Read Iron Winter (Northland 3) Online

Authors: Stephen Baxter

Iron Winter (Northland 3) (57 page)

‘Here they come,’ murmured Walks In Mist. ‘But why now? Too late for the midsummer. I suppose they could have been delayed – difficulties with the journey, with ice on
the sea . . .’

Sabela was not listening. ‘I knew they would come. Before the winter we will be drinking again in that funny little tavern in the Wall, and our troubles will be behind us.’

But Xipuhl said now, ‘We know nothing of conditions in Northland. Or anywhere across the ocean. What if
are fleeing

And Walks In Mist said, ‘There seem to be rather a lot of ships.’

Now Sabela could see there were many vessels – she counted seven, eight, nine, and more emerging from the mist behind the leaders – a tremendous fleet, soon too many to count. The
Giving transport usually numbered only three or four vessels. She felt a stab of doubt.

Walks In Mist raised her hands to her eyes. ‘They have tubes sticking out of their sides. I see it clearly. Tubes of iron. And the sails. There is a design on the sails.’

‘A design?’

‘A man. Painted huge. His hand upraised. And crossed palm leaves across his chest . . .’

The crowd on the quay were falling silent, as they gazed into the eyes of Jesus Sharruma, and watched the Hatti armada approach.










Millennia had passed since the last retreat of the ice. Human lives were brief; in human minds, occupied with love and war, the ice had been remembered only in myth.

But the ice remembered.

And now the long retreat was over.

Once more the ice covered continents. The silence of the world was profound.










This book opens in the year AD 1315, according to our calendar, at the beginning of the so-called ‘Little Ice Age’, centuries of cooler and more turbulent climatic
patterns in Europe (see
The Little Ice Age
, Brian Fagan, Basic Books, 2000). It is a useful starting point for the fictional but much more severe glacial epoch depicted here.

The ‘Holocene’, the period of warm climate since the last Ice Age – the long summer that gave civilisation its chance – is in fact the longest stable interglacial warm
period in four hundred millennia. And if not for farming, the ice might already have returned. American climatologist William Ruddiman (see
Ploughs, Plagues and Petroleum
, Princeton, 2007)
argues that the main forcing factor in the Earth’s long-term climate changes, changes in the planet’s orbit and axial tilt, should have driven the world to the brink of a new glacial
period by now, but this has been offset by humanity’s injection of greenhouse gases, not just since the Industrial Revolution but since the beginnings of agriculture in 6000 BC. As with much
of the current debate about humanity’s impact on our climate future and past, Ruddiman’s argument is hotly contested (see ‘The Climate Changers’,
New Scientist
, 6
September 200S).

In this novel the world collapses into Ice Age conditions in just a few years. This has some basis in reality. Beginning about 12,S00 years ago, the period known as the ‘Younger
Dryas’ (named after an Arctic flower) was a relapse back into glacial conditions, triggered when a glacial lake in Canada burst its banks and reached the sea, chilling and diluting the North
Atlantic, and forcing a shut-down of the Gulf Stream. Much the same mechanism is postulated here. Recently (see
New Scientist
, 14 November 2009) scientists from the University of
Saskatchewan used a finely grained mud core from a lake in Ireland to prove that during the Younger Dryas temperatures collapsed within mere months, or a year at most.

Bolghai in Daidu (Beijing) precociously studies the properties of carbon dioxide (‘fixed air’), some centuries ahead of similar studies in the West in our timeline, by scholars like
Jan Baptist van Helmont, Joseph Black, John Tyndall and Svante Arrhenius.

The names I have used here are primarily chosen for clarity and familiarity.

‘German’ is a name used by Greek and Roman writers, not by the people the term was meant to describe. I have followed the Pinyin system for Romanisation of Cathay names, erring
always on the side of clarity. Pyxeas’ journey to the East very roughly mirrors that of Marco Polo in our own timeline, and I have used names from that source (for a recent study see Laurence
Marco Polo
, Quercus, 200S). Daidu is on the site of modern Beijing; Quinsai is Hangzhou. I also drew on the memoir of Ibn Battuta, a great Muslim traveller of the period
(see Ross Dunn’s
The Adventures of Ibn Battuta
, University of California Press, 19S6). My Northlanders use ancient Cathay terms relating to the manufacture of gunpowder, which they
call the ‘fire drug’ (see Clive Ponting’s
, Chatto & Windus, 2006). Saltpetre was known as ‘solve stone’.

I have loosely used modern terms for military rankings like ‘sergeant’, ‘general’. Ancient equivalents are often unknown.

In our history Carthage did not survive as an independent power after its famous destruction by the Romans in 146 BC (see Richard Miles’
Carthage Must Be Destroyed,
Allen Lane,
2010). I have referred to Carthage by its modernised name throughout, which derives from a Latinised version of the Phoenician ‘Qart-Hadasht’, ‘new city’ (Miles p. 62).

I have used the name ‘Anatolia’ for modern mainland Turkey. The ‘people of the Land of Hatti’ are the great Bronze Age kingdom we know as the Hittites (see Trevor
The Kingdom of the Hittites
, Oxford University Press, 2005, and his
Life and Society in the Hittite World
, Oxford University Press, 2002). In our timeline, by 1159 BC,
the setting for my Book Two, the central Hittite empire had already collapsed. Its Anatolian heartland later became the centre of the Byzantine empire, and my fictional history reflects something
of the Byzantine reality (see Judith Herrin’s
, Allen Lane, 2007). The Hittites’ ‘Constantinople’ is a rebuilt Troy – an option considered by
Constantine I when he moved the capital of his empire from Rome (Herrin, Chapter 1). ‘Greater Greece’ is Italy. ‘Hantilios’ is on the site of Venice. In the Hittites’
pantheon many gods were ‘syncretised’, that is, identified as aspects of each other. Sharruma was the offspring of the Hurrian gods Teshub and Hepat, later syncretised with Hittite
gods. The potato blight, which causes famine in my Hittite empire here, caused the similar and similarly terrible nineteenth-century ‘Great Hunger’ in Ireland (see Christine
A Death-Dealing Famine: The Great Hunger in Ireland
, Pluto Press, 1997).

My ‘River City’ is the city now called Cahokia, on the flood plain of the Mississippi (the ‘Trunk’). Tiwanaku was near Lake Titicaca in the Andes highland. The
‘Altar of the Jaguar’ is the Olmec city known as San Lorenzo. A provocative recent survey of the pre-Columbian Americas is Charles Mann’s
(Alfred A. Knopf, 2005).

A recent study of the life of the great sixth-century sage Pythagoras and his heritage is Kitty Ferguson’s
, Icon Books, 2010. Pyxeas’ ‘world position
oracle’ is loosely based on the Antikythera mechanism. This remarkable gadget (see
Decoding the Heavens
by Jo Marchant, Windmill Books, 2009, and Lucio Russo’s
The Forgotten
Springer, 2004) is evidence of an advanced mechanical capability among the ancient Greeks – which, in the universe of this novel, led to a precocious development of steam
engine technology. The Northlanders’ Atlantic fishing craft depicted here are based very loosely on the sturdy British design known as ‘doggers’, which in our timeline appeared a
little later in the historical record, during the seventeenth century (see
The Oxford Companion to Ships and the Sea
, ed. I.C.B. Dear, Oxford University Press, 2005).

This is a novel, not meant to be taken as a reliable history. Any errors or inaccuracies are of course my sole responsibility.

Stephen Baxter


Winter Solstice, 2011





Also by Stephen Baxter


Deep Future

The Science of Avatar






Reality Dust




Xeelee: An Omnibus

Stone Spring

Bronze Summer









(with Arthur C. Clarke)

Time’s Eye








A Gollancz eBook
Copyright © Stephen Baxter 2012
Map copyright © Dave Senior 2012
All rights reserved.

The right of Stephen Baxter to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

First published in Great Britain in 2012 by
The Orion Publishing Group Ltd
Orion House
5 Upper Saint Martin’s Lane
London, WC2H 9EA
An Hachette UK Company

This eBook first published in 2012 by Gollancz.

A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

ISBN 978 0 575 08931 0

All characters and events in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of the
publisher, nor to be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published without a similar condition, including this condition, being imposed on the
subsequent purchaser.

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