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A blog about writing, reading, art, and history

Archive for the month “April, 2013”

Battle scenes, part 1.3: Defense of Kel Fimmaril, siege warfare


In writing First Empress, I have to constantly remind myself that not all of my readers will have studied military history with the depth that I have—and of those who have, not all have studied Ancient Greek warfare as extensively. While I have a good understanding of the differences between a xiphos (short sword mainly for stabbing) and a kopis (short sword mainly for slashing), I can’t assume that all of my readers will have the same knowledge. Thankfully, there’s an old literary device where an author explains potentially unfamiliar information to readers by having an experienced character explain it to an unexperienced character (historical novelist Patrick O’Brien was a master of this technique).

As the technology level of the story is similar to Ancient Greece during the Persian and Peloponnesian War eras, sinew-powered artillery such as ballistae and catapults have not been invented just yet. Because of this, the only ways past an enemy’s walls were to climb over with ropes and ladders or to undermine them with sappers. To illustrate this, I included a short conversation about siege warfare in the first scene from chapter 2. We find Queen Viarraluca and her top officers as well as Ronnius, her steward, discussing plans for the upcoming invasion by the city of Andivel.

“Sixteen days, minimum,” Viarra gave the total. “We have at least until then to prepare for an invasion. General Derron, is there any possibility that they’ll use any strategy other than a protracted siege?”

“As in, could they bring in enough soldiers to storm the walls and sack the city?” Derron shook his head. “No, not really. Even if they could spare that many troops without leaving their city basically undefended, it would be a costly victory, and just not cost-effective logistically.”

“Good, I agree,” the queen nodded. “We’ll make preparations for a siege, then.”

“I’m sorry, you’ll have to explain this to me,” Captain Vola shook her head. “My people are mostly nomadic and know little of siege warfare.”

“Heavy walls like ours present a fairly formidable obstacle for even a large invading army,” Ronnius explained to the cavalry captain. “Walls and cities are an entirely different environment from open field where often all you need is a bigger army to win. There are two basic methods for capturing a walled city, you can either storm it or starve it.”

“The rule of thumb for storming a city is to have at least twice the number of soldiers as your enemy,” General Derron added. “Even once you get past the walls—either by using ladders or sappers—you still have to deal with the urban fighting.”

“Sapping is where you dig under someone’s wall to undermine its foundation and make it collapse,” Ronnius added for Vola’s benefit.

“And once inside the walls, a determined citizenry can put up a brutal and bloody resistance,” Derron continued. “Not only will you have to deal with hoplites using streets, doorways, and alleys as chokepoints and ambuscades, you also end up with women and children on top of buildings, throwing bricks, stones, and roof tiles on your head. This tends to require a massive number of soldiers to pull off.”

“And the collateral damage is ghastly,” Viarra agreed. “The other option is to starve the city. You surround the city with too strong an army for them to best in the field, then wait for them to exhaust their food stores. You essentially force them to surrender because they’ve gotten too hungry to fight.”

“And if the city relies on an external water source, you can dam it up and divert it from the city, which tends to make people surrender faster,” Ronnius put in. “The downside to a siege is that it can take weeks, months, or even over a year for a prepared city to use up their food stores. Meanwhile, it keeps your army in one place and gives the enemy time for reinforcements or other outside help to arrive. And you have to have a way to keep your own soldiers fed.”

Vola shook her head. “This is why people should live in tents,” she commented drily.

For further discussion, see my previous posts discussing the politics and soldiers involved in the battle.


Fan Art: Amya Chronicles

I mentioned, back when I posted my fan art for Pete Abram’s Sluggy Freelance, that I had also drawn one for Savannah Houston McIntyre’s Amya Chronicles. Yesterday, I had the delightful honor of having my fan art posted as filler while the comic takes a hiatus.


Angie and Silenna, two half-elf rangers fighting for half-elf rights in Amya Chronicles. Both characters are introduced toward the beginning of Chapter 3, Lenna joining the main characters on their journey toward the end of the chapter.

Silenna Gardine, the half-elf ranger on the right, is likely my favorite character so far in Amya Chronicles. I like Lenna for… well for a lot of reasons, really. From an artistic standpoint, I like that she’s athletic and muscular without being pumped or ripped and she’s beautiful and sexy without being sexualized. That’s not an easy balance to find. And so far I haven’t seen her in a pose that would require the absence of a few ribs or the removal of one’s spinal cord. For a long time I was worried about Lenna’s future in the narrative, as she was listed on the cast page under “Acquaintances.” But as of recently, I noticed that she was moved to the “Travelers” category. No official confirmation, but I like to think this is a positive development for our lovely ranger’s future role in the tale. (One might notice that the image posted to the comic has been cropped slightly to fit the webpage’s format. Eh, now I know…)


A slightly photo-edited scan of the initial line work.

My initial concept sketch for this piece featured Lenna sitting by herself on the tree branch, looking at peace or contemplative. But when I finished the line work, I felt like she ought to be with someone, either talking or just hanging out. At first I considered Kaden, the rogue/pistol markswoman or Faye, the mute spell caster, but I couldn’t come up with a valid reason for either of them to be up a tree. It eventually made more sense to have her teammate, Angie, perched up there as if their biding their time before ambushing their quarry. Rather than redraw the whole image, I drew a second picture of Angie, then cut and taped the drawings together and scanned them to the computer. You can kind of see where I edited the lines out. I know it’s a primitive way to go about it, but I don’t exactly have hundreds of dollars to spend on Wacom Tablets and Adobe software.


Ink work for the lines. I’m not great at the inking yet, but I feel like my inked drawings come out much better when scanned to the computer than the regular graphite ones do.

Archival ink is a relatively new medium for me, and so I try not to get frustrated when I make mistakes and do my best to cover those mistakes. I’d not bother as much with it, but I like how the ink looks when I scan it to the computer. I can’t seem to make graphite scan all that well, so I’m typically less inclined to try to share my regular sketches. (If anyone has any tips or ideas for making my sketches look better on the PC, I’m open to suggestions.)

At any rate, I like how this turned out in the end, though I’ll admit to having been apprehensive about having it posted to the comic. So far, though, the other commenters have been appreciative. Interestingly, Savvy recently posted that she has a need of additional fan art, so I’m working on a sketch of two other characters to submit as well. Here is the current draft:


An image of Faye, the protagonist, and Kaden, the party’s rogue. Faye just recently got her very first handgun in the story, so it makes sense for Kaden, the resident markswoman to teach her to shoot.

Character creation part 6: Pella

As one might guess, Pella is named for the birthplace of Alexander the Great. I honestly don’t intend for this to be symbolic in any way, I just happened to feel that the name suited the character and ran with it. So there.

Pella comes into the story in chapter 1 of First Empress, as a fellow orphan and prisoner with Zahnia. The girls and the other orphans are victims of illegal arcane experimentation—experiments that give other children wings or monkey feet or neon-colored hair. Early in chapter 1, Pella is taken away to be experimented on by the orphans’ captors, and returns with an extra set of arms, attached just below her real arms. Pella and Zahnia become friends largely because they’re the only orphans who speak Tollesian. Pella is of northern descent, and is the first red-haired person Zahnia has ever met.

As a character, Pella is something of an ongoing experiment with dialect. As I’ve discussed in the past, I love reading and writing dialect. With Pella being an northerner, I opted to give her a Celtic or “northern” accent to differentiate her from the other characters. While I’ve done research on Irish, Scottish, and other Celtic dialects of the English language, because places like Ireland and Scotland don’t exist in my story, I felt it wisest to aim for a non-specific Gaelic accent for Pella. (Yes, I realize Gael doesn’t exist either in First Empress; that’s not the point.) I attempted a somewhat watered-down version of this with a couple characters in Chronicle of Pren, but with Pella being an orphan and something of a wild child, I felt it more fitting to make her accent stronger.

The following is a brief exchange between Pella and Zahnia from chapter 1, when Zahnia wakes up after being experimented on by their captors. I don’t know that it’s the best illustration of Pella’s personality, but I think it effectively shows what I’m attempting as far as the dialect.

Perhaps minutes later, perhaps hours later, Zahnia awoke once more. She still hurt all over, but it was a dull hurt. The burning in her chest was still there, but she found that she could move her arms and legs again and the effort didn’t make her black out. The hurt little girl groaned as she sat up and scooted over against her cell wall.

“Zahny?” she heard Pella say. “Zahny, are ye alright?” She heard Pella move around in her cell.

“Not really,” Zahnia rasped in response. She scooted next to her cell door and looked through the bars, hoping to see her friend. Across the hall Pella sat looking back through her own door, three of her four hands clutching the bars.

“Thank the gods ye are alive,” Pella smiled, looking relieved. “Ye looked dead when baldy hit ye inta tha wall, an’ when they brought ye back in. Nae matter wha’ happens, Zahny, lass, I’m proud o’ ye. Ye fought like a bear again’ the fockers. Tha’ curly-hair is still missin’ part o’ an ear. Since ye done tha’, they been bringin’ nets tae get us from our cages. Ye made ‘em tha’ scared o’ us.”

Zahnia laughed despite the pain. “What’s a bear?” she finally asked. “I’ve heard of them, but don’t know what one is.”

“I dinnae ken for certs,” Pella admitted. “Me mum used tae spake o’ tha beasts. Fierce monsters in tha north, they were. Bigger tha’ any horse or kine. And mean, with sharp teeth and long claws. Bot tha meanest bear is a mum-bear when ye mess wi’ her wee ones. If me mum’s stories be true, ye fought like a mum-bear.” Both girls giggled at the thought. Then Pella’s brow wrinkled with concern. “What did they do to ye?” she asked. “D’ye ken?”

“I-I don’t know,” Zahnia answered, panicking suddenly. The scared little girl started checking herself over—no tail, no wings, no extra arms or toes. All she could find was a semicircle of stitches at the base of her ribcage. Just above them and on the inside of her, she could feel that same burning in her chest. Zahnia could tell that something was wrong there—something was inside of her that shouldn’t be.

What did they do to me? She started to panic again. Somehow not knowing what they’d done was a thousand times scarier than waking up with wings or monkey feet. Zahnia pulled her knees to her chest. Oh, gods, what did they do to me?

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