Genre: Historical Romance
Publisher: Soul Mate Publishing
Date of Publication: February 11, 2015
Number of pages: 288
Word Count: 91,000
Cover Artist: Leah Suttle
In twelfth century Scotland, it took a half-Gael with a Viking name to restore the clans to their rightful lands. Once an exile, Somerled the Mighty now dominates the west. He’s making alliances, expanding his territory, and proposing marriage to the Manx princess.
It’s a bad time to fall for Breagha, a torc-wearing slave with a supernatural sense of smell.
Somerled resists the intense attraction to a woman who offers no political gain, and he won’t have a mistress making demands on him while he’s negotiating a marriage his people need. Besides, Breagha belongs to a rival king, one whose fresh alliance Somerled can’t afford to lose.
It’s when Breagha vanishes that Somerled realizes just how much he needs her. He abandons his marriage plans to search for her, unprepared for the evil lurking in the shadowy recesses of Ireland—a lustful demon who will stop at nothing to keep Breagha for himself.
Book Trailer: https://youtu.be/dBuB3WC3FGU
As Godred’s oarsmen shoved off from the jetty, Somerled wondered if there was any man less suitable to deliver a marriage proposal. Godred of Dublin was coarse, marginally Christian—indeed, marginally sane—and easily riled. Nevertheless, King Olaf liked him, and for that reason alone, Somerled had selected him as his envoy.
“No side trips,” Somerled shouted before Godred was too far away to hear. “Ye have three places to go and that’s it: the Isle of Man, your clan, and back here.” Godred was prone to unscheduled detours.
Unless bad weather or the scent of easy plunder pulled Godred and his thirty oarsmen off course, Somerled would have Olaf’s answer in a few days. If Olaf agreed to the marriage, Somerled would add a wife to the items decorating his new castle at Finlaggan and eventually, the Isle of Man to his expanding area of influence.
The nobles would respect him then. Half-breed or not.
Behind him, a door squealed on one of the two guardhouses standing sentinel over the Sound of Islay. The small building spat out Hakon, his chief guard, another man of Dublin birth and temperament. Hakon strode the length of the jetty to join him. “I have every confidence the Norns will weave Godred a successful journey, my lord king,” he said, his words puffing white clouds above his tawny sheepskin cape.
“If your goddesses have woven anything, it’s an unfortunate headwind,” Somerled said. “Godred is forced to tack.” He closed his cloak and secured it at his throat with a brooch he once plucked from a Viking who no longer needed it. “The wind promises hail. My proposal will be delayed.”
“Aye, likely,” Hakon said, his hair and beard whipping into copper clouds, “but it will hasten Olaf’s reply. Do not despair, my lord. Ragnhilde will marry ye soon enough.”
Despair? Somerled stifled a laugh. Did Hakon think he had feelings for a lassie he had never met? He was about to tease his guard about being a romantic when Hakon stiffened.
“Another ship,” Hakon said, looking past Somerled’s shoulder.
Somerled spun around to inspect the northwestern waters of the channel separating Jura and Islay—the jewel of the Hebrides and the island that served as the seat of his burgeoning kingdom. “Where?” he asked, squinting.
Hakon thrust a finger toward the fog bank blanketing the horizon. “There, at the promontory, in that pale blue strip of water. See it?”
At first, Somerled saw nothing but swooping terns and ranks of swells. Then, an unadorned sail appeared. It crested on a wave, dipped low, and vanished.
“Should I sound the horn?” Hakon asked.
Somerled raked his fingers through the coarse, wheaten mess slapping at his eyes and held it at his nape while he considered his response. Behind them, the signal tower on Ben Vicar was smoke-free. Across the sound, the towers on the frosty Paps of Jura were likewise unlit, although clouds partially obscured their peaks. The Paps had a commanding view. If a signal fire blazed anywhere, the men stationed there would have seen it and lit their own.
“My lord king, should I sound the horn?” Hakon impatiently palmed the battle horn dangling at his broad chest.
Men began to gather on the jetty.
“Let us wait. It is only one ship, and it looks to be a trader. The signal fires would blaze by now if it were someone worthy of our concern.” Somerled glanced back at the mud and thatch cottages shouldering against one another. At their doors, the bows of half his impressive fleet rested on the shoreline, a sandy slip extending well into the distance. The rest of his ships sheltered at the far side of Islay, in Loch Indaal. A signal fire would deploy them quickly and, perhaps, needlessly.
“Alert the village. Have Cormac ready Dragon’s Claw,” he said, “but send only the nyvaigs for now.” The nyvaigs were smaller, but no less deadly. They would be out and back quickly.
Hakon sprinted through the gathering crowd and past the guardhouses. He leapt over a pile of rocks with surprising agility for a man of his years and size. In no time, specialized warriors and oarsmen were boarding the boats. A pony thundered inland, its rider instructed to warn, not panic, the people of Finlaggan.
Though Somerled carried his mighty sword, he had dressed for warmth, not battle. His mail shirt, aketon, and helmet hung in his bedchamber, two miles away in Finlaggan. He singled out a boy in the crowd. “Lad, find me a helmet and a shield, and be quick about it.”
The boy shot like an arrow toward the cottages.
Somerled held his breath as he watched the nyvaigs head out. At the first flash of steel, he would blow the battle horn. His men would light the towers and he would board Dragon’s Claw. The foreigner would be sorry he entered the Sound of Islay.
The ship’s features were barely discernible, but he could see that its high prow lacked a figurehead. He was trying to identify the banner fluttering on its masthead when the ship’s sail dropped and scattered gulls like chaff in the wind. His heart hammered against his chest as he waited for the foreign vessel to sprout oars; it didn’t. It stalled—a sign its crew had dropped anchor.
Dragon’s Claw bobbed next to him at the jetty, her top rail lined with colorful shields and her benches holding sixty-four of his savage warriors. Cormac gripped the tiller, but he would move aside when Somerled barked the order to do so. He would serve as his own shipmaster in the face of an enemy.
Low and curvy with a dragon’s head exhaling oaken flames from her prow, Dragon’s Claw was his favorite vessel, not because she was new or particularly seaworthy, but because he had wrenched her from the last Viking to leave his father’s lands.
The memory of that battle warmed him and occupied his thoughts while the nyvaigs swarmed around the foreigner. Then, they swung about, furled their sails, and rowed for home like many-legged insects skittering on the water’s surface.
When the boats reached the beach, Hakon jumped from his nyvaig and jogged through ankle-deep water, apparently too impatient to wait for his men to haul the vessel’s keel onto the sand. “Well, my lord king,” he said, “it seems to be the day for marriage proposals. It is an envoy from Moray, who comes at the behest of Malcolm. He asks to speak with ye regarding Bethoc.”
“Malcolm MacHeth . . . the Malcolm MacHeth . . . wants my sister?”
He had met Malcolm MacHeth only once, at King David’s court, on a night spoiled by ill-bred lassies who had mocked his foreign garb and speech. Malcolm, a bastard nephew of the Scots king, had observed his humiliation and pretended not to notice.
Yet here was Malcolm of Moray, a claimant to the Scottish throne and a known rebel, seeking Bethoc’s hand in marriage. Tainted bloodline or not, Somerled was apparently worthy of notice now.
Character Name: Somerled of Argyll
Born in 12th century Scotland to a man of noble Gaelic birth and a woman of Norse descent, Somerled expected to replace his father as clan chief. Unfortunately, Viking marauders scattered the clans and stripped him of his birthright. With most of the clan dead or hauled away as slaves to the eastern markets, Somerled and his father hid in a cave until they could safely make their way to Ireland. There, relatives took them in, and Somerled resumed the education befitting his noble status. Despite his comfortable living arrangements, he grew increasingly bitter in his exile, vowing to reclaim his family’s lands.
By gathering the tattered remains of the clans, Somerled waged war upon the Vikings and reclaimed Argyll and the Isles. The clans returned, happy to pay Somerled tribute in return for his continued protection. The kingdom thrived and expanded, and by the mid-1100s, Somerled was a man worthy of notice. He sister married a pretender to the Scottish throne, and Somerled sought a marriage to the Manx princess, one that would cement his position of power in the region.
In 1164, when the Scots king declared Somerled a rebel and demanded forfeiture of all lands, Somerled responded by sailing 164 galleys up the River Clyde in an all-or-nothing attack on the Scottish crown. Some say he died in the first wave of battle. Others say he was assassinated the night before. He left behind many descendants, and is the world’s second most common ancestor, bested only by Genghis Khan.
This lad looks like me about the time I fled my native lands. He needs longer hair, though, secured by a leather thong at his nape. Also, his nose is perfect. Mine has been broken many times.
Describe yourself what is your worst and best quality?
My determination. I witnessed my father’s failure to recover our lands. When my time came, I made alliances and succeeded where he could not. Our people sleep with full bellies now, safe in their beds, and if I have anything to say about it, they always will.
Nobody knows this, but I have very low self-esteem. I am a leader of Gaelic men, a descendant of the great Conn of a Hundred Battles, and yet, I am tainted by my mother’s Norse blood. She even gave me a Norse name! I suppose she thought it would serve me better in world dominated by Norsemen. Perhaps she was right.
It would probably surprise people to know that I am not very good with women. My first experience did not go well. I’d been invited to King David’s court, and a baron’s daughter caught my eye. She lured me into a dark room with passionate promises, only to publicly humiliate me in front of her friends.
What is the one thing you wish other people knew about you?
That I can recall the day the Vikings invaded our village with such clarity that I can still smell the leaves on the forest floor where my mother fell, her head split open by an axe.
What is your biggest secret something no one knows about?
I am in love with a lassie named Breagha. I’m doing my best to resist the attraction to her. She’s naught but a slave, and my people are relying on me to marry well. I would take her as my mistress, but she belongs to a rival king, one whose fresh alliance I can’t afford to lose.
What are you most afraid of?
What do you want more than anything?
To become so powerful that naught can threaten the clans again.
What is your relationship status?
I just proposed marriage to the Manx princess, and I am awaiting her father’s reply. Unfortunately, I met Breagha (the slave) in the meantime, and now my head is as spongey as a rotting turnip.
How would you describe your sense of fashion?
I’m determined to restore Gaelic dignity to the remnants of ancient Dalriada. I wear a tunic of the finest linen. My plaid includes the purple stripe reserved for the clan chief, and I have fur-lined mantles. My aketon is pristine, as is my chainmail and helmet. I carry a sword and shield at times, but not for fashion. Dead men rarely notice the ornateness of the sword that killed them.
How much of a rebel are you?
Under the noses of the Scots, Manx, and Norse kings, I arranged my sister’s marriage to a known pretender of the Scottish throne. My am now allied with Fergus of Galloway, and I’ve just proposed marriage to the Manx princess, which will add the Isle of Man to my expanding area of influence. So you tell me: Am I a rebel? The Scottish king seems to think so, since he declared me “in wicked rebellion” for refusing to forfeit my lands.
What do you considered to be your greatest achievement?
Removing the Vikings from Argyll and reclaiming what was mine by right and might.
What is your idea of happiness?
A full belly and a warm fire.
What is your current state of mind?
Agitated. Try as I might, I cannot stop thinking about Breagha, the slave girl.
What is your most treasured possession?
My bìrlinn, Sea Eagle. Smaller than a longship, she has a modern marvel that I invented: a moveable stern rudder. This allows the vessel to turn much faster than the larger ships. As a result, I have the advantage in sea battles.
What is your most marked characteristic?
My sister would probably tell you the vein in my forehead that bulges when I’m agitated.
What is it that you, most dislike?
Which living person do you, most despise?
I’m not overly fond of my cousin, Fergus of Galloway. When we needed him, he turned his back on us. His genteel manners irritate me, and his hands are far too small for his body. If I didn’t need him, I’d probably kill him.
What is your greatest regret?
Walking into that dark chamber at court, where ill-bred lassies were waiting to mock my speech and finger my foreign garments.
What is the quality you most like in a man?
What is the quality you most like in a woman?
Who is your favorite hero in fiction?
In my world, the only written word is in the illustrated Gospels we keep in the abbeys. We have fictional tales, but they are delivered orally by the chief bard. I love hearing those old sagas. They raise the ancient noblemen of my line to godlike status.
Which living person do you most admire?
That’s a tough one. I admire my chief guard, Hakon, for his loyalty and brawn. I admire Aud, our old judge, for knowing the law front to back.
If you could change one thing about yourself what would it be?
I would drain the Norse blood from my veins.
What is your motto?
My motto is one that will exist long after I am gone: Per Mare Per Terras. It means “by sea, by land.”
Something magical happened in the musty basement of Julie Doherty’s local courthouse. She went there intending to research her ancestry, not lose herself in a wealth of stories, but the ghosts of yesteryear drew her into the past and would not let her go. The trail left by her ancestors in those yellowing documents led her from rural Pennsylvania to the Celtic countries, where her love of all things Irish/Scottish blossomed into outright passion.
She became particularly interested in Somerled, self-styled "King of Argyll" and progenitor of the Lords of the Isles. In 1164, he led a fleet of 164 galleys up the River Clyde in an all-or-nothing attempt to overthrow the Scottish crown. What would lead a man of his advanced years to do such a thing?
Of course, history records he did so because the king demanded forfeiture of his lands. But the writer in Julie wondered ...what if he did it for the love of a woman?
Those early ponderings led to SCENT OF THE SOUL, Julie’s first novel, coming soon from Soul Mate Publishing.
Readers will notice a common theme throughout Julie’s books: star-crossed lovers. This is something she knows a bit about, since during one of her trips to Ireland, she fell in love with an Irishman. The ensuing immigration battle took four long years to win. With only fleeting visits, Skype chats, and emails to sustain her love, Julie poured her heartache into her writing, where it nourished the emotional depth of her characters.
Julie is a member of Pennwriters, Romance Writers of America, Central PA Romance Writers, The Longship Company, Perry County Council of the Arts, and Clan Donald USA. When not writing, she enjoys antiquing, shooting longbow, traveling, and cooking over an open fire at her cabin. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, who sounds a lot like her characters.