Tag Archives: The Falconer’s Apprentice

Characters, Colds and Creature Comforts

Currently I’m working on characters and plots for this new project, trying to create a complex dynamic of several interweaving together.  Currently I’ve got 7 – 8 plot lines, mainly following individual characters, plus a handful more secondary characters who will inevitably be involved.  So now I’ve realised I can’t just call it The Falconer’s Apprentice anymore, because the falconer’s apprentice and his story is only one of the many plots!

Oh well, at some point I’ll invent a new working title, but I’ll stick to this one until then!

In other news, I’m currently battling a cold.  I don’t know about you, but when I’m ill I get obsessed over a couple specific things.

Thing #1 – Jumpers.  Seriously.  Every store I go into when I’m feeling ill and coughing and snotty, I have this need to buy warm jumpers.  Even though I already own a good half dozen such items.  It’s as if I’m thinking that just the right jumper would mean I’ll never be cold or ill again.  This is a false premise.

Thing #2 – Tea.  Oh tea, you are amazing.  I drink so much tea in an attempt to warm up my insides, as if it could drown the evil germs.  Die, you bastards.

Thing #3 – Soup.   Soup is an amazing food, because it’s warm and liquidy like tea, only it has all the calorific and nutritional content of real food.  Amazing.  So amazing, I’ve sent the Husband out to get me some.  Maybe he can get me a new jumper while he’s out.

I’ve also found a new thing to be obsessed over, though, thanks to our new house: FIRE.  And I don’t mean in a pyromaniacal fashion, not really (wuahaha).  We have a wood burning stove here, which goes at least some ways toward making up for not having either central heating or double glazing (it’s cold in here, needless to say).  Being warm is a thing of the distant summer, so sitting next to a roaring fire is bliss.

Especially when in a jumper, sipping tea and eating soup.

In Which A Dame Is Joined By A Gentleman

I’ve found another old falconry text via internet sources, this one a 1619 Treatise on Hawkes and Hawking by Edmund Bert, gentleman, as he insists upon on the cover page.  It begins with a letter to the Right Honourable Henry, Earl of Oxenford, Viscount Bulbecke, Lord Salford and Scales, and Lord Great-Chamberlaine  of England – our Gentleman’s patron – in which many proclamations of loyalty and love inform us that this book is actually a “testamony of my love, before I die,  which shall remain as a perpetual memorial of my ever-devoted service”.

This letter in itself is interesting since it tells us why Bert chose to write this Treatise, not only why he wrote a book at all on his deathbed but why he chose the subject of falconry.  Bert apologises to his patron no few times for the “slight” subject, and that it is “not weighty (being but a treatise of Sport)”, so one could wonder why a man in his inferior position would hazard to dedicate something he considers so meager a subject to his rather imposingly titled Right Honorourable Henry, Earl, etc., etc., in the first place.

Edmund Bert has been fighting some dehabilitating sickness for three years, as it becomes clear in later portions of the text, in which time he has been unable to keep hawks or hunt with them.  So he chooses to devote himself to this subject so he can “run back into my younger years, to summon the delights of my able youth, together with the fruits of my more experienced age.”  It’s easily imagined why he would want to recall the prime of his life when so near its end and unable to devote himself physically to it.

The book that follows tells us of Bert’s particular knowledge of falconry, and he makes a point of telling us that this is all his original work, nothing copied from previous texts (perhaps a dig at our Dame Bernes, who we believe copied several sections from older French manuscripts).  Bert makes many cofindent claims in how to train hawks, including a chapter on “how to make a hawk hood well that will not abide the sight thereof, and (how disorderly so-ever she might be) it shall be effected in forty-eight hours and less than forty bates.”

The first chapters are concerned with the ageless questions of: should you get a hawk or tiercel (female or male), and at what age should it be trapped (if falconry is practiced by taking wild birds, of course, wherein in modern British practice the same question is put to whether the captive bred birds should be parent-reared or imprints).  Bert spend a long time explaining that Haggards (birds older than a year, who have been living wild and hunting for themselves) are a bad idea, being too used to being unrestrained to submit to a falconer. Then he moves on to “Rammish” hawks, about which he says “there is small difference between the Haggard and the Rammish, only the Rammish has had less time (by preying for herself than the other) to know her own strength and worth, but in manning and making her I will set down my whole practice.”  I’m not sure if this is just the current term for a Brancher – a bird that has fledged – and closest to the modern concept of a parent-reared bird.  It would make the most sense to me, so I’ll assume so!

Lastly he talks about the Eyas hawk – what we would call an imprint – about which he prefaces his chapter: “Of the Eyas hawk, upon whom I can fasten no affection, for the multitude of her faults and follies.”  He tells us “they are so foolish in their first year they will hardly be taught to take a bough well” and “I have known some of them likewise that would sooner catch a dog in the field than a patridge” and also ” and many of them will cry as loud as you, as you will speak to them.”  All basically true, yes, but modern falconry has become just as enamoured of imprints as parent-reared birds when trained right.  Bert admits that with the right training these birds “may be ranked among the best in the highest degree” and also that they “will live longer than any of the rest, she is not apt to be sick or surfeit so soon.”

Needless to say, I’ve added Edmund Bert, gentleman, to my sources on falconry in the middle ages, even is 1619 is technically a good 200 years past the time period.  Frankly, I’m just tired of struggling through Middle English!

At some point I’ll need to stop researching and just start writing (no, the vignette I posted a bit of some weeks ago doesn’t count as the actual novel – it was written well before I started this research, and it’s horrendously incorrect in several things), but I’m still wanting to find more general sources on the time periods I hope to be working within.  At least this keeps me busy – as if my life weren’t busy enough, that is!

What’s A Dame To Do?

I’m incredibly intrigued by this Boke of St Albans.  As I mentioned in my previous post, it was written in 1486.  It’s a text, in three chapters, on Hawking, Hunting and Heraldry.  But, amazingly, it was written by a woman!  A Dame Julyans (“Juliana”) Barnes, whose title “Dame” did not, at the time, actually denote nobility in the 15th century, rather it was to say “Mistress” or “Mrs”.

But how strange for us to think of a 15th century “Mrs. Barnes” being a widely-published authoress in such masculine subjects!  But she had no few contemporary authoresses who wrote on many subjects from hunting to politics and so forth, so it’s really just our own projected misconceptions about the time period which make us think so!

It’s intrigued me, and now I’m thinking how it would be to incorporate into The Falconer’s Apprentice the storyline of a woman like our “Dame” who challenges such preconceptions of ours.  A hawking, hunting, politically-aware ordinary woman of the fictional middle ages!

But even apart from the authoress, this is a really interesting text especially for a modern falconer.  The practices it calls for are those we would immediately call inhumane or barbaric – such as the practice of sewing the eyelids shut of a newly-trapped young bird; peculiar – such as getting rid of lice by wrapping a hawk in a hot cloth to draw the beasties out; or outright bizzare – such as promoting “mewing” (moulting) in a hawk by giving “chickens which have been fed on wheat soaked in broth of vipers”.

I have to note, however, that reading the 19th century part of the text is giving me a headache.  Not because of the language or anything, but because it’s a manuscript which uses those antique f’s as s’s, and in my mind the whole thing is being read aloud with a lisp!!!

Brief Update, Research and Impatience

I’m still working on this Falconer’s Apprentice idea, and I’m trying to go about it sensibly.  Very difficult, indeed!  I’m planning to do considerable research, and have found a pdf of an 19th century reproduction of a book written in 1486 on hawking, The Boke of St Albans, which I hope will provide me with enough background on how falconry was actually practised in the middle ages – thus giving me some semblance of chronological credibility!

I’m still trying to work out whether this will be a fantasy story or historical fiction.  Currently I’m just seeing what will happen.  I’m thinking that this could easily be merely one plotline amongst the backdrop of many, and thus have the scope to create a widely explored fictional realm.  Again, whether or not that incorporates fantasy elements, I’m still not sure.  As you may know, I’m always drawn to fantasy so it’s likely it could happen, but it would need to occur organically.

I forsee some trouble for a story with such scope, though, and that’s something which lies in me alone and not the story itself; I’m impatient.  I’m terrible at taking my time with my novels, always wanting to rush ahead to the most important conflicts, and thus everything always reads as rushed and not properly thought-out.  I hope this project can help me work on that!  I’m excited to write it, though, and that’s something I haven’t felt since before the Summer of Creative Absence.

I might forgo this year’s NaNoWriMo, however, if I’m busy working on this story.  I’ve written NaNo novels in the past two years, but I feel that the type of writing I was doing for them is exactly the kind of rushed, poorly thought-out stuff I’m trying to avoid with this story.  But I hope that I can maintain the discipline of writing substantially every day which NaNoWriMo really helped me get into the pattern of doing.

And now I must be off, go to my amazing day job and frolic with falcons!  I kind of love my life.

Fantastic Bullshitting and a New Story: The Falconer’s Apprentice

I’m sure you’ve heard the age-old advice people give to writers: ‘Write what you know.’  Now this doesn’t really apply to fantasy writers, because let’s face it no one knows squat-diddly about dragons or magic or elves or whatever.  No, instead of writing what you know, fantasy writers have another, more applicable mantra:

“Bullshit really really well.”

It’s all about bluffing, because so long as you can be convincing enough for readers to believe it actually happened no one actually cares if you’re 100% accurate.

Or so I’m hoping.

I’m actually planning to write something based on both writing mantras, for the subject of this latest endeavor is falconry.  But the bullshitting will come into play because obviously I know modern techniques and in a mediaeval fantasy time period they don’t have cable ties and radio telemetry.

So here’s the beginning of The Falconer’s Apprentice:


Tommas was feeling deflated, odd in a boy as large as himself. The days leading up to today had been full of excitement as he readied the preparations for what was to come. But now that it was here, and the long-awaited event had passed, Tommas was left feeling cheated.

He’d waited for this day to arrive for six years, ever since he was sent as an apprentice at the age of eight. His master was an imposing man, stern of eye and implacable when it came to detail, but then he had to be; he was the Master Falconer to their liege lord. And as his apprentice, Tommas had done all and more that was required of him, from scraping hawk shit off the walls to being bitten and footed by hungry falcons when attending their needs. Even so, it was two years before he was allowed to enter the mews where the birds perched, alert and wary of his strange presence. Two more before he was allowed to pick one up. And after another two, he was to be given his own bird to train and care for.

That day was today. But it was not as he imagined.

‘What’s that you’ve got there, boy? A blue-tit for catching flies?’ The men loitering outside the smithy laughed and jeered as he came near. Tommas ground his teeth, but kept quiet.

‘Raffe!’ called the Master Smith when he saw the falconer’s apprentice. His own apprentice answered his call, popping up greasy-haired and coal-streaked from the bowels of the smithy.

‘Tommas, let’s see it!’ the lanky other boy’s face lit up when he saw his friend approach. He knew what day it was. But as Raffe approached, he saw what sat upon Tommas’ gauntleted fist and frowned. ‘Is that it?’

Tommas sighed.

‘You know,’ one of the loiterers called to the townspeople who had started to gather round to see what their laughter was about, ‘they say the size of a man’s hawk tells you the size of his prick!’ The crowd roared with laughter.

‘Well,’ Tommas blustered, red-faced, ‘I’ll have you know it’s a falcon, not a hawk.’

‘Yeah,’ chimed in Raffe, ‘it’s opposite with falcons, you see.’ That just raised a louder roar of hilarity.

‘You’re not helping,’ the large boy groaned.

‘Sorry,’ his friend grinned. ‘Come inside and tell me everything.’


Cocky young Tommas is obviously less than pleased with the bird he’s given, but the Kestrel was historically the bird of servants and apprentices.  The conflict of the story will be when his master is given the task of training a young Gyrfalcon destined to be given to the King,  and Tommas steals it for himself.  As this would probably be considered a hanging offence, my task is to now work out plot-wise what this cheeky boy is planning to do now he’s got himself into heaps of trouble.

Eventually he’ll find that the Gyrfalcon is pretty but useless, and the Kestrel he’s abandoned stays his loyal companion and keeps them all from dying of hunger whilst on the run, even if they’re only eating mice and field voles.

The moral of the story: don’t be a twat.