Songs of the Small World
A magical realist, quasi-historical legend of the loss and redemption of innocence, told in part through an allegorical fusion of Norse and Celtic mythology.
It’s not hard to see that this is just the biggest, most magical and yet most humane story of wild adventure that I could possibly imagine – which is quite therapeutic, believe me, everyone should try this – and if it seems implausible and unpublishable, derivative or cliched, well, at least I can read it to my kids!
A young squire of the Teutonic Knights of Jerusalem, Konrad Bak, escapes from the fall of Akra, last stronghold of the Christian Holy Land, and makes an epic seven-year journey to his ancestral home in Denmark. On the way his destiny becomes magically entwined with that of Anne Wynne, an English noblewoman also fleeing the fall of Akra, and of Gustav de Boigne, a Frankish vagabond adventurer.
The three central characters are teenagers roughly the same age, about fourteen when the tale begins. Lost in a hostile world, their fate continually separates and reunites them in a maze of loss and rediscovery that cements their friendship and eventual love for each other. Their journey alternates between the historical world of the Middle Ages and a parallel Otherworld where the bond between them is further entangled in mysteries, leading ultimately to a realisation of their true destinies and identities.
Over the course of seven years they are many times separated and reunited, finding and losing each other, rescuing and imperiling each other, buying each other in slave markets or losing each other in routs. When they are together they struggle with the choice of their separate destinies, to return home to Denmark, England or France by the many possible land and sea routes across Europe. When apart, the sense of loss becomes mythic – they seek each other with a growing desperation that in the end carries them beyond the world, via doors in the Celtic otherworld, across the universe. Discovering who they are, they realise they cannot part, and together they create a final destiny that has nothing to do with who they thought they were.
The villain of the story is an Ulster buccaneer called Rydearg who they encounter again and again throughout the seven-year epic. Rydearg is emblematic of violence and cruelty against children in particular, but he is only one of many such monsters, human and otherwise, that the three heroes must face on the journey. In his life of violence Rydearg has lost his left eye, hand and foot. He is a formidable adversary, a relentless survivor with a bitter black heart.
Faced with such enemies, the lives of Konrad, Anne and Gustav become an accidental quest against the enslavement and brutalisation of children, a quest which ultimately fails as the violence of the journey and their childhood’s end lead to their own loss of innocence. Through a semi-historical retelling of the tragedy of the Children’s Crusade, it emerges that Rydearg also was once a brutalized child, and the story of his corruption is repeated in the destiny of the three heroes.
Through the journey the three friends grow to adulthood, their loss of innocence redeemed by their emerging adult capacity for love and loyalty. In the end, having lost their faith in humanity, they realise that they still believe in themselves and each other. This discovery illuminates their emerging mythical identities, and brings them to an eventual homecoming as legendary kings and queens of their own destiny.
Above all the story is a cracking yarn of adventure and mystery laced with magic and mythology. In fast-moving episodes the heroes experience all the dangers and adventures that the mediaeval landscape, its peoples, sects and mythologies, can throw at them: through shipwrecks and deserts, barren mountains and wild forests, walled cities and monasteries, they meet and befriend or confront and outwit an array of Saracens, Templars, Assassins, pirates, ascetic priests, berserk barbarians, and all the castes, classes and guilds of the medieval world, across the untamed lands of the Middle-east, Asia Minor and Europe.
The seven years of the journey are told in seven cycles or books, structured principally on epicyclic stories of the three friends finding and losing each other, and secondarily on the four seasons that effect the chances and perils of a wandering life. The seven cycles all begin and end differently; in some the lead characters are separated, in others they are reunited, at the start or finish of each story.
The winter season is crucial as the turning point and crux of the challenge in each cycle. Winters involve varying stories of survival, loss and redemption: wandering in vagrancy, cloistered in a monastery, homeless in a great city or bound in imprisonment, a crucial quest or some bitter military campaign. Spring and autumn highlight the beauty and ethereal qualities of the young Anne Wynne – she vanishes, or returns, in the spring or autumn – while summer bears the strength and vitality of the young men’s adventuring as legendary friends and occasional enemies: their desert-crossings, dragon-slayings and villain-thwartings, or the rapture of battle and slaughter with sword and lance.
Together and apart, the heroes encounter and conquer many increasingly mythical dangers: lost spirits, medieval vampires, mountainous giants and other elements of myth that provide the challenges by which they grow. These magical adventures begin and end with Anne, seemingly expressing her sole destiny but continually drawing in Konrad, who wins Anne’s heart through a combination of courage, accident and the difficult discovery of personal love in an era of chivalry before such notions existed. Gustav shares in their mythic and romantic adventuring with an ironically cheerful and stoically human outlook, relying mostly on his sword and an accumulating stock of armour. He is a dangerous rock of plain humanity who frequently saves his friends’ lives or as often inadvertently tips them into deeper peril.
The central mystery of the story rests on the character of Anne, who from the start is ethereal and mystical, an incognito fairy caught in the fall of the human world. Her true identity emerges in stages over the seven years, and in the end she arises in glory as an aspect of Aine, the Celtic goddess of love and fertility. A fearsome enemy of rapists, her quest against the corruption of innocence is abstracted by her own loss of innocence, her rape, the passion of her underlying personality, and the fury of her revenge.
Similarly the true identities of Konrad and his friend or competitor Gustav emerge through the seven years: Konrad becomes associated with Conaire Mor, a legendary High King of Ireland whose stories are retold in allegory, in particular the many taboos imposed on him, such as the ban on his killing of birds, and his naked march to claim a Kingdom. Gustav, who competes violently for the love of Anne and for the lead heroism of the epic, emerges as an aspect of Aonghus, Celtic god of love and therefore related in spirit to Aine. In legend Aonghus is always associated with birds, so his fate is dramatically entangled with that of Konrad as Conaire Mor. It eventually transpires that he is in fact their son, in the same sense that Eros (Cupid) is the child of Venus and Mars.
Other significant storyline figures also undergo changes in identity. A mentor figure, the Turkish nobleman Talessin al-Khan, emerges finally as the legendary Celtic seer-bard Taliesin. Rydearg himself is revealed as an Irish Fomorii, the one-eyed, one-handed, one-legged sea-monster Searbhan.
The identities of the central characters, initially Danish, English, French, Turkish and Irish, are thus gradually transformed over seven years into significant figures of Celtic legend and mythology. The transformation is accomplished largely through the resolution of mysteries that confront Konrad in dreamlike journeys into the Otherworld and beyond: he encounters Anne, Gustav and other storyline characters in epic guises of myth and legend, and gradually pieces together the mystery of their identity and his own.
By the seventh book the heroes find that their destiny is so closely shared, their love and loyalty to each other so great, that they cannot willingly part. Arriving at last in western Europe they travel together to their homelands in France, Denmark and England, but at each point they find they cannot say goodbye, and agree to journey further to see each other home.
Confused by their merging destinies, but compelled to pursue the Irish villain of the tale, they journey at last to Ireland, where their legend joins with that of the great Ulster warrior Cu Chullain in his final magical battle. They defeat and kill Rydearg, Gustav as Aonghus meets his true love the swan-woman Caer, and Anne and Konrad at last throw themselves into each other’s arms.
Victorious in the end, and reconciled to their own downfall as adults, the lovers settle in wild lands west of everything, far from home, where it is easy to believe they will live happily ever after.
An alternative telling of the story is set in the modern age, near future, with a collapsed Middle-east and disunited Europe in turmoil leading to a chaotic refugee flux from Palestine through Lebanon and Syria into Turkey and Europe. This more realistic theme does not lend itself to the idea of magical solutions to the essential problems of growing up, so it is not really a viable alternative for the magical scale of the story I want to write. It is perhaps most useful as a prism through which to see (and write) the story: events in the 13th century should be plausible in a 21st century context as well. Thinking of the characters as modern people adds depth and dimension to their characters, as well as contextual richness to the settings in which they find themselves.
Admittedly the medieval setting is also unlikely to appeal to teenage readers, especially if there is any suggestion that it is “educational” on the history or peoples of that period. The context of the times is kept in the background as much as possible, with the foreground firmly occupied by the protagonists’ inner lives and the mythology that emerges around them. In a deliberate appeal to the adolescent mind the story is individualistic, even contemptuous of “bigger pictures” such as geopolitics or any type of culture other than individual expression. As the characters emerge as young adults they eventually come to admit the existence of a valid adult world, but they never really participate in it, rather they sharpen their means of rebellion against it.
Their rebellion stems largely from their destructive experience as refugees in a world without even the idea of safe haven or asylum. They suffer the loss of their childhood most acutely because they also lose the stability of a normal life. They desperately grieve their families and friends, suffer ordinary teenage preoccupations that they cannot easily explore, and instinctively regret the truncation of their practical and spiritual education towards the things they aspire to be as adults. Gustav, a free spirit to begin with, is the least effected by this but is alienated by the loss of his honest trade as a merchant sailor. A robust personality, he turns to the criminal life of a vagabond with ease, but not without bitterness.
A key development in the story is their growth and maturation as young adults, and the emergence of their skills both ordinary and extraordinary. They learn to love each other in an era before romantic ideals; they discover loyalty when betrayal and venality are normal; they find magical and mythical power in the midst of a Christian stranglehold on the human spirit; and the two young men develop tremendous fighting skills when this is the yardstick by which most men are valued. In one cycle Konrad and Gustav are reunited by a momentous military victory and are knighted by the Holy Roman Emperor himself. In another cycle Anne and Konrad find each other across the gulf of stars but are lost, to be saved only by Gustav who rescues them and severs the enchantment.
Their growth as young adults is paralleled by their loss of innocence, their corruption from within by the challenges and dangers of adulthood. Idealistically they make an enemy of a villain who has corrupted their childhood, and widen their vengeful quest to include all who would do so, but are themselves corrupted and tainted by the quest. Konrad, who is no stranger to killing even from the start, learns that against some forms of human evil, killing is not enough. Anne, damaged by rape, learns that forgiveness is a more powerful weapon. Gustav, a wild, Dionysian figure, revels in his loss of innocence and is never challenged by the contradiction.
They are never idealized young people, having all the hang-ups, passions and agonies of typical teenagers and young adults. Their fall is genuine – they do a lot of bad things, and only come to any sense of conscience when they are older. Their story is comparable with that of Rydearg at a similar age. There is an implied choice, which they make with the wisdom of youth, to continue on that path or to find their own way to adulthood.
Their hang-ups are a significant aspect of the story, since they encounter every situation through the prism of their strengths and weaknesses. Alienated, disillusioned, confused, horny, wanting to just hang out with other young people, for a long period their wild adolescence leads them away from their goals, and always complicates and confuses matters.
The epic is thus an allegory of childhood’s end, of growing up and the changes in identity and personality that go with it. The birds that recur throughout the story, the swans in particular, are typical of Celtic myth, recalling the ugly duckling story as a metaphor for the adolescent struggle. At several points in the story there are transformations into swans, including the first significant magical event in the first chapter and the main theme of the fourth cycle.
Key aspects of their underlying character are drawn as widely as possible from myth. Gustav’s encounter and discourse with a great black bird recalls the killing of the sphinx by Oedipus. His kinship with Aine and Conaire Mor as mother and father is also Oedipal, with the twist that the father (Konrad) kills the son. The identification of Aonghus with Eros provides many clues to his headstrong character, such as his love of archery and the chaos he seems to create everywhere. Anne’s passionate revenge recalls goddesses from Artemis to Astarte, and her death and resurrection in cycles 5 and 6 derive from the fate of Inanna, the Sumerian goddess and precursor to all such goddesses in later mythology.
The sense of a quest builds slowly in each cycle, illustrated by encounters with children under the brutal occupation of adults in the mediaeval world: children caught in war zones, in shipwreck and piracy, children in slavery or terrible poverty, prevented from speaking their own language or ever going home. The three young heroes begin as witnesses to cruelty, by their own youth helpless or unable to act. The toughening experience of the first cycle leads them to action in the second and third, when their emerging capacity for action leads them to intervene in the plight they have witnessed.
In the fourth cycle this virtuous tale turns sour, as they encounter the cynicism of old Europe and enter the ennui of later adolescence. They turn bad, run wild in Constantinople street gangs, fight savagely against authority and each other. They almost forget their desire to return home, and utterly forget their quest as they brutalise and kill other teenagers in the carnal landscape of old Constantinople before its ultimate fall.
As they pass this crisis they recover the threads of their journey, achieving some truly spectacular rescues in their quest, but their view of things is increasingly adult, varying with their personalities: Konrad becomes opportunistic, Gustav avaricious, Anne frankly lascivious.
Nevertheless they begin with innocent ideals mainly derived from religious upbringing, and a large part of their loss of innocence stems from their loss of faith. The Christian church has been defeated across most of the world they must travel, so for years they are unable to practice their beliefs. Their return to Europe is dominated by a realisation of the cruelty and corruption of the church, marking them out as heretics and thus in as much danger in their own spiritual homelands as in the Saracen lands of the Middle-east. Gustav is the one most free of Christian prejudices, and loses the least by this corrupting journey, but even he is disturbed by the loss of sanctity in his imagined mother church.
Despite this loss of faith, the three heroes share a self-belief that is symbolized by the godlike presence of greater ideals that their emerging identities are based on – a greatness that people can believe in. Although in the end they realise that their quest is futile, they discover a love and loyalty to each other that cannot be corrupted.
But more importantly, they win! Rydeargh is killed in his sea-monster form, they all fall in love at last and are transported as champions of their own destiny, as much Kings and Queens of the Small World as they are undoubtedly young nobles of the highest rank in this one.
First Cycle: A Song of the Small World
A fourteen-year old Teutonic knight in training, Konrad Bak, witnesses the fall of Acra. He loses his father and rescues a young English noblewoman, Anne Wynne, by helping her find a ship. Anne’s maid servant Carey is killed, and in a moment of high mythic intensity seems to be transformed into a swan.
Escaping by accident on the same ship himself, he again meets Anne who gives him a kerchief in thanks. The ship’s captain, Rydearg, is an ugly character from Belfast, who is missing an eye, a hand and a foot. Rydearg regales them with stories of his avaricious part in the children’s crusade. On the first night out the ship is wrecked and Anne escapes in a small boat with the captain and some other passengers. Betrayed, Konrad leaps into the sea, losing his father’s sword. He is rescued by a wild Frankish sailor, Gustav de Boigne. This young man cannot swim, but is in no fear of the ocean.
Reaching shore, Konrad finds the kerchief in his pocket. Anne’s face, in pain, is stained into the cloth. He hides the kerchief from Gustav and resolves to find the girl. They spend the remainder of the autumn and a bitter winter as vagabonds in Galilee, part of the vast realm of the victorious Mameluke sultan, hunting and killing to survive. They practice using slings to hunt, but are seemingly unable to hit a bird, even a sitting duck.
Konrad looks at the kerchief frequently by firelight, noticing its gradual change from pain to anger. Gustav watches him jealously. They discuss their plans continually, Bak wanting to find Anne, de Boigne less interested in that than finding a fast way out of Galilee and journeying to Europe if possible.
Becoming skilled at sling-hunting they waylay and rob a Turkish nobleman and his servant along the road, stealing the servant’s crossbow. They later encounter the same two in Tyre, barely escaping with their lives after again violently knocking the nobleman to the ground.
Travelling in the wilderness to avoid capture, they are separated while fording a river and Konrad finds himself in an unfamiliar green landscape, where a horse with a foal finds him and carries him on. The horses carry him to a region of lakes, where he finds his father’s sword. He encounters thousands of children pursued by a horde of misshapen beings, many of which are missing an eye, a hand or a foot. He stands and fights the beings, but is captured and bound. They carry him and other captured children to the sea, but waiting on the beach are two figures on horseback, Anne and Gustav grown to full and beautiful maturity. The misshapen creatures flee, leaving their prisoners on the beach, pursued by these two figures. A ship comes to the shore and the children go aboard, but Konrad chooses to follow the figures of his two friends. He has lost his horse, and must walk. A mist descends and he becomes lost again. When the mist clears he sees once again the desert landscape of Galilee, the blue Levantine sea in the distance under drifting rain. He spies another traveller on the road ahead, and coming upon him he sees it is de Boigne. He has travelled alone several days in this rain. Bak tells him a similar story, keeping the mystery of the last few days to himself.
In the spring, seeking shelter from the rain in a monastery, they find Anne. She is hurt and in great fear of Rydearg. She tells the story of how he navigated the small boat to Tyre but betrayed the rest of the passengers to the Mameluke emir and took her with him on horseback. He mistreated her terribly on a long journey up the coast, but she escaped and came here.
As the weather improves into summer they agree to travel with a priest in his carriage, but they are attacked by bandits and the priest is killed. The three journey on together, but there is a tension between them. The two boys, who had shown the beginnings of friendship, begin to argue daily about division of food, the ownership of the weapons they have collected, the best way to pursue their journey by land or sea from here to Europe.
Anne tries to adjudicate their arguments, shows the first signs of empowering herself away from the victimhood that has dominated her story so far, but only becomes part of the leadership problem. Gustav tricks Konrad into a swamp, leaves him buried in mud, and carries Anne off. Konrad pursues them in a rage, finds them and kills Gustav with his sword, cutting off his head. Horrified, Anne touches Gustav’s bleeding body and incredibly, he stirs, the bleeding stops, he rises and picks up his own head. He speaks, sneering at Konrad, paying his respect to Anne, and then stalks away into the night.
Anne is kidnapped once again by Rydearg, and the Turkish nobleman makes his final appearance as the Konrad is trying to find her trail. Konrad kills him with the crossbow, and the sky erupts in a violent storm. Anne’s face fades from the kerchief, which bursts into flame and burns to ashes.
Second Cycle: The Stranger in Ruins
Konrad attempts the journey between Beirut and Antioch alone, travelling part of the way via the Orontes river. He is lonely, missing his wild friendship with Gustav and plagued by the strong feelings he has for Anne. He finds a hunting hawk, lost like himself, which comes to him for the human leadership it is accustomed to, bringing him food and companionship. He names the hawk Cu.
Konrad wanders again and again in and out of the otherworld, sometimes a land of misty forest, sometimes heathland or grey stony hills. In both worlds he encounters people of the middle east and Europe, and again he falls victim to his own violence, fighting as a first reaction to any sign of trouble but now being defeated and humiliated. He learns from every encounter, and from the hawk whose silence is eloquent.
He meets once again the Turkish nobleman, but this time he holds his attack and speaks to him. His name is Talessin al-Khan. He behaves as though he has finally found someone he has been searching for and could not find. The hawk does not like him, seems to regard him as a predator. He explains that Konrad will find Anne, he sees terrible things being done to her, children being tormented and enslaved. They journey on together, and in the underworld the horse comes again to them, her foal now a colt old enough to bear the nobleman. Konrad names the dark horse Epona, her snowy foal Ivor.
As they wander in and out of the otherworld Konrad’s education continues, they encounter people and monstrous or comic beings of many kinds, each with a lesson of the heart and soul. They glimpse again the godlike adult forms of Anne and Gustav, driving off misshapen beings and rescuing children.
While hawking in the otherworld a great eagle or roc swoops and takes Talessin in its talons, flies off with him, Konrad as usual unable to hit the bird with his crossbow.
Returning to the world again, this time the horse and her colt remaining with him, Konrad finds himself on the shore near the harbour town of Latakia. There he reluctantly trades the two horses for passage on board a Genoese ship bound for Cyprus, where he knows a remnant of the Teutonic guild may still be in existence.
A day out from Latakia the ship is overtaken by pirates, Konrad fights until it is clear his ship will be taken, then leaps across to the pirate ship. He glimpses the captain, in red leather with eye-patch, hook and peg leg – Rydearg himself. Wild with fury Konrad attacks, but is cut off by a great red-skinned pirate with a scimitar. Surrounded, Konrad jumps into a hatch, falls into the hold, runs desperately through the ship in near darkness, the pirates in pursuit. With a moment to spare he uses his flint to light a pile of rags in the corner of a sleeping hold hung with hammocks. He hears screams from behind a closed door, breaks it down with his shoulder, finds Anne struggling with Rydearg, fights him with his sword, impossible in the room’s confined space. A galley window is smashed with a thrown chest, Konrad sees a boat hanging in stocks outside, calls for Anne to jump into the boat, then leaps after her and cuts the pulley rope. The boat falls, Rydearg hurls abuse, the pirates gather at the rail but Konrad and Anne pull around behind the passenger ship, smoke now pouring out of both ships. Konrad rows like a madman away from the scene, Anne firing the crossbow back at the red-skinned pirate who still stands at the rail. Anne is wounded by a thrown knife, Konrad by a crossbow bolt. Anne fires back in desperation and they escape behind the cover of the beleaguered ship as both ships burn. Konrad realises he has lost Cu in this desperate adventure.
They struggle to convert an oar to a sail, succeed only in being driven onto the rocky shoreline north of Latakia. Finding shelter and some food, regretting the loss of the hawk, they set about tending their wounds. Konrad tries to tell Anne about the vision of his lost mentor Talessin. Anne does not know how she can forgive Konrad for what he did to Gustav, and they both wonder how it is that he could be alive still as they saw him last. She is unwilling to remain long with him, but agrees to travel as far as Antioch to try to find a ship that will take her to England.
They don’t know what they will find at Antioch. Their journey is locked unmagically in the hard, cold and rainy real world, there is no sign of Cu, Talessin or the horses. Life is hard and dangerous, they travel as downtrodden pilgrims in a conquered land, the disguised sword and crossbow dangerously like crucifixes. They come to Antioch and find it is in ruins, a few isolated Christians living in poverty on the outskirts. These poor outcasts tell a story of a haunting in the ruins, a headless giant seen by several witnesses, one mad old woman raves that it is but a child.
There is no prospect of a ship, but they venture into the ruined city and now find together a door to the otherworld, where the city is restored in surreal richly populated ruins. The city is all a gay festival of dancing and music, men and women dancing in the streets, younger men and women pulling Konrad and Anne gaily into the dance. They are drawn into the heart of the old city, where Roman buildings rise above the ruins and the sound of the festival becomes deafening, like a schoolyard of children’s excited voices.
Breaking free from the dance, Konrad and Anne cross a marble square and round a corner to find a great dance of younger children around a maypole, but the pole is a living being, a giant towering over the scene, without a head. The ribbons are draped around its shoulders, and winding tighter as if to strangle its headless neck. It is dressed in green foliage, like a wild woodsman. It moves clumsily with the dance, brushing the ribbons of the May-dancers with the very tips of his fingers.
As Konrad and Anne move closer through the crowd the giant seems to pause in the dance, its headless torso giving no sign of what has caused it to stop, then with one slow fist it grabs a handful of the may ribbons and pulls the children towards him. Screams break out as the giant reaches down and lifts two children to where its eyes might have been to see them, brings them closer to where its mouth might have been as if to eat them.
The children and dancers are now a tumult of fearful screaming, Konrad and Anne chilled and wondering at the scene, when the giant stops, frozen, two screaming children held to its headless maw, then lowers them, its shoulders shuddering, shaking, and moves forward through the crowd. It drops the children and begins to run, scattering children and adults, who only now seem to see the danger.
The giant crashes into a row of Roman columns supporting a collonaded building, which begins to crumble. The giant falls under the ruins, its gestures wild, as if it could it would be roaring or weeping.
Then again the giant stops. It rises and turns, facing towards Konrad and Anne who now stand alone, the wild crowd having moved to the side of the square. The giant blunders towards them, Konrad in a panic draws his sword and thrusts the crossbow at Anne, who angrily refuses, throwing the thing to the ground. The giant makes a great swipe at them they both leap out of the way. Konrad swing his sword at the great hand, slicing open a knuckle. The giant rears back, again as though roaring, then pauses, bends down and carefully picks up the crossbow, a mere toy in its hands, but with surprising dexterity places a bolt and winds the draw.
It fires at Konrad, narrowly misses, Konrad sees he must take the initiative and charges. Leaping onto the beasts knees and swinging up by the green vegetation of its garments, he reaches its chest and stabs deep into its heart, a dagger thrust to the gigantic being but a fatal one. It falls, grasping at its fiercely bleeding chest, and crashes to earth. Konrad just manages to leap clear, falls heavily and is knocked unconscious.
When he wakes, it is with Anne and Gustav cradling his head and holding his hands. They are again in the ruins of Antioch, and the great crowd is gone. Gustav, weeping, heaps honour on him, the hero and champion of their friendship. They help him back to the `impoverished Christian settlement, and there they decide to remain for the remainder of the summer. They do many good deeds, healing the sick and fighting bandits, and are for the moment happy in each other’s company
Third Cycle: A Door in the Empire
In the autumn ruins of Antioch, the three debate where to go next. Gustav reluctantly tells of his captivity as the headless giant, how he saw a great treasure in the restored city, still sees it in his dreams. He is not sure what it is, thinks it may be some kind of weapon or armour, something that covers the entire body. They try to find a name for the place, this “other world” that they have all seen now, and wonder how they can get back when they have never known how they get there.
They are now sixteen, in a beautiful autumn. Anne has blossomed and is intensely attractive to the two young men. Their rivalry returns. Showing some signs of being able to reach mature decisions together, they agree to return to the heart of the ruins to try to find the treasure before leaving to continue on their journey home.
In the ruins of Antioch they again find the city restored to Roman classical glory, but now the mood is sombre, as though the entire population shares in a funeral procession towards the centre. Following the crowd, they eventually turn aside down quiet narrow streets where Gustav struggles to remember his way.
Finally they find a great stone head, the clumsy head of a giant, guarding the dark entrance to a tomb or catacomb. Anne refuses to enter, but the two young men go in with flaring torches, encounter and battle fearful dark beings, find the treasure, a tablet of turquoise mosaic with a pattern of unknown symbols, and return to the surface to find the city in ruins again, the two horses Epona and Ivor grazing calmly in the grass among fallen stones. Anne has vanished.
They call and search for her, but she is gone and nowhere to be found. The Christian people mourn her disappearance, her healing and beauty. Finally as the autumn wanes Konrad and Gustav must depart, on horseback to try the mountain passes into Anatolia and the Turkish kingdom of Rum to the North before the snows come. Gustav looks once or twice again at the turquoise mosaic, but cannot figure it out and eventually it is forgotten in his bag.
Their journey homeward is now as much a search to find a way back into the otherworld where they last saw Anne. All the way to Constantinople they fight human and supernatural enemies; Turkish raiders, a dragon in a pit, Assassins with cold and heartless imperatives.
In the heart of winter they encounter a band of surviving Templar knights who still hold out in a citadel on a mountainside. Taken back to their stronghold, Konrad and Gustav find none other than Rydearg has taken refuge there, styling himself as a devout pilgrim called Searbhan (Sharwan). Konrad charges Rydearg as a pirate, and Rydearg without missing a beat accuses Konrad of being a hijacker and kidnapper.
These angry accusations cause considerable tension with the knights, who are honour bound to protect both pilgrims and knights and don’t necessarily accept the word of either a beardless boy or a wandering cripple.
They spend several weeks in the citadel, Konrad and Rydearg circling each other dangerously, the pirate with the smirk of one protected by teachers from a schoolyard enemy.
The leader of the Templar knights, Lord Montmarin, mentions that he is planning a mission to the north, on the plains of Anatolia, to rescue the nuns and inmates of a convent besieged by Turks and a remnant of the Mongol invaders. He offers to take them along to further their journey through enemy territory. The journey on horseback has the same uneasy tension between Konrad and Rydearg. The pirate is now known to the knights as Monseigneur Searbhan Rydearg, who have come to accept both their stories as possible.
Approaching the monastery from the south, leading the horses to remain low, Rydearg slips away and betrays them to the surrounding Turks and Mongols, in the ensuing battle Gustav is knocked from his horse and falls over a cliff. Konrad follows him to the edge, sees a wild mountain river flowing far below. He knows Gustav cannot swim.
Crying rage, losing his horse, Konrad fights his way through to the convent and takes command of the nuns, children and old men. The nuns lead him to a narrow bridge from the convent to the mountain pass behind, but Rydearg is there, he rolls a stone onto the bridge after most of the escapees have crossed, aiming for Konrad but missing, shattering the bridge.
Konrad and a group of nuns fall with the ruins of the bridge, he grabs the nearest nun as they slide from the stone and falls with her, a long way down, plunging into deep water, others fall with them but do not resurface. Konrad and the nun are swept downstream, finally pulling themselves ashore on a pebbly beach surrounded by gorge cliffs.
Konrad realises the nun is a young girl his own age. She cannot speak, Konrad is not sure why. He vaguely recognises her, but cannot think where. They cling to each other for warmth. In the exhausting days that follow, climbing wearily out of the mountain gorge and finding their way via villages and towns to the road to Constantinople, they become very close, her silence yearning out of her as they fall in love. Finally in a manger, warmed by a fire in a brazier and a meal of stolen bread and milk, they make love.
It is completely natural, they are both sixteen years old and have been through much together, but afterwards Carey’s guilt is terrible. A novice, she has not yet completed her devotion to Christ, but she cannot bear what they have done. For his part Konrad finally recognises her as the maidservant of Lady Anne, who he last saw dying before her transformation into a swan. He struggles to think of her name, calls her Carey.
Their journey becomes strained, and finally in a larger town she leaves him when he goes looking for food. He searches for her uselessly, and falls into black despair. He goes into a tavern, getting very drunk for the first time, and picks a fight in the bar with a young Mongol warrior, just as drunk as he is. The warrior beats him easily and is about to kill him with his short spear when someone holds his arm. Konrad, through blurring double-vision, sees with shock that it is Gustav.
Laughing off the fight, Gustav introduces the young Mongol as Shu Tengri, a good friend of his, and goes on, drunkenly at first but sobering gradually, to tell their story.
He fell, but only as if falling over a garden wall to land on a hard ground of long grass. He sat up and the world swirled around him in green mist, which cleared as he shook his head. He was in a wide, cold and windswept grassland with the smell of snow and distant snow-capped mountains, far higher than those he has ever seen.
He scanned the landscape, saw distant smoke or dust rising and walked towards it. In an hour or so he could make out a camp of circular huts or tents, with many dark men engaged in some wild sport of horsemanship around it. Approaching and walking boldly between the careering horses, stung by clods of thrown earth, he came to the largest tent, where a wizened old chieftain surrounded by women and children watched and called the sport with avid interest. Their dress was outlandish, heavy quilted cottons and soft boots of some unknown material, dyed red and blue under layers of dust.
Gustav noticed a dozen horses picketed nearby, and having attracted no attention at all so far, simply walked over and untied one of the horses, smallish hairy ponies of a type he could not recognise, but horselike enough in its reaction to his calming voice, and stepped up into unusually wide, sturdy stirrups. The tooled leather saddle had a quiver of arrows and a powerful recurved bow in an ingenious sling.
He considered riding away, but the wild horde of horsemen swept past them again, and in an ecstatic moment he spurred forward to take part in the match. Now finally he had attracted some attention. He heard angry shouts from behind him, but ignored them and rode into the thick of the yelling horsemen. Most of them were men, but he was surprised to pass one or two whose broad brown faces were fine-boned and feminine, women warriors yelling as insanely as the rest.
They all seemed to be pursuing one who had the body of what looked like a goat. Gustav urged his horse forward, overtook the goat-rider, and snatched it from him. Not knowing what else to do or indeed why he was doing this he rode ahead of the now wildly yelling crowd, around the circle of huts.
One horse now came at him with great energy, its young rider ululating and swinging from the saddle, grabbing at the goat. Gustav refused to let go, and the two swung wildly in a high-speed tug-of-war as they went again around the huts. Gustav finally succeeded in pulling the rider from his horse, where he dragged tenaciously along the ground, refusing to let go, and also pulled Gustav from his horse where they rolled in a cloud of dust with the disfigured goat corpse between them.
There was nothing in it but to fight, hand to hand, with their fists. Gustav had his knife, and could see his young opponent similarly armed, but neither drew. Gustav was enjoying himself immensely, the thrill of sport a mighty tonic to his mind after years of serious hard work, when his opponent’s fist connected with his temple.
He awoke in dust and flickering sunlight, the dark shadows of many men and women standing around him, their voices raised and arguing in a wild unknown tongue. One stood over him arguing as loudly with the others, he guessed it was the young warrior he had fought, and in one smooth action grabbed his calves, pulled him off his feet and stood up, laughing, victorious.
The crowd fell silent for only a moment, then closed in around him, yelling and gesticulating. Gustav felt his adversary standing behind him but seemed to be pulled down by the crowd. He raised his hands carefully, smiling.
After a moment the crowd fell back as the old chieftain pushed through, supported by a phalanx of huge warriors clad in red leather who shoved the crowd aside. Gustav saw that the old man was an immensely strong man, his lined old face hard and brown over arms like branches of oak.
The chieftain spoke in rapid phrases, looking hard at Gustav. For answer the young warrior surged forward again out of the crowd, stood beside Gustav, answered boldly, clearly defending him against some accusation. Gustav lowered his hands as carefully as he had raised them. The young warrior continued for some time, then finally turned to look at Gustav. All fell silent.
Clearly it was time for him to speak. He did so in Greek, hoping this lingua franca would be familiar to them. He was a stranger, lost in this country, and he sought only to join their sport. What had he done wrong? The crowd stared at him, their faces one uniform frown of concentration. Finally the old man spoke again, haltingly in the same tongue; Sir Hellene, you ride well, my people salute you. But turning back to is men he returned to his own tongue at great and excited volume, gesticulating at Gustav and the young warrior. They stared at him, and virtually as one their faces lit up with triumph as the idea took hold.
The tribe, a clan of the Mongolian Golden Horde, accepted Gustav as a lost son. He was feasted and feted, given a young woman to share his tent, and the next day taken into council with the chief and his advisers, the red-clad senior warriors in a ring on the floor of the yurt. The young warrior, who had no Greek and could only communicate by gestures, indicated his name as Shu Tengri and sat beside Gustav.
The discussion went in Mongolian, lapsing to Greek when they condescended to recall that Gustav was a poor illiterate. Gustav had difficulty following it, but enjoyed the argument and the vivid displays of mock-fighting, the abundant food and drink. Finally in the late afternoon the Chieftain drew Gustav and Tengri to their feet, embraced them like sons, presented them to the assembled leaders. Gustav asked the old man in Greek what this was all about, but he merely smiled and embraced him again.
The parliament broke up and the feasting began again. Gustav revelled, joining in the dancing, at times trying to talk again about what had been decided, but surrendered to the celebration and finally fell sleep, exhausted.
In the early hours of morning he was awoken by Shu Tengri and a woman who brought him horse milk and a bowl of thick meaty broth. Shu Tengri vanished, but came back with two horses saddled and slung with bows, quivers of arrows and short stabbing spears. He gave Gustav a bundle and indicated he should dress himself. Gustav found silk underwear, warm and heavy cotton garments, outer armour of some fine but tough scale-like material, a woollen cap and pointed helmet. Dressed, he found himself a Mongol warrior.
They rode off as the sun was rising, the entire clan standing in ranks behind the chieftain whose speech in Mongolian raised a great cheer. Gustav resigned himself to following Tengri, communicating only in signs. At a steady trot they followed a worn path in the grassland, but soon turned aside and went across open country towards the distant white-capped mountains.
The ride into the mountains was harsh, bound in snow and ice. They glimpsed dreadful things on the mountainsides, came to a region of rock surrounded by rings of ice, like a great nest. Tengri now crept forward, indicating Gustav to do the same. The night moaned. A vast black shape loomed. A gigantic bird landed, with a crunch that shook the earth.
Shu Tengri, after a moment, stood up. Gustav did likewise. They stood staring up at the great bird. After a moment it turned its head and looked at them. Gustav saw its gaze fall in Shu first of all, then turned on him and it was like a darkness descended even more total as it did so. The real world fell away and Gustav saw in the distance behind the bird a gigantic tree, that seemed to fill the sky as a mountain would, filled with cloud shapes and disappearing into a higher haze of misted sunlight, broad daylight after the mountain’s night gloom.
The bird stood in this landscape, still gazing down at Gustav. Shu Tengri stood there also, staring around him. Then the bird spoke in Greek, and it said: Well, another come to ask me questions.
Gustav had no idea what question to ask. He looked to Shu Tengri, who stared back with a pensive expression. Gustav confessed to the bird that he didn’t know what it meant by asking questions, and it looked at him with surprise. You can speak, it said, so that’s a start. Do you know who I am? Gustav had to confess, no. Or why you are here? Again, no.
Shu Tengri shouted a few words in Mongolian. The bird turned its eyes on him, and Gustav felt the weight of this strange world fall away, leaving him again on the icy mountainside with Shu Tengri to his left and the bird standing in the snow above them. Gustav shouted, Can I guess the questions? The bird’s attention returned to him, and the great world with its vast tree in the landscape returned, but dimmed now by Gustav’s realisation it was an illusion. He saw a kind of double image of the rocky mountainside and the high golden land of the otherworld.
The bird’s gaze held and Gustav stammered “Alright, why am I here?”
The bird seemed to smile and looked again at Shu, but glanced back to Gustav so quickly that his feeling of the world changing around him was only a brief turn. Every year it is the same the bird began, two warriors come to fool me and ultimately slay me.
Gustav stood in anticipation, then gathered himself, “Do you fear being fooled or slain?”
No, but in these sad little battles I am invariably hurt, and having no use for dead men I have to clean up the mess.
Why have you no use for dead men?
I do not eat adult meat. I prefer their juvenile kind. My children prefer the softer parts even of those.
So you’d rather we were children?
The bird looked at him with surprise.
If you were children, you would not have had time to speak.
Gustav thought hard, then asked “Where are your children now?”
Gone. But I have my eggs to think of. And I would certainly rather not fight you.
Gustav saw that the two great rocks on which the bird stood in the otherworld were eggs, frosted despite the warmth of the golden summer light there. Snow blew around the eggs. On the frozen mountainside, Gustav saw only the shallow depression where the bird had alit, a nest in the rock.
Gustav finally guesses the question, “why does anyone do anything?” that kills the bird with despair. He and Shu Tengri drink the blood of the slain monster, and Gustav finds he understands the language of birds. A bird they meet leads them into the otherworld, where the great tree rises, and they see a mound like a tomb rising in the landscape. They climb the mound, Gustav all the while hearing the birds chattering intelligibly, and enter a door. In the dark they light a torch and find a cache of old weapons, but all too old and rusted to be of any use. Wondering, they go outside again and find themselves on a cliffside pathway. They follow the path around and make out a landscape of tall dusty stone monoliths with doors, pathways and ladders built in the face of the rock.
Looking into the next doorway they see an old man sitting in a meditative pose and ask him where they are. The old man looks at them sharply and asks how they came to be there. They explain that they climbed a hill, but this is not the hill they climbed. He seems to understand this and in excitement leads them deeper into his cave. In fifteen minutes walking he explains. By torchlight he shows them a great stone doorway into darkness, and steps through it, vanishing. Gustav and Tengri follow him, feeling as though stepping off a brink.
They find themselves in the brilliant sunlight of Constantinople, stepping out of a building on the city square fronting the great cathedral of Saint Sophia. There is a riot happening, young people throwing stones at armed guards, who surge forward with drawn short swords, the attacking youths running away with laughter and a carnival gaiety. The three walk to the middle of the square, strewn with rocks and dropped or broken gear.
It turns out that Konrad and Gustav are lost and trapped, and it is Anne who rescues them. The great world is a trap
Fourth Cycle: The Children of Leir
Konrad, Gustav and Anne are together in Constantinople. They go to church at last, but it is the strange Orthodox ceremony, spoken in Greek rather than Latin and they feel little satisfaction.
At many points in the preceding cycles they have seen other young people hanging out and have yearned for friendship, a sense of home or belonging somewhere. Here in this great and ancient city there is a youth culture as vibrant and at times violent as any in history, and they are drawn to its people, young men and women full of love, creativity and danger.
Konrad, Gustav and Anne live together in a house in the Armenian quarter. They are seventeen, and they earn a meagre living busking as dancers and sword fighters in the city squares, sharing their food and money. They share the streets with a population of alienated young people, resentful of authority and adulthood, forming groups for love and shared artistic endeavour, or gangs to defend territory and avenge harm or insult.
Carey re-enters the story. She too has found her way to Constantinople and is living in a hostel attached to an orthodox convent, unable to return to her orders and too poor to travel on. She is still mute when they find her. Anne is overwhelmed to find her friend alive, insists on visiting her every day. The two young women have long needed this kind of friendship.
Konrad’s emotions are in turmoil, trying to find a way to speak with the girl he loved on the journey through Anatolia. Anne converses easily with Carey, holding up a cheery conversation with Carey’s facial language. Konrad’s feelings for Anne, who he has been following since he was fourteen, only complicate this. The two young men enjoy the role of chaperone on their daily walks, competing to impress them with sword fighting and acrobatics.
In a story involving other friends from the street scene, gang rivalry erupts and a state of virtual guerrilla war hovers on the streets. They are drawn into the vicious cycle and do a lot of bad things. Anne and Carey transform into swans, and are rescued by Konrad and Gustav.
Gang violence and youth warfare against the corrupt imperial state in Constantinople. The orthodox Christian church and its hypocrisy. Puritanical repression, persecution of heretics.
Fifth Cycle: A War in Green Velvet
Sixth Cycle: The Flight of the Sun
Seventh Cycle: A Song of the Great World
A Song of the Small World
Chapter 1: The Fall
During the siege and destruction of Acra, Konrad Bak is a fourteen year old squire under the command of his father, a high-ranking Teutonic Knight and Danish nobleman. Running errands in the chaos, Konrad returns to his post to find his father dead and the situation hopeless. Joining a fighting retreat to the docks, Konrad kills for the first time, with his father’s sword. Separated from the main battle, he escapes a hail of Saracen arrows by entering a house and finds two young women, a lady his own age and her childish maid, awaiting death or slavery. He leads them out of a rear window, setting the house on fire as they leave. They flee to the docks, Konrad noticing with surprise how lightly the lady runs, easily outstripping him in his light mail armour. Caught in crossfire, the maid is killed by an arrow, the lady weeping over her body until Konrad drags her away. Looking back he is surprised that he cannot see her body, where a large white bird suddenly leaps into flight from the narrow street. They reach the ships, and in the chaos Konrad hails sailors and demands a place for a lady. There is no room, ships are casting off overladen and limping on fire from the walled harbour, already overrun. Finally Konrad collars a sailor and threatens to kill him with his crusader’s sword if he will not take a passenger. The sailor, with a Frankish accent and Cheshire-cat grin, agrees heartily and they run through the madness to a tarry galleon still tied to the dock. Konrad helps the lady on board, then turns back to the fight. There is a group of Templars, recognizable by their white surcoats, still defending the lanes leading in to the harbour. He joins them, introduces himself to the Grand Master, now the senior commander in all the Holy Land, which in effect has shrunk to this final scene. Konrad fights with this desperate battle-group around to the harbour wall, and after witnessing the death of the Grand Master by an arrow in the throat, he jumps as a ship pulls past towards the harbour mouth.
Chapter 2: The Kerchief
Pulling himself aboard he finds himself on the same ship as the mad Frankish sailor, who greets him ironically. The master of the ship calls the sailor, “Boyne!” and orders him up the mast. Konrad notices it is the same Frankish sailor who brought them on board, and that he resents the name he is called. He sneeringly refers to the master as “old dry-dock”. Encountering the young lady he rescued among the huddled passengers he introduces himself to her in chivalric terms, not knowing how to present himself as a person. Her name is Anne Wynne, of Coventry in England. Recognising the chivalric conventions she gives him a kerchief in thanks, and though pretending to remain aloof she stays close by his side. The ship’s captain, Rydearg, is an ugly character from Belfast, they approach him to inquire about their destination. Seeing their callow youth he regales them with stories of the children’s crusade, from which he profited magnificently in slaves. Konrad feels an intense dislike for the man. In a storm that first night the ship is imperilled on a rocky coastline, Konrad fights to save the ship but is unable to help the passengers, who put off in a small boat with the captain. Betrayed, Konrad strips off his mail and, keeping only his father’s sword he leaps into the sea. Reluctant to relinquish its heavy weight he is going down for the third time when he is pulled aboard a floating spar. He realises it is the sailor, who Rydearg called Boyne. Fighting against the storm, they pledge their hands. The sailor introduces himself as Gustav de Boigne, “de-Bwa-nye” correcting Konrad’s mispronunciation from Rydearg’s insult. He laughs at Konrad’s name, barking like a dog. After a night and day of desperate struggle they are thrown ashore on a wild coastline and collapse in the poor shelter of a dripping sycamore tree.
Chapter 3: In Saracen Lands
The next day they follow the coastline searching for water and food. Cold and hungry, Konrad goes through his pockets and finds the kerchief. He is amazed to see a face seemingly stained into the cloth, strangely lit and shadowy, as though in pain and only barely recognisable as that of Anne herself. He hides this strange talisman from Gustav, who sees nevertheless he is hiding something. They go on, Konrad now wishing to find the girl, as a third priority after water, then food. In cold late autumn weather the two trudge for days along the Galilee coast, finding all the villages are under the control of the triumphant new Sultan Al-Ashraf Khalil, whose lands seemingly extend from Cairo to the gates of Constantinople. The journey seems impossible. Konrad must hide his sword and fashions a staff with the sword hidden inside it, the hilts forming a clumsy head, almost a crucifix, as dangerous an object to carry in Saracen lands as a sword. They are desperately hungry for meat; they need a bow to catch a bird or hare. Konrad laments his days hawking with his lost father, his own hawk he had since he was nine. They practice with rough-made slings, and eventually manage to kill a small red deer. They seem unable to kill any bird, even a sitting duck, but have more success with hares and deer. Emboldened, they lay an ambush on the road and lay out a Turkish nobleman and his servant with two well-aimed stones. They steal the nobleman’s cash, a leather pouch of coins in Egyptian currency, and the servant’s knife and crossbow. The two victims are merely unconscious, they begin to stir and are hastily bound with torn strips of cloth. The servant groggily observes his attackers contemplating the horses when they are surprised by a larger party coming along the road. The ambush becomes a rout, more dangerous for the steep, narrow space they have chosen. Konrad and Gustav are forced to take to the wild lands, a rocky semi-desert of endless hills, and spend several days wandering in growing thirst. Finally they come to the outskirts of Tyre, a city north of Acra, and consider their next move from a watered cave above the city.
Chapter Four: Tyre in Flames
They must find a way through the city. They watch the road, knowing they could be recognised as Christian highwaymen and probably beheaded as a matter of course. They decide to split up and meet on the other side of the city. They agree to steal whatever food and armour they can. They argue as to who will go first, finally tossing dice from Gustav’s voluminous pockets. Konrad goes first, slips down the hillside and limps along the road, the staff concealing his sword now also partly supporting his weight. He enters the city gates, guarded by great black Saracens with belted scimitars. He is a poor pilgrim trying to find his way home – true enough. He wanders through the poor housing of the defeated Christian population, still burning in places from recent conquest. The inner part of the city, the well-tended gardens and better housing, are now occupied by the Mameluke middle-class and aristocracy. He considers the houses as possible targets but the streets are too busy and he wanders on. The market places in the city centre are as he remembers them, merchants and beggars and buyers of all races, the only difference being in the race of the beggars and the poorer people, the European people now oppressed by Mameluke overlords. He sees the Turkish nobleman and his servant, and tries to avoid being seen, but the movement attracts suspicion and he is nearly arrested, escaping only after clubbing the nobleman with his sword-staff and Gustav’s timely arrival with a crossbow shot that kills the guard holding him. They hide in the rooftops and escape over the city walls by night.
Chapter Five: The Green Lands
Travelling in the wilderness to avoid capture, they are separated while fording a river. A mist descends on Konrad, the road through desert landscape yielding to a pathless green heathland that emerges from the gloom. He searches for Gustav and is confused at the green land, entirely unfamiliar to him after a lifetime in Palestine, but he can only continue northward by the sun. As he drinks at a stream a horse with a foal comes to him. He mounts and rides bareback through bright sunshine, the foal following them. He comes to a hut in the middle of nowhere and enters, finding an old woman who offers him food and reminisces about her own fine sons who went away to the wars and never returned, leaving her destitute. He asks her where this place is, and she looks at him shrewdly, tells him to continue northwest to ask the one who lives there. He goes on, riding through several days in this green wilderness, feeding the foal and falling in love with the horse. The land becomes flatter and drier, and finally he encounters a road that he can follow. It wanders generally northwest, becoming thronged with young people and children going the other way.
‘Once their origin is know [faeries] are bound to return home, in most cases never to be seen again. One wonders at the reason for this. Perhaps it is simply that the Otherworldly beings fear retribution once their non-human origin is revealed; given the persecution meted out to anyone who showed any unusual abilities in the Middle Ages this would not be surprising. It seems as though there is an Otherworldly law operating here as well – those who are born in the Otherworld may only sojourn in this world as long as their secret is kept.’
 pron. Bach
 Pron. d’bWANya
 Love triangles between two men and a woman are common if not universal in Celtic myth.
 pron. RYd’ck
 pron. AY in a
 Konrad also has echoes of the sun-god Lugh, who slew the cyclopean monster Balor of the Fomorii and was the Father of Cu Chullain. These relationships are explored in Konrad’s antagonism with Rydearg and his encounter at the end with Cu Chullain himself.
 Turquoise is associated with horsemanship, as in Gustav’s ride with the Mongols, and with protection for sailors. It is also considered to bring luck to travellers: Gustav is turquoise and is at some point seen as a blue stone. Anne I presume is diamond and Konrad is cornelian. The stones are further explained by the emerald of the Holy Grail which fell from the crown of Lucifer after being struck by the sword of Michael. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus took the grail to a safe place where they were guarded by a king. Christ’s blood is a ruby.
 From Tristan and Iseult: “…on a day when certain merchants of Norway, having lured Tristan to their ship, bore him off as a rich prize, though Tristan fought hard, as a young wolf struggles, caught in a gin. But it is a truth well proved, and every sailor knows it, that the sea will hardly bear a felon ship, and gives no aid to rapine. The sea rose and cast a dark storm round the ship and drove it eight days and eight nights at random, till the mariners caught through the mist a coast of awful cliffs and sea-ward rocks whereon the sea would have ground their hull to pieces: then they did penance, knowing that the anger of the sea came of the lad, whom they had stolen in an evil hour, and they vowed his deliverance and got ready a boat to put him, if it might be, ashore: then the wind, and sea fell and the sky shone, and as the Norway ship grew small in the offing, a quiet tide cast Tristan and the boat upon a beach of sand.”
 The two refer to each other by surname, Bak and de Boigne
 According to the classical geographer Strabo of Amasia (62 BCE-24 CE), at some time in the distant past the Orontes river flowed for some of its length underground.
 Taliessin or Taliesin was a 6th century Welsh Bard about whom almost nothing is known except that he wrote a book of 57 poems called the Book of Taliessin. In Celtic mythology Taliessin has been elevated to a seer and changeling often depicted as an Eagle in journeys to the otherworld. He accidentally tasted a greal of all-seeing wisdom. His name means Shining Brow. See Druid Magic: The Practice of Celtic Wisdom by Maya Magee Sutton (Google Books) or The Book of Taliesin http://www.maryjones.us/ctexts/llyfrtaliesin.html
 Spying out a stall selling dried meats and fruits he is surprised to see the Turkish nobleman, his earlier victim, the mark of the stone still on his head and his servant following him. Konrad ducks out of sight to avoid being seen, knowing the servant got a good look at him, but his movement attracts the suspicion of the stall holder, who shouts and throws him out into the dusty street. Everyone in the street turns to look at him. The servant points and shouts excitably. The nobleman looks as though he has been looking for Konrad, raises his hand and begins urgently to speak. Konrad leaps into action, hurdles a stall, is halted by one of these great scimitar wielding black men, turns back and finds the nobleman barring his way, his hand still raised. Konrad throws himself directly at the nobleman, swinging his sword-staff in a massive blow against the head, bringing him down a second time. He runs wildly, hoping he has killed the man this time. The market seems to close in on him, a guard swings his scimitar, he ducks and throws his shoulder into the man’s muscular stomach, but the impact throws him off balance and he sprawls into the dust. Hands are on him. He is dragged to his feet, a punch lands in his face, but there is the sudden hissing sting of a crossbow bolt striking, a scream and he finds himself free. He runs again, and now Gustav is with him, both running like lunatics.
 Epona, the Celtic horse goddess, is often depicted riding a horse with a foal, suggesting a connection with the fertility goddess.
 Matthews, 1996. ‘The Knight of the Swan’ in Baring-Gould, 1996. Myths of the Middle Ages. Cassell London