Fantasy, mystery, thrillers, horror, historical. . .I write it all, and review it too!

Dec 24, 2011

A Medieval Merry Christmas!


Merry Christmas!


Photo of Canterbury Christmas story manuscript, c. 1140, courtesy British Library.

Dec 16, 2011

Deja-Vu blogfest: Small change in the MIddle Ages

Today is the Deja-Vu blogfest, where people all over the blogosphere are reposting one of their favorite old posts. This is one of my first posts on this blog, so most of you haven't seen it. Enjoy!

One mistake that historical fiction and roleplaying games make in recreating the Middle Ages is how money was used. They seem to assume that money then was like money now, but it wasn’t.

The vast majority of people used an in-kind economy, meaning they exchanged goods or services rather than money. Taxes were usually paid in crops or animals. People did use money, especially in the towns and cities, and there were networks of banks and even checks in places like the Byzantine Empire. Of course only the very wealthy could write a check that would be honored in another city.

One big problem was small change. Most coins were of gold or silver and were worth a lot compared to the daily production of the average farmer or laborer. As one of my grad school professors said, “We simply don’t know how someone paid for a flagon of ale at a tavern.”

Some cultures did have small change. In what’s now the Czech Republic they used painted bits of cloth. The Ottomans had a tiny silver coin called a “para” that was about the size of a capital O. To avoid losing them, people carried them under their tongue! In mining towns small amounts of gold dust could be used. Prospectors also did this in Old West mining towns.

People also could build up credit and then pay it off once it got to the amount of a coin. This was no problem since most people lived in villages or small towns where everybody knew everybody else. A common way to keep accounts was the tally stick. These were sticks split down the middle. Buyer and seller each got one half and they were marked with slashed to show how much was owed. In some remote parts of Europe with high amounts of illiteracy this practice continued well into the twentieth century. This photo shows a selection of tally sticks from the 18th-20th century from Switzerland.

Thanks to Sandstein from Wikipedia for the cool photo.

Dec 13, 2011

Upcoming releases

I've been a bit too quiet on this blog lately. I've been very busy at work and finalizing two upcoming releases. One is Down in the Dungeon, a collection of my short stories inspired by classic RPG gaming. So many fantasy authors are inspired by roleplaying games and try to hide it. Well, I don't. I revel in it! This ebook has a wonderful cover designed by Laura Shinn. It will be coming out within a month from Writers Exchange E-Publishing.

I also have a short story titled "The Witch Bottle" in the upcoming anthology Love and Darker Passions. This will be published early next year by Blood Moon, the horror imprint of Double Dragon. It's based on some research into a real item of folkloric magic called, you guessed it, the witch bottle.

If you haven't sampled my fiction yet, I already have two books available. My fantasy novel Roots Run Deep follows the adventures of a female goblin struggling her way out of a slum in a human-dominated world and becoming a leader for her oppressed people. My mystery/thriller Murder at McMurdo tells the tale of flawed man trying to make things right for his wife and himself while trying to solve a murder.

So while I've been a bit quiet of late, I haven't been sleeping! And you're getting a medieval post later this week, so stayed tuned!

Dec 1, 2011

Sheela-na-gigs: naughty women bare all in church

The Middle Ages were an odd time, as we've discussed before on this blog. One of the oddest things to come from that odd period are Sheela-na-gigs. These are sculptures of women lifting their skirts and spreading their genitalia for all to see.

Medieval porn? Perhaps. The strange thing, though, is that most Sheela-na-gigs are in churches. Why would church leaders allow sculptures of naked women baring all to be plainly visible to their congregations? That's something nobody has been able to answer.

Sheela-na-gigs are most common in Ireland, but many have been found in England and, to a lesser extent, on the Continent. Nobody is quite sure of their date since the churches they're in span several centuries and sometimes the sculptures appear to have been reused from earlier buildings. Nobody is even sure what the name means, although an 18th century ship in the Royal Navy bore that name and in the ship's listing the name is explained as a "female sprite".

Some researchers claim they're pagan survivals like the Green Man, but like with that mysterious figure there's no solid evidence. Others claim it's a fertility symbol or even a Christian warning against the sinfulness of lust in general or women in particular.

Nobody knows, which makes it really fun to speculate!

Nov 26, 2011

More Medieval Weapons in the American Civil War

Earlier this week we had Sean McLachlan blogging about Medieval Weapons in the American Civil War as part of his virtual book tour for his new Civil War novel.

He didn't have enough space to say everything he wanted to, so he's done another post over at his own blog titled Lancers in the American Civil War. Go on over and check out this interesting post!

I didn't realize there were lancers in that war. The term "lancer" brings to mind the cavalry of the Napoleonic Wars, like this French lancer I nabbed off of Wikimedia Commons. I bet the Texan Confederates didn't have such snappy uniforms!

Nov 21, 2011

Medieval weapons in the American Civil War

One of John Brown's pikes. Credit: Hugh Talman (Smithsonian Institution)
Today I'm proud to host the first stop on a book tour for A Fine Likeness, a historical fantasy novel set in the Civil War. It's written by Sean McLachlan, a historian who guest blogged here before about medieval handgonnes. Today he tells us how the American Civil War still saw the use of some very medieval-style weapons. Take it away Sean!

When the Civil War started in 1861, most Americans had no experience with warfare and were completely unprepared. This led them to use some weapons that wouldn't have looked out of place in the Middle Ages.

This started even before the war, when radical abolitionist John Brown raided the federal arsenal at Harper's Ferry in 1859. His wanted to steal the weapons to arm a planned slave insurrection. Before the raid, Brown had a blacksmith make 500 pikes like the one pictured above. They had a 9 ½ to 10-inch long double-edged blade of forged cast steel and a 4 ½ inch wide iron guard fitted onto a six-foot ash handle. Brown and his followers used these pikes (as well as some more effective guns) to take the armory, but were soon captured by troops commanded by Robert E. Lee (!) and the planned insurrection never happened.

Once the actual war started in 1861, volunteers showed up with whatever weapons they could get. A report from the Battle of Lexington, Missouri said one rebel carried a corn scythe. At the Battle of Athens, Missouri, that same year, the rebels had a cannon made from a hollowed out log. It blew up the first time it was fired.

Rebel with "knife" (Library of Congress)
Soldiers also carried swords and long knives that often saw use in hand-to-hand combat. Notorious rebel guerrilla Bloody Bill Anderson, who is a character in my novel, carried a tomahawk and a Bowie knife; the latter he used to scalp his victims. In the Indian Territory (modern Oklahoma) and the Far West, native Americans fought on both sides. They also operated independently, taking advantage of the war to raid white settlers. While many had guns, some still used tomahawks, spears, and bows and arrows.

The Civil War was a savage conflict, and the savagery of the medieval battlefield, with its fearsome weapons, was part of that grim reality.

A Fine Likeness is available as an ebook at Amazon, Amazon UK, Amazon DE, and Amazon FR and will soon be available in print and on Barnes & Noble and Smashwords. the back cover blurb is below:


A Confederate guerrilla and a Union captain discover there’s something more dangerous in the woods than each other.

Jimmy Rawlins is a teenaged bushwhacker who leads his friends on ambushes of Union patrols. They join infamous guerrilla leader Bloody Bill Anderson on a raid through Missouri, but Jimmy questions his commitment to the Cause when he discovers this madman plans to sacrifice a Union prisoner in a hellish ritual to raise the Confederate dead.

Richard Addison is an aging captain of a lackluster Union militia. Depressed over his son’s death in battle, a glimpse of Jimmy changes his life. Jimmy and his son look so much alike that Addison becomes obsessed with saving him from Bloody Bill. Captain Addison must wreck his reputation to win this war within a war, while Jimmy must decide whether to betray the Confederacy to stop the evil arising in the woods of Missouri.

 

Nov 7, 2011

Medieval Mondays: The kettle hat, humble helm of the medieval soldier

While movies and novels generally focus on the exploits of medieval knights, it was the simple footman who did most of the fighting in medieval battles. Clad in chainmail or leather armor, and armed with spears, axes, flails, and very few swords, they were the humble grunts who bore the brunt of battle.

But they weren't faceless. In fact, their faces could be clearly seen because they didn't wear the cumbersome and restricting closed helms of the knights. One of the most popular helmet types for the regular foot soldier was the kettle hat. You can see a few in the medieval manuscript illustration above. The most clear example is the fellow climbing the ladder to the right.

The kettle hat had a broad brim to protect from attacks from above, whether from horsemen or objects dropped from castle walls. This brim also helped protect the eyes from rain. You don't want water in your eyes when you're in hand-to-hand combat! Cheap and quick to make, the kettle hat was popular from the 11th century through the Middle Ages. It was even turned upside down and used as a cooking pot!

The kettle hat was revived in the First World War by several armies and used by the Commonwealth forces through World War Two. Below is a postcard from World War One showing a kettle hat not much different than the Medieval type.


 

Oct 17, 2011

Could clerics shed blood? The example of Bishop Odo

Anyone who played D&D in their youth knows that clerics aren't allowed to shed blood, and thus have to carry maces instead of swords. I always thought that was a ridiculous rule first because it wouldn't work--brain someone with a mace and see just how much blood you get--and second because I failed to see the historical connection. Medieval priests often fought, although technically they were not supposed to take up arms of any kind. So I always wondered where Gygax and Company got this idea.

Perhaps they got it from Bishop Odo, William the Conqueror's half brother. The Bayeux Tapestry, which Odo probably commissioned, shows him riding into battle flourishing a club with the caption, "Hic Odo Eps (Episcopus) Baculu(m) Tenens Confortat Pueros", in English "Here Odo the Bishop holding a club strengthens the boys".

So he may not even have used his club as a weapon, but rather as sort of a command staff like the later swagger stick. But another part of the tapestry shows William the Conqueror with a club. Also, in the age of chainmail a club wasn't such a bad weapon. Not as good as a flail (my personal favorite) and certainly not as good as the later medieval handgonnes, but not a bad choice for someone who has sworn never to take up a sword. Odo led troops in battle on numerous occasions, so he might have discovered how effective a club is firsthand.

The goblinkin in my fantasy novel Roots Run Deep are also saddled with primitive weapons. The ruling humans treat them as second-class citizens and, like any group of oppressors, fear those they oppress. Thus they ban goblins and hobgoblins from using metal weapons. Instead our green friends use mauls, quarterstaves, flint knives, clubs like good old Bishop Odo, and a special fighting stick called a tfaa.

Oct 14, 2011

Three great blogs you should follow

Today is the Pay it Forward Blogfest, where a bunch of us bloggers are naming three fellow bloggers who we think should have more followers, even if they have lots already! Here are my three picks:

Mithril Wisdom: a great source for fantasy book reviews, some funky art, and news and views from the world of fantasy. While there are lots of fantasy review blogs out there, this one stands out because Jamie puts much thought into each review and mixes it up with non-review posts. Jamie is getting a degree in Egyptology and was a guest blogger here writing about Egyptian vampires.

Civil War Horror: Sean McLachlan has written a heap of books on military history, the Old West, and the Middle Ages. He's been a guest blogger on this post a couple of times, including a cool piece on medieval handgonnes, and he's about to come out with a Civil War novel. His blog covers such diverse topics as Civil War weaponry, the exploits of Jesse James, and writing horror fiction.

Grognardia: For those not in the know, a grognard is a term for an old veteran of Napoleon's army. It also means an old-school roleplaying gamer. Not too many of Napoleon's veterans are still around except in zombie form, and they don't read the blogs, so this blog is dedicated to gamers. You'll get plenty of nostalgia from the Seventies and Eighties, when pretending to be an elven wizard was still new and a bit cutting edge. If you're too young to remember those days, check it out anyway and see how gaming was done in the era before home computers took it over.

So check out these blogs and leave a comment, and tell them I sent you!

The photo of the jousting knights is from Wikimedia Commons. It has nothing to do with anything, I just like the picture.

Oct 10, 2011

Charm to ward off evils spirits found in castle ruins

Archaeologists digging in the ruins of Nevern Castle in Wales have found a dozen pieces of slate with scratched markings of stars and other designs.

The slates were found at a 12th century doorway, hinting that they were put there to ward off evil spirits trying to get into the entrance. I wrote about this practice on a previous Medieval Mondays, in which hidden clothing is used to ward off witches. Dead cats work too!

The archaeologists say they were installed around 1170-1190 when the castle was rebuilt in stone. The castle was originally built by the Normans as a motte-and-bailey castle in 1108. The BBC has a nice photo of one of the Nevern slates. Recent excavations have unearthed a lot of interesting finds from this site, including a game of Nine Men's Morris shown below. Thanks to Wikimedia Commons for this photo.

Oct 3, 2011

Five best medieval history twitter feeds

This Medieval Monday I've decided to do something a little different. I'm going to tell you about my favorite medievalists on Twitter! If you like the Middle Ages, check out these great feeds.

@CryForByzantium Byzantine emperors tweet about the intrigues in Constantinople and battles on the frontier. Currently we're in the year 1143 and Emperor John II Komnenos is dying. He had been hunting and accidentally got cut by a poison arrow. Who will succeed him?

@King_Henry_VIII  Similar to Cry for Byzantium but the tweets of Henry VIII. Yes, he's Renaissance and not Medieval. Sue me. "Ladies, I won't even look at you if your cup size is smaller than mine. Just a warning." With tweets like this, how can't I include him?

@medievalbook Links to reviews of books on the Middle Ages. Some popular, some quite esoteric.

@MedievalWall This tweeter from Croatia links to interesting articles on a variety of medieval subjects. Many articles are from his own site, such as this one on the Templars in Croatia.

@medievalist More in line with many Twitter feeds, this medievalist mixes interesting medieval news with personal tidbits.

Photo of John II Komnenos courtesy Wikipedia.

Sep 26, 2011

The Green Man: Pagan or Christian?

 We’ve all seen them—those strange faces peering out through foliage in odd corners of churches. They look out of place in such a setting—apparently pagan iconography in a Christian building. Who was The Green Man, and why does he decorate churches?

While the Green Man was commonly seen carved into buildings in ancient Rome, the term was actually coined by a folklorist in 1939. The figure died out with the end of the Classical era and didn’t reappear until the eleventh century.

We have no direct evidence for what these figures mean; the stonemasons who carved them and the church leaders who commissioned the carvings haven’t left us records of why they chose this motif. Some people, especially modern neopagans, like to see the Green Man as a pagan survival sneaking into Christian territory. While the Christian church did co-opt many elements of paganism, such as turning ancient gods into saints, the long gap between their use in the Roman Empire and their reappearance in the Middle Ages argues against this. One suggestion is that it’s a foreign motif brought in by international trade. Although there are Green Man figures in places like India, there’s no direct evidence for the import idea.


 For clues to its meaning we need to look at Medieval and Renaissance society. The vast majority of people were farmers, and there were large tracts of wilderness that the people looked on with a mixture of interest and fear. A man draped in foliage brings to mind the springtime, a time of joy and optimism for the farmer, a time when hormones run wild. The church’s wealth depended on land and it was often the largest landowner in the area. Celebrating the spring as a time of blessings and abundance from God makes sense in a Christian context.

On the other hand, the Church always warned against the licentiousness of the season, and the pagan dances and rituals that sprang up in the villages at this time of year. The 8th century theologian Rabanus Maurus said they symbolized the sins of the flesh and that the Green Man was a doomed soul. Perhaps, but this was only one interpretation. Contrary to popular belief, the medieval Church was a testing ground for a number of ideas and a variety of local practices.


Thus the Green Man was a tricky symbol, one of both hope and danger, a bit like another favorite motif, the Wild Man. This probably explains why he's generally not put in prominent places, but rather high up on arch supports or on roof bosses. He acts as secondary decoration rather than the first thing that catches the eye like a large stained glass window or gold altar.

Many of the Green Men we see in England today actually date from the Victorian era, a time of elaborate decoration and celebration of nature. The Green Man fit in perfectly to Victorian sensibilities. It was only then that the Green Man started appearing in large numbers outside of churches. Thus the Green Man, contrary to his appearance, was actually a Christian symbol.

Sep 19, 2011

Medieval Mondays: Heraldry on shields

Heraldry has always attracted me. The designs are so beautiful, even though I know very little about what those designs actually mean. They were the sign language of their time. With most of the population illiterate and knights anonymous under heavy armour, heraldry made sure every knew who was who.

Sean McLachlan, who has guest blogged here before, sent these shots over. They are from the Alcazar castle in Spain, which has a big collection of medieval cannon. I'm not sure why blogsmith insisted on putting these photos sideways! Anyone know the answer?
Sean says, "I don't know the date or provenance of these shields, but they are very large, almost the size of pavises although not the right shape. They may have been purely decorative."
Pavises are large shields used to protect archers or medieval handgonners while they reload. You can see an example below. This is actually a model soldier, but you get the idea! They made for a nice canvas on which to paint some heraldry or religious art. As you can see, pavises usually had flat bottoms and a spike so you could stick it into the ground.

Sean has written about medieval warfare in books and magazines, and is also an expert on the American Civil War. He has a blog called Civil War Horror and is coming out next month with a Civil War novel. Sounds interesting. I hope he doesn't abandon the Middle Ages!

Sep 13, 2011

Roots Run Deep gets two five-star reviews

My fantasy novel Roots Run Deep is enjoying only modest sales, but it is getting good reviews. Two readers have posted five-star reviews on Amazon.

"Ima Kindler" (I HOPE that's not her real name!) says, "This is an incrediable book. "Roots Run Deep" is not only a wonderful romance it sweeps the reader into a world that is unigue yet familiar.

"This is a world of many races, the Fae, elves, humans, and Goblinkin. What struck me was how the treatment the Goblinkin mirrored that of native cultures--Native Americans--and the idea of slavery. (The poor Goblinkin lived on reservations and were slaves.) I loved the juxtapose of those on the reservation and the Goblinkin who had escaped to the mountains walk with their heads up and with pride. Wonderful story of freedom, power, and the use of power to destory or rebuild. It is also a wonderful love story between the human king on the run and the female Goblinkin who saves his life."


Joshua Wachter (real name!) just posted a review this month: "I loved this book. We follow a goblin woman with minor powers as she struggles to make her way in the world. Swept up in events she rises to the occasion and finds the love of a troubled king. Can she save her people and find a way to be with the man of her choice

So if you haven't checked out Roots Run Deep, do yourself and my Amazon rating a favor!

Sep 12, 2011

Medieval Mondays: Living in a Medieval House


Hello everyone! Sorry for the month's absence. August is always busy for archaeologists, with it being the height of the field season and lots of work to do. I'm hoping to get back onto a regular schedule as we move into autumn and I already have a couple of guest bloggers queued up for October.

The Guardian had an interesting article this weekend about Shandy Hall, a medieval timber-framed home dating to about 1430. It stands in Coxwold, Yorkshire. This house, built a good half century before Columbus made his famous voyage, is still lived in. While castles tend to get the most attention, there are many medieval homes still standing in Europe.

Shandy Hall has several interesting details, such as blackening of the timbers above where the original kitchen was, and two medieval wall paintings, one of the letters IHS, meaning "Iesus Hominem Salvator" and another of a man with a pikestaff. The first painting makes sense since the house was originally built as a parsonage.

This Wikipedia photo shows that from the outside, Shandy Hall doesn't look like anything special. It just goes to show that you never know what might be hidden behind a plain exterior. Hmmm. . . .I wonder if there are any dead cats hidden in the walls?

Aug 8, 2011

Medieval Mondays: The oldest condom in the world

This picture shows the oldest condom in the world. It dates to 1640 and was found in Lund, Sweden. It's made of pig intestine. Before latex, condoms were often made of sheepskin or intestine. These natural condoms survived into the latex age because some people are allergic to latex, but they've all but died out since they don't protect against HIV.

This condom was reusable and came with an owner's manual written in Latin. The instructions recommend washing the condom in warm milk to stop from catching a disease. This is an interesting detail because it shows the manufacturer realized sheepskin condoms weren't very good at stopping sexually transmitted diseases. Apparently in the 17th century condoms were only seen as a way to avoid pregnancy.

By 1640 condoms had been around for some time. They may have been used in the ancient world, and they were certainly in use in the 16th century. In 1564, Gabriello Fallopio wrote a treatise on syphilis and advocated using a linen condom of his own design to prevent the spread of the disease. He claims to have run a clinical test of 1100 men who used his condom and didn't catch syphilis. Considering that no condom is 100% proof against STDs, his test subjects were pretty lucky, or made good choices in their sexual partners.

In my fantasy novel Roots Run Deep, the heroine, Kip Itxaron, uses a concoction of herbs to keep from getting pregnant. This was common in ancient times. There was a plant related to Queen Anne's Lace that when ingested worked as a relatively safe and effective abortificant. The Greeks and Romans used so much of it, however, that they made the plant go extinct!

Aug 1, 2011

Medieval Mondays: how a corpse can convict its murderer

In the days before fingerprints and CCTV, people had all sorts of strange ways of finding a criminal. One of the strangest was called the "bahr recht" (bier right). If someone has been murdered, you bring the suspect to the body and force him or her to touch the wounds. If they start to bleed, the suspect is guilty. This practice was common in England, Scotland, Wales, and perhaps other places during the 17th and 18th centuries.

One case in the English Coroner's Court from 1623 provides some interesting details. A woman had been found dead in her Hertfordshire home with her throat cut and a bloody knife stuck into the floor of her room. At first the court ruled it a suicide, but then changed its mind, exhumed the body, and made the dead woman's husband, mother-in-law, sister-in-law, and another relation touch it. The court records that,

. . .the brow of the dead which before was of a livid and carrion colour, begun to have a dew or gentle sweat arise upon it, which increased by degrees till the sweat ran down in drops on the face. The brow turned to a lively and fresh colour, and the deceased opened one of her eyes and shut it again; and this opening the eye was done three several times. She likewise thrust out the ring or marriage finger three times and pulled it in again, and the finger dropped blood from it. . .

Three of the suspects, including the husband, were eventually found guilty.

This little gem came from The Flying Sorcerer by Francis X King, published by Mandrake.

Jul 27, 2011

Medieval Mondays: Wild men in Medieval folklore

Medieval folklore is filled with monsters, from dragons to unicorns to goblins. One enduring creature is the wild man. This fellow is generally depicted as unclothed, covered in hair, of immense strength, and living on the edge of human habitation. He (and sometimes she) appears frequently in illuminated manuscripts, heraldry, and even coins. Some wild men are shown as giants, another favorite creature of the medieval bestiary.

Medieval Europeans were fascinated by what anthropologists call "liminal zones", areas crossing from one state of existence to another, in this case from civilization to wilderness. There was a lot of wilderness in medieval Europe, and since most people didn't travel, this wilderness was looked upon with wonder and fear. Who knew what might be living in that primeval forest? At the edge of human habitation there certainly were some strange people: bandits, hermits, madmen, so perhaps there were monsters too.

Medieval society was a strict and hierarchical one. Everyone had their place and they better stick to it. In the more rural areas, though, the church and state had less of an iron grip, and people could get away with more. Time and again in the historical record there are reports of rural people engaging in rituals that look like pagan survivals or revivals. These were dangerous but exciting, and medieval people looked upon these remote regions with a guilty thrill. The wild man is a projection of this.
Images of wild men are so frequent that some have argued that they may have been real. Some say there may have been primitive tribes living in the more remote regions, or even surviving Neanderthals. There's no evidence for this. I think there probably were a few wild men, people who left society either by choice or by force, who lived a semi-wild life in the woods, wearing uncured pelts as clothing. They may have been a danger to farmers living on the edge of civilization, stealing livestock or women and children as is often depicted in wild men imagery. In the weird, wonderful world of the Middle Ages, it's not unlikely.
  


[All images courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

Jul 19, 2011

Roots Run Deep fantasy novel reviewed!

I got a nice review of my fantasy novel Roots Run Deep over at Croft Fantasy reads.
Go check it out!

You can also judge the book for yourself by nabbing it at Amazon or Double Dragon Publishing.

Jul 18, 2011

Medieval Mondays: the ball and chain, my favorite medieval weapon

Here are a couple of images of a ball and chain, my favorite medieval weapon. Many people incorrectly call this a morning star, but that weapon is a straight stick with spikes on the end of it. I'm not sure where the confusion came from, but I suspect Dungeons and Dragons may be the culprit.

A ball and chain is a type of flail, and there are many variations, from the typical grain threshing flail used with deadly intent, to this fearsome weapon.

I wouldn't want to face this thing in battle. It looks scary, and my shield would do little good. All someone has to do is hit the shield with the handle, and the ball whips around and smack! While it wouldn't do much good against plate armour with padding underneath, most regular warriors had chain mail or even leather armour, which would have left them vulnerable to blunt trauma and puncture attacks.

Not much is known about this particular weapon. We know it was widespread. The image below is from Russia and I've seen examples here in England, but we don't know when they were first introduced and when they died out. Perhaps someone needs to do an academic treatise on the ball and chain!

Another question is why weren't these weapons more common? My personal theory is that they were difficult to learn how to use, especially with the limited visibility of most medieval helmets. Also, you couldn't use it in tight formation without fear of hitting your friends. Thirdly, you can't parry very well. Like many elaborate weapons, they look cool but in the end the simpler weapons like swords, axes, and maces worked better. Still, there's a soft spot in my heart for the old ball and chain. . .

[Top image by avatar-1, bottom image Wikimedia Commons]

Jul 12, 2011

Brochs: mysterious ruins of Scotland

One of the enduring mysteries of Scottish archaeology are brochs. More than 500 of these drystone towers dot the Scottish landscape. Most are in the north, or in the Shetland and Orkney Islands, and hug the waterways or shorelines. Some archaeologists say they're forts, others say they're the homes of the elite. Some contend that they're communal homes.

The name comes from the Lowland Scots words brough and the Old Norse borg, both of which mean "fort". That and the general feel of these places makes me think they were defensive structures, although that doesn't preclude their use for other functions. Castles in the High Middle Ages, for example, were for protection, living, and a way to show social status.

The best preserved is the Broch of Mousa in Shetland, shown above. It dates to about 100 BC and still stands 44 ft. (13 m) high. The internal staircase is preserved all the way to the top and you're allowed to climb it! It went through many phases of use and some Vikings even lived here centuries later in the Middle Ages.

For a better view of how a broch was constructed, check out the picture of Dun Carloway on the Isle of Lewis, shown below. Like Mousa, it was built in the first century BC and inhabited for many centuries, as late as 1300 AD in this case.
Whatever their use, they are some of the most impressively built prehistoric structures in Europe and add an air of mystery and beauty to the Scottish landscape.

Sorry Medieval Mondays is coming to you on a Tuesday this week, but Ive been having connectivity issues with my ISP. Hopefully that's all straightened out now. All, the troubles of the modern world!

Jul 4, 2011

Medieval Mondays: a Medieval revolver and hand grenade

Today we have another guest post by military historian Sean McLachlan, who wrote a previous post on his research on the accuracy of medieval firearms. Today he's talking about some interesting items he found in the Pitt-Rivers Museum in Oxford.

The Pitt-Rivers is my favorite museum. It is literally stuffed with items from every culture in the world and every period in history, organized not by time and place but by use. In the photo above you can see an early attempt at a "revolver", a four-barreled handgonne! As I mentioned in my previous guest post on medieval firearms, a handgonne was the earliest form of black powder gun, being lit by a burning cord called a slow match instead of any sort of trigger mechanism. They appeared in the 14th century.
It was an age of experimentation in many technologies and firearms were no exception. Several multi-barreled handgonnes survive and they were obviously an attempt to compensate for the handgonne's slow reloading speed. They are a small minority of all handgonnes, though, so apparently they were considered too unwieldy. Perhaps the lack of a single, straight barrel reduced the already poor accuracy.
In the above shot you can see another view of the four-barreled handgonne; a large handgonne just below it still being used in Burma in the 19th century; a leather cannon from Manipur, India, below that; and than a typical "hackbut" type of handgonne below that. The hackbut was especially popular in the Low Countries and came with a hook for bracing against a wall, mantlet, or other object. The other objects are later.

And here you have a medieval hand grenade! This one is Byzantine and used their most famous weapon--Greek Fire. The recipe for Greek Fire is lost but it seems to have been a sort of early napalm. This ceramic jar was filled with Greek Fire and had a lit slow match as a fuse. too bad I didn't have this shot when I wrote my history of the Byzantine Empire! Other grenades survive from the Middle Ages too, and contained gunpowder.

Jun 30, 2011

Guest Post: Color Me Geeky

Today we have a guest post from A.J. Maguire, a fellow Double Dragon author.

Color me geeky, but I loved the video game Arcanum. In fact, when I was world-building for Witch-Born, I did a little tip of the hat to the game when I named the world “Magnellum”. It was originally going to be called Magnella, but in a purely capricious mood I changed it to add the “-um” at the end. If you’ve ever seen the game, you know the general feel, where magic and steam-generated technology are at odds. While I loved this concept, what I loved more was the steampunk involved and the fun details that came from it.

When I first set out to write Witch-Born, I became frustrated because I didn’t want to make a replica of the world of Dyngannon, which was the setting of my first novel, Sedition.  A very patient friend of mine, who always listens when I start ranting about writing frustrations--even though he's never written a novel and never will--challenged me to make Witch-Born a steampunk world. I’d never tried that before, so I took the challenge.  

Because I was writing Witch-Born for the National Novel Writing Month in 2008, I took all of October to outline the book and play with world-building and research. For those unfamiliar with steampunk, a very basic explanation is that you take modern technology and swap it with steam power. Jared, the friend who issued the steampunk challenged, laid out specific items that I had to put in. Firstly, there needed to be a train. Locomotives are the essence of steam-powered technology, and thus I had to have one in my book.

Chugga-chugga-Easy, I even put a depot in the first chapter.

Then he said there had to be a lot of brass and copper. (Yes, he really was that vague.) And at this point I sort of gave up on his directives and started researching steampunk myself. The first place I went (and the first place I always go when I’m researching something) was How Stuff Works.com. It’s an eclectic compendium of information to just about everything imaginable. They even have podcasts. Personally, I’m looking forward to listening to the “How Shrunken Heads Work” podcast.

How Stuff Works threw me several specific directions. At first, “steampunk” was used to define any author of speculative fiction who based their world on an alternate 19th Century Earth. More specifically, an Earth where technology is defined more by iron and copper and metals, rather than the plastic contraptions we have in stock today. Nowadays, steampunk is a style and an art form. A good example is Wild, Wild West. You see the steam-powered, iron spider crawling through the desert, or the steam-aided wheelchair. But if you want to get really specific, read The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling. By the time you’re done reading that, you’ll have a feel for what steampunk means.

By the time November hit, I had a boat load of information and research that I absolutely could not get through.  Because you have to write 50 thousand words in the thirty days of November in order to win National Novel Writing Month, I had all of this information in a file on my computer that I accessed only when I got really stuck.

Can they have a steam-powered generator? (Dive into the file and look.)

I absolutely must have a dirigible, can I have a dirigible? (Rifle through file again.)

Good lord, he’s dressed like a dandy, is that right? (Eyeball several pictures in the file.)

I’m happy to say that I did actually win National Novel Writing Month that year, but the greater portion of my research came about during the editing process. I made the mistake of making the main character a seamstress, which I knew nothing about, and ended up with double the research just to make sure the girl didn’t mismatch colors or use the wrong kind of fabric. Although it was a fictional world, I didn’t want to make some egregious error that would have a real seamstress grouching at me.

That being said, Witch-Born is a fantasy with steampunk flavor. I don’t go into the “how’s” of the way the pieces work and I don’t really elaborate on a lot of them. The reason being, is that the point of view characters who were in the book were primarily the race known as “witch-born” and these magically inclined people can’t fully understand the technology around them. They don’t hate it, in fact they appreciate it, but if you asked them how the gears worked in a clock they couldn’t tell you. There is a sequel currently in the works where I have point of view characters that are not “witch-born”, so I’m getting to play more with the research still sitting in my hard drive.

Jun 29, 2011

Murder at McMurdo now available on the Kindle!

My Antarctic mystery/thriller Murder at McMurdo is now available in the Kindle store!

Mark Collins came to McMurdo Antarctic Research Station to study ice cores, cut down on drinking, and patch up his marriage to his wife Rachel. He’s failed on all counts. His equipment arrives broken, and he’s having an affair with Svetlana, a coworker who drinks as much as he does. When Mark and Svetlana witness a murder and the wrong man gets blamed, they must either solve the crime themselves, or reveal their affair to the entire camp in order to prove the suspect’s innocence. The only clue is an Alcoholics Anonymous token. Mark must infiltrate the station’s AA group, where he faces not only danger, but hard truths about himself.

It just went up today and somebody's already bought it. Whoever you are, you are my new best friend!

Genre Author blog breaks 1,000 hits in its second active month!

As I mentioned in my post How to Write a Successful Blog? I was hoping to break 1,000 hits this month. Yesterday I did! At the moment of this writing I have 1,030 hits. Thanks to all of you regular readers and thanks for your comments too. I love interacting with all of you.

Tune in tomorrow for an interesting steampunk-themed guest post from fellow Double Dragon author A.J. Maguire.

Jun 28, 2011

Does blogging help an author make sales?

Anyone looking for easy answers won't get them here. Just like my post How to write a successful blog? I'm ending the title with a question mark. In response to that last post someone asked me if the energy spent on blogging actually resulted in more book sales. Here's my response.

Short answer: I have no idea.

Second short answer: It can't hurt (except to waste time better spent writing)

Long answer:
It's hard to make a correlation between a blog and sales. I've had many people in the comments section SAY they bought my book, but who knows? Since I don't have a buy button on my blog (my publishers don't offer that option) there's no way to make a certain correlation.

That said, blogging is the easiest way to get my personality out into the wider world. People learn about me and my books. Of course, being an unknown writer means that me and my books aren't enough to drive people to my site, so I include a regular feature on a popular topic (the Middle Ages) that attracts my core readership (fantasy and paranormal fans). By emphasizing content over promotion I'm hoping to build up a loyal readership who will reward me by buying my books.

Being part of the blogging community helps in other ways. I got to do a virtual blog tour and some fellow bloggers have reviewed my book. My second book just came out and I've already had offers of blog hosting.
So what about hard figures? I don't have any royalty statements yet because my books only came out recently. We'll just have to see and yes, I will share them publicly. There's too much obfuscation and hollow boasting in the ebook community. You'll only get straight figures from me.

Jun 27, 2011

Medieval Mondays: A shoe hidden away keeps the witches at bay

A witch bottle wasn't the only way people in the British Isles protected their homes from evildoers. Traditional folklore gave the nervous homeowner plenty of ways to secure their home, family, and livestock.

The most common method was to conceal one or more shoes in the chimney or other hidey-hole. The origin of this peculiar custom is unclear. One theory says it started with John Schorn of Buckinghamshire, an unofficial "folk" saint from England who in the 14th century caught the Devil in a boot. There was a common belief that witches and spirits came in through the chimney and couldn't turn around, so if you caught them in a shoe you'd keep them out of the house.

More than a thousand shoes have been discovered hidden in old homes in the UK. About 40 percent are from children (considered likely targets for evil spells) and they're rarely found in pairs.

An even weirder remedy was to wall up a cat. (A moment of silence for all those cats). Many cats have been found sealed up in walls or roofs in places where they clearly didn't get to on their own. They've become naturally mummified and are commonly called "dried cats". Since cats were considered semi-magical creatures, perhaps it was thought a dead cat could hunt in the spirit world, or go toe-to-toe with the witch's familiar.

The local cunning man or woman could provide protection without killing Furball or stealing your kid's shoe. A written charm with a mixture of astrological symbols, an abracadabra triangle, and barely literate Latin could do the trick, as could magical marks such as a "daisy wheel" that's commonly found on roof beams, plaster, and furniture in early modern England. This was a good luck symbol.

Another method was hiding a horse skull. At the Portway pub at Staunton-on-Wye there was discovered more than forty horse skulls screwed beneath the floor! Some people claimed it was to help the fiddler sound better, but some sort of magical ritual seems the more likely explanation.

For more on these and other amazing practices, check out the Apotropaios website and the Deliberately Concealed Garments Project. An excellent book is Ralph Merrifield's The Archaeology of Ritual and Magic.

Jun 22, 2011

How to write a successful blog?

The title of this post ends with a question mark because I'm not actually sure how to write a successful blog. I only know what I've done and how it's worked out pretty well for me. Any suggestions on how to do things better would be highly appreciated.

I started this blog on February 16. Here are the stats for my number of posts and monthly hits since then.

February: 5 posts, 86 hits
March: 2 posts, 44 hits
April: 4 posts, 388 hits
May: 17 posts, 978 hits
June (up to noon on the 22nd and including this post): 8 posts, 784 hits

As you can see, life and the day job got in the way and I didn't get serious with this blog until May, when my virtual book tour started. The one thing that started immediately, however, were my Medieval Mondays posts, although they didn't get a regular weekly schedule until May. These get the most hits by far, more than my book announcements, guest posts that aren't part of Medieval Mondays, or any other stuff I've put up.

This gives an important lesson: while I want this blog to promote my books, people come here for Medieval Mondays. Content is king, as they say. Perhaps if people like my posts on the Middle Ages, they'll start buying my books! Medieval Mondays seems to be working for other people too. Two of my most popular posts are Jamie Gibbs' article on Vampirism in Ancient Egypt and Sean McLachlan's post on the accuracy of medieval handgonnes. Several top posts, both mine and theirs, have garnered more than 200 hits. My guest post on leather armour over at Mid-List Writer got more than 350. That's a more established blog, though.

Besides the book tour, I haven't done much to promote this blog. I only got a twitter feed on April 29, but several people have been kind enough to retweet me and link to me on their blogs.

So. . .on my second month of serious blogging it looks like I might break 1,000 hits. That seems like a pretty quick growth, almost entirely on the basis of having a once-a-week regular feature on a popular topic. Would anybody else out there in the blogosphere care to bare all and give the world their data? I'm curious to see how I measure up.

Jun 21, 2011

Murder at McMurdo is out!!!

My second novel (actually a novella) has been released by LL-Publications! Called Murder at McMurdo, this mystery/thriller is very different from my first novel, a fantasy titled Roots Run Deep published by Double Dragon.

Here's the back cover blurb:

Mark Collins came to McMurdo Antarctic Research Station to study ice cores, cut down on drinking, and patch up his marriage to his wife Rachel.

He’s failed on all counts. His equipment arrives broken, and he’s having an affair with Svetlana, a coworker who drinks as much as he does. When Mark and Svetlana witness a murder and the wrong man gets blamed, they must either solve the crime themselves, or reveal their affair to the entire camp in order to prove the suspect’s innocence. The only clue is an Alcoholics Anonymous token. Mark must infiltrate the station’s AA group, where he faces not only danger, but some hard truths about himself.

So instead of a goblin going on an epic quest to liberate her people, we have a very flawed man fighting sexual addiction and alcoholism while trying to solve a murder. Kip Itxaron had her flaws, but Mark Collins makes her look downright normal!

I've always liked flawed characters. They're so much more interesting to write (and read) about than cardboard heroes. Currently Murder at McMurdo is available direct from LL-Publications. Soon it will be available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and several other online vendors.

Jun 20, 2011

Medieval Mondays: Greek and Roman curse tablets

It's time once again for Medieval Mondays, and like with the popular Vampirism in Ancient Egypt and Witch Bottle posts, we've wandered away from the Middle Ages. Ah well. perhaps I should call these posts Archaeological Mondays, but then I'd lose the alliteration. Today's post is by author Christina St. Clair and is about ancient curse tablets.

Tabulae defixiones are curse tablets. They were widely used in Ancient Greece and Rome. In Greek they were called katadesmoi and in Latin defixiones. From the time of Clement of Alexandria in 200 C.E. scholars thought gods needed to be addressed in ways more powerful than mere human language. Thus, invocations, secret names, and secret languages were etched into the tablet.

The tablet, often made of thin lead, because that was cheap, easy to shape, and long-lasting, was then nailed with an iron nail into a wall or floor or somewhere near the intended victim. The iron nail wasn't merely to fasten the plate, but to increase suffering.

Some defixiones contained blank spaces. Archaeologists believe these particular ones were made by professionals and sold to clients who could then fill in the name of their intended recipient.
The defixione at the beginning of my novel, Emily's Shadow, is a mysterious spell. The unknown words bakakab aka! tababak! are intended to be voces mysticae, unrecognizable harsh language meant to gain power over the intended victim: Merlin.

References
http://www.archaeologyexpert.co.uk/defixones-curse-tablets.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Defixiones
Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Jun 13, 2011

Medieval Mondays: Born-Again Christian killed by pagan stone circle?

 Sometimes truth is weirder than fiction.

Avebury has always been one of my favorites of the thousand or so stone circles of the British Isles. Fellow author and former archaeologist Sean McLachlan of Mid-List Writer fame has published a detailed article on Avebury so I won't repeat the information here. Basically it's the biggest stone circle from the Neolithic Period. Actually it's a whole complex of stone circles, giant standing stones, and associated monuments.

The locals in the Middle Ages didn't like it. Around the 14th century they got religion, more religion than the usually religious medieval peasants. These early Born-Agains decided to destroy the stones and knocked down several of them. One, however, ended up falling on one of the vandals! He wasn't discovered until the stone was excavated in 1938. The stone was put back in place and the bones were sent off to be studied.

What's interesting about the skeleton was that it had a pair of scissors and a medical-style metal probe. This led the archaeologists to identify him as a barber-surgeon. In the days before NHS, barbers often doubled as surgeons, doing simple operations like lancing boils and setting broken limbs. Researchers have suggested he was involved in the vandalism because barber-surgeons were considered somewhat magical, like blacksmiths, and that his presence would have helped protect the vandals. Fat lot of good it did!

Interestingly, the skeleton has been reexamined and there's no evidence he was crushed to death. Perhaps he got pinned under the stone as it was lowered down in the pit and his friends couldn't get him out. Another possibility is that he was deliberately buried under the stone because the villagers didn't want him on hallowed ground for some reason. Pinning a body is a common way to keep the dead from returning. Perhaps he was considered a bit too magical?

This is what I love about archaeology. All the possibilities. . .

Thanks to Jim Champion for the photo. The barber-surgeon was found under the stone on the left.

Jun 12, 2011

Short Story Competition: Down in the Dungeon

I need your help. I've written a collection of short stories inspired by old-school roleplaying games. Down in the Dungeon offers four short stories and a novelette of swords and sorcery adventure, and I want YOU to finish one of them!

The story is below. As you can see, the adventurers are in a wee spot of trouble. Can you get them out? The story can be any length (within reason) but must have the feel of a fantasy dungeoncrawl. Send it in the body of the email to me ajwalkerauthor (at) yahoo.co.uk The winner will get $10 via Paypal and be included in the collection to be published by Writers Exchange E-Publishing!

Entries Close 15 August 2011.


THE TRAP
by A.J. Walker

We never saw it coming. The dwarf walked a little ahead of the group, keeping a sharp eye out for any irregularities in the floor or walls. With every step he prodded the floor, using a ten-foot long wooden pole. He also waved the pole up and down to catch any tripwires. Brodor was careful, all right. He'd saved us from half a dozen traps on the first level of the dungeon alone.

But now we explored the second level, and the traps, it seems, had gotten a bit more clever. More clever than Brodor, at least. I saw it all happen. I'm Eirik, expert archer and swordsman, the main fighter for our group. I was covering Brodor with my longbow.

The trap gave no warning. One moment we were proceeding carefully down the hall, and the next Brodor just disappeared. The floor opened up and he dropped into a pit. His pole hadn't helped at all; the trapdoor had been set to give way to the weight of a man. Brodor may only be three and a half feet tall, but put him in plate mail, give him an axe, a shield, and a heavy backpack and he's heavier than the average human. Good thing, too, otherwise it would have been me instead of him setting off that trap.

He fell out of view. Then he fell back into view. He appeared right below the ceiling before falling straight down into the pit again. I blinked, not sure what I'd just seen. Then it happened again. Brodor popped into view a few inches below the ceiling above the pit, a startled look on his face, then plummeted right back down.

We rushed up to the edge of the opening. Interlocutor, our sorcerer/sage, and Zerzan, our hobbit thief, called out to Brodor, urging him to grab the edge of the pit the next time he fell past. He must have heard them because when an instant later he appeared above the pit, he splayed out his arms and legs, desperately trying to reach an edge. One hand caught the lip on the near side, but Brodor was going so fast all we heard was a sickening crack as his wrist hit stone. He didn't even slow down.

On the contrary, he sped up. With each successive fall he gained speed. The fourth time he went past he appeared as just a streak of armor and beard. The only thing we heard, besides the rush of air, was a long "Heeeeeeeeelp!" and something that sounded like a string of Dwarven curses. His appearances and disappearances came so close together that he turned into a single blur, a lightning-fast column of dwarf from ceiling to floor.

Interlocutor peered cautiously over the edge of the pit, careful not to get in the path of the meteoric midget. He scratched his balding pate and muttered to himself.

"It seems to me," he said after a moment's musing, "it seems to me that our friend has become the victim of a very cleverly placed teleport spell. The bottom of this pit is completely featureless. Brodor disappears just an inch from the bottom, only to reappear just an inch below the ceiling. A teleport spell at the bottom of the pit is always on, awaiting unwary adventurers such as ourselves. When someone hits it, they are teleported above the pit, only to fall again and be teleported once more. Thus they fall forever, gaining speed as they go."

"How are we to get him out?" I asked, watching the ever-quickening blur that was our dwarf.

"That," the sage declared, "I haven't quite figured out yet."

"Why don't we catch him with a net?" Zerzan asked. "I have one. Great for catching kobolds. They make a fine pie, you know," the hobbit added, rubbing his belly.

Interlocutor shook his head and turned to the little thief.

"That won't work, I'm afraid. He's going so fast we'd probably cut him into a dozen pieces. No, we have to think of something different. If only I knew a 'slow' spell, or a 'dispel magic'. . ."

He trailed off in thought. Zerzan and I stared at the blur, unsure what to do.

Jun 10, 2011

My mystery novella comes out June 20!

I've recently heard from LL-Publications that my mystery/thriller novella, Murder at McMurdo, will be released June 20! After so many years as a struggling writer, it's nice to have two books coming out in the same year. There's also a fantasy short story collection in the works, but more on that in my next post.

Here's the backcover blurb:

Mark Collins came to McMurdo Antarctic Research Station to study ice cores, cut down on drinking, and patch up his marriage. He’s failed. His equipment arrives broken and he’s having an affair with a coworker who drinks as much as he does. When they witness a murder and the wrong man gets blamed, they must solve the crime for themselves or reveal their affair to prove his innocence. The only clue is an Alcoholics Anonymous token. Mark must infiltrate the station’s AA group, where he faces not only danger, but some hard truths about himself.

You can read an excerpt on the Murder at McMurdo page on this blog.

Jun 8, 2011

Roots Run Deep gets a five-star review on Amazon and Goodreads!

A reader has given my fantasy novel Roots Run Deep a five-star review on Amazon and Goodreads. The review is below:

This is an incredible book. "Roots Run Deep" is not only a wonderful romance it sweeps the reader into a world that is unique yet familiar.

This is a world of many races, the Fae, elves, humans, and Goblinkin. What struck me was how the treatment the Goblinkin mirrored that of native cultures--Native Americans--and the idea of slavery. (The poor Goblinkin lived on reservations and were slaves.) I loved the juxtapose of those on the reservation and the Goblinkin who had escaped to the mountains walk with their heads up and with pride. Wonderful story of freedom, power, and the use of power to destroy or rebuild. It is also a wonderful love story between the human king on the run and the female Goblinkin who saves his life

Thank you so much, L.J. DeLeon! It's always nice for a first-time novelist to hear a kind word from a reader. 

Jun 6, 2011

Medieval Mondays: Vampirism in Ancient Egypt

OK, Ancient Egypt isn't exactly medieval, but since I've already gone into the Early Modern period with my witch bottle post, I see no reason not to fall back in time too. It's a blog, not a site report! This guest post comes courtesy of fellow archaeologist and writer Jamie Gibbs.

If you look at almost any culture in the history of the world, you will find that there is some belief, religious or superstitious, that centres on the power and use of blood. Both the Ancient Greeks and the Cherokee tribe believed that menstrual blood flowed back into the womb during pregnancy, which both created and nourished the unborn foetus. It was also thought that the blood of a slain gladiator would cure epilepsy.

Despite the evidence that blood was believed to have been a useful and beneficial liquid, over the years it has become the stuff of taboo and is considered 'unclean'. The consumption of blood is expressly forbidden in the Old Testament: "Be sure you do not eat the blood, for the blood is the life, and you shall not eat the life with the flesh".

This taboo has continued throughout history until we get to the iconic image of those corrupt monsters who crave blood - the vampire. Our image of the modern vampire is very heavily based on the vampires of Eastern Europe, but the idea of vampirism extends farther back in history than is normally thought, back as far and Ancient Egypt.

Probably the most famous case of ' vampirism' in Ancient Egypt surrounds Sekhmet, the goddess of healing and pestilence. In a story known as The Destruction of Mankind, the human race plots against the sun god, Ra. In retaliation, Ra sends the goddess Hathor to lay waste to humanity. The instant that the blood touches her lips, Hathor is transformed into the bloodthirsty and aggressive Sekhmet, who slaughters so many that she wades in their blood up to her knees.

There is also evidence that ordinary Egyptians drank blood in order to increase their existence in the afterlife. In about 2000 BC, Egyptian coffins were inscribed with spells designed to help the deceased reach the afterlife and to protect them while they were there. One of these spells clearly expresses the desire for blood in order to 'keep them alive', "You devoured their hearts, so that you might live; you drank their blood, so that you might live"

This spell is similar to descriptions of predatory animals who live in the Egyptian desert, 'who eat hearts and drink blood'. This also links in with the story of Sekhmet who, with her leonine head, takes on the attributes of the predator.

Evidence of these beliefs go back as far as the pyramids themselves. Inscribed in the pyramid of the Pharaoh Unas (c. 2350 BC) are texts that show the king killing, cutting up, cooking and then eating people (it specifically notes that, in accordance with solar mythology, infants are consumed in the morning, adults in the afternoon and the elderly in the evening). Whilst these texts do not specifically mention that he drinks blood, it is implied so in that he is aided by the demon god Shezmu, who is both the butcher of damned souls in the afterlife and also the master of the wine press.

Shezmu is a fascinating character. In addition for being the Head Chef of the dead king, Shezmu is also responsible for certain punishments for those who do not live their lives in accordance with Egyptian morality. His job is to place bodies in his wine press in order to squeeze their blood from them, in which he then forces them to swim. Shezmu has sometimes been depicted with a leonine head, again emphasising the attributes of the predator that link in with the popular story of Sekhmet.

In all these instances, blood represents two things - life and power. The actions of the Egyptian 'vampires' were a form of dominance over others. To consume the blood of another was to increase your own power whilst at the same time robbing them of theirs. Egyptian vampires did not battle with their curse in an attempt to regain their soul. They did not seduce their prey in order to feed. They most certainly did not sparkle. If Ancient Egypt is anything to go by, vampires are meant to be predators, pure and simple.

Jamie Gibbs is a writer and Egyptologist, and has written two papers on the power of blood in Ancient Egypt: 'Wading Through Crimson Waters' and 'The Scarlet Essence'. He is also working on a fantasy novel that combines elements of vampire mythology throughout history. Visit him on his blog, Mithril Wisdom where he talks about fantasy in literature and the media, as well as writing in the genre.

May 30, 2011

Medieval Mondays: Gallery of Crusader Castles

As the final stop on my virtual book tour, I'm over at the Double Dragon Publishing blog talking about the Order of St. Lazarus, a group of leper Crusaders. I figured I'd give you a gallery of Crusader castles this week.

The Europeans learned much of their castle building during the Crusades. The Arabs were much more advanced in defensive architecture but the Crusaders proved to be quick learners. The photo above is of Marqab castle in Syria, courtesy of Shayno. That promontory it's set on is actually an extinct volcano, and makes for a natural defense. The walls aren't too shabby either! Even Saladin wasn't able to take it.
This chunky example is from Byblos in Lebanon, photo courtesy Heretiq. Saladin took this one in the same year, 1188, that he failed to take Marqab castle.
  I love this old photo of Tebnine Castle in Lebanon. Note the rounded corner and digital readout on the lower right corner. T. Dakroub took this shot who-knows-when and really captures the atmosphere. Yes, it snows in the highlands of the Middle East!
Another well located castle is Montfort in Israel, as this shot by Bukvoed shows.The name in French means "strong mountain."
And how could I skip Krak des Chevaliers in Syria, the biggest and best preserved Crusader castle of them all! I've visited this castle myself but none of my photos capture it as well as Ed Brambley did. Like Marqab castle, Krak des Chevaliers was originally an Arab castle taken and expanded by the Crusaders. It served as the headquarters of the Knights Hospitaller.