Month: April 2016

New Fantasy Times: Other Dragons

I met a dragon once. And I lived; always a plus when dealing with unpredictable beasts such as those great scaled monsters. Not that I’d ever say such a thing to their face. Or faces, as the case may be.

Dragon, as defined by the New Fantasy Handbook of Common and Uncommon Creatures, is ‘a creature, generally with scales, wings, fangs, and claws. Are clever, can sometimes talk, quite often have eyes with varying degrees of hypnotic ability, and should never be treated like a normal wild beast.’ Due to the necessarily vague and loose structure of that definition, it is wise for one to research deeper before meeting dragons face to face.

In some realms, dragons have been relegated to myths but in many others, they are alive and well today. But even within realms, dragons can differ very drastically. As any classifier of such creatures knows, the word ‘dragon’ stands for a family, not a species.

Dragons cover every spectrum of color, but what many people don’t know is that the color quite often is related to whether the dragon is cold-blooded or warm-blooded and what climate they live in. A quick side note here, both types of dragons are good in their own way, but if you’re using one to escape after a midnight raid on a frozen tundra, don’t chose a cold-blooded variety. Just trust me on this one.

Dragons are also all sizes. While they do tend to have a larger average bulk than many animals, there are quite a few which are no bigger than birds or cats. Others are a comfortable size to ride, while a few could crush whole houses under their scaly chests. Thankfully, these later beasts are growing less common today.

To add to the complication, dragons have no steady shape. Some dragons have long necks, thin bodies, and narrow faces. Others are muscular. Others have double wings and some have none at all. Scales aren’t always a given either, though they are very common. But there are rare breeds of dragons known to grow manes. And even with scales, there are some which shimmer, some simply dull, some which fade and change colors to meld into the background…you get the idea. As for claws and teeth, I can tell you they’re generally sharp. Frankly, I’ve kept as far away from them and failed to find or take any good photos.

Oh, and don’t forget the eyes. Rarely is a dragon without some hypnotic power in its eyes. Normally it lasts only while eye-contact is being made, though there are rare cases when it can develop into a sickness which continues for months. But, quite often, the effect won’t even be noticeable. You’ll simply find yourself treating the dragon with more care than a normal mount, or not shooting one when on a hunt. The latter technique is very annoying, let me assure you.

The wit of dragons is as varied as their size. In some lands they are simply wild beasts, hunted for meat and scales, or gliding though the tree-tops with wild songs. Tamed dragons of a smaller size have been found in the homes of the rich as pets, while others pull carts. There are even accounts of dragon fighting, though in many realms this is illegal, and it is always dangerous.

Dragons are most commonly used as mounts; many nomadic groups greatly favor these beasts because they are hardy and (if you have the right kind) a ready source of fire. Some dragons can understand human speech, and a few can even communicate and talk. There are even rumors of dragon societies, but I’ve yet to find one myself.

Not all dragons breathe fire, of course; only about a quarter of them have that ability. And the ones which do breathe fire don’t breathe out smoke. This misconception comes from a species of dragon which breathes out steam to frighten off enemies, but are otherwise harmless.

Though, as far as harmless goes, no dragon is without a quality defense. Even subtracting the fangs and claws, some dragons also secrete poison. Some have stingers in their tails or in their wing tips. Then there is fire, heated breath, freezing breath, poisonous breath, a whip-like forked tongue… The good part is, most dragons won’t attack people unless provoked. Repeat, I said most. And for those idiots who decide to attack dragons for the fun of it, outside the lands where dragons are butchered for meat and where the skill of hunting is down to an art, well, they deserve what they get.

Taking down a dragon isn’t easy. Most normal weapons won’t cut through their scales. There are generally soft spots, but not always. And they vary from beast to beast; a cracked scale, behind the ear, the eye, the back of the inside of the throat. Generally, it’s safer to not try at all unless the dragon is massacring whole villages. Besides, riding them is so much more fun.

The topic of dragons is extensive; it could take a whole book to cover them. Where they live, for instance (from tree tops to caves to burying themselves in desert sands to making hollows in the sides of snowbanks). Or what they eat (pretty much everything, from reeds to cattle to melons). Or what sounds and songs they make. The differences between males and females. How many young are raised at once, by who, and for how long? Ages of dragons (hint: most get pretty old). Their hobbies (quite often includes gold, polished stones, or sword hilts). What they enjoy (riddles and swimming). What they can do and what they will do and how they appreciate music…the list could go on and on.

But I can’t.

And so I’ll leave you one final tip. Many people know to never trust a live dragon. This is questionable, since some are actually quite friendly. But never, ever, trust a dead dragon. Dragons which die of natural cause are rarely found; they hide themselves away in a tomb of their own making. If you find a dragon which appears dead, and there’s no knight there to claim the victory, steer well clear. If you don’t, you’re very likely walking into a trap from which there will be no escape.

Have any questions, legends, or trending cliches you’d like Kirin Quillblade to address? Please comment below; he promises to at least read what you have to say between his realm leaper’s missions, even if he holds the rights to choose what to write about and what to ignore.

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Posted by Hope Ann in Legend Seekers, My Writing, New Fantasy Times, Writer's Corner, 12 comments

Wingmaster

This story is set in Aslaria, my Legends of Light land. The wingmaster idea is based off the Song of the Sword, my current WIP, but this event took place about a hundred years before Song of the Sword.

He should have known. He should have guessed. The finding of the legendary wingmaster’s blade should have given him more than a hint that something was wrong.

But the late spring snow, the early darkness, and the encroaching mist sweeping through the Melody Realm had been enough to deal with. Even drawing on the power of the song in the Melody, it had been all I could do to beat the joy stealing fog back towards the south. It had been an everyday enough occurrence that I should have known the sword was for something else.

Something worse.

But I’d relaxed. I’d attended the celebration like a normal citizen of Aslaria instead of one of the few who knew about, much less could entered, the reflection realm of song. And I’d left the sword in my lodging.

The swift beat of Frithren’s wings during a jubilant dance was the first sign something was terribly wrong.

He’s here.

The words sent ice though my veins and I pulled away into the shadows even as the lamps flickered out. And, under the startled cries, which I knew would soon turn to pleas of fear, I could hear the heavy drumbeat of the traitor’s song.

The traitor. As I dashed into the night, snow falling gently around my, I racked my brains but could come up with no name to couple to the shadow who had been sweeping though the country. A rumor, may thought it was.

I’d thought it was.

Except he was real. And he was here.

I snatched up the wingmaster’s sword, my vision blurring then clarifying as I saw the real realm and the Melody at once. My chest tightened as I glimpsed the mist, seeping in about the castle walls. But there was no time to deal with it now. Summoning the song, I dashed back to the great hall.

Silence met my ears. Silence, mingled with the recent memory of bloodshed and weeping. And the traitor’s faint song.

I choked at the sight. The motionless bodies. The stained floor. The lifeless hall.

I staggered back outside, my sword hanging limply from my hand. Frithren’s wings beat against the air and I turned, lifting my hand for the messenger falcon.

He’s headed south. Frithren declared grimly.

I nodded and swallowed hard, then closed my eyes. The Prince forgive me. I’d been given the sword, and I’d failed before I’d even started. I’d failed, but more would die unless I could stop the shadow. Clenching the sword, I took a deep breath, then turned toward the south.

And I ran. Ran through the night. Though the snow. Though the mist. Though the song. With death behind me, danger ahead, and an oath throbbing though my blood, I ran towards the fulfillment of my doom.

Posted by Hope Ann in fantasy, Legends of Light, My Writing, Reader's Corner, Writing Scenes, 2 comments

Longbows – part 1

I’ve always loved archers and archeress. Robin Hood, Queen Susan, Hawkeye, Katniss, Legolas, Silvara… Whether in movies, books, or real-life, archery is cool to watch. There’s something about the quick draw, flashing arrow, and bullseye impact dozens of feet away. And, in a fantasy or medieval battle, bows are an important feature on the field.

Longbows generally stood taller than the men who drew them because the height of man is proportional to his arm and, hence, his draw length. Yew wood is the traditional wood of choice for the longbow, but other woods worked well too such as Wych elm and the Italian yew. There were also recurve longbows, where the end of the bows limbs are bent slightly out to increase power for the length of the bow. These, however, took more work and were more expensive.

Bows shot on the battlefield likely had draw weights between 90 and 120 pounds, though views on this differ. Some archers may have even brought two bows with them. A stronger one to begin shooting and a lighter one for later on when their arms were tired, or as a backup if one bow broke. There were even some bows outfitted with pointed limbs so they could be quickly transferred into a stabbing weapon if arrows were gone and the enemy fast approaching.

Longbow men could shoot fast, and at quite a long range. Old archery fields sport marks with distances ranging from 130 yards to 345 yards. During the 1500s, under Henry VIII, archers were expected to be able to shoot with accuracy at a range at 220 yards. Well trained men could shoot 250-350 yards while there are claims of a man loosing an arrow 482 yards with a longbow.

An expert bowman could loose 10-12 arrows a minute during battle. (A quick side note here; arrows are loosed from a bow, not fired. That term came later, in relation to guns.)

Providing for archers in war was anything but cheap. At various times, law required archers to provide themselves with a sheaf of 24 arrows, but during battle these would swiftly be gone and the resupplying of arrows must have been a constant job.

Ash and Aspen appear to be some of the most popular wood for arrow making, while repairing arrows was a viable possibility after battle, considering the cost of a sheaf being nearly five days wages.

Arrowheads were of various qualities, with the best arrows carrying tips of hardened steel using a quenching process. Since the iron for these tips had to be of a certain quality, and the process took longer, these arrows were more expensive. The vast majority of the arrows were boiled or tempered.

Different arrowheads were required to shoot against various kinds of armor, and it is a very real possibility that archers carried two or three kinds of arrows, laid them out before the battle, and chose their arrows depending on their targets.

The cutting head, broadhead, or long-needle bodkin were ideal arrows when shooting against textile armor (more on armor below) but some arrowheads would curl against plate armor. A short bodkin, on the other hand, might punch though plate armor but would not pierce mail, while a long bodkin would. But it is important to note that an arrow, even if unable to pierce the armor, could deal strong blows with bruising or worse simply due to the force behind the projectile.

SANYO PHOTOLABO V250

1) Swallowtail broadhead. 2) Small straight broadhead. 3) Forked hunting head. 4) London Museum type 16 war head; it is a war head of the later medieval period used to pierce plate armor. 5) War bodkin long type 10. – This war head is the most common of the medieval period. It was used against knights in plate armor and will penetrate armor up to two millimeters in thickness. 6) Needle bodkin type 7. – This war head was developed to pierce mail with devastating results

Barbed arrows existed, though they were more expensive and it is unknown to what extend they were used on the battlefield. But, barbed or not, many arrowheads were simply shoved firmly onto the arrow instead of being fastened. That way, when one was wounded with an arrow, the head would likely be left in the wound.

The shield was the most significant single item in the defense against arrows. Made of wood, reinforced with multiple laminations of heavy canvas and sometimes even with parchment, most shields were not meant to last for long periods of time like swords and bows. A well thrown spear could disable it, while swords and axes could chop it down during battle. But, if made properly, a shield could adequately protect the vital areas of the man bearing it from longbow arrows.

But a shield can’t protect the whole body and so armor was worn.

Mail was perhaps the most commonly worn metal armor of the medieval period. It combined good protection with flexibility and also held the potential of repair. Of a greater or lesser strength depending on its make, mail was especially effective against cutting blows from a sword or ax, but was less useful against a bodkin-style arrow. To penetrate, any arrow needed to strike the mail at close to 90 degrees to the target surface.

Textile armor was commonly worn beneath mail, leather, or plate armor. It consisted of a stuffed and quilted knee-length coat which offered formidable resistance to the shock of an arrow impact as well as obstructing penetration.

Plate armor, consisting of metal plates riveted to the inside of a leather or linen base, was the next step up and a good defense against arrows. But all such armor gave way under an arrow strike and could cause bruising and internal damage. Full piece plate armor was an even better defense, and well able to deflect arrows unless the arrow struck close to the perpendicular.

Helmets were also useful. But when the wearers took them off or lifted the visor due to heat or to rally their men, archers tended to aim for their wearer’s faces.

The longbow was a powerful weapon, used for hundreds of years. As with any other weapon, the training of the archer, the quality of the bow and arrows, and the quality of defensive armor were all factors to the damage done on the field.

And that will be the topic of my next article; archers in battle.

(Information from The Longbow by Mike Loades)

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Posted by Hope Ann in Writer's Corner, writing articles, writing tips, 5 comments

Songkeeper

I had the privilege of being on Gillian Adams’s launch team for the second book in her Songkeeper trilogy, Songkeeper. I absolutely loved the first book in the series, Orphan Song and couldn’t wait to read the second book. It didn’t disappoint.

Songkeeper was absolutely wonderful; better even than the first book if at all possible, and much more heartrending. This is not simply a ‘middle book’ in which the story is only preparing for the climax of the third book. It does build up, of course, but it is also a gripping and exciting story in it’s own right.

Things I loved:

Characters – 5/5: They are so fresh and original. Amos, Ky, Birdie, Gundhrold, Sym, Inali, Migdon…there’s nothing 2D about them. And the way Gillian has made her characters so human is amazing. Even the minor characters aren’t completely bad or completely good, but are a perfect bend of complexity.

Setting – 5/5: The settings are so vivid and so…different. I absolutely love them!

Plot – 5/5: Exciting, gripping; even when the story switched between characters I hardly cared because both story lines were so interesting. It was very well paced.

Theme – 5/5: Very well done. Though powerful, the theme is also subtle.

Dialogue – 5/5: I had to include this simply so I could give examples of some of my favorite lines. Amos’s insults, for example, are the best I’ve ever read. Take his line about the griffin, Gundhrold. “Why did the sand-blasted catbird have to be so seaswoggling logical? It was downright infuriating.”  And this confrontation between the two as they are forced to travel together. “Gundhrold’s head lowered until his massive beak was only inches away from Amos’s nose. “I am a son of the desert. This was once my home – the home of all my kind. I know every crag, every slope, every crick and hollow-”     Amos rolled his eyes. “Every blatherin’ speck o’ sand?”

Everything else – 5/5: Seriously, I love this book. And I’m a picky reader with a habit of correcting things as I write. But this book is very well written. There are some dark scenes at the end, but they are well handled and very necessary to the story.

The one thing I don’t like:

The fact I’ll likely have to wait a year for the next book. I want find out what happens to my favorite characters (which happens to be all of them, but there is one in particular that needs immediate attention…)!

Songkeeper comes out April 15th! You can preorder it here. And if you don’t have Orphan’s Song, make sure to check that out too!

Posted by Hope Ann in A Writer's Life, Book Reivews, fantasy, Reader's Corner, 3 comments

Luremaster

I’d been a professional luremaster for years; dragons, lions, great wolves. I flattered myself I knew monsters. I knew how they thought, how they moved, how to enrage them. And, with Ice Mane beneath me and a mist lamp in my hand, I could take on anything Alisara had to offer.

Then I met the Shade Griffin. Yes, the legends said his wings carried night and his great clawed feet shook waves of snow from the mountainsides and sent them thundering down to smother whole villages, while his beak could easily devour several oxen at once. I guess I didn’t believe them. I should have.

It was one of the arrogant knight heroes who’d hired me. All I was to do wake the beast, frankly not the best way to start any attack but hey, the knight was paying me good gold. I just made sure he paid me before we started out into the northern wilds. Anyhow, how hard was would it be to wake a Shade Griffin and then luring him down the mountain to the ambush where the knight was waiting?

I’d sat easily on Ice Mane and lifted a silver trumpet to my lips. The fact I had to wind the thing seven times before there was even a rumble from the gaping cavern should have given me some warning. And the Griffin’s first steps, shuddering the whole mountain side, did make me hesitate.

And then I saw him; wings made from living shadows, eyes as bleak as a starless night, legs as thick as pillars and a body which would crush have a village.

Ice Mane spun, tearing down the hillside so quickly I reeled, barely keeping my seat. Behind me, mist spun from my lamp, but there was no need of that now. We were hurtling into the darkness, barely keeping ahead of the Griffin’s easy stride.

And, as I pressed myself on my mount’s one final thought surged back and forth though my brain. Why, oh why, hadn’t I chosen to bait the fiery fen serpent instead?

Posted by Hope Ann in fantasy, My Writing, Reader's Corner, Writing Scenes, 6 comments