Julie Doherty is with us today and I’ve asked her some questions about the hero from her new book Scent of the Soul!
We all like to know what kind of hero we’re getting when we pick up a book. Is he a tough alpha male, a sweet boy next door, a tycoon or something else? Let’s get to know him better. What would your hero do in these situations?
It’s eleven o’clock at night, and your hero gets a flat tire on a deserted stretch of road in the pouring rain. How does he handle it?
As a sailing man, he’s used to improvising. Recently, the tiller on Raven’s Eye broke while under full sail. It cracked a few of the ship’s upper strakes, and water started spurting into the hull. Luckily, Somerled was able to heel to port and fix the leak with caulk and shingles. His men still had to bail, but by using an oar as a makeshift steerboard, Somerled took them in through the skerries to the Irish shore.
It’s been a long day, and your hero is starved. Does he pick up a pan, a phone or something else?
Being the King of Argyll has its benefits. He has servants who are grateful for his protection. There’s no want of food in Finlaggan, since the lesser clans pay tribute by sending part of their harvests, among other things.
Your hero is propositioned by sex incarnate, and no one will EVER find out. How does he play it?
If he’s sober, he’ll probably pass unless a union with her yields him more land or a new title. However, with enough uisce beatha—the drink sent by monks as tribute—anything can happen.
What is your hero’s relationship with his family?
Somerled doesn’t have much family left, thanks to Harald the Fairhair’s murderous rampage through Scotland. Although he was only a child, he can still recall his mother’s golden hair, glued by her own blood to the forest floor. Many kinsmen died that day, too, and hundreds of his clanswomen were taken to the eastern markets and sold as slaves. Somerled and his father fled to a cave on Loch Linnhe, where they shivered in exile until they sought shelter among their Irish kin. In time, Somerled reclaimed what was his by “right and might,” but the invasion and exile left him determined to grow so powerful nothing can ever threaten his family again.
Your hero… boxers, briefs or nothing?
Not a thing under that tunic.
Boys and their toys… What does your hero drive?
A sweet, 16-oar galley called a birlinn with a blood-red sail and a dragon’s head on its prow. And here’s the best part—it has something nobody’s ever seen before—a central rudder instead of a steerboard on the side of the vessel. The central rudder means less space and effort required to turn the ship. This gives him an advantage in sea battles.
Every hero has a weakness, what is it for your hero?
His inferiority complex, since he’s a half Gael in a Gaelic world. His mother was of Norse descent, the very race responsible for the destruction of the clans in the first place.
Also, he’s not very trusting of women, since on a fateful night at King David’s court, when he was just learning about the opposite sex, a baron’s daughter lured him into a room so she could humiliate him in front of her friends.
About the story:
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.
An excerpt from the book:
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 thenyvaigs 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 boardDragon’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 Clawwas 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 nyvaigsswarmed 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.
# # #
Somerled wished, as he led Bethoc past the guardhouses and onto the jetty, that Malcolm had not sent boarskins. Stacks and stacks of the musky things . . . and equally pungent men to offload them. The skins had endured a wet journey to Islay. Now as they steamed in heaps on the jetty, their greasy odor proved overpowering.
Somerled was helping his sister up the gangplank to Malcolm’s galley—and wondering if there was a boar left alive in Moray—when Bethoc turned to him and whispered, “Brother, if my betrothed greets me wearing boarskin, or looks anything like his men, I pray I am widowed quickly.” She smiled, but it added no radiance to her eyes.
He patted her hand, which was like ice on his forearm. Bethoc had no cause for concern. Malcolm of Moray was handsome enough. She might even grow to love him, whatever good that would do her.
A lump choked off his airway as Bethoc glided away, her handmaid sobbing on the sea chest beside her. Five of Argyll’s longships followed. Cormac would see to Bethoc’s comfort and return in a few days.
“That’s Bethoc away,” Hakon said, as the beats of the rowing gongs faded.
“And Moray added to our territory,” Somerled replied, swallowing hard. “She has always been a good lassie. Never complained, not even during our exile.”
“Malcolm will treat her well, I think,” Hakon said.
“He’d better,” Somerled replied, “or Cormac will hand him his own guts.”
They watched in silence until Malcolm’s galley disappeared behind Jura’s southwestern bluff. It struck Somerled that the best thing he could do for Bethoc—for all of Argyll and the Isles—was to move forward with his plans. Succumbing to emotion weakened a man. He could not—would not—allow it.
“There will be no shortage of good news to share at the clan gathering,” he said. “By now, Godred should have seen Olaf. It will be good if he returns before the rest of the clans arrive.”
“It will be good if he returns at all,” Hakon said, fingering the Thor’s Hammer amulet that always hung at his throat. “He is already a day late.”
The book trailer is at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dBuB3WC3FGU