I admit it. I have a 'thing' about hair in my writing.
Not in real life. My hair is brown going grey and tough. It goes its own way and if it's cut 'wrong' then it will spike. I have it cut short and leave it alone. We get along fine. But in my romance novels, I love hair.
What colour will the herone's hair be? How long? Wavy? Curly? I always like to imagine my main female character's hair.
Mistress Angel" is a spectacular blonde, with colouring that both attracts and also makes others eager to prey on her. I showed off her hair with a scene drawn from the historical records - in May 1357, the King of France was brought as a prisoner to London and paraded through the city in style. The goldsmiths, eager to be part of the show, positioned twelve beautiful maidens in golden cages above the street for them to toss flowers. I made my Isabella one of the maidens.
The gaudy troop of soldiers and knights, already shifting at a slow canter, settled into a meandering amble as the road through Cheapside broadened between the grander houses belonging to the members of the goldsmith's guild.
“Ici, là!” cried Prince Edward, sweeping a bejeweled gloved arm toward the upper storeys. Beside him, on his taller horse, the French king looked up and softly applauded. Stephen scanned the ridge tiles of the freshly-painted, gilded houses and glanced where the prince was pointing.
There she is. He smiled.
He recognized her instantly by the proud tilt of her head, her sweetly handsome profile and those glowing eyes, more compelling even than the luxuriant gold of her hair or her sumptuous costume.
Goldsmith’s garb and no glover’s girl for sure, he thought, reining in his horse and slowing to admire her the more as she shimmered above him like the evening star. Encased in a narrow cage of gold suspended above the cobbles, he saw that she was one of twelve maidens positioned high above the street, all caged, all lovely, but his gaze returned to her alone. Already the others seemed pale shadows, water ripples, echoes. But she is stunning. Above the roar of blood in his ears he heard the ribald comments of Prince Edward and knew he also approved of her.
By a mighty effort of will Stephen tore his attention away from this bewitching, naughty beauty and returned to scanning roofscapes. Still his eyes kept flitting back as he silently willed her to turn within her cage, to look out, to look back, to see him.
Know me, girl. Wonder at me, as I do at you. He was torn between admiration and a longing to kiss her thoroughly for her deception. Kissing you will be a sweet revenge.
She was tossing flowers, delicate metal posies of gold and silver that streaked the cobbles like flashing dewdrops or sun-flashed rain, pretty trinkets that the populace would certainly scramble for as soon as the nobles had passed. Still staring toward Westminster, although she must surely know by the mutter of the crowd that the foremost Prince of England and King of France rode right beneath her cage, she scattered another handful of golden petals, seemingly oblivious to the gasps of admiration. Silhouetted against the dark, smoke-stained jetty of the house, her slim body made a pleasing, subtle curve.
I kept in mind those aspects all the time I wrote of Isabella - and her hair.
Elfrida, the witch in my "The Snow Bride" is a red-head. This shows her supernatural and inner
passion and fire, both of which she uses to lure a dangerous adverary closer.
She would not dwell on what could go wrong, and she fought down her night terrors over Christina, lest they become real through her thoughts. She lifted up her head and stared above the webbing of treetops to the bright stars beyond, reciting a praise chant to herself. She was a warrior of magic, ready to ensnare and defeat the beast.
“I have loosened my hair as a virgin. I am dressed in a green gown, unworn before today. My shoes are made of the softest fur, my veil and sleeves are edged with gold, and my waist is belted in silver. There is mutton for my feast, and dates and ginger, wine and mead and honey. I am a willing sacrifice. I am the forest bride, waiting for my lord—”
Her voice broke. Advent was meant to be a time of fasting, and she had no lord. None of the menfolk of Yarr would dare to take Elfrida the wisewoman and witch to be his wife. She knew the rumors—men always gossiped more than women—and all were depressing in their petty spitefulness. They called her a scold because she answered back.
“I need no man,” she said aloud, but the hurt remained. Was she not young enough, fertile enough, pretty enough?
Keep to your task, Elfrida reminded herself. You are the forest bride, a willing virgin sacrifice.
She had tied herself between two tall lime trees, sometimes struggling against her loose bonds as if she could not break free. She could, of course, but any approaching monster would not know that, and she wanted to bait the creature to come close—close enough to drink her drugged flask of wine and eat her drugged “wedding” cakes. Let him come near so she could prick him with her knife and tell him, in exquisite detail, how she could bewitch him. He would fear her, oh yes, he would...
She heard a blackbird caroling alarms and knew that something was coming, closing steadily, with the stealth of a hunter. She strained on her false bonds, peering into the semidarkness, aware that the fire would keep wild creatures away. Her back chilled as she sensed an approach from downwind, behind her, and as she listened to a tumble of snow from a nearby birch tree, she heard a second fall of snow from a pine closer by. Whoever, whatever, was creeping up was somehow shaking the trees, using the snowfalls as cover to disguise its own movement.
A cunning brute, then, but she was bold. In one hand she clutched her small dagger, ready. In her other, she had the tiny packet of inflammables that she now hurled into the fire.
“Come, husband!” she challenged, as the fire erupted into white-hot dragon tongues of leaping flame, illuminating half the clearing like a noonday sun. “Come now!”
She thrust her breasts and then her hips forward, aping the actions that wives had sometimes described to her when they visited her to ask for a love philter. She shook her long, red hair and kissed the sooty, icy air. “Come to me!”
She saw it at the very edge of her sight—black, huge, a shadow against the flames, off to her side, and now a real form, swooping around from the tree line to her left to face her directly. She stared across the crackling fire at the shape and bit down on the shriek rising up her throat.
The beast stepped through the fire, and she saw its claw reaching for her. She heard a click, off to her right, but still kept watching the claw, even as the fire was suddenly gutted and dead, all light extinguished.
Darkness, absolute and terrifying, smothered her, and she was lost.
Of course, the battered crusader knight Sir Magnus, hero of "The Snow Bride" is entranced by Elfrida and by her hair.
It's a sweet vice but I have to be careful. Sometimes I have have my characters spending too much time 'fiddling' with their own or others' hair - stroking, patting, tweaking, adding flowers. My heroes are usually as hair-fixated as I am and sometimes I need to remove some of their petting.
One Midsummer Knight) is blond, a sunshine lad. (Again, I use the colouring as my own reminder and key to character, both for Randal and the Unicorn who is also an important part of this story. I've written dark-haired heroes but to me it's not an essential.
Ffion shook herself. “I care not for such trifles as looks,” she answered, in her head, “Though he is handsome.” He was sinewy and lean and his rough-cut yellow hair was as lush as summer butter, flowing over his broad shoulders as Unicorn’s mane had spilled down his flanks. Catching glimpses of a green tunic and dark leggings beneath his chain mail, she noted the good quality cloth, of older dyes, she thought, but well maintained. Overall he seemed honest and open, and he had a very shapely mouth.
What do I care about his lips! He is clean-shaven, what of it? Aloud, she added, “Will you come with me, for company?”
It was a grudging invitation but Sir Randal smiled and said, “We shall discover how these feathers work.” He tied his ancient helmet to his belt and offered her his arm.
The Master Cook and the Maiden" I have the hero, Swein, wearing a cap for quite a while, teasing the heroine and the reader as to what colour is hair is, a small, sweet mystery.
No one will bother looking for me, Alfwen almost confessed, but the night drew close and she did not want to admit she was friendless, powerless. “I can ride in your waggon?” she asked, spotting the same less than a sword’s length from her. I must have been deep in shock to have missed that and a mule arriving.
“I have some old pottage for your dog, too,” came the genial reply.
He swept her onto the back of the waggon, handed her Teazel and warned, “Stay away from the firebox, or the crocks therein. I have hot food going.”
“My thanks,” Alfwen whispered, praying her belly did not rumble at the thought of more dumplings. She met his bright eyes again, briefly wondering what colour his hair might be under his close-fitting cap. “Might I know your name, sir?”
Later, to show their developing closeness, Alfwen washes Swein's hair and she finally discovers its colour, length and texture.
To celebrate brown hair, in "Dark Maiden" my female exorcist Yolande has long, brown hair:
He saw her face change, becoming as still as a mask. Then she blinked. “I do understand it. My thanks to you, master Geraint. How may I aid you in return? Are you thirsty or hungry?”
“Ale is always welcome,” he answered quickly, “but for now the pleasure of your company on the road will be more than payment.”
She raised her pretty eyebrows at that. The rest of her was pretty too , if such a plain word could be used for such exotic looks. By “dark” he had expected black hair, which Yolande had—long, shimmering waves of the stuff, very clean but caught in a simple clasp at the back of her slender neck as if she had no time for any fuss. Her eyes were either brown or black—he could not be sure—but they were clear and steady as if she looked straight to the heart of things.
To the heart of me, for sure. Geraint liked women, loved their smell and feel and their cockeyed way of looking at the world. For all her man’s clothing, Yolande was very much a woman, and a love worthy of Solomon. Her skin was a beautiful shade of bronze, smooth as polished wood, and her eyelashes were double-lashed. She had a narrow face and elegant bones but there was a strength in her, character and soul together. He could imagine her besting devils.
For the rest…the performer in him knew at once that she should be in bright colors, reds and yellows and blues, not the drab serge of a thatcher. If she was in his company for long—and he intended she would be—he would tempt her into a brighter manner of dress.
For she has the glory of the evening in her. She wins me already and does not know it.
“I do not chatter,” she said, unaware of his inner tumult. “I have a way to go.”
Better still. He admired how she did not admit where she was headed. “For today then?” He lifted his hands, palms up. “To the nearest house of honest folk, who will let you sleep by their hearth and me in their hayloft?”
“You wish to squire me to safety?”
“For the pleasure of—”
“For the pleasure of my company. Yes, Geraint the Welshman, you said that already.” But she was smiling as she spoke and he knew she would agree.
“Shall I carry this?” He motioned to the cross. “You have your bow and bag already, and it will be no trouble.”
After a moment she strode out like a youth, leaving him to catch up. Geraint admired her graceful gait and did not hurry. He wanted their day to last.
By then I may have won another day in her company.
I like to use hair to confound stereotypes. One of my heroines, is blonde - but she would never have a "blonde" moment. She is a dangerous, calculating, kindly, devious.
So I have fun with hair. I've had curly haired heroes and heroines, long haired heroes and heroines, shorn heroes. I've had heroines caught by their hair - one is trapped by her long hair while trying to escape.
Next time (maybe) I will have to celebrate the naked scalp. That, for me, would be a challenge.
(Photograph by courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)