Since the publication of Wildfire last month, I have returned to the work-in-progress that I have been promising for so long: The Triumph of the Sky, the sequel to The Bones of the Earth and Book 2 in the Dark Age trilogy.
A story set more than 1,400 years ago, requires a lot of historical research. Those of you familiar with Bones know that while it’s a fantasy, it’s also historical, set in a real time and place: the Eastern Roman Empire at the turn of the sixth to the seventh centuries. In the West, that was the darkest period of the Dark Age.
I like to make my story believable (if you can believe in dragons, witches, vampires and monsters). And that means that I have to get little details right, like what kind of clothes people wore at the time, what kind of houses they lived in, what they used for money and what they ate.
But while these can be a little dry, researching what people believed 1,400 years ago can be a lot of fun. In 603 CE, Christianity was still young, as religions go, and not all of its tenets were concrete. Arianism, monophysitism and other “heresies” were still popular. The citizens of Constantinople regularly rioted over conflicts between monophysite Christianity (Jesus Christ had one divine nature) and Orthodox Christianity (Christ was simultaneously 100% human and 100% divine. Yah.)
Relatively little of Europe beyond Rome’s (the Byzantine Empire) borders was Christian in the year 600. After centuries of migrations of people from the north and east into Europe, there was a roiling stew-pot of cultures. Cultures borrowed words from neighbours, even legends and myths.
Here’s one of my favourites. It’s claimed by both Poles and Ukrainians, but there are more versions of it across Europe, and even in the U.S.A.
Bald Mountain: home of witches and sorcerers
Bald Mountain is a hill where witches gather at night under the full moon, accompanied by hellish creatures, where they build a bonfire and feast. According to the Polish version of the tale, giants built a fortress on the mountain which was later defended by a heroic woman warrior.
In the Ukrainian version of the legend, Bald Mountain is Lysa Hora in Kyiv, Ukraine. It’s formed by the teeth of the Yusha snake that coils around the world and bites its own tail to support the world above the eternal ocean. Bald Mountain is where the teeth and tail meet.
During pagan Sabbaths, so the legend goes, witches, dead harlots and demons gather on the mountain at night for orgies. Satan sits on the throne to judge the witches, and if they have not done enough evil, he kicks them with his hoof.
And yes, this is the place that inspired one of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibit: Night on Bald Mountain, the famous part of Disney’s Fantasia with the horned giant demon
It’s a lot of fun to read these old stories. I plan to work some of the elements into my new story. Watch for more on this!