Chastity is a surface worker at one of the local copper mines and is introduced in the prologue as the quarry of the Wild Hunt. Although the prologue is set in the 1850s this is not specifically mentioned anywhere, other than a passing reference to the copper mining boom of the 1800s in “Rain”. I felt that stating the date specifically would have interrupted the flow of the story, so I had to come up with another way to establish the time period in which Chastity lived. One possibility would have been to include the date in the chapter heading, but I wanted to keep to single word titles for the majority chapters and using a date didn’t seem to fit with that approach. To get around this, I decided that the character should have a name that would give her a distinct location in both time and place. Trewartha, as an obviously Cornish name, fixes her location and Chastity was chosen as a name that resonates well with the Victorian era. Women of that time were often named after religious virtues. Other potential names included Temperance and Prudence. I chose not to go with Temperance because the name had recently been used in a high profile TV and book series and Prudence didn’t seem to fit her character very well.
The Wild Hunt in The Solstice Blade was always going to be led by King Herla, as it is strongly based on the British variation of the European folk tale of the Wild Hunt which has many versions but generally features a legion of faeries, demons, or the dead, riding through the skies. In the Germanic versions of the Wild Hunt legends the leader is often assumed to be Woden, in the British version the leader is King Herla.
Several versions of The Wild Hunt occur in English folklore, especially in the South West, where the events of The Solstice Blade are set. In Somerset, the hunt was said to be led by King Arthur, in other versions the hounds are said to be Gabriel Ratchet’s dogs, and in Northern England they are Gabriel’s Hounds. In Devon in the legend of the Wisht hounds is associated with Wistman’s Wood high on Dartmoor (‘wisht’ in the Devonshire dialect is variously attributed to mean eerie or uncanny, or else pixie-led or haunted). In Cornwall, where The Solstice Blade is set, reference to the hunt are found in the story of Dando and his dogs or the devil and his dandy dogs, or sometimes as Jan Tregeagle who escaped from hell, trying to outrun the devil’s hounds.
In the Solstice Blade, I tried to make the character of King Herla someone who had been in the hunt for so long that he had lost all sense of himself and has became the personification of the hunt. This why he enjoys the sensation of being struck by lightning in the prologue, and why he and all the other members of the hunt are frozen in ecstasy when the lightning flash renders them visible for the first time to Liam, Evan and Travis in ‘Snow’. To arrive at a description of Herla, I envisioned how someone who had spent centuries riding through the storm would appear. This led to the description of the burnt and blackened crown and sword, the jagged corrosion of the sword making it all the more fearsome as the group imagines in ‘Pursued’. Herla’s clothes are burned and tattered rags, the inspiration of these being the appearance of old flags that have been ruined by a relentless wind.
The image Åsgårdsreien by Peter Nicolai Arbo that is shown with this post was also a source of inspiration for the Wild Hunt in The Solstice Blade.
References to the hunt being frozen in place in a lightning flash are deliberate and are an indication of things to come later in the story!
If you enjoyed reading about King Herla and the Wild Hunt, don’t forget to check out my book The Solstice Blade!
Although I had always intended for the The Lord of Misrule to feature in The Solstice Blade, at the start of the writing process I was not really sure of what his role would be. Further research led on to him becoming a central character of the story.
I encountered the Lord of Misrule again when researching ancient Winter Solstice celebrations, particularly the Roman festival of Saturnalia, for use in the dialogue between Travis, Liam and Evan and the owner of the junk shop when they discuss the origins of Christmas. As soon as I heard of the Lord of Misrule’s role as a kind of prince of fools, I immediately envisaged him in a battered paper Christmas cracker crown. The wooden sword also aids the image of a ceremonial role rather than a real one, as was giving him childlike habits like twisting his foot against the ground when thinking or embarrassed. This is good example of how the act of writing and researching can spark inspiration and cause the story to develop in unexpected ways.
Also and completely coincidentally the Lord of Misrule, in a number of guises, pops up around South West England quite a lot – a fact I was unaware of when writing The Solstice Blade even though it is set in Cornwall. In October 2016, the town of Penryn in Cornwall reinstated their Mock Mayor celebration for the town’s 800th anniversary. The Mock Mayor is another incarnation of The Lord of Misrule. In addition to the Mock Mayor himself Penryn’s parade, also known as The Mayor of Mylor, features two mace bearers who carry cabbages instead of maces. Traditionally the Mock Mayor assumed control of the town for one day and was carried in a chair on the shoulders of four strong men. He made a speech in front of the town hall before visiting various local public houses that were expected to provide him with ale.
These Mock Mayors were especially common in Cornwall in Penzance, Penryn, Helston, Polperro and St Germans, but were also found in Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.