At present I am working on the sequel to my historical novel Varangian. I’m about half way through the first draft, and the research is taking up a lot of my time. This is the essential part of writing historical fiction, in my opinion. If we are to be true to the period, then we need to get the details right. But it’s not all history; fiction means ‘made up’, and imagination plays as important part as fact. I’ve included here an extract from my book to illustrate this. The characters, Alexius, Partriach of Byzantium, and Zoe, the empress, were real people. But this conversation never took place, or if it did I doubt it progressed in the same way. But that too is the beauty of historical fiction – we know a lot, but we don’t know it all. Especially conversations.
I hope you enjoy this extract. The book is available from Amazon and Barnes and Noble. It is also available for all e-readers from Smashwords. It’s a story layered with intrigue and mystery, love and death. In fact, everything you had ever wanted!
Looking up from his studies, Alexius smiled as Zoe stepped through his door. Of all the people in the palace, she alone was allowed to enter unannounced. That might soon change now that Michael had begun to assert his authority. A new emperor, a new regime, perhaps a new set of rules. The patriarch stood up.
“My child,” he said and opened his arms to embrace her.
Zoe hesitated. “Where are your guards?”
The old patriarch frowned, somewhat taken aback by her unexpected question. “My guards? I don’t understand …”
The empress swept forward, taking him by the elbow and steering him back into the room, a huge space, dominated by an enormous writing desk. Lined with shelves, heaving with ancient scrolls and other texts, the light diffused from a dozen or more sputtering candles, it provided a quiet inner sanctum where learning could flourish. Alexius, the most educated man in all of Byzantium, kept this area for himself, allowing no one to peruse his collection of tracts. He guarded it jealously and his guards kept him – and the room – safe. Or, at least, that was what he assumed.
“My guards have disappeared, yours too, by the look of it.”
His frown deepened. “What are you saying?”
“Listen. I received a visitor, bearing news. We are to be arrested, my old teacher.”
“Who do you think? Michael, of course.”
“He wouldn’t dare. My bodyguards—”
“Your bodyguards are either dead or have been bribed to leave their posts. I should have known this would happen as soon as Michael moved against Hardrada.”
“The Varangian Norse? This is connected with what happened to them?”
Zoe brought her knuckles up to her mouth and bit down hard into the flesh, “God´s teeth, I should have expected this. By removing us, Michael will become the absolute power in Byzantium. He has moved without hesitation, his plans well worked out in advance. We’ve been out-flanked, and there is nothing we can do about it!”
“Don’t be so sure,” said the old man. “Your popularity knows no bounds. If he is so stupid as to think he could overthrow you … the people would rise up against him.”
“Without leaders, they would be helpless against Michael’s troops.”
“So, we will lead them!”
Even in that dim light, she could see how flushed his face had become. “We cannot do that if we are dead.”
Her words hung in the air like lead weights. Alexius thought for a moment, then gathered his robes about him. “I have a secret passageway that leads out beyond the city walls. We will make good our escape, move to the outer reaches of the Empire, gather supporters …” He stopped, catching something, her mood perhaps, which remained stoic. “What is it?”
“I cannot leave.”
He gaped at her. “If what you say is true, that Michael has moved against you, then your life could well be in danger – you cannot stay here.”
“I have no choice. This is my home and the people would never forgive me if I abandoned them.” The old man went to speak, but she silenced him with a raised hand. “You, my teacher, you must go. Do what you say, travel to the north, muster support and return.”
“But child,” Alexius reached out, took her face in his hands. “He may kill you.”
“He would not dare.” Her hands closed over his whilst he still held her face. “Trust me. Go, gather forces. The Varangian mercenaries who fight in the north will be easily bought and then march on the city. The people will rise up and we will reclaim the throne.”
“You are sure of all of this.”
“I am not sure of anything anymore.” She smiled, gently pushing his hands away. “Go, before they discover what has happened.”
He hesitated for a moment, nodded and went over to his desk. He gathered up some papers and then moved into the far corner which lay deep in shadow. Zoe heard the wheezing sound of something being opened, perhaps a secret door set in the wooden panels of the wall. Alexius’s voice, as kind and concerned as it ever was, came to her out of the darkness, “I love you, my child. Stay safe. And stay alive.”
The panel closed again and Zoe was left alone.
As she stood there, in the murky half-light of that enormous chamber, she thought she could make out the sound of approaching feet. She cocked her head and listened.
What she feared most was about to happen. Michael´s Scythian guards were coming, perhaps to murder her.
She turned and stood facing the door of the chamber and waited, all her years of training making her appear strong and resolute, back straight, chin up. Inside, she felt none of these things.
More extracts to follow, and please visit my website for more details. http://www.stuartgyates.com