I’m delighted to welcome Mary Gillgannon to my blog today!
The plot idea for The Dragon Bard, the fourth book in my Dragon of the Island series, came to me in 2004, on our first visit to Ireland. I had insisted we visit County Antrim. (My husband wasn’t wild about the idea, since it’s in the north, and he’s Irish Catholic.) Searching online, I’d found an area in Antrim that was supposed to be native oak forest, not an easy thing to locate anywhere in the British Isles. The elusive forest was situated in one of the Nine Glens of Antrim. It’s a gorgeous area, as green and lush as anywhere in Ireland. We never found the native forest, but we did discover long valleys full of oak and hazel, gleaming silver streams, mossy hidden thickets and stunning waterfalls. It was one of the more magical parts of a magical trip, and I knew immediately I had to set a book there.
The rest of the series was set in Wales and England, so I had figure out a way to include Ireland. When we took the ferry from Dublin to Holyhead, Wales on the same trip, the story set-up came to me. I would have my hero, Bridei, fall into the hands of Irish slavers and that’s how he would end up in their homeland.
The ferry crossing was pretty rough. I’ve seldom experienced winds so fierce (and I live in Cheyenne, Wyoming, which is pretty famous for its wind!) While my husband braved the elements to observe the journey from the outer deck, I ended up in the lavatory of the ferry enjoying a view of the toilet bowl! That experience led to the idea of Bridei being shipwrecked rather than simply landing in Ireland.
The rest of the story fell into place pretty quickly: the beautiful Irish queen, Dessia, whose men rescue Bridei from the slavers, the “spell” that Bridei casts to bring the storm that causes the shipwreck, and all the supernatural aspects of the story, which are based on Irish folklore.
It’s an unusual romance in some ways. Dessia is the warrior. She’s spent her life defending her lands and her people. Bridei is a bard. He shuns warfare and uses his wits to prevail against his enemies. Dessia is serious and dutiful, while Bridei is cynical and playful, and determined not to care very much about anything. But Dessia ultimately steals Bridei’s heart and to his surprise, he ends up risking everything for her.
One of the fun parts of writing the book was weaving Celtic history and legend into the story. King Arthur plays a part in the story, as well as the ancient “fairy” race the Tuatha de Daanan. And there are touches of magic throughout. For how could there not be in a book set in such an enchanted place?
A place along the coast such as where Bridei and the slavers might have landed.
While visiting north Britain, traveling bard Bridei ap Maelgwn is taken captive and sold to Irish slavers. When they are shipwrecked in Ireland, he is rescued and taken to Queen Dessia of the Fionnlairaos. Dessia is wary of this charismatic stranger, but also intrigued. As bard and queen spar with wits and words, Bridei awakens not only Dessia’s heart, but an ancient legacy of magic that binds them together in a web of treachery and passionate desire.
At first he couldn’t make out what the queen was doing, with her sword drawn and her shield at the ready. Then he decided she must be training herself in weaponry. She parried and lunged, as if engaging an invisible opponent. Her movements were rapid and precise and she wielded the heavy weapon with remarkable strength. Who would have guessed a woman could appear so formidable? And yet, for all her ferocity, she remained the essence of grace and femininity, the lines of her body as elegant as the curving patterns on a brooch fashioned by a master craftsman.
She seemed to be driving her opponent back. Her enemy appeared to surrender. She held out her sword as if the tip touched her unseen opponent’s throat, forcing them to beg for mercy. Bridei was filled with satisfaction at the sight of her evident triumph. He clapped his hands in approval. “Well done, lady.”
At the sound of his voice, Queen Dessia whirled around. Her green eyes met his, brilliant with shock. Then her expression grew hard. “What are you doing here? How dare you…” Her voice trailed off and she glanced around in obvious dismay.
“I saw you leave the rath and followed.”
“But the forest…” She shook her head in confusion. Clearly, she hadn’t expected the forces guarding the woods to allow him to pass. Encouraged, he drew nearer. The men’s clothing she wore emphasized her femininity, accentuating the narrowness of her waist, the delicacy of her wrists and hands, the slenderness of her neck. She was garbed as a warrior, but all he could see was her womanliness, her vulnerability.
As he drew nearer, she raised her sword in a threatening gesture and sprang into a fighting stance. “You’ll come no closer.”
“I’m not your servant to command.”
She let out a hiss of rage. “Come no closer.”
He moved slowly, deliberately, nearer. Her expression grew furious, then desperate. He paused a few paces away and held her gaze. The strain was beginning to wear on her. He moved into action, sweeping past her right side before she could bring the sword around. She tried to turn but he was already behind her. He grabbed her around the waist and pinned her arms against her body.
She writhed and twisted, struggling to get away. But she was untrained in this sort of close combat and not as strong as he was. When she paused for breath, he grabbed her right wrist and twisted until she dropped the sword.
She let out a scream of outrage and flailed and fought some more. But trapped as she was, her body tight against his, she was unable to strike a blow. Bridei allowed himself to enjoy the intimacy of their position. Her firm buttocks pressed against his groin. The soft swell of her breasts pressed into his forearm. A violent wave of lust surged through him and he thought she must surely feel his erection hard against her bottom.
But mixed with his arousal was a touch of pity. How defeated and helpless she must feel at being trapped in his arms. She was breathing heavily, her chest rising and falling in rapid rhythm. Clearly, she was furious with herself for letting this happen. She hadn’t truly believed he would lay hands on her. Otherwise, she would have fought much harder.
That was his advantage, and he had pressed it. Even now, he didn’t think she wished to be away from him. While her mind told her to fight, her body was perfectly willing to surrender. He had the knowledge and the skill to tip the balance so she would yield. But he also knew that even subtle coercion was risky. If he took advantage of her vulnerability, this haughty queen might end up hating him. He might ease his lust, but it would be at the cost of the ultimate prize.
Knowing this, he allowed himself one last moment to savor the feel of her against him. To inhale her scent, so tantalizing and provocative. Then he released her and stepped back. “Never underestimate your opponent,” he said. “You thought because I was unarmed, you could easily best me. But in very close combat, weapons aren’t as important as cunning and speed.”
She didn’t move, but remained facing away from him. Bridei wondered if she would retrieve her sword and attack him. If she were really angry, she could certainly do some damage. At last she turned around. Her green gaze met his, flaring with anger and despair. “Teach me,” she said. “Teach me how to do what you did.”
Other books in the Dragon of the Island series:
Bio: I am fascinated by history, as well as Celtic myth and legend. These interests inspire and enrich most of my books, both historical romance and historical fantasy. Raised in the Midwest, I currently live in Wyoming with my husband, four cats and a dog. Besides writing and working (I’m employed in a public library) I enjoy gardening, travel and reading, of course!