I met Helen C. Johannes at my first WisRWA conference when we both had the thrill of receiving our first sale roses. But I really got to know her and admire her through her writing. She spins an amazing tale, a perfect seamless blend of landscape politics and personal passions. Please welcome Helen!
I confess—I’m Helen C. Johannes and I write Fantasy Romance. I can’t help it. That’s just where my brain goes—straight to heroes on horseback wielding swords and wearing armor.
You know that song from the movie Footloose (the Kevin Bacon version) where they’re driving tractors at each other and the soundtrack is playing “I Need a Hero,” someone who’s “fresh from the fight”? That’s my kind of guy. That’s Arn, Prince of Val-Feyridge, and the hero I’ve had stuck in my head since high school.
He’s a ruthless warrior, so tough men fear him—and secretly want to “be” him. If only they knew how much he’s sacrificed to reclaim his rightful title. He loves no one, trusts but a few, and is focused on the one object that would fulfill his destiny, reclaiming the lost Crown of Tolem. He’s scarred inside and out, but he’ll be damned if he lets anyone see those wounds.
Can you tell I love him?
He needs a healer. Too bad she’s the one woman he shouldn’t fall for, a low-born member of the wrong side who could be both a witch AND a spy. Of course Aerid is neither, but she is stubborn, principled and anti-war.
So where did this story come from? And why did it have to be a fantasy?
It came from my formative reading in fairy tales, Tolkien, and medieval history/literature. It came from spending part of my childhood in Germany, the land of castles and fabulous medieval ruins. It came from watching the race riots of the Civil Rights Movement and reading about the brother-against-brother Civil War and watching the Middle East continually burst into flames. It came from all the ways people find to pigeonhole and stereotype others instead of getting to know them as individuals.
And it had to be a fantasy because, frankly, I prefer to play by my own rules. I could set up precisely the kind of geography and legend and political situation I needed, one that would legitimately have spawned these characters. That doesn’t mean it was easy, or that all the pieces came together quickly, but I confess to being something of a control freak, and if I set all the variables in a story, then I know what they all are.
What did I get for following my heart and writing about the hero who’s been in my head since high school? Publication, finally, of THE PRINCE OF VAL-FEYRIDGE by The Wild Rose Press and an EPIC Award for Fantasy Romance.
I want to thank Mary Hughes for opening her blog to me today. She’s a great cheerleader for WisRWA authors and for those of us who write FFPT (fantasy, futuristic, paranormal, and time-travel) romances. In honor of my visit to Mary’s blog, I’m giving away an electronic copy of my book. Post a comment by Friday, March 1st to enter your name in a random drawing. Include your contact information in your comment/entry for a chance to win.
A warrior with a destiny, a woman with a gift. Can loving the enemy restore a broken kingdom? Or will forbidden love destroy it—and them—first?
Excerpt from CHAPTER TEN
Shivers racked Aerid, coming so hard and fast she had bitten her lip bloody, but she refused to make a sound while the Prince rode with her clamped to his body. Her life depended on saying nothing until this man—the Demon Himself for all the cruel efficiency with which he had dispatched their attackers—gave her leave to speak.
Trees whipped by; a bit of moonlight beamed down on a narrow track, and always the horse’s mane lashed her face. She had given up breathing, gulping air whenever the horse’s stride loosened the Prince’s grip a fraction.
The horse slowed, and the Prince straightened in the saddle, allowing a sliver of night air to slide between their bodies. She shuddered at the shock of it, realizing the skin under her tunic was damp with the sweat soaking through his. She had ceased to feel his heartbeat as separate from hers. Both thundered in her ears, and the sweet scent of fresh blood—on his hands, his clothes, his weapons—mingled with horse lather, man-sweat, and her own fear.
He guided the stallion off the track and into a stream. Krenin followed, as did a riderless horse that had raced with them out of the village. Aerid guessed it was one of those that had charged her in the square. Instead of crossing, the Prince headed the stallion downstream, letting it pick its way through fetlock-deep water. Krenin made no comment. Aerid stole a glance in his direction, but the Prince’s Second seemed still in control of his horse although he slumped over the animal’s neck. Around them, water rushed and hissed over stones, the sound echoing the blood-rush in her veins.
The Prince’s arm tightened, drawing her hard against the planes of his chest. Aerid sucked in breath, digging her fingers once more into his tunic sleeve. Every movement reminded her, perched sideways as she was on the saddle pommel, all that kept her out of the water and away from trampling hooves was the strength of his arm—and that arm was trembling. Not with the fear still rattling through her, for he was Tolemak and a warrior. Nor with weakness, though the wound she had stitched a scant seven-night before could yet give him cause. No, in that moment when he had recognized her—in that awful moment after the shock—she had seen all too clearly the fury vibrating through him now. And the knowledge that it had not abated even a whit made her flinch when he bent and his voice lashed at her ear.
“Tell me, witch, and tell me true—does Krenin know who you are?”
The question itself startled Aerid, not its harshness, for she had expected that. Twisting her head, she caught a glimpse of eyes like coals in a face dark and set.
“I mean,” he said, each word measured and knifesharp, “either who you are or who you pretend to be.”
She flushed, knowing full well what he meant. “I—I think not, m’lord. ‘Twas dark and—”
“Then you’ll do nothing to enlighten him. Hear?”
She heard him clearly despite the water-song and hoof splashes she was sure prevented their voices from carrying to Krenin. She understood, too, what underlay his warning. He wanted no one to know that he, the exalted and invincible Prince of Val-Feyridge, had been tricked—trapped—into sparing the life of an Adanak—and a woman!—only to cover the fact he and all his army had been duped into believing—for weeks!—that she was a boy, and a D’nalian. Oh, he had chosen well the moment for his question, Aerid thought, a rush of indignation beating back her shivers.
“Aye, m’lord, ‘tis safe with me, your secret.”
His arm clenched so, she feared he would crush her. “I should have let them kill you!”
He had to feel how her heart fluttered like a trapped bird under his arm, but the breathlessness made her almost giddy, not frightened. Her words had power, and her tongue spat out more of them. “Why did you not? If I be to you what you believe of me, why did you not leave me to them? ‘Twas surely—”
“You helped Krenin. Why?”
Why indeed? Krenin was Tolemak, her enemy. But he had been alone, and injured, and there were so many of them, and they were thieves, not good men, and she could not stand by and watch while… Tears scorched her throat. The Prince would not understand any of that—not
he, the warrior who swung his arm and lopped off heads and limbs without thought of who the bearers might be or where they might be from or who they might have waiting for them—
“‘Twas—’twas not by choice!” Turning away, she pressed knuckles to her mouth to stop its trembling.
He made no response, only straightened away from her and turned the horse toward a grassy bank. When the animal had climbed out of the water, he opened his arm. Unprepared, Aerid slid straight down and fell into marshy grass. She gaped as he dismounted and, looking impossibly tall and featureless in the faint moonlight, stood over her. “Understand then—’tis not by my choice that you’re here, now.” Dropping the stallion’s reins, he walked toward Krenin’s horse, pushing aside the stray that had followed them.
Author Helen C. Johannes lives in the Midwest with her husband and grown children. Growing up, she read fairy tales, Tolkien, The Scarlet Pimpernel, Agatha Christie, Shakespeare, and Ayn Rand, an unusual mix that undoubtedly explains why the themes, characters, and locales in her writing play out in tales of love and adventure. A member of Romance Writers of America, she credits the friends she has made and the critiques she’s received from her chapter members for encouraging her to achieve her dream of publication. When not working on her next writing project, she teaches English, reads all kinds of fiction, enjoys walks, and travels as often as possible.