The Wild Ones

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Crossposted from Cocktails and Hot Sauce

Anne Cain's fantastic cover for my novel.

Anne Cain’s fantastic cover for my novel.

There’s a part of every novel that’s a nightmare to write. In Bound to the Beast there’s little doubt about that part that gave me the most grief – bringing life to the Wild Hunt.

Ah yes, the Wild Hunt. A pack of the undead who maraud across the land, terrorizing the natives and sucking blood! Ghosts! Zombies! The evil dead, with their eyes drooling from their sockets and their flesh hanging off! That’s going to be fun to write, huh?

Well, you’d think so, and it was fun to research. The origins of the Wild Hunt are obscure and diverse, encompassing the Germanic ‘Wilde Jagd’ and the Nordic ‘Ride of Asgard,’ their leaders including Odin, Woden, and in England King Arthur, Sir Francis Drake, and the devil himself, as well as Herne the Hunter, the hero of my novel (see my pictorial history of The Horned One.)

The hunters themselves have variously been portrayed as the rotting corpses of condemned criminals, hellhounds, fairies, or the souls of deceased, unbaptised infants (the latter two, of course, sometimes perceived as one and the same.)

And their purpose?

Well, usually the Wild Hunt were seen as harbingers of doom, scourging the land on the eve of great disasters, and that’s the angle I used in my book, where my tortured anti-hero, Herne, has led the Hunt across England on the eve of Viking pillaging, the Norman Conquest and the plague of the black death.

Bad boy!

There are plenty of awesome descriptions of the Hunt too, not least in the romantic literature of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, when so much ‘ancient’ folk lore was (re)invented.

Arguably most evocative is W.B. Yeats, ‘The Hosting of the Sidhe,’ from his collection inspired by Gaelic faery lore, The Celtic Twilight (1893).

The Hosting Of The Sidhe (by William Butler Yeats)

    This illustration by Peter Nicolai Arbo (1872) depicts the Wild Hunt let by Odin, and perfectly captures their menacing glory.

This illustration by Peter Nicolai Arbo (1872) depicts the Wild Hunt let by Odin, and perfectly captures their menacing glory.

The host is riding from Knocknarea
And over the grave of Clooth-na-Bare;
Caoilte tossing his burning hair,
And Niamh calling Away, come away:
Empty your heart of its mortal dream.

The winds awaken, the leaves whirl round,
Our cheeks are pale, our hair is unbound,
Our breasts are heaving our eyes are agleam,
Our arms are waving our lips are apart;
And if any gaze on our rushing band,
We come between him and the deed of his hand,
We come between him and the hope of his heart.
The host is rushing ‘twixt night and day,
And where is there hope or deed as fair?
Caoilte tossing his burning hair,
And Niamh calling Away, come away.

Hmmm, a bit of a hard act to follow.

Yes, but I really shouldn’t whinge. Reinventing the Wild Hunt for my own purposes was hard work, but a hell of a lot of fun. The main trouble was representing the Hunt as anything other than a monolithic mass, so I turned, as so often, to research.

I discovered a plethora of colourful characters, including Wild Edric, once a Lord of the Welsh Marches, and his fairy wife Godda, who apparently led the Hunt to terrorize the people of Shropshire before the British campaign in Crimea in the 1850s, and prior the First and Second World Wars. It’s always good for a character to have challengers snapping at their heels, so I made my Herne work hard to keep control of his hunters.

The Wild Hunt, then, has haunted imaginations for centuries, and afterKB_BoundForest_coversmall a little exploration, they certainly took root in mine. When the wind moans and rattles through the trees of the New Forest, it’s hard not to prick up one’s ears, listen for the bay of the hunting hounds and the pounding of the hooves, and shiver at the prospect.

Could it be time for England to fall again?

Well, I bloody well hope not. But I wouldn’t say ‘no’ to a fleeting glimpse of Herne and his fairy band…

Fancy a taste of some ancient forest lore, intertwined with sex, magic, bondage, and blood? You can find out more about Bound to the Beast and my first Greenwood novel Bound for the Forest at my website.
Scroll on for an excerpt (featuring the Wild Hunt and –WARNING–some mind fantasy gore) from Bound to the Beast.
 
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Blurb:

England, 1588. When a fairy betrothal ritual goes wrong, village lad Tam is bonded to Herne the Hunter. Warrior, legend, and Greenwood spirit, Herne once led the terrifying Wild Hunt, an army of the undead who rode as harbingers of doom.When his passions are stirred and his blood is up, Herne sports the antlers of a mighty stag.

Herne could be the lover Tam secretly craves, but Herne’s past makes him fear the brooding warrior will enslave or kill him. While Herne admires Tam’s toughness and humor, he has rejected love—as he has sworn off leading the Wild Hunt—and wishes only for solitude.To break their betrothal, they must travel into the Greenwood, a realm of magic and bondage where their desires for each other grow dangerously irresistible, and the Wild Hunt bays for their blood.

As the threat rises, Herne’s mastery and compassion realize Tam’s darkest sexual fantasies. Soon he’s no longer fighting for his freedom, wishing to be bound to this beast forever. But can Herne’s tortured heart be reawakened? And if so, will their love destroy them both, or prove Herne the Hunter’s greatest weapon?

Excerpt:

The ghosts of the abbey are real. They are here. Why was I such a fool to trust Herne the Hunter?

As a dark whirlwind of ghosts rushed toward him, fright rioted in Tam’s guts. His gaze fixed on one who wore a shirt of white hair spattered with blood, surely one of the massacred monks. The cowl shrouding his face and the upside-down crucifix dangling on his bloodied breast confirmed all.

Tam turned to run, skirting the pool, but they gained on him too quickly. He heard the bray of a goat, and the tempest engulfed him. As he crumpled to his knees, men, horses, and beasts of all kinds swirled about him as if he were caught at the heart of a child’s spinning top. White hounds snapped teeth like razors, and death had mutilated each.A creature reached toward him, once female. She possessed a single eye, and straw-like hair streamed from half her head, the other side bald, her scalp flaked and peeling. Tam gasped in the foul stench of a rotting corpse, and then the storm dashed her out of the way.

The monk reared inches from Tam’s nose, ripping open his own horsehair shirt to reveal gaping entrails, gore, and pus. Then the monk leaped onto the back of an ox. The animal’s flesh crawled with maggots and worms, and it uttered a rasping wail.
Tam turned to run, skirting the pool, but they gained on him too quickly. He heard the bray of a goat, and the tempest engulfed him. As he crumpled to his knees, men, horses, and beasts of all kinds swirled about him as if he were caught at the heart of a child’s spinning top. White hounds snapped teeth like razors, and death had mutilated each.A creature reached toward him, once female. She possessed a single eye, and straw-like hair streamed from half her head, the other side bald, her scalp flaked and peeling. Tam gasped in the foul stench of a rotting corpse, and then the storm dashed her out of the way.

The monk reared inches from Tam’s nose, ripping open his own horsehair shirt to reveal gaping entrails, gore, and pus. Then the monk leaped onto the back of an ox. The animal’s flesh crawled with maggots and worms, and it uttered a rasping wail.

Storm clouds brewed overhead, but the pool reflected only the faint, pink light of a smothered sun. His stomach clenched so hard he gagged. He hugged his arms over his head, whispering a frantic prayer to whichever god or spirit would care to deliver him. The only response came from the devilish company surrounding him.

He heard a high-pitched voice, grating and undeniably male. “Look at us, boy. Use those eyes before we gouge them out.”

He whimpered, refusing to open his eyes. Bony fingers grasped his hair and wrenched his head back.

“Look at us.”

He had little choice but to obey, his breath hitching on the next unnatural sight. The speaker wore a long cloak that parted at the loins, revealing in place of his cock a curved horn tapered to a point. The ivory gleam of this beast’s horn matched a white grin that glowed beneath a black hood, unattached to any discernible face.

“You cried out for the power of the horned one, boy. Is this what you begged for?”

Oh Lord, the ghostly monks must have seen every dark craving within his soul to have summoned this demon. He knew of the brutally crafted tortures that gods and kings inflicted on sodomites, even those who just thought on such sins.

The demon’s fingers pressed into Tam’s skull, and he stared at the barbed cock, his throat too tight to yell.

The pure note of a hunting horn shattered through his fear-racked body, so powerful his heart might burst. He heard a bestial cry, the heavy swish of a sword, a dull thud, and another sickening scream. The horn-cocked demon let him go. The ghosts that possessed lips rolled them back, snarling and hissing. They rushed across the water toward the forest in a mass of claws and fists and teeth that raked over rotten flesh and bones, each demon fighting to scramble past the others.

Tam gaped up at Herne, who alone towered over him on the bank of the mill pool, his sword smeared with blood and his antlers spreading toward the clouded skies.

“Come with me.” Herne stooped and caught Tam under both arms, pulling him up. Tam let him, too shaken for words and gasping as if he’d nearly drowned. When Herne wrapped his thickly muscled arms around him, Tam melted, burying his face in Herne’s shoulder. His body still quaked with mortal fear, yet for a few moments, he felt safe.

Before he could think too hard about why he trusted the huntsman so, Herne released him. “Get dressed.”

***

Bound to the Beast (A Greenwood novel) by Kay Berrisford. Published by Loose Id. Art work by Anne Cain. Genres: m/m, paranormal, fantasy, BDSM, historical. Novel, 68,000 words. Buy it now.
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