Cyrus the Great has fascinated me since I was a young boy. Out of all the conquerors, so called Great Men of the now defunct Great Man Theory, Cyrus of Persia stands above all the rest. His actions, his legends, his qualities inspired lesser but almost as (in)famous conquerors like Alexander the Great. His moral and ethical treatises have influenced kings, politicians, and businessmen for centuries.
But what was truth, and what was legend? What motivated a person like this who is part mythological chosen one, part flesh and blood warrior to unify a land? The accounts of Cyrus were exaggerated, but the historical influences (the fact he is the only gentile to be named the Messiah by the Jews is important) prove there was some truth to this man.
And from this legend, comes the protagonist of my next novel: Daud Arkaran, the Viper from Nowhere.
A Son of No Nation:
I generally write protagonists who are children of two cultures, distinct from each other, but who share certain baseline commonalities; the sons and daughters of two worlds, two orders, two ideals immediately generate conflict. Do you live by your mother’s fatalist but passionate seafaring creed, or your father’s iconoclastic but duty bound ideal to clan, vassal, isle?
The duality of opposing cultures creates these fragmented characters. It sews doubt, fear, pride, generating a reservoir of external and internal conflict.
Daud is the first born of a noble but paranoid technocrat and a passionate but shrewd pirate. And from this dissonant union, you have a child of conflicting cultures. Be driven by duty, follow your passions, live for the clan, live for your dream.
You have the ingredients for a living legend. You also have the template for a psychologically disturbed character driven by a messed up personal ideal.
But You Are No One:
Something bad happens, like to most novel’s protagonists. This is not the catalyst, but this is the moment a legend, or a single-minded grudge, is born.
The moral and ethical framework of The Viper in the Reeds is purposely alien. As I’ve worked on the setting over the years, (spanning 12,000 years…) with various edited/querying novels, the story’s moral framework harkens back to the often bloody and amoral nature of Antiquity.
In this world, in this time period, in this land, the Bannerless Frontier, everything is stacked against you. And when you’ve offended the religious authorities or brought misfortune upon your people and your land, the gravest punishment isn’t death.
It’s erasure. Not just you, your sister, your parents: all of your clan, from the beginning to the present, are unnamed, undone. And your achievements, the technology, the techniques, the decades of advancements you’ve created, are seized by fools, ignorant and unable to utilize them, or who want to banish them.
Luddites who would prefer the world to stay the same.
Rather than a purely noble ideal, there is a solid mixture of idealism, honor, and straight up pride that fuels this man’s early drive, but not his later one.
The Tempered Beast:
But at the end of the day, the ultimate retribution is not murder, despite it being a tool. It’s figuring out why perhaps you’re clan was right to be unnamed, even if it doesn’t feel like it. But you’ll bide your time, nurse your grudge, and hunt down the first conspirator, the one you know you can reach.
You travel to the gutted heart of the only empire in the world. You travel from duelist school to duelist school, breaking the best students in soul-crushing bouts. But he’s not fighting for his pride; he’s fighting for a melancholic truth: I will survive. I will uncover. I will punish all.
Then you have your moment, for you best the champion of the duelists. Three years of grinding it out, leaving a trail of broken limbs and shattered egos, it’s yours. But you’re wearing a mask, for you’re still as hollow as your heart.
You’re a wound in life because the something that happened? It branded you. It made you. But it did not break you.
And so you get the offer of a lifetime: the captaincy of the city’s only elite mercenary band, its protection serves the man you seek for answers, for information, for retribution. So you play the part, the smiling man with the wild flourish.
But you wait for the right moment, and soon it comes.
TL;DR: Captain Flint from Blacksails mixed with Cyrus the Great as the protagonist, and he succeeds in bringing about his political revolution.