As I wrote The Singing Gold, I set out to create an epic fantasy with a distinctly medieval feel to it. I wanted the characters to think and feel and reason like people from a distant past, not like time-travellers on a holiday. I also wanted to focus on the specific past inhabited by my own characters and story. I didn’t want to write some kind of historical survey of an era. The high middle ages were such a diverse and exciting time that it is impossible to give more than a glimpse of it in any series of books, as every land, region or even village lived under its own customs, beliefs and conditions.
Mid 13th Century Svitjod, which I picked as the backdrop for my story, was a society where the law was still made by free men meeting at the Ting to discuss and voice their opinions. The king had to constantly travel the country to make his will felt, and the weight of a man’s kin, friends and neighbours were still more important than his class. This society was decidedly different from the highly stratified and organised feudal kingdoms of England and France, which is what most readers would probably imagine when thinking about the High Middle Ages. In Svitjod, no knights went jousting to impress potential liege lords under the walls of their mighty castles. No knights rode at all, as a matter of fact. The preferred mode of combat of the Sweons was standing on your own two feet, and the best way of getting to the battle was still in your trusted longship. As for castles, there seems to have been only one of those around until just after the time I write about, and that was down in Goethia.
Yet, at the same time, ideas, trade, and beliefs moved fast and far even if most people didn’t. The Church with its wide-spanning organization provided a conduit for new ideas and customs. Also, a growing trade tied together the furthest corners of Europe. Not only luxury goods but also everyday commodities like stock-fish were moved back and forth across the continent in a network which incorporated Norse traders and adventurers. And knights were around and about, just south of Svitjod. Their next-door neighbour Goethia had always been much more open to change than the Sweons, be it to new ways of life or to the new faith. Among all the Norse societies, Svitjod was one of the last to adapt to the dominating feudal system of the continent. This meant that any Sweon who had travelled, or who knew folk who did, would surely have heard stories about knights and ladies and their liege lords, and of crusades and missionaries too. The island of Gutland which was the obvious port of call for anyone trading on the Baltic had also become a hub for Teutonic and Danish crusades towards the east.