Meet my main character: Fergus MacAmergin
This post is part of a blog hop called “Meet my Main Character”. I’ve been tagged in this by the estimable Simon (S.J.A.) Turney. If anyone is not familiar with Mr Turney’s work then shame on you, :-) . He is a Historical Novelist whose enormously successful Roman Army series, Marius’Mules has made him the poster child of independent writers. Simon now also writes a series set in Ottoman Istanbul. You can read his blog here: http://sjat.wordpress.com/
Today, I have decided to write about Fergus, the hero of my own attempt at Roman Army militaria, “The Spear of Crom”.
1) What is the name of your character? Is he/she fictional or a historical figure/person?
The name of the character is Fergus MacAmergin. His original conception was in the ancient Irish hero Conal Cernach. Conal’s father was a poet/warrior/lesser God called Amergin, hence “Mac Amergin”. Fergus was originally to be called Conal, however a frequent comment I get asked when folk read the title of the book is “Isn’t Crom the God of Conan the Barbarian?” (he is, but Robert E Howard the writer who in the 1930s created Conan, borrowed the name of Crom from an ancient Irish pagan God) and Conal would have been too close to “Conan”.
Fergus is a Hibernian Celt who finds himself in the Roman Army, part of an auxiliary cavalry regiment recruited from other Celts known as the “August Wing of Gauls”, the Ala Augusta Gallorum. He comes from a slightly obscure tribe called the Cruithne, who may or may not have been the same as the people we now call the Picts. It was this connection that prompted me to portray him as tattooed, the inspiration for the designs coming from a couple of symbols that frequently appear on Standing Stones from Pictish areas like these:
While Fergus is a fictional character, he did spring from a few fragments of historical fact. Gnaeus Julius Agricola is another major character in the book, and he was a real historical figure. Agricola was a Roman military tribune in Britain who later on became Governor. Not many people are luck enough to have a historian for a son-in-law, but Agricola was one of those folk and thanks to Tacitus, his daughter’s husband, we have a record of Agricola’s life and career. Tacitus mentions that Agricola kept an exiled Irish king as a companion, and "pretended to be his friend" with the view to using restoring him to his throne in Ireland as an excuse for a future invasion of the island by Rome. That invasion, of course never happened.
2.When and where is the story set?
The story is set in the year 59 AD. Twenty years after the initial conquest, the Roman Army is still bogged down fighting insurgents in the Province of Britannia (Britain). The XIV Legion, led by General Gaius Suetonius Paulinus the brutal new Roman Governor, heads West to crush the Ordivices, a rebel tribe led by druid priests based on the Holy Island of Ynys Mon (Anglesey). There is hopefully something for everyone - druids, Romans, cavalry battles, strange pagan rites, a scythed chariot and a desperate battle for an ancient hill fort.
3) What should we know about him/her?
He is a Celt, but he’s in the Roman Army. What’s that about? The Imperial Roman Army was not just made up of citizens in the Legions. They added to their ranks by recruiting troops from conquered nations. The Celts being superb horsemen, it was only natural that they formed a large part of the Roman Cavalry. The Latin word for cavalry was Ala -wing- and its from the plural form Alae that we get the modern English term “Allies”, which largely preserves the original meaning. While it may have been unusual for a Celt from Hibernia (Ireland) to be in the Roman cavalry, military records show that British tribesmen in Roman uniform took part in battles against other British tribes at the time.
4) What is the main conflict? What messes up his/her life?
Fergus’ life is certainly messed up. The poor guy loses his wife and new born child, sacrificed to the God Crom by the druids. He joins the Roman army but as a non-Gaul in a Gaulish regiment is an outsider and passed over for promotion. He falls foul of his Commanding Officer, gets wrongly blamed for a superior’s stupid decision and ends up sent on a suicide mission behind enemy lines. Then there is Cerridwyn, a female druid on a secret mission for the insurgents. Fergus hates the druids because of what they did to his family, but finds himself having to join forces with Cerridwyn as they have a common cause. Apart from all that there is the Spear of Crom itself that everyone is after, but that's a whole story to itself (and the plot of the book).
5) What is the personal goal of the character?
Fergus genuinely wants to be a Roman citizen. In his own words: “There is more luxury and comfort in a Roman army barracks than the hovels my people call palaces. The baths, the games, the gymnasia, the theatre, roads. libraries, books, underfloor heating: We have none of that, and that’s what I want.”
Within the plot of the book though, he is motivated by revenge. On one level Fergus is driven by hatred of his God for what Crom has done to him. He sees himself as personally at war with the strange diety and his followers, the druids. One particular druid, Anfad, was partly responsible for the deaths of Fergus’ wife and child and now Fergus finds himself confronted by the same man in a different battlefield.
6) Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it?
The book is called “The Spear of Crom”. It's named after a mythical magic spear that appears in Irish legends which had to be kept in a bucket of blood as it burst into unquenchable flames when taken out. The premise behind the book is that what if something like that actually existed? Say someone discovered a highly reactive metal that burns on exposure to the air (e.g. Magnesium or Phospherous). Two thousand years ago they are highly likely to have thought it was magic.