Guest blogger: Gwendolyn Beynon
Synchron-history: ‘Le Chevalier au Lion’
The best parts of writing historical fantasy are those brilliant moments of historical synchronicity (I call them ‘synchron-history’) and the freedom to get fantastically creative with them.
When I released Sacrifice—the first book in my dark-ages, Welsh, dragony book series Y Ddraig (The Dragons of Brython)—there was one character who kept demanding more air-time almost from the moment he stepped onto the page, blades glinting.
Eifion ap Gwilim was second-in-command to the hero of Sacrifice … he was supposed to be window dressing at best … but every time he made an appearance, his quiet strength and fierce loyalty got my attention and by the half-way point of that book I knew I was going to have to do more with him. Just like that, Eifion went from the spear-bearer of classic theatre to literary hero in my research-cluttered mind.
But I had a problem … the heroes of this series were supposed to be Arthurian ‘B-listers’ and the characters of the next book Ascension were more or less set. I had already cast brothers Gwalchmai and Gwalchafad (who are the ancient Welsh equivalents of Arthurian Gawain and Gaheris) but Gawain is largely synonymous with the Lancelot character created (later) by French writer Chretien de Troyes. You know Lancelot, right? Handsome, flashy, popular in court, tight with Arthur, even tighter with his wife … That wasn’t going to work for silent, shadowy, good Eifion who had reluctantly betrayed Arthur in Sacrifice and had been living in a kind of dark age witness protection program in the Welsh mountains ever since. And besides, he was already called Eifion … he couldn’t magically become Gawain in the fortenyear between Book 1 and Book 2.
That sort of thing gets noticed.
So, I turned my attention to little brother Gaheris. But no … I had very specific plans for this fascinatingly complex and conflicted Arthurian character and none of them were hero-appropriate.
What to do?!
If there was one character in Arthurian lore who was most Eifion-esque it was young, white-hearted Galahad. But of all the many fictions in the Arthurian pantheon, Galahad is the most fictitious—invented in the 13th century (when the stories of Arthur were Christianised heavily) purely to highlight the holiness of the Grail. All of the existing characters of Arthurian lore were too flawed and too grungy to put their paws on the Holiest of Holies and so a beautiful, unachievable, unattainable (and some would argue unrelateable) young man was purpose built to carry the Grail back to Heaven in a blaze of short-lived glory.
Hmmm … I was in some trouble now. In this series, I lean toward the historical-based characters alive some six centuries before the rendering of the chivalric, medieval versions in their polished armour. Surely, Galahad could not be the only decent bloke in all of Arthurian lore.
Indeed he was not.
In a spectacular piece of synchronicity while digging back through the Welsh triads I stumbled on the Welsh Owain, known as Yvain to the Bretons, heir to the King of Rheged. He was 6th century [tick—right period], Cymry-born [tick—right bit of the country], a machine with a blade [tick—right skillset], was tight with Gwalchmai the historical Welsh figure that inspired Gawain [tick—right circle of friends], and was later banished by Arthur [tick—straight into the Welsh mountains he went]. Classically, Yvain is portrayed alongside a lion, a bit of medieval semiotics pointing to his traits of fierceness and loyalty, and he is captured in literature as a protector of female virtue often as not. If Yvain had a fault, it was that he was a bit prone to galloping off on dangerous missions at the expense of his personal relationships.
Hellooooo, Eifion!! There you are, my lovely!
This is exactly the kind of synchronicity that makes an author catch their breath. Like it was meant to be all along. Right down to the similarity in names. My character, Eifion (eye-vee-on), good-naturedly endured the crude twisting of his name into ‘Yvain’ (ee-vain) by his boyhood friends Gwalchmai and Gwalchafad because it meant something totally unprintable in old Welsh.
Bingo! Arthurian b-lister hero achieved.
And, so, my spear-bearer turned hero, Eifion, marched confidently into his own story as the protector of the woman he cannot love (no spoilers!) and the young girl that he dare not leave. But then again, he is also Yvain, and off he gallops toward Arthur on a dangerous mission to save them both, leaving one to pine miserably and the other to …
Well … that’s a whole other story.
Gwendolyn Beynon’s Sacrifice (Book 1) and Ascension (Book 2) are available now through Amazon. Australian readers can get a signed print copy (with local postage) direct from the author: Gwen@yddraig.com.au.