What makes a great Leader?
If story is conflict, then the staple of fantasy is the battle scene.
Over the years the vast majority of fantasy books have had at their core, a battle between good and evil, and the narrative has ended after the great battle. The reader is left with the impression, now life that evil has been vanquished, life will return to normal and the characters will know peace. But you only have to look at the real world to see that ‘evil’ is never vanquished. Unfortunately, there is no One Ring that we can destroy.
What we have instead is an ever repeating cycle of war and violence based on the oppression of minorities and the battling of ideologies for dominance.
In my trilogy, The Outcast Chronicles, I wanted to explore some core questions.
How would we feel if there arose amongst us a race of people with gifts?
In King Charald’s land there are ordinary people, True-people, and there are the mystics, who are born with gifts. The mystics, Wyrds to True-people, are resented and feared. No one understands why True-parents sometimes give birth to half-blood mystics, but they do know that if those two half-bloods have children some will be mystics with full-blown gifts and it is these gifts the True-men fear.
From observing history, fear of the ‘other’ seems to be the default setting for most people. Extrapolating from this, the mystics live in a state of undeclared war alongside the larger, non-gifted population, either banished to an island city or isolated within their walled estates. Utilising their shared history of bitter conflict, King Charald is able to tap into an underlying paranoia to justify his war on Wyrds.
And by the time Sanctuary opens, he does this for the most cynical of motives, to divert a challenge to his leadership. He uses the mystic ‘threat’ to unite his greedy war barons. With the promise of plundering the mystics’ Celestial City, the war barons believe the gains outweigh the risks.
Another core question raised in this trilogy is, what does it take to lead people and how do you lead them when they can’t agree on the best course. These are not clear cut questions of good and evil. I wanted to place my characters in morally ambiguous situations to test them. The narrative follows two key characters, Sorne and Imoshen.
Sorne is a half-blood mystic, born to King Charald who is good at one thing – war. Because Sorne has the wine-dark eyes and six-fingered hands, he can never inherit the throne and his father raises him to be a spy. By the time Sanctuary opens, Sorne has spent the better part of his life at war. He’s watched the king conquer the mainland kingdoms, and knows strategy. But he is a half-blood, despised by True-men. When one of King Charald’s war barons turns on the king, threatening Sorne’s infant half-brother and aging father, he must protect them, while spying for Imoshen.
Imoshen has been voted to lead her people but, like the United Nations, she has no real power. The leaders of the mystic brotherhoods and sisterhoods must agree on a course of action, which she is then supposed to implement. Her gift is ‘reading’ people. Very early on she realises King Charald will not be reasoned with but she can also see if she turns the brotherhood leaders loose it will lead to the destruction of her people, the T’Enatuath.
To understand why some leaders are great strategists and earn deep loyalty, I researched great leaders from history. Taking out my copy of Ancient and Medieval Warfare, part of the Westpoint Military History series, I read up on Caesar and Alexander the Great. Caesar slept, perhaps two hours a night. He moved fast driving his men in forced marches, he thought ahead and made snap decisions.
In the Siege of Alesia, when Caesar was conquering Gaul, he surrounded the town of Alesia, building 15 kilometres of earth works. The Romans were great ones for earthworks. But they needed these defences because not only were they trying to besiege the town but they were under threat from the Gauls who surrounded them. So the earthworks were built on two fronts.
Things became desperate when the Gauls attacked. According to Caesar’s own accounts (remember history is written by the victor), he sent his reserves to two separate points in the long wall of outer defences and, when the Gauls threatened to break through in a third place, Caesar put on his identifying red cloak and led his remaining reserves to defend it. He saved the day. His men knew they could trust his generalship and they respected his personal bravery.
But understanding battle strategy is only the beginning, once you’ve won the battle, you have to hold onto power.
In his treatise on power, The Prince, Machiavelli analysed just this challenge. He said: ‘the princes who have done great things are the ones who ... have known to turn men's brains with guile: and in the end have surpassed those who grounded themselves on loyalty’
Imoshen has a vision for the T’Enatuath, but first she must overcome the short-sightedness of her own people and thwart leadership challenges from ambitious rivals. And she must do all of this while holding off the True-men army.
These are the challenges, Sorne and Imoshen face in Sanctuary, book three of The Outcast Chronicles.
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