Marshal vs the Assassins

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By , November 21, 2013

In 1197, the Marshal—Sir William the Marshal—stormed a French castle single-handed. He was fifty years old.
 
A respected commander, past his best as a combatant, the Marshal had stood by and watched while King Richard Lionheart hurled his men at the ramparts. Two knightly storming parties weathered a rain of arrows, stones, lumps of wood, hauled themselves to the top of their ladders, took on the flails, forks and spears of the defenders. One of the ladders broke. Thousands of pounds of men and maille thudded into the ditch.
 
The other party retreated, all except for Sir Guy de la Bruyere, trapped at the top of the ladder—the defenders had him hooked by his maille. He could only keep his shield up while they hammered at him with flails, and archers peppered his armour.
 
The Marshal draws his sword, leaps down into the ditch, slithers through the mud. Shafts buzz past, ping off his helm. Long-limbed, he takes the ladder like an iron-skinned spider.
 
King Richard—the man who led the beach assault at Jaffa, crossbow in one hand, Danish axe in the other—wants to go after him. His advisors hold him back; Leave the crazy old knight to his fate, they tell him. We need to regroup and attack properly, or not at all.
 
The Marshal reaches Sir Guy, climbs over him, vaults onto the battlements. A single greybeard, outnumbered, out-of-puff, surrounded by a mob of men with spears and flails. How will this end?
 
Badly for the defenders.
 
The Marshal strikes to the left and the right, clears the parapet. He stands in the midst of the carnage, gasping for breath. He’s too old for this game.
 
Sir William de Monceaux, the young constable of the castle, sees his chance to win fame.  He charges over the blood-slick wall walk and lays into the greybeard. The Marshal cleaves his helmet with a single blow. The blade passes through the maille and padding beneath, shears into the scalp, throws the young knight unconscious to the stones.
 
Tired now, the Marshal sits on the downed man and waits for the rest of the army to join him.
 
#
 
And that was the Marshal at the age of fifty. At seventy he led the charge into Lincoln, carved his way through the bodyguard of the French captain. What must he have been like in his thirties when he went to the Holy Land?
 
More to the point, what did he get up to while he was there?
 
His rollicking contemporary biography, The History of William Marshal gives us a blow-by-blow account of his career. He’s pretty much a posh William Thatcher from the movie Knight’s Tale, working his way up from nothing via the tournament circuit (only with more fatality and less Rock and Roll). Then in 1183 his patron died, and the Marshal took ship for the Holy Land. All the History tells us is that he stayed there for a couple of years and did great deeds.
 
What great deeds?
 
The Marshal arrived too late for the main 1183 campaign—no glorious battles, that one anyway. By 1187, he’d been home for at least a year, so was not there when the Crusaders rode out to their doom at the Horns of Hattin.
 
However, we have a record of one feat of arms for the very end of 1183. It was the kind of crazy stunt only the Marshal could have pulled off, and therein lies the genesis of M. Harold Page’s new SideQuest, Marshal vs the Assassins.

This standalone SideQuest is out now via 47North.

Authors and Arthur

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By , November 13, 2013

When you propose to write an epic martial arts adventure set in Medieval Europe, you can’t be blithely unaware of the nascent emergence of the code of chivalry, which is indelibly tied to the romantic stories of the Knights of the Round Table. The Mongoliad Cycle is set in years surrounding the Mongolian invasion of 1241, and when we decided to introduce a perfectly coifed and mannered knight named Percival, we did so being fully aware of the time period. And when you drop a knight named Percival into an epic adventure, you have to address the legacy of this name.

During one of the early conversations in the writers’ room, we had floated the idea that our Percival was the historical personage who the early romance writers based their character on. It felt like a nice little in-joke, but then someone did a date check and we realized that Chrétien de Troyes, who is credited with one of the earliest versions of the Percival story, had done so some sixty years earlier. Early in the 13th century, the German knight Wolfram von Eschenbach had written his romance, Parzival. The joke was on us, and we considered changing the name until Greg Bear offered the suggestion that perhaps there was a Percival in every generation. It was one of those quick fixes that writers come up with—a bit of spackling over a rough spot—and in an emotionally charged scene following one of the first encounters with the Mongols, our Percival has a religious experience. He receives a vision, and this vision haunts him throughout the journey to the East.

In our initial presentation of the Foreworld Saga, our focus has been on the heretofore neglected martial arts of the West. We have sought to bring to life the rich and varied fighting arts that are now being rediscovered and enthusiastically explored by numerous study groups around the world. But our underlying foundation of Foreworld has always been a crypto-pagan mythic structure. One that Percival glimpsed a portion of during his experience in the woods; one that lay underneath the life and death of Genghis Khan. And now, with Katabasis and Siege Perilous, the remaining two volumes of the Mongoliad Cycle, the mystery of the sprig and the cup come to the forefront. It all hinges on the knight for all seasons—the singular one born of every generation: Percival, the knight of the Grail.

It doesn’t end here, either. Next year, Mrs. Pankhurst’s Amazons, a graphic serial written by Tony Wolf and drawn by Yasmin Liang, will be released. It takes place in Victorian England and stars Mr. Bartitsu himself, Edward Barton-Wright, and his liberated niece Persephone Wright—“Persi” as she is known to her friends . . .

[Katabasis is out now via 47North. Siege Perilous will be out in January of 2014.]

[This post originally appeared on the Kindle blog.]

Foreworld at Jet City Comic Show

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By , November 1, 2013

This weekend is the Jet City Comic Show in Tacoma, Washington, and Foreworld will be there. Neal Stephenson and Mark Teppo will be participating on a panel at 12:00 PM where they’ll be doing a Q & A with Alex Carr, the Senior Editorial Lead at Jet City Comics (Amazon Publishing’s comic book arm). What they’re going to show off is the Graphic SideQuests line of Foreworld stories. Symposium is the first, but there are three others coming soon. Drop by and get an exclusive look at some of the art for The Dead God, Cimarronin, and Mrs. Pankhurst’s Amazons.

Katabasis Release Day

By , October 29, 2013

Katabasis cover

It is release day for Katabasis, the fourth volume of The Mongoliad Cycle, and whereas the first three volumes followed the Shield-Brethren east into the land of the Mongols, Katabasis begins the long journey home. Herein lies the consequences of their actions, as well as the realization of many arcs that have been initiated in the various SideQuests over the last year. There is a vast crypto-pagan mythology that runs beneath the surface of Foreworld, and with Katabasis, you’ll start to get glimpses of what lies beneath. All of your favorite characters return (those who survived, that is), and we’ll see the return of our friend from Rus, left behind in Kiev . . .

Beside him, Nika stirred, as if she, too, had been released from the grip of some unspeakable glamour. He shivered, as the wind had shifted again and its breath was fiercely cold once more.

“Did you see . . .?” he asked, reluctant to put into words the vision he had witnessed.

“Aye,” Nika said, her voice as unsteady as his. “I saw the ghosts of my fallen sisters.”

“No,” Illarion said. “There were men, carrying heavy shields, like the Greek infantry once did. And . . . and there was an old woman.”

Nika stood close enough to him that he could make out her features in the starlit night. There was still a trace of fear in her face, but mostly Illarion saw a fierce determination in the Shield-Maiden’s eyes. “I only saw the faces of dead Skjalddis,” Nika said. Her throat worked and her eyes widened slightly.

“You have been keeping a vigil,” he whispered, realizing she had been lying to him earlier. “You’ve seen them before.”

“Every month,” she admitted. “When there is no moon.” Her eyes were bright now, tears reflecting starlight. “But I never saw the old woman,” she said. “Not until tonight.”

“Who is she?” Illarion asked.

Nika let loose a short bray of laughter, a cruel sound that was quickly swallowed by the night. “She showed herself because you were here,” Nika said. “You’re the one who summoned her.”

“Me?”

“Aye,” Nika said. “You stayed when the others left. You had family here. You are part of Rus. You have been down into the crypts and seen the grave of Saint Ilya. You know the stories.”

“They’re just stories,” Illarion protested.

Nika stepped closer to Illarion and peered into his eyes as if she were trying to see some flicker of light hidden deep within. “You know who she was,” she said softly. “From the stories. The witch with the leg of stone. The witch who knows what must be done.”

Illarion’s heart was pounding. He looked at Nika, and though he already knew the answer, he could not stop himself from asking, desperate that she should tell him otherwise.

“Nika,” he whispered, “what is it that must be done?”

“You must go north,” she replied. “That is where Baba Yaga has instructed you to go, and wherever you go, my sisters and I will follow.”

Tyr’s Hammer

By , October 25, 2013

This is the time of year for spooky stories, and the medieval version of the camp fire story was always tales of the Wild Hunt. Michael “Tinker” Pearce and Linda Pearce return to Foreworld SideQuests with Tyr’s Hammer, a story about the origins of the cold fortress in the north.

tyrshammer_cover

In this quick-witted and action-packed addition to The Foreworld Saga series, the leader of the Shield-Brethren has dispatched two of his men northward to secure land for a new citadel. When Tyr and his companion come upon the perfect spot, they discover that it is owned by Voldrun, a northern king with a questionable sense of justice. Although he welcomes the travelers, the king’s true motives eventually become clear. Determined to be compensated for his hospitality, Voldrun subjects the duo to several challenges, culminating in a game more dangerous than either warrior could ever have imagined. Steadfast and brave to the end, Tyr must draw upon all of his considerable skill and cunning as he endeavors to outwit the sly Voldrun and strives to secure a bright future for the order.

You can get yours here.

Symposium

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By , October 24, 2013

Did we mention we’re getting into comics? We are. The Amazon publishing team has launched a comic book imprint called Jet City Comics, and we’re happy to note that the first of several Foreworld Saga serials is available for your digital comic reading. There will be a trade edition bind-up later, for those (like myself) who like to put things on shelves.

The first serial is called Symposium and it is written by Christian Cameron and illustrated by Dmitri Bondarenko. Both hail from Toronto and have extensive backgrounds in the Western martial arts, though as you’ll see from the story, these two go back a ways from the Middle Ages. Symposium is the origin story of the Shield-Brethren, and it takes place in the 5th century BC when a group of disenchanted soldiers, having returned from Xenophon’s long march, start to talk of founding their own city . . .

symposium01_cover

ISSUE 1: As the soldiers of Greece return from war with Persia, they are greeted not as heroes but merely more mouths to feed. Athens is overflowing with the poor and desperate. For some of the former soldiers, this life is not why they fought. They crave adventure. They need money. More than anything, though, they long for purpose. One man may hold the answer: Plato. Not only is he versed in the art of philosophy, but he is no stranger to the art of martial combat. He believes there is a way to combine the two arts, creating a new way of life for the former soldiers.

symposium02_cover

ISSUE 2: While the conservative ruling powers of decadent Athens arrange to have them watched, four young men go to a dinner party with Plato—Xenophon, the king of Macedon; a pair of Spartans; and the most beautiful woman in Athens. The question on everyone’s mind: What form would an ideal city take?

The answer is a quest, and a dream . . .

Issues #1 and #2 are out now, and issue #3 will be out later this winter.

Brave New Worlds

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By , June 27, 2013

Amazon announced the launch of Kindle Worlds this morning, their fan fiction happy initiative that Foreworld is participating in. This means that fan fiction has an official home as well as a storefront mechanism whereby both fans and the universe owners can participate in sales of the fan fiction to interested readers. As the Foreworld Kindle World storefront opens with ten new stories in it, it should be evident that we like this idea, and as there is a great deal of terrain to explore in Foreworld, we think this is a great opportunity for everyone to get their hands dirty in Foreworld.

There’s a board on the Foreworld Forum that is specifically set up for discussion of creating fan fiction. It is our hope to build tools for the community to craft better content. As you can see from the Kindle Worlds storefront, there is a distinction between Canon and Kindle Worlds material. We’d like to see some of the Kindle Worlds material elevate itself up to Canon by its quality.

This is the next iteration of the original vision for The Mongoliad and Foreworld. We had some fan fiction previously, but difficulties with technology and an ungainly wiki got in the way of things. Hopefully, Amazon’s infrastructure will make the consuming of fan fiction easier, and we’ll get the wiki sorted out on our end.

All in all, ’tis a brave new world. Yes, it is. The place to get started creating Foreworld content is here.

Forum

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By , June 12, 2013

We have a forum. It’s been pretty quiet, and I’ve been waiting until Katabasis was turned in before posting the forum URL (which is, as you can probably guess: www.foreworld.com/forum). Now that the book has been sent to production, there’s no time like now to open the doors, especially since the mongoliad.com site has been shut down. There’s also a link in the menu bar so that you can find it readily in the future.

During the previous iteration of our grand transmedia adventure, we had a wiki and we had an open policy about fan fiction. We’d like to see that continue. Behind the scenes, we’re working on getting the wiki data from the previous site cleaned up and we’ll present a new wiki interface soon. As to fan fiction, well, there is this new initiative called Kindle Worlds . . .

German Version of The Mongoliad

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By , June 12, 2013

The first volume of The Mongoliad is now available in a German language edition (click on the cover below if you’d like to visit the Amazon.de site). They’re sticking with the same cover art, but the insides&emdash;oh, the insides, they are quite different.

The German edition joins the Spanish translation (done by RBA). There will also be Turkish and Polish translations later this year (and into the next).

Katabasis – Coming Soon

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By , June 11, 2013

We’ve turned in Katabasis, and given that it has a product page on Amazon now, I guess I can stop writing the name in all caps (the standard format for books that are still in code name status). And yes, it looks like Katabasis will be the title. I’m very pleased about this. I know it’s not exactly a word that rolls off the tongue, but we wanted something a little different. Katabasis, which will be the fourth volume of the Medieval Cycle of the Foreworld Saga, will out in time for Halloween this year.

Prior to that, the first volume of the SideQuest Adventurs will be out (late August, in fact). It collects three of the Foreworld SideQuests: The Lion in Chains, The Shield-Maiden, and The Beast of Calatrava. This will be the paperback version (though there will be an ebook edition too), which means those who have been waiting for the SideQuests to come out in print will be able to get a Foreworld fix prior to Katabasis in the fall.

There is one more volume scheduled for the Medieval Cycle, and it will land early next year. We have a number of other SideQuests still scheduled, and one more media type to launch this summer. Discussions continue with other media types, in the endless sort of fashion that they do. We’ll keep you posted.

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