Castle under siege!

There were many ways of attacking a medieval castle, and almost as many means of countering such attacks.

Ways to Attack

catapultThe first step was to batter the walls with a variety of “engines”, the most common being the catapult or mangonel. Its throwing beam would haul a massive stone, a pot of flaming “Greek fire”, a dead horse (which might infect the garrison) or sometimes… a captured messenger (to show that all hope of relief was in vain).

Another popular method used, was undermining. Beginning some distance away, miners burrowed beneath the defences, supporting their tunnel with wooden props. They then filled the mine with combustible materials – such as, the fat of half a dozen pigs – and fired them, burning away the supports, collapsing the tunnel and, with luck, demolishing the wall above it.

If the castle was founded on solid rock or was surronded by a moat, undermining was a useless method and in these cases it was often necessary to storm the walls instead by using ladders or a “belfry”. A belfry was a wheeled tower with the uppermost platform being the same height as the top of the castle walls. Another method would have been to assault the wooden gate of the castle with an iron-headed battering ram, swung on a sturdy frame.

A traitor within the walls of the castle was the second most effective weapon, whereas, the most effective was cutting off the supplies to the castle. All castles had a well, but if this dried up or was poisoned, the defenders ultimately had to surrender.

Countering the Attack

If the garrison suspected that the castle was being undermined, they could sometimes locate the underground workings by standing jugs filled with water in different parts of the fortress and observing them when they vibrated. They could then sink a counter-mine from inside the castle, and either slaughter the opposing diggers with hand-to-hand fighting, or fill their tunnel with water.

belfyThe people defending the castle (this was usually any able person, not just the garrison) knew that eventually the walls of the castle would be attacked. In defence they would use anything that came to hand to stop the attackers breaching the walls. “Firepots” were dropped from above onto the people scaling the ladders or using the battering ram, along with javelins, stones, boiling oil and a scalding oatmeal mush which stuck to besiegers’ skins.

If the attackers managed to get within the outer gate, they probably found themselves trapped in a passage between two portcullises, here they would be showered with missiles from “murder holes’ in its roof.

Marking Time

Like most early civilizations, the ancient Egyptians measured the passing of time by the phases of the moon. Their first calendar was based on the lunar cycle – the 29 or 30 days from one new moon to the next. A year consisted of three four-month seasons, and the new year was heralded by the star they called Sopdet that appeared just above the horizon at dawn around the time of the annual Nile flood.

moonThe lunar calendar was not without problems: The first day of each new month was unpredictable, and no one knew in advance exactly how many days a particular month would have. Days or even weeks might pass between the end of the last lunar month of the year and the reappearance of Sopdet. For most people in this agricultural society, these were minor inconveniences, but the civil bureaucracy needed a more consistent system – a year with a fixed number of days, not subject to the variations of moon and stars.

Around 2900 BC, a civil calendar was adopted based on a solar year of 365 days. It had 12 months of 30 days each – with three 10-day weeks – plus five days between the old and new years set aside for religious feasts. Years were numbered consecutively within the reign of each pharaoh.

But like any calendar divided into days, it missed the sun’s exact annual cycle by about six hours. The result was that, over the course of four years, the civil calendar crept one full day ahead of the true solar year. Once its inaccuracy became obvious, the civil calendar was probably just ignored by farmers and other simple folk, even though the government was tied to its errant schedule. Eventually, about 2500 BC, an official lunar calendar was installed side by side with the civil calendar. It served mainly to schedule religious events and the lunar feast day that gave each month its name.

To measure the passage of time during daylight hours, the Egyptians had sun clocks, similar to a sundial. Some Middle Kingdom coffins were decorated with star clocks – a list of stars known as decans that were identified with different hours of the night at various times of the year.

During the reign of the New Kingdom pharaoh Amenhotep I, clocks that kept time without reliance on the sun or stars made their appearance. These clocks consisted of a water-filled vase with a very small perforation in the bottom. The inside of the vase was inscribed at different levels to mark the hours. These water clocks were often carved in the shape of a baboon, an animal representing the god Thoth, who was associated with the measurement of time. It is interesting to note that except for the abstract concept of at or moment, the Egyptians – for all their skill as timekeepers – had no name for a unit of time shorter than an hour.

POV: Who’s telling your story?

Multiple viewpoints are very useful in any novel! In the third person, several viewpoint’s allow the reader wider access to knowledge and events not necessarily involving each character in the story. In addition, changing the viewpoint will often increase the pace of the story and can be used to create mystery and tension.

It is acceptable to use at least two Point of View characters yet four is a good number for most novels. If your story is long and stretches over a longer period of time, however, 6 to 8 is quite reasonable. You should only use main characters, NEVER tell a story from a minor characters Point of View, not even for one paragraph. The reader will automatically assume the character is important, and will wait for him to reappear in the story to do something crucial to the storyline.

It is important to remember, however, shifting viewpoints too often may irritate the reader and you should never change viewpoint within a paragraph or scene. Always swap viewpoints with a chapter or scene break, which is usually marked with three or four asterisks. The opening line of the new paragraph should immediately tell the reader whose viewpoint it is so that it is easier for the reader to follow the storyline.

Types of Point of View

  • First person – I go, ie. an eyewitness account
  • Third person – he/she goes, ie. narrator can be absent
  • Second person – you go, (used mainly in non fiction)
  • Third person plural – they go

Advantages, Disadvantages and Mistakes of Each View Point

First person

Advantages: Creates an intimacy between the reader and narrator. The reader experiences everything through the narrator’s perceptions, coloured by her motives, driven by her motivations.

Disadvantages: Character must be present during key scenes and the reader can only know what this character knows.

Mistakes: The character describes what is going through other characters’ minds rather than just her own.

Third person

Advantages: Allows the reader to see all the events occurring . Allows the author to mislead the readers without cheating.

Disadvantages: Doesn’t allow a strong identification with any one character and can take longer to impart information.

Mistakes: More likely to switch viewpoints by accident.

Your Voice

This should not be confused with Point of View. Here we are talking about our own trademark, what makes the story ours. Your voice is natural — like how you speak and think. But it changes as you change and depending on the tone of the piece you’re working on. A writer’s voice should be real, authentic and honest.

Some authors write to a ‘recipe’ and every book you pick up written by that person has the same formula. Sidney Sheldon comes to mind, his books are written to a particular formula and the reader can foresee what will happen because of this yet all the books I’ve read of his have kept me captivated to the very end.

Why? His stories keep moving along, he constantly throws in sub-plots and twists to keep things interesting. He doesn’t have a lot of description yet it isn’t necessary. He uses a chapter for one Point of View then the next chapter for another – usually telling a completely different story. The two stories finally come together at the climax and the book is wound up. He has written many books using this same formula and is a successful author. His ‘voice’ is apparent in his writing, this is his trademark (so to speak).

So when you write try to develop and cultivate your own ‘voice’. Something that a reader will recognise and know is you.

The Medieval Horse

The horse was an essential part of the knight’s equipment. Although the knight sometimes fought on foot, he was mostly considered a horse-soldier or cavalryman. He took the greatest pride in the breeding, training and skill of his war horses or destrier.

horse1His horse was the knight’s pride and joy. It was carefully chosen for its strength, stamina and courage. The horse had to be able to charge into yelling, screaming crowds and had to be carefully schooled. In battle, the knight required his hands for holding his sword and shield, so the horse had to be guided by the rider’s knees.

It was not uncommon for the horse to be shod with sharpened shoes so that when their riders reined them in, they rose up on their haunches and beat about them with their deadly forefeet.

There were other kinds of medieval horses. Coursers or running horses were used for war or tournaments; palfreys for travelling or hunting, and hacks for everyday riding. Ladies rode small, spirited horses called jennets.

During the Middle Ages, the bridle consisted of a leather headstall, bit and reins. The headstall was made up of a series of straps fastened around the horse’s head to keep the bit in place. The most popular bit in medieval times was the snaffle. This was a simple jointed metal bar with cheekbars at each end containing rings on to which the cheekbands and the reins were fixed. In the early Middle Ages, the knights used single reins, but during the 13th century double reins became popular. These were often decorated with embroidery.

The saddle consisted of a strong wooden framework which was glued and riveted together, covered with sheepskin, leather or velvet. The covering not only made riding more comfortable but also prevented the horse’s sweat from seeping through into the wooden framework and causing it to rot.

The saddle was kept in place by a series of leather straps. The breast strap was a broad band which passed from the saddle, across the chest and prevented the saddle from slipping back. The girth strap passed from the saddle under the horse’s chest, holding the saddle secure. The crupper stretched from the saddle, along the back and looped under the horse’s tail, to stop the saddle slipping forward.

Horses were sometimes decked out in flowing robes called “caparisons” or “bards”. These were made of cloth, leather and sometimes even mail, although the latter must have been very heavy and uncomfortable. Later, around the 15th century, rich knights protected their war horses with leather or metal armour: a “chamfron” defended the horse’s face; a “crinet” guarded its neck; “flanchards” protected its flanks; and a crupper prevented injury to its back.

Food & Shopping Facts

marketBread was full of grit because bits of the grindstones got into the flour and sand was added to the grain to speed up the grinding. The sand and grit wore away people’s teeth.

Fish and pork were ‘unclean’. That meant they were not acceptable as offerings to the gods. People who were able to choose did not eat them.

Big purchases were sometimes agreed in writing to avoid arguments. A scribe sold an ox for a fine linen tunic and two everyday ones, beeds for a necklace and several sacks (probably of grain, but this is not recorded).

Barley bread was soaked in water sweetened with dates. The liquid fermented to make beer.

Daily rations for a labourer: bread, beer and onions, which were issued to workers on a pyramid site. Their basic pay was in fish, fuel, vegetables, grain and pottery, with beer and dates from time to time. At festivals they got bonuses.

The Nile provided poor people with a cheap source of food. Its waters were full of fish and its marshes were home to huge flocks of birds – duck, crane and teal. If hunters caught too many to eat or sell, the surplus were gutted, dried in the sun and then stored in jars of salt.

You did not take a purse to market. People brought things made at home – mats, cloth, cakes or bread – to exchange for farm produce and craftware – pottery, sandals, jewellery and toys.

Shopping

Except in rare famine years, no one starved in Egypt. The Nile’s flood and constant sunchine produced such good crops that even peasants with tiny patches of land could grow enough wheat, vegetables and fruit to live on. Those who could afford meat ate pork, mutton, goat, goose, duck or wild game. Beef was a luxury because cows needed good land that was better used for crops. Hens were unknown until the New Kingdom (c1568-1085 BC), when some were imported from Syria.

There were no shops. Townsfolk bought what they needed from farmers and craftsmen who sold their wares from stalls in the streets. Money had not been invented, so shopping was done by bartering – exchanging goods of equal value. Wages and taxes were paid in the form of food, goods, or services.

Writing the Perfect Scene

Writing the Perfect Scene – When I read this it made perfect sense to me. A light went on in my head – “this is something I’m doing wrong”.

I will learn to write using the Motivation Reaction Units within my Scenes and Sequals.

Motivation is what the character sees, hears, smells, tastes, and feels (as in touch). It is external and objective.

Reaction is what the character feels internally. It is internal and subjective and is broken down into three parts:

  • feeling (this always comes first)
  • reflex (this happens as a result of the feeling)
  • rational action and speech (this happens when the character has had time to think and act in a rational way)

Motivation and Reaction should always be written in different paragraphs and should always be in this order.

But what are Scenes and Sequels?

Scenes should have:

  • Goal – what the character wants at the beginning of the scene. The character doesn’t sit back passively and wait for it to come to them, they go after it.
  • Conflict – The obstacles the character faces as they try to reach their goal. Naturally, there has to be a struggle otherwise the novel will be boring.
  • Distaster – This is failure to reach the goal. Something bad has to happen to make the reader turn the page and keep reading.

Straight after a scene, comes the sequel.

  • Reaction – The emotional follow through to the disaster. Show the characters reaction to what has happened. Show a passage of time when there’s no action but there is re-action. Then have the character “get a grip” and look for options.
  • Dilemma – Oh, there are no options and the character has a dilemma. They wonder what will happen next and have to work through the choices available.
  • Decision – Let the character decide on the best option and decide to carry it through. Let the reader respect the character for trying. This gives the character reason to be proactive again because they now have a new goal.

And the pattern starts over.

Within the Scenes and Sequels you must rember to use the Motivation Reaction Units. If you do this well, you will have written the perfect scene.

Inside Information

Writing the manuscript is the easy part. Getting noticed is the challenge!

A friend of mine received one too many rejections where it was obvious that her manuscript had not been read. This was after she did the right thing and queried the agent first and she was asked to send in the chapters. After the normal waiting period – 6 to 8 weeks – her manuscript was returned untouched. Why do they ask to see it if they have no intention of reading it? But that’s a different story so I won’t go into that now.

After this happening several times, she was frustrated enough to email the editor and ask politely what she should do to ensure her manuscript would be read next time. Apparently, the reply was a little agro but pushing that aside, she was given some inside information that really hit home.

This is the important part of what my friend told me:

She said that she receives so many submissions a week that she reads none of them first off. Even though the letters are addressed to her they automatically go to her assistant who doubles as her reader. The assistant reads the submissions and she picks out a tiny percentage to pass on to the agent. The figures I got was that perhaps 3 submissions out of 200 would be passed on to the agent. The rest get sent back. Even with the submissions she does read, the agent still may not request to read the full manuscript. She said that she takes on between 2 and 5 authors a year. According to the agent, this is the usual system with literary agencies (the screening assistant system) because they receive so many submissions and are nowadays acting as readers for publishers because the publishers won’t accept anything unsolicited.

So now we see just how difficult it’s becoming to be noticed. Right, this means a change of plan!