“Legends come about when truth is considered too implausible.”
“Impatience is a thing of mortality arising from the inner workings that tell us that time is life drawing death ever nearer; but an immortal knows the future will arrive and may wait more patiently a thousand years than any mortal can wait a thousand breaths.” – The Cardinal
In the far northern reaches of the Highlands of Scotland a Pictish tribe, with their language of peat, stone and sea, ally together with a strange kingdom of mist, sky and whispers. As a foe of axe, smoke and leather descend upon them in longships from the north and they are scattered in defeat, will those left behind ever find those wrenched from their arms? Will those slaves taken by the Vikings ever find their way to freedom and home or not? Either way life will never be the same again.
More than a thousand years later their lives, deaths and fates are brought to light by an archaeological team who uncovers the find of a lifetime… of a thousand lifetimes. The more they discover the more perplexing it becomes; their finds challenge our very understanding of what it means to be human, and the assumption that myths are groundless and history is fact. That we are not alone in the universe is one thing; that we are not alone on this earth is another thing entirely.
As with any novel I write, research is central; I’m meticulous, even though perhaps only a fraction of that research makes it into the final cut. It must serve the plot at the end of the day, and not become a history or trivia lesson! For the Cardinal, I refreshed my knowledge of archaeology (terminology of course, but also the latest techniques, equipment, etc.), the Norse, the Picts, geography, geology, the average size of a human casket, ships (clinker-built, yachts, shipping times, ports, etc.), and the list goes on and on. My research took me to the Highlands of Scotland where I spent two weeks taking in the atmosphere, talking with locals, researching, walking the hills and shores, and reminding myself of all of the sensations of my home-away-from-home; that trip had the added bonus of finding the souterrain, which fit in perfectly with an element of my story and gave me an additional anchor in reality. I also spent a few weeks in Norway again, and spent two days in the Avaldsnes area hanging out in the longhouse, taking in every sensation, and picking the brains of the enthusiastic museum curators.
For the most part, any historical figures that appear in the book were real characters from the pages of history; for example: John Fleming, though not an orphan, was born in 1785 and was both a natural scientist and a theologian. Moriel’s account of her encounter with the Varangians is taken from the Skylitzes Chronicle, which covers the reigns of the Byzantine emperors from 811 to 1057, and is a direct use of a woman’s tale told therein from 1038. Sir Joseph Paxton (1803-1865) was the designer of the Crystal Palace, which was built for the Great Exhibition of 1851; it was destroyed by fire in 1936, but remains a symbol of the Victorian Age. Sentaro and the story of the man who did not wish to die is a Japanese fairytale. Countless minute details in the book are authentic, sprinkled throughout to give depth, realism and a sense of time and place, whether Norwegian kings, the vegetation of a region, the daily activities of a people group, their housing, clothing, or – as far as my abilities reach and was suitable for a modern readership – their mentalities and language.
Sometimes artistic license is needed to extrapolate historical material; one example is a scene set in Norway at what I’ve called the “Leirvik Nines” in which nine each of several male species, including men, were hung in a religious festival as sacrifices: It was based on the historical enneadic festivals that took place in Leire, Denmark and Uppsala, Sweden, where they were much larger in scale (with the amount of sacrifices being nine per day of each species!). I reasoned that there must have been other temples and locations of such pagan worship at the time, and chose Leirvik for its convenient location amidst the fjords of western Norway. The same extrapolation was used in constructing the Pictish clan of my novel: Most Picts were Christian by that time, but I reasoned that there were likely a few hard-headed chieftains who refused to give up the old ways, just as there were in Norway when Christianity became the official religion there. There are also several myths, legends and fairy tales that are interwoven and challenged: Is what we think we know about such things accurate or not? Did they have an original element of truth that has gotten buried over time and the telling? The quote by G.K. Chesterton (above) was perfect for this novel!
The Cardinal weaves together the past and the present; the upheaval and violence of the ancient past left footprints in the boggy mud of time which become archaeological treasure troves of the present. But not all is as it seems, and sometimes those people you think you know best can surprise you the most.
Some Impressions from the Novel
Scattered throughout the landscape of my novel are objects or natural elements that my wider readership may not be familiar with; here is a short list – if you find something else in the novel that you’re unfamiliar with, enjoy learning about something new!
Cast of Characters
Here are a few characters from the book; when I’m developing a character, I want to find just the right face, especially for the main characters; it helps me keep on track with description, and might inspire me with a certain attitude for the character, or a quirk. [Sketch credit: Photofunia]