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Queen Viarra Commission, by Adelruna

ViarraFor a while now, I’ve given various consideration to commissioning a portrait of Queen Viarraluca, title character from my novel-in-progress, First Empress. About a week and a half ago, I emailed the amazing and talented Adelruna to discuss the possibility. I’m very definitely pleased with the end results. As well as being an intelligent and powerful ruler, the young queen is trained as a heavy infantrywoman, preferring to fight on the front lines beside the hoplites, gaining her soldiers’ loyalty by sharing in their danger and hardship. I feel like Adelruna has portrayed her strength and courage elegantly in this portrait.

I make no apologies for the fact that Queen Viarra is a tyrant. While she loves her friends and works toward the benefit of her subjects, she’s ruthless and sometimes brutal toward those who cross her. (And damn, she’s fun to write.) I don’t see her as being opposed to others’ individual freedoms, but she places more value on the security and stability of her hegemony. Twice she executes nobles for daring to conspire against her and even has her own uncle hanged for assassinating her brothers. The following excerpt is from Chapter 8 when Viarra confronts one of the nobles involved in a conspiracy to assassinate the young queen.

***

Walking beside Captain Alden, Bevren followed her majesty to the gates of Lord Halben’s townhouse, more than fifty hoplites in tow.

“Stand aside,” Queen Viarra ordered as Halben’s gate guards approached. Startled, the guards leapt out of the way, her majesty striding between them. She stormed through the open gates and across the courtyard, her soldiers nearly jogging to keep up.

“Your majesty, this is entirely out of line,” a self-important house slave objected, stepping between the queen and the front door. “If you’ll come back in the morning when—” he cut off as Viarra grabbed him by the hair and turned him forcibly around. The movement caused the sweating bastard to fall to one knee.

“Tell them to open the fucking door,” the queen demanded coldly, keeping ahold of the slave’s hair.

“For Andiva’s sake, open the door!” the man bleated. The doors swung open a moment later, revealing a pair of terrified doormen. Queen Viarra tossed the slave aside and strode through the entryway, likely looking like an archangel of death to the terrified occupants. Bevren followed with the rest of the soldiers, taking note of the servants and family members cowering in doorways and behind furniture.

Lord Halben and Lady Lyria stepped from their bedchamber as the queen approached with her soldiers. “Queen Viarra, what is the meaning of this?” he demanded. “Storming my home in the middle of the night and—” he cut off, turning white and pissing down his leg as Captain Alden held up the assassination contract with the conspirators’ names signed to it.

“Majesty, I can explain—” the traitor began.

He cut off as Viarra grabbed him by the tunic and threw him through a nearby table.

“No, you can’t explain,” Viarra told him cold-bloodedly as she stepped over and jerked him to his knees. “Every lying word you speak in useless explanation is another second you get to spend alive. You don’t get that right.” She turned and threw him to the stone floor in front of her soldiers, bloodying his nose and splitting his lip. “Take him to Fort Lynra and crucify him with the others,” she ordered.

Two hoplites yanked him to his feet and dragged him down the hall, screaming his traitorous head off.

Bevren turned back to where Lady Lyria stood, covering her mouth. She sobbed and shook her head in disbelief as she read the contract for Queen Viarra’s assassination.

“I apologize, Lady Lyria,” the Queen said with unexpected tenderness as she stepped over and took the noblewoman’s hand. The lady looked up at the queen in surprise. “I apologize that I must deprive you of your husband. I want you to know that I harbor no ill will to you or your children. If you choose to stay in the city, I am willing to offer you your husband’s seat on the council, as well as my protection from any reprisals that may come because of his part in the plot against me. However, if you no longer feel safe here in Andivel, I have a ship standing by to take you and your children to be with your family in Ovec at first light.”

“I… thank you for your mercy, your majesty,” Lady Lyria replied, trembling and clutching the queen’s hand. “I will take my children and return to Ovec. But… perhaps in a few years, when my son is older, we can return and he may serve on the council as his father did.” She looked hopefully up at the tall queen.

“I will see to it,” her majesty nodded. “I’ll make sure your home is maintained for your return.”

Battle scenes, part 1.5: Defense of Kel Fimmaril, tying the battle but winning the war

Original ship-of-the-line

My drawing of a Hellenic-era trireme war galley.

As discussed in battle scenes part 1.4, the field battle of the defense of Kel Fimmaril results in a draw. Both sides suffer a similar casualty count and the attackers fall back to the beach while the defenders retreat back into the city. From a strictly military standpoint, sallying from the city at all was an unwise decision as the somewhat less experienced and under-armored soldiers of Kel Fimmaril risked annihilation at the hands of the larger, better-armored, largely-veteran army of Andivel. Queen Viarra makes the decision to offer battle only hours before the enemy army arrives, contrary to their initial plan to wait things out from inside the city. During battles in ancient history, the strategy of a city’s army sallying out to meet a superior force was not unheard of—it was something of a calculated risk, the intent being to offer a quick battle to knock the enemy numbers down enough to prevent them from laying as heavy a siege. A lighter siege offers defenders a few more options, such as sneaking or breaking additional help into the city, sending messengers for help, sneaking key personnel out of the city, or future sallies against weak points in the siege lines. However, because Kel Fimmaril is on an island, there is essentially nowhere to go to escape or find help.

At the battle’s conclusion, however, the attacking army from Andivel discovers that the battle was a ruse—a diversion to distract the attackers and draw them out of position to enact the queen’s clever plan for victory. To achieve this victory, Queen Viarra uses several of the attackers’ standard operating procedures against them. The attacking army from Andivel sails into Kel Fimmaril’s harbor with eleven warships as well as four large troop transports and two merchant barges carrying the bulk of the army’s supplies. The warships and transports land on the beach, unloading hoplite marines to secure the beach and docks against any mischief on the defenders’ parts. Meanwhile, unable to beach like the military ships, the merchant vessels belly-up to the docks, but have orders not to unload until the defending army has been chased back into the city. The reason for this being to prevent the defenders from somehow sabotaging the attackers’ supplies. Viarra takes advantage of these procedures by using her army to draw the attacking force out of position and away from their fleet support.

Contrary to popular modern belief, warships during ancient times were not rowed by slaves, instead being powered by professional oarsmen, trained for endurance and combat maneuvering. As such, these men were rarely military and seldom had political or patriotic ties to the city that hired them. In addition, the crews of the merchant vessels carrying the supplies are equally nonmilitary, having had their ships pressed into service by Andivel’s government and paid a pittance for their efforts. Since sailors and merchants tend to be as mercenary as men in any other profession, the most sensible way to coerce them into betraying their escorting army is to offer them a venue with a higher monetary return.

For step one of the plan, her majesty has her Steward, Ronnius, hide with two hundred light soldiers inside the warehouses along the docks in the harbor. Because the soldiers of Andivel have to engage Kel Fimmaril’s defenders immediately, they don’t get a chance to sweep the warehouses for surprises. Once the battle has moved far enough away from the beach, Ronnius’s soldiers rush from the warehouses and capture the warships, forcing the unarmed crewmen to surrender at sword point. As the attackers haven’t had time to beach the fleet, all eleven warships are still floating in the bay with only their tethers keeping them from drifting away. It’s not difficult, then, for Ronnius and the others to offer the sailors a healthy bribe and a means of escape:

“We’re here to make an offer to you and your crew,” Ronnius informed the trireme’s captain. The steward pulled the queen’s letter from his leather pouch. “What I have here is a Letter of the Marque from Queen Viarraluca. This letter gives you legal permission to sail as privateers for Kel Fimmaril, attacking and sinking, looting, or taking as prizes any merchant, military, and civilian vessels sailing for our enemies, as well as any pirates you should encounter. In addition, you may be called upon in defense of the city or for special missions and assignments. The city will take a twenty percent cut of any spoils you return with, but in return will provide you with hoplite marines to act as boarding parties and offer a safe haven to berth your ship and replenish—”

The dark-haired man swatted the letter from Ronnius’s hand and spat on his chest plate. “Fuck yourself,” the sailor snarled. “If you think—”

Ronnius didn’t let him finish. In one move he drew his xiphos and stabbed the sailor in the chest, then kicked his body over the side of the ship. “You,” he pointed to the nearest sailor, “you’re captain now.” Ronnius bent down and picked up the letter. “This is a Letter of the Marque—” he began.

“From Queen Viarraluca,” the sailor nodded nervously, taking the letter. “We accept.”

Step two of the plan is to deal with the supply ships. As the merchants hauling the supplies were pressed into service, they’re already resentful of the escorting army and only cooperating because the army has sword. All it takes to gain their favor is to offer them a way out, though offering a bribe doesn’t hurt either. To accomplish this, her majesty sends her messenger, Terric, to deliver a letter of pardon to the merchantmen:

“Good afternoon, gentlemen,” the young messenger greeted the merchant captains. “I am here to deliver a message on behalf of Queen Viarraluca of Kel Fimmaril. As you can see, we have already absconded with your escorting warships, blockading your ships within our harbor. Her majesty is… upset that you have sailed to our island beside a force of hostile invaders with the intent of sacking our city and enslaving our people. However, her majesty is aware that you may likely be here against your will, having your vessels pressed into service by the Andivelian military. She is willing to offer you redemption in the eyes of her people.”

“Oh, this should be good,” the second merchant muttered sarcastically.

“I have here two letters of pardon for your crimes against the people of Kel Fimmaril, each signed by Queen Viarraluca herself. All you have to do in return is sail away.”

“That’s it?” the first merchant asked.

“That’s it,” Terric answered, grinning. “Just sail away and these letters are yours.”

The first merchant gave him a strange look. “So it’s not the pardon she’s offering us so much as a bribe to walk away?”

The second merchant started laughing. “Sail away with the foodstuffs and military hardware already in our hold? Materiel we were barely being paid to haul, but that we can now sell to whomever we choose? Fucking best bribe I’ve ever been offered.”

Unfortunately, the plan doesn’t go off entirely perfectly. One of the attackers’ bireme war galleys realizes what’s going on and attempts to escape before Ronnius’s soldiers can capture it. Thus Doric, one of the defenders’ infantry captains, orders the crew of the trireme he captured to ram and sink the fleeing ship.

Doric braced against the railing as the huge ship-of-the-line neared the fleeing bireme. Even so, he was still nearly thrown to the deck at the impact. The crash of the two warships was unlike anything the skirmisher captain had ever felt. The great ram hit first at about a seventy-degree angle to the smaller ship’s hull. The bronze head smashed through the wooden hull at the water line, snapping oars between the Kestrel’s prow and the Scale’s port side. The trireme’s greater mass bowled the smaller warship over, lifting the larger ship’s prow slightly out of the water, pushing the bireme downward slightly and rolling it partway on its starboard side. The impact spun both ships fifteen degrees to starboard before they floated to a stop in the middle of the harbor.

“Back, back, back!” Doric heard the Kestrel’s captain shout as he and much of the rest of the deck crew picked themselves up from the foredeck. “Pull us out before they sink all the way!”

Again, with practiced skill, the trireme’s rowers eased the huge warship’s ram out of the breach they’d created in the bireme’s hull. Doric looked over the rail as they pulled away, watching the enemy crew abandoning the mortally-wounded bireme. A hundred or so sailors and rowers swam in the direction of the nearest shoreline.

Doric shook his head as he noticed the bodies of three rowers bobbing amongst the flotsam from the dying Scale of Andiva. “Sorry, lads,” was all he could find to say as the Screaming Kestrel turned to join the rest of the captured fleet.

With their fleet and supplies captured, the attacking army from Andivel finds themselves besieged outside of Kel Fimmaril’s walls. They’re essentially left with three options: starve, surrender, or launch a suicidal attack on the city’s walls. Captain Bevren, highest-ranking surviving officer, offers the queen a fourth option—one that creates a new future for not only the tiny island nation of Kel Fimmaril, but for all of the northern Tollesian city-states…

First Empress: Map of the Vestic Sea

vestic

(Click map for a more detailed view)

This is a map I drew up of the northwest corner of Vestic Sea, the region where most of the story takes place in my novel-in-progress, First Empress. As the story is based heavily on my studies of Ancient Greek history, I very deliberately gave the Vestic Sea a Mediterranean climate and gave the land masses a mountainous, Grecian topography. While there are only a few dozen islands visible on the map, much of the sea is dotted with islets of various sizes and shapes, making cracking down on piracy a virtual impossibility given the story’s Iron-Age technology. There are thousands of villages, towns, and cities spread across the island and mainland; the cities displayed on the map are just ones I have plans for in the story so far.

Also like in Ancient Greece, the political climate between various cities and hegemonies amounts to a veritable viper pit. Often a city will declare war on another for no other reason than a perceived weakness on the other city’s part. Alliances are fluid and borders fluctuate constantly. The colors on the map depict the political boundaries of the three main alliances at the start of the story. These borders will change as the story progresses. The Tollesian cities (based on the Greeks) are largely on the coast and flatter regions where trade and agriculture are easier to conduct. The mountains are largely inhabited by tribes of the Gan (based heavily on the ancient Celts). When not at war with each other, the Gannic peoples will often raid Tollesian farms, trade caravans, and settlements. It is not unheard of for several tribes to gang up on and sack Tollesian city-states.

Kel Fimmaril, the home city-state of the title character Queen Viarraluca, is a fairly small island (<5 mi at low tide), and not particularly significant geographically or politically. Though once a marginally important trade hub, the island’s economy has been fairly hamstrung over the past decade by increased pirate incursions on the local sea lanes.

Andivel is the hegemonic power closest to Kel Fimmaril, and a distant third, strength-wise, on this part of the Vestic Sea. Though it’s alliances once stretched as far north as Gillespar and Illis and as far west as Ryllar, Andivel’s strength has waned over the past decade. The most devastating blow came three years previous, after the hegemony borrowed massive amounts of gold from the city of Pellastor in order to fund a pair of campaigns against the Gannic tribes from the Vedrian Mountains. Unfortunately, these campaigns resulted in stalemates, and no spoils come from tying the battle. Thus a crippling amount of Andivel’s income goes to repaying those debts. Andivel’s once-glorious armies are now employed in the bullying, extortion, and invasion of weaker city-states in effort to repay the hegemony’s debts. Meanwhile, the Vedrian tribes have discovered that the Tollesian cities are not as strong as they once were, and have become increasingly bold in their raids—though not strong enough to best the Tollesian armies in the field… yet. With Andivel’s military spending crippled by debt payment, however, many of their citizens and remaining allies worry about the future stability of the hegemony.

Pellastor is the predominant imperial power on the northern Vestic Sea, with a strong military tradition backed by a powerful maritime economy. Their armies and navies are the largest and best-trained to be found in this part of the world. Their capital city is a wonder to behold, with grand temples, theaters, universities, and agoras to delight the eye of the bemused visitor. The hegemony is made up largely of coastal and island city-states upon whom they rely to provide trade and taxes as well as ships and soldiers during times of war. Yet their excellent general staff is able to effectively keep together and deploy these armies from diverse and often rival city-states.

Like Pellastor, Illarra is structured around a maritime economy. This economy is supplemented, however, by the funding of corsairs and privateers to raid and pillage the sea lanes and coastal settlements of rival city-states. This piratical harassment has earned the ire of many of Illarra’s neighbors and has frequently led to open war with the city-state of Pellastor and her allies. While Pellastor’s armies and navies are significantly larger and more powerful than Illarra’s, the Illaran Confederation has a history of devious rulers and wily generals. Many an army from Pellastor has found itself pinned in unfavorable terrain by harassment tactics and the cutting of supply routes. Though Pellastor’s commanders are typically able to get their armies out more or less in tact, in recent decades neither city has ever won a deciding victory.

(PS: If anyone can recommend a good, free map-making software, I’d be most appreciative. Thanks and stay awesome!)

New blog launch!

Just launched my new blog, it’s at http://heroineimages.wordpress.com/. Spent the afternoon putting together the new blog and writing the ‘about,’ ‘introduction,’ and ‘links’ as well as the first post. It’s based on my previous two entries about commenting on women fantasy characters in smart, practical attire. (See previous discussions here and here.)

As I’m still learning how to build a blog and learning WordPress’s system, please feel free to offer feedback on the page itself as well as the individual posts. And please enjoy.

New Blog Idea

My previous blog post about sartorially smart heroines gave me an idea for a new blog. I’ll go ahead and toss this out there just to get any kind of feedback and advice on my idea.

There are a lot of image blogs and galleries out there that celebrate the smartly dressed heroine in various sci-fi, fantasy, steampunk, anime, modern adventure, etc. Fuck Yeah, Women in Armor, Shield Maidens, and Armored Women, are all very good ones, and I occasionally check up on Women Fighters in Reasonable Armor in hopes that it will start updating again. While these blogs feature amazing images of paintings, drawings, even photos of women characters in effective adventuring apparel, I find them to be sadly short on commentary and explanation as to why these are useful and effective outfits.

My idea is to start a new blog here on WordPress to offer commentary to go along with the images. I plan to discuss why I find particular outfits to be effective: what works in terms of protectiveness, utilitarianism, story (if applicable), setting, environment, character role, thematic appropriateness, and genre appropriateness. As such, I intend to focus mainly on the outfit, rather than the character herself—when character comes into play, it will be in terms of how the outfit helps her complete her particular role. As in, if I decide to offer a commentary on Princess Leia’s commando gear from Return of the Jedi, it will be for the sake of the uniform’s function on their intended mission, rather than, say, a contrast with her slave-girl costume from Jabba’s Palace.

My plan is to start out by offering a couple posts per week just to see if it creates any kind of interest from readers. If there is enough interest and demand, I may try to up that to 3–4 times per week. We’ll see what happens. What does everyone think on this idea? Please offer any thoughts, questions, or suggestions, or even just a ‘like’ if you think it’s a useful idea.

Sartorially Smart Heroines

Ouch

Source: Deviant Artist LuckyFK

I’m a big fan of smartly-dressed heroines. Of these, there are far too few in fantasy-adventure stories. Like the unfortunate elf maiden above, there are far too many women characters in fantasy stories who wear armor and apparel that would get them killed under most combat circumstances. Too many Amazon warriors in chain-mail bikinis and elf sorceresses in lingerie-ish robes of +3 sexiness. Video and computer game makers are especially guilty of this, choosing to market their product to the pocket-mining demographic so common among gamers. And it’s hard to fault their marketing overmuch—boobs make money. But, realistically, armor that covers as much as the average bikini won’t keep the busty Amazon’s insides inside, nor will the sorceress’s frilly robes hold up for the average forest trek or dungeon crawl. And, believe it or not, there are some of us who prefer realism in our fantasy.

This isn’t to say that the armor and apparel has to be historically accurate. Just because a story is a “medieval fantasy” doesn’t place it under any obligation to be historically faithful to the Middle Ages. If it’s a period piece, that’s different: I hope the writers, filmmakers, game makers, etc do what they can to make the piece as historically accurate as they know how. But a medieval fantasy story should be able to include whatever adventuring apparel it wants so long as its (a) thematically appropriate for the genre, (b) protects what needs protecting, and (c) suits the character’s quest/mission/role.

Do I have criteria for what is acceptable versus unacceptable? Not really. Every adventuress’s situation is different depending on her mission, environment, fantasy world, type of enemy, and fantasy genre. The lady knight is going to choose a different armor depending on if she’s leading men-at-arms or scouting for brigands. The steampunk sniper will want different camouflage whether she’s hiding in the city, desert, forest, or mountains. And the intergalactic huntress will need a different type of armor for combating rail-gun-toting battle droids than she will for giant beetles that bleed acid. I rather doubt that any of these ladies will journey out clad in beachwear or formal, evening attire.

Here are examples of fantasy adventuring apparel that I find very effective:

LotRO Ladies

Lord of the Rings Online ladies. Left to right: Captain, Hunter, Champion, Burglar. Screenshots taken from game play.

One of the big shout outs I’ll give to Lord of the Rings Online is that it does a very good job of keeping the Heroes and Heroines of Eriador well protected. The costuming is more customizable than any action RPG I’ve encountered, but other than the occasional noble’s dress or elvish gown, all of the attire is appropriate for the standard adventuress in Tolkien’s Middle Earth. The dwarven plate mail is somewhat bulky (Champion) and the elf armor in general borders on overly ornate (Burglar), but I feel like in both cases the armor is protective as well as practical for any character who expects to be in the thick of the action.

I see this as a direct contrast to games like World of Warcraft where high-level shoulder armor is the size of Volkswagens, or Rift where the fronts of some of the armor are open almost to the poor girl’s bush. Whether it’s ridiculously massive or ridiculously sexualized armor, I tend to be leery of games, comics, etc that typically feature women warriors in impractical armor. Sadly, as medieval fantasy-adventure goes, few games are consistent as far as protectiveness in women’s armor. Dragon Age and Neverwinter Nights are generally okay, outfit-wise, but ones like the Guild Wars and Elder Scrolls games are fairly hit-and-miss.

Another form of impractical armor that is being smacked down more and more often of late is boob-plate. And with good reason. Sculpted cleavage essentially functions as a wedge positioned next to the warrior’s sternum, and thus receives most of the force of any blow she takes to the chest. It wasn’t something that I paid close attention to until recently, but after reading a couple articles on the structural problems with sculpted women’s breastplates, it’s hard for me to not take this into consideration.

Of course, not all adventuring apparel is armor. (I mean, if you think about it, the only use for armor is protection from physical attacks. It doesn’t protect from the heat or the cold, it’s often heavy and cumbersome, and typically a bitch to try to sleep in.) Adventuresses such as pirates, sorceresses, scouts, and rogues often adventure without armor and manage to get the job done. The important part is that these outfits fit the character’s particular role.

And none of this is to say that women characters can’t end up in a fight wearing less-than-practical attire. Sometimes adventure catches heroines unprepared and they have to save the world in their street clothes, evening gown, or bathrobe. Sometimes enemy insurgents start a riot during a parade and the Lady General must help quell it in her officer’s cuirass with the sculpted breastplate. Or the healer gets abducted in her sleep and has to break out of the enemy dungeon in her nighty. Or orcs attack the town while the Paladin is in her bath and she’s forced to battle the unwashed hordes wearing a towel. I mean, armor and many other types of adventuring apparel take time to don and sometimes even the most prepared heroines don’t get the chance to prep their battledress, so I don’t think this is impossible to realistically portray in a story. But I feel like in most scenarios when a competent woman fighter is prepping for the coming adventure, her clothing and travel attire will be the first thing she considers before stepping out her door. To assume otherwise is kind of insulting to competent heroines everywhere.

I’ll leave off with one of my favorite cartoons on the topic:

There are so many thing wrong with that outfit...

By Grace Vibbert (Milesent) for SCA.

Quick examples of smartly-dressed heroines in webcomics (in my opinion, anyway):

Also, here’s a quick list great articles, image galleries, and blog posts I found on the topic:

Romance in First Empress

doorway

One of the troubles I’m finding with writing romance is that there is very little that can be said or done that hasn’t been said or done before. I have thus come to the conclusion that I’m simply not experienced enough a fiction writer to adequately and believably portray romantic drama. While there will be romances between various characters in First Empress, I have no intent of making any of these vital to the central conflicts.

In fact, I think in general, I’m not going to go out of my way to create much in the way of romantic drama—sexual tension, absolutely, but romantic drama, not really. Drama and arguments between couples always feel very cliche to me, and I don’t know how to make them not cliche. And as such tension and conflict are not necessary to advance the story, I see no reason to bother with it. Likely there will be assorted love scenes over the course of the story—how explicit those will be I haven’t decided yet.

By way of examples, Ronnius—the queen’s steward—and his wife, Tanna, marry only a few chapters into the story, and were sneaking around behind their families’ backs to be together well before the story even begins, and thus there’s no real need for extra drama. Similarly, I opted to have Captain Vola‘s marriage to General Derron, the queen’s military adviser, be a healthy marriage. Pella, the four-armed girl and Zahnia‘s best friend, eventually marries a very talented Deaf sculptor. I like the idea of him being Deaf because the image of a four-armed woman using a sign language delights me to no end. One of the tragedies of Zahnia’s character is that because she doesn’t age, she essentially is stuck in the body of a nine-year-old until she dies. Because of this, romance is a pleasure denied to her. She’ll never develop the hormones necessary for sexual enjoyment. And while sex is by no means necessary for a healthy romantic relationship, I think Zahnia is justified in her discomfort with the idea of kissing and cuddling with someone who is comfortable kissing and cuddling a nine-year-old.

The romance most central to the overall story is that of the Queen Viarraluca and her handmaid Elissa. When first setting out to write First Empress, I knew going in that one of the tragedies of “immortal” mortals is that everyone they care about must eventually die while they go on alone. From the very start I’d intended for Viarra to have a true love who she must inevitably watch die. I had two or three potential characters in mind, initially considering giving her sort of a “Prince Albert” figure—someone who not only functions as a lover, but as a teacher and mentor. I eventually abandoned this idea, however, because the situation of Viarra suddenly assuming the throne, then having to fight a war two chapters later required a greater amount of independence in her character than what made sense if she was dependent on some mentor to help her make these decisions.

It was when I was fleshing out Elissa’s character that I discovered the handmaid’s private lust for her queen. While it was unintended, a lot of things clicked into place for me at that point. Granted, in my later stories Viarra marries and has children with various men over the centuries, but there’s absolutely no reason why her first love couldn’t be a woman. More than anything, I want readers to view the Queen and handmaid’s relationship as sweet and beautiful. I don’t want their love to be seen as lewd or salacious. I hope that readers will admire them, cheer for them as they stay strong through difficult times, and mourn with them as Elissa ultimately passes on and Viarra must go on without her.

The background that I’ve set up for my leading couple is that Elissa was a slave taken from the north as a girl and given at seven years old to the five-year-old Princess Viarraluca. As the little princess has only brothers, Elissa almost immediately becomes the closest she has to a sister. The intelligent and precocious Viarra even secretly teaches Elissa how to read and write. While I haven’t fully decided on all of the circumstances surrounding their mutual attraction, I did decide a while back that it works better for them to have acted upon and established their feelings for each other prior to the beginning of the story. Though I don’t reveal it right away, Viarra and Elissa are already lovers when the prologue starts. I simply decided that even if I am capable of writing a convincing “coming out” scene between them, it wouldn’t add anything new to either character and would most likely distract from the rest of the story.

I establish early on that Elissa is not pretty. She’s skinny and plain—about as humble a human being as can exist without her being self-deprecating. I don’t think Elissa completely understands why Queen Viarra returns her affection, but the handmaid dutifully and modestly serves her beloved majesty in all things—lovemaking included. And while her modesty occasionally affects her judgment, I see Elissa as being reasonably intelligent. I think I kind of want readers to view the handmaid as being basically average in all things save humility—here she is clearly above average in all ways. I also want it to say a lot about Viarra’s character that she’ll reserve her deepest affection for this humble, skinny, plain slave woman, when the queen could have almost any man or woman in the kingdom.

The following scene is part of a conversation between the Queen and two of her other handmaids. While I have a tender, pillow-talk scene between Viarra and Elissa that I could have excerpted for the blog, I felt this chat did a better job of illustrating the Queen’s feelings for the handmaid, despite that Elissa is not present. In the scene, Viarra puts Gwynnet, one of the other handmaids, in her place for copping a superior attitude on learning of Elissa and the Queen’s liaisons.

Gods dammit, little fiend,” her majesty swore as Corsair leapt, claws out, from her lap to her shoulder, once again seeking her shiny earring. “Gwynnet, would you take this little monster from me for a while?” She held Corsair out to her at arm’s length. “Last time I wear earrings around you,” she told the troublesome kitten.

Corsair squirmed irritably and squeaked in protest as Gwynnet took him from her majesty’s hands. “I suppose I was just surprised to learn that you and Elissa were lovers,” Gwynnet ventured as she sat down, attempting to calm the annoyed kitten. “It’s just that she’s not…” she hesitated, trying to find the right words.

“Beautiful?” her majesty suggested. “Vivacious? My intellectual equal?”

“That wasn’t what I was going to suggest,” Gwynnet said, half in protest, half in embarrassment.

“No, but I could tell you were thinking it,” the queen replied. “And you’re not incorrect. But I’ve never met anyone like Elissa. On top of being the most loyal human being I’ve known, she’s the most humble and self-sacrificing. She serves me unquestioningly for no other reason than that she loves me. She asks no reward for her services, and in fact gets embarrassed and uncomfortable with any reward I offer. And she genuinely believes I can do anything I put my mind to. Her devotion is gratifying, yet humbling at the same time. Elissa drives me to prove to myself that I’m worthy of that devotion—without even realizing she’s doing it. I can’t imagine a better friend, lover, and confidante.”

Gwynnet stared down at the kitten on her lap, feeling humbled by the queen’s words.

Across the Peloponnese

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A while back, mostly for the heck of it, I was browsing ModDB.com just to see what kinds of modifications people had designed for games that I own. One of the best-looking I found was a Peloponnesian War mod for Battle for Middle-Earth II, of all games. I downloaded what they had and was really impressed with what they’d done, but I was disappointed at how little they’d done. Only the Spartans had been completed as a playable team. It was a beautiful mod, but it never made it to Beta because of apparent personnel conflicts with the designers. I remember laughing while reading the comments on the mod and seeing the debates about Sparta versus Athens. The most hilarious part was that the Spartan supporters, on the whole, were clearly the less educated and had the most misspellings and the poorest grammar, while the Athens side, again, on the whole, were clearly the more literate and articulate. While I’m sure it was a case of morons who thought 300 was an awesome movie versus people who actually study history, it was kind of a refreshing metaphor for the two main cities in the conflict itself.

But the fact that the debate was going on at all amused me to no end.

I always root for Athens when I read Thucydides’s History of the Peloponnesian War. I mean, I know that [Spoiler Alert] Athens loses in the end, but I dislike everything the Spartans stood for and tend only to root for them when against Darius (much the way I only root for the Jets when they play the Patriots). And I agree with many historians that Athens could likely have prevailed had they not gotten spanked so badly in that ill-advised siege against Syracuse. (F***ing Alcibiades. I hope when the rat-bastard got to Hades, his punishment was an eternity being beaten with a bicycle chain by Pericles. I don’t care that bicycles didn’t exist back then.) I’ve studied the aftermath of the war and know a bit about the Spartan misrule of Greece following the fall of Athens’s empire. Makes it easy to root for Philip of Macedon when he takes over a couple generations later.

Recently, my excitement about the upcoming release of Total War: Rome II has been tempered somewhat by the announcement that they’re releasing Sparta as a playable faction in one of the DLC. My trouble is that since, historically speaking, Sparta hadn’t been a power-player for over 200 years leading up to the rise of the SPQR, releasing Sparta as a faction is a bald-faced attempt to pander to the masses of wankers who think they know everything about Ancient Greece just because they watched 300 once for every Spartan.

As I discussed in a previous post, when studying Ancient Greece, it’s important to keep in mind that the Greeks didn’t have a concept of “good versus evil”—at least not as we think of it. Our concept of “good and evil” is a modern evolution of the Judeo-Christian concepts of moral correctness. It continues to surprise me how many people don’t get that these concepts are newer and less universal than they realize. During Ancient Greek times, Christianity didn’t exist and Judaism was only practiced by this little, backwater kingdom bordering on Ancient Phoenicia. (I’m always amazed at how many people ignore the time frame on this.)

The closest the Greeks had to a concept of “good versus evil” was actually much closer to “order versus chaos.” Orderliness, civilization, intellectualism—Greek-ness (Hellenism)—were all valued as “good” by the Greeks, while disorderliness, brutishness, emotionalism—barbarism—were all considered “bad” (not necessarily “evil”). What intrigues me is that one of the key cultural conflicts between the Spartans and Athenians was their respective definitions of the concept of “order.” The Spartans saw order as being achieved through military might and physical prowess. To them, the Athenians were of the foppish persuasion, pursuing frivolous intellectual activities. Meanwhile, the Athenians saw order as being achieved through intellectual pursuits, such as law and philosophy. To them, the Spartans were brutes and thugs—the jocks of the ancient world, really—a city of meat-heads with a lot of muscle and a certain predatory cunning, but no real ability to rationalize.

Honestly, I agree with the Athenians.

If one takes the time to pick apart the battle of Thermopylae, it’s not hard to realize that Sparta’s presence in the fight was fairly unnecessary. Firstly, there were more than just Leonidas’s three hundred Spartans present. According to Herodotus, there were well over 5,000 Greeks present at the battle (though other sources suggest a higher number. And even on the third day when they discovered they’d been outflanked and most of the army retreated, around 1,100 soldiers from Thespiae and Thebes stayed to defend the pass to the death.

Secondly, a smaller army using a bottleneck to stop a larger army was hardly a new and original tactic even in Leonidas’s day. The Greeks had been clogging their mountain passes with spearmen for centuries, and I rather doubt they were the first to try it. Additionally, I doubt that Persia had never encountered such a tactic before. I don’t have the extensive research that other historians have, but I suspect that the true problem lay in the fact that the Persians were used to unclogging bottlenecks by raining curtains of arrow fire upon the defenders. Against eastern spearmen, this would have worked perfectly, as they generally had no armor and only weak shields. Because the Greek hoplites had heavy shields and as good of armor as existed at the time, the arrows were thus rendered useless. I posit that any group of hoplites could have held that pass against the Persian army.

I think it’s also important to realize that the entire defense could have come crashing down much sooner had it not been for the intervention of Themistocles and the Athenian navy. Had the Persians managed to move their navy behind the Greek lines to disembark troops, they could have surrounded the defenders and overwhelmed them on the first day. Had Themistocles (who was far more BAMF in his way than Leonidas could have hoped to be) and his fleet not held the Persians off for those three days, there would have been no Athens, no Sparta, and no Greece. Democracy would have suffered sudden-infant-death syndrome and the foundation of western culture and history would never have come to be.

So anyway, rant over. Go Athens.

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Further reading:
The Histories, by Herodotus
The Peloponnesian War, by Thucydides
Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea, Thomas Cahill

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.

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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…)

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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.

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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:

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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.

Shoe Drawings

A while back I found my shoe drawings from my sophomore year at Boise State. At the time I thought well, these would be cool to put up on the blog. It’s too bad my scanner isn’t big enough. A friend finally suggested the obvious: take pictures of them with my digital camera and upload them to the blog.

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Chalk and Charcoal. These were for the Advanced Drawing Methods course I took in college. The instructor brought in a box of black leather shoes, had us set them on large pieces of white paper and draw them with charcoal, using chalk for the reflections.

The downside to using photos is that I can’t adjust the size or resolution very effectively. Thus it’s not really possible to tell how big these drawings are. They’re actually quite large, done on 18″ by 24″ drawing paper. I’ve thought about doing others like these, but haven’t gotten around to it just yet. I remember them being kind of fun to draw—if messy.

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