Happy Saturday to you!
I've been doing a bit of poster making for my Celtic Fervour Saga which will be appearing on my social media outlets during the later part of January.
And over the next week, I'll be posting information about the Agricola's Bane Blog Tour that's organised by Rachel's Random resources, but to start the ball rolling here's a coffee-break extract from the novel. I'll be reducing the kindle price of Agricola's Bane to 99p/99c on Amazon during the tour from 20th to 27th January. If you've not yet bought a copy, now would be a good time to get a super long read for a very cheap price!
It is late A D 84 not long after the devastating battle at Beinn na Ciche ( aka Mons Graupius). The land is rife with many different predators - animal and human - and suspicion abounds. My young Garrigill warrior Enya, and her companions Nith of Tarras and Feargus of Monymusk, have to contend with marauding Roman patrols... but they also have to face other unpalatable situations. They have recently crossed the (River) Abhainn Caelis at a point north of Srathbogie, and are heading north-west into Vacomagi territory. They have no idea if the Vacomagi are still resistant to roman rule or whether they have made treaties with the invaders...
On the far side of the dwelling, a thicket hugged the lower reaches of the nearby hill. He headed that way knowing his chances were greater of bagging a small animal, his fingers rooting in the pouch at his waist to check how many stones he still had. It had been a while since he had added to his collection of specially prepared ones.
As soon as he entered the trees, the pervading peaty smell of the marshy ground he had just sludged his way across, changed to that of a different sort of decay. The stench of rotting blood was unmistakable, though whether it was animal or human he could not be sure. His senses went on alert in the deepening gloom as he skirted from bush to bush. He wanted to be waylaid by neither man, nor marauding beast. Peeling back a clump of blaeberry the sight was not unexpected. The corpse that lay ahead of him face up had been partially gnawed by small wild creatures, and pecked at by birds. Nonetheless, there was sufficient left of the leather breast coverings to see that it was not the body of a Roman soldier, but a local female warrior.
His guess, from the state of deterioration, was that the tribeswoman had been dead only a couple of days. Her neck had been sliced open, the cut deep enough to empty the blood from her body. The forest floor around her was a congealed dark-brown mess, spattered with occasional animal excrement, all made even slushier as a result of the inclement weather of the previous days. From the flattened forest-floor around her it looked as though the woman had slithered about before death had claimed her. Or perhaps she had gallantly put up a good fight before succumbing. Not far from her outstretched arm lay a spear.
On his way across to pick up the spear, he bypassed her body. The bone hilt of a small paring knife was still visible in the pouch at her waist. He found that at odds with the violent attack. Whoever had killed her had not bothered to acquire her weapons. Suspicion grew. Nith could think of few reasons for not claiming useful weapons from an attack victim.
Looking more closely at the ground some steps away from her, he could only see minimal disturbance. A single contubernium group of eight Romans would have flattened much more of the undergrowth, the damage being even greater from a larger patrol.
Animal scurrying nearby made him think of his purpose in being there. There was little he could do for this poor woman, save saying a prayer to the goddess Scathach, but he could ensure Enya was safe and fed.
Moving around the copse in search of the game that had disturbed him, his suspicions increased when he found two more bodies, lying at short distances apart. Both were face down into the undergrowth. Both of these male warriors had suffered a frenzied attack from behind. Slashing wounds to their shoulders and backs had floored them, one of the unfortunates’ legs having been almost halved.
Levering up one corpse with his foot, the muffled sound of metal scraping on metal startled him. Jumping back from it, he searched the glade for any enemy that might be around. Satisfied no danger was present, he willed his worn-out senses to calm. Thinking carefully about the source of the noise, he realised it had to have come from under the body and not around the glade.
Annoyed with himself for being inept, he once again set to turning over the remains. It was with a grim smile and a snort of disgust that he acknowledged it was the grip of the man’s long knife that had scraped against the spear hilt that lay under the warrior, the spear shaft having snapped. The weight of the body tumbling down would account for that, but the knife being unsheathed needed some thought.
Saying a prayer for the men, the vaguest swish nearby broke into his deep thoughts. His sling was up into place automatically and his arm at length ready to let fly the stone. The plump ptarmigan within his sight had no chance of escaping his deadly aim.
Gathering up the bird, hunger returned with a vengeance of its own, his insides protesting. One bird would presently satisfy him, but was not enough for three. It took a while but his stealthy creep around captured a hare as well. He trudged back to the dilapidated roundhouse still contemplating the dead warriors.
“Are your sling skills rusting? That took you quite a while.”
Enya’s greeting on his entry to the roundhouse was not as cordial as he would have liked, but he was long used to her occasional sarcasm. She had a small fire going which was more important than giving her a snide answer. Feargus was already stretched out on a low pallet of brackens. The dampness from them and the prickliness would not be comfortable, but was better than lying on nothing at all. From the slight heaving of Feargus’ shoulders, he seemed asleep.
Nith looked closely at Enya before setting down the hunt on the stones at the side of the fledgling blaze. She was as tired as he was; he needed to share his thoughts with her but first, the food needed to be prepared.
Enya looked longingly at the bird. “That would do well cooked in a pot of water to make a nourishing soup for Feargus, but there is nothing left around here that I can use.”
Nith nodded. He had seen earlier that the dwelling had been stripped of all cooking utensils and bowls.
“The fire will do well enough.” Feargus let free the smallest of moans. Nith looked over towards the lad. “It is a nasty wound, for sure, but Feargus will manage.”
Pulling free his paring knife, he set to skinning and gutting the hare. Enya had the bird plucked and cleaned out in half the time it took him, it’s carcass onto one of the stout damp rods she had placed at the fireside.
“Let me fill your water pouch,” she demanded. “I found a small spring nearby when I went to gather herbs for Feargus’ poultice.”
By the time she returned, Nith had the hare on another of the sticks and had lashed together a frame to spit both of the carcasses over the flames.
Rising to his feet he whispered, “I have something to show you. We will return before the food is cooked.”
He could not miss her glance at the still sleeping Feargus.
“Feargus will do well enough, and the fire will last till we get back.”
Lighting a sheaf of reeds, he strode out of the roundhouse and headed for the trees, Enya at his heels. “I took so long foraging for our food because another matter took some of my attention.”
Annoyed by his reticence to tell her why they were going into the woods, Enya dunted his shoulder. “Do we have to go just now, Nith?”
He stopped to look down at her pinched face, the skin over her cheekbones more stretched than he would like to see. None of them had been well enough fed for a long time. “We do. Your warrior skills are as good as mine, and I would not drag you out again if I did not value your opinion.”
That seemed good enough reason because Enya made no more conversation till they arrived at the first male. She said little as she moved around in the dying dusk, taking note of the surroundings.
“There is more to see.” He led her across to the other male, the one with the spear and knife beneath him.
“It looks as though he has been unexpectedly attacked from the rear,” she said after a taking a good look around. “I would have expected a more trampled mess around him, if he had been killed by Roman soldiers, though that is hard to see with the shadows in here.”
As he had done earlier, Nith used his foot to turn over the body.
“His knife is still sheathed. This one did not foresee the attack at all. If he had been wary, he would at the very least have withdrawn it.”
Taking her by the elbow he pulled her away and across to the female warrior. Enya sank to her knees a short way away from the victim and bowed her head. A moment or two later, she stood up and padded around the area also praying for the two men. “They all still have their weapons. Nith. This was not the work of an animal. Nor do I think it was a Roman attack.”
Nith nodded agreement, but before he could say any more Enya grasped the lit-rushes and held them to the ground before she continued scanning the undergrowth as best she could. “The men seem not to have been aware of their attacker behind them. The woman may have been suspicious by the amount of undergrowth that was disturbed around her, but I do not see enough disorder for it to have been a group who attacked her.”
Bowing her head, he watched Enya’s throat muscles clench as she fought with her feelings. Her next words were telling and proved she thought much like he did.
“Had it been even a small patrol of Roman auxiliaries, they would have created much more mess and she would probably not have been left…unmolested.”
He had already come to the same conclusion.
Enya’s eyes sparkled in the growing moonlight as they sped back to the roundhouse, Nith’s torch now useful to guide their footsteps. “Do you think the weapons were left because the person who killed them could not carry them?” Her pretty eyes turned to a distrustful glitter. “Was it someone they knew but also someone in the pay of the Romans? A speculator?”
Enya may have been praying to Scàthach, the warrior goddess who is mentioned in the novel. Here's some information about the goddess Scàthach. Click HERE