Our topic this week is whether we’ve ever created a holiday for one of our books.
There were quite a few factors that went into ny fairly new release Winter Solstice Dream, one being I’ve always wanted to write a holiday romance (Regency romances set at Christmas are catnip to me) but since I write scifi romance for the most part, and ancient Egyptian paranormal romances, I didn’t see how I was going to manage that. (Although I did once write a short story about Thanksgiving being celebrated on my luxury interstellar cruise liner, which can be found in this collection of my shorter works. That was a fun challenge!)
A few years ago I published my first book in a projected fantasy romance world I developed, The Captive Shifter and it recently occurred to me I could tell a perfectly good holiday story set in this time and place. I’ve always been planning to write sequels and connected stories for that world, known as Claddare. So I needed to adjust my thinking from a holiday we celebrate to creating a holiday the people in Claddare might enjoy in midwinter.
In creating this alternate world originally, I was partially inspired by Andre Norton’s Witch World series, loving the way she mixed magic and mysteries. My all-time favorite of hers in this vein was Year of the Unicorn and not that I’ll ever write at her level, but I was going for something of the feel of those stories (not the almost science fiction territory the first few in the Witch World series had).
I was also inspired by the classic movie “Ladyhawke” (who isn’t, if you love fantasy?), although my world is entirely fictional, not tied to anything in the actual Earthly Middle Ages. Halvor’s horse in this novella owes a lot to the wonderful steed in Ladyhawke.
And of course “Lord of the Rings”, the movie trilogy more than the actual novels, influenced me.
I always enjoy having magic as a plot element and there’s quite a bit here, one way and another. We don’t see too much from the Witches of Azrimar themselves this time but Nadelma, my heroine, has her own powers of a completely different sort. I’ve also always been intrigued by desserts containing charms or favors and found a good way to work the concept into this story on a grand scale. But after all, Nadelma is baking a cake for the hundreds who’ll attend the Solstice Night Ball.
Nadelma, appeared briefly in The Captive Shifter, but both books stand alone. I felt that she, as the Head Cook in the Witch Queen’s palace, would be an interesting character to learn more about. I loved the idea of making this a Cinderella type tale, complete with those sparkly shoes, although they aren’t key to the Happy Ever After ending. I had to have them in the story though! Readers have asked me for more about Nadelma so it felt good to finally oblige.
The blurb: Torn from her home in the Dales as a child, Nadelma has made a place for herself as the head cook in the Witch Queen of Azrimar’s castle. She stays in the background of the busy court and uses her gentle magic gifts sparingly to help others. More or less content, she’s made peace with the hard facts of her life. Romance, marriage, a family – all beyond her dreams any longer.
Then Halvor, an ambitious Dales lord rides into the city, bringing his mercenaries to serve the king, with the promise of a rich reward, including a title and an estate. The only catch? He has to marry a highborn Azrimaran noblewoman to seal the treaty.
Fate conspires to throw Nadelma and Halvor into each other’s company and the connection is instant and deep but both resist the attraction. She knows she can never have him for herself. He must fulfill the treaty to secure a safe place for his people to live, since their holding in the Dales was destroyed by the black magic of the Shadow. Marriage to a noble damsel of the king’s choice is his fate.
Until he met Nadelma he thought his heart was frozen by the loss of all he cared for, back in the Dales. Now he knows better but his people must come first.
The situation is hopeless…or is it? For the king declares the city will celebrate Winter Solstice and hold a ball, where wishes and dreams just might come true.
The excerpt: Nadelma receives this year’s charms for the cake from the Queen Mother:
Felka was seated alone in her favorite plush chair in the sitting room, with several of her small dogs napping close by when Nadelma was announced. “Oh don’t be formal today,” she said, indicating the chair next to her. “Sit and be comfortable. You must be walking miles in the kitchens daily right now, preparing all the food and treats for the festivals.”
Nadelma curtseyed and then sat on the edge of the chair. “I do like to be busy, your majesty.”
“You never complain.” Felka’s tone held approval as she picked up a large, flat wooden box and passed it to Nadelma. “The royal silversmith delivered the charms for the cake today. I’m sorry we’re leaving this till the last minute because I know you have work to do inserting them all into the cake. Go ahead, take a look and let me know if the designs meet with your approval.” She sipped tea from a fragile cup painted with flowers while Nadelma opened the case.
There were one hundred and one charms, not that they were necessarily meant to go to the extra invited guests. The number ‘101’ was sacred to one of the goddesses honored at solstice and the reasons for this were lost in time. The silver charms served several purposes—primarily as a keepsake for those lucky enough to be served a piece of cake containing one. The queen and her witches would have put white magic into a few, which if the recipient made a harmless wish, like finding a lost item or not being rained on at a wedding would grant the request. Thirty were matched tokens, meant to unite couples for the main festival dance. The magic made sure the numbers came out even, pairing up each person with someone compatible for a few hours, even if only as casual friends, although legend stated many marriages had come from the matching of the charms on Solstice Night.
Two were to designate the king and queen of the dance, allowing the two selected guests to ‘rule’ over the special musical celebration and to open the dancing.
Nadelma ran her hand over the rows of charms, each securely slotted into its own place in the blue velvet lining. She let her own magic interpret for her which charm was for what purpose. On occasion she’d added one of her own spells to the Azrimar spell, to help someone meet the person they wished to dance with, or for a man or woman she knew to be in need to receive the benevolent wish. Of course she didn’t tell the queen about the extra power she could give the charms. She’d have to try to ferret out what Helemma cared most about and see if she could influence events to go in the girl’s favor when it came to snagging a charm.
Her hand trembled a little as she paused at the silver crowns denoting the king and queen of the dance. What she’d give to be the girl who received the regal token, if Halvor was the holder of the other. To dance with him openly…