I’ve been reading Thomas Bulfinch’s The Age of Chivalry. How many times and in how many versions have I encountered the deeds of King Arthur and his knights I couldn’r say. But the reason I bring up this book is that I encountered a couple of passages that brought Robert E. Howard to mind. Allow me to quote:
“The earliest inhabitants of Britain are supposed to have been a branch of that great family known in history by the designation of Celts. Cambria, which is a frequent name for Wales is thought to be derived from Cymri, the name which the Welsh traditions apply to an immigrant people who entered the island from the adjacent continent. This name is thought to be idenetical with those of Cimmerians and Cimbri, under which the Greek and Roman historians describe a barbarous people, who spread themselves from the north of the Euxine over the whole of Northwestern Europe.” (Pages 107-108.)
“But none to Cattraeth’s Vale return
Save Aeron brave, and Conan strong…” (Page 110.)
Those of you who’ve read Howard’s Conan tales will doubtless understand why these passages caught my eye.
Howard, from all evidence, was very well read. He may well have run across references to Cimmeria in any number of sources. And Conan was not exactly an unknown name. Yet it wouldn’t surprise me if Howard had read Bulfinch. Age of Chivalry was published in 1858, so it was likely available to him. Certainly the mythic relationship of Cimmeria to the Celts would have appealed to Howard.
I’m probably treading well-traveled ground here. But I wanted to mention it. And if I can’t mention something that interests me in my own web log, where can I?
I’d also like to mention that my books are available pretty much anywhere you purchase books online. Why not pick up a copy? Try, for example, Under Strange Suns. People seem to like it.
Now, on to Magnus Stoneslayer’s diary.
The ax is a tricky weapon to master, dear diary. It lacks the finesse and versatility of the sword. But what it does do it does very well. With all of the lethal weight concentrated at the far end of the shaft it is a top heavy and cumbersome weapon that requires precise timing to accurately strike a blow. If it is properly timed, all of the muscular strength of the wielder if focused, amplified, and delivered to one spot for a clean – well, all right – messy, kill. But if the wielder commits to the blow at the wrong moment he will be off balance and not only will he miss, but he will be improperly positioned for defense; there is no checking the swing once commenced in earnest.
Ax theory can also apply to the tactics employed by the leader of a band of desert raiders. Me, for example. I can feint and posture, but the decisive blow must be nicely calculated. My weapon here is of course figurative: my fierce desert warriors whose ranks are swelling with news of each successful raid I lead. My ax head just keeps growing and requiring more deliberation to employ effectively.
Today’s foray can prove illustrative. The Zantian Empire is stretching its influence south, encompassing the villages and walled towns that dot the desert fringe. The Empire claims that only its patrols can protect the settlements from the depredation of wild nomads and bandits. There is some truth to this assertion; I do have to account for the location of the Imperials before launching a raid.
I had intelligence of a reinforced patrol in the vicinity of the fortified settlement (more a jumped up caravansary enjoying a period of prosperity) that I intended to pillage. Now if I’d
simply gone bulling ahead, my raiders would be running amok through the streets, disorganized and leaderless when the Imperials came on the scene. I would have committed to the blow too early and would have thrown myself off balance, leaving my flank defenseless for a counter stroke.
Instead I feinted. I detached a couple dozen of my renegades to posture and threaten a town nearly a day’s journey east. Word reached me that the Imperials had bought the feint and were on the march. Then I committed to the blow and launched my sortie.
I’m sure the glow in the night sky from the town burning at my back has alerted the Imperial officer that he lost this contest, dear diary. I will sleep well tonight, enjoying the taste of plundered wine and victory.