Sunday, December 5, 2010

Urien of Rheged vs Urien of Rhyged – A Peek into My Creative Process

For those of you who missed my last post on Urien, he’s one of the candidates for the “historical” King Arthur, primarily because there are so many parallels between his own history and that of the King Arthur legend. He won a series of battles, which were cataloged by the same Nennius who listed Arthur’s battles. He’s even credited with having defeated the Angles at Lindesfarne. In later versions of Urien’s history (by this time highly fictionalized), he’s a strong supporter of Arthur. So, in terms of the legend, he was definitely one of the “good guys”.

I found all this out after I’d selected Urien to be my villain. That caused a dilemma, at first, as in my trilogy, Urien plots with Morguase to overthrow Arthur. But then I realized it could actually make him into a more interesting character. What kind of man would turn against the king he once supported? And what would drive him to do that?

My original vision of Urien was that of burning ambition. He wanted my heroine’s throne for himself and his sons. But then one of those serendipitous things happened. I wrote the first scene in which we see Sioneh, my heroine, together with her father. And I decided to set it in Urien’s point of view, just to see what would happen, as I thought setting it in Sioneh’s point of view would create a pretty predictable scene.
Wow! What I discovered, as I let the scene unfold through Urien’s eyes, was a man in conflict. One who wanted the throne, but who also admired and was frustrated by his daughter, who was, in reality, a far better candidate for the ruler of Rhyged than any of his sons. Something Urien knew deep in his heart but wouldn’t admit even to himself.

He’s like a hawk watching his prey. Everything Urien does is tinted with hoping Sioneh won’t succeed, and hoping she will. Here’s a bit of that scene:
     Urien of Rhyged held the hoof of one of their new stallions between his knees as he pared off the excess wall. A trickle of sweat dripped onto the shavings gathering at his feet. In the heat of the glowing forge he was stripped to his braes despite the chill of the early spring air. Glancing up, he paused to wipe his brow and was not at all surprised to see his daughter, still in armor, back from her three-day patrol of Rhyged’s coast.

     “My luck, you’re in the hottest place in Carduel.” It was like Sioneh to complain over everything he did. She wiped her brow with her sleeve. Road dust smudged her cheek. “Why don’t you get a new farrier instead of insisting on shoeing the war horses yourself? Anyone could do as well.”

     As he lowered the hoof to the ground, a scowl pulled at the scar above his eye, reminding him of the battle where he got it. “I’ve had the balance of too many hooves ruined by idiots who think they can shoe a horse.”

     Pursing her lips, Sioneh dipped a ladle of water out of a nearby bucket. Her eyes sized up the stallion he was shoeing, their flare telling him she approved. She wasn’t going to be happy when she found out he’d given it to Domnall.

    Anticipating the fight to come, he wiped his hands on his leather apron, tonged a red-hot shoe out of the forge and began hammering it into shape.

     His youngest, still in the quilted gambeson Rhyged knights wore to protect their skin, lazily pulled on the bellows. Domnall turned to Sioneh. “How do you like my new horse?”

     “What?” Water spilt on his daughter’s hauberk.

     Trust Domnall to provoke her. The boy scratched at a flea bite. “Da says I’m to have him, now that I’m knighted.”

     Sioneh puffed up like an angry hawk. “I thought I was getting him.”

     Urien’s own voice was calm. “Domnall needs a war horse. Bonniblack’s a bit to handle. Narron suits you fine.”

     “I can handle any horse.” She flicked the rest of the water at Domnall, who dodged with a mocking bow. Urien wondered why she let him get away with that kind of insubordination. He’d have a strap to his son by now. But she was going to have to learn herself to command, if she intended to lead Rhyged. And there were times when he wondered if she ever would.

The same ambivalence accompanies Urien’s treason. He’s angry at Arthur for what he thinks is Arthur’s betraying him, but there’s a corner of his heart that regrets his anger and would gladly forsake his plots.
They say that fact is more interesting than fiction. After all the research I’ve done, I’m convinced that anything pre-eleventh century is probably as much fiction as fact. But fact can help discover new depths in fiction.

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