time.

I can’t help wondering if the Romans conceived of a little “wiggle room” being available to the individual in the form of choice, where the Greeks may have believed that their lives were entirely predestined. I don’t have the answer to that question, but the Fates I portray in Fate’s Door adhere more to the Roman ideal of destiny than the Greek one of fate.

The Norns by Johannes GehrtsGiven that my story – Fate’s Door – is set in the 4th century BC, when the Hellene culture was ascendant, why didn’t I use the Greek personifications of the Fates? Why did I chose the Norse Norns instead?

Perhaps the most honest answer is simply that the Greek Morai felt wrong for the roles in Fate’s Door, but there were a few more elements that had bearing on my creative vision.

For one, the Greek Morai are often portrayed as living in some desolate region far from the bounds of civilization. A wilderness at the foot of craggy mountains on the edge of the world. Or a dry and desert region below a looming cliff of black rock. They certainly lived nowhere near Mount Olympus.

If my Fates dwelt in the far north, as I envisioned them, then wouldn’t the mythologies of the Nordic peoples influence their manifestation?

The Hellenes might envision them as the Morai and speak of them as Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos. But just as the Keltoi developed a different vision for Hermes and called him Lugh, so the northern Scandians would have their own idea of the Fates. The Norns might easily conform more closely to the Scandian ideal, even while the Greeks pursued their own vision.

My other reason for choosing the Norse Norns is more subtle, having to do with the cosmology of my story, and how I mapped the mythologies of the ancient world onto the history of that world.

I imagine the greater deities such as Zeus and Athena as arising from the cultural consciousness of the times. They possess more definition and permanence than the lesser demi-gods and nature spirits representing specific localities, such as the the Hippocrene Springs, or cultural concepts such as loyalty and honor.

Thus, while Zeus is always Zeus, the naiad of the Hippocrene Springs merely holds that role for a limited time, and passes on to another station or post when she is ready for a change.

Sea spirits (nereides), tree spirits (dryads), mountain spirits (oreads) and more animated the cosmos of the ancients.

A Naiad by John William Waterhouse

My Fates are time spirits, going back to the earliest of eras when sewing needles were invented in 19,000 BC in pre-historic France, or even earlier when thread was created from flax in 36,000 BC in Russia-to-be.

The very first weaver of destiny was a goddess, Mother Holle, working at a primitive ground loom. But as humanity acquired greater sophistication, and their world view grew more complex, Mother Holle acquired helpers – spirits of time, the Norns – and eventually abdicated her role to her helpers entirely.

As humans developed better weaving tools, the Norns benefited as well. Although the task of transferring the tapestry of the world from a ground loom to a vertical loom must have been formidable indeed.

vintage and ancient scissorsBecause my Norns are spirits of time, they have some access to both the past and the future. Some of their materials, such as pivoting scissors instead of spring scissors, come from the future, as does the complex brocade loom that they are using when Nerine arrives.

Of course, my Norns don’t conform exactly to the Norse Urthr (“fate”), Verthandi (“in the making”), and Skuld (“debt” or “future”).

Instead, I have Tynghed (derived from the Welsh “destiny”), Eowys (Anglo-Saxon “horse-wise”), and Orroch (Early English “oar”). I suspect that Urthr, Verthandi, and Skuld might have served the great loom of fate sometime after my story takes place, in the centuries when the Roman Empire dominated and the Germanic tribes – with their Norse dieties – nibbled at the Roman borders.

But like their later counterparts, my Tynghed, Eowys, and Orroch draw water from the Well of Fate, with which to water the World Tree, and they watch the visions of destiny in the Well’s dark magic.

Fate by Alphonse Mucha

For more about the world of Fate’s Door, see:
The Baltic Sea
The Ancient Goths
Lugh and the Lunasad
Crossing the Danube
The Keltoi of Európi
Vertical Looms
Names in Ancient Greece
Warships of the Ancient Mediterranean
Calendar of the Ancient Mediterranean

For more about the three Fates, see:
The Moirai
The Parcae
The Norns

 

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The Baltic Sea

Baltic Sea near KarklėThe Baltic Sea caused me all kinds of trouble in my writing of Fate’s Door.

First of all came the problem of what to call the dang thing.

I ran into this issue throughout the entire novel. The names from antiquity that get quoted everywhere are the ancient Roman names. There was the Mare Nostrum (Mediterranean) and the trireme (Greek trieres) and Karthago versus Karkhedon.

In some cases, I simply went with modern usage. Carthage. Why be unnecessarily obscure?

But Fate’s Door is set during the Hellenistic era when the ancient Greek world view dominated the Mediterranean. I found I often wanted the Hellene name for a thing. I usually had to dig for it. Lapadoússa, Európi, the Hyrcanian Sea, and so on.

But no matter how much digging I did, I could not find the Hellene name for the Baltic, if there even was one.

Reading about the etymology of “Baltic,” I could see that some version of “balt-” went back through many, many centuries. There was belt, used for two of the Danish Straits (The Belts). A legendary island (in the Baltic?) was named by Pliny (1st century AD) as Baltia. Pytheas (4th century BC – the time of Fate’s Door) named an island Basilia.

Odin's last words to BaldrOther scholars insist that the name originates from the Indo-European root bhel meaning “white” or “fair.” A few Swedish historians believe it derives from the god Balder of Norse mythology.

But I noticed that the etymology of Balder possesses as confused a history as does Baltic. Baldr, baldor, baltas, balths.

I read up on the religious beliefs of the ancient Scandinavian peoples.

They seem to have venerated a sun mother, a spear god, a sword god, and an axe god, who later became Ullin (Mother Holle), Othinn (Odin), Ingr (Freyr), and Thunrar (Thor). Who is to say that there might not have been a forerunner of Balder as well?

Nerine's voyage on the Baltic SeaI decided to go with Balder’s Sea.

But naming this northerly body of water was only the beginning of my tussle with the Baltic.

I’d estimated that my protagonist Nerine departed Mount Olympus around June 7. Her journey across Europe was roughly 1300 miles, which meant that it would take her 87 days. That is, she would arrive on the southern shore of the Baltic on September 2. Was that too late for her final push north?

When did the sun rise and set in Gdansk in September? What about Kemi in Finland? When did the Baltic Sea ice over?

Baltic Sea, March 2000, NASAWhy didn’t I ask these questions earlier? Aack!

Fortunately, my belated research gave me answers that meant I didn’t have to change the dates for Nerine’s departure.

In Gdansk, the sun rises at 5:54 AM on September 2 and sets at 7:35 PM. That’s 13.5 hours of daylight, plenty of time for travelling.

One more question bore on the answers to those above. Just how was Nerine getting from the southern shore to the northern one?

It’s clear that the people of ancient Scandinavia had already mastered boat building. The Gutones (the ancient Goths) in what would eventually become Poland came from either the island of Gotland or from Sweden by boat. All the coastal settlements traded extensively, and that trade arrived by sea. The mountainous terrain of Scandinavia made travel by land very difficult and chancy.

Badekunda stone shipThe cultural emphasis of the ancient Scandinavians on ships is reflected in a preoccupation with sea vessels. Stones outlining the shape of a ship surrounded the old burial mounds, symbolic ships to carry the dead into the afterlife. Their religious images depict the sun mother helped into the morning ship by a magical fish, carried past noon by a powerful sun horse and delivered to the evening ship, where a serpent helps the sun settle.

So Nerine would be going north by boat. But what type of a boat?

The earliest archaeological evidence we have for the vessels of ancient Scandinavia are the ships of Nydam Mose. The site was a sacred lake in the Iron Age, but became a peat bog, an excellent environment for preserving ship timbers. Archaeological digs unearthed three ships there, the largest and oldest made of oak.

Nydamboat.2

The oak ship has been dated to 310 or 320 AD, a good 600 years later than the time of Fate’s Door. But I suspected that this ship could provide clues about the earlier boats.

For one thing, it did not have a sail, but was propelled by 30 oarsmen. That seemed particularly significant, since the later Viking ships did have sails, and its contemporaneous ships of the Mediterranean also possessed sails.

clinker versus carvelThe Nydam Mose ship was clinker built. That is, the planks of the hull overlapped and were riveted together with woolen cloth to seal the seam. It would have been a significant innovation, if the Bronze Age vessels shared that design. Clinker ships are lighter and they can bend and flex, meaning that they withstand the battering of a storm-driven sea intact.

Interesting as I find these details, they weren’t directly pertinent to my story. How fast did the ship move, and how long would it take to row one from Gdansk, Poland to Kemi, Finland?

The oak ship of Nydam Mose was 75 feet long (23 meters) and 13 feet wide (4 meters). It was very close in size to the later Viking ships. And we know how fast the Viking ships were, both under sail and under oar. I would use the oar-driven speed for Nerine’s ship, the Saiwsgaitsa: between 5 and 6 knots (5.75 mph – 6.9 mph).

Nydam Mose ship, interior view

The Viking ships routinely travelled 75 miles per day, favorable winds or no.

At 6 mph, the Saiwsgaitsa would require 12.5 hours to go that far.

I couldn’t imagine the Gutonic oarsmen lingering in camp on shore. They were tough and phlegmatic. They’d be up before the dawn and on the water the moment the sky was light enough to see. And they’d make camp in the evening with just enough daylight remaining to permit the pegging of tents and the gathering of firewood. 12.5 hours was enough.

With 1100 miles to row, the sea journey would take 2 weeks. They’d make the northern shore by September 17.

On September 17, the sun rises in Kemi at 6:47 AM and sets at 7:44 PM. That’s just under 13 hours of daylight. The seafarers would be making a quick turnaround! They needed to get back south before the days grew too short.

The frozen Baltic SeaAnd before ice choked the water.

Ice begins to form in the northernmost reaches of the Baltic in mid-November. By late February, the entire northern half of the sea is frozen, with the peak of the ice falling in March. The thaw begins in April. By June, all of the ice has melted.

Just as experimental archaeologists made reconstructions of ancient Hellene merchant ships and ancient triremes, so did they create a reconstruction of the oak Nydam Mose ship. I wasn’t able to find a cool video of their venture, but in the course of my research on the ancient North, I discovered a wonderful video about Bronze Age Scandinavia.

At the time of Fate’s Door, the Bronze Age has just turned to the early Iron Age, but the dividing line between one era and the next is often much sharper in the history books than it is in the experience of the people who live through the change. I suspect that many facets of Bronze Age Scandinavia persisted into the first century of the Iron Age.

So take a look at these vignettes from the lands around the ancient Baltic Sea.

For more about Nerine’s world, see:
The Ancient Goths
Lugh and the Lunasad
Crossing the Danube
The Keltoi of Európi
Vertical Looms
Names in Ancient Greece
Warships of the Ancient Mediterranean
Calendar of the Ancient Mediterranean
Ground Looms

For more about the ships of Nydam Mose, see:
Nydam Mose on Flickr
Nydam Mose on Wikipedia
The Nydam Ships on NAVIS
The Nordic Bronze Age

 

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Nerine’s Youngest Sister

I cut four chapters from the middle of Fate’s Door.

It was a lot of fun hanging around on Mount Olympus with Nerine and her eldest sister Eilidh. It was even more fun joining Nerine and her youngest sister Agnippe on Mount Helicon.

But I was indulging myself. All that loitering with the Greek gods brought my story to a near stop. So I reduced those chapters to a series of brief vignettes.

But I suspect some of my readers might enjoy dallying within Greek mythology as much as I do.

For those of you who share that taste of mine, here is a part of chapter 19 that was cut from the final manuscript. 😀

19 ~ Agnippe and Mount Helicon

Amidst the chattering opulence of Hera’s handmaidens Nerine possessed neither intimacy nor solitude. And she’d never hankered for luxury.

Groups and clusters seemed the natural mode of the handmaidens. They never walked alone or even in pairs.

All except one.

That one loner was a brunette who wore her hair in a simple braid circling her head, and who chose gowns of pale gray or pastel blue rather than the popular variations on white. When the handmaidens gathered to brush one another’s hair, the brunette sought the fountain shrine to bathe alone. If the handmaidens danced in the meadow, she walked the forest paths. Alone.

Nerine was reluctant to interrupt her solitude. Nor was she certain she wanted to draw attention to her by asking someone. But she was curious about this young woman who didn’t seem to fit in. Why was she on Mount Olympus? What was her role?

Before Nerine could learn much, Eilidh suggested a visit to Agnippe.

“You’re so close,” she said. “What a shame to miss the chance!”

Nerine hadn’t realized Mount Helicon rose nearby. Was her knowledge of Hellene geography so poor? No, she’d forgotten that the winged horses brought locations closer. The ten-day trek to the glades of the muses would be a mere morning’s flight aback a pegasus.

The valleys around Mount Helicon were less wild than the ridges around Mount Olympus – featuring olive groves – and the snow was gone from its peak.

Nerine alit amidst grasses on the mountain skirts, where a group of youths wearing sheepskins slung over one shoulder awaited her. Were they shepherds from the local village?

“Welcome, numen!” said their spokesman. “We shall guide you to the sacred spring.”

This was the first evidence she’d seen of direct contact – rather than spiritual connection – between mortal and divine. The young men clearly knew their way, leading her through bushy laurel trees and tall elms. They spoke in a dialect unfamiliar to her, and cleared fallen twigs from the path as they walked.

The sacred spring issued from a cleft in a low cliff to fill a pool, rushes growing in its shallows, and ringed by crab apple trees and wild roses. The water was very clear, with dancing dapples cast by its motion across the spring bottom.

As Nerine approached, Agnippe rose from the depths to stand amidst the rushes – slender and girlish; not yet entered into full womanhood – water streaming from her pale skin. She wore a belt and pectoral fashioned from small plates of nacre, and the sun lit rainbows in their gleaming surfaces. Her tightly curled blonde hair had grown to hang past her hips. She was luminously beautiful.

The shepherd boys faded away, leaving Nerine alone with her sister.

Agnippe didn’t hesitate – despite her dampness. She leapt to the spring bank to wrap Nerine in glad arms.

“Nerine! Nerine! Oh, Nerine!”

Nerine burst into tears. Seeing Agnippe after so long, feeling Agnippe’s embrace – it overwhelmed her.

“I’ve missed you,” gasped Nerine. “I’ve missed you so much.”

Agnippe laughed tearily. “I’ve got your gown wet. I’m sorry.”

“Can I see your spring? Is it permitted, or–?” Or was only the spring’s guardian allowed to enter the water. Nerine had a sudden longing to be underwater with her sister as though they were both at home in the reef together.

Agnippe waved one hand in a gesture of welcome and smiled, dashing the tears from her cheeks. “Only my permission is needed, and you have it. Come in!”

Nerine slipped out of her gown and entered the water bare, as though she were a little girl, needing no garb save her own skin. The spring was very cold, with that strange edge to it that fresh water possessed, although this felt mellower than the fountain on Mount Olympus.

Minnows darted amongst the rushes in the shallows. A frog hopped, splashing.

The water deepened, and Nerine submerged. Her spiracles opened, and she could taste the spring: sweet and refreshing and with a slight mineral tang that appealed. Agnippe appeared by her side.

“Do you like it? Can you tolerate the freshwater?” She looked anxious.

“It’s lovely. I love it!” Nerine reassured her.

Agnippe wanted to show her everything about her diminutive domain.

The flag lilies growing on the far bank, the gleaming snails, the water-smoothed pebbles, the swimming trout, the crayfish and – best of all – the underwater cave that stretched back under the cliff, with twisting passages and varied chambers. In one, a torrent from the heart of the mountain turned the water frothy with bubbles. In another, a cleft in the rock admitted a shaft of strong sunlight, striking sparkles of gold and silver from the surrounding stone.

Agnippe’s possessions from home occupied the inmost chamber.

Nerine couldn’t help admiring Agnippe’s underwater mansion, but she was relieved when they returned to the outside pool and could see the sky again, its warm blue fractured by the moving surface of the spring above them. The darting fish made the pool feel lively, friendlier, than the cool beauty of the caves.

“Do you stay in the water all the time?” asked Nerine. She’d imagined Agnippe on land, surrounded by the muses, with only brief sojourns in the spring. Why else would Agnippe have required a trousseau as extensive as Eilidh’s?

“Of course not!” Agnippe sounded surprised. She started to explain, then stopped and took Nerine’s hand. “Nerine . . . I don’t want to pry –” she looked younger than she had when Nerine first set eyes on her sister emerging from the water, and her voice sounded uncertain – “but, what are you doing here? I mean –” her voice strengthened – “it’s lovely to see you, but you aren’t just visiting me, are you? You’re traveling far into the north with the intent to stay.”

Agnippe drifted forward to kiss Nerine’s cheek. “I want you to be as happy as I am.”

Uneasiness stirred in Nerine’s belly. How could she explain her decision to her sister? She couldn’t bear to rehash the events that had led up to it. She didn’t want to simply shut Agnippe out by not answering at all. She refused to lie.

Sighing, she attempted to gather her thoughts. “You felt a real calling to be guardian of this spring of inspiration, didn’t you?”

Agnippe nodded.

“And I know Eilidh longed to join Queen Hera’s entourage,” Nerine continued. “She seems . . . more certain, more . . . anchored than I’ve ever known her to be. Have you seen her? Since you settled here?”

“She’s who she was meant to be, I think,” agreed Agnippe.

“Yes, that’s it exactly.” Nerine sighed again. “I think that’s what you were hoping for me. Am I right?”

Agnippe’s face looked very solemn, but she didn’t speak.

“And you fear I am making a mistake.” Nerine squeezed Agnippe’s hand.

“Are you?” Agnippe’s voice was very low.

“I might be, but I don’t think so. I don’t feel the same kind of calling that you and Eilidh feel. Or Tyr.” Their brother definitely loved his Tyrrhenian Sea, loved caring for it, loved living in it. “But waiting at home to figure it out . . . wasn’t working for me. I had to leave!” That burst out of her more strongly than she’d meant it to.

“But why Scandia?” Now Agnippe sounded upset. “I’ll never see you! And what will you do, if you discover your true calling – something other than weaving – once you’re there? You’ll be stuck!”

Nerine wasn’t sure which of those concerns to address first.

“I won’t be stuck,” she insisted. “How would the norns be seeking a handmaiden unless the previous one had left?”

“You’re going to them without making a real commitment?” Agnippe sounded shocked, no doubt because her own commitment to her spring had been so immediate and intense.

“I don’t go lightly,” Nerine contended. “I shall learn all that they need me to, that I may fulfill my duties well. I shall give them the best that is in me. And I have some skill with textiles already.”

Agnippe’s brow wrinkled. “But . . .”

Nerine swirled her right foot in the cool water. “Eilidh is everything a handmaiden is meant to be, but some of the others . . . are not. Some are too intimidated by the divine presence. Some are there on Olympus for what they can gain for themselves. Some . . . may grow into their roles. But I doubt that all of them will stay to attend on Hera forever. Even our sister may one day wish for something different.”

“That’s true,” Agnippe assented. “But it’s a little different, isn’t it? Queen Hera must have more than three dozen handmaidens. The norns . . .”

“. . . will just have me,” finished Nerine.

Agnippe snorted. “You’ll never be a ‘just’ anything,” she said.

Nerine laughed. “Why, thank you!”

They hung in the water, silent for a moment, the golden dapples on the spring’s floor shifting below them.

“I see your point,” Nerine admitted. “I know nålbindning and embroidery. I am proficient with a ground loom.” She glanced at her sister. Was she revealing too much? Would Agnippe follow up with awkward questions?

No, Agnippe was merely listening – intently – interested in where Nerine was going with this, not worrying about details such as how her sister had learned to use a ground loom.

“I am careful and neat. But the norns will be teaching me . . . more than I can well imagine.” She shook her head. Weaving was one thing. Weaving fate? Something wholly beyond her experience. “If I were going to them with the intention to leave, I would be wronging them. But, Agnippe” – her voice cracked, ever so slightly – “I don’t think I will sort myself out for . . . years. If ever.”

Sudden strain shadowed Agnippe’s eyes.

“I believe I’ll be in Scandia for . . . quite some time.” Nerine squeezed Agnippe’s hand – still in hers – again. She hated to see her sister looking so worried for her and injected a jolly tone to her words. “I promise I’ll come visit you! And . . .” more seriously “. . . I do think that weaving fate with the norns is right for me. For now, even if not for ever.”

Agnippe nodded more slowly. “I think I see,” she said. “I just wish . . . you had an easier current to swim.”

Nerine sighed again, then became brisk. “So do I!”

They laughed together.

It was good – so good – to understand and be understood, to connect at depth with a friend – who also happened to be a sister.

* * *

For the next extra chapters from Fate’s Door, see:
The Nine Muses of Antiquity (Agnippe and the Muses)
Hera’s Handmaidens (Eilidh’s Farewell)

For the first extra chapter from Fate’s Door, see:
Update on Fate’s Door (Eilidh and Mount Olympus)

To purchase and read Fate’s Door: Amazon I B&N I iTunes I Kobo I Smashwords
 

 

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5 New Books!

5 New Titles

I read about the Liliana Nirvana technique more than a year ago, in August 2014, on the blog of SF author Hugh Howey.

The technique is simply described: release 5 new books on the same day or one after the other with little delay in between. The idea is to boost your visibility to readers. Howey said this about it: “You hit bookstore shelves with a handful of titles at once, and they prop each other up. They direct attention toward each other. They amplify your signal.”

I decided to try it, and I’ve been working continuously toward my own 5-title release since that day.

Now – more than 14 months later – my 5 new stories are finally available on Amazon! I’m thrilled, because I hit a patch in the middle of my preparations when I began to wonder if I’d ever pull it off.

I’ve priced each title at 99 cents for release week to give my most assiduous readers a chance at a deal. I’ll raise the prices on the longer works when the initial spate of sales slows.

Here they are for your reading pleasure. 😀

Hunting Wild200 pxYoung Remeya worships the forbidden horned god. A worship made taboo half a millennium ago. Performed still in secret by a few. Quietly tolerated by the king. Epic fantasy in which old beliefs and old loyalties clash with hidden magic in the Middle Ages of the god-touched North-lands.

Ebook at Amazon

Paperback at Amazon
 
 
 
 
 

Serpent web cover 200Once she stalked the duat by Ra’s side, carrying his light in her eyes and battling the monsters that assailed them. Now, tormented by confusion and her own fury, she longs to regain the unique powers which – inexplicably – elude her in captivity. In this mythic tale of pride and revelation, a fight beyond death delivers one last chance at redemption.

Ebook at Amazon

Paperback at Amazon
 
 
 
 

Glory web cover 200Caught in a cold and snow-shrouded wilderness, far from home, Ivvar confronts the woman he once cherished and an ancient scourge of the chilly woodlands in a complicated dance of love and death. Ivvar’s second chance at happiness – and his life – hang in the balance.

Ebook at Amazon

Paperback at Amazon
 
 
 
 
 

Fate's Door, web cover 200Secrets, like troubles, come in threes. Nerine, a sea nymph of the ancient world, knows too much about both. Love and coming of age in a mythic Mediterranean where the gods and goddesses of old shape history.

Ebook at Amazon

Paperback coming soon!
 
 
 
 
 

Amber cover 200When young Fae awakens in a locked and deserted castle, she remembers nothing. Who she is, where she comes from, none of it. A mythic tale of family and betrayal told with all the twists and moments of sheer joy that belong in epic fantasy.

Ebook at Amazon

Paperback at Amazon
 
 
 
 
 
 

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The Ancient Goths

When Nerine, the sea nymph protagonist of Fate’s Door, traveled across Europe in the 4th century BC, I needed to know who she would encounter on her journey.

The first part of her route along the Vardar through Macedonia (Paionía) was fairly simple. (The river was called the Bardarios then.) The Paíones living there had adopted the customs of their Hellene neighbors. Their architecture and dress were similar. They were said by the people of the time to be tougher and more hard-working than the southerners, that quality being the main difference between them.

The Keltoi of central Europe required more research, but there is a lot of information about these proto-Celts.

After Nerine crossed the Carpathian Mountains, she entered the lands of the Gutones. The information on the Gutones is much scarcer than I would have preferred.

Scandian Stone Circle

The Gutones lived in Poland along the Vistula River (the Istula, according to the ancient Greeks) and on the coast of the Baltic Sea. Early historians spoke of them as migrating south from Scandia (Sweden).

There are three potential spots discussed by more modern historians as origination points.

Götaland, or Gothland, a southeastern region of Sweden, provides a likely homeland for the ancient Goths. Equally possible are the lands along the river called Göta älv (the River of the Geats). And then there is the island named Gotland.

There seems to be no definitive answer, but what is certain is that these Scandinavian tribes arrived in Poland sometime before 750 BC and slowly spread southward and eastward, eventually arriving on the shores of the Black Sea.

Map  of Gothic Expansion

Jordanes, a historian of ancient Rome in the 6th century AD, wrote a comprehensive account of the Goths. He possessed Gothic ancestry and was eager to show that Goths came of a past as glorious as that of the Romans, so one must assume that some of his narrative is fictional. And in any case, his description of Gothic culture concerns the Goths of his time, rather than the Gutones of Nerine’s time, some thousand years earlier.

Today’s historians think that the Goths (or Gutes or Geats or Gutones – the ancients had many variants) did not come south and overwhelm the existing peoples living in northern Poland, but simply settled there peaceably, slowly assimilating their culture, as well as influencing it.

As the map above shows, by 334 BC (the year of Nerine’s journey), the Gutones had expanded their reach from the shore of the Baltic Sea along the Vistula River. I chose the island Gotland as their original homeland, and then started researching the Przeworsk culture of the people with whom the Gutones mingled.

Gutones settlement(The ancient Greeks used the term Gutones for the Goths, and thus I chose their term, rather than any of the other many variants.)

The Przeworsk peoples, and thus – likely – the Gutones as well, lived in small, unprotected villages of just a few houses and with a population of only a few dozen. They knew the technology for digging and building wells, so they did not have to live near water, but the Vistula River would have served as a natural conduit for trade.

Their houses were fashioned from logs and were usually set partially below ground level.

GutonesThe one photograph I could find – of a museum display – showed the people wearing more solid-colored clothing than the Keltoi, although the lady of the pair sports a skirt of “window-pane” plaid, while the gent possesses a more complex variant on the same pattern on his mantle.

I did find mention of colorful straps created by tablet weaving which were used to make straps and belts, and to edge garments. I also discovered that archeological evidence indicated that nearly every individual among the Gutones carried a comb in a pouch on his or her person and used it frequently to keep his or her long hair – worn loose or with the front locks pulled back in a bun – tangle free.

Taking all this and swirling it in my imagination, I came up with a peaceable people with a calm and disciplined character, practical and much less fiery than the Keltoi living south of the Carpathians.

Stone Circle in PolandThe people of the Przeworsk culture followed a tradition of erecting circles of standing stones, and these were used to conduct general assemblies in which decisions affecting the whole village or several villages were made.

The northerners from Scandia evidently possessed this tradition as well. They also shared the practice of erecting lone standing stones or menhirs.

Standing Stone in the Czech RepublicBut the purpose such stones served is much debated. Were they used in rites of sacrifice? Were they territorial markers? Were they elements of a complex ideology? Did they mark graves? Did they commemorate great heroes?

The later seems to have been part of the Scandinavian tradition. But I could find no definitive answer for the standing stones of Poland, merely that they form a remarkable part of the landscape.

One tradition the Gutones brought with them from the north was the burial mound. The Przeworsk culture before them cremated their dead, placed the ashes in an urn, and then buried the urn in a cemetary. The Gutones also favored cremation – although their funerary rites were not uniform – but they placed jewelry, glassware, pottery, fibulae, and their characteristic bone combs within the mound erected over the ashes of the dead.

Sulm valley tumulusSometimes a standing stone was placed atop the burial mound; sometimes a ring of them encircled it. When Nerine descends from the Carpathians, her first encounter with the culture of the Gutones is the sight of a burial mound in the forested foothills. Although, the season is autumn for Nerine, and the leaves of the beech trees, golden.

For more about the world of Fate’s Door, see:
Crossing the Danube
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

 

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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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