Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Planning the Story

When writing Markan Throne, Sallis ti Ath pushed forward as an interesting character from the start.  The two novellas planned about this man are the background of how he became a bounty-hunter in Marka.

As these novellas are much shorter than (my) novels, they do not have the intricacy of several plotlines weaving around each other, but rather concentrate on this one character.  This does not mean that plotting can be abandoned; if anything, the plot must be even tighter than for the longer novels.  In a book 180+ thousand words, there is room for a little slack; in a novella of 20 thousand words, none.

Every author has an individual approach to planning a story.  Some take the trouble to plot every single twist and turn, knowing everything that happens and exactly when it happens.  Thriller and mystery writers usually use this method, or a variant of it: they must, or they will lose control of their story.

It's an excellent way to write a book, with the added bonus of reducing the amount of editing (though no method ever eliminates the necessity of editing), but it is not the method I use.

I usually write the first paragraph of my story, followed by the last paragraph.  This means I know from the beginning exactly how the book will end.  I also have a rough idea of what will happen to my characters, a fairly good - if fluid - grasp of the plot, and which set-pieces I will use in the story.

But generally speaking, it's a matter of joining the dots.

Most of my pre-writing planning concentrates on the background information to the stories.  Once that is in place, the rest follows.

Sallis ti Ath's early life has been broken into two novellas.  The first concentrates on the young ti Ath's training as one of the Gifted, ending when his tutor refuses to teach him any longer.  That's a natural break point in the young man's life.  Not a word written, and I know how it ends.

The second novella follows ti Ath when he realises he can use the Gift to his advantage.  He joins forces with a bounty-hunter to learn that craft.  The books ends when his training is over and he is a hunter in his own right.  This ties in seamlessly with the man met in Markan Throne.

The planning of Markan Empire, the second book in the longer series, is a good deal more complicated.  There are several plotlines: developments in Marka and General Kelanus leading an army to repel invaders; Balnus and Neptarik trying to learn the intentions of another enemy; the Shadow Riders returning to Marka after their long exile; and the story of Belaika's capture and escape.  Those are the four major plotlines.

More planning and plotting is required than for the novellas, and my way of working demands quite a high level of editing and revision compared with the method outlined above for thrillers, but it does work.  It gives a lot more leeway to modify plots and I've only had to abandon one failed plotline in seven novels.

With my method, plots often evolve in ways that surprise me.  Poor old Neptarik, who just wants a quiet life, was originally only supposed to steal plans in his plotline.  Instead, he destroys a castle, stops an invasion fleet from sailing, ends a usurper's rule and restores the rightful monarch, and gets his girl.  Now that's a plotline that evolved!

Right, I'm off to begin the opening chapters of the first novella, and begin to sketch more ideas for Markan Empire.  I'm even having ideas for Markan Sword.

Ideas lead to ideas, always.

Until the next time, be well all.

"Markan Throne" is available at Smashwords here (for a free 35% sample click on the link and scroll down the page); from Amazon (US) here and Amazon (UK) here.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

New Writing Project!

The importance of frequent publication cannot be overstressed; more publications mean an increased chance of readers discovering the works, and it helps promote "the brand".  Very few authors achieve fame and fortune with one book and, if they do, fame at least is usually short-lived.

The internet is an increasingly busy place and ebooks grow in popularity every week.  More and more authors, myself included, are waking up to its potential.

Markan Throne is the first of a trilogy but, with more than 180 thousand words apiece, it is unlikely that these books will appear more frequently than once a year.

I intend to release novellas of 20 to 30 thousand words at a greater frequency.  They will be cheaper than the larger books and will no doubt have a shorter shelf life as a result.  But they will introduce more people to the ilvenworld than larger annual books could. Those will still be published of course!

The advantage of the internet is that all books by an author can be linked together, so all other publications are only a click away for readers. In theory, this should attract more people to a larger number of publications.

The first novella is at the early stages now. Provisionally entitled The Apprentice (this will very likely change before publication), in centres on the early life of Sallis ti Ath, a character from Markan Throne.  In that book, ti Ath is a Gifted bounty-hunter and the novellas explain how he came to be the way he is, and why.

Any book with the scope of Markan Throne leaves loose ends which are not always fully tied off in the narrative.  Many make interesting stories in their own right and deserve to be heard.

So, I will keep you posted on the development of this sideline, as well as progress on the second main book, Markan Empire.

This should give readers a glimpse of the fiendish way my mind works, my writing processes and how I edit.

Until the next post, be well all.

Markan Throne is available at Smashwords here - for a free sample click on the link and scroll down the page.

Also available at Amazon here (US) and here (UK).

Midweek Walking Posts

Apologies to those used to my midweek walks postings. Now that the clocks in the UK have moved forward an hour, I am again plunged into darkness at the end of my shift.  The walks still happen, but the camera is staying at home until daylight catches up again.  It should only be for a week or so.

Saturday walk posts are unaffected.

Be well all.

Note on Sample Sunday

I trust all those who sampled the opening chapter of Markan Throne enjoyed their read.  A thank you to those who downloaded it and to those who retweeted it :-)

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Markan Throne Chapter 1 - For Sample Sunday

Chapter One from Markan Throne, issued as a sample for Sample Sunday.  Hope everybody enjoys reading it!

(A longer free sample of about 60 thousand words is available from Smashwords, here.)

Chapter One
Marching to Marka

Belaika shivered in the predawn gloom and stared up at the heavens, mouth open with wonder at the display of shooting stars. While his silvery gray eyes were turned upward, his earpoints twitched as he waited for the whistle that must come, informing him of the intentions of his master's enemies.

Other sounds came from behind, where the army readied itself for battle. He shivered again, this time not from cold. Although he was an army scout, subject to the same discipline as all other soldiers, he did not like battles. He and his kind were scouts and messengers; they were not expected to fight.

Pitched too high for human hearing, the sharp whistle reached Belaika and he stiffened, stretching up to his full height to acknowledge it with his own whistle. He trotted through the outer row of wooden stakes, twisting his way through the defenses and heard the whistle repeated as the message was relayed to the flank camps.

Most soldiers acknowledged him as he passed. He returned their greetings with nods and smiles. Infantrymen formed up before the earth bank and small detachments of mounted cavalry were behind them, all in full view of the approaching enemy. Behind the earth bank stood the war machines: ballistas and huge mangonels.

He reached the yeoman. "Donenya, I heard," he said.

"How far?" asked the yeoman.

"Five milas, closing." He gave the rest of the message.

The yeoman nodded. "Go and tell the boss," he said.

"Se bata."

As he turned away, soldiers lifted a hopper full of spears and positioned it on the ballista. Along the rank of ballistas, more men did the same. The green fire was prepared, but the huge cauldrons were not yet lit. The bombardiers hated green fire: they said the only thing worse than handling it was having it land on you. The throwing arm of the last mangonel was now being hauled down, so it would not be seen until it was too late. These war machines - although in one line - were three ranks, each with a corresponding row of marker posts in the field, masquerading as advance stakes. All the mangonels had been ranged the previous day, pins locking the throwing arms into their respective ranges and colored boards attached to each machine to tell the bombardiers which was in which rank. Red for the first - or furthest - markers, white for the second and blue for the third. The men already positioned at the advance stakes had orders to turn and run, lulling the enemy into a false sense of security. They wanted him to believe this was only a small force, not the full army.

Joining the paved road on which the army was camped, Belaika began to run, only slowing as he approached his master's large tent. Orders were shouted, repeated over and over as the yeoman did his work. He was challenged at this tent, though he was well known to the guardsmen.

"Akram," he said.

"Pass." The guard nodded and relaxed the spear that had been leveled against Belaika's chest, more for show than real threat. The guard winked at the scout. "He's awake."

Belaika nodded and pushed through the tent flap. He doubted if many had slept well.

"Enya," he began, "they are five milas away, coming fast. They move one mila every fifteen minutes, but their war machines are five milas further back, moving one mila every twenty-five minutes. The yeoman knows."

Marcus Vintner, allegedly descended from the first Mark and claimant to the vacant Markan Throne, looked up from his map. Light-crystals provided plenty of light in the center of the otherwise dim tent. As the canvas partition that normally screened off a sleeping area was tied back, Belaika glimpsed untouched bedding, for Marcus had slept with his head on his arm at the map table. Belaika was a little taller than his owner, his appearance more striking thanks to the gray, green and brown skin paint that covered his body, with vivid slashes of black across face and chest. Despite this, Marcus was the one with real presence. Belaika's silvery gray eyes, cat-slit black pupils narrowed against the brightness of the tent's interior, and his pointed ears, betrayed his race and hence his status.

The smile Marcus directed at his sylph was, however, genuine and warm. "Good." He pushed dark hair away from dark-blue eyes. "Ask Kelanus to join me."

The sylph paused, toying with the black leather collar about his neck. "They come as you predicted."

Marcus' smile broadened and his eyes sparkled. "This is the only road to Marka from the north." He stroked his chin, thinking aloud. "Even so, Branad won't expect us to be waiting for him here. What about the rest of them?"

Belaika shook his head. "Too far away still." A thought struck him and his earpoints twitched. "The shooting stars. Did you see?"

"I have seen them before. Go to Kelanus. I need him here."

"Se bata." Belaika bobbed a quick bow and ducked back out of the tent.

Marcus reached for the still steaming cup of alovak and savored its distinctive odor before sipping the black liquid. It might be his last. His personal sylph - Jenn - had served breakfast hours before. She should now be with the nurses, ready to help with bandages and equipment.

Today would decide who reached Marka first. Shivering, he fancied destiny walked beside him. Today should be decisive. Before he could restore Marka to her rightful place he must end the civil war between the various claimants.

He looked up as his general, Kelanus Butros, heeled by Belaika, entered the tent. The real military leader had just walked in; Marcus was just the claimant to the throne and a figurehead. He was not ignorant of military tactics, but Kelanus knew war. The general had been with him for two years, after being dismissed by Branad. A decision his rival might rue today.

Kelanus stood beside the map. "Too late for looking at that now," he remarked, bass rumble resonating in Marcus' chest. "Word should have already reached the other camps."

Marcus grinned, knowing how that had been achieved. The sylphs had suggested that they could be used as scouts even before he had taken over from his father and, together with professional military scouts, he had begun a training program fifteen years ago. That program had changed beyond all recognition since.

The original intention was to use the sylphs as messengers, as their hearing range was better than that of any human, so they could whistle messages to each other without threat of interception. Nobody initially realized that these sylphs would replace humans in the role of scout. There were now in excess of three hundred sylph scouts who had proved their worth over and over. Many were here, but a few were scattered throughout his lands, serving the small detachments of the army dotted about.

Kelanus had at first doubted the sylphs' value, but misgivings soon evaporated and he proved an enthusiastic convert. Now he would never think of using any but sylphs for scouting. Not only a sylph's hearing, but also his eyesight was far superior to a human's. They could see as well as cats in the dark. Kelanus' only regret was that sylphs were too pacific to be warriors as well. But this would have broken ancient precepts concerning sylphs and warfare.

Marcus' thoughts turned back to the plan. His opposite number and distant cousin, Branad, marched on Marka from the north and, as both men knew the other was invited to Marka, he doubtless expected a delaying attack somewhere along the way. What game Marka's Supreme Council played was anyone's guess, but it was obvious the two rival claimants would meet sooner or later and that the outcome would be bloody.

"He's coming to meet you," said Kelanus, "and leaving his war machines further and further behind. Branad will launch straight into the attack when he makes contact."

"Just cavalry and mounted archers?"

"And some infantry. Branad is not so big a fool as to believe only cavalry wins battles."

Marcus wondered who had taught Branad that; he rather suspected that man stood in the tent with him right now.

Kelanus continued. "So long as we appear to fight defensively, he'll swallow the bait. He always does. When he realizes war machines are here, he'll push forward even faster to avoid the worst they can offer. That's common sense and gives us a further advantage: he'll leave his infantry behind."

"Makes life easier for the snatch squads." Marcus could not restrain a shiver at the mention of the new snatch squads: men trained to dart through a battle and capture the enemy leader directly.

"You wanted Branad captured rather than killed outright." The inventor of those snatch squads narrowed his eyes. His tone hinted that "killed outright" was the wiser option. "Snatching him is the only way I can think of. Even then, there is no guarantee of success."

"What I want," retorted Marcus, "is minimum bloodshed. This so-called civil war has dragged on long enough." He fumbled for his gold necklace and stared lovingly at the miniature of his wife painted and enameled on it. The less killing the better. Like his own, Branad's army had always acted honorably. It had never pillaged its way across the countryside, nor had it caused any more damage than could be avoided. Both Branad and Marcus had embarked on charm offensives to win people to their point of view. Marcus wanted to win both armies and both sets of people. The plan was a good one.

However, Marcus had seen enough battles to know that few ever went to plan. Once the fighting started, anything could wreck the best battle plan. And there was a further complication.

"Why has Branad divided his army?"

Kelanus smiled. "Ranallic's idea, I suspect." The general tapped the map. "Perhaps part of his plan for when he reaches Marka. Or search for the rest of our army. No doubt there are hundreds of little known ways to Marka through the forest, where we might be hidden."

"We are all here."

"Let's hope Branad doesn't know that. At least, not until it's too late."

"And if he has a Gifted one in his ranks?"

Kelanus shrugged. "The sylphs have given no warning of sudden changes in direction. I assume they are still in contact?"

Belaika narrowed his eyes and his earpoints slanted forward.

A scowl briefly crossed Marcus' brow. "Once they find something the size of an army, they don't lose it again. Belaika assures me they are headed the other way."

"All right, I trust the scouts; I learned my lesson about that some time ago."

Belaika wore a satisfied expression, while giving the impression he was not really eavesdropping. He settled back on his heels again.

Marcus continued. "We can't risk having that army swing round to cut us off, or join with Branad."

"They cannot reach us today. If they change course, the sylphs will give warning. Concentrate on what is in front of us for now; worry about the rest another time. It is the only way a soldier can deal with these things."

Marcus wished this war was over; he was a politician, not a warrior. He stared glumly at the map table.

"You'd better get ready," suggested Kelanus. "It'll begin sooner than you think."

Marcus nodded and turned away. Once again, he pulled his gold necklace free to stare at the image of his wife. He took strength from it, imagined he could breathe her scent.

Whatever happens, fight with honor.  He recalled his father's words, those Zandra repeated whenever he left her for the field.  He brushed his lips gently across the miniature before tucking it under his shirt again.  As he left the tent, Belaika drew himself upright and heeled his master.

As usual when not scouting, Belaika felt underfoot as he scurried after Marcus, the claimant strapping on his sword and what little was left to don of his armor. Stablehands had already prepared Jablon, Marcus' warhorse, and the animal stamped a foot in greeting. The sylph regarded the horse warily. Sylphs did not feel happy around large animals at the best of times, and this one was trained to hurt. Jablon liked to go in with his head and shoulder, both of which were armored accordingly, complete with lethal spikes.

The Imperial Bannerman - Adrewa - waited while Marcus mounted. He carried the Vintner Standard: a gold dragon's head on a dark-blue field. Belaika shivered as Marcus and the bannerman joined the rest of the army and a cheer went up.

Marcus acknowledged it with a wave of his gauntleted hand. Kelanus joined them and the army formed up. The reserve units remained behind, while the rest moved slowly downhill along the road. They gave the appearance of reinforcing the forward units, where Belaika had earlier waited for the signal. Those manning the mangonels and ballistas added their voices to the cheers; pikemen and archers looked up from their work, but remained silent.

As the army came to a halt amid the jingling of harness and armor, the cheering stopped and an eerie silence descended. Even the birds were quiet. Saddles and leather creaked as the waiting began.

Belaika's breath came in short gasps as he fought fear. His earpoints already lay back in his hair and felt as though they were about to tuck themselves away. There were a few sylph scouts within the barricades, but none this far forward, this exposed. Most were beyond the barricades, eyes and ears open for any surprise moves. They would be as afraid as he was.

He glanced quickly into his master's face. The dark-blue eyes were calm, face still and relaxed, exuding confidence and optimism. No fear to be seen there, nor in any of the human faces. Yet Belaika knew the humans were frightened, that they feared death as surely as any other animal. They were just so much better than sylphs at hiding feelings and emotions. Their faces hid fear as war helmets hid hair.

"Stand close, Belaika."

The sylph nodded, though he needed no reminders of his duty. It felt safe behind the stockade, beyond the range of enemy arrows and missiles. Belaika was experienced enough to see the enemy would be unable to get his war machines within range before Marcus deployed all three ranks of his own. For those who managed to get closer after the bombardment, there were archers with arrows of fire and pikemen with their bristling weapons. Belaika knew the enemy would be forced to close the range as quickly as possible, which would also play into his owner's hands.

Behind the stockade, light cavalry prepared their lances and armored cavalry readied their horses. Behind them stood infantry with short swords and shields. All were ready to leap out from behind the stockade, both to help defend the retreating squads of men intended to draw Branad ever further forward and to maintain the illusion of being the real reserve. Beyond the stockade, to either side on small hills, were small detachments of cavalry, to give the impression of waiting to fall on the enemy's flanks.

But, beyond the war machines Branad would not see before it was too late, beyond the small detachments of men, stood the real army. Belaika scanned the hillsides and beyond the war machines. Thousands of men were hidden there and not even he could see a sign of them. They would push behind Branad's men, cut off their retreat and capture the opposing war machines. If everything went to plan.

Belaika sighed. All living creatures died eventually; he supposed this was as good a day to die as any other.
Without further warning, it began.

Belaika shivered at the rhythmic thrumming of spears and swords against shields.

Someone bawled "First marker!" The ballistas launched their first salvo and the mangonels hurled rocks and green fire against the foe. He heard the first screams.

"They come exactly as we hoped."

The sylph stared up at his master. How could his voice be so calm? Was his heart hammering against his chest? Did he want to flee, to run and hide somewhere safe?

The light cavalry readied themselves, making final adjustments to their snowy pennons. Those strips of cloth at the lance ends would not remain pristine for long.

Behind, the ballistas and a few of the mangonels managed a second dispensation of death and destruction, or perhaps some of the throwing arms had not released properly. Such things happened often.

"Second marker!"

Jablon snorted, as did many of the other horses. A moment later, Belaika also smelled the coppery stench of fresh blood. He kept his head down, knowing that the enemy was close now. He sensed, rather than heard, the missiles of the second rank of war machines pass overhead. The screams and cries were louder, nearer.
He dreaded the touch of his master, knowing he would want a message carried. He would take it if he must, but he was fully aware of the risks. His earpoints tucked away as screams and howls continued. Men and possibly even sylphs were dying out there and he didn't want to hear.

"Third marker!"

Belaika never heard the third rank of war machines launch their missiles, but he did hear the results of the salvo, pots containing green death bursting to shower men and animals with fire that could not be extinguished, flames that could not be escaped. Most men from the war machines now took up pikes, as did most archers. Yelling and shouting, light and heavy cavalry joined the fight. Time for hand-to-hand fighting: difficult, dangerous and bloody.

Still the reserve remained steady. Belaika glanced up every now and again, watching lines of wounded and groaning men headed towards the rear. Some had to be carried.

Since his master had taken over the army, there had been many changes to its organization. Now, laundresses, seamstresses, buyers, carters and officers' sylphs were all expected to help the nurses during a battle. Before Marcus, sylphs were never used by the military, except as servants for senior officers.
Belaika knew Jenn was somewhere back there. She always resented being more than two pacas away from Marcus, but even she had the sense to stay away from a battle. She would play her part with the nurses, well out of harm's way. Belaika was protective of the small infertile, although she was much older.

Marcus drew his sword.

The sylph shivered and very much wanted to be with Jenn.

From behind the hill, the reserve of infantry and cavalry drove forward, carrying with them the snatch squads, intended to capture the enemy commanders and - hopefully - Branad. Marcus touched his sylph's shoulder.
"We'll move forward with the banner to a new command post. Stand ready for messages."

"Se bata." Belaika prayed there would be no messages.
Now that battle was joined, it was unlikely that he would hear whistles from his brother scouts and equally unlikely that they could hear his properly. Knowing this, messages were kept to a minimum during a battle, but one that must be communicated had to be passed by physically moving from one place to another and whistling from there. Which might mean picking a way through the battle. He shivered.

The new command post stood between the original stockade and the third marker. Marcus stood in his stirrups and tried to see what Kelanus could see of the battlefield. His general's small army of messengers - these carried messages through battles all the time - did not contain a single sylph. Kelanus knew the blue-skinned creatures were of little use in a fight. Excellent scouts and nurses yes, but unable to defend themselves properly when weapons were used against them.

Marcus also ignored the spyglass that Kelanus used to survey the field. It was a sore point with the claimant that Sandester made the best lenses in the known world. All of Branad's officers had a spyglass; Kelanus had brought his with him when forced to change his allegiance. A useful tool, but Marcus avoided using it whenever possible.

The battle went much better than expected, as they were still following the original plan, itself a small miracle. Branad's advance was exactly as Kelanus had predicted: an advantage of employing his enemy's former commander. The reserve still thundered out, a terrifying sight for an army that had expected to fight only a small contingent. Branad's men were hemmed in.

Beyond, large detachments of Marcus' men battled for - if they had not already won - the enemy's war machines, left far behind as the rest of Branad's army advanced at speed. He glanced skywards, surprised to see the sun already approached its meridian: time always passed quickly when the blood ran hot.

Marcus stared at the battlefield again, grudging respect for his enemy turning to admiration as he saw how well the field was still held, despite being outnumbered and encircled. The opposing army was as well trained and disciplined as his own. Training and discipline kept men alive in battle and he hoped today would not be as bad a slaughter as feared. He had plans for both Branad and his army. Kelanus would like to see the false claimant dead, but Marcus had a use for him yet. He certainly had a use for the lands he controlled, to say nothing of his army.

Marcus stiffened. Was that a sylph, darting through the struggling men? The news he carried must be pretty dire to take such a risk. Had they failed to take the enemy war machines? Had Branad sprung reinforcements that the sylphs had somehow failed to see before now?

The camouflaged scout headed directly for the command post and was quickly beside Kelanus, the general bending his head to listen to the report. A thin line of blue, smudged at one end, betrayed the presence of a wound. It stood out against the sylph's painted skin.

Marcus restrained his impatience and tapped Belaika on the shoulder. "Who is that?"

"Neptarik-y-Balnus," replied Belaika, able to recognize every scout, even under paint.

Marcus nodded. Neptarik was one of the first sylph scouts and had run with the army for ten years. Experienced, skilled and reputedly fearless. He loved adventure and gambling, traits no doubt copied from his owner. He was the first sylph to use ebatela, the nonviolent method of personal self-defense adopted even by some of the soldiers. And a rarity: a scout who belonged to a common soldier. Marcus recalled that magistrates had sent him to the scout training. Neptarik had not always been honestly employed. The moment the sylph had gone, thankfully towards the rearguard, a messenger crossed to Marcus.

"Sire," began the messenger, "we have news of the rest of Branad's army. They have turned and are headed straight for us. If they keep on, they are little more than a day away."

"Probably the plan all along," muttered Marcus. He raised his voice. "Thank you, Felis. Anything else?"

Felis nodded. "There was more resistance than expected at the war machines. Their soldiers fought hard and well. We lost more men than expected, but we have the machines."

Marcus grimaced and dismissed the messenger. A large number of casualties - on either side - was precisely what he wanted to avoid. He swung out of his saddle as Felis hurried away. "Come, Belaika."

Kelanus turned as the claimant joined him and saw the unasked question in his eyes.

"We should have Branad defeated long before they can reach us," the general reassured his superior. "Unless they move faster than the sylphs say."

Belaika stiffened. This, he knew, was highly unlikely; the scouts knew their work and took great pride in getting their part right.

"The sylph who brought the news," said Marcus. "Neptarik. He is to be commended."

Kelanus nodded. "I will speak with his owner."

A huge cheer went up from the battlefield and the two commanders strained forward. Shouts from Marcus' men, repeated all over the battlefield. "Surrender and you will not be harmed. Surrender!" The shouts were gradually replaced by a growing yell, one word repeated over and over.

"Marcus! Marcus! Marcus!"

"It seems the snatch squads are successful." said Marcus; he and Kelanus exchanged a look.

The battle was over.

In accordance with their orders, Marcus' soldiers took prisoners and did not slaughter the defeated foe out of hand, the murderous practice followed by so many other claimants and thugs wishing to carve empires for themselves. Marcus knew that had the positions been reversed, Branad would act in the same honorable manner. The defeated claimant's army had never been accused of committing atrocities, but had always behaved professionally. As professionally as Marcus always insisted his own army behaved, even against those who would show no mercy had they won. This was why Marcus wanted Branad and his army. But even had he not needed them, he would still treat them army with the respect they deserved.

Marcus could barely restrain himself as he saw a detachment of his best men, led by two sylph scouts, bring a prisoner. A man who even now held himself regally, despite dented and stained armor, with burnished overlapping plates at shoulder, elbow and knee. Although his surcoat flapped in the breeze, the Vintner Arms were clearly visible. The same as those worn by Marcus, except the dragon's head was on a pale-blue field. The small coterie halted before Marcus and Kelanus.

"Now I know how my own tactics were used against me," said Branad Vintner, defeated claimant to the Imperial Throne of Marka. A small smile twisted his mouth as he stared at Kelanus.

Kelanus bowed. "Highness. Perhaps it was an error to dispense with my services? Is Ranallic with you, or were we fortunate to see him killed this morning?"

The smile broadened. "Unless he has fallen off his horse, he is alive, but not here."

"Pity." Kelanus could not hide the bitterness in his voice.

Branad's attention switched to Marcus.

"Greetings, cousin," he said.

***

Belaika crouched at the entrance to Marcus' tent. He glanced over his shoulder and masked a quick yawn. While his master bathed and changed his clothes, the scout nibbled on spring greens the thoughtful Jenn had provided. The soldiers who had earlier tidied the tent were now gone and only the guard remained outside. The tent's main room was ready for what might be the most important meeting of the civil war.

The sylph peered outside and shook his head. Captured soldiers were usually stripped of weapons and armor, but several prisoners openly cleaned their swords and axes. Admittedly, Branad's men were split into small groups and a large number of Marcus' men supervised them. Discreetly, of course. And there were no sounds of celebration, most unusual after a battle. It was turning into a strange day.

He rose to his feet as Marcus joined him and laid a fatherly hand on his shoulder. "Pining for Eleka?"

"Missing her, yes," replied the sylph. Eleka was his first - and so far only - wife.

"Still hoping for a son?"

"She says she carries one child." Belaika's eyes sparkled. Sylph males were always born individually, not in pairs or litters like the female and infertile sylphs.

"Good." Marcus smiled. "Then she will allow you another wife."

All of Belaika's children would belong to Marcus, but he allowed his sylphs a large degree of freedom, short of manumission.

"We'll reach Marka within the week and can send for our loved ones." He did not add that his own family had already left Calcan and the caravan would include Eleka.

"Another wife." Belaika nodded. He would gain more status when he had more than one wife, just as female sylphs gained more status by birthing a son. Eleka had given him twin girls and a litter of infertiles, but no son. As the first wife chose all subsequent wives - or at least had more say about them than her husband - he knew there was little chance of a second until Eleka had given him a son, cementing forever her position as senior wife.

Outside, the tent guard banged the butt of his spear on the ground.

"Ready, Belaika?"

They hurried further into the tent. Marcus lounged arrogantly in the largest seat and casually draped one leg across the chair arm. Belaika was ready to serve alovak, already brewed.

Much to her disgust, and after a tantrum that wilted Belaika's earpoints, Jenn had gone to the back of the tent. She was to remain there until called, to serve sweetmeats if all went well. Sulking, she retreated to the small section that was her own private space. There was a small smile for the scout, to show she harbored no ill feeling towards him.

Jenn was always mindful of her position within the strictly hierarchical sylph society, treating everyone else as her superior. All other sylphs referred to her as an equal, for this was how Marcus spoke to her. Nobody wished to intimate that he was of lower status. Jenn had served Marcus faithfully for a quarter of a century and clearly resented being pushed aside now.

Kelanus' voice came from outside the tent and he spoke as if Marcus already held the Throne. "Majesty, I present Branad Ulvic Vintner." No title was given to the defeated claimant. Kelanus pushed the tent flaps apart and escorted Marcus' rival inside.

"Very impressive, cousin," remarked Branad, as he glanced around the tent. Belaika earned a small, puzzled frown.

"Come and sit down," invited Marcus.

Three scribes followed Kelanus into the tent and they took their seats down one side, the map table now serving as their desk. Branad took a smaller chair opposite Marcus and Kelanus sat opposite the scribes.
This was Belaika's cue. He hefted the can of alovak and moved around the tent slowly and gracefully. He offered the dark drink first to Branad, then Marcus and finally Kelanus. As he poured the last cup, Branad spoke.

"I heard rumors, but could not believe that you would break the precepts concerning warfare and sylphs." He inspected the contents of his cup before gesturing towards Belaika. "I assume the paint covering this sylph is a mark of his work?"

"He's a scout," replied Marcus. "The precepts are not broken. As you can see, he bears no arms, neither is he - or any other sylph - expected to fight. I use sylphs as scouts or messengers, and as nurses. Thanks to them, I know the other half of your army cannot reach me today, which gives me time to consider what to do with you, never mind them."

Kelanus grinned at his former employer's discomfort.

Branad sipped at his alovak, hand and arm steady. "And what do you plan for me and my men?"

"My aims are simple." Marcus smiled. "I want to see Marka reunited and strong; true justice and the rule of law once more prevail; a stable throne, with me as its first occupant."

"Ah. Well, with that last, you and I must disagree-"

Marcus put both feet on the ground and leaned forward angrily. "With that last, you and I will agree before sundown, or I will see you dead."

Apparently unconcerned, Branad took another sip of alovak. "My men might not be quite so docile if you kill me."

"If I decide to kill you," countered the other, "your men may choose to serve me in this life, or join you in the next."

Branad arched an eyebrow. "Really? The man who pardoned Pilwm when he surrendered. The same Marcus who allowed the Prefecture of Metton to continue its own way after defying your instructions."

"Trenvera would never tolerate either of us swallowing Metton."

"Perhaps."

Marcus' eyes narrowed. "The reason this discussion is taking place at all is that alone of the various claimants, you and I share two things: the same ancestry and an innate sense that defeated enemies do not deserve to be slain out of hand. Your men - like mine - do not pillage and despoil the lands they pass through or conquer. Like myself, you have built up a reasonable power base, the size of which has not been seen since Hingast changed his battle tactics and decided to destroy everything instead of consolidating his gains."

"Hingast has lost his mind," grunted Branad, sourly. He sniffed and changed the subject. "I still believe my claim is stronger than yours."

"Only two claimants received a summons from the Supreme Council of Marka." Marcus took a sip of his own alovak. "You and me."

"Perhaps the summons will not go as you wish, cousin."

"My claim is stronger than yours," insisted Marcus. "I'm a direct descendant of Kylist, the younger brother of the last Emperor. You're a descendant of the last Emperor's father." He took another sip of his alovak. "The laws of succession are quite clear: if the Emperor dies without issue, the throne passes to his younger brother and thence to his descendants. More important than that, you're defeated in battle. That counts far more than bloodlines. You still have your honor and you may yet salvage much of what you've lost, but your claim to the Throne is over."

"Marka's Senate and Supreme Council may not see it that way." Branad downed the rest of his drink.

"I'm sure they will."

"What is it you want of me? Let me hear your terms."

"Your recognition of my claim," replied Marcus, smoothly. "Your army and prefectures will join with mine under my command. We'll march to Marka together."

Branad waved Belaika away, refusing more alovak for the moment. "My army will join yours, but I'll only recognize your leadership until we reach Marka. There I will submit to the decision of the Senate and Supreme Council. If they choose you, our armies and prefectures are joined. Likewise if they choose me."

Kelanus looked at Marcus in consternation. This was not going as planned.

Belaika's mouth dropped open, the alovak can forgotten in his hand.

"You will recognize my claim."

"Or what?" retorted Branad. "Kill me? You'll have a bloodbath on your hands if you do, as well as losing your reputation in Marka and elsewhere. I acknowledge your leadership until we reach Marka. You may command my men, but my claim will only be ended at the will of the Supreme Council."

Kelanus shook his head. "I told you we should have made sure he died," he said.

"If you had, the claim would pass to my son." Branad's smile was not reflected in his eyes.

The look Marcus directed at Branad was exasperated rather than angry. "Now you've been captured, I'm well within my rights to take your head and end your claim. You know it, your commanders know it and your men know it."

Branad blinked. "We can compromise," he said. "We can tell everyone that I have rejected my claim."

"You will reject your claim."

"I need time to consider."

Kelanus laughed and shook his head. "You're wasting time in the hope the other half of your army will rescue you. We'll deal with them tomorrow; they cannot save you today. You have no time left, Branad. Choose now and choose wisely."

Branad's blue eyes stared coldly at Kelanus. "You would love to see me dead." It was not a question.
"Ranallic is the man I want to see dead."

Belaika tugged absently at his black collar and straightened it. Finally, Branad sat back and held out his cup for more alovak. The sylph scurried to top him up.

"When we reach Marka," began Branad, "What is it you would have us do?"

The atmosphere in the tent suddenly grew much lighter and Belaika relaxed. Everything would be all right now.

Marcus grinned. "Jenn! Sweetmeats, please."

As the infertile entered to offer the sweetmeats - glaring at all the humans as if they threatened her owner - Marcus began to outline some of his plans.

Belaika, who had no interest in human politics unless they affected him directly, sat on his heels and concentrated all thoughts on his pregnant wife. He would try hard not to fall asleep.

***

Neptarik-y-Balnus had a scarf tied around his head, to stop his earpoints from betraying his emotions and feelings. He sorted the five cards into order quickly, before glancing surreptitiously at his companions. He hummed a few bars from Into the Dance before falling silent again.

His owner was already out of the card school, his copper partas shared out between the surviving four members. The sylph was a little disappointed they gambled for copper: he much preferred to fatten his purse with silver. He laid his cards facedown - one from each of the five suits: crowns, swords, trades, coins and wands - on the wooden table and folded his hands. He hoped his eyes hid his excitement as well as the scarf stilled his ears.

"Card," grunted Erras, a lancer from Branad's army.

Ean - the youngest sylph on active service - acted as banker, but was not playing. He pushed another card across the table.

They played with just the numbered cards - two to eleven - but one of the pictured wild cards had been sneaked into the two packs they were using. Whoever drew it immediately lost that round.

"Twenty-four partas," said Callen. He had been among the pikemen who were furthest forward this morning. The fresh slash across his face was already beginning to heal, but he would boast yet another scar when the scabbing was gone.

"Twenty-four," agreed Nazan, a dark-skinned outlander mercenary who fought for Marcus. He pushed a small pile of coppers nearer the middle of the table.

Callen twisted his mouth, but pushed another small pile of coins out to join the first.

Erras pushed out the same number of coins.

Neptarik glanced around again, before pushing twenty-four partas out to join the rest. The bets had been put on the table before the cards were dealt; now the pile of coins beckoned. He stared at it greedily and almost hummed again.

"Eighteen," Erras said, turning his cards over.

"Seventeen." Nazan looked disgusted.

"Seventeen." Callen sat back, hands behind his head. "I'm done."

Neptarik said nothing, but turned his cards over.

"Twenty-one!" Erras turned to Ean. "Are you fixing this?"

Ean's eyes betrayed outrage and his earpoints quivered in anger.

"All right, you're not fixing it." Erras held out his hands in mock surrender. He watched Neptarik scoop the coins gleefully. "Where did you learn to play cards like this?"

Balnus grinned. "He was a quick study."

Neptarik carefully placed twenty-four partas on the table; it was for him to start the betting as he had won the previous hand. Nazan and Erras followed the sylph's lead, but neither tried to up the bet. Neptarik nodded to the other sylph, who immediately dealt.

"Should be interesting tomorrow," remarked Erras. "Branad will ride out to meet the rest of our army. I wonder if they'll believe that they follow Marcus now. I can scarce believe it myself." He inspected his cards.
"It does not matter who you follow," said Nazan. "So long as the pay is the same."

Erras eyed the other human sideways, but it was not clear if his distaste was for the color of Nazan's skin, or because he was a mercenary.

"Card," said Nazan.

Neptarik eyed his cards. They were not as good this time. He could risk another card, but that might take him over the magic twenty-three maximum.

Nazan tossed his cards onto the table. "I'm out," he said. He had the wild card, which busted him. The emperor. Strangely, it was Branad's features painted on it. Doubtless Ean's sense of humor: Branad was busted, too.

Erras stared at the sylph, his expression not exactly friendly. He pushed his twenty-four coins further to the centre. "Twenty," he said, triumphantly.

Neptarik pushed all the coins across the table before turning his cards.

"Nineteen!" exclaimed Erras. "It seems as though your luck is turning, sylph."

Neptarik shrugged.

"We'll stake everything on this one." Erras grinned and pushed all his coins to the centre of the table. "Playing, sylph?"

Neptarik pushed an equal number of coins forward.

"I said everything, sylph."

"He has met your bet," interrupted Balnus, protectively. "You cannot match him if he raises it now."

Erras shrugged. "Deal. Three cards."

Neptarik stared at his cards in disbelief. Thirteen? A measly thirteen? He nodded to Ean, who pushed another card across. One from every suit except the wands, not that it mattered for this game.

"Don't you sylphs ever speak?" demanded Erras. "I hate silence."

Neptarik turned silvery gray eyes to the human. What was there to say? His attention returned to the cards. This was better. He only just prevented a hum.

Human and sylph turned their cards over together.

Erras cursed before he stood to leave the card school.

"Well done, lad." Balnus thumped his sylph on the back. "Well done."

Neptarik grinned and unwound the scarf from his head, restoring freedom to his earpoints. They twitched a few times in pleasure.

Yeomen came running through the camp. "General muster!" they shouted. "General muster!"

"No time off for any of us," grumbled Balnus.

Marcus and Branad gathered their armies to explain the new situation. That the rival claimants had reached agreement surprised both sets of men. The two armies would remain in their own units, with their own commanders, but overall command rested with Marcus, and Kelanus was the senior field officer. Mutters rose from the gathered men when Branad announced that his claim was "in abeyance" until they reached Marka and that he would afterwards "submit to the will of the Supreme Council".

"That could mean anything," said Balnus.

Neptarik stared at Belaika. His friend stood a little behind his owner and looked anything but happy with the arrangements. It was soon obvious why. When Marcus and Branad had finished, Belaika heeled the defeated claimant back to his tent. Neptarik blinked in surprise. Whatever was going on there was not to Belaika's liking.

***

"Alovak?"

Branad eased himself into a chair and nodded thanks.

Belaika had left the alovak to brew while the men were addressed. He poured it for the man who now commanded him in the evenings. The scout was furious that his owner had granted Branad's request for a sylph servant, especially as that servant was him.

Branad's tent only had two rooms: a living space with two easy chairs, a table and the wood burner, and a sleeping area screened off by tapestries. There was no special area for Belaika, so the sylph had piled his blankets close to the burner, where it would be warmest.

Branad detected the sylph's mood. After taking a sip of the strong liquid, he spoke. "You are wondering why I asked your owner for you to serve me?"

The sylph stared balefully back.

"I've never owned sylphs," continued Branad, when it was obvious no verbal reply was forthcoming. "I'm curious to learn more about you. No doubt you'll report back to your master now and then, so I hope you can lay his fears to rest. I'll not turn on him, even if the Supreme Council backs my claim. Of course, they may back Marcus's claim, but I'll worry about that then."

The sylph sniffed and glanced away.

Branad chuckled. "You were more talkative in Marcus' tent. What's wrong? Tongue fallen out?"

"May I go eat?" asked Belaika. "It is time." It had been a long day.

"Remember to come straight back and bring my meal with you."

In the large mess tent where the sylphs ate, Belaika found Jenn sat alone at one of the tables. The infertile glanced up at the larger scout and gave him a small smile. For a moment, he thought she might banter with him, but she seemed content to eat in silence. Perhaps she sensed he was in no mood for talking. She mopped up the last of her vegetable broth with a hunk of bread, inclined her head to him and left, headed for the officers' tent, presumably to collect Marcus' meal.

Recalling that Branad also waited to eat, Belaika pitched his food in, stuffing two pieces of unleavened bread into the waistband of his breeches before hurrying outside again. He collected Branad's meal and toiled back with it, the can swinging easily in his grasp.

Once the meal was laid out, Branad indicated that the sylph should take the seat opposite him. "Your master may be interested to hear what I have to say," he remarked. "Sit and listen."

Belaika realized that he would have little chance to reply once the man began speaking. Not that he would have replied to most of it. A sylph only spoke when necessary, except to owner or family, and Belaika was no exception.

"When I meet with Ranallic tomorrow," continued Branad, "he'll follow my orders. An ambitious man, but he does obey a command once given. I'm most amenable to Marcus's suggestion that we all travel to Marka together; much easier than fighting each other all the way, what? Ranallic will agree. Who's Ranallic? Make sure you mention him to Kelanus, they're old friends. What I don't know, of course, is what Marcus plans once he has us all in Marka."

Belaika blinked.

"No, I suppose he doesn't take a sylph into his confidence. No matter. I'm sure we'll continue to Marka, but it is there that the problems begin. Never been there myself, but I prefer the battlefield to the intrigues of Markan politics."

The sylph remained silent.

Branad lowered his voice. "Your master is politically astute." He turned his head to one side as he finished his meal. "What's that noise?"

Belaika, who slipped from his seat to collect the dirty dish and cutlery, grimaced. Was this man tone deaf? Outside, sylvan voices rose and fell in a harmonious choir. "My brothers," he said, finally breaking his silence. "They sing to the dead, to speed them to the afterlife."

"Yes, that racket would speed me along too."

Belaika hid a snarl, turned on his heel and stalked out of the tent.

Branad chuckled to himself and picked up a book. He watched Belaika return, brew alovak and serve a cup of it. Done, he left the can with the human and wrapped himself in his blankets in sulky silence. The sylph settled down beside the burner and curled up. His eyes closed and his earpoints tucked themselves away. Fascinated, Branad watched him before putting the book aside. He covered most of the light-crystals before following the sylph's example.

Tomorrow, he thought, I bring in the rest of the army. Then, we march to Marka. Together.
 
***

If you enjoyed this free sample from Markan Throne, a longer sample of about 60 thousand words is available from Smashwords here (for the sample scroll down the page after clicking the link.)

Markan Throne is also available at Amazon's US Kindle store here and at
Amazon's UK Kindle store here.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Today's Walks

It's OK, no mistake.  Had two walks today: the first above Barmouth in the mist; the second above Betws-y-Coed as the weather improved.  There was some skulking about in between them, which included food and imbibing at a drinking establishment :-)

The first walk was above Barmouth.  As the walk progressed, I began to wish I'd chosen to do a ridge instead, as Cadair Idris and the other peaks were sticking out of the mist.  However, the mist was very up and down first thing, so by the time I'd finished, I was pleased to have kept going.

Pics from the first walk:

 Walked out of the mist - not that there was a huge amount in Barmouth.  Looking south-west at the estuary mouth.

Gorse tunnel on the descent.

Mist has cleared a little, looking down on Barmouth.

Looking inland from the railway bridge.  Tide is out this time and the sun is getting pleasantly warm.

Driving north from here, suspected I'd made the wrong choice and that perhaps my second walk should also be in this area of Snowdonia.  That opinion was reinforced when I arrived in Betws-y-Coed, as it was grey and quite chilly.  By the time I'd finished lunch, the sun had broken through, so I commenced by second walk.

The walk through the Gwydyr Forest to Llyn Parc is one of my favourites and made even better in sunshine.  Though the warmth is not always welcome when climbing uphill at the start!


This is the forestry road near the beginning of the walk.  This was all gravel when I first started coming here, but the green shows how quickly nature takes things back over.
  
The forest path leading uphill to Llyn Parc.

One of the many abandoned mineshafts in the area.  Lead and zinc were mined here and a goodly part of the hills are criss-crossed with shafts.  Most mine entrances are now capped or fenced off, like this one, to stop the more adventurous yet unskilled from disappearing for ever.

Llyn Parc.  This reservoir was made to provide water for mining activities and not for drinking.  Just as well really, as the green-ish tinge to the water is caused by lead, so there are no fish here.  Don't drink the water!

One of the many forest tracks which makes the Gwydyr so popular with walkers and bikers.

So there you have it, two enjoyable walks in relatively fine weather.  Long may it continue.

Until the next time, be well all.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Sylph Language Used in "Markan Throne"

Relax, I'm not about to dump an entire lexicon on you!

Languages add an extra dimension to stories but, unless the books are set on our world and use our collection of tongues, fantasy languages are obviously going to be constructs.  Called ConLangs, these form an entire subset in the fantasy genre.  Because these languages are unknown to all except the author and perhaps his inner circle, necessity restricts the use of a conlang within a book.

In Markan Throne, it is safe to assume whenever sylphs are talking together - or for that matter sylphs and humans - that they are using the sylph language.  Some words are left in the sylph vernacular and are either translated, or their meaning is fairly obvious.  The exceptions are those that this posting explores.

I've further restricted the posting to those sylph words used in Chapter One, which will be posted here in its entirety for Sample Sunday (#samplesunday on Twitter).

The words I leave untranslated in Chapter One are:

Donenya and enya.  These salutations are similar and have a common ancestry in the conlang, but have quite different meanings. 

Donenya means master or sir, and is generally used as a respectful form of address to humans who are not their owners.  It is sometimes used as a formal address to their own humans, or if owner and owned are not particularly close, such as between farm sylphs and the farmer.

Enya is the more usual form address from a sylph to a (male) owner.  This word also means father, though in the local dialect of sylph used in the book, enya for father ends in a long, rather than a short, "a".  The female equivalents of these words are donanya and anya. 

The ya can be added as a suffix to a human's name and means honoured, or honourable.  It fills a similar function to the Japanese "san".  Don is a general term for adult humans, en indicates masculine and an indicates feminine.

***

-y-.  As in Belaika-y-Marcus.  This small, monosyllabic word (pronounced "why" or "aye") is almost as flexible as se bata (see below).  In the example above, Belaika belongs to Marcus, so the y means "belonging to" (it literally translates as "of").  Belaika could also have his name written as -y-Eleka (married to); -y-Heshara (son of, father); -y-Telnara (son of, mother); -y-Vintner (belonging to the family).

It can be used to denote nationality, tribe or social group.  In some dialects, particularly further south on the continent, it is used to show where a sylph was born, or lives.  Like so many of the simple sylph words, the meaning is flexible, depending usually on local custom and need.

***

Ebatela literally translates as "self-battle", the root word (batel) a clear borrowing from the human tongue.  To the sylph scouts, its real meaning is "self-defence", a type of martial art where combatants do not touch.  Sylphs are non-violent, so can be prone to bullying.  This technique of fighting uses an attacker's strength and momentum against him and is suitable for sylphs to use, and very effective.  Soldiers in Marcus Vintner's army also learn ebatela.

This word is a compound from two root words.  E is the first person, in this instance meaning "self"; and batel is a borrowing that literally means "battle", but used in this instance for "defence". 
(The "a" at the end of the word identifies it as a noun, or part of a noun group.  This appears when the word is used alone, or when it is the last word in a sentence.  Sylph grammar is not the subject of this posting, however!)

***

Se bata.  A book could - and might - be written about the use of this small phrase, probably the most frequent words uttered by sylphs to humans.  These are the most flexible pair of words in the entire sylph lexicon.

From a technical point of view, se bata is nothing more than an acknowledgement.  Se is the first person derogatory, used from an inferior to a superior (in social terms at least) and bat is the root word meaning "obey".  As se bata is a noun group (thanks to the "a" at the end), the nearest translation is "compliance".  Usually, this is exactly what happens.

A muttered se bata is not, however, a guarantee that the instruction will be carried out.  No urgency or imperative is implied, it is only a casual acceptance of the command.  Non-responses occur, but disregarded orders are very rare indeed.  Sylphs almost always strive to please.

As with almost all sylph phrases, se bata can be graded with increasingly formal use.  Se batu converts the noun group to a verb group and implies that the command will be dealt with.  Se batut is stronger still, with its imperative overtones, but neither response is heard very often, and no urgency is necessarily implied.

Se bata can even be mocking.  It is sometimes said with the purpose of putting a sylph of inferior status in his place, a reminder that sometimes one can have ideas above his proper station.  Humans also use it, but to show that they have been insulted.

There is yet another variant, and this can help a sylph overcome almost any obstruction to his obedience.  Se alut batut is the most formal, translating as "I must obey".  Rarely heard, and usually only when a third party is trying to stop a sylph from following his orders.

"You can't come in here" for example, may be countered with se alut batut.  The actual meaning - "I must obey" - is hardly the ultimate in reasoned debate, but the implications are what's important here.  It actually translates under these circumstances as: "Been told to do this, so must do it, or I will get into trouble".  Only the hardest hearts will stand in the way of these three words.

***

This concludes the posting on the sylph language... for now.  More about this conlang, including a grammar, will eventually be published as a free ebook.

Markan Throne is available at Amazom.com here and at Amazon.co.uk here.

It is also available at Smashwords.com.  For those who enjoy samples, click on the link and scroll down the page...  35% of Markan Throne is free at Smashwords.

I will be posting a sample chapter here on Sunday.

Until then, be well all.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Foel Fenlli Before Bed

What a time of the year!  There's nothing better than getting half the week out of the way and celebrating with a short but sharp uphill before bed.

For those who haven't already guessed, I work permanent nights, so tend to catch the best time of day at this time of year.  Of course, I'm plunged back into darkness next week, thanks to the clocks going forward on Saturday night.  But not for long.

This morning, it was a quick walk on Foel Fenlli.  I like this one because it's short and sweet, with height gained very quickly with wonderful views.  Every visit is different.

Photos from this morning:


 A misty Cheshire Plain from the summit.  The small lump in the centre of the picture is Beeston Castle.

Scottish Baronial style in Flintshire.

A shy Moel Famau from the slopes of Foel Fenlli.

Sadly, it was too misty for the Snowdonia mountains to show themselves, but I'll get 'em yet!

Be well all.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Markan Throne on Amazon

Just to let everybody know that Markan Throne is now available at Amazon.



US Kindle here, and
UK Kindle here.

And of course is still available at Smashwords.  For 35% free sample, click on link and scroll down.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Sunny Day Walk to Llwyngwril

Saturday's walk - mostly in brilliant sunshine - was from Morfa Mawddach to Llwyngwril.  The hope was to catch a train back but, as there was maintenance work, we had to take the bus instead.  Plus ca change...


View from the path to Arthog Falls.

Clapper bridge - a popular way of crossing the larger streams.

View of Barmouth from higher up the path.  It was starting to get really warm by this point!

Retrospective view inland.  The ridge in the distance to the left is where we walked last week.

Memorial at the crash site of a USAAF bomber.  Note the date: the war in Europe had ended, so I expect these boys just wanted to go home, then this happens.

Looking across the River Mawddach - memorial plaque to the right.

New-born lambs enjoying a feed from Mum.  Hope they realise the weather isn't always so nice up here...


Until the next walk, be well all.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Read an Ebook Week at Smashwords

A quick thank you to those who downloaded Markan Throne last week.  The promotion ended on Sunday, but I trust all those who took the opportunity of "grabbing" a copy have enjoyed, or are enjoying, their read.

Markan Throne is available at Smashwords.
Try before you buy 35% sample available free!  Click here and scroll down to bottom of page.

Be well all.

Monday, 14 March 2011

This Morning's Walk - Penycloddiau

Walk out along part of the Offa's Dyke Path and returning along part of the Clwydian Way, passing over Penycloddiau.


From the outward path, a distant, cloud-topped Snowdonia.


Approaching Penycloddiau summit.  The mast sticking up to the right is the transmitter on Moel-y-Parc.

Closer view of the transmitter.

View north along the Clwydian Range.  Moel Famau at centre.

Cloud stubbornly clinging to the summits of Snowdonia.  Moel Siabod to the left, wind farm spoiling the view in the centre and the town in the foreground is Denbigh.

Picture taken from the return path, Snowdonia in the distance.  The patch of white to the left in the foreground is unmelted frost.
Until the next walk, be well all.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

About Ilven

This concludes previous postings about religion and exotic races on the ilvenworld.

Siranva, better known colloquially as "The Father", is responsible for the ilvenworlds.  It is believed that there are only two, one for female and one for male benefic ilven.  Philosophers theorise that not only has there been thousands of ilvenworlds, but that there are thousands of ilvenworlds.  That Siranva would have only two makes little sense, given the see-saw nature of power struggles between the Sephiroths.

The ilvenworld is life-bearing; native inhabitants are plants, bacteria, microscopic marine life and ilven.  Thanks to the arrival of humans, life on the ilvenworld is far more diverse, but little of it is indigenous.  It is believed that ilven are created individually and spend their childhood on the ilvenworld, before they are called back to Siranva to train for their true purpose.

The ilven are known as the Father's daughters, though it is unlikely that he fathers them himself.  Ilven themselves remember nothing of their existence before arriving on the ilvenworld, or of how they got there.

Physically, ilven are generally human in appearance, though no humans share their emerald-green eyes.  They are shorter than humans - at least while on the ilvenworld - and are usually shy and retiring.  Their attitude is surprising, given their intended role.  Most never leave their ilvenhome.

Humans are curious about ilven, but tend to ignore them as far as possible.  This attitude is mostly mutual, with only a minority of the sisters displaying any interest in humans.

Very little is known for certain what happens to ilven after they are called back to Siranva, but philosophers can make some guesses from what is already known.

Ilven are the warriors of both sephiroths.  Benefic and malefic ilven differ in details, but their roles are boradly the same.  Ilven lead the legions of benefic spirits, oversee and guard life on life-bearing planets and struggle against their opposite numbers in the malefic sephiroth.  Male and female ilven work together; their numbers are exactly even.

Ilven also lead assaults on ilvenworlds - malefic ilven will try to subvert a benefic ilvenworld and vice versa.  They also struggle for primacy over other life-bearing worlds and these actions are at the forefront of the battles between the sephiroths.  Fully adult ilven (nobody on the ilvenworld has met a fully adult ilven; maturity comes after they are called) of either sephiroth are ferocious beings and are unafraid to act ruthlessly to achieve their objectives.  Malefic ilven delight in this behaviour, but even benefic ilven do not shy away from it.

On the ilvenworld, the existence of the ilven helps ensure continuity of religion.  Humans support either Siranva, or else have thrown in their lot with the Malefic Sephiroth.  That a god's daughters are known to exist and are not merely rumour, means that the same religion is followed everywhere on the ilvenworld.

My next posting will deal with the joys of having my book out in the public domain.

Until then, be well all.

Markan Throne can be downloaded here, from Smashwords.

Walk in Cwm Ysgethin

Yesterday's walk was above and in the wild and lonely Cwm Ysgethin, in Snowdonia's quiet corner.  Managed to dodge the worst of the rain.


View from Bwlch y Rhiwgyr across the Mawddach, Cadair Idris in cloud.


The path we've just come up from Talybont.


Along the ridge towards Diffwys.  The ridge can be very squelchy underfoot.

The cloud has lifted and Cadair Idris comes into view.

Moelfre, on the other side of Cwm Ysgethin.

Mawddach Estuary.  The splodge in the centre of the picture is a raindrop - we didn't escape all of it!

Pont Scethin from our descent path.

Pont Fadog.  The large stone poking higher than the rest on the right is a marker stone.  This is an ancient drovers' route.

Path leading back to Talybont.
Until the next walk, be well all.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Mythology and Religion on the Ilvenworld

All cultures have a mythology, even if they have no religion.  The ilvenworld is no different.  Mythology and religion add depth and colour to any fantasy world, yet is often glossed over or pushed aside in many books.

Of course, fantasy writers need to be cautious; religion can be a deeply divisive issue and there are pitfalls.  Unless they have something to say on the subject, writers need to take care to avoid offence, which will clearly alienate readers.  There is no point in basing your religion on one already established to accuse it of being the root of all evil, or that it is dangerous and eccentric.  You will upset somebody and unnecessarily; remember that a fantasy writer's job is to entertain.

Although the ilvenworld's mythology and religion is introduced below, please note that this does not necessarily represent my religious or philosophical beliefs.

Cosmogony
Scholars on the ilvenworld mostly agree that everything in the universe was originally condensed into one stable egg.  There was no light, movement or time.  The Creator destroyed this stable pre-existence in a huge explosion that created the universe.  Pieces of the egg flew outwards in an ever expanding circle of light and matter, parts of which later coelesced to form the stars and worlds.  At the moment of creation, two equal and opposing forces also came into being: the Benefic and Malefic Sephiroths.

This cosmogony - believed on the ilvenworld to be true - the religion followed by most humans and sylphs is founded.

Religion
The two sephiroths are perfectly balanced.  Neither is stronger, nor holds any inherent advantage, although the balance of power constantly shifts between them.  The Benefic Sephiroth applauds the Creator's action and wishes to preserve it; the Malefic Sephiroth accepts the Creator's action - without it, there would be no Malefic Sephiroth - but wants to amend it to fit its own image.

It is a core belief on the ilvenworld that both sephiroths are involved in creating life and driving evolution, which is why most species display a mix of good and evil.  Scholars have noted some species display a greater affinity towards one or other of the sephiroths; more advanced species, such as humans or sylphs, can choose which sephiroth they wish to serve.

Despite the balance of strength, both sephiroths constantly struggle for supremacy.  Stealth is the key weapon, resulting in continuous swings from one sephiroth to the other.  The universe is governed by neither most of the time, but one sometimes holds an advantage for a little time.  Little is subjective: it could be aeons for humans.  This war will never be won and the universe will never cheer a victor.

This struggle uses humans and other species as surrogate warriors.  Ranked gods do not fight each other directly; benefic and malefic spirits avoid each other where possible.  The exceptions to this rule are the ilven (see below).

Life-bearing worlds rarely see any evidence of this permanent struggle.  Centuries or even millennia of increased or decreased warfare are barely noticed because few civilisations last long enough to see any cycle.  Sentient species evolve out of existence or even wipe themselves out long before the pendulum's swing can be measured.

However, on worlds shared with ilven - benefic or malefic - this battle is very obvious.  Contrary to popular belief, ilven are not pacific creatures and often invade the opposing sephiroth's ilvenworlds.  Benefic and malefic ilven fight over all life-bearing worlds.  Since the creation of the universe, thousands of worlds - including ilvenworlds - have fallen to the warring sephiroths.

Our ilvenworld [the one featured in my books] is a female benefic ilvenworld.  The deity worshipped by most sentient creatures is Siranva.  When humans and sylphs were refugees from a dying world, he allowed them to stay on the ilvenworld, provided his daughters were left in peace.

When they original civilisation collapsed, Siranva was sometimes forgotten, and the malefic sephiroth has been quick to exploit this new weakness.

Although worship is regarded as a private matter by the three main sentient species, humans have a heirarchy of priests and often gather in temples to worship together.

The continuity of the religion on the ilvenworld, as well as its universality, rare on life-bearing worlds, is thanks to the presence of the ilven themselves.  I will deal with ilven in greater depth in the next posting.

Until then, be well all.

Quick Stroll Loggerheads Country Park

Just a quickie this morning, after work and before bed.  A little more than a mile along the Leete Path at Loggerheads Country Park.

Pics:


Moel Famau from the limestone outcrop above the valley.


Looking towards Foel Fenlli from the same spot.
I slept well after the walk!

Be well all.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Read an Ebook Week on Smashwords

Until the 13th March, Smashwords are running an ebook promotion, Read an Ebook Week.  Participating books are discounted and many are free.

Go to Smashwords and click on the link to the left to see the books being promoted.  Markan Throne is free during the promotion, book page is here for Markan Throne.

Moel Famau

Another chilly start, though it quickly warmed up.  Stubborn haze meant the Snowdonia Mountains were shy again - good job I do this for fun!

Shots:


Looking towards Moel Y Parc.


Nice view of the haze... :-(  Looking towards Merseyside


Looking towards Foel Fenlli, where I walked last Monday.


Lovely blue skies over the summit during my descent.  They did not last long... the sky clouded over while I was driving back home.


Moel Y Gaer, another of the many hilltop forts in this area.  The rampart and ditch are clearly visible in this picture.

Until the next walk, be well.