Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Another Snippet from Ten Years a Bard

"King Arthur's Raid on Hell", as I said in my previous post, was written for an SCA competition. This piece, however, was written for my own satisfaction. It retells a story from the Fourth Branch of the Mabinogion from a different point of view. As before, this is only the beginning of a much longer poem.

Pryderi’s Pigs

From purple twilight full of mist and rain
into the torchlight at my gates they came,
twelve men in sodden cloaks, mud-splashed and cold,
and to my Porter said, as I was told,
that they were bards from Gwynedd in the north.
He did not ask their names, or state, or worth –
all peaceful men were welcome in my halls.
He lodged them well, brought water, wine and all,
and sent a boy to bring them to the feast.
They took their seats, and when the noise had ceased
I asked their chief if one of his young men,
to entertain us, might some story spin,
or sing a song, perchance, to make time fly.
He smiled and rose, and looked me in the eye,
and said the custom of their company was
the first night they arrived at some new house
the Chief Bard was the one who should perform,
and so he would.  In mellow voice and warm
he started then a story to unfold.
Tale followed tale until the night grew old,
and laughter, wonder, fear and even joy
he conjured up.  I never heard a boy
or man could any better story spin,
and when at last he came unto the end
I bade him join me at my table high.
He gladly sat, and heaved a weary sigh.
With mead I filled his cup, and merrily
we did converse, and pleasure ’twas to me.
His beard was black; to me he seemed full young –
a green-eyed lad, born with a silver tongue.
“Chieftain,” he said at last, “I’ll tell my task –
I’ve journeyed here, a boon of you to ask.
I’ve heard you own strange beasts: ‘pigs’ they are named –
not like wild boar, but creatures small and tamed.
I ask their gift.”  I sighed and shook my head.
“Alas, my friend, though I myself were glad
to give them you, I cannot – not my own
are they to give.  They came from dark Annwn,
whose lord was years ago my father’s friend,
and them I may not give or sell or lend
’til twice they’ve bred their number in this land.”
The stranger smiled.  “O lord, leave my demand
unanswered, ‘til tomorrow morn we meet,
and then I’ll show you how an answer sweet
to find, for when you see what I shall bring,
you may exchange them for some better thing.”
I laughed – it seemed a joke – no more was said.
We drank our mead, and off we went to bed.

Saturday, June 25, 2022

Snippet from Ten Years a Bard...

Here is the beginning of my long poem "King Arthur's Raid on Hell". It's based, by the way, on material from Medieval Welsh poetry and stories, and was written for a competition at the SCA's 2000 AD Estrella War - which I won.

King Arthur’s Raid on Hell

The King was sitting in his winter hall
and for some song or story he did call
to cheer the evening and make waiting sweet
until such time the company sat at meat.

Of all his bards the eldest then stood up
and said, “My Lord, by Jesus’ Sacred Cup,
there is a story that in Wales men tell
of how King Arthur led a raid on Hell

to free a prisoner and great treasure bring
back to his court.” — The King commanded, “Sing!”

“In Winter’s darkness, e’en as now we are,
my tale begins.  One night there shone a star –
a burning dragon in its form and flight –
whose awful radiance reddened all the night.

The Porter came, the watchmen from the walls,
and all who saw it, into Arthur’s halls
to bring the news, and cried, ‘My lord, come see
this fearful sight, and tell us if it be

the Day of Judgment, for afraid we are.’
Then all within came out to see the star
which burned above them.  Arthur gazed full long
upon it, then spoke to his courtly throng –

‘Who reads this riddle, let him prove his worth!’ —
And Taliesin Chief of Bards stood forth.
‘My King, last night I dreamed a curious dream.
I stood beside a fortress, as it seemed,

and heard within a voice lamenting long
his heavy chains and most enduring wrong.
Then I awoke.  My lord, the only one
can read this riddle is Madrona’s son.

Mabon they called him – he’d no time to grow
into a longer name, as all men know,
for on the third night following his birth
he vanished –  none knows where on middle-earth

he is, or if he lives, or if he’s dead.
But he must read your riddle.’ — Arthur said,
‘Then who will find him?’ — Taliesin smiled
and said, ‘My Lord, I know of tame and wild

all that a man may know twixt earth and sky,
but there is one knows more of lore than I.’
Arthur then bade him, ‘Go, and bring me word
where Mabon lies, and when your tale I’ve heard

 I’ll forth and free him, I and all my men!’
And so the Bard his journey did begin.

Monday, June 20, 2022

Language studies...

 After playing with Duolingo for about a month in May (involving Russian, Latin, Modern Greek, and Welsh) I have moved on the the Cambridge University Classical Greek course. I bought the books and CDs a couple of years ago, but got diverted into other pursuits. The course involves 3 books - Reading, Grammar, and Independent study material, supplemented by listening to the CDs. I'm enjoying it. I'm also involved with Cymdeithas Madog's monthly Welsh chats and am looking forward to their virtual summer course next month. I haven't got much writing done lately, however - sigh.

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

And coming soon...


Publication date: Sept. 1st: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/1145123.

It includes 3 Mac Criomthann tales from The Fallen Stones plus two new ones:

  • How Mac Criomthann First Came to Ériu
  • Mac Criomthann and Airecal
  • Mac Criomthann and the Need for Light
  • Mac Criomthann and the Words that Kill
  • Mac Criomthann and the Men who Disappeared
Check it out now!


Wednesday, June 1, 2022

New poetry collection

 My new collection is now available in ebook (mobi & epub) and pdf formats at Smashwords.com: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/1144836. You set the price :)

This is a combination of my two earliest collections - King Arthur's Raid on Hell and Pryderi's Pigs.

I'm currently working on the fifth Storyteller book (The Old Gods Endure) and a new collection of Mac Criomthann short stories (More Mac Criomthann Tales). The latter should  probably be on Smashwords on September 1st.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Something old is new

 I've combined my first two poetry collections (King Arthur's Raid on Hell and Pryderi's Pigs) into one ebook, which will be available on Smashwords on June 1st.  



Thursday, March 3, 2022

March Update #1

 Slowly making progress on the next book. Spent some time today playing with cover art, which makes it seem more real to me. This is a photo I took twelve years ago in the Cotswolds in England of a burial mound called "Hetty Peglers' Tump".

Sunday, January 2, 2022

2022 is here

 A new year has arrived, and after the disruption of the midwinter holiday season, it's time to start writing and blogging again (to say nothing of making up--or down--for all the feasting). I have 3 new year's resolutions this year, one of which is to finish the next Storyteller book before the end of the year (maybe by Samhain?)--so time to get with it! 

A happy new year to all!

Monday, December 6, 2021

Spin Offs

The four books (so far) of my Storyteller series relate the continuing adventures of one sixth-century first-person Welsh narrator, Gwernin Kyuarwyd. The series has however generated two stand-alone spin-offs, both in third person narration. 

The first of these, The Druid's Son, is set five hundred years before the Storyteller books, but derives from an interior story in the third of them, The Ash Spear. Recited in a king's court by Gwernin's teacher, the old bard Talhaearn, it tells the story of the destruction of the Druid sanctuaries on Ynys Mon (Anglesey) by the invading Roman army, and the fate of the last British Archdruid. The Druid's Son was my original title for the fourth Storyteller book, in which Gwernin goes to Ireland in search of the fate of that last Archdruid's son, but as I proceeded, I realized that I needed to go back and create his story before I painted myself into a corner, so to speak, by adding bits haphazardly. In the end, that book stole my title and a year or more of my writing time, so when I finally got back to Gwernin, I needed a new title -- The Fallen Stones.

My second spin-off also came from Gwernin's Irish adventures, and concerns another Druid. As I explained in the afterword to The King's Druid, Fráechán mac Tenusán, who appears as a major character in The Fallen Stones, was actually an historical person, albeit one minimally attested. He is mentioned in the Chronicles of Ireland as having made the “druidical fence” for Díarmait mac Cerbaill at the battle of Cul Dreimne, which Díarmait lost due to “the prayers of Colum Cille” and the opposing spell of Tuatán mac Dimmán. I reasoned that if he was acting as Díarmait’s Druid or magician then, he was probably also involved in Díarmait’s pagan “last feast of Tara”, which was held the previous year. I wondered what his life and training could have been like, to make him what he was when Gwernin met him. The King's Druid is the result.

I'm currently working on Gwernin's fifth book, provisionally titled The Old Gods Endure. Will there be more spin-offs in the future? I didn't plan the last two, but it seems possible. I go where the awen takes me!

Sunday, November 28, 2021


A book is finished, and I am about to publish it, either as a paperback on Lulu, or as an ebook on Smashwords. What is one of the last steps? The blurb - a brief description of the story, which will hopefully entice people to want to read it. 

In the case of the paperback, some form of the blurb is usually on the back cover of the book, as well as sometimes on the website where it appears. In the case of The Fallen Stones, it was a quote from the beginning of the story with an added descriptive sentence:

"Taliesin sang it, so it must be true. In all the years I knew him, I never heard him lie—though there are ways and ways of dealing with the truth, and a bard must know them all. But he was using none of these on the night when he sang Talhaearn Tad Awen’s death song in Prince Cyndrwyn’s high-roofed wooden hall, with the cold wolf-wind of a bitter winter snuffling round the doors and windows, and frightening the flickering torch-flames which cast his long black shadow, now here, now there, across the smoke-stained walls: across the faces of all of us who listened, and across our lives as well." So begins this fourth book of Gwernin Storyteller's adventures, which will take him and Taliesin to Ireland in a time of conflict between Kings, Christian Saints, and Druids. 

The shorter blurb, which is the one on Amazon and other sites, is more succinct: 

This fourth book in the Storyteller series takes Taliesin and Gwernin to Ireland to attend a wedding as representatives of their princes. In the process, they find themselves in a web of politics and magic, in a time of conflict between Kings, Christian saints, and Druids. Join them as they travel around Ireland in this turbulent period. 

 In the case of The King's Druid, however, things were a little more complicated. The back-cover blurb was again a quotation, although not an exact one:

"That is Tara of the Kings where the High King Muirchertach mac Ercae has his ráth,” said Coirpre, pointing at a hill on the southern skyline.

“I would like to see that someday,” said Fráechán.

"I think you will,” said Coirpre. “In the old days, before Priest Patrick came to Ériu, our kings had Druids among their court advisors. Perhaps one day some king will do so again.”

“That would be a thing to achieve,” said Fráechán slowly, his dark eyes shining. “To be a king’s Druid.”

“It would be indeed,” said Coirpre, and smiled, hearing the imbas in Fráechán’s words.

This works on the book cover, but I think not as well for a descriptive blurb. The long blurb I produced for Smashwords is this:

In the mid-sixth century, one hundred years after St. Patrick brought Christianity to Ireland, most of the Irish Kings were Christian – at least in name. But Díarmait mac Cerbaill, in his attempt to consolidate his position as High King, had recourse to an older magic. In about 560 A.D., he held the last “Feast of Tara” – the old Pagan sacred wedding of the King with the Goddess of Sovereignty. And at the subsequent battle of Cul Dreimne, the Chronicle of Ireland reports that Fráechán mac Tenusán cast the "druidical fence" over Díarmait’s army. In the event, Díarmait lost that battle due to "the prayers of Colum Cille" (Saint Columba).

But who was Fráechán mac Tenusán, and how did he come to be practicing Druid magic for Díarmait? “The King’s Druid” is his story.

And the shorter one, edited down to the allowable characters:

The Chronicle of Ireland reports that in the mid-sixth century Fráechán mac Tenusán cast the "druidical fence" over the army of High King Díarmait mac Cerbaill at the battle of Cul Dreimne, and that Díarmait lost that battle due to "the prayers of Colum Cille" (Saint Columba). But how could there have been a practicing Druid in the King of Tara's court in the Age of the Saints?

 It's a juggling act.