Crusading knight Edwin Strongarm might be the answer – or rather the loot he brought back from the First Crusade and bequeathed to his son Edwin Junior, who in turn and through the ages bequeathed it to Eddie Strongarm, the very Eddie who went to prison for chopping up his wife and baking her in a pie…the very Eddie, who is now Willow the Vampire’s friend.
The First Crusade took place between 1096 and 1099. It was instigated by the Council of Clermont led by Pope Urban II, who clearly had an axe to grind after some 3,000 Christian pilgrims had met with a sticky end in Jerusalem.
Under the banner of some of Europe’s most illustrious noblemen such as Count Raymond of Toulouse from Provence in France, Stephen of Blois, Godfrey of Bouillon and his brother Baldwin, Bohemond and Robert of Normandy, who was William the Conqueror’s eldest son, eighty thousand people of minor nobility, peasants and their wives and children trudged the long, long way to the Holy Land in search of plunder…naturally under the guise of their religious convictions.
The crusaders would later seek to justify their foul deeds and massacres with all sorts of mumbo-jumbo, but it stands to reason that those few who actually returned from the First Crusade had so much blood on their hands they knew it would never wash off no matter how hard they prayed for the remainder of their lives.
What creatures did they encounter and what were their experiences. Hunger, thirst, sore feet? Their greatest problem was that of horses – since the crusaders got themselves mixed up in constant war fare, most horses simply didn’t survive for long – others were eaten, when the crusaders faced starvation during sieges or when they had to flee from the Turks, who had devastated the landscape so the crusaders could not find food or shelter.
When the First Crusaders crossed into the Holy Land there were probably still Syrian brown bears and Arabian ostriches around. They are now extinct thanks to overhunting and losing their habitats to humans – also gone are the Nile Crocodile, jungle cat, White Oryx, European Water Vole, the Caucasian Squirrel and the Cheetah, for the same reasons: human greed and stupidity. What the Ottoman empire didn’t wipe out with over-hunting, the modern human managed quite quickly by drying swamps, planting far too many pine and eucalyptus forests in places where there hadn’t been any before and encroaching on animal habitat with urban over-development.
However, the Nubian Ibex still survives in the Negev desert and Sand Cats, Arabian Leopards and striped hyenas are still living in what is now Israel, but all are threatened with extinction. Among the nocturnal animals Edwin Strongarm and the other First Crusaders might have encountered are some 33 different species of bats, death stalker scorpions and our old friend the green toad, which isn’t strictly nocturnal, but likes to croak in the night as well as Marsh frogs, which prefer the night but might be active during the day in summer. Not exactly rich pickings for a starving army of 80,000 you might say.
So why drag perfectly respectable, murdering crusaders and other religious fanatics into Willow the Vampire’s story? Mainly because Edwin Strongarm, alongside his knightly brethren, would have been able to loot all manner of ancient artefacts from besieged cities like Antioch, Arqah near Tripoli and most notably Jerusalem, the Holy City.
If Willow and her friends are to succeed in preventing the world from ending, they’ll need weapons…weapons that can slice through supernatural defences and make away with their magical foes. The tolerant pagan world of the Vikings clashed with the emerging fanatical world of Christianity. When the first Viking ships arrived in England in 789, the world of Freya and Thor, Odin and Loki was still largely intact.
Towards the end of the Viking age, which lasted roughly from 700 AD to 1100 AD, more and more Vikings had turned towards Christianity, because it ensured their survival in a rapidly changing world, a world that had lost all tolerance of other faiths and belief systems. The First Crusade and the Vikings are on the same timeline, therefore it makes sense for me to investigate what wonderful conflicts, weapons, magic and folklore might be plundered from that part of history. The two are also a great metaphor for what’s about to happen to the world of Willow the Vampire: one regime ends and a new one emerges.
Although technically First Crusaders were forbidden to loot and even enter besieged or conquered cities, they still did so in small groups and Edwin Strongarm was just one of many for whom greed proved stronger than his religious convictions. Later crusades were even less fastidious and many treasures were brought back from Byzantine. During the First Crusade, the Byzantine Emperor still paid the crusaders for their efforts, largely to prevent them from looting and to keep them on his side, but in later crusades this was no longer the case and looting became the established way in which these “men of god” sought recompense for their troubles.