Tag Archives: fantasy writing

World Building: On the Steppes

Far to the east in Haranshar there are the steppes, arguably the most inhospitable and dangerous of the four xhusts. While the deserts of the west are known for their arid climate and unruly natives, the steppes are known for their sweeping grasslands, the vast herds of bison, horse, and deer, and the fiercely independent clans.

Fortunately for the rest of Haranshar, the steppes are separated from the rest of the continent by a mountain chain that has rendered it difficult (and often impossible) for even the most ambitious of chiefs to launch an all-out invasion or conquest. Known simply as the Spine, these are some of the most inhospitable mountains on the entire continent of Aridikh, with peaks thrusting up to a mile into the sky.

The Shah’s writ runs only thinly here, and indeed there is only one of the Great Clans that has taken it upon itself to attempt to force any sort of adherence to the governance of Haranshar, and even that was a relatively recent development, having been undertaken at the same time that Tysfan was built and the rule of Haranshar consolidated. Up until that point, the steppes had been a part of the vast eastern empire largely as a matter of form, since their obedience was mostly in the form of tribute. This would typically take the form of horses, and to this day many of the finest herds to be found in Haranshar can trace their roots to the steppes.

As with the similarly tribal Korrayin, the tribes of the steppes are in an almost constant state of war and conflict. In the time before they were brought under the official jurisdiction of Haranshar, there were times when a Great Chief would emerge from his fellows to command the loyalty of everyone else, but those times are now nothing more than a distant memory, a shadow that is related around the campfires. Still, there exists in the heart of every member of the tribes–whether eagle, hawk, lion, or stallion–the belief that one day they will be able to reclaim their lost heritage and restore the power that has been lost.

While chattel slavery is forbidden by both sacred and common law throughout Haranshar, that does not pertain to those living on the steppes, where it is common practice to seize slaves from opposing tribes. However, under the conditions by which the tribes were incorporated into the rule of greater Haranshar, they are forbidden from taking slaves from anyone other than the tribes themselves. Needless to say, this has been the source of significant consternation for those living in these later days, and there are many who wish to see a return to the era when the weak westerners cowered behind their city walls as the titanic wave of mounted tribesman plundered their lands.

There are at least seven great tribes that have organized themselves, each adopting the name of one of the sacred animals: Eagle, Fox, Wolf, Hawk, Stallion, and Bison. The tribes are constantly feuding with one another, forming and fragmenting alliances depending on the circumstances in any given moment. It is generally accepted that no alliance between any given tribes is only as secure as the men who comprise it and, given the ambition and warrior spirit that seems endemic to their culture, they usually do not last very long.

If there is one thing that unites the tribes, it is their awe of and reverence for the shamans who dwell in the lands by the sea. These men (and a few women), are understood to have a closer relationship to the blood-soaked gods than the common run of mortal. They do not write any of their lore down, and so any information that those in the western regions of Haranshar (or the Imperium, for that matter) are able to solidly identify has come from those few souls brave enough to hazard a journey into the these lands. One such was an explorer from the Peninsula, known to history as Josepe Azules, though since so much of his account comes from his last days–when he was stricken by a fever–it is hard to say how much of it can be considered reliable.

According to Azules, those destined to become shamans are plucked from their parents while still babies, taken over the mountains, and raised among the shamans in the caves above the beaches (which are of black sand). They are then inducted into the Sacred Mysteries, the intricacies of which remain unclear to even the most well-traveled scholar. What we do know is that their rites typically involve blood sacrifice, and every year they choose a man from among the Tribes to fulfill the role of the Sacred King. This man is then sacrificed, along with his ceremonial steed, to show the gods that the tribes have maintained their faith. The shamans are also the guardians of the old prophecies of the tribes, which proclaim that a Sacred King will one day emerge to take ownership of a nameless object, whose presence is known but whose exact nature remains a subject of some dispute among the learned scholars of the west.

It is unclear to those living in the west whether the shamans were originally ethnically distinct from the rest of the tribes or whether they sprang organically out of the tribes in their need for religious leaders. Whichever it is, however, there is no question that they now appear to be almost as different from their fellows as the men of the tribes are from the rest of the Haransharin. Though they have yet to play a significant role in the workings of the wider world, there are rumblings that that may be about to change.

As the events of the novels will make clear, there will come a day when the tribes will become a force to be reckoned with, for both the Shah in his mighty city of Tysfan and for those even further west.

Dark days lie ahead.

Advertisements

Short Fiction: “The Midwife” (Part 4)

Xaryasha could see the hesitation on the midwife’s face. He had hoped that it would not be necessary to intervene directly. He knew, none better, that there were things that no man should meddle with, and childbirth was one of them.

As the woman still did not move, he knew that the time had come to act. It was desperate, and it was terrible, but he his visions had come to him and told him this child’s future, the dark reign of terror that he would inflict upon the world. He must be destroyed.

He made to gesture toward the guards who were waiting, but suddenly the blast of trumpets shattered the night, and the very palace seemed to reverberate to their terrible notes.

“What in the name of?” he managed to ask before something enormous seemed to strike the palace, sending another shockwave that threw him to his knees. Cursing even more loudly, he got to his feet and his worst fears were instantly confirmed.

The midwife was gone.

***

            Whatever had struck the palace had thrown everything into chaos. Siska did not know what it was, but she had not waited around to see if any illumination was forthcoming. As soon as she saw the shadow of the guards making to come into the sacred birthing chamber, she had known that she had no choice but to run. If she did not, her own life and the life of the child she had pledged to save would be forfeit.

She had not been paying careful attention when she had been led to this chamber, but she thougth she had a vague idea of how to escape.

She would find out soon enough if she was wrong.

A few turns, and she was hopelessly lost.

And then she ran face-first into the last person she would have expected.

The King of Kings stood there before her in all his terrifying majesty, a figure of awe and terror. She had only ever seen him from afar as he rode through the city, and even from a distant he had seemed to shine with a blistering light, a creature so far above the likes of a midwife as to be something another type of being. Seeing him here was altogether different.

The greatest ruler in the known world was stunningly handsome, with his high forehead and sharply curved nose. His eyes were a piercing brown, but they seemed to hold a world of sadness in their depths. But what struck her most was that he seemed so utterly human. That humanity, though, did not lessen the fact that he was still a man who held t

He looked her up and down, and then his eyes came to rest on the bundle that she had clutched in her arms, a child that was so small as to almost disappear. His eyes narrowed, and she felt her heart constrict in her chest. Was this to be the end of her?

“What has happened to my wife?” he demanded, his voice cracking like a whip. “What have you done to her?”

Something seemed to have stolen her voice, and it felt as if her tongue had cleaved to the roof of her mouth. Siska desperately worked to get spit into her mouth, but to no avail. What could she tell this man? How could she tell the most powerful man in the world that his wife was dead and that she had promised that woman to take her child—and his—into the night?

She knew then that she was going to die, and she prepared herself, and with that peace her voice finally came back.

“Your wife has died,” she said. She knew that she was supposed to perform the obeisance, but for some reason she could not make her knees.

Flames seemed to leap into his eyes, but they died just as quickly, and he put his hand against the wall in order to hold himself up. She could see that something fundamental had left him, and she felt her heart break. This was a man, after all, for all that he was also a god, and she knew in that moment that he had indeed loved the woman who she had left dead in a pool of fouled blood.

“What do you wish of me?” she had the temerity to ask. “Your Shariza has asked me to take the child to safety with her father, but yours is the final word. Will you have me do this thing, or do you wish to take him under your own wing?”

When he looked at her again, it was as if he had never seen her, as if his mind was racing to figure out who she was. At last, she shook his head.

“No, I know that my reign is over.”

As if to echo his words, the palace shook again, and he sighed.

“The princes will not rest until the palace has been destroyed, and all that I have built is brought to ruin.”

He seemed lost for a moment, as if he did not know where he was or what he was doing. At last, however, he turned those eyes upon her.

“You must go,” he cried, his voice cracking.

She found that she could not move her feet.

“You must go!” he cried louder, lunging toward.

Clutching the child to her breast, Siska fled.

 

World Building (12): The Legend of Xharyush

In all the annals of Haranshar’s long history, one figure towers above all the others: Xharyush the Great. From the moment that he founded the dynasty that would rule, in one form or another, over the vast domains of Haranshar, he became the idol toward which every Shah has aspired.

The birth of Xharyush is shrouded in mystery and legend. The most commonly believed myth states that he was born to a great king but that his birth was tainted by a prophecy that foretold that he would see his world brought to ruin. Fire and death would consume the entire continent, so the prophecy went, and so the king’s adviser had hired a midwife to smother the boy when he was born. However, she disobeyed these orders and not only saved the boy, but also determined to help him escape the city and the net that was set to ensnare him.

The midwife fled with her young charge into the wilds, desperate to escape the wrath of the vizier. Somehow, we are still not certain how, she managed to make her way through the encircling princes that had besieged the king, but she did, and she managed to make her way to the highlands of Pishapur, the homeland of the King’s queen. Her father took in the infant and and named him after his own father, and there he remained, while the civil war erupted and spread across the whole continent. Though his grandfather was of the nobility, he was not a powerful figure, but for all that he gave the boy all that he could wish for in his upbringing, training him in the arts of war and diplomacy.

From those beginnings, Xharyush was able to carve out an empire the likes of which his world had never seen. He began by solidifying his grandfather’s domains, becoming an able steward and a noteworthy soldier. Bit by bit he brought the surrounding tribes under his sway as well, until he had a formidable base from which to launch an all-out attack on the fertile plains to the east. Sweeping down from the highlands of Pishapur, he soon brought those lands under his control, forcing their rebellious princes to bend the knee. He also seized control of the several cities that had served his father as capitals, forging a chain of powerful bases from which he could, if he so chose, launch attacks against any who might wish to rebel against him. He also married several of his daughters to the most prominent of his former enemies, binding them to him with ties of marriage and blood (he also took many of their own daughters as his wives, contributing to a surfeit of sons and heirs).

The empire of Haranshar under his leadership became ever more powerful, rising to heights undreamed of. The rulers of all the lands of east and west came to pay tribute to the great Xharyush, and there were none who could deny that his was the power that now bestrode the world like a colossus. His rule extended from one ocean to the other, from north to south and east to west. It was a golden age, and to this day there can still be found statues erected to the majesty of Xharyush as far north as Svardö.

And at the Shah’s side was the man who would come to be known to future generations as Zarakh, the founder of the faith devoted to the god Ormazdh. Between the two of them, they forged an empire that was founded not just on the principle that all people were created equal (in the broadest sense), but also that all should be allowed to worship the supreme god, the one under whom all other gods were subservient.

Although the Haransharin would become known as benevolent overlords who were content to let their subject peoples continue with their own faiths unmolested, there were even in these early years signs of the discontent that would eventually sunder the continent into its eastern and western halves. Those in the west preferred to think of higher things, to devote themselves to the contemplation of things beyond this world, while the faith of the Haransharin stressed the beauties of the material. Xharyush proved this in word and deed, for her stressed that the only way to have a stable kingdom was to have effective rulers in all of its districts. Though he did not call for a radical redistribution of wealth–as some thought that he would–but he did do everything in his considerable power to make life easier for the commonfolk, and they loved him for it.

In that sense, Xharyush was indeed the one who brought about the end of the world, though not in the way that the vizier had thought. When he was at last brought before the Great King for judgment, he was spared death, but he was sent into exile. No one knows what became of him, though there are still stories told in Haranshar that he made his way to the lands across the ocean that even the Anukathi know nothing of. These, however, have never been proven.

Xharyush lived until the ripe old age of 92. When he died, the throne passed peacefully to his son. It was not long before his many other sons (and not a few of his daughters) began to plot and scheme with the disaffected nobles and priests, many of whom had grown resentful of their Shah’s continuing reforms and were even less friendly toward his son (who did attempt to impose a form of wealth redistribution). Indeed, his dynasty was to prove tragically short lived, for it came to an end under the reign of his granddaughter Veptish, who was deposed after only 5 years.

Still, his influence was vast and continues to be felt. His dynasty, though brief, is still remembered. It is enshrined even in the dating system used among the Haransharin, which measures all years from the date that Xharyush had himself declared Shahanshah (which is why everything is dated from 1 F.D., after the First Dynasty).

And, of course, there are always those who believe that Xharyush will one day return to return Haranshar to its previous greatness. And the tides may just be turning in their favour…

World Building (11): The Old Ones

The following is a synopsis of a segment of The Chronicles, a book of history compiled by Varassed, the Chronicler to Shah Yamin IV (compiled around F.D. 2500).* 

In all the legends and lore that surround the origins of Haranshar, none occupy as privileged a place as the Old Ones, according to legends the first humans who were able to build a civilization on the vast continent of Aridikh. Though their origins are in truth unknown, the priests of Ormazdh and the other tenders of knowledge have taken to calling them the Old Ones. The oldest records state that they came from across the Eastern Sea, from the fabled Middle Kingdom.

Regardless of from whence they came, the Old Ones soon conquered the various tribes that had been living on Aridikh, bringing them under the rule of what would become known as the Hegemony. From Hamarkhan in the furthest west of the continent to what would become Aspaña in the west, the Old Ones ruled supreme, their many powerful lords, kings, and princes existing in peace and harmony with one another.

Under the Old Ones, the world was reportedly full of technological achievements the like of which had never been seen before and which have not been matched since. They were able to make the arid lands of the western parts of Haranshar blood, reputedly even forming the great rivers that would nestle the most fertile lands in the world between them. They planted seeds and cities alike, and there were rumours that the greatest among them, the Shahs (of which there were reportedly 30) could communicate with one another across vast distances. Their courts and cities were full of singers and craftsmen, priests and sorcerers, beautiful women and men and others who were neither or both, and all lived in harmony.

Their faith was one based on a celebration of the material world and all of the pleasures that it offered. The world was divinely ordered, so their priest said, and there was nothing to be gained and everything to be lost by looking beyond it. There was in this theology no concept of an afterlife or a spiritual realm, which may in part explain the events that would soon bring this halcyon world crumbling into ruin.

For, as with all pinnacles, it was only a matter of time before the Old Ones fell prey to the desires of each other to conquer the others. They started the Great War, in which each mighty house was turned against its neighbour, and each and every one thought that it had been given the sole right to rule unchallenged all over the continent. The Shahs declared war one upon the other, even as their own lords and vassals declared war on them in turn. Rebellions and revolutions erupted in every province and kingdom, and even the common folk rose up, led by a series of wandering priests who declared the ways of the Old Ones to be hopelessly corrupt. The world, they said, needed to be purged by flame, and in this rebellion was sown the seeds of the faith that would eventually become known as Ormazdhism, though at this early stage it was merely part of the fires of chaos.

The conflagration soon spread out of all control, and the great civilization that the Old Ones had built collapsed into utter oblivion. Their wars raged across the entire continent. Civilization began to collapse into barbarism and cruelty, as neighbour was turned against neighbour and even families were torn asunder as their loyalties switched between various sides of the conflict.

There are no accurate records of what happened after the great culture of the Old Ones collapsed into anarchy and barbarism, for the great libraries that they had built to preserve their knowledge for the future were one of the first casualties. There is much that even now, with all that we have managed to achieve, that we do not understand about how they build their world and how they were able to stay in power for so long. All that is known is that there are still great towers and ruins scattered across Haranshar and the Imperium, testaments to their achievements. And we have a few tattered parchments and the legends of the singers that emerged after the Fall, when the world at last began to knit itself back together.

There was no recapturing the past glories of the Old Ones, however, and there were none of the great Shahs left after the collapse of their hegemony. It would be many centuries before the people of Aridikh began to pull themselves back together, and it would take one who claimed to be of the proud blood of the Old Ones (though the veracity of that claim was disputed then and is still questioned) to finally reunite them all. He would be the one who was known as Kharyush, the first of the Shahs whose reign over Haranshar (including the domains that would later become the Imperium) was complete.

Most provocatively for the present, however, there is a belief among the Korrayin, handed down from these dark days, that it was at the Pillar of Creation, the great mountain that stands at the center of Korray, that the Old Ones first came to be enlightened. The Pillar is said to be riddled with caverns and secret parts that no man has fully explored,

Furthermore, it is believed by some among the Alchemists that it was the Old Ones who first perfected the Art of Binding, and that it was through their use of the Bound spirits that they were able to bring about the great culture that was their accomplishment, and there are some among the priests of Ormazdh that believe that through recapturing that technology those who live in the present can regain their past glories. That, however, remains to be seen.

*The Haransharin follow a different dating system from their counterparts in the West. They date everything from F.D., which is short for First Dynasty, after the original dynasty to rise after the fall of the Old Ones.

Novel Weekends (10): Feeling Great

This has been an exceedingly productive weekend. I churned out a substantial part of Chapter 5, and I finished Chapter 4.

At this point, we have been introduced to almost all of the main characters that live in the Imperium: Imperator Talinissia, Tribune Theadra; Rowena the Huntress; Prefect Antonius; and Prefect Eulicia. They all have pretty interesting things going on around them, and now that we are in Chapter 5 the action is heating up as Theadra has to make a run for it.

I don’t normally like to toot my own horn, but I have to say that I have grown a lot as a writer in the last few months. Part of this, I think, stems from just writing a lot–on this blog, in my dissertation, on social media–and part of it comes from reading magazines like The Writer. And part of it comes from getting older and being more self-conscious. It’s a good feeling, to finally feel like you’re writing stuff that’s both interesting and pleasurable to read.

There’s still a long way to go with this novel project, but for the first time, I really and truly feel that it’s going to be a worthwhile journey, and that the endpoint is one that will be a strong payoff for both the characters and the readers.

What’s more, I think I’ve really begun to build a world and a story that have a lot to offer both in terms of depth and in terms of philosophy. I continue to draw from the deep wells of history in our own world, and I remain inspired by the fantasy greats in whose shadow my own work may one day grow.

Stay tuned, folks. While the Diss is calling, more world-building essays and updates on the novel are forthcoming, I promise!

World Building (6): The History and Ceremony of the Imperators

As has been noted elsewhere, the Imperium is ruled over by an autocrat known as the Imperator, whose power is virtually limitless. They are considered the living representative of the Name, and as such they exist in complementarity (in theory) with the Council of Prefects that rules over the Church.

Though the Imperator’s power is, in theory, without bounds, there are a number of factors that frequently influence how much they are able to wield. Foremost of these is the Senate, which is comprised of the various heads of the Houses, both Great and Lesser, that are the leaders of the many noble families, as well as some of the more wealthy and powerful merchants that inhabit the Imperium. There are, however, two “chambers” of the Senate. One, the senior chamber, is comprised of the nobles, including the Counts, Dukes, and Kings of the various administrative units, as well as the aforementioned Heads of House that are not rulers of these large units in their own right. This chamber wields all of the power and serves as the primary advisory body to the Imperator. The other, lower, chamber is comprised of the merchants and guild-masters. The Imperator is in charge of convening the Senate and having her or his decrees acclaimed by both groups. Except in extenuating circumstances in the history of the Imperium, the Senate has largely done as the Imperator wished. They also have the responsibility of acclaiming the Imperator upon his or her accession.

The position of Imperator has, by long practice, been assumed to be hereditary, even though this is not a strict rule. Instead, every Imperator that has established a steady rule has nominated their successor to reign with them as co-ruler, preferably when they are in middle age (as this supposedly cuts down on the possibility that an impatient heir may attempt to do away with a doddering senior partner). This has, for the most part, worked to the advantage of the Imperium as a whole, as it ensures a smooth transition from one ruler to the next. On occasion, however, it has resulted in conflict between parents and children, as the latter grow impatient for their turn to occupy the throne. This was the case with the Bastard’s War, in which a bastard son of Imperator Tiberian V slowly ingratiated himself with his father, thus spurring the ruler’s legitimate son to ignite a rebellion.

Through the years, the Senate has come to occupy a more pronounced and active role in the governance of the realm. Most of the various nobles who reign in their own right have historically treated their territories as their own private kingdoms, with little to no regard for the wishes of the increasingly-marginalized Imperators. Up until roughly 50 years before the time of the novel, this has been the case, and most people think of themselves as following their local lord before they think of themselves as subjects of the Imperator.

However, several recent Imperators have moved back to the model earlier established by their predecessors, taking on an increased role in direct governance. Part of this has stemmed from the increasingly restive and invasive Korrayyin and their allies the Haransharin, both of which have required strong forces. The current Imperator’s father became known as the Hammer for his ability to strike swiftly and without mercy, bringing fear to his enemies, both inside and outside of the Imperium. Indeed, he was well-known for his ability to bring the rebellious and fractious lords of the realm to heel and, unlike several of his predecessors, he took to attending meetings of the Senate, allegedly to make sure that he was aware of the goings-on in his realm but, far more likely, to strike fear into those who might be fomenting rebellion.

They have also returned to a model of court ceremony that had not been seen in several centuries. Now, it is required that all of those who wish to gain an audience with the Imperator, no matter their estate or class, must perform several rounds of obeisance, in order to show the proper humility to the one who is considered the earthly representative of the Name. This has served to ensure that the nobility understands their place in the divine ordering of the universe.

As a result of this semi-divine status, all Imperators are required to be crowned and anointed by the eldest member of the Council of Prefects. This is to ensure that the Imperator is blessed with the power of the Name as well as the acclamation of the Senate. This typically takes place in the Magisteria, the great church that sits at the direct center of the capital of Aïonis. The ceremony, as with all things connected to the Imperium, is intended to remind all of those gathered that the Imperator reigns with the utmost secular and temporal authority, and it is also a day in which the common people are treated to the greatest festival that any of them are likely to know. Recent Imperators have known that it is the common people who wield the true power–though they don’t realize it–and have acted accordingly.

Though coups are relatively rare, they have occurred for various reasons. The Imperator’s person is considered inviolate in theory, but as with so many things this does not always translate into consistency in practice (as the incident of the Bastard’s War makes abundantly clear). There are always those for whom the way that things have always been done are no impediment to their own ambition. It also doesn’t help when Imperators die before ensuring that their successor is secure on the throne, which happened with Talinissia’s father Philophanes, who died while she was still in her 20s, setting the stage for the armed uprising of her brother and the bitter Siblings’ War that nearly toppled the Imperium into utter chaos.

As the events of the novel begin, it remains unclear how much the position of Imperator has been damaged, and whether Talinissia is the one to bring stability. History, after all, has a nasty habit of repeating itself.

Novel Weekends (9): The Big Picture

This weekend, despite still being a bit exhausted from the Orientation, I’ve been able to write a bit. What’s more, I’ve been largely happy with the writing, which is always a truly great feeling.

I’ve now moved into a new character chapter, that of Rowena, a half-Anukathi/half-human assassin, spy, and general operative. I don’t have a full sense of her as a character yet, but things are starting to emerge as I write this chapter. For me, that’s one of the most exciting parts about this project: discovering things I never knew about the characters I’ve created. I know that she lost a father in the revolt led by the current Imperator’s brother a few years before, but I don’t know which side he was on (yet), or what her own political affiliations are.

The book I’ve been doing for research about the rediscovery of Aristotle’s works in the Middle Ages has really revitalized my drive to work on this novel project. I now have a stronger sense of the larger stakes, though the endgame is still a bit fuzzy. I’m really trying to do something compelling with the final battle that’s definitely a staple and to answer the question: “what happens if the gods on both sides die?”What happens to human beings in this schema? Does the created world keep going, when the force that gave it life is gone?

That probably gives you a sense of the trajectory. I’m still envisioning a quartet that leads to the final battle, but I also want to do a second series that continues the story of the first but in some new ways. I haven’t even decided which characters are going to survive, but I’ll figure that out as I go along.

Things are heating up, and I couldn’t be happier.

Novel Weekends (8): Momentum

Well, it seems as if I have finally hit some momentum when it comes to my novel. I finally have a story that I think holds together pretty well, and after re-reading some of the material I’ve produced, I’m also happy with the way that I’ve told it so far. There’s a lot yet to go, but I’m confident I can get there.

Over this weekend, I managed to finish up the Prologue (which is now basically done), as well as parts of Chapter 3. I also published a character sketch of one of my primary characters, which really helped me to understand his depth and motivations in a much more sophisticated way.

I’m really happy with the way that the pieces of the first part of this novel are coming together. Writing an epic that’s more than just an adventure (though there’s nothing wrong with that), is a bit of a challenge, but it is definitely one that I am determined to undertake. I really want my fantasy novel to do, something and that is what makes it such a tremendously enjoyable endeavour.

I’ve also begun reading a fascinating little book called Aristotle’s Children, which details the rediscovery of Aristotle’s works in the late Middle Ages and the learning revolution that it sparked. This has helped to add some layer and depth to the story that I am telling, for The Heretic’s War is, quite simply, about one of those periods of epistemic shift that really reshapes how an entire civilization thinks of itself.

Now that I’ve started to make some genuine progress on the Dissertation–and, more importantly, nearing the finish line–I feel like I have a bit more space to work on my creative projects. That is truly a great feeling, and I look forward to the adventure!

Novel Weekends (7): Good Progress

Well, this was actually a tremendously productive weekend in terms of novel composition. I wrote a total of 2500 words of Chapter 2, as well as some fine-tuning of Chapter 1. The latter is not completely finished yet, but it’s close to it. I’ve made a conscious effort not to leave any big gaps. In other words, I’m determined to work straight through. At this stage in my process, I think that’s really the best way.

Today’s chapter was told mostly from the point of view of the Prefect Antonius, one of my fave characters in the work. He is a straightforwardly queer character, one who lives with his beloved of many years, Trystane. He comes from one of the rural western duchies, from a farming family of modest means. This chapter reveals a lot about him, as well as his sense of loyalty, which at this point is being torn between his acolyte and his duty to the Church.

Overall, I’m quite happy with the way that Chapter 2 is turning out, and I’m excited about some of the research that I’m drawing in. Right now I’m reading a book on the Muslim conquests, as well as one about the way that the senses were understood in the Enlightenment. Everything, no matter how tangential, will prove to be grist for my imagination mill. Given that my series is loosely based on the Muslim conquests and on issues of embodiment and transcendence, these books should be especially useful for me.

I’m hoping to continue the forward momentum, though since I’m going to be traveling that might be a bit difficult. Still, I’m confident that I can eke out at least a couple thousand words before the end of the week. Then it’s back to Syracuse and back into the regular swing of things.

World Building (6): Haranshar

The empire of Haranshar is without question the leading political power on the continent of Aridikh and possibly the entire world. Featuring numerous peoples, geographies, religions, and traditions, it is without question an empire without rival. It is precisely because of its titanic mass, however, that it has remained stymied in its attempts to bring either Korray (in its entirety) or the Imperium back under its aegis. The Shahs have enough to do to keep their own provinces under their control, and they simply do not have the resources or the manpower to make a concerted push of reconquest.

Haranshar is a remarkably diverse nation, with many different races and ethnicities living in an uneasy peace. While there have been, at the start of the novel, at least two decades of relative stability and prosperity, there are still rumblings, both among the great powers of the native Haransharin (which are the dominant ethnic group), as well as among their various subject peoples, many of whom want to assert their own form of independence. The example of the Imperium is a powerful one, and there are many that would like to form their own sovereign states.

Foremost among these is the Kingdom of Eshkum, which has rebelled several times under the leadership of their powerful queens, known as Kidakia (from one of whom the current Imperator Talinissia is descended). Like the Korrayin, the Eshkumites claim a type of foreign descent, claiming that they come from the lost lands of Larkoness beyond the farthest horizons of the ocean. They yearn for a deliverer, one who will lead them to independence.

Despite the polyglot nature of the empire, since the rise of the semi-mythical Xaryush in the far-distant past it has remained the policy of all Shahs to subscribe to the faith of Ormazdh. For them, the material world is one that should be celebrated and embraced rather than abandoned or disavowed (as is the case with the Church). Thus, the trappings of the good life are to be embraced and cultivated assiduously, rather than disavowed (as is the case with the Church, as we have seen). As a result, the quality of life in Haranshar is quite high, particularly in comparison to the Imperium. This is not to say that the culture is an egalitarian one, since that would be against the hierarchical ordering of the universe that is key to the Ormazdhian belief system.

Governmentally, the empire is divided into four xhusts that are aligned with the four cardinal points. Each of these is under the administration of a powerful noble general, a svateth. These four enormous provinces are: Shakastan (the north), Kusharstan (the east), Pishapur (the south, and the traditional homeland of the ethnic Haransharin), and Hamarkhan (the west). These are divided into numerous smaller provinces, each of which are headed by great noble families, all connected by often complicated bloodlines.

Although the many powers in the empire frequently clash with one another, they all owe at least nominal allegiance to the Shah, who as the King of Kings is both the god’s divine representative on earth as well as the central part of the government. While this may be true in theory, it is not always so true in practice, and it is not uncommon for the various potentates in both the royal family and outside of it to attempt to seize the throne. While the bureaucracy of the state may ensure that Haranshar as a whole continues to function, ever man who ascends the throne of Haranshar knows that his life will be at constant risk.

The military is a powerful presence in the empire, and they frequently provide the muscle. Of particular importance in the military are the armoured cavalry. These soldiers always come from the nobility, particularly those of ethnic Haransharin stock, and it is this core of shock troops that has enabled this ethnic group to maintain its hold over its fractious empire. However, it is also a source of possible rebellion, as the events of the novels will make clear.

Women in Haranshar occupy a complicated but generally empowered position. They frequently circulate in the highest halls of power, and there is no law that states that they cannot assume the title of Shah should the need arise. Indeed, thre have been several women who have managed to secure a reign in their own right, though it must be noted that Haransharin law does demand that if a son is born his claim to the throne shall surpass that of any sisters that he might have, regardless of their birth order. Women can own property in their own right, and they can occupy the position of head of House. However, there are bans preventing them from occupying positions of authority in either the Ormazdhian Church or in the army. This does not mean, however, that they cannot influence those spheres of life, merely that they must do so on the sly.

Unlike the Imperium, which can trace the bloodline of its ruling house back to its very origins, Haranshar has been ruled by a number of dynasties, most of which are not related to one another by blood. Indeed, it has only been by a supreme effort of will that the Shahs have managed to keep the entirety of Haranshar from breaking apart altogether, and it is for this reason that there has long existed a measure of cooperation between the rulers and the priesthood of Ormazdh. For both of them, the stability of the religious and the worldly ensures that the cosmos itself remains stable and perpetual.

Indeed, as the events of the novel will show in some detail, there are many who are still quite resentful of both the House Nirhan (to which the primary character Arshakh belongs)   their successors the Harqashiri. Many of the other great clans still seek an opportunity to claim hegemony over the lands that were once theirs. The scheming and plots that will emerge among these powerful families will come to have dreadful consequences for the entire world that they have sought so assiduously to maintain.