Monday, September 17, 2012

A mysterious dark age Irish king

I set out to write a story involving the Picts of ancient Scotland and I ended up writing a trilogy that revolved around an Irish clan and a vengeful goddess. After discovering Aedan mac Gabrain, it was hard to resist basing my hero on him.

After coming under pressure from the powerful Ui Neill clan in Ireland, the clan Gabrain came to Scotland (known then as Alba) in about 500 AD to form the kingdom of Dal Riata in what is now Argyle. There were two other clans, but the kings from clan Gabrain served as the high kings of Dal Riata. The Dal Riata clans had embraced Christianity while most of Alba had not.

Aedan mac Gabrain became king of Dal Riata in about 574, picked to be king by the famous St. Columba. This Irish king was known as the most feared warlord of his time by his contemporaries—the British King Riderch, King Urien of Rheged and King Morcant of Gododdin. They formed the Northern Alliance to battle the Picts and Angles. Aedan grew up around the River Forth, his younger years shrouded in mystery. What fascinated me most about Aedan mac Gabrain was that he supposedly fathered a king of the Picts, yet there are recorded battles between him and the Picts. Did he fight against his own son or did he help his son? Also, in the Welsh poems he is called ‘Aedan the Treacherous’ for invading King Riderch’s stronghold, but it doesn’t explain what led to this behavior.

Another thing that fascinated me about Aedan was that in a time when people died young, he lived to be at least 74. And he was present on the battlefield at 70. There is no record of his death, only that after his final battle and defeat at Degsastan, he was no longer king. The clan Gabrain has another notable legacy—Kenneth MacAlpin, the first recorded king of Scotland, is believed to be descended from this clan.

How could I resist such a fascinating historical figure?

For my hero, I saw Aedan as a shrewd, formidable man, two important requirements for a successful king in a time of shifting alliances, betrayal and determined enemies. In my mind, his mate would have to be strong-minded to match his wit and strength. I decided to make her a pagan, which would be the cause of much conflict between them.

And much to my delight I was still able to write a story with the Picts since Aedan had a connection to them.

Excerpt from Beltaine’s Song, Book 2, Dark Goddess Trilogy:

He let go of Galan and turned to Domelch, pressing his mouth close to her ear, his voice harsh with anger. “If ye want anything to do with the likes of him, then so be it, but I will not put up with his insolence any longer.”

Galan swayed on his feet, looking taken aback by Aedan's sudden attack.

“Mordag, see to it that my brother gets to his bed safely,” Domelch ordered, hurrying to catch up to Aedan.

“We need to discuss this.”

“Not now. I am tired.” Aedan kept walking at a fast pace up the path to their dun. The lamps lining the path flickered erratically as he passed them.

“Even if he remembers who I was before, that means nothing. I love you.” She panted, trying to keep up with his quick stride.

“I saw him touch ye under the table, and ye did not stop him.”

“I—I was shocked by his behavior and slow to react, that's all.”

“It is obvious that he is still obsessed with ye.” He quickened his pace.

“Aedan, please stop,” she said, struggling to keep up with his quick stride. “He was obsessed with Cardea. She no longer exists.”

He turned to look at her. “I am not so certain about that. Of late I see flickers of her inside of ye. I saw her cold ruthlessness during Comran’s interrogation and in our bedchamber…”

She turned her head away from the flickering light, hoping the night would shield her eyes so she wouldn't reveal her struggle against her dark past. “You seem to have no objections in our bedchamber.”

He stopped. His hot breath warmed her cheek. “Tell me that ye feel nothing for him and I will let it go.”

“I—I feel only brotherly love for him.”

“He is not yer brother. Tell me ye feel nothing for him, for the man who kidnapped ye and...and forced himself on ye.”

She could not. She knew that she should hate Galan for he did all those terrible things to her, but…that part of her that she thought lost had enjoyed it. She didn't love him. She never did, but she did care for him for he had shown her kindness later when she needed help, when she had no one else to turn to.

“I thought as much.” His face looked frightening in the flickering light, his jaw set in anger.

“A part of me cares for him, but I have given up everything for you. I renounced my Goddess, betrayed Cailleach and accepted your Christian ways.”

“Ye were nothing but a demon. If anything, I saved ye.”

His arrogant tone enraged her. “You saved me? Ha. You were the one cursed living like a miserable hermit in the forest.”

“We were both cursed if I remember it correctly.”

“I was perfectly happy as I was.”

“I think not. Ye were a wretched soul until I came along.”

Anger rose inside of her, anger only Aedan could raise. The blood rushed to her face, ringing in her ears. “If you want me to hate you, then you have succeeded.” She turned to flee from him.

He grabbed her arm, pulling her back into his body. “Hate me, do ye?”

Her pulse raced and her body flushed from anger. “Yes.” She struggled against him, but the hardness of his male body aroused her and she felt his erection pressing against her. She wanted to feel nothing for him, her anger making her stubborn, but her body betrayed her, tingling in places she had no control over. She stopped struggling and submitted to his touch, falling limp in his arms.

“Yer body does not hate me,” he whispered, crushing his lips to her mouth, kissing her roughly.

Anger turned into passion. Her body burned with desire underneath his touch.

Kelley Heckart, Historical fantasy romance author


A Greek vampire, Celtic kings, vengeful goddesses, an ancient faery curse…

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All three books of my Dark Goddess trilogy are available in Print and Ebook. Set in Dark Age Scotland, I mixed history with a Samhain/Beltaine myth that revolves around an Irish clan and the goddesses Brigit and Cailleach.


  1. Wow, I'm glad you couldn't resist this hero and I don't think we're going to be able to, either! Thanks for stopping by today, Kelley.

  2. Hi Miriam,

    Thanks for allowing me to post on your blog. Best wishes!


  3. Hello, Dear Kelley,

    Of course I feel a close kinship with any author who chooses to write about those Gaelic heroes and larger-than-life warriors. I've just written a short story about a Pict, son of a king, who is ostracized from his community. In my research, I found out some pretty awesome things about those mysterious Picts, and I may expand my story to a novel. I can feel your own imagination and passion rising from the page as i read. Keep up the fantastic work! Fondly, xErin

    1. Thanks, Erin. I value your comments. There is something about the Picts that is so compelling. Best wishes to you and your foray into the world of the Picts.


  4. Sounds like a fascinating, series. A lot of people don't know about the strong connection of the Irish to Scotland. I'll have to get your books!

    1. Hi Mary,

      So true. It was something I didn't know until I started doing the research. Scotland has a fascinating history.

  5. You've chosen a fascinating era, Kelley. Or perhaps it chose you :-) Enjoyed the excerpt, look forward to reading more. Best to you, Pat

    1. Hi Pat,

      LOL I think it did choose me. Glad you enjoyed the excerpt. Best wishes.


  6. Just a side note to the Irish/Scottish connection... thru testing of DNA there is a believe that they Irish (Scoti) didn't come to Sccotland in the 4th century to form Dal Raida, they were already there. Archaelogists already know the first people to the British Isles and Ireland after the last ice age in the Iron Age were probably gaelic speaking celts (Q-Celtic) , but that subsequent waves of celts including the Picts and later Britons were brythonic speakers (P-Celtic) and pushed the original celts to the far reaches ( not unlike the Saxons and Normas did later on). And from DNA testing they believe that the group that settled in Argyll probably didn't come from Ireland but had been in Scotland all along thru the waves of brythonic celts and were able to remain seperate because of the geography of the area with mts that kept them isolated and that because they already had a connection with their own gaels in what is Northern Ireland that when the warring tribes there put pressure on the Gaels of Ulster they moved the center of their kingdom to Scotland at Dal Raida in Argyll. And eventually by the 8th/9th century were forced to move their kingdom inland to Perth because of the maruading Vikings.

    The believe now is that those we call the Scoti (Irish) from Ireland came to an already established, but smaller portion of the kingdom of their fellow Gaels in Ulster, that had never been forced our of Scotland. Now they are trying to make the same case in the SW of Scotland (Ayrshire and parts of Galloway) because of the Gaelic speakers who, despite being infiltrated by the Britons and to a smaller degree the Saxons were still able to retain their Gael language if not all aspects ( ie clan system) of the Gael culture. And this is reinforced by the fact that there is a strong DNA connection between people of Arygll and Ayrshire/Galloway.

    Food for thought.