Researching Culture and Setting: Viking ships, Abbeys, and Enchanting Castles
Like any novel[ist], I take my research seriously! A Hundred Breaths delves into the Norse culture and I was fortunate to tour an actual Viking ship, the Draken Harald Hårfagre, last year. When I heard this ship was coming to a port near us (Mystic, CT, and only an hour drive away), I messaged the captain and booked myself tickets. The researcher in me squealed with delight. The ship did not let me down. I asked questions, got to walk along the deck, and my sons got to “steer” with the steerboard. This ship was built as a fully working replica based on much research of Norse vessels. The crew was handpicked and sailed it cross the Atlantic Ocean. Exploring the vessel gave me a taste of what it must have been like to sail the ocean as a Viking.
Gwyn and Simon’s journey in A Hundred Breaths also takes them to Dryburgh Abbey. I had loved Scotland for years, and in 2008, finally planned a visit there. One stop was to visit the lowland abbeys. I’ll admit that Dryburgh Abbey was an idea from a previous manuscript (ahem, a “practice one”). With a bit of brainstorming, and since I had already done the research and visited the rosy stone abbey, I worked this setting into part of the story. Though much in ruins, a few of the sidewalls remain. Echoes of yesterday blew on the wind (aye, wet wind…did I mention it rained during our entire trip to Scotland?) as we explored this ancient landmark. It was eerie, exquisite, and inspiring.
Aside from the moors and machair of the Western isles, the other key location for the series is Eilean Donan castle. This castle originated in the 13th century, becoming the future seat of Clan MacKenzie, and has been burned, attacked, and rebuilt numerous times. The sun shone on us during this visit, and right before a tour bus unloaded, we snapped some picturesque shots of this highly photographed romantic Scottish castle.
Next on the wish list? To get to Uist, Lewis, and Harris on our next trip to Scotland (we made it to Skye, and it was a soaker), visit some standing stones, and find out if I can also feel the earth’s hum within them…and for the hiker in me, I would enjoy the multi-day trek along Hadrian’s Wall.
Interesting Viking Facts:
Vikings refer to people of Scandinavia (Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Finland, Sweden) from 750-1300 A.D., though their reign had greatly diminished after 1100 A.D.
They put rocks inside the keel of a ship beneath removable planks for stability, and longships were made with a shallow draft and square sails to navigate rivers, coastal waters, and fjords, as well as open sea.
There were three main types of ships: longships (warships that could carry 100 men), cargo ships (called knörr), and small coastal river ships.
How did they navigate? Simple Mother Nature (including birds and the color of the sea), a sunstone, and the night sky. And luck. They were messy navigators, and even messier fighters. Though this unorganized brutality caught many opponents by surprise.
They traveled far: ranging as far as Russia, Africa, and Asia Minor, and as far west as North America (Newfoundland) around 1000 A.D.
Some Norse words present in English: Thursday (Thor’s day), window (vindauga), guest (gestr), anger (angr), husband (húsbóndi) to name a few of hundreds.
Viking women had a freer status compared to many in Europe for this time period, with duties of maintaining the farm and wealth; some could be rune masters, priestesses, merchants, and warriors.
The phrase “going berserk” comes from the elite warriors called Berserkers (Old Norse berserkir, “bear-shirts”) and úlfheðnar (“wolf-shirts”). These crazed warriors were rumored to either have supernatural powers (possessed by animal spirits), or modern theory suggests this trance-like frenzy was induced by drugs, alcohol, or precipitated by mental illness.
Viking men loved blond hair and would use lye to bleach it.
Though information abounds online, my primary resources included a tour of the Draken Harald Hårfagre, and several books including: The Sea Wolves, A History of the Vikings by Lars Brownworth; Norse Myths by Martin J. Dougherty; Vikings: Raiders, Traders, and Masters of the Sea by Rodney Castleden.
A Hundred Breaths by Jean Grant
Healing his heart…with her last breath.
Simon MacCoinneach’s vengeance runs deep. The blade is the only way to end the blood-thirsty Nordmen’s reign upon Scottish soil. His soul might be lost, but the mystical Healer he kidnaps from the isles could be the answer for his ailing mother…and his heart.
Isles-born Gwyn reluctantly agrees to a marriage alliance with this heathen Scot in return for the sanctuary of her younger brother from her abusive Norse father. Her brother’s condition is beyond the scope of her Ancient power, for larger healings steal breaths of life from her own body.
As Simon and Gwyn fight to outwit her madman father and a resentful Norse betrothed, Gwyn softens Simon’s heart with each merciful touch. Gwyn’s Seer sister foresees a bloody battle—and an end to the Nordmen—but Simon will also die. Will Gwyn save Simon on the battlefield even if it means losing her last breath?
Read a tasty tidbit from A Hundred Breaths
She breathed two deep life-giving breaths.
Pull breath from my body.
Heal this man with my own breath.
A thermal life filled her fingertips as she clasped the Healer’s stone in her pocket. For something small, water was not necessary. However, if left unattended, it could and would kill.
The man faltered but didn’t move from her light grasp. Wind rustled her hair as Eir surrounded her. Unlike her mother, she never plaited it for healing. She liked to feel Eir’s fingers upon her and the fiery rush of healing as it flowed through her arms to the injured person, as the wind lifted her hair, announcing its presence.
“What the—?” He drew in a sharp breath.
She mouthed the rest of the chant, invoking the goddess’s power. She moved closer to him, their bodies an intimate—and stirring—distance apart. His nearness captured her breath, and not just from the healing.
“What are you doing?” His words said one thing while his body said another. He didn’t step away. His breathing hitched and then steadied.
“It’s not the devil’s works,” she clipped.
“Then what in the devil are you saying? That’s not Norse.”
She ignored him. He placed a gentle, nearly sedated hand on her free arm in protest, but he did nothing. Her healing had a way of stunning and spellbinding her charges. It was working.
A long moment passed. She opened her eyes and stepped back, releasing her hold. He let go of her other arm and immediately reached to touch the wound. Her stomach twisted as she broke from the enchantment. This was her father’s enemy, a murderer. Finished with her prayer, she stepped away, hit with coldness.
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Meet Jean Grant
Jean’s background is in science and she draws from her interests in history, nature, and her family for inspiration. She writes historical and contemporary romances and women’s fiction. She also writes articles for family-oriented travel magazines. When she’s not writing or chasing children, she enjoys tending to her flower gardens, hiking, and doing just about anything in the outdoors.
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