The Backdrop of History in Iron Will Rust

Francis I - 1515

Francis I - 1515


On January 1, 1515, Louis XII died with no male heir, so his daughter, Claude, became heiress to the Duchy of Brittany and essentially, the Queen of France. This meant her husband; Francis of Angoulême became king of France, considered as Francis I. Francis is a major character in Iron Will Rust.

The novel begins essentially a week before Louis XII’s death. Francis I is young and ambitious. Educated by the best, he embodies modern views on art, architecture, and the Renaissance. He’s athletic and competitive, tall, boyish, idealistic, and anxious to do something dramatic to build his legacy. When the ambassador of Venice comes calling,  he seizes the opportunity to form an alliance. This gives Francis the additional military power he needs to do what he dreamed of - conquer Italy all the way to Rome.


Duke of the Duchy of Milano, Massimiliano Sforza

Duke of the Duchy of Milano, Massimiliano Sforza

Francis sets his sights on the city of Milano, the center of the Sforza family’s power, now under the youthful guidance of Massimiliano Sforza. Massimiliano is also quite young at this stage of his life, like Francis. In essence, this is to be war between two nations, each under the crowns of young men less than twenty-two years old, but with deep history, heritage, and power.

His father was Ludovico Sforza, a well-known figure in history who was captured by Louis XII years prior in the year 1500. He eventually died in a French prison in town of Loches. Massimiliano was on his own for most of his life and most of his political guidance came from Cardinal Matthäus Schiner, who oddly enough, is a visceral leader of Swiss cantons with plenty of military battle experience. Both play important roles in Iron Will Rust.


Francis I with his new Venetians allies forms grand plans to invade the Duchy of Milano. To pull this off, he has to cross the Alps. His predecessor, Louis XII, earned a reputation for war mongering across Italy and The Duchy of Milano and Republic of Genoa, both of which were previously under French possession. Francis has a surprise however in the form of over seventy bronze cannons. Up until now, no general in history has crossed the Alps with heavy artillery.


In fact, cannons are a new thing in military history in 1515. Most warfare in continental Europe relied on the phalanx, where soldiers wield long eighteen-foot pikes, devastating to cavalry. This tactic dates back to the Ancient Greeks. The side of Francis I's Tomb gives us a glimpse of this and is also a scene in Iron Will Rust, the climactic battle just outside Milano, The Battle of Marignano.

Relief of the Battle of Marignano on the side of the Tomb of Francis I in the Abbey Church, Saint-Denis, France. Francis is to the left on his horse wielding a lance. interesting enough, the enemy did not have cannons although this releif depicts Francis charging into cannons.

Relief of the Battle of Marignano on the side of the Tomb of Francis I in the Abbey Church, Saint-Denis, France. Francis is to the left on his horse wielding a lance. interesting enough, the enemy did not have cannons although this releif depicts Francis charging into cannons.


Prior to Francis I, only Hannibal crossed the Alps with armies and for him that included elephants in 218 BC while battling the Romans in the Second Punic War. Later on in history, we see Napoleon do a similar feat at Saint-Bernard Pass, on November 9 1799, probably inspired by the achievements of Hannibal and Francis I.


The story in Iron Will Rust has our hero, Lazzaro Dominici and his family, embroiled in the grand invasion plans of Francis I, but not by choice. Murder strikes close to home and an assault on his daughter Mercede, sparks this adventure that takes you across Italy, France, The Mediterranean, and the Alps with the climax at the famous battle of Marignano itself. Characters both historical and fictional weave in and out of the tale, settings the stage for a continued series of showdowns that only rapiers can resolve.

History in Iron Will Rust serves as a backdrop for conflict for the characters. The real story lies in the challenges facing Lazzaro as he goes head to head against contract killer Alessandro Dumaine.

Francis I Orders His Troops to Stop Pursuing the Swiss    Fictionalized painting from the Battle of Marignano. Painting by   Alexandre-Évariste Fragonard (1780 - 1850) who studied under Jacques-Louis David

Francis I Orders His Troops to Stop Pursuing the Swiss

Fictionalized painting from the Battle of Marignano. Painting by Alexandre-Évariste Fragonard (1780 - 1850) who studied under Jacques-Louis David

Behind the Face of a Hero

Behind the man of honor and justice.

When I first started writing Iron Will Rust back in Germany of 2005, I knew I wanted the hero to be a grand-master with a rapier. He had to be incredibly talented with proven experience. Here is a sketch my long-time Art Director friend Steve Ogden whipped up for Lazzaro! I think Steve captured that fatherly look that’s a blend between hero, champion, and instructor, while making sure that any sign of torment is far below.

Where did this character come from? How do you create a protagonist? In this article, I’m going to go back in time to twelve years ago and perhaps even as far back as forty years ago to search for the answers. Commence boyish childhood flashbacks!

Lazzaro had to be the kind of man that could go toe-to-toe with Michael Moorcock’s Elric of Melniboné, Robert E. Howard’s Conan, or R.A. Salvatore’s Drizzt Do’Urden, but at the same time, be a man from history – a real man. He had to have skill with a blade as opposed to physical stature.

He had to have intelligence and wisdom as opposed to despondent reliance on the removal of souls of others, as we saw with Elric and his black sword, Stormbringer. He had to have a normal life, punctuated by good, by family, by devotion, and by hard work, not by a brutal childhood frequented by matriarchal upheaval with a lot of spare time in caves for epistolary Spock-like musings on the meaning of racism and friendship. (No offense Drizzt!) No, my hero would never be that memorable, that fantastical, or that unique. I love grand fantasy, but I wanted my cast of characters to weave with real history, dramatically.

 Lazzaro had to be a hero with fatherly instincts in direct conflict with his unwavering belief that he must punish evil and that it is his responsibility to do so as gratitude for his gift of swordsmanship, as if God gave him the task of the angel of justice. Something a literature class might say is a character flaw.

 A flaw perhaps pointed out by Cyril as they crossed the Alps in the chapter, Decisions.

Even so, I cannot take the chance. I have thought about this during this journey across hell. I know that he wants me. I just do not wish to see my family his prisoner or hostage for his death game. He knows he is no match for me. He never fights with honor.”
“Lazzaro, honor has nothing to do with winning.”
It was then that Lazzaro came to realize something. His stubborn honor and his sense of justice guided him his whole life. He lived to bring pride to his father; he honed his skills with his rapier to win with honor. Cyril’s words pained him and at first. He wanted to ignore and push them aside, but the truth hit him like an ironsmith’s hammer in the chest.

Lazzaro is a honorable version of an an old AD&D character of mine, but instead of wielding the diabolical ego lusting sword, Blackrazor, pilfered from White Plume Mountain, he needed a blade that spoke of craftsmanship, honor, prestige, and elegant power. I never wanted my first novel to be in an imaginary world, I wanted my characters to live in the real world with imagination. At the same time, his weapon of choice needed to put the Sword of Kas to shame and make Twinkle look shabby.

He held the silver basket-handled rapier in a traditional ready stance. The gold cross-guard sported a pair of eagle claws, each with outstretched talons scattering the sunlight into a dazzling array of speckles on the ground.

Lazzaro's life is built around fencing. Rapiers are lightning fast, thin swords, not thick brutish claymores used to cleave men in two. In the year 1515 when Francis the I invades Italy by crossing the Alps, the rapier was still a relatively young civilian weapon of less than 150 years old. Mastering a weapon against an enemy when neither of you are wearing armor, meant the blade itself is both a device of offense and defense. Footwork and parrying is king.

Lazzaro needed to be a master. The kind that inspired the Bolognese swordmaster Antonio Manciolino to jot a few techniques down. To give Lazzaro that foundation, I fabricated the Prova dei Campioni or “Test of Champions,” an annual fencing tournament in Genoa, Italy. The best-of-the-best fighters would go against one another, not in a fight to the death, but to disarm, finish, or wound. Think of the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) which I am a big fan of, and what it means to mixed martial arts. The Prova dei Campioni was the free-for-all meaning anyone could enter and use any martial weapon. The winner won a cash purse and a magnificent commemorative sword.

Isabella looked at the case next to her, unclasped the latches, and tilted the top open. Inside, an ornate silver short sword rested like an entombed king, its jet-black scabbard glistening with oil. Its cross guard styled as a falcon with its wings spread outward, each feather hand-etched in minute detail. Vertically along the blade were the numbers one, five, zero, and two. It was the prize awarded to the winner of the Prova dei Campioni fencing tournament and it was a gift to her by the winner – her husband.

Lazzaro’s reputation is wide spread. Much in the same way, one might know of sports hero such as Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, or Conor McGregor, except he lives in a world of no media, no sponsors, with only word of mouth notoriety. He has no vanity nor is there a need to maintain a marketable image. Instead, he is a silent winner, competitor, living his life for his family and his passion. When Cyril Levesque, part of the Sforza dispatch/spy network saves Lazzaro’s life, their first meeting is rough around the edges until that respect arrives from reputation. Lazzaro's fame works for and against him throughout the book.

We will arrive long before Alessandro will even reach Genoa, unless he has left Marseille already. Does he know exactly where your family lives?”
“I do not think so, but he could find out in Genoa easily. Our wine is popular and I have an excellent local reputation.”
“A wine maker. Great.” Cyril’s voice dripped with sarcasm.
“I also hold twelve Prova dei Campioni medals. Do not judge me by my domestic trade.”
“Hold on. Did you say your last name was Dominici?”
Cyril laughed. “I cannot believe it. I am in the presence of the Lazzaro Dominici, the Grandmaster of Prova dei Campioni? Well please forgive my terse words and lack of respect. I fought with you in 1505 and you beat me in less than eight moves. You are a tricky one indeed.” Cyril exhaled breath out his nostrils in three quick jets as his smile squeezed in mirth.

Forty years ago, maybe more, what was it 1977? I was 12-13. I first started reading fantasy novels in middle school (Late 70s.) I grew up on paperbacks printed on coarse yellow paper that would tear if you so much as sneezed on them, and of course, they all came used from someone’s hole-in-the-wall used bookstore in Tallahassee, Florida. I could never afford a new hardback from Dubey’s Book Land, but it was always fun to gawk at the hardbacks. Note how in the adjacent photo even when the shop is closed, the damn lights are on full blast behind museum glass. All part of the plan to torment little kids.

Beyond paperback novels, I absolutely loved the Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian, consumed as fuel for First Edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons adventures. As the neighborhood Dungeon Master, I loved every hero, but as any DM will tell you, the real drama is in the evil, after all that’s the side you’re technically on – the bad guy’s. The players are the heroes, fumbling about, flubbing simple puzzles, picking locks, hiding in shadows at the sound of bats, double guessing themselves, over analyzing what spell to lob next, paralyzed in indecision, stepping on trap triggers, and rolling saving throws – badly. There is a level of childcare necessary when ensuring your group feels challenged and that comes from how well you direct the bad guys, preying on you player’s weaknesses, forcing them to face their fears, so success is something they savor.

Our connection for the hot off the presses AD&D stuff was none other than Little Folk’s Toy Store. (Again that evil glass wall of torment) A fella named Tom, an ex-Marine, had already put up with us Shannon Forest war-rats buying World War II Tamiya models for five years, so when he added a new shelf with Dungeons and Dragons and Traveller stuff, the world changed forever. My $5 a week allowance was nowhere near enough cash!

I was not always the DM. I played through The Steading of the Hill Giant Chief, Glacial Riff of the Frost Giant Jarl, Hall of the Fire Giant King, Shrine of the Kuo-Toa, Descent into the Depths, and the eternal classic, The Vault of the Drow, all with a different neighborhood buddy acting as DM. Our group of middle school/freshman high-schoolers played religiously. Those adventures stuck with me forever.

During those early days on AD&D, you developed a character that would be your own personal take on a hero, perhaps inspired by the novels or comics you read. Although the Lord of the Rings jumped in popularity after Ralph Bakshi released the animated version of the first book and a half, our heroes we nothing like the reluctant and relatively useless sniveling Frodo. You have to face it, the hero had a ring of invisibility and never used it offensively. Sheeesh WTF! As young boys, we loved over the top heroes who were bad-asses and could kill shit. Natural 20s critical, double damage, loot, drool! We loved Conan taking on packs of baddies, Elric’s Stormbringer plunging deep into the heart of nightmarish beasts, and years later, an appreciation for that lone drow’s scimitar skills, although he was too emo for us because we were in our twenties by then. But still, you have to give R..A. Salvatore credit! His tales are absolutely FUN and all his characters wallop face.

I think Lazzaro Dominicio and Alessandro Dumaine (Hero and Villain from Iron Will Rust) are a blend of both a player’s hero and the DM’s evil. Funny how the little kid inside secretly has influence of our imagination. There was something magical about that era, that is worth hailing for its creative influence, imaginations toking flames, and endless adventure.


A Villain You Can Love and Hate

Years ago when I worked at CYAN, the creators of MYST, Riven, realMYST, and more recently, Obduction, I had the pleasure of working with one of those most incredible artist and illustrators in the industry, Steve Ogden. Steve works at Firaxis Games with Sid Meier and we’ve stayed in touch over the years, so when we were chatting about my book, he offered to do an ink sketch of one of my characters in Iron Will Rust, it had to be Alessandro!

Alessandro Dumain by Steve Ogden

Absolutely brilliant.

In Iron Will Rust, Alessandro Dumaine is a swordsman and agent-for-hire under the employ of Marco Diamante, the Venetian Ambassador to France. Over the course of writing the novel, I wanted him to be someone you could love and hate. He had to be just as smart and just as skillful as the hero, yet driven by a personal blackness that we only get glimpses of. His actions are both heroic and ruthless.

The protagonist, Lazzaro, is a man of honor, a family man who respects his legacy, a skillful artist with the rapier. He has a keen eye for clues, evidence, and human behavior, giving him that relentless police detective vibe backed up with real skill. When the hero is so perfect, the best way to break him down is to destroy everything around him and allow his honor to be his undoing. And that’s exactly what Alessandro does.

Here is a snippet featuring Alessandro after killing Captain Dubois, a pirate out of Sardinia.

Alessandro fastened the jeweled rapier scabbard to his belt, checking the weight and balance. He grinned, happy with his new prize. He always loved dual wielding, even if he had not done so for a few years. Maybe it was time to sharpen those skills again. He moved his main gauche scabbard to his right hip and secured the hooks to his belt. He sheathed Dubois’ rapier with a sharp scraping click and then withdrew it with the main gauche together in a cross draw. He replaced the blades and snapped them back out numerous times. One last minor adjustment and he then locked the scabbards on his belt, satisfied.

The rapier was heavier than most, almost a straight cutlass of sorts. He sharpened it for a few minutes until the edge gleamed of new metal. To test it, he gave it a ceremonial chop of the anchor rope of the Aquila Velocehi. As the rope spiraled into the sea, the sails curled in red flames, black smoke billowing from its aft castle. The ship began to drift away, and like a panther, Alessandro skipped back across the gap onto the Zaffiro Perso with a spring-like leap. He turned, grinned, and dusted his hands together.



Goodreads Book Giveaway!

I’m giving away two copies of Iron Will Rust at Goodreads through their Book Giveaway Program. Look for link below to go right to it and enter! Two winners each get a trade paper back format copy for free at no shipping costs. (Pictured below) Giveaway ends November 15th. Have fun!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Iron Will Rust by T. Elliot Cannon

Iron Will Rust

by T. Elliot Cannon

Giveaway ends November 15, 2016.

See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

Calling all Renaissance era rapier-slinging heroes. Must enjoy crossing the Alps, ambitious kings, murder, political manipulation, alliances, and the Ligurian Sea. Warning. Not for the faint of heart. The potential for Swiss Phalanx, German Landsknechts, pirates, and wounds, loss of family, friends, and honor abounds

Influencers and Inspirations

Everyone owes a little something to an influencer. I was thinking about some of the books I devoured when I was young. It was hard not to, because I was unpacking hundreds of them from a massive stack of moving boxes sealed in Texas and slipping them into new and much more organized boxes here in Florida. Unpacking old stuff is fun, as long as it’s not in the attic. You pull a book out and go, “Man, I remember this.” Then, off you go, into the next Home Depot folded coffin. Treasures. Then I start doing what I do every time I pack and unpack books – set the special ones aside. These are the timeless classics. The ones no American Novelist Professor every heard of either. None of that business. These are the books you buy, and lose, multiple copies of. Every time you pick one up, the scenes dance in full color before you. Sometimes you just want to have them nearby, in case you get the time to dig into them again and relive the fun of their stories. Here are three of those books, all by by R.A. Salvatore.

The story of Drizzt Do’Urden, Bruenor Battlehammer, and Wulfgar begins with The Crystal Shard, R. A. Salvatore’s first published novel from 1988. It’s a Forgotten Realms book from TSR. The Forgotten Realms was a campaign setting (world) for the 2nd edition of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, having launched just a year before. It was, and probably still is, their most successful to date. Even though most of my actual gaming history took place in Greyhawk, its predecessor, TSR really poured it on with novels set in their world.

Now granted, I was lucky enough to play AD&D in 1978 with the hardbacks. First edition middle school bragging rights and whatnot, right? By the time the Salvatore books came along in 1988, I was some 23 years old, still in architectural school and paying my way by working as a young draftsman at an architectural firm. My .7mm plastic lead on Mylar chisel point lines delineated everything from concrete block to 3-5/8” metal studs. I loved hanging out by the pool on the weekend with Tom Clancy books, wrenching on muscle cars, and playing sandlot football with the Bucklake Boys every Sunday. Playing AD&D was not cool in 1989 for my circle of friends, but the nostalgia for the game from the middle school and early high school years remained. These books were the first to capture the vibe of a real campaign. I remember picking up The Crystal Shard and Streams of Silver as used books and buying the third, The Halfling's Gem, the moment it came out in January of 1990. They certainly launched R.A. Salvatore into a household name. The three follow-ups below deserve even more praise.

For me, I loved the animosity between Drizzt Do’Urden and Artemis Entreri, but felt each character was either too philosophical or not ruthless enough. Then again, this was TSR stuff, designed to sell supplements, modules, and source books, they weren't going to actually kill anyone but faceless orcs. There is something about the conflict between real symbols of good and evil that is fun in any story, or in the case of Lazzaro Dominici and Alessandro Dumaine, in Iron Will Rust, blind honor and the disdain for good. Cheers to R. A. Salvatore. One of my many inspirations for the eternal kid inside. You never can have enough double-cross down parries.

Next time let’s chat about these babies.

Death of a Writer's Retreat

As a game designer in the video game industry, I am stuck in front of monitors all day, and many times, all night long. So whether getting up to write in the morning, late at night, or on the weekend, it ends up being the same thing. Monitors. Monitors by blank walls and monitors near windows with views of nothing inspirational can foster looks of anguish as you mull over every single word. Getting in the zone and focusing is a major battle.

The goal is immersion, but how?

There are many chapters in Iron Will Rust with scenes by the Ligurian Sea near Albisolla, Italy and along the coastline of France near the Cape d’Antibes. Two-masted caravels of Portuguese design, pirates from Sardinia with jeweled rapiers, French warships on their way to Venice carrying haughty ambassadors, and furtive night landings all appear in various chapters where Lazzaro Dominici pursues the Venetian killer, Alessandro Dumaine in the year 1515.

2013 - Saint George Island, Florida

2013 - Saint George Island, Florida

With about two hours of battery power per session, (great time to grab a beer as the laptop recharged and hang out with my mother-in-law) I wrote at the below shack on the Gulf of Mexico, doing my best to pretend I was not looking south towards Cuba, but towards Corsica in the Mediterranean. No power outlets, plenty of azure sea and breezes, a folding table, and of course, a security dog from Nuremburg.

St. George Island is a magical place for my wife and me, but in 2013, a storm swept that tattered frond-roofed gazebo away. Imagine how my heart sank upon my return with my laptop clutched like a kid when my favorite writer’s retreat was nothing more than chain-sawed 4”x 4” pressure treated pine. I think even the sea cried that year. Note how its face shifted from aquamarine to dull green.

I rigged up an umbrella anyway.

Amazon Release

IRON WILL RUST - The Dominici Fencer – Book I

I’m happy to announce the release of my debut historical fiction novel, Iron Will Rust, now available on Amazon around the world. Grab a copy today!

       Kindle USA

       Kindle USA

           Kindle UK

           Kindle UK

January 1515 and Louis XII is dead. The newly crowned king of France, Francis I prepares to invade Italy with his eyes set on the city of Milano, but the only way there is across the Alps, a feat not attempted since Hannibal. The Venetian ambassador, Marco Diamante, promises detailed surveys that reveal every goat trail, crumbling Roman road, and jagged mountain pass in exchange for an alliance. Francis agrees. Battle plans begin and armies assemble. Marco dispatches his ruthless agent, Alessandro Dumaine to procure the maps by any means necessary.

After the murder of a local priest and an assault on his daughter, Lazzaro Dominici, a retired fencer from Genoa turned winemaker, becomes embroiled in the political intrigue surrounding the theft of the alpine maps. Facing off against contract killer Alessandro, entangles him in the French and Venetian invasion plans. What begins as a fight to save his family and bring a killer to justice becomes a personal mission affecting a war between nations.