Writing a Sixth Century Road Trip

I am still doing research for “Caledfwlch” and will be for many more months. I have, however, also begun writing. As with “Bel Nemeton,” the second book in the series features a split perspective with part of the action split between a contemporary time frame and a Sixth century Arthurian one (other, shorter, perspectives may also be introduced, I haven’t decided).

Part of the Sixth century storyline involves Myrddi (Merlin), Bleys (Blaze), and Arthur (for reasons of aesthetic preference, I’ve kept the king’s name in its familiar form rather than reverting to its Celtic versions). Traveling overland from a nebulously placed Camelot (there are so many suggested locations for a historical Camelot, none of them terribly convincing) to Pictland.

It would be entirely possible to fast forward through all that and simply resume narrative upon arriving among the Picts. If this was a short story, I certainly would. In a novel, however, I can afford to give some detail to their travels, using the opportunity to bring the world of Sixth century Britain to life, provide some character exposition, and insert a little derring-do.

The research underpinning this part of the story has been every bit as challenging as the research into the Picts (see my previous post). There is, of course, no authoritative map of Britain in the early-to-mid Sixth century. Even determining what lands and kingdoms Mryrddin and his party would pass through on their journey requires sifting through vague and contradictory information before making my own assumptions (possibly shaded a little by dramatic potential).

To the best of my ability, their travels will take the thrio through Powys, Pengwern, Elmet, Reghed, Damnonia, and Dal Riata before entering Pictland.

Along the way, each of those lands will get a little bit of color, if not a small story. Pengwern contains an abandoned Roman city whose name appears to be a Latinization of the Britonnic term for “City of the Werewolf” (really). How could I not play with that? Elmet, I think, will be Bleys’s home turf, good for some exposition about the history of Myrddin’s tutor. Reghed is often considered to be the “Gorre” of Arthurian legend, which gives some hints about what I may do there. Unlike the previous lands, which were are all Brittonic or Welsh, Dal Riata is the land of the Scoti (Gaelic speaking invaders from Ireland from which the name “Scotland” is ultimately derived). So there’s some good opportunity for cross-cultural tensions and, I think, maybe a bar brawl.

After that, it’s into Pictland and Sixth century Wally World (just kidding, mostly).

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