Saturday, August 24, 2019

Travel in the Early Middle Ages


This month's round robin is about travel. I chose one from my new book Contantine's Legacy.

This excerpt comes after the newly elected Pope Stephen asks Leonard to guard the emissary he is sending to the Emperor in Constantinople. All the pope's men are required in Rome to prevent any attack from the Lombardo king's men.

~*~
 Once at Ostia, they rode directly to the port. The Imperial galley was the largest ship docked there with a deck of oars and a tall mast for sailing. The Emperor's Silentiarius and his guardsmen boarded before Archdeacon Nicolaus. Leonard's team of Franks followed the archbishop.

Boarding last, once standing on the wood plank allowing access to the ship, Leonard paused, finding it odd to think of them as his men, not knowing when the transfer of power from Radulf happened in his mind. He wasn’t sure about  traveling over water.

Silentiarius John had already advised him of the journey. “Traveling around the coast of Italia will add five days to our journey, longer than from Ancona, but is now safer than traveling through Lombardo held lands, especially for Imperial guards and messengers.”

As he stepped onto the galley, the movement below his feet unsettled Leonard, and the motion became worse once the ship started moving. John joined him and picked up a previous conversation. While John talked, Leonard only half listened. Once the galley began moving, a constant pounding gave the rowers a tempo, but it took time for him to adjust to the ship’s unfamiliar noises. A glance showed most of his men shared the same uneasiness.

John greeted the ship’s centurion, sharing a few moments of updating information before he introduced Leonard, Jocelin, and Nicolaus to the man. The centurion did not pay much attention to his remaining passengers, not even casting them an inquisitive glance. Their group all wore hooded, light cloaks over their armor, and looked or passed for monks perhaps on pilgrimage. Except some metal clinks from their movements caused the centurion to raise his brows as they passed him. He said nothing and asked no questions.

A few hours later, Veran and Brice hung over the ship’s side emptying their stomachs. They continued expelling their stomachs’ contents until nothing could emerge. Then the exhausted, sick men fell asleep on the deck. While Leonard’s stomach felt queasy, it soon passed.

After visiting below decks to store gear, Jocelin came back to the top deck, his face showing disgust. “They have thirty slaves rowing, and others resting or sleeping, I did not count how many. The stench is such as to make it preferable to sleep up here in the open air.”

After an investigatory trip below, Leonard returned to the top deck and agreed with Jocelin. The rest of the men followed their lead. He stood looking toward the shoreline the ship followed when Nicolaus came and stood next to him, interrupting his introspection on events. He wished he had Radulf’s counsel to guide him.

“I always find these views of the shore compelling.”

Leonard glanced at the cleric. “Have you traveled often by ship?”

“A few times, which is far less than I would like. It is peaceful, especially when they put up a sail and the rowing and pounding ceases.”

“I will look forward to noticing the difference.”

Nicolaus laughed, throwing a glance at the Franks standing or sitting at the ship’s sides. “For some, sailing can intensify the sickness.”

“I prefer a horse.”

“You are a Frank, and Franks are not known for their prowess on water. Your people are expert at fighting on land, but everything changes on the water.”

“It is hard enough keeping the land safe.”

“Certainly travel by water has its dangers—pirates, storms, Greek fire.”

“What is Greek fire?”

“Constantine’s ships have a secret weapon. No one knows all aspects of how it is made, but they can shoot fire at other ships.”

“To burn them?” Leonard asked, feeling vulnerable as he looked at the wooden ship and the deep water surrounding them.

“Yes. It burns even on water. The centurion predicts the weather will hold and we will make good time. The Silentiarius is a good Christian, so we can trust him. You have no need to worry.”
~*~
Check out the following blogs for more travel excerpts:

Diane Bator
Marie Laval
Skye Taylor
Victoria Chatham 
Judith Copek
Anne Stenhouse 
Helena Fairfax
A.J. Maguire 
Beverley Bateman
Dr. Bob Rich
Connie Vines

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Excerpt Constantine's Legacy -- The Beginning

Constantine's Legacy released this month. It is a coming of age book for the main character Leonard. I realize many of the words are unfamiliar to readers, as is this particular historical period. 'Maior Palatii' means mayor of the palace, whose name holders through the Merovingian period had gained all the power of ruling. Reluctantly I decided to add a terminology section to the beginning of the book.

Anno Domini Nostri Jesu Christi 751, November, Soissons, Francia  (In the year of our lord Jesus Christ, November 751, Soissons, France)

Today, the world changed. Leonard looked across the courtyard where the last Merovingian do-nothing King Childerick III stood on the portico. Four of Maior Palatii Pepin’s men secured Chiderick though not much protection was needed. Others filled the courtyard, waiting for their leader in all but title to claim the power of his position. Leonard raised his face to the day’s sunny warmth. Above the roof line of the wooden buildings encasing the courtyard, the distant tower of Saint Medard Abbey pointed into the sky toward heaven. Today’s cloudless sky enveloped the abbey and the gathering of men like the blue of the Virgin’s mantle, proof, perhaps, of God’s approval of what would take place. Bishop Bonifice would consecrate Pepin as Francorum rex, the Franks’ new king, in the church sanctuary tomorrow.

At least, so his father had declared. As if denying their relationship, he had ordered Leonard to address him by his title, Dux Radulf, especially in public. Leonard did not mind, for he hardly knew the man, except for his infrequent visits to his own manse, Albrecht. Radulf had added in a dry voice that today the long and madness-riddled dynasty of Clovis, the first Merovingian king, would end.

Leonard spoke to his charges. “The bones of Saint Medard prove his power over good weather. For November, the saint has provided Maior Palatii Pepin a rare, summer-like day.”  He lowered his gaze and smiled at the boys. 


“They stink.” Karl, Pepin’s son, sniffed and nodded at the men crowding the courtyard. One of the day’s sporadic breezes caught the boy’s pale blond hair and blew it across his face. Karl pushed the strands away. He stood tall for his age, nearly to Leonard’s shoulders. “I noticed their stench when we walked among them. They should have bathed before presenting themselves to their future king.” 

“Your nose is too open,” Nithgard said. Karl’s young cousin hung from a cross bar between portico supports, swinging from his extended arms. Nithgard, younger and smaller, made several exaggerated sniffs to show how his cousin sought out smells. “And no one washes as much as you.” Nithgard grinned as he shook the hair out of his eyes. 

He looked little like his cousin. Light reddish-brown hair and hazel eyes did not distinguish his blunt, child’s features.

“You do not walk, you race,” Leonard said, and roughed Nithgard’s hair while he looked around the courtyard. “Your fathers will be displeased with your conduct.”

Leonard knew both the boys’ minds and bodies galloped in wild activity. His charges’ antics had tried his patience during the wait for the meeting to begin, but Pepin had ordered him, probably at Radulf’s suggestion, to this duty. Pepin wanted young Karl and Nithgard to watch him take power, although they were too young to participate in the proceedings. Leonard was their watchdog, but Radulf had referred to the duty as guard.

Franks from all over Gallia gathered. Pepin’s loyal duces and comtes, bishops, and court officials, had come with their liegemen from Neustria. Others came from Burgundia, Provence, and Austrasia, and a few solemn-looking leaders arrived from Aquitaine. They stood in the courtyard, most dressed in the furs, leather, and linen common to the Franks. Leonard smiled. Franks had ruled ancient Gaul so long they called the land Francia. The men’s voices created a drone of noise broken by sporadic shouts and laughter. The air held the scent of the wood burning in the center of the courtyard.

Those from Austrasia stood on the crowd’s edge. Leonard recognized their discontent and knew the reason for their sullen and edgy looks. Their leader, Pepin’s brother Carloman, had abdicated his position as their maior palatii to join a monastery.

Leonard also knew disguised enemies gathered here but felt surprise to find himself present. Until a year ago, he had never traveled. Now, he rode with Radulf every day and saw the world as he never knew it. His brief travels had expanded his concept of living outside the confined home he knew at Albrecht. He had lived with Radulf’s sister with infrequent visits from his father. Now Radulf wanted Leonard to become one of his liegemen. He did whatever his father asked, including learning the warriors’ craft in the harsh training drills his father ordered. His always aching body testified to that.

A subtle noise change in the crowd drew Leonard’s attention back to the courtyard.

“There is your father,” Karl said, pointing.

Karl’s comment drew attention from those standing nearby. Few there knew he was Radulf’s son. Many turned their heads to stare briefly at Leonard. He understood not only most Frankish dialects, but also Latin and Greek, so had heard the subtle slurs toward the ‘Roman,’ against Radulf, despite his Frankish name.

Leo’s gaze found his father on the porch gallery across the courtyard, holding position next to Pepin. His father stood a head taller than Pepin, but somehow appeared finer and more powerful than the other men standing behind Pepin. His short hair differed from most of the braided and chin length hair of the other men, and his clean-shaven face made him stand out.

The first time Leonard had heard the slur “Roman” against Radulf, his father had looked at him and smiled. “We have the blood of old Rome, not of Eastern Rome.”

“Is that why you shave?”

Radulf had shrugged. “Long hair and a full beard feel uncomfortable to me and itch.”

His claim might be true, but Leonard thought his father blatantly proclaimed his Roman heritage to those who vilified his claim to power. This did not stop the haters of the Eastern Roman Empire and its emperor. To them, Roman was Roman. Most of Roman ancestry in Francia tended the land rather than ruled over it.

Some few in today’s crowd, like his father, wore costly silk garments beneath their leather and fur. Radulf always told him, “Do not flaunt either ancestry or wealth, but do not hide your past or your possessions for fear of offending anyone. If they think we are Roman, well, such is the truth. Many Franks bear Roman blood. Most just do not acknowledge it.”

Movement caught Leonard’s attention. He watched Childerick, the last Merovingian King, led to stand at Pepin's side. He also noticed his charges drew the stares of nearby men.

Karl and Nithgard exchanged casual insults while the younger boy hopped and twirled in circles. The portico’s wooden planks reverberated with the sound. Leonard returned to watchdog duty. He grabbed Nithgard to still him. “Quiet! Both of you.” Karl gave him a hurt look. Looking into the boy’s face he said, “The change begins,” and glanced at Childerick.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Change happens constantly--why is it so hard?

"Looking through time..." by johnmaschak
is licensed under Creative Commons
BY-NC-ND 2.0
Just about the time we become comfortable in our daily lives, something changes. Everyone is prepared for planned changes, but some are impossible to predict. It is this unpredictability that impacts everyone.

The span between tragedy and felicity is widespread, but it seems like unfortunate changes often outweigh the pleasurable ones.  Tragic changes can mark our memories and change a person's, or even their community’s or nation's viewpoint forever.

What causes change? Time, choices, planned and unplanned events, and the cause and effect influences of those events. Change includes all of humanity, Earth, the Galaxy, and even existence's quantum level. On the quantum level? Yes, after all, we have scientists theorizing and trying to prove other universes exist. If they do, how will that affect our world?

Time affects universal change. Everyday everyone turns a day older although we often don't notice it when looking in a mirror. Photographs, however, show how our bodies change, and as we age, time speeds up. An article, by Jordan Gaines Lewis in Scientific America (December 2013), explains one reason: "For a 5-year-old, one year is 20% of their entire life. For a 50-year-old, however, one year is only 2% of their life." Yikes! And with every passing second, the world changes.

Some events we experience. We witness even more, but many events we never notice.

Some life-changing events we chose to initiate. As we become independent adults, our personal choices often determine our future. As we age, many of us enjoy stable, satisfactory lifestyles, yet everyone experiences unanticipated events. Some changes are beneficial or benign, some very difficult, and some outright dangerous. Yet all experiences, both good and bad, teach us something, one is that ignoring change doesn't stop it from happening. Furthermore, what we considered a small, unimportant event can build to result in unpredictable future changes. For instance, the discover of and use of fossil fuels.

Our daily personal events, both planned and happenstance, change not only us, but also those around us in a long chain of social reactions often unnoticed. Not only our personal interactions change us. Changes in our community, state, and nation also affect our lifestyles. These experiences change us, sometimes in unforeseen ways. Over time, some events change accepted human attitudes and behaviors, producing social differences that define every historical era.

Today our news media also gives daily (sometimes hourly, depending on the source and your predilection to news) reports of local, national, and world events and disasters. Today they also often present charming accounts of some good or inspiring events. These reports provide us some measure of reassurance after our usual daily dose of dismal reality reports of life on Earth. Another aspect is media now wakes a new awareness of how it can undermine factual knowledge, leaving us is in a “is it true or not true” conundrum.

The Earth changes, too, often in very gradual, unforeseen ways, but not always. Erupting earthquakes, volcanoes, drought, floods, can happen without warning. Scientists can predict these changes, but many disbelieve their reports because the public had
been told not to believe them. When 97% percent of scientists predicted climate change decades ago, our leaders told us to ignore the reports. Now it is too late to change the affects. Predicted events usually still happen but perhaps not on a predictable schedule. As our weather patterns change, as life chain links go extinct, and as the population expands, and our poor habits affect the Earth, the results will affect everyone. They already do. We survive due to our mindset and to our endurance.

As a writer, I know these difficult changes are frequently one aspect to use in fiction. While happening in stories, change usually creates interest, making the story more meaningful to the reader. Readers can empathize with these incidents, and when characters experience them, the reader feels the effects. Evidence has shown the situations characters endure in stories can help readers to understand change and to learn how to deal with it in their own lives. Which just shows, reading also changes everyone.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Constantine's Legacy now available

Frankish warrior in training, fifteen-year-old Leonard watches as a powerful Frank seizes the last Merovingian king’s claim to the royal title and throne.

Leonard’s father, Radulf, is a Frankish dux (duke) loyal to Pippin who is about to become the first king anointed by the power of the Catholic Church.

Power always comes with a price. For Pepin it involves discovering what the Church wants in payment for making him king and keeping his enemies at bay. For Leonard it is training in the art of weaponry and learning the intricacies of diplomacy.

Contantine's Legacy is the coming of age story of Leonard, the son of a powerful Frankish noble. Ready to go back in 1,269 years in time? Available now!

Leonard's long journey takes his to Rome and all the way to Constantinople.