Thursday, October 24, 2013

Know Ye Not Agincourt?

Agincourt, Agincourt!
Know ye not Agincourt?
Never to be forgot
Or known to no men?
Where English cloth-yard arrows
Kill'd the French like tame sparrows,
Slaine by our bowmen
                                              Bowman's Glory. c. 1600


Until the year 1415, October 25th was known only for the Feast of Saint Crispin and Saint Crispinian.  The significance of those saints was lost among most, because every day was a feast day for one saint or another.  After 1415, the day would be celebrated as the greatest victory in English history.  In France it was mourned as the day that the flower of French nobility was lost on the killing fields of Agincourt. 

 Many histories of the Battle of Agincourt have been written, indeed the writing started almost as the battle closed.  It is one of the best documented medieval battles.  I won't try to recount the struggle here but will provide a very brief synopsis so the reader can understand the significance of the English victory and the extent of the devastation to the elite of French nobility.

 After a long and bitter siege of the port town of Harfleur, King Henry V of England marched his Army overland from Harfleur to Calais on the northern coast of France.  It should have been an eight day march.  Rations and supplies for only eight days were taken by the 1,000 men-at-arms and 5,000 archers of Henry's little army.  Two days from Calais his men were blocked from crossing the River Somme.  With his food supply running out he was forced to turn east, away from Calais to find an unprotected crossing point on the river.  Each bridge and ford were blocked by the enemy.  Finally the English, already four days overdue in Calais and long out of food were able to find a unguarded ford on the Somme.  A foot race on the Calais Road ensued between the weary, starving English army and a French force of almost 30,000 men. 

 The French outpaced the English and blocked the Calais Road near a little village called Agincourt.  In the battle on October 25th, Henry V's bedraggled men crushed the French Army and killed almost 8,000 French men-at-arms and knights, more men than in the entire English army.  English casualties were estimated to be only a few hundred.  Much of the victory can be attributed to the English archers and their deadly long bows.  Most who were there that day felt that only divine providence could have provided such an complete and lopsided victory. 

 My newest book, The Archer's Son, tells the story of a lad who goes along with a company of Cornish archers on the Agincourt Campaign.  The story follows the retinue of Sir John Trelawny from the Cornish village of Altarnon, to the Siege of Harfleur in France, the march to Calais and the Battle of Agincourt.  The experiences of this young boy change him forever.  Not just from the horrors of combat, but from the lasting brotherhood-of-arms that all soldiers, in all eras, develop with the men with which they serve. 

 Here is a snippet from Chapter 23 at the opening of the Battle of Agincourt:

"Keep your heads lads and nock a bodkin," William called out.  "There is Lord Erpingham.  Now we will provoke the French into moving."  The old knight strode quickly out in the field in front of the line where all could see him.  He tossed a baton high in the air to draw the attention of all the archers. 
"Now strike!"  The old knight bellowed at the top of his lungs.
In unison, five thousand archers muscled bow cords to their ears and launched arrows high in the air towards the French lines.  It was a long shot, so the high arching arrows took several seconds to ascend before they started their deadly fall to earth.  Hedyn could see a faint shadow that drifted across the wheat field created by the mass of five thousand feathered missiles.  Like a great flock of starlings, he thought. 
Before the first arrows began to thud into men and horses and to clang against armor, the archers were sending more arrows on their way, each man shooting at his own pace.  Within a minute 60,000 arrows were in the air or scattered across the battlefield.  Some in dirt, some in men.

Thirteen year old Hedyn, my protagonist, survives the battle.  But Agincourt is forever with him.  Our modern soldier's plague of post traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) is not a new phenomena.  It has tormented soldiers since there have been wars.  We have only now began to understand and diagnosis it.  From the Epilogue to The Archer's Son comes this passage:

            For many months after his return, Hedyn seldom smiled or shared mirth with family or friends.  He somehow thought that happiness was disloyal to the grief that he felt for Roger, and Lawrence and other lost friends who were in lonely, anonymous graves at Harfleur.  Only through prayer did his sadness finally subside.  Christ brought him the understanding that his duty was to the living, and not to the dead.
            But he never shook the demons that came to him in his sleep.  Each night was a dreamy torment of charging black nights, clouds of arrows, blood and lifeless bodies.  Only his bride knew of his suffering.  The ivory handle dagger remained hidden under his sleeping matt.  It seemed the only thing to bring him at least a tiny bit of refuge from his dread of the night.  Even as an old man, fifty years after Agincourt, the dreams sometimes came to torture him. . .
            In later life, small boys would sometimes shyly approach the gray haired old man and ask, "Hedyn Archerson, you were there?  You were with Henry at Agincourt?"  They would puff themselves up and try to appear older as they clutched their little bows. 
            He would sigh and respond, "Aye.  I was there.  I was at Agincourt."  But he told only stories that made him laugh or made him happy or brought him pride.  He told no tales that brought him sadness. 

The Archer's Son will go to the editor in November and be released in mid 2014. 

The Author dressed as an English Archer at the time of Agincourt.  These photos were taken at "Days of Knights" a medieval living history program.  They will be used to help develop art work for The Archer's Son. Photos by the Author and Scott Lyndon.

A fully armored knight as they would have appeared at Agincourt.  The armor of the English and French was essentially the same.  The colorful surcoats gave the identity (and nationality) of the knight.

A young page assists his lord in donning his armor

An archer takes aim with his longbow


Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Boy in the Shadows

I’ve been asked by several readers how my publisher was able to capture the photograph on the cover of The Secret of Wattensaw Bayou.  They are surprised when I tell them that the photo was taken in my backyard!  Well, sorta taken in my backyard. 
Photoshop is an amazing tool.  The background photo of the swampy red sunset was purchased from an on line image seller.  The front image is a combination of computer magic and household devices.  I dressed the model in 19th century clothing and then put him in front of my back porch light.  My wife, Phyllis, then trained a red colored spot light on the young man from out of the frame.  The photo, taken from the model’s back in low light, resulted in a nice red tinted out-line around his silhouette.  He was then “lifted” from the photo frame and layered on top of the swamp photo. 

Who is the model?  Meet seventeen year old Jalen Lanier.  Jalen was sixteen when he posed for the book cover. He is the son of a co-worker and was happy to play the part of Ephraim Wright, the main character of The Secret of Wattensaw Bayou, for the book cover.  Jalen is a fine young man and I enjoyed working with him on two photo shoots to get the light just right on this shot.  I appreciate his help and patience immensely!

I’ll be using a similar technique for my next book, The Archer’s Son.  I already have a gorgeous background photo of a European Castle at sunset.  A photographer in Russia has graciously given me permission to use his work.  Now, who will be my young archer?

Monday, October 7, 2013

Lost in the Desert - For 2,500 Years!

I'm sorry for the long time since my last post.  I've been pre-occupied with completing the manuscript for my next novel.  I'm happy to report that I have finished The Archer's Son and hope to have it to my publisher in Novmeber to prepare it for a 2014 release. 

I recently stumbled across this interesting story.  It is from 2012, but has not been widely announced.  You can see additional photos at the website below. 

Vanished Persian Army Said Found in Desert


The remains of a mighty Persian army said to have drowned in the sands of the western Egyptian desert 2,500 years ago might have been finally located, solving one of archaeology's biggest outstanding mysteries, according to Italian researchers.
Bronze weapons, a silver bracelet, an earring and hundreds of human bones found in the vast desolate wilderness of the Sahara desert have raised hopes of finally finding the lost army of Persian King Cambyses II. The 50,000 warriors were said to be buried by a cataclysmic sandstorm in 525 B.C.
"We have found the first archaeological evidence of a story reported by the Greek historian Herodotus," Dario Del Bufalo, a member of the expedition from the University of Lecce, told Discovery News.

All photos from:
According to Herodotus (484-425 B.C.), Cambyses, the son of Cyrus the Great, sent 50,000 soldiers from Thebes to attack the Oasis of Siwa and destroy the oracle at the Temple of Amun after the priests there refused to legitimize his claim to Egypt.
After walking for seven days in the desert, the army got to an "oasis," which historians believe was El-Kharga. After they left, they were never seen again.
"A wind arose from the south, strong and deadly, bringing with it vast columns of whirling sand, which entirely covered up the troops and caused them wholly to disappear," wrote Herodotus.

A century after Herodotus wrote his account, Alexander the Great made his own pilgrimage to the oracle of Amun, and in 332 B.C. he won the oracle's confirmation that he was the divine son of Zeus, the Greek god equated with Amun.
The tale of Cambyses' lost army, however, faded into antiquity. As no trace of the hapless warriors was ever found, scholars began to dismiss the story as a fanciful tale.

Now, two top Italian archaeologists claim to have found striking evidence that the Persian army was indeed swallowed in a sandstorm. Twin brothers Angelo and Alfredo Castiglioni are already famous for their discovery 20 years ago of the ancient Egyptian "city of gold" Berenike Panchrysos.
Presented recently at the archaeological film festival of Rovereto, the discovery is the result of 13 years of research and five expeditions to the desert.

"It all started in 1996, during an expedition aimed at investigating the presence of iron meteorites near Bahrin, one small oasis not far from Siwa," Alfredo Castiglioni, director of the Eastern Desert Research Center (CeRDO)in Varese, told Discovery News.
While working in the area, the researchers noticed a half-buried pot and some human remains. Then the brothers spotted something really intriguing -- what could have been a natural shelter.

It was a rock about 35 meters (114.8 feet) long, 1.8 meters (5.9 feet) in height and 3 meters (9.8 feet) deep. Such natural formations occur in the desert, but this large rock was the only one in a large area.
"Its size and shape made it the perfect refuge in a sandstorm," Castiglioni said.

Right there, the metal detector of Egyptian geologist Aly Barakat of Cairo University located relics of ancient warfare: a bronze dagger and several arrow tips.

"We are talking of small items, but they are extremely important as they are the first Achaemenid objects, thus dating to Cambyses' time, which have emerged from the desert sands in a location quite close to Siwa," Castiglioni said.

About a quarter mile from the natural shelter, the Castiglioni team found a silver bracelet, an earring and few spheres which were likely part of a necklace.
"An analysis of the earring, based on photographs, indicate that it certainly dates to the Achaemenid period. Both the earring and the spheres appear to be made of silver. Indeed a very similar earring, dating to the fifth century B.C., has been found in a dig in Turkey," Andrea Cagnetti, a leading expert of ancient jewelry, told Discovery News.

In the following years, the Castiglioni brothers studied ancient maps and came to the conclusion that Cambyses' army did not take the widely believed caravan route via the Dakhla Oasis and Farafra Oasis.

"Since the 19th century, many archaeologists and explorers have searched for the lost army along that route. They found nothing. We hypothesized a different itinerary, coming from south. Indeed we found that such a route already existed in the 18th Dynasty," Castiglioni said.
According to Castiglioni, from El Kargha the army took a westerly route to Gilf El Kebir, passing through the Wadi Abd el Melik, then headed north toward Siwa.

"This route had the advantage of taking the enemy aback. Moreover, the army could march undisturbed. On the contrary, since the oasis on the other route were controlled by the Egyptians, the army would have had to fight at each oasis," Castiglioni said.
To test their hypothesis, the Castiglioni brothers did geological surveys along that alternative route. They found desiccated water sources and artificial wells made of hundreds of water pots buried in the sand. Such water sources could have made a march in the desert possible.

"Termoluminescence has dated the pottery to 2,500 years ago, which is in line with Cambyses' time," Castiglioni said.

In their last expedition in 2002, the Castiglioni brothers returned to the location of their initial discovery. Right there, some 100 km (62 miles) south of Siwa, ancient maps had erroneously located the temple of Amun.
The soldiers believed they had reached their destination, but instead they found the khamsin -- the hot, strong, unpredictable southeasterly wind that blows from the Sahara desert over Egypt.

"Some soldiers found refuge under that natural shelter, other dispersed in various directions. Some might have reached the lake of Sitra, thus surviving," Castiglioni said.
At the end of their expedition, the team decided to investigate Bedouin stories about thousands of white bones that would have emerged decades ago during particular wind conditions in a nearby area.

Indeed, they found a mass grave with hundreds of bleached bones and skulls.


"We learned that the remains had been exposed by tomb robbers and that a beautiful sword which was found among the bones was sold to American tourists," Castiglioni said.
Among the bones, a number of Persian arrow heads and a horse bit, identical to one appearing in a depiction of an ancient Persian horse, emerged.

"In the desolate wilderness of the desert, we have found the most precise location where the tragedy occurred," Del Bufalo said.
The team communicated their finding to the Geological Survey of Egypt and gave the recovered objects to the Egyptian authorities.

"We never heard back. I'm sure that the lost army is buried somewhere around the area we surveyed, perhaps under five meters (16.4 feet) of sand."
Mosalam Shaltout, professor of solar physics at the National Research Institute of Astronomy and Geophysics, Helwan, Cairo, believes it is very likely that the army took an alternative western route to reach Siwa.

"I think it depended on their bad planning for sufficient water and meals during the long desert route and most of all by the occurrence of an eruptive Kamassen sandy winds for more than one day," Shaltout told Discovery News.

Piero Pruneti, editor of Archeologia Viva, Italy's most important archaeology magazine, is also impressed by the team's work.
"Judging from their documentary, the Castiglioni's have made a very promising finding," Prunetic told Discovery News. "Indeed, their expeditions are all based on a careful study of the landscape…An in-depth exploration of the area is certainly needed!"