Thursday, October 25, 2012

Grappling History - by Vijaya Schartz

When it comes to the early Middle Ages, history is heavily mitigated with myths and legends. Since most official records are long lost, whatever oldest manuscripts remain became official history.
Furthermore, most modern archeologists now believe many legends had their origins in historical facts, and they are searching for evidence of King Arthur and other mythical figures. Since the discovery of the legendary city of Troy, we now realize that even the most extraordinary feats may have their basis in historical facts.
The idea for this series took flight a long time ago, during one of my frequent trips to France. I have to say I am French born and raised and I still have family there. My mother lives in Vouvant, a small village south of Bretagne, where the local legend says that Melusine the Fae built the tower in one night to save the town from the invaders… of course upon close inspection, the tower in question was first built with a square foundation, then destroyed and rebuilt as a round tower, then rebuilt again with a different type of stones, each time with a slightly different style of architecture. Nevertheless, the legend remains.

Do I believe the tower was built in one night through magic? Maybe not. But as far as my novels are concerned, I'm sticking to the mythology and legends: the original square tower of Vouvant was first built in one night by Melusine the Fae. Case closed. Whoever says otherwise will have to provide proof to the contrary. Good luck with that!

Then I realized that Melusine the Fae reappeared in various parts of Europe, centuries apart, with the same curse and a recurring theme. Thus was born in my mind the thread for the Curse of the Lost Isle series.

From history shrouded in myths, emerges a family of immortal Celtic Ladies, who roam the medieval world in search of salvation from a curse. For centuries, imbued with hereditary gifts, they hide their deadly secret... but if the Church ever suspects what they really are, they will be hunted, tortured, and burned at the stake.

This five-star gritty Medieval romantic series includes three eBook novels so far, and a special kindle edition comprising the entire first three novels. Book 4, LADY OF LUXEMBOURG, will be released later this year.



806 AD - Alba (Ancient Scotland) - As the Vikings raid the coast of Alba, Pressine of Bretagne sets out to seduce King Elinas of Dumfries, chosen by the Goddess to unite the tribes against the foreign invader. Elinas, still mourning his departed queen, has no intention to remarry. Head-strong and independent, Pressine does not expect to fall for the very attractive, wise and noble ruler... Furthermore, her Pagan nature clashes with the religious fanaticism of the king’s Christian heir, who suspects her unholy ancestry and will stop at nothing to get rid of her.


810 AD - Alba (Ancient Scotland) - Queen at last, Pressine brings victory to her beloved Elinas and prosperity to their growing kingdom. But she has to contend with the intrigues of Charlemagne's bishops, spurred by her Christian stepson. While Elinas, on the battlefield, remains unaware of his son’s machinations, Pressine fends off repeated assaults against her life. She also fears the curse that could bring her downfall. For the love of Elinas, she will tempt fate and become with child. But when her indomitable passion challenges the wrath of the Goddess Herself... can she win that battle?

Luxembourg - 963 AD - To offset the curse that makes her a serpent from the waist down one day each month, Melusine, exiled Princess of Strathclyde, must seduce and wed a mortal knight, the shrewd and ambitious Sigefroi of Ardennes.
Sigefroi, son of the Duke of Lorraine, suspects Melusine is not what she appears, but her beauty, her rich dowry, and her sharp political skills serve his ambitions. He never expected her to soften his stone-cold warrior heart.
So close to the Imperial court, dangers and intrigue threaten Melusine. War looms on the horizon, a Mermaid was sighted around Luxembourg, and Sigefroi’s bishop brother questions her ancestry. If anyone ever suspects Melusine’s true nature, she will burn at the stake...


“Is everything to your liking so far?”

Jarred by the deep male voice, Melusine snapped awake. Sigefroi stood in front of her, one soft boot nonchalantly propped on the edge of the wooden tub. The white of his tunic matched his teeth as he stared at her with a wolfish grin.

Melusine glanced around in panic for something to cover her nudity but her clothes lay too far away. She pulled up her legs in the bath water and laced her arms around her knees. “How dare you intrude? Can’t you see I’m taking a bath?”

Sigefroi’s bold gaze swept over her exposed body. “It’s not as if it were the first time. You seem to like bathing in hot tubs as well as in cold rivers.”

Shocked at his effrontery, Melusine released one arm to point toward the door. “Get out of my chamber immediately!”

“Your chamber?” His grin widened. “This is the only private chamber in the villa, and it happens to be mine.”

“Yours?” Melusine flushed in confusion. She knew the villa was small but hadn’t really thought about all the details.

“I’ll share it with you, unless you want to sleep on the hall floor with the servants.” The scowl on his brow returned. “And as the lord of this place, I don’t take orders from my guests... or my wenches.”

Wench? Her solitary life hadn’t prepared Melusine for such vulgarity. According to what she understood of men, however, she must not give herself too fast but rather let Sigefroi grow hungry for her body as long as possible. “I am no wench and demand to be treated with respect!”

He chuckled and effected a mock bow. “You certainly have mine, my lady.”

Melusine managed a forced smile. “If you give me your word to behave honorably, I could sleep on a pallet behind a screen at the far side of your bedchamber.”

He rolled his eyes. “Truly?”

Melusine hoped her inaccessible proximity would work in her favor. “There is enough space for the two of us.”

“Nay.” The candles flickered in his amber eyes. “You don’t understand, my lady.” A slow smile spread on his sensual lips. “I intend to take you to my bed tonight. After all, we are to be wed.”

“So soon?” Panic choked her voice. Impaired by Sigefroi’s close proximity, Melusine couldn’t think. He wanted to consummate their union tonight? She quickly regained her composure. “My lord, it’s not proper. We hardly know each other and are not yet betrothed.”

He pulled up the sleeves of his tunic. “A detail easily remedied, my lady. Do you mind if I wash my hands before dinner?”

Before she could react, he dipped his hands in her bath, caressed her knee, brushed the skin of her thigh. Delicious heat coursed through her entire body. He seemed to enjoy her confusion as he swept the length of her folded arms with the back of one finger.

Lifting her chin with the crook of one finger, he bent and softly kissed her lips.

Melusine melted into the bath water, waves of heat swelled and washed over her. His smooth, soft lips teased hers. Her mouth relaxed and opened under his. She let him gently probe her mouth then claim it as his own. Dear Goddess, she was lost.

How could she manipulate this man when she yielded under his touch? She had seen shameless wenches offer themselves to strangers when it served their purpose, or even withhold their favors at will, but Melusine could never do that. She could not refuse this man. She was exposed, vulnerable, and in great danger.

Vijaya Schartz
Swords, Romance with a Kick

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Where the Heck is Luxembourg - by Vijaya Schartz

Everyone knows the principal countries of western Europe. Over the centuries they wore many names. Now they are Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands. But one of the very famous countries to emerge from the tenth century was a small piece of land now known as Luxembourg. But where the heck is it?

Its geographic borders varied greatly over the centuries. The rulers of Luxembourg also owned kingdoms in central Europe. The sons and daughters of Luxembourg went on to become emperors, empresses, queens, kings, and princesses of Europe and beyond. Today, it’s a small triangle of fertile lands adjacent to Belgium, France, and Germany.

Luxembourg first castle - tenth century

Until my Hero, Sigefroi of Ardennes, Son of the House of Lorraine, purchased in 963 a small Roman fort at the top of a rocky needle, the name didn’t even exist. In the four hundred years after that, Luxembourg became one of the most influential countries in Europe. First the domain of a Count, then a Duke, it is known today as the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg and is steeped in old aristocratic traditions.

So you understand that it was a labor of love to gather all the facts to make the story of Sigefroi, the very first Count of Luxembourg, and his legendary consort, Melusine the Fae, as accurate and exciting as possible. It’s a story about forbidden love, intolerance, and immortal Pagans struggling to survive despite the new order of Christendom. It reflects the spirit of early medieval Europe, just out of the barbarian and Viking invasions, building the first fortified castles and organizing a feudal society.

Sigefroi's tower remains standing today

But my stories are about human emotion, always. It’s a story about love, human weaknesses, faith, and betrayal. It’s a story of hope for a society coming out of the dark ages. It’s the mystery of old legends, immortals living among us, affecting the course of history.

The Curse of the Lost Isle's first two novels are set in ancient Scotland in the ninth century. Book Three Seducing Sigefroi, and Book Four, Lady of Luxembourg (coming soon), are set in Luxembourg in the second half of the tenth century. The Special edition includes the first three novels in the series for a very attractive price.

Find these novels in Amazon kindle HERE
Soon available in other formats wherever eBooks are sold.

Hope you enjoy the novels.

Vijaya Schartz
Swords, Castles, Romance with a Kick

Saturday, October 6, 2012

More Light on the Dark Ages: the Staffordshire Hoard

After much eager anticipation I finally got to see the Staffordshire Hoard Exhibition this week.  Better still I didn’t have far to go.  Although the exhibition will travel to different parts of the country its permanent home will be in the Midlands where it was found.  Currently it’s on display at the Staffordshire Potteries Museum in Stoke.  For a writer with a keen interest in the Dark Ages it was too good an opportunity to miss.

Dark Age Warrior
In fact the story of the find might have come from a fantasy novel.  On the 5th July 2009 Terry Herbert went out with a metal detector on to farmland near Lichfield in Staffordshire.  He had, of course, obtained written permission from the landowner beforehand.   There Terry unearthed several gold objects.  Over the next five days he unearthed even more: 244 bags in all.  That’s about 11 kilos of gold. He reported his discovery to the Finds Liaison Officer for Staffordshire and the West Midlands.  What followed created huge excitement across the country, especially among archaeologists and Dark Age historians.
Millifiori stud
The hoard dates from between 650-700AD and it contains approximately 3000 artefacts.  At present 250 of these are on display.  The find is unusual in that almost all the objects in it are military in nature: sword pommels, seax handles, buckles, shield bosses, harness mountings and helmet fragments.  There is also a magnificent gold cross and a gold belt bearing a Latin inscription.  What stands out is the beauty and quality of the craftsmanship involved in making these things.  Their original owner or owners were people of high status: kings, princes or noblemen.  These items were designed to display rank and wealth and only the richest could have afforded them.  In today’s values they’re worth about £2 ½ million.  In many ways they are reminiscent of the artefacts found at Sutton Hoo, about which I wrote in a previous blog.

Sword pommel
The gold is exquisitely crafted and inlaid with garnets in geometric patterns.  Each component cell is lined with gold foil so that light is reflected back through the stone.  Sometimes the garnet inlay is contrasted with pieces of Roman tile, cunningly cut down and re-used in an early example of recycling. Neither the metal nor the gems in the hoard originated in England.  The gold came from Byzantium, the garnets from India.  Once again they point to an extensive and sophisticated trading network stretching across Europe and the Middle East to the Far East.

Belt with inscription
It is thought that the hoard may have been battle loot.  Staffordshire was once part of the ancient and powerful kingdom of Mercia which, back then, was undergoing great political upheaval.  Armed conflicts were frequent.  We don’t know who amassed and buried the hoard or why, but it seems likely it was done at a time of crisis.  Nevertheless, whoever it was never came back for it.  In consequence it lay undiscovered for 1300 years.

The sheer size of the find makes it unlikely that it will all be shown together, although I imagine we will eventually see an exhibition on a larger scale than the present one.  Nevertheless, this one is pretty amazing and I wouldn’t have missed it.  The experience reinforces my opinion that, although the Dark Ages saw plenty of conflict, it was not peopled by ignorant and primitive barbarians.  I also think that, before too long, similar discoveries will be made which will add to our understanding of the period.