I've got another excerpt from The Beltane Choice for you today. Nara of the Selgovae has found herself in a very precarious position. See what you think of this little piece as her future is sealed. She sits, a lone Selgovae, in the midst of over a hundred Brigantes....
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Tully is the ailing Brigante Chief of Garrigill. Lorcan, his son, has captured Nara and taken her to his father's stronghold. They have been discussing Nara's fate around the fireside in the roundhouse of the chief, a Brigante council having been convened.
Tully’s words faded at the end, his vigour gone. Nara felt him all but collapse against her as she bore the brunt of his weight, although it may have seemed to the crowd Tully forced her in place beside him for his grip was tight, his bony arm cradling her shoulder blades. Her eyes glanced to Lorcan, to impart to him how weakened Tully was. Lorcan looked ready to jump to her assistance, and that was all she needed. Stiffening her stance, she continued to bear Tully’s load.
The old chief turned to Lorcan, looking at him across her body, his eyes rheumy with pain and with something she discerned was akin to regret. His clutch at her shoulders crunched her very bones. Something was amiss. A dread coursed through her. She did not know why, but it seemed as though Tully sent that same regret to her through his gnarled old fingers. His weary voice was as loud as he could muster, but it mattered little for the whole room listened intently for his countenance was so solemn.
“At dawn, word will go to all eligible Brigante princes of the North about this marriage bargain. I will bid as many interested as possible to be with us by Beltane–by proxy, if not the princes themselves.”
The blood drained from Nara’s head at Tully’s words, her body trembling as much as his feeble one. She could not be sure but she thought Lorcan had stiffened at her other side. Tully’s fingers dug tight into her as he sidled even closer to her body, yet she sensed the old chief was not attempting to control her, or harm her: rather the opposite. Knowing how much his words had caused her tremor of fear, his bony fingers appeared to be pouring the last dregs of his physical and emotional strength into her, aware of the implications to her future. The gesture strangely appealed, for Tully’s touch gave her succour her own father had never, ever given her.
From that point on, Nara could not be certain if she gave the weakened Tully support, or if he supported her. What was clear to the assembled company was their chief publicly acknowledging his agreement to the marriage bargain as his arm encircled her.
“The elders of Garrigill will congregate on the morrow to consider the wider scheme for alliances.” His voice was faint, exhausted to the point of collapse.
A nod from Tully indicated she should sit. She slipped her trembling body down to the stool as ordered but maintained the arm she had curved behind Tully’s painfully thin waist. She should hate Tully. She should let him fall to the ground, or allow him to waver there on his own spindly legs till he stumbled.
Nara found she could do neither of those things. Hate his suggestions? She certainly did that, but she could not bring herself to hate the short-tempered old man next to her who had just declared yet a different fate for her. Slumping against him, her shoulder supported him even more than before to enable him to complete his speech as, yet again, she contemplated the floor rushes.
“If we ally first with the Selgovae, then I see the Parisi, Novante and even the Votadini joining, too. It takes only one stone to start a cairn. Think on it well, people of Garrigill.”
As well as her own tremors, and Tully’s shaking, Nara could feel the tension, even rage, emanating from Lorcan sitting alongside her. His fists clenched tight at his knees, his neck muscles straining as he stared into the blazing fire, his eyes agog with fury. Already attuned in some way to him, she sensed he repressed the urge to punch someone–almost certainly his own father, for wily old Tully had just widened the marriage alliance to include many other contenders.
Nara was appalled. Marriage with a Brigante was going to be forced on her, but not necessarily with Lorcan. Escape seemed even more necessary than before, but it was even more impossible. She, too, stared into the flames. The merest hint of protest in this company and she would be dead.
A shout rose from a young warrior at the back of the second row, his angry finger pointing to her.
“Will retribution from her tribe befall us before we can discuss this again? Will we of the outposts of Garrigill be attacked in our very beds this night, because she has been brought into our midst?”
Alarm swelled around the company at his dire words, increasingly volatile and hostile.
Tully looked to Lorcan to respond. Nara bent her head and studied the fire again, unwilling to meet the antagonistic eyes of those around. They hated her. She had been correct, but had Lorcan heeded her? Her position was even more perilous now.