THANATOS: Death and the Carpathian Interlude

Today I’m very excited to announce that Thanatos, Part III of the Carpathian Interlude, is finally out in the world!

I know this novella has been a long-time-coming, especially for those of you who have e-mailed me to say that this series is your favourite of all my books.

It feels rather strange to finish this trilogy. It’s the end of a journey that began as a bit of fun, but then quickly turned into something a lot more serious, gruelling, and frankly…painful.

I have a confession to make to you…

The first draft of this book was finished over two years ago.

Yes, you read that correctly.

I regret that I’ve left fans of this series hanging for so long since the release of Lykoi (Part II). However, I wasn’t ready to deal with Thanatos for some time after typing ‘The End’ on it.

This is where I get very personal with you, dear readers.

You see, when I was about half way through writing this story, my father passed away very suddenly. He was alone, away from his family, on his way to work.

The event hit my family like a Dacian raiding party in the dead of night.

I was floored…paralyzed.

But I knew that if I did not finish Thanatos then, while I was in the flow, I never would. So, a few days after this sad occasion for my family, I sat down for hours one night and fought my bare-fisted, bloody way to the end of the novel.

People say that when times are tough, writing can be one of the most cathartic activities you can undertake.

And you know what?

It’s true. Despite the brutality of that writing session, and the darkness of the story itself, it did help me in a way.

When it was done, when I finally typed ‘The End’, my grief poured out and the fog I had been caught in began to lift.

For a long time, I wondered how bad the story might be, that I might have just dumped my chaotic grief onto the page. That’s another reason this took so long to get out.

But this past fall, I finally handed the manuscript to my editor, dreading the feedback I would get and the sight of red all over the paper like vicious sword wounds.

It seems however, that pain and brushes with death can indeed give life to creativity.

When she returned the manuscript of Thanatos to me, my editor told me she thought it was perhaps one of the best things I’ve written yet.

Mithras

Now for a bit about the story itself…

As I mentioned, The Carpathian Interlude series was originally intended to be a bit of fun, but it quickly became serious.

Despite the fantastical elements of the stories with zombies (Immortui) and werewolves (Lykoi), a fair amount of research has gone into these novels, and Thanatos is no exception. As always, I have striven for accuracy when dealing with the historical parts of these books.

Mithras and Mithraism, which was an important religion among Roman soldiers, are a big part of these books. Thanatos really delves into ancient Zoroastrianism, of which Mithraism is a part.

The historic event that these books revolve around is the Battle of the Teutoberg Forest in A.D. 9, in which Quinctilius Varus lost three of the Emperor Augustus’ legions in the forests of Germania. It was a time of terror in the Empire.

I also did a great deal of research into Dacians, their gods, and the Dacian capital of Sarmizegethusa for Thanatos; it was a fascinating rabbit hole to fall into.

For those of you who like the follow the history and research of my novels, never fear, for later this year I’ll be posting a blog series called The World of The Carpathian Interlude. Stay tuned for that.

Some of you may also be wondering about the title of Thanatos.

‘Thanatos’ is the Greek word for ‘Death’. This is deliberate on my part, and directly tied to the Carpathian Lord in the stories.

However, that is where the ties to the ancient Greek image of ‘Thanatos’ ends.

Thanatos

In ancient Greek tradition, Thanatos was a winged god, the twin brother of Hypnos (Sleep). In Hesiod’s Theogeny, Thanatos is the son of Nyx (Night) and Erebos (Darkness).

Thanatos was the personification of Death, and to the ancient Greeks, it was his duty to usher the spirits of the dead to the appointed place, a role later more associated with Hermes. To the ancient Greeks, he was a dreaded god, but not wicked or evil.

In Part III of the Carpathian Interlude, Thanatos is a much more ancient evil, an enemy of the gods in the battle between Light and Dark.

As I said, there will be a blog series about all the research for the Carpathian Interlude trilogy coming out later this year.

In the meantime, I do hope you enjoy this new story, and that it gets you thinking, even in the darkest of places.

Thank you for reading, and may you walk in the Light…

 

To get a copy of Thanatos, or read the synopsis of this final part in The Carpathian Interlude, just click the link below to go to the book’s page:

http://eaglesanddragonspublishing.com/books/thanatos-carpathian-interlude-part-iii/ 

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Beauty in the Land of the Dead

Elysian Fields by Carlos Schwabe, 1903

Elysian Fields by Carlos Schwabe, 1903

One of the many things that I truly love about writing historical fantasy is that the genre allows you stretch your imaginative wings, to envision and describe places that are not the usual destination. You can go beyond the castle wall or the villa peristyle to places that are often relegated to the remote locales reached only by the soul.

Heaven and Hell, the idea of a land where the dead go on to an afterlife of eternal bliss or torment, is something that is common to most world religions. There are, of course, many names for these places and they all differ a little. For the ancients, when it came to Paradise, that place where those who lived with virtue in life go to, it may have been called Aaru, the Egyptian Field of Reeds or for the ancient Welsh Britons, Annwyn, the land of eternal youth and plenty. The Greeks and Romans believed in the Elysian Fields and the Norse in Valhalla. They are places of peace, prosperity, happiness and honour.

Anubis, weighing the heart of the recently dead

Anubis, weighing the heart of the recently dead

Likewise, most traditions have a place to oppose Paradise – Hell. There is often an in-between realm as well, such as Purgatory or the Norse Hel. On their way to the afterlife, Egyptians’ hearts were weighed in the scales against a feather with Anubis looking on. For ancient Greeks and Romans, Hades was the land of the dead where souls could linger forever and Tartarus was the tortuous hell, the opposite of Elysium. To get to these places, the dead would have to cross the river Styx, ferried by Acheron who demanded his gold piece.

Acheron - The Ferryman

Acheron – The Ferryman

I am but mentioning a few traditions. There are so many, and every culture has its own idea as to what is good and what is unbearable in the afterlife. They’re not often described in detail because, well, most of the time those who go don’t come back to sketch it out.

This is where writing historical fantasy can really be a thrill to read and write. The beauty of it is that you can indeed explore Hades, or Valhalla or wherever you wish to go. The Land of the Dead can be whatever you envision it to be. As a literary device, it can allow you to visit the innermost hopes and fears of your characters, to have them interact with the dead, famous people, departed loved ones, or enemies whom it would otherwise be impossible for them to meet with.

Odysseus and Teiresias in Hades

Odysseus and Teiresias in Hades

Some authors have used the Afterlife or Underworld to great effect in their storytelling, and one that stands out in particular to me is Alice Borchardt, author of the Legend of the Wolf series. In The Silver Wolf, the first book of the series, Ms. Borchardt’s heroine, Regeane, journey’s through the temple of Cumae to the Land of the Dead. The descriptions of what the character sees and experiences are fantastic examples of how an author can unfurl the sails of creativity and imagination in these other realms. Few descriptions have had me so rapt by the images they portrayed.

She started down the aisle of the temple past the tall pylons that seemed like deadly trees spouting leaves of flames, on into the distant waste… A cry of sorrow so profound, so bitter, that it seemed beyond hope or even love. A desolate, lonely sound, the weeping of one condemned to wander forever without either consolation or rest.

Here one is introduced to the great sadness and horror upon entering the Land of the Dead. You read of souls who scramble about mutilated yet still fawning over their previous state of beauty or strength, of wraiths whose exposed bones will bleed for all eternity. The waste of the Land of the Dead is that in between place, neither Tartarus nor Paradise but a place for passing through, or staying in infinite limbo. After passing through the burning wasteland, Regean meets with her dead father who carries her across the river of fire, a sort of Styx boundary before she is able to reach paradise and seek the soul she needs, Daedalus. The scene between her and her father, who was murdered when she was a child, is very poignant. When she reaches Daedalus’ Garden, the place is full of beauty.

She found herself on a flagged path walking toward a distant fountain. The path was bounded by flowers. They bloomed everywhere, riotously indifferent to the season… Rank upon rank of velvety purple lavender, thick clary sage, clover white, yellow, and purplish red, hugged the path as a border… Other taller ones behind them lifted crisp petals twisted back, orange and scarlet as though they waited breathlessly for the sun. Behind them, twinning among the tall cypresses were the roses. Single, double, red, pink and white, and on their petals scattered as stars are across the night sky, lenses of dew catching the light of the rising sun and turning it into a thousand tiny rainbows.

The Silver Wolf - Alice Borchardt

The Silver Wolf – Alice Borchardt

Ms. Borchardt certainly has a beautiful view of paradise, a welcome reward after dragging the reader through the sad wastes on the other side of the river. One last beautiful moment occurs when Regeane meets Daedalus who is able to heal the person she has come to seek healing for. Meeting someone of past importance or fame has been used by others. Homer has Odysseus journey to Hades to see Teiresias, and Virgil writes about Aenaeas heading into the underworld to see his father Anchises. To hear the dead talk can be a beautiful or terrible thing, a sad remembrance of better times long past, of an age before the horrors of humanity. Daedalus remembers:

…many years ago, in my youth, I was born on Crete, that fair island set in a lapis sea. Ah, it was the earth’s morning then, and we were the first to taste her bountiful fruits. We tamed the wild grapes grown on the mountainsides. Soft tiny, purple globes, fair and round as a woman’s lips. Our fields were golden with wheat, bowing before the sea’s breeze. Long dead as I am, I can still taste the soft, white loaf that wheat made. Still scent the bouquet of the wine we drank with it.

This wistful soliloquy of Daedalus’ is beautiful and sad (and much longer than the excerpt above) and challenges the character, indeed the reader, to think on the deeds of the present, reflect on the outcomes of our actions and the actions of those around us. The dead have the benefit of great hindsight and living mortals would do well to take note. By granting characters a glimpse of the land beyond, the horror and the beauty, they can benefit from a perspective that can give them an advantage, a Deus ex machina to aid them in their hour of need.

Aenaeas in Elysium

Aenaeas in Elysium

This weekend is All Hallow’s Eve, or the sacred time of Samhain, the time when the veil is thin and the dead, our ancestors believed, roamed the earth. To our ancestors, the dead were not always to be feared, and the festival we now call Halloween (October 31st), was a time to celebrate.

How will you be celebrating? Do you fear the dead? Do you light orange talismans against them? Or do you use the time to contemplate the Afterlife?

As ever, this is a time of mystery, fear, and wonder. Whatever you do on October 31st, enjoy and be safe…

Thank you for reading.

 

If you are looking for a scary historical read this Halloween, you may wish to check out books I and II of the Carpathian Interlude series (IMMORTUI and LYKOI). Romans, Zombies, and Werewolves in the Carpathian mountains and the forests of Germania. It doesn’t get much scarier than that for a Roman soldier!

haunted forest

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‘Pompeii’ – A Poem by Jenn Blair

Pompeii aerial 2

When it comes to the Roman Empire, few things fascinate us as much as the destruction of Pompeii and the host of archaeological treasures that have been preserved by Mt. Vesuvius’s pyroclastic eruption.

We’ve all read the books, and seen the documentaries, artistic recreations, and recent film that have attempted to bring this ancient city back to life. They help us to understand, and live safely through, one of the greatest cataclysms in Roman history.

Pompeii movie poster

Pompeii movie poster

When I think of Pompeii, some of the first things that come to mind are the frescoes of the newly-restored Villa of Mysteries, the Temple of Apollo in the forum, or the Great Lupanar, Pompeii’s largest brothel. The artistic and architectural treasures that have been preserved by the ash are myriad.

Fresco from Pompeii's Villa of Mysteries

Fresco from Pompeii’s Villa of Mysteries

However, it is the people of Pompeii that haunt me most.

Unlike neighbouring Herculaneum, where the populace seems to have escaped, Pompeii’s ruins were littered with human remains.

Many of you will recognize the shades of these fallen Pompeians from the plaster casts that now represent them.

In 1863 the head archaeologist at Pompeii, Giuseppe Fiorelli, noticed unusual voids in the ash layer of the site. He realized that these voids contained human remains, and so devised the technique of injecting plaster into the spaces to recreate the forms of Vesuvius’s victims.

A Pompeian Family

A Pompeian Family

These are the most haunting artifacts Pompeii has to offer: its people.

Today I have something very special to share with you.

My friend and fellow author, Jenn Blair, recently had a triad of poems about events that took place on February 3rd, 1863 published in The Cossack Literary Journal.

The first of these poems is entitled ‘Pompeii’, and the first time I read it I knew I had to share it with you.

It takes us back in time to the excavations of Pompeii and gives us an intimate glimpse into the thoughts and feelings of Guiseppe Fiorelli:

February 3, 1863

Pompeii

The wells went dry. But they did not suspect, even then,

walking, to prayers, to market – swimming along in

strange morning light whose quality was already

changing. I kneel down and fish out the bones carefully,

with slender tongs, before pouring gesso in the hardened ash.

Some sculpt out of the air, but I persist in believing there are

forms already present, absences which are too telling-

a chance to become intimate with curdled hands or

even the downcast eyelashes of the woman and man

and child long ago cast down. Perhaps they will have

amulets and goddesses in arm, or perhaps they will

hold nothing, except themselves, that one last possession,

all limbs pulled in as if to ask the gods for respite now

that their small bodies inhabit even tighter boundaries.

Frescoes, vases, temples, carbonized loaves of bread: important.

But enough of artifacts. I want to see a living face.

Uncovering the Dead of Pompeii

Uncovering the Dead of Pompeii

I love this poem.

Having worked as an archaeologist, I remember getting excited about ancient people’s rubbish, about broken pots, coins, and crushed decorations, but in reading Jenn Blair’s poem above, I imagine the great sadness that must have descended on Fiorelli as he unearthed his plaster casts of the dead.

Uncovering the people of Pompeii was not like discovering an intentional burial, where the dead are at peace, surrounded by prized grave goods.

In Pompeii, when the bodies were unearthed, they appeared in pain and despair, “all limbs pulled in as if to ask the gods for respite…”

Pompeii and its disaster will, I feel sure, fascinate and haunt us for generations to come.

Vintage Postcard of Pompeii

Vintage Postcard of Pompeii

Be sure to CLICK HERE to read the rest of Jenn Blair’s February 3, 1863 poems to find out what else was happening on that date as the people of Pompeii finally came into the light of day…

Thank you for reading.

Jenn Blair

Jenn Blair

Jenn Blair has published work in the Berkley Poetry Review, Copper Nickel, Superstition Review, Kestrel, Cold Mountain Review, Blood Orange Review, Tusculum Review, New Plains Review, Tidal Basin Review, Southloop Review, Clockhouse Review, and The Newtowner among others. Her prose manuscript Human Voices was a finalist for Texas Review Press’s 2014 George Garrett Prize. She teaches at the University of Georgia and lives with her family in Winterville, GA.

Be sure to check out Jenn’s poetry chap books too at the links below:

All Things are Ordered : from Finishing Line Press, and Amazon

The Sheep Stealer : from Hyacinth Girl Press

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