Today we welcome award-winning Dorchester author Gerri Russell back to the lair. Gerri will share the highlights of her recent trip to Scotland, the setting for her three wonderful historicals. The latest, Warrior's Lady, is in stores now, and she'll also tell us a little about that book.
It is not often in life when you have the opportunity to forget the cares of world around you and instead follow your bliss. I had a chance to do just that this summer when I headed to Scotland for three weeks.
Scotland is not the land of my ancestors, not really. I do have a trace of Scottish ancestry in my blood thanks to an ancestor from way back when. But despite my lack of a direct connection, Scotland is the home of my heart, and the place where I have set many of my books.
My journey started in Glasgow before heading straight into the Highlands. It was my intent to see as much of the country in three weeks as I could. I decided to follow the outer perimeter of the mainland, and to hit the major isles. I felt like a kid in a candy store! Driving up to my first castle was an experience I will never forget. As my feet hit the gravel of the parking area, I walked as fast as I could up to the castle, camera in hand, and my heart pounding. Looking back now, I smile at my haste. What was I expecting, that the castle would disappear after having been rooted to that location for the past 700 years?
My whole experience in Scotland was like that: anxious for each new experience, savoring each event as it happened, relishing every nuance of the culture and the scenery, soaking up everything I could. I didn’t sleep much as I kept up my relentless pace of exploration. Someone asked me when I returned home what my favorite memory was. There were so many inspirational moments that it was hard to narrow it down to only one, but this memory stands out among all the others: when I stood in the center of the craggy peaks of Glencoe, surrounded by the scent of heather, listening to the wind as it brushed past my cheeks and teased my hair into wild disarray. It was then that I thought of all the people who had walked in that same spot where I stood over the centuries—early man, the Celts, the Vikings, English invaders, Highlanders throughout the ages--and I felt a part of something bigger than myself.
It is that very same feeling of connectedness that I try to bring to the stories I write about Scotland. Without ever having been to Scotland before, I had somehow captured the essence of what it was like to live in this beautiful land, and had somehow picked up on how much these people cherish their history. A part of history I have been writing about for a while now are Scottish stones of importance. Warrior’s Lady, the third book in the Stones of Destiny series, explores the mysteries behind a small healing stone known as the Lee Penny.
The Lee Penny, or the Charm Stone as I renamed the amulet in the pages of Warrior’s Lady, was obtained by the Locard family in the Crusades in 1330. After the death of Robert the Bruce, king of Scotland in 1329, his friend Lord James of Douglas, along with a contingent of knights, set out to take the dead king’s heart to the Holy Land, making a pilgrimage that the king was not able to undertake in his lifetime. While making their way through Spain, Douglas and his band of knights battled the Saracens. Douglas died on the battlefield, but the king’s heart in its silver casket was rescued by Sir Simon Locard of Lee, who brought it back to Scotland for burial.
After the event, the family changed their name to Lockhart to reflect the service they had done their king.
It was during the same battle that Sir Simon Locard imprisoned a wealthy emir. The emir’s aged mother came to pay his ransom, and in the course of counting out the money, a pebble inserted into a coin fell out of the lady’s purse. She was in such a hurry to retrieve it that the Scottish knight realized it must be valuable and insisted that the amulet be added to the ransom. The lady reluctantly agreed and explained what virtues the Stone possessed.
The Stone was a medical talisman believed to drive away fever and stop bleeding. The amulet was used frequently in the same manner described in Warrior’s Lady, according to tradition. In 1629 the Lee Penny helped cure sick oxen, but as a result a young woman was burned at the stake for witchcraft for using the Stone. There are records of an accusation of witchcraft against Sir Thomas Lockhart during the Reformation, but the Church Synod at Glasgow merely reproved Sir Thomas and advised him to cease using the Stone.
It was these events and the mysteries surrounding the Stone that piqued my imagination and sparked the creation of the characters in Warrior’s Lady, Camden Lockhart and Rhiannon Ruthven, two people in need of some special healing magic from a mystical healing stone. I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing a bit about my recent journey to Scotland and about my latest release. If you want to take a journey with me through Scotland from your own cozy chair, head to my website at www.gerrirussell.net.
Have you ever taken a journey that touched you in ways you didn’t expect, or found some relic of history that made you want to find out more about the culture in which it originated?
Gerri is giving a copy of Warrior's Lady to one of today's commenters, chosen at random.