Sunday, 27 April 2014

W is for Whorl

W is for Whorl

Whorl is the name used in the titles for Books 2 & 3 of my Celtic Fervour Series of novels -After Whorl: Bran Reborn and After Whorl: Donning Double Cloaks.

This is because Whorl is the site of a fictitious battle which is briefly mentioned at the end of Book 1, The Beltane Choice; a battle which rages between my Brigante Celts and the soldiers of the Roman Empire. This confrontation in AD 71, when many tribespeople from the Brigante Federation and their allies amass together, is a battle which has dreadful consequences for my Garrigill warrior brothers.

The name Whorl was not totally invented by me. There really is a place on the current OS map called Whorlton, in Yorkshire, which is not too far from Stanwick, the site believed to be the stronghold of either King Venutius or a settlement used by both him and his ex- wife Queen Cartimandua when she was the one holding the reins of power.  

Whorlton is on a hill which seemed to me to have all the qualities needed for a battle between the Celts and the Roman Empire’s armies. Higher ground was generally used for the strategic placement of rows of infantry warriors with a flatter plain below where the mounted warriors could assemble on the flanks of the charioteers who would ply back and forth on the middle level ground. 

Thus, Whorl emerged as my battle site. In The Beltane Choice, Whorl, unfortunately, wasn't kind to my Garrigill brother, Brennus, who is thought to be dead after the battle since he doesn't return to his home hillfort. After finishing Book 1, I felt I had done the character of Brennus a little disservice. He was such a likeable man that when I started to plan Book 2, I realised I wanted to be much kinder to him. Bran Reborn was then penned but, since Book 2 rolled on to Book 3 continuing the story of Brennus over the period of approximately a decade, I realised I needed to have some indication in the title that Books 2 & 3 were very closely connected. The events in Books 2 & 3 transpire as a result of the aftermath of the battle at Whorl so it seemed logical to give the titles the same beginning as in 'After Whorl'. Though the battle is only vaguely mentioned in The Beltane Choice there is more of the bloody scene at the beginning of Book 2 After Whorl: Bran Reborn.

For those who haven’t yet bought and read the novel, or those who need to have the scene refreshed in their memory, here it is.
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. 

After Whorl: Bran Reborn

After Whorl: Bran Reborn book trailer video URL

After Whorl: Donning Double Cloaks
After Whorl: Donning Double Cloaks book trailer video URL

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