Tag Archives: in the company of the dead

U – Unusual Things I’ve Researched for Fantasy Books



Until my latest WIP, the only thing I had ever really researched for a book was how to kill a man with one blow.

Um… OK. That is weird, I concede. I don’t want to kill anyone, honest. My protagonist was just an assassin with Japanese jujutsu skills. No really. I mean it…

Moving right along…

That was until I got to In the Company of the Dead. 

First I had to research castle floor plans. That was kind of cool, and even involved buying some from a royal historical society to use as inspiration for my castle. Nearly the whole book is inside the castle, so I needed a very clear idea of where everything was. You can check out the floor plans in this post – Floor Plans of Caisteal Aingeal an Bhais: The Castle from In the Company of the Dead.

The castle is under siege, so there’s lots of catapults and burning oil and stuff. This led me to Greek fire, which was a terrible scourge in ancient times, as it was very difficult to put out. The Byzantines had a frightening way of squirting it from their ships onto enemy boats and it would burn on water. In fact, water could not be used to extinguish it, and only sand, strong vinegar and old urine would put it out. But what was it?

We don’t know! We know neither the chemical compound to make Greek fire nor the mechanism used to project it from ships. Thought the secret has been lost, modern scholars suspect it was based on petroleum and may resemble modern napalm. It is probably the inspiration for the wildfire used in the Battle of Blackwater in Game of Thrones when King’s Landing comes under attack by Stannis Baratheon and also Quegan Fire in Raymond E Feist’s Midkemia books.



Depiction of Greek fire in the late 11th century Madrid Skylitzes manuscript.
Then I unexpectedly needed to research how to pull an arrow out. The short answer was – you don’t really want to have to do this because there’s a good chance the victim will die. That wasn’t a very good outcome for the book, so I had to find the long answer.

A plot twist suddenly had me wondering how you know sappers are tunnelling under your castle walls, how you find them once you know you’re there, and then what you do about it when you locate them. This is not an easy thing to learn, although fortunately I found enough to get me by.

Since the conventional approach of dealing with siege engineers wasn’t really an option for my beleaguered heroes (on account of available resources and the like) I had to think of another option. Perhaps some sort of explosive?

Hmmmm. More questions. What kind of explosives might be believable in a high fantasy novel with a roughly medieval feel?

More research…

Turns out the Ancient Chinese had crude explosives from close to the beginning of the AD calendar. Who knew? They even had crude grenades in clay pots and soft-case grenades too – presumably made from something akin to papermache. They definitely had gunpowder (which I now know is made from saltpetre, sulphur and carbon) and saltpetre was even called Chinese Snow. Saltpetre is white, where I had always thought it was black. It’s the carbon added to make gunpowder that makes it ‘black’ powder. I even know where saltpetre can be obtained!


Suenaga facing Mongol arrows and gunpowder bombs during the Mongol invasions of Japan in 1281 AD, painting dated to 1293 AD.

It’s amazing the stuff you can learn while writing a genre often dismissed as ‘fairy tales for adults’. 

This is an A to Z Challenge post. If you enjoyed this post, please feel free to check out my previous posts if you haven’t already. If you’re finding yourself here often, you might like to join as a member, sign up to the blog through RSS or email, or sign-up to my newsletter. Check out my March Newsletter if you missed it. 

Don’t forget to share the love and spread the word on Twitter, Facebook or StumbleUpon (or other social networking site of your choice) if you know other people who might also enjoy this.

 Thanks for stopping by and visiting!

Monday Morsel: Refusals and Recriminations – An Excerpt from ‘In the Company of the Dead’




Welcome to the Monday Morsel feature, where I share short extracts from the first draft of my adult epic fantasy/fantasy romance, In the Company of the Dead.

* * *

‘You will go to them?’ Sir Janun spoke as soon as the door closed, sealing them in privacy.
‘Should I not?’ Lyram challenged him to produce some argument against that course of action.
‘You are the king’s cousin, a powerful political bargaining piece by any measure, and the heir to Duke Aharris, who would surely pay dear to have you returned whole. You are also the kingdom’s foremost military commander. You have value in many respects, and could be used against us in a multitude of ways. One could argue it’s treason to allow you to do this thing.’
‘None of those things will help me sleep at night.’
‘You don’t sleep at night anyway,’ Everard said. ‘None of that has anything to do with your conscience. You just want a way out of the misery you’ve tried to escape at the bottom of a bottle.’
Lyram tightened his fingers on the brandy glass, then very deliberately set it down out of harm’s way. ‘My reasons are my own. This is my choice, and you can’t stop me.’
‘My soldiers will, if I order them to.’ The castellan stood, an unexpected stern expression hardening his features.
‘Your soldiers won’t let you, if they know,’ Everard added. ‘They adore you, and won’t place their lives before yours.’
Lyram surged to his feet, jostling the table so the brandy slopped over the rim of the glass. ‘Do I need to lock the pair of you in here until it’s done?’
The door banged open, startling him so much he jumped as badly as Everard and Janun. Ellaeva stood in the doorway, her hand on her sword, her face set in the grim expression of Death’s left hand preparing to dispense justice. Not even a hint of the lonely, burdened girl remained in her visage – only the uncompromising granite her job demanded.
‘You will not go,’ she said, her voice brusque and dismissive. ‘If I have to take steps to keep you here, I will. Don’t think you can cross Ahura and get away with it.’
Sir Janun’s eyebrows shot up. Everard, privy to the knowledge of the Rahmyrrin and his threat to Lyram’s life, settled back against the wall with a smug look on his face.
‘There are women and children here, lives that might be saved if I surrender myself. How can one life be worth more than the lives of hundreds?’
‘When hundreds more, thousands even, hang on the fate of that one. You are my charge, and my responsibility, and they are not. I am sorry, but that is the way it has to be.’
Of course; she was a creature of logic, and no appeal to the heart would ever sway her. ‘You wouldn’t.’
‘Don’t tempt me,’ she said. ‘You can go.’
She pointed at Sir Janun, and he hastened from the room like it wasn’t his own castle. His gaze never left that pointing finger, as though she might choose to strike him down on a whim.
Ellaeva shoved the door closed behind the castellan, and his footsteps receded into the distance. She fixed Lyram with a glare chill enough to raise frost. ‘Don’t make the mistake of thinking your personal desires are more important to me than the sacred trust given to me by my goddess. I am charged to keep you safe, and out of the Rahmyrrin’s clutches, and that is what I will do.’
‘This siege has nothing to do with the Rahymyrrin.’
‘No? I will believe that when a dragon lays down in the field with a sheep.’
‘I gather they didn’t give you a heart in the temple.’ Bitter anger spilled out with the words.
Ellaeva met his gaze unflinching, but her brow pinched, and she blinked a few times in quick succession. ‘A heart is not a pre-requisite for the role.’
She spun on her heel, yanking the door open with unnecessary force, and departed in a billow of black robes. The door slammed behind her, with the finality of a closing tomb.

* * *

Thanks for dropping by! Don’t forget, this is a first draft, and as such won’t be perfect. If you like what you read, and are so inclined, show your support by leaving a comment. I am currently 65% of the way through the first draft of In the Company of the Dead. If you’d like to sample more of my writing, check out my novella Confronting the Demon, or any of my free short stories.

If this is your first visit to Monday Morsels, find others in the series by clicking on the ‘Monday morsel’ tag, or go to the first installment.

More about In the Company of the Dead:


Lyram already crossed a prince, and now he finds himself on the brink of crossing a god.

Son of a duke and second in line for the throne, Lyram is exiled to a lonely castle after assaulting the crown prince. When a hostile army arrives to besiege the castle, he believes the prince wants him removed – permanently.

As though answering their prayers, Ellaeva, the Battle Priestess of the death goddess, arrives unexpectedly. But she has not come to break the siege. Instead, she is in pursuit of a necromancer of the evil god of decay. When misfortune after misfortune befalls the beleaguered defenders, Lyram realises the necromancer is hidden within the walls, sabotaging the very defence.

Against the backdrop of clashing gods, Lyram must fight to save himself from the political machinations of his prince, and the dread plans of a necromancer. But as the siege lengthens, he realises the greatest threat may come from another quarter — a woman sworn body and soul to a god tempts him to pay a terrible price.

Monday Morsel: Lies, Loathing and Last Moments – An Excerpt from ‘In the Company of the Dead’

Welcome to the Monday Morsel feature, where I share short extracts from the first draft of my adult epic fantasy/fantasy romance, In the Company of the Dead.

* * *

Standing from the last of the sick, she jerked her head, and retreated to the bench where Leinahre had set up her apothecary’s tools. Lyram joined her, leaning against the wall with his arms folded as if he could drive the chill of self-loathing from his body.
‘This is right,’ he said. ‘There’s nothing else to do.’
‘Sometimes what’s right, and what must be done, are not the same thing.’
Her hand rested on the bench next to her hip. Lyram looked at it for a long moment, listening to the rasping breath of the dying slow and rattle in their throats. Unable to endure, he took her hand in his. Her gaze flicked to meet his, and she squeezed his hand. Tears pricked his eyes, and he blinked before they could fall.
‘How do you bear it without crying?’ he whispered.
‘Because otherwise I would never stop.’
They stood there, hands clasped, as the infected slipped into a deep sleep. Lyram studied their faces, relaxed now as the hemlock took its course, and tried to memorise their features. Badden, with his broad face and squashed nose. The two serving women, one old enough to be a grandmother, the other middle-aged. Two soldiers of the castellan. 
Eventually they slipped from sleep into unconsciousness. From within her robe, Ellaeva produced a needle-pointed poniard. She went about the gruesome work with quick efficiency, rolling each man or woman to slide the blade into the soft spot at the back of the neck where it joined the skull.
‘Can’t you just…’ Lyram waved his hands, trying without words to indicate the man she had killed with a touch.
‘No. It is something I may only call upon in defence of my own life, and then it is at Ahura’s discretion to grant it.’ Her jaw tightened as she laid the last of the lifeless heads on the ground. ‘At least two of the five Battle Priestesses preceding me died because the touch failed them – whether because they abused the privilege or because Ahura was done with their service and called them home.’
Two out of five. She must wonder if she was destined to bring it to an even one out of two. ‘Poor reward for faithful service.’
‘Such is the life of a Battle Priestess.’ She thrust the poniard back inside her robes.
She was good at keeping her thoughts and feelings from her face, but he was getting better at reading her anyway. These deaths weighed on her, despite her attempt at matter-of-factness. How many other lives burdened her shoulders? What other truths of the life of a Battle Priestess preyed on her in the smallest hours of the long nights? Words failed him, and in desperation he reached out and her caught her hand again.
She met his eyes for a brief moment. Hers were as dark as night, like Alharne’s had been, but bitter with a depth of pain that left him weak at the knees. How could one woman – one girl – carry such weight? She squeezed his hand in acknowledgement, and they stood there, hands entwined, contemplating the remainder of the gruesome task ahead. For this little time, at least, the burden need not be hers alone.
A sharp rap on the barred door broke the moment, and Ellaeva pulled her hand away.
‘What is it?’ Lyram called.
‘Sir.’ The thick wood muffled Everard’s voice. ‘There’s an emissary, sir. From the enemy camp.’


Thanks for dropping by! Don’t forget, this is a first draft, and as such won’t be perfect. If you like what you read, and are so inclined, show your support by leaving a comment. I am currently 65% of the way through the first draft of In the Company of the Dead. If you’d like to sample more of my writing, check out my novella, Confronting the Demon, or the free fiction I am posting during the A to Z Challenge, starting with Burning: Dragon Bait (Part 1).

If this is your first visit to Monday Morsels, find others in the series by clicking on the ‘Monday morsel’ tag, or go to the first installment.

More about In the Company of the Dead:



Lyram already crossed a prince, and now he finds himself on the brink of crossing a god.

Son of a duke and second in line for the throne, Lyram is exiled to a lonely castle after assaulting the crown prince. When a hostile army arrives to besiege the castle, he believes the prince wants him removed – permanently.

As though answering their prayers, Ellaeva, the Battle Priestess of the death goddess, arrives unexpectedly. But she has not come to break the siege. Instead, she is in pursuit of a necromancer of the evil god of decay. When misfortune after misfortune befalls the beleaguered defenders, Lyram realises the necromancer is hidden within the walls, sabotaging the very defence.

Against the backdrop of clashing gods, Lyram must fight to save himself from the political machinations of his prince, and the dread plans of a necromancer. But as the siege lengthens, he realises the greatest threat may come from another quarter — a woman sworn body and soul to a god tempts him to pay a terrible price.

Monday Morsel: Fever – An excerpt from fantasy novel ‘In the Company of the Dead’



Welcome to the Monday Morsel feature, where I share short extracts from the first draft of my adult epic fantasy/fantasy romance, In the Company of the Dead.

* * *

Horror mounted as she explained. The infection was virulent, and could be passed with a touch. It could not be cured. The sufferers would die in horrible agony, screaming and writhing, driven mad with pain. If allowed to progress to the end, they would attack anyone within reach, including each other, and even themselves if no one else was available. They would gnaw on their own flesh until they died of massive blood loss.

‘I have seen it, once. A long time ago now, when I was still in training. I knew, but no one would listen to a thirteen year old girl, even if she was destined to be Ahura’s Battle Priestess.’ She glanced away from him, a shadow in her eyes. ‘I do not wish to see it again.’


Thirteen, when she witnessed people chew themselves to death? What else had she seen? Barely twenty, and her eyes signalled she’d seen more, and worse, than he ever had. Certainly more than he’d seen at her age. A deep sorrow filled him – it wasn’t the life he’d wish for any daughter of his, if he had one.


‘How do we stop it, then?’

She pressed her lips together with grim resolve. ‘They must be killed.’


* * *


Thanks for dropping by! Don’t forget, this is a first draft, and as such won’t be perfect. If you like what you read, and are so inclined, show your support by leaving a comment, and In the Company of the Dead will be available in the future. I aim to have the first draft finished by the end of April. If you’d like to sample more of my writing, check out my novella, Confronting the Demon, or the free fiction I am posting during the A to Z Challenge, starting with Burning: Dragon Bait (Part 1).

If this is your first visit to Monday Morsels, find others in the series by clicking on the ‘Monday morsel’ tag, or go to the first installment.


More about In the Company of the Dead:


Lyram already crossed a prince, and now he finds himself on the brink of crossing a god.

Son of a duke and second in line for the throne, Lyram is exiled to a lonely castle after assaulting the crown prince. When a hostile army arrives to besiege the castle, he believes the prince wants him removed – permanently.

As though answering their prayers, Ellaeva, the Battle Priestess of the death goddess, arrives unexpectedly. But she has not come to break the siege. Instead, she is in pursuit of a necromancer of the evil god of decay. When misfortune after misfortune befalls the beleaguered defenders, Lyram realises the necromancer is hidden within the walls, sabotaging the very defence.

Against the backdrop of clashing gods, Lyram must fight to save himself from the political machinations of his prince, and the dread plans of a necromancer. But as the siege lengthens, he realises the greatest threat may come from another quarter — a woman sworn body and soul to a god tempts him to pay a terrible price.
 
This is an A to Z Blogging Challenge post. For more information about the challenge, check it out at A to Z Blogging. If you enjoyed this post, please feel free to check out my previous posts if you haven’t already. If you’re finding yourself here often, you might like to join as a member, sign up to the blog through RSS or email, or sign-up to my newsletter. Check out my March Newsletter if you missed it.

Don’t forget to share the love and spread the word on Twitter, Facebook or StumbleUpon (or other social networking site of your choice) if you know other people who might also enjoy this.

Thanks for stopping by and visiting with us!

Monday Morsel: Challenge – An excerpt from fantasy novel In the Company of the Dead



Welcome to the Monday Morsel feature, where I share short extracts from the first draft of my adult epic fantasy/fantasy romance, In the Company of the Dead.

* * *

Aharris glanced at the soldiers. ‘They’re afraid. Afraid of you, of your power. Of death. Every wise soldier fears death, because he knows she is coming for her. He doesn’t wish to hasten that day.’
She sniffed. He didn’t fear her, except when he remembered he should. She’d reminded him now, though – tension thrummed in every line of his body, and the anger poured off him in waves. ‘They are fools.’
‘Is it foolish to fear the unknown? If it engenders caution, one could argue it is wisdom.’
Philosophy. She was in no mood for it. She wanted to shout at him: But I am so lonely! More so, since they’d argued, and anger ignited at the thought. Instead, she stilled her features, hoping the bleak heartache didn’t show in her eyes. What I feel isn’t important, so long as the goddess is served. And somewhere further in the depths of her mind, a tiny voice protested. But why me?
‘Spar with me,’ she said, unable to temper the aggression in the sudden challenge.

* * *

Thanks for dropping by! Don’t forget, this is a first draft, and as such won’t be perfect. If you like what you read, and are so inclined, show your support by leaving a comment, and In the Company of the Dead will be available in the future. I aim to have the first draft finished by the end of April. If you’d like to sample more of my writing, check out my novella Confronting the Demon.

If this is your first visit to Monday Morsels, find others in the series by clicking on the ‘Monday morsel’ tag, or go to the first installment.

More about In the Company of the Dead:


Lyram already crossed a prince, and now he finds himself on the brink of crossing a god.

Son of a duke and second in line for the throne, Lyram is exiled to a lonely castle after assaulting the crown prince. When a hostile army arrives to besiege the castle, he believes the prince wants him removed – permanently.

As though answering their prayers, Ellaeva, the Battle Priestess of the death goddess, arrives unexpectedly. But she has not come to break the siege. Instead, she is in pursuit of a necromancer of the evil god of decay. When misfortune after misfortune befalls the beleaguered defenders, Lyram realises the necromancer is hidden within the walls, sabotaging the very defence.

Against the backdrop of clashing gods, Lyram must fight to save himself from the political machinations of his prince, and the dread plans of a necromancer. But as the siege lengthens, he realises the greatest threat may come from another quarter — a woman sworn body and soul to a god tempts him to pay a terrible price.


If you enjoyed this post, please feel free to check out my previous posts if you haven’t already. If you’re finding yourself here often, you might like to join as a member, sign up to the blog through RSS or email, or sign-up to my newsletter. Check out my March Newsletter if you missed it. 
 
Don’t forget to share the love and spread the word on Twitter, Facebook or StumbleUpon (or other social networking site of your choice) if you know other people who might also enjoy this.

Thanks for stopping by and visiting with us!