Asphodel Inspirations and History
People have asked me in the past what the Asphodel Cycle's inspirations are, and the answer to that question is very simple. I wanted to take traditional fantasy characters and set them into a world where Greco-Roman mythology was history. The Asphodel Cycle is the political and social consequence of the first Ilian War--or, in other words, it's a return to fight the second Trojan War. The Pantheon is comprised of the classical Greek deities with a few guest stars from Sumerian and Phoenician mythology (blame the Romans--they conquered nations by assimilating their customs and religions into their own). So all of the gods and goddesses in the Asphodel Cycle are actually real , with their traditions, attributes, and persondeitiesalities intact. Several of them have Hellenized versions of their original names, while some have minor or Roman names instead of their familiar ones. Artemis/Diana, therefore, is referred to as the Virgin Huntress for most of the story, and her secondary appellation as Eileithyia (who is a goddess of childbirth associated with Artemis) is her name among the gods.
As for the Elven Realm, the Elves begin as the stereotypical fantasy race of Elves with all of their normal prejudices, faults, and heroism. Elves are caretakers of nature and the wild places of the earth who have used their unique gifts to not only isolate themselves from the other races in Asphodel, but who have also fallen away from the worship of the goddess whose chosen people they are. They do not eat meat, do not hunt, do not travel outside of their forests, and do not appreciate humans--and particularly human mages. This isolation began when the Elves refused to participate in the first Ilian War, and after that decimated two generations of humanity the Elves sealed off their forest and their capital city Leselle. Two centuries before the Asphodel Cycle begins, the Elves were beseiged by the humans in the surrounding kingdoms in a series of battles called the Elfwars. The Elfwars were basically an extermination of the Elves, who refused to wield weapons of metal and whose elemental magic wasn't powerful enough to defend against the wide-ranging sorcery of human mages. The Elven Realm was dwindled to only a few thousand surviving Elves when Aresen, the god of war, intervened on behalf of his sister's chosen people. He sent the gift of metal magic to the mountain clan of Elves under the leadership of Breon, and Panathea, goddess of wisdom, created the gift of mind magic. The elements of metal and mind were added to the basic Elven elemental magics of fire, earth, water, and air. All Elves possess the small magics of nature--and only a very few throughout their history have ascended to become Woodsland Lords, Elves who can command the power of any living thing. Breon's clan began to craft the Elves' first swords, and he took them to the Elven King whose name was Antir. Between the two of them, they were able to rally the Elven Realm and save their people from extinction. Breon's clan was ennobled, becoming the Ka'Breona ('ka' means house of) house, and these Elves have traditionally served as the generals and strategists of Leselle.
But after the Elfwars, the Elven King set out in search of his missing sister, Kaldarte--the Elven Seer. He found her, incredibly, at a nearby estate called Asphodel, where a young human girl name Elyssia had brought the Seer after she'd been injured and nearly killed in battle. Naturally, the Elven warrior fell in love with the human girl, and married her despite objections from both sides. In this manner, the royal Elven bloodline was introduced into the Asphodel family, creating the half-Elven Asphodel house. After the birth of their son, Antir was assassinated on the edge of the Elven forest, and when Kaldarte refused to take her brother's crown, the Elves were left without a king. The Elven Realm was ruled by a Council of Elders until such a time as the royal house of Antir, the Ka'antira, would return to the throne.
And while the Elven Elders conveniently forgot about the Asphodel bloodline, Kaldarte and her mate Arami did not. The Elven Seer knew the eventual ruler of Leselle would originate with her brother's descendants. She left Leselle with her family, including her three sons Lamec, Morrote, and Wilden, and moved to a clearing near the border between the forest and Asphodel. There, she maintained a watch over the royal heirs of Leselle, and when the time would come that she must protect the final scion of her brother's line, she would be well-placed to do so. Eventually her sons grew up. Lamec Ka'antira became a leading voice on the Council, while the twins Wilden and Morrote entered the service of a powerful human mage, Mariol de Beotte, whose proximity to the throne in the neighboring kingdom of Ansienne and his reputation as a friend to the Elves would prove invaluable in the years to come.
And the story that begins in THE RECKONING OF ASPHODEL is the culmination of all that history when the final Asphodel heir, Tamsen de Asphodel, is confronted with her powers and her doom on the day her powerful uncle, Gabril de Spesialle, comes to her home on a spring day to eliminate the Elven royal house forever. Somehow, this half-human, half-Elven girl must find a way to reconcile both sides of her nature, and lead her kingdoms to the ultimate arena of good versus evil.
Before the ruins of fabled Ilia.
Yes, the mythology of Asphodel should look familiar.
I originally wrote this story as a re-imagining of the events leading up to and including the Trojan War. In fact Ilia was the Greek name for Troy. This story occurs as a direct result of the Ilian War. The Elves, who did not participate in the original war, must redeem themselves in the eyes of the gods. Therefore, the Elven Realm is fated to not only fight in the Second Ilian War, but to lead the forces of four nations in that battle.
Greco-Roman mythology has been a passion of mine since I was a kid. The pantheon of classical gods rule the world of Asphodel, and while their names have been altered slightly to reflect the different evolution of the languages in the world--ancient Elven and the human tongue of the seven kingdoms. The Virgin Huntress, for example, is the goddess Artemis (Diana in Rome). Among the gods, she is known as Eileithyia--one of Artemis's ancient pseudnyms as a pagan goddess of childbirth. Dis is another name for Hades(Pluto). Iovis in Asphodel is Zeus (Jupiter)--another name for this god in Rome was Jove, but the Romans didn't have the letter "J" and used an "I" instead. So the Latin Jove is translated into the Asphodelian dialect as Iovis.
This pantheon is peopled with minor deities and demi-gods, who also make an appearance in Asphodel. Deimos is the Greek god of Rout and a son of Ares(Mars), the god of war--Aresen in this world. Interestingly, the ritual described in the investiture of the Duke de Ceolliune is actually taken straight out of history. The Roman priests of Mars would clash two spears together and shout "Mars vigilia!" which means "Mars awaken!" in Latin. So I shoplifted the ritual from obsure history, using the god of war's Asphodelian name, Aresen.
Also, Daphnis, the ancient Elven Seer and protector of the Ka'antira line, comes from a famous Greek myth. When she was being pursued by the sun god Apollo, the nymph Daphne begged the gods to save her and protect her virtue. So, they turned her into a laurel tree. That's why Daphnis's sanctuary, deep in the heart of the oak trees that support the city of Leselle, has laurel branches grafted into the oak. The ceremony Tamsen uses before her vialigatis to Brial--eating the laurel leaves and then sitting on the three-legged stool--is exactly the same ceremony that the Sibyl (priestess/prophet) used to induce prophetic visions in the ancient temple of Delphi. The laurel, Delphi, and the Sibyl are all treasured attributes of Apollo (actually the same name in both Greek and Latin).
The pantheon of Asphodel is an immense group of major and minor deities, who have all the strengths and weaknesses of the Greco-Roman gods they represent. As The Asphodel Cycle progresses, they begin to play a more central role in the workings of the story. But in the sequel series, The Black Dream, the conflicts and alliances of the gods drive the story--and our characters as well.
Aside from the gods, Asphodel is populated by people and monsters from Greco-Roman mythology. The centaurs play a major role, under their king's direction. Chironos (known as Chiron by both the Greeks and Romans) is the oldest being on the mortal realm--one so ancient that he tutored the gods. The Hippolytes are a particularly fascinating group. Based on the myths of an all-female nation of warriors (the Amazons), the Hippolytes are named after their most famous queen. Hippolyta was the daughter of Ares, and possessed a magical girdle (no, not that kind of girdle. A belt or sash) that identified her as the queen of the Amazons. Heracles (Hercules) had to retrieve that girdle from her as one of his Twelve Labours. In Asphodel, the Hippolyte queen is named Penthesilea, who was the Amazon queen that fought in the Trojan War. She fought two of the major Greek heroes--Ajax and Achilles, and it is Achilles who actually kills her and is then overcome with remorse. Penthesilea's heir in our story is named Antiope, who is the only Amazon who ever married in classical mythology.
So between all this, factor in Medusa, Pegasus, the Furies, the Harpies, minotaurs, chaemeras--and then toss in a few brand new mythological beasts that I just made up--you'll discover that the world of Asphodel is just as terrifying as the world ancient Greeks and Romans inhabited.
The great thing about being a writer is that you get to cheat.
The human world speaks a common language, which we call English. The language of the Court and of chivalry is a bit more formal than what we would use. All the seven kingdoms share this language, which is a relic of the ancient civilization that once controlled the entire continent. The only remnant of that civilization are the extensive network of roads that connect the seven kingdoms and the language they all share.
The Elves use this language too, but they have their own ancient tongue. Elves learn their mother tongue for a couple of reasons. First off, many of their rituals are in ancient Elven. And second, few humans know the language so it's a good way to pass information in front of a human without worrying about being overheard. What makes this easier is that Elves are rarely taught to read and write. There is no written dictionary of ancient Elven, any more than there is a written history. Elven society has a rich tradition of oral history. Their bards, called Loresingers, are the caretakers of that history. They teach the ancient Elven language and the Elven Realms' history to the children that populate Leselle. They are also required to teach young Elves the basics of elemental magic. This keeps the children from following the call of the feraviri--wild Elves who live alone in ancient glades.
For the most part, ancient Elven is based upon classial Latin--the formal, written and oratorical styles of men like Julius Caesar, Cicero, and Vergil. Some words, however, come from an even older Elven tongue--the language of the Elves who lived in the mountains of the seven kingdoms. This tongue is closer to ancient Gaelic, and has been incorporated into the Elven language in words like alanna and cariad. For the most part, though, Elven is Latin. So when Tamsen or Brial say “Matris mea, sancte meam viam.” they are begging for an ancient parental blessing--My mother, bless my road.
The Five Realms
One of the most time consuming aspects of being a speculative fiction writer is world-building. Coming back to the world of Asphodel created multiple dilemmas for me. First off, I'd written over 20 books in the decade since the last Asphodel novel came out. My writing style had changed substantially, and it wasn't just Tamsen's voice in my head anymore. Fortunately, tucked away in a corner of my linen closet was a file box full of notes--the world of Asphodel, compiled back when writers still used paper. I'd written a first draft of a book set in that world when I was 17 and a freshman in college. But when I wrote The Asphodel Cycle, I was new to the real world of writers. And so I went through the entire world-building process. I created maps, family trees, family histories, the mythology, culture and history of each individual kingdom or race. I created the subsects of gods, demigods, random immortals, and monsters.
And I created the five realms. The empyrean realms are basically heaven, or Olympus--where the gods live their day-to-day nymph-hunting, war-causing, hero-begetting existence. We don't see much of the empyrean realm for a reason.
I haven't written anything there yet.
Just below the empyrean realm is Godspring, or the dream realm. This is where three brother gods supervise the creation and distribution of dreams--Phobetor, Ikelos, and Morpheos. In Greek mythology, true dreams fly through a gate made of horn to the mortal realm, and false dreams through a gate made of ivory--two elements I retained in Asphodel. But the composition of Godspring is my own. Each blade of grass is an individual dream--the ones growing closest to the poppies and herbs by the entrance to Godspring are the more fanciful dreams. The ones growing furthest away, in the gloomy twilight in the distant expanse of Godspring are nightmares. They are tended by the Oneroi, who then select and deliver each dream to a mortal. Ikelos watches the nightmares, Phoebetor the dreams of prophecy and portent, and Morpheos delivers dreams to the gods. There is no map to Godspring; the landscape shapes itself according to the viewer's expectations. The very fabric of the realm consists of nothing but magic, which makes it a valuable commodity for a god to be able to tap into.
Below Godspring is the mortal realm, which is pretty much what you'd expect it to be.
Below the mortal realm is the realm of Chaos, the solitary goddess who manufactures the raw material spun by the Fates, who exist in a small outcropping between the mortal realm and Chaos. This material is the substance of everything, and consists of pure magic. No one knows how powerful the Fates are, or Chaos is, and no one--not even the gods--is willing to find the answer.
The final realm is the Underworld, the domain of Dis. Here all mortal souls are sent to be judged upon their deaths, and their ultimate fates decreed. Most souls will be sent to await rebirth. Some move on to the Hall of Heroes, a sort of Valhalla where mortals who have lived extraordinary lives are honored with what basically amounts to immortality. Souls who have spent their mortal spans as criminals or orchestrating cruelty are punished by the Furies--usually in a set sentence of torture--before they are allowed to regenerate into a new life, hopefully reformed. And a few are obliterated entirely by Dis, mostly those who commit great crimes like genocide or gross impiety against the gods. Dis and his Queen, Persephone, are just but stern rulers and very few mortals or immortals have ever observed the workings of Death in his dark realm.
So between The Asphodel Cycle and The Black Dream , readers learn a great deal about three of the five realms.
That leaves two that are still, for the most part, a mystery.