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Literature / The Lion Hunters

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The Lion Hunters, also known as the Arthurian-Aksumite Cycle, is a series of historical novels and short stories by Elizabeth Wein. The Generational Saga begins in the sixth century Britain of a historical King Arthur, then shifts political arenas in the following books to the Red Sea empires of Aksum and Himyar.

The series so far consists of:

  • The Winter Prince: (1993) Medraut, Artos's illegitimate eldest son, returns from Aksum to serve in Britain, where he struggles with his love and resentment of his arrogant younger half-brother Lleu, Artos's heir, and his love and fear of his mother, Artos's half-sister, Morgause, Queen of the Orcades.
  • "Fire" in Writers of the Future Vol. IX (1993): Lleu is taken captive in the Battle of Camlan.
  • "No Human Hands to Touch" in Sirens and Other Daemon Lovers (1997): An adult prequel to The Winter Prince, where Morgause tells of Medraut's return to the Orcades and their relationship.
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  • A Coalition of Lions: (2003) Goewin, Artos's daughter, and Priamos, the Aksumite ambassador to Britain, sail to Aksum to recall Constantine, the British ambassador and Goewin's fiancé, to war-torn Britain. But Priamos is arrested for treason and Constantine, now viceroy to the absent Emperor Caleb, will not depart until Goewin, with the help of Medraut's long-lost lover Turunesh and their son Telemakos, can find the emperor and persuade him to crown his successor.
  • The Sunbird: (2004) Plague erupts in Aksum's brother kingdom of Himyar, and Telemakos, Medraut's Aksumite son, is asked by the emperor and his spymaster to infiltrate their quarantined port city and go undercover as a salt-mine slave in order to discover who is breaking the quarantine.
  • "Reunion" (2007): 100-word story about Turunesh and Medraut sending Telemakos on his mission during The Sunbird.
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  • The Lion Hunter (The Mark of Solomon, Book One): (2007) On the day of his sister Athena's birth, Telemakos is savaged by his beloved pet lions. During his recovery, he learns that one of the quarantine breakers is still looking for the spy called the Sunbird, and he and Athena are sent to the king of Himyar for safety – and to spy out the last conspirator. In Himyar's court, they are fostered with the heirs to all the south Arabian kingdoms – but the childless king of Himyar will not tolerate disloyalty.
  • The Empty Kingdom (The Mark of Solomon, Book Two): (2008) If Telemakos betrays the king of Himyar again, his life is forfeit. Though the king holds him hostage, he treats Telemakos like a son, and while planning to annex an Aksumite territory, forces Telemakos to help him, or risk his life to escape and warn the emperor of Aksum.
  • The Sword Dance:'' (unpublished) The final novel, about Telemakos "in Britain, in love," remains unreleased.

Wein's official site is

The Lion Hunters contains examples of:

  • Abusive Parent: Morgause conceived Medraut in order to use him against Artos. Various things he mentions her doing to him over the course of his life include: mangling his broken hand in order to teach him a lesson about hunting safety; driving a pin through his cheek; drugging him; and generally making him as insane, angry, and cruel as she is.
  • Aloof Big Brother: Medraut to Lleu, who calls him "the single person I have most admired and imitated and envied my entire life".
  • Animal Motifs:
    • Artos is "the Dragon"
    • The Winter Prince: Morgause keeps a menagerie of exotic animals, especially peacocks.
    • A Coalition of Lions: Priamos hates the Golden Court because the colobus monkeys chained there remind him of his childhood imprisonment on Debra Damo.
    • Priamos's family nicknames him "Hornbill" because he talks a lot when he's nervous.
    • The Anbessa brothers are called "a coalition of lions" because it is believed that they are loyal first and foremost to each other, like allied male lions, and not to their uncle the emperor. In Abreha's case, it's true. It's also a reference to their patronymic Anbessa, 'lion-hearted'.
    • Princes of the Aksumite royal house have to kill a lion on foot to prove worthy of becoming the emperor. Medraut also did this during his time in Aksum and gave the skin to Turunesh. Goewin, Medraut, Priamos, Abreha, and Constantine kill a lioness together after Telemakos steals her two cubs.
    • Telemakos's code name is the Sunbird.
    • The Sunbird: The conspirator who has Telemakos tortured smells like a baboon, and Hara the overseer is called the Scorpion.
    • The 'Mark of Solomon' is both Telemakos's maiming by the emperor's lion Solomon and Abreha's seal branded on his neck.
    • The Lion Hunter: Athena learns to imitate animal noises and walk like Menelik the lion cub before she learns to talk and walk like a human.
    • Telemakos learns to move in silence while belled like a cat after seeing Menelik silently retrieve a bone rattle.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Medraut to Goewin and Lleu, when he doesn't want to murder them and steal their inheritance; Goewin, the elder and stronger twin, to Lleu.
    • Aversion: Medraut doesn't seem to have any particular fraternal feeling for his other, unacknowledged set of half-siblings, Morgause's sons.
    • Abreha to Hector and Priamos when they were sent against him in the war against Himyar, though he had never met either of them.
    • Sofya, though she resents the necessity, to her elder twin Esato, who has the mental age of a child.
    • Promotion to Parent: Telemakos appoints himself Athena's primary caretaker after Turunesh sinks into post-partum depression and Medraut blames the baby for Telemakos's injury.
      • Mikael looked out for Abreha when they were imprisoned as children on Debra Damo. The blight of Mikael's life is why Abreha feels no loyalty to Caleb.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: The degree of independence, discipline, and responsibility expected of the child Telemakos is in marked contrast to the protectiveness of modern parenting.
  • Demythification: The Winter Prince is strictly historical fiction, stripped of magical and romantic elements of Arthurian myth like Merlin, Lancelot, Avalon, or the Round Table. Camelot becomes a rebuilt Roman villa called Camlan, sited near modern Alderley Edge, Cheshire.
  • Divided for Publication: The Mark of Solomon was written as a single story, but divided into The Lion Hunter and The Empty Kingdom at the suggestion of the editor. The major political plot points occur in The Empty Kingdom, but as Wein explained in The Horn Book, Telemakos's Character Development in The Lion Hunter was needed to bridge the events of The Sunbird and The Empty Kingdom. Unfortunately the split creates a Cliffhanger; readers may differ on whether the two parts are best read as separate volumes.
  • Elective Monarchy: The Aksumite conquerors of Himyar chose Abreha, the emperor's translator, to lead their constituent kingdoms independently of the Aksumite empire.
  • Glamorous Single Mother: Turunesh is a more involved mother than many Aksumite noblewomen, who send their sons to be raised in monasteries, but she didn't change her lifestyle much after Telemakos's birth. Aksumite child-rearing doesn't involve a great deal of coddling.
  • The Good King: Artos is an "engineer king" who restores neglected technology, lives and works beside ordinary people, and tries to be fair to his kids.
  • Hauled Before a Senate Subcommittee:
    • Priamos is extensively interrogated by the bala heg, the ruling body of Aksum, upon his premature return from Britain. The collapse of the kingdom you're ambassador to is no excuse for sloppy accounting, especially if everyone suspects you're a traitor anyway.
    • Telemakos is questioned by the Himyarite electors after confessing his coded letters to Abreha. He believes it's a trial for treason.
  • I Am X, Son of Y: Both Britons and Aksumites, e.g. "Lleu son of Artos". Though Aksumites use a patronymic, e.g. Turunesh Kidane or Priamos Anbessa, they inherit their actual family name from their mother, e.g. "Athena Meder of the house of Nebir."
  • Implausible Hair Colour: Medraut and his children. Medraut has white-blond hair, but as his parents are half-siblings he had perhaps better than average odds of inheriting this recessive trait. (His mother Morgause and her other children are red-headed; Artos and his other children are dark.) Telemakos is a dark-skinned blond with the same "silvery" hair and blue eyes as Medraut, while Athena is a dark-skinned redhead. Their mother Turunesh is black, but had a Socotran grandmother from whom she apparently passed on some recessive genes.
  • Locked Away in a Monastery: The Aksumite emperor's male relatives, notably his six Anbessa nephews, on the plateau of Debra Damo, in order to keep them out of trouble. Not unheard of for Aksumite aristocrats either, as Telemakos is pointedly reminded.
  • Made a Slave
    • "Fire": Lleu is captured in battle and made a thrall by the Saxon lord Aelfric, who keeps him as his master swordsman. He learns to use the iron bands around his wrists as weapons.
    • The Sunbird: Telemakos goes undercover as a deaf-mute slave in the desert salt mines. To make sure of him, his masters also have his eyelids glued shut.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Medraut means 'marksman.' The Aksumite version of his name, Meder, refers to a pagan deity and means 'the lord of the land', symbolically the lion.
    • Lleu is named after Lleu Llaw Gyffes, a figure from Welsh mythology, called 'the Bright One'. It's also a pun on llew and leo, 'lion' in his mother's British dialect and in Latin. Aelfric renames him Loki, for the god of fire and mischief, after he learns to strike sparks with his slave's manacles.
    • Anbessa, the name of Candake's dead husband and the patronymic of her children, means 'lion-hearted'.
    • Telemakos is a reference to the long-absent Odysseus's son Telemakhos in The Odyssey.
    • Queen Candake is named for the biblical queen of Sheba, the wife of Solomon. The tame lions Solomon and Sheba are also named after them, and the lions' cub Menelik after their son.
    • Athena is Odysseus and Telemakhos's patron goddess, who guides Telemakhos disguised as his father's friend Mentor. Goewin uses both Mentor and Athena as codenames.
    • Telemakos thinks the emperor calls him Bitwoded, 'Beloved', as a mark of favour for his services as the Sunbird. Sofya explains to him that it's a little more than that – it's formal title that makes him a candidate for the throne.
  • Parental Incest: The adult short story "No Human Hands to Touch" reveals that after Medraut returned to the Orcades as an adult, he started sleeping with his "Godmother," Morgause. The appeal from Morgause's perspective is that he looks like a male version of her, and it's as close as she can get to Screw Yourself.
  • Parents as People: Artos, Morgause, Medraut, Turunesh, Goewin, Abreha, and the other parental figures may love their kids, but they're rulers and politicians with bigger problems (and issues) than one child's welfare.
  • Politically-Active Princess: Goewin is the kingmaker of Britain and the spymaster of Aksum. Sofya Anbessa undertakes a covert rescue mission for Telemakos and later becomes the ambassador to Britain.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: Morgause's position as queen of the Orcades (the Orkney archipelago at the northern tip of Scotland) is a tacit exile from the rest of Britain.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: It's the sixth century; governments consist of ruling families.
  • Sibling Rivalry:
    • The driving conflict of The Winter Prince, as Medraut (and to a lesser extent Goewin) believes that he's been unfairly passed over in favour of his younger brother Lleu, because he's a bastard and the product of incest. The problem is rooted in the previous generation's Sibling Rivalry, since Morgause envies Artos's power, which as a woman she (like Goewin) is denied.
    • Averted with the proverbially loyal Anbessa siblings, and with Telemakos, who wishes his parents valued Athena more.
  • Someone to Remember Him By: Telemakos was apparently conceived the night before Medraut returned to Britain, and Medraut never knew about him. He looks like a darker-skinned version of Medraut.
  • The Speechless: Medraut, in penance for precipitating the battle of Camlan.
  • Succession Crisis
    • A Coalition of Lions: Artos and Lleu are mortally injured in the battle of Camlan, Ginevra dies of a fever, Medraut disappears, and the next heir to the throne is in Aksum. Goewin introduces another variable when she threatens to support Telemakos as Artos's heir instead of Constantine.
    • A Coalition of Lions: The emperor Caleb has abdicated and left Constantine as regent for his surviving teenage son, who can't inherit until Caleb actually passes him his crown. Meanwhile, the emperor also has five older nephews on hand, one of whom has already seized a kingdom from him.
    • The Mark of Solomon: Abreha is fostering the various child-kings and queens of the Himyarite kingdoms, whose parents died of the plague. Abreha lost all his own children, as did Constantine, and needs to nominate an heir.
  • Tangled Family Tree: Virtually all the major characters belong to interrelated noble houses. The British royal line (Medraut) marries into the house of Nebir (Turunesh) who are descended from Socotran royalty (Muna) who are married into Himyar (Abreha) who is an offshoot of the emperors of Aksum (Caleb and Candake).
  • Warrior Prince: All of them except Mikael, but they all prefer to do something else. Medraut is a hunter and a doctor, Lleu is a swordsman. Abreha and Priamos are linguists, Ityopis is a politician, Gebre Meskal is religious, Constantine is an administrator.
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy: Medraut desperately wants Artos to acknowledge that Medraut is disqualified from the kingship by Artos's incest, not any fault of Medraut's.
    • Agravain, far more than his brothers, is devoted to Morgause and will do anything for her approval.
    • Telemakos just wants his dad to talk.
  • You Can't Go Home Again: Lleu returns briefly to what remains of Camlan after winning his freedom.
    "He held a handful of dust, broken tiles from the mosaic floor of his father’s ruined villa. He thought, this is what I was. I made this. I was Lleu. Who am I now?"