Hanging Guns on the Wall

By , February 20, 2013

When we started The Mongoliad, we had a few conversations about whether we were writing a secret history or an alternate history, as well as a lengthy digression or two as to the difference. It’s a fine line, really, and I’m sure we’ll cross it a few times during the Foreworld Saga, but the main distinction comes down to whether a story maps to existing history or diverges wildly. Oddly enough, it would seem that we’re mappers—archeologists, detectives, and amateur historians. We like to explore the dusty edges of history and ask what if? when we find places where the stories don’t quite come together.

The first what if? was to extrapolate on the death of Ögedei Khan, building the basis for what would be The Mongoliad. Along the way, we dug into the dusty archives of 1241 and discovered a few other interesting stories—notably the story of the sede vacante in Rome. Cardinals imprisoned in an abandoned temple, forced to vote for the next Pope, a man who was Pope for only two weeks and then died, but not before performing a single important act as the head of the church. How could we not fold this in to our narrative?

The Mongoliad is, in many ways, a fairly straight forward narrative. The Shield-Brethren have a plan; they go on a long ride wherein hijinks ensue; they attempt to execute that plan. We built it as a year-long serial adventure, and along the way we made sure to leave some hooks from which we could hang other narratives.

(It’s an old riff on something Anton Chekhov once said: never hang a gun on the wall if you’re not planning on firing it.)

Long form narratives—and mostly, I’m referring to television serials—tend to be written with an awareness of the long term plan and some awareness of the short term paths that will be followed, which is why you’ll see narrative opportunities planted early on. Not all of them will be taken up by the writers, but they’re there, right? You hang a number of guns; when you need one, it’s there for the taking. The trick is, of course, not putting so many guns on the wall that you forget the texture of the wallpaper.

With the SideQuests, we’re using some of those hanging guns, and we’re putting others up on the Foreworld wall as well. When it came time to write The Beast of Calatrava, I had two notes to work from: set the story in Iberia and 1212. As I started to do research on both the place and time, it was like stumbling upon a hidden cache of guns to hang on the wall.

  • Prince John sent an envoy to Muhammad al-Nasir with an offer to make England a Muslim kingdom in exchange for various concessions. The story is sourced back to Matthew of Paris, who was the medieval version of National Enquirer, so take this story with a grain of salt, but you can see the what if? potential, can’t you?
  • Sancho VII of Navarre was Berengaria of Navarre’s older brother. Berengaria was married to Richard the Lion-Heart. Berengaria’s role in Lion in Chains is minor, but important in that gun hanging sense.
  • Did you know that Cistercian leader Arnaud Amalric was the one who coined the phrase “Kill them all; let God sort them out”? It was said during a campaign in 1209, a few years before he lead a large party of Templars into Iberia.
  • These Templars weren’t too happy about not being able to loot wantonly as they moved south. As a result, they took their toys and went home, leaving the Castilian and Navarese armies woefully outnumbered by the Almohad army massing on the other side of the Sierra Morena.

Most sources report that the Christians were led through the Sierra Morena by an unnamed shepherd, and the big what if? that powered The Beast of Calatrava was to give that shepherd a name. Once he had a name, he needed some back story, and the rest is, well, Foreworld history.

The Beast of Calatrava is out now from 47North. You can get it here.

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