When Gwen of the Brigantes treks to the lowlands on an urgent three-fold quest,
the feisty young warrior must put aside her sword
and seek to master a blade of a different sort.
Oratory and rhetoric rule in sixth-century Caer Luel, the site of today's Carlisle.
Hot-headed, blustery Gwen goes armed with naught but a sharp wit
she must temper with reason and hone with restraint.
In Brigand's Blade, a 107,000-word historical fantasy set in northwestern England,
Gwen gains unwelcome attention from some quarters –
a villainous trader from the far-off Empire of the Franks,
an amorous shape-shifter,
a man-hungry kelpie lurking in the currents of the estuary –
but no help from the stuffy Romano-Bryt townsfolk.
They scoff at this untutored Brigand and her rustic ways, and turn her a deaf ear.
Her trading goods stolen from her lodgings,
Gwen herself is falsely accused of another theft.
She manages enough eloquence to defend herself and prove her innocence,
but not enough to gain audience with the king to deliver a fateful message.
The magistrate throws her out of court.
Her quest teeters on the brink of failure.
Her search for a missing companion leads from one disaster to another.
Mired in quicksands on the tidal flats,
snatched by lecherous Franks readying to sail,
attacked by the monstrous kelpie rising at dusk from a roaring tidal surge –
Gwen falls back into Brigand ways.
With quick thinking and bold moves, she wins free of the Franks,
but it takes an unexpected ally to rob the kelpie of its prey.
The besotted shapeshifter, in riverhorse form, wages battle in the roiling waves.
Managing at long last to rein in her own bluster,
Gwen hears the whisper that leads
to the other two goals she so desperately seeks.
One trek to Caer Luel, three tasks to tackle,
two lives and the fate of the whole kingdom at stake --
Gwen of Raven's Crag aims to make quick work of her quest.
She doesn't count on crotchety wisewoman Teg
attaching herself to the journey as guide,
nor on a shape-shifting riverhorse trailing her into the lowlands,
nor on the snobbery of townsfolk
still proud of their Roman heritage and
scornful of rustic Brigands down from the mountains.
Glib and feisty, Gwen talks herself into trouble,
while Teg tries to steer the seventeen-year-old into a balance between passion and reason. The wisewoman points out the fine legacy the Romans left in their wake here at Caer Luel, the one-day Carlisle of northwestern England: the grand architecture, the rule of justice and order, all the refinements of civilization.
But no amount of Roman-style logic will save Gwen
from Frankish kidnappers plotting to steal
a red-haired barbarian to ship back to their sixth century empire.
No amount of Roman-style oratory will fend off
the man-hungry kelpie rising from the estuary at dusk.
Gwen must call on sharp wits, great heart, loyalty and sacrifice,
plus one other bit of unwanted advice from Teg: Be still and listen.
But if you beg help from Lady Brig of the Fair Folk,
make sure to heed the answer.
I have walked all the sites in Brigand's Blade, in the Lake District of northwestern England. My tale is set during the waning years of the Golden Age of the Thirteen Kingdoms of the North, so termed in Welsh records.