At last, THE STONE MAIDEN and THE SWAN MAIDEN, two of my classic Scottish medieval romances, are now available in ebook! They're freshly edited and redesigned with gorgeous covers by Kim Killion (scroll down to see how pretty!). The “Maiden” series has an official series title -- “Celtic Nights: Lady of Legend I, II and III.” The third book – THE SWORD MAIDEN – will be available soon as well. Each novel in the trilogy was inspired by Celtic legends.
THE STONE MAIDEN is one of those personally meaningful books -– I wrote it through the ordeal of an sudden family tragedy, and the writing became one of those rare instances in an author’s life where the creative experience is transcendant and healing. A tidbit of historical fact inspired the story, set in 12th century Scotland—a Highland girl must wed a Norman knight by order of the king--yet these two willful characters refuse to give in. Long ago, land was offered to Norman knights to attract their military strength, and foreign knights came up for land and Scottish brides, founding new clans with French roots, such as Fraser (my own heritage). A few foreign knights adopted the names of their Scottish brides.
What would happen, I wondered, if Norman honor met Highland stubbornness? That’s the premise of THE STONE MAIDEN. Alainna MacLaren, a stonecarver, is the last hope of her diminished Highland clan—and the man she marries must take the clan's name before it vanishes. But the king orders Sebastien le Bret, a hardened Norman knight, to marry the lady--and there is no way he will ever give up his name for hers. Both are fiercely proud and passionate, and both must discover that love is its own legacy. I particularly love this story for lots of reasons.
Last year, something truly wonderful happened: two dear friends of my son were planning their wedding—and asked if they could borrow the wedding scene in THE STONE MAIDEN for their own Celtic-style ceremony. They incorporated the wedding verses in the book (based on ancient Celtic poetry) –- and they also did a handfasting with a rope braided in the harvest colors of their wedding theme. I was so happy to witness these two special ones getting married, and thrilled to see my wedding scene come to life. Here are the verses from The Stone Maiden, and a couple of photos from Kate and Drew’s beautiful wedding:
Alainna came toward Sebastien, then stepped to her left and walked around him in a circle, brushing behind him, circling in front, and again, twice more, until she stood before him. He held out his hands and she offered hers, joining left to left, right to right, so their arms made a crossed loop like an interlaced design. They stood, gazes steady upon one another. . . She clung to his hands, drew a breath, and began:
shade you are in summer
A shelter you are in winter
A rock you are
A fortress you are
A shield you are about me
I cherish you
I help you
I enfold you
I promise you.
. . . Sebastien drew a breath,
overcome. He knew what to say, but he had not known until this moment that he would say it with such conviction. The poem that came to him was
not the one he had learned that morning, but one the bard had recited a few
nights ago. Somehow it seemed perfect.
found in the garden
My jewel, my love
Her eye like a star
Her lip like a berry
Her voice like a harp.
I found in the meadow
The bright-eyed maiden
Her eye like a star
Her cheek like a rose
Her kiss like honey.
"It is done," he whispered. "So be it." His heart leapt in a new pattern, and he was caught in its infinite turning.
(Thank you, Drew and Kate, for giving the verses true meaning!)
THE SWAN MAIDEN
The second book in the series “Celtic Nights: Lady of Legend II” is based on the legend of a swan maiden, set in the 14th century—it’s a sequel to Laird of the Wind, a tale of the Scottish rebellion. Juliana Lindsay, cousin to the hero of Laird, is an archer among forest rebels, captured by the English—and Gawain Avenel is the English knight who risks his life for the beautiful freedom fighter who turns out to be somewhat of a handful -- not only is she a crack shot, but swans do whatever she wants.
There’s a fun story behind the research for this book, which I've mentioned in a previous post here on Word Wenches – the author as arrow-catcher.
Sometimes stacks of history books or open links through Google are just not enough to complete the research for a book. We all bring something more to the work than what we glean from research—and though, thanks to graduate years in art history, I can research the heck out of anything, sometimes we just gotta roll up our sleeves and experience something before we put it on the page. For THE SWAN MAIDEN, I wanted the hero to catch an arrow in mid-flight. I couldn’t find any sources about it, but wanted to be sure it could be done. I thought it would be very cool for the hero to catch an arrow in the instant before it struck the heroine.
One evening I was telling my husband about my arrow-catching idea, and one of our sons (now a black belt) looked up from his homework and said, "Sensei can do that." Sensei was his karate instructor. What??A phone call to the sensei confirmed it, and he offered to teach me how to do it myself. Umm, okay.
Arrow catching is a lot harder than it looks. Trust me. It’s definitely one of those Don’t Ever Try This At Home or Anywhere things. Seriously. Unless you have an expert teaching you how to do it, and there aren’t many of those out there, it's not something to mess with.
My husband and I showed up, and at first Sensei tossed a bo (a wooden staff) toward us to catch in one hand, out to the side. We progressed to hand-tossed arrows, and then to blunt arrow shafts released from a bow a few feet away. Thunk, grab, oh hey, that’s easy, even I, a myopic writer, could do it.
Then he got out the REAL bow, and the REAL arrows. And he backed up about thirty feet.
There’s nothing quite like facing a tenth-degree black belt, an ex-Marine, a massive towering guy, as he raises a real nasty looking bow nocked with a very sharp arrow – and aims it straight at you. “Don’t worry,” says he, “I’m not going to shoot you.” Right, cuz I’m not moving.
He let the arrow go. It zoomed right past me, though I snatched for it. He released another. Zooooooopp. A blur. Another. Zzzzzzip. Missed that—and with the next one, I touched feathers! Zzzzzzzzzzzip. More feathers! Then I reached out and grabbed the shaft smack in the middle. After that, I caught them consistently. The secret is in the timing, and senses on alert, a bit of coordination, a little courage, and making sure to listen for the release more than watch the thing.
My husband, I have to admit, caught an arrow on the first try. Argh! But I walked out of the dojo that day with a great research experience—and a feeling of achievement that I hadn't expected. And Sensei was so pleased (and found it so very amusing) that he asked me to demonstrate it at dojo parties. Yup—we took it on the road. Here’s a photo – that's little ol' me by the Christmas tree. I caught that arrow too.
The third book in the series, THE SWORD MAIDEN, will be out soon--and that has an amazing cover too, that I can't wait to share!
Have you been to a Celtic wedding, or had one yourself? Have you ever caught an arrow, or thought about it? (I know, those questions are SO related, right!) -- comments and thoughts welcome! I'll be giving away a print copy of the original paperback of THE STONE MAIDEN or THE SWAN MAIDEN (winner's choice) to one lucky commenter!