Monday, June 23, 2014

Writing the Return – The Warrior’s Homecoming

I’m nearing the end of the first draft of Eagles and Dragons, Book III – Warriors of Epona.

This has been a very different book to write. The characters are farther along their path, and there are many new ones that have come onto the scene.

I’ve also left the marble of Rome, and the sands of North Africa behind for the fog-choked hills of Caledonia.

War has come.

My protagonist has fought a long hard campaign with his men, the most bloody and savage of his career. He’s been on campaign incessantly for about a year without the comforts of civilization or of Mediterranean warmth.

He faces an enemy that will not come out into the open most of the time, and supposed allies that he really cannot trust.

For him, life has been a constant cycle of fighting for survival. He has led his warriors, and killed for Rome, all for the purposes of advancing the Empire’s plans for conquest.

Modern Conflict
Indeed, one of the themes running through all books is that of the powerful few sending many to die on the battlefields of the Empire. The soldiers are at the whim of those roaming and ruling the corridors of power.

Sound familiar? My, how history does repeat itself.

Always at the back of my protagonist’s mind is the family that he misses. But if he thinks on them too much, if he loses his focus at any time, his enemies will tear him apart.

The warrior’s life has never been an easy one, especially when you have something to lose.

I find myself in an interesting position now, as I write the last few chapters of Warriors of Epona.

Homecoming Parade in the UK
It’s time, in a sense, for my protagonist to ‘come home’.

But how is that even possible after the life he has led? Can he really ‘come home’?

How have warriors, men and women, dealt with the aftermath of war?

In his book The Warrior Ethos, Steven Pressfield asks a pertinent question:

“All of us know brothers and sisters who have fought with incredible courage on the battlefield, only to fall apart when they came home. Why? Is it easier to be a soldier than to be a civilian?”

In one way, perhaps life at war is more straightforward. Every day, every moment perhaps, your thoughts, your purpose, are focussed on the objective – take that position, hold that region, protect your brothers and sisters in arms, stay alive. In some cases, it’s kill or be killed.

Modern Conflict in Afghanistan
We’re back to primal instincts here.

Today, we have any number of soldier’s aid societies and government programs and guides that are intended to help veterans of wars reintegrate into society.

These groups do good work that is much-needed, but is it enough? How can non-combatants in civilian society understand the physical and emotional trauma that is experienced by warriors after the battle?

In the ancient and medieval worlds, there were no societies or organizations whose purpose was to help returning warriors reintegrate.

Spartan Warriors
Art by Peter Connolly
Granted, in warrior societies such as Sparta and Rome, the majority of warriors probably enjoyed the fighting.

Sparta, I should point out, is a unique example. All Spartan men were warriors. That was their purpose.

But in the Roman Empire, returning warriors would have had to reintegrate in a way similar to today, rather than ancient Sparta. Later Roman society valued not just fighting prowess, but also political acuity, the arts, rhetoric, skill at a trade, generally being a good citizen in society.

In some ways, the Roman Empire combined the best of both Spartan and Athenian societies.

Modern Warriors
However, going back to peace time in a civilian society after the straightforward survival life of a prolonged campaign on the battlefield would have been tough.

We read about legionaries coming back to Rome and getting into all sorts of trouble, their days and nights taken up with gambling, brawling, and whoring.

It’s no wonder that generals and emperors created coloniae of retired soldiers on the fringes of the Empire. In these places, veterans would not be able to cause trouble in Rome, but they would also be given the opportunity to have some land and make a life for themselves.

Family Reunion
In Warriors of Epona, my protagonist will soon be reunited with his family. He’ll be facing peace time.

How will he deal with this? How will his family deal with him?

War changes a person, whether it is in the past or the present day. It’s an experience unlike any other and I salute anyone who faces the conflict that comes with stepping from the world of war into the world of peace.

In the Roman Empire, they were two very different battlefields, as they are, I suspect, today.

How will my own character deal with the transition?

Only the next couple of chapters will be able to tell me.

Thank you for reading. 

Today, there are numerous organizations whose sole purpose is to help veterans, young and old, to make the transition from war zone to home front.

If you know someone returning from one of the many conflicts going on the world, here are a few resources:

US Department of Veterans’ Affairs guide to reintegration:

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America:

Soldiers’ Angels:

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