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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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Merlin

Merlin doesn’t actually come into the Arthur story until the 12th Century–about 700 years after any actual, historical Arthur would have lived. Geoffrey of Monmouth made him up out of two other Welsh characters. One was a bard and mad prophet named Myrddin Wyllt. The other consists of parts of the story of Emrys Wledig. (Yeah, I don’t know how the Welsh pronounce that last one, either.) Although Emrys Wledig is associated with Ambrosius Aurelianus, who was supposed to be a great warrior, which Merlin isn’t, really. Ambrosius, when he’s mentioned in Arthur stories, usually gets named as Arthur’s uncle. Though Mary Stewart made Ambrosius Merlin’s father in her Arthurian series, starting with THE CRYSTAL CAVE. (I have those books, come to think of it. I may just have to re-read them. I’m confident my story will be completely different from hers.)

This late introduction to the Arthur story is something I am definitely going to ignore–especially since my story idea started with Merlin. Although definitely not Geoffrey’s Merlin. Mine isn’t going to be a wizard (though he will be magical), but he’s also not going to be either a bard or a prophet.

Merlin will be the main protagonist, at least behind the scenes. Arthur–and various other characters–will do most of the heavy lifting, though.

I’m seriously thinking of starting Merlin’s first chapter soon.

 

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Taking a break–meaning stepping away and not even staring at the words or the page–for a  couple of days was the right decision. That little bit of distance allowed me to see just what (tiny) element was really holding me up. A very minor change in the least important of the characters involved in this scene let me move forward–and actually is making the scene much better.

I find that very often, that kind of lack of progress is an indicator that something–often something minor–just isn’t working. A little change, or, sometimes, a big change, will fix and unstick things.

I wouldn’t say I’m roaring along just yet, but I am getting words down, which is a vast improvement. MAGE STORM is back up on four wheels and starting to roll.

Mage Storm

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I’m having trouble getting traction with MAGE STORM. Not really sure why. I know the story. I have an entire previous version to use as an outline, after all. I know what should happen in this chapter. I’ve done the character backstory. But . . . it’s just not flowing at the moment.

Probably time to drop back and do something else for a bit until whatever’s stuck comes loose. Maybe the cover art. And, of course, studying up on keywords.

Meanwhile, here’s the backstory of the character in question, Katria:

Sixteen. From Sawyers Oaks. Three brothers, two older (Darin and Ferd), one a year younger (Natan). One younger sister, Rosella.

Her family does not have deep roots in Sawyers Oaks. Her father had been a young child there, but his family had moved to Marketown after the Great Mage War. Before that, they had owned the sawmill in Sawyers Oaks. After the recent death of his mother, Katria’s father has brought his family—and his elderly father—back to Sawyers Oaks. His older brother is now managing the carpentry shop his father started in Marketown.

Katria’s first magic is fear-based, trying to save family members from the mage storm. After this, Katria’s family is attacked by villagers afraid of the return of magic. The father of the young man (Jeld) Katria had begun to have feelings for leads the attack and Jeld joins him. Her father and Ferd are injured. Angry, Katria uses magic to drive off the attackers—which only makes matters worse. Knowing that she could only cause more trouble for her family and guilty about what she’d done, Katria slips out in the middle of the night and starts west, drawn by Mastan’s Calling. She and Rell meet on the way.

She is best at fighting, reasonably good at healing (when in the right mood), only okay at Calling.

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I’m still doing some research to help me with my keywords problem. I did make a couple of changes to the keywords. I haven’t seen any impact so far, but then I only made the changes yesterday. My chronic impatience aside, it probably is too soon to tell. Wait and see. More on that when I’ve had a little time to assess it–and, hopefully some data to assess.

Meanwhile, I’ve gotten restarted on the rewrite of MAGE STORM–a chapter from the point of view of another character. One I finally have enough of a feel for to write from her perspective after doing the character backstories. It’s not that I didn’t know who this character was in the earlier version of the story. But she never had point-of-view chapters and so she was mostly seen from the point of view of the only character who did. The original version of MAGE STORM had only one point-of-view character.

Usually, when I write from multiple points of view, I start out that way from the beginning. Coming at it from the other direction, I needed that dive into the other characters’ backstories in order to do them justice. It will be a much better story now.

 

 

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I decided to start with character profiles/backstories for the principal characters in MAGE STORM. This isn’t something I usually do, but I thought it would be useful in this case since I’m trying to get a new start on a story I wrote some time ago. Also because I’ve changed the roles of a couple of characters–actually switched the competencies of the two principal allies. I needed to give them better and more extensive backstories to support their skills.

I’ve almost finished that. I need to do a very little more research into a certain personality type for my antagonist/villain. So far, I’ve got a much better feeling about those two characters in particular and–unlike the last attempt–I actually feel ready to write in their points of view.

I’ve also decided to go ahead and create a map for this series. I’ve had a really basic hand-drawn . . . thing . . . that I used as a writer’s aid for the first version. Believe me, this is even less ready for prime time than my usual hand-drawn maps. But, it’s been a while since I last worked on a map with this software, so I’m having to go back through the tutorials.

Then, when that’s done, I should be ready to start writing/re-writing this story. I still haven’t decided on the sword and sorcery vs. epic fantasy question. This story sort of lives in the grey area in between. But, that doesn’t have to stop me from writing the first book. The question will only come up in how I build–or fail to build–the greater arc in the later books.

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Woo Hoo!

I just finished the revisions on BECOME: TO RIDE THE STORM!

StormCover2

Well, not completely finished. I still need to do another read-through to make sure I didn’t mess anything up with cut and paste, etc. Probably best if I wait a few days to start that, though. And then it’ll be ready to go to my critique partners–always assuming I don’t find anything else in that read-through, of course.

There was one minor plot thing that I decided to change at the end of the story and a few places where I needed to get deeper into the characters’ emotions. One revision of an unnecessarily complex sentence into two. And a couple of additions that just mirrored something earlier in the story.

But the revision I saved for last was neither of those. In his first POV chapter (Chapter 3), I had deliberately left one of the characters  from the first book anonymous in his first POV chapter. Deliberately because he’s been “lost” so long he doesn’t even remember who he was. In the next chapter in which he appears (Chapter 7), he’s asked who he is and dredges up a name that’s almost–but not quite–right. Then the question emerged: which name should be used in narration until he finally recovers his right name? Especially in his POV chapters. There was a difference of opinion among my critique partners and I had to decide how I wanted to handle it. In his POV chapters keep using the wrong name, or use the right one?

Using the wrong name in his POV chapters felt like highlighting his confusion, but also like it might be overly confusing for readers who might have picked up Book 2 first or just not remember Book 1 all that clearly.

Then I took a look at the chapters. Well, the first time this character gets called by his right name to his face is Chapter 17–and he’s very confused by it. And the first time he actually accepts that that is his real name is Chapter 31. That skates way too close to withholding for my tastes. Withholding is one of my big pet peeves that makes me (as a reader) feel that the author isn’t being honest with me. And that ruins the willing suspension of disbelief. And so, now he’s called, in narration at least, by his right name right from Chapter 3.

I think that’s much better.

 

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I’m working through the revisions on BECOME: TO RIDE THE STORM.

StormCover2

Usually, I more or less go through the manuscript in order, picking off revisions as I come to them. Unless, of course, a revision requires a little more thought. Then I might skip over it the first time and come back to it in a later pass.

This time, though, I find myself skipping around, working on whatever revision seems to appeal at the moment. It’s interesting, but I found myself reading through a sequence yesterday, just to make sure I hadn’t messed it up with a bit of cut and paste surgery I’d performed. I’ll have to read the whole thing through again, of course, when I finish the revisions and before I hand it off to my critique partners.

One of the side effects of this, however, is that I’ve knocked off most of the easy ones and now find myself wrestling with one of the revisions which requires generating more emotional response for one of the characters.

Those are sometimes the most difficult revisions. This one, I’ve decided, can’t be dealt with in a single revision. This is something this character has been avoiding dealing with for a long time. And it’s going to take several scenes, over the course of the whole book to build the pressure on this character and then release it–right at the climax.

This is going to be so much better.

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