Daughter of Time (prequel)
The Lost Brother
I just watched a fascinating documentary on the rediscovery of the European ‘martial art’ of sword fighting. It was called Reclaiming the Blade, and started out talking about sword fighting movies (Lord of the Rings was highlighted in particular), but once you stripped away the honor and righteous talk, had a really good argument that sword fighting prior to the invention of gunpowder was just as legitimately a martial art as karate. In Europe, there are now European sword fighting academies which teach medieval sword fighting like my children learn karate. How cool is that?
Two of my children are black belts in karate (and a third has his brown belt and is working toward his black belt). My eldest son, in particular, helps me choreograph many of the fights that I write into my books. He has always suggested (perhaps instinctively due to his training) that my characters employ the whole of the sword (hilt, crossguard, and blade), wrestling techniques, and moves which are more akin to karate than you might find in movie depictions of sword fighting. Interestingly, this documentary suggests that he is correct—that these techniques were actually common practice in the Middle Ages.
Our view of sword fighting has been colored by fencing, which has rules, or by movies whose sole purpose is to put on a good show, but not to kill an opponent. In battle, there were no rules. A man in battle was likely to use his sword as a bludgeon, swing his sword like a baseball bat with two hands on the blade and smash his opponent in the face with the hilt, or hold it with two hands, one on the hilt and one on the blade of his sword (with his gauntleted left hand) and thrust it into his opponent’s midsection like a pike. A fight was likely to last less than a minute, and as Viggo Mortensen pointed out, a man wouldn’t pull his sword from its sheath unless he intended to use it, and kill with it as quickly as possible.
And when a man did draw his sword from its sheath, the sword did not make that distinctive scraping noise that you hear movies. Metal on leather is silent.
When writing in pre-modern eras, one of the hardest things to discover, even with the internet, is the traveling routes across the countryside of those earlier peoples. In Wales, the Romans built roads but also improved old ones, which wasn’t their normal operating procedure. It was forced upon them, however, because they found the land so inhospitable that it made it difficult for them to lay down their straight roads.
In Gwynedd, in particular, the Romans built a road from Chester to Caernarfon. Instead of following the coastal plain, as the modern highway now does, it skirted the rock formations along the coast, running through St. Asaphs, curving north to Caerhun where it crossed the Conwy, took the ancient Welsh track between the standing stones at the pass of Bwlch y Ddeufaen, and then back down to the coast at Aber.
This is the road that Welsh people used from ancient times, through the Middle Ages and beyond. The best maps in for this era in Wales are the Ordnance Survey maps of Roman Britain and Ancient Britain, and online: http://www.multimap.com/maps/
Make sure you choose the ‘ordnance survey’ map, to show all the castles, forts, roads, and ruins.
The era of King Arthur, commonly referred to as the ‘Dark Ages’, was not the dark and dreary time often portrayed. ‘Dark’ refers to the lack of historical material about the period from 407 AD, when the Romans marched away from Britain, and 1066, when William of Normandy conquered England.
For Wales, the time was no more or less bright than any other. The relative peace the Romans brought was predicated on the brutal subjugation of the Welsh people. That with the Romans gone, the Britons now faced the Irish from the west, the Scots from the northwest, the Picts from the northeast and ‘Saxons’ (who were Angles and Jutes too, not just ‘Saxons’) from the east was simply more of the same. After the Romans left, the Welsh had their lands back—the whole expanse of what is now Wales and England—for about five minutes.
It does seem that a ruler named Vortigern invited some European tribes to settle in eastern England, in hopes of creating a buffer zone between the Britons and the relentless invasions. This plan ultimately backfired and resulted in the pushing westward of successive waves of ‘Saxon’ groups. Ultimately, the Britons retreated into Wales, the only portion of land the Saxons were unable to conquer.
The legend of King Arthur sits at a resting point between the Saxon advance and the Welsh retreat. The siege of Mt. Badon took place some time around the year 500 AD, and was such a great victory that it created a generation of breathing space for the Welsh. They did not gain more land, but it freed them from endless war. This is the gift that Arthur gave his people, and the enduring fact behind his legend.
With Arthur’s death, the battles began again, and continued through the Norman conquest, to the lonely death of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd in 1282 AD, thus ending, for the next 700 years, the dream of an independent Welsh people.