Please welcome my friend Tristram LaRoche back to the blog. A lot of you have expressed interest in his fascinating historical MM erotic romance, The Hun and the General. Leave a comment with your email and you have a good chance of winning the book. Now here's Tris to tell you something about how he researched this unique novel.
Thank you, Tara, for having me over again. I love visiting you there in California, especially when it’s snowing here! (Shame it’s a virtual visit). Before I talk about myself, let me congratulate you on the success of Fireballs. You must be thrilled. Keep ‘em coming.
Since the release of my historical novella The Hun and The General I’ve had so many people ask me how much research I did, how much did I know before I started, where did I get the ideas, that I thought this would be a good opportunity to blow open a few misconceptions about the feared warrior.
What did I know before I started to write the story? I’ve always been interested in European history, especially anything connected with the ancient Roman Empire, and I suppose I knew the usual stuff about Attila the Hun – barbarian warrior king, murderous and merciless leader of rampaging hordes, ugly as sin, lacking in culture and refinement. (When I write that it makes me realise some people haven’t progressed much in 2000 years, have they?) Well, if I was going to make him the centrepiece of my book, I needed more than that. I started with Google – where else? It turns out that not a lot is known about Attila; much of what stands as history is not much more than conjecture and there is much disagreement over him. So really, he was ideal for my purposes, I could use what few facts I could find and mould my Attila to fit my needs.
When Attila ruled the Hunnish hordes he did so at a time of change. The Huns could no longer exist as a nomadic tribe and had to either become partners with Rome – or defeat it. Rome was, despite having fallen into decline, still the mightiest military power ever known and defeating it was no mean feat. Unless he recast entirely his people’s culture, they would never be secure. What better way, I thought, than to give him a wonderfully cultured Roman general to help him make the changes? There is no evidence that Attila had relationships with men, but we know of the almost omnisexual nature of Roman culture at the time so it seems a fair card to play, I think.
There are no photos of Attila and few descriptions that cannot be dismissed as Roman slander, but we know he had a thin wispy beard, that his shoulders and arms would have been like iron from firing his bow. And as for him being ugly, with the likely mix of races that were in his blood there is every chance that he was extremely appealing, though his breath might have been repellent to us given his weakness for fermented mare’s milk. Lacking in culture? We know that he employed secretaries fluent in Latin to communicate with the Romans, so even if he didn’t read and write himself he surely knew the value of the written word.
I mentioned his bow and that’s worth returning to. The Huns used powerful, composite recurved bows which they made from readily available materials – horn, wood, sinew and glue (boiled from tendons or fish). Over the years they had learned how to combine these materials to maximum effect. It would take over a year to make one bow, which shows how many craftsmen must have been set to work, but it was worth the wait. It is said that a nephew of Genghis Khan used a similar weapon to hit a target from half a kilometre away. But what made The Huns legendary was their astonishing ability to ride a horse at full gallop and fire, in rapid succession, their arrows with deadly accuracy.
As John Man points out in the opening to his excellent book Attila the Hun (Random House/ ISBN 9781409045366), Attila is often remembered as our worst nightmare. I hope with The Hun and The General I have played some small part in changing that.
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Livianus had the soldiers erect poles and lines on which they hung their clothes to dry in the intense sun. His naked body had already shed the river water and now began to glisten with fresh sweat.
“You would have made a good gladiator,” said Caecilius with a smile. “You still have the body for it.”
“My day may yet come.” Livianus kept his eyes down. One sight of Caecilius’s cock, and his own would leap to attention. And he didn’t even want to think of the group of naked soldiers behind him. A good old Roman orgy would go down well, but not just at the moment.
Caecilius shook his head and returned to laying out the contents of their satchels to dry them off. “Damnation! The scrolls, your credentials, are ruined.”
“It is of little consequence. The Huns cannot read. My name and my face are all that we need here.”
“Talking of that, it looks like our welcome party is on the way.” Caecilius nodded at the horizon and reached for his clothes.
A cloud of dust thundered toward them. As it neared, the unmistakable sight of Hun archers took shape. Livianus grabbed his clothes and began to dress.
“It’s true. They do look like centaurs. Half man, half horse.” Caecilius stood open-mouthed.
“They are at one with their steeds, that is for sure. They ride like the wind. Come, help me. They will soon be with us. I must approach them if we are to avoid being showered with arrows.”
As soon as he was dressed, Livianus began walking toward the Huns. They were close enough now for him to recognize the recurved bows grasped in readiness and the goatskin quivers packed with arrows. He held out his arms to show he posed no threat.
The hooves thundered louder, and the ground shook underfoot. Then the leader put a horn to his lips and blew three sharp notes. Before he could think, Livianus was surrounded by them, a dozen bearded warriors on skittish horses. The reek of fresh sweat and shit stung his nostrils. He glanced back instinctively at
Caecilius and his soldiers. Partly clothed in their uniforms, they stood ready to draw their swords. Livianus warned them off with a shake of his head.
“I come in peace,” he said, turning his attention back to the Huns.
“You are a Roman general.” The leader glowered down at him, the horse prancing.
“I am Livianus, Supreme Commander of the Imperial Forces—”
“And what do you want in Pannonia, Supreme Commander?”
“I am an old friend of King Attila—”
The Huns guffawed. The horses struggled and whinnied.
“I assure you of it. I am no stranger to your lands. How else would I have mastered your language so?”
“I have heard his name,” said one of the older archers.
“Me too,” said another. “Barbax has spoken of him.”
The leader relaxed and sighed. “Put your bows down.” He dismounted and walked up to Livianus until their noses almost touched. His breath stank of rancid milk and fat. “Livianus, you say? And what brings you back here? Few Romans leave Pannonia with their balls, let alone return.”
“I come, as I have in the past, to broker peace—”
The Huns hooted with amusement, slapping their thighs and clapping their hands.
“The Emperor Theodosius wishes to come to terms with King Attila.”
The Hun leader turned something over in his mouth and spat on the ground. “That’s what I think of your emperor. His words are worthless.”
A rumble of agreement passed among the other archers.
“You have every reason to distrust Rome.” Livianus felt Caecilius’s eyes burn into his back as he said it.
“But I think that you have no reason to distrust me and my companions.” He looked into the Hun’s eyes for the trace of agreement. “All we ask is that you grant us safe passage to your capital so that I may speak with your king…and present him with the gifts we have brought.” Livianus gestured to his group. “What do you say?”
“Grant you safe passage?” The Hun shook his head. “We will take you to Attila. That way I can keep an eye on you.”
“We will be glad of your protection.”
The Hun laughed. “Who said anything about protection?”
Livianus fought a smile in vain and turned to his men. “Come. Let us not keep our hosts waiting.” He knew well enough that while he was safe, the Huns wouldn’t think twice about slaying a Roman soldier.
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