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Friday, July 20, 2018

Welcoming Andrew Richardson and The Faerie Handmaiden of Annwyn






I've been involved with this wonderful tale since the first draft and am delighted to see that it's been published. It blends Andrew Richardson's mastery of Celtic legend and lore and romantic suspense, with a touch of magic (of course). It's right up there with his The Footholder's Tale as one of my favorites.









The blurb says it best:

Andrew Richardson, author of The King’s Footholder and The Door into War, brings to life the classic legends of the Tylwyth Teg and King Maelgyn, weaving the mystical beliefs of the period with the timeless myths.




Andrew, how about some background?

'The Faerie Handmaiden of Annwyn', or as I affectionally call it, 'Penni's Story' after the main character, is a retelling of a classic Welsh story about a man called Pelling who marries a fairy called Penelope, and the trials their love goes through.  Like a lot of Welsh legends it is subtle and gentle, in contrast to the more violent and heroic English or Viking stories.

You know I appreciate subtle and gentle, LOL.

I have a long, long fascination with King Maelgwn, who ruled north Wales in the first half of the sixth century, and who had a fearsome reputation as a tyrant.  There are lots of legends about this colourful character, and it's been a brilliant opportunity to combine the two elements without, I hope, conflicting either.

Have you visited the sites where this story is set? 

During one of many family holidays to north Wales a few years ago, we visited the meadow in the Nant y Betws valley where the legend had Penni and her fellow-fairies dancing.  The meadow, sadly for romantics like myself, is now a sewage works and caravan park, but beyond them the valley is as pretty as any in north Wales, and the day renewed my interest in the story. 

The original doesn't have enough flesh for a full novel, but I hoped including a Maelgwn element would not only lengthen it but add interest instead of padding.  The ‘Faerie Wife’ story is also undated – as far as I know – and is easily placeable in Maelgwn’s time.  In fact, the story fits comfortably in the mid-sixth century, with its mix of Christianity and Paganism and the superstitious beliefs of the period.  One of the great figures of north Wales at the time was Saint Padarn ‘Redcloak’ who was an enemy of Maelgwn, and who (according to legend) bested the pagan king with God’s help.  I couldn’t resist giving this conflict a major role, and adding Penni and Pelling to the mix.


In all, this was a fun novel to write, with its mix of history, legend and colourful characters.  Indeed, by the end it was more or less writing itself!

Blurb

Banished for breaking the law, Penni is forced to take refuge with Pelling, a mortal, and his family.  Penni and Pelling find love and marry, despite his brother’s hatred of the fairy folk. Subjected to prejudice and cruelty, they are trapped in the bitter struggle between Christianity and the Old Ways of paganism.
Can their love surmount the differences in cultures and religion? Can their marriage survive their separation?


 Excerpt
Hounds called, hooves beat the earth, riders screamed war cries, the sounds pulsed through the night to reach Penni’s ears as the Wild Hunt approached Annwyn, the Otherworld. Torches flickered, beacons in the dark sky, and tinted the meadows yellow and orange.
“They sound like a kingdom’s war band.” The handmaiden chewed a lip as she watched and listened. “I’d love to ride with the Wild Hunt, Princess.”
Princess Creiddylad’s white brows rose above sparkling blue eyes. “You’re only a handmaiden. You’ve never even been on a horse.”
Down the grassy slope, the moon cast a white and inviting veil over the Nant y Betws valley. Penni shivered as the chill bit her skin to tingle her flesh. “Just think, riding a horse at speed down the valley in the dark, between the mountains, on the hunt for wrongdoing mortals, and scaring everyone we pass.” She brushed a stray blonde strand aside as she watched.
“Mortals even say the Hunt brings with it war or plague when all it does is enslave wrongdoers to make their realm a better place.” The princess tilted her head. “Mortals must be truly stupid to fear us.”
Penni almost felt the riders’ adrenaline as she ached to take one pace forward into the forbidden mortal realm. For perhaps the thousandth time, she imagined the cold enveloping her, looking up at the stars, or feeling grass tickle her soles. “For my twenty summers, I’ve always ached to go into the mortal realm. Just once, to see what it’s like. Please.”
Creiddylad leaned back against a slate slab the ancients used to prop the lintel. She twizzled a strand of albino-white hair and shook her head.
“I want to see stars above me instead of Annwyn’s cavern,” Penni said. “I want to feel the wind chill me. The air in Annwyn’s cavern is always still and warm.”
“No. My brother forbids it. Mortals are big and strong. They might capture you.”
“But the mortal realm is beautiful, and I can’t see any mortals.”
Creiddylad shook her head again.
The moon and the firebrands lit the Wild Hunt turning from the road to follow the river’s shallows around an outcrop. The horses’ galloping more than a sound carried in the frosty air as the very earth shook beneath their hooves. “One rider,” Penni said, starting the friends’ nightly ritual.
“Two,” the princess said.
“Three.”
“Four.”
“Five,” Penni said, trying not to lose count.
Creiddylad pointed. “That was Edern.” The hand she put to her mouth barely hid a giggle.
Despite the chill, Penni’s cheeks warmed.
“You’ve stopped counting,” Creiddylad said.
“Your brother works his way through your handmaidens.” Penni’s fists balled. “I will not be just another conquest.”
Creiddylad frowned. “We’ve lost count now, thanks to you and Edern.”
“They’re all back,” Penni said. “They wouldn’t be whooping and cheering if anyone were lost.”
“I suppose not.” The princess’s cheeks puffed with relief. “Come. I must welcome the riders back.”
Penni gave the mortal realm a last, lingering glance before lifting her hem above the ground with thumb and forefinger and retreating into Annwyn a few respectful paces behind the princess. As they stepped through the narrow passage of coarse, uneven bricks built many generations ago when Tylwyth Teg retreated from the mortal realm, she ducked to the left to avoid the rock jutting from the roof, remembering when she lost concentration four or five summers ago. She paused to pat the stone. Her fingertips went to where the bruise had risen. “Not this time,” she told the rock.
Annwyn’s torches flickered a welcome while the Tylwyth Teg’s cheers lightened the atmosphere in the massive cavern. Slaves carried jugs of mead on trays made from tree slices, women ran to returning warriors, and children petted the dogs or offered horses handsful of food.
Dormath bounded towards Penni with his tongue hanging. She knelt to welcome the wolfhound, ruffling his deep red fur, and giggling when his tongue slapped her cheek.
Hugging Dormath’s neck, she regarded the Wild Hunt; armed men sweated in the open area beyond Annwyn’s huts, horses snorted and steamed, dogs barked and leapt up at their masters.
King Gwyn pushed his reins into a slave’s hands and eased his muscular frame from his chestnut steed while the youth struggled to bow and control the horse at the same time. Gwyn ignored the boy to exchange backslaps and a deep laugh with a warrior. He grabbed a jug and drained it in a single gulp.
Someone played a reed flute. Another musician beat a pigskin drum. The bard nestled a harp into the crook of his arm and played. His honey-sweet voice started the ballad, and before the first line ended, the song arose among the Tylwyth Teg.
Penni joined in the song to King Gwyn and his Great Hunt, telling of their bravery in entering the mortal realm. She released Dormath and found herself clapping to the beat, with her feet tapping the ground and the words rising in her throat.
“Wild Hunt, led by the king,
Travels with the speed of a raven’s wing
Through Gwynedd’s valleys both dark and light
Seeking souls thru’out the night.”




Andrew Richardson lives in Wiltshire, England, with his wife, a rescue cat, and a son who occasionally pops home from university. He is within easy reach of Stonehenge and other historical places whose regal solitude provides a clear mind for working out plot difficulties and story ideas. Most of his work falls squarely into the 'horror' or ‘historical fantasy’ genres. 
Andrew has never taken to laptops so adopts the old and quaint approach of typing with a desktop, which at least has a screen big enough to avoid the need to squint.

He has a background in archaeology and has worked on sites in England, Scotland and Wales. It's not really a surprise that much of his work reflects this interest and experience. When he's not writing or working Andrew follows Aldershot Town Football Club and takes long walks over rugged countryside.

Contact Information:
Blog:                 andrewjrichardson.blogspot.com/
Twitter:            http://twitter.com/Richardson_Andy
Publications:   andrewjrichardson.blogspot.com/p/publications.html


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