Sometimes, we invent our characters’ backstories. At other times, they write themselves.
In 1898, during the restoration of the Romanesque church of Westerwijwerd, a slab of plaster fell away, uncovering a fresco from the first half of the 14th century. It’s likely made after an example from the 12th century, and shows to Frisian warriors fighting with lance (“kletsie”) and sword. The duellists have a typical Frisian hairstyle, a status symbol for powerful medieval Frisians.
I recognised the hairstyle; my grandfather has it on a photo of him as a small child, and he still had it as an old man: shaven, except for a “tuufke” on top. It seems to me a ‘go to’ northern hairstyle in the early 20th century, and I wonder whether it’s a continuation of that old-Frisian hairdo. If it was merely practical, wherefore then the tuft?
In the middle ages the northern Dutch coastal area was a feudal society in more than one way. Rich farmers and their family clan ruled their own little fiefdoms, and they often had their strongholds in which they could retreat in times of war. And war there was often, as there was no central authority, with pope and emperor far away, the area functionally an island and rife with feuds.
This is the background we borrowed for the setting of The Red Man, in which the farm girl Ymke lives in an area of perpetual war between the local nobility. In The Return of the Uncomplaining Child we learn that our warrior woman Kaila has been in the northern region as a mercenary. Ymke doesn’t ask her on which side she fought – where nobility fights over a piece of land, the people living on it inevitably lose, whoever wins.
But then, looking at that old-Frisian hairdo, it struck me: In Ymke, she’s got a girlfriend from ‘up north’, but her mohawk haircut also comes from there!