Eastern Gods – Three Chapter Sample!

Prologue

The fire was dying as Haldirian rolled onto his back and tried not to think of his large soft bed back in Tirithawáe. His men slept deeply in their bed rolls, but he was restless despite the exhaustion leaking into his bones. He had agreed, been eager even, to come on the ranging trip to inspect the far borders of his kingdom. It had taken only four days for the novelty to wear off. Maybe you are getting too soft and spoilt princeling, his brother Eeilos’ voice echoed his mind. Eeilos, the warrior, and heir to Tirithawáe was a massive man bound with muscle and heroism. He wouldn’t be thinking of a soft bed; he would be sleeping as deeply as everyone else.

Haldirian’s ears pricked up as a snap of footsteps disturbed the forest floor around them. Maybe a curious animal, Haldirian thought until he saw a shadow move near the horses. His hand crept slowly to the hunting knife he kept under his cloak. Through the small crack in his eyelids, he watched the hooded figure step between the rangers. Haldirian’s heart gave a surprised jolt as the man turned toward the fire. He saw the dark skin and eyes hidden under the hood. Easterner.

Haldirian was on his feet in a heartbeat, his knife raised. The Easterner blocked his blow, pivoting and ducking around Haldirian’s strikes and kicks. The other rangers were up and causing enough of a distraction so that Haldirian could pin the stranger to the ground.   

“Who are you?” Haldirian demanded in Aloré. The stranger looked up at him blankly, not a flicker of recognition in his black eyes. Haldirian repeated the question in the common dialect used by the Men all over Elindor, but there was no response.

“What shall we do with him, my prince?” Zir asked, his spear pointed at the prisoner’s back. Haldirian felt a flicker of unease; to his knowledge, an Easterner hadn’t been seen in Elindor for over a hundred years. He could be an innocent traveler…but then why would he sneak about a camp?

“We take him back to Tirithawáe and learn what his intentions are. If he’s innocent, we will cut him loose, if he’s a spy than my father can deal with him.”

Chapter One – The Messenger

Haldirian gazed blank-eyed at the mural in Elithador’s study. It was a magnificent sailing ship crammed full of Aloré fleeing their homeland, the glorious and doomed Lorianath sinking into the sea. Behind him Elithador, King of Tirithawáe, muttered and paced, his long white fingers massaging his throbbing temples.

It had been two weeks since Haldirian had captured the Easterner and they were no closer to discovering his true intentions. They had uncovered a thick wad of documents in their prisoner’s satchel but no one in the city could decipher the Eastern script.

“I’m going to call a High Council,” Elithador stated suddenly. “We’re well overdue for one and I’ll need the other lord’s to help me get to the bottom of this. If he is a spy, it concerns all of us, and I won’t charge a man to hang because of the color of his skin. Who knows? Perhaps one of the lord’s will be able to get him to talk. Mirithadûn would have information on the East; Kalonera spent enough time there when she was alive.”

Haldirian listened to his father spout ideas and theories as he walked out onto the balcony. The crisp autumn air cleared his mind as he breathed slowly. Elithador joined him, handing him another goblet of wine.

“I want you to go to Mirithadûn and convince him to come to the council,” he said, the edge of a command to his voice. Mirithadûn was king of Silandáe, an Aloréan kingdom in the south and at least a fortnight’s journey away.

“Father, I’ve only just got back. Isn’t this why we have messengers?” The thought of more cold nights on the trail wasn’t a comforting one. Elithador gave him a stern glance, and Haldirian squirmed as he tried to hold it.

“It will do you good. Mirithadûn hasn’t seen you since you became a man and he will appreciate the visit. I’m worried about how antisocial you are becoming. Your mother agrees with me that a trip away will help clear your mind.”

“You’re worried about me being antisocial, so you are sending me into the wilderness alone?”

“It’s not only you I’m worried about, Haldirian. Nothing good has ever come out of the East. I am going to be very careful who I trust to deliver the messages. I don’t want people to become fearful over something just because it’s different.”

Haldirian drained his wine before getting to his feet, “Fine, fine. I’ll leave at dawn.”

“Pack warm; there will be snow on the Alcifin Ranges already.”

“Great,” Haldirian said unenthusiastically before bidding his father goodnight.

 

Haldirian hurried through the marble passageways of the palace hoping to avoid any council members or courtiers who were curious about the prisoner. They had kept the knowledge of the Easterner’s appearance to a tight circle in order not to inflame speculation. Naturally, the whole palace knew.

“Haldirian!” a feminine voice called out to him. He stopped and let the tall, beautiful woman catch up to him. Blessed with the long lifespans of the Aloré his mother barely looked forty years of age, despite being over a century old. Her long black hair fell in ringlets to her waist, the gold stitching on her plum gown sparkled in the lamp lights and her deep aquamarine eyes were brimming with motherly concern.

“What can I do for you mother?” he asked.

“Walk with me, Haldirian,” she said, linking her arm tightly around his, making escape impossible. She directed him silently out of the palace walls and into the gardens. Below them, the city around them had settled down for the night, the lamps filling the streets with a soft glow.

“Your father has told me that you plan on leaving tomorrow,” Aldaneán commented.

“Already? It sounds as if you had a hand in its organization to me. Plant the idea in his head, did you?”

“Of course I did! You need to leave this city before you drive me mad with your moods,” she replied sharply. “You haven’t left our borders since your Rites Ceremony two years ago.”

Haldirian had remembered the celebration, the day he had officially become a man under Aloréan Law. The Aloréan’s were not considered adults until their fiftieth year; by Man’s standards, it would have been equivalent to an eighteenth birthday. Haldirian knew this because King Renath from the country of Baitriona had told him how strange it was to be honoring a prince’s Rites Day when the ‘boy’ was older than he was. Haldirian had been happy that day, filled with a nervous anticipation of what the future held. Two years later he knew it held more of the same; weapons training, kingship training (even if he wasn’t heir) and his studies of whatever he chose. The only thing that had changed was his mother’s eagerness to find him a wife.

“I want you to take Zir and some of the other rangers with you. You will need the company on such a long trip,” Aldaneán said and sat down on a stone bench.  Haldirian left her side to sit under a tirith perial tree.

“Zir is needed here to keep patrolling the borders in case this Easterner wasn’t alone. I don’t want any company; I’ll travel faster by myself.”

“Haldirian, I’m worried about you. You haven’t been yourself for months. You are becoming more distant every day.”

“I’m well enough,” Haldirian said firmly.

“Just tell me what is wrong, I can fix it if you let-”

“I want to be left alone! Is that a crime now?” he said, a groan of exasperation escaping from his lips.

Aldaneán got to her feet, her face cold. “I hope you work out whatever is troubling you and soon. I want my son back.”

“Mother, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to shout. I’m exhausted and worried, and it’s worn my nerves raw,” Haldirian apologized, hating seeing her so upset.

“Let’s hope this trip gives you the space you need,” Aldaneán sighed. “Aláenor had her Rites Ceremony last spring. I feel awful for not being there. Kalonera would have been so proud of her.” Kalonera, the wife to Mirithadûn, had been his mother’s best friend until the day of her death. Aláenor was the only Aloréan princess Haldirian had never met.

“Is that so,” Haldirian commented, shredding a leaf between his fingers.

“Now she is a woman she is of marriageable age,” Aldaneán added. Ah, so this was the reason he was being sent as a messenger.

“I have no want of a wife.”

“Did I suggest that? I would not concern yourself. If Mirithadûn’s letters are anything to go by she’s been rejecting suitors since the spring. I have often lamented to him about my own son’s being just as difficult. I don’t think there is a woman in all of Elindor that would reject you or Eeilos.”

“Except Aláenor obviously.”

“I would be wary of her if I were you. It sounds as if she has grown wild and formidable without a mother to guide her.”

“How dangerous can a royal madam be? What is she going to do? Gossip me to death? Stab me with her embroidery needle?” Haldirian laughed but his mother’s frown only deepened.

“I hope she does stab you if you speak like that when you arrive.”

Haldirian got to his feet and bent down to kiss his mother’s pale cheek.

“I have to go and pack. Don’t worry; I’ll be home soon,” he said. “Make sure father get’s some sleep.”

 

Back in his chambers, Haldirian packed his gear into black leather saddle bags. He checked that both his sword and hunting knife were razor sharp; their cold steel shone with delicate tracings and the insignia of Tirithawáe, the silver leaf of a tirith perial tree surrounded by three sapphire stars. He sheathed them on their leather baldric and placed them on top of his other gear. He hoped he wouldn’t need them but the business with the Easterner made worry fill the pit of his stomach.

Haldirian went into the bathing room and turned on the silver taps, watching the hot water fill the large tub. Many years ago the Aloréan engineers of Tirithawáe had learned how to pump water from the river into heated copper braziers. The braziers connected to a maze of pipework that ensured they could turn the hot and cold water on and off with ease. It still baffled humans when they came to stay. They often made large accusations of magic, even though the Aloré had turned their back on magic a thousand years beforehand. Magic had not been able to save Lorianath, so the art was forgotten when they resettled in Elindor, the sacred knowledge left to be consumed by the waves.

Haldirian stripped off his clothes and settled in the steaming water, luxuriating in the warmth while he still could. He ran his hands through his thick black curls. He didn’t want to go to Silandáe but the thought of watching Elithador fret for the next few weeks wasn’t a tempting prospect either. It would be so much easier if Eeilos had been there instead of away in the northern Aloréan city of Sashnára. Rumours leaked down occasionally that Eeilos had been sent to fight barbarian raiders in the north but apart from the tales Haldirian had received no word from him in a year.

Haldirian waited for the water to turn cold before he dried off and climbed wearily into bed to dream of burning cities.

 

Haldirian was up before the sunrise. With bleary eyes, he saddled Blán, his dappled gray stallion, and led him out to the palace gates. He was surprised to see Elithador waiting for him. He must be more worried than what he seems, Haldirian thought. His father had never seen him off on a ranging trip before.

“I knew you would skip breakfast,” Elithador said, handing him a bundle of warm bread and fruit. “That’s no way to begin a journey.”

“I have supplies in my saddlebags,” Haldirian replied, feeling like a boy again.

“Good luck down there. Please try not to antagonize Aláenor. She doesn’t get to meet too many royals.”

“Half her luck,” Haldirian replied, swinging himself up into the saddle. “Are you going to try and convince me to marry her like Mother did?”

“Gods above, no!” Elithador chuckled, patting Blán’s neck. “She wouldn’t have you, and you would just embarrass yourself. Give them our greetings.”

“I will father. Make sure the rangers are doing rotating patrols and send word if you need me.”

After Elithador’s assurances and goodbyes, Haldirian rode quickly through the waking streets and into the southern forest beyond.

 

Five long days saw Haldirian to the end of the Mindala Forest. He had never been so far south, but it wasn’t hard to find the two elaborately carved pillars that marked the entrance to the mountain passes. They stood out like great white beacons in a land of autumn trees. As he drew nearer to them, he took the time to study the circles of story carved into them. Elithador said it was a retelling of the Battle of Kin. You already know the story, you are wasting time, Eeilos’ voice dredged up in the back of his mind. His brother had always teased him about his love of reading. Haldirian pushed it out of his mind and continued riding passed the pillars.

Misty rain fell steadily, making the stone roads through the Alcifin Range slippery and treacherous. Haldirian took to leading Blán rather than risk them both toppling down into the Náde River below. The only respite from the cold and rain were the caves made by the Aloréan’s to provide shelter to travelers. For a brief few hours, Haldirian could be dry before the next day drenched him once more.

Haldirian couldn’t remember a more welcome sight than the pillars marking the exit to the range. He felt like damp death. Once back in the saddle and under the golden leaves of the silan trees, he began to wonder what kind of reception he would receive. He had never met Mirithadûn or his troublesome (but of marriageable age) daughter. At dusk he stopped at a small waterfall to rest Blán before he pushed on. He would be close to the city and as he remounted Blán the thought of being clean and dry filled him with a renewed energy.

There was a rustle in the branches above him, and Haldirian only had enough time to cover his head as cloaked figure dropped on him, knocking him out of the saddle. He landed hard on the ground; the air knocked out of his lungs as his assailant cut the strap of his baldric and flung it out of his reach.

Haldirian swung out at his attacker and hit air as they wrestled on the wet ground. Haldirian brought his knee up, wedging it between them and used the leverage to flip them over onto their back.  Haldirian pinned his attacker to the ground as the golden hood fell back, sea green eyes glared up at him.

“You’re a woman?” he exclaimed.

She smiled sweetly before she struck him hard in the sternum with heel of palm. He fell off her, gasping on all fours and trying not to vomit.

The woman was on her feet in a flash, her boot shoving his shoulder so he fell over onto his back. The tip of a cold blade touched his throat putting her heavy, muddy boot on his heaving chest. She watched him carefully as she put gloved fingers to her mouth and whistled.

Four people dressed in mahogany and golden yellow cloaks dropped from the trees around them. They blended in so well with the colors of the silan trees he had failed to spot them entirely.

Idiot Haldirian! Of course, their borders were protected; he cursed inwardly. A tall Aloréan with platinum hair was bent double with laughter as the other three jeered.

“You couldn’t help yourself could you Flower?” the platinum man said.

“You owe me, Lindon. Pay up,” she held out an expectant hand. Coins were dropped into it, and other debts were settled between the group. Her attentions flickered back to a red faced Haldirian.

“Who are you?”

“A messenger,” he said as his breath started to return, “from Elithador of Tirithawáe.” She gave him a hard stare before finally removing her boot, leaving sticky mud and leaf litter behind. Haldirian climbed to his feet, and she sheathed her sword.

“Lindon, escort him to the palace. Take him through down the main roads,” she instructed before whistling again. A black horse trotted through the trees, and she climbed onto its back. “I’ll debrief the king; he will want to know we have a stranger.”

“Don’t do anything stupid now,” Lindon said with a grin.

“Never,” she smiled brilliantly before rearing the horse and taking off at a breakneck speed into the dark forest. Haldirian gazed stupidly after her. Lindon chuckled, giving him a friendly slap on the back.

“Don’t worry not everyone in Silandáe greets newcomers that way.”

“So no more violent surprises?” Haldirian asked as he bent to pick up his sliced baldric and strapped it to his saddle.

“It all depends on whether you are bringing good or bad news,” teased Lindon. “Come on; we have a few hours riding to go if we aren’t taking you the back way.”

Lindon and the others were good company, managing light conversation without prying into the purpose of Haldirian’s errand. He told them about Tirithawáe, and they competitively boasted about the beauty city that was Silandáe.

They crossed a stone bridge and stopped in front of the locked city gates.

“Gelian!” Lindon called, “Open the gate, I have urgent business in the city tonight.”

A dark head appeared over the battlements, “They only business you have ever considered urgent is quenching your thirst.”

“Hurry up! Look! I have a messenger and everything,” Lindon complained. Gelian eyed Haldirian skeptically before signally below. The gates opened with a groan. “Meet Flower did he?” he smirked as they rode through. Haldirian blushed brightly as they entered the city.

The buildings had been constructed with the same yellow stone as the bridge, making Silandáe glow gold in the lamplight. They rode under sweeping arches over the city streets, lush hanging gardens and silan trees growing wherever he looked. It didn’t take long for them to reach the high golden gates of the palace. Lindon chatted happily with the guards who let them in without a second glance at Haldirian.

“Welcome to Ellowen,” said Lindon as the palace came into view. It was a city within a city with its elevated, sprawling walkways half hidden by gardens and the tallest silan tree’s Haldirian had ever seen. “Try not to sleep walk if you don’t want to plummet off one of the bridges.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Haldirian grinned as they gave their horses to the stable hands. Haldirian carried his sword and hunting knife awkwardly in his ruined baldric. It was definitely not the way he wanted to meet the king for the first time.

Their companions departed, leaving Lindon to guide Haldirian through the myriad of staircases and walkways in search of the king. Guards opened a pair of gold laced doors and Haldirian was led into a magnificent hall. A high roof was held up by dark beams of silan wood, great tapestries hung from the walls as well as and the standard of the House of Ruel; an elaborate golden sun on a red background. A tall, broad man sat on a throne carved with dizzying sun designs and inlaid with gold. Lindon and Haldirian bowed low.

“Welcome Prince Haldirian of Tirithawáe,” the king exclaimed in a deep voice that seemed to echo from his broad chest.

“King Mirithadûn, how did you know it was me when we have never met before?” Haldirian asked as he stood tall once more.

Mirithadûn laughed, “Haldirian, you look so much like your parents it would be impossible to mistake you for anyone else.”

Beside him, Haldirian heard Lindon mutter a few curse words. He was staring at Haldirian with a new found interest.

“Thank you Lindon, that will all.”

Lindon bowed and all but ran from the hall. Mirithadûn turned his intense gaze back to Haldirian. He was every inch the Golden King. He had a red gold moustache, and long blonde fell over his shoulders. His pale blue eyes settled back on his face. “What has happened Haldirian? I know Elithador wouldn’t spare you for a social visit.”

“We have had trouble in Tirithawáe and Elithador is calling a High Council,” Haldirian answered, doing his best not to show how intimidated he was. “We need your help.”

“I can see you have traveled hard to get here, so perhaps the bad news can wait until morning?” Mirithadûn got to his feet and came to stand beside him. Haldirian was six foot six and the King of Silandáe towered over him. He patted him on the shoulder affectionately, “How is it that Elithador managed to breed such big handsome sons?”

“It was combined effort,” Haldirian said and was rewarded with Mirithadûn’s booming laughter.

“Indeed! The beautiful Aldaneán. She would be the grace and dark hair but your gray eyes are all Elithador.”

The door to the hall opened, breaking their friendly discussion and a woman strode in. She wore a soft green gown, her hair falling in a thick golden braid over her shoulder.

“Excellent, you are here,” Mirithadûn gestured to her, “Aláenor may I introduce Prince Haldirian of Tirithawáe.”

Haldirian’s heart dropped to his stomach as he once again faced the angry sea green eyes of his attacker.

 

Chapter Two- Lady of the Forest

Mirithadûn’s words hit Aláenor with a jolt. For a moment she wondered if Haldirian would recognize her. The disbelief burning in his eyes confirmed he did. Aláenor’s shock was replaced with a fierce pride. She couldn’t wait to tell Lindon that she had beaten a prince to a pulp.

Haldirian bowed low, “My lady, how nice to see you again.”

“You’ve already met?”

“We had the brief pleasure of making our acquaintance at the northern border’s earlier this evening.”

“I see,” Mirithadûn frowned at her and she squirmed inwardly.

“She greeted as warmly and politely as any queen, you would’ve been proud,” he added and Aláenor’s palms itched with the urge to hit him.

“It’s good to see she remembered her manners,” the king replied unconvincingly before gesturing to his steward. “I’m sure you’re fatigued from your journey Haldirian. Follow Halba, and he’ll see you to your chambers. We can talk business in the morning.”

“Thank you, your majesty, Lady Aláenor,” Haldirian bowed again before giving Aláenor a sideways grin that only she could see, and following Halba from the hall.

Smug bastard.

“What a polite young man,” Mirithadûn commented, “He had a fascinating mark on his chest, did you notice?” She shook her head innocently.

“The boy has been traveling for weeks he was one whole dirty mark,” she replied.

“It was a boot print,” Mirithadûn stated flatly, “and about your size. You met him on the borders, do I need to give you a lecture about attacking royalty?”

“I didn’t know he was royalty did I?”

Mirithadûn grinned despite himself, “My daughter defeating Elithador’s son…I’ll never let him forget it.”

“I should hope not. What does he want anyway?” she asked, dreading the reply. Please don’t be a suitor, please don’t be a suitor.

“There is going to be a High Council in Tirithawáe. He hasn’t come for a bride. You needn’t look so worried.”

“I’m not worried,” Aláenor said, “If he were a suitor I would be sending his worthless hide back to Tirithawáe.”

“I don’t know why you are so set against marriage. I was the happiest when I was married to your mother,” he replied. He didn’t sound convincing.

“I’ve only just had my Rites Day! I am hardly a spinster and besides I have no want or need of a husband.”

Mirithadûn held up his hands in defeat, “I don’t want to fight with you. Go and get some sleep, I want you in my meeting with Haldirian tomorrow.” He kissed her forehead, his eyes sad. He looked at her more like that the older she became. She knew it had something to do with her mother, so she tried her best to ignore it.

“Good night father,” she mumbled.

 

Back in her apartments Aláenor kicked off her shoes and pulled off her green dress. Servants had cleaned up the muddy clothes she had left in the bathing room and the lamps had been lit. Aláenor climbed into bed, creating a fort of pillows around her and stared up at the ceiling.

Why was Haldirian here? Surely if it was only for a High Council they could’ve sent a messenger…something had to be wrong.

Aláenor tossed and turned for another hour before she kicked back her blankets and got up. She pulled on a pair of boots under her night dress, wrapped a fur-lined robe around her before walking down the steps from her balcony and out into the gardens.

Aláenor breathed deeply as she wandered through the trees slowly making her way to her favorite thinking place. She paused by a statue of embracing lovers. It had been carved by Kalonera, her mother, and it was nicer to visit it than her grave.

Aláenor brushed it with her hand in silent greeting as she passed it, heading for a large boulder half hidden in the faint lamplight. It had a curved sloping basin that Aláenor liked to lie in. She slid down into it watching the stars flick through the trees above her. A branch snapped and she sat up, angry and alert.

“We need to stop meeting like this,” a voice said and the shadow next to a silan moved to join her.

“If it isn’t the little messenger boy,” she sneered as he approached her. Haldirian had washed and dressed in clean clothes. The week’s old stubble had been shaved, making him look younger. Dark curls had been pushed back from his face and intelligent gray eyes watched her cautiously.

Aláenor wasn’t interested in a husband but even she would grudgingly admit he was handsome. He probably has an ego to match it too.

“Tell me wild ranger, do you always attack people you have never met?”

“Only royalty,” she admitted, “although you weren’t much of a fight.”

“I assure you that if we were ever to meet in battle again, you would be the one on your back,” Haldirian retorted.

“I should warn you, I am a dangerous person to challenge.”

“And why is that?”

“I never lose,” she replied with conviction.

“It’s easy to be confident when you are jumping out of trees onto unsuspecting travelers.”

“I’d still defeat you even if I was standing on the ground.”

Haldirian smiled and it was brilliant and open, “We’ll see.”

Aláenor pulled her coat tighter around herself, trying to think of something to say. She was terrible at small talk unless it was with Lindon. She didn’t know where to start with a stranger. Haldirian must’ve thought she was cold because he untied his cloak and unexpectedly dropped it around her.

“Thank you,” she said awkwardly and to return the kind gesture she moved over and allowed him to sit down beside her.

“Here I thought it wasn’t only the weather that’s chilly in Silandáe,” he joked.

“Why are you here? You aren’t another suitor are you?” Aláenor blurted out and then blushed fiercely. To her surprise, Haldirian burst out laughing.

“Gods no! A wife is the last thing I need.”

“Oh good,” she sighed with relief.

“That’s right, I’ve heard how you treat suitors.”

“Which rumor was it? Do I chase them out of Silandáe or live in a cave and eat them one by one?” Aláenor was almost as tired of rumors as she was of suitors.

“Nothing so vicious, I’ve only heard that you have rejected them all. But after meeting you in person, I need to ask…do you eat them?”

“Not recently,” she grinned before adding, “I may live far in the south but don’t think I haven’t heard the rumors about you.”

“Rumors spread by my mother’s correspondence with Mirithadûn no doubt. Please, enlighten me.”

“You are illusive, introverted, anti-social and refuse to marry much to her dismay.”

“I’m not the heir to the throne. I hardly need to marry to secure an alliance, or marry at all for that matter,” Haldirian replied, running a hand through his hair; a nervous tick she was surprised she’d noticed, usually she ignored people completely. “My father would have started the antisocial rumor.”

“Is that why they sent you to Silandáe instead of a messenger?”

“Partly,” Haldirian replied cautiously, “I have a private matter to discuss with Mirithadûn that Elithador didn’t trust to anyone else.”

“I see,” Aláenor replied. “You’d best wait and tell us both tomorrow.”

“Can I ask you a personal question?”

“If you must.”

“Why does Lindon call you Flower? You don’t strike me as flower-like. That’s a name associated with delicate royal maidens. Not ones that like to jump out of trees to kill people she doesn’t know.”

Aláenor slid from the rock and started searching through the gardens. Haldirian followed her until she stopped and picked a small white flower.

“This is the aláen flower, I was named after it,” she explained placing it into his large brown hand. “That is why Lindon calls me Flower. He also knows I hate it and likes to provoke me.”

“He does seem to be the teasing type,” Haldirian said, twirling the bloom between his fingers. “I suppose it’s my fault you attacked me.”

“How?”

“My mother warned me about you and I laughed at her.”

“She must have the wisdom of the family.”

“Without a doubt.”

“Unfortunately for Mirithadûn I didn’t turn out to be the lady he hoped for. I find that kind of life boring and always have. Life is full of lots of things more interesting than being a royal madam,” Aláenor stated. “He wanted a boy. He raised me as a boy. I had my Rites Day and all of a sudden he is surprised I am more interested in ranging than getting married.” She bit her lip wondering why she’d told him something so personal. She would have to watch her mouth in his easy company.

“If it makes you feel better I’m not good at being a royal madam and I like ranging as well,” Haldirian said seriously. She laughed as the palace coming back into view and she handed him back his cloak.

“Thank you for the company,” she said and hesitated, “I haven’t had the chance to talk to someone new for a long time.”

“My pleasure, princess. Thank you for not eating me.”

Aláenor snorted, “Don’t call me, princess. Aláenor will suffice or I might change my mind and eat you after all.” She watched the smile twist around the corners of his lips and she found herself grinning back before hurrying away, desperate for him to not see the blush spreading across her face.

***

Aláenor woke late the next morning, stretching lazily in the sunshine that shone on her bed. She was exhausted from a week ranging followed by talking all night with Haldirian. She tried to hide her smile. He had been good company and it had been the first night in weeks that she hadn’t had nightmares.

Aláenor had spent the last months dreaming of a great city rising from the ocean, dripping with blood. She would be in a different section of the city every night but it always ended the same way; she would burst into flames and would wake frightened, the smell of smoke and burning flesh in her nose.

Getting out of bed she washed her face and braided her golden hair. She dressed in her ranger’s official uniform; knee high black boots, firm fitting mahogany trousers and tunic with a dark golden yellow undershirt. Haldirian already knew that she was not the kind of woman to parade about in dresses and despite his presence, she was determined to treat it like any other day. She grabbed an apple from the fruit bowl on her dining table before strapping her sword about her waist. She needed to train, needed to feel her muscles burn and for the fog in her head to clear away.

The hall was empty and Aláenor worried for a moment that she hadn’t been invited to the meeting with Haldirian and Mirithadûn. She pushed the thought from her mind, she had attended all of Mirithadûn’s meetings for years. She took her place at the end of the hall and pulled her sword from its scabbard.

It had been a gift for her Rites Day from Mirithadûn. It was a perfectly balanced blade, the hilt made from silan wood and carved with the sun insignia of the House of Ruel. The king knew his daughter well; there were no fancy designs or flourishes or gold inlays. It was a simple and deadly, made for her hand alone.

On the floor of the hall was a large mosaic of concentric circles, making up a large sun motif. The Warrior’s Sun it was called, each circle representing a different, more complicated drill. Aláenor positioned herself in the largest sun, determined to wind her way through to the centre at least twice before Mirithadûn summoned her. She gripped her hilt and began, each movement smooth and precise. Aláenor dismissed all thoughts from her mind, allowing the world to drop away. Only the action mattered, the positioning, everything else melted in the burn of her muscles.

Aláenor was in the third circle when the shadow of a figure moved behind a pillar. She’d been so focused that she hadn’t heard them enter. Sloppy, she chastised herself. She said nothing, letting them believe that she had not noticed them.

In the fourth circle, she turned sharply to look directly at them. As they hid out of sight, she ducked around the nearest pillar. She heard their footsteps moving along the marble tiles as they searched for her. Aláenor moved slowly from pillar to pillar, keeping out of sight. The figure made to turn around and found the tip of her sword pointed at his chest.

“Don’t you have anything better to do than stalk me?” she questioned. Haldirian’s smile was confident as he leaned back against the pillar.

“I wasn’t stalking you. I came looking for Mirithadûn and found you instead.”

“You could’ve said good morning.”

“And interrupt your concentration? I was too scared to in case I got a sword in my throat,” he glanced down at the blade she still had aimed at his heart. “I can see that didn’t turn out well for me. Are the drills all for practice or can you use that thing?”

Aláenor moved slowly back to the center of the hall, her sword aimed at him, “Would you care to find out?”

“I must admit, I’m curious,” Haldirian replied as he pulled his blade from the scabbard that hung down his back.

“I see you found a new baldric,” she commented innocently.

“I had a spare.”

“Perhaps I’ll claim that one too.”

“You’re welcome to try,” he replied as he faced her.

Aláenor didn’t need to be asked twice; her sword was a flash of light as she lunged for him. He blocked her easily but she swung again, and he was forced to go on the defensive.

Haldiran was fast and far more graceful than she imagined for a man as tall as he was. He moved around her and she had to work to keep up with him. Sweat trickled down the side of her face as their match continued, neither one wanting to admit defeat or stop. He swiped out at her legs and she jumped backward before aiming a blow at his head. He ducked and the edge of her blade caught the wood of the pillar, he went to raise his blade to her neck but she caught it against the edge of her hunting knife that she had hidden under her tunic.

“Another blade? That’s hardly fair,” he said as Aláenor pulled her sword from the wood.

“I never said anything about playing fair,” she replied as she spun the knife once in her hand before secreting it back into its scabbard. Haldirian moved, attacking her left side and she only just twisted as his blade cut through the side of her tunic. She was lucky he hadn’t caught skin.

“This is one of my favorite tunics,” she growled.

“I’m sure as a royal madam you will be able to stitch it up later,” he teased and anger seethed through her. She wanted to wipe that smirk off his pretty face.

Haldirian staggered backward at the force of the blows she rained down on him. The hilt of her sword locked around his and they brought them down, facing each other between crossed blades.

“You aren’t half bad,” Haldirian heaved, “For a woman.” Aláenor pulled down sharply then pushed up, the hilt slipped out of his hands, sailed through the air and hit the floor with a sharp clang. Haldirian stared at the sword and back to her just as her left fist hooked him in the jaw. He stumbled but didn’t fall.

“What was that for?” he asked, rubbing the tender spot.

“You insulted me for being a woman,” she hissed, leveling her sword at him, “One woman from the House of Ruel is worth five of your useless sex.” Aláenor sheathed her sword and stormed from the hall before she drew blood.

Chapter Three- The Keeper of Records

Haldirian stood cursing himself for a long while, contemplating whether or not to follow Aláenor. Would she talk to him or stab him? He rubbed his jaw, feeling the bruise that was already blossoming there. He had to find her. Haldirian reached for the door when it burst open and Mirithadûn strode in. Haldirian bowed quickly.

“Good! You’re here. I can’t find Aláenor anywhere so I’ll debrief her later,” said Mirithadûn, brusquely. “Tell me what this is all about, Haldirian.”

“I caught an Easterner on our borders,” he said and pulled a wallet of documents from the inside of his jacket. “I was on a ranging trip and he walked straight into the camp. We have no way of talking to him to find out if he is just an explorer or…”

“A spy,” Mirithadûn growled.

“We found these on him. Elithador said that some of Kalonera’s books might be able to help us translate them.” Haldirian handed him the wallet and the King flicked through the papers his brows lowering.

“I can’t read them but go to the library and see Largareth. He’s studied much on the East and may have some way of translating them. Elithador is right to call a High Council. We need to be ready if they are planning on invading.”

“Invading! This all could be a misunderstanding,” Haldirian said as Mirithadûn gave the papers back to him.

“We can hope. Halba!” Mirithadûn called and his steward came rushing in. “Take Haldirian to the libraries at once. Largareth will be able to tell you what all this means and whether or not Elithador needs to announce a hanging.”

Haldirian bowed to the king and quickly followed Halba. All of Mirithadûn’s good nature had vanished at the mention of the East. At least you know where his daughter gets her temper.

Haldirian tried to push thoughts of Aláenor from his mind; he could always seek her out later to apologize. He didn’t know why he provoked her. He didn’t know how anyone could look so beautiful when they were angry.

Halba led Haldirian quickly through corridors and up staircases before pointing at a set of double doors, bowing and then disappearing once more. Haldirian pushed open the door and felt his mouth drop. Tirithawáe had a large library but nothing compared the spiraling, multiple leveled structure he found himself standing in. It had a large domed roof of glass so that natural light flooded down into the structure. Here and there large branches of the silan trees poked through walls and windows and used to hang glass lanterns on.

A large ornate bell hung in the foyer and as Haldirian raised a hand to pull the cord a man with silver white hair appeared from amongst the shelves.

“There is no need for that young prince,” he said, staring at him with intense blue eyes. Haldirian had heard about Largareth from Elithador; he was ancient, even by Aloréan standards, the tutor of kings and a keeper of history. He was taller than Mirithadûn and his presence was potent. Haldirian fought the urge to look at his feet.

“Lord Largareth?” he asked hesitantly.

“I am no lord,” Largareth huffed and held out an expectant hand. “What do you have for me?”

“I…ah…the king said you might be able to help translate these,” Haldirian said, “I’m sorry, how did you know I was coming?”

“Aláenor said we had a visitor,” Largareth said as he took the pages from Haldirian.

I wonder what else she said? Haldiran thought.

Largareth gestured at him to follow as he started walking off again, his eyes never leaving the pages.

“Can I ask where you found these?” Largareth asked as they moved between the shelves.

“They were on an Easterner I captured near Tirithawáe. My father is worried he was a spy. Mirithadûn seems to agree with him.”

“My king is perhaps not the clearest thinker when it comes to the East,” said Largareth as he took a key from his belt and opened a wrought iron gate. “Everything we have on those lands is in this section. Perhaps we can find an alphabet in one of the books.”

“Why do you keep it locked up?” Haldirian asked curiously.

“Because I don’t have all the answers and Mirithadûn discourages people traveling there,” Largareth explained. “People are often afraid of what they don’t understand.”

“Why would he discourage people traveling? Didn’t Kalonera go there often when she was alive?”

“You just answered your question. Kalonera grew very ill and died after her last journey. Something in the East caused it and Mirithadûn doesn’t want any of his people to be at risk.”

Largareth started to pull down books for Haldirian to carry as they walked amongst the shelves. Finally, Largareth sat down at a study table under the branches of a silan and started flicking through them, ignoring Haldirian completely. Haldirian amused himself by wandering about studying artifacts and strange jewelry on display.

“How did all of these books come to be here if no one ever goes to the East?” he asked when the silence became overwhelming.

“There was a time when the Aloré of this country, the learned and too curious, use to make expeditions to the East to learn what lay there. Everything that they wrote or collected has been housed in here. Many of the travelers never returned. I can’t imagine that it would be easy to be a tourist in such a hostile place.”

“What do you think happened to them?”

“There are countless dangers to a journey like that; shipwrecks, murders, disease, capture- who knows?”

Haldirian picked out a book from a shelf; it’s brown leather cover cracked with age. Inside were drawings of landscapes, plants, buildings and at the very end a hastily drawn family tree. Largareth discarded the last book with a frustrated sigh.

“I am going to have to consult the only person who knows more about the East than I do.” To Haldirian’s surprise, Largareth leaned back in his chair and stared up at the sprawling branches above them. He spotted a glimmer of angry eyes looking down on him.

“Aláenor? Could you come down here a moment please?” Largareth asked gently. Aláenor put her book down on the nest of pillows in the fork of the tree before swinging down branches and stone work to land beside them. She glared at Haldirian before turning to place an affectionate hand on Largareth’s shoulder.

“What are you looking for?” she asked, before snatching up the papers and studying them. Largareth got up and offered her his chair.

Aláenor sat down without a word, took a quill from the inkwell and started scribbling on a spare sheet of paper. Haldirian watched her golden brows draw together as she concentrated on them like she seemed to do everything else; with a single minded ferocity.  He wanted to apologize, but the words seemed glued to his tongue.

“Come Haldirian, let’s leave the lady to work,” Largareth suggested, steering him away from her. Largareth proved to be a valuable guide, explaining the murals and history of the Silandáe as they strolled.

“This is one of my favourite places in the library,” Largareth said leading him out to a large balcony that overlooked the forest. In the distance, Haldirian could make out the bright glimmer of the sea. He turned to look closely at the small carvings of men and women that decorated an entire wall.

“That’s the entire ancestry of the House of Ruel,” Largareth said as he sat down on one of the stone benches. “From the great man himself to little Aláenor.”

“Stone seems to be the appropriate medium to render her likeness,” Haldirian commented before flushing. “I am sorry, I didn’t mean-”

Largareth chuckled, “Don’t worry Prince Haldirian, she is quite intimidating even for those who know her. She said that you two had crossed swords this morning. Did she give you that bruise?”

“I may have deserved it,” Haldirian said, rubbing his jaw self-consciously. “Any suggestions on how to proceed next?”

“With caution and humility.” Haldirian was still laughing when Aláenor charged out into the courtyard.

“They’re lists!” she declared, spreading them out on the bench beside Largareth. “Look, this lines of figures are different resources in cities. This one is for Endelin; boats, storehouses, soldiers, farms. The same are listed here for Baitriona and Selar.”

“These are all Men cities,” Haldirian commented, lifting up her translations.

“Clearly he was wandering about the Mindala in search of Tirithawáe,” Aláenor pointed out.

“I must go and tell Mirithadûn-” he began as she snatched the papers back from him.

“No, we must go and tell him. You don’t know what you are talking about.”

“You’ve written notes; I don’t need you.”

Largareth looked at the glaring royals and took a step back. “Excellent work, Aláenor,” he said before hurrying from the courtyard. She gathered up her papers and strode away, leaving Haldirian with no choice but to follow.

Haldirian didn’t try and make conversation as they walked, instead focussing on the swing of her long braid and worrying about his city. She was right; the Easterner had been looking for it, and he was a spy. A part of him still hoped that it was a misunderstanding. Spies have masters.

“Father, I’ve deciphered it!” Aláenor declared as she pushed her way into the hall. Mirithadûn took the papers from her without questioning her ability. He swore under his breath.

“He’s checking our supplies and defenses,” he said scanning her translations. “This situation needs to be dealt with swiftly and with care. The last thing we need is the kings of these cities planning to be attacked or trying to send an army to the East to attack first. We will come to your council Haldirian and we’ll get to the bottom of this.”

“With your permission, I’d like to leave in the morning for home. Elithador will want to know about this,” Haldirian said resolutely.

Mirithadûn looked up from the papers in surprise, “So soon? I hoped you would accompany us for the journey.”

“Elithador will need me to help prepare for the arrivals of the other lords and I don’t want this news delayed.”

“Very well, I’ll give instructions for provisions to be sent to your rooms tonight. You will give my regards to your parents,” Mirithadûn insisted and passed the papers to him.

“Of course,” Haldirian bowed low. “Thank you for your hospitality and help.” His eyes flickered briefly to Aláenor but her face was as blank as a statue.

 

That night Haldirian prepared himself and repacked his saddle bags with the extra provisions and gifts Mirithadûn was sending to his parents. Servants had filled his bath and as Haldirian sank into the water, his mind started to try and unravel itself. Now that the documents were translated and their worst suspicions confirmed he was anxious to get back to Tirithawáe.

Had they found anyone else lingering in their lands? Or had the spy been acting alone? More importantly who was he working for? Haldirian’s jaw throbbed painfully. He wanted to talk Aláenor, work out their misunderstanding so that when she came to Tirithawáe, there wouldn’t be bad feelings between them. She had seemed so cold in the hall that he thought it best to leave her be.

Haldirian was climbing out of the bath when there was a loud knock on his door. Wrapping a towel around his waist he hurried to open it and instantly wished he hadn’t.  Aláenor stood on the other side dressed in a pale blue tunic, black leather pants, and boots. Her hair was out of its regular braid and was hanging like liquid gold over her shoulder.

“And what do I owe this unexpected pleasure?” he asked, painfully aware of his nakedness.

“I’ve come for an apology,” she said walking past him, her eyes flickered over his torso in a way that made him blush scarlet.

“That’s very presumptuous of you,” Haldirian answered shutting the door behind her. He hurried to fetch his robe, tying it tightly around him, before joining her on the balcony.  “Remind this bruise on my face what I’m meant to be apologizing for?”

“You offended me and belittled my skills by claiming I was only good for a woman,” she said folding her arms.

“Aláenor, I apologize for damaging your pride and gargantuan ego,” he said, hand on his heart.

“Your arrogance knows no bounds,” she muttered.

Haldirian crossed his arms and pouted at her, mirroring her dour expression, “Are you going to let me finish? As a man, humbly standing before you in only a robe I say this proud princess; you fight astonishingly well and I’m sorry if my teasing comment caused you offense, it was not my intention. You’re a skilled swordswoman. Your intelligence is impressive and your blunt nature is in turn refreshing and intimidating. You’re also the most stubborn, unpredictable woman I have ever met.”

Haldirian caught her hand as she lifted it to slap him and had to move quickly as she swung the other. He gripped her hands together, his brown hands folding over hers completely as she struggled to break free. “I would not like to leave tomorrow with this misunderstanding hanging over our heads,” he continued.

“This misunderstanding is of your making!”

“And I have just apologized for it.”

“And insulted me again. You are the most frustrating man I’ve ever met and you try to hide it with a charm you believe you possess,” she retorted. “I would also like to remind you that you are only in a robe and one wrong move could make this situation more uncomfortable than what it already is. I suggest you unhand me before I start to fight back.”

“Uncomfortable for whom? I’m not letting you go until you accept my apology. If you don’t neither one of us will be getting much sleep tonight,” he smiled suggestively at her.

“Fine! I accept your lame apology.”

“I’ve managed to charm my way out of you despising me then?”

“Don’t push your luck princeling.”

Haldirian laughed and slowly released her, “I’m glad we got that settled.”

“So am I, though I’m suddenly relieved I never had a brother. I thought Lindon was annoying,” she held out her hand, “Friends?” Uncertainty flickered in her eyes as if expecting him to reject her.

“Friends,” he agreed shaking the small, calloused hand. “Now you’d best go before someone catches you in here without a chaperone. They’ll think we have no sense of propriety.”

Aláenor pulled a face, “I carry a knife; I don’t need a chaperone. And I’ve never been known to do what’s proper either.”

“You’re carrying a knife right now?” Haldirian looked her slowly up her leather-clad legs and firmly cut tunic, “Where?”

“Goodnight Haldirian,” she said bluntly but he didn’t fail to spot the blush creeping up her neck.

“Good night princess.”

Nominate now on Kindle Scout!

Origins of WYLT : The Blood Lake Chronicles

wylt2final-fjm_kindle_1800x2700

Wylt’s launch is one week away! Thank you to all of the lovely ARC readers who have given me feedback in time for me to fix a few formatting mistakes so the finished copy is perfect.

This blog is going to be as spoiler free as possible but I wanted to share with you how Wylt came into being. Like many of the more interesting things I’ve done it started with a dare.

My best friend and I go through ‘Monster Porn’ stages where life and study becomes so full on that the only books we can consume are romance. Usually with monsters, sometimes with time travelling knights and aliens with questionable anatomy.

The below video by the wonderful Rachel Hollis is a pretty accurate representation of every conversation we have during our romance binge phases:

We were going through such a phase which included me complaining about how disappointing I’d found a top selling vampire romance when the bestie said, ‘You should write one.’ I laughed hard. I have romance elements in my stories but write a full-blown romance? That was a completely different genre. Then she said the magic words ‘I dare you.’ And I agreed to give it a shot.

Writing romance is a strange and wonderful experience. I recommend that every writer try it at least once. There is a definite formula to it but the things you can do within that formula are fantastic. Structurally it has a different beat to every other book I’ve written and I cannot thank JamiGold and her wonderful Beat Sheet Guides for keeping me from wandering off.

I knew I wanted to have a classic gothic feel but with a modern setting, I wanted vampires but a new take on them (I hope you like my new origin story) and I wanted an older female hero that was no nonsense. I was tired of reading stories of 20 something innocent (or highly damaged) girls that you find so often in such novels. I wanted someone real thrown into a world that she thought she knew and then slowly flip it on its head.

Removing all the fantasy elements from the story, the focus has a lot to do with family and the way they interact with each other, the roles that siblings and ourselves fall into. The deep obligations that transcend blood  and that bind people together.

I am a really big nerd when it comes to faerie and a character that had always haunted me was The Autumn Queen. She made her first appearance in a nightmare that I turned into a short story called The Red Shoes that you can find here. She’s never removed her claws from my imagination and I’d always intended to explore her story line. WYLT gave me the perfect opportunity to do that. It’s also given the chance to really explore Celtic themes (and in later books a few Arthurian) that I’ve always loved and wanted to write mash-ups of.

Music always plays a big role in my writing and helps give me a feel for the world in which I am playing in. I’ve released my WYLT playlist on Spotify for anyone who wants a soundtrack while they are reading the story. Its a pretty good mix of modern and classical (including a few waltzs that are mentioned in the novel) and is good at capturing many of my themes.

Pictures and art are also great at feeding my imagination for world building so I also have a massive Pinterest board that is covering all three of The Blood Lake Chronicles if you want to check it out.

My cover has been designed by the incredible Fiona Jayde who was extremely patient with my descriptions of what I was chasing.. ‘You know like old horror movies with the woman running away with a mansion in the background!’ She knew exactly what I wanted and has rendered it beautifully.

9216c8217fbc1f7561bbc28053e999a6 slide_330050_3240727_free

WYLT is a mix of familiar and the new…there is a definite Jane Eyre and Beauty and the Beast vibe going on…but with enough new to keep it interesting.

To quote Rachel Hollis ‘You can pre-order the crap out of it‘ right here.

I hope you like it,

Love Amy and Duke (who does not understand Bookstagramming AT ALL.)

fullsizerender

 

Digital ARCs for Wylt !

Hello Readers,

I am run off my feet like a crazy person at the moment juggling work and a final assignment on the Dead Sea Scrolls but I wanted to stick my head in for five seconds and let you know I’ve put up an Exclusive ARC promotion for Wylt on Instafreebie!

I will be writing a proper post about Wylt closer to the date with various inspirations and what not but right now I am checking paperback formats and generally running about.

wylt2final-fjm_kindle_1800x2700Wylt is going to be out on the 10th of March (a paperback giveaway will be announced in a few weeks) but I would love to drum up some reviews on Good Reads so if you like the idea of a gothic romance that’s like the love child of Jane Eyre, Beauty and the Beast and a horde of blood sucking Fae…please click here and check it out!

 

 

 

 

WYLT: Chapter One – Sneak Peak

cropped-wyltsliver.jpg

Prologue

In the dream, the man smelled of horses and wood varnish as he gathered the little girl close in his arms. Wind whipped off the lake, but in her father’s arms, she was warm and safe. She held her stick sword firmly in one plump hand as he lowered her to the ground.

“You see these stones, Rhosyn?” he asked with a thick Welsh accent, placing a hand on the smooth black rock that rose out of the ground. “Do you know what they are?”

“Aye, Roger said they are faerie stones,” the girl answered, prodding one with her stick.

“Oh, did he now? And when did you have time to talk to the stableman?” her father questioned, heavy brows drawing together.

“When I went to see Mr. Eli’s horses,” she answered truthfully, knowing that her father wasn’t really angry with her. “Are they doorways to the Other Lands?”

“There are, God’s truth, little one.” Her father crouched down to be level with her. “Some nights, when magic is thick in the air and the time between times opens the worlds, the Seelie come through to dance at the lake. It is on those nights, my Rhosyn, that you must lock your window and your door, and pray that they don’t try to steal you away.”

“How can I tell if it’s a faerie?”

“They are so beautiful and terrible to look upon that there is no mistaking them for anything else. If you ever see such a one, dancing or hunting through the forest, you must find Mr. Eli as soon as you can.” Her father’s voice lost the storyteller’s warmth and became serious, “Promise me, Rosa. Promise me you will find him.”

“I promise, Da,” she swore, wondering what Mr. Eli could do that her father could not, should the faeries come.

“Good lass.” He kissed her head and got to his feet. They were almost back at their little cottage when the wolves came.

Then there was only blood, screaming and monsters, and her father was gone forever.

Chapter One- The Bad Omen

Rosa’s ears were ringing as she stepped out of the fire escape door and into the cold night air. She needed to get away from the noise of the crowded kitchen and the endless thrum of the party upstairs. She had been plagued with nightmares for the last three nights, and the bass of bad dance music was making her head pound.

I don’t know why you let Lucy talk you into these things, Rosa thought as she walked down the damp service alley behind the mansion and passed the expensive cars that had been parked wherever there was space.

She had agreed to do the catering gig for the high society party in The Boltens, but with the control freak hostess, it was shaping up to be more trouble than what they were paying. She pulled her coat tighter around her as she breathed in the autumn night air and tried not to wish for the cigarettes that she had sworn off three years prior.

The wind was rising, scattering the golden leaves off the ornamental trees and over the finely clipped yard. This kind of wind always reminded her of her childhood in the north, the sharp crispness holding the scent of wood smoke and lightning. With the wind came the nightmares every year without fail.

“A bad wind, that is,” a voice said, making Rosa jump. A homeless gypsy woman was an odd sight in an area as flash as The Boltens, but she leaned against a Porsche as if she owned it.

“I don’t know about a bad wind, but it’s bloody freezing,” replied Rosa.

The woman smiled. “Tell your fortune for a pound? You’ve destiny hanging over your head like a storm cloud.”

“I’m good, thanks. I don’t believe in fortune telling or destiny, but if you wait here, I can nick you something to eat from this party. Posh bastards ignore most of it at a gathering like this one.”

Rosa hurried back to the kitchen and placed rosemary lamb shanks into a large Styrofoam container. The catering staff were only going to throw out the leftovers, so Rosa filled another with pastries and cheesecake.

Outside, the gypsy was smoking a hand rolled, clove cigarette. She muttered under her breath as she glared at the security guards near the front entrance of the house.

“Don’t worry about those guys. They won’t bother you,” Rosa said as she offered the containers.

“Thank you, lady,” the gypsy said and gripped them in her bony hands. “You won’t accept a reading, but accept a warning…they’re watching you, girl.”

“Who is?” Rosa asked, looking about and trying not to laugh.

The gypsy checked over her shoulders before hissing softly, “The dead.”

“Everything alright down there, miss?” A tall security guard shined his torch at them from the end of the alley.

“Course, mate, everything is fine, just seeing my kitchen staff off for the night,” Rosa waved at them before calling out to the retreating gypsy. “Thanks for your help tonight, Susie!”

The security guard didn’t look convinced as he switched off his torch and continued on his rounds.

“What a weird old lady,” Rosa said as the gypsy disappeared around the next street corner. She was about to head back inside when a black Mercedes pulled up in front of her, and a suited man stepped out.

“Good evening, are you Miss Rosamund Wylt?” he asked formally.

“Depends on who’s asking.”

The man reached into the breast pocket of his jacket and took out a letter. Rosa took it between trembling fingers, her stomach dropping to her ankles as she spotted the heavy black seal and the ‘V’ insignia that haunted her nightmares.

“Have a pleasant evening, Miss Wylt,” the gentleman said before climbing back into the car and continuing down the lane.

Rosa looked at the letter for a long moment before swearing viciously and stuffing it into her jacket pocket.

***

Rosa was paralyzed. Fear shot through her body, robbing her of thought and breath. The shadows of the room crept over her like exploring fingers, threatening to choke her if she moved or cried out for help. Her body convulsed, pushing her out of the dream with a hard jolt and back into the land of the living. Dawn was making its way through the cracks in the curtains and her thrumming heart slowly stilled in her chest.

Rosa wiped the sweat off her face and looked accusingly at the letter sitting on her mirror table, its elaborate black seal broken in two. It had been a week since she had received her summons to go home to the north, the last place on earth she wanted to go back to.

Your mother is unwell, she needs her daughter at home, the letter had said, compounding her guilt. Rosa’s nights had been restless with dreams of never-ending corridors, dark forests and the feeling of drowning in long buried memories of her father’s bloody face. It was like living in a bad Poe poem every night and waking up feeling afraid and angry.

Home.

That word meant the tiny flat near the culinary school she had attended for the last three years. It wasn’t the dreary estate in northern England that didn’t even have decent Wi-Fi.

Who sends a letter these days anyway?  She thought before her inner voice prompted critically. Maybe they knew you wouldn’t answer your phone.

Rosa had hoped she would be left alone after she graduated from Oxford four years ago. She had studied literature and could speak Old and Middle English, but what she hadn’t been able to do was get a job in that field. The student wage in her account didn’t disappear, so she decided to follow her secondary passion for cooking and attend culinary school instead.

After years of education, she wanted to travel the world, work in the finest restaurants in each city to learn their delicacies, before moving on to another location. Graduation had gone as unnoticed by her mother as her university degree had, and Rosa had picked up catering jobs as she gathered her savings to leave London. Once the money from the last job had cleared, she would have left England behind her.

Now Rosa knew she had no choice but to go back to Gwaed Lyn. Her benefactors would send people to fetch her no matter where she ran. She had tried to escape to France as a teenager, and even though she was careful to cover her tracks, they still found her. Rosa had stepped off the train in Paris, and there had been a man in a black suit waiting to take her back to London.

In the last few days, Rosa had been forced to lie to her few friends, all who were going to Ibiza to celebrate their graduation. They hugged and teased her, calling her Nigella as they often had, and hadn’t questioned her further. What could she have said? They would never believe that she had no choice but to do what the letter asked.

Getting out of bed, Rosa washed her face in her small bathroom and pinned up her dark curls. Pulling on a green sweater, jeans, and high-heeled boots, she studied herself critically. She would turn thirty next month, and the plump softness of her youth had never quite left her. Her hair was her most redeeming feature; naturally, a rich curling auburn that framed her round face and dimpled chin. In her opinion, her hair made up for the size fourteen dress tag.

“Well, Rosa, that will have to do,” she told her reflection after drawing some eyeliner around her hazel eyes.

Pulling on her leather jacket to ward against the wind, she picked up her overnight bag with a sigh of resignation. The rest of her things had been placed in three large suitcases and had been picked up two days beforehand. She wondered if her mother would rummage through them before she arrived to try to discover what her daughter had been up to in the three years they had been apart. Rosa grinned at the thought of prim Cecily’s face finding her collection of vintage style lingerie. She may have had to wear drab uniforms in her job, but underneath was another matter entirely.

The train to Penrith would take four hours. Four hours of worrying what she was going to do, how sick her mother was, and how long she would be forced to stay at the estate.

“The Wylts have always served the Vanes, it is our honor and our duty,” her father had told her the month he had died. It was one of the only memories she had of him from her childhood, and the Vanes had to own that too. A family’s life lived in the shadow of another was no life at all.

What kind of an archaic concept were generational servants and masters anyway? If a Wylt didn’t serve them, it wasn’t like they couldn’t find someone else. The estate of Gwaed Lyn was hours away from anywhere. She would be resigning herself to a life alone with no friends and no chances of meeting anyone.

When Rosa reached Penrith, there would be a driver waiting for her, as the letter had instructed. She took it out of her pocket, running her fingers over the thick stationary and the carved V in the broken seal.

She could barely remember the estate, an ancient stone mansion that seemed ridiculously opulent for the times, but she remembered seeing that V stamped into gates and stone work. There was no question of who owned the place and everyone in it.

The only member of the family she could recall was the patriarch, Eli Vane. He had found her hiding in the stables one day, and she would never forget her fear as his sharp eyes had looked down his nose at her. He was imposing and wore the kind of authority that could never be fabricated. He had sent the letter, and the tone with which it was written had left no room for argument.

Rosa put her feet up on the train chair opposite her and pouted in annoyance at the bleak scenery flashing passed her. She would go to Gwaed Lyn for her mother, but after that, she was leaving, even if she had to take on Eli Vane himself.

 

“Seat taken?” A voice asked, jolting Rosa out of her snooze.

“Argh, no sorry,” she mumbled, quickly brushing the seat down in case she had left any dirty boot marks.

When Rose woke up enough to study her companion she wondered why she bothered. The woman was filthy. Her long dress and coat were splattered with mud, smelling of dogs and camp smoke. She was holding an empty takeaway coffee cup filled with coins. If living in London had taught Rosa anything, it was to ignore beggars, but in an empty carriage, she found it impossible.

“Hey, I know you,” Rosa said with a smile. “You were the woman the other night who was trying to read my fortune.”

“Of course I am. Where are you traveling to?” the gypsy asked.

“Home, I suppose. My mother is unwell,” Rosa answered awkwardly.

“You only suppose it’s home?”

“It’s not my home exactly. My mother is the housekeeper for a rich family.”

“Which family?” the gypsy persisted rudely.

“You wouldn’t know them, they are the old money types,” Rosa said. “She works for the Vanes.”

“Gwaed Lyn.” The gypsy spat a ball of yellow phlegm on the train carriage floor.

“You know it then.”

“It’s a cursed place. You’re better off getting your mother out of there, girl. No wonder the dead are following you.” The carriage door slid open, and an inspector stepped through. He frowned at the gypsy.

“Tickets please,” he said firmly.

“Here’s mine,” Rosa said brightly and then pretended to fumble about in her pockets. “Just give one moment, and I’ll find my aunt’s ticket. I know I’ve got it here somewhere.”

“Your auntie, you say?”

“Of course, she is my Auntie,” Rosa laughed. “My forgetful auntie who loses her ticket all the time.”

The gypsy pulled out a Snickers wrapper and slapped it into the inspector’s hand. “Here’s my ticket,” she smiled up at him with dirty teeth.

The inspector turned the wrapper over and handed it back. “Everything seems to be in order. Have a pleasant trip, ladies.”

“How’d you do that?” Rosa asked once he had left the carriage.

“He’s an idiot and doesn’t see what’s right in front of him,” she replied with a huff. “You’ve got a kind heart, girl. Maybe that will be enough to shield you from that evil place.”

“Gwaed Lyn isn’t evil; it’s just full of self-indulgent rich people.”

The gypsy took off one of her dirty silver necklaces and pushed it into Rosa’s hand.

“You did me a good turn the other night, so now I repay the debt. Wear it, it’ll protect you,” she got to her feet. “Remember, girl, it’s not called The Blood Lake for nothing.”

Then she was gone, moving about the carriage shaking her cup, leaving Rosa holding the sticky pendant.

Hours later, Rosa got up to stretch her legs, the uneasy feeling in her chest growing the further north they traveled. In the tiny bathroom, she scrubbed the necklace with industrial pink hand wash. As she scrubbed, the ridges in the silver disc became the shape of a face surrounded by six wings. It was an odd trinket, but something in the gypsy’s eyes had unnerved her. Despite all the voices in her head telling her she was being a superstitious ninny, Rosa clipped the chain around her neck, tucking it into her sweater to sit cooly against her skin.

It was late afternoon by the time Rosa stepped off the warm train and into the freezing winds at Penrith. The working day had finished, and the station was packed with people and students staring at their phones. Standing soldier straight in the crowd was a tall man in a black suit and hat. He looked more like a bodyguard than a driver.

“Miss Wylt,” he rumbled, taking her carry bag. “I’m Caruthers, this way please.”

In the car park, he opened the back door of a black Mercedes. “You’ll find refreshments in the cooler bag should you require them.”

“Thank you,” Rosa said as he shut the door behind her. She settled into the deep seat as he moved silently through the streets and headed west on the A66 highway.

Rosa sensed her mother’s handiwork as she opened the cooler bag and found a flask of tea, sandwiches, and freshly baked ginger cookies. Rosa sipped on the herbal tea, relieved to wash the taste of watery train coffee from her mouth, and watched the sun go down. The radio was playing Bach’s Goldberg Variations, and she felt a fresh wave of exhaustion.

“We are here, Miss Wylt,” Caruthers announced jolting Rosa awake. A sense of dread settled on Rosa’s shoulders as the electric iron gates opened in front of them and they wound their way through a neatly manicured park lit by elegant lampposts.

Gwaed Lyn’s lights were glowing as it rose up in a stone fortress in front of them. The story was that a Vane ancestor had built it after their return from fighting in the Crusades. It was a monstrous, sprawling mansion of gray stone with four square towers. It had been renovated during the centuries in various stylistic whims of the Vane descendants, and now it looked like a neo-gothic castle, with a flare of art nouveau when it came to the more recent addition of the greenhouse. It was exactly how she remembered it, as if time had stopped completely.

Rosa could make out the hedges that hid the Wylt cottage, and further down the white road were the large stable yards. Caruthers drove around the back of the mansion, stopping at the kitchen service entrance and she climbed out into the cold twilight.

The forest had grown taller in her years away, and for a moment, Rosa’s nightmares came rushing back. Her mother called out as she waved excitedly from the top of the steps. She had aged, and Rosa felt another wave of guilt for not visiting sooner.

“Rosamund!” Cecily said warmly and wrapped her arms around her tightly, still smelling of lavender soap and Chanel perfume. “You look absolutely bone tired, but don’t worry, because I have food inside ready for you.”

“Hey Mama,” Rosa managed. She turned to thank Caruthers, but he was already back in the car, her bag beside her on the steps. “What a strange guy.” She shook her head.

“A man of few words is our Caruthers,” her mother chuckled. “Come on then, and I’ll show you around.”

Rosa turned to pick up her bags as a huge black horse broke through the trees, white gravel scattering as it hit the driveway. Its rider sat tall and broad in the saddle, moving easily with the galloping beast.

“Oh, don’t let him frighten you. That’s Mr. Balthasar coming back from his afternoon ride,” Cecily said, ducking her head politely as the rider slowed his horse to a walk. Rosa tried to remember a Vane called Balthasar, but her memory was stubbornly blank.

As he moved passed them, he touched the brim of his hat in an old-fashioned acknowledgment, and with a flash of a smile, he disappeared towards the stables leaving Rosa staring after him.

 

Like it so far? Preorder it here.

WYLT Preview – An Origin Faerie Tale

wyltsliver

For the first Wylt preview I thought I would share a faerie tale, found in an ancient book in the library of the Gwaed Lyn estate….

During the beginning of the world, the Great Creator God of the Aos Si fashioned night with a moon and stars to brighten the dark sky, forming the Guardians of the Night and naming them the Unseelie. All things must balance, so Day was created, and the sun was born with a brightness and a warmth to illuminate and nourish all of the Aos Si, and the Guardians of the Light were called Seelie. In Day, the Creator also crafted shade, dark places that could hold the balance.

It was foretold the world would move in four great seasons and that the rule of these seasons would fall to the Guardians accordingly. Summer would be ruled by the warm light of the Seelie, and the dark, cold winter would be ruled by the Unseelie. During the time of the autumn, the Seelie would slowly relinquish its power to the rule of the Unseelie, just as with the coming of the spring the Unseelie would relinquish its power back to the Seelie. This was the Great Accord, and during the First Cycle of Summer the Seelie thrived becoming stronger, more beautiful and their magic powerful. But with power also came corruption, and as the summer began to wane the Seelie Court started to despair at the weakening of their magic. It was not long before their voices were shouting their distrust and discontentment at having to relinquish their rule to their Unseelie brethren.

Autumn began to move through the lands, the green that the Seelie cherished so dearly began to turn to gold, red and brown. Furious that the Unseelie were taking their power a great war ensued breaking the land and soaking it in the blood of both sides of the Fae.

In the final days of the Last Battle, with both sides nearing extinction, the Seelie Queen created a spell that would have the power to hold the remaining power in her court forever. She convinced her King to hold a court with the Unseelie with the promise of a peaceful discussion to try and come to a new accord. Then, as the two kings sat down together, the Queen of the Seelie took her husband’s sword and slew them.

The Queen knew that all things must be balanced and mixing the power of the two kings, she cast her curse over all of the Aos Si. The seasons within the lands would move no longer, sealing it into an eternal autumn, making it so she would never have to relinquish her power to Unseelie kind.

The Unseelie King was survived by three sons; Bleddyn the eldest and the heir to the title of Seren Du, the Black Star, Trahaearn and Gwaen. Taken by the Seelie, they were made hostage slaves to the Autumn Queen. Unlike the other Unseelie kindred, the princes were fair to look upon, and as they grew their pale white skin, soft black hair and bright eyes became admired by the court and the Autumn Queen.

To all, the three seemed compliant and content in their situation. They never flinched at the sneers and insults dealt to them by their enemies or fought back when they were abused by the Queens consort, Ryn Eurion.

Deep in their hearts, the princes were dreaming of escape and none more so than the eldest, Bleddyn Seren Du. In their chambers at night, he would tell his young brothers stories of their kingdom and of the great land through the portals, a land where there was no war against them, where the Autumn Queen had no power or influence. Bleddyn practiced his father’s magic in secret, teaching his younger brothers the secret powers of their kind, how best to fight the Seelie, and all the while, he planned their escape.

Knowing that the only way to protect his brothers was to be above suspicion, Bleddyn set about earning the favor of the Autumn Queen. There had long been whispers around the court that the Queen’s appetites had become insatiable and distorted in her proclivities since the death of the King, many fearing to become the object of her desire. Bleddyn began to pay the Queen attention until at a ball, Ryn had men hold him down, and they beat him. Through the heavy blows, Bleddyn continued to watch the Queen, his eyes burning with an unspoken promise.

“Why do you not look away though you are beaten for it, insolent slave?” she asked on the fourth day.

“My glorious, Queen, how could my eyes look at anything else?” he replied. That night, instead of being dragged back to a cell, Bleddyn was taken to the Queen’s chambers. Dismissing her attendants, the Autumn Queen took the Unseelie prince into her milk baths and gently tended to his wounds. He watched her silently with the same intensity that he wore during his beatings.

“You do not fear me,” she said, “You do not fear pain or retribution.”

“No, my lady,” he answered as she ladled the healing milk over his battered body. Her white fingers dug into the bruises on his arms. His breath sucked in sharply but he did flinch or pull away from her. Her red lips curled.

“Do you find the pain exciting, Unseelie?” she asked lifting herself up so that he could see the beads of milk dripping down the sloping curves of her breasts. Bleddyn grabbed the Queen by her long white neck, pinning her to the stone wall of the bath.

“Do you?” he demanded.

The Autumn Queen’s eyes flashed in anger, and she struck him, her nails opening his pale skin. He did not move as the crimson drops of blood fell to mar the white milk. Bleddyn watched her, his body towering over hers and the anger in her eyes melted under the heat of her own desire. She kissed him, biting his lips in her eagerness. Bleddyn allowed it only a few moments until he held her back firmly.

“No.”

The Queen was shocked, her fury growing inside of her. “I am your queen. I own the very breath in your body.”

“But you do not own my heart or soul,” Bleddyn whispered in her ear. “And if you take me unwillingly you will never know the secret to the greatest pleasure that only the Unseelie can give you. It is dark magic, and it has never been given to a Seelie before. It is not something you can take like you took our lands. It must be given.”

Bleddyn walked from the pool, leaving the Queen wondering what the secret magic could be, for the only thing she really loved was power.

From that night the Autumn Queen forbid any of the Court from touching the Unseelie princes. They no longer had to wear the chains and slave collars around their necks and hands in the ballrooms. Bleddyn acted no differently from this special allowance only to bow to her in silent thanks on behalf of his brothers.

This act sparked malcontent in many subjects for the Unseelie princes were beautiful, unusual creatures that they had enjoyed using for whatever pleasure they saw fit. All were afraid of the older prince, but the Queen’s edict had robbed them of their treasured entertainment.

As he knew she would, the Queen summoned Bleddyn two nights later. She was wearing a fine gossamer shift that accentuated, rather than hid the nakedness underneath it. Her attendants were dismissed, leaving her alone with him once more.

“Come sit beside me,” she commanded.

“I would rather stand, my queen,” answered Bleddyn politely.

The Queen’s eyes flared. “You would deny me this one small thing after the great favor I have shown you?”

“I am grateful, my queen, but the chambers that Lord Ryn has locked us in are very cramped. We enjoy being able to stand properly when we can.”

The Queen’s red brow furrowed as she got to her feet and walked slowly about him. She snapped her fingers and his threadbare shirt melted away. Bleddyn did not move as she scraped her long nails down his back.

“Why do you resist me so much, dark one? Why do you hold yourself back from the pleasure I offer you?”

“I mean no disrespect but it is my awe of you that I must control myself. The Unseelie lovemaking is far more passionate than the Seelie and I would not wish to harm the queen for fear her wrath would turn to my brothers. It is a far better thing to resist what you offer.”

“I will not harm your brothers if you lay with me,” she said as she put her hand in his long, black hair, pulling it hard as she kissed him. His hands gripped her hips roughly, lifting her up. He carried her over to her bed of red silks, pushing her down onto it. Gripping the front of her shift, he tore it in half. He bit her breast hard enough for her to cry out in sudden pain. Bleddyn let her go and got back to his feet. A bruise was already blossoming like a purple autumn flower on her pale skin.

“I am sorry, my queen, but I cannot come to you as I am. You are the greatest queen in the entire world. I will not touch you with my soiled hands and body. It would be insulting to you.”

“You insult me by denying me,” the Queen said, touching the bruise, “but this last request I will grant you.”

The Unseelie princes were moved that very night to one of the finest chambers in her court. There they had servants bring them hot water for baths and new clothes of the finest silks and velvets. An elaborate meal was brought to them, and the princes ate well before hiding their knives in the folds of their clothes, listening as Bleddyn laid out his plans to them.

The next night, they went to the ball, the younger princes given free rights to roam where they pleased. Bleddyn danced with the Autumn Queen and made her laugh with his observances of the dour-faced courtiers. When she retired, she took Bleddyn’s hand openly in front of her advisors and led him to her chambers.

“I have given what you asked for, Unseelie, now give yourself to me as promised,” the Autumn Queen demanded.

Bleddyn took the knife he had stolen from the banquet dinner and held it against her chest. The Queen gasped as he ran the flat side of the cool blade down her skin.

“You mean to kill me, Unseelie?” the Queen asked, laughter bubbling out of her.

With a steady hand, he slid the blade down the front of her jeweled bodice and cut the ties one by one until her body spilled free from it. She tried to move, but he held the blade to her throat, stilling her as he kissed her breast through her thin undergarment. Two quick flicks of his hand and the shoulders of her gown tore away. A thin line of blood welled up where the blade had caught her, and he quickly put his mouth over it, drinking a drop of her blood before it healed. The Queen kissed him, viciously.

“Tell me what the Unseelie magic is,” she demanded breathlessly.

“Can you not feel the spell beginning to move through you?” Bleddyn asked as he ran the blade between her breasts, shredding the fabric and leaving a line of welling blood. Her back arched as he licked it, her eyes clouding, unseeing of the small cuts he was making in her. He cut the skirt of her dress to shreds, the Queen trembling with fear and excitement to be in the hands of her armed enemy. Wherever she felt the cold touch of the blade was followed by the sensation of his tongue until she was dizzy with need.

Bleddyn felt strength returning to his limbs, the magic in the blood filling him. With every cut, he grew stronger, and the Queen, caught up in her own desire, grew weaker.

Every moment he spent with her, his brothers were making their way to their agreed meeting place. Taking strips of her ruined dress, he tied her arms above her head, her legs to the posts of her bed.

“You mean to make a prisoner of me, Unseelie? I could burn these bonds with a thought,” she mocked.

“I would never want to imprison you, my Queen. My power is no match for yours,” he said as he ran his long body along hers, making her shudder with anticipation. He gripped her hair in his hands, lifting her pale white neck up toward him.

“Do you want to know want to know the secret magic of the Unseelie, my Queen?” he whispered against her skin.

“Yes…yes, my prince, tell me,” she whispered, her eyes gleaming.

“Then you shall have it,” Bleddyn watched her face change in fear as his teeth lengthened. Before she could cry out, he bit hard into her exposed throat, sucking the scream from it.

In her blood, he saw all the wards, the guards and the ways to escape their underground prison. He saw the spells she had cast, felt her magic in every drop. He saw memories and drew the one of the night of his father’s death to him. He saw how Ryn Eurion had killed his mother and delivered the heart to the queen. He watched as she ate it, stealing all of his mother’s magic into her.

He bit harder, his urge to kill more potent than anything he felt before but he saw the magical ties she had within the palace itself. If she died, it would turn against them and he and his brothers would never escape.

He drained her until all of the youth shriveled out of her and her true age was revealed. Red hair turned to white, her plump lips and body shriveling underneath him. A single drop of blood he left in her before he let the body go.

Upon the wall hung the sword of this dead father and Bleddyn held out his hands, whispered a word and Widow’s Fury flew from its bonds and into his hand. He heard it call out to him for Seelie blood but he silenced it and placed a glamour spell upon it so none of his enemies could see it. He did not spare the Queen a glance as he left her chambers.

“The Queen asked not to be disturbed for the rest of the evening,” he instructed her guards and they shared a knowing smile.

Under the gaze of the Seelie courtiers and warriors, Bleddyn walked through the halls of the court and he and his brothers escaped through the supply tunnels. Using the Queen’s magic, he passed through the wards until they ran out into the crystal night. So overwhelmed they were to see the sky and stars again that they stood in awe.

“Come, my brothers, our new world awaits,” Bleddyn said and they ran through forests to a doorway between the worlds. Not knowing where they were going or what lay before them the three brothers took each other’s hands and walked through the spaces of the world until they found the land of the creatures called Man.

They were free from the rule of the Autumn Queen but she did not die as Bleddyn had hoped. She recovered her strength and sent warriors in between the worlds to hunt and kill the Unseelie that evaded her and the prince that tricked her.

She hunts them to this day in her relentless pursuit to try to reclaim what was stolen from her: her pride, her dignity and her heart.

Liked this preview? Pre-order Wylt here 

Guide to the classics: the Arthurian legend

Original article by Amy Brown , Doctoral Assistant in Medieval English, University of Geneva on The Conversation

The early trailers for Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017) were released last (northern) summer, which means my favourite season in life as a medievalist academic is coming: the season of The Truth About King Arthur. It doesn’t matter if the movie itself is good or bad: the question I will be getting is “but how accurate is it?” Does it represent the “real” legend of King Arthur?

Knowing Guy Ritchie’s films, the answer is going to be a glorious “no, and it’s not even trying”, but modern audiences often seem to be attracted to the idea of an adaptation that is more true than others.

The 2004 film King Arthur, a glorious romp featuring Kiera Knightley in an impractical outfit fighting hand-to-hand with an even more impractical short bow, billed itself as telling the “real” story of King Arthur as we’d never seen it before. Set, ostensibly, in the 5th century, it promised the story of a beleaguered Briton warlord rallying his people against the Saxons – but it also gave us a love triangle featuring Arthur, his wife Guinevere, and the knight Lancelot; a tale which first appeared in the 12th century, in France.

Can you tell a King Arthur story to a modern audience without including the royal love triangle? The Australian animated series Arthur! And His Square Knights of the Round Table (1966), aimed at young audiences who presumably weren’t supposed to comprehend a complicated narrative of love, betrayal and sin, is nevertheless peppered with in-jokes about the Queen’s devotion to the comically inept Lancelot.

The BBC’s Merlin (2008), a delightful festival of historical inaccuracies, made the triangle a key part of Guinevere’s character arc for several seasons, ending with poor Lancelot as the tool of necromancy and plots against the throne.

Interestingly, Guy Ritchie’s Legend of the Sword seems to have cast no Lancelot; it remains to be seen if modern audiences will accept a Lancelot-less Camelot as “real” Arthuriana. But whether they do or do not, Ritchie’s work will be compared to an imagined true story of King Arthur, which never existed, even in the Middle Ages. The medieval sources dealing with King Arthur are numerous, inconsistent, and wildly ahistorical in and of themselves.

The historical sources

‘King Arthur’ by Charles Ernest Butler. Charles Ernest Butler [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The name Arthur first appears in the work of the 9th century Welsh historian Nennius, who lists twelve battles this Arthur fought against invading Saxons. Similarly, the Welsh Chronicles (written down in the 10th century) make some references to battles fought by Arthur. On this shaky foundation, along with a scattering of place-names and oblique references, is an entire legend based.

Ask any scholar of Arthurian literature if King Arthur really existed, and we’ll tell you: we don’t know, and we don’t really care. The good stuff, the King Arthur we all know and love, is entirely fictional.

The “Arthurian Legend” really kicked off in the early 12th century, with Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain (1138), which purported to describe the entire history of Britain from the day dot until about the 7th century.

He describes the founding of Britain by the (mythical) Trojan warrior Brutus; he covers a lot of the historical events described in Nennius’ earlier work; and his account is the first to really describe King Arthur’s reign, his wars against the Saxons, and the doings of the wizard Merlin. Some elements, like the part where Merlin helps Arthur’s father Uther deceive and sleep with another man’s wife, thus conceiving Arthur, remain key parts of the Arthurian legend today. Other elements modern audiences expect, like the Round Table, are still absent.

Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote in Latin, and his book was read and treated as a history book in the Middle Ages. But very quickly, the material was re-worked into French and English poetry. The Norman poet Wace, whose audience included people living in both France and England, based his Roman de Brut (1155) on Geoffrey’s History. He added many things to the story, including the Round Table itself.

Around the turn of the thirteenth century, an English poet named Layamon took both Geoffrey and Wace’s works, combined them, and added more in his long English poem Brut. Arthur is not the only subject covered in the Brut, but it’s the first treatment of King Arthur in English.

These versions, and some of the later English romances like Of Arthur and of Merlin, focus on battles and political tensions. Aside from Merlin they feature few supernatural elements, and do not usually devote much attention to love. In these versions, the traitor Mordred who defeats Arthur at the battle of Camlann is usually his nephew, not his illegitimate son; and Guinevere may willingly marry him after Arthur’s death.

The Romances

Arthurian romance is where things really start getting fun, from the 12th century onwards. The earliest romances did not focus on Arthur himself, but on various heroes and knights associated with his court.

The very first might be the Welsh Culhwch and Olwen, the events of which rarely make an appearance in later Arthurian works, but which share with them a common basic plot structure: a young man needs to prove himself to win the hand of a fair lady, goes to Arthur’s court, undergoes a series of supernatural adventures, and is eventually able to marry his lady and settle down.

‘Arthur’s Tomb’ by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Dante Gabriel Rossetti [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The earliest surviving French Arthurian romances are by an author named Chrétien de Troyes. He wrote five romances, of which the most fun, in my humble opinion, is The Knight of the Lion (1176). The most famous is The Knight of the Cart (1180), which introduces Lancelot and his love affair with Queen Guinevere.

Hot on its heels came The Story of the Grail (1181), which introduces Perceval and the Grail quest – although Chrétien himself never finished that work. At around about the same time, a separate tradition of romances about the knight Tristan and his affair with Queen Isolde of Cornwall was also circulating.

Over the 13th to 15th centuries countless romances were written in French and in various other European languages, telling tales of the adventures of individual knights associated with King Arthur.

For instance, in the 14th century English poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (1390), a young Gawain is challenged to cut off the head of the Green Knight, in return for which the Green Knight will cut off Gawain’s head a year later. Unfortunately for Gawain, the green knight has supernatural headless-survival powers which Gawain lacks, and so the adventure unfolds as Gawain seeks to keep his bargain and his head.

After Chrétien de Troyes’ day, the Grail quest story became extremely popular: there are several continuations of his unfinished poem, a complete reworking in German by a Wolfram von Eschenbach, and many translations. In these, Perceval is the hero who becomes keeper of the Grail. In the complex French prose version known as The Quest of the Holy Grail (1230), Lancelot’s illegitimate but extraordinarily holy son Galahad takes that honour.

How Sir Galahad, Sir Bors and Sir Percival Were Fed with the Sanct Grael; but Sir Percival’s Sister Died by the Way by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Dante Gabriel Rossetti [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The death of Arthur

If you read no other piece of medieval Arthuriana, read the 13th century French prose romance The Death of King Arthur (1237). The Penguin translation by James Cable is eminently readable, and cheap too. This romance circulated in the middle ages as the last of a “series” of Arthurian works beginning with the Grail’s arrival in Britain and ending with the break-up of the Arthurian court and Arthur’s own death. We call this whole series the Vulgate Cycle, or the Lancelot-Grail Cycle.

This series, rather like many modern fantasy series, was written out of order: the long romance known as the Lancelot Proper and the Quest of the Holy Grail (the one with Galahad, mentioned above) were composed first, by different authors; very quickly afterwards the Death of King Arthur was added, and then the prequel material dealing with the origin of the Grail and the birth of Merlin was added.

In the Death of King Arthur, the Arthurian court is aging. Lancelot has lost his chance at the Grail, the court’s harmony is shattered as Guinevere’s adultery comes to light, Mordred betrays Arthur, and everything falls to pieces.

A detail of the painting The last sleep of Arthur by the Pre-Raphaelite painter Edward Burne-Jones, 1898. via Wikimedia Commons

Fast forward to the 15th century, and an English knight named Thomas Malory, serving time in prison in Calais for attempting to abduct a young heiress, gets hold of the Vulgate Cycle, the Tristan romances, and a range of other material, and produces the most famous piece of English-language (despite its French title) Arthuriana: Le Morte d’Arthur. Malory, whatever else he might have been, was a completist, and he tried very hard to make a single coherent story out of the many contradictory he sources he had.

Chances are, if someone in an English-speaking country says to you they’ve read the “original” story of King Arthur, it’s Malory they mean. Its great popularity is explained by the fact that William Caxton put out a printed edition in the late fifteenth century. You can find that for free online, but the best reading version is the Oxford World’s Classics translation by Helen Cooper.

The ‘real’ Arthur today

Very few people get their first idea of King Arthur from a medieval text, today. When I taught Arthurian classes at Sydney Uni I used to ask the group to describe their first encounter with the Arthurian legend – it got oddly confessional at times, liking asking people to describe their religious conversions or coming-out experiences.

A lot of people my age and younger met Arthur through the movie The Sword in the Stone (1963), although in my case it was the infinitely funnier and more terrible Quest for Camelot (1998).

I was reading Arthurian stories long before I learned that the way we’re supposed to judge an adaptation in the modern world is its “fidelity” to its source. I loved Howard Pyle’s The Story of King Arthur (1903) and the 1998 miniseries Merlin and the ridiculous BBC children’s show Sir Gadabout (2002), and the last thing I worried about was whether or not they incorporated exactly the same plot elements.

There’s a distinct pleasure, though, in reading your favourite story told again in new ways: Sir Gadabout was so funny to me precisely because it plays fast and loose with elements that are treated as sacred in the solemn Victorian style of Howard Pyle, or the serious moralising of T.H. White’s Once and Future King (1958).

Ask a group of medievalists what the best Arthurian movie is, and 95% of us will answer Monty Python and the Quest for the Holy Grail (1975). The reason for that is not, as anyone who has seen it can guess, because it is exceedingly faithful to Thomas Malory’s monumental work, or to any other particular text.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) EMI Films

What Monty Python did so brilliantly was take the cultural “idea” of Arthur (perhaps at that time best encapsulated in the musical Camelot (1967)), along with a broad knowledge of Arthurian traditions both medieval and modern, and have fun with it on various levels. You don’t need to have read the weird romances dealing with the Questing Beast to laugh at the Black Beast of Argh, for instance, but if you have, knowledge of the “original” can only improve your appreciation of the adaptation.

And so I contend that whether or not Guy Ritchie includes Lancelot is immaterial. As far as I’m concerned it’s not a real Arthurian movie unless it contains the Beast of Argh, and that’s the stance I’m sticking to.

Readers interested in the history and development of Arthuriana could consult the second edition of The Arthurian Handbook (Routledge, 1997), or explore the texts, images and mini-histories at The Camelot Project.

 

Stone Circles, Gothic Mansions and a Touch of the Fae

Hell0 Everyone

I kind of owe you all a update on the Land of Amy, a proper one, not just lots of stuff about exorcisms.

I’ve been super busy the last eight weeks getting together structural edits on the upcoming release called Wylt. It’s my about as close to a romance you guys will ever get from me and its book one of a new series. I’m not going to say too much about it just yet but I can tell that it involves the following:

  • Gothic Mansion
  • Ghosts
  • Plucky Heroine
  • Blood
  • The Fae (not the nice kind)
  • Family drama
  • Stone circles
  • Welsh Myth

Also, I am completely in love with it. I know it’s kind of narcissistic to admit it but I am. I finished its sequel Blaise in July. For those who have read The Firebird Fairytales yes, THAT Blaise.  I’ve always been a classic gothic genre junkie so I’m really excited that I’m finally going to release something…especially mashed up with a bit of Welsh myth. It’s in cover design at the moment so really can’t wait to see how it turns out.

In other news, I’m winding down one semester of uni (publishing – don’t get me started how disappointed I am in it) and winding up for another (The Dead Sea Scrolls – dying of excitement) so I am a bit hit and miss.

I am doing NaNoWriMo officially this year for the first time. I’m okay on a writing challenge but November is always an odd, busy month for me so I’m plugging away on the new WIP. It’s about an exorcist that lives in Melbourne and is like an unofficial prequel to a Mychal book (yeah that Mychal). This is why you are seeing all the random exorcist articles on the blog. I’m re-blogging so I can mostly find them again and keep track on various chunks of research. So far it’s a rather random book. I am moving between really liking it and being really worried about it. More so than I think any other book I’ve written. I’m about 35k words in. We’ll see how it turns out by the end of the month.

What else? I’ve been watching some amazing TV at the moment, but the ones that have been really rocking my story teller boat are:

  • AMC Preacher. (quality watching. Weird. Awesome. Violent and the best kind of wrong).
  • Fox’s The Exorcist (so effin good, pacing is on point every single episode).
  • HBO Westworld (oh man, this show needs its own Blog. Seriously so many questions. Anthony Hopkins at his finest.)
  • BBC America Dirk Gently (adapted from Douglas Adams books. Delightfully weird. Tight script writing.)

What else?

I’m worried about America. It’s like a dependable sibling has gone bat shit fucking cuckoo banana pants and humming in a faintly cult vibe of sheer madness. Patrick Rothfuss has a good blanket fort solution. I highly recommend that.

I’ll let you know when I have release dates on Wylt. You’ll get some teaser snippets and other treats, I am going to try and get a promotions only newsletter up and running soon too.

Stay safe in your blanket forts peeps

Amy