In an ancient Wales that never was, a changeling woman struggles to break a cruel curse and free the men she loves.




Title: A Heart in Sun and Shadow
Author :  Annie Bellet
Genre: Fantasy
Format: ebook
Smashwords: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/45418

Tell us the story behind the story. What inspired you to write this novel?

I have a degree in Medieval Studies and specialized in Anglo-saxon and Medieval Welsh. I wanted to put that learning to good use and I love Welsh fairytales.  They are often dark and rather creepy.  I wanted to invent my own fairytale but use the same style and setting as the sort of stories you’ll find in  classic texts like the Mabinogion.

Tell us about the book cover. How does it represent your book? How did you choose the artwork?

I wanted to keep a fantasy and somewhat romance feel (since the relationships are a big part of this story and it is a love story of a sort in the end).  I chose to use a woman who looked somewhat like I imagined my main character and went with the mysterious forest because it sets the tone I want for the novel.  I hope the cover will appeal to readers of fantasy, fairytales, and romances.

Synopsis:

In an ancient Wales that never was...

Twin brothers Emyr and Idrys are cursed to live as hounds; Emyr by night, and Idrys by day. The twins believe they will be trapped this way forever until they meet the fierce and curious Áine, a changeling woman born with fey blood and gifts struggling to fit into a suspicious human world.

Áine unravels the fate of Emyr and his twin as all three of them fall in love. To free her lovers from the curse, she embarks on a journey to the realm of the fey where she confronts her own unique gifts and heritage. Ultimately, she must decide where her heart truly lies and what she’s willing to risk to get what she desires most.

Here’s the first two chapters:

Prologue

 

 “Something isn’t right,” the young slave said. She looked up from rubbing ointment onto the swollen belly of her mistress who squatted beside the huge wooden bed, her body shuddering with each contraction, each heaving moan echoing through the stone building. The dim interior of the hall was choked with the metallic taste of blood and the hot stench of sweat.
“Och, child, I know. The baby’s coming backwards,” the midwife said, shushing the girl. There was little she could do at this point but hope the baby inside still lived. The feet had come down into the canal. It would endanger both child and mother to push the babe back in and turn it. The amount of blood worried the experienced midwife; however, she knew all birthings were hard.
“Garb, I feel another,” the gasping mother said. Her cheeks sucked in as the pain of the contraction hit her and she gripped the shoulder of her servant with bloodless fingers. The contraction brought more blood spilling down her legs to seep into the once clean rushes on the rough-hewn floorboards.
“Good, Cellach, good. Breathe child.” Garb smiled with a confidence she didn’t feel. A breach birth on the first babe was not a good omen. She whispered an old prayer to Corchen, the serpent goddess of birth and making, as she took shallow breaths.
The men milled about outside, each trying not to glance at the heavy tapestry curtain covering the wide entrance to the hall. The day had dawned bright and clear, a rare thing this early in spring. A good omen, thought Fingan, nervous still about his beautiful young wife and their first child. They’d opened all the chests, shot a green arrow into the air, and untied the sacred knots, tossing the special red rope into a fire. The womb would open, the baby would come.
A horrible cry sounded from behind the bright curtain. The men turned toward the door, waiting. Then the scream of a very cold and angry baby greeted them. Fingan unclenched his fists and yelled with triumph. His first child was born alive.
Inside the far end of the hall, in a sleeping area partitioned by finely carved wooden screens, the midwife caught up the child and neatly tied a red cord around the umbilical cord, cutting both with a sharp knife. She bathed the child in an earthen basin filled with warm water. A girl, with a strong set of lungs at that. Garb smiled.
“Had a hard birth, didn’t you child? You’ll be strong for it.” The baby stopped screaming at the sound of her voice and opened her large eyes for the first time. The midwife sucked in a shocked breath and looked the baby over more closely. Her eyes were not newborn blue like most, but instead a bright green, the color of new leaves. The child was pale once the blood was washed away, save for a bright and thick thatch of hair. The midwife had thought the color of the hair was marred by blood, but no matter how much warm water she rinsed the crown with, the hair stayed that deep dark red.
“My baby, is my baby all right?” Cellach had moved to the bed with the help of her slave. She looked as an injured animal might look, distended and bloody, sprawled on the rich greens and warm yellows of the woolen bed coverings. With a sickened, terrified expression, the slave girl tugged a blanket over Cellach.
“She’s beautiful,” the midwife lied, hiding the child behind her body as she swathed her tightly in the linen strips laid by for the purpose. She couldn’t lie and say the baby was dead; the whole world must have heard its lusty cries, but neither could she bring herself to tell the young woman the truth. It was too much to tell her that her first child was a changeling.
“Garb,” the slave said with the same urgency as before.
With the child safely swaddled and no longer crying, the midwife turned toward the bed. Blood soaked through the woolen coverlet over the mother’s legs. Garb looked down to the birthing rushes and saw that the afterbirth was already delivered. That was too much blood.
Fingan fretted when no one came out to get him. He brushed off the congratulatory arms of his men and stood near the doorway. His child was alive. Why hadn’t the midwife announced it? Minutes passed as he dug a small divot in the packed turf outside the threshold with one boot.
After what seemed far too long, there was another scream. This time it was one of anguish and grief. Moving too quickly for any of his men to stop him, Fingan burst into the birth chamber. He stopped cold at the sight of all the blood and the miasma of cold sweat and death that hovered as an almost tangible cloud around his marriage bed. His eyes rose from the soaked rushes and stained boards to the bed where his lovely wife lay still in the way that only dead things can be still. His own wordless cry joined the slave girl’s.
The midwife considered slipping out with the child, but the man turned hollow eyes to her before she’d managed and asked, “My child? I heard the cry. I want to see my child.”
“It’s a girl,” the midwife said and wished she could spare him this second pain. Knowing she could hide it no longer, she held the swaddled changeling up.
* * *

“Kill it.” Fingan stared at the unnatural babe in the midwife’s hands. “It killed my wife. It deserves death.”
“That would be unwise, Ríbenn,” the midwife said. She knew the shock of grief clouded his judgment. “This child belongs to the fey folk; they won’t take kindly if we slay her.”
“Take it away then, do what you think best. I don’t want to see it. I’ll tell them the baby died with her mother.” He turned away, anger and pain marking every tense line in his face, in his body.
The midwife tucked the child into her cloak and slipped out. People looked at her with questioning eyes as she passed, but she paid them no mind. The path to the sea lay beyond the village, down a rocky bluff. She ignored the beach where someone might bear witness and instead chose a small stand of windbent trees near the shore. She laid the infant, still swaddled, at the base of one.
“There, child. Your people will come for you. Sleep now.” With a final prayer, the midwife left.
The sunlit day passed and the child stared up into the branches, watching the shifting patterns of light. She slept now and again, lulled by the rhythmic waves striking the rocks nearby.
Night fell and with it came a storm. The tide rose, bringing angry waves with the power of the wind behind them. The sea touched the grove, a wave lifting the child away from her resting place and pulling her back into the cold and raging water. The shock scared the baby and she screamed in fear and discomfort. She sank below a wave, green eyes wide.
A warm dark body lifted her to the surface again. Then a second body joined the first, keeping the child aloft and out of the waves. Heat radiated through her from the soft skin of the seals. Huge dark eyes and curious whiskers poked above the waves as they carried their burden further out to sea.
The storm died, as quickly as one wave follows the next. The sea turned to dark glass beneath the sudden stars. The seals swiftly bore the child across the smooth surface, swimming through the night.
The dawn found them near a beachhead. The seals let the tide and waves carry them into the shore. As soon as the water got to standing height, one seal disappeared beneath the surface and a woman, pale of skin and dark of hair and eye, emerged to take the child from the back of her kin. The selkie tucked the baby into the loose sealskin slung over her arm and walked from the water to the sunlit beach to sit on the rocks. The child was hungry, its mouth working in futile hope against the damp air.
The selkie woman lifted the babe to her breast and let her suck. Thick milk poured into the babe’s mouth and she drank deep. After a time, as the sun rose further, the seals watching in the shallows barked a warning. The selkie woman looked up from the beautiful child and saw a figure making its way down the beach. She slipped the baby from her skin and laid her gently on a stone near the water’s edge before returning to the sea.
Tesn waved to the woman down the beach, but as she drew near where she thought she’d seen her, there were only rock and waves. No, that wasn’t right; there was something on one of the stones. The wisewoman picked her way carefully to the wide, flat rock. A baby lay there, large eyes green as new leaves, with a thick shock of hair as red as fresh blood.
“Well, you’re a baby of the fey, and no mistake.” Tesn smiled down at the child. “Child of the Isle by those eyes, though you bear the red and white of our own fair folk.” She shook her head over the mystery, which only deepened as she noticed the seals milling about just offshore. The child’s mouth and chin were wet with milk.
“And fed by a selkie.” She’d looked after children before in her profession as wisewoman. Fair folk or not, this was a baby, and it needed someone to care for it. She gently removed some of the salt-stiff swaddling. Her, she’d need someone to care for her. Tesn pulled her cloak from her pack and wrapped the child in the clean cloth.
“I’ll see this child is raised with love, as befits a gift of the fair ones,” she said aloud, both to the selkies and to any other Unseen that might be lurking near. “Now girl, let’s go find you some milk, hmm?” The baby gurgled and fell immediately to sleep in the old woman’s strong arms.


One

“This hoof is near the size of my hand.” Idrys laid the hand in question alongside the depression in the rocky soil.
Emyr pushed his crouching brother playfully. “Come on, slow one, our prize went up that hill.”
Idrys flashed a wide smile at his twin. The boys were in good spirits. It was high summer, the sun shining hot in the lazy afternoon but with a cooling breeze coming down from the rocky hills. Standing, which put him exactly of a height with his brother, Idrys ruffled Emyr’s unbraided black curls and took off up the slope. They’d been chasing the same large buck since the early dawn hours, their quarry always ahead, just out of sight.
They were nearly two days travel from home, nearing the boundary of the Cantref of Llynwg. If the stag crossed into Arfon, they’d have to turn back. The twins knew they’d gone further than they should have, but the large hart beckoned. The forests of Llynwg opened up here, turning to scragling brush amid tall grass and stones. The trail led them to a steeper hillside covered in loose soil and larger stones.
The stag stood at the base of the hill, his proud head raised in alarm. Nostrils tasted the air as the twins laid down their short spears and carefully knocked arrows to their light bows. Moving as silently as possible they crept to where the tall summer hay turned slowly to shorter growth.
Idrys looked at his brother. No words were necessary. Emyr nodded and moved to the left. The stag waited, still as an etching against the backdrop of boulder and sky. His rack boasted six points, a little velvet still clinging in ragged strips, and his fur a rich caramel. He was in his prime and a true prize.
In perfect unison, the twins broke their cover. They stood up smoothly and each let fly an arrow. The stag twisted away in a desperate leap, foiling both shots from a killing wound. Emyr’s arrow struck the shoulder instead of the neck. Idrys’s arrow fared no better, striking the flank. The injured deer leapt to the nearest boulder, springing up the hill and away from his assailants.
Emyr turned back toward where they’d left the spears with a shake of his head. Idrys, however, ignored the spears and started climbing up the steep slope after the hart. The stag had left a trail of bright blood that would be simple to follow.
“Idrys!” Emyr called, realizing his brother was moving swiftly away. The stag had almost reached the crown of the hill.
“He’s hurt, he’s slow. Come on brother.” Idrys paused atop a boulder and waved to his twin.
“We’ll find some other way up. That hill looks unstable.” Emyr slung his bow over his shoulder and walked with both spears to stand at the edge of the rocky slope.
“Coward,” Idrys said, laughing, “You’d leave our prize for the wolves for fear of a few rocks?”
Emyr’s dark brow knit in anger and he opened his mouth to make a rude reply. His eyes shifted past Idrys as a low rumble caught his attention. The stag had loosened stones with its mad rush up the hillside and now a large boulder was free and gathering momentum. The whole hill began to tremble.
“Idrys!” he cried in warning. His twin felt the tremors of the slide and looked behind.
“Emyr, run,” Idrys yelled as he leapt down from his boulder and skidded over the rocks down the hillside. He lost his balance as the soft soil beneath him gave way and tumbled down at the head of a wave of grit and stone. Idrys kept rolling, hearing his bow snap beneath him with a wince. Strong hands caught him and pulled him to his feet. There was no time for thanks. The twins ran across the scrub meadow and did not pause until they’d crested another hill.
Turning to look behind, Idrys whistled softly. He grabbed his brother’s arm and pulled him to a stop. The meadow below them was nearly gone, covered now in a blanket of dust and stones. Somewhere beneath the haze and rock was their deer. Idrys sighed.
“Gwydyon’s balls, Idrys,” Emyr said, leaning over to catch his breath in the dusty air. “You can’t seriously be sad over the loss of the stag. You nearly died.”
Idrys, also still breathing hard, grinned at his brother. “But it was a magnificent beast, eh? We almost had him.” He sighed again, more for dramatic effect than real sorrow.
“Sorry father, I didn’t mean to get my brother killed. But what do you know? We were after such a magnificent beast!” Emyr straightened. He wondered if he looked near as terrible as his twin.
Idrys’s tunic was torn on the right shoulder revealing his tanned skin beneath. His trousers had fared a bit better, though only a strip of leather remained hanging forlornly off his belt where once his quiver had been. His bow hung from his shoulder, its limbs snapped just above the riser. Idrys had a small cut on his chin just below his generous and grinning mouth. A deep purple bruise was forming above his right eye along the ridge of his brow.
“Admiring how I’m still prettier than you, brother?” Idrys’s clear brown eyes flashed with amusement as Emyr shrugged.
“You’re explaining the loss of the spears and all when we get home.” Emyr made a face at his brother. Idrys shrugged and started moving toward the dark line of the forest.
The twins hadn’t brought much with them since it had been a spur-of-the-moment decision to go out hunting the morning before. When it looked as though they might have a race over open ground for the stag, they’d tied their light packs up in a spreading oak at the forest’s edge.
Emyr, being the less bruised of the two, nimbly climbed up into the branches and cut free their gear. He climbed down and sat with his brother at the base of the tree.
Idrys grabbed the water skin and drank deep before passing it to his brother. He then began to gingerly prod his bruises and take stock.
Emyr leaned against the tree and said nothing as he watched his brother. The adrenaline had worn off and he was hungry and tired. Idrys cheered him, however, by making exaggerated faces of pain and consternation over his condition.
“Well,” Idrys said after a few minutes of prodding, “nothing’s broken save my bow.” He pulled off his boots and dumped a fair amount of gravel from them with a sigh.
“You’re bloody lucky.” Emyr shook his head and winced as a small cloud of dust and a few tiny stones came free from his hair. I must be a sight as well, though without the bruises. He’s going to complain the whole way home and then play up that cut on his chin as him heroically saving me by the end, I imagine. Emyr grinned despite himself.
“I recall a stream not far. Let’s go wash up and maybe get a fire going. There’s daylight enough to fish since, thankfully, you didn’t manage to lose our hooks in that tumble.” Emyr rose and shouldered his pack.
They found the stream and walked along it until they came to a little heugh. The stream pooled in the overhung glen and the wide roots of the trees would make a good camping place. With the unspoken communication of long habit, Idrys dropped his pack and began to gather deadwood from the forest floor around them as Emyr dug into the loam near a stump for worms.
Night fell and the stars emerged to wink between the branches. The boys had a little fire going and the picked-clean bones of their dinner were neatly piled on a flat stone near the blaze. The boys curled into their cloaks back to back with heads resting on their leather packs.
“Em,” Idrys said softly.
“Eh?” Emyr answered him sleepily.
“Thank you. For pulling me up and all.”
It was as close to an apology as Idrys would come. In the dark Emyr smiled.

Where can readers find out more about you and your work?

My bio:
Annie Bellet is a full-time speculative fiction writer. She holds a BA in English and a BA in Medieval Studies and thus can speak a smattering of useful languages such as Anglo-Saxon and Medieval Welsh.
She has sold fiction to AlienSkin Magazine, Contrary Magazine, and Daily Science Fiction Magazine. She's also collected a healthy stack of honorable mentions and placed as Semi-finalist in the Writers of the Future contest.
Her interests besides writing include rock climbing, reading, horse-back riding, video games, comic books, table-top RPGs, and many other nerdy pursuits.
She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and a very demanding Bengal cat.

Comments

Anonymous said…
Really great article with very interesting information. You might want to follow up to this topic!?! 2011