…and I could use some help, because I am sort of throwing down crap and it is entirely possible that there is a decisive factor that could make the whole timeline Basically Stupid.
Caveat the First: I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing, my entire knowledge of this era is from Wikipedia and a fold out map a friend of mine had in college. I prostrate myself now, so that the sounds of your weeping over my ignorance do not drown out the rest of this thread.
Caveat the Second: This has to be good-enough-for-fiction, not good enough to write a thesis on. I basically need a reasonably well thought out timeline for my character to fall into that doesn’t scream OH MY GOD HOW STUPID IS THIS?!
Caveat the Third: By throwing out ideas here, you agree it’s cool if I use them and not to sue me if I do and all you get is my undying gratitude. If you are the sort to get very attached to your Random Cool Ideas, then I love you very much but please go watch a Star Trek marathon or something.
Caveat Emptor: I am not saying this will ever get published, but if it does, reading this is totally spoileriffic. Or not. Because it may never get published, or I may decide the hero is actually a chicken farmer from Tennessee.
Right! So here we go.
The year is 1246 AD. Probably.
Our hero and heroine are a monk and a nun respectively, at the Abbey of Blessed St. Ursa. They are were-bears (although the reader will hopefully not know this until most of the way through the book.) Some saints and martyrs are, for whatever demented reason I haven’t figured out yet, animal saints like St. Vulpes and St. Leo and so forth because why the hell not, people? The monks and nuns dedicated to the service of these saints are thus lycanthropic, some of ‘em, although they don’t talk about it much. This is seen as a divine blessing by the monks. People are likely to be freaked out, though, so they keep it on the down-low and people just know that you really really really don’t mess with nuns. (We’ll see how that plays out, but I think it’s more likely that the populace is largely ignorant of this ability, and of course there are plenty of Franciscans and Benedictines and whatnot to act normal. )
There is no magic in this world, because I’m writing were-bear mysteries here, people.
The Abbey is probably in England, although if somebody wants to make a compelling case for France, I’ll listen. I’m just much more familiar with English popular history and can fake it better.
Alternate History Time:
Life seems to have gone on pretty much normally until the Third Crusade, which was even more of a disaster than it was in our world. It did not re-establish the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem, but in fact was pretty much a total rout. The death of the Holy Roman Emperor on said Third Crusade led to a quicker and uglier fragmentation of the Holy Roman Empire. Saladin, who lived about twenty years longer in this timeline and was rather more successful in gathering allies, simply moved north and took half of the former Holy Roman Empire while everyone was standing around wringing their hands and saying “But will we call it Rhomania or Byzantium?”
The Third Crusade went so badly that the Fourth Crusade didn’t get underway until 1218. This went even worse and would go down in history as the “Cursed Crusade.” The Crusaders sacked Constantinople (the Eastern Orthodox Church is probably NOT keen on were-whatevers now, if any were doing the berserker thing…) but instead of establishing the Latin Empire, they sort of vaguely remembered where they were going and headed south towards Jerusalem, looting and burning as they went.
The peasants did not appreciate this, and they appreciated it even less when the Crusaders brought some kind of plague with them. An aging Saladin sighed heavily and mobilized the army, aided by said very angry peasants, and completely wiped out the Cursed Crusade. Saracen medicine at the time was far more advanced and they could treat the Crusader Fever (might be a little too twee a name) which endeared them to the populace. A lot. What with one thing and another, Saladin found himself at the gates of the then-Republic of Venice, saying “Really, I don’t feel the need to go any farther, but seriously guys, give up on Jerusalem.”
A new pope (some say the old one was…helped…on his way out, and I would love to see Richard the Lionheart actually a were-lion and the Pope at the time, although I realize this may be just fan service) said “Y’know, I think this is a very good idea, let’s all just settle down.” This pope was originally of the order of St. Equus, and there are a lot of disparaging remarks made about how he’s a plowhorse, not a warhorse, and more interested in rebuilding than conquest.
So thirty years later, we come to our heroes.
Is the world at peace? I’d like it to be not in the middle of exploding too badly. Are the Danes doing anything? Is the remains of the Byzantine Empire still really pissed about that Constantinople thing? Are there three empires glaring at each other in this area going “Go one, somebody, make a move…”?
Say our forty-something hero was off fighting the Byzantines in his late twenties, what would he likely think of them as a group? (Presumably everyone is rather impressed with the Saracens at this point, who has pretty much proved they can kick your ass and patch it up again, although following the death of Saladin, internal politics may be causing all kinds of squabbles not quite so relevant here.) Would said Byzantines even be called Byzantines? If not, what do I call ‘em? Are they still based out of Constantinople, or is that nobody’s business but the Turks?
Have I bitten off more than I can chew?
Brainstorming in comments is very much solicited, and while I can offer nothing but my gratitude, I kinda want to thrash this out in rough form before I go too much farther…
(Note for readers: Discussion is probably going to be centered on the LJ version of this post, owing to easier threading. Head on over if you’re interested!)
ETA: Headed to bed for the night--feel free to continue poking the comments, and thank you all so much for your thoughts! It's been very helpful! I've definitely learned a few things, and have a pretty good idea on who my hero was fighting. Now I just have to sleep on whether I like Constantinople or Venice better. And also whether I want the Danes to have taken over Northern England and not actually left. (Might be more trouble than its worth, but it's sure a neat idea!)