Building the stage for a firestarter story
A Gothic land of real-life castles, mysterious standing stones and an enchanted forest
We’re on holiday in France to visit my husband’s family, and this year we’re taking a detour to Brittany in the north. Today, we stop in Carnac to see the more than three thousand mysterious standing stones dating back to 4500BC. Following a path through nettle and thorns in my flip-flops, I’m awestruck by the mystery of the place. Nobody knows why the stones were erected, or what purpose the incredible construction served. They remind me of Stonehenge. The Celtic culture here is evident in the language, cuisine, music, myths and symbols.
The next day we venture out to the enchanted forest of Brocéliande, the home of King Arthur and other magical creatures. Fairy trinkets are on display in the medieval village shop windows and tarot card readings are signposted on their doors. I buy a stunningly illustrated book of forest spirits and fantasy art before we have the traditional lunch of galette (a pancake made with buckwheat flour and served with a sweet or savory filling) and cider.
I’m looking forward to the visit of the castles. Coming from a country of fairly young architecture (four hundred years or so), anything with a turret and a tower is like a dream to me. We wander down the cobblestone street of a village called Josselin to a castle with the same name. Just like in picture books, a moat runs along the back. Yellow, red and purple wildflowers spill over its banks. Ducks swim in the green water toward the old mill. In this part of the world, Josselin is a powerful and masculine name handed down from a long line of descendants who changed the history of the world.
Back at the fisherman cottage where we’re staying in Larmor-Baden, I walk along the shore of the Gulf of Morbihan to the old town square and buy a kouign-amann (a crusty Breton cake made with bread dough and layers of sugar and butter) from the patisserie. On the way back, I stop at the harbor to enjoy the distant view of some of the islands that dot the Gulf. The locals say there are more islands in the Gulf than days in a year. In the nearby clearing the townsfolk is setting up for tonight’s Fest Noz, a traditional festival with Breton music, dancing and beer.
The setting is mysterious, eerie, romantic and breathtaking. Sea, islands, Celtic standing stones, fishermen cottages, castles, myths, legends and secrets surround me. The elements are Gothic–ancient icons that survived in a modern environment. It’s the dreamscape that fairy tales are made of. It’s the perfect backdrop for a paranormal romance novel. And so it becomes the real-life stage for a fictional story about a haunted Frenchman who must find and kill the firestarter responsible for the destruction of his Breton village, Larmor-Baden. He could never know that she would turn out to be the frail Japanese girl from his childhood, or that she had grown into a beautiful, desirable woman.
For this story I’ve borrowed from fact and mixed it with fiction to create a compelling backdrop for the hot, beautiful, scary and cozy ambiences that change with the turn of every page.
Interesting facts about the Pyromancist setting
Josselin Castle (French: Château de Josselin; Breton: Kastell Josilin)
· Guéthénoc (vicomte of Porhoët), Rohan and Guéméné started to build the first castle around 1008.
· It is situated in the Oust Valley in Brittany, France.
· The castle was named after Goscelinus, the son of Guéthénoc. The name is recorded in the Cartulary of Redon Abbey (1080) as castellum et castrum Goscelini, but already by 1108 it was appearing as Castellum Joscelini.
· In the 18th century, the castle was no longer occupied as a seat of power, and during the years of the French Revolution and the First French Empire Napoleon used it as a prison and warehouse.
· In 1822, Caroline, Duchess of Berry, persuaded the then Duke of Rohan, Louis François de Rohan-Chabot, to restore it.
· The Castle is still a residence of Josselin de Rohan, fourteenth Duke of Rohan, who was President of the region of Brittany from 1998 to 2004.
· In 2012, the Josselin castle served as the backdrop for the romantic Chinese television series, Flowers and Mist.
“Imagine a fairytale castle! Imagine soaring ramparts and three mighty towers dominating the river valley below. Imagine these things and you have Josselin castle—a fortress where the very history of Brittany was forged. And yet, within the solid castle walls, you will discover the delicate intricacy of the exquisite flamboyant Gothic facade that they conceal. The mediaeval and the Renaissance come together to create a place of legend and magic.” (http://www.chateaujosselin.com/en/)
Standing stones of Carnac
· The Stones of Carnac is a dense collection of megalithic sites around the French village of Carnac, in Brittany.
· There are more than 3000 prehistoric standing stones.
· This is the largest collection of its kind in the world.
· According to archeologists, the pre-Celtic people of Brittany erected the stones.
· They were erected during the Neolithic period with some dating back to 4500 BC.
· The largest stones are around 13 feet (4 meters) high.
· There are three major groups of stone rows–Ménec, Kermario and Kerlescan– which may have once formed a single group, but have been split up as stones were removed for other purposes.
· A dolmen is a tomb constructed of several large stones supporting a capstone, then buried under a mound of earth.
· A tumuli is a mound of earth built up over a grave, featuring a passage leading to a central chamber that once held Neolithic artifacts.
· A menhir is a stone standing upright.
“Research is going on now to try to find out if these stone markings served as sites for astronomy or whether they were aligned with the Sun or Moon in a special way. But for now, their true purpose remains elusive.” (http://www.ancient-origins.net/ancient-places-europe/mystery-carnac-stones-00827)
Gulf of Morbihan
· There are around 42 islands in the Gulf of Morbihan.
· Many are owned by celebrities.
· The two largest, Île aux Moines and Île d’Arz, are favorite tourist destinations in summer.
· The island of Gavrinis is home to the most impressive megalithic site in Brittany–a pyramid-shaped stone burial chamber with a long stone passageway decorated with carvings.
“In the Gulf of Morbihan, the small uninhabited island of Gavrinis is home to what is arguably Brittany’s most impressive Neolithic site –whose interior walls are covered with artwork. The island is accessible via a guided tour by boat from Larmor-Baden.” (http://www.brittanytourism.com/discover-brittany/islands-and-headlands/gavrinis)
Forest of Brocéliande
· Brocéliande is known for its legends, uncertain location, unusual weather and ties with Arthurian Romance.
· This is where the magical fountain and the tomb of the legendary figure, Merlin are said to be situated.
· This is where Vivien entrapped Merlin inside an oak tree.
· By 1240, the forest of Brocéliande was already established as part of Arthurian legend due to its appearance in multiple writings.
· Brocéliande is the location of the fantasy novel, Merlin’s Wood by Robert Holdstock.
· It is the backdrop for the movie Robin Hood (2010) as the place where Robert Loxley is ambushed by the French.
· In Bermanrd Cornwell’s Arthurian trilogy, The Warlord Chronicles, Brocéliande is one of two British (Celtic) kingdoms that form modern-day Brittany, the other being Armorica.
“About 18 miles (30km) west of Rennes, the forest of Paimpont is all that remains of the vast forest that covered ancient inland Brittany, aka Argoat. Legend has it that the 25 square miles (40km2) of woodland is also the location of mythical Brocéliande, the forest of King Arthur.” (http://www.brittanytourism.com/discover-brittany/quintessential-brittany/broceliande)
Seven Forbidden Arts
Genre: Paranormal Erotic Romance
Publisher: Satin Romance,
an imprint of Mélange Books
Date of Publication: 19 March 2015
Number of pages: 252
Word Count: 101 000
Cover Artist: Caroline Andrus
When you play with fire, you get burned.
At the same time as mysterious fires commence to rage through Clelia d’Ambois’ home village in Brittany, France, she starts sleepwalking. Daughter of a Japanese orphan, Clelia’s heritage is riddled with dark secrets that threaten anyone she loves. In a recurring nightmare she sees Josselin, the haunted man who abandoned their village nine years earlier, come for her, but she doesn’t know why. All she knows is that she has to run. As fast as she can.
Leader of a paranormal crime taskforce, Josselin de Arradon is called back to his hometown with a mission–find and kill the firestarter responsible for Larmor-Baden’s blazing destruction. Sensing that Clelia is the key to solving the crime, Josselin kidnaps her to use her as bait. The battle doesn’t turn out quite as he expected. Nothing could have prepared him for the truth, or the depth of his desire for his prisoner.
This is Book 1 of the Seven Forbidden Arts series, but also reads as a stand-alone.
This book contains adult content with explicit language and consummated love scenes. Suited for an audience of 18+.
Josselin had only spoken to her once. It was on a summer day after school. She had wandered to the dense forest at the back of the schoolyard because she knew that was where she would find him. She stood behind a tree and watched him–studied him–the movement of his hand as he smoked a forbidden cigarette, the manner in which he pulled his fingers through his dark hair, and the way he laughed loudly into his gang of friends, even if his eyes cried, or blazed.
That day, however, he wasn’t with his friends. He was with a girl. Her name was Thiphaine and she was the most popular girl in school. She was blonde and slim and beautiful with blue eyes and red painted fingernails. Clelia watched from her hiding place as Josselin slowly backed Thiphaine up until her body pressed against the trunk of the witch tree. It was a thuja occidentalis but the townsfolk had baptized it so because of its twisted and crippled branches. The setting was eerie for a romantic adventure, and yet, it suited Josselin. He seemed right at home, while Thiphaine looked around nervously. His hand went to her cheek, his palm huge and dark and rough against the porcelain paleness of Thiphaine’s face, while his other hand slipped under her blouse. His gray eyes looked like melted steel when he lowered his head.
His shoulder-length black hair fell forward when he pressed his lips to Thiphaine’s and he moved his hand from her cheek to brush it back behind his ear. Clelia remembered the deliberate movement of his jaw, the way the muscles dimpled in his cheek, the hand under Thiphaine’s blouse, all the while maintaining his composure while Thiphaine came undone under his caress. The beautiful girl made low moaning sounds. Her knees buckled, but Josselin, without breaking the kiss, grabbed her waist, pulling her so tightly into him that her back arched, keeping her up with his arm while he made her weak with his touch and his tongue.
Watching them ignited both yearning and pain inside of Clelia. The hurt she felt speared her heart. The aching in her soul was suddenly greater than the heat in her pores and on her cheeks, but she couldn’t tear her stare away from the forbidden sight. It was Iwig, a boy from her class, who broke the painful spell when he discovered her behind the tree.
“What have we here?” he said.
His eyes darted to the distance where Josselin and Thiphaine were embracing. He knew what she had been doing. He was a tall, blond boy with a strong build, and Clelia disliked him for his habit of hunting abandoned cats with his pellet gun.
“A peeping tom,” he said, taking a step toward her.
When she tried to back away, he grabbed her long braid and tugged it painfully, causing her to yelp.
“Not so fast, witch.” He grabbed her arm and hauled her so that she stumbled into him. “You like to watch, don’t you?” He grinned. “How about a taste of the real thing?”
She opened her mouth to scream, but he had already brought his down and kissed her so hard that his teeth split her lower lip. In reflex her free hand shot up, aiming for his cheek, and collided with its target. The force of the blow shot Iwig’s head back and froze him in his action, but only for a second, before Clelia saw his arm lift. Not able to free herself from his grip, she cowered instinctively, but instead of his fist coming down on her, another pair of arms grabbed Iwig by his shoulders and flung him to the ground.
When she looked up, she stared into the face of Josselin, and what she saw was frightening. His features were twisted into a terrifying expression, and before she could say anything, Josselin bent down and lifted Iwig by his jacket lapels. Iwig’s legs dangled, flapping like fish on soil, while his arms flayed in the air as if swatting flies. Josselin let go of one side of the jacket, his fist arching and hooking under Iwig’s chin, while at the same time unknotting his other hand from the fabric of the jacket. The impact sent Iwig flying through the air. When he hit the ground, she could hear the loud thump as the air was knocked from his lungs. Josselin moved forward, his arms away from his body, his fingers flexing, his shoulders pushed forward, until he stood wide-legged over the submissive body of Iwig. Iwig lifted his hands in front of his face, mumbling pleas for mercy.
“If you ever touch a girl in that way again, I’ll hang you from a tree under a pack of wild boars and watch them eat you from your feet up to your useless dick, until they rip your stomach open and your insides fall out and you beg me to die,” Josselin said.
He spoke very softly, but the woods had suddenly gone quiet. His voice all but echoed in the absence of the sound of birds and wind. From the corner of her eye, Clelia noticed Thiphaine who stood to the side, hugging herself.
“And if you ever lift your hand to a woman again, I’ll cut off your balls and make you eat them and then I’ll feed you to the boars. Do you understand?”
Iwig tried to scurry away on his elbows, but Josselin stepped on his jacket.
“I asked if you understand.”
“Yes. Yes,” Iwig said. He had started crying.
When Josselin lifted his boot, Iwig scrambled to his feet. He didn’t look at Clelia before he ran down the path in the direction of the school. Only then did Josselin turn to her. She shook from head to toe while Josselin studied her quietly. After a moment he walked to her, took her chin in his hand and tilted her head.
“You’re bleeding,” he said, trailing his thumb over her lower lip.
And then he did something that shocked her wildly. He brought his thumb to his lips, slowly, his gray eyes holding hers prisoner while he slipped his finger into his mouth and licked it clean, tasting her blood.
Clelia couldn’t move. She stood still, unable to speak or blink.
He took a white handkerchief from his coat pocket and wiped it over her mouth before pressing it into her hand.
“He won’t bother you again, but you’d better go home.”
She only nodded. He was much taller than her, so that she had to crane her neck to look up at him. He shifted and then his face was obscured by the shadows with the sun at his back. She remembered wondering if he had forgotten about Thiphaine, who still stood to one side, silently observing, her eyes wide. Clelia looked from Thiphaine to Josselin. When life finally returned to her legs and she started to hurry down the path, he said, “What’s your name, girl?”
She stopped. “Cle … Cle…” Her teeth chattered.
He frowned. “Take a deep breath. You’re in shock.”
She did as he instructed, and found her jaw relax slightly.
“That’s better. Now, tell me again.”
His lips twitched. “The witch?”
She flinched. That was what her classmates called her.
He didn’t show any kind of emotion. Only his smile became a little bit more pronounced. “How old are you?”
“Fourteen,” she said through parched lips.
“You’re too young to wander alone in the woods.”
When he said that, his voice became soft and dark again, like when he had spoken to Iwig, and without sparing either of the lovers another glance, Clelia sprinted home and curled into a ball on her bed with his bloody handkerchief in her hand.
About the Author:
Charmaine Pauls was born in Bloemfontein, South Africa. She obtained a degree in Communication at the University of Potchestroom, and followed a diverse career path in journalism, public relations, advertising, communications, photography, graphic design, and brand marketing. Her writing has always been an integral part of her professions.
After relocating to France with her French husband, she fulfilled her passion to write creatively full-time. Charmaine has published six novels since 2011, as well as several short stories and articles.
When she is not writing, she likes to travel, read, and rescue cats. Charmaine currently lives in Chile with her husband and children. Their household is a linguistic mélange of Afrikaans, English, French and Spanish.
Read more about Charmaine’s romance novels and psychological short stories
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