With the recent release of TASTE OF DARKNESS, I’ve been getting a few requests about the origin of the Skeleton King. For those readers who paid attention, he was mentioned in both TOUCH OF POWER and SCENT OF MAGIC as a possible threat from the south, but with Tohon and his dead army threatening from the west, Avry and her friends had their hands full.
With Tohon “neutralized” at the end of SCENT OF MAGIC, I needed an antagonist to cause trouble. It was time for the Skeleton King to make an appearance. His first action in TASTE OF DARKNESS is to send a message to Prince Ryne in the form of a crown made from human bones. The Skeleton King claims Ryne will crown him ruler of the Fifteen Realms after he defeats Ryne’s army. Avry discovers the Skeleton King’s particular brand of nastiness when she examines an injured scout who has returned from the south. The poor woman is covered with human bite marks—she’s been tortured. Nice guy, huh?
By now you’re wondering how I conjured up such an evil man. First off, have you read my other books? If so, you know I enjoy channeling my inner badness. I believe my antagonist needs to be as complex and nuanced as my protagonists so I attempt to understand their motives and desires. One of the ways I do this is through research. In this case, I learned quite a bit about what happened to society after the Black Death struck in 1348.
In the world of the Fifteen Realms, the Skeleton King rose to power during the turbulent chaos after a world-wide plague killed two thirds of the population. With so many people gone, there wasn’t enough laborers to harvest food, take care of livestock, transport goods, and police society. Starvation would be one of the effects of the plague. With dead bodies plentiful and fresh food unavailable, I connected them and created a group of people who would resort to cannibalism to survive (not an original idea as history is full of stories of this happening). And as with any group, there is always a leader.
The Skeleton King believes he saved his people from death. He made weapons and armor from the bones of his “victims” not as a souvenir or to gloat over his conquests, but as a form of reverence. Their flesh provided sustenance and now their bones provide protection. In TASTE OF DARKNESS, they no longer need to resort to cannibalism to survive, but the Skeleton King is determined to unite the lands and those that oppose him will be eaten. After a battle, they hold rituals to consume their enemies’ blood and flesh to give his troops strength.
I had a number of interesting conversations with my family doctor about what happens when a person consumes human flesh and how long a virus would remain active once the body dies. We talked about cooked flesh verses raw and the brain diseases you can contract. I’m amazed he hasn’t kicked me out of his office by now.
Just like all my other characters, the Skeleton King came to life on the page and his special brand of creepy even scared me at times. The scene with Avry in the tent… shudder! Good thing he will remain a fictional character…for now ;>.