Category Archives: writing

About Zaria

Again, apologies for a lack of posts in the last few weeks. My father passed away recently and I was responsible for a lot of the planning. It was a physically and emotionally draining task that I’m just starting to recover from. Additionally, I moved shifts at UPS from the night sort, to driving trucks during the day so that has taken its toll on me through a serious change in sleep schedule and a major change in the physical output required of me.

But I’m back, and taking a page from fellow Gunpowder Fantasy author A.S. Warwick (author of the Commonwealth Chronicles) I’m going to do a few posts on the people and nations of the world of Zaria.

In addition to posting here, I’ll also be updating the Zaria Wiki to reflect the information.

On a side note, in watching the Game of Thrones series on HBO, and having read the books, I was kind of looking forward to my wife’s reaction to the events of Episode 9 in Season 3. But alas, my wife read a spoiler on a wiki so there wasn’t any fun in that. So, I’m trying to figure out a way to keep the wiki up to date with new information as things change, but without having spoilers for new readers. If anyone is any good at making/updating Wikia entries, please feel free to give me some tips.

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Quick Update

Sorry I haven’t posted in a little while, I’ve been working on some things IRL so I’ve been pretty pre-occupied.

The good news is that I’m working hard on The Hydra Offensive! And during my little interim, Gunpowder Fantasy passed 3,000 hits!

So thanks for reading all and keep your eyes open for some more posts soon covering different aspects of the genre!

God Created Man…(The Arms Race)

…Sam Colt made them equal.

generals_in_forest

This is a phrase spawned by the Colt firearms company’s famous revolvers (and later other types of weapons).

Colt firearms were, for a long time, the standard issue sidearm in the United States. Everyone had one. But eventually, competition evolved and now Colt is just another firearms manufacturer.

This post was actually spawned by a conversation over on MythicScribes.com going over the plausibility of one author’s world in relation to firearms and gunpowder. In his world, only the single dominant nation has advanced their knowledge of firearms; there are magic users and brutes capable of taking fire from these small arms, but no one has developed competing technology.

My point was that a nation that maintained such a position of dominance for too long would quickly cause their enemies to band together and bring down the juggernaut.

Since the formation of governments and nations, there has been an ever evolving arms race. Offensive weapons are developed to counter defensive weapons; defensive weapons are developed to counter the new offensive weapons, and so on. A fantasy world would be no different.

Being the first nation to develop a particular weapon, like muskets that are useful in a massed infantry setting or rifling, would give them the advantage in developing newer technology, but in all likelihood their dominance would not be absolute nor would it be enduring.

Writing an arms race can be an exciting plot point, especially if you’re writing a series. Having one nation start at a noted disadvantage but slowly regain parity with their enemy can drive action. How will your hero defeat an enemy that is significantly better equipped than his? How will your protagonist react when his army, technologically superior to that of his enemy, is ordered to slaughter what equates to a herd of helpless sheep?

Another part of the arms race to keep in mind is the fact that two nations at war will pour money into research and development at a greater rate than nations at peace. The nations engaged in war, if it goes long enough, will slowly develop an advantage over the other nations of the world.

A wonderful example of this is from one of my favorite Sci-Fi Series, the Honor Harrington series by David Weber. In this series, the Star Kingdom of Manticore and the Republic of Haven start at roughly an equivalent technological position as the rest of the universe. Over the course of their decade+ war, however, they improve technology, develop new weapons and tactics that put them so far ahead of even the largest star nation that they are able to defeat a much larger force of ships from nations that were in a state of peace and had no drive to develop newer weapons and technology.

Eventually, that technology lead would dissipate and today, I’ll go over just a few ways that a technology could fall into the hands of enemies or “allies” and cause the proliferation of those technologies outside of their creator nations.

Military/Government Espionage

The most direct way for a government to try to recover information about an opposing nation’s technology is to commission and support spies directly. These spies can be of the military variety, targeting information and technologies that would help the military directly; or of the “government variety” (aka CIA types). These spies are targeted at a broader range of information and technology.

Practically, when targeting the technology base of an enemy, these two types of spies are going to have a similar goal and likely similar results.

Corporate Espionage

This can be a form of government sponsored espionage as well as a private-sector type. Sending workers to infiltrate the companies producing weapons and sneak out information about how they work and how they are created. This is definitely more of a “long game” type of espionage.

Writing this type of espionage can be done in a variety of different ways. You can write in families implanted in an enemy nation generations prior, with the consistent goal of eventually gaining a position within the corporate establishment and sending back information. A more short term plan is also an option, with migrant workers moving into the target nation and eventually getting jobs in the factories and foundries.

Infiltration of the supply line would be another form of espionage. If the factories and foundries have security that is too tight, workers “up-stream” can still gather information about the materials used in the assembly of weapons and their ammunition.

A truly dedicated nation would employ all of these types of espionage to gather information on the weapons that their enemy lords over them.

Raids or Skirmishes

Does your “uber nation” have super-strict security? Do they screen their workers more intensely than the TSA, making corporate or traditional espionage impossible? Raids and skirmishes are a solid option for retrieving weapons. And the great thing about raids and skirmishes in a fantasy setting are that bandits and outlaws can be a viable excuse.

Plausible deniability is the key when discussing ostensibly state-sponsored raids and attacks. Order a small unit to attack an enemy outpost, but in non-military garb, retrieve examples of weapons and ammunition, and when the offended nation claims the attack, deny that the attackers were part of your military and still profit from their recoveries.

Corporate Greed

Greed is a powerful driving factor. Overt greed is typically going to be of the third party variety. An arms manufacturer signing agreements with either Nation A or Nation B could swing the balance from one side to the other in an otherwise close war.

But greed doesn’t necessarily have to be this obvious. An unscrupulous businessman could feed weapons and information to a neighboring nation, encouraging them to raid supply wagons with arms shipments onboard. This would create tension with the government but also give the second nation a look at weapons. And if it were to come to war, they would be in a direct position to profit from the war by creating more weapons for their government.

So, in conclusion, when you’re worldbuilding, be sure to keep in mind that the technological advantage that one nation might hold over others, assuming all things are otherwise equal (one group is not manifestly stupider than the other), isn’t going to last for very long, especially in a war. The nation on the receiving end of the superior technology will have a very strong drive to either replicate the technology that is defeating them, or develop sufficiently effective tactics to counter that technology.

Rewriting in the Digital Age

No matter how hard you try, your book is never going to be 100% perfect. Hopefully, during the editing process you’re able to fix the plot holes and inconsistencies.

But even after you push the publish button, you’re going to find typos and errors. Maybe a sentence that doesn’t make as much sense as you’d like. You’re going to find something that you want to change.

I’ve spent most of the last week or two cutting back on the overly descriptive prose that I used in The Cerberus Rebellion and adding in a couple of chapters that I really should have included in the first place.

I had a conversation with Harry over at A Way With Worlds that basically went something like:

Me: “Hey, so I’m making some additions to Cerberus”
Him: “Wait, you can do that?

In the past, with traditional paper printing, you’d be pretty much out of luck. Your publisher could print a second run, with the corrections in place, but that’s assuming that your book warranted enough attention and sales to call for a second run.

In the age of digital publishing, the solution is much simpler. Correct the errors, recompile your book, and republish to your selected markets. Amazon, at least, will send an email to anyone that has purchased your book and give them the option to redownload it.

Now, this won’t necessarily turn someone who hated your novel into a fan overnight, but it can definitely improve the experience of future readers.

I know with The Cerberus Rebellion, the overly descriptive text was a consistent theme in the reviews that  I received. In the age of digital publishing, the ability to respond to feedback and fix your errors cannot be overlooked as a great tool to gaining readers.

Gunpowder Fantasy Battles

A major part of Epic Fantasy is the battle. Tolkien, George RR Martin, and essentially every other Epic Fantasy author has their share of battles. Some are told through the eyes of the characters as they happen, and others are recounted as history. But they’re there.

In traditional Epic Fantasy, creating action and suspense is a matter of bringing the main character into contact with his or her enemy. The reader is left to worry whether the main character is going to survive the intense fighting. But these battles are fought with sword, shield, and occasionally bows and arrows. The combatants look each other in the eye as they try to kill each other.

In Gunpowder Fantasy, especially when Rifles are introduced, battles are fought at range. Artillery slings rounds and shells across expansive battlefields and rows and columns of infantry shoot at each other from hundreds of yards. Suspense and intensity is different for Gunpowder Fantasy.

One way that you can maintain the intensity is to internalize your POV character’s experience. Give the scene intense detailing and describe how your character is feeling as bullets fly, shells explode, and people fall.

Also consider that once the bullets start flying, it can be a hectic time for your characters. At longer ranges, even rifles are only relatively accurate when compared to the muskets that came before them. Your characters aren’t going to be assured of their death, and that’s something to build on.

You also need to consider that even in the American Civil War, the first major war fought with rifled muskets, bayonet charges were still rather common. This gives you a chance to bring some of the intensity of hand to hand fighting to your battles. Throw your characters into the enemy lines, where muskets are used as clubs, swords are drawn, and revolvers are a last ditch weapon.

Battles are a good chance to show how your characters react under pressure, be sure to take advantage of the unique aspects that Gunpowder Fantasy affords you.

Creating a Culture

When I decided to add Orcs to the world of Zaria, I decided immediately that they would be different from the stereotypical “hulk smash!” Orcs that are so common throughout most of the Fantasy genre.

I had already developed the concept of a group of city-states that had once been a republic. I knew that these city-states, or at least some of them, would be places of high culture that were also home to mercenary legions.

So when it came time to develop my Orcs, I decided that they would be the core to these city-states. But that wasn’t enough.

I decided to add a couple of wrinkles to the Orcs and so I created the colonies of Thayer and Galten across the Vast Sea, nestled in the mountains near the nation of Ansgar. But now I had another problem: these colonies would have been separated from their homeland for so long that they would have culture all their own.

Right now, I’m working on Battle for Broken Plains, the story of how Raedan Clyve came to be the Baron of Broken Plains, and as I write, I find myself creating the culture for different parts of my world that haven’t been explored as fully elsewhere.

The challenge is to create a culture that clearly descended from the established culture of the City States, but at the same time has its own aspects. The Orcish colonies have lived near the brutish Nordahrians for so long, they have picked up on some of their traditions.

It’s one of the things that I like so much about Fantasy: the worldbuilding of a culture that mixes mercenary instincts with fierce clan loyalty and a culture of marauding.

The Lost Chapter!

When I had finished writing The Cerberus Rebellion, I thought that I had a pretty solid build on my hands. So I sent it off to my Beta-Readers and waited for it to come back.

Ergodic Mage had contacted me through my contact form and offered to beta-read for me. His feedback was invaluable in cleaning up Cerberus before it went to Edits.

One of his suggestions was that Chapter 2 really didn’t serve much of a purpose other than to introduce characters. So I cut it and folded the important information into subsequent chapters.

I still like Chapter 2, but I agree that in context it didn’t do much. So I’ll post it here! Without further ado, Original Chapter 2 (a Hadrian POV)!

 

-02

The Temple was the central point of worship in any settlement in the nation of Ansgar, though the size of the structure varied broadly and generally reflected the wealth of its patrons. The Earl of Odwolfe was a wealthy man, and that fact was reflected in his offerings to the Temple: the Odwolfe Temple was not a modest structure. Nearly as large as a Baron’s Keep, the temple was built with obsidian stone brought from the coastal volcanoes hundreds of miles away, and timber from the great red pines in the north of Ansgar. Rich tapestries and golden ornaments, studded with gemstones and inlaid with silver, adorned the walls and the pillars. The Temple could hold nearly two hundred people comfortably; there were nearly three hundred people in it now.

To either side of the main aisle, rows and rows of guests had been packed into the temple. Lesser lords sworn to the two noble houses that were to be joined, along with their families, were seated directly behind the immediate families of the betrothed. The lesser lords held castles and ruled cities in their noble’s stead. More than two dozen of the lesser nobility, and their families ranging from one to a dozen members, had been invited. Behind the lesser lords sat knights of various houses, nearly fifty of them all together; most of them had brought their wives, those who had them. The rest of the benches had been filled with merchants and other important members of the Western Ansgari community. Some of the lesser merchants stood against the walls of the temple.

Lord Hadrian Clyve, Baron of North Griffin Cliffs, escorted his youngest sibling and only sister down the center aisle of the temple toward the rest of the party that stood before the priest. Hadrian was a massive man, like his father had been. A thumb more than seven feet tall, Hadrian had taken the body that he had inherited from his father and improved on it through constant training and physical work. Even at forty years old, Hadrian could lift more than any of his guardsmen. He wore his black hair like his father had: in a long ponytail that reached to the middle of his back. Gray had crept in at his temples and his hair had started to recede from his forehead. He had inherited brilliant blue eyes from his mother, like sparkling sapphires set under thin eyebrows.

Hadrian wore the official clothes of his position: a satin white shirt with a red rampant griffin sown over his breast, black trousers, silk and well tailored. His full-length white cloak, lined around the neck and shoulders in light brown fur, was also emblazoned with a red rampant griffin. He wore the amulet that every Baron of North Griffin Cliffs had worn: a golden griffin nearly a foot tall clutching a massive ruby and several rings that came with his titles and accomplishments.

His younger brother, Lord Raedan Clyve, Baron of Broken Plains, stood at the head of his family’s party. He was seven years younger than Hadrian, but he did not look his age. His shoulder length hair had once been merely black, now it was almost blue. His green eyes, inherited from his father, now glittered a brilliant emerald color, with the glow of one knowledgeable beyond his years. He was half a foot shorter than Hadrian, and not nearly as massive, but was still an imposing figure.

He also wore clothes fitting of his position. His satin shirt was black, the three boulders on his chest were a brilliant white, his trousers were black satin as well, with a thick white stripe down the outside. His jet black cloak was lined with black fur and had clustered white boulders across it. He wore a more modest amulet around his neck and his griffin clutched an onyx stone that was nearly half the size of the ruby that his brother’s griffin clutched. An ornately carved staff, with a large ruby held in the top, rested in the crook of his arm. Hadrian had never understood why his brother carried staff with him at all times. The only time Hadrian had asked, Raedan had brushed the question off with whispers of magics and orders.

Their youngest brother stood beside Raedan wearing a black wool suit with Raedan’s symbol on his breast. He was six years older than their sister and six years younger than Raedan. He had taken after their mother in many respects, including his blue eyes. He was shorter than Hadrian by a full foot, with had a more modest build and auburn hair that was cut short, a concession to his station as a member of Raedan’s Guard. He wore only the onyx-set silver ring of an heir; Raedan had not yet married nor fathered a son that could take on the mantle of Baron Broken Plains.

On the opposite side of the aisle, Lord Alistair McKinley, third son of Lord Wallace McKinley, Earl Odwolfe, stood before the priest. He was a thumb more than six feet tall and well built, though he looked tiny compared to his soon-to-be brothers by marriage. Some generations back, the McKinleys had married four generations of Earls to women of Nordahr and Beldane; their golden blond hair and crystal-clear gray eyes were a family trait passed on from that heritage. Alistair kept his locks tied in a short ponytail behind his head. He wore a black satin tailcoat, the black wolf of his father’s crest across his breast was flanked by two large gold bags. His red satin trousers had a thick black stripe down the side. He served in his father’s guard, as a lieutenant, but was being groomed to serve as his father’s representative to the king in Aetheston.

His eldest brother, Cedric, stood proudly beside his younger sibling. The heir to the Earldom took after his father, some might say too much. He was shorter than Hadrian by a full foot and could only be called stout by the most charitable person; most called him fat. He wore a black wool tailcoat with a red cloak attached at his shoulders by wolf’s head broaches, his father’s badge was sown over his heart and the symbol adorned the back of the cloak.

Their father sat before them, in the first row of benches. He was of even larger girth than his heir and eldest son. He wore a satin shirt and a flowing cloak, attached at his shoulders by a pair of black iron wolves. The Earl’s thick fingers were adorned with rings that had been specially forged for him and his signet ring hung suspended around his neck on a thin silver chain.

The party’s last member of note was Stephanie Clyve, the bride. She wore a perfectly cut white gown, sown from satins, silks and lace. A seated wolf broach adorned one breast, a seated griffin the other. She was the youngest of the Clyves, just past her twenty-first year, and though she had been betrothed to the Earl’s son for nearly seven years, she had only met him a handful of times. Her hand trembled slightly and tears welled up in the corners of her eyes.

Hadrian squeezed his sister’s hand gently and nodded to her. And with that they started down the aisle toward the priest and their gathered families.

The marriage would cement the bond between the two families that had shared a border for more than a thousand years. As part of the marriage arrangement, Hadrian had secured trade and loan agreements for himself and Raedan. Their merchants would get special consideration from the earl’s moneylenders and merchants. In exchange, Odwolfe had been granted one of Hadrian’s southern towns and the fertile farms that surrounded it. He had also agreed to provide the merchants of Odwolfe with special prices for minerals extracted from the mines of the Griffin Cliffs.

Heads turned as the bride was escorted through the assembled crowd, her face covered with a lace veil. The musicians played a tune, The Lovely Maiden, if Hadrian was right.

Many of the lesser nobles of the southern territories had tried to marry themselves, or their sons, to Hadrian’s youngest sister. But his father had told him that all marriages needed to be carefully considered before they were agreed to and needed to benefit both sides of the arrangement equally. The Earl Odwolfe’s son had been the most promising prospect for Stephanie. It would cement an already close relationship between the two houses and she was likely to be the wife of a lord at the king’s court. The Earl of Odwolfe was one the wealthiest nobles on this side of the West Valley and Hadrian was very soon to be a very powerful member of the Western Ansgari nobility: his wife’s father was elderly and would soon pass the South Griffin Cliffs to Hadrian.

So the wedding had been agreed to, the preparations made and now Hadrian escorted his sister to her marriage ceremony.

They stopped just short of the stone altar and waited for the music to die down.

“Who gives this maiden to be wed?” The high priest asked. He was short and bald and even the flowing white and red robes of his order weren’t enough to hide the fact that he was nearly as heavy as his patron.

“I do,” Hadrian announced. He smiled at his sister and then he placed her hand in her groom’s. He stepped away from the couple as they stepped up to the altar and then took his place between his sister and eldest brother.

 ***

The celebration hall was much larger than the Temple, Hadrian would have estimated that the hall was nearly twice as large, but it had been filled with even more people than the smaller structure. The hall was separate from the rest of Odwolfe Castle; hundreds of years earlier it had once been Odwolfe Keep. Ancient engravings in the stone walls had long ago been worn smooth and the timbers supporting the roof had been recently replaced, likely in preparation for the wedding. The hall had been filled with long oaken tables and sturdy benches. Dozens of lanterns burned on the walls, their light reflected off of mirrored backs into the middle of the room.

Against the back wall, on a raised dais, sat the bride and groom flanked on either side by their families. The Earl Odwolfe sat to the left of his son, his plain-faced wife to his left. Lady Elizabeth Odwolfe worn her most elegant silk gown, the deep blue highlighted by a white pearl necklace. Her brown hair was starting to gray and the wrinkles around her green eyes were prominent.

To her left was her oldest son and his wife, Sarah, a much more beautiful woman than her mother-by-law. She wore a ruby gown and a simple gold chain hung from her neck. Her red hair was pulled up in an elegant bun, held up by gold and silver pins and broaches. She was great with Cedric’s third child.

Hadrian sat to his sister’s right, even seated he towered over her. His wife, Lady Alicia, sat to his right. She wore a much simpler gown than their hosts, but it wasn’t her place to try to look better than either the bride or their gracious hosts. The emerald gown was flattering, if on the conservative side for her usual fare. Her auburn hair was nearly as long as her Lord Husband’s and was intricately woven into a long braid. She had inherited her father’s pale green eyes and his small stature: her husband made her look a dwarf and many wondered why they had been paired so many years earlier by their parents.

Raedan was the last of the noble families seated on the dais, no wife to join him at his place of honor.

The lesser lords and their families were spread out around the dais, the most important were placed closest to the table. Knights of all orders and ranks were spread out further away from the dais toward the outer edges of the hall. Hundreds of stewards, serving girls and cooks made their way between the tables serving meat, bread and mead to those gathered.

The Earl Odwolfe had spared no expense for the marriage of his youngest son to one of his family’s closest allies: massive boars roasted on spits over open fires, fruit and vegetables had been gathered from the best farms in the Earldom and wines and beers had been brought up from the Earl’s personal cellar and were being served in his finest drinking horns.

Toasts and speeches had been made by the two families and pledges of loyalty before gods and men had been exchanged. All of the formalities had been dispensed of and all that was left now was to eat and drink until there was no more to eat or drink.

Hadrian had stepped down from the dais to talk to one of his lords, a man that served his father before him as the Lord of Wilshire, the second largest city in the barony. Malcolm Dowell had managed to fight the signs of aging that had claimed the vitality of so many of his peers, even at more than twice Hadrian’s age he had made the journey without trouble. He ate and drank more than his share and thought nothing of it. Hadrian made it a point to greet him at every opportunity, and to get to know his heir, Thomas.

A close working relationship with the lord who controlled nearly a third of the barony’s taxes, and was the commander of the largest levies, was essential to the successful rule of any territory. As he spoke with Malcolm, he saw Raedan rise from his seat and slip through a small exit behind the dais

“My Lord, you must excuse me, I must have a word with my brother.” Hadrian bowed to his elder and his son and then turned toward the exit.

Stephanie’s look of worry was quelled with a subtle shake of Hadrian’s head as he slipped past the dais to the door. He lifted his cloak off of a hook behind the dais and flung it over his shoulders.

Hadrian nodded to the two guardsmen outside the door, huddled next to a brazier. One man wore a heavy white greatcoat, a rampant red griffin emblazoned on a badge over his heart. The other man’s greatcoat was red with a black wolf and two gold bags sewn into a badge. Their rifles hung on straps over their shoulders.

A storm had passed through after the wedding ceremony and had blanketed the castle grounds in thick wet snow. A light wind still blew across the castle yard and Hadrian pulled his cloak in tighter to keep out the cold.

“My brother passed this way,” he said to his guardsman, a veteran of his guard named Arian. His words frosted in the chill air as he spoke.

“He’s on the wall, My Lord,” the guard said and pointed to a ramp to the top of the wall. Hadrian could just make out the shape of his brother against a torch high above them

“Carry on,” Hadrian nodded and started for the ramp.

Like many fortifications in Ansgar, the Odwolfe Castle, and Odwolfe Keep before it, had been constructed on an artificial rise of dirt in open land. Foraging teams maintained a healthy distance between the castle walls and the nearest forests to provide a buffer against surprise attacks.

The hall, as the former keep, had once been the main structure in the enclosed area of the castle. Now, it was just another out building tucked near the rear corner of the massive open area, enclosed on all sides by walls fifty feet high and ten feet wide. A hundred feet to the east, the new keep had been built in the center of the area, its high stone walls and massive wooden doors were less than three centuries old and still had a new look to them.

Hadrian passed a massive mortar; the anti-siege weapon looked rather new, a surprising expense for the normally frugal Earl Odwolfe.

“I thought you’d see me leave,” Raedan conceded when Hadrian reached the top of the ramp. The younger brother leaned against the parapets and looked out on the moonlit plains. Between the first two fingers on his right hand was one of the small cigars that he liked so much. They were rolled with a sweet leaf and then soaked in cherry juice.

“It’s rather hard for either of us to sneak out of a room, even one so crowded.” Hadrian joined his brother and looked down from the walls. The wall stood fifty feet from the base and stood on a sharply sloped rise. Beyond the twenty foot slope, a dry moat had been dug and maintained, filled with sharpened spikes to prevent cavalry from riding through it. Further out, trench-works had been dug for soldiers to use in the defense of the castle.

The fields beyond the trenches were ablaze with hundreds of campfires. Hadrian had brought his entire guard, a full two thousand soldiers plus stewards to serve them all. Raedan had brought two companies of own his guard, two hundred men and their attendant servants.

“Stephanie was worried.”

“I just needed some air, brother.” Raedan stepped back from the wall and looked in on the castle grounds. More than a thousand guards stood watch on the walls and another five hundred encircled the keep and the celebration hall.

“I know it wears on you, Raedan,” Hadrian looked over his shoulder. “Seeing everyone around you married. You should reconsider.”

“We’ve been over this, Hadrian.” An edge of frustration crept into Raedan’s voice; he twisted the large onyx ring around his finger. “I will not subject anyone to such a life. Growing old while I remain the same.”

One of the effects of the magic that flowed through Raedan’s body was that he would age at less than one fifth of the rate of those around him. He would live at least four hundred years, and closer to five hundred if Damon was correct.

If Raedan were to marry, he would have to watch his wife grow old and die long before he did the same. He would likely outlive any children, and any of their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

“You must have an heir at some point. It would be unwise to give Franta another chance at reclaiming your barony when you finally pass. I know I won’t be around to see it happen, but those Clan-Lords pass their grudges well.” Hadrian knew that they had been over this ground more times than either of them could remember, but still they had these conversations.

“Raedan, there is another option.” Hadrian turned and rested his hand on his brother’s shoulder. “Yes, you will likely see your wife grow old before your eyes, but if you find the right woman, and tell her what to expect, then it can be less painful. And when your first son is of age, pass the Barony to him and become his advisor, or my son’s advisor if you wish.”

“That is an idea I have considered,” Raedan admitted. “I-”

The screech that cut through the night air was unmistakable, even for the Earl’s guardsmen who had never heard the cry of a griffin before; it was the cry of a predator, and a large one at that. Raedan looked to the skies. No one else would be able to see the great beast, but he didn’t need to see it to know where it was. The hounds in their kennel across the yard barked furiously as the creature neared the castle.

“Kiis,” Raedan whispered and Hadrian looked to the sky as the beast swept into view. The Earl’s guards had been warned that an appearance by one of Raedan’s companions was possible, but experience would still be jarring to anyone not familiar with the beasts.

The griffin was the smallest of the three that their father had captured twenty years ago, but she was fast, and clever. She often flew out ahead of Raedan to scout and she was also able to show Raedan what she had seen.

As she swooped toward the courtyard, Raedan and Hadrian started down the ramp to meet her. The Earl’s guardsmen were hesitant as the griffin landed, but Hadrian’s guards were accustomed to the grand beast. With a final beat of her wings, the griffin blew a billow of snow into the air.

Raedan ran his hand along the griffin’s neck, the ruffled feathers soft beneath his palm. She had the golden hind quarters of a lion and the fore of a golden great-eagle with a white head and sharp blue eyes. Even as the smallest griffin of the three, Kiis was a massive creature.

At her shoulders she stood five feet tall and nearly six feet long; her wings spread nearly ten feet across and she had talons larger than even the oldest of great-eagles. Raedan whispered to the beast in the Elf tongue, a language Hadrian had never learned. The beast shook its shoulders and tucked its wings close to its body.

“She has something she wants me to see,” Raedan whispered to his brother.

Even among the guardsmen that protected Hadrian, the full range of Raedan’s abilities were carefully guarded. He pressed his hand to the griffin’s heart and closed his eyes. Hadrian had seen his brother do this before and wondered what it must be like to suddenly gain the memories of another creature. To see things as they had seen it. He knew that the time it took for Raedan to gather those memories varied greatly. He had seen his brother stand beside one of the griffins for nearly six hours at a time, gathering days of vision and memories. Other times, it took mere moments.

Fortunately, Kiis’ ability to collect her memories and visions to pass on to Raedan was better than either of her siblings. Raedan stood for only a few minutes beside his griffin as he gathered the visions that Kiis thought that he should see.

“Messengers from the capital. A King’s train departed from Aetheston.” Raedan slumped against the griffin for a moment; the interaction with the minds of his griffins took a toll on his body.

“When?”

“Six days ago. Enough messengers to reach every lord in Ansgar and they carry satchels.”

“Letters from the King.” Hadrian’s eyes grew troubled. “Did she see the emblems on their gear?”

“A gold man with a spear, on a white and green banner.” The symbol of Eadric Garrard, Duke Elsdon and King of Ansgar.

“I would say the train will arrive at Orintown in no more than fifteen days.”

“If they push the train hard, it will be more like twelve days,” Raedan noted. “We’ll need to tell Wallace.”

“And Cedric,” Hadrian added. “Tomorrow. Tonight is for our sister.”

“You’re right.” Raedan nodded and stroked Kiis’ hind legs. “I’ll have the stewards inform their lords in the morning. We have many of the lesser lords from your lands and Wallace’s lands here. Best to inform them as well.”

“We should rejoin the celebration,” Hadrian said after a moment.

“Let me make sure Kiis gets bedded down. I’ll be in shortly.”

 ***

Earl Odwolfe had retired to his chambers early in the night, but Raedan and Hadrian still had to wait for him at the table in the great hall to break their fast the next morning. Both had risen with the sun, Hadrian had sent his men to pass the word that there was to be a meeting, with the Earl’s permission, after midday. Raedan had seen to it that his griffin had been cared for and then sent her back to his keep.

The great hall was nearly as large as the celebration hall. Heavy iron chandeliers, their candles unlit, hung from timber beams and light streamed in through colored glass windows in the top half of the walls and reflected off of polished silver mirrors that had been hung on gray stone columns. Hadrian and Raedan were seated at a long table on a raised stone dais. A few other tables were spread throughout the hall, but most had been moved to the celebration hall for the wedding.

Hadrian was dressed in black wool trousers and a white wool shirt, his fur-lined cloak thrown over his shoulders. The cold from the storm had not gone with the clouds that had born the snow. His brother sat beside him, dressed in a thick, black wool shirt and brown wool trousers. He had laid his cloak over the back of his chair. Raedan had a better tolerance for the cold than his brother.

The brothers sat in silence, each with a steel cup of coffee before them. They had finished a full pot of the sweet black drink and had the second before them.

“Ah, I see the Clyve lords rise early.” The Earl finally entered his dining chamber, assisted by his steward, and sat in the great stone chair at the center of the table. He had his thick red cloak wrapped about him. “Stewards, bring us meat and bacon and bread. I see they already have coffee; bring some for me as well.”

“My Lord, there is much to be discussed this morning.” Hadrian spoke first, as was his place as the elder brother. “A message came in the night.”

“My steward told me nothing of a message.” Lord Wallace leaned forward in his great chair.

“The message was carried by one of my griffins, My Lord,” Raedan announced. “We thought it best to let your son and our sister enjoy their wedding night and the attention of the gathered families and lords and knights.”

“Very well,” Wallace said and leaned back. “What word did this message bring?”

Stewards entered, carrying a pot of coffee and cups to drink from, plates of bread and trays of butter.

“Riders and a King’s train have left Aetheston carrying marked satchels and wearing the King’s symbols.” Hadrian poured more coffee into his cup. “Enough messengers to reach every noble house in Ansgar.”

“Well, I suppose His Grace the King has something that he wants us to hear,” Wallace said and then let out a loud, booming laugh.

“Father, what has you laughing so loudly, so early this morning?” His son entered the great chamber, sleep still heavy on his eyes. He wore red wool trousers, thick and warm, a white wool shirt and had a fur-lined cloak wrapped around his shoulders.

Raedan hid a small laugh with a cough; it was nearly four hours past dawn, more late in the morning than early.

“A message was delivered last night, Cedric. Messengers have poured forth from Aetheston to bring marked satchels and letters to our doors, and the doors of our peers.”

“How long ago did they leave?” Cedric asked as he broke off a chunk of bread and poured a cup of coffee.
“They left Aetheston six days ago. They should reach my doors fifteen days,” Raedan announced. Stewards brought plates of bacon and meat into the hall and set them before the nobles.

“There are few matters that would trouble the King so much that he would send messengers to our far keeps,” Cedric noted.

“War.” Hadrian suggested. He dangled his pocket watch on its gold chain and watched it twist as if of its own accord.

His father had given him the silver plated watch when he had celebrated his eighteenth year. A rampant griffin was etched into the outside cover and the hands were made of ebony. Hadrian made it a point to carry it with him everywhere as a reminder of his father’s wisdom and advice.

“With whom?” Wallace was skeptical. More than one hundred years had passed since the Lords of Ansgar had last called their levies and marched to war, when William the Defender had summoned the armies of his nation together to expel the invaders from Kerberos and then had captured the northern nation. Those armies had been away from their lands and homes for nearly thirteen years. Only the weak, the old and the young had been left to tend the fields and the crafts. By the end, women had turned to do much of the work in their villages and on their farms. “Franta has felt the power of our guns, Nordahr is one of our great allies and Beldane could not be bothered to come against us. They have their own strife to deal with.”

While Beldane was more stable than the nearby nation of Franta, it still had its shares of internal conflicts and was ever on the verge of going to war with either Steimor or Nordahr. Of late, certain factions of the nobility had refused to pay the taxes that they owed to the Grand Duke and the situation had escalated to the verge of a civil war before the offending nobility had surrendered and returned to the fold.

“A Great Council?” Cedric took a drink of his coffee and poured a heaping scoop of sugar into it. “Perhaps the King wishes to bring new laws to us?”

“That is more likely,” Wallace agreed. “Little else that would warrant a summons to Aetheston. Perhaps he has decided to betroth his son to some noble’s daughter.”

“Whatever the cause may be, it would be wise to speak with those lesser lords that have gathered here with us,” Raedan offered. “If His Grace has taken the trouble to send marked satchels, he will likely request our audience in Aetheston. We will need a column of soldiers if we are to travel so far.”

“I agree,” Wallace nodded. “We will gather the lesser lords for the midday meal, and discuss whose soldiers will accompany us to Aetheston.”

Hadrian and Raedan remained silent as they ate while the Earl and his son discussed their choice of lesser lords and knights to accompany them to the capital, nearly ten thousand miles away. Hadrian had a feeling, deep in his gut, that the messengers brought word of war, and a summons for the levies of the Lords of Ansgar.

 

 

Finger on the Trigger

I got Cerberus back from the editor and he approved of the changes that I made to improve the flow and cut down on the clutter. All I have left to do is review the 2nd pass of edits, send it back for formatting and then it’s ready to go to Amazon.

Having just released the three accompanying short stories (you can check them out at the Products page) the initial nervousness of releasing isn’t as prevalent. I am slightly nervous in that once Cerberus is released, I’m going to go into full time promo-mode.  For the short stories, I’ve limited myself to a twitter blast here and there and a couple of facebook posts. Other than that, I’ve let them sit. And it shows: their ranking is abysmal.

They were never meant to be leaders, and they didn’t cost much to produce, so if they do pick up sales off of Cerberus’ coattails, all the better.

Additionally, 10 other Authors and I recently launched the Guild of Dreams. It’s a joint-blog where we’ll be posting on themes (sometimes) and generally doing cross-promotions.

You can click the link to take a look and follow our twitter hashtag #guildofdreams.

Humble Beginnings

I think I’ve mentioned it before, but with my first set of Griffins & Gunpowder short stories getting ready to launch and The Cerberus Rebellion so close to publication, I thought I would revisit the flash in the pan that started it all.

This short piece of fiction was written on my phone, though I couldn’t pinpoint exactly when. It was probably during a slow point at work when I had the chance to type it out in Google Docs.

It was done in April of 2011 and for about 4 months, it just stewed. Finally, in August the story took off. So, without further ado, here is the short story that was titled “Griffin Steampunk”.

The hunting party rode slowly along the low rolling hills, buffered from the wind and light drizzle by their thick, fur lined cloaks. They had been riding in the fields and hills for the entire day and had yet to see any of the prey that they sought.

There was sign everywhere along the low hills that there were Griffins in this part of the country, but neither the party scouts nor their hunting hawks had come up with anything.

“My Lord,” one of the riders shouted from the hilltop. “Griffins, about three lengths ahead. A whole flight of them!”

“Lead the way, Alvars!” Lord Thomas Collins, Baron of Shadow Ridge, shouted to his armsman.

The hunting party turned, their large horses climbing the hill with little effort, following the scout. Armor clattered as the riders picked up speed, their cloaks flapped behind them as they road hard toward the flight of griffins that they had been tracking.

As the party neared, they slowed to a trot. Griffins were notorious for having impeccable hearing and for maintaining a keen watch when they were away from their avaries.

“Armsman, bring me a rifle!” Thomas shouted to the back of the party. While swords were the primary weapon on the planet Gregorov, rifles were the hunting weapon of choice. One of Lord Collins’ armsman dismounted and pulled the long gun from its holster at the horse’s side.

“My Lord,” the armsman handed his lord the weapon as Thomas dismounted from his horse.

“Thank you, Vance,” the baron said as he flipped open the caps on the scope.

The rifle, a meter long, weighed at least ten kilograms and was of the finest make on the planet. Thomas had used the rifle since his tenth birthday, though he had to use a mount until he could carry the weapon himself. Now, he hefted the barrel with no trouble and brought the stock to his shoulder.

The scope was high powered, it brought the beasts so close that Thomas could seen the individual feathers on each of the beasts. The male Griffins were covered in spikes, the females were smooth backed. Males were much larger than their mates, but were less valuable as trophies because of the ungainly spikes.

Thomas settled on one of the females, stalking along the side of the hill with her ears pinned back against her skull. Thomas held his breath and settled his sights on the beasts’ chest and flicked off the weapon’s safety. He braced himself against the ground and squeezed the trigger.

The rail gun thumped as it spit the the bolt of metal at supersonic velocities. It took mere seconds for the round to reach its target and Thomas could hear the screams of the other Griffins as they lifted into the air. The hunting party lowered themselves as much as possible: a flight of angry Griffins was nothing to be trifled with. The beasts circled for a few minutes before they finally drifted toward the cliffs, retreating to their avary.

“Let’s go see what we’ve got!” Thomas shouted as he handed the rifle back to his armsman. The party remounted and took off at a gallop towards where the Griffins had been.

The party had stopped at nearly a full length from the flight of Griffins, so even at a full gallop it took almost ten minutes for them to reach the corpse of the majestic beast that had been their target. The scouts arrived first, their smaller horses were faster than those of the armsmen and nobles, and they circled the corpse slowly. Even as he approached, Thomas could tell that the scouts were talking to each other about something.

As he approached, Thomas quickly realized what had the attention of the scouts. The corpse of the female Griffin had fallen where the beast had stood, but there was something else. Laying in a small stone circle were a trio of baby Griffins. Their wings were still tucked back against their bodies, a sure sign that they were not yet able to fly.

“What should we do with them, My Lord?” One of the armsmen asked.

“Griffins are dangerous animals, My Lord,” Thomas’ master-of-arms suggested. “We should put them down.”

“My lord,” Thomas’ advisor interrupted. “Griffins could be a great asset. When fully grown, they could support riders. And even if we can’t ever train them, their wings could be clipped like a trophy hawk and they could be prize animals. Imagine walking into the King’s Palace with a trio of Griffins at your heels. Everyone would respect your power and wealth.”

“Alexander,” Thomas looked to his oldest son, and most accomplished horse trainer. “Do you think that you could train these beasts to carry a rider?”

“If there is a beast that cannot be trained to take a rider, I have not come across it yet,” Alexander nodded. “They won’t be of size to take a rider for at least nine months, and in that time we could train them to be hunters.”

“Very well,” Thomas nodded. “We’ll take them back to the castle.”

And from that, the Griffins & Gunpowder universe was born. It just goes to show how far a story can wander before it finds its home in your head. Have you ever written down a quick idea and had it morph into something very different before you finally started writing it in detail?

Killing Your Characters

With The Cerberus Rebellion in the hands of my beta-readers and 3/4 short stories finished, I’ve been working on plotting out the character arcs for my main characters over the rest of the series (right now, 5 more novels).

When I first developed the general idea for where I wanted this series to go, I had a pretty solid idea for how I wanted each character to end up. As the first novel developed, however, my long term goal for person shifted.

My plot, as it stands now, is radically different from what it was. First off, I had to kill an important secondary character in order to nudge one of the main characters down a certain path. As I’ve developed the arcs for the series, I’ve realized that at least one of my POV characters needs to die at some point toward the end of the series to bring closure.

This is really the first time that I’ve considered killing off a main character. In all of my other works, the main character comes through at the end.

I think the catalyst for this change of perspective was reading the Song of Ice and Fire books by George RR Martin. I won’t spoil it further than saying that he doesn’t mind killing off fairly important people.

I think that the multiple POV approach to writing provides the backup necessary to be able to kill off main characters because new ones can slide right into place and the other POV characters can continue the story.

When I initially killed off this secondary character, I went back through and read all of the chapters that he/she were involved in and realized that there wasn’t much to attach the read to him/her. So I went back through and beefed up this characters involvement in the story and the interactions with MC(s).

I haven’t received any feedback yet, but I’m hoping that my re-work of the character provided enough substance to make their death felt.

So what’s your opinion on killing off primary or important secondary characters?