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[personal profile] petermorwood
I've finally been able to confirm that the UK rights for the Horse Lord / Book of Years series have completely reverted to me (though not yet the US ones – or the Philippines; why there, I wonder, and not, say, Puerto Rico?) and I'm prepping them for release as e-books, as Diane has been doing with her Young Wizards. It's given me a chance – as the dead-tree versions never did – to do some re-working, because I doubt there's a writer on the planet who hasn't looked at their early work and thought "migod you didn't ort to write a sentence like that molesworth!"

Or several sentences. Or a paragraph. Or a continuity blunder.

I've always been good at spotting those, though it's a talent that's most useful before something appears in print; afterwards can be annoying, especially when (in a recent example) the writer's finished work has been through a series of test-readers, an editor, a copy-editor and a final check of the galleys.

So it's a bit embarrassing to find one that's been in every single edition of The Horse Lord, especially when it doesn't even have the excuse of a chapter or so of action between setup and dénouement. On p.90 (UK trade) p.91 (US mass)
Aldric nodded, but slung Widowmaker round his shoulder nonetheless.
Unfortunately on p.92 of both editions
The girl's sharp eyes had noticed a fine taiken racked on the bedroom wall…
And yes, the taiken longsword is Widowmaker. In two places at once. Oops. That's going to get fixed…

There won't be massive changes; this book's been popular for 28 years, and I had evidence of that popularity a couple of days back (for which many thanks, [ profile] la_marquise_de_ - gosh, I'm mentioned in some impressive company!) so if ever there was a case of Si Non Confectvs Non Reficiat, this is it. But after those 28 years I can construct a better sentence than some of those from 1982, I can certainly write better dialogue, I know not to call mail "chainmail" any more – and I can remove my own guilty example of a pet peeve from fantasy that's started creeping into supposedly historical work as well.

It's the business of a sword slung over the owner's back and drawn from that position. The question kept coming up on Swordforum and NetSword, and nobody was able to offer any historical evidence, never mind pictorial proof, that carrying a sword that way ever happened in Europe. Seeing it done in Braveheart and King Arthur is neither evidence nor historical. But in 1982, what do we find Peter writing?
Aldric unhooked the longsword's scabbard from his weaponbelt and pulled its shoulder strap across so that the sheath rose slantwise to his back, well clear of his legs...then he gripped the long hilt rearing like an adder by his head, twisted it to loose the locking-collar and drew.
Once again, oops. That too is going to get fixed, because after experimenting with some of my own replicas (gosh, isn't Polyfilla spackle useful stuff?) it's clear that neither Aldric nor anyone else could perform this trick without arms like an orangutan or gibbon. What I did in later books was to have the across-the-back carry as a commonly-accepted "peace position", thus producing a useful bit of dramatic "business" where releasing the cross-strap so that it slides down to "ready position" for a fast draw is a direct threat, and possibly an insult as well.

Fast draw, with a sword? Yes indeed, like Japanese-style iaijutsu, because the first incarnation of Alban swords, culture and customs was very samurai-influenced. In the late '70s-early 80s it was unusual, and a change from the more usual Celtic/Viking/Medieval settings, which is why I did it, and there weren't many others. Without checking the bookshelves, I can think of Richard Lupoff's Sword of the Demon and Jessica Amanda Salmonson's Tomoe Gozen, C.J. Cherryh's superb Morgaine Cycle (especially Gate of Ivrel), a surprisingly small number of short stories, and of course me.

The fun part is to see how my fictional society evolved into something different; honourable suicide seems like a great device for dramatic tension. When you discover that it means your protagonist (all right, hero and favourite character) won't reach the end of the chapter, never mind the end of the book, it's not such a good idea, and you start looking for ways to keep him alive. When that attitude starts to influence the entire culture, soon you're dealing with people who've laid a thin veneer of lip-service honour over a bedrock of ruthless, scary pragmatism.

And that's much more interesting than ersatz samurai... :-)

Date: 2011-05-29 06:46 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I've always had doubts about the 'across the back' draw and am glad to hear its improbability confirmed, because an expert on swords I am not.

Date: 2011-05-30 10:11 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
This quote comes from my 1965 edition of Growing up in the 13th Century by Alfred Duggan. Granted it's a kid's book, or at least YA, but you can read a bit more about him here ( and draw your own conclusions about his accuracy, allowing for research that may have come to light since his death.

I just wish this little book had a bibliography or footnotes, but he confesses in his own introduction that "For forty years I have been reading about the Middle Ages, and I cannot now acknowledge the sources for everything I have said." Even so, what he suggests here makes (to me, anyway) a great deal of sense.

(Sir William is making a formal appearance at the shire court; work prevents his head groom from being his usual attendant and horse-holder, so his fourteen-year-old eldest son fills in...)
Sir William is at a loss. A respectable knight cannot ride unattended,as though he were a vagabond; and when he gets to court he cannot simply leave his horse tied to a tree. He decides to take Ralph with him. The boy is fourteen, old enough to act as a squire. His manners are adequate for any company, and it is time he began to learn the duties which will fall on him when his father is dead.

Delighted by the unexpected change in routine, Ralph changes into riding boots...

Best of all, he is to carry his father's sword. He comes down from the tower with the long leather scabbard hanging diagonally across his back, the hilt appearing behind his left shoulder. This proves that the sword is carried as luggage, not his personal weapon; the neighbours might grumble if a young boy went about wearing the sword of a knight. When Sir Willliam dismounts at the end of his ride he will buckle the sword-belt around his waist. His gilded spurs display his rank, but when acting officially in his capacity as knight he ought to have a sword about him.
(My emphasis.)

Once again, I'd love to know his source for this, since it's the only description I can recall from far too many books of a Medieval European sword being back-slung for any reason at all. But at least this reason has a social function beyond just "looking cool".

Date: 2011-05-31 06:36 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Duggan's rep was always excellent. Also, that usage makes a lot of sense.

There has been nothing about back-slung swords in any of the books about weapons in general or the sword in particular that I have in my library but, of course, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. It does seem to be a fantasy thing rather than something that crops up in historicals, though those huge claymores in the Royal Armouries do beg the question about how they were carried in battle.

Date: 2011-05-31 07:29 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I haven't seen any period illustrations of how Scottish two-handers were carried, but based on several woodcuts showing Landsknechts carrying the even bigger (and more elaborate) zweihandschwert against one shoulder in "slope-arms" position like an old-style rifle, it's a fair assumption that claymores would have been carried in much the same way.

It may be because the illustrations are of parades or immediately pre-battle situations, but none of those Landsknecht pictures show the swords being slung on belts across the back, or indeed any of them being in scabbards.

Since I read somewhere (perhaps in one of Ewart Oakeshott's excellent books) that when a sword got beyond a certain length it tended to be treated as a polearm. So it's equally likely that when these big swords weren't needed for show or immediate use, they were loaded into a cart and weren't actually carried at all.

Scottish Highlanders, lacking the support of a Renaissance army baggage train, probably had to carry all their stuff themselves. That's when the big claymores would have been slung across their backs - but as luggage and probably wrapped in sheepskin, rather than in some fancy scabbard. (Google for "claymore scabbard" and you won't find a single item without a heavy seasoning of Hollywood. That, as I mentioned before, is not "historical proof" that such things existed.)

Date: 2011-05-31 07:32 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Makes sense. Thanks, Peter.

Date: 2011-05-29 07:57 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I have long arms, and can - just, using a put a finger under the quillions - draw a 24" blade from a scabbard strapped across my back. If the bottom of the scabbard was loose, so I could draw forward rather than up, I could probably manage 2" more.

But it's not fast, and it leaves you nicely open to attacks.

Oh, and I only tried it to demonstrate its unfeasibility.

Date: 2011-05-29 08:08 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
"But it's not fast, and it leaves you nicely open to attacks."

As described in this small extract from The Shadow Lord (book five, currently being written) -
Aldric's hand went to his weaponbelt, and the guards shifted slightly. Their gaze became more wary, if that was physically possible, and their stance was suddenly more tense.

It wasn't until he hitched the buckle of the cross-strap tighter by two extra notches, so that Isileth's hilt rose even more inaccessibly higher above his right shoulder, that the guards relaxed again. One of them even smiled, if smile could describe something that appeared like a crack in ice before instantly congealing again. Aldric had just given as clear a demonstration of non-intent as was possible without actually taking the sword off – and since that would have required lowering it from peace to combat position, he’d concluded that it wouldn't be such a safe gesture as doing almost nothing at all.

He knew, the guards knew, anybody who knew about swords, that anything longer than a generously-proportioned dagger strapped tightly across its owner's back was almost harmless. It was difficult to draw at all, nearly impossible to draw quickly, and the mere action of reaching up to its hilt signalled intent to even the stupidest opponent. It also exposed one entire side and armpit as an inviting target for whatever that opponent felt like stabbing into it. The way to someone's heart, as the so-amusing saying had it, was most easily upward through the stomach, but sideways through a lung worked just as well.

Date: 2011-05-30 06:00 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I would be happy to see new editions, some of my copies are getting very worn and I prefer to buy ebooks these days. I would be even happier to see book five.

Date: 2011-05-30 09:24 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
There'll be new e-editions of Diane's earlier Young Wizard titles too. She posts here ( about similar revision.

It's partly because like me, she feels that the writing isn't as good as in the later books, but also because the tech in those books is in the awkward position of being either non-existent rather than all-pervasive, like cellphones or so old it's dated badly, but hasn't got old enough to be historical.

In 2011, reading about a 1980s desk with a typewriter and a fountain pen on it sends a very different message than the same desk with a CRT-and-floppy computer presented as state-of-the-art at time of writing, while writing code is so far from the experience of her modern YA target audience that it no longer works as a plot device (thought it might turn out to be a Chekhov's Skill.)

I'm in a similar though less extreme situation, trying to decide how much swordfighting terminology needs replaced. The Japanese analogues will probably go away in favour of European equivalents from Liechtenauer or dei Liberi; it was information unavailable when I first wrote the book, and in any case I was riding that samurai hobbyhorse. However I already know that overusing them is a bad idea. It's the sword-y equivalent of getting bogged down in describing load, calibre and muzzle velocity, or horsepower, acceleration and fuel consumption, when what's needed is shooting or driving action.

I once read a sword-fight example where all the names of guards and strikes were in their correct Middle German, and though I knew what they meant, visualising what was going on was very difficult. Someone who doesn't know what's meant by Zornhau (wrath stroke) and vom Tag (roof guard) or, from dei Liberi, posta mezzana porto di ferro (half iron door position) and Posta di dente di cinghiale (boar's-tooth position) is going to so completely lost that they'll just stop reading.

And that would be Bad.

As for the fifth book, I'm as keen as anyone else to find out what happens next. I have a couple of chapters already completed and a lot of fragments to be slotted into chapters yet unwritten, so I suppose I really should settle down and prepare an outline (even though Horse Lord, Demon Lord and Dragon Lord were all written without one, or nothing more than a one-page premise.)

AND they were written on a typewriter, so cut-and-paste was a lot...stickier...than it is now. "Impossible to put down" was sometimes more literal fact than cover blurb. :-)

Date: 2011-05-29 08:09 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
We have similar taste in music: I love Martin Best, too! (Gérard Zuchetto even more so!)

Date: 2011-05-29 08:33 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I first heard Best on BBC Radio Three many years ago and since I was listening on a boom-box with built-in cassette deck, managed to smack in a tape in time to record most of it. I still have the tape somewhere, and must dig it out and burn the whole thing to MP3. I've already done that to the one track which never appeared on any of the Martin Best CDs I could find - Songs of Chivalry, The Last of the Troubadours, The Dante Troubadours and Cantigas, all on the Nimbus label.

It was Bertran de Born's Be.m plai, and one of the best translations because it starts ever so nicely:
I love the joyful time of Easter,
For it makes the leaves and flowers come forth,
And it pleases me to hear the mirth of the birds
Who make their song resound through the woods...
and then goes downhill really fast:
And once entered into battle
Let every man proud of his birth
Think only of breaking arms and heads,
For a man is worth more dead than alive and beaten.
I always watch unsuspecting listeners when I play this, because by the time it reaches
And I hear them scream "Help! Help!"
And I hear them fall among the ditches,
Little men and great men on the grass,
And I see, fixed in the flanks of the corpses,
Stumps of lances with silken streamers
the expression on their faces is something to behold. :-)

Date: 2011-05-29 09:09 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Yes! I love Bert (Zuchetto has done some great recordings of him, too! My favourite (unsurprisingly) is one for which the tune does not survive: Ara sai eu de pretz quals l'a plus gran:
Senher Conratz, tot per votre amor chan
Ni ges noi gart amic ni enami,
Mas per sol fatz que·ls crozatz vauc reptan
Del passatge qu'an si mes en obli.
No cuidon qu'a Deu enoia,
Qu'il se paisson e se van sojornan
E·us endurat fam, set, e il estan.

I was introduced to Martin Best's trobar recordings by my good friend Lisa, when I was a bejantine back in 1983. I've since got all I could on CD, although we had to copy Dawn of Romance from the vinyl, as it's not been re-released: it has one of my favourites, Vidal's Baros, de mon dan covit, and the best version of de Bornelh's Reis glorios (one of my own party-pieces).

Date: 2011-05-29 11:18 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Here's a question I hope you might be able to answer: is the little dot in Langue d'Oc (as in que·ls crozatz or indeed Be.m plai) a typographic symbol or is it pronounced in some way?

Enquiring minds, etc., because I've got an unfinished novel (working title is The Cloven Hoof after the shape of a facial suntan made by a nasal helmet) which used vaguely Occitan names simply because I liked (still do) the way they look on the page: strange and unfamiliar, but not too strange and unfamiiar - especially to those who know the place and the people.

For example, "Arnaut, Korôn (baron) of Laile and Amalie's father;
Bornelh, wife of Lord Kautz of Geyaun and sister to his co-lord Engenulf;
Engenulf, Lord of Geyaun, and half-brother to King Engerrand the Eagle of Bretize by their father Albrekt'’s first wife Melisant;
Fulkh of Aumale, Gunheir's bodyguard;
Joskelin Sovran the new Prince of Avalis, descended in right line from the Emperor Tukharin;
Raimbaut, Count of Aurengha;
Ruselh of Blaie, senâlitz, wife of Count Tibaut;
Tibaut, Koronhal (count) of Hantezdene, eldest son of Duke Moniot of Elzebruge."

And so on...

Guy Gavriel Kay's A Song for Arbonne is a lot more straightforward about it; I think his setting is a fantasy equivalent of the Cathar Crusade and the sack of Beziers (Arbonne). My background and conflict was much more Norman, primitive and consequently harsh. An editor who rejected the proposal told me that it was too complicated, had too many characters, and the level of brutality would put readers off.

I often wonder what that editor would have said about A Song of Ice and Fire? :-P

Date: 2011-05-29 11:28 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
The . is like a ' in modern Northern French, signifying an elision. You've run 2 words together. It's not a separate sound.
" crozatz" in full would be "que los crozatz", but it's easier to say as "". "Be.m" would be "Be me" in full.

Date: 2011-05-29 11:39 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Many thanks!

Having been very slightly guilty of using the "fantasy apostrophe" in past books, and being one of the many people gently teased for it by Diana Wynne Jones in The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, I think avoiding the "mystery speech-dot" would probably be a good idea.

What with en-dashes, ellipses, italics-for-emphasis and (as you can see from the above) an occasional diacritical mark, the way I write is often cluttered enough...

Date: 2011-05-30 02:48 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
You Tube is wonderful for everything!
On the other hand some people make it look easy:
He must have very long arms!

Date: 2011-05-30 09:38 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
The long-armed chap did his very best, but it still wasn't a smooth, slick draw and when it came to resheathing, oh dear.

Lindybeige is "Oh dear" in an entirely different sense; he's funny, witty, informed (i.e. shares a lot of my opinions) and now I'm going to have to watch all of his Youtube weapon vids. This may take some time. Especially when (see original post) I'm supposed to be Doing Something Else! :D

Date: 2011-05-31 07:11 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Can I add my thanks for introducing me to lindybeige's videos.

I, also, am going to have to watch them all. *sigh*

Date: 2011-05-31 03:41 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I, too, would like to thank you for introducing me to Lindybeige. I have a lot of watching to do.

(Although I have to say that I had some issues with the second of his clips I watched - the one about it not being impossible to draw a sword slung on the "wrong" side. Not that he's wrong about the ease of drawing from the same side, but that having a large shield would be a good reason to not draw from the shield-hand side.)

Date: 2011-05-31 08:52 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
This one's an oddity. (So that people know what we're on about, it's here (

Lindybeige mentions the Roman gladius being drawn "same-side"; however, that's the only one I can think of; when he says "plenty of swords were worn on the right" I found myself thinking name them! and I laughed a bit at the comment "apart for some officers who liked to wear it on the left hip to show, 'Hey, I'm an officer, I can get away with that.'" Um. Really? Scholars of the period (you know, "learned men with expensive educations") seem agreed that the sword on the left hip was a symbol of rank for the centurionate, like crosswise crests, greaves, vine stick, all that stuff; it wasn't just an affectation. Anyway...

I've been racking my brain for other instances of swords worn on the right, and I'm at a loss. Almost every pictorial example I can think of, from the 11th century through manuscript illuminations, woodcuts, suits of armour in brasses, sculpture and museum reality, up to 19th century military prints, early photographs and contemporary uniform, shows the sword worn on the left, to be drawn by the right hand. That's why I'm so sticky about in-period visual evidence. "I/we can do this now" isn't a basis for historical accuracy when compared with so much proof it wasn't done for a thousand years-worth of then.

Someone in the comments says they can do a same-side draw with an Oakeshott* XVIIIb, which would be about four feet from point to pommel - in other words, long! I'm impressed. Now I'd like to see some late 15th-century artwork to justify it as more than a modern parlour trick.

Leaving such dexterity aside, a cross-draw seems the usual historical approach because it can accommodate swords far longer than seem feasible, like those 16th-century rapiers with four-foot blades. It works like so: as your right hand pulls the sword out this way, your left hand pulls the scabbard backwards that way. Given the standard human design of one arm on each side, and I'd like to see it done any other way without producing some very odd postures indeed... :-P

Digression: screen swords have been getting bigger (as well as more realistic-looking, even in a fantasy setting which in earlier times was prone to all sorts of hooks, spikes and other improbable greeblies.) The recent adaptation of Ken Follett's Pillars of the Earth, and the current adaptation of George R.R. Martin's Game of Thrones, both have characters wearing what look like Oakeshott* Type XIIa and XX (early and late medieval hand-and-a-half swords, like the XVIIIb mentioned above.) However, I've yet to see one of them drawn on-camera. I wonder will the actor (via the fight director) know how to do it right?

*For those going "Whassat?", I'm referring to Ewart Oakeshott's "Typology of swords" - more info here ( Oakeshott_typology) - which gives a sort of shorthand idea of what the sword looks like. It's like those period fighting terms mentioned elsewhere: Useful But Not Necessary To Know.

Date: 2011-06-01 09:10 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Someone in the comments says they can do a same-side draw with an Oakeshott* XVIIIb

Ah, that would be the Librarian at the Unseen University. I'd actually like to see that, as I have a hard time imagining how it could be done without standing on a ladder to get ground clearance, or bending forward to present an unguarded neck.

There is also another eminently practical reason for cross-body draw: it's better to have the scabbard behind you where it's less likely to be in the way when fighting. If you don't have a big ancient/dark ages shield to stand square behind, you would tend to lead with your sword hand (and foot and leg).

(On that note, I picked up a proper all-steel buckler at a market last autumn - it's great fun to play with and makes a wonderful swashing.)

screen swords have been getting bigger

I must confess I haven't been watching any of the recent adaptations, but I wonder if the scabbards have been getting bigger too. I think it was Kingdom of Heaven that made me notice first, but it seems quite common to make the dress prop a couple of inches shorter than would be needed to accommodate the drawn blade. :-)

How are the sounds? Do they ring like steel swords, go *clonk* like rebars, or echo of aluminium baskets like modern fencing blades?

Date: 2011-05-30 09:17 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
It will be good to see them available again.

Date: 2011-05-30 10:59 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Getting a chance to do this bit of rewriting (and correct errors) is very satisfying. Diane is making sure I don't get carried away (1) because it'll take too long and (2) this is meant to be The Horse Lord with a nice shiny polish, not some other book altogether.

The fun part will be designing covers, because obviously I can't use any of the one from the published editions. Once again, Diane will help on this: the art she's created for her new Young Wizards is spectacular.

Date: 2011-05-31 11:20 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Eagerly looking forward to these as eBooks....

In an amusing coincidence, on Saturday night at DFDF (the German filk con) I did 'Widowmaker" in concert, for probably the first time since a certain Leeds SF con around the end of the 80s... :D

Date: 2011-05-31 06:26 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Coincidence indeed! :-)

And since the Horse Lord books are coming out in Germany (HoL = Der Schwartze Reiter and DoL = Der Schwarze Dämon, with DrL due this summer) I'm curious if there was any recognition about the response...

(Diane has been saying that what with this and the Die Nibelungen ("Sword of Xanten") miniseries, we should go to a few German cons. Considering that going to a German con made the contacts leading to the miniseries, it's not a bad idea.)

Date: 2011-06-01 10:02 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I'll ask folks re DsR and DsD when I wake up enough to write my conrep. :D

S'pose I should get reading, a) in case any more songs in odd shifting time signatures strike me and b) so I can be caught up in time for The Shadow Lord :D :D :D

The Horse Lord

Date: 2014-02-22 02:46 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I have the series in paperback, in fact I've owned it since the late 80s-early 90s, but the announcement on your website of the upcoming e-book release has had me haunting the site. My eyes aren't what they were and I find reading on a computer screen (sadly) much more comfortable these days. Any news or updates on this, please? So looking forward to buying it!

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