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Friday, October 4, 2013

A Guest Post by Steven S. Long , author of Thunder on The Battlefield

I love all types of Fantasy, but there’s a special place in my heart for the subgenre known as “Swords and Sorcery.” The combination of action, tightly-paced stories, and weird magic has an appeal for me that other types of Fantasy often can’t live up to. So I read a lot of S&S, and have tried my hand at writing more than a few S&S stories. I’m always trying to think of intriguing characters and situations for S&S tales, so I was excited to hear about the Thunder on the Battlefield anthology and determined to do my best to win a place in its pages.

I expected (and hoped!) that the anthology would feature a lot of stories with the usual Swords and Sorcery protagonists:  strong warriors; wily rogues; tough barbarians; and so on. I figured that one of the best ways to attract editor James Tuck’s attention would be to come up with a main character for my story that wasn’t like the usual run of S&S heroes. I thought about it for a long time, and finally hit on an idea that appealed to me:  write an S&S story in which the protagonist is a priest.

In Swords and Sorcery, priests are usually presented as villains, or at least as dislikeable. Sometimes they serve dark, evil gods and intend to destroy Our Hero as part of their plot to take over the kingdom, or the world. In other cases they’re simply venal and corrupt — men who use their position and power to enrich themselves while mouthing religious platitudes. But they’re almost never shown as sympathetic characters, much less as protagonists. (For that matter, I think this is true of other Fantasy subgenres as well.)

I’m not a particularly religious person myself, but I thought that a story featuring a priest as its hero would definitely make for a different sort of S&S fiction. So I got to work. Since this was a Swords and Sorcery tale, I needed a hero who was a man of action. Thus, a cloistered man of god (similar to Brother Cadfael from Ellis Peter’s novels, perhaps) wasn’t really what I wanted. Instead I envisioned a crusading priest, one carrying the word of his god to the enemy at a point of a sword, laying down harsh punishments for sin, and putting himself squarely between his “flock” and the evil outer darkness that threatened them.

I liked that image a lot, so I expanded on it. I had a blank section on the map of one of my worlds where I could put the realm he came from:  an empire, sort of like a more advanced Roman Empire, that was expanding into the barbarian lands to the north, converting the natives by conquest. That meant plenty of enemy gods and lurking, ancient evils (and their worshippers!) that my character, Valgard, could oppose. All that created a vivid picture in my mind, one that compelled me to write a story.

But S&S isn’t just about Swords — there’s Sorcery in there too. So I decided Valgard, as a special crusader for Heliarus the sun god, would have a few minor magical powers. He could create light and flame around his hands, could sense evil, could grant blessings to aid the followers of Heliarus, and so forth. That in turn told me that priests of other gods — including the evil gods — might have divinely-granted powers of their own.
Where Steven S. Long's story will be found.

With all those facts in mind, my story, “The Two Fires,” practically wrote itself. An ancient, evil god arises in the northlands in the wake of the imperial conquest, and the Temple of Heliarus sends Valgard to find out what’s going on and deal with any threats. After encountering uncooperative military commanders, natives both hostile and helpful, and other colorful denizens of the region, Valgard at last tracks the dark cult to its hiding place. With a troop of imperial soldiers at his back he attacks, confronting the evil high priest personally. They pit their magical powers against one another, and thanks to his willpower Valgard triumphs, freeing the land and its people from a terrible shadow.

As usual it took a few passes through the story to ensure that it flowed properly and made sense to the reader, but in the end I was very happy with the final result. Even more importantly, the editor of Thunder on the Battlefield liked it, and thus “The Two Fires” found a home in the second volume of the anthology, subtitled Sorcery. I think it’s a great story, and I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it!

This book may have been received free of charge from a publisher or a publicist. That will NEVER have a bearing on my recommendations.

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