Note: This is a new and maybe recurring feature wherein I return to the trove of writing I churned out as teenager with the time-hardened eye of a 23-year-old. It won’t be pretty. But you might laugh.
Imagine, if you will, a sixteen-year-old girl who has:
1. A unexplainable passion for the Middle Ages
2. No actual, factual knowledge of the Middle Ages
3. Literary ambition
4. Never kissed a boy
If this sounds like a recipe for the Greatest Romance Novelist Ever, you would be wrong. But that didn’t stop me from trying.
In the November of my sixteenth year, I rolled up my unfashionable sleeves and tried to bang out a romance novel about, for reasons I cannot remember, Medieval Ireland. I did not know what I was doing on any front of this endeavor. I had Google everything from “Norman military hierarchy” to “herbal remedies for bleeding” to “how do you French kiss.”
His Irish Bride (I know) stalled at 16,000-some words, the first few you will see annotated below. I never submitted it anywhere (or even finished it), but it did end up being useful later.
But first: the story.
I have no idea why I picked this year. I think I wanted it to be after the Norman invasion, but I don’t think 16-year-old me put together just how after 1066 this setting would be. Also, real talk: I could not point to Ireland on a map.
“One step further and I’ll shoot!”
A cold gust whipped the words from Alodie’s mouth to meet the rider facing the quivering point of her arrow. The lone figure on horseback had come over the crest of the green hill that marked the edge of the clan’s land.
“Calm yourself, lass. I mean ye no harm.” The man dismounted as he spoke, ever wary of the sharp aim of her bow. He tilted his head with shallow respect. “Have ye a name?”
I will give myself credit for a pretty good opening line. And that scene-setting: cold gusts! Green hills! Why, I’ve conjured up the Emerald Isle! Throw in the half-assed metonymy of “sharp aim,” the illogical adjective-of-attraction in “shallow respect,” and the completely unmerited Ye Olde Pronoune and it’s practically poetry.
Alodie tilted her bow just upwards, her deep brown eyes set on her target. “Aye.” He was a Norman, doubtless, from his looks and garb. The dog, she thought with a bitter half-scowl.
The leader fixed her with grave intent in his eyes. “No times for games, now. What is your name, lass?”
She hesitated, but spoke. “Alodie. Of Kavanagh clan.” The man surveyed her again, and she tightened her grip on her bow. “I’ll warn you but once more, man…” Alodie’s contempt flared. She was ‘lass’ to no one, least of all to Norman lord and his band. What right had these invaders to trespass on clan lands?
“Now, then. Your threats are idle placed against me. These lands are now an estate of Normandy. There is where you owe your allegiance…or loathing, as you may choose.” His smile was cruel, and the dull ache of dislike in her chest had sharpened to hatred.
“You cur! These are Kavanagh’s clan-lands, and I’ll…” She faltered, catching sight of his grim opposing face. She steeled herself. “…I’ll die to keep them from your hands.” She drew back the bowstring, and taking careful aim, let the arrow fly.
Here are a few things I didn’t bother to research: whether or not Alodie is an Irish name (it’s not), what kind of bow she would even be using (still don’t know), how “estate” law worked at this point in history (also still don’t know, but p. sure that no one would call it that). Also: what’s a half-scowl, why does the “lone rider” all of a sudden have “a band” with him, and good God Alodie, you should get that “the dull ache of dislike in [your] chest” looked at. At least I managed to use “cur” for some Authentick Dialect Flavour.
A blur of motion flew in front of the startled horse. The arrow sang through the air, narrowly missing the leader as he fell onto the damp rise of earth below. The clamor startled Alodie, and she took a stumbling step back, her bow still humming in her hand. The man pushed himself up from the ground, turning to Alodie with an acute rage.
“Have ye no sense, woman?” he cried, gray eyes blazing with fevered passion. He strode towards her, his height intimidating at such a close range. “You nearly set the horse out of his mind and broke my neck!” He stood inches from her, and Alodie could feel his ragged breath hot in the cool air.
Good: use of verb “sang.” Bad: “gray eyes blazing with fevered passion.” I’ve given this guy some kind of diseased medieval Laser-vision. Also, “ragged breath hot in the cool air” sounds so icky I can barely bring myself to retype it.
Blah blah blah, they introduce themselves, and then—four whole paragraphs in!—it’s time for a POV shift, because why not.
Gerallt Dillon surveyed the woman facing him. Fierce temperament, no doubt. The wind pushed long, golden strands of hair from their tight binding to cross her face, which was graced by a glaring look that gave a sharp contrast to the pale softness of her skin. She wore a simple gown, plain for the daughter of a chieftain, but that nevertheless revealed the low curve of her breasts above its scarlet neckline. Gerallt’s skin grew warm, his pulse thudding. It had been long since he’d known a woman at his side. Drawing his gaze higher, he saw the rosy beauty – or was it determination? – flushing in her cheeks. A rose with such thorns, he thought with a grim countenance. The crossbow still quivered in her small hands. She would not yield without a fight, although it was more than obvious that the odds were in his favor. Gerallt was taller, stronger, and quicker, and he knew she could tell. Still, he didn’t want to result to brute force to take a lass’s title. Even one as stubborn as this.
Well, I suppose at least my archaeological voyage into the past has uncovered the Purple-Prosiest Info Dump Ever. Of course she has golden hair. Of course she has a glaring look. Of course her skin is so delicate that it can only be referred to in a prepositional phrase after a precious qualifier like “pale softness.”
So Alodie’s blushy flushy beautermination inspires Gerallt into a tortured rose/thorn metaphor that manifests, apparently, in his “grim countenance.” Oy. But at least we get some insight into his character: he’s in a Major Dry Spell and…doesn’t want to fight a girl? Swoo-oon.
But oh, it gets better. She says something else, which, who cares, and Gerallt reacts:
Her words came more slowly now, her rage more measured. The control over her emotions steadied her visibly, and she drew her shoulders back with confidence, revealing a greater swath of her pale neck and shoulders. Gerallt felt his gut tighten. This woman had a warrior’s spirit, and it sparked something in him. Who would challenge him so foolishly, when there was nary a chance for victory or even escape? What woman would stand her ground so brazenly in the face of capture? Gerallt looked her over a second time, but more slowly. Despite her posture of confidence, her breathing was uneven, and the unsteady rise and fall of her chest made his own breath catch in his throat. A shame indeed, he thought, that such a hostile soul must be sheathed in such a comely form.
Slowly, visibly, and brazenly? Good; I wasn’t sure of the exact flavor of her personal comportment, so that cleared that up. There’s comely, too, which isn’t an adverb but is really awful. Oh, and did I mention she’s pale? And she likes to fight? As for Gerallt’s gut-tightening, what can I say? It’s not like there was Dramamine for those long horse voyages.
“Lass,” he said, with measured temper, “mind how you speak to your soon-to-be husband.”
Alodie’s indignation burst out, full-force. “Husband? You insult me with this foolishness! I would rather die than marry a land-thieving murderous like you!”
“Perhaps,” Gerallt replied, “and Prince John’s soldiers would see you through to the end of that threat. I have no desire to see you dead, but the lands will be mine by either of your choices. The only difference is the delay you will incur by resisting.” He watched her consider him, the wind sweeping her hair into a golden frame for her troubled face. He knew she would not choose death. She knew as well as he that her lands would only see greater ruin without a clan leader to fight for them. He felt fully satisfied that the castle would be his, and yet the idea of Alodie as his wife left him intrigued. Her wild, golden beauty could have kindled the desire of countless men, and yet he was more captivated by her ferocity. She would doubtless prove to be difficult to control, and if things were to play to his favor, he would need to control her flaring temperament. By herself she was of little threat to him, but who could know what allies she might have elsewhere?
Gerallt ran a hand through his crop of dark hair. He would have to tame her somehow. The thought sent a spear of energy down his spine, and he shook his head, trying to rid himself of it.
A murderous what? The world may never know. And there are so many adjectives to the effect of Alodie’s solid-gold gleam that I’m surprised she isn’t dangling on the end of a rapper’s necklace. “Spear of energy” gets points for being a Good Combat Metaphor (not—Virgil is cringing in his grave).
Also, the action of this scene takes place in what, five minutes? Pacing was clearly not a concept with which I was overly familiar.
So…Chapter One? Ouch. Chapter Two? Later. Your reward? The real-life epilogue!
I wrote this seven years ago, nearly a third of my life removed from where I am now. Since then, I’ve grown, both as a writer and a medieval scholar—not despite this awful dreck, but because of it.
No, seriously. This actual writing—the first cringe-inducing chapter of His Irish Bride—made up my admissions essay to the University of Chicago. I was accepted early decision, graduated with honors in Medieval Studies, and delivered one of three Convocation speeches for the Class of 2012. I guess I’m kind of proud of it after all.