Wednesday, October 17, 2012


An Iron Age Celtic Village  (St. Fagans Heritage Park, Cardiff, Wales)
When I started writing Dragons in the Sky back in the early '80's, I had a pretty good idea of how the story began. It started with me hearing the voice of the girl, Olwen, telling me her story, as if I was channeling Olwen. She is a young Celtic girl, raised by the Druids to become  priestess and medicine woman. The first chapters of the story came easily as I wrote down Olwen's words, sometimes using Bardic verse instead of regular prose chapters. She lives in a village called Caer Gwyn, much like the one in the above photo, located below a hill fort at the site of what is now called Old Sarum, on the Salisbury Plain. I've made a number of trips there to research and conjure Olwen's spirit.

Something dreadful happens at the Midsummer when Olwen is soon to be sent to the Holy Isle for her initiation.  The ricon's (tribal chieftain) renegade son, Sholto, has arrived at Caer Gwyn with a woman, the wife of another chieftain and a young boy he has taken as hostage from a rival tribe.  At the Midsummer Ceremony at the Great Stones, the angry warriors of the opposing tribes attack Caer Gwyn.  In the chaos that ensues when the village is set on fire, Olwen runs to the woods to hide and witnesses Sholto killing his younger brother Ned. He takes her as a hostage and heads south to the Narrow Sea where they take a boat across the Channel to the lands of the Belgae tribes. Olwen tries to alert the ship's boy that she is being held captive, and he tries to help her escape, but Sholto kills him.

They head off toward the east on horseback, crossing the lands of various other Celtic tribes until they reach the Alps, the country inhabited by the Helvettis, and continue on their journey.

As they proceed they meet a young warrior/hunter who tells Sholto that a king to the south is recruiting warriors for his army. This interests Sholto so he heads south, keeping a close eye on Olwen as she is his 'luck piece' because nobody dares to harm a Druid.  I know what happens once they reach Illyria, but it was the in-between part of the journey that has puzzled me.  So I have taken time to write out a rough plot of the possible things that might happen along the way, including several more escape attempts by Olwen.

I've decided to put some of it into Bardic verse rather than describe things step-by-step. The story, as told by Olwen, is written in a poetic cadence. One thing I've decided is that, having been held a captive for so long (it would take them a couple of months to cover the territory), she likely developed what is known now as "the Stockholm syndrome" where a captive becomes somehow 'attached' to their captor.  I also can see her using magic and her skills with herbs and medicines, to help her survive the arduous and sometimes frightening journey. But it was Sholto that was causing me some concern. Although the story is in Olwen's voice, I still need to make it clear what his intention are, what is he hoping to achieve on this journey?  Hopefully I have that taken care of now with my ideas for the plot outline.  It has been quite a different writing journey for me after spending all that time writing Shadow of the Lion which was based on a historic plot.  Writing pure fiction is quite a lot trickier!

Celtic Warriors

Monday, October 15, 2012



Archaeologists have reported finding a tomb near Seres (close to Amphipolis, in Greek Macedonia)which could possibly be the grave of Alexander’s Soghdian widow, Roxana and her son Alexander IV (Iskander in my novel Shadow of the Lion)

For me, this is an exciting discovery because my novel deals with the murder of Roxana and Iskander at Amphipolis and the events leading up to it.  In the archaeologist report they say the boy was 12 years old. He was actually closer to 14 because he was murdered just before he was old enough to legally claim the throne.  His death, ordered by Kassandros, the villain of my story and enemy of Alexander, ended the Argead line to the throne and eventually the total end of Alexander’s dynasty.

Whether or not this is really the tomb of Roxana and Iskander is another archaeological mystery and it may take ages to unravel.  But I was excited at the publicity, because at this time my novel  is in the hands of an agent, and hopefully this find might generate new interest in that period of history.

I’ve visited Amphipolis on two occasions when I was researching the novel.  It is an interesting and even mysterious area. The first time I went there, as I walked up the road toward the site the sky suddenly darkened and a bolt of forked lightening zapped down right over the acropolis hill where the fortress had been.  At the point where a bridge once crossed the Strymon River that runs alongside the acropolis hill, there is a large stone lion – the grave marker of a soldier who was in Alexander’s army.  Where the bridge was located must be haunted, because that is where the Persian King Xerxes had nine girls and nine boys sacrificed to the river gods when the Persians were invading Greece in the 5th century BC. 

On my second visit to Amphipolis I went right up to the top of the hill, through the new town, and found the fortress ruins.  There were new digs there – to my surprise and delight they had discovered the original walls beneath the ones built by the Romans. When I was wandering around and asked the guard at the site about them he wouldn’t give me any information but I knew that’s what they were.  As I walked down the hill from the fortress below the walls, planning the escape route Iskander and his friend Orion would take, on the path ahead of me were the swirling marks left by a snake.  There’s vipers in those hills. I took it as an omen of some kind.
Amphipolis acropolis
To me, the spirits were very real around Amphipolis, beginning with that lightening bolt I saw on my first visit and ending with the marks of the serpent on my last.  A tragic event had happened there with the murder by poison of Roxana and Iskander, after they had been held captive for five years by Kassandros, on the pretext that he was keeping them safe from harm until the boy could claim the throne.  The finding of this tomb and all its possibilities is an exciting turn of events for me.

Then there’s a question:  If it IS the tomb and they find remains in it, whose remains are those in the silver funery urn in Vergina’s Royal Tombs?  They were found inside the small tomb next to the one allegedly King Philip’s which is marked “Tomb of the Macedonian Prince”.  When I questioned the archaeologist on site he said they believe it to be the tomb of Alexander IV.  Those bone fragments in the urn would be his, along with all the funeral offerings found in the tomb which included a pair of greaves, too large for a boy of 14, which I imagined might have been Alexander’s as a youth (grave offerings were not necessarily the belongings of the deceased).  I’d asked the archaeologist if they might do DNA testing on the remains against those of the bones that are supposedly Philip’s. He thought it was an interesting questions, but said the remains in the urn were too fragmented (powdered?) to do testing.  But now, I wonder...
Whose ashes are in this funery urn?
The only other Macedonian prince who lived at that time was Alexander's illegitemate son, Herakles, who would have been about four years older than Iskander.  He and his mother were murdered after the deaths of Roxana and Iskander, part of Kassandros's scheme to kill all living remnants of Alexander's family (including his sister, Kleopatra).