A Week with the Dragon Eaters – Cas Peace

Welcome to Cas Peace and her character, another of the Dragon Eaters.

*Who are you? My name is Jorj and I am a veteran of the Crusades. I am a simple knight who followed his lord to the Holy Land to help liberate the City of God. We were told that this was our holy duty, that we would be venerated in heaven should we die in God’s service. But the evil I saw done there in God’s name repulsed me, tarnishing my faith and staining my soul. In shame I returned across the sea, my “holy duty” left undone. Now I am but a simple knight again, albeit with unquiet soul.

Why are you embarking on this quest? I was approached by a representative of the southern peoples of Britain, a people oppressed by the druids who once protected them. I heard disquieting facts that led me to believe the druids had harnessed a fell beast — a wyrm — and were using the demon’s power to increase their hold over the southern countryside. The king refused to help his people, who were growing desperate. I prayed, and my god sent me a sign. I hope to redeem my worth, and  my soul, by banishing the wyrm back to the netherworld.

*Tell us about dragons in your world. There have been many dragons and wyrms that have oppressed the British peoples. We have had so-called “true” dragons; that is, four-legged, two-winged monsters that could breathe fire. These are the toughest challenges for any dragon-slayer or knight and have been the bane of many a stout heart. Such creatures are much sought-out as their tendency is to hoard gold, ever the tempter of men. Many a reluctant dragon-slayer has been persuaded to the hunt by the lure of dragon gold. Some have even obtained that prize.

Fiercer even than the true dragon is the wyrm — serpentlike and tricksy, they hide in holes and their poisoned breath kills all around them. The blood of these demons can render anything bathed in it impervious to fire; even a man, so the legend goes. Brave — or foolhardy! — and damned, is the soul who captures a wyrm and drinks its blood.

And those in the land of the western Celt tell tales of a beast called a gwiber, a lesser sort of wyrm that drinks milk and can be placated by an offering of milk. A common snake that drinks the milk of a nursing woman may transform into a gwiber.

Do you see yourself as a hero? What is a hero? I do not see myself as a hero, although the peoples of southern Britain would doubtless say I am. To them, who had not the knowledge, nor skill, nor courage to fight the demon, I am a hero who saved them from oppression and death when no one else could. Their vision of a hero would doubtless be the knight on fiery steed who charges into battle with sword aloft, fierce of mien and doughty of hand, careless for the safety of self. To me, a hero is an ordinary person who performs extraordinary deeds for altruistic reasons — either for protection, or maybe to uphold some higher, noble cause. But does that, then, not refute my own assertion that I am not a hero? Yes, I answered the call to aid the defenseless peoples of southern Britain, and yes, I employed my skills as a knight and the might of my arm, and put myself in harm’s way. But I failed my God in the Holy Land, I allowed myself to be tainted by the evil I saw around me, and so forfeited the right to be a servant of my faith. I will begin again, and work my way up toward the Light, toward a state where I might, some time in the future if God is good, be worthy of the title of Hero.

Are there other such monsters in your world? Definitely. Medieval Britain is full of monsters.  There are reports of all kinds of dragons and wyrms, including the Afanc and the Nwyvre, both water dragons. There are beasties such as the kelpie, which inhabits the waters and lochs of Scotland and appears as either a horse or a hoofed human; there is the Demon of Dartmoor, a legendary black beast reported to be either a huge cat or some kind of monstrous dog; Cernunnos, sometimes called Herne the Hunter or the god of the Wild Hunt, a manlike creature with the antlers of a great stag; there is the rather disgusting alp-luachra, a newtlike creature which crawls down sleepers’ throats to eat some of their last meal; Gwyllgi, the terrifying Welsh dog of darkness; Dearg-Due, an Irish vampiress; there are also Hell Hounds, boggarts, ghouls, and fiends of many shapes and sizes. Britain has a history rich in such monsters.

Author questions :

*Who are you? I am Cas Peace, a Brit who loves to write fantasy novels. I live in Hampshire, in southern Britain, with my husband and two rescue dogs, Milly and Milo. I trained as a horse-riding instructor back in the 1970s and ’80s, and owned my own Welsh cob, which I used for carriage driving as well as riding. I used to compete in cross-country carriage trials and carriage-dressage. Now I’m a full-time author, editor and proofreader. I’m also a folk singer/songwriter, and have written unique folk-style songs to accompany each of the nine novels in my triple-trilogy fantasy series, Artesans of Albia. My other hobbies include country walking, growing cacti, working in stained glass, singing in my local church choir, and playing the bodhran.

Why did you choose this world/era to write in? I’ve always been fascinated by dragons, and of course, England’s patron saint, George, was one of the most famous dragon-slayers ever. I grew up seeing pub signs with George and the dragon on them, and became more fascinated since I learned that George wasn’t actually English! He was born in Lydda, Syria Palaestina, and served in the Roman army. He died a Christian martyr, hence his being adopted as England’s saint. Although there is a school of thought that believes it was another George entirely who was the basis for England’s saint. Whatever the truth behind the historical figure, I decided to base my Dragon Eater story on George, and make him a veteran of the Crusades, as it’s said that the legend of him slaying a dragon was brought back by Crusaders. Also, I’m interested in how the druids shaped their world and thought it’d be neat to combine the two into one story.

Have you written for anthologies before? How does it differ from writing a novel? I’ve written short stories before and had a few published, but I’ve never been part of an anthology or tried to write to someone else’s direction. I found it quite liberating in a way, because I didn’t have to come up with the actual premise; I merely had to decide how to interpret it, and that was the fun part. Also, I was well within my comfort zone with the genre of HEROIKA. I really enjoyed it and would definitely do it again.

Writing for an anthology differs from writing a novel in that you (obviously!) have constraints on your final word count. This means that although your story must still have a clear plot and structure, you must condense the action and be sharp and concise. I think that writing a successful short story is a separate art form from writing a novel, and both art forms must be learned and practiced in order to get them right. Often, writers are better at one form than the other — it’s rare to find someone equally skilled at both. They do exist, of course, and I would love to think I could eventually be thought of as a writer who can produce shorts as enjoyable as my novels. Time will tell!

Are you a plotter or a pantser? I’m definitely a panster, which is why I’m not sure if I’ll ever make a really good short story writer. I believe that careful planning is much more important in a short story, whereas I really like to get my teeth into an idea and simply let my pen and imagination hold hands and run away with each other. I dislike putting constraints on my characters, my emotions, or my dialogue as I write, and prefer to just scribble down what comes into my head. Then, once I feel comfortable that I have something worth working on, I will edit and hone and cut and edit some more to make my ramblings into some kind of sense. When I first began writing my Artesans of Albia series, I had no idea what I was doing. I’d never written a novel before (much less an entire series!) and had no intention of showing it to anyone or trying to get it published. That idea came much later, after I’d summoned the courage to let someone read it and been told I ought to offer it to a publisher. The ideas for the series came thick and fast while I was writing, too fast, sometimes, for me to get them down. Nothing was planned, nothing thought out, and if I got stuck I only had to go dog walking or let my mind wander for the solution to pop into my head. I found it kind of scary —that feeling of being taken over by something I had no control over. Scary and wonderful and exciting all at once. I doubt I’d get those feelings were I to try to plan a novel, so I guess I’ll just have to wait an see if it ever happens again!

Tell us one unusual fact about yourself. I don’t like rainbows. Actually, I’m not too happy about anything odd in the sky. Weird clouds and colors freak me out, especially when we lived in Italy and wind-blown Saharan sand turned the sky and air blood-red for a day. I hardly went outdoors, it was so spooky!

Tidbit:

Recipe: Dragú with wyrmicelli pasta.

Ingredients:

A good quality cooking oil

1lb extremely lean, minced dragon meat

1 red onion

1 garlic clove (the softneck variety ‘silverdragonskin’ is best)

1 carrot (‘drakeheart’ has good color and flavor)

1 celery stick

Handful of mushrooms (black dragonback are best, if you can get them)

Half a pint of meat stock

Tomatoes

One large glass of warm, spiced dragon blood

Large pinch of Artemisia dracunculus

Pinch of salt.

Fresh wyrmicelli pasta

Method:

Heat the oil, add the dragon meat and cook until brown. Add the onion and garlic, fry for 3 minutes. Add the carrot and celery. Add the mushrooms and Artemisia dracunculus, then add the stock. Once mixed, stir in the glass of spiced dragon blood. Bring to boil and simmer on low heat for 2 hours, stirring occasionally.

Cook the wyrmicelli until nicely al dente. Turn onto a plate and top with the dragú mix. Sprinkle with gorgon zola cheese and enjoy!

Author website/blog: http://www.caspeace.com   http://www.peacewrites.blogspot.co.uk

Twitter: @CasPeace1

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/cas.peace   https://www.facebook.com/artesansofalbia?ref=hl

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4180597.Cas_Peace

Amazon page: http://www.amazon.com/Cas-Peace/e/B0098KMASI

Fantasy….it’s everywhere – part 2 – St George and the Dragon

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Following on from my previous post about the pervasiveness of fantasy I have been thinking about this a lot. I am British, and Britain has a very rich heritage of myth and folklore; we have dragons, we have knights who slay them, we have mythical kings and magic swords, we have monsters inhabiting Scottish Lochs, we have fairies, pixies and ghosts aplenty, we have heroes and antiheroes.  Yet many people scoff at fantasy, thinking it is simply elves, dwarves or similar; a genre read by geeks and nerds. Well yes, in part it is, but fantasy and folklore have been with us from the dawn of time in one form or another.

Let’s look at one of the best known English myths – that of St George and the Dragon.

Most accounts claim St George was born in Cappadocia, in what is now Turkey, of Darian origin. He enlisted in the Roman army, and quickly achieved a reputation for his physical strength bravery, loyalty and courage and he achieved a rank of Tribunus Militum, in charge of over 1000 men. He was martyred during the reign Emperor Diocletian in 303 AD in Lydda, Palestine, for refusing to persecute Christians, when Diocletion brought in edicts against what was then a reasonably small but vociferous sect. Including the burning of churches, the destruction of holy scriptures and the execution of Christians. George defended the Christians and their faith and was imprisoned, tortured and executed. There are various accounts of is martyrdom, some claiming it took seven years as God restored him to life three times. His fame was carried as far as Russia, with his head was carried to Rome.   His emblem of the red cross on a white background was carried on the tabards and shields of crusader knights. It is also the flag of England and forms the red cross part of the Union Flag of Great Britain. St George is the patron saint of England, taking the role from St Edward the Confessor who is now often forgotten. His tomb attracted pilgrims, and his fame spread when Richard the Lionheart introduced his military cult to England during the crusades and the Battle of Acre, before this his cult appeared in Byzantium.  John Cabot carried his emblem to Newfoundland and both Sir Walter Raleigh and Francis Drake flew his standard. It was also carried by the Pilgrim Fathers on the Mayflower.

Jacobus de Voragine in his Golden Legends (13th Century) speaks of him in Silene in Libya. Another 10th Century account places St George in the fictional area of Lasia, ruled by a tyrannical emperor called Silinus. The area had a lake, inhabited by a venomous dragon, local inhabitants would feed it sheep to keep it passive, and then when these failed to satisfy it, children were chosen at random. One day the lottery fell on the king’s daughter, the king offers half his kingdom if his daughter was spared. This is an idea which appears in other mythology – the king – unable to defeat a monster offers his daughter and riches to a hero. St George, the knight, happened to be passing and wounding the dragon with his lance (and with God’s blessing)  then capturing the dragon with the princess’s girdle allowed it to be led by the noble lady to the city gates, where St George converted them to Christianity and duly slew the dragon.

In some accounts he was the son of an English Lord, Lord Albert of Coventry and his mother died in childbirth. The babe was stolen by a ‘wild-woman’ of the woods (possibly a witch or gypsy) but he eventually outwits her and becomes a knight. Of course after the slaying of the dragon and rescue of the princess he married the maiden, returned to England and lived happily ever after… Although as with many legends another version states he faces a second dragon, in Warwickshire, kills it but subsequently dies of its poison.

Of course this is a religious myth, and many would say not fantasy as such – the dragon represents evil, and those who slay them champions of Christianity. He is also believed to have protected horses from witchcraft – one should hang a flint with a hole over the stable door with verse depicting him vanquishing a hag. But there is more than religious allegory, he epitomised courtly and chivalrous values; he was a warrior, saviour of damsels in distress and vanquisher of monsters.  And some would say religion uses elements we class as fantasy, and ideas which appear in religion appear in myth and folklore. The two are intertwined. The more magical elements of the myth probably appeared after the Reformation, with the overtly Christian inferences stripped out by the Protestants and the more romantic elements of the story take the fore.

His heart (allegedly) lies in Windsor and was a favoured relic of King Henry V, who invoked him at the siege of Agincourt (1415), where the English were victorious against the French, but later kings have claimed his protection and as the patron saint of England his influence is firmly entrenched.   There are other local English myths – including one in an Essex village where a dragon (probably a crocodile escaped from the king’s menagerie) was killed by a local nobleman – one Sir George Marney.    The Uffington White Horse, in Berkshire, England (an ancient white chalk horse cut into the landscape) has a dragon myth.  There is a hill named Dragon Hill, is claimed by Thomas Hughes in his book The Scouring of the White Horse (1859) to have been the site of the slaying of the dragon by ‘King George’. The bare patch is supposed to be where the blood of the dragon spilled, nothing will grow. Hughes cites another region, Aller in Somerset, where a shepherd tells of a hill which saw the death of the dragon and the burial of its slayer. The horse at Uffington is itself curious being linked with Alfred the Great, (878 AD) Hengist the Anglo Saxon leader, Celtic (100BC) but in fact has been in existence since the Bronze Age – around 1000BCE. Brinsop in Herefordshire also claims ownership of St George – its parish church has a medieval carving of the deed being done. The dragon apparently residing in the local ‘Dragon’s Well’ and the next village being known as Wormsley – ‘worm’ or ‘wyrm’ being an alternate word for dragon.

http://www.royalsocietyofstgeorge.com/history_of_st_george.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_dragons_in_mythology_and_folklore

http://www.sacred-texts.com/lcr/fsca/fsca16.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_George_and_the_Dragon

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_Legend

More about other British dragons, warrior kings, magic swords, monsters, ghostly and iconic horses and myths from the folklore rich Isles of Britain next time.