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Hengist

Hengist is in many ways the other half of Vortigern’s story, especially as it intersects with Arthurian legend.

But that’s not all there is to Hengist—maybe. There’s a Hengest mentioned in something called the Finnsburg Fragment and also in Beowulf, in which a scop (bard) tells the story of the Battle of Finnsburg. Though, even in Beowulf, the tale is abbreviated, as if it was an allusion to a story the audience would be expected to know.

Between the two, they describe Hnaef (a Danish prince) visiting his sister’s husband Finn (a Frisian or Jute) for the winter. Some dispute occurred, resulting in a night attack on Hnaef and his men. Hnaef and Finn’s son were both killed in the battle. Hengest took over Hnaef’s war band and negotiated a deal with Finn. But that deal was breached in some way and in revenge Hengest attacked and killed Finn and his men.

Now, it’s far from certain that this Hengest of legend is the same Hengist hired by Vortigern. But it certainly presents some interesting dramatic possibilities. Neither one appears to be someone who took broken promises lightly. And that’s what seems to have gone wrong between Hengist and Vortigern, according to tradition.

The History of the Britons, written in the 9th Century, has it that three ships of exiled Germanic warriors arrived in Kent. That they might have been exiled is interesting given the story about Hengest killing his host, above. This would have been sometime between 445 and 450. The History doesn’t mention Vortigern inviting them, but it does say that he welcomed them and gave them the island of Thanet (the eastern tip of Kent), on which they had landed. (Thanet would have been an island then, though it isn’t now.) Vortigern then agreed to supply them with clothing and food in exchange for their military help against his enemies. So far, a fairly standard foederati agreement. But it was difficult for Vortigern to keep that agreement.

Check the map. If true, Vortigern would be trying to send supplies through enemy territory. The Belgae and Attrebates held the territory to the south of the Thames while the Catuvellauni and Trinovantes held the area to the north of the river and may have had a foothold to the south of London as well (Surrey). Vortigern wasn’t on good terms with any of them. In fact, they’re the best candidates for the enemies he wanted Hengist and his men to fight for him.

In any case, when Vortigern failed to deliver the promised supplies, Hengist rebelled. The first battle, at Aylesford in Kent seems to have been against Vortigern around 455. The next battle in about 457 was at Crayford possibly against Vortigern’s son, Vortimer. At any rate, Hengist seems to have been the undisputed ruler of Kent from this point.

His two later battles, in about 465 and 473, are more difficult to place and the opposing British forces are not named. It could have been Vortigern or Vortimer. Or against tribes neighboring Kent—the Catuvelauni or the Regni. The gap makes me think that it’s possibly a separate campaign, either against other Britons trying to oust Hengist or a war of expansion on Hengist’s part. If at least one of those battles was against the Regni, it would potentially be consistent with Gildas’s claim that Ambrosius turned back the Saxon advance.

In about 488, Oisc succeeds Hengist as king of Kent. Oisc is sometimes said to be Hengist’s son, but it is equally likely that he was the leader of a band of recently-arrived Jutes.

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Vortigern, Part 2

I was going to write about Hengist, but it turned out most of what I had to say to start was really at least as much about Vortigern. So, I guess this is Vortigern Part 2.

Supposedly, Vortigern invited Hengist and his men into Britain. This isn’t actually as crazy as it sounds. The Romans had made extensive use of federated troops. This often meant groups of “barbarian” mercenaries who were permitted to settle within the empire in return for military service. After Rome had hired such foederati as the Vandals and the Visigoths, bringing a few Saxons, Angles, or Jutes into Britain may not have seemed like such a stretch.

However, the traditional idea that Vortigern brought them in to protect against the Picts . . . I have a lot of trouble with that notion. Even if Vortigern were in fact High King—which he wasn’t because the Romano-Celtic Britons could never have agreed to that—it still wouldn’t make sense. See, the Picts were all the way up in the northern and eastern portions of what is now Scotland. And Kent, the territory of the Canti, where Hengist landed . . . well that’s all the way down in the southeastern corner of what is now England. (See the map below.)

Now, I’m no military strategist, but it just makes better sense to me to put the defense closer to the potential enemy. The Romans left a very well-maintained wall (roughly indicated on the map) with forts and towers for just that purpose. Of course, Hadrian’s wall is well beyond Vortigern’s territory. Still, siting his defenses along his northern border, not the place farthest away from the threat, would seem more logical to me. That is, if the Pict’s were the threat.

However, as I mentioned last week, archaeology suggests that other British tribes had already started hiring Germanic troops and settling them along their tribal borders. In fact, the Catuvellauni might have done so first—a tribe with a history of expansionism that was a potential threat to Vortigern. Plus the Catuvellauni had tried to take Kent before the Romans came and they may be responsible for a string of Saxon settlements south of the Thames in what is now Surrey.

If the “northern threat” he was defending against was his neighbors, the Catuvellauni and Trinovantes . . . well, that makes some sense. Though, his eastern border would have made more. Clearly, I’m going to have to come up with some reason for Vortigern to even be paying attention to Kent, let alone hiring mercenaries to settle there. I have a couple of ideas to play with.

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And now I’m going to start (I think) a series of posts on the major characters of this version of the Arthur legend. At least as they’ll appear in my story.

As I’m currently writing it, Merlin’s Gambit will start during the time of Vortigern and Ambrosius. Vortigern was quite possibly an historical character and Ambrosius almost certainly was. They may well have been roughly contemporaneous.

The “best” historical reference for that time that we have is Gildas, writing within a couple of generations of that time. Gildas was a sixth-century British monk, likely born and/or living somewhere in south Wales. He eventually moved to Brittany. In his own writing, he claimed to have been born in the same year as the Battle of Badon Hill–the battle in which Arthur is supposed to have decisively defeated the Saxons, but he never mentions Arthur. He also wasn’t writing a history, but a diatribe on the rulers of his time who weren’t living up to the example set by their predecessors in keeping the Saxons back. The title of his work, translated, is On the Ruin of Britain and he didn’t have much nice to say about any of the sixth-century rulers.

Gildas doesn’t name Vortigern, though his “superbus tyrannus” may be a play on Vortigern’s name which means something like “high king”. The superbus tyrannus, at any rate, is the one Gildas blames for letting the Saxons into Britain. Archaeologically, this seems a little unfair. It looks like several different regional rulers were using Saxons–or Angles, or Jutes–to defend their borders. Nevertheless, Vortigern certainly gets the blame in virtually all of the tales and he’ll get at least a share of it in mine, too.

Southern Britain Map New

I’ve included the map for reference.

To the extent that anything can be determined about Vortigern after about 1500 years, it looks like his power base would have been the area around Gloucester, or the territory of a Romano-Celtic tribe called the Dobunni and extending up the Severn Valley into the part of Wales that would later become Powys (territory of the Cornovi). He likely also exerted some political influence over other parts of Wales as well. And there’s good historical reason for bad blood between the Dobunni and the, in Roman terms, civitas to the south of them, the Belgae because the Romans had taken land away from the Dobunni to create the civitas of the Belgae (which is the likely center of Ambrosius’s power).

How Vortigern also held power of any kind in Kent (on the far southeastern corner of England and on the other side of the territory of several rival tribes) is a little trickier. I’m going to have to work a bit on that part. But all the legends claim it was Vortigern who invited Hengist and Horsa into England and that they landed in and eventually were given or took control of Kent (territory of the Canti). Kent became the first foothold of a Saxon (or possibly Jutish) kingdom in England.

But there’s some good drama in Vortigern’s story. He was, supposedly, married to Sevira, the daughter of Magnus Maximus (a very historical person who took legions and militia from Britain in the late 4th century in a failed attempt to make himself Emperor of Rome). Later, presumably after Sevira’s death, he is supposed to have become enamored of Hengist’s daughter, Rowena, ceding Kent (which wasn’t his) to Hengist in exchange for Rowena’s hand in marriage.

In some versions of the story, Vortigern is killed in battle with Ambrosius.

Yep, my story is definitely starting with Vortigern–or, actually, with Merlin trying to deal with and influence Vortigern.

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I missed posting yesterday. I just got busy. Oh, well, better late than never–or even later.

I’ve done a map for Merlin’s Gambit to help keep me on track as I write the story.

Southern Britain Map New

I’ve noted, as well as I can, the locations of the various tribes of southern Britain in the fifth century. And the places I think may be of importance tot he story.

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It’s been a little while since I posted, hasn’t it?

Well, some of that is because I’ve been writing. Not making any speed records, here. But I actually am writing. I’m also still doing research for this one.

Part of the goal is to get as reasonably close to history as practical–at least the history of the times, since there is no historical documentation of Arthur at all. That’s important because I mean to carry the story and at least Merlin forward beyond Arthur’s time. But Arthur’s time, to the extent that any part of the legend has a real basis, is the fifth century–the Dark Ages. And the reason it’s called the Dark Ages (beyond the fact that daily life almost certainly did get grimmer than it had been during Roman times) is that there just isn’t a lot of historical documentation. Archaeology to the rescue. Except that mostly what archaeology has turned up complicates the legend.

Before the Romans, the native Celtic Britons had been organized into dozens of small, tribal territories more likely to fight each other than the invading Romans. Which, of course, the Romans exploited. And the Romans had mostly left that ground-level organization in place, and just put a layer of Roman administration on top of it. So, when the Romans left, the Britons naturally fell right back into their tribal territories–and their inter-tribal warfare. And it’s most likely that several of those small tribal “kingdoms” hired Saxon or other Germanic warriors to help them out against their neighbors. Who then also hired Saxons to fight on their side. So the image of Arthur uniting the Britons to expel the Saxons is just not realistic.

And, at the same time, I want to keep enough of the legend that it is recognizable, but without all the flourishes that later writers, like Geoffrey of Monmouth, Chretien de Troyes, and Thomas Mallory added. Though, I am keeping Merlin even if Geoffrey of Monmouth mostly made him up. Just, well, my Merlin will be very different than Geoffrey’s.

I will not, for example, be using the story of Merlin disguising Uther so Uther can get into Tintagel and spend the night with Igraine. Sorry, but I’ve never liked that story and I like it less now. Frankly, it’s rape, since no one asked Igraine what she thought about it. And that’s not the kind of story I write. Anyway, having just written a couple of books inspired by the legend of Hercules it’s impossible not to notice that it’s basically a direct copy of the Greek myth of Hercules’s birth. Which I also didn’t use.

Right now, I’m writing the part where Merlin discovers there’s a dragon under Dinas Emrys, where Vortigern is trying to build a fort on top of the hill.

Oh, yes, there will be dragons.

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Wow! Looks like I haven’t been back here in almost two months. Sorry to say, nothing much happened writing-wise during that time. And now, I’m pushing the restart button.

Truth to tell, I’d love push restart on this whole year. I imagine most everyone would. But that’s beyond my power.

What I can do is push restart on my writing. Literally.

It’s weird the way one thing will prompt another. I was attending to some mundane tasks–getting my books up on GooglePlay–when something just clicked. The reason I was not making any progress on my current writing project–well, apart from the general background stress and feeling of being overwhelmed–was that I’d started in the wrong place. Way too early. Again. That background might make it into a prequel novella some day, because it is important, but it’s way to far back from when interesting things actually start to happen.

So, restart, quite literally. I wrote the new first chapter yesterday. And it was fun! And at least a partial antidote to being overwhelmed.

The story has a new title, too. Merlin’s Gambit.

Onward.

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Well, I forgot to post on Sunday, didn’t I? All I can say is that time is beginning to feel a little surreal right now. Really weird to see no one on the streets and almost no cars. Trying to maintain something like a regular schedule, but . . . .

In any case, five of my books are now free for others who are also spending way more time at home than usual. We are all Safer at Home, right now.

The Shaman’s Curse is perma-free and has been for a while:

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The next four are free now thru April 12th. (Amazon has price-matched in the US, so far.)

Become: To Catch the Lightning:

BecomeCover2

Fire and Earth (with its shiny new cover):

3D computer graphics of a female warrior with fantasy dress and sword

The Bard’s Gift:

TBG New

and Daughter of the Disgraced King:

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Meanwhile, I have mostly been doing a little more research for my work-in-progress, so not much direct progress. But, if you don’t get the foundation right, it’s a lot harder to get the whole book to hang together, so not time wasted.

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I confess to having been knocked a bit off balance last week. A lot of things happened in a short space of time. I know I’m not alone in that. It’s a new reality we’re all trying to cope with.

But this week I am committed to getting myself back up out of that slump and doing things. At least those things I can do. Some work in the yard (I did a little this morning.), some house cleaning, something creative. And figuring out how to manage or work around those that I can’t or shouldn’t do right now. (I fall into the vulnerable group as far as this virus goes.) I’m seriously tempted to restart my vegetable garden (in some other place until I can clean up the old one), even though I know nothing would be ready for harvest for at least two months.

I did manage to get the books and stories I still had in Kindle Select/Kindle Unlimited pulled out and up for wider distribution. So, that’s something. And now that they’re wide–or as soon as the distribution works through the systems of the various retailers, I’ll likely start setting some of them free for a limited time. Everybody needs some form of escape right now and books seem to be one of the only safe ways. And, in times that are just as unsettled financially as they are health-wise, well, it’s something I can do to help out.

Gold Flame Dragon

And I swear I am going to get some work done on the new story. Really. I may even start working on cover art.

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I haven’t really gotten any writing done recently. But, as I’m about to have two weeks off (I hope it’s only two weeks) while the schools are closed, hopefully I’ll be able to make the most of the time.

I’ll also use the time to prepare several books/stories that were in Kindle Select/Kindle Unlimited. I’ll be taking all of them wide (Apple, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, etc.) by the end of this month.

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I have actually started writing again on DRAGON AGAINST DRAGON. (I have to think of a better title, but the working title is fine for now.) Unfortunately, I also managed to tweak my back. Not badly, but just enough that I can’t sit for very long without it stiffening up on me. Which is probably good for my weight loss goal. And for cleaning up the back “bedroom”, finally. (It’s probably been about 30 years since anyone actually slept in there, and about 20 since there was even a bed in that room. More of a storage room, now, but in desperate need of organization.) Not quite so good for getting a lot of writing done.

Also a little progress on FIRE AND EARTH–but not complete progress.

3D computer graphics of a female warrior with fantasy dress and sword

I’ve done my part and updated everything I plan to change, but somehow it didn’t all make it through Amazon’s process. The e-book has the new blurb, but not the new cover. On the other hand, the print version has the new cover, but not the new blurb. I guess I’ll have to contact Amazon tomorrow and see if I can get that straightened out. I want to run a promotion before it comes out of Kindle Unlimited later this month, but not with the old cover.

Good news is that THE BARD’S GIFT may not need anything but a little adjustment to the back matter for its “relaunch”.

TBG New

I want to add a sample chapter or two from BECOME: TO CATCH THE LIGHTNING, rather than the current chapters of DAUGHTER OF THE DISGRACED KING. THE BARD’S GIFT has more than a touch of Norse mythology and the BECOME series is inspired by Greek mythology, so that might be a good match for readers.

Not sure yet what, if anything, I’m going to do about a relaunch of DAUGHTER OF THE DISGRACED KING. It’s kind of an odd book out in my back list. I’ll probably go on to do some relaunch on the DUAL MAGICS series before worrying about that one.

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