The Dogs of Empire’s Legacy

“Shugo,” I called, recognizing him.

“Lord Sorley,” he said, coming over to me. The puppy squirmed in his grasp.

“What is that?” I asked. Shugo was one of the shepherds, and his sheepdogs were the best around. We bought young dogs from him, rather than breed our own. But the puppy he was holding was no sheepdog, although its black and white colouring suggested one of its parents was.

He spat. “Hagen came through with his hound just when Meg was in heat,” he grumbled. “This is the result. I drowned the others at birth — what good would they be? Left her this one to raise so the bitch wouldn’t pine, but I need her back with the sheep. So it’s drowning for this one, too.”

“How old is he?” I could see from how he held the pup it was male.

“Six weeks.”

“Don’t drown it,” I said. “I’ll buy it from you.”

“Buy it? What do you want it for?”

“The Comiádh’s son is ten. Just the right age for a puppy. Will you send it? I’ll write a note, if you’ll wait a few minutes.”

“Aye,” he said. “It’ll make a boy’s dog, I warrant.”

One of the advantages of writing what I write – historical fiction of another world – is that I don’t have to stay true to historical fact. I do, a lot, but in the case of Colm’s puppy (and other dogs in the books), I may not have.

This isn’t to say that herding dogs and hunting dogs were unknown in the classical and early-medieval world. They were. Dogs have likely accompanied people and their herds since long before recorded history; once domesticated and relating to people as part of their pack, dogs’ protective instincts would easily extend to the animals associated with their people. Archeological excavation of sites dated to the middle of the 3rd millennium BCE has found the remains of sheep and dogs together. But the physical separation of hunting dogs and herding dogs by breed is thought by some researchers to have occurred much later – so Colm’s dog Peritas, which I envision as a cross between a border collie and a deerhound – appears anachronistic.

File:Dog-Mosaic.jpg
2nd century BC mosaic from Alexandria, Egypt of a dog and a pitcher. Public Domian, via Wikimedia Commons

Or does it?  About 200 CE, Oppian of Apamea, a Greek poet, wrote a poem on hunting, in which he observes that, for the hunter, the black and white dogs of the farmer and shepherd (the mosaic above may show one of these) are not desirable. These may have been more guardian dogs than herding dogs – a couple of centuries earlier, Marcus Varro, in his De Re Rusticae, wrote:

As there are, then, two sorts of dogs — the hunting-dog suited to chase the beasts of the forest, and the other which is procured as a watch-dog and is of importance to the shepherd… 

By Anonymous (Roman Empire) – Walters Art Museum: Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18804318

In the 2nd C Roman relief of a herdsman and his dog (above), there are no features that point to this dog as a ‘black and white herding dog’ as we know them in later centuries (and as I picture the herding dogs of Linrathe) – but no evidence it isn’t, either.

File:Mosaic of Dog Chasing a Rabbit, Roman, Homs, Syria, 450-462 AD, polychrome marble tesserae - Chazen Museum of Art - DSC01916.JPG
Mosaic of Dog Chasing a Rabbit, Roman, Homs, Syria, 450-462 AD, Chazen Museum of Art
Daderot, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Hunting dogs – of the sort, perhaps, that has fathered Colm’s puppy, were praised and prized, and some of the best reputed to come from Britain.  Oppian, again:

There is a strong breed of hunting dog…the wild tribes of Britons…call by the name of Agassian…. It is by virtue of its nose, however, that the Agassian is most exalted, and for tracking it is the best there is; for it is very adept at discovering the tracks of things that walk upon the ground, and skilled too at marking the airborne scent.

Later in Empire’s Reckoning, the protagonist Sorley, after a long journey south in the role of an itinerant sheep-shearer, sends the sheepdog that has accompanied him home, a long journey on its own. I took this idea from The Drove Roads of Scotland, the author commenting on this practice among the drovers of the 17th and 18th centuries. But it goes back much further than that:  Varro, again:

Publius Aufidius Pontianus, of Amiternum, had bought some herds of sheep in furthest Umbria, the purchase including the dogs but not the shepherds, but providing that the shepherds should take them to the pastures of Metapontum and to market at Heraclea.​ When the men who had taken them there had returned home, the dogs, without direction… returned to the shepherds in Umbria a few days later, though it was a journey of many days.

This is a distance of some 300 miles, about the same distance that Haldane suggested the sheepdogs of Scotland, 1700 years later, travelled alone on their return home.

Maybe Colm’s Peritas isn’t completely anachronistic, nor is the black-and-white sheepdog Sorley sends home. In my fictional but familiar world, all that really matters is that the reader can believe in these dogs and their journeys.

References:

Varro: De Res Rusticae:  translation at:  https://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Varro/de_Re_Rustica

Oppian:  translation at:  https://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/e/roman/texts/oppian/home.html

Haldane, A.R. B.  1960.  The Drove Roads of Scotland (2008 edition, Birlinn).

Featured Image: A child holding a dog, detail of the 6th century mosaic floor from the Palatium Magnum (Constantinople’s Great Palace), Palace Mosaic Museum, Istanbul . Carole Raddato from FRANKFURT, Germany, CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Divided Lives

Tali grinned, her teeth white against her tanned face. “Oh, there’s a problem,” she said. “Our prospective new metalworker is neither from Delle, nor newly-qualified. As a guess, I’d say our new smith brings thirty years of experience—military experience. And his name is Casyn.”

I stared at my aunt, my hands tightening on the crab trap. Maya gasped. All men left the villages at seven to enter the Empire’s military schools, spending their adult years serving in the army. In retirement, they raised horses or grew grapes or taught in the schools, finishing out their days with whatever part of their regiment had survived. Twice a year, war and distance allowing, they came to the villages for Festival, to be provisioned, to gather food and cloth and wine, to make love and father children, to give and carry messages. Festival lasted a week, and then they left. This pattern had shaped our lives for generations.

I shook my head. “But he can’t.”

Can you imagine a society where men and women’s lives are so divided? But this is the society into which my protagonist Lena has been born, and it’s all she knows. Readers ask where this idea came from.  There isn’t a simple answer, but I’ll do my best.

History is one source. The idea of male children being taken at seven into military training is from the social structure of the ancient city-state of Sparta, where exactly that happened.  Spartan boys were basically cadets until age 20, when they took on greater responsibility in the military; they could marry at 30, but did not live with their wives, but stayed with their military comrades in barracks….and that was the germ of the idea of the men and women living almost completely separate lives, except for a couple of weeks each year.

Icelandic and Viking women, where women frequently were completely responsible for farming and fishing and all the other work while the men were at sea, either fishing (Iceland) or raiding (Vikings) was another source.  The apprenticeship of girls at twelve to a trade is simply based on long practice throughout much of the world.

Woman blacksmith – England ca. 1915 – 1920

I must tip my hat, too, to a book with a similar societal structure, Sheri Tepper’s The Gate to Woman’s Country. In her book, set 300 years in the future after nuclear war, a society has developed where women and children live in towns with a few male servants; most men live in warrior camps beyond the town walls. I read The Gate to Woman’s Country about five years before starting Empire’s Daughter, and it was definitely a direct influence.

In Empire’s Daughter, we learn that this division of men and women’s lives came about due to a disagreement between men and women about the expansion of the Empire. Villages were governed by a council of three women, the men being away too often for war. When the Emperor asked yet again for men to fight, the women had had enough, forcing a country-wide assembly resulting in the partition of their lives, known from then on as the Partition Agreement. Here I was tweaking two ideas: Aristophanes’ play Lysistrata, where women withhold sex until the men stop fighting, ending the Peloponnesian Wars, and, the Ent/Entwives conflict in The Lord of the Rings, where a similar wish for exploration vs a settled life leads to the sundering of the lives of male and female Ents.

This way of life is not without its costs, and some of those are made evident in Empire’s Daughter, and over the rest of the books in the series, as war and peace bring new challenges and new ideas.

More on this divided life, on the idea of twice-yearly Festivals, and on partnerships between men and women, in future posts.  

By the way! Subscribers to my newsletter are getting a monthly instalment of a story about how the Partition Agreement came about, a prequel to Empire’s Daughter set several hundred years earlier.

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A Slain Darling, Resurrected

This scene didn’t make it into the final version of Empire’s Reckoning, mostly because the book was already long, and while this added to character- and world-building, it didn’t feed the plot. But I awoke to snow today, and was reminded of it, so here it is. If you’re in the middle of the Empire’s Legacy trilogy, there are spoilers here.


Teannasach, may I go?” I asked formally. He stepped forward, offering an arm and the kiss of farewell. Our lips brushed for the briefest of moments. I wondered if knowing what I was made him uncomfortable, but if it did, he did not show it.

“Go safely, Lord Sorley,” he said. I swung up onto my horse and turned its head south.

I’d woken with a scratchy throat, but we’d talked and sung into the small hours, so I thought little of it. But as I rode through the morning, I reluctantly admitted to a cold. My throat was painfully sore now, and my nose alternately running and blocked.

Ingoldstorp was some distance away yet, but they would give me soup and fuisce, and a warm bed, and perhaps a night’s sleep would chase the illness away. I found my hat in the saddlebags and wrapped my scarf a little tighter around my neck. The day was getting colder, I was sure.

An hour later the snow began. Big flakes, wet and heavy, at first: then, when the wind picked up, smaller and denser. The world around me turned white, and still the snow fell, thick and fast and rapidly shrinking the visible world to no more than a few arms’ lengths in front of me. I started to shiver. I couldn’t see the road now; all I could do was trust my horse to seek shelter.

I let the reins lie slack. The gelding plodded steadily forward, its head low against the wind. My fingers were numb, and my toes. The snow stung the exposed skin of my face. I closed my eyes. 

Random thoughts: lambs would die in this. Had I wrapped my ladhar properly? Druise would be so angry with me. I drifted into a daze, time and the white world passing without sense or recognition.

My horse roused me, swinging his head and snorting. I looked around me, slowly realizing we stood in the lee of a building. I pushed myself up in the stirrups, my right leg dragging over the saddle as I dismounted, feet sinking into snow well over my ankles.

I fumbled along the wall of the building, looking for a door. I found one, but its latch resisted my stiff fingers. Swearing loudly, I pulled a glove off with my teeth and tried again. The horse pushed up against me, wanting cover.

On the fourth try I got the latch and the door open. I stumbled in, the horse following. A cattle byre, I could tell, from the smell and the heat, although almost no light found its way into the building. A cow lowed, and another. Probably the torp’s milk cows, I thought muzzily. I hoped so.

My hands were too cold to remove my horse’s bridle, or its saddle, even with both hands bare. He stood placidly enough, so I left him, moving towards the cattle. A warm, heavy body loomed in front of me. I put a hand on its side; it didn’t flinch. Slowly I moved around it until I was among the cows. I leaned up against one, almost hugging it. Apart from a flick of her tail, she didn’t object. Milk cows, as I had hoped, accustomed to being handled.

The heat radiating off the animals warmed me, even though the strong smell of urine in the byre made my eyes water. I would stink of cow, I thought, but I didn’t care. The cattle chewed and belched and shuffled, and one nosed me, its hot breath scented with hay. I’d never liked cattle much, before.

Warmed, I went back to my horse, removing his tack. He’d find hay and water, although the cows might kick him. By feel I found the bread and cheese in one saddlebag. Then I sat down to eat and wait.

The food tore at my sore throat, but I made myself swallow it, in small mouthfuls. I sat as close to the cattle as I safely could, and at some point, exhausted, I fell asleep.

A man’s voice woke me. Concerned, not angry: no torp or house would turn away a traveller in this weather. He knelt. “Are you well?”

I tried to speak, coughed instead. “Well enough,” I managed. “My horse brought me here. Where am I?”

“Ingoldstorp. Who are you?”

“Sorley.” A bout of coughing racked me. “Toscaire to the young Teannasach. I was riding south from Dun Ceànnar.”

“Well, sit quiet while I give hay to the kyne and your horse. I’ll take you up to the house, after.”

He was quick with the feeding. Then he piled the water trough high with snow, the byre door letting in blasts of cold as he went back and forth. It would melt soon enough from the animals’ body heat. Then he gave me a hand up, threw my saddlebags over his own shoulder, and took me to the house.

Winter Sheep Herd: Scott Payne, Pixabay

The snow and my cold ran their course together. Ingold—or rather his Konë—distractedly welcomed me, found me a bath and a bed, fed me, and sat me by the fire when I coughed. I had been lucky: I could well have died, had my horse not brought me to the cattle-byre. But my cold remained only a cold, preventing me from singing to repay my hosts’ hospitality, nothing more.

Not that the Eirën was often present. Ingold, a handful of years older than I, spent all the daylight hours out with his men and the sheepdogs, digging ewes and lambs out of drifts. I offered to help, but he refused. “I don’t doubt your skill with sheep, Sorley,” he said. “But you’ve work to do for the young Teannasach, and that can’t be risked.” So instead I fed the penned and stabled animals, and warmed half-dead lambs by the hearth of the house, with the Konë and the torpari women.

The weather changed on the fifth day, the wind shifting south, warm on the skin. Snow melted rapidly, turning the yard and the track to muck. “I’ll turn the sheep out in the morning,” Ingold told me, as we shared fuisce that night. I had played for them earlier; I couldn’t sing, but music of any sort was always welcomed. “You’ll be on your way, no doubt?”

“I will. If this weather reached south, the Casilani ships will have been delayed, but if not, they could be in harbour already. I have letters to go to Casil, from Ruar and the Raséair, and I must stop at the Ti’ach na Perras on the way.”

I had been gone well over two weeks. Ingold sipped his fuisce. “What are they like, these Casilani?” he asked.

“Wily. Sophisticated, and skilled with words and subtlety. At least the officials. The soldiers,” I shrugged, thinking of Druise, “are not so different from any men.”

“You’ll need all your wits about you, if you’re to ensure they treat us fairly,” he commented. “But the same was needed with the Marai. I suppose it’s no different. But we’ll be hard-pressed to pay tribute this year.”  The talk drifted to the effect of this unseasonal snow, and how many lambs had been lost. “We’ll have been better off than most,” Ingold said. “I had enough men to rescue most of them. Some of the torps will have lost almost all, I’d think.”

“Why did the Marai leave you alone?” Had he supported them?

He snorted. “I’m a practical man, Sorley. I sent my wife and children to Dun Ceànnar, and then I went too, but later. I told the torpari I’d gone south to fight at the Wall, for the Marai, and I left them orders to cooperate. We lost a lot of animals to feed the raiders. There’s some pale-haired babies born this year, and they took a few girls, and a boy or two, as slaves, but they didn’t burn the byres, or the cottages. A small price to pay for our lives, I’d say.”

I couldn’t argue. I toasted him silently, and he grinned and drank his fuisce down. “Bedtime,” he said. “I’ll be out at dawn tomorrow, so I’ll say goodbye now. Safe travels, Sorley.”

(c) 2020 Marian L Thorpe

Featured Image: Beneath The Snow Encumbered Branches, Joseph Farquharson. Public Domain

Listening

My current work-in-progress, Empire’s Heir, is probably the most planned book I’ve ever begun. I’m moved from complete pantser to at least acknowledging that an outline isn’t a bad idea. With Heir, I did a really detailed outline. I know my themes and my subplots, and where I was introducing a new twist to support the saggy middle – all before I began to write.

I got 50K words in, and I stopped writing. Not because I didn’t know what came next, but because I was both bored and frustrated by my own writing. Bored because I’d already done ‘young woman coming of age under challenging circumstances’ story with my protagonist’s mother – it’s what my whole first trilogy is about. Frustrated, because some of the themes and subplots meant I was stretching credulity to have my MC present for some of the conversations and action, but without them, the book would be too simplistic.

My last book, Empire’s Reckoning, also challenged me in different ways, and I found having a playlist for it helped keep me focused. Maybe that would help, I thought, and went looking for (and soliciting) ideas for songs. And I gave my playlist for Reckoning one more listen.

One of the songs on that playlist is Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s Teach Your Children, one of the anthems of my youth. I listened to it, and sang (ok, that too is stretching credulity – let’s say I vocalized) along with it, and then I went to bed.

To wake up early the next morning hearing, very clearly, the voice of my protagonist’s father, a voice I’ve never heard, although he’s been a central character in all books but one – and the solution to both my problems with the story. Switching its focus just a little, creating a two point-of-view story that contrasts Gwenna’s youth and naivete with Cillian’s wisdom and experience, adding a ‘passing of the torch’ theme – all those made the story so much more interesting. Situations central to overarching themes in the series can unfold without Gwenna directly observing them.

I should know by now that linear planning doesn’t work for me. I’m a mind-mapper on paper, a doodler, working with free-flowing thought and image, creating lateral connections – and I think that’s what ‘pantsing’ is about: letting the subconscious make those connections and drive the story. “Feed them on your dreams…” Graham Nash wrote, fifty years and more ago…and it seems it’s still the best advice for my writing.

(Lyrics to Teach Your Children here.)

Music’s Memory

Why is music so important in my books?  I’m not a musician; I can’t play an instrument, carry a tune, or even keep time.  Write what you know, right? You wouldn’t think I’d write about music.

But one of the themes of my books is language, and what it can and can’t do: in my protagonist Lena’s words, they are in part

about language, and meaning, and if all concepts were universal, and could be translated. About the gap between intent and comprehension, between what was meant and what was understood, and the assumptions and shared experience encompassed—or not—in any exchange.

Empire’s Exile

Music, in my books, is another form of language, a way to communicate that goes beyond words to invoke memory and emotion. I introduce this in the very first book, Empire’s Daughter, when the character Tice teaches Lena a song about exile and lost love (introducing another major theme of the series).  In book 2, Empire’s Hostage, Lena learns that in Linrathe, the country north of the Wall, song is used to teach history – and more than history, in truth – a sense of national identity.

Song weaves its way through the next book, Empire’s Exile, too: its role in entertainment, in ritual, in status among a group of warriors. It communicates regret, love, loss – and is a vehicle to bring two people together.

But it’s in the two books that the musician Sorley narrates: Oraiáphon and Empire’s Reckoning, that music takes centre stage. Its role in Oraiáphon is pivotal to the story – without giving away the plot, I’ll just say that Oraiáphon is my world’s equivalent of classical mythology’s Orpheus.  

Music is central to Sorley’s identity, and as the author I take advantage of that. Music highlights the differences between him and the two men in his life: with pragmatic Druisius, the instruments they play are similar, but the tunings are different, and to Druisius, all Sorley’s songs are sad. With Cillian, whose use of language is precise and subtle, honed by his years as a diplomat, Sorley’s contrasting use of song to influence through emotion reflects their characters:

“Stories told by you, with all your scáeli’s skills?” Cillian asked. “A tale spun to coerce and convince, my lord Sorley?”

Empire’s Reckoning

Of all the books in the series, Empire’s Reckoning focuses most on the influence and limitations of language: of oaths made and broken, of the power of words spoken and unspoken – and the role of music in conveying what words cannot. That’s why I, a weaver of words, write about music.

You can hear Sorley sing his beautiful Paths Untrodden here.

Purchase links for all my books here.

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The Procurator & The Governor

Two new characters are introduced into my ‘Empire on the edge of history’ in the novella Oraiáphon and the novel Empire’s Reckoning:  Decanius, the Procurator from Casil, and Livius, the Governor. Who are these characters, and what exactly do they do?

A Procurator in the Roman Empire was the man in charge of the finances of a Roman province. He worked beside the Governor but was not subordinate to him, and his responsibilities included tax collection, rents on land belonging to imperial estates, pay to the military and other public servants, and the management of mines. You can see how this might be a position that allowed for enriching yourself, and your friends, and also could make the office-holder extremely unpopular among the residents of the province. Are tax-collectors ever admired?

Decanius arrives first, because the army must be paid, and tariffs and taxes are going to be collected as soon as possible. He’s an accountant through and through, counting and measuring everything, and he has no interest in the people of Lena’s land, or their laws and traditions. His name derives from Cato (or Catus) Decianus, the Procurator of Britannia at the time of Boudicca’s fight for freedom from Roman rule. Dio, writing a hundred years and more later, suggests that heavy taxation was behind the rebellion, and it would have been Decianus who was responsible for that. So with a little tweaking, the historic, hated Decianus becomes the fictional, hated Decanius.

File:Boudicca Statue.png
Statue of Boudicca at Westminster

Livius is the new Governor. (I just liked the name, in his case.) A Roman governor was responsible for the civil administration of the province; he was also the judge in capital crimes (smaller crimes often being left in the hands of the people he was governing) and was the commander-in-chief of all military units deployed in the province. Unlike the Procurator, who was a civilian, the Governor was a military officer. So almost the first thing Livius asks to do when he arrives from Casil is inspect the troops. An experienced official, Livius governs with affability, but he’s also adamant about what has to happen. “There’s iron behind his smile,” Sorley says of him.

Domitius Corbulo, the Roman governor of Germania Inferior

There were differences in how Imperial provinces (under the control of the Emperor) and Senatorial provinces (under the control of the Senate) were governed, but to say more about that might reveal too much of what happens in Oraiáphon. The roles and responsibilities changed over the years Rome had an Empire, and I chose the pieces that work. I’m not tied to a specific timeline: I borrow concepts, not exact history, in creating my alternate world. What I was interested in was how an Empire, sure of its institutions and its laws and traditions, integrates its practices with those of another country; not a conquered one, but one that has agreed to become a client province. Do they integrate, or do they impose? “We might have been a province of the Eastern Empire once before,” Lena says, “but we kept almost none of its laws and traditions, except in the army.” Peace has a price.

Oraiáphon Amazon

Empires’s Reckoning Amazon

E-pub

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Statue of Domitius Corbulo: photo by Carole Raddato, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

Statue of Boudicca:  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Boudicca.jpg Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Statue of Julius Caesar (Featured Image): By Skitterphoto –  Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.