Longsword by David Pilling

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Artorius pre-order

Book Two of the Leader of Battles series, 'Artorius', is now available for pre-order! The book will be officially released on 15th September, so if interested just follow the links at the end of this post to order, and you will receive a Kindle version on that date. The paperback version should be available soon.

As anyone who read Book One of the series will know, 'Leader of Battles' is my attempt at depicting the historical reality behind Arthurian legend, with a reasonably sized dollop of magic and folklore thrown in. Like many other writers, I have set Arthur's career firmly in the Sub-Roman Britain of the mid to late-5th century AD.

Britain or Britannia is caught between the end of the Roman era and the rise of the Saxon kingdoms. The hapless Britons, having grown used to the prosperity and security of Roman rule, have been left to fend for themselves against waves of pagan invaders pouring in from all sides.

Saxon warriors - Arthur's chief enemy
Book One chronicled the efforts of the first great Romano-British hero of the era, Ambrosius Aurelianus, and his efforts to stem the tide. This next instalment, as the title suggests, picks up after the death of Ambrosius and focuses on his adopted son, ArtĂșir or Artorius. Artorius is, of course, the man destined to be remembered as the immortal King Arthur, though he bears little resemblance to the romantic king of legend. Instead he is a tough, sometimes brutal soldier, a terror to those who threaten his homeland, and perhaps the one man who can save Britannia from falling into darkness.

The novel tries to depict a realistic image of 5th century Britain, a grim, violent and dirty place, where most of the Roman towns have been abandoned and left to decay as the natives return to the countryside. Roman names and customs are gradually falling into disuse, and the imperial province of Britannia is breaking up into various petty British kingdoms: the Roman province of Venedotia in North Wales, for instance, becomes the Kingdom of Gwynedd.

Some of the locations from the first book reappear, such as the impressive hill-fort Curia (now called Traprain Law) north of Hadrian's Wall, the restored capital Londinium, and Eburucum, capital of Britannia Secunda. Other locations such as Din Eidyn (Edinburgh) an even grander and more dramatic hilltop fortress than Curia, and Arthur's court at Caerleon, are also included. The villains are mostly Saxons, but there is also a terrifying sadist named Gwrgi Wyllt, whom I plucked from an obscure Welsh triad.

Traprain Law as it appears today
Din Eidyn c.5th century AD

Late Roman horseman in battle
Artorius - or General Artorius - and his 'knights' are as realistic as I could make them, a band of late Roman/British horse-soldiers known as buccelari, a term generally describing the mounted retinues of various nobles and kings during this period. Later on, as the British elite ceded more territory to the Saxons and their ilk and retreated into Wales, these retinues became known as a lord's teulu or household guards.

Unlike the heavily armoured knights of later legend, Artorius' men wear light mail and carry throwing javelins, round shields and long-bladed swords with a heavy chopping edge called spathas. Artorius uses them to great effect in hit-and-run attacks on Britannia's enemies. I see him as a talented guerrilla fighter and captain of light horse, more a Cossack than the medieval European king he later became in fiction.

Imperial coin from Ricimer's era

Though increasingly cut off from the remains of the Western Empire on the Continent, Britannia wasn't completely isolated. I have included references to Ricimer, the remarkable Roman general who made and broke Emperors as he pleased, the Western Emperor Anthemius and his successors, and the war in Gaul against the invading Visigoths under the warlord Euric.

Artorius finds himself caught up in the exceptionally nasty, back-stabbing politics of the era, and must use his head as well as his sword (though mainly the latter) to survive...

Leader of Battles (II): Artorius available as pre-order:

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