Guest Essay: ‘Untested’ by Joe Brassey, Co-Author ‘The Mongoliad: Book Two’


mongo book 2

About The Mongoliad: Book Two:

This riveting second installment in Stephenson and company’s epic tale focuses on the aftermath of the world-shattering Mongolian invasion of 1241 and the difficult paths undertaken by its most resilient survivors.

The Shield Brethren, an order of warrior monks, search for a way to overthrow the horde, even as the invaders take its members hostage. Forced to fight in the Mongols’ Circus of Swords, Haakon must prove his mettle or lose his life in the ring. His bravery may impress the enemy, but freedom remains a distant dream.

Father Rodrigo receives a prophecy from God and believes it’s his mission to deliver the message to Rome. Though a peaceful man, he resigns himself to take up arms in the name of his Lord. Joining his fight to save Christendom are the hunter Ferenc, orphan Ocyrhoe, healer Raphael, and alchemist Yasper, each searching for his place in history.

Deftly blending fact and fantasy, The Mongoliad: Book Two captures the indomitable will to survive against immense odds.

Joe Brassey is one of the authors of The Mongoliad: Book Two, available today. He lives in the Pacific Northwest with his wife and two cats. He teaches medieval fighting techniques to members of the armed forces. The Mongoliad: Book One and The Mongoliad: Book Two are his first published works of fiction.

It’s a Wednesday morning. I just finished my workout, showered, and am now sitting in front of my computer screen staring at the two documents that lie open on it. The first is a simple RTF containing my notes from last Sunday’s meeting at the Subutai loft, the space where the Mongoliad writing team meets to train in the mornings before the writer’s meeting. The notes are vague, reflecting my tendency to be less detail-oriented than my peers, but they form enough of an outline that I have a picture in my head of how this chapter is supposed to flow. The document next to it is another RTF. I’m really terrible with most word processors at this point, so this is what I use. This one is empty, and I’m having trouble getting started. After a moment, I make an exasperated growling sound that startles my cat and drum my fingers on the keyboard. “I must be out of my damn mind,” I mutter.

Three days earlier, and I’m in the meeting where I got this assignment. The upstairs office is a big room with a big, long table at its centerpiece. A pink box of doughnuts and pastries sit in the center, and various books on the Mongol Empire, medieval fighting techniques, and the events of 1241 are scattered here and there. My laptop is humming along as I try to keep pace with the jokes and the story-plotting that’s thrumming along as seven writers plus a few other brain-storming minds toss out ideas. Words fly left and right as our Canon Master Mark Teppo attempts the admirable and unenviable task of herding a bunch of inquisitive minds like cats fighting over a piece of string and keeping us all on task. That’s important today because he’s bringing up a point that is going to change our course a bit. Up until now The Mongoliad has consisted of three branches of story weaving together. In meeting cadence, they’re called the Brethren Branch, the Mongol Branch, and the Rome Branch. Mark is about to turn that all upside down.

Caption for image: Copy for book one image will be: “This illustration of the character Andreas appears in the Hardcover and digital editions of The Mongoliad: Book One Collector’s Edition.  Both "The Mongoliad: Book One Collector’s Edition" and "The Mongoliad: Book Two Collector’s Edition" will release on October 30, 2012. The Mongoliad: Book Two comes out on September 25, 2012

This illustration of the character Andreas appears in the Hardcover and digital editions of The Mongoliad: Book One Collector’s Edition. Both "The Mongoliad: Book One Collector’s Edition" and "The Mongoliad: Book Two Collector’s Edition" will release on October 30, 2012. The Mongoliad: Book Two comes out on September 25, 2012

“We have a problem,” Mark says, “when the Shield-Brethren hunting party takes off to assassinate the Great Khan, they leave a bunch of their second stringers behind to fight in the circus of swords. We’ve left those characters hanging high and dry, and we shouldn’t. I have an outline in mind for what they’re doing. This is what it is.” He proceeds to lay out a story of underdog defiance against oppression and a group of B-team warriors comprised of old men and untested boys who are called upon to step into the entirely-too-large shoes of the experienced knights who have gone east to kill one Khan, and hold the line against another. It’s well received, and you can hear the minds of the writers in the room working it over and considering how it will complement the stories they’re working on with the other branches. Neal [Stephenson] smiles enigmatically from behind his laptop screen. Greg [Bear] offers an enthusiastic voice of support. Cooper [Moo] and Erik [Bear] chime in as well. This could really work.

That’s when I blurt out, “Mark, you have to let me write this.”

What I wasn’t expecting was for him to turn to me and say, “Okay. It’s all yours.”

“How am I supposed to make this stand on its own?” I ask Mark when we talk privately after the meeting. I’m both surprised that I’ve been given the chance to do it with his help, and terrified now that the responsibility is in my lap. It’s a lot to potentially mess up, and as we’ve learned from the reactions of the fans to our weekly chapters, when something is bad, they take us to task for it.

“You’re just going to have to write something so awesome that people start wanting to skip the other branches to get to yours,” he says. No pressure. Later, I go over some choreography ideas for the fight in this chapter with some of the itinerants who do the fight blocking with us. It’s important that everything we do seem feasible and believable. I get thumped a few times during the choreography sessions, and I sport some nice bruises afterwards. That’s realism for you.

In my office, I go over the plot: This chapter has a big fight set piece, and a moment after that is the defining one for its primary protagonist. Mark wrote the one before it, and set the stage nicely with a cliff-hanger I have to follow (no pressure) with something good enough to grab people. These knights, untested and many of them unblooded, under the command of a single, experienced commander and an aged quartermaster with arthritic hands, have to defy the power of a Mongol Khan and his elite personal guard, as well as his small collection of elite, highly trained killers from around Eurasia, amongst whom they might find allies or enemies. I suppose it’s fitting that it’s a pretty much untested writer and martial artist who’s writing it. There, that’s the emotion to run with. I grab it, I hold onto it, and I lay my fingers across the keyboard. As I start to type, a knight named Andreas walks towards his enemies–and his destiny–weapon in hand.

And that’s how the Circus Branch got started.