Guest Post: Song of the Centurion by Steven A. McKay

One of my favourite books of 2018 was The Druid by Steven A. McKay. Having completed his Robin Hood series, Steven had turned his hand to the Dark Ages with a new story set in the time of King Arthur and Merlin, but with characters of his own creation. Bellicus, the eponymous druid, journeyed the length of Britain to rescue a young princess from the clutches of her kidnappers, and return her to her desperate parents. This month, Steven is back with a much-anticipated second instalment in Bellicus’ story

Here’s an excerpt to whet your appetite:

Northern Britain, Autumn, AD 430

“Get down! Their slingers are attacking!”

There was a horrific rattling as dozens of stones battered against the walls and the defending Damnonii soldiers crouched low to avoid being struck. A slinger’s missile could do severe damage if it hit someone in the right place, as a few of the men had discovered to their cost during the previous days.

“Now!” Gavo roared as the attack ended without injuring any of the defenders. “Give them some back!”

Instantly, his men stood up and launched a volley of their own fist-sized rocks down onto the enemy below. The captain grinned as cries of anger and pain filtered up to him. It was much easier to hit people when they were beneath you, especially when they didn’t have walls to hide behind.

Not all the enemy slingers were crouching under their shields though, and a sharp-edged, flat rock careered past Gavo, hammering into the neck of a young soldier at his side. The warrior reeled back, a terrible gurgling sound coming from his ruined, bloody throat as he dropped onto the wooden platform they were standing on and Gavo knew the lad would be dead within moments.

Thank the gods though, the enemy were taking casualties of their own beneath the hail of Damnonii missiles, and the besieging army pulled back now, out of range, heralding another in a long line of stand-offs.

“That’s it,” Gavo shouted in fury. “Run, you bastards!”

Dun Breatann, ancient capital of Alt Clota, was under siege, and had been for almost a week, the Picts from the far north led by King Drest having finally grown tired of the attacks on their raiding parties by King Coroticus’s soldiers.

For generations, livestock theft from neighbouring tribes was an accepted part of life – part of a young warrior’s coming-of-age. Unwritten rules made it clear that any captured during such an action could be beaten, but then sent on their way home, to try again another day.

Now, though, Coroticus, outraged by his daughter Catia’s recent abduction, was slaughtering every such raider he could find in his lands and displaying their severed heads as ghoulish trophies – warnings – on the towering rock of Dun Breatann. It wasn’t just Pictish thieves suffering such violence either – Dalriadans, Selgovae and Votadini tribesmen had all been killed by the Damnonii king’s forces. In response, Drest had formed an alliance with the other kings and led them here for vengeance.

To Queen Narina it was a ludicrous situation to be in – a war started over the execution of a few cattle thieves. Yet her husband had broken with tradition, despite her protestations, and now Alt Clota was paying the price. Standing high on the eastern peak of the fortress, she looked away from the guard captain, Gavo, commanding the defending warriors on the walls, and turned her attention to the tents, cooking-fires and massed, undisciplined, ranks of the enemy camping at the foot of her home.

Standing two hundred and forty feet high, and surrounded on three sides by the river Clota, Dun Breatann had never been taken by a besieging army. The queen shook her head sadly and turned to her maidservant, Enica, whose downcast expression mirrored her own.

“They’re wasting their time,” Enica muttered, shifting her gaze back to the tiny figures on the ground so far below them. “King Drest must have known that when he embarked on this foolish course.”

Narina didn’t answer for a while. She could see Drest’s tent, grander and more colourful than the others surrounding it, and she wondered what was going through his mind at that moment.

“I don’t think their siege is so foolish,” the queen finally said. “Coroticus pushed them all too far and they’re within their rights to strike back. Besides, they might say they’re here to avenge their dead warriors, but there’s more to it than that. Drest, and Loarn in particular, would like to make our lands their own. This is merely their first move towards that end.”

“They’ll never take this place though, my lady,” Enica said and her voice was full of conviction. “We have fresh water from the spring that comes up between the two peaks and enough men to rebuff any attempts to scale the gatehouses. Food is plentiful too, since your husband stockpiled it when he heard of the approaching army.”

Enica was correct in her assessment and Narina wondered if the woman surreptitiously listened at Coroticus’s door when he met with his advisors. It wouldn’t surprise her. Enica was a canny servant, which was why Narina liked her.

“They’ll need to leave soon enough,” the maid went on as if she’d spent many hours thinking this over.

“Their men will be needed at home to bring in the harvests and so on, yes, I know that,” Narina nodded. “But what of our people whose homes Drest’s soldiers destroyed? The people he killed on his way here, and those he’ll no doubt kill on his way back north again?”

“At least he didn’t destroy our crops,” Enica said and Narina peered at her thoughtfully. There was no way the servant could have known that unless she had truly spent a long time listening to Coroticus’s private councils or…Narina took in the woman’s unlined, pretty face, full lips, and firm, shapely figure and resolved to find out if Enica had taken a lover amongst the king’s advisors. That kind of information could come in very handy.

“No, he hasn’t destroyed our crops,” said the queen with a wave of her hand. “Yet. Probably because he hoped they would belong to him once he defeated us.” The queen turned away from the depressing sight on the ground far below and walked slowly back towards the royal chambers. They were located within the building in the very centre of the rock, flanked by birch trees and the rising twin peaks, one of which was gently rounded while the other, the higher one, was narrow and so steep that it was a challenge for many people to climb. Indeed, it was so narrow no proper buildings could be erected upon it and, other than a single sentry watching the Clota for invading ships, only a giant raven could be seen there most days, its strange cry—almost like the bark of some weird dog—heard pealing out across the ancient rock.

The thought of that majestic bird, black with a white tuft on its neck, brought Bellicus to mind. The druid had somehow trained the raven to speak—it could say ‘hello’ and cough like a person thanks to Bel’s tutelage—and she felt an ache in her heart just as she always did when the druid came to mind. Was he dead?

Was her beautiful, sweet daughter?

A feeling of anxiety swept through her and she almost stumbled like one of the many people who grew dizzy when looking down from the lofty summit of Dun Breatann. What if Bel returned today, with Catia? They would walk straight into Drest’s besieging army and be torn to pieces!

Enica noticed her lady’s discomfort and placed a steadying hand on her upper arm as Narina pulled herself together. Bellicus was no fool, and besides, he knew Drest well; there would be no danger there.

If only the giant warrior-druid would return. It had been such a long time since he left to hunt the princess’s kidnappers, with no word coming to them from any who had seen him on the road, and it was hard not to give up hope.

Or go mad, rather like Coroticus seemed to have done in starting this insane war that no-one could ever truly win.

Song of the Centurion comes out as an ebook on Thursday 12 September 2019 and is available from Amazon UK.

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About the author:

Steven McKay was born in 1977 near Glasgow in Scotland. He live in Old Kilpatrick with his wife and two young children. After obtaining his Bachelor of Arts degree with the Open University he decided to follow his life-long ambition and write a historical novel.

He plays guitar and sings in a heavy metal band when they can find the time to meet up.

You can check out his website here. Steven also has an Amazon Author page and can be found on Twitter and Facebook

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My books

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest

From Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Æthelred II to Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great himself, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon UK,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository and Amazon US.

Heroines of the Medieval World

Telling the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is available now on kindle and in paperback in the UK from from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon, in the US from Amazon and worldwide from Book Depository.

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©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly and Steven A. McKay

Book Corner: The Last of the Romans by Derek Birks

Northern Italy.

Dux Ambrosius Aurelianus has served the Roman Empire with distinction.

His bucellarii, a small band of irregular soldiers, have helped to bring a fragile peace to the beleaguered empire in the west. But, with the empire now at peace, his master, Flavius Aetius, decides to chain up his dogs of war.

Ambrosius and his men are left to idle away their days in a rural backwater, but Ambrosius’ boredom is brutally swept aside when old rivals seize the opportunity to destroy him.

Pursued as a traitor by the imperial guard, Ambrosius takes his loyal band, along with other dissident soldiers and a Saxon girl, Inga, into the mountains.

Since nowhere is safe, Ambrosius travels north, across the crumbling ruins of the empire, to his estranged family in Gaul. But there too, he finds nothing but conflict, for his home town is now besieged by a small army of rebellious Franks.

Freedom and peace seem a world away. 

Whatever course the soldier takes, Ambrosius and his bucellarii will need to muster all their strength and skill to survive.

At the twilight of the empire, they may be the Last of the Romans…

I have to admit that I loved Derek Birks‘ books on the Wars of the Roses, but was a little dubious about this excursion into the late Roman era. I enjoy reading some Roman novelists, such as SJA Turney and Gordon Doherty, but I do prefer the medieval and I was concerned that I might not enjoy The Last of the Romans as much as other Roman stories or, indeed, Derek’s Wars of the Roses series. I needn’t have worried.

The Last of the Romans opens as the Roman Empire is falling apart and follows one man, Ambrosius Aurelianus, and his small band of soldiers as they try to escape the clutches of vengeful assassins. We follow the small cohort of soldiers as the escape northern Italy across France, with the constant threat of attack nagging their every step. The reader is drawn into their desperate fight to survive and escape, the bucellarii’s loyalty to their dux tested to the limit.

Ambrosius Aurelianus has always been a personal favourite of mine – he has links to my ‘local’ – Conisbrough Castle – and is a contender for the legendary King Arthur. The Last of the Romans tells the story of Ambrosius’ career in the Roman army, before his arrival in Britain. The book draws a portrait of the man as a great warrior and leader, driven by a need to survive and protect those who follow him and trust him.

For the past three years Rome’s supreme military commander, the Magister Utriusque Militiae, Flavius Aetius, had sent Ambrosius wherever trouble erupted across the failing empire. Wherever an army was too many, or an assassin too few, he and his band of disparate bucellarii were despatched – and death went along for the ride. They slew every zealot, every ambitious politician, every fool and murderer, across the empire from the west coast of Galicia to eastern Thrace. In truth, Ambrosius and his comrades did little else but send men to an early grave.

Since he was recruited in Gallia, he reflected that his own fortunes had become inextricably harnessed to those of Magister Aetius. He could not resist a grim smile of admiration for the man who, against all the odds, still held the fate of the western empire in his firm grip. Without him, Ambrosius would still be a renegade bandit living among the Franks in north-western Gallia. Instead he was the commander of an elite band of mounted warmongers and carried the rank of dux. He was both feared and despised by his enemies – and very likely by some of the imperial guard as well.

Thus, Ambrosius slept alone; yet, there she lay… half-covered by the coarse blanket. So, yes, he was getting soft. But then, after the sudden demise of the Hun king, Attila, everything had changed. Peace had come to Rome – albeit a fragile peace brokered by exhausted combatants, but a peace all the same. And, in the wake of peace, it seemed that the wolf must remain caged. So, Ambrosius found himself marooned in this shabby caupona on the shores of a lake far from the imperial court. While he preferred to remain at the inn, most of his bucellarii made frequent visits to nearby Verona where they were no doubt even now exhausting whatever coin they had left.

“Even you need to stop killing eventually,” Aetius had told him. “Believe me, you need a rest from it; I know that better than anyone: killing eats into your soul…”

The Last of the Romans is a departure from Derek Birks’ usual era, the Wars of the Roses. And as a consequence, he has moved away from a period of history that is constantly discussed and analysed, to one where the sources are few and far between. He has had to reconstruct a world that has not existed for 1,500 years. the landscape and architecture of late-Roman era France is described in fabulous detail, transporting the reader to the time and place where Roman law was breaking down, and native leaders were battling – against each other and the Roman regional commanders – to fill the void.

As you would expect from Derek Birks, the action is never-ending. The story moves at a fantastic pace, leaving the reader little time to catch their breath. The battles are meticulously choreographed, while appearing totally chaotic; the battle to survive only rivaled by the relentless pursuit of their enemies. The Last of the Romans brings the fall of the Roman Empire into vivid, colourful perspective.

What makes this book impossible to put down are the characters, the heroic Aurelius Ambrosius, loyal Marcellus and Inga, the freed slave whose bravery earns her a special place in the heart of the bucellarii. There is love, loss, confusion, courage and hatred. Through Ambrosius Aurelianus and his small band of men, we see the individual struggle to survive amidst the greater catastrophe and upheaval that always accompanies the end of a civilisation.

The Last of the Romans is a gripping adventure. Exciting, enthralling and fast-paced it is an amazing novel for the author’s first excursion into the era. It works perfectly as a standalone novel, but I truly hope Derek Birks decides to continue the story – I am desperate to know where Ambrosius and his bucellarii go next!

The Last of the Romans is now available on Kindle from Amazon and will be released in paperback shortly.

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About the author:

Derek was born in Hampshire in England but spent his teenage years in Auckland, New Zealand, where he still has strong family ties. 

On his return to England, he read history at Reading University and for many years he taught history in a secondary school. Whilst he enjoyed his teaching career and it paid the bills, he found a creative outlet in theatrical activities, stage-managing many plays and outdoor Shakespeare performances.
Derek always wanted to write and began, aged 17, writing stories, songs and poetry – in fact virtually anything. Inevitably, work and family life took precedence for a long period of time but in 2010 Derek took early retirement to indulge his passion for history and concentrate on his writing. He is interested in a wide range of historical themes but his particular favourite is the late medieval period. 

Derek writes action-packed fiction which is rooted in accurate history. He also produces podcasts on the Wars of the Roses for those interested in the real historical background to his books. Check them out on his website at: https://www.derekbirks.com/history-podcasts/

His historical fiction works include: 
Rebels & Brothers – a 4-book series set during the fifteenth century, which follows a fictional family, the Elders, through their struggle to survive the Wars of the Roses up to 1471.  The Craft of Kings – a sequel series which finds the Elder family ten years later in 1481. The latest book in this series is book 3, Echoes of Treason, which is set during the short and turbulent reign of Richard III.

He has recently embarked upon a new Post-Roman series and the first book is out now: The Last of the Romans

Apart from his writing, he enjoys travelling – sometimes, but not always, to carry out research for his books. He also spends his time walking, swimming and taking part in archaeological digs.

He was a regular presence at the Harrogate History Festival, is an active member of the Historical Novel Society and you will also find him each summer signing books – and selling them – at the Chalke Valley History Festival outside Salisbury in Wiltshire.

His books are available on Amazon in the UK and US.
You can find Derek at;
Amazon
Blog
Facebook
Twitter 

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My books

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest

From Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Æthelred II to Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great himself, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon UK,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository and Amazon US.

Heroines of the Medieval World

Telling the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is available now on kindle and in paperback in the UK from from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon, in the US from Amazon and worldwide from Book Depository.

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You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter and Instagram.

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©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly


Book Corner: The King’s Furies by Stephanie Churchill

Not all enemies are visible.

Sometimes the most defiant ones exist only in the heart and mind.

The Defiler of Prilleand his hound are dead. With my marriage to the daughter of Bedic Sajen, our houses are united. After the birth of our daughter and heir to the throne, peace settles over Agrius once more.

But it’s a fragile peace.

As I work to restore the former glory of my inheritance, rumors of betrayal and treachery reach the throne, threatening to shatter everything I have worked hard to achieve.

When old enemies surface, the rumors become real. Disaster strikes, plunging me into a darkness I fear I cannot escape.

Many advisors step forward to help, but it’s never easy to determine friend from foe when it comes to the powers swirling around the throne.

Faced with the decision to stay true to my honor or to become like my father, a man I despised, the bonds of unity with forged with family and friends are tested. 

To the point of breaking.

What compromises will I make to secure the future of my family and my kingdom?

Will I lose both myself and the ones I love in the process?

Follow my journey into darkness.

The King’s Furies by Stephanie Churchill is the third book in her wonderful historical fantasy series, Crowns of Destiny. Stephanie Churchill weaves a wonderful fantasy tale in an atmospheric, historic setting that beautifully draws the two genres together. The first two books in the series, The Scribe’s Daughter and The King’s Daughter told the stories of Kassia and Irisa. The Scribe’s Daughter, the first book in the series, was one of my Top Ten novels of 2017.

The premise of the whole series, as a historical fantasy, is innovative, to say the least. It draws on the greatest stories in medieval history to build a world and a storyline that is refreshingly new and gripping from the very first word to the very last. The characters are wonderfully vivid, brought to life by an author who has an obvious knack for drawing on the deepest emotions to recreate unique and fascinating characters.

I tightened my hold on his tunic and twisted. His eyes widened in fear, his youth showing in the whites of them.

“Was it your job to get me away from the palace so I would not be here to protect her?” I felt a fleck of spittle land on my chin. Wimarc swallowed, shook his head then opened his mouth as if to speak, but I shouted, “Don’t even think about lying to me!”

“No! I knew nothing of what happened, I swear to you on my inheritance, may it rot in my father’s coffers if I do not tell the truth!”

I was about to respond when a shadow fell over us, and a hand pressed my shoulder. I gave a violent shrug, swinging around on the newcomer who jumped back, holding up his hands.

“Whoa! stay your hand! Casimir, it’s me, Wolf.”

A dim light of clarity broke through the mist of fury fogging my vision, and I hissed a breath between my teeth before bringing up a hand to rub my eyes. I kept my other hand twisted in Wimarc’s tunic.

“Just now, yes. And none too soon, it seems.” Wolf eyed Wimarc briefly before returning his attention to me. “How has this man displeased his king so that it requires summary judgement and execution?”

Wolf offered a mischievous smile, and I could not help but return my own, even if it lacked force.

Wimarc sensed the shift in the mood and jumped in. “Your Grace, I swear again that I knew nothing of the plan to take your daughter. I only wanted you to meet Jachamin. There was nothing sinister in my mind.”

….

With The King’s Furies Stephanie Churchill has brought the story in a full circle; while the first book concentrated on Kassia’s story and the second on Irisia’s, this book draws the two sisters back together to continue the story. This is an unparalleled adventure! The two sisters and their families have to face treachery and intrigue in order to find Irisa and Casimir’s missing daughter.

Stephanie Churchill masterfully recreates a medieval world in which kings and lords rule lands and their people. Betrayal is always just round the corner; as is death and destruction if the heroes fail. The lands recreated are described in vivid detail, from the landscapes to the people who occupy them, with their own peculiarities. The sights, sounds and smells draw the reader into the story as much as the characters and the plot lines.

The suspense is palpable as the lead protagonists come up with challenges few could overcome. The tension keeps the reader intrigued to the very end. The King’s Furies has all the elements of a gripping story; a great plot, sympathetic heroes and dastardly bad guys. And it is all beautifully executed to bring you a novel which is truly a pleasure to read.

And impossible to put down!

The King’s Furies is available on Amazon in the UK and the US from today.

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From the author:

I grew up in the American Midwest, and after attending college in Iowa, moved to Washington, D.C. to work as an antitrust paralegal. When my husband and I got married, I moved to the Minneapolis metro area and found work as a corporate paralegal. While I enjoyed reading, writing was never anything that even crossed my mind. I enjoyed reading, but writing? That’s what authors did, and I wasn’t an author.

One day while on my lunch break, I visited the neighboring Barnes & Noble and happened upon a book by author Sharon Kay Penman. I’d never heard of her before, but it looked interested, and I bought the book. Immediately I become a rabid fan of her work.

In 2007, when Facebook was very quickly becoming “a thing”, I discovered that Ms. Penman had fan club and that she happened to interact there frequently. As a result of a casual comment she made about how writers generally don’t get detailed feedback from readers, I wrote her an embarrassingly long review of her latest book, Lionheart. As a result of that review, she asked me what would become the most life-changing question: “Have you ever thought about writing?” And The Scribe’s Daughter was born.

When I’m not writing or taxiing my two children to school or other activities, I’m likely walking Cozmo, our dog, or reading. The rest of my time is spent trying to survive the murderous intentions of Minnesota’s weather.

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My books

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest

From Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Æthelred II to Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great himself, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon UK,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository and Amazon US.

Heroines of the Medieval World

Telling the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is available now on kindle and in paperback in the UK from from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon, in the US from Amazon and worldwide from Book Depository.

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You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter and Instagram.

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©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Guest Post – Tales of Freya by Sarah Dahl

When Viking research turns personal

Dress

One question every author of historical fiction is asked is “How do you do your research?”, and then we most likely explain it like this: I have the usual array (or let’s say: addiction to) books about the era and specific aspects of the time (in my and surely also Sharon’s case: women’s lives in the era). My all-time favourite is an absolutely rich book I always consult: Hjardar/Vike’s “Vikings at War”. Unprecedented detail in text, maps, and depictions.

Then we add that of course we go online for more research. We collect pictures, maps, articles. I have a Pinterest board (https://www.pinterest.de/sarahdahl13), where I collect my favourite visual inspiration. This, and a lot more, can be done from home, behind the desk. Entire worlds a few clicks away.

The next step would be to put on pants and actually go outside, to do a journey of sorts, because unlike contemporary authors, us histfic folk have to travel a bit to reach a certain place of interest for more hands-on research. I’m talking museums, battlefields, graveyards, ruins, whatever. In my case, all of those make sense: the Viking times were violent and rich in cultural exchange. I can get just as excited over a bump in the grass that contains a grave as I can enjoy looking at a heap of stones that once was an early medieval wall.

The challenge is to really envision life and people behind these artefacts. Sometimes it’s impossible, sometimes quite easy: imagination runs wild, and with it begin stories. My main interest is always the people and possible stories behind these cold, hard (arte)facts. This is how most of my plots start: during outdoor research, inspired by a place.

The magic of Viking Hedeby/Haithabu

axe

A place I’m particularly fond of is Hedeby in northern Germany. Not just because it is actually within reach for me in my Dreiländereck – but because it has it all: a modern, interactive museum with all the beautiful artefacts you could wish for, really bringing the era to life. But most important, there’s an open-air reconstruction of the Viking town in the actual historically correct place. So not only some houses and paths are erected again and ready to experience “live”, but the landscape is pretty much still what it was in those times, too. I can stand high on the protective wall and look down at the small settlement and imagine people walking the streets. I can envision the jetties where once dragonboats and merchants’ ships were moored. I can feel the harsh wind and hear the reeds rustle that still so densly border the Slien fjord. I can walk away from the settlement and into the fields and encounter massive runestones with original inscriptions. I really get a feel for the place and era. And every time, new story ideas form.

So this has become a habit now: every year I take a long weekend off to drive up to Schleswig and revisit my favourite place of inspiration. I just take time to be there, discover more details in the wood of the houses, the frameworks, the landscape. I let more stories unfold just by sitting on a bench, or watching a reenactor stir herbs to dye wool in a big pot. Driving home, I always have to pull over and take more notes.

Here is also where my research took another unexpected turn. Hedeby hosts several markets; and I attended the Viking spring market. It does something to a writer when she suddenly walks among her characters as they come alive with frightening vitality. Yes, I totally stalked some of them. The white-bearded guy with braided hair and tattoos. The incredibly handsome sword figther with the thoughtful face. The storyteller lady who captured an audience with a swipe of her staff.
And the colours, the smells! It’s almost shocking to be standing in the world you so far just imagined. You see the colour of their cheese, the texture of their bread, and the vivid patterns of their dresses. You inhale the scent of baking, cooking, sheepskins, and fires.

I never imagined actually HOW dark it is inside a Viking house once the door closes! But sitting on furs around the fire with other Vikings and a storyteller is mind-blowing. I didn’t want to leave! And when the door opened again, a ray of light hit a bump right behind me – it was so dark, I had overlooked sleeping kids within an arms-length. I suddenly had to acknowledge that I was stretching reality in my stories, in that I had made the houses much brighter to have the stories work. My protagonists need to see their opponent’s expressions and movements much clearer than what was obviously possible. We all have to stretch reality a little at times, especially for today’s readers. But I drove home deep in thought.

Becoming what you write

thumbnail_Dyeing

Another thing the market did was: I had so far only seen myself as an observer, not a participant. I use the knowledge of Viking reenactors to discuss my plots and characters, but I didn’t want to take part in markets, I just visited them, and took notes. Until then, at Hedeby.

I suddenly craved a dress and all that comes with it. But as a Viking dress contains many pieces (including jewellery and tools), and it has to be hand-made in the ancient craft, I found it too expensive an experiment if I didn’t plan to participate in markets. Until my birthday loomed and I thought I want a real feast: a Viking feast in a barn, in a dress of my own!

So that’s when my research became very personal and I commissioned Danish seamstresses to make me a dress. I chose fitting brooches and beads to go with it, crafted after original finds. I chose every single bead according to its correct time period and location: Hedeby, 10th century. It was the most exciting thing I’ve ever put together.

The day of fitting then wasn’t only a transformation, it was a revelation: as layer upon layer of clothing slipped over my head, I turned from an observer into more than a participant – I “became” something new. Suddenly everything I had studied and written about was ON me, became part of me. The rough fabrics, the smooth flow of the dress around my ankles. The glint of the brooches and clinging of the beads. I was a little in shock and a lot in awe when I saw myself in the mirror. It does something to you when you suddenly “become” what you write.

I now know what it feels like to prick yourself in the attempt to fix the beads to the brooches. What they sound like when I walk. How warm but light the linen and wool-combination feels.

And since that amazing birthday feast I also know what it’s like to swing a real Viking axe, made by a Norwegian smith (using ancient craftsmanship)! My “shieldmaiden axe” was the incredible birthday gift my husband had ordered made to my tiny measures. It’s awe-inspiring to hold and touch, let alone cut logs with!

So if these days someone asks me “How do you do your research?” I skip the boring books and online part. I hold up the beads I often wear around my wrist, and I might take the shiny axe off the wall and hold it out to the enquirer.

It always, always silences both parties for a long while: to weigh the ancient stuff in your hand and “feel” history is more than inspiring: it’s awe-inspiring. And then to imagine the people who might have lived and died in the times …

It’s so much stronger than my words.

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“Tales of Freya – Sensual Short Stories”

(the complete collection, just out in ebook and paperback)

About Tales of Freya collection of sensual short stories set in the Viking age:

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In this collection of adult bedtime stories, Sarah Dahl pulls back the curtain of history to depict the erotic lives of Viking men and women. Amid the stark landscapes of fjords, forests and snowcapped mountain peaks, her characters search for love and passion. Dahl authentically illuminates the sensual side of a world of battle and plunder in an alluring collection perfect for every lover of gritty Viking romance.

A warrior recovering by a river is drawn into an unforeseen skirmish with a beautiful shield maiden. An enslaved Christian monk is entranced by his captors’ pagan allure. A dissatisfied housewife finds that her home holds an unexpected and liberating secret. An injured farmer is captivated by the magic of his irresistible healer …

In a world of crackling fires and rough landscapes, long winters and bloody raids, the immediacy of life and death ignites undeniable passions. Warriors and monks, healers and housewives – all follow the call of their hearts and bodies to indulge in pleasures that may forever change their lives.

Buy links:

Amazon US

Amazon UK

About the author:

Sarah Dahl lives on the edge of the rural German Eifel and writes historical fiction (novels and short stories) primarily set in the Viking age. She also works as an editor, translates, and coaches new writers in German and English. She is interested in everyday life in bygone centuries and the human stories that may have occurred behind the hard, historical facts.

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Twitter: @sarahdahl13

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Out Now!

Tracing the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest is available from Amazon UK,  Amberley Publishing and Book Depository. It is scheduled for release in the US on 1 March 2019 and is available for pre-order from Amazon US.

 

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Telling the stories of some of the most incredible women from Medieval history, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK, in the US from Amazon US  and worldwide from Book Depository. It will be released in paperback in the UK from 15 March 2019 and is available for pre-order on Amazon.

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You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.

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©2018 Sharon Bennett Connolly and Sarah Dahl

Book Corner: The Last Emir by SJA Turney

51oYQKZfjYLRisk everything; fight to the last: a taut and intense historical thriller from master author S.J.A. Turney

The relics of Christendom have been plundered during the long Moorish conquest of the Iberian peninsula. Newly minted Templar Sergeant Arnau de Vallbona must recover one of the most elusive to save his priory at Rourell in Spain.

Travelling to Majorca on a stealth mission to retrieve the bones of St Stephen, Arnau soon discovers the raid is more complex than it first appears: the mighty Almohad dynasty has laid claim to the island, and will fight them every step of the way.

Along with his companion, the aged warrior Balthesar, Arnau is in desperate straits. Surrounded on all sides by hostile forces, it will take all their cunning and strength to escape with their prize – and their lives….

A thrilling and unexplored account of the Knights Templar, grounded in extraordinary research, The Last Emir is perfect for fans of Bernard Cornwell, K.M. Ashman and C.F. Iggulden.

The Last Emir is the second book in S.J.A. Turney’s fabulous series recounting the exploits of the Knights Templars in Spain during the Moorish Conquest of the country. The first book in the series, Daughter of War was a gripping drama which followed the struggles of Titborga and Arnau as the found sanctuary and a purpose in the Templar preceptory at Rourell, run by the incredible preceptrix, Ermengarda, as they battled an unscrupulous Spanish nobleman intent on getting his hands on Titborga’s lands – at any cost. It was a wonderful, gritty story with every page filled to the brim with action.

And The Last Emir is no less immersive. The second book takes Arnau on a quest to Majorca, in search of a Holy relic, but finding only trouble and a dispute between rival Moorish factions. The story is skillfully told, weaving a tale of intrigue and betrayal, and blurring the lines between the rival factions. S.J.A. Turney paints a wonderful image of the island of medieval Majorca, taking the reader on a journey across the island, re imagining the amazing landscape, the loud, busy markets and the sumptuous palaces with such precision that you can almost see, hear and smell the bazaar, the preserved manuscripts in the library … and the blood and passion of battle.

‘I’m sorry.’

Balthesar threw him a withering  look that made his cheeks burn hotter. ‘Later,’ was all the older man said.

Peril, though, was following them that day, for as Arnau began to feel that perhaps they were almost safe, two mounted figures in black and white emerged from a side street ahead of them.

‘What now?’ gasped Arnau.

‘We have no choice. We’re trapped. Go back and we’re entering the noose you created for us. We have to cross the bridge, even if we have to kill those horsemen to do it. With luck the guards at the bridge have not heard about us yet.’

It appeared that kill the horsemen was precisely what they would have to do. the Two Almohad warriors spotted their quarry and, realising that they had ensnared them, roared victorious-sounding cries, then ripped their blades free of their scabbards and put heel to flank, charging towards the two Templars.

Arnau had time, as he drew his own sword, to register the shock of the two local guards at the bridge. They were arguing urgently and dithering, perhaps unsure whether to intervene or to remain at their assigned place by the bridge.

Beside Arnau, Balthesar also drew his blade. ‘Keep your mouth shut,’ he commanded, ‘if we are to get out of Al-Bulãnsa alive.’

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The only downside of this book is that not all the characters we met in Daughter of War appear in this story. Arnau and Balthesar are far away from their familiar surroundings, having to rely on their wits and their own abilities in order to survive and win their way back home. Arnau, in particular, is on a journey of discovery, of his own strengths and weaknesses, the differences between Islam and Christianity and of his companion in arms. Through his own trials, he has to learn that not everything is black-and-white, lines blur and whether a person is good or evil is not necessarily defined by their religion. He has already learned the brutality of war, but in The Last Emir, he also has to learn about the subtleties of war.

This is a fabulous novel, which takes a reader away from the preconceptions and mysticism of the Knights Templar and presents the Templars as they were, and as they were created; warrior monks fighting for Christianity and what is right.

Well researched, not only in the customs of medieval Spain, both Christian and Moor, but also in the rich history of the country, and of individual events of the time, S.J.A. turney’s attention to the historic detail infuses the story with anthenticity. The author has created a marvellous, gripping story. The narrative is wonderfully written with every page pleasure to read – long into the night. Arnau and his Templar colleagues are the best kind of heroes – those the readers can invest themselves in and always want to read more.

Waiting for Book 3 is already proving a challenge…

 

About the Author:

Sja

Simon lives with his wife, children and dogs in rural North Yorkshire. Having spent much of his childhood visiting historic sites with his grandfather, a local photographer, Simon fell in love with the Roman heritage of the region, beginning with the world famous Hadrian’s Wall. His fascination with the ancient world snowballed from there with great interest in Egypt, Greece and Byzantium, though his focus has always been Rome. A born and bred Yorkshireman with a love of country, history and architecture, Simon spends most of his rare free time travelling the world visiting historic sites, writing, researching the ancient world and reading voraciously.

Simon’s early career meandered along an arcane and eclectic path of everything from the Ministry of Agriculture to computer network management before finally settling back into the ancient world. During those varied years, Simon returned to university study to complete an honours degree in classical history through the Open University. With what spare time he had available and a rekindled love of all things Roman, he set off on an epic journey to turn Caesar’s Gallic War diaries into a novel accessible to all. The first volume of Marius’ Mules was completed in 2003 and has garnered international success, bestseller status and rave reviews, spawning numerous sequels. Marius’ Mules is still one of Simon’s core series and although Roman fiction features highly he now has Byzantine, Fantasy and Medieval series, too, as well as several collaborations and short stories in other genres.

Now, with in excess of 25 novels available and 5 awaiting release, Simon is a prolific writer, spanning genres and eras and releasing novels both independently and through renowned publishers including Canelo and Orion. Simon writes full time and is represented by MMB Creative literary agents.

Look out for Roman military novels featuring Caesar’s Gallic Wars in the form of the bestselling Marius’ Mules series, Roman thrillers in the Praetorian series, set during the troubled reign of Commodus, adventures around the 15th century Mediterranean world in the Ottoman Cycle, and a series of Historical Fantasy novels with a Roman flavour called the Tales of the Empire.

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Out Now!

Tracing the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest is available from Amazon UK,  Amberley Publishing and Book Depository. It is scheduled for release in the US on 1 March 2019 and is available for pre-order from Amazon US.

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Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Telling the stories of some of the most incredible women from Medieval history, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK, in the US from Amazon US  and worldwide from Book Depository. It will be released in paperback in the UK from 15 March 2019 and is available for pre-order on Amazon.

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Be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebookpage or joining me on Twitter.

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©2018 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Athena’s Champion by David Hair and Cath Mayo

The first in a thrilling new historical fantasy series; Odysseus must embrace his secret heritage and outwit the vengeful gods who would control or destroy him…

Prince Odysseus of Ithaca is about to have his world torn apart. He’s travelled to the oracle at Pytho to be anointed as heir to his island kingdom; but instead the Pythia reveals a terrible secret, one that tears down every pillar of his life, and marks him out for death.

Outcast by his family, hunted by the vengeful gods, Odysseus is offered sanctuary by Athena, goddess of wisdom, and thrust into the secret war between the Olympians for domination and survival. Only his wits, and his skill as a warrior, can keep him ahead of their power games – and alive.

When one of Athena’s schemes goes drastically wrong, and the young Helen of Sparta is kidnapped, Odysseus must journey past the gates of Hades to save her. Falling in love with a Trojan princess, a bewitching woman who poses a deadly threat to both his homeland and Athena, won’t make his task any easier…

Drawing from classic Greek mythology, Athena’s Champion, first in the epic Olympus Trilogy, is perfect for fans of Madeline Miller and David Gemmell.

It is a distinct pleasure to have been able to review Athena’s Champion by David Hair and Cath Mayo as part of the blog tour celebrating the release of this wonderful novel.

I have to admit, I have a soft spot for the Greek legends. I try to read everything associated with the Greek myths, and the Trojan Wars in particular. David Gemmell and Glyn Iliffe have been my go-to authors for a long time. However, with Athena’s Champion there is an excellent new series to get my teeth into. Written as a collaboration between David Hair and Cath Mayo, Athena’s Champion is the first in their Olympus Trilogy, a series which promises to bring the Greek myths to vivid life.

Athena’s Champion follows the adventures of Odysseus before he finds fame on the battlefields of Troy. It portrays the Greek hero as he learns his trade as a leader and a warrior, and as an instrument of the Gods. Several of the characters – Gods and heroes – who shape the Trojan Wars are introduced to us as the story weaves its way through ancient Greece and the depths of Hades itself.

An outcast from his home on Ithaca, Odysseus has to find his own place in the world while serving the ambitions and plans of his goddess, Athena. He is helped and guided by an immortal named Bria, who serves Athena and inhabits the bodies of mortals.

After a while, my brains clears a little, though I’m left with a thunderous headache, and I’m able to observe her more closely. She’s clad in a short brown tunic, man’s garb, her bony legs deeply tanned and her hair hacked short. The smell of stale perspiration and smoke clings to her, the dust on her face is being sweated off in shiny streaks, and a copper bracelet of strange design has been pushed up her forearm until it’s tight to her skin, the only unusual thing about her.

‘Was that … beast … Was it Molebus?’ I ask, curious to see how she responds, despite my pain and exhaustion.

She gives me an interested look. ‘Mmm,’ she says. ‘The Pythia’s going to be pissed off.’

‘Is he…? Did he…?’

‘He’s in a hole,’ she drawls, her manner more thirty than thirteen.

She killed a man… if that’s what he was! From her manner, I doubt it’s the first time.

‘How did I get here?’ I ask.

‘I dragged you,’ the girl says. ‘Lucky you’re a short-arse, otherwise I’d not have managed.’

I look down at my leg, wrapped tightly in a bloodied swathe of my own cloak, and shudder as I remember seeing my thigh bone amidst the torn meat and pumping blood. I grope at the bandages, my chest constricting in fear.

‘Don’t touch!’ the girl snaps. ‘Athena stopped the blood and closed the wound. That saved your life, but there’s still much healing to be done. You interfere with it, you’ll mess it up.’

Athena … Molebus … The Pythia … There has to be a rational explanation for all of this. But right now I can’t fond one – all I’m doing is making my head throb even worse than it was before. ‘I suppose I’m in your hands,’ I manage to murmur. ‘Thank you.’

‘You’re welcome, O Prince of Ithaca.’

‘You know who I am?’

She snickers. ‘Yes – we had that conversation some hours ago, during one of your semi-lucid moments – though not lucid enough for you to remember, clearly.’

‘If you say so.’

Odysseus is not the confident trickster we know for the traditional Trojan stories. He is learning his trade, though his quick intelligence and obvious courage. The enemies are not always obvious and not always tangible – Odysseus has to fight with his conscience as well as his physical opponents. The way he faces his trials head-on, and takes responsibility for  his mistakes makes him a sympathetic hero and one who draws the reader to his side from the very first pages.

Ancient Greece and the realms of the gods and Hades are wonderfully recreated in all their majestic and terrifying glory. Hades, in particular, is a marvelous, wondrous world in which the reader can get lost as easily as the souls trapped within.

The book is written by co-authors David Hair and Cath Mayo and it is a testimony to their writing skills that the story is seamless – it is impossible to tell which parts were written by which author. In fact, if I hadn’t known there were two writers, I would never have guessed. They have managed to recreate ancient Greece, combining the mystical and magical with the history and legends to produce a story that is at once in the greatest tradition of Homer whilst offering a refreshing and unique vision of these timeless stories.

I can highly recommend this fascinating, engaging novel to anyone who loves the greatest traditions of the Greek myths.

 

 

To Buy the Book:

Athena’s Champion can be bought from: Amazon (UK); Kobo (UK); Google Books (UK); Apple Books (UK)

Athena's Champion blog tour banner (2)

About the authors:

David Hair is an award-winning New Zealand YA and Adult fantasy writer, and the author of sixteen novels. He’s joined his considerable skill and expertise with Cath Mayo to create the Olympus Series, an adult historical fantasy drawing on ancient Greek Mythology, following the adventures of Odysseus as he navigates the dangerous world of the Greek Gods. @DHairauthor

Cath Mayo is a New Zealand YA, Children and Adult fiction author. Her two published YA historical novels are both set in Ancient Greece and her first novel received a Storylines Notable Book Award for Young Adult Fiction in 2014. She’s joined her considerable skill and expertise with David Hair to create the Olympus Series, an adult historical fantasy drawing on ancient Greek Mythology, following the adventures of Odysseus as he navigates the dangerous world of the Greek Gods. @cathmayoauthor

 

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Coming November 2018

Tracing the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest will be released in the UK on 15 November 2018 and is available for pre-order on Amazon UK,  Amberley Publishing and Book Depository. It is scheduled for release in the US on 1 March 2019 and is available for pre-order from Amazon US.

 

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Telling the stories of some of the most incredible women from Medieval history, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK, in the US from Amazon US  and worldwide from Book Depository. It will be released in paperback in the UK from 15 March 2019 and is available for pre-order on Amazon.

You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.

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©2018 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: The Druid by Steven A. McKay

Northern Britain, AD430

A land in turmoil. A village ablaze. A king’s daughter abducted.

In the aftermath of a surprise attack Dun Buic lies in smoking ruins and many innocent villagers are dead. As the survivors try to make sense of the night’s events the giant warrior-druid, Bellicus, is tasked with hunting down the raiders and thwarting their dark purpose.

With years of training in the old ways, two war-dogs at his side, and unsurpassed skill with a longsword, Bellicus’s quest will take him on a perilous journey through lands still struggling to cope with the departure of the Roman legions.

Meanwhile, amongst her brutal captors the little princess Catia finds an unlikely ally, but even he may not be able to avert the terrible fate King Hengist has in store for her.

This, the first volume in a stunning new series from the bestselling author of Wolf’s Head, explores the rich folklore and culture of post-Roman Britain, where blood-sacrifice, superstition and warfare were as much a part of everyday life as love, laughter and song.

As Saxon invaders and the new Christian religion seek to mould the country for their own ends one man will change the course of Britain’s history forever. . .

. . . THE DRUID.

“Steven A. McKay’s archetypal villains and heroes step vividly onto the page from a mist-veiled past of legend to battle for the life of a princess and the fate of Britain.
Dark age adventure at its gripping best.” – MATTHEW HARFFY, author of The Bernicia Chronicles

 

I have to say that the first thing that attracted me to this book was the awesome cover – it is one of the best and most original that I have seen in a long time. It offers the promise of an amazing story and does not disappoint.

Steven A. McKay is an excellent storyteller, who brings the legends of the past to life, with a new and unique perspective. His Robin Hood series was one of the best I’ve read, moving the events into Barnsdale Forest, he gave a refreshing revamp to the age-old tales and made them his own. He has now gone further back in time, to the dawn of the Anglo-Saxon occupation of Britain, when the departure of the Roman legions was still within living memory and the Britons were trying to resist the incursions of the Angles Saxons and Jutes, who had established bridgeheads on the Saxon shore – the east and south coasts of Britain.

The author sets the scene wonderfully for the events that will take the reader on a breathtaking journey from Scotland to the most sacred site in England, following the druid Bellicus as he hunts the Saxon raiders who had kidnapped a young princess, Catia. A vision of the landscape is beautifully woven into the reader’s mind, with the challenges the moutainous terrain, and the security offered to the northern tribes by Hadrian’s wall all making their own impact on the story. The distances walked or ridden lend credence to  the length of the journey undertaken by the Saxons in their journey back to their master, and by Bellicus in his dogged pursuit of the little princess’s kidnappers.

Yet here they were, with a settlement ravaged by fire and Alt Clota’s princess abducted by Saxon raiders.

“Sometimes I wish the Romans had never left,” Coroticus growled, then nodded his thanks as Nectovelius’s wife placed a steaming bowl of broth on the table before him, closely followed by three more for the other men.

Bellicus understood his king’s feelings at that moment but he couldn’t share them. The Romans might have put a stop to the raids by the people that surrounded Alt Clota, but they’d also tried to destroy the native way of life, including their religion.

The druids had been almost wiped out in the lands south of the Antonine Wall although the “civilising” influence of the Roman overlords had not penetrated much further north. The harsh land there offered sanctuary to those druids who managed to evade their persecutors and Bellicus had learned at the feet of some of them.

No, the giant druid was glad the Romans had gone. Now that they’d finally returned to their own lands the old ways were making a resurgence in Britain and the gods were once again enjoying the reverence they deserved. News had even reached Bellicus of a warlord in the south who aimed to unite the native peoples against the invading Saxon hordes. His closest advisor was a druid steeped in the old traditions, highest of their brotherhood and known as the Merlin.

“What are we going to do?” Gavo’s blunt question broke Bellicus’s reverie.

“We must go after them,” Coroticus responded, his tone making it clear there would be no argument.

Bellicus was always one to speak his mind though, even if kings didn’t like what they heard.

“Aye, certainly we must follow them and rescue the princess,” he agreed. “But you, my lord king, must remain here in Alt Clota.”

He held up a hand, forestalling the expected outburst.

….

As anyone who has read Steven A. MacKay’s work before has come to expect, the large-as-life characters make this story. Bellicus is a truly tenacious and singular druid, he exudes the mystery and magic of his people, confident in his knowledge of the old ways, and in his fighting abilities, the man is not just a giant in height, but also in his power and personality. He instills fear, trust and dedication in those he comes into contact with, and his own dedication to duty is an inspiration to those he comes into contact with.

Bellicus is human, however, and proves susceptible to the odd misdirection, but manages to overcome such setbacks with admirable courage and tenacity. He is a hero it is easy to like, and to whom the reader can easily relate. The supporting characters in the tale demonstrate clearly the conflict which England is about to be torn by, the Britons fighting for survival against the invading German tribes. The lines are drawn, but not always clear.

There are some wonderfully surprising elements to the story, and some cameo appearances that will bring a smile to the reader’s face. The adventure is fun and edge-of-the-seat stuff, from the pursuit to the frequent clashes of arms, the reader barely gets a moment to take a breath before the next part of the action unfolds.

The Druid tells a story as stunning as the cover art suggests and, as the first of a new series, promises drama and excitement for many books to come.

About the author:

Steven A. McKay was born in Scotland in 1977. His first book, “Wolf’s Head”, came out in 2013 and was an Amazon UK top 20 bestseller. “Blood of the Wolf” is the fourth and final book in the Forest Lord series which has over 100,000 sales so far.

Steven’s next book, “The Druid” is the first in a brand new series set in post-Roman Britain and will be published on November 1st 2018.

He plays guitar and sings in a heavy metal band when they can find the time to meet up (which isn’t often these days to be honest).

Check out his website at https://stevenamckay.com/ and sign up for the email list – in return we’ll send you a FREE short story which is not available anywhere else, as well as offering chances to win signed books and other goodies!

The Druid goes on sale on 1st November 2018 and can be found on Steven A. McKay’s Amazon page.

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Coming in November!

Tracing the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest will be released in the UK on 15 November 2018 and is available for pre-order on Amazon UK,  Amberley Publishing and Book Depository. It is scheduled for release in the US on 1 March 2019 and is available for pre-order from Amazon US.


Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Telling the stories of some of the most incredible women from Medieval history, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK, in the US from Amazon US  and worldwide from Book Depository. It will be released in paperback in the UK from 15 March 2019 and is available for pre-order on Amazon.

You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.

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©2018 Sharon Bennett Connolly

 

Guest Post: The Quest for The Holy Grail by Mary Anne Yarde.

Today it is a pleasure to welcome back Arthurian novelist Mary Anne Yarde to the blog. Mary Anne’s latest book, The Du Lac Prophecy, book 4 of The Du Lac Chronicles, is released today. Mary Anne has joined us to share some of the research behind the book, with an article about that most elusive of historical relics, the Holy Grail.

 

The Quest for The Holy Grail

The Holy Grail, by Évrard d’Espinques c. 1475

By Mary Anne Yarde.

King Arthur’s Britain is a utopian world filled with chivalry, glory, and just a touch of glamour. Imagine Camelot as she rises out of the Fata Morgana — the mist. Picture the Knights as they mount their beautiful horses and ride through the portcullis as they embark on another noble quest. Is there anything more romantic?

The most famous quest of all was, of course, the quest for The Holy Grail. It is this quest that I am going to take a closer look at today. I am going to talk about where the idea came from, and how it became associated with King Arthur and his Knights.

To start with, we need to look at a passage from the Bible.

Chrétien de Troyes

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”

Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

Matthew 26:17-30 New International Version (NIV)

This was to be the last supper before Jesus’ arrest and horrific crucifixion. It is said that the cup that Jesus used on that fateful night was also used to catch his blood as he hung on the cross. So, because of this, The Holy Grail was / is a very precious Christian artefact.

Joseph of Arimathea and The Holy Grail.

The Chalice Well Gardens, Glastonbury

But then a miracle happened, and Jesus rose from the dead. The tomb was again empty, but Joseph’s heart was full of wonder. Joseph spent the rest of his life wandering the world and passing on the teachings of Jesus.

It came to pass that Joseph and a group of friends sailed to a distant land called Albion. They followed the River Severn as they travelled inland and finally they found themselves in The Summer Lands. Joseph brought with him the sacred Chalice of Christ, for it was his to protect.

Joseph settled in a place known locally as The Island of Glass (Glastonbury), and it is said that it was here that Joseph hid the Holy Grail down a sacred well. The water of the well, so the story goes, instantly turned red and tasted of blood.

The Grail’s hiding place remained a secret for many years, and over time it became the stuff of legends. The stuff of folklore.

So how did Arthur and his Knights become associated with this story?

The Last Supper, ca. 1520, Andrea Solari, after Leonardo da Vinci

Well, to answer that question we need to look at one man — Chrétien de Troyes. At the end of the 12th Century, Chrétien de Troyes, a French poet, took up the story of the Grail. He wove the story of the Grail into the story of King Arthur and his Knights. It was an instant hit.

The importance of de Troyes influence on Arthurian Legend cannot be overlooked. It is de Troyes that introduced us to Lancelot and the love triangle. It is de Troyes that first introduced the idea of the Knights Quest for the Holy Grail. He also introduced us to the knight that would discover the Grail’s hiding place — Sir Percival.

If nothing else, de Troyes certainly sparked the imagination of the populace, for what could be more romantic than these chivalrous, heroic knights, searching for the sacred cup of their religion?

The Chalice Well

Robert de Boron (a late 12th Century French Poet) went into even more detail when he took up the story. But it was the Vulgate Cycle (Lancelot-Grail), which was written in the 13th Century by an unknown author that really cemented the Grail Quest with Arthur and his Knights.

The central character of the story is Lancelot. However, instead of Percival being the ultimate Grail hunting knight, it is Lancelot’s son, Galahad.

What did the Church think of this story? It is, after all, about a sacred relic.

The idea of a magic cup – cauldron – was a prevalent theme in Celtic myths, not so much the Bible. It was, in short, a pagan tale that was rewritten by a French poet with a socially acceptable Christian theme.

As with almost all things King Arthur, excavating the truth is near on impossible. Arthur resides in the shadowy world of folklore, and that is where the Grail can be found as well. However, the story of the Knights and the Holy Grail captured the imagination of the country and it has been associated with Arthurian Legends ever since.

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Picture courtesy of Wikipedia, except the Chalice Well and Gardens, which are courtesy of Mary Anne Yarde.

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The Du Lac Prophecy (Book 4 of The Du Lac Chronicles) by Mary Anne Yarde

Two Prophesies. Two Noble Households. One Throne.

Distrust and greed threaten to destroy the House of du Lac. Mordred Pendragon strengthens his hold on Brittany and the surrounding kingdoms while Alan, Mordred’s cousin, embarks on a desperate quest to find Arthur’s lost knights. Without the knights and the relics they hold in trust, they cannot defeat Arthur’s only son – but finding the knights is only half of the battle. Convincing them to fight on the side of the Du Lac’s, their sworn enemy, will not be easy.

If Alden, King of Cerniw, cannot bring unity there will be no need for Arthur’s knights. With Budic threatening to invade Alden’s Kingdom, Merton putting love before duty, and Garren disappearing to goodness knows where, what hope does Alden have? If Alden cannot get his House in order, Mordred will destroy them all.

About the Author

Mary Anne Yarde is the multi award-winning author of the International Bestselling series — The Du Lac Chronicles.

Yarde grew up in the southwest of England, surrounded and influenced by centuries of history and mythology. Glastonbury — the fabled Isle of Avalon — was a mere fifteen-minute drive from her home, and tales of King Arthur and his knights were a part of her childhood.

To buy the latest book in Mary Anne’s fabulous Du Lac Chronicles: Amazon US; Amazon UK; Amazon CA.

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My books

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of women, famous, infamous and unknown, who shaped the course of medieval history. It is available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK. It is now available in Hardback from Amazon US  and worldwide from Book Depository.

From Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Æthelred II to Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great himself, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066. Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest will be released in the UK on 15 November 2018 and is available for pre-order on Amazon UKAmberley Publishing and Book Depository.

You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.

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©2018 Sharon Bennett Connolly and Mary Anne Yarde

Book Corner: Daughter of War by S.J.A. Turney

Today it is my pleasure to be a part of S.J.A. Turney’s Blog Blitz  with a review of his latest novel, Daughter of War.

An extraordinary story of the Knights Templar, seen from the bloody inside

Europe is aflame. On the Iberian Peninsula the wars of the Reconquista rage across Aragon and Castile. Once again, the Moors are gaining the upper hand. Christendom is divided.
Amidst the chaos comes a young knight: Arnau of Valbona. After his Lord is killed in an act of treachery, Arnau pledges to look after his daughter, whose life is now at risk. But in protecting her Arnau will face terrible challenges, and enter a world of Templars, steely knights and visceral combat he could never have imagined.
She in turn will find a new destiny with the Knights as a daughter of war… Can she survive? And can Arnau find his destiny?
An explosive novel of greed and lust, God and blood, Daughter of War marks the beginning of an epic new series from bestseller S.J.A. Turney. Perfect for fans of Bernard Cornwell, Conn Iggulden and Matthew Harffy.
I had been looking forward to reading Daughter of War by S.J.A. Turney ever since i heard about the book. And I was not disappointed. Daughter of War is like no other Templar story I have read. The story is set in Spain, rather than the Holy Land, during the Reconquista. And has none of the mysticism that many Templar novels revolve around.
Rather than making the book unreadable, however, this makes the story all-the-more fascinating. the author concentrates on the fighting, monastic and community elements of the Templar order and, as a result, has managed to create a story that is both unique and refreshing. This is a must-read for any fan of the real Knights Templar.
What did I love about this book? Everything. The story revolves around a small Templar preceptory in rural Spain, which has attracted the attention and ire of an unscrupulous and greedy Spanish noble. The preceptory is run by Ermengarda d’Oluja – a woman – but a formidable, commanding woman who has become one of my favourite characters. If ever I write a Heroines of the Medieval World 2, Ermengarda will be in there! And that’s the amazing thing, Ermengarda is a real historical character who did run a Templar preceptory – I didn’t even know they had women in the Templars.
 
But if you think that because there is a female Templar, that this book would be any less gritty or warlike than any other Templar story, you’d be mistaken. Ermengarda is a woman of steel and an incredible character. S.J.A. Turney, however, has made sure to keep her within the male-orientated realm in which she lived. She extends the limits of female convention if the twelfth century, but never quite breaks them.
The story also deals with the powerlessness of women in the medieval era and the fact that they did not have the right to decide their own fate when it came to marriage. That they could be forced to marry wherever their family and betters decided. And this is what causes the conflict in Daughter of War.
… There, in an antechamber of ancient stone, beneath an elegantly vaulted ceiling, stood Titborga Cervelló de Santa Coloma in her mourning dress of pure white. The sound of loud conversation emerged from the great hall beyond the thick, heavy wooden doors and, though the details of the discussion could not quite be made out, they sounded purposeful and combative.
Arnau dropped to a knee and bowed his head in respect.
‘My lady.’
‘Rise, Señor de Vallbona,’ she said in an odd, worried tone.
‘How may I be of service?’ he asked, climbing to his feet once more and adjusting his grey bliaut swiftly.
Something about the way the lady’s eyes scoured the dim surroundings put him on edge, and when she spoke, her voice was quiet and suspicious. ‘You are one of Santa Coloma’a most trusted men, Arnau de Vallbona.’
‘I have striven in my time to serve your father appropriately,’ he replied, brow creased more than ever.
‘My father spoke of you often, and well. I have seen you with him. He held you in esteem, perhaps more than one might expect for your somewhat minor rank.’
Arnau stifled the disappointment and irritation he felt at the rather blunt remark. Keeping his expression carefully neutral, he nodded. ‘Your father was a great man. I looked up to him. Even at the end, I -‘
‘I need your help. Your oath, Señor de Vallbona.’
Now Arnau felt alarm. These were careful words spoken in a dangerous tone. What was happening? …
Arnau and Titborga are wonderful characters, each joining the Templar order for their own reasons, and each looking for their own purpose in life. Each character – indeed, every character in the book – is unique, with their own hopes and dreams – and challenges. The book takes care not to stereotype the Templars into over zealous religious fanatics, but gives each their individual stories.
Care is taken to enthuse the book with historical accuracy, be it of the region in which the story is based, of the Templar order in general and of the preceptory in particular. The level of research that has gone into this book is astounding and impressive and has helped to create the world of 12th century Spain, torn between Christian and Muslim inhabitants.
As a story, the pace is incredible and barely gives the reader any time to stop and think as the Templars deal with the growing crisis. The attention to detail of S.J.A. Turney means that the fight scenes, in particular, are incredible scenes that draw the reader in, until they’re cowering behind their sofa to hide from the swinging swords and flying crossbow bolts. The author is a true wordsmith and recreates the medieval world and people with a skill level that is rarely achieved and maintained.
Daughter of War has an air of authenticity that is rarely achieved by an author, you can feel the heat of medieval Spain, the desperation of people in a fight they are not sure they can win, and the determination of those who know they are in the right. However, above all, Daughter of War is one thing; it is a fabulously entertaining story, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.
About the author:
S.J.A. Turney is an author of Roman and medieval historical fiction, gritty historical fantasy and rollicking Roman children’s books. He lives with his family and extended menagerie of pets in rural North Yorkshire.
To buy Daughter of War by S.J.A. Turney:

Amazon (UK); Kobo (UK);  Google Books (UK); Apple Books (UK)

Author Social Media Links

Twitter: @SJATurney

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My book

Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK and worldwide from Book Depository. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018.

You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.

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©2018 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Guest Post: Digging up Folklore – King Arthur by Mary Anne Yarde

Today it is a pleasure to welcome Mary Anne Yarde, author of The Du Lac Chronicles, to History…the Interesting Bits with an article about her fascination with King Arthur.

Digging up Folklore ~ King Arthur

I have been fascinated with the life and times of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table since I was a child — I guess growing up a stone’s throw from Glastonbury (The Ancient Isle of Avalon) may have had something to do with that.

My book series, The Du Lac Chronicles, tells the story of what happened after the death of Arthur, and continues the story of his Knights and their sons. But to write about the end of Arthur’s reign, I needed to know about the beginning. A not so easy task, it turned out.

The history of a historical Arthur is not written in stone but is, instead, engraved in folklore and that brings its own set of challenges.

Firstly, where did Arthur come from? Well, that is an easy question to answer…

King Arthur was English. No, he was Welsh. Arthur was Scottish. He was from Brittany. Oh, for goodness’ sake, he was a Roman General!

Which is right? Arthur is so famous that everyone wants to claim him and, over the years, there have been many names thrown out there as to who he really was. But we mustn’t forget that when we are dealing with Arthur, we are digging up folklore, and that is not the same as excavating relics. We can make Arthur fit wherever we want him to, and that is where the problem lies. It is very easy to make mistakes, and I have read many books that claim to have found the real Arthur, only they haven’t, it is just a theory, sometimes a very shaky one.

The same can be said for Arthur’s famous castle, Camelot. There have been many possible locations for one of the most famous castles in history. Tintagel, Cadbury Hill, Caerlaverock Castle, have all been put forward, and recently it has been suggested that a small Roman fort at Slack is where the real Camelot once stood. However, during all this excitement and discoveries we have overlooked a fundamental issue — there was no Camelot. It was an invention of a French poet in 1180! How can you look for something that was never there to begin with?

The Dark Ages, in which my books are set, are equally challenging to research because there is a lack of reliable primary resources. What was written down was written down for a purpose and that purpose was usually politically motivated, which in itself is fascinating, although not so helpful. Now, in these early texts when Arthur is mentioned, there is nothing about him being a king. Nennuis describes him as a warrior on par with Ironman, but no mention of a crown.

It isn’t until the 12th Century when Geoffrey of Monmouth writes his great work that the Arthur we know is born. The History of The Kings of Briton was meant to be a historically accurate account of British History and for many, many, years what Monmouth wrote was considered factually correct. Of course, we now know it was anything but. However, that does not mean that Monmouth’s work is of no particular value. Monmouth borrowed heavily from folklore and it is his story that drives the legend of Arthur and his Knights forward. I think Monmouth’s book is incredibly important as it tells us a great deal about, not only the era, but also about the people who were listening to his stories. And if we dig a little further, we can discover that it wasn’t only the populous who loved listening to Arthurian tales. Those pragmatic monks at Glastonbury Abbey did as well.

Let’s take a journey back to 12th Century England…

A terrible fire had spread through Glastonbury Abbey, and unfortunately for the monks, they did not have the coffers to pay for the repairs. If only they could encourage more pilgrims to come to the Abbey. What could they do? Pray to God and hope all would be well…?

Thanks to Monmouth’s book Arthur was the hot topic of the day and people would pay to go on a pilgrimage to Arthur’s final resting place so they could pay their respects to this once great King. All that was needed was a good story and a grave. The monks of Glastonbury announced to the world that they had discovered Arthur’s final resting place. That brought in the crowds — much like Tintagel does for English Heritage today! Glastonbury Abbey soon had the coffers to make the repairs and then some. There was as much truth in the story of Glastonbury Abbey and King Arthur’s grave as there was in The History of the Kings of Briton. But for hundreds of years, both the Abbey and Monmouth were believed.

My books are not just set in Britain, but France as well, so I needed to have a good understanding of what was happening in both of these countries in the 5th / 6th Century in order to keep the history real in the telling. Before we look at any of these countries we need to look at the powerhouse of the world at this time, and that was the Roman Empire. However, the golden age of the Roman Empire was almost over; she was politically unstable and was withdrawing her forces from far-flung provinces such as Briton, to defend her borders.

But this dawning new era brings some of the most fascinating historical figures that ever lived. These were the days of men such as Clovis. Clovis won a decisive victory against Rome, at the Battle of Soissons in AD 486. But, Clovis’ ambition didn’t stop there. Roman Gaul and parts of Western Germany fell to him as well. He forged a new empire through blood, war, and marriage. He made Paris the capital of his new kingdom, and he was the first King of a united Frank (France).

The Saxons and the Angles crossed the South Sea (The English Channel) to take advantage of vulnerable Britain who, since the Romans had left, had split back into various smaller kingdoms. There was much infighting and unrest, it was the perfect opportunity for the Saxon’s to come over and stake their claim.

Brittany, like Britain, wasn’t one united country, but many, and they were a race of warriors. While they were busy fighting each other, they missed the real threat to the kingdom, which eventually would be their undoing and they would find themselves at the mercy of Frank.

While all this is going on, the Church is creeping into the crevices, and spreading the word of God and, what could be considered of equal value, one language — Latin. It could be argued that it was the Church that united Britain in the end.

This was a time of great unrest and change, but one thing remained constant for the general populous and that was storytelling. Arthur may well have been a general but folklore made him a Christian King and gave him a castle full of noble knights. Arthur and his Knights (most of them anyway) cared about the people they represented. Arthur was a good king, the like of which has never been seen before or after. He was the perfect tool for spreading a type of patriotic propaganda. Arthur was someone you would want to fight by your side. But he also gave ordinary people a sense of belonging and hope. He is, after all, The Once and Future King.

I have tried to show what life was like in the 5th /6th Century in my books, but I have been heavily influenced by folklore, because when you are dealing with this period in history you cannot dismiss it. Brittany, for example, is terribly difficult to research historically during this era, but when it comes to folklore, she is rich and if that is all she is going to give us, then so be it. Folklore is its own special brand of history, and it is often overlooked by historians, which I think is a shame. You can tell a lot about a people by the stories they tell, and people are still fascinated by this larger-than-life King, which I think says it all. Arthur may well have been a general, or a knight, he may have been English, he may not, but it doesn’t matter because his story is timeless, it will never grow old.

Blurb:

The multi award-winning series, The Du Lac Chronicles, continues…

War is coming…

The ink has dried on Amandine’s death warrant. Her crime? She is a du Lac.

All that stands in the way of a grisly death on a pyre is the King of Brittany. However, King Philippe is a fickle friend, and if her death is profitable to him, then she has no doubt that he would light the pyre himself.

Alan, the only man Amandine trusts, has a secret and must make an impossible choice, which could have far-reaching consequences — not only for Amandine, but for the whole of Briton.

Links for Purchase:

Amazon US Amazon UK  Amazon CA

Bio: Mary Anne Yarde is the multi award-winning author of the International Best Selling Series — The Du Lac Chronicles. Set a generation after the fall of King Arthur, The Du Lac Chronicles takes you on a journey through Dark Age Briton and Brittany, where you will meet new friends and terrifying foes. Based on legends and historical fact, the Du Lac Chronicles is a series not to be missed.

Born in Bath, England, Mary Anne Yarde grew up in the southwest of England, surrounded and influenced by centuries of history and mythology. Glastonbury–the fabled Isle of Avalon–was a mere fifteen-minute drive from her home, and tales of King Arthur and his knights were part of her childhood.

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I would like to say a huge ‘thank you’ to Mary Anne for such a fascinating post and wish her every success with her latest novel.

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My book, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK and worldwide from Book Depository. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018.

Sharons book cover

You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.

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©2017 Sharon Bennett Connolly