20 October 2011

Excerpt Thursday: Bending the Boyne by J.S. Dunn

This week on Excerpt Thursday we're welcoming author J.S. Dunn, who is celebrating the release of Bending the Boyne, set in ancient Ireland. Join us Sunday when J.S. will be here to talk about the novel, answer questions and give away a copy. Here's the blurb:

Eire, 2200 BCE: Warriors bring long bronze knives and strange customs to ancient Ireland, including their Night of the Dead. The young astronomer Boann and the enigmatic Cian need all their wits and courage to save their people and their great Boyne mounds. Banished to far coasts, Cian discovers how to outwit the invaders at their own game.

Tensions on Eire between new and old cultures and between Boann, Elcmar, and her son Aengus, ultimately explode. What emerges from the rubble of battle are the legends of Ireland’s beginnings in a totally new light.

** An Excerpt from Bending The Boyne **

It was then they made the sun stand still
to the end of nine months—strange the tale—
warming the noble ether
in the roof of the perfect firmament.
From: Metrical Dindshenchas

Boann woke with the rising sun, feeling the child lying dormant in her, waiting. The intruders’ feast on this night had little importance to her.
Fools: they thought her Starwatchers’ great passage mounds held gold. .
So far her marriage to Elcmar had not improved relations between the two groups. She had little protection in the camp with Elcmar away. If the warriors chose another champion before he returned, what would become of her?

She located the shaman Bresal, surrounded by an audience. He had commandeered a cooking pit to soak imported cloth in a rare blue, fussing with his male slave over whether it was vivid enough and evenly dyed. The women slaves who normally did the cloth dyeing stood back in disapproval: men should never be allowed near the dyeing process as that would bring bad luck. Also the dye had spoiled that fulacht fiadh, banjaxed it for any cooking or brewing.
Bresal looked up and nudged his slave. “Wonder how she’s keeping, with her man away? A woman on her own!” The shaman leered. “If they are all breeders, we won’t have to bring in many women here a’tall.”
Boann saw at once that the shaman was in rare form. She raised her chin, shoulders back “Good sun to you, Bresal. I’m after having my bath and breaking the fast. I shall be joining my father Oghma, the Dagda, and others as we observe the sun set. With your consent, Cliodhna shall accompany me.”
Bresal swayed over the dripping cloth, as if not sure why tonight’s sunset would be so important. “Should Elcmar’s wife be absent as we begin celebrating the Night of the Dead?” His lips pouted, his face struggled to evaluate all the portents and specifically any negative results for him.
He inclined his sweaty round head. “Are you aware of our feast tonight?” he asked.
“I am not familiar with this Invader custom. Please explain more to me if you would.” She waited for Bresal to go off on a tangent and he promptly did so.
“The Night of the Dead is a major feast, the beginning of the new year for us Invaders. It might have significance for the Quiet Ones as well.” Boann stiffened at his using that term for her people but he babbled on, heedless.
Bresal described the presence of the dead walking among the living. Huge fires would be lit so that the spirits could see and thus not disturb the living. He detailed how he selected the animals to be slain and how he would publicly examine their entrails in order to predict the coming crops and success at various endeavors. Bresal ended with a flourish.
“Your presence is highly necessary for all this as the ard ri’s wife, and notably so in Elcmar’s absence.” He looked at her extended midsection and up to catch her eye. “We can make you a new tunic but not in this blue fabric, I’m afraid. That color is reserved to shamans, and to Elcmar. That is, if Elcmar were here with us. Alive, to be sure. For this feast of the dead.” He hicupped and swayed again.
“I quite understand. Thank you, Bresal. Whatever color would suit me.”

Boann grabbed her small bundles and fled with Cliodhna. The two women slipped like water between the camp huts and passed unnoticed by a sentry dulled by cold and the prior evening’s drinking. They scurried over the plank bridge across the bank and ditch and into blue autumn light.
Once underway through the forest, Boann spoke openly. “Night Of The Dead! Already most of the slaves are frightened out of their wits from talk of spirits walking among them, great bonfires or not. These slaves have enough to fear from the living.”     
She could only imagine the mayhem that would occur upon poor animals. She had seen enough of the murky approach taken by Bresal and his followers.
For Invaders this night marked the beginning of the new year. They counted time in darkness, that is, from nightfall to nightfall. The shaman Bresal hinted to her that he could halt the sun. He dared to say that Invader ships brought the great dust cloud that ruined the past growing season. He seemed to have little idea of either the sun’s or the moon’s movements.
Free of the camp’s environs, her boldness grew. A few more steps, and she decided not to return to Elcmar’s camp until after this child was born.
She must survive to winter solstice, one more moon. She crossed her arms, defending the life in her swelling body.