From Russia with Blood Interview on Romance Radio Network

Monday, January 30, 2012

Conclusion of The Bog Road

Coming to the end of this series of notes at least for now. Sharing this story and my love of history has been eye opening for me. I come away more excited about History of Blood than ever. And the Celts make a wonderful starting point.

My thoughts and opinions on the Celts continues to shift and evolve. When I first started I saw a bit of tragedy in Bastian and Tamzin and their story. Regardless the Romans are coming and this Celtic Britain that they love will be just a memory. But is it as easy as all that?

The Romans never conquered the whole island and for centuries after they left, the descendants of the Celts, the Picts in the north and the Gaels of Ireland would cast a long shadow over the islands. Who’s to say they didn’t in the leave a more lasting impression on the history of England than the Romans? The Anglo Saxons certainly appear to have had society structured more like the ancient Celts than the Romans. Maybe they share a connection some where.

My thoughts on the first book have also shifted. At first I thought I’d do a series of short stories like the Bog Road and collect them all. Now I know I have to make it a novel, something with the scope that this incredible lost world deserves. I’ve got the first preliminary notes down. It’s going to be fun.

Urien gazed down at him. He said something, but Bastian heard only a mumble. It sounded like “too easy.” Then Urien stuck his own wrist in Bastian’s mouth.

Bastian felt something hot and powerful surge through him, like his body burning from the inside.

Urien screamed, No! He roared, like a bear stuck with a spear. Duanna was at his side. In her hand she grasped a piece of sacred mistletoe. Urien stumbled off Bastian as the girl retrieved her bow and notched an arrow.

Her small hunting bow would mean nothing to a warrior with a shield or a mail shirt, but Urien had neither. Duanna’s arrow hit the chief in the chest. Bastian saw the man collapse.

“Stay here!” Duanna yelled and readied another arrow.

Bastian sat propped up against one of the sacred pillars and watched the battle.

Tamzin leapt from one foe to another. A swipe of her sword and another head fell. Just a touch of her staff, and the enemy writhed in agony on the ground. Duanna hung back and fired her arrows, and Bastian saw the creature clutch his side. Black fluid seeped from the wound. The liquid hissed and bubbled as it touched the ground. The Master’s eyes glowed yellow with fury, but Bastian also saw fear.

Now you realize you’re no match for the Goddess.

The creature bellowed and then leapt into the sky. The remaining warriors vanished with him.

Duanna quickly threw a dull green cloak over her mistress. Barely covered, Tamzin approached Bastian and knelt. She gazed at him. At that moment, her eyes were the most beautiful thing in the world. Her face betrayed no emotion. Bastian caught her scent. It filled his nostrils.

“Rest here. You should be safe. Duanna and I will return for you shortly.”

Hard Tamzin.

She got up and strode out of the shrine. Duanna hesitated for a moment and cast a worried glance at Bastian.

“Duanna!” Tamzin called.

Bastian whispered, “Go.”

They had to complete their mission. If Bastian died in the meantime, it was no less than he deserved. Duanna tore herself away and ran after her mistress.

Bastian stayed by the pillar of stone. He still felt weak though not close to death. Still even if he lived, he knew he had failed. He had failed his noble father. He’d failed the order of druids who had taken him in and hidden him all these years. He’d failed Tamzin and Duanna when they needed him most.

But all he could think about now were Tamzin’s beautiful eyes, her alluring body, her intoxicating scent. The thoughts filled him with ardor. He cursed himself again but his ardor grew. And so did his strength.

As quickly as it vanished it came flooding back to him. Desire and anger swirled inside him and made him stronger. A few breaths and Bastian rose to his feet. He found his sword and a discarded spear lying on the ground. They felt light in his grasp. He set off after his friends.

He found the bog road and ran along it. After several moments he saw figures up ahead.

Tamzin and Duanna faced three of Urien’s warriors. At first the creatures moved too fast to see. But as they came closer to Tamzin they slowed to normal speed. Tamzin struck the first with her staff and left him writhing in agony to deal with the remaining two. Duanna stood over the stricken warrior with her bow ready.

Kill him, Duanna! Don’t hesitate.

But she hesitated.

The warrior sprang to his feet and leapt at her. The pair stumbled together off the road and onto the wet marshy ground. They sank immediately. The man wouldn’t let go. The water and moss rose to Duanna’s neck. The warrior bent over her, trying to either drown her or bite her neck.

Bastian ran forward.

They’re too far. I’m not going to reach them!

But just as he thought that, Bastian found himself at the edge of the timber road next to Duanna. The girl struggled to keep her head above the bog.

Bastian flipped the spear in his hands and jabbed the warrior with the end. The man fell back into the bog with a splash. Duanna turned.

“Mistress, I-”

She stared dumbfounded up at Bastian. He held the spear over her head.

“Grab on!”

Duanna seized the shaft, and Bastian pulled her free of the bog. She shivered in the night air. Her dress and cloak were soaked with water and caked with mud. Bastian hugged her close. Together they watched as the warrior struggled and sank into the bog. No bubbles came to the surface.

Tamzin stood by them. The last two warriors lay dead and headless on the road. She gazed at the still bog. “A terrible fate. Much worse than drowning. That will not kill him, but it will trap him down there in the darkness where he cannot feed. Eventually he will die from starvation.”

She looked at Bastian. He thought he saw a wave of relief wash over her face.

“You have recovered quickly. Fortunate. This night’s work is almost done.”

They said no more and set off. Tamzin led them back to the hillfort. Bastian saw evidence of the Master’s return. In his scramble to find safety, the beast crashed through the main gate and crushed the two watchtowers. Bastian thanked the Goddess. Siege is very difficult with just three people.

They ran into the narrow ditch. The inner wall loomed above them. Though no arrows rained down on them, Bastian wished he had his shield. Instead screams came from the other side of the wall. When they reached the inner gate, it too lay in pieces. Within chaos and panic ruled. The villagers ran in all directions. Some fell to their knees weeping.

“Memories,” Tamzin said. “The village is still trapped in the memories of their old ways. If the walls are breached and the warriors all slain, then all is lost.”

“All is lost for them,” replied Bastian.

He lopped off the head of the nearest and searched for the Master. He boosted Duanna onto a low roof where she could fire her arrows at anything that moved. He saw Tamzin enter the roundhouse of the stable master and ran to follow.

As he entered, Tamzin whipped away animal skins near the hearth and found the boy and girl hiding beneath. Bastian recognized the two servers from the meal. Tamzin raised her sword.

“Please spare us,” the boy begged. “We’ve done nothing. I swear we didn’t feed like the others. We couldn’t. We fed on cattle and sheep instead.”

“It’s true,” the girl cried.

Tamzin paused and gazed down at the red dust circle on the floor.

“The circle is intact,” she said.

Bastian stepped forward. As he crossed the red circle he felt something hit him like a strong hand pushing him backwards. He pressed through and stood next to Tamzin. She hunted for her mirror and found it. She held it up to the two. In the mirror Bastian saw the reflections of the boy and the girl, pale but still human. Not like Urien.

“What are your names?” Bastian asked.

“I am Ka,” said the boy. “This is Wenna.”

Tamzin regarded them for a moment.

She put down her sword and said, “Ka and Wenna, you crossed my barrier because the goddess allowed you to. She shows me you are still at least partly human. Leave here and never return. And remember your debt to the goddess. If you ever feed on a human, I will know. And I will come for you.”

The two of them got up timidly. Their eyes gazed up to the smoke hole in the roof. Bastian understood and nodded. After they left Bastian retrieved his spear. He and Tamzin silently waited. A twig snapped above them. Bastian wheeled around and threw the spear. It penetrated the roof with a crack and sank deep into what lay beyond. There was a roar followed by a crash.

Tamzin and Bastian rushed out and around the side. They found the Master sprawled out with the spear deep in its chest.

“It’s still alive,” Bastian muttered.

“Not for much longer. The wooden shaft will be his doom. All we have to do is push down.”

“Wait,” the creature wheezed. “You destroy me and you destroy yourself and all the druids. They are coming, from across the water. They will conquer this land and make the Celts their slaves. The druids will be exterminated. Only with my strength and the strength of the others will you be able to survive.”

Bastian halted. The Master meant the Romans. Was it a lie?

Tamzin came forward. “Is that what you told Urien? Is that how you convinced him to become a monster?”

She shoved the spear down into his flesh. The wooden shaft sank into the wound. The Master howled, and then he was no more. Once Bastian had seen a sand dune on a beach slowly vanish as a high wind blew. It was like that, only infinitely faster. Once there had been a creature, twice the size of a man with skin like the night, then there was nothing, not even bones.

“Pay his words no heed,” Tamzin said to him. “You have a destiny.”

Bastian nodded but said nothing. They rejoined Duanna and scoured the town. There were no more like Ka and Wenna; none who begged for mercy or claimed innocence. They had participated in Urien’s madness. At least that is what Bastian said to himself as he hacked away at them.

When morning broke over the village, Bastian shaded his eyes. The sun was brighter and hotter than he remembered. He sought the shade of the blacksmith’s hut. Duanna appeared with two sacks.

“The stores are full of grain and dried food,” she announced. “I’ll have us a fine morning meal in a little bit.”

She glanced at Bastian standing in the shadows.

“We did the Goddess’ work last night,” Duanna said.

Bastian looked about the silent hillfort.

“Instead of three empty villages there are four,” he muttered.

“There might have been ten or twenty had we not come,” Duanna said.

She chewed on a bit of dried fruit.

“She’s in the house.” Duanna pointed to the stable master’s home.

“Is she looking for something?”

“She’s waiting for you,” Duanna said with a small grin.

The sun glared down on Bastian as he crossed to the stable master’s house. He was glad to be back in the shade once he stepped inside.

Tamzin sat by the fire. She still wore only a cloak. “Come closer,” she said.

Bastian stepped forward. He felt a slight tingle as stepping into the red circle. He also felt his desire grow.

“Are you going to tell me how I failed you?”

“Failed?” Tamzin asked. Her stern face was gone. She gazed up at him with watery eyes. Soft Tamzen. Softer than he had ever seen before. “I failed you. You are no guardian. That is a disguise meant to keep you safe. Last night I put you in danger. It’s unforgivable.”

“Stop,” Bastian said. “Whether I’m prince of the Gauls or your armed escort, my life is always in danger. There is no safe place for me. Last night I forgot that. And no one’s at fault except me.”

“Because I distracted you.”

He could barely stand it. He was so close to her. She was barely covered by her thin cloak. Her scent was in the air. She was the woman he loved. He loved the strength of Hard Tamzin, and he loved the Soft Tamzin who was full of what fools would call weakness. It wasn’t that at all. It was a different kind of strength, the strength to care. He remembered all his thoughts about how being together would dishonor them, and they seemed so petty now.

“You did your duty to your Goddess,” he said. “You should have no regrets.”

“No regrets?” she asked. “You and Duanna are the ones who free me from my burdens. Alone with you, I can laugh out loud or weep openly.”

“Which do you want to do right now? Laugh? Weep?”

“Definitely not weep.”

Tamzin stood. She pulled at his breeches. “It’s a little unfair, don’t you think? You’re not the only one who’s dreamed and wondered.”

He rushed forward and pressed his lips to hers. The fire erupted within him. Bastian yanked off his shirt while Tamzin pulled away his breeches. Her cloak fell away from her. They rolled together on the furs and moaned together.

It was just like in his dream.

And slowly, it became even better.

THE END

Monday, January 23, 2012

History of Blood The Lost Fortresses of the Celts

To learn about a culture it’s a good idea to loom at where they lived. The first century Celts left behind some very unique dwellings.

Again I’m going off Osprey’s excellent book on Celtic fortresses.

What I was able to glean from that book along with the one on Celtic Warriors was that the Celts of Britain had a very romantic notion of war. This was a contest between heroes even during a siege. Many Celtic fortresses had the fighting platform on the OUTSIDE. The defenders would array in front of the palisade instead of behind it. Apparently you had to present yourself even during siege warfare. As such the bow was never used in war. The javelin was the only acceptable way of killing a foe at a distance. Slings were used but they would only injure or slow down an opponent. The chances of fatal strikes against warriors with iron helmets and large shields was minimal. The forts often had paths that turned to the right so warriors would have to show their unshielded sides to the slingers.

In The Bog Road, the trio comes upon a hillfort with the fighting platform on the inside of the palisade. By the first century, pressure from the Romans was forcing the Celts to adopt a slightly more practical style of warfare. They still didn’t use the bow for anything other than hunting which makes Duanna’s archery skills a little exotic. But Duanna like her mistress Tamzin is not your typical Celt.

Bastian is meant to be more like the warriors of his era. And like many of them he’s casting worried eyes across the Channel and with good reason. After looking over the evidence I strongly doubt that even the largest hillfort would have posed more than a minor inconvenience to a Roman legion. I don’t think they would have even have had to break out the siege engines. The legions practiced the famous turtle tactic, having men move in a compact formation with shields protecting all sides including the top. That would have rendered most of a hillfort’s defenses useless. A Roman turtle could walk right up to the gate and bash it to pieces and the Celtic defenders would be powerless to stop it.

Despite his anxiety and his warring thoughts, Bastian felt himself grow tired. It was as if the rhythm of her voice was carrying him off into a dream.

In his dream they were on top another green hill. But this one he recognized. They stood in the land across the channel, the land of his birth. He’d played on this spot many times as a boy. The warm sun bathed them both. Bastian cried out for joy. His heart swelled to be back home. He scooped Tamzin up his arms and twirled her around.

Tamzin made a small choking sound. Pain contorted her face. Bastian saw her druid’s cloak wrap itself around her tighter and tighter. She couldn’t breath. Bastian set her down and pulled at the cloth. It came free of her, and she let out a long gasp.

Blue tattoos covered her alabaster skin. They curled and coiled like snakes across her belly, around her back, down the firm swell of her buttocks and down between her thighs. The sight of her set his passions ablaze. His eyes lingered over her sensual form. A goddess could not be more beautiful. He wanted to seize hold of her and grasp the softness of her bosom.

“Bastian,” she called to him.

He took her in his arms. He pressed his lips to hers. The heat blazed inside and his passion swelled. The tattoos were a path, and he followed them dutifully. As Bastian’s mouth and hands slid along her body, she moaned. Her fingers dug into the corded muscles of his back. Her cries grew louder. His ardor throbbed within. He could hold back no longer.

She called out his name again. He thrust himself between her thighs. His passion came bursting like the summer flood waters.

They sank to the soft grass together. She continued to stare at him.

“Bastian,” she said. “Now is the time.”

In an instant he was awake and back in the roundhouse. Tamzin stood facing the entrance. Urien stood opposite. Bastian saw the chief’s feet skirted the outside edge of Tamzin’s circle of red dust. The Druidess held the mirror behind her back. Bastian’s hand slowly slid to his sword’s grip.

“Greetings Chief Urien,” Tamzin said. “Were you checking to make sure we were comfortable? That was most hospitable of you.”

“Why are you really here?” the large man demanded.

“I am here to serve the mother goddess. To protect and guide her children. Won’t you come closer to the fire? We may talk at length.”

Urien didn’t budge from his spot.

“You druids,” Urien growled. “You keep us locked up in chains.”

“What chains? You appear quite free to my eyes.”

“I am now,” Urien growled. “I could not make war on those wretches to the South without your approval. There had to be some grievance or slight to be avenged. And even after that I had to give them mercy if they asked for it.”

As with everything else, Druid law governed war. Still Bastian saw many wars fought for the slimmest of reasons. If Urien complained, he was either utterly stupid or possessed of an overwhelming bloodlust.

“Those are the laws of the Mother Goddess,” Tamzin said. “Tell me, what did the villages South ever do to you?”

“They were weak!” Urien bellowed. “They were sheep waiting to be sheared. But your precious Goddess won’t allow that. She won’t abide a conqueror.”

“That is not her way. Her people have land, sky and water. They live and hinder no one.”

“And they wait to be slaughtered. Just like the Gauls.”

Bastian flinched at the mention of his father’s people. His hand wrapped tightly around his sword. But he waited.

“The Romans’ day will pass. The way of the Goddess is eternal.”

Urien laughed. “You Goddess and her ways will be nothing but memories soon.”

“You shouldn’t mock memories. They are quite powerful. Your blacksmith still works his forge. Your weaver still makes cloth. Your cook still roasts a wild pig every night even though you no longer need meat. It might even be memory that’s kept you alive all this time. I doubt you’re that much stronger than the others, yet they still call you Chief. I’m sure if they really thought about the situation, they’d take your head!”

That was the signal.

In a flash Bastian’s sword pressed against the flesh of Urien’s neck just above the metal torc.

“Should I dispatch him?” he asked.

“He still has his uses,” Tamzin answered.

She brought up her mirror.

“You think you’ve improved yourself, Urien? Do you feel superior now? Do you want to see what I see?”

She held the mirror up to his face. Bastian saw only the mud walls of the house.

“He has no reflection!”

“That’s just him trying to hide,” Tamzin said.

She whispered some words. The red glass beads on the mirror glowed slightly. Then Bastian saw the image in the mirror’s surface. It wasn’t a human face, but the dark twisted visage of a low, ravenous creature, both terrible and pathetic to behold. A creature with long ivory fangs stained with blood.

Duanna crouched just behind Bastian. She’d retrieved her short bow and quiver of arrows from her pack and had one shaft notched already.

“What now, Mistress?” she asked.

Tamzin put away her mirror and unsheathed her sword. The red glass beads in the bronze hilt began to glow as well. Tamzin picked up her staff in her other hand.

“Now we leave. We’ll take Urien with us. He should get us past the gate. As I said, they still think of him as their chief in spite of the fate he’s led them to.”

Urien growled. Bastian silenced him with a little more pressure on his sword blade. Tamzin took a pinch of red powder and blew it into Urien’s face. She whispered some words.

“He should be manageable now,” she said. “But be on your guard, he’s still dangerous.”

“Where are we headed?” Bastian asked.

“To the shrine.”

“You want to make an offering now?”

“I think we need the assistance of the Goddess now more than ever. Don’t you?”

“Yes. But there’s something else, isn’t there?”

“There always is,” Tamzin answered.

Bastian sighed and nodded. He regretted leaving his shield and spear behind, but Duanna needed both hands for her bow.

Tamzin led the way, and they strode out of the roundhouse. The villagers gathered around to watch. Bastian dragged Urien along with him. The villagers stood by as they left with Urien by the main gate. Bastian searched for Urien’s warriors among the crowd but did not see them.

Which means we’ll be seeing them later.

Soon they were back on the timber road. A short while later they reached dry ground and a well worn path. They found the shrine near a grove of sacred oaks. There was a large flat rock in the center of a circle of stone pillars. A small trench surrounded the shrine. In the ditch would be the remains of sacrifices: pigs, horses, cattle. In the dark of the night Bastian could only make out the trench and the small wooden bridge that spanned it. He saw only shadows in the ditch but the smell of death was fresh.

Sacrifices?

Tamzin lead them to the altar. “Where are you?” she demanded.

In a blur they appeared before them - Urien’s warriors and their druid. The druid stepped forward with his arms still hidden in his sleeves.

“Why have you taken our chief?”

“Enough,” Tamzin replied. “You don’t follow this fool. Your true chief resides here, in the home of the Goddess!”

Tamzin struck him with her staff. The man crumpled to the earth as if stricken. His arms flailed about, and Bastian saw the tattoos that covered them, the sharp, knife-like tattoos of a warrior.

“What happened to your real druid?” Bastian asked his captive.

Urien growled defiantly.

“Your servants will not save you!” Tamzin yelled. “Come out! Face us!”

The night grew very dark. Despite the bright moon and stars above blackness covered them for a moment. Then another figure -- twice the size of a normal man, naked with skin the color of night, not black but a deep bluish hue -- stood among Urien’s warriors. His eyes blazed yellow, and great white fangs jutted from his mouth. Despite that, the creature appeared fair and pleasing. Bastian saw Duanna gaze longingly at it before shaking her head.

“There you are at last,” said Tamzin.

The Creature smiled. “Greetings. You are sweet little things all of you. Please put down your weapons and let us talk. Your company would be pleasant.”

Bastian felt a part of himself longing to obey. Tamzin’s harsh voice snapped him out of it.

“So confident. It’s actually a little tragic. You should have stayed down in the dark where you came from. There’s no place for you up here.”

“My dear, don’t be so obstinate,” said the Creature. “My children already walk this land and many more like it. Everywhere we travel, we are supreme. Look. You can see I have driven out your Goddess. This shrine now belongs to me!”

His yellow eyes blazed for a moment. In the faint glow, Bastian gazed down at the trench surrounding the shrine. In it were crammed human bodies -- men, women and children -- an unspeakable desecration. Next to him, Urien chuckled proudly.

The Creature went on, “You can be a part of this. I can promise you pleasure beyond your imagining and power greater than any that exists. Walk with me, and we will show our enemies why they fear the night.”

Tamzin reached for the two brooches that held her dress at her shoulders. “What is your name?” she demanded.

The creature chuckled. “Call me Master. What are you doing? Are you eager for my touch? I can accommodate you.”

Tamzin said, “Maybe it’s time you remembered why you fear the light.”

With that, her dress dropped to her feet, and Tamzin stood naked. The moon glowed as bright as the sun. The silvery light reflected off Tamzin’s white hair and skin and made her form blaze in the darkness. Her blue tattoos moved on her body. They slithered about her like live snakes. The Master and the warriors fell back, covering their eyes.

“You thought the goddess had abandoned this shrine when you defiled it. You were wrong. She never leaves her loyal children!”

She brought her foot down on the flat rock. Bastian and Duanna gasped. Tamzin’s foot sank into the stone as if it were mud.

The Master cowered and shrieked. Bastian saw Tamzin leap towards her enemies, naked like a hero out of legend. Her sword slashed and the head of the nearest warrior dropped.

Urien! Watch out for Urien!

In a moment Bastian knew he was dead. Silently he cursed himself as his life ebbed away.

Fool! A giant with fangs doesn’t startle you, but you can’t keep your eyes off a woman’s ass!

But it wasn’t any woman. It was Tamzin. She was more beautiful, more perfect than his dreams.

He should have dispatched Urien right there, but he kept his eyes on Tamzin. Then he was on his back gazing up at the hoary face of the chief.

Urien opened his mouth wide then bit down. Not even Bastian’s iron torc ring could protect his neck. Instantly he grew weaker, weaker than he had ever been in his life. And he knew he was dead.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Notes on History of Blood Part 2: The Barbarian Wore Pants

I’ll talk a little bit about barbarian fashion here. One of the things I learned from both Simon James and the Osprey book Cletic Warrior is that the barbarian Celts were forward thinkers when it came to fashion.

A barbarian Celt wore a loose shirt over long breeches. Very practical for the northern climates. You could argue that in the last two thousand years men’s fashion has come full circle to bring us back to our Celtic ancestors. The real mystery is why the Celtic descendants in Ireland and Wales switched to short tunics by the 6th Century. I blame the Romans.

This clashes quite a bit with our normal ideas of a “barbarian.” You don’t find that many fur bikinis in real history. We have to remember that the Romans called everyone who wasn’t Roman a barbarian. That included civilizations far older and more sophisticated than Rome itself including Greece and Persia. The other thing to remember is that the Celts were an agricultural society. They grew crops and raised wool bearing animals. They had access to plenty of textile material.

And apparently they were very good at it. According to James, textiles produced in the former Celtic lands became highly prized in the Roman Empire. All of this is reinforced by the scene in Terry Jones’ documentary showing what a well dressed Cletic noble would look like.

The Celts did have a tradition of heroic nudity, of warriors charging into battle without any clothing. The ancient Greeks had a similar tradition. But the fur clad warriors of Conan the Barbarian they were not.

The Bog Road – Part 2

The road brought them to another hillfort. An earthen mound topped with a wooden palisade wrapped around the hill’s base like a coiled snake. Another palisade ran around the crown. They approached the outer gate flanked by two wooden towers. Men with iron helmets stared down from them as they approached.

“People,” Duanna said.

Perhaps, Bastian thought. He remembered the thing in the previous village. It had once been a man.

The guards challenged them and asked their business. Tamzin stepped forward and raised her arms and her staff. The moonlight reflected off her pale skin and revealed the tattoos of a druid made of many circles and winding curves. Tamzin gave her name and title and story to explain their travels. She then asked to speak with their chief.

Soon another man appeared. He was huge, and wild black whiskers covered his face.

“My name is Urien!” he said. “I am chief of the Red People.”

Tamzin shouted back, “I am Tamzin, High Druidess of the Sacred Oak. We are on an errand from the Druid Council of the South. My companions and I ask for shelter and hospitality.”

Urien stroked his beard.

“I consent to give you hospitality,” he called down to them.

“Consent?” Bastian silently grumbled.

After a moment, the gate creaked open. Tamzin led the way, followed by Bastian then Duanna and her heavy pack. Bastian gripped his spear and shield tightly. He immediately saw that the path from the outer gate to the inner portal was a killing ground. He imagined warriors aiming javelins behind the palisade above them. But they reached the entrance to the village without incident.

The three strode inside. The fort held dozens of houses, each brightened by a small torch or fire. The villagers crept out of their homes. They kept their distance and whispered to each other. Some slid back into their homes. To Bastian they appeared shy and nervous but otherwise normal. He smelled the scent of baking bread. A blacksmith pounded a piece of iron beside a glowing forge. The hammer strikes echoed off the fort’s walls. Bastian knew all these sights, sounds and smells, yet something made him tense inside.

Urien approached with his warrior retinue of ten men. This was not a large or prosperous village. Some chiefs commanded hundreds of warriors. Bastian’s father commanded a mighty host against the Romans.

The chief wore a red shirt, a green cloak and breeches checkered with black and burnt orange. His warriors wore the same patterned breeches and shirts of blue. On their arms and necks Bastian saw the warrior tattoos, marks like the edges of swords or the tongues of flame, nothing like the gentle curves and circles on Tamzin’s skin.

Bastian pictured the thing from the other village. It wore no shirt and breeches of a different pattern. No tattoos marked its skin. Did the thing come from another village?

Perhaps.

Bastian disliked Urien anyway. The man strutted too proudly for such a small band.

He walks as if a conquering horde followed him.

Urien guided them to his compound, three large roundhouses surrounded by a wood fence.

Urien’s great room lay inside a ring of oak posts carved with circle patterns and painted bright yellow, red and green. A fire blazed in the hearth and the smoke hung inside the wooden cone of the ceiling. The firelight glinted off the gold thread woven into Urien’s cloak and the gold leaf on his leather shoes. Bastian noted, however, that the torc around his neck was dull iron.

The chief stood silently as Bastian and his friends seated themselves on piles of furs and animal skins. He followed the chief’s gaze and found it fixed on Tamzin. His eyes burned with intensity.

Bastian knew Tamzin drew many gazes with her white hair and beautiful young face. He thought maybe Urien looked at the great sword by her side in a hilt made of bronze and decorated with bright red glass.

Lust or greed? Either way, he felt anger rising in him.

Bastian reminded himself there was nothing remarkable about him or Duanna. His shirt and breeches had no pattern to mark him to any clan. He carried a plain iron sword encased in leather and a shield painted green befitting a guardian of the druids. There was no sign or symbol of his true parentage. Duanna wore the simple dress and cloak of a druid novice. With the pack slung over her shoulders, she looked a little bit like a tiny ox. Perhaps Urien had nowhere else to gaze.

“Sit and eat,” Urien offered.

Duanna dropped with a grateful grunt. Bastian helped her out of the straps.

“Sore?” he asked.

“A novice has to carry many burdens before becoming a master,” she dutifully recited then gave him one of her sly smiles.

A boy and a girl arrived with three short legged tables laden with food: haunches of roasted pig, freshly baked barley loaves, and wooden bowls of blackberries. Urien and his warriors stood watching.

“You’re not eating?” Tamzin asked.

“It is late. We have already feasted.”

“Of course … Duanna, my mirror!”

Duanna dug into her pack and handed the object to her mistress. Its handle and back were brass and decorated with the same red glass as Tamzin’s sword.

Urien went on, “Why are you three traveling so late?”

The druidess didn’t answer. She preened at herself holding the mirror first at one angle, then another.

In addition to Hard and Soft Tamzin, there were many False Tamzins who appeared when needed. Now she pretended to be Vain Tamzin. Bastian covered his mouth to hide his grin. He remembered picking a trio of dead spiders out of the druidess’ white hair just a week ago.

Urien grumbled. Tamzin put down her mirror and gave him a story about a new star appearing in the sky.

“The Druid council sent me north to the great stone circle to see if it has ever appeared before. But I am needed back at the sacred groves for the rituals. So we travel at night. Which reminds me, is your druid about? I would ask him a few things.”

Every village had its own druid. They told the villagers when to plant and when to harvest, performed the rituals, tended the sick and the dying, spoke the law, and even settled simple matters between traders. Druids held the people together from all over the islands. Before the Romans, their domain extended beyond the Channel and across the land of the Gauls.

Bastian saw there were amphorae of Roman wine in the back and three silver cups were filled.

“I would prefer beer,” Bastian blurted out. Seeing the Roman jars reminded him of his father and his fate.

Tamzin laughed. “Forgive my escort. He meant no insult. He just believes Roman wine dulls the senses.”

The servers gave Bastian a cup of frothy beer from a clay jug. He sipped it and hoped his outburst went unnoticed. Urien kept his attention on Tamzin.

A man wearing the plain cloak of a druid entered. His arms were folded neatly into his sleeves, and a hood covered his head.

“Is there a shrine nearby?” Tamzin asked. “I must perform a sacrifice to the Goddess in the morning before we resume our travels.”

The druid answered that a shrine lay just a few paces up the road on a patch of dry land. Tamzin thanked the man and then Urien for his hospitality. The chieftain offered the house of his stable master for their sleeping quarters. Bastian and his companions finished their meal and were shown the house.

It was a modest roundhouse but big enough for the three of them. A screen of leather served as a door. Bastian made sure to keep at least one eye on the entrance as they sat by the fire.

“What did you see?” Tamzin asked both himself and Duanna.

“Urien is a very big man,” the young novice said.

“What else?” the High Druidess asked serenely.

Bastian told her about the gold on Urien’s cloak and shoes. “Far too grand for a hillfort of this size. And there’s something else. I know he’s lying about something.”

Tamzin smiled, “Most observant of you, Bastian. Duanna, please fetch what I require.”

Duanna dutifully handed her mistress her mirror and a leather pouch. From the pouch Tamzin poured a steady stream of fine red dust making a circle around the piled furs and skins where they would sleep.

Bastian doubted he’d get much sleep.

After finishing the circle, Tamzin said, “What else? I want to know what you saw.”

Duanna sighed and Bastian joined her. Tamzin obviously noticed something but she wouldn’t say. She would instead shower Duanna and Bastian with questions. Tamzin called it tempering the mind the way a blacksmith hammers hot iron.

Hammering hot iron, Bastian said to himself.

He said, “The blacksmith was working the forge. But it’s the middle of the night.”

Tamzin nodded.

“Very good. I also saw a weaver weaving and a potter working clay.”

Duanna looked up. “They said they had already eaten, yet all the best parts of the roast pig were still there waiting for us.”

“We’re inside the house of a stable master, but I didn’t see any horses or animals of any kind – not even dogs.”

“Excellent.”

Bastian turned over in his mind all that they knew about the village. “So have we found what we’ve been after?” he asked.

“Not yet. But very soon,” Tamzin replied. She stretched out on the bed of soft hides and laid her sword and mirror next to her. “To sleep, the both of you,” she commanded.

Duanna obeyed her mistress.

“Perhaps I should keep watch through the night,” Bastian said.

“Sleep dear Bastian,” Tamzin whispered softly. Her great green eyes batted at him. Bastian felt the warmth surge through his body. He fought against the urges he felt. Even if he wasn’t a true guardian, he could not have feelings for her. It would dishonor them both.

“Sleep,” she said. “All will be fine. I will wake you when you are needed.”

Monday, January 9, 2012

Notes on History of Blood Part 1: The Celts

In between juggling various projects I’ve been taking extensive notes for History of Blood, a long planned series of connected paranormal and horror stories based on the history of Britain and America. I’ve decided to tackle Britain first because I have more material on European history than American history.

This project began because I’ve always loved history. I got a clue in college when I found myself reading ahead of my European history 101 book for sheer pleasure. Historical research has traditionally been great fodder for fantasy writers and for the longest time that’s what I planned to do; create a fantasy world based on history. But I had a few problems. The thing is I love history, not just one particular period. So while it’s okay for Tolkien to stay in Angol Saxon England or George R. R. Martin to stay in the late Middle Ages, that didn’t appeal to me. What I love about history is there’s a bittersweet quality to it. History is always moving. Eras, whether bad or good, come to an end. If you live long enough, you’ll see everything you once knew change radically. There’s some elements of change in the works of Tolkien, yeah, but not to the extent I craved. I’m also a big Peckinpagh fan. And Peckinpagh’s work is more than just blood squibs, it’s about a world moving on and leaving characters stranded in a time they don’t want.

So with that burning in me, I never seemed to come up with an imaginary world that captured the complexity and the inevitability of real history. But then came From Russia with Blood. I wanted to do a proper tribute to Ian Fleming and that meant giving Ian Redd my vampire spy hero a proper Bondian adventure set during the cold war. I did a lot of research and ended up with a detailed back story. That’s when it occurred to me I could do the same with the rest of history. Next thing I knew History of Blood was born. History as it happened, as we knew it, only with vampires, lycans, witches and fey crawling about in the margins. And the first stop on that historical journey is Celtic Britain.

I had bought Simon James’ World of the Celts ages ago and it remains a fascinating sourcebook for my research.

But what really brought the Celtic world to life for me was Terry Jones’ series The Barbarians, especially the part at the end.

That bit about roads was really fascinating. It implied there was some kind of central authority over the Celts that brought them together to work on cooperative ventures like the road network. Yet we know there were no strong centralized kings or kingdoms, at least not like there were in the Mediterranean world at that time. It’s like there was something pulling them together yet at the same time keeping them apart. While it might have been tradition I decided in my first story, The Bog Road to give credit to the Druids. From what I learned from Simon James and Terry Jones the Druids were much more than priests. They were the keepers of all vital knowledge. In a world with no writing they were completely dependent on oral tradition. That was how the Druids maintained power. Without them you wouldn’t even know when to start planting. I did take some pretty big liberties by making my Druids young and female. Druids were traditionally male and they were quite old. It took a long time for a Druid to absorb all the knowledge that was necessary.

Ah but Tamzin is not your usual Druid. My loyalty to history goes only so far. Like a journalist I never let facts get in the way of a good story. Here’s an excerpt from The Bog Road:

On their first day travelling up the bog road, they found nothing but desolation. They reached two hillforts, both with walls intact and gates left open. Within the walls sat empty roundhouses and stables. They pressed on the next day and towards dusk found another empty village, empty save for the thing Bastian found hiding from the sun.

Bastian called out thinking him a survivor. But the man came at Bastian with a gaping, hungry mouth. Bastian stepped to the side and the dying sunlight flooded in from the open door. The thing screeched and moved like a blur. Bastian used the shaft of sunlight and his shield, patiently hemming in the creature. He finally cornered it and chopped off its head just as Tamzin and Duanna arrived. Tamzin chided him for taking on the creature alone. Bastian nodded silently.

Hard Tamzin.

The High Druidess said they had to press on into the night. As the sun set and the bright quarter moon rose, they reached a junction in the bog road, one path continuing north the other veering to the east. Tamzin chose the north route.

After several hours of walking, Tamzin asked, “Duanna, what do you see?”

Bastian saw the young druid shake her head. The girl adjusted her heavy pack and mumbled something about a young woman with white hair and a great oaf of a warrior.

Tamzin smiled and pretended not to hear. Bastian chuckled.

“Duanna are you awake?” The High Druidess asked.

Soft Tamzin.

Bastian knew both. Mostly he saw the Hard Tamzin, full of purpose and confidence; a striking, strange figure that commanded attention, a young beautiful woman with hair as white as a crone’s, stronger than any chief or warrior. When she spoke, there was no doubt the Goddess heard her.

But there was a Soft Tamzin, caring and playful, that only appeared to Bastian or Duanna. Soft Tamzin indulged Duanna’s impertinence and smiled and laughed. Bastian respected Hard Tamzin, but Soft Tamzin was a joy to be around and he felt privileged to know her.

Soft or not, Tamzin wanted an answer. She gently pressed Duanna, who squinted at the ground about her. The silvery moonlight hid the finer details.

“I see … moss.”

Bastian grunted to hide his laugh.

A druid was expected to know the name and nature of everything that grew on earth or sea. A novice who called a marigold a flower usually received a whack on the fingers. But Soft Tamzin smiled back at her pupil.

“Yes, moss. Go on. What else?”

Bastian grew a little tense. Tamzin wanted Duanna to notice something.

The girl breathed deeply and looked around.

“Moss. And very little else, which means the ground is very wet.”

“Yes,” said Tamzin. “We’re on very deep bog. One step off the road and you’ll be sucked down. So be very cautious. What else?”

Bastian wished she’d just say what it was. He scanned their surroundings as well but saw little beyond the road itself. Wide enough for two ox drawn wagons and made of straight logs, it stretched across the land and linked the hillforts and crannogs and brochs and towns of the Great Island.

Then he smelled the scent of recently cut green wood. Bastian and Duanna gazed down at the same time and also saw the new timber.

“The road’s been recently repaired.”

Two days earlier they found a stretch washed away by a flood and lost hours navigating through the bog to the other side.

Tamzin nodded. “Someone still has use for this road.” Tamzin concurred.

“But what use?” Bastian asked. “Do they transport grain or death?”

“I do not know,” Tamzin replied. “Our answer lies up ahead.”

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The hit movie is not just a superb thriller but also a textbook example of an alien character operating in a human world

You should check out this movie not just because it’s a great movie. Check it out for Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander and how she’s portrayed in this film. She’s not just alienated, she’s alien.

Compare here to the original version played by Noomi Rapace. She looks like a punk but still recognizable as a human girl.

Here’s Rooney Mara. She looks barely human.

By the way here's what she normally looks like!

And that’s how she comes across, as something intimidating and other. Even when she’s making love to Daniel Craig she’s intimidating. Yet despite that she’d still alluring.

The way director David Fincher treats the character in this film, it’s a textbook way for presenting an otherworldly being. There’s a sense that Mara’s Lisbeth isn’t alienated or alone by choice. She’s of a completely different species than the rest of us. We can never figure her out and she can never really understand us. If you made her character into an actual alien or a vampire or a fey, it wouldn’t be a stretch at all.

That’s why I highly recommend all paranormal and horror fans see this movie, especially if you’re a writer. I’ve read the novel and while I was impressed with Lisbeth on the page, I never considered her to be as alien as she is presented here.