Above painting: Louis Jean Francois - Mars and Venus an Allegory of Peace


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Monday, August 20, 2012

A Bit of History Behind THE EAGLE'S WOMAN by Miriam Newman

Welcome back to History Undressed, guest author and friend, Miriam Newman! Today she's sharing with us a bit of history behind her new medieval romance, THE EAGLE'S WOMAN! Take it away, Miriam!


 My new release, The Eagle’s Woman, is a project that has long been in my mind.  Book I of a series to be titled The Eagle, it begins the journey of Ari and Maeve. 

The year is 856 A.D.  Son of an impoverished, ailing Norse chieftain, Ari raids for booty and slaves in order to feed his people.  Pagan himself, still he spares priests although he sells them.  He is a heathen…a murderer.  It is a sin for any Christian woman to love him.

Maeve is the simple daughter of simple people, from an Irish fishing village so remote it has never experienced a raid.  She has heard of Vikings, but never seen one.  That is about to change.


“What?” Ari asked, reaching with his free hand to take her chin in it. His thumb caressed her bottom lip and she thought she was not out of danger with him, no matter how disheveled her appearance. This man wanted her, no doubt of it. Not enough to commit violence on her, apparently, but she thought gentleness held its own dangers. If she was not careful, it could weaken her will. He was not unattractive—with fair skin, strong angular features and striking eyes—though just then he looked like a drowned rat as all of them did. It did not obscure the strength of his body or the keen intelligence in those eyes. She turned her head to the side, dislodging his thumb.
“I have not seen tears from you before,” he said thoughtfully, “though many of the others are crying. What has finally broken you?”
“I am not broken,” she spat, “only mourning two good people who raised me. But I am sure you know nothing of such feelings.”
He sat back on his heels. “Do I not? Two good people raised me as well. One lies crippled in his sickbed and the other waits for me to bring coin to buy things a sick man needs.”
Maeve was silent, surprised and momentarily chastened. She had never seriously supposed he had motives other than greed.
“Do you think raiding is worthy of a fighting man?” he persisted. “I would rather face an army than hungry children.”
She stifled an impulse toward sympathy. “Ours are dead or captive. You seem to have no trouble facing that.”
Abruptly, he set both feet beneath himself and got up, undaunted by the motion of the ship which made such things impossible for Maeve. She had not noticed a wineskin hanging from the rigging, but she saw him reach for it then. “I cannot help your children.” He took a fulsome swig. “Just mine.” Wiping the neck with his wet tunic, he held the wineskin out to her.
It was decent wine, probably from their monastery, tasting of strength and summer. She needed strength to remember that summer would come again, so she drank.


I was amazed and a little intimidated when I first began researching this book and realized just how much work bringing that back-of-my-mind dream was going to entail.  I knew about the Viking longships, the Berserkers…I even had a notion about how their concept of trial by judge would filter down into English Common Law via the Norman invasion to become our modern trial-by-jury.  This will come into play in Book II, The Eagle’s Lady.
But I didn’t know much about the private code of conduct so integral to Viking life.  Viking society was permeated by the notion of honor, or drengskapr, and shame, or nior.  In stark contrast to our present-day image of heated Berserker frenzy in battle, the Viking in his private life was valued for self control, bravery, generosity, sense of fair play and respect for the right way of doing things.  A stoic and imperturbable manner was considered highly honorable.  Cowardice, treachery, kin-killing and oath-breaking constituted dishonorable, shameful behavior that could even result in temporary or permanent banishment.  Taunts issued through—of all things—poetry could get you outlawed, and accusing another man of effeminate behavior was signing your own death warrant.  Viking law allowed for lethal reprisal.
Matters of honor were often settled by duel with swords, spears and axes.  This
 took place before witnesses in the context of a carefully orchestrated ritual.  In Iceland, men were required to duel within the area which could be covered by a cloak, often on a small island in a river, which prevented retreat or interference.  The first man to become disarmed was the loser.  If his opponent then cut him down, he could be outlawed, which meant he was banished and was essentially free game to anyone who wished to kill him, and someone usually did. Again, this will come into play in my second book of the series.  Quite a difference from our image of the out-of-control raider decimating peaceful villages, isn't it? 





Miriam Newman said...

Thank you for this beautiful presentation, Eliza. I am actually still researching this era and it's absolutely fascinating. Viking society and especially their legal customs had a profound impact on the world we know today, but many people are unaware of it. I've added a few more research books to my groaning bookshelves!

Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

Coming from Nordic roots on my Dad's side, I always love a story with vikings in it. Yours sounds quite interesting and I look forward to reading it, Miriam.

Good luck with lots of sales.

Miriam Newman said...

Thanks, Paisley. It's a heritage with a cultural and religous history as fascinating as any I have studied. I have tried to reflect that in the character of Ari, I hope successfully.

Erin OQuinn said...

Fantastic, Miriam! What a gold mine you have opened. I'm especially taken with the factoid about the insult directed via poetry, for it is exactly what the old fili, or poets of ireland, did. They would issue a "lampoon" that could cut their opponent deeper than a knife!

I love that you can find a piece of information and turn it from a factoid into a chapter or even a deep theme that runs through your book. The mark of a master. Er, um, a mistress? A damn fine novelist!

Miriam Newman said...

Thanks, Erin. With my background in poetry, I had to laugh over that one.

Kemberlee said...

Great article, Miriam. I just read an article in an Irish periodical that insinuates the Norse weren't as violent as history makes them out to be. Have you read anything in your research about this?

Pat McDermott said...

I adore historicals that educate as they entertain, and this one sounds like a gem, Miriam. Having read several of the tales you've penned, I know I'm in for a treat. BTW, when you eventually visit Dublin, you'll want to take in Dublinia, Dublin's exhibit of medieval Viking Dublin.


Miriam Newman said...

I got the impression from my research that they were plenty violent but that it was calculated, as a sort of "shock and awe" demonstration of power. Also, they were feeling the effects of so many around them converting to Christianity, and that might have accounted for their ferocity towards the priests and monks. When they began to make settlements as opposed to raiding, that began to diminish. Although the Norman conquest of England is used to define the end of the Viking Era, many historians feel that age began to wither as soon as they put down roots.

Miriam Newman said...

Pat, I just saw something about Dublinia! Yes, I'm excited. Suzanne Barrett wrote below about the Vikings in Ireland, too, and you may want to look at her fascinating post. Apparently this is a hot topic and I can't wait to see some of those exhibits.

Kemberlee said...

It's too bad the original Dublin Viking Experience closed. They had a wonderful interactive program with a ride on a Viking ship and all. Dublinia incorporated some of the original program but it's not the same. They used to host a Viking banquet too that was gas fun!!

Gerri Bowen said...

I'm looking forward to reading this, Miriam. :)

Miriam Newman said...

Kemberlee, hopefully by the time I get there they'll have something good going on. Thanks, Gerri. I hope you like it!

Kemberlee said...


The original exhibit was in a refurbished church down on Wood Quay, which was the location of the largest discovered Viking settlement in Dublin. Behind the church was the Wood Quay Excavation which you could watch from a special platform. Artifacts went across the road into the museum labs then put on display. Now all that stuff is in the Viking Room at the National Museum on Kildare Street (as apposed to the National Museum at Collins Barracks which is modern history, 1600 forward).

When you first entered the church, you went in to sit on benches in an audio visual room for a little movie. Lights went out, movie came on, told the history of Wood Quay, the Norse and Dublin's settlement. then the seats started moving, the film screen became a mast and suddenly Lief Eriksson character was standing on the prow of the boat! And the seating area was moving along the floor on tracks through a storm at sea, complete with lighting, thunder, and sea mist in your face. All the while the Norseman is shouting about how you were lured onto the boat and were being as slaves. The storm cleared, the 'boat' docked and passengers escorted into a village where they were assimilated into the culture. The area of this settlement had life-size huts built in a traditional method with people living inside them to tell the slaves what was expected of them. There area a few of these houses, and a stone church being constructed where the priest outlined coming Christianity and the slave role there. Fun stuff.

The rest of the exhibit was a walk up a wide spiral platform through an Irish timeline, complete with recreated artifacts imbedded in the display to show the progress of time as you went up the ramps.

There was also a 'dig' area one could play with, the museum and a banquet hall with a life-size longboat recreation in the middle of the room. The mast was a giant screen for the real audio visual show. At night they hosted banquets complete with grog and all sorts! Fun exhibit. It closed when the Wood Quay dig stopped so they could build an office block. (the dig went for more than ten years so they pulled a lot of stuff then protected the site before construction was allowed on top of it).

Dublinia itself was a medieval era exhibit. Walk through with a recording thing you listened to. I think they've done away with that now though. Really interesting though, so I'm sure the addition of the Viking era just compliments it. Definitely worth a visit, though nothing will beat the original Viking Experience.

Oh, there is a crowd in Dublin doing tours on the River Liffey on a Viking-ish boat now ;-)

Miriam Newman said...

I was in a life-sized replica of a longboat at Waterford, which is what really ignited this interest in me. Can't wait to get to Dublin! I think next year will be soon enough, though. Book II is set in Norway. Now that's another place I'd love to go! Gotta go--my puppy is eating the world while I'm typing. EEK!

Kemberlee said...

In Waterford? Where was that? I didn't know there was any Viking exhibits there. (Waterford City is not my favorite place to be on the best of days though)

I'd love to go to Roskilde to visit the Viking Ship Museum. The Sea Stallion of Glenadalough is perma-docked there now. It spent a year from 2008-09 in Dublin, sailed both ways from Roskilde (where it was built) to Dublin and back.

Several Skuldelev ships were discovered years ago and the largest of them was rebuilt, the Sea Stallion. They called it Glendalough because the timber was analyzed and found it was from the forests in the Wicklow Mountains around Glendalough! Anyway, those excavated ships are on display there, as is the Sea Stallion.

Before we leave Ireland next year, I really want to see Roskilde.

Miriam Newman said...

It was so many years ago I don't even remember! LOL. But I know there's nothing there now.

B.J. Scott said...

great post!
I wish you much success with the book. Hope it soars to the top of the best seller lists ;)