THE WARRIOR'S DAUGHTER

By Holly Bennett

Published:   March 2007

Publisher:    Orca Book Publishers
Cover Art:    Cathy Maclean

 

The Inside Story: Ew, Maggots!


The thought of an open wound crawling with maggots (fly larvae) is just plain 
nasty. No wonder my heroine, Luaine, was disgusted and upset when she found 
out her face wound had been treated with them! But long before antibiotics were 
invented, battleside surgeons observed that soldiers with maggoty wounds were 
less likely to die of infection. And recently, medicinal maggots have made a 
comeback, proving their use in, for example, cleaning up wounds or ulcers 
infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria. These useful little critters eat up the 
infected tissue, usually with very little discomfort to the patient. But still. Ew.

This is the very stone Luaine's father, Cuchulainn, tied himself to when he realized he was mortally wounded, so that he would die "standing up, facing his enemies." Really.

The World of The Warrior’s Daughter

I’ve always loved novels based in mythology, but until I stumbled across Lady Gregory’s translation of the story of Cuchulainn and the Cattle Raid of Cooley, I knew nothing about the great mythic stories of Ireland. I was so excited!  I loved the story, loved the characters, and I loved the language Gregory had used to tell it.

 

I knew I had to do something with it. I also knew I had my work cut out for me. After all, if you are going to presume to interpret another peoples’ mythology and history, you had better do your research and get it as right as possible. I had a lot to learn, not just about Irish mythology but about the real life and culture of the Iron Age Celts.

I was lucky to be able to travel to Ireland to research the actual locations in The Warrior’s Daughter, and luckier still to connect with Richard Marsh, a storyteller specializing in Irish legends who gives tours of legendary Irish places and 
tells the stories to go with them. I owe him for much more than the time he spent showing me the sites I had read about, for he was a goldmine of information and shared it freely in many emails as well as in person.

Me and Richard Marsh, the storyteller who helped me with my research (see how I'm dutifully taking notes?). We're at Dundealgan, where Cuchulainn had his fort – Luaine's home.

You can see for miles in every direction from the top of Dundealgan, and it gave me chills to look out and think, "This is what she saw every day." Those hills are the beginning of the Cooley Mountains.

Read an Excerpt from The Warrior's Daughter
 

IF CATHBAD HAD DONE nothing more for me—and he has done much—I would be in his debt still for this one thing. Little enough has come with me from my old life, but Fintan perches on my shoulder still.

 

I laughed when I learned his name.

 

“Fintan? It’s a lovely name, but for a raven?” White fire, for a bird as black as pitch. “Is it a riddle?”

 

“In a way.” Cathbad’s old eyes crinkled in amusement. “A secret, rather.” He smoothed down the glossy feathers, scratched the shaggy ruff under the bird’s heavy bill and then spread out its left wing. I saw it then: a single white feather, a secondary that lay hidden behind its neighbors until the full stretch exposed it to view. Striking, the way each color seemed to intensify from the contrast against the other, the black dense and bottomless, the white leaping out against it brighter than snow or sea foam or the white gulls themselves. It drew my eyes and swelled in my vision until I could see nothing else.

 

“Come on, then. Come and meet him.”

 

I started and looked up to find Cathbad studying me. He nodded once, as if in answer to a question I had not asked. “He is no ordinary raven, but you need not fear him. Indeed, I believe you will get on very well together.”

 

His plumage was soft and glossy, yet bristly-stiff if you ruffled it the wrong way. Fintan allowed me to stroke him a few times, then tilted his head and fixed me with one brilliant black eye. He became agitated, clacking his beak and tossing his head up and down like a nervous horse, so that I stepped back, alarmed, and asked Cathbad what was wrong. He just smiled and told me to be still.

 

Suddenly, with a great flurry of flapping wings, Fintan launched himself from Cathbad's arm and landed on my shoulder. I staggered a little from the sudden weight -- a full-grown raven is no small burden -- and gasped at the hard clutch of his talons. But I held my ground, and as he sidestepped over to press against my ear I felt I might burst from the delight of it.

 

With an ear-splitting squawk, Fintan lifted his tail and let loose a white stream down my tunic. Cathbad laughed. “A sure sign that he likes you.”

 

***

 

The door banged open, and in the time it took Cathbad to whirl about, the kindly old 
man vanished. The very air about him crackled with cold outrage, and I saw that I had 
not been wrong to fear him. He was Chief Druid, and not even the King himself could 
barge headlong into his house without asking leave.
     
Apparently my mother could. She stood wild-eyed in the doorway, and Cathbad’s 
rage evaporated.
     
“What is it, Emer?”
     
Something terrible, that I knew. For days, she had been wound like a spring, 
hounded with an overriding purpose. Now she looked beaten, sick with some grief 
that bled away her strength.
     
“The boys have gone.”
     
I did not know an old one could move so fast. His angry curse rang still in my ears, 
but Cathbad was already striding across the compound, pulling my mother along by 
the elbow.
     
Fintan and I were forgotten, but we could piece together well enough what had 
happened. The youth of Emain Macha, spurred on by my mother’s urgency or their 
own dreams of glory, had left their games and taken up arms, riding to join my 
father's stand against Connaught.
     
I pictured them sneaking off at dawn, high-spirited and eager to prove themselves, 
and I wanted desperately to believe it would be as they imagined. But my mother’s 
face had told another tale, and so did the black fist that clutched my heart. No troop of 
boys, however courageous and full of promise, could match an army of seasoned 
soldiers.
     
“They will none of them return,” I whispered, and Fintan sat silent on my thin 
shoulder as I hid my face in my hands and cried for them all.

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