Building a Castle...

Building a castle, it turns out, is not as easy as it looks. I had hoped to prepare my map of the local area today, something else that is going to be rather time-consuming, but just mapping out the castle at Jerablus took so long that by the time I was finished, I didn’t have the time to do it properly. Not a serious problem; I’ll get to it tomorrow. It certainly was worth it, though, I think. I’m going to be living with this castle for a very long time, I hope, for several books, so spending a day getting the details right strikes me as an excellent investment.

Sword of the Traitor is set in 1104, only a few years after the First Crusade. One thing that is quite clear about castles is that they take time and money to build; ten years was a realistic time-scale, even if a major figure was personally arranging the construction. Having said that, the builders of this castle had a bit of an advantage, as there were plenty of ruins around - Byzantine, Saracen, even Hittite. The area is littered with the remains of old fortresses, which meant that a lot of the building material was on hand, and ready. There is nothing unusual about this - in the medieval period in Britain, many buildings were made out of the ruins of the other. Why quarry new stone if perfectly good stone blocks are already waiting around? This alone would have reduced the expense and sped the construction time - as well as giving the castle itself a somewhat distinctive appearance, which I considered was all to the good.

Nevertheless, this wasn’t going to be a large castle. Putting myself in the shoes of the builder, I reckoned that the first priority was a keep, with the outer buildings to come at some future date; nothing especially unusual about that. The Crusaders built a lot of towers, scattered around at strategic positions, and they were both faster and cheaper than the larger, grander castles of later decades. Especially given the material available, I reasoned that a small keep could be constructed in a year. There would be other fortifications, of course; a palisade to protect a stables, bakery, and a few other buildings, and this could be the layout of a future, larger castle. (I must admit that I kept in mind that a large castle would probably still be there today, whereas a single dunjon could have been lost in the archaeological wilderness, especially if it was constructed out of the remains of earlier buildings.)

Hitting the books with a vengeance - and having visited lots of castles myself over the years - I decided to make this a four-level tower. Three was far more normal, but if this was to be the setting of a series of books, I decided to make it a little larger to give myself more room. Not that the castle would be huge; I looked at smaller examples for my model, and came up with twelve by nine meters. Small indeed, but examples of this size have been found. The ‘ground’ floor would serve as the storeroom, the cellar, essentially, and have no way in or out. This was not uncommon with single keeps; the entrance would be on the first floor, and there would be a drawbridge connecting to a staircase a few meters away. Anything to help make it a little harder for someone wanting to take the castle.

So, the lowest level I designed with just three rooms - a oubliette (a little out-of-period, but not unheard of, and story has to win sometimes), a storeroom, and a treasury. Also, I placed a well on this level; I saw several designs with water accessible within the castle itself, and it seems logical if you are expecting a siege to ensure your water source. I figure that a second well will be dug outside, within the palisade, as well.

The next level would be dedicated to defence. A gatehouse, a guardroom, a garderobe and an armoury; the gatehouse is the first line of defence in the event of attack, with stout doors to the outside and equally strong to the interior of the keep, almost an ‘airlock’, if you like. The guardroom would be the living accommodation for the castle guards, beds, tables and some rudimentary cooking facilities, as well as a fireplace. And the lowest level of the toilet, naturally enough. Got to think of that; the garderobes in this castle are all in the same place, and go down into a pit that will still smell like many things died there.

Above that, things start to improve somewhat. There is a hall, a dining room that doubles as a kitchen, a larder adjacent to it, and a small chapel, the latter built over the gatehouse. And the garderobe, as well, naturally. This is where the social life of the keep largely takes place, where the banquets and the feasts happen, where any entertaining of other dignitaries happens. The chapel actually has a stained-glass window, as well; a meter across and three meters high. When it is finished, it will be lavishly decorated, but that isn't finished yet; this castle is almost factory-fresh, after all, only four or five years old at this point.

Finally, the top level is the lord’s and lady’s quarters; the Lord’s Chamber and the Lady’s Solar, as well as the Priest’s Room (with library - almost two dozen books!) the Servant’s Quarters and the ubiquitous garderobe, though they at least get to be at the top of the mess up at this level. There is an additional fireplace in the Priest’s Room - you can tell he had quite a bit of influence when the castle was built for that to be the case! Above, naturally, is a roof with the usual crenelations, perhaps even a couple of trebuchet; I haven’t decided yet. In terms of occupants, there will be around half a dozen guards, about a dozen servants, the priest, and the lord and lady. Say twenty people, give or take - though others will live outside the castle as well.

Hopefully, everything makes sense. Outside, in buildings that will likely be made out of mud-brick (and yet to be drawn; I ran out of time, so this has become a ‘tomorrow’ job) are stables, a bakery, a brewery, a blacksmith, and a few other scattered buildings for men like the bailiff, people of sufficient importance to warrant their own quarters. The beginnings of a gatehouse are taking shape at the moment, despite there being only a palisade. All castles were, to some extent, works in progress, but this is rarely depicted in the fiction; at the time of this book, work has begun on the gatehouse, with a mason on-hand supervising a work crew. And yes, the mason - one Leo of Neopolis - is a character in the story.

At least that is all now out of the way. Tomorrow I’ll map out the rest of the castle, palisade and all - that, at least, should not take long - and then work out what the local area looks like. Or at least, what it looked like in 1104...

Oh, you want to see it?

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