Trial By Combat

Posted November 14, 2012 by Willa Blair in Uncategorized / 0 Comments

My best-selling debut novel, Highland Healer, is set in 1516. It’s a chaotic time in Scottish history, three years after King James IV met his fate fighting the English at Flodden Field along with many of his nobles, clan chiefs and their heirs.

Memorial Cross at Flodden Field

In the chaos the followed Flodden, some clans were left leaderless, or broken, overrun by neighboring clans. Other clans hung on until younger sons could mature into the capable chiefs their people needed. Many battles were fought, large and small, for control of territory and resources.

To portray the conflict of the times, I needed a battle, but not just any battle. It had to be personal and have dire consequences for the hero and heroine if it went against them. And whether you take Wikipedia articles on faith or with a box of salt, it was a Wikipedia article on Trial By Combat that gave me the final clue I needed to stage the climactic battle in Highland Healer.

According to that article, “Wager of battle, as the trial by combat was called in English, appears to have been introduced into the common law of the Kingdom of England following the Norman conquest and remained in use for the duration of the High and Late Middle Ages…In Scotland and Ireland, the practice was continued into the 16th century.”

Claymores were 4-5 feet long and weighed more than 5 pounds

Two warriors, considered champions by their sides, would fight what was, in effect, a duel. Before they fought, they would swear that their respective armies would abide by the result of that battle, the winner declaring victory for his side. Battles were fought with the weapons at hand, until one or the other was dead or disabled. In the Highlands of that time period, most likely that meant claymores and dirks or other bladed weapons. I had my combatants use both.

The Wikipedia article said something else very interesting – that the combatants would swear oaths against using witchcraft and sorcery to give them an advantage. For my purposes, this meant that Aileana could not use her hidden Talent to impair the villain and directly affect the battle, even if it meant Toran’s death. But since the battle took place in the midst of the villain’s men, and since the villain refused to abide by the rules of the duel, she did even the odds a bit, circumspectly, behind the scenes. That’s exactly where I put her – behind the wall of the villain’s men who ringed the fight, using her Talent on them rather than the combatants, in a way that left the outcome of the battle up to Toran’s strength and skill rather than the villain’s perfidy.

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