Using the Shield in the Clovel Sword Stories

This week’s focus will be on one of the most common battle implements of ancient warfare, the shield.  Obviously, if your characters are fighting with swords and spears, there will be a shield needed to protect your characters.  Add to this fact is the shield was also the definitive symbol of the warrior caste in many cultures throughout the ages.
In my Clovel Sword Chronicles fantasy series, I returned to Northern European history to create the type of shield needed for the Esterblud tribe.  My primary character carries a typical shield of the Anglo-Saxon/Viking age which is circular in shape.  This weapon becomes the Shield of Skool, which is central to the main characters mission in the stories.  It also allowed my story to have a slight difference in so many other fantasy tales which focus their plots around the sword, often as the central element of a quest. That said, I still have the Clovel Sword as an important part of the triad needed within the storyline. 

History shows the construction materials of a shield to be made up of primarily of wood and leather.  Since I want my characters to be as real as possible, I knew that a wood shield would become too heavy, the thicker it became.  If too thin, it could not stop projectiles like spears, arrows and javelins.  So, I used a medium thickness which most warriors would be able to carry.  It would be able to stop most blows from swords yet still could fall apart from the abuse it might take on the battlefield.  Additionally, during the fighting, the wood might be penetrated by a projectile, forcing the warrior to fight at a disadvantage.  Imagine trying to hold a shield upright with a heavy spear stuck in it while fending off your enemy coming at you with the sword in the other hand.  As you can see, using this tool allows a range of possibilities when you are describing the fighting between characters.

There is a debate on whether the rims were reinforced or decorative.  For the Shield of Skool,  I decided to have the edge reinforced with iron along with another banding in the shield.  I did this for a particular reason.  The shield is usually considered a defensive weapon, however, I’ve seen re-enactors use the instrument as a very useful offensive tool in close quarters.  By using stronger materials on the edge, I could use the shield as a nasty weapon when used against an opponent’s neck area. 

In the front of a shield is a small area of metal covering called the boss.  Utilized for the protection of the wearer’s fingers, I used the boss to become the focal point for the Skool where the mysterious metal of the god’s forms itself to create a dangerous weapon, capable of destroying whole armies.  Such a small part of a weapon becomes a fantastic element within my story while maintaining a historic truth.

For more additional information on the shield, I have the following links:

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Sword play for Characters, Battles, and Fighting in a Fantasy World

This year I will attempt to make this blog more interesting by throwing out my thoughts, ideas and experiences used to create my books.  I know many great authors have shared their ideas on how to write scenes, develop characters, etc., but I want to take a slightly different tack.  My goal is to outline areas of inspiration and research which led me to develop my stories. 

Specific to my Clovel Sword series, I was unsure whether to start with the shield (based upon the god’s weapons my characters are seeking) or the sword.  After some thought, I decided upon the sword due to its central theme within the series and the basis for nearly all battles within the stories.  I won’t bore you with my interpretation of the history of sword development, suffice to say, the swords is not just a great weapon for close in fighting but one of the very symbols of power.  Obviously essential to many stories through history and fantasy, the sword can be the main character.  In my series, the Clovel Sword is something valuable due to its ability to kill something nearly immortal.  With such a weapon in hand, Urith becomes renowned for his battle prowess across the lands.

For this bit of book development, I didn’t have to go far for resource material.  There are many instances within history (and the Internet) of the sword’s role that it could be nearly cliché (at least I hope not yet…).  As I looked for something which would align with the concept of my world, I took the similarities of my Esterblud warriors with Vikings to develop a concept of a particular rugged sword that would be in the hands of my central character.  However, the typical Viking sword runs from 36 to 39 inches which was too small for my giant Urith and his nephew.  Thus, I went with a long sword which ran out to about 51 inches and could be easily used with two hands.  Add to it, a bit of history that certain Viking swords were made with a type of high quality crucible steel.  These swords were highly prized and very strong.  That type of combination became the basis for the Clovel Sword. 

Rather than focusing upon the weapon itself (aka, Arthur’s Excalibur, Charlemagne’s Joyeuse, etc.), I’ve tried to marry the design of the sword with how a warrior might use it in battle.  To do this, I’ve spent a lot of time watching the television and Youtube.  Looking at re-enactors and others who try to carry on the tradition of swordsmanship has been extremely beneficial to understanding the scenes I wish to portray.  Add in a bit of role playing with my son using some of his sword collection to replicate the battle scene is a way to get the action down as realistic as possible.  Side note:  Remember, during the research with your child, they REALLY get into trying to strike you down… can be fun if painful experience for you.

That thought leads me to the question on how to handle the violence within the story.  Let’s face it; fighting close combat with sharp and heavy weapons is a brutal, bloody affair.  In my opinion, how far to take the violent depiction of one human trying to kill another requires walking a fine line.  I found that gratuitous descriptions or blow by blow encounters will put off many of the readers or become boring, similar to how commercials now blast at you incessantly, making you tune them out.  While I can write through the scene quickly, something within each scene normally requires me to come back later with a lot of clean up to strike the balance.

Attempting to balance the action with the consequences is not an easy task.  I don’t have a quick and simple solution other than work through the logistics of the scene (I use some outlining as needed).  For instance, if you have a character taking on multiple enemies, how do you pace the fight, what are the natural reactions to each stroke of the weapon(s)?  Keep in mind that each of your enemies is seeking to take advantage of the fact, in this case, that your character is outnumbered.  A sword striking someone in the back may not go through the chainmail but it will damn well hurt. Putting yourself in the place of your character, how would you react to this?  

For me, the use of role play along with a lot of research adds a needed degree of realism to a fantasy world.

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