The premise behind A Land Beyond Ravens, the final book in the Macsen’s Treasure Series, began with the question: how did the quest for the Holy Grail get started? A very big question with no definitive answer.
Each of the four books in the series involves part of a fictional set of five sacred symbols belonging to Britain’s ancient high kings—collectively called Macsen’s Treasure. They are loosely based on the mythical “Thirteen Treasures of Britain,” and include a torque, spear, sword, grail and crown. Except for the crown, all the other pieces were separated and hidden for safekeeping during the turbulent years following the withdrawal of Roman leadership in the early fifth century.
The bare sketch for A Land Beyond Ravens required it include something about Macsen’s grail, a sense of the growing influence of the Christian church in Britain, and that Arthur would finally become high king. A few other notes floated around involving the main characters of master spy Marcus ap Iorwerth and his wife Claerwen, as well as Myrddin (Merlin). That, and the framework that history and legend provided as a backdrop, was all I had when I started writing.
Where to go from there?
First popularized in the late Middle Ages (but long after Arthur’s alleged historical period), the quest for the Holy Grail became known as a catalyst that split apart Arthur’s court and ended his reign. From where the grail stories originated is unknown, but they became inseparable from the Arthurian cycle. The Christian overtones may stem from the church’s alleged “adoption” of many pagan symbols, festivals and holidays in its early days. Using activities with which people were familiar drew them to the church. Gradually, formerly pagan holidays and symbols were Christianized and the older influences were either forgotten or outright forbidden.
What if—likewise—a grail existed that was older than Christianity and was at one time held to be sacred by a people seen as pagan? My personal theory is that this grail could also have been “adopted.” We have the church’s story of Joseph of Arimathea, a kinsman of Jesus, coming to Britain with a cup that was allegedly used either at the Last Supper or to catch the blood of Christ at the crucifixion. If the grail of the high kings was lost, conveniently, who could refute the church’s claim on it?
Based on these thoughts, I wondered: what if the seeds for the quest for the Holy Grail were planted long before it actually gained momentum? What if it was started on purpose? What if it was started by accident? All impossible to prove, but still plausible. And so began the story of A Land Beyond Ravens.