Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Bound for the Beast by Kay Berrisford: Researching ‘The Horned One’

Shifters! Man-beasts! They’re all the rage now, but they’ve been pretty damn popular since, oh, about the Stone Age, as I discovered when researching my new novel.

Bound to the Beast is the tale of Herne the Hunter. A Greenwood legend, Herne’s origins can be traced to Norse and Anglo-Saxon myth and further back into the mists of time, to the horned gods of Celtic religion, such as Cernunnos. Even more ancient, antlered headdresses have been found Yorkshire, England, dating from the Mesolithic era, around 10,500 years ago.

The first written record of the name Herne the Hunter is found in Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor, as late as 1597, and his popularity burgeoned after the publication of William Ainsworth’s novel, Windsor Castle, in 1842. Ainsworth’s Herne had his origins in the reign of Henry II, a wronged and vengeful antihero who later haunted the forest and surprised Henry VIII in the guise of a shadowy, horned ghost.

Indeed, the image of Herne is ingrained in English folklore, where he is often portrayed as a god of hunting or a protector of the fair folk. He is sometimes believed to be the leader of the Wild Hunt, an army of the undead (medieval zombies, if you like!) who were believed to sweep across England on the eve of great disasters, such the Norman Conquest or the Black Death. Dark, huh? On a lighter note, Herne must enjoy his drink, because many English pubs bear his name to this day.

In Bound to the Beast I had immense fun recreating Herne as an immortal spirit who shifts to display the antlers of a stag when his passions are stirred. Once the leader of a Celtic tribe, my Herne was gifted his crown of antlers by the Mother Goddess after sacrificing his human life for his people. He been roaming the Greenwood for over fifteen hundred years, till in 1588, he faces his greatest dilemma. The ships of the Spanish Armada are circling English shores, and invasion is threatened once more. Will he lead the Wild Hunt again, letting England fall in his wake? Or will Herne let somebody heal his fifteen-hundred-year-old broken heart, and learn to love instead?

So no wonder I had fun writing my novel. I had over ten thousand years of history and legend to inspire me.

Thank you so much Brenda for letting me blog here today.



Available from Loose Id

England, 1588 When a fairy betrothal ritual goes wrong, village lad Tam is bonded to Herne the Hunter. Warrior, legend, and Greenwood spirit, Herne once led the terrifying Wild Hunt, an army of the undead who rode as harbingers of doom. When his passions are stirred and his blood is up, Herne sports the antlers of a mighty stag.

Herne could be the lover Tam secretly craves, but Herne’s past makes him fear the brooding warrior will enslave or kill him. While Herne admires Tam’s toughness and humor, he has rejected love—as he has sworn off leading the Wild Hunt—and wishes only for solitude. To break their betrothal, they must travel into the Greenwood, a realm of magic and bondage where their desires for each other grow dangerously irresistible, and the Wild Hunt bays for their blood.

As the threat rises, Herne’s mastery and compassion realize Tam’s darkest sexual fantasies. Soon he’s no longer fighting for his freedom, wishing to be bound to this beast forever. But can Herne’s tortured heart be reawakened? And if so, will their love destroy them both, or prove Herne the Hunter’s greatest weapon?

Excerpt:

A roar shattered through the clearing, obliterating Tam’s final words and setting the green fire spurring. A dark figure of a man—no, surely this being was too large to be a man—reared through the flames, picked up Calleagh as if she weighed no more than a kitten, and tossed her from the circle. Then he rounded on Tam.

Moonshine glimmered on the newcomer’s bold features that contorted with fury, his square jaw shadowed with beard. Tam had felt tall amid the fairy company, but this goliath had him edging backward, feeling small.

And naked.

Tam grabbed at his sagging breeches, tightening the laces before they descended about his ankles. The newcomer’s gaze impaled him, making him shudder as if he’d been stripped entirely. The great man’s brow was broad, and from his wild mane surged a pair of enormous antlers split into many twisting branches, each flashing like ivory blades. Tam’s passions raced, his every sinew stiffening where just moments ago he had labored halfheartedly beneath Calleagh’s touch, and terror crippled him.

He knew this beast.

He may never have seen him before in his waking life, but Tam faced a legend among Greenwood spirits, one who could truly make him suffer for his mistake.

“Herne the Hunter?”

Herne narrowed his midnight-blue eyes, fury smoldering, and thrill vied with Tam’s dread.

Herne’s thighs were as solid as the oaks framing the dell, while the laces fastening his sleeveless surcoat drew tight to contain the mass of his shoulders and chest. Tam urged his feet to carry him away, even if the ring of fire scalded him, but too late. Herne grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him so hard his head ached.

“Are you the reason I have been called? Did you trick her into wedding you?”

“I take nobody against their will,” shouted Tam, doing his best to sound brave. He stared awestruck at the man’s antlers. “You…you had no right to interrupt us. You do not understand.”

Herne leaned over him, sniffing his hair like a cat would a rat to determine whether it was fit to eat. “Honey and spice. You reek of vanity, boy. Stealing a fairy maid from her family is the cruelest act of all.”

“I didn’t steal anyone. She wanted me.”

Tam wriggled but couldn’t break free. Herne clamped his wrists, holding them fast. Nausea rolled though Tam. Was this part of a trap laid by Calleagh and her sisters? Before God, he’d heard enough of the wiles of fairy folk, and Herne possessed the strength to rip his limbs off and see his blood drain for the foul spirits of Niogaerst. Or would Herne impale him on those frightful antlers? Maybe that had been Calleagh’s true sport all along.

Desperation cracked his voice. “I’m the one who’s been tricked. Yes, that’s it, tricked! Please. Let me go, sir.”

Herne tilted his head, confusion passing over his hard features. “Do I…know you?”

The relentless emerald flames pressed them closer, Herne’s tightening grip prompting so many fuddling sensations that words failed him. His mind demanded he kick the beast in his balls and make a run for it, but once again his body refused to obey. He stared up at Herne’s smoldering eyes, his skin weather-beaten and browned yet marked only by the finest of lines.

A further revelation struck.

Now I understand the true meaning of beauty.

Herne growled, pulled Tam to him so their bodies pressed flush, and smoothed his thumb along the line of Tam’s cheekbone. Tam flinched as if he’d been branded with an iron, yet the contact sent blood coursing through his veins and rushing straight to his loins.

When Herne’s mouth claimed his, Tam yearned to be dominated, to be consumed in his flames like a helpless moth. He parted his lips, letting Herne devour him, balling his fists into the leather of Herne’s surcoat to urge him on, and relishing the scrape of Herne’s coarse beard against his chin. Herne tasted of herbs and the verdant depths of the forest. Amid the rage of life, Tam sensed also the stillness of rock, the brute strength of ages, and savage, tearing pain.

He kissed back, his tongue slick against Herne’s, letting the passion of their union quash the remnants of his alarm. If this was the means by which Herne punished him, then he would not resist a jot. He did not even care if the man kissing him bore the antlers of a stag or the cleaved hooves of the devil. Not when Herne cupped Tam’s arse with his massive hands, dug in his fingers, and squeezed so hard his flesh sang. Tam’s arousal jutted against Herne’s thigh, and—oh sweet spirits—Herne’s huge cock pressed into Tam’s tight belly, setting him awhirl with desire.

Herne tore his lips away from Tam’s as quickly as he had claimed them. Tam gazed up into his dark blue eyes, reading boundless suffering, insatiable yearning—and a glimmer of reflected gray light, too dull to be moon or enchanted flame. Indeed, both moon and flame had fallen away. The first light of morning crept from the easterly edges of the dell.

Herne relinquished Tam from his embrace. Still trembling in the aftermath of the kiss, Tam stumbled back, but not far. The green ribbon that he’d tied about his wrist now entwined Herne’s too, binding them together, and it stopped him short.

He stared anew at Herne the Hunter, who appeared equally perplexed by the ribbon pulled taut between them. He looked at Herne’s huge, ragged antlers. His awareness of everything that had happened prior to their kiss trickled back, and a sickening realization overthrew his desire. The question escaped his lips before he comprehended its full horror.

“You kissed me and bound me to you in the circle of fire before dawn. Does that not make you and I…betrothed?”

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Kay Berrisford
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