The second half of my double feature on award-winning author, Kim Headlee, presents her story Morning’s Journey, a further title in her Arthurian series. Here’s what it’s about:
In a violent age when enemies besiege Brydein and alliances shift as swiftly as the wind, stand two remarkable leaders: the Caledonian warrior-queen Gyanhumara and her consort, Arthur the Pendragon. Their fiery love is tempered only by their conviction to forge unity between their disparate peoples. Arthur and Gyan must create an impenetrable front to protect Brydein and Caledonia from land-lusting Saxons and the marauding Angli raiders who may be massing forces in the east, near Arthur’s sister and those he has sworn to protect.
But their biggest threat is an enemy within: Urien, Arthur’s rival and the man Gyan was treaty-bound to marry until she broke that promise for Arthur’s love. When Urien becomes chieftain of his clan, his increase in wealth and power is matched only by the magnitude of his hatred of Arthur and Gyan—and his threat to their infant son.
Morning’s Journey, sequel to the critically acclaimed Dawnflight, propels the reader from the heights of triumph to the depths of despair, through the struggles of some of the most fascinating characters in all of Arthurian literature. Those struggles are exacerbated by the characters’ own flawed choices. Gyan and Arthur must learn that while extending forgiveness to others may be difficult, forgiveness of self is the most excruciating—yet ultimately the most healing—step of the entire journey.
THE CLASH OF arms resounds in the torchlit corridor. Blood oozes where leather has yielded to the bite of steel, yet both sweating, panting warriors refuse to relent.
Her heart thundering, Gyan grips her sword’s hilt, desperate to help the man she loves. Caledonach law forbids it.
Urien makes a low lunge. As Arthur tries to whirl clear, the blade tears a gash in his shield-side thigh. The injured leg collapses, and Arthur drops to one knee. Crowing triumphantly, Urien raises his sword for the deathblow.
Devil take the law!
Gyan springs to block the stroke. Its force jars her arms and twists the hilt in her grasp. She barely holds on through the searing pain.
Urien slips past her guard to slice at her brooch. The gold dragon clatters to the floor. Her cloak slithers to her ankles, fouling her stance. As she tries to kick free, Urien grabs her braid, jerks up her head, and kisses her, hard. Shock loosens her grip. Her sword falls. She thrashes and writhes, but he holds her fast, smirking lewdly.
“You are mine, Pictish whore.”
Urien’s breath reeks of ale and evil promises. She spits in his face. He slaps her. She reels backward, her cheek burning. He grabs her forearms and yanks her close.
“Artyr, help me!”
Her spirits plummet. Weaponless, she can do nothing—wait. A glint catches her eye.
When Urien kisses her again, she surrenders. He grunts his pleasure, redoubling the force of the kiss. Slowly, she works her hands over his chest until her left hand touches cold bronze on his shoulder. She snatches the brooch and rips it free, hoping to stab him with the pin.
Her elation vanishes with her balance as her tangled cloak thwarts her plans. Face contorted with rage, Urien lunges and catches her wrist. She grits her teeth as his fingers dig in to make her drop the brooch. Pain shoots up her arm. She pushes away. Together, they fall—
Gyan gasped and sat bolt upright, pulse hammering. Sweat plastered her hair to her head, which felt like the ball in an all-night game of buill-coise. Bed linens ensnared her legs.
Fingers grazed her shoulder. She recoiled and cocked a fist. Her consort ducked behind his hand. “Easy, Gyan!” She relaxed, and he wrapped his arm about her. “What’s wrong?”
She pressed the heels of her hands to her eyes. “A dream,” she replied, hoping that for once he’d be satisfied with a vague answer.
She sighed. “It was the fight—and yet not the fight.” Gently, she traced the thin red line at the base of his neck where she’d scratched him with Caleberyllus to seal his Oath of Fealty to her and to her clan. But dreams cared naught for oaths. “This time, Urien won.”
Arthur grimaced. “That’s no dream.” He hugged her, and she burrowed into his embrace. “I’d call it a nightmare.”
“Ha.” She bent forward to disengage the linens from her feet. The unyielding fabric ignited her ire. She pounded the straw-stuffed mattress, furious at Urien and even more furious at herself for allowing him to creep into her wedding chamber, if only in spirit. “Why must that cù-puc keep coming between us?” She gazed at the table where Braonshaffir, named for the egg-size sapphire that crowned its hilt, lay sheathed inside its etched bronze scabbard beside Caleberyllus. Indulging in the fantasy of her new sword shearing through Urien’s neck, she bared her teeth in a fierce grin. “Just let him cross me openly, and by the One God, I’ll settle this matter!”
Arthur’s warm sigh ruffled her hair. Together they righted the linens, but when she would have risen, he clasped her hands and regarded her earnestly. “I can’t afford to lose either of you.”
She looked at those hands, young and yet already scarred and callused by years of war: hands that cradled the future of Breatein. “I know.” Briefly, she squeezed his hands, hoping to convey her desire to help him forge unity among his people, the Breatanaich, as well as with Caledonaich, her countrymen.
One legion soldier in five called the northwestern Breatanach territory of Dailriata home, and one in three of those men hailed from Urien’s own Clan Móran. In a duel between Gyan and Urien, Arthur’s Dailriatanach alliance would die regardless of the victor.
If politics ever failed to constrain the Urien of the waking world, however, she couldn’t guarantee that diplomacy would govern her response.
She averted her gaze again to the table where their arms and adornments lay. Their dragon cloak-pins sparked a memory. Something else had been odd about that dream, but its details had receded like the morning tide. She couldn’t decide whether to be troubled or relieved.
Closing her eyes, she inhaled deeply, trying to purge Urien map Dumarec from her mind. Moist pressure against her lips announced her consort’s plans. She welcomed his kiss and deepened it. He ran his fingers through her unbraided hair, following the tresses down her neck and over her breasts. Her nipples firmed under his touch. She arched back, and he kissed his way down to one breast, then the other, drawing the nipples forth even farther and awakening the exquisite ache in her banasròn.
The swelling shaft of sunlight heralded a reminder of their duties.
“The cavalry games will be starting soon, mo laochan.” No other man had earned the Caledonaiche endearment from her, and none ever would. Her “little champion” bore her down onto the pillows, and his lips interrupted any other comment she might have made. As they explored the curve of her throat, she whispered, “We must make an appearance.”
“We will, Gyan.” His fingertips teased her banasròn, discovering its damp readiness. “Eventually.”
She stilled his hand. He looked at her, puzzled.
Being àrd-banoigin obligated her to ensure her clan’s future by bearing heirs, but was she ready to abandon the warrior’s path and devote her life to a bairn? She gave a mental shrug. A swift calculation assured her that her courses would return soon, leaving the question to be faced another day. Smiling, she began caressing one of the reasons he’d earned “laochan” as an endearment.
He cupped her face and kissed her, urgency for both of them soaring on the wings of desire. His thigh rubbed hers with slow, firm strokes. Gyanhumara nic Hymar, Chieftainess of Clan Argyll of Caledon, yielded to her consort’s unspoken command. She opened to him, and he plunged her into their sacred realm of mind-blanking bliss.
Whenever Arthur map Uther, Pendragon of Breatein, issued an order, on the battlefield or off, only a fool disobeyed.
For more about Kim:
Kim is a Seattle native and a direct descendent of 20th-century Russian nobility. Her grandmother was a childhood friend of the doomed Grand Duchess Anastasia, and the romantic yet tragic story of how Lydia escaped Communist Russia with the aid of her American husband will most certainly one day fuel one of Kim’s novels. Another novel in the queue will involve her husband’s ancestor, the 7th-century proto-Viking king of the Swedish colony in Russia.
For the time being, however, Kim has plenty of work to do in creating her projected 8-book Arthurian series, The Dragon’s Dove Chronicles, and other novels under her new imprint, Pendragon Cove Press. She also writes romantic historical fiction under the pseudonym Kimberly Iverson.
Q: Among those that you’ve written, which is your favorite book and why?
A: King Arthur’s Sister in Washington’s Court (ebook edition forthcoming in November 2014; fully illustrated print edition November 2015), hands down. In 2007, when my (now ex) literary agent sent a blanket message to his client list stating that he had met a publisher who was actively seeking sequels to 19th-century authors’ works, I got the green light to develop a sequel to A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, providing that I updated my story for the 21st century. Which I did, in spades, and dove right in. After about 50 pages, however, the thought hit me: who did I think I was, trying to emulate Mark Twain, for heaven’s sake? That single doubt stopped me…for three years. Not just that project, either, but all of my fiction projects. If “writer’s block” has a dictionary entry, there’s where you’ll find my picture. Finally, in early 2010, I exercised (literally—treadmill, Wii Fit, etc.) my way out of my depression, strapped on a pair, decided that with my background and talent, I might be the only one alive who could pull this off, and finished the first draft. It became the single most important project for me to reclaim my writing mojo, because if I could write this, I could write anything.
When working on her Arthurian series (Dawnflight, Morning’s Journey, etc.), the Scottish Gaelic-English dictionary is Kim’s go-to reference for developing character names, endearments, epithets, etc.
Keep up with Kim:
For more of Morning’s Journey:
Further English-language ebook editions Smashwords;
Half.com for ordering personally autographed print copies from Kim Headlee.
For Morning’s Journey social media links:
For The Colour of Vengeance, a short story excerpted from Morning’s Journey: