Oak, the second book in my Celtic Legends series, is my take on the Oak King/Holly King legend. Originally published as The Oak King, this is the story of two demi-gods and the mortal woman who loves them. Here’s the blurb:
Twice each year, Aine Murphy ventures into the woods to hold ceremonies to honor the Oak King and the Holly King, never dreaming these Lords of the Forest could be anything more than myth. When the legends spring to life in front of her, how can she help but fall for the sexy demi-gods she’s loved all her life?
From midwinter to midsummer, Fionn O’Dair rules the Greenworld as the Oak King–a role he feels is beyond his abilities, and one that dooms him to a loveless future, forever craving the one man he can never allow himself to have. How can he resist what Aine offers–the sweet devotion that soothes his aching soul, and the slim chance to live a “normal” life as her husband, if only for half a year?
Holly King Kieran Mac Cuilenn never desired a human lover–until now. Seeing Fionn and Aine together fills him with longing for the love he threw away and awakens feelings he thought he’d buried with the last Oak King. Is there enough magic in the solstice to correct the mistakes he made years ago? Or is he doomed to be forever left out in the cold?
As Fionn and Kieran can only visit with each other for a short time every year, at the summer and winter solstices, much of the story takes place at those times. Here’s a winter solstice scene…
At the time of the winter solstice
From his vantage point, beside the farmyard gate, Kieran surveyed the seemingly peaceful scene spread out before him. The night was still with nary a breeze to stir in even the topmost branches of the nearby trees. High above his head, thin white clouds stretched misty ribbons across the sky, blotting out great swaths of stars and wrapping the half-dark moon in a gauzy embrace. Kieran studied the orb’s shadowed form for several moments, the better to divine her wishes. Fionn might claim to serve the sun alone, but Kieran, Ruler of the Waning Year and creature of the ’Tween, knew better. There was naught on this earth could escape the Night Queen’s influence.
In a little over a week, when the moon rose full, it would be for the thirteenth time this year. A rare and unusual occurrence, it signaled a time of transition and change, a time when one might reasonably hope to alter one’s path. A hot swell of anticipation arose within him as he thought of it, the moon of opportunity and rebirth. The opportunity to change—wasn’t that exactly what he needed, what they all needed?
Tonight. Why should it not be tonight?
The sentinels of the forest were used to biding their time. A delay of several decades before a goal could materialize or a dream come to fruition meant little to one such as he. That didn’t mean he didn’t suffer through the waiting, however. It didn’t mean he couldn’t yearn, or covet, or long for what he could not have, what he might never have, or what he might have foolishly thrown away.
Tonight. Please let it be tonight.
On the surface, the cozy farmhouse nestled in its tidy yard looked much as it had the previous year, snug, warm, and inviting, but as Kieran well knew, looks were oftentimes deceiving.
Last year, even despite the pleasant setting, the sight of this place had sparked only fear and uncertainty within him. Tonight, the small stone building, with its whitewashed walls and slate-tiled roof, with candles burning in the windows and a lazy curl of smoke eddying from the chimney, marked the seat of all his hopes and dreams, as well as the crux of his restless discontent. Within its four walls resided everything he longed for and ached to possess.
It was that which kept him standing out here in the cold, which made him hesitate, afraid to enter or even to make his presence known to those inside. Fear. Anticipation. Hope. Uncertainty. Excitement. Desire. Love. Regret.
If his dreams were ever to be realized, it would have to happen sometime. It might be now, or a hundred years from now. Kieran would much prefer it be now, of course, but even a hundred years was better than the third possibility—that his dreams should die aborning and never be realized at all.
Maybe he’d already had his chance and lost it. Maybe what he longed for now would never be his again. In truth, he didn’t know what to expect. That, at least, was the same as last year.
He’d sped here last winter on the full moon’s bright wings and his own breathless terror, his whole mind focused on a single goal—that of saving Fionn’s life. When he’d arrived at the farmhouse, it was just in time to hear Aine’s threat to cut down his grove—and out of nothing more than spite! It had seemed to Kieran then that his fears had all been justified.
Now, he could laugh about it. A smile creased his face as he remembered it. How fierce and fiery she’d appeared. Despite the danger she’d represented, she’d been radiant with her red-gold hair catching the fire’s light and her blue eyes gleaming like sapphires over her flushed cheeks. Even smudged with flour and seething with rage, she’d been a sight to render him almost speechless.
She’d seemed even more magnificent in her anger and wounded pride than she had on that previous midsummer morning. She’d looked like a goddess or a proud young queen as she’d stared Fionn down. Her hands had been fisted on her hips. Her chest had heaved with every angry breath. But queens and goddesses are ofttimes cruel, as Kieran was well aware. And, in that moment, nothing about the situation had struck him as even remotely humorous.
On the surface, his plan to stay close and keep an eye on his temperamental goddess had seemed a good one. He’d thought it sensible, rational, certainly harmless enough. It turned out, of course, to be anything but. How could he have known how disastrous it would prove to be? How could he have ever anticipated that, in the process of getting to know Aine, he would fall so deeply in love?
The fact that she was Fionn’s bride should have been his strongest ward against her. That alone should have sufficed to keep his feelings in check. He’d been insulted when Fionn suggested he might be planning to seduce his wife. In retrospect he could better understand the Oak King’s concerns.
On the other hand, Kieran would dare anyone to do what he had done—spend six months in Aine’s presence, day in and day out—and not fall under her spell. Over the course of those six months, he’d become hopelessly enthralled. And when it came time to leave her, the grief had nearly killed him.
Last summer, he’d told himself he was only acting to protect Fionn when he convinced Aine to wait at home for her husband to return, rather than venturing out into the woods to meet him there. And it was true in its way; it didn’t hurt Fionn to have a moment to himself. Mostly, however, Kieran had been protecting himself.
The hint of despair in Aine’s eyes as he bid her good-bye had done more to warm his heart than even a thousand summer days could have achieved. It was that memory he wanted to take with him into the darkness. It was that he wished to hold on to during his months away, not her subsequent joy at being reunited with her husband.
And tonight, it was that memory that finally propelled Kieran to push open the farmyard gate, that and the hope of what he might see in those eyes tonight, if he were lucky—his own feelings reflected back at him.