Saturday, 18 January 2020

#extract #Agricola's Bane

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


Thursday, 16 January 2020

#amwriting Celtic Fervour Saga

It's been a while...but here's an update!

Agricola's Bane, Book 4 of my Celtic Fervour Series, is going on a Blog Tour very soon ( begins 20th January 2020) with Rachel's Random Resources. The tours for the first 3 books were wonderful and I've met so many new bloggers. It's been amazing to find new reader/ bloggers who love the series. 

In addition to doing more WIP writing for Book 5 of the series, I've also signed up for a Duolingo Scottish Gaelic course. It's definitely a fun way to learn a language! More about that later as I progress, but I can already envisage some changes might be necessary to the Gaelic phrases I used on Books 1-4 (which I got from friends ;-) ). I've also decided to change my end salutation on these blog posts. When I originally started them, a friend advised me to find something slightly original  - so my spelling of  Cheers was Slainthe, a spelling I had seen  on the internet. I can no longer use that form as I'll get my Gaelic questions ALL WRONG in my duolingo course. (p.s. I can also now add the accent which I couldn't before)
Book 5 is slowly progressing but I'm still constantly amazed at how many times I'm researching something specific that I've either read about (re: Roman Empire) and forgotten, or aspects that are new for me. The passage below is a little reminder about my Celtic Fervour Saga series. 

With one main text to study for a historical episode lasting the best part of 20 years (over 5 books) – and given that short text is often regarded with some suspicion – I might have felt justified to declare that there’s almost nothing in written prime sources to go on.  Does that mean that my writing is into the fantastic realm?

Not for me! But it has made creating credible settings and characters a wonderful challenge.

Since my chosen time period is late first-century northern Roman Britain, I’ve always accepted that research would be difficult, though I thought I’d stop at some point. Ahem…I’ve not nearly reached that stage yet! I love investigating sources – written and otherwise.

Roman Forum -Wikimedia Commons/ Flickr
The ‘Agricola’, by Ancient Roman writer Cornelius Tacitus, is a brief account of the Britannic campaigns of his father-in-law General Gnaeus Iulius Agricola. As Governor of Britannia in command of the resident Roman legions, Agricola’s aims were to subdue the barbarians of northern Britannia and absorb their territories into the Roman Empire – North Yorkshire, Cumbria, and Northumberland first, then Scotland. Tacitus’ aim was to inform his listeners in the Roman Forum of the achievements of Agricola, flowery oratorical language being typical in c. A.D. 97. Some scholars of the ‘Agricola’ are sceptical of its accuracy as recorded by Tacitus, though others believe Tacitus recorded the campaigns of other generals reliably. I’ve used the ‘Agricola’ very loosely to create my own interpretation of the Roman invasion of northern Britannia in my historical series, in conjunction with suitable ground evidence.

I’ve depended heavily on archaeological findings for the locations used. The Romans marched almost all the way to the Moray Firth yet left no attested evidence in stone, or wooden fort building, as in southern parts of Scotland. I’ve, therefore, relied on aerial photography, backed up by ground excavation of temporary marching camps created as the Romans tramped north-eastwards.

Envisaging what the landscape was like has meant finding out about the flora and fauna that clothed the countryside. Where were the natural Caledonian forest areas? That’s important because vast tracks of current Aberdeenshire (Scotland) have been relatively recently forested by the Forestry Commission, established in the early 1920s. Archaeological soil samples; ancient farming techniques; changes in river courses; natural erosion of the coastline forming sea-stacks; retreating  shorelines on the Moray Firth – are only some of the many issues I’ve researched over the course of writing the novel. What I see today is not necessarily how it was 2000 years ago.

Agricola’s Bane, Book 4 of my series, opens in the aftermath of a large battle between the Roman Legions and the Caledonian Allies (battle in Book 3). In the ‘Agricola’ Tacitus wrote that a large confrontation took place somewhere in northern Britannia, generally known to historians as the battle of ‘Mons Graupius’. Unfortunately, the battle site for Mons Graupius has never been identified, a number of possible sites mooted from Fife all the way to Inverness. And some enthusiasts don’t believe a battle happened at all, they think Tacitus exaggerated Agricola’s campaigning success in north-east Scotland.
Agricola -  Bath

Agricola’s Bane is my interpretation of: why Agricola dominated Northern Britannia for a while; what he sought to find there; and the natives he intended to completely subdue c.A.D.84. It gives a hint of why Agricola left the supposedly conquered northern areas soon after to return to Rome.

Book 5 is due in 2020, continuing the story of Agricola’s withdrawal from the area of conflict and the situations my Celtic Garrigill Clan find themselves in. However, Book 5 (current title: Beathan the Brigante) is mainly the story of Beathan, the son born to Lorcan and Nara in Book 1 of the series.


Wednesday, 18 December 2019

AD 210 25th December Worship

Today, it's my turn to post a contribution to the fantastic Historical Writers Forum December Blog Hop! 
During the hop, there's an excellent selection of authors posting about all sorts of December topics set in many different historical eras. (See the end of the post for a list of participating authors) Given that Christmas Day is looming, it's likely that many of the posts are Christmas themed and are geared towards the Christian 25th December. 

My post, today, also contains information about the 25th December but since my historical novels are set in Roman Britain, it's not about Christianity. My time-travel historical adventure - The Taexali Game -  is set in the early 3rd century. This is an era when the main deities worshipped by my characters would have been mainly of the Celtic and Roman pantheons, with a smattering of gods worshipped by some Ancient Roman soldiers conscripted from the North African and Eastern Mediterranean territories of the Roman Empire.    
Emperor L. Septimius Severus
Wikimedia Commons
The Ancient Roman Emperor Severus and his son Caracalla are characters in The Taexali Game. My question for today is who might they have been worshipping on the 25th December, when they were in Northern Britannia in A.D. 210? 
25th December ... devotees and fragmentary evidence
For some time prior to A.D. 208, the Maeatae and Caledon federations of tribes (north-east Scotland) seem to have been reneging on treaty obligations made with Ancient Rome. In response to a plea from the Governor of Britannia, Emperor Septimius Severus and his son Caracalla travelled to Britannia in 208 with a huge entourage, including Severus’ wife Julia Domna and his younger son Geta. 

Leaving Julia Domna and Geta in Eboracum (York), Severus and Caracalla (nominally joint Emperor with his father from 198) marched northwards with 40 - 50,000 troops to teach the northern barbarians a lesson they wouldn’t forget in a hurry – though the campaign was actually spread out over a period of approximately three years. ( A little like this post because there's a wheen o' reading before I properly get to the 25th Dec.)

An Ancient Roman army marched with military might and associated weaponry, but it also sported a variety of religious adherences. Sometimes a particular devotion depended on where a unit of men originated from; or which faith was their personal one; and it could even be the ‘god-cult’ their legion collectively supported.

obverse Caracalla/ reverse Sol Invictus - Wikimedia Commons 
Since festival worship was ritually common across the Ancient Roman Empire, it's likely that Severus and Caracalla paid some sort of homage on the 25th December in 208, 209 and 210 while in Britannia - since the 25th Dec was a 'more major' festival than some others. They may have wintered in Londinium; Eboracum; Brigantia (Hadrian's Wall area); or further north in Caledonia. Sadly, a month by month calendar of their whereabouts during the campaign eludes me.

Mithraic worship-
Wikimedia Commons

Caracalla (Marcus Aurelius Severus Antoninus Augustus) is thought to have worshipped the gods Serapis, Sol and the associated Mysteries of Mithras. Coin evidence (above) was minted in his time depicting Sol Invictus wearing a typical sunray crown and at some point Caracalla added Invictus to his titles. 

Though it’s not known if Emperor Severus had a specific ‘god’ preference, it’s thought by some scholars that he was likely to have been influenced, to some degree, by the religion and cult worship that his wife was associated with. Julia Domna's father was descended from Syrian royalty and served as a high priest in the cult of the sun god Elagabal /Sol Invictus
Head of Serapis-
London Mithraeum
Wikimedia Commons

Severus was known to have been of a very superstitious disposition, though it has to be said that religious-based superstition was common across the Ancient Roman Empire. Severus was hampered by a debilitating condition for a number of years before he died and was sometimes carried in a litter on campaign, presumably when riding was physically impossible for him. He consulted his soothsayers on all aspects of his daily life and appears to have been given a ‘death-sentence’ even before he left Rome. It is written (e.g. by Cassius Dio) that Severus was told that he would die while on campaign in Britannia, but the dire forewarning didn’t stop the emperor from setting off to subdue the troublesome Caledonian tribes. 

There is also the fabulous tale that Severus' sons were delinquents and one of Severus' reasons for coming to Britannia was that some proper army campaign discipline would be salutary for the naughty nickums! (From what I've read of Caracalla's exploits - killing his brother Geta not so long after Severus' death - meant that strategy didn't work so well!)   

During the Severan Caledonian campaigns of A.D. 208 to 210, Severus and Caracalla spent time, huge amounts of money, and immense effort in renewing and reinforcing the forts along Hadrian’s Wall. A heavy Roman presence had likely been absent from most of Scotland during the last decades of the second century A.D.  but there’s archaeological evidence to show that there was a programme of renewal and renovation of permanent forts in southern and central Scotland during the very early third century. Re-garrisoning, and strengthening, was also undertaken in forts along the Antonine Wall (Glasgow /Edinburgh) and as far north as the legionary fortress at Carpow (Dundee). 

Sol Invictus and the god Jupiter as an old man- Wikimedia Commons
In some of these forts, evidence of Sol; Sol Invictus (the unconquerable sun god) and Mithraic cult worship has been found. 

Head of Mithras-
London Mithraeum
Wikimedia Commons
The cult of Mithras is thought to have appeared in Rome during the first century A.D. and gradually spread across the Roman Empire.  During the third century A.D. a temple dedicated to Mithras was built at Walbrook in Londinium (London), possibly during the Severan era. The marble head of the god Serapis (an Egyptian god of the Underworld) found at the London Mithraeum, dates from the second to early third century; and the head of the god Mithras also found there is dated A.D. 180-220. 

Exactly how Serapis and Mithras worship was connected is a subject of great speculation but Caracalla, or Severus, could probably have told us! 

At some later date, possibly around the fourth century, the heads had been deliberately buried along with a head of Minerva and a figure of Mercury when a new temple to Bacchus was built on the same site. 

It was common for Ancient Roman campaigning troops to spend the winter season in a place of relative comfort and safety. Severus and Caracalla may have spent some winter-time in Eboracum with Julia Domna and Geta in 208, 209 and perhaps even 210 - though these details are unknown.

Nominally, the Ancient Roman summer campaign season traditionally ended on 19th October with the festival of the Armilustrium. This was held in honour of the god Mars, when the weapons of the army were ‘ritually purified and stored’ till the following year. (The Tubilustrium, on the 19th March, was when similar ceremonies began the new campaign season) It's not clear exactly how long these already ancient traditions continued into the late Empire phase, but since Severus was so superstitious, ritual ceremonies of some form may have marked an October Armilustrium wherever he was stationed. However, it’s highly unlikely there was any literal downing of weapons in troublesome Caledonia. Yet, paying proper observance to the god Mars would have been a symbolic boost.

When practical, a number of festival days may have been observed in some form, or other, by the Severan armies between late October and December, the Saturnalia of 17th to 23rd December being one of them. (N.B: The Saturnalia may be written about by another author of the Historical Writers Forum)

Leaf disc dedicated to Sol Invictus
Wikimedia Commons
The end of the Saturnalia was followed by the Brumalia, traditionally celebrated on the shortest day – bruma meaning short day – and included the following few days when the sun is reborn after ‘staying still’ on the solstice. In the darkest days of mid-winter, during the rainy and cold grey days in northern Britannia, celebrating the sun god Sol would have been an important lift to the spirits of many Roman soldiers. 

Offerings to Sol/Sol Invictus were given on the nominated day of the 25th Dec. which was then regarded as the winter solstice. Evidence from forts on Hadrian’s Wall and southern Scotland forts like Trimontium (Newstead) support Sol worship.

The distinctions between worshipping Sol (the sun god) and that of Sol Invictus (the unconquered sun god) are not clear, but it wasn’t till the end of the 3rd century that worship of Sol Invictus gained much more prominence and Sol Invictus became an official state god.

(NB: We now assign the date of the winter solstice to the 21st or 22nd of Dec. as a result of subsequent calendar changes after the Roman period)

I like to think that wherever Emperor Severus was on Dec 25th A.D. 210 (by the Julian calendar), he was worshipping Sol Invictus and was asking for a more definite date of death, or even a respite from the gout, severe arthritis, or debilitating crippling disease that he had been beset with for many years. He may also have been asking his soothsayer for more clarity about the incident where his nasty son Caracalla attempted to assassinate him while on campaign in Caledonia. I had great fun creating a scene which included this incident in The Taexali Game.  

Emperor Lucius Septimius Severus died in Eboracum on the 4th February, 211. Whether or not Caracalla urged his doctors to hasten the emperor's death is not proven - the jury is still out -  but again, ancient writers mention that there was a 'bloody clearance' of people who had been present at the death of Severus, or who had regularly attended the emperor. 

Worshipping the sun on the solstice seems like a great idea for the ancients on a cold and frosty, northern, 25th December day! 

You can click the sidebar link to read more about my Romano/ British fiction using the Amazon 'look inside' facility. They are also available to read  FREE with Kindle Unlimited and available in ebook and paperback formats on Amazon

The next post in the Historical Writers Forum December Blog Hop will be by Wendy J Dunn - look out for that coming tomorrow! 

Happy Reading to all and I wish you a joyful  festive season.