Too many things fascinate me. How can I choose?
I scanned through the “Research” file on my computer to see what topics grab my attention most often. These are articles and links I’ve downloaded, theoretically in case I need the information for stories I may write, but really just because I have an intense interest in them, which seems pretty close to fascination. Any interest even more intense might qualify as fixation, or even fetish. I have to admit that there have been stages of my life when I was fascinated to the brink of fixation by a few individual people, but there’s no point in going there now. More general subjects are more interesting.
But which subjects? The closest I can come to plucking a coherent thread out of the wide range of “research” topics I’ve squirreled away in my file is history, especially women in history. I’ve researched, and written about, women from myth and legend and history as far back as Amazons—what was behind those myths?—and as recent as the Russian Night Witch bomber pilots in WWII and American WACs in Vietnam, but the area of history that is quickest to spark my interest is prehistory, the history that we don’t know about through written accounts, leaving more room for speculation. I love to speculate—after all, that’s what writers do—but I also want to have all possible information before I speculate publicly, in print.
When it comes to prehistory, though, new discoveries and theories come along more and more frequently, especially regarding the long-gone humans who fascinate me most of all: the Neanderthals. Quite a few years ago I wrote a fantasy story incorporating the then-accepted theory that Neanderthals and “modern” humans could not interbreed—even writing fantasy one wants to be accurate on such matters—but now, of course, with more sophisticated methods of testing DNA, that’s been disproven, and people can get their own DNA analyzed and find that they have two percent, or five per cent, or some other small vestige of Neanderthal heritage. That doesn’t tell us much about what life was like back when those two distinct but biologically compatible branches of the human race were encountering each other, but it still fascinates me. And I download every new bit of research or discovery or even wild speculation about the subject.
No, I haven’t paid to have my DNA analyzed. And no, in a completely off-topic aside, I haven’t tried to write Neanderthal erotica. Well, not exactly. But… I’m currently working on revising a fantasy story that was rejected for an anthology of fairy-tale erotic romance because it didn’t quite fit the theme of bondage, though the editor kindly invited me to resubmit it if she does another fantasy anthology. My story is set more or less in Viking times rather than prehistory, but one of the two central characters is a female Norwegian troll. Strange how many legendary attributes of Norwegian trolls line up with what little is known about Neanderthals… You can see where I’m going with this, though I never make that point overtly in the story, and there are supernatural elements that may obscure it.
Erotic romance involving a troll (and an independent-minded Viking woman) could be a very hard sell, but fascination compelled me to write it, and I know an editor who can’t refuse it (although my publisher may do so.) I intend to include it in the anthology I’m currently editing myself, a fantasy book at last, called The Princess’s Bride.
Just in case the publisher doesn’t share my fascination, though, this excerpt from “Trollwise” may be all anyone ever gets to see. In this flashback, both characters are young, and the troll’s traditional youthful “Huldra” form becomes closer to what we think of as troll-like when she’s older, but by that time a bond has been forged, and tangled adventures are underway.
Hjørdis had followed Harald that day only because he was so determined not to be followed. Whatever drew him must be worth seeing, since he had at last stopped pining for the fjords and his dragon ship and his friends, and the girls at home, as he’d done throughout the visit to their uncle’s mountain domain. It must have something to do with a girl, though. She’d seen him out past the cattle byre last night with the cowherd, their expressions and gestures and rough laughter reeking of lascivious intent. The fellow must have told him where to find some particularly tempting morsel.
It was easy enough to keep out of Harald’s sight, especially since Hjørdis wore a pair of his brown leggings rather than her own skirt. She could move upslope and down, from boulder to boulder, with far more ease than her seafaring brother. She was at home here in ways that he was not, which was why her uncle had decreed that she should inherit his lands and responsibilities when the time came.
Harald crested a ridge and stood, enthralled, before starting down into the stream-carved vale that Hjørdis thought of as her own personal retreat. From the look on his face it was not the stream spreading out into a little marsh that drew him, nor the waterfall from which it flowed, nor the reeds and wildflowers, nor the dense growth of spruce on the slope beyond with tender new growth at the tip of every branch so bright a green it looked like a host of tiny flames.
No, it was some woman. Some brazen, naked woman, she saw, when, forsaking stealth, she reached the ridgetop. By then Harald wouldn’t have noticed if she’d hurled stones at him, as she was sorely tempted to do. Or at the woman, scarcely more than a girl, reclining on the sunlit rock where Hjørdis liked best to sit.
Slim, seductive, long-legged, with pale hair streaming past her exquisite face over her shoulders and across breasts that peeked in and out between the flowing tresses; surely this was an illusion born of Harald’s fantasies! And, Hjørdis had to admit, of her own.
Then the girl tilted back her head, gazed up at them both, opened her lovely mouth, and sang. The clear, high sound flowed over Hjørdis, piercing her body, pulsing in her veins. An illusion indeed, an enchantment out of the storied past, when there was magic in the world far beyond what little remained. When troll girls in the Huldra form enticed men with their songs, enslaved them, making them forget all else. Harald, besotted, charged down the slope, stumbling, falling, rising, lurching forward, compelled by the song and the promise of that enticing body.
A surge of rage saved Hjørdis from just such madness. The song, the allure, the enchantment; none of it was meant for her! Never for her! She stood on the height, glaring down upon them like an avenging Valkyrie even as she shook inside with a longing as fierce as her anger. Let the seductress do as she would with him! Let her…
But as Harald stumbled again, just short of his prize, the girl vanished. When he looked up there was nothing to see but empty rock. He searched all around in a frenzy of thwarted desire, thrashed through the reedy marsh, peered into the stream as though she might have swum away like a mermaid.
Hjørdis descended without hurry. “Go on home,” she told her brother. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost. The air this high in the mountains can have that effect on those not suited to it.” Harald was not convinced, but neither was he about to tell his sister what he’d been hoping for, though the receding bulge in his trousers was evidence enough. He stomped off, sulking, and by the top of the ridge he was breathing as hard as though the air were indeed too thin for comfort.
Hjørdis perched on the edge of the rock. When she was quite sure Harald was gone, she said calmly, “You might as well come out now.” There was a long bulge in the stone that had not been there yesterday. Stones did not grow overnight. Besides, Hjørdis had had a better view of what transpired than Harald.
The hard surface shimmered for a few seconds, and then a shape emerged. Not so slim or long-legged now, with a round, laughing face that, while scarcely fairy-tale perfect, did possess a certain charm. To Hjørdis the sturdy naked body was just as alluring as the one seen through the haze of illusion, but she had no intention of revealing her vulnerability. “I can’t say much for your taste in men,” she said coolly.
The girl sat up and shrugged. “There is so little entertainment here. And are you certain it was he I sang for?”
Hjørdis’s brows arched in skepticism even as something lurched inside her. Then she frowned and looked more closely. “I should know you. You’re the healer’s girl Styggri, aren’t you? Old Hilgra’s? But you were just a small child…”
“No smaller than you! And I did not hide behind my mother’s skirts, while you always hung back behind your uncle.”
Even that long ago they had eyed each other with as much challenge as curiosity. Hjørdis had been taken to the troll healer several times over the years to learn the simpler skills of herbal heaing that she might need as Lady of her uncle’s Hall, but Styggri had seldom been present, and not seen at all for several years. Now Old Hilgra was gone as well.
“Your mother…” Hjørdis paused. None knew for sure whether the healer had died or simply moved on.
“Gone to another place. As I have been, studying troll lore.” She stopped abruptly, as though she had said more than she ought, then went on, “I’ve returned to be healer for the few of trollkind still here, but I must leave again in two years.”
Hjørdis, too vividly aware of Styggri’s casually naked body, kept a stern hold on herself. “So is lounging about wantonly like this…” she gestured along the sprawling form, “any way for the healer to behave?”
“Was bathing naked in the stream yesterday any way for the future Lady of the Hall to behave?” Styggri’s wide grin was triumphant.
Adventures follow, with princesses, a prince, a castle, captivity, kinky sex, ancient magic, and faux-goats prancing across a bridge. Your typical fairy-tale. But to me, at least, the not-so-typical perspective of the central characters is truly fascinating.