Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Meet Brennus-my Celtic Warrior

I don't have an author guest on Welcome Wednesday today, so instead I've invited someone from my novels to be featured.
If you haven't already had the pleasure, meet Brennus of Garrigill who features in my Celtic Fervour series- in Book 1 The Beltane Choice and in Book 2 After Whorl: Bran Reborn, which is in the running for The Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction. 

The following is taken from notes made during my launch tour for After Whorl: Bran Reborn.

Kick-start your imagination and whizz back to AD 71 with me, to join Brennus as he faces the disciplined soldiers of the IX Legion of the Roman Army. You may be wondering that the novels are historical romantic adventures and say what's romantic about that, but romance does feature in my novels as well!

Where is Brennus doing battle? If you've read the first book of the series, The Beltane Choice, you'll recognise that my battle between the Roman Empire and the Celts of Brigantia is named Whorl. book 2 is entitled After Whorl: Bran Reborn.  The third book of the series, which will be launched in spring 2014, is entitled After Whorl: Donning Double Cloaks - so what’s Whorl about?

Historically speaking was there a battle at Whorl? Not that I know of, but Latin historians like Tacitus and Livy wrote that in AD 71 the Celtic tribes of the Brigantes waged war in many battles and smaller skirmishes against the Roman Empire- unwilling to have the Romans dominate them.

Whorlton is an actual town in North Yorkshire, England, and isn’t so far from a place called Stanwick. Stanwick is very important in Celtic British history since the Brigante King Venutius’ oppidum was there - his very large roundhouse settlement populated by many congregated warriors in AD 71 (according to Tacitus). An oppidum equates to the closest description of a town in Celtic terms.

After Whorl: Bran Reborn begins on those bloody battlegrounds. So, join me please to meet Brennus, my Garrigill warrior. What does he look like? 

Wikimedia Commons- Gledel

Acquiring free use images isn't simple, but I can imagine my Garrigill warriors being dressed on a daily basis somewhat similar to the warrior on the right in this image. The sash seen here might possibly be a cloak draped thus for ease of carrying during the day when not yet needed. 

The helmet worn by the left warrior is more appropriate to those worn by continental European Celts, at a much earlier era from Brennus. This style of helmet was copied by the Roman Army from an early Celtic style and was adopted by the Republican Army much earlier than AD 71. I don't imagine my Garrigill warriors wearing these. 

Some interpreters of the classical references of Livy and Tacitus, and of some ancient marble statues, have decided that Celts went to battle completely naked. While the idea is quite stirring, I have to say that, as a Scot used to the vagaries of harsh weather, I imagine that would have been far too cold in October, in northern England. The men may have been hardy specimens but their attention needed to be on battle fervour and not on the disabling physical discomfort of numbing cold.

I prefer to have my Brennus wearing braccae - the typical loose, patterned, woollen trousers kept tight at the calves by thongs, though the things are not displayed in the above image. Flapping trousers hampering battle success doesn't seem practical, so my Brennus has his tight and snug against his calves. 

His powerful torso would be naked from the waist up; a tattoo here or there softening the starkness- though I think his skin would be well weathered and tanned. His hair would be spiked, the expression of battle fury on his face making his handsome features blur with a ‘terrifying aspect’ (Tacitus). It’s thought that, no matter the hair colour, Celtic warriors used a paste which included lime on their hair to make the shorter strands on the crown stand upright - proud and fierce – giving rise to the image that they were all light or fair haired. However, genetically speaking, this doesn’t seem to be the case and some re-enacters have claimed lime paste is far too abrasive and burns the scalp very badly. Nonetheless, as the practice of liming has been commented on by Roman historians, I believe something would have been used to spike the hair.

Brennus is a Garrigill prince, meaning he is the son of a chief. As such, his elevated status would give him the right to wear a golden torque around his throat, the round finial stops of the wide band sitting just below his collarbones. A matching wide gold armband might also be worn around one bicep. Both would be intricately wrought, the patterning impressive. 

I had to think long and hard about whether Brennus and his brothers of Garrigill would wear their badges of regalia in battle at Whorl, and have decided that they probably would, as it was an excellent way of identifying a corpse after the event - if the body hadn't been scavenged by any maurauding Romans first. Brennus, however, has not left from Garrigill to do battle since he had gone to visit the Crannogs of Gyptus. I don't see him wearing his gold for what was meant to be a short visit to gather information from Gyptus. His torque and armband would have been left safe at Garrigill in the roundhouse of his father, Tully. Conversely, I do think Brennus' brother, Lorcan, would have worn his torque since he was an emissary of his tribe and would perhaps have constantly worn his.

A long oval Celtic shield, brandished in front of Brennus, provided protection for most of his torso. The long spear held aloft was always just ready to launch, after which he would whip out his long Celtic broad sword from its scabbard.

In The Beltane Choice Brennus is described as being very tall, a colossus of a warrior, and his shock of blond hair attractive, so I imagine Brennus to be something around the six and a half feet mark. When Brennus does battle at Whorl, he is flanked fellow Brigantes - though not his brothers - as circumstances have decreed they all go to battle at Whorl from different locations.

The Celts liked to have a low hill to amass their warriors on, with flatter ground below them for their many war chariots. Brennus' brother Gabrond was the most skilled charioteer of Garrigill and was the one responsible for the horse handlers of Garrigill. As such Gabrond would be on the flatter ground amongst the many gathered two-wheeled, two person chariots: the chariot driver accompanied by a super skilled spearman. This flatter area also accommodated mounted warriors to the left and right flanks of the charioteers. The main Celtic foot warriors were stacked up on the rising ground behind the mounted forces.

Brennus' brother Lorcan would normally have been amongst the mounted warriors of Garrigill as the highest ranking one, but since Lorcan did not leave for battle from Garrigill he is with the warriors from the north-east coast where he had gone just prior to battle.  Brennus would also have been mounted had he been fighting alongside his brothers, but as he has approached the battleground at Whorl with Grond from the Crannogs of Gyptus he is on foot.

Here’s a little peek from the beginning of After Whorl: Bran Reborn:

Fóghnaidh mi dhut! I really will finish you! I have you now, invading scum!”
            Another couple of whacks would have the shield gone. The Roman auxiliary’s arm already showed signs of fatigue as Brennus slashed below the man’s chain link protection, his full power backing each blow of his long Celtic sword. The man was brawny, a practised opponent at the edge of the tight cluster of Roman bodies, but was much smaller than he was and rapidly weakened. Brennus knew the advantage he had. A drained grin slid into a grimace of pain as his sword jarred on the Roman gladius when the soldier’s stab interrupted another of his blows, the impact juddering his weakened elbow, an injury sustained with a previous combatant.
            Diùbhadh! Scum!”
            The gladius flashed upwards. To reach his head the angle of the auxiliary’s attack had to be higher than the usual, demanding a different force to succeed, and the Roman just did not have the strength any more.
            A cry of frustration emerged from the Roman, the clenched teeth an indicator of the man’s tenacity as the gladius prodded forward yet again. Brennus understood none of the man’s tongue, the battle ground not the place for meaningful talk, but the intent was clear.
            “Come! Come forward! A ghlaoic! You fool!” Brennus’ hollering taunts and crude ridiculing gestures gained him a little ground as the auxiliary broke free of the rigid formation, desperate to gain conquest over yet another Celtic adversary, the shorter gladius slashing and nipping at his chest but not quite breaking the skin.
            The tight group of Roman soldiers had been almost impossible to breach; their raised cover of shields an impenetrable barrier. He had been toying with and provoking this particular soldier for long, long moments. Yet, even with his superior strength, he knew he could not sustain such weighty combat for much longer either, before he would need to retreat to regain his reserves of vigour – though only a little more wearing down of the man’s resistance should be enough. He knew that from an earlier experience. Drawing breath from deep inside he slipped back a pace, and then another as if giving up the pursuit.
            “Come forward, you piece of Roman horse dung! You demand the blood of the Celts? Let it be so! Have mine!”
            Powerless to resist the lure the Roman soldier surged at his bidding, his shield swinging, his gladius jabbing. One last twisted swipe of Brennus’ longer Celtic sword detached the blade-nicked shield from his foe and sent it sailing aside. Abruptly unguarded, the auxiliary pulled his gladius in front of his rippling mail in a futile attempt to cover his chest.
            “Too late!” Brennus’ snort rang out as he whacked the soldier’s fist with his shield when his opponent readied his blade for another stab. It was enough: all the leverage needed to topple his foe. Witnessing the Roman’s slithering attempts to right himself he allowed an exultant smirk to break free, knowing victory would be his over this particular rival. “Death to all of the invaders!”
            The sounds of battle all around him seemed all the sweeter as he slashed his blade towards the Roman’s vulnerable neck, the man’s cloth wrap having unfurled from under the chin during the tussle. It was the weakest part of his well equipped adversary that was uncovered above the waist. He knew that a blow to the head was wasteful since the glinting copper-flapped helmet fit tight around the Roman’s skull.            His first swipe was met with the flailing gladius, the clang and screeches of blade on blade an exhilarating challenge. Triumphant warmth flashed through him, the sweat of the combat a bitter taste in his mouth as it streamed his face. The auxiliary was doomed as Brennus spat through his teeth, “I hate every last one of you!”
            The shrieking, the neighing and squealing behind him he ignored, the battlefield noises a tremendous din all around. The stench – of heated combat; of the blood tang and of faeces of man and horse; of the already putrid reek of entrails; of the stale sweat and battle lust essences – he also disregarded. His attention was only on his quarry as he felt the edge of his sword slice in under the man’s chin. He prepared himself for the spurt of warm blood that showered on him as he angled his neck away from the first gushes.
            What was totally unexpected was the crushing mass that slammed into his back, so powerful it lifted him off his feet and propelled him onto the blinking gladius he had successfully parried.
            “By Taranis …” His yell muffled into a spluttering squelch. “An cù! The bastard!”
            Down he went, onto the slippery blood drenched grass, his sword sliding fully through the auxiliary’s neck. His dead opponent softened his fall only partially since the horse that had slumped into him followed on at his rear. As the agonised cries of men and the squealing of the horse echoed around, his fist relinquished the grip on his sword, the blade having snapped on skidding impact with the ground. The frantic, writhing animal that pinned him to the Roman gladius totally overpowered him. Devastating agony seared at his back; blood filled muck crammed his mouth. A blinding white-red haze gave way to darkness.
            Felled by a mighty powerful beast, and not that Roman blade, was Brennus’ last thought.


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