Oath of the Brotherhood has had many, many iterations over the years. It was a book I started when I was still working full time in marketing: I’d spend my lunch hours researching and my evening hours writing. So somewhere in the land of unusuable 3.5-inch floppy disks are some renditions that I hope will never ever see the light of day. (Excuse me while I go set fire to them to ensure that fact.)
But while preparing for this launch, I started sorting through my old drafts and came across a version that I actually, surprisingly liked. This prologue didn’t end up in the final cut because, while it was a compelling introduction, it didn’t fit with the book’s pacing and took away some of the impact of the book’s reveals. So I got rid of the prologue completely, started with a variation of chapter one, and that’s the one that’s in the book that’s (hopefully) in your hand. Normally, I don’t share abandoned clips because they either don’t fit the final version of the story, but this one I feel introduces the secondary characters in an intriguing way…
Riordan climbed the long, winding flight of stairs in the ancient keep, his feet moving silently on the stone steps, only the slightest breath of air that guttered the candles to betray his passing. It was late, well past the time the other brothers, save for those on watch, should be in bed. The meeting had been carefully calculated to garner as little attention as possible, but even if it hadn’t been, he could make himself nearly invisible, the presence of others who possessed the same skills notwithstanding. Riordan was considered one of the finest warriors of the Fíréin brotherhood, and it was not simply because of his skill with the sword.
Still, even if the brothers themselves had little interest in the news he carried, there were others who did the bidding of the darker forces of the isle, who would give dearly to know the message he carried. Once, such stealth in the heart of the Fíréin’s power would have been unnecessary: the ancient keep of Carraigmór which overlooked Ard Daimhin was warded by powerful Balian magic, a type that had been long forgotten in Seare, as far removed from their little tricks of mind and shadow as the ocean from a raindrop. Now, its power was weakening, gradually, imperceptibly, insidiously. Shreds of mist appeared in the trees, or on the surface of Loch Ceo, as if merely waiting for an opening, an invitation to enter the walls of Carraigmór itself.
Riordan put away those dark thoughts as he approached the terminus of the corridor, which dead-ended into a closed door. He lifted his hand to knock, even though he knew it was unnecessary. The Ceannaire had undoubtedly known he was coming before his foot touched the first step. Sure enough, when he swung the door open, the single occupant didn’t need to turn from his post by the window to greet him.
“Is it done?”
The voice was pleasant, well-modulated, elegant even, at odds with the leader’s compact, powerfully built stature. His reddish-gold hair was bound in a single long braid as was the Fíréin custom, his face clean-shaven in contrast to the current Seareann fashion. When he turned, Riordan as always found himself struck by the youthfulness of his features, even though he had known Liam since they were much younger men. His eyes, however, held a newfound wisdom and sorrow, as if his mantle of responsibility had grown steadily heavier.
Riordan remembered he had been asked a question and bowed his head slightly. “It is done.”
Liam smiled then, an expression that lit his face and erased any shadow of pensiveness. “I take it was as easy as you expected?”
The formality lifted, Riordan settled himself in a chair and regarded his friend with an eloquent shrug. “He owes me. Had it not been for my foresight—and politicking—it might be Fergus sitting the throne of Tigh instead of Galbraith. I just don’t think he expected me to call in my favor on behalf of his son.”
“I’m sure he didn’t,” said Liam lightly, taking a seat across from Riordan. “Especially since Clan Maonagh has never been a friend of the Mac Nir.”
Riordan studied Liam closely. As always, he sensed the things that the Ceannaire left unsaid, the insights meant only for him. “It’s a long game you play, my friend.”
“We play,” corrected Liam, “and not long now. I was put into this position of leadership for a purpose greater than the Fíréin. I’ve always known that, but I hardly expected to see these times come to pass so quickly. Surely you feel it. The wards around Ard Daimhin weaken daily, even as the gifts grow stronger in Daimhin’s blood. We will see the High King sit the throne of Seare in our lifetime, mark my words.”
A chill rippled over Riordan’s skin, but he was not sure if it was from anticipation, or foreboding, or both After five hundred years of division and strife in Seare, the return of the High King was something to be eagerly anticipated, but from the few prophecies to which he was privy, he knew that the return of Comdiu’s chosen leader would be presaged by darkness and destruction.
“You think my nephew has a role to play in all this?” asked Riordan doubtfully.
“I know he does. To what degree remains to be seen. Comdiu only shows me what I need to know in order to do His work. And I know that the boy’s fosterage is vital to his future.” Liam smiled reassuringly then, and his voice took on a more calming tone. “Don’t look so worried. For all our planning and clandestine meetings, our Lord has matters well in hand. He hardly needs us to do His bidding to achieve His goals. Remember, the outcome is already written, the end of the journey known since the beginning of time.”
“’But the path of the faithful is perilous and fraught with sorrows as well as blessings,’” quoted Riordan.
Liam’s gaze went distant then, an unsettling look that made Riordan think he perceived things in his mind’s eye that were far beyond this small upper floor chamber. But he only said softly, “It is indeed, my friend, it is indeed.”
* * *
Hundreds of miles away, in a highland fortress across the Amantine Sea, a young girl awoke in her chamber, her heart pounding. Somehow, she knew that beyond the safe stone walls of her home, a decision of great importance had been made, one that would change the course of her life. It was a weighty revelation for a girl merely five years old, but she was long accustomed to messages being delivered this way.
“What’s wrong, poppet?” whispered the sleepy nursemaid from her pallet across the room. “Did you have a bad dream again?”
The little girl shook her head and lay back down again. Instinctively, she knew that these were not things one spoke of openly. As she drifted off to sleep once more, two images remained in her mind: a craggy, towering fortress carved from a mountain, and the face of a little blond-haired boy.
What do you think? Does this pique your interest for the book? Does it surprise you to find that books go through so many iterations before publication? Leave me a comment below as your daily entry to win a limited edition hardcover copy of Oath of the Brotherhood.
I often get asked if I visited Ireland for research purposes when I wrote this book. I have visited Ireland, long before I ever conceived of this story idea, but even if I had, it wouldn’t have been much help. The Song of Seare series emulates Ireland in the dark ages (I took inspiration from the third to the seventh century A.D.), and the Ireland in the time of St. Patrick was a much different place than it is now.
For one thing, a great majority of the island was forested. Trees were particularly important to the Celtic religion of Ireland, and druidic rituals were often held in groves of trees. Over time, the forests started to disappear, partly because of the growth of bogs, and partly because as the population grew, woods were needed for building purposes. Still, Irish law (the Brehon laws, which is perhaps the oldest sophisticated legal system in the world) made very specific provisions for how and when wood and shrubs could be cut and set out penalties for those who violated them.
So, while there are wide open emerald-green spaces in Seare as we think of Ireland today, the descriptions of the old forest that surrounds the abandoned fortress of the High King are a much closer depiction of what ancient Ireland would have looked like. In fact, the closest we can probably get to those ancient trees are the old growth forests of Poland and other parts of Eastern Europe.
Typically, when I’m writing a book, it all starts with the characters. Even when writing fantasy, which takes extensive world-building and preparation before the first word goes on the page, I have a conception of the people who will populate my story world. In fact, it’s usually a character that won’t let me go that starts the whole idea in the first place. That character for me was Conor MacNir, a highborn lad whose naturally good and peaceable character was seen as a detriment in his place of birth. When tested, I wondered, would he crumble, or would he find a thread of steel in himself that he didn’t know existed?
Join me for a visual introduction to the characters of Seare as I envisioned them… and don’t forget to enter to win your own limited edition hardcover copy of Oath of the Brotherhood! (International winners will receive an e-book.)
Conor Mac Nir
Conor jerked his head up and stared forward while the king’s gaze roamed over him.
One corner of Galbraith’s mouth twisted in displeasure. “Tell me, have you started your training yet? Sword, bow, spear.”
“No, my lord.” Conor’s voice came out strangled, forced from his constricted throat.
“Then what exactly have you been doing for the last nine years?”
“Studying, my lord.”
“Studying?” Galbraith’s tone changed, a note of curiosity in it.
Conor’s heart lifted slightly. “Aye, my lord. History, mathematics, literature, astronomy, law, languages—”
“I can read and write the common tongue, as well as Ciraean, Levantine, and Norin. My Melandran is passable, and I know a bit of the Odlum runes.”
Galbraith stared at him for a long moment. The hall fell silent but for the crackle of torches and the occasional rustle of a lady’s gown, every eye riveted on the spectacle before them. Then, in one swift movement, Galbraith reached over and ripped the sword from the scabbard in Riocárd’s hands. The ring of metal echoed in the hall as the blade stopped a fraction of an inch before Conor’s eyes.
“The only language our enemies understand is the language of the sword.”
Aine Nic Tamhais
None of the patients taxed Aine’s skills, considering a single touch revealed what ailed their bodies. She made her examinations and assured them she could mix a remedy back at Lisdara. Soon, her wax tablet was full of names and notes, and the crowd dwindled to only a handful of petitioners.
When the last patients had been seen, Mistress Bearrach strode to Aine’s side and took the tablet without asking. She scanned the notations, clucking her tongue. “Too fast. You don’t spend enough time with the patients.”
Aine’s cheeks heated. “Do you think I got the diagnoses wrong?”
Mistress Bearrach’s scowl returned, but her black eyes twinkled. “I have no doubt they are correct. But it won’t do to make it look so easy. People begin to ask questions.”
Aine swallowed hard. “I don’t understand what you mean.”
“Don’t you? When you touch them, you know what’s wrong with them, just as you felt the wards.”
Aine tried to deny it, but her dry mouth wouldn’t form the words.
For the first time, the old healer looked at her kindly. “I know how difficult it is to keep such a thing secret. There shouldn’t be a need. But even here, different can be dangerous.”
Eoghan of the Fíréin Brotherhood
The path emptied into a secluded yard where several brothers, including Master Liam, drilled with unsharpened practice swords. The clash of metal ceased when Eoghan came into view, and voices hummed, undecipherable. Conor peered around the corner and saw Eoghan take up a sword and face two of the older brothers. Master Liam stood aside, watching.
Conor crept closer, aware he was trespassing on a private gathering, and flattened himself against the rocks.
With the sword in his hand, Eoghan transformed, seeming to grow taller and more confident. He assumed a guard stance as he waited for an attack. When it came, he sprang into motion with a speed and fluidity that made Conor’s jaw drop. The boy met each attack effortlessly, ducking in and out of range with amazing ease. Even with his unpracticed eye, Conor could see he was just toying with them, testing his skills. His opponents, on the other hand, were doing no such thing.
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Before I spent a number of years in publishing, I thought the process for getting a book into the hands of readers was straightforward. You wrote the book, signed a contract, the publisher puts it out in one format…and it stays in print forever.
Now, I realize that was perhaps a little naïve. Eight years into my publishing journey, I’ve had multiple books go out of print, move to new publishers, get new covers and new formats and new printings, and find a second life years later.
I’m particularly pleased this was the case when it came to my Celtic fantasy series, The Song of Seare, which was first published in 2014 and 2015. Fantasy has long been my first love when it comes to fiction, and while the genre and I have had our ups and downs (I had to take several years off from reading it because I had just overdosed on it and I stopped writing it completely, a situation I’m in the process of remedying), this series is really one of those stories of my heart. It has everything I love in a book—romance, adventure, hope, tragedy, magic, swordplay, fears, and triumphs. In fact, I think the only thing I didn’t write into this book were shrieking eels, and I probably would have done that too if I thought I could get away with the blatant stealing. (Those of you who read a lot of fantasy will most likely pick up on the not-so-blatant stealing… let’s consider it an homage to the fantasy greats before me. After all, where would any of us fantasy authors be without J. R. R. Tolkein?)
In the next week, I’m excited to open up some of the background of the first volume, Oath of the Brotherhood, both the writing of it and the real-life history that inspired it. Join me each day for a new feature about the world of the Seare and the people within it… and don’t forget to grab your copy if you haven’t already!