Queen Syrenya and King Ballizar of Tabithia:
Creating Time and Place for a Unique Love Story
I have always been an enthusiast of those historical tales involving kings, queens, and knights. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s many tales like The White Company, and the varied tales of King Arthur’s Round Table, fascinated me. Camelot was a place I could visit often, by four-masted schooner if I chose, where adventures were always there to be had and the chivalric code ruled the land. And the language and idioms of the time and the genre were spectacularly rich.
But to tell this most unusual love story, of King Ballizar and his queen, I first had to have a kingdom for him to rule. And I would never encroach upon Camelot, so Britain was out. I settled on Scandinavia, and first placed the kingdom of Tabithia below and between Norway and Sweden. But I soon realized that this was geographically problematic, so I borrowed the lower third of Sweden. This gave me the geographic variables I needed and it was also outside of Europe, and thus away from all the historical events that filled its borders during the twelfth century. Thus, Tabithia was born.
But, like Doyle’s The White Company, the events that make up the novel take place, quite literally, all over the map. So, having created Tabithia as a backdrop, I had to create it as a country, as well, if for no other reason that to keep from tripping myself up. So intricately is the physical country of Tabithia wound into the story that I have included a map of the place as a frontispiece. Thus, when the reader is told that an event takes place in, for example, Shepherd’s Crossing, he can refer to the map and know just exactly where he is.
Now, when Syrenya arrives at the king’s castle, he has been conducting a terrible ritual for twenty-four months, and further, he now has on display in his court a pair of nudes. Syrenya accomplishes two goals at the same time. She completes, and thus dismantles, the ritual the king has dubbed “First Night;” and she convinces the king, shortly after her arrival, to allow these two women to dress. How she does this is a minor miracle in itself.
So completely and thoroughly does Syrenya accomplish these things that the members of Ballizar’s court wonder if perhaps she has special powers, if maybe she is a witch, or a sorceress or the like. And, indeed, she does seem to have magical powers of some kind. She bewitches King Ballizar, and further, she convinces the court to allow her to continue a custom that she has always practiced in her own country, and that same custom from which she has just saved the king’s nudes. Thus, Queen Syrenya becomes Tabithia’s “Naked Queen.” And all that’s in only part one— of four!
I have already mentioned Camelot and you will already have noted the book’s subtitle: A Tangential Arthurian Legend. So, what do a naked queen and a small Scandinavian country have to do with King Arthur? Well, quite a lot, as it turns out. You see, Syrenya and her king rule Tabithia for some time, about a quarter century. And it becomes clear to Syrenya that she is going to need a chronicler, a biographer, if you will. So, she adopts a child from the Royal Nursery. She and her Ladies in Waiting— the aforementioned nudes, a pair of lovers named Alissa and Ariadne— remove him from that environment and bring him into the royal family. At the time, he is only ten years old. The rest of the novel is what happens to this boy from that time until the King and Queen go on to their reward. This boy, whom Syrenya has dubbed Darien, is taught everything that involves the Queen, from her arrival to her demise.
But Darien seems to have problems of his own, and even though, as the Queen’s only son, he is next in line for the Crown, he discovers, to his (and his bride’s) consternation, that when the time comes, he cannot, in fact, accept Ballizar’s scepter as ruler of Tabithia. In fact, he is so troubled by his past and so many unanswered questions that he leaves Tabithia on a pilgrimage, that takes him all over Europe: Rome, Austria, France, Germany, Denmark, and finally, to England. We are introduced to Darien when he arrives at the gates of the Palace of King Arthur. Darien has come to Arthur to see if, unlike the other rulers of nations he has visited, Arthur can explain to him all the many unanswered questions he has. The story of The Naked Queen is the story Darien tells Arthur. You hear it as if you were a fly on the wall of the castle.
The bulk of this tale was written in an astonishingly short two months. The manuscript then languished while I went on to other things. My vocation as Theatre Critic takes me across the state to see and review plays for the Classical Voice of North Carolina (cvnc.org). I am also a published poet, and the Muse of Poetry is a harsh mistress. But Tabithia was never far from my mind. If ever this volume was to see the light of day, I had to keep returning to it.
I worked on it mentally— repairing discrepancies, developing characters, creating believable scenarios— and it took another two years to finish, mostly because the ending had to be just right. I had to figure out a way to intertwine Tabithia and Camelot. As it turned out, the characters in The Naked Queen were quite instrumental in bringing that about.
It is a point of fact that when you write a novel, your characters are going to talk to you. And they can prove to be very particular. These conversations played themselves out in my head, and these folks would not be quiet until the final page had been penned. Well, that isn’t entirely true. Actually, they’re still talking. Some of the tales they have told me will make up my second publication: Tabithian Tales!