The Retreat to Avalon The Arthurian Age Book 1
by Sean Poage
Genre: Arthurian Historical Fiction Adventure
Fifteen hundred years have turned history into legend…
After three generations of struggle against ruthless invaders, Britain has finally clawed its way back within reach of peace and prosperity. Across the sea, Rome is crumbling under an onslaught of barbarian attacks, internal corruption and civil war. Desperate for allies, Rome’s last great emperor looks to Britain and the rising fame of her High King, Arthur.
Arthur believes the coming war is inevitable, but many are opposed. Dissent, intrigue and betrayal threaten to tear the fragile British alliance apart from within, while the enemies of Britain wait for the first sign of weakness.
Meanwhile, Gawain, a young warrior craving fame, is swept up in Arthur’s wake as the king raises an army. While Gawain’s wife and kin face their own struggles at home, the young warrior finds himself taking on more than he bargained for, and heading into the greatest battle his people have faced in generations.
The Retreat to Avalon is the exciting beginning of the historical fiction trilogy The Arthurian Age, introducing readers to the origins of King Arthur and the world he lived and fought for.
The next morning dawned bright and crisp. Gawain let Rhian sleep while he went outside to check on the boys who stayed the night watch. He was surprised to find Modred and his companion beside the open gate, saddling their horses and preparing their gear for travel.
"Our humble hall can't hope to compare with Din Pendyr, but must you return home already?"
"I don't plan to return home, at least not for a long time," Modred turned and smiled. "If the itch to seek adventure weren't so strong, I'd be quite content to remain here."
"Stay a bit longer, at least until my father returns," Gawain appealed. "He will have a great feast to honour you for winning the game for us, and his generosity in gifts is well known."
"I don't know how long it'll be before he returns, and I have stayed longer than I intended," Modred looked conflicted, then smiled. "And besides, you won that game, not I. I only scooped up your glory right before your gates."
"If you hadn't, no one would be celebrating how I almost won the criapan."
"Be that as it may, it's time for me to continue my travels before I become soft with the comforts here." He paused in his work and looked at Gawain with sudden earnest. "Come with me! We'll strike out to find fame and riches, and become ring-givers in our own right."
"I..." Gawain felt oddly conflicted. "I cannot. I have my wife to think of, and my father has entrusted me with the care of his holdings until his return."
"More like imprisoned you with them," Modred grumbled, returning to his preparations. He glanced at Gawain and, seeing the stunned look on his face, shook his head. "Forgive me. The scorn was of my own reflection, not of you."
Modred nodded to his companion, and both swung up into their saddles. He leant down to grasp Gawain's hand, smiling. "You have the makings of a formidable warrior. I hope you have a chance to see more of this world, and I hope we may yet have an opportunity to run through a Pict or two together." He wheeled around and trotted out of the gates, leaving Gawain feeling much as he did the morning his father left for Alt Clut.
After a few minutes of staring out at the fog-covered lowlands, Gawain trudged back to the mead-hall. He found Piran sitting on a split log bench near the door, with some chewy day-old bread, cheese and a large leather mug of water. He had brought out enough for two and motioned for Gawain to join him.
"You look like the glow of your victory has faded already," he said around a mouthful of bread, gazing across the yard.
"It wasn't my victory," Gawain mumbled, sitting down and picking up the mug.
"Ah, silly of me to offer up an easy way to change the subject." He pulled off a piece of bread and handed the rest to Gawain. "So tell me what is bothering you."
"I don't rightly know," Gawain replied after a long minute. "I feel like I'm missing something. That I'm not doing what I was meant to do."
"You mean like riding off with Modred?"
"Well, no. I mean... I don't know. I wish he had stayed longer and met my father."
Piran chewed on his bread for a bit, thinking. "Keep in mind, Gawain, that he is a prince of a land that lost its sovereignty to this kingdom. Relations may be friendly now, but there may yet be tension and unspoken bitterness. I would imagine there is a reason your father doesn't speak of his years before his fostering with Ceretic."
"Is there something you know of this?" Gawain probed.
"No," Piran chuckled. "Your father is as miserly with his words as he is free with his treasure. He's only told me enough to enable me to recite his lineage at feasts, so that is how I realised that Modred is your cousin."
Gawain ate silently for the next several minutes, while Piran finished and sat placidly staring out at nothing in particular. Finally, Gawain finished off the tankard, stood and stretched.
"So," he said. "I suppose it's time to carry on with my duties and find contentment in the blessings I've been given."
"Very wise," Piran nodded. "But don't despair. As the psalm says, 'Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.'"
"The pastures are quite safe," Gawain chuckled. "And I should get on with doing good, so that I may earn those desires."
"Quite right," Piran nodded. "Just be wary of what those desires may be."
Two hours of the sun had passed, and Gawain was supervising a work crew inspecting the well when he heard the slow metal clang of the copper bell beside the gate. He jogged over to the gate, where a small group of people were gathering. Conn pointed out a single rider coming from the north, riding fast towards the fort. Gawain looked around and found Peredur near at hand.
"Peredur, go rouse the men at the hall and tell them to stand ready. We have a messenger arriving."
Peredur dashed for the mead-hall while Gawain sent one of the young stablehands to prepare a horse, in case the rider needed a replacement to continue on with.
In a short time, the tired horse and rider clattered up to the gate. One of the young warriors from the hall took the reins of the sweating and frothing horse as the rider dismounted and saluted Gawain.
"My lord," he panted, "Your father sent me in haste to tell you that he will be returning this afternoon. Moreover, he bids you send riders to all corners of his lands and call the nobles to a feast and council tonight."
Gawain turned to the handful of young warriors who had gathered and assigned each to the different farms and hamlets that dotted the territory of Pollag. As they rushed to the stables to retrieve their horses, Gawain gave orders to others to begin preparations for his father's arrival. He invited the young rider to the hall for a meal and rest.
"Is that all?" Gawain asked him as they walked. He felt a mix of excitement and trepidation. "Do you know anything more?"
"He told me nothing more," the rider replied. "There has been little news, but the rumours all speak of war."
Historical fiction author, Sean Poage, has had an exciting and varied life, as a laborer, soldier, police officer, investigator, computer geek and author. Travelling the world to see history up close is his passion.
These days he works in the tech world, writes when he can, and spends the rest of the time with his family, which usually means chores and home improvement projects, with occasional time for a motorcycle ride, scuba dive, or a hike in the beautiful Maine outdoors.
Can you, for those who don't know you already, tell something about yourself and how you became an author?
I’ve had quite a varied life. My parents moved around a lot, so I’ve lived in a lot places around the US. Then I joined the Army and they moved me around some more. I left active duty and became a police officer in Florida for a while until I realized it was giving me a negative outlook. So I changed careers and got into IT. Better hours, better pay, and not a single trip to the emergency room.
As for writing, it’s something I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid. I might have started sooner, because I had a great idea for a book about the Rohirrim, and I sent a letter to the Tolkien estate about it. They politely turned me down, which was a bit crushing. I started a crime novel in my 20’s but it fell aside as life got in the way. Then one day I’m watching John Boorman’s Excalibur with my lovely wife, and she, knowing that I’m a huge history nerd, made the mistake of asking me if anything about the Arthurian legends were true. So I proceeded to make her regret that question. Among other details, I described Geoffrey Ashe’s research into the historical King Arthur, and said that I wished someone would do a movie or write a book based on that. She said, “Maybe you should do it.” I chuckled, but it stuck in my head that night and the next day I told her I would. Almost five years of intense research and writing later, The Retreat to Avalon was published.
What is something unique/quirky about you?
Oh, where to start… I’m a wealth of useless information, so I do really well in trivia games. I’m annoyingly optimistic. I love to prank my kids. My wife suggested my alter-ego that appears when I have to do our taxes…
Tell us something really interesting that's happened to you!
There are a number of stories from my police and military days. Off the top of my head, one of the more interesting jobs I’ve had was to design a bomb investigations course for the Iraqi police and military, and then teach their instructors the program.
What are some of your pet peeves?
Inconsiderate drivers. And when the kids don’t clean up after themselves.
Where were you born/grew up at?
I was born in Germany, but my parents moved around a lot, so I grew up in Maryland, Arizona, Oregon and Ohio, for the most part.
If you knew you'd die tomorrow, how would you spend your last day?
Spending the day with my family at the lake.
Who is your hero and why?
My wife. She is the kindest, sweetest, most beautiful soul I know, and braver than anyone might expect, even herself.
What kind of world ruler would you be?
The kind who wouldn’t take the job.
What are you passionate about these days?
Travel, writing, and history.
What do you do to unwind and relax?
Watch a funny show, get out into nature, scuba dive.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Probably when I finished the first draft of my first book, The Retreat to Avalon.
Do you have a favorite movie?
It’s hard to choose a favorite. It depends on the genre. I’m drawn first to comedies, and the first two that come to mind are Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles, or Running Scared with Gregory Hines and Billy Crystal. Brooks was a genius at making bigotry look like buffoonery, and the chemistry between Hines and Crystal, along with their quick wit, makes that one of the best cop buddy movies.
Which of your novels can you imagine made into a movie?
All of them! I would love to see an authentic, historical Arthurian series based on my series, The Arthurian Age. Waiting for someone else to actually do the book or movie is what convinced me to write it.
What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?
We’ve done three trips to Britain based around exploring the locations in my series, The Arthurian Age. During one of those trips, we stopped by Oxford and I had to visit The Eagle and Child, the pub where the Inklings met. Unfortunately, the pub has been closed for some time, but I could look in the windows at a place that doesn’t look like it has changed much at all in a century, and I could picture Tolkien and Lewis and the others sitting and talking there.
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
I’d have a zoo if I could choose more than one animal. So, maybe a loon. Watching those birds cruise along a lake, and listening to their calls is magical.
What inspired you to write this book?
Well, when I was in high school, I was wandering around the library trying to find a subject for a term paper. The librarian, Mrs. Heusinkveld, handed me The Discovery of King Arthur by Geoffrey Ashe and said I might like it. She was right. For years I hoped someone would do a movie or book based on his research. When I mentioned that to my wife, she suggested I do it. And here we are.
What can we expect from you in the future?
Currently I’m working on the third book in the series. It completes the series, but I plan on a fourth book that focuses on “Merlin” and his life. It will explain a lot of things that happen in the background of the other three books.
After this series, I plan to do some fantasy novels, some historical-fantasy based on Greek legend, and to re-visit a story I started and didn’t finish years ago, about working as an undercover drug investigator for the Army in Germany.
Do you have any “side stories” about the characters?
I do! I’ve actually written a few short stories about some of the characters and events. I will be releasing those in the future, possibly as free stories for people who join my very small mailing list.
Can you tell us a little bit about the characters in The Retreat to Avalon?
The main character is Gawain. He’s a young, rather idealistic man trying to show he can hold his own among the older warriors in his society. His wife, father, brother, and friends all have important roles. Myrddin (Merlin) is a very interesting character who I’ve incorporated in a way that I don’t think has ever been done. I wonder how many people will figure him out before book four comes out. Even though the story is ultimately about Arthur, I wanted to show Arthur through others’ eyes. Arthur is too vast, in who he may have been, and all the interpretations of him in the past 15 centuries. I want to leave something of him for others to make up their own minds.
How did you come up with the concept and characters for the book?
The concept came from the research of a prominent historian from the UK named Geoffrey Ashe, and his books, including The Discovery of King Arthur. Considering the source material, the main characters were pretty easy. Originally, I intended to have Arthur as one of the few people from the old legends, until my research revealed that quite a few of the legendary characters may have been based on actual people.
Where did you come up with the names in the story?
Most of them come from historical people and people from the Welsh legends, rather than the later Medieval French romances. There is no Lancelot, but rather some much more interesting characters.
What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
Discovering how many of the old legends and people actually fit into plausible historical events and connections. It makes me think of Heinrich Schliemann researching what everyone thought was myth, just to find the ruins of Troy.
How did you come up with the title of the book?
I’m not sure. It just came to me, right from the start, probably because Avalon is an actual place in France, and how it ties into the historical battle that happened at Deols, France in 470. As Geoffrey Ashe pointed out, you can find many ways that the later King Arthur legends correlate to actual events and people.
Who designed your book covers?
Dmitry Yakhovsky, a very talented artist who lives in Belgium. You can read about him at:
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your book?
I’ve learned a lot about writing since my first book, and there are small things I would change, but nothing major. Mostly just stylistic things.
Did you learn anything during the writing of your recent book?
So much! The publishing process is very interesting. My publishers at Perseid Press, Janet and Chris Morris, have taught me a lot about writing and publishing. I’m so grateful and never thought I would be close friends with someone who has been one of my favorite authors since I was a kid.
If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead?
Imagining actors is fun, even though I am the worst at pop culture and knowing who most actors are. I think a young Karl Urban would make a fantastic Gawain.
Anything specific you want to tell your readers?
Don’t worry about pronouncing the Welsh names. Pick a sound and go with it. And if you lose track, each book has an appendix with every character and location listed, with information about each.
What is your favorite part of this book and why?
The climactic battle. Everything comes together, and you can see Arthur face these terrible situations and… well, I don’t want to give too much away!
If you could spend time with a character from your book whom would it be? And what would you do during that day?
If I could meet the historical person my book is based on, it would have to be Arthur, of course. I would have all kinds of questions for him. But if I just had to choose a character as written in my book, it would have to be Merlin (Myrddin), because he is just such an interesting, mysterious person.
Are your characters based off real people or did they all come entirely from your imagination?
As many of the people as possible, more than you might expect, come from real people, or at least people who may have been real. Merlin is the one main character who may be more fictitious than real, though he plays a role that could have been that of a real person.
Do your characters seem to hijack the story or do you feel like you have the reigns of the story?
It is very character-driven. Because I need to make the story fit history, not twist history to fit the story, I’ve found that the research on different characters has made the story go in unexpected directions at times.
Convince us why you feel your book is a must read.
There is something timeless about Arthurian legend. So many people over the centuries have written their own versions, but few have tried to show Arthur in his real place in history. One of the best compliments I receive on my books is that they portray a King Arthur that not only seems real, but still feels like an Arthurian story.
Have you written any other books that are not published?
I’ve finished a short novella that is related to my series The Arthurian Age, but seen from the point of view of the legendary first Anglo-Saxon king in Britain, Hengist. J.R.R. Tolkien argued that Hengist was a historical person, and my story is based on his book, Finn and Hengest. It will be out this year.
If your book had a candle, what scent would it be?
It would definitely not be pumpkin spice.
What are your top 10 favorite books/authors?
Just ten? Very difficult to do… J.R.R. Tolkien and all his works, of course; The Thieves World anthology series from Robert Asprin that includes many amazing authors, including my favorite, Janet Morris, and her related books like her Sacred Band series; Fritz Leiber and his Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser series; Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his Sherlock Holmes series; Armor by John Steakley; The Anabasis by Xenophon; Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey; Neuromancer by William Gibson; Gates of Fire and others by Steven Pressfield; the Red Rising series by Pierce Brown.
What book do you think everyone should read?
How long have you been writing?
I’ve written sporadically since high school, but didn’t become serious until 2014.
Do the characters all come to you at the same time or do some of them come to you as you write?
Most are found in history and legend, so I don’t feel I can really take credit for them. I just hope I can portray them well.
What kind of research do you do before you begin writing a book?
Exhaustive! I’ve gone so far as look up the phase of the moon on a certain day in the year 470. I pester my academic friends, especially a brilliant archeologist named Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews, for everything from Dark Age Latin and Celtic words, to obscure records, to ensuring that I portray the cultures and mores correctly.
Do you see writing as a career?
Not for me. It won’t pay the bills, at least until I’m well-established and, by then, I will probably be retired. Then, as now, I’ll write because I love to craft stories.
What do you think about the current publishing market?
We’re in the middle of a big change in how books get to people. Publishing companies don’t do as much for authors as they used to. Until you’re a well-known author, you’re going to have to be your own publicist. If you go the self-publishing route, you’re going to have to do everything, and if you don’t do it well, or pay people to do the things that you can’t do (especially proper editing), you will likely struggle.
Do you read yourself and if so what is your favorite genre?
I read a lot. It’s hard to choose one genre as my favorite. Fantasy, science fiction and historical fiction are my favorites. Perhaps historical fiction the most, though it’s harder to find good books in that genre than in the other two. But when I find a story that can transport me back in time, it is really exciting.
Do you prefer to write in silence or with noise? Why?
I prefer silence, or rather nature sounds: birds, water, wind. I can’t really focus if the TV is on, or I’ll start singing along if it’s music.
Do you write one book at a time or do you have several going at a time?
So far, I’ve only written one book at a time. That’s probably how I will always write, because I can’t even start a new chapter until I’m happy with the one I’m working on.
If you could have been the author of any book ever written, which book would you choose?
The Bible. Can you imagine the royalties?
Pen or type writer or computer?
Definitely computer. I edit a bit as I write, changing words or word order, or dialogue. I can’t go forward until I’m reasonably happy with the part I’m working on. Sometimes I find that the fix for what I am not happy with takes the story in a different, better direction. It’s much easier to edit on a computer.
Tell us about a favorite character from a book.
Critias, a commander in a mercenary band known as the Stepsons, from Janet Morris. He first appears as part of her stories about Tempus in the Thieves World series. He’s a great character. Part soldier, part spymaster. He has to watch his best friend and right-side partner spiral under a witch’s attention, all while trying to hold the band together and accomplish his orders in a world that is turning upside down.
What made you want to become an author and do you feel it was the right decision?
I love to read and experience other worlds, times and stories. As a writer, I get to experience those things as I create them. I absolutely love it.
Do you have any advice to offer for new authors?
Read. Read widely. Read constantly. Read the classics, as well as newer books. Pay attention to how good writers do certain things, like dialogue, or plot reveals. I don’t think it’s possible to be a good writer unless you’re a good reader.
Describe your writing style.
It is evolving as I learn more about writing and editing. I’d say I tend towards a more straight-forward style rather than purple prose. I like to use dialogue to bring out details in a story, and I tend towards characters who are more every-day people who exhibit greatness when needed, because I’ve found that people are capable of far more than they often realize.
What makes a good story?
That can be any number of things, depending on the reader. I’m turned off by writing that feels like an effort to showcase the author’s talent for similes and metaphors rather than telling a story about the characters and events. I like characters with flaws and strengths, and a plot that isn’t easy to predict.
What are you currently reading?
Currently reading The Stalk, the third book in Janet Morris’ sci-fi series, Threshold.
What is your writing process? For instance do you do an outline first? Do you do the chapters first?
Writing historical fiction has given me a process that might change when I do different genres. I don’t do a normal outline because I am working within the framework of actual events. So I will use a rough timeline to place the events I need, add notes to that as they come to me, and start writing from the beginning to the end.
What is your writing Kryptonite?
Television. I find that if I really want to focus in and write, I have to stay away from TV for a while. The longer the better.
Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
I’m not sure how original anyone can truly be at this point in history. I’ve been influenced by many other writers, so there is certainly something of their work in mine. I try to write the story I would want to read. You can’t please everyone, but you can hope others will enjoy your story.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Nothing. Everything happens when it’s supposed to happen.
Do you believe in writer’s block?
I’m not sure. I haven’t had what I would think of as a block, just being too busy to write, or unable to focus, or too fatigued to get into the writing space. So far, it’s cleared up in a short time.
What are common traps for aspiring writers?
Good editing, I think, is a big one. Learning to cut out unnecessary words. Natural dialogue. These are all tricky skills.