Introducing the fictional characters in my Balian d'Ibelin Trilogy:
Because of the importance of naval and amphibious warfare in the period covered by Envoy of Jerusalem, I wanted to include a "nautical" character. A Pisan or Genoese sea captain would have been more representative of the age, but the Italian city-states came to the Holy Land as much (if not more) for commercial advantages as for religious reasons, and I didn't want to get into that can of worms. I was intrigued, however, by the fact that the Norwegians sent a large contingent of crusaders at this time. I also liked the idea of reminding my readers that the Norsemen had been Christianized (for the most part) by this time. It also seemed appropriate to have a Norse ship's captain as a character in order to describe the kind of vessel Richard the Lionheart chose as his flagship -- a snecka -- which was essentially a Viking warship that had been adapted over the centuries. Besides, I've lived in Norway and my mother's family was Danish, so I grew up loving Viking ships and Viking myths. So Haakon Magnussen was born -- full-grown and out of the foam of a stormy sea.
Haakon himself represents the "independent" crusader. Although we tend to think of the crusades as organized events led by kings and nobles, the majority of "crusaders" were individuals who made an armed pilgrimage to the Holy Land to fulfill a vow, atone for a sin, or simply contribute to the defense/restoration of Christian rule. They might join up with others, sign on with a local lord, travel in the train of an organized crusade, or they might, if they had the means, just come out on their own. Who could better represent that independent spirit than an Norseman?
In the novel, Haakon is also a device to get Balian out to sea and a means of moving him in an environment where the Saracens controlled most of the hinterland behind the few Christian coastal strongholds. He also has a voice and perspective of his own, generally irreverent. One of my test readers liked him best of all the fictional characters, and I strongly suspect he deserves a novel all his own....
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