Saturday, October 31, 2015

Ancient Pictish Samhainn celebrated in Ch 4/Sc 1B of RAGING SEA by @KimHeadlee

Pictish stone graphic overlay
(c)2015 by Kim Headlee.
The anguished wail you heard the other day was me finding out that another author—a USA Today bestselling author, no less—had just released a novel titled Raging Sea.

That sent me on a panicked Amazon catalog search, which turned up several other books titled either Raging Sea or Raging Seas. I cannot speak for these other authors, but since I selected my book's title more than 15 years ago (and have the old MS Word docs to prove it :), and since it correlates to the name of the central character, I am going to stick with it.

I may end up directing my cover designer to do something that I have disliked ever since Simon & Schuster did it on the cover of their edition of Dawnflight in 1999: adding a subtitle. My first-edition Dawnflight editor selected "The Legend of Guinevere" in an effort to engender some degree of familiarity with readers, since the heroine's name is not, in fact, Guinevere.

The whole point to naming my heroine Gyanhumara was to help jettison fifteen centuries of bad press attached to Guinevere. The same is true for the hero of Raging Sea, Angusel, who is my version of Lancelot.

Whether I add the subtitle "The Legend of Lancelot" to Raging Sea remains a matter of internal debate.

Meanwhile, since Halloween this year falls on a Saturday, the day I normally post a Raging Sea excerpt, I have chosen to rerun a seasonal-themed excerpt originally posted 5/9/15. It features a Pictish celebration, bound in mythology that I invented by mining terms from Scottish Gaelic. 


Raging Sea Chapter 4, Scene 1-B
©2015 by Kim Headlee
All rights reserved.

The boom of oak hitting stone captured Eileann’s attention. Dread of her future fled. The Dance of the Summer Wraiths had begun! Twoscore Samhraidhean, portrayed by veteran warriors wearing black armor and animal skulls smeared with fresh blood, and wielding blood-dipped cudgels, poured into the hall through the double doors. They leaped and lunged, sidled and spun amidst the audience, whining for Samhainn cakes. Those feasters who obliged their entreaties they left in peace . . . for a while.

When the pleas shifted to screeching demands, the feasters retaliated by throwing the cakes. Much beer-soaked laughter ensued to see apple mush spattered across a gruesome face, or a cake stuck to an antler only to be plucked off and eaten by the “wounded” Samhradh.

The low, loud notes of aurochs horns announced the arrival of Lord Annàm, the Adversary. The accursed brother of the blessed Lord Annaomh was portrayed as a hideous specter wearing an ox head with bloody teeth and eye sockets. The identity of the warrior dancing the part of Lord Annàm was a secret kept only by the High Priest lest evil befall the chosen warrior. For it was the eternal role of the Adversary to incite his Samhraidhean to inflict ever greater cruelty upon mortal kind.

Lord Annàm stalked toward the dais, swinging two bloody cudgels, which he knocked together in time to the music, creating a fearsome clatter. At each beat, the Samhraidhean lunged and jumped and swiped at their victims, growling and howling to raise the dead. With a roar, Lord Annàm leaped toward Eileann, making her squeal. She pelted him with cake after cake, but he kept roaring and surging toward her and her parents, his cudgels’ rhythm beating ever faster, like the rhythm of Eileann’s heart.

“Who shall save us?” became the constant chorus of the oppressed.

“None shall save you from Lord Annàm and his Samhraidhean!” answered the Summer Wraiths, time and again, with malicious glee.

At the height of the verbal frenzy, the High Priest thumped his staff on the slate floor and called, “Behold Lord Annaomh! He hears our cries! He sees our plight! Praise be to the Lord of Light!”

In charged Lord Annaomh, brandishing a flaming spear that glowed golden against his whitewashed armor, face, hands, boots, and helmet. The Army of the Blest, similarly armed and painted, though carrying torches rather than spears, sprinted into the hall behind him. They fanned out to engage the Samhraidhean, drawing the spirits’ attacks upon themselves and prompting heartfelt cheers of, “Praise be to our Chief Savior, Lord Annaomh! Praise be to the Blest!”

One of the Blest was Eileann’s younger sister Rionnag, who had completed her test-of-blood rite not a month past. Grinning fiercely, her new bian-sporan bouncing against her leather battle-kilt, Rionnag bounded toward the dais, swinging her torch and scattering Samhraidhean to scurry, wailing and cringing, toward the shadows.

All of this, Eileann was expecting. When Lord Annaomh raced over to assist Rionnag in sparring with Lord Annàm, Eileann gasped.

Tavyn was portraying the blessed Lord Annaomh!

Eileann’s surprise vanished with her next breath; Tavyn was indeed the logical choice for this coveted honor. His cavalry squad had been instrumental in piercing the Saxon line during the attempted invasion of Maun, and Tavyn’s own javelin had struck first blood, earning him a special legion accolade. Of course such keenness for battle came with a price, but Eileann was relieved to note that Tavyn’s healing leg wound didn’t seem to be troubling him overmuch as he and Rionnag chased off Lord Annàm and the Samhraidhean closest to the dais.

As Lord Annàm followed the last of the Summer Wraiths from the hall to the jeers of the “rescued” feasters, servants marched in with more heather beer and platters of freshly picked apples for rewarding the Blest. By tradition, peeled apples were bestowed upon the saviors.

Tavyn, as was his due as Lord Annaomh, was receiving his Samhainn reward from their parents. Eileann grabbed an apple and her knife, and chatted with a panting but happy Rionnag as the peels pattered onto the table between them.

When she was almost ready to present her offering, she noticed Rionnag’s eyes widen and dart from the apple peels to Eileann and back to the peels. An ancient belief stated that an apple peeled on Samhainn would spell the letter signifying one’s destined spouse. With so many people and so few letters with which to begin a name, Eileann had never placed stock in that method of prophecy . . . until this night.

The peels from Eileann’s apple had fallen into two piles. One pile suggested the triangular outline of a harp. The other spelled the letter A. Eileann touched the peel forming the sound board of the harp-shaped pile. The peel sprung under her fingernail to make a sideways A.

“None of your suitors has a name that starts with that letter,” whispered Rionnag, glancing at their parents. Eileann felt thankful that they were still occupied with Tavyn. Dynann was presenting him with a full, frothy flagon. “Know you another man—”

“Nay. No one.” Her heart thudding like a war drum, Eileann swept the peels to the floor lest anyone else notice.

She sucked in a breath and touched her mother’s arm. “Iomar,” she said.

“What’s that, dear?” Dynann watched Tavyn accept the ritual offering from Rionnach and take the first bite.

Eileann pressed her fingers into Dynann’s arm, over the tattoo of the wave-shaped serpent that symbolized Rionnach’s clan, Uisnathrean. Her mother regarded her with more annoyance than curiosity, and Eileann almost changed her mind. But the clan couldn’t afford for her to. She cleared her throat and swallowed her trepidation.

“At Belteine, I will marry Iomar mac Morra of Clan Rioghail.”


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