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  1. camel shadows for blog 8 by m bartosch fdphotos

    Sahara - Courtesy of M Bartosch at free Digital Photos

    The Birth of a Novel – Proverbs and Destiny 8


    8 If God were not forgiving, heaven would be empty – Berber proverb


    Characters in novels must have ‘arcs’: as in life, we change - moulded by events, and those people who influence us. Characters that don’t respond to the plot and the other characters, become static and cardboard. The character traits with which you imbue them at the beginning determines how they respond, and how they are likely to change and develop. They must also have aims, fears and hopes just as real people do.

    My writing is a little ahead of my blog, and I have just introduced a character called Erin. She is named, with her permission, for the very helpful lady at the Independent Author Network who sorts all my publicity requests. Thank you, Erin. I hope you like your character.

    Anyway, Erin, the fictional one, is a healer. This gives caring for the plight of others as an innate character-trait. She is just bereaved, so she’s also emotional and vulnerable. Born into a culture that glorifies war, she is sickened by the killing. This makes her ripe for sedition. She has proved her courage in the line of duty, so she is brave. She will make a stalwart addition to the fight for Kiya and Raphel’s freedom. Thus she begins her part in the story, around chapter eight, so we've jumped quite a chunk. I shall go back to chapter two, later.


    The moon still hung low in the western sky as the sun rose on a scene of devastation. Erin wiped a bloodied hand across her brow. Charred hulks of fishing vessels smouldered on the wet sand in the harbour. Even the sea seemed to have abandoned them. Smoke rose from blackened dwellings and the stench of charred flesh lingered as people wandered the streets in the early light with their few possessions in their arms. Some had only the clothes they stood in.

    Bodies lay on streets sticky with blood. Not all were the enemy; there were people here she recognised. A warrior raised his sword in a sign of respect and then helped load his comrades’ bodies onto carts. The invaders’ bodies would be burnt on a huge pyre, their ashes cast into the sea as offerings to Okeanos and Wrohe.

    The slain warriors would be taken to the temple and laid out in their armour with their weapons arrayed beside them: accorded honour as befitted their courage. Their bodies would be taken to a chamber on the hill and buried with comrades who’d fallen in other battles over the years. The chamber was large, the fallen many.

    She searched the faces of the warriors around her. ‘Jakob…’ He’d have gone down to his boat. He was a fisherman first, a warrior second: the people had to eat.

    She left the body of the youth she had been tending: someone’s son. She closed his eyes gently and moved on. There were so many afraid and in pain, so few she could help. They had wounds and burns beyond her skill. A young girl had cuts and burns. The burns were small and would heal; the cut on her head was deep. This she could treat, this child would live.

    A hand touched her shoulder. ‘Jakob?’ She turned and looked into the face of a stranger.

    ‘You are Erin?’ The man was tall and fair, his clothing dark with blood.

    She nodded as she stitched the girl’s wound.

    ‘I’m Daniel. I fought beside Jakob. He saved my life.’

    ‘He’s safe?’

    ‘He asked me to give you this.’ Jakob pressed a brooch in the shape of a seabird into her palm. ‘It was to be a gift for your birthday… I’m sorry.’

    ‘He’s dead?’ More a statement than a question, yes, of course he was dead, so many were dead. She turned back to the girl to dress the wound. There would be time enough for tears.

    Next day, Velik himself cast the ashes into the sea. He gave thanks to Wrohe for the signs that warned of the invasion, alerting him to danger and saving many from being slaughtered as they slept. He asked Okeanos for calm seas while they repaired the boats upon which they depended for their livelihood, and assured the people that the priests of the order of Okeanos would to make daily offerings to their god.

    The enemy wounded had been killed without compassion, their bodies added to a pyre large enough to burn for three days. It had taken a whole day to carry the fallen warriors to the chamber to join their ancestors. Velik had praised their courage in battle and acknowledged their sacrifice. Their comrades had raised their swords in salute, and she had wept for her man as women have wept since the dawn of time.

    She walked down the hill alone, not wanting the company of the other women. She stopped and looked out to sea. The sun shone, the tide still ebbed and flowed, the gulls still shrieked in argument around the jagged top of The Tower of Wrohe. Nothing had changed. Nothing showed that the light had gone out of her heart.

    Everything had changed, everything. She had no home to go to now, just an empty house, an empty life, an empty future.

    She didn’t believe, as the men did, in Wrohe, God of War. War, death… She was sick of it, sick of the stench of blood, sick of the stench of burnt flesh, sick of seeing the fear in the eyes of children, the tears in the eyes of women. Sick of holding the hands of young men while they died, beseeching her for help she couldn’t give, watching the light go out of their eyes. Her tears were salt on her lips. She wanted Jakob, but she’d never taste the sea on his lips again.

  2.  The Birth of a Novel – Proverbs and Destiny book blog 7 – Labour pains

    No nation is rich enough to pay for both war and civilization. We must make our choice; we cannot have both. – Abraham Flexner

    I’ve been thinking about Alaric, the warlike character I envisage as a Viking type, and getting his background and character straight in my head. He’s an important character, and to understand the way he will evolve throughout the story, I need to understand his background. This is how I see him. He is born into a culture that glorifies war. For this culture to be understood, I need also to make a whole backstory about why this is so. What makes a nation this way? Fear, is the usual reason. Greed, after all, is only fear of not having enough. In the case of the Northmen, as will become clear in the story, they had to defend what they had from all comers, or perish. Once this culture of war is established, it becomes ingrained and doesn’t lessen the fear, and isn’t attack the best form of defence? I think we could apply this to wars throughout the ages.

    But the cost of war is not just in financial terms: as Abraham Flexner observed, it comes at the cost of civilisation. I often think of the waste of war, in lives lost, lives ruined, and the loss of achievements that might have happened had mankind devoted themselves to mutual benefit, not mutual detriment.

    In Alaric’s case, the high priestdom rules, like many religious causes that cause more wars than they prevent. Young boys are taken from their parents to be trained. Family ceases to be what most of us think of as family. The warrior status becomes all that these boys have, their duty to the high priest alone. They are brainwashed, radicalised, just as the Hitler Youth were, and young Muslims are today. Nothing really changes, does it?

    This has left Alaric with no concept of family life, love or friendship – only duty and a place in which to perform it, and when he is chosen for an important task, and taken out the natural order of his society, it is bound to go to his head. His ego is inflated, he becomes self-important, and that will prove to be very dangerous for him and the high priest, though perhaps not quite how they might expect: it leaves him open to other, quite alien emotions.

    Excerpt 7

    Next morning, Kiya woke to the sound of shouting. She leapt from her bed, grabbing her travelling clothes and doubled as the pain in her hand, and the agony inside tore through her. The memory of the day before crushed her. She felt for her knife but couldn’t grip it with her right hand. It felt unwieldy in her left, but she moved carefully to the door, aware of the pull of dried blood caking her thighs. A sliver of light shone through the narrow gap between the part-open door and the frame, bringing with it the taste of smoldering ash.

    She put an eye to the gap. Only now, seeing the Northmen en-masse, did she realize how many and how huge they really were, how little chance any of the men had had to fight them off. The bodies of the dead had been thrown in heaps, the Northmen’s dumped with the same lack of respect they had for their enemies. The dead didn’t look so many as she’d feared, this morning: maybe some had been only injured and had escaped in the night. She fingered her cäle. ‘Please, Great Goddess Atete, goddess of fate, who has the power of life, let Raphel and Jalene be alive. Let Genet and Mother be safe.’

    Alaric detached himself from the body of men and strode towards the door. She shrank back against the wall.

    The door flung open and, as Alaric stooped to enter, she raised her knife and lunged at him. He caught her wrist with a swift, effortless movement and twisted the knife from her grip. ‘You think me so stupid?’ He gestured his impatience. ‘Quickly, girl. Get dressed. Come.’

    She shrugged clumsily into clean clothes, tears of frustration brimming. She turned her back on him and fetched a box. In it were sturdy, finely-wrought pins, brought years ago by Abe from across the mountains, which she would use to fasten her cloak.

    ‘Hurry, girl.’

    ‘My name is Kiya.’

    ‘Yes, I remember. Kiya the Herbalist. Come, I need you.’ He looked at the pin in her hand. ‘If you attempt my life again, or attempt escape, I shall pick out both your eyes with that pin.’

    She raised her chin. ‘When I attempt your life again, Alaric, I shall have no need to fear my own pins.’

     ‘You have courage, herbalist. Now come, before I’m tempted to prick you again with my pin.’ He laughed at his own joke but he fetched a piece of twine from a hook on the wall and bound her wrists.

    She smiled inwardly, though her broken fingers throbbed and her wrist burned. This big man feared her. He was a coward.

    Alaric led her across the ruins of the village. ‘The men are searching for hiding places. We’re skilled trackers, taught from youth. We’ll find these women you’ve hidden.’

    She spat at him. ‘Only a coward seeks to dominate the weak.’

    He looked at her for a long moment. ‘The strong dominate the weak. It’s the way of the world… why we survive. Don’t we kill the weakling calf and rear the strong?’

    ‘In our culture we help the weak. There are other virtues than breadth of back.’

    He tilted his head to one side and considered her words. ‘This may be true in your world. It’s not our way. Come.’ He yanked at her tether and forced her onwards, past the burning ruins, past the heap of dead. She craned her neck, searching the tangled limbs and lifeless faces. Her heart lurched. Raphel? She was certain it was Raphel.

    Enemy soldiers scanned the ground and moved off towards the hillside. She stumbled after them, blind with tears, averting her face from the rock that marked the trail to the caverns. She could do nothing for Raphel, but she must stay strong for Jalene. Please, Goddess, Jalene was there safe. Please, Goddess, they had left no tracks in their haste.

    ‘Over here.’ A man gestured and pointed upwards where a thin cleft in the rock, the entrance to the caverns, painted a line of narrow shadow on the mountainside.

    They climbed and reached the cleft. Alaric pulled her closer, watching her expression intently. ‘Is this the hideout?’

    She shrugged, brushing aside tears with the backs of her hands. ‘It’s a place we played as children. It’s a small cave, that’s all. I think wildcats use it. Or maybe cheetahs. The children are forbidden to play here, now.’ She moved closer and sniffed. ‘Definitely cheetah. Unpredictable animals, but go in and check if you want.’

    ‘My shoulders won’t fit through. ‘Anson… you’re thin as a streak of piss. Check if this is a cheetah lair.’

    ‘Check it yourself, Alaric. Or send the girl in.’

    Her heart leapt at the chance of safety, but Alaric wouldn’t give up on his Gift and the orders he’d been charged to fulfil. He’d search until he found her again, or found the fissure through which they’d lowered the milk cow. She raised an eyebrow. ‘And if the cheetah eats me, you’ll be no wiser. There could be a back entrance and you’d never know I escaped. You Northmen aren’t very bright, are you, Alaric?’

    ‘Silence, girl.’ He yanked her to her knees and gestured to the men. ‘Keep searching.’

    She scrambled to her feet and followed him, her eyes scanning the rocky ground to hide her relief. The sun was sinking over the western peaks before they gave up the search. Her relief was more than the safety of Jalene, and those she loved: as the only dark-eyed woman he’d captured, she seemed to have value to Alaric, alive.

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